"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!**

Monday, March 31, 2008

Cloverfield Theme Will Get Commercial Release

One of the most memorable things about January's heavily hyped monster extravaganza Cloverfield was the 11-minute musical overture by Michael Giacchino, which played over the closing credits and was the only piece of music in the film.

Intended as an homage to the kind of majestic kaiju-themes Akira Ifukube wrote for the Godzilla movies and other giant monster flicks like Rodan and Varan the Unbelievable in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the piece has become enormously popular, leading to increasing demand for its release.

In this month's issue of Film Score Monthly Online, there's a downloadable video interview with Giacchino (available to subscribers only) in which the composer indicates that the overture will indeed me made available soon, although he doesn't say in what format. One would assume there would be a download, but a CD soundtrack seems unlikely, since there isn't any other music in the movie. Giacchino also said that if they had any idea there would be such demand for the music, they would've planned a little better.

One of Hollywood's up-and-coming composers, Giacchino did the music for J.J. Abrams' TV series Alias and Lost, as well as Pixar releases The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and the hugely popular Call of Duty videogame series. His newest work is for this summer's Speed Racer, and he will also be scoring Abrams' 2009 Star Trek adaptation.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

It's Official: Zombies Have Jumped the Shark

Now just to clarify, I'm not talking about Lucio Fulci's masterpiece, in which a zombie fought a shark. That was spectacular. No, I'm thinking more about Fonzie on waterskis here. Because it seems to me that zombie movies have finally hit the wall, and the culprit is Steve Miner's direct-to-DVD remake of Day of the Dead, set to come out next month.

To be fair, I should begin by saying it's not as god-awful as I was led to believe by all the preliminary reactions. Actually, I've seen far worse, especially in the direct-to-DVD category. I would even submit that if you forget that it's called Day of the Dead, and put George Romero's films completely out of your mind as if they never existed, it might be possible to derive a small amount of fleeting enjoyment from the picture.

Of course, that begs the question: Why did they bother calling it Day of the Dead? Especially when it bears almost no resemblance to the 1985 original, besides having some characters who happen to have the same names. Certainly, the fan backlash would have been minimized had they just dropped the pretense of remaking Day of the Dead. Well, the reason is simple: the name Day of the Dead is a draw, it gets people to watch the movie based on the reputation of the original. That was definitely the case with me, so I'd have to say that to a certain degree, the strategy worked.

If fast-moving zombies send you into paroxysms of rage, then avoid this movie at all costs. Because these zombies are good enough to join Cirque du Soliel. But again, as I said before, if you put these kind of pre-expectations out of your mind, you might be able to get through it. A scene in which Suvari flees for her life in a ventilation shaft is the film's suspense-filled highlight. And I will say that the gore is some of the most intense I've seen in just about any zombie film made this decade, almost a throwback to the original wave 30 years ago.

Mena Suvari stars as Sarah, and although she's a competent actress, she isn't really given much to do--it's a one-note performance. The overrated Ving Rhames is Capt. Rhodes in name only, and his appearance in the movie is short and forgettable. Nick Cannon as Salazar is a joke--when are studios going to realize that these types of stereotypical "black" roles are almost as bad as the Steppinfetchits of old? And then there's Stark Sands as Bud--that's right, it's not Bub, it's Bud. He starts out human, then becomes a zombie later, but other than his being one of the "good guys", there is almost none of what made that character such an icon. I should mention, however, the one moment which seemed to me to be the movie's most effective tribute to the original, in which Bud, a soldier in life, still responds appropriately to military commands, in a very Bub-like fashion.

Steve Miner, director of Friday the 13th Parts II & III as well as Halloween: H20, does a passable job of putting together a by-the-numbers zombie movie here, but all in all, it's a pretty disposable affair. I'd recommend it for hardcore zombie-lovers only, and maybe those who get a kick out of schlocky direct-to-video releases. But I have to stress--put Romero out of your mind completely. That's the only way to watch this without kicking in your TV screen. This remake is a clear example of how this subgenre has devolved since Uncle George pioneered it all those decades ago. And I, for one, think it's time to give it a rest.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dr. Caligari Never Sounded Like This

All I can say is, I never thought I'd be jealous of people who live in Ohio (sorry Ohioans, you know I love you). But if you happen to be anywhere near the Springfield area, you would do well to get yourself to the State Theater for tonight's one-time-only screening of 1919 German Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
with musical accompaniment by the unorthodox trio known as Equinox.

Tickets are only five bucks, and you can't beat that with a bat, to quote the Black Sheep. Equinox has previously accompanied State screenings of two other silent gems, Nosferatu and Metropolis. Next October, they will travel to Dayton for a reprise of Nosferatu, as well as a ballet interpretation of Dracula. When it comes to horror as art, it would appear that the Buckeye State is the place to be.

I realize this is a very localized item, but it captures my imagination simply because it's such a rare treat in the year 2008 to be able to view a silent film the way it was intended to be viewed--with a live score. Hopefully we see more of this kind of thing. I'll never forget attending a similar showing of Nosferatu in NYC about 15 years ago. It was an amazing experience, in spite of a too-hip-for-the-room audience that laughed throughout the picture. Hey, that's New York, folks--you take the good with the bad.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

AICN Reviews Script for World War Z

When, oh when will this project get moved out of developmental hell? Despite the fact that even I have begun to suspect that the zombie sub-genre has petered out (my review of the Day of the Dead remake is soon-to-come), Max Brooks' World War Z is a novel I thoroughly enjoyed, a horror epic that could completely regenerate not just the subgenre, but the entire genre if done properly.

