Saturday, 31 January 2015

LUDICRA - The Tenant

I've been revisiting Ludicra's 2010 album The Tenant recently, and it's so good that it makes me lament the fact that they broke up so soon after it came out. I love the direction they took on this one, leaving behind the more traditional black metal of their previous albums for a slower-paced, more melodic style. It still gets pretty fast and heavy at times, but I think The Tenant really shines when it slows and lays down the groovy, hypnotic riffs. Check out "In Stable" for some moments of truly "stand up and pump your fist" riffage. Laurie and Christy's dual vocals are amazing too, alternating between throat-tearing harshness and beautiful, wistful harmonising (this contrast is particularly effective during album opener "Stagnant Pond"). Underpinning the whole thing is Aesop Dekker's solid drumming which is, as usual, completely on point.

If black metal isn't really your thing, you shouldn't be put off by the label. I've turned a few people onto this one who aren't that into metal at all. "Accessible" may not usually be considered a compliment when describing a metal album, but in this case The Tenant's broad appeal is simply due to the fact that it's really fucking good.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


What price fame and greatness?

Apparently if you're an aspiring jazz drummer in New York city you pay for it by getting screamed at and humiliated by J.K. Simmons. If you're an aspiring actor in Hollywood however, it would seem that you pay for it with your very soul...

Having moved to L.A. to pursue her dream of becoming a movie star, Sarah is just one of countless thousands of young hopefuls struggling to make it in La La Land. She shares a small flat with her friend Tracy, works a shitty job in a sleazy burger joint and socialises awkwardly within a circle of like-minded Hollywood wannabees who are anything but supportive of her. She also attends an endless string of failed auditions, brutally punishing herself after each failure by painfully ripping handfuls of hair out of her head.

After one such audition at Astraeus Pictures (for a film called The Silver Scream) ends in particularly bitter disappointment, her fit of rage and self-harm in the studio's bathroom is witnessed by the casting director.  Much to Sarah's amazement, she's asked back into the audition room to see if she can recreate that wrenching emotional pain for the Astraeus executive and her assistant. It would appear that in searching for a leading lady for their new horror movie, Astraeus is looking for something more than mere acting ability. Sarah's drive to succeed in the audition pushes her to completely open up for them, exposing her innermost anguish and giving them that extra something that they're looking for. But just how far is she willing to go to please the weird execs from this mysterious studio, and what is the meaning of that odd, occult looking pendant that they wear?

Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer's Starry Eyes, featuring a powerful breakout performance from Alexandra Essoe (as well as some excellent supporting performances from Marc Senter, Pat Healy and Louis Dezseran), is an allegorical horror fable with style to spare and rivers of blood and maggots for the gorehounds (like me). It blends two well-trodden cinematic cliches to great effect: the eerie, decaying grandeur and forgotten dreams of Golden Age Hollywood combined with the secretive mystery of Satanic cults. 

It's also a movie about cinema, so although comparisons can be lazy, I think it's appropriate to look at this one in the context of other horror movies that have preceded it.

As with last year's brilliant Whiplash, and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan before that, this is a harrowing exploration of the extent to which some people will endure punishment and sacrifice to achieve their goals.

Due to a number of striking similarities (although they're also different enough to distinguish them), Starry Eyes and Black Swan would actually make for a cool double feature. For one thing, the themes and plots of the two films are almost identical. Of more interest for horror fans however, they both track the mental and physical disintegration of their respective protagonists by forcing the viewer to see them go through some truly wince-inducing moments of body horror (Starry Eyes takes its well executed gore effects to some pretty graphic, nasty places).

It also has to be said that Starry Eyes owes a debt to the films of David Lynch, Mulholland Drive in particular. The Astraeus Pictures producer and his creepy staff could be ripped straight from the pages of a Lynch script - all melodrama, slimy menace and exaggerated weirdness.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Starry Eyes though, is that you're watching a film about a young actress going through unspeakable horrors... while actually watching a real young actress give her all in what must have been a physically and emotionally trying role. It makes for a thought provoking comment on the punishment (and sometimes flat out mistreatment) that's been inflicted on generations of horror actresses.

