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Monday, June 30, 2008

The Wig: Evil Hair. Yawn.

Just when I thought the Koreans could do no wrong when it came to spine-tingling horror exports, along comes The Wig (a.k.a. Gabal), a ponderous flick about two sisters terrorized by a haunted hairpiece.

The film, originally released in South Korea in 2005, tells the tale of Su-hyeon, a woman suffering from leukemia, whose sister and roommate Ji-hyeon gives her a wig to cover the baldness which results from her chemotherapy. But little do either of them know that the wig was actually made from the hair of a suicide victim (gasp!), and thus Su-hyeon begins to take on the characteristics of the hair's original owner (which, needless to say, are not pleasant ones.)

Right off the bat, we've got an inescapably silly premise, and director Shin-yeon Won takes it all way too seriously. While interestingly shot, the pace is discouragingly slow for the most part, and the structure is such that at times the plot can be pretty tough to follow. Then, once you actually figure things out, it all turns out to be so cliche you almost wishe you still didn't know what the heck was going on.

The film's only memorable performance is given by Seon Yu as Ji-hyeon, the perpetually anguished and put-upon sister of the possessed wig-wearing cancer victim. Of course, she puts in her solid performance in spite the maddeningly inexplicable decision of screenwriter Hyun-jung Do to make her character completely mute as a result of a car accident which is vaguely connected to the wig, but never fully explained.

The scares are few and far between, and in this case the marketing of the American DVD as "Unrated" is particularly cynical. There's nothing beyond PG-13 level material here, but when it comes down to it, any foreign film that is released straight to DVD in the U.S. without being submitted to the MPAA for a rating can technically be termed "unrated".

The big revelation near the end manages to be confusing, ludicrous and boring all at the same time. And the final scenes, meant to be both shocking and poignant, are just clumsy.

Director Shin-yeon Won may be a talented stylist, and "one to watch", as some critics have branded him--but his debut The Wig is definitely not a picture that does his nascent skills any justice. He's made two more horror/thrillers since, which are allegedly far better, so he may become a major player in Asian horror despite this lackluster first effort.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

You Will Believe a Fly Can Sing

David Cronenberg's highly improbable yet highly intriguing operatic adaptation of his 1986 masterpiece The Fly is mere days away from debuting on Wednesday at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, amidst a great deal of buzz (sorry!). Such a bizarre concept--I wonder if it will be any good, or if it can be a success. There's certainly enough great talent involved.

Not only is Cronenberg directing, but the music for the opera was written and orchestrated by the film's original composer Howard Shore (acclaimed in recent years for his Lord of the Rings score), and the musical director is none other than Placido Domingo, one of the most important tenors of the 20th century.

Toronto's Globe & Mail has an interesting piece on the opera's impending debut. The article reveals that the story's setting has been changed by Cronenberg back to the 1950s--the era of the original movie version of The Fly--due to its "visual richness." True to Cronenberg's intentions, the opera's librettist David Henry Hwang has retained the horror of the body that distinguished the director's classic.

According to the article, the idea for this bold new treatment came from the operatic nature of Shore's original score, on which Shore, Cronenberg and even the movie's producer Mel Brooks had often remarked.

“I had always thought the movie was like a stage play,” Cronenberg tells the Globe & Mail. “It's three people in a room, a triangle, and the emotions are very intense, very heightened."

The ambitious production will be a fully realized stage piece, complete with bass-baritone Daniel Okelitch as Seth Brundle, singing while in a mutated fly suit and hanging from the rafters in a harness to simulate wall-crawling. It's a far-cry from Puccini, but opera lovers will note that it's not as unorthodox as it may seem, as imagery from the likes of Gounod's Faust or Mozart's Don Giovanni will attest.

The Paris engagement of The Fly will run from Wednesday, July 2 through Sunday, July 13. It will make its American debut at the Los Angeles Opera in September. One wonders--will a traditional opera audience accept the outlandish production? Will it attract those not normally inclined to attend an opera? It'll be pretty fascinating to see how it all plays out.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Golden Army Approaches! Hellboy II Third Trailer

Having recently rediscovered the first Hellboy on DVD after forgetting just how terrific it was, I'm more stoked than I thought I would be for Hellboy II: The Golden Army, out in two weeks. The always-reliable Apple.com unleashed the latest trailer for the Guillermo del Toro comic adaptation sequel last night. Check it out:

I continue to be impressed. Del Toro is a great filmmaker who'd be great no matter what kind of films he chose to make. The fact that he revels in genre filmmaking is a boon to fans everywhere. If you'd like to see more, there's a fantastic comics-style "animated prologue" at Apple's Hellboy II page that takes us back to 1955, when the story of the Golden Army was first told to the young Hellboy. (While you're there, you can also watch the trailer with better resolution.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

"My Name Is Bruce" Update!

It seems like we've been hearing forever about the almost mythical film My Name Is Bruce starring horror legend Bruce Campbell. Although shooting was completed some time ago, the production has been stuck in limbo, with no news regarding when or how it will be released.

Now, Horror Yearbook is reporting that the reason for the movie's delay is actually a very good one. Mike Richardson of Dark Horse Comics is quoted as saying that the studio was so pleased with the finished film (originally intended for DVD) that they ponied up some more money for a second round of shooting, in order to "beef up" the picture for a theatrical release.

