"QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST HORROR-THEMED BLOG ON THE NET." -- Joe Maddrey, Nightmares in Red White & Blue

**Find The Vault of Horror on Facebook and Twitter, or download the new mobile app!**

**Check out my other blogs, Standard of the Day, Proof of a Benevolent God and Lots of Pulp!**

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's the Bride of Blackenstein, Baby!

Classical Universal horror met '70 blaxploitation last night on Saturday Night Live, and the result was Bride of Blackenstein, featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Nicki Minaj. First Jim Carrey's hilarious spoof of Black Swan, and now this... I'm sensing a pattern here, Lorne Michaels--keep it up! Anyway, just thought I'd share this little video with you, Vault dwellers. It's certainly the perfect post for a lazy Sunday (oh wait, that's an entirely different SNL clip...)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yes I Know, It's Another BLACK SWAN Review...

By now, everyone and their wicked stepmother has seen and reviewed Black Swan, the psychological thriller that has set the film world afire as of late. And because it is such a disturbing and frightening film, it has crossed over into the horror realm, leaving hordes of black T-shirt wearers giddy over the thought of a "serious" mainstream Hollywood film falling under their purview--and getting Oscar consideration, no less. It's like The Exorcist or The Silence of the Lambs all over again.

In the wake of all the buzz, I recently had the pleasure of finally catching the film, along with my undead cohort Captain Cruella, as a welcome break in the midst of our multitudinous online and real-world activities. And I must say it turned into a whole lot more than a simple diversion for either of us. In fact, I'd say we both agreed that it was one of the best, if not the best film of 2010, in our experience. And so, I'm sorry, dear readers, but you will have to sit through yet another gushing review of this breathtaking movie from Darren Aronofsky. The man who brought us such fine work as Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler has done it again with this mind-frak of a flick, starring the amazing Natalie Portman as Nine Sayers, an aspiring ballerina up for the dual lead role in a slick new production of Swan Lake. I haven't seen every nominated performance, but it's difficult for me to imagine Portman not taking home the Best Actress Oscar for this.

My initial reaction to the film was to think of it as "Suspiria meets Jacob's Ladder", and while this summation is a bit too neat and not really accurate, there are definitely elements of both. You have the balletic backdrop, with so much psychological strife being dredged up as a result of it; and you have the very real horrors of the mind gone mad, causing the viewer to lose sight of the line between fantasy and reality.

I spent part of the film trying to discern if what I was watching was supernatural in nature, or all in our main character's mind. The taut, kinetic script--a collaboration of young, relatively untested screenwriters Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman and John J. McLaughlin--keeps us on our toes, and pulls us deeper and deeper into Nina's internal world. Make no mistake, this is horror--only horror in the same sense that a film like Moon is horror.

Along those lines, the movie fairly is obsessed with bodily trauma, in an almost Cronenbergian way. In particular, the fixation on finger/fingernails was particularly disturbing, akin in some way to Lucio Fulci's eyeball fetish. Our writers--as well as the always-intense Aronofksy--definitely understand the kinds of things that get inside the head of the average person, and use that knowledge to great advantage in engendering a cinematic environment that manages to both keep the viewer completely off-kilter while also enthralling with its gorgeous lushness.

A large part of the credit must also go to Matthew Libatique, Aronofsky's cinematographer on both Pi and Requiem, who triumphantly returns here with a visual painting that speaks to the viewer in a way that no dialogue ever could. This is the power of the camera, and why film will always be a vision-based medium, first and foremost. The imagery, combined with Clint Mansell's original score and the overarching snippets of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake itself, provide quite the potent cocktail, and it's one which surely held me in its spell from beginning to end.

It's difficult to describe the intensity of the experience of watching the film. I honestly sat there in the theater chair gripping the armrests with white knuckles from time to time--and this comes from a rather jaded film-goer who is more than capable of deconstructing the art while in the process of viewing. When a film can still get to me like that, I know it's good.

