Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Grave Encounters

NetFlix 3.5/5
IMDB 6.1/10
My Rating: 6/10

For their ghost hunting reality show, a production crew locks themselves inside an abandoned mental hospital that's supposedly haunted - and it might prove to be all too true.

Anyone who's ever done any business traveling is probably familiar with those "ghost hunting" shows that litter cable TV.  You know the drill - You're in a strange city, it's after hours, there's nothing to do and you don't want to blow $45 sitting in the hotel bar looking pathetic.  Instead, you flip through the TV channels and are reminded instantly of why no one pays $85 a month for cable TV anymore... It's wretched.  200 channels of reality shows and commercials will illustrate in a heartbeat just how out of touch that HBO exec was who claimed that cord-cutting was just "a passing fad".  And as you channel surf, one type of program you're almost bound to stumble over is the "ghost hunting" show... They seem to be on every frickin' channel now.  

These things are all the same, whether they're hunting ghosts, aliens, or Bigfoot.  A bunch of eager young 20-somethings go to a remote location and stumble around in the dark uttering lines like, "I feel something.  I definitely feel something here." and, "I just sensed a cold presence move through the room."  You know going in that they're not about to discover anything remotely provable or you'd already have heard about it on the real news, so instead you suffer through a half hour of Blair Witch wannabes freaking out over house-settling noises and random breezes.  I can usually stand about five minutes of these shows before I flip over to watch the infomercial about treadmills.

Grave Encounters, then, is both a clever idea and a "ghost hunter" hater's wet dream - A horror movie built around the cast of a ghost hunting show being driven insane and slaughtered by discovering very real ghosts.  "Grave Encounters" is the title of their ghost hunting program and it's just like all the real ones - They go to a "haunted" location, slip the locals a few bucks to dramatize some stories about past encounters, and then hole up inside the haunted spot for a night of jumping at shadows and generally making fools of themselves. And it's blackly funny, too - The cast and crew make no bones about how much they're going to have to "sex up" the location to make their show scary, and wearily laugh off any pretense that what they're selling on video might be true.

The movie is a recording of what happens when the Grave Encounters crew goes to investigate a haunted asylum.  They get the usual dire warnings from the caretaker, they set up their cameras and "ghost detecting" equipment, and then we're off...  And that's where the movie really gets good.

(I should point out that this is another "found footage" movie.  I tend to dislike these things because the handicam shakes make my stomach gurgle, but this is definitely a superior example of the sub-genre.  Static camera positions give us welcome relief from the constant bobbing of hand cams, and it's really less frenetic and jump cut-ish than many traditional moves I've seen lately.  Quantum of Solace, anyone?)

For dramatic reasons, they lock themselves in for the night, then regret it as it becomes obvious that for once, this isn't just another haunted house fake.  Things go bump in the night, indeed.  And this is what I loved about the movie - You get to see the cocky TV ghost hunters come absolutely unglued by encountering an actual horror... It's like the episode of "ghost hunter" TV that you've always wanted to see.  And it's beautifully subtly done, too - For the majority of the movie we're in Haunting territory, where the quiet click of a door closing by itself is far creepier than any CGI monster.  I give the film high praise in bestowing the "Made the hair on my arms stand up" award... Several times, in fact.  As the crew become increasingly unhinged, you're pulled right along with them through this Very Long Dark Night via their camera recordings and flash photographs.  It's a really terrific experience.

And then you hit the final act.

The last 20 minutes or so drops the movie at least 2 points on my ratings scale, because it jumps its own shark.  After a wonderfully creepy middle section, it seems to lose track and can't decide if it wants to be [REC], Blair Witch, or Lord of the Flies.  Chilling "Did you just see that?" moments become screaming ghost attacks and the scare factor vanishes like a pebble into the well of Donald Trump's ego.  It's entertaining right to the end, mind, and I'd certainly recommend it for anyone looking for a fun haunted house movie with some quality shocks... It's just a bit frustrating because it came so, SO close to being a really great film.  Still, you get to see a "ghost hunter" cast go insane and die, and who wouldn't enjoy that?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Now that we've hit December, it's time for the yearly KFP holiday greeting card!  For the full-size version, click HERE.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ready Player One (A Book Review)

My Rating: 8/10

A change of pace for a moment - I just finished reading this and wanted to post a review because I suspect it's a book that will tickle any KFP reader. "Ready Player One" was terrific. I listened to the audiobook read by Wil Wheaton and I don't even know where to begin in describing it. If you're my age (40-something), if you like 80's movies or music, if you like anime, if you're a MMORPG gamer, if you're a tabletop gamer, if you're ANY of these things, then you will probably really enjoy it. It is an unbelievable mixer of geek culture references.

