Monday, March 28, 2011

Mental Caries: A Look Inside A Decaying Mind

As a horror fan, when you lay down on the seat to have a dentist drill your mouth for cavities or pick at your teeth for plaque, you probably think about that movie The Dentist. I know I did, though funnily enough I never was afraid of the dentist because of it. No, when I saw this movie (when I was about 11 or 12) all I could think about was how vulnerable my teeth and gums really where. The entire well being of my teeth lied within the hands of my dentist and if he wanted to, he could make me ware braces the rest of my life. I wasn’t scared of my dentist drilling my teeth to bits but rather scared of the idea that he could. Then again, my dentist was a divorcee who turned to the bottle and was suspended of his license when people complained about his alcoholism and shaky hands. Though, this isn’t nearly as bad as Dr. Alan Feinstone. See, the way I remembered The Dentist was that it was a movie with gratuitous teeth torture and a lot of chasing but what the film really is, is an underrated film that drills into the mind of a psychopath. I’d go further into saying that it has the possibility of ranking up there with Psycho and Silence of the Lambs.

The story centers around a very successful dentist named Alan Feinstone. He’s got it all: a beautiful loving wife, a thriving practice and a respectable reputation within the dentistry community. However, when he comes to suspect that his wife may be cheating on him with the pool boy, he discovers that behind every smile of bright white teeth there is decay hard at work. Now, as he slowly begins to loose his grip on sanity, Feinstone begins to try to reason things out but his mind won’t let him. It isn’t long until he decides to slip completely off the deep end and kill those who have done him wrong and those who lie within his path. But the plot goes deeper into Alan’s psyche because once we realize that he is insane, we begin to suspect that perhaps his wife isn’t having an affair but that it might be in his head. Thankfully, in the end of it all, it’s up to you to decide whether all of it was fake or in his head.

So, how, exactly, does the film get inside the mind of Alan Feinstone? It’s very simple. Yuzna does a masterful job at utilizing filters and camera tricks to show Alan’s decent into madness. The entire movie has this ‘Pleasantville’ look; bright colors, luminescent profiles, heavenly whites and bright blue skies but every time we see Feinstone thinking about things… it’s distorted or showing him looking at himself in a mirror. It’s rather genius how they contrast the bright, glamorous lifestyle of a successful Beverly Hills dentist with the distorted, stylized camera angles. That would mean that this movie is visually satisfying and really adds to the distortion of Alan’s mind. It’s a pretty obvious technique to use image distortion and camera filters to show mental insanity but not many people utilize it. There is also the use of close-ups of grease stains, rotting teeth and mud. We are flung into Feinstone’s head as he watches, in disgust, as the pool boy sullies his wife’s clean face. The scary thing is, as the audience, we can’t help but feel disgusted as well, especially when we see brown rotting teeth. Considering Corbin’s performance is already strong, these camera effects only further Feinstone’s character.

Speaking of Feinstone’s character, what makes him such a great candidate for psychological profiling? As I mentioned before, I ranked this film up there with Psycho and Silence and for good reason. Both of those films have such a captivating yet charismatic character that can be analyzed for mental illness and Feinstone is no exception. In fact, I’d have to include Misery on that list as well. What is so captivating about Feinstone is that he is our anti-hero and we aren’t really given the opportunity to bond with the ‘final girl’ or any other character. We right away follow him from his grim discovery of his wife’s affair all the way till the end when he is sent to an institution. In that regard, I love how the film opens up with him addressing us on how everybody has a story. Going deeper into Feinstone’s head we right away understand that he is unstable because he flipped out over his wife for ironing the wrong shirt since his cufflinks didn’t match. Upon seeing his wife engaging in ‘first base’ activities with the pool boy we feel for Feinstone and we start to understand why he hates decay and he lies the metaphor for what Feinstone’s psyche is based on. His wife, dressed in clean white clothes, kisses the pool boy who rubs brown dirt all over her legs. It’s such a perfect metaphor for the act of dirtying perfection and causing decay and plaque. This drives Feinstone over the edge and at first he thinks about killing himself and he becomes sympathetic because he tries so hard to fight his hallucinations, and we watch as he helplessly descends into madness. He begins to think that everybody has dirty teeth, which may be a metaphor for how everybody has dirty secrets but wear masks of innocents. Perhaps he believes that it’s his job to clean up people’s immoral filth.

