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Thursday, December 31, 2009

21st Century Terrors, Part 4: 2003

A Happy New Year to one and all--and what better way to commemorate the end of the Aughts than with another installment of 21st Century Terrors, The Vault's look back at the last decade in horror? This time we look back on a year that saw the genre in full bloom, both in the U.S. and abroad.

If for nothing else, 2003 will be remembered as the year that a grunge rocker who made his name on the alternative scene of the early 1990s would step into the horror world full-time. Rob Zombie had long incorporated horror motifs in his music and his well-crafted stage persona, but this time he was throwing his tattered cowboy hat into the directorial arena, taking aim at making his very own horror film.

The result would be House of 1,000 Corpses, one of the defining horror movies of the 2000s. A synthesis of the '70s exploitation horror that had mesmerized Zombie in his youth, the movie was a quirky, surreal blend of dark black comedy and the most grisly, brutal violence. House of 1,000 Corpses gave us the diabolical Firefly clan, and most memorable of all, one of the decade's greatest horror icons--Captain Spaulding, played to sinister, uproarious perfection by B-movie veteran Sid Haig.

Zombie's love of exploitation horror meant appearances by Karen Black and Bill Moseley--and who could forget the infamous Dr. Satan? Despite its derivative nature, in some ways Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses was one of those kinds of movies that epitomizes an era in the genre.

In a way, this was also the year that gave birth to another 2000s horror mainstay, Saw. Love it or hate it, no one can deny the importance of this film, its magnitude and the impact it had on horror this decade. It was this year that director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell produced a short film--nine minutes to be exact--that would reveal their groundbreaking concept to the world. The short would become the seed for the decade's most dominant horror franchise. The following year, Wan and Whannell would literally change the face of horror by turning it into a feature film.

Meanwhile, around the world, the genre was truly thriving. France, soon to be a major player on the terror scene, gave us Alexandre Aja's High Tension, considered by many to be among the finest fright flicks of the decade. Japan brought forth Ju-On 2, the sequel to the original version of The Grudge; South Korea gave us 4 Inyong Shiktak, which would later be remade in the U.S. as the dreadful The Uninvited. Also in Japan, the brilliant Takashi Miike created Chakushin Ari, which would also later be remade in America as the awful One Missed Call.

From another corner of the English-speaking world, namely Australia, came Undead--the year's big contribution to the recently exploded zombie rebirth. And although it was a somewhat lackluster film overall, you have to give the Spierig brothers an E for Effort. They brought a ton of enthusiasm to the zombie subgenre, and generated a lot of buzz in the process, keeping people interested in those nasty flesh-eating ghouls.

But speaking of remaking horror movies, that whole trend would continue in 2003. Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes, now infamous for pumping out cynical remake after cynical remake, would make some waves with one of their earliest efforts, a redo of the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre. More slick and stylish than the early '70s grindhouse favorite, the new TCM also provided more backstory to the movie's characters--some would say to the story's general detriment. The pattern was officially set for so many groan-inducing remakes to come...

Other past genre icons returned in different ways. We'll always remember 2003 as the year that Freddy finally met Jason in the most highly anticipated horror smackdown since Frankenstein battled the Wolf Man. It had been a long time coming, but this fun monster mash-up finally came to fruition, returning Krueger and Voorhees to the screen for the first time in years (especially Freddy, who hadn't reared his scorched head in nearly a decade). If not taken too seriously, this far-from-scary flick turned out to be one hell of a fun ride.

Two of the 2000s primary franchises, Final Destination and Jeepers Creepers, cranked out their first sequels--some would say they were superior to the originals, particularly in the case of FD. And another franchise would take off--namely Wrong Turn, an effective entry in the "cannibalistic inbred lunatic" horror subgenre. Some innovative kills and the lovely Eliza Dushku made this one a cut above, and it quickly became one of the decade's cult faves.

Horror was indeed in full bloody bloom in 2003, taking a darker, gorier turn than ever. By now, fans had a feel for what they could expect from the decade that would see a return to the more visceral, intense horror of yore, while still taking it in innovative new directions.

Also from 2003:

  • Beyond Re-Animator
  • Gothika
  • House of the Dead
  • The Toolbox Murders
  • Willard

Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001
Part 3: 2002

* * * * * * * * * *

On a side note, I just want to take the time out to belatedly thank Marc Patterson, editor of the superb Brutal as Hell. A month ago, BAH kicked off a new series called "Horror Bloggers We Love", and yours truly was the very first to be profiled. Thanks again, Marc! As for the rest of you, pay BAH a visit--it's chock-full of excellent horror goodness from the likes of Marc and talented horror savant/grammar nazi Britt Hayes...

