September 11, 2014

Aaron vs. Brad at Yellow Razor

Brad of the podcast Hello! This Is The Doomed Show (check out his 13 Questions HERE) interviewed me for his blog Yellow Razor, which you can see HERE. I had a blast doing it! Give 'er a look, eh?!

August 31, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, The Final Day: Tragic Ceremony (1972)

Directed by Riccardo Freda. Starring Camille Keaton ("Jane"), Tony Isbert ("Bill"), Máximo Valverde ("Joe"), and Luigi Pistilli ("Lord Alexander"). Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Dark Sky/MPI)
Running time: 01:26:57
Country: Spain, Italy

The term "nightmare logic" often comes up when people talk about the plots of a lot of European horror movies. Well, that term certainly applies to TRAGIC CEREMONY (also known as FROM THE SECRET POLICE FILES OF A EUROPEAN CAPITAL) for a number of reasons, so it's kind of pointless to include a synopsis in this review. But, for what it's worth, the gist of it is that a group of bratty rich friends go on a camping trip and find themselves stranded during a thunderstorm. They hole up in the home of the mysterious Lord Alexander and his gorgeous wife, who reluctantly welcome them. Aside from the fact that one of the rich kids in particular, Jane (Camille Keaton of the original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE), is unknowingly wearing a cursed pearl necklace and is experiencing terrifying hallucinations, the Alexanders are also practitioners of the black arts and just so happen to be hosting a (tragic) ceremony in their palatial home.

TRAGIC CEREMONY is atmospheric as fuck and beautifully shot. Director Riccardo Freda, who was a former artistic collaborator with Mario Bava once upon a time, has apparently disowned this movie, or at least he's voiced some regret with directing it, which is baffling to me considering this is a pretty solid Gothic horror movie full of amazing, spooky visuals. The atmosphere of the first act of the film in particular, in my opinion, is comparable to the cult classic MESSIAH OF EVIL, which, to me, is easily one of the top five most atmospheric horror movies I've ever seen.

The second act of TRAGIC CEREMONY transitions into a more classic Gothic horror type of story (in other words, less Satanic shenanigans and more wandering through hallways with candelabras and whatnot) with an accompanying mood and style that's on par with any of the best eerie Gothic horror movies out there. Riccardo Freda is no joke. While lacking in plot and coherence, TRAGIC CEREMONY proves to be beautifully-creepy feast for the eye-holes, elevated by an almost constant score of organ music, the sound of thunder and flashes lightning, Mario Bava-esque gelled lighting, camera work that goes back and forth between gliding and dizzying, and an incorporation of shadows and minimal lighting that seems to be inspired by Film Noir.

Strangely, the film reaches a shocking and bloody climax at the half-way point before drifting off in another direction that focuses on paranoia. TRAGIC CEREMONY starts to drag considerably by this point, but slow pacing tends to come with the territory of Euro-horror movies driven by nightmare logic. I've said it before in another review, but sometimes I have to call bullshit when it comes to the nightmare logic excuse in certain European horror movies (ohai Fulci's Gates of Hell trilogy), but TRAGIC CEREMONY is one of the exceptions for me. When you have a film as gorgeous and haunting and Camille-Keatonized as this one, it's hard to give a fuck about plot.

Score: 6.5

SUMMER OF BLOOD, The Final Day: Squirm (1976)

Directed by Jeff Lieberman. Starring Don Scardino ("Mick"), Patricia Pearcy ("Geri Sanders"), R.A. Dow ("Roger Grimes"), and Jean Sullivan ("Naomi Sanders"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (MGM)
Running time: 01:32:47
Country: USA

SQUIRM is directed by the guy who did BLUE SUNSHINE, JUST BEFORE DAWN, and SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER, and it's shot by the guy who directed NEON MANIACS, which pretty much makes this the EXPENDABLES of horror filmmaking, right?

In SQUIRM, a thunderstorm rocks the fictional town of Fly Creek, Georgia. And by "town" I mean a dirt road, a diner, and some houses. The film introduces us to a bunch of characters right off the bat. There's the pale-skinned, redhead Geraldine (or "Geri" as she's called), her mother, and her sister Alma, who's one of the greatest characters I've ever seen in a horror movie. There's also the worm farmer Roger Grimes and his dad Willie, and the lazy old cop who seemingly makes up the entire police department himself. There's the jaded waitress with the amazing hairdo too, as well as an assortment of locals who seem to be played by genuine country folk. Rounding out the characters is Geraldine's boyfriend from the city, Mick. Don't let Mick's nerdy exterior fool you, though. He's a smooth operator. For example, when he's hassled by the aforementioned cop, who asks "What business do you have in Fly Creek?", Mick, without skipping a beat, replies with "No business. Just pleasure." YEAH BOY! GET YOU SOME GERALDINE!

