23 January, 2009

I've Come To A Realization

I tend to play a song better if I've practiced it regularly for at least a few days (with an accent on the 'regularly') before performing it. Unfortunately, I'm the spontaneous type (at least in this one respect), and I tend to get bored playing the same song over and over again - besides, praticing is so much work.

That's not the realization I've recently come to, though - I've known that for a while. What I've recently realized is that I hardly ever practice my guitar with it plugged in...despite my devotion to the "electric" in "electric guitar". And my guitar actually sounds fantastic unamplified. It's quiet - which is also nice because I can play without disturbing anyone - and I can get such sweet subtle notes by varying the force of my picking.

Anyway, when I play live, it has to be amplified, otherwise nobody will hear it and I'll be booted off the stage. Besides, I love a solid, crunchy tone. That's what "electric" guitar is all about. But here's the problem. Since I practice unamplified, when I finally get out there on the stage and plug in, I'm not prepared to deal with the amplification. For one thing, I don't have the same practice making the guitar give me the sounds I want when it's amplified as I do when it's unamplified - and the two are very different beasts.

Furthermore, I don't have the settings on the amp optimized for what I wanna play. And this is important, because different songs require different attacks. Different levels of distortion work best for different songs, and some songs require a sweeter, cleaner tone. And when I get up there on stage and plug in, my amp's not ready. And when I'm in the moment like that, I don't have the concentration or the will to hold off and set the amp up right. So many a song is ruined by using a sub-optimum setting - and in turn, my confidence shatters, and then my playing suffers.

I had a really great tone the other week when I played Rockin' In The Free World. At least from where I could hear it. It was nice and crunchy, but not so much as to drown the chords. But getting a good tone by luck is the exception and not the rule. What I really need, in addition to continued practice with my guitar itself, is practice with my amp also. The problem with that is a) making a lot of noise can be a problem when you're not in the right spatiotemporal venue, and b) even if you use headphones, it's that added effort that's bound to turn me off of the idea of practicing and doing instead something easier.

Sack up.

Well, there's no doubt about the fact that I need more practice wrestling with the amp. Another trouble is the volume level. The same tone can sound different at different volumes - in particular, you tend to get more distortion at higher volumes. But it's not always easy to judge how much volume you'll be able to get at a particular venue - and it could depend on the mood of the crowd from day to day.

Do you have any idea what sort of things I'd be able to accomplish if I had a fully soundproof chamber? Imagine playing (and singing) as loud as I want, minus the self-consciousness.

Go ahead, imagine it.

I bet you'd like to spend some time in that box, too.

22 January, 2009

Silent 'H'

While we're on the topic of pet peeves, I just hate it when people spell my name wrong. It bugs me when they pronounce it wrong, but at the very least, I can forgive them, because it's an unusual name - and besides, with my (legal) last name, I've gotten used to people mispronouncing my name, anyway. But when I'm on the internet, and people address me as "zarth", I do a mental facepalm. I mean, my name is written right there above your comment (or whatever - it's never too far away), so there is /no/ excuse for you to misspell it, except either extreme laziness or terrible short-term memory (in which case the only excuse for not double-checking is again, extreme laziness). When I address a person by name on the internet, though it doesn't happen that often, I try to make a point to, at the very least, spell their name correctly, since it's so incredibly easy to just look and make sure you have it right.

It's not like I ever say anything, because I'm not the kind of person to make a fuss over some pointless little detail that doesn't even really amount to much. But come on, there's no excuse for excising the first 'h' from my name in type.

P.S. Neither of the two h's in my name is silent!


This is a pet peeve of mine - when a person says "congratulations" in response to a photo I took that they like. On flickr, of course. I mean, "congratulations"? Is it really worth congratulating me for picking up a camera, pointing it at something, and pressing a button? Sure, I like to think that most of my photos involve more thought and work than simply pointing and shooting, but "congratulations"? It just doesn't sound right.

Of course, I've been running into a lot more foreigners online than I ever would have just strolling about the neighborhood. So I have to consider the possibility that some (or most, or all) of these people don't speak English as their first language. And you know what? I used to think I was pretty lenient about that sort of thing. You know, they're struggling with the language - give them the benefit of the doubt. But you talk to enough of them, and the horrendous grammar and usage really wears down on you. I mean, especially for a person who's already pretty finicky about those things in the first place.

Ah well, I figure it's something I'll just have to deal with. I don't want to be a xenophobic prick or expect everyone to be able to speak well the language that just happens to be my primary one, you know? But I have to be honest, it does bug me a little at times.

Adventures In Babysitting

Among the short stack of DVD's I got from my (other) brother recently for my birthday was the title Adventures In Babysitting - a film I remember enjoying in childhood. It was great to watch it again after all these years, and I'm impressed with how much I still enjoy it. The plot is exciting, the jokes are genuinely funny, the characters are very likeable, and the movie's got quite a good soundtrack. Plus, there's that scene where the group bumps into Albert Collins himself playing on stage in a blues club - what a pleasant coincidence that I've just been getting into Albert Collins lately! Not all old favorites stand up to the test of time, but I have to give this film a definite thumbs up.

