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.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Double Shot

A couple of NBC’s Fear Itself episodes have gone by since I last spoke of it, so here’s a few thoughts on them.

Ronny Yu directed the third episode entitled “The Family Man”.

A successful banker (Colin Ferguson) switches bodies with an apprehended serial killer (Clifton Collins Jr.) after a near death experience. Now, he has to find a way out before his family becomes the killer’s next victims.

This was probably the best one so far. The storyline is similar to 1995’s Hideaway, but has enough of its own personality to stand on its own. The episode did seem a tad sanitized, but was still decent. The ending was also pretty good and most importantly, one I didn’t see coming.

Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky, Freddy vs. Jason) is surprisingly reserved in his approach to the material. It was actually quite refreshing to see him play something straight for a change.

The next episode is called “In Sickness and In Health”. Just before a bride (Maggie Lawson) is to about to take her vows, she receives an anonymous note revealing a chilling piece of info about her husband-to-be.

You know how sometimes you can tell a director’s work without even seeing their name in the credits? For example, I bet if you lined up all thirteen episodes of the first season of Masters Of Horror with the director’s names unmatched, any seasoned horror fan could probably pick out who did what with almost perfect accuracy. My point is that within the first few minutes of “In Sickness” I thought to myself, ‘Ah, this must be Landis’s episode’ and sure enough, it was. His two Masters Of Horror episodes Deer Woman and Family were good and great respectively and you can always count on his stuff to at least be entertaining.

His Fear Itself episode is a fairly odd affair though. It probably would have been serviceable if it wasn’t for the really weak conclusion. It is fine if you want to throw in a twist, but when it doesn’t jive with all that came before it (unless I’m missing something, please fill me if so), it’s really frustrating. It really made the whole episode seem off kilter, even by Landis’s standards. I will say though, that it was good to see William B. Davis (the sinister Smoking Man from The X Files) again. I guess I can consider that a preamble to the movie that rolls around in a few weeks.

So, two more episodes down. That’s one hit and one miss.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Who's That Girl?

2004's Double Dare is a documentary that follows stuntwomen Zoë Bell and Jeannie Epper. Zoë is relatively new to the business and Jeanne is an old pro who has been working for decades. Jeannie comes from a long line of performers and the Epper stunt person lineage numbers in the double digits. During the course of the story, Jeannie – who has appeared in countless films, but is probably best known for doubling Lynda Carter on the Wonder Woman TV series – takes Zoë under her wing.

Even though the movie focuses on Zoë and Jeannie, two stuntwomen trying to survive in a male dominated business, it is also a great document of the trade in general. We see not only their work on the set, but also footage from stunt union meetings and their annual awards event. The doc also has interviews from some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters like Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino. You know, it’s funny. I was obviously aware of stunt doubling, but never realized until seeing Double Dare, just how much they actually do.

And yes, it’s official. I have a crush on Zoë Bell. She seems to have this genuine love of life and attacks it with extraordinary enthusiasm. She’s sexy, but could also probably drink you under the table. To be honest, I only first noticed her by name in last year’s Death Proof, but I’d been witnessing her work for over ten years before that. I was an avid watcher of Xena back in its day and always just assumed that Lucy Lawless (who Zoë doubled for) did most of her own stunts. After seeing the behind the scenes footage of Xena I saw this was not the case. I would imagine this was half due to my naiveté and half that it was really well edited. The best part of the doc for me is following Zoë through her experiences doubling Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. What a whirlwind that would have been!

Watching documentaries can sometimes be a dry and serious affair, but this is certainly not the case here. Double Dare is a truly fun watch and sheds a much needed spotlight on an often overlooked profession. It might be hard to find, but it is well worth the effort tracking down.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Some Exciting News!

The full line-up and schedule for Fantasia, Montreal’s annual genre film festival, was announced yesterday. Man, what a collection of great titles this year! There are scores of movies that I’ve been chomping at the bit to see for a while, including Dance Of The Dead, Let The Right One In and Timecrimes as well as many I’ve been hearing about on Twitch and Bloody Disgusting, like Dark Floors, The Echo, 4bia, Red, Wicked Lake and Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (which also plays here July 17, wreaking havoc with my Dark Knight schedule I might add). And, most importantly, Fantasia is screening Fever Dreams’ new ultra-bloody opus Tokyo Gore Police. If I end up making the jaunt to Montreal, it will be for that. There are also a myriad of projects that are new to my radar. Check out some of these.