And while I have your attention, please be so kind as to head over to Wired.com's 2009 Sexiest Geek Contest and cast your vote for loyal Vault dweller and Fandomania.com writer Paige MacGregor. That is all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hump-Day Harangue: Harold Ramis, I'm Ready to Believe You

The confirmation seems to have finally solidified. Writer/producer/actor Harold Ramis, also known to fans as Dr. Egon Spengler, collector of spores, molds and fungus, has officially declared in an interview this month with Heeb magazine that the third film in the Ghostbusters franchise will lense next summer, with a 2011 release date planned. And I couldn't be happier.

Here's part of what he had to say:

Something's going to happen. Dan [Aykroyd] did write a spec GB3 screenplay a few years ago, but no one was motivated to pursue it. Now, 25 years after the original, there seems to be some willingness to proceed and apparently a substantial public appetite for a sequel. We'll introduce some new young Ghostbusters, and all the old guys will be in it, too. Think Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future. [not sure what the heck that means]

Granted, I think I have a bit of a sunnier outlook on all these latter-day continuations of '70s/'80s franchises than some. While we can all agree that--with the exception of the second half of Revenge of the Sith--the Star Wars prequels were utter abortions, I wouldn't say the same, for example, about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crysytal Skull, which, although it was no Raiders by any means, I got a kick out of. I also geeked out hardcore to Bryan Singer's Donner-faithful Superman Returns, and was utterly blown away by Stallone's return in Rocky Balboa.

So, why not the Ghostbusters? As a kid, it was my favorite movie, hands-down. And while the sequel was one of the major letdowns of my young moviegoing years, I've still always held out hope that a superior third installment would happen. I even remember getting excited some years back thanks to rumors of a new GB flick that would include Chris Farley and Chris Rock amongst the new generation. Sadly, that never came to pass.

But now, this. Ghostbusters fever has been growing lately, as the '80s generation is now at the height of its decision-making power in Hollywood (see Transformers and G.I. Joe. Well, on second thought, don't.) We've seen major excitement this year surrounding just a new video game using the original cast members, so it was a no-brainer that interest would resurface in a Ghostbusters 3.

The optimistic part of me believes that with this many people involved--quality individuals mind you, the Murrays, Weavers and Reitmans of the world--it would have to be an impressive project to get them all on board at all (although I can hear the Crystal Skull haters chiming in on that one). Still, I particularly feel this way about Bill Murray. The guy has gone on to be such a bigger deal than he was even then, and has a rep for choosing solid roles. He has nothing to gain by being part of a lackluster sequel, and I'd bet he was the toughest one to convince to take part at all. So it gives me hope that he'd consent to be involved.

What also gives me hope is a very interesting tidbit of information leaked earlier this month. It's divided the fan community, but you can count me among the intrigued. Apparently, while promoting Avatar to the press, Sigourney Weaver let slip that in the new movie, Dr. Peter Venkman will be... a ghost.

If you've been monitoring the news, then that's no news to you, but I have to say that it has me more jazzed than ever. Talk about throwing the status quo out the window and going all-out! With Venkman as a spook, this will definitely be no by-the-numbers nostalgia-driven reunion movie. This is something different, unique, and interesting. This shakes things up.

What will be the dynamic? Will he be at odds with his fellow Busters since crossing over to the other team? Will he still be a part of the team, even in phantasm form? What, if anything, will be his relationship with Dana, and their son Oscar--who, at this point, is rumored to have grown up to be one of the famous paranormal investigators and eliminators?

Add to this the fact that the guys behind the American version of The Office are penning the script (possibly based on Dan Akroyd's older treatment?) and this is shaping up to be something of a potentially highly entertaining nature. It's been two decades since the boys in gray donned their proton packs (unless you count Ray Stantz' 1995 cameo in the Casper movie, which I sure as hell don't), and I'm more than ready to welcome them with open arms.

Back off man, their scientists.

Requiescant in Pace 2009: Part 2

Jane Randolph

David Carradine

Clayton "Sweater Zombie" Hill

Vic Mizzy (composer)

Edward Woodward

Dan O'Bannon (director, screenwriter)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Tuesday Top 10: More Scary Pro Wrestlers!

