Archive for the ‘31 Flavors Of Horror’ Category

 

It’s been over a year since I updated this page.  A lot has happened.  I’d love to say I’ve been doing all my writing over at Daily Grindhouse, but the truth is, I haven’t done all that much writing in the past couple years. Trying mighty hard to change that. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get up in the morning and go to work and be there for my family and do the bare minimum required of me as a human being. It’s been that kind of a stretch. But there have been several things I’ve written at Daily Grindhouse and even a couple other places, so I’ll get back on track about sharing them here.

 

First, I’ll post my reflection on the movie MANDY, which I ran on Daily Grindhouse today. I saw the movie on my birthday, September 16th, and then again two more times on the small screen over the past two months before I was finally ready to write anything. Now I did, and it’s the one thing I’ve done in quite a while that I feel remotely satisfied with. I said what I wanted to say. Now I’d love to know what you think.

 

 

 

At best and at worst, movies serve as emotional prisms. Movies aren’t just stories, aren’t just artwork, aren’t just moving pictures with music. Movies are the baggage that we bring to them. A movie like MANDY, all baroque flourishes and deliberate broad strokes, is particularly revealing in the way it refracts its audience, splitting light in all sorts of directions. MANDY has been rapturously received by several. That’s an authentic reaction. But MANDY may not work for others, and they’re not wrong either. They can’t be. I’ve seen MANDY three times now and while I fall far more on the side of affection for it, even still, I’ve felt a little differently about it each time. How can that be? Some movies — maybe all — have a lot to do with the people watching them. A person’s reaction to a movie can and will vary, depending on whichever self shows up at in front of the screen on that day, at that time, in that exact moment.

 

The plot of MANDY is easily described, by design. A lumberjack named Red, when not working, lives a hermetic but harmonious existence with his girlfriend Mandy in the mountains of eastern California, an existence that is upended by the arrival of a would-be prophet named Jeremiah Sand, who becomes fascinated with Mandy and orders his acolytes to abduct her. When she rejects him, Sand murders Mandy horribly and grotesquely in full view of Red, which sets Red off on the bloody road to revenge.

 

With a storyline that elemental, the specifics are all in the presentation. That’s why the mileage varies so wildly.

 

The movie announces itself more like a 1970s rock record than a movie. In crimson, uncredited words appear on the screen, underscored by an electric-guitar overture: “When I die Bury me deep Lay two speakers at my feet Wrap some headphones Around my head And rock and roll me When I’m dead.” It took a little digging for me to find the source of that quote. Sure sounds like something a frontman might yell out to an arena while looking out at the tiny flames of a dozen-thousand cigarette lighters. But that’s not the source. Those were the last words of a murderer, just before he was executed for his crimes. In reality, in Texas, in 2005. So this florid, subjective, surreal film is grounded in a very distinct, very bleak place, though that would surely be lost on at least 99% of any audience, as it was on me.

 

The music opening MANDY is “Starless” by King Crimson, again placing this film musically and tonally somewhere between prog-rock and heavy metal. The visual world of MANDY opens as Red is completing a logging job, with a notably processed shot of a thick tree falling as Red turns from it to head to the helicopter airlifting him off-site. Red is a smoker. He tosses his cigarette away. He wears a baseball jersey with the number 44 on it. Shirts are important in this film. Inside the helicopter, a colleague offers Red a flask, but Red waves it away. Immediately that’s a detail that registers.

 

 

Mandy is introduced lips-first, as she takes a smoke. Her face is introduced alongside her painted artwork, currently in process. Red arrives home, turning off a radio playing a Reagan speech which pins the timeframe of this story in the early 1980s. A stylized, sparkling blue title card announces this is happening around the Shadow Mountains, ‘circa 1983.’ The Shadow Mountains are a real place which may sound like the name of a prog-rock or metal track title. When he enters the house, Red announces himself to Mandy with a knock-knock joke with no real punchline. He’s played by Nicolas Cage, instantly recognizable as such. Mandy is played by Andrea Riseborough, less world-famous, sure, but still a prominent talent, who here is unrecognizable by contrast. She shows him the painting she’s been working on, and he’s impressed, though not particularly articulate about it.

 

The scene shifts to the middle of the night, with a bluish glow reminiscent of the scene-setting title card. Red and Mandy lie together in bed, not sexually but intimately, talking of space and of the Marvel character Galactus. The cinematography by Benjamin Loeb, already flush with color, takes on a new glow here — the movie is already parting from reality long before any of the characters partake in mind-altering substances. In the morning, Mandy wakes to the sound of an unidentifiable animal. She goes out to the woods alone, where she finds a dead fawn. Was this the source of the sound, or the result of it? Either way, Mandy sheds a tear. That night, she shares with Red a troubling story about starlings from her childhood. Between small birds and small deer, Mandy appears to empathize with the peaceful creatures of the world. She identifies with the animals who are often prey. At the end of her story, Red says only, “Oh baby, come here,” and embraces her. It’s notable that what little personal background we get of these characters comes all on the side of Mandy. We don’t know anything of Red’s past, save one detail from which we can infer plenty.

