Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Art-David Hartman

OK, here's one more Halloween treat. David Hartman is an artist that specializes in horror . Here are a few samples. You can see his entire gallery at Enjoy, and have a great and safe Halloween weekend!

Halloween Horrors- Phantasm

OK, time for my last cinematic terror treat for the season, as I'll be out 'till Sunday . Today's scary seasonal film is Phantasm(1979). Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, Phantasm is a tale of two brothers and their battle against evil.

Mike( A.Michael Baldwin) is a young kid who lives with his older brother Jody(Bill Thornbury). Their parents died recently, and Mike is undestandably having a hard time with it. He's afraid that Jody will leave him, and shadows his older brother all the time. Mike soon discovers that something is going on at the local mortuary, and the undertaker(The Tall Man, played by Angus Scrimm) is behind it. At first, Mike's story is taken as an excitable kid's imagination gone wild, but soon Mike, Jody, and their ice cream salesman pal Reggie(Reggie Bannister) are all involved in trying to stop the Tall Man and his diabolical work. Can our young group of heroes possibly stop the otherworldly Tall Man and his henchmen, or will they fall victim to him? Is it all just a bad dream, or a nightmarish reality?

Phantasm is another film that falls into the "dream-like" category. Lots of strange things take place, and at times the viewer is left wondering what's really happening. The film was based on a dream Coscarelli had, so this may have influenced his approach to creating the feel of the film. There are lots of strange, nightmarish setpieces in this film, such as when the tall Man's finger is chopped off with a knife and put in a box, only to change into a large, vicious bug, and the slow-motion scenes of the Tall Man walking menacingly by. There's also many unique elements to the movie, including the hooded dwarves ( that are actually squashed-down , reanimated corpses-cheap labor for the Tall Man), and the sphere. There is a silver sphere that patrols the mortuary, flying around like a chrome watchdog. It has the ability to jut out barbed blades, which dig into the victim's skull, and a drill that bores forward into the skull, topping it off with said victim's blood shooting out of the back of the sphere. Inventive gore, I'd say. There's also a bad-ass Hemi Cuda in the movie, as well.

In spite of a small budget and young actors, Coscarelli did a good job with Phantasm. It catches that feeling of when you're a kid in a small town, riding your bike around , looking for something to do...and drops it right in the middle of a nightmare. Like several of the films I've written about, it has that surreal feeling like you're having a weird dream that you just can't wake up from, and you wonder just where the Hell it's going to take you next. The film, to its credit, doesn't give you explinations about everything on a silver platter. It leaves a lot shrouded in mystery, and I think that makes it scarier...the unknown is always more frightening. Also, this, as you could probably tell from my description of the sphere, is not a movie that goes light on the does get fairly gruesome in parts, which is OK by me.

Phantasm went on to spawn several sequels, which go on to explain some things, but still maintains some mystery. For my money, though, the first one is still the best. If you've never seen Phantasm, I suggest you take a look. It's good, creepy stuff.

That's about it for my fright-film series. I have a busy weekend ahead, so I'll more than likely be out 'till Sunday(I may yet sneak one more in tonight...we'll see). I hope everyone enjoyed my horror movie suggestions...they're some of my favorites, and I hope that you found some new flicks here that you liked. Everyone have a safe, fun, and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Horrors-The Wicker Man

Time to get a few more cinematic scares out there before the season is past us. The next one up on my list is The Wicker Man(1973). Directed by Robin Hardy, this film is another one of those movies that creeps up on you and creates a subtle air of menace and strangeness, before the final moments of terror.

Police officer Neil Howie( Edward Woodward, later starring in American TV's The Equalizer) goes to a small island communtiy to look for a missing girl. At first glance, the island is a quaint, old-fashioned little place. As Howie questions the locals, he discovers that they all practice Pagan folk cures and rituals. This shocks the very upright Christian officer, as does the attempts by a local girl(Britt Eklund) to seduce Howie with a naked song -and-dance, which the staunch Christian policeman resists(the dumbass). Howie even meets with the owner of the place, Lord Summerisle(Christopher Lee), who shares the nonchalance of the rest of the island's populace about the missing girl. It soon becomes clear that the island's residents are playing a game with Howie, and that their Pagan practices don't stop at mere folk remedies...they quite possibly practice human sacrifice to appease their gods and keep their crops growing well. Howie fears that the missing girl is to be their sacrifice. Will Howie figure out what's going on? Will he save the girl? Or is there another who is meant to be offered up to the gods?

