Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hannibal: Review

Having seen enough episodes of the new TV show Hannibal, I can confidently diagnose it with bipolar disorder. Half of this show is riveting and the other half is boilerplate crime procedural. The scenes between Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) are absolutely electric and fraught with psychological tension and discovery. Unfortunately, the show grinds to a halt when the scenery-chewing Laurence Fishburne and his CSI Snark Crew examine gory bodies while trading snide one-liners. What was creator Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me) thinking? My guess is that the network pushed for the crime procedural element, since it's so out-of-sync with the macabre tone of the show. I'm hoping the show will get better as Dr. Lecter's storyline unfolds, and the emphasis on the freak-of-the-week subsides. There's just enough here to recommend a viewing but keep a finger poised on that forward button.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cargo Tropfest Short

Here's a finalist from the 2013 Tropfest International Short Film Festival. "Cargo" tells the heartbreaking story of a father and his infant daughter stranded amidst a zombie apocalypse. These seven minutes are better than most episodes of Walking Dead.

(YouTube Link)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Abandoned Castles

Old mansions are the perfect setting for classic ghost stories from Macbeth to The Woman in Black, yet many of us in America have never actually been to one*. You have to wonder how these huge feats of eerie architecture and wealth fell into such derelict states and now lay cold, empty. What happened? What wickedness left the families destitute (or dead)?

The closest "castle" that I know of near Northern California is Hearst Castle which I am finally visiting this summer. It's not allegedly haunted but I'm fairly certain if I were a ghost, I would go straight to that huge mansion. Of course, hauntings probably happen in vacant buildings that don't offer daily tours, like the ones on this fascinating list of abandoned castles from around the world, posted on iO9.com.  Naturally, most were erected in Europe, including this one in Belgium:
Château Miranda was built in 1866 by an English architect for the Liedekerke-Beaufort family. The family lived there until World War II, when it was taken over by the National Railway Company of Belgium. It's empty since 1991, in part because the family refuses to turn it over to the municipality of Celles.

*Technically, I've been to Castle Brittahytta in Santa Clara, CA, and it's quite impressive.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

John Carpenter's The Fog

A few years ago, HalloweenAddict.com posted "Happy The Fog Day!" commemorating the day the fictional Elizabeth Dane and her crew crashed upon Antonio Bay in John Carpenter's The Fog. The 1980 movie was Carpenter's follow-up to Halloween and while it wasn't quite as successful, it has a devoted cult following. It's a classic slow-burn ghost story with a steadily increasing sense of dread and an eerie atmospheric feel – and its stars three legendary scream queens: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Janet Leigh!

Seeing it as a child instilled a deep fear of pirates, ghost ships, and fog. My first summer in San Francisco made me relive those nightmares again and again as the creepy fog rolled in and smothered the city on a daily basis. (Coincidentally, the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse featured in the film is located 2 hours north of San Francisco. It's considered the windiest and 2nd foggiest place in the North American continent!)

Fans should note that a new features-packed Collector's Edition Blu-ray will be available on July 30th, brought to you by the Scream Factory (the brilliant company behind the many cult classic reissues).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hemlock Grove: Review

Three episodes in and Hemlock Grove has no discernible plot in sight other than something is killing girls in the quiet Pennsylvania town. However, the vague "mystery" seems like a thin device to parade its cast of over-the-top characters. So far there's a lurch with a weird bug eye and glowing skin, a brooding werewolf gypsy, a yuppie upir (a daywalking Polish vampire), a mannered mad scientist in the small town's only towering skyscraper, an sadly underused Lili Taylor, an overused Famke Janssen sporting a questionable accent, and a teen impregnated by an angel. While there's not much to propel this motley crew, it's still somewhat fascinating to watch. I admire it's offbeat Twin Peak-ish tone – at times grim, funny, and odd – but it's set in a Twilight-esque universe with bratty tweens as the centerpiece. It's unclear if this series will ultimately be a train wreck or if something more meaningful will develop. Since all 13 episodes are available at once, it's not going to be a long-term commitment, so for that reason alone I'll keep watching. 

