Tuesday, December 29, 2009

LUNCHMEAT

Well it's been a few months since I wrote in this blog. To be honest, I've been super busy working on my other project The Cat is Dead, Put Her Out For Garbage and all the hard work has finally paid off. I was recently contacted by an agent who is going to help me turn this concept into a coffee table book (which has always been the goal). But anyway that's not why you're here . . . you want horror!


I've been watching lots of great movies since Halloween when I last wrote, but something else grabbed my attention last week and inspired me to write a new entry here at The Big Toe . . . this weekend I picked up a copy of Lunchmeat #4, a home-made zine that dives deep into the lost world of VHS cinema and all the horrors that came along with it. Truly an amazing publication with great reviews on some really obscure films. The design has a pulp feel, and the glossy heavyweight cover lets you know you're holidng something special! And best of all, the writers know their subject . . . I've seen alot of horror movies in my day, but these guys manage to find some real gems! Published out of PA by editors Josh Schafer and Ted Gilbert, Lunchmeat takes me back to my old days on the Long Island Hardcore scene, when self-published black & white zines floated around at shows, containing reviews of 7" records from bands on the local hardcore scene, grainy graffiti photos from Long Island, and interviews typed on a type-writer, accompanied by cut & paste images from comics and magazines. Simply put, reading Lunchmeat is a nostalgic experience, and I cannot put the thing down!




Thinking even further back, I remember when I was a little kid in the early 80's and my Mom would take me food shopping. At first I didn't like to go - it was boring and I would have rather been home watching cartoons. But as soon as I discovered the VHS movie aisle and the horror section, I suddenly couldn't wait to go! This was back in the day when Pathmark in my neighborhood used to rent out movies, long before Blockbuster & Netflix even existed (and long before DVD and Blu Ray). While my Mom was stocking up on food, I would pace up and down the movie aisle, absorbing the cover art on "big box" VHS titles, reading the plot summaries on the backs of the tapes, and memorizing the titles. I'll never forget the cover art for movies like Chopping Mall (body parts in a shopping bag being held by a robotic arm), Funhouse (killer clown holding a knife), Critters (little furry creature smiling back at me saying "rent me!"), C.H.U.D. (something coming out of a manhole . . .), Ghoulies (who could forget the ugly bald green guy coming out of the toilet?!), and so many more classics . . .




As a kid I remember telling my Mom how excited I was to one day "finally be old enough to rent them." My Mom laughed it off, but little did she know these VHS boxes were molding me into the horror-obsessed genre fanatic that I am today. Over 20 years later, I find myself cruising around Ebay trying to find those memorable VHS movies, and one peek at the box takes me right back to the movie aisle at Pathmark! So for someone like me, Lunchmeat is like a Bible. I sent in my check for $20 (for a 1-year subscription) and even wrote to the editors to pat them on the back for creating such an awesome piece of literature. I strongly suggest you hurry over to your local comic shop - the issues are super limited and #1 and #2 are already out of print . . .


Visit Lunchmeat online over at:
www.myspace.com/lunchmeatzine





Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Review #48: Trick R Treat


TRICK 'R TREAT
(2009)

About 2 years ago I started hearing buzz about a little movie called Trick 'R Treat that was shelved with no definitive release date; rumors soon flew around the horror community when the film was pushed back in 2007. For the next 2 years the carrot dangled in front of us with trailers and sneak peeks at the main character Sam, who appeared to be a little trick-or-treater wearing a burlap pumpkin sack over his head. I caught a few minutes of the film at this year's Fangoria Weekend of Horrors and checked the internet every day following, hoping for word on a release date. Warner Bros & Legendary Pictures heard the call and finally released the film straight to DVD on October 6, 2009, just in time for Halloween, and horror fans across the country got their wish . . .


Let's start by saying that there has not been a horror movie made to truly capture the creepy feeling of Halloween since, well, John Carpenter's Halloween (1978). And even that film took place on this special day but hardly focused on the nature of the holiday itself. There is a certain connection to October 31 that we all share - the crisp breeze in the air, the leaves that begin to change color and fall from the trees, people's homes transformed into houses of horror, neighborhood kids dressed as ghouls, and of course, enough candy to send our family dentist to the Bahamas for a month-long vacation. For horror fanatics like myself, Halloween is more important than Christmas and we needed a film that encompassed all the elements of this time of year . . . in that respect Trick 'R Treat certainly delivers on all fronts.


Growing up I would ride my skateboard to the local comic shop to grab the latest EC reprint of Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and the Haunt of Fear, which originally hit the stands in the 1950's. The presentation of these stories fascinated me, with creepy hosts like the Old Witch cackling one-liners and telling tales of murder & terror in friendly comic format. When HBO launched Tales From The Crypt as a TV Series in 1989, I abandoned my Nintendo and sat religiously in front of the tube for my weekly dose of horror. The voice of John Kassir as the Crypt Keeper and the brilliant intro music of Danny Elfman is forever stained in my brain. Trick 'R Treat plays out like an old Tales From The Crypt comic and is actually an anthology of four Halloween-related scary stories. We're even treated to some comic artwork in the film, and a comic book based on the film will be released this month, along with a slew of awesome movie merchandise. The marketing campaign behind this film is incredible. It is obvious that director Michael Dougherty was heavily influenced by these aforementioned EC classics and pays homage to them in his film, which is sure to please any life-long genre fan yearning for that "old school" horror feel that has been lost in a vicious cycle of big-budget Hollywood remakes and watered-down teeny bopper terror that emerged in the late 90's.


