31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 30 and 31 – They’re Coming to Get You! – Night of the Living Dead (1968/dir. George Romero/USA) and Halloween (1978/dir. John Carpenter/USA)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

If we are going to be fair about this, we will have to recognize that at least a handful of horror films have been made that are way better than Night of the Living Dead. Hell, maybe even more than that – I don’t know fucking everything.

But the one thing one can’t deny is how Night of the Living Dead served as a gamechanger for horror cinema from the moment it was released into the USA. It is pretty much founded in the being the center of subtle horror that encompasses a space on-screen and leaves audiences dreading the brutal violence to come, and the affront of the violence when it is finally presented to us at random points of the film where the audience isn’t ready.

Night of the Living Dead is the single most essential horror film in cinema history and I will fucking fight anybody who tries to make a claim otherwise. No, seriously, you got some other shit to say, how dare you disagree with me, bro? Try saying it without any teeth.

However, when it comes to films that perhaps prove to have stood the test of time better than Night of the Living Dead itself, one has to notice how the majority of modern horror films coming out today are either slasher films or heavily informed by slasher films. A fable-esque obsession with making a simple tale of bad things happening to people who don’t deserve it or don’t want it to happen, escalating more and more into the worst. That basically sums up the type of story Halloween provided for audiences to be disturbed and affected by (even if Halloween did not invent that story, much as little of Halloween is in fact original itself.)

I don’t think I personally am eloquent or intelligent enough to say all that there is to say about Halloween and Night of the Living Dead (and in the end, hasn’t pretty much everything been said about them?) but my major focus is to showcase how these two films are, in the end, the most groundbreaking hallmark horror films of cinema yet.

And what makes it all the sweeter, they were both heavily independent projects.

For instance, the story of Halloween‘s inception comes from the fact that Moustapha Akkad, the executive producer for the film (and later the entire series until his death in 2005), was producing a film and extremely dismayed at the expenses of the film in consideration of the results. John Carpenter, then a little filmmaker who adored Howard Hawks and had a few features under his belt (namely the very Hawksian Assault on Precinct 13) told Akkad he could probably get a movie made for $300,000 (convincing Akkad be showing that AoP13 was made in fact for $100,000).

And so Carpenter went about making a film for as little as possible but the effect is still enormous. For all its inexpensiveness, Halloween does not very much show. Sure, it’s heavily minimalist, but it’s definitely not a real-life product looking like Black Dynamite and the like.

How Night of the Living Dead came about is a story that elicits surprise akin to the film, considering its legacy after the fact. Commercial filmmaker George Romero decided to finally take a shot at making a feature length film and really wanted it to be horror. That’s the only thing that drove him… the fact that the movie had to be a goshdarned horror flick.

After building up a budget around 100,000 dollars, and then messing around with various random drafts of different stories, Romero happened to read Richard Matheson’s vampire apocalypse novel I Am Legend and began involving a lot of elements in a story about the most horrifying thing he could think of monsters to do: eat people. This ghoulish idea of living corpses that only return for the nourishment of human flesh came out of the imaginative mind of Romero and so with all of that settled, he went about to make his feature film…

For the lowest price tag possible. That is, in black and white, with a singular setting of a house and a graveyard for the entirety of the film, some non-actors in the scene and from there, use the script and the cinematography to elicit an atmosphere of dread.

John Carpenter probably is inspired more or less by George Romero’s work, just a teensy bit less than Howard Hawks. Both Halloween and Night of the Living Dead have focused all of their events on a singular location of a house. Both are pretty much terrifying day-in-the-life accounts. There is very little graphic violence in either film (I’d warrant to in fact say none, but I might be missing something). Which doesn’t mean they are less assaultive. Indeed, the majority of the effect of both Night of the Living Dead and Halloween is the moments of tense unsafe disquiet before a sudden assault of movement occurs to make people in the audience need to change their pants. I’m not as quite sure that they work as well this day and age as they clearly did back when they were first released (Halloween doesn’t scare me at all, I just love the movie), but the effect in the end is still outright unnerving to a heavy degree.

What stuns me even more watching these movies well after the fact is how their elegance comes from their simplicity in terms of story. Night of the Living Dead practically borders on plotlessness without falling into that trap, by just subtly adding more and more obstacles for the characters to overcome, but the main premise is simple: Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Steiner), two siblings, are just visiting their father’s grave briefly to put a wreath their mother requested. Barbara is not comfortable with the area, Johnny is just reluctant to do the damn deed. A man approaches them both and attacks and kills Johnny, while Barbara rushes frenzied into a farmhouse where she is met with and saved by Ben (Duane Jones), who begins boarding up the doors and windows of the house. The two of them then discover in the cellar fellow inhabitants of the house – The Coopers (Karl Hardman, Merilyn Eastman, & Kyra Schon) and a teenage couple (Keith Wayne & Judith Riley). From there, we just witness a mix between a power struggle from the patriarch of the Coopers – Harry (Hardman) and Ben as to who knows what to do best, while bits of exposition as to the nature of the ghouls are provided by local news and radio, and a desperate struggle to survive the night and get what everybody needs.

It’s a very simple movie. But it’s also painstakingly serious about itself, from music giving a bombastic air to Duane Jones’ absolutely straight man performance, largely giving no room for humor, save for the opening with Johnny’s statements. Characters dismiss each other, get into shouting matches, all in near total darkness. These facets lend themselves to a very nihilistic atmosphere surrounding the movie – that there’s no hope (even despite the glimmers on the tv screen) and that all will be trapped and it’s going to be a long night, no matter what resourceful efforts are made.

Halloween in fact has a little bit more meat to itself – like the importance of character and cinematography (not to say Night of the Living Dead‘s cinematography is not brilliant – Romero provides brilliant soft lighting to the moments of blackness in the film, adding to the tease of hopelessness with the shadows and shines). It can be divided simply into a few small fractions of story events:
-Michael Myers kills his sister and is entered into a mental hospital.
-15 years later, he escapes and is pursued by one of the doctors, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance)
-He stalks a woman in his hometown of Haddonfield, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and begins obsessing over her friends.
-Hijinks ensue.

But the movie is padded up with itself by some gloriously settling daylight photography of a dreamlike nature by Dean Cundley, also setting the stage for very cool comic-book esque nighttime scenarios, and the actors who lend the film a higher presentation of its simplicity. Pleasance practically chews up scenery (and to be honest, I don’t know him not to be a scenery chewing actor considering all I’ve seen him in), but ethics of mental health attitudes aside, he sells the belief that Myers is a complete personification of evil that must be stopped. Curtis provides a very innocent and unassuming presence as the victim of Myers’ gaze, and Nick Castle as Michael Myers… Well, you wouldn’t think there’s much one can do in a silent stalker role, but Castle does it all to freak me out. From tilting his head after a kill, to standing inhumanly still before a big kill, eventually you just get the feeling that he’s always there.

Ideally, we are moving on with the technical advancements in storytelling and moviemaking and movies are coming out sometimes better than and sometimes scarier than either of these two films. But, one of my early encounters with each film was back in 2010 when I was really excited to see them in a theater as part of a double feature with my friends (we came late though). And by the popularity, reaction, and legacy that the films have each left behind in their own regard, it is clear… Halloween and Night of the Living Dead are perhaps the most timeless entry into the horror cinema canon and certain to live on and keep their effect of immersing the world for two hours each into a little brilliant story.

For fuck’s sake, goddammit, next year, I’m just doing 13 horror articles for October. This shit was fucking exhausting.

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31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 29 – Cursed by the Moonlight, A Doomed Changeling – The Wolf Man (1941/wri. Curt Siodmak/USA)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. 

We’re almost at the end of the month and I’ve saved my best two choices for review for the last two nights, but in the meantime, I’ve noted my pointed reviewing of the two main faces of Universal Studios early horror classics, without addressing the third big face to that dynasty (though arguably the third big face is The Monster’s Bride and, much as I hate to dismiss it, but she did only appear in one film).