It's about a grim future where most of the planet spend their time inside the Oasis, an endless MMORPG universe which is user-modifiable, so custom-created planets exist for pretty much anything one can imagine or ever liked (There are entire planets based on Ultraman lore, for instance). The creator of all this has died and left his virtual empire (and trillions of real dollars) to whoever can figure out his ultimate puzzle, an adventure laid out in riddles, gates, and pop culture references from the 70's-90's. Young hero Wade is an avid but poor gamer who has a manic fixation on the riddle, and who manages to unravel the first part of the clues to start him onto the long path to the prize. Along the way, it references everything you can think of, seriously.


Ultraman Godzilla Rush Highlander Ghostbusters Nostromo TRS-80s Adventure Colossal Cave Tabletop D&D Tomb of Horrors Pat Benatar Defender Shogun Warriors... Hell, I could be typing all night. Suffice to say that if you like the idea of running through a virtual Tomb of Horrors to track down the priests of the temples at Syrinx to find Alex Lifeson's guitar embedded in an altar stone waiting to be drawn and played with the right notes to summon the Schoolhouse Rock spirits, then you'll probably enjoy this book. And not all of that is in the book, I made parts of that sentence up so as not to spoiler things, but it's actually about 1/100000th the level of geek culture overload that the book will hit you with.

It's great. Funny, very clever, and always in motion. Wade has to not only compete with his in-game friends but also stay a step ahead of the requisite Evil Corporation that is intent on winning the prize and then monetizing the hell out of the Oasis (Why NOT have to pay for every login and sit through 15 minutes of McDonald's commercials before your gaming session starts?).

Oh, and a non-spoiler to give some of the flavor of the ideas involved - The Oasis is not just for gaming, Wade goes to school there also, on a non-PvP planet dedicated to education by the government. The gov can create school after school so no more budget limitations, which means the in-game schools are majestic cathedrals. A class consists of students logging in and appearing in the school, then assembling in their classroom which can then become the surface of Europa, if the lesson of the day is on other planets. They can walk across computer models of Venus and Pluto, tour the bottom of the ocean, or step directly into recreations of classic literature to experience the stories firsthand. This is the virtual campus of the book's future. After school, you can hang out on planetary recreations of Ringworld, Middle Earth, Star Trek starbases, or spend your time kicking back in Buckaroo Banzai's lab.
Negatives?  There isn't a lot of character depth aside from the geek reference avalanche.  Wade and his friends are basically young, virtuous good guys and the romantic subplot is fairly standard, as is everyone and everything about EvilCo Inc.   Age-wise, it's appeal is a tough guess. People 35-50 will probably enjoy it the most, and anyone much younger will probably miss a lot of the in-references... BUT they'll be more familiar with the SF VR gaming culture of the story, so it might even out. Hell, there were references in this that I didn't get, and I caught the comments about the original "Chainmail" editions of pre-D&D. You will appreciate this the most if you have an exhaustive knowledge of everything 80's and can quote movie lines from "Wargames". If you can't hum at least 4 or 5 Schoolhouse Rock songs off the top of your head, you'll probably be lost.  These are minor complaints, though, because this is not a book about the depths of the human heart - It's a wild vacation through Nostalgia Land and reading it is like spending an evening pumping quarters into an arcade machine at the pizza parlor all over again.

West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Norliss Tapes (1973)

NetFlix 2.9/5
IMDB 6.5/10
My Rating: 7.5/10

I haven't featured a guest review in a while, so I thought it was time for another - Especially since I've been so incredibly busy lately with work and the KFP web comic that I haven't had time to keep up with the movie reviews as I'd like.  This KFP guest review comes to you from my friend Joel Schama, and he managed to pick one of my favorite 70's made-for-TV horror flicks to kick off with.  I'll drop in a few comments of my own, and put my commentary in green...  and now, over to Joel!

The Norliss Tapes, circa 1973, directed and produced by William F. Nolan of Dark Shadows fame (and directed by my childhood favorite, Dan Curtis!), is a Night Gallery meets Kolchak: The Night Stalker pastiche. The story begins with David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) being unable to even begin a book he has been commissioned to write one year prior. Following David’s disappearance, his publisher finds stacks of tapes upon which David recorded the events of his investigation. Hoping these will provide clues as to Norliss’s whereabouts, his publisher begins to listen to the first tape.

The story unfolds following David’s descent into the realm of attempting to debunk certain paranormal activities, only to find himself within a situation that his skeptical mind finds most difficult to believe. Norliss’s character narrates the film throughout, juxtaposed with scenes of the actual events. Much in the same way Kolchak: The Night Stalker presents itself.

(The key...and unfortunate... difference for me between this and Night Stalker is in the main characters. Norliss Tapes was a terrific movie but it never had the cultural impact of Night Stalker, and I put a lot of that down to Norliss vs Kolchak - Roy Thinnes gives a good performance in a fairly dry and serious role, and that's his problem.  Kolchak the character was one of horror's all-time greats.  He was a loud, raucous, scenery-chewing loser you just had to cheer for, and IMO that made him a lot more fun to watch than Norliss, alas...)

