Wednesday, July 27, 2016

American Horror Story: Season 6 Teasers

The first teasers for American Horror Story: Season 6 arrived on Snapchat today. We have a desolate remote house, black smoke forming a 6(66?), a crib, and a demon baby hand. So maybe a follow-up to S1: Murder House's demon baby that Constance stole?

See the teasers on Lady Gaga's Twitter feed:

Some on Twitter are also suggesting the image below spells out "PIG" which could be in reference to the Manson Family. After murdering some people they wrote PIG on the wall with the victim's blood. So could this season be about satanic cults?

More clues here:

(The guessing game is the usually the most fun part of this show.)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Disney's Tower of Terror to Close Down

The only reason I've ever wanted to go to Disney California Adventure was the breathtaking and iconic Tower of Terror ride. With the Twilight Zone license lapsing and Disney's recent acquisition of Marvel, the Disney decided now would be a great time to convert the ride to a Galaxy of the Guardians-themed ride. It was officially announced on the Disney Parks Blog last Saturday after months of internet speculation. Tower of Terror is scheduled to close in January 2017, so at least we have some time to enjoy it the haunted goodness. The "new" ride with the Guardian makeover will open in the Summer of 2017 to coincide with the sequel.

Lights Out ~ Review

Horror films are wily things. The most effective ones strike at the inner core of your psyche where irrational fears reside. Fear of the dark is one of those lingering tenants that nudge us whenever there's a dark alley, a musty unlit basement, or a long echoey walk in a desolate subterranean parking lot. The boogeyman is always out there waiting for you. Lights Out capitalizes on this precise fear with a lean, mean and satisfying narrative that culminates in a good little film.

This is the first feature from writer and director David F. Sandberg and it's based on his 2013 short of the same name. Expanded from three minutes to 81 minutes, the film is slight but cleverly builds on its original concept giving us enough of an origin story without over explanation, well-drawn characters, and a definitive conclusion. Side note: The ending of the original short has given me nightmares to this day.

Performances are solid. Teresa Palmer (from Warm Bodies) is up to the emotional challenge of dealing with her mentally ill mother (the always fabulous Maria Bello), her nettlesome younger brother (the doleful Gabriel Bateman recently seen in Cinemax's Outcast pilot), and a creature that appears only when the lights are out.

The film is produced by James Wan (The Conjuring) who stumbled upon the short and decided to give the director an opportunity to broaden his vision. Wan's on-set presence is felt in the final film with the swooping camera moves, quick cuts, and mainly practical effects. The pace is good, and the characters oddly do what normal people would do in this kind of situation. I was surprised by how quickly everyone accepted that a supernatural creature was attacking them but I think if something out of thin air was physically attacking me, I'd accept it pretty quickly myself. And no that claw mark as not the wind!

The film's main stumbling point is the screenplay and the awkward dialogue with loads of exposition lodged into long, chunky monologues. Kids do not talk like that. Adults do not talk like that to children. I suppose the film is trying to be efficient but unfortunately, the unimaginative solution of telling the backstory is having the characters narrate flashbacks. This is much too mundane for such a nifty film. Also, it can also be argued that the film is making a bold statement about mental illness and the outcome is politically frustrating.

Lights Out is solid, fun-size film that deserves to be seen. And then feared later than night when all your lights are off. It's a good first feature and look forward to Sandberg's next movie, which happens to be Annabelle 2.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


One of the movies I've most looked forward to this year is The Woods which early reviews are calling one of the scariest films ever made. At ComicCon, distributor Lionsgate surprised everyone by revealing that The Woods is actually going to be called BLAIR WITCH and is a direct sequel to the 1999 film, The Blair Witch Project! Whaaaa?! Instantly my excitement went to complete despair. WHYYY! In The Age of Sequels, Reboots and Reimaginings I hope studios take chances on new visions of horror and bring new stories to the screen. But I forget this is all about the money. Lionsgate could have kept the original title and viewers could have discovered the connection to The Blair Witch Project on their own inciting tremendous word of mouth but now, the movie is guaranteed to open big. For the sake of horror fans who don't like to be tricked, the movie better be amazing. The second "official" trailer for Blair Witch looks much less promising than the original trailer for The Woods. It opens September 16.



The movie poster before and after the reveal:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) ~ Review

Remakes, reboots and reimaginings get no love at all because they compete again nostalgia and, yes, very often slightly better filmmaking. It's easy to judge them harshly by comparison, but approaching them with an open mind is essential. Thankfully, the new Ghostbusters made clever decisions to avoid treading on scared ground by going in new directions like casting female protagonists and creating an original (if tepid) story. The tone is spot on. The effects are fun and colorful. And the cast is very funny even when the script fails them.