The thunderstorm comes into play when the seeds are planted for a massive worm attack. A "hundred thousand" worms mysteriously disappear from containers on a truck, which coincides with mentions of electricty being pumped into the ground due to the damaged power lines and whatnot. Seeing as the worms live in the ground, it's only natural that the electric soil would turn them into vicious predators. That's usually how it works, right?

Mick and Geraldine eventually catch on to the fact that there's a serious infestation of deadly worms. The town's one-man police department is sort of eliminated from the picture, mainly because he's a lazy fuck who doesn't care. In the meantime, the initial worm-attack victim is roaming the woods and behaving like an escaped mental patient. This "worm face" character also adds another - and arguably much needed - element of danger to the proceedings.

The film has a slow build-up appropriately enough (you know... 'cause worms are slow and stuff). The first worm attack doesn't happen for quite a while and everything prior to that is character development and setting the stage for The Great Wormocalypse. That said, it's hard to imagine creatures such as worms posing a serious threat to the existence of humanity. Well, it turns out they're about as intimidating as you'd expect. In order to be harmed by the worms, you basically have to fall on them or be underneath them as they fall on you. What makes them dangerous isn't so much what they can do but rather the sheer volume of them. It gets to the point where worms are pouring out of ceilings and plumbing. As far as the worms, sometimes actual worms are used and, at other times, there are what look like thousands of rubber spaghetti-looking things. I don't recall if there was an explanation as to why the characters didn't just get the fuck out of Dodge when they had the chance, but whatevers.

The leads (specifically Don Scardino and Patricia Pearcy) are surprisingly good and are part of what keeps this movie from being nothing more than a silly creature-feature. There are moments of camp, but the weird subject matter is played with a straight face for the most part, which I sort of appreciate. Overall, this is a fun little B-movie that should ideally be watched with a group. One of the highlights for me is definitely the character of Alma, played by Fran Higgins (pictured above) in her only film role sadly. She's GOLD. One of my favorite Alma moments is when she hits a joint so hard it knocks her backwards.

Score: 6.5

August 30, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 91: Macho Bullshit Moviecast's MACHO HORROR, Pt. 3 of 3 - 2000 and Beyond

Guest post by Tyler Kennedy of Macho Bullshit Moviecast

Macho Bullshit Moviecast podcast

This is my final installment for this blog.  In this entry I am addressing the more recent films that I think incorporate macho or masculine tropes.  All films were produced after 2000, so this fills in a gap in part one where I focused on pre-1970s films and part two where I dealt with two directors mostly active from the 70s through 90s.  I have also tried to balance this entry a bit more internationally, as part one was primarily American films.  So with that, let’s get started.

Let’s face it: Australia just gets macho.  In my mind this is directly tied to their history and frontier culture.  In part one I briefly wrote about Long Weekend and Turkey Shoot.  I could (and probably should) have addressed Wake In Fright as well, and I’ve been wanting to see Razorback for a long time.  Well on to the films at hand.  The Wolf Creek (2005 and 2013) films feature perhaps the manliest man of all horror villains—and I mean that in both a positive and negative sense.  The villain of these films, Mick Taylor comes off as a blustering outback redneck, which is in fact exactly what he is.  He is a ‘roo and hog shooter, he is a capable mechanic, he is a heavy drinker and possesses a homespun, backwoods sense of humor which morphs into part of his sadism in both films.  In short, he is set up as a man’s man in the man’s man’s world (thank you James Brown) of the outback.  He shows the two of the most negative common (or clichéd) tendencies of the macho-obsessed: in part one he is a rabid misogynist; and part two focuses on his equally rabid xenophobia.  Both films are basically slasher/torture porn hybrids, which generally I am not a real fan of.  I have to believe the saving grace of both films is the fact that Mick is a charismatic macho villain you love to hate.  These are both brutal films, but the sequel is absolutely INSANE, built upon excellent opening/closing bookends. 