The venerable Moriarty of Ain't It Cool News has posted a review of the script based on the book, which was written by J. Michael Straczynski a year ago--not long after the novel was optioned by Brad Pitt's Plan B production company. Since the completion of the script, not a word has been heard about the project, but the AICN review is most promising. Not sure why they chose to review it now, other than the fact that they've been big Brooks supporters going back to his first work, the bland and vastly inferior Zombie Survival Guide.

Moriarty speculates as to possible directors (Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, etc.), but the fact remains that nothing new is known. However, his review does reveal a lot about how the book's complex story--focusing on a series of testimonials recorded by a reporter from a series of witnesses in the wake of a worldwide Zombie War--would be treated on film. Keep your fingers crossed on this one, as it could be the Citizen Kane of gut-muncher flicks. Could insiders be getting cold feet due to oversaturation of the marketplace? Let's hope not.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Vault Takes You Inside Tribeca

It's my pleasure to announce that The Vault of Horror will be providing behind-the-scenes coverage on the horror films being screened this year at New York's prestigious Tribeca Film Festival. They include:

The Cottage: The most hyped of the bunch, this horror-comedy stars Andy "Gollum" Serkis, and will be screening for the first time outside its native UK.

Dying Breed: An Australian thriller making its world premiere at Tribeca.

From Within: Also making its world premiere, this supernatural tale stars Thomas Dekker of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Rumer Willis (Bruce & Demi's baby girl).

Killer Movie: A biting satire about murderous havoc unleashed on the set of a reality series, directed by Jeff Fisher and inspired, no doubt, by his experiences working on The Simple Life.

Sick Nurses: a.k.a. Suay Laak Sai, this Thai splatterfest export is already causing a buzz overseas.

The Wild Man of the Navidad: Based on real-life journals, this world-premiering flick focuses on a Texas town confronted by a creature inspired by urban legend.

Kirksdale: A short subject making its New York premiere, set in a 1960s Florida mental asylum.

I plan to get to as many as I can (or as many as Tribeca can provide screeners for). And who knows, there might even be a director Q&A here and there as well. And if I really keep my fingers crossed, they might even let me get my hands on Let the Right One In.

So keep your greasy eyeballs peeled for upcoming Tribeca coverage in the days/weeks to come. The Tribeca Film Festival happens from April 23 to May 4. Special thanks to their PR Department for making this possible.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Horror Comics Inquisition: Revisionist History?

In what is sure to be a fairly unpopular, if not inflammatory piece amongst lovers of horror-themed comic books (I'm talkin' to you, Karswell), The New Yorker has published a review of two new books on the subject of the 1950s Congressional hearings into the comics industry that challenges how the controversy has been viewed for the last half-century.

The review, by Louis Menand, though peppered with cultural snobbery in the grand New Yorker tradition, nevertheless is a fascinating read, which I was drawn to as a lover of both horror and comics. Was Dr. Francis Wertham, author of the infamous Seduction of the Innocent, not really the witch-hunter he's remembered to have been? Was William Gaines, publisher of EC Comics, more to blame for the collapse of his genre than anyone else? And was that collapse actually caused by factors completely unrelated to the 1954 hearings?

The two books being reviewed are David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America and Bart Beaty's Fredric Wertham And the Critique of Mass Culture. In his combined review, Menand jumps full-tilt into the 50-year-old fray, indicating, for example, that an amphetamine-fueled Gaines practically hanged himself in the witness stand with devastatingly ill-conceived testimony. He also points out that Wertham actually opposed the creation of the restrictive comics code that the industry imposed on itself, but rather favored something more akin to a ratings system.

In his appraisal of the two books, the reviewer takes a viewpoint which, while unpopular, is certainly worth a look for anyone interested in the subject. Particularly, he suggests that Gaines was not some first-amendment martyr, but rather a profiteer crafting entertainment for children that may not necessarily have been appropriate for them, especially in 1950s America. Menand points out comic industry insiders hired private investigators to try to dig up dirt on Wertham (below), who, in his words, "was not a philistine, [but] a progressive intellectual" who was anti-censorship but merely concerned with what he saw as racist, sexist and misogynistic representations in children's literature.

The decimation of the comic book industry is also, in Beaty's book, pinned more on the dissolution of chief distributor the American News Company in 1955 rather than the hearings of the previous year.

This is not a black and white issue, to be sure, and Menand also specifically makes mention of the Kangaroo-court atmosphere that characterized the hearings. But instead of simplifying the matter into a good-guy/bad-guy scenario, Menand and the two books he's reviewing take a closer, harder look into the situation than perhaps has ever been taken, pushing aside the mists of nostalgia that have prevailed in post-counterculture America.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rue Morgue Honcho Talks Horror

It's been clear for years now, at least to this humble blogger, that Rue Morgue is the finest horror magazine on newsstands. And I'm not the only Classic Horror Film Board voter who thinks so, since the mag did win a coveted Rondo Hatton award a couple weeks ago.

Firefox News (no connection to the browser, which they dutifully point out) has a really in-depth exclusive interview up with Rue Morgue founder Rodrigo Gudiño, who is apparently quite the deep thinker on all matters horrific. With a guy with this much insight on the genre at the helm, it's no wonder Rue Morgue runs circles around other horror pubs that seem more interested in printing as many gore-dripping photos as possible than anything else.

