Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Time!

Clearly, this is one of my favorite days of the year. In preparation, I did my movie countdown (see previous posts) and plan to have a pretty chillish day today. I'll be watching football and then readingreadingreading.

I'm excited to start Linda Thomas-Sundstrom's new Nocturne:

And I'm loving Leslie S. Klinger's THE NEW ANNOTATED DRACULA. If you love Bram Stoker's book itself, you would be a fan of Klinger's book, which provides interesting tidbits about history and Stoker's possible intentions with the story. The research itself is astounding.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween Countdown #10: I SELL THE DEAD

Here's a fun little Halloween treat for ya.

I had no expectations when I put on this movie. I didn't even know what it was about, aside from the excellent title. Turns out, this is a quirky, lively flick about grave robbers who seem as if they were just kicked out of a Dickens novel.

It has many things to recommend it, first of all the cast, which includes Dom Monaghan (You know--Charlie from LOST and one of the hobbits [My mom thought he was twins with Billy Boyd. That still cracks me up.]. The great Ron Perlman (SONS OF ANARCHY [!]) also has a role. Overall, the film has the dark humor vibe of a long TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode. It uses interesting visuals, such as illustrated panels and collage-type presentations. And, this is going to sound strange, but if you watch HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, you might agree with me that the storyline follows the same frenetic paths. For instance, you have two characters who are sitting down for a chat in a bar (or, in this case, a jailhouse). One starts to tell a tale, and that tale branches off into witty asides and other little stories that all converge at the end. I love it.

It's atmospheric, cheeky, and a surprising bit of a gem. Also, it might be best viewed while having a beer or two. Just sayin'.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Countdown #9: (The original) MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Weirdly, I don't remember much about this movie from the first time I saw it. There's a vague recollection of coal mines and that semi-iconic miner's outfit, but MY BLOODY VALENTINE (MBV) didn't leave much of an impression on me otherwise.

That surprises me, because this movie is actually pretty good. It was really low budget, and it could've been an absolute boring mess, but there's something about the feel of the town/community and the relationships the characters have to one another that elevate MBV above the usual slasher fare. (Unfortunately, the recent remake brings the bar back down, except for the appearance of my lovely Dean Winchester. But that would be another blog entry.)

I referred to the establishment of a mythology in my FRIDAY THE 13th, PART 2 post the other day, and MBV takes care to do that, much to its benefit. And the villain's story is haunting and effective: about 20 years ago, there was a cave-in down at the mine that supports the town's economy. There was one survivor, Harry Warden. In a flashback, we see him as a batshit crazy dude gnawing on an arm while he's trapped in a bunch of debris. Niiiiice. We find out that Harry developed a vendetta against the town because, while the cave-in was happening, the residents were partying away at a Valentine's Dance. He comes back from a stay in a mental institution to slaughter the foremen at the mine.

Cue present time, when the town has manned up and decided to start up the Valentine's Dance tradition again. That's when it looks like Harry has returned yet again.

As a movie geek, it was fun to see things that have shown up in other horror movies. There's the requisite joker character/comic relief who stumbles out of a door covered in gory make-up early on. (Yeah, he's a dead meat.) There's a "Crazy Ralph" (F13th, parts 1 &2) type character who warns the town that they're DOOMED. And, oddly, there's a scene in which characters are playing the same knife-between-the-fingers game that the android Bishop plays in ALIENS...except it's much slower here, with humans.

One of the things I like most about MVB is that there's a good, solid love triangle going on that gives some weight to the story. It pays off very nicely in the end, too. Sure, it has its share of dumb character moments, but this is definitely one of your better slashers out there.

Next up? Perhaps BLACK SABBATH....

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Giveaway and Q&A!

If you'd like to win a signed copy of A DROP OF RED, Vampire Babylon, Book 4, is giving one away! There's also a Q&A, and I'm answering your questions today!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Halloween Countdown #8: FRIDAY THE 13th, PART 2

Are you all watching AMC's Halloween Fear Fest? It just started, and it features bunches of scary flicks as well as little interviews with horror movie makers. Right now, they're playing eight of the FRIDAY THE 13th movies, and next week, it's on to the HALLOWEENs.


