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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Horror Takes a Bite Out of the Big Apple

In just a matter of weeks now, all manner of bizarre creatures, madmen and otherwordly forces will descend upon New York City. And by that, I mean more than just on the average Friday night in the East Village.

It's the NYC Horror Film Festival, currently the biggest genre film festival in these United States, and it's coming just in time for Halloween, as it has every year since its inception in 2001. The festival is based at Tribeca Cinemas in lower Manhattan, but there will be screenings held throughout the city. No word yet on what films will be shown, as the call for submissions is still open.

In the past, the NYC festival has screened the director's cut of Hostel and the world premiere of the Masters of Horror, as well as past classics like Zombi 2 and The Return of the Living Dead. It has also honored such genre luminaries as Roger Corman, Tony Todd, Tom Savini and George Romero.

You can check out the official website here. Looks like any horror hounds within driving distance of Manhattan would do well to get themselves down there. And hey, if anybody from the festival is reading this, how about hookin' up ol' B-Sol with some press passes?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Michael Bay Off Elm Street Remake?

While this is far from official at the moment, word on the street is that Platinum Dunes--the production company run by Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form--has blown its window of opportunity for remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Fans will recall that Platinum Dunes was brought on board by Warner Bros. back in January to reboot the franchise, owing to its rep for doing the same for other properties like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. Last month, they even hired a screenwriter--Wesley Strick, the writer of Arachnaphobia, Wolf and Scorsese's Cape Fear.

But now the Vault has discovered that the Warner Bros.-Platinum Dunes deal may, in fact, have fallen apart. To be clear, this doesn't necessarily mean that the Nightmare remake isn't happening (though let's all keep our fingers crossed on that one), it just means that Michael Bay won't be the one doing it. Not sure if this means that Strick is no longer working on the script.

Why Platinum Dunes blew it, if in fact it did, still isn't clear. Could it be that they simply came to their senses? Nah, I don''t think so, either.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How to Scare Without Losing Sponsors: A History of Horror TV, Part 3

As was already discussed at length in The Vault of Horror's history of horror movies, the early 1970s was a time of great change in the entertainment industry. In film, the death of the studio system and the fall of the Hays Code meant less restriction on filmmakers than ever before, as could be seen most clearly in the horror genre.

This was a problem for television. Because although social mores were adjusting and heretofore taboo themes were starting to be addressed on the small screen, many of the old restrictions were still in place, certainly much more so than on the big screen. While nudity and gore was the order of the day for the movies, the tube remained comparatively puritanical. For purveyors of televised terror, this added the challenge of capturing an audience despite being unable to compete when it came to much of what was defining horror entertainment at the time.

Ironically, TV networks nevertheless tried their best to beat the studios on their own turf. And so the 1970s became the era of the made-for-TV horror movie. Much of the time, this served only to accentuate the manacles which Standards & Practices had placed upon them--however, at its best, the movement served as proof of the power of effective storytelling over graphic visuals.

A solid example would be ABC's Dracula (1973) starring Jack Palance. But for every Dracula, there was a Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (1973).

One of the efforts that found a place decidedly in the thumbs up category was a project spearheaded by producer Dan Curtis, who had also been responsible for Palance's Dracula. Based on a novel by Jeff Rice with a teleplay by genre legend Richard Matheson, The Night Stalker hinged on an intriguing conceit: scruffy reporter Carl Kolchak has an uncanny nose for the supernatural, and stumbles upon the case of a vampire preying on young girls in Vegas. Unfortunately, his abrasive reputation doesn't help him in getting anyone to believe him.

The Night Stalker TV movie was a such a success that a full-fledged weekly series was developed by ABC for the 1974-75 season, with the delightful Darren McGavin in the lead. Each week, Kolchak came face-to-face with a different monstrous menace. Despite its rigid, formulaic approach, the show managed to be both genuinely funny and genuinely scary.

Although its novelty caught the attention of a cult audience, it wasn't enough to keep the show on the air for more than a season. Nevertheless, Kolchak: The Night Stalker would become one of the most influential TV series in the history of horror. Most notably, Chris Carter has stated that it was the direct inspiration for his show, The X-Files.

But the short-lived Kolchak was an aberration during a time when stand-alone TV movies remained the order of the day. The two-part adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot (1979) was just as enjoyable and frightening as anything in theaters at the time, and the BBC's production of Count Dracula (1977) starring Louis Jourdan (which aired on PBS in America) is considered by some time to be the finest adaptation of Stoker's novel.

Outside the TV-movie, there wasn't much horror on TV to speak of at the time. It seemed that just maybe, network execs were under the impression that the current cinematic horror scene had rendered the episodic horror TV of yesteryear obsolete.

It wasn't until the dawn of the '80s that some dim signs of life began to appear again. In 1980, Hammer Films in the U.K. decided to capitalize on the weight of its name within the genre by introducing the excellent anthology show Hammer's House of Horror. And none other than George A. Romero, one of the States' most revered horror creators from the film world, stepped into the realm of TV with his own unique take on the tried-and-true anthology format.

