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Monday, May 31, 2010

TRAILER TRASH: Candyman Edition!







Random Ramblings from the Vault...

  • I recently had the pleasure of picking up Marvel's Essential Man-Thing Vol. 1, and have been reminded of how deeply I love this character. And what an incredible array of writers and artists that worked on him in the '70s--Howard Chaykin, Mike Ploog, Len Wein, Neal Adams, Roy Thomas, John Buscema. Hate me if you must, but I'll always prefer Manny to that other avenging swamp creature over at DC...
  • I know this has nothing to do with horror, but while I'm on the subject of comics, I'd like to point out that I think Yul Brynner would've made one hell of a Sub-Mariner. If only someone had had the foresight to do a Namor movie 50 years ago...
  • This whole werewolf teenager phenomenon really has me freaked out. Seems to have started in the area of San Antonio, Texas, with Twilight-inspired kids dressing up as some kind of lupine goths. Just another reinforcement of how most contemporary suburban teens would really have gotten the crap kicked out of them if they grew up in my old neighborhood.
  • I've also been enjoying the Beware the Moon documentary on the recent special edition DVD release of An American Werewolf in London. I can totally understand why it won a Rondo Hatton Award for Best DVD Extra.
  • For my money, there aren't many scenes in all of literature more terrifying than Sam battling Shelob in Tolkien's The Two Towers. Stephen King was certainly right about that one.
  • Looking for a new cheesy '80s horror guilty pleasure? Check out Terrorvision forthwith. Been a favorite of mine ever since it first came out. ET meets Alien meets Saturday the 14th. And I defy you to get that theme music out of your head.
  • If I ever start up my own punk rock band, I'm naming it Never Mind the Shoggoths. Just so you know.
  • If you happen to be in the Boston area, you would do well to check out the Women in Horror program being put on by Friends of the Vault Mike Snoonian & Chris Hallock of All Things Horror. As part of their monthly film series at the Somerville Theater, Mike & Chris will be showcasing some talented female horror filmmakers, highlighted by a screening of Elisabeth Fies' The Commune.
  • I've been invited to be a contributor to the upstart horror site known as The Blood Sprayer, joining a crew of extremely talented folks. I encourage you to give the site a look-over, and be sure to check out the debut edition of my new column, Waiting for Cthulhu, in which I pay tribute to the great Vincent Price.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week Two: Creature Features/Monster Movies

Welcome back for the second weekly installment of The Lucky 13, The Vault's summer-long collaboration with Brutal as Hell. After last week's descent into the debauchery of grindhouse and exploitation, this week we visit one of the most traditional of horror sub-genres, perhaps the most traditional of all--monster movies and creature features.

Technically speaking, if one were in the hair-splitting mood, these two can indeed be separated into distinct sub-subgenres, with monster movies implying more old-school humanoid beasties, and creature features referring to more of the giant-behemoth-on-the-loose premise. But for our purposes this week, we're taking an all-inclusive look at the bizarre, other-worldy abominations of nature that haunt the history of horror cinema!

B-Sol on Bride of Frankenstein

This could very well be the most skillfully made horror film of them all--certainly of the so-called "classic era" of horror movies, in which, very often, they were treated as mere children's fare. Bride of Frankenstein is so much more than that. It's a sublime expression of cinema as art, wrapped subversively in the guise of a monster movie. For one thing, the film is tinged with a daring Christian allegory that only adds to the viewing experience. Who would've thought that the Frankenstein monster could become a Christ figure, yet this movie does it. Heavy stuff for a creature feature!

Bride of Frankenstein is filled with unforgettable scenes. Chief among these is the rightfully famous log cabin scene with the blind hermit. Parodied in Young Frankenstein almost as famously, this is nevertheless one of the truly immortal film scenes, and for my money may be the most emotionally moving one I've ever seen in a horror film. It's for moments like this one that the film totally transcends the genre.

Bride of Frankenstein is a film that is far more sublime and wonderful than it has any right to be. Filled with remarkable imagery and delightful performances, it is the kind of film you show to someone who has yet to appreciate the finer points of what genre entertainment has to offer. There is a handful of horror films of such high quality that one can literally classify them among the greatest movies ever made. Bride of Frankenstein is one of them. It's the shining triumph of the beloved Universal cycle of monster films.



Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on The Thing (1982)

These days I'm over moaning about remakes, but I used to get pretty angry about the entire notion. It just doesn't make any sense to me. While complaining about remakes, though, I would always conveniently forget that one of my favorite John Carpenter movies is, in fact, a remake in the most genuine sense of the word. Remakes often keep the general framework of the source material intact while taking giant liberties with the specifics, and that's pretty much what's happening in The Thing.

John Carpenter is a noted fan of the 1951 Howard Hawks film, The Thing From Another World, which is in turn based on a 1938 short story called Who Goes There. Hawks' film keeps the general idea of a frozen alien space ship, but throws out a lot of the short story's details in favor of casting a tangible villain with a hideous appearance. Carpenter's remake actually comes a lot closer to Who Goes There by setting the movie in a location as remote as you can get, Antarctica, and then pits a small arctic research team against a monster that it really can't even see. This is the weirdest part of choosing The Thing as my monster movie pick because when you get down to brass tacks, the titular Thing is actually a microbe that takes the form of the research team, occasionally revealing itself to be a nasty piece of bio-horror as it assimilates its victims. By the end of the movie, its true form is revealed to be a throbbing tower of flesh and teeth, but on the way, the monster--usually the draw to these monster movies--just looks like the rest of the cast.

Carpenter's flick is an examination of paranoia, and a spiral of horror that suggests that the craft they found may not even be The Thing but it's latest victim, and Earth is its latest conquest. Though the original Hawks picture is a monster movie by definition, Carpenter's version manages to fall just inside the confines because of its ambiguity. I'm in love with Rob Bottin's unbelievably nasty special effects, too. When the movie suddenly starts to feel like a body horror movie, someone's severed head sprouts legs and beats a hasty retreat. The Thing is colorful, completely nasty and is home to a brand of paranoia that is downright suffocating at times.



From Beyond Depraved's Joe Monster on King Kong

In the pantheon of giant monster movies, King Kong remains one of the reigning champions of the form, a king of the jungle in the most appropriate sense. It can’t be denied that this film seems to have it all: an engaging story, incredible special effects, and one of, if not THE, greatest scene of a giant creature’s rampage in a bustling metropolis. But there’s something that Kong possesses that other monster movies of its ilk seemed to have missed. King Kong has a wonderful sense of humanity, exhibited not only in the likable characters, but also in the monstrous form of Kong himself.

Willis O’Brien and his team of expert technicians worked wonders in their exciting world of stop-motion dinosaurs and beasts. The smallest of details were rendered by their deft hands. I’m still blown away every time I see tufts of Kong’s fur blown by the wind. But those are just superficial matters. Where the genius of the special effects crew truly shines through is during the brief but ever-so-intimate moments when the audience is able to look past Kong’s roaring terror into the warm heart that lies beneath his giant chest. This is especially seen during one of my personal favorite moments, when Kong innocently but curiously plucks off Fay Wray’s garments. The looks on Kong’s face appear so cleverly human. We can relate to him. A 25-foot jungle ape that we can sympathize with. How can you argue over the greatness of something like that?

But don’t for one moment be mistaken, dear reader. King Kong isn’t merely a sappy romantic comedy that has Tom Hanks replaced by a slightly more attractive lead. There’s red-blooded adventure and intrigue galore. And what’s a giant monster movie without scenes of terrible, wanton destruction and carnage? You’ll watch in rapt fear as Kong busts through the giant wooden gate that has kept him at bay for all these years. And who isn’t familiar with the instantly classic scene of Kong crushing his way through the skyscrapers of 1930s New York? Kong may be a softy at heart, but he never lets you forget that he is a titanic gorilla on a mission of death. He mercilessly stuffs humans into his mouth and grinds them into the earth under the weight of his colossal monkey foot. And as mentioned before, the craftsmanship of O’Brien is awesomely exhibited during the scenes where Kong wages hairy battle against the monsters of the island, most notably the snapping T-Rex.

This is the stuff that dreams of Saturday matinee boys and girls are made of. The climax atop the Empire State Building has just as much resonance now as it did over 70 years ago. It’s the last stand of a beast from a distant world against the forces of a realm it has no knowledge of. Don’t be surprised if you feel a lump develop in your throat as Kong languishes on the building as the airplanes rain their bullets upon him. This is more than just a monster movie. This is cinema at its finest.



