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

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**Check out my other blogs, Standard of the Day, Proof of a Benevolent God and Lots of Pulp!**

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Random Ramblings from the Vault...

  • It's the Jewish Halloween!! A Happy Purim to one and all. Yet another holiday in which, much like the plot of Braveheart, an outside force threatens the destruction of the Israelites, only to get their comeuppance in the form of righteous vengeance. And now, 2,500 years later, your three-year-old gets to dress up like a NASCAR driver.
  • So, I saw Shutter Island and adored it. However, I have to agree with those who told me ahead of time that it's not really horror. Thus, I probably won't give it a full review here. Nevertheless, highly recommended. Starts off Hitchcock, ends up Kubrick. Nicely done, Mr. Scorsese. Nicely done.
  • I've got to give credit where it's due. When it comes to economy and practicality, the old school movie vampires have it all over their modern brethren. Witness how all they required were two tiny puncture wounds to extract all the sustenance they needed, while the newer vamps damn near have to tear off their victims' heads to get a meal. Bad form, boys--leave that routine to the werewolves.
  • Speaking of classic monsters, let me get this off my chest: I've never considered the Gill Man worthy of standing alongside Frank, Drac and the rest of the '30s/'40s crew. Creature from the Black Lagoon came a generation later, and is just not of the same quality as the stuff produced during the golden Universal era. Even the monster itself lacks the character and pathos of his predecessors. There, I've said it.
  • As a Return of the Living Dead worshiper, a recent debate over at Final Girl got me thinking. Is ROTLD II worth my time, or is it really just a lame rehash of the original? I think it's time I re-evaluated.
  • Just got a super-sweet copy of SFX's new horror one-shot magazine in the mail, so expect a full review in the next couple days. It came with lots of goodies, so also expect a giveaway at some point. I'll have more info in coming weeks on the Vault's Facebook page, so if you're not yet a fan, amend that, post-haste.
  • Add to the list of guys I would kill to see play a big-time villain in a horror movie: Daniel Day-Lewis. The closest he's probably come has been Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. I know I, for one, would love to see what the finest working actor on Earth could accomplish in my favorite genre.
  • This might be worthy of a poll or a Tuesday Top 10 at some point: Who do you think was the scariest classic Star Trek villain? Maybe the Gorn? The Horta? Redjack? The bald, seven-year-old Clint Howard?
  • Mere days remain until the winners of the 2009 Cyber Horror Awards are announced. Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, all that good stuff. Keep your eyes glued to this spot and the awards website!
  • Did I ever tell you how much I love Bram Stoker's Dracula? If not, go read the new guest post I have up at Mermaid Heather's blog. While there, take a gander at the spiffy new banner I made for MH using my newly honed Picnik skills. BJ-C introduced me to this wonderful app (which I now use as part of my real job!) If anyone else should ever need a new banner, let me know--this thing is a blast to use.
  • I don't usually mention this here, but I do also run a few others blogs in my ceaseless effort to eliminate spare time. Should the inclination strike you, you might want to check out:
Standard of the Day: A celebration of the classic era of American popular songwriting. Yeah... pretty much the exact opposite of this blog.
Lots of Pulp: More covers of classic pulp fiction magazines than you can shake a proverbial stick at.
Proof of a Benevolent God: My newest baby, a Tumblr blog basically cataloging all sorts of stuff that makes me smile.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

VAULTCAST: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper Talks They Live!

It was a rainy afternoon in not-so-lovely Utica, New York in the summer of 2006. At an undisclosed location (in other words some random industrial hell-hole), I was on-hand for a photo-shoot for WWE's upcoming special one-shot magazine "The 51 Worst Offenders", chronicling the most memorable ring baddies to ever lace up a pair of boots.

On hand were the likes of the Iron Sheik, Edge and Ric Flair. And on this particular day, one of my duties as a senior editor of WWE Magazine involved sitting down with the number-one man on our villains list, the one and only "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. I talked with the Rowdy Scot for a full two hours, discussing the ins and outs of his wrestling career.

