Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best Of 2012

Another year in fear is ending so it's time to drum up a list of the best films of the year. Not such a tough task this year as 2012 wasn't short on decent genre films. My top five, plus a handful of honorable mentions, are over at Shock Till You Drop now. My extended thoughts on each film are at Shock but the titles are Cabin in the Woods, Dredd, The Pact, Prometheus, and Excision - all fine films in my book, even if I have a couple of critical qualms here and there.

A couple of 2012 films that I liked but failed to mention in my Shock piece are The Woman In Black and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The Woman In Black was on the tepid side but it was still a solid slice of supernatural hokum. If nothing else, I'll always hold it in great affection as the first big screen horror movie that I took my son to. As for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it was roundly derided by virtually everyone but I love that such a goofy subject was afforded such a lavishly produced film. I dig it when big expensive genre films that have absolutely no business being big expensive genre films (not if the people putting up the money ever expect to see it back, that is) get made and AL:VH is the best example of that in awhile. It's 100% sincere - a full-on action horror film without any tongue in its cheek, no matter how ridiculous it becomes, and I'm all for that.

All in all, it was a good year - but I have a feeling that 2013 will be an even better one. See you next year!

Superiority Complex

WARNING: We're going into full nerd mode here in talking about comic book shit. Proceed at your own peril!

Comic book history was made this week by Spider-Man scribe Dan Slott as he did the seemingly unthinkable - sending Peter Parker's soul or consciousness or whatever to that big ol' web in the sky while placing the brain waves of his long time arch nemesis Doctor Octopus in Peter's body.

It's the culmination of a storyline that had Ock on death's door for a few years in our real time but mere months in comic time. His body a ravaged, soon-to-expire husk, Doc Ock concocted a last ditch scheme to switch bodies with Spider-Man, leaving Peter Parker emtombed in Ock's dying body while Ock himself gained a new lease on life as Spider-Man.

Issue #700, where Peter makes a desperate final effort to switch back and fails, is touted as the final issue of Amazing Spider-Man, making way for the debut of Superior Spider-Man #1 next month. Fan outrage has naturally occured with many fans apoplectic over the change. On the surface, it's definitely a shock...but a skillfully executed one that promises an intriguing new status quo.

As a longtime Spidey fan, I have to say I love the audaciousness of this move. I know some fans are crestfallen at the thought of Spidey not just losing to Doc Ock but having his entire identity co-opted. But there are a few reasons why I'm welcoming the Superior era of Spidey.

1) You Can't Make An Omelette Without Breaking A Few Eggs
As with any long-running comic character, Spider-Man's greatest foe is stagnation. After 50 years of web-swinging, Spider-Man is more than due for a giant shake-up. Other status quo-shattering events have rocked Spidey's world in the past but never like this. The last big change for Spidey was the evaporation in 2007 of his longtime marriage to Mary Jane Watson via the malefic manipulation of Mephisto but while that led to a fine new era of Spidey comics, branded as a "Brand New Day," the removal of the marriage felt like exactly what it was - a revising of continuity in order to get the book in line with where the editorial team felt it needed to be. It led to good books, ones that recaptured the soap opera-esque Spidey vibe of old, but it came across like an effort to turn the clock back on Spidey, erasing the "mistake" of the marriage, rather than moving him into new territory. This, however, is the real Brand New Day.

2) Everything Old Is New Again
Having Ock in Peter's body trying to be the "Superior" Spider-Man offers a whole new way of looking at the world of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Ock may be trying to do good now but he's still an arrogant ego-maniac and his interactions with Spider-Man's cast of friends and foes is going to be entirely different than it has been previously. It doesn't take long to see the possibilities. For instance: how will Peter/Ock deal with having the other geniuses of the Marvel U like Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Reed Richards now as allies and colleagues rather than as adversaries? Will he be competitive with them in a way that Peter never was? Will he see them as professional rivals or will his mad scientist soul be changed by having these people now include him as a valued peer? Mostly, though, I'm excited by the potential run-ins with Spidey's rogue gallery. The idea of Ock going head-to-head with Norman Osborn is enough to give me nerd shivers of delight. We've seen Spider-Man and The Green Goblin fight many times over the years but never like this. It can't help but to be epic.

