Movies »Berberian Sound Studio

bss1Directed by Peter Strickland

Highly recommended by a friend, I settled into a strange, uncomfortable little horror movie called Berberian Sound Studio last night. While the title is forgettable, the film lingers in your mind. A Creepy, claustrophobic little homage to Giallo – it was a welcome change from the children’s programming that makes up my days (you know you’ve gone deep when you curse to yourself “Cinders and ashes!”).

Toby Jones plays the celebrated but private and meek sound man Gilderoy who, it would seem, has rarely left his pastoral boyhood home. After accepting a job, he finds himself unable to speak the language in more ways than one when he’s trust into machismo world of horror film making in Italy. The film he’s come to work on is “The Equestrian Vortex”, which he quite naively expects to be horse film similar to the nature movies he’s known for. Instead he finds himself listening to blood curdling screams on loops, stabbing heads of lettuce to folly torture scenes, and recording countless fruits splattering on the ground to simulate smashed brains.

Exactly what happens is somewhat open to interpretation. Unlike the graphic violence of the film within the film, all the horror we experience is implied. Tension and unease are created with sound and silence in stark contrast to the nasty bit of exploitation featuring witches, goblins and blood that slowly gnaw at Gilderoy’s subconscious. While we hear descriptions of the movie and the sounds of terror, we only ever see its opening credits (which are perfectly done – Giallo fans will get a particular kick out of them.) Oppressively, we are locked inside tight, smokey sound rooms and tiny recording closets, only once in a jarring turn seeing the outdoors. It’s very unsettling – a mood second time director Peter Strickland paints masterfully.

While there’s a moment it rather lost me and the conclusion could leave one unsatisfied (I truly haven’t decided if I wanted more or less explanations or if he got the balance just right) the journey is an interesting one with extremely innovative sound design that gets under your skin.

BBS is in theaters and available to rent at Amazon prime.


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Posted on June 18, 2013

Movies »The Shining

directed by Stanley Kubrick (1980)

As my “Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon” continues I give you the one movie I just can’t forgive you for not seeing.

The Shining is simply my favorite movie and that is all.

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Posted on April 15, 2012

Movies »Alien and Aliens

directed by Ridley Scott (1979) and James Cameron (1986)

When three adult, seemingly intelligent Jeopardy! contestants couldn’t name Alien as the film starring Ian Holm as an android I was appalled!

So, even though Alien and Aliens were set to make an appearance on my “Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon”, now it seems urgent to tell you to watch them straight away.

The first is cerebral, terrifying and ground breaking. The second defied the odds and became the best of block buster action science fiction (featuring the amazing line “Game over, Man!”) despite a new, different minded director. Together, they are simply the best films ever made in their genre, in fact – they define the genre.

I am cautiously excited about the prequel Prometheus because it’s also by Alien director Ridley Scott. Maybe it will succeed is capturing the brilliance of the series in a way that parts 3 and 4 have not.

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Posted on April 10, 2012

Movies »A Chinese Ghost Story 1&3

directed by Siu-Tung Ching (1987 and 1991)

The East does weird in a way that the West simply can’t and the fun, crazy Chinese Ghost Story trilogy proves it.

I remember hearing about these films years ago as elusive, cult classics; and with demons, tongue battles (that would be battles fought with giant monster tongues), walking tree spirits, rapping warriors, slapstick beheadings and ghostly seductions, “cult” is the only way to effectively classify these unique films.

The plots are similar between the two: Beautiful ghost spirit is under the control of a tree demon. Kind, handsome traveler stays the night in her haunted temple and falls in love. Must defeat demons to save her.

The original is more romantic and serious, but both include a healthy dose of humor and slapstick–the third almost to the point of tedium. The second… well sadly I can’t tell you anything about it: see, Netflix instant issues dictated a strange viewing order. First I watched what I assumed was the first movie only to find out afterwards that Netflix had mislabeled it and I had actually watched the third. So, not wanting to forgo seeing the original I watched the first movie (which was labeled Part 2 on Netfilx). At that point I thought we might as well finish up the trilogy, but found all three movies were no longer available. So, only reviewing 1 and 3 and no screen captures from me.

