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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dario Argento's Unlikely New Project

Electronic Arts has pulled off quite a coupe, announcing on Friday that they've enlisted none other than acclaimed cult director Dario Argento to do voice work on the Italian version of their new game Dead Space.

Argento--best known for films like Suspiria, Tenebre and Phenomena--is doing the voice of Dr. Terrence Kyne in the game, in which players find themselves trapped in an abandoned space station crawling with murderous genetic mutations. According to EA's press release, Argento has had a great deal of input into his character and into his voice acting.

"Dead Space truly captures the essence of fear in an entertainment medium," the director predictably says in the press release. "Not only is it the most terrifying game I've ever played, but it's also one that all fans of horror will appreciate."

Longtime Argento aficionados will tell you that the horror maestro has been known to contribute the narration for the original Italian versions of his own movies, including Suspiria, Opera and Inferno.

The American version of Dead Space (for PlayStation 3, XBox 360 and PC) ships in late October. In that version, the voice of Dr. Kynes is provided by long-time video game voice actor Keith Szarabajka, who recently appeared in The Dark Knight as the detective taunted by the Joker at the police precinct.

Monday, September 29, 2008

True Blood Creator Reveals Top-Secret Horror Film Project

Alan Ball, currently hard at work on the vampirific HBO series True Blood, confided to MTV News earlier today that he is contemplating doing a horror comedy feature film. Shame on you, Alan--you should know that Kurt Loder can't keep a secret.

Here's what Mr. Ball, best known as the writer of the Oscar-winning American Beauty, had to say:

"[It's hard] to pitch in a high-concept way – it’s a dark, dark comedy about a woman who just gets fed up with being a doormat. And it’s got a body count!"

A movie about a disgruntled chick on a killing spree, from the guy who did Six Feet Under? Count me in.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dexter Returns Tonight

For those of you who need a reminder, the coolest show on TV--Showtime's Dexter starring Michael C. Hall--kicks off its third season tonight at 9. I discovered the show right after last season ended, catching up thanks to the wonders of Netflix and OnDemand. This time around, I plan to catch it in OnDemand once again, as soon as True Blood ends in December--at which point I will drop HBO and add Showtime (got to play it conservative with those premium channels on a writer's salary).

But for those of you lucky enough to already have Showtime, make sure to catch it tonight. If you're already a fan of the serial killer series, you need no convincing. If you've never seen it before, now's your chance to get on board. According to the pre-season buzz, including this preview on Ain't It Cool News, it's pretty easy to jump in without having seen the first two seasons.

To get you further psyched and continue today's Dexter theme, here are a bunch of fake magazine covers that Showtime created last summer to help promote the show:

That GQ one was attached to a whole mock pictorial that was included in the October issue of the real GQ. I happened to be skimming through it at the barbershop yesterday when I spotted it amidst the self-important metrosexual musings. Pick it up if you get the chance--the Megan Fox interview is nothing to sneeze at, either.

* * * * * * * * * *

Although he never played a horror role in his entire career (aside from one episode of Suspense he did as an unknown in the early '50s), The Vault of Horror must bow in respect to the classic coolness of Paul Newman, and acknowledge his passing yesterday morning. He was one of the 20th century's greatest leading men, one of Hollywood's true class acts, and my mom's favorite actor. Rest in peace.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Download Director/Actor Commentaries for Child's Play and Fright Night

I know I just ran a Tom Holland-related story a few days ago, but tonight's discovery is just too cool to ignore. And if you're a fan of Holland's work, then I'm sure you certainly won't mind.

Tim Sullivan's Icons of Fright website has somehow managed to corral Holland and some of his collaborators on his two finest horror efforts, Child's Play and Fright Night, in order to record a series of "pirate" movie commentaries. These commentaries are now available at Icons of Fright, and can be downloaded for free, and then literally played while watching the DVD of their respective film.

There's a Child's Play commentary with Holland alone. Then, there are two Fright Night commentaries: one with Holland along with stars Chris Sarandon and Jonathan Stark, and the other with Holland along with stars William Ragsdale and Stephen Geoffreys, and FX artist Randall William Cook. (Right-click on the links to save each commentary as an mp3.)

This whole unofficial commentary thing is a brilliant idea which I think hasn't been done enough, probably because it takes a lot of tenacity--and maybe a little bit of moolah--on the part of website editors to make it happen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Man Who Replaced Forry Ackerman

No matter what they tell you, it really is a small world, after all. Case in point: In recent months, I've been making my modest living picking up freelance projects here and there. And this week, courtesy of a worthy comrade from my WWE days, I had the pleasure of doing some work for Wine Enthusiast magazine in beautiful Westchester County.

The gentleman who contacted me about the job, and to whom I reported during my scant two days in their offices, was one Tim Moriarty, managing editor. Well, if I had been more of a student of the venerable Warren Publishing Company and the legendary Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, I probably would've determined right away that Mr. Moriarty was one of Warren's editors, and in fact the man who took over for Forrest J. Ackerman as editor-in-chief of Famous Monsters (albeit for its final issue, pictured).

