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Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Quarter-Century of Krueger: Freddy's Famous Friends

In case some of you hadn't noticed (I'll admit I didn't at first), the year is 2009. This means a lot of things, but to me at least, near the top of that list of things is the fact that it marks the 25th anniversary of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. That's right, Mr. Fred Krueger has been haunting our dreams for one score and five years now, ever since Wes Craven first birthed him onto the cinematic landscape in 1984, one of the most brilliant creations since the heyday of Universal Studios.

In honor of this momentous anniversary in the history of horror, over the course of the year, The Vault will be devoting a series of posts to various aspects of this groundbreaking and beloved movie series. For my first post, I've decided to take a look at some of the established actors who have appeared in Nightmare flicks over the years. In some cases, they were already well-known performers who provided an air of legitimacy to New Line's fledgling franchise; other times, they were unknowns on the rise. In either way, they became an inextricable part of the NOES legacy.

John Saxon
My personal favorite, and I know I'm not alone. In an earlier time, when matinee idol looks were valued above all else, the square-jawed Saxon would've been a contract player, and a much bigger star. In the post-Dustin Hoffman era, he had to content himself with becoming a demigod of exploitation cinema. His roles in Enter the Dragon, Black Christmas and Tenebre, among many others, made him star enough amongst a certain subculture of fandom. And he adds a touch of heft to the proceedings in the first Nightmare as Nancy's exasperated and incredulous police chief father. He would reprise the role in Part 3, meeting his end at the hands of a Harryhausen-esque Krueger skeleton.

Johnny Depp
Yes, it's Elm Street's most famous former resident. Three years before 21 Jump Street made him a star, Depp made his movie debut as Glen, Nancy's dreamy if ill-fated boyfriend. The future Capt. Jack Sparrow buys the farm in Freddy's most infamous kill ever, coating his bedroom ceiling with an impossibly voluminous torrent of adolescent blood. Despite rising to become on the finest actors of his generation, Depp showed loyalty to the franchise that launched his career, making a cameo appearance in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.

Blink and you'll miss him:
Charles Fleischer
Four years before becoming the unmistakable voice of Roger Rabbit, this prolific vocal actor and stand-up comic made a brief appearance as the befuddled dream specialist who tries to get to the bottom of Nancy' dream issues.

Clu Gulager
After a long career as a TV cowboy in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Galager seemed to be on the fast track to obscurity, until two memorable 1985 appearances--in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and The Return of the Living Dead--instantly reinvented him as a horror movie mainstay (a role he still enjoys, as evidenced by his work in the Feast trilogy.) As dad to Lisa's clueless boyfriend Jesse, Clu is an admirable follow-up to John Saxon in the role of ineffectual father figure.

Patricia Arquette
The third NOES film might be the one with the most future star-power in it. Roseanna Arquette's little sister debuts in the movie as Kristen, Freddy's newest target, and she's quite good in the role. It would be years before she got some recognition in the early '90s with parts in True Romance and Ed Wood, but we should have already known Patricia was destined for bigger things when she neglected to reprise her role in Part 4. Ironically, she can now be found on the highly successful paranormal-themed TV series Medium.

Laurence Fishburne
Back when he was just plain ol' Larry, this veteran bit player can be seen befriending Arquette's Kristen as sympathetic mental institution orderly Max. Despite small but memorable appearances in Apocalypse Now, The Color Purple and The Cotton Club, it would still be a few years before Spike Lee and John Singleton helped make him a bona fide star. Back then, he was fresh off playing Cowboy Curtis on Pee-Wee's Playhouse--a far cry from Morpheus.

Blink and you'll miss them: Dick Cavett & Zsa Zsa Gabor
Kind of cheating, since they make brief cameo appearances as themselves, but it also says a lot about the appeal of the series and how mainstream it had become by this point that two such recognizable folks would pop up in NOES 3. Think they would've done the same for Friday the 13th?

Blink and you'll miss her: Linnea Quigley
The '80s scream queen turns up as the face of one of the souls that emerge from Freddy's body in the climax of Part 4. And I don't really have much else to say about that.

Blink and you'll miss them:
Ted Nugent, Rudy Sarzo & Eric Singer

Fans of cheesy '80s rock (and there would likely have been many of them in the average movie audience for a NOES flick) sat up and took note of the band "Hot Seat" which appears in The Dream Master and features the future conservative wacko, the bassist from Quiet Riot and the drummer from KISS. Plus, rumor has it that MC Lyte turned down the role of Alice's friend Yvonne.

