Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Importance of Beating Saw

Like the film or not, horror fans must be happy that Paranormal Activity beat Saw VI in this past weekend's box office standings. The psychological horror and torture porn horror films went toe-to-toe in a battle of wits, with Paranormal Activity coming out on top with a weekend earnings of $21,104,070. Saw VI finished second with earnings of $14,118,444.

This says a few things about the state of horror films in this country. America is ready for the goods to be delivered. While I personally think the Saw series wore out its welcome a couple films ago, the series still had a decent enough backing to survive on its miniscule budgets. But the recent buzz and hyping of Paranormal Activity by way of Twitter, Facebook and Eventful.com has helped lend to the takeover atop the box office charts.

And the rise of Paranormal Activity hasn't been short of amazing. The film has accumulated a grand total of $61,580,588 in its five weeks in theaters. These five weeks include instances where the film was only being shown in as little as 12 theaters. In its first week the film managed to average $6,489 per theater. The film then expanded to 33 theaters, 160 theaters, 760 theaters and finally 1,945 theaters this past weekend.

What shouldn't go unmentioned in that beating of Saw VI is that fact that Paranormal Activity was shown in only 1,945 theaters while Saw VI was put into a whopping 3,036 theaters the same weekend. Paranormal Activity averaged an outstanding $10,850 per theater to move to the top spot and beat the sixth film of a dying series.

But this race is far from being over. With Halloween coming on a Saturday this year, this coming weekend should prove to be the finally telling point in the competition of two brands of horror filmmaking. Did people put Saw VI off for Halloween weekend, or will more people hop on the Paranormal Activity wagon and ignore Saw VI once again? If next weekend's box office numbers are similar to these latest ones, I'll be more confident in calling it a knockout.

And even though Saw VI finally felt defeat, I'm still not sure the series is completely over. I wouldn't be surprised if I kept having to see a new release each October. Because the films are cheap to make and because there will always be that core group of fans that actually find the films entertaining, they always make a good size profit for Lionsgate in just its first week of release. Even though the film ended up in the second spot behind a different horror film, it still made just about $3 million more than it's $11 million budget. Look for a good chunk of change to land in Lionsgate pocket after this coming weekend as well.

This year has certainly been a kick in the butt for the horror genre. Sam Raimi made a brilliant return with Drag Me to Hell and the great Trick 'r Treat finally made its DVD debut. Spain saw the release of [REC]2, a film diehard fans of [REC] are begging to see in the states sometime soon. Lars von Trier's Antichrist added a little depth to the horror genre with his atypical film and Sorority Row put the fun back into campy slashers. A myriad of other quality titles, such as The Haunting in Connecticut, Orphan, the terrific Zombieland also saw release. These, coupled with the upcoming limited release of Ti West's House of the Devil, a return to horror by Wes Craven and a brand new zombie film from the lord of zombies, George A. Romero, made for a year that gives me hope for a revival of sorts inside the horror genre.

I always knew the Saw films would take a nose dive. It was just a matter of when. But much like all the other horror franchises that became mega-popular over the last 20 years, I'm certain Saw will continue to see films added to its mundane legacy. They might not even come on a year-by-year basis, but they'll still be there. I'm just wondering how long until they remake the first Saw.

Monday, October 26, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: October 20, 2009

Habitually late again, let's cut to the chase.

The William Castle Film Collection [DVD]

A great new box set was just released featuring some of the great and gimmicky horror filmmaker William Castle. Best known for The House on Haunted Hill, Castle made a living off of inserting numerous gimmicks into his B-movie's theatrical experiences to bring in the crowds. Examples of such are buzzers that would "shock" the audience during certain parts of the film and a 3D-esque piece of viewing equipment to help audience members spot the ghosts in the film. All very campy, all very goofy and all very much lost in the recent commercialism of film. This Castle set looks very nice but is a bit too pricey for me at this point. I'll hold off just a bit. The set includes the following films: 13 Frightened Girls, 13 Ghosts, Homicidal, Strait-Jacket, The Old Dark House, Mr. Sardonicu, The Tingler, Zotz! Check out the video below for an example of Castle's gimmicks.

Monsoon Wedding

More Criterion this week in the form of Mira Nair's 2001 film Monsoon Wedding. Nair just saw the release of her latest film, Amelia, into cinemas and this release completes her busy week. Nair also directed the beautiful and touching 1988 film Salaam Bombay!, a terrific expose of being young and without family in Bombay. It's certainly nice to see more female filmmakers get a few nods of respect. Wouldn't it be sweet if Kathyrn Bigelow's latest masterpiece The Hurt Locker was given the Criterion treatment?

Spaghetti Western Bible Presents: The Fast, the Saved & the Damned [DVD]

Let's forget for a second that the cover art of this new release of old spaghetti western films is a ripoff of the packaging of the Sergio Leone collection released awhile back. A few Spaghetti Western Bibles have been released already. There's been Sartana Saga: Spaghettie Western Bible 2 and Grindhouse Experience Presents: Spaghetti Bible. And even though the quality of these prints and transfers are sometimes lousy, fans of the genre have still got to love these types of genre compilations. A lot of these films would probably never see a remastered single release in a million years, so it's nice to get them somehow. I have a few similar sets for the film noir and exploitation genres and they're more than acceptable for extra viewing. Includes in this collection are the following films:

- Blindman (1971) Ferdinando Baldi
- Minnesota Clay (1965) Sergio Corbucci
- 7 Dollars on the Red (1966) Alberto Cardone
- Massacre Time (1966) Lucio Fulci
- Price of Power, The (1970) Tonino Valerii
- Beast, The (1970) Mario Costa
- They Call Him Cemetery (1971) Giuliano Carnimeo
- Bounty Killer (1972) Angelo Pannacciò
- One Dollar Too Many (1968) Enzo G. Castellari
- Apocalypse Joe (1971) Leopoldo Savona

Don't look for much greatness, but there are a few good names in there. For example, Lucio Fulci, who made a few off the beaten path westerns and adventure films went on to become one of Italy's most accomplished horror filmmakers before eventually becoming labeled as one of the godfathers of gore. Enzo G. Castellari directed the original The Inglorious Bastards. Fans of the genre should want to check this collection out.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [DVD][Blu-ray]

I skipped on seeing this in theaters and am in no rush to check it out. But I figured there might be a few of you out there you love your Transformers. Don't get me wrong here, I don't have anything against the Autobots or whatever they're called. I just have things against Michael Bay. I don't care how many times you blow things up, it doesn't mean your film won't be excruciatingly painful to watch.