Throughout the film, Feinstone mumbles to himself on how dentists are underappreciated no matter how hard they work. He brings up a great quote that states how they have to clean people’s teeth and yet we, the patients, hate them for it. It’s very true because we all hate going to the dentist, especially at a young age but yet we don’t realize that the dentist is actually a great person to have around. Our teeth are one of the most important things in our bodies. When Feinstone finally decides to enact his homicidal revenge on his wife and the pool boy, it’s the defining moment and the point of no return. By this point, Alan becomes a full-fledged psychopath and believes that he has to rid plaque-infested human there is. It’s a rather grim but sad turn of events since we were with Feinstone all the way up until this point. It’s a rather tragic turn of events. This is where we get into the really grisly teeth torture where he drills people’s teeth apart, slices tongues and mutilates gums and lips. I couldn’t take these scenes because I have sensitive teeth and to see somebody’s gums ripped to shreds makes me queasy. By this point, Ken Foree says it best, “He’s a man driven over the edge.” All the pressure of taxes, a failing marriage and a reputation to hold up has put so much pressure on him that he finally snapped.

As far as comparing it to when I was a kid, it’s vastly different from what I remembered. Shockingly, I can’t believe that I didn’t have nightmares of teeth torture and dentistry. I was never afraid of my dentist but I hated going to him because of all the fluoride I had to keep in my mouth and the fact that I couldn’t eat for an hour after getting my teeth cleaned. I remember very fondly some of the dental torture and that beautifully shot scene where Feinstone was slashing the pool boy (pictured above). The rest of the film sort of escaped my head for some reason. Looking back on it, if you couldn’t tell, I love this movie but not because of dental horror but rather the characterization. At a young age it was obvious that I didn’t give two shits about Feinstone, I just wanted blood and action. Now, I think Feinstone, while he was thinking about plaque and decay are the best parts of the movie.

All these musing lead me to believe that The Dentist isn’t a typical horror movie. There are no monsters, the killer doesn’t pop out of the closet and there isn’t a ghost haunting anybody. No, this is a hard-boiled film that follows one man’s descent into insanity. Of course there are is blood and the occasional jump scare but otherwise, this movie is horrifying in it’s own right. It’s horrifying because of how Feinstone’s mind works. He’s the perfect psychopath because he believes he is doing good and isn’t aware that he is actually butchering people, and that is the worst kind of monster. In turn, The Dentist is a smart movie that really puts the viewer into Feinstone’s head and offers no sympathy for when things go terribly wrong. It’s a highly underrated movie that has the potential of being one of the most disturbing horror movies out there. In the end, it makes you want to power rub your teeth with alcohol and sandpaper.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hollywood Video Memories: Rumpelstiltskin (1995)

Ah yes, Rumpelstiltskin. This is a very obscure yet relevant “horror” movie from my childhood. Every time I walked into Blockbuster I would see this VHS box of a freaky looking man smiling and hiding behind a stone door. I kept avoiding for some reason and I guess that’s because I kept finding other movies I wanted to watch. Eventually I caved in and decided to rent it out and as I sat in my dad’s bedroom watching the ridiculously cheesy story unfold, I realized that this would be one of the first in a long line of favorite horror movies for me. At a young age I knew that a lot of fairy tales were dark in their original form and when I saw Snow White (the one with Same Neil and Sigourney Weaver) it further convinced me that perhaps this version of Rumpelstiltskin would be darker and scarier. To my surprise it was neither scary nor set in the appropriate time frame, at least not for the majority of the movie. In fact, I saw it as a fun movie with the occasional scare to it.

The beginning of the movie takes place in the 1400s as Rumpelstiltskin is making off with a baby who he kidnapped after feeling betrayed from spinning the golden yard. Nearly killing the baby, he is imprisoned into a small figurine by a witch for hundreds of years until somebody wishes upon it. Unfortunately, in present day Los Angeles, a grieving windowed mother wishes her husband returns (from the dead). Rumpel comes back, as the husband at first, only to attack the mother and try to steal the baby to make up for the last time he failed. Now, the mother is on the run from Rumpel but he’s not willing to give up. He followers her wherever she goes and destroys anybody that gets in his past that is unless the mother finds a way to destroy him before he gets to her baby.

I was pretty much fresh off the line from seeing Leprechaun so I was ready to watch something of similar ideas but darker. Rumpelstiltskin quenched my thirst for something campy. I always liked how ‘Uncle Rumpel’ reacted to the many modern inventions that were in present day (1995) Los Angeles. Case in point: calling a motorcycle a black steed or noting the amount of blacksmiths it took to create an 18-wheeler semi truck. More importantly, for a movie that was based on a fairy tale it was quite graphic. Rumpel claws somebody’s eyes out, gets a broom shoved down his throat, gets runned over, pulls his head off and gets sliced in half. For a little guy he sure endured and loved pain. I loved how his lingo was sort of some weird modern English/Medieval hybrid. He would say, “Fucketh me!” and I would grin in pleasure knowing what it meant and how they chose to hide the word beneath the lingo. As I grew older and started to explore newer movies, three scenes from the film always stuck out to me and remained in my memory until now. The first was seeing Rumpelstilltskin choke some big guy, in the beginning, and hoisting him off a cliff. The second was seeing Rumpelstiltskin driving a truck and the last scene was seeing somebody running and having their head blown off. Obviously this movie meant a lot to me.

