Thursday, November 17, 2016

MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MONSTERS PART 49; RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART 3

I have loved George Romero's living dead world since catching NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on TV one Halloween, it had quite a profound effect on me. DAWN OF THE DEAD, the first sequel, even more so. In 1985 Romero released his third dead film, but it flopped, but there was another dead film that was connected to NOTLD through a direct reference in the film and by one of the writers. John Russo had co-wrote NOTLD and co-wrote the story of 1985's DOTD competitor, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, with Rudy Ricci and Russell Streiner (who also produced NOTLD)(Dan O'Bannon, who wrote Alien, wrote the screenplay and directed after Tobe Hooper backed out to make LIFEFORCE.) Though it came out a little prior to my full immersion into horror, I remember the trailer and thought it looked awesome. I begged to see it and the answer was a flat 'no, shut up.'

By the time 1993's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3; ZOMBIE PUNK appeared on the cover of Fangoria, the first two ROTLD were well loved favorites of mine. Pre-internet, most of my horror movie news came from either Fangoria or Siskel and Ebert. So finding the new issue of Fango with Julie Walker (Mindy Clarke) on the cover with the glass and spikes sticking through her skin and looking like some kind of goth punk queen made my heart go all a'flutter.

Directed by Brian Yuzna (BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, SOCIETY, FAUST), RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 continued from the first two films with the military continuing to experiment with the compound that reanimates the dead. A military kid and his girlfriend accidentally witness one of the zombies being revived. Later, after having an argument with his dad, the boy and girl take off on his motorcycle and then get into an accident. The girl gets killed and the boy sneaks her back into the military compound and bring her back to life. Wackiness ensues.

If you know Yuzna, you know he makes amazing, over the top, gory films. Unfortunately, the rated version of the film is a mess (as it often is). It appears to have been edited for content by a butcher, so it's important to get the unrated version. ROTLD3 ups the comic book zaniness over the two previous films and makes Julie an amazing living dead anti-heroine. Aesthetically, Julie is one of the most interesting zombie characters ever to grace the screen and I wish she could have been spun off into her own series of films, or comics at least.

The newly re-animated Vestron Video is re-releasing ROTLD3 and giving the Blu Ray the red carpet treatment with audio commentary from Clarke and plenty of interviews. It's one of those must owns for me.

JUST A SITE UPDATE, FIENDS

Laying back a bit for the month of November. There will be posts, but fewer than there was in October, as we prepare for our next big series of reviews; DEAD OF WINTER; The Best Winter Themed Horror Films. Right now I've got three guest posts lined up and they are kick ass writers and I'm very happy to have them on board.

DEAD OF WINTER seems like a no-brainer since, ya know, winter is coming, but really Stranger hasn't spent a lot of time in the snow and there are some really good movies I've been itching to write about, but just haven't gotten there yet.

I hope you've been enjoying our filmography series, which will be ongoing. If you've missed it, so far I've covered Rob Zombie and David Cronenberg and guest poster Albert Muller wrote an extensive and fantastic John Carpenter in the 80s piece. I plan to tackle Bill Lustig, Frank Hennenlotter, Abel Ferrera, and Wes Craven in the near future. I see this series as a sister piece to MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MONSTERS. Speaking of...

I had always planned fifty chapters of MHHABM, before I turned the series into a book. Well, Part 50 is right around the corner, but instead of ending the series I believe Part 50 will instead be a chance for a bit of course correction. If you've been with me a while, you'll have noticed (I hope) an improvement in content, presentation, and focus, because admittedly I had an idea about what I was doing, but at times lost focus. The big relaunch in October was meant to signal the first part of this course correction, and Part 50 will catch up and reboot MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MONSTERS and it will start to become more like the book I've always envisioned.

Since the October relaunch the site's numbers have been great! So thank you all for stopping by, I can't tell you how much it means to me to have so many people read my dumb little blog. I mean, lets face it-Stranger With Friction is far from the only horror blog out there and that you take time to pop in and read one of my articles, that's very humbling and awesome! I wish I got some comments though! I'd love to become more interactive with my readers. Let me know what you think, even if you think I'm full of shit.

Ok, I've got to get back to writing. I'm committed to getting my next book, MOTELS ON FIRE, out HERE.
early next year and it ain't writing itself, sweet heart. In the mean time, the first 'single' from MOF is available on Smashwords for you e-readers and a physical copy will be available very soon. The story is called THE LAST MASS and I'm really wearing my love for Fulci and Carpenter on this one. The 'b-side' is called SEEING HER AGAIN and it's a bit more of a down beat, slice of life story. You can get that e-book

Keep watching the sky, nerds!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

KING VULTURE'S SOUND ATTACK 11.3.16; BLOODY ROOTS MUSIC

Something I love is a good music biography or music history book. A rock bio is often my refuge when reading fiction is starting to corrupt my own writing style. I could give you a massive list of highly recommended biographies, but there are three books I'm high lighting today, which inspired this Sound Attack; Greil Marcus's MYSTERY TRAIN and INVISIBLE REPUBLIC (aka OLD WEIRD AMERICA) and Nick Tosche's COUNTRY; THE TWISTED ROOTS OF ROCK AND ROLL.  These books have inspired a multitude of horror stories, film ideas, and comic book projects, not the least of which my last novel CITY LONG SUFFERING
Dock Boggs "Pretty Polly" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dock_Boggs
Robert Johnson "Hellhound On My Trail" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Johnson

