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Horror Movie A Day: Redux - FAIL!

Hi there.

A Couple of years ago, I watched a horror movie a day in the month of October, and wrote my thoughts. Check it out here, if you're curious I had a lot of fun doing it.

I'm thinking of doing this again, but I'd like some feedback.

You see, nowadays I have 2 kids instead of one, the youngest is just under 3 months old. Add to that the fact that I am going back to school and working 40+ hours a week... Well, it could be a challenge.

So what I'm asking from you is to help me decide what's "fair". A whole movie would be tough. But to watch a single horror anime episode, or an episode of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' seems like cheating. Would two episodes do? A 45-minute minimum, maybe?

And what about other media? Video games? A short story? Would these be interesting things to cover in a "Horror Thang A Day" type series?

I appreciate your indulgence, everyone.

Horror short stories sounds interesting. 

There's a website, Classic Horror that has classic short horror stories - so it'd be free.

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All right, here we go!

The rules: One horror movie a day, Sept 30 - Oct. 31. Movie shall be defined as a program at least 40 minutes in length. Horror, as always, shall remain subjective. The exception: "Mixed-Media Mondays!"

You see, Mondays, I work 8 am to 5pm, then have class from 6pm to 10:30 pm. To try and watch a movie would be suicide. So, in lieu of a movie, I will consume and review a different type of horror media. So far I've got some short stories in mind, some old radio dramas and even some albums by horror obsessed musicians (The Young Werewolves, anyone?).

As always, suggestions are welcome, discussion is encouraged.

Movie for 9/30/09 - "Splinter" (2008)

Ever wish you could have a do over? I mean, I don't regret watching this movie - it's a pretty solid little effort. However, I wish I'd picked a better movie to kick things off with. Last time around, it  was "Frankenstein" (1931), which felt to me like I was starting off in an epic direction. Even though, of course, I wasn't. But, you know... no? Never mind.

So... Splinter! He taught the Ninja Turtles all they know and... no. Different Splinter.

This Splinter takes place in a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Granted, not the spookiest of locations (I'll spare you all the lame gas station restroom jokes that I toyed with) but this movie tries it's best to make it an interesting and effective one. How? Simply add a loving city couple (one of whom just so happens to know a lot about biology), and a pair of fugitives from the law.

See? Better all ready. The table is set for a conflict between worlds. The well to do and educated vs. the poor and desperate. Now throw a deadly parasite which takes over the body of the host and produces large spikes to protrude out of the victim as they lunge after your blood and you've got... an okay movie.

The acting is rock solid in this movie. I hope that this is a spring board for the three leads, because they all did their jobs admirably. The special effects were pretty darn fine as well. A nice mix of practical effects and CGI made for a truly impressive looking creature. Pacing was excellent and the direction was passable.

What keeps this movie from hitting "great", or even "really good" is that it's script is a bit lazy. The dialogue is snappy, sure. And like I said, the pace keeps steady. However, it relies heavily on stock character types. The felon with a heart of gold, the city girl who shines under pressure ("She's a firecracker!") and the nebbish, scholarly type. The parasites origin is - wisely - left largely unexplained. It is hinted that it has something to do with an oil company (couple this with the 2.89 a gallon sign at the gas station and - Hello, Zeitgeist!). When the film tries to explain biologically how the parasite works, it becomes hard to suspend disbelief for anyone who remembers the basics of Biology 101.

But the flaws can be largely forgiven, as it is a fun, crisp and quick ride. Great for a rental and to get your creature feture fix.

Movie for 10/1/09 - tbd

Definitely in the mix: The Wolf Man (1941), Spirit Trap (2005), The Black Cat (1934), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

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That's a huge commitment.  You're pretty serious about October Horror Month.

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That's a huge commitment.  You're pretty serious about October Horror Month.

I am hardcore!

Movie for 10/1/09 "The Black Cat" (1941)

"Because it's all for the cats is why this place went to the dogs."

"That's bad. I'm glad I didn't say that."

The above bit of dialogue should tell you a bit about this movie, which is ever so loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe Story of the same name. I mean really, really loosely.If you want a bit more accurate and disturbing version of the story, I recommend checking out the fairly recent Masters of Horror episode starring Jeffrey Combs and directed by Stuart Gordon. But if you like your horror more on the lighter side, that this version of The Black Cat is for you.

