Friday, May 29, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

As the star horror directors of the '70s and '80s have aged, fans have had to adjust their expectations when watching the latest efforts from icons like George Romero, John Carpenter, and Dario Argento. And by "adjust," I mean "drop altogether." I've liked some of the later work of all these gentlemen but as a horror fan, it's hard to accept that these artist's best days are behind them - especially when the genre needs them to be at their peak again. When I see junk like the Prom Night remake and The Unborn perpetrated on audiences, I'd like to believe that the horror masters we grew up on could rediscover their mojo and step in to save the day. Well, that fantasy is playing out right now with Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell.

If anyone thinks that Raimi's time spent bringing Marvel Comic's wall-crawling hero to the screen has softened his sensibilities, or that Drag's PG-13 rating is a sign that this isn't a movie for the hardcore fans, they'd be wrong. Drag Me To Hell is Raimi reclaiming the geek crown that got knocked off-kilter with his poorly received Spider-Man 3 (2007). This is a virtuoso performance that will single-handedly keep Raimi's reputation intact for at least another ten years. But don't expect Raimi to be coasting any time soon. Drag Me To Hell is the work of a hungry young director, not a middle-aged success story with nothing left to prove. It's bracing stuff, filled with a wide-eyed enthusiasm for the kind of thrills that until now have belonged to another time.

The story of a bank loan officer (Alison Lohman) who denies a mortgage extension to the wrong gypsy woman and spends the next three days of her life looking for every possible way to escape a sentence to Hell itself, Drag Me To Hell is a simple tale, told with a master's knack for wringing the most out of every scene. It's essentially a Tales from the Crypt episode, with the same strident moralizing as the best of those stories, served up with extra helpings of maggots, blood, and other viscous fluids. It doesn't pave any new ground for the genre but it does confirm that even in a post-torture porn era, there's still a place for Raimi's brand of 'spook-a-blast' entertainment. That said, what I appreciated most about Drag Me To Hell is how mean-spirited a film Raimi has made. Even if Raimi is playing much of this with a grin, the outsized retribution visited upon this eager-to-succeed farm girl and how her ordeal changes her makes for a blisteringly bitter fable.

I'd like to think that it won't be just Raimi that's energized by Drag Me To Hell but everyone out there currently making horror movies. I just hope it won't be so long until Raimi decides to drag himself back to doing what he does best.

Kiss Your Nerves Goodbye!

I'll have to hold off on a longer write-up until later but I just wanted to say what an amazing time at the movies Drag Me To Hell is. Sam Raimi hasn't missed a step in his comeback to horror. It's pure bliss - don't miss it!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

When Awesomeness Attacks!

The final cover art for the Werewolf DVD box set (arriving September 1st from Shout! Factory) is here and, well, I think it speaks for itself. In case it doesn't, let me just say - it's frigging awesome! It makes it clear that living without this set is not an option. It also says that when you call a show Werewolf, total bad-assedness will ensue. Kind of like when you call a show Hardcastle and McCormick, but even better. If anyone ever makes a show called Hardcastle and McCormick and Werewolf, let's just say you wouldn't want to be standing too close to me.

Thanks to Dread Central for scoring the advance look.

Terminator: Salvation

Based on the vitriol that Terminator: Salvation has been receiving online - as a headline on Ain't It Cool News blares: "Harry releases the flaming turd of the the review he's clenched for two days!" - I thought that Terminator: Salvation was going to be a debacle on the level of Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin (1997) or the Will Smith Wild Wild West (1999) movie. But to my surprise, with some minor reservations, I really liked this. I'd never call it great but as a sci-fi action barn burner, it gets the job done just fine. Better than most, in fact, as director McG comes through with some of the most thrilling action scenes in recent memory. The various designs of the lethal machines here - from those that tower over buildings to slithering metal snakes that travel underwater - are outstanding and McG's direction shows these creations off to maximum effect.

The script for Terminator: Salvation isn't all that - unexpectedly sidelining Christian Bale's John Conner - but still ranking as a briskly paced action tale. The film's real main protagonist is the taciturn Marcus (Sam Worthington), a convicted murderer, and I thought he was a solid, if not quite galvanizing, lead. I am disappointed that the big plot twist with his character is revealed in the trailers as it spoils one of the few real surprises that the film could've sprung on audiences. That said, I liked Worthington's performance and whereas Bale's John Connor comes across as something of a blank, I thought Worthington and Anton Yelchin as the young Kyle Reese (the character that Michael Biehn plays in the first Terminator) gave the film enough of a heart to go along with the metal crushing mayhem.