3) Slott's Lasting Legacy
Dan Slott has been the sole writer on The Amazing Spider-Man since November of 2010, after several years of being part of the revolving group of writers that formed a relay team of sorts during the Brand New Day era. Slott's solo stint on Spidey has been admirable, full of smart, rollicking adventures that have showcased Slott's love of the character. It's been exactly the kind of Spidey book you'd expect from a fan who got the chance to write the expoits of his childhood hero. It's always been a good run but at the same time it's always felt This doesn't, however. This is an overturning of the apple cart that feels like Slott is out not just to be the momentary caretaker of Spidey but someone who is going to leave a lasting mark on the book. It was easy to see the influence of past Spidey runs on Slott's ASM issues but with the Superior Spidey era, Slott is venturing into fresh territory. This is going to be where he really makes Spidey history and I'm excited to see it. It also doesn't hurt that Superior Spider-Man's rotating roster of artists are among the best in comics today - Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos and Giuseppe Camuncoli.

4) It's Comics, Man...No One Ever Really Dies
Finally, anyone who's actually agitated by these changes should remember that Spider-Man is not the first iconic superhero to meet what looks like a permanent end. Superman, Batman, Captain America - they've all bit the dust before and returned down the road. And in every case it was a fun journey to take. I'm sure this new Superior era of Spidey is well mapped out for the next year or two at least and I bet part of that plan involves Peter Parker. If it doesn't, oh well. I'm just eager to see where this new direction leads with no need of assurances on when or if it's going to end. So for now, make mine Superior.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cancelling The Apocalypse: Looking Ahead To 2013

2012 was touted in advance by the geek community as being The Greatest Geek Year Ever and with movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and Prometheus due to be released, how could it not have been? On paper, 2012 looked absolutely massive. In reality, it turned out to be just another year, filled with the usual ups and downs. All of which only makes it easy for 2013's more outwardly modest line-up to not look like a disappointment in comparison. Who knows - maybe it'll actually top 2012 when all is said and done.

Coming up with a list of which movies I'm most excited to see in 2013 was easy but as opposed to years past, I reduced my number of picks from my usual twenty to thirteen. Looking back at past lists, I always tended to get over enthusiastic and overstuff them with titles that never ended up coming out that year. Just from my 2012 picks alone, we're still waiting to see Lords of Salem, Texas Chainsaw 3D, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Dracula 3D, World War Z, Maniac, John Dies At The End and You're Next (almost none of which I still give a rat's ass about seeing) so I figure that this year I'll stick to stuff that has a firm guarantee of actually coming out in 2013.

Here's my picks:

1. The Evil Dead
The announcement that Sam Raimi and co. would be remaking their own seminal splatter film was greeted with the expected howls of outrage by the fan community. But now that some footage has been seen via trailers, the mood has shifted dramatically. And rightly so as it looks freaking good. Consider me excited.

2. Pacific Rim
As much as I like Guillermo del Toro, I always find that I enjoy interviews with him and hearing his thoughts as a fan more than I like his actual movies, which always fall just a notch or so short for me. I'm hoping that Pacific Rim will be one I really love, though. Giant Monsters vs. Giant Robots seems like a can't miss proposition.

3. Curse of Chucky
Jason and Friday the 13th will always have the top spot in my heart as far as horror franchises go. Nothing can trump my sentiment for that series but Chucky is right in there at #2. I'm a freak for all things Chucky so I'm overjoyed at the prospect of his return - especially with the promise that Curse of Chucky will bring the series back to its scarier roots.

4. The Conjuring
Some people loved Insidious, some people hated it. I really dug it myself so I'm very game to see James Wan tackle another supernatural shocker. Early word is that this is his best film to date so we'll see.

5. You’re Next
This home invasion tale is a hold over from last year's list but it looks like Lionsgate will be putting it out in August so fans can finally check this one out.

6. Stoker
I don't know how much of a full-on horror movie this will be but the trailers look creepy as hell and it's directed by Oldboy director Park Chan-wook so my interest is definitely piqued.

7. Mama
I tend to like the films that Guillermo del Toro produces a bit more than the ones he directs so that gives me plenty to hope for with this eerie-looking offering.

8. John Dies At The End
Another hold-over from last year's list, I'm super excited by all the advance praise that this funky-looking Don Coscarelli film has gotten from its festival screenings. This is actually coming to On Demand or whatever before the end of the year, I think, but what the hell - let's just call it a 2013 release anyhow.

9. The Quiet Ones
I greatly enjoyed The Woman In Black. It didn't set a new bar for horror or anything but it was a solidly made ghost yarn that reestablished the Hammer brand more effectively than the newly refounded studio's other recent efforts. I'm hoping that they'll have a strong follow-up to TWIB with this supernatural tale set in the '70s.