Townes Van Zandt "Snake Mountain Blues" https://townesvanzandt.com/
Howlin' Wolf "Evil" http://www.howlinwolf.com/
John Lee Hooker "Burnin' Hell" http://www.johnleehooker.com/
Hank Williams "Alone And Forsaken" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_Williams
The Louvin Brothers "Knoxville Girl" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Louvin_Brothers


Monday, October 31, 2016

GUEST POST! JOHN CARPENTER: MASTERFUL HORROR by ALBERT MULLER

Original art by Stephanie Murr 2016
Where to start with John Carpenter, exactly? Do you start at the beginning? With his childhood in Bowling Green, Kentucky, growing up the son of a classically trained composer & music professor (a detail that could have some connection to his own musical abilities)? Do you jump straight to his years in film school, where as a student at USC he helped make a short film called "The Resurrection of Broncho Billy," which ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film? Interesting and auspicious, to be sure, but one could easily begin with the current period of his career. As of this writing it has been six years since a new John Carpenter film has premiered before audiences, yet he seems energized recently after releasing not just one album of original musical material but two, and has been touring the globe in support of those new releases as well as playing his older film-score favorites to sold out, appreciative crowds.

It's not a bad time to be John Carpenter. Sure -- it could be BETTER, but when has that not ever been the case? I can't think of another director who was so consistently and almost problematically ahead of his time; not because the movies weren't good, but because they were often a masterpiece of one kind or another that was simply too much for audiences at the time to appreciate. Look at The Thing, today rightly considered one of the greatest horror films ever made in the history of the medium. Witness the love Big Trouble In Little China gets from people who grew up with it on cable or VHS, or have discovered it in the last decade or so, and remember that at the time it was released that it was considered a giant failure. Neither of these examples are news to anyone who follows or has interest in these sorts of things, and this legend that's grown up around the man as being, as his first onscreen antihero Napoleon Wilson would also be thought of, "a man out of time" is now old hat to many. We hear it and almost dismiss it -- water's wet, the sky is blue, and John Carpenter shoulda had a better career. He shoulda been more appreciated when he was really going for it.

Well, he wasn't. And yes, this is a shame. Perhaps if The Thing had been the hit it should have been things would have been different (it almost certainly would have been). Prevailing wisdom tends to blame the period of time the film was released for the audience's unwillingness to follow Carpenter into the nihilism & cynicism of that film, having just left the dark decade of the 70's and their predilection for something uplifting like E.T. (released earlier that same summer of 1982), which became the highest grossing film of all time. The Thing didn't even become one of the highest grossing horror films of all time; it flopped unceremoniously and, as Carpenter himself will tell anyone who asks him, was not so much rejected by the general public as it was despised. "Hated," he has said on more than one occasion. Which is something that seems ridiculous now, but still -- that happened (and it happened to Carpenter more than once, this was merely the first time the perception of failure would get its claws into him).

It doesn't seem to help now when it's pointed out to Carpenter that The Thing is beloved, is appreciated, is one of The Very Best That Has Ever Been -- and really, why would it? Just because he HAD made a great film (no one really argues that point anymore except for the contrary or agenda driven) doesn't mean it was accepted as such at the time. The reality was that Carpenter's talent did not fail him, nor did the movie he helmed fail as a film. But the moviegoing public of the time could give a flying fuck about his movie, did not go, and ultimately WE as a whole failed him. We hurt him with our rejection, and I'll repeat: how could he not take this personally to a degree? The man makes one of the greatest horror films the world has ever seen, then and now, and mainly no one seems to care. Carpenter's heart was broken, and it was the disgust and indifference carried within that rejection that did it. Yet he soldiered on.

This is where the narrative splits, if we're going alternate Fringe-style universes and paths. Had The Thing been the hit everyone was hoping for, Carpenter would have moved right to an adaptation of Stephen King's novel Firestarter that he was already prepping for Universal Studios. Had that movie come to pass, it's safe to say that Carpenter's career would have been markedly different. As much as the fans of Firestarter (they're out there) may love Mark L. Lester's take on the material, this much is known: Mark L. Lester is not John Carpenter. It's safe to say that Carpenter would have brought something different to the whole enterprise, and likely made a better movie overall. But that never happened -- at least not in this timeline. What happened in our world was this: The Thing came out. No one went. Those that did, fucking hated it (by and large -- remember, we're talking not just about perception but the reaction of the film watching populace as a WHOLE -- if we're talking just about the reaction of the hardcore horror fans then we're talking about something else entirely, even if the flick was too much even for some of THEM). So Universal Pictures read some writing on the wall without bothering to have someone translate it for them first, and their reaction was to remove Carpenter from their Firestarter adaptation. His reaction to this was to simply go out and get a job directing -- that is, after all, what he was. He made movies. If it wasn't going to be a big damned headache, he felt he could deliver something solid based on the material, and (this is a HUGE and) if you paid him properly, there was a discussion to be had there. That's how Christine came about with Columbia Pictures; most interviews Carpenter has given regarding that movie, in print and on film, are him simply saying "it was a job, and I was a director who needed a movie to make and a job to do," more or less. From there he took another gig with Columbia making Starman -- I have always loved the irony in that, as ultimately he ended up directing the movie that Columbia essentially pulled off a baseball trade with Universal Studios for when they swapped it for E.T.

