"QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST HORROR-THEMED BLOG ON THE NET." -- Joe Maddrey, Nightmares in Red White & Blue

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Friday, July 31, 2009

The Vault of Horror Nabs An Interview with Jewel Shepard

Hey there Vault Dwellers! It's BJ-C of Day of the Woman here with some great news B-Sol just informed me of. Normally he'd be delighted to post it himself, but he's doing the whole responsible parent thing and taking care of Skeleton Jack at the arcade. So I am here to deliver the good news! I'm like the Angel Gabriel....but not.

One of B-Sol's readers got him in touch with Jewel Shepard (aka blue haired Mohawk punk from Return of the Living Dead)on Facebook. From what he's told me, she was super cool and agreed to do an interview with him on Monday.


I did some Facebook creeping myself and let me tell you, mama aged VERY nicely. She is a straight up FOX. B-Sol whole heartedly agrees :) Which is ironic concidering his infatuation with Linnea Quigley...I'm sure she'll forgive him.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

CONFIRMED: Depp Will Star in Burton's Dark Shadows

After months of speculation, it was reported in several places earlier today, most notably Yahoo! Movies, that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are officially moving ahead with Dark Shadows as their next project. Burton will direct and Depp will star, as the duo has done seven times before in the past.

Apparently it was Depp who initiated the project, as the original 1960s/70s vampire TV soap opera has always been a bit of an obsession for him, and he had long desired to play lead vamp Barnabas Collins. For the longest time, it had basically been a foregone conclusion that the dynamic duo of surreal cinema would be moving on to Dark Shadows after wrapping up Alice in Wonderland, but now it's apparently for-real for-real. Although I think Burton has his feature-length Frankenweenie remake happening somewhere in there, as well--and Depp will be donning the mascara once again for a fourth Pirates go-round before then, too.

Not sure what took so long for the news to be officially disseminated, as sources are claiming that Depp himself announced it last week during a showing of Alice in Wonderland footage at the San Diego Comic Con. Nevertheless, these "official confirmations" have not been coming out till today. Hopefully this isn't some kind of elaborate jumping-of-the-gun. A Burton-Depp Dark Shadows has "WIN" written all over it...

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While I'm still up, I'd like to make mention of a new sidebar feature I've added, the Zombie Haiku of the Day. I'm taking them from Ryan Mecum's excellent Zombie Haiku collection--with the author's blessing, of course. In fact, Ryan was good enough not only to give me permission to do this, but also had some kind words to say about the Vault as well, which you'll find in the "Shameless Self-Promotion" section. Thanks, Ryan!

Retro Review: The Changeling

Much has been made on here of movies like The Return of the Living Dead and The Exorcist, which played big parts in making me a horror fan. But I don't think I've done enough justice to this picture, and I'm about to remedy that. The Changeling was, without a doubt, one of the most soul-numbingly terrifying movies of my entire childhood, and it has stayed with me ever since.

For my money, this flick ranks right up there with the likes of The Uninvited and The Haunting as one of the truly classic ghost movies. With amazing restraint--as all the best ghost movies demonstrate--The Changeling proves that when it comes to haunted terrors, less is always more.

The great George C. Scott, one of my favorite actors of all time, plays composer John Russell, who takes refuge in an old Victorian mansion after his family is tragically killed in a car accident. While there, he comes into unwitting contact with the spirit of a murdered child, who reaches out to him to try and solve the mystery of his death.

It goes without saying that Scott is magnificent. This man was truly an acting Goliath, and the world is a lesser place without him. As Russell, he puts forth just the right combination of pathos, fear and outrage to really make his character work. We're with him the whole way, experiencing every terror that he does, in every detail.

Director Peter Medak is known more for his work in television, but still, what a formidable TV resume it is: Space 1999, the '80s Twilight Zone, Shelly Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre (the best!), Beauty and the Beast, Tales from the Crypt, Kindred: The Embraced, The Wire, Carnivale, Masters of Horror. He also did the underrated early Gary Oldman flick, Romeo Is Bleeding. Plus, the script for The Changeling is by William Gray, screenwriter of the original Prom Night!

There is some imagery in the movie that has remained with me for the nearly three decades since I first saw it. That may be simply because I was so young, but I tend to think this movie would've affected profoundly no matter my age. The empty wheelchair; the ball bouncing down the stairs; and most mind-scarringly of all, that repeated shot of the little boy's face underwater in the bathtub. Talk about Kindertrauma! I can't tell you how deeply that messed me up as a kid--phobia of baths ever since!

The greatest thing about The Changeling is that it manages to get under your skin without a single drop of blood, no real special effects to speak of, no over-the-top gimmickry. I'm not saying I have anything against these things--actually, I love them all. But it's also nice to experience a horror movie that doesn't necessarily have to rely on all that for scares. It's a welcome change of pace. What can I tell you, I'll always be a sucker for a good ol' fashioned gothic tale...

It should be mentioned also that the great old-time actor Melvyn Douglas appears in this, in one of his last roles. Douglas starred in The Old Dark House (yeah, he's that old), The Vampire Bat, Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka with Greta Garbo, Hud and so many others. The man was a bona fide Hollywood legend, and incidentally, his last role would come one year later in another terrific ghost movie, the aptly titled Ghost Story. If you haven't seen his Oscar-winning performance in Being There with Peter Sellers, treat yourself immediately. The man is gold.