Tales from the Darkside (1984-88) was at the same time a throwback and a bold step forward. While its very title and package were homages to that which had come before, the Romero-produced series wasn't afraid to change things up. It dispensed with the "host" gimmick, for one, and managed to push the envelope in terms of intensity more than any network anthology series had up to that point. Yet, it could also balance that out with liberal doses of black humor.

The success of Tales from the Darkside was definitely a turning point, and almost single-handedly lifted the concept of the horror TV series out of limbo. Pretty soon, everyone was trying to get in on the act. In 1985, two classic shows from the past, The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, were relaunched and rebooted for a new audience--and with effective results, for the most part. The fledgling Fox network cribbed the formula of the old Incredible Hulk series and gave it a horror spin with the vastly underrated series Werewolf (1987-88).

But the ultimate examples of television finally finding its groove in the wake of the new style of horror movie had to be the extension of the 1980s' two most successful horror flick franchises into TV-land. In the late '80s, both Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street gave birth to their own TV "spinoffs". Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-90) had nothing to do with the machete-wielding Jason, but rather focused on the exploits of a pair of antique dealers trying to recover cursed antiques from around the globe. Freddy's Nightmares (1988-90), hosted by Robert Englund as Mr. Krueger, followed more of the anthology format, spinning bloody tales of the unfortunate residents of Elm Street.

Freddy's Nightmares caught some attention from fans for raising the gore quotient higher than any TV series had done up to that point. Still, there was only so far it could go, and the show was a mere shadow of its R-rated cinematic counterpart. Although the late 1980s saw what was perhaps horror TV's biggest boom period in terms of the proliferation of shows, the reason it didn't last was that it once again reminded fans of the differences between the big screen and the small.

On top of that, through it all, the networks not only had to contend with the movies and the new VCR technology, but the burgeoning area of cable TV as well. Over the course of the 1980s, cable had been a juggernaut, spreading across the nation like wildfire. And in the case of the premium, sponsor-less channels like HBO and Showtime, the restrictions which had defined TV since its birth were non-existent. Anything went in the maverick new medium, and it would only be a matter of time before cable bigwigs realized this could be applied to original, episodic programming.

Just when it seemed that televised horror could never compete, cable had arrived to give the genre the shot in the arm it needed to stave off extinction. The gloves were off, and HBO was about to bring movie-quality horror into American homes for the first time ever.

Other major shows:

  • Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
  • Tales of the Unexpected (1979)
  • Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
  • Bates Motel (1987)
  • Monsters (1988)

Soon to come: Part 4 - Small-Screen Revolution

Part 1: Fear Invades the Living Room
Part 2: Terror Comes of Age

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is This Guy Obnoxious, or What?

An Indian moviegoer by the name of Pavin Ponanna apparently took Bollywood director Ram Gopal Varma at his word when Varma declared his new horror film Phoonk was so terrifying that no one could get through it alone.

According to entertainment website BuzzSugar, no sooner had Varma made the hyperbolic claim than Ponanna, obviously a man of some means, went out and spent a whopping 47,000 rupees (that's roughly $1,160) to buy all the seats for a matinée showing of Phoonk.

After watching the flick unspool for an hour and a half all by himself like a consummate jackass, Ponanna then commented, "I never felt scared, not even for a moment. I took just ten minutes to settle down."

While it may be true that the Indian exorcism flick isn't as scary as it's purported to be, that doesn't make Mr. Ponanna any less of a first-rate shmendrick. If you're feeling slighted, Mr. Varma, look at it this way: that's just another 47,000 rupees your movie grossed.

Phoonk (doesn't that sound like the noise Vader's helmet made when he lowered it onto his head in Empire Strikes Back?) opened last Friday throughout India and in other select theaters worldwide.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A New Horrific Destination

I've never been one to shy away from encouraging a little healthy competition here at The Vault of Horror, especially when that "competition" comes in the form a loyal reader. In this case, the loyal reader is one Wes Fierce, and his hideously enjoyable new website is HorrorFilmMagazine.com.

Did you know that there is a horror icons fighting game floating around the net, in which you can battle as the likes of Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, et al? And that it's free? I didn't either, until I read about it at HorrorFilmMagazine.com. There's sweet video, like Ellen Page's hysterical J-horror spoof from SNL, and classic trailers. Plus a boatload of other crap like forums and whatnot. Check it out, really, you won't be sorry. It's a chance to get in on something at the ground floor, so when HorrorFilmMagazine.com becomes the next Bloody-Disgusting, you can be all like, "Yeah, dude, I'm message board member number six!"

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Since I'm in a plugging mood, might as well say a little bit about my own site as well. I've gone to the trouble of adding some new functionality in recent weeks, so this is just a heads up. First off, there's now a playlist at the bottom of the posts, where you can listen to some themes from horror film and TV that are sure to get you all misty with nostalgia. Plus, I know there are so many of you out there who were wondering, "How, oh how, can I follow B-Sol on Twitter?" Well now there's a way, if you just take a gander at the sidebar to the right. In case you've never checked it out, there are always some noteworthy YouTube videos on display just a little further down from there (Vincent Price stuff at the moment). And I've also added a horror quiz and Lovecraft-themed video game just below the aforementioned playlist.