While we’re on the subject of hunters and the bush, there are two recent hawgsploitation (as I call it) movies I enjoyed.  I love the man vs nature, hunter becomes hunted of this type of film.  First, in the K-Horror Chawz (2009), we have a Jaws rip-off with a giant, pissed off wild boar.  Sorry, you just can’t go wrong with that for me.  It does have a bit more of an environmental subtext than Jaws, but really that isn’t the point of the movie.  Pig Hunt (2008) on the other hand is more or less its own entity.  Basically it concerns a group of buddies (a couple are Iraq vets) and a girlfriend on a weekend trip back to the lead’s family spread to hunt feral hogs.  It turns into a lot more though, ending in a completely left field (even borderline Lovecraftian) way.  Given the budget and pedigree, this flick was a big surprise. 

Now, we will move on to soldiers.  I could tell you the movie that the K-Horror flick The Guard Post aka GP506 (2008) reminds me of, but that would simultaneously oversell it and spoil it.  So I’ll keep it relatively brief.  A squad of soldiers finds an isolated guard post on the DMZ full of the mutilated bodies of the previous occupants—except for one survivor covered in blood with axe in hand.  This film then uses an investigative/procedural tack to reconstruct some of the events, while new happenings occur.  I don’t think a lot of people have seen this one so I will leave it there, merely adding it was a big surprise how much I liked this film.  I will also say there is another K-Horror movie featuring soldiers called R-Point (2004) which I unfortunately have not watched yet, but my instincts tell me it would fit the criteria for inclusion here.

Speaking of soldiers, here’s a pair of macho horror movies from Britain which feature soldiers.  First, 2002’s Deathwatch.  To sum up, this movie concerns the survivors of a British company (reduced to squad size) isolated behind enemy lines and seek shelter in an abandoned German trench.  Truthfully, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it so details are fuzzy, but I remember going in with fairly low expectations and being pleasantly surprised.  The more recent British film about soldiers, Black Death (2010) is my favorite of the movies discussed in this final installment.  What makes it macho?  Well, really this is a men on a mission film.  We follow a group of mercenaries in service of the church to crush a village under the spell of a necromancer.  What unfolds is essemtially Apocalypse Now by way of folk horror.  I have to credit Emily of Deadly Doll’s House ( for pointing out that ultimately it becomes sort of an origin story for a Witchfinder General (a great nasty Vincent Price folk horror film with some good macho-ness).  There is definitely a subtext of misogyny and religion in this film, as in Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man (my two other favorite folk horror flicks).  Sean Bean, who despite the reputation of dying in everything, is a bona fide badass and in full on badass mode in this film.  It is a bit of a slow burn, I will admit, but like Apocalypse Now it’s about the journey as much as the destination.  I do think a lot of people didn’t like it because it is much more reality based than fantastic or supernatural, however for me that is a great strength and adds meaning to the film above entertainment.  So for what it is worth, I am a big fan.

Finally I will write a little bit about the flip side of the macho coin.  There are films that I think are born of a reaction to more conventional macho tropes.  We Are What We Are (2010) provides a strong, and subversive take on macho-ness.  Our story is about a family of cannibals in Mexico City; the twist is that the patriarch of the family dies so the task of procuring victims (the father targeted female prostitutes) passes to the eldest son who is gay.  This is a multi-layered film, as much a family drama as a horror film, and well worth a watch. 

There are two female focused films that I would argue use the simplest of subversions: switching typically male characters to female in the tradition of Alien.  Alexander Aja’s High Tension (2003) is sort of a slasher/stalker movie with a bit of a psychological bent.  I will not spoil it by further description.  I will say honestly, I don’t like the end product much (others do) but I certainly think it is an interesting counterpoint to male focused fare and run of the mill survivor girl tropes.  The final film I will comment on is The Descent (2005).  This film could have been made with an all-male cast with very minimal changes.  It is Deliverance meets H.P. Lovecraft—badass, adventurer chicks (and I LOVE tough girls) encounter arcane monsters with an added psychological component.  What more do you need to know?  Just be sure to view the original director approved ending, not the far inferior theatrical ending.

With that, I will simply close this series out.  Thanks for reading and thanks to Deathrattle Aaron for inviting me to write for his blog.  It’s been an interesting, and thought provoking process.  I hope you found it to be as well.