It’s a shame they’ve been taken off Netflix because they’re not readily available in the US–but are worth seeking out for lovers of bizarre cinema. I hope to one day see the second installment and complete the trilogy.

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Posted on January 21, 2012

Web Sites »Monster Brains

A never ending celebration of monsters

What a wonderful world. There’s always something new to become completely obsessed with. I give you my latest: Mexican pulp art which is on display at Monster Brains.

But wait! Monster Brains has even more cool stuff for your perusal. Like: grotesque animals, creepy vintage ads, D&D books, sci-fi covers and other generally disturbing, wild or scary pieces of art.

It’s way excellent!

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Posted on January 20, 2012

Web Sites »F— Yeah 8 Bit Horror

dedicated to 80’s horror on film and on the almighty nes

I’m sure there’s an scathing essay to be written about how what I am about to say could be a symbol of the decline of civilization, but an animated gif of Johnny Depp being sucked into a bed followed by a fountain of blood is a very nostalgic image of my childhood.

What can I say, I was a horror buff pretty much right from the beginning. I couldn’t wait to watch movies I spied in the blood splattered section in the video store. (I also vividly remember seeing a curtained off area with rated X movies, and thought to myself “How scary can a movie be to be X rated??”)

I feel like horror geek kids don’t quite exist in the same way anymore. Remember the kid in Salem’s Lot who’s obsessed with monsters? He and all like him have grown up, and instead of nerdy rooms packed with Fangorias, we have tumblrs like F— Yeah 8 Bit Horror to view, share and remember our favorite gorey moments in cinema.

The site focuses on the golden age of horror, the 1980’s. There’s lot of stuff from the Nightmare on Elm Street series (which is fine with me, since making Elm St. movies was what I wanted to do when I grew up for years). There are also a few I haven’t seen (Trick or Treat looks like a must see).

A great example of a good tumblr.

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Posted on January 15, 2012

Songs »Night of the Vampire

by Roky Erickson (1979)

I have the feeling that I am just scratching the surface of the work of cult icon Roky Erickson with this catchy tune.

Night of the Vampire will not only add a much needed shaking up to your normal Halloween party mix, but probably give you some pretty cool street cred as well (depending on the street).

Erickson’s life has been rife with tragedy (and the subject of a pretty depressing documentary called You’re Gonna Miss Me).

This song is fun, lumbering, campy, and though it was originally recorded in 1979, feels like the rocking-est parts of the very early 1990’s.

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Posted on October 29, 2011

Books »The Fifth Child

by Doris Lessing (1988)

Devilish children, whether possessed or born evil has been the subject of many a horror book and film (for a couple good ones see The Bad Seed, A Good and Happy Child, and of course, The Exorcist).

Doris Lessing‘s The Fifth Child does something slightly different with the genre. The horror is subtler, the child isn’t even recognized as being anything but spirited and unloved by doctors, and the unease taps more into the guilt and paranoia that comes with parenting rather than fear of a murderous tot a la Damien in The Omen.

It’s far more realistic than many like minded stories and in that way all the more terrifying. Even Lessing found writing it very “upsetting”.

It reminded me of an article I read many years ago about parents with overly aggressive sons whom they feared yet had to take care of. There was nothing they could do about it, and the futility and complete control the situation had over their lives, it stayed with me and scared me.

After all, in our real lives, isn’t it losing our happiness: happy marriages, happy family dynamics, happy sense of peace that is most frightening?

In the novel, that’s exactly whats threatened by Ben, the titular fifth child when he arrives in a bustling, loving family.

With his dead eyes, hobbit like appearance, incredible strength and tendency to kill animals he slowly destroys a happy family.

