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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Many Faces of Boris Karloff, Vol. 2

Saturday, January 28, 2012

VAULT VLOG: Of Awards and Things...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Love Stalker: If David Lynch Made a Rom-Com...

I've been well-acquainted with the raw talent of micro-budget filmmaker Matt Glasson since I reviewed his 2007 featurette The Family Tie. I titled that review "If Dali Made a Revenge Flick"--a response to the absurdist lens through which Glasson and co-director Scott Greene interpreted the classic '70s exploitation subgenre. This time out, I was struck by another bold and jarring juxtaposition. Only now, I was viewing a much more polished product, and most importantly of all, a feature-length film.

Love Stalker is the feature directing, writing and acting debut of Glasson, who has the kind of presence one can easily imagine being put to use at some point on a much grander stage. For now, until someone with some serious scratch wakes up and realizes what he's capable of, I'll be content to watch him do his thing with movies like this for as long as he chooses.

Although the film may not really be horror by any stretch of the imagination, I'm giving it a pass and reviewing it here because of the surprising manner in which it disturbed me, and because of the psychological terrain it explores. Glasson and co-director/screenwriter Bowls MacLean have done something quite daring here in deconstructing the modern romantic comedy to expose its sinister, discomforting underbelly. They have also endeavored to demonstrate exactly how someone becomes a stalker, which I found to be the film's most fascinating conceit.

Pete, our main character, is what modern parlance would label a "player"--a 30-something hipster whose sole purpose for existing seems to be to bed as many women as possible. Until he meets Stephanie (played by the lovely Rachel Chapman) and falls in love, only to have his love spurned once she discovers his amorous past. This leads Pete down a dark path, as he attempts to "win her back" using methods he's observed in popular romantic comedies.

From a structural standpoint, this is where the film achieves eminent watchability. What starts out as a light-hearted Swingers-esque romp in which Pete and his schlemazal buddy Tony joke their way through singles life in St. Louis jarringly shifts gears to become an unsettling examination of existential desperation and loss. Along the way, it makes some pretty biting commentary on the entire rom-com subgenre it seeks to both lampoon and dissect.

While the chemistry of the ensemble cast may not achieve the levels of a Swingers or an Office Space, it nevertheless is a cut above what one would expect from such a low-budget, first-time feature. Glasson does a fine job of making Pete a layered, wounded character who is at the same time charismatic and likeable despite his creepy transformation. We get to know him as a person, and can thus totally understand how and why he chooses such an irrational course of action. The one blemish of note is derived from a puzzling, dreamlike scene in which Pete is grilled by two ambiguous undercover cops in his apartment--it's sloppily paced, clumsily acted, and worst of all, unnecessary. But thankfully, it is a minor exception in an otherwise well-built motion picture.

The cinematography of Bart Elfrink and Joshua Lassing is also worth mentioning. It does a fine job of both showcasing the city of St. Louis that acts as a backdrop to the proceedings, as well as assisting in the portrayal of Pete's descent into madness. For example, there's a scene in which Pete hides out in Stephanie's bedroom closet while she makes love to another man that is easily the centerpiece of the picture, with its eery focus on a single sliver of light cast across Pete's face in the dark.

In the end, the movie deconstructs its subject matter so thoroughly that we're not even sure where reality ends and fantasy begins. Who was the real stalker--jilted player Pete or cold and calculating relationship blogger Stephanie? I was even tempted to ask the question of whether or not Stephanie ever even existed in the first place.

But I'll leave you to decide that. I recommend heading over to the official Love Stalker website to learn more about the film, including how to get your hands on it for either private or public screening. I'm not one to blindly support independent cinema regardless of quality. I support good cinema--and that's what this is.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Random Ramblings from the Vault...

  • I'm very excited to announce that the fourth and final chapter of my long-running series of Godzilla discussions with Miguel Rodriguez of the Monster Island Resort podcast is now online, and you can view it here! That's right, I said view it. Miguel and I finally had an opportunity to meet in person last weekend, and recorded this to commemorate the event. A thrilling way to end the series, and I'd like to make it known here that we are now planning a series of podcasts on the Universal monster series--so stay tuned, Vault dwellers...
  • So I spent an evening with Captain Cruella and my folks watching both versions of The Blob, and now I can't get Burt Bacharach's kitschy Blob theme song out of my head. "Beware of the Blob!"
  • I just realized that I did a whole 2012 horror movie preview and left out Tim Burton's Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp. Major lapse right there. So let me officially say right here and now that I am supremely psyched for it.
  • I'm hoping to do a top 10 list very soon featuring my favorite haunted house movies. I have lots of ideas, needless to say. What might you include on such a list?
  • SyFy has this new show called Face Off, in which aspiring movie makeup effects people compete. On the season premiere, they were asked to "reinvent" the characters from The Wizard of Oz. So of course, they had to go all dark and twisted and give everything a horror spin. I can understand one team deciding to do this, but both? Yeesh, I love horror as much as the next guy, Lord knows--but there comes a time when you need to lighten up, people. It's The Wizard of Frakkin' Oz for crying out loud...
  • Another Friday the 13th has come and gone. Once again I had to endure legions of my fellow horror fans going on and on about a series of films that I seem to be in the decided minority for not really liking at all. It has to be nostalgia, that's the only thing that could explain such mass delusion.
  • The new Nosferatu at 90 series that I kicked off earlier this week seems to be getting a really great response. So nice to see such a classic still appreciated by so many. Thanks to everyone who checked it out. It will be a lot of fun exploring different aspects of the film over the course of its 90th anniversary year.
  • OK. Only one more Twilight movie to go. We can get through this together, people. All holding hands and supporting each other. It will all be over soon. Keep the faith, my friends.
  • In other news, The Vault of Horror has been nominated in Dead Lantern's Splatcademy Awards for Best Horror Blog/Website for the second year running. I'm honored to be included alongside such incredible sites as Arrow in the Head, Horror-Movies.ca, Final Girl and Shock Till You Drop. Go and cast your vote now--The Vault took home the prize last year; will it be two in a row? The voting ends February 20, with winners announced February 27.
  • Speaking of awards, the 4th Annual Cyber Horror Awards are already in motion, and I've recruited a stellar band of judges to help me determine the nominees for the best in horror film during 2011. I should have the list of nominees ready by early next month, so sit tight and keep checking the CHA website...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Vault of Horror's 2012 Movie Preview!

