Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween Movies of Choice: Movies 29-31

Halloween - Decorative Gourd Season
Well movie lovers, we have come to the end of the list!  Thirty-one movies for the thirty-one days of October!  More than enough to keep us all busy for this season and no doubt some years to come.  I thought I'd finish up with a few movies that are my kind of sheer Halloween fun.

As always, beware the SPOILERS below!

29.  The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

My love of all things stop-motion means I was already primed to love this claymation spoof of lycanthropic horror flicks.  If you've seen the short films starring the inventor Wallace and his loyal and clever dog Gromit, then you know the kind of humor that awaits you in this full length movie.

Wallace and Gromit appear to be the only means of pest control for a small town of dedicated vegetable lovers.  Self-proclaimed "simple folk," all the townspeople each dream that they might win the annual giant vegetable competition, and be awarded the golden carrot.  It's a dream Gromit shares, as he tucks in his giant cucumber each night.  "Pesto" pest control has the virtue of being humane, but this means that the house of W and G has now become home to what appear to be a hundred rambunctious rabbits.  This can't end well.

W gets the idea that to stop the rabbit pest problem he can brainwash the rabbits, that way they will no longer desire produce, and the town's competition will be saved.  W hooks himself up to a machine with him at one end and bunnies on the other.  Of course the experiment goes awry, and one rabbit named "Hutch" becomes rather much more than just a simple bunny.

All this is a great setup for an amazing romp through the limits of clay animation, and more.  The characters, like the clergyman, are engaging and fun.  The horror tropes are exactly as one might expect for a werewolf horror movie, except it's all surrounding a wererabbit instead.  The Clergyman makes a plea for repentance, saying it's the town's unnatural giant vegetables that have brought this curse down on them.  It is he that supplies the bad guy with golden bullets (24 "carrot") to kill the rampaging beast.  Meanwhile the hostess of the competition just wants everything to end humanely.  W and G come to the rescue and, well, you better just go watch the movie for the punchline because for once I'm not putting it here.

This may be the only really G rated movie on my list, because even Snow White or The Wizard of Oz are scarier than this.  But it is all done with such humor, insight, and perfect horror-trope jokes that it never misses a beat.  A definite must for Halloween viewing fun!

30.  Young Frankenstein (1974)

One of the greatest horror movie spoofs of all time, Young Frankenstein takes on the time honored Frankenstein's monster trope and takes it to the limit of comedic genius.  This movie has aged so well one could imagine it being made exactly like this today.  It gains much from being in black and white, just like the original movies it is ripping on.

First of all we encounter Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, who does not believe any of that shlock about his grandfather trying to raise the dead.  Or does he?  After inheriting the castle, the young doctor can't resist playing around with the old man's notes and seeing what transpires.  It's clear from the beginning, watching him accidentally stab himself in the leg with a scalpel, that Fred is not entirely sane.

We meet his fiance Elizabeth, who cares more for her fine dresses than for Fred.  We meet Igor, who (in one of my very favorite scenes) tries to eat Elizabeth's fox stole.  We meet the assistant Inga, who becomes Fred's new love interest, and turns out to be surprisingly handy around the lab.  We also meet the over the top housekeeper Frau Bl├╝cher, whose name causes horses to whinny in fear throughout the movie.  Not to mention Inspector Kemp, who is hoping the new tenants of the castle aren't going to be raising any monsters.  A bit late for that.

In fact the new monster (created with an "Abby Normal" brain)  can sing and dance, and is generally a pretty nice guy until fire is involved.  He gets startled and rampages, encountering scenes from the first two major Frankenstein movies, and dealing with them in  his own fashion.  Eventually lured back to the lab, the monster and Fred have a bit of a mind meld that allows the monster to gain a measure of Fred's intellect.  This and the monster's rather overcharged libido attract Elizabeth's attention, and they eventually marry.  Fred ends up with Inga, and they get to enjoy the effects of the mind melt where Fred has gained some of the monster's rampant libido.

31.  The Addams Family (1991)

The Addams Family is one of my favorite Halloween movies, so it takes the position of number thirty-one on the Halloween list.  The plot is totally unimportant here.  What makes the film are the amazing characters, well acted and steeped in a fantastic environment.  I find this movie even more entertaining than the original series.

The couple of Gomez and Morticia are priceless.  Deeply in love in a totally creepy way (having met a funeral where Gomez was still a suspect for the murder) they are equally endearing and unsettling.  While Pugsley isn't given much of a part to work with, the character of Wednesday is fantastically, strangely goth and she plays it perfectly straight.  Include the freakish Fester who finds himself oddly compelled by the weird dynamic, and all is nearly complete.  Of course there is a disembodied hand called Thing, and some other key players to round it all out.

It is all so over the top that it shouldn't work, but I find it does.  The children playing in a lightning storm with a huge metal antenna, Wednesday trying to electrocute Pugsley to find out if there is a God, Morticia clipping the blooms off of roses and keeping the stems, Gomez driving golf balls into the neighbor's house, Morticia leading Fester through the family graveyard to help him understand the meaning of faith and unity ... it's all just too much fun.  So if you want some extra weird and wonderful movie viewing for Halloween, work this one into your schedule.    

