Sunday, April 30, 2006

Camp Slaughter (2005)

“After the good time we're going to show you boys, I don't think you're going to want to leave.”

Here's how I assume the pitch meeting went for Camp Slaughter:

“You'll love this one! We cross Friday the 13th with Groundhog Day and a dash of Brokeback Mountain.”

“How could I NOT love it? Take this sledgehammer. Your budget will be whatever you can get out of the candy machine in the lobby. Oh, and grab me a Snickers while you're at it.”

Daniel, Jen, Mario, and Angela are on their way to Boston. They first notice something is amiss when they pass the same road sign twice. Even more telling is the fact that the sign says “Welcome to Maine.” The only way these characters could pass through Maine on the way to Boston is if they are coming from Canada–which clearly they are not–or if the film is shot in Northern California and no one bothered to consult a map.

The car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and the four are forced to spend the night in the vehicle. When morning comes the car is surrounded by the nauseatingly perky, short-short wearing counselors of Camp Hiawatha. They bring the four back to camp and offer to call a tow truck that any self-respecting horror buff knows will never arrive. Even stranger than the overly fun loving staff are the calendars, ancient magazines, and the cringe-inducing dialogue of Nichole the Valley Girl. Camp Hiawatha is doomed to repeat a single summer day from 1981 in which the campers and counselors are all brutally killed.

To the best of my knowledge this is the first Friday the 13th knock off with a homo-erotic subtext. The scenes of muscular bare-chested young men touching, patting one another on the butt, and embracing are too numerous to be misinterpreted. Strangely, this theme never moves beyond implication, so my Broke Back Mountain reference is admittedly overstated. The fact that the the main characters are driving a Hummer would make for a joke too lame even for me.

I will give the filmmakers credit, the idea of a summer camp in which the counselors are brutally murdered each and every day only to awaken the following morning to do it all over again has some merit. Anyone who has seen any of the Friday the 13th movies can tell you just how much these characters NEED to die. Allowing them to be slaughtered continuously for 24 years seems almost just. This, however, is where the accolades stop.

Despite a decent premise, Camp Slaughter is bad beyond redemption. There isn't a single likable or interesting character to be found. Some characters are referred to as campers, but they all seem old enough to be counselors themselves. The gore effects are amateurish and lack accompanying sound effects. Director Alex Pucci over-uses closeups, allowing us to explore the actors' pores and nasal cavities to distraction. Clever dialogue like “I know these roads like the back of my dick,” is just wasted.

Remove this from your Netflix queue. Seriously. It's for the best.

Camp Slaughter's entry at the Internet Movie Database.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove

"Just look at the size of those feet!"

In a secret laboratory near Blood Cove, Dr. Lazaroff and his team have created a sea monster from scratch. The slimy beast combines equal parts Creature From the Black Lagoon, Beast From Haunted Cave, and the critters from Horror of Party Beach, and has been created based on the work of Victor Frankenstein. The creature fights off Dr. Lazaroff's mind control chemicals and escapes, presumably to die in the open sea. To continue with their plan to create an unholy beast to fight terrorism, Lazaroff and his associates must travel to Shellvania (you know, just beyond Transylvania) to exhume the original Frankenstein monster and bring him back to the U.S.

Meanwhile, girlie photographer Bill Grant (played by writer/director Bill Winckler) and his crew are shooting some cheesecake photos for Frisky Kitty Cat magazine at Blood Cove. The photo shoot is ruined and the model slaughtered by Dr. Lazaroff's sea creature. Grant and his crew seek refuge at the Doctor's seaside estate, but they soon find themselves held captive and forced to assist the good doctor in his diabolical plans.

I so wanted to like this movie. This film is obviously a labor of love, made by a director with passion for the creature features of yesteryear. Shot in glorious black and white, no attempt is even made to cover up the seams in the sea creature costume. They are worn proudly like a red badge of courage. The nudity is both gleefully gratuitous and surprisingly tasteful, and there are moments where you can actually believe you're watching a lost B flick recently unearthed by the likes of Something Weird Video.

Sadly, it just doesn't work. The Frankenstein Monster as depicted on the box cover reminded me of Dick Briefer's Frankenstein comics from the 40's, one of my favorite portrayals of Shelley's monster, but apparently this was a trick of the light. B movie roots or not, I'd hoped we as a society had progressed beyond the stiff-legged Frankenstein monster with the outstretched arms and mono-syllabic dialogue, but that's exactly what we get here. Add to this a beer gut and a pirate shirt, and suddenly Glenn Strange's pedestrian performance as the monster seems as accomplished as Karloff's. The fight scenes between the two creatures are badly choreographed, and the story just wanders around before bumping into a deus ex machina.