In his attempt to debunk the occult, his research leads him to a wealthy widow (played by Angie Dickinson) who believes her husband no longer resides within the crypt within which his body was entombed. Her husband’s final wish was to be buried with the scarab ring of Osiris; a ring bought from an antique dealer specializing in the occult, which he believed would help grant immortality. Left only with Norliss’s tapes, his publisher continues to search for reasons for David’s disappearance.

Throughout the movie, the widow Ellen’s undead husband is seen only by his victims; victims later found by the sheriff (Claude Akins) to have a pale pallor, the explanation of which can only be attributed to the complete and total lack of blood!

The scarab purchased by Ellen’s husband, it is later shown, was for the purpose of allowing him to rise from the dead in order to finish his sculpture of Sargoth. By combining the blood of his victims with the clay, the Sargoth would gain entrance into our world and grant him immortality. Or so he believes.

(And just as an addendum, I saw this when it first aired, when I was only a wee little 7 year old Kentucky Fried Popcorn.  It scared me senseless.  One of my most frightening memories of the film was the underground tunnel lair of our vampire, which was strewn with the pale corpses of his victims - Heady stuff for a TV movie!)

We, as viewers, are left at the end not knowing what really happened to David Norliss, or what was to come after the Sargoth was brought forth into our dimension. However, if you enjoy 70’s made for television horror movies, and don’t mind an ambiguous ending, then this is one you must not miss.  

Ask me for my favorite 70's TV horror films and you'll get a list of three - Night Stalker, Norliss Tapes, and Spectre.  There were plenty of other good ones, but those are the Big Three to my mind, and every one is something I can watch again and again and still enjoy.  In fact, I think I'll go dig out my DVD of this now...

Monday, September 10, 2012

T.A.G. - The Assassination Game

NetFlix Not Available
DVD Purchase HERE for $8
IMDB 5.8/10
My Rating: 7/10

A campus newspaper reporter is drawn into a college game of TAG by his attraction to one of the players.  Through her, he becomes immersed in the world of play-killers and spies, until the two of them stumble into the path of a deranged murderer stalking the gamers.

Let's rewind to the early 80's, 1982 to be exact.  Back then, one of the raging controversies of the nation was WHAT to do about these satanic, suicide-provoking, heavy metal-infested role-playing games that were becoming so popular.  TV newscasters and sermonizers predictably freaked the fuck out and warned of impending social collapse if your kid was playing tabletop D&D with his buddies in the spare room - Never mind that you'd think it would be a parent's dream-come-true if their teen opted to stay home and do something that didn't involve drinking, drugs, or stoplight racing.  For a period of several years, we were bombarded with continual negative press regarding D&D, with the media seizing on every possible scare story to drum it it into a national issue.  Rona Jaffe's infamous "Mazes and Monsters" was an onerous example.  Today it's rightly considered a laughingstock by the RPG community, and looked back at much as we view Reefer Madness, but at the time people actually took this nonsense seriously.  In fact, I still attribute one of my earliest anti-religious jolts to a sermon I sat through where the preacher was ranting about the "satanic ills" of D&D while waving a copy of the Monster Manual in the air, howling, "There are DEMONS and WITCHES in here!"

Well, yes, but the same is true of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and for the same reason.

I vividly recall looking at the guy and thinking, "If this minister is so utterly, demonstrably clueless about what he considers a driving moral issue, WHY are we sitting here listening to him tell us how to live every Sunday?"  More potently, it was an example of just how stupid one can look if they get exercised about something that they have no understanding of.  I realize this is heavy stuff for a movie review, but it plays into why I enjoyed TAG so much at the time.

Alongside D&D, we also played a lot of Killer, one of the first live-action RPGs, in both high school and college.  Killer involved each player receiving the name of another player, their target, who they then had to stalk and "kill" with a toy gun until there was only one champion left.  As one can imagine, this was a blast.  TAG riffs on this concept with a group of college students cheerfully playing assassins. And while one of the players does go off the deep end, TAG was unusual at the time for portraying the players not as unstable, needy, friendless misfits, but rather as just ordinary kids looking for a little excitement.  This was so refreshing that I loved the movie to death, and it still remains a personal favorite of mine today.

The movie centers around a college newspaper reporter of the cigar-smoking, Chandler-reading, hopelessly romantic variety who has a mysterious encounter with Linda Hamilton, a player in TAG.  Ahh, Linda...