Gudiño discusses the difference between horror fans and science fiction fans, the perception of horror in the mainstream and what can be done about it, as well as many of the ventures Rue Morgue and its staff are involved in, including motion pictures. Check it out here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Gore Goes Mainstream: A History of Horror Movies, Part 7

It's ironic that the horror genre would be so quiet at the turn of the 21st century. Ironic, because in the years that followed--the final years of this seven-part history of horror--we have seen scary movies hold mainstream America fascinated to a degree greater than anything witnessed before, or at the very least since the heyday of Universal 75 years ago.

Whereas in the past, horror was treated as the forgotten stepchild of the movie biz, the sordid secret kept hidden away and relegated to midnight showings and niche subcultures, these days it's all around us, accepted like never before by a culture which has perhaps become too cynical and overexposed to real-life horrors to truly be shocked any longer. More on that later.

In recent years, the last true example of cinematic dread we've seen has been the surge of unnerving films that have come out of the Far East. In the Western world, the trend became to remake these films for American audiences, starting with The Ring in 2002. By far the most effective of the bunch, it was followed by the likes of The Grudge (2004), and more recently Shutter and The Eye.

Much of what became hip for the genre this decade has had to with a nostalgia for the films of a generation past. In part, this can be pointed to for the dramatic resurgence of the zombie subgenre--it can also be attributed to the success of videogames like Resident Evil. It was that game that kicked off the undead renaissance with a film adaptation in 2002. That same year saw the release of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, which introduced us to the concept of "fast-moving zombies."

It might not be an exaggeration to say that the past half-decade has seen more flesh-eater flicks than at any point previous. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead got a surprisingly high quality 2004 remake; Romero himself finally got to continue his saga with 2005's Land of the Dead; and Edgar Wright brought us the ingenious Shaun of the Dead (2004), the finest horror comedy this side of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.

The other face of this nostalgia was a throwback to the gritty, over-the-top exploitation horror of the 1970s. After more than a decade of restraining itself, Hollywood was starting to let its hair down again. The result is epitomized by the work of rocker-turned-director Rob Zombie, whose House of 1,000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil's Rejects (2005) exemplify a return to the early work of Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven.

But the logical extension of this would turn out to be a development that has been troubling to some old-school fans, yet exhilirating to a whole new generation just now embracing the genre. It should be said that the major difference between the exploitation flicks of then and now is that now they enjoy the mainstream spotlight. Filmmakers who grew up on this form of entertainment have helped bring it to the fore like never before. And as a result, a natural evolutionary step has occurred.

In direct contrast to the previous decade, in which some of the most bloodless horror films of the modern era were released, the past few years have born witness to an almost unprecedented amount of gore. And this time, it's not hidden away in a rundown grindhouse theater, playing to an isolated subculture of aficionados, or relegated to a few racks in the back of your local video store. This time it's front and center, and right in everybody's face.

Although the first Saw film, released in 2004, was actually quite psychological and contained little graphic violence, it has become the most recognizable touchstone of what is now usually referred to as torture porn, a subgenre of horror that focuses on depicting bodily trauma in unflinching detail. In the later Saw pictures, and even moreso in a movie much more typical of the category, Eli Roth's Hostel (2005), some might even argue that the depiction of torture takes precedence over character and plot.

Never before have movies containing such images played to such a wide audience. They are a part of our pop culture in a way that their predecessors were not, at least in their own time. The reasons for this have been debated endlessly by social commentators both professional and amateur. Are we desensitized as a society? Or worse, have we grown to enjoy such macabre displays, like Romans at a gladiatorial event? Some have argued these points, while others simply say that horror filmmakers are only looking for new ways to disturb us, for new ground to cover.

If it is just all about exploring new territory, that's at least more admirable than the latest trend that has all but taken over the production of horror movies as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century: remakes.

Too timid to try anything original, the majority of those willing to back horror flicks these days are looking to cash in on bankable properties; proven titles that are almost guaranteed to bring in a buck, if only on name recognition alone. The 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre kicked it off for all intents and purposes, and it has only grown more commonplace in the past five years. We've seen Zombie redo Halloween (2007), plus slavish rehashes of classics like House of Wax (2005), The Amityville Horror (2005), The Omen (2006), The Wicker Man (2006), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), When a Stranger Calls (2006), The Hitcher (2007) and many others, with decidedly mixed results.

In the year 2008, horror fans have a veritable legion of upcoming horror redo's to look forward to: Prom Night, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Rosemary's Baby, Hellraiser, Sleepaway Camp, etc., etc. Perhaps it's a commentary on the state of the genre that it seems to be torn between groping to depict more and more horrifying images, and endlessly trying to recreate that which worked in the past.

So where do we go from here? Maybe overseas, where films like the excellent [REC] threaten to steal away America's dominance of the genre. Or maybe the upcoming Wolf Man and the rebirth of Hammer Films signify a return of the classic monsters. Then again, it's most likely a heretofore unseen new development as unimaginable as the likes of Psycho or Night of the Living Dead would've been to pre-1960s audiences.

If it survives this latest cannibalistic phase, the horror film genre can survive anything, and it will almost certainly continue to thrive. From Count Orlock and Erik the Phantom, to Dracula and Frankenstein, to the Gill-Man and Norman Bates, to Leatherface and Jason, to Jigsaw and Captain Spaulding, the cinema of fear has firmly held our imagination in its icy clutches for a hundred years. Ironically, for as long as there exists real horror in this world, we'll always seek the escape of its morbid, yet safely unreal on-screen counterpart.