But make no mistake, this is George C. Scott's movie. This guy is such a gem, and I've always worshiped him for performances in movies like Anatomy of a Murder, The Exorcist III, The Hindenburg, and of course his transcendent turn in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove as the war-mongering Gen. Buck Turgidson. But, it goes without saying, that for me, he'll always be best identified with the real-life general he played in his greatest role ever, George S. Patton. Scott doesn't quite get to flex his chops as much in The Changeling as in some of these other flicks, but it's interesting to see him in a more subdued part anyway.

The Changeling is one of those excellent horror movies that doesn't usually get the level of attention it deserves. So I'm saying it right here and now--do yourself a favor and rent it if you have never seen it. And if you have, rent it again. Either way, you're guaranteed two hours of sublime spookiness.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stuff I'm Excited to See in What's Left of 2009

I've said it before: This hasn't been the best year for horror. Just not that much out there, period, and out of what there is that's out there, even less worth our money. However, the second half of 2009 seems to be looking a bit better than the first half, and not just because I just had the pleasure of seeing Orphan (review to come). Tonight I'd like to shine the spotlight on four horror films I'm very excited to check out before the end of the year...

District 9
August 14

This one's much more science fiction than horror, but it definitely looks like it will deliver up a scare or two. The buzz is extremely positive, and the concept is intriguing. Sort of strikes me as "Alien Nation meets Predator", if you'll allow me to sound like a jerk-off studio windbag for just a second. On the heels of Moon, another very original sci-fi/horror, this flick gives me home that cinematic sci-fi has a bright future.

August 14

Vault contributor Wes Cavins recently submitted a review after attending a sneak preview, which was very positive. I've heard audiences have been pretty shocked by this one, which is always a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. And although the plot--about a mother who must feed her baby human blood--bears a passing resemblance to Little Shop of Horrors as BJ-C has pointed out half-jokingly, I still have a feeling this is going to be something worth checking out.

October 9
Just when you thought the zombie movie wave was finally over, along comes this one. And I don't know about you, but after checking out the trailer, I'm MORE than willing to give it a chance. This is definitely the most mainstream zombie film we've seen in years, and a nice prelude to the upcoming World War Z. Large-scale zombie comedy about a post-apocalypse, in which Woody Harrelson is a bad-ass ghoul-hunter? Count me the eff in.

October 23

Loopy director Lars von Trier caused quite a stir at Cannes when he ridiculed members of the press for condemning his film on account of supposedly objectionable content. If that sentence doesn't make you want to see it, then we are two very different people. In all seriousness though, this tale of a troubled couple confronting the powers of Satan on a retreat in the woods has "WIN" written all over it. Plus, it stars Willem Defoe, who I once bumped into checking out the nudey mags in Tower Books in NYC. Not that that's relevant, just puttin' it out there...

Hump-Day Harangue: The Wolf Man Is Going to Suck. My Heart Is Breaking.

As many of you may know, I've been avidly following the Wolf Man remake almost since day one of The Vault of Horror. I held it up as my shining example of a "good remake", and anxiously awaited the Del Toro/Hopkins/Baker goodness to come... But... sigh... I believe it may be time to throw in the towel and give up hope. I'm callin' it.

Too soon, you say? Don't pre-judge, you admonish? Have you been following this thing as closely as I have?

First, there was the ominous debacle involving the walkout of original director Mark Romanek. It was ugly, regardless of how Universal tried to smooth it over. Folks, a director walking out is always a bad thing. On top of that, the main reason he supposedly walked was the limitations he perceived in the film's $100 million budget (yes, we're living in a world where a $100-million budget for a movie is pedestrian). News flash: the budget of the film as it currently stands is now $120 million and rising. Doh!

Worst of all is the reason why the movie has gone so far over-budget. That's right, it's that other thing you never want to hear: Re-shoots. Extensive ones. Expensive ones. Said re-shoots are rumored to be related to a lack of producer confidence in the creature as designed by Rick Baker. You know, those designs that had the entire internet abuzz with rampant ecstasy. Leave it to the stuffed shirts to screw things up.

You see, they were bothered by the humanoid wolf-man creature seen in the film--you know, the one that actually resembles the Lon Chaney original? Yeah, they wanted something more wolf-like, running around on all fours. Kind of like in An American Werewolf in London--aaaannd basically every werewolf movie made in the last 30 years... So the one thing that made the Wolf Man the Wolf Man... is now being rethought by spineless money men.

And there's one other item that has me crying in my Maker's Mark over this whole catastrophe. You've all heard that the movie has been bumped from November to February of next year, I'm sure. But do you know the reason why (other than the re-shoots)? Let me enlighten you. Universal is also releasing New Moon in November, two weeks after the original Wolf Man release date. And it looks like they were afraid a movie about a werewolf might cut into the profit of their pristine cash cow, which also features werewolves... As if we needed another reason to hate Twilight.

