Monday, 8 December 2008

UNCLE FORRY (Nov 24, 1916 - Dec 4, 2008)



FORREST J. ACKERMAN (Pictured at the Ackermansion, Horrorwood, Karloffornia): A great man, an invaluable chronicler/archivist, an indisputable catalyst, and uncle to Monster Kids everywhere.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

CHIMP's Debut Video: "The Living End"



From our debut CD "Thundercrack!". Rob MacDonald, the other 50% of Chimp, has posted a suscint history of this video at his website: http://annekenstein.typepad.com. Thanks, Rob. Your pal, Dave S.

P.S. And thanks to Jason Rogerson (co-producing and editing), Laura O'Brien (graphic design), David Moses and Moses Media, everyone in the video (for obvious reasons; Glen, Osama, Nick, Chris, Matt, Rob, Marc, Nancy, Kelly, Ed, Philip, Charlottetown, etc.), Baba's Lounge (Steve, Ryan, et al), and to all the perfomers covering Chimp tunes on November 15.


Friday, 10 October 2008

MY BAND IS RELEASING A CD


That’s right, I’m in a band. Sort of. My friend Rob MacDonald (visit him at my Annekenstein link) and I started a duo called Chimp (visit us on my Chimp link) about 10 years ago. Rob plays guitar, I play bass, we both share vocal duties, and a drumbot (basically an old keyboard) provides the drum tracks.

Rob and I have known each other since the early 80’s. We’ve been involved in lots of projects together – theatre, short films – and when “And Yet I Blame Hollywood”, a movie review in a cartoon strip I draw for a local arts and entertainment paper called The Buzz, was turned into an animated series of shorts for CBC television, Rob provided one of the character voices.

Shortly after deciding to become Chimp, Rob and I wrote a few songs, rented a 4-track system and recorded them. Then we didn’t know what to do with them, so we did nothing.

Cut to 2008. Technology has changed, allowing Rob to put the songs onto his home computer. That means that we were able to de-hiss them a bit, cut and paste sections of songs, drop out certain tracks, etc. What we ended up with is very much in the lo-fi, DIY category, but that pleases us since a lot of the people whose music we like share the same aural esthetic. I’m talking The Velvet Underground, Hüsker Dü, The Breeders, The Cramps, X, Nirvana, etc.

In the polish department, we got our friend, Jason Rogerson, to go through the songs with us to help get them ready for CD on the production end, and another friend, Laura O’Brien, did the graphic design for the CD, making it look like the real deal. We told Laura to listen to the music and create any design she wanted that she thought looked like the music sounded. Her visual equivalent of our music is at the head of this post. Laura used a Chimp logo that my father, Russell, designed for us based on the font used on Jonathan Demme’s “Caged Heat” movie poster.

Our CD is called “Thundercrack!”, after the great Curt McDowell/George Kuchar flick. We chose the title because it seemed to sum up the 12 songs on the CD: short, naked, and speedy. Our CD is out November 18, and we’re having a big launch at the best bar in town, Baba’s Lounge, on November 15. We won’t be playing, but 8 other local artists are going to be covering our songs from the CD at the event. If you’re in the area on that date, stop by.


Monday, 4 August 2008

The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)




Last night I watched a very interesting movie: “The Blood Spattered Bride”. This wasn’t my first attempt at watching it; I’d rented the MPI/Gorgon VHS in the 80’s and didn’t make it all the way through. What I watched in the 80’s was a soft looking, boring, and unbeknownst to me, heavily cut version of the original 1972 Spanish release. What I watched last night was the uncut Blue Underground DVD, included as a “special feature” on their 2-Disc “Daughters of Darkness” release. What a difference.

The movie begins immediately post-wedding as a young bride (Maribel Martín – “The House That Screamed”, “A Bell From Hell”) and her 30-something husband (Simón Andreu – “Death Walks on High Heels”) arrive at a hotel for their honeymoon. While Simón parks their car, Maribel catches a glimpse of a woman who is sitting in another vehicle, watching the young bride.

Inside, Maribel is alone in the hotel room. She hangs her wedding veil in a wardrobe. Suddenly, her husband appears and attacks her. He strangles his bride, then rips her wedding gown from her body. With Maribel unconscious and nude on their bed, Simón rapes her.

Cut to the hallway outside of the room as Simón arrives at the door. He enters to find his bride sitting on the bed still wearing her thoroughly intact wedding gown. Though upset, Maribel has imagined the attack.