Sidenote: this is absolutely true -- each studio had done research that had them believing, regardless of the quality of these two scripts, that there wasn't an audience out there for the one they currently had (really). Somehow they made a deal between them for the script the other studio owned. Spielberg made E.T. and we all know what happened with that (John Carpenter remembers it well); Carpenter ends up directing Starman a couple years down the line...you may be aware that it is not as well remembered as E.T. is. Even if, as I and some others feel, it is a very, very good movie.

Circling back to my earlier point -- it's not a bad time to be John Carpenter. When it comes to the films, he sums it up with "Eventually, they've all made money." Most importantly to us as fans, they still hold up. As a genre director, some may look down their noses at him, but the fact remains that there are legions of us who dismiss those snobs out of hand because the pure truth of the matter is this: John Carpenter is the greatest director of horror films there's ever been. Some may read that sentence and disagree, but think about it. Who's better? Who had a longer, more sustained run than John Carpenter did, in the entire history of genre cinema? Sure, we can drop names like Hitchcock (one would be an idiot not to include that master filmmaker), Wes Craven (without doubt another master whose films will live on for a very long time), George A. Romero (who basically INVENTED an entire genre that shows no signs of going away anytime soon, and perhaps more than any other horror director introduced strong, if often blatant, social commentary into his work), or even Guillermo Del Toro if we're talking about directors of our time (and when it comes to Del Toro we positively SHOULD because there has never been a creative genius quite like him, one that we are all very lucky to have). All of those directors, and others I didn't name but may be your personal favorite, produced a number of strong entries ranging from good-to-great that shall undoubtedly enjoy a sustained and celebrated shelf life among horror fans.

But for my money, if we're taking into account both quality as well as quantity, it's impossible to beat Carpenter as the single best director the genre has given us. You can't do it. You simply can't. All you have to do is look back at when it was the BEST time to be John Carpenter: the 1980's.

Second sidenote: to be clear, when I say "the BEST time" what I mean is that this is the era when he produced almost all of his finest work, not that he had a particularly easy time of making them or getting projects off the ground (here's where I pour one out for his never produced remake of Creature From The Black Lagoon, a flick that was announced as an upcoming film of his on a couple of different occasions that never came to pass...can you imagine?) 

Carpenter started his string of winners back in 1976 with his first full feature film (Dark Star was a student film that was turned into a feature) Assault On Precinct 13 and truly broke out with 1978's Halloween. We're all familiar with those -- and if you're not, what are you doing, go watch them NOW -- and since this is an overview of his Eighties work, we're clearly starting with 1980's wonderfully atmospheric and spooky ghosts-on-a-rampage-of-revenge flick The Fog, which saw him collaborating with co-writer/producer Debra Hill again. Reteaming with Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Loomis from Halloween, the film marks the first time Carpenter worked with Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook and (in her own first big screen turn) Adrienne Barbeau, his wife at the time. Despite some reshoots after Carpenter viewed a rough cut of a film he felt just didn't play, which added the eerie opening sequence of the town being affected by spectral forces along with a couple insert shots of gore and some extra onscreen kills, The Fog as we all know it still gets it done. It's a refreshingly straightforward ghost story that's simply gorgeous to look at (as with most of his Eighties output, Carpenter's director of photography on The Fog was the great Dean Cundey, who outdid himself here) as well as listen to; the sound design is sharp and effective and Carpenter provides one of the most haunting scores in his filmography. A superb campfire tale-type horror flick (witness the great John Houseman's cameo in the opening sequence for proof of this), The Fog is a solid entry in the Carpenter canon.

For 1981's Escape From New York, Carpenter fought to cast an actor he'd worked with previously in the made-for-TV miniseries Elvis, one who was trying to move beyond his Disney roots: Kurt Russell. As we all know, and have reaped the many rewards of, Carpenter won the battle and, working closely with Russell, a new screen icon was born in Snake Plissken. Having already dipped his toes into the waters of the antihero (as previously mentioned) with Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter here dove headfirst into the pool of the grizzled, cynical badass brimming with a deep distrust of a system that's done him wrong and hard-earned contempt for corrupt authority figures & institutions. If all Escape From New York had done was introduce the masses to Snake Plissken we'd think of it as a resounding success, but Carpenter, like his protagonist, wasn't feeling so great about the social situation in America. Unlike Plissken, he had some things he had to say about it (a little more, anyway) and went about putting notes of satire and pointed commentary into his propulsive action-thriller. The spoonful of rich, dark genre sweetness went down easy alongside Carpenter's other, angrier notions about a country so out of control with crime that the whole of New York City has been turned into a prison for the nation's many outlaws. Years later Carpenter & Russell would reunite for a sequel (Escape From L.A.) that was less well received, and is one of the rare Carpenter movies that hasn't gone a thorough reassessment among film fans and achieved favor years after it was released. I think it should be, regardless of its semi-remaquel status; for me, the original Escape From New York is the gritty, brooding graphic novel while Escape From L.A. would be the broader, goofier comic book, and both are a lot of fun (even if only one is a bonafide classic). Regardless, Escape From New York was a hugely influential film -- alongside that same year's Australian release Mad Max 2 (known to us ugly Americans as The Road Warrior), it created a kind of cinematic shorthand for post-apocalyptic/urban nightmare settings that was ripped off time and time again -- and a success with audiences.