The Wicker Man does a great job in building up an overall creepy has more in common with the atmospheric horror films like Let's Scare Jessica To Death than , say, any of Lucio Fulci's Italian gorefests. It wasn't too hard to figure out how this was going to play out, but the story is good and the acting is also right up there as well. Wodward does a fine job as the frustrated, uptight policeman, and Lee , of course, is great as the island's eccentric owner. Add in beauties like Eklund and Ingrid Pitt, and you have all the ingredients for a classy, intelligent horror film. It is a bit light on the gore, but it more than makes up for it with style and atmosphere. Shot primarily in Scotland, some of the scenery is quite beautiful, which acts as a counterbalance to the horror lurking in the David Lynch would later show in films such as Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, death and horror can be found lurking even in the most idyllic and/or pastoral backdrops.

I picked up a nice copy of this one on DVD by Anchor Bay a few years back...It's in an actual wooden box with lots of extras, including a fine documentary and trailers. This was one of the few movies I've bought before I'd actually seen...every article and review I'd read said this was an outstanding film, and when I saw the deluxe box at Best Buy , I couldn't pass it up. I have to agree with all the reviews, it is a very good film. The Wicker Man is a perfect Pagan holiday film to watch on a Pagan holiday...I have not seen the remake of this, and by all accounts, I probably won't. Check out the original-you won't be sorry.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Goin' For A Walk Pt. 3

I went out walking the other morning. It was cool out (for South Texas, anyway), and I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather. The sky was almost completely covered with grey clouds, hiding the sun, and helping to keep the temperature down. The wind was chilly and invigorating. Years ago I moved from Michigan to Texas to escape the cold Winter weather. The last Winter I spent in the Midwest was a particularly cold one...I recall having to use de-icer on the frozen lock of my apartment door a few times, and even though I had the heat cranked up and insulated plastic over the sliding glass door on my patio, it was always very cold inside. My first Winter in Texas it was about 70 degrees outside in January, and I loved it then.
Lately though, I find myself missing the cold embrace of Winter...the chill wind, the frost, even the snow. It does get cold down here sometimes, depending on the particular Winter in question. Sometimes it'll get down to freezing, and other years it's like my first Winter, where it's warm out. I've been craving real actual Winter, and even better, a real Fall. I think Fall is probably my favorite season. I used to love the changing colors of the leaves, and the crisp chill in the air. I may have to relocate to a more Northerly state one day soon...but I digress.
The neighborhod was quiet, as it ususally is. Some people have decorated their yards for Halloween, with ghosts hanging from trees and pumpkins set about. One house I pass has a dummy with a skull for a head sitting in a lawnchair, covered in spiderwebs. A few different thoughts race through my mind upon seeing this. I wonder if it's what it appears to be, or if it's actually a corpse, set in plain sight as a yard decoration. Maybe it's poor Uncle Sal who passed away months ago, but they still collect his pension. Maybe it's some salesman who rang the wrong doorbell one fateful day. Or perhaps it's a souvenier from an evening of graverobbing, now set up yearly so as to win the award for best decorated yard. Or, maybe it's just a plastic skull on a scarecrow.
I walk past a greenbelt, which is quiet at night, but now in the daytime is full of birds that are hidden in the trees and shrubs, unseen but not unheard as they all chatter and twiter, as if they all have such interesting things to say to each other that they all have to talk at once, not wanting to wait in turn. I look up at the sky, and see a patch of blue, as if the canopy of grey clouds has been pulled back by some giant who is hidden just beyond the horizon. A hawk flies through this blue patch, soaring as if the sky belongs to him, and maybe it does. I see the hawk and for a moment, all my thoughts, cares, and problems vanish as he soars up and onward, eventually leaving my sight . I walk on, my head filling back up with its usual stuff.
I make my customary stop at the local Walgreens, picking up a drink , and head back . The chill in the air is all but gone now, as the day progresses and the cloak of grey leaves the sky. As I pass back by the skull-topped scarecrow lounging in the lawnchair,I think again of the approaching day-Haloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead-the day that the border between this world and that of the Spirit World, the realm of the Dead, is supposed to give way, letting spirits and demons into this world. I have yet to see a spirit, friendly or otherwise, appear on this day. If this year is the year that those who dwell on the other side come forth, and they have no kind intentions for me, would I be prepared for them? I think back to my house, where hangs on the wall my axe, and my sword resting in the bedroom, and my faithful dog Odin, named for the lord of magic, war, and death. Not to mention the three black cats that live with me...surely they could call upon the power of their ancestors who were familiars through their feline magic that they possess. I smile and nod to myself, yeah, I'm prepared.
I finaly make it back to my house, another walk done. I don't get tired of walking, as it lets my body work and my mind wander down whatever strange paths it may take.