Being the boob that I am, I didn't discover this fact till I was almost out the door after completing my last day of work for Wine Enthusiast, mere hours ago. It's probably for the best--I don't know how much work I would've been able to get done if I had known earlier.

It started when one of the members of the staff was engaged in a conversation with Tim about old-school TV "horror hosts". Naturally, this drew me into the conversation. Then Tim casually mentioned that he worked for the company that published the Vampirella comics. Yes folks, Warren Publishing, the great horror comics house best known for its Eerie and Creepy titles of the '60s and '70s.

Little did Tim realize that he was speaking to the man behind The Vault of Horror--a fact of which I soon informed him. And as the day wound down, and we both were ready to hit the highway, we took a few minutes to chat about our love of the old Universal flicks, the classic giant monster movies, Hammer stuff (well, my love of the Hammer stuff), you name it.

So there I had been, for two days, working unknowingly for the last editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland--a bona fide "monster kid" from the golden era of monster fandom. And one who actually got to be a part of it all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Munsters As You've Never Seen Them Before

Fans of that charming family from 1313 Mockingbird Lane have great reason to rejoice in a little less than two weeks, when The Munsters: The Complete Series DVD box set will be released. But of course, if you already have the individual season sets, then it's really nothing new for you.

Unless, that is, you have an interest in seeing the original Munsters for the first time... in color. You see, the new collection will also include the first season episode "Family Portrait" in a brand new computer colorized version.

Now, before you start raving about "double-dipping", rest easy--because Universal has done the right thing, releasing "Family Portrait" individually on a separate DVD the very same day.

Most people serious enough about home video to buy an entire TV series are likely to be the same people who viciously object to the colorizing of old movies and TV shows. Usually, I agree. But I have to give it a pass in this case. For one thing, it's The Munsters for crying out loud--and it's only one episode. And furthermore, I really believe that The Munsters is the kind of show that was meant for color, and most certainly would've been in color, but for the fact that TV production hadn't completely made the switch yet from black-and-white. Also, from what I've seen, the colorization process has made great strides since the era of Ted Turner's crude defilements of classic films.

Yet I also sympathize with those who would argue that colorizing it detracts from the original intent of the show to be a parody of the old Universal monster movies of the 1930s and '40s. Still, this just seems like it's all in good fun to me. Hopefully it's not some kind of "testing of the waters" for broader colorization down the road.

Screen grabs courtesy of DVD Talk.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SPOILERS! What's Next for True Blood?

I've been very impressed with HBO's True Blood thus far, and had been reading up about it lately, when what do I come across on TV.com but a whole bunch of episode synopses, going all the way through chapter 8 of the 10-episode first season.

I'm sure these things are probably available a lot of other places on the web by now, but in case you're interested, here are the descriptions for the next five episodes in the vampire series:

Season 1, Ep 4: Escape From Dragon House

When one of Merlotte's barmaids is murdered, all fingers point to Jason. And Sookie goes to new territory to find the truth and prove her brother's innocence.
Airs: 9/28/2008

Season 1, Ep 5: Sparks Fly Out

At the Descendants of the Glorious Dead meeting Bill is invited to talk about his life as a Confederate Soldier. Bill then has a question and answer session when one member of the DGD shows Bill a tintype of the Compton family. Sam, Sookie, Tara and Jason are also present at the Descendants of the Glorious Dead meeting. Sookie deals with a loss of someone close to her. Jason notices Tara while he is high on vampire blood.
Airs: 10/5/2008

Season 1, Ep 6: Cold Ground

Sookie seeks solace from her friends after facing a tragedy. Jason suffers from withrawal symptoms. Sam and Tara share a bond in searching a common goal.
Airs: 10/12/2008

Season 1, Ep 7: Burning House of Love

Bill gets into action after he learns of Sookies painful past. Jason makes a connection with Amy in Fangtasia searching for V juice. A trio of mysterious red necks come for their old friend Bill seeking justice against vampires.
Airs: 10/19/2008

Season 1, Ep 8: The Fourth Man in the Fire

Sookie braces herself for more tragedy. Tara thinks of a new approach with dealing with her anger by adopting a similar therapy to Lettie Mae. Amy charms a crowd showing a darker side to Jason after the V juice runs out. Bill persuades Sookie into helping Eric using her gifts to catch criminals.
Airs: 10/26/2008

Could those "mysterious red necks" be vampire hunters? Will Tara's trials and tribulations ever have anything to do with the rest of the show? These capsules give just a little taste, without revealing any specifics. Plus, the contents of the final two episodes are completely unknown. What is known is the series has already been renewed for a second season. Good news for anyone suffering through Fear Itself for their horror TV fix.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Buffy Score Finally Made Available

Earlier this month, after years of fan requests, Rounder Records finally released a CD (also available on iTunes) of the score from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series.