Jethro Tull: Live at Madison Square Garden - 1978 [DVD]

Biased, yes, because I love me some Jethro Tull. But you should too. Or at least try to. Ian Anderson made the flute look badass and did it while turning Jethro Tull into one of the giants of the progressive rock genre. They've left their mark and continue to play as a band to this day. This set has both a DVD of the show and a CD to go along with it for maximum Tull value. "Thick as a Brick", "Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath"? Count me in.

What else comes out this week: Blood: The Last Vampire, Peanuts: 1970's Collection, Vol. 1, Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Those Aren't Pillows Edition), Black Adder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition, Easy Rider [Blu-ray], The Tournament, Sherlock Holmes: The Archive Collection, Escaflowne: The Movie [Blu-ray], Fados, Black Rain, 100 Feet [Blu-ray], The Crew, They Killed Sister Dorothy, P, Last of the Living.

What to stay away from: Personally, I already said I'm staying away from the latest Transformers film. If you don't want to stay away from that, I'll suggest keeping far from 2012: Supernova. Just wait for Roland Emmerich's ridiculous film for your end of the world fix.

So long.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Minimalistic 'Paranormal Activity' An Old School Horror Sensation

Less is more is the mantra carried out by director Oren Peli throughout his debut film Paranormal Activity. The mockumentary style horror film has been making noise, creating buzz and scorching up the box office charts ever since its initial limited release in September.

And it’s easy to see why a film such as Paranormal Activity can frighten and excite audiences so easily. With no suffocating glitz of a typical Hollywood horror film or thick wall of fake installed to separate the audience and the characters, Paranormal Activity is a realistic, believable and modern take on the haunted house genre.

A lot of the believability and realistic tendencies of the haunting of couple Katie and Micah come from the minimalistic nature of Peli’s film. Leaving some of the scare unexposed and inside the mind, the film encourages audience imagination. In a time where the horror genre is saturated with films whose intentions are to expose as much pain, terror and grief as possible, Peli shows he understands that the opposite of that method can be just as effective, if not more.

The most macabre films of the 1940’s and on made their way into spooking audiences through atmosphere and terror of another kind, not by seeing how many pounds of intestines they can show moviegoers. And with Paranormal Activity there is a sort of rousing of this old school style found in those more classic types of horror films. With a miniscule budget of $15,000, Peli faced that same sort of barrier an older film with no means for extravagance might have, but one he overcame and seemed to most certainly welcome. Peli’s methodical film is a reminder that the lost art of making truly terrifying cinema isn’t so lost after all.

In full, Paranormal Activity is a toxic mix of the techniques of The Blair Witch Project and the spooky happenings of Robert Wise’s classic 1963 horror film The Haunting. And I say all that as only to shed some light where the inspiration of this film comes from, not to imply any sort of “been there, done that” attitude. And even though there are striking similarities to the BBC’s faux news program Ghostwatch that was broadcasted on Halloween in 1992, this is somewhere horror fans simply haven’t been yet. This is the rare little film that could, breaking through all conventions of the genre seen in the more modern years.

Peli’s grassroots direction is both deliberate in nature but oh so vicious and intense at climax. Peli creates what can only be described as textbook horror suspense. The film is a constant cycle of buildup and slowdown, separated by day and night. And even when you know and can feel that something is about to happen, the film still manages to place you on the edge of your nerves, even to a point where the most frightened viewers of the film will fear night and the darkness it brings as much as the haunted Katie does.

Many words are fair game in describing the scares brought on by Peli. Freaky, creepy and disturbing would rank on the top of that list. Whether the film will truly frighten you both in theaters and later that night at home when you turn the light off is completely subjective. Those who feast on the terror will be reeling from the excitement of it all, while those most susceptible to fright might find themselves in over their heads. It isn’t my job to tell you if you’ll be scared by this film or not. If you’ve been scared by a horror film before, chances are you’re in for something here, as the film has the capability to unsettle even those most steel-nerved horror fanatics. But Peli’s film will only be effective on those who allow it to be. I can’t stress enough how necessary it is to let yourself into the film and truly want to be scared by it. On that level is where Paranormal Activity is most effective.

And if anyone has trouble placing themselves inside this film it might be due to the interaction between Katie and Micah, the two that combine to make for one irritable couple. They don’t act like they’ve been dating for three years, and Micah’s constant desire to not listen to his partner is almost as disturbing and unlikeable as the demons haunting their nights. I found this to be really forgettable and forgivable, as Peli has already said that the dialogue was “natural” because there was no true script to the film, just situations to set off improvisation. But in a strange way, Peli’s course for natural dialogue pays off, as it hides the rather amateurish acting of both Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston. Just don’t go looking for any sort of character development.

While I’m pretty sure Paranormal Activity hasn’t made me afraid to sleep with the lights off, it’s most certainly a wonderful case of how sometimes a genuinely haunting atmosphere and perfect suspense building combined with a believable style of storytelling can make for some of the most effective and unnerving moments the horror genre has seen in years.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October Horror Movie Challenge Update: 20 Days Later

It's been a slow October. Too many things have gotten in the way of my usually addictive horror film viewing. The Yankees continued playoff run and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson are two reasons why I've only watched 14 films thus far. But with a week of Ferguson and Conan O'Brien reruns, I should be able to capitalize on that ever-important late night showtime. Anyways, I've watched four films since my last update. Pathetic.