Halloween Party

Some friends of mine had a Halloween party the other night. They went all out and decorated the whole house, inside and out, even the bathroom. It was a good time, with friends, food, and drink in abundance. Hope you all enjoy these pictures and get the chance to attend a good party yourselves. And yes, that is me with the horns. I've never been the Devil for Halloween, and it seemed like it was about time, my nickname being what it is. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Halloween Horrors-City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell)

I've been under the weather for a bit, but I'm back with another seasonal scare film. City of the Living Dead was released in 1980. It was directed by Lucio Fulci , who also directed Zombie and The Beyond. Yes, it's another Italian film...I seem to have an affinity for Italian horror. The Italian horror films from the late 70's and 80's had a different vibe to them than anything else back then...or since, for that matter.

A woman (Catriona MacColl) attends a seance. She sees a vision of a priest hanging himself in a cemetary. This act opens the Gate to Hell, and the woman freaks out and apparently dies.

A reporter(Christopher George), looking for a story, goes to the woman's funeral. He hears sounds coming from somewhere...turns out the gal isn't dead, and is screaming in her coffin. Our intrepid reporter uses a pick to get her out of the coffin( I guess they forgot to embalm her before her burial...or maybe there's some kind of magic at work, I don't know...but anyway...).

They proceed to the town of Dunwich, where the priest hung himself. Dunwich is covered in fog all day, and the dead are a bit restless, with zombies wandering around town, and the ghost of the suicidal priest causing all kinds of trouble. Will our pair of heroes find the answer to their supernatural problem, or will they fall victim to the Gates of Hell?

City of the Living Dead was released in the U.S. as The Gates of Hell in 1983, which is when I first saw it. This film was sort of a precursor to The Beyond, in tone and content. It has the typical elements of an 80's Italian horror movie(zombies, gore, etc.) but there was just a bit of strangeness at the end of the film...not as surreal as The Beyond, but a tad different than your average American scare flick. The theme of the existence of gateways to Hell in our world( as in The Beyond) is started in this movie, and there's plenty of nasty zombie action. There are a couple of standout scenes of violent horror, such as when one of the the townspeople, blaming a local weirdo for their problems, place said weirdo's head on a power drill and , well, drills through his head. Another memorable scene is where the ghost of the dead priest shows up and casts a spell on a woman in a car, making her cry tears of blood, and literally throw up her own guts. Again, not for weak stomachs, folks ( sorry, I don't watch too many Disney flicks). Literary horror fans can again take note, as the town's name of Dunwich is cribbed from H.P Lovecraft's story 'The Dunwich Horror".

City of the Living Dead is a good horror film. It's a bit more ambitious than Zombie, but not as much as The Beyond or Cemetary Man. If you're looking for a good, bloody, low-budget horror film, look no further than City of the Living Dead. The Gates of Hell await!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Halloween Horrors-Godzilla

All right, time now for something a little less scary, but still a favorite of mine...I'm talking about none other than the King of Monsters, Godzilla. It all started back in 1954, when Godzilla first came up from the depths to terrorize Japan. The first Godzilla film was the most serious, and it is pretty somber, especially the scenes of the aftermath of Godzilla's rampage-buildings reduced to smoking rubble, dead and injured laying on the floors of overflowing hospitals, etc. Remember, Japan is the only country to have gone through being hit with atomic weapons, and Godzilla was a walking metaphor for that, and the aforementioned scenes resemble nothing more than a nation at war.

Godzilla has changed over the years... he's gone from rampaging monster to protector of the Earth, and back to rampaging monster again. His physical appearance has changed as well, reflecting his staus with humanity. When he was a monster hero, his face got shorter and his eyes bigger, making him look almost cute. But no matter what his status is, Godzilla is always ready for a fight, be it with the military with their tanks and Masers and planes, or with other prehistoric throwbacks like Rodan and Anguirus, or with monsters from space, like King Ghidorah and Orga.