 

 

Mandy goes for a walk and a smoke along a mountain road, which is where she encounters the van driven by Jeremiah Sand’s Children Of The New Dawn. The scene is filtered red, and everyone inside the van appears to be varying degrees of stoned. The heretofore idyllic score by Jóhann Jóhannsson turns malevolent. The screen freezes on Mandy’s face as she passes the van and her eyes meet Sand’s, in a stylish flourish that could just as well have come from an early Tobe Hooper film.

 

The narrative is hijacked here by the movie’s villain, a la PSYCHO or MANHUNTER, and not just the narrative, but the filmmaking style itself. In an interview with Rue MorgueMANDY director Panos Cosmatos reveals Linus Roache was not the first choice for Sand. In fact, he was thinking of Nicolas Cage. For sure, Jeremiah Sand is a role anyone can imagine Cage playing, with relish. Cage would not be the obvious choice for a taciturn character like Red, and likewise, Linus Roache, a fine actor, is not who any genre fan would have expected to play a deranged cult leader. In some ways, his performance is the boldest and most inarguably creditable aspect of the film. Roache invests the role with exactly the level of histrionic high-low ferociousness that Cage would have done, and he’s excellent.

 

Sand sends his henchmen after Mandy. One of them, Mother Marlene, played by Irish stage actress Olwen Fouéré, first approaches Mandy at the convenience store where she works, posing as a friendly customer. Mandy mentions she lives “up by Crystal Lake,” the naming of which cannot be a coincidence in a film like this one. Meanwhile, another henchman, Brother Swan (also played by an Irish actor little known to American audiences, Ned Dennehy), uses an instrument called the Horn Of Abraxas to summon up fearsome figures from deep in the woods, who resemble something that could have resulted from a collaboration between George Miller and Clive Barker. These men are the Black Skulls, and the first time I saw this movie, it didn’t even occur to me that these characters WEREN’T supernatural in origin, which I think is probably the point. If MANDY is a film that exists apart from reality as we perceive it, the Black Skulls, whose closest cinematic precedents are the Gimp from PULP FICTION and the Plague in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, feel like they exist from a reality even apart from MANDY, if that makes sense. They arrive by sound first, monstrous, and pull up on motorcycles and ATVs. Their faces are masked in leather and they snarl inaudibly. Brother Swan is visibly terrified by them. The Black Skulls accept a human sacrifice, taking one of Sand’s more expendable followers with them for undisclosed purposes, before proceeding to siege and befoul Mandy and Red’s sanctuary of a home.

 

The abduction is a horror-movie scene, and a violation of the sanctity of the three-act structure to boot. The movie’s inciting incident comes at the midpoint, if not precisely then intuitively. This disregard for convention, the kind of convention that is traditionally comforting, I think is the main reason some people are turned off to MANDY. Others call it pretentious, or predictable, and while I can’t disagree, I perceive a sincerity in the making of this film that allows me to buy into it whole-heartedly.

 

From here, the film takes a hyperdrive warp into psychedelia, as Mother Marlene “prepares” Mandy for Sand by dosing her with a sting from a [noticeably fake-looking] giant wasp. As Mandy reels from the intoxicating effect, one of the film’s most indelible, disturbing, hilarious, and temporarily gratifying scenes transpires, as Sand plays Mandy a track from his terrible folk album (where he sings lyrics extolling his own greatness) and then literally exposes himself to her. It’s disgusting and weird and upsetting, which is why it’s such a hero moment when Mandy laughs in his face, spurning his music and his speeches and his dick.

 

The victory is short-lived, because that’s when Sand and his followers burn Mandy alive, with Red bound and gagged and forced to watch the entire destruction of the love of his life. This is an odd moment to bring up the matter of costuming, but I’d like to point out that in Mandy’s final scene, she’s wearing Red’s “44” jersey, while Red is wearing a black-and-red jersey (not for nothing, the same colors as Red’s truck), emblazoned with the face of a tiger. Again, these small details register. Swan hands Sand the “Tainted Blade of the Pale Night” — these people have florid names for all of their belongings — and Sand stabs Red in the gut, vowing he and Mandy will see “the cleansing power of fire.” The viewer realizes we’ve already seen Mandy for the last time, since the Children of the New Dawn carry her out of the house inside a burlap sack, which they string up and set ablaze. The camera hones in on Red’s tormented face, all the more painful because Mandy has already been turned into an inanimate object — neither Red nor we the viewer get a chance to say goodbye.

