Movies »The Eyes of Laura Mars

Directed by Irvin Kershner (1978)

While I didn’t notice the first time I saw Eyes of Laura Mars years ago, but it’s an American version of a Giallo if there ever was one. And as such it’s got the genre’s shining points and flaws: technicolor red blood, dramatic music cues, silly plot twists that end in a preposterous conclusion, a high body count, and style, style, style! There’s plenty to recommend this 70’s hit despite moments of mediocrity (like a terrible Babs song).

First, the cast. Faye Dunaway is in her prime of easy glamorous wide eyed star power, Tommy Lee Jones brooding is more charming than usual, in an all too brief appearance Raul Julia is the ultimate deadbeat gold digging ex, supermodel Lisa Taylor plays herself, and perhaps most importantly the film opened by eyes to the awesomeness of perhaps my favorite actor, Brad Dourif, who is here the foxiest creep ever put to film. Bomber jacket, jeans, flannel and a chauffeurs hat have never come together so perfectly.

That brings us to the second point: every scene has something fantastic to look at. The styling had me asking myself minutely “hmm, do I need a _____ (hat, blouse, skirt, hairdo, apartment, etc) like that in my life?” The answer was invariably “yes”.

Third, the centerpiece of the movie visually is the provocative work of photographer Helmut Newton. One of my favorite artists who sets the aesthetic tone.

You can watch it now with Netflix on demand.

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Posted on May 2, 2010

Books »Come Along With Me

by Shirley Jackson (1982)

I am an adoring fan of Shirley Jackson, her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle and her short story, The Lottery (which is included in this collection) are among my favorites. One of the best parts of Come Along With Me are the chapters from her unfinished last novel that lends it’s title to the collection and it’s one of the few here that fully embody the signature strangeness and darkness that I love in her writing,  which I found sadly lacking several of the stories. This is of course a matter of my expectations getting in the way and all the stories, even the lighthearted ones are well written.

It’s a shame so little was left behind of what was sure to have been another incredible novel, but it’s inclusion as well as her darker stories including my favorite, “The Summer People”, make this collection worth a read, at least for Jackson fans. I personally could take or leave the essays and lectures (as unintellectual as it may sound I prefer to read fiction than read about fiction).

I’d advise skipping the intro because it rubbed me the wrong way to have her husband talk about getting the collection together with his new wife, whom he dedicates it to. Kind of disconcerting.

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Posted on May 2, 2010

Movies »The Hunger

directed by Tony Scott (1983)

It stars David Bowie, Catherine Denuve, Susan Sarandon and includes a cameo by a young Willem Dafoe (playing a street punk) and Ann Magnuson. It features the music of Lou Reed, Bach and an unforgettable performance by Bauhaus of Bela Legosi’s Dead. I mean, there’s “cool”, and then there’s Tony Scott’s erotic vampire mood piece The Hunger.

I first saw this movie a number of years ago and remembered a couple of its visually arresting scenes, including that Peter Murphy performance and the rapid aging sequence with its expert special effects makeup; but I’d forgotten how deeply stylized and truly arty it is. Does the artistry sometimes border on indulgent and slow the whole thing down a little bit? Sure, but it makes you miss the audacity behind this kind of moody, visually artful filmmaking that doesn’t seem so common anymore (even though at the time Roger Ebert dismissed it “a movie that has been so ruthlessly overproduced that it’s all flash and style and no story.”) Scott’s take on vampirism has as much in common with today’s glitter skinned wimpy romance as Roxy Music does with The Jonahs Brothers; Marlene Deitrich with Miley Cyrus.

The film was based on a novel by Whitley Strieber (of Communion fame) but major changes were made to the ending to satisfy the perceived need of audiences everywhere to see thousand-year-old vampire Denueve suffer for her misdeeds. A remake is planned at Warner Brothers, but I have very little confidence anything as cool as the original will roll off the assembly line… though Scott, who is deeply involved, has this to say: “I’m not going to tell you how we’re doing it, but I’m controlling it and it’s gone to the next level. It’s not a reinvention or reinterpretation, it starts in New York and it ends up in Sao Paulo, so it’s a very different movie, but it springboards off the original. We’re writing it right now and we’ve got a great writer, Erin Wilson.”