Linda Hamilton has never BEEN more gorgeous than she is in this movie, and she's able to convey a sort of sultry, film noir, femme fatale vibe that is far beyond her years.  She's just another player, a psych major who's looking for a fun time after hours, and our hero joins up with her because A) he is hopelessly smitten, and B) he is looking for a story for his newspaper.  This leads him, and the viewers, into the game world of TAG and we get to meet a lot of wildly varying players and the bizarro gamemaster who runs the show.  Speaking of, he's hilarious and steals his scenes effectively.  Anyone who's ever played a Killer-type game will recognize this guy immediately:

Our other main character is Gersh, the reigning TAG champion, played by Bruce Abbott (Yep, the Re-Animator guy) in his first starring role.  When an attempted shower assassination goes badly for him, our man Gersh goes off the deep end and begins taking his gaming way too seriously... murdering one student player after another and marking them off his "Kill" list until the inevitable face-off with Linda and Bruce.  Thankfully, it isn't played off as another god-awful "Gaming makes you unbalanced" message-movie - It's pretty obvious that Gersh is not all there from the start, and the game simply gives him a method for his madness.  The second half of the film is basically an 80's slasher with guns instead of knives as Gersh kills his way through the cast.

So why do I love it so much?  It was written and directed by genre legend Nick Castle, for starters, and the acting and dialog crackle with unusual energy and spice for a low budget flick.  You'll genuinely  like the characters and no one is there just to be a victim, a bimbo, or a hero.  Also, viewed from today's vantage point, it's a fascinating time capsule of college life before the days of cell phones, internet, and other electronica. Concerts, live action games, hanging around the student activity buildings, smoking cigars in dorm rooms... TAG gives us a microcosmic peek into the world of yesteryear's 20-something. After the college gun crimes of the past ten years, this is one movie that will never, EVER be remade today, so let's appreciate it for what it is - A look at a more innocent time when college students shooting each other was fodder for action-packed escapist adventure instead of the routine evening news.

PS - Special mention must be made of the opening credits sequence.  Most low budget flicks of the time were content with a simple credit roll, but this wasn't enough for Nick Castle and so we get an extended, swanky parody of a Bond opening, complete with rubber dart guns and LOTS of feathered hair (Skip ahead to the 1min, 50sec marker if you want to jump straight to the music):

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Innkeepers

NetFlix 2.7/5
IMDB 5.6/10
My Rating: 8/10

Two minimum wage, 20-something employees face the last weekend of operation at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a historic establishment that is closing its doors.  Their bored hours are spent doing amateur ghosthunting, until disturbing things begin going bump in the night.

First off, I must say that I absolutely loved this movie - I adored every minute of it and enjoyed the characters, the plot, and definitely the style of direction.  That said, I seem to be in the minority - A lot of viewers, especially younger ones, absolutely hate the film and thus its low IMDB score.  Even more puzzling is the dislike among reviewers I otherwise tend to agree with, like Emily over at Deadly Dolls, who was hoping it would be another House of the Devil.  That seems to be a common refrain - Fans of Ti West, the director, loved HOTD and want another HOTD, and this is not that and thus they are disappointed.    I enjoyed HOTD too, but I liked Innkeepers better.

Maybe what others miss is the retro-70's style of HOTD.  I loved it but I also found it a little distracting, in the sense that half my brain was marveling over their careful recreation of a grainy late 70's drive-in movie and paying less attention to the story.  Innkeepers eschews the retro look but proceeds in gloriously retro pace, which seems to be the other bone of internet contention.  One of the most common complaints on IMDB is, "It's so SLOOOOOOW."  Yes.  Yes, it is slow.  That's called, "Building tension and atmosphere", and not many movies bother with that anymore, much to their detriment.  Instead of giving us a pile of characters with 3 minutes of screen time and one breast flash each, and then burying us in chop-chop mayhem, Innkeepers spends most of its running time simply letting us follow the two main characters and get a feel for who they are, and care about them.  And what great characters they are!

Sara Paxton plays Claire, the heroine, and you already love her, you just don't know it yet.  Seriously, she was one of the most appealing horror film heroines I have seen in years, maybe decades...  This is not a case where you're just passing time until the annoying characters die.  You'll genuinely care for her and that makes the scary parts of the film a hundred times more fearful.  She and co-star Pat Healy also pull off the near-impossible in creating a pair of bored yoof-generation types that I didn't immediately want to kill.  Instead, you're drawn into the sheer pettiness of their lives - Both are undirected.  They don't know what they want to do.  They have no goals.  All they can think to do in their spare time is fritter it away.  Someone on another board pointed out that it was a theme of the movie that the Yankee Pedlar seemed to draw in "lost souls" like a vortex, and consume them, and I thought that was a clever observation.  They're the last employees running the hotel until the bitter end and this gives them impetus to hang on there when otherwise you'd hit the usual haunted house movie plot problem of, "Just leave the house!"  They could, but to be blunt, they don't really have anywhere else to go.

I am increasingly convinced that Ti West, the director, is one of the few directors left in Hollywood who knows how to properly pace a film.  Conversations are long takes that you're drawn into, not chopped up with 57 cuts to create faux-tension.  When a character walks cautiously down a spooky hall, the camera follow them slowly, tracking them for sustained tension instead of cutting every 3 seconds or, god forbid, spinning in circles around them as they walk.  This movie was the virtual antithesis of everything I've hated about the recent Doctor Who seasons for the simple reason that Ti West knows how to hold a camera still.  So basic, and yet so rare...  and for me it was a joy to be able to relax into the story and the personalities, without constantly being reminded of how clever the cameraman or director thought he was.