That particular face is particularly hairy. And grumpy. But it is undoubtedly one of the more original entries into the Universal horror cannon.

Granted, it’s not entirely original. I mean, it’s not as though Universal invented the lycanthrope. Or even less so the idea that The Wolf Man was Universal’s first werewolf picture (Warren Zevon knows damn well what the first werewolf picture Universal Studios made is).

But much like Nosferatu invented our image of the modern vampire, The Wolf Man basically takes the werewolf and changes him around for the rest of pop culture to remember. The werewolf is not just a wolf that’s a man. He is in constant fear of the pentagram. He is vulnerable to silver, the gypsy is the mortal enemy of the werewolf, yadda yadda yadda. And you got one name to thank about all of that…

Curt Siodmak’s screenplay proves to not only be a creative source of nightmare fuel for generations afterward, but it also provides a surprisingly decent story to entertain someone for a movie that is only intent on defining and exhibiting the terrifying habits of a man who can totally turn into a werewolf.

That story is of Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr. – who I named one of my kittens after), a man who returns to his Welsh hometown, upon hearing of the death of his older brother. Living under his father’s resentment (his father being played by Claude Raines), Larry begins investigating both into the matter of his brother’s death as well as the possibility of making himself more and more at home in the town, now that he is the next heir to the Talbot estate.

Of course, his stay becomes significantly less welcome upon the fact of his attack by a werewolf and slowly but surely Talbot begins witnessing upon himself symptoms of lycanthropy that doom him immediately.

It’s really not much more pedestrian than that, but it’s a very great work not only because of how much Siodmak takes out of himself to detail a background land that he isn’t as obligated to do this time around, but also from Chaney’s performance. Chaney Jr., for lack of a better explanation, was a haunted man for his entire life. He lived under the shadow of his father (whom I consider a better actor) and the grip of his own alcoholism, which would hurt his lifestyle and his career significantly. But his real-life tragedy gives extra sympathy to the character of Larry Talbot, who is not at all a bad guy and, like Chaney Jr. did, has to deal with the shadow of both his father and his brother. But, that’s just what Chaney Jr.’s history and the script give the actor to work with – Lon emphasizes these elements tenfold by mulling in misery without being annoying or something out of a Robert Smith lyric. He is just a guy like us, totally relatable, but the way he’s down on his luck is what really makes us realize well, our own problems aren’t a total match to his. And Chaney’s mask-like face, inherited from his father, has a sort of clay-like sadness consistent to it that showcases well, even when Chaney has the biggest smile. It’s sad because we’re sad for Talbot.

I think that’s why Chaney Jr. has constantly been the only man to portray The Wolf Man in its original run. Any break in familiarity would have totally killed the sympathy and the audience would have known it’s not the same guy we once fell for.

But hey, that’s not the only saving grace, it’s just what makes Chaney Jr. stand out in a full-on cast of competent performances, including Raines – who never has bored me once, no matter how small his role is. For a pedestrian project, the effort put into this work makes it stand out as one of the greatest productions Universal Studios had put out at the time.

The larger strength in the movie is the introduction of legendary Jack Pierce’s design for the Wolf Man, originally intended for yet scrapped during production of Werewolf of London. Pierce, in his innovation during the 1930s and 40s horror hierarchy of Universal Studios, created iconic pieces for most of the monsters we now remember in nostalgic and classic movie reverence, The Wolf Man being now exception. These days, most werewolf pictures tend to reject the human aspect of the monster, but the Wolf Man is still unique in many ways for its balance of man and monster, a mythological uncontrollable force dwelling in the hearts of most people, now brought out to our faces. It’s a frightening and yet fascinating study come to life visually solely by Pierce’s work.
For all intents and purposes, Universal Studios owes much of its legend to Lon Chaney Jr., Jack Pierce, and Curt Siodmak together.

Moving on, the final aspect of The Wolf Man that makes it so rewatchable is the dream-like atmosphere of the sets, namely when they are at the fair or at the moors. George Waggner’s direction and Joseph Valentine’s cinematography has a very small haze for every outdoor scene, accented by the sets hint of German Expressionist basis. Add in a little fog and BAM! The shots end up absolutely hypnotizing and it makes The Wolf Man more of a visual treat than it is given credit for. I especially enjoy shots like the wide of Sir Talbot (Rains) at the observatory or the shop of Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers)’s father. But the shots in the woods during the Wolf Man’s rampage are excellent.
I can’t talk down even the exotic design of the gypsy’s cart.

Once again, this was a movie invented only to turn a man into a wolf and then have him succumb to fate. That’s it. It didn’t have to become anything more than that to fulfill its purpose. But The Wolf Man stands one of the truly glimmering films of the 1940s because it took a simple storytelling exercise into a display of everyone on their A-game and became a pretty brilliant hurrah for Universal Studios, standing in the end as amongst NosferatuFrankenstein and (begrudingly I state) Dracula as among the most influential horror legacies on the silver screen.

Just, y’know, have it avoid that silver screen.

Get it?

Anybody?

Cause he’s a werewolf and the screen is silver?!

No takers?

Fuck you all, I’m hilarious.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 28 – Beneath the Marquee – Halloween Season

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

This is basically going to be a continuation of a program I’ve decided to make an occasional thing, but that I have already entertained in a previous post.

So, let’s say this Friday, you have nothing to do by one circumstance or another. You just got off work and are too tired to party, or your ride is down, or whatever and so you’re just trying to make it a chill night at the house without killing the spirit. Or how about we can say you’re having a party and just want something up as background imagery or background noise or what have you. Or whatever circumstance you have for deciding you want a movie playing on Halloween and then realizing ideally a movie is two hours and the night will still be young…

I’ve made it a constant practice to have double feature screenings at my place for my friends and usually anyone they invite that I don’t have beef with (I am an easily angered person and an even easier soul in begrudging, so there’s that). The idea is usually that not only would it happen to be fun, but that people would be introduced to films they otherwise wouldn’t know. And hence it’s in my best interest, in the furthering of cinema as a culture, that anybody go ahead and try this with themselves or, preferably, with friends.

This post is to ideally just serve as a template or suggestion for any other people who might want to go ahead and try their own showcase of films for the season of the witch. Here, I’ll be suggesting four particular double features for y’all and can easily suggest you change them up on your own or even make them up. Fit your own style. I’m just posting my own.

I only follow two simple rules (which are completely arbitrary and you don’t have to follow my shit)…
1 – THEME IS MANDATORY Just because I like having everything so connected.
2 – CANNOT BE TWO FILMS IN THE SAME FRANCHISE – I like to mix them up that way. Likewise, I try to avoid making it two films by the same director.

Let’s get rambling.

I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT GIALLO – Halloween (1978/dir. John Carpenter/USA) and Suspiria (1977/dir. Dario Argento/Italy)
Giallo is one of the major Italian film movements that have made a huge presence in horror cinema, even today, and slasher films especially are indebted to it. Halloween and Suspiria (the latter of which is constantly mistaken as giallo) are after the fact of the movement that inform themselves of much of the stylistic makeup of giallo – saturated colors, psycho killer moments, a drive to solve what’s going on, synthesizer ditties and so on and so forth.

UNDER THE ROOF OF MADNESS – House (1977/dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi/Japan) and Evil Dead II (1987/dir. Sam Raimi/USA)
Maybe you or the people in your company aren’t so keen on being scared so much as you’d just like to go the opposite spectrum of human reaction and just have a laugh. Well, that laugh’s gotta add something to the being of horror cinema and it kind of does. What makes House and Evil Dead II perfect horror comedies is how they add to the madness of the moment, how the situations and the scenarios are inherently comedic, but the suffering going on shocks the audience just as much. And then the line is blurred and that’s where the real fun stuff begins.