Fortunately for Winckler the movie is pretty much critic proof. Since this is an homage to B monster flicks of the 50's, the over the top acting, campy dialogue, and meandering plot can all be chalked up to stylistic choice. They all increase the illusion that this is a lost flick from that period. Even the constant referral to the monster as "Frankenstein" can be explained in this way. The film might have been better served by taking things a step further, casting non-actors rather than actors trying to sound like non-actors, and digitally fuzzing the image to further enhance the look of old film.

I don't want to be too hard on a film whose heart is obviously in the right place. Frankenstein Vs. The Creature From Blood Cove gets an enthusiastic A for effort if not execution.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Stars and Stripes for Terror

An American Haunting (2006)
This one hits theatres on May 5 and I've been seeing the TV spots a lot. The movie is based on the allegedly true story of the only documented case in the U.S. in which a ghost caused someone's death. Whether or not you believe in such things doesn't really matter. The real question is: does it scare? The commercials and the trailer have piqued my interest, and the poster, as you can see, is wicked cool. Who can say for sure, but I'm hoping this is the gothicy kind of film that will let folks get their creep on. There's a photo gallery at the IMDB and here's a link to the official site.

Oh, We Got Your Snakes Here

I'm still not sure what to make of this new Samuel L. Jackson film Snakes on a Plane. Love the title. Sounds like a late seventies made for TV movie starring Christopher George and a handful of actors whose careers are on the downslide. DVD Trash has a great example of what the poster should--but sadly won't--look like. You can also link to the trailer from there. Here's the official site.

Still Accepting Entries For the Masters of Horror DVD Giveaway

There's still time to enter our Masters of Horror DVD Giveaway for a chance to win a copy of John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns. We'll be taking entries until midnight on 5/3/06. Click here for details.

Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis

“Send more security guards.”

I was getting a little concerned. Most of the reviews I've posted so far have been positive, and the last thing I want is to get a reputation as a quote whore. “I laughed! I cried! It pushed all the right buttons!” Barf.

Fortunately, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis—a steaming dog turd of a film if there ever was one—has broken that cycle. The box cover and title card don't use the number “4,” presumably in the hope that no one will notice this is the forth installment in a series that tanked with part 2. Someone must have thought removing the “4” would make the movie prettier, but everyone knows that even if you put a dead woodchuck in a satin dress and tiara, no one is going to take it to the prom.

Charles Garrison (Peter Coyote) is an employee of Hybra Tech corporation, a conglomerate that manufactures everything from napalm to salsa chips. They're also responsible for the cleanup of every zombie infestation in the ROTLD universe. Garrison is conducting some company business in the irradiated remains of the Chernobyl nuclear facility, where he purchases several barrels of Tri-Oxin which, as we know from the previous films, is a reanimation chemical. After an unfortunate mishap that leads to some brain munching, Garrison somehow gets the cannisters back to the United States and sets about reanimating the dead in his laboratory.

Garrison's nephews, a moody teenager named Julian and his kid brother Pyro, are all crabby and angsty in the wake of their parents' deaths the year before. Julian spends much of his time with his friends, a mind boggling circle of teen stereotypes including the hot headed-Latino, the pretty nerd girl, the blonde sexpot, and the token African-American. Director Ellory Elkayem has obviously seen Not Another Teen Movie, but sadly he didn't get the joke.

While showing off on his dirt bike, Julian's best friend Zeke knocks himself cold. Julian is told at the hospital that Zeke died tragically from a reaction to pain killers, but Zeke's ex-girlfriend Katy has just seen Zeke being wheeled into Hybra Tech where she works. Our teen heroes deduce that Hybra Tech is up to no good, and they hatch an elaborate and convoluted plot to spring their friend. In the process, though, several of Garrison's experiments are released, and the guttural cry of “BRAAAAAAAAIIIIIINS,” is once again heard across the land.

This movie left me with many questions, but the biggest of them is what the hell is wrong with Peter Coyote's mouth? He has this weird lip-over-the-gum grimace throughout, as if he's having trouble keeping his dentures in place. On the other hand, John Keefe who plays Julian often tries to look intense but comes off as constipated. I suggest dental checkups and bran muffins for the entire cast.