Let's face it. 2011 was not really the strongest year for horror. In fact, I'd say that it may just have been the weakest year since I began writing The Vault of Horror in 2007. Nevertheless, I'm pretty jazzed about what 2012 seems to have in store for us. If the Mayans are right, then I wouldn't really mind going down in a blaze of glory after witnessing this fine crop of fright flicks. Granted, some of these may very well turn out to be colossal stinkfests--only time will tell. I know I'll be checking out many a new horror film this year, and here are a bunch that I'm excited to see...

The Woman in Black
With Harry Potter now behind him, the grownup-ization of Daniel Radcliffe officially kicks off with this moody and atmospheric ghost thriller. I'm a big fan of good old-fashioned ghost stories, and this one has a great look to it. I'm hoping it delivers.

John Dies at the End
Phantasm maestro Don Coscarelli's return to horror has been making quite a stir at film festivals and gaining a lot of internet steam in the process. History has shown that this can all mean squat in the end, but I think it will at least be worth a look.

The Wicker Tree
The idea of a Wicker Man sequel written and directed by Robin Hardy, director of the original 1973 cult classic, is about as intriguing as it gets. This is something that Hardy has wanted to do for many, many years now, and I'll be lining up to see what he's come up with as soon as humanly possible. The cameo by Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle is worth it alone.

Hotel Transylvania
Not to be confused with Transylvania 6-5000, this one is an animated flick directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, the genius behind Samurai Jack and Dexter's Laboratory, among other things. I'm thinking something along the lines of Igor, only hopefully it doesn't disappear in about two minutes flat.

[REC]3: Genesis
I've been a staunch champion of [REC] since day one. The original was easily the most frightening horror film of the previous decade, and I thought the sequel was a hell of a movie as well. That said, I have some serious reservations about this third one, as Paco Plaza may just have jumped the shark without his longtime partner Jaume Balaguero.

Francis Ford Coppola, returning to the genre on which he cut his teeth some 50 years ago with Dementia 13? How could I not be interested in this, even with the participation of bloated, aging, pretentious hack Val Kilmer?

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Goofy? Perhaps a little. But I've got a soft spot for the whole historical/literary horror mashup subgenre that's been all the rage the past few years. If I'm not mistaken, this would be the first cinematic adaptation in that subgenre. Could Pride and Prejudice and Zombies be far behind?

When I met William Lustig at a screening of the original Maniac last year at the Avon Theatre, even he seemed interested to see what the remake of his seminal serial killer exploitation movie would be like. Granted, that may have been due to the enormous paycheck he's sure to receive, but what the heck, I'm being optimistic. Elijah Wood in the Joe Spinell role? This I've got to see.

Piranha 3DD
You can razz me all you want, but I had a hell of a lot of fun with Piranha 3D a few years back. Not to mention that it might have been the goriest film I've ever seen in my life! I'm not expecting anything life-changing here, but if the Piranha sequel is even half as much fun as the first one, then I'm there.

After 25+ years, Tim Burton at long last gives his classic short subject the feature film treatment. Still black and white, this time out, the story of a boy who reanimates his dead dog will be told through stop-motion animation. I do believe Burton has some experience with this technique...

World War Z
We've been waiting for it for years. Max Brooks' 2006 novel was one of a kind, taking the exploding zombie genre places it had never been before. And now, the movie is nearly upon us. A Brad Pitt vehicle, it promises to be zombie horror on an epic, big-budget scale. Yes, it's rated PG-13, deal with it. This could be the Citizen Kane of zombie films if done right.

Without a doubt, this is the genre project that has the majority of my attention this year. I have high hopes for this one, and almost can't believe it's actually happening. After all these years, Ridley Scott will at last be telling the story of that mysterious spacecraft discovered by the crew of the Nostromo in Alien. This one has the makings of a modern science fiction gem.