Other major releases:
  • The Others (2000)
  • Final Destination (2000)
  • Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
  • Wrong Turn (2003)
  • The Descent (2005)
  • Silent Hill (2006)
  • Fido (2007)
  • Hatchet (2007)
  • 28 Weeks Later (2007)
  • Diary of the Dead (2008)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Del Toro Wolf Man Pix Hit the Web

Since first appearing at EW.com yesterday, these two images of Benicio Del Toro as Wolf Man Larry Talbot in the upcoming remake have been making the rounds on a bunch of sites, but I couldn't resist the urge to put in my two cents.

To put it simply, Rick Baker is a god among men. I knew he was a major fan of the work of Universal makeup master Jack Pierce, but even I couldn't have dared to dream of such an impressive homage to Pierce's work on Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1941 original. It's refreshing to see they resisted the urge to go CGI. It's also nice to see they're sticking with the more humanoid werewolf variety, rather than the lupine version made popular (by Baker himself, ironically) in An American Werewolf in London. This is good stuff. Consider me officially re-excited for this picture, now 11 months away.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Howard Phillips Lovecraft – A Paean

For as long as this blog allows me to contribute, you will occasionally read statements by me extolling the virtues of H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, I will probably repeat myself many times on the subject. But for now, allow me to begin.

The importance of H.P. Lovecraft to the genres of horror and science fiction cannot be overstated. He is seminal. He is a pillar of all that came after. He was the first of many, and where he was not the first, he was most innovative.

His name – Lovecraft – innocuous sounding enough, is now synonym to both “macabre” and “lurking terror.” Without him there would be no King. No Barker. No Carpenter. No horror as we now know it. [Caveat: there has been a remarkable amount of scholarly writing about H. P. Lovecraft, of which only tidbits I have read. I do not proclaim to be an expert on the man, only that I have come to love his stories and have begun to understand his importance].

And the saddest thing about H.P. L. is that he was completely unappreciated in his lifetime. He was convinced he was a failure. He died penniless. He was forgotten. Yet the list of what was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, even tangentially inspired, is simply vast. There are several board games, a role playing game, video games, and even two Metallica songs inspired by him.

My first exposure to Lovecraft was a paperback collection entitled “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” which was an anthology of several of his stories. I found it while rummaging in the basement at the tender age of about 10, looking for some packed away Lionel train accessories. A basement, dark, musty and cluttered is a rather poignant place to find your first Lovecraft. On the cover was a man in a back tuxedo and cape, similar to what Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was fond of wearing, but with a face not unlike a cross between a Nosferatu and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It scared the bejeezus out of me, and from that point on I associated “Lovecraft” with “scary.” [I was young, and didn’t use big words yet].

I tried to read it, as I liked trying to scare myself [I had already delved into Edgar Allen Poe, the direct precursor of Lovecraft, as well as Stephen King], but I couldn’t get around his dense, spiraling, verbose writing. It was too much vocabulary, too much atmosphere, and not enough action for my young sensibilities. So, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” went back on the shelf.

Now, during the 80’s there were two movies I remember renting from Lynn TV, [the local video store], based on Lovecraft – “From Beyond” and the cult classic “Re-Animator.” I thought both of these movies were great; they were gory, violent, filled with nudity, and at least in the case of “From Beyond,” pretty freaking scary. The IMDB credits H.P. Lovecraft with some 71 films based, one way or another, on his writing. Yet none of these were in critical successes, and although a few were cult classics, most people, [myself included], have not seen them. One future project, “At the Mountains of Madness” is one that all horror fans should be looking forward to. [More on “ATMOM” below]. Therefore, these B movies would be my first official consumption of any H.P.L's material.

Years passed. I grew up, and went to the usual years of schooling. I read many books, and saw countless movies. I collected comics. I developed my tastes, which tend to the fantastical, at times weird, at times dark. I enjoyed visions of the future, both dystopian and utopian, far reaches of outer space, of Mars and Martians, of myths of Earth’s origins, of ancient times and creatures. I read King, Barker, Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Herbert, Tolkien, and others. Then one day, in my late 20’s, I again came across “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and began to read. It was fantastic. I loved it. The first story was “The Colour Out of Space,” a very creepy, yet simple story about what happens to the countryside when a meteorite falls from the sky, written in H.P.L’s anachronistic manner [notice the spelling of “Colour”]. I buried my nose in the book, next trying to get through “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” about a desolate New England town peopled by worshippers of an ancient and malevolent sea god. In the middle I lost the book, and couldn’t find another copy of it in my local used bookstores nor the local Barnes & Noble. Then I got lucky when I found another H.P.L. anthology with “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” in it. I picked it right back up, and devoured the whole thing, and then consumed the rest of the book.

At this point I was ravenous for more. I searched on-line and I found sites with his complete works [I am presently looking for a printed one for my bookshelf]. After-hours at my old office I would print out stories for my ride home on the subway, and in no time I went through them all.

A casual reading of H.P.L. finds that his themes repeat – madness; darkness; lurking; moldering decay; especially dark shadows; backward and decrepit people living in decrepit towns and countryside; orders of ancient and otherworldly beings and gods whose “magic” is more like science we cannot understand. His settings often repeat as well, and are mostly the back country of New England, usually centering on a town called Arkham, the Miskatonic University, and the denizens thereof. This last theme, of otherworldly beings and their super-science, would eventually be named by others the “Cthulu Mythos,” encompassing a series of loosely connected stories about these beings and their worshippers and victims. In my opinion they are the best of H.P.L., and certainly his most influential works.

And in creating this Mythos [though many others contributed to the Mythos, notably Robert Howard - creator of Conan, Solomon Kane, and Kull - and some crossover can be seen in the Conan stories], H.P.L. laid the foundation for modern horror. Unfortunately for him he would not live to see his work find the success he so longed for, due to his untimely demise in 1937.