An embarrassing aside - I thought I was going to be watching a completely different "The Black Cat" - This one. Both star Bela Legosi, so you can see how I got confused... Hopefully I'll track down a copy of the '34 version for later.

So... Black Cat '41! This is one of those flicks from the era where horror and whodunnits intersected. Sure, you have the implication of the supernatural - gothic mansion, creepy sculptures, mysterious storms, shadowy figures, etc... but when it comes down to it, this is simply a basic murder mystery dressed up in horror trappings. The good thing about this movie though, is that it seems to be aware of it's charade. So it puts on an additional layer of comedy to deflect from the bait-and-switch.

For the most part, it works. Sure, the comedy is pretty groan inducing, but the movie quickly gets where it wants to go. Basil Rathbone is fun to watch, and even Bela Lugosi looks like he's having fun... even though he is woefully scarce in this film.

I'd call this a horror flick for those who really can't do horror flicks. You feel like you're seeing something creepy, but the film never takes you out of a comfort zone. Pleasant ride, this one.

Movie for 10/2/09 - tbd

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I love b&w horror films.

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Movie for 10/2/09 - "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969)

I will save you a lot of problems, boredom, confusion and gnashing of teeth (if you're into that sort of thing) in regards to 'Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed'. Watch the first five minutes, then call it a wrap. Seriously. Your impression of the movie will be of spooky opening credits,beautiful location shots, nifty period costuming and an awesome beheading. Man, just watch that red paint fly! You might even be able to get through ten minutes, and you'd get to see some fisticuffs, laboratory smashing and Peter Cushing's dramatic reveal. After, that...well, don't say you haven't been warned.

Look, I know every movie a studio makes can't be golden. Not even films from golden eras of said studios. Tell me why, though, with Hammer films do the misses have to be so severe? Maybe it's the strength of the first wave of their films that make the later ones  looks so feeble and pedestrian. 1957's 'The Curse of Frankenstein' remains my favorite Frankenstein movie...definitely not faithful to the book or even it's Universal source material, but it gave us a Dr. Frankenstein that clicked. Brilliant, charming, determined... and freaking insane. Throw in Christopher Lee as a very memorable looking monster,and it really is tough to beat.

By the time we get to this installment,it feels like no one is even trying. Least of all the Doctor. Reduced to brain transplants, Frankenstein isn't very fearful. He's a common thug, and a rapist... Basically 'Destroyed' takes all of what made the character work in the first film, and throws it out. We're left with little tension, feeble plot and no sense of direction. It all leads to a ridiculous conclusion, where... ARGH!Why am I dong this? I'm warning you, so you venture no further than the first ten minutes. Again: You have been warned!

Movie for 10/3/09 - tbd

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Where is Storm? She loves talking about horror films!

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I'm not going to have such elegant descriptions, nor do I plan on watching a movie a day, but syfy is doing the 31 days of halloween thing. Anyway, we got sucked in last night. First up, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)...with Henry Rollins!!!!!  ;D
"A group of reality show contestants find themselves fighting for their survival against a family of hideously deformed inbred cannibals who plan to ruthlessly butcher them all."

This...was brutal. I don't mean brutal like it was a horribly done movie (it was actually pretty good...), but wow gore. Intestines, fingers, etc. The movie did include a vegan girl, and she was one of the only two to make it out alive!

Second, See No Evil (2006). "A group of delinquents are sent to clean the Blackwell Hotel. Little do they know reclusive psychopath Jacob Goodnight (Jacobs) has holed away in the rotting hotel. When one of the teens is captured, those who remain -- a group that includes the cop who put a bullet in Goodnight's head four years ago -- band together to survive against the brutal killer." Another not bad movie...(can't believe it!). Not quite as gorey, but still horrific (eyes in glass jars, plucking out eyes, etc.).

Lastly, we stayed up for part of Dead Men Walking (2005). Now, thissss was a B movie. Basically, everyone in a max. security prison is turning into a zombie, and spitting blood, and fluids on everyone else. Then, there's eating of bodies. Gross, but funny. It was late, so we opted to not continue torturing ourselves, but P still wonders if the world died.