So, is it boring?  Well, it wasn't to me.  Other reviewers fuss that nothing happens until the last 20 minutes, but I viewed that time as investment in the atmosphere, of which Innkeepers has oodles.  I haven't run across many films that build this sort of nervousness so well.  It harkens back to movies like The Shining or The Fog, where "brooding" becomes a palpable thing.  And as for the last act, holy crap, I was on the edge of my seat!  My one real complaint is with the very final scene, or rather the "secret scene" - A bit that was rendered so subtly that I did not notice it on the first viewing, and found the ending rather generic.  Only after reading about it and following it with the director's commentary did I spot "the secret"... Probably a very unusual case of a director being TOO subtle.

In the end, I give this lots of love - It's one of the rare movies I want to go out and buy on blu-ray.  I wish badly that I'd held onto it and watched it on Halloween night, because it would have been a perfect Halloween treat.  If you can't handle slow movies, it's not for you.  But, if you're fond of older films and especially 40's-style haunted house pictures, I recommend it highly.  I haven't liked a ghost story this much since poor Eleanor met her fate in The Haunting in 1963.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

14 (A Book Review)

My Rating: 7/10

Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment. Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment.  And Tim’s.  And Veek’s.

Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

Or the end of everything...

I just finished this in audiobook form (I listen to tons of audiobooks during my long days in my woodworking shop). It was loads of fun. It is by Peter Clines, an author whose work I've previously read in "Ex-Heroes", a very straightforward genre mashup of superheroes and zombies (After the zombie apocalypse, the world's masked avenger types round up the survivors in LA and attempt to defend them inside a fortified compound. This was every bit as entertaining and as dumb as it sounds).

14 was a whole different kettle of fish, and it's as hard to review as Triangle was, because I don't want to give away what made it so cool. It's like a combination of Lost and Lovecraft, with a mystery/horror/SF bent.   The hero is a young slacker type who works as a data entry temp and is stuck in that "Waiting for his life to start" phase (Weren't we all, once?  Let's just call it "Age 21-26", eh?), when he finds a new apartment that is too good to be true - Incredibly cheap rent, included utilities, and a nice building. After moving in, however, he begins to notice oddities - The elevator is always in the basement, the building has no power lines going to it, his kitchen light fixture turns any bulb put into it into a black light, and his neighbors are a collection of oddities. Tim is a former book publisher with a skill range from James Bond, there's a young actress who spends her time topless on the roof, and computer nerd Veek is a cranky geekette with an apartment so crammed with high powered PC gear that she could run 4Chan in her spare time.

The book is about the deepening mystery as these disparate characters begin to cooperate, Scooby Doo fashion, to delve into the mysteries and secrets of their strange building.   I went into it expecting either a haunted apartment story or an evil landlord story, and instead got the Phantasm effect - That feeling I had way back when first watching Phantasm, that I was completely expecting the story about a funeral home to be a ghost or vampire movie and instead got weird yellow-blooded aliens and fingers turning into crazy bugs and evil jawas from another dimension. 14 is an ongoing succesion of unexpected twists and discoveries and weirdness that goes from Mystery Gang fun to sanity-shattering, universe-threatening horror. The characters are simple but it's well written and has a lot of clever, natural-sounding dialog. Worth reading.

Another opinion!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Marchlands (2011)

NetFlix N/A
IMDB 7.4/10
My Rating: 8/10

In this ITV 5 part miniseries, 3 families across 3 different time periods are impacted by the supernatural repercussions of a young girl's death.

During the years we lived overseas, we watched a lot of BBC via our satellite dish but very little ITV, other than the occasional US TV shows they'd run.  ITV was... Well, as the Brits might say, it was Chav-TV.  Reality shows by the ton, trashy soaps about self-obsessed young people having sex all the time, and just generally not what you'd think of as intelligent television.  That's why I was all the more surprised to be so impressed with this show - When did ITV start making TV for people who weren't the UK equivalent of Dittoheads?  (Normally I'd pick on the Tea Party as my example of Stupidus Americanus, but Rush is on my mind at the moment for his absolutely hilarious and roundly internet-mocked accusations that comicbook villain Bane is a liberal conspiracy to make Mitt Romney look bad.  Nevermind that Rush would probably be a Bane fan if he'd just get to know him...)

So, Marchlands is a great show.  Let's just start with that up front.  You especially need to see this if you're an old-school horror fan, because the style of scares here is right out of The Haunting or The Legend of Hell House.  This is not full up with jerkycam ghosts and "BOO!" jump scares - Instead, we're introduced to a cast that we believe in and invest in, and we're slowly drawn into the mystery of the hauntings that occur... So slowly that when something genuinely creepy happens, the skin goes all prickly.