With the Mythos came the Elder Ones, the Elder Gods, the Outer Gods, the Deep Ones, Cthulu and his Children. We get horrific entities with names like Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, Dagon, Shub-Niggurath, Tsathoggua and creatures called shoggoths. We learn that the Elder Ones [another race of alien, interstellar primordial superbeings], Cthulu and his kind, and the Outer Gods vied for the Earth when it was young, and they are still lurking: some sleep below the sea in hidden cities; some dwell in hidden caves under the polar ice; some just beyond the gauzy fabric of this reality.

These things hailed from otherworldly parts known as Leng, R’lyeh, Ulthar, Skai, Kadeth, and Ib in the land of Mnar, and their deeds were memorialized in such volumes as the Necronomicon and the Pnapkotic Manuscripts, not to mention numerous horrific carvings, base reliefs, hieroglyphs, and totems. Pretty rich stuff from a writer making up canon on the fly, without ever working it out into a cohesive system.

Before H.P.L.’s influence took hold, horror was of the Victorian type: Dracula, Frankenstein, and the horror stories of old Europe: vampires, werewolves, and at the core of it, Satan. At times, instead of the devil being at the core, it was the acts of men: Jeckyl and Hyde, as well as the monster of Frankenstein – both examples of men trying to be God and the ramifications thereof. All in all, it was a very structured world, with God on one side, the Devil on the other, man in the middle, and in the end things would shake out. Man’s place in this order was assured.

It is after H.P.L. and the Cthulu Mythos took hold, when the madness and man’s uncertainty as to his place in the natural order, do we truly get modern horror as we know it. With this new paradigm, horror would eventually take new turns. We would encounter the backcountry cannibal families for the first time, waiting in their ramshackle farmhouses. We would experience stories that challenge our sensibilities as to our place in the universe. Killers were motivated [and would not die, or, stay dead] by forces that were wholly unexplained, and not attributable to either God or Satan, but rather unknown alien forces, or at times sheer, simple madness. Men would fall into fearful insanity at their powerlessness to act; at the realization of their insignificance; that the fate of man and the earth are already sealed and it is only a matter of time; that nothing can stop the inexorable march of evil to their doorstep. Man’s place in the universe was not only suspect, it was downright trivial when one became aware of the real forces at work. Some might say that his dreadful vision was influenced by the madness of the mindless slaughter of the First World War.

In my opinion H.P.L.’s magnum opus is the novella “At the Mountains of Madness,” which is probably his longest work. Simply, it’s about an Antarctic expedition [launched by the Miskatonic University] which goes horribly wrong, leading to death and insanity. It is the kind of story that grips you, steadily ratcheting up the tension until you cannot put the story down. It is credited for inspiring the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, which in turn inspired “The Thing.” In “At the Mountains of Madness” we hear of a tale which ties together much of the Mythos, but leaving more than enough unexplained to fuel further wonder. We find out that our ideas of Earth’s origin, and its ultimate fate, is not what we would expect, or anywhere close to what we hoped for. But no such admonition to “Watch the skies” will ameliorate our collective doom.

H.P.L. can be found everywhere in the horror genre. Movies as disparate as Ghostbusters, The Thing, The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pet Semetary, Hellraiser, Hellboy, The Fog, and Event Horizon all owe H.P.L. a great debt for the groundwork he laid, the concepts he pioneered, and the atmospheres – the general creepiness – he was the master of. The same goes for horror literature, as well as comic books. Hell, Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum came from somewhere. Stephen King is practically his latter day protégé, another New Englander publishing the terrible goings-on in the unseen corners of Massachusetts and Maine.

H.P.L. is, with respect to the genre of horror, almost like Shakespeare to the English language – his influence is so wide, so diffused, so constant, you don’t even notice it. It’s like asking a fish to notice the water he is swimming in. But there it is – he is the dark, creepy, lurking atmosphere we all breathe.

I would like to give a special thanks to the Big AB of the Northern Wastes for his assistance in this endeavor.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This Is Not Your Father's Hammer Films

This has been out there for a while now, so some of you may already know that Britain's legendary Hammer horror studio has been revived and is releasing its first new movie in 30 years. I came across the new trailer earlier today, so I thought I'd share it.

The film is called Beyond the Rave, and unlike earlier Hammer releases which were traditionally period pieces, the movie takes place in the present day, placing blood-sucking vampires amidst Ecstasy-addled ravers.

It's certainly a break from such classics as Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein and Kiss of the Vampire, but Hammer CEO Simon Oakes, who bought the company last year, insists that the studio must change with the times if it expects to get back into the production business.

"We have an opportunity to recalibrate the DNA of Hammer Films for the MySpace generation," said Oakes in a press release. Because, as everyone knows, the 1950s and 60s was the Victorian era.

I'm willing to give the flick the benefit of the doubt, but really, how long can this pandering to an increasingly infantilized demographic continue? It's a vicious, self-sustaining cycle. I'm a member of Generation X, and I'm one of many who grew up loving Hammer movies. What's with all the spoon-feeding that goes on these days?

OK, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I really am interested to see what Hammer 2.0 is capable of. Beyond the Rave will air in five-minute installments on MySpace beginning April 17, and then will be released to DVD. Included in the cast is the once quintessential Hammer babe Ingrid Pitt, who, in a sad commentary on the inexorable march of time, plays the mother of one of the main characters.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Paddy's Day from The Vault of Horror


Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Story Any Horror Geek Can Relate To

Joe Dante has long claimed to have been a lifelong sci-fi/horror freak, and a reminiscence of his related today at contactmusic.com definitely supports that. The director of Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins and yes, Looney Tunes: Back in Action tells about the time a man was stabbed in the movie theater in which he was watching Mario Bava's 1965 classic The Whip and The Body.

