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Creature Features in Review: The Blob (1988)

!! CONTAINS SPOILERS !! CONTAINS SPOILERS !! CONTAINS SPOILERS !!

 The Blob (1988) is my second-favorite 1980s remake of a classic monster horror film, The Thing by John Carpenter being the first—and if the ALIEN Trilogy (yeah, I said ‘Trilogy’) didn’t exist, JC’s The Thing would be my all-time favorite film. Now, I’m usually the first to say that JC’s The Thing is not strictly a ‘remake’, because of its alternate take on Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.—but in his great Creature Features in Review piece on JC’s The Thing, William D. Prystauk beat me to it. John Carpenter’s take was a more accurate, more paranoid version of that novella than Howard Hawks’—and Christian Nyby’s and Edward Lasker’s and others’—The Thing from Another World, while also bringing in elements of amorphous, madness-inducing creature moments that—when paired with the snow-blasted, isolated Antarctic setting—came to draw well-earned and fair comparisons to aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and creatures from his other works.

Okay, I’m not going the same route as my last Mean Machine guest review and framing my entire review of one film on elements of other works… but please bear with me a bit longer.

So, if John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? was the basis of John Carpenter’s The Thing for its setting, plot, paranoia, and dread—with a healthy dose of Lovecraftian vague, disturbing forms as well as cosmic fear and wonderment—I’m of the opinion that The Blob remake from 1988 and its 1958 predecessor take their starting premise at least loosely from Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.”

I know, I know… The inspiration is directly attributed to a genuinely weird, fishy sounding police report from Philadelphia in 1950 that was detailed in a local newspaper, so I have no way of knowing if Irvine H. Millgate had read Lovecraft as well—but that’s my trip and I’m running with it, you guys!

But while “The Colour Out of Space” is a subtle and measured build of a tale about a meteorite crashing to Earth at a farm and something in it tainting the soil and water for a good distance around as its semi-physical presence wears down the people and eventually takes them… The Blob is like a far less elegant and more (squishy) blunt instrument of terror. Lovecraft’s story is one of ‘other’-ness and truly alien elements infecting and rotting the mundane setting due to the mostly-unseen menace’s weird attributes. The Blob is about a big nasty growing glop puddle ‘eating’ everything. Both crashing down from space with no explanation—except in The Blob remake, but I’ll get back to that—but with different approaches and implied motivations or at least confused actions.

Then the remake ratchets up the clever uses of the amorphousness and menace of the creature and goes in hard on the creature effects. Both JC’s The Thing and The Blob (1988) elevate practical creature effects during what was already their heyday as a way to take their source material and really focus the horror and visceral thrills and stakes.

Leaving comparisons behind, though, I’d say what really stood out for me on this review re-watch—I’d seen it several times over the years, but never paid too much attention to the actual story or presentation, instead just taking in the creature effects—was how much the film relied on and seemed to celebrate the concepts of heavy foreshadowing and pay-off, as well as one shameless deus ex machina moment. Hold that thought…

SUMMARY:

A meteorite crashes just outside a mountain ski town in the offseason (or the film would have ended there, from its own logic), a strange substance glowing in the center of the cracked ball of hot metal. A hobo who saw the landing gets too close—the pink Blob substance gloms onto his hand. From there on out, it’s a succession of setups for the continuously growing, gloppy creature to rack up gruesome kills as the main characters try to survive and figure out how to stop it.

 REVIEW:

Reviewer self-sabotage or not, I’ll just say it outright—on the strength of the creature and makeup effects, and the kills alone, I love this movie. Always have. Some of the most incredibly graphic and messed up practical monster effects ever put on screen.

From the first death, we know this is going to be a dicey night for the characters. A high school football player and cheerleader—characters playfully introduced as a riff on the original film—accidentally run into the hobo with their car as he stumbles across the road clutching his own warped pink arm. They rush him to the hospital where he’s whisked away to a room in the ER. The football player goes to check on him… and the hobo’s body bulges strangely under a sheet. As the boy and a doctor approach, the body shifts, showing the hobo’s newly clouded-over white eyes. The doctor pulls the sheet off—the hobo’s body is mostly gone, having been dissolved and burned as if by powerful acid.

The second death follows this closely, and as the football player makes a phone call, the Blob drops onto him from the ceiling. When the cheerleader comes to find him, she takes a heavy SAN loss as she finds her beau almost entirely inside the quickly growing Blob’s mass—burning away at his flesh and pulling his skin and muscle from his face with its raw strength. This is one of the best practical creature/kill effects ever.

I won’t describe them all, but some other great ones are: a horny teenage friend and fellow football player of the cover kill kid who gets wrecked while trying to take advantage of a girl he got drunk at a make-out spot, a short order cook is pulled gruesomely into a kitchen drain, a movie theater projectionist is consumed on the projection booth ceiling, a sheriff’s deputy is snapped in half and pulled out through a barricade the remaining townspeople are trying to construct… Some quality carnage in this one.

I think my favorite kill involves a phone booth and a waitress who’s on the phone when the Blob starts pouring itself down over the whole booth. Other than being a nightmarish claustrophobic setup, before it crushes the booth into her from all around, she sees another recent victim floating in the thick, pink nastiness of the Blob’s formless body—and this last one leads me back to my intro remarks.

This review re-watch as I said really brought the story and its structure to the fore for me in a way it never has before. I’m not saying it’s an amazing story, but the way it’s all set up and executed felt way more deliberate than I’d ever given it credit for.

So, if you the reader will allow this reviewer the looser usage of a concept, I have to say this film is dominated by one interpretation of ‘Chekhov’s Rifle/Gun’ being repeatedly put into practice. That is in the form of constant foreshadowing—and this script is almost surgically precise and economical in its setups and payoffs. I bring this up because, in this most recent viewing, I couldn’t not see it. Knowing what would happen later from past viewings, I watched as every major scene was foreshadowed, sometimes down to the most unimportant seeming moments. My favorite example is what I’ll call Chekhov’s Zipper.

The cheerleader has a little brother—whose main purpose is to sneak into a late night horror movie showing (remember the projectionist?)—and almost get killed. When he’s introduced way back before the cheerleader and cover kill boy even leave so they can hit the hobo with the car, he’s supposed to be going out to his best friend’s house. As he’s getting ready to leave, he has trouble pulling his zipper up. What I have to imagine is at least 30-40 minutes of screen time—I checked; it’s 44 mins, 18 secs—later, the cheerleader, her little brother, and his best friend are escaping the movie theater and the exit doors slam closed on the back of the little brother’s jacket—and wouldn’t you know it? They can’t get the little brother’s jacket off to free him from almost certain death because… his zipper’s stuck. They get him out of his jacket and off for more survival shenanigans in the dark sewer system, but that was a planned, patient setup and follow-through, heavy-handed or not.

And that’s the second longest setup and payoff distance.

Tough kid (with bad hair) Brian (Kevin Dillon) is introduced in the early parts of the film smoking, drinking a beer, and lustfully gazing upon a ridiculously set up destroyed bridge with one side conveniently higher than the other… He discards his shameful chemical vices—especially for one so young, merciful heavens…—and he tries to jump the bridge gap on his motorcycle. He fails, of course, and his bike is damaged in the process of him eating shit.

That occurs 1 hour, 1 min, and 16 secs before he makes that same jump on his repaired motorcycle—while being chased by military helicopters and a pickup truck filled with biohazard suit wearing soldiers, no less.

Side Note: that unbelievable setup and jump will lead to something even sillier—after making the jump, Kevin Dillon hides by a huge storm drain opening as military vehicles search for him all around… and wouldn’t you know it? That tunnel is just large enough for a guy, a motorcycle, and the guy’s horrible, huge hair to fit in and comfortably ride down. And that’s just really serendipitous since the cheerleader and her brother are in dire need of rescuing down the same tunnel just a bit later… Yeah, there’s our shameless deus ex machina usage.

Another great setup and payoff takes us back to my favorite kill/death, the woman in the phone booth. This one was a layered setup and also made the already disturbing creature scene messed up emotionally. From early in the film, it’s established the town sheriff has a thing for the woman who runs the diner. They have a possible date setup for 11pm—before all that horrible monster stuff starts, ruining their evening—after she gets off work. When things get worse in town, the sheriff says he’s heading to the diner. That’s the second to last time we’ll see him. So, after the diner kitchen sink kill, all the people in it escape in different ways. The woman who works there runs out to the phone booth. As she’s on the phone, the Blob comes down to the booth and she starts losing it. On the phone, she hears the dispatcher say that the sheriff came down to the diner… and the victim floating up through the Blob over the phone booth—is wearing a badge. Boom. Cold-blooded business.

The projectionist in the theater sequence has a whistling yo-yo that later drops from the ceiling, causing the theater manager to look up and see him being consumed on the booth ceiling.

The whole resolution is set up in the establishing intro shots of the town, with signs for snow equipment and such all over. The Blob’s weakness is cold, as in the original, so those familiar with the first film probably chuckled at sight of those signs in the theater when it came out. Brian uses an artificial snow machine to save the day, so that might actually be the rightful longest setup, thinking about it now.

But going back a few steps, it might have seemed strange to those unfamiliar with this film—who for some reason are reading this quite spoiler-y review—that I hadn’t mentioned the military before the motorcycle jump. Wacky, right?

Sooooooo, like I’d mentioned early on, the menacing forces/creatures in “The Colour Out of Space” and The Blob (1958) both have unexplained origins. Not The Blob (1988), oh no!

This being a sci-fi/horror film from the 1980s, it’s revealed late in the second act that this Blob creature isn’t just some run of the mill space monster—it was the result of a germ warfare project from the Cold War that was launched into space because it was so dangerous. Good one, Cold War guys…

One last thought I’ll express about this film is that it differs from many other creature films in one major way—in ALIEN films, every stage of the creature is strange and frightening in its own right as what it is. In JC’s The Thing, the creature is most viscerally frightening as it goes between mimicked forms, becoming amorphous and disturbing as it changes. In The Blob, the pink glop is the creature. It grows and gets tentacles here and there in the remake, but the most gruesome and memorable shots in this film are victims inside the translucent muck of the creature’s form. Their bodies being burned and digested/absorbed—and the torture of that expressed on their disintegrating faces—are the truly haunting moments I always think of. Silly as the film can be, some of those images are genuinely classic and stick with me.

