Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not just another fish in the sea...

What's my favorite horror movie?
If I'm being honest, Halloween (1978) is the movie I always blurt out when someone asks my favorite movie. Regardless of the genre.
However, after careful consideration recently, I have determined that another movie most likely is the one I could watch over and over (and do). A perfect example of exemplary movie-making.

And that movie is JAWS.

I've always felt the need to capitalize the title because, let's face it, that was one BIG-ass shark.

I first read the book way back in (cough cough - I'm sorry, I can't manage to say the year...) well, a long time ago. I was too young to be allowed to see the movie when it released or even several years afterward (there, I feel somewhat better...) but they couldn't keep the written word away from me. I'd already read Carrie and The Shining at that point, so what was the use in keeping Jaws out of reach?

Well, here's a thought - it was a freakin' terrifying book. Guess my folks hadn't really thought about it. Sharks don't just kill people, they rip them limb from limb and devour them. Yummy!
No wonder I vacation at the Outer Banks every year but still don't do any quality swimming in the ocean. (Case in point, someone got killed by a shark in a northern town on the Outer Banks just this year, people.)

JAWS, the movie (1975) - is a film I have seen too many times to count. It is on tv pretty much all the time in the summer, so has anyone actually not seen it? My husband actually starts to groan now when he sees me turning it on.
I own the VHS tape (oy! - it is such a long movie that there were two tapes!), the 30th anniversary DVD, and if I ever pony up the money for a Blu-Ray DVD player, JAWS will be my first purchase.

It is known as the "father of the summer blockbuster", being the first movie to blow the pants off the box office in such a way that people lined streets in front of theaters just to see it.

It was the first movie ever to gross over 100 million. And from what Wikipedia says, it has 'grossed more than $470 million worldwide ($1.9 billion in 2008 dollars)'.
But we're not really here to discuss performance, are we?
Why is it my favorite?
I just can't say enough about all the little things I love about it. So I think my regular stand-by of just listing a top ten favorite moments will be all I can do.

1) Love the scene where Brody, Hooper and Quint are heading out to sea to find the shark and the boat is seen leaving the dock through the jaw bones of an actual Great White.


2) We don't see the shark for a long time. Sure, we see fins, we see damage, we hear the da-dum, da-dum.... but Bruce hides in the depths till just the right moment. On the Orca, at sea for the shark hunt, Brody is bitching about being delegated to throwing chum into the water when he throws a bunch of bloody fish parts into the sea - only to be scared shitless when the shark finally emerges, mouth open, teeth bared. Such a great moment. Which leads directly to my number 3....

3) "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Classic.

4) When Brody has had one of the worst days imaginable as the chief of police - dead swimmers, pissed off townsfolk, the mayor breathing down his neck.... he settles at his kitchen table with his son and they play a little game of monkey see - monkey do. It's a great, soft moment - perfectly placed amongst all the violence. When his son asks why he wants a kiss, he simply says: "Cause I need it."

5) Is it just me, or does the mother of Alex (the boy killed on the raft just off shore) look like his grandmother? Could they not have gotten a younger woman to play her? Okay, my actual point? I was more upset when the labrador retriever (Pippit) got killed (thankfully off-screen). Could care less about little Alex. Kill a dog and I'm out for blood.

6) "Mayor of Shark City"... the Amity touristy bill board sign with the drawn on fin and the "Help, Shark!" balloon over the cartoon woman's head.

Exactly what would happen, folks. Exactly. When Hooper tries to explain that "those proportions are correct" - the mayor still demands the beaches be kept open. Dumb ass.

7) Ellen Brody: "Wanna get drunk and fool around?" Chief Brody: "Oh yeah."

8) Hooper in the shark cage.

Before he goes down he tries to prepare his glasses and he notes: "I ain't got no spit."Yeah, me neither at that point. The moment where the shark comes right at the cage is probably (besides perhaps Quint's gruesome death scene) the most horrifying few minutes in the film.

9) "Smile you son-of-a-bitch!" And did I really hear what sounded like the roar of the shark as it sunk to the depths in pieces? That was a funky sound effect. Like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park or something.Maybe it's a Spielberg trademark... did they do it in Schindler's List anywhere?

