Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hell House: Ode to Richard Matheson

As part of my scary education, I've been reading the classic novels in horror literature. First up  is Hell House by Richard Matheson, the New York Times best-selling author of  I Am Legend, Somewhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Stir of Echoes, and What Dreams May Come as well as many screenplays for movies and TV. He died last June 2013, at the age of 87.

"Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills." --Stephen King

Written in 1971, Hell House concerns a physicist, his wife, and two mediums who are hired by a millionaire to investigate the infamous Belasco House in Maine. The novel combines a mix of horror, the supernatural, and mystery as the foursome try to solve the riddle at the center of the haunting. Along the way we encounter grotesque scenes of blasphemy and perversion that I've never encountered before. I will freely admit that I was shocked by some of the passages in this book, but it did take a bit of effort to swallow the overall setting that's not old enough to be a period piece but a bit too dated to connect with modern audiences. However, I did enjoy hearing the list of parapsychology terms like somnambulist, ectoplasm, and physical mediums that you just don't hear anymore.

Overall, this novel along with Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (1959) have served as inspiration for every haunted house movie I've ever seen. It was adapted in 1973 (with a script by Richard Matheson) as The Legend of Hell House and starred genre favorite Roddy McDowell. While it followed the same notes as the book, it really missed the core depravity that made Hell House, well, hell. In 2004, it was adapted as a very dark comic mini-series that made the side stories in the book quite visually disturbing. Rumors of a remake have persisted for years, although I hope it will be an indie/arthouse production and not a mainstream film. The sexual overtones would be enough to earn this movie a hard-R, and it needs a seriously bleak tone.

Two days after publishing this post, Dread Central reported that 20th Century Fox has been trying to get the remake of The Legend of Hell House off the ground since 2007. With the success of The Conjuring, interest in the film has been renewed. Is an announcement forthcoming?!?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Salem (2014 TV Series): Pilot Review

WGN America’s Salem is the latest in a line of historically-based horror hybrids with a supernatural core, period costumes/sets, and high production values. While it fits with current TV trends, this series feels like it's showing up a little late to the party. The comparison with more successful shows is inevitable, and it's working overtime to distinguish itself. The tone is solemn and serious, and the biggest surprise is it's target demographic: adults! There is not the slightest levity or wink at modernity, and no side story with blathering tweens who feel things deeply. Perhaps this will be the show’s greatest asset.

The serviceable cast is led by the wicked and intense Janet Montgomery with her intense inky-black eyes that just exude evil. The long-haired Shane West is a little less convincing but he didn’t have much to do in this pilot and his unrequited love story borders on insipid. Perhaps there’s a more ambitious story left to be revealed but I don’t anticipate too many surprises. It's provocative yet still recognizably safe. Some of the most memorable scenes directly reference movies like The Conjuring (it’s there in corner, don’t you see it?) and Rosemary’s Baby (glimpses of demons during a birth scene).

Yet Salem is entertaining and it wasn't a terrible start, just somewhat uninspired. If the story doesn't get more spellbinding soon, discerning horror viewers with a glut of options will abandon it. I'm oddly compelled to return for more but only because American Horror Story is between seasons. There's only so much outlandish scenes will accomplish if the main plot is unsatisfying.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

R.I.P. FearNet ~ 2006-2014

The TV landscape is fickle and ripe with deals, mergers, and acquisitions, and the latest victim is a popular horror brand: FearNet. Deadline reported this week that Comcast is killing off FearNet, and folding its content into Chiller TV and SyFy. Although the effective date was not announced, more than half of the staff at FearNet was let go on Monday.

FearNet launched on Halloween 2006 via VOD service on Comcast, then came the website, and in some markets even a 24-hour channel with some original programming (which never materialized here in Northern California). A few months later, then-rival NBCUniversal debuted Chiller TV on competing services like DirectTV and TimeWarner. But then Comcast bought NBCUniversal (who also owns SyFy). It appears there are too many genre channels for the media conglomerate to keep operating so FearNet got the ax. Whether Chiller will be brought to all Comcast customers remains to be seen (visit this page and follow the prompts to submit an email to Comcast - this really works).