WHAT I LIKED:

  1. Creature effects and kills are glorious.
  2. Foreshadowing mini-meta-game is fun and rewarding.
  3. Setting up the beginning in a similar way to the original film, then completely going a different way with it.
  4. One of the best ‘But Wait…’ style horror ending scenes/shots ever.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

  1. This movie and its predecessor probably having no relation to “The Colour Out of Space,” even though I want them to… I mean c’mon—the whole setup is like TCOoS, only a shoggoth-like thing comes out instead of the vanishing/infesting color. If Millgate didn’t read Lovecraft’s work, he should’ve. He would’ve loved it.
  2. Foreshadowing is fun and rewarding to find and watch play out, but it’s obvious and overdone enough it could turn people off because of its making light of the artifice.
  3. While I’m a big fan of 1980s cynicism about military science experiments gone awry as a plot frame, I think it had already been overdone, even by the time this film came out. Doesn’t ruin it and adds a layer and some “hew-manns are teh real monsturrs…” moments, but that’s some well-worn territory, even then.
  4. The motorcycle jump scene I mentioned before is fucking ridiculous, especially as an even more obvious deus ex machina setup.
  5. Kevin Dillon’s hair.

 RATING:

This is a very enjoyable piece of 80s creature horror with an almost dizzying series of setups and payoffs, usually of the disturbing and visceral kill type.

I’ll give The Blob (1988)……………..7.5/10.

PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in early-to-mid 2017 by April Moon Books. Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog: https://patrickloveland.com/

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Creature Features in Review: Mimic (1997)

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During the 1990s it felt as if horror movies had descended into the visceral and psychological methods of storytelling, such as In the Mouth of Madness, or Jacob’s Ladder, or Candy Man, or even Freddy Krueger exploring the realm of mythology in New Nightmare. Some monster flicks kept to their proverbial roots. The payout, of course, is what typically happens with most creature features, when the directors, producers, screenwriters turn on the cheese factor and make the movie a satire, such as Arachnophobia or Gremlins 2 or The Faculty. Seldom do we find anything that’s actually haunting. Anything that makes us sit on the edge of our seats. Anything that forces us to watch even though we want to look away. The horror pickins are slim. There is one director, however, who, up until this point in his career at least, did not bow to cheese in order to make a monster movie. Of course, I’m talking about 1997’s cult hit creature feature, MIMIC, directed by none other than Guillermo del Toro. Before del Toro was pitting giant robots versus behemoth sea monsters, his work was subtle and carefully crafted, honing in on character building and turning on the suspense until the deluge spilled over into a wonderfully cataclysmic conclusion. Thus was the work of Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, and also what we get with Mimic.

Before we begin, here is a classic IMDB synopsis:

“Three years ago, entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler genetically created an insect to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease. Now, the insects are out to destroy their only predator, mankind.”

Bravo IMDb, bravo. Yet again another astute generalization of one of my favorite creature features. You’re not wrong, IMDb, it just feels a tad oversimplified. For starters, if you’ve seen Mimic, but haven’t seen the Director’s Cut, stop now and go rent/buy/whatever you need to do to see this edition. Let me tell you, I was happy with the original version, but I LOVE this Director’s Cut. And sure, it really only adds about nine minutes or more of footage, but those added moments really help make the story shine all the better. I especially love the added bits at the beginning, the extended opening sequence that shows us this ravaging disease called Strickler’s, that is decimating a huge percentage of New York City children, and then we get Dr. Susan Tyler, played fantastically by Mira Sorvino . She genetically creates a new species of insect called the Judas breed. They target the city’s cockroach population, releasing an enzyme which causes the roaches metabolism to speed up and starve themselves to death. The Judas breed was created to be all-female with a short life expectancy. The last opening clip (from the Director’s Cut) shows Dr. Tyler releasing the Judas breed into the sewers. She kneels and watches as her “children” begin their work as she is stylistically swarmed by roaches. And a moment later we see a river of dead cockroaches and an announcement from the CDC that they have eliminated the “Strickler’s” disease.

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Cut scene. 

Fade to black.

Now we find ourselves three years after the release of the Judas breed. Just three years. What can happen in such a short span of time? Well, if there is any indication from the name of the insect, Judas, well…historically things have never really worked out with things named Judas. Not to mention any species introduced into the wild trusting that a genetic “all-female” plug will hold, I mean, haven’t these people seen Jurrasic Park? To quote Ian Malcolm, “Life will find a way.” And life certainly did find a way, as our scientists are soon to find out. After the fuzzy “all-is-well-with-the-world” moment, the movie opens again on a man being chased onto a roof at night in the rain. Here we get our first glimpse at what has become the Judas breed. Strange clicking sounds and an odd shadowy face and the outline of what looks like a man in a black trench coat. The movement of this mysterious “man” and the design are incredibly creepy, and no wonder, as legendary The Thing and The Howling practical effects master/guru Rob Bottin had a hand in the development of the creature.

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Let me stop here for a moment. I have a confession. Bugs freak me out. I think this is a well-known fact if you’ve read any part in my Subdue Series books you should know. I’m not sure why. I don’t recall being traumatized as a child, not with insects at least. The My Buddy doll my folks got me for Christmas is another subject entirely (thanks, Sis!). I think people have their own thresholds for fear. Some hate clowns. Others hate anything to do with eyeballs. Some teeth. For me, big nasty arthropods are what tickles my medulla oblongata (technically the amygdala, but medulla oblongata sounds cooler). Too many legs. Nightmare mouths. Multiple glass eyes. Ugh!!! And as the movie, Mimic, was so kind to point out in Dr. Tyler’s lab of horrors, certain species of insects can do some rather impressive stuff, such as certain warrior ants that even when injured will continue to attack. Wasps that turn prey into zombies. Spiders that lay eggs inside a host to be consumed as a snack when the babies hatch. It’s not evil in the sense of good or morality. There is no morality when it comes to insects. To quote another Jeff Goldblum line, “Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise.” And here perhaps is what trips my fear sensor the most, the absence of compassion, compromise, especially in something as large as what the Judas breed becomes.

Continuing…

Soon after the death of the man on the roof and some cut scenes of Dr. Tyler and her husband, Dr. Mann, and their on-screen hopes of becoming parents, solidifying again the overarching theme of Mimic, fertility, some well-meaning “hood-rat” children out to make a quick buck bring Dr. Tyler an “interesting” find they discovered below ground near one of New York’s many metro tracks. Dr. Tyler soon realizes just what this large bug really is. Though “just a baby,” as she says, the creature is as large as the palm of her hand. But Tyler isn’t alone in her lab. There’s a shape at the window, a mysterious “man” in a dark trenchcoat. Okay, pause. I have to once again give a nod to both Rob Bottin and the original author of the creature in this flick, Donald Allen Wollheim who came up with the short story, titled, “Mimic,” a first-person narrative about a dude who notices a strange “man” in a trenchcoat standing on the streets in his town but never says anything to anyone. Following the sound of screams, the narrator discovers the “man” dead in his apartment, but upon closer examination, he unveils that the mysterious “man” isn’t a man at all, but a large bug imitating a man. This, for me, adds to the creep factor here. Not only are we dealing with larger than normal insects, but we’re dealing with an insect that has evolved to “mimic” us.

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Stories begin to collide at this point. All leading back deep underground onto some abandoned metro tracks that would inspire curious urban spelunkers to explore. Dr. Tyler, Dr. Mann, officer Leonard (played wonderfully by Charles S. Dutton) and Manny (a father searching for his lost autistic son who “followed” the Judas breed into their underground metro hive). All these motivations would seem to make the movie feel too complicated, but in actuality, they add to the movie’s believability. That they happen upon each other, sure, could be a stretch, but otherwise getting a glimpse at their personalities and motivations actually benefits how audiences feel towards them. I wanted them to survive. There were no “villains” here. Even Dr. Mann’s doomed assistant, Josh (played by Josh Brolin), though kind of cocky and moronic, you don’t hate the guy and you felt something when he was killed off, fairly horribly I might add. All this was accomplished without a bunch of unnecessary backstory. At this stage in del Toro’s career, he had made a name for himself for interweaving likable heartfelt characters into his story, not through exposition, but dialogue and interaction.

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Mimic is not without some cheese. 

This is, after all, a creature feature. 

Whoever came up with the genius plan to get the old boxcar trolley operational is…a moron. Seriously. But, not altogether unrealistic. People come up with horrible ideas all the time. Consider the Shake Weight exercise dumbells. Yup. Someone thought that was a good idea too. No, though the trolley idea was moronic, it was not out of the realm of what someone in that situation would probably do. The real cheese for me was what the “King” Judas bug was doing at the end. But, let me explain the entry of this “new” character. Nearing the climax, we discover that part of the genetic code used to create the Judas breed came from a species of insect that has one male as the only fertile member of the colony. Of course, they had created the species as “all-female,” thus supposedly limiting the lifespan of the Judas breed exponentially. However, as fans of Jurrasic Park should know, “life finds a way,” and thus the species adapted. Part of the enzyme that gave Judas the ability to eliminate the cockroach infestation by accelerating the roaches reproduction rate, essentially burning them out, in turn, gave them the ability to mass reproduce at an alarming rate. Consider how in just three years the Judas went from cockroach size to human size, developing the necessary biology in order to grow. Reproduction, fertility and natural childbirth seem to be a motif in Mimic.

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Back to the cheese.

A big creep factor in this movie was the fact that these insects were not acting in any personal way. Insects do not have politics, remember. They simply…are. They do as their genetic makeup implies for them to do. They attack when provoked. They feed and breed for survival alone. There is no pleasure, “no compassion, no compromise (I’m telling you, Jeff Goldblum should have been cast in this movie as Dr. Mann).”  That said, in the end, the “King” Judas bug didn’t seem to be following the movies preestablished rules of insect politics. The “King” acted mightily pissed off. Before being mowed down by a subway car, that sucker “looked” like he wanted blood. Half-burnt, limping after Dr. Taylor. But, that’s just a small blip on an otherwise decent and definitely creepy creature feature flick. My only other “WTF” is the last line in the movie when Dr. Taylor and her bo Dr. Mann reunite, both are happy the other survived the subway fire that wiped out the Judas colony. Dr. Mann whispers in his wife’s ear, “We can have a baby,” or something to that extent. As the last line, this kinda has me in a loop. After everything they survived, the ordeal, that’s what he tells her? This, of course, brings the circle around regarding the theme of natural childbirth and fertility. But what did it answer? Or better yet, what question did it raise? Unnatural fertility will breed monsters? Seriously? Maybe I’m missing something.

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Regardless, Mimic was an excellent escape from the visceral and psychological methods of storytelling that seemed to dominate the 1990s. And Mimic was definitely one of del Toro’s best pictures if you ask me. This flick could have very feel come off as a cheap B-movie, it had the trappings for such a disaster, but it didn’t. Mimic came out as a genuinely creepy monster movie. If you haven’t seen this one, you need to, but be sure to watch the Director’s Cut. It’s only really nine minutes of added footage, but those added moments make the movie all the better.

