Monday, May 30, 2011

The Otherworldly Zombies

Let me first state this so that I don’t end up turning this into a review: I didn’t enjoy Shock Waves that way I wanted to because I’ve only heard of the movie and had never seen it until now. Zombie SS troops seemed like a great formula but I guess I was turned off by the pacing of the movie. I think it was too slow even at the times where it should have been frantic. That being said, I think it presents the zombies quite well and I’m sure that if I saw this as a kid, I’d be freaked out on a psychological scale. There is a certain mood that Shock Waves establishes, but I think the mood is bland and at times not even present… instead, I believe the way the zombies act establishes the mood (at least the scenes involving the zombies). It’s somewhat hard to explain because it requires a visual moving image but I’ll do my best to describe it.

The main reason why these SS zombies add to the “mood” of the film is because they seem so quiet, so subtle, so smooth and gentle that it only enhances a mood that is too subtle to notice. Every time you see one of them on screen they’re never warned by shrill music or a sudden burst of energetic music, which seems to be something that modern zombie films accomplish. The 70’s was a little different because when a zombie showed up, they’d usually play the main theme of the movie but Shock Waves is different. For example: a person is walking through the river, very slowly, and a zombie rises from the water behind him. The music stays soft and seldom, then the zombie grabs the person and pulls them under the water, and the music goes from soft to almost harmonious. Since the mood is trying to create a false sense of relaxation, I guess it’s only fitting for the killing to be slow and nonchalant (but very painful). Yes, drowning is a very slow and psychologically painful death.

To go briefly off tangent, I find the way the zombies drag their victims into the water to be pretty chilling. These zombies don’t eat their victims; instead, they grab their mouths and heads and submerse them into the depths of the river or ocean. To me it was a more unnerving to see somebody disappear into the water and never see him or her come back up, as if they were being dragged into Hell.

I guess what really gives me that uneasy sensation that’s beyond the mood would be the way the zombies act or how they appear. I already briefly touched base on how they slowly rise from the water behind somebody but a lot of times they just appear across from you. As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but compare the zombie troop to an army of Michael Meyers’ or a battalion of killers. Because they don’t act like zombies and because they don’t eat their victims, they have more in common with Meyers than anything. Here, in Shock Waves, the zombies movie slowly but somehow manage to pop out of nowhere to kill their victims, they stand from afar to observe who they are about to attack and they never moan or speak. If it weren’t for the explanation, I would have never known they were zombies.

It’s creepy because these zombies actually look menacing and it be because of their attire but I think it might also have to do with their faces. Not only are they emotionless but also those pitch-back goggles give them this otherworldly presence when they are shown. It’s also an interesting choice to show the zombies in the foreground most of the time; to see these menacing beings walking, single file, from afar makes then almost seem like a bizarre illusion. I guess that would be the only mood that the film but I sort of branched off into discussing how the zombies are scary, at least for personally. There is a certain chill factor the film has but I think it might get masked over by how slow the movie is, or perhaps it might add to it. Still, it’s a very interesting approach to make the zombies seem less brain-dead and more coordinative.

Note: I guess I use the word 'otherworldly' because in some way, these zombies look like aliens with humanistic qualities.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Mood Isn't Right For Ghosts

Dark Tower (not the Stephen King book or adaption) is by no means a good movie, however as a flick that you’d probably catch late at night when you’re half asleep is a different story. Aside from the stale acting and hollow plot the film, from what I noticed, tries to use Kubrickian style suspense and atmosphere to make the audience feel uncomfortable and on edge. To achieve a good mood or atmosphere most, if not all, film elements needs to be present including the actor’s performance and unfortunately this film hardly accomplished any. I am aware that it is very hard to achieve Kubrickian style suspense because you’d need to really know the material that you’re handling and you’d need a keen eye to detail. Not many people have that and it seems that Kubrickian style suspense/horror is the best “type” of horror when you’re on a budget, since it requires very little special effects. Additionally, it seems like Dark Tower was trying to go for a Carnival of Souls homage as well, which it did well only in terms of how they revealed the ghoul that’s haunting the tower.

Taking specific scenes from The Shining we can see that Kubrickian horror/suspense relies heavily on music, lighting and performances because without any of these, there would be no mood. Scenes that involve Jack being seduced by the hotel’s wickedness feel hypnotic and uncomfortable mainly because of Nicholson’s frightening performance as he descends into madness. Dark Tower, doesn’t have good performances; the performances are quite stale and cardboard so the viewer doesn’t feel like they should be caring or even watching any of the characters. By creating captivating heroes or antiheroes, a director can sway the audience’s emotions, thus putting them directly into the movie. Since Dark Tower’s characters are hollow, I found myself organizing my iTunes playlist rather than watching the movie.