October 15th
11. Children of the Corn (1984)* - 8/10
October 16th
12. The Ruins (2008)* - 7.5/10
13. Cat People (1942)* - 9/10
October 18th
14. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) - 8/10

Children of the Corn: This is such a fun film. A film that is more a classic for its legendary name than anything else, Children of the Corn is still a must-see film in the genre. It's one of the great kids gone bad tales and adapted successfully to film here. You have to love the evil performances of John Franklin and Courtney Gains as the sadistic leaders of the group of children. The film takes a rather campy turn at the end, but it's all so fascinating. Recommended.

The Ruins: The Ruins is a case of "I've seen worse". And oh how true it is. This film won't be remembered in the long run, but it certainly hits all the right buttons along the way. The film follows the adventure five young vacationers take off the beaten path. Unfortunately for them, they visit the one set of ruins you don't want to set foot on. There's some effective gore and gross-out moments that'll most definitely sick out the easy victims, while those who who are like me will mostly give a "Hmm" and think of the more disturbing things they've seen. Still, the film is a button-pusher, and holds the suspense in the right places. Recommended.

Cat People: This terrific film from 1942 explores sexual tension and frustration in a place of horror. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, a noted contributor to the film noir genre, Cat People is certainly set inside a noir-like city. The shadows are heavy, deep and encompassing. Particularly so as the film moves along into its more "frightening" and climatic scenes. I put frightening in quotes because this film won't move you in the way it moved movie-goers back in the 40's. But still, the film is effective in its subtext, is one of the legendary Val Lewton produced films, and reigns in the top level of black and white horror films. Highly recommended.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes: A film by John and Erick Dowdle, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a mockumentary, in the vein of say, The Last Broadcast, around a serial killer and the tapes he left for police to find. The film uses mock interviews in correspondence with the videotapes to produce a rather grisly and sometimes disturbing picture of a serial killer. I really quite liked the profile they created of this murderer. The acting here isn't the best as it is a low budget film, but the film still remains fairly effective, as the rough and gritty condition the tapes are shown in retain some realism amid the fluctuating quality of acting. Recommended.

That's all for now. I hope when I make my final wrap-up I have a few more titles to talk about. So long.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: October 13, 2009

Yeah, you got that right, I'm late again. Here we go.

Drag Me to Hell [DVD][Blu-ray]

What the hell else do you think I'd put first? I was lucky enough to watch this, the best horror film of 2009 (so far), in 720p and it looked splendid. The film is as effectively entertaining as it was the first two times I saw it in theaters. I can't say more than my review can, but I will add that you should definitely watch this one with either a good sound system or the sound turned up. It really adds to the whole thing. If anyone is wondering about the "director's cut" and what was added or taken away, the answering is nothing much. I counted one short addition to a scene that I recognized that wasn't in the theatrical cut, and it's debatable as to whether it actually benefits the film or not. Like director Sam Raimi said, he didn't make this film with ratings in mind. He just made it. And it ended up being PG-13. That isn't a sin when you know what you're doing.

Stop Making Sense [Blu-ray]

I was shocked to find this among the releases for this week. Stop Making Sense, for those that don't know, is the Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) directed concert film featuring the unbeatable Talking Heads. David Byrne and company made for one of the best concert films I've ever seen, and the fact that this is getting a Blu-ray release is completely justifiable and terrific. "Hey, I got a tape I wanna play," says Byrne right before playing a solo version of "Psycho Killer" as the first member of the band to appear on stage. Song by song the entire band eventually makes their way onto stage, and once that full group is together, the show is electric. This is a must see for fans of the band and should convert those unfamiliar with their music.

Eclipse Series 18: Dusan Makavejev - Free Radical [DVD]

Criterion's spin-off series Eclipse has just released their 18th box set. This time it features the films of Dusan Kakavejev. Free radical is one way to describe him. The video clip I just checked out began with a black cat crawling on top of a naked woman's bum. Intriguing. But then it translated to a woman cooking in the kitchen, and now I don't know what to think. Further researched tells me that the Yugoslavian Makavejev made films in the 1960s about about political and sexual liberation, both revolutionary and raucous. Criterion describes wonderfully, saying: "Across these, his wild, collagelike first three films, Makavejev investigates—with a tonic mix of earnestness and whimsy—love, death, and work; the legacy of war and the absurdity of daily life in a Communist state; criminology and hypnosis; strudels and strongmen." So that all sounds cool. It make take some patience to watch these films, but they certainly seem historical. I trust the Eclipse series, especially after that terrific Nikkatsu Noir collection.

Hardware [DVD][Blu-ray]

Just watch this sci-fi horror film's trailer. I can't explain it better than it can.

The Stepfather [DVD]

I suppose there is one thing that I like about all those unnecessary horror remakes. Their original counterparts usually get nice new DVD releases when the remake is set to come out in theaters. Such is the case this week with The Stepfather. Instead of talking more about this film or the remake I'm just gonna embed a video of my beloved Craig Ferguson making great jokes about the remake and how non-blood relatives are getting a bad rap.

Happy Birthday to Me [DVD]

I freaking love horror films. And I really want to see this one. Mainly because I want to find out about this whole shish kabob on your birthday business. And then the whole getting apparently murdered by a shish kabob killer. Of course that might be way off the point of the film but I don't care. It's intriguing enough.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not Just Nostalgia-Driven, 'Where the Wild Things Are' Ignites Imagination

Even before entering director Spike Jonze’s monster-inhabited fantasy island, Where the Wild Things Are sets the tone at home for what young Max’s upcoming adventure will be all about. A culmination of difficult issues inside a family, struggling to cope with the idea of being lonely and the pains of growing up send Max storming out of his house angry and confused after an incident with his mother, leading him to escape via imagination.

Jonze has made a name for himself with other challenging, visually impressive and near dreamlike films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. But could adapting a 48 page book heavy with illustrations be his most challenging effort yet? Maurice Sendak, author of the classic children’s book of the same name, handpicked Jonze after feeling most connected to his work than the rest of the names on the long list of prospective directors. And from there Jonze and writer Dave Eggers stretched the short book into a lengthy screenplay, all the while staying in touch with Sendak to ensure the author’s approval on nearly all fronts.