The show went off the air five years ago, yet remains as popular as ever among its fervent fan base. The music, by Christophe Beck, features themes from seasons two through five. Here's the exact lineup:

1. Massacre (from "Becoming") (03:56)
2. Angel Waits (from "Passion") (01:43)
3. Remembering Jenny (from "Passion") (01:51)
4. Twice the Fool (from "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered") (00:48)
5. Moment of Happiness (from "Innocence") (02:13)
6. Loneliness of Six (from "Lover's Walk") (01:52)

7. Sugar High (from "Band Candy") (01:43)
8. Tai Chi (from "Band Candy") (01:11)
9. Kralik's House (from "Helpless") (02:23)
10. Magic Snow Music (from "Amends") (02:41)
11. Slayer's Elegy (from "The Wish") (01:55)
12. Faith's End (from "Graduation Day") (02:44)
13. Drink Me (from "Graduation Day") (01:26)
14. One Last Moment (from "Graduation Day") (01:07)

15. Haunted (from "Fear Itself") (01:16)
16. From the Grave (from "This Year's Girl") (01:53)
17. Demon Got Your Tongue (from "Hush") (02:39)
18. Golf Claps (from "Hush") (01:19)
19. The Princess Screams (from "Hush") (04:02)
20. Spellbound (from "Who Are You?") (02:37)
21. Fyarl in the Morning (from "A New Man") (01:54)
22. A Really Big Sandbox (from "Restless") (01:20)
23. Spaghetti (from "Restless") (01:17)
24. Body Paint (from "Restless") (01:38)
25. Xander's Nightmare (from "Restless") (01:49)

26. The Tower (from "The Gift") (02:06)
27. Losing Battle (from "The Gift") (01:48)
28. Apocalypse (from "The Gift") (02:25)
29. Sacrifice (Alternate Version, from "The Gift") (02:09)

If you're interested, here's the Amazon link. Me, I've never been much of a fan. Besides, my vampire fix is being thoroughly quenched these days by HBO's engrossing True Blood. But I'll save that for a later post...

A Peek Inside the John Cox Creature Workshop

Monster movie aficionados may recognize the endoskeleton to the left as one built by Willis O'Brien in 1945, which I believe may have possibly been used in his 1956 film The Animal World. As stunning as it was to be in the presence of this piece of movie history, it wasn't even the main attraction in the excellent exhibit I got a chance to preview tonight at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Called "How to Make a Monster", the traveling attraction showcases the impressive work of John Cox, the animatronic wizard who won an Oscar in 1993 for his work on Babe. And thanks to my membership at the Museum, I got the opportunity to take part in the official kick-off of the exhibit, and to drag my dad along for the ride.

But my dad and I didn't show up at the Museum tonight to see cute little pigs and sheep. I am, after all, the keeper of The Vault of Horror, and I have a responsibility to my readers.

There, that's a little more like it. This charming fellow and his brethren were among the only reasons to sit through Pitch Black. And here's a cool fun fact for you: notice the blue glow inside its jaws? Well that was caused by the flash from my camera, meaning Cox was using some nifty light-sensitive paint. Nice touch.

But every effects guy worth his salt has to have some dinosaurs on his resume, and Cox is no different. Here's one of the stars of the 1998 Sci-Fi original flick Gargantua, which was supposedly an attempt to cash in on the impending release of the American remake of Godzilla. Hey, don't hold it against Cox. After all, he didn't make the movie--just the dinosaurs.

Slightly unnerving, isn't it? That's one of the animatronic endoskeletons Cox's studio built for the same movie, just without the skin. But if you think that's unnerving, wait till you get a load of this:

Yeeeesh... No, that's not the Eye of Sauron. Actually, it's an eye from the giant killer crocodile in last year's Rogue.

Speaking of which, here's an early, unpainted version of that very aforementioned killer crocodile. And just in case you need more reptilian goodness...

I ask you, what other museum exhibit has a display case labeled "Crocodile Eyeballs"? The answer, my friends, is none. Need I say more?

In all seriousness, Cox really has some amazing work to boast of, and it's a wonder he's not better known, at least here in the United States. I noticed that he has done a lot of commercial work for TV in his native Australia, so it's possible he's better known over there. This is a guy who's dedicated to his craft. For instance, he built these two monsters, not for any movie, but rather, just for the hell of it:

Tell me that Gillman on the left shouldn't have landed Cox a spot working on the Creature from the Black Lagoon remake. As for that werewolf, it's cooler than many I've seen in actual movies.

Unfortunately, there were no samples of Cox's work on the Korean monster flick The Host, which I was hoping to see. Nevertheless, my dad and I had a very fun evening (the champagne didn't hurt). I urge you to check the exhibit out if you're in the area--it'll be here until the end of January. If you're not in the area, stay calm. This is, after all, a traveling exhibit, and so it may very well be headed your way next.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Interview with the Man Behind Fright Night, Child's Play & Psycho II

Every now and then, I stumble across an interview that's just so damn engrossing, I have to pass it along to you guys. Right now, there's one that's worth a read up on Ain't It Cool News. It's with Tom Holland, the underrated writer/director whose work includes the original Child's Play, the first sequel to Psycho, and most notably, Fright Night, his 1985 directorial debut.