This thing has grade-A turkey written all over it, I'm afraid. And believe me, it pains me to say that. This is a grave I'm not dancing on, but rather hurling myself upon and screaming, like an Italian grandmother. I'm also sure that the good people over at Marvel can't be too jazzed, since Joe Johnston, the replacement director, is scheduled to do their Captain America movie next. At this point, we'll be lucky if it's better than that 1990 version with J.D. Salinger's son wearing fake ears...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We Are Going to Eat You! OK... at Least Eat WITH You. Only If You Want...

In the tradition of Day of Woman's gloriously convenient space-filling "This Just In" posts, I wanted to share with you some relevant pics from me and the fam's visit to NYC last weekend... Psyched? Of course you are.

Staying in Manhattan's financial district meant that we were close enough to attempt a walk over the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge. And walking over the Brooklyn Bridge meant only one thing, as far as I was concerned. An opportunity to take a photo like this:

Yes, it's Zombelina and myself reenacting the infamous final scene of Zombi 2! Like my "Hannibal Lecter at the end of Silence of the Lambs" hat?

Then, we were off to the venerable old Trinity Church, where I was able to indulge my morbid fascination with crumbly old graveyards!

As well as pass this fascination along to the next generation!

But all good things must come to an end, and I'm now back in Fairfield, CT--otherwise known as the place where The Stepford Wives was filmed, and quite fittingly!

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In other news, this is just a reminder that we're halfway to the 2nd Annual Cyber-Horror Awards. So head on over to the CHA site for a little update on what you might expect from the 2009 awards!!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Clayton "Sweater Zombie" Hill 1931-2009

You may not have known his name. But chances are, you knew that face over there. Especially if you were any halfway decent horror fan who hasn't been living in a cave for the past 30 years. Clayton Hill was better known to all of us as "Sweater Zombie" (or occasionally "Escalator Zombie") from the original Dawn of the Dead--and it bums me out tonight to report that he is no longer with us.

Hill was one of the "star zombies" in George Romero's triumphant classic, appearing alongside his wife Sharon Ceccatti, better known as "Nurse Zombie" (YES, they were married). He died Saturday night of complications from pneumonia, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He was 78.

Hill got his first taste of the horror business in Dawn of the Dead. Ol' George just saw something in that face that would make him perfect to portray one of his most prominently featured ghouls. He would appear in a handful of films after that, including Hellraiser III (1992). He had just finished working on two films made in the Pittsburgh area, End Game and River of Darkness, co-starring with fellow Pittsburgher and former Olympic gold medalist/WWE Superstar Kurt Angle, as well as fellow iconic former zombie Bill Hinzeman (the graveyard ghoul from Night of the Living Dead).

Prior to his work in movies, Hill had spent more than 20 years in the Air Force. But after leaving that world to escape the stress, he took some acting classes at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Doing some operatta work in Pittsburgh (Hill was a gifted singer since childhood), he and his wife eventually crossed paths with another local luminary, George Romero, who was more than happy to give them their first movie roles as "star zombies" in his long-awaited "Living Dead" sequel in 1978. In addition to appearing on-screen as that pathetic, wide-eyed revenant trying so hard to get up that escalator, Hill also served on-set as the weapons handler for the film, thanks to his military background.

The experience led Hill and his wife to start their own casting company, and later to continue to work in the business as location scouts. In recent years, they were fixtures on the horror convention circuit.

You may not have known his name, but you do now. Rest in Peace, Mr. Hill, one of horror's most memorable zombies.

TRAILER TRASH: Frankenstein Edition!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Horror Blogs You Should Be Reading

I'm inspired tonight by an excellent little piece published today on Fangoria.com by Brad McHargue of I Love Horror, a proud fellow member of the League of Tana Tea-Drinkers. It's all about the phenomenon of horror blogging, and it got me thinking of the various blogs I personally love reading, and which I'd like to recommend to you fine people tonight, if you're not already reading them, that is.

Needless to say, Brad's own blog is among them--it's an unflinchingly frank take on the genre that's well worth checking out, even if he likes to bash every single frickin' movie he reviews (well, except Orphan, he loved that one). Really, McHargue, lighten up man! And of course, anyone who reads my blog knows I can't recommend highly enough The Vault's sister blog, the completely unique Day of the Woman. But aside from those two, I urge you guys to check out:

Pierre Fournier's loving journey through the universe of everyone's favorite flesh golem is truly indispensible. It was one of the first horror blogs I fell in love with, and I think you will, too. Mr. Fournier's knowledge of Mary Shelley's creation is encyclopedic. Join him as he regularly spotlights the countless manifestations this timeless piece of literature has taken in our culture...

Brian Collins is one determined and dedicated dude. This guy has taken it upon himself to watch a different horror movie every single day and review it for his readers. Now that's hardcore. Sometimes they may be classics, but just as often they're dreck, causing me to have even more respect for the passion he brings to the table!

What a brilliant concept. An entire blog dedicated to the horrific stuff that scared the crap out of us as kids. The uniqueness of this blog has gotten it a fair amount of attention, as it should. Let Unkle Lancifer and company take you by the hand for a twisted walk down memory lane, and while you're at it, feel free to share your own personal childhood terror anecdotes!