I'm going to confess this with the utmost humiliation I can muster: FRIDAY THE 13th, PART 2, is one of my fave scary movies. I know it's not a cerebral exercise in movie making. It's not even respectable to like it. But it still makes me jump during some of those dumb cat-comes-through-a-window scenes, and I always get nervous when it comes time for Jason's face to be revealed from under that pillowcase he wears (He didn't get the hockey mask until part 3 and, frankly, I think the pillowcase is way creepier.). The bottom line is that this is a movie I can watch over and over again, just for that scary movie experience that I hope I'm going to get whenever I pop a new movie into the DVD.

Weirdly, I'll even submit to you that a writer of action/suspense might also learn a thing or two by how F13:2 sets things up, but we'll get to that.

You guys know the basic story by now: Horny counselors show up for training at a semi-isolated camp spot. Crazy Ralph ("You're all doomed!") warns them. They ignore Crazy Ralph. Jason does his thing.

But there are some elements of F13:2 that make it a bit better than your average B-horror show. (And we have to consider, here, that this movie came out in 1981, long before audiences became well-versed in scary movie mechanics--SCREAM did a lot to produce a jaded bunch of viewers who know the conventions of a horror flick.)

First, F13:2 does a pretty good job of establishing the "Legend of Jason" in the initial few minutes, even while setting up the tone. I think having this mythos is what gives the series its accessibility, and a good legend lifts one series above the rest.

And this is how they do it: the Final Girl of the previous movie is having nightmares about facing off with and then killing Jason's mom in the last movie. It evens seems as if F13:2 is going to focus on this Final Girl once again, but this time she'll be facing off with Jason, not Mommy.


F13:2 has the brass balls to kill off the Final Girl right away. It throws the viewer off his/her game, because who do we connect to now?

(At least PSYCHO had the decency to kill off its "heroine" mid-way through the film!)

Secondly, F13:2 gives us a true menace. We know that most horror movie franchises, such as the FRIDAY movies as well as the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREETS, degenerated as time went by--the villains became cartoons instead of real threats. Freddy became a bad comedian and Jason became a wrestler who lumbered around in that hockey mask and somehow developed the ability to never die. But in this flick, Jason's got some mystery to him. (There's an entire scene devoted to the Final Girl theorizing about what Jason might be, how he might've been shaped by his mother's death, etc.) Jason's also got a lot of pathos, because before he became that supernatural wrestler of the later movies, he had a pretty average body, and he depended more upon his stalking skills than anything. You can only see one eye peeking out from underneath his pillowcase, and that's a great touch, because you can detect confusion in that gaze. You can see some mental wounds, too. Jason isn't just a generic killer here--he's primal. He's (as the Final Girl says) a little boy trapped in a man's body. Also, when Jason tries to kill someone, he doesn't always do it with the brutish efficiency he exhibited during those later films--there's one time in particular when his weapon breaks. And the Final Girl comes up with a genuinely clever way to entrap him, and his vulnerability to her plan actually makes him a bit more human.

Another great thing about this movie is that some of the counselors are developed with more attention than characters in these movies usually get. They're not *just* horny plot points who're being set up to provide a gory murder pay off (although, yes, some of them *are* just that)--a few of them actually have decent "moments" and lines. Take, for instance, the "comic relief guy." Yes, he spouts silly jokes, but he's got some moments that reveal he's a thinking man, and you get the feeling that he might be fun to hang out with in small doses. Then there's the head counselor. He's got this dry sense of humor that distinguishes him from the other dead meats. And the Final Girl is probably one of my top three favorite Final Girls ever. She's a psychology student, smart, resourceful, and appealing, with a fun sense of humor. She's your best friend from high school, freckled, with strawberry blond hair. But she's not an annoying goody-goody, and that's where some Final Girls fail.