But being the consummate geek I was/am, I simply could not resist the urge to question him about They Live--specifically that epic fight scene with Keith David. Even though I knew it would never make the magazine, just for fun, I got the Hot Rod to talk for a couple of minutes about his role in the John Carpenter cult classic--including getting the part, and what it took to pull off that ridiculously long scene.

Those few minutes have never seen the light of day--until now. And so, dug out from the B-Sol archives, I give to you this tasty little tidbit of Roddy Piper reminiscing about his starring turn in one of the '80s most memorable horror flicks...

As always, feel free to head to the official Vaultcast page, where you can also directly download this audio.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Many Faces of Lon Chaney Jr.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

21st Century Terrors, Part 7: 2006

If the early to mid '00s can be seen as a period of growth, rebirth and renewal for horror films, then it's entirely possible that 2006 was the year the horror bubble burst.

The media and the masses had witnessed the ascendancy of the genre into the mainstream, and Hollywood was apparently watching as well. As with many things, everybody wanted to jump on the bandwagon, and this, dear readers, is when things tend to get run into the ground. Seeing the success of horror at the box office, lots of people wanted, to quote Vic Tayback, a piece of the action.

Naturally, the conclusion lots of folks jump to when a phenomenon like this occurs is that what worked before will work again, and to an even greater level. But this discounts the law of diminished returns, and what tends to happen is that an initial good idea gets beaten to death (sort of like the point I've been making in the past three paragraphs).

To put an even finer point on things, 2006 was the year the infamous remake craze really went off the rails. What started as a semi-interesting concept, taking classic horror flicks of recent decades and retooling them for today's horror audience, suddenly became an exercise in extreme banality. I give you, for example, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning--a prequel to a remake, and the movie that let us know that the only reason Leatherface likes to dress in women's clothes and eat people is that he was picked on in the schoolyard.

We had films like When a Stranger Calls, The Omen and Black Christmas, slick redos of '70s horror fare tweaked for the YouTube generation, in the process completely missing the point of what made the originals work. Critically/commercially successful remakes of recent years, things like Dawn of the Dead, for example, seemed to have opened the floodgates for those who believed that just about any horror property of the past was fair game. And as the ensuing years wore on--and right into the present day--the practice continues, much to the consternation of genre die-hards everywhere.

But chief among all of these, and more than deserving of being singled out, would be the poster movie for horrifically bad remakes--The Wicker Man. This unintentionally perversely funny disaster of a film seemed to be the distillation of everything that was going wrong regarding Hollywood's new obsession with remaking horror movies. Every ounce of what made the immortal original film work so well seemed to have been scientifically removed, with the gripping Edward Woodward replaced by Nic Cage doing a caricature of himself, and the austere and foreboding Chris Lee replaced by a granola-crunching Ellen Burstyn.

On the positive side, the movie became a kind of camp classic in the MST3K mode, an instant cult fave for those who simply can't get enough of really bad movies. But the sad thing was that it was intended to be a serious, modern revision of a thriller revered by filmgoers for years. In other words, it was the product of folks completely out of touch with the genre they were representing, and the audience they were aiming it at.

That said, one particular remake of 2006, in all fairness, did stand out from the rest, gaining a bit more of a fan following, and that was Alexandre Aja's intense retelling of the Wes Craven chestnut The Hills Have Eyes. Some--this blogger included--even declared that one to be superior to the original. But sadly, Hills Have Eyes would prove to be part of a dwindling exception.

And if remakes weren't derivative enough, the sequel engine continued to churn 'em out, as well. Saw and Final Destination, two of the decade's chief horror franchises, put out their third chapters in 2006. The Grudge (in itself an American remake of an Asian film), also put out a sequel as well, one which was poorly received, to say the least.

But don't let it be said that 2006 didn't nevertheless offer some worthwhile stuff in the way of actual, original (or reasonably original) material and ideas. After all, 2006 was also the year of the deviantly funny Slither, and Poultrygeist. Love them or hate them, there were plenty of fans who would take them any day of the week over another dull remake/sequel.