Yaphet Kotto
For my money, the finest actor to ever take part in a NOES film. Too bad it was in what is hands down the weakest of the series, Freddy's Dead. It's hard to watch Parker from Alien playing it all serious as the doctor amidst some of the most ridiculous, over-the-top garbage that gets (literally) thrown at us in this 3-D crapfest. Thankfully, Kotto was able to rebound nicely later in the '90s with a highly acclaimed role on Homicide: Life on the Street.

Blink and you'll miss them:
1. Alice Cooper
He isn't even mentioned in the credits, but it's the snake-wielding rocker who turns up as none other than Freddy Krueger's dad in an admittedly funny flashback sequence.
2. Roseanne & Tom Arnold

During their brief but highly entertaining marriage, Roseanne & Tom cameoed as a couple. Tom Arnold's illustrious film debut. I liked him better in The Stupids.

Kelly Rowland
Otherwise known as "one of the other two chicks in Destiny's Child who isn't Beyonce," in Freddy vs. Jason Ms. Rowland fills the requisite hip-hop/R&B star position that seems to come with the territory for some reason in teen-oriented horror flicks of the past decade.

Zack Ward
Hey, it's the crazy red-headed kid from A Christmas Story! Ward somehow survived child stardom without going nuts, and a breakout spot in Almost Famous made him into a bona fide grown-up star three years before his turn in FvJ. Genre fans might also known him from Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Transformers.

Blink and you'll miss them: 1. Rey Mysterio
OK, WWE's master of the 619 only appears in Freddy vs. Jason as a stunt double for Robert Englund during the Crystal Lake battle sequence. But it's still pretty cool if you ask me.
2. Evangeline Lilly
Look close, and you can spot the soon-to-be star of Lost as a walk-on extra during one of the school scenes. This one truly lives up to the "blink and you'll miss her" moniker:

Whether big stars on the wane, or burgeoning stars on the rise, the Nightmare on Elm Street series has played host to more than its fair share of celebrities. Of course, with the exception of the Saxonator, Donald Pleasance would have owned them all. But hey, such is life.

Keep a look out for further installments of "A Quarter-Century of Krueger"!

Freddy cartoon by Montygog

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jason Breaks Character, Stalks Children

The Hollister Free Lance News reported yesterday that two schools in Hollister, California were shut down for a half hour due to a report of a man wandering the area wearing a hockey mask and carrying a knife.

San Benito High School and R.O. Hardin Elementary School were locked down at 11:45 a.m. and remained so until local police thoroughly checked the situation out.

No word on whether or not police actually apprehended the Jason wannabe. The incidents marks a surprising departure from his usual m.o.--since we all know that Jason's always gone out of his way to avoid threatening kids, right? This guy should have done his homework a little better.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One More Reason to Like Judah Friedlander

Not only is he one of the people that make 30 Rock such a hilarious show, but Judah Friedlander is also one of us! Check out the shirt he wore yesterday to the Opie & Anthony Show on Sirius XM...

Yes folks, you heard it here first: Friedlander digs the F13. Picture was posted yesterday on Twitter by O&A co-host Jim Norton.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Oh No! The American DVD of Let the Right One In is F***ed!!

Y'all know by now how much of a supporter I am of Tomas Alfredson's brilliant vampire film Let the Right One In. Last year's finest horror movie for my money, the Swedish picture was finally released here in the U.S. of A. on DVD just a few days ago. Kick-ass, right? Wrong!

The irrepressible Justin Bishop of Send More Cops tipped me off yesterday to the unfortunate fact that the new DVD has apparently been thoroughly lobotomized as a result of one of the worst subtitling jobs of all time. Unlike the excellent English subtitling done for early screeners of the film that leaked on to the web prior to its official international release, this new version appears to have been translated by Sloth from The Goonies.

Have a gander. First the screener we've all grown to love...

And now the American DVD...


American DVD...

And finally--screener...

Brain-dead version...

For more examples, check out the original story over at Icons of Fright. Apparently, the person who subtitled the screener so well, one Ingrid Eng, got stiffed by Magnolia, the company distributing LTROI on DVD. It would appear that rather than pay her again for the use of her subtitles, they went a much cheaper route, and got some seriously lazy, slipshod subtitles as a result.

This is a travesty. Extremely disappointing. Having grown to love this film, I can't in good conscience recommend the new American DVD to those who haven't seen it yet. So much of the nuance, subtle humor and delicate character moments seem to be gone in this version. Hopefully, if enough of an uproar is raised on sites like Icons of Fright and this one, something can be done about this. Otherwise, I would advise you to find another way to see this flick the way it was meant to be seen.