10. Warm Bodies
The trailer sold me on this one as I had no prior interest in this zombie love story. But it looks genuinely quirky and interesting so I've got my fingers crossed that it'll actually be good.

11. Ouija
Not much is known about this yet but I'm interested because this went from a big budget project that, I believe, was meant to be a more family-friendly action adventure to a very low budget project under the banner of Blumhouse Productions and I'd like to think that means that this film is going to be what it should've been from the start - a scary movie. With its October release date, this should be angling to be the next big Halloween franchise - especially with Blumhouse's Paranormal Activity films starting to flag a bit at the box office.

12. Bates Motel
I'm putting a TV show (due to air on A&E) on here just because I'm a major Psycho-phile and I'm curious to see how this "prequel" shapes up. I'm not sure that we needed any more of a backstory to Norman and his mother than we already saw in Psycho IV: The Beginning (and even that was not-so-necessary) but I'll definitely give this show a shot.

13. Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th
Landing at an appropriate #13 is this eagerly anticipated look at the Friday the 13th series, inspired by the indispensible book by Peter M. Brake. An earlier F13 doc, My Name is Jason, just didn't satisfy so hopefully this new one will be more along the lines of the amazing Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again. Elsewhere on the documentary front, I'm also hoping that Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films will make its bow in 2013.

Finally, it's landing off the list because I don't know if it's a 2013 release or not but I'd like to state my anticipation for Mockingbird, the long overdue follow-up from The Strangers director Bryan Bertino. I think it's crazy that it's taken five years for us to see another movie from this guy. Hopefully it'll still only be five - and not six or more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Feel Free To Not Read This

As a preface, let me say this: the following will not tell anyone anything they don't already know, educate them in any way, or sway them from that which they already believe. Given this, I encourage readers to simply ignore the below and come back when I start talking about movies, comics, or other trivial but very much-needed diversions again.


Recent events have left me numb, with little more to say or feel about what goes on in this world. It's awful to the point of absurdity that in the wake of children being gunned down in their elementary school classroom, a crime so heinous that it leaves a vacuum in one's soul just to hear of it, the next thought is to start to dread the next national atrocity. Because, inevitably, we know that something even more abominable and previously unthinkable than the shootings in Newtown will occur. None of us, and none of our predecessors on this planet, have ever lived in a safe world but come on - it's enough.

I'd like to hope that stronger gun control and increased care for the mentally ill will occur as a result of this but there are so many people who want to obstruct any kind of change, due to whatever their own beliefs are, that altering the path we're on - no matter how destructive that path may be - is next to impossible. Ideally, our social media age would lead to a greater national dialogue on tragic events and allow us to quickly reach a common consensus on how best to move forward as a people but outlets like Facebook and Twitter only show how divisive we've become. Maybe I'm part of that divisiveness myself but honestly - how can you sanely respond to anyone who thinks that the solution to a school shooting is to have more guns in schools? Most clear headed people do not want to be forced to live in the Wild West. We shouldn't have to ask our teachers to become armed guards in order to feel that our children are safe. To the maniacal, almost sociopathic, defense of the 2nd Amendment, past all point of reason...what can you say to that?

The mother of the perpetrator of the shootings in Newtown was a gun enthusiast and reportedly a doomsday survivalist - someone who would've balked at any legal effort to limit her guns because, surely, she would need every gun and every last bullet to defend her home when the government showed up on her doorstep to take away her freedom but yet the only real threat to her home and her life, one that wasn't fabricated in her own mind and likely acerbated by rightwing media, was the mentally ill child that she trained in the use of deadly firearms and who shot her in the face as she slept.

I usually feel a pang of empathy for the parents of the shooters in cases like this because raising a child is not easy nor is it an exact science and children can, despite their parent's best efforts, slip into their own darkness. But I do not feel that sort of empathy in this case. I just don't. That this woman thought it would be smart to give her mentally ill son, one who reportedly couldn't feel emotional or physical pain, access to and training in automatic weapons shows such a cataclysmic lack of judgement that my only thought towards her is to regret that so many others had to pay for her mistakes.

Saying that guns don't kill people and that anyone out to do harm will find some other means if guns aren't available just doesn't cut it. It's not acceptable to just say that these things will happen regardless so therefore it's pointless to do anything to attempt to prevent them. If we can make it a little harder for innocent people to be gunned down as they go about their business in theaters, in malls, in schools, and so on then it is evil not to do so.