My rating: 4 out of 5 

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Cloverfield (2008)

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Note: The below is written based on the assumption that you’ve seen Cloverfield. If you haven’t yet, go and see Cloverfield. Or be both spoiled and confused. Your choice.

I tried to resist the obvious pun. I really did. But I can’t do it. So, with apologies…

Cloverfield is a very odd beast.

Sorry.

But it is.

I mean, on the one hand, it isn’t, at all. Giant monsters have destroyed Manhattan Island since forever, after all. Like London, New York is one of those rare cities whose ‘centre of the universe’ mentality is actually somewhat borne out by reality (Tokyo is the other one that immediately jumps to mind, and oh, look…). So, I mean, of course, the aliens and monsters are going to start there. Why wouldn’t they? It’s where, as they say, the action is.

In that regard, Cloverfield is part of a long established tradition – none more trad, arguably, in the giant creature feature genre.

Similarly, found footage? It’s rare as a horror fan you’ll go through a month without someone complaining either on your Facebook feed or in a blog post about the ubiquity of the found footage movie and it’s disastrous impact on the genre – such complaints are almost a sub-genre themselves, at this point. Ever since the not-universally-popular-but-at-least-successful-and-then-somewhat-original Blair Witch Project rattled our tents and planted in our ears 17 years ago (yes, you’re old, get over it), seems like every indie wannabe superstar has been chasing that found footage Bigfoot, trying to recreate the magic. In musical terms, it reminds me of the rap/metal explosion that followed Rage Against The Machine – people trying to combine the same mechanical elements (hip-hop singer with a metal band) without the slightest clue as to what made Rage so damn special in the first place. Gifting the world Limp Bizkit and a million behind them that were even worse. Thanks, recording industry.

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But hang on, though, because we may just have stumbled over the point, there, while getting on our self-righteous nu-metal-bashing hobbyhorse (yeah, you were up here with me, don’t deny it). Because prior to Rage, there had been both Hip Hop and Metal (obviously), and both movements were, by ‘91, well established enough to have had mainstream successes, even while remaining musical subcultures as a whole. But aside from one-off songs like Aerosmith/Run D.M.C’s Walk This Way, nobody had thought to combine the elements – and certainly not in a fully functioning band unit, where neither style held obvious supremacy.

So, to finally get on topic, found footage movies weren’t unusual. Neither were giant creature features.

But a found footage giant creature feature?

That’s new.

And we might as well get this out of the way; one of the principle reasons it’s new is because it’s also an insane idea. If you’re making a giant creature feature in 2008 and wreaking Manhattan in the process, you’re doing it largely with CGI. However, if you’re making a found footage movie, especially with an in-fiction non-professional camera operator (as you are in Cloverfield) then you’re talking strictly handheld.

And to be fair, for your indie horror filmmaker, that’s an enormous plus, for the obvious reason that it’s dirt cheap. Slap cheap digital cameras into the hands of your actors, and then let loose the mayhem, and hilarity and awards ensue, right? And all the auto-focus fails, and blurry shots of the maybe-thing-maybe-person stalking or whatever, that all just adds to the atmosphere, right?

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Except, now, with Cloverfield, your shaky-cam is filming a skyscraper exploding, or your shutter speed is blurring the head of the Statue Of Liberty as it bounces down the street, or the autofocus is failing to decide which piece of the 200-foot monster to focus on.

And, of course, none of those things actually exist, outside of some computer whizzes laptop.

.That is what, frankly, blows my mind about Cloverfield, and why I wanted to write about it.

Because I do sometimes find myself wondering (outside of the total movie geek circles I am proud to inhabit) how many people really understand just what a staggering achievement this movie represents. I wonder if the average movie goer, benumbed as they must be by massive digital spectacles, fully appreciates how complex, how difficult, and how special Cloverfield is, in terms of what it achieves. How tough it is to integrate digital effects with handheld footage in such a way that the unreal appears so naturalistic that the only reason you know the creature isn’t really there is because it would be impossible to build.

It is, in the parlance of our times, fucking awe inspiring.

Of course, director Matt Reaves pulls every trick in the book to make it work. In 1975, a malfunctioning robot shark inadvertently forced Spielberg to the genius realisation that having the monster mostly be off camera made it WAY scarier, and while Reaves in a found footage format doesn’t have the luxury of cutting to the monster’s POV, accompanied by a John Williams score, we do see far more of the creature’s handiwork than we do the creature itself, in the scarred streets and skyline of the city. There’s also a return of the good old ground tremors from Jurassic Park, and a ton of similar tricks employed throughout to both build tension and, by happy coincidence, save money (another brilliant example is when the creature passes by the store our protagonists are cowering in – before it passes, the air outside becomes so full of brick dust and ash from a collapsing building that the monster itself is only heard and felt, not seen).

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It’s smart, savvy filmmaking, selling us on the scale and power of this thing without providing even a glimpse. Similar brilliance announces itself elsewhere in the storytelling. One of the central strengths of found footage is also its central weakness – you’re stuck with one perspective, one window on the world. This is compounded in Cloverfield by also ostensibly being unedited footage, the only cuts being when the camera operator turns the device off for some reason (during which segments we’re treated to bleed-through from the previous recording that is being overwritten – a cute device for delivering back story, albeit not one I’m convinced makes sense in a digital age – sure, a videotape would work this way, but digital files?).

Horror fans and writers will immediately grok to the appeal and strength of such an approach, but it can cause problems, not least when trying to transmit a sense of scale, or hints at a wider world response to events. There’s a superb moment where Rob, desperate to restore his mobile phone charge, runs into an electronics store that’s in the process of being looted. Our camera man follows him in, huffing and puffing (one of the funniest lines in the movie is his exclamation early on that ‘I don’t really do this running stuff!’) only to be pulled up short by the TV coverage. Via his camera pointing at the TV, we get a glimpse of how the news coverage is panning out, at least until he’s pulled away by his friends and off into the next part of the story.

Similar brilliant flourishes abound, from the camera perspective on the Brooklyn bridge as a tentacle (actually tail, we later learn) smashes into it, knocking the cameraman off his feet, to flickering or emergency lighting creating a dramatic, nightmarish strobe effect, to a brilliant sequence in the subway in which first the camera torch is employed, and later the night vision, in what is for my money one of the best jump scares of the last ten years – without cheating with some dramatic score or jump cut.

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And then there’s the creature.

The beast itself is on camera rarely – I’d bet less than five minutes of the total running time feature any glimpse of it, and most of that is exactly glimpses – a tale, an arm, and a stunning in motion underneath shot as our heroes plunge into the subway and the army engages in a fierce firefight. Even seen on the news footage or from the evacuation chopper, it’s partially obscured by buildings, or smoke, or just the trembling of the camera man. But in the closing minutes of the film, we’re finally treated to a full, uninterrupted view, and it’s just glorious – huge, organic, monstrous both in size and features, raining grotesque parasites – it really is brilliantly realized, the stuff of nightmares.

So, yeah, there’s a lot to recommend Cloverfield, and I think it’s a brilliant movie – or at least, near brilliant. There are some elements that don’t quite hang together, for me. There’s the technical stuff – I’ve already mentioned in passing how the ‘bleed-through’ of the old video footage only really makes sense in the analog age and given that mobile phone networks were disconnected across New York throughout 9/11, Rob’s suspiciously functioning mobile is, well, suspicious.

And as we’ve brought it up.. So, there’s the 9/11 thing.

Because prior to 2001, there were a lot of movies that indulged in disaster porn and specifically blowing up New York. And let’s be honest – it felt like good clean fun at the time. I vividly remember being utterly thrilled at the destruction of the Empire State Building and The White House in Independence Day when it came out – not even slightly in a ‘fuck America’ way, to be crystal clear, but in a totally generic ‘wow, big badda-BOOM!’ way.

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And I similarly vividly remember watching ID4 for the first time post-9/11. And it felt different. A lot less fun. Kind of a bummer, actually.

But, you know, historical artifact, innit? Like any seismic historical and cultural moment, there’s just a pre and post-9/11 divide in art, and you can’t judge one by the standard of the other.

Except then, there’s Cloverfield.

And it kind of explicitly plays with the imagery and atmosphere of that day. When the attacks first start, and all people can see is explosions, one of the voices at the party says ‘Is it another attack?’. The police evacuating people in the street, clearly well drilled in massive disaster response. The moment I talked about earlier, with the group hiding out in the store as the smoke and dust rolls past – that could almost be footage from the day.

Now, I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist, to be clear. This isn’t about what people should or shouldn’t be allowed to say or write or film. At the end of the day, the same rights that protect your right (hypothetically speaking) to be a racist fuckhole are the rights that protect me calling you out on your racist fuckhollery and telling others about it. That’s how it works, and, IMO, the only way it CAN work. Social change powers political change, not the other way around. So be the change you want to see in the world and all that.

So I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t make a piece of popcorn entertainment in 2008 that evokes the imagery of 9/11. Of course, you can. Equally, though, as Dr. Malcolm might say, it might be worth thinking about whether or not you should.

Not just because 9/11 was an event of global trauma, the repercussions of which are still shaping lives and getting people killed – though it is. But because… well, look – you can make a movie like World Trade Centre, which is a pretty straight telling of the events of the day. That’s one thing. But to take imagery and iconography from the day and chuck them into your, let’s face it, popcorn monster movie… well, it is, at least, a little uncomfortable, and at worst smacks of being tasteless, even exploitative.

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Again, to be clear, I’m not saying the movie shouldn’t have been made, or anything like that. And I can even sympathize with the filmmakers in some ways – with the found footage vibe, it’s all about verisimilitude, after all. And damn, now we’ve got real footage of what a demolished Manhattan skyline looks like at street level – how could you not use that information?  At the same time, as much as I like Cloverfield (and I do, a great deal) this aspect of the film always leaves me feeling a little queasy.

And you know what, that’s okay. It’s okay – healthy, even – to have ambiguous or conflicted reactions to art. It’s okay to like or even love a movie (or album, or book) even as it’s flawed make you sad, or angry, or uneasy. To climb back on the free speech soapbox one more time, that’s almost the point. Conversation, discussion, argument – that’s how we improve our understanding, refine our opinions, and yes, sometimes, learn something new that changes how we see the world or a facet of it.