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Tonight's features were Dying Breed (2008)-"Dying Breed interweaves the two most fascinating icons of Tasmanian history: the extinct Tasmanian tiger and "The Pieman" (aka Alexander Pearce) who was hanged for cannibalism in 1824."

So, basically these 4 Australian hikers/researchers/people go in search of the tiger, and find this village. The village is comprised of the pieman's descendants (also cannibals, who need people to survive). It actually had a story line, and some suspense, and it wasn't that bad. You know, horror and death. We're not sure if the pieman/descendants were part tiger.

Second, Autopsy (2008)-"Emily Johnson, her boyfriend Bobby and their friends Clare and Jude are recent college grads driving cross-country, taking a last vacation together before they face the "real" world. An accident leaves them hurt and stranded on a lonely Louisiana road. When the ambulance arrives, it whisks them to Mercy Hospital. With a minimal staff and many of its floors empty, the hospital is an eerie place--but that's only the beginning.The staff is conducting inhuman experiments on helpless patients under the instruction of Dr. Benway, a direct descendant of the infamous New Orleans family that committed atrocities in the 19th century."

Yep. A crazy, crazy hospital with crazy, crazy things.

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;)b Tonight I'll be watching Silence of the Lambs  :)>>>

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Allychristine - both "See No Evil" and "Autopsy" are on my list! Compare and contrast, ya?

To come:

Thoughts on "Strange Behavior" (1981), "Masters of Horror: The V Word" (2006) and the prose poem, "Nyarlahotep" (1920) by H.P. Lovecraft.

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Movie for 10/3/09 – “Strange Behavior” (1981)

Now, here’s what I’m taking about. Maybe this is the movie that I should have started with. This is what horror flicks are all about. The plot may be a mess, the performances wooden and the plausibility of the whole thing is more than a wee bit suspect, but it’s heart is very much in the right place. This is a case where ambition and a “what the hell” attitude override the negative aspects of a film. This is one with feeling, damnit! Strange feelings, but feeling, none the less.

The plot goes a little something like this… There’s a kid, who’s mom is dead. No… wait, let’s start somewhere else. Students of at a small town high school are being killed off by a strange killer, or is it killers? Hmm… let’s try again. Sinister things are going on at the psychology department at the local university… No. No, no, no.

The problem with trying to describe the plot, is to give too much away. Here are the important parts: High schoolers are offed gorily. There are a lot of eccentric characters. There’s a choreographed dance number. And everyone involved with the movie has trouble hiding their smiles. It looks like it was that much fun to film.

What really works here is the kitchen sink approach. Slasher films, mad-science movies and even whodunits like ‘The Black Cat’, covered earlier, all have their fingerprints on this one. The filmmakers had an idea, and ran with it, not letting themselves get bogged down in details. Because if you stop to really think in this one, you’re doomed. So just enjoy the ride, and the choreography.

Movie for 10/4/09 – “Masters of Horror: The V Word”

Mixed Media Monday item for 10/5/09 – “Nyarlahotep”, a prose poem by H. P. Lovecraft

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Allychristine - both "See No Evil" and "Autopsy" are on my list! Compare and contrast, ya?

haha, how did they get on your list?
I think they are both good ones. We can discuss!

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Allychristine - both "See No Evil" and "Autopsy" are on my list! Compare and contrast, ya?

haha, how did they get on your list?
I think they are both good ones. We can discuss!

Honestly, they've just been in my mental list of "Horror Flicks I'd like to See Someday". I'll try and hit them sooner as opposed to later!

Movie for 10/4/09 – “Masters of Horror: The V Word”

Not to ruin it for you, but “Vampire”. The V Word is “vampire”. There. I’ve said it, it’s out in the open, I’d say it again. Because I have not ruined a single thing for you. I’m pretty sure 99.99999999999 percent of you put that together on your own.

“Oh, a horror show with a V word in it? It must be vampire!”

And as for the one in a million person who immediately thought Voodoo, well kudos to you. If you immediately thought, “vegepygmy”, well… put down the d20 and step outside for awhile, okay?

The Masters of Horror series has always been spotty at best. The first season definitly had the three tiers going: Great, Eh, Awful. Season 2 of MoH, supposedly has 3 different tiers: Brad Anderson, okay, the restofseasonissuchawasteoftime. This entry staddles the line between okay and not-so okay.

