100 Days of Horror welcomes you to ... SATANFEST 2013

My photo

"Y'all know me, know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish! Not like going down to the pond and chasing bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow ya whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', and down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that'll bring back the tourists, that'll put all your businesses on a payin' basis. But it's not gonna be pleasant! I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you've gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don't want no volunteers, I don't want no mates, there's too many captains on this island. Ten thousand dollars for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing."

Friday, November 12, 2010

100 Days of Horror Presents: Oscar Roundup 2010, Vol. 1 - "The Social Network!"

Greetings Ghouls and Goblins! See, I haven't abandoned this site! Nor have I abandoned my pitiful attempts at alliteration (damn! there was another one!).

True, there are still a few movies left on the list that I'd like to discuss, I am also in the process of figuring out what else to do with this blog site. Because I definitely enjoyed the 100 Days of Horror challenge and I've always loved talking and writing about movies, so I figured why not use the time between the other planned challenges to talk about whatever the hell I want to talk about ... so far as it's related to the celluloid arts!

So I will start that trend today with a film I've had the opportunity to view several times over the past week. This is one of those rare movies that comes along and reminds me that filmmaking just looks like so much fun, even when you're fucking with people's lives. Go see it now while it's still in theaters. Of course, we're talking about David Fincher's incredible new film, "The Social Network." Thanks as usual for reading, and if anyone has a recommendation as ro a great film or two from 2010, please send it along!

The Social Network (2010): Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Armie Hammer, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara and Brenda Song.

The Skinny: In 2003, a drunk and rejected Mark Zuckerberg sat down at his computer, hacked the pages of Harvard's sororities and created a Website that compared random girls and allowed the user to select the hotter one. Next thing you know, ol' Zuckerberg's a gazillionaire as "FaceMash" turns into "Facebook," and he sheds every "real" friend in his life along the path to success.

What's Good: David Fincher has hit the frigging nail on the frigging head yet once again. One of the things I find so fascinating about his films is their timeliness - the way they have of subtly seizing the Zeitgeist in both filmdom and in society: "Seven" and "The Game" broke open doors for psychological horror, the yardstick by which all other so-called "sophisticated" horror movies like "Saw" will be measured; "Fight Club" couldn't have come at a better time for the director and for Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, and for the burgeoning Mixed Martial Arts phenomenon; and "Panic Room" and "Zodiac" both grasped onto the pervasive paranoia extant in post-9/11 America. And once again, Fincher has created a mastermind of a film that couldn't be more of the moment - a film about "Facebook."
I know - at first, the idea of making a movie about a Website is as dumb as making one based on a video game ("Bloodrayne" or "House of the Dead," anyone?), but the emotional core is easy to find in this complex film that explores personal communication in the Information Age. Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin create a character who devises a social networking phenomenon, yet seemingly has zero social skills himself. Under Fincher's direction, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg becomes the uber-geek, perpetually scorned and forever apart because of his inability to connect emotionally, like some stunted Aspergers genius taking out his frustrations through program development instead of gunning down zombies in a video game.
The gem at the center of this movie's crown is the increasingly impressive Jesse Eisenberg as Zucherberg. In his hands, the character takes on a glimmer that is both harmless and sinister all at once. He delivers the dialogue at a lightning-quick pace, but with every word clear and emotive - and never once do we lose sight of the hurting and damaged manchild at the core of this complex personality. It is an absolutely amazing performance, with Eisenberg pulling off a show that is almost machinelike in its execution, somehow cold and emotionless yet with a depth unmatched by actors twice his age of 27. If he is ignored come Oscar time, then people are watching the wrong damn films, because he at least deserves the nod for Best Actor, if not the award itself.
Award nods should also be handed out to screenwriter Sorkin for brilliantly adapting the 2009 non-fiction book "The Accidental Billionaires," and to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their mind-warping score. Wrapping the story of the tender first days of the Facebook empire in two simultaneous court cases involving Zuckerberg, Sorkin creates a non-linear storyline that wraps itself up in a neat little bow complete with an emotionally stunning conclusion. And for the score, Reznor and longtime collaborator Ross craft a creeping, almost relentless piece of orchestration that will haunt you long after you hear it, like the best of Nine Inch Nails inevitably does. It perfectly underscores the urgent pace at which the first third of the film unfolds, creating leitmotifs that recur throughout the rest of the film and expertly recall the characters' emotional states. Even when the music is supposed to be obnoxious in-your-face club garbage, it's still worth listening to.
Also worthy of recognition come this spring is Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker. Oozing the smarmy charm of a rick nerd masked with a party animal exterior, Timberlake personifies the gold rush of the early days of the Internet. When he mentions how he brought down the record industry, and is reminded that the industry won its case against him, Parker smiles and says, "Care to buy a Tower Records right now?" Timberlake is awesome here - in fact, he's never been better.