Holland is clearly a big-time horror fan, and it shows in his Q&A with AICN's Mr. Beaks. He touches on a lot of great stuff, like the disparity between Child's Play and its more campy sequels, the seriousness with which he approached adding to Hitchcock's original vision, and the cult phenomenon that Fright Night has become. He also provides other tidbits related to his genre interest, including a dream remake of The Abominable Dr. Phibes he'd love to make with Malcolm McDowell! Finally, a remake worth getting behind...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Want to See the Wolf Man Trailer?

Universal Studios has come up with an unprecedented way to preview footage from its highly anticipated Wolf Man remake. According to /film, patrons of Universal's Hollywood theme parks will get an early look at the first official trailer for the Benicio del Toro film.

As part of its Halloween Horror Nights attraction, Universal Studios will feature the Wolf Man trailer on the "Terror Tram" that ferries visitors around the park. I'm assuming this is the trailer the screened a little while back at the San Diego Comic Con.

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios kicks off on October 3.

* * * * * * * * * *

I also wanted to announce that as of yesterday, yours truly is the official New York-area art columnist for the mainstream news website Examiner.com. Now, you can all heave a sigh of relief, because my crossover into the realm of respectable web journalism doesn't mean that I am abandoning my responsibility to you, the loyal Vault Dwellers who have made The Vault of Horror one of the most heavily trafficked horror blogs on planet Earth. But if you do get an opportunity, head on over and pay it a visit, won't you? It's been a long-time coming, but at last, the Internet literati are beginning to recognize my copious abilities. Vindication is mine!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nominees Announced for 2008 Scream Awards

In just a few short years, Spike TV's Scream Awards have become one of the most anticipated genre award shows of the year, probably because its the only genre award show that gets televised (I don't believe the Saturn Awards are televised, although they really should be, since they're much older and more respected). Anyways, Spike TV announced this year's nominees a few days ago, and I guess this covers a period from about mid 2007 to mid 2008, for whatever reason. Anyway, here are the horror categories:

Best Horror Movie
30 Days of Night
The Mist

The Orphanage

The Ruins

The Strangers

Sweeney Todd

That's a pretty solid field, with the possible exception of The Ruins. Not a bad year for horror flicks, eh? My vote goes to The Orphanage.

Best Actor in a Horror Movie or TV Show
Fernando Cayo for The Orphanage
Johnny Depp for Sweeney Todd

Michael C.
Hall for Dexter
Thomas Jane for The Mist

Jared Padalecki for Supernatural

Jonathan Tucker for The Ruins

I'm not a regular watcher of Supernatural, but I find it hard to believe it would be deserving of any type of nomination for anything. Give this one to Michael C. Hall, the guy is excellent in everything he does and deserves some recognition.

Best Actress in a Horror Movie or TV Show
Julie Benz for Dexter
Jena Malone for The Ruins
Belen Rueda for The Orphanage
Liv Tyler for The Strangers
Naomi Watts for Funny Games
Helena Bonham Carter for Sweeney Todd

What's with all the love for The Ruins? Well, anyway, I've got to give this one to Liv Tyler. She stands to become the next big scream queen, you just watch.

In addition:

  • The Mist was nominated in "The Ultimate Scream" category for best all-around genre project, although that will almost certainly go to The Dark Knight
  • Dexter and Reaper were nominated in the Best TV Show category, which really should go to Battlestar Galactica
  • Anna Friel of Pushing Daisies was nominated for Breakout Performance, but I expect the cutesy pick to go to Wall-E
  • Tobin Bell of Saw IV and Alan Rickman of Sweeney Todd were nominated for Best Villain--in any other year Alan Rickman should take it, but there's no way this one isn't going to Heath Ledger's Joker
  • Sergio Sanchez' The Orphanage script and Frank Darabont's The Mist script garnered Best "Screamplay" noms, hopefully Sanchez gets this one
  • In the comic book adaptation category, we have Army of Darkness, DC's Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, Joss Whedon's "Season 8" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as the new NOES and TCM comics--quite a year for horror comics (no Dead of Night??) I'm thinking Whedon gets it
  • Saw IV inexplicably got a nod for Best Sequel (Dark Knight wins, duh)
  • In the Best Director category, we have Tim Burton for Sweeney Todd, Frank Darabont for The Mist and... ahem... Rob Zombie for Halloween. Doesn't matter anyway, 'cause Chris Nolan's getting it
  • The Eye, Funny Games, Halloween and Prom Night were all included in the lamentable Best Remake category. Do we need to give it to anyone??

