Sunday, August 26, 2012
Those were the days before everybody had cable and before VCRs were common household items, when it was still a big deal when a theatrical film would make its network debut. It would be an edited, pan and scan version of the film, naturally - but it would still be a huge, gotta-see event because that was your only way to see the movie at all. The fact that movies had an unavailibility about them back then made them special to viewers, I believe. You didn't take movies for granted. You had to wait a couple of years to see, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark again and if you missed the broadcast, you were screwed. Now, you can just watch Prometheus on your phone.
Anyhow, The ABC Movie served as my introduction to some of my favorite late '70s/early '80s horror movies as they aired the likes of The Shining, the '78 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Coma, The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane, and John Carpenter's The Fog.
The intros to those movies, with voiceovers by Ernie Anderson (father to director Paul Thomas Anderson and for years the Cleaveland, Ohio-based horror host known as Ghoulardi), were burned into my brain and are inseperable from my memories of the movies themselves. They set the mood so perfectly for the movie to come and ABC's "star tunnel" opening was so dramatic to begin with.
Ever since I was introduced to YouTube, I've been hoping that someone would post the intro to ABC's presentation of The Fog and finally, that day has come. Well, actually it looks like that day came way back in March but, hey, I can't remember to check for this stuff all the time!
To the poster who uploaded this clip, a thousand thank you's. And extra thanks for including the promos for Ripley's Believe It Or Not, That's Incredible, and Tales of the Gold Monkey as well! They remind me of good times.
Today I have more movies in my collection than I could ever possibly have the time to rewatch, even if I lived to be a hundred and twenty, and more cable channels than I know what to do with but what I miss are the days when I would see a movie advertized in the TV Guide, wait for it to air, and when the movie was over it'd be gone, leaving wisps of excited memories behind until the next time it came around again.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
I won't go into a long lecture about Web-head's history - with fifty years of adventures across various comic titles and across various mediums, I wouldn't have the time to do Spidey justice - but I will say that Marvel's flagship character remains my favorite superhero many years since I first encountered him on the children's show The Electric Company.
I'll also take a moment - since I neglected to do so back in July - to say that I really loved the recent big screen reboot. It wasn't perfect, no, but I think that in most respects it was the best treatment the character has recieved on screen to date and I say that as someone who really enjoyed the Raimi films - even the much-reviled Spider-Man 3! Raimi's original Spider-Man was solid for the time and it stuck to the comics in a commendable and gratifying way but it came at the dawn of the comic book movie era and ten years later, it shows. Mostly in a charming way (to my eyes) but it's undeniably dated.
I also loved that Webb and co. weren't in any rush to get to the fight scenes and special effects. It didn't feel like the film was ever trying to cater to the blockbuster crowd, which is pretty brave for a film that really did need to grab that audience as far as being able to recoup its massive budget. But it was really more about conveying the emotional quality of Peter Parker's journey than about bells and whistles and I appreciated that. There was a lot of loud grumbling in advance of the film's release about the fact that the origin was going to be retold and while I wasn't convinced going in that it was needed, the film won me over. I liked the tweaks that were done. They made it just different enough to not seem like a rerun while perserving the core elements of the story.
So, yeah, I liked The Amazing Spider-Man a whole lot. It got more than enough right to please this old-school Spidey fan, at least.
Of course, the famous Parker luck holds true to form and one accident later, Peter has inadvertently created a new young superhero - one who isn't cut from quite the same cloth that Peter was. As the story continues over the next issue or two, Peter will have to take on the responsibility of training this latest hero and something tells me it won't end well.
Luckily, Spidey himself is in good hands. Slott's tenure on Amazing Spider-Man has been exceptionally good and he looks to continue on the book for some time to come - even if he promises a major shake-up in time for issue #700. Spidey's movie reboot was a success and even in animation, Spidey's doing good with Ultimate Spider-Man on Disney XD. Some fans hate this cartoon for its irreverent and some say too-juvenile humor but all I can say is that my seven-year-old son loves it and I do too.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
It wasn't a particular milestone year for the genre but as the year following the events of 9/11, it did represent a crossroads of sorts. Post 9/11, some pundits speculated that the audience for fear fare might dry up in the wake of such a catastrophic tragedy but, if anything, the fall out of 9/11 and the two wars the US became embroiled in because of it led to a renewed popularity for the genre.