Good news for fans of The Chin. It looks like My Name Is Bruce will indeed be coming soon to a theater near you, although the release date remains unknown. Maybe Halloween?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mission to Monroeville, Part 3

Like all things, my magnificent pilgrimage to the famous Monroeville Mall from Dawn of the Dead, had to come to an end. But before I committed to fulfilling my end of the bargain with my dutiful wife and spending a lovely evening/morning in a nearby suburban Pittsburgh B&B, I made sure to make the most of the fleeting time I had left on that suitably bleak day in January of 2001...

A rather humdrum shot, until you realize that this spot figures prominently in the blood-soaked climactic battle between pillaging bikers and put-out SWAT deserters/TV news employees. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is also near the spot where Peter pours a little bubbly out for his fallen homey Roger.

A favorite shot of mine. Imagine my glee upon discovering the actual hallway that led to our heroes' secret upstairs lair (which isn't actually there, by the way.) You can just picture those zombies about to stagger across the end of the hall, can't you? Interestingly, from the opposite angle, the hall goes on a lot further than it did in the movie, which leads me to believe that they must've built a false wall--ironically mirroring the very actions of the characters in the flick. There was also a large auditorium at the end of the hall, which I think was used as Tom Savini's makeup workshop.

This is the main entrance to the mall, which was walled off by tractor trailers in the movie, and later breached by the bikers and hordes of the undead. Unfortunately, it was completely rebuilt, so that the giant glass doors are no longer there. Oddly, I'm wearing a different shirt than in the earlier pics, which can only mean we visited the mall on two different days. Can it be that I abused the missus' good will that grossly? I don't remember it that way, but I suppose it's possible.

And finally, we bid a fond farewell to George Romero's most well-known filming location! The sign at the exit to the parking lot is one of the only places I could still find the classic '70s Monroeville Mall logo, which had been replaced in most other places with a newer one.

As a reminder of the journey, I purchased a winter coat at the mall's Abercrombie & Fitch, which I wore with pride until it was stolen some years later at a house party I attended. I also got a backpack, which I'm glad to say I still own, although I feel a little too old to wear it comfortably in public these days.

Yes, life is all about the passage from one stage to the next, and as we returned from western Pennsylvania to our walk-up apartment in my parents' house in Brooklyn, the symbolism of the moment was palpable. Literally leaving the free-wheeling yet undeniably silly caprices of youth behind me, returning to the place where I hoped to start a family and embrace the more responsible but even more exciting challenges of parenthood, I was ready. I had gotten it out of my system.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's quite late and I really should retire. After all, the kids expect me to be ready first thing in the morning to watch Enter the Dragon, and practice our kung fu moves all over the house.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hammer Goes Virtual

An interesting bit of news came in this morning on Licensing.biz -- apparently Hammer Films has entered into an agreement with a prominent European gaming company to produce a line of arcade video games based on its legendary films.

At this point, the deal is only for the U.K., which is probably just as well, since the good ol' arcade game has died an ignominious death here in the States thanks to massive improvements on home systems that give gamers little reason to leave the house (aside from experiencing life, meeting girls, exercising, etc.)

I love the idea that you could conceivably play Peter Cushing's Dr. Van Helsing, hunting down a coven of Dracula's brides; or maybe you could be Oliver Reed, tearing through the Spanish countryside on a lycanthropic killing spree; the possibilities are very cool indeed. With the recent MySpace film Beyond the Rave, a series of postage stamps, and now this, Hammer is back in a big way.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cagney's Chaney Sees the Light of Day After a Decade

I thought I'd point out today that James Cagney's excellent Lon Chaney biopic The Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) is being released to DVD tomorrow. The late Cagney classic has been out of circulation since 1998, when it was initially released at the dawning of the digital video age. Since then, it's become very hard to come by, so if you've never seen it, nows your chance.

Although in my opinion the finest leading man of the Hollywood studio era, Cagney grew weary of the endless gangster roles he was so damn good at. And so this project was close to his heart, a chance to stretch his acting chops and show moviegoers all he could do. Some balk at the schmaltziness and general whitewashing of Chaney's career (par for the course for most biopics at the time), but for my money this is one of Cagney's best performances, and that covers a lot of ground.

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Well, I don't know about you folks, but I've been spending most of the night on YouTube immersed in the national treasure that was George Carlin. It's become cliche when a public figure passes to say that the world will be a little emptier without them, but in this rare case it is literally and irrefutably true. We've really lost something here--one of the greatest humorists in American history, in point of fact. Carlin was scheduled to receive the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor this November, and I don't think it's any stretch at all to imagine that ol' Sam Clemens would be damn proud of George Carlin and his body of work. Enjoy:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mission to Monroeville, Part 2

When last we left our intrepid adventurers (a.k.a. my wife and myself), it was January 2001, mere months before making the commitment to parenthood, and I had managed to convince Mrs. B-Sol to accompany me on a frivolous seven-hour excursion to the Monroeville Mall, site of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead.

Let's pick up the action as the two of us explore the infamous shopping center that was once infested with fake zombies:

Here we have the very escalator upon which scores of extras in blue facepaint once stumbled around aimlessly. I was tempted to do the same, but figured I would probably wind up breaking my neck.

My lovely bride, perhaps the greatest sport in the history of good sports, patronizes her husband by posing in the same elevator in which Flyboy met his tragic demise. I couldn't find the trapdoor in the ceiling, but I'm positive this is the one, since it's the only elevator in the department store. I think it might've been covered by a drop ceiling.