The story is really three stories in one.  In the 1960's, a young couple live with parents in the titled household and cope with grieving over the loss of their daughter.  Mysterious circumstances surround her accidental drowning and the heartbroken mother is essentially walled out by the "Everything must be normal" facade of her family and village friends.  In the 80's, a family with children live in the same house and find their daughter increasingly targeted by an unseen presence that she calls her "invisible friend".  And in the present day, a young couple buy the house for their quiet country escape and find something is very interested in their newborn baby.

All three tales connect in ways both expected and unexpected.  It reminded me somewhat of American Horror Story in this respect with the house's past always lurking right on the edge of the current day experience and giving deeper layers of meaning to all sorts of seemingly casual occurrences.  It isn't so intense as American Horror Story, though - While AHS was like a steam train barreling directly at you, Marchlands is more of a soft touch...  Just a delicate whisper of scares here and there, just enough to keep you uneasy.  It helps that the characters are so real.  Alex Kingston departs from her River Song persona in Doctor Who to embody a frustrated, anxious 80's housewife, and the producers did a great job at choosing look-alike actors to play younger and older versions of the same characters across the time span.

To enjoy it the most, don't look at it as a horror series, look at it as a mystery with horror elements.  The cloud overhanging the death of the young girl is gradually unveiled over the series and for once, everything wraps to a tidy conclusion without any jarring, "Let's throw this in just to be clever" twists - It's smart but doesn't try to be TOO smart.  Worth seeing!

Daisypath Halloween tickers

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tranzor's "The Thing"

Recently I've been sending some time browsing at fanedit.org, a site dedicated to amateurs re-editing their favorite movies for various reasons - Sometimes improvement, sometimes drastic alteration, and sometimes just fun tinkering.  This is a case of the latter, and it's a generation-targeted nostalgia missile in the extreme.  You see, what fan editor "Tranzor" has done is not try to improve John Carpenter's 1982 classic The Thing in any way - Instead, he has transformed it into an edited-for-television late 70's Midnight Movie.

Before I go on, a word about legality.  Fan edits exist in a weird sort of murky grey zone in copyright law - It is legal to make them and it is legal to watch them and it is legal to own them... provided you actually own the original DVD as well.  So, while I can download this fan edit with impunity, someone who didn't own the original DVD would essentially be committing a file sharing copyright breach by downloading it, which is why I'm not posting any download links with this article.  If you want to see this yourself... Well, let's just say that Google is your friend.  That said, on with the show!

Remember the late night monster movie?  There was the news at 11, then Benny Hill or Monty Python, then some sort of late night horror movie in edited-for TV mode, usually something from the 50's.  For all the talk about the "grindhouse" theater experience, this sort of midnight movie had its own strange charms - Missing reels, terrible film quality, choppy cuts, dropped-out profanity, etc.  What this fan editor has done is to recreate this experience with The Thing.  The movie is reformatted into 4:3 and changed to B&W, with a few other tweaks here and there.  You know you're in for fun when you put the disc in...

Right after an intro that will throw you straight back to age 12, you start realizing that this is going to be a wholly different "Thing" viewing experience:

The funny thing about this is how GOOD the movie looks in black and white - The setting is pretty timeless and with the color and the cussing gone, you could almost think you were watching a genuine 1957 drive-in classic.  It's funny how some films time-travel well and others do not.  We were watching the original Alien the other night and it could have been shot last week - Other than some amusing computer nostalgia (A text-prompt green screen monitor on a starship), the look and style were timeless.  Compare it to something like Logan's Run, which immediately says, "1975-1978" really loudly.  I wouldn't have thought that The Thing could get more brooding, but then I saw it in B&W:

There's a great irony here that I've spent most of my adult life avoiding commercials, and yet the commercial breaks in this are the highlight of the experience.  You'll be totally into the movie and then it will hit a crisis point and BAM! - Commercial cutaway:

I haven't watched commercials since the day I got my first VCR - I'm a little hostile to the messages advertisers try to shout at us.  I don't mind informative advertising, but 99% of TV commercials amount to either, "Use our product or no one will ever have sex with you!" or, "Use our product because all our competition sucks."  Thanks, but no thanks.  However, in this case the nostalgia factor wins out, and I'm sitting there watching original 1977 commercial blocks all over again, filled with cheery disco music and ads for Tab cola.

Yes, Tab has even less calories than water.  Never knew THAT, did you, you fatty water drinkers...
Overall, this DVD is a blast, right down to its custom printable DVD case cover.  If you have fond memories of staying up for the late movie, then watching it in wide-eyed childish terror and running to the kitchen for snacks during the commercial breaks, then this is an experience to love.  If you were born after, say, 1978, then I suspect you'd only find this confusing - A bizarre re-edit of a great move for no understandable purpose.  Like the man says, ya just had to be there...