Back to Sam: Trick 'R Treat uses Sam as the bridge between the four intertwined stories, and his sole purpose in the film is to remind the characters the importance of honoring Halloween tradition. I don't want to spoil the film for anyone reading this, but the un-masking of Sam is probably one of the cutest yet most terrifying moments of the film. The stories within the story (The Principal, Surprise Party, The Halloween School Bus Massacre Revisited, and Meet Sam) are gory, campy, humorous, and fun. You have to watch the film more than once to catch all the tie-ins and plot overlaps - it is the kind of film that gets better every time you see it. The obvious strength of the movie is the setting and the plot / character development - the audience feels like they are trick or treating right there in the neighborhood. Capturing the feeling you get as Halloween nears could not have been an easy task, but Dougherty and his crew succeeded with flying orange and black colors.


If Halloween had an anthem, Trick 'R Treat would be the band that played it. The film was a cult classic before it even hit the shelves at Blockbuster, which is quite an achievement for any film in any genre. Horror fans are obsessive and dedicated, and I'm certain they will find satisfaction in this "little film that could." I hate to use the phrase "there's something for everyone" but in Trick 'R Treat this definitely rings true. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Halloween than watching this movie with a bowl of popcorn and a garbage bag full of candy . . . just make sure you check that Snickers bar for a razor blade first . . .




The Halloween School Bus Massacre Revisited


Sam the doll - not quite a Cabbage Patch Kid . . .




Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Movie Review #47: Grace


GRACE
(2009)



There are very few horror films that accurately capture the love between a mother and her newborn child, let alone focus on that unconditional love as the main source of tension and terror. The role of women in our beloved genre is typically reserved for drawn out chase scenes between her & a killer, or making her the first of the body count after an onslaught of gratuitous nudity and teenage sex. As humans, we are predisposed to sympathize with a woman as the lead role in a film, and making the newborn baby the villain is something no director in Hollywood seems to want to touch. Films like Rosemary's Baby (1968), It's Alive (1974), and to some extent, Basket Case (1982) have toyed with the notion of the infant as the source of evil, but no such film has accomplished the sheer horror evoked by Paul Solet's debut film, Grace.


I sat down to watch the film with extremely high expectations, having heard the buzz from Sundance about two grown men fainting during the screening and being a huge fan of Adam Green (Hatchet, 2006), who produced the film under the umbrella of ArieScope pictures. I had also heard the stories about Paul Solet, who hit the streets and horror conventions to promote his film carrying a dead bloody baby on his chest. I have a great deal of respect for such a grassroots marketing strategy, coming from a music scene on Long Island where we promoted hardcore shows to round up a gang of kids into a VFW Hall somewhere out East where they could bash each other to shreds while listening to brutal anti-establishment music, and knowing this was Solet's approach just made me want to see the film even more. Not to mention the promo poster (above) which left a lot to our sick & twisted imaginations. I knew this would be a film unlike anything I have seen, but to say I was blown away would be an understatement . . .


Our main character, Madeline, played by Jordan Ladd, finally becomes pregnant after several unsuccessful attempts and although the baby dies toward the end of the 9 month period, she decides to carry the baby to term. This is actually a real scientific possibility and the premise on which Solet wrote the script. Her husband dies in a car crash and after a horrible birth scene that takes place in the home of a mid-wife, Madeline brings her dead child Grace into the world, giving her life by feeding her blood. The baby's appetite becomes insatiable and Madeline soon finds herself draining blood from animal meat for nutrition, eventually crossing the ultimate line and killing a doctor who pays her a house call, so she can fill Grace's bottle with fresh blood.


Early in the film, Madeline discovers the need to drain herself to satisfy Grace, and the feedings become increasingly violent. She becomes a shut-in, alienating herself from friends and family and fully dedicating herself to the care of the child. The presence of flies in Grace's bedroom hint at the "undead" nature of the baby and raise suspicion throughout the entire film. Madeline's over-bearing mother-in-law Vivian (played by Gabrielle Rose), whose mission is to repossess Grace for herself, creates further stress on the audience while offering a glimpse into the varying degrees of a mother's love for child, a theme that is constantly emphasized in Solet's script. The raw emotion on screen is very real, and the cast of characters are spot-on.


Most of the film takes place inside Madeline's home, with a similar feeling to one of my personal favorites, the French film Inside (2006), in which a woman on the brink of motherhood is tormented in her home by a strange woman who wants her unborn baby. In Grace, Vivian is the threat, and Madline must do whatever it takes to protect her child. Solet offers more than just insight into a mother's undying love for her baby, something no man (or woman without children) can understand -- he asks the question "what happens when a woman goes past that point of love and into madness?" The result is a film so far from reality but yet somehow still very real. Quite a feat indeed . . .


There is no need for a masked killer here. The real terror lies in the viewer's uncertainty about Grace, the obsession of Madeline to keep her seeimgly innocent child alive, the persistence of Vivian to destroy Madeline, and of course the straight up disgusting concept of a baby who lives off human blood. Solet succeeds in making two very basic & essential pieces of human nature, childbirth and motherhood, downright terrifying. This is the strength of Grace, and what makes it, in my opinion, one of the best horror films of the last decade if not one of the best ever made.