However, as I said before, The Thing (the second cinematic collaboration between Carpenter & Russell) did not exactly set audiences afire in 1982 upon release. You sure couldn't tell these days, though. This adaptation of the John W. Campbell story "Who Goes There?" (previously filmed in 1951 and produced by Carpenter's hero Howard Hawks as The Thing From Another World), scripted by Bill Lancaster, was and is the high water mark in the horror master's career. The story involving a group of scientists besieged by an monstrous shapeshifting alien in a remote Antarctic outpost played upon the terrors of the unknown right up until FX wunderkind Rob Bottin's outrageously intricate and beautifully crafted practical effects creations took center stage. There's been some speculation throughout the years that the unrelenting viciousness and flesh-tearing gore in these scenes are also what contributed to audiences turning on the film, which is bitterly ironic as the mind-blowing creature work from Bottin (with an assist from Stan Winston in one key scene) have continued to stand the test of time and are STILL as effective today as they were over 30 years ago. Add on top of that the stellar ensemble work from a cast of extraordinary character actors (led by Russell as pragmatic, no-fucks-to-give R.J. "Mac" MacReady) perfectly sketched by Lancaster; the evocative chill of the location you can almost feel through your screen; stark, icy visuals perfectly captured by ace DP Cundey, still as good as the game; as well as (in one of only a handful of films not scored by Carpenter himself) a haunting score by film legend Ennio Morricone. All of these add up to a nail-biting exercise in fear that hasn't been topped before or since, I feel. If asked -- and often even if I'm not -- I'm always going to put The Thing out there as the best horror movie ever made. If you haven't seen it and are a fan of horror, you simply must rectify this. Repeatedly.

After The Thing was released and virtually sunk like a stone, Carpenter signed on for an adaptation of the Stephen King novel Christine, and brought all his considerable skill and style to bear on this tale of a love affair between a teenage boy and his car gone horribly, bloodily awry. Future directors in their own right Keith Gordon and John Stockwell do fine work (particularly Gordon) as the leads, while Alexandra Paul (basically playing the role of "The Girl") does less well but is adequate enough for the film in any case. What makes Christine go and perform as efficiently as it does, beyond Gordon's lead performance charting his character's evolution from loser to winner before spiraling into a villainous role, is almost all due to Carpenter. The look of the film is, as per usual, impeccable; Carpenter's score is one of his most underrated and insistent, his "sonic heartbeat" in full force here. King's effortless storytelling (adapted well by Bill Phillips) and Carpenter's filmmaking work together well and result in a solidly crafted film that retains its power to enthrall moviegoers.

In a change of pace, Carpenter's next film, 1984's Starman, is a romantic science fiction road trip featuring Jeff Bridges (who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar due to his amazing work here) as an alien who, taking the form of a widow's (Karen Allen) late husband, must cross the country in order to return home before his new body dies. Starman is most likely the largest outlier in all of Carpenter's filmography (even more so than Memoirs of an Invisible Man) due to an underlying sweetness throughout the movie. Sure, it's got dark moments, some thrilling danger and threat within it, but any rough edges are negated by the romantic soul within. Personally, it's one of my favorite John Carpenter flicks simply BECAUSE it's so different, and is just a very entertaining, enjoyable story. Bridges & Allen are utterly wonderful in their roles and possess great chemistry together; that's most likely what made it stand out to a 10 year old kid who saw it and loved it back in the winter of '84 (I truly did) and what makes it resonate with me today all these years and many viewings later -- I buy the love story between these two. They make it work and sell me without feeling like they're exerting too much effort doing so, and as such I simply fall into the story and in love with the characters.

Speaking of falling in love: if you are a person of a certain age and grew up with Big Trouble In Little China, chances are you're more than a little smitten by it. I'd go so far as to say you fell, and fell HARD, for it (if you didn't, don't tell me, seriously, I don't wanna know). Reuniting with Kurt Russell once again, Carpenter brings the fun and good times in a major way with Big Trouble In Little China as he introduces us to one of cinema's most likable buffoons, Jack Burton. A truck driver catching up with an old friend in San Francisco's Chinatown, Jack suddenly finds himself in over his head as he gets involved with street gangs, kidnapped fiancees, and Chinese black magic -- and his truck has been stolen, by the way. Therefore: sonofabitch must pay. BTILC is, quite simply, a blast. I wasn't kidding when I said if you don't like it, I don't wanna know; I try not to be a judgmental person but I don't know that I could truly trust anyone who doesn't love this flick. Another Carpenter special that underperformed upon release but found a receptive and adoring audience over the years, it's easy enough to say that BTILC was just ahead of its time. I can't think of many movies before this one that so gleefully blended influences and tones as this did, or as masterfully: it's got action, comedy, monsters, kung fu, wizardry, and more wrapped up in a brightly colored, fast paced package of screwball joy. It feels like they were making it up as they went along sometimes but it never feels as if it's about to fall apart. One can always feel the sure hand of Carpenter, guiding along his cast and story like a conductor leading an orchestra in an acid-jazz improvisation that takes a particular pleasure in flouting expectations and tropes. It's a true delight, and if you somehow haven't seen it, get on it. Big Trouble in Little China is probably the most purely entertaining film in John Carpenter's entire filmography...and that, my friends, is saying a LOT.