From the moment Max touches land on the imaginary island the visual and emotional scope of Jonze’s film is realized. More melancholy than you might be prepared for, Where the Wild Things Are will leave children bewildered and adults absolutely satisfied.

But that satisfaction isn’t just the nostalgia factor of seeing a classic childhood book come alive. Jonze’s film is a spirited affair that forces its viewers to use their imagination in joint fashion with Max’s. Even the most stubborn grown ups must relinquish their inhibitions and revert their minds back to a freeing childlike state to really feel the sentimentality and emotion put into motion by Jonze and Eggers. So much of what Jonze and Eggers have to say about Max’s time spent with the monsters in his imaginary land can be traced back and related to Max’s life at home, a relatable emotion for most viewers.

An amazing source of this emotion springs forth from the inhabiting monsters themselves. Through a combination of live action, suitmation, animatronics and CGI, the monsters are brought to life in incredible fashion. It truly is remarkable how many effective displays of emotion and personality are pumped into and eventually out of these creatures. The decision to not rely solely on CGI really proves to be an excellent direction. By not depending on computers and leaving this sense of reality from the natural movements of actors in suits, the audience is even more drawn into Max’s imagination, and each monster is given a multi-faceted set of traits it can call its own. There is a sort of unspeakable believability instilled into the fantasy.

Visually Jonze’s film transcends good and leaps into artistic brilliant. Careful cinematography helps capture the beauty of the various types of terrain and land growing inside Max’s imagination. And one look at the fort built by Max and the monsters leaves the eyes in awe. Jonze uses a fresh palette of colors that relates to whatever the current mood of the film may be. In turbulent times a snowstorm sets in, while a beautiful bright sun can be seen in the more innocent, loving and tender moments.

Also speaking greatly for the mood of the film is the film’s soundtrack by Karen O, lead singer of rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs and former girlfriend of Jonze. In her own innocent, childlike way, Karen O’s music speaks volumes for the tone. Karen O captures every raucous, playful and exciting moment like the enjoyable dirt clump fight but is also able to reflect on the more melancholy, experience-growing and sedative of Max’s experiences while away from the real world. There isn’t a moment in the film where her music doesn’t fit the scene, and for that her ability to ride the same wavelength as the film and resulting addition to the experience is just about as important as anything else.

A wonderful performance is put in by Max Records as central character Max. His innocence and determination is spellbinding. It’s a truly genuine performance and even more impressive when you consider the acting situation Records was put in, as the largest portion of the film is Records acting alongside actors in suits. Impressive voice acting was added to the project from the likes of Forest Whitaker, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano and Lauren Ambrose, all of whom help give the monsters their unmistakable personalities.

Fears that Where the Wild Things Are would only succeed on a nostalgic level should be immediately forgotten. A spirited Jonze took to task and created this magical, endearing masterpiece of youthful and soulful exploration that while ultimately working better as adult fare, will still entertain young ones even though they might wonder why exactly those monsters get so darn angry.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

With All the Ghouls in Line, 'Trick 'r Treat' Captures Halloween Perfectly

Going right along with all the urban legend, folklore and tradition of Halloween comes the films we watch to celebrate the holiday. For 30 years, John Carpenter’s visceral 1978 slasher Halloween has been one of the most revered Halloween-themed horror films and a yearly tradition right along with the tamer It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

And now a film set to seriously challenge the champions of Halloween has arrived. Originally set to be released in October of 2007, Michael Doughtery’s Trick ‘r Treat has finally seen release via DVD and Blu-ray. Trick ‘r Treat is four interwoven stories all taking place on one Halloween night in a town that celebrates Halloween like no other.

The best thing about Trick ‘r Treat is how the film perfectly captures the spirit of the holiday it celebrates. In lush and eye-catching fashion the film recreates what we love and fear about the ghoulish night of Halloween. The film covers all facets of Halloween, including the annual celebrations, spooky local urban legends, those creepy next door neighbors, mountains of lit Jack-o'-lanterns and that friendly reminder to respect those Halloween rules and rituals.

Trick ‘r Treat can be best described to horror aficionados as the third Creepshow film we never received. The same fresh breath of air that was breathed into George A. Romero and Stephen King’s joint anthology horror project is alive and well in Doughtery’s film, someone who seems to be easily able to grasp the joys of the horror film. This is a fun-loving horror film.

When people call Trick ‘r Treat one of the better horror films they’ve seen, which I will, it isn’t because it’s scary. The film is far from being terrifying. But from the understanding that a horror film doesn’t have to be scary to the viewer comes the greatest appreciation of the genre and this film in particular. Doughtery’s film is a perfect blend of what makes the genre as great as can be. There’s a little bit of Sam Raimi-esque physical splatter horror, a new twist on the tales of werewolves and a dark humor-blended story about a principal that commits atrocities that wouldn’t go over well with any school’s PTA. This kind of mixture creates a film that doesn’t tire itself out from the same kind of device a typical slasher film or gore film might.

And part of the brilliance of the four interwoven stories penned by Doughtery himself are the overlapping ties between them, something you notice more and more of on second and third viewings of this film. The little things characters see, do or say not caught on a first viewing are picked up on repeat viewings. At a quick 82 minutes the film practically speeds by and because of this brevity is very easy and enjoyable to watch.

The other part of Doughtery’s film that I find most fascinating is his character Sam. Sam is literally our little reminder to follow and respect Halloween traditions. Donning a burlap pumpkin mask, Sam is the one constant tie to all four stories, and takes vengeance on those that disrespect the spirit of Halloween. And with that Sam represents more than just a piece of the horror, he’s that ideal memory of what Halloween is supposed to be, and another piece of the all-encompassing Halloween package that Trick ‘r Treat truly is.

