Thursday, November 15, 2012

The VCR that Dripped Blood

The VCR That Dripped Blood trailer from brian alter on Vimeo.

#28 The VCR That Dripped Blood (2012) FTV

The art of the video collage has taken over Seattle movie town. It began with Scarecrow Video's Viva VHS! in 2009, which was a celebration of a diverse and hysterical collection of oddities that can only be found on VHS. Well, this tradition of the Scarecrow compiled collection of clips that can only be found on a dusty and completely forgotten about VHS tape has continued with multiple installments in the last year. In a collaboration with the Grand Illusion Cinema, VHSXMAS, The VHS Variety Special, Sport, Leisure and Video Tape, and just in time for Halloween, The VCR That Dripped Blood have all played to enthusiastic audiences.

The VCR That Dripped Blood is a humorous compilation of clips from horror movies and televised Halloween specials featuring Alice Cooper, the Grey Seal Puppet Show's Monster Show, deadly blenders, zombie fitness, a killer jack in the box and other deadly toys, killer house cats, and some low brow dancing skeleton special effects created by painting neon bones onto dancers' bodysuits. These video montages are best enjoyed with a large audience that isn't afraid to laugh at the absurdity of the straight to video horror movies of the 1980s, singing monster muppets, and an uncomfortably long shot of a man eating cookies in bed. For those old enough to remember the days before DVDs and streaming movies, this was a nostalgic journey into a time when it was common to see a Halloween special of Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare and the ubiquity of Vincent Price introductions. That may have been my biggest disappointment was that there were not more repetition of Vincent Price. Seems he used to host every late night, televised horror movie and Halloween variety show. He probably even appeared on MTV during the most frightening month of the year.

The real danger of The VCR That Dripped Blood is the infectious monster show song, that weeks later, I'm still humming. That and a sudden fear of my kitchen mixer.

I anticipate that these compilations will begin to appear in cities across the country. Alamo Drafthouse has shown Viva VHS! and  VHS Variety Special is currently heading to the Hollywood Theater in Portland. So beware, one day, The VCR That Dripped Blood just might show up at some, independent cinema outside of the Seattle area.

October Horror Movie Challenge Tally: 28 total, 24 first time viewings.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Late month Netflix picks for the Challenge.

 #21 The Faculty (1998) FTV

Not certain what took me so long to see the Faculty, being a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez, so when I noticed that it was on Netflix, I added it to the challenge line up. And I'm very happy that I did.

One day, Casey Connor (Elijah Wood) finds something strange in the football field, so he takes it to Professor Furlong (John Stewart) to examine. It is a small creature unlike any that the Biology teacher has seen before and he promises to send it off to the University for identification. But that certainly isn't the only unusual occurrence that day at the high school. There is a new student, Marybeth (Laura Harris) that keeps attempting to befriend the school outcast, Stokes (Clea Du Vall), and the teachers are acting strange. After sneaking into the teacher's lounge in an attempt to find a story for the student paper, Delilah (Jordana Brewster) and Casey dive into a closet when some teachers enter the lounge. In that closet, they not only find the body of one, very elderly teacher, but see the Coach (Robert Patrick) and the drama teacher (Piper Laurie) attack the school nurse (Salma Hayek). They come to the conclusion that the teachers have been taken over by aliens, like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and set out to find and kill the "Queen" to that their teachers and classmates will return to normal.

The movie knowingly borrows from numerous science fiction/horror movies, with a wink and a nudge, so it comes as no surprise that the screenplay was written by Kevin Williamson who was behind the Scream franchise. But I suspect it was the direction of Robert Rodriguez that resulted in my not caring that The Faculty was largely a lesser remake of John Carpenter's The Thing. It had great pacing and a lighthearted tone that kept the Faculty fun and exciting, that is it was exactly like watching a Rodriguez film. It lacked the technical innovation and the awesome action set pieces that are trademarks of the projects that he writes, shoots, cuts and scores, but it is still a good time.

 #23 Shutter (2004) FTV

Life is turned upside-down when Jane strikes a woman who appears infront of her car. Jane stops the car to see if the woman has been hurt, but Tun, in a panic, tells her to drive away. The hit and run eats at June's conscious, making her return to the site of the accident searching for the woman, while Tun cannot seem to photograph any event without the negatives containing numerous artifacts making then unusable. As there is nothing wrong with the camera, it is suggested that a ghost is responsible for the unusable photographs and the photo technician illustrates with large collection of ghost photographs. But before long, Tun isn't only seeing ghosts through the lens of his camera, but is plagued by nightmares, physical pain in his neck and back, and many of his friends commit suicide. Shutter follows Tun and Jane as they attempt to understand the source of their possible haunting in an attempt to bring an end to it.