A year later, Carpenter returned with 1987's Prince of Darkness. A dread-infused mixture of metaphysics and science teaming up with religion to battle (literally) the Ultimate Evil, the film has a group of graduate students and their professor spending the night in an abandoned church where Something has been found. Spoiler: it's a canister holding the devil, which for whatever reason is currently taking the shape of a swirling green liquid inside said canister. I cannot express how much I love writing those words, or this movie for that matter. It sounds kinda stupid, and okay, it probably is, but really? Carpenter is smart enough to take this potentially ridiculous setup and plays it completely straight, for keeps, and dead fucking serious. As the satanic force begins to exert influence over things both within and outside the church -- witness the homeless people who essentially become zombies -- everything goes to shit and it's a return to the siege story that Carpenter knows how to tell so well. The flick has atmosphere for days, another score that rips ass all over everything, and some excellent scares to go with some nicely bloody kills. I'd call Prince of Darkness one of Carpenter's most underrated horror flicks without hesitation, and I'd never regret getting a chance to see Donald Pleasance (returning from Halloween), Victor Wong & Dennis Dun (pulling back-to-back duty for Carpenter after BTILC), Lisa Blount (of another terribly underseen chiller, Dead & Buried), and Jameson Parker (plus plus PLUS his mustache) all in the same movie together. Bottom line: Prince of Darkness provides dark and creepy chills done the John Carpenter way, which basically means it is a great goddamn time.

The last movie Carpenter made in the Eighties, They Live (1988), is sort of the perfect note to go out on for that decade, as it more or less stands as the director's statement on the Reagan years of America. Satirical and biting, this tale of a drifter (Roddy Piper) who discovers that the unchecked greed of the ruling class methodically destroying the working class havenots isn't due to humans simply being selfish, stupid and horrible. Nope -- we've all been brainwashed by an alien race taking over the world and putting us to sleep as they make the rich richer, the poor poorer, and turn our planet into another homogenized chain store in the mall of the galaxy. Once Piper can see the truth, it's on. Lots of bullets will be fired, alien heads will explode, bubble gum would be chewed were it present, and Keith David will meet Piper in an alley fight that may be the single finest onscreen hand-to-hand battle in film history. If not, it is certainly the longest; the alley brawl in They Live is probably best compared to the opening battle scene of Saving Private Ryan, not because it's horribly grueling or bloody but because it just goes on and on and ON. If that sounds like a chore, I am sorry; if, like most of us who enjoy happiness and fantastic things, that sounds like the best fucking time ever, rejoice. Because I am here to tell you, They Live is indeed one of the best fucking things ever. Most movies dealing with social satire, especially one so grounded in a very specific era, tend to date themselves as the years pass. They Live is not that movie -- insanely, it has only continued to become more and more relevant with every day. One could point to the cynical side of Carpenter as to why this is the case; there is an argument to be made that as long as people in power fuck over the little people (who then rebel) that They Live will always be relevant and will continue to be as long as human beings exist. There's definitely some truth in that. It's not a shiny happy truth, either -- but you can't deny that the movie those ideas come in isn't a stellar 90 minutes of entertainment, because They Live is very much that. People still watch it today for the fun; the beauty of it is that the flick lingers in the memory because of the ideas it plants in your brain. There's only so many films that have done that, and Carpenter's is a sterling example of having your cake and eating it too.

Looking back at those films, I'm gonna say that my point has been proven: John Carpenter's run in the 1980's goes a long way towards cementing his position as the greatest horror director who's ever been. Not all of those are horror, but the ones that are range from very good to absolutely superb to the best horror film ever made. Carpenter would have other winners in the Nineties (I personally feel In The Mouth Of Madness is one of his all-timers, and have a lot of fun with Vampires), but it's virtually impossible to name another director who had that long a stretch of quality from very early on in his career (I'd say that Walter Hill's run as an action director around the same period is the only one that comes close, but that's a completely different essay for another day). What I'm saying is simple...John Carpenter, y'all. It simply doesn't get any better. And if you're looking for one of his champion flicks that will deliver the goods, you could do worse than throw on one he made in the Eighties.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

WHAT'S YOUR TOP THREE FAVORITE HORROR FILMS? WOLFMEN OF MARS GIVES UP THEIRS!

It's almost here, kids, the big day and all month our pals have been giving their top three favorite horror films, in case you were stumped for the perfect flick for your Halloween night! Well, another one of my favorite groups, Wolfmen Of Mars, have shared theirs. If you don't know Wolfmen Of Mars then you must be new around here. Since 2011 they've dropped a dozen releases on their Bandcamp page, inspired by horror soundtracks of the 1970s and 80s, but with more of a rock vibe. Their latest release, WARP SUBURBIUM, shows an amazing band continuing to evolve their sound, while staying true  to what made them good to begin with. Hit their page HERE and download their catalogue for the perfect soundtrack for your Halloween shindigs!


Confession time kids, WoM have picked two films I have not seen! And frankly, I have no excuse for the first one. Tobe Hooper made two of my all time favorite films, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 1 and 2, as well some staples of my youth POLTERGEIST, LIFEFORCE, and SALEM'S LOT. In 1981, Hooper made a film called THE FUNHOUSE. In the film, a group of friends try to hide out in a carnival overnight, but wind up bearing witness to a nasty little crime and get discovered by the crooked carnie barker named Conrad and his deformed son Gunther. After that the kids are fighting to survive against this twisted duo. After reading up on the flick and watching the trailer, I'm sorely disappointed in myself for passing up on this...but to be honest, that fucking clown on the cover of the VHS box was rather unsettling to me as a kid and knowing it was by the guy that made TCM? Well, Hooper scared the shit out of me with TCM and now he's going to do it with a clown? I wasn't touching that movie! But I do believe I'll be remedying that soon.