The instantly recognizable windowed ceiling above the fountain. Famous from both Dawn of the Dead, and the episode of Mister Roger's Nieghborhood in which Chef Brockett participates in a bake-off at the Monroeville Mall.

And below that ceiling, the fountain, around which Tom Savini and his biker clan rode menacingly before completely screwing up everything Fran, Peter, Steven and Roger had worked so hard to establish. It's also seen during the sequence in which the protagonists are carting off all the former ghouls laying around everywhere. At the time of this picture, it was no longer in operation, and I believe it has since been ripped out.
Stay tuned for the final installment of "Mission to Monroeville"...
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In other news, I'd like to extend a heartfelt congratulations to Vault of Horror contributor Ray-Ray on his entrance into the bonds of matrimony Saturday night. Had a great time, pal. No sleep till Brooklyn!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Don't Say the Zed-Word: 40 Years of the Modern Zombie Movie, Part 4

It's been pointed out by many, including George Romero himself, that the contemporary renaissance in zombie movies was brought about not by anyone in the film industry, but rather by the video game industry. By the mid 1990s, the genre was all but nonexistent among horror pictures. But then, in 1996, Shinji Mikami of the Japanese company Capcom designed a game (originally for the PlayStation console) called Resident Evil. The zombie was about to be awakened from its grave.

Taking its cue from classics such as Dawn of the Dead and Lucio Fulci's Zombie, Resident Evil was a game intended to frighten players, something that hadn't really been tried yet. Known as Biohazard in its native Japan, the game was a massive hit, familiarizing an entirely new generation with the basic archetypes of the modern zombie movie. It was followed by other games, including House of the Dead and Silent Hill.

The influence would first be felt in Asia itself. Zombie movies hit their stride there like never before, leading to films like Bio-Zombie (1998), Junk (1999), Versus (2000) and Stacy (2001). Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the phenomenon spread to the United States, the birthplace of the modern zombie.

By 2001, with the game series a resounding success, Capcom had authorized a movie adaptation. Originally, Romero himself was tapped to script the project, then famously fired after his screenplay was deemed too heavy on gore and lacking the game's non-zombie monsters. Clearly, the filmmakers were looking for a more sanitized, mainstream-friendly take, and that's exactly what they got with Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil (2002). Starring Milla Jovovich, the picture plays more like a video game than a movie, and contains little to endear it to hardcore zombie lovers.

But what the flick did accomplish was to further reestablish the zombie subgenre, and pave the way for a veritable explosion of followers. That same year, acclaimed British director Danny Boyle would give us 28 Days Later, taking the phenom begun by Resident Evil to the next level.

We can debate whether or not Boyle's film is a true zombie movie till the cows come home. But while the movie's disease-crazed killers may not literally be ghouls, 28 Days Later is constructed with so much of the modern zombie template in mind, that in the end this debate becomes a tired exercise in semantics. The fact is that 28 Days Later is a zombie movie at heart, and by becoming the most critically praised film of its kind, it kicked open the floodgates once and for all.

Instantly, zombie flicks were being greenlit left and right, to a degree not seen in 20 years. But while back then, zombie movies were confined to the cult periphery of the horror scene, overshadowed by slashers and Satanism movies, this time around, the zombie was firmly fixed in the public eye, at the forefront of the horror rebirth.

Naturally, as with any other movement, they weren't all classics. Some, like the Australian effort Undead (2003), were decidedly mediocre affairs, while others, like the infamous Uwe Boll's game adaptation House of the Dead (2003), were downright awful.

Almost as unexpectedly as the fact that the genre was revived by video games, would be the fact that the best movie to come out of the decade's revival would not be a straight-up horror movie, but rather a horror comedy. More specifically, one of the funniest and most memorable horror comedies ever made.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) was the brainchild of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who had already proven their comic sensibilities on the small screen in their native U.K. Self-proclaimed worshippers at the altar of Romero, Wright and Pegg brought a genuine love for the entire zombie ouvre, and it shows.

Shaun of the Dead is a loving tribute to the classic zombie flicks of a generation earlier, most notably of course, Dawn of the Dead. It works equally as both a horror film and a romantic comedy, making the tropes of zombie cinema instantly hip in a way that no earnestly serious zombie movie ever has. Directed by Wright and starring Pegg in the title role, it is that rare spoof that actually manages to outdo what it's spoofing.

With all this attention being lavished on the living dead, it made sense that sooner or later specific attention would begin to paid to the work of Romero, and to the man himself. First came news of a remake of the director's 1978 masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, an announcement met with considerable disapproval by died-in-the-wool horror fanatics.

But what the filmmakers were counting on were not that marginal demographic, but rather the general 18-34 year-old movie-going public at large. And miraculously, Zack Snyder's 2004 film proved to be one rare example of a situation in which the studio was wise not to heed the hardcore fan base. In spite of the low expectations and downright ill will of most Romero boosters, the new Dawn of the Dead proved to be a well-made, fresh and generally effective take on a genre classic.

While predictably lacking in the original's social commentary and filmed to conform to the standards of an R rating, Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is a very good horror film, and no level of admiration for the original can nullify that. Perhaps more importantly, the film's success would prove more of a boon for Romero himself than he first expected.

After years of aborted plans and false starts, the sudden marketability of zombie cinema finally helped George Romero to secure the backing he needed to film the fabled fourth installment in his living dead series. None other than legendary monster factory Universal stepped in and gave the director his largest budget to date for the production of Land of the Dead (2005).