Now, remember when I mentioned that this movie might teach a writer a thing or two about setting up some action and suspense? Just watch the way the movie introduces an undependable car that has a hard time starting. (Jaded viewers will know that this will pay off in the third act, but the car is used as a character building moment for the Final Girl and the head counselor.) Look at the introduction of a spear that will be used during the murder spree. (Big action rule: weapons should be introduced in a setting long before the hero or villain has need of them.) And look at how it's established that the Final Girl has a comfortable acquaintance with how to use a chain saw, so that, when she has need of it, the audience doesn't laugh at the absurdity of a girl even knowing how to turn one of those things on. least, I wouldn't know how to do that. Apologies to the Woman Nation. (Another action rule: don't bring a fighting/survival skill out of left field and give it to your character just because they all of a sudden need that skill to survive. It needs to be established beforehand, even if it's just a one-second shot.) A lot of scary movies don't bother with these simple rules, but it's nice to see it here.

One of the smartest things this script does to escalate the stakes and danger is to send a lot of those counselors off site to a bar, where they party away while a few select dead meats stay behind to get killed. That way, Jason can pick off the victims one by one, like a traditional murder mystery, except we know who the killer is in this one. And the movie does this isolation quite organically, without introducing a snow storm that blocks off the camp or anything like that.

Sure, there are things about this movie that grate on me: some bad acting along with the good. Muffin the dog's dopey appearance at the end (although it does set up a relief moment just before danger springs out again). Worst of all, there's a character who wants to get into a guy's pants so desperately that she practically drools out her dialog. (Gah--that character gets on my nerves.) But those are small potatoes compared to the rest.

Also, I love Jason's look in this flick. He's not so much a monster (as in the later movies) as he is a twisted hillbilly with a peach fuzz beard. You almost feel sorry for him when you see him, even though he's still trying to kill someone.

And that ending? Yikes! If you've seen it, you're probably with me when I tell you that even now, after many, many viewings, I still expect that the head's eyes will POP open and scare the crap out of me.

I've got several movies to choose from next: BLACK SABBATH, the original MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and some J-horror movie that someone recommended to me but I can't recall the name.... See you soon!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Halloween Countdown #7: PEEPING TOM

Based on the title, this sounds like a naughty little nugget indeed, yes?

I'll tell you right now, though, that this is a "classy" horror movie--more of a character study than a titillating tale of the macabre.

According to my Netflix DVD jacket, the director of PEEPING TOM (Michael Powell) also made THE RED SHOES. I haven't seen that movie, but it's a classic, and I suspect that it has the same kind of stylized sets and startlingly colored skies as this flick does. Also, this movie came out the same year as PSYCHO, and coincidentally, it explores the effect that a terrible parent can have on a child. However, in this movie, it's the father who's at fault. I'll leave it to you to find out what he did to make his son into a photographer who gets off on using his camera to record the fright on his victims' faces as he kills them.

What's also interesting is that PEEPING TOM shares the same "type" of hero as we got in Norman Bates--a soft spoken guy who's not necessarily bad looking. He's a bit socially inept, though his attempts at relating to women can be sort of sweet (if you don't know what's going on with him). The guy who plays the Peeper in this flick is almost bug-eyed, but not quite; he's what Peter Lorre might've looked like if he'd been prettier.

If you're looking for a slasher movie, this probably won't do it for you. It's deliberately paced with violence that's more implied than shown. But it's creepy just the same. It's the kind of movie you'd have to watch a few times to fully appreciate, with subtext about our own complicity in crime and sin.

Heavy stuff for Halloween.

I'm in the mood for something much lighter going forward, so I'm returning to a tried-and-true Halloween cheapy that I know will cater to my C-grade Halloween horror movie love: FRIDAY THE 13th, PART 2. Enter Jason!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Halloween Countdown #6: MURDER PARTY

Boy, was this movie different than I'd expected.

From the title, you're probably thinking it's a slasher type flick. I was, too. Instead, it turned out to be a sort of comedy/horror film about "murder as art." This isn't a bad thing, mind you, just...different.

It does have a good Halloween vibe though, starting out with a geek/nerd guy who comes across an appealing invitation to a party. When he decides to attend, he whips up a cardboard knight costume from a box then bakes pumpkin bread, which everyone knows is an absolute requirement to be accepted at any Halloween party.

Surprise--this is not the type of welcoming soiree in which everyone will think you're a cool dude for bringing the pumpkin bread.