FYI: Magnolia's website.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rondo Hatton Winners, Bram Stoker Nominees Announced

Today was a big day in the world of horror-related awards. The winners of the 7th Annual Rondo Hatton Awards--doled out by the venerable Classic Horror Film Board and voted on by thousands of online fans worldwide--were officially announced. And as if that wasn't enough, the Horror Writers Association officially released the list of finalists for the 22nd Annual Bram Stoker Awards, the Holy Grail of horror writing.

Now, just to get it out of the way, yes, The Vault of Horror did score an Honorable Mention in the Rondos' brand-new Best Horror Blog category. Thanks to everyone who voted, I'm honored by your opinion of this web-filled corner of the horror blogosphere. The Rondos are a very big deal, and even getting an Honorable Mention really blows my mind.

As for the rest of the awards, here were some of the other winners:

For the complete list of winners and runners-up, check out the Rondo Hatton Awards official website.

And now, the Stoker nominees:

Superior Achievement in a Novel

Coffin Country
by Gary Braunbeck (Leisure Books)
The Reach by Nate Kenyon (Leisure Books)
Duma Key by Stephen King (Scribner)
Johnny Gruesome by Gregory Lamberson (Bad Moon Books/Medallion Press)

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

Midnight on Mourn Street by Christopher Conlon (Earthling Publications)
The Gentling Box by Lisa Mannetti (Dark Hart Press)
Monster Behind the Wheel by Michael McCarty and Mark McLaughlin (Delirium Books)
The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard (St. Martin's Press)
Frozen Blood by Joel A. Sutherland (Lachesis Publishing)

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

The Shallow End of the Pool by Adam-Troy Castro (Creeping Hemlock Press)
Miranda by John R. Little (Bad Moon Books)
Redemption Roadshow by Weston Ochse (Burning Effigy Press)
The Confessions of St. Zach by Gene O'Neill (Bad Moon Books)

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

"Petrified" by Scott Edelman (Desolate Souls)
"The Lost" by Sarah Langan (Cemetery Dance Publications)
"The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft" by Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt (Chizine)
"Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" by M. Rickert (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
"Turtle" by Lee Thomas (Doorways)

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

Like a Chinese Tattoo , edited by Bill Breedlove (Dark Arts Books)
Horror Library, Vol. 3, edited by R.J. Cavender (Cutting Block Press)
Beneath the Surface, edited by Tim Deal (Shroud Publishing)
Unspeakable Horror, edited by Vince A. Liaguno and Chad Helder (Dark Scribe Press)

Superior Achievement in a Collection

The Number 121 to Pennsylvania by Kealan Patrick Burke (Cemetery Dance Publications)
Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales by Fran Friel (Apex Publications)
Just After Sunset by Stephen King (Scribner)
Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters by John Langan (Prime Books)
Gleefully Macabre Tales by Jeff Strand (Delirium Books)

Superior Achievement in Nonfiction

Cheap Scares by Gregory Lamberson (McFarland)
Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry (Citadel Press)
A Hallowe'en Anthology by Lisa Morton (McFarland)
The Book of Lists: Horror by Amy Wallace, Del Howison and Scott Bradley (HarperCollins)

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

The Nightmare Collection by Bruce Boston (Dark Regions Press)
The Phantom World by Gary William Crawford (Sam's Dot Publishing)
Virgin of the Apocalypse by Corrine De Winter (Sam's Dot Publishing)
Attack of the Two-Headed Poetry Monster by Mark McLaughlin and Michael McCarty (Skullvines Press)

Major league congrats to my colleagues Chad Helder and Vince Liaguno for their nomination in the Anthology category. The League of Tana Tea Drinkers is really taking the horror world by storm these days!

Monday, March 23, 2009

I've Kaiju Under My Skin: A Guide to Showa-Era Godzilla, Part 3

When last we left our lovable 40-story-tall radioactive dinosaur, he was shepherding a series that seemed to have hit a serious snag, both creatively and financially. And while there were certainly worse days ahead, Godzilla would have a few more classic moments in the sun before retiring to Monster Island for the first time in 1975...

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

In addition to having one of the coolest titles of any movie ever, this entry is an absolute kaiju-lover's wet dream, returning the series to its former glory. Featuring the largest assortment of monsters ever seen up to that point, the flick even managed to incorporate kaiju from other Toho franchises, such as Manda, Baragon and Gorosaurus. The opening credits alone, with its driving Akira Ifukube theme, is enough to get the hairs on the arm standing. Unfortunately, the Showa series would never again return to this level of quality.