 

Again, mileage may vary, but for me this scene works as intended, not least because of the force of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score — sadly, his last — which in this moment is equally sad and horrifying. If MANDY is a film that intentionally aligns itself with music, it’s impossible to overstate the heavy lifting this film’s score provides. Also interesting is how Cosmatos and Loeb handle the aftermath. The music subsides, and the lighting goes more “natural” and less apocalyptic. Sand and his people get into their cars and drive away, leaving Red tied up and bleeding, but alive. To me, this is how trauma feels, the way the most mundane observations of sight and sound register after one’s entire world has been altered forever.

 

Red frees himself and watches as the wind blows away the ashes which are all that remain of Mandy. He staggers inside, clad only in his tiger shirt and tighty-whities, and sees that the TV is still on. It’s playing what has already become MANDY‘s most meme-worthy (and in some quarters, maligned) element, the “Cheddar Goblin” commercial, for which Cosmatos recruited Casper Kelly, the absurdist mind behind “Too Many Cooks.”

 

 

Red mutters, “Cheddar Goblin,” and lies down, passing out. In a weird way, this was a relatable moment to me on par with the moment in this year’s HEREDITARY, the aftermath of the accident in which Peter realizes what’s happened to his sister Charlie and is stunned into catatonia. I’ve been there. I hope you haven’t been.

 

One more time, the very substance of MANDY alters as Red has a vision of Mandy in death — presented in a brief animated segment, which is something I don’t think we’ve seen since KILL BILL. And then Red wakes up. He grabs a bottle of vodka and still bleeding, storms into the bathroom, screaming gutturally in grief and drinking. He sits down on the toilet, still wearing only that tiger shirt and his underwear, and cries. This, to me, is the heart of the film. As I said up top, any one movie can be a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, MANDY is a story about a relapse.

 

 

 

Red goes to the trailer of his friend Caruthers, who is played by the estimable Bill Duke, an under-heralded filmmaker and creative force best known as a character actor, who I revere for his work in PREDATOR. Red tells Caruthers what happened, and says he’s come “for The Reaper.” All of this is bizarrely exciting because it suggests some odd backstory we can only invent for ourselves — how does Red know Caruthers? Why is Caruthers holding a weapon for Red? Why do these guys name their weapons? (And does that make them too different from the Children of the New Dawn?)

 

Another highly-stylized chapter heading comes on screen — Mandy’s name, in the form of red veiny lines that almost appear to be transforming the name into a beating heart. It’s also the movie’s title — here now, over an hour into the film, only now does the title screen appear. Red speeds out in his truck in search of the Black Skulls. It’s telling to note that what was for an hour’s time a dreamy romantic reverie and a phantasmagoric horror show has now transmogrified into MANDY in its most crowd-pleasing form, a full-on action-revenge picture, with action-film icon Bill Duke serving as its herald.

 

As Red tears through the Black Skulls in a fit of fury and blood, he cracks one-liners and absurdist Cage-isms (“You’re a vicious snowflake!”)  and snorts some of the coke they’ve left lying around their lair. Again, this is a relapse. The violence is relapse. That it’s the movie’s most entertaining mode is what makes it disturbing — again, to me. There’s a sort of release in relapse. It’s thrilling to rip shit up, even if what you’re ripping up is your own life, or someone else’s. It’s clear by now that Red has been holding back — declining to drink, committing no violence worse than cutting down trees, and choosing instead to love and live with Mandy — but the loss of her has given him permission to unleash whatever fury he’d been holding back. If this were an Oscar-minded drama about the struggles of alcoholism, we would not want to see Red drink again, but since it’s framed as a revenge picture, we crave the relapse as much as he does. And that’s upsetting. It’s upsetting in the pleasure of it.

 

 

Also intriguing is how Red is wearing the “44” jersey in the scenes where he tears through the Black Skulls. The last time we saw that shirt was on Mandy. Really, this is the movie’s least noticeable but most notable break from “reality” — how is Red wearing a shirt Mandy had on when she died? It makes no sense, unless you maybe want to consider that Red is now Mandy’s avatar, acting out the physical equivalent of the laughter she’d leveled at Sand. In other words, the only sense it makes is movie-sense.

 

After killing all the Black Skulls, Red makes his way to their drug supplier, The Chemist (Tom-Petty-esque character actor Richard Brake), whose warehouse includes a tiger in a cage. The Chemist introduces the tiger as “Lizzie,” and as Red glares at him, covered in the blood of dead enemies, The Chemist seems to get the message, and sets Lizzie free. (Remember Red’s tiger jersey?) This particular symbolism may appear to be peripheral, but it isn’t too subtle.