From Inside – A post apocalyptic animated vision designed and created by one man (John Bergin) on his home computer.

Before The Fall – A Spanish thriller about a man trying protect his children against not only the coming end of the world, but also an escaped convict bent on revenge.

The Substitute – From the director of 1994’s Nightwatch (the Danish morgue thriller, not the Russian vampire epic) comes a new movie about a teacher that may or may not be human.

Trailer Park Of Terror – Aiming for new heights of 'splatstick' is this offering about the zombie inhabitants of a trailer park.

Babysitter Wanted – This one sounds really interesting to me. It sounds like a standard slasher, but apparently reinvents convention and not in the usual, tired Scream fashion.

Home Movie – A new entry into the current wave of first person camera flicks, but with a twist. We’ve seen the vile atrocities perpetrated by the subjects of films like August Underground and The Poughkeepsie Tapes right? Well, imagine those same people when they were kids. What would the home videos taken of them as children look like?

Lady Blood – The sequel to 1990 French film Baby Blood – A film I’d never heard of and has now been zipped! – Lady will likely fit into the ranks of the current extreme efforts from France quite nicely.

There are also a bunch of movies that I’ve already seen that I know genre audiences will eat up greedily like [REC], the much delayed All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Alone, Machine Girl, Argento’s newest Mother Of Tears and Stuck. Other titles of note are the upcoming Midnight Meat Train, Repo! The Genetic Opera and Uwe Boll’s Tunnel Rats. We should place bets on which of those last two titles is the bigger train wreck. I have insider info that implies it is the former of the pair.

Lastly, two new guests have been announced for this year’s Festival Of Fear. The first is none other that Mr. Texas Chainsaw himself, Tobe Hooper. It seems so weird that this gets announced on the heels of this month’s Final Girl Film Club selection Lifeforce. The second is Linnea Quigley, who makes her triumphant return to Toronto. She was one of the guests at the Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors I attended back in ‘91. However, after reading the copy here, I am a little concerned about seeing her again. Every time I hear about people involved with PETA, I immediately recall the FOF Linda Blair debacle of 2006 and her fucking dog show. I DO NOT want to sit through that again. We are thrilled you love animals and protecting them is something you feel strongly about, but preaching about how dogs should have been saved before humans during the New Orleans disaster to a crowd who paid to hear you talk about the Exorcist is not my idea of a good time. But maybe that’s just me.

I hope that top is imitation leather.

Anyway, enjoy your weekend kids.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Remembering Stan

I wanted to dedicate this Coverbox Wednesday to movie magician Stan Winston, who passed away recently. His legacy lives on in the many creatures he helped create over the years. Even though he worked on films as recent as Iron Man and the forthcoming Terminator 4 just before his death, as this is a document of my old stomping grounds, I'm going to focus on the ones that resided in my old store's horror section.

Happy trails, Stan. You will be missed.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lifeforce (aka the movie with the HNSVC)

This month’s Final Girl Film Club selection – chosen by popular vote - is the 1985 flick Lifeforce. It’s too bad that Food Of The Gods (one of the other nominees) wasn’t picked because it would have fit in nicely with the recent Rat Week festivities here at The Horror Section. Alas, I am but one man and must follow the will of the cuckoo nutsos. Anyway, let’s get on with it shall we?

Poor Tobe Hooper. He never quite seemed to get out from underneath his brilliant debut The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There was Poltergeist, of course, but most people you ask associate that classic with Steven Spielberg. He has numerous horror titles on his resume, but also occasionally looked to the stars for material. In the mid eighties, he directed two evil alien flicks. They was Invaders From Mars and Lifeforce, which may have been his most ambitious film and certainly the most grandiose.

I came aboard the Lifeforce train way later than you might expect. I remember that seeing that cool eye-next-to-the-world teaser trailer when I was a kid, but it never really struck me as something I needed to see. If I’d known about the hot naked space vampire chick… Well, things would have been a bit different. And it was a Golan Globus Production! Do you know how many times I watched Ninja III: The Domination as a youngster? Let’s just say a lot.

