Sunday, 31 October 2010

"Why don't you take your social regulations and shove 'em up your ass"

Remember what I did

Remember what I was
Back on Halloween

But what's in between
Where are your ideas
You sit around and dream
For next Halloween

Why not everyday
Are you so afraid
What will people say

After Halloween

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cannibals, Monsters & Santa Claus

I haven't been going out to the movies much recently, but I've got a pretty solid week of cool genre geekery coming up soon. Between the 6th and 12th of November, I'll be seeing a diverse trio of movies as part of two separate film festivals and an advance screening Q&A. All three are some of this year's most talked about flicks, so I'm pretty excited.

First up is this Finnish fantasy/horror film, directed by Jalmari Helander, which cleaned up at this year's Sitges Film Festival, taking Best Cinematography, Director and Picture. It looks to have been made in the spirit of that very particular '80s style typified by Spielberg's collaborations with Tobe Hooper and Joe Dante. Light, entertaining horror fare, but somewhat darker and edgier than the average kid's flick. I'm also a sucker for movies that are shot in the snow, and apparently Rare Exports looks terrific. This is screening as part of the Fantastic Planet SF & Fantasy Film Festival.

Two days later and I'll be catching one of my most hotly anticipated movies of the year - Gareth Edwards' Monsters. I love low budget films that manage to transcend their financial limitations, and the word is that Monsters achieves this in very clever ways. The main attraction for me here is obviously the titular Lovecraftian invaders (apparently, although the "reveal" is sparing, the FX are impressive), but I'm just as intrigued by reports of Edwards' vérité approach to location shooting - utilising real situations and crowds to gain a heightened sense of realism. This one is followed by a Q&A with Edwards. Cool!

Finally, I'll be seeing Jorge Michel Grau's We Are What We Are (Somos Lo Que Hay) as part of the Hola Mexico Film Festival. This tale about a family of cannibals has been getting raves from horror fans, and took home both the Best Feature & Screenplay awards at this year's Fantastic Fest. I know next to nothing about this one, and I intend to keep it that way. I want to taste it just as fresh as the flesh being devoured by it's protagonists!

So, it looks like a wall-to-wall week of pretty unique horror movies, all of which actually show some promise. As they say, "it never rains [blood], but it pours"!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Perfect Organism

After my recent nostalgic post remembering the great H.R. Giger's work on Alien, Jason, friend of The EYE and author of the superlative
Cinezilla, thoughtfully sent me these two beautiful photos of Carlo Rambaldi's original animatronic head from the '79 masterpiece.

Jason took these shots last year, whilst on a biomechanical pilgrimage to Switzerland and Germany - to Gruyères, to visit the
Giger Bar and H.R. Giger Museum, and Frankfurt, to meet and interview the artist himself at an exhibition of his work. You can read J's own account of his unique experience with the Swiss master here.

These shots offer an unusually detailed look at some of the finer aspects of the monster's anatomy, so please click on them for a good look. This alien head still resides in Giger's personal collection, having been given to him by Rambaldi after production on Alien wrapped.

Thanks again J!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Mark Of The Vampire

I'm three years into treatment for lymphoma (chemo, radiation and the rest), and I'm just emerging now from a particularly nasty few months of heavy chemo and a stem cell transplant. My strength is just
starting to return, and it feels great. All this shit has kept me from writing as much as I'd like to recently, and I'm hoping to start posting more frequently again until my next round of treatment begins.

I want to show off a gory bit of medical tech that I had to wear around for a couple of days recently. It's called a Vas Cath, or central venous catheter. It's a "port" that is stitched into the neck and connected to an access tube that runs directly into the Jugular Vein, on down through the Superior Vena Cava and into the heart. In spite of the fact that it sucked having it in, a perverse part of my sci-fi horror lovin' mind couldn't help but appreciate it's similarity to some cool biomechanical imagery in some of my favourite flicks:

unfortunate Max Renn's Videodrome-tumour induced episode of a gun assimilating itself into his "old flesh" via a series of gorily tunneling conduits...