While it won’t scare the pants off you, Trick ‘r Treat perfectly captures the essence of what Halloween is all about. I can’t imagine many horror fans not falling in love with this film. As long as enough people are able to see it, Trick ‘r Treat should become the Halloween classic of this generation. Michael Myers might just have to take a step back and let pint-sized Sam take his rightful place as Halloween’s number one masked character.

Album reviews: The Flaming Lips + Buckethead

The Flaming Lips

Warner Bros.

October 13, 2009

In a true change of the pace, weird rockers The Flaming Lips reverted to the strangeness that gained them a boatload of fans on the cult level. When you consider that Zaireeka, the album before their switch to a more standard sound, was an album with four compact discs that when played simultaneously on four audio systems the four CDs would produce a harmonic or juxtaposed sound, you’d understand how normal their weird sound is to them.

Embryonic is definitely weird but ultimately still an accessible album. I’d hate to say that if you jumped on the Lips album with The Soft Bulletin and never became familiar with their earlier work, you might feel a little let down. But those who love the band’s strange, sometimes ambient interludes, freaked out and extended jam-like sessions that are all over the place might fall in love. Or if you love strange things in general you should find a place inside of lead singer Wayne Coyne’s mind.

Definitely favorites for me from the album are tracks like “See the Leaves”, a pulsating psychedelic track and “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine”, which feels like a companion sister track to the aforementioned one.

In the category of just plain weird falls “I Can Be A Frog”. Help here is given from Karen O, lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The lyrical content here reminds me of classic Lips work like “Moth in the Incubator” or “She Don’t Use Jelly” from their Transmissions from the Satellite Heart album.

I’d encourage people to try this album even if they are only familiar with their last three albums in The Flaming Lips’ discography. And it isn’t that the band’s last three albums before this weren’t good, they’re excellent albums and good entry points into the band in general. It’s just that they’re different, and listeners should be prepared for that to able themselves to make the best judgment of the band’s most excellent latest work.


Needle in a Slunk Stack

TDRS Music
September 24, 2009

I’m never going to stop listening to and loving Buckethead. But something is amiss in his last few albums, and this continues into his latest offering, Needle in a Slunk Stack, his twenty-eight studio album.

Don’t get me wrong, like all his albums, this one shreds, and does so in the most experimental ways. And while the technical ability of Buckethead is still to be found, the playful fun of his older work isn’t. Giant Robot was the first album I ever listened to from the guitar virtuoso and that album, unlike his more recent efforts, is one I do find myself going back to more often.

I don’t know, maybe nostalgia is getting to me. Yes, nostalgia of four years. I still just don’t think Buckethead’s latest work is as enjoyable for me as his earlier stuff. I personally don’t think he’s had a truly classic and great album since Inbred Mountain came out back in 2005 and Crime Slunk Scene in 2006, even though he has produced a plethora of work since then.

But don’t take this as a negative review for this latest offering. It’s simply more of what we Buckethead fans love the guy for. He shreds and does so different than anyone else in the game can. And for that, a never ending respect and appreciation of the artist forms, even if at times I yearn for something else.

Perhaps more experimental than most of his other recent work, Needle in a Slunk Stack is vastly different than the most beloved albums from Buckethead such as Colma or Population Override. Tracks like “Interview With The Double Man” and the two-part “Wormwood's Workshop” are most definitely welcome pieces.

The worst thing I could do here is be unappreciative of this artist. He loves music, loves his fans, and shows it by his nonstop releases of explored styles. I’ll take all I can get from Buckethead. Is there a limit to how much one can take? Probably, but I don’t think we’ve reached it yet.

With Help from Internet, 'Paranormal Activity' Goes Nationwide

Making huge buzz across Facebook and Twitter the past few weeks has been the little film that could, Paranormal Activity.

What started as a quiet and small 13 theater release in various “college” towns across the country turned into a nation of horror fans literally demanding the film be released nationwide and conversely one of the most impressive uses of the internet’s fastest growing social networking tools, a game plan that might change the landscape of film in the future.

The internet has been credited to the success of a lot of various bands, films, artists, you name it. But has there ever been a film screening decided by the general public before? Using eventful.com, director Oren Peli encouraged fans to “demand” where the film is played next, the first time a film studio used the service to virally promote and release a film. The film sold out 12 of its first 13 showings, with the one non sellout being accredited to the fact that a Penn State football game stole the attention of much of the prospective audiences.

With the successful use of internet tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Eventful, Paranormal Activity managed to gain more sellouts and more demand for a wider release. Most recently the film moved to 40 larger markets and began playing at all hours of the day, and not just the previous midnight-only showtimes. This past weekend the film grossed an impressive $7,066,000 while playing in just 160 theaters, a total that averages out to be $44,163 per theater.

And then the final challenge for eager viewers was given. Reach 1,000,000 demands for the film on Eventful and the film would go nationwide, giving everyone a chance to be scared by the film that is being lauded as one of the most terrifying horror films in years. On Saturday, October 10th, the ticker on Eventful reached the necessary total to award the film its nationwide release, which will begin on Friday, October 16th.

It isn’t often that you find an independent film that cost $15,000 to make receive this kind of buzz. And this achievement is one worth looking at closely, trying to figure out how exactly social networking devices like Twitter helped spread the word. With a busy and hardworking person manning the film’s official Twitter account, @TweetYourScream, the account has managed to accumulate more than 400 tweets, mostly rebroadcasting how scared other fans on Twitter were while watching the film.

This word of mouth technique proved to be successful in letting Paramount Pictures know exactly what the fans wanted. In past years a success story like this would not only be impossible, but something that got lauded at. The only previous way for fans to let studios know what they wanted was to let them know through box office totals. Forget sending the message right to them in words.

And I can only hope that this customer-studio relation continues in the future. Far too often the little guy is given the shake. It’s easy to forget that cinema is a business. But I do think Paramount is about to be rewarded for their experimental release procedure. All I ask is that horror fans join me this weekend and show Paramount and the rest of Hollywood that they made the right choice by giving us a voice.

