Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review: The Asylum: More Gothic Victorian Greatness From John Harwood

~Review by Marie Robinson

John Harwood is one of those rare authors who hasn’t written a book I didn’t like. Well, except for two nonfiction books he wrote early in his career that I haven’t read… but in recent years Harwood has established himself as a horror novelist. Christine and I both loved his previous novel, The Séance, and we even gave it a brief yet positive review on the site.

Just this past May Harwood released his newest Gothic tale, The Asylum. Twenty-year-old Georgina Ferrars wakes up one day to find herself in a mental hospital in an English town she has never been to. What is even stranger is that she has checked herself under a false name and can remember nothing of the last several weeks. When she tries to gain correspondence with her uncle, her only remaining family member, she receives only a brief telegram back saying that Georgina Ferrars is presently there, and that she must be an imposter. Trapped within the confines of a madhouse where she is held by people who think her to be insane, Georgina must piece together the mystery of her life, those forgotten weeks, and the girl who claims to be her.

This three-part book goes between tradition narrative, journal entries, and letters, making it an interesting and stimulating read. Much like Harwood’s other novels, it is a genuine page-turner dripping with atmosphere unique to late Victorian London. Georgina is an interesting protagonist because although she seems to be an unreliable character (she is not even in a place to trust herself) you really want to believe her, and you inevitably finding yourself rooting for her, and yearning for the ever-building clues to unravel the mystery.

John Harwood has adopted this old-fashioned Gothic writing style in all three of his novels; you may think this means that the text is dry, brittle and cryptic (even though I, myself, love a traditional Gothic piece) but that certainly is not the case. Although an homage to an older style of writing, the words are fresh and alive, almost nostalgic in their cadence. I’m sure this is what Harwood is going for, and I’d be curious who he would cite as his influences; if I were to guess simply by the flavors I picked up in this book I’d say Poe, Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and definitely some Algernon Blackwood.

Bethlem Royal Hospital
While the asylum that Georgina is held at in the novel is considered to be highly humane and advanced for its time, there is many a reference to the notorious real-life London asylum, Bethlem. In the Victorian era it was more like a prison than a hospital; patients existed in deplorable conditions. They were much of the time unsupervised and “dangerous” patients were chained to the floor. Believe it or not, for the price of one pence the public was allowed access to walk around and few the patients like animals in a zoo—they could even prod at them through the bars with a stick! Since then it has become one of the leading examples of excellence in mental health, but it will forever be infamous for its grotesque beginnings.

Even though his sophmore title The Séance is still my favorite of his, I really enjoyed this book, and I sincerely hope Harwood keeps up his creepy tales!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Flashback: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) : Drilling Its Way Back Into Your Heart...

Back in the early eighties, there were loads of formulaic slasher films. And I'm guilty of seeing pretty much every one of them. I fondly recall the first time I saw Slumber Party Massacre, with it's pulsating electronic score and deranged nut-job wielding a power drill. It wasn't exactly brave new cinema, but it was a fast-paced, tight little film with a short running time so as not to bore you to tears while you wait for the red stuff to start flowing.

After an opening scene in which the paper boy delivers a fresh newspaper divulging the fact that escaped killer Russ Thorn is on the loose, we focus on eighteen year old Trish Devereaux (Michelle Michaels), who has invited her basketball team friends over for a slumber party since her parents are leaving town for the weekend. Her parents have charged their neighbor, Mr. Contant, to keep an eye on the house (and the girls, of course!) while they are away, to which he readily agrees to do.

At school in the locker room (after steamy showers and lots of gratuitous T & A shots), Trish's bitchy friend Diane (Gina Hunter) cuts up the new girl on the team, Valerie (Robin Stille) and the other girls add in their hateful two cents as well.  Trish wants to ask Valerie to the slumber party, but Valerie overheard the nasty comments and rushes out of the school.

Here's where I find myself having to mention what incredible bitches teenage girls are. Back in the day, it wasn't outright called bullying, and there was much less focus on it back then - but let's be frank when we say it most certainly was bullying, and this is a prime example. Just because someone is different (in this case Valerie was better than them at sports and is noticeably prettier) isn't a reason to be a cunt.  Regardless, it happens all the time, and this film is true-to-life in that respect.

