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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Defining Shots: Capturing the Essence of Our Favorite Horror Films (Part 1)

It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and it's certainly true that we humans are very visual creatures. Perhaps this is why the medium of film has become the defining popular art form of our times, capturing the imagination like nothing else. And there is certainly no film genre quite like horror to give us some defining, iconic imagery--the kind that stays with you long after the film has unspooled or the DVD has stopped spinning.

I've always believed that certain shots can sum up an entire film, and this is why I've always been such a big fan of using screen grabs in my posts whenever possible. One individual who definitely is a blogger after my own heart would be Andre Dumas of The Horror Digest. Both Andre and myself are big fans of horror imagery, and decided to pool our efforts on a little project we're calling "Defining Shots".

The idea here was to take a series of our most beloved horror films, and to both of us identify the single shot out of the entire film that we respectively feel defines the entire film in question. And so we selected 12 classics, and applied this little exercise to them. Tonight, I bring you part 1 of the experiment, and you can look forward to part 2 a little later in the week.

Below, I've grouped together the two shots we've picked from the first six films of the bunch, with a little explanation from the both of us as to why we selected that one image. I found it quite fascinating to see the different images we both selected from the same exact movies, and I hope that you do, as well...


At the heart of this beautiful film is the unique relationship between a 12-year-old boy and a much older androgynous vampire in the body of a child of similar age. And Eli's visit to Oskar in his room perfectly epitomizes the connection between the two of them, as well as the contrast between them. A breathtaking moment from a breathtaking movie.

This is another perfect example of a terrible kind of beauty. I love it because not only does it show the brutal nature of the consequences Eli suffers when not being allowed to enter (which is something rarely depicted) it also takes time out of that brutality to offer up such a brilliant moment of beauty and quietness. A very important aspect of Let the Right One In that sets it apart from almost every single vampire film out there.


Many have compared Jaws to Moby Dick, and with good reason. If the comparison is to be considered valid, then surely Quint is the film's Ahab. And it is this moment, when Quint realizes he has finally met his match, that the essential conflict of the film reaches its zenith. It is man vs. nature at its purest.

Those that know me are aware of my immense fear concerning this movie. In this moment I always feel exactly the way that Brody must. He is listening to Quint's horrific description of a shark biting off someone's hands, and he is surrounded by the jaws of the very beast he is about to meet, a look of fear and smallness swimming in his eyes. In many ways he looks incredibly small put up against all the jaw bones and in reality he is incredibly small put up against the shark.


Those who know The Exorcist realize that the film's central character is not in fact Regan, nor is it Father Merrin, but rather Father Damien Karras, the agnostic priest who finds his faith in conflict with the Devil himself. And it is this moment, when Karras makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the girl, that sums up the character's ethical journey.

The iconic shot of good vs. evil is made one step deeper by the appearance of a second picture showing through. I have always believed this was appropriate as it depicts the way that evil transcends throughout everything. One minute it is there in Iraq, and the next it is in the bedroom of Regan MacNei and no matter how many times it is vanquished it continues to return.


George Romero's third zombie opus presents us with the notion that zombies can regain at least some of their humanity, with the unforgettable Bub being the prime example. In this shot, Bub is tempted to chow down on his mentor, Dr. Logan, but successfully restrains that impulse and proves his humanity. A turning point in the Romero cycle.

Besides the fact that this shot just looks fucking cool, it also shows how utterly surprised I was throughout Day of the Dead. I was shocked that I loved it so much and shocked that I cared so much for it. I secretly hate zombies, but here was Day of the Dead tantalizing my senses and invading my dreams.


Interestingly, it takes more than half of the film for David to finally transform into the werewolf once and for all, and by the time it happens, the audience has been waiting for it with bated breath. Right here, David completely loses his humanity and gives himself over at last to the raging beast emerging from within him.

This is my favorite scene from An American Werewolf in London. I love it because it does not contain one shred of humor. This screen grab perfectly shows the horror that lies within the film. John Landis did not intend for the film to be a comedy and I often think that notion is forgotten in regards to the film.


The monster confronts its maker. This is the moment in which Henry Frankenstein at last must face his creation out in the open, away from the lab and with their father/son relationship dashed to pieces. The doctor beholds what he has wrought, and must find it within himself to destroy it, or at least try.

I really struggled trying to find a screen shot that got across my point of view concerning Frankenstein. In the end I settled on this more simplistic shot of my very favorite Universal monster. I think although it is simple in appearance it shows a tremendous amount of depth in the Frankenstein Monster's character. A monster that actually has a character, a heart and a point of view.

STAY TUNED for the 2nd part of Defining Shots, featuring images from Nosferatu, Gojira, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more...