The journey of Natalie Portman's character Nina is an almost mythic one, yet told on a completely personal level. In her efforts to uncover the dark, "black swan" aspect of her personality, she delves deep within herself, with mounting horror at what she discovers--and we're right there with her, along for the ride. It's a journey of growing dread, and as the film progresses, it takes on almost Kafka-esque proportions. It's the journey of the mind made physical--who says Expressionism is dead?

This is clearly the performance of Portman's career, and if anything, witnessing the magnitude of her dramatic power here is proof positive that George Lucas--who directed her to utterly wooden results in his Star Wars prequels--has absolutely no idea of how to work with live, human actors. But in addition to Portman, Black Swan is also populated with a variety of powerhouse performances. These include the striking Barbara Hershey, whose own faded beauty only adds to the strength of her turn as Nina's overbearing failed ballerina mother; Vincent Cassell as Nina's mentor Thomas, hilariously described in a recent Saturday Night Live spoof as "the world's only straight French ballet choreographer"; and Winona Ryder in an unexpectedly shocking and harrowing appearance as Nina's onstage predecessor and the former paramour of Thomas.

It's long been said that the most terrifying material of all is that which festers inside us--in essence, that the truest horror is the horror of the human mind gone awry. And Black Swan is certainly a classic example of this--a worthy successor to films like Repulsion and Carnival of Souls, that force us to confront the fact that we all have within us the capacity to drive ourselves mad.

Nina's startling transformation into the black swan is the transformation of an individual who can only find release in the acceptance of that within her which also has the power to destroy her. The result is a film of great power--an intimate portrait of the human mind, which also manages to be simultaneously epic in scope. This is horror of the most cerebral variety--deeply rewarding, and utterly unforgettable.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Having Some Fun with Dave Reda's HORROR OF OUR LOVE...

It's been described as a "horror romantic comedy short film that twists your normal love's story's back until it breaks," and that just about sums it up. A tasty little sendup of '80s slasher cinema crossed with MTV kitsch, Horror of Our Love is the kind of morsel that will bring a smile to any died-in-the-wool fright fanatic. Being one myself, needless to say, it left me tickled pink, with a goofy grin on my face--and I'm not even a fan of slasher flicks!

Shortly after we checked out the short flick, Captain Cruella and I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Zombie Dave Reda, director of Horror of Our Love (you can give that interview a listen over at Cruella's Crypt). And I have to say, I'm hard pressed to decide which was more fun--chatting it up with the hilarious Mr. Reda, or checking out his clever film.

The encapsulated tale of unrequited love between a Jason-like slasher (played by Reda himself) and a would-be final girl, Horror of Our Love is made with an obvious sense of love and admiration for the type of cinema being lampooned. As the strains of Ludo's song of the same name play, we are treated to our anti-hero's clumsy, and brutally violent attempts to win the heart of his lady. Needless to say, some serious splatstick antics ensue--and not to give too much away, but it all ends up leaving the viewer with a nice, warm fuzzy feeling. Kind of like Friday the 13th Part 4. Except not at all.

Horror of Our Love has been showing at a few film festivals, including Dances with Films last summer, and most recently, Liz & Brenda Fies' Bleedfest. The Captain and I were privileged to have an opportunity to check it out, and we hope that you get a similar chance sometime soon. Here's to more brilliant bits of horror comedy gold to come, from the twisted mind of Zombie Dave!

In the San Diego area for Valentine's Day? Check out Horror of Our Love as part of Miguel Rodriguez' Horrible Imaginings film festival on February 12, in which it will be screening alongside Bride of Frankenstein!

Dave Reda at Cruella's Crypt

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Visceral Visionaries: Yale University Art Gallery

Being the consummate weirdo that I am, I'm always on the lookout for bizarre and disturbing artwork. While others stand in museum halls swooning before Flemish still lifes and impressionistic pastiches, I'm enthralled by a bleak Bosch nightmare or ancient sculpted monstrosity. And now that I am the keeper of the Vault, I also have the opportunity to share my dark obsessions with all of you. All I need do is break out my handy-dandy Blackberry, and keep an eye out for those pesky security guards as I snap away discreetly!