GODS AND LIARS – Faust (1926/dir. F.W. Murnau/Germany) and The Wicker Man (1973/dir. Robin Hardy/UK)
Well time to go down and into the religious spectrum of horror… The fear of God or what is against God. Which honestly neither film really cares for and I really don’t either but that’s besides the point. Faust and The Wicker Man however do have a religious element that adds either more to the cosmic nature of the situation in the case of Faust or how the cultural clash occurs between the leads in The Wicker Man and how either ends up rides on how that element is treated by the end of the film. The Wicker Man‘s ending has me more gleefully grinning to be honest, but nothing can at all beat Faust‘s opening.

 

WELCOME TO HELL (aka SEE? THE 80s WEREN’T THAT FUCKING BAD) – Hellraiser (1987/dir. Clive Barker/UK) and The Beyond (1981/dir. Lucio Fulci/Italy)
Ok, I’m not normally a fan of the 80s, but there are some real gems of fablesque storytelling or mystery treatments within their horror films, assuming you can sift through most of the Jason Voorhees knockoffs. These two in particular touch upon a similar fear of a hell-like dimension being opened inexplicably and leaking into the real world, with the possibility that the characters have doomed us all. There’s a real terror in not knowing what’s going until it’s too late and real guilt in what might be invoked worldwide unless proper action is taken.

Well, there we have it. Like I said, watch ’em however you want, this way or that. Happy Watching.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 27 – The Black Halo – Faust (1926/dir. F.W. Murnau/Germany)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. 

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I’ve already previously talked about how much expressionism has informed most of modern horror cinema, but let’s briefly just go over it. Germany’s expressionism style from the beginnings of their film industry had a way with shadowplay and overdramatics that really made for compelling genre storytelling as it was direct and blunt, with a very hard hit to the sensibilities of the audience and a clear communication of what the intention of each scene is. If they wanted you to laugh, their physical comedy would be the biggest thing you’d see, if you wanted to be scared, they’d make the shadows that are most scary the biggest on the screen and so on.

But it also could make for particularly compelling melodrama. The play with the amount that we see on the screen and what we don’t see gives a sort of gap for the audience to fill in, involving themselves into the story and investing themselves outright in the story. Murnau arguably had created the greatest melodrama put to celluloid in 1927, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, which I dare you to watch and not feel compelled emotionally by the plight of the characters. However, I want to move backwards one year, right before Murnau left Germany to America, his very final film for his home country.

The 1926 film Faust is an incredibly interesting look into what makes expressionism as a style so moving and touching as it plays with both the elements of the style that make it genre filmmaking – primarily a horror film, but other genres get used in here as well – in addition to melodrama – as the tragedy of Doctor Faustus is a fable of old consideration in European culture.

It’s also pretty much one of the greatest possible toybox films ever put to screen, considering that Murnau, who was again in the midst of leaving UFA, probably just wanted to burn his skills out as much as possible (which, thankfully, he did not as his next two films were brilliant). He pulls out all of the possible stops that a film demands out of a filmmaker, making the production the most expensive that UFA had dealt with.

… at least until a little guy named Fritz Lang came around and demolished the company with his own masterpiece called Metropolis the next year.

But in the meantime, Faust… the most recognizable parable on deals with the Devil even if you don’t know that you know Faust. Doctor Faustus (Gosta Ekman) has been carrying the weight of his land’s plague in his hands, trying desperately to provide a cure for it and prevent any further dying at his hands. This pursuit leads him to extreme desperation that challenges his faith in God. Unknown to Faust, the plague is in fact a concoction of God and Mephisto (Emil Jannings giving a polar opposite performance from his work in The Last Laugh and fucking nailing it), who have a wager that Faust will never truly go astray from his humanity and fall into Mephisto’s clutches, regardless of the circumstances. With Faust at his weakest and most vulnerable, Mephisto approaches Faust to seduce him with the possibility of having license over life and death and, as a damned bonus, youth and all the great shit that makes you enjoy youth. Faust considers it and so the struggle truly begins.

I’ve always had a fascination with the tale of Goethe’s Faust, not just generally as a tragedy that easily tugs at heartstrings of guilt, shame, and mistakes, but as a compelling discussion of how far one goes towards his or her passions and how is he or she willing to deal with the consequences of this pursuit. Faust as a film, however, is interesting in that it dilutes much of these themes to a very streamlined tale that is easily consumptive to the film. Gone are much of the verbose prose of Goethe’s piece, as well as the entirely abstract philosophy preaching of the second half of the tale. The ending is fixed up and there’s even some Hollywood-ish inserts into the story, like UFA wanted to match the true titan they were currently competing against. It’s enough to understandably get under the skin of the real Goethe purists and while I do enjoy his work, thankfullu I’m not so much a purist that I would dismiss the movie (but I’m sure the band Kamelot would not be pleased to discover that I usually watch the silent film using their double album concept Epica and The Black Halo as my soundtrack to the film. They seem like Goethe purists.)

However, the true crown jewel of the film goes beyond its treatment of the tale of Faust and instead in the treatment of its spectacle. It’s an epic in every sense of the word, surrounding like Mephisto at the iconic opening scene where he wraps himself around the city and steals away the sunlight from the poor townspeople.

Let’s use that shot as an example. You goddamn well know it’s a model, you know it’s just a painted background that got progressed upon, you basically don’t see the strings to this puppetry but you know how it’s done and it’s there, similar to how we discussed with House. But this time it’s that the imagery is so chilling, so captivating that we don’t care… it doesn’t matter how it says what it’s saying, what matters is what it says and it says “Be afraid.”

This approach is the absolute pinnacle of German Expressionism by using the entirety of its production to present the effect of the image. That means large makeup on Jannings face as he portrays the Devil, that means giant worlds invented with the paint and the lens, that means larger than life actions…

Speaking of larger, the fact that the story – which is not bad but never really the forefront – is just incidental to the imagery that Murnau elicits, the globe-spanning that Mephisto induces in order to cater to Faust’s pleasures similar to the ambitious D.W. Griffith production Intolerance but without the fat, is just further proof in the end that actions will speak larger than words, especially in a visual medium like film. Even though the film gets pretty long by the end of it, Faust has never faltered as a hidden gem of visual artistry from one of the finest filmmakers ever to walk the earth.

I actually do take a moment to wonder whether or not Carl Theodor Dreyer or Ingmar Bergman were themselves influenced by Murnau’s work here, as the environment that the black plague-era villagers give off brings accessibility, both in the level of detail brough to build the village up and have it afflicted with all of these different effects Murnau gives them and with its familiarity to the audience after seeing The Seventh Seal or Ordet. But that’s just me thinking out loud.

In the end, the film historians don’t talk as much about Faust as they do the other films of Murnau and I personally find that a severe shame. Because dammit does Faust have a visual language that I personally feel is only surpassed in Murnau’s career by the brilliance of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. And that comes once more from Faust‘s complete dominance over the genre elements of Expressionism… providing a chilling mentality, a grand adventure, a moving tragedy, and a compelling drama before making us come around to leave the movie going

“Well damn, they don’t make it like that no more.”

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 26 – Fan-Casting a Dream Project – John Dies at the End

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. 

So, this is going to be something I might make a regular thing out of, but since I’m working on being a successful filmmaker alongside my other jobs and this blog (by way of a for instance, I am currently in the middle of two more short films and one of them should hopefully be posted by Halloween. As well as the videos I am haphazardly making for this blog), I have dream projects.

Several of them. Without any real regard usually to how they have been treated before.

John Dies at the End and its sequel novel This Book Is Full of Spiders, Seriously, Dude Don’t Touch It, both written by Cracked editor-in-chief David Wong, have been at the top of this list of dream projects that are adapted from other works forever (since the majority of my dream projects are original treatments and original scripts that I personally drafted). It has already been adapted by Don Coscarelli in 2012 and my feelings for that movie have already been half-laid out (I feel a re-review is in store), but let me briefly recap: I don’t just think it is a terrible adaptation, I think it’s a terrible fucking movie and the only Coscarelli work I dislike other than Phantasm III (I have not seen his pre-Phantasm movies though).