You could only imagine how surprised and pleased I was when I found it available for Netflix Instant. I couldn’t believe that another childhood classic was within a click away from my viewing. This movie is a perfect example of how my film taste has progressed throughout the years. Yes, this movie is awful but not unwatchable. I found myself cringing over the lines I once found humorous and cool. I shook my head over scenes that would put a sparkle in my eyes and I shrilled at the ‘gore’ when I realized that it wasn’t that gory at all. I didn’t expect much from a straight-to-VHS movie and to be honest… I went in thinking that I would find it mediocre. I came out of the movie thinking that it was slightly below mediocrity. I’m convinced that this movie, unlike the last two childhood movies I watched, knew how bad it was so it decided to have fun. The problem is that it’s fun only to the person having it. In other words, you might find banging your head into a wall fun but to the rest of the world… it looks stupid. To show you just how ridiculous this movie is, here some scenes that I couldn’t believe.

Here is Rumpelstiltskin driving a motorcycle and laughing for no reason on it.

Here is Rumpelstiltskin driving a truck while smoking on a cigar. Stating, “Just what I need. Another bad habit,” before taking a big puff.

Here is Rumpelstiltskin employing the age-old cliché of guiding your headless body to your severed head.

As a kid it’s obvious that I was no student of film, however after taking film classes it sort of skewed view of watching movies. Back then I didn’t really care for the technicalities of this film, I just liked the special effects and action. As I watched it now, I couldn’t help but notice just how bad some of the voice replacement and dubbing were. Sure, this is an indie film and I am nit picking but it sort of took me out of the story. An example would be when Rumpelstiltskin is chasing Max, who’s in a go-kart, Max is constantly yelling and saying things like, “Oh jeeze! Oh jeeze! Hey Rumpel, can we talk this over? Huh? Oooohhhh! Arrgghhh! Rocks!” Not only is it just plain annoying but also the voice has no sense of location. Additionally, some shot choices and editing decisions didn’t make sense and the acting was piss poor. The entire film was littered with songs that came from the 80s, everybody seemed to dress like they were puked up from 1987 and the coloring seemed really saturated at times. All this made me question whether the film was truly made in the 90’s or whether it was filmed in the 80s and released in the 90’s. I never had to ask myself that question before.

Though there is a light at the end of this tunnel. As cheap as they may seem, I still dug the special effects. The makeup they applied to the actor who played Stiltskin was pretty damn good considering they were on a budget. Aside from a few minor times, I felt like his skin was actually that dented, scarred and potholed. When Rumpel is split in half he begins to crawl towards the baby and you get to see the slimy, wet intestines falling out of his body and I really enjoyed that. Sure you could tell that everything was pretty much KY jelly and latex but you have to admire the FX guy’s confidence in trying to make something as good as possible. I will say this; a select few effects look better than any modern CGI dismemberment scenes you’d fine today. If a movie like this looks more real than a modern blockbuster, I think it’s time to rethink your strategy.

I sort of expected this movie to be bad so I wasn’t too disappointed but I wish I had the mentality of a kid sometimes. I guess it’s the only way that I would enjoy this. I’ve heard some people say that you should leave your childhood movies alone, especially the ones that scare you to preserve your childhood ignorance. I think I should have probably done so in this case because now that I know how cheesy this movie is, I don’t think I could ever have the view of it that I once had as a kid. Perhaps it was curiosity, then again… curiosity killed the cat.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The American Dream (2011)

This experimental film look at the truth behind the all-American dream of the 1950’s and how it was overshadowed by bigger and greater threats to the public. In this version I edited the audio so that it would sound and flower better. I added several new sound effects and added re-verb to two different songs. I also added in a few musical cues from different soundtracks. I don’t think the edit is completely perfected because some of the ‘interrupting footage’ doesn’t exactly flow right with the sound effects, and I’m hoping to be less repetitive if I were to revise it. This was edited for my Experimental Editing class and it was a fun project.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Blob: A Pictorial Showcase of the Special Effects

If you read the post before this you’d know that I had the extreme pleasure of seeing The Blob ’88 on the big screen and as I predicted… I loved it but it really opened my eye on something. I knew this even before now but somehow seeing it enlarged really made me have a strong appreciation for the special effects that the film has. I stated in a review of the film that the special effects on the Blob not only gave the monster texture and feeling but it also gave it character; it wasn’t just some gelatinous blob (like the 50’s version) but rather an organism that you could watch work things out. Even by today’s standards the special effects are so damn good that it’s amazing that none of it was CGI… eat your heart out Nightmare on Elm Street ’10. I am still marveled at how good it was that I decided to showcase some pictures showing just how real and how personified Chuck Russell and his effects team made the Blob. Hats off to everybody involved. They really outdid themselves.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sci-Fi Spectacular 5 Coverage

Well, this past Saturday concluded what was a great edition to the Sci-Fi Spectacular event that’s held at the Music Box. Though I ran into a few buddies, I sort of did a ‘lone wolf’ thing this year… I’m not sure why but I guess it’s partly due to the fact that I had had a severe headache that morning. I almost didn’t make it but luckily I came in just as they were showing the first movie. I had to attend for two reasons, director Mick Garris was suppose to be there… the man who brought me the emotionally charged adaptation of The Stand. The other person who was going to be there was Chuck Russell who single-handedly gave me insomnia for a good 5 years of my life. I couldn’t miss out on an opportunity to meet both of them.