A fan of obscure and then hard-to-come-by cult films, a teenage Dante used to venture into the sketchier parts of Philadelphia to visit the local grindhouse cinema and catch the kinds of flicks he couldn't see anywhere else, such as Bava's haunted castle tale. Dante, then 19, recalls sticking to his seat despite the outbreak of real-life violence and its aftermath:

"There's a scene where Christopher Lee is beating Daliah Lavi with a whip on a beach at sunset. Somebody in the theater got so excited that he stabbed the guy next to him. This was the only time this picture had played [by me] and, by God, I wasn't going to get up and leave. The police came... but I stuck around to see the end of the picture."

See, and you thought movie theater violence started with Boyz n the Hood and New Jack City. But seriously, who among us wouldn't probably have reacted the same as Mr. Dante?? And if you're answering "Me!"--then, sir or madam, I order you to remove yourself forthwith from my blog.

Dante is the master of ceremonies for the film series Mario Bava: Poems of Love and Death, a celebration of the Italian horror maestro's work currently going on at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre.

A Place for Monster Kids Young and Old

A few months ago, I had the good fortune to come across a little place on the web that made me feel completely at home. And if you enjoy reading this blog, then that place would probably make you feel at home, too. It's the Classic Horror Film Board, or the CHFB as we hepcats call it.

I enjoy posting on messageboards. It's fun sharing information, memories and opinions with people all over the world. But it has to be the right place. Unfortunately, a lot of horror boards are just not fun places to be. Some are filled with comments that don't go much deeper than "Rob Zombie is awesome!" or "Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood sucks way more than Leprechaun in the Hood!" Other times, I get that sinking feeling that the posters are not so much horror movie fans as fans of the content of horror movies. To illustrate, whenever I come across threads like "Who is the coolest serial killer of all time?" or "What would be the best way to torture someone?", I usually head for greener pastures.

The CHFB has become a favorite of mine, and it's one of the places I post to regularly, along with Bloody-Disgusting and the Rue Morgue forums. I guess what I enjoy most about it is that it's filled with fans who never forget that this stuff is supposed to be fun. The kind of fans who grew up watching B-movies on late night TV; or aren't ashamed to say they've built a model or two; or can recall the days of "horror hosts". These are real horror fans--not petulant emo-types whose mommy and daddy don't understand them and who are about two wedgies away from going Columbine.

So if you truly love this stuff and have wide-ranging tastes that can go anywhere from Dr. Caligari to Dr. Satan, then the Classic Horror Film Board will be a breath of fresh air. It's a place for the intelligent exchange of ideas, for shameless mass reminiscing, and real community-building for scary movie enthusiasts in the age of information. See you there!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tribeca Film Fest Lets the Right One In

If there's one thing I've tried to do around here, it's champion the cause of foreign language horror flicks that I think deserve a look-see from English-speaking moviegoers. And one that I've mentioned before is the Swedish vampire film Låt den Rätte Komma In, or Let the Right One In. You can check out the impressive trailer and my previous comments here.

Earlier today, Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Film Festival announced its complete "Midnight" (read: genre) movie lineup, and I was very pleased to see Let the Right One In listed. As I did recently for Diary of the Dead, I just might make the journey down to NYC to check that one out--and if I do, you can naturally expect a full write-up.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Iron Maiden Singer Resurrects Mr. Crowley

Famed British occultist/pornographer/drug addict/megalomaniac Aleister Crowley has long been a folk hero of sorts within the heavy metal community. And now, Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson--another idol of dragon T-shirt wearing basement dwellers everywhere--is bringing Crowley to the screen for the very first time.

Dickinson co-wrote the film Chemical Wedding with Julian Doyle, the director. In the already completed movie, acclaimed English actor Simon Callow plays Haddo, a college professor who brings Crowley back from the dead. Interestingly, Haddo was the name of a character inspired by Crowley in W. Somerset Maugham's 1908 novel The Magician.

Chemical Wedding is set to be unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival in May. According to Yahoo! Music News, Dickinson plans to fly a bunch of guests out to France in his own Boeing 757 for the premiere. Expect a full theatrical release for Chemical Wedding this summer.

* * * * * * * * * *

The legend of the Vault continues to grow. Earlier today, I was invited by Zombo's Closet of Horror to join the newly inaugurated League of Tanna Tea-Drinkers, a not-so-secret society of horror bloggers. I'm pleased by the honor, and especially love the Kharis-themed insignia! Other invited bloggers include Frankensteinia's Pierre Fournier and Kim Paffenroth, author of Gospel of the Living Dead, which sits proudly displayed on the Vault of Horror bookshelf.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dorian Gray Gets a New Picture

There aren't many true horror fiction classics that are begging for a new film adaptation, but Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of them. And now it will be happening, according to Digital Spy, which reported earlier today that a British movie is in the works.

Despite the fact that the novel (Wilde's only one) has been adapted for the small and large screen on 13 different occasions over the past century, there's really only one that's considered to be worthy of mention. That's the 1945 production starring Hurd Hatfield in the title role, along with Peter Lawford, Donna Reed and a young Angela Lansbury, back when was hot (if such a thing is imaginable). And it's not even available on DVD, believe it or not.