20 January, 2009

Look At My Forks

Clear Plastic Forks

Look at them. I posted them for you. Tell me how good they are. Or tell me how bad they are. I have cake, too. Delicious cake. And flashy lights. Do you like beer or flowers? I have crustaceans. Ok, just one.

Gary Moore

I asked for, and got, a Gary Moore concert DVD for Christmas, which I just got around to watching the other night (which is just as well, as it gave me a good electric blues performance to watch on my birthday). This is the first Gary Moore item I own, although since watching the DVD, I have put a few of his albums on my "want" list.

I believe I was first introduced to Gary Moore through CRF2 (not a big surprise). I know him best as the guy who inherited Peter Green's old guitar. And not only does he own it, but he plays it. And he's a real Peter Green fan - he even recorded an album of covers in tribute (one of the albums I added to my list). He was around back in the 70's, and had some connection with Peter Green, I think. Pretty sure he played with the band Thin Lizzy at some point. Had some solo success, and then in 1990 he releases Still Got The Blues, which is kind of his blues revival akin to Eric Clapton's From The Cradle.

The DVD I got is the live performance in 1990 from the Montreux "Jazz" Festival, by Gary Moore and the Midnight Blues Band. More or less, it's Still Got The Blues in a live concert format. And it's very good.

Gary Moore can play the blues convincingly, and yet, he's also quite the shredder. If you're curious about what "blues shredding" must sound like, just listen to Gary play one of the many old blues tunes on this disc. He's incredibly talented, and he does a good job of imitating other players. For example, the Peter Green covers he does really do manage to capture that Peter Green sound, just with a little shreddy flair over top in parts. And Gary does an impressive cover of Roy Buchanan's The Messiah Will Come Again at the close of this concert. Just doing the song itself is an amazing thing, but he actually plays it convincingly. I wouldn't say these covers are better than the originals, but they're very good, and certainly worth listening to (especially if you could hear them live in person) - and part of that is a testament to Gary's taste, and the sheer quality of the artists he's so moved to cover.

And despite the blues being all about covers, two of the songs that stood out to me were what I presume are Gary originals - or at least had more of an original sound to them than the majority of blues standards he played. Midnight Blues is a good song, very soulful, and the title track from the album, Still Got The Blues, is an incredible song in its own right. Simple, but oh so powerful. "So long, so long ago, but I've still got the blues for you." I even got a little teary-eyed during the song. Another of Gary's tricks, perhaps even contrary to his shredding, is the sustain he can get, holding certain notes for extended periods of time - something I've always admired in a guitar player.

Albert Collins guests on a couple songs. It's quite illuminating watching Collins and Moore play together on stage. You've got the old watch going up against the new blood. Naturally, Collins plays with less notes and more soul, but you can't deny Moore's proficiency with his instrument. You have to wonder how a guy like Collins must feel on stage at a time like that. To his credit, he's a revered legend, but I can imagine myself in his position. "Yeah, I've got soul and a strong reputation, but this guy can just play circles around me, how in the hell am I supposed to save face?" And yet, I think he manages to do a pretty good job. He's also a bit of a showman, which helps - I actually read that he used to do the "walk into the crowd while playing a solo" trick that I've seen Buddy Guy do, and that one time, he actually walked out of the venue, went down a block, ordered a pizza, and came back to the stage, all while playing a guitar solo - followed by the pizza guy showing up to the stage with the pizza he ordered at the end of the song. Yeah.

Anyway, Collins does one of his own songs - Cold Cold Feeling - which really struck a chord with me. Sounds somewhat Jimmy Dawkins-esque, and I've been downright crazy about Jimmy Dawkins lately (within my bluesphere). At any rate, I've put an Albert Collins album on my "want" list, too. He's another of the classic bluesmen I've heard a lot of praise for, but hadn't been properly introduced to. I'm excited to hear more.

Before we leave the Collins "thread", another comparison we can make between him and Gary Moore is in singing ability. Gary's a pretty good singer for his material, fairly melodic, but compared to Collin's bluesy growl...well, there is no comparison. Sorry, Gary. Of course, Gary's a "prettier" singer, but lemme tell ya boy, one thing the blues ain't, is pretty.

So what have I got left to say? Gary also does some Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top) and Stevie Ray Vaughan impressions (on guitar, of course). I've enjoyed listening to Gary Moore, and he puts on a great show. I recommend blues fans interested in what I've described here to check him out. I'm not about to put him in my list of top favorite guitarists - maybe if he had a bit more soul and less shredding - but his talent is impressive, and I have no hesitation in putting him on my 'good' list. I wonder if he tours around here - I got the impression he was never as big in the US. By the way, he's an Irishman, just for the sake of curiosity.

Gee, I wasn't sure if I'd have enough for a book report. And now I feel like I'm back in elementary school...

17 January, 2009


Just yesterday, I was browsing through some photos online, and I saw one that gave me an idea. An idea that involved standing behind a drawn female torso. I just so happened to have a large piece of cardboard lying around which I knew would work perfectly. The idea was to quickly sketch out a torso in pencil and then darken the outlines with a Sharpie. I looked through my ancient pencil stash, hoping to find one that was sharpened. I know I have one or two lying around, but I had trouble finding it, so I just grabbed a colored pencil from the bundle of colored pencils that are in that stash. It just so happened to be blue, which explains the color of the outline on my sketch.

