Saturday, 27 February 2010

Stuffed & Basted

It's been said before and I'll say it again: Grindhouse only really worked when seen in it's entirety, in a packed theatre with an appreciative crowd. I saw it twice that way and it was a blast. Taken out of context and in their longer cuts, Death Proof and Planet Terror are still a good time for lots of reasons (mostly for Kurt Russell in the one and rivers of gooey splatter in the other), but I just find them both to be a bit disappointing on their own. In the end it comes down to the fact that the four fake trailers in Grindhouse completely eclipsed the two movies. If Rodriguez and Tarantino had made a movie consisting of nothing but trailers, each one from a different guest director, it probably would have been an instant cult classic.

What I've got for you here is the unedited 7-minute "intermission" sequence (with the trailers by Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright and Eli Roth), ripped from the awesome (and expensive) 6-disc Japanese Grindhouse DVD. It's a really good quality 150MB .avi file and looks perfect. Please click on the roasted corpse.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Soundtrack: Phantom Of The Paradise

Three years before Suzy Bannion's enrollment at Mater Suspiriorum's Tanz Akademie in Freiburg, Jessica Harper endured a more terrifying menace than occult witchcraft... being mauled by Paul Williams.

I first saw Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise at an afternoon matinee in 1976. I was eight years old. Sitting in the dark, watching The Undead strut and slice their way through "Somebody Super Like You", was an intense and overwhelming experience for me. It was my first exposure to the power and energy of rock, and I loved it so much that my folks bought me the LP soon after. Hour after hour I'd sit alone in my room, endlessly playing that record on my crappy little plastic turntable. Sadly, that album ended up as landfill in the early '80s when I became embarrassed to have it seen amongst my newly amassed collection of punk and hardcore. Ah, the follies of youth.

I rediscovered Phantom about ten years ago and it's a pretty special movie for me now. There's a lot to like about it, from the lavish production design (set dressing courtesy of a pre-Carrie Sissy Spacek) to Jessica Harper's coolly charismatic singing as Phoenix, and of course, the Phantom's awesome costume and chrome teeth.

So, have a listen to the final release from the now defunct Death Records, Phantom Of The Paradise. Just don't be surprised if you find a piece of Winslow Leach's face pressed into the vinyl. HERE.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Three Great Movies That Don't Exist: Part II

In the first of this three part look at nascent dream-movies that I want to see, I talked about Guillermo del Toro's planned adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains Of Madness. You can find that here. This time we leave the Antarctic wastes behind for the even colder and more hostile setting of interstellar space.

The Forever War

In 1967, having just completed a degree in physics and astronomy, a young man from Oklahoma named Joe was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to the conflict in Vietnam, where he served from 1968-'69 as a combat engineer with the 4th Division. He saw action amongst the verdant hills of the central highlands, witnessed the atrocities of war first hand, and was ultimately severely wounded himself. That man was Joe Haldeman (pictured) and just a few years after returning home, his first novel - The Forever War - was awarded both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best SF novel of 1976.

The Forever War is one of my favourite novels. I've re-read it more than any other book and I know that I'll return to it again. It's unusual and special in the way that it rises above the limitations of it's genre (the space opera) to be a poignant anti-war story. For me The Forever War is the antithesis of Robert Heinlein's work of fascistic military propaganda, Starship Troopers. Heinlein's story of nationalistic duty and blood sacrifice (without which one isn't even granted the right of suffrage) is, unsurprisingly, the vision of a man who served as an officer in the Navy but never had any experience of combat (he served in peacetime). In stark contrast, Haldeman's novel, a heartbreaking and thoughtful expose of the real face of war, is the work of a veteran who had just lived through the terror and shameful waste of Vietnam.

In light of our current conflicts, Haldeman's story of a millennium-long war, started for dubious reasons and ruthlessly perpetuated regardless of the cost, is more relevant now than ever. In 2008, New York Times journalist Dexter Filkins even named his own non-fiction book about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq The Forever War.

With the exception of Brian De Palma's flawed (but effective) Redacted, I've found all of the movies about this current war to be either jingoistic or toothless. The only other war film in recent years that has moved me is Waltz With Bashir. Where is the Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket of the last decade? I think that, handled in the right way, Ridley Scott's in-development adaptation of The Forever War could be a great allegorical anti-war film for this generation.

Scott is an odd director, probably one of the most wildly uneven working today. With Alien and Blade Runner he created two of the most powerful works of art to ever grace the screen. Neither of those SF monoliths have lost an iota of their potency, and for me they just continue to grow in stature as time goes on. But then he's made movies like White Squall and A Good Year which are, you know, fucking awful. But despite his habit of choosing some horrible material, I think he's still a talented storyteller with a gifted eye for detail and the ability to create some very striking imagery. The Forever War is an epic and Ridley has proven that he can do epic in Gladiator. It's a visceral war story and he's impressed in that genre too with Black Hawk Down. That he can do hard SF better than anybody is indisputable.