There's never an idle moment here in the Vault, kids. Reap the benefits.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Universal Names a Composer for The Wolf Man

Ain't It Cool News has broken a particularly cool bit of news this evening, namely that none other than Danny Elfman will be scoring the impending remake of Universal classic The Wolf Man, starring Benicio Del Toro.

Elfman is of course, one of the old war horses of movie scores, having plied his trade for nigh onto a quarter century. However, if I may throw a small monkey wrench into th geekworks here, he is not really known as a composer of "heavy" material. His work tends have a sort of quirky, oddball, whimsical feel to it, evidenced in flicks like Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetle Juice. And really, the only straight-ahead horror movies he's ever scored have been Red Dragon, Sleepy Hollow and Nightbreed.

Nevertheless, his work can occasionally have a grim, foreboding feel to it, most famously in his iconic Batman theme. Hopefully, we get more of that and less of his trademark "la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la" stuff.

My personal choice would've been veteran Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, who knocked it out of the park in 1992 with the score for Bram Stoker's Dracula. Although he's been around since the '50s, Kilar made his name among American audiences with that stellar score. Surprisingly, the only horror score he's done since has been Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate (1999). His epic creepiness and Central European flavor would've been dead-on. But Elfman's no slouch, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. What say you people?

Friday, August 22, 2008

TV Cult Favorite Comes to DVD at Last

One of the all-time creepiest TV movies of my childhood is about to make it on to DVD (and Blu-Ray) for the first time ever. I know there must be others out there like me who remember this one: Dark Night of the Scarecrow.

Larry "Dr. Giggles" Drake goes full retard as Bubba, a mentally handicapped fellow falsely accused of raping a little girl. When the town goons--led by the always-dependable Charles Durning--get together to put a hurt on him, he disguises himself as a scarecrow. But the thugs aren't fooled, and they gun him down in cold blood. Needlessly to say, ol' Bubba (still in his scarecrow getup) then exacts a bloody vengeance from beyond the grave.

It aired on CBS in October 1981, just in time for Halloween, and even though I was only six, I remember it well. It was pretty intense stuff for early '80s television, and it scared me right out of my elastic disco belt (despite the magnetic buckle). Then again, in those days anything more intense than Mork & Mindy or The Greatest American Hero would've freaked me out. Still, some of the images from that movie remain in my head to this day.

The movie itself was directed by Frank De Felitta, author of the horror novel The Entity, which was adapted into a film two years after Scarecrow was made.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow hits DVD and Blu-Ray next year through Image Entertainment.

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In the interest of self-promotion, I also wanted to point out, for those who haven't already checked them out, that I've started up two other blogs. The first is Following the Equator, which is the only blog on the internet covering Mark Twain-related news and info on a regular basis. Then there's Standard of the Day, where I spotlight a different selection from the Great American Songbook each and every day (Frankensteinia's Pierre Fournier is already a regular reader). Not sure if there's much crossover between horror fans and fans of either Twain or pop standards, but hey, I'm interested in all three, and I can't be the only one. Can I?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Zealander Soils Himself During [REC] Screening

Now, I've been a strong proponent of the Spanish zombie film [REC] since it was first released last November. And I can't think of a stronger endorsement for the picture than the incident reported on the New Zealand website Scoop, which alleges that an audience member literally crapped himself in sheer terror while watching the movie at the New Zealand International Film Festival last month.

The report is corroborated by a correspondent for the NZ website Incredibly Strange, who was also in attendance:

"What the individual left behind in the theatre seat was as horrifying as anything on the screen, and that's saying a lot."

There you have it, fright fans. If that doesn't convince you to see it, nothing will. If you happen to be in New Zealand, the flick opens there on August 28. Otherwise, it's available now on DVD in certain parts of the world. Find a way to acquire it at your earliest opportunity.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kiefer Sutherland Hates Horror Movies

And judging by the actor's resume, it would appear the feeling is mutual.

British entertainment website Digital Spy has a perplexing quote up from Mr. Sutherland, star of the forgettable flop Mirrors:

"I can do maybe one [horror movie] a year. I kind of liken it to getting on a rollercoaster. You haven't done it in four years and you go to the amusement park with your daughter or your son. You're standing there and you go, 'This is going to be great!' You get in line and then you get close to it and you're going, 'What the f**k am I doing here?'

"You start to try to walk out and there's 300 people behind you, and your kid's looking at you, so you're stuck. And the slow ride up is just torture and then it's done. You walk out going, 'Wasn't that great?' And then four years later, you forget the front part and you do it again."

Assuming this isn't a different Kiefer Sutherland we're talking about here, this is a quote from a man who has appeared in exactly three horror films over the course of a 25-year career. And before Mirrors, the only other "pure" horror flick he's done is Flatliners (1990). The guy makes it sound like it's a semi-regular occurrence for him, yet his last horror-esque movie was 2004's Taking Lives, a serial killer thriller you'd best remember from Angelina Jolie's sensuously parted lips on the DVD cover. (See, I told you.) In fact, his best contribution to the genre would have to be The Lost Boys (1987), which is best described as a horror-comedy.