 

Red continues to travel north, and when he stops to rest, he has another animated dream, this time of a nude Mandy caring for a wounded and bloody half-tiger/half-man. She reaches inside his wounds and pulls out a glowing green diamond, and then Red wakes up. He continues on to his final battles, all of which transpire in a canyon which absolutely could have doubled for a FURY ROAD set. The most gore is yet to come. Red splits Brother Swan’s head apart to interrupt him when he references the quote, “Better to burn out than to fade away” (guess Red isn’t a Neil Young fan), engages in a duel of oversized chainsaws with Sand’s most formidable henchman that ends as you might expect, enters Sand’s triangular temple and beheads Mother Marlene, and crushes Sand’s skull with his bare hands. The last two victims both offer Red sex in an attempt to persuade him to spare their lives, but Red has no interest in anything but destruction. After killing them all, Red burns the entire place down.

 

Even during my first screening of MANDY, all this climactic violence felt inevitable. Though it’s never uninteresting to watch, not remotely!, the movie is long since out of surprises. That has significance. From that first absurdist knock-knock joke to Mandy’s harrowing story about the starlings, all of the mystery, all of the reward, was in the relationship between Red and Mandy. Once that’s destroyed, it’s not hard to predict where the movie will go. Without love, without hope, there’s nothing but death. In the final moment of the movie, as Red drives away from the battlefield still caked in blood so thick his skin itself appears red(!), he first flashes back to the very first time his eyes met Mandy’s — the film’s sole flashback — and then he has a vision of Mandy, looking at him from the passenger seat. She’s holding a cigarette and smiling. Many viewers will look at this moment as a last visit with an avenged loved one, a bittersweet moment, such as we get in films like THE CROW. That’s what I’d like to see. That’s not what I see.

 

In the film’s final moment, Red turns to his vision of Mandy and bares his teeth in something approximating a smile, but in truth he’s no longer capable. She’s gone. His hope is gone. The end credits roll without music, possibly only the first or second time the movie has been without it. There’s nothing left for Red. It’s over. This is why you fear the relapse.

 

All of that said, at the very end of the credits, you can hear starlings chirping. And after the credits, the final image we see is a portrait of Red, as done by Mandy and left on her drawing table. She’s not gone, not completely. There’s something left. There always is.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974

 

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was a movie of its time, and it reflected that as surely as any other more prestigious and acclaimed American classic.  It’s a genuinely important American film. Movies of the era such as THE GODFATHER, TAXI DRIVER, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE are justly heralded, but THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is equally important as a historical document of the 1970s.

 

JUST DON'T.

 

The movie arrived in 1974.  This was the era of the Vietnam War.  The war was still going on when the movie was being made.  What director Tobe Hooper and his collaborators did, consciously or otherwise, was to capture the anger of the era.  Obviously there are no politics directly addressed by the story, which is at its core, like PSYCHO before it and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS after it, a hyper-fictionalized elaboration of the Ed Gein story.  The political furor of the era is not to be found in the main text, but instead, it roils underneath, embedded within the ferocious, hopeless atmosphere of the piece.

 

YAR

 

Five years before THE DEER HUNTER or APOCALYPSE NOW, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE managed to reflect the cultural unease, disillusionment, and nihilism that the war in Vietnam, by all accounts, engendered in American minds.  Note how iconic franchise villain Leatherface carries a chainsaw as his weapon of choice.  The chainsaw treats human bodies like inanimate objects – like meat.  The chainsaw is more businesslike, less up-close-and-personal than say, the fangs of Count Dracula, or even the knife wielded by Michael Myers.  The house where Leatherface dispatches most of his victims is, literally, a slaughterhouse.  Meat lockers line the walls.  Bones decorate the room like promises.  The ruddy cinematography by Daniel Pearl gives the images alarming texture.  You can almost smell the coppery metallic death in the air.

 

BONEYARD

 

Horror audiences have become inured to this kind of imagery but in 1974, it had significance.  Human bodies treated like cattle, hung by meat hooks and clubbed in the head with ruthless efficiency.  It’s an impersonal, industrial kind of murder.  When the movie does demand an emotional response to the murders, it does so in unusual, script-flipping sorts of ways.

 

HEY IT'S FRANKLIN

 

Think of Franklin (Paul Partain), the wheelchair-bound character – sure he’s disabled but he’s also one of the most intolerable creatures in film history.  This is a type which movies normally sentimentalize, yet Franklin is so shrill and abhorrent that, if anyone, most audiences end up siding with Leatherface by the time Franklin is sent to his fate.  As the film progresses, the murders are purged of sentiment. Only madness awaits.  Chaos becomes constancy.