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Posted on March 28, 2010

Movies »Night of the Creeps

directed by Fred Dekker (1986)

A bevy of unflattering taffeta and lace prom dresses, sculpted teenage boy hair, exploding heads, an axe murderer, aliens from outer space, a vengeful tough guy cop, frat pranks, cryogenics, flame throwers, grotesque slugs, zombie cats (and dogs), and even some brief nudity and a touching young man friendship… yep there’s a lot to love about The Night of the Creeps.

I put the movie at the top of my queue due to comparisons to The Night of the Comet, my personal favorite movie of the genre; that genre being tongue-in-cheek horror comedy that’s not afraid to offer genuine scares as well as laughs. The Stuff and Scream are also prime examples.

And while you may have heard of those last two films, even a movie nerd like myself was less aware of this funky little 80’s gem. Partially because it wasn’t released on DVD until October of last year (which was also the reason why it’s been on my queue with a very long wait for months), though bootleg VHS copies of the movie were passed around among fans and sold on eBay for years.

Of course, it is what it is and I don’t want to over-hype. It’s fun, it’s a great way to take your mind of anything for a couple hours, and it’s the best work of Fred Dekker who also helmed House, Robocop 3, and The Monster Squad (which didn’t hold up quite as well as I had hoped).

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Posted on March 7, 2010

Movies »Hausu

directed by Noribuki Obayashi (1977)

You might recognize Hausu from a viral video I blogged about months back. Surely, you might assume, the entire movie can’t be as insane as that clip of the killer lampshade and those images of severed limbs and demonic cats… but if that’s what you assumed, I’m happy to report that you are so, so wrong.

To describe this film as crazy, schizophrenic, bonkers, and wild is a gross understatement; it’s an excess of experiments that will blow the mind of the viewer and open the doors of perception to any artist (especially those working in film and video) to just how far the boundaries and tropes of the medium can be pushed… It’s basically the craziest thing I’ll probably ever see and my grand kids will probably hear tell of its cinematic insanity.

What happens is this: a group of school girls go to visit one of their auntie’s for vacation. Before you know it, a decapitated head jumps around and bites a girl’s butt, an old lady has an eyeball in her mouth and dances with a skeleton, another girl is eaten and dismembered by a piano, and a man turns into a pile of bananas after enjoying some ramen with a bear. What, really, can you expect from a film that lives by the logic “Old cats can open doors, but only ghost cats can close them again.” The ghost cat in this case is Snowflake, the coolest Persian ever put on screen, who is frequently flung into the arms of actors by off-screen feline throwers. The movie certainly has a sense of humor.

Director Nobuhiko Obayashi is an experimental icon whose career only just began with this masterpiece of mayhem. His other titles include If She Looks Back, It’s Love, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Beijing Watermelon, I Want to Hear the Wind’s Song, and only just a few years back, Before That Day. While much of his work is even harder to come by than Hausu, here is a site that features some of his early experimental work. And despite what you or anyone might think based on the description, Hausu does not quite qualify as purely experimental. It was, in fact, a huge hit in Japan upon its release.

If you’re ever able to access a copy of this movie and you want to know what it might be like to be an insane person, do not let the opportunity pass you by; we have our good friends Matthew and Nora to thank so very much for the DVD-R we now proudly own. The IFC theater on 6th Avenue played it just the other night (sorry for not giving enough warning), in the meantime, gaze upon the stills I’ve gathered below/after the jump.