A 24-hour horror channel continues to be a fantasy for many, and a dominate network has yet to fully materialize. I hope this merger will pump new blood (and resources) into Chiller and help it become the dream channel, or rather the nightmare channel, we want to have. There is so much horror content out there beyond movies, and now that Comcast owns so much of it perhaps it will be easier to license the needed programming to help Chiller succeed.

I am incredibly sad to see FearNet go – they put such a valiant effort into scaring us on a daily basis and I am eternally grateful for their hard work. And I hope FearNet's brilliant Facebook page will continue in some form. If you don't follow it, you're missing some of best, most irreverent, and weird horror news on the web.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Blood Moon on the Rise

The time for reckoning is here… according to some televangelists. Tonight’s celestial event is a blood moon, a rare lunar eclipse in which the moon creeps into the darkest part of Earth’s shadow and receives only “sunset light” turning it red. The complete event lasts about 5 hours but the moon will be at its bloodiest at 12:07am PT, 1:07am MT,  2:07am CT, 3:07am ET. Tonight's eclipse starts a tetrad of events that will happen every six months (or so) between now and September 2015. Cue the doomsday chatter.

John Hagee, the controversial founder of the Texas Cornerstore Church believes that this tetrad heralds a “world-shaking event” that may signal the end of times prophecy – and literally wrote the book on it. He cites Acts 2:19-20 as a sign: "And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord." Interestingly, all four blood moons will also take place during Jewish holidays, and he doesn't believe that's a coincidence either.

Regardless of whether this is a true omen (or not), you'll have three more opportunities to see the blood moon for yourself on 10/8/14, 4/4/15, or 9/28/15. For the actual scientific explanation, see the video below, and if it's cloudy in your city, check out Nasa.gov for live streaming.

ABC US News | ABC Business News

Update ~ Here's my picture of the 04.15.14 Blood Moon:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Oculus: Review

Horror movies are full of dumb things like running and stumbling, going into a dark basement without a light, or yelling 'who's there' at the worst time. But every once in a while, a movie comes along where the characters do all the right things and think before acting. Oculus, opening today, proves horror movies can be intelligent and thoroughly scary. It’s the best horror movie of the year (so far), and will likely become a cult classic.

The story which seems rather silly at first – a haunted mirror – actually has a great deal of depth, and builds a rich mythos behind it. It’s the kind of original story you just don’t see anymore. And while it’s loaded with foreshadowing, its keeps the viewer committed to discovering the truth. The film is set in two time periods, jumping between them to dizzying effect and creating an unnerving sense of disorientation (made rather visceral with a thumping aural soundtrack).

But Oculus is not for everyone. This film has an independent heart beating at it’s core, and doesn’t have the broad mainstream appeal of straightforward films like The Conjuring or Paranormal Activity. Horror’s big cash cow (teenagers) will likely be scratching their heads on this one (assuming they get in since it’s an R-rated film). Ultimately, Oculus achieves a terrifying atmosphere with a faceless, inanimate antagonist at the head, avoiding many of the standard gimmicks, and relying on old-fashioned, slow building tension. It’s unusual, perplexing, non-linear, and I wonder if audiences will truly connect to this gem.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge: Review

If you enjoy SyFy’s Face Off, you will likely enjoy the latest spin-off, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. Contestants must conceptualize, fabricate, and mechanize full-size creature puppets under insane time constraints – you know the usual. The host, judges, and contestants aren’t particularly charismatic, but the contests’ work is definitely interesting and one can only imagine how much better their creatures would look if they had 3 extra days. Or a heck even full week! The point is to see the process of imagination at work and this is where the show is most successful.

However, it’s also peculiar that the editors of these shows insist on creating drama, underdogs, and villains to tell a companion narrative along with the actual competition. But instead of all this “reality” (the contestants feelings, opinions about each other, emotional backstories) I’m much more interested in how they make these cool creatures. Yes, I know it’s not a “how-to” show, but why not throw in a few tutorials along the way? It’s like being backstage at a magic show and never seeing how any of the tricks work. It’s kind of a bummer, but I guess there’s not enough of audience who wants to learn anything. As a Halloween fan who is just getting into prop making, this show gives me some inspiration but like eating a bag of potato chips when you’re hungry, there’s no real satisfaction.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Universal Classic Monsters on Blu-ray

If you don't already own the Universal Classic Monsters Collection, the next five days is the perfect time to own them. Until April 12th, Amazon is offering the blu-ray set for $54.49 (64% off MSRP). From Amazon:
Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection showcases 8 of the most iconic monsters in motion picture history including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera and Creature From the Black Lagoon. Featuring over 12 hours of revealing bonus features plus an exclusive collectible book, each film has been digitally restored from high resolution film elements for the ultimate classic monster experience.