Monday, December 27, 2010

TRAILER TRASH! Vampire Comedy Edition!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

VAULT VLOG: Exclusive Interview with Author Kim Paffenroth

Happy Holidays, Vault dwellers! Been sitting on this one for a little bit, but this is as good a time as any to unleash it upon you (translation: It's the holiday week, and I'm feeling lazy.) Last month at the Hudson Horror Show, I had a unique opportunity to interview religious scholar, novelist, zombie aficionado and fellow League of Tana Tea Drinkers member, Dr. Kim Paffenroth. It was a thrill to speak to a writer whose work I've admired so much, and so I present to you the interview in its entirety. Special thanks to my Terror Team cohort Captain Cruella, for the bang-up camerawork! And please try to ignore that annoying dude out-of-frame loudly ordering lunch on his phone...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Lucky 13 Returns! Week Seven: Christmas

Deck the halls and all that jazz, Vault dwellers! We are but a few days away from the single most commercialized holiday of the year, and that can only mean one thing for The Lucky 13... That's right, we're taking a look at our favorite Yuletide-themed horror flicks. Here's hoping all my gentile friends have a beautiful Jesus B-Day this year, but in the meantime, check out what we've put together below--and be sure to also head over to Brutal as Hell for their Santalicious choices...

B-Sol on The Nightmare Before Christmas

I had debated whether or not to include this as my Halloween pick, since it could arguably work for both holidays. But I've always felt, first and foremost, that Tim Burton and Henry Selick's 1993 masterpiece is a Christmas movie. A very twisted and deliciously deviant Christmas movie, but a Christmas movie nonetheless. And it truly is such a unique motion picture--what is there not to love?

I mean, really... Have you ever come across someone who didn't like this flick? I know I haven't. It's a brilliant work of art, a triumph of stop-motion animation, and a refreshing change from the usual stale holiday fare. I can't recommend it enough for your family's festivities. It really is a beautiful motion picture, with superb art direction, the usual terrific music by Danny Elfman, and of course...that irreplaceable, completely wacked-out Burton sensibility.

I happen to be a big-time Christmas person (although Halloween has been gaining in recent years, natch), and so a movie like this one really does warm my heart. It's got pathos without being treacly, it gets to the very core of the holiday spirit without getting preachy, and best of all, it never fails to be entertaining. Plus, it's one hell of a marvel to look at. I never get tired of it, and really, it's the type of film whose greatness precedes it.

The Mike of From Midnight with Love on P2

If there's one thing we know about Christmas, it's that nobody - no matter their religion, beliefs, or status - wants to be alone for the holiday. That's the case for both Thomas and Angela in P2, a Christmas Eve chiller from the folks behind High Tension and Piranha 3D. Angela is a business woman who is driven to succeed, and is thus working late on Christmas Eve, while Thomas is the Elvis loving security guard who haunts her building's parking structure professionally. Both have their own ideas as to what their holiday will consist of.

But there's a disconnect between their plans for this holly jolly holiday. Angela wants to get home to her family, who are already disappointed that she's running behind again; Thomas just wants Angela's company and will go to any lengths to keep her around. His action plan starts with car sabotage, moves ahead to kidnapping and re-clothing (the film is certainly in contention for any awards for "Best Low Cut Dress in a Supporting Role"), and he soon escalates to trying to win Angela's heart by brutalizing the coworker who groped her at the work Christmas party. Angela has her sanity intact, and is not as receptive to Thomas' advances as he hoped she'd be. (To be fair, she should at least be thankful for that dress.)

Wes Bentley has been a fish-out-of-water type of actor for most of the years since his breakout performance in American Beauty, but here he seems to capitalize on the quiet unease we felt with his voyeuristic character in that film. As Thomas, Bentley manages to become a Jekyll-and-Hyde of sorts, balancing between portraying a socially awkward everyman and a totally homicidal maniac without going too far over the top. Offset by Rachel Nichols' Angela, who seems to be a prototypical survivor girl, the film really succeeds in presenting a Christmas nightmare for her as Thomas tries to live out his Christmas fantasy.

Though this disparity in their Christmas plans might have been more interesting at a shorter length - I'm reminded of Tales from the Crypt's wonderful "And All Through the House..." tale - the filmmakers do a fine job of filling the rest of the film with some well-executed games of cat-and-mouse and a couple of vicious scenes that establish danger while providing ample splatter. The film could have worked focusing on its setting alone (Has anything good ever happened in a parking garage?), but its Christmas conundrum makes it a fun treat for anyone who wants something more horrifying than a holiday with the in-laws.

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Join us next week for the Christmas edition of The Lucky 13 Returns!