 

DELICATESSEN

 

In THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, human beings are just meat, ground up by an unintelligible enemy that cannot be reasoned with or dissuaded.  Now think again of the Vietnam War.  In general terms, the first sentence of this paragraph could be describing the actions of a murderous giant carrying a chainsaw, or that of a lengthy and unpopular overseas conflict which tore apart many American lives.  How much of this thematic resonance was intentional on the part of the young filmmakers and how much was intuitive does not matter as much as the fact that it IS resonant.

 

RED DAWN

 

What an opportunity, then, for a horror movie released in the modern moment, to address some comparable sociopolitical subtext.  Again America is embroiled in an unpopular war overseas.  Unlike the era of the Vietnam War, however, many Americans are not concerned with the details of our current war on a daily basis.  Modern war affects some of us profoundly and many of us hardly at all.  This is very fertile ground for the kind of veiled commentary and brutal satire which is buried within so many of the great horror films.

 

TC3D

 

So far, the current practitioners of the genre are largely failing us.  This past year’s TEXAS CHAINSAW, which I reviewed back in January 2013 and from which I expanded this piece, was an absolute failure to engage either the individual intellect or the sociopolitical viscera.  The most popular horror films of 2013 were haunted-house films like THE CONJURING, spooky and relatively innocuous as far as cultural resonance goes.  Zombies remain the predominant horror paradigm of the moment, whether they be sweet and lovelorn as those in WARM BODIES or swarm-y and CGI-abetted as in WORLD WAR Z or impeccably-designed and personality-free as in The Walking Dead.  And if it’s not zombies, it’s vampires.  And so it has been for over ten years now.

 

ZOMBIE GOSSIP

 

Ghosts.  Zombies.  Vampires.  Dead things.  This is what our horror films are reflecting back upon us. What does that say about our modern preoccupations?  Things have changed.  Times have changed.  Of course, OF COURSE, horror films are almost always about death in one form or another.  But the recent onslaught of horror movies by and large feel antiseptic and by nature of their generous CGI budgets, ultimately safe.  THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, by contrast, feels like a documentary from Hell.  THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, even looked at today, has an energy, an urgency, a vitality, a ferocious vigor to its bloodletting which stands in contrast to the majority of today’s horror output.   Look again at that final, indelible image:  Leatherface, denied his final victim, swinging his chainsaw with simultaneous fury and futility in a blind rage, lit by a dawning sun.  For a killer of masses, in that ultimate moment he is alive.  It’s his Marilyn Monroe moment.  This is how a monster becomes a star.

 

DAWN OF THE RED

 

This is a piece I wrote for Daily Grindhouse. I am reposting it now because a fortieth-anniversary restoration print of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is playing tonight at 11pm, at New York City’s Film Society Of Lincoln Center, which, yes, is precisely the highbrow venue which a film this important deserves. 

 

@jonnyabomb

 

WTF HOLIDAY

Halloween 2013 is gone (RIP) and Thanksgiving is right up at the door. Guess it’s true what they say:  Time flies, but turkeys can’t (RIP).

I haven’t posted here at Demon’s Resume in quite a while, but that’s not for lack of doing things.  Quite the contrary:  I’ve had no lack at all of doing very many things.  Allow me to recap the most interesting of them, if you will, and then I’ll get back to being a more regular presence here on my own site.  [All of the pictures below will take you to the links I mention, so feel free to click away.]

  • First off, a reminder that my Paracinema cover story on action heroes and aging is still available:

Paracinema #20

For seven bucks plus shipping costs, it can be yours.  And it should be!  It’s some of my best work ever.

Hal Needham

  • For those who love the sound of my voice…:  I was on the Daily Grindhouse podcast for the first time!  I was there to talk about Hal Needham, the all-time great stuntman and director, who passed away last month.  I had occasion to briefly meet Hal Needham the year before he died, so this was sadder than it would have been, but we had a fun time talking about his movies.

Also:  This is my written tribute to Hal Needham.

  • And I also wrote a tribute to Ed Lauter, another great Hollywood tough guy we lost in October.  This has been a rough year in a lot of ways.ED LAUTER
  • In happier news, in October I completed my month-long horror-movie celebration, which I did this year for Daily Grindhouse.  I did more than 31 posts this time.  Here they all are (click on the posters to head to the reviews):

THIS IS THE END (2013) EQUINOX (1970) NEAR DARK (1987) TREMORS (1990) THE MANITOU (1978) MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) BEST WORST MOVIE (2010) THE WICKER MAN (1973) Suspiria (1977) LADY TERMINATOR (1989) JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960). Pacific Rim (2013) NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)Carrie (1976)  Basket Case (1982) Cheap Thrills (2013) Re-release poster for HOUSE (HAUSU), designed by Sam Smith. Nosferatu_poster_by_PandoraDisenos Squirm (1976) SHOCK WAVES (1977) HALLOWEEN (1978) THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976) AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) CHOPPING MALL (1986) STREET TRASH (1987) DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE aka CEMETERY MAN-POSTER The Visitor (1979) The Colony (2013) 

 

Hey, did I ever mention I was on Huffington Post Live a couple times?

