In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Digging In.

Last week I checked out a screening of Adam Green's newest flick Digging Up The Marrow.

A filmmaker (Adam Green as himself) and his crew become involved with an eccentric ex-detective named William Dekker (Ray Wise) who claims he's discovered a race of beings that live underground in something called The Marrow.

Despite some minor quibbles, I found Digging Up The Marrow to be quite an entertaining yarn. I knew almost nothing about it going in (a rarity these days) other than that it was a faux documentary starring Green and Wise, so the air of mystery added to the allure.

The movie builds a well-realized mythology through the images and stories provided by artist Alex Pardee. I found out after that the project was five years in the making, when Pardee first met Green at a convention and talked about this world he had created. Green was so enraptured, they began fleshing out an idea to bring the Marrow to the big screen.

One of Alex Pardee's original art pieces.

Now that The Marrow has been realized, I was relieved to see that it wasn't all smoke and mirrors and there were not only some actual monsters in this, but they were also, much appreciatively, done practically. Perhaps taking a cue from the 1990 film Nightbreed - an obvious influence - they tried to make the inhabitants of the Marrow look as real as possible and for the most part, they succeeded. I felt they may have gone for something a bit beyond their means with the featured monster of the climax, but still, good on them for trying.

But the real heart of this picture is Ray Wise, as William Dekker. He is excellent in this. You believe what he's saying, even as he becomes increasingly erratic as the movie goes on. His presence strengthens the proceedings, as the parts with Green and his cohorts can be a little clumsy at times. A lot of the piece feels improvised, but apparently everything was rigidly scripted, so I can only praise Green for that. It takes skill to fabricate the awkwardness of natural behaviour.

Ray Wise as William Dekker with “Vance”  

There are those out there who have become irritated with Green's persona (of which he plays an exaggerated version in the film), but I've always thought him to be a passionate filmmaker. His appearance in Toronto while promoting Hatchet in 2007 was rather endearing and I've kept my eye on him since. Sure, he has his vanity project in Holliston, and the Hatchet franchise as a safety net, but he also does really interesting one-offs like Frozen and this. These are the self-contained stories I'm really interested in and I can only hope he keeps on making them in the future.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trailer Tuesdays: Nightbreed

Here's the trailer for Clive Barker's Nightbreed.

Man, it's a shame what happened to this movie. Barker had to deal with so much push-back from the studios that the finished film ended up being far from his original vision. You can see from the trailer that the bean counters wanted some sort of action movie with monsters. I find it funny that the trailer states “and the monsters are the good guys” when clearly 20th Century Fox had a rough time wrapping their heads around that concept.

I think the main folly is that Barker, with the talented hands at Image Entertainment at his disposal, served up over thirty unique creatures and barely half of them got any real screen time. That's why this book below is one of my more prized horror possessions.

While it is fortunate that we now have the Cabal/Director's Cut of the film, I can't help but still lament the struggle that Barker had on this picture. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

DKTM 265

Oh my God, what is going on around here? There was a fucking FROST warning on Friday night!!! Can you believe this shit? Other than that though, it's been a pretty interesting weekend of people-watching followed by trashing an old house for a music video, so I can't complain too much. As for news, here's what I've got for you.

The Devil's Work.

Last year, I posted about a great little book called Kid Power!, a collection of articles about past cult kids movies & television from all around the world put out by Spectacular Optical. Now, Toronto-based cinephiles Kier-La Janisse & Paul Corupe are gearing up to release their new venture, Satanic Panic: Pop Culture Paranoia in the 80's.

For those of us who grew up in the eighties, you'll remember how some religious groups rebelled against horror films and role-playing games. Or basically anything cool really? This nonsense even leaked into mainstream press, back when religion seemed to have more of a hold on such things.

Anyway, to cover the printing costs and design fees, the publishers have for our help via an IndieGogo page. For a measly twenty dollars (plus S&H) you can own your very own copy when it releases this summer.

Though the book delves into many facets of pop culture, some of the exciting film related articles include a look at heavy metal and devil worship in cult cinema (by Samm Deighan), home video and the proliferation of satanic panic (by Wm. Conley) and a look at paranoia as cosmic catharsis via 1989's The Burbs (by Kurt Halfyard).

To contribute to the campaign, go here.

The Art of It Follows.