Image Credits:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kuerbisauswahl_Markt.jpg  cc 4.0  https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/wallace_and_gromit_curse_of_the_wererabbit/pictures/ https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/young_frankenstein/pictures/    https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/addams_family/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=n-843772

Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Movies of Choice: Movies 26-28

Sci-Fi Time!
Since I've included a number of fantasy films on my list, dark and otherwise, I've decided it's time to dip into the nexus of horror and science fiction.  So for today I have three sci-fi films that have something "good" to offer my Halloween movie list.  So let us march forward with the sci-fi movie fest!

Again, SPOILERS abound.

26.  The Fly (1986)

The modern remake of the old classic movie is a fantastic decent into monster madness.  Don't be fooled by the seemingly silly idea of a fly-man, because this is a truly gripping, gross, and gory horror classic.  The special effects are still effective today, and the love story serves to help drive the plot forward, rather than being superfluous as is the case with so much horror.

The performances by our protagonists Seth and Veronica are excellent, with Veronica acting in ways that make sense to us as Seth slowly undergoes his terrifying and inexplicable transformation.  Seth is of course the canonical brilliant but eccentric scientist who has created a means of teleportation via pods.  He accidentally transports himself along with a fly, and he and it get their DNA mixed together.  As the days go by, Veronica sees Seth at first seem more healthy and alive than ever, but soon he begins to degenerate.  It is the way this degeneration is handled that brings us some of the great horror in the film.  Seth's body (and mind) fall to pieces.  He is so gruesome by the end of the film that it is almost a relief to see the actual fly emerge from what is left of his body.

With good pacing and some serious social undertones about sex and more, this is a nail-biter of a film that's worth a place on anybody's seasonal viewing list.

27.  Mars Attacks (1996)

A dark comedy with wacky plot and even whackier characters, Mars Attacks is a wild romp of a "B" sci-fi horror homage.  Pretty much everybody dies in this ray-gun filled farce, which isn't a problem since many of the characters are so stereotypical they feel more like cut-outs than people.

So the Martians have arrived, and the world waits to see what this means for humanity.  We are introduced to our unbelievably star-studded cast, who are going about their various lives (including the President and his family, casino staff, scientists, reporters, and more).  It does not take long for the brain-headed Martians to reveal their intentions - complete annihilation of all sentient life on Earth.  They wipe out the US congress, and then move on to other nations, pretending to be interested in peace.  Eventually they just start destroying stuff rampantly and conducting experiments on hapless captured humans.  There is no hope until it is discovered that one piece of rather terrible music will make the Martians die gruesomely.  The Earth is saved, although most of our cast has been vaporized, or had their heads removed, or been crushed by falling lighting fixtures.

Expect a cameo from just about everybody in this film.  There are so many characters (some of which don't last very long) that there's space for a lot of names, like Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Natalie Portman, and even Tom Jones as Tom Jones.  The movie makes no apologies as it irreverently brings the "B" sci-fi movie of the past into the CGI of the "present."  It is just too bad that in the end the stop motion Burton wanted for this film was too expensive, but the Martians are still fun to watch, in spite of that.
  
28.  Alien (1979)

Well, I couldn't pass up the opportunity, especially on a sci-fi horror list, to put down my number one scariest flick of all.  Alien is still the freakiest thing I've ever seen, and the xenomorph is one of the best creepy life-forms.  Even after all this time, Alien feels relevant and even fresh.  The suspenseful pacing is still effective, and the horror scenes remain horrific as the crew of the Nostromo get picked off one by one until just Signorney Weaver and the cat are left.  (And thank God for that, I was really hoping the cat would make it ...)

Even the commercial for this movie was scary, carrying its now iconic tagline "In space, no one can hear you scream."  Geiger's artistic style and vision create an environment that is both organic and mechanical, fusing odd elements to generate an unsettled feeling.  And the alien?  The monster first grabs you on the face, invades your guts, and then (immortalized in the unforgettable "busting out" scene) the creature explodes out your innards to start its new life.  Who even knows what the thing is eating as it grows in size to seven feet high in the matter days.  Don't cut it, cause it's blood is acid and could punch a hole through the hull and vent your craft into space.  Just for grossness, it also drools goo and has two sets of jaws.

So if you haven't seen this one in a while, break it out and leave the lights on if necessary.  It makes for perfect viewing at Halloween or anytime you need to remember what a genuinely scary movie feels like.  Keep the cat close by.

Image Credits:  https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1007602_fly? https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/mars_attacks  https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/alien/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=n-843762  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Space_Pilot_X_Ray_Gun_made_by_Taiyo.jpg

Friday, October 27, 2017

Halloween Movies of Choice: Movies 23-25

Ruben's Medusa
It's time for a massive monster mash!  Here are a few films filled with monsters that are good to break out during the Halloween season.  None are horror per se (in fact these are really fantasy and sci-fi) but each is filled with bizarre creatures, and there are even a few genuinely scary moments here and there.  So if you weren't over-saturated with monsters from The Cabin in the Woods, this is the place to be.