* * * * * * * * * *

Head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Join us next week for The Lucky 13, as we peer into the realm of Demons, Witches & The Devil...

VAULTCAST: Conversations in the Dark... w/Marc Patterson

In keeping with last weekend's kick-off of The Lucky 13 in tandem with Brutal as Hell, this time around I invited Brutal as Hell's managing editor and founder Marc Patterson to join me on Conversations in the Dark. And since our first Lucky 13 installment featured discussions of our favorite horror films in the sub-genre of grindhouse/exploitation, we took this opportunity to really get in-depth and talk about exactly what defines grindhouse and exploitation in the first place.

Join us as we get into which grindhouse and exploitation flicks we love, which ones we don't love, and why, from the seedy days of Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, through the present-day era of homages like Death Proof and Hostel. And hang tight for the second installment of The Lucky 13 coming up next, with the spotlight on monsters movies and creature features!

Listen to the embedded player below, proceed to the Vaultcast homepage, or download it directly here.




Brutal as Hell: http://www.brutalashell.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/BAHHorror

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Vincent Price/Christopher Lee Birthday Throwdown!


Breaking with the somber remembrance of the birthday of Peter Cushing yesterday, tonight in the Vault, let's have a little fun celebrating the shared birthday of two other horror immortals, one still with us, one no longer. One was an effete American with a penchant for cooking who once rapped with Michael Jackson; the other, a swarthy Englishman who played Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and a gay biker. Tonight, it's all about Vincent Price vs. Christopher Lee.



Vamping It Up!

Yeah, I know. This one's not even fair. Chris Lee has played the Transylvanian Count more times than any actor alive or undead, a total of ten occasions from 1958's Horror of Dracula to 1976's Dracula and Son.


Price very famously turned down the role of Dracula a number of times, believing he could add nothing to it. He did, however, play Dracula's cousin once on an episode of F-Troop.


Special Effects Extravaganzas!


Christopher Lee, in more recent years, has taken part in some big-budget blockbusters--like Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, in which he fought Yoda.



Price's earliest horror effort was 1940's The Invisible Man Returns, in which he pulled off a vanishing act quite impressive for its day (and pretty damn cool today.)



Crappy Musicals!

If you ever want to experience Christopher Lee's rich baritone, look no further than The Return of Captain Invincible, in which he played the evil Nazi Mr. Midnight...



Anyone remember The Great Mouse Detective? That would be Price as the voice of the dastardly Rattigan...



Playing It for Laughs!

Lee has not been one to poke much fun at himself, although he can be seen doing comedic turns in such films as Gremlins 2 and the critically acclaimed Police Academy: Mission to Moscow, in which he played Commandant Alexandrei Nikolaivich Rakov.


Price was far more enthusiastic about making fun of himself, as evidenced by his countless variety show appearances throughout the 1950s-1980s. I'm particularly fond of his child-frightening appearance with Kermit the Frog.


Beards!

Lee rocked some Father Time-like facial hair as the wizard Saruman in another cherished geek franchise, The Lord of the Rings.


And who could forget the curly Jew-beard, complete with fake hook nose, worn by Price taking on the part of The Merchant of Venice's Shylocke in Theatre of Blood?


Bond Villainy!

A career film heavy's ultimate goal might be playing a Bond villain, and Lee got to do so as Francisco Scaramanga in 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun.


The closest Price came to playing a Bond villain was playing Egghead on the Batman TV show.


Political Incorrectness!

Lee played the very devious, very Oriental Dr. Fu Manchu on five different occasions.


Aside from the aforementioned Shylocke thing, Price also took on the disguise of a stereotypically gay hairdresser for Theatre of Blood as well, complete with '70s white man fro!


Did you know that the two men appeared in a total of four films together? They are, for those keeping score:
  • The Oblong Box
  • The Horror Show
  • Scream and Scream Again
  • House of the Long Shadows


And finally, as we celebrate these two elder statesmen of horror who share a birthday, let's not forget one other horror icon who shares this birthday as well!