The next one I have not seen is a film called HAUSU. Directed by Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi, HAUSU is about six young girls who travel to one of the girl's aunt's house, only to one by one be devoured by the house. Pretty standard horror fare, I'd say. Produced by Toho, who are probably best known to American audiences for their GODZILLA films, they approached Obayashi to make a film similar to JAWS. Well, I don't know what inspired the tangent he went off on with this flick (which is now available from the Criterion Collection) but the trailer is a delirious two minutes in itself. In fact, I wonder if Sam Raimi saw this movie before making EVIL DEAD, because the mix of genres and mediums just in the trailer are nuts and I can see those same qualities in the first two EVIL DEAD films.


And now that brings us to a film I have seen and hold in high esteem. Would I immediately consider it when looking for a horror movie to watch? No, but would it exist without the horror genre, probably not! THE BURBS, starring Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Tom Hanks, and Corey Feldman is a fantastic, fun, creepy, and wonderful film. I've showed it to my kids and they got a kick out of it. It's probably my favorite thing outside of BOSOM BUDDIES that Tom Hanks ever did. Directed by the great Joe Dante (THE HOWLING, GREMLINS), THE BURBS is about a quiet suburb that gets turned upside down when the weirdo Klopeks move in. It's about neighbors who can't mind their own business and let paranoia run wild, or is it just paranoia? THE BURBS reminds me of a classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode, stretched out with some zany 80s comedy. The cast is fantastic and it's a nearly flawless horror comedy, of course it's way more comedy with the horror being very understated for the majority of the film.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

WHAT'S YOUR TOP THREE FAVORITE HORROR FILMS? WEREWOLVES IN SIBERIA (CHRIS CAVORETTO) SPILLS HIS GUTS!

If you've been around here a while, you know how big a fan I am of Werewolves In Siberia. Masterminded by Chris Cavoretto, WiS are one of the best horror-prog projects out there. He's created modern classics of the genre with THE RISING (2013), BEYOND THE CITY OF THE DEAD (2014), and THE DEAD HOUSE (2015). In addition, earlier this year WiS provided the soundtrack to the excellent slasher comic SLICE. Along with those stellar albums, you can find some fantastic covers and mixtapes over at the WiS Bandcamp page HERE.

So continuing with our series of Top 3 Favorite horror films (scroll down for previous lists from Jeffery X Martin, Albert Muller, and Ghoulish Gary Poulin) I asked this lycanthropic synth fiend for his...

What the hell else can I possible say about John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN??? Especially for this time of year, it's a must watch. Somehow the barebones approach and premise of this 1978 classic is able to stand the test of time, remaining scary against almost four decades of stiff competition. And that music- my kids haven't even seen the movie, but I can walk up behind them and hit play on the music from my phone and they scream. That's how powerful Carpenter's synth game was. HALLOWEEN will always be remembered alongside such indispensable classics like THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and PSYCHO. And Michael Myers aka The Shape is as iconic a monster as any that's graced the silver screen before!







THE FOG was one that Jeffery X Martin picked as well and called it "the best American ghost story filmed in the last forty years." I'm not going to argue with that dude and neither are you, punk!
"Legend says that Antonio Bay was built in 1880 with blood money obtained from shipwrecked lepers, which no one believes. On the eve of the town's centennial, many plan to attend the celebrations, including the murdered lepers." (*from IMDB) That's just plain creepy and the film is even more so. Starring Tom Atkins (HALLOWEEN III), Jamie Lee Curtis (HALLOWEEN), Adrienne Barbeau (SWAMP THING), and Janet Leigh (PSYCHO), and directed and scored by John Carpenter THE FOG is a trick or treat bag filled with full sized Snickers bars and for parents looking for something a bit more stout than IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN, but aren't quite ready to break out THE THING for the young'uns, THE FOG is fairly bloodless and boobless. As creepy as it is, it's totally appropriate for 10-12 year olds. 



Rex Reed called TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE "the most horrifying picture I have ever seen." Anyone would be hard pressed to argue against that statement. The 1974 shocker featuring a band of lost teens dummying upon a lone farm house where a family of crazed cannibals resides has shocked audiences around the world, been a standard bearer for horror films that followed, and threw down the gauntlet as a challenge for future film makers. With it's documentary style intimacy and twisted Americana through the looking glass sensibility, TCM  remains the one to beat 42 years later. On top of all that and a terrifying score, uncomfortably realistic sets, and devastating kills, TCM also gave birth to one of the scariest horror icons to ever terrorize the silver screen, Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen).   




  


Monday, October 24, 2016

MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MONSTERS PART 48; HALLOWEEN- MICHAEL MYERS AND THE THORN

"In order to appease the gods, the Druid priests held fire rituals. Prisoners of war, criminals, the insane, animals... were... burned alive in baskets. By observing the way they died, the Druids believed they could see omens of the future. Two thousand years later, we've come no further. Samhain isn't evil spirits. It isn't goblins, ghosts or witches. It's the unconscious mind. We're all afraid of the dark inside ourselves."
-Dr Sam Loomis, Halloween II

Original art by Townes Murr (12)
Past the halfway point in the first sequel to John Carpenter's beloved horror classic, HALLOWEEN, Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) says the above words in reference to the word "Samhain" written in blood on a blackboard in the school. This scene was fairly minor, but pointed to a possible supernatural explanation for Michael Myers-as opposed to the original film where Loomis certainly believes Michael to be pure evil, but the connection to the holiday of Halloween seems more coincidental than ritualistic. The bloody "Samhain" hints towards something deeper, but at the end of the film it's a plot thread that is left unresolved. 