... and even more so, the disgusting Harkonnen "heart plugs" from Lynch's Dune.

Finally, much to my amusement, after having the device removed, my doctor described the hole left in my neck as "the mark of the Vampire". Groovy.

Friday, 22 October 2010

You Are My Lucky Star

I pinched the above photo off that website run by the cheerful, portly guy from Austin TX. It's just too cool not to repost. Alien occupies an unassailable position on my top-five list, my Mount Rushmore of movies if you will, and after 31 years of fanatical worship, it's not everyday that I'm treated to a behind the scenes pic that I haven't seen before. This one of Bolaji Badejo relaxing between takes is a real beauty.

Giger's groundbreaking design work on Alien has been watered down with each successive (and progressively worse) entry in the saga. I've always intensely disliked the look of the designs for Alien 3 and Resurrection, and the less said about the AVP shitfests the better. Those two movies bled every remaining drop of mystique and fear out of the monster, to the point that it just isn't scary anymore. The only post-Alien modifications to Giger's design that I like are the xenomorphs in Aliens. Similarly, the queen in Aliens is the only addition to the Swiss artist's work that I like. She's scary and still works so well simply because she's a big, entirely practical creation - impressive and lifelike. And despite James Cameron completely shafting Giger, Stan Winston obviously respected his predecessor's work. You can see it in the details of his design for the queen.

All that aside though, it's when I see rare pics such as the above, showing a fresh perspective of Giger's work, that I'm reminded that the alien is still the scariest movie monster of all time (with Rob Bottin's incredible work on The Thing very close behind). It takes me back to being 11-years-old in 1979 again, reverently thumbing through the Alien photo-novel at my local bookshop, eyes agape and imagination running wild.

Giger's alien wasn't just a man in a suit. It was a fully realised and believable biological organism with a complex life cycle - egg, facehugger, chestburster, adult. The wet entrail-like bowels of it's egg; the facehugger's translucently pallid flesh and visceral underbelly; the sloughed-off skin... it's all just so intensely real.

"I have confirmed that he's got an outer layer of protein polysaccharides.
Has a funny habit of shedding his cells and replacing them with polarized silicon,
which gives him a prolonged resistance to adverse environmental conditions.
Is that enough?"

Added to that organic realism, Giger's creature designs look menacing, lethal, and above all, primordially evil (all of which is reinforced by the desolate, hostile environment of planetoid Acheron and the haunted tomb of the derelict ship and egg chamber). That behind the scenes pic at the top, showing the head with it's "dome" removed, reminds me of just how malevolent the alien is. On one level it's just an animal, a "perfect organism" with "structural perfection [that] is matched only by its hostility", but underlying that is a creeping cosmic evil that could only be compared to that described by Lovecraft... and could only have come from the truly unhinged imagination of H.R. Giger.

"It's adapted remarkably well to our atmosphere
considering its nutritional requirements."

It's stuff that would have given Lovecraft himself nightmares, and in spite of some of the travesties that have followed in the wake of the 1979 masterpiece, Giger's disturbing vision still holds up hideously to this day.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Mayonnaise And Ketchup

Here's something amusing for my fellow gorehounds. I received an email today from a subtle and tasteful rapper from Austin, Texas, who goes by the moniker of MC Sex. He's promoting his new album Love Songs, and in his own words:

"This here is a music video set to 42 of my favorite horror/violent/revenge/bloody movies of all time: Mayonnaise and Ketchup.

There’s a heavy focus on scenes with badass females doing badass bloody stuff to complement the song's theme which becomes apparent quickly. It's quite possibly the bloodiest music video around."

Young Mr Sex probably isn't too far off the mark with that claim. There's not a lot of Mayo to be seen in this video, but there is most definitely an excess of thick, red Ketchup.