"Hey guys... Do you ever wonder about all the different ways of dying? For me... the worst way to die would be for a bunch of old men... to get around me... and start biting me, and eating me alive..."


















* Special thanks to Kevin Maher for his immense help in putting this post together.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Requiem for a Geek-Out...

It's all well and good being a geek these days. It's easy for you young folk. See, nerd is now the new cool, so it's hip to be into all kinds of genre stuff, and know your Boushh from your Bossk.

But it was not always so.

No, there was a time when being a geek meant leading a solitary, shunned existence on the periphery of adolescent society. When roleplaying and quoting Dr. Who episodes made you a social pariah. In those days, it was something to rejoice about whenever you came across others who shared your interests, people you could commune with and debate the weighty issues, like who was the coolest X-Man and whether or not Ricardo Montalban wore a fake rubber chest in Wrath of Khan. These things were important to you, and if you met the rare other person to whom they were also important...well, then that person was cool in your book.

Those days are gone now, and yet I couldn't help but be reminded of them thanks to the experience of discovering and taking part in an amazing phenomenon known as Kevin Geeks Out. The brainchild of writer/comedian Kevin Maher, co-produced by Meg Sweeney Lawless and Jay Stern, Kevin Geeks Out was a nearly monthly multimedia extravaganza paying tribute to all sorts of themes in genre entertainment. Held at Manhattan's 92YTribeca, the comedy-variety clip show devoted whole evenings to Vincent Price, werewolves, sharks, robots, monkeys, Frankenstein, superheroes, the post-apocalypse, and so much more. And now it's over.

Last Friday night marked the final edition of Kevin Geeks Out, with a special show that was all about aliens. And just as I had the other times I got to experience it, I felt right at home. It was that same feeling from back in high school, meeting the kid in the cafeteria with a bootleg VHS of Slime City tucked under his arm. As my wife looked around the darkened theater at her first and final KGO, she said it best: "Yep, these are definitely your people!" And they were.

It saddens me to have discovered KGO so late in the game, only having the opportunity to catch three of the 23 events presented since the whole thing started in January 2008. And yet I'm glad I got to enjoy it before it disappeared. I'm especially glad I got to enjoy it with other very cool people, some of whom I previously knew only as a name on a computer screen, others whom I didn't know at all: folks like Tenebrous Kate, Emily Intravia, Dylan Santurri & Christine Makepeace, Matt Glasson, Heather Buckley and others.

Being a fellow family man, similarly forced to balance home life and a real-life job with a hungry compulsion to discuss the career of Gil Gerard, I completely relate to Kevin's tough decision to bring the curtain down on the Geek-Outs. But it doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. At least I got one last night full of Mac & Me clips and green cupcakes, got to introduce the Mrs. to the KGO phenom, and also got to close out the show by impersonating an FBI agent and escorting Kevin from the theater for the unlawful exhibition of copyrighted material...

So here's to cherishing the opportunity to get together with like-minded fans and have so much fun with the stuff we all love. It might be cool to like all this stuff now, but for all those who remember when it wasn't, thank you Kevin, for giving us a place to geek out among friends.



Remembering a True Gentleman of Horror

A Happy Birthday in Hammer heaven to one of the genre's greatest legends, Peter Cushing, who would've been 97 today...



For more on Mr. Cushing:

The Official Site of the Peter Cushing Association
The Peter Cushing Shrine
Peter Cushing at HouseofHorrors.com
Good and Evil: The Peter Cushing Fanlisting

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Visceral Visionaries: Ric Frane

Monsters, pinup girls and danger! Those three subjects, emblazoned at the very top of Ric Frane's website say it all. One of the most exciting genre painters working today, his work--in the grand Frank Frazetta tradition--has been featured on comics, games, books and magazines such as Horror Biz. Focusing on the world of classic movie monsters, as well as fantasy erotica, Frane has worked with some of the most popular models in the genre today, and his work is praised by the likes of acclaimed pinup illustrator Olivia.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ric last month at the Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey, and he agreed to take some time out to answer a few questions about his life, his work, and what inspires it...


You've been doing art since you were a kid. What first interested you?

I've been doing some kind of art as long as I can remember. People always responded well to what I was doing. My parents never discouraged me. They even found a local place for me to learn painting. Now this was only hobby painting, but I was using oils at a young age and it made me not afraid to try other mediums.