August 29, 2014

13 Questions: Andrea Subissati

A little over a year ago, Alexandra West of The Faculty of Horror podcast was featured on 13 Questions, and now, after much begging and pleading, I've finally gotten her co-host Andrea Subissati to do this silly Q&A. Aside from the informative, humorous, and academically-slanted FoH podcast, Andrea is quite busy in the world of Horror in general, from writing to lecturing. You can (and should) check out Andrea's work at the links below!

1. Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Andrea Subissati, and I live in Toronto.

2. Where might people know you from?
Some folks might know me as Lady Hellbat, a moniker I picked up back when I was playing roller derby. I’m a twice-published author, a contributing writer at Rue Morgue Magazine, curator of a horror lecture series and co-host of The Faculty of Horror podcast. I’ve also been a guest on the now-defunct Rue Morgue podcast a number of times.

3. When it comes to what you do, who are your major influences?
I’m inspired by people who are passionate, who blaze their own paths, and aren’t afraid to take chances and start something new. Moving to Toronto and making acquaintance with the tremendous talent at Rue Morgue has been a great source of inspiration and encouragement for me. I love to pick Rodrigo Gudiño’s brain about how he started up the mag, and Feedback from the Rue Morgue podcast inspired Alex and I to launch The Faculty of Horror. Gary Pullin, Ashlea Wessel, Tal Zimerman, Alex West, my co-curator Paul Corupe… I’m very fortunate to be able to surround myself with such driven and creative people.

4. What four peoples' faces would you put on your own personal Mt. Rushmore?
I’d pick Joss Whedon, Jane Fonda, Kathleen Hanna and Jon Stewart.

5. What's the last album you bought?
Let’s see… when did Napster come out? Maybe it’s more interesting to talk about the first album I ever purchased: the soundtrack to The Lost Boys was my first CD. I listened to it endlessly on my Sony Shockwave Discman. Remember the one that came with rumbling headphones? That was my jam.

6. What are the last movies you saw in theaters and on DVD/Blu-Ray?
The last movie I saw in the theatre wasn’t a horror movie; it was Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m not averse to the occasional summer blockbuster, and that one really lived up to the hype. Bautista blew me away! The last Blu-Ray I watched was Ginger Snaps: I’m reviewing the new Scream Factory re-release for Rue Morgue.

7. What's the last podcast you listened to?
The final episode of the Rue Morgue Podcast. I don’t commute to work anymore so I don’t listen to podcasts as much as I’d like but I also enjoy 6 Foot Plus for music and The Projection Booth for movie talk.

8. What's the last video game you played?
Oh dear, I definitely put a few hours into Minecraft last night before bed. My roommate and I have been working on an intricate underground railroad system and it’s sapping hours of my life away. Before that, I was enamored with a game called Charlie Murder: a really fun button-masher with a great horror-punk esthetic. I recommend!

9. What's the last book you read?
I went away to a cottage for a weekend and Dave Alexander lent me Gyo, the 2-part manga series by the author of Uzimaki. I also checked out the animated film after I read it, it’s very cool.

10. What are your favorite sports teams?
The Gore Gore Rollergirls! I had to retire from roller derby due to a double-concussion in my rookie year, but I’m a lifetime fan. I have 2 Gore tattoos!

11. What cartoon or comic book character can you relate to the most?
I’m like a cross between Tank Girl and Catwoman. At least, I like to think so.

12. Create a playlist of ten songs that give people an idea of your musical taste.
Detroit Cobras – Hey Sailor
Notorious B.I.G – Party and Bullshit (Ratatat remix)
Juliette and the Licks – Hot Kiss
L7 - Andres
The Horrorpops – Caught in a Blonde
Tilt – Berkeley Pier
Queens of the Stone Age - Kalopsia
The Distillers – L.A. Girl
Armistice – City Lights Cry
Ghost – Genesis

13. If you could spend the day at an amusement park with one person from the entertainment industry, who would it be and why?
Elvira. She’s hilarious and fun but she doesn’t take any shit! I think we’d have a great time.


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SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 90: Visiting Hours (1982)

Directed by Jean-Claude Lord. Starring Michael Ironside ("Colt Hawker"), Lee Grant ("Deborah Ballin"), Linda Purl ("Sheila Munroe"), and William Shatner ("Gary Baylor"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (20th Century Fox/Anchor Bay)
Running time: 01:45:05
Country: Canada

On a whim, I decided to watch a Canadian ROBOCOP rip-off on YouTube called THE VINDICATOR a few weeks ago. After enduring that cinematic atrocity, I noticed the name of the director and made a choice to avoid anything by this person at all costs in the future. Fast forward a few days, and I decided, once and for all, to scratch a certain Canadian horror movie off my List of Shame. That movie was VISITING HOURS, and lo and behold, it's directed by the same guy who pooped out THE VINIDICATOR, one Jean-Claude Lord. Funny how those types of things happen.