As always, many SPOILERS here.

23.  Clash of the Titans (1981)

My love of 80's speculative films and my love of stop motion animation converge here in one seriously campy romp through the mythological past.  Enter Perseus, son of Zeus, who gets embroiled in a plot to save the city of Joppa and its fair princess from the anger of the monstrous Calibos and his mother, the goddess Thetis.  The plot isn't terribly important, nor does it bear particular resemblance to myth (after all we encounter a mechanical golden owl made by Hephaestus, indeed we have to put up with the freaking thing through half the movie) but there are plenty of monsters and such to be had.  (Note that I haven't seen the remake of this film, which is fine since I can't imagine it could be this much goofy fun.)

We begin with Calibos himself, who was cursed by Zeus for hunting down his sacred winged horses, leaving only Pegasus.  Then there's the giant vulture that carries Andromeda's spirit about the swamp, the Stigian Witches who share one eye between them as they cook someone in their bubbling caldron, and a two headed dog nominally guarding the gorgon Medusa.  Medusa is of course a monster mix on her own, as she has writhing snakes for hair.  After Perseus nabs her head, there are some giant scorpions to defeat (along with Calibos) and then they have to take care of the Kraken itself.  Not bad for a monster mix. 

It isn't even a little scary (although the scenes with Medusa have a reasonable creep factor), but the animation is great fun, and the monsters have some fine personality.  So put this movie in your Halloween rotation as a good creature feature!

24.  Heavy Metal  (1981)

Now you are wondering what I'm really up to.  But seriously, I count 1981's Heavy Metal as both a monster movie and horror, at that.  Have you seen it recently?  If you can get past the sophomoric, juvenile need for busty babes in every scene, there is some truly creepy creature weirdness to be had in this film.  Not to mention the animation is fascinating and the soundtrack is actually pretty rocking.

The plot here is exceptionally loose.  A framing device was used to tie together mini-stories that otherwise have no relationship to one another.  The only commonality is the malevolent green orb known as the Loc-Nar.  This orb narrates its past conquests to a terrified girl, and each of these becomes a vignette in the film.  Having already melted her astronaut father to mush, the orb recounts stories such as how it converted plane-loads of soldiers into zombies, created war on several planets, and influenced people to act in malicious and evil ways.  Most stories are populated with a variety of monsters and weird alien creatures that keep things interesting even when the plot flags. 

It is the utter unknown that makes this movie so unsettling, as you can't even guess what's going to happen next, and it's usually something violent or otherwise unpleasant.  Animation lets you do pretty much anything you want, and in this case it runs wild.  So break out this old flick and see if its weird worlds and creepy creatures are what you need for a bit of Halloweeny viewing.

25.  Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King (2003)

Of course the Lord of the Rings trilogy is filled with fantastic monsters of all kinds, as well as some moments of true horror.  I wanted to pick one film in particular, not just point to the whole series, but this is indeed tough.  Still, this third and last installment seems to have tipped the balance on terrifying creatures.

So the first film has goblins, a cave troll, and then a demon known as a Balrog.  This in addition to the usual orcs, the quasi-monster Gollum, and then of course the terrifying Nazgul that are in all the films.  But the third movie has a few extra special monster encounters.  We start by learning Gollum's story - a once normal hobbit-ish person who was corrupted and cursed by the Ring to murder his only friend.  Then we end the film with Gollum's demise, a twisted moment of glee before the flames of Mount Doom take him as well as the Ring.  In the meantime, Aragorn has to obtain the help of the Dead Men of Dunharrow, ghost-skeletons of men who betrayed Aragon's ancestor Isildur, and who have been haunting the countryside for centuries.  Then there is an up close battle with the Witch-King, leader of the Nazgul, whom Eowyn finally dispatches. 

Finally, and what really makes the most monstery list for me, is the encounter that Frodo and Sam have with the giant spider Shelob.  This is a freakish and terrifying sequence, where Frodo finds himself lost in the webs, and only survives because loyal Sam shows up at just the right moment.  It's all quite gruesome and gross, which makes it perfect for a Halloween creature feature.  So depending on the amount of time you have for seasonal movie viewing (the extended versions of the trilogy add up to like 13 hours of film) put one or all of these fine monster movies on your list.

Image Credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rubens_Medusa.jpeg https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/clash_of_the_titans/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=n-241117  https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_lord_of_the_rings_the_return_of_the_king/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=h-6597

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Halloween Movies of Choice: Movies 20-22

A ghostly time!
It is time for more horror tropes to follow up the vampires, zombies, and all the rest.  This installment is dedicated to 80's horror about ghostly hauntings!  I've chosen a few films that for me are prime Halloween viewing, with humor and horror both in the mix, as usual.

SPOILERS dost exist herein.  Beware.

20.  Ghostbusters (1984)

The sad truth is that I have yet to see the 'new' Ghostbusters movie made in 2016.  Perhaps when I do this slot in my Halloween movie cannon will change to include both movies, or will bump this one off, who knows?  But for now, the original Ghostbusters remains on my must view list for the season.