A few of these non-remake/sequels particularly stand out. One of these is Hatchet. Putting my own personal preferences aside, Adam Green's Hatchet was a direct response to the glut of unimaginative stuff being foisted upon the populace, and admittedly tried to do something new--a fresh take on the horror movie sensibilities of the 1980s. Part Scream, part Rob Zombie. The buzz on the film was tremendous, and even though fans were divided between those who dug the film's quirky approach and those who found it a rather overhyped affair, it certainly got fans talking.

Another of these was Fido, a Canadian export which proved that despite the well-worn path carved by the likes of Return of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead, there was still great stuff to be mined in the subgenre of zombie comedy. Grafting the Romero mythos onto a retro-1950s aesthetic, Fido was somehow able to take a bunch of derivative sources and synthesize them into a truly fun and original idea. In a year in which horror seemed to be losing its creative way to a degree, Fido was a glimmer of hope.

And thirdly, from across the Pacific came The Host, a powerful reinvention of the old-school kaiji subgenre from South Korea. The most fascinating giant monster picture to come along in years, The Host managed to pack a terrific punch without becoming self-referential or relying on nostalgia for or knowledge of the lengthy tradition of Asian monster movies that had come before. It also pretty much directly led to the American marketing barrage known as Cloverfield.

Responding to the need for originality, albeit ignoring the need for quality, the After Dark Horrorfest series would also kick off in 2006. Yes, 2006 was the year that gave us "8 Films to Die For". The most widely distributed "filmfest" package of its kind, After Dark Horrorfest would assemble eight films from independent filmmakers, and grant them wide distribution across America.

It was a testament to the box office clout of horror that such a distribution deal was able to be struck, but with films like Penny Dreadful, The Gravedancers and Wicked Little Things, it became clear that for the most part they were typical direct-to-video specials. Nevertheless, the After Dark Horrorfest continues to this day, and is a viable conduit for B-horror flicks to still reach the public in a theatrical format.

The horror movie business may have begun to eat itself in 2006, but it was far from out of steam. Complaining or not, fans continued to turn out in droves, and the sheer number of projects was staggering. Although the horror bubble may arguably have burst, there would still be some major twists and turns in store before the end of the decade.

Also in 2006:
  • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
  • Black Sheep
  • Night of the Living Dead: 3-D
  • See No Evil
  • Silent Hill
  • Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror
  • Turistas
Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001
Part 3: 2002
Part 4: 2003
Part 5: 2004
Part 6: 2005

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TRAILER TRASH: Nightmare on Elm Street Edition!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Family Tie: If Dali Made a Revenge Flick...

The word "absurd" has come to be pretty much a universally negative term in the English language. But I'd like to bring back the more literal meaning of the word, if I may...

ab·surd (ab-sûrd', -zûrd'): Of, relating to, or manifesting the view that there is no order or value in human life or in the universe.

Having gotten that out of the way, I'd like to declare that Matthew Glasson's trippy 40-minute featurette The Family Tie is totally absurd. And I enjoyed the heck out of it.

Together with his school buddy, Scott Greene, Chicagoland native filmmaker/musician Glasson had the idea to make a brutal, darkly comic revenge movie that turned the subgenre on its ear and injected a '70s exploitation horror sensibility to the proceedings--and this is the germ that led to The Family Tie, which began life as a short video made in college.

In late 1997 and early 1998, the two men got together a rag-tag cast and crew and shot the thing in the suburbs of Chicago. Unfortunately, amateur editing capabilities being what they were at the time, the multiple hours of footage sat on the proverbial shelf for eight years, until Final Cut Pro finally enabled Glasson to undertake the grueling tasks of editing the footage into workable form, adding narration and shooting extra FX shots. The film was finally completed in 2007.

Shot on a veritable microscopic budget, The Family Tie tells the story of Dave Buglesias, a poor young man whose family is destroyed by a maniacal gun-runner. Filled with a thirst for vengeance, Dave embarks on mission to wipe out the man responsible for it all--a mission that pretty defies any and all expectations that watching movies of this kind would ever foster in your mind. The word "surreal" does not even do justice to the blood-drenched proceedings which follow...