While all the planning for the party is underway, our lunatic occupies himself with some practice kills by laying waste to several poor unfortunate folks before heading over to the Devereaux household.  Thorn, with wild, spastic eyes and dressed to kill in head to toe denim, gears up his weapon of choice - a power drill - and powers his way through bone and tissue - which of course means lots of blood and guts for us gore-hounds.

Finally making his way to the girl's party, Thorn proceeds to drill his way through the cast (which at this point include some peeping tom boys from school and the unlucky Mr. Contant) until there are only a few girls left - one of which is Valerie, the scorned girl from the gym who happened to live across the street from Trish.

No new ground is broken throughout Slumber Party Massacre, but humor abounds and the old-school feel of the film really reeks nostalgia. It's a fun 77 minutes, with no time lost on developing secondary story lines or explaining why Thorn has chosen the girls. It's just pure, early-eighties, slasher-film fun!

There are an ungodly amount of cliches in SPM. Catty teens who bad-mouth the new girl, parties (in this case, slumber) with no parental supervision, the creepy neighbor next door, the lone girl stranded in an empty school hallway or dark garage, underage drinking and drugs, the escaped lunatic with a penchant for young lovelies, etc...etc.  But to my surprise (and perhaps yours), it bears the stamp of two women: Director Amy Holden Jones and writer Rita Mae Brown.

Jones, an ardent feminist, worked with both Scorsese and Roger Corman in her career, and Brown (an even more staunch feminist) has found great success as an author, in particular with a series of "cozy" mysteries starring a cat: 'Sneaky Pie Brown'. 

It is said that when Brown wrote SPM, it was intended to be a parody of the slasher film, but the producers ended up playing it straight. But it still has some genuinely funny parts (such as when the girls eat pizza out of the box on the dead delivery boy's chest) and it helps the film be a little more original and likable than you'd imagine it could be. The two women even inject a dose of their own feminism into the film when the girls actually chase after the killer. We love tough girls!

If you've never taken a chance on it, I'd say you could do far worse, so give it a chance for some good old-fashioned 80's fun.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kiss Of The Damned (2013): A Hammer Homage That Almost Works

~Review by Marie Robinson

Christine and I love vampires, and are prone to watch/read/whatever anything that has to do with them. For some this is a tired trope but we just aren’t bored. Naturally, I was intrigued when I heard about 2012 film Kiss of the Damned, interestingly enough directed by Xan Cassavetes, daughter of John Cassavetes (Rosemary’s Baby).

I’m one of those assholes who literally judges a book by its cover, or in this case, judges a film by its poster; I was admittedly even further inclined to watch this movie after I saw the gorgeous poster for it. The artwork was done by Akiko Stehrenberger, who was won several awards for her movie posters, two for this poster alone. Her shit is awesome; seriously, check her out (

The story is very Gothic inspired and focuses on Djuna (Josephine de La Baume), a beautiful young woman living alone in an equally gorgeous mansion in the middle of who knows where (they really don’t tell you the setting). She meets handsome screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), who instantly forces himself upon her.

Luckily Djuna isn’t as annoyed and creeped out as I was and they instantly hit it off. Although they are madly in “love” with each other, Djuna insists they cannot be together because she is a vampire. Paolo thinks the same thing that you or I would think if a love interest said this to us—that she’s crazy; but she proves it to him by chaining herself to a bed and writhing about in a bloodthirsty lust. Even though she begs him not to, Paolo frees her and they make passionate, scary love, at the end of which, Djuna turns him into vampire. Paolo is somehow totally okay with all of this, and moves into the mansion with Djuna and they vow to be undead and in love forever. I’m sorry there is such a blatant attitude to this synopsis, but this is honestly how the story seemed to be moving along to me. Anyway, let’s continue…

Their perfect little romance is disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Djuna’s sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), who is also a vampire. They belong to this high-class, wealthy underground society of vampires who believe that feeding off of humans is—well, inhumane, so they stick to drinking the blood of animals. Mimi, however, rejects this notion and slays and feasts on humans all the time behind her elder’s backs. She floods the house with her reckless and unforgiving attitude, encouraging and instigating those around her to tug at the fibers of their morality.

I keep going back to the idea that I didn’t like this movie but I think I am just letting myself to too caught up with the characters to properly evaluate it. For example, Paolo and Djuna’s romance is very reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet in the sense that they are idiots who think they are madly in love with each other but are really just infatuated. Their relationship is so annoying that I was frustrated enough at times to turn the film off. All the problems the characters have are brought on by themselves; they are what I shall call “rich people problems”. I guess in the end, what I am saying is that there are no sympathetic characters. However, this could be the intention of the filmmakers, which I earnestly hope is the case, because if I had to come to the terms with the fact that that was actually someone’s idea of romance, I’d puke.