Lessing’s writing is sharp, like a great wit that never quite has anything nice to say about anybody. I breezed through the book in one day. While it frankly probably would have been a dissappointnent to a young me looking for more outward appearing horrors, it is a page turner for adults, especially parents that hold their small pleasures dear and know what they have to lose.

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Posted on October 25, 2011

TV Shows »American Horror Story

Thumbs See Potential

Too much too soon American Horror Story! No need to blow your whole jump cut editing wad in the first episode. There’s everything to be said about a slow burn when it comes to horror.

Maybe you’ll calm down and realize your potential with time. I hope so.

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Posted on October 17, 2011

Books »The Face That Must Die

by Ramsey Campbell (1979)

Ramsey Campbell’s John Horridge is one of the most believable psychopaths I’ve read. His extreme homophobia and irrational paranoia make it a disconcerting, but interesting read, as most of The Face That Must Die takes us into his inner thoughts and ravings.

It’s little wonder that Campbell based the character on someone with schizophrenia that he knew well, his own mother. The perspective is eerie and realistic.

The other characters: drug abusing boyfriends, artists, and struggling young women and the settings, like a depressing housing estate, are equally vivid in the hands of Campbell, who is highly regarded in the horror genre (this is the first I’ve read by him).

The strange photo real montage illustrations by JK Potter, however, do not really reflect the mood and descriptions in the book, which takes place in the 1970’s in Liverpool. They will however raise the eyebrows of anyone looking over your shoulder at what you are reading.

I’d be curious to read more from Campbell, as this is a unique, unnerving take on the oft repeated serial killer novel.

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Posted on July 15, 2011

Movies »I Start Counting

directed by David Greene (1969)

If I Start Counting were remade, I know exactly the kind of rote crap it would become: it would star some slutty looking not-quite teen and be slick, boring, and lifeless.

This largely forgotten original however, is none of these things. It’s a bit messy, sure, and definitely unpolished but features a great performance by its actual teen star (who you may recognize from An American Werewolf in London) and really effectively creates an eerie tone.

It might remind one of the tenser quiet moments of Black Swan meets a late 60’s after school movie.

When women are being murdered near an abandoned suburb, a young girl, hopelessly in love with her adopted much older brother begins to come to the chilling conclusion that he may be responsible. Hovering between a world of romantic innocence and the violent, dirty, and painful world of adults, she tries to come to terms with her sexuality and her emotions while trying to disprove her suspicions.

I pretty much live to find overlooked treasures like this and am thrilled that Netflix streaming has embraced the discarded films of the past as much as the newest releases.

And even though (as noted) a remake would probably only be junk, if someone with a sense of mood and style were to remake it, Peter Sarsgaard would rule as the older creepy brother and like almost everything I re-cast in my mind, Juliette Lewis would find herself in the role of a mysterious lady he goes to visit. As for the teen, I’d cast an unknown.

Click here for the rest of I Start Counting

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Posted on June 26, 2011

Movies »Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (2010)

I know I am late to the Black Swan parade, but since Darren Aronofsky is pretty much a bad word in our house, this recommendation is for those, who like me, were hesitant to believe the hype because they just hate Requiem for a Dream so much.

After watching the stylized sexual thriller, I was both elated and initially a little disappointed. The first half of the film surprised and floored me with it’s incredibly haunting mood, subtle creepiness, and paranoid tone. It reminds me of the best work of Roman Polanski or Ken Russell.

About half way through, though, when everything breaks apart and the more traditional horror movie events come into play, I felt betrayed that the subdued artfulness had gone out the window. However, once I had finished watching it all and looked back at it for what it was, not the movie I expected or wanted it to be, I realized the somewhat repetitive “gotcha” part felt like it had passed in a few seconds and effectively felt like some fever nightmare.

This manic explosion of insanity did have some truly stunning parts – like a particularly cringe inducing scene involving Portman’s legs and the absolutley exquisite final dance where we see her internal transformation into the black swan flawlessly displayed externally in a feat of special effects and amazing costuming.

Still, it’s the slower paced eerieness that sets the tone perfectly and promises a conclusion more complex and strange than we get.