I've said more about this subject than I'd planned to. I really didn't want to comment on it at all, in fact. But before moving on to other business, I felt compelled to - if only for the opportunity to vent. As the father of an elementary school age child, it's simply gutting to consider what happened in Newtown. What the people of that community are going do they begin to cope with it?

That's all. For those who might've read this, thanks for indulging me. We'll gather on a more upbeat note next time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Home For The Holidays

Luckily, I don't have much travelling to do during the holiday season as my family lives close by but the thought of people heading home for Thanksgiving brings to mind of one of my favorite Tales from the Darkside episodes - Season Two's "The Last Car."

An original story by Darkside's most prolific scribe, the late author Michael McDowell, "The Last Car" tells the tale of a college student named Stacey (Begonya Plaza), taking a late night train home on the day before Thanksgiving. After waiting alone on the train platform for what seems like forever, her ride finally arrives.

Making her way to the train's last car, Stacey tries to settle in for her trip but immediately it's clear that something isn't right. There's a rambunctious young boy (Scooter Stevens, who played John Cusack's younger brother in Better Off Dead), seemingly unchaperoned, who is constantly running back and forth in the car. Stranger is the fact that he seems to be in a different outfit each time Stacey sees him. First he's a cowboy, then a solider, then a astronaut. The car's other two passengers are a middle-aged man (familiar character actor Louis Guss) who carries with him a cardboard box with an inexplicably endless supply of snacks and sandwiches and a kindly old woman (Mary Carver, Arachnophobia) given to making cryptic comments.

As if Stacey's fellow passengers weren't unnerving enough, there's also the frequent tunnels that the train passes through that cause panic in the little boy and the fact that Stacey can see nothing but blackness outside the train's windows. And, that the train never stops at a single destination - even after hours of travelling.

Even a novice to the genre will be able to tell where "The Last Car" is heading without giving it much thought. But the episode unfolds in an appealingly eerie fashion and as many Darkside episodes leaned towards the whimsical and comical, "The Last Car" rates as one of the few installments of the series to go for straight scares. It's far more hokey than it is scary, but at least the attempt is there. And, personally, I find the hokiness of Darkside to be a comforting quality.

With its central character of a lone woman in transit, facing a supernatural mystery that seems to somehow hinge on her, this episode bears a spiritual kinship with the classic Twilight Zone episode "The Hitchhiker" in which a woman travelling alone never gets to where she means to but discovers she's already got to where she's going.

We never learn much about Stacey or what her home is like but this Darkside episode that embodies the low-rent aesthetic of the show and its ghoulish but genial demeanor always feels like "home" to me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience

I suppose I should ease off from being jazzed at every new bit of marketing for the Evil Dead remake but when it all looks so good, how can I help myself? The poster was just released and, thanks to the unabashed boast that it sports, it's just plain awesome. I love that they're coming right out and hyping this movie to the moon.

One, it implies a certain level of confidence in the product, which is reassuring. Two, the kind of hyperbole that this poster traffics in is the kind of hucksterism that used to be commonplace in selling horror films but has sadly fallen out of fashion since the early '80s or so.

Horror films used to be sold on the promise that they would be an endurance test for the audience, that a film would fry viewers nerves to a crisp, that it would physically rip the screams from their throats. You know, that sort of thing. And that brand of ballyhoo wasn't just reserved for William Castle-type stuff or drive-in fare, either.

Check out this trailer for David Cronenberg's The Brood:

"A Film So Terrifying It Will Devastate You Totally!" Holy Shit! Now that's a bold claim! Why horror films stopped getting sold in such a winning manner, I don't know but I sure am glad to see The Evil Dead bringing a little bit of old school audacity back to horror marketing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Season's Greetings

Here we are at the end of October - the fastest 31 days of the calendar year! To celebrate the occasion, the latest Retro Shock Theater column is devoted to the dark horse of the Halloween franchise - 1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch. For anyone old enough to remember the reception that SotW recieved back in the day, it's kind of mind-boggling to see the (still growing) fan following it commands today.

SotW was a movie I had skipped seeing for years, simply because it had such a toxic reputation, but when I finally saw it on TV in the late '80s, it really jumped out at me as being a cool little movie with a funky sensibility. The bait and switch by Universal was truly kind of bullshit but over time the movie has had a chance to be judged on its own merits.