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Super Shark

NetFlix NA
IMDB 2.5/10
My Rating: 5/10

An oil drilling rig run by the Dukes of Hazzard awakens a giant, bulletproof prehistoric shark that can walk on land and fly.  Clearly this was a film aimed at the NPR audience.

Once I saw the trailer to this thing on YouTube, there was no way I could resist checking it out.  So whadda we got here, eh?  Sleazy oil man Bo Duke (John Schneider of Dukes of Hazzard) is using some kind of weird chemical to dissolve ocean floor rock to make drilling easier.  I guess at this point, when you join the oil industry you just automatically have to change alignment to Lawful or Chaotic Evil.  Anyway, said chemical releases Super Shark, a gigantic monster shark that possesses not just the abilities to walk on land and perform jet-powered leaps, but also a really savvy intelligence and a, *ahem*, biting wit.  Super Shark doesn't just eat the cast, he eats them in the most ridiculous and embarrassing moments possible.  Feel like your love life is in the dumps?  Don't answer that doorbell, it's Super Shark!  Annoyed by obscene phone calls?  It's Super Shark calling you from upstairs!  He hovers over the movie like an omniscient giant eating machine, and half the reason I give this movie a 5 is due to the laughs induced each time Super Shark turns up to take another bite out of the assembled crew.

With a giant walking shark on the loose, it isn't long before people notice and begin delivering observations like, "That's bad" and, "I need a drink."  The heroine, a lady CSI-type, fences with Bo Duke a bit and ends up advising the army that they're going to need a bigger boat.  Said military types send a squad of soldiers, a jet fighter, and a robotic walking tank to battle the beast.  Along the way, lots of people get chomped in ways both gruesome and hilarious.

The Kentucky Fried Popcorn Relationship Guide tip #1 - If you want to have a happy marriage, start with a woman who is willing to watch Super Shark with you.  But be prepared to get punched in the arm a lot, because the cheesecake level in this flick is, well, right up there with a Fred Olen Ray film because it IS a Fred Olen Ray film.  Yep, that would be the guy who brought us classics like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, an understated gem of the 80's video store era.  This is a TV movie so there's no nudity, but ole Fred takes advantage of his beach setting to throw bikini boobies at us every chance he gets, which is roughly 2/3 of the film.

Aside from the cleavage FX, we get a whole lotta CGI shark.  Syfy has gotten better at this, but most of their rendering still looks like something you could do on a Mac, and it doesn't help that when the shark is out of water crawling around, the bright sunlight isn't too forgiving on the special effects.  The climactic fight with the CGI robot tank is even sillier - It's a lot of fun to watch (assuming sufficient quantities of beer are on hand) but it lacks the coolness of the great Ray Harryhausen monster battles because A) the robot design is REALLY uninspired, and B) it isn't nearly long enough.

The cast does a bouncy job throughout, and they're the other reason I give this a better rating than IMDB...  I mean, as a movie, it's a 2.5, yes, but as an entertainment package it's a hundred times more fun than any Sex & the City episode ever made.  The leads are competent, the sidekicks are tolerable, and everyone delivers their Ed Wood dialog with a sense of barely-suppressed fun.  Except for Jimmie "JJ" Walker, who delivers his own performance through a megaphone of 1977 insanity:

Does he have anything to do with the movie?  Absolutely not, why do you ask?  He just plays a local radio host who occasionally pops in to narrate the latest news of Super Shark's thrilling adventures on land and sea and air.  Acting-wise, however, everyone takes a back seat to Super Shark himself, that mega-Pacino of the high surf - He has a lot of personality for a CGI blob and I expect him to be invited to host Cannes any day now.

Bottom line - The leads are decent actors, the story is fun and silly, there are copious amounts of  boobage on display, and it stars a giant shark that eats an oil rig. This is not a movie that I'm ever going to want to go back and watch again, but it was a hoot, and would be great for group MST3K sessions. If you watched Sharktopus, you'll get much the same thing here.   And if you're at all curious for a taste of this flick, check out the FUNKTASTIC trailer below - Yes, Super Shark even has his own theme tune, straight out of a 70's disco!  Truly, this may possibly be one of the greatest movie trailers I have ever seen.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chaw(z), the Korean Pig

NetFlix 3/5
IMDB 5.9/10
My Rating: 6.5/10

A gigantic killer pig begins eating residents and tourists in a small Korean village, but the mayor won't close the beaches because...  Look, it's Jaws with a monster pig, OK?

This one was recommended to me personally by Netflix, "based on my viewing preferences".  This is why we should all be terrified of internet privacy issues, folks, because one of these days you're going to be walking through the mall and advertising placards will be shouting, "Hey you!  You should buy this stuffed toy, based on your interest in Furry porn!"