I’m in a playful mood today, so I’m just gonna have a little fun with this one. Lifeforce starts up with this crazy Henry Mancini score that struck me as very medieval for some reason, like I was in King Arthur’s court rather than flying through an asteroid belt. Steve Railsback and his crew are on a space mission into Haley’s Comet where they discover a huge alien craft onboard which, is said hot naked space vampire chick… and oh yeah… two other unimportant dudes in cryo-statis. They get brought back to Earth and then – as you might imagine – all hell breaks loose. Railsback kisses Patrick Stewart and employs some very interesting interrogation techniques on this other woman. “I’m a natural voyeur.” Classic.

Space exploration has its ups...

...and downs.

There’s some great eighties cheese to be had here. A highlight is some of the creative animatronics utilized. It’s some really cool shit that just isn’t done anymore. And if that’s not your bag, there’s a great light show featuring those things that were in the Lost Ark. The film maybe a bit long in the tooth, but it’s all good. The destruction of an entire city takes time, you know. Did I mention the hot naked space vampire chick?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mulberry St.

I wanted to wrap up Rat Week with something a little more modern, but that was easier said than done. Apart from the 2002 TV movie The Rats starring Mädchen (you’ll always be Shelly the waitress to me) Amick, rat flicks are all but extinct. That was until last year’s Mulberry Street.

Mulberry Street is the baby of director Jim Mickle and writer/star Nick Damici and was one of the better offerings at the Toronto After Dark Festival last year. If I’d started The Horror Section even six months earlier, you’d have heard about it then.
A viral outbreak transmitted by rat bites is turning people in flesh eating creatures, throwing Manhattan into chaos. The tenants of a rundown apartment complex barricade themselves in against the infected outside. But, will they last long enough until rescue arrives?

The low budget underpinnings are obvious (CG fire anyone?), but there are several things about Mulberry Street that rise above that. The biggest of these is the time spent on character development. This is done remarkably well and also helped by solid and natural performances all around. I think the strength of this lies in the fact that a lot of them were based on actual people Jim and Nick encountered from their many years in The Big Apple. It's all this attention to character that makes you feel a bit sad when they start getting picked off. Not that I’m saying that some of them don’t commit the usual genre clichés, but they are ultimately forgivable. I have respect for filmmakers who just try to play a movie straight in this day and age.

Some of Mulberry Street's colourful inhabitants.
The ‘wererat’ effects are pretty rudimentary with darkness and speeding up the film used to cover up this fact. This is probably the weakest part of the movie, but not a deal breaker. Mulberry has a good deal in common with [REC] (one of my faves from last year), but Mulberry is grander in scope and doesn’t share the first person camera approach. The music provided by Andreas Kapsalis is also well suited to the material.

Yep, looks like you got yourselves an outbreak.
Nick and Jim are also real standup guys. Mulberry was the opening film at After Dark and they were both in attendance. At the party afterwards, I got to chat with Nick a bit. He was very humble and talked a lot about how he loved Canada and how different we were from The States.

You guys are so laid back. We’re all – let’s go get ‘em! But you guys are like, hey… just relax. I love it.” “Yeah,” I replied. “We hear that a lot.”

Mulberry Street is a good little movie. It is a zombie/killer rat hybrid that was clearly influenced by the works of George Romero.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Giant Rats Attack Toronto!

The 1982 movie Deadly Eyes is another little gem from my video store clerk days. It’s been fifteen years plus since I saw it last. As soon as I heard it was screening at Trash Palace, I dropped everything and made sure I was there last night. It has gone weekly now as two other film buffs have joined Stacey, offering up their collections for our viewing pleasure. Deadly Eyes was one of JC’s proud acquisitions. I talked with him a bit, while he was doing some last minute splicing in the projection booth. I asked him how he had managed to get his hands on it. Ebay, he said. He’d bought a one dollar VHS copy at a flea market sometime ago and after seeing it, knew he had to own a print. He is a big connoisseur of vintage Canadian tax shelter films.

I mentioned before that sometimes movies from our past are not as good as you remember them. This was NOT the case with Deadly Eyes. Holy crap, did I ever have an effing blast watching this again!

When a city’s contaminated grain stores are burned, a colony of unusually large rats are forced to search for other means of food. This soon spells disaster for an unsuspecting populace.