Check out Grace over at:
www.gracehorror.com



Momma's gonna buy you a mockingbird. If that mockingbird don't sing, Momma's gonna kill someone and feed you their blood . . .







Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Movie Review #46: Friday the 13th - Part III (1982)

FRIDAY THE 13th: PART 3
Directed by Steve Miner


The recent re-make of Friday the 13th this year made me want to watch all the Friday films over again in order. It has been years since I saw them, and tonight I popped in Part 3. Most horror fans will agree that the first 4 films are the only ones worth watching, and I couldn't agree more. The first 2 films are horror classics, and few realize that it wasn't until Part 3 that Jason puts on his infamous hockey mask. So I decided to start with this film for the purposes of this blog . . .


Part 3 starts off with a re-cap of the second film, which left off inside Jason's shack in the woods, home to his candlelit shrine with the decapitated head of his mother Mrs. Voorhees. Cut to a country store, where we hear a TV news station report on the Crystal Lake murders. The film starts off slow, with an old couple who become Jason's first victims during 15 minutes of useless footage -- an anti-climactic body count of 2 before the intro credits even roll. The film finally kicks off with a group of teens preparing for a camping trip (big surprise!). The couple who wants to have lots of sex in the woods, the annoying roommate, and two stoners -- the usual recipe for disaster. And in typical horror genre fashion, the group has an encounter with a crazy old bum carrying a human eyeball, who warns the kids that they are in danger. How come no one ever listens to the crazy old bum holding a body part? I guess then we wouldn't have a horror movie, would we?


Anyway, one of the main characters, Shelly (played by Larry Zerner), is a prankster who has a run-in with a local motorcycle gang in front of the general store, knocking over their bikes. The gang follows Shelly back to the lake house seeking revenge, and soon meet face to face with Jason (or should i say face to bag face - Jason is still sporting the potato sack and hasn't put on his mask yet) in broad daylight. Three of them are killed in the barn -- one gets a pitchfork to the face and is hung up by the neck; the other gets a pitchfork to the chest, and the third gets a few whacks to the face with a meat cleaver. The "bad guys" don't last very long in this film . . .


After cleaning up the bad apples, Jason moves on to our main characters. Surprisingly, the couple having sex aren't the first to go. One of the girls is found sitting on the dock dipping her feet in the lake, and Shelly emerges from the water in a hockey mask holding a spear gun. Jason soon acquires the mask and spear gun, which he uses to murder her in one of the best kill scenes of the film, firing the spear from a distance right through her skull. However, we never actually see him take the mask -- one minute he just emerges from the shadows wearing it. It's strange that there is no emphasis on Jason putting on the mask, which has since become a historic symbol of horror that everyone recognizes, and it should have been a crucial moment in the film.


One by one Jason takes out our main characters, leaving behind one girl, Chris (played by Dana Kimmell) to fight him off in the end. She gets a few good stabs at Jason, and his painful grunts are rather comical. And what do you do when you're trying to get away from Jason in a van and he reaches into the driver side window? You roll up the window of course! That oughtta stop him! The interaction between Jason and Chris during the final moments of the film are your standard horror movie chase scenes, poorly acted, drawn out too long, and adhere to the same format as the first 2 films (and pretty much every other horror film to follow). Remember kids, the killer is never really dead in the end, no matter what you do to him, even if you leave him hanging by the neck from the barn. But Part 3 is a good watch, and a critical part of the series where Jason gets his mask, a must-see for all horror fans. Also keep an eye out for the brief moment when Jason lifts his mask to reveal his mutated face, something that was left to the imagination at the end of Part 2 when Ginny pulled back the potato sack.


Important to note here is the use of 3-D technology which, at the time, was still very new (Part 3 was made in 1982).
However, it still must have been a treat for movie-goers during those days. The director is obviously testing the new concept in this film, wasting it on useless shots like a baseball bat coming off the screen but making good use of it when Jason fires the spear gun right at the audience. And again in one of my favorite scenes when Jason squeezes Rick's head until his eyeball pops out in all its 3-D glory. Hollywood has come a long way with the use of 3-D, and judging by the 60+ films being released in 3-D this year, the gimmick is back in full force.

PS. what's up with the funk soundtrack that Harry Manfredini wrote for this film? It sounds like Goblin making a porno . . .


Check out Friday the 13th Part III on IMDB over at:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083972/






Thursday, September 3, 2009

Movie Review #45: The Last House on the Left (2009)


THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009)
Directed by Dennis Iliades / Produced by Wes Craven




The Big Toe Blog presents: the original vs. the remake


When I first saw the magazine ad in Fangoria for The Last House on the Left, I thought to myself "here we go again -- another remake of a genre classic that people will probably hate." Truth is, I never really liked the 1971 original in the first place. I popped it into my DVD player about 10 years ago with high hopes, as a Wes Craven fan well-aware of all the hype surrounding it.
I found myself wishing I was watching I Spit On Your Grave (1978) instead, one of the better rape & revenge films out there, that followed the Last House formula but carried out the same concept with flying blood-red colors. I found the soundtrack to the original to be distracting (i.e. during the rape scenes there is a ballad playing?!) and at times very out of place. Known for its stark contrast to the picture's action, the music is the main source of weakness in the film. Unfortunately, I easily dismissed the original Last House film, feeling rather indifferent towards it, so the unveiling of a remake was actually quite appealing to me because I always felt the story had great potential . . .