Well, as soon as I started drawing in the lines, I kind of got carried away, and kept adding details and additional colors. I have zero drawing talent and about no experience, but sitting there sketching that torso out just felt so right. I really got into it and I was having fun. I eventually got to the point where you see it now, and I was satisfied with what I had. I'd love to darken it considerably so that it's easier to see, but I'm afraid that if do anything more to it, I'd just end up ruining it.

Anyway, it's just a silly little (well, big, actually) drawing, but I had so much fun drawing it, that I've started entertaining thoughts of getting some sort of easel and maybe a large sketch pad or something, just to fool around with while pretending to be a /real/ artist.

Dammit, why do I have to develop an interest in art /now/? Why couldn't I have done so back in high school, during art class? For god's sake, I had an artistic girlfriend that I accompanied to the art department on weekends, so she could work on her projects! I could have gone to an art school!

On the other hand, if I had done that, I might just have learned that the art world is a hypocritical, bureaucratic place, and that I don't have what it takes to be a real, talented artist. Then I would be forced to forsake all the time and effort I put into that life path to pursue something more straightforward like science.

I'm not the kind of person that likes to flit between concentrations. I get absorbed in things; my life is fueled by passion. When I get involved, I get involved for life. At least in theory. Yet I still haven't figured out who or what the hell I wanna be. Well, I've had ideas, but each time I get one, there are obstacles that seem to me to be impossible to overcome. Like, for example, I'd be perfectly happy being a blues guitarist, and nothing else, for the rest of my life. But god, you can't just pick up a guitar and play well because you *want* to play well. I don't know if it's a matter of talent or practice, but either way I'm screwed. And even if I can /get/ good, what the hell do I do in the meantime?

It's all mixed up. I'm so screwed up. I don't even know what to do with myself.

And as of today, I've been around for a quarter of a century. Hell of a lotta good those twenty-five years have done me...

13 January, 2009



Having just finished Chaos;Head, I have to say that it was really exciting in the beginning, but became kind of generic about a third of the way in. Of course, I had no idea the series was gonna end at 12 episodes - I expected a longer series, for some reason - so when things started quickly wrapping up in the final quarter, it to me felt somewhat rushed and arbitrary. Perhaps the series would have been better overall if it did stay in the realm of psychological delusion, after all, instead of attempting some kind of sci-fi superhero plot. Still, it was fun for a little while. I hear the game it was based on is really good, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a lot better than this anime version.

Horrorfest - Final Ranking

I guess it's customary to rank the 8 Films To Die For after you've seen them all. So, without too much in-depth analysis, here's a ranking of the films this year, from best to worst (in my opinion of course)...

Top 4:
Autopsy (excellent all-around, fun *and* satisfying)
The Broken (mature and gripping, good atmosphere)
From Within (particularly fond of the character of this piece)
Perkins' 14 (original, entertaining, some slight flaws)

Bottom 4:
Voices (not a masterpiece, but has some great qualities)
Slaughter (falls in places, but is redeemed by ending)
Dying Breed (obnoxious characters detract from the experience)
Butterfly Effect: Revelation (skip this and just watch the first one)

Horrorfest - Part 3

I suppose you could expect it from the "A" schedule, but tonight's films weren't quite on par, in my opinion, with the past two nights. Still, at least 5 out of the 8 films were really good, and it's hard for me to pick just one or two as my favorite (although Autopsy...). Anyhow, here's what tonight's films were like:

Dying Breed

Dying Breed has an interesting idea, if not altogether original - something like a Hills Have Eyes with an added adventure element, since it's set out in the Tasmanian wilderness. Unfortunately, the main characters are downright idiotic, and thus I found it very hard to sympathize with them whatsoever. Especially the obnoxious one. Bad idea: taking a misoxenist on an international trip. By the way, if you're taking your car out into the Tasmanian wilderness, don't expect it to come out still in brand new condition! God, that guy was a jerkass. At least his head ended up in a mantrap (a beartrap set for people).

As for the reasoning behind the adventure, it's all about trying to get proof that the Tasmanian Tiger is not extinct and still lives in seclusion in the Tasmanian wilderness. One girl went out and got a photograph of a paw print in the mud, but didn't make it out alive. Now, her sister is going back to finish the job. But what's waiting for them is not just a presumably extinct species of tiger, but also a secluded town harboring an ugly secret involving inbreeding and cannibalism. The Tasmanian Tiger's existence quickly takes a back seat to the characters' own survival.

The shots and locations were pretty scenic and set a good atmosphere. Unfortunately, as I said above, the obnoxiousness of the travelers distracted from the film. And ultimately, I think I would have enjoyed it better if there was more tiger and less inbred cannibal...

From Within

Now here's a movie that surprised me. It's hard to get a feel for a film from just a poster and a quick synopsis - even trailers are often misleading. So I wasn't sure what to expect from this film. What I got was an interesting story of good vs. evil in a suburban setting with a summery "Sunday morning service" kind of atmosphere. The town featured is a *very* religious town, which takes care of their own, but is especially vindictive towards those who prefer to follow different spiritual beliefs.