Jurassic Park (1993)  Evil Dead (2013)

Here I am talking about re-releases and reboots, for JURASSIC PARK 3D and EVIL DEAD 2013:  {CLICK HERE}

 

Oblivion (2013)  The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

Here I am talking about OBLIVION and THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES and really awkwardly hitting on the host: {CLICK HERE}

 

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

  • My book club has been recording our monthly talks as a podcast, so you can listen to any of the episodes by visiting the Books For Crooks page.  For fans of me and of what I do, you’ll probably want to listen to the episode where I recap LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER, one of the most baffling movies of the year.

The Butler (2013)

  • I did a list of Underrated Horror Movies for my pal over at Rupert Pupkin Speaks.  In case you didn’t have enough of me and horror-movie talk already, here’s a bunch more.

Rupert Pupkin Speaks

And there’s even more of my writing out there in the world!

Daily Grindhouse

In addition to horror-movie writing, I also wrote about a variety of movie-related subjects for Daily Grindhouse in the past several weeks.

CHILL

Here’s a list of the Top Ten Greatest Nazi-Killers In Film History.

TODAYS-LESSON

Here’s a piece on Japanese cult epic BATTLE ROYALE.

RROARR

Here are some words about legendary artist Jack Kirby and a new museum dedicated to his artwork.

somethingtodowithdeath

The Daily Grindhouse crew (including me) made a list of the Top 50 Essential Books About Cult Movies. Here are Parts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

VANITY-PAULA-PATTON

Here’s where I cast the upcoming Mötley Crüe movie (this one’s really fun).

Warren Oates shooting the shit with Lee Marvin.

On top of all that, I’ve been much more active on the Demon’s Resume Facebook page, where I’ve been posting fun pictures, links, and various inanities which wouldn’t warrant entire posts here at the site.  It’s me and my unique tastes in bite-sized amounts, in case all my other escapades are too time-consuming.

And as always, you can find me at all kinds of odd hours on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

So how’s all that for a start?

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

My month-long horror-movie celebration is appearing on the Daily Grindhouse website this year, but I will keep you updated here also. There may even be some special treats and “DVD extras” — you never know! Every time I add a column, I’ll post it in this space, so keep this tab open on your browser and hit “refresh” every day for a new piece on a different movie.  Clicking on the posters will take you to the articles. Collect and trade all 31!

THIS IS THE END (2013)0. THIS IS THE END (2013)

EQUINOX (1970)

1. EQUINOX (1970)

NEAR DARK (1987)

2. NEAR DARK (1987)

TREMORS (1990)

3. TREMORS (1990)

THE MANITOU (1978)

4. THE MANITOU (1978)

MULHOLLAND DR. (2001)

5. MULHOLLAND DR. (2001)

BEST WORST MOVIE (2010)

6. BEST WORST MOVIE (2010)

THE WICKER MAN (1973)

7. THE WICKER MAN (1973)

Suspiria (1977)

8. SUSPIRIA (1977)

LADY TERMINATOR (1989)

9. LADY TERMINATOR (1989)

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)

10. JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)

EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960).

11. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

Pacific Rim (2013)

12. PACIFIC RIM (2013)

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)

13. NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)

Carrie (1976)

14. CARRIE (1976)

Basket Case (1982)

15. BASKET CASE (1982)

Cheap Thrills (2013)

16. CHEAP THRILLS (2013)

Re-release poster for HOUSE (HAUSU), designed by Sam Smith.

17. HAUSU (1977)

Nosferatu_poster_by_PandoraDisenos

18. NOSFERATU (1922)

Squirm (1976)

19. SQUIRM (1976)

SHOCK WAVES (1977)

20. SHOCK WAVES (1977)

HALLOWEEN (1978)

21. HALLOWEEN (1978)

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)

22. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)

23. THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

24. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)

25. CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

26. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)

27. TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)

CHOPPING MALL (1986)

28. CHOPPING MALL (1986)

STREET TRASH (1987)

29. STREET TRASH (1987)

DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE aka CEMETERY MAN-POSTER

30. CEMETERY MAN (1994)

The Visitor (1979)

31. THE VISITOR (1979)

The Colony (2013)

THE COLONY (2013)

And if you follow me on Twitter, you can get alerted to these updates as soon as they happen.  Seriously, drop everything. It’s just plain that important.