So where does Donald's baby boy come off waxing all philosophic as if he were Christopher Lee or Brad Dourif or something? Beats the hell out of me, unless he's just trying to drum up some interest in his latest effort.

Oh yeah, Sutherland also confirmed that there will be a 24 movie, in case anyone's interested...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bringing the "Living Dead" to Life

Readers, it can be a very interesting and enlightening experience having one's finger ever upon the proverbial pulse of the horror world. Every now and then, you'll come across a particularly fascinating item. For instance, did you know that right now, in Louisville, Kentucky, an intrepid little production company called Stage One is attempting to launch a stage adaptation of Night of the Living Dead?

It's true. Thanks to playwright Lori Allen Ohm and directors Andrew D. Harris and Steven Rahe, George Romero's watershed classic will literally be brought to life the week of Halloween at Louisville's Iroquois Amphitheater. In fact, right now, Stage One is running a makeshift "Zombie University" for the purpose of preparing hosts of drama students to be undead extras in the production.

"The participants will go through characterization workshops so they know who they were when they were alive, and that will be reflected in their costume and makeup," said Stage One's makeup and costume designer Julianne Johnson to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

First Shakespeare's Land of the Dead, and now this. How long before we get Zombi 2: The Musical?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jesus Wept! The Ten Most Infamous Lines in Horror Movie History

Everyone loves a list. And while I usually restrict my horror movie list-making activities to Bloody Disgusting, I've decided to throw the Vault Dwellers a bone tonight. And so I give you the ten most infamous lines in horror movie history. Now, I'm thinking a little more off the beaten path here. Usually a list like this might include such gems as "We all go a little mad sometimes" (Psycho), "I never drink...wine" (Dracula) or "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" (Night of the Living Dead). But I decided (for once!) to be a little less obvious here. And so, these are ten ominous and extremely memorable lines that have stuck with me over the years, despite not being as terribly famous as most of the lines everyone remembers. So here goes, and by all means, feel free to pitch in with your own!

"Now I know what it feels like to be God!"
Frankenstein (1931; scr: John L. Balderston)
Most people would go with "It's alive!" of course, but for me, this line epitomizes the daring of this horror milestone. Spoken by Dr. Frankenstein right after that other line, it was removed from most prints of the movie in subsequent releases, but thankfully restored on DVD.

"Leave the charnel house and follow the lead of nature--or of God, if you like your Bible stories."
Bride of Frankenstein (1935; scr: William Hurlbut)
Dr. Pretorius' borderline blasphemous aside was actually an amended version of the original line, which read "if you like your fairy stories." If anything, the edited version may be even more subversive.

"Your mother sucks cocks in hell!"
The Exorcist (1973; scr: William Peter Blatty)
The fall of the Hays Code really changed things, didn't it? Can you imagine the shock of an audience listening to a little girl saying something like this, when a mere eight years earlier they were listening to Julie Andrews singing about whiskers on kittens?

"It's not my fault if Christ and the saints are out fashion."
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974; scr: Sandro Continenza & Marcello Coscia)
A fantastic line from a criminally overlooked horror film. Has the drastic shift in the genre (hell, in culture) during the 1960s and '70s ever been so succinctly expressed?

"I see you, chocolate man!"
Dawn of the Dead (1978; scr: George A. Romero)
How well written is a flick like Dawn of the Dead, when even the throwaway lines are this classic? DOTD is chock full of goodies like "We got this by the ass!" and of course, "When there's no more room in hell..." But there's just something about the matter-of-fact racism of Tom Savini's Blades that makes this line so unforgettable.

"I...corrected her."
The Shining (1980; scr: Stanley Kubrick)
You want to talk chilling? It just doesn't get any chillier than Philip Stone's speech to Jack Nicholson in the men's room at the Overlook Hotel. Plus all that garish red paneling. Damn, Kubrick was a bizarre individual. And brilliant for it.

"You mean the movie lied?!"
The Return of the Living Dead (1985; scr: Dan O'Bannon)
The brilliance of O'Bannon's script is that a line like this, delivered with such wide-eyed innocence by Thom "Freddy" Matthews, can perfectly cut the grim horror of a scene involving zombie dismemberment. A microcosm of what make the movie such a classic.

"Give me the amulet, you bitch!"
The Monster Squad (1987; scr: Shane Black & Fred Dekker)
Yeah, I know everybody quotes that line about the Wolf Man ad nauseum, but how shocking was it to hear Dracula scream this to a little girl? Pretty harsh stuff for a relatively family friendly flick--still not sure if the line really fits the movie. Ah, the '80s--what a perplexing era!

"Jesus wept!"
Hellraiser (1987; scr: Clive Barker)
As a kid of 12 in Brooklyn, I had never even heard this expression before, so it was just some real creepy weirdness to me, in a movie full of real creepy weirdness. Now that I know it's a common--if somewhat archaic--blasphemy, it only adds to my appreciation of Barker's layered use of religious themes.