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Posted on January 31, 2010

TV Shows »The League of Gentlemen Christmas Special

league of gentlemen christmas specialHoliday of Nightmares

Creepy wet lips, monstrously erect nipples, blood sucking choir boys, voodoo dolls, flying bunny eyeballs, and Papa Lazarou… if you’ve taken my advice before and watched previous seasons of The League of Gentlemen, this will all sound like business as usual – if not, be prepared for the Christmas special of your worst nightmares!!

If you’re the squeamish type and prefer your head filled with sugar plum fairies and such, you may want to skip the stills below/after the jump.

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Posted on December 20, 2009

Movies »God Told Me To

god told me to coverdirected by Larry Cohen (1976)

Larry Cohen is best known for his campy horror romp The Stuff, but even with that blockbuster under his belt, he’s remained an elusive and under-appreciated filmmaker with a cult fan base only (Jim goes so far as to insist that he’s responsible for the only ‘bearable’ episode of Masters of Horrible). God Told Me To, a cheap low-grade horror movie, will not necessarily win over those of you not already a part of that fan base, but it’s a strangely interesting, audacious and compelling movie for anyone trawling the horror section for something a little off-kilter.

Like many of my favorite horror films, God Told Me To benefits from its small budget, even the grainy and worn out looking film transfer enhances the weird mood. From the opening scenes of a busy Manhattan street suddenly under attack from a rooftop sniper, the movie is propelled by a simple but incredibly effective terror premise: innocent, law abiding people are suddenly (and seemingly randomly) turning into homicidal maniacs. The phenomenon is spreading like a virus, and in the aftermath of the bloodbaths, all the people who have been affected claim that God told them to kill (their spouses, children, neighbors, etc).

It’s a fascinating story and one that with or without credit, I think highly influenced the excellent Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film Cure where a police officer uncovers the strange connection between seemingly normal people committing sudden random murders.

The police officer in this film is played by Tony Lo Bianco, who I was thrilled to see from Honeymoon Killers. Other familiar faces are here as well, including Sandy Dennis (from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), Andy Kaufman (against type as a police man and mass murderer), and Sylvia Sidney (who I recognized instantly as the old lady who blows smoke out of her open neck in Beetlejuice).

There’s a straightforwardness and lack of melodrama to the direction which can be refreshing but is just as frequently a flaw; the lack of accentuated drama can make the latter half of the film drag, and huge elements of the plot are simply skimmed over… and what a plot it is! Quite daringly, it’s ultimately a movie about an alien evil Jesus with Cronenbergian elements. Could this have been made into a better film? Probably, but I doubt many would dare to.

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Posted on November 15, 2009

TV Shows »Masters of Horror (Worst TV Show)

Masters of Horror, or as it can be more accurately referred to: Masters of Horrible, is an embarrassment to everyone – especially?to us: fans of horror who end up chronically watching it on Netflix's instant service, hating it and ourselves in equal measure.

The horror anthology genre is not always held to the highest standards (I just rented The Hitchhiker and discovered it's dreadful) but this mess makes me wish the genre would just go away for a few years until someone with a real vision and care takes charge of it. On paper this could have been brilliant: past masters like Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Dario Argento (Susperia) have an hour to scare us within the reasonable budgetary constraints of a Showtime series. Instead every director to helm an episode convincingly proves that they should never be trusted again to do anything ever again.

And the fact that I have personally viewed about 80% of the episodes… maybe I should not be trusted to do anything ever again, especially when it comes to proffering entertainment recommendations on the internet.

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Posted on November 9, 2009

Movies »The House of the Devil

I've watched many a horror movie this past week in order to recommend the best to you, my dear friends; and while I can't claim that The House of the Devil is flawless, it is worth a late-night Halloween-week viewing and definitely the best of the bunch from the pile of DVDs I spent the week sifting through (which included the mouth-to-mouth vomit heavy Drag Me To Hell and the rather tedious When a Stranger Calls). A deliberate and effective homage to horror movies of the late seventies and early eighties (right down to the casting of thin and adorably Margot Kidderesque Jocelin Donahue as the heroine and titular fontography), HOTD is a slow burning film comprised of a series of extremely effective techniques. The skillful use of sound design, imagery, surprise and pacing results in genuine chills, but sadly the film misses the mark when it comes to the big reveal.