What's Bad: Nothing. This movie falls into that rare category where I wouldn't change one single aspect of the production. It's near-flawless, and I say "near" because there may be something in there that's wrong or missing or superfluous, but I have no idea what that could be. It's a masterpiece.

The Predictions: I say: Oscar noms for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Eisenberg), Best Supporting Actor (Timberlake), Best Sound Editing. Wins: Best Director (this would be Fincher's second, after "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (Sorkin), Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

100 Days of Horror-Recapping the Fall - "The Exorcist!"

As promised, I am counting down the last five or six films that I missed over my busy schedule.

Not having to rush, rush, rush makes it much more fun for me, and has given me some ideas on how I will conduct future "100 Days" challenges.

So stay tuned for more news on those future events! And in the meantime, get someplace warm and safe, turn on all the lights, lock the doors, grab an baseball bat, a bible and a gun and prepare for the horror that is 1973's "The Exorcist." Goddamn, this movie still scares me stupid!

The Exorcist (1972): Directed by WIlliam Friedkin. Starring Ellyn Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller.

The Skinny: While on location for a movie shoot in Washington, D.C., the young daughter of the lead actress starts to exhibit bizarre, almost supernatural behavior. Meanwhile, an old priest on an archeological expedition in the Middle East unearths signs that an ancient demon is returning to fight it out with its old nemesis once again.

What's Good: Perhaps the first - and highest quality - film to usher in the era of "Sophisticated Horror," "The Exorcist" showed us that no one is safe; that an act as simple as playing with a ouija board could lead to a confrontation with forces beyond our beliefs. In fact, belief and faith (and lack of them) drive the entire film to its roaring, supernatural conclusion. The film explores (much less successfully than the novel by William Peter Blatty) the nature of faith throughout: the MacNeal family ascribes to no particular faith (are, in fact, quite secular); the young Jesuit priest (the brilliant Jason Miller, nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1973), also struggles with his own faith, based largely on the poor health and eventual death of his mother; and Max Von Sydow's Father Merrin is a man of deep faith who has turned away from the church to scuttle about the ruins of ancient Iraq after a previous exorcism left him physically and emotionally shattered. When these disparate elements combine to save the life - and soul - of an adorable 12-year-old girl (an amazing Linda Blair, in perhaps her only decent role in nearly 40 years), all of their beliefs are tested once more, and their collective faith put to the ultimate test. In fact, it takes the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of Miller's tortured Father Karras to finally free Reagan MacNeal from this demon's grip (no, it isn't the devil). The re-touched version, referred to as "The Version You've Never Seen" is definitely the superior version to watch. Technology allowed a famously deleted "spider walk" scene to be seamlessly restored, and Friedkin added other subtle, almost subliminal elements that amp up the supernatural horror to 50. The film scares because if its clinical - and quite accurate - representation of possession and its various stages. It could happen to you or me. It wasn't a monster or anything we could see. And man that's damn terrifying, especially when you don't believe in a higher power in the first place.

What's Bad: Nothing, unless you're one of those people who're opposed to the occasional foray into gore and sacrilegious scenes - sometimes in the same breath, like when Reagan plunges a silver crucifix into her vagina while screaming "Let Jesus fuck you!" Yeah, then maybe skip this one.

Why We Like It: This is the first movie I remember watching that scared me to mother fucking death. I mean terrified beyond belief. I had to curl up at the foot of my grandmother's bed and watch it from beneath a pile of blankets - and that was the toned-down televised version! As n adult finally willing to revisit the movie (perhaps my tender sensibilities had finally been numbed down by all those slasher films), i found it to be a deeply psychological exploration of the nature of belief and faith, and I found myself paying much more attention to the nuanced performances and the clever effects than I was to the bad words. However, child or adult, the final exorcism scene is dark, bleak and unnerving. When I was a kid, it seemed to last forever, even though it was the scene I was most looking forward to. As an adult, however, I find myself dreading the final showdown, because it is one of the few movies that gives me the absolute fucking heebie-jeebies. I don't think I need to explain why. So instead of the mortal terror that Blair instills in me, I focus instead on Miller's incredible facial expressions and his agonized delivery of lines such as, "You're not my mother!" His characterization is what brings me back to this film again and again. And that's no slight to the always amazing Von Sydow, who is just one of the finest of his or any generation. He can wrench more emotion out of just five words than most actors can get from an entire page. This was Oscar nominated in 10 categories and won two, for best sound and best adapted screenplay. It lost Best Picture to "The Sting," let's be honest ... who's renting/downloading "The Sting" these days? Who's retouching "The Sting" and rereleasing it to theaters for it to net another $100 million? Fucking no one, that's who. And don't get me started on the "Goodfellas"/"Dances With Wolves" fiasco, either!