Day the World Ended (1955)

This was incorrectly titled It Conquered the World on the roster. I fell asleep halfway into the film because of a bad headache but I saw a majority of the film and I enjoyed it. It’s really cheesy and the audience knew it; the dialogue, the effects and the plot were all just really bad but what do you expect from Corman? I think that this movie could fare well as a remake because it could give the film a chance to really show the characters and how they cope with the end of the world. It could take the film somewhere where the 50s version couldn’t have gone.

Krull (1983)

Ah yes, for years this movie avoided me and now that I finally saw it on the big screen I can honestly say that it was okay. It’s very cheesy and the dialogue and performances are ridiculously tacky. However, despite all this… what made me enjoy it were the practical effects and set design. It’s a movie that really puts the whole idea of physical special effects being better than CGI. There were two kids (to my surprise) that sat behind me almost the entire time and apparently they think that Krull is one of the best movies of all time. I guess it’s the action that won them over but for me it was the special effects. Look for Liam Neeson in this because it might be one of his first movies.

Critters 2 (1988)

I forgot how much I love the Critters franchise and I had only seen Critters 2 about twice, ironically enough, up until recently. Our library has it but it’s so badly damaged that it’s virtually unplayable so it was a treat for me to watch a movie I use to rent out on VHS. What sold me was the Crite ball and how absurdly funny it was. Though, as I watched it I couldn’t help but notice the similarities the Crites had with the Gremlins and I think it would be really fun to explore that eventually. However, you know what made this experience even better? Mick Garris was there in person to answer a few Q&A’s about the film and his career.

He mainly elaborated on how it was like to shoot on one of the coldest days in California and how the girl, who played the model, had to walk around half-naked in icy temperatures. He told us how he had a truck pull the Critter ball down the road and how you could see, for a split second, the legs of the effects people rolling the Critter ball down the street. It was really fun to listen to him talk about Stephen King and his relationship with him and he discussed how he created Masters of Horror and how he opted for total directorial control over the series.

I obviously couldn’t pass up an opportunity for him to sign my copy of The Stand, which is still one of my all-time favorite King adaptations. Like a total nerd, I had him sign it by saying, “M-O-O-N, that spells Mick Garris.” He had a good laugh.

Side note: Is it just me or does Garris sort of have that younger James Cameron face? I think it might be the hair that makes me think this.

Naked Lunch (1991)

After the Mick Garris encounter I had a late lunch while the rest of the patrons watched Naked Lunch. I heard about it but never really saw it so you can understand how surprising it was to walk into the theater, while it was almost over, and see somebody sucking on the head-tentacles of some type of alien. Now, I must do whatever it takes to hunt this movie down because I can’t believe I had never seen it… especially since it was David Cronenberg.

Rubber (2010)

This was the Midwest theatrical premiere of the (probably) soon to-be cult classic about a car tire that goes around exploding people’s heads by means of telepathy. Yeah, and if that’s not strange and random enough… there are a group of spectators watching the whole thing night and day as though they were a live audience. It was so random that the comedy was hit or miss. I initially didn’t like it because I didn’t understand it, but as it progressed I realized that it was meant to be random and stupid and I slowly warmed up to it. Viewers beware, leave your brain at the door wit this one and if you don’t like randomness, don’t see it. I fear that many people would not like it and I’m surprise that I didn’t.

There was also this nice little interview with the star of the movie… the tire. Which is black, and my not have a specific brand. I wasn’t really paying attention to it that much because my camera cramped up on me after I took the picture.

The Blob (1988)

This is what it all boiled down to. For those of you who don’t know me, this version of The Blob is a childhood favorite because when I was 7 I saw this for the first time and it gave me nightmares subsequently for 5 years. (I thought I was macho enough to get through it but I turned the video off when the Blob began eating Paul in the office). So you can see why it was one of the best experiences I had watching it on the big screen on an actual film print. It had the grain, the scratches and the occasional audio blip that made this a very nostalgia moment for me. I still can’t believe how good the effects are and how the CGI today can’t even compare to the gritty realism that Russell and his effects team brought to the movie. But you want to know the real treat for me was? This…

Good ‘ol Chuck Russell was there answering a few Q&A’s. He was a really nice but overly excited guy. I don’t blame him, really. He elaborated on how much of a pain it was to make sure all the special effects worked and how nail biting it was since they initially thought it wouldn’t be so difficult. He talked about his relationship with Darabont and how Kevin Dillon’s performance in Platoon influenced Russell’s decision to cast him as Flagg. He talked about how he was very interested in see what Zombie would have done if they did the remake of The Blob and how he was sort of sad at the similarities between Inception and Dreamscape.