After all, who can resist the lineup of talented comedians playing the ridiculous roles of paranormal ghost eradicators?  The sexism is tedious, but there are enough really good moments that you can still enjoy the film.  The idea of the gate to hell being in one's refrigerator still cracks me up. 

The movie isn't about plot, although the scaffold hangs together well enough, it is about Murray's one liners and the astonishing situations in which the team find themselves.  (Like antagonizing the ghost of a librarian until she attacks them, destroying the ballroom of a five star hotel, negotiating with an ancient demon, and of course fighting off a giant marshmallow man.)  So once we get past the initial setup (which is slow paced) things get interesting as the actual ghostbusting begins.  The special effects are dated now, but because of that they work perfectly to up the camp factor of the film.  The ending, where they have to 'cross the streams' to shut the gates into Gozer's dimension, results in the explosion of said marshmallow man, coating the city in fluff.  An apt metaphor for this just-for-fun romp into iconic 80's Halloween movie territory.  

21.  Poltergeist (1982)

This movie scared the pants off of me as a kid.  It starts off with a 'normal' family, doing relatively normal things (although when I first saw the film I had no idea what was going on in the pot smoking scene).  Then all hell breaks loose, literally.  I didn't really get the details of the plot back then, but I certainly felt the impact of any number of horrifying scenes. 

Where to even begin with this movie?  Ok, how about the television?  TVs with static screens were always weird to begin with, but now imagine they are communication devices to the land of ghosts.  Then there is the scene where the gnarled, old tree busts into the children's bedroom during a lightning storm and actually grabs one of the kids.  After that, there is the scene where the guy has an hallucination that he's pulling all the flesh off of his face.  Then there is the mom going into the weird light and the terrifying monster face that emerges after her.  Wait, I'm not done yet.  Just when you think the house is clear we find mom rolling around on the ceiling and the son being attacked by the seriously most evil looking clown doll ever.  Then skeletons start erupting out of the muddy ground after which the entire house is destroyed as it is sucked into another dimension.  Recall this movie somehow got a PG rating.

Some of the film, now seen 35 years later, is unintentionally amusing.  But a lot of the horror still works because it plays well into childhood fears (and who ever thought that a clown doll was anything but scary ...).  When the dad pushes the TV set out of the hotel room in the last scene, it comes over as funny, but with a bite.  At that point, I'd do the same thing.  Overall, solid 80's Halloween ghostly viewing!

22.  Beetlejuice (1988)

Firmly ensconced on my Halloween movie list is Beetlejuice, an offbeat comedy that strays into horror territory just when you least expect it.  I love it for the total weirdness, the amazing visuals, and the excellent performances of the whole cast.  This is a ghost haunting not to be missed. 

If you remember this movie as having no bite to it, then give it another watch.  First of all our protagonists Barbara and Adam become ghosts by drowning right at the start of the film.  Then they realize they are trapped in their home by a no-man's land of desert and sand worm monsters.  When they meet their 'case worker' Juno, the woman's cigarette smoke is leaking out of her slit throat.  Helpless, our protagonists watch their home be invaded by new owners.  More disturbing content includes Lydia contemplating suicide, and our protagonists rotting before our eyes after a family friend accidentally performs an exorcism.  When Lydia summons Beetlejuice to save the day, he wreaks havoc of course, and ends up killing two of the family's guests.  Before he can force Lydia into marrying him (ewwww) Barbara manages to banish him by getting one of the sand worm snakes to eat him.  Combine this with Burton's bizarre visuals and you get a comedy that delivers some serous creepy content.

This one has aged well, I think.  The actors do a great job, and give us a great 80's Halloween ride from start to finish.

Image Credits:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Image_of_a_ghost,_produced_by_double_exposure_in_1899.jpg https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/ghostbusters/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=h-121533  https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/beetlejuice/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=n-248616

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Halloween Movies of Choice: Movies 17-19

It's horror musical time!
So much catch up to do ... so onward with the Halloween viewing!  We've been through vampire and zombie themes, as well as some other fun tropes like the "Belle Dames sans Merci."  So it's time to take a side-step into that oh, so beloved realm of horror musicals.  What I list here are more than just movies, they were also stage performances that became iconic phenomena.  So dive in and see if you agree that these make fine comic and/or creepy Halloween viewing.

As always, SPOILERS!  So watch first, then read.

17.  The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

This is a true horror musical phenomenon.  Both a movie and a stage performance, Rocky Horror has been engaging people at midnight movie showings for decades.  It began as an onstage musical called The Rocky Horror Show in 1973, with Tim Curry playing the lead as the mad scientist Frank-n-Furter who creates "Rocky" - his vision of a perfect man.  Just two years later it was adapted into a film, fortunately with Curry back in his role.  It caught on as a cult classic almost immediately, with viewers getting into the act with props and dancing.  The movie has had the longest running release in film history.