10) To me, the "quint"-essential moment of JAWS is the telling of the story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. Quint's quiet and un-nerving ramblings about how torpedoes hit their submarine during WWII on the way to deliver the A-bomb, and then the deaths of his friends as they waited - bobbing up and down, alone in an sea of sharks - for their turn for rescue, to me, is one of the finest moments in film. It is said that Robert Shaw ad-libbed some the scene, but it worked so well they kept it.And that scene also led the way to the final act of the film and the trio's desperate attempt to at first kill the shark - then to simply stay alive.

From what I've read, JAWS was a real menace to film. Animatronic shark woes, the problems with shooting in salt-water with expensive cameras, budget restraints, weather concerns, sinking seemed to be doomed. Spielberg is said to have had so many difficulties with Bruce (the mechanical shark) that alot of the scenes were shot without Bruce, only eluding to the shark's actual whereabouts.

But combined with John Williams' brilliant Oscar winning score, I think NOT seeing the shark was a real boon for the film's production. It's always much scarier to not see what's there, to wonder if something is indeed stalking about....and to not know when it's coming.

"Farewell and adieu, to you fair Spanish ladies..."

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Monday, September 28, 2009

One, Two, Freddy's trailer is new...

For those who haven't seen it yet:
The trailer for the April 2010 re-make of A Nightmare on Elm Street...


Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Grace' under pressure

Once again, an independent film has broken down barriers and come up with a totally different and original concept. Yeah, babies gone bad has been done before, sure. But not like this.

Grace was originally a multiple award-winnning short (1996). Reaping enough money to produce a full-length feature, this disturbing film is the result.

Madeline (Jordan Ladd, who I must say is looking much rougher around the edges than her character in Cabin Fever) and Michael (Stephen Park) have been trying to have a baby for awhile. They've used fertility drugs and have suffered through two miscarriages already.
So when Madeline has the misfortune of being in a car accident, it's really no surprise to learn the baby has died in utero.

Hubby Michael also died in the same accident, and the now completely disillusioned Madeline decides to wait out the three weeks left in her pregnancy and deliver the baby stillborn.

, when she delivers using a midwife (Samantha Ferris) -who incidentally is an old friend and still has a strange crush on Madeline- the midwife, Patty, tries to take the seemingly dead baby from Madeline's arms. It is only then that you learn the baby is alive and nursing from her elated mother. Madeline names her Grace.
(Good thing, too - I mean, how stupid would the title 'Bertha' be?).

As if this isn't already weird enough...Madeline's mother-in-law Vivian (Gabrielle Rose), grieving over the loss of her son, has some mommy issues of her own. Let's just say it involves a breast pump, some strange sexual preferences, and a plot to remove Grace from her daughter-in-law's supposedly inadequate care.

Back at the ranch - Madeline begins to notice flies gathering in Grace's room. That and a very bad stench eminating from the child. Grace is becoming increasingly fussy as well, unable to tolerate her mother's milk. One night when nursing, Madeline is shocked to realize Grace has actually bitten her breast and is soothed by drinking the blood.

Madeline, quickly losing her grip with reality, morphs into severe mommy mode, doing anything - from becoming anemic herself to lining up victims to procure blood from - to attend to the nutritional needs of her daughter.

This flick is all kinds of weird. But you just can't stop watching. I've heard a thousand times about the bond between a mother and her child. But this puts a whole new spin on it.

To quote American author Anne Lamott: “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Horror Literature

A fellow horror blogger recently asked the lot of us (LOTTD) to send submissions for our ten favorite examples of horror literature - to include novels, short stories, and/or poems.

Surprisingly, some of the group felt it necessary to undermine the effort and basically demand that the list be divided into sub-groups or categories. They felt it should be separated into three distinct divisions (novels, short stories, and poetry).
While I understand their reasoning on some level, a lot of people - including myself - would be hard-pressed to think of ten poems to include. I just don't read poetry that often, horror or otherwise. Sorry.

In any respect, I narrowed my choices down to ten and sent them on.

And here is what I chose, and why.

1) Dracula - Bram Stoker
What really needs to be said about this classic novel? I mean, it's been adapted into countless film versions and is a book most modern horror novelists (in particular anyone writing about vampires) quote as a major source of inspiration. I doubt there is a better known character in all of horror than Count Dracula.

2) The Tell-Tale Heart - Edgar Allen Poe
When I was a kid, I first heard this story on a record (yes, a vinyl LP) produced by Disney. The guy who read the tale was so into it - really scared the crap out of me. The story itself is a morality based dilemma. What would you do if something - or someone - bothered you to the point of madness? And how would you live with the concenquences? Could you?