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and the outstanding Kate McKinnon, who upstages the entire cast, work great together and if anything one wishes they were allowed to cut loose and let that PG-13 rating slip into R-rated territory (this freedom gave director Paul Feig's other films Bridesmaids, Spy, and Knocked Up a sharp comedic edge). It's clear this expensive production was aiming for a very wide summer audience despite its undaunted (niche?) ambition: to boldly go where few women have gone before?

Arguably, the original 1984 Ghostbusters was a mainstream film aimed primarily at male geeks, and now it's geared to an unconventional female audience*. I found this approach refreshing and internet trolls found it despicable causing exhausting tirades. Bottom line: the female-led cast is the best thing about the film, and its shrewdest move.

However, the wobbly script desperately needed to call a genre writer. Even one of the funniest bits (ahem, Chris Hemsworth) that was ripe (ripped?) with possibilities went nowhere (I heard an audience member say, "What the point of having a Hemsworth in a movie with his shirt on?). And the stakes in the final act aren't all that dire since we don't have the Bill Murray/Sigourney Weaver-type characters in peril/love/hate. Other notable missteps, were the "special cameos" (lovable as they are) take you right out of the moment. Also, the villain is So. Typical. I would have loved if a well-read but spoiled 13-year brat was responsible for the ensuing mess.

I saw the film in 3D and was mightily surprised that they treated the format with new respect. I hadn't seen this before in a 3D film but they created a "false frame" around the film (the black bars remained on top and bottom of the projection). Then some – but not all! – the 3D elements broke that frame creating further depth to the effect. It was a spectacular touch that really drove home the gimmick and worthy upgrading to a 3D ticket.

Ghostbusters is an entertaining popcorn flick that's perfect for a breezy summer evening, and I'd love to see another one with these magnificent ladies wearing the proton packs. Although for the next one, cut them loose and let them do their thing.

(*By comparison, I imagine someone trying to remake The Notebook for a male audience by setting it in an apocalyptic space world with aging robots that have finally discovered a neural process called "love". Flashback to the manufacturing plant on Pluto where a scantily-clad Cosmoscientist Megan Fox solders a memory chip onto the N.O.A.H.  Any agents out there? I'll get you my treatment for The Notebook: Reckoning immediately.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Method Pumpkin Clove

METHOD fans be on the lookout for the new Pumpkin Clove collection on your next Target run. Autumn is coming home!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

This Week In Animatronics

Say what you will about Spirit Halloween, but year after year, they keep knocking it out of the park when it comes to animatronics, those life-size figures that have some sort of repetitive motion. The kids (and adults) absolutely love them when they come to the door on Halloween.

As with most "off-the-rack" animatronics, a little love is needed in dressing up the scant fabrics, and padding out the flimsy wire frames to give definition to arms and legs. I've used big bubble wrap, popping sections of bubbles at folding points like elbows, and used masking tape to hold in place. I also temporarily tape the joints of the metal frames so that it all holds together well. Add some bricks at the base to hold the frame in place since trick 'r treaters like to grab at the figures or throw arms around them for a selfie. Finally, these animatronics all have motion sensors that typically require a change of light (shadow passing in front) to activate them. Some are sound activated. They will not always work great on their own so if a step pad is an option, get it and save yourself the activation headache.

Here are some fun animatronics from Spirit:

This Smoldering Zombie twitches and glows red from within! Very cool!

The Boogie Man looks a bit Slenderman-ish and quite creepy to look at. The head shimmy-shakes back and forth and theres that one red eye.

Last year's favorite Cerberus three-headed dog sold out instantly upon debut. It requires a dedicated fog machine and a dark, shrouded background to really sell the effect. But it's guaranteed to scare most trick 'r treaters.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Halloween is Arriving at Pottery Barn

I don't know about you but I love Pottery Barn's Halloween offerings. Their stuff is so sophisticated, classy and stately – just what every Halloween enthusiast needs! They have such a knack for taking a 19-cent light string, adding some admittedly detailed plastic covers, and then charge $34 for something you could get at Target for $8.

But I quibble. I mean The Barn really goes for it when making oversized metal sculptures that weigh 65 lbs. and then ship it in a cardboard box that could fit my washer and dryer. That's the kind of permanence that can be passed down generations and outlive us all on planet Earth. That's what I'm looking for in a Halloween decoration. And I want to remortgage the house to get a skull on a base thingy or get that "Ball and Claw Object". No kidding–their marketing team is so inexperienced with Halloween that the best name they could come up with is "object" – not a gazing globe or crystal ball (for goodness sake, crack open a thesaurus already).