Check out the complete list of nominees here. The Scream Awards air on Spike TV on Tuesday, October 21.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Learn How to Make a Monster

There aren't many perks to being a horror sophisticate living in Connecticut, but by gum, I've found one of 'em. Seems that the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport has kicked off a special exhibit entitled "How to Make a Monster". Specifically, it is an exhibit of the animatronics work of lesser-known special effects master John Cox, whose company Robotechnology (heh heh, cool name) is responsible for such beasties as the killer croc in Rogue, and the new age kaiju in the Korean mega-hit The Host (a.k.a. Gwoemul).

The Discovery Museum will be holding a "champagne celebration" to launch the exhibition, and as a member, I plan on dusting off my top hat, white tie and tails to attend. Expect a full report. I'm especially looking forward to inspecting the go-go gadget arms Cox created for Inspecter Gadget 2: Direct to Video.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

His Name Is Bruce

If you're reading this blog, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that you're probably a really big Bruce Campbell fan. And if so, I advise you to head on over to The New York Times, which Friday published a nice little feature on the King of the B-Movies himself.

Nothing too earth-shattering--he talks about his cult status via the Evil Dead movies, his new flick My Name Is Bruce, plus his current success on the USA Network series Burn Notice. Still, it's nice to such a high-profile piece on everyone's favorite lantern-jawed hero. Hail to the king, baby.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Are You Ready for a Kevin Smith Horror Movie?

There will be no Jay. There will be no Silent Bob. There will be no comic book and Star Wars geek in-jokes. The last time Kevin Smith tried to break out of the so-called "Askewniverse", the result was Jersey Girl. This time, he's out to prove he is "a filmmaker" after all.

In an interview yesterday with MTV's movie blog, Smith discussed Red State, the horror project which will apparently be his next film after the forthcoming Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Ideally, according to the New Jersey native, moviegoers will come out of the flick not believing that it was actually directed by Kevin Smith:

"If I can pull it off in another genre, maybe I am a filmmaker. If it fails, then I’m a dick and fart joke guy and I should stick to that... There are no laughs in it. It’s straightforward, creepy, unsettling horror. I’m aiming high. I’m aiming at the unsettling ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ kind of vibe. I also want to throw in a little of ‘Race with the Devil’ which is one of my favorite scary flicks."

Smith definitely has the genre cred in terms of knowledge and respect to pull something like this off. The question is, does he have the talent? I love him when he's in his comfort zone, but I still have my doubts. Ever since he backed out of that Green Hornet feature, I've had the feeling he doubts his own abilities as a serious director.

As for the plot of Red State, Smith has stated it has something to do with an extremist far-right wing cult leader in the Midwest (which would account for the title). He was inspired by none other than the notorious Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church run by Fred Phelps of "God Hates Fags" fame.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Stephen King and Marvel Make History

I'll admit that I fell off the Stephen King bandwagon a long time ago--somewhere around Four Past Midnight, if memory serves. Too many obsessively repeated catchphrases, too many dangling plot threads and fizzling climaxes. Yet the Boston Red Sox' most famous fan is up to something rather ingenious these days, which I thought I'd share with you guys.

King's newest short story anthology, Just After Sunset, hits bookstores November 11. One of the tales included is called "N", and is a very Lovecraftian little yarn about the thin veil between reality and...something else. In order to both promote the book and delve deeper into the story, King and Marvel Comics have teamed up to create something quite unique and interesting. It's a series of webisodes based on King's original story and illustrated by Alex Maleev, the guy who does all those nifty drawings seen on Heroes.

It's kind of a hybrid between an online comic and a series of short films. I'll let Mr. King explain it a little better:

Exclusive interview: Stephen King talks about “N.”

The series wrapped up at the end of last month, and because I'm such a nice guy, I'm making all the episodes available right here. Enjoy, if so inclined:

Marvel will also be producing a comic book limited series version of "N" printed on good old-fashioned paper, sometime next year. Maybe King is on the way back to the cutting edge of the genre, after all. This is definitely the coolest thing he's done since that time he bought the minivan that hit him and announced he would destroy it with a sledgehammer. I'm not the only that remember that, am I?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Never Forget

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Twilight Author Switches Media

Stephenie Meyer, on the verge of becoming the next J.K. Rowling, has been quite busy as of late. The author of the hugely successful and omnipresent Twilight vampire series was in the midst of the fifth book in the saga, Midnight Sun, when a draft of the novel leaked to the web.

Supremely ticked off by the leak, Meyer reportedly shelved the sequel (for the time being, anyway). And according to io9, she's apparently trying to move past the professional setback by shifting her creative juices to another medium entirely: music videos.

Meyer is a big fan of Southern California emo band Jack's Mannequin, mentioning them several times on her website. Well, it seems the band, no doubt seeing dollar signs in an affiliation with the white-hot horror writer--contacted her with a request to direct their next video, for their record "The Revolution". Reportedly, although the video is handled in a dark "Tim Burton-esque" kind of way, it is decidedly vampire-less.