Cloverfield is a very good movie, that for me edges on greatness (and in a technical sense, it is unambiguously great, I think). Far from flawless (aside from the above, the plot that drives the characters is as hack and obvious as it’s possible to be, and the actors, while solid, don’t quite manage to elevate that into something more), but the things it does well it does SO damn well that, especially first time through, it’s a total thrill ride of a movie, a classic popcorn rollercoaster.

And yeah, it’s a brilliant giant creature feature. Maybe even the best post-2000 one, what with the intelligent and expertly realized use of the found footage format and a brand new monster that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

And if parts of it make me uncomfortable… well, how bad is that, in the final analysis?

After all, beats the shit out of being boring.

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Kit Power is no stranger to Machine Mean. He was reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the forever classic Monster Mash Pinball Game. And participated during Fright Fest with a review on Parents. Mr. Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as the frontman (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as,GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can read Kit’s review of Bride here.

You can get Breaking Point, Kit Power’s newest release, for $2.99 on Amazon!

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BREAKING POINT – THE LIFELINE TRILOGY

A Cyclist is knocked unconscious on his way home and wakes up in a nightmare…
A devoted husband begins to suspect all is not well with his marriage…
A desperate family man, running out of time and options, turns to an old schoolmate from the wrong side of the tracks – looking for work – any work…
A young man’s world is thrown into chaos as his father is abducted…
Four tales of people pushed to BREAKING POINT.

For ‘The Loving Husband’ – “Gripping, compelling and utterly nerve-wracking.” – DLS Reviews.

For ‘Lifeline’ – “More savage than Rottweiler on meths with its nads caught in barbed wire.” – zombiekebab, Amazon reviewer.

“One of the best novellas I’ve had the pleasure to read.” – Duncan Ralston – Author of Salvage.

“a sliver of sheer brutality and nastiness that is unbridled.” John Boden, author of DOMINOES.

“Power gets splatterpunk in a way that few do.” – Bracken MacLeod, author of Stranded and Mountain.

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Universal Monsters in Review: She-Wolf of London (1946)

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I sooooo wanted this movie to be amazing. And maybe it was and I just didn’t get it. I loved the concept, the idea of a woman werewolf, almost akin to 1942’s Cat People, in which by a curse, the person may transform into a large cat in the heat of passion. Movies like Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People and The Leopard Man (1943) are basically about suppressed sexuality and the notion of the time that if you explore such things you’ll be “transformed” by your passions to these lustful violent creatures. Maybe I had expected something like that with She-Wolf of London (aka THE CURSE OF THE ALLENBYS) because what is a werewolf story other than the idea of uncontrollable emotions coming out of us like wild things. I will give director Jean Yarbrough some credit in how he somewhat kept the “Greek tragedy” aspect in werewolf lore. Everything else seemed to fall flat. Painfully so. Even the very superb acting of June Lockhart, Don Porter, and Sara Haden could not salvage the film. There was too much expectation, and not enough fulfillment. But, these are just my own ramblings. Lets see what our honored guest has to say regarding She-Wolf of London. 

THE FOGGIEST FOG THAT EVER FOGGED

By: Michelle Garza

As a little girl my mom would always watch the black and white Universal classics with me and my sister, it was my introduction to horror. Being a child of the desert (I was born and raised in Arizona) I was always fascinated by the scenes, though they were created in a studio, of foggy locations. She-wolf of London did not disappoint in that aspect. It was some of the foggiest fog that ever fogged. There was only one time that I had ever seen fog like that in real life and it was created by a fog machine at a death metal show.

The tale takes place in London at the turn of the century. It follows the story of a young woman named Phyllis Allenby, she is set to wed a wealthy lawyer by the name of Barry but as a murder starts killing and mutilating innocent people not far from her inherited estate it brings to light the rumors of a family curse…one involving lycanthropy. She believes that the curse has caught up to her. Phyllis tries to call off her engagement, keeps to herself and only talks about her worries to her aunt Martha at first. The aunt is a shady hag to begin with who treats her house woman, Hannah, like a total bitch and won’t let her daughter Carol have a boyfriend if he’s not rolling in the dough. “Aunt” Martha secretly admits to her daughter that she is not really Phyllis’s aunt and if the young woman marries Barry Martha and Carol could lose their home in the Allenby estate. All the while Phyllis spirals into madness truly believing she is the beast when her Aunt’s dogs try to attack her and howl all night long it only points to her worst fear being true. She keeps a lantern outside of her window to ward away evil as told by an old Scottish wives’ tale, yet she keeps awakening to find her clothes muddy and her hands bloody. The thoughts of herself becoming a beast and ripping people apart eats away at her.

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Let’s talk about some things that might make a person laugh, those silly horror movie moments that in my opinion can add to the awesomeness of older flicks…the giggle factor. I am a lover of horror in all degrees from the super serious, scare the crap out of you, to the super cheesy b movies, to the classics that in their time were closer to the first mentioned, it was on these foundations that we built the majesty of the horror genre. For instance, she finds her shoes covered in mud, the shoes are super girly with heels, it made me laugh. If I was going out to eat people, I certainly would choose different footwear…yet I suppose the beast isn’t particularly worried about fashion or comfort when its howling to bust out and since it was the turn of the century that was the proper attire of a young woman no matter if a bloodthirsty beast dwelled within her. There are the typical investigators, one that thinks the killer is either an animal or deranged person while the second believes it to be a female werewolf, he meets a tragic end in his quest to prove the nonbeliever wrong. Carol, the supposed cousin, is in love with a man of lower station and so sneaks out during the night to tryst with him…leaving the audience thinking that she could be the she-wolf herself. It builds an old timey sense of suspicion, though later the ending doesn’t really come as a shock. What may come as a shock is you NEVER see a werewolf in this flick!!!!

Barry finally gets Phyllis to admit her worries, she confesses that she has terrible nightmares of pagan rites being performed and becoming a wolf. He won’t accept that his woman is refusing to get hitched because of some story about a family curse. He sits outside of her house one night to try to discover if she actually is a werewolf. He sees a woman draped in a cloak, her face is concealed. He follows her and loses her in the foggiest fog that ever fogged. A man cries out as he is attacked by a veiled woman, she escapes, he claims it was some psycho woman that growled like an animal, moments later Carol approaches the victim that happens to be her boyfriend and claims she was out to meet with her love in secret…even though there is a murderer on the loose.

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This part struck a chord within my werewolf loving heart and I recalled the book the were-wolf by Clemence Housman, it tells the story of White Fell, a beautiful stranger that comes between two brothers, she was tall and fair…and happened to be a werewolf. I’m not insinuating that Universal copied the story, I’m just noting that they are parallel. She was cloaked and stunning much like our She-wolf of London, spreading terror throughout a community, killing children and inciting strife between loved ones. A tale as old as time…beauty concealing the beast.

The figure is shown a few times during the movie, actually in the goriest scene of the film the veiled She-wolf stalks a member of Scotland yard, Latham, the only guy that believes in werewolves, and slashes his throat open. Though it is black and white you can see that his neck is bloodied. He tries to scream for the constable but it is too late, it must have been shocking for a film in nineteen forty-six. Movies like these opened doors for women characters, they could be more than just matronly or wholesome, they could be alluring, they could be deadly…they could be real. I love to see that in the older movies.

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Each time Phyllis hears the news about innocent people being murdered, then finds her clothes soiled the next morning she really believes that she is a monster, a ravening beast hidden beneath the layers of lace and silk. At last she confides in Carol and begs her to get the police because she wants someone to stop her from murdering people. While Carol is out of the house Martha comes to bring Phyllis a glass of warm milk, something she does nightly. By this point most people will already connect the dots and it is no shock to find out that her aunt has been going out at night and pretending to be a she-wolf. She had been drugging Phyllis (que old-school watery effect to the film that symbolizes being whacked out of your mind) and committing heinous crimes in hopes that Phyllis would be blamed because of the family curse and the poor girl basically tells her fiancé and her cousin that she is the monster in her hysteria. Martha then pulls a knife saying she would kill Phyllis and claim that she ended her own life.

Here’s where people should remember a few very important lessons that were probably already taught to them at some point in their life by either a parent or through their own foolish error…

Lesson number one: ALWAYS BE KIND TO THE STAFF. (This includes housekeepers, cooks, gardeners etc.) I was a custodian for fourteen years and believe me when I say the vengeance they can reap is quite dirty. Martha learns this the harsh way when she finds out that standing outside of the door while she confesses her crimes and then tells Phyllis she is going to kill her is the house woman, Hannah, the same woman that Martha treated like a walking turd. Hannah pushes the door open and Martha discovers that she is a witness to her confession. The old house woman tells her she has been watching Martha’s odd behavior and now threatens to fetch the police. Martha chases after Hannah, wielding a knife. They run down a sweeping staircase in the luxurious Allenby estate and Martha trips.

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Lesson number two: NEVER RUN WITH SHARP OBJECTS. Martha falls on her own knife; it is driven into her gut as she tumbles down the steps of the house that she coveted so much she would kill to get to keep living there. She dies as the housekeeper opens the door, revealing the police and Barry who just arrived with Carol so that Phyllis can confess that she was the killer. Hannah tells them that Martha is the she-wolf. The ending comes as Barry rushes to his woman’s side, she is drugged and frightened but he assures her that Martha will never kill anyone ever again.

Although I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see a she-wolf going through some awesome stop motion wolfing, I still enjoyed watching it. It was more about the psychological horror of a young woman believing that she was losing herself, becoming something so terrible that she just couldn’t continue with her life it happened to be true. I think at some point most people deal with that on some level and that, my friends, is why we need horror. Whether it scares you, grosses you out or makes you giggle, it forces you to see those dark things that lurk in the real world and you become stronger for facing them.

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Michelle Garza, one half of the writing team based out of Arizona. Her sister, Melissa Lason, and Ms. Garza have been dubbed The Sisters of Slaughter by the editors at Fireside Press. Since a young age they have enjoyed crafting tales of the dark and macabre. Their work has been included in anthologies such as WIDOWMAKERS a benefit anthology of dark fiction, WISHFUL THINKING by Fireside press and soon to be published REJECTED FOR CONTENT 3 by JEA. To be included in FRESH MEAT 2015 is an incredible honor for the sisters. Later this year, their debut novel, Mayan Blue, releases with Sinister Grin Press. You can keep track of Michelle budding writing career by following her on Twitter and Facebook.