One thing that I've been really impressed with subsequent to the release of It Follows is all the fan art it has inspired. And it is not going unnoticed. For the UK home video release, the distributor Icon decided to have a vote to determine which fan contributed art would be printed on the reverse sleeve of the release. Here were the finalists;

Art by Richie Beckett

Art by Travis Galliant

Art by Trevor Henderson

Art by Vincent Roche

Of course I'm partial to my buddy Trevor's, but I can't deny that Beckett's is pretty fuckin' crackin. It Follows releases in the UK on Blu-ray on June 29th and the domestic release is set for July 14th.

Trailer Trash.

Here are a couple of trailers that popped up this week. First is the teaser for Jessica Cameron's lesbian love story Mania.

Blood, lesbians and Tristan Risk. An easy sell if you ask me. The second is for Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion's Cooties.

I'm glad to see this has resurfaced, as it seemed to all but disappear after its premiere at last year's Sundance Film Festival (yes that 2014, not 2015). Perhaps the whole 'it's ok to kill kids if they're zombies' loophole wasn't initially airtight enough for Lionsgate to put it out. Even the actual release in September seems a little tentative, but hopefully TWC's decision to spring for some theatres instead of just dumping It Follows onto VOD has started a trend.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Digital Campfire Tales.

Last fall, I discovered a Reddit phenomenon called Two Sentence Horror Stories. The thread was just that, people submitting their best scary stories framed within that diminutive construct. I read pages and pages of them and while many were quite chilling, one by someone calling themselves justAnotherMuffledVO (aka Juan J. Ruiz) stood out among all others;

It totally captured my imagination, and when I was subsequently asked to shoot a bumper for the upcoming Toronto After Dark Film Festival, it immediately sprung to mind. It was perfect! It was totally the kind of story that could be told in less than a minute and had a fantastic punchline. So, with the help of my friends Jeff (whom I'd worked with many times before), Kurt and his daughter Miranda, we shot this in an evening.

Then, just before the festival was to start, Jeff sent me a link to a short that was getting some traction online. It was Ignacio F. Rodó's minute-long short Tuck Me In.

At first I was like, oh shit, now I look like an ass. Ruiz's story had been on Reddit for a while, how could I have not checked to see if it had already been done? Then I came to a pair of realizations. The first was, who really gives a shit? I made a bumper for a film festival based on a story that was on a discussion board. The second was when another friend chimed in with a similar short that predated mine, Rodó's and perhaps even the Reddit story that everyone seemed to think had originated it.

I looked into The Little Witch and the director Alasdiar McBroom mentions on his Vimeo page that the story came from something he heard when he was a little kid. I'm inclined to believe him, but I do find it odd that no one is credited with writing the film, in the credits, or on Imdb. Where did this story come from?!

Then I thought to myself, I wonder how many times this story been adapted? Well, one afternoon I did some Web detective work and found seven, yes SEVEN, more versions of the tale. Most of them were released within a seven-month period in 2014. So, in just two sentences, Ruiz had managed to set the global short film community on fire.

It was interesting to see all the different takes of the same story, but I also learned something. As a collective, these shorts serve as a clinic, not only on short filmmaking, but also what makes effective horror. Take these two for example;

The former by Cuddling & Daemon Wolf is fairly tight and builds a rapport with the mother and child. The punchline is quick and cuts at the just the right moment, as does Jonathan Castillo's entry. While the whispered line of “yes there are” is an unnecessary punctuation, the under the bed moment is one of the better visualizations of the group.

Now, here are two which display a common attribute of contemporary horror.

Showing too much. It can be very hard to resist the urge to go for the jump scare, but I think you'll all agree that the parent looking up over the bed and cutting to black is far more effective. In this case, it is also a disservice to the story, as I believe the intent of the story is that you're not supposed to know which child is the doppelganger. If you show the parent being attacked, you negate that layer. It's why I titled my entry, Monster In The Room.

There were also adaptations that used different formats. There are many YouTube videos that have people narrating the various stories over scary illustrations, but here's a dramatization done by Tito Guillen.

And he almost got out of there without a jump scare. Guillen's video was posted October 2013, which dates Ruiz's story sometime between July (when the Reddit thread started) and then.

Like me, James Alexandrou & Celine Abrahams used the story for a bumper (for Film 4's FrightFest), only modified as a “Turn Your Phone Off” bit.

So, that leaves us with one. I want to preface this by saying it is not my intention to shit on anyone else's work. You are entitled to make your short anyway you like. I am just speaking as someone who has not only seen many, many shorts, but has also now made a handful. I feel I have a decent command of the language of short filmmaking at this point. That said, watch this adaptation by Ilya Haustov.

When dealing with the short film format, it is always best to get your point across as quickly as possible. I can't help but think that three minutes of this five-minute film do not need to exist. The source material is two sentences long; there's a reason that the other nine shorts in this post hover around two minutes or less. But I digress.