No longer wanting to stay at the hotel, Simón takes Maribel to his family estate inhabited by only the caretakers and their 12-year-old daughter. Here, Maribel and Simón will proceed with their honeymoon. Up until this point, Simón has been nothing but kind to his new bride. Alone with her in their bedroom, however, he roughly tears the wedding gown from his wife’s body as in Maribel’s earlier hallucination. The couple then proceeds to have consensual sex, Maribel losing her virginity.

As time passes, Simón’s sexual demands become more degrading, and a power struggle develops between the two. Adding to the gender conflict, Maribel notices that all of the family portraits hanging in the estate are of men. She asks the caretakers’ daughter about it and the girl tells Maribel that the womens’ portraits are all in the basement, the result of one of the brides killing her husband on their wedding night. The girl takes Maribel to see the portraits and a connection starts building between Maribel and the murderess.

Of course, the woman (Alexandra Bastedo – the ’67 version of “Casino Royale”) who was eyeing Maribel from the car parked outside the hotel in the film’s opening appears again. The scene in which Simón discovers her on a beach is incredible, half hilarious and half amazing. Its overall effect is surreal and appropriate if you accept it. And since “The Blood Spattered Bride” is loosely based on Sheridan LeFanu’s “Carmilla”, the film enters lesbian vampire territory, a popular theme in 70’s horror flicks represented in particular by a string of films from Europe (“Daughters of Darkness”, “Vampyres”, “The Vampire Lovers”, “Vampyros Lesbos”).

Not being a big fan of vampire movies, I liked that “Bride” kept its bloodsucker elements to a minimum, focusing instead on Maribel’s possibly disintegrating sanity (à la “Repulsion”) and her relationship with her husband, providing some striking and indelible images as it does so (in the bird cage, on the beach). There is also an abundance of sexual imagery and metaphors in “The Blood Spattered Bride”, many of them violent and sexual at the same time: daggers, animal traps, castration, and even the movie’s title is suggestive and vaguely reminiscent of Maribel’s bride losing her virginity. The use of the wedding gown and veil as symbols is also strong and evocative in the way that they are treated by Simón, Maribel, and Bastedo’s characters.

Like most good horror movies, what’s particularly fascinating about “Bride” is in receiving the messages regarding what the movie is really about beneath the breasts and blood. In this case, it’s clearly about gender and the relationship between the sexes. But what is it saying? Is it a reaction against the burgeoning women’s rights movement of the 70’s, or does it support it? Despite the fact that there is an imbalance in the ratio of female nudity (some) to male nudity (none) on display in “Bride”, happily I don’t think director Vicente Aranda is on either side with this movie. He seems content to raise questions and not provide answers, letting the viewer ponder the issues. To be certain, the second last shot of the movie is provocative and easy to misinterpret (maybe intentionally so). This moment can only account for the final shot of the film that highlights a newspaper headline clarifying the unsettling image that preceded it.

The movie itself is deliberately paced, building character and its plot and themes steadily, giving all three more impact as they revel themselves. While it contains gothic locations and elements typical to vampire flicks, “Bride” is a contemporary movie more concerned with Freud than Stoker. Its images, plot, and themes provide enough food for thought long after the DVD has been removed from the player, adding a welcome bent to a well-worn sub-genre. The one negative criticism that I’ll offer as a warning is that, like too many 70’s Euro-horror flicks, “Bride” includes one scene of actual on-screen animal death that could have been faked without losing its impact.

Now one of my favourite flicks, “The Blood Spattered Bride” joins “Who Can Kill a Child?”, “The House That Screamed”, “A Bell From Hell”, the Blind Dead series, and the films of Paul Naschy in a list of essential Spanish horror movies that are being rediscovered and reevaluated by horror fans. It can also easily claim its place along side “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Silence of the Lambs” as that rare film that successfully tackles gender issues without being ham-fisted and obvious (I’m talking to you, "Themla and Louise").


Friday, 20 June 2008

In Defense of M. Night Shyamalan


Recently, a friend and I went to see “The Happening”. It had opened a few days previous, and the incredibly negative reviews were pouring out of everywhere. Another friend went to a screening elsewhere and walked out part way through. All signs indicated an exquisite experience for fans of bad movies (i.e. sometimes me) à la “The Wicker Man” remake.

What I experienced when watching “The Happening” was a movie that didn’t work; a movie that had some awful moments, but a movie that had a point of view: that of its creator M. Night Shyamalan.