This new adaptation will be directed by Oliver Parker, who previously adapted Wilde's stage plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest for the screen. The story of a vain and corrupt man who puts off his own aging process by transferring his age into a painting of himself, Dorian Gray is decidedly darker material than Wilde's stage work, and Parker acknowledges that, saying he is "going for the horror-thriller angle of the story. It's different [from] adapting one of Wilde's plays."

Parker is no stranger to horror, having played roles in the first two Hellraiser films, as well as Nightbreed, another Clive Barker project. This one could be very interesting.

Monday, March 10, 2008

First Time Around: Space Monsters

Hello, all. You can call me RayRay, the name so nice you say it twice.

I would like to say that I am honored to have been invited to contribute to this page. I was pretty much offered an outlet for my opinions, on subjects which I love, which are monsters and horror movies. I assumed books and stories were also part of the fare. For that I have to say: thank you.

I have to confess that horror is not my favorite genre. I would have to say that I am a bit more of a science-fiction/fantasy fan more than anything, but from there you get some of the best monsters. And honestly, I love monsters. And that is the one thing movies have over books - you get to see the monsters. And science-fiction horror is a big sub-genre, and has some of the best monsters, so I guess I am in the right ballpark. And I love me a good space monster, be it intelligent or just plain mean. And there are soooo many good monsters from outer space.

Let's see, there are the hunters from the "Predator" franchise. They were a pretty good concept, and the first movie, with Arnold, had some very serious horror elements, especially when the small commando unit finally figures out that they are actually being hunted. The scene occurs during broad daylight (albeit in the jungle) which really adds to the tension. You have Schwarzenegger looking around, bug-eyed, at this unseen force which had just (if memory serves) picked off one of his own men. The horror implications of the movie wear off, though, once it is Arnold alone, and the creature's camouflage stops working, and you can see it is a man in a suit. At this point it more or less devolves back into a pure action flick, though it is still a good movie.

The monster in Predator is scary when you can't see him, and don't what he's about, except he really likes spinal columns. The ability to move about the trees is also disconcerting, as is the speed and obvious toughness. But when you get your first good look at him, when he emerges from the river and his camo-unit goes haywire, he is somewhat strange, but aside from his mask and his huge size, it's just a really big man, and all tension is dissipated.

But one of the great monsters from outer space, and of all time, are the bio-mechanical, H.R. Geiger-created "Aliens." Sure, I know, this is nothing new. Everyone has seen the movies of this franchise. Everyone knows that this is a very scary set of monsters. But I want to put my own 2 cents in. The original, Ridley Scott's Alien, is a pure classic, and the follow up, James Cameron's aptly titled Aliens, is one of the few sequels which actually stands up to the original [See: The Godfather]. (I will not comment at this time about the following movies of this franchise, or the AVP series.) The monster is the secret of these two movies. Simply, it is one of the most terrifying monsters ever thought up. To quote: "Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility." It is tough enough to withstand hard vacuum, and even a good blast by a spaceship's engines. It is essentially a black insectizoidal armored shell over what otherwise appears to be a humanoidal skeleton, but with a barbed tail, and a haunting eyeless face over a double mouth with teeth that appear to be metallic in nature. It is the very visage of soullessness - it is malevolent beyond a vicious animal; perhaps manufactured, but to what end? Even without eyes you can feel an inhuman consciousness burning into you, like when it is contemplating the cat, Jones, towards the end of Alien. And I haven't even mentioned its blood type or its less than charming form of procreation. It is almost industrialized horror made animal - manufactured in an assembly line, one of a series, in identical rows, oozing the slime from within the machine, precise in its actions, measured in its movements, hidden in the nooks of its nest. What isn't human is insect; what isn't flesh is chitin or metal. It is almost a realization of Kafka's bad dream, but we don't get to be the bug - the bug comes from us. All in all, I have long thought of this creature as the #2 scariest monster in horror, all time.

Now, that last sentence is begging a question: well, RayRay, what's the scariest monster of all time? I can tell you, and it is, in my humblest of opinions, also one of the best movies ever made: John Carpenter's The Thing. The Thing, you say? That bomb from 1981? The remake that was missing a cameo from James Arness? Yeah, that one. If you never saw it, then do so, and make sure the lights are out. If you don't want it spoiled for you, read no further.

There is nothing about this movie that is lacking. It is cast wonderfully. It's got a great script. It's screen shots and angles are great. The effects are top notch, and have held up for a quarter of a century, well into the CGI years (Rob Bottin did it right, and did it old school). And it has the single most terrifying monster of all time. The film combines the alienation from civilization with the alienation between the characters, where trust becomes the most valuable and vanishing commodity, in the midst of an Antarctic winter storm. And all with the lurking, oppressive horror of a monster that could be......is........one or more of the fellow men you are trapped with. Even after the monster is revealed for the first time - when it attacks the dogs in the kennel - it is immediately hidden again. This is the type of movie you watch over and over again, looking in the background to see if there was a raised eyebrow or a glance that you missed.

The Thing is such an effective monster as it can infiltrate at will; it can change shape at will; the forms it can take on are essentially unlimited; it possesses the souls of its victims (rare for a sci-fi monster from space); and when it attacks it...........well, what it does is not exactly explicable but it comes with generous helpings of slime and tentacles and wholly inhuman shapes, a horror of Lovecraftian proportions (more on the great HPL another time). As a victim you become just part of the creatures' coterie or its repertoire, depending on how you think of it. Also, once you begin to give it thought, the ramifications of this creature that absorbs its victims are troubling. Clearly, early in the movie at least one member of Outpost 31 is infected by the alien creature via the dog from the Norwegian base. Yet that person is not revealed until much, much later (it is either Norris, Palmer, or Blair, you never find out; and that person infects at least one or more of the others). At what point does that person cease to be that person? During the scene when MacReady, the putative hero, is performing the "blood and hot needle" tests, just before he tests Palmer's blood, you see resignation flash across Palmer's face. Is that Palmer, or the Thing, who is so resigned, sighing to himself? If it creates a perfect imitation, does the underlying person EVER stop being?

