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Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week Eleven: Zombies!

It says a lot about the popularity of this week's sub-genre, that this time out we've got more contributors than ever before. Zombies are arguably the dominant monster of modern horror, and certainly have been on a proverbial tear for much of the past decade especially. Today's horror fan is almost inevitably a hardcore zombie fan--we just can't seem to get enough of those mindless, flesh-eating, undead meatheads.

It always says a lot about the breadth and quality of the sub-genre, that with so many contributors this week, nevertheless not one of them selected the same movie. We've got a pretty impressive selection here, if I do say so myself, hope you enjoy...

B-Sol on Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Surprisingly to me as I look back, I haven't really said all that much about George Romero's Dawn of the Dead here in the Vault over the years, despite the fact that it is not only my personal favorite zombie movie, but my personal favorite horror movie, period. Maybe I've been intimidated by what a towering presence this movie is for me, how it affected me like no other horror film has before or since.

Romero certainly knocked it out of the park with Night of the Living Dead, but here he truly brings his bleak vision of America to full fruition, and gives us the absolute prototype of the modern zombie film. The waking nightmare he creates as the setting for this film is so convincing to me, so authentic, despite whatever you may say about dated makeup effects. When I watch this movie, I am transported wholly to a world in which the dead have risen and society is crumbling. The aura of doom hangs heavy, and even the humorous bits are tinged with rueful regret.

Zombies have terrified me more than any other movie monster, and this film is to blame. I am a purist when it comes to Romero zombies, and this whole idea of relentless, creeping corpses coming to eat your flesh, ignoring all boundaries of friendship and family, beyond all reason or escape, really struck a chord with me, and filled me with genuine dread. That's powerful film-making, and that's what modern zombie cinema is all about.

Flowers of Flesh and Blood's Keri O'Shea on Cemetery Man

One of my favourite zombie films --no, scrub that, one of my favourite films ever--Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) is a quirky little masterpiece, a film which takes the idea of the living dead in a sublime new direction. Francis Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) is the Buffalore Cemetery caretaker or, as one of his imminent inmates calls it, the ‘engineer’, but this is a cemetery with a difference. Sometimes the dead rise from their graves, and together with assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) Dellamorte must re-dispatch them. It’s a troubled, lonely existence, and both men are looking for an indeterminate something--maybe even love--beyond the cemetery walls. When a beautiful widow (Anna Falchi) arrives to mourn her husband, Dellamorte cannot resist her charms, and is soon drawn into a chain of events which leads him to reconsider love, life, the universe and everything…

I first saw the film at a Halloween showing and, apart from vaguely being aware that it was a zombie flick, I knew nothing about it. If I was expecting hordes of potentially politically-relevant flesheaters, instead I got a striking small-town setting, a taphophile’s dream of graves, burials and mourning, and of course vivid atmosphere in spades (pun intended). A charismatic performance by Everett really underpins this film, and he deadpans through an often bizarre array of scenes and dialogue with an inimitably brooding gravitas. The original choice for this role, Matt Dillon, simply could not have done it better. It adds a pleasing circularity to the project that Everett was the inspiration behind the Dylan Dog comics, which in turn inspired the screenplay: Dellamorte Dellamore is as inescapable for Everett as Buffalore is for Francis Dellamorte, it seems…

The cast all work nicely together, balancing pathos alongside slick dark comedy, with the beautiful Anna Falchi perhaps deserving a special mention for her performance as the unnamed ‘she’ of the film. Although she appears in three different incarnations, she is most memorable in her first, that of The Widow--changing from vulnerable mourner into an insatiable Returner, a zombie you wouldn’t mind being bitten by. But then, as the film progresses, the undead aren’t the problem in and of themselves. They become symbolic of the inescapability of Dellamorte’s life and his growing identity crisis. It would be pushing it to say that this film is a philosophical work, I know, but it definitely uses horror in order to feel around some unusually existentialist themes. Dellamorte holds forth on the problems of love, the meaning of life, and self-knowledge, so the film’s original title (translating as ‘of Death, of Love’) really holds some meaning here. Unique, hypnotic and cool, Dellamorte Dellamore has a special place in my heart.

From Midnight With Love's The Mike on Night of the Living Dead (1968)

There's not much to be said about Night of the Living Dead that hasn't already been spoken. But when it came time to choose a favorite zombie film, I couldn't find myself considering anything other than it or its sequel, Dawn of the Dead. That's a choice I've waffled on many times, but today I'm sold on Night of the Living Dead as my final answer.

Night of the Living Dead is more than a movie, it's an institution. It's literally the most accessible horror film of the past 50 years--thanks to its slip into the public domain--and it's become something of a “starter” film for anyone who wants to experience what horror movies are all about. As horror was peaking in pop culture during the 1970s, it was Night of the Living Dead that became the syndicated TV hit that every late night horror host was showing to impressionable youth. When home video, and later DVD, became popular, any distributor that could find it released their own copy of the film. At least 40 different versions of the film exist between these two types of home media today, and the first Blu-Ray versions of the film are rolling out as we speak.

But to me, this is more than just one of those films that should be lauded because of how beloved it has become. One could also argue that Night of the Living Dead was a turning point for the horror genre, as it was one of the first films to turn everyday people--in this case dead people--into monsters, and then bring these monsters into modern America. And, without ever using the “zed word”, George Romero's approach to creating horror set the stage for an entire sub-genre and a new movement in independent horror film-making.

I could ramble about the significance, in culture and to the film community, of Night of the Living Dead all night long. And when I account for the film's effect on the viewer--in this case, a guy that's still creeped out by the uncertainty the characters face and the impending sense of doom that haunts the film--and the fact that the black-and-white film just feels like what I'd look for from any late night horror viewing, there's no topping Romero's first triumph in my book.