Godzilla's Revenge (1969) a.k.a. All Monsters Attack

From one of the best, to one of the very worst. In fact, it's hard to imagine that this movie followed directly after the excellent Destroy All Monsters. Featuring a talking Minya, boatloads of stock footage from previous Godzilla films, and the beginning of the series' obsession with little boys in tiny shorts dubbed by women, this is the film which finally completes Godzilla's metamorphosis from terrifying force of nature to benevolent, kid-friendly superhero. Still, it's always good for a nostalgic laugh for those who grew up with it.

Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (1971)

This one seems to generally divide Godzilla fandom. A trippy, radical departure from the 1960s entries, it was the product of an entirely different creative team, put together while series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was temporarily incapacitated (Tanaka was apparently less than pleased when he returned). I, for one, love it. With its bizarre visuals, unusual bad guy and classic theme song "Save the Earth", this flick is truly in a class by itself amongst Godzilla movies. I will say that its one major problem is that it features the series' most boring, horribly paced fight sequences.

Godzilla on Monster Island (1972) a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Gigan

Gigan, the giant bionic bird-like creature with hooks for arms and a buzz saw in his belly, is truly one of Toho's greatest creations. It's just too bad he never really had the opportunity to be in a great Godzilla flick. This one is almost as panderingly juvenile as Godzilla's Revenge, with Big G and his buddy Anguirus actually speaking to each other in English (translated, a narrator informs us, from their monster language)! Plus, you have one of the series' most mind-numbingly dull plotlines, involving something about insectoid aliens taking human form to conquer the Earth somehow via a kaiju theme park (I know it sounds awesome, but it isn't). Not even the return of King Ghidorah can save this one.

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

With Jun Fukuda back in place again as the series' regular director, things were not looking up for Godzilla in the 1970s. With perhaps the lowest budget of any Godzilla film, this is the movie that a lot of Godzilla-haters typically point to when generalizing about the sub-standard quality of these movies. The giant cockroach Megalon is one of the worst suits Toho ever created, plus the fight scenes are exceedingly goofy, often choreographed like wrestling matches. You do get the uber-cool robot Jet Jaguar, Toho's obvious nod to Ultraman. And at least the MST3K boys got to have some fun with it...

Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster (1974) a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

For its final two entries in the original series, Toho somehow managed to summon up a bit of its former glory to deliver a couple of lesser gems. This one features the debut of Mechagodzilla, an inspired concept that pits the big guy against a robotic version of himself. There's also an interesting, mammalian kaiju by the name of King Ceasar who turns up to help Godzilla out. Interestingly, this is also perhaps the bloodiest of the Godzilla movies; kaiju gore, once forbidden by Toho, became more and more prevalent in '70s Godzilla flicks.

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Ishiro Honda triumphantly returns to helm the final entry in the series he kicked off 20 years earlier. Since Mechagodzilla had been such a hit, they brought him back again this time around, and added Titanosaurus, one of Toho's most underrated kaiju, for good measure. Unfortunately, not even the high quality of this last Showa flick--with its dark Ifukube score, stark imagery, and return to serious themes courtesy of Honda--was enough to save the franchise. Diminished ticket sales meant that the ol' rubber suit would be packed up in mothballs after this one--at least for a decade or so.

And thus the glorious Showa era of Godzilla came to a bittersweet end, a series that managed to find its creative legs right before the end, but nonetheless fizzled out after going to the well a few too many times. It would remain for an entirely new generation of kids outside Japan to discover the movies in the late 1970s and early 1980s thanks to TV syndication. And when the time was right in 1984, Toho resurrected the big guy and started the second major phase of his career.

Stripping away a lot of the camp that had accumulated over the previous decades and attempting to return the monster to its roots, the Heisei series of the 1980s and '90s would become the favorite for many a Godzilla fan that had longed for a more serious, better-budgeted approach. But although I enjoy all 28 movies in the series, it's the original 15 made between 1954 and 1975 that I find myself re-watching whenever I'm in the mood for some giant monster action. For my money, nothing made since has equaled the raw power of the first film, or the amusing fun of so many of the sequels.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Haunting in Connecticut, Indeed

The current owners of the home in Southington, Connecticut which inspired this weekend's upcoming film The Haunting in Connecticut are reporting that curious fans are invading their privacy, according to a story today in Newsday.