I always knew there was a strong overlap between horror fans and wrestling fans, and boy did you guys prove me right a few weeks ago when I did the Top 10 Scariest Pro Wrestlers! It probably got more responses than any other Tuesday Top 10 I've ever done, and there were so many great further suggestions of deserving individuals I simply didn't have room for. So, given its popularity, I figured, why not revisit it? And so, I give you yet another top 10 of some of the most terrifying competitors to ever pull on a pair of tights!

10. George "The Animal" Steele
Don't be fooled by the lovable brute he became after falling in love with Miss Elizabeth in the 1980s. During the 1960s and '70s, The Animal was one of the WWWF's most monstrous villains, terrifying fans and opponents alike.

9. The Great Kabuki
A Japanese competitor who made a name for himself in the States as well, particularly in the Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling. Known for his nightmarish face paint and penchant for spewing green slime in his adversaries' faces.

8. Stan Hansen
The epitome of the loud, intimidating, barroom brawler-style wrestler. He shut up fans in the New York area (not easy to do) when he broke WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino's neck during a match at Madison Square Garden.

7. Mortis
WCW never quite knew what to do with this Chris Kanyon, but you have to admit, this was a pretty creepy damn gimmick they gave him. He also got saddled feuding with the uber-lame Mortal Kombat wannabe Glacier, but it doesn't matter--he was still scary as hell.

6. The Missing Link
Another World Class legend, who also tore a swath of terror through the NWA as well, Link was a bizarre cross between a caveman and an alien. You never quite knew what he was going to do, but you could be sure it involved inflicting uncalled-for amounts of pain.

5. Sid
Call him Sycho Sid, call him Sid Vicious, call him Sid Justice (OK, don't call him that). It didn't matter, he remained a superhuman, living, breathing monster--a madman who crushed his opponents with the dreaded powerbomb, and nearly exploded every time he gave an interview.

4. Bull Nakano
In hindsight, this '80s and '90s Japanese women's wrestler looked like something out of a J-horror flick. She even spent a little time mixing it up here in the States in the WWF, where she made the rest of the lady rasslers look like sad little girls.

3. Ox Baker
The master of the dreaded heart punch, a move as sadistic as it sounds, Ox was a massive, demonic looking individual who seemed to truly enjoy the punishment he dished out to others. Best of all, all these decades later, the old guy still has the same horrifying look!

2. Jake "The Snake" Roberts
He could chill your blood with just the sound of his voice. He was icy, calculating, and dead serious. And then there was the DDT, a finishing move designed to take your head off. And did I mention he draped a giant boa constrictor on his opponents after beating them?

1. Bruiser Brody
The man. The myth. The monster. Massive Frank Goodish became a legend around the world, creating a mindless, animalistic persona that froze fans in their seats. The creepiness factor of Brody is only enhanced by the tragic fact that he was murdered in the locker room by a fellow wrestler jealous of his formidable drawing power. A bizarre, enigmatic figure in the history of pro wrestling.

Requiescant in Pace 2009: Part 1

Ray Dennis Steckler (producer/director/screenwriter)

Charles H. Schneer (producer)

John Updike (writer)

James Whitmore

Maurice Jarre (composer)

Andy Hallett

Marilyn Chambers

Monday, December 28, 2009

TRAILER TRASH: Psychological Horror Edition!

Thanks for this week's Trailer Trash theme go to the one and only Marilyn Merlot...

A Quarter-Century of Krueger: The Final Nightmare

Well, this is it, the last installment of QCK, my little celebration of the 25th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's been fun looking back on one of the genre's most beloved and influential movies, and I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed putting it together. And so, as the anniversary year draws to a close, here's a handy-dandy index of all the QCK posts I've run this year, for your perusing pleasure:

And have no fear (or maybe you should), because coming in 2010 will be Psycho Semi-Centennial!

Freddy cartoon by Montygog

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Many Faces of Bruce Campbell


Hey there Vault Dwellers, It's Ms. BJ-C of Day of the Woman filling in for an equally internet challenged B-Sol to bring you some random ramblings from DotW & The Vault of Horror.

Dear After Dark's "FILMS TO DIE FOR", stop disguising such God awful films in such great dvd cover art. 90% of your films suck out loud and I'm tired of falling for your Tom Foolery. In case you have no idea what I'm referring to, please check the photo to the left.