Lighting and the “color” of the film also create the mood and atmosphere. Most of the interiors of the Overlook have this faded yellow or mustard yellow color to them, giving it a vintage ominous atmosphere. Most of the times, specifically the ballroom scenes, are dimly lit and have a sense of cautiousness about them. Reds come into picture when talking about brutal massacres and we can see this through the bathroom scenes and those scenes that aren’t “yellow” are blue. Scenes that take place outdoors or scenes that have the sun peeking in are cold and blue. They feel barren of any type of emotion in accordance with the main character’s changing personality. If we examine the colors and the lighting of Dark Tower’s setting, it’s fair to say that it’s average and unappealing. The coloring/lighting doesn’t seem to reflect any type of character emotion and the lighting seems stale and fluorescent.

The music doesn’t add any type of tension or dark, frightening undertones whereas Carlos’ score for The Shining is deep, haunting and foreshadowing. It plunges the audience into the realm of spirits, mystery and terror even though it’s completely synthesized. Using cues from famous operatic compositions and Indian chants, it effectively puts the viewer into the mindset of the hotel itself and makes them feel unease. Dark Tower, however, is the direct opposite since it does not put me into the mood but I will say that I still like the score. It brings an innocent 80’s, B-movie feel to the picture that sort of provokes its inner “midnight movie” personality. Like Carlos’ score, it’s also synthesized and shrill at times.

Setting aside the formula for creating good Kubrickian horror, there is one scene that really pays tribute to Kubrick’s Shining is the ending where our heroine is being chased around the construction zone of the building by her dead lover. She runs, in absolute fear of her life, from whatever ghost or monster is chasing her as the camera follows closely behind her. I think the director wanted to take a jab at trying to stage his own version of the anti-climactic ending The Shining had but I think it falls flat for one primary reason. It’s obvious that Danny and Jack are running through a massive maze and Kubrick accomplishes a sense of confusion and disorientation because we don’t know if Jack is close to Danny or if Danny has evaded him. Kubrick pulls this off by never showing an overhead perspective or any clear shot of the relationship between Danny and Jack as they run through the maze. He focuses only on them as a whole and jumps back and forth between the shots. With Dark Tower, the director effectively shows that the construction zone is a maze but since we never actually see what’s chasing her, we assume that it’s always behind her. The audience then assumes that the camera following behind her is in fact the ghost so we loose that sense of disorientation. Still, it does do an okay job of leaving the ghouls to the imagination… for the most part.

I might be a little harsh on the film because it seems very independent. The way that I see it, the director sought out to try and replicate Kubrickian horror/suspense but it fell flat and I can’t blame him. I probably wouldn’t have done better either. What the director did achieve is a mood and atmosphere that fits right into place when it comes to “midnight movies.” All the elements are there: the lighting, the acting and the on-location setting. Dark Tower ceases in becoming a horror movie and instead becomes an artifact that faded into 80’s obscurity. I think the movie has potential and I would like to see a remake of it, sees as how the original set the groundwork.

Note: I realize that Dark Tower has two directors, not one.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Edge of Total Confusion

I’ll admit that the only movie that I ever saw Anthony Perkins in was Pyscho. I saw none of his other films or any of the sequels to Psycho… until now. I came across a movie called Edge of Sanity in which Perkins plays Dr. Jekyll and Jack Hyde in a new twist on the classic story. Since this is the first non-Psycho film that I ever saw in him, you could imagine my inner delight to see Perkins outside of the Bates Motel. I’m not too familiar with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (mainly because I’ve never actually read the book) but I don’t think Edge of Sanity fully utilizes Perkins’ Mr. Hyde. In fact, I’ll go further to say that every time Perkins went Hyde he acted and looked as though he was suffering from some kind of dementia. It looked like he wanted to inflict harm and brutally murder his victims but he didn’t know how. It seemed like he needed to his bearings straight and even as he was “murdering” his victims, he did it in a manner that seemed too… weird.

The main point that I’m getting at is simply: what was going on through half of the movie and why was Jack Hyde doing things the he was doing. When we are first introduced to Hyde he gets a streetwalker to take him home with her, and her home is apparently in an attic or something. Anyway, Hyde begins to mumble a bunch of cryptic sentences and ultimately kneels down to the hooker and beings to ask her, angrily, if she loves him. She replies with a yes and he grabs her waist, hugs it, and begins to pray for some reason. Somehow this leads to him strip-cutting her dress up only to grasp the hooker’s ass and marvel at it’s beauty. By this point I don’t know what’s going on and what Hyde is thinking; maybe he was trying to be sexy or creepy but he just didn’t know how. Finally he slices her throat open. This is just one of the many scenes where Hyde tries to be sexually deviant but instead acts like a child who just found out what sex is.

Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t Hyde supposed to be a very dark, cold-blooded sociopath that brutally raped or killed women of London? As far as I know, I don’t believe there were any sexual exploratory qualities to his persona, meaning that I don’t think Hyde looked at women as though he just saw them for the first time. I do like how the story blends both Mr. Hyde with the real life London killer Jack the Ripper and I think those two combinations should have spelled a very brutal killing machine. Questions like “Why is Hyde making a girl masturbate with his cane for some pedestrian?” began to pop up in my head. I honestly couldn’t believe that was happening and more importantly I couldn’t believe that Anthony Perkins was the one doing it.

Strangely, rubbing canes against a woman’s private area isn’t the strangest and mind-baffling thing that happens. It’s actually a series of visits that Hyde makes to some strange perverted brothel or whatever you want to call it. There are half naked girls dressed as nuns, half naked girls tied to crosses, an overly flamboyant male escort, old men fondling women’s breasts and crazy head mistress. What does any of this have to do with Jekyll and Hyde? Hyde gets his thrills by dragging hookers out of this brothel to kill them and in one visit he gives his crack pipe to a hooker and they both decide to force the male escort to take drugs. I don’t see how any of this has to do with alternative personalities and the way I see it is that it’s a experimental way of showing breasts and ass. There’s actually a scene where Hyde gets angry that one of his favorite hookers, I assume, is dressed like a nun so he throws a chair at the head mistress and yells. I left these scenes scratching my head and wondering what just happened?

Perhaps I don’t quite get it because the entire sequences with Hyde felt very experimental with heightened sexual tensions. The way that I see it is the cocaine makes Hyde hallucinate things that may not be there, so all the weird sex scenes and drug abuse scenes may have all been hallucinatory. In that respect, maybe it was the filmmakers’ intension to show men in a foul way when exposed to psychotropic drugs. The drugs may have let out Jekyll’s suppressed demons and they took the form of Jack Hyde. Or maybe and probably more than likely, none of this is true and the scenes were just experimental mumbo-jumbo that they used for filler. I do agree with the title of the film. The movie pushes any sane person to the edge of sanity trying to make out what the story is about and what do nuns have to do with a brothel.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Drilling Her To Death

When thinking about slasher flicks, one can’t pass up that fact that many of them are known for having male killers who use sharp protruding weapons. Michael Meyers has a knife, Leatherface has a chainsaw and The Miner has a pickaxe. All these weapons have been analyzed, especially Meyers’ knife, and general consensus is that they are all phallic symbols. They’re all metaphors for the male genitals and when you think about how they’re meant to attack helpless women, the similarities are uncanny. Does this mean that most slashers are feminist movies? Maybe. Maybe not. I do want to bring up a slasher flick that has a weapon that fully embodies the male sex organ, mainly because when men talk about having sex with a woman they sometimes refer to it as either “nailing” or “drilling.” I’m going to hell for this but I am talking about The Slumber Party Massacre and the weapon of choice in this flick is a massive drill. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a sweaty, psychopathic man promiscuously penetrating every girl and guy that he sees with his drill.

NOTE: This is probably going to be a very trivial yet raunchy article.

There is a reason as to why I think a drill is more of a phallic symbol than any other weapon but also keep in mind that I haven’t seen that many slasher movies to compare this to. Most of the slasher movies that I’ve seen usually involve knives, bare hands or whatever is lying around the killer at the time. The drill’s appearance has the closest resemblance to the penis than any other weapon, but than you can argue for the chainsaw’s appearance from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It’s true that the chainsaw may look a penis but it’s only in a 2-dimentional form, whereas the drill is 3-dimentional. And, in the additional dirty sense, both the drill and the penis have “heads” that come to a point.

I really am going to hell, I know.

Even more so, the killer shows more traits of a repressed sexual molester than most cliché-ridden slasher villains. I think one of the biggest examples of being a sexually harmful slasher is that when he confronts our main heroine he begins to talk to her, hauntingly admitting that he loves her and that she should love him back. He says it a quiet yet nervous whisper, like he’s slowly getting aroused by it but then again, I’m well aware that a lot of slasher villains to the same thing. However, how many slasher villains out there hold on to their weapon as though it was their pride and joy? The killer in this film is shown grasping on to his drill as if it gives him power, which only furthers my theory that the drill is more of a phallic symbol than any other slasher weapon. Then, as the girl screams he “turns on” the drill and begins to kill her. I believe this may be the first phallic weapon that gets “aroused” by girls screaming.