Whoever came up with the original story, whether it be Ruiz, McBroom or some ancient wordsmith halfway around the world, I have to think they're pretty chuffed to know their little tale has permeated the Web as it has. A good story will always find a way to be told.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Babysitter Bloodbath.

Thanks to my buddy Trevor, I came across a wicked indie game developer named Pig Farmer Games on the weekend. Well, technically it's just one guy named Ben Cocuzza, which makes his output nothing short of extraordinary. I may be late to the party on this one, but hey, better late...

As their website describes, “Pig Farmer Productions makes low budget slasher movie games dedicated to 80s movies, VHS tapes and synth scores.” Wow, three of my favourite things!

I came across this when Trevor mentioned he was playing the demo for his newest game Power Drill Massacre. When I looked him up, I noticed that he'd also made a game earlier called Babysitter Bloodbath.

A few years back, he'd originally made a direct gaming homage to Halloween, but for obvious reasons had to later modify things to keep the lawyers at bay. So in December 2013, Babysitter Bloodbath was released. You know, it's really surprising to me that all that went on without me hearing about it. Especially since that was right around the time I was touring Lively around.

Regardless, I downloaded Babysitter Bloodbath (it's free!) on the weekend and gave it a whirl. It's an absolute blast. It totally looks, feels and - somewhat unfortunately - controls just like a game from the Playstation One era. And considering that it's just one dude coding out of his house, it is actually quite robust. The difficulty level was challenging at times, again mainly due to the clunky controls, but that also brought with it memories of bumbling away from the baddies in Resident Evil way back when.

I love the added touches, as well. All the slasher tropes are present and the synth score is an added bonus. You can also play in VHS mode, which gives everything that faded look complete with tracking lines. Cocuzza even put Night of the Living Dead on the TV!

I highly recommend it. It will get your pulse racing and takes no more than an hour or two to finish, so it isn't a huge time commitment either. I'm so glad I found this guy!

I gave Power Drill Massacre - under his new banner Puppet Combo - a try, but found it a little buggy. It is a work in progress after all. It showed tremendous potential though and I'll definitely come back to it when all the kinks have been worked out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Trailer Tuesdays: Driller Killer

This week's trailer is for Abel Ferrara's (non-pornographic) 1979 debut Driller Killer.

You know, it's been decades since I watched this and I never realized that the Ferrara was also the lead. Since he's credited under a fake name, I never knew any different due to it being the pre-Internet age. I feel like it's due a rewatch though, as it looks like it has the same grimy charm of his contemporaries like Bill Lustig & Larry Cohen.

Monday, May 18, 2015

I'd Expect Nothing Less From Japan.

Last week I checked out the latest lecture from The Black Museum presented by Toronto-based visual artist and filmmaker Jennifer Linton.

So, naturally Linton began the lecture by breaking down the meaning of Ero Guro (short for Ero guro nansensu which translates as erotic grotesque nonsense) for which she described as “a cultural phenomenon that devoted itself to explorations of the deviant, the bizarre, and the ridiculous.” 

Using a scene from Sion Sono's 2005 film Strange Circus, she pointed out the three main themes that permeate Ero Guro,

-deviant representation of gender and sexuality
-violence, either overt or suggested
-underpinnings of absurdity and humor

Following that, Linton laid out a brief history of early twentieth century Japan that ushered in an environment that gave birth to the Ero Guro. After Tokyo was decimated after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, women joined the workforce to help the rebuild. This, of course, gave way to whole new attitude and, as Linton put it; “it was within this atmosphere of social freedom and modern pleasures that the Erotic Grotesque was born.”

Linton then went on the introduce the most influential figure in Ero Guro, writer Edogawa Ranpo (Tarō Hirai, 1894-1965). He was a writer of mystery fiction and inspired by the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe – you may notice his pen name sounds quite like the latter. In the 1930's, his works began leaning more toward Ero Guro and over the years many of his stories have been adapted. As Linton explained;

“He was known for mystery stories that incorporated elements of the fantastic, the provocative and the disturbed. They have an ability to unsettle and delve deeply into a fear of the unknown that all humans share.”

Linton's favourite tale of Ranpo's was one called The Human Chair. It's a bizarre tale about a chair maker who builds a secret compartment for himself into one of his creations to facilitate his fetish of having ladies sit on his lap. 

It was made into the above pictured manga by Junji Ito (of Uzumaki and Gyo fame), although it has also been represented in more overtly sexual ways, as well.