Taken on it's own, it really isn't gripping viewing.  The pace is erratic, and at times you really just want to get on with the story (such as it is).  Fortunately Tim Curry is his usual fantastic self, and carries one scene after another.  He plays his character with gusto - seductive one minute and threatening the next.  There really isn't too much horror, just abject weirdness, although Frank the scientist does kill another character with what looks like an ice pick and then serves him for dinner.  Some of the songs are easily forgotten, while others are impossible-to-shake ear worms. 

What makes the experience is the zaniness and mayhem of it all.  Frank gets into almost everyone's bed at some point, and the lead characters of Janet and Brad play it wonderfully straight.  If you can manage to follow the plot, you find out that Frank and his estate staff are actually from another planet.  Frank is executed at the end since "his mission has failed" although we never find out what his mission was.  I can't say the movie needs to be viewed every Halloween, but certainly every few years or so it needs to be brought out and enjoyed for the unbridled chaos it lends to the season.

18.  Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

The Little Shop of Horrors started in 1960 as a black and white film potentially based on any number of books or stories.  I recall seeing it as a kid and enjoying the old-timey creepiness of it, especially the grim ending.  In the 1960 movie, and later in the 1982 stage performance, the ending has the heads of all the plant's victims budding from the plant and opening up like flowers.  This includes the head of the protagonist, who gets eaten along with everyone else in the film.

So I wasn't sure I'd like the campy, colorful, happier version of the film created in 1986.  Even the director Frank Oz wanted to keep the dark ending, but was defeated by pre-screenings where the viewers simply hated that the protagonist and his girlfriend get eaten.  Yet even changed to be more "digestible" this movie has won me over as perfect Halloween fare.

The movie has great music, fun performances, and enough horror to keep the viewer always off kilter.  For fun you have the hero singing lines like.  "I have so many strong reservations.  Shall I go and perform mutilations?"  Steve Martin as the abusive and torture-loving dentist is inspired casting, especially with a cameo by masochistic patient Bill Murray (there are a lot of cameos in this).  The three-woman "Greek Chorus" is fantastic, and some of their numbers are total sing-alongs, they are so catchy. 

The plant itself is much of the joy of the film.  With Oz as the director, it is no surprise that the plant is a puppet (many puppets, actually.)  "Audrey II" grows from small to large as the movie progresses.  By the end it's really an excellent monster, singing, demanding to be fed all the time, and way too lifelike.  (Actually, the stage version of the plant is even more impressive, busting out of the stage at the end and threatening to eat the audience.)  The voice of the plant is both crooning and cruel in turns, and it really works as another character.

So definitely keep this movie in your Halloween rotation as campy horror that won't quit, and be prepared to find yourself humming the soundtrack for the next week.

19.  Sweeney Todd (1982)

Although there have been stories, films, and productions that came both before and after, the version of this tale that fits my Halloween list is the movie that captures the 1982 musical stage performance.  This is the one with Angela Lansbury and George Hearn.  If you want to be truly entertained with a monstrous story told through mesmerizing music, this is the one to go for.  Wow.

So a serial killer (Todd) and a pie maker (Lovett) team up and start baking people into meat pies.  You can make a "serious" musical out of this?  Yep.  It works because around this gory concept is a convincing and talented cast of characters living out a tragic story. 

The deranged Todd was once Benjamin Barker, a man sent off to an Australian prison by a judge leering after Todd's wife, Lucy.  With the help of Anthony, a joyful and happy young man, Todd returns to London.  He has nothing but revenge on his mind from the very first.  You can see Todd is given plenty of moments where he could have made a different choice and changed his path, like when honest Anthony offers him his friendship.  Todd shakes hands, but has no intention of ever seeing Anthony again.  Indeed, it's not much later that Todd and Lovett talk about slitting Anthony's throat if that suits their purposes.  Hearn can act and Hearn can sing - haunting, funny, and everything in between.  His performance as Todd is chilling, and almost, almost has pathos.  And then he will do something horrific and you remember what he is allowing himself to become.  To be.

Ms. Lovett is lonely, greedy, and full of ideas.  She and Todd use and manipulate one another throughout their bizarre partnership, but it is Lovett who is holding information back from Todd, not the reverse.  They both live in different fantasies of their own making, but again Lovett's is the most wretchedly off-base, as she dreams herself to be the warm, maternal figure to young Toby, and the doting wife figure to Todd.  She is so invested in Todd that when Toby starts to figure out what is going on, she realizes she will have to arrange to have Todd kill him.  So much for motherhood.  Lansbury's performance is remarkable - alternately bouncing and bloodthirsty.

The Burton film has it's moments, but for pure performance gold, for both acting and singing, this version is superior.  The voices are stellar, especially from the supporting choral cast, who shine in the "narrative" numbers where they carry the story along.  The last number, where most of them are dead and with their throats still bloody, is creepy in the extreme.  All in all, a perfect choice for Halloween musical listening and viewing!   