Meyer began work on the project while still participating in the editing process of the upcoming film version of Twilight, collaborating with experienced music video cinematographer Noble Jones.

Not bad for a Mormon mother of three from Scottsdale.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Metal and Horror: What's the Connection?

Let me just get this out of the way right off the top: I'm not a huge fan of heavy metal. I was definitely the most interested during my adolescence in the late '80s/early '90s, but aside from some great acts like Metallica, Anthrax, Iron Maiden, Guns 'n' Roses, Motorhead, Ozzy and AC/DC, even then my tastes were largely classic rock. Since then, I went through my alternative phase like everyone else, then the whole "singer-songwriter" thing, but as an adult my taste in music now falls largely within the realm of trad. jazz/trad. pop/lounge. So admittedly, maybe I'm not the best one to pontificate about all this. But I'm going to anyway.

Recently, I started up a new blog about pop standards, and wondered how much overlap in readership there would be, since for the most part, heavy metal seems to be the music of choice for a lot of hardcore horror fanatics. I do have a handful of readers of both, however, and one of them recently got me thinking about exactly why it is that heavy metal and horror movies seem to always go hand-in-hand.

The easy answer is that both of them deal in shocking, sometimes violent imagery. Horror films depict it in a visually explicit manner, while much of metal evokes it through the lyrics and the tone of the music (the videos can also contribute a visual element). I can remember the first time I saw Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" video, and it's still probably the most disturbing four-minute movie I've ever seen.

But there's more to it than that. Heavy metal and horror films (at least in their modern form) can both appeal to something angry and adolescent within us. They both provide a catharsis. In the case of horror, many movies are positioned to the viewer in such a way that the violence is a release--one of the hallmarks of horror of the past few decades is that we are encouraged to enjoy the violence in some way, even as we recoil from it. And many fans of metal find empowerment in its bottomless rage. It's the ultimate teen male power fantasy, with its furiously bellowing singers and combative instrumentation.

Therefore, it should really be a no-brainer that so many horror movies have featured relentless metal soundtracks. The visual and aural imagery is a perfect match. Look at it this way. Arguably, heavy metal has been with us for nearly 40 years. And from the beginning, bands like Black Sabbath freely adopted the same kinds of themes that were already common to horror movies of the era. And once the earliest fans of heavy metal became old enough to be among the decision-makers in the film industry, the shift towards a metal-centric horror genre began. The phenomenon really hit its stride in the '80s, with The Return of the Living Dead probably being the prototypical example.

Particularly, the "new" type of horror movie that emerged in the 1970s gelled quite nicely with the metal aesthetic that was emerging at the same time. In the olden days, there was far less angst in horror films. Audiences were encouraged to identify with the heroes and heroines, and the monster was exactly that, a monster. A tragic figure at best, but still a monster. When the Frankenstein Monster follows Elizabeth into her wedding chamber, the audience was not gleefully cheering on the Monster. And almost invariably, no matter how horrific things might get, it all worked out OK in the end. Most of the time, these films were scored with moody, macabre, yet eerily beautiful orchestral music, whether original or classical in origin.

But with the rise of the youth culture and the glorification of adolescent angst, both music and horror movies changed. Modern horror movies are characterized often by unlikable protagonists whom the audience can't wait to see eviscerated. The monster is often portrayed as a "cool" anti-hero figure. While on the surface the status-quo of good vs. evil is there, it's really just lip service. God cannot be counted on to save us, and things almost never end happily. The spirit of the age is pure mayhem, and we, the audience, revel in it. No wonder, then, that heavy metal's subversive ethos is such a perfect fit, and that the two would appeal to a similar demographic.

The same morbid/juvenile fascination with blood, guts and chaotic rebellion that produced the modern horror movie also led to the popularity of heavy metal, with its preoccupation with death, anarchy and sacrilege.

Now before anyone gets up in arms, I'm not describing it that way because I hate modern horror and/or metal. Certainly, if I hated horror movies I wouldn't be writing this blog. And I don't describe much of metal as "juvenile" in a negative sense--there's nothing wrong with giving release to some of the more juvenile aspects of ourselves, within moderation. I mean, you're reading the words of a man who has about 5,000 comic books in his basement and every one of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection box sets, so I'm the last one to preach about the sober, Spartan life. But we must at least acknowledge that this is the part of our psyche that identifies with these things--the ticked-off 13-year-old screaming at the world.