At 73 Sir Ridley isn't a young director anymore, and he's notorious for juggling multiple projects, many of which never come to fruition. However, The Forever War is a genuine passion project for him, one for which he famously sought the rights for 25 years. So, hopefully, before the cigar-chugging Englishman shoots his last frames, we'll finally see his vision of "attack ships on fire" and "c-beams glittering in the dark" in his film of the tragic 1,000 year campaign of one Private William Mandella.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Hooded Menace

In addition to the soundtracks that I'm linking to here, I've decided to start contributing to your screaming tinnitus with some other music that I listen to. In keeping with my obsession it will all relate in some way to the films I watch. All links will be to bandcamp or youtube. As with the soundtracks, if you hear something you like I encourage you to support the artists and labels.

First up, Fulfill The Curse, the crushing 2008 debut by Finnish death-doom metal band Hooded Menace. Just looking at the cover art on all their releases, it's plain to see that guitarist/vocalist Lasse Pyykko has an impressively single-minded obsession with Amando de Ossorio's Blind Dead movies. As well as the obvious influence of Ossorio's mouldering Knights Templar, Fulfill The Curse also pays tribute to another Spanish horror icon - the recently departed Paul Naschy - in the track The Love Song Of Gotho, Hunchback Of The Morgue (a reference to Javier Aguirre's '73 flick The Hunchback Of The Rue Morgue). The album switches to Italian horror for it's conclusion, with a slightly disappointing reworking of Fabio Frizzi's Theme From Manhattan Baby.

Fulfill The Curse follows a 7" titled The Eyeless Horde, both released on vinyl by Czech label Doomentia Records (who also have a split 7" with Asphyx in the works). Hooded Menace have a new album out later this year on Profound Lore Records called Never Cross The Dead. It's being touted as one of the heaviest albums of the year. Beware the Eyeless Horde!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Three Great Movies That Don't Exist: Part I

Sorting through the mire of cinematic cellulite that the movie factories are preparing to force-feed us over the next few years, you can always find a few embryonic films that stand out as having the potential to be great. Here I'll rant about three such genre projects I'm excited about - all adaptations of beloved books, all in very early stages of development. Two are already attached to established heavy-weight directors and are passion projects for each one. The third seems to be floundering in development hell and I'm not sure who - if anyone - is attached to it at the moment. So, to our first:

At The Mountains Of Madness

There's a plethora of movies out there based on the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and even more that have simply plundered his pulp SF/horror for it's rich ideas. Of the former, few have been very good at all, with the obvious exceptions of Stuart Gordon's films and a handful of others. It seems that the Lovecraftian rather than the adaptations have yielded better results, with great films like Carpenter's The Thing and In The Mouth Of Madness, Fulci's The Beyond, Frank Darabont's The Mist and Eric Valette's Malefique amongst them.

Adaptations of HPL's stories (e.g. the Gordon/Yuzna films & The Dunwich Horror), for all that I love them, have often followed a similar formula, i.e. low budgets with a tendency towards campiness, while taking huge liberties with the original storylines (not always the film-maker's fault, as Lovecraft's stories often have a skeletal plot fleshed out with an over-abundance of flowery prose). The one thing we've never seen is a serious take on the material with a budget big enough to fully realise Lovecraft's eldritch vision.

Enter Guillermo del Toro's long-mooted, big budget adaptation of At The Mountains Of Madness. Lovecraft's vivid mythology of alien dimensions encroaching on our own, and cosmic evil lurking at the threshold of our existence, is massive in scope and has never been done justice on the silver screen. Mountains lends itself perfectly to a BIG production with it's sweeping Antarctic landscapes, huge mountain-ranges, monolithic alien ruins and giant Shoggoths. GDT's intention is to stay true to the novella by making it a period-piece and taking it all deadly seriously, without making compromises like a romantic sub-plot or happy ending. The problem up until now has been getting a studio to fund his Yog Sothoth-sized nightmare epic, but perhaps after the inevitable success of the Hobbit films someone will throw a few hundred million his way.

Given that the first of the Hobbit movies isn't hitting for about three years, and that the jolly Mexican genius (seriously, at a Q&A for a screening of Hellboy II, I was freaked out by the intimidating depth of his intelligence) also has his Frankenstein in development, At The Mountains Of Madness probably won't shamble and slither it's way onto screens for another eight to ten years. Will we still even have movie theatres then? Maybe GDT will just beam it straight into our heads.