Image Credits:  https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rocky_horror_picture_show/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=n-197585   https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1012515_little_shop_of_horrors/pictures#&gid=1&pid=n-214904  https://i.pinimg.com/236x/86/a5/f4/86a5f46bfa4b162cdfb0239b00627b86--len-cariou-angela-lansbury.jpg

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Halloween Movies of Choice: Movies 13-16

An obvious homage to the
Evil Dead series.
It's a four-movie post today in order to get me almost all caught up.  I decided today's theme would be zombies!  Of course there are about a ten thousand zombie-related movies, so choosing just a four for one post was a daunting task.  The questions I asked myself were many.  Which seem the most Halloweeny?  Which are particularly fun or classic examples of the genre?  Which bear repeat viewings?  I'm sure my list will vary widely from yours, but below are those that for me stand out as either so classic, fun, bizarre, goofy, or even genuinely scary that I had to include them.

Note - Many SPOILERS below.  So, so many.

13.  Night of the Living Dead (1968)

My choice for "classic zombie movie" is Night of the Living Dead.  There are a bevy of "Night of Whatever" movies or "Day of the Whatever" or "Dead Whatever" movies, so it's almost impossible to keep track.  Still, this is the one I think establishes so much of the genre, and is still a really excellent creepy Halloween movie today.

This is a grim film from beginning to end, with no light humor to break things up.  It takes itself seriously, even though the scenes where people are eating entrails are not particularly realistic.  Still, they are pretty ooky and gory, even in black and white (definitely see the black and white version).  The zombies come from everywhere in this film, both inside and outside.  As the people in the house get killed, they get converted and start munching.  People do the now-canonical freak-out thing where they threaten each other.  When the ending comes, it is a total shock, watching how and why the hero loses.  The movie comes off as both horror and tragedy, and today, what with our sensibilities so shifted, it also has moments of unintentional humor.  For lots of creepy shambling zombie goodness, it doesn't get much better.  All together it makes for good Halloweeny viewing.

14.  Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies (2012)

This is just as good as a campy 'B' movie can get. Abe runs around through the whole thing with a specially "modified" scythe.  Abe broke the handle in half when he was a boy, and now wields it much like a giant switchblade, flicking it open and closed with ease. There are a plethora of wonderful scenes in slow motion, with fog or smoke blowing around and zombie heads flying. When the zombie heads are not flying, that's because the zombies are being bashed to "death" with rakes, hoes, sticks, and anything else that's lying around.

The movie works entirely because of the Abe Lincoln performance.  The actor plays it completely straight, no side chuckles or winks.  Whenever he is on the screen the movie is interesting, and there is no scene he does not steal.  Even when the movie has Abe meeting his former lover, now turned prostitute, it is presented as a serious scene.  The juxtaposition with the plot and all the zombie bashing is utter hilarity.

There are some regrettably slow paced sections that could easily have been edited out, but they are good spots to go get more popcorn.  The movie should also have ended ten minutes before it did, that is, right after Abe gives a very convincing Gettysburg Address.  This might even have been moving if you hadn't already heard Abe using these and other rather more ludicrous lines during zombie combat, (i.e. "Emancipate this!" - Yes. This is said.)  Overall, it's fantastic Halloween zombie fun.

15.  Evil Dead II (1987)

It took me a long time to come to the Evil Dead series, and I still haven't seen much of it.  But it is obvious even from one viewing that Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn is amazing zombie spoof film making.  Some might argue that these creatures are possessed corpses, not zombies.  But since they do all the zombie trope things, and look like zombies, and no doubt smell like zombies, this film firmly fits the zombie category in my mind.

I already mentioned I like stop motion animation, and there is some wonderful and goofy animation here.  But the scene that sticks with me isn't filled with animation at all, it is our hero Ash struggling with his own possessed hand.  Before he manages to sever it from his body, the hand smashes plates over his head, beats him in the face, and even flips his whole body over.  It is an amazing bit of slapstick acting.   

There certainly isn't much of a plot - just a scaffold to get us from one zombie gore fest to another.  We eventually find Ash heavily armed with both a buzz saw and a sawed off shotgun, to which he says "Groovy" and continues his struggle with the forces of evil.  The ending is only there to tell us that there is going to be a sequel.  But the movie works because all the scenes are over the top fun.  For some trope-making zombie Halloween cinema, this is good popcorn viewing.

16.  The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Remember I said SPOILERS?  You have to go watch this one and then come back here.  Right?  Good.   

The Cabin in the Woods is a really stellar Halloween flick that starts with zombie attacks and ends up with more monsters than you can imagine.  The movie opens as your nominal horror film with a group of young friends headed into the woods for a fun weekend off the grid.  What's weird, though, is that the movie keeps bringing the viewer back to shots of the interior of some kind of high-tech facility, where people are milling about doing what might seem like mundane government jobs.  This juxtaposition of scenes makes for great viewing, even on repeat viewings when we know what is happening.

As the movie goes forward we see that the workers in the facility are manipulating the young people, and eventually lead them to unleash a horror on themselves.  We go through some standard movie zombie attacks, but they are handled really well, with good pacing.  And they are obviously designed to be so cliche that we are trapped between laughing and grossing out.  The scenes of the workers reacting with a mix of reverence and nonchalance to the death of the first student is super entertaining creepiness.  Some of the workers are just disgusting with their disregard for life, going so far as to bet on the means whereby the students will meet their end, and so you end up hoping they get some kind of comeuppance.