Kiss of the Damned doesn’t bring anything new to the vampire trope, and I really didn’t find it all that compelling. The actresses’ French accents made them sound a bit monotone to me and the story was moderately predictable and didn’t inspire too much emotion out of me, just a lot of commenting like, “You’re so fucking dumb,” and “I hate you”.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, so on a lighter note there are two things I am certain I loved about the film: the cinematography and the costume design. Every shot was beautiful, blending colors, contrasting shadows and light, and incorporating brilliant angles. Djuna oozed elegance, not only because the actress herself if quite beautiful, but she was always dressed in the most beautiful gowns and had this gorgeous makeup that complimented her pale skin and lovely autumnal hair.

You can decide for yourself about this film, and let me know what you think, as well! When I need my fix of vampire soap opera, I’ll just stick to True Blood, which I am so glad is back, by the way.

The States will begin showing another bloodsucker flick on the 28th, Byzantium, which I think looks very promising. For more information on that film, I highly recommend you read our dear friend James Gracey’s review on it here: (

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Texas Chainsaw (2013): The Saw Might Be Family, But The Family Is As Unhinged As Ever....

Quite honestly, I didn't have very high hopes for this film, as I generally don't when it comes to films that really serve no purpose other than to make a quick buck off a popular series of films and/or an equally well-known and beloved horror character.

And truth be told, Texas Chainsaw 3D is just that. A poorly-conceived sequel-slash-remake that should have never made its way to my DVD player. But it did.

And here's the thing. Maybe I was feeling especially genial when I sat down to watch this movie, but it didn't suck. I almost wanted it to, as I seriously couldn't imagine any reason to sit down for a seventh time with 'ol Leatherface.
But I read a very candid review over at Freddy in Space and was forced to admit I wanted to check it out.

Here's the deal. I hate 3D. So there would have been little to no chance of me checking this out in the theater. I feel like 3D is probably the worst gimmick quite possibly ever and see no reason to have the chainsaw come out of the screen at me. What am I, ten years old?  That might have been cute back in 1982 when my best friend and I went to see the third installment of Friday the 13th....but nowadays it is just plain stupid.  So that was out.  I wait for DVD on all these gimmicky flicks, period. That way I don't have to be subjected to vomit-inducing special effects.

I've always been a fan of the original 1974 film. I won't say "who isn't", because I'm sure there are plenty of people who thought it wrought with overly dramatic screaming and waaaay to much grunting. But it has such a shameless, gritty charm to it that it's easily one of my favorite older horror films and I take it off my DVD shelf on a fairly regular basis, turn down the lights, and let that saw rip! 

That said, the sequels that followed were pretty much pure dreck to me.  I know those are no doubt blasphemous words to all you franchise fans, but I'm just putting my honesty out there, folks.  When things start getting humorous (like all those ridiculous Freddy sequels), I'm out. I'm done.  So for me, part 2 and 3 were simply throwaways. And don't even get me started on part 4. The fact that Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey have roles only goes to show me that everyone has to start somewhere, and quite often it's in a bad horror movie.

When Michael Bay (cough cough) resurrected the series in 2003 to make a few bucks, I'll admit I couldn't look away. But I did not grace the seats of any theater to witness the films made in '03 and '06.  I waited for DVD and at least was satisfied that they brought back the actual horror of the original and cut out all the silly stuff. I mean, as funny as a grown man wearing a mask with makeup should be, it's actually on more on a disturbing level than funny-haha. 

All this aside, when I heard they were doing a new film in 3D I rolled my eyes and got out the Excedrin.
Really?  Someone felt the need to dig that grave up and subject us to body parts flying into the camera?
Heavy sigh. 

So I've come full circle to how I came to watch this latest installment. And I said all the previous comments simply so you could understand - in no uncertain terms - that I really wasn't excited about this new film.
But again, after reading the FiS review, I became slightly more intrigued.

Texas Chainsaw is nothing special. Believe me, it won't be remembered for years to come. But I have to say - I may have even liked it.  It tries to be a sequel that takes place right after the 1974 original. At least the opening credits do. We get to see scenes from the groundbreaking first movie, and then we move on as we are shown what happened after Sally escapes Leatherface in that truck at the end of the film.