Much slicker and more "Hollywood" than any of its predecessors, and featuring name actors such as John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper, Land of the Dead was a significant departure. For the first time, Romero was dealing with a major studio. Compromises were made, including the decision to reign in the gore and keep the film within "R" standards. The picture was not the box office success the studio had hoped for, and it divided the fan base. Some enjoyed it, others felt the director had lost his touch. Most agreed it was a notch below his earlier efforts.

Yet Romero's tale of evolving zombies and humanity's desperate attempts to survive within a dystopian stronghold has already benefited from reappraisal in the three years since its release. It was to be expected that such a film could never live up to the expectations placed upon it, and it's likely that in years to come, much like its predecessor Day of the Dead (1985), future fans will look more kindly upon it.

Ironically, the modern zombie subgenre had grown to be much bigger than the man who invented it. Although his earlier films had defined the subgenre, Land of the Dead proved to be just a part of it, and so it continued to march on. Danny Boyle gave us 28 Weeks Later (2007), a sequel which in some ways surpassed the excellent original. Another franchise, Return of the Living Dead, was resurrected, albeit with nearly unwatchable fourth and fifth installments so weak they were introduced as Sci-Fi Channel movies.

Certainly, there were signs that the movement was running out of steam. The public's hunger for such fare may have been becoming satiated--plus, there is admittedly only so much one can do with any movie formula before a total reinvention is required. The sense of repetition was inevitable.

For that reason, the most memorable zombie films of the past couple of years have been the ones that tried something new. The sharply satirical Canadian horror comedy Fido (2006) gives us an alternate 1950s in which the living dead are subjugated by the living in a "Leave it to Beaver" suburban nightmare. Romero's fifth zombie chapter Diary of the Dead (2007), although met with further mixed reviews and derided by even more fans than Land was, was a solid attempt by the director to inject new life into his creation by going back to the beginning of his zombie outbreak and telling the story via a first-person, documentary style perspective.

Many have pointed out that Romero was outdone in this department by the stunning Spanish film [Rec] (2007), perhaps the most downright terrifying motion picture to come out of the entire zombie renaissance. More than anything, the movie is proof that, in the right hands, the genre still has life in it.

In the year 2008, forty years after George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the future still looks good for the modern zombie movie. Romero himself is in talks to continue the story he began in Diary of the Dead; Danny Boyle is returning to his own series for 28 Months Later; [Rec] is getting a sequel of its own; and the American remake of the original, entitled Quarantine, is set to hit theaters this fall. Perhaps most promising of all is the script adaptation of Max Brooks' excellent novel World War Z, the epic tale of a global zombie uprising that is currently in pre-production with Brad Pitt as producer and star.

Even if the explosion of zombie cinema falls off within the next few years--which seems likely--it will only serve to give it a much-needed rest. Think of it as a period of dormancy--one of several throughout the subgenre's four-decade history. The zombie isn't going anywhere. Thanks to the efforts of Romero and his multitude of disciples, it has grown to become one of the classic horror movie monsters, alongside vampires, werewolves, masked maniacs and the rest. Much like the zombies themselves, zombie movies move forward, unstoppable. You may get away from them for awhile, but they'll be back.

And eventually, they'll get you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The List the AFI Missed

I, like many blood and guts enthusiasts, was sorely disappointed and a bit irked to find that the entire horror genre had been ignored by the American Film Institute, which has put together its "10 Top 10". AFI selected ten major genres and listed its top 10 films in each category. Included genres were animation (a genre??), romantic comedies, westerns, sports, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, gangster, courtroom drama and epic.

Clearly, a disservice is being done to one of the movies' oldest and most beloved niches. I mean really, what comes to mind first when you think film genres, horror or courtroom drama? Come on now. So taking some inspiration from fellow LoTT D member Final Girl, I've taken it upon myself to put together "the list that should have been." That's right: The Vault of Horror has taken the liberty of creating AFI's Top 10 Horror Films list, since they couldn't be bothered to do it themselves.

#1 The Shining (1980)
Surprisingly, this movie does have its detractors (King purists!), so let me explain my choice. Simply put, AFI judges its films as films. And here you have what might be the highest quality horror picture ever made. One of the all-time greatest directors, riveting acting, amazing cinematography and score, and most importantly, scary as all get-out.

#2 Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The most enduring piece of cinema to come out of the entire Universal monster movie cycle, rich in symbolism, rife with dark humor and thematically bold. It's also quite beautiful to look at.

#3 Dawn of the Dead (1978)
My personal favorite horror movie, an epic of gore and social commenary that pushed the envelope for the entire genre. Marred only by its drama-class-level acting.

#4 Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock's grim yet stylish chiller invented both the slasher sub-genre and the modern thriller in one swift stroke. Could do without the clunky exposition in the final scene, though.

#5 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
An unrelenting nightmare of terror, and the crowned jewel of '70s exploitation horror. A classic that demonstrates how effective you can be on a low budget and a small scale.

#6 The Exorcist (1973)
Along with The Shining, one of the only horror movies that could've conceivably won the Academy Award. Though perhaps more terrifying to Catholics than others, this grand-daddy of all Satan flicks still packs a hell of a punch.

#7 Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Perhaps more influential than any other horror film ever made, this milestone motion picture is the literal dividing line between old-school and modern eras.