Why do I like Godzilla so much? Well, I admire the fact that he never gives up....he always keeps fighting, no matter how much the odds are stacked against him. I also just like the fact that he's a gigantic, radiation-mutated dinosaur that breathes atomic breath at his really can't get much cooler than that. And, well, I guess I still like Godzilla because he reminds me of my childhood. I always loved watching Godzilla movies on Creature Feature or Son of Svengoolie's show, and it still, in some way, takes me back when I watch the King kick the crap out of Tokyo, the military, or whatever monster made the fatal mistake of crossing his path. I've outgrown a lot of things, and I've gotten jaded about lots of things, but I'm still enough of a kid inside to enjoy Godzilla's adventures.

There's so many of his films, it's hard to pick one favorite, but if you haven't seen any of his films, start with the first one, and get the original Japanese version if at all possible. It's far superior to the Americanized version with gratuitous Raymond Burr footage spliced in. From there, here's some of my faves: Destroy all Monsters, Ghidorah The Three-Headed Monster, Terror of Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs Mothra, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, Godzilla 2000, and Godzilla :Final Wars.

The thing to keep in mind when watching Godzilla movies is that it's supposed to be fun! Don't worry about the fact that a device that makes an artificial black hole isn't a great idea, or why don't aliens just make a bomb to drop on Godzilla instead of building a robot version of him...logic will get you nowhere on Monster Island. Just make some popcorn, have some beverages ready(soft drinks or not-so-soft drinks), and perpare to have a good time.

Oh, and don't even bring up that 1998 piece of shit made by the dorks that made Independence Day...that is NOT Godzilla. The King does not run from the Army, lay eggs, and eat tuna. There's a scene in Godzilla: Final Wars where the real Godzilla runs into this CGI-made pretender. It's the shortest monster battle in movie's also on YouTube if you want to check it out.

So, grab some snacks, get some Godzilla movies, and prepare to smash some buildings, fight some monsters, and have a monster-sized good time. Hail to the King!

Halloween Horrors- The Beyond

Tonight we're going back to Italy for another dose of surreal horror with The Beyond(1981). Directed by Lucio Fulci, who brought us Zombie, this film has similar elements, such as the living dead and loads of splattery violence. What sets this film apart, however, is the dream-like elements that occur, especially later on in the film, which is similar to the film Cemetary Man. As anyone who's been keeping up with my horror flim posts, it's easy to see that I like my scares served up with a side of surrealism.

Back in the 1920's , an artist living in a Louisiana hotel is believed to be a warlock by the locals, who nail him to the wall, cover him in quicklime, and kill him. This hotel, as luck would have it, is situated on one of the seven gates of Hell that exist in our world, and when opened, let the dead into our world. Flash forward several decades, and a woman (Catriona MacColl) has inherited the hotel, and is having it renovated, in hopes of re-opening it for business. Soon, the hell gate that exists in the hotel opens , and our heroine and a local doctor(David Warbeck) find themselves dealing with ghosts, flesh-eating spiders, zombies,The Book of Eibon, and a pissed-off warlock back from the dead. Will our two protagonists be able to defeat the Supernatural forces at work in their town, or are they doomed to be trapped in The Beyond?

The Beyond is , as I said earlier, a bit different than the average Italian zombie flick from the 80's. To be sure, there is the usual list of ingredients at hand ( zombies, violence, lots of blood, creepiness by the truckload), but there's also the addition of the more surreal elements, especially Fulci's vision of the Other Side. In the book Spaghetti Nightmares (1996, Fantasma Books), Fulci states that "I believe, despite my being Catholic, that (the characters) reached what many people imagine to be the Afterworld." I don't know what the Afterworld looks like, but I hope it doesn't look how Fulci imagined it. It does make for a great horror film,though. Fucli also stated that he "wanted to make a completely Artaudian film". Fulci refers to Antonin Artaud, a Surrealist French playwright who was into what he called the Theater of Cruelty, which meant that theater should affect the audience as much as possible. With The Beyond's combination of the metaphysical and the gory sides of the cinaematic coin, one could say that Fulci succeeded in creating an Artaudian experience. Also of note to literary horror buffs the Book of Eibon...this supernatural tome has its origins in the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, contemporary of H.P.Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, who of course had their own mystic books( The Necronomicon and Unspeakable Cults).

I like the Beyond. It, like other films I've covered, is a good mix of blood and strangeness. There's some good surreal moments, as well as some violent setpieces that may put the viewer off their popcorn. Grindhouse Releasing is putting out a re-mastered, uncut DVD of The Beyond on October 28th, just in time for Halloween...and yes, I'm going to get a copy. Go and take a look for yourself, and tell 'em the Beast sent you.