Apparently the townsfolk came to the Sawyer place and demanded Jed (Leatherface) be brought out to pay for his crimes against humanity.  When the clan won't bring him out, gunfire ensues and consequently, the entire Sawyer home is burned to the ground with everyone in it.
One of the townsfolk discovers a female Sawyer hiding in the barn with a newborn and he promptly steals the baby and kills her mother. How convenient for the storyline!

Soon we are expected to suspend disbelief and move into the future. The timing is so incredibly off it isn't even funny. I won't go into detail about how the young baby should probably be in her 40's and instead is in her early 20's. I guess I'll forgive the lapse in continuity and move on. The kidnapped baby has grown into a strikingly beautiful young woman named Heather (Alexandra Daddario).

One day, just as her and her equally as beautiful friends are about to head out on a road trip, she finds out she is the sole heir of a home in Newt, Texas.  Her grandmother (that she has never met - and is portrayed by the original Sally, Marilyn Burns - score!) has died and left everything to her. So the quartet decides to make a detour through Texas on their way to NOLA and "check it out".

All pretty convenient so far. But I kind of stepped back an "pretended" I hadn't seen any of the sequels or remakes, and treated it almost like a stand-alone film. This can work, if you try hard enough...

On the way, they stop and pick up a hitchhiker. More fodder for Leatherface's saw action. But anyway...

I was kind of enthusiastic about all the little homages to the original.  Heather's friend Nikki has on a lovely pair of very short red shorts that mimicked Pam's in the '74 version. They drive a van to Texas. They pick up a hitchhiker. Etc.

When they get to the town, the Sawyer lawyer (say that five times fast) meets them outside the gates of the property Heather now owns. Funny thing is, he won't go in.  He just hands off the keys and off he goes.  If I had a quarter for every caretaker/relative/policeman/priest/lawyer/real estate agent that "won't step foot on said property" I'd be able to purchase my local cineplex. Anyhoo, the gang heads in and discovers it is a mansion. With all the wealthy accoutrements to go with it. They spend the afternoon checking the place out until they are stupid enough to allow their new hitchhiker friend to stay at the house while they go get some groceries in town (totally one of those "seriously?!" moments!)

Hitcher Darryl immediately starts looting the place when they leave, until his nosy investigating brings him face to face with Leatherface, who apparently has his digs in the basement wine cellar of the manse. Whoops!
When Heather & Co. return to find the place ransacked, they frown but quickly find other ways to spend their time (cooking, searching the house, having greedy sex). That is, until Leatherface makes himself known.
I don't really want to give everything away, as this film surprises by having a little twist in the last act. But suffice it to say, it kept my attention and I was pretty much enjoying myself the entire 92 minute running time.
There are some good kills (as you would expect with a goddamned chainsaw, right?) and many of them mimic the kills in the original film.
They have some nice cameos in here too. As I stated, Marilyn Burns has a short spot as Heather's grandma, and John Dugan reprises his role as Grandpa, can you believe it? Gunnar Hansen ('74's Leatherface) even shows up in the beginning as one of the Sawyer clan at the doomed house. You have to love it. I also must give a shout out to Bill Moseley, who is here as Drayton Sawyer in place of the deceased Jim Siedow. Moseley is welcome in anything at all, as far as I am concerned!

The ending has some serious cheese in it, and I'm not talking Gouda here. I laughed out loud in one spot and shook my head in another, but all in all it wasn't awful enough to change my opinion about the film as a whole. I will say I'm really glad I didn't waste my time seeing it at the theater, but that's only because of my severe aversion to the 3D spectacle.  I'm sure some will think me mad for enjoying this installment of the Texas gore train, but you could do a lot worse on a random Thursday night. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Killer Joe (2011): I'll Have Some More Of That K Fried C, Please!

What the hell did I just watch?

From William Friedkin (The Exorcist)  comes a film that is raw, blasphemous, and not at all what I was expecting.  I heard about it here and there, but never really knew what the plot was...only that Matthew McConaughey was the title character.

Well. Hmm... What can I say except this may be one of the strangest movies I have seen in the last five years or so. It is completely irreverent and ridiculous. It reeks white trash and the characters are some of the most unlikeable in film history. And yet I couldn't take my eyes off of it.  My husband said, as the credits were rolling, "that was one of the weirdest movies I've ever seen....but it sure as hell kept my attention."  Which is exactly correct.  You won't be able to stop watching, even though you'll have no idea by the end of the film, what conclusion you were supposed to draw. And I guess that's part of the fun - ??