The Horrors of It All
When The Vault of Horror was just getting off the ground, it was Karswell of THOIA who gave me some valuable words of advice in horror blogging. For anyone who loves pre-code horror comics, namely the wondrous output of EC Comics, this is your ultimate online destination. You'll even find high-res, printable scans of the actual comics themselves!

Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire
Tenebrous Kate is one of a kind, and you gotta love her. She's got style, she's got a bottomless love for twisted exploitation horror, plus she has a bizarre fixation on entertainment involving nuns. Look to her excellent blog for a horror perspective that's extremely cool, well-informed and always clever as hell. This is one smart horror blogger, with one heck of a voice.

The Lightning Bug's Lair
A visual feast that's jam-packed with special features and insightful reviews. The Lightning Bug is one of the horror blogosphere's most knowledgeable souls, and truth be told, it was his relentless dedication to regular features that gave me the boot in the ass needed to create some of my own here in The Vault! Thanks, Bug!

Freddy in Space
I'm going to call this the finest horror blog that has yet to be invited into the LoTT-D. Simple as that. Johnny Boots has a head for horror content, as well as an insightful mind for horror commentary. I can't tell you how many times he's come up with an idea that had me hitting myself in the head wishing I had come up with it first (Name That Zombie, anyone?). Plus, he's got giveaways out the yin-yang!

In It for the Kills
The subtitle of this blog is "Horror Perspectives"--and rightfully so. Erin Lashley has a strong love of B-movies and cult horrors from the '70s to the present, and it shows in this wonderful blog. This one is filled with great reviews. And I recently had the pleasure of contributing to it myself!

McBeardo's Midnight Movies
My most recent discovery, and boy am I glad I found it! McBeardo is one hell of a character, and goddamn does he know his cult movies. Not everything on here is horror, but enough of it is that I feel comfortable recommending it to any horror fan. Especially if your love gravitates toward the shlock-tacular. Plus, I went to junior high with this guy's younger brother. Small world...

Musings Across a Continuum
What can one say when it comes to Ms. Harker, other than that she is one of the coolest, most bad-ass female horror blogtrices since, well... since BJ-C! This Aussie vampire lover takes genuine delight in sharing her enthusiasm with her readers. She loves True Blood, hates Twilight, and manages to pack every other sentence with vague sexual innuendo. What's not to like?

The Beyond
At just 13 years of age, the one and only horror prodigy known as Soap Magic is one hell of a kid blogger. How can you not go head over heels for someone who hasn't even started high school, yet can converse on Murnau's Faust, Nekromantik, and the Lucio Fulci canon? He's only been at it a few months, and he's already started writing for Bloody-Disgusting. Get on board with this kid, now.

That's it for now. For anyone I've left out, you know I love you. There are so many great horror blogs I read on a regular basis, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Rest assured, there will be a follow-up post on this topic down the road!

A Quarter-Century of Krueger: NOES Remake Comic Con Panel!

This week, in the spirit of San Diego Comic Con envy, I bring you video from yesterday's special panel on the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. On the panel are producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller of Platinum Dunes, as well as director Samuel Bayer and of course the new Freddy Krueger himself, Jackie Earle Haley...

Very cool stuff, although I confess to being a little troubled by Bayer's somewhat condescending comment regarding how his remake will be "different from what's come before" in that it will be "scary [and] a little darker". As if the original was Patch Adams or something. Hmmm....

Freddy cartoon by Montygog.

Friday, July 24, 2009

VAULT VLOG: Alas, To Be a Geek and Not at Comic Con...

Musical Tributes to the Great Old Ones and Other Gods

As you might be aware, I love H.P. Lovecraft. And when one loves Lovecraft, you sometimes feel like you possess something no one knows or cares about. And then you decide to punch in Cthulhu into Google video, and whammo, you find fantastic musical paens to the evil gods you worship. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Retro Review: Suspiria

Apparently, I'm in some kind of an Italian horror mood, as can be evidenced by the Catriona MacColl edition of Woman of the Week I contributed to Day of the Woman earlier today. Now, I'm continuing that theme with a special look at a movie which I strongly feel is one of the absolute modern masterpieces of the genre, Dario Argento's shining jewel, Suspiria (1977).

Argento can be a frustratingly erratic director, but generally speaking, he is one of the modern masters, and Suspiria is Argento at the very height of his powers. It's definitely the closest he comes to being the Italian Alfred Hitchcock, which I've always felt was his goal. The levels of genuine suspense, the ebb and flow of tension that he is able to create here is truly staggering.

Based loosely on Thomas de Quincey's 19th century novel Suspiria de Profundis, the movie tells the story of an innocent new student at a ballet academy who makes the terrifying discover that the school is merely a front for a bizarre coven of witches. But you know what? I'm tempted not to say it, since it sounds like a knock, but Suspiria is the kind of a movie where the plot points are somewhat irrelevant.