The house, which was once a funeral parlor (!), was rumored to be haunted as a result of the bizarre experiences of the family that lived there some 20 years ago. And just as then, loiterers are once again showing up to get a gander at the place. And the movie hasn't even opened yet!

Naturally, the current owners insist their house isn't haunted, and local police have added extra patrols to the neighborhood to keep potential trespassers away. I was just watching the making-of documentary on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre special edition DVD set, and Gunnar Hansen mentioned that the first time he realized the movie was going to be a big deal was when curious teenagers started showing up at the house from the movie. Hmmm....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I've Kaiju Under My Skin: A Guide to Showa-Era Godzilla, Part 2

In case you missed it, here's the first part of my loving dissection of Godzilla's original cinematic exploits, wherein I spotlighted the first, and best, of them all, 1954's Gojira. Now let's pick things up with the first sequel, and move on from there:

Godzilla Raids Again (1955) a.k.a. Gigantis the Fire Monster

I found it very confusing as a kid when the monster was referred to in the English-language version as Gigantis. Apparently, it had something to do with copyright issues for the American distributors. Whatever the name, I personally consider this to be the all-time low of the Showa series, pretty ironic considering it was the first follow-up to the classic original. The problem here is that the series has not yet hit its stride. The movie lacks the depth and gravity of Gojira, yet it also lacks the fun vibe of the sequels to come. In short, it's a bore. The human storyline is a far, paper-thin cry from the gripping drama of its predecessor, and it features Akira Ifikube's least remarkable Godzilla score. On the positive side, the film introduces us to that wonderful giant armadillo Anguirus, and marks Godzilla's first on-screen battle with another monster.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

For my money, this is when the Godzilla sequels really kick in. It's telling that there was a seven-year gap between Raids Again and this--perhaps Toho felt the need to go back to the drawing board and rethink the direction in which they were taking Big G. And boy did it pay off, because this is an epic confrontation that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as cinematic dream matches like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Freddy vs. Jason, yet perhaps even more impressive, since it represented a clash between characters owned by two different companies. This is a fun, all-out main event kaiju grudge match that sets a new tone for the series. If you can get past the rubber-suit King Kong (a far cry from Willis O'Brien's groundbreaking stop-motion work), and the retcon enlarging of the big guy to match up to Godzilla's size, this one is a great ride.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) a.k.a. Godzilla vs. The Thing

Many consider this the best of the Showa Godzilla sequels, and I can understand why. It's the first time Toho had ever matched up two of their own creations, and the special effects are quite impressive for the studio. Legendary FX director Eiji Tsuburaya outdoes himself, using Disney's innovative compositing camera for some shots, as well as a bit of stop motion for some of the close-up fighting shots. The dubbing in the English version is probably the best you'll ever get from Toho films of this era, the human characters are all very engaging, and the songs Ifikube wrote for Mothra's tiny fairy twins are hauntingly memorable.

Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

This is another favorite of Godzilla fans, and introduces the giant lizard's greatest foe, the titular alien dragon. It features the largest assemblage of Toho all-stars yet seen at that point, as Mothra rallies Big G and Rodan to combat the extra-terrestrial menace. This film is also important because it marks the beginning of Godzilla's gradual evolution from villain to hero, as for the first time, he is fighting off a threat even worse than himself, thereby inadvertently benefiting the human race as a result.

Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965) a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero

There are some who point to this as the beginning of the series' downward slide in quality. I'll admit that it takes the camp absurdity to all-new levels, with Godzilla and Rodan kidnapped to the moon by brainwashing aliens, but I still consider it a lot of fun. By this point, the heft of the original film is completely gone, in favor of monster action and spectacle. Plus, we get the X-illians, the series' coolest alien invaders, who would return in 2005 for Godzilla's last outing, Final Wars.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (1966)

This is the first time director Ishiro Honda and composer Akira Ifikube stepped aside, and boy does it show. Lesser helmsman Jun Fukuda takes over for Honda, producing one of the most lackluster films in the series. The plot is forgettable, the suit looks cheaper than ever, and Godzilla's foe this time out, a giant lobster named Ebirah, is simply not up to snuff. This one is lacking in the grandiose sensibility of the ones that came before it.

Son of Godzilla (1967)

If you're looking for the point at which Toho decided to abandon the grown-ups and go for a predominantly kiddie audience, this would be it. Kaiju flicks had long been favorites of Japanese children, but this is the first time the studio seems to be outright pandering to them. We get the infamous smoke-ring blowing Minya, complete with a silly theme provided by Ifikube that's a far cry from the maestro's earlier masterpieces. And the suit used in this movie is probably the worst-looking one of them all, making the once-terrifying Godzilla look like a cartoon version of his former self.