The plot centers around what happens when two teenage boys break into a mortuary to try and see a dead body. Why, they encounter a vampire, of course! To this episodes credit, it’s a real, scary, un-sparkly vampire. I hate it when people make vampires these romantic, tragic and noble figures… no dark night of the heart/soul for me. I want my vampires nasty, predatory and reeking of the grave! And, for the most part, that is what we get here.

After some cross-contamination, we do get some exploration of moral issues regarding vampirism and friendship, but nothing too heavy. While it’s always nice to see Michael Ironside play an over the top bad guy, and director Ernest Dickerson (this guy is a “Master”? Really?) visually checks some great vampire movie moments, the whole thing comes off rather empty. Maybe if it had an extra 15 minutes to play with, we might have seen something special. But as it is, it’s a nice bite-size morsel for Halloween.

Mixed Media for Monday 10/5/09 – “Nyarlahotep” (1920) by H.P. Lovecraft

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Entry for 10/5/09 - “Nyarlahotep” (1920) a prose poem by H.P. Lovecraft

To be quite honest, I had only really stumbled upon the idea of a “prose poem” a few years ago, and had not heard the term applied to his short work by Mr. Lovecraft until last year sometime. However, that does not keep it from being a very apt way to describe this morsel.

This short gem has always fascinated me in ways other, longer stories – even novels – just cannot. And I was always at a loss to describe why. Maybe it was recognition that it this is not just a fascinating tale in and of itself, it’s that it is constructed in such an odd and interesting way.

The story starts out rather straightforward. The narrator is describing a time that could mirror ours today. “The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger…”

That hook, that description of a general existential uneasiness, one we all have had from time to time, is the launch pad for Lovecraft to ask, “What if that apprehension is warranted? What if it all… comes down?” So he does it, he brings it all down. He does it in the same vague way that the questions are presented. We get some details: A dark, mysterious stranger out of Egypt, horrific visions shared by many, an army of followers, willing and unwilling until nothing is as we recognize it today.

All too often recently we see what devotion to a cause people do not fully understand can yield. Turn on the news, read the articles and you’ll experience that same dread. The dread that it’s all spinning out of control, that a season of chaos is upon us… just waiting for a spark.

The spark is never fully described or realized. We are left with a realization that horrible things have happened, and we missed it in a blink. Before we knew what was going on, the world changed for the worse all around us… For a story from 1920, it seems awfully relevant and in touch with the fears of our modern day.

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The movie on tonight is Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming (2007)-"A soldier returns home from the Iraq war only to be haunted by visions of the dead."

Yeah. Pretty horrific, and pretty sad. He's haunted by the family that he killed, and burned people. I don't recommend.

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Movie for 10/6/09 – “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” (1973)

“You’ll shoot your eye out! You’ll shoot your eye out!”

You know what that’s from.

So why am I bringing up the beloved Christmas classic “A Christmas Story” in the middle of a Halloween themed experiment? Because I can’t see good ol’ Ralphie and the gang with out thinking about murder and mayhem. All thanks to Bob Clark.

Yes, before the writer/director of “A Christmas Story” directed that cable standard, he was best known for his work in horror. Watch the original “Black Christmas” as a double feature with “A Christmas Story” for a nice ironic Bob Clark holiday double feature! But this is the season for Halloween. For dead things. Let’s focus on Bob Clark’s (directing as Benjamin Clark, here) first effort in horror, “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”.

Boy howdy they shouldn’t. That’s rule #1 at the daycare. Since the protagonists of this film are a theater troupe, let’s divide this review into 3 acts, shall we?

Act I

Very promising! There’s no doubt here that we have an amateur effort on out hands. All the hallmarks are here. Hammy acting, forced “real” sounding dialogue peppered with corny jokes, some shaky camera work and a plot so very thin… You see Alan is head of a theater troupe. He threatens his company with their paychecks unless they accompany him to a graveyard island, where he wants to dabble in the black arts.

Sure, why not, right? Acting gigs are hard to come by. Throw in some Manson inferences along with the late 60s/early 70s blossoming fascination with new age mysticism and occultism, and you come away with a nice set up, here. The sets, marvelous, the make up jobs are fantastic. The initial set up is actually pretty well executed and entertaining. Boy I can’t wait to see what they come up with in…

Act II

Zzzzzzzzzzzz… Seriously. After the first act, I was ready to be launched into a fun, fast paced middle section. What we get instead is long, drawn out and odd. We meet Orville (who’s dead) and witness some odd ideas of what one should do with a corpse. It could be gripping. It could be disturbing. Instead, it’s dull.