What follows is actually, at times, a genuinely funny flick. (Example: as the nerd is traveling to the party, there's a guy on the subway who's rapping at him. Yes, rapping AT him, and the nerd is very scared. I laughed.) When he gets to the party, there's even a girl dressed like Priss from BLADE RUNNER, and that was cool. The characters aren't even the cardboard kind that you'd get from normal slasher fare, and I appreciated that, too.

All in all, it's more morbid than scary, with a great deal of black humor mixed in. Check it out for something...different.

I swear, you guys, I'm going to watch PEEPING TOM next!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halloween Countdown #5: THE DEVIL'S BRIDE

Do you guys love the old Hammer movies as much as I do?

There's just nothing like the atmosphere of these gems--everything from the awesome music to the evocative set design to the fiendish talents of people like Christopher Lee (who played their Dracula) and Peter Cushing (their vampire hunter) just strikes the right chords with me. Especially during Halloween time, mwah-hah-hah.

I have to say that this movie, THE DEVIL'S BRIDE (1968), isn't one of my Hammer faves. That distinction goes to THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. But it's a fun time, with Chris Lee playing an actual good guy. He's a French nobleman (and a hypnotist and cult expert!) who tries to save his friend from devil people. Actually, this film, as well as ROSEMARY'S BABY, is said to have started to the entire "devil movie" trend that followed shortly thereafter. (Credit Robert Osborne from TMC for that tidbit.)

This film is downright quaint compared to the later "devil movies" though. Watch something like BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and you'll no doubt agree. DEVIL'S BRIDE doesn't have nudity or all that much blood, even though there's a nifty tricked-out ceremony in which the worshipers are all touchy-feely with each other (scandalous!) and in which the devil himself shows up as a goat man.

My favorite part is when Chris Lee is all, "DON"T LOOK AT THE EYES!" when his friend becomes enthralled by a devil guy. It's one of those scenes that was probably totally scary in the 60s, but now it's kind of hilarious and cute. Also, this movie has the distinction of showing me the first villain ever who says, "I shall not be back." That in itself gives it awesome status.

Some of you know that Hammer has been resurrected, and they're making horror movies again. I. Can't. Wait!!!

Next: Okay, I'm finally getting around to PEEPING TOM. I swear.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Halloween Countdown #4: DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE

[MANY SPOILERS, and I think you'll thank me for the warnings]

I'm not sure how to feel about this movie.

In spite of the title, it's not about a haunted house. I'd even like to offer an alternate title for this film.


This is how it starts off: There's a guy with a very bad disco hair-do who works at some place where they wear haz-mat suits or whathaveyou. One of his co-workers catches on fire, but our main character just stands there, watching in utter fascination. If that doesn't clue you in to the major issues that this character, Donny, will be presenting to us, we get him saying, "[My co-worker] wasn't evil, but [the fire] covered him up."

So if you haven't realized by now that Donny relates fire to punishment and sinfulness, you'll figure it out soon enough, after he goes home to a gross, wallpaper-peeling house on a hill and waits hand and foot on his demanding mommy, who's curiously silent. (PSYCHO alert.) Well, it turns out that she's not rotting away in some fruit cellar--she's died within the last few hours (and Donny hasn't noticed).

So Donny freaks out a little before the whispery voices come to him. "You're free," they say.

Naturally, Donny starts sowing those wild oats that have been building up in him over the years. He asks the voices if he can play his (disco!) music loud. So he does, and he jumps on the furniture, too. He smokes a ciggie with wanton glee, knowing Mommy won't catch him this time.

It'd be great if that were the extent of it--if he then buried his mom, whipped that house into shape, then went on smoking and molesting couches. But it is not to be.

Donny, a mild-mannered guy on the outside, starts bringing girls home with him, chaining them up, then burning them alive.