Tell me about your love for Frank Frazetta. What is it about his work that captured your imagination?
We just lost the greatest influence in my life as an artist. I found one of his art books when I was about 13. I never saw anything like it. I knew right then it was what I wanted to do. I tried to copy every one of his paintings. I would do one a night after school using pastels. I wound up giving them to friends at school. Wish I still had some of them. Wonder if they were any good?
The greatest thing about Frazetta's work was his ability to paint so much detail with an economy of brush strokes. There are many detailed plates in his books to view. You can see just how he did it. But no one else can seem to do it. I love his use of color, his exaggerated figures, his compositions, everything. He was a master and will be missed. There is not a genre artist out there that hasn't been influenced by him.

Are there possibilities allowed to fantasy and horror artists that might not be available in other conceptual genres?
Well there, used to be. A lot of cover work was available for novels. Fantasy books usually had artwork on the covers more so than other genres. There is also work in comics and gaming. But that has all slowed down now for everyone.

Tell me a bit about your formal training. What was that like?
I went to the Antonelli Institute of Art & Photography, formally the York Academy of Art.
I was lucky--I had a very good art teacher in high school. We were doing a lot of the drawing exercises I would later do in art school. Learning different painting techniques was the most important part. Learning how to use the paints the correct way and different mediums you can add. Not that you can't break the rules sometimes. But some things are done for a reason.

Your wife is an artist as well. What's that like, do you get competitive?
Not at all. We throw ideas at one another. My wife, Wendy, has been the muse for many pieces of work. We've even painted a few pieces together.

You've done lots of different paintings in various categories. Do you have a favorite subject matter? Favorite piece?
I started out doing fantasy illustrations, but my favorite part of the paintings was always the figure. I love painting the figure. I'm a fan of old school pin-ups. I also love painting classic monsters. One day it hit me. Why not paint both? Two great things that go together.
My favorite piece right now would have to be the one I did of my wife and myself [featured at top]. I did it in the style I do my Monster/Pinups pieces in. Me being the monster. Wendy is the hot model in the leopard bikini.

What draws you in about classic monster movies?
Nostalgia. The older I get, the more I long for those days as a kid watching TV with our local horror movie host, Dr. Shock. Everything a kid loves was in those movies. Monsters, castles, foggy woods. I don't think any of them ever scared me. It was all so foreign looking. They all took place somewhere else at another time.

What is it about Bride of Frankenstein that makes it your favorite?
So much is in it. The monster learns to speak, and you feel for him in this one more than any other movie. And one of the biggest horror icons is born, the Bride. She only has a couple of minutes of screen time, but look how popular her image is.

For your erotic/pin-up art you've worked with many models including Tiffany Shepis. What are the challenges of working with a live subject? Who've been your favorites?
I work from photographs, so I really don't have the problems with having models hold poses. I usually have a few ideas for artwork I want to do and we shoot those. The model's personality helps drive those ideas. I've been lucky that all the models I have worked with have been great.
I would say the biggest challenge is that first picture you take. Trying to get things started. Funny thing is I almost never use that first photo idea. Once things get going, it's artist and model working together to come up with the best image. Tiffany is great at this. I've known her for over 10 years and she is one of my faves. Her face is stunning and she knows how to pose. Another favorite of mine is Asia DeVinyl. A beautiful retro pinup model. She's wonderful at posing her whole body. But my wife Wendy would have to be my favorite. Most of my best pieces involve her.

What makes a painting erotic?
Wow, that's a hard one. I guess it would have to be sexual without showing sex. That could just be a look in the eyes. Hard to answer without a specific piece we are talking about. You just know it when it you see it.

Any major projects you're currently working on?
I have a few things I'm working on, doing a series of pinups with historical figures, and also planning a series based on the seven deadly sins.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Take This, All of You, and Eat It": The Subversion of Catholicism in Italian Zombie Cinema


"I envy athiests, they don't have all these difficulties."
-Lucio Fulci

Although Ireland gives it a run for the money, there is probably no more devoutly Roman Catholic nation on Earth than Italy. Indeed, the religion is called Roman Catholicism because its heart is in the Italian capital of Rome itself--it is within that the Vatican City is to be found, and it has been so ever since Roman emperor Constantine converted to the then-upstart faith some 17 centuries ago.