Universal Monsters in review: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

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Another first for me. Fresh from a late night screening of Dracula’s Daughter, expecting perhaps something humdrum or worse, mediocre. However, the most sublime thing happened. Dracula’s Daughter turned out to be an actually wonderfully fantastic film. With beautiful cinematography and superb acting, its a wonder why folks don’t talk about this film more. It is astounding how the general consensus on movie review sites, such as Rotten Tomato, is nothing more than a snore, between critic and everyday reviewers alike. I suppose walking the line between boring and atmospheric is a very narrow path. Personally, I felt Dracula’s Daughter was very atmospheric and I can see now where more recent vampire adaptations picked certain images. When I first glimpsed Countess Marya Zaleska (played by the enchanting Gloria Holden), with her face hidden behind a black hijab, she reminded me of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Of course, one the significant differences the between two, Countess Marya Zaleska seems to prefer to prey on women than men, which also gives us some rather homoerotic vibes, especially concerning a certain scene between the Countess and a woman her man servant Sandor brings in off the street under the guise of needing model for a painting. Thankfully, we’ve got a special guest with us today to help us sort through this film. Teacher, screen writer, film maker, author, podcaster, and all around great guy, William D. Prystauk has graciously agreed to take on this Universal classic. Lets see what he has to say!

 

Dracula’s Daughter (Universal, 1936)

by William D. Prystauk

This is the official sequel to 1931’s iconic Dracula, this tale takes place a few months after the count’s death at the hands of Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). Dracula’s Daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), with the help of her right-hand man, Sandor (Irving Pichel) steals the body of her “dead” father, and burns Dracula to a crisp in order to rid herself of the desire to consume blood that possesses her – except it doesn’t work. As Van Helsing remains in court defending himself against murder charges because he rid the world of a vampire, the countess takes victims by mesmerizing them with a jeweled ring. Even so, she meets up with psychiatrist Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger), and undergoes therapy while trying to use sheer force of will to keep her bloodthirsty cravings at bay. Seeking a distraction, Sandor brings the countess model Lili (Nan Grey) to paint. In the beginning, Zaleska resists her urge to attack Lili, but ultimately fails. Though Lili survives the assault, she soon dies when Dr. Garth tries to hypnotize her. Realizing a cure is impossible at the same time Dr. Garth realizes she’s a true blue vampire, Zaleska kidnaps the doctor’s lover, Janet (Marguerite Churchill), and whisks her off to solemn Transylvania. In order to save Janet, Dr. Garth must allow himself to be bitten by Zaleska so he can become her partner – forever. However, the countess had promised Sandor eternal life. And before her fangs can penetrate her soon to be enslaved beau, Sandor, pent on revenge for the snub, destroys her with an arrow.

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The only one to reprise his role from the first film is Van Sloan. Hell, the studio didn’t try to get Tod Browning to direct again, and James Whale took a walk – and they didn’t even show Bela Lugosi in a coffin (even though he came cheap as stars go), but used a wax bust of him instead. Simply put, Universal wanted to cash in on the Dracula name one more time.

Dracula’s Daughter, although far from a perfect film, certainly has its moments. First, it distanced itself from the original movie to the point where the film can stand on its own because an entirely different mythos has been created. Where Lugosi’s count wanted control and power, Zaleska is a reluctant bloodsucker. She wants nothing more than to be a normal woman and experience the sun on her face. Thinking and talking about a world she cannot engage with her senses, she seeks out any means to make it happen. She burns her father’s body to dust as if she’s honoring some archaic folk remedy, and when that fails, she turns to modern science because it’s clear Zaleska thinks the problem’s in her head, thanks to psychiatrist Garth who thinks he can cure any “disease of the mind”. If she can find a way of quenching that thirst without unleashing her fangs, she can recapture her humanity. But don’t let this fool you because Zaleska keeps Lurch-like Sandor around. He’s a cold Vulcan wannabe who drops shade upon her fantasies to comedic splendor. Sandor sees death in her eyes, and when she imagines birds and dogs, he sees bats and wolves. Therefore, every smile she conjures he turns into a frown. In this case, he’s not just her servant, but her reality check. In addition, if Zaleska finds a cure for her curse, Sandor will never become the immortal badass he wishes to become. If the countess had chosen Sandor as her companion, there’s no doubt that once he became the immortal dead he’d either stake Zaleska or leave her behind. Beyond those two options, Sandor would have followed in Dracula’s bloody footsteps. However, I always wondered if Universal had made a third installment with the Return of Sandor and Irving Pichel reprising his role. This would have kept the franchise rolling, and could have altered Pichel’s career, which ultimately became waylaid by the truly horrific House Un-American Activities Committee who had him blacklisted as an actor and a director.

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One thing that never escapes vampirism in all its forms is the homoerotic element: A villain with fanged teeth (phalluses) penetrating the flesh of men and women. Dracula may have wanted Mina Harker, but he takes her husband to be, Jonathan as a live-in slave, and who knows how he crawled into the mind of Renfield before going after Lucy Westenra. In Dracula’s Daughter, the much talked about scene between Zaleska and Lili makes one wonder if the countess craves the young woman out of hunger or something more. As the young woman stands half-naked before Zaleska, the countess hunger shines through, but one can argue either way if it’s bloodlust (looking at Lili as sustenance) or as a love interest. When Lili fades fast, Zaleska seems to revel in the fact that the woman is dying, because this demise is the countess’s dark creation thanks to her own fangs. This is where some of daddy Dracula’s darkness leaks through, and for a moment we wonder if Sandor wasn’t right all along about those bats, wolves, and notions of death. After all, he knows his mistress better than anyone else ever could.

Most important, unlike Dracula, we feel for Zaleska the monster. She’s in turmoil and seems serious-minded about becoming something better than her uncanny, human consuming self. This allows audiences to appreciate her struggle and have sympathy for the monster, the same as Lon Chaney Jr.’s wolfman, who had become a creature of the night against his will, and Boris Karloff’s poor monster thanks to Dr. Frankenstein. Granted, we don’t really know of Zaleska’s origin, but with her longing for sunlight, she most undoubtedly had been sired against her will.

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Regardless, Gloria Holden was a reluctant actress. She did not care for horror and did not want to become typecast as she saw Lugosi becoming. This helped her in creating a “yearning for life” character, a reluctant vampire who had to feed like a human needed a bite out of a hamburger each day, and there was no non-blood alternative to sustain her. Holden maintained her stature and grace in the role, bringing an element of regality to the countess, which appeared as an older, domineering lesbian to some, or mommy dearest like mistress of the damned. One can see how she may have influenced the eyes of Lily Munster or Angelica Houston in the Addams’ Family films. We can only guess what the reaction would have been if scribe John L. Balderston’s original screenplay had been accepted by Universal, and the stifling censorship board (Production Code Administration) at the time. In Balderston’s version, Von Helsing would have returned to the castle to finish off the vampire brides, but we would have been introduced to a countess who enjoyed her role as queen destructive bee. Several scenes apparently implied that the countess had a desire for torturing men, which included paraphernalia equivalent to a 1930’s version of a dominatrix with whips and such. However, Zaleska did have a mental hold on Sandor, and she certainly tortured him with the dangling carrot of immortality.

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Ultimately, in Dracula’s Daughter, the beast and her bodyguard butler only discovered death and destruction, while the arrogant cocksure psychiatrist and his love interest earned the chance to live another day. Yet oddly enough, with Garth’s education and prowess to hypnotize there is a subtle hint that he is the human equivalent of a vampire (sans Zaleska’s jeweled ring), though we never learn if he’ll use his mental skills to manipulate poor Janet. We only know that the vampire queen is dead and young women in London and in the valley of the castle’s shadow are safe for another day.

Rate: 3 stars out of 5

 

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William D. Prystauk  is an award-winning screenwriter, film producer, and teacher in higher education, as well as a published poet, and essayist. His crime thriller, BLOODLETTING, has been adapted from his script of the same name, and he is currently working on a horror series. William also co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast as Billy Crash with his good buddy, Jonny Numb, and currently has thousands of listeners in 120 countries. You can find more about horror and William on his Crash Palace Productions site. As an Assistant Professor of English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, William teaches business writing, and public relations. You can find more about William at any of these fantastic sites: Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Fu9PHS Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1GhclaJ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23365977-bloodletting BLOODLETTING Book Trailer One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVNji_G-tSI BLOODLETTING Book Trailer Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glK9DiVIHT8 IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5464477/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/william-d-prystauk/10/9a1/a55 Horror Podcast: THE LAST KNOCK on iTunes Twitter: @crashpalace


Universal Monsters in review: Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein (1948)

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I had the absolute pleasure of watching this film for the very first time last night. As chance would have it, a storm was passing through the area. Lightening flashed and thunder boomed, rattling the glass, as I watched, popcorn in hand, one of the last of the Universal Monster Classics to ever don the silver screen. 1948 in film must have been a very strange era, or at least for self-acclaimed film historians such as myself. Certainly there were plenty of post-war film noir going on, but even those would be fizzing out. The real change would be the approaching dawn of Atomic Age Cinema of the 1950s. Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein is truly the last Universal Monster picture before the monsters turned to the atom bomb. While enjoying the rambunctious comedy of 40s famed duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the return of both Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman and Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Chaney had played the role of every single classic monster, aside of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but when the role for the Wolfman came up in A&C meet Frank, and I’m paraphrasing here, the role could go to no one else, he owned the Wolfman as much as the Wolfman owned him, or so he said. And if I’m not mistaken, this would be his last entry as the mythical full moon howler. The role of Dracula however was more ambiguous. Believe it or not, Bela was not the original casting for the famed night stalker. Bela was 66 years old when we dawned the cape and cowl for the last time, and technically first since the original 1931 Dracula. He’d played Dracula-esk roles since 1931, but never technically Dracula himself. You can see from first glance how aged the actor was, but nevertheless, was still mesmerizing and a powerful presence on stage. Film historians have commented that while Chaney as Lawrence Talbot was wonderful, Bela returning as Dracula is what really stole the show. Regardless, A&C meet Frankenstein is a wonderful footnote in the history of film, an important tale at the precipice of another era to come. Today, we’re joined with a equally fantastic author who has a special love for the movie. So, without further delay, let us see what our guest has in store for us.

 

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein

Universal’s greatest horror comedy

 JR Park

 

In 1948 the classic Universal monsters Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man, had long since reached the high tide mark of their popularity.  In order to maximize continual profits the three had been featured alongside each other in two films, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula (1941 and 1945); both of which had been commercial successes.  But their final swansong was yet to come.  Teaming up with America’s hottest comedy duo of the time, the originators of many a nightmare were to have one final goodbye.  And what could have been a terrible pastiche, a jumping of the shark long before The Fonz donned a set of water skis, turned out to be arguably one of the finest comedy-horrors ever produced.