In a nutshell, a gothy pagan initiates a curse which presents itself in the form of a string of suicides jumping from each victim to the next, as a form of revenge against the town which wrongfully burnt his mother, believing her to be an agent of Satan (or, if you like, a witch). The struggle plays itself out between the strong-faithed residents and the misunderstood pagans (of which there are only a few). And I think the film does a fairly good job of making the point that a person's faith doesn't make them good or bad, but their choices in life do, as there are villains and heroes (arguably) on both sides.

Watching this film as a pagan, it's obviously pure fantasy, in terms of the curse, but getting past that, it's quite enjoyable. And wow, hey, the high school kids actually looked like high school kids for once! The setting of the film is a suburban-like area, but with woods and a lake, which looks very nice. And the whole religious character of the town itself really plays a large part in setting the mood of the piece. It almost has a retro "family values" kind of feeling to it which, despite my penchant for exploitation cinema, is refreshing in a way. And of course, it's still a horror movie, so there are some creepy scenes, too.

For me, it was especially satisfying watching the pastor's son turn into such a jerk and a creep on account of his passion for god. But like I said, the film doesn't seem to make any kind of statement about religion itself, but more about the people who follow it and the path they choose. I thought it was a very enjoyable film, and it deals with issues that are close to my heart, being something of a misotheist myself.

Butterfly Effect 3: Revelation

This is Butterfly Effect with an urban flavor, and an extra helping of gore. I don't think it's anywhere near as effective as the first Butterfly Effect movie, though. The whole serial killer idea is interesting, but the execution is weak. When you make a film about time travel, there's gonna be a heapload of time paradoxes. You can either ignore them or piece them together for a clever story. In this movie, they seem to ignore a lot of them, and the ones they do use, which they use to drive the whole plot idea, don't seem to be explained or pieced together very well. I dunno, it feels like a good idea, but it just doesn't quite work out that well.

The best part of the plot is the idea of having the character who can time travel using his abilities to become a freelance psychic helping the police close cases by traveling back and observing various murders. He can't interfere, of course, because that would trip the butterfly effect and screw everything up. Which is bound to happen, or else there wouldn't be a movie. Well, the character in question gets pushed into going back to solve the mystery of a murder close to him - that of his once-girlfriend - and he inevitably screws things up. Back in the future (present?), he finds that not only was he unable to prevent the murder, but he also seems to have created a serial killer. Why he doesn't just stop there is beyond me, but he seems to have an iron will to keep screwing things up worse and worse, thinking that one of these times he's gonna manage to fix things.

And that's where things kind of fall apart. There's an interesting twist at the end - I knew the identity of the serial killer would turn out to be significant, but I was still surprised - but it's hardly worth the ride. Besides, "this is so Scooby Doo"? Not a convincing serial killer. There are some pretty emotional turns which serve to reinforce the whole "changing the past is dangerous" idea, but honestly, just watch the first Butterfly Effect movie. It's far more...effective.

12 January, 2009

Horrorfest - Part 2

You could call it "thriller night". Or, alternatively, "foreign film night". Although the first one is a UK production, so it's very much still in English. The crowds were a lot thinner on a Sunday night. Not that there was any chance of a sell-out last night, but instead of a few other groups, there was just one group of three people during the first movie I caught, and I was alone for the second (and last showing of the night). I'm conflicted about the crowds because, on the one hand, I want Horrorfest to be popular enough to keep coming back, but, frankly, I love it when the theaters aren't crowded with people.

The Broken

The Broken is the doppelganger story of the group, and is a riveting psychological suspense thriller. I spent most of the film with a furrowed brow. And not because I was confused, but absorbed, and working out the pieces and wondering what was gonna happen next. The movie is slow, without a lot of action, but not in the sense that it bores you, but that it engages your mind and makes you wonder where the story is heading.

The story revolves around the case of a radiologist (she deals with x-rays in a hospital), Gina McVey, who has a car accident after seeing what can only be described as her doppelganger (though that precise term is never used). Following the accident, the people around her seem to be replaced, one by one, by hollow shells that look and act (for the most part) like the people she knows, but are missing that certain something. Of course, Gina had her head shaken up a bit in the crash, so there's the question of how much of what she's experiencing is some form of psychological trauma. (In fact, the term "Capgras syndrome" is brought up by the doctors looking after Gina).

From the evidence, I think it's pretty clear in the end that there's something going on beyond the purely psychological explanation. There seems to be some kind of "dark world behind the mirror", of which we get only a glimpse, where the body-doubles come from (shattering the mirror during passage), to murder their "hosts" and take on their identity. Or something. (Tip: the whole thing with the x-rays with the heart on the wrong side - proof that the subject being x-rayed is one of the "pods" - the heart is on the wrong side because they come from the mirror world, and/or they must have taken their form from the mirror image of their victims). I felt that there was the possibility of some kind of social commentary being made about people going through the motions of modern life without a sort of human passion - we are the doppelgangers already, or something, but it wasn't necessarily obvious.

Anyway, it's a deeply engrossing film with an atmosphere not far from Jacob's Ladder, albeit with considerably less demonic imagery (although the glimpses we do get of the "monsters" is pretty unnerving - even if they do have human form). It seems to raise a lot of questions and is the kind of film that promotes a lot of thought and speculation about the plot details after the fact. Though not so much as to leave you feeling inadequately informed by the end of the picture. I give it a thumbs up.