The order of the day here is hyper-realism, and once you accept that, it's quite an amazing bit of fun. The acting is completely over-the-top to the point of total hilarity, with Greene taking on the role of the villain with a level of nihilistic insanity that has to be seen to be believed. Non-actor Phil Anzelmo is also game as Dave, whose obvious lack of experience only adds another level of absurdity to the film.

As Tenebrous Kate points out in her just-posted review over at Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire (great minds think alike, especially when encased in the bodies of people who have copies of the same screener), the highlight of the film's delicious weirdness may be the scene in which poor Dave must pay a visit to the unthinkably perverted gangster "Brass Balls" Benigno in order to extract some much-needed info on the whereabouts of his nemesis.

Quentin Tarantino meets Slime City, The Family Tie literally had me laughing out loud at the utter ridiculousness of it all--a level of ridiculosity that only continues to escalate just when you think it can't get any more bizarre/random. This flick is clearly a product of Glasson and Greene's absolute passion for film and filmmaking, tempered by some serious filmmaking sensibilities. The teensy-weensy budget is quite evident (it's shot in Video Hi8), and one (one being me) wonders what they might be able to accomplish with some serious scratch to work with. There's no doubt the raw talent is there.

Oh, and did I mention it even has a gosh-darn training montage, for crying out loud? If for no other reason, please see it for that. In fact, you don't even have to sit around wondering how to see it, because thanks to the miracle of the YouTube, here it is, right below, for your viewing pleasure!

* * * * * * * * * *

And while I have you here-- You may have noticed that big honkin' graphic at the top of the sidebar (reproduced here). Well, it's Rondo time again--that's right, the nominations for the 8th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were announced yesterday, and I'm proud to say that The Vault of Horror has been nominated in the Best Horror Blog category for the second year in a row!

Run by the folks at the Classic Horror Film Board, the Rondos are pretty much the most legit, big-time genre awards on the Internet--I'm talkin' press releases, an awards dinner, and best of all, actual statuette awards, in the image of the unmistakable noggin of vintage film baddie, character actor and acromegaly sufferer Rondo Hatton. They've been endorsed by the likes of geek overlords Guillermo del Toro and Harry Knowles, and since 2002 have been recognizing excellence in every area of horror/genre entertainment you can think of, from film, TV, books and magazines to art, music, collectibles and culture in general.

Last year, they introduced a blog category for the very first time, distinct from Best Horror Website. The Vault was lucky enough to make it to Honorable Mention (for which I received a yummy congratulatory cake from the fam), and I'm honored and humbled to be mentioned again alongside some terrific blogs. If you have an opportunity, proceed to the official ballot page and make your selections (ballots are accepted by email only, to taraco@aol.com). Vote in as many categories as you like. It's a lot of fun, and you're likely to discover a lot of cool stuff you never even knew about.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Random Ramblings from the Vault...

  • Looks like Shutter Island has given Martin Scorsese the biggest weekend opening by far of any flick in his illustrious career. See Marty, forget all that avant garde Oscar-bait drama--genre entertainment is where the big bucks are at!
  • I was blown away by the trailer for the remake of The Crazies, which was attached to the The Wolfman when I saw it last week. Another remake that tops the original (forgive me, George)?
  • You know what could use a really great modern interpretation? Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. I think it would work great as a modern-day retelling. Perhaps the good doctor would be a genetics researcher or something. And Ivy could be a stripper. Casting ideas, anyone? And please don't bring up that 50 Cent/Forrest Whittaker abortion, either.
  • Time to get infuriated, it's the Saturn Award nominees! Last year, Hellboy II won for Best Horror Movie. Yeah, I know... And this year's nominees include New Moon, kids!
  • So, what, are we up to about... 347 zombie short story anthologies now? Just wondering.
  • If you had told me a couple years ago that there would be a remake of I Spit on Your Grave, let alone one with a theatrical release, I'd have said you were crazy. Actually, I probably would still say you were crazy even if you didn't tell me that.
  • It's official. There is no such thing as a bad Hammer film. Even their more mediocre entries are well worth my time.
  • I was finally able to watch the Spanish-language Universal Dracula. I'd have to say, a bit better shot than the Tod Browning version. Most of the supporting players are superior, especially Eduardo Arozamena as Van Helsing. Pablo Alvarez Rubio approaches the greatness of Dwight Frye as Renfield, with a totally different interpretation. But Carlos Villarias is unworthy of tying Bela Lugosi's cravat. Plus, I knew enough of the plot to watch it without subtitles, which I think is pretty cool.
  • Cyber Horror Awards Reminder: Two weeks to go until winners are announced for the best in 2009 horror movies. Bloggers/writers, make sure to get those ballots in!
  • Congratulations go out to the Vault's sister blog, Day of the Woman, which celebrated its first anniversary yesterday! In celebration of the event, BJ-C has officially launched Tea Party of the Dead (that's TPotD to you), a new conglomerate of female horror bloggers.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