Jump forward forty years and I was a wee child of no more than four or five.  At the time my Gran had some films recorded from the TV, designed to shut me and my brothers up when we came over to visit.  Of the features that had been taped there were two in particular I would watch over and over.  Both were black and white which even then felt like an outdated concept; black and white usually meant ‘boring’ to me, however these two enthralled me as equally as any modern movie could.  Those two films were ‘Them’ a feature about giant radioactive ants, and ‘Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.’

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will host a month-long series of screenings of classic horror films with “Universal’s Legacy of Horror” in October.  The series is part of the studio’s year-long 100th anniversary celebration engaging Universal’s fans and all movie lovers in the art of moviemaking. Pictured: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Glenn Strange, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, 1948.

Back then I found the comedy funny and the monsters… well, not scary, but enthralling, fascinating, exciting.  Horrific would be too strong a word to describe the characters I’d seen watered down and aped on re-runs of shows like the Munsters.  But the action and danger was still there.  The pull to the nightmare inhabitants of the shadows had begun its influence.

Looking back I am pleasantly surprised at just how well this stands up.  It is an out and out good movie.  Not a good movie for its time, or a good movie because it inspired something greater, but a straight up, honest-to-God good movie.

The cast is as authentic as you are ever going to get: Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster and Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man, and the opening credits that announces them is a cartoon sequence listing the monsters and setting things up nicely.  This is something that would have definitely provided a hook for my younger self, and a scene that still looks pretty cool now.  Once the role call is complete it dissolves into real footage, and within less than five minutes of the run time we are treated to a Lon Chaney Jr werewolf transformation, followed by the lycanthropic creature snarling with rage.

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Make no mistake, this is going to be a monster movie.

The plot of the feature revolves around Abbott & Costello working as baggage handlers.  One day two crates arrive and they are asked to deliver them to a horror museum by the unpleasant and bossy owner, leading to a few amusing exchanges. Below is just one in a list of highlights.

‘Well that’s gonna cost you over time because I’m a union man and I only work sixteen hours a day.’

‘A union man works only eight hours a day.’

‘I belong to two unions.’

Taking the crates to the museum and opening them up, the hapless Costello discovers their contents are nothing less than the two twins of terror, Count Dracula and the Frankenstein’s Monster!  To add more to his woes we discover that his stunning girlfriend is in fact working with the evil Count and plans to put Costello’s feeble brain into the Monster to make it more obedient.  Help is at hand as Lawrence Talbot arrives having chased the abominations from Europe, and tries to enlist the help of Abbott and Costello to thwart their dastardly plans.  If only he could stop turning into a wolf…

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The madness that ensues certainly makes for a tick list of old scary movie components: creepy castles, scary noises, chases, burning bodies, mad science labs, bat transformations, biting necks and possessed people.

But with all this horror where’s the comedy going to go?  The answer… all over it.

Abbott and Costello are absolutely superb in this film.  Their fast delivery of quick-fire patter is a joy to listen to.  Snappy one-liners go hand in hand with great physical comedy, stupid voices and hilarious impressions.  Costello’s impression of Dracula when he is so scared he struggles to talk makes me laugh even as I think about it, typing these words.  This is rare as there is always a danger that comedy only works in context; taking it out of its social and historic birthplace can render it flat and useless.  But not so with the gags and routines that literally fill this film from beginning to end.

However the success of a horror-comedy is dependent on striking that tricky balance between the two opposing genres.  The trick here, and is the case in two other fine examples of this genre mash An American Werewolf In London and Shaun Of The Dead, is that the teeth of the monsters are kept as sharp as the wit of the script.  All three monsters are in no way dumbed down.  Dracula is cunning, he transforms into a bat, he hypnotizes people with his powerful stare and seduces beautiful women before biting them on the neck.  Frankenstein’s Monster is lumbering and childlike, but still gruesome in appearance, brutish in strength and perfectly capable of throwing a screaming woman through a glass window, three stores up.  The Wolf Man, just like in his 1941 debut, is a tragic figure in human form, constantly in internal agony over the monster inside; and a snarling, uncontrollably ferocious creature when under the influence of the full moon.

The threat is always there. The horror taken seriously.  And that’s why this works so well.

The only scene to trivialize the monsters is a moment where Abbott believes the Wolf Man to be Costello dressed in his masquerade costume.  The Wolf Man gets stuck in a bush and tumbles over branches as he tries to reach for his victim, whilst unaware of the monster’s true identity Abbott is berating it as he would his friend.  This provides a good laugh, but is quickly extinguished when the creature finds its footing and chases the poor man.  Suddenly we are back in the realms of horror movies as the slavering beast runs after its prey.

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The mix is done right.  Each component is allowed to be fully realized and interacts well whilst deftly not tripping over each other.  Instead of piling up in a confused mess, the two elements run side by side, making for excellent companions.

 

The film is a fast moving feature, and all the better for it, with a building climax that doesn’t disappoint.  In the melee of the closing moments we have the bumbling duo escape from the scientist’s lab whilst being pursued by Frankenstein’s Monster, all the while trying to avoid the brawling pair of Dracula and the Wolf Man who tear up the castle in a fight to the death.  (I won’t tell you who wins).

There’s even room for a joke at the end delivered by master of horror, Vincent Price.

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Some films are considered classics, but they aren’t really that enjoyable to watch, and I could name a lot of Universal monster movies within that.  For every one that is genuine fun to sit through (eg The Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein), there are countless more that are not (eg Werewolf of London, Dracula, The Mummy).  Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein might not have the status of some of the others in cinema history, but I would wholly recommend it, not just as an introduction to the classic Universal monsters, but also as fine example of horror-comedy and most importantly because it’s a bloody good film.

‘What’s that?’

‘That’s the wind.’

‘It should get oiled.’

jrpark

JR Park draws from the crazy worlds of exploitation cinema and pulp literature for his literary inspiration. His family are both equally proud and disturbed by his literary output, dragged from a mind they helped to cultivate. He resides on the outskirts of Bristol in the UK and hopes one day they’ll let him in. Mr. Park is the author of several twisted tales of morbid doom, including Upon Waking and Terror Byte and Punch. He was also featured with a horrifyingly wonderful short in the horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. Besides giving his readers terrifying nightmares, Mr. Park is also one of the founding members of the up and coming UK Publishing team, The Sinister Horror Company, active in promoting other writers and attending numerous conventions.


Universal Monsters in review: The Invisible Man (1933)

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Of all the Universal classics, The Invisible Man was one of the few I’d never taken the time to watch. This past weekend, I alleviated my curiosity and found myself, as you’ll note from the below review written by the fantastically talented Duncan Ralston, surprised how different the pace is from the other Universal films. This is a tale about a mad scientist, but instead of boring audiences with the details of his experiment gone awry, we delve into a sprawling story of madness and revenge. Some other notes I found interesting were the references to disfigurement, as The Great War was not far from the minds of screenwriters, becoming part of the cinematic landscape in the form of mangled images. The “disguise” of Jack in the opening of the film reminded me very much of some of the images from early silent pictures, such as 1928’s The Hands of Orlac or even 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera staring the Man of a Thousand Faces. Beyond here, there story for The Invisible Man takes on its own linage, more than about vengeance, and perhaps more in terms of madness and the things we (humanity) mettle in. Without further adieu, lets see what Mr. Ralston has in store for us.

The Invisible Man: Dabbling in Things Better Left Alone

By: Duncan Ralston

Something I’ve heard a lot these days is that old movies are too slow, too boring. This is sometimes a fair criticism. In modern movies, it’s argued, the viewer is shown only the scenes they need. Countless movies prior to the 1980s give us scenes and dialogue unnecessary to move the story forward.

The Invisible Man is not that movie.

Smoke swirls in a howling wind as the credits play, introducing the main character as “the Invisible One,” rather than the Invisible Man. He blows into the Lion’s Head Inn on a snow storm, wrapped for the cold in a long trench coat, full face wrap, dark goggles and gloves. The tavern regulars gape at him. While the housemistress takes him upstairs, the regulars theorize about him, small town gossip: he’s an escaped convict, or he’s snow blind, or he’s disfigured. She catches him with the lower part of his wrap off his face, and tells people he’s been in a horrible accident.

From here, we discover what happened to the Invisible One. Jack, a scientist, has been missing for a month. His fiance and partners are worried about him, as he left a note saying he would return when he’s solved his predicament. The scene with the scientists is a bit of an info dump, but it’s not very long before we’re back with the Invisible Man we now know as “Jack.” He’s working on an antidote at the Lion’s Head Inn, but he keeps getting interrupted. He finally reveals his invisibility, pushing her husband down the stairs, throwing things and knocking stuff over during his escape. He steals someone’s bike and peddles off on it, fully invisible.

The thing that struck me most about this movie is how fast-paced it is. There’s a remarkable amount of story and character thrown into its hour and ten minute runtime, and yet it doesn’t feel rushed. Some scenes play out quickly, others are allowed to linger.

Another great bit is all the “poltergeist”-type wire gags, where Invisible Jack moves objects, has tantrums, beats people up, and prances around laughing like Scrooge on Christmas morning. These scenes are great fun, and look surprisingly good for the era. The effects don’t work quite so well when Jack is clothed while invisible, a black outline around his clothing unable to be removed during rotoscoping. These scenes were at first considered “unfilmable,” and effects work took up four months of production. Effects guru John Fulton said when he was given the script in 1933, “It bristled with difficult special process scenes, and I wondered if, even with our modern process techniques we could possibly make all the amazing scenes called for.”

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Once Jack’s evil plan is unveiled–which amounts to causing general mayhem, such as murder (“small at first”), and derailing trains–the police are hot on his trail. The montages of the police plotting and executing his capture are brilliantly paced, and the police don’t lose him due to Keystone Cop shenanigans, as one might expect in an older movie. They’ve conceived a decent plan, and only fail initially because of an accident of fate. Something I thought while watching these scenes is that they might have formed the foundation for every Authority Against the Vigilante sequence in almost every modern superhero movie.

I haven’t read H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man in maybe 20 years, but from what I remember of it, it differs a lot from this adaptation. For one thing, I remember a lot of Jack dealing with his predicament, where in the 1933 Universal film most of that is cut in favor of action. But maybe I’m mixing this up with Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man. I do recall he was seeking revenge at one point on the partner who betrayed him? Stole his work? I don’t recall. Revenge is only briefly touched on in the movie, but for a different reason.

All in all, Universal’s The Invisible Man is an entertaining film that suffers slightly from a few corny lines, female roles that border on the “hysterical” (not hysterical ha ha, hysterical as in screaming at every opportunity), and by starting in media res, with Jack already a maniac, it doesn’t quite work as a tragedy.