And there's one other thing I wanted to mention. So far, of the Horrorfest movies I've seen this year, this one gets my seal of approval for inclusion of nudity - and it's not the prurient kind of inclusion, as this is, in all aspects, a very mature film. I'm hesitant to make a generalization so quickly, but I suspect we're seeing a considerable difference in cultural attitudes toward nudity here. In the bath and shower scenes, the camera neither lingers on nor avoids the areas of the actresses' breasts or buttocks in a very unpresuming and natural way. I'm used to films that would either make a point to avoid the exposure, or else go all the way and make a big deal out of it. Also, in one excellent scene, the main character, Gina, gets out of bed in the middle of the night, completely nude, and doesn't bother to cover up. When it's so easy to just have her throw on a night gown or something, I applaud the filmmakers' apparent "laissez-faire" attitude towards the scene (whoever is responsible, and for whatever reasons). Surely an American production wouldn't dare take such a trivial "risk" with the misguided censors. I know it's a little odd (and maybe unfair) to focus on this particular aspect of this great film, but I'm sick of the "fuck-or-duck" attitude towards cinema nudity, and seeing an approach like this just warms my heart.


I didn't even realize until it started, but Voices is a Korean film. I forgot that Horrorfest so far has always had a token Asian horror. And yet, despite being the token Asian horror, Voices was a great film (i.e., it deserves its spot and is not just there to fill a quota). A good supernatural thriller. One thing is certain when it comes to Asian horror - those Asians understand frightening imagery. I don't know that Voices is all /that/ scary a film, in the traditional sense, but there were certain scenes that gave me chills - unlike any of these other horror titles I've been watching.

And I have to say, I'm partial to the Japanese, but let's get real, Asian schoolgirls are Asian schoolgirls no matter which side of the sea you're on.

So, the idea of this one is that people who love each other are killing each other for some reason. The reason has to do with some sort of supernatural curse. At the risk of spoilage, the curse comes in the form of a boy, who quite creepily looks the part - he's normal enough that you don't suspect that he's not human, but something in his eyes tells you that he's not quite normal, either. He's like the devil in a tux kind of character. And as the curse, in simple terms, he's more or less an embodiment of Jealousy.

You know it yourself. Think of the people you care for. There have been times when they upset you or worry you or whatever and you find yourself wishing them harm. Well, Jealousy, if we can call him that, merely feeds on those wishes and amplifies them. It's clear that he's an aid to all the wild murders and suicides going on, but he does a pretty damn good job of tormenting his targets by reminding them that he only gave them the knife (or other implement of doom) - they were the ones that committed the acts. Very diabolical, indeed.

The details of the story revolve around one particular schoolgirl and her family. She fences, in case that interests you. The rest you can pick up if you watch the film. We never really figure out the reason behind the curse - where this Jealousy character came from, but I don't think that's really all that important, because the film leaves you with that uncertain feeling, that maybe Jealousy really exists, and that we ought to be careful with those dangerous wishes we have, lest they consume us and we become another of the unthinkable tragedies that frequently pop up on the news.

11 January, 2009

Horrorfest - Part 1

And it begins. Overall, I was quite impressed with the quality of the movies tonight. I had heard that After Dark had put more effort into getting better titles this year, and if the three films I saw today are any indication, it shows. I hope the rest of the titles are up to snuff.


Slaughter was my least favorite of the three movies I saw today - not to say that it was actually bad. It's about a girl who moves into the city to restart her life after getting away (supposedly) from an abusive boyfriend. She befriends a farmgirl and even moves onto the farm with her, only to find out that not all is safe on the farm.

A couple things confused/bugged me about this film. Firstly, the main characters made a point of needing fake id's to go out clubbing, and yet they clearly looked old enough not to need them - in other words, fake teens? Secondly, I was kind of disoriented by the fact that the characters would seemingly switch between being out on the farm, and shopping (or clubbing or whatever) in the city - multiple times per day - like as if the city were just down the street from the farm or something. And thirdly, I have to say it bugged me that "sexy farmgirl" was having sex with the ferrari guy *with her clothes on*. For a horror movie, this is unforgivable.

The majority of the story may have been so-so, but I have to say that the ending really redeemed this title. I'm gonna go ahead and try to piece together the details of the plot, so if you're worried about spoilers, stop reading now. The film unambiguously sets up sexy farmgirl's rough 'n tough farmer father as the villain, but we get quite a treat of a twist-up (or two or three) near the end. It's a little ambiguous as to who did what, but if we can trust the farmer father's words (which isn't a certain thing), he wasn't the killer, his daughter was. What /is/ clear is that they're both pretty messed up, if you consider all the evidence. But what makes the ending so much fun is, firstly, how it goes back and forth - she's gonna make it! she's never gonna make it! - and how in the very end, the villain gets her victory - and in quite brutal fashion, too. This one's definitely got the "exploitation ending".

At any rate, it turned out to be more than the typical "farmer splatter story" I was expecting it to be, and some of the scenes in the slaughterhouse, with the pigs and the darkness, were actually quite creepy. I'd say it's worth a spin - for the ending alone, if nothing else.