HALLOWEEN III; SEASON OF THE WITCH is expressly about Paganism and the roots of Halloween or Samhain. There's no connection to the first two films (in fact, we see a TV advert for the original in the background of the bar Tom Atkin's character is drinking at, seemingly confirming this is a different universe, but, hey, what if it's just a movie based on the earlier events?) and there was never meant be. Carpenter and producer Debra Hill had conceived SOTW as a way turning HALLOWEEN into an anthology series. Those plans were dashed by critical and fan backlash, of course. 'Where's Michael? We don't want anything new or original..!' Which is too bad, because it has taken over 30 years for SOTW to get some of the respect it deserves for being a legitimately creepy and original story. If it had come out instead of HALLOWEEN II or just under the title of SEASON OF THE WITCH it would have likely been a much bigger movie. 

So with the anthology concept in the toilet, producer Moustapha Akkad brought back Michael for HALLOWEEN 4; THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS. Written by Alan B McEllroy and directed byDwight H Little, RETURN brought us to a high security facility where Michael, in a coma since the end of II, is being held. The time has come to transfer him (why???) and enroute he kills the attendents and escapes, making a b-line for Haddonfield, with Dr Loomis hot on his trail. Though critics disliked RETURN as well, the film did a good job of bringing back Michael and was a well crafted story. We learn that Michael's sister and object of his murderous rage, Laurie Strode, has died in a car accident and her daughter, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), has been adopted by the Carruthers family. When Loomis reaches Haddonfield to warn the police, things go crazy. Michael massacres everyone at the police department while a lynch mob of locals hunt him down. This gives RETURN a slightly different flavor from I and II, people remember 'the night HE came home' and they're not going to sit back and let that shit happen again. It's not a perfect movie, but there's a lot to love and it sits nicely next to the first two. Plus, for me, it was the brand new when I first got into horror films. The issue covering the film was the first Fangoria I ever bought, those two factors might color my enthusiasm for RETURNS, but only a bit, since the film still holds up well.  


At the end of RETURNS we see Michael shot to hell before he falls down a mine shaft and a deputy throws dynamite down with him. Michael has, of course, survived. He made it out of the mine and to the shack of an old hermit, where he returns to his coma for exactly one year. he awakens on the next Halloween and kills the hermit and heads back to Haddonfield. I liked the hermit bit a lot, because it was a throw back to the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, where the monster is taken in by the old blind man. So with Michael back in Haddonfield a year later and again going after Jamie, it seems like business as usual, until a mysterious man in black gets off the bus in Haddonfield. Jamie is now mute and living in a special children's hospital after being traumatized by the events of RETURN, including the murdering of her adoptive mother. A psychic link between her and Michael has emerged, as opposed to her becoming a killer as hinted with the ending of RETURN. She knows Michael is coming and Loomis, desperate to end the madness, exploits her psychic link, and uses Jamie as bait to lure Michael to his old house. Loomis is backed up by Sheriff Meeker and a police force, who surely wanted revenge themselves for all their fallen brothers in the last film. Naturally, nothing goes according to plan; half the cops are tricked away, basically leaving Loomis and Jamie to fend for themselves against Michael. In the end, Loomis is finally able to beat Michael down, before having a stroke. Then Meeker is able to arrest Michael-a first for the series. Instead of Michael being believed dead and disappearing, we see him in chains in a jail cell, awaiting the National Guard to take him away. Then the man in black arrives at the jail and kills everyone, blowing Michael's cell door off. the last thing we see is Jamie finding Michael's cell empty. Roll credits. 


After the biggest What The Fuck moment of the franchise to date, we have a six year time jump for THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS, conceived by screenwriter Daniel Farrands after several attempts were made to get HALLOWEEN 6 to the big screen. Unfortunately for Farrands, a die hard, well-versed HALLOWEEN fan, and franchise fans in general, when CURSE finally arrived it was a boring, plot hole ridden, neutered affair. This was due to a lot of unnecessary behind-the-scenes drama, re-shoots, and an end product that was a half measure and a poor excuse for a sequel. It was known among fandom though that there was a different version out there, with 43 minutes of additional footage and a completely different ending. This is what's called 'The Producer's Cut.' There is also a director's cut, which is mostly the theatrical release with added gore. 

The theatrical cut reduced the set up from REVENGE to a minor plot point which mostly fizzled out by the end and even the CURSE in the title seemed a generic, tacked on title. The Producer's Cut on the other hand, takes us back to 1989, when the man in black breaks Michael out of jail and we see both Michael and Jamie being kidnapped by the man in black and some henchman. They've held Jamie all this time, waiting for the stars to align and letting Michael rape and impregnate her with a child destined to be Michael's final sacrifice, before the curse that has given him his strength and invincibility would be passed on to another child and Michael would cease to be. 