That new wave didn't really florish until 2003/2004 but 2002 laid the groundwork for big things to come and over at Shock Till You Drop, we've taken a look back at a handful of films that helped define that transitional year. This is not intended to be a "best of" list but simply an acknowledgement of several films that proved notable in one way or another - whether they kicked off trends, put an end cap on an era, or tapped into the cultural mood at the time. In sizing up the Class of '02, Spencer Perry writes about Signs, Tyler Doupe takes on Resident Evil, Paul Doro considers the teen thriller Swimfan, while I take a look back at The Ring and Halloween: Resurrection.
Regarding Halloween: Resurrection, even though that movie will never be much good (no matter how much time passes!), I'll always regard it with some affection. Filmed prior to 9/11 (originally it was meant to come out in September of '01 but reshoots and schedule shuffles moved its release to almost a year later), Resurrection has the virtue of being one of the last horror movies to be filmed pre-9/11 and as such feels like a bittersweet keepsake of a time when a "killer shark in baggy-ass overalls" could be more easily touted as the epitome of Evil.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Madman doesn't get talked about much in slasher circles, with films like My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night, and Happy Birthday to Me getting most of the love when it comes to the early '80s slasher cycle. For whatever reason, the whodunnit slashers from that time all have the biggest fanbases while the rampaging cretin slashers, not so much. But Madman is one rampaging cretin slasher film that deserves a much larger cheering section than it appears to have.
Written and directed by Joe Giannone, Madman opens with a tale told in song around a campfire of the legend of "Madman Marz," a backwoods superfreak who reportedly killed his family years ago and was hanged for his crimes. But somehow he lives on and now, if his name is spoken above a whisper, he'll come looking for blood. Naturally, one of the kids around the campfire takes it upon himself to be the asshole of the night and calls out Madman Marz at the top of his lungs. And whaddya know, the legends turn out to be 100% on the money and Marz drops whatever he's doing (not housecleaning, judging by the sloppy state of his home) and spends the night killing.
That's the whole plot of Madman. It's a story so simple it makes Halloween look like an example of byzantine plotting. But yet it works so well. It's as perfect a horror movie - certainly as perfect a slasher film - as I can think of. While most of the whodunnit slashers have enjoyed a more prominent afterlife than Madman, by their nature a lot of their time is spent dealing with red herrings and keeping the mystery of the killer's identity bubbling with soap opera-ish drama meant to spread suspicion across the cast. Madman has none of that and simply has Marz on the hunt. Yes, there are scenes dealing with the various personal relationships of the camp counselors but that's only because when you've got characters in a scene together, they've got to say something to each other, right?
To be fair, the counselors here are some of the better-drawn characters of any '80s slasher in that they actually have personality traits that one would hope to find in functioning adults. They're not flighty idiots, total horndogs, or irresponsible stoners. They're a level-headed bunch (even if they wander off alone into the woods too much for their own good), serious toward their responsibilities as counselors and cool with each other (after one guy has a minor public outburst, he later makes a point of apologizing to the entire group). Naturally, a few counselors are intimate with each other but it's not presented as lewdly as in most slasher films of the time.
Gaylen Ross, from Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow, plays a counselor named Besty but she's credited under the pseudonym of "Alexis Dubin." I guess this didn't seem like as classy a project as the Romero films she had done - and, really, it isn't - but it's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
To the untrained eye, Madman plays out like any other cheap B-movie but those who have immersed themselves in the slasher sub-genre will note and appreciate several subtle touches that differentiate Madman from the pack. As mentioned earlier, the generally more adult portrayal of the counselors is a welcome change of pace from the slasher norm. Also, this might be the only horror film to take place entirely at night (feel free to hip me to other examples if you have them, 'cause I can't think of any). Many horror films take place over the course of twelve or twenty-four hours but seldom (ever?) has there been one that doesn't spend a single second in the daylight.
Typically a film like this would begin its story in the afternoon, allowing us to get to know the characters before nightfall, then the conclusion would take us (and the sole survivor) into the breaking dawn of a new day but Madman doesn't go that route. It begins in darkness and ends in darkness. That's a detail that some might not even register, much less consider important, but I feel that it lends Madman a particular vibe.