Perkins' 14

This was a good one. It's got an interesting concept, and it's executed strongly. There's a lot of emotion - a lot of humanity - in this film, and it's played well by Patrick O'Kane in the lead role of Officer Hopper, who lost his son to a serial killer who was never captured, ten years prior. Also, Hopper's daughter Daisy, played by Shayla Beesley, is a likable character - and lo and behold, she can actually pull off being a teenager! Actually, in some of the darker scenes, I was surprised at how much she looked like a younger version of Maggie Gyllenhaal. Weird. While we're talking about the cast, Richard Brake was pretty creepy as the titular serial killer, Ronald Perkins. It's a shame he actually only plays a short role in the film, because I would have liked to see him have a bigger part. (In fact, it would have been nice if he had survived long enough to explain just what the hell he did to the victims he abducted...)

And on that note, let's talk about the plot. Perkins abducted 14 kids ten years ago and was never caught, nor were any of his victims found (dead or alive). It's revealed that his stunt was actually an elaborate (and effective) plan to get back at the society which took his own parents' murders lightly, writing the incident off as a murder-suicide instead of making an effort to find the killer. It's not entirely clear just what Perkins did to the kids he abducted (other than having kept them in cages), and even whether or not they were ever killed, but in the ten years since the incident, they've transformed into murderous (yet intelligent) zombies. Perkins is actually a pharmacist, so it's not /that/ far off to suggest that he may have perfected the Rage virus, since his zombies seem to be quite like the ones from the 28 series. Of course, I say that as a positive thing.

Exciting movie, the best part is the whole section around when Perkins is killed. Officer Hopper gets all his rage out and then it's like, ok, you got your "revenge", what are you gonna do with your life now? And then all hell breaks loose across the city. And the ending's pretty good, too. Not very forgiving. I kept wanting to tell Hopper to let it go, that he didn't have to put that much meaning into what Perkins did - that Perkins is just another sick freak doing terrible things, that Hopper should forgive himself for not being able to save his son - but this is a tragedy story, simple enough. And I do like a good tragedy.


Simply put, Autopsy was amazing. Pretty fucking incredible. No deep morals or any of that shit, just hardcore FUN! This was an exploitation film, and it had style. I saw in the credits that Dario Argento was given special thanks, and in retrospect, I can totally see the influence there. This film just has style in spades. And oh my god, it is so over the top!

So what's it about? A group of young coeds are heading home after partying it up at Mardi Gras in New Orleans (told in innovative fashion through a wild selection of snapshots during the opening credits) only to crash their car out in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, there's a hospital nearby, but unluckily, it's not your normal kind of facility. It's actually being run by an insane doctor and his few sadistic assistants, who are working on some bizarre and gruesome cure for the doctor's wife's cancer. Unfortunately for the coeds, they don't find this out until much too late. They enter the hospital hoping to get patched up after their accident, only to get split up one by one, and end up brutally murdered, with their organs harvested (though not necessarily in that order >;).

Lots of gore in this movie, I'm not gonna lie. But there's so much style in its over-the-topness that you can't help being just as shocked and amazed as you are disgusted by some of these scenes (well, I was, at least). My favorite part was when the naked guy jumps on top of the one girl and tears his torse open and starts ripping his organs out on top of her. Good god, you can't make this stuff up! There's some humor in there, definitely, like when the one guy asks the doctor if he's gonna be okay, and just before putting him under, the doctor says "I don't think so".

This film is just fantastic. I don't think I've had this much fun at a horror movie since I saw the Grindhouse throwback by Rodriguez and Tarantino a couple springs ago. Go see Autopsy!

10 January, 2009

Exploitation Cinema

To get me in the mood for Horrorfest, I fired up the Exploitation Cinema double-shot I picked up at Best Buy recently. I didn't even notice that it was "Exploitation Cinema" and not "Welcome to the Grindhouse" until after I watched the movies and was putting the disc back in the case. But the format is exactly the same, complete with trailers and intermission. Speaking of the trailers, I saw two that really looked interesting - Nightmare, and Beyond the Door, which look like (in loose terms) X-rated versions of Nightmare on Elm Street and Rosemary's Baby, respectively. Those are definitely titles I'd like to check out if they're available.

Satan's Slave (1976)

The first title in this double feature is another witch-cult movie (the classic British kind, that is) - I say "another" because it's structurally similar to Virgin Witch, which I've seen before. I'm sensing a cultural difference here, as "backwoods family" films in America tend to deal with in-bred cannibals living on farms, whereas the same in the British film scene tend to deal with wealthy witch cults that live in nice mansions out in the country. Between the two, the cannibals might be a little scarier, but the witches are almost certainly sexier.

And saying that, there are a number of great scenes in Satan's Slave that involve Satanic rituals and naked women. The plot is your typical "city girl gets caught up in a country coven's secret plans" story, this time with the high priest desiring to resurrect a powerful witch (who was burned at the stake) by making a special sacrifice. The good scenes are good, but I'm afraid that overall, the film tends to drag. And the ending is kind of ambiguous, but it's bombastic, and really, you're not watching an exploitation film for the intricate plot details, right?