Act III

Now here’s where the film comes to life! Literally. But alas, it’s too little too late. While the zombie action is fun and furious, it just makes you feel like we should have been doing this all along. Instead of, well, whatever the film was doing before. It all caps off with the ending, which I can’t decide is a bit chilling or just goofy. Either way, it would be fantastic if set to “In The Navy” by The Village People.

I think that tips the scales in favor of goofy. Watch this one only if you need some overacting hippie/zombie action. Otherwise, don’t play.

Movie for 10/7/09 – Either “Them” (2007) or “The Wolf Man” (1941)

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Movie for 10/7/09 - "Them" a.k.a. "Ils" (2006)

Why does Netflix have to have use U.S. release dates instead of actual year of release, regardless of nationality?

Oh well...

Issue #1 - The Jump Scare. It has a bad reputation. Yes, it is over used and often ill executed to horrible effect. Often times it is used so often as red herring scare that by the time you get to the actual jump scare, there's no payoff. Very 'Boy Who Cried Wolf'.

Issue #2 - Music is overused in movies. Especially American ones.

So 'm happy to report that "Them" addresses both these issues effectively. "Them" is nothing we haven't seen before. Two strangers in a strange land, while staying in relative isolation are terrorized by... someone? Someones? Something?

Stalking and terror ensue.

But in this case, it is done very, very effectively. The tensest sequence of stalking in the house occurs with nothing but ambient sound. There is no superfluous character development or back-story... what we have here is a lean, mean cat and mouse game that inspires dread, and even a shock at the end.

Throw in the "based on a true story" angle... A solid, short, sweet effort.

Movie for 10/8/09 - tbd... but probably either The Wolf Man, or Asylum.

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Movie for 10/8/09 – “Asylum” (2008)

Whoa, boy. Where do I even start with this one?

How about at the beginning. The very beginning. The opening credits roll, and the opening score kicks in. I can only imagine the conversation in the sound editing room.

Director: “Oh boy! Our opening score is here! Let’s listen to it!”

Sound Editor: “Okay!” *plays generic sounding horror score* “Well, that’s okay, I guess.”

Director: “Yeah, it’s passable… but it needs a little something extra. Hey! Do you still have that friend with hand spasms who plays the guitar?

Sound Editor: “Yeah.”

Director: “Sweet! We’ll bring him in to punch this piece up. Oh! And maybe get some R&B backing vocal/moans in there, too!”

And believe it or not, it all goes down hill from there. While the opening theme plays, we’re treated to photos of pretty people, made up to look ugly (because everyone know that mental asylum inmates of days past were all models), and then the real fun begins, as a special collection of human beings begin to try and act.

Our opening scene looks like it came out of a community theater workshop as two kids – who actually show fear by pretending to bite their nails with both hands in front of their face – witness their parents fighting. Why? Daddy has spontaneously started having paranoid hallucinations, and offs himself. And then bounces around the room. Seriously, I think the father is part Wonder ball.

Flash forward 10 years, and… it’s still crap. I keep trying to go into a plot breakdown here, but… it’s crap. Crap happens and a “state of the art” (read, “unrealistic and overdone”) college dormitory that used to be a mental asylum starts getting visits from the old Doctor who ran the place.

Those visits are crap.

Every tabloid mental issue or childhood trauma is tastelessly trotted out, while a killer who comes off as a cross between Freddy Krueger and Dr. Phil (yet scary as neither) babbles about their pain and goes all stabbity. The cookie cutter cast of far too old to be playing college freshman cast (even the 16-year-old looks 30), do dumb things, say dumber things and die.

It’s crap.

It almost hovers near that, “so bad, it’s good level”, but never gets there because it seems no one anywhere really gets it. They don’t get that they’re making something totally ridiculous. There are painfully earnest attempts at character development, comedy and scares… and they all fall flat with a script warmed over from the 1980’s.

At least it gave the Mrs. and I something to swear at.

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So, Asylum.

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