In fact, this is a property of many of the best Italian horrors. And in the case of Suspiria, it really is all about the sensory feast Argento and his crew have cooked up for us. Luciano Tovoli, who in later years would shoot such American films as Reversal of Fortune, Single White Female, and Kiss of Death, offers up some truly sumptuous cinematography that epitomizes Argento's philosophy that horror can actually be beautiful. The lighting is intriguing throughout, with some truly breathtaking use of color--red being the theme, of course.

There are shots in this film, for example much of those making up the stunning opening murder sequence, that really should be studied by film students everywhere. I'd say it's the kind of movie you could totally watch and enjoy with the sound off, but then you'd be missing out on another major reason the movie works so well--the insistent, profound and off-putting score by Italian progressive rock band Goblin. Their music washes over the film, bathing it in atmosphere.

This is a rich, textured film, and I find I take away something new from it every time I watch it. I enjoyed it from the very first time I saw it, about 12 years ago, but I don't think I fully appreciated it until I started rewatching it. There's just so much being thrown at you, that I think first-time viewers can be a bit overwhelmed by it all. But this film is like a fine wine that ages wonderfully, and provides greater and greater pleasure over time.

In addition to that classic opening sequence, with its unforgettable heart stabbing, there are so many moments that stay with me. The strongest one for me has always been the sequence involving the one unfortunate student who flees frantically from her pursuer, only to find herself plunged into a room filled with razor wire. This is among the most memorable scenes I have witnessed in any horror movie, and I find myself referencing it often. A truly nightmarish scenario brought brilliantly to life by Argento, Tovoli, and Argento's favorite editor, Franco Fraticelli.

Some point to the surrealistically bright red blood employed by special effects director Germano Natali as a negative, but I think those who grasp what Argento is doing know that realism is never what he's going for. The blood itself is beautiful in a strange way, adding to the aesthetically appealing brutality that is Argento's stock-in-trade.

For as much as I love Lucio Fulci, and as underrated as he was in his ability to create a mood, nothing he ever did rivaled the masterful work accomplished here by Dario Argento. As horror films go, Suspiria is an absolute gem, and a true pleasure to watch, in a way that few horror movies are.

Suspiria is also a perfect example of technique over content. It's a true filmmaker's film. While the script and acting arer all adequate, that's not what keeps me coming back to this film over and over. Rather, it's Argento's enthralling style, the deft manner in which he crafted this gorgeous, gorgeous film. Some may say it's a self-conscious style, but I eat up with a spoon every time. I never find it overbearing or pretentious--rather, I only wish all of Argento's work could live up to the quality of this picture. Although I also love films of his like Deep Red and Tenebre, there is only one Suspiria...

In addition to being a filmmaker's film, Suspiria is also a horror fanatic's horror film. It might not be the best to show someone who's only a casual fright flick fan, but for those more discriminating lovers of the cinematic macabre, Suspiria remains a titan of the genre. As a horror film, it is all but perfect.

The Ballad of Dwight Frye

Normally I'd be doing my usual Hump-Day Harangue right about now, but frankly it's been a long day, and I don't quite feel up to haranguing right now.

So instead, I will direct you to the excellent blog In It for the Kills, whose author Erin Lashley was kind enough to invite to me to contribute. Head on over there, and kindly check out my piece on the one and only Dwight Frye, one of the truly underrated greats of the classic Universal era...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First Glimpse: Jackie Earle Haley as the NEW Freddy Krueger

OK, I know these images have popped up just about about everywhere else on the web by now, but I couldn't resist throwing them up on the Vault. I'm just too jazzed. So here they are, the first two official images of the excellent Jackie Earle Haley as the new Freddy Krueger in next year's A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. The first is a promotional shot, while the second image is a teaser poster:

I know, it doesn't really give us much to go on. But exciting, nonetheless. So what do all y'all think? Leave me some comments, and let me know!

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I'd like to extend mucho congrats to Vault Dweller numero uno BJ-C, and all the ladies of Zion's Razzle Dazzles on capturing the 2009 NBTA National Championship (in the category of Show Corps With Props & Scenery), earlier today at Notre Dame University. Nice work, you baton-twirling maniacs, you!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Tuesday Top 10: Faith-Based Horror Movies

I was recently asked to put together a list of the top faith-based horror films for Bloody-Disgusting... However, because Brad "Don't call me Mr. Disgusting" Miska is a busy dude, the list was accidentally assigned to two different writers--and damn it, I wasn't fast enough! Not one to let good copy go to waste, I've decided to "repurpose" the list--as we say in the marketing business--which means that now all you loyal Vault Dwellers get to enjoy it exclusively!

BJ-C had been helping me put this one together, but she's off the hook now--saved by baton nationals! However, keep your greasy eyeballs peeled for the newest VoH/DotW collabo in the days/weeks to come... For now, enjoy this breakdown of the most memorable horror flicks with religious themes:

10. Angel Heart (1987)
Robert DeNiro plays the Devil (oh excuse me, Louis Cypher) in this horror noir which was unfairly maligned upon release, but has since aged like a fine wine. Plus it has that infamous sex scene between Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet. What would the Cos say? Oh wait, he was too busy asking interns to tug on his Jell-O pudding pop...