I had to have him sign it by saying one of the creepiest quotes in a horror film, “Remember Rick, the Lord will give us a sign. – Chuck Russell.” He was a good sport about it. If you want, you could read my interview I had with one of the special effects guys for the movie, right here.

Event Horizon (1997)

This was another one that always seemed to have eluded me mainly because at first I thought it looked dumb but as I begin to hear more and more about it, my interested began raising. I really enjoyed it and this was a movie that came from Paul W.S. Anderson too. I really enjoyed the set design and the idea of a haunted house in space. It was really unique in that regard because it seems like space-horror always needs an alien but this movie says, “hey, we can make a horror movie in space and have something more complex” and it succeeded.

Overall, I thought it was a great night. I saw my second favorite horror movie of all time on the big screen, I saw my Chicago horror buddies and I met two kids who have an appreciation for classic horror. I can’t wait to see what they have lined up for next time. I can cross my fingers in hopes that it would be The Thing.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hollywood Video Memories: Milo (1998)

Another great obscure horror movie I use to watch when I was younger was an indie horror movie called Milo; you know the one with the killer kid in a yellow raincoat? It’s a very obscure movie and it was marketed to include, “from the creators of Anaconda.” Well, I remember seeing the trailer on some old VHS’ from our local library (specifically on the VHS for ShadowBuilder and The Dentist) so when I found it at the bottom shelf of the horror section at Hollywood Video, I just had rent it out. There was just something about the trailer that caught my eye and maybe it was because of how it was edited. I’ll always remember that image of him standing in the middle of the road with his bike and the awkward yet tacky way those girls swung on the swing set. I guess it’s because it was one of the first trailers that I watched and went, “oh c’mon, it’s probably not even that good.”

Well it turns out that I was right, to a point. I don’t remember ever getting scared by it but rather enjoyed it for being fun. I think I was spoiled by Child’s Play at the time, which was the only “killer kid” movie that I knew of and Chucky wasn’t even a kid. Since a majority of the film was sporadic scenes of shocking involving Milo and his victim, I would often use the movie as white noise for when I drew. I use to draw a lot when I watched movie and I would rent out Milo so that I could draw the VHS box cover, but I would need put Milo on so that I can have white noise to draw to. It’s a complicated cycle. It wouldn’t be till the end that I got really into it. It was the only time where I would actually stop what I was doing and get all excited, waiting for Milo to pop out of nowhere. Even then it wouldn’t be scary, just thrilling. Sort of like how you anticipate an explosion in an action movie.

So what is the movie about? Well, it’s quite simple. A young woman returns to her hometown and takes up a job as a teacher at the school she once went to. Unfortunately, her past involved her witnessing the murder of one of her friends by a deranged boy named Milo. Now, sixteen years later Milo came back… from the dead looking the same way he did years go to re-unite with his only love and kill her. It’s a very interesting story that I didn’t really understand as a kid so I naturally assumed that Milo was a zombie, but he’s more than just a zombie… he’s something entirely different.

Almost 11 years later I revisited this movie since I found it on Netflix Instant and I thought it was decent. It was nowhere near as entertaining as I hoped or remember but it gave me a great sense of nostalgia. I liked how it was more than just a serial killer movie because otherwise it would have been really stupid. I personally believe that if it were given to the right people, they could have really expanded on Milo as a character. There is just so much that could be played around with. I guess the only real part of the movie that I enjoyed (and wanted to hear more of) was Milo’s back-story. It’s so gritty and disturbing that they make Milo seem like he’s a monster or something. I wanted to hear more and since they keep showing the empty glass with his birthday on it, it would only make sense that they would build upon it. I know the tagline compared Milo to other great horror movie villains like Jason and Freddy Krueger (tagline: Jason and Freddy were kids once, too) and I think Milo had the potential of being a great horror villain, even if he was only in a straight to VHS movie.

There were only two real problems that I had with this movie and that’s maybe because I’ve learned so much about movie/video audio and editing that it sticks out like a sore thumb. In the first half of the movie, there are a couple of scenes where the character is talking from afar and you can’t hear them because their voice is echoing. It’s almost as though they didn’t have an extra and strong enough microphone so they decided to leave it in. it only happens about 2 or 3 times so it’s not a big deal. The other problem that I had was with Milo’s voice, considering I build this movie up in my head for years it was kind of anticlimactic to hear him sound like a 23 year old with a bad cold. That was my fault but now I’m being too critical. Should you watch the movie?