Week 1: Halloween
Week 2: Man vs. Nature
Week 3: Veteran's Day
Week 4: Thanksgiving
Week 5: Hanukkah
Week 6: Horror Musicals

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jean Rollin 1938-2010

In the pantheon of horror directors, there are those whose names only become known to a relatively small yet fervent cult of followers. There are also those whose work transcends the narrow category in which it would seem to have been relegated--it becomes much more than that, especially to those in the aforementioned group. Jean Rollin was one of these. Controversial, possibly misunderstood, yet always intriguing; he and his work have long fascinated fans of exploitation horror. Yet now, it is only his work that remains, as Jean Rollin himself passed away Wednesday at the age 0f 72, after a long illness.

I first came across his work the way I think many fans did, via the bizarre yet beautiful 1978 zombie flick The Grapes of Death--known in his native France as Les Raisins de la Mort. Unusual, beguiling, and rightfully described by many as dreamlike, it remains in my opinion one of the all-time underrated horror films. There is much of Argento in it, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that there is some Rollin in much of Argento's work. I will not endeavor here to put him in the same category as the Italian master of the giallo, but he certainly deserves a lot more credit than he really got.

Of course, much of the Rollin stigma derived from the subgenre of what some might call "Euro-sleaze" that he spent much of his career working in. Softcore (and in some cases, even hardcore) pornography, mixed with horror, is certainly not everyone's cup of tea--especially amongst the mainstream movie-going public (at least in what they'd comfortably admit). Rollin was not always picky with what he worked on, only that he kept working. But we can forget titles like Sodomania or Anal Madness (although that's undeniably a hard title to forget), thanks to memorable films like Fascination (1979), Demoniacs (1973), Lips of Blood (1974), and of course, Living Dead Girl (1982).

"Euro-sleaze" though much of it may be, one cannot deny that it transcends such a limiting stigma. There is true eroticism to his work, mixed with creeping terror, and he achieves a somnambulistic sublimity on occasion that even the most jaded critic would have to acknowledge. While he may not have been among the giants of horror cinema, it is also not hard to understand why his work has accumulated such a loyal following. You will simply not find films like Grapes of Death being made today, and that is a real shame.

Rollin was passionate about film, looking for any way into the business, even going back to his teenage years in France during the 1950s. By age 15, he was writing screenplays, and by 16 he had already taken his first job doing menial work for a local studio. This led him eventually to directing--first documentaries and industrial films, and finally telling the stories he wanted to tell.

He began his sojourn into horror in 1968 with The Rape of the Vampire, already setting the tone for the rest of his career, blending sexuality and the macabre with aplomb. And yes, as the years wore on, he began to take on more questionable projects, veering beyond the erotic and into the pornographic, which he admitted arose sheerly out of the need to keep working. And so work he did, and he can hardly be faulted for that. The man continued making movies right through the 1990s, and was in the midst of a comeback as of late that include The Night of the Clocks (2007) and the forthcoming Mask of Medusa.

We've lost one of the most interesting figures in the history of European horror this week. I will always identify him with The Grapes of Death first and foremost, as I think many American fans might--and I encourage anyone who hasn't seen it to honor the memory of Jean Rollin by checking it out. It really is one of the most unique films in the entire zombie subgenre, and will give you a greater understanding of the man whose work must now live on in his place.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Random Ramblings from the Vault...

  • So The Walking Dead Season 1 is over, after a mere six episodes? Wow, what a gyp. I mean, don't get me wrong, great show--but SIX EPISODES? What is this, the UK? Anyway, now we have to wait until a year from now for more. Pretty sneaky, AMC. Pretty sneaky.
  • Dexter and True Blood are also now in between seasons, which means that horror fans may officially have no reason to turn on their TVs (other than to put on a DVD, of course.) If I'm wrong, please clue me in. I'm always looking for good horror television...
  • My daughter recently had a birthday party, and I'm proud to announce that I firmly took over the proceedings and got all the little kiddies to settle down to a viewing of Hammer's Brides of Dracula. Ah, the pleasure of watching all their little faces frozen in rapt attention! Hey, I grew up watching Hammer on syndicated TV at their age, so I figure it's my duty to pass on the tradition in this sanitized Nick/Disney world we now live in. Am I right, people?
  • But the fun doesn't stop there. During my work birthday party, I just had the pleasure of extolling the virtues of the original version of The Fly (these folks had only heard of the Cronenberg remake,) plus I insisted that everyone in the office needed to see Let the Right One In. Yes, sometimes it's a challenge working with a grade-A certified horrorphile, folks...
  • When are we getting the Creature from the Black Lagoon remake already? Anyone heard any new developments? God, I can remember hearing rumblings about this project going back to when John Carpenter was supposedly directing it around 20 years ago...
  • I unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to mention it here when it first happened some weeks back, but i just wanted to acknowledge the passing of Gloria Stuart, star of both James Whale's The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House (probably best known as the old broad from Titanic, though.) She was an underrated talent and a gorgeous leading lady, who ducked out of the business at an early age to start a family. Another legend of the Universal era gone...
  • How ironic is it, that out of all the zombie movies pumped out over the past decade, during this whole undead renaissance...very possibly the best of the entire bunch would be Shaun of the Dead, a movie intended to be a spoof of the genre?
  • I recently had the distinct pleasure of rejoining my fellow uber-geek Miguel Rodriguez for more Godzilla-based shenanigans. After a recent appearance on Conversations in the Dark, Miguel asked me to take part in his Monster Island Resort podcast, to talk even more about our favorite 400-foot fire-breathing lizard! Listen in, but I warn you--you may suffer wedgies or have your lunch money stolen as a possible side effect...
  • Speaking of Miguel and of Godzilla, I have to share this bit of wackiness with you, courtesy of Mr. Rodriguez... Born of the mad musings we shared during that broadcast, in which we imagined what might have happened if the real Steve Martin had encountered Godzilla (as opposed to the character by that name, played infamously by Raymond Burr...)
Well, we thought it was funny...
  • In other adventures, I'm blown away by the fact that Captain Cruella and myself were actually featured on the YNN News broadcast earlier this week in upstate New York! The TV station came down to cover our Ghouls' Yule event, and we were both interviewed. Follow the link to check it out...