Most recently (as in yesterday), I came across a treasure trove of amazing works of art right here in Connecticut, at the Yale University Gallery. And best of all, it's free--I suppose all that cash bilked from unsuspecting students and their families has to go somewhere. If you're in the New Haven area, you would do well to stop by and check out their fine collections of European, Asian and African art. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this little journey into the dark side of the Yale Gallery...

Altarpiece with a figure of Vasudhara (detail). Nepali, Malla or Shah period. Bronze & gilt brass alloy.

Headdress in the form of a female head. Nigeria, Late 19th century. Wood, hide, rattan, metal & pigment.

Mask (Gbona Gla). Ivory Coast or Liberia, early 20th century.

The Resurrection of Lazarus by Marco Pino. Italy, 1570. Oil on panel.

Male figure (Nkondi). Congo, 18th century. Wood, iron, cloth, mirror, leopard tooth, fiber & porcelain.

A Lion Attacking a Horse by George Stubbs (detail). Great Britain, 1779. Oil on canvas.

Saint Anthony Abbott Tormented by Demons, by Sano di Pietro. Italy, c.1435. Tempera and gold on panel.

Brazier with a Deity. Aztec, c.1325-1521. Ceramic with stucco and pigment.

Ash Head No. 3 by Zhang Huan. China, 2006. Ash, iron and wood.

Friday, January 14, 2011

TRAILER TRASH! Richard Matheson Edition!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Many Faces of Maila "Vampira" Nurmi

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Self-Serving Plug Alert: It's the 2011 Terror Team Calendar!

Those who have been following The Vault of Horror for some time now will know that I usually don't really make it very much about me, unless I'm writing about some way in which my personal love for horror films has affected my life. Well, in this case, consider yourself warned: I'm making an exception. Because I'm so damned proud of the 2011 Vault of Horror/Captain Cruella calendar, and I want to talk a little bit about the experience of making it happen.

If someone had told me just a couple of years ago that I'd be the subject--even the partial subject--of a calendar, I'd have thought they were a few Elm Street kids short of a soul pizza. But as with so many other things, my crossing paths with the inscrutable and implacable Captain Cruella helped open doors and make previously unimagined things possible. And so there we were, the subjects of a professional photo shoot, putting together an actual 12-month calendar, and enjoying every minute of it.

First and foremost, thanks must go out to the incomparable Del Higgins, a fine photographer with a true gift--and this is coming from someone who has organized and run photo shoots for the covers of major newsstand magazines. Del is the real deal, and it was a pleasure working with him. The ideas he brought to the table, together with the concepts and enthusiasm of the good captain and myself, resulted in a series of photos of which we all are very proud.

I think anyone who is a fan of the Vault, and/or a fan of Cruella (yeah, that's right, I'm talking to all you creeps out there, listen up) would honestly get a laugh out of what we've put together. A Christmas card shot that's Andy Williams meets Return of the Living Dead; a New Year's image that answers the question, What if Mad Men took place during the zombie apocalypse; cooking a human leg on the barbecue for July; and then there's my very own April portrait, in which I take on the part of Marion Crane in the famous Psycho shower scene. Yes, it took Del and Cruella quite a lot of work to convince me to do it, but in the end, the sacrifice of my pride and credibility led to a hilarious picture that's probably worth the price of the whole damn calendar, if I may humbly say so.

The Vault of Horror has been quite an adventure for me these past three and a quarter years. I've gotten to write about things about which I'm immensely passionate; I've gotten to experience horror in a way I never did before; and I've crossed paths with individuals who have truly enriched my life. The making of this calendar is, without question, one of the highlights of my time in this crazy world of horror blogging. I'm supremely thankful to my beloved Terror Team partner Captain Cruella for using her awe-inspiring facilitative abilities to make this happen, and for inviting little old me along for the ride.