VISITING HOURS basically kicks into gear when a female journalist is attacked in her home by the woman-beater she verbally blasted on her show. The thing is, the attacker, played by Michael Ironside (SCANNERS), is butt naked and wearing a bunch of her jewelry. He's also armed with a shitty kitchen knife that would probably break if he tried to stab someone with it. During this very disturbing melee, you can even catch a glimpse of Little Ironside, which might be the most upsetting thing about this movie. Anyway, the journalist escapes but ends up in the hospital, where she remains for most of the movie. This opening is appropriately confrontational, and it also feels like the type of opening you'd see in a Hitchock movie, minus the flamboyant camera work.

The initial attack on the journalist essentially creates a chain reaction of events that lasts for almost the entire first-half of the film before there's even any progression of the storyline. It's like an extended opening sequence that ultimately makes up the whole first act. But, basically, with the journalist hospitalized and an inherent hospital-slasher element, the film consists of Ironside's character pursuing the journalist as a young female nurse gets caught in the middle of it. In the meantime, we learn more about the nurse (a possibly bi-curious single mother of two kids) and get a glimpse into the sick mind of the antagonist as he goes about his pathetic existence. We also learn about his background and what caused to be an effeminate misogynist sociopath, if that makes any sense. Unlike most slashers, there's no mystery element to this one whatsoever. Not only do we know the killer's identity right off the bat, but he also has a lot of screen time as well.

VISITING HOURS is a very memorable and noteworthy film for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is how gross and sleazy (and wet) Michael Ironside is in this. A particular confrontation he has with one of the many interesting female characters is like something out of Lucio Fulci's NEW YORK RIPPER.

While telling a simple stalk-and-slash type of story, VISITING HOURS does a great job of creating suspense and tension - psychologically and cinematically - without pandering to the audience. There's also a lot to be said about how the film portrays gender and takes liberties with the expectations of the roles that men and women play in horror (or genre films in general for that matter). Granted there's the nurse character, who's essentially an unconventional Final Girl, but she's contrasted by a killer who's a coward, which, at times, sort of makes her the predator by default. The game of cat and mouse goes both ways in this movie, which is really interesting. There's also the journalist, whose profession causes her to put on a tough facade and write checks with her mouth that her ass can't cash, and her knight in shining armor (played by "The Shat" William Shatner), who basically just provides emotional support rather than give her the security she obviously needs. Finally, there's the hooker with the heart of gold, who adds another dimension to the roles that women play in this story.

Yeah, so this is definitely a slasher, albeit not your typical example - and not a particularly exciting or "fun" one for that matter. There's no emphasis on body count, nor is there a guy in a mask who's seemingly just killing people because they're "breaking the rules". However, it does some interesting stuff with the slasher structure (or at least what was established of a slasher "structure" at the time this was made), in that you have three classes of women who sort of collectively embody the traditional Final Girl and a killer who's exposed to the point where you can almost feel sorry for him. The only disappointing thing about this movie is its lack of a memorable musical score - nit-picky on my part, but this has everything else going for it, so why not. But then again, more often than not, the silence and lack of music works to its advantage.

Score: 7

August 28, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 89: Choose (2011)

Directed by Marcus Graves. Starring Katheryn Winnick ("Fiona Wagner"), Kevin Pollak ("Tom Wagner"), Nicholas Tucci ("Nathan Jones"), and Bruce Dern ("Dr. Ronald Pendleton"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (IFC/MPI)
Running time: 01:26:29
Country: USA

CHOOSE is a movie I've been putting off and finally decided to check out just because it stars Katheryn Winnick. Most people might know Katheryn from the hit TV show VIKINGS, but I'll always know her as the hot sister from SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER. Mmmm... Winnick.