In a nutshell, the remake is exactly what the original
could have been, with a bigger budget of course, and had it been created after 30 years of learnings in the genre. At one point, Wes Craven himself (who also produced the remake) mentions in the special features that the remake is what the original film should have been. Rumor has it that the 1971 script was written to be a hardcore, violent horror film, but was scaled back when it went into production. First off, the 2009 version is MUCH gorier and makes full use of modern special effects make-up (obviously) -- after all, it seems you can't sell a movie these days without these 2 things. The power of the film is in the way the viewer actually feels the pain on screen, something that was so obviously missing from the original. The 1971 actors just seemed to be going through the motions, which bored me; within a simple forest backdrop, laced with irrelevant music throughout, much of the genuine emotion that makes a film memorable is completely lost. The intensity of emotion and terrifying possibility of reality is where the remake prevails.


There are a few scenes in the 2009 version where I found myself literally cringing and hanging off the edge of my seat, especially when Uncle Frank (played by Aaron Paul, also a convincing drug addict in
one of my favorite shows, Breaking Bad on AMC) takes a hammer to the head while his arm is being shredded in the kitchen sink's garbage disposal. It is such a brutal scene, during which the parents of the rape victim (young 17-year old Mari Collingwood, played by Sara Paxton) come to terms with their ability to be violent, setting off a night of carnage that blows the original out of the water. You feel the pain of the parents, you sympathize with Mari, you really want revenge for the family, more so than you ever did. It is a perfect revenge film, brilliantly executed with more tension than a 400-pound woman laying in a hammock. However, critic's reviews were less than favorable as usual. As long as you're not watching the film through a microscope and just experiencing it on the surface for what it is, I'm sure any horror fan will enjoy the gratuitous violence and non-stop brutality. And if you still don't want to take my word for it, just skip ahead to the final scene . . . TV dinner anyone?


Lastly (no pun intended), the only thing about the original that I'm still somewhat attached to is the promo poster (pictured below). The words "It rests on 13 acres of earth over the very center of hell . . ." are promising but imply a "haunted house" film of sorts, which is completely misleading. And the slogan "To avoid fainting, keep repeating: it's only a movie, it's only a movie . . . " is sheer movie marketing genius!
The Last House on the Left is a perfect example of why us horror fans should give remakes a chance -- and if you still like the original better, it will always be there for you. I think too many movie-goers (especially horror fanatics) feel like remakes take away from the luster of the original, which couldn't be further from the truth . . .


Original poster for the 1971 film

Would you let this gang of riff-raff into your house on a dark & stormy night?
The "bad guys" of the 2009 Last House remake in one of the most popular shots from the film.


Check out The Last House on the Left 2009 film at:
www.thelasthouseontheleft.com








Friday, August 28, 2009

Lake George is Haunted


LAKE GEORGE IS HAUNTED

Lake George, NY will forever hold a special place in the back of my mind as one of my favorite family vacation spots. As a kid, I would spend a week up there with my family camping, swimming in the lake, getting ice cream in town, and of course, visiting The House of Frankenstein Wax Museum. This summer I had the pleasure of returning to Lake George for the first time in over 10 years, and to my excitement, the museum still stands. They even added a haunted house up the block called Dr. Morbid's, and for a small fee of $14 you can visit both attractions year-round.

Outside Dr. Morbid's Haunted House


After spending some time lakeside eating homemade kettle corn, I forked over the $14 without hesitation. Our first visit was Dr. Morbid's. The inside of the lobby, although well-lit with sunshine pouring in through the front windows, is darkly decorated like an old library, with a dusty piano and a corpse propped up in an armchair. Her dead cat's skeleton is sprawled out on a chair nearby. Eerie portraits line the walls, and a chair made of skulls (similar to the furniture from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) takes the center of the room.

The lobby of Dr. Morbid's (above) is very well done . . .

Look at this sexy mama!


You are greeted by a live guide at the entrance of a long dark hallway. Upon entering the haunted house, you are instructed to line the wall with your backs against it, and the first room is pitch black. The guide begins with the story of Dr. Morbid and his mad house of wax. Guests are then greeted by a moving, talking skeleton inside of a booth that resembles the cover of the first Creepshow film. Unfortunately, flash photography was not permitted inside. Each room is designed with great detail, and I was very impressed with the layout. Coffins open and close, large barrels of wax bubble, corpses (and live people) jump out from every corner, all while being led through the dark halls by a creepy guide who cackles as she tells her story. At the end of the tour, you are left in Dr. Morbid's lab, where he dips his human subjects in wax to create his house of horror. An alarm sounds, and the guide screams for everyone to get out while they still can, and you are chased down the hallway by a ghoul with a chainsaw, back out into the sun drenched lobby. The entire experience lasted about 10 minutes and the guide moves very quickly, so I recommend hanging at the back of the group so you can really take in all the details of each room. Note the hardcover book on the table of Dr. Morbid's study, titled Satan is a Man . . .