Having finished the first season, I am glad that I stuck with it. The structure of the series is unlike a standard series where every episode has a beginning, middle and end. Instead, the structure is more like a 13-hour movie chopped into chapters that often end in the middle of a scene. There are three major acts (just like a movie): the somewhat tedious first 3 episodes serve as the exposition that set up the colorful characters; act two sets up much of the conflicts as well as several peripheral story lines; act three is where most of the action (and surprises) happen; the epilogue resolves almost all of the major story lines and sets up what will be a thrilling second season. My expectations of what a series should be was the real problem, and from a storytelling perspective Hemlock Grove is an interesting experiment. Being able to see the entire first season within a few days was helpful. And yes, it's not entirely successful. There's some hammy acting, occasionally weird writing, and it's not altogether original. It doesn't have the sophistication (or pedigree) of some of the other genre shows out now, but horror fans will definitely be entertained.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hemlock Grove

Netflix's latest original series, Hemlock Grove, premieres Friday, April 19 exclusively on Netflix streaming – all 13 episodes are available now for binge watching! The series is based on the novel by Brian McGreevy and was masterminded by horror maven Eli Roth (Hostel, Grindhouse).

"Hemlock Grove" is a riveting one-hour murder mystery that revolves around the residents of a former Pennsylvania steel town. When 17-year-old Brooke Bluebell is brutally murdered, any of Hemlock’s peculiar inhabitants – or killer creatures – could be suspects. Through the investigation the town’s seamier side is exposed, revealing nothing is what it seems. Beautiful, terrifying, and graphic, "Hemlock Grove" is unlike anything else in its genre.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Butterfly in Human Skull

What a haunting and beautiful picture by filmmaker and photographer Marko Popadic. The butterfly, a symbol of rebirth, is perched inside the eye socket of human skull. His must-see website, 400nm.de, features several other skull images from Kutna Hora, as well as many trippy videos.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Happy Hallowspring!

Halloween enthusiasts are sort of required to sneak in little a dreadful thing or two into every project. As I've been cleaning up the backyard and adding new plants, I've also thrown in some black & orange, ancient succulents, skeleton gnomes and, of course, a garden zombie. Happy Hallowspring!
Black & Orange
Lil' Audrey II
Spiky Triffids
Skeleton Gnome
Cthulhu Succulents
Garden Variety Zombie
They're coming to get you Barbara.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stephen King's Under The Dome

In preparation for the June 24th CBS premiere of Stephen King's Under the Dome, I decided to undertake reading the novel. It's a behemoth at over 1074 hardcover pages first published in November of 2009. I prefer audio books and that translates to about 34 1/2 hours (to put that in perspective, most books are in the 8-15 hour range). Six weeks later I finished listening to the book, expertly read by the incredible stage actor Raul Esparza. When all is said and done, this will be recognized as one of King's best works. Read it!

The story is simple. One October morning (just 11 days before Halloween!), an impenetrable dome falls over the town of Chester's Mill. The invisible dome slices animals in half, airplanes crash into it, and seals off the town. Only scant air and some water from the dissected rivers pass through the dome. Even missiles can't cause a dent. The 1000+ people inside are left to their own devices as they come to grips with the circumstances, the growing lack of supplies, and a self-appointed leader (and used car salesman) who believes God put him in charge.

Original hardcover image
This is a very ambitious and sprawling novel with many characters that required a character cheat sheet and an illustrated map of the town (see below) in the foreword. But it is a vastly entertaining ride that's often marked with grotesque incidents. I'd forgotten just how absorbing a King novel can be, and this one makes you pay attention. It's very much a mix of The Stand + The Mist and King take's a very wide lens to capture all the basest of human emotion under crisis.

Map of Chester's Mill

Having read about the upcoming TV series and the revisions to the story, I am very glad to have experienced King's original vision. There has yet to be a great TV adaptation of a Stephen King book, and the 13 episodes airing this summer are a starting point for a longer series (rather than a self-contained miniseries). It sounds like only the basic concepts and the characters will remain from the book. Also, it may be frustrating for the viewers not to get answers about the dome until several seasons down the road. A worst scenario is that the show doesn't get a second season and viewers are left to lift the dome themselves. Let's hope this gamble is worth it. Check out the preview below!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Department 56 Halloween Village

For you Halloween village collectors out there, many of the 2013 introductions from Department 56 are now available. They've expanded their dark carnival series (Screamville sounds appropriate), and have gone a bit darker this year as well. Department 56 is under new ownership by Enesco, a large distributor of giftware, and they seem to have given their artists a little more leeway to be sinister. Or perhaps its a response to the growing popularity of the (cheaper and more widely available) Lemax Spooky Town Collection. Here are some of my favorite pieces for 2013:

Buying Department 56 can be a bit of challenge. If you are lucky, you may have a direct retailer near you, but understandably many retailers won't carry the Halloween collection until September. Online shopping is the best avenue for acquiring new or limited pieces. One of my favorite retailers is Country N' More Gifts who offers good discounts and free shipping. Ebay also a great option. Keep in mind  there's a limited supply of these hand-made pieces so shop early.