So here's the hard sell. If you think you might like one of these babies (and I know it's already January--live a little, life's all about taking chances), the ordering info is posted right on the right-hand sidebar. You can order directly via PayPal, or shoot me an email if you'd like any more information. And if you order one, by all means let us know what you think!

* * * * * * * * * *

And while we're focusing on shameless self-promotion, I'd like to proudly announce that The Vault of Horror has been nominated for a second time in Total Film's Movie Blog Awards, in the category of Best Fan Blog. It's extremely cool and gratifying to be noticed in this way, and I'd like to point you all in the direction of the awards so you can go cast your vote. I'm flattered to be in the company of such sites as Zombos' Closet of Horror, Kindertrauma, Chuck Norris Ate My Baby, The Lightning Bug's Lair, From Midnight with Love and Zombots, amongst many others. The winners will be announced by the end of the month, so go make your voice heard now!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Defining Shots: Capturing the Essence of Our Favorite Horror Films (Part 2)

The most interesting thing about this screen-capture project that I embarked upon with Andre Dumas of The Horror Digest is the fact that the two of us never actually consulted each other ahead of time on which shots we were going to select. And yet, not a single time did our selections duplicate each other. And it's quite fascinating to look at our choices side-by-side, and analyze just what it indicates as far as our own personal perception of each film.

It's also a testament to these classic movies that they are so rich in imagery that we have both been able to pick out such powerful moments from each one. These are moments that have perfectly distilled these particular films for us, eloquently stating the central theme or idea that the movie is trying to convey.

We hope you enjoy the second and final batch of screen-caps...


One of the most fascinating aspects of Return of the Living Dead is the frank way in which the film confronts death--pretty ironic considering it is a horror comedy. And this confrontation with the other side is never more fully expressed than it is in this one unnerving moment when Ernie interviews one of the undead to learn what makes them tick. Creepy in the extreme...

This has always been my favorite screen grab of Return of the Living Dead. For a similar reason to my American Werewolf selection, this shot also shows that ROTLD had some meat on its bones. My favorite horror comedies are the ones that retain the scares, and Return of the Living Dead had that. This in particular is always such a chilling moment for me, almost different in tone and unexpectedly causes you to catch your breath.


The story of one man's dizzying descent into madness, this film brings us face-to-face with the insanity that lies within us all, waiting to be released. We watch as Jack Torrance become more and more unhinged, culminating in an orgy of deranged violence. This moment, right after Jack has dispatched poor Scatman Crothers, says it all.

This is a moment that defines the sensory overload that happens in The Shining. The fear and the horror, the anxiety and the terrifying images, seem to just gush out of the screen when you are watching it. It's surprising, beautiful and timeless--all things that I happen to love about The Shining.


It has been said that Dario Argento is the master of making horror look beautiful, and as a direct extension of this, it's obvious that for him, murder is a sexual act. This is at the heart of his work (pardon the awful pun), and here in Suspiria we witness the ultimate distillation of this notion, as the killer's knife penetrates flesh.

This double death scene early on in the film is the defining moment of not only Suspiria, but Dario Argento, as well. It perfectly exemplifies the idea of film as an art form. Quite literally, as this shot in particular looks like a painting. Every time I look at it, it takes my breath away and continuously reminds me why I love that little thing called a terrible beauty.


The figure of Count Orlock is what makes Nosferatu such a terrifying film, even today. His menacing form and threatening demeanor truly make this movie a so-called "Symphony of Fear". Here, the Count famously ascends the stairs to claim his final victim. Perhaps the most classic vampire entrance of all time.

For me this is the quintessential portrait of Count Orlok. He will continue to scare the crap out of me until my dying day. This moment where he stands on the threshold of Thomas' room, peering in and standing so rigid and so grotesque looking will always send shivers down my spine.


The invasion of Freddy into the dreams of his victims represents a powerful violation, and nowhere is this more vividly expressed than in Nancy's infamous bathtub nightmare, in which the slasher's razor glove appears from between the legs of Ms. Thompson. Paging Dr. Freud...