The Saw franchise should never be seen with commercial breaks. SyFy played the first three films on TV yesterday and I firmly believe that the commercial breaks completely ruined the films for those who watched them with me. You get to an extremely suspenseful part only to be disturbed by Sarah McLaughlin singing about abused animals...way to kill the mood. I now remember why I don't watch horror films on TV.

For those of you who aren't communists and have seen A Christmas Story, I'm pretty sure you can all agree that out of all the characters that freak you out, (Scut Farkus, Santa Claus, etc.) the "I like the Wizard of Oz" kid is the creepiest character in a Christmas movie ever. AND HE'S ONLY ON SCREEN FOR LIKE 30 SECONDS. However, I'm pretty sure that Scut Farkus gives Malachai from Children of the Corn a run for his money on being the most horrifying elementary school ginger kid.

I totally missed the boat when it comes to Christmas present preparation this year. Turns out, ThinkGeek has Zombie wrapping paper. At least I'll be better prepared for all of the future holidays and birthdays.

The television stations are trying to profit off of the death of Dan O'Bannon. This week I have seen Alien, Aliens, Total Recall, and Return of the Living Dead all on public television. Coincidence? I think not. As much as I'm glad to see these films on TV, I'm mildly disgusted. If it was presented as a tribute to him, I think I'd be a little bit better with it. I think they're just trying to get ratings out of mourning nerds. Here's hoping that I'm wrong.

I must agree whole heartedly with Andre Dumas of The Horror Digest...Ice Cream Man IS Clint Howard's second best role behind Beethoven's 5th. I may say that "Nipples" from Little Nicky is a close 3rd.

This past Christmas while most people were watching Elf, or It's a Wonderful Life, or things of the sort...I was watching Fido with a 6 year old. She went through my DVDs and she picked it. This child is my mini-me and LOVED the movie; and unlike some people I know *cough*B-Sol*cough* I didn't cover here eyes once :D

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from The Vault of Horror! The Big Zombie Carols Finale!

One last drool-tide song for all you zombie carolers out there...

I'm Dreaming of an Undead Christmas

I'm dreaming of an undead Christmas,
With the virus all aglow.
Where the brainpans glisten,
And humans listen
To hear zombies tromping through
the snow.

I'm dreaming of an undead Christmas
With every human being I bite.
May your days be scary with fright,
And may all your Christmas brains taste right.

There you have it folks, no doubt Bing and Irving Berlin are rolling over in their graves as we speak--let's just hope they're not leaving them! All awful puns aside, I'd like to wish everyone a blessed Christmas this year, hopefully Santa brought you everything you wanted. I also hope you've enjoyed the cavalcade of zombie carols, taken with permission from Michael P. Spradlin's uproariously funny It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies. And if you click the cover below, it'll take you to a collection of all the zombie carols featured here in the Vault...

P.S. If the traditional version of this song is more your speed, dear Vault Dwellers, feel free to visit my music blog, Standard of the Day!

Zombie Carol of the Day: The Zombie Christmas Song

Fresh brains roasting on an
open fire,
Zombies chewing off your nose--
It all began when they ate the
whole choir.
They're even eating Eskimos.

Everybody knows a legbone
and someone's toes,
Make a zombie's season bright.
Tiny tots, with their eyes in
a bowl,
Will find it hard to see tonight.

We know Zombie Santa's
on his way;
He's eaten lots of boys and girls
in his sleigh,
And every mother's child
is going to spy
To see if zombie reindeer really
know how to fly.

And so, I'm running to get
out of here
Before the zombies eat me too.
Although it's been said about
the undead,
If you don't run, they will
feast on you.

(Taken with permission from the pages of Michael P. Spradlin's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Zombelina Reviews The Uninvited (1944)...

Want more Zombelina? Check out her kid's lit. review blog,
Book Town...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Zombie Carol of the Day: Zombie Yells

Bleeding from the nose,
There's one horse left to slay,
O'er the fields we go,
Feasting all the way.

Bells on bobtails ring,
Make undead spirits bright.
What fun it is to chew and sing
An eating song tonight!

Oh, zombie yells, zombie yells,
Howling all the way.
What fun it is to ride
In an undead open sleigh!

(Taken with permission from the pages of Michael P. Spradlin's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols.)

High Moon: Werewolves. In the Old West. How Did I Not Like This??