It's one of the main shifts that separates fright flicks pre- and post-1970, and one of the central connections, I believe, between heavy metal and horror films. For some, both things are fascinations of youth, which pass through maturation. The appeal of listening to Carnivore's "Jesus Hitler" and renting Faces of Death often dissipate with the onset of adulthood, delayed or otherwise. For others, like myself, the love of one subsides while the love of the other grows deeper than ever. I am living proof that it is possible to love Rob Zombie's movies, but not necessarily his music.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Fly Lands Stateside

After a premiere stint in Paris, David Cronenberg's and Howard Shore's operatic adaptation of their 1986 motion picture The Fly is finally arriving in America this weekend. It makes its U.S. debut this weekend in Los Angeles at the L.A. Opera's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

I'm really wishing I could be out on the West Coast to see this. Who knows? Maybe it'll eventually travel east for a stint at the Met. In the meantime, if there's anyone out there who is actually going to be attending the show, drop me a line via comment or email. I'd love to feature a review on the site!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Anita Page 1910-2008

There are very, very few major pre-World War II movie stars still around, let alone silent movie stars. But yesterday, we lost one of the most popular American actresses of the late 1920s, when Anita Page passed away at age 98. In recent years, she had made a low key return to the screen, acting in a bunch of horror B-movies in her 80s and 90s.

She was born Anita Pomares in Flushing, Queens, but went Hollywood early, breaking into movies as a teenager toward the end of the silent era. Most notable among her early pictures was While the City Sleeps, in which she was the leading lady of none other than the king of the silents, Lon Chaney Sr. When sound movies came in at the end of the decade, she went right along with it, starring in the early musical The Broadway Melody, as well as the rare Buster Keaton talkies Free & Easy and Sidewalks of New York.

Although not well remembered today, at the height of her popularity in 1929, she received some 10,000 fan letters per week--second only to Greta Garbo--and was actively pursued by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. But her time at the top did not last long. According to her own statements later in life, the reason for her abrupt and early retirement in the mid 1930s was her refusal to abide by the notorious "casting couch" system employed by some studio heads at the time.

Aside from one role in the 1960s, Page stayed in retirement for 60 years. Amazingly, she was bit by the acting bug again at the age of 86, when she started discovering that she still had a following among early film aficionados. Over the past dozen years, she took to appearing in primarily low-budget, low-profile productions. Among these were Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood and The Crawling Brain, abysmal trash to which she lent more class than was deserved in supporting roles. Due out later this year, her last movie was Frankenstein Rising, in which she plays Elizabeth Frankenstein.

"I am so honored," she recently said. "I sign autographs and the people are so kind. This is one of the most wonderful moments of my career, and to experience it at this time in my life, and at my age, I never would have dreamed."

Here's to you, doll. In the parlance of the day, you were the cat's pajamas.

* For more on Anita Page, check out my other blog, Standard of the Day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Will There Be a Hellboy 3?

For the time being, all thought of a third installment in the fan-favorite Hellboy series from Universal seems to have been put on hold. For a couple of reasons.

Although just as well-done as the original, and a box office improvement, Hellboy 2 still fell a bit short of studio expectations. Also, director Guillermo del Toro recently made headlines by announcing that he is now completely booked for the next nine years. As of now, Hellboy 3 is not included amongst his upcoming projects, which means that if he ever returns to complete what he has described as a trilogy--which he has said he wants to eventually do--it will not be for another decade, at which point star Ron Perlman would be nearly 60. Indiana Hellboy, anyone?

At the m0ment, Del Toro is totally immersed in working on The Hobbit with producer Peter Jackson, as well as a follow-up to chronicle the events between that film and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That's expected to occupy him for the next five years. After that, he turns his sights to some classic monster revamping--namely a long-discussed Frankenstein film and a new take on Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Then comes a new, "more faithful" (don't they always say that?) version of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, and an adaptation of the forthcoming historical novel Drood by the superb Dan Simmons. And finally, Del Toro's own pet project, an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, a seminal work by H.P. Lovecraft.

All exciting projects, to be sure, and Del Toro looks to be positioned as the next Lucas/Speilberg by the end of it. But no HB in sight. Oh, crap.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Clive Barker Trashes PG-13 Horror, Approves Remakes

Barker has been quite the opinionated little camper in the past year. First, he lashed out against torture porn, then rightfully spoke his mind regarding Lions Gate's treatment of his latest film, The Midnight Meat Train. And now, he's speaking his mind to MTV on some hot topics within the genre.

Firstly, he's made it quite clear that he's all for the upcoming remakes of his classic movies Hellraiser and Candyman, provided there's a good story to be told, and that something different and interesting will be done to make them worthwhile. He inferred that he'd rather see a quality remake than a sequel which does a shoddy job of adding to the franchise. A while back, he had officially given his blessing to the Hellraiser remake in particular, but the directors he had approved have since left the project.

Also, Barker made some strong remarks with regard to the recent trend of trimming down horror flicks in order to get a more audience-friendly PG-13 rating:

"It’s one of the most disgusting developments in the last few years; the whole notion of a PG-13 horror movie to me is a contradiction in terms. It’s like having a triple-X Disney picture. It doesn’t work... Wes [Craven] says that ‘When you go into a horror movie, you need to feel that you’re in the hands of a madman.’ Now what madman makes a PG-13 picture, right? Your horror-movie madman… doesn’t neaten up all the edges and make it all nice for mommy. [Studios] do it because they want to bring in younger audiences and make more money. But they don’t make better movies."