Portman is very believable as a frigid, scared young woman who seems constantly falling victim to the few people she’s let into her life.

One of those people is her mother, played with tight lipped, quiet obsession by an unsung Barbara Hershey. Another is Vincent Cassel‘s predatory director – a role that could have easily fallen into parody in the hands of anyone less French, oddly handsome, and confident in his lechery.

Mila Kundis doesn’t get much praise, maybe because her role is simpler than Portman’s, maybe because she is, after all, some girl from That 70’s Show, but she is effective and necessary as a foil to Portman’s pent up anxieties. It’s also fun to see Winona Ryder as an aging ballerina, even if I didn’t totally buy her wobbly, cocktail spilling performance.

The Tchaikovsky score is, of course, beautiful and Rodarte lends their ethereal touch to the great costumes.

A surprising and very strange delight.

Click here for the rest of Black Swan

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Posted on May 16, 2011

TV Shows »True Blood

on HBO

After rolling my eyes through the pilot episode, I was reluctant to give True Blood a second chance. My dad, whose opinion I value, talked me into giving it another try though. The trick is to accept the romance novel, terrible faux Southern accent silliness (“oh my stars!”) and just go with it. I won’t lie, there are still horribly annoying characters (putting me on a long bus trip next to Tara would be torture) who always seem to be overreacting to everything.

The show really doesn’t shine with it’s deep character portrayals, but rather when it gets weird, bloody, ridiculous and focuses on the whole vampire thing instead of the human relationships that are constantly revolving. Otherwise, it kind of resembles season two of Twin Peaks, if you know what I mean.

Not that the vamps are all that “cool”. Strangely, Alan Ball has decided to make them not too dissimilar to mall goths. They hang out at a cheesy spot called Fangtasia that looks like 1995 exploded all over it. A stylish show this is not. But if you want graveyard sex (with the not too shabby “Bill” played by Stephen Moyer), shape shifters, back woods exorcisms, and gut exploding vampires, there’s really nowhere else on TV to find it all delivered in such an unabashed package.

I used the show as part of my birth plan- it was perfect to watch during early labor because it really doesn’t require you to think but can be extremely entertaining once you let yourself go with it. We’ve only seen the first season, but are assured from fans that it just keeps getting wilder and better.

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Posted on November 10, 2010

TV Shows »The Walking Dead

on AMC

On the plus side, in a sea of boring, routine cop and lawyer dramas littering the new season of television, a gory action drama about battling zombies is welcome entertainment no matter how derivative it is. The Walking Dead boasts awesomely gruesome and impressive makeup and effects and an extremely uncompromising devotion to making things as grim and violent as they want (another example that AMC answers to no one in their original series).

If you ever wondered exactly what shooting a zombie in the head would look like from every angle in slow motion, your days of wondering are over. You’ll get the chance to study the event over and over, starting with a young girl missing her lower jaw.

On the negative side, the pilot really didn’t add anything new to the worn out genre and called to mind other recent, more inventive zombie flicks like Dawn of the Dead and particularly the excellent 28 Days Later (only with an FX caliber hunk Andrew Lincoln rather than the handsome waif Cillian Murphy waking up in a hospital to utter destruction). Is there a strong central character with special skills that will help him survive? Of course. Are some of the only other survivors his wife and son? Yep. Does he find stoic fathers and kids wise beyond their years along the way? Sure thing.

Hopefully, with an entire season to expand on the story, which is based on the comic book series of the same name, the show can spread out and find new ways to tell a living dead story beyond the themes and characters we’ve learned to expect. And even if it follows predictable plot lines, I’ll still tune in – because it’s sure to be more fun than most shows out there.