In tandem with that sense of perpetual night is the way the film seems to loop in on itself. As the film opens, a counselor named T.P. (Tony Fish) is singing about the legend of Madman Marz and as he walks around the campfire singing his song and passes the other counselors, we're shown a brief flash forward of each counselor's future brush with Marz. Of course, it's not news that most of these characters will meet a grisly fate during the course of the film but to be shown these precognitive flashes early on casts an effective pall of doom over the film. Close to the film's end, T.P.'s song is replayed as the camera pans across all the slain bodies in Marz's basement.
In calling back to that moment from the beginning, just as the opening of the film had peered into the future, it gives the film a circular feel, as though these characters exist within a narrative loop from which they never escape. For some reason, it puts me in mind of Amicus anthologies like Tales from the Crypt in which we discover that all the characters we met in the beginning have been dead from the start. But maybe that's just me.
Some might consider the generally cheap look of Madman to be a flaw but I think it adds to the film. Yes, the make-up on Marz (Paul Ehlers) looks about on par for what you'd see at a haunted hayride attraction and the splatter FX aren't nearly as polished as what Tom Savini or other skilled make-up artists were doing at the time but I think the slightly hokey look to both Marz and the gore helps the film from being unrelievedly grim. Without turning it into strictly camp, the detectable aura of artifice is just enough to give the film the feel of an enjoyable put-on. The fakery doesn't undercut the scares - it just allows the film to play out as spooky fun, rather than as unpleasant.
Most slasher films from the early '80s look pretty tepid by today's standards - even if they're still fun from a nostalgic standpoint. But Madman, to me, is still scary. Admittedly, some viewers might be immune to it simply because the slightest hint of amateur acting or dated fashions is enough to induce kneejerk peals of ironic laughter in some audiences (by the way, I'd like to award actress Jan Claire bonus points for expressing her terror in such a way as to make Veronica Cartwright's Alien performance look like a study in stoicism) but for those able to look past such things, Madman still works like, well, a madman.
Here's a glass raised in your honor, Marz. Salut!
Saturday, August 4, 2012
With so few frights to be found on the big screen, I've had to turn to the small screen for my fear fix. It hasn't been ideal but I've gotten hooked on SyFy's cheeseball supernatural shows School Spirits and Haunted Collector (I haven't caught up with Haunted Highway yet and figure I can just let that one pass). If you've seen these shows, you already know they're as hokey as they come but, hey, I like hokey. My son is seven, is already a horror fanatic, and these have been perfect shows to watch with him - they're just creepy enough that he feels he's seeing something cool but not so intense that he's traumatized.
School Spirits centers on "true" tales of school hauntings with present day interviews with the real participants paired with staged reinactments while Haunted Collector is about a crack crew of paranormal investigators comprised of some old guy, his grown daughter and son, and another dude or two, who determine which object in a home or workplace or whatever is generating unwanted spiritual activity and then they, um, spirit it back to their home base and put it safely in storage. I like Haunted Collector more just because its premise of haunted objects reminds me of Friday the 13th: The Series and all the cursed objects of that show. Sadly there's no one on Haunted Collector as hot as Robey or even hot, period, but whatever.
But as fun as they've been, it looks like School Spirits and Haunted Collector have merely been the warm-up for the real event of the summer - Paranormal Witness. I guess this, like Haunted Collector, aired its first season last summer but I wasn't paying attention at the time. Well, I'm watching now and the ads for Paranormal Witness look like pure hair-raising goodness. See for yourself, if you dare:
As the summer starts to wind down, the supernatural is finally seeping back onto the big screen with The Apparition and The Possession due to debut in the final weeks of August and while I'm sure glad to see them arrive I'm pretty thankful to SyFy for keeping the chills coming in the meantime.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Chief among its failings, Rises botches the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman. I know this is supposed to be Nolan's take on Batman so some leeway ought to be given for interpretation but under Nolan's guidance, Batman has become not so much a tireless crusader for justice but more of a self-pitying schlub who thinks nothing of sulking alone in his home for almost a decade. Yes, it's true that Bruce has given up on being Batman before in the comics - and in the world of animation - but it's always been due to either advancing age or some quickly resolved crisis of conscience concerning whether the Batman does more harm than good. Here, it's a lame combo of still being morose over the death of Rachel (!) as well as serving as the city's scapegoat for the death of Harvey Dent.