I think that all depends on what your taste in movies is. If you like really campy straight-to-video fare, than boy is this a treat for you. If you enjoy anything outside the camp or cornball subgenre, than I would stay away from this movie. I found it just a tad disappointing because I thought I would still love it like I do with Proteus. Although I am glad that I did manage to see it as soon as I did because it gave me a chance to see, first hand, how my feelings towards certain movies changed. I use to love the most stupid shit but I’m sure that can be said for anybody. But to demonstrate, I once had an obsession for Darkness Falls because I thought it was one of the best horror movies out there. Needless to say, I was wrong. Milo can take out the tooth fairy with a flick of his bicycle wheel.

Side note: I always found it creepy that Milo used a kid to screw around with the teacher's head. I think this movie made me afraid of kids in yellow raincoats for a while. Funnily enough, I had a yellow raincoat as a kid too. And no, that's not what Milo looks like. Although, I believe he was in the Little Rascals movie.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Shopping Center Cemetery

I’ve been to many cemeteries and seen many cemeteries in my life. I’ve seen some that were out in the middle of a cornfield. I’ve seen one that’s right across from a hamburger stand, I’ve seen one that’s right in the backyard of an apartment complex and I’ve even been inside one that’s haunted. But never in my life have I seen a cemetery that was right in the middle of a shopping center. However, if you ever have a chance to visit Palatine (a suburb of Chicago), you must see this to believe it. The Salem Cemetery is now part of the Palatine Township and it’s one of the most bizarre places I’ve seen. I’m sure that because it is a cemetery, the contractors couldn’t tear it down so they built the streets, restaurants and shopping marts around it… the result was this:
Note: You can't really see the space the cemetery occupies but you can clearly see the shopping center behind the gravestones.

The reason why I know of this place is because there is a nice 50s style diner that is situated on the other side of the gravestones. If you look really carefully in the second picture, you can see my parents waving at me, letting me know that the diner has been closed for the evening. Imagine, eating at a nice restaurant with the family only to realize that you parked right on top of a cemetery. I have to agree with Amanda; it bares an uncanny resemblance to Poltergeist. But what about the actual cemetery? Well, I did some research and this is what I found.

“The community became part of newly formed Palatine Township in 1850 as German immigrants arrived. In 1862 they erected the Salem Evangelical Church, whose 40-food-square church cemetery at the corner of Kirchoff and Plum Grove Roads still stood in 1998, a bit of history amid bustling traffic and a strip shopping center.”

- Encyclopedia of Chicago

“Salem Cemetery was established as a family cemetery in the 1850’s by Frederick and Dorothea Thies. It was deeded to the Salem Evangelical Church in 1922. Palatine Township was given custody of the cemetery in 1974. The cemetery, located at Plum Grove and Kirchoff Roads, consists mainly of member of the Thies, Normeier and Eseman families.”

- Palatine Township

Indicated by the pink point, you can see the cemetery is literally between a busy street and a parking lot. A truly odd spectacle. For more pictures (ones I didn’t take) visit page 1, page 2 and page 3 of the Barrington Local History’s Flickr stream.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hollywood Video Memories: Proteus (1997)

Back when I was younger, between the ages of 10 and 12, I would often tempt my dad into taking me to Hollywood Video, which was a huge privilege for me because it cost to rent movies from there. Well, they would always have a very obscure but better collection of horror movies than our local library and one VHS tape caught my eyes. That film was called Proteus and I guess what captured my attention was just the look of the VHS box cover; the way you see this horrible monster snarling at you while hatching out of an egg. Even the tagline, “In the middle of the ocean. A new form of horror is taking shape,” just begged me to pick up the box and check it out. I only saw this film about 2 or 3 times but it left such a huge impression on me.

The scene that did it for me, or the scene that made me cover my eyes and scream was when the group of stranded people were eating in the mess hall when suddenly they all hear this crashing sound that’s getting closer. Then, the camera would turn into the POV of the monster speeding closer and closer to the hall. As the crashing got closer, so did the growling and you never see what was coming towards them but you can only imagine that it’s big and pissed off, whatever it was. That scene alone would terrify me and was one of the contributing factors as to why I love it when you never see what the monster fully looks like. Of course, as I see it today it doesn’t have the same effect but it’s still pretty frightening in a general sense.

Now that I have rambled about how I felt towards the movie a few years back, I think I should go ahead and elaborate on what it’s about. The movie is typical creature feature formula as it should be. A group of drug smugglers end up boarding a deserted oilrig after their yacht exploded during a piloting accident. While exploring the oilrig looking for people to help them out, they soon realize that the entire place is deserted and before long they come to discover that it was all a giant cover-up. See, the oilrig is a smokescreen for a secret project involving genetics but whatever that experiment was has become loose and now the stranded people must fight for their lives against the genetically created menace.