While I agree with Barker primarily, there has to be a distinction made here. In recent cases in which this phenomenon has occurred (such as Prom Night), you're talking about a situation in which studios have taken material that is clearly meant to be of an rated-R caliber and diluted its effectiveness by forcing it into a PG-13 pigeonhole. From a creative and artistic standpoint, that's clearly a disastrous development. However, that said, I don't agree that there can be no such thing as a great PG-13 rated horror movie. In fact, I think that's kind of ridiculous.

There certainly can be excellent horror movies rated PG-13 (and even milder!)--they're just different types of horror movies. Not the kind in which excessive body parts--both internal and external--are on plentiful display. But there are movies which can fully accomplish what they need to, and be effective, without exceeding the MPAA's guidelines for PG-13. For example, movies like The Others, The Ring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Lady in White were all very good, and all rated PG-13. But to be clear, none of them were "trying to be R."

For that matter, what about every single great horror movie made before 1965, when filmmakers were unable to make movies of an R-rated type? Are we saying none of them are effective, none of them have the power to disturb us? Psycho would certainly be rated PG-13 if it were made today, maybe even PG--do we accuse Hitchcock of "neatening up the edges"? Granted, he didn't have the option of making his movie any more graphically violent, but would that really have made it any better than it is? Heck, Universal gems like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man would probably earn a G rating today. For my money, Nosferatu is a more powerful horror movie than many rated-R horror movies I've seen.

So I guess my point is, filmmakers should not be asked to reign in their vision in order to fit a PG-13 rating--but at the same time, we shouldn't broadly proclaim that it's impossible to make a PG-13 horror film that isn't well worth seeing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Don LaFontaine 1940-2008

Those of you who don't recognize the name may recognize him by his other name, Movie Trailer Voice-Over Guy. The man who became famous as the voice of more than 5,000 trailers over the past 40 years--and brought the phrase "In a world..." into the popular lexicon in the process--is no more. Don LaFontaine passed away on Monday, ironically from a collapsed lung suffered as a result of a blood clot.

An entire generation of movie-goers will forever associate that omnipresent, ominous voice of his with the many films he helped tease. Naturally, among the most memorable, and the most suited to his trademark delivery, were horror flicks. Here are some of the very best:

Godspeed, Mr. LaFontaine. In a time when nothing is as it seems, one man made a difference. One man changed all the rules. And nothing will ever be the same...again.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Didn't Think a Movie Called "The Grapes of Death" Could Be Any Good

There must have been something in the water in Europe during the 1970s. It would explain the proliferation of excellent zombie movies that came from the continent during that period. Of course we all know about the Italians, especially Lucio Fulci. But in recent months, I've been delving beyond them, and discovering one gem after another. First it was Tombs of the Blind Dead. Then The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue. And now, I've finally got around to checking out Jean Rollin's The Grapes of Death, "the first French gore film."

An enthralling cross between arthouse and grindhouse, it really is quite a unique picture, and I'm glad the recent publicity around its newest DVD release led me to it. I'm also glad I was able to look past the ridiculous title, surpassed in ridiculosity only by its original French title, Les Raisins de la Mort. If you can refrain from snickering long enough to start the DVD, I assure you the snickering will stop shortly thereafter.

In the tradition of some of the previously referenced European offerings, the film feels like some kind of living nightmare, and most of the often-bizarre editing choices used throughout only add to that sense. Despite its status as "the first French gore film," it isn't wall-to-wall blood and guts. Rather, its structured in a much more effective way. Time and again, pastoral scenes of the French countryside lull the viewer into a sense of calm, only to be punctuated by moments of shockingly graphic violence that are over as abruptly as they arrived. It's a jarring experience, and I mean that in a good way. A crucifixion/beheading sequence is particularly unforgettable.

Plus, it's a plot only the French could've come up with: A pesticide used to spray grapes at a local winery causes anyone who drinks the resultant wine to be transformed into hideous, vicious quasi-zombies. It's filled with striking imagery, including a final shot that's bound to stay with you--even more so when you discover, as I did, that the movie's star, Marie-Georges Pascal, committed suicide seven years after the film's release.

Rollins may not be one of the greatest directors in the genre, and yes he did make some porn flicks earlier in his career. But he's far from the hack sleaze ball one would thus imagine. Rather, he's a man with a genuine love of the horror genre--having grown up on the Universal classics--who, after having to make some poor choices earlier on in order to keep fed, finally got the chance to make the kind of movies he always wanted to make, and ran with it.

One of the results is The Grapes of Death. If you're a fan of '70s-style horror, and Euro-horror in particular, and you haven't already seen it, do so immediately.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Can You Name the Movie?

Happy "Labor" Day from The Vault of Horror.

Hey, what do you want from me, it's the only holiday that's never got its own horror movie.

* * * * * * * * * *

On a more serious note, The Vault of Horror was saddened to learn of the passing last Friday night of Killer Kowalski, truly one of the most horrifying wrestlers to ever set foot in the ring. He was 81.
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