9. Stigmata (1999)
I didn't expect much from this one when I first saw it, but it surprised me--both in its effectiveness, and its knowledgeable use of Christian folklore. Patricia Arquette is freaky in the title role of Frankie Paige, a girl afflicted with the wounds of Christ. And of course, Gabriel Byrne is Gabriel Byrne. As a recovering Catholic, this one was much appreciated.

8. Signs (2002)
I might catch heat for this one, but Signs deals very pointedly and frankly with the common problem of crisis of faith. If that doesn't make it "faith-based", I don't know what would. Mel Gibson plays a fallen priest whose brush with invading aliens causes him to reassess his relationship with the magic dude in the sky.

7. Seven (1995)
Yes, I refuse to spell it in that goofy way with the number 7 in the title. I'm cranky that way. Anyway, thanks to BJ-C for suggesting this one. For the handful of you that might not know the plot, Seven features the serial killer John Doe, whose murders are each based around one of the seven deadly sins. Think of him as Jigsaw, if Jigsaw had gone to Sunday school.

6. Hellraiser (1987)
While not so much tied into any recognizable organized religion, Clive Barker's masterwork is highly spiritual in nature. And of course, there's the whole "Hell" thing, which is kind of hard to get around. The Cenobites are clearly New Age demons, and there is much made of the universal balance of good and evil, which is all very Zoroastrian. Thank you, liberal arts education!

5. Faust (1926)
Four years after Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau delivered his other amazing epic, the screen's finest adaptations of one of Christianity's most famous legends. God and Satan do battle over the soul of Faust in Goethe's literary masterwork, brought to life in boldly visual fashion by the master of German Expressionism.

4. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Yes, we're getting into the "predictable zone" here, so sue me. This is the film that ushered in the era of "Satanism chic" in horror, and spawned more copycats than you can shake a pitchfork at. Mia Farrow is impregnated by Beelzebub, and delivers her impish progeny to an apartment building filled with eager Devil worshippers. Shocking stuff for its day, and still packs a punch now.

3. The Omen (1976)
Gregory Peck delivers one of horror's all-time classiest performances in this wicked tale of Satan's attempt to reincarnate himself on Earth in the cute little form of Damien Thorn. Another great example of a film that makes the most of Christian folklore, crafting a story that draws us in, whether we buy into the faith-based stuff or not.

2. The Wicker Man (1973)
Ask any horror fan who's seen it, and they'll tell you that The Wicker Man is one of the genre's truly great discoveries. A much bigger deal in the UK than in the States, this twisted morality tale pits devout Christian police officer Edward Woodward against a cryptic Pagan cut led by the sublime Christopher Lee. Avoid the remake at all costs, in large part because it ejects much of the religious subtext.

1. The Exorcist (1973)
What would be the point of even trying to be cute and picking anything but this? William Friedkin's enthralling piece of filmmaking so impacted the culture into which it was released that it actually raised the ire of the Catholic church, and polarized audiences with its intense, and gripping take on the struggle between Satan and the soldiers of Christ in a world in which good and evil are very real forces. Based on William Peter Blatty's best-seller, it's the perfect example of a faith-based horror film directed at an often faithless modern world.


End of Days (direct hate mail to BJ-C :-))
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Prince of Darkness
The Prophechy
The Seventh Sign

Two More Reasons to Feel Like a Loser for Not Being at Comic Con...

When it comes to the Saw franchise, it's been a love/hate relationship with me for some time now. Loved the first one to death, but each sequel has been a disappointment to me, with varying degrees of suckitude. However, that said, none of them have been so bad as to completely put me off the series, and so I keep coming back, plunking down my hard-earned cash, like a sad, middle-aged bachelor at a strip club, who knows he's never going to get his money's worth, but keeps finding himself drawn back for more...

And so, today's news that the San Diego Comic Con will be chock-full of Saw-ness has given me just a couple more reasons to be depressed for not being there. Here it is, the center of the geek universe, the nerd equivalent of that Central Park street gang confab at the beginning of The Warriors, and I'm stuck on the other side of the country yet again. Oh well, there's always the New York Comic Con, which I have on good authority is poised to become a bigger deal than the SD one in the next couple years...

Anyway, the news I have to bring to you today is two-fold. Firstly, Horror-Movies.ca is reporting that the much-anticipated Saw video game, which seems to have been in development since forever, will finally be unveiled by Lionsgate this week at Comic Con. You can check it out at the Lionsgate booth (#3729). The game gets its official release on October 6 from Lionsgate and Konami. X Box and PlayStation 3 versions will be available (how did I guess that there's be no Wii version??).

Also, and even more importantly, the very first teaser trailer for Saw 857, er, I mean, Saw VI, will be introduced by none other than Jigsaw himself, Mr. Tobin Bell. Shock Till You Drop reported yesterday that the world's creepiest actor will be premiering the trailer to fans on Thursday as part of an autograph signing. Talk about sweet deals--that guy somehow continues to be involved in this franchise, despite the fact that his character has been dead for, what, the last two installments in the series??

The Saw series may not be my favorite, but it always manages to somehow keep me mildly interested. I don't know, maybe it's Mrs. B-Sol's continued, inexplicable enthusiasm for it. Anyway, I hope all you lucky bastids enjoy your Comic Con weekend! Anyone itching to do an official Vault of Horror Comic Con report, feel free to hit me up!