Terror (1978)

I felt that this title raised itself above "average" exploitation fare and was actually quite good. Here's the setup: a witch is burned at the stake (yes, another witch story), but casts a curse on the family that condemned her. It's present day, and the family's ancestors (and various innocent strangers that happen to get entangled in the plot) start dying off in gruesome ways as the ghost of the witch seeks revenge.

Instead of a flashback to tell the pre-story with the witch's original burning and cursing, this part is actually told in the form of a film-within-a-film created by the main character, who happens to be a film director (in the story) - and right at the beginning of the story, before you know it's just a film. I thought that was quite a clever and effective device.

The rest of the film is full of scares, as well as a decent share of raunch - between the club the girls work at, and the soft porn being filmed in the director's studio. All in all it makes for an entertaining time as you watch the witch take out each of her victims in, as the box says, "brutally inventive fashion".

And now let me mention one of the things that's so great about exploitation films. In a mainstream film similar to Terror, by the end of the movie, the witch's curse would probably either be left ambiguous or discounted entirely, and at least one member of the cursed family would make it through the ordeal alive, right? But here, since it's an exploitation film, that witch gets the job done, and you get to watch in satisfaction as she unambiguously kills off the last ancestor of the family that burned her alive, and there the film ends. No consolation. No resolution. Welcome to the grindhouse, baby. Similarly, in Satan's Slave, you expect the innocent girl to eventually make it out of the mess she finds herself in the middle of. No such luck. Satan's gonna have his slave, and there ain't nothin' you can do about it. Ah, exploitation is good.

09 January, 2009

Horrorfest: 8 Films To Prep For

First, let me establish context for the un-initiates who might happen to stumble across this blog entry (rare as that chance may be). After Dark Horrorfest is an annual film festival (of sorts) now in its third year. Each year, they choose 8 "Films To Die For", which are hyped as films too _____ (insert superlative here) for mainstream release. The 8 films are screened in select theaters across the country for one week or weekend of the year. The past two years' Horrorfests have been in November; this year it was pushed back to January.

And for those who have gone through this with me (in person or spirit) once (or twice) before, this is my planning post. Considering that Horrorfest starts TOMORROW, running from January 9-15 (Friday through the following Thursday).

The good news is, Horrorfest is coming to Pittsburgh. Looking at the theater list not too long ago, I was afraid that it wouldn't, but it is. Carmike 10 at SHV. Interestingly, this marks the third of the three local (or semi-local) theaters that I've been to more than just once or twice in my life. First year was the Destinta, then the theater down at the Waterfront. Now this one. It's like each of the theaters wanted to give Horrorfest a try, but not one of them yet has liked it enough to bring it back a second time. Or maybe they're getting together and flipping coins for which area theater will get to host the festival. Who knows. But the bottom line is, Horrorfest is coming to my neighborhood, so I'm gonna be able to attend once again!

So I just worked up my magic on the show schedules over the next week, and it's time to work out a plan of attack. See the Excel spreadsheet here, or view a snapshot of the pertinent information contained therein, here. Of course, if you're not spreadsheet-inclined, you can just listen to my analysis below.

(Oh, and disclaimer - I can only guarantee that this schedule is accurate for this particular theater (assuming there are no errors) - if you live elsewhere, check your local listings)

But first, I'll list the 8 Films To Die For, and give but a brief (extremely brief) description of each, just to give you some kind of context for the titles (and perhaps to help you decide which ones sound interesting). More information is, of course, available at Horrorfest Online.

The Broken - doppelganger story
Slaughter - backwaters farm story
Perkins 14 - serial killer story with a twist
Butterfly Effect: Revelation - time travel/serial killer
From Within - mass suicide mystery
Dying Breed - cannibals/Tasmanian "devil"
Autopsy - hospital horror
Voices - "the ones who love you most want you dead"

Now then, about the show schedule. Movie times are at 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9pm on each of the seven days (Friday through Thursday). Those numbers are actually approximate, so check the spreadsheet for the exact times. But that's five slots a day. There are only three *different* films playing each day, with the one exception of Saturday, in which you can see 4 *different* films if you're up for it. There are two main daily schedules (we'll call them A and B). Three of the eight films are playing on schedule A and /only/ on schedule A. The other five are shuffled between three different variations of schedule B. Now for some problems -

Two bad things about the schedule. First, there are two movies that cannot ever be seen later than the 5pm slot. Which means that if I want to see all 8 films, I have to get up early and miss dinner at least twice. Which is a pain in the ass, but at least 5pm isn't /too/ early. Still, I wish they would cater to the horror fan lifestyle and show more of the movies later at night. Yeah, I know, theaters have closing times, too, but I definitely think I should be able to go out and see a movie (/especially/ a horror movie) at 2 or 3am if I feel like it. But hey, complaining about that here won't do any good. The other schedule problem I wanted to mention was the fact that one of the films is only viewable at one and only one showing (Perkins 14 on Saturday in the 7pm slot). Boy, I hope it's not sold out.