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Posted on November 2, 2010

Books »Lunar Park

by Bret Easton Ellis (2005)

I can kind of understand why some Bret Easton Ellis fans told me not to bother with Lunar Park. It’s a love it or leave it (The Boston Globe said it may be the worst novel I’ve ever read) book that really depends on how much you’re willing to go with him on a journey, not fueled by sexy young things, drugs and privilege (well, OK there is a bit of that) but on a journey that most closely resembles Poltergeist meets faux self loathing. Yes, Ellis has pretty much created a straight up horror summer reading book with loads of meta meta meta.

The main character is Bret Easton Ellis, and while most of his life story and persona are true, the skyrocketing fame and parties of the real Ellis are well known, much of the biography of this “Bret Easton Ellis” is purely made up. (I was one of the clueless who looked up the book version of Bret Easton Ellis’ girlfriend, Jayne Dennis to see if she was real – she’s as real as Dorsia – which I also looked up). He is a world famous, controversial author now living the suburban life with his wife, her daughter, and his estranged son while reluctantly teaching at his alma mater and trying to carry on affairs with his students.

There’s cocaine, there’s alcohol, there’s clever cynicism.. even Jay McInerney shows up – but the book takes on something entirely new for Ellis when the McMansion he lives in starts to show signs of being possessed. Lights begin to flicker, footsteps burn themselves into the carpeting, a Furby like doll turns animals inside out, and a hairy creature crawls up the stairs. Patrick Bateman , the serial killer from American Psycho also makes an appearance – killing locals based on the novel and young neighborhood boys are (willfully?) disappearing. I’m not surprised that he says the book was an homage to Stephen King because it shares much more with those genre books than I think most fans were interested in.

It’s sometimes complicated, sometimes melodramatic, often cinematic (you can easily see many of the scenes played out in a movie) and definitely surreal but it’s mostly about the pain of bad father and son relationships. Well, that and violent ghosts.

Best to enter this one without expectations and a love for the horror book genre.

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Posted on July 18, 2010

Laughs »Giallothon

Have Yourself a Trailer Party!

Beautiful women, hunky men, high style vintage fashions, J&B, bright red blood, Morricone soundtracks, greatly terrible dubbing, skeletons, black gloves, Edwige Fenech, Ivan Rassimov, and nudity – the Italian Giallo genre offers so, so much, but is sometimes most effective in small visual doses.

Often, though certainly not always, the movies themselves can be tedious, confusing, and too easy to forget. Giallothon, presented in two volumes, compiles these spin tingling, often psychedelic trailers about psycho-sexual killers and is a blast to watch. We have good friend and fellow connoisseur of the cinematic unusual, Matthew to thank for our copy – but you can buy yours at brutallo. Any fan of the genre would be remiss not to.

Click here for the rest of Giallothon

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Posted on July 11, 2010

Movies »Splice

directed by Vincenzo Natali (2010)

Not to diminish the role of director Vincenzo Natali (though “presenter” Guillermo Del Toro has already done so by prominently splashing his name all over the posters), but the surprise sci fi critical darling Splice is classic Cronenberg through and through (just to clarify: anything pre eXistenZ qualifies as classic) – and it’s not just the very Canadianness of it all (Sarah Polley, possibly the most Canadian actress of all time, stars), nor is it just the crazy-gross flesh-slugs and scalpel surgeries that remind me of the prime of the horror giant (whose films include The Brood, Rabid, and the truly incredible and mind bending Videodrome).

There’s a certain dignity to the movie making that is woefully absent in most like minded thrillers of late that do little more than make you squirm through some gross-out stuff. Unlike such movies that parade half naked actors and actresses who are barely fit for terrible CW teen dramas, everyone here does phenomenally with some pretty tough material.

And while I’m still not completely sure how I feel about Splice, it certainly requires a bit of thought and evokes some very, very disturbing ideas not only about scientific morality, but really creepy concepts of parenthood and human desires and motivations. For the record, it’s super creepy to watch while pregnant.

It’s in theaters now and definitely a more interesting way to spend a couple hours out of the heat than in front of Shrek Forever After, Killers (shockingly not based on the Hemingway short story), or Marmaduke.

Click here for the rest of Splice

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Posted on June 6, 2010