Why are there no security guards to stop the teens from entering this top secret facility? When they suspect their friend has been kidnapped, why doesn't anyone just call the police? It is established early on that the zombies can be killed by a gunshot to the head (contrary to previous entries in the series), why then do we see zombies dropping over from being shot in the chest? Finally, one member of the cast wears his status as cannon fodder so obviously that I have to ask why isn't he wearing a red Starfleet uniform?

The previous films in this series were never any great shakes in the originality department (For a rundown of the original Return of the Living Dead's convoluted origin and tenuous connection to George Romero's Dead films, see my review.), but this installment has resorted to blatant thievery. Anyone who has seen the Resident Evil movies will recognize Hybra Tech as a thinly disguised version of the Umbrella Corporation. The souped up cyborg zombies are obviously inspired by RE's Nemesis character, but look like The Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

According to the IMDB, most of the surviving characters will be back for Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave. I, however, will not.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Night of the Demon/Curse of the Demon

"But where does imagination end and reality begin? What is this twilight, this half world of the mind that you profess to know so much about?"

For as long as there have been horror movies the question has been asked: should the terror be merely suggested or should filmmakers “go for the grossout,” as Stephen King has been known to put it? While there is certainly room at the table for both quiet and extreme horror, this 1957 film makes a valid argument for the former.

The opening shots set the mood beautifully. We see a car hurtling down a lonely stretch of road in the middle of the night, trees forming eerie silhouettes in the headlights. The driver, a tense, nervous looking man, is Professor Henry Harrington and he’s on his way to see Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), the leader of a demonic cult. Though details are left delightfully vague, Harrington begs Karswell to stop what he has put into motion.

Some things are easier to start than stop, as Karswell points out, and before the night is out Harrington is slaughtered by a gigantic, spike-headed, bat-winged demon that could easily have sprung from the pen of H.P. Lovecraft. Soon our hero enters the fray in the form of Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews). Holden arrives in England where he is to take part in a seminar debunking allegedly supernatural phenomena. Chief on his schedule is an expose of Karswell’s demonic cult, a project he had been working on with Harrington.

Holden meets, and begins falling for, Harrington’s niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins). Joanna insists Karswell has somehow caused her uncle’s death. Holden scoffs. In fact, he does a lot of scoffing in this movie. He is a scientist and believes there is a rational explanation for everything.

While doing some research at a London museum, Holden is visited by Karswell. Despite Karswell’s request, Holden refuses to call off his expose. Karswell slips Holden a parchment bearing runic symbols, and the plot is off and running. Holden refuses to believe that the parchment has marked him for death at the hands of the same creature that killed Harrington, but evidence to the contrary begins to mount, and we’re soon on our way to a confrontation between the worlds of logic and the supernatural.

A lot of what happens in this movie happens below the surface, and not just the supernatural elements. The verbal sparring between Holden and Karswell works particularly well. For the most part they maintain a believable fa├žade of cordiality to one another, despite the fact that we know--as do they--that they will soon be at one another’s throat. Only at the points where one of the characters has angered the other to the point of an outburst do we see the true nature of their relationship.

Tourneur’s use of subtlety is masterful. One of the film’s highlights is Holden’s journey through the woods at night near Karswell’s estate. As the date of Holden’s predicted death approaches the demon comes closer and closer to manifesting. We don’t see the creature yet, but a hovering cloud of angry smoke follows Holden, and we see the footprints of some monstrously huge creature forming in the ground.

Tourneur never intended to show the demon, and the slimy beastie we see in the movie was added at the studio’s insistence. A lot has been said over the years about how the inclusion of a visible, tangible creature ruined Tourneur’s original idea, which was to leave the viewer with a sense of uncertainty as to whether anything supernatural had actually occurred. The last 45 years, however, has seen more graphic depictions of cinematic horror than you can shake a gratuitously severed limb at. The demon that was foisted upon Tourneur’s film is shown sparingly, leaving far more to the imagination than would a film made today. In light of this, Night/Curse of the Demon is in some ways truer to Tourneur’s vision today than it was when it was originally released.

Not only does Curse of the Demon bear up well 49 years after its initial arrival in theatres, but it has never looked as good on the small screen. Columbia Tri-Star’s DVD presentation presents a crisp picture with only minor specs and scratches. Unfortunately, the film is so sharp looking that the wire dragging the rune parchment that is supposedly trying to escape on its own is painfully clear.

The film is presented in two versions. Night of the Demon is the original British version, and runs 95 minutes, while Curse of the Demon, the American release version, was trimmed to 82 minutes. The only extras are trailers for The Bride and Fright Night.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Don't forget the Masters of Horror DVD giveaway

Still plenty of time to enter Omega Channel's Masters of Horror DVD giveaway. Click here for details.