Based on a play by Tracy Letts, Killer Joe tells the story of one of the most white trashy families you will ever meet. There's Chris (Emile Hirsch): a twenty-something small time drug dealer who has loan sharks hunting him down, Ansel: Chris's dimwitted father (Thomas Haden Church) to whom Chris goes to with a despicable plan to get the money, Sharla (Gina Gershon, here at her skankiest best): Ansel's current wife and a woman just about as raunchy and useless as you can get, and Dottie (Juno Temple): Chris's younger sister who seems a little on the touched side but knows more about life than all three of the other characters put together.

Into this rag-tag team of misfits walks Joe Cooper. Killer Joe, if you will.  When Chris and Ansel come to him with their plot to murder Chris's mother (Ansel's ex-wife) Adele (pronounced "A"-dell, not Ah-dell), we meet a seemingly charming police detective who has a little venture of murder-for-hire on the side.

Sure, Joe would be happy to take care of business for our dynamically defective duo, they just have to come up with $25,000.  When you think about how ridiculous it even is to think about paying someone twenty-five grand to kill someone so you can get an insurance policy payout so you can then pay off your loan shark you see the craziness of the situation.

You see, A-dele's current boyfriend has fessed up that her insurance policy is worth fifty grand and Dottie is the sole beneficiary. Lucky for all of them, they've met Joe - who says it's easy-peasy to off mama, but you must follow all his rules. Unfortunately, rule number one is the twenty-five grand needs paid in advance.
Well hells bells! That "ain't gonna work" cause obviously they don't have that kind of money or Chris would just pay his fucking debt and there would be no movie.

BUT. And here's the catch.  Killer Joe has already met little miss Dottie and took a shine to her, so he figures if they are willing to use Dottie as a retainer, Joe is willing to kill Adele and wait for the insurance payout.
And as you probably already deduced, things are not going to go according to plan in redneck-ville.

First off, Dottie isn't as stoo-pid as we are first led to believe.  Secondly, sleazy Sharla has a secondary plot up her cooter (which incidentally she shows off in the first five minutes of the film, when she opens the trailer door wearing a short ratty t-shirt and nothing else.)  Thirdly, Joe really is a debonair yet entirely cold-blooded killer. But as threatening as he is, he has unquestionable feelings for young Dottie.

When things all go south, as they usually do in these kinds of films, we end up with the following: a murder, an affair, several thorough beatings, plenty of lurid sexual acts, a double-cross, a continually barking dog, oh! - and oral sex involving dead poultry. Can you say uncomfortable viewing? This is an NC-17 flick, and rightfully so.

I'm actually not sure if I recommend this film or not. I will say it is brilliantly directed and acted, with Matthew McConaughey being the star at the top of the tree. He exudes such quiet menace, while still being charming as hell. He truly gets into his roles, and though I may be chastised for this, I really feel he is an underrated actor. He totally makes this entire film - though Haden Church is always good for a laugh, and Juno Temple is very certainly a rising star we are sure to see much from in the future.

There is plenty of violence, heaps of offensive acts and foul language, a fair amount of the red stuff, and a simplistic plot that delivers a darkly comic punch - particularly in the last act. I can't imagine this movie being brought to the stage, but that's where it originates from. Go figure.

So while it may not have won rave reviews, it's worth a look. Especially for laughs and gasps of WTF caliber.
Just take my word for it and DO NOT eat chicken whilst you are viewing.
Don't ask.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Happy Birthday To My Favorite Ocean Menace!

 I couldn't let the day go by without saying a happy birthday to my most treasured film: Jaws.

 It was 38 years ago today that those two notes permeated the deep blue sea and brought us an ocean of blood and a lifetime of thrills.  So thank you to director Steven Spielberg for adapting Peter Benchley's novel into a film I still watch on a ridiculously regular basis and will forever consider my favorite film. I know the lines by heart, hum the soundtrack throughout my day, and own the Blu-Ray without even owning a Blu-Ray player yet!