Big Daddy Horror Review's Brandon Sites on Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II is one of those films that I can revisit over and over and over again, and then one more time for good measure. While most people wouldn't think of this as an outright zombie film due to its blending of several genre elements, the finale does involve a zombie ripping through the torso of a recently shot victim in order to massacre the senior class on prom night.

The film has an ability to cleverly recycle staples from genre classics into one cohesive, seamless whole. It borrows elements from George A. Romero's zombie films and from Carrie, contains a dream sequence that recalls A Nightmare on Elm Street with a dash of German Impressionism set in a high school cafeteria and features a kooky take on possession themes, all set against the backdrop of a teen comedy/horror film.

As if that wasn't enough, you have genre regular Michael Ironside in the cast, and some inventive--not to mention mean-spirited--death sequences. One victim informs her best friend that she is pregnant, only to be hanged to death by the film's title villain, who makes it appear as a suicide. There is also a sequence in which another victim is smashed to death by her high school gym lockers, and yet another involving death by computer. To top it all off, it also boasts some well-timed one liners and some memorable dialogue. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II is a film that I never get tired of despite repeat viewings. It also ranks in my top 10 horror films of the '80s.

Vault dweller Angela Howeth on The Return of the Living Dead

I had to go back to my own childhood on this one. Of course I completely love and adore the originals such as Night of the Living Dead, and the not-so-original such as Zombi 2, but honestly I had to go here. I remember going to a sleep over when I was in the 4th grade and watching this movie for the first time. While my girlfriends where all busy talking about boys, and New Kids on the Block, I was completely enamored with this movie. I thought to myself, “Oh this is completely utterly disgustingly perfect.” It had everything--punk rock, a dysfunctional and irresponsible government, and of course terrifying gruesome zombies.

I think the cross between the movie soundtrack and the actual sound of the zombies was creepy enough. Am I the only one who thought some of the zombies sounded like pigs being slaughtered as they were being reborn from their graves? For me sound has a ton to do with it, and these zombies where not meek at all. Not only did they do their normal zombie moan from hell, but they also spoke of the pain of WANTING AND NEEDING BRAINS!!!! This ties directly to that scene in the morgue with the half woman tied down on the gurney. This scene terrified me; it was human in the sense of something that needed substance in order to feel good to live. But yet she wasn’t living, she was dead, and still she yearned so greatly for our soft spongy brains--with no legs, no skin, no organs left besides half her spinal column, her eyes and her brain. It is stuff that nightmares are truly made of.

Another favorite scene in the movie is the one in which Linnea Quigley's Trash character gets mauled by the zombies. Imagine yourself being naked in nuclear rain; and getting caught in a mosh pit of zombies; yeah, no good. That and she kind of resembles Ronald McDonald's step-sister. This movie just holds a happy place in my childhood, as odd as it sounds, I will never get the picture out of my head of the zombie popping out of the grave: “Do you want to party!” Return of the Living Dead is one of those movies that I can watch and keep finding more stuff to laugh or be terrified about.

Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on Day of the Dead (1985)

My love affair with zombies started out a lot like everyone else's, I suspect. It was a double feature sleep over with Evil Dead 2 and Dawn of the Dead that kicked the whole thing off. Dawn of the Dead gave license to my imagination to run wild in a world overrun with the dead where the only responsibility was survival, which in a world of abundant shopping mall resources, guns and ammo included, looked like an awful lot of fun, even when the bikers raid the place. This was a fantasy dreamed up when I was a kid. I'm an adult now and the rational adult mind tends to over think things, so the fantasy is a lot less fun these days because I have the context of maturity to compare the horror of the apocalypse to. Naturally, the care-free fantasy of Dawn of the Dead became something much more pessimistic and opened the door for Day of the Dead to make its way into my consciousness and take the number one spot for favorite zombie movie.

It's a well explored notion that Romero's classic zombie movies reflect the era of their production so it's no surprise that Day of the Dead is one giant metaphor for America in the '80s. That's not exactly why I like it, though. Day of the Dead was the culmination of Romero's efforts. The original script, which is available for reading online, is a much bigger movie that Romero has since incorporated into other movies, but what we got still comes off like the culmination of all of Romero's previous efforts. Day's scope, though actually very small, feels huge!

The whole thing takes place in this cavernous missile base with a large cast of cackling evil military guys and the scientists that they're supposed to protect. Heading it up is Joe Pilato as the maniacal Captain Rhodes, constantly sporting a sheen of nervous sweat, ranting and raving, pointing his gun at anyone who questions his authority. He has some of the best lines and gives the best deliveries of any Romero zombie survivor. On the other end is Richard Liberty as the insane Dr. Logan, conditioning his zombie, Bub (Logan and Bub are references to Wolverine of the X-Men) and dissecting captive zombies down to their component pieces. It's a colorful cast of wild, shouting characters working with one of Romero's slowest, yet most frantic zombie scripts. Sure, there's a lot of talking--the usual point of criticism leveled at this flick--but they're great streaks of Rhodes' wild freak-outs!

Characters aside, Day was the ultimate experiment in special effects for the time. They're completely disgusting. Tom Savini's express makeup for large groups was coupled with the high detail and realism of Greg Nicotero's techniques to create some of the nastiest zombies ever put on film. To this day, it remains unchallenged, even by further explorations of zombies by Romero himself.

Day may not be a taut thriller with constant action, but for my money, it's the most sophisticated of all of Romero's movies, with the best special effects, most colorful characters and most morbid, oppressive tone that expertly communicates the hopelessness of possibly being the last living humans on Earth. I revisit this one far more than any other in the canon.

Cannibal Hollywood's Stonecypher on Colin

I’ve always found answering the question ‘what’s your favourite zombie film?’ both difficult and easy. Difficult, in that I’ve not actually seen that many zombie films, in comparison to your average horror fan, anyway; and easy, in that I’ve got fewer films to pick from! Zombies are not my favourite sub-genre, and yet, they’re everywhere. They seem to be the horror film-maker’s choice for getting a point across, particularly when it comes to making a comment on the homogeneity of society. My choice of film, then, stands out, in that it has nothing at all to do with the homogeneity of society, and everything to do with the individual.