I had no expectations going into CHOOSE, so I was pleasantly surprised by its strong opening. It gets right to the point and lets you know what type of movie is in store. A hooded man breaks into a home, ties up a married couple and makes their teenage daughter choose: who lives and who dies? It's one thing to have your home broken into by someone with sadistic intentions, but to be put on the spot and forced to determine the fate of one of your loved ones is some next-level home invasion shit. The establishing sequence gets worse, but I won't elaborate. The important thing is that it immediately sets up the antagonist and gives us an idea of his M.O.

We're then introduced to Katheryn Winnick's character, Fiona, a college student and the daughter of the cop (played by Kevin Pollak) who ends up being the dude who hunts the killer. It's safe to assume early on that Fiona either has a connection to the killer or the killer will eventually set his sights on her for whatever reason. Or both. Whether that "connection" goes beyond the fact that Fiona's dad is the cop who's on the killer's trail is something I can't get into in this review, but I will say that it's important enough for Fiona to play amateur investigator despite the fact that her dad is a legit detective. This isn't your traditional slasher movie, but, if it was, she'd basically be the Final Girl.

Because of how the first act unfolds (and also because of the fact that it's clearly inspired by David Fincher's SEVEN), it's pretty much a guarantee that the film is gonna build to a plot twist, namely due to the killer's identity and motives being an issue. That said, the killer is on a roll early on. He strikes quite a bit during the first act of the movie, with different life-threatening ultimatums for each of the victims. He also leaves symbols at the crime scenes that look like mazes. This calling card of the killer is similar to a specific symbol used in the excellent PRISONERS, which came out a couple of years after this movie.

As far as atmosphere and style, CHOOSE does a lot of things right. I guess you could say the filmmakers made the right choices. Ha! also zips along at a fast pace. With those things in consideration and a good cast factored in, CHOOSE seems like a decent serial killer movie on the surface. However, the killer loves to talk and taunt his victims, and, every time he opens his mouth, it takes me out of the movie because A) it sounds bad, and B) it's so fucking cheesy. But hey, I guess it's better than a killer quacking like a duck, right?

Overall, this ends up being a pretty uninteresting and contrived thriller once the establishing kills are out of the way. It feels like a SEVEN cash-in that came out 16 years too late. The saving grace of the movie, aside from it being stylish, is the cast. With CHOOSE, you're getting a pretty formulaic thriller with surprises that aren't effective as they should be because of how similar they are to the revelations and shocking moments in other movies of its ilk. But, you're watching it being performed by a good cast of lead actors. Kevin Pollak (THE USUAL SUSPECTS), Bruce Dern, and of course Winnick, who does more than just stand around and look hot. Winnick gets physical on a couple of occasions, which isn't surprising with her real-life Martial Arts background in mind. It should be said that Bruce Dern probably shot his scenes in only a day or two, but still... it's Bruce motherfucking Dern. Pollak and Winnick don't look anything like an actual father and daughter duo, but they have great chemistry together. So yeah, unoriginal film, flawed script, familiar story, good cast - and some decent moments of gore as well.

Score: 5.5

August 27, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 88: The Den (2013)

Directed by Zachary Donohue. Starring Melanie Papalia ("Elizabeth Benton"), David Schlachtenhaufen ("Damien"), Matt Riedy ("Sgt. Tisbert"), and Adam Shapiro ("Max"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (IFC/MPI)
Running time: 01:16:44
Country: USA

Lead character Elizabeth successfully gets a grant for a project that revolves around connecting with complete strangers over the internet. Elizabeth will be logged into a Chat Roulette type of website called The Den at all hours of the day and record every interaction with people from all over the world. The goal is to basically video chat with as many people from as many parts of the world as possible. In the process, she comes across her share of trolls and perverts and downright scary people, but it always goes back to one profile in particular.

This mysterious profile always brings up the same still photo of teenage girl. The person on the other end of the profile prefers to have text-only chats and refuses to let their voice be heard or their face seen. There's also something going on with Elizabeth's computer (specifically her Den account) being hacked in the middle of the night. Well, one day, in the middle of a chat session with this person, the video suddenly turns on and she sees the girl from the picture being murdered in a rather quick and shocking manner. Naturally, she contacts the police and reports what she saw, but the film does everything in its power to keep the police out of the picture for the remainder of its running time, whether it be the Cyber-crimes unit brushing if off as a hoax or claiming there's not enough evidence to proceed with an investigation. From there, it seems that the person responsible for the murder is setting his (or her) sights on Elizabeth and those close to her. A whole lot of fucked up and creepy shit ensues.