Deadly Eyes is actually a lot closer to the book than I remembered. The main character is still a teacher named Harris (Sam Groom) and Foskins (Scatman Crothers) is a field agent for the Ministry Of Health. The baby, subway and movie theatre set pieces are in there, as well. They changed the setting and threw in a love triangle for filler, but the skeleton of James Herbert’s story is left intact.

I think the most interesting thing about Deadly Eyes is how they created the rats. We’ve talked before about the difficulties involved with rat effects on a tiny budget (Of Unknown Origin used a lot of macro lenses and scaled sets), so Deadly Eyes took a unique approach. They dressed up dogs – namely dachshunds – to look like rats. What a stroke of genius! Seeing dozens of costumed canines chasing Foskins down a sewage tunnel is something that no screen cap could convey. Watching some of those sequences, I couldn’t help but think – you know what? This is kind of awesome… They really go for it! With low lighting on their side, those furry facades really helped the suspension of disbelief. Brilliant job guys! Of course, there is a good deal of puppetry for close ups, but seeing those scuttling hordes is really something to behold. Now that I think of it, I don’t think one actual rat was used in this entire picture.

As with Plague (my first visit to Trash Palace), it was fun to play 'spot the Toronto locations', with Deadly Eyes having been shot there in the winter of ’82.

I left Trash Palace with a spring in my step, knowing that sometimes memory IS as good as reality.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The City

You know, memory is a funny thing. While I was fact checking for yesterday’s story about James Herbert’s Rat Trilogy, I came across reference to a fourth book in the series. The City is a graphic novel, released in 1994, written by Herbert and illustrated by Ian Miller. The odd thing here is that I OWN this book and was completely surprised when it was cited as a continuation of the Rat Trilogy. So, off I went to my dusty bookshelf and pulled it out.

The City takes place in a future long after Domain where The Black Rats have taken over and now rule over the surviving humans. A lone traveller, encased in a full suit of armour and accompanied by two mechanical guard dogs, crosses into the City’s borders. He fights wave after wave of giant rats, moving toward an unknown goal. I went through it again – it’s a pretty light read, sixty or so pages with little dialogue – and the connection is pretty obvious as you can see below.

I remember picking it up ages ago during one of my first trips into that hulking metropolis that is Toronto. I wouldn’t put The City in that top group of graphic novels that I’ve read, but it’s definitely a cool and easy read. The colours and jagged textures of the art certainly make it visually interesting. There really isn’t much to the story though. You can absorb it very quickly which makes for a very light popcorn experience. Which is fine, of course, but I guess I now expect a little more substance from the medium with juggernauts like Alan Moore and Frank Miller out there.

Regardless, the mystery of completely forgetting about it still remains. Or maybe I never read it in the first place. Is it possible that I got it home and just stuck it on my shelf? We all know printed material is not my first choice of media, so maybe enough time passed that I just assumed I’d already read it. Has this ever happened to you? That’s the only explanation I can think of because I would’ve been completely retarded not to see the connection otherwise. Strange.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Rat Trilogy

Today, I’d like to get literary. British author James Herbert has always been one of my favourite writers. His fictional England has endured innumerable disasters under his hand and no one fucks up London better than he does. Herbert’s penchant for graphic mayhem grabbed me right from the first book of his I ever read called The Fog. James Herbert isn’t well known on this side of the pond because his works are seldom released here. Whenever my family or I go to the UK, I always make sure a trip to the bookstore is in order. When I was in my teens, sometimes two or three books would go by between visits without me knowing the wiser. With this being Rat Week, I would like to fittingly focus on his books The Rats, Lair and Domain, known tentatively as The Rat Trilogy. These novels filled my imagination when I was younger. They brought forth such blood-soaked imagery like no other author I’d ever read before. I absolutely BURNED through these as a young adult. It was my kind of stuff – gory, gritty and concentrated.

The Rats was published in 1974 and chronicles a giant rat infestation in the East London suburbs. It starts with isolated incidents, including a pupil of the main character Harris, an art teacher, being bitten while walking to class. When the child soon succumbs to his wound, Harris suspects the situation maybe more dire than the Ministry Of Health is letting on. Then, the attacks become more brazen and vicious…

Lair (1979) continues on four years after the events of The Rats. A mutant white rat is using Epping Forest, northeast of London, as its new breeding ground. Exterminator Lucas Pender is called in after the first few attacks are reported. Once there, Pender quickly realizes that this new breed of black rat is even more bloodthirsty than the last.