Released in 1979, this is an early slasher film, I guess, even though there's not much slashing. It's not fun at all, either, and I mean that in an "adrenaline rush" way. There are no big scare scenes, no hide-behind-the-pillow moments that make a good horror movie such a roller coaster ride. To its credit though, it really played on my female psyche, making me relate to the victims because they find themselves caught up in situations that could happen to any of us, really. I mean, a fairly nice guy comes into your flower shop, creeps you out a little, then leaves. But when you're harassed by some scary perverts while you're waiting for your bus, the relatively non-scary guy happens to drive by and he offers you a ride, saving you. Then he says he wants to drop his flowers off at home first. That seems fair enough, and, actually, he's not creeping you out that much any more. Then you find out you were being stupid just before you die.

If anything, this movie is a thesis on How Not To Be Dumb If You're a Single Woman.

I think there's additionally a pretty powerful message about child abuse in this flick. The ending scene drives that home, making me think that the creator had something more than just shock-and-burn depravity in mind. There also seems to be a real attempt at a character study. Then again, the kills in DGITH are just so repulsive and mean-spirited. It's one of those films that make you wonder what the hell you're doing even watching it, much less, making it to the end credits.

So watch this one at your peril. It might turn your stomach.

Next? Maybe PEEPING TOM....

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Do you guys ever get bored and tune into the Chiller channel? If so, you know most of the movie are pretty lame, right?

Well, I had a nice little surprise.

WEREWOLF HUNTER: THE LEGEND OF ROMASANTA (WH:TLR) wasn't half bad. What made it especially intriguing is that it's based on true facts (although I'm sure a lot of artistic flair was taken). The beginning credits tell us that, in Spain, 1851, the first serial killer was brought to trial, and in his defense, he claimed to be a werewolf. I wonder if this was the Twinkie Defense of its day.

At any rate, this killer is played by Julian Sands.

Remember when he was in ROOM WITH A VIEW?

Nowadays, he seems to be the go-to actor for all the warlock/sensitive masked or unmasked killer roles available. But he does bring a certain wounded gentleman vibe to his characters, so I'm glad he's working them.

This is how the killer operates--he's a traveling man, he's made a lot of stops, and his M.O. is to seduce women before he kills them with the aid of a partner. As the action starts this time around, Julian finds a victim in a heroine who--I swear to you--looks a lot like Sadie Frost (Lucy) from BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. The thing was, though, I thought there was going to be a different "final girl"* in this movie, since there was a young chick who couldn't speak. I could just see her trying to scream as the werewolf went after her in the final reel.


I mentioned in my post about THE WOLFMAN several days ago that I'm not super keen on werewolves that are just wolves. Give me a freakish half-man, half-wolf any day rather than the more naturalistic monster. WH:TLR takes the latter approach, but it added to the "true account" framing of the story. And the flick really does have some good atmosphere and suspense. Also, there's some bathtub hotness to recommend it. Oh, and one more thing--when it shows the man to wolf transformation, it's pretty cool in an old-school, fetal monster kind of way.

Next up? I've got DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE and PEEPING TOM coming from Netflix. Let's see which twisted tale catches my fancy first.

* "final girl"-a well-known term in horror movie circles denoting the last prey standing, and it's usually a female, unless the creator is turning the genre on its head. It's normally an innocent girl who finds her strength during the course of all the screaming and "Who's there"ing.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Halloween Countdown: THE BURNING

If you’re in the market for a cut-rate FRIDAY THE 13th slasher film, THE BURNING is for you. Actually, it’s not a bad film, as far as horror flicks go. The acting is decent in most cases, and there are a few jump-scares that worked for me, as the killer is pretty good at hiding and the director is adept at ratcheting up the suspense as the victims approach a likely scenario of doom.

Here’s the basic premise: summer camp. Stories of an old caretaker who got pranked (er...burned) by some former campers five years ago and is running about the forest, slicing and dicing now. Present day campers become total fodder for said maniac.

In my book, FRIDAY THE 13th is a really good horror flick: it contains a lot of menace, which is so lacking in many scary movies. Mrs. Vorhees is way more frightening than the killer in THE BURNING, IMHO, even if this guy's kills are effective. (Tom Savini did the make up, and here’s a rule of thumb for novice horror movie watchers: if you’re looking for the mark of a decent scary flick, go to IMDB and find out which movies he’s done.) Also, FRIDAY THE 13th was canny enough to utilize a creepy score that carried hints of a horror masterpiece in its screaming PSYCHO violins; it also had that “Cheh-cheh-cheh-hah-hah-hah” or whatever sound effect, something that made it stand out from other movies. THE BURNING has your basic cheap pinball-synth music—the kind that makes you think that someone let their five-year-old loose on a keyboard.