Memorable Stuff: Any of the early scenes between Miller and Blair are fantastic, the dialogue edgy and scary and quite quotable. And one aspect of he film that bothers me insanely is the graphic way it shows medical scans that are utterly ancient when compared to today's technology. They subject to to insanely loud CAT scans, spinal taps and arterial shunts and wholly fucking shit I can't watch that. But for me, the scariest and most memorable part is when during the exorcism scene she breaks free of her restraints and knocks the priests to the floor. The shot of her on her knees, hands in the air like claws, her head back and howling an unearthly sound, silhouetted against a light as the image of the Babylonian demon Pazuzu appears behind her ... Jesus, it just gave me a chill writing about it. Someone turn on the goddamn light in here, already!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

100 Days of Horror - Recapping the Fall - "The Mummy!"


Yes, the goddamn fact of it all is that I totally skipped out on the last few entries in this blog, despite the fact that I actually did watch the movies on the list. I just couldn't find the time to wind this thing up in the proper manner.

It sucks, but hey what can you do? Not read it, I suppose, just like 50 million other people ain't reading it.

Or you could indulge me and give me a chance to catch up and talk about the movies I've missed in the past few days. Because I was actually very excited to talk about these few films, since they're some of my favorites.

So if it please the court - now that I have the time, and despite the fact that the Spooky Season is officially over - I will blather on for the next few days about the movies I love ... starting with the 1932 classic, "The Mummy!"

Thanks again for your indulgence. I hope you can still play along at home.

The Mummy (1932): Directed by Karl Freund. Starring Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners and Edward Van Sloan.

The Skinny: When a group of archeologists disturb the tomb on an ancient, cursed king, they unwittingly unleash the damned Imhotep from his sarcophagi to seek his revenge ... and a replacement for his equally doomed bride.

What's Good: This movie is almost an experiment in existential film making. The way the shots are composed, the hypnotic nature of the performances (particularly Boris Karloff at perhaps his most spookiest) and the oddly paced dialogue all seem to be lulling us into a state that prepares us for the horror of possession and the coupling of the reanimated dead. For that's exactly what happens in this film (and its somewhat worthy remake with Brandon Frazier) - a resurrected, cursed priest returns to find his bride embodied in the lovely frame of Zita Johann. His task is to reembody the spirit of his departed Ankhsenamun into the body of Helen Grosvenor, reunited at last (and it feels so good!). Audiences may swallow that stuff now like cotton candy at the state fair, but back then - when it was taboo to even show unmarried men and women getting together - the sexual union of the dead was enough to make audiences faint. Is that why Freud, formerly the cinematographer on "Dracula" who was hired for "The Mummy" just days before shooting began - chose to create a fever dream that teases with his German Expressionism background? Who cares, it's effective and it works like a charm.

What's Bad: Again, as with "Dracula," the overall lack of a score is troublesome to my ringing ears and can sometimes detract from scenes where a little night music would suit us well. Other than that, it is an imortal classic and one that deserves to be in every collection.

Why We Like It: All the above, of course. It isn't your typical horror film and I love it for that alone. It seeks to terrify you on a deeply psychological level, like most of the classics did - simply because they were so limited in what they could actually do or say. They had to find other ways to imply the horror, or just give you a tantalizing glimpse of the true horror that lurks beyond the door, or the forest or, sometimes, the strings of sanity itself. And "The Mummy" might just succeed on all those levels above all others in its category. It is a mighty powerful film.

Memorable Stuff: There is an opening scene where a junior archeologist sees the risen Imhotep slip out of his tomb and shuffle away. We see only the mummy's stiff movements as he stirs, and then the tendrils of his wrappings as he disappears through the door. But we get to watch the archeologist break down into total maniacal hysteria, with a laugh that will haunt y0ur dreams for years to come and remind you of what horror truly is. Also, the scene where Ardeth Bey (Karloff) beckcons Helen to look into a pool and recall her past life as Ankhsenamun is absolutely disturbing, hypnotic and horrific all at once. Johann should have been nominated for an Oscar for that scene alone.