Like the years before, I wonder who the audience is for The Barn's Halloween stuff. Their core shopping demographic is upper middle class (and you know how they love "satanic" holidays and spending nights at home answering their own door to hand out free things to children). I suspect that celebrities (the new money kind), house managers for disengaged corporate VPs, and set decorators for ABC comedies are the true shopping demographic. At the very least, we can enjoy the beautiful photography of The Barn's Halloween products on their website and keep dreaming of winning a moderate lottery to afford some of it.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Yankee Candle Halloween Preview 2016

Those who love Halloween, the Boney Bunch, and candles, of course, will want to mark your calendars for Saturday, August 27 @ 10am. This is the annual Yankee Candle Halloween Preview Sale and usually the only 20 minutes to get a full selection of their yearly offerings. They'll be offering a Black Magic candle for $15. 

Their new Autumn candles include the Autumn Gathering (apple, pear, patchouli and sandalwood), Crisp Fall Night (bergamot, grapefruit, lavender, cedar), and Caramel Apple Cake. And for Halloween, they've dressed up their overly intense Black Magic candle in cool bats! Good lord, I'm starting to sound like that candle vlogger from Scream Queens.

As a graphic designer, I'll also compelled to mention their new logo and label which is more modern, whimsical, and streamlined. Good job whoever moved YC from the late 80s!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

American Horror Story: Season 6

Very little is know about and so far the only teaser is the one below, according to Variety. In many ways, this will help quell the high expectations that have plagued the last few seasons. I had imagined Coven would be a gritty take on modern witches with haggardly beasts, witchcraft, and satanic overtones. Instead we got a boarding house/girl drama with little actual darkness. I had imagined Freakshow in my head as a dark carnival that swoops into town salvaging communities and recruiting souls (ahem, Something Wicked This Way Comes). Instead we got a depressing period drama about a German diva keeping a circus/stardom dream alive. Hotel was pretty much what I expected but with vampires.

Filming is underway on Season 6 with Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Cheyenne Jackson, Finn Wittrock, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Angela Bassett, and Denis O'Hare all returning, and will premiere in October.

UPDATE: FX has set the premiere date: Wednesday, September 14 at 10/9c.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Penny Dreadful ~ Season 3 Review

This week brought the surprise series finale of Showtime's ambitious Penny Dreadful. The gothic horror show got through three seasons with classic characters like Frankenstein's monster and his unhinged bride, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll, and the wolf man, fused together with an original story of the very troubled Vanessa Ives.

After a brilliant second season where the group banded together to fight an evil witch, the third season sent our characters spiraling in different directions – and continents – which is typically a misstep but not so here. Sharp shooter Ethan Chandler (the wolf man) was extradited to the wild west where he spent the majority of the season. John Clare (the monster) spent the season finding himself, and Ms. Ives meanwhile found a new love interest while being pursued by the greatest monster of all.

The show's nebulous plot, English accents, and darkly lit moodiness lends itself well to late-night binge watching, especially since the murky storytelling requires viewers to avoid multitasking. But the reward is the stunning cinematography, impressive sets, exquisite costumes, and genuine moments of sheer horror.

The series' greatest asset is the accomplished ensemble cast – one of the best in recent memory – which includes Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Patti Lupone and Eva Green. But Green's extraordinary performance as the tortured Ms. Ives anchors the show. As a character actress, she's often been relegated to thankless odd roles but this character is truly her master work. As Ms. Ives, Green exudes a painful fragility and a demonic ferocity that leaves her character's soul teetering between probable redemption and palpable darkness. The season's (and series) climax unexpectedly arrives when we follow her into the madhouse. Every moment spent inside that padded room is harrowing, tragic, and culminates in an unnerving and terrifying crescendo.

According to an interview on TV Line, Showtime wanted to continue the show, but the series creator believed it was the right time to end it since Ms. Ives' story had come full circle. It certainly didn't feel that way, and at a scant nine episodes, the ending felt rather rushed and unsubstantial. A couple more episodes could have rounded out the arc a little more organically, especially for a show that is so cautiously methodical in unfurling its narrative.

So why did it end? Unlike many other genre shows, Penny Dreadful never reached critical mass like American Horror Story for example. Considering its remarkable production design and acting pedigree, it was still overlooked in the major awards cycles, and the media never quite fell in love with it. It was also stridently niche: an English period piece soaked in bloody horror on a second-tier premium channel. And previous seasons were not made available on other streaming outlets ensuring the audience would never grow beyond immediate fans/subscribers.

Nonetheless, the title card at the end of the series finale reads "The End" and final nail has been driven into the coffin. It's a remarkable series that will hopefully live on in streaming at some point, and is highly recommended to adults who want to revisit the classic monsters in new and interesting ways, or for fans of Gothic horror.