However, I do feel like the casting is one of the few things done right for that movie and that could have probably made it work. But since I read the book, I already had my own personal vision of the characters and in making my own adaptation, I’d do best to adhere to my vision, rather than Coscarelli’s.

To briefly go over the book before I dig into my fan-cast, it is like so: Two good-for-nothings in the middle of the most ghetto town in America, David Wong (our author surrogate) and John Cheese (it is explicitly stated that these are not their real names) have an unfortunate encounter with a drug labeled “soy sauce” that unfortunately allows them to be able to see, interact, and experience an invisible-to-the-naked-eye and completely real hellish dimension to the world they live in. As a result, they are thrust into roles that involve addressing and dealing with the Shadow People that threaten to wreck the reality they know. It also feels more like three narratives tied together loosely in a haphazard arc. Because that’s, from what I understand, exactly what it is – three short stories Wong wrote tied together at the last publishing second.

Which is why I would prefer to make it into a miniseries if nothing else.

It is an extremely juvenile book that is easy to read, yet drifts into tangents at points and sometimes loses focus. I’ve heard it described by a friend who hates as if a 14-year-old were forced to recite a whole Stephen King novel. I do not dispute this description at all and understand why people would hate the book for it, but that’s actually a hefty amount of what gives the novel the charm I find in it. The fact that it’s unreliable narrator is so impotent that he can’t even tell a complete story, making us doubt that he and his constant party-headed friend could possibly be able to deal with real life, even before they have to walk up to the task of being this world’s heroes. It at once makes the story darker, funnier and, honestly, scarier to know that the fate of what happens to us without even knowing rests on the hands of these failures and how doomed and deserving of eradication we all are. It is like if a nihilist to the degree of Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle from True Detective decided he had just read… say… something by Douglas Adams or, I’d even daresay Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and decided he wanted to write something really funny like that, but his ideology just gets in the way (and the fact that he’s not much of a writer, like he’s not Herman Melville – it shows that the writer of the book is in charge of Cracked now).

And it’s descriptions of the horrors that Wong and Cheese encounter really really touch on me as a deliberate, pointed parody of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing style, using these flourishes and very intimate details under simple and descriptive language to talk about stupid ass shit like a flying mustache or a monster made out of meat. There is no fucking way Wong has never read a book by Clive Barker or at least Lovecraft and if I ever hear him deny that, I will call bullshit on him.

So, yeah, it’s easy to see the book and its sequel (which actually is a lot neater as a narrative and also one of the most depressing fiction reads I’ve ever dealt with and that puts it alongside Les Miserables and Kafka’s works, for Odinsake, I read a lot) are among my favorites. And I am so involved in it that I have such ideas on how to adapt it and make it an active living, breathing work of cinema, that I am prepared to go to the most extraordinary lengths to prove to David Wong that this is my fucking style of story and that I can make it in the best way possible.

When I know that I can. Which is not now, I don’t think I’m quite capable of the task, but when I finally feel I am ready, he will need to either allow me the rights or get a restraining order to shut me up.

In the meantime, here is the cast (short of some actor friends I work with – they have been replaced with my ideal public persona) in my mind when adapting it, with some explanation, description and a few minor spoilers of the book (many of which don’t feature in the movie).

“My name is David, by the way. Um, hi. I once saw a man’s kidneys grow tentacles, tear itself out of a ragged hole in his back and go slapping across my kitchen floor.”

DAVID WONG, our dark untrustworthy idiot narrator is kind of a character that I pictured a certain friend of mine I don’t feel right to namedrop for the role. But in the case of a demanded brand name rather than an unknown, I’d go with DANE DEHAAN (The Place Beyond the Pines), for the simple reason that he is easily the most darkly intense actor we have these days at the same age area.

“You don’t even exist. We’re all just figments of my cock’s imagination.”

JOHN CHEESE, the oblivious eager center of energy for the entire story has been and will always be ANDREW WK in my mind. Because no fucking way does anybody party harder than WK does and I also have serious doubts that anybody would be as open to the possibility of fighting shadow monsters on a fucking hangover in Vegas.

AMY SULLIVAN, the just-as-wrecked redheaded girl whose missing hand shows her apparent damage matches David and John’s hidden damage, deserves not only an actor who knows who can tune into the dark scenario of the story but also an ability to become as homely as possible for a love interest with David, so it’s not so much “she’s hot, she’s obviously gonna get it with David/John” as it is “David and Amy deserve each other”. I think JANE LEVY is absolutely beautiful, but since seeing Evil Dead, am certain she can pull Hilary Swank-esque task.

“ARNIE BLONDESTONE” is just a working stiff trying to get his stories done when he figures he will indulge David for the frame narrative of the story. It needs a reporter vibe, but I also think BRUCE CAMPBELL (The Evil Dead trilogy) hasn’t been given truly enough stuff to do and it’s kind of the stock character that he could definitely add gracious flavor to. And The Hudsucker Proxy proved playing reporters is nothing new to him.

Without elaborating hugely, I think I’d also like to add a cameo by a certain Afro-American horror titan into the role for the latter moments of Arnie’s appearance and so I come to mind TONY TODD (Candyman) or KEN FOREE (Dawn of the Dead) in the role. Not much acting to be asked of though.

“Do you dream, mon? I interpret dreams for beer.”

BRUCE “ROBERT MARLEY” MATTHEWS is easy-peasy as fuck. TAI BENNETT‘s performance in the Coscarelli film is my single favorite moment of a movie I didn’t like and that’s not faint praise, I promise. He did the role exactly how I imagined it, with the perfect hint of con artistry and frightening intuition. I would not hesitate in casting him again. I’d maybe turn his bullshit artist up a notch to let the audience’s guard down when he really gets into David’s head, but that’s it… he was perfect.

FATHER ALBERT MARCONI needs to be a figure of obscure stature and the one true sense of grounding in a world with madness, even though the main reason that he can deal with these supernatural things is probably because he is able to embrace his own madness with it. For that, two fucking words: WERNER HERZOG (though I also consider OTTO JESPERSEN – based on his hilarious performance in Troll Hunter – or if the producers demand a brand name, JAVIER BARDEM).

For “BIG JIM” SULLIVAN, Amy’s Bible-dependent large and protective older brother, I really don’t have much to say beyond the fact that, while I think he’s too old and too far-gone now, the picture for the character was of the 90s COREY TAYLOR (of Slipknot and Stone Sour) back when he was a bit more chubby, but still imposing, and had long hair (with those Iowa sideburns). So I can’t say beyond that type of actor…

DETECTIVE LAWRENCE “MORGAN FREEMAN” APPLETON is just the easiest typecast for DANNY GLOVER to the point that I almost feel sorry for just making Glover a role he pretty much played in the Lethal Weapon movies and Saw. I’d almost not cast Glover just out of sympathy, until I realize Wong would be hilariously (possibly racistly) referring to Appleton as “Morgan Freeman” for the duration of the film and realize there is no way I am not taking this chance.

JENNIFER LOPEZ (Not THE Jennifer Lopez) is just pretty much supposed to be the ideal perfect girl David so desperately wants to be with, with just enough character that she doesn’t become a meat puppet. ALEXANDRA DADDARIO is the closest realistic match I can make for the character and while I’m not a fan of her as an actor, I don’t think he failing in this role would demolish the story as a whole.

John’s police detective uncle, UNCLE FRANK, is just another role to be snug for ENRICO COLANTONI (Veronica Mars). A shamus, a semi-concerned relative, and suspicious man. Basically a less involved Keith Mars.