There's no doubt that the series was slipping by this point, both in quality and box office receipts. But it would by no means be the end, and there were certainly some better days to come. Join me next time for part 3, in which Godzilla goes green, invades New York, battles a giant cockroach, and speaks his first on-screen dialogue (!).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Alien/Predator Conflict Takes an Unexpected Turn...

This image, which I've promptly hung on the bulletin board in my office, is one of three created by the New Zealand ad firm DDB to promote the airing last month of Aliens vs. Predator on Sky TV. I think the brandy snifter is what puts it over the top for me. Now, if only the film this is touting were anywhere near as amusing/entertaining! To see these iconic movie monsters locked in other heated contests, visit Ads of the World.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kenneth Branagh Interested in Remaking Another Horror Classic

There are those who love and those who hate Kenneth Branagh's 1994 take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. But whatever your opinion, this news coming out of Fangoria.com has got to grab you.

Fango scribe Chris Alexander, writer of the excellently named Blood Spattered Blog, has an exclusive interview with Branagh up in which the acclaimed actor/director reveals that he is actively pursuing doing a remake of Jacques Tourneur's eminently terrifying 1957 favorite Night of the Demon. Take a listen, the remake talk kicks in at about the two-minute mark:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Get a Look at the Banned Poster for Lesbian Vampire Killers...

London's Daily Mirror reported yesterday that this poster:

as well as any others related to the upcoming British horror comedy, has been banned from appearing on public transportation in the UK. It's pretty obvious that the poster/movie title is probably a bit much for mainstream public consumption in an outdoor setting. Then there are the inevitable complaints from lesbian vampires over how they're being portrayed. I can only imagine the uproar when Transsexual Werewolf Hunters is released...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I've Kaiju Under My Skin: A Guide to Showa-Era Godzilla

Just eight short years ago, if someone had told me I'd one day be sitting at home on a Saturday night reviewing Godzilla movies, I'd have said they were goofier than a proverbial pet 'coon. But that's neither here nor there. I am here tonight to examine a movie series that has been near and dear to my heart ever since I was an enraptured five-year-old watching the Smog Monster slime that poor little cat on good ol' channel 9 the day after Thanksgiving.

Godzilla's filmic exploits are told in a total of 28 movies, generally divided into three distinct eras. But for those like myself, who grew up in the 1970s and early '80s discovering this bizarre world of giant monsters and erratic dubbing on syndicated TV, the original series of 15 flicks, running from 1954 to 1975, will always be the real deal.

Sure, the Heisei series of the 1980s and '90s amped up the special effects, and the recent Millennium series finally abandoned the often-dull human character storyline conceits in favor of wall-to-wall monster action. But for me, those later movies lacked the heart of Toho's so-called Showa series, unofficially named for the Showa Emperor Hirohito during whose reign it was created. They became more tied into the strange Japanese technology fetish and less about the human condition. And worst of all, they became far less fun.

So pardon me for focusing strictly on the movies that made me into a Godzilla fanatic in the first place. Partly because it's the starting point of the series and in such a category all its own, and partly because its 1:15 in the morning and this intro took far too long to write than I had imagined, I'm going to limit this first part to the original Gojira only. The next entry will deal with the first seven sequels, and the third entry will cover the latter seven sequels in the Showa series.

Gojira (1954)

The absolute high watermark of giant monster movies--and I'm including the original King Kong in that assessment. If you've only seen this film in its watered-down Americanized edit as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, you're doing yourself a major disservice. Seen in its original Japanese version, Gojira is a stark, terrifying vision, a horror film in the truest sense of the word. In fact, if you're wondering why I'm writing about Godzilla on a horror blog, than you've clearly never seen this film.

Not to take anything away from the many films that followed, but Gojira is infinitely better than any of them. This is not a fun popcorn flick, good for a laugh with your buddies. This is cinema--a viewing experience that moves, and provokes thought. From the opening titles--one of the single most powerful openings credit sequences of any movie, for my money--it grabs hold of you, and doesn't let go.

Made as it was less than a decade after the very real horrors of atomic warfare had wreaked havoc upon Japan, Gojira is a painful allegory that must've been quite difficult for native audiences of the time to get through. Scenes of decimated Tokyo, of victims bursting into flame, and hospitals overflowing with the maimed and their grieving families strike an all-too-familiar chord. No later Godzilla film would show the impact of the monster's attacks in such a personalized way.