But there are some interesting traits that distinguish THE BURNING from its forerunner, FRIDAY THE 13th, which (early on) used the counselors as its dead meat. THE BURNING brings the kid campers into the action. That’s kind of ballsy. And we get to see camp life--not just counselors preparing for the arrival of the campers. And the camp itself? Pleasure Freakin’ Island. The horny teens smoke, read Playboy and Hustler, and engage in frequent brawling. The boy male hornies also are under the guidance of what could be termed The Worst Counselors Evah.

I liked that.

Oh—and here’s the Film/TV Geek orgasm part of the flick: you won’t believe who’s in this movie! I present to you a pubescent Holly Hunter (who’s barely in it, but you can pick her out as one of the potential dead meats), Fisher Stevens, Mark Ratner from FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, and…wait for it…a young George Costanza—but with hair! It’s awesome!

P.S. On a side note, as I anticipated, I haven’t been able to do SUPERNATURAL recaps. It’s just on at a bad time for me, and by the time I can get around to writing down my thoughts, the novelty of the episode has worn off. But I like the new set up with the bros. Don’t you?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Books Giveaway--Vampire Book Club is giving away the first four (signed mass market) books in my Vampire Babylon series--plus there's a fun Q&A where you'll learn more about Dawn, Kiko, and the gang!

Go here!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Halloween Countdown: THE WOLFMAN (2010)

Last year I had so much fun watching a couple of scary movies a week in preparation for Halloween that I wanted to do it again.

And so it begins...

I'm starting off with the most recent version of THE WOLFMAN, with Benecio del Toro and Emily Blunt. (Don't worry--the choices will get quirkier and uckier and far more bottom-of-the-basement quality as I go along.)

I was eager to see this one way back when it had a panel at Comic-Con. Unfortunately, it didn't come out for a while--it was shelved, only to be released this year to little fanfare. I thought it looked like a good companion piece to BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, a flick that I adore for its operatic overkill and gothic vampire swooniness. I thought THE WOLFMAN would have some similarities: Anthony Hopkins, for one. Crumbling estates, mausoleums, and mist-in-the-woods eeriness for another.

But THE WOLFMAN is somehow not quite as engaging as DRACULA, although it has its moments. For you horror freaks out there (I'm including myself, too), there's plenty of ick and slash. There's even a fantastic sequence with the wolfman running around London that had me grinning with wicked joy. I love me some Victorian London grossness--my ongoing fascination with Jack the Ripper supports that claim.

The best thing about this movie for me was the wolfman design. Forgive me, but I'm not in to werewolves who change in to...well, wolves. Not my thing. I like the messed-up man/wolf creature that emerges by the light of a full moon, a mutant, a real monster who seems pissed off that he got the short end of the pretty stick. And what we get here is a turbo version of the Lon Chaney wolfman. Seriously--this creature does some damage to gypsies and unfortunates who inadvisedly wander through the woods with lanterns eeking out a bit of light while they murmur, "Who's there?" just after a twig snaps behind them.

What was extra special to me about THE WOLFMAN is that Benecio del Toro actually looks a lot like the Frankenstein monster when he's in human form. I defy you to tell me I'm wrong after you get a gander at him with those burned-out eyes and a terrible mop of stringy hair covering that forehead. So Frankensteiny. Oh, and if you're looking for some prime Anthony Hopkins scenery chewing--tah-dah! Right here, my friends. He's just as weird as he was in DRACULA, with all those ticks, blank stares, and, in this case, riveting apple chomping. It's like he wandered over from DRACULA with the craziest parts of Van Helsing still intact. Gotta love the kind of crazy that only Hopkins can bring.

Overall, I'd say this works as a pre-Halloween flick. Great creepy atmosphere. Lots o'blood and carnage. Classic monster mash.

Stay tuned for more movies as we meander through October on our way to the big day!