"Take it! Take the fucking elephant!"
Darkman (1990; scr: Chuck Pfarrer & Sam Raimi)
This one's just such a perverse favorite of mine, I had to include it. When I think of the countless hours my friends I spent quoting and laughing our asses off at this immortally ludicrous line--spoken by a man who would star three years later in Schindler's List, no less!
I'm still not sure if I actually prefer the "edited for TV" version of the line--"Take the fuzzy elephant!"

Friday, August 15, 2008

Candyman Reinvented as a White Guy?

I guess it was inevitable. Shock Till You Drop is now reporting that Sony Pictures is considering a reboot of one of the 1990s most popular horror franchises, Candyman. What's more, there is some thought being given to recasting the hook-handed urban legend killer with a white actor. Genre fave Tony Todd originated the character in 1992, and made it into one of horror's only black icons.

I know it's been said before, but where is this remake frenzy going to leave us in a couple of decades? I recently picked up an excellent book called The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane, about American films of the 1970s. I was amazed to see how very few of them were remakes, and appalled by how many of them have been remade since then. A sorry state of affairs, indeed.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Horror Writer Praised By Frankenstein's Daughter

Anyone who loves classic Universal horror (and if you don't, go read a recycling blog or something) is certain to get a kick out of the nifty little short story "A Shock to the System", written by British gothic artist and author Glenn James and published last June by California-based online newspaper Newsblaze. And you wouldn't be the only one either, because James' work has been noticed by none other than Sara Karloff, daughter of the Frankenstein Monster himself.

A speculative prequel of sorts to Frankenstein, the tale casts Boris Karloff in the role of the good doctor, and is an entertainment treat for Universal devotees (except maybe continuity freaks, it'll have them doing some serious mental gymnastics). James was inspired to write the story after seeing Dudley Castle, the same landmark which was an inspiration to fellow Englishman James Whale, director of the classic 1931 Frankenstein.

Earlier this month, James was thrilled to receive a letter of praise from Sara Karloff, who had discovered the story online.

“Getting the letter from Sara was like receiving a telegraph from the Queen,” Glenn told the Birmingham Mail. “I was astonished, as I never expected anything of the kind. Sara said she had enjoyed every word of my story, which meant so much to me.”

I encourage you to check out the story for yourself, as well as more of James' stories and artwork.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fright House: Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough

You can feel Lydia Roberson's strong enthusiasm for the genre the moment you start reading her debut short story collection, Fright House. The first story, "Crawl", reads like a cross between Edgar Allen Poe and David Cronenberg, and is among the best in the collection. Nevertheless, it is plagued by the problems that persist throughout Fright House, rendering it in the end an unsatisfying and often frustrating read.

A work like this shows us the issues inherent in the phenomenon of self-publication. On the one hand, we have a work by an author with obvious affection for and dedication to what she's writing about--there is passion in these pages. But on the other hand, we also have a collection of tales held together by a flimsy concept that's never fully explored, either on an individual or group level. Plus, the constant barrage of spelling, grammatical and syntax errors is more than any reader should reasonably be expected to get through--Fright House screams out for your blood, but screams even louder for an editor.

The overarching theme that ties Fright House together is the trope of the haunted house. Each of the unusually short pieces explore the effects of these houses on their unfortunate inhabitants. There are some interesting ideas here--the ghost of a spurned lover who trades places with his beloved in "Pay Me Back"; the bizarre personification of death in "The Drummer". Unfortunately, Roberson seems to be more an idea person than anything else--though strong in places, much of the writing reads like something from a college creative writing class.

Alas, this brings me back to the whole self-publication thing. Am I holding Fright House to unnecessarily high standards? I don't think so. If one is putting one's book out there with other books from legit publishing houses, there's no reason it shouldn't be judged by the same literary standards. And despite the zeal and creative approach Roberson takes, the finished product just doesn't hold up.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Achtung! Germans Discover Horror Gene

Psychologists at the University of Bonn have apparently discovered why The Exorcist scared the living crap out of you as a kid--and why most of your friends laughed at you because of it.

According to a report from The Press Association, the German researchers have identified a single gene which, depending on certain variations, affects a specific chemical in the brain that is linked to anxiety. This chemical determines how easily a person will be startled by shocking imagery. People on one end of the spectrum may find it hard to keep their emotions in check while viewing such imagery, but those on the other end are mainly immune to the effects of such imagery.

So basically, it's just a tiny genetic variation that determines whether you'll find most horror movies terrifying or funny. Interestingly, the scientists found that the variation which causes heightened terror from visual stimuli is a very recent evolutionary development in humans, missing in all other hominids.

Keep that in mind the next time you sit down to watch New York Ripper with your pet orangutan.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Will Megan Fox Be Naked or Not?

Vault-Dwellers, never let it be said that I'm afraid to tackle the tough issues. Every now and then, there are stories which crop up and call out to my finely honed journalistic instincts--and by gum, this is one of them.

Earlier this summer, the internets were set ablaze when word got out about the painfully hot Megan Fox baring all in her new Diablo Cody-penned, Jason Reitman-produced horror-comedy Jennifer's Body. Actually, it was more than "word" that got out, thanks to an intrepid camera-wielding set spy. It seemed to be a bold move for an up-and-coming actress in the year 2008. I applauded her courage and professionalism.