My favourite zombie film is Colin. The film is famous for being made on a shoe-string budget of roughly £45 ($70), and yet it’s reached world-wide audiences and critical acclaim. Directed by Marc Price, the film follows the titular zombie, from his brief moments before being bitten, to his slow, arduous transformation into one of the mass of living dead shuffling through London’s streets. Coming at the tail-end of a rash of fast zombies (if they’re zombies at all!), Colin is a wonderful breath of fresh air, a film which, for all of its impressively realised gore and action, is an emotional, human journey.

Part of that success belongs to Alistair Kirton, who plays Colin as both lost child and cornered animal to great effect. Some of the film’s most memorable scenes take place in complete silence, not in the abandoned streets of the city or in the middle of a zombie horde, but in the heart of the home--the bathroom, the kitchen, the bedroom. No £45 film is going to perfect, but with Colin, Marc Price has made a damn impressive try of it.

The film’s greatest success, for me, is that it’s a zombie film that made me care about its protagonist. I don’t often find myself all that bothered about what happens to characters in zombie films, but I do care for Colin. Marc Price successfully made a zombie film, with a zombie protagonist, which tells a simple, human story. Not very horrific, I know, but it certainly makes the film stand out from a very crowded sub-genre. Besides, that bit with the spine? Definitely gross.

From Beyond Depraved's Joe Monster on Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror

At times it seems like everything in the horror genre has become a cliché, a trope that has finally burned out all potential of ingenuity. No sub-genre seems to be filled with more mediocre drivel than that of the zombie. Particularly in recent years, we have seen the walking dead in just about every scenario that man (or monkeys) can conceive of. What’s a lover of the reanimated to do when half of the cinematic output concerning our beloved deadheads is as thrilling as roadkill? Allow me to direct your attention to the Italian splatterpiece Burial Ground, or as the subtitle more forebodingly calls it… The Nights of Terror.

Italy was by no means a stranger to the walking dead. With rejuvenated stiffs committing such foul acts as shoving splinters in pupils and attacking people as they performed top-hat dance routines, Italian filmmakers were squeezing the genre dry of every last putrefied drop. So what, you may ask, makes Burial Ground so different from the rest of the flesh-hungry pack? I believe my appreciation for this film might have stemmed from my complete surprise on its initial viewing, as I think it would with most. Up until the point I saw Andrea Bianchi’s mini-epic, I smugly thought that I had just about seen everything zombies had to offer. Little did I realize all the wonderful surprises that were in store for me, whether they were subtle contrasts or bits of in-your-face grandness.

The look of the zombies in Burial Ground was one of the very first elements to register with me. Never before, not even with Fulci’s conquistador throat-munchers, did I see zombies who were actually terrifying to look at. The majority of them here have deaths-head type visages, their skeletal teeth and empty sockets seeming to sneer at you as they greedily reach for your skin. They’re a true army of the dead, fully capable of wielding weapons (!) in order to get at the food they crave so madly. A particularly spectacular sequence occurs when one zombie, with Bullseye-like precision, throws a nail across a garden and pins a maid’s hand to the wall just as she’s going to close a window! His cohorts then use a deliciously symbolic scythe to painfully saw the screaming wench’s head off and then eagerly scuttle around as the cranium comes a-tumblin’ down! That scene alone was enough for me to realize that this one was not the typical zombie fare.

The entire movie is filled with a very real sense of dread. The psychotropic score constantly has you at unease as the dead stiffly stalk around the house of survivors. This is the type of feeling every zombie film should have, that of ultimate doom and utter defeat at the claws of the souls we thought we held dominion over. As silly as it may seem, as I watched the movie, eyes open wide inside the cozy den of my home, I almost felt as if this is what the Apocalypse would truly look like. The dead returned to consume the living, never stopping or ceasing their motions. Terrifying stuff. Add to that the oddly surreal bits that are sprinkled throughout the film and you have one unique viewing experience. Case in point: Peter Bark, a twenty something man who plays the part of a ten-year-old child. One of the most awkward-glances-all-around moments in film history occurs when Peter passionately begs his mother for a very personal type of night cap. You haven’t seen it all until you’ve seen that.

Burial Ground is likely to be passed over by most fans as another in a long, long line of zombie flicks to be released from Italy during the first living dead boom in cinema. But if you look closely enough and if you’re appetite is whetted enough for some different and grueling zombie action, you’ll find that this cloth does not just smell of death… it smells of awesomeness.

Day of the Woman's BJ-C on Shaun of the Dead

Shaun may be a little irresponsible, a slacker, and own some embarrassing vinyl albums... but who would think of a cricket bat to defend yourself in the zombie apocalypse? The rest of his crew took typical items like golf clubs, axes, shovels, baseball bats, you know... phallic objects. It may be an English thing, but the cricket bat is probably the coolest undead destroying instrument since the boomstick.

Think of it this way, Shaun is like every Average Joe you meet on the street. He's just like you! It's always a nice thought that you don't need to be this rough and tumble guy to survive. All you need is some passion and a good weapon. The reason Shaun of the Dead is such an appealing film to all audiences, is because the zombie outbreak closely resembles what the outbreak would most likely really be like. In a world of chaos and rotting corpses, Shaun and his friends decide to stick it out and survive while still maintaining their personalities. All too often in zombie films, people lose who they really are once the outbreak begins. It's about survival yes, but it's also about not losing who you are.