Even with its improved reputation, however, the love for SotW is by no means universal. Some fans are still pissed that this doesn't have Michael Myers in it. Seeing as there's been, like, seven movies since SotW with Michael in them to still be upset about the one movie that didn't include him seems, um, I don't know - deranged, I guess.

Anyhow, I really dig the movie. I hope you do too.

And in honor of the insidiously addictive Silver Shamrock commercial, I'm posting some of my favorite retro Halloween spots.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Evil That Men Re-Do

So, as I'm sure everyone reading this already knows by now, the red band trailer for the Evil Dead remake was released earlier this week to mostly rapturous response. I'm sure not every fan is on board with this still because Bruce Campbell isn't starring in it or whatever but whaddya gonna do? I was all for this even before the trailer so I just feel that much more stoked now.

As remakes go, it's galling when cheeseballs like Michael Bay cash in on a much-loved property like A Nightmare on Elm Street but with The Evil Dead, not only are the original players involved (which worked out well when Wes Craven oversaw the remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left) but there is, I believe, a good reason (other than crass commerce) to bring back The Evil Dead for a new generation.

As great and as classic as the original is, it hasn't aged so well. Movies of roughly the same vintage, like Halloween or Alien, still can play for a new audience and not suffer too much from being dated. You couldn't do the same with The Evil Dead, though. Of all the Evil Dead movies, it's the one that doesn't hold up so well. It has a charm to it still but it's more unintentionally corny now than it is scary.

The thing is, that's not how The Evil Dead played back in '83. Back then, it seemed like the ne plus ultra of splatter cinema. Or, as the end credits described it, "the ultimate experience in grueling horror." It was a movie that was intimidating in its reputation and that absolutely lived up to the hype. I don't know anyone who was around back when The Evil Dead was first released who didn't regard it as a legitmately scary movie. The sequels took a different route and were great in their own right but I think a return to a truly frightening take on The Evil Dead is a good thing.

It's just such a classic set-up, such a classic horror movie premise - kids in an isolated cabin who find themselves possessed one by one by demons until only a last survivor remains - why not bring it back for a new generation and try to make the best version of that tale possible? You know, as much as Cabin in the Woods was acclaimed by some, it really didn't do much for me.

I dug the menagerie of monsters in the last leg of the movie and chuckled at the apocalyptic conclusion but other than that, I wasn't all that taken with it. I liked it, but didn't love it.

My preferences in horror generally lie in favor of movies that play it straight-up - the real thing rather than a deconstruction. And, so far at least, the new Evil Dead is looking very much like The Real Thing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The HorrorDads' Halloween Horror-Thon 2012: All Treats, No Tricks

One of these Octobers maybe I'll knuckle down and blog like my life depended on it but this year it's been just like years past where I pretty much vanish for the entire month. I always have the intention to not do that but then October happens and, hey, there's only 31 days to soak it all in! So much to see! So much to do! Anyhow, as the days counting down to Halloween quickly dwindle down to zero, the HorrorDads have been called together by head Ho-Dad Richard Harland Smith to program our individual dream Halloween triple bills.

The parameters were that the first choice be suitable for kids, the second be for seasonal, or casual, horror viewers, and the final pick be for the hardcore horror lifers.

Go visit Movie Morlocks to see what kind of Halloweens RHS, Dennis Cozzalio, Greg Ferrara, Paul Gaita, Nicholas McCarthy, and myself all have in mind!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sinister Sights

It's not often that mainstream American horror actually freaks me out. I enjoy it (well, some of it) but it's mostly junk food and I enjoy it on that level. I can't say that Sinister disturbed me in the way that recent foreign fare like I Saw The Devil has but it unsettled me more than I would've expected so I rate that as a notable accomplishment.

It's not a perfect film but its flaws fade in importance next to the ruthless approach taken by director Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill. These guys were clearly out to make a serious horror movie and they succeeded admirably.

The plot is straight out of Horror 101. Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime author, has seen his career take a prolonged dip after his one big success ten years prior. Chasing another win, he moves his wife and two young kids into a house in which the previous family came to a grisly end. Ellison has neglected to tell his family that the specific house they've moved into was the scene of the very crime he's writing about but if this book pans out the way Ellison hopes, all will be forgiven. Despite these good intentions, it shouldn't surprise anyone when I say moving into the house proves to be a lousy idea.