3) Ghost Story - Peter Straub
Truly I think this is one of the finest horror novels ever written. Stephen King is my favorite author, and yet - this book is beyond even SK's finest works. It just crawls under your skin with unrelenting terror. A horrible accident haunts a group of men - causing their lives to unravel in a deliciously frightening way. Hard to forget, once you've read it.

4) The Woman in Black - Susan Hill
This is a book I read after seeing the movie, which is a rare thing for me. I like to form my own, unbiased opinions about a story, and picture the characters in my mind prior to seeing the film. But in this case, it didn't hurt me too badly. Granted, it was hard to imagine anyone else but the movie characters in their roles, but the story itself held up very well. Descriptions of Victorian England and the creepy moors and remote villages were really top notch.
A really great book to influence bad dreams if read before sleep.

5) The Shining / Pet Sematary - Stephen King (tie - sorry, I couldn't choose between the two)
How to compare two of my favorite books? I can't. So I just won't. Suffice it to say that I think these are SK's two scariest books. It's told in rumors that King himself was so scared when writing Pet Sematary that he put the manuscript down for awhile and had to come back to it months later. The idea of the dead coming back in any form is the stuff of nightmares. And when you put a child into the scenario, there's just no way not to scare the pants off people.
The Shining is a real masterpiece, in my humble opinion. The vivid descriptive narrative of how a man descends into madness has never been told in such a hauntingly frightening way.

Jack Torrance is one of the most powerfuly written characters in fiction. Period. A little bit of cabin fever and a whole lotta alcohol goes a long way, believe me.
The two films made from the work still cannot hold a candle to the gripping horror of the novel itself.

6) A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Another book that I no doubt saw in film form before reading. How could you not? This has been made into countless movies over the years (my favorite being the George C. Scott version - it's our Christmas Eve tradition). But the book is Dickens for God's sake, how can you go wrong? Written in 1843 (seriously!!), this brilliant tale is a story of one man's collapse into irreverance and disrespect of his fellow man. Until his deceased partner comes back and sets things right.

7) Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
I first read Rebecca as a teenager - the perfect time to discover the tale of secretive tension and suspense. It struck me as a great piece of literature then, and it still is today. The story revolves around a young woman who has just married a well-to-do widow. Unfortunately, the title character (the dead wife) is still very much a part of the lives of the people who live at Manderley. Seriously haunting, it would make anybody think twice about marrying someone who hasn't forgotten a lost love.

8) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Washington Irving
Published in 1820, this book is still widely read today, in schools and homes across America. It's an awesome story, and while many find it (and all its film adaptions) silly or amusing, the actual story is a scary one. I mean, a man without a head is chasing a geeky schoolteacher all over Sleepy Hollow. Yeah, that's a bit creepy in my book.

9) The Raven - Edgar Allen Poe
Many people do not read poetry. It's my guess that hoardes of folks don't even know who Robert Frost is. But Edgar Allen Poe was a novelist as well - a weaver of frightening tales not to be forgotten. The Raven is his most famous poem, of course. It tells the story of a man who is mourning a lost love and is disrupted and disturbed by a raven tapping on his window.
Ravens are creepy, right? (the answer there is YES), but this one, even moreso.The man allows the raven inside and from then on, the bird utters only one word: Nevermore.
Isn't the fact that the bird actually talks weird enough?

You really have to read it to understand the jist of it. But it is powerful in its own right.
That Poe was one creepy dude.

10) Hell House - Richard Matheson
Matheson has so many works it is hard to choose. But I think I like this one best. Four people have been chosen to discover the reason why this house is called the Mount Everest of haunted houses. Studying the paranormal, a physicist, his wife, and two mediums try to debunk the legend and try to figure out why only one person has survived a night in the mansion. It was made into a movie with Roddy McDowell, and it wasn't too bad. Read the book. As always, read the book.

*Okay, that being said...I have ten more to add.
Coming up with only ten is like, crazy hard for me. So I stopped at twenty.
So, without further adieu, my also-rans.

11) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
If I really have to explain why this book is on this list then hell has indeed, froze over.
Written in 1818 by a 19 year old (can you imagine?), this is a truly fine example of gothic horror. So many stories and movies have been influenced by this tale it isn't even funny.
But the story itself should be read and appreciated. I don't think I have to relate the actual plot. Man tries to make another man from parts. Really good stuff!