We begin to understand that all this horror is some kind of rite, with the workers making sure that the young people all die, and even in the "right" order.  The workers are gleeful when it seems that they have succeeded.  Alas for the workers, one of the students (the Fool) has resisted their manipulations through copious use of pot.  He and another of the students (the Virgin) find their way into the facility, which is built below the cabin.  For me this is the best and most Halloweeny part of the movie, as the students find imprisoned in the facility all kinds of horror movie monsters, from ghosts and werewolves to an obvious "Hellraiser" ripoff.  In an attempt to escape the workers trying to hunt them down, the students unleash all the monsters in an amazing scene of gory mayhem.

The students finally learn that the rite is actually a sacrifice to appease the old gods, who will destroy all of humanity if the ritual fails.  When she is put in a position to complete the rite (i.e. kill the Fool), the Virgin eventually declines, and she and her friend share some pot as the old gods come forth to finish off humanity.  I sure wish this last bit had been given some more time on film.  I wanted to see more of the old gods than just a giant hand.  Still, it all comes together fantastically, and the scenes with all the monsters munching through the workers is worth many Halloween viewings.

Image Credits:  Evil Dead Lego scene https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Will_you_be_ready..._(4786369715).jpg  https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/abraham_lincoln_vs_zombies  https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/evil_dead_2_dead_by_dawn/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=n-537393  Cabin in the woods, movie and from https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_cabin_in_the_woods/pictures/

Friday, October 13, 2017

Halloween Movies of Choice: Movies 10-12

Munch's 1895 painting "The Vampire"
I'm behind again, but actually I'm thinking this three-movies-to-a-post thing is working out well, so I'm just going to go with it.  Besides, this way I can continue to do posts with all three movies around a theme.  So now it's time to focus on my favorite sort of paranormal-type horror creature, the vampire!

I tend to prefer my vampires to be seen for what they are - blood-sucking demons of the night.  That does not mean they can't be sympathetic, even romantic.  But the "reality" needs to be there in some fashion for me to take interest.  It'll be no surprise then that Twilight does not make my Halloween list.  But neither does Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).  That's a gorgeous picture, but for some reason that movie just does not work for me.  I'm not drawn to that Dracula, who is so over the top he's campy.  The movie isn't bad enough to be so-bad-it's-good, and there are too many other actually intentionally campy vampire flicks to watch instead, if that's what you are looking for (like the already listed What We Do in the Shadows).  It was really tough, but after much consideration, I picked the following three vampire movies that I think cover a lot of ground for good Halloween-vampire-viewing.

Once again, SPOILERS abound herein, so watch first and read later.

10.  Nosferatu (1922)

There are a lot of old vampire movies, but this one is certainly the iconic vampire-as-malevolent-demon, whose influence is felt in every subsequent treatment of the subject.  The film itself, of course, is amazing for any number of reasons, like the use of light and shadow.  It is basically the story of Dracula, with a few adjustments.

When our hero Hutter first travels to the Count Orlok's lands, he is naive and jolly, thinking always of his wife and the coin he's going to make with this major sale.  Watching him come to terms with what is really happening in the castle is excellent horror.  After the sale, the vampire has himself, a lot of dirt, and hundreds of rats all boxed up and shipped off to his new home.  The scenes on the ship are the most disturbing, with sailors dropping off one by one, and no chance for any escape.  The rats as plague symbols are a nice touch, and the townspeople do believe that the plague is upon them.  People keep dying, and almost no one knows who is truly to blame.  In the end, well, it is up to the heroine Ellen to make the ultimate sacrifice to rid the world of this evil.

It's is a fine Halloween movie, and might really be the way to start off the season, depending our your tastes.  I have it here holding the place for the old, classic terrors of the genre.

11.  Fright Night (1985)

I have mentioned before my love of 80's horror.  In that category, I don't think it gets any better than Fright Night.  There are vampires, good performances, comic elements, and a nice, creepy buildup to a scary and satisfying finish.  You might say, well, isn't that the same for Lost Boys, too?  Well, I had to make a choice for my 80's vampire category, and unlike Charley in Fright Night, the character of Michael simply has no charisma.  The Lost Boys soundtrack is great, but it can't make you care for the characters if they just don't otherwise appeal.

You get far more personally invested in the characters of Fright Night.  Good-natured Charley, his strange friend "Evil," and his girl-next-door love interest Amy are all pretty stereotypical, and yet each is played to sincere perfection.  The most compelling character, however, is the washed-up, horror-host-has-been of Peter Vincent.  It is really Peter's journey of finding his faith in himself, and in his own strength, that makes the film so engaging.  Add in vampire Jerry, who is both unremittingly evil and yet shows momentary glimpses of the human he once was (like when Jerry tells Charley that Jerry is going to give him a choice to keep quiet, and implies that Jerry himself had had the choice to become a vampire made for him.)

I think the film makes for a perfect Halloweeny offering.  I have Fright Night here holding the place for the "modern" vampire movie, which includes a bit of camp and comedy along with solid scares, and a good-guys triumph kind of ending.