  As I said on Facebook:  Happy 38th Birthday Big Guy! You'll always be my #1.  Love you!!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Roots Of Horror: The Legend And Lore Of The Wendigo In Film

 by Marie Robinson

Welcome back to another long-delayed installment of Roots of Horror! In these articles I explore horror films and the inspiration they take from folklore, urban legends, and parapsychology.

Native Americans have a rich culture that is teeming with fascinating legends. One that proves to be equally sinister and inspirational is the story of the Wendigo. As with any folktale, the specific details of the beast and its habits vary from region and culture, and the North-based legend is no exception. The tale is known to the Algonquin and Ojibwe tribes in the Northern United States and Canada, mainly Ontario.

The Wendigo resides in the frozen, desolate forest of these Northern regions, in the places were men could get lost during hunting or travel and be stranded, left to the mercy of the cruel land. When food supplies are depleted, sometimes people are forced to take desperate—and savage—measures.

That’s right, eating your friends! The Algonquians considered cannibalism a very severe taboo—they believed that even when you have no other options, it is better to resign to death then eat another person. What would you do in that situation?

One film that explores this question, and the legend, as well, is Ravenous. Antonia Bird’s 1999 film stars Guy Pearce (the love of my life) as Boyd, a Civil War veteran who is placed at a fort in Northern California with a handful of quirky characters, including two Native American siblings. When a man stumbles upon the land, bloodied and emaciated, he recounts a harrowing tale where he was forced to cannibalize the members of a group he was traveling with. The Native Americans whisper warnings to Boyd of the Wendigo, and when the group goes out with the man to find the other missing members of his party, he fears the story might be true.

Another aspect of the Wendigo is that its appetite is insatiable; the more it eats, the hungrier it gets, needing always to kill and eat more flesh. The only way to stop it—is death.

Sometimes the Wendigo is said to be manifested as a beast, parts tree, and parts deer. Sometimes it is a giant that leaves bloody footprints that sets loose an awful, wind-like cry. It is a manifestation not only of greed and hunger, but also the desolation that one might find alone in the woods. Interestingly enough, the Germans (God love ‘em) have a word for this specific sensation. Waldeinsamkeit—forest solitude, or the feeling of being alone in the woods.

Another film that invokes the Wendigo is…well, it’s called Wendigo. This 2001 flick directed by Larry Fessenden is about a family who goes to get away from it all in rural Colorado. Unfortunately, they not only have psycho rednecks to deal with, but an ancient, deadly spirit, as well.
It is a great atmospheric and emotional flick that uses the myth creatively and even gives you an eyeful of their depiction of the beast!

 Fessenden was so in love with the legend he went on to direct an episode of Fear, Itself in 2008 called “Skin and Bones”. In my opinion, this is probably the most terrifying episode in the series, about a man who was left for dead in the wilderness, only to stumble home, changed. This is a good example of another physical depiction of the Wendigo, or, rather, a man who is possessed by one: extremely emaciated, with skin taut over bones, like a walking skeleton.

Algernon Blackwood really brought this legend to the mainstream when he penned 1910 short “The Wendigo”. Apparently based on Blackwood’s actual experiences and knowledge of hunting in Canada, this story features a group of men—including two Scotsman, a Native American and a French Canadian—who are moose hunting and find themselves threatened by—well, you know.

Apparently there is a Supernatural episode that also covers the Wendigo, but I’ve never watched that show so I couldn’t tell you if it was any good. Let me know if it though, eh?
Oh, and if you get really hungry—just do us all a favor and open up a pack of Ramen, deal?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Bloody Cuts: Don't Move

Combat Shock

Little Deaths


Street Trash

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Midnight Son (2011) : Not Your Kid Sister's Vampire Film

For months this film has been on my radar and I have actually owned it for quite a while, so I figured it was high time to watch the damned thing. 

As a relatively huge vampire fan, it was a given that I'd have to try out the latest in emo-vampire offerings. But this is no Twilight. Thank heavens.

More akin to Martin than teenage angst, Scott Leberecht's Midnight Son is a rather fresh breath of air in an all too stagnant sub-genre.

Jacob (Zak Kilberg), on first glance, seems like a pretty normal kind of guy. He works the night shift as a security guard and is content to hang out in his basement apartment painting in his spare time. Ordinarily this might be a real turn on to the ladies - a brooding artistic type who is sensitive and oddly alluring.