Outside The House of Frankenstein Wax Museum

The next stop was The House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, a landmark on the main drag of Lake George. I'm not sure how long the museum has been there, but the exhibits show their age (I'll get to that part shortly). The lobby, however, is much more modern, with Frankenstein himself planted at the entrance, strapped inside some kind of mad science experiment, with Dr. Frankenstein himself controlling the panels nearby. A glass display case next to the ticket counter is filled with some really great sculptures and Frankenstein figures worth taking a good look at.

Frankie about to get the juice . . .

Dr. Frankenstein takes control of the situation . . .

The glass display case that I was very jealous of . . .


Upon entering the museum you climb a tall flight of stairs beneath a chandelier dangling from the ceiling, and enter a dark hallway with glass windows along one side, just like I remembered it as a kid. I was happy to hear that photography was permitted, but no flash (I have a great setting on my camera called "available light" that works great in such situations, and another setting called "behind glass"). The first window that you come to is a ghost with eyes that light up, and I was rather unimpressed - I wasn't even convinced that the display was made of wax . . . he just kind of hovers there, and after a minute it was time to move on.

A light-up ghost who didn't seem to be made of wax. Not a very good intro to the museum. The Creepshow skeleton at the entrance to Dr. Mobid's blew this guy out of the water!

As you make your way down the hall, behind each window is a horror scene that you can interact with by pushing a button on the window sill. Here are some of my favorites:

Dracula stands in the corner, and when you press the button he fades away and a vampire bat appears, using some sort of mirror trick.


A murder takes place in a bathtub, and when you press the button the killer slams an axe down into the victim (by far the goriest and best exhibit in the museum).

Witness a seance, with a very cheesy moving table effect . . .

The pendulum swings and dices a victim laid out on a table.

A huge room dedicated to Medieval Torture shows victims inside an Iron Maiden, strapped to a stretch rack, laid on a bed of nails, and of course the infamous guillotine device that actually works.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame claims a female victim.

A cheating husband is served the decapitated head of his lover while his maniac wife looks on with a smile.

The Phantom of the Opera plays a tune.

An amazing wax figure of Jason Voorhees pays homage to a modern horror icon.

A dark religious order of hooded Druids offer a sacrifice.

. . . and a prisoner is burnt to a crisp in a smoking electric chair.


The list goes on and on . . .


The House of Frankenstein is a journey through the history of horror, and without a guide you can spend as much time as you like viewing each exhibit. There is something for everyone here, and horror fans will be pleased with the amount of detail and care taken with each figure. My only gripe is that everything is behind glass, so you feel somewhat distanced from the experience. Some of the exhibits have not exactly aged gracefully, but the good news is you can skip over these and chances are the next one will be to your liking. All of the scenes are as I remember them, and I'm not sure much has been done to beef up the presentations over time. But that certainly does not take anything away from them -- they were just as awesome as they were 10 years ago!

Visit The House of Frankenstein online at:
http://www.frankensteinwaxmuseum.com/

Visit Dr. Morbid's Haunted House online at:
http://www.drmorbid.com/






Thursday, July 23, 2009

A TRIBUTE TO GREEN SLIME


SLIME

Slime was one of the coolest things about growing up in the 80's. Sure, there was a plethora of terrible glam hair bands, heavy metal denim jackets, awful synth-pop music, and plenty of cocaine during this decade. But nothing represented the innocence and freedom of youth quite like slime! This entry is a tribute to the gooey sticky green stuff that made being a kid so much fun . . .


It all started for me sometime in the early part of the 80's when I religiously watched You Can't Do That On Television, and the kids got green slime dumped on their heads every time they said "I don't know." I used to cheer at the TV set every time it happened. While grocery shopping with my Mom it was always a treat to drop a quarter in the vending machine and leave the store with a plastic bubble full of slime, which I would then use to terrorize my little sister and pretend I was sneezing out a handful of bright green snot. Even more fun was throwing the glob up onto the ceiling and watching it drip down, ignoring my Mom's yelling from the next room.
They even had "sticky hands" that you could slap on a friend or nearby wall, providing endless hours of enjoyment. When Ghostbusters came out in 1984, slime was all the rage, thanks to Slimer and the infamous Bill Murray line "I've been slimed."


But nothing was more fun than the abundance of grossout toys. Toy companies like Arco and Mattel in the 80's were all about slime -- some of my favorites being the
Mad Scientist Dissect-An-Alien, Alien Blood, and Living Ice series, Masters of The Universe Slime Pit, and the Manglor Mountain Volcanic Playset.



The Dissect-An-Alien kit was the coolest fucking thing I've ever seen -- you got a plastic alien with a rubber chest that would open up, and you could remove his organs (and of course, slime) with a plastic scalpel and place them on their appropriate spots on a laboratory mat.
The slime glowed in the dark too! That was basically all the toy did, but what more do you really need when you're 7 years old?! I still have no idea to this day how I convinced my parents to buy me this ridiculous item . . .



The Alien Blood figures were soft rubbery characters that you would fill with "alien blood" and when you squeezed them, slime would ooze from their nose, eyes, and mouth. Characters named Sammy Sneeze, Billy Belcher, and Oscar I-Rot were disgusting, and I loved all 3 of them.


The Living Ice series took the idea a bit further, and although not technically "slime" but rather a sculptable form of "goo," it was still an awesome toy. The Living Ice playset came with a small container of "ice" which you would pack into a plastic mold, and when you squeezed the two molds together you had a tiny little monster. And what would you do with this little guy? Well, you could pull him apart and make another one, or splatter him against the wall, as the box so blatantly advertises. Just take a look at this cute little bastard named I-Chomp below . . .