Monday, October 12, 2009

October Horror Movie Challenge Update: The First 10 Days

Why the first 10 days? Because that is when I decided to write this. Let me start by saying that I do think I'm under-performing. But I do have excuses. The Yankees, New York Rangers and Hartford Wolf Pack can all be held responsible for taking up viewings. That and life in general. Anyways, below you will find my list, and under that, a brief review for each film I've watched thus far. Just some general off-hand comments about what I liked or didn't like about the film.

October 1st
1. Summer School (2006)* - 6/10
2. Drag Me to Hell (2009) - 10/10
3. Laid to Rest (2009)* - 8/10
4. The Sentinel (1977)* - 9/10
October 2nd
5. Zombieland (2009)* - 9.5/10
October 6th
6. The Hills Run Red (2009)* - 8/10
7. Jungle Holocaust (1977)* - 7/10
October 7th
8. Fright Night (1985)* - 8/10
October 8th
9. MST3K: Zombie Nightmare (1994/1986)* - 9/10 - 2/10
October 10th
10. Trick ‘r Treat (2008) - 9.5/10
11. Splinter (2008)* - 9/10

Summer School: A crude little independent film with a rather brilliant concept. The film deals with a summer school student who after staying up for hours upon hours watching horror films for his film review website (sounds familiar to me!) begins to dream. He keeps waking up to different nightmares, and so on. All bases are covered here. Nazis, creatures from the beyond, and Deliverance-like mountain folk. Recommended.

Drag Me to Hell: Nothing more can be said about this masterpiece. One of the greatest horror films made in a long time, Sam Raimi marks his return to the genre that made him famous. For more, be sure to read my review I wrote back when the film first came out. Highly recommended.

Laid to Rest: A great new slasher with a great new slasher villain. Chromeskull, fitted in a chrome mask and a camera perched on his shoulder to tape all his victims, tracks down a group of people who just have the worst of luck. The film is really good as far as slashers go, so I'll highly recommend this one.

The Sentinel: I had been meaning to see this 70s horror film for quite some time, and I'm glad I finally did. The Sentinel deals with what keeps earth and hell separated. In this film, it's apparently an apartment complex in New York. A woman moves in to the apartment only to find out that what she has been seeing and experiencing isn't really there. Or is it. The film has one of the creepiest scenes in all of horror film, and is more off-the-wall than one would expect. Recommended.

Zombieland: Again, I fell in love with this film instantly. Check out my review to get the full effect of my flattering. Highly recommended.

The Hills Run Red: Riding a bit of hype into its DVD release, The Hills Run Red is a slasher-esque film that details one young horror film enthusiast and his attempt to uncover the mystery of The Hills Run Red, the horror film within this film. It's a long lost film, never to be seen by the general public. Then he goes into the woods. Things get crazy. And very gory. Recommended.

Jungle Holocaust: I'm really not going to lather this one up and recommend it to anyone but cannibal/jungle exploitation films. This is the film Ruggero Deodato made before his infamous film Cannibal Holocaust. This plays as more of an adventure-horror film than anything else and certainly isn't for all eyes and ears. So skip it, unless you're like me and enjoy the genre. Then it's recommended.

Fright Night: One of the campy treats from the 1980s is Fright Night. You'll recognize Amanda Bearse as Marcy from the great Married with Children and you'll recognize the odd Stephen Geoffreys from gay porno. Or maybe you won't. Hey I'm not judging. Premise here is that a high school aged boy begins to believe that he is living next door to a vampire. Which he is. But of course no one believes him. So with the help of his two friends, they enlist the help of the great vampire killer extraordinaire Peter Vincent, a play on horror film legends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. This is a fun film, recommended.

MST3K: Zombie Nightmare: Zombie Nightmare is terrible. But the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing of it is brilliant. Amazing how those guys can make almost any piece of disjointed crap watchable. Adam West stars (sort of) in the film and, well, that alone should be worth your time. Recommended, but only the MST3K version. The film itself is dreadful.

Trick 'r Treat
: Brilliant. I'm not going to say too much on this film. I just wrote a review which will be up shortly, so just read that. Highly recommended.

Splinter: Even though I had heard nothing but good things about Splinter, this still reigns as the most surprising flick I've watched this month. The film is a breeze to watch, a short 82 minutes. But once the film grabs you, it doesn't let go. A new kind of parasitic plague is running ramped deep within the woods and four unsuspecting people come across it at a small gas station. People say it's too much like The Thing, but trust me, it really isn't. The film grips you and has you waiting for what will develop next between the survivors and the increasingly dangerous parasite. Highly recommended.

There we have it. Hopefully my pace picks up in the next 10 days. We'll see!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

DVD Picks of the Week: October 6, 2009

I told you I'd be back today. I'm hopefully going to be returning to more timely postings of the latest DVDs and Blu-rays, but we'll see how that goes.

Trick 'r Treat [DVD][Blu-ray]

What a year for horror films it has been. The long awaited release of Trick 'r Treat only strengthens what has been a great revival year for the genre that once seemed lost. Trick 'r Treat is the ghoulish Halloween night tale of multiple interlocking spook stories that kind of encompass all of what Halloween is about. There are vampires, werewolves, zombies, haunted tales, creepy next door neighbors, mountains of lit Jack-o'-lanterns and that friendly reminder to respect those Halloween rules and rituals. Four creepy tales come together in what can be best described as our generation's Creepshow. The film also tends to touch on all facets of great horror. There's some Sam Raimi-esque splatter horror to go along with more comedy themed bits, and so on. The film has been catching on all over and been receiving loads of hype. It's a shame this wasn't given a wide theatrical release right now, but I'll take this terrific film however I can get it. If there's one horror film you watch this October, make it Trick 'r Treat.

Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics [DVD]

I can't say I've seen any of the four films offered in this particular set (The Walking Dead/Frankenstein 1970/You'll Find Out/Zombies on Broadway) but I don't care, I'm still going to recommend it. It's Boris Karloff. It's Bela Lugosi. Both in one nicely priced set. Just in time for Halloween. I've heard that The Walking Dead is the classic of the set, but don't take my word for it. Plus one of the films is called Zombies on Broadway. That's enough incentive for me.

Audition [2-Disc DVD][Blu-ray]

Making its debut on Blu-ray is one of the most jarring horror films of the last 10 years. Audition is Takashi Miike's cerebral classic, a slow developing film that tenaciously picks away at its viewers' nerves one shot at a time. By the time this film ends, it leaves you just about speechless. I don't know if the DVD version is worth replacing your older copy for, but I'd love to see this on Blu-ray. You don't want to know anything about this film other than how awesome it is before you see it. Makes for a better experience. Go enjoy it now.

The Gate [DVD]

I haven't seen this film yet, but I've heard it's another one of those good tongue in cheek 1980s horror films that needed to be released on DVD. Well it looks like it finally is. Since my words can't say much about this film, maybe the trailer can.

Chinatown [DVD]

Okay, so director Roman Polanski isn't in the best light right now. And yes, I don't know why Chinatown needed to be released AGAIN (who ever does?). But still, here it is, now apart of the Centennial Series, a really great collection of films from Paramount that have been reissued. This is a great neo-noir, one of Jack Nicholson's best performances and a Polanski classic. Good timing if you want to give yourself a break from the horror films that come out this week. The mystery is a real spellbinder, and loads of fun.

Not Quite Hollywood [DVD]

I wrote at the end of September about two "ozploitation" films from Brian Trenchard-Smith that I really loved, Dead End Drive-In and Turkey Shoot. Well this week comes a documentary I had been hearing a lot about lately concerning that genre. Names like Quentin Tarantino and Dennis Hopper are to be found here, and I can usually support anything those two guys get involved with.

Staunton Hill [DVD]

Another I haven't seen, and I haven't really heard much great about it, but it is directed by Cameron Romero, son of the legendary filmmaker George A. Romero. That's enough for me to make mention of this film and eventually see it, even if it might be a steaming pile of crap.

Ghost Ship [Blu-ray]

Level with me here for a minute. Ghost Ship isn't that bad. Sure, it isn't the most brilliant film in the world, but I thought it did its job. It also has a terrific opening scene that's hard to dislike if you're a horror fan. There's a little bit of atmosphere in this freak out thriller and that's what I like about it. I guess I'll give it another go this month to make sure I wasn't seeing things when I first watched this way back when.

What else comes out this week: Splatter Movie: The Director's Cut, It's My Party and I'll Die if I Want To!, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs [Blu-ray], Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Year One, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein [Blu-ray], It's Alive, Man vs. Food: Season One, Children, Dark Country, The Thaw, Children of the Corn (Remake), Seventh Moon, Wolf / Dracula / Frankenstein Trilogy [Blu-ray], Offspring, Marlene (1984), Feeding Grounds.

What to stay away from: Dance Flick. Fuck that movie.

Okay, I hope you enjoyed my return to my regular time (Tuesdays) and my sans-Chinatown horror themed selections. Get used to that this October. Drag Me to Hell comes out next week.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wrap Up of Films Watched in September 2009

It's taken me five days, but here's my month of September wrap-up. I watched a total of 23 films this month, a worthy number considering summer ended and school began. It was a good mixture of things, more rough on the edges horror and exploitation genre flicks than anything else though. And as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, October is going to be all horror, all the time, unless I need to see a film outside the genre to review for The Recorder. Anyways, here's the list, with my monthly awards following. As always, * denotes a first time viewing and all links lead to IMDB pages for the specific film.

210. 9/1 – Au revoir les enfants*
211. 9/3 – Smash Cut*
212. 9/4 – Gamer*
213. 9/4 – High Anxiety*
214. 9/6 – Observe and Report
215. 9/6 – A Colt Is My Passport*
216. 9/7 – Blackbeard, the Pirate*
217. 9/8 – Combat Shock*
218. 9/8 – In the Jungle: The Making of Cannibal Holocaust*
219. 9/10 – The House on Sorority Row*
220. 9/11 – Sorority Row*
221. 9/12 – Bad Lieutenant*
222. 9/13 – Sex Drive*
223. 9/18 – The Informant!*
224. 9/18 – State of Play*
225. 9/19 – All the Colors of the Dark*
226. 9/20 – Burn After Reading
227. 9/20 – The Man from Earth*
228. 9/21 – Dead-End Drive In*
229. 9/21 – Cut and Run*
230. 9/27 – Turkey Shoot*
231. 9/28 – Trick ‘r Treat*
232. 9/30 – Homicide*

Best Film (New Viewing): Trick 'r Treat
Okay, maybe Au revoir les enfants is an infinitely better film than Trick 'r Treat, but part of this award involves it being my favorite film as well. And Trick 'r Treat is one of the greatest horror films I've seen in quite some time. The film contains a few stories that eventual interlock in one way or another, and sets the perfect Halloween tone, reminding us all of why we love the holiday the way we do. This should be the mood setter for Halloween 2009 and for years to come. It might even be the best Halloween themed ever. Yes, I really did just say that.
Runners-up: Au revoir les enfants, Bad Lieutenant, Homicide, The Man from Earth, Combat Shock.

Best Film (Repeated Viewing): Tie - Burn After Reading/Observe and Report
For the first time in Blast of Silence history, we have a tie. This award essentially came down to two of my favorite comedies of the last two years, and deciding between them looks impossible. I really don't know what else to say about both of these terrific films. They aren't for everyone, but for those that they are for, you'll love them.
Runners-up: None.

Worst Film (Any Viewing): Gamer
Perhaps I might be a little too nice when I say that Gamer isn't a terrible film. The film got panned by critics and the public, but I really thought it had a few things going for it. That said, it was ultimately a forgettable film with nothing that brings it above the mediocre region it belongs it.
Runners-up: Smash Cut, Sex Drive.