Hostel

"You're so serious, Mr. Serious American."

There needs to be a name for this new sub-genre of non-supernatural torture and murder films to which Wolf Creek, Hostel, Saw and their ilk belong. I've been calling them "bolt cutter movies" because of a particular cringe inducing scene in Hostel. I'm just going to throw this out there and see if people pick up on it. Anyone? Yeah, I know. It's like trying to give yourself a nickname.

Pax and Josh, two young Americans are backpacking through Europe with their Icelandic buddy Oli. During a stay in Amsterdam the three partake of the hash bars and legal prostitution, but as Josh says, "there are too many Americans around." They meet a fellow named Alexi who tells them of a hostel in Slovakia where the women are beautiful and sex-starved. "They hear your accent and they want to f**k you," he says. Guided by their hormones, the three travelers leave for Slovakia in search of hedonistic excess. They find Alexi's hostel and it is everything he promised. The accommodations are suspiciously high-scale and the women are both beautiful and frequently naked.

Things take a dark turn when Oli disappears. Pax receives a text message saying simply "I go home." Josh and Pax don't buy it, though. After a second night of partying with the girls from the hostel, Josh finds himself handcuffed to a chair in a dark room. He is not alone, and the array of pliers and power tools set up on a nearby table serve to assure that Josh is about to have a bad day.

Eli Roth's previous film Cabin Fever mixed the humor with the horror to reasonably good effect. With Hostel he takes a much darker approach, and once we are in the thick of the story there isn't a grin to be had. This is the Unrated Director's Cut, though I can't say I noticed any differences from the theatrical version. I had seen Hostel during it's theatrical run, but I decided to give it a second look on disk and I'm glad I did. My initial viewing had been marred by a director with loose lips. I had listened to an interview with Roth on Rue Morgue Radio and in his zeal to promote the movie he gave away too much, ruining the film's biggest surprise.

Of course, there were no surprises during the second viewing, but then I wasn't expecting to be surprised (again with the oxymorons here) and was better able to appreciate the film. The director does an excellent job of creating a sense of alienation, and of showing how far from home these American students are. Isolation is a key element of horror, and Roth achieves this nicely. I'm reluctant to give too much away, but suffice it to say, once things get rolling even the heartiest of horror fans will have something to squirm about. This is not a masterpiece--the early part of the film feels like Porky's Goes to Amsterdam--but it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Upcoming Releases Worth Noting

Here are a few upcoming releases that have caught my attention:

Pulse (2006)
This is the latest in the wave of U.S. remakes of Japanese horror films. I recently saw the original 2001 version--known in Japan as Kairo--which frankly left me cold. My full review will be appearing in the summer issue of Phantom of the Movies Videoscope, but in a nutshell there are some good moments surrounded by more moments of tedium, and the story is just plain murky (my oxymoron for the day). The story involves a series of suicides that may or may not (like I said: murky) have something to do with the spirits of the dead returning via the internet.

Despite this, I have cautiously high hopes for the remake. The poster (click on the thumbnail for a closer view) is the stuff that nightmares are made of. The trailer is included on the Wolf Creek DVD, and there are some intriguing bits. What was implied in the Japanese original seems far more upfront here, and I'm hoping that kind of clarity will help. Oddly enough, the trailer contains scenes from the Japanese original. Whether or not these scenes are also in the final film remains to be seen. Kristen Bell, star of TV's Veronica Mars, is an interesting choice for the lead as well. If you don't have the Wolf Creek disk handy you can link to the Pulse trailer at the IMDB.

The U.S. theatrical release date is July 14, 2006.

Cemetery Man (a.k.a. Dellamorte Dellamore, 1994)
This late entry in the Italian zombie movie sweepstakes finally makes its DVD debut on June 16, 2006. Directed by Michele Soavi--yes, the guy who watched his girlfriend vomit her own intestines in Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead/The Gates of Hell--Cemetery Man is the swan song of Italian zombie movies, but it also rises above the genre to become something else entirely. Rupert Everett plays a cemetery watchman whose job is not to keep people out, but to keep the graveyard's occupants in. The film has great horror elements, but can also be funny and touching.

You can get the full specs on the disk at Anchor Bay Entertainment's website.