Man, for those of you have seen The Place Beyond the Pines, didn’t any of you get as much of a fucking twerp wannabe gangster vibe from EMORY COHEN in his role (which I think he did brilliantly making me dislike him). If nothing else is perfect in this fancast (and I honestly don’t think it is), I really really really think Cohen is the damned possession monster SHITLOAD aka JUSTIN WHITE.

I’ve seen KATRINA BOWDEN in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil which gives me enough understanding that she’d be tuned in enough to such a genre picture as John Dies at the End to provide an emotional source for the second third of the tale and becoming among the major clients of David and John, the heavy-handed Christian KRISSY LOVELACE, in search of her close friend (possibly more than friends)…

… DANNY WEXLER, tv weatherman, who should be a recognizable enough face without being too notable. For that reason, when I had conceptualized this cast last November, I had thought of CHRIS PRATT who is personable enough and well known enough… Except that now, he’s become too much of a star as of recent and I need someone more downplayed. I consider it a curse that JOEL MCHALE has not reached the stardom Pratt has, but in this case, I’ll take its advantage.

For the rest, which I won’t describe as much, but will at least elaborate…

FRED CHU Steven Yeun (Definite unfortunate victim man in a situation he never asked for)

“SHELLY MORRIS” – Well not to bag two Walking Dead actors in one, but Lauren Cohen. Because Supernatural shows well enough she can give the creeps and she can probably handle the more unearthly beauty of the role.

ROGER NORTH – I have no problem with using DOUG JONES again (I’d do more with him than Coscarelli did), but I honestly pictured a thinner STEPHEN FRY (I’d hate to be the guy to tell him to lose weight, but he’d be great for it).

“FRED DURST”/MOLLY – For this very brief yet notorious scene in the book, I’m going to beg on the good will of FRED DURST himself (frontman of Limp Bizkit) and hope he has a sense of humor regardless of my not liking his music… or really liking him (or David Wong liking Durst from what it seems). If not him, we always VANILLA ICE proving he has one.

If you know me… you know I have a huge musical crush on MIKE PATTON. And if you know Mike Patton, you know he can do so many creepy and crawly and eerie voices (just check out his work on the Darkness games or Left 4 Dead or for the vampires in I Am Legend or just his music in general). Hence, it should come as no surprise to anyone at all that I’d be dying to have him do the VOICE OF KORROK, THE MEAT MONSTER AND ANY POSSESSED BY KORROK for the source of real sonic terror in the film.

And that’s pretty much the most of it, except for addressing one thing I want to add about the story being adapted to film (among a few cool things I want to try when I go ahead with this project)….

SPOILERS

I want to use a very relatively unknown actor to portray Todd Brinkmeyer, who is doomed from the climax of the first third of the miniseries, to be rendered out of existence from his ill fate at the hands of the Shadow People (referred in the books as simply “Them”). He’ll be uncredited. He’ll be appearing in only select shots and sometimes for a blink (this will be a collaboration between the actor, editor, cinematographer and I) – akin to the Fight Club effect. He won’t be acknowledged until the reveal in the diner scene after the Luxor battle. So that when David is going over the Luxor incident with Arnie, the audience will get that same feeling of knowing somebody who doesn’t exist anymore. It needs to be precise to work well.

END OF SPOILERS

And that’s for the most part it. All the ones I’ve been thinking about for a film adaptation of John Dies at the End. Maybe later on, I can continue to address other facets of dream projects or any fancasts or what not. We’ll see.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 25 – Playlist of the Damned

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

I have a habit of making playlists with the music I have, much as I make playlists or screening alignments of the movies I have. Making an arrangement of music to fit mood, since music is one of the ephemerally tricky things to exist… swaying our emotions and attitudes to whatever we get elicited from the tune…

It’s October. It’s almost Halloween. It’s bout that time to get spooks. And when you’re in the dark, thinking and listening, you got that nice little melody to get you nice and limbered for some spooks.

Hence I begin to do this arrangement of songs that I will provide as my own playlist for the Halloween season.

… well, I was going to make it a meme, but decided against it on the consideration that I doubt other bloggers would follow suit. However, if anybody wishes to do so, all one needs is to do is to tag this original post, follow the rules I lay out and then tag at least one other blogger…

Ok, so the rules…

1 – Maximum ten songs. Minimum five.

2 – It cannot be about a horror theme. Aye, there’s the rub. I want something that really brings up a thought of what makes the night go bump without being coaxed and manipulated outright. It makes it more interesting. In addition, the lyrics can’t be too gothic to the point of knowing “oh, this is meant to be a zombie.” I use “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera as the threshold of what is too gothic… the song talks about the loss of a loved one, but it invokes the Edgar Allen Poe like obsession with suicide to reunite with her ghost. A similar song may be “Hail Mary” by Makaveli (y’know, 2Pac), talking about taking vengeance from the grave. Not very subtle.

3 – It cannot be included in the soundtrack of any work of horror, no matter what the main object of the song is. Movies, video games, books, television, none of these works are to have added these songs in their own compilation if they are horror. You get that immediate association and that’s just no fun (It’s fine if you didn’t know for a particular song and, since I don’t have any way of particularly knowing if one is telling the truth, I can’t police this – or any of the rules. But let’s just say I won’t buy somebody not knowing “Tubular Bells” was in The Exorcist.)

4 – No repeating artists.

Ok, anyway, before I begin, I may as well try tagging the people I think of:

Phil from The VHS Graveyard
Joel from Lost in the Movies
Tim from Antagony and Ecstasy
Erich from Acidemic

Instead of listing all the film bloggers I read, I am merely most intrigued by these four to the point of wondering about their music selections. Optional for them and anyone else (you don’t need me to tag you to do this). Anyway, let’s begin with my 10-song pretend-soundtrack to a horror movie.

1. “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths. It was honestly so much of struggle between this and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” but “I Know It’s Over” ended up having more of a lonely Saturday night driving feel that laid some melancholy for a midnight cruise down the wrong part of the woods.

2. “Asylum of Glass” by Buckethead. Really if I ever make a horror feature film, Buckethead is either scoring the movie or I’ll be scoring the movie trying my hardest to sound like Buckethead. Most of his tunes give off a feeling that something’s off his rocker (assuming you’ve never seen a picture of the guy), but “Asylum of Glass” has more of that surrounding ominous feel than any of his more emotional works, an urgent demand for you to survive the night.

3. “Floods” by Pantera. Because of it being a dark and stormy night, how assaultive the bridge of the song becomes, and most of all, the ghostly distance of that guitar outro.

4. “Vancouver” by Jeff Buckley. Jeff’s unfortunate and untimely death have given pretty much all of his songs a ghost-like presence in my mind, but “Grace” seems a bit more affrontive in its talk of dying and “Hallelujah” is a bit too similar to being in a church (plus I’d slap myself in the face for including a Leonard Cohen cover and not a Leonard Cohen song in this playlist). “Vancouver” is uninterested in any of those things, merely reliving a lovely memory that faded as quickly as it existed and a structure of the song that borders on stream of consciousness. Dat climax. It also was released after he died. That helps.

5. Mike Oldfield – “Moonlight Shadow”. I honestly am quite shocked by how many songs about John Lennon’s death exist. I am also a lot more stunned that this song is about John Lennon’s death and not about a little legend of a travelling man who was misfortunate in his encounters in the middle of nowhere with no way to be helped. I pictured that sort of thing the moment I heard this song and it can never be shaken from my head. It’s like a little legend that passes itself on how alone one can truly be on the road. And it especially evokes a folksy feel similar to the music playing in The Wicker Man.

6. HIM – “Wicked Game”. I do not have with Chris Isaak covers those same qualms I have with Leonard Cohen covers. And honestly, it’s pretty much fine by me how Ville Valo’s voice drops with a darker richness than Isaak (I do like Isaak, though). I mean, isn’t it the most non-gothic gothic song ever to exist? (Linking the Rock am Ring performance of the song, just for that Type O Negative like moment in the middle and the Italian horror score-like use of the synthesizer).