#8 Frankenstein (1931)
Though overshadowed by its sequel, there's something deeply effective about James Whale's original, and Boris Karloff's brilliant wordless performance. It may not be as shocking today, but that will never take away from just what a damn good movie it is.

#9 The Thing (1982)
There's a devout cult following built around John Carpenter's mind-blowing sci-fi/horror remake, and with good reason. With all the love it gets, this one's still underrated.

#10 The Evil Dead (1981)
Despite an ultra low budget, this revered gem endures thanks to the sheer gusto of its performances and its willingness to plumb the depths of grisly gore without flinching.

There you have it, folks! Whether you agree or disagree with the choices, I hope you'll at least agree that this needed to be done. AFI, take a hike. We horror fans take care of our own.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stan Winston 1946-2008

One of Hollywood's all-time greatest creature creators has left us--a man whose groundbreaking and prolific special effects work has earned him a spot amongst the likes of Ray Harryhausen, Willis O'Brien and Jack Pierce. Certainly the creations he brought to the screen are just as indelible as any of theirs, chief amongst them being the Terminator and the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park.

Stan Winston came to Hollywood in 1968, and got his first experience as as assistant in the makeup department at Walt Disney Studios. He would come to be known primarily as a maker of monsters, with his first work being on the 1972 TV movie Gargoyles.

To the realm of horror, he contributed the likes of The Entity, The Monster Squad, Leviathan, Edward Scissorhands, The Ghost and the Darkness, Interview with the Vampire, The Relic, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Lake Placid, End of Days and Constantine. He also made uncredited assists on Friday the 13th Part III and The Thing. Beyond the genre, his work can be found in films as wide-ranging as The Wiz, Heartbeeps, Starman, Predator, Tank Girl, Invaders from Mars, Batman Returns, Congo, Small Soldiers, Inspector Gadget, Galaxy Quest, Pearl Harbor, AI, Big Fish and this summer's blockbuster Iron Man. His work on Aliens, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgement Day earned him Academy Awards.

Although he worked in several genres, Winston had a special love for horror films. In fact, his pet project was the underrated 1988 monster flick Pumpkinhead, which he wrote and directed. He also produced recent chillers Wrong Turn and The Deaths of Ian Stone. Here's a great quote from the man himself on the subject:

"People who are afraid to go to horror movies are generally afraid their whole lives. People say to me, 'Do you have nightmares?' I never have nightmares! And I go to movies and see the most bizarre things in the world, and go... Wow that is really sick, how fun is that! And I don't have to carry it around. I think that's very healthy."

Winston was remembered today by his greatest collaborator, James Cameron. Together, these two men brought to life one of the most iconic and influential special effects creations in movie history, the animatronic killing machine of The Terminator. Cameron sent the following message this afternoon to Ain't It Cool News:

"Stan was a great man. I'm proud to have been his friend, and his collaborator on what for both of us, was some of our best work. We met in pre-production on Terminator in 1983, and quickly sized each other up as the kind of crazy son of a bitch that you wanted for a friend. We've stayed friends for over a quarter of a century, and would have been for much longer if he had not been cut down.

"We've lost a great artist, a man who made a contribution to the cinema of the fantastic that will resound for a long long time... We all know Stan's work, the genius of his designs. But not even the fans necessarily know how great he was as a man. I mean a real man --- a man who knows that even though your artistic passion can rule your life, you still make time for your family and your friends.

"I spoke with Stan by phone Saturday morning, and apparently it was one of the last conversations he had. Incredibly, in retrospect, he was full of life, you'd never have known he was at death's door. We talked for a long time about all the fun times, and all the dragons we'd slain together. He said that once you've shown something is possible, everybody can do it. What was important was being first. Breaking new ground.

"Well that's just what he did his whole career, and today's creature and character effects business uses the techniques he developed every single day. He inspired a generation of fantasy effects geeks, and his legacy will be found in their dreams up on the screens of the future, not just in the films he worked on directly."

Not one to rest on his laurels, Winston was still very much active the field he pioneered. He was in the midst of work on the fourth Terminator film, and was all set to get started on Jurassic Park IV when he succumbed to bone cancer Sunday night at the age of 62.

I'd like to close out with one last quote that speaks to Cameron's comments on Stan Winston, the man. There's a truth to it that so many of us may often forget, to our great detriment. Yet it remains true nonetheless:

"There's nothing more important to me in my life than my family, and nothing will ever take over. I believe that's why the work shows as well as it [does], because my work is not a sacrifice. My work is a joy. I'm not sacrificing my family for my work. I go in and I love what I do. I love nothing more than my family."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rare Argento Gems Come to DVD

Hardcore fans of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento have long had the devil's own time collecting the director's entire body of work, mainly because some of the titles were simply unavailable on DVD. But now, fan-favorite distributor Anchor Bay has taken measures to rectify the situation, releasing two of Argento's finest to disc.

This one slipped under the radar a few weeks ago, but both the 1982 giallo classic Tenebrae and the 1985 supernatural chiller Phenomena (a.k.a. Creepers) are now officially obtainable. The latter is particularly notable for featuring the very first starring role of 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly (pre-eyebrow waxing), recommended to Argento by his long-time friend and one-time collaborator Sergio Leone, who had used her the year before in Once Upon a Time in America.