* * * * * * * * * *

And this is just a taste. Whether the world ends or not, clearly 2012 is going to be one terrifying year. Strap in, Vault dwellers, and I'll see you at the movies! Well, not really. I mean, if I saw you that would mean you were stalking me, which would be kind of weird, don't you think? Oh well, you get the point... Here's to a year of great horror cinema!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nosferatu at 90: Still the Greatest Vampire Film Ever Made

Greetings, and welcome to the first edition of a brand new year-long series here in The Vault of Horror. For me, dear readers, the year 2012 means only one thing--and that's the 90th anniversary of one of horror cinema's true unassailable classics, F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu. It's hard to fathom that this film is almost a century old, and even more impressive is its continued ability to shock and terrify no matter how much time passes. Just as I did in years past with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho and An American Werewolf in London, I'll be posting throughout the next 12 months on this, the first and greatest of all Dracula adaptations.

How is it that this film still can effect us so profoundly, when so much of horror's power is drawn from the unexpected? One would think that age would be the death knell of a great horror movie, and yet films like Nosferatu prove this to be dead wrong. Whether you're discovering it for the first time all these decades later, or watching it for the 90th time, Nosferatu has the power to utterly creep you out. Personally, I credit it to the merits of German Expressionism.

And Murnau was undoubtedly one of the pioneers of this form of cinema, cutting edge for its time and a far cry from the American, Hollywood style that would soon dominate filmmaking in the years to come. Make no mistake, the silent era of film belonged to the Europeans, and the Germans, in particular, in addition to the Russians and the French, certainly left their mark. Like the best of his peers, Murnau achieved that defining goal of Expressionism in all its forms, namely to evoke pure emotion through the visual medium. Expressionistic works are in a sense dreams brought to life, and in the case of Nosferatu, that dream is most decidedly a nightmare.

The film oozes atmosphere from beginning to end, and is jam-packed with iconic imagery that has stood the test of time for a reason. Interestingly enough, it also set a standard for vampire films, and Dracula adaptations in particular, that was not really followed (at least not for many years). Nosferatu stands out on its own as a unique and truly cinematic retelling of the Dracula story, with liberal license taken, of course. It is vastly different from the Hamilton Deane and John Balderston play that would first be staged two years after its release--the version which inspired Universal's famous talkie version with Bela Lugosi at the start of the next decade.

Nosferatu chooses a different path, eschewing the nascent sex appeal of the vampire to take a more traditional, folkloric approach. The vampire here is still in his repulsive, pre-modern form--there is nothing at all sexy or alluring about Count Orlok (Unless you're into that sort of thing. Who am I to judge?) If anything, the vampire here is a metaphor for plague, and even possesses certain undeniable anti-Semitic overtones (but that's a post for another day).

Still, the story is undeniably Bram Stoker's. So much so that Stoker's widow and her crack legal team nearly had the film eradicated from the face of the earth (another post for a later day). Thankfully for film lovers everywhere, Ms. Stoker was not successful in her efforts, and the movie remains extant to this day for new generations of horror fans to discover and relish. There are many horror classics that stand the test of time, but few are as truly timeless as this one, defying changing filmmaking styles and changing filmgoing tastes to remain a favorite of genre fans. It is just as fresh now as it was when it emerged from a Germany still reeling from the First World War.

In addition to its Expressionistic roots, or perhaps in connection to them, I have always found that the film retains so much power largely because it is so visual in nature. Of course, this was very much necessary due to the limitations (or some might say advantages) of silent cinema, in that the visual was the easiest and most effective way to get your message across. Later versions of Dracula--and indeed horror films in general of the next couple of decades--would rely less on imagery and more on dialogue and cerebral scares. This is not to say that Nosferatu is not a psychologically frightening film, but I would submit that more of the terror it inspires is derived from the direct impact of what we see on screen. It is not so much suspenseful as it is downright terrifying to look at.

As has been the case throughout most of film history, America has been resistant to foreign films, and so this film did not even have a chance to be released here when it first was made in 1922. In fact, it wasn't until the 1960s, many years after a single surviving print had made its way to these shores in defiance of a court order, that it began to attain the cult following in the U.S. that it now enjoys. I have had the privilege of witnessing Nosferatu on the big screen with live musical accompaniment not once, but twice. And although I had my gripes with both viewings (an ironic, snarky crowd the first time out; and wholly inappropriate music the second time), I still consider myself fortunate to have had the experience.

At the time, Nosferatu was largely overshadowed by the Universal Dracula, and later the Hammer Dracula of the 1950s-70s, and yet its interesting to note that nowadays, most horror fans would place Max Schreck right alongside Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as one of the screen's iconic Counts. In fact, many vampire aficionados--including this one--will still argue that Nosferatu, the original vampire film, remains the very best to this day. A puzzling notion maybe, in that nobody has been able to top it in 90 years; and yet instead of bemoaning the state of vampire cinema for the past century, I will choose instead to celebrate the fact of Nosferatu's existence. And if it so pleases you, I invite you to join me in doing so for the remainder of 2012.

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