Marilyn Burns famously had a torturous experience during the filming of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but she isn't the only scream queen to have suffered at the hands of a slightly over-zealous director. Shelley Duvall was treated horribly by a sadistic Stanley Kubrick on the set of The Shining, when he repeatedly yelled at her and forced her to do endless takes until she finally broke down. I'm sure these aren't the only examples.

There can be little doubt that throughout the history of modern horror cinema women have had it tough, both in terms of their character's demises and the demanding nature of their roles. You need look no further than movies like Mermaid in a Manhole, Thanatomorphose and Hostel Part II to see where I'm coming from. 

The question posed by Starry Eyes is "is it worth it"? I think that most horror fans, myself included, would agree that going that extra mile to shock, repulse and terrify us is what it's all about.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


Some filmmakers hit the ground running, blowing minds with their debut features. Others take a little while to hit their stride. Adam Wingard is one such director. 

Wingard showed real promise with his first two features, Home Sick and Pop Skull, both penned by E.L. Katz, who would go on to direct the brilliant Cheap Thrills. However, it wasn't until he teamed up with writer Simon Barrett (who also showed early promise with his screenplay for the underrated Civil War haunter Dead Birds) that it became apparent that Wingard was an emerging talent not to be ignored.

You're Next took everyone by surprise, with its sharp script, overturning of genre conventions and overtly feminist tone. That said, I didn't totally connect with it in the way that a lot of other people seemed to. Don't get me wrong, I liked it a lot and it was obviously a huge step forward for both Wingard and Barrett, but there was still something lacking, something not-quite developed about it that prevented it from being truly great. Would these two obviously talented and spirited filmmakers ever realise their potential, or was You're Next to be their apex?

With The Guest, Wingard and Barrett have demolished any lingering doubts that I may have had, delivering on all that hitherto hinted-at promise in spectacular fashion. The Guest is an electrically tense, spring-loaded grenade of a movie that hit my senses like napalm, utterly transfixing me from first frame to last. It's a masterpiece.

Dan Stevens' tour de force performance as David, a returned Iraq war vet who politely imposes himself on the grieving family of a fallen comrade, has to be seen to be believed. There's a highly regimented precision to his every action and line delivery that's fascinating to watch. Complimenting this is an alpha-male physicality that's at once menacingly dangerous and powerfully sexual. Think Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, but with piercing blue eyes and a completely magnetic charm. Stevens' performance and screen presence here is nothing short of riveting.

The tone and atmosphere of this film is extremely cool too. The production design feels simultaneously retro and yet somehow ultra modern, alternating between colour drenched neon, everyday suburban settings and a slickly futuristic corporate/military aesthetic. The camera work reflects the hyper-controlled, chilly nature of the titular character in the way it coldly frames its subjects and slowly prowls around the film's settings. The soundtrack (which is frequently and loudly at the fore of the sound design) is also a hybrid of retro and futurism, featuring a winning mix of new and old electronic and goth tracks from the likes of Sisters of Mercy, Gatekeeper, D.A.F. and an original score by Zombi's Steve Moore.

As with You're Next, one of The Guest's greatest assets is its sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant subversion of genre conventions. On the surface its story is very simple, and I kept thinking I knew exactly where it was going, only to be surprised at the direction it took instead. Not in the sense of big twists or surprises, but just in the small details of how the story unfolds. That same care and attention to writing and direction is evident in the way that the plot builds, clearly calculated to ratchet the tension up slowly, scene by scene, so that the climax makes for an absolutely killer payoff.

If you're like me, The Guest is a movie that you've wanted for years. Without giving too much away, Wingard's film is a fist pumping homage to The Terminator in the same unconventional way that 28 Days Later was to Dawn of the Dead (the difference being that The Guest sticks the landing where 28 Days Later fumbled its climax). Both movies smartly build on their influences to create something new and exciting, not just nostalgic fan service. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Friday, 23 January 2015


Having produced a number of sickeningly good bands in recent years, Olympia, Washington seems to be a real hotbed of righteously pissed-off punk degeneracy. If you need convincing then you must not have heard White Wards, Vexx or Gag yet. As of today you can add another band to that list: G.L.O.S.S.

This demo is a banger from start to finish. Crushing queer/feminist hardcore with fist pumping lyrics, stomping beats and moshable riffs for days.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Mondo Cronenberg

I really like this artwork for the recently released Mondo/Death Waltz double album of Howard Shore's scores for The Brood and Scanners.