Those few flaws aside, The Invisible Man is well worth a watch. It must have been a Herculean undertaking to put this film together using the practical effects at the time, and for audiences to have believed they’d actually seen an invisible man, as some critics mentioned, is something few modern movies with effects costing multiple millions can manage.

DuncanR

Duncan Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts and The Animal, and the upcoming anthology, Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can follow and chat with him at www.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com.


Insidious: Chapter 3 in review

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The simple fact that I have to write this disclaimer is a testament to how uber-critical we horror proprietors can get. We get caught up in the haves and haves not’s, the that’s and this’, we forget how to unplug and enjoy a movie on the sole basis of watching a movie. Our brains are at a constant state of flux. And we judge everything. Actor performance. Dialogue. Setting. Mood. Plot. Storytelling. And of course, meaning. While all these are important, I fear we’ve allowed the benchmarks of our business to eclipse the most important aspect…entertainment. There are some movies that are pointless to pick apart because they’re not movies with great plot or have terrible actors or more often terrible scripts. Some require such a single scoring method. Some simply beg the question: Was the movie entertaining? And thus we must answer. Yes or No. You can keep your own opinion on the subject. If a movie is in a series, especially, you may regard with disdain without ever having watched it, stating, “Ugh, I hate that series.” And this is okay. Its your opinion, isn’t it?

I am not innocent of these charges. I’ve been there, said that. For example, a buddy of mine asked if I wanted to go see this new Vin Diesel flicks, The Last Witch Hunter. I impudently turned him down, saying something akin to, “ugh, that movie looks lame. Its going to be awful.” I made this assumption without ever stepping into the theater. Why? Well…its a reasonable assumption, right? Judging from the previews, it looked kinda stinkerish, correct? Maybe so, maybe the acting would be terrible. Maybe the plot would be silly. Maybe the dialogue would feel cheesy. Maybe…  there’s lots of them. But what about the most important aspects…? Was the movie entertaining? I wouldn’t know, and never will, unless I watched it.

If we want to judge a movie, we must first watch it, then judge.

What does all this have to do with my review for Insidious? Well, I’ll tell you. Over the weekend, I stopped by our local Redbox to pick up Pitch Perfect 2 for the wife. Lo and behold, Insidious: Chapter 3 was available as well. At first, I scoffed at the idea. “Horror series’ are lame,” and all that. But then I got to thinking…”why not?” It only added $0.50 cents to my cost. Why not? And I’m glad I got it. Because even having already judged the movie because its part of a series, and most horror series’ are lame, I found Insidious: Chapter 3 to be…what’s that magic word…? Oh yes. Entertaining. Sure…the character relations got a little sloppy, at the beginning. The relationship between father and daughter seemed catawampus, at best. Was there an over abundance of “jump scares?” Sure. Maybe they could have dialed those back a nudge. But the movie was highly entertaining. How entertaining you ask? Well, while screening the movie, I never once opened my tablet to check Facebook. Boom. That’s how entertaining it was. Enough to keep my attention, despite whatever short coming it had.

Here’s a quick fire synopsis:

When teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) senses that her late mother is trying to contact her, she seeks help from gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). However, Elise’s tragic past makes her reluctant to use her abilities. After Quinn is attacked by a malevolent entity, her father (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elise for help. With support from two parapsychologists, Elise ventures deep into The Further — where she finds a powerful demon with an insatiable craving for human souls.

And there you have it…

Simple.

AND we can dig a little deeper, if we want. We’ve already established the flick was entertaining enough to garner our short attention span. What else was there? Well, the movie seemed to focus a lot on the loss of loved ones. Not only did character Quinn lose her mother, to cancer I think. But psychic Elise also lost her husband (suicide). And not just her, but a well known neighbor had also passed away too (unknown causes) and we get to watch the uncomfortable “gee, wiz, sorry to hear about your loss. If you need anything, anything at all, please don’t hesitate” conversation between the bereaved and clumsy father, Sean Brenner. To say that Insidious: Chapter 3 dealt with the meaning of loss and separation and coping with death would be an understatement. Following the plot felt like strolling down the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) in one form or another, between all the characters, not just Quinn and Elise. Besides the expectant “jump scares” that accompany such as movie, the mood and tension was very well tuned. It started in slow and then built from there. The tar footprints were a lovely touch. And the fact that, given this is a series, the story moved away from the “dream walkers” to something more akin to possession and…looking for the right word here…hmm…the closest I have is paranormal slasher. Kinda like “It Follows,” but better. The “demon” doesn’t want to enter the world of the living, according to Elise. It wants to take souls back with it to its own world, back into the darkness, or as they coin, The Further, which I find to be even more creepy than the plain Jane possession. To be possessed seems short term. You’ll either be saved or die, in which case you will likely be free, assuming as much anyhow. With the “paranormal slasher,” you’re not just possessed, but you’re also possessed, forced to kill yourself,  and then stolen for eternity to this dark nightmarish underworld.  For me, thanks in part to my oh so lovely fundamental religious upbringing, the “eternal punishment” aspect sets the creep factor pretty high!

Insidious: Chapter 3 may seem like a flick unworthy of your time. But I hope my review here has changed your mind on this. It was a great break from the previous storytelling, whilst keeping true to its shared universe. And I think “paranormal slasher” is a budding horror sub-genre that needs farther exploring. While we most certainly can nit-pick at the things the movie suffers from, Insidious: Chapter 3 was still highly entertaining movie. And in the end, isn’t that what truly matters?

My Review: 4/5


Pet Sematary: a 26 year review

Imagine my delight after coming home from a hard day at work to find Pet Sematary staring at me from the Netflix feature screen, letting me know, “Howdy, we just added this here movie and thought you’d enjoy watching it.” Well Netflix, you bastards, you were right. I did enjoy watching it. And I so enjoyed the paranoid feeling that my daughter was going to come strolling into my bedroom with a razor sharp scalpel. That was fun too. But I suppose hearing the muffled patter of feet from our neighbors upstairs probably didn’t help matters much. Good times. Where were we? Oh yes, Pet Sematary. Lets talk about that, for a moment. Shall we?

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Pet Sematary is my most favorite book of Stephen King. And I was delighted that he also wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation of my beloved novel. But before we dive into a full blown movie review, for purposes here, I feel as if I need to discuss what aspects of the book I have adored so much over the years and discuss if any of that mystique actually crossed over the threshold into horror cinema. The charisma of the book, for me, is in the banality of the story. The mundane picture into the lives of the Creed’s and Crandall’s. Everything is so exquisitely normal. So much so, that when the macabre is slowly injected into the plot, we hardly take notice, until the macabre is all there is. And that’s pretty much it. The things that are unexplained, are perfectly unexplained. Nothing should be fully laid out. Pet Sematary allows the reader to play a part in the story. And the book is chock full of wonderful little quotes, such as: “Sometimes…dead is bettah,” or “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier; a man grows what he can and tends it,” or how about, “Death is a mystery, and burial is a secret,” or maybe, “What’s been tried once had been tried once before…and before…and before…” or perhaps the most philosophical one of the bunch, “That lesson suggests that in the end, we can only find peace in our human lives by accepting the will of the universe.” All together though, I think it really just boils down to the slow masterfully woven story that makes Pet Sematary so damn good.

Now…how about the movie?

Synopsis:

The Creed family – Louis, Rachel, and their children Ellie and Gage – move from Chicago to Ludlow, Maine, where they end up befriending the elderly neighbor Jud Crandall, who takes them to an isolated pet cemetery hidden behind the Creeds’ new home. While working at the University of Maine, Louis “meets” Victor Pascow, who is brought in with severe injuries from a car accident. He manages to warn Louis about the pet cemetery near his home before he dies, calling Louis by name, despite the fact they hadn’t met before. After he dies, Victor comes to Louis in a dream to tell him about the dangers inherent at the cemetery. Louis awakens and assumes it was a dream, but notices his feet are covered in dirt, indicating he had gone to the cemetery. During Thanksgiving while the family is gone, Ellie’s cat Church is run down on the highway by the house, Jud takes Louis beyond the cemetery, to the Micmac burial ground, and buries Church where he says the real burial ground is. Church comes back to life, though a shell of what he was before, he now appears more vicious. Sometime later, Gage is killed by a truck along the same highway. When Louis questions Jud on whether humans had been buried in the cemetery before he recounts a story of a friend named Bill who had buried his son who had died in World War II at the site but he had come back changed. Realizing the horror that he brought to the townsfolk, Jud, Bill and some friends tried to destroy Timothy by burning him to death in the house, but Bill was attacked by Timothy in the process and both were killed.

Rachel and Ellie go on a trip and Louis remains home alone. Despite Jud’s warnings and Victor’s attempts to stop him, Louis exhumes his son’s body from the cemetery he was at and buries him instead at the Micmac ritual site. Victor appears to Rachel and warns her that Louis has done something terrible. She tries to reach out to Louis, then to Jud, informing him that she is returning home. She hangs up before Jud can warn her not to return. That night, Gage returns home and steals a scalpel from his father’s bag. He taunts Jud before slashing his Achilles tendon and kills him. Later, Rachel returns home and begins having visions of her disfigured sister Zelda before she had died, only to discover that it’s Gage, holding a scalpel. In shock and disbelief, Rachel reaches down to hug her son and he kills her as well.

Waking up from his sleep, Louis notices Gage’s footprints in the house and realizes his scalpel is missing. Getting a message from Gage that he has “played” with Jud and “Mommy” and wants to play with him now, he fills two syringes with morphine and heads to Jud’s house. Encountering Church, who attacks him, he kills the cat with an injection. Gage taunts him further within Jud’s house and Louis discovers Rachel’s corpse, falling hanged from the attic before he is attacked by his son. After a brief battle, Louis kills Gage with the morphine injection. He then lights the house on fire, leaving it to burn as he carries Rachel from the fire. Despite Victor’s continued insistence not to, Louis determines Rachel wasn’t dead as long as Gage was, and that burying her would bring her back to him. Victor cries out in frustration and vanishes as Louis passes through him.

That night, playing solitaire alone, Rachel returns to the house and she and Louis kiss. Unknown to him, she takes a knife from the counter and as the screen goes dark, Rachel stabs Louis -Wiki.