One is tempted to decry that Shutter is and yet another asian horror movie with  a spooky ghost, with long disheveled hair, but in my attempt to understand the origin of Asian ghost stories, it seems unreasonable to ask why all movie depictions of Asian ghosts are women in white with long hair. Yurei, or Japanese ghosts, are spirits that are kept from a peaceful afterlife usually as a result of a violent death. And they are traditionally depicted in funeral attire; white kimono with their hair left down. And similar funeral customs exist throughout Asia - so Westerners need to chill on this trope being so overused. Actually, the Thai ghost is even more disturbing as they are frequently a beautiful woman's upper torso, that floats in a long gown obscuring her entrails. Now that's a horror movie image that thankfully, wasn't included in Shutter, or I would have had nightmares.

But more relavent to Shutter is the focus on ghost photography. Apparently, in Thailand belief in ghosts is very common. And a quick google search on Thai ghosts led to sites of thai ghost photography, so I have now seen a thai ghost or two. Apparently, the Thai take the occasional incidence of a double exposure or lens flair very seriously, but then haven't we all wanted to believe in some kind of afterlife and found a haunting photographic artifact to be a suggestion of another reality? I took a photograph once that I was certain had the image of a ghost, and I've never believed in ghosts.

Shutter is a very effective scary movie. It is very curious about ghost photographs and the protagonists attempt to rationally explain the ghostly apparitions, but they reappear despite their efforts. Shutter proves that the spooky occurrences are due to a haunting and does so in a way that doesn't neglect the plot, because it is also about Jane learning about Tun's past. He is the one who is haunted by a college girlfriend, Natre. I like that after the movie is over and the ghost is revealed, there were so many clues of her presence throughout. This one is a pretty good ghost story, which is certainly why there have already been several remakes.

#24 Vanishing on 7th Street (2010) FTV

How did I miss this Brad Anderson movie? Granted, he's not Robert Rodriguez, but I usually enjoy his films. After starting off making decidedly offbeat romances, he has been making primarily horror movies. Session 9 is one of my favorites as the setting in an old mental hospital is beyond creepy. While some have been ultimately disappointing (The Machinist), I never fail to appreciate what they are attempting. Kafka-esque horror movies still sound like a great idea.

Vanishing on 7th Street begins strong. Paul (John Leguizamo) is working as an AMC movie theater projectionist in Detroit when the city suddenly goes dark. And during this blackout, the people have vanished leaving abandoned cars in the streets and even their clothes in crumpled piles presumably where they were when the lights went out. The visions of an abandoned city is chilling and reminiscent of what some have suggested the world might look like come Judgement day. There are small number of survivors; Paul, a projectionist, Rosemary (Thandie Newton) left the hospital for a cigarette break, and Luke (Hayden Christensen) wakes to an abandoned city. They, along with James (Jacob Latimore) who was looking for his mother when the lights went out, try to figure out how to survive the darkness.

I admired Vanishing on 7th Street for the total lack of explanation of how the darkness was making people vanish, leaving it up to the viewer to decide for themselves what kind of dangers might be lurking. And it was a great source of fear and suspense. I think it would have been enhanced with sprinkling a few clues about what was behind the darkness, instead of just giving absolutely no hint to the nature of the increase in night and the failure of artificial light to protect from the growing night. So perhaps the strength of no ridiculous premise of the source of the disappearances was also a weakness in that in retrospect makes me want more hints to the source the threat. So Vanishing was not without problems, but I found it adequately suspenseful and enjoyable for an October Horror Movie Challenge viewing.

October Horror Movie Challenge Tally: 27, 23 first-time viewings (FTV)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

A Triple Creature Feature

#25 The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) - FTV

On October 26th, as part of the Curse of All Monsters Attack programming at the Grand Illusion Cinema, I attended the Triple Creature Feature. The first film of the triple feature was The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, a joint venture from Hammer Studios and Shaw Brothers. As the final installment of Hammer's Dracula series, this is a bizarrely eclectic film fusing Hong Kong martial arts with British actors and Count Dracula. 

The premise involves rural Chinese village terrorized by vampires. There is a legend involving this village that tells of a simple farmer who goes to the temple to retrieve his abducted wife and battles the vampires he finds before they can drain her blood. In his struggle with the vampires, he seizes one of the golden bat medallions that the vampires wear and places it upon a Buddha figure while he battles the vampires and their summoned undead. The man is defeated by the vampires, but when a vampire touches the Buddha to reclaim the medallion, the monster is destroyed.  Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) has traveled to China to find this village and after giving a lecture on this legend of the vampires, he is approached by a man who claims to be the son of the farmer that battled the vampires and carries the golden bat as proof. With his 6 brothers and sister, he agrees to take the Professor and his companions to the village to defeat the vampires. 