12) The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (inspiration for Hellraiser)
Clive Barker is one disturbed individual. I mean, really mentally unbalanced. Which of course makes for good horror. He's written some really bizarro stuff, and this novella is no exception. Demons from hell, puzzle boxes, degrading sex, loads of gore... what more could you ask for?
Pleasure and pain - indiscernible from each other. Selling your soul to discover true bliss - or true horror. Mistakes are made, prices paid with flesh and blood. God, this is weird shit.

13) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Waaaay before the rhyming strains of the Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous Broadway extravaganza, and well before Claude Raines' portrayal of the tortured Erik, there was the 1910 novel. The story of Christine Daae's climb up the Paris Opera House's proverbial ladder is richly detailed with the horror of her "Angel of Music", a disfigured musical genius roaming the bowels of the Opera house. He mentors her - first with his voice, then later appearing to her with an obsessive madness. Romance blurs with delusional irrationality.
A true classic.

14) The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Another book I was lucky enough to read before seeing the film. However, I firmly believe that casting Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hannibal Lecter was cinematic brilliance.
That said, this is one nasty novel. A young FBI trainee gets the opportunity of a career when she is asked to interview Hannibal the Cannibal in order to gain insight into the mind of a current serial killer. But instead, she has to proceed with caution, as Lecter might just gain access to her own mind. Quid pro quo.
Harris based his Buffalo Bill on several of the most prolific and disturbing serial killers of our time. It's a well written, enthralling page turner.

15) Jaws by Peter Benchley
Okay, I was like - maybe eleven when I read this. I hadn't seen the movie - wasn't allowed to at that age. But the book, another story. At that point I'd already read Stephen King. Who were my parents to tell me I couldn't read a story about a killer shark. Hell, we live in western Pennsylvania - no ocean to worry about.
Too bad I was freaked out even taking a bath after that.
I still have that old copy of the paperback, and I pick it up sometimes - but not as much as I watch the outstanding film made from it.

16) The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty
Anyone who says this book didn't scare them is lying, and that goes twice as far for the fantastically terrifying film. Based on supposedly true events, The Exorcist is a truly scary book. Poor little Regan - a conduit for the devil himself. For those who wonder what merit reading the book has after having already seen the film - Read the book. In 99 out of 100 cases (The Godfather being a clear example of that one out of a hundred), the book is always better than the film.

17) The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Easily confused with Matheson's Hell House, this book also tells the tale of four people trying to debunk a haunted house. Made into a woefully bad movie not too many years ago that starred Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. God-awful to say the least. Read the book. Much better. The house itself is a hulkingly large mansion, complete with gables and gargoyles to die for. At the real heart of the story is one of the four guests, Eleanor - who is having problems of her own before ever arriving.
And if you have to watch a film version, be sure to check out 'The Haunting' (1963) - dated but a much better film by far!

18) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
This work of fiction is said to be a major influence on Stephen King and his own vampire story (Salem's Lot)... Understandable. What I don't quite understand is why, when this book was made into a movie of the same name starring Will Smith, the creatures were never called vampires. I'm confused, as that is really the heart of the story.
Poor Robert Neville - somehow he survived a world-wide siege by undead bloodsuckers. Now he's just out there, trying to survive - perhaps find a cure, all before losing his mind to encroaching madness.

19) Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
And who wouldn't want to make dinosaurs? What a smart, yet scary book. Scientists who find a way to clone dinosaurs don't take into account what might happen if something goes awry. Uh-oh. I think we've all seen the movie, so we know what happens. But do yourself a favor and read this book. Science can be a thrilling rollercoaster ride. You just have to remember not to stand up once the car starts moving.

20) Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Forget the damn movie. Read the book. I still get bent out of shape when I think about them casting Tom Cruise as Lestat. I'm just not feelin' it, dude.
Anyway, the book really led the way for all future vampire fiction. The concept of vamps living in the now and not all stuffed back in Victorian times was a fun and new idea. Granted, we learn the backstories of our Louis and Lestat, but putting them in the here and now - really upped the ante for all future forms of the genre.
Vampires, being hotter than ever in this day and age, have been around since people started telling stories. But with Stoker's 'Dracula', Matheson's 'I Am Legend', and this gem - the genre continues to be blown out of the water.
Here's hoping the trend never ends.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Where would you draw the line?