Okay, first, known schedule conflicts. The only one for me is that there's an Open Stage tomorrow, Friday, the first day of the fest. Damn weekly open stages. Well, it's actually not a big deal, because the A schedule that's running on Friday is running exactly the same on Monday and Thursday. So I won't have to miss out on anything. Now, to see the three A-schedule movies, I'll have to get up for the 5 slot on Monday or Thursday (might as well do it Monday), and from there, I might as well do all three in one go. So I anticipate being occupied like 5-midnight on Monday for those three. With Thursday as the backup, in case anything happens.

Now then, the remaining 5 films. Since Perkins 14 is only showing once (Sat at 7 spot), I anticipate catching that showing. Slaughter is the B-schedule film that only shows in the 5 spot. I might as well catch it on Saturday and do the three-fer for that night. I'd have to get up for the 1 spot to do the four-fer, so that's clearly out of the question.

On that plan, that leaves 2 more films, both of which are playing on Sunday in the 7 and 9 spots. A nice leisurely two-fer Sunday, that I don't have to get up early for, between the Saturday and Monday three-fers. That sounds good. Whatever Sat or Sun movies I might miss for whatever reason can be made up for on Tue or Wed, /except/ that one Perkins 14 showing on Sat.

So here's my proposed plan, with the green slots indicating "Plan A" and the red spots indicating the backup "Plan B". Of course, anyone who is interested in scouting out some (or all) of these movies with me, is more than welcome to let me know about your schedule and what conflicts you might have, so we can work something out. Horror's great fun alone, but it's fun with friends, too. :)

Whew. See how much planning that took? And you wonder why I never want to leave the house...

04 January, 2009

The Happening

The Happening reinforces my belief that M. Night Shyamalan's greatest weakness is over-preachiness. The Sixth Sense was a great movie, and The Village is probably my personal favorite Night flick. Overlooking the Silvertide tease, I enjoyed Lady In The Water, and I think it works well as a fairy tale - and, I will mention in passing, Bryce Dallas Howard looked particularly good wearing nothing more than a shirt for the majority of that movie. But, the pro-faith conclusion of Signs was a huge disappointment, and the moralistic overtones in The Happening distract from the fun of an apocalyptic thriller.

For example, early in the film, the main character, a science teacher, is teaching his class about a "happening" in which the world's honey bees simply disappeared. He asks various students in the class what they think might be the cause of this anomaly, only to conclude that it was an "act of nature" that we will never fully understand - and that it is important to recognize the limits of our knowledge. Uh-huh. This is not a science teacher speaking. The words may be coming from the actor's mouth, and uttered in his voice, but it is clearly M. Night Shyamalan speaking this passage.

So what is "The Happening"? Well, if you don't mind spoilers, the general idea is this: all of a sudden the plants in the northeast corner of the US have identified mankind as a serious threat to their wellbeing, and have developed a toxin which causes people to proactively kill themselves without remorse. We're talking about an airborne toxin that causes an epidemic of mass suicides here. When you think about the fact that trees are largely responsible for the very oxygen we need to breathe for survival, the idea of such a plant-based attack on humanity is rather frightening, indeed.

And indeed, the concept behind this movie is very interesting. Unfortunately, the execution doesn't quite live up to its potential. The movie is supposedly Night's first R-rated flick - and in fact, without the need to cater to a PG-13 rating, they supposedly went all out to get a "hard" R. And while there are some pretty creepy and gruesome scenes, I don't think overall that it measures up to what an R movie could be. A "hard" R, at least. I mean, Hostel is a hard R. Shyamalan doesn't really seem to me to be a hard R kinda guy. He acts like it in the behind the scenes footage, but let's be realistic. He says he tried to cast "light" actors so that he could be as dark as he wanted with the material, and light actors would keep it from going too far, being too much. He obviously hasn't studied under Edgar Allan Poe. "Every word should serve the overall goal of the story - if it doesn't support that goal, get rid of it" (paraphrase from memory, of a quote I read in elementary school...).

Anyway, I don't mean to rag on M. Night Shyamalan, I like the guy. (Does anyone else think he looks like Jeff Goldblum?). One of the great scenes in The Happening was when the two punk kids got offed. That was definitely one of the more satisfying "offing of dead weight characters" I've seen recently. The one kid gets shot and you're like, omg, is this really happening? This is getting serious. And then the gun barrel goes for the other kid, and you're like, there's no way Night's gonna kill off this kid, too. And then bam! They had it coming.

The old lady at the end was pretty cool at first. She's this loner, living out on a farm in the middle of nowhere, without even electricity. She's totally disconnected from the rest of the world, and she has no concern or interest for it. She could have been this awesome loner character, but Night had to go and make her psychotic. When she ran out into the garden, for a second I thought it would turn out that the "Happening" was all her doing - that she was the one who wanted mankind wiped off the face of the planet, but then she became just another victim of the toxin and I knew it wasn't meant to be.

Alongside the apocalyptic story (with its environmentalist overtones) was the story of the two main characters - a young couple whose marriage is facing some problems. Going through the ordeal, they unsurprisingly reconcile their differences and end up living happily together, after it all. Kind of annoying, yes, but hey, it was fun watching Zooey Deschanel in the somewhat airheaded but sensitive cutie role. And by god, she's got eyes you could just fall into...

And now that I've lost my train of thought, I think that's a perfect place to end this review.