The true heart of the entire film is centered on Shaun. Shaun is a great zombie killer because he's not only thinking about himself. It's very easy to become selfish in a time of crisis and only care about keeping yourself alive. While this is a nice plan for an individual, its a disastrous plan for those who actually have a heart. Shaun had been completely neglecting those who care the most about him, but when put in the situation where he's almost expected and allowed to be selfish... he's not. He works to keep not just himself afloat, but his mother, ex-girlfriend, her flatmates, his best friend, and for a while even his hated step-father. He risked his life traveling from his house to his mother's house, and then even climbed up a building to save his ex-girlfriend and her flatmates. That's the true act of a hero if you're asking me.

So basically, he's not some uber badass who knows exactly what to do, he's just someone who's probably grown up watching the uber badasses who know exactly what to do. He's thrust into this situation, and while he's hesitant at first, he almost comes to terms with it and realizes what needs to be done to try and survive. So off he goes to secure his loved ones and hold down in the safest place he can think of. It may not all work out, but he at least does something instead of sit and panic. Shaun of the Dead is a perfect of example of how middle America would handle the zombie crisis.

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Now head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the last two installments, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Week 1: Grindhouse & Exploitation
Week 2: Creature Features & Monster Movies
Week 3: Demons, Witches & The Devil
Week 4: Gore!
Week 5: Horror Comedies
Week 6: Vampires
Week 7: Psychological Horror
Week 8: Werewolves
Week 9: Serial Killers
Week 10: Ghosts, Haunted Houses and Psychic Phenomena

Join us next week for the second-to-last edition of The Lucky 13, wherein we get all brainy and stuff, with science-fiction horror!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

VAULTCAST: Conversations in the Dark... w/BC

It's a thrill this week to be joined by the one and only BC of Horror-Movie-a-Day and Bloody-Disgusting, one of my true blogging inspirations. He had an opportunity to attend Comic Con last weekend, and now that the geek explosion has come and gone, I figured I'd have him on to talk about all the stuff that went down in San Diego. While I had his attention, we also went off on random tangents about M. Night Shyamalan's downward spiral, and our cautious expectations for Matt Reeves' Let Me In.

So take a listen to the embedded player below if you dare, or head on over to the new Vaultcast home page, where you can download this installment directly...

Horror-Movie-a-Day: http://horrormovieaday.com
Bloody Disgusting: http://bloody-disgusting.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/BrianWCollins

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Alice: Madness Returns

By Paige MacGregor

I had never heard of the 2000 PC game American McGee’s Alice, but nevertheless when I came across a press release for its sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, I was more than a little excited by what I was reading. Just last week, American McGee officially announced the forthcoming 2011 release of Alice: Madness Returns, a collaboration between American McGee, EA (Electronic Arts, Inc.), and Spicy Horse Games that takes place ten years after the conclusion of the original game, as Alice struggles to overcome the emotional and psychological trauma she suffered after losing her entire family in a fatal fire.

At the start of Alice: Madness Returns, Alice is released from the insane asylum where she spent the past ten years, and into the custody of a London psychiatrist who may be able to put a stop to the nightmarish hallucinations that continue to haunt her. Unfortunately for Alice, the move to London only exacerbates her condition, and as a result she leaves the cold, dark reality of London behind and takes refuge in a shattered and twisted Wonderland.

Although I’m not familiar with the visuals from the original game, American McGee’s assurance that Alice: Madness Returns takes the “colorful world” from American McGee’s Alice and “reinvents it with psychotic personalities and pervasive insanity” sounds absolutely delightful to me. As the recently released promotional images and game trailer illustrate, Alice: Madness Returns promises to be a dark, addictive action-adventure game that will thrill fans of the popular BioShock and BioShock 2 games and psychological thrillers like Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake, or Ignition Entertainment’s Deadly Premonition.

What excited me most about Alice: Madness Returns, also known informally as Alice 2, is the concept art and screenshots that were released recently. Not only do the screenshots for Alice: Madness Returns illustrate the dark, violent nature of the game, but the game’s concept art also hints at the expansive, imaginative nature of the Wonderland setting where much of the game will take place. Despite G-rated past representations by companies like Disney, the Alice in Wonderland story lends itself extremely well to exploration of the darker side of human nature and the type of psychological thrills that it seems Alice: Madness Returns will have.

At this point, my only concern regarding Alice: Madness Returns is the lack of information about the game’s user interface. The ease of use for game controls and menus is particularly important to me, so I can’t wait to get more information on how those will work. Alice: Madness Returns has a lot of potential, so I thoroughly hope it isn’t ruined by a shoddy user interface or difficult controls. At this point, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Monday, July 26, 2010

TRAILER TRASH: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Edition!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week Ten: Ghosts, Haunted Houses and Psychic Phenomena

Folks, I can't say I know this to be actual fact, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say that the paranormal--i.e. ghosts--probably makes up the oldest of all horror sub-genres, going all the way back to horror's origins in literature and folklore. Fear is based primarily on what we don't understand and don't know, and so that one great unknowable, death and what comes after, has provided us with some of the most primal sources of pure terror.

The paranormal has been fodder for so many classics. Who doesn't love a good ghost story, after all? There's something about them that feels like the very essence of what horror is all about at its core. And so it's with great pride that both Brutal as Hell and The Vault of Horror bring you our favorite films tackling this otherwordly subject matter...

B-Sol on The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's cinematic jewel is a work of absolute genius from top to bottom. This is a film so rich in texture and flawless in execution that I find it a rewarding experience to watch every single time. More than a horror movie, this film is a work of art.

It's brilliantly shot, thanks in part to cinematographer John Alcott, who had previously worked with Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon (and, incidentally, shot Terror Train right after this). With a sense of light and color that achieves a level of perfection few films ever do. The scene with Jack and Grady in the men's room is a thing of beauty, that can be watched with the sound off and you still wouldn't be able to take your eyes off it. Its a classic example of the Kubrick style.

The imagery is pure Kubrick, presenting the viewer with visuals that stay in the brain long after the movie is over. The barely glimpsed shot of the hacked-up Grady twins; the old lady in the bathtub; that creepy dude in the bear suit--this is surreal, nightmarish horror at its very best.

Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on The Sentinel

Haunted house movies aren't what they used to be. Pardon me while I play the grumpy old man here, but Hollywood and the contemporary audience don't seem to have the time anymore for a deliberately paced ghost story anymore. Everyone wants to see the apparitions right off the bat. They want special effects and lots of them. These days you couldn't possibly get away with making a movie like The Sentinel. It's a movie that takes too long to get to the stuff that people identify as scary, and that's too bad because The Sentinel is freakin' terrifying!

Christina Raines plays a fashion model on the edge who takes up residence in a Brooklyn townhouse. If she wasn't already on the edge of collapse from a crazy work schedule, her neighbors are a bunch of weirdos and when she mentions them to the real estate agent who hooked her up with the place, the woman insists that the only other occupant of the building is an ancient priest who spends his days and nights sitting in the window at the top of the building. I'm tempted to spoil the whole plot here but therein lies the fun. The revelation as to why it's called The Sentinel is fantastic, and what an ending!

The Sentinel, for some reason, is a horror movie that lives below the boards. The '70s was full of horror that capitalized on the Catholic fear generated by The Exorcist. For some reason, everyone in America seemed spooked by the threat of evil spirits and it took Hollywood no time to capitalize on this trend. For this reason, a lot of the movies to follow in the wake of The Exorcist seem like exploitation movies, and The Sentinel was victim to this generalization. It has an absolutely killer cast, with Burgess Meredith playing the ring leader of a band of completely deranged New Yorkers. You also get a quick dose of Christopher Walken in an early role, if he's your bag.

The Sentinel zeroes in on the sort of abstract horror that tends to get under my skin. People behave strangely, as if it's the most normal thing in the world and that I'm the weird one for being the outsider to their strange games. There are also a couple of great jump scares, which no haunted house movie should be without. It owes a lot to H.P. Lovecraft's short story, The Music of Erich Zann, which is a favorite of mine. Haunted house movies aren't supposed to be the sort of thing that repels you with explicit imagery, it's all about implication and only the best haunted house horrors do this right. Chief among them is The Sentinel.

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Only three weeks to go in The Lucky 13! I'd like to thank my contributors, who have thus far helped make this little endeavor what it is--your efforts are greatly appreciated. Now head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Week 1: Grindhouse & Exploitation
Week 2: Creature Features & Monster Movies
Week 3: Demons, Witches & The Devil
Week 4: Gore!
Week 5: Horror Comedies
Week 6: Vampires
Week 7: Psychological Horror
Week 8: Werewolves
Week 9: Serial Killers

Join us next week, when we finally hit upon that one sub-genre so many of you have been waiting for. That's right, it's zombie time!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

VAULTCAST: Conversations in the Dark... w/Maweanne

I bet you've been laying up nights, just wondering when Conversations in the Dark would return... Well the answer is, right now! That's right, the Vaultcast returns just in time for the San Diego Comic-Con. As my guest this week I have someone who will actually be going to the event (unlike me)--and that's Maweanne (a.k.a. Maryanne Schultz) of The Spooky Brew.

Tonight we chat up this week's epic West Coast geekfest, as well as Maryanne's experiences as an honest-to-goodness horror movie makeup artist. Listen in on the embedded player below, or pay a visit to the new Vaultcast homepage, where you can also download it...

The Spooky Brew: http://spookybrew.blogspot.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/maweanne

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fear in Four Colors: The Trick ‘r Treat Graphic Novel

By Paige MacGregor

Although I can’t answer the question of whether the comic adaptation of writer/director Michael Dougherty’s Halloween horror flick Trick ‘r Treat lives up to its cinematic counterpart (since I haven’t seen the movie), I CAN answer whether the 96-page Trick ‘r Treat graphic novel is worth the two-year wait that fans were forced to endure after the comic’s release date was pushed back from October 2007 to October 2009. The answer? No, Trick ‘r Treat isn’t really worth it.

I’m sure that members of the Trick ‘r Treat film’s cult following will enjoy Marc Andreyko’s Trick ‘r Treat adaptation, but as a reader unfamiliar with the film, I was confused by the multiple stories contained in the graphic novel. Originally, Trick ‘r Treat was scheduled to be a four-part comic series illustrated by Done to Death artist Fiona Staples. The four issues were scheduled to be released weekly in October 2007, the last issue appearing on Halloween. When Dougherty’s film was backlisted, however, the comic’s release was pushed back.

Subsequently, DC/WildStorm made the decision to release Trick ‘r Treat as a single graphic novel, written by Marc Andreyko (Manhunter, Torso), but featuring contributions from four different artists, including Fiona Staples. In addition to Staples, Gen13 artist Mike Huddleston, cartoonist Grant Bond, and The Curse of the Werewhale and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre artist Christopher Gugliotti were recruited to illustrate portions of Trick ‘r Treat, and in my opinion that might be the worst decision that was made by DC/WildStorm with regard to this particular graphic novel.

I was intrigued by the novel’s cover, which was created by the film’s concept designer Breehn Burns and depicts the now well-known Trick ‘r Treat character Sam in his signature costume, partially eaten pumpkin-shaped lollipop in hand. Unfortunately, beyond that I was disappointed. Had Trick ‘r Treat been published in four separate issues as originally intended, I think I would have liked the series better. Lumping four comic-book-length stories that are all based on the Trick ‘r Treat film but are illustrated in very different styles is not the best idea. For readers like me who enjoy some consistency in their graphic novels’ visual style, Trick ‘r Treat’s illustrations detract from the story by distracting the reader from the actions taking place on the page.

As such, I had to read through it several times to focus on the stories being told rather than on the visuals, and what I found was some rather uninspired writing. According to various sources, Marc Andreyko’s writing remains true to the Trick ‘r Treat movie script, which may be why the stories themselves lack imagination and emotion. Stories designed to be told using a combination of audio and visual means don’t always translate well into the written word, even with accompanying illustrations, and despite Andreyko’s best efforts the Trick ‘r Treat graphic novel falls flat.