Yet fast forward those 17 centuries, and one finds a specific cultural phenomenon, admittedly most keenly observed by film fanatics, happening in the same country. For Italy, specifically the Italy of the late 20th century, is known for having produced some of the most unspeakably ghastly, gut-churning horror films to be found anywhere in the history of the genre. Specifically, some of the most heinous stuff to be found in the Italian horror milieu seems to have been reserved for the zombie sub-genre.

So why is it that one of the most religious nations on the planet would also give rise to some of the most Satanic visions of the world ever put to celluloid? Is it ironic? Or rather, is it perfectly understandable? I submit that the latter is true. The rise and popularity of zombie cinema in Italy can be directly attributed to the faith of the nation--it is a direct reaction to it, and against it.

The Nature of Italian Zombie Horror

It has sometimes been remarked that it is the people most acutely susceptible to fear who tend to be the most fascinated by horror. This can be observed in the phenomenon of the horror fan who watches raptly, his eyes darting between clasped fingers at the images on the screen. We love to be scared, or rather we are drawn to it, and this is why very often it is the very people most immune to the power of horror who have little interest in it as a genre.

Very often, what we find most frightening, or most morbidly fascinating, is that which flouts or perverts our deeply held values, that which forces us to confront possibilities we dare not, and mocks what we hold dear. In the case of Italian zombie cinema, this refers directly to the manner in which it stands as a direct defiance to the Catholic beliefs and doctrines embodied by the very nation in which it was made.

There has been a fascination with zombie movies in Italy, and in particular a need to make them as despicably nasty as possible, as a way of subverting the primary tenets of the Roman Catholic faith. To a people raised to fear God in the truest sense of the phrase, this is an irresistible forbidden fruit, the contemplation of which is an act of subversion in and of itself.

In order to better illustrate, let's break down some of the specific beliefs flouted by the Italian zombie cycle...

The Resurrection of Christ

Perhaps the most obvious of all perversions of Catholicism is this one. The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, on the third day after his execution, celebrated by all Christians as the feast day of Easter, is the central belief of Roman Catholicism; it is the one ultimate truth one must accept on faith in order to be considered Roman Catholic. The idea is that Jesus defeated death, and in so doing saved the world from sin. It is the greatest triumph of good over evil.

And yet, it's no coincidence that horror fans have recently taken to sardonically referring to Easter as "Zombie Jesus Day." There's an easily perceived parallel there, and this was not lost on the Italians some 30 years ago, either. For anyone raised with Catholic beliefs ingrained in them, very time a zombie is seen to return to life in an Italian zombie film, it is an obscene joke, a direct parody of Christ's own return to life as recounted in the New Testament. It is taking what Catholics believe to be the Son of God's greatest and most noble victory, and twisting it into a thing of utter revulsion and emptiness.

The Resurrection of the Body

This ties directly into what is inferred, and indeed promised, by Jesus rising from the dead. According to Roman Catholic belief, because Jesus defeated death, he assured everlasting life for all who believe in Him. To clarify, Catholics believe that the human body is merely a temporary holding place for the soul, and that after death they are promised eternal life in the presence of God, and that later at the end of days, they will be physically resurrected, much like Christ Himself, in a new body, one beyond the mortal flesh, transcendent and pure. As Stephen Thrower writes in Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, "for Christians, the body is a mere waste product, excreted by the passage of the soul into heaven."

Extending that analogy, one can then imagine what a blasphemous perversion the concept of the walking dead represents in Italian horror. Instead of being cast off upon death, this physical body, this excrement of the soul, continues to walk about, with no trace of that soul evident. Just as it represents a perversion of Christ's resurrection, so too does the zombie represent a complete perversion of that promise given to humanity by the Resurrection; rather than returning to life as a transcendent being, these people are mindless, stinking, rotting corpses--beings solely of physicality, and not of spirituality.

The Soul and the Afterlife

Drawing on this concept, Italian zombie films completely refute the existence of the divine spark in any sense. If we learn anything from these movies, it's that we have no souls at all, but are instead merely bodies and nothing more. The existence of zombies flies in the face of any notion of the sanctity of human consciousness, for it demonstrates that the body can "live" on, even without conscious animation--and most importantly, no reference to a soul or anything beyond the fleshly shell is ever made.