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Lucky 13 Returns! Week Six: Horror Musicals

Ring-a-ding-ding, Vault dwellers! For those heathens who may not be aware, this past weekend marked what would have been the 95th birthday of the one and only Francis Albert Sinatra, who only happens to be my very favorite musical performer of all time. And so, I managed to coerce both Brutal as Hell and the crew here into dedicating this week of The Lucky 13 Returns to horror musicals and music-related horror films in general.

So pour yourself a Jack & Coke, light up a Lucky Strike, and swing easy, baby! It's what Frank would've wanted...

B-Sol on The Wicker Man (1973)

It's interesting that this film is very often not really thought of as a musical, but it kind of is. It contains a couple of very atmospheric folk tunes from Paul Giovanni ("Corn Rigs" and "Gently Johnny") which totally stop the dramatic proceedings in their tracks. And as with most well-done films of musical bent, this does no harm to the film whatsoever--rather, it enhances it. And of course, we also have the deeply disturbing Middle English rondo "Sumer Is Icumen In" performed during the picture's chilling climax.

So we've established that the British cult classic is very much about music as well as horror. What we also need to establish is what a damn fine horror film it is. But you don't need me to tell you that. The Wicker Man is, simply put, one of the finest horror films ever made, and still has the power to shock in a very real way. Interestingly enough, the movie's sheer shock factor is in direct counterbalance to the hauntingly beautiful music featured throughout. And if anything, that juxtaposition makes the whole thing even more terrifying than it would have been otherwise.

There's a reason this film consistently makes just about every short list of the greatest horror films of all time. And while it's an even bigger deal in the U.K. than it is here in the States, it is definitely the kind of cult classic movie that needs to be seen and appreciated by all who consider themselves serious enthusiasts of the genre. Christopher Lee is at his insidious best, and of course Edward Woodward is so damn powerful in the lead role of Sgt. Howie. If you have never seen The Wicker Man (and I mean the original here--don't bother seeing the remake unless you need a good laugh), then do me a favor and fix that right away, okay? Very good.

Missy Yearian of Chickapin Parish on Wild Zero (1999)

When I first watched Wild Zero, I was pretty sure I had stepped into an alternate dimension. I had never seen anything so absurd in all my life. In fact, I am pretty sure I will never see anything quite that absurd. Wild Zero is ninety odd minutes of insanity, and it’s one of the funnest experiences one could have with a movie, but even within all that senselessness, there is something deeper going on.

Ace is obsessed with the band Guitar Wolf (played by the real-life band of the same name). When he witnesses a club owner about to hoodwink the band, he stands up for them. Ace and the band vow revenge on their double-crosser Captain. Meanwhile, space aliens land on Earth causing the dead to rise in rural Japan. As they fight for their lives, Ace falls in love with a young transgender named Tobio.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a convoluted mess, but it’s a pretty incredible one. From Guitar Wolf throwing guitar picks to protect himself to Captain’s incredibly tight hot pants, the film is an experiment in what-the-fuckery. While I might have said those words at least forty times while watching the film, I was still engrossed all the way through.

The factor that holds the whole film together is the love story. Ace and Tobio begin sweetly, but as her trans status becomes an issue the film manages to pull itself out of its own farce just enough to ally itself with a queer agenda—and all before the turn of the century. The film is incredibly entertaining, and while it might not seem like it’s coming out firmly on the side of queer politics, given its release year, it’s really quite ground-breaking. So if you decide to sit down and take in this strange little zombie romantic comedy, look forward to one of the most ludicrous activist films ever made.