I like Shyamalan’s work okay, but I’m not a huge fan… I liked “The Sixth Sense” despite the fact that its hook is lifted from “Carnival of Souls” and later “Jacob’s Ladder”, as well as Ambrose Bierce’s much earlier short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", and from sources probably a lot older than that. Bottom line, this didn’t affect the fact that I found “The Sixth Sense” creepy and entertaining, though not as original as many claimed. I liked “Unbreakable”, but found the ending unintentionally funny. I missed “Signs”, but saw “The Village”. It was disliked by a lot of critics and moviegoers, but I enjoyed it for the most part. Chalk it up to nostalgia, but it reminded me of Hammer films like “Demons of the Mind”, and other British horror films of the 70’s like “Blood on Satan’s Claw”. I didn’t mind that its ending was ludicrous. I think I appreciated the fact that it dared to be as out there as a Lars Von Trier art flick. Shyamalan followed “The Village” with “The Lady in the Water”, a movie based on a bedtime story he made up for his girls. Despite the fact that the movie is a mess, I found that it too had the stamp of a single filmmaker rather than that of a committee on it. Then comes “The Happening”, probably garnering Shyamalan the worst reviews of his career to date.

Beyond the idea of something causing people to commit suicide en masse (Hello “God Told Me To” and, God forbid, “Starship Invasions”), most of the rest of the plot of “The Happening” is silly. Some of the acting is either bad, or its intent isn’t clear, or some of the actors are miscast. The dialogue is alternately lousy, obvious, and per functionary (I seriously think “The Happening” would work better as a silent movie). Characters behave improbably (i.e. the kids’ outburst, swearing and kicking the door of the survivalists’ house, and getting them what they deserve). As the suicide methods get “creative” beyond the point of competing with “The Omen” series, they become funny. A mood ring is not a good prop to use as a symbol! Unless it’s in a 70’s period piece like “Dazed and Confused” (especially when the aforementioned mood ring doesn’t even have a decent pay off in the movie). And fatally, the movie runs out of steam during the last 15 minutes of its appropriately short 92-minute running time.

So what’s right with “The Happening”? The opening credits and the music throughout the film set an eerie tone. The suicides at the beginning of the movie are creepy and effective (even some later scenes featuring small town citizens dangling from wires and trees are creepy --- Think Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"). The sense of dread and mystery is there at the beginning (but not much later). I seriously wish more filmmakers would work within the 90-minute running time structure like Shyamalan does here; is there a problem with being concise? And, most importantly, “The Happening” represents Shyamalan as a filmmaker.

I appreciate moviemakers like Doris Wishman, Ed Wood, Andy Milligan, John Waters, Herschell Gordon Lewis, et al. People who make movies to get them made. Regardless of intention (to shock, to entertain, for therapy, to challenge, for artistic expression, to make money, to titillate, to develop, to learn how to make movies, to get it out of their systems), these people persist(ed) in making their films and getting them out there. Some became better filmmakers, some saw their films cut by censors, some moved on to other things, some were later reevaluated and given a touch of respectability, but all them received rotten reviews.

Maybe due to circumstance, to budget, to access to cast and crew, and through studio backing, Shyamalan is a technically more proficient filmmaker than the others I’ve named. What he does share with them is that they all put their personal stamp on each of their films. Watching “The Happening”, I didn’t get the sense that this movie was audience-tested up the ass. It’s audacious in its ridiculousness and in its choices. It’s a single flawed vision that reached the screen of my local multiplex, and that’s something that should be appreciated in contemporary movie going, not belittled.


Sunday, 1 June 2008

Recommended

Last week I picked up the DVD for this film:



It was terrific (suspend your disbelief and just go with it). Unfortunately, this is the DVD cover that Dimension Films is going with here in North America:


The cover art is awful and seems to be targeted towards what some cynical execs must think the 20-something set who've made the "Saw" series a hit are looking for. Don't let the cover art fool you. "Inside" is a unique (and obviously very bloody) film.

This weekend I saw this film:



It's the first time I've been scared (in an entertaining way) by a new flick since, I think, "Session 9". Yes, it has a few problems (momentum drags for a few minutes about the 3/4 mark, genre-required tag-on ending), but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Then I watched:



Unfortunately it was a bad quality grey market DVD-R, but the movie itself was terrific. Though it owed a small debt to "Psycho" (shifting sympathies, and some other aspects I won't get into...), it was still original, atmospheric, creepy, lurid, and surprising. It's amazing that there are still so many genre offerings out there for a life-long horror buff like myself to discover.


Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Gaspar Noé




I’d heard about French filmmaker Gaspar Noé for a quite a while. His film “Irreversible” made a big splash when it was released in 2002 due in no small part to a controversial and infamous scene. I’d put off seeing “Irreversible” because of that publicity… Not because I didn’t want to have my boundaries pushed, but because, sometimes, there’s nothing like hype to kill my desire to see a movie: Familiarity breeds contempt; There’s no way “Irreversible” can live up to its reputation; Some of the talk around the film made it sound pretentious; Its North American marketing made it look like a generic, boring erotic thriller (yawn). So finally, 6 years later, I got around to watching “Irreversible”.