Equinox (1970)
This no budget chiller has been a favorite of mine for years. I've seen it on television, VHS, and a grainy bootleg DVD, and now it makes its official DVD bow thanks to the prestigious Criterion Collection. Begun as a student project with some highly ambitious stop-motion animation, Equinox was shot over the course of several years. The story involves four friends who encounter a variety of monsters in the woods that have been conjured by an ancient and evil book of spells. Much has been made of the resemblance between this film and The Evil Dead, though personally I think the similarity is superficial. Frank Bonner is one of the stars, years before he played Herb Tarlek, General Sales Manager of WKRP in Cincinnati, a sitcom that just screams for a DVD release of its own.

Equinox hits stores on June 20, 2006.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Masters of Horror DVD Giveaway

The good folks at Anchor Bay Entertainment have provided Omega Channel with a copy of John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns, the first DVD release from the Showtime Masters of Horror series. Some lucky blog-surfer is going to walk away with this way cool disk, previously reviewed on this site. In addition to the feature the disk includes:

  • Commentary by director John Carpenter
  • Commentary by writers Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan
  • "Celluloid Apocalypse: An Interview with John Carpenter" featurette
  • “Behind The Scenes: The Making of Cigarette Burns" featurette
  • "Working With a Master: John Carpenter" featurette on the director and his work
  • "On Set: An Interview with Norman Reedus" featurette
  • John Carpenter Bio
  • Still Gallery
  • Trailers
  • DVD-ROM: Original Screenplay and screen saver

All you need to do is send an email to omegachannel.matt@gmail.com with the subject header “ John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns DVD giveaway,” stating your name in the body of the email and asserting that you are over 18 years of age. All entries must be received before midnight Eastern time on Wednesday 5/3/06. After that a winner will be chosen at random and notified within three business days. Void where prohibited by local law. Contest open only to residents of the continental United States and Canada. No purchase necessary (especially since I'm not selling anything). One entry per email address. Duplicate entries will be deleted. All decisions made by the management of this blog in regard to this giveaway are final.

Good luck to all.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Master's of Horror:
Stuart Gordon's Dreams in the Witch House

“She has come. Your soul is in peril.”

This second installment in Showtime's Masters of Horror series features an adaptation of a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. Stuart Gordon has made a career for himself adapting the works of H.P. Lovecraft to the screen. Quite a feat considering that many of Lovecraft's stories are virtually unfilmable. Gordon has a knack for finding the workable elements in Lovecraft's stories, making these films seem more like collaborations than adaptations. Re-animator and From Beyond may not be pure Lovecraft, but they are pretty wild rides in their own right.

I was concerned when I saw that Ezra Godden was starring in this episode. It was Godden's performance that, in my mind, sabotaged Gordon's previous Lovecraft adaptation Dagon. It seemed obvious that he had been cast for his physical resemblance to Jeffrey Combs, star of From Beyond and the Re-animator films, and Godden's character required a range he seemed incapable of displaying. This was unfortunate, since Dagon had some of purest Lovecraftian moments of any of Gordon's adaptations, but the film as a whole didn't work.

In Dreams in the Witch House, Godden plays Walter Gilman, a grad student at (where else?) Miskatonic University. He's working on his thesis in String Theory and he needs a cheap, quiet place to study. He finds just that in a run down, vermin-infested, 300 year old boarding house. His neighbors include a seemingly crazy old man who chants loudly and beats his head against a table top at all hours of the night, and a single mom named Frankie. Both Frankie and her baby son Danny take a shine to Walter after the young student chases a rat from their room.

There are some strange anomalies in the boarding house's construction. The corners of Walter's room intersect in a bizarre manner very much resembling the intersecting plains of a String Theory diagram on his laptop. There seems to be a link between these strangely connected walls and the witch that begins appearing in Walter's dreams—if in fact they are dreams. The witch seduces Walter in these visions and compels him to commit horrific acts. It seems she and her companion—a rat with a human face—need a baby for a sacrifice, and she has her eye on little Danny next door.

Gordon doesn't quite hit this one out of the park like Carpenter did with Cigarette Burns. While not exactly predictable, the story does follow a fairly linear path, and anyone familiar with Lovecraft's work knows not to expect a happy ending. Gordon does capture the Lovecraft spirit, though, and the presence of The Necronomicon, rat-infested walls, and bizarre architecture (reminiscent of the oft-sited “cyclopean temples”) are hearteningly familiar.