I've been busy as of late and haven't posted much, so I thought I'd finally take the opportunity to tell you what I think of the most recent movie I've seen. I'd love to say I went to see Jennifer's Body over the weekend, but alas.... I live 37 miles from the nearest theater (yep, it's true) and with a big V8 SUV that sucks down gas that's just too far to be traipsing there all the time. Thank God for Netflix or I'd be a failed fan.


The movie I watched (on Netflix Instant Viewing, which is so convenient!) was "Deadgirl".

I'm not sure what to make of this direct-to-DVD film. I think I liked it. I'm not sure I'll watch it again. What exactly does that mean?

Well, it was different. A zombie film, if we're truly categorizing. Though the "Z" word is never mentioned once.
And I must say this: If only the actual dead girl looked as good as the girl on the DVD cover.

Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez)and J.T. (Noah Segan) are skipping school. Time for some beers in the old abandoned asylum (because we all have those in our backyards, right?)...

J.T. and Rickie

First they feel the need to trash the place. Why no one ever thought to throw chairs through glass windows and scatter old medical charts until these two yea-hoos came is beyond me. But whatever. They tire themselves out doing this until they are collapsed against a wall pounding down the brewskies. (But if I'm being petty, J.T. had a small backpack with him, and it was apparently like Jesus with the bread and fishes - it just kept producing beers.)

A random mutt (like some Doberman mix with a God complex) scares them into running and hiding. Where that dog came from is beyond reason.
The guys happen upon a 'secret' room in which they make a bizarre discovery. A naked girl, lying on a gurney, chained up and covered with plastic. First, it appears she's dead. But after probing her with a finger, she moves. Alive, right?

The title character

Okay. What would your first thought be?

Mine would be that someone else is possibly there and they should get the hell out of there!
Even my second thought would be coherent. Beat feet out of there (see a trend, here?) and call the damn cops, anonymously if you must - but get the girl some help.

But nooooo. What do these two numbskulls do? Discuss having sex with her.
Oh. My. God.

Actually, J.T. brings it up. Rickie - obviously the one with a conscience - tells him he's out of his mind and that they need to let her go, or at least call the cops.

But J.T. cannot be deterred. His hormones take over and he says he's not leaving. Rickie, completely scared as well as appalled, ends up leaving him alone with his new 'girlfriend'.
Rickie, being halfway normal, is completely distraught.

The next day J.T. convinces Rickie to come back to the asylum with him, telling him he's got to see something. Once there, he tells Rickie that he has beaten and strangled the captive (Jenny Spain). Close to freaking out, Rickie is then told the girl is still alive.
He then proceeds to shoot her, three times in the gut, to prove his point.
It does.

Now here's where the obvious zombie situation comes in. Though it's never labeled as such, when someone is maimed, beaten, strangled and shot repeatedly and doesn't die, they are a ZOMBIE.

Throughout the course of the movie, J.T. continues to lose his grip on reality, even inviting another of their friends to "try her out". They are using her as a sex toy, albeit a grungy -who knows when her last shower was - stinky - freaky looking zombie-sex toy.


Rickie never participates, instead obsessed with a girl at school, who comes into the plot full force near the end. He also decides to sneak back to the nuthouse and free the girl, with less than stellar results.

God, this movie was sick. Just the thought that someone would do this - and having seen tv shows like Criminal Minds, knowing they do - is just beyond belief. I realize the chick was dead, but doesn't that make it even more disturbing? Sex slaves are one thing. Screwing the dead is another altogether.

It wasn't unwatchable, and there was very little gore. But to see a couple horny teenagers getting off on having sex with (basically) a corpse is borderline ghoulish. Definately macabre.

A distinctively independent film, the acting was good - very believable. Only one actor was horribly miscast, and that was the reprehensible acting job by the token bully/jock. Bad, bad, bad. Plus he was like, at least twenty five playing a teenager. I hate that! I was actually happy to see him meet his maker (sorry for the spoiler but you just know he's gonna bite it as soon as he's on screen!)....his death scene (seen in a flash, really) is the absolute best. I literally went back and paused the screen.



The plot was simple and straight-forward with no real underlying meaning. And the ending was satsifactory, though I have to say I saw it coming.

All in all, a decent watch for all you sick perverted horror fans out there.

The movie's tagline is a hoot: "You never forget your first time."

(alternate DVD cover)

Friday, September 11, 2009