It is often forgotten (at least by me until it was pointed out) that MacReady, the pilot and aforementioned hero, takes a long helicopter ride to the site of the actual spaceship with the two characters that must have already been at least infected, if not full blown 'things' at the time - Palmer and Norris. Does anything happen off camera we don't find out about? Probably not, but that gnawing doubt is part of the essence of this monster.

Continuing, the "Thing" is no dumb animal. Whatever it is, it knows what it wants, and it wants to get the hell off Antarctica. And in furtherance of this it is building itself a SPACESHIP (!!) from the parts of terrestrial vehicles (while distracting the humans from discovering this activity). This is an extrememly intelligent creature (even if it is acquired intellect), with a lot of technical know-how (same caveat). Couple the toughness to lie dormant and frozen for a thousand centuries with all of the above, and the result is the most capable and frightening movie monster I can think of. Ever. All time. Period. At least to this casual observer.

Until next time, watch the skies.................

The Movie That Started It All

Have you ever spent years away from a film, then returned to it, having forgotten how much you loved it? It's a pretty common experience, and it's exactly the feeling I got after picking up the excellent special edition DVD release of Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead a few weeks ago at my favorite video store, Kim's Underground in the heart of New York's East Village.

The Return of the Living Dead was not my first experience with horror. Those who have read my intro to the right know how I got my first truly visceral shock watching The Exorcist as a little tyke. There were also all those classic Universal and Hammer flicks that syndicated TV piped my way on lazy weekend afternoons. But the one that grabbed my attention and didn't let go, the film that truly sparked my lifelong fascination with the horror genre, was ROTLD (as its fans so succinctly call it.)

Much as with my very life, it all started thanks to my parents. You see, they were horror freaks from back in the days when I had to stay holed up in my room just listening to the screams from downstairs, too young to sit in on the "grown-up" horror movies. I remembered them being particularly giddy over a picture that had zombies running around yelling "BRAINS!!" Needless to say, my interest was piqued.

By the time I hit the seventh grade, I felt old enough to confidently walk into a video store and rent whatever I wanted (except those secret flicks they kept hidden behind that beaded curtain...) Months before my 12th birthday, I boldly stepped into Video Reflections on Brooklyn's 18th Avenue and rented it. It would be the first of many times.

You have to remember that this was the first modern horror film I had ever watched from beginning to end. As I watched it unfold, I was filled with a combination of revulsion and fascination--a mix that has been repeated countless times since. It's funny that my introduction to post-Hays Code horror would be a flick that takes such an unflinching look at death in all its morbid detail. That's part of what sold it for me--despite being a movie about supernatural living corpses, it also dealt quite realistically with the subject of mortality.

Like most pre-teen boys, I suffered from an acute lack of irony, which naturally led me to take the film quite seriously as pure horror. Almost all the comedy was totally lost on me, which made it all the more fun to watch it now and be able to laugh instead of shiver. It's amazing how much I didn't appreciate back then. I'm not ashamed to say that the Tarman still freaks me out completely. In fact, I've never admitted it before, but to this day I can't walk up a darkened, partially exposed stairway without irrationally worrying that he might reach up and grab my leg. Don't tell anyone.

I had never seen anything like ROTLD before, and grew fixated on it, watching it a bunch of times over late 1986 and early 1987. I even felt the need to share it with friends at school who were also interested in genre stuff, rehashing the plot to them over lunch in the cafeteria. For me, it was a gateway movie, opening the door to so much more. My next stop was the Evil Dead flicks; then came George Romero; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Funny how I saw ROTLD before even having seen the Romero movies they were partially spoofing. It's also pretty amazing to think that a movie that easily could've been a throw-away '80s shlockfest merely aping great horror films has come to be considered a great horror film in its own right, even worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Romero's series. And with Shaun of the Dead now being the hip zom-com du jour, it's clear that Dan O'Bannon was a man way ahead of his time, and his film really is a well-crafted gem that gets better with age.

So thank you, Mr. O'Bannon, for making me the horror fanatic I am today. And yes, Linnea Quigley did have a little bit to do with it as well. I was after all, an 11-year-old boy.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Now That's Art

Today I wanted to share some of the artwork of my former colleague, long-time friend and fellow Tex Avery admirer Keith Ciaramello. Keith is the proprietor of Kustom Kulture Gallery & Tattoo in scenic Baldwin, Long Island, and it was while perusing his fine website that I came across his latest creation, which I think you folks will appreciate:

Imagine being the lucky guy/gal walking around sporting that little number. If you want to see more of Keith's work, check out the galleries on the webpage. In the meantime, here's a few more of his horror-themed pieces:

I'm sensing a Frankenstein fetish here, Keith.

Mr. Ciaramello and I originally crossed paths back when we were both immersed in the wild and wacky world of WWE. In fact, for any wrestling fans out there, Keith has inked several grapplers, including Tazz and Perry Saturn (pictured here). He's also the guy who designed WWE's Undisputed Championship belt from a few years back.

If you happen to be in the New York area and want to get yourself a tat, or just check out some kooky pop art, drop in. And tell him B-Sol sent you.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...