This is a little off topic but I think it’s funny that as I was watching this I immediately thought of phallic objects because apparently this is a feminist movie. I’m not sure how, exactly, this qualifies as a feminist movie but word around the campfire is because it’s directed by a female… but even still I just don’t get it. During the initial viewing of the film I didn’t catch anything that seemed ‘feminist’ because it seemed like the girls in this movie were all inept. One of them even went as far as to eat the pizza that the dead delivery boy had in his hand because she was hungry from nervousness. Sure it adds to the comedic value but I don’t think that reflects feminism unless I, myself, don’t understand what feminism really is. Either way, if it is meant to be feminist than the drill is certainly a “manly” weapon.

I am aware that this was a very pointless and pretty random topic to discuss but it was the first thing that popped into my head. After spending little over a year looking for this movie, I thought it would be something great or exceptionally cheesy but instead I got a very average slasher with one exception: a perfect phallic weapon. I’ll hand it to the creators that an enormous battery powered electric drill is a pretty clever weapon next to a chainsaw or a pickaxe. Either way, I hoped you enjoyed this pointless and ‘classy’ thought on Slumber Party Massacre.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


With Mother’s Day already here, I think it’s about as good of a time as any to give my best wishes and loving appreciation to a mother who has no other name except for ‘Mother.’ Yes, I’m talking about the mom who became so obsessed with having the perfect child that she forced her “daughter” to conform to her standards or else she’ll see to it that she lives in the basement the rest of her life. She sounds like a twisted fairy tale mother gone wrong and she looks like Mommy Dearest, she’s Mom from Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs. Raise your drinks and slap on the restraining suit to the craziest mother you’ll ever see in your life.

Additionally, happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there that raised us and helped us grow up. Today is your day and we wouldn't have it any other day.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The X-Files Episode That Wasn't

I always found that Deer Woman (the Masters of Horror episode) to be awkwardly enjoyable and occasionally funny and that might be due to its attempts of tongue-in-cheek humor. However, the entire episode fell on its feet because of lack of witty dialogue and the ‘feel’ of a real investigation. What I mean by that is the episode didn’t feel like the characters were doing any type of investigation; they seemed to just get lucky. I always described the episode as The X-Files meets CSI but now that I think of it… it would have been better off being an X-Files episode guest directed by John Landis. The story could have stayed the same with the same characters just with the additions to Mulder and Skully and I could totally see Mulder playing out the possible killing scenarios in his head. Since Deer Woman didn’t rely on profanity (and it didn’t need profanity) or gore, it would have been a great X-Files episode. What this movie needed was the smart, witty dialogue of Chris Carter, the commanding presents of Mulder/Skully and the slapstick edge of Landis and it would have been fun to watch.

On a side note: I find this episode creepy mainly because of the thought of a woman having deer legs. That scene when the cop realizes that he made a big mistake letting the girl in his hotel room always sends me shivers. Just the way he turns around and how his eyes widen with fright; you don’t even need to see anything, you can just imagine what he’s seeing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Physical Evolution of the Vampire

For a good portion of the years that movies dominated the entertainment business, vampires were always seen as people wearing fake vampire press-on teeth and maybe some white makeup to show they are dead. This sort of design started off in the early years of film during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. It wouldn’t be until the 60’s and 70’s that the vampire got a drastic face-life. They ditched the white makeup but still kept everything else, so there wasn’t much improvement from the earlier vampire films. Hammer movies and Blaxploitation flicks showed the vampire with human qualities, but the only difference is that these vampires were more brutal and the movies had an opportunity to really accent the romance associated with vampire legends. When the 80’s rolled around, the vampire got a complete facial and physical makeover and for the first time vampires were shown as monsters from Hell.

I’m mainly talking about The Lost Boys and Fright Night and I’m aware there are movies like Vamp that are out there but I haven’t seen it yet. To me, it seems like the 80’s paved the way for how a vampire should ‘really’ look like because afterwards… in movies like From Dusk Till Dawn, Blade: Trinity and The Night Flier, they aren’t the handsome classy men with sharp fangs that we thought they were. Sure, they start off as being ideal visions of what a perfect man should be, but once they transform into a full vampire they loose all their beauty and this goes for women as well. The progression seems almost instant but I’m also aware that older films showed the vampire as being demonic and otherworldly.