Every boy growing up the 80's loved He-Man. If you didn't then you must have been a complete loser who got cheap thrills by pulling up the skirt on your little sister's Barbie doll. Everyone remembers Skunkor, who smelled like . . . yup, you guessed it . . . a rancid skunk. But how many people remember the Slime Pit? A torture device designed by Skeletor and his evil minions, the Slime Pit was a tower with a dinosaur skull at the top that you filled with slime. He-Man and the "good guys" would then get placed at the base in the grip of a skeleton hand and the skull would ooze slime down onto them. Pointless, yes, but more fun than leaving pennies on your Grandma's floor and then hiding under her kitchen table and watching her pick them all up like she just won the lottery.



And lastly, my favorite of the slime toys, was the Manglor Mountain Volcanic Playset. Similar in concept to the Slime Pit, this was a volcano with a gargoyle head. It came with a "manglord" (a figure much like Stretch Armstrong) who you could pull apart and stick back together. You would place the manglord into a plastic iron maiden-like coffin, drop him into the top of the volcano full of slime, and press a button in the gargoyles mouth. Then the coolest thing ever would happen -- the manglord would sink down into the slime! Once again, completely pointless.




Nowadays these toys wouldn't last a week on the shelves at Toys R Us, which is a damn shame. Perhaps this is because kids today are all hopped up on behavorial control drugs and have the attention span of a gnat, which only XBox 360 seems to cure. Apparently some of the 80's slime toys were criticized and in some cases even banned -- I guess parents didn't watch the commercials before buying. I can only wonder how I spent most of my youth dissecting aliens, pulling apart monsters, drowning them in slime, and still ended up somewhat sane.







Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW #43: REC


REC (2007)
Directed by Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza



REC is the 2007 Spanish film which Quarantine, the 2008 American version, is based on. Surprisingly, both films are practically identical. REC follows suit with other first-person style horror films, like Blair Witch Project and Diary of the Dead -- shaky camerawork that makes you dizzy while you experience the horror first-hand. The film follows a TV reporter, Angela Vidal and her cameraman Pablo, who spend the night with a crew of firemen in their firehouse, hoping for a small emergency to make the documentary interesting. They get a little more than they bargained for when the call comes in.


They respond to a call regarding a screaming woman who is trapped in an apartment building. When they arrive, the woman is drenched in blood and attacks one of the firemen, biting him on the neck. The residents panic, and when they attempt to escape they are warned by the police to stay away from the windows. The authorities seal off the building with plastic sheets, trapping the people inside, informing them that they have been quarantined and will be sending in a health inspector. Once inside, the health inspector informs the residents that a dog from the building was brought to the vet a day earlier, and was infected with some sort of strange virus, which tipped off the local police that the building was contaminated.


One by one the residents fall victim to the virus after being bitten by the infected, leaving Angela and Pablo as the only survivors as the end of the film nears. When they reach the top floor of the building in an attempt to escape, they find themselves in an abandoned apartment filled with newspaper clippings, religious artifacts, and laboratory items. We quickly learn that the resident of the apartment was an agent of the Vatican, investigating the demonic possession of a young European girl. He brought her to the States and kept her locked in the apartment, performing experiments on her. Angela discovers a tape recorder documenting his studies, and soon realizes that her and Pablo are not alone in the apartment. Pablo puts the camera up into the attic, and a bloody infected boy jumps at the camera, destroying the spotlight. After putting the camera on night shot, the real terror finally begins. Angela and Pablo spot a figure moving inside the apartment, and once in full view we see an emaciated, lanky infected woman rummaging around the kitchen. It is an absolutely terrifying sight. The final few minutes of the film, where Pablo and Angela are trying to keep quiet and not be noticed by the woman, are the most horrific moments of the movie. I won't tell you what happens in that room, but let's just say there's no happy ending.


REC was a cool movie, but nothing too ground breaking here -- think 28 Days Later with a shaky camera, shot in an apartment building. The movie's plot grows increasingly chaotic with every moment, and the arguments among the characters I found to be very annoying. Screaming "what the hell is going on" over and over again did not evoke a feeling of terror, but rather frustration for the viewer. The horror takes the form of panic and chaos, with very little gore to back it up. The lack of music also makes the film anti-climactic, relying on quick scares and surprises around each corner instead of a haunting soundtrack. Essentially you could fast forward to the end of the film when the screen turns green and see the best part of the movie. But if you're in the mood for a bunch of people running up and down stairs screaming, the start from the beginning.


Check out the REC trailer here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeaUokzE9fI





Monday, July 13, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW #42: MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)


MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)

Directed by George Mihalka


First off I'd like to apologize for the lack of updates these past few weeks. I've been super busy and really haven't been taking advantage of my NetFlix account. So when it finally came time to update my queue I decided to check out the original My Bloody Valentine film from 1981, after having seen this year's remake and thoroughly enjoying it (see Movie Review #34, February 2009). Surprisingly I had never seen the original -- I was only 2 years old when it hit theaters. Now, your average horror fan will almost always stand by the claim that the original is always better than the remake, but in the case of MBV this couldn't be further from the truth. Each film does certain things well, pros and cons which I will touch on in this review.