Most Surprising Film: A Colt Is My Passport
This month's most surprising film goes hand in hand with last month's, Youth of the Beast. A Colt Is My Passport has not only a great film title, but it's also a shockingly good Japanese take on the American film noir. This is a brooding gangster film and done stylishly. I can't wait to get out the rest of the Nikkatsu noir titles soon.
Runners-up: The Man from Earth, Combat Shock, Homicide.

Most Underrated Film: The Man from Earth
I know it was written years back, but I like to consider this one of the greatest science fiction screenplays to be made into a film in the recent years. It's smart, clever and impacting. It could have holes, but I don't really care, the thing is a killer. A man spends a night trying to convince his intellectual colleagues that he is actual a caveman? Brilliant.
Runners-up: Homicide.

DVD Picks of the Week: September 29, 2009

Sorry, I guess I have become a habitual slacker as of late. Here's this past weeks most notable DVDs and Blu-rays. Look for me to return tomorrow with this week's DVDs and Blu-rays as a horror title hits stores tomorrow that I want everyone to know about.

The Wizard of Oz [Blu-ray][DVD]

When a classic like The Wizard of Oz hits Blu-ray, it must be talked about. Whether this would be your first viewing (what?) or your 40th, the Blu-ray remaster looks terrific and brings to life this classic for a new generation. Be sure to check this out.

The Girlfriend Experience [DVD][Blu-ray]

It's really easy to figure out what I love. Steven Soderbergh is one of those things. If you've been following this blog for any period of time you'd be able to figure that out. I loved The Girlfriend Experience, one of his latest experimental films. Sasha Grey is featured in this very low key and dialogue driven film, and the porn star turned actress proves to be not a huge slouch when it comes to her new focus. Give it a go, but don't expect anything loud.

The Hills Run Red [DVD]

I just got this title in from Netflix and look forward to watching it and adding it to my list of horror films watched this October. Lots of hype has been surrounding it as one of those titles that flies under the radar until it hits DVD, so I'm eager to see if that all holds up. Check back to find my thoughts on The Hills Run Red, either via review on this blog or as a Twitter update.

The Hanging Woman [DVD]

Troma does it again. This time digging from the vault, they bring back The Hanging Woman, a film featuring the great Paul Naschy, who plays a deranged gravedigger. The film focuses on a small village in 19th-century Scotland where a stranger's arrival to claim an inheritance is met with apocalyptic visions and other evil omens. I don't know if the film is any good, but it sounds good, and I love what Troma is doing here, releasing the film at a price point lower than $10.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer [Blu-ray]

One of the best serial killer films of all time gets a Blu-ray touch up and a new release here. Henry is a pretty dark and grisly film and because of this it really leaves a lasting impact on its viewers. I can't recommend this one enough. Check it out.

The Sexy Box [DVD]

There is nothing more I want than four sexy comedies from Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma. NOTHING.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Land of the Zombies, Home of the Dead, 'Zombieland' Is a First Rate Zom-Com

Most folks tend to believe that placing zombies into any old situation can make for a watchable film, so long as you apply enough splatters of blood and gnawing of human flesh in between. I might watch it because of the zombies, but there’s no promising that it won’t be a piece of crap.

Ever since George A. Romero changed the way we looked at zombies in film with his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, the zombie has arguably been America’s favorite monster alongside the classic vampires and werewolves. Since then the genre has been nearly beaten to death, with just about everyone trying to get in on the phenomenon of our neighbors coming back to life to eat us.

Some of those trying to get into the genre just don’t belong there. It’s very easy to mess up a zombie film. As someone who began to love film with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, I hold my breath every time Hollywood dips its fingers into the mix, praying they don’t ruin zombies the way they’ve begun to ruin vampires, turning them into emotional teenagers who care far too much about each others feelings. “I’m coming to console you, Barbara!” says the teenage heartthrob zombie to his human love interest in a Twilight-inspired zombie chick flick.

But oh boy was I able to exhale quickly at the sight of Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, a film that from the look of just its trailer seemed to get it. Briefly, Zombieland is America’s Shaun of the Dead. It’s a clever, smart and downright funny ode to the zombie infestation of our beautiful country. The land of the zombies, the home of the dead, is what you might want to change those national anthem lyrics to now.

A real brilliant idea and the source of much of the film’s humor comes from the knocking down of the fourth wall between Jesse Eisenberg’s character and the audience. His list of rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse and handing out of “zombie kill of the week” includes the audience in the storytelling as he speaks directly to us.

Eisenberg’s shut-in character works well with Woody Harrelson’s, the machismo zombie killer extraordinaire known only as Tallahassee. The two play off each other brilliantly, as Harrelson’s testosterone fueled ambitions and Eisenberg’s safer and more timid nature present an ideal odd couple. All four characters, which includes Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin on the female side of the operation, are developed just enough to separate them from being boring cardboard characters, which is important for this film’s progression and key to becoming a memorable classic. The character relationships are a huge part of the film, and might go underlooked by most viewers.

At a brisk but perfect 80 minutes, Zombieland is a gut-buster all the way through. Sometimes literally. The zombie kills are fairly inventive and vary greatly. I don’t want to get stuck on this facet of the film for too long, but gore is really an important part of a good zombie film, and the team behind it all here has hit the mark. There are enough absolutely satisfying kills from the hands of Tallahassee and company to please veterans and newcomers of the genre alike. If you aren’t saying “Oooh!” at just about every zombie slaying, you’re most likely watching a dull film. Not the case here.

And with all the zombie brain smashing and all the funny and witty one-liners, Zombieland is a complete joyride, and one of the most fun films of its kind. This is proof enough that there are still shimmers of hope within the zombie genre. It’s a smart film that knows exactly what it wants to achieve and successfully does so, a best of both worlds of zombies and comedy.

It has since dawned on me that Zombieland is the kind of film that you really have to try to hate. Not to get overly confident with my opinion, but if you don’t enjoy this film you might be as soulless as the zombies that inhabit it.