The name of the creature in this film is called Charlie and ever since I could remember, that name has stuck with me up until now. Every time I see a monster movie I feel compelled to name it Charlie. I feel as though I should also note that before I ever wanted to go into film, I wanted to be a geneticist because I had the misplaced idea that I could create horrible monsters like Charlie (yeah, I was a little twisted back then). In turn, horror movies that involved abandoned laboratories ore monster-run-amok stories always interested me. I loved hearing all the different imaginative scientific processes that went into creating the monster and I would use those explanations to sound smart when I went to school the following week. I can’t tell you how many times I told my friends that my uncle made Charlie to my classmates.

But enough about me, what about the movie? Is it worth seeing? Is it good? Well, it’s certainly not the greatest movie of all time; it was a straight-to-VHS movie that you’d probably find in the $5 at Wal-Mart. However, it’s not a bad movie either. It’s fun, it’s campy and it’s pretty graphic. I liked it and for being an indie movie made in the mid 90’s, it has some pretty outstanding creature effects. See, that’s what I miss about the old days… indie movie directors took their craft serious and wanted to make honest horror movies and not try to dull the genre down by creating shitty horror comedies. This movie set out to scare its audience and though they may not have succeeded, their effort was still valiant. Even now, as I watched it, I couldn’t help but feel that kids today might still be freaked out by it. Additionally, you’ll have to understand that it can be pretty cheesy and campy at times but I think that only adds to the fact that it should be a midnight movie.

I think it should also be known that this film bears a striking resemblance to my favorite horror movie of all time; you guessed it, The Thing. It’s a very uncanny resemblance because even some of the creature design looks and sounds the same. Consider this: Charlie hijacks his victims DNA and assumes the physical appearance of anything that it genetically molds with. So if he were to mold with a shark, he would take on the physical likeness of a shark and that would also go with people that he molds with. Now, The Thing does the exact same thing. It devours and replicates itself based on what it’s victim looks like only it does this on a cellular level rather than a genetic DNA based level. By the end of the movie, paranoia sweeps the remaining survivors and you are wondering who is who. I will probably elaborate on this when I begin my Thing Week this June.

C'mon, doesn't that remind you of that goopy pile of dog meat from The Thing?

Overall, Proteus may not be the best horror movie ever made but its heart is in the right place. It was a great time for me to watch a film that I used to watch as a kid and it took me back to those days. Of course I am bias but that should be understood. I might have looked at this movie differently if I saw it for the first time. So, if you want a good midnight movie or if you have a hankering for a cheesy 90’s creature feature, give this indie film a watch. Just be sure to not take it too seriously, doing so may result in permanent genetic disfigurement.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Saw Memorial

With the Saw series finally, and hopefully, over… many people have been creating tribute videos and memorial websites for the legacy that Saw left behind. Now, I am one of the few who didn’t like the Saw franchise (at least everything from Part 3 to the end). However, I still have to respect the franchise for giving us a breath of fresh air and creating one of the greatest horror movie villains. Well, the folks at Lions Gate UK went ahead and created a memorial video as well as a great infographic on the Saw series. He explains:

“To celebrate the last Saw movie, Saw: The Final Chapter (and the box-set Saw: The Final Cut), we quickly filmed and edited a fun little video trailer to celebrate and (literally) bury the series and a decent info-graphic, which gets across a lot of the series info into once place.”

Below is the memorial video and the infographic, however you may need to click on the image to see it bigger. It tells a lot of great information about the entire Saw series and gives a great profile on each movie.

I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review - Insidious (2011)

The last time that I was ever truly scared by a horror movie was probably when I was about 13 or 14 years old; in other words, a very long time. I would constantly have the shakes, my hands would sweat and I would be gripping my jaw intensely trying to not look away from the movie. The last movie that did this for me wasn’t Paranormal Activity, even though I was genuinely scared by it… but rather Amityville Horror (the remake). Sure it was a remake but since then, I have never been scared by a horror movie and it’s been a little over 5 years now and I was still waiting. Before Amityville, the last horror movie that scared me wasn’t even a modern film but rather one made in the late 80s. So you can see how low horror has progressed and you’ll understand why I was so shocked (literally) to find out how good James Wan’s new film Insidious was. I saw a private screening of it here in Chicago and I went in not knowing anything about the film or who directed it. I didn’t even see a poster or a trailer for it and I walked out of the theater shaking. It was the first movie, in years that brought me back, mentally, as a kid first discovering what horror was. My hands were sweaty, I was shaking, I was heating up and I was clenching my mouth trying to keep my eyes on the screen. After the credits rolled, I was breathing heavy and I was still trying to put two and two together. So, now that I gave you my reaction, let me discuss what the film is about and why it was so good.