I'll be posting village pictures this fall so make sure to send in pictures of your village!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Evil Dead Soundtrack & Tee

Can't get enough of the Evil Dead? Here's a couple souvenirs of the bloody thriller.

Motion Picture Soundtrack
While scary music in horror movies is standard, the Evil Dead features a particularly outstanding soundtrack. It was composed by a relatively new composer Roque Baños who director Fede Alavarez met via Facebook! The Deluxe CD Edition (available directly from La-La Land Records) will feature over 25 minutes of additional music not included in the digital download, both available on April 9th. (The CD will also be available via Amazon on May 7th.)

The official Evil Dead t-shirt is available at HotTopic.com (and it's on sale for 25% off).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Evil Dead: Review

Rarely does a highly-anticipated (and hyped) movie actually deliver the goods. Evil Dead is that movie. It's easily the goriest mainstream film I've seen in...  EVER. Seriously, the unrelenting mayhem took me by surprise (including the most squirm inducing tongue moment revealed in the trailer). It was brutal with almost non-stop intensity, and while the vicious tone is set early on, the film never looses its sense of fun. It's not that downbeat, dreary, bleak tone that so many remakes consider necessary. This one is for serious, hardcore horror fans who want to have a great time.

The plot stays true to the original film and overlays a plausible story on top. Why would any one stay in this cabin? To help a friend detox in a no-escape sort of way. Jane Levy (known mostly for the TV show Suburgatory and last year's underrated Fun Size) plays the junkie here and she is truly a revelation. A new scream queen is born (should she choose to accept the title)! I truly felt her fear in a raw, palpable way and she easily carries the film's most dramatic moments.

First-time director Fede Alvarez keeps the pace mostly taut and pays homage to many of producer Sam Raimi's original camerawork (the swooshing through the trees, the incredibly odd angles). Yes, his script could have used some character polish (Diablo Cody has a co-writing credit but I didn't hear any of her trademark humorous banter), and there was one single but significant misstep that almost sunk the ending altogether. But we persevere and enjoy the hand we're dealt. Or not.

If the Evil Dead finds an audience and profits with its hard R-rating, the future of mainstream horror might be promising. The studios who unanimously pander to the PG-13 crowd might finally recognize that there is an adult audience who also loves horror films.

Blood red poster
Original poster
Teaser logo with hand

Major Trauma #1: The woods
Major Trauma #2: De-jawing
Major Trauma #3: Tongue splitting

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert 1942-2013

Roger Ebert was an incredible mentor to me. He taught me how to view movies, and how to appreciate the art of cinema. And he's why I review movies on this blog. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Conjuring

The full-length trailer for The Conjuring has just been released and it's a supernatural bonanza! Test audiences have been so positive about the movie that Warner Bros. moved the release date from early this year to the height of the summer movie season – July 19. That screams confidence since horror typically does not fare well in the summer.

The Conjuring is based on the case files of real-life demonologist Ed Warren and his clairvoyant wife Lorraine Warren who attempt to help the Perron Family after they are attacked by a malevolent entity in their Rhode Island home. (The eldest daughter, Andrea Perron, went on to self-publish a book about the experiences at the house in 2011.)

The Conjuring is directed by James Wan whose name might not ring familiar, but he's responsible for some of the best horror films of the last decade: the incredible Insidious, the genre redefining Saw, and the old-school romp Dead Silence. (He's also currently filming Insidious, Chapter 2 to be released in September.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Shadow People: Review

You have to be a fan of parapsychology and reenactment shows like A Haunting and Paranormal Witness to moderately enjoy the movie Shadow People. It's based on a true story and features "alleged real clips" from the people who were a part of the incidents centered in Kentucky in 2008. An outbreak of Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Dyndrome (SUNDS) claims several lives, a radio DJ gets swept up into the fold, and even the CDC gets involved.

As a topic for investigation, this is ripe with interesting global legends, scientific study, and many witnesses who all claim to have seen or experienced and episode with these entities.

As a movie, it doesn't quite hold together. Dallas Roberts' (Walking Dead) performance doesn't quite resonate, and the chilling "gotcha" moments are hokey at best. A serious documentary film would have been much more fascinating, and with the many clips, research, and serious investigative work, one wonders why it's not. I guess documentaries are not very popular although two documentaries were quite popular on the festival circuit (My Amityville Horror, Room 237). Viewers interested in parapsychology studies will get something from this film. Viewers interested in a suspenseful horror movie will likely be left wanting.