But now, a review posted on JoBlo.com is indicating that the producers of the film may have had second thoughts and removed the much-heralded topless footage of Ms. Fox. Specifically, someone claiming to have seen an advanced screening of the movie--persuaded, in fact, to see it with the promise of Fox's mammarian exposure--declares that no such footage appears in the picture. Cue the booing and hissing of conservative studio reactionism.

However, upon further investigation into the matter, I discovered an interview Reitman gave on the Howard Stern show last spring, in which he explicitly stated that although Fox is topless in Jennifer's Body, the parts in question would in fact be tastefully concealed under her hair. Therefore, I submit to the disappointed JoBlo reviewer that perhaps the plan was never to show such nudity in the finished movie at all. Rather, it would appear that the spy photos represented an unfilmed moment between takes, and were not snapped while cameras were rolling.

So there you have it--hard-hitting news brought to you as only The Vault of Horror can. I'll take my Edward R. Murrow Award now, thank you very much.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Kirksdale: 21 Minutes of Great Horror Filmmaking

"When a tormented mental patient escapes the facility, Molly Walker, a misunderstood teenage girl, and Darryl Pearl, a young sheriff's deputy, must face their inner demons in a fight for their sanity...and their lives."

That's the synopsis printed on the back of the screener copy of Kirksdale that director Ryan Spindell was kind enough to send to the Vault--which got me thinking, "How can a story like that be told in such a short time?" After all, the award-winning short subject is what in the old days would've been called a "two-reeler"--no longer than a sitcom episode. But despite my doubts, Spindell gets the job done--and then some.

It would do the movie a disservice to say that it's very good for a film school production. Though produced by the Florida State University College of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts, Kirksdale is just a solid horror flick, period. In less than a half hour, Spindell and his editor Sam Littenberg-Weisberg create more genuine tension and terror than most fright films five times as long.

Spindell and co-writer Bradford Hodgson's tale of a 1960s Florida mental institution taken over by the inmates is engaging from start to finish--although I could've done without the requisite, tired torture porn stuff that inevitably pops up (enough already, people!). The performances and script are mostly very fine, and the warm golden hue created by cinematographer Julie Hotz is a clever juxtaposition to the grim and grisly affair at hand.

Kirksdale was shown last spring at New York's Tribeca Film Festival, but it's a shame that there isn't a more mainstream outlet for short films so that movies like this can get the audience they deserve. With any luck, and if Kirksdale is any indication, Spindell will one day be a successful feature director, and can include Kirksdale as a special feature on some other DVD release. And judging by the fact that Kirksdale was Ryan Spindell's graduate thesis project, I wouldn't bet against it.

Rocky Horror Fans to MTV: "Shove Your Remake!"

I've seen a lot of fan outrage regarding horror remakes in recent years, but nothing like this. For the first time I can recall, fans have actually mobilized and put together a petition to stop a remake from happening. And it's gaining steam.

At StoptheRemake.com, devotees of that ultimate cult phenomenon, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, are making their opinion heard loud and clear regarding MTV's planned remake of their beloved camp classic. It's a passionate plea, and on my last check contained 2,072 signees.

Can it have any effect? Probably not, unless perhaps it gained enough momentum and media attention. Otherwise, it looks like another "re-imagining", this time from the people who brought you "The Hills" and "Yo Mama".

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Terror Comes of Age: A History of Horror TV, Part 2

The 1950s was a time of experimentation in television, during which the medium was stretching its wings and trying to figure out exactly what it wanted to be. Much of the early programming could be rather basic in approach and concept. But by the end of the decade, the onset of pre-taping technology allowed for a more cinematic style, and the programming began to mature.

For the horror genre, that maturation took the form of a truly groundbreaking show which to this day remains among the most well-known--if not the most well-known--genre program of any kind. Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (1959-64) began as a rejected pilot submitted to CBS in 1958, which thankfully was reconsidered and greenlit the following year.

Mostly written by Serling, each episode was narrated by the writer himself, and utilized a brilliant formula that set the standard for all anthology shows to come. Blending elements of horror, science fiction and fantasy, The Twilight Zone presented tales of the bizarre and unsettling, in which nothing was as it seemed. The conclusion of each installment would bring a shocking twist that was sure to keep the audience coming back week after week.

In classic episodes such as "Time Enough at Last", "Eye of the Beholder", "To Serve Man", "The Hitchhiker" and "Terror at 20,000 Feet", genre elements were used to both comment on the culture of the day and creep the holy hell out of viewers. With Serling at the helm, The Twilight Zone was one of the best written, directed and acted shows ever seen on television, and remains a benchmark in genre entertainment.

Naturally, such a successful formula did not go unnoticed, and it wasn't without its imitators. And although devotees of the show may object passionately to its description as such, The Outer Limits (1963-65) was by far the best of them. Focusing more on sci-fi than The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits still never failed to deliver nightmarish monsters each and every week, and its iconic opening ("There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture...") is arguably even more famous than that of its higher profile counterpart.