VAULT VLOG: B-Sol & Zombelina Take on Hammer's Night Creatures!

Yet another video review featuring my progeny and me. This time out, it's Zombelina of Book-Town joining me once again. Our first time out, we talked about Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and this time it's another Hammer Films gem, Night Creatures (1962)...

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Wolfman's Got Nards!

Following the production of The Wolfman over the past couple of years here in the Vault has been quite the rollercoaster ride! Yet, through it all, I maintained my interest in the project, even if my enthusiasm waxed and waned with the news of each new melodramatic behind-the-scenes twist and turn. The anticipation inspired me to do a whole history of werewolf movies, not to mention to review the classic original.

And so, once the thing finally hit theaters last weekend, you know I had to proceed to my local cineplex (my horror Jedi Master dad in tow) and check it out for myself. And in the end, I can honestly say I'm glad I didn't let all the drama drive me away. Because I rather enjoyed the picture, and had quite a bit of fun with it.

Maybe it was the lowered expectations, I'm not sure. But in general, I couldn't help but feel that the slant of the consensus of reviews for this movie toward the mediocre is a but unearned. Yes, it is a flawed film, and no, it will never replace the superior Universal original. Yet I may be too easygoing, but I think people have been a bit too hard on it.

Surely, it is a mixed bag. First and foremost amongst the weaknesses is Benicio Del Toro himself, surprisingly enough. Lon Chaney Jr. would never be confused with Sir John Geilgud, but nevertheless, his performance was rich with pathos and earnestness. Del Toro, usually excellent, seems to sleepwalk through his role. He never makes you really pity him, and seems like he has to continually remind himself to be upset.

Then there's the whole CGI dilemma. The transformation scenes are not as impressive as they should be--and in fact, I would say Rick Baker's practical work 30 years ago in American Werewolf in London is far more effective. For that matter, and some may disagree, but despite the rather quaint (by today's standards) transformation effects of the 1941 original, I found that the transformation scenes in the original carried more weight and were filled with more dread than the computerized mess we get here. The scenes are poorly shot, and don't really convey the horror of what's going on sufficiently.

Indeed, I don't know if this was because I knew a bit about the intrigue that went on getting this movie to the screen, but it felt a bit overly tampered with, as if the editing was somehow a bit uneven and off at times.

But despite these flaws, I found it to be pretty enjoyable. It possesses what a lot of horror in the early 21st century is missing: Fun.

Let me make this clear: I do not consider the original film to be an untouchable sacred cow. Although it's terrific, it's certainly inferior to most of the Universal films of the 1930s. This is partly why I took no issue with it being remade. And I found it very interesting what screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker & David Self and director Joe Johnston tried to do here to distinguish it from its formidable forerunner.

What I quite enjoyed was that they tried to do something different, but in a way few remakes ever do. On the one hand, it doesn't slavishly ape the original; but it also doesn't piss all over the original's legacy. It manages to pay homage, yet take the story and characters in some fascinating directions. I'm going to get a bit spoilery in discussing these, so you squeamish types should head for the proverbial hills...