Upon further inspection though, Jacob is a very lonely young man. He lives by himself and it's quite clear he doesn't have any real friends to speak of. It's not due to any obvious reason, as he is, as previously mentioned, rather attractive (kind of a Jude Law-lite) and holds down a decent job. But not only is he quite peaked, he has a skin disorder which prevents him from being in the sun. That would be your first clue, if you haven't already gotten there. 

I'm not spoiling anything by telling you flat-out that Jacob is a vampire. I'm sure they mention it on the DVD case and every review from here to Hong Kong.  What is different about Midnight Son though, is the ongoing realization that Jacob comes to, trying to grasp all the various problems this "condition" presents.  He realizes he cannot eat regular food, in fact it repulses him. Once he drinks blood (and how he comes to that awareness) is part of the heart of the story.  Think it's easy to pick up chicks once you are conscious that you are somehow not  like everyone else? It's not.

But when Jacob meets Mary (Maya Parish) outside a bar one night, they have an instant chemistry that leads Mary down a very dangerous road with her new beau. Though truth be told, she may be more of a danger to herself than he is, with a bad cocaine habit that helps (a little too conveniently) forward the story by having her get a nosebleed at an intimate moment in their relationship.

Regarding the painting hobby ("...a hobby should pass the time, not fill it" ~Psycho ) Jacob has plenty of examples of his work at his apartment, and Mary tells him he may really have something, that his talent should be investigated. She eventually gets him set up with a show at a gallery, though Jacob can't face all the potential customers and skips the event.  At this point, he is more worried about getting his latest fix of blood, as he has a friend at the hospital that is able to provide more than enough of the red stuff for him. Because Jacob is so obsessed with getting the blood, he neglects to comprehend just how his "friend" is getting his hands on all the plasma. Another important rule for vampires: pay attention.

The short running time (a brief 88 minutes) is perfect, as the story is sparse and elaboration would be pointless. What makes it so unique is how the love story within evolves. This is a character-driven tale, and when these two lost souls find each other, forces of nature (and beyond) pull them apart only to reconnect them several times throughout.  Jacob is very afraid of intimacy because he's not sure he can control himself, and indeed there are a few moments in which you think he won't be able to stop his dangerous tendencies.  Mary, on the other hand, is trying hard to help Jacob open up, and finds herself trying to stop her drug habit after assuming (incorrectly, in part) that it is a turn-off and the main reason Jacob keeps pulling away.

When Jacob's bad red habit has him disregarding human life, that's when you know things are coming to a breaking point.  The authorities are beginning to suspect Jacob in a series of crimes, and as they draw nearer, Jacob and Mary get closer.
 To disclose any more would be a disservice to those who have yet to see this fine film. 

So if you haven't seen it, give Midnight Son a chance. You may be pleasantly surprised that a vampire film can still be unique.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

True Story Tuesday: RE-ANIMATOR And The Problem With Not Staying Dead

 ~by Marie Robinson

In 1921, H.P. Lovecraft wrote a serialized short story called “Herbert West—Reanimator” for a magazine called Home Brew. It concerns two medical students, our narrator and his peer Herbert West who has a fascination with life after death. His goal is to reanimate a human body and receive a conscious reaction, and hopefully some recount of the places in between life and death.

Although Lovecraft hated this particular piece of his, and did it only because he was paid decently, it went on to inspire one of the most beloved cult classic films of all time, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. Gordon takes liberties with the text and gives a gory, crass, romping good time.

Lovecraft was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and wrote “Herbert West—Reanimator” as a parody. I, however, was inspired to look into some real-life stories of reanimation and some other fun indirect connections to this story that are based in fact.

They say fact is stranger than fiction, and with this notion, we welcome you to True Story Tuesday.

Dr. Sergei Brukhonenko—Reanimator 
In Stalin-era Russia there was a Soviet scientist named Sergei Brukhonenko who was famously an open-heart surgeon and more infamously a reanimator. He received much controversy over a 1940 film called Experiments in the Revival of Organisms; this introduces Brukhonenko’s device - the autojektor - a heart and lung machine used to maintain life. The film showcases experiments Brukhonenko performed on various parts of a dog, such as a heart, which can be seen beating on its own, suspended by tubes and cables. The most disturbing part, and weirdly enough pretty much a scene right out of Re-Animator, is when they show a dog’s decapitated head kept alive by the autojektor. It is up to you to decide if the scene is fake or not, but I think we can all agree that it is downright creepy.