I'll admit I'm not as familiar with Argento's work as I should be, although I'm crazy about Suspiria (who isn't?). But this is definitely a reason for fans of Italian horror to be happy. Now all we need is a boxed set release for Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell/The Beyond/House by the Cemetery trilogy.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"The Happening" Is Anything But

It's pretty disconcerting to watch a once promising and inventive young writer/director run out of ideas and devolve into tedious self-parody. But that's exactly what seems to have happened with M. Night Shyamalan--and that's coming from a long-time booster of his work, who would go see anything with his name attached.

At one time I would've considered him the finest director in horror and/or sci-fi. The Sixth Sense was a revelation. Unbreakable was my favorite of all his films, the most true-to-life superhero film ever made. Signs was flawed, but still highly effective. And I even enjoyed the unfairly maligned The Village. Then came Lady in the Water, a movie so bad I couldn't even get through it. Surely, it had to be an aberration. I would give the man another chance. That chance was The Happening.

A terrific concept--an unexplainable epidemic of mass suicide--is pitifully squandered. The script is the kind of ham-fisted tripe that would get a first-time screenwriter booted from a producer's office, and the acting is laughably bad. This is especially true of female lead Zooey Deschanel, who gives one of the worst performances I can remember seeing in a major dramatic film. Even Mark Wahlberg, who is usually excellent, was painful to watch. I guess you can chalk it up to the crucial influence the right director can have on his actors.

And the big bombshell plot twist, the cause of the epidemic? Don't even get me started. The word "lame" doesn't even begin to do it justice.
Clearly, Shyamalan was aware of the reaction to Lady in the Water, and was out to prove something. This is evidenced by The Happening's R rating--almost as if the director was saying, "OK, now I mean business." That's why it's so shocking the extent to which he dropped the ball. There are a couple of powerful moments, including a tense scene outside a locked cabin, and some of the suicide footage is genuinely disturbing. But all in all, it's hard to imagine this is the same guy who was nominated for an Oscar ten years ago.

I will not be running to the theater to see the next M. Night Shyamalan movie, you can be sure of that. I've learned my lesson. I'll wait for Netflix--if that. And I doubt I'm the only one. Something tells me there's going to be a mysterious mass epidemic of people ignoring Mr. Shyamalan's movies. However, this epidemic is far from unexplained.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I'll Swallow Your Shoal

For those of us lucky enough to reside in Fairfield County, CT, it was a thrill to discover that Stamford's Avon Theatre was bringing back its long-missed "Cult Classics" summer series this season. Naturally, one of the anticipated highlights for me was tonight's screening of The Evil Dead (1981). Although a fan of the film for years, I--and I'm willing to bet most of its fans--have never seen it on the big screen, so this was going to be a major treat.

But alas, dear readers, I neglected to account for "The Daddy Factor". You see, I had forgotten that tonight was also the night that the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk was celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special members-only event that included dinner, family activities and a sneak preview showing of the IMAX documentary Wild Oceans. Specifically, I had forgotten that we had purchased tickets for the event, and the kids were rarin' to go. Thankfully, Mrs. B-Sol was kind enough to remind me.

And so tonight, instead of witnessing Ash in mortal combat against the Deadites, I witnessed the delicate food chain of South Africa's coastal waters (in all fairness, it was quite the breathtaking film in its own right). But the little ones had a great time, and watching them scarfing down cake and petting cow-nosed rays was certainly a worthy consolation prize.

Hey, nobody said being a dedicated parent and horror fan simultaneously was easy...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Will We See More Than Jason's Sack?

The answer to the above question would appear to be "Yes". According to IESB.net, Jason Voorhees will wear both the potato sack and famous hockey mask over the course of the Friday the 13th reboot, set to release on February 13, 2009.

Producer Brad Fuller told IESB that the new film will condense the first three movies of the original series. I'm not sure if this means that Jason's mother Pamela will make an appearance at the beginning, but it does mean that Jason will start out his killing spree wearing the sack (from Part 2), and then transition to the mask (from Part 3) at a key moment in the film.

Rumor has it that the crucial mask-donning scene has been shot both from behind and from the front, and that the decision will be made during the editing process whether to show Jason's face.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Evil Kids in the Horror Genre: Why Do They Scare Us So Much?

For the longest time, horror films and the concept of childhood have had a complex relationship. This has much to do with the fact that one of the central themes of all horror entertainment — if not the central theme — is the corruption/destruction of good by evil.

Childhood as an ideal represents nothing so much as innocence in its purest form. And innocence itself is the ultimate distillation of “good”. Perhaps this is why both creators and audiences alike have often had something of a difficult time dealing with it within the horror medium. Because childhood represents the ultimate good, the corruption/destruction of that good is the most extreme form of evil that most of us can imagine. Very often it is simply too much to bear.

This is why, for as long as horror films have been around, the ultimate taboo, the one area most have avoided like the plague, has been the murder of children. True, there have been notable exceptions over the years, movies like Frankenstein (1931), The Blob (1988), and Sleepy Hollow (1999). But for the most part, filmmakers keep away from it, as exemplified most vividly in some of the Friday the 13th movies, in which Jason will literally walk past the beds of sleeping campers and keep his focus on the counselors. For most of us, violence against children is something we don’t really want to see in horror movies. It’s not fun or entertaining, and unfortunately, it's all too painful and real.

Which brings me to the original topic: evil kids in the horror genre. Ruling out the literal destruction of the child, the closest most horror creators choose to come is the destruction of childhood. If horror is all about the corruption of good, then the corruption of the ultimate good, the innocence of childhood, is about as evil as it gets.