As innovative as Twilight Zone and its copycats may have been, they still fell within the tried-and-true formula horror had stuck with since the birth of TV: anthology. But by the mid '60s, programmers were finally willing to try something different.

It began with a pair of horror-comedy series which both debuted in the fall of 1964: The Addams Family (ABC) and The Munsters (CBS). The former was based on Charles Addams' morbid series of New Yorker cartoons, which had by then been running for 30 years. The latter was produced by Universal, and spoofed their famous movie monsters by placing them in a family sitcom setting. Although both shows ran for only two seasons, they have since been immortalized in syndication (and now DVD), and will forever be inextricably linked in the popular consciousness.

Still, it remained for television to produce a serious, non-anthology horror series. Ironically, when it finally did, it was almost by accident. When Dark Shadows debuted on ABC in the summer of 1966, it was a gothic soap opera, airing in the afternoon. But a year into its run, it introduced the character of Barnabas Collins, played by Jonathan Frid, changing the landscape of the show and sending its ratings through the roof. The reason was that Collins was a vampire. From then on, the show took on a supernatural horror theme, thus adding teenagers to its traditional audience of housewives. The brainchild of horror TV maven Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows ran five days a week until the spring of 1971, comprising 1,245 episodes in total.

Although perhaps on the wane by the end of the decade, anthology TV was far from dead. In fact, six years after the end of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling brought a color follow-up to the small screen: Night Gallery (1970-73). With a pilot episode that marked the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg, Night Gallery followed a similar format to the Zone, except that it often combined more than one story in a single episode. It also had less input from Serling, instead featuring short story adaptations. Unfortunately, Serling never matched the success of his first show, and was disappointed by his lack of control over the series.

With the level of sophistication for productions higher than ever, it looked for a time like the future of the genre on television was the made-for-TV movie. The late '60s and early '70s saw a bumper crop of quality examples. Among them was the 1968 adaptation of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, produced by Curtis and starring Jack Palance (they would resume their partnership with even greater results five years later.) A young Michael Douglas starred in the 1972 movie When Michael Calls, an ultra-creepy offering about a long-dead boy making contact with the living via telephone. Among the very best was Gargoyles (1972), featuring some of the earliest work of the late special effects legend Stan Winston.

By the early 1970s, horror on television had come a long way from the radio adaptations of 25 years prior. Nevertheless, it was facing an unprecedented challenge from a motion picture industry that was less restricted than ever before. Horror was changing, and although TV remained largely constrained by network censorship, it nevertheless found a way to stay relevant and innovative--as exemplified by a short-lived series that would prove to have a profound impact on the entire genre.

Other major shows:

  • Thriller (1960-62)
  • Late Night Horror (1967-68)
  • The Sixth Sense (1972)

Soon to come: Part 3 - How to Scare Without Losing Sponsors

Part 1: Fear Invades the Living Room

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gore Flicks: How Young Is Too Young?

The Official Journal of the Academy of Pediatrics has published a very telling study this month on kids and violent movies (no, I'm not a pediatrician--the L.A. Times pointed me toward the story.) According to Dartmouth Medical School researchers, nine million American children between the ages of 10 and 14--or a total of 12.5 percent--are regularly exposed to very bloody, R-rated movies.

I'm a bit divided on this subject. While a parent myself (six and four), I'm also not quite as shocked or dismayed as L.A. Times writer Swati Pendley. I'll admit that ten might be a bit young for movies like The Strangers or The Devil's Rejects, but I can also vividly remember going to the movies to see the gore-drenched Robocop with my best friend. I was 12 years old, and it was the first violent R-rated movie I had ever seen on my own.

I happen to think that 12 is an OK age for just about any horror flick, although you might want to add a year or two if the kid is particularly sensitive. I also don't have a problem with the fact that we got in to see that movie on our own despite being under 17. So I guess I fall somewhere in the middle here. This is a borderline age range we're talking about here; 10 and 11 is a bit young, but 13 and 14 is certainly old enough. I think most would agree--at least those who actually remember when they were 13 and 14.

The study found that the majority of the 12.5 percent is made up of 1.) boys (predictably), 2.) minorities (not sure of the causality here, but the stat could be linked to lower on-average education and a higher rate of broken families), and 3.) kids whose parents don't restrict what they watch (duh).

Bottom line, and it' been said so often that it's a tiresome cliche, but parents need to monitor what their children watch. If your kid is going to see a certain movie, you should know about it. Maybe even more importantly in these times, if your kid is buying/renting/downloading a certain movie, you should know about it. Particularly if said child isn't even in middle school yet. In the end, it's the parents' call--but parents need to be making that call, one way or the other.

Until the cusp of pre-teen/teen, Hammer was about as gory as it got for me--and that's how I plan to keep it for my kids, too. By the seventh or eighth grade, as far as I'm concerned, bring on The Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Cannibal Holocaust (OK, maybe not Cannibal Holocaust).