This shot proves the almost suffocating effect that Freddy has on his victims. It's such a marvelous shot that it almost feels out of place in a way. It's intrusive, and it's even unexpected. Freddy is supposed to be with Tina isn't he? Two places at once?!


What sets the original Godzilla apart from the endless stream of sequels is the way in which the film takes the damage wrought by the monster so seriously, measuring it in a human toll, and not just wanton property damage. This is a movie about people and how their lives are affected by a monster, not about the monster itself. This shot, in which a mother, confronted with imminent death, comforts her children by letting them know they will soon be with their father (presumably killed a few years earlier in World War II). Pretty heavy stuff for a man-in-suit flick.

This scene always catches me off guard. Originally, I had decided on the iconic shot of the fire breathing Gojira, but this moment kept calling out to me. It shows the heavy sadness that exudes from the overlaying themes in Gojira. The idea that although the destruction and effects of nuclear war were devastating, there still remained at least a shred of hope and beauty. I think highlighting this aspect is important to do amongst the loudness and anger of Gojira.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Vault of Horror's Top 10 of 2010

The previous 12 months were interesting ones for the horror genre. I won't say outstanding, but I also won't say terrible. There certainly was a bunch of entertaining and engaging films released last year, but not as many as in some previous years. I can't say I'm totally thrilled with this top 10 list, but I can at least honestly say that the top 7 were films I genuinely found to be terrific. The rest may very well have been bumped if I had had the pleasure of seeing movies like The Crazies and Daybreakers, for example.

But alas, I was invited by the incomparable Scott Weinberg of Cinematical and FEARNet (by way of the delightful Britt Hayes of Brutal as Hell and CHUD) to take part in a vast Ultimate Horror Top 10 of 2010, and so here is the list I came up with, when pressed. My list, along with those of many others across the horror blogosphere, have been tabulated to create a soon-to-be-published master list of the best horror flicks of 2010. I'm thrilled to be a part of it, and here's the list I sent in!

10. Afterlife
The inclusion of this one is definitely proof that I needed to see more new horror films in 2010. Ah well, what can I say, life got pretty busy. Still, there are worse ways to kill a couple of hours.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Sorry, people, I actually enjoyed it, OK? Sue me. No, not as good as the original, but I thought it was a decent little horror movie, and the "Dream, Dream, Dream" drugstore scene is pretty classic.

8. The Wolfman
A flawed film, but one I enjoyed nonetheless. I've long been waiting for a remake of this Universal classic, and I can't say I was disappointed.

7. [REC] 2
Alright, now we're getting into the really good ones. I am a huge fan of the original [REC], and though I found it far scarier than this, I will go on the record as saying this was the better film.

6. Piranha 3-D
Just a ton of fun, and when it comes to horror, that's really what I've been gravitating more and more toward in recent years. Great gore, and a balls-to-the-wall attitude you don't see too often anymore.

5. Shutter Island
Not really horror in the truest sense, but a very well-made psychological thriller from Martin Scorsese.

4. The Human Centipede
I enjoyed this far more than I ever imagined I would. I also was amazed that it really wasn't the gross-out flick I was expecting, but actually a very cerebral horror film. And Dieter Laser definitely plays the best villain of the year, not to mention having the coolest name ever.

3. Survival of the Dead
I championed this flick like nobody's business, and I stand by that. As a lifelong Romero fan, I found this to be the maestro's greatest zombie flick since Dawn of the Dead. And I fully realize I'm of the minority opinion.

2. I Spit on Your Grave
Another pleasant surprise, although nothing about this movie could really be described as pleasant. In the end, I found it much better than the original, even if it was surprisingly even more brutal.

1. Black Swan
Another psychological thriller, but one that has Oscar written all over it, especially in the case of the always-excellent (when she's not being directed by George Lucas) Natalie Portman. I just had the pleasure of seeing it, and can honestly say it was my favorite horror film of 2010. Expect a review of this amazing film a little later this week...

There you have it, Vault dwellers. So, what do you think of my choices? What would yours be? Let me know!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...