The whole video chat project of Elizabeth's is simply an excuse to set up the film's motif. That said, the entire movie is shown as if we're watching Elizabeth's computer screen. She communicates with everyone via webcam and computer, and the people she actually has physical contact with are right there on her webcam and being recorded with her. So we're seeing all of her video chats and all the fucked-up things she sees, literally, from her point of view. Stylistically, this is a very unique and creative film that takes the handheld found-footage type of horror movie to a new level visually.

Like most found-footage movies, though, you have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief when it comes to what's being shown. Not so much the content but the manner in which the content is presented. It's almost like a lot of found-footage movies forget that they're found-footage movies, and such is the case with THE DEN at times.

For what it is, this is a pretty well-made movie? I guess? I don't really have much to compare it to, except for maybe MEGAN IS MISSING, which also focused on the dark and horrifying side of the internet and utilized a similar type of found-footage-by-way-of-everyday-technology gimmick. And, while it was indeed quite shocking, MEGAN was not a very well-made film from a technical standpoint.

In particular, I love the unpredictability of the initial video chats and the subsequent cyber-stalking. And I don't mean unpredictable in the sense of "Who's gonna pop up on Elizabeth's screen next?" but rather seeing some of these people and anticipating what they'd do next. Some of them end up being normal, some of them are clearly out of their fucking minds from the jump, and some of them start out as being nice and charming but end up being complete trolls. That said, I think this would have worked slightly better as a mystery, with the big pay-off being the motives for the person (or people) behind the crimes as opposed to how the film ultimately turns into a slasher and shows the antagonist(s?) in action. Once the curtain is sort of pulled back on what's really going on, the intriguing story is reduced to a series of messed-up scenarios. Still, though, the slasher element is very effective and unsettling - not just because of the gruesome violence that's shown, but also because it's rooted 100% in reality. The internet can be a wonderful resource of information, but there's an extremely dark side of the internet that's very real, and, like MEGAN IS MISSING, this film examines that dark side in a way that personally made me feel somewhat uneasy. Overall, a surprisingly solid and engaging horror movie that way more people should be talking about. Big thanks to Heather for recommending this one. I'm not sure if I would've even heard of it otherwise.

Score: 7.5

August 26, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 87: Macho Bullshit Moviecast's MACHO HORROR, Pt. 2 of 3 - Carpenter and Romero

Guest post by Tyler Kennedy of Macho Bullshit Moviecast

Note: This is not an exhaustive film by film analysis, but rather sort of a Cliff’s Notes of how these two directors have engaged masculinity though their careers. 
When one mentions horror directors who established themselves in the 1970s, two names stand above all—John Carpenter and George A. Romero.  In my opinion, both built their careers upon an engagement of masculinity and macho tropes, and I would argue they often operated in parallel.  This began very early in their careers.  Although both directors had done films previously, Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) are their respective watershed films.  Ostensibly both are riffs on the siege genre, one of the most macho types of film.  Though Assault is generally regarded an action movie, the roots of both these (and all siege films really) lie in survival horror.  The horror stems from being trapped, outnumbered and under attack from a seemingly endless, and anonymous stream of foes.  In both films, these foes do not have conscience or rationality (zombies are incapable by definition, the gang members in Assault gun down a little girl buying ice cream and attack a police station).  That is true horror—an enemy you cannot reason with, and simply keeps coming no matter the cost (sounds like The Shape from Carpenter’s Halloween doesn’t it?).  Both these films feature strong male characters (and unintentional complexity because of featuring black heroes), and there are definite aspects of dick swinging (primarily Night) and camaraderie (primarily Assault).  Furthermore, what is the solution to the threat in these films?  Meet the threat head on with violence of action—a stereotypical masculine (macho) method. 

To extend the ideas a bit further, it must be pointed out that The Thing (1982) and the various Dead movies actually have quite a lot in common.  In The Thing, our events are actually at a military installation, same as with Day (and though not military installations, all the Dead movies feature limited locations like The Thing); in The Thing we have soldiers, in Dawn of the Dead (1978) SWAT team personnel and soldiers in Day; and finally there is the core fear they play off of.  I addressed fear of losing control in my previous essay; this is the core fear of these films.  And what is the solution in these films?  Again, a totally masculine reaction—meet the threat with violence and neutralize the threat.  Confrontation is forced in all these movies—even in Dawn our little group that holes up in the mall and begins to rebuild a family is ultimately forced to confront the post-apocalyptic bikers.  These films loosely parallel the human hunting films I talked about in part 1 of this series.  Now, I will move on.