C.L. Hadden of Fascination with Fear on Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

The legend of Sweeney Todd has been immortalized on stage and screen countless times throughout the years, and there have always been questions raised as to the validity of the supposedly true story. Starting out as a penny dreadful in the mid 1800's, it was most recently adapted for the screen in Tim Burton's 2007 version starring Johnny Depp in the title role.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Fleet Street is first and foremost a musical, and uses the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler music and lyrics made popular in the late 70's Broadway smash. At once dark a dark and sinister production, the songs tell the story of Benjamin Barker (Depp), a simple man - a barber - whose life is forever changed when the corrupt Judge Turpin (the eternally impressive Alan Rickman) covets Barker's beautiful wife and goes to extremes to see her his. He throws Barker in prison on a trumped up charge and moves his heartbroken wife and young daughter into his own home.

Fifteen years later Barker is back, now calling himself Sweeney Todd. He's hellbent for revenge after he finds out his wife has poisoned herself and Turpin has his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) locked away in an upstairs room of his home. He sets up a barber shop above the overly-zealous Mrs. Lovett's (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shoppe with the intent of luring Turpin there. Thing is, Todd isn't just shaving necks, he's slicing them open and sending the bodies to the basement through a trap door in the floor. Once in the bowels of the meat market the corpses are ground up and used in Mrs. Lovett's meat pies. Gah!

Oh the scandal of it all! To think something such as this would be made not only into a movie but into a musical is in and of itself a bizarre notion. But trust me, it works. A bleak and overtly grim London is portrayed in the seediest fashion imaginable, with poverty and hardship duly noted as our characters interact with not only each other but the hopeless city itself. Not a singer by trade, Depp's performance is actually more than just acceptable. He does an excellent job with the material, and had even the most wary critics backing him when the film came out. Bonham-Carter's voice isn't quite as stellar, but she certainly looks the part.

While it may seem to be a far stretch from your typical musical - and it certainly is a graphic little slice of cinema - Sweeney Todd is the musical for people who hate musicals. And it's perfect for horror fans. You do have to wait awhile for the gory carnage to start, but about halfway through the film the red stuff starts to flow freely. How they depict this on stage is beyond me, but Burton's film version not only looks amazing, but pulls off the story in fine fashion and is more than worth a look. After all, the bottom line is they are grinding people up and eating them. Even if you hate musicals, you have to admit that's pretty nasty.

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Join us next week for the Christmas edition of The Lucky 13 Returns!

Week 1: Halloween
Week 2: Man vs. Nature
Week 3: Veteran's Day
Week 4: Thanksgiving
Week 5: Hanukkah

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Christmas Carol: Live from the Ghouls' Yule!

Last night, I had the pleasure of doing something I've never done before. As an old English major, it was something I had always wanted to do, and thanks to Captain Cruella's Ghouls' Yule, I finally got my wish. As the good Captain and I began to plan our Christmas/horror-themed event in the quaint village of Saugerties, New York, I decided to finally indulge my long-running wish. I volunteered to read passages from my very favorite holiday tale, Dickens' brilliant ghost story, A Christmas Carol. A story which perfectly combines the spirits of Christmas and of horror--both of which have long been dear to me.

Further, thanks to a timely suggestion from Bryan White of Cinema Suicide, I did more than just read for the live audience at The Inquiring Mind bookstore--I also engaged in a little experiment, broadcasting the reading live on the internet on UStream. It was my first time using the service, and I sincerely hope that some of you out there were actually able to view the live broadcast. But for those that didn't, I present it here. Enjoy, Merry Christmas... and God bless us, everyone!

(And please forgive the echo--it goes away after the first couple of minutes. As I said, first-time UStream user!)

Further Reading: My review of the classic 1951 film version of SCROOGE, over at Cinema Geek...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday Guilty Pleasure: Week Five

After an entire month, at long last we bring you the final edition of the Thursday Guilty Pleasure, a joint venture between the Vault and Missy Yearian's Chickapin Parish! What can we say, it takes us a long to work up the courage to make these confessions, so bear with us...

In this swan song installment, I've got a particularly rare (and some might say forgettable) early '80s bit of cinematic corn, while Missy turns her attention to a film which I happen to like a great deal, even if i recognize that many people don't have much patience for it. So let's jump right in, shall we?

Saturday the 14th (1981)

Much like TerrorVision last time, this is one that goes back to the early HBO days for me. Saturday the 14th--a bizarre horror spoof that some misguided Hollywood exec somewhere once thought was a clever idea--was in constant rotation on the fledgling cable network. And at the time, I just thought it was the funniest thing imaginable.