Linton showcased five films that best illustrated the genre, the first of which was 1969's Horrors of Malformed Men by Teruo Ishi.

She did her best to lay out a synopsis; 

“This film is best described as avant garde theatre meets an exploitation film. It's a hodgepodge of at least four Rampo stories, including the Human Chair, as well as H.G. Well's novel The Island of Dr. Moreau and its 1932 adaptation Island of Lost Souls. Describing the plot of this movie is a near impossible task... but I will tell you that the story begins with a young doctor named Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida) who suddenly finds himself in an asylum. The story also involves almost three murders, circus performers, flashbacks, topless girls, snakes, more topless girls and Hirosuke's mysterious double named Genzaburô”

That sounds like one hell of a movie. But the most striking thing I noticed was the performance of Tatsumi Hijikata as the Dr. Moreau character, Jôgorô Komoda. Hjikata was not an actor, but a trained performer and it is fairly obvious that his performance influenced the J-horror genre that would emerge three decades later.

Tatsumi Hijikata in The Horrors of Malformed Men.

One cannot see Hjikata in this film and not think of Sadako in Ringu and Kayako in Ju-on. It was really interesting to see.

Next up was Hiroshi Harada's animated film Midori from 1992.

Mostly due to problems with Japanese censors, it is pretty hard to find, only available on DVD through a small French distributor. As Linton explained;

“Due to the controversial nature of the content, Harada was unable secure investors for the project, thus he financed and worked on the fifty-two minute film alone, creating all of the artwork over a five-year period using the technique of cell animation. Midori is a faithful adaptation of Suehiro Maruo's manga Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show.”

Midori is a relentlessly bleak tale about a flower girl, who after being orphaned, becomes the sex slave of a band of circus performers. This trailer (for a past Cinefamily screening) below should give you an idea of the extreme perversity within.

The third film was Nagisa Ôshima's 1976 film, In The Realm of the Senses.

The movie is based on the Sada Abe Incident in 1936 Tokyo. Abe was a waitress who strangled her lover to death, cut off his penis and testicles and proceeded to carry them around in her purse. Wow, THAT'S where that phrase came from? She was subsequently arrested and convicted of second-degree murder and mutilation of a corpse.

Sada Abe shortly after her arrest.

After serving five-years of a six-year sentence, she was released. That may seem a little odd, but Linton offered compelling evidence as to why her sentence was so light;

“Pre-war writings such as Sada Abe's 1937 psychological diagnosis took her as an example of the dangers of unbridled female sexuality and a threat to the patriarchal system. In the post War era however, she was treated as a critic of Tokyo's totalitarianism and a symbol of freedom from oppressive political ideologies.”

The fourth film was Yasuzô Masumura's 1969 film, Blind Beast.

Based on one of Ranpo stories, Linton gave a pretty accurate synopsis;

“A psychopathic blind sculptor disguises himself as a massage therapist in order to gain access to young women. He sadistically murders and dismembers his victims using their body parts to make strikingly realistic sculptures. In the film, the many women are reduced down to one and the filmmaker maintains the blindness of the sculptor, but with a significantly less monstrous appearance than in the story to make him more sympathetic to the audience.”

Linton showed a lengthy clip of the film that was pretty awesome – you can see it here if you don't mind there are no subs – and though possibly inspired by Salvador Dali's set design in 1945's Spellbound, Blind Beast certainly added a visual flair largely absent from the other films I've seen with this storyline, such as H.G. Lewis' Color Me Blood Red (1965) and Santos Alcocer's Cauldron of Blood (1970). This still below should give you some idea of what you're in for.

The last film that Linton referenced was Kôji Wakamatsu's 2010 film Caterpillar.

Caterpillar tells the story of a lieutenant returned to his village after the war (now quadriplegic, deaf, dumb and disfigured) to much fanfare. His wife, whom he was previously abusive toward, is now expected to be his caretaker. Even though she is revolted by him, and gains a sense of power in his helplessness, she still feels compelled to fulfill his needs which, mirroring that of a caterpillar, are solely food and sex.

This was another adaptation of a Ranpo tale, one which was banned on its initial release in 1934 for its perceived anti-military sentiment. Wakamatsu embraces this in his film, using it as a critique of ultra nationalism.

The evening concluded with the sad announcement that this was to be the last Black Museum lecture at The Royal. Save for a screening of Dario Argento's Deep Red on 35mm next month, it appears that classes are now done. I'm optimistic that Andrea & Paul will be able to set up shop somewhere else, but I'll guess we'll just have to wait and see. It was a good run either way.