I really, really wanted to enjoy Dave Gallaher and Steve Ellis' High Moon. I had been looking forward to it from back when I first reported on it. And yet, now that I've finished the bound first three chapters released in book form by DC's Zuda Comics, I am stunned to say that it held very little interest for me.

I fully realize I am in the small minority on this, and part of my excitement about it was due to the rave reviews. Gallaher and Ellis even won a Harvey Award for Best Web Comic with the series. And yet there I was, page after page, befuddled at my lack of engagement, until finally putting it down and trying to figure out what just happened.

Revolving around a former detective-turned-vigilante's investigations into a mysterious Texas town, High Moon gives us werewolves battling it out with cowboys and outlaws, plus some vampires thrown in for good measure. It has a certain Sergio Leone feel to it, which I'm guessing is what the creators were going for.

This sounds like a surefire recipe for success. And it isn't so much in the writing that the series falters. Gallaher has an interesting style, using a minimum of dialogue to convey a lot. He's also got a great concept on his hands, and takes some bold chances early on that impressed me. Rather, I think it's in Ellis' artwork that the book loses its way.

Some may blanch at this, but I've always felt that the artist has a lot more control over whether a comic works than the writer. The writer I equate with a screenwriter; but the artist, he's the director. He's the one that has to take a script and really sell it. And quite simply, Steve Ellis fails to do this.

Don't get me wrong, the man appears to be an excellent draftsman. His work is moody, visually stimulating, and he does a lot of interesting things with light and shading. His touch helps create an environment of Leone-esque Old West, with a kind of 1970s Heavy Metal sensibility weaved in.

Individually, his illustrations are great to look at, but here's where I turn into Curmudgeony Old-Scool Guy. There's a reason that Jack "King" Kirby is still considered by many to be the greatest comic book artist who ever lived. Certainly, there have been others since with a better grasp of realistic anatomy, a stronger sense of nuance and detail, a more evocative way with light and shade. But what sets Kirby ahead of the pack and always will are two things: His cleanness and purity of style, and most importantly, his impeccable sense of action and movement.

This is why I'll still take a Kirby, Steve Ditko, or Gil Kane over the Todd McFarlanes, Jim Lees and Rob Liefields of the world. A master like Kirby never forgot that comic books are illustrated narratives, and the most important thing is telling the story though the pictures, moving the story along in a dynamic way. He knew it wasn't about making a series of pretty individual pictures, especially if the story suffered because of it.

The problem with Ellis' work is that, taken as a whole, it does nothing but create total confusion. I'm a pretty bright guy, yet there were many points while reading High Moon where I couldn't have told you what the heck was even going on, where I had no grasp on the overarching story being told. And unfortunately, Gallaher's minimalist writing style gave all the leeway in the world to Ellis, putting the ball in his court to get the story across.

As part of DC's Zuda line of web comics, High Moon first came to life on the internet before being reprinted on paper. I can't be sure since I didn't see it in its original medium, but it's possible that something was somehow lost in translation. In short, this is a moody, evocative piece that looks great on the page and has some clever dialogue. Yet taken all together, read as a story, it fails.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Zombie Carol of the Day: Nothing Like Brains for the Holidays

Oh there's nothing like brains
for the holidays!
No matter how far away you roam,
When you're hungry for the taste
Of someone else's face,
For the holidays, you can't beat
Brains, sweet brains!

I ate a man who lived in Tennessee,
And he was headed for
Pennsylvania to go eat his
mother's eye.
From Pennsylvania folks are traveling
Down to Dixie's sunny shore.
From Atlantic to Pacific,
Gee, the cerebrum tastes terrific!

Oh there's nothing like brains
for the holidays!
'Cause no matter how much your
own mouth foams,
If you want to be happy in a
million ways,
For the holidays,
You can't beat brains, sweet brains.

(Taken with permission from the pages of Michael P. Spradlin's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

TRAILER TRASH: Christmas Edition!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Zombie Carol of the Day: I'll Be Undead for Christmas

I'll be undead for Christmas,
Eating more than I usually do,
And although I know
It's a long road home,
I'll be fueled by goo.

Christmas Eve will find me
Wherever brains will be.
I'll be undead for Christmas,
When I hear your screams.

I'll be undead this Christmas--
Yes the virus, it got me.
Tramp through the snow,
To eat some toes
And brains under the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me
Wherever brains will be.
I'll be undead for Christmas,
When I hear your screams.