7. Danny Brown – “Dip”. Brown has made himself known as the king of making very uncomfortable hip hop songs and this is honestly one of if not his most accessible song. But it’s so rapid and fast-paced and dizzying of a song that discusses the allure of ecstasy while making it sound (probably deliberately) so dirty and uncontrollable that it puts me off so many things at once and sort of resembles the infamous Elizabeth Pena sequence in Jacob’s Ladder in my mind.

8. “Bleed the Freak” by Alice in Chains. The lyrics really don’t hide how much the song holds accountable atrocities of religion and I don’t disagree with it, but this song sounds like the sort of thing you’d find in a cult… fuelled by this song some crazed maniac will slit your throat because he believes it’s the right thing to do and it is God’s will that he make you suffer. It makes me shiver like hell and it’s something I don’t want to think about when I’m going cave-diving or looking in places I shouldn’t be looking in.

9. “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol. Alright, it’s showtime. You’re locked in a room with only a handful of survivors left. You’re only exit is in the bloodied corridors behind your one door with the ghouls and monsters and fiends in your way. You need to fight your way out. What the fuck do you want playing as you struggle? That’s right. Billy Fucking Idol, baby. Get your blood pumping, your adrenaline running, and send ya ta Hell fast looking good!

10. “Hidden Place”by Bjork. Sure, it’s adorable like anything by Bjork, but it’s also kind of delusional. Like in any sort of danger, you can just lull yourself away and pretend your oppressors, the terrors aren’t there. There’s a true pessimism in making up your solution in your mind, while in the real world, you are about to be devastated. Like the twist ending of a movie having the character escape her horrors, only to discover after the fact that its a mental recession before she truly suffers (yeah, I know it’s the ending to a certain recent British horror movie… I’m not gonna name it though for the people who ain’t seen it.).

NOTE: I had so much trouble picking a song by Sponge, but the closest I almost came to was “Welcome Home”, which sounds semi-nightmarish in a 90s sort of way. I will leave it here.

Whelp, time to return to rambling on my next topic for 31NoH.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 24 – No More Room in Hell – Dawn of the Dead (2004/dir. Zack Snyder/USA)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

You know, there’s easily a margin that people hold accountable for remakes. Particularly horror remakes, which practically need a damned handicap these days. And particularly horror remakes of beloved classics. It is very easy for these types of movies to tumble and fall over on their ass. Especially in the hands of directors that don’t have an outstanding track record or simply have been plucked out of a hat of commercial or music video directors like Zack Snyder has been (the lackluster track record would only occur later in his career, given that this is his debut feature).

It’s a fucking miracle that the remake of Dawn of the Dead is actually good. Like actively worth a damn. It’s actually pretty depressing that it needs to live in the original’s shadow.

In addition to being a decent (if not great) zombie movie that can stand on its own from the original Dawn of the Dead, it is also possibly the only Zack Snyder movie that doesn’t feel like a Zack Snyder (or at least I could say so a year ago if Man of Steel didn’t exist now). It’s not ramped-up in fps speed (we get bits of slow motion here and there, but you don’t notice it unless you actively look for it), it’s not filled with actors who don’t know a damn thing about their characters, it’s not repetitive surprisingly nor laced in CG, it doesn’t pretend it is anything more than it actually is. In fact, the only things I can particularly think of that fit into the Snyder repertoire is the filtering out the hell out of the picture to give it a more sickly, grungy look (cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti) and the soundtrack based on music I’m guessing Snyder happens to like – both which actually work out splendidly here as opposed to in Snyder’s other films.

It is the movie that promised a director who could prove to be a competent storyteller, a competent acting director, a competent action visionary, a competent creator of atmosphere and so much more and it sucks that instead what we got for the following ten years since Dawn of the Dead was fucking Zack Snyder.

But anyway, Dawn of the Dead is what we are to talk about and Dawn of the Dead we shall.

So, it’s a regular nice ol’ day in the Ontorio neighborhood when suddenly shit starts falling apart… and coming back to life… and eating each other to death. A certain group of characters ends up meeting together by fate and decide to go to the nearby mall to hole up where they encounter other survivors.

Among our fabulous cast of characters:
Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse
Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a cop – very obviously named after Ken Foree, the afro-american star of the original film with similar physique to Rhames and also playing a police officer.
Michael (Jake Weber), a down-on-his-luck loser who is just trying to survive
CJ (Michael Kelly), the trigger-happy intense security guard of the mall
Andre (Mekhi Pfifer), a former gangbanger taking care of his pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina)
and then a bunch of other disposable characters.

Because the truth is that the movie’s script (written by James Gunn) is quite unwieldy in some manners of respect. We quickly get a large load of characters that even the most skilled director-writer team would not be able to handle and its very easy to identify them all as cannon fodder. Moments are inconsistent in terms of tone and characters in terms of attitude and motivation. A forced romance occurs and characters suddenly switch attitudes without any catalyst. What makes it honestly work is the assembly of actors who actually make the characters real, even when they’re spitting out dialogue that’s easy to write and hard to say. Polley, Weber, a pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell and Pfifer, among a few others ground their characters to  some basic empathetic scenarios… though they still have to deal with a lion’s share of heavy dialogue and illogical decisions, we can at least buy it for a few seconds until after the movie’s done with them. Rhames is not realistic so much as he is just a bonafide badass trying to give his lines more and more of a “do-not-fuck-with-me-even-though-I-sound-like-a-fucking-idiot” attitude and it works. Michael Kelly is the only actor whose character arguably has an arc (or it might be that they just decided two assholes was harder to manage than one and made him more sympathetic in the latter half). With one of them being in a number of scenes I’d be able to count on my hand while cutting fingers off and the other having that many lines, Matt Frewer and Bruce Bohne become the most involving performances in the film (Frewer is my favorite, being an absolutely devastated but front-providing rock for his daughter). The rest of the characters and performances are take them as you get them.

What I do of course give the film’s script is that it’s mainly no-nonsense about what it’s trying to say in each scene. While this movie completely disregards George Romero’s original satire about consumerism, it at least is obvious why each scene is there to be able to build up to the next scenario and the next scenario, so we get a false plot rather than an actual one. Momentum stopping moments do of course occur, namely during dialogue scenes where a character deliberately states what kind of person he is or what his situation is.

But for what it’s worth, the movie uses the modern running, snarling zombie in the best ways I’ve seen since 28 Days Later…. These zombies provide for some really kinetic and tense action scene moments that seem like what The Walking Dead was aiming for if he used its budget as wisely as the producers of this film did. And we do, by the end of the film, get a sense of a lifetime spent in a mall surrounded by the undead, so we do get some kind of sense of familiarity and unending terror within the film (the actual ending of the film, though, sort of finite rather than destitute and it probably would have been destitute if it had ended with what we got before the ending credits).

It’s not even close to flawless cinematically honestly. Some actors still don’t feel as fulfilling in their roles as we’d wish they had been. There are still some actions scenes that don’t feel as fluid with the editing style Snyder decided to go with for this film. But these are all pretty much rookie mistakes and to Snyder’s credit, he was a rookie with this film. And he hurdled over other rookie mistakes as well.

The biggest one he avoided being making a zombie flick that is completely generic, boring, and uninteresting among the rest of the white noise. Which he fucking didn’t do at all. It’s not just saturday night background noise, Dawn of the Dead is some prime shit for anybody who is just looking for a Saturday night movie to check out.

If you don’t have the original Dawn of the Dead, that is… Which, I’d recommend you watch the original Dawn of the Dead all the fucking time.

But this remake is pretty cool too.

31 Nights of Halloween – 23 – The Creature Walks – Frankenstein (1931/dir. James Whale/USA)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

Ok, you know what it is. I know what it is. We’re all totally knowing what it is.

The makeup, iconic in all its glory, with the shadow falling on the face from the protruding forehead and the sadness in the cheeks. The dark and stormy lightning bathing the ominous castle in the distance.