To paraphrase a movie I hate, “Shut up. You had me at bonjour.”

I load the disc into the DVD player, and the credits roll, but these aren’t your typical credits. They’re like something Godard would do. Bold. Out of sync. The movie proper begins with a buzzing camera gliding around a tiny apartment/hotel room accompanied by the most irritating background tone since “Eraserhead”. The camera movement and the tone are a little nauseating, as is the green fluorescent hue that saturates everything we’re looking at. Philip Nahon from “High Tension” (maybe repeating his role from Noé’s feature debut “I Stand Alone”) tells a friend that “time destroys everything”, stating for the first time something the film will go out of its way to prove.

The camera moves outside as people are carried on stretchers out of a bar called Le Rectum. And that’s all I’m going to say about plot. From this point on, we discover that the film is being told backwards. That is, the order that we’re watching the scenes is the opposite order in which they occurred, much like “Memento”, but with a different and thoroughly justified purpose. The film begins with ugly and ends with beautiful. This gives extra weight and meaning to the scenes viewed last in “Irreversible”, because instead of being “sweet”, they’re “bittersweet”, driving home the movie’s message.

As for the infamous scene, it’s disturbing, brutal, and wholly believable. It’s an unflinching presentation of a major plot point. Due to the press about this scene, I was, on some level, prepared for it. I was not prepared, however, for a scene that, for me, came entirely put of the blue, and was one of the most upsetting things I’ve seen in a movie. It was an act of violence that I didn’t expect, and that was so realistically rendered that my brain couldn’t separate fantasy from reality. With the formerly mentioned scene, I could rationalize that actors were going through the motions of mimicking a brutal act of violence aided by a bit of CGI. With the latter scene, it looked like the filmmakers were actually committing this act of violence. My impulse was to stop the people from doing what they were doing on screen; to literally reach in and break up the confrontation. The same scene might not affect you the same way, but that was my experience of it. For a filmmaker to craft a scenario that has that kind of effect on me says something, personally, of his depth of ability. I’ve seen plenty of onscreen gore, violence and brutality, but this reached me on a different level. Outside of filmed incidents of real cruelty and death, I can’t think of a film-viewing experience that was more immediately disturbing. This scene too, however, is also a major plot point, necessary to the telling of the story and the presentation of what the movie’s about.

I followed up “Irreversible”, Noé’s second feature film, with his feature debut “I Stand Alone”. I wish I had seen them in chronological order. It seems that “Irreversible” builds on the groundwork laid by “I Stand Alone”.

“I Stand Alone” features Philip Nahon as a man who has just been released from prison for killing a man he thought had raped his daughter (in reality, she has had her first period). Bitter, racist, homophobic and sociopathic, Nahon’s character wanders around a Paris that no longer exists as he knew it before he was incarcerated. His tension and confusion build like the sick-making camera moves, green-infused images and droning tone in “Irreversible”. It can’t lead any where good…

“I Stand Alone” reads as an exploration of modern-day France and the cultural tension that lies beneath the touristy Eiffel Tower and baguette-baking surface of the country. Nahon is a terrific actor who’s in every scene, creating a bridge between both films by appearing in the opening scene of “Irreversible”. His director, Noé, has been called a combination of Godard and William Castle, and this, oddly enough, fits perfectly. “I Stand Alone” and “Irreversible” should be seen, in that order, without reading too much about them beforehand. Part of their effectiveness lies in the unexpectedness of whatever pops up on the screen next. “Irreversible”, in particular, should be viewed with the knowledge that you’re going to experience something disturbing, but also something bigger than that. Love it or hate it, you’re going to see something that you’re going to think about afterwards, and something you’re probably going to want to talk about with others who’ve seen it too.

Stay tuned for Noé’s next announced project “Into the Void”.


Monday, 10 March 2008

An American Werewolf in London



(1981)

In 1981, two werewolf movies were released --- The Howling and An American Werewolf in London. Both were directed by talented genre directors (American Werewolf by John Landis; The Howling by Joe Dante), both successfully mixed comedy and horror, and both featured state-of-the-art special effects (Rick Baker won on Oscar for his Werewolf FX, and a young Rob Bottin created the metamorphoses for The Howling on his way to blowing everyone’s minds with John Carpenter’s The Thing). Everyone who was into horror movies at the time seemed to prefer one over the other. Fact is, they still do. While my preference is for The Howling, I nonetheless think that American Werewolf is a terrific flick.