I would only recommend this graphic novel to those who have seen and enjoyed the Trick ‘r Treat film, and even then I would do so with the disclaimer that I can’t speak to how well the comic captures the feel of the movie. Trick ‘r Treat fans may find that the graphic novel adaptation falls short for them, as well.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Many Faces of Godzilla

Monday, July 19, 2010

[Rec] 2: A Better Film, But Also a Less Scary One

In the early days of The Vault of Horror, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza's [Rec] was the one of the very first new horror films I passionately championed. I wanted to get the word out about this fantastic Spanish zombie film that, unfortunately, was not known to many American fans. It turned out I wasn't the only one, as lots of other writers in the horror blogosphere with which I was just becoming acquainted were also raving about it.

In my opinion, the original [Rec] was the most downright terrifying horror film of the previous decade. It was the kind of a movie that grabs the neckhairs of even a hardened fright film watcher like myself and says: "Be afraid." So it was with great relish that I latched on to the opportunity to experience [Rec] 2, Balaguero and Plaza's continuation of their tale of undead outbreak. And I'm excited to say that it was an intense flick that's almost as much fun as the original, and in some ways, even more interesting.

[Rec] 2 picks up the action right where we left off at the end of the first one--kind of like a Rocky movie, except with dead people instead of boxers. We're right back on the scene of the quarantined apartment building, as a SWAT team and a special government agent infiltrate the structure to figure out just what the hell is going on inside. Matters are further complicated by a group of overly curious teens who sneak into the building as well.

The story is told, once again, in cinema verite style, with all the action depicted via "real life" video recordings. It's the same "found footage" approach taken by cinematographer Pablo Rosso in the original, except this time the film makers kind of riff on that style, giving us several different points of view from a few different camera sources, such as the cams carried by the SWAT members, the camera inevitably carried by one of the teens, etc. It's all edited together to create a real feeling of development from the original; Balaguero and Plaza are consciously exploring and expanding the visual "gimmick" they introduced the first time out.

This time, however--and this felt like an intentional decision--the action is less chaotic, and more coherent. One of the criticisms of the original (thought not by me) was that it was almost too realistic, with a constant stream of panicked yelling and screaming, and stretches of action so muddled by movement and noise as to be overly disorienting. This time, the whole thing feels a bit more dramatized, more traditional in presentation, and I don't mean that necessarily as a negative. Rather, I found it to be a change of pace and just one of the things that make this movie anything but the tired aping of the original that it easily could've been.

Another area in which there is bold and fascinating development going on is the direction taken by Balaguero, Plaza and their scripting collaborator Manu Diex in the actual narrative. Whereas the first time out, we got a straightforward modern, infection-style zombie film, with only some hints at the end of the supernatural, this time things go full-tilt into the realm of the occult. This might put off some who appreciated the more "grounded in reality" approach of the original (whatever that may mean in a movie about the living dead), but I found this to be the most rewarding development of all.

[Spoilerish stuff ahead] What we wind up with is sort of a cross between 28 Days Later and The Exorcist, with our undead turning out to be not quite zombies after all, but closer in species to Sam Raimi's Deadites, or perhaps a whole bunch of very angry Regan MacNeils, if you prefer. It's demonic possession that spreads organically, like a contagion. I was totally enthralled by this concept, and pleasantly surprised that the story went in this direction. Science and religion are blended into the kind of hybrid that takes a little getting used to, but is nevertheless original, engaging stuff.

My biggest gripe would be the one aspect in which this sequel does slavishly attempt to follow its predecessor, which is in the presentation of the monstrous Madeiros girl who is the source of the infection. You can feel the movie building up once again to the big reveal, just as it did the first time, and you get the sense that they were shamelessly trying to reproduce the sheer terror and adrenaline rush of that infamous climactic scene in the original in which main character Angela Vidal first encounters the possessed girl.

Here, the scene feels forced, tacked on, and worst of all, is built on some heavy-handed pseudo-religious/scientific nonsense I just didn't buy, which insisted that the girl could not be seen in the light, since she was shunned by God or something like that. As a result, the only way to see her, conveniently enough, is via the night-vision camera used to see her in the original. Furthermore, this doesn't explain why the creature was unable to interact with them earlier in the film (just because they couldn't see her?) Anyway, not to belabor the point, this is a relatively small problem in an otherwise very enjoyable horror film.

[Rec] 2 also ends with a little twist and some flashback footage that both lets us in on what exactly happened to Angela when she got pulled down that air duct, and also sets us up for a [Rec] 3 which looks like it will go in a far more large-scale, ambitious direction than the previous two. All in all, it's a more traditional horror film than its predecessor, with some intriguing thematic and narrative developments, even if the re-treading of somewhat familiar territory unavoidably ensures that it's not quite the white-knuckle roller coaster of pulse-pounding terror that the original was.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week Nine: Serial Killers

One of the key elements established by the modern horror film is that you don't necessarily need monsters to generate terror. Rather, very often, as the old cliche goes, the worst monsters of all are ourselves. In other words, the real-life evils of the human mind can be far more terrifying than any make-believe supernatural entity. Perhaps that's why the serial killer sub-genre has proliferated so much in recent decades.

This week in The Lucky 13, both here and at Brutal as Hell, we pick our very favorite serial killer movies--and I think you're going to find some of the most eclectic choices selected thus far in our little ongoing group project. For example, on our side here at the VoH, who would've thought that this particular sub-genre would feature not one, but two Vincent Price movies? And oh yeah, that Lecter guy shows up, too...