Ellison discovers a box in the attic containing a Super 8 movie projector along with several reels of film. Ellison starts screening these films in the privacy of his office and he sees not just glimspes of family gatherings but also the horrific murders of these families. Ellison at first starts to call the police about this discovery but then opts to keep it to himself, believing that this will be his true ticket to fame.

The more Ellison delves into the mystery of these films and the history behind these various murders, the worse things get. Soon, Ellison is experiencing weird hallucinations and whatever is going on is seeping into his kid's minds as well with both his son and daughter showing signs of knowing about past events in the house.

Like I said, the story isn't much and anyone with even a passing familiarity with the horror genre won't be surprised by the basic path that Sinister takes. What elevates it is the abundance of disturbing imagery, an almost single-mindedly grim approach that's rare in US horror, and Christopher Young's striking score. As much as certain elements in Sinister are overly familiar (the movie freely cribs from various sources - the most obvious being The Shining and Manhunter) and as much as characterization is a mixed bag, my inner skeptic was continually forced to sit down and shut up by how well Derrickson mounts his shocks.

Some of the big scares are spoiled by the trailers but I'm not complaining. In fact, knowing a few moments were coming in advance probably saved me from being wheeled out of the theater on a gurney. Sinister isn't a film that gets everything right but it delivers dread with a sure hand.

If you're looking for something scary to see in the theaters this October (and if you're reading this blog, you're probably always looking for something scary to see in theaters) I don't see how you could do much better than Sinister.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dredd Tidings

Back in my days of working at video stores, it would be common for a customer to come in asking for something "good," as if that were a simple request to fill - oblivious to the fact that when it comes to movies (or any kind of entertainment, really), everyone has a different definition of "good." Case in point: Dredd. Or, Dredd 3-D.

I absolutely loved the shit out of this movie but I'm guessing it doesn't hold a lot of broad appeal. It's the second try at adapating a cult comic book whose greatest audience lies in its home base of the UK and it stars the talented but not terribly well-known Karl Urban (Bones, in the Star Trek reboot) who, for the entirety of the movie, wears a helmet that hides all but his mouth. Oh, and it's violent - just a full-on bloodbath.

So, for general audiences, this may not pass for "good" but for the cult crowd - the comic book freaks, the action junkies, the sci-fi nerds - this is practically tailor made. As many have noted, there's great similarities between Dredd's plot and that of the Indonesian fave The Raid from earlier this year but it's a total coincidence and as close as their plots are (both involve police having to make their way to the upper floors of an apartment tower, through a gauntlet of thugs), neither feels like a weaker copy of the other.

With The Raid, the focus was on elaborate hand-to-hand combat while Dredd is more about non-stop shoot outs. Dredd is a member of a futuristic police force called the Judges and his weapon is a voice-activated gun equippped with multiple functions. Dredd's partner is a rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who he's assigned to assess. Anderson's scores techinically would've kept her out of consideration for being a judge but as she has the rare advantage of being a psychic, those scores will be overlooked pending Dredd's decision.

On their first day together, Dredd and Anderson respond to a call from the 200-story Peach Trees apartment complex and before long, the simple arrest of a suspected gang member leads the drug lord known as Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) - the unofficial overlord of Peach Trees - to put the entire building under lock down and call for the assassination of the judges. It's up to Dredd and his inexperienced partner to survive and bring Ma-Ma to justice. Or better yet, bring justice to Ma-Ma.

The screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), is simple but in a very smart, efficient way. I forget exactly what the big scheme of the villian was in the Stallone version of Dredd but I seem to remember it was something grandiose - something that would've changed life in Mega-City forever had it succeeded. In contrast, what plays out in Dredd is just a day in the life. You get the feeling that whatever call Dredd and Anderson would've answered to, it would've been just as brutal as their trip to Peach Trees. You also sense that this is not an unusual day for Dredd. With all that's going on, he never loses sight of the fact that this is supposed to be Anderson's test as a judge. When the shit hits the fan, he doesn't simply take over but frequently asks Anderson to make the call on what their next move should be. He keeps his cool under fire and expects Anderson to as well.

Director Pete Travis is mostly known from British TV and while there's been rumors that Garland took over the editing of Dredd from Travis, the movie doesn't betray any signs of a troubled production. It comes across as a tightly concieved piece of work. Based on its US box office, I'm guessing we shouldn't expect a sequel any time soon - at least not one that'll reach theater screens in this country. But that's ok. Dredd isn't for everybody. I do wish it had done bigger business but then again, with so many nerdy properties becoming huge these days, it's kind of comforting to see something that's best appreciated by the true geeks of this world.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Manimal: The Movie

If you went back in time and told my fourteen year old self in 1983 that in the year 2012 a Manimal movie would be in the works, I'd be like "Holy shit - the future is gonna be freakin' awesome!!"