The Producer's Cut is so ridiculously superior that it vexes me the theatrical cut ever saw the light of day. One thing it does is give us an actual Thorn Cult, which is not so different from the pagan cult that uses a toy factory as a front for it's nefarious plans in SOTW and ties back to the bloody "Samhain" Michael leaves behind in II. Michael is also given a purpose and an explanation. This part many fans balk at (including Carpenter) because they liked the mystery of why Michael is doing all this anyway, or that he's simply the embodiment of pure evil. I think that's fine for I, but we can't have a single sequel without some explanation that can be built on with each successive chapter. If all we had was a mute indestructible killer for eight films no one would give a shit, so why the hate for evolving the story? I've never understood that. 

At any rate, now that we have the Producer's Cut officially available (it was passed around by bootleggers for years) we can take in 4-6 as a whole, their own trilogy within the franchise, not unlike FRIDAY THE 13TH PARTS 4-6. The Producer's Cut actually wraps up what we'll call the Jamie Saga. In the theatrical cut Michael kills Jamie in the opening minutes of the film after she has escaped with her baby and hidden it away. In TPC, she survives that attack, at least for a while longer. Meanwhile, another character from I returns, Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd), the little boy Laurie was babysitting on that original Halloween night. He suffers from PTSD, obsessively hunts for Michael, and tries to convince others that Michael is still out there. He's also the only one who finds Jamie's baby before trying to contact Dr Loomis. Loomis has spent the last few years in retirement, recovering from his stroke when he's approached by his old colleague, Dr Wynn, who wants Loomis to return to the hospital to take over as administrator. His offer though, has to take a backseat when he hears Jamie pleading for his help on a radio call-in show. So Loomis and Wynn head to Haddonfield. From there, we are introduced to a young boy named Danny who is hearing "the call," the same call that Michael heard the night he murdered his older sister back in 1963. So we're getting a sense of legacy here and a seemingly end to Michael's mission. 

By the time all the pieces are in place, we've seen the Thorn Cult, we've seen Michael under their control, the man in black is back, we know they wanted to sacrifice Jamie's baby, and crazy Tommy Doyle is seemingly the only person who knows what's going on and what it might take to stop Michael. It's the widest scope storytelling wise that we've been treated to so far. We still get some classic HALLOWEEN stalk and slash, but it feels less by-the-numbers. Eventually, the cult gets the drop on Tommy and Loomis and get their hands on the baby, Danny, and his mom, Kara. Wynn reveals himself as the man in black and the head of the Thorn, before drugging Tommy and Loomis. When they come too, they chase Wynn and company to the hospital to save the day and stop Michael from sacrificing the baby and from Danny sacrificing his mom. None of this occurs in the theatrical cut. It all has something to do with DNA and there's no robes and altar cult, just a bunch of doctors, who Michael massacres in the hospital for some reason. In TPC, we get treated to pagan ritual and a very different face off between Tommy and Michael. Frankly, it's more satisfying the way Tommy defeats Michael using runes in TPC vs fighting Michael in the theatrical. In the end, Tommy escapes with the baby, Kara, and Danny, while Loomis stays behind to put an end to Michael once and for all. The theatrical version ends vaguely, Michael's probably alive and he probably just killed Loomis. In TPC, Loomis finds Michael laid out in the hallway. He unmasks him, to discover that Wynn has been put in Michael's clothes. As Wynn dies, he grabs Loomis's hand and transfers the curse, which manifests itself as the Thorn symbol appearing on Loomis's wrist, mirroring the mark we see on Michael in REVENGE. And then we see Michael escaping dressed as the man in black. 

It's fairly brilliant. Wynn is dead, which would likely cause the cult to fold, Michael has escaped again, this time free of Wynn's influence, and the next creative team to take over could take Michael in a whole new direction-as they do in HALLOWEEN; H20. the problem with that film, though is the way they pick and choose what to keep from the last three films. primarily the part where Laurie dies in a car accident, but it's revealed they she faked her death and started a new life. H20 is a fairly great film, except there is no mention of Jamie at all and everyone acts as if there's been no sign of Michael in twenty years. In the actual timeline, CURSE happened just two years earlier and there's no way Laurie would have missed the news of the three major events of RETURN, REVENGE, and CURSE. Had those three films been referenced even in the least it would give more foundation to her ongoing fear of Halloween night.
 
I can understand the decision to ignore 4-6 to clear baggage for Laurie's return, but the film spends too much of the first half of the film beating us over the head with how damaged Laurie still is, but gives us a fantastic climax where Laurie faces Michael, kicking ass and finally bringing their story to a very final end when she chops his head off. It's done. Come back from that, Mike! Of course, the next film RESURRECTION pisses all over this with a stupid plot twist that reveals that it wasn't Michael's head that got cut off, blah blah puke. RESURRECTION is literally the worst film in  the franchise and one of the worst films I've ever seen. No more words will I waste on it. 

So, yea, I love the Jamie Saga and we're very, very lucky to have TPC available to bring it to a proper close. At this point HALLOWEEN will be limping along toward a new sequel under Blumhouse with Carpenter returning in a producer's capacity. It's pretty clear they aren't interested in reviving anything from the Thorn, opting instead to return to the tone and mystery of the original. Fine, I'll watch it enthusiastically. For fans of the Jamie/Thorn Saga Farands and Philip Nutman (author of the excellent zombie novel WETWORK) continued the story through a Chaos Comics mini-series and later Devil's Due Publishing, which connected CURSE with H20 and beyond, including what would have been Farand's pitch for the eighth film, which would have been fantastic and would NOT have featured Busta Rhymes fighting Michael.         
    



(Special thanks to my son Townes for providing some Thorn inspired original artwork!)