For this reason, the depiction of evil children stirs up deep feelings of dread and revulsion in many viewers. We innately perceive it as a gross affront to the natural order of things. Something within us senses this perversion, and recoils from it. Evil adults we can handle; most of us deal with them on an almost daily basis. But evil children? And by this I don’t mean the bratty kid on line at the grocery store who won’t shut up — I mean genuinely, truly evil children. An utterly alien concept.

Some of the genre’s finest works have mined this motherlode of subconscious terror: The Omen (1976), Halloween (1978), The Ring (2001), and most recently, The Orphanage (2007). It works to particular effect in William Friedkin’s masterpiece The Exorcist (1973), in which we literally witness the purest and most innocent little girl imaginable defiled and twisted by a wholly evil force into an obscene mockery of nature. Though flawed, Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (1989) pulls off a powerful combination by presenting us with the ultimate taboo (death of a child), followed by the perversion of innocence, as the child returns in evil form.

In short, it is this underlying sense of profound and incomprehensible wrongness that causes us to fear the so-called “evil child” in horror movies. It is also the subconscious connection to the ultimate act of corruption — the literal corruption of the flesh itself, i.e. the death of the child. Sublimating this primordial horror in the form of corrupted childhood thus becomes a safer way to scare the crap out of us, without offending.

This post was my contribution to a much more extended article on the topic of evil children in horror by The League of Tana Tea Drinkers that was published today by BlogCritics Magazine. Read it here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

30 Days Sequel: DTV or Not DTV?

I liked 30 Days of Night. I really did, and was a little confused at some of the backlash against a stylish vampire film with more quality than the majority of American horror movies these days. That's why I was initially excited by the rumors of a sequel from Ghost House Pictures, then saddened by the rumor that it would be released straight to DVD.

Well now it seems that 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles is denying the latter report. In speaking with ShockTillYouDrop last week, he claimed it was completely untrue, and that he has no idea where rumors of a DTV release would be c0ming from. Furthermore, he stated that he and director David Slade would be involved once again, should the presumably theatrically released sequel come to fruition.

30 Days of Night topped the box office in its opening weekend, which would point to the feasability of a sequel. But it also paradoxically earned only $39 million, which might put a theatrical sequel on shaky ground. Clearly, someone doesn't have their facts straight here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Mission to Monroeville, Part 1

It's hard to imagine now, being a homeowner and proud father of two, that there ever was a time when it could seem so important to drop everything, drive seven hours through three states and stay overnight, just for the chance to visit a shopping mall where a movie was once filmed. But believe it or not, there was.

The time was January 2001. Having been a rabid fan of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead for more than a decade, I had long been toying with the idea of driving from Brooklyn out to the suburbs of Pittsburgh on a pilgrimage to the Monroeville Mall, where the most famous cinematic zombie infestation of all time had taken place. But it also seemed too far away. It would require an overnight stay, and that just seemed like going a bit too indulge a geeky whim.

Having been married close to two years, my wife and I had made the decision that in 2001 we would try to have our first child. Pondering the onset of this life-changing event, I knew that a day was drawing nigh when the instant indulgement of a whim would become a thing of the past. Our lives would need to be dedicated to building our family like sensible adults, and so the getting out of any ya-yas would have to take place now, or never.

What the hell, I thought. Let's do it. As a concession to my wife and her saint-level patience--as well as a method of enticing her to agree to the trip--I decided that on the way back from Monroeville, we would stay overnight at a bed and breakfast in the beautiful historic section of Pittsburgh (no, I didn't know it had one either).

So we jumped in the Honda and headed west for a frivolous weekend of paying homage to a horror classic. And now, all these years later, thanks to the progress of modern technology, I can share it with the world.

So close, yet so far away. This was the tantalizing view of the Monroeville Mall from the window of our hotel room across the road. Possibly similar to the view of Tom Savini's evil biker gang before they invaded.

My photographic tribute to one of the film's iconic shots, taken in the parking lot. Thankfully, the lightposts were among the few things that remained unchanged.

I thought about leaving this one out, but it was just too damn cool. So you'll just have to excuse the awful tucked-in shirt. After locating and sneaking into this access passageway under the nose of a security guard, I proudly took this shot before getting kind of creeped out and leaving. You'll recognize it as the secret hall that led to the survivors' upstairs living quarters, which was overrun by zombies in the climax of the movie. In reality, there's no stairway--it just leads to the backdoors of a bunch of mall stores.

The entrance to Penney's, where our heroes fumbled for their keys and fought off the zombie hordes with a blowtorch. Also where some of the climactic zombie chow-down was shot. Note the updated store sign.

I've got plenty more to share, but that'll have to wait for another time. God bless the internet!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Who Wants to Be a Scream Queen?

Fay Wray. Ingrid Pitt. Caroline Monroe. Jamie Lee Curtis. Linnea Quigley. Sarah Michelle Gellar. Sheri Moon Zombie. And now, thanks to VH1, a lucky young lady will have the opportunity to possibly add her name to that list and become horror's next great piece of eye candy.

That's because the cable network that brought us such pinnacles of Western culture as Flavor of Love, Hogan Knows Best and My Fair Brady will be adding to their lineup of "celebreality" programming this fall with "Scream Queens". According to The Hollywood Reporter, the new show will pit ten young actresses against each other in competition for a role in an upcoming Lions Gate horror film. The participants will engage in certain "challenges", and even be assisted by an "acting" coach. Elimination decisions will be made by the upcoming film's director.