@jonnyabomb

Pumpkin

 

 

 

Never trust a poster.  Enjoy them, admire them, put them on your wall, but don’t you ever take their words as gospel.  My point:  If DEADLY FRIEND is “Wes Craven’s Most Terrifying Creation,” well then I’m an eight-foot-tall fuck machine.  Truth in advertising would read more like, “Wes Craven’s Most Inadvertently Hilarious Creation.”  Because otherwise you’re misleading people.  Imagine if somebody’s first exposure to Wes Craven’s work was DEADLY FRIEND!  They’d think he was a modern-day Ed Wood.  Actually, that’d be an awesome prank.  Show a young person DEADLY FRIEND first, and then show them THE HILLS HAVE EYES or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  Nice way to demolish someone’s sanity.

 

 

 

scooby

 

 

 

Wes Craven is a vitally important yet somewhat problematic figure in horror cinema.  He’s made some viscerally horrifying movies that easily earned him a spot in the pantheon, yet he seems to yearn to  scare us in other ways, such as making some movie with Meryl Streep called “MUSIC OF THE HEART” and in this case, making what seems to be a kids’ movie about yellow robots and street basketball that takes a sharp right turn into some kind of weird BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN zombie movie.  Put it in chronological perspective and there’s some truly inexplicable stuff going on:

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1984, Wes Craven released A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET onto the world. Pantheon spot assured. Just two years later, the fatally-compromised DEADLY FRIEND threatened to revoke his horror-master status.  What a thundering misfit of a film.  Clearly several people along the way had drastically different ideas about the movie they were making.  Is it a horror movie?  If so, what kind?  Is it a suburban nightmare vision like Craven’s previous film?  Is it a science-gone-mad story like Mary Shelley’s classic Promethean myth?  Is it an R or a PG-13?  No one knows!  DEADLY FRIEND only works as a comedy, but if you look at it that way, it’s absolutely phenomenal as a comedy.  The movie concerns one of those genius kids you could only meet in the 1980s who teaches college courses and invents a bright yellow robot named “B.B.” (voiced by the same guy who voiced Roger Rabbit).

 

 

 

robot v. punks

 

 

 

 

The robot, which is like a big yellow Johnny Five from SHORT CIRCUIT if Johnny Five had less motility but still a decent pickup game, and if he’d lacked Steve Guttenberg as a calming influence and thusly been willing to crush the nuts of neighborhood punks in a vise-like grip, is the equivalent of problem dog. The kid loves him, but he bites, and eventually he’s got to be put down. The one holding the shotgun is the one-of-a-kind Anne Ramsey – you know her from THE GOONIES, THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, and SCROOGED. She plays the mean neighborhood lady who shoots up the kid’s robot. A sad day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the kid has managed to befriend his troubled next-door neighbor, who is played by a very young, distressingly-cute Kristy Swanson. The girl, Sam, suffers under an abusive father, who ends up knocking her down the stairs, which sends her into a  coma. Insanely, the doctors comply with Dad’s decision to pull the plug.  Having now lost his two only friends in the world, what else can the science kid do but put B.B.’s robot personality into Kristy Swanson’s body? If this were any other 1980s teen movie, there’d be sexual overtones concerning having your very own Kristy Swanson robot at home, but it’s a Wes Craven flick, so the robot Sam has to end up going on a killing rampage, despite the fact that, no offense, Kristy Swanson isn’t all that scary.

 

 

 

yowza

 

 

 

Come for the STORY OF RICKY-esque scene where Kristy Swanson destroys Anne Ramsey’s skull with a basketball, stay for the hilariously non-frightening end-credits song where B.B. the robot raps his own name over ominous synthesizer strains.  There’s no way to tell what on earth anyone was thinking, but the end result is a nutball classic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an expanded version of an article that appeared on the great movie site Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Please go visit! 

 

 

And me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

Hardware (1990)

Richard Stanley is a drastically-underrated director and Sergio Leone enthusiast from South Africa whose work is ripe for rediscovery.  I’d seen his 1992 film DUST DEVIL before, but not his debut feature, HARDWARE, which I happened to finally get around to during the same weekend I saw the new DREDD movie.

Hardware (1990)

From where I’m sitting, there aren’t many movies as true to the post-punk 2000 AD aesthetic as these two movies, DREDD and HARDWARE, although my friends in the UK will definitely have more trustworthy opinions on the matter.  HARDWARE is based on a short strip from 2000 AD, the same series from whence Judge Dredd arrived.  It actually is derived from a Judge Dredd storyline!