This film is definitely a peculiar take on the vampire movie. Here the vampires looked to be creatures carved from bean curd, with protruding fangs and golden masks. They are killed in the same fashion as other movie vampires, that is via wooden stake through the heart and by the use of religious totems. It is explained that in China, they cannot be harmed by holy water or the crucifix, but can be killed with symbols of the Buddha. But really, the best aspects of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is when the 7 brothers and sister fight off enemies with their advanced martial arts skills as the Brits take cover. Although, once they fight the vampires, the Van Helsing clan became more useful at staking vampires, despite their lack of Kung Fu skills.  

The final battle between Van Helsing and Count Dracula, played here by John Forbes-Robertson, is rather underwhelming. Van Hesling reveals High Priest Kah as his nemesis, Dracula, who has been controlling the Golden Vampires. So they fight and Dracula is struck with a spear to the heart and immediately disintegrates, leaving only bones. A bit anticlimactic after all of the kung fu fighting, where else can one find a fusion of the Hammer Vampire movie with a Chang Cheh martial arts movie?

#26 The Deadly Spawn (1983) FTV

The second installment in the Triple Creature Feature was The Deadly Spawn, a film written and directed by Douglas McKeown and made for only $30,000. And while it likes a low budget, first film, it distinguishes itself by being a lot of fun to watch.

The film opens with a deadly encounter with an alien life-form, that is composed entirely of teeth, after a meteor has crashed to earth. This creature finds its way into the basement of a suburban home, where it grows and multiplies, terrorizing the family that lives above.

The parents are the first victims, but their demise goes unnoticed since it was assumed that they had left in the early morning. Aunt Millie and Uncle Herb are visiting, possibly because Uncle Herb was asked to psychoanalyze the youngest son, Charles. Charles is obsessed with scary movies. His room is papered in monster movie posters and he enjoys sneaking up on unsuspecting family members wearing monster masks. But Uncle Herb doesn't uncover anything truly abnormal in his psychological evaluation other than Charles likes scary movies and science fiction. His older brother Pete has no patience for his brother's obsessions with science fiction and considers himself a proper scientist. When his friends arrive to study, they bring along an unusual specimen of a tiny dead alien creature. But even after cutting into it, Pete won't even entertain the idea that it could be from another planet and dismisses it as some sort of annelid.

Before long, the creatures begin to wreck havoc and spread all over the house and Pete and his friends stop arguing about where they originate and must focus on just trying to keep from having their flesh ripped off by the things. And they are quickly spreading all over town as in one particularly amusing scenes at Bunny's vegetarian potluck, attended by Aunt Millie. One nasty tadpole with teeth becomes the secret ingredient of Bunny's green sauce and before long, the lunching old ladies are surrounded by a swarm of toothy worms seeking to make a lunch of the guests. They appear from behind and pictures hanging on the walls and under the furniture, biting at the old women's heels as the flee.

Thanks to Charles' imagination and observational abilities, apparently developed from years of watching monster movies, he is able to lure the largest and most deadly of the creatures away from his brother and friends allowing them to escape. And in the end, the authorities arrive and the whole town go to work killing, collecting and burning the things. But unbeknownst to them, there are even more deadly things underfoot than they are ready for.

Yeah, The Deadly Spawn was a blast to watch, even if the print was old, scratched and faded. This bloody monster movie was a fun and campy addition to the late night triple feature.

#27 The People Who Own the Dark (1975) FTV

The final film of the night was a post-apocalyptic horror film from Spain. In The People Who Own the Dark, a group of wealthy and distinguished men have gathered at Lily's secluded mansion for a night of depravity inspired by the writing of the Marquis de Sade. But as the men gather in a cellar wearing bizarre rubber masks and the women have taken their positions to begin the hedonistic rituals, the ground begins to quake. When they go upstairs, they discover that the cellar must have acted like a bomb shelter and protected them form the detonation of a nuclear weapon, as the maids have become blind. They then depart for the village for supplies and plan to wait out the fallout. In the village, they discover that everyone is blind. The towns people then become an angry murderous hoard after one of the pompous rich dudes begins to kill off the blind villagers. After they return to the safety of the secluded mansion, the men quickly unravel. The doctor goes mad,  believing he is a pig, stripping off his clothes and cowering under the furniture. And the others also become increasingly irrational and violent. But soon the villagers descend upon the manor and no amount of fortifications can keep out the blind, murderous masses.

As a direct result of the opening of the film promising an undelivered glimpse into the hedonistic practices of the elite before morphing into a horror movie where those elite fleeing an angry hoard of common people, The People Who Own the Dark is an unsuccessful political allegory. This is a movie that very much wants to be The Night of the Living Dead, but it falls short. The character development is insufficient to allow one to identify with any of these wealthy men or beautiful women that must survive the wrath of the villagers. And in the end, the reveal that wealth and status is not enough to survive in the aftermath of the apocalypse, fails to deliver the expected punch in the gut. This is a film with an interesting premise, but it is disappointing that it didn't do more with it.

October Horror Movie Challenge Tally: 24 total, 20 first time viewings (FTV)