As it turns out, the future is pretty shitty but on behalf of my fourteen year old self, I'm delighted by the prospect of a Manimal film. I'm highly skeptical that it'll ever come to be but just the fact that it's being seriously considered is hilarious.

During its eight episode run in 1983, Manimal (the brain child of producer Glen A. Larson) was must-see TV for me. I was old enough to be aware of how cheeseball it was but come on, it was a show about a crime solving professor aiding the police on cases who also had the ability to turn into whatever animal he chose to. That's such a cool concept that it instantly overrode any flaws in the execution. Genre TV is so serious now but back in the day, Manimal was aimed at a blissfully unsophisticated audience of kids who just wanted to see star Simon MacCorkindale transform at least twice an episode.

The FX for Manimal were handled by superstar to be Stan Winston and while MacCorkindale's character of Jonathan Chase had the ability to change into any animal, he mostly stuck with a panther and hawk. Because it was so costly to produce the show's FX, they couldn't do a different on-screen transformation for every animal Chase turned into so they tended to just recycle the same footage over and over. It got a bit repetitive, yes, but this was back when prosthetic makeup was all the rage with films like The Howling and An American Werewolf in London so to see the same sort of thing on TV was a big deal - especially if you were too young to see those R-rated movies.

With CGI, there's no limitations to how many animals Chase can change into in a feature film but while the main selling point of the show was its then-cutting edge FX, another CGI-fest doesn't seem like it would stand out at all. However they end up going with this movie, though, as soon as it hits screens, it's already a win for Team Manimal. Automan is waiting patiently in the wings as we speak...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Old Man Jenke

As of today, Dinner with Max Jenke is half a decade old. It's been five years since I inaugarated this blog back on September 12th, 2007 - that's practically an eternity in blogosphere time. A huge thanks to everyone who's stopped by to read and comment over the last five years - it's much appreciated.

I don't go back and look over old posts - mostly because I don't want to be confronted with my shortcomings as a writer - so I can't say how much, if at all, things have evolved or changed here over the past five years but I'm guessing that the picture that emerges of me is of a consistently middlebrow fan. I don't have esoteric tastes, I'm not especially intellectual (if at all), and I can't resist the allure of fair-to-middling genre efforts. That's my sweet spot right there. Hell, after I post this, there's a very strong chance I'll pop in my disc of The First Power. Or maybe Shocker. I don't know. God, I wish there was some beer in the fridge. That'd help me make up my mind.

When I started this blog I was still a fresh-faced thirtysomething. Now I'm a still moderately fresh-faced fortysomething. Every year, I wonder if this'll be the year when I finally get fed up with the current crop of horror and become disengaged as a fan but it hasn't happened yet. Sure, I don't love everything and there's plenty out there - including stuff that other fans embrace - that makes me roll my eyes in an exaggerated fashion but I like rolling my eyes in an exaggerated fashion.

More than that, though, I like coming across some new horror movie or TV show that reminds me of why I love the genre in the first place.

So here's to that. Cheers!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Here Comes The Broom

I have to say, I've been a little worried about myself lately. You see, for the first time since I've been old enough to get to a movie theater on my own, I skipped a new horror movie. If I tell you that movie was The Apparition, you might say "Duh, why wouldn't you skip it?" But that's the thing - I don't usually show that level of adult discretion. If a new horror film opens, I'm there - regardless of whether I suspect that it might not be the second coming of The Exorcist. I'm all about going into each movie with the intent to enjoy it for whatever it's worth. Sometimes a movie will break me of those intentions (I'm looking at you, Creature) but I'm always ready for the next ride.

With The Apparition, though, I just couldn't bring myself to go. You'd think that given how dry the summer has been horror-wise, I would've jumped at it but with The Possession due in theaters the following week, it didn't seem worth breaking the horror drought for the lesser of the two films. While that may seem like the sensible move, I've never been about being sensible when it comes to being a devoted horror geek. The fact that I couldn't be bothered to see The Apparition left me just a little bummed. I showed an ability to not waste my time with a movie that was almost certainly a piece of garbage and that uncommon act of willpower made me think I had turned a corner in my life. I was finally a discriminating, clear-eyed genre connoisseur - something I actually never really wanted to be.