Musically speaking, hip hop generally isn't my thing, and I can't really vouch for the quality of this little ditty, but I won't deny a sense of kinship in Sex's taste in movies. This vid is a lovingly assembled montage of some of the wettest moments in the cinema of splatter, among them some of my faves, including Inside, High Tension, Hellraiser, Evil Dead II, Slither, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Ginger Snaps, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Machine Girl, Martyrs, Teeth, The Descent, Carrie, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Basket Case, Last House on the Left, Rabid, Battle Royale, Tokyo Gore Police and Frankenhooker. He's provided a full list of the 42 flicks used here.

By the way, this is sexually explicit stuff (duh), but if you're easily offended by that kind of thing you're probably reading the wrong blog anyway.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Hostel Part II

Appropriately enough after the last post, let's talk about Eli Roth's sequel to his groundbreaking exploration of underground sadism, the jaded desires of the filthy rich and dumb American teenagers in peril.

Stick around to the end to listen to the incredibly beautiful and haunting "Synecku Synecku" (by Varmuzova Cimbalova), which is not included on the original soundtrack. A serious omission from the OST, because it's easily the most memorable piece of music from the most emotionally stirring sequence in either film.

Right off the bat, I want to say that I don't get the popular hatred for Roth amongst horror fans. I understand that his frat boy humour and antics can be annoying... but the simple fact is that Eli makes a great horror film. Much better than most I might add. People criticise his movies for being too referential, but I think the way Roth does it is tasteful and cool. It's odd because the thing that strikes me about all his movies is how original they are despite all the homage in them.

And his movies are scary. The first time I saw Cabin Fever at the Sydney Film Fest, I was scared shitless. Angelo Badalamenti's eerie score over that ominous bleed to red still fills me with dread. And as well as being genuinely frightening, his movies are just well made... thoughtfully scripted, impeccably shot, carefully composed, tightly edited and gorgeously graded. Yeah, as you can tell, I'm a fan. Of course I can understand people not liking his work - each to their own after all. I just don't get the hate.

Would you sign my Cannibal Holocaust DVD please?

When Hostel came out it was original, scary and subversive. It's a great horror film, and I like it a lot, but it's actually my least favourite of Roth's films. Hostel Part II is my favourite. I prefer my Euro-horror to J-horror, so the first movie's love-letter to Japanese gore (Takashi Miike cameo; guro inspired Japanese girl having her face blow torched and eye mutilated, etc) is no match for the sequel's many groovy European references.

From the fun Ruggero Deodato and Edwige Fenech cameos to the tense and scary sequence that homages Aldo Lado’s sleazy Last House rip-off Night Train Murders, the movie is a blast for Italian horror fans. Another pretty obvious Euro-horror reference is Elite Hunting CEO Sasha's cold blooded killing of one of the the "Bubblegum Gang" kids, which recalls the unflinching child carnage on display in Narciso Ibáñez Serrador's Who Can Kill A Child, a taboo that is rarely seen in American cinema.

Finally, check out the giallo-esque, eye-popping primary colours above in that jarring transition from the hot red of the Countess Bathory sequence to the icy blue of Iceland's scenic Blue Lagoon. Beautiful stuff.

So, do you have the money and the balls to join the most exclusive country club around... Elite Hunting? If so, click the quote to place your bid!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Srpski Film

It's probably lazy when writing about film to continually resort to comparison with other films, but I still find myself doing it a lot. Perhaps it's particularly hard to avoid when discussing horror, because it's a genre that's continually feeding off of itself for new ideas. To paraphrase something I read at Fangoria recently, horror cinema gets by for the most part by cyclically regurgitating popular tropes and cliches, delivering what the fans are perceived to be hungering for at the time. The industry toils along in this opportunistic fashion, becoming more and more predictable and stale, until the next fresh idea is introduced in a new groundbreaking and original film. Yet sometimes a movie is original enough to stand on it's own, while comparisons to previous movies are still impossible to avoid. One such movie is Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film.