* * * * * * * * * *

For those of you wondering what's been going on over at Day of the Woman, rest assured that BJ-C is alive and well. The online Mistress of the Macabre, as most of you know, is a champion baton twirler, and it just so happens that at the moment, her team is competing at Notre Dame University for the National Championship once again. It's a week-long event, hence the relative quiet on the DotW front. But rest assured, BJ has some cool things in store once she returns in triumph. In the meantime, the Vault's best wishes go out to Zion, Illinois' Razzle Dazzles, who have even cooked up a suitably horror-themed twirling routine. Good luck, ladies--show those prehistoric bitches how they do things downtown...

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Rise of the Lycans": A History of Werewolf Movies, Part 3

After the heady days of the 1980s and the great horror movie boom, the 1990s, as most fans who lived through them know, scaled things back a bit. And yes, of course, werewolf films were affected by this, as well. The '80s had been a golden age for the subgenre, but now, it looked like the wind had once again left the sails of the lycanthrope.

Nevertheless, there would be some signs of life in the old dog--just not very promising signs. For example, the mid 1990s saw something of a mini-craze involving the old gothic horror monsters, thanks mainly to Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula. Kenneth Branagh brought us Mary Shelley's Frankenstein not long after, and it would be in 1994 that the third of the Universal biggies would get a brief moment in the sun.

In this case, it would be the Mike Nichols-directed Wolf, starring none other than Jack Nicholson as the titular shapeshifter. Although the concept of Jack as a werewolf, as well as the fact that he'd be joined by fellow past Batman villain Michelle Pfeiffer, made this one look promising, it was an ultimately forgettable flop.

But Wolf would seem a masterpiece compared to what was attempted just three years later. What better way, you ask, to inject new life into the genre than by going back to its most successful entry? Well, anyone who may have thought that was dead wrong, as can be evidenced by the 1997 "sequel", An American Werewolf in Paris. Bearing little to no connection to the John Landis original, An American Werewolf in London, this mess is now remembered as one of the great horror missteps of the past 20 years.

With the 1990s mercifully over, the new century ushered in a more favorable climate for horror films. And just as the dearth of werewolf flicks was a reflection of the downturn in horror flicks in general, so this new boom in horror also brought about an influx of interesting and innovative movies on the subject of werewolfism.

The first of these, in 2000, would be Ginger Snaps, a fascinating film that draws an analogy between lycanthropy and puberty. Our main character is a teenage girl who is bitten by a werewolf, and must struggle with the murderous beast she is becoming. Her friends try their best to locate a cure for her condition, as she becomes more and more dangerous.

The fact that Ginger's initial victimization takes place on the same exact night she experiences her first period makes it abundantly clear that the filmmakers are using the tried-and-true werewolf warhorse to tell us a story of sexual awakening. It's an interesting attempt to do something different with a seemingly dead subgenre. Ginger Snaps would lead to a pair of 2004 sequels, Ginger Snaps Unleashes, and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning.

The next major werewolf film of the new century would be the one most fans point to as the finest the subgenre has offered up since the aforementioned AWIL. Released in 2002, Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers is also one of the most underrated horror films of the decade, period.

Grafting werewolf horror onto military adventure, Dog Soldiers puts a "Predator" spin on things, telling the story of a British Special Ops group battling mysterious monsters in the Scottish Highlands--monsters whose true nature they're unaware of until it's too late. This gem of an action horror flick would help put Marshall on the map, and lead to more high-profile projects such as The Descent and Doomsday.

Nevertheless, despite its high level of quality, Dog Soldiers went unseen by many fans, thanks to poor distribution. Rather, the film that would help return werewolves to the mainstream consciousness would instead be another horror action movie by the name of Underworld (2003).

Starring Kate Beckinsale as a vampire/vampire-hunter, Underworld presents us with a secret world in which bloodsuckers battle werewolves (here referred to as "lycans") for total domination. Though heavy on the CGI effects, the movie represented a return to the "monster vs. monster" vibe that had pitted vampires and werewolves against each other in the movies of decades gone by.

The premise was a big hit with fans, proving that people always love to see monsters fighting each other. In fact, Underworld would grow into a full-fledged franchise. The sequel, Underworld: Evolution, would be released three years later. And just this year, we got the third installment, a prequel that showed us the beginnings of the vampire/lycan war. Proving the staying power of the concept, this third movie didn't even feature Beckinsale, and still managed to be a decent success with audiences.

This would be in stark contrast to what should have been another triumphant return to old-school werewolfery--namely Van Helsing, Universal's lame 2004 attempt to reinvigorate its central horror characters. The film had all the markings of success, including Hugh Jackman in the title role, and director Stephen Sommers, the same man who had brought The Mummy back to life some five years earlier.

Featuring Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolf Man and other classic creatures, Van Helsing was supposed to be a good old-fashioned monsterfest that would please both classic horror fans and newbies. Nevertheless, it was a colossal failure both critically and with audiences. Ironically, it would be the Underworld series that did a better job of returning werewolf mayhem to American prominence than the legendary Universal Studios itself, home of Lon Chaney Jr. and Henry Hull.