In a nutshell, the film is Paranormal Activity crossed with Poltergeist. It’s not surprising since the producers of P.A. produced Insidious, so naturally they are drawn to demonic possession. The film is about a typical American family that moves into a haunted house. The spooks victimize the hard-working wife of the family and she begins to see and hear things that aren’t natural. Then, the unthinkable happens, their oldest son (probably 9 or 10) falls into a coma and the mother desperately tries to keep a grip on her sanity. After convincing her husband to move out of the haunted house, it’s apparent that the house isn’t haunted but rather her comatose son. Her mother-in-law enlists the help of a psychic to try to channel the spooks and demons to see what they want with her son and she reveals something incredible. She reveals that the family’s comatose son is capable of astral projecting himself, which is the process of having your astral body (spiritual) separate from your physical body and capable of traveling to realms outside our own. Because of this, their son’s astral body is lost and is being held hostage by a monster that wants his physical body, and the ghouls and apparitions are also fighting over who would assume his body.

I should mention the parents are named Josh and Renai, their son is named Dalton and the mother-in-law is Lorraine.

It’s a riveting plot that pays homage to Poltergeist, which has a very similar story structure: a young child is kidnapped by otherworldly beings and their parents must find a way to bring him or her back. But why does this movie stand out from the rest of the horror movies? It’s certainly not 100% original, but that’s just it… it takes an old idea and morphs it into something different. What made me so frightened was how the film was directed and how the sound elements played a huge part in the scare factor. In the old days, horror films used sound and anticipation to make the audience scared because they didn’t have the money or imagination to show what the monster looks like. Insidious is no exception because it perfectly uses high-stringed orchestral cues and booming sound effects to make the viewer jump out of their seat. A perfect example of this instance from the film is when Lorraine tells Josh and Renai that she has seen the monster as well and that intensified string movement is swelling, the camera zooms in on her, and you know something is going to happen… but it’s daylight. Then… BOOM!!!! You see the demon’s face hissing at her from behind Josh’s back. You jump back and you realize that it’s gone. Those brief scenes of terror with a drawn-out buildup pay tribute to the horror films of the 60s and 70s where sound elements are mixed to create sheer fright. The film is peppered with instances like this and despite knowing that something is going to happen, it seems to still catch you off guard.

Additionally, James Wan (there was a Q & A after the screening) sited that Carnival of Souls was a major inspiration for this film, in turn I thought the same way but I also felt like Kubrick’s The Shining was a heavy inspiration. What do both of these films have in common? They create a frightening, surreal, ominous atmosphere with very basic set pieces. Insidious does the very same thing. In order to retrieve his son from the demon, Josh must also venture into the other realm known as The Further to reclaim him but what does The Further look like. But what does The Further look like? Well, I don’t want to spoil it because it’s hard to describe the atmosphere but it’s darker, foggier and feels like a parallel universe. With the drastic color changes, the eerie sounds the way the ghouls walk around as though they are still living make for a very uncomfortable and spooky mood. I can’t tell you how many times I freaked out when I saw one of the ghoul families appear out of nowhere with a terrifying harlequin smile. It was as if these ghosts, or spirits, were playing out what they had done just before they died and then set their actions to repeat. It was very haunting and it put me right into the realm of the story.

Now what about the creature and ghoul design? Well, I think it’s important to note that there is no blood or gore in this movie, even though there is a scene that looks like blood… it’s not. The design and look of the demon (the thing that is holding the boy’s astral body hostage) is freaky, to say the least. It is tall, hoofed, has pointy ears and long metallic talons that it regularly sharpens. It looks just like an actual demon that you can find in Catholic and Christian artwork. It’s not heavily stylized however they do play him off to be a mask-maker, which I love because it gives us a look into its personality. It’s also a puppeteer, ironically. It’s also funny to note that the composer of the film plays the demon and the actor that played the little boy would cry on set because he was so scared of him. James Wan had to show the boy that it was all makeup to try and ease his fear. The ghouls, however, were typical ghouls ranging from an old woman (which was played by a man with a deep voice), to a bride, to a young woman, to psychopathic killer, to a little boy from the 1800s (named Tiny Tim). They were so beautifully and simply portrayed that the lack of any type of special makeup made them seem more grounded in surrealism.

I’d have to cut this off short because if I express how I truly love this film, it will end up being a two-parter post. During the Q&A, Wan told the audience that him and his partner-in-crime Leigh wanted to do a film that not only attributed haunted house films but also was a return to old-school horror. Hatchet marketed itself, as “old school horror” but wasn’t because it didn’t use the techniques. Insidious, however, used mood, atmosphere, performance and sound to its advantage to create a very brooding movie that is the definition of horror. I’m willing to say that this is Wan’s masterpiece film because it’s original and it’s truly scary… hell it’s better than Saw. It’s a film that I hope gains more recognition and sadly it’s one of the best horror films of the new millennium. Saw II was based off an unused haunted house screenplay that Wan wanted to write, and if Insidious was his unused script… than by God he made a haunted house movie. My friend saw it with me and he said a quote that typifies the entire movie-going experience for him and me. He goes, “there is only so much that I can take before I get a heart attack.” See Insidious. Support original indie horror.

Note: Watch this movie with the volume turned up and without any lights on.