Mind you, I had never even heard of Friday the 13th at the time, let alone seen it. Which is probably for the best, since this movie has nothing to do with it whatsoever--despite the fact that its title was intended as a timely parody of the aforementioned slasher classic. Looking back, one even has to wonder why the film was even called that, but at the time I didn't even bat an eye. Of course, at the time, The Electric Company was also my favorite TV show. But that's neither here nor there.

The very talented Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss and Jeffrey Tambor are all in this clunker, which leads me to think that a lot of people must've once thought that this movie was going to be a really big deal. Well, as we now know, those people were dead wrong. Saturday the 14th is now naught but a footnote in the history of horror comedy. But it'll always have a place in my heart, even if I can't quite understand what I ever found so funny about it...

...And now, Missy Yearian to discuss the merits of Tarantino's grossly misunderstood contribution to Grindhouse...

Death Proof (2007)

There are people in the world who could be identified by their status as Quentin Tarantino fans—people so rabid in their affection for the director that they’ll get borderline violent in their defense of his films. Me? I like him. I like him a lot. But he sure is an arrogant prick. Still, even these folks seemed to turn their noses up at his Grindhouse feature Death Proof.

Many people cite Planet Terror as being the better of the two halves of the Grindhouse experience. And I suppose I can see this perspective. But where Planet Terror is a loving homage to Grindhouse films, Death Proof actually is a Grindhouse film. And for my money, I would much rather watch an actual Grindhouse film than watch a movie that simply loves them.

In the past, I have heard people complain like crazy about the dialogue in this film. They say it’s vapid and shallow and completely irritating. And I suppose it could be, but what Grindhouse movie have you seen that doesn’t have throwaway dialogue that could have easily been cut? This is Tarantino writing for people we don’t necessarily like. This is him creating characters with much less depth than we’ve grown accustomed to. This is him writing about women whose real power comes in the form of violence.

And let’s talk about that violence, shall we? The first car accident in the movie is, for my money, worth the ticket price alone. It’s a completely non-CGI splatter fest, and I found myself utterly gleeful while watching it. Come on y’all, when that tire runs over Arlene’s face, it might just be one of those most shining moments in any one of Tarantino’s films. It’s as memorable as two American soldiers pumping bullets into Hitler’s face, as special as seeing Bridget Fonda bored to tears while being humped by Robert DeNiro. It’s a prime Tarantino moment.

But this isn’t the only quality moment in the film. The last twenty-ish minutes of the movie are absolutely joy-inducing. For once that tired old line “a white knuckle thrill ride for the ages” actually fits. The chase scene with Zoe Bell being Zoe Bell and Kurt Russell being… well, I am guessing Kurt Russell (you would too if you’d scene Big Trouble in Little China as much as I have) had me howling with laughter.

And if that weren’t enough, you have the cast, which I am sure some of you are going to be surprised that I love. To begin, you have Vanessa Ferlito looking hotter than she ever has and giving a lap dance that makes me wish I hadn’t levied all those arguments against strip clubs. And then you have Rosario Dawson who, no matter how hard she might try, can never seem to make me look away.

But the real stars of the film are Kurt Russell and Zoe Bell. Yes, some people seem irritated by that fact that Tarantino is so damned infatuated with Zoe Bell, but to that I say, “Aren’t you?” Watching Bell do her thing might be the best time I have ever had in the theater.

And Kurt Russell is by turns creepy, ugly, handsome, and hilarious. Even if I didn’t love the rest of the film, I would find it worthwhile just for the moment when he pours alcohol onto his gunshot wound and simply cries, “Why? Why? Why?” Let’s face it, friends, no matter what happens, we’ll always love a little Kurt Russell.

Okay, so there are stretches of boring in there. Of course there are. When is the last time you saw an actual Grindhouse movie? Because I am sure I have never seen one that couldn’t have been trimmed drastically. I applaud Tarantino for making a movie he loves—even if his fans didn’t follow in line. I did, however, and I can’t help but watch Death Proof at least twice a year.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Little Boy and the Monsters Who Are Saving His Life...

All of us who have grown up with a love for horror and the things that go bump in the night have memories of how it touched our lives. The grandfather you used to watch old school fright flicks on TV with on a Sunday afternoon. Going to conventions with your dad. Running around with your friends on Halloween, taking pride in being able to identify all the costumes they couldn't. Whatever the case may be, our love of all things scary has touched as all over the years, in one way or another.

But few, I would submit, have ever had their lives as profoundly touched and influenced by a love for the spooky as five-year-old Aidan Reed. Because in Aidan's case, it's that love that is quite literally keeping him going.