B-Sol on Theater of Blood

Just when I thought it wasn't possible for me to love Vincent Price more than I already did, along came this absolute gem of a movie into my world. As an English major with a concentration in Shakespeare, and an unabashed horror fanatic, this film was literally tailor-made for me. The film revolves around a series of brilliant murder set-pieces. And Price is utterly remarkable throughout each, playing the part of the vengeful Lionheart with such gusto that one can't help but be completely enraptured by him. My particular favorite is the fencing scene, in which Price reenacts the duel from Romeo & Juliet, his face a gleaming mask of self-satisfied, evil glee as he spouts purple prose to no end.

Theater of Blood is an exceptionally dark and vicious comedy. While unceasingly funny, it is also surprisingly bloody, featuring fairly graphic scenes of organ removal, electrocution, beheading and more. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a gorier Vincent Price flick at the moment. To watch Price chew up the scenery, letting Shakespearean soliloquies fly left and right, it's almost impossible to describe my elation. You can tell he's really enjoying himself here, and that carries across to the viewer. He also gets the chance to appear in a series of fairly ludicrous disguises, adding another level of delicious camp to his performance.

Theater of Blood proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Vincent Price was a national treasure, and it is truly sad that he is no longer with us. Yet with thoroughly enjoyable films like this left behind, it's assured that he will never, ever be forgotten.

Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on The Silence of the Lambs

On my list of top movie villains of all-time, Hannibal Lecter occupies the second spot (number one, with a bullet, is Darth Vader). He has killed as many as 30 people. He manipulates. He terrorizes. He eats their corpses. Hannibal Lecter is an unstoppable killing machine, a brilliant mind and the face of unblinking, primal evil. With only 15 minutes of screen time and uncanny chemistry with Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter became a household name and a pop-cultural icon of horror. Any character that evil and despicable that can win your heart, even after he chews a cop's face off, is a very special thing.

The Silence of the Lambs is an anomaly in horror. Most horror flicks tend to blow out the legend of the American serial killer to cartoony proportions. The killers are these menacing, raving lunatics who live to kill and spend all their time murdering, plotting and terrorizing their victims, but The Silence of the Lambs approached horror and serial murder with a true-crime novel sensibility. It reels in the natural Hollywood tendency to go balls to the wall for scares and instead opts for a slow burner that creeps up on you. In this context, Lecter is a bit excessive but he's also not the star of the show. Agent Clarice Starling is searching for Buffalo Bill, a composite of Ed Gein and Ted Bundy, played to maximum creep-factor by Ted freakin' Levine. Levine in his role as the gender-confused murderer gave us the sort of scenes that stay with people forever. Since 1991, "I'd fuck me" and "PUT THE FUCKING LOTION IN THE BASKET!!!" have achieved the sort of quotability afforded only The Simpsons in the past. That's not to discount the amazing lines given to Anthony Hopkins. The bite mask and fava beans still resonate to this day in our culture.

Somehow, director Johnathan Demme managed to crawl out of his off-beat hole, previously having directed bizarro comedies, The Talking Heads tourfilm and sleazy women in prison flicks, to craft one of the most morbid, oppressive horror films of the 20th century. This was the '90s answer to Hitchcock's Psycho, and a worthy successor at that. The Silence of the Lambs came to define the very essence of the police procedural movie and set the bar high for competing pictures. All the pieces to the puzzle fit snugly, an amazing cast meshed perfectly with Ted Tally's tight script, leaving us with one of the most effectively unsettling horror movies of all time. If you need further proof that Roger Corman is one of the most important figures in American filmmaking, this is it. Demme is yet another extremely talented filmmaker to emerge from Corman's class. Corman even has a cameo as an FBI director (George Romero also pops up quickly toward the end). Now if you'll excuse me, I must return to my dinner. I'm having liver with fava beans and a nice chianti.

From Beyond Depraved's Joe Monster on The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Thirty-three years before a pessimistic bloke named Jigsaw made his way on to the horror scene with face traps and other insidious devices, Vincent Price was busy exacting his own unique brand of justice upon those whom his character viewed as immoral. The said character went by the name of Dr. Anton Phibes, a musical genius who studied extensively in theology and who spent his spare time viciously murdering people. One does not need a brooding atmosphere of dread and bleak performances to create a solid serial killer film. If anything, The Abominable Dr. Phibes shows that a movie can showcase the mad workings of a systematic assassin and have a fun time while doing it.

This is Vincent Price at one of his finest hours, in the type of role that those who know him could instantly picture him in upon hearing his name. Here he plays a tragic anti-hero seeking vengeance against a medical team that he believes was responsible for the premature death of his beloved wife. He carries this out by executing his targets in the same fashion as the Biblical Ten Plagues of Egypt. Bloodthirsty bats and vermin, impalement by unicorn statuettes, and achingly slow death by blood draining and hypothermia all play out to the pounding blasts of organ and sweet melodies of violin. Even under a restrictive cast of his own likeness, Price manages to display a full range of powerful emotions solely through his ever-staring eyes and body gestures. It is a role that proudly displays Price’s great strength and versatility as a master thespian and King of Terror.

The film is also immensely impressive from a technical standpoint as well. Director Robert Fuest (who helmed many episodes of The Avengers) pulls off numerous intricate and visually compelling shots with his camera. The cinematography lends a whole other layer of vitality to the film, each color seemingly bursting from the screen and painting all the gory proceedings in a beautiful and lavish manner. The art deco sets are another highlight to watch out for, Joseph Cotten’s home and Phibes’ diabolical lair prime examples of this supreme craftsmanship. The humor in the film is spot-on, each actor delivering their lines in a perfectly snappy fashion. The movie has an air of the theater, each bit part and minor character fully realized and played to the hilt for the biggest laughs. The feeling of eccentricity compliments all the ghoulish goings-on in a way that has to be seen to be appreciated.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes should be in the “must watch” list of every horror fan, whether they be budding enthusiasts or seasoned veterans of the genre. It is a movie that will remind you of what fun it is to be in love with horror. If you’ve already had the insidious pleasure of viewing this film, then you know full-well of the feel-goodness this brings on in its audience. If you haven’t though, be sure to amend your terrible sins as quickly as you can and do just as the doctor prescribes.