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Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am! There you have it. Notice any subtle changes? I hope so, if you’ve read the novel, at least. For starters, let me say that the soundtrack is totally on point. Elliot Goldenthal certainly out-did himself on this one. And with the addition of the Ramones, pure classic tunes, man. However, despite the chilling score at the opening of the film, Pet Sematary is revealed in what feels like bright light. There was no darkness or creep factor. The only cemetery that is creepy during the day light is the one from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and this picture ain’t it. Okay…not a good start. Next, we find ourselves in a sprint to get the characters introduced  and on screen and in the race I feel that the relationships are less genuine. Not to mention the slap in your face foreshadowing at the very beginning with little Gage walking toward the road and here comes big Jud to save him from a barreling tractor truck. Pace is typically something only books can afford…or if movie producers are willing to add an additional hour or so to the movie. Unfortunately, people have little patience with movies. They want action-action-action, explosions, gore, and sex. While those things are good to have in a movie, but come on! Sit back, enjoy the damn story for crying out loud! Stop and listen. Open your ears, you might learn something. Okay…I’ll step down from my old man soapbox. But still, that’s part of the reason why this movie feel so…discombobulated. Popular scenes from the book flash at you and unless you’ve actually read the damn thing, I doubt they had as much of an impact. This especially goes for the funeral scene with Gage and his grandfather confronting the father and the fight and the very end of the movie when Louis takes his dead wife to the Micmac burial ground. Where the hell is Steve Masterton? He had one of the best damn scenes in the book, watching mad-Louis walking in the woods. And lets not mention the ending with Rachel coming in through the door. In the book, the ending gave me chills. In the movie…ugh, whatever…

 

 

Some scenes that had been changed that were still effective includes perhaps when Louis unearths his son and rocks him back and forth in his arms in the graveyard. As a father myself, I found that scene very profound and one of the rare occurrences where Dale Midkiff’s acting was passable. In fact, I found most of the acting in the movie fairly awful, including the beloved Next Generation actress Denise Crosby, who played Rachel Creed like some ditsy blonde. In the book, Rachel was a strong character. Flawed, sure, but strong, especially at the end, working by her own intuition that something wrong was happening and not the prodding of some damn ghost. Speaking of which…come on! Victor Pascow was very creepy in the book and adding him in additional scenes in the movie came off as kinda corny. The only real talent in the movie comes from the late great Fred Gwynne, who played lovable “Down Easter” Jud Crandall, better known for his historic role as Herman in The Munsters (1964-66). Second best acting has to go to Church…the damn cat! Freaking creepy eyes, man!

So much more awful things could be said of the 1989 movie adaptation of Pet Sematary. Yet…somehow it was still a good movie! Despite all the flaws, it is still an enjoyable watch. Partly because, I think, King wrote the screenplay, and who knows what the editors did to his original script. Most of the really important scenes are there, mostly. And while “reboot” is kinda a no-no word, I think Pet Sematary would benefit from a really authentic re-make. Many may disagree. My strongest hangup on the idea is replacing Fred Gwynne as Jud…the dude had some serious acting chops and is one of the most iconic roles. I for one am not totally against remakes; I’m against terrible cheap remakes. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

My Rating: 3/5

 


Jason Goes To Hell: a 22 year review

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Let’s face facts here, people. The 1990s had some damn good horror movies! But what sets the ’90s apart from every other decade? It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyhow), every era has its own brand or style of horror. The classic silent pictures of the early 1910s with its German expressionism and tales of old legends and then moving on to the Universal Monsters, such as: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Mad Ghoul, The Leopard Man, Cat People, etc. etc showed us a new world, reconstructing itself from the maiming machines of the Great War. And then we had the “invaders” of the ’50s with its outlandish sci-fi horror-esk Cold War-esk flicks, like The Day The Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invaders from Mars, Them!, The Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Plan 9 From Outer Space, etc. etc. And then in the ’60s movies drew downward into psychological freights, with Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, Black Sunday, Carnival of Souls, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, and so on and so on. And of course, who could forget the ’70s? The decade of Savage Cinema with terrifying flicks, such as The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jaws, Carrie, The Omen, Shivers, The Brood, Deathdream, etc. etc. And of course moving into the big hair, more of everything, excess-excess of the 1980s, with films like: The Evil Dead, Re-Animator, Nightmare of Elm Street, The Thing, The Fly, Return of the Living Dead, The Stuff, Hellraiser, Poltergeist, American Werewolf in London, Videodrome, Creepshow, and so many more, not to mention the birth of the Friday the 13th series and the modern slasher.

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Lets return to the above question. What could be said of the 1990s? The monsters, in retrospect, seem to be more internalized, almost spiritual or more supernatural in nature than in decades past. Before moving on to our movie in review, lets examine for a moment the occultioris sensus of some of these spiritual-supernatural horror flicks, which would include: In The Mouth of Madness, Candyman, Jacob’s Ladder,  Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Nightbreed, The Sixth Sense, Ravenous, Sleepy Hollow, Silence of the Lambs, Baby Blood, Lawnmower Man, Cronos, The People Under the Stairs, Misery, Cube, Ringu, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Event Horizon, etc. etc. And I know I’ve probably missed some, but still… Take a look! For the most part, pooling from a majority of movies, we can tell that horror withdrew from the overindulgence of gore and mayhem and, much like in the ’60s with the addition of supernaturalism, drew inward becoming a spiritual-supernatural psychological thriller.

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When our beloved classics crossed over into the new era, they likewise transformed into the cerebral appetites of said decade. Consider Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which was not heralded as a good Nightmare on Elm Street…why? Because its not a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. The ’80s are…game over man! Done! Gone. Hasta la vista baby! When long running series’ transition into a new decade, the judgement and critique of the film becomes…well, a tad bit unfair. When we hear Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th we expect what we watched in the 1980s, but its not the 1980s anymore. If we were to be reasonably rational, we must critique said movie for the era in which it was made… Of course, a really-really-really good critique will look at both, if the movie is from a running series. Does the movie honor the decade past while ushering in a new take in the new era? While Jason Goes to Hell has received some rather harsh criticism, my opinion on the matter is, yes, Jason Goes to Hell does honor the past while bringing in the new.

Synopsis:

After being blown away by a team of FBI agents, Jason Voorhees (played by Kane Hodder) needs to find a way to overcome certain death. When his bloodied remains are sent to the morgue, his heart, still intact, is able to hypnotize a coroner and take over his body. After brutally dispatching a couple of FBI agents, he heads back to his favorite stomping grounds: Crystal Lake,  and commences a quick massacre before heading into the town surrounding Crystal Lake. Jason swaps bodies has he continues his hunt for the Voorhees bloodline so that he may be reborn again. After a confrontation between Creighton Duke and Diana Kimble, Creighton warns Diana that Jason will come to get her and her daughter, Jessica Kimble, the only remaining relatives of Jason. Diana tells Jessica’s former boyfriend Steven Freeman to meet her at their house to discuss some issues in private. Come nightfall, Steven arrives at her house, hears Diana screaming, and goes to her aid to find her being assaulted by Josh, a fellow policeman who earlier, had been taken by the “coroner” and had Jason’s spirit transferred into his body, as illustrated by Creighton Duke. Jason then finally kills Diana.

Steven is falsely accused and arrested, meeting the mysterious person, Creighton Duke, in jail. Duke claims that only members of Jason’s bloodline can truly kill him for good. Therefore if he transfers the creature into a member of his family, he will be “reborn” back to his old form. Creighton goes on to tell Steven that the only living relatives of Jason are his half-sister Diana, her daughter Jessica, and her infant daughter Stephanie.

Unscrupulous news anchor Robert Campbell, who is dating Jessica, steals Diana’s body, planting it in the house for an upcoming investigative show to boost his ratings. Jason bursts in and possesses Robert before leaving with Steven in pursuit. Jessica, who is unaware that her boyfriend is the undead killer, is attacked by him so he can be reborn through her but is disrupted by Steven, who manages to stop him and get Jessica into a car. He runs over Jason and explains the situation, but Jessica does not believe him and throws him out of the car and goes to the police.

Steven turns himself into the police and arrives at the station as Jason does; he frees himself again to protect Jessica, who now realizes the truth. In the chaos, Creighton makes his escape. Steven and Jessica discover a note from Creighton, telling them that he has Stephanie and ordering Jessica to meet him at the Voorhees house alone.

Jessica meets Creighton at the Voorhees house. Creighton throws her a knife, and when she catches it, the knife turns into a mystical dagger. Jason tries to possess Stephanie, but Steven arrives and severs his neck with a machete. A creature crawls out of his neck, and makes its way to the basement, where Diana’s body was planted. Jason explodes through the floor in his original body.

As Jessica attempts to retrieve the dagger, the two men alternately fight with Jason. Duke is killed by Jason, and the fight between Jason and Steven ends up outside in the yard. As Jason prepares to finish him, Jessica jumps behind him and stabs him in the chest. This causes Jason to be dragged to Hell.

As a dog appears and unearths Jason’s mask, suddenly, a familiar claw-gloved hand suddenly emerges from the ground and drags the mask down into Hell with an evil heckle in the background (Friday the 13th Wiki).

Jason Goes to Hell brings back all kinds of 1990s nostalgia. For the life of me I cannot recall if I was able to see this one in theaters or not, however, I do remember watching it on VHS and thinking how different it was from the others (I even can recall the Fangoria issue with Jason Goes To Hell!!!), but not in a bad way, just a different way. With being a big fan of Friday the 13th, I’d read all the books (that’s right, there are books!) and was familiar with the concept of the supernatural element with Jason, that is, his spirit can live on in others. Voodoo type stuff. Think, Child’s Play. This was sort-of the concept for Part V but let’s not get into that right now…

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Jason Goes to Hell had some drawbacks, sure. Fans were hoping for what they’ve come to love, teen-slasher-gore. But that’s simply not what this movie was about. I think to better understand Jason Goes to Hell we should look at it as its own stand-alone flick. If we can push away from the table of Great Expectations, we’d see the amazingness this Final Friday brings to the table. Much like New Nightmare was for Freddy. I know plenty who hate that movie, simply because it wasn’t like the others. Personally, I enjoyed both. Yes, they weren’t the slashers we remembered from the ’80s. But hey, the ’80s are over, man! In Jason Goes to Hell, the action was well paced. The acting was a hell of a lot better than in some of the Friday’s past. The cast was also solid. There was humor, specifically in all the Easter Eggs in the Voorhees house. The Uncut edition was chock full of gore and practical effects. It was brutal when it needed to be and it was supernatural when it needed to be. And the soundtrack was also very memorable. Overall, I thought Jason Goes to Hell was a fantastic addition to the franchise, taking the ’90s spiritual-supernaturalism back into the gore-fest mayhem of the ’80s, or vise-versa…? Oh, whatever, you know what I’m getting at!

My Rating: 4/5 

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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò. His paranormal-thriller series, The Subdue Books, including Dwelling, Emerging, and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can check out his work on the altar of Amazon here.

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