Unfortunately, the original doesn't kick off with the same violent, shocking intro as the remake -- instead we witness two masked miners wandering through a mine, and then, for no reason at all and with no explanation, one miner removes her mask and clothing, revealing long waves of blond hair and a heart tattoo on her left breast. She seduces the other miner, stroking his oxygen tube. He suddenly has a "change of heart" and impales her on his pickaxe. Roll intro credits. The 2009 remake takes hold of the audience within the first 5 minutes, opening with a brutal scene at Mercy Hospital where our killer Harry Warden has just awoken from a coma, and mutilated everyone in his path. Blood drips from the walls and fresh corpses litter the hallways. Take your "pick!"


Of course the plot development differs in both films -- every director interprets a script differently. In the original, local legend tells us that Harry Warden escaped from a mental hospital, returning to Valentine Bluffs to kill residents on the night of the Valentine Dance, a tradition he warns the townies to cancel every year . . . or die. The "kids" ignore the town bartender's warning and a bunch of candy boxes housing human hearts, and have a Valentines party at (you guessed it) the Hanniger Mine, where the first set of murders took place years ago. One by one they are killed off, in typical slasher fashion, with a "twist" of an ending that is all too predictable. The remake takes a different approach, following the individual lives of each character and focusing on their interaction while trying to determine who the killer is. The characters have a history, and feel much more real. Throughout the storyline we are treated to gory high-tech death scenes that are further enhanced by the 3-D technology.



The original is a low budget Canadian slasher film that echoed the genre stereotypes of its predecessors, Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). One obvious difference between the two films is the usage of CGI, 3-D, and special gore effects in the remake, technology that was unavailable at the time of the original. However, the 1981 version was way ahead of its time in that it shocked the viewer with realistic gore effects and fantastic on-location camerawork inside a real mine, a difficult feat even for modern film, due to the lighting and camera challenges filmmakers are faced with when shooting underground in a mine rather than inside a man-made studio setting. The first-person point of view of Harry Warden is the most terrifying aspect of the original (especially when we hear his breathing through the mask and witness the murders through his own eyes), a concept that was regrettably missing from the remake. Why the 2009 director (Patrick Lussier) decided to omit this POV is beyond me, considering how effective it was in both Halloween and Friday, when Michael Myers' and Jason's breathing made the very hairs on the back of our necks stand up straight.



Another notable comparison is the character development in both films. The actors in the original are too old for their roles (and terrible actors at that), so we sympathize with them much less, whereas in the remake the character development is much stronger. We get a real sense of their history & friendship -- growing up in a small town I could relate to their feelings of discomfort and terror when their innocent home turf is turned upside down by a series of grisly murders. Our murderer Harry Warden doesn't change much -- the miner mask and pick axe are the tools of a memorable 1980's slasher icon, putting him right at the head of the class with Jason, Freddy, Leatherface, and Myers -- changing his appearance would have been simply disastrous for the remake.




While vastly different in terms of plot, characterization, and cinematography, both films shine in their use of creative kills. Most notably for the original is the old woman's melted corpse in the dryer at the local laundromat. In the remake the sheriff's jaw is torn off by Harry's pickaxe and flies off the screen in all its 3-D glory. Gaping chest cavities with missing hearts are trademark effects in each film, but today's modern film magic makes My Bloody Valentine 3-D a more rewarding experience. Make sure you check out the DVD extras for some cool insight into the special effects used in the film . . .



Speaking of the DVD, it is important to note that the original film fell victim to a great deal of censorship in the 80's, and until the 2009 Lionsgate release the film had not been seen in its original format.
Cuts were requested to every death sequence in the movie. Even after cutting the movie to match the requirements made by the MPAA, the film was returned with an X-rating and more cuts were demanded. But if you grab this year's release you can see it all!

Check out My Bloody Valentine on IMDB and be sure to grab a copy of the 2009 Lionsgate release to witness a true classic of the 1980's slasher genre:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082782/










Friday, June 5, 2009

The Creature Meets The Cool Ghoul



Here's a video from last year's Chiller Theatre convention where I had the honor of meeting the legendary Zacherley, The Cool Ghoul









:)

This made me very happy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW #41: LAID TO REST



LAID TO REST (2009)
Directed by Robert Hall




I was lucky enough to grow up during the 80's and 90's when slasher films were at the top of their game. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out a few years before I was born (1974) and Leatherface was the first real slasher icon. During the years to follow, young horror fans like myself were introduced to Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers, the "Holy Trinity" of slasher characters, often imitated but never duplicated. Hollywood has tried to reinvent the slasher role many times since, but the modern characters just don't have the same substance as their predecessors. Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) tried to pay homage by creating a new serial slasher with a twist, shot in documentary style from the POV of Vernon himself. The film, while a great concept, failed to match the terror evoked by the Holy Trinity. It was not until this year's Laid to Rest that Hollywood finally got it right . . .


Truth be told, we needed a new horror icon. It seems the genre has turned into a pissing contest where directors try to out-do one another by having the most over-the-top death scenes and quick scares in their films. Less focus is placed on the development of the character who is actually doing the killing. This is where Laid To Rest really shines. Popular effects artist turned director, Robert Hall, introduces us to "Chromeskull," a slick, polished murderer armed with two hunting knives, wearing a black suit, and of course, a chrome-dipped skull mask, who drives a fancy black car (with a personalized Chromeskull license plate). Unlike most killers, he sports the latest technology -- a video camera mounted on his shoulder like a parrot and a sleek cell phone to communicate with his victims. A far cry from the ax-wielding maniacs we're used to . . . but it's refreshing!