I'm a little late to the game on this one, but the other day I came across this boy's amazing story, and it's been on my mind ever since. For as long as his parents can remember, Aidan has been obsessed with monsters. And even though he's never actually seen a horror movie, he is extremely versed in the monstrous, and knows his Wolfmen from his Gill-Men. He loves drawing them, dressing up as them, and playing with his collection of monster toys.

"I kind of like to draw... scary clowns and aliens," he explained in a story on TODAYshow.com last month. "I like to dress up as nice clowns and scary ones. I can be a wolf or a zombie... Oh, and let me tell you something! There's a Sleestak costume I really want..."

Any five-year-old that's up on Land of the Lost clearly has a serious monster affinity. Most of all, he loves drawing them. Up until now, it's been no more than a little kid's hobby--but now, it's become the greatest gift his parents could have ever hoped for under their very unfortunate circumstances.

Last September, Aidan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Since that time, he has been going through chemotherapy, spinal taps, and all other assorted hardships for weeks and months on end. The anguish for the Reed family is, needless to say, severe--and made more so by the fact that the medical bills were starting to pile up way beyond their capacity to pay them. Selling the family home was becoming more and more of an inevitability.

That is, until Aidan's Aunt Mandi decided to put a few of the boy's drawings up for sale on Etsy, as a way of deferring some of the costs. Her original goal was to sell about 60, at $12 a piece, on the hope that it might bring in a little cash. Fast forward a couple months, and the Reed family has received more than 2,500 orders from all over the world--alleviating the financial hardship they had been enduring, and ensuring that Aidan would continue to receive the care he so desperately needs.

According to doctors, Aidan still has two years of chemo ahead of him. But thanks to his passion for movie monsters like Nosferatu, his family can put money worries aside, and focus all their energies on bringing their boy back to health. The outpouring of support has been amazing, and includes a personal message of encouragement to Aidan from Tyler Mane, the actor behind one of the screen's most iconic monsters, Michael Myers, in the last two Halloween films.

Aidan sounds like one cool little boy, and The Vault of Horror wishes him all the best in his battle. To help him fight that battle, I encourage you to visit the Aid for Aidan Facebook page. You can also check out his drawings on Etsy, or read the family blog to keep up-to-date on everything going on in this talented kid's life.

If he loves drawing monsters, wait till he gets old enough to actually see them in the movies. And I'd love to see him old enough to walk into an R-rated movie one day all on his own, wouldn't you?

Monday, December 6, 2010

TRAILER TRASH! Peter Cushing Edition

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Horror Blog Roundup!

It's been quite some time since I've done one of these--actually it was way back in the HorrorBlips days, when it was far easier to have all your daily horror blog goodness in one, convenient place. Well, it's time to stop being lazy and recognize some of the fine work being done by my dear friends and colleagues throughout the blogosphere. Let's peruse, shall we?

Billy Loves Stu: This one ain't safe for the kiddies, folks--but since when is the legendary Pax Romano one to concern himself with the boundaries of moral propriety? Pax is revisiting one of his most popular features, casting the lurid spotlight on some truly hilarious examples of horror porn spoofs. Four words: Nightmare on Twink Street. Pax, I salute you.

Classic-Horror.com: The horror community was saddened recently at the loss of Hammer's uncontested queen, Ingrid Pitt. If you're looking for a concise and effective tribute/obituary to the woman and her career, look no further than Nate Yapp's excellent site.

Day of the Woman: My beloved sister blogger, BJ-C, has done it again with another one of her "Things I Love to Do" pictorial posts. They always warm my evil heart, and this time is no exception. Funny stuff from the online Mistress of the Macabre...

Fascination with Fear: Talented writer and fellow horse racing aficionado Christine Hadden is making her blog live up to its name by taking an in-depth look at what specifically frightens her the most about certain horror flicks. So head over and check out the first two installments of what is sure to be a captivating series, Bringing on the Fear.

Freddy in Space: Johnny Boots never fails to put forth captivating content in one of my absolute favorite corners of the horrorsphere. This time, he takes an amusing look back at Roger Ebert's fascination relationship with the horror genre over the years. Worth it just for the illustration alone!

The Horror Digest: One can always rely on the one and only Andre "Don't Call Me Alexandre" Dumas to come through with some serious gems, and I am constantly entertained by the fruits of her critical labors. What I also appreciate is her willingness to flout the boundaries of what might normally be covered on a horror blog. For example, her most recent bold confession of love for Batman Forever. No, it has nothing to do with horror. But you know what--who cares? It's a hoot, and you need to give it a look.

Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire: You all know that the lovely Tenebrous Kate is my running buddy and all-around gal pal, not to mention a real-life friend within the horror blogosphere. She's also very good at what she does, and very recently, that included putting together a comparison of Herschel Gordon Lewis' original The Wizard of Gore, with the 2007 remake. In-depth, and persuasive as always.