Godden redeems himself nicely with this film. He manages the transformation from a studious nerd to a terrorized and tortured soul with believability, and the absence of horn-rimmed glasses makes his resemblance to Reanimator character Herbert West far less noticeable. As with John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns, the one hour format works to the story's adavantage, allowing for a pace that more closely resembles that of a short story. The witch manages to be both sinister and seductive, and the man-faced rat, though not always convincing, still gets points for character.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Great Basil Wolverton/Tales From the Tomb Controversy

OK, not exactly a controversy. More of an anomaly really—if that even—but an interesting one. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a certain comic book called Tales From the Tomb from Eerie Publications messed with my head at an early age. Meat cleaver massacres, gallons of blood, dangling eyeballs. It's a wonder I can function in society at all.

By the 1970's, The Comics Code Authority established in the 1950's had effectively severed the Achilles tendon of horror in the comics medium. Restrictions were so tight that horror wasn't viable in the standard comic book format (despite tepid attempts like DC's House of Mystery, House of Secrets, etc.). Several publishers, including Eerie Publications, got around this by printing their books in a magazine-sized black and white format, thus skirting the Comics Code Authority entirely.

The mag in question was the October 1970 issue (henceforth referred to as Exhibit A. Well... no, not really) which you can see to your left. I was fascinated and I read that comic until it literally fell apart. Even years after that pulp paper atrocity had disintegrated, the stories stuck in my head like a bug in a roach motel. I read a lot of comics after that one, but I'll tell you, after seeing the eyeballs fly in an Eerie Publication, Archie's indecision as to whether he should take Veronica to the sock hop or study with Betty just doesn't cut it as compelling fiction.

Then in June of 1986 came issue #5 of Death Rattle (Exhibit B, to your right) from Kitchen Sink Comix. Death Rattle, though no longer in circulation, remains one of my favorite horror comics of all time. The art and writing were well above average and they would even occasionally reprint a classic story form the Golden Age. That particular issue carried a reprint of a story called "Robot Woman," the tale of a robotics genius with social issues who decides to build himself the perfect woman with Twilight Zone-ian mixed results. The story was drawn by one of the true greats of 1950's horror and science fiction comics, Basil Wolverton. [Incidentally, one of Wolverton's best loved stories was "The Brain-Bats of Venus." The Brain-Bat you see over in the far right column of this blog is my homage/reinterpretation.]

The odd thing was that I had seen this story before, though in a different form. I distinctly remembered a story called "Until Death do us Part" in that long gone issue of Tales From the Tomb. I could tell that the art was different, but the story was virtually the same right down to the panel breakdowns. It was like seeing that old comic again as it had been published in some parallel dimension.

It seems that much of Eerie Publications' content at the time was derived from pre-code horror comics. It was common practice for them to alter the artwork from those stories to add large helpings of gore. In this case, the entire story was redrawn, and the dialogue slightly altered. I suppose it's possible that Wolverton's style—striking though it is—seemed a bit dated by 1970. There are several other stories in that same issue of Tales From the Tomb that are clearly drawn in a 1950's style. Perhaps the idea was to get a stronger legal hold on the material. It's possible that "Robot Woman" and much of this other material was in public domain by this time, so creating new artwork might shore up any copyright issues.

This is all conjecture, though. My real reason for this posting is to show the two stories side by side. I've seen writings about Eerie's practice of redrawing stories, but I've never seen any reference to this specific case. Each of the scans below contains a page from the original Wolverton "Robot Woman" story along with the corresponding page from Eerie Publications' "Until Death Do Us Part" (which I reacquired thanks to Ebay).

Please note that, to the best of my knowledge, both of these stories are in the public domain.


Click on thumbnails for a larger image.











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Well, I'm glad I finally got that off my chest.

HAPPY EASTER

The Easter Bunny's lesser known cousin Frank says "Happy Easter" from Omega Channel.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Return of the Living Dead

“They're back from the grave and ready to party.”

Since Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis arrives on DVD next week, now seems like a good time take a look back at the movie that started the franchise.

After the completion of Night of the Living Dead, director George A. Romero and screenwriter John Russo both came away from the project with sequel rights. Romero of course went on to make Dawn of the Dead (hailed by many as one of the greatest horror films of all time) and Day of the Dead (a flawed effort, but still worth a peek).

Russo made his sequel initially in the form of a novel called Return of the Living Dead. Russo wrote several B grade horror novels of widely varying quality throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Eventually the film rights ended up in the hands of writer/director Dan O’Bannon. Feeling Russo’s script was too similar to what Romero had done with Dawn of the Dead, O’Bannon wrote his own script, which took a more light-hearted approach to flesh-eating dead folks. Interestingly, story credit is still given to Russo, Russell Streiner (best known as Johnny from Night of the Living Dead), and Rudy Ricci (another Romero mainstay who, among other things, played a biker in Dawn of the Dead). I can’t say what Russo and company’s screenplay may have been like, but the final film bears no resemblance whatsoever to Russo’s snore-fest of a novel.