Herbert turned things up to the nth degree in 1984 with the release of the third book Domain (my personal fave). After a nuclear holocaust, the black rats rise up from the ashes of a devastated London to feast upon the survivors. The story follows a group living in an underground government bunker and the subsequent breech by the rat hordes. I often can’t believe that no one has ever tried to make a movie of this one. The setting reminds me a little of Day Of The Dead, but I also remember Deep Blue Sea (especially the sequence where Jacqueline McKenzie gets it) striking a chord of familiarity with bits of Domain, as well.

James Herbert’s catalogue is perhaps one of the largest unmined resources for adaptation out there. His books are very graphic, in a violent (and sometimes sexual) way and usually involve elaborate showcases of carnage that would likely be costly to bring to the screen. Still, that’s no excuse. To date, only four of his twenty or so stories have gotten the theatrical treatment. In addition to 1982’s Deadly Eyes (screening at Trash Palace this Friday), there was the David Hemmings' film The Survivor in 1981. The other two were decidedly more mainstream. His novel Fluke, about a man reincarnated as a dog, was made into a more family friendly vehicle starring Matthew Modine and Nancy Travis in 1995. That same year, Aidan Quinn played David Ash (one of Herbert’s only regular characters) in the film Haunted. I believe that was also the movie I first laid eyes on Kate Beckinsale... [pause for giddy reflection]

If you can find The Rat trilogy, or any of Herbert’s books, I highly recommend them. I’ve strayed recently and haven’t dipped into his most current works, but all is old catalogue is gold as far as I’m concerned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rattus Rattus

A relatively untapped horror subgenre is the killer/giant rat movie. I would imagine the easy explanation is that the money and time involved in making such a picture doesn’t really lend itself to the concept of low budget filmmaking. Slap a mask on someone and have them chase around nubile young vixens and you have a slasher flick. A zombie effort can be made with some blood and fake contacts. However, bringing believable rats – giant or otherwise - to the screen requires a bit more moxie. Continuing with Rat Week here at The Horror Section, is a special vermin themed Coverbox Wednesday.

This is the one playing at Trash Palace this Friday.

That last one wasn’t at my store, but has a story attached to it. Before Major Video became my video retailer of choice and eventual place of employment, my town had a Jumbo Video. Jumbo had a whole bunch of things going for it. There was free popcorn to eat while you browsed, a huge wide-open layout and the odd format of paying when you returned a movie, not when you took it out. Much to everyone’s surprise I’m sure, is that the real selling point for me was the horror section. Though not as tucked away as some porn sections are, it was nestled in a separate room. It had two large archways leading into it and the exterior walls were painted to look like a castle, complete with painted skulls. It was pretty awesome. This section had a great selection of off-the-wall titles, including the above Rats: Night Of Terror. I don’t think I’ve seen it since my initial viewing, but it will always stick with me. It had that intangible quality that a lot of those moldy old Euro-trash titles from the eighties have. That declaration of “we have no money, but we’re going to make sure you remember us!” If I had to put a tag on it, I’d say it’s half Road Warrior, half Return Of The Living Dead - but with rats instead of zombies. I think Anchor Bay have actually released a cleaned up DVD, so I might just have to take a trip to 225 A.B. Though, you always have to be careful with revisiting crusty movies like that from your childhood. Sometimes the memory is better than the reality. I’m pretty sure a second viewing of Night Of A Thousand Cats (another Jumbo title) would not likely be as entertaining as it was when my Dad and I watched it circa 1988.

Finding local video stores that carried movies like these was a big deal for me in my formative years. I grew up in a suburb outside of Toronto; so the thirty-minute drive it took to get downtown might as well have been a million miles when I was a kid. I didn’t have access to places like Queen and the legendary Suspect until I was well into my twenties. That’s why when I discovered them; it was like finding the Lost City of Atlantis. I was now able to actually see the movies that I’d been hearing samples of in Skinny Puppy tunes for years.

Oops. I went down a memory lane tangent again. Sorry if that was all gibberish. For the minute few of you who were actually feelin’ that, I’m sure you’re smiling on the inside right now.