Musings Across a Continuum: For those of you who may not yet be aware (shame on you!), the utterly fabulous Ms. Harker has returned to the blogging community after an extended baby-related hiatus. In her most recent post, she weighs in on the controversial news of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot sans Joss Whedon...

Planet of Terror!: The Fies' sisters epic horror film festival series, Bleedfest, has been generating quite a bit of buzz lately, and one man who has been doing so much to help promote it is the most excellent Cortez Killer. Here, Cortez chimes in with some reviews of the short films being shown in this month's installment.

Theofantastique: If you're looking to exercise those brain muscles while you do your blog reading, you will always do well to pay John W. Morehead a visit. This time, he addresses a lecture given by science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer, in which Sawyer takes issue with some apparent damage George Lucas has wrought on the social relevance of the sci-fi genre (which I happen to agree with.) Damn good reading.

That'll do for the time being, but there's a lot more great stuff being done out there, so be sure to spend some time surfing the horror blogosphere and soaking up what my magnificent cohorts and cronies are cooking up. And will someone please get HorrorBlips back up and running again, please? Thank you.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Lucky 13 Returns! Week Five: Hanukkah

Mel Brooks gave us Jews in Space, but this week in The Vault of Horror--as well as Brutal as Hell--we're giving you Jews in horror! That's right, it's Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights! And this time around in The Lucky 13 series, we're casting our oil lamps on Jewish horror directors. Specifically, I've chosen to write about my very favorite horror film by a Jewish director, and my dear colleague Ms. BJ-C of The Vault's sister blog Day of the Woman has taken an even broader approach, spotlighting three of her very favorite horror directors among the Chosen People.

So put down that dreidel, stop giving your poor mother so much shpilkes with all your meshugass, grab a bissel cake and read on...

B-Sol on The Exorcist

It may seem a tad silly selecting this film, since it could very easily top the list of most people's favorite horror movies, period--let alone horror movies from Jewish directors alone. Nevertheless, since The Exorcist went mysteriously absent from the original Lucky 13 series (Not even in the Devil & Demons category?? Come on, people!), this is my chance to right that heinous wrong.

What can possibly be said about this classic to extol its greatness that hasn't already been said? It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, and remains the highest-grossing horror movie ever made. And although it has its detractors--as all great films do--there can be little doubt that The Exorcist is one of the all-time triumphs of American cinema, a crown jewel from an era that gave us so many.

With stellar performances from Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair and especially Jason Miller in particular as the beleaguered Father Damian Karras, this is a film of great depth and weight, finished in a way in which few horror films are finished, with the deft touch of a master auteur. It's unfortunate that Friedkin never quite equaled the heights he achieved with The Exorcist, his masterpiece, but it nevertheless remains as what it has been for much of the past four decades--not just a great horror film, but the great horror film.

BJ-C of Day of the Woman on David Cronenberg, Eli Roth & Sam Raimi

Okay, so I'm sort of splitting hairs on this one, considering Cronenberg has denounced his Jewish faith and identifies himself as an atheist. Regardless, he was raised in a Jewish household and that's good enough for me. Cronenberg is easily the king of venereal horror films. No one can make a film as gruesomely intelligent as Cronenberg. His films often times explored the fear factors humans possess when it comes to infection and bodily transformations. For me, someone with an uncontrollable fear of being diagnosed with leprosy, he hits the nail on the head every. single. time. A small little tidbit is that Cronenberg was considered to be the director for Return of the Jedi, and I can honestly say that the world wouldn't have been able to handle that much awesome in one film, and the results would have been the equivalent to dividing by zero... So I guess it's a good thing he didn't pick up that job. But Cronenberg will forever be the king of body horror.

Eli Roth:
Oh, Eli Roth, you sexy sexy bear Jew, you. As much as the world is fully aware of how much of a douchebag you are in real life, I can't take away the fact that you directed some of the most highly thought-of horror films of the last decade. Personally, I disliked Hostel, but I'd be a fool if I denied the fact that his films have developed an almost cult-like following. Roth definitely has a fiery passion for the genre and for that, he has my respect. As for his actions on Twitter towards other horror journalists... he's on the fence ;)

Sam Raimi:
Alright, Sam Raimi is the God of my world. He gave me our savior, Bruce Campbell, and his Necronomicon Ex Mortis serves as my Holy Word. There is absolutely nothing that this man touches that didn't turn to perfection. I'm including Spider-Man 3. There, I said it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Join us next wee for an edition of the Lucky 13 that will be very near and dear to my heart... as we commemorate Frank Sinatra's birthday weekend with a look at our favorite musical horror films! Ring-a-ding-ding, baby!

Week 1: Halloween
Week 2: Man vs. Nature
Week 3: Veteran's Day
Week 4: Thanksgiving
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