* * * * * * * * * *

Head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Week 1: Grindhouse & Exploitation
Week 2: Creature Features & Monster Movies
Week 3: Demons, Witches & The Devil
Week 4: Gore!
Week 5: Horror Comedies
Week 6: Vampires
Week 7: Psychological Horror
Week 8: Werewolves

Join us next week, when we delve into the domain of ghosts, haunted houses and psychic phenomena!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

VAULT VLOG: Indie Horror Edition! News on Chemical 12-D & The Commune

Chemical 12-D debuting on YouTube Sunday, July 25 at 12pm EST
The Vault's review
Water Cooler Productions home page

* * * * * * * * * *

Bleedfest Film Festival - Sunday, July 18, 12pm - 5:30pm PST
Two Roads Theatre
4348 Tujunga Ave.
Studio City, CA
Admission: $10
Elisabeth Fies interview
Bleedfest Facebook page

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Vault of Horror Gets the Willies!

Now it's my turn.

Some two weeks ago, Andre Dumas of The Horror Digest set the horror blogosphere afire with her "Top 10 Willy Inducing Moments," a catalog of the specific moments in horror which freak her out the most. Since then, every blogger and their parent or legal guardian has been chipping in their two cents, offering their own list of moments that give them the willies.

I happened to be on a much-deserved vacation when the whole thing kicked off, and it's taken me a little while to catch up. But now I'm back and finally ready to take my crack at this whole willy thing. It may not be Tuesday, but what the hell--here are my Top 10 Willy Inducing Moments...

10. Inside (2007) - The Milk of Inhuman Kindness
This frakked-up little filmic French pastry is chock full of psyche-scarring moments, but for me the one that takes the cake is that final shot, which I suppose I shouldn't "spoil" for all you crybabies. Those who've seen it know the shot I mean--it involves a rocking chair and is about as twisted as it gets.

9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) - What the Fork...
This movie really gets under your skin in general, and the first time I saw it as a kid it really messed me up. The whole idea of people transforming all around you and not knowing who to trust, really freaked me out. But I'll never forget the scene in which Kevin McCarthy discovers that opening pod, and stabs it with the pitchfork. The sight of the human face breaking apart amidst that sudsy pod gunk is the stuff of nightmares.

8. Nosferatu (1922) - Rising to the Occasion
Here's one Andre picked herself, and I couldn't agree more. In one of horror's most emulated moments, the terrifying Count Orlock rises stiff as a board from his coffin in the hold of the Demeter, as witnessed by the soon-to-be-fish-food first mate. Max Schreck is at his most preternatural here, levitating 90 degrees and stretching out his arm, the very embodiment of death amongst the living.

7. Dracula (1931) - Laugh It Up, Nutball
Yet another Stoker adaptation, and yet another scene in the hold of the Demeter. Except this time, the source is no vampire, but rather his insane thrall Renfield, driven mad by the Count's influence. As the authorities peer down into the trap door to see Dwight Frye staring back up at them, that Joker-like grin beaming as he lets out his infamous leering laugh, I feel the hairs literally stand up on the back of my neck.

6. Zombi 2 (1979) - Shallowest Graveyard Ever...
Zombies will always gnaw at the very center of what really gets to me when it comes to horror movies, and nothing embodies that dread factor more for me than the scene in the Spanish conquistador cemetery. Our heroes are finally enjoying a moment of peace, when all of a sudden, the corpses underneath them claw their way through the apparent four inches of dirt under which they were buried. It's grim, it's relentless, and it's pure Fulci. Chills...

5. Salem's Lot (1979) - Let the Wrong One In
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Creepy kids will always be scary as hell. Something about that perversion of innocence. And when the vampire boy appears at his brother's window, floating outside in the mist as he asks to be let in, it really gets at something primal. This one also feels like something out of a nightmare, especially from the point of view of a child.

4. The Shining (1980) - Lovely Party, My Ass
For a guy who wasn't really known as a horror director, Stanley Kubrick sure knew how to creep people out. Virtually all of his films have those really messed up moments that play with your head and stay with you for a long time. This is especially true in his all-out horror extravaganza The Shining, in which we inexplicably witness some guy in a bear suit perpetrating an act on another guy which I would imagine can't be easy to perform while wearing a bear suit. The ultimate bizarre, "did I just see that?" movie moment.

3. [REC] (2007) - Hide and Freak
I'd have to call [REC] the downright scariest movie of the last decade, and it builds up to this nerve-frying finale, in which Angela and her cameraman finally discover the apartment building's hidden secret. With the lights out, as Angela desperately feels her way around, we get a glimpse through the camera's night vision of what's in the room with her, and it ain't good. Truly a white-knuckle moment.

2. The Haunting (1963) - I Hear You Knocking...
Robert Wise's atmospheric adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel is probably the film that gets the most out of showing the least. While Eleanor and Theodora are sharing a bedroom, they come under siege from some supernatural force that begins insistently banging on the walls and door, even appearing to distend the wall itself at one point. It's a harrowing scene, made even more so by Julie Harris' terrified performance.

1. The Changeling (1980) - Throwing Out the Baby with the Bath Water
The one that takes the cake for me. I can honestly say that this moment caused me so much trauma that it literally had an effect on my life for years. It's the scene in which George C. Scott enters his bathroom to see the tub filling with water, then looks inside and sees a little boy submerged underneath, gasping for air--a ghost recreating the manner in which it was killed. After seeing this as a little kid (detecting a pattern here?) I actually developed a fear of baths, always afraid I'd see the little boy under the water. In fact, the fear even extended to toilet bowls for a while--now that made for some troubling experiences, I can tell you that. Thankfully, I'm over it now. More or less.
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