So, Netflix thinks I will like this, a black comedy/horror from South Korea about a killer pig. The giant hog movie is already a crowded genre, what with Razorback (1984) and Pig Hunt (2008), but as it happens, I DO like this savory bacon morsel.  It doesn't take the killer pig crown from Razorback, but it's a close second, and if it only had a little more originality it could have tipped the difference (It's hard to compete with Razorback's early 80's post-apocalypse Mad Max wasteland vibe, and it had practical FX that were more convincing than the often Syfy-esque CGI on display here).

And when I said Jaws above, I wasn't kidding.  I'm not going to worry so much about spoilers in this review as usual, because seriously, if you've seen Jaws, you've seen this...  Well, OK, if you've seen Jaws while tripping slightly on psychedelic mushrooms and listening to Hawkwind on your headphones, you've seen this.  Locals begin getting gobbled up by a giant boar but the village mayor refuses to close the farms because it will scare away the tourists, and before you know it, a plucky police officer has to team up with a young science type and a grizzled pig hunter to chase the thing down.

I'll try to keep the Jaws references to a minimum, but...Oh, hell, screw it.

Young person gets half eaten at night. 
Hero cop assigned to case. 
"This was no boating accident. In the mountains." 
Hero cop warns mayor to close the beaches, err, farms. 
"Are you crazy? This is tourist season! The local merchants will collapse without city tourists vacationing here to eat organic foods!" 
Giant pig attacks. 
Hero cop - "We must close the beaches! Err, farms." 
Mayor - "LOLZ. We'll hire someone." 
Army of yahoos shows up and begins dynamiting harbor, err, forests. Giant pig killed. Mayor happy, stages press event to announce death of killer pig. 
Expert young guy shows up. "The bite radius of this pig does not match" 
Mayor - "LOLZ" 
Expert - "Pigs digest slowly. Let's cut it open to see what it's recently eaten." 
Mayor - "I am not going to let you spill that little Kitner boy all over the dock for some half-assed post mortem on a fish! Err, pig." 
Heroes sneak in later, cut open pig, find Florida license plate inside pig. (OK, I made up that last line, but that's all) "This is not the pig we're looking for." 
Heroes (Cop and young smartypants) and retired master pig hunter Quint gear up and head into the mountains set on makin' bacon.

In my opinion, the movie's only real failing is missing a golden opportunity to have the Quint character give a speech about how his WW2 shipmates were all devoured by killer pigs.  They do manage to blame the whole mess on the Japanese, however, which I understand is something of a hobby in South Korea.  More vexing is their bizarre confusion of Finland and Ted Nugentland.  When the mayor puts out his call for expert pig hunters, the initial crew that turns up consists of giant burly Americans speaking Southern and driving giant American pickup trucks, yet the subtitles AND the in-movie characters all refer to these people as being from "Finland".  Ping the WTF Meter on this one... I have no idea if I'm missing a cultural in-joke or what, but in the world of Chawz, Finland is the home to all  Nashville Network hunting and fishing show hosts.

Moving on... I learned these things from this movie:

  • When Koreans need a giant human-eating pig killed, their first thought is to outsource the job to Finnish bear hunters.
  • Korea, like Japan, is at least 25% populated by sunken eyed Ringu-looking women.
  • Korean hoodie yoof rap bands are an unspeakable sign of the apocalypse and should be burned before they spread.
  • Korean pigs are bulletproof, seriously. Bullets bounce off, flattened.
  • I never want to go to Korea because ALL of the food shown is absolutely terrifying.
There are aspects that set Chawz apart from the big fish movie, however.  Chief among them is a weird sort of slapstick humor sprinkled throughout, as if the Three Stooges were consulted on all of the action scenes.  Also, there's the surreal factor...  First represented by a strange witch-like lady in the forest and later appearing in the form of talking dog ghosts.  The Ringu woman is an odd diversion that sneaks into a really hilarious ending and helps tie the whole package up into a hoot of an experience.

I recommend this, definitely.  It's completely insane, and South Koreans should know that everything I now believe about their country is drawn from Chawz and The Host.  See it.  Get your hog on.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Web Comic News

More KFP news -

I've been fairly unsatisfied with the hosting experience at Drunk Duck, and some investigation has revealed that I'm not alone - Apparently it had a corporate buyout last summer and the site, once highly regarded, has gone to hell... losing many previous features and adding a whole lot of ads.  I'll probably still mirror updates to DD just for the broad exposure, but I've also added a dedicated comic page at hosting site ComicFury, and this is where the comic icon at top right now points to:


It looks a little different and there are a lot less blank ad boxes.  I am perfectly happy to settle for the very simplified layout in exchange for losing the ads.  What do you all think?

It's now up to speed on ComicFury.  If you have a minute, please check it out and leave a comment or two, or some ratings (CF allows ratings of individual pages, hurray!).  I'll be going public with it on the CF forums sometime in the near future.

Another benefit CF has is an author blog, and I finally wrote out a basic description of the characters here:

Let me know what you crazy cats think.  This is obviously still a work in progress.

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