The film cuts right to the chase -- Bobbi Sue Luther plays The Girl, our lead, whose acting is so terrible one can only hope that Hall did this on purpose. He creates a shallow, one-dimensional character that embodies all the bad acting from every horror film ever made. She is so uninteresting and disposable that we don't even know her name, hence "The Girl" moniker. Luther's performance is painful to watch, especially when she stumbles over her dialogue in an attempt to appear nervous, scared, or confused. She awakes in a coffin in a funeral home, with no recollection of how she got there, and finds a phone within minutes to call the police for help. However, she walks too far away from the phone and the cord snaps. We decide right away that she is a complete idiot and we don't mind if she happens to get killed. By choosing not to connect the audience with the lead, Hall creates an uncomfortable environment where anything goes. Once again, it's refreshing. In the opening scene of the film we catch a glimpse of Chromeskull - no character development, no tension - he jumps onto the screen and the film kicks right into gear.



After a brief encounter with Chromeskull, The Girl escapes on foot and a pick-up truck driven by an older man named Tucker (played by Kevin Gage) spots her on the highway. He takes her home where his wife, Cindy (Lina Headey), comforts her and offers a fresh shower & place to rest for the night, until she can remember her name and they can get her to a phone. Now I don't care what kind of neighborhood you live in -- in 2009, everyone has a phone. I've seen homeless men in NYC that have no foot but they're talking on a cell phone. I could understand if the story took place in some backwoods town in the 70's or 80's, but the setting is present day. This is just one of the many aspects of the film that is so unbelievable and transparent. But somehow that doesn't take away from the film as it normally would. Laid To Rest is fun, and there is humor in the way Hall makes use of all the slasher cliches and stereotypical genre formulas.


Chromeskull finds The Girl at Tucker's house, and proceeds to jam one of his knives through Cindy's skull, twisting and turning it inside her head while slamming her against the side of the house, right in front of Tucker and The Girl. They flee the scene and decide to stop at the first house they come across, in hopes of finding a phone. At the same time a young couple pulls up at Tucker's house, after having seen Tucker & The Girl driving together earlier that evening. Turns out the man is Cindy's brother, and he suspects Tucker is cheating on his sister, and decides to drop by in the middle of the night to tell her. He catches a hunting knife through the head in a very unexpected, gore filled moment where Hall's make-up experience really makes the grade. The girl meets her doom with a slice to the stomach, and tries to stop her intestines from spilling out by pushing them back inside herself. Some really awesome gore effects here!


Tucker & The Girl arrive at a house and a man named Steven answers the door (played by Sean Whalen, who looked so familiar to me that I had to pause the film and sift through all the cobwebs in my brain before finally realizing he played "Roach" in The People Under The Stairs (1991)). Of course, he doesn't have a phone, but he has the internet! Tucker suggests he send an email to the local police, asking them to send "all the cops." Again, totally ridiculous but hysterical. The Girl even comments that the killer wants to "make her dead." Wow.


What follows is an endless chase that takes place over the course of one evening, eventually climaxing at a gas station where The Girl, Tucker, Steven, and two random ravers face-off with Chromeskull. The plot elements are loosely pieced together, through use of The Girl's flashbacks and found footage from Chromeskull's camera. We learn that The Girl was a hooker, and was bashed over the head with a baseball bat and taken captive. On one of the videotapes, the funeral director tells Chromeskull to clean up his land and dispose of all the people on it that night, which exposes our killer's motive but doesn't exactly tell us why. The storyline is weak and rather unimportant -- it is obvious that Hall's goal here was to create a cool character and shed some blood to show off his talents as an effects artist. Bravo! In that case, Laid To Rest is a smashing success.


With that said, there are some really inventive death scenes and stunning use of gore effects throughout the film. Steven is killed with a glue gun, filling his head with pressure and fluids until it explodes. The local sheriff and his deputy are butchered to a bloody pulp. Chromeskull places a decapitated head in the gas station refridgerator, and loses his own head while trying to re-attach his mask using a powerful chemical (which he thought was glue) that melts his flesh and eats away at his face. The Girl finishes him off with a baseball bat to the face, which made me cringe just as much as the fire extinguisher scene in Irreversible (2002). It's kind of cheesy that the killer ends up killing himself, but the baseball bat is a nice touch!


While it might seem like this is a negative review, Laid To Rest is actually one of my favorite slasher films to come out since Friday The 13th (1980). I'm a die-hard fan of Jason, and the chrome-dipped skull mask is just as cool as the infamous hockey mask in my opinion. The film itself does very little to break new ground or reinvent genre constants, but by sticking to traditional slasher format and introducing a classy new killer, Hall has created a masterpiece. His intentions are clear, and we get exactly what we'd hoped to get -- a gory, fast-paced ride on the slasher coaster!


Check out Laid To Rest here:
http://www.laidtorestmovie.com/

They have some really great wallpapers and icons. The site design is really cool too - you have to cut a girl's throat using your mouse to enter the site!