As a teen-ager, I saw American Werewolf during its initial release. I was visiting a friend who had just left P.E.I. to return to Ontario. My visit to his hometown, Waterloo, became a movie marathon with the two of us taking in everything from Annie (honest to God) through Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing. The highlight, though, was American Werewolf. It doesn’t take much of a trip in the Wayback Machine for me to recall the state of suspense I was in for most of its running time. It’s one of the few instances I can think of when a film’s humour was a welcome relief from its tension.

American Werewolf follows two American backpackers across the moors of England where they are attacked (in a suspenseful scene) by a werewolf. One dies and becomes a fully cognizant zombie (or maybe a ghost?); the other lives and becomes a werewolf. Zombie/ghost (Griffin Dunne) visits werewolf (David Naughton) with dire warnings of what’s to come, eventually trying to encourage the werewolf to commit suicide. Werewolf falls in love with British nurse (Jenny Agutter), complicating things as the body count rises.

Smoothly mixing horror and comedy (no mean feat), there are several outstanding set pieces, a tight script, well-cast affable actors, effective mood-inducing music, and knockout 80s-style special effects. My only negative reactions to the film were that it plays with the concept of the outsider (i.e. foreigners) in interesting ways, but doesn’t really have a pay-off for the concept, and the ending is too damn abrupt. Both minor gripes.

Reflecting on American Werewolf and The Howling, I have to wonder: Are these two films responsible for the way horror films changed at the onset of the 80’s? Did their mix of humour and horror create a whole generation of less successful hybrid? Thinking back, it seems for every Evil Dead and Re-Animator there were ten Troma-style flicks that just couldn’t find the conviction to trust in their fear-generating abilities.


Sunday, 6 January 2008

The Amazing Transplant



(1971)

Holy fuck! That's what I had to say after watching "The Amazing
Transplant", my first Doris Wishman-directed film.

I'd had the pleasure of discovering Wishman around the same time that
I discovered Andy Milligan ("The Body Beneath", "The Ghastly Ones").
These two filmmakers are very similar, and both photograph sex and
nudity in the most sexless manner possible; cold, disconnected bodies,
cellulite and pimples emphasized by harsh lighting. Where Milligan
had ambitions toward dysfunctional family costume melodrama though,
Wishman abandoned all pretense to create absurd, eye-popping trash
cinema. Her films appear so unencumbered by all but the most basic
filmmaking skills that they approach the level of high art.

I love the opening of "The Amazing Transplant". I'd go so far to say
that it's one of my favourite opening scenes in film history. I guess
what it did for me, really, since it was my first taste of Wishman, is
that it introduced me to an entirely unique point of view in
filmmaking. It looks different, it feels different, it sounds
different than most movies I've seen. If a Wishman film were an
orange, I'm sure it would taste like a banana. I didn't care if this
was because of lack of traditional talent or lack of resources. What
mattered to me was that the opening scene was something unique, something
that made me react, and something that made me want to see more.

Here's how "The Amazing Transplant " begins: A nude woman reclines on
a bed playing some sort of stringed instrument… a harpsichord,
maybe?... until she's interrupted by a phone call. Go back and
re-read that previous sentence. Think about it. Wishman wants to get
some nudity in, so why not have the character take a shower?
Masturbate? Walk around naked? No, Wishamn decides that she should
be playing some sort of medieval instrument while lying nude on her
bed.

Anyway, the nude musician answers the phone to discover it's her
boyfriend calling. He wants to see her even though it's Saturday and
she goes shopping on Saturday. After a conversation that honestly
feels like it was written by school children, the boyfriend comes over
and kills the harpsichordist (who wouldn't?). Then he decides to get
a penis transplant. Unfortunately, his new penis turns him into a
rapist too, sort of like "The Cock of Orloc".

If that slice of plot isn't amazing enough, Wishman's style cinches
the deal. Inanimate objects are edited into the film at odd times to
cover transitions or (I'm guessing) missing footage. The dialogue is
clearly haphazardly added later. Lighting seems incidental. It's
like Wishman was driven to get these things on film and she didn't
have time to worry about junk like sync sound and story structure.
It's amazing that she slowed down long enough to have film loaded into
the camera.



Doris Wishman, who died in 2002, represents an aspect of movie making
that I love: The filmmaker who just needs to get a movie made
regardless of ability, using whatever equipment she can get her hands
on, telling the most ludicrous stories that can be duct taped
together. Intentional or not, Wishman's movies have a point of view,
and that's something that's missing from far too many movies.

Other notable Wishman flicks include "Bad Girls Go to Hell", "Another
Day, Another Man", "Deadly Weapons" (starring Chesty Morgan), "Let Me
Die a Woman", and "A Night to Dismember".