All we get instead is a fixation on the natural decomposition of the physical body, with no transcendent meaning whatsoever--the ultimate nihilism. "These films," writes Jamie Russell in Book of the Dead, "ask us to confront the unspoken truth of our existence: that we are, in material terms, nothing more than a collection of organs, blood and messy slop." There is no hope for anything resembling a life after death, other than that of the unthinking zombie, which seeks only to consume life.

Judgment Day

As portrayed here, the body is nothing more than an object, explicitly shown to be merely meat, without any presence of the Divine whatsoever. In fact, that's pretty much the ultimate conclusion to be drawn here, if we follow the line of thinking to its end: there is no God, and therefore nothing waiting for us either after death or at the end of time.

This is particularly illustrated in Lucio Fulci films such as City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, which deal directly with the apocalypse itself, but not a holy day of judgment as promised; rather, it is an Armageddon of desolation and total annihilation. In the former film, the world is faced with an end that would consist of the living dead flooding the earth for all eternity, casting out the living entirely. And in the latter film, our protagonists come face to face in the end with a complete emptiness, and as the closing narration declares, they "will face the Sea of Darkness, and all therein that may be explored."

This is a far cry from the Judgment Day anticipated, and indeed wished for, within the teachings of Roman Catholicism, an era of absolution, spiritual evolution, and everlasting peace.

Transubstantiation

One of Roman Catholicism's most controversial religious doctrines is that of transubstantiation--the belief that during the Eucharistic portion of the Mass ceremony, bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. This is no expression of symbolism or allegory; rather, the literal belief in the transformation of bread and wine into flesh and blood is expected of all devout Catholics. In order to partake of the Lord's grace and be saved, they must ingest this flesh and blood into their bodies; this is Christ as sacrificial lamb, offering up his body to be consumed by his followers.

For those of the faith, this is the ultimate act of oneness with the Savior, hence the sacrament's very name, communion. How obvious then, to a nation of Roman Catholics, the outright mockery present in the zombie's act of consuming the flesh of the living. Just as Christians yearn to take in the power of Christ, and eat his flesh to do so, so does the zombie yearn to absorb the living, physically ingesting their flesh in order to do so. Except instead of an act of sublime grace and sacrifice, it is one of amoral murder, chaotically severing all family and social bonds in the process.

* * * * * * * * * *

To a country whose very existence is tied up intimately with the Roman Catholic Church, the oldest and most direct religious establishment of Christianity on Earth, the zombie is anathema. To those drawn to the horrific and the unspeakable within that country, fans and filmmakers alike, the cinema of the zombie is a sweet sacrilege. It is an unrelentingly grim and pessimistic refutation of the beliefs they were raised to hold dear, titillating with the rush of the forbidden--the contemplation of the possibility that those beliefs are fraudulent.

TRAILER TRASH: Killer Animals Edition!



















Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week One: Exploitation and Grindhouse

Greetings and welcome to the momentous kick-off of The Lucky 13, a summer-long conspiracy of terror between The Vault of Horror and Brutal as Hell. Over the next 13 weeks, we will be waxing rhapsodic on our very favorite horror movies, broken up into, you guessed it, 13 specially selected subgenres.

To begin things, this week we take a guilty peek at horror's seedy, rank underbelly with a look at exploitation and grindhouse cinema. Whether they're from those unapologetically grimy 42nd Street days, or movies of today that carry on the tradition, these are the flicks that give us a sick little thrill, and make our non-horror-fan friends question our moral upbringing for watching...

B-Sol on The House by the Cemetery

I love Lucio Fulci. Not everyone does. This is an argument that can never be won one way or another. Some love him, some hate him. But there can be no question that Fulci was one of the true kings of the grindhouse--hell, Quentin Tarantino himself counts The Beyond as one of his favorite films. But it's The House by the Cemetery that does it for me. It's my favorite Fulci film, and my favorite grindhouse film of any kind. One of the most underrated of the films of Lucio Fulci, it's part haunted house movie, part gore flick, and all Italian horror.