There are no cities conveniently evacuated so the creature can safely go on a crowd-pleasing tear. The human element is never forgotten, and the scenes in which the monster emerges are filled with as much raw, grim horror as any fright film you'll ever see. There is a terrible inevitability to the creature's actions--he is a force of nature bringing death to mankind.

Director Ishiro Honda is masterful at creating this aura of fear, but massive amounts of credit must also go to score composer Akira Ifukube, whose music is inextricably tied to the power of the film. It is hard to imagine the movie without his iconic score, as much a part of Honda's work as Ennio Morricone's compositions are to the work of Sergio Leone. By turns insistently dire, broodingly nightmarish and profoundly sad, Ifukube's masterpiece of a score is among the most effective ever written.

* * * * * * * * * *

The series would never again reach such heights. But one could also argue that it would never again aspire to. The Godzilla films would go on to become enjoyable in entirely different, if not as artistically high-minded ways. Stay tuned for my next installment, in which Big G meets the eighth wonder of the world, goes to the moon, fights a giant lobster and even has a baby--all the while become more and more likable. Who knew?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Troll 2 Documentary Screens at SXSW

In the annals of bad horror cinema, the infamous Troll 2 holds a very special place. In recent years, it's become a bona fide cult phenomenon, and many point to it as the worst movie ever made. Contestable, to be sure, but what isn't is the fact that there's a legion of fans who adore this movie precisely because of how appallingly bad it is.

And now, Michael Stephenson, the former child actor who played the lead role in Troll 2, has made the documentary film Best Worst Movie, which premiered yesterday at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. It's all about how the movie grew from plain old awful horror movie to possibly the most notorious "so bad it's good" phenom of the past 20 years, as well as the effect its bizarre fandom has had on the people who were involved in it.

There's a great review of Best Worst Movie up now by Ain't It Cool News' Quint. No word on when the rest of us will get to see it, although I'm assuming it will direct-to-video.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Prepare Yourself for Saw: The Ride

Hold on to your hats kids, because the country that gave us Doctor Who, Monty Python and the Boston Massacre is now home to a rollercoaster based on the most successful horror franchise of the 21st century.

That's ride, it's Saw: The Ride. Located in the UK's famous Thorpe Park, the torture-porn-themed coaster is set to open to the public on Saturday. But if you head on over to Stuff.tv, you can read an exclusive review from a lucky Brit who had the opportunity to ride the thing.

**FRIDAY UPDATE** According to a Press Association report, the ride had to be temporarily shut down during another sneak preview trail yesterday due to some "minor" technical difficulties. No word on whether it will open tomorrow as planned. Also, one patron had to be removed after suffering a panic attack on the ride. If that's not an endorsement for the world's first horror movie-inspired theme ride, I don't know what is!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

If Only These Were Real...

Demonstrating the geographical omnipresence of monsters, illustrator Adam McCauley won a gold medal for this piece, "Monster Stamps", at the Society of Illustrator's annual exhibit in New York last month. Awesome. Just awesome. The piece is on display at the Museum of American Illustration in NYC.

Courtesy of Tor.com, via Sean Collins' Attentiondisorderly Too Flat.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Want to Know What Scares Me? (Part the 2nd)

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by total exhaustion and gainful employment, I got exposed to a lot of frightening stuff on TV as a kid that helped pave the way for my lifetime horror obsession. Why TV, you ask? Mainly because I was too young to be taken to see horror movies in the theater. But since daytime TV in those days was fairly polluted with old horror flicks, that didn't mean I never saw theatrical films, too.

Case in point: The Changeling. No, not the admittedly excellent, if overlong Angelina Jolie Oscar bait. I'm talking about the George C. Scott classic that I still consider among the finest ghost stories ever filmed, perhaps second only to The Haunting. I caught this one as a wee lad, all alone in my grandparents' living room, while the rest of the family argued downstairs in that uniquely Italian-American way.

Can you say nightmares? And lingering trauma? The image of the little boy being drowned in the bathtub was burned into my consciousness, and I could not approach a full tub, or even a toilet bowl, without first checking for a submerged face after that.

But there was a big difference between the relatively tame movies shown on afternoon syndicated TV and the kinds of movies my parents loved going to the theater to see, and renting to watch on that newfangled contraption we hooked up to our TV in the mid 1980s. See, I grew up during a golden age of gore cinema, when video store shelves were stocked to overflowing with forbidden fruit. No, I'm not talking about that section behind the beaded curtain (although that held a taboo appeal, as well). I'm talking about the horror section, filled with box covers which on their own were enough to shock me.