Maybe Ti West did himself a huge disservice by announcing the plot secret in an onscreen quote at the very beginning of the film, maybe it's just hard to make genuine scares out of clich?s; either way, by the end of the movie the dread the director worked so hard to evoke devolves rapidly into silliness… but at least its good and gory silliness featuring some of my favorite character actors: Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan.

Rather awesomely, the movie is currently available on-demand while it's still in theaters, making for a perfect night once friends and popcorn are added to the equation.

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Posted on October 26, 2009

TV Shows »Are You Afraid of the Dark

The decade before the word 'tween' was invented offered much in the way of young adult television and I myself have a sentimental soft spot for most of the shows preteens spent the 90s in front of (Breaker High, Swan's Crossing, Flash Forward, etc); so you can imagine I was looking forward to filling this week's TV pick with Nickelodeon's semi-forgotten spooky anthology series, Are You Afraid of the Dark??/p>

But from the wildly disappointed comments of fellow Netflix subscribers and Jim's own pretty clear memories of the show, I've learned that the “freaky favorites” double disc (the only one currently available on Netflix) is, contrary to what the title suggests, not representative of the best of the show at all. The three episodes on the DVD feature a “new” cast of kids making up the Midnight Society (an admittedly nerdy nocturnal story-telling club) who, according to Jim, are way lamer than Gary and the original dorks.

Still, it's a fun late afternoon view and, while the episodes we saw weren't particularly mind-blowing, this sweetly nostalgic Canadian show (one episode is actually about a demonic hockey stick) is certainly a hell of a lot better than most other horror anthology shows out there (the dreadful Hitchhiker and, what is bound to be my worst TV show of the year, Masters of Horror quickly come to mind).

Despite a seemingly vast fan base, the seven seasons of the show are particularly hard to find on DVD…

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Posted on October 26, 2009

Movies »Private Parts

private parts paul bartelPaul Bartel, the auteur behind the classically quirky low budget black comedies Eating Raoul and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, began his illustrious career with Private Parts, a good-enough 1972 psycho-sexual thriller. Made just before the director's odd touch was refined, Bartel is almost playing it straight here… Well, as straight as trans-gender soul swapping, water filled sex dolls, and decapitations can be played.

The movie's about a “teen” runaway (played by the of-age Ayn Ruymen, who can – and does – legally get topless on-screen) who takes refuge from her lousy hippie friends in her aunt's creepy run down San Francisco hotel, a place that houses a plethora of strange tenants including a leather loving priest, an old lady obsessed with a mysterious girl named Alice, and a photographer who takes voyeuristic photos for skin mags.

In many ways this movie is like Bartel doing Polanski, and in fact Polanksi covered similar territory a few years later with his own flawed gem, The Tenant. While Private Parts isn't as ground breaking as the work of Polanksi is, it's actually pretty hard to pull of a decent thriller and this one includes some arresting imagery and showcases the beginnings of Bartel's peculiar signature humor (if you're a fan of his more famous work, you may mourn the absence of laughs – and Mary Woronov). The plot is fine, though maybe the big twist is too easy to guess too early – but if you're not expecting a masterpiece, just some fun, 1970s off beat thrills, you're in for a treat.

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Posted on July 13, 2009

Movies »Phenomena

phenomena dario argentoWith a recognizable cast (horror movie king and Halloween alumni Donald Pleasance and a pre-Labyrinthine long legged Jennifer Connelly), and a big name soundtrack (both Iron Maiden and Motorhead contribute songs, though it's Argento stand-by and personal source of undying love, Goblin, that create the most eerie music), Phenomena is one of Dario Argento's most accessible films, though strangely (and unfairly), it's also one of his most under-viewed.