It’s interesting that both directors have made films about male transformation as well.  As I went into in part 1 of this series, men constantly fight losing control, and are required to fit into a society which forces us to eschew our more animalistic urges, both physically and psychologically.  Sometimes, we break down in favor of the more animalistic half.  In the case of Carpenter, we have Christine (1983) and in the case of Romero, we have Monkey Shines (1988), The Dark Half (1993) and Bruiser (2000).  Christine is particularly interesting to me.  The bond between man and machine transforms our main character from nerd to stud (to sociopath).  As men we define ourselves in large part by what we do, and any device we use in that process becomes an extension of our body and even our inner self—Christine shows the backwash of this process, how the power of a machine influences the man who uses it, a fascinating read of the symbiotic relationship between animate and inanimate.  His humanity—defined in part by an ability to use tools and embrace technology—leads him down a path towards animalistic behavior.  (Of the films in this paragraph, Christine is easily the best in my opinion.) An even more obvious look at (male) human/animal duality is Romero’s Monkey Shines which features a quadriplegic man with a helper monkey.  Ultimately this monkey feeds off our lead Allan’s anger and frustration at his disability and begins to lash out—an anger born of loss of control of his own body.  Romero’s The Dark Half is essentially a tale of split personality (sort of a Fight Club light) where there is a proper, intellectual, domesticated half and a dark, animalistic, feral half.  There is definitely an element of irony in that the domesticated half is ultimately forced into violence against the feral half.  Romero’s Bruiser is sort of Fight Club light by way of revenge movie.  Honestly, it isn’t a particularly good film, but it does show a man emasculated and forced into anonymity by the corporate world ultimately regaining his identity and self-respect through the use of violence.

Both filmmakers added an interesting subtext to a couple of their films in terms of male/female dichotomy.  Particularly I speak of Day of the Dead (1985) and Ghosts of Mars (2001).  Again, both return to siege tropes, but the twist is the presence of strong women.  Day features a female in a male profession (scientist) fighting a blindly macho culture that leads to a dead end.  In Ghosts, it is pointed out that society has been realigned as a matriarchy and features militarized women.  Interestingly enough, when it comes down to it, a male convict becomes the real leader of the besieged group.  I think Romero and Carpenter play it quite differently.  Romero uses the nurturing stereotype of women to criticize militarism (though he works against gender stereotype by portraying the woman as rational and the men as irrational—I would even argue the territorial imperative is at work to an extent, and part of what Romero is criticizing).  In Carpenter’s case, the women are militarized to bring about an equality with men.  I don’t think Carpenter does enough with this aspect of the film, at least not enough to create a whole world around it (a la Escape From New York) and I wish he did. 

Though I don’t think that there is a parallel with anything Romero has done, at this point I feel the need to mount a spirited defense of John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998).  I know, I know, but screw you, I like it.  The big reason why is James Woods is such a macho dick swinger in this movie!  In most respects, admittedly, this does not have the classic look of a Carpenter film BUT it does have a few other qualities.  First off, it’s probably the most violent of his films in terms of blood and gore (maybe The Thing surpasses it in gore, but the bodycount is much lower).  Second, it feels like a relatively developed world/set of ideas (like Escape From New York and unlike Ghosts of Mars).  Third, this film uses the classic macho trope of revenge, which I am a sucker for.  Finally, there is abundant dick swinging--Jack Crow vs Valek, Jack Crow vs Montoya, Jack Crow vs the Catholic Church, really Jack Crow vs everyone else in the fucking movie.  Just look at this dialog exchange:
Jack Crow: Let me ask you a question. When you were stabbing that vampire in there?
Father Adam Guiteau: Yeah?
Crow: Did you get a little wood?
Guiteau: Mahogany.
These guys get erections from stabbing vampires in the fucking heart.  That is macho bullshit right there!  Now I fully understand this is not the restrained machismo of Snake Plisken or MacReady but damn do I find it entertaining.

Anyway there’s a few thoughts.  Though not as in depth as my previous entry, hopefully this gives you an idea of how these great directors choose to engage masculinity and maybe it will inspire you to put a macho filter on next time you give one of their films a watch.  My final entry in this series will discuss some of the more recent films in the horror genre that I believe are built upon a macho foundation.