Perhaps the best news pertaining to the series is that only eight episodes have been commissioned. It's probably not possible to put into words how bad this will be, except maybe to say that it will most likely make Scott Baio Is 45 and Single look like I, Claudius.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

30 Days of Night Creator Talks Latest Adaptation

Long-time comic book readers know that quality horror comics these days are few and far between. That's why I've been pretty pumped about the recent confirmation that Steve Niles, whose previous 30 Days of Night series was turned into a feature film, will now be producing the next film adaptation of his work, Wake the Dead.

Published by IDW in 2004, Wake the Dead is a modern re-telling of the Frankenstein story, and was a damn fine read in my opinion, nearly as good as the vampire saga for which he's better known. Niles himself talked to Comic Book Resources about the upcoming project today (to be scripted by Bram Stoker's Dracula's James V. Hart), and I urge all those interested to head there.

Now all I can hope for is that Robert Kirkman's mostly excellent The Walking Dead zombie comic gets the HBO series it so richly deserves...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

TCM's Essentials Jr. Brings the Harryhausen

If you're like me, then you don't pass up any opportunity to expose your kids to the stuff that you really dug when you were a kid. Well, Turner Classic Movies has thought up a way to help those of us who will not rest until our offspring are as socially outcast as we once were. It's called The Essentials, Jr.

Fans of TCM recognize The Essentials as the channel's Saturday night series spotlighting the absolutely can't-miss gems of classic cinema. This month, they've introduced a less "serious" and more fun version intended to lure the kiddies into appreciating great movies from the golden age.

And coming up this Sunday night, The Essentials Jr. (hosted by Little Miss Sunshine's delightful Abigail Breslin and Batman & Robin's far-from-delightful Chris O'Donnell) presents Ray Harryhausen's 1957 chestnut 20 Millions Miles to Earth. The last of Harryhausen's special effects extravaganzas to be made in black and white, the movie tells the story of the implacable Ymir, a creature from the planet Venus who arrives on Earth and promptly begins to enlarge to alarming size and go on an old-school call-out-the-national-guard rampage.

It's a must-see for kids young and old, so whether you have procreated or not, I urge you to get yourself in front of the tube this Sunday for a true popcorn treat.

The Essentials, Jr. runs ever Sunday night. Future pics on the slate include the likes of Mutiny on the Bounty and Harvey.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Brit Pop Singer Becomes Lesbian Vampire

British tabloid The Sun reports today that controversial singer-songwriter/talk show host Lily Allen will be playing a bloodsucker in the upcoming horror comedy Lesbian Vampire Killers.

Allen's boyfriend James Corden will play one of the film's two heroes, local boys who attempt to take back the women of their village from the clutches of the movie's titular sapphic succubi.

Best known for her debut number-one single "Smile", Allen is an arch-rival of the even-more-trashy Amy Winehouse, although not as well known across the pond. Her father, actor Keith Allen, may be best known to fans of horror/thrillers from his roles in The Others and Danny Boyle's 1995 debut Shallow Grave.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Fangoria Visits the Set of Friday the 13th

Zack Carlson of horror magazine/website Fangoria checked in today with a report from the set of one of the genre's most controversial current productions, the "reboot" of Friday the 13th.

Specifically, it was the indoor Camp Crystal Lake set in Austin, Texas. Carlson reports that those in charge of the project are very respectiful to the original franchise (what else are they going to say?), and offers this interesting bit from producer Brad Fuller:

"We’re not going back to the original, but we’re using pieces from it. And we’re not disregarding the rest of the series, so fans will see moments from parts three, four and five. And then we’re trying to do some stuff that hasn’t been done before. At a certain level, this franchise started in a certain place and went off in another direction, and we wanted to go back where we thought it was the strongest—the first four movies—more or less use that as our template and go from there."

Fango's report also features comments from the film's stars, including Derek Mears (The Hills Have Eyes II), who is donning the hockey mask this time around. Read more here.

* * * * * * * * * *

Special thanks today go out to The Raven's Barrow, which included The Vault of Horror in its roundup of "5 Horror Blogs You Should Be Reading". Aw, shucks!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Horror Holds Its Own Against the Man with the Hat and the Mother of All Chick Flicks

You can call The Strangers the Rocky Balboa of Memorial Day. Going into one of the most hotly contested weekends of the year, the horror flick "went the distance", pulling in highly respectable numbers against the steamrolling Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (in its second week) and the highly anticipated Sex and the City opening.

Although The Strangers came in third behind both of those blockbusters (which was, of course, inevitable) it pulled in twice what the so-called pundits predicted, scoring a cool $20.7 million. Carrie Bradshaw and the rest of her henhouse ruled the roost with a boffo $55.7 million premiere, while Indy took in $46 million. With so many flocking to Sex and the City in its first weekend, and the Harrison Ford behemoth still raking in audiences, it truly is remarkable that so many people opted to see the Liv Tyler/Scott Speedman home invasion chiller.

Following the impressive numbers for Prom Night, and with M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening on the horizon, 2008 is looking to be a very good year for the horror genre, from a box office point of view. Which is encouraging, since horror is not usually the go-to genre when it comes to dollars and cents. Studios take note: there is a large audience out there for quality fright films (Prom Night notwithstanding).
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