As much as it bothered me when I first learned about it, having Sir John Talbot as the "original" werewolf--indeed transforming him into the heavy of the story--was pretty ingenious. I was a bit uncomfortable with Anthony Hopkins stepping into Claude Rains' shoes, not because he isn't a fine actor, but because in my opinion, he has a tendency toward scenery-chewing (see that other Universal re-imagining, Bram Stoker's Dracula) that is the total opposite of Rains' classy restraint. Rains also a brought a fatherly austerity that is lost amidst Hopkins' seedy characterization.

Nevertheless, as the movie went along, I came to embrace this. For it is the change in the Sir John character that eventually got me the most interested in the story. It changes the entire dynamic of the picture, specifically altering the father-son relationship completely. It also allows for a completely bad-ass werewolf vs. werewolf royal rumble at the climax that is a reminder of how much fun monster movies can be.

And make no mistake, this is a monster movie, first and foremost--and I say that as a compliment. Aside from the awkward CGI metamorphosis stuff, the actual practical makeup itself, done by the aforementioned maestro Baker--is spot-on, a fantastic updating/tribute to the iconic Jack Pierce design. I'm glad they decided to keep the character as a humanoid "wolf man" rather than make it a post-AWIL lupine werewolf. I'm all for bringing back clothes-wearing werewolves!

There are other very cool nods to the original here for those who are looking for them. The infamous wolf's head walking stick; the wolfsbane rhyme; Geraldine Chaplin filling Marya Ospenskaya's shoes as the gypsy fortune teller; that deliciously atmospheric chase scene in the woods, almost identically lit; a brief scene in Gwen's boutique; even a lingering closeup on Hopkins' face in mid-transformation that looks for all the world like a CGI version of Lon Chaney's time-lapse metamorphoses.

Aside from some shoddy editing, the film itself is shot quite nicely, with a cold and bleak look and feel provided by cinematographer Shelly Johnson and production designer Rick Heinrichs. The latter in particular was also responsible for Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, which might be a big part of why the look of this film was reminiscent at times of that underrated Burton delight.

Now let's talk violence. I may be getting squeamish in my old age, but this flick had a surprising amount of graphic gore, particularly for a slick, big-budget, mainstream horror production. Hell, this movie had stuff in it I would've liked to have seen from the last two George Romero movies, but didn't. There are slashings galore, dismembered and quivering limbs, impalements, eviscerations, and more. As I mentioned the other night in the Vaultcast, we see the Wolf Man actually pull out a guy's liver with his teeth. It's some pretty bold stuff for a Hollywood horror movie in 2010, that's for sure.

Joe Johnston was a replacement director, dumped into the project in mid-production after the ousting of Mark Romanek. Thanks to the internet, this all became public knowledge, and I think it unfairly biased many toward Johnston. A once-promising young genre director who made a splash early on with the likes of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and one of the most underrated summer movies of all time, The Rocketeer, he later sort of lost his way, stepping into Steven Speilberg's intimidated shoes for Jurassic Park III and mounting the 2004 bomb Hidalgo. Yet for my money, he does the best he could here with a project he inherited--and to tell you the truth, I'm not convinced that music video helmsman Romanek could've done all that better.

The Wolfman is an imperfect remake of a classic monster movie, that nevertheless provides some good popcorn-munching fun for those not looking for anything too earth-shattering. Less stylish and confident than Coppola's Dracula, loads more fun than Branagh's pretentious Frankenstein--and infinitely better than Sommer's Mummy.

The only thing that could've made it even more fun would've been if the climax had taken place here:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

VAULTCAST: Conversations in the Dark... w/Matt-Suzaka

After a two-week hiatus, Conversations of the Dark returns in a big way, with Matt-Suzaka of Chuck Norris Ate My Baby! This time out, we're talking about a difficult, painful subject for horror fans: directors who were once great but have arguably lost their way... From Romero and Argento to Craven and Hooper, we pull no punches as we dissect their respective declines. Plus, poor Matt has been a bit under the weather, so his sick voice is sure to inspire your sympathy/cause you to gloat maliciously!

Listen in on the embedded player below, proceed to the actual Vaultcast page, or download the whole thing right here...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Many Faces of David Hess

* Thanks to Marilyn Merlot for this week's "The Many Faces of..." suggestion! Feel free to send me yours...
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