When the Dead Come Back
What is more horrifying than a loved one dying? How about them coming back to life! This happens surprisingly often in countries where bodies aren’t embalmed and advanced medical technology isn’t accessible. Sometimes people are just mistaken as dead; other times are a bit stranger. South Africa is one of those places where lack of modern medicine equipment often makes it hard to test that someone is clinically dead; one man in Zimbabwe was lying in a coffin at his funeral when one of the attendees filing past noticed his leg twitching. Thankfully the man came to before they could seal him up forever—--an ambulance was called and he was saved. Another South African man suffered an asthma attack and his distraught family members immediately thought he had died, so they called and made funeral arrangements. The poor man eventually woke up—in a morgue freezer surrounded by corpses. When he started screaming the present morticians thought it was a ghost and ran out of the building. A group returned later and released the man.

 One burial custom of a Chinese village is that the deceased rest in a coffin within their home a few days before they are eventually buried. This is what was done for a 95-year-old woman who was found unconscious and believed dead. When her neighbor went to check on her coffin, she found the lid pried open and the woman gone. She was found in her kitchen, cooking, since she woke up from a very long sleep and wanted something to eat.
  An unlucky Venezuelan man woke up in the middle of his own autopsy due to the pain of the medical examiners cutting open his face. They thought it was odd when their scalpel drew fresh blood, and even odder when their corpse awoke; they immediately stitched him up and he returned home to his wife.
  This last story is the most heartbreaking as well as the most unsettling: a Brazilian boy was lying in his coffin as his family prepared for his funeral to begin. Suddenly, the child sits up in the coffin and kindly asks his father for a glass of water because he is thirsty. Everyone began screaming, but a moment later the little boy lay back down, and died.

Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis portray the devilish duo...
Exhumation for a Profit
In Lovecraft’s story, the narrator and Dr. Herbert West’s goal is to obtain a body as fresh as possible. Dead bodies are hard to come by—no questions asked, that is—so the two take up robbing graves of their bodies.
This was actually a repulsive trend in the early 1800s, as legal supply for human cadavers was low, and surgeons and medical students demand high. Some took to body snatching, but two Irish men named Burke and Hare’s methods were a little grimmer.
 It started when a neighbor of theirs died of natural causes; they brought the body to a Dr. Knox at Edinburg University, who paid them handsomely for their prize. Tired of just waiting for people to die, the duo took to murdering people and giving the bodies to Knox, who took them and placed payment in the men’s hands. Burke and Hare killed over 10 people within ten months. Their usual method was getting the victim supremely drunk and then suffocating them, but some died more cruelly, such as a mute twelve-year-old who had his back broken over Hare’s knee. The two were eventually caught when a body was found stashed under Burke’s bed.
I’m sure they would have made a fortune off of Dr. Herbert West…

Reanimation in Modern Science
The Lazarus Phenomena is when a person automatically regains resuscitation after CPR has been administered, and failed. The most common cases of this phenomenon are in people who have suffered a cardiac arrest, which isn’t too surprising, considering it is the leading cause of death in America. CPR is usually applied for an average of 15 minutes (although it varies on who is performing) before “calling it”—the longer it takes to revive after the heart has stopped beating, the less likely there will be brain damage due to lack of oxygen flowing to the brain. In cases of the Lazarus Phenomena (named as such after Biblical figure Lazarus who laid dead for four days before being resurrected by Jesus), victims of heart failure come back to life after being verbally declared dead of their bodies own accord. However, a new experimental method in resuscitation could increase the success rate of CPR.

In Australia they have upgraded from using good old-fashioned elbow grease to perform CPR and started using a device called an Auto-Pulse, which is a portable machine that consists of a band that wraps around the persons chest and gives regular chest compressions that keep the heart beating. Pairing this up with an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), which is an artificial heart and lung machine that keep these vital organs working while doctors can diagnose the cause of heart failure and treat it. In this particular hospital in Australia three patients have been revived after being dead after up to an hour. Similar efforts in Japan have revived people who had been dead for hours.
The reason our Dr. Herbert West wanted extremely fresh specimens is because of the possible brain damage that is possible when oxygen is cut off from the brain. Even though resuscitation is becoming more advanced, brain damage is still a risk of being revived after being clinically dead. Let’s just hope you don’t end up like one of the Re-Animator’s subjects.

Take care, everybody, and keep your eyes peeled for more True Story Tuesdays!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Midnight Son


Bride of Re-Animator
The Reef