I rewatched Scanners a couple of nights ago for the first time in a few years. Still love it. Michael Ironside is just so good in it. Very few characters exude madness, barely controlled rage and sheer, seething menace in the way that Darryl Revok does. The laughable primitiveness of the computer tech (that comes into play near the climax) may be a turn-off for young viewers, but there's still more than enough meat on Scanners' bones to keep it relevant and interesting for newcomers who are willing to look past that. That said, I think Cronenberg's most commercially successful movie up until The Fly is now ripe for a good R-rated remake*, probably more so than any of his other films (and I'd like to see Videodrome left well alone thanks!).

*Directed by Rian Johnson maybe? Looper had the right tone, and I like the way he handled the telekinesis aspects of the story.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


If you're in Sydney this long weekend, come along to the DIY HARDER punk fest that's being held here in my home suburb of Marrickville. Three days of total mayhem, with over thirty bands coming from as far away as Tasmania and Adelaide. Two of my faves will be there melting faces and ruining earholes, ExtinctExist and Kromosom, both from Melbourne. Full disclosure: the band this spudboy is most looking forward to is a DEVO cover band! This promises to be a banger of a weekend, and with all proceeds going to the Redfern Aboriginal tent embassy, you can feel all warm and fuzzy about yourself while having a good time! Info HERE.

Monday, 19 January 2015


I like the tone and atmosphere of this trailer for Belinda Sallin's Giger documentary, Dark Star: H.R. Gigers Welt. It's appropriately mysterious, dreamlike and unearthly. 

Apparently it's come under fire from some critics due to the age and frailty of the artist during filming, but that seems odd to me. How could it be considered disrespectful or exploitative if it was done in collaboration with Giger and his wife Carmen, and with their full blessing? Surely his frail condition would only be an issue if the film were overly critical of its subject, or manipulative in some way, and I doubt that's the case here.

If anything, the melancholy one might feel at seeing the man in his final days feels right for an artist who revelled in showing us the beauty that could be found in the darkest and scariest recesses of our imaginations. Western culture has a bad habit of shunning the old and frail. Simply put, we're terrified of death, and would rather sweep it under the rug where it can't be seen. 

Anyway, regardless of the quality of Dark Star's interviews, it looks like it offers an unprecedented glimpse into the man's home and personal life. There's an extensive gallery on the film's site featuring a number of beautiful images of Giger's house and ramshackle dreamscape of a garden. Some of my favourites are below, but check out the whole gallery and website here.

Lastly, I've updated my first ever Giger-related post (from way back in 2010), about the Japanese Pioneer ad that featured some of his unused designs for Jodorowsky's Dune. The original video of the ad was taken down for copyright infringement, and in finding a replacement I also found a cool little vid with some nice behind the scenes shots from the ad's production. Check that out here.

Sunday, 18 January 2015


Sydney's raddest hardcore band, Canine, have just dropped some new tunes for your consumption and edification. These three gals and two guys play fast hardcore, punctuated with infectious mid-tempo riffing and with some cool stony grooves thrown into the mix. On stage they're a force to be reckoned with, and I think these new tracks are a better representation of that blistering live energy than their 2013 demo. The four new tracks are from their split with Melbourne's Diploid, and can be found here. You can order the 7'' from One Brick Today.

Friday, 16 January 2015

John Carpenter's Lost Themes

To offset this week's (almost certainly) bad news that the Escape from New York remake is still a thing that's happening*, here's something really cool for Carpenter fans to look forward to.

Intriguing Brooklyn based label Sacred Bones Records is just about to drop Lost Themes, Carpenter's first ever LP of non-film score music (If you don't count the Coupe de Villes). It will feature an album's worth of unused material from his past, reworked in collaboration with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. I've never heard of the latter, but I know Cody as the spawn of Carpenter and Adrienne Barbeau (loved for her roles in The Fog, EFNY and Romero's Creepshow). He's previously collaborated with his father on Ghosts of Mars, as well as scoring both Cigarette Burns and Pro-Life for the Masters of Horror series.