A Serbian Film feels as if Spasojevic watched the Hostel movies, and rather than being insulted by Roth's exaggerated perception of the troubles in post-soviet eastern Europe, saw it as a challenge to up the ante as far as disgust and brutality.

Above a subtext about American ignorance and xenophobia, Hostel is about the potential for entrepreneurial capitalists to exploit the instability that has resulted from rapid social, economic and political changes in the region (former Czechoslovakia in Hostel). However, it does so using a premise that is absurdly far fetched, requiring a major suspension of disbelief to go along with.

A Serbian Film on the other hand is grounded in a terror that is all too real and which is frequently seen in the news and dramatised on TV - the burgeoning illegal sex slave trade. The only really unrealistic element of Spasojevic's film is the snuff-industry angle, an urban myth that has been shown to be just that - a myth (see David Kerekes' & David Slater's excellent Killing For Culture: An Illustrated History Of Death Film From Mondo To Snuff published by Creation Books). Beyond that though, the events depicted in A Serbian Film are believable and are all the more appalling for that realism. Compounded with that sense of reality, the explicitly depicted atrocities in A Serbian Film make the violence in Roth's movies pale by comparison, making the whole experience that much more visceral, disturbing and just plain vile.

Another recent movie that has to be mentioned when talking about A Serbian Film (and Hostel I & II) is Martyrs. Beyond the similarities in premise (highly organised secret societies with paramilitary elements; torture and killing for ideological and financial motives) the four movies share a similar visual aesthetic. They're all shot, lit and colour graded with a kind of hyper-real slickness (particularly Srpski and the Hostel movies), and in the production design of the secret institutions all four films share a clinical, futuristic look that is more akin to science fiction movies than horror.

Beyond that comparison with Martyrs though, the more obvious similarity between the two movies is that it's the current Euro-horror film that is both topical and utterly transgressive in it's violence. This year's most talked about cult film for hardcore horror freaks. So, I guess my final word on A Serbian Film is what I see as the differences in motivation for Laugier and Spasojevic.

Almost every review I've read for Spasojevic's disgust-fest mentions the almost impenetrable ambiguity of it's "message" about the current state of affairs in Serbia. Western observers are looking for a meaning beneath it's violence and coming up with an almost unanimous cry of "I can't work it out, I guess you have to be Serbian to understand it". I can't fault all of these reviewers for seeking that deeper meaning, because I strongly believe that in much the same way as T.F. Mous' notorious Men Behind The Sun, Srpski is posing as a message movie to give it more gravitas, but ultimately it's little more than a very well made, highly memorable exploitation flick. Perhaps in both cases there was an original "higher" intention that was eventually lost in the desire to simply be as nasty as possible.

Martyrs could also be criticised for having a dubious and ambiguous meaning, but what Martyrs has in spades that Srpski lacks... is heart. As mean spirited and hard to watch as it is, it's a deeply emotive and affecting movie because you care for Lucie and Anna and witnessing their fate is heartbreaking. The horrible fate of Milos and his family did not elicit that emotion in me, just a dull sense of shock and revulsion.

I think the difference in the two director's intentions is most evident in Laugier's widely publicised assertions that the writing of Martyrs came from a deeply heartfelt place within him, at a time when he was going through a difficult period of particularly black depression. When I watch his film, I can see and feel all that emotion up on the screen. When I watch Spasojevic's Film I see a cynical, sneering exercise in depravity lurking shallowly beneath a thin veneer of sociopolitical commentary about porn, the illegal sex trade and some dodgy allusions to the Yugoslav wars. Just another exploitation flick, albeit one of the most disgusting ones I've ever seen.

After all that you might think that I hated A Serbian Film...

... but I actually really liked it.

Why? Because - like you - I'm a card carrying sicko!