There's no question that films like Dog Soldiers and Underworld have kept modern audiences interested in the concept of the werewolf. Something about the idea of a man transforming into a beast, of the monster within being unleashed, is enthralling to us. We see it in other classic creations like Jekyll & Hyde, and even the Hulk. And recent films like the German production Blood and Chocolate (2007) continue to keep the subgenre going strong.

Now the saga of the lycanthrope stands at a pivotal turning point. This fall will see the long-awaited release of Universal's full-scale remake of the Chaney classic The Wolf Man, starring Benicio del Toro, with Anthony Hopkins in the Claude Rains role. After all these years, and all the other classic monster retreads, this is the first time that the most famous werewolf story of all is getting the remake treatment.

Will audiences accept it? The project has been plagued with issues since the beginning, including director musical chairs, and recent news of extensive reshoots. And so fans of one of horror's most enduring creatures wait with bated breath to see what the future holds for their beloved beasty. But one thing's for sure, whether it's a hit or a miss, the new Wolf Man will most certainly not be the last time we hear that distinctive howl in movie theaters...

Part 1: "...And the Moon Is Full and Bright"
Part 2: "Bad Moon Rising"

TRAILER TRASH: Blind Dead Edition!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bourne Meets Bub in Jonathan Maberry's Patient Zero

If zombies became all the rage in the movies earlier in this decade, then the craze has now officially been passed on to the literary world. Breathers: A Zombie's Lament, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, World War Z, the list goes on and on. And now I've had the pleasure of tearing through the latest and greatest from horror scribe extraordinaire Jonathan Maberry. Patient Zero is a unique and thrilling yarn, chock full of action and vivid with brutal horror imagery.

Brilliantly, Maberry has meshed two tried and true subgenres. Granted, there's the zombie mayhem--but by grafting it to the hard-boiled conceits of espionage/crime fiction in the vein of Robert Ludlum and Dan Brown, Maberry has created something genuinely new, and un-put-down-able.

Patient Zero is built around a notion so simple, it almost seems like it's been done before. Yet it works so well. A fanatical terrorist Al Qaeda-like faction, joining forces with a shady pharmaceutical corporation, develops a virus that can transform people into the living dead. And naturally, they plan to use it as a weapon of mass destruction. Only one small, ultra-covert government agency stands in their way, and they've just recruited our main character, tough-as-nails cop Joe Ledger.

A highly charismatic figure, Joe Ledger is the hinge on which the novel turns, and his first-person passages are among the highlights of the book. And although it spoils things a bit when you first pick up the novel, seeing that it's subtitled "A Joe Ledger Novel" is also very cool, since it indicates we haven't seen the last of this guy.

That said, approach Patient Zero with a fun sense of adventure. Despite the gloom-and-doom of the subject matter, this is fiction that is basically the direct descendant of the lurid pulp novels of the mid 20th century. Don't expect too much depth from Ledger and the other major characters of the novel--no more than you would from the likes of James Bond, Doc Savage or Alan Quartermain.

Patient Zero is all about action, and for the most part, Maberry is at his best when he's describing it. His prose fairly crackles with kinetic energy during the novel's combat scenes. In fact, his style is so engaging during these parts that by comparison, some of the quieter moments of the novel come off slightly clumsier. And several of the supporting characters, including the members of Ledger's covert ops team, tend to often blur together.

This is a novel that's dripping with testosterone, the kind of book where male characters are constantly glaring at each other and clenching their jaws. But it works perfectly, unlike for example, a recent military SF novel I read called Hell's Gate by David Weber & Linda Evans, a book so filled with jaw-clenching I suspected it might be sponsored by a tetnis vaccine. In contrast, this is a rough-and-ready tale of layered intrigue and bone-crunching aggression, and I enjoyed it from cover to cover.

I'm usually a pretty slow reader, but this one really had me going. Fifty to seventy pages in a single sitting is pretty unheard of for me, but not this time (as I previously declared in Day of the Woman's recent summer reading post). I thoroughly appreciated Maberry's take on the well-trod zombie formula--he's even got a nerdy forensics guy in the book who's basically geeking out over the whole situation in typical fanboy fashion. The author does a fine job of detailing the reactions of these characters in the face of a "real-life" situation that they've previously only seen in the movies.

Yes, Patient Zero is an action/adventure story. But make no mistake, it's also scary as hell. In particular, there's an interesting twist late in the novel in which the terrorists develop a strain of the virus that allows the zombie victims to retain higher brain functions, which results in some damn frightening moments. I never imagined that the concept of sentient zombies could work this well.

As the novel slammed toward a conclusion, I had trouble understanding how Maberry was going to tie it all up--it felt like it had to be part one of a trilogy, or something. And yet, he does manage to wrap things up very satisfactorally. I will say that things felt a bit rushed toward the end, as if so much time and effort had been spent on the build-up and not enough on the payoff. However, the climactic passages that Maberry does provide us with are absolutely enthralling, and downright cinematic.

If you're looking for a light but exciting read, and if you think that you've seen it all when it comes to zombie fiction, then I encourage you to pick up Patient Zero.
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