That last thing, by the way, is really asinine. Supposedly, after Dent's death, a piece of legislation known as The Dent Act was passed, making it possible for organized crime to be more easily prosecuted and before long, organized crime has been run out of Gotham entirely. But...isn't organized crime accustomed to working around the law? Isn't that part of the whole "crime" thing? And the plausibility of the Dent Act aside, even without organized crime, there'd still be plenty of old-fashioned disorganized crime to keep Batman busy. Just the idea of common criminals roaming the streets without fearing The Batman ought to be enough motivation for Bruce to keep donning the cowl at night, rather than spending the better part of a decade shuffling around Wayne Manor.
Not only do Nolan and co. have Bruce give up on crimefighting but they also have him all but abandon his own company and let all the potential good that could come from its charitable work fritter away (even the old, long retired Bruce Waynes of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and the animated series Batman Beyond were never shown as descending into cluelessness - the character was still portrayed as being sharp as a tack). If there's any way to make Batman look bad, Rises finds it. On top of retreating from both crime fighting and from managing Wayne Enterprises, Rises shows Bruce as being all but incompetent once he does get back in the game. Batman is supposed to be not just someone who has molded themselves into peak physical shape but is also one of the world's greatest detectives and, above all, a master strategist. In contrast to that, Rises gives us a Batman who is outplayed at every turn, taken by surprise over and over. Where Batman is supposed to be someone supremely on top of things, Nolan portrays him as always being a step behind.
Then there's also the confused politics of the film to contend with. Is this a film about the haves and the have-nots, a indictment of the 1%, or is it a kneejerk slamming of the Occupy movement? If anything, it seems like the latter as once Bane puts his plot in motion to isolate Gotham, the lower classes are portrayed as grasping greedy animals, swarming on the homes of the rich as the wealthy cower in fright. It's a grotesque cariacture of the OWS movement that Fox News itself would be proud of - the jealous poor getting revenge on all the people who have worked hard for their fortunes. This lines up with Nolan's curiously contemptuous view of Gothamites as sheep, easily led by a lie (Dent's legacy), and makes Rises seem like a simple-minded conservative jab at valid real world complaints about social and economic inequity.
Bane, certainly, doesn't represent any true political viewpoint. As much as, if not even more than, The Joker, he simply wants to watch the world burn. He's just lighting a much longer wick towards that end. His speeches about being for the oppressed are nothing but lip service meant to hide his true intentions and nowhere in Rises do we see any evidence of the people taking Gotham back. If anything, what we see is the police force reasserting themselves while "the people" do essentially nothing.
On a technical level, The Dark Knight Rises certainly looks just fine. But the storyline and the characterization of Batman (a big deal in a Batman film - in fact, a deal-breaker in my book) can't be defended. This is one of those movies that annoyed me on such a fundamental level that I could go through a whole laundry list of individual moments that had me rolling my eyes but that would just be piling on. Going forward, I'll just have to pretend that the series ended with The Dark Knight.
Finally, there's the matter of how guns are handled in this film. It wouldn't be fair to chastise the film for how it reflects against tragic real world events but it is fair to note that it goes against Batman's staunch anti-gun stance. Yes, Batman himself is still anti-gun and instructs Catwoman at one point - "No guns. No killing", to which Catwoman replies "Where's the fun in that?" but what really left a sour taste in my mouth is how at a crucial climatic moment, the use of a gun (a huge gun, of course) is allowed to end a battle, capped by a flip, "cool" comment to Batman to the effect of "That thing you have against guns? I don't have that." It's a moment that glibly undermines Batman's antipathy towards guns and his historic insistence on always finding a another, better way to deal with his foes. For any long-time Bat fan, it's a moment that will stick out as being wrong.
There's plenty of that kind of thing to go around in Rises, unfortunately. Having followed the character for many years through comics, TV, animation and film, I'm all for different interpretations of Batman but if you're going to just gut the core of the character, what's the point? The line "I Believe In Harvey Dent" echoed through the last two films in Nolan's trilogy but I just hope that whoever takes on the responsibility of rebooting this franchise down the line will be able to say "I Believe in Batman" and say it with real conviction.