But don't let my description fool you, the director certainly hasn't gone too Hollywood; there's still plenty of uneven pacing, in-cohesiveness, maggots, and borderline ludicrous over-dubbing: “Do you take… do you understand?.. DRUGS?” asks the super hot Swiss Headmistress.

Argento has claimed that this tale of a poor little rich girl who has a supernatural control of and mutual love for insects (at one point a bug is put an excited mating frenzy just by her touch) is his personal favorite (even though I favor, as most fans do, Suspiria). The plot concerns Connelly's unusual power which, with the aid of a local entomologist and his chimp (for all you Lance Link fans), leads the frequently night gown only clad heroine on a quest to find the identity of a local killer on the loose.

The film almost feels like three movies in one, lots of bang for your giallo buck, and features images that stay in your subconscious. I often think of the swiss chalet where a Dutch tourist “looses her head” and the crazy creepiness that's revealed behind a child's tears. Plus, Connelly is dressed in perfect rich girl mid eighties attire throughout.

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Posted on May 11, 2009

Movies »Bad Ronald

Bad Ronald is a 1974 made-for-TV-movie that derives at least some of its allure from the mere fact that it's so hard to find (although it can be seen on You Tube). Airing two years before VHS was unleashed on the US, Bad Ronald was bound to become a forgotten eerie relic of the past. The fact that my favorite writer, science fiction master Jack Vance, wrote the novel on which it was based (the only one of his works ever adapted for the screen) piqued my interest even more and I just had to get a copy from J4HI.

The movie, depending on your point of view, either suffers from or is enhanced by the venerable yet constrictive format of the made-for-TV-movie. The melodramatic music, the odd pacing, and the considerably watered down plot lines that (reportedly) are far less brutal than the original source material (I say reportedly because the book is out of print and first editions are out of my price range) can make for pretty difficult viewing for those with limited patience for the retro verging on cheesy. I myself am not such a person, I find low production values can be an asset – particularly when it comes to thrillers – and once I adjusted to the grainy transfer and flat acting style, I discovered the qualities of this strange and chilling little gem.

Ronald is a kid with an oddly strong bond with his possessive mom (Kim Hunter) who accidentally gets involved in some very bad business. As a result, mother convinces Ronald to stay hidden in a bathroom (which they board up) until all interest in the incident goes away. He essentially becomes a prisoner of his mother's in his own house until she goes off and die on him. A family of young, nubile girls moves in (a youngish, nubilish Dabney Coleman plays their father) and Ronald, who's basically living in the walls, becomes crazier and more like an outsider artist with each passing day as he spies on the new family and develops a psychotic fantasy world.

The film's tag-line puts it best, describing Ronald as “a ghost who isn't dead” haunting the house until he finally reveals himself to the frightened teens. It's the kind of movie that manages to inflame some fundamental fears and I imagine it was deeply etched in the minds (and nightmares) of the children who watched it when it originally aired.

Funnily enough, star Scott Jacoby seems so familiar not just because he resembles a neighbor of mine plus Matthew Modine, but because he played a recurring role as Dorothy's son on the Golden Girls.

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Posted on April 13, 2009

Movies »The Brood

the broodIt's no big surprise to learn that David Cronenberg wrote The Brood during a particularly bitter custody battle. The plot deals with a level-headed dad (played by Art Hindle, who you may recognize from the first Brix Pick Movie recommendation ever, Black Christmas) with great hair, a great winter jacket and Ted Bundy type looks who unwittingly battles the rage incarnate of his crazy ex-wife, a woman who seems wants nothing more than to make him suffer and take his young daughter away.

Like most Cronenberg films, real life pain and suffering, like the bitterness and hatred that can accompany a messy divorce, or the paranoia that can sometimes come with single parenthood, manifest in the stuff of nightmares. You've come to expect some gross out stuff from the Canadian, and he doesn't disappoint in The Brood. Initial audiences flipped out during one scene in particular that involves blood and tongue-grooming.