The film opens at the Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse. Frank (James Karen) is showing new employee Freddie (Thom Matthews) the ropes. During the tour of the facility Frank reveals that Night of the Living Dead was loosely based on true events. It seems the army created a nerve gas that, as an added bonus, could revive the dead. Due to an army snafu, several canisters of once reactivated dead folks packed in their own tangy reanimating juices were delivered to the warehouse and have been collecting dust in the basement.

One of the canisters ruptures, giving Frank and Freddie a face full of reanimation gas and allowing the chemical to escape into the ventilation system, reviving a corpse in the warehouse freezer. Burt the warehouse owner (Gulager) arrives and decides the best way to dispose of the walking dead guy is to drive a pickaxe through his head. Good try, but we quickly learn these aren’t your father’s walking dead. Destroying the brain doesn’t work like it did in Night of the Living Dead (“You mean the movie lied?” asks an anguished Freddie).

Burt decides to hack up the zombie, cart it to the crematorium conveniently located across the street, and no one will be the wiser. Again, good try, but the smoke from the burning zombie seeds the clouds overhead with the reanimation chemical. A convenient rainstorm spreads the chemical over an equally convenient cemetery, where conveniently enough Freddie’s punk friends are waiting for him to get off work.

All this proves to be pretty damn inconvenient for the living members of the cast. Soon dead folks are clawing their way out of the ground and they’re pretty damn hungry. Unlike the undiscriminating zombies of Romero’s films who would gorge themselves on any old hunk of warm flesh, these guys are after brains and brains alone. After all, these are the kinder gentler walking dead of the Reagan Era.

Horror and comedy make for a difficult mix. Usually they go together as well as ice cream and mayonnaise, the humor diluting the horror and vice versa. Return of the Living Dead is a fun little bit of fluff, but at no point does the film work perfectly. While some of the main zombies like Tarman, the half-zombie, and Linnea Quigley’s nude zombie are eye-catchers, most of the background zombies are unimpressive, often looking like no more than people covered in mud. The first zombie who comes out of the ground, in what should be one of the pivotal moments of the film, is laughably cheap looking.

The pluses ultimately outweigh the minuses, however. The aforementioned Tarman is a creepy, gooey example of pre-digital effects. The story moves at a good clip, thanks to a strong cast, particularly James Karen and Clu Gulager. The eighties punk soundtrack is excellent and available on CD. The gang of punk kids is cartoonishly entertaining, and Linnea Quigley is naked throughout much of the movie. It could be worse, friends. It could be much worse.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wolf Creek

“30,000 people are reported missing in Australia every year. 90% are found within a month. Some are never found again.”

It's good to know that some things are universal, cutting across cultural lines to help bring us all together. If nothing else, Wolf Creek proves there IS Spring Break in Australia. Two British college girls Liz and Kristy, along with their Aussie friend Ben, have just finished up a glorious stay on the Australian coast. They've gotten a good price on a used car (yeah, foreshadow this!) and they're bound for Wolf Creek Crater, a real life meteor crater, 875 meters in diameter, believed to have been formed when one big-ass space rock touched down during the Pleistocene Era.

The vacation starts to go south when Ben's car refuses to start, leaving the trio stranded in the middle of a vast Australian nowhere. Just as they prepare to spend the night in the car, a seemingly friendly local named Mick Taylor arrives and offers to tow their car back to his camp for repair. There is some trepidation, but Mick seems like an amiable enough cuss. He sets to work fixing the car while the stranded young folk drink the fresh water Mick has offered.

Liz wakes up sometime later. She's alone, bound and gagged on the floor of a shack. The water, it seems, was drugged. Fighting off hysteria, Liz manages to free herself, and following the sounds of Kristy's screams, she finds her friend bound and bloody at the mercy of their host Mick, who is the antithesis of the good samaritan they originally believed him to be. Ben is nowhere to be seen, and Liz is forced to make some of the toughest decisions of her life.

Some might say it takes awhile for the action to kick in, but I say that is time well spent. These are not the cookie-cutter teens of so many other horror movies. The extended character development is essential, letting us know who these kids are and making what eventually happens to them all the more horrifying. And make no mistake, what happens IS horrifying.