What terrors are held within the fiendish experiments of Dr. Henry Frankenstein? What perversions of nature have been occurring by his hand. Why?

In 1931, after Dracula proved a big hit – probably because audiences back then just couldn’t realize how to get creeped out, Carl Laemmle Jr. went off his head figuring to his dad “Hey, there’s a whole genre we can take advantage of. A whole film world we can make out of this monster business.” But they would have needed one more stepping stone to get themselves up from the “company that made a horror movie” zone to the “Universal is Halloween” zone. And for that, they once again looked to the popular literature of the time and were glad to take Mary Shelley’s modern prometheus Frankenstein and turn it into one of their damn movies.

Thankfully, that movie turned out fantastic and really did stamp Universal on the map as the source of true horror terrors lurking all through the Hollywood Studio System.

To the genre’s credit, not only were Dracula and Frankenstein not the first horror movies brought in Hollywood, they were also not the first horror films Universal Studios had made.

But anyway, after deciding to fast track Frankenstein onto the screen and decidedly loosely basing on the novel but sharing the same basic premise, the movie’s director’s chair was handed over to Robert Florey and, based on his success as the bloodsucking count, Bela Lugosi was himself slated to play the mad scientist who brought a living cadaver into the world. But, Lugosi proved one way or another to not entirely be as well-suited for the role as an English-speaking doctor as the producers wished and so they downgraded him to the part of the Monster which he balked at, due to Florey’s script not really handling any pathos or giving the Monster a true stance beyond being a killing machine, leading Lugosi to decry “I was a star in my country and I will not be a scarecrow here!” One way or another, sources disagree, but Florey and Lugosi both left the project.

After a few cleans on the script by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort, we got a new script for two new power players in Hollywood horror to take charge of: The uncanny Boris Karloff in the green skin of the Monster and an eager James Whale to the director’s chair. What resulted is one of the most iconic films in horror cinema and certainly among the strongest film in the repertoire of Universal Studios’ monster films (only to be surpassed by its sequel).

But really, this is already at least twice I’ve been tooting the horn of how wonderfully goosebumps-inducing I find the classic Frankenstein film, so I think it is about high time I dig into what I find making it so special.

For the, y’know, uninitiated: Some creepy stuff is going on with Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), which concerns his mentor Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) and his fiancee Elizabeth (Mae Clarke). Frankenstein’s apparently been having an interest in raising humans bodies from death and has recruited a hunchbacked outcast in order to help him with his latest experiment in this Godlike endeavor, stealing cadavers and bodies and brains and working with the seasons in order to create a Monster out of the men who are among the dead.

It works. It is the most terrifying success story because of the philosophical, ethical, moral, and religious questions it raises upon his actions and also because the Monster (Boris Karloff) is pretty goddamn strong and it doesn’t seem like Frankenstein and his team can hold on to him for very much long, so it is up to Elizabeth and Waldman to bring Frankenstein back to sense soon enough to dispose of the creature before he causes any further havoc.

In all honesty, this sort of story lends itself to the actor playing Frankenstein to the center stage and prove himself as the best among the set. And, honestly, Clive doesn’t get enough credit – because he does it fantastically. He is the most engaged, the most dynamic, the most energetic performance in a film that includes Dwight Frye in the cast. Clive knows he’s at the core of the film and so he provides enough enthusiasm for his fiendish experiment to make us fear his outbursts and mania, but he still knows that he must remain the protagonist and never goes entirely so far as to make Dr. Frankenstein (in the book named Victor, rather than Henry) a cartoon or completely irredeemable. As for the regret and suffering that Henry has to go through in the later half of the film as he pursues the elimination of his work and questions where he stands in the world, it’s quite the balancing act to become a man of heightened posture and facial expressions and still carry the audience’s sympathies the entire way despite being the catalyst for the destruction and terror that occurs all throughout the movie. The guy’s not the monster, he’s human, and yet he can clearly enter the realm of protagonist and antagonist.

Of course, that has to be a double act – with an actor just as willing to switch roles alongside Clive in terms of audience engagement that leads to Karloff’s iconic and well-remembered performance, one which overshadows Clive’s still-goliath and respected work. Karloff doesn’t get to speak. He doesn’t get to do much with himself. He is a lumbering mass of being, accented by the melancholy of Jack Pierce’s impeccably inspired work of makeup on his face. And well, it only accents features we already noticed on Karloff without makeup. But there it is. And how does one deal with only movement and looks to tug at people’s heartstrings? Well, you make your character a child. But that’s easier said than done and Karloff effortlessly falls into the place of a man who is only now trying to figure out this life he suddenly had thrust upon him with the limited power of his brain.

The danger of the Monster mixed in with this unconscious lack of knowing leads to being a game way to switch sides from protagonist to antagonist in this dance Karloff does with Clive. I think, this movie brought that possibility out best and it seems there have been attempts to replicate more so than to approach the material of the dynamics between the doctor and Monster in any further way (most recently, it showcased baldly during a Royal National Theatre run of Frankenstein as a stageplay directed by Danny Boyle and with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch switching roles per night as either Dr. Frankenstein or the Monster).

As for the use of expressionism in the shadow drenched lairs of the film, it should be very obvious that Frankenstein elicits it moreso than Dracula with the painterly direction of James Whale providing a backdrop for the battle between Frankenstein and the Monster with the help of his Arthur Eddeson. When the Monster is locked in the castle and the men of science are deciding what to do with him, the walls literally feel like they’re closing in as the Monster shakes and tries to free himself into the light from moon. The very ending of the film, which I don’t think I should spoil on the off chance that you haven’t seen the movie, but it’s straight the fuck out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – a world in anger, a chase, a struggle, a look of fear on our protagonists, all spiraling towards a grandiose climax of fire and night. And I can’t even begin to touch upon the more emotive scenes out of context – like the infamous Maria and her encounter with the creature (how the creature, like Frankenstein, does not realize he has done something terribly wrong until it is too late) or the moments of Fritz’s gleeful torture of the creature where it’s clear sadism is in the midst.

It’s not the most perfect film, but I can’t think of a better way someone could have heralded what sound cinema could have done to shock audiences with content rather than screams and gore like it does today (not that I’m complaining about the latter). And all and all, I can’t not once in a while find myself indulging in the simplicity if still flawed form of storytelling that is the movie Frankenstein. Whether I prefer it to the book is kind of another story that I haven’t yet solved the ending to, but the movie still shakes me up when we first get our glimpse of that poor unfortunate soul in the doorway doomed to change lives forever – both in the film and off the screen.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 22 – You Scare Me – Horror Movie Characters I Feel Are Worth An Interest

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

My fair followers, once again, the mountain of work I have drowned myself in has been overwhelming still – including the double feature video – and so now I will be presenting another gallery, but this time mixing it up between video and pictures.

While we, the audience, are experiencing the horror ideally within the cinematic realm, we are usually not alone. Someone else either joins us or is present in terrorizing our dreams and fantasies. And so, this is to the characters in a horror film that most place an imprint on me. It’s not necessarily the scariest characters (because I’d have to include characters not in a horror film), but the ones that make the film and most certainly would have been harmed under lesser handling from script to direction to makeup to effects to the actor.

Behold!

Count Orlock (Max Shreck) – Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
If you don’t think he’s the most frightening thing on screen, you’re fooling yourself.

The Monster (Boris Karloff; makeup by Jack Pierce) – Frankenstein (1931) & The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The most sympathetic beast put on screen and one of the greatest character arcs in horror.

Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) – Frankenstein (1931) & The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Such a lunatic scientist at first glance that it’s a miracle we’re actually rooting for him. But he’s still human.

Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff) – The Black Cat (1934)
What a smug fucking shit. But no matter how I root for Lugosi, Karloff’s always got my intrigue in the film. That’s how dislikable he is.

Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) – The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
For lack of better phrasing…. Soooooooo camp.

Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) – Psycho (1960)
The quintessential movie killer.

Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Anybody opposing on the sweetness of this naive young girl? Hail Satan!

Minnie Castavet (Ruth Gordon) – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
I’m damn sure Ruth Gordon was the Betty White of her time, but I don’t see Betty White hailing Satan.

Karel Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínský) – The Cremator (1969)
Nazis would get to anyone.

Bruce (design Joe Alves) – Jaws (1975)
Why would I not add the shark?

Quint (Robert Shaw) – Jaws (1975)
Dude’s certifiable.

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) – Carrie (1976)
Gawky, sad, and lonely, but she never stops being “creepy Carrie”. Only when she loses her cool do we find that we’ve been giving sympathy for the devil.

The Xenomorph – Alien (1979)
“Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is only matched by its hostility.” No-fucking-thank-you.

Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) – Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)
Not as frightening as Shreck was, but man, did Kinski know how to turn it to 11.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) – The Shining (1980)
I always maintain that Jack’s always been crazy and evil. That he’s always been at the Overlook.

Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) – Possession (1981)
What a slimy scumbag.

The Thing (design Rob Bottin & Stan Winston; too many actors) – The Thing (1982)
What could possibly be more frightening than your body’s own betrayal?

Gizmo (design Chris Walas; voice Howie Mandel) – Gremlins (1984)
How could something so adorable turn out so monstrous?

Ellen Ripley – Aliens (1986)
Because that’s where she gets badass (Although I do think she took charge in moments of Alien too.)

Barton Fink (John Turturro) – Barton Fink (1991)
I know calling it a horror is pretty dubious, but so is calling it anything else and really, the dude seems to be going through literal hell.

Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
You know how with every moment more you spend with someone you know is dead, you feel more and more how much they didn’t deserve to die. This is maybe one of the few fictional characters I feel that way for.

Ashley Williams – Army of Darkness (1993)
Two words: BOOMSTICK, SCREWHEADS!!!

The Mystery Man (Robert Blake) – Lost Highway (1997)
I’d rather not remember you. I’d rather not call my house. I’d rather not have the pleasure.

Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) – American Psycho (2000)
Fucker’s disturbed. Read enough Bret Easton Ellis books, you end up that way.

Selene (Kate Beckinsale) – Underworld (2003)
Okay, it’s a terrible movie and I hate it whole-heartedly, but can I also say that Beckinsale is so fantastic looking and this is where I love her most?

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 21 – A BOOOOOYYYYYY’s Tale

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. As I continue to work on my next video, putting me still behind on schedule, I look back a horror film that seems to fall into being one of the most unique forms of the genre that I can’t recall being recreated by anyone ever again. The fact that movies like these can and do exist ended up getting me through high school.

Don Coscarelli has this fucking gift. This brilliant gift is Don Coscarelli’s. The gift of being able to take a premise that nobody else could possibly have conceived in their fucking minds – wholly unique creations in their implausibility, lack of logic, and ridiculousness – and making it into a halfway decent movie. He’s over the many years made a career out of this.

If I had to guess, it probably comes out of the fact that he is totally 100 percent dedicated to his status as an independent filmmaker, having built himself up from the top and sort of stayed in a perpetual status as an independent filmmaker instead of moving up like Sam Raimi or Rian Johnson. And so, we get to the origins of Phantasm, his first big hit that put him on the map and at the same time, the one film franchise that he is however chained to return to – all the way to the fifth film that has been announced that he is producing and co-writing (though interestingly enough no release date has been given).

After making a couple of early films, Coscarelli had a nightmare about himself being chased down marble corridors twisting and turning by a floating sphere intent on drilling into his head. After this, he locked himself in a cabin in the middle of the night and decided to write himself a low-budget horror flick based on this idea and whatever else he can pile onto this nightmare. And then he got to shooting it in 1977 and two years of post-production later, spilled out Phantasm onto screens everywhere.

And of course, the first thing one will immediately think upon looking at the film is how much it couldn’t possibly be made by any studio – not only from how blatantly micro-budget and cheap it looks (It was made 300,000 dollars and we can see where every bit of the money went to without being disappointed), but also from how ludicrous and wacky the premise is and how it practically pulls everything out of its own box.

My attempt to sum it up: Old pals and bandmates Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) meet up to bury their old friend Tommy, but Jody is noticing strange incidents occurring around the mausoleum. In the meantime, Jody’s younger brother Michael (Michael A. Baldwin) has been noticing the same shifty incidents as well as witnessing the unnerving activity of the local mortician The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).

The Scooby-Doo esque investigation that occurs on the behavior of the mortuary and what it holds is pretty much the center of the entire plot as Jody, Michael and Reggie begin to deal with the threats that are emitted out of the building. And man, do they come out en force. Not only do the trio have to deal with the metallic bloodthirsty orbs that Coscarelli dreamed about, but they also do battle with little-robed dwarfs coming off as the more demonic incarnations of the Jawas from Star Wars and the fiendish experiments of the Tall Man himself.

Every little piece of monsterwork for the film adds more and more to the devoted momentum of the story. Underneath all of this phantasmagoric galleria is a subplot that doesn’t really carry the film nor undercut it too much involving the relationship between Jody and Michael – Jody deliberately did not bring Michael to Tommy’s funeral due to Michael’s behavior after the death of their parents and has been growing more and more weary under the role of guardian for Michael. This makes Jody a little more reluctant to involve himself in the activities of Michael, but eventually the three of our protagonists gear up for a final showdown at the Mortuary.

Anyway, the main point is the atmosphere of the movie, because the script is too muddled to again approach directly and the actors aren’t really giving it much to work with, all the little bit between passable and terrible. And before we dig into the thick of the horror, we have to approach something else that Phantasm becomes. It becomes a bit of a piece of small-town Americana from the eyes of a kid who is forced to grow up. Not too shocking, considering the previous films of Coscarelli were also small-town stories of kids coming-of-age, but Phantasm becomes a bit more into itself. At points of course, mixing the storylines gives the film its own drawback and feels a little more shoehorned than as organically escalating as the horror elements (there is one scene that grinds my gears most as it is a total rip-off of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece Dune) and there are especially some moments between Jody and Reggie that add pretty much nothing to the film (I think in particular to a musical scene between the two that, while I enjoy the song, I’d rather get back on track).

But then, there is also the creepy facets of the film. The mausoleum setpieces have a serious Kubrickian air in their ivory essence that interestingly pre-dates The Shining but elicits a similar feeling to me (I do however find the possibility that Stanley Kubrick watched Phantasm dubious at best). Their halls, even without any of the minions of the Tall Man scrambling around, are incredibly eerie, you practically hear the wind whispers with the little synthesizer theme that echoes all throughout the movie. But when the jumps happen, they happen big – there’s a cartoonishly gorey moment in the middle of the film that notoriously gave it an X rating. The effects work with what they got, but they go whole hog the whole way through – reversed shots of spheres and makeup jobs involving red and yellow blood all the way around and even a lavish if minimal setpiece involving the introduction of the world The Tall Man and his slaves come from, doused in complete crimson.

All this added alongside the briskness of the 88 minute movie that pushes it around gives the film the watermark of independent cinema and yet still the facsimile look of an Italian horror film such as Bava and Argento. The film is nowhere near a perfect film, certainly not a great film, and some people might easily argue that it is a terrible film. I’ve made no mistake in noting the shoddy emptiness of the script – the original cut of the film was three hours long and it was severely cut wisely by Coscarelli himself, so there is certainly more about the film than we know. And it feels like how it cost, which is not exactly a bad thing, but it doesn’t exactly fool you the way Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead manage to do.

No, what we do at least end up with is a brand new experience of cinema based on the mania of Don Coscarelli, who decided he wanted to make a horror story and at least gave us one we can talk about, if not one we can’t praise entirely. That’s good enough for me.