I say that Sacred Bones is an intriguing label because I think their output is really interesting and eclectic. They release a diverse range of music that spans punk/post-punk, new wave, psychedelia, film music etc. At the punk end of the spectrum you've got bands like Austin's Institute (whose Giddy Boys 7'' on Katorga Works is fucking great by the way), New York goth punx Anasazi and Arizonan heavy psych/noise freaks Destruction Unit. They also distribute some stuff by Brooklyn artist Alexander Heir, whose work makes me drool and whose shop makes me lament the lack of cash in my wallet. 

As far as film related music, David Lynch seems to have found himself a comfortable home at the label, with a number of releases of original material as well as OSTs for Eraserhead and Twin Peaks in their catalogue. There's also a Jim Jarmusch collaborative project that appears to be tangentially connected to Only Lovers Left Alive.

Back to Carpenter, who had this to say about the upcoming LP:

Lost Themes was all about having fun. It can be both great and bad to score over images, which is what I’m used to. Here there were no pressures. No actors asking me what they’re supposed to do. No crew waiting. No cutting room to go to. No release pending. It’s just fun. And I couldn't have a better set-up at my house, where I depended on Cody and Daniel to bring me ideas as we began improvising. The plan was to make my music more complete and fuller, because we had unlimited tracks. I wasn't dealing with just analogue anymore. It’s a brand new world. And there was nothing in any of our heads when we started other than to make it moody.”

It's interesting to note here that once again he's being less than subtle in voicing his distaste for the filmmaking process. I don't think I can think of another director who's been so brutally honest about becoming burnt out by the system. I get the sense that he's extremely cynical about the industry now, to the point that he seems to loath it. Some people disparage his attitude, but as far as I'm concerned they're entitled little whiners who should consider shutting the fuck up. If Carps wants to spend the rest of his days sitting on the couch playing video games and watching basketball, than good for him. He's damn well earned it.

That said, I'm grateful that he's still got enough creative energy left in him to bring us this new album.

You can stream a track from Lost Themes called "Vortex" here. The album hits in a couple of weeks in a gatefold edition. The coloured wax editions have already sold out, but don't worry, you'll be able to buy one from some collector scum on ebay for hundreds of dollars soon.  

To wrap up by looking back thirty years, here's my favourite Coupe de Villes track, "1967". I love this song for the smoothness of Carpenter's vocals as well as the sombreness of his lyrics. His pain is palpable as he mourns the wasted promise of the optimistic '60s, and bemoans the empty, soulless avarice of the Reagan era. By his own admission here, the '80s left him feeling like a stranger in a strange land, and you can see that theme of alienation running through both The Thing and Starman. That this was also his most dynamically creative period is no coincidence, as great work is usually born of anger, not apathy. I've always seen this song as an odd little companion piece to They Live.

*I might change my tune if they hired Gareth Huw Evans or the Dredd directing duo of Pete Travis & Alex Garland to helm it.

Monday, 5 January 2015


Between blast beats and breakdowns Total Control's Typical System LP has been the real soundtrack to my spring and summer, and all told, it's probably my favourite album of 2014.

Sadly, I may never get to see them live, because although this enigmatic Melbourne band seems to have found popularity all over the world, they hardly ever play shows. Apparently they'd rather perfect their sound in the studio, and with Typical System they've done just that, creating as faultless an album as I've ever heard. Like NoMeansNo's Wrong or Out Cold's Goodbye Cruel World, this album is just sheer fucking perfection from first note to last. If I had to pick favourite tracks I'd probably go with "Flesh War", "Expensive Dog" and "Safety Net".

Photos: Marianne Spellman

Typical System is full of sounds that are wistfully nostalgic for me, bringing to mind everything from Devo to Brian Eno without ever feeling too derivative or pandering. A slightly unhealthy indulgence in nostalgia is definitely part of Total Control's appeal, but a healthy dose of sincerity, intelligence and real talent is what keeps them from being just another superficial exercise in aping the past. 

Over the last few years there's been no lack of amazing bands riding the current revival of post-punk and new wave etc (mostly oozing out of the DIY punk scene), but I doubt that many of them will leave a mark in the way that this band seems destined to do. Fashion and trends are always a festering cancer in punk, and bands like Total Control are the cure.

Typical System is available again on vinyl from Iron Lung records. If you just want to stream the album on bandcamp, do so here as the Iron Lung bandcamp page is missing a track ("2 Less Jacks"). You can also grab their previous 7"s and split with Thee Oh Sees there.