12.  Let Me In (2010)

I thought hard about what movie I wanted to be my sort of "post-modern" cerebral vampire flick.  There were a few contenders (say like Only Lovers Left Alive), but I wanted to pick something I thought might stand up to repeat Halloween viewings, and at the same time highlight the complex but ultimately nasty nature of vampires.  Let Me In contains so very much of interest to unpack.  I think the most telling aspect of the film is viewed through the trope of the "vampire henchman."  It is through this lens that we understand Abby's deep brutality, and the depths of her feral nature.

The idea of a vampire and their loyal followers is well worn, starting with Dracula's follower Renfield.  For Nosferatu there was Knock.  For Jerry there was Billy Cole.  For Abby in Let Me In, there is Thomas, a man who by day poses as her father, but by night kills people and brings their blood back to Abby.

As Thomas methodically goes through the motions of killing and collecting blood, he shows little emotion other than weariness.  He admits to Abby that he is getting careless, perhaps on purpose, because part of him wants to be caught.  It becomes clear that he does this work only because he has deep feelings for Abby, to the point that when he does get caught, he burns his face off with acid so the police cannot use him as a trail back to her.  His last act is to offer her his blood.  Abby takes the injured man up on the offer, allowing him to suffer enough blood loss that he tumbles unconscious from a window and dies.

Enter the neighbor boy Owen.  Isolated and bullied, he is highly vulnerable and easy to manipulate.  Abby appears to be genuinely fond of Owen, but more, she desperately needs him.  Old photos show Abby with a young Thomas, and the implications are that she groomed him from childhood to be her helper.  Behaviors repeat in this movie (like bullies creating more bullies) letting the viewer know that this "creating a henchman" is another repeating pattern.  By plan or by mere circumstance, she slowly enures Owen to the sight of blood and violence, to the point of him allowing her to kill someone right in front of him.  This culminates when she saves Owen from bullies (who are all tweens or teens themselves) by tearing them into literal pieces, and Owen smiles.  When he and Abby run away together at the end of the film, the viewer knows with dread certainty that this once sensitive boy is doomed to Thomas's future of lies, deception, and murder.

This movie isn't scary, it is instead utterly horrific.  While I'm still not sure it is exactly Halloweeny as I usually define these things, it is the most unique and effective film I've seen for expressing the terror that is the vampire, and thus finds it's place on this list. 

Image Credits:  The Vampire by Edvard Munch, public domain , from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edvard_Munch_-_Vampire_(1895)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg  Nosferatu https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nosferatu  Fright night , my movie and from https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1007910_fright_night/pictures#&gid=1&pid=n-229564  Let Me In my movie and from https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/let_me_in/pictures/#&gid=1&pid=n-91546

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

HallowRead - Skeleton Key Swag!

HallowRead is coming up fast! As you may recall from last year, this is the mini-con in Ellicott City, Maryland (October 20-21) celebrating all things horrorly and writerly. I'll be presenting a horror poetry workshop on Friday the 20th and and doing some spooky reading Saturday. Check out the events here!

One of the great perks you'll get for your attendance is a bag of swag from all sorts of writers. Last year my bag contained a book chapter, a pair of earrings, candy, promotions, coupons, and lots of ideas for where to find new reading by local writers.

I loved looking through my swag bag so much last year, I decided this year I'd contribute to it! As a beaded jewelry maker already, I thought I'd use those skills - and then came up with a great idea for a Skeleton Key. It's a silver key that is also a bottle opener, paired with a nicely creepy skull charm. I decided I'd add a card explaining what it is all for, and that has the URL to my website. Of course given last year I thought I'd be making 50 at the most. I didn't realize that the numbers expected were bigger this year, and I'd need to make 150 of the things!

So off I went, figuring out what I wanted my swag to look like, and then purchasing stock. I had to find stock on Amazon as well as from beaded jewelry dealers. I also had to take a trip to the local Michaels to get a few items as well. Not to mention I needed to print out appropriate cards, which I had done online. I didn't want to just use my business card, I wanted something that also included a little explanation of the key - that it was for unlocking both creativity and bottles :)

I got all the stock together back in September, and designed a working case that I could carry all the stuff around in, and work on whenever I had a moment. The basic charm was what I put together first, and it included silver tone metal pins, beads, and spacers, a nicely glinting crystal red bead, and then the final carved white howlite skull. A skull charm made here or there added up, along with a few marathon runs of 20 or 30 at a time. Eventually I had a pile of glittering skullys!

At that point I had to put 150 skully charms on key rings, along with each skeleton key. This took awhile, and I was worried at one point because I ran into a few deformed keys. I thought I wouldn't have enough. Fortunately the vendor had included extra keys at the start, and so it came out to exactly the number I needed.

The last step was getting the cards, punching holes in 150 of them, cutting string for 150 of them, and tying them to the 150 key rings. My hand was sore from the hole punch, but I did that all in one evening, and then immediately boxed them up.

And off they go today in the mail to eventually wind up in your swag bag. Hope you like them! See you at HallowRead!

Image Credits: HallowRead from Hallowread, and all others are my pix!