I've seen a lot of summer movies that were truly terrible given a pass by critics so it's hard to figure why this franchise reboot has incurred so much wrath. Maybe critics have a mad-on for McG or they think Bale deserves to fall on his ass a little. Who knows. Maybe they just didn't like the movie. I do know that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Terminator: Salvation. I haven't seen Wolverine or Star Trek yet so Terminator: Salvation is the start of my summer movie season. Turns out to have been a good choice to go with.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Phantasm 3-D!

With the release of My Bloody Valentine 3-D on DVD this week, I'd like to nominate another horror franchise for a 3-D remake - Don Coscarelli's 1979 head trip, Phantasm. I know that plenty of people still regard 3-D suspiciously as a distracting gimmick but by now the technology has advanced to a point where it isn't the same hit-or-miss prospect that it used to be. And honestly, how frigging awesome would it be to see Phantasm's trademark flying silver spheres (with their protruding blades and drills) careening right off the screen?

3-D or no, I'd only want Phantasm to return if a remake was masterminded by Coscarelli himself. If he didn't direct it, I'd at least want him to write (he already wrote a script for a remake a few years ago when New Line had the rights to the property) and produce. With the list of still-untouched 'name' properties from the '70s and '80s having dwindled to just, well, Phantasm (seriously, is there anything else left?), it's only a matter of time before we see Phantasm reborn on the big screen (hey, now there's a title: Phantasm: Reborn). I just hope that when it does, that Coscarelli's vision will be augmented by the glory of 3-D. It's what the series was tailor-made for.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy 30th Anniversary, Fango!

The occasion of Fangoria's thirtieth anniversary is likely to make the magazine's old-school readers aware of their own encroaching mortality more dramatically than any horror movie could. After all, thirty years is a serious chunk of time and I'm sure I'm not the only one old enough to remember Fangoria's 1979 debut who feels as though the last thirty years have gone by impossibly fast. But even if thirty years is a sobering number to process, the good news is that three decades later, Fangoria is still the premiere horror mag in the world and their anniversary issue (on sale now) celebrates Fango's vast impact on the genre with new interviews with a Who's Who of Horror.

The first Fango I bought was issue #22 (pictured above). I had been aware of Fango since the beginning but was forbidden by my mother from buying it. I would always thumb through issues, though, when I saw them at the local supermarket (we lived in very different times back then, clearly, as I can't imagine seeing Fango at any supermarket today. For awhile even the Jane Alden convenience store at the end of my street proudly carried Fango and I vividly remember seeing the cover for issue #12 - featuring the severed head of Mrs. Voorhees from Friday the 13th Part 2 - in their small magazine section next to the likes of US Magazine). Although I eventually would come to own all the back issues I missed, it was agony at the time to see the Motel Hell cover (issue #9) and have to leave it behind just because my mother believed that a magazine with a man in a pig mask wielding a chainsaw wasn't appropriate for her eleven-year-old.

By the time issue #22 came out, though, I was thirteen and way too old for my mother's backwards attitude (the fact that it took me until I was thirteen to grow some balls about this is sad in itself). While on my own at a local magazine shop (part of a now long-defunct chain called The Newsstand) I saw #22 and with its articles on Creepshow, Halloween III and Friday the 13th 3-D, I wasn't going to pass it up. I was my own man, damn it!

I haven't missed an issue since then and I still consider Fangoria to be the single most valuable source in keeping the horror community informed. Its Canadian rival, Rue Morgue, seems to get more love from younger fans but with respect to the good writing featured in RM, I think it's not as essential as Fango. Fango takes a lot of flak for covering the kind of mainstream offerings that RM usually avoids but if Fangoria had been as particular as Rue Morgue is, just think of how many horror films over the last thirty years that would not have received the coverage they did. Certainly franchises like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street wouldn't have been granted the same kind of attention. Some might see Fango as 'selling out' everytime they cover a major studio release but whether they're writing about Maximum Overdrive or Hellraiser or The Unborn or Drag Me To Hell, Fango is doing what it's always done - keeping horror fans in the know on everything that's out there. Not just what might considered cool, but everything. And to complain about the attention that Fango pays to studio films is to ignore the tireless championing Fango has done since their start on behalf of independent and foreign fare.