But the underlying horror is far more effective than simple shock value; it's deeply chilling movie because it takes something generally wholesome and comforting, family, and turns it on its ear. Violence isn't caused by some random psychopath but by mothers, children, doctors and even your own body. It's a great, discomforting movie of, but it does lag in between moments of complete visual terror.

Manly Oliver Reed is lion-like as an experimental psychiatrist who practices (the very Cronenberg sounding) “Psycho Plasmics” in a remote, very 70's, all wood and angles retreat and actress Samantha Eggar plays the crazy woman quite well. Even minor characters, like a neurotic former patient who has complaints (and a huge lymphomic neck) against the doctor is played wonderfully, with real humanity, by Croneberg regular Robert A Silverman.

While The Brood never reaches the peaks of the director's 1983 masterpiece, Videodrome, it's a quieter movie punctuated by extremely effective jolts of violence and tension.

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Posted on April 6, 2009

Books »Guilty Pleasures

guilty pleasures laurell k hamiltonWhile Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Anita Blake vampire hunter novel Guilty Pleasures is certainly an appropriate title for this week’s theme, I wasn’t so sure I’d actually be able to recommend it due a few previous reading missteps. I tried re-reading some V.C. Andrews and found myself feeling all the guilt without any pleasure so I tried a Gossip Girl book but I found myself bored. Buffy knock off or not, I thought this book was perfectly entertaining and, happily enough, there was enough to keep me feeling a little bit guilty too.

For example, Guilty Pleasures refers to a vampire strip club where several scenes in the book takes place. Like most vampire novels (see Twilight) no one can get over how fast they are, and Anita Blake (a hard-boiled and, frankly, bigoted hunter) spends most of the novel gritting her teeth and resisting their power through sheer brassiness and sassiness. It’s a role I can only imagine a Hollywood casting director giving to Eliza Dushku – but I hate Eliza Dushku and her crooked eyebrow acting style, so instead I chose to envision Vanessa Ferlito (Butterfly in Death Proof).

It’s a good one to try for Twilight fans, though it lacks the high school romance. There’s romance, kind of, but it seems that everyone this Anita meets is a suitor, so it’s hard to figure out which buff guy to actually root for. Is it the stripper vampire junky who wears fishnet shirts? Or the ancient vampire who blushes and tells Anita he “likes” her? Or is it Edward, the ultimate bounty hunter who’s always there for her as a friend? It’s all pretty mild stuff but, from what I’ve read, Hamilton gets kinkier and kinkier as the series evolves and the last books are so groin-centric that they’re shelved in the romance section.

Plot-wise sure, Hamilton may have co-opted some basic ideas from Joss Whedon’s 1992 screenplay, but who knows – I will say that the much less successful and painful to watch True Blood (oh, my stars!) most likely took inspiration from Hamilton’s work. Set in an alternate reality 1990’s St Louis, vampires and other supernatural beings are recognized as citizens. Anita, aside from slaying vamps, is an animator. Not like an artist for Dora the Explorer, but someone who raises the dead. She does this for profit through an agency, but she actually prefers killing to reanimation.

The big kill would be the Master, a Shirley Temple-esque 1000-year-old vampire that runs the town. But, before she can drive a stake in the Master’s heart, Anita has to do a job for her: find out who (or what!) has been murdering vampires. In the process, she meets the coolest characters in the book, a pack of Were-rats that wear cut-off jean shorts.

It’s a quick and easy beach read, perfect for mindless fun in between books less likely to earn you judgey stares on the subway.

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Posted on March 30, 2009

Books »The Long Walk

long walk stephen king Stephen King is a jerk.
But this is one of his best books.
Young boys walk a marathon to the death.

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Posted on November 7, 2005

Movies »Black Christmas

Black Christmas The call is coming from inside the house.
Olivia Hussey looks amazing.
Margot Kidder plays a drunk named Barb.
“You can’t rape a townie”
Watch this movie, you will love it.

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Posted on November 7, 2005