My parents were big horror nuts, but knew enough not to let me watch with them. They knew I wasn't ready yet. But that didn't stop me from being fascinated to listen to the terrifying sound effects coming from the living room downstairs as I tried to sleep, accompanied occasionally by a startled yelp from my mom. Or from listening in as they would gleefully describe their favorites to friends and family, movies like The Evil Dead, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The first time they ever tried to initiate me was far from a success, but it is what officially kicked off my love of horror nonetheless, and sums up in a nutshell my relationship with it. That was the time they cautiously relented and allowed me and my younger sister (!), after prolonged begging, to watch The Exorcist with them. As I look back now, they were clearly teaching me a lesson...

I'm proud to say I held together pretty well. That is, until the moment when Regan turns on her caregivers, her eyes rolled up into her head, a subhuman voice emanating from her lips. In a scene my father likes to describe as reminiscent of a terrified Oliver Hardy, my sister and I simultaneously lept from the couch, wailing with fright as we scrambled upstairs and into our beds.

Yet despite my dismay, I kept thinking back to what I had seen, more intrigued than ever. This was a step beyond anything I had ever seen on Channel 9. This was fear in its purest, distilled form. And despite my dread, I couldn't help wanting more. And it has been the same ever since.

As I got older, I got a little more freedom in my viewing choices, and so began seeking out the kinds of movies I was never allowed to see before. Thanks to home video, I got a crash course in my preteens and early teens in the modern classics of the genre. The first one to enthrall my imagination, as I've discussed at length before, was The Return of the Living Dead.

But that movie was only a prelude to the one I'd discover at the age of 15, and which would fill me with a kind of visceral horror that's been unequaled since. It was a lazy afternoon in November 1990, and like the geeky third wheel I was, I sat bored on the couch in the den of my friend's girlfriend's house, my pal and his gal off in another room. Needless to say, I was bummed, and in my search for something to watch, I came across a VHS tape on the shelf marked "Dawn of the Dead".

I popped it in, and after about ten minutes, I was way too distracted to continue feeling sorry for myself. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. That would kick off a completely irrational fear of zombies that would last for more years than I can admit without being a bit embarrassed.

I don't need a degree in psychology to realize that my bone-chilling phobia of the fictional undead was directly connected to a deep-seated fear of death I had been living with ever since first fully grasping the concept of my own mortality. Romero's zombie concept seemed tailor-made to keep me awake at night: Here was death itself, personified in the actual bodies of the dead refusing to politely disappear. And not only were they right in your face, but they also wanted to eat you. Could it get any worse?

The fact that I understood logically that zombies did not exist was little consolation. They were a reminder of the inevitability of death, which was enough. Not to mention they were also the source of years of nightmares, which unbelievably enough, persisted stubbornly into my adult years. Yet true to form, I remained morbidly fascinated, seeking out the most gut-wrenching zombie fare I could find (hence my Fulci obsession). There was a time when viewing such films was a truly upsetting experience, but one which I nonetheless compelled myself to endure.

But I got over my zombiephobia. I think having kids played a big part. You don't realize how much it changes you until it happens, and one of the biggest symptoms of maturity is the relinquishing of silly childhood hangups. The fictional fears that consume the self-centered years of youth suddenly dissipate when you're faced with the real fears and concerns of grown-up life. I mean, who has time to be worried about zombies and vampires when you're busy worrying about feeding a family, paying a mortgage, and the very real horrors that inspire parents to protect their children at all costs?

And so, my attitude toward horror movies has actually taken a dramatic shift in recent years. The outlandish, supernatural horror that once sent me into cold sweats I now find harmless fun. I see the humor in such movies that my unironic teenage mind never grasped. Rather, it's the more plausible, realistic stuff that freaks me out these days. Maybe because I'm more aware of the real horrors the world contains, I find myself strongly put off by movies most would describe as "torture porn".

Sometimes, while watching movies like Hostel and the like, I find myself wondering if I'm losing my edge and turning into an old fogey. Because I just don't have the stomach for it anymore. Even a well-made film like Inside, for example, will leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. Part of it is wondering what goes on in peoples' minds that even leads them to come up with such stories and scenarios. But the more honest part of me also is repulsed by my own desire to watch it in the first place.

And so, the bizarre, inexplicable lifelong fixation on the limits of my own fear continues-- transformed, but ever present...
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