I love that when you look through Fango, you see that the same regard is given to the likes of C.H.U.D. and Mirrors as to Blue Velvet and Martyrs - every film, regardless of its pedigree, is treated fairly. To me, it's that equitable attitude that makes Fango indispensable. Fango continues to celebrate every corner of the genre without prejudice and that's something every fan ought to applaud them for. When it comes to horror, Fango doesn't discriminate. They show respect to all genre films, even when it's not considered fashionable to do so.

Thanks, Fango - here's to the next thirty years!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Theta Pi Must Die

The teaser poster for Sorority Row has been released and it looks like the film's stylized weapon - a modified tire iron - is going to be a focus of the movie's campaign. Seeing as this is usually the type of film that would be looking to exploit its attractive cast of young women first and emphasize its slasher element second, I'm good with this teaser poster. It definitely looks better than any of the posters that have been released so far for Rob Zombie's Halloween 2. It's a sad day when Michael Myers is less exciting than a tire iron but as a slasher fan I'm more jazzed by the sight of a pimped out weapon that promises some inventive slaughter than I am of a dude who looks like he ought to be pushing a shopping cart full of cans.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Not A Good Egg

I don't know what it is about the just-released promo images from the upcoming 3-D creature feature Humpty Dumpty that have me so goofily pleased and anxiously awaiting director David Ellis' follow-up to this summer's Final Destination: Death Trip 3-D. I know that the premise is terrifically tasteless - a female alien is raped by rednecks and the human/alien spawn that results goes on to cause a world of hurt. That's great to begin with - perfect fodder for a monster movie - but these early teases are, well, awesome. Maybe it's just that seeing actual illustrations makes me think of the days before Photoshop took over from artwork on poster design - and also of the days when a monster movie's greatest selling point was agreed to be its monster. It's also true that I tend to have a irrational soft spot for it when filmmakers delibrately try to launch a franchise character (as the title of this blogspot attests). In fact, I'm already anticipating my favorite movie of 2016: Humpty Dumpty in Space. With that in mind, how could I not be rooting for Humpty Dumpty to succeed?

For more on Humpty Dumpty, see their MySpace page.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

Werewolf: The Series On DVD!

For years and years I faithfully attended horror conventions with my pals but of late my need to get out there and stroll the dealer tables has faded. Most of that is due to the responsibilities of a family but there's also the fact that the stuff that was once a staple of the bootleg circuit has been made available through legit means. Case in point: the announcement that Werewolf: The Series is now coming to DVD.

TV Shows on DVD reports that the short-lived 1987 show is being released by Shout! Factory. On September 1st (date subject to change), all 28 half-hour episodes of the show - along with the two-hour pilot - will finally be on DVD. It's been years since I've watched any of Werewolf: The Series - the last time I picked up a copy of the series at a con, the shoddy quality of the VHS dupe discouraged me from sitting through much more than five minutes of it. But I have very fond memories of keeping up with the show back in the day. With a premise that was like a lycanthropic version of The Incredible Hulk, with a young werewolf scouring the country for a cure for his condition all while being hunted by an older werewolf (played by veteran actor Chuck Connors), Werewolf: The Series had all the makings of a long run but sadly was an early casualty of the initial Fox Network line-up. The werewolf itself was created by FX god Rick Baker and whatever the show's faults, it was a blast to have a weekly dose of werewolf action on TV.

I just hope when I finally watch this again that it'll hold up better than Swamp Thing: The Series (1990-1993) has. I got that set when it was released on DVD, with memories of the show (which originally aired on the USA Network) as being kind of/sort of ok only to find that, aside from the cool Swamp Thing suit that improved over the movie version, the show was completely unwatchable. I'd be a little heartbroken if that's the case with Werewolf but I have a feeling I'll develop a serious case of full moon fever once I watch it again.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Burrowers

What I heard in advance about writer/director J.T. Petty's horror-western The Burrowers made me expect that it was likely going to be my cup of tea. Upon watching it, I was happy to find that my expectations were actually surpassed. I think it's criminal that Lionsgate - the purveyors of the absymal Saw series - let a movie this exceptional go direct-to-DVD with no fanfare. I understand that The Burrowers won't be to everyone's taste and Lionsgate probably thought they'd just be setting themselves up to lose a bunch of money in trying to get audiences to turn out for a slow-paced downer of a Western, even one bolstered by the occasional monster attack. In an ideal world, though, horror fans would've had an opportunity to see this in their local theater. It's rare that I feel surprised by movies anymore but The Burrowers pulled the ground right out from under my feet.

My full review is up now at Shock Till You Drop.