Maybe I enjoy it because it's one the more conventional, linear and plot-oriented of Fulci's works, since the Italian director is not typically known for the coherency of his narratives. The might make me a "conventional" filmgoer, but I can't help getting a major kick out of seeing Fulci's take on the traditional haunted house movie--I've always seen the movie as his take-off on The Shining. Of course, with healthy doses of shocking gore and gross-out gags added, because, well, he's Lucio Fulci.

It's got the finest of all the scores for Fulci's films, and that's saying quite a bit. The excellent performance of Catriona MacColl conveys so much of the horror. And what a monster we have in Dr. Freudstein (great name!!), the bizarre, ghoulish undead basement-dweller. And despite its more linear nature, the film certainly has its fair share of surreal Fulci-ness, all playing into his ultimate goal of throwing you off your guard in his not-quite-right version of reality. Few brought the grue like Senior Fulci, and for some reason, I care more about the victims this time around than in most of Fulci's other movies, which makes it all the more harrowing to sit through.



Gothic Beauty Magazine's Jessie "Nos" Seitz on Ms. 45

Ms. 45 was first brought to my attention when I was 17 years old. I had just begun to embrace the exploitation genre and had already seen Nekromantik, Cannibal Holocaust, and Last House on the Left. A friend of mine handed me a VHS bootleg of Ms. 45, which turned out to be the coveted unrated version of the film. I couldn’t believe my eyes… this film was so beautiful and so true to my own heart. The revenge exorcised in this story still satisfies me every time I watch it.

Set in NYC during the early '80s, Ms .45 follows the story of a mute seamstress named Thana. After being raped twice in a single day, Thana decides to take revenge on a perverted world. This film’s climax is truly one for the history books. If you haven’t seen this one yet, I highly recommend you seek out the unrated copy, which still floats around on VHS but has not made it to DVD. The DVD version put out by Image Entertainment is a censored version, or such was the case last time I checked. This picture still holds so much relevance that it’s a shame it doesn’t get brought up more in film conversation.



Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on The Exterminator

I feel like when it comes to the grindhouse, you have a real narrow band of about 20 years between 1960 and 1980 to pick a favorite, and narrowing that spectrum down to one movie is tough business because grindhouse is a sort of exploitation umbrella term. Are we talking sexploitation? Car chases? Good ol' boy movies? Kung fu? How do you make your decision? I'll tell you. Pick your favorite genre. Pick your favorite movie in that genre. Easy peasy. For me, there is no contest. The only answer is The Exterminator.

Revenge movies, for reasons that I suspect are strongly unhealthy from a mental health point of view, appeal to me like few others. Why is that? I don't know. If there's one thing I'm not, it's violent, so I don't know where my love affair with revenge movies comes from. In particular, I love vigilante movies, and The Exterminator used to call to me from the video store shelves. A rugged dude in a motorcycle helmet wielding a flamethrower caught my eye like nothing else in the store and, man, was I happy to finally catch up with this nasty piece of cinema.

James Glickenhaus directs Robert "The Paperchase Guy" Ginty in one of his better trashy flicks. Ginty plays John Eastland, a vietnam vet living the blue-collar life, working in a beer cannery. When thugs attack and cripple his war buddy-turned-BFF, he loads up on arms and hits the street for revenge. After a couple of hits on small-time crooks puts him in the paper, he buffs his game and takes on bigger crooks while the NYPD searches high and low for him.

Death Wish made a huge cultural impact in 1974 when it was released, and the Bernie Goetz murder that mirrored the Paul Kersey subway attack in Death Wish only cemented its place in the public consciousness. People feeling powerless in the city were empowered by vigilante movies and it took no time for exploitation filmmakers to latch on to the public sentiment. What came of that was a wave of vigilante flicks, some good, some not so good. At the top of the heap is the criminally unseen picture, The Exterminator, which plays out a lot like Death Wish with strong overtones from Taxi Driver thrown in for good measure. It is a nasty, angry movie full of murder and torture. The overall narrative is fragmented and doesn't exactly fit together at times, as most of Eastland's killings share no common thread and seem like filler. But obvious grindhouse flaws aside, it's among the top vigilante pictures out there, easily edging out William Lustig's nasty street justice picture, Vigilante.



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Head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Join us next week for The Lucky 13, as we cast our gaze upon Creature Features and Monster Movies...
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