What with the camping, the presence of a video camera, and the ever building tension, Wolf Creek at times feels like The Blair Witch Project with the gender ratio reversed. The similarity may not be a coincidence. The Blair Witch Project was a work of fiction disguised as a documentary. Wolf Creek is allegedly “inspired by true events,” so both films attempt to more closely engage the audience by implying that what we are seeing is real. Reinforcing this is the fact that the characters do not make a lot of the usual horror movie mistakes (“Let's split up and die!”). Also, as with Blair Witch, we are given a cast of unknowns, actors who come to us with absolutely no preconceived notions, adding immensely to the realism. The fact that much of Wolf Creek is obviously based on conjecture and not established facts is irrelevant, and does not diminish its impact.

It's interesting to note that slasher movies like the Friday the 13th and Halloween movies—as well as their countless imitators—attempted to up the horror by putting a mask on the killer. The faceless killer was meant to stimulate a fear of the unknown. Wolf Creek does a full turnaround, giving its killer a human countenance, showing us that an inhuman monster in a Halloween mask isn't nearly as frightening as a real person who just enjoys hurting people because he's wired that way.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Masters of Horror:
John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns

“Something happens when you point the camera at something terrible. The resulting film takes on power”

Since the Masters of Horror series debuted on Showtime awhile back, there’s been much written about the series both online and off. I've avoided reading that stuff until recently. The show looked promising, offering a stand alone horror film by a maestro of the genre in every episode. Not being a Showtime subscriber I didn't want to torture myself reading about a potentially great series of films I wasn’t going to be able to see until the DVD release.

Since only two episodes have made it to DVD so far, I certainly can't judge the series as a whole, but I am pleased to say John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns was worth the wait. It's a taut thriller with underlying themes of obsession and the inability to let go, and as a film buff I can certainly get behind its central idea: the quest for a lost film.

Kirby Sweetman (Norman Reedus), a mildly disheveled filmophile with a perpetually rumpled suit, is hired by a Mr. Ballinger (Udo Kier) to track down the Holy Grail of lost films: La Fin Absolue du Monde (The Absolute End of the World), a 1971 film whose only showing caused a fearsome outbreak of violence. As a result the film was banned and its only print destroyed. Since that time the film has been shrouded in mystery, but Ballinger insists the film does still exist. Ballinger is a film connoisseur, and he owns a most unusual souvenir from the production: an angel whose wings were severed on camera. As the angel explains, he is bound to the film on the deepest of levels. Were the film to be destroyed, he would know.

Ballinger offers Kirby $200,000, a sum Kirby needs badly to pay off the debts on his theatre, a "shitbox" as Ballinger calls it that Kirby uses to show eclectic films. The lien holder is Kirby's father-in-law, a relationship made all the more tense by the fact that Kirby's heroin addicted wife committed suicide.

Kirby's search for La Fin Absolue du Monde takes him down increasingly bizarre paths. Everyone who has had any kind of contact with the film has been effected by it. A.K. Meyers, the only critic to have reviewed the film, has spent the intervening years writing a new review, one that literally fills an entire room. Henri Cotillard, a film archivist who was the projectionist for a screening of the movie in the 1980's, paid a terrible price. As Kirby gets closer to his objective, he begins seeing "cigarette burns," the fleeting dot that appears in a movie right before a reel change. Within the cigarette burns are terrible visions which are becoming more and more vivid.

The one hour format--fairly lean for a feature--seems to aid in the pacing, forcing Carpenter to trim the fat so to speak. The tension builds nicely before the dark and nihilistic climax, and if you're looking for a little gore I think you will be more than satisfied.

For the most part, the casting is top notch. Reedus plays Kirby as likable everyman with a tragic burden. Kier's sinister euro-charm serves him well as a man who freely admits the skeletons in his closet and the likelihood of his own damnation, and Douglas Arthurs is downright frightening as a sadistic psychopath who understands the power of La Fin Absolue du Monde and would still gladly watch it. Gwynyth Walsh's performance as Katja Backovic was the only one I took exception to. She was a bit heavy-handed and I felt she needed to bring it down a notch or two.

The story reminded me a bit of Tim Lucas's novel Throat Sprockets, another tale of film-related obsession. Lucas himself has spoken of the similarity on his Video Watchblog, though not disparagingly I hasten to add. It's a case of two stories being cut from similar cloth, and no one is ripping anyone off here.

A second season is on the way from Showtime. Stuart Gordon's Dreams in the Witch House has also been released on DVD with the remainder of the first season to follow. A first-rate premiere from a series that seems to be going places.

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