Luckily, unexpected salvation arrived for me this week in the form of the trailer for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

As soon as I laid eyes on this trailer and felt an involuntary rush of excitment at - among other things - the sight of witches on brooms flying into a zig zag of wires stretched across trees, I knew that my experience with The Apparition had been nothing more than a fluke. Most people will look at this trailer and, with good reason, ask "Who would ever go see this shit?" while I'm grinning in giddy anticipation.

Yes, I have a strong hunch that it won't be such a great movie. Hell, let's be honest - it looks like a complete train wreck. But what fun is there in making such an obvious observation?

Some might say people like myself are fools, rushing headlong to see films we know full well will be disasters and, you know, they'd have a point. But on the other hand I take comfort in the fact that a lifetime of seeing bad movies hasn't made me into a cynic.

I probably made the right call about The Apparition, though.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Evil Wears Many Faces

Coming of age during the glory days of horror franchises in the '80s made me soft-hearted towards shitty horror sequels so I'm already predisposed to giving the latest installment in the Chainsaw saga (due January '13) a fair shake but that said, the above poster piques my interest in the new Chainsaw an extra notch.

I don't know what kind of approach I expected the marketing for this movie to take but this is definitely grislier than I expected so thumbs-up for that. Back when the '03 remake was released, the poster was a real ho-hum affair. Remember?

I guess they were trying to stay classy, what with remaking a classic, but when you're working with one of the most brilliantly exploitative titles in the history of horror, why not incorporate that spirit of exploitation in your advertizing? After all, it worked for the original:

To be fair, we're talking entirely different times. And hey, the remake's poster was still arguably better than the poster for TCM 2, which - for reasons I don't think have ever been explained - spoofed The Breakfast Club.

But anyhow, back to this new poster...

It's ironic that the most graphically gruesome Chainsaw poster yet is for the first film in the franchise to have no Massacre in the title but dropping "Massacre" is no more offensive than squeezing another buck out of Hooper's masterpiece in the first place so I'll let it slide.

My reaction to this poster is pretty simple - I like how straight-up nasty it is. It reminds me of the kind of garish VHS box art that would've demanded that I take a movie home back in the day. It revels in surface level grossness rather than promising to explore true terror (we'll see how the film itself is) but my inner adolescent will always have room for crassly marketed horror.

As genre franchises go, Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn't have the best track record but it's no Howling or Return of the Living Dead either. It's true that post-Hooper, there's never been a great TCM movie but when you're talking horror sequels, "great" seldom enters into the equation. Sometimes the closest you get to that is with the marketing material.

That's not ideal, but you've got to take great where you can get it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Foggy Memories

Most of my fondest memories of watching horror movies come from the days of watching the ABC Friday Night Movie and the ABC Sunday Night Movie.

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

Fifty Years Of Web-Spinning

Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring the debut of Spider-Man courtesy of writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, was cover dated August 1962. That means it was probably actually on sale in June of that year but as August was the month on the cover, Marvel is honoring Spidey's anniversary this month with Amazing Spider-Man #692, on sale this week.

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.

The action elements of the new Spider-Man film are its weakest component (in this regard, Raimi's panache is especially missed) but the characters and the emotions are dead-on and as much as I liked Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, I much prefer Andrew Garfield's portrayal. And Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is arguably the best love interest in any superhero film to date. I also loved how effortlessly Spidey's mechanical web-shooters are introduced. In the Raimi films, they were replaced with organic shooters because Raimi feared mechanical web-shooters would stretch credulity too much and it would take too much time to convince an audience that this high school kid could concieve of such a thing. In the new film, it only takes about a single scene to show the invention of the web-shooters and it never seems like it's asking the audience to buy into anything outrageous. Which, mostly, I think is due to the fact that audiences have become that much more accepting of comic book material over the past ten years. You don't have to work so hard anymore to get them onboard with the same stuff the fans have accepted for years.

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.

As for this week's anniversary issue, Spidey scribe Dan Slott takes things back in spirit to Amazing Fantasy #15 with Peter attending another scientific experiment on high school grounds but this time as a professional scientist giving a demonstration.

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.

It's a safe bet that I won't be around to celebrate Spidey's 100th anniversay but it's an equally safe bet to say that the character will be every bit as popular when that date rolls around as he is today.