Since the very first vampire movie, Nosferatu, vampires were seen as demonic, blood-sucking monsters from hell. They were seen as pale, white human-like creatures with long talons, pointy ears, bulging eyes and razor sharp teeth. Their heads, massively enlarged and somewhat deformed. Honestly, had I seen Nosferatu when I was a kid I’d probably be afraid of vampires but I grew watching Dracula and this is where vampires would be brought down to a more human level. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is what set the groundwork for what a vampire should look like for the next 50 years, with minor trail offs here and there. What Lugosi brought to the table was a monster that was both charming to look at, elegant, composed and nowhere near the demon that was seen in Nosferatu. He still retained the classic trademarks of vampires but physically he was different.

Throughout most of the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and mostly 70’s, vampires were just people with plastic fangs in their teeth. Sure, it was still scary because we’re not use to seeing people with razor sharp teeth, pale skin and luring eyes. Back then, most horror directors tried to scare the audience with gratuitous bloodshed, unexpected jump-scares or just by the mere look of the vampire. If we look at the infamous Hammer vampire films like Taste the Blood of Dracula or the Horror of Dracula, I think what’s scary about them isn’t just Lee’s interpretation of Dracula but also that stretched out smile and those blood-red eyes. Throughout the late 50’s through the mid 70’s, Hammer constantly pushed the boundaries of how the vampire should act and look and I do believe that Lee’s Dracula was the prototype for what the 80’s would soon bring to the table.

Horror of Dracula (1958)

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Blacula (1972)

Martin (1977)

I’m also aware that the TV adaptation of King’s Salem’s Lot features a vampire that is the spitting image of Nosferatu and more than likely contributed to the inevitable physical change that would happen. However, I do believe that Lee’s vampire was the first incarnation of a truly demonic vampire that was different, whereas Salem’s Lot seemed to directly homage Nosferatu.

Fright Night was a truly revolutionary film in many senses. It brought the romanticism of vampires to the MTV Generation and re-popularized the vampire story. It exposed the new generation to classic horror monsters and it set the groundwork for what a true horror comedy should be like. However, it also set the standard for the re-imaging of the classic vampire in which many movies soon after would follow. For the first time, at least in terms of mainstream media, the vampire wasn’t just a man with fangs but rather some type of monstrous cross between bat, creature and human. For the first time, vampires looked like demons from Hell and I think that the reason why it happened in the 80’s is because the special effects were perfected then. Jerry Dandrige became the staple of modern vampires. Sure he wasn’t all pointy ears, wrinkled skin and yellow eyes but he brought back the Nosferatu-like qualities that vampires once held. Also, for the first time, filmmakers didn’t have to rely only on blood and jump-out scares to get the audience. They could rely on grotesque, horrifying look of the vampire.

As 1985 quickly turned into 1987 there were two vampire films that seemed to compete with one another, not in terms of their fanbase or their filmmaking, but rather their interpretations of the vampire. See, Near Dark paid tribute to the classic look of the vampire: all human qualities save for the long, razor sharp canines. Near Dark seemed to be a modern homage/adaptation of the vampire that was once popularized by Lugosi. However, on the other end of the spectrum you have The Lost Boys, which seemed to follow in the same footsteps as Fright Night but they were slightly different looking that Dandrige. The Lost Boys was like a cross between Lugosi’s vampire and Sarandon’s Dandrige vampire. The Lost Boys, and more specifically the head vampire, had the fangs and luring eyes but they also had the elongated jaws, the twisted smiles, the prominent cheekbones and the bend eyebrows. Compared to Near Dark’s bloodsuckers The Lost Boys are probably more frightening to look at and probably more violent. After 1987 there would be a major shift of vampire movies where classic looks meets modern interpretations.

Vamp (1986)

The Night Flier (1997)

From Dusk Till Dawn (1998)

Van Helsing (2004)

30 Days of Night (2007)

The way that I see it, it’s sort of like how zombies progressed in film and I’m not talking about the debate between running zombies and slow-walking zombies. Before the 80’s, zombies were just pale-faced human walking slowly with their arms raised half way into the air. It wasn’t until the 80’s when special effects were perfected did we see zombies that had skin falling off their faces, exposed bone and missing eyes. I mean, you can say that about any classic horror icon like werewolves or Frankenstein monsters but I think there is an ongoing war between modern and classic vampires whereas the special effects for werewolves and zombies seem universally accepted. I know some people prefer the classic Lugosi route and some prefer the Sarandon route. I’m more on the fence about it because both versions are so radically different and each version has its pros and cons. I just thought it was very interesting how there was a massive jump from just fangs to a complete physical makeover within the vampire subgenre and truly paved the way for modern vampire films to come.