For the serious collector, a gorgeous limited edition coffin set was released in the U.K. (in October 2012). It features all 8 movies plus the 3D version of Creature from the Black Lagoon, lobby cards, and it's region free so it will play here in the U.S. It's still fairly easy to find on Amazon, Amazon UK and eBay for just under $200.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Walking Dead, Season 4: Review

The Walking Dead, Season 4 in one sitting revealed a couple things to me. The writing has gotten worse pulling disingenuous punches for sake of melodrama, and a vacuous thematic narrative that is much too drawn out. The plague that hits the prison definitely showed that even if survivors are protected from zombies, they are still alone and in peril (but we knew that). It also put Glen in a very unfortunate position but with he and Maggie being the only heart/hope of the show the outcome was inevitable. Then, leading up to the mid-season finale, the Governor pops back in only to cause havoc, a seriously unnecessary death, and served only as a glaring plot purpose: to get the characters out of the prison and scattered again. There was nothing organic about that Woodbury rerun.

With 16 episodes, there has also been more filler as Episode 9 proved. Rick is incapacitated on the couch and the entire point of the episode is that Carl is not the Grown Up Man he thinks he is – shocker – but does end in a genuine emotional moment. The jumping around in time (hello flashback, my old friend) and the unexplained leaps in logic ("She's just gone") are meant to provide mystery but only induce eye-rolling. 

The highlight of the season came in episode 14: The Grove, in which Carol, Tyreese, and the girls take refuge in pecan farm. It is a very compelling, dark, heartbreaking episode that begs the question: What Would You Do? I haven't been shocked by a TV show in a while and this struck a profoundly mournful tone. I understand why this was such a controversial episode, but it reinvigorated my belief that this show still has some riveting stories to tell.

The rest of the season played the same notes of the all too familiar Woodbury theme (a haven that probably isn't). Much like Carol discovers shelling pecans, this show is a lot of work to get very little meat, usually in small but satisfying pieces. I wish the phenomenal cast was given more to work with, the thematic structure was tightened, and that the writers found more engaging/less superficial ways to further the story without resorting to Lost-style gimmicks. Yet, the compelling moments make for great TV, but how much longer can viewers be drawn to the aimless destination if the voyage is never fully satisfying?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Fyne Art of David Lozeau

Dia de los Muertos holds a special place in my heart and Southern California artist David Lozeau is a master of the colorful skeleton art. His quirky and macabre artwork also features wild west, oceanic, military, and zombie themes on a variety of mediums that include canvas, surfboards, cars and violins! Some artwork is mounted in unique frames created to complement the artwork.

David Lozeau's art show appearances usually include live painting events where you can see the artist at work. And he makes his artwork affordable to everyone in the form of paper and canvas prints in multiple sizes. Below are some of his upcoming appearances and for a full Event Calendar & Show Info visit his website.

Mission Federal ArtWalk
April 26th & 27th, 11a-6p
Little Italy, Cedar St (Booth #305/#306)
San Diego, CA 92110

Carlsbad Village Faire
May 4th, 8a-5p
Grand Avenue & State St (Booth #933/#934)
Carlsbad, CA 92008

California Strawberry Festival
May 17th & 18th, 10a-6:30p
Strawberry Meadows of College Park
3250 South Rose Avenue
Oxnard, CA 93033

Sunnyvale Art & Wine Festival
June 7th & 8th, 10a-5p
Washington & Sunnyvale Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA

Novato Art & Wine Festival
June 14th & 15th, 10a-5p
Grant Avenue
Novato, CA

Art-A-Fair Festival
June 27th-30th, 10a-9p
777 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA

Ocean Beach Street Fair
June 28th, 10a-5p
Main Street
Ocean Beach CA

Art-A-Fair Festival
July 1st-31th, 10a-9p
777 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach, CA

Gilroy Garlic Festival
July 25th-27th, 10a-7p
Christmas Hill Park
Gilroy, CA 95020