(Taken with permission from the pages of Michael P. Spradlin's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

VAULT VLOG: Whose Death Affected YOU the Most?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Zombie Carol of the Day: Eat a Toe

Oh, the virus outside is spreadin',
And there's more and more
But when fresh brains are
running low,
Eat a Toe! Eat a toe! Eat a toe!

The zombie 'pocalypse ain't stopping--
Listen, hear the eyeballs a-popping,
But fresh brains are running low,
Eat a toe! Eat a toe! Eat a toe!

The humans put up a good fight,
But lost to the zombie swarm!
So if you'll really let me turn,
I'll eat my own sister's arm!

Civilization is slowly dying,
And, humans, we're still good-bying,
But zombies already ate your nose,
Eat a toe! Eat a toe! Eat a toe!

(Taken with permission from the pages of Michael P. Spradlin's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols.)

Dan O'Bannon 1946-2009

"A writer can't scare a reader unless that writer scares himself or herself first. So, you can't excite anyone in the audience unless you're excited writing the script! You're taking yourself for a ride before you take the audience for a ride!"

If you're not instantly familiar with the name Dan O'Bannon, you should be. This is the man who wrote Alien--not just a great sci-fi/horror film, but the sci-fi/horror film. This is the man who wrote and directed The Return of the Living Dead, not just a great horror comedy, but the horror comedy. The same man is responsible for both of these absolutely pivotal movies/franchises. Oh yeah, and he also wrote the scripts for Lifeforce and Total Recall, just in case his resume needed a little extra boosting.

And now, the man who did all those things is no longer with us, having passed away last night after a short illness at the sadly young age of 63.

From a personal perspective, I can tell you that were it not for ROTLD, I very well might not be the horror fanatic I am today. As a kid, I already had a solid grounding in Universal and Hammer, but it was O'Bannon's brilliant zombie comedy that put me over the top as an obsessed lifelong fan of the macabre. Without Dan O'Bannon, there might very well have been no Vault of Horror. Less than a fraction of a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, to be sure--but I thank him for that.

O'Bannon had a somewhat sparse career, but what he chose to be associated with over the years is so impressive. Definitely a case of quality over quantity. He went to USC with none other than John Carpenter, collaborating with him on both of their debuts, the sci-fi comedy Dark Star (1974). He was on board for the earliest days of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic--you know those computer-generated Death Star blueprints, and the stop-motion game pieces Chewie & R2 use in Star Wars? Yeah, he worked on that.

He was also a writer of science fiction and horror in print as well as film, contributing occasionally to the landmark illustrated magazine Heavy Metal. In fact, two of his stories were adapted in the 1981 Heavy Metal movie, including the one about zombie pilots in World War II (figures!). In the '70s, he was attached as a writer to one of the most legendary cinematic missed opportunities, Alejandro Jodorowsky's adaptation of Dune. Although the project never happened, it did acquaint O'Bannon with H.R. Giger, the man who would design the title character of his most famous script.

What came out of the failed Dune for O'Bannon was the chance to script what would become Ridley Scott's masterpiece, Alien. So I guess we can't be too disappointed. You don't need me to tell you what a brilliant screenplay O'Bannon crafted for that picture, one whose influence continues to be felt to this day. He took the established haunted house/slasher motifs, and bonded them to a sci-fi template in a way no one had before. The closest prior comparison might be Forbidden Planet, but that was obviously pre-slasher. In the wake of Star Wars, he showed us the darker, grimmer side of sci-fi.

Nor do you need me to tell you what a minor miracle he pulled off with ROTLD. A movie called The Return of the Living Dead, based on a half-cocked attempt by John Russo to capitalize on the cult popularity of his previous work with George Romero, had no right whatsoever to be any good at all. Yet once O'Bannon took over, in his one great directorial turn, he transformed it into what I can say in all confidence is a terrific piece of film-making, justly revered among genre fans, but worth a look for any lover of film. It's a solid piece of work that gets better every time I watch it. Hell, it was so good it totally overshadowed Romero's own Day of the Dead, which came out at the same time!

So I'll be remembering Dan O'Bannon today, one of the key people who made me the fan I am. I hope you will, too.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

21st Century Terrors, Part 3: 2002

If the early part of the current decade suffered a bit from the aftereffect of the '90s malaise, then 2002 was the year that things really began to shape up. Most would agree that this decade has been a good time to be a horror movie lover, and 2002 is where it all kicked into gear. This was when the decade started coming into its own.