It should be said that the Dartmouth study extrapolated statistics from a research group of 6,500 children, and focused on a specific group of 40 films released between 1998 and 2002--from horror like Blade to non-horror like Training Day. Generally, more of these kids were seeing these movies on DVD than any other way.

Some may think it's tough to keep track of kids these days with movies being as accessible as they are. But if you ask me, in this age of parental websites in which ratings are fully explained and movies exhaustively broken down blow by blow, it's really easier than ever for parents to know what they're kids are watching. Then again, get back to me in about four or five years. Hopefully I have the same answer.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Buffy the Animated Series: What Might Have Been

Yes, there really was going to be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer cartoon. As a matter of fact, Joss Whedon was developing it for Fox Kids four years ago. Unfortunately, the project never got beyond a four-minute teaser clip. However, that clip has now surfaced online (EW was the first to pick up on it earlier today.) All you Buffy fans enjoy this, 'cause it's all you're gonna get:

The voice of Buffy was provided by Giselle Loren, who also filled Sarah Michelle Gellar's shoes in video game incarnations of the show.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Shakespeare's Land of the Dead

"London 1599. Shakespeare’s Henry V opens the Globe
Playhouse, but while the actors strut and fret, an excess of bile plagues the populace outside. A true and accurate account of the Elizabethan zombie plague!"

That's the official summary from the press release issued last month by the Walking Shadow Theatre Company, and that about sums up what, by all reports, is an ingenious production debuting this week at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in the heart of Minneapolis. Mixing equal parts Elizabethan drama and Romero-style zombie mayhem, Shakespeare's Land of the Dead sounds like the literate horror fan's dream! Or at least the most brilliant theatre production anyone's come up with since Evil Dead: The Musical.

The gist of the plot: During rehearsals, one of the members of Willy S.'s company is attacked by a ghoul, leading to the Globe Theatre being locked down under quarantine. While London falls prey to the undead outside, the Bard and contemporaries such as Richard Burbage, Sir Francis Bacon, and even Queen Elizabeth herself, fight to survive inside. While I acknowledge this has the potential to be either absolutely phenomenal or totally unwatchable, reactions thus far point to the former.

If you've seen it, please drop a line to the Vault! If you live in the Minneapolis area, catch it before it closes next Sunday, and report back! That is all.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Allure of EVIL

Although I regrettably didn't have the opportunity to participate in it this time around, the formidable League of Tana Tea Drinkers has put together another group blogging effort that's a damn fine read, and worth a look.

This time around, they're talking about exactly what it is that attracts us to certain evil characters in horror. Gloomy Sunday has a "bad boys" theory sure to make feminists cringe. And Now the Screaming Starts pitches in a classic Hollywood legend about Bela Lugosi and Clara Bow. Unspeakable Horror gets turned on by Tim Curry in Legend. Muir's Reflections on Film and TV reflects upon Vin Diesel's Riddick anti-hero. And The Groovy Age of Horror wonders why certain kinds of evil attract us and not others.

Check it out. And while you're at it, you can also check out the League's last group post on evil kids in horror, to which I did contribute.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What the Heck Is This Twilight Thing, Anyway?

Typically, I pride myself on having my finger on the pulse of genre culture at all times. That's why I was caught pretty much off guard by a veritable phenomenon that seems to have taken form right under my very nose without my knowing it.

It all started when I walked into my local library to find a bizarre display. A mannequin dressed in gothic clothing, with an advertisement for a new book on the wall next to it. What was behind this gimmickry? Seems my library, joining forces with my local Borders just down the street, was organizing a special after-hours "release party" for the upcoming publication of Breaking Dawn, the latest volume in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series.

Okay. Just two questions, I thought. Who the heck is Stephenie Meyer, and what in blue blazes is the Twilight series? Apparently, I quickly discovered, there had been three books published in this best-selling series of vampire novels. Oh, and a forthcoming movie adaptation of the first book, Twilight.

Next thing I know, these books and their author are everywhere. On TV talk shows, news segments, the web, everywhere I turned. This new book Breaking Dawn approaches with a level of marketing hype unrivaled by anything but, well, Harry Potter. And Meyer is being hailed as "the next J.K. Rowling".

Now, I'll admit a deep, dark secret. Horror is not my favorite type of genre fiction. Horror maven I may be, but when it comes to my reading material, I'll take a good science-fiction novel any day. It all goes back to an interesting theory I've developed over the years. When it comes to movies, horror tends to get a better shake than sci-fi. It has a higher profile and is better regarded by the masses, tends to be more successful (barring a few aberrant summer blockbusters here and there), and can boast more cinematic classics (an inflammatory statement, to be sure.) But in the realm of fiction, sci-fi wins it hands down, being much more respected in both mainstream and literary circles, and of generally better quality than horror (with the exception of a handful of truly talented writers.)

So whether its my own personal bias or not, I really must not be as sharp as I used to be, because I never heard of any of this Twilight stuff before a few weeks ago. So what's the deal? Is this all just the product of a powerful marketing machine, or have I been blind to a burgeoning phenom in horror fiction? Are these books really all they're cracked up to be? Are they strictly for kids? Are they just overrated tripe? Fill me in, people.
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