Hardware (1990)

Hardware (1990)

This is the basic pitch:  A trenchcoat-rocking soldier named Moses (Dylan McDermott) purchases the wreckage of a robot found in a post-apocalyptic desert, and brings it back to his sculptor/artist girlfriend Jill (Stacy Travis). While Mo is out, the robot activates and attempts to murder Jill in her apartment.  It may visually call to mind the Terminator of 1984, but this guy’s got some even nastier moves than that cyber-Arnold had.

Hardware (1990)

The deceptively-cheap movie — it’s stylish and relentless and looks like plenty more than a million bucks — is almost entirely about this battle, although it makes time for awesomely bizarre and/or disturbing performances by John Lynch (BLACK DEATH), Mark Northover (WILLOW!), and most unshakably, William Hootkins (STAR WARS, BATMAN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) as maybe the grossest movie pervert ever.  Iggy Pop and Lemmy also briefly contribute their talents, but with all that craziness surrounding, it all comes down to Jill and her fight to stay alive under attack by that freaky, ferocious robot.  It plays out, under Stanley’s direction, as an intensely tangible experience, despite springing out of a totally bonkers sci-fi set-up.

HARDWARE is available for purchase from Severin Films.

Hardware (1990)

This piece originally appeared on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

@jonnyabomb

superbeasto_dvd.preview

Now here’s a strange duck:  A hard-R horror-comedy adult cartoon feature from musician/director Rob Zombie, featuring the usual voice suspects and a couple surprise voices. The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto is a filthy, funny, deranged mess of a kitchen sink of a movie that will please a certain kind of person, ideally in a certain state of mind (if you get me), and will turn off the straight-laced. For my part, I’m just glad that something like this exists – it’s comfortable knowing that there’s a place in the world for adult animation, even if it’s not exactly my flavor.

The story, as much as I can collect it all in one column, goes a little something like this: El Superbeasto (voiced by comedian and co-writer Tom Papa) is an insanely horny luchador – somewhere between Santo and Dirk Diggler – who is the big cheese in the titular Haunted World, a geek-dream dimension where zombies and werewolves and strippers coexist in constant hysteria. As soon as El Superbeasto falls for the town’s alpha-stripper, Velvet Von Black (voiced by Rosario Dawson!), she is abducted by the misleadingly named Doctor Satan (voiced by Paul Giamatti!) and his long-suffering gorilla henchman. El Superbeasto is aided in his rescue attempt by his younger sister, Suzi X (Sheri Moon Zombie) and her hopelessly infatuated robot sidekick (Brian Posehn.) At the end of the day, this is all about high school: Doctor Satan was the school nerd, in love with the head cheerleader (Suzi X) and constantly tormented by the school bully (El Superbeasto.) Doctor Satan will have his revenge, and hump it too!

El Superbeasto is fairly described as Heavy Metal meets Ren & Stimpy (the design, pace, and much of the voicework is heavily indebted to John Kricfalusi’s surreal/absurd classic series.) It’s also probably fairly described as Rob Zombie’s most fun movie, even his best. I’m on record as saying that I root for Rob Zombie’s cinematic endeavors – he loves a lot of the same things I love (rock n’ roll, old horror movies, pretty girls, badass character actors, monsters, and mayhem) and he brings a competitive energy and enthusiasm to the horror genre – but his movies have thus far turned out unnecessarily unpleasant, even sadistic, in finished form. (Haven’t seen his Halloween 2, but that goes back to the old cliché about not wanting to put my hand back on the hot stove that burned me once before.)

El Superbeasto, thankfully, plays out differently. It has its excesses – who am I kidding? It’s ALL excess!  But there’s a sense of gleeful anarchy and a swinging swagger that permeates the whole thing and makes it never less than watchable. For me, there were two elements to elevate it:

1)      The voice work by the unconventionally wonderful movie stars Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson is unconventionally wonderful. If I didn’t see from the credits that they’d be featured, I might never have guessed. Is there such a thing as Method voice acting? Giamatti and Rosario are completely and unrecognizably committed to their wackadoo characters, and the results are weird and funny, truly superior voice acting.

2)      The movie features several original songs by Hard N’ Phirm, the comedy team of Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman. The songs are by far the funniest part of the movie – they’re exactly the right tone and vibe and they smartly comment on the action and the more blatantly exploitative parts of the story. It makes certain scenes that might have been creepy to watch hilariously creepy. I’ve seen these guys do their thing before live and they’re great – it was a fun surprise to enjoy their contributions here.

So whatever it says about me, I watched the whole damn thing. I probably wouldn’t watch it again but I’m happy to have watched it once. It’s crazy in its own very specific way and I can respect that. However: If you’re the kind of person who is offended by cartoon boobs or cartoon sex, be forewarned. Stay away. It’s understandable, but you won’t want to see what happens here. As for the rest of you maniacs? Eat, drink, and be merry.

@jonnyabomb

Originally written on October 10th, 2009.