This was the year so many things began clicking all at once, giving fans lots of options, and rebuilding the face of the genre in the process.

For example, 2002 gave us what very well may be the decade most well-crafted and impressively made horror film, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Not only was it a tense, fascinating and brilliant re-evaluation of the zombie genre, it's the kind of horror film that literally defines an era. In other words, looking back on the 2000s, we could very well call it the decade of 28 Days Later.

And speaking of zombies, it can safely be said that the 2000s was the decade those undead buggers really came into the mainstream after many years of existing underground and being somewhat out of fashion. And 2002 was the year it started. 28 Days Later was one major part of that, although "purists" will argue it's not really a zombie film since the attackers depicted are technically infected living people.

But this is an exercise in futile semantics. Technical details aside, the plot devices are those of the zombie movie, the setting, the structure, the methods of evoking fear--purism aside, 28 Days Later helped usher in a golden age of zombie films, with its depiction of manic, rabid, and--controversy of controversies--fast-moving "zombies".

But if a more old-school approach was more your cup of tea, then the other half of 2002's one-two punch of zombie goodness delivered what you were looking for--to a degree. Based on a successful video game, Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil is the other film that usually gets pointed to as kicking off the zombie renaissance.

While not as good a horror film as 28 Days Later, it was just as popular, if not more so, owing largely to the vast popularity of the game. And while it gave us traditional, slow-moving zombies, it mixed things up a bit with an assortment of other bizarre mutated monsters from the game.

And most importantly, it reached a mainstream audience to a degree almost unheard of for a zombie movie, due largely to its lack of gore. While this didn't sit well with hardcore horror fans, it did expose middle-of-the-road America to the zombie phenomenon, and so may deserve even more credit than 28 Days for spawning the wave of ghoul cinema that continues to this day.

The trend of Asian horror cinema and its effect on the American genre gained greater steam than ever, with the most high profile U.S. remake of them all, The Ring. Taken from 1998's Ringu, this amped-up ghost story was a major hit, with some even preferring it to the Japanese original. Unlike what mostly had been happening, with paltry, inferior remakes of Asian horror, The Ring captured the attention of a lot of horror fans. And although most still prefer the original, it is a quality film.

For many casual horror fans, The Ring would become the benchmark of scary for the decade's fright films. The American version was able to assert a completely separate identity, which was a large part of why it became one of the decade's most memorable horror films. But meanwhile, overseas in Asia, more excellent horror was being created. Both Ju-On from Japan and Jian Gui from China would have a strong impact, and later be remade in America as The Grudge and The Eye, respectively.

Genre directors would make their mark in a big way in 2002. M. Night Shyamalan, who had debuted with the Oscar-nominated The Sixth Sense three years earlier, gave us Signs, a moody sci-fi/horror flick about hostile alien invaders. Although it ends with one of the director's increasingly tiresome twisty climaxes, along the way it delivered some solid scares.

And another young director, Eli Roth, crashed on to the scene with Cabin Fever, a wicked little horror comedy that instantly got him the attention of fright fans. There's no question that film divides horror fandom, but I fall amongst those who found it to be a delightfully sick little laugh riot. A ballsy film that put Roth on the map, leading to the continued impact he would have on the genre as the decade moved along.

Horror movies in general got more interesting in 2002 than they had been in a long time. Within the same 12-month span, we got the ingenious and truly original werewolf picture Dog Soldiers, as well as the boldly imaginative comedy Bubba Ho-Tep, which added one more shining gem to the crown of horror's reigning king, Bruce Campbell. Just one of those films in any given year in recent memory would be impressive--to have both come out within months of each other is testament to the blockbuster horror years that was 2002.

But OK, if you'd like me to balance things out a bit, I can point out that 2002 also gave us the abysmal Anne Rice adaptation Queen of the Damned, which made the previous decade's Interview with the Vampire look like Nosferatu; the famously atrocious FeardotCom; and perhaps the saddest entry in the adventures of Michael Myers, Halloween: Resurrection, in which Mikey tangles with Busta and Tyra...

Nevertheless, 2002 was indeed the year the decade came into its own. And there would only be more good stuff to come--including lots and LOTS of zombies.

Also from 2002:

  • Blade 2
  • Eight-Legged Freaks
  • Ghost Ship
  • The Mothman Prophecies

Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001
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