Heading out to the Fango Convention
jon and i are heading to the big apple this weekend for fangoria’s weekend of horrors. i’ll be carrying my trusty iphone, so be sure to follow my twitter account for live tweets from the convention and grainy,out of focus pictures of horror celebrities walking to the restroom or sitting at their tables drinking soda. drop me an email or a dm on twitter if you’re going to be there and maybe i can get a grainy picture of you as well… and if you can’t be there, maybe my tweets will make you feel like you are. it’s looking to be an interesting convention with guests including guillermo del toro, tom savini, dario argento, james marsters, tobe hooper, doug bradley, gwar (!), betsy palmer, and kane hodder. personally, i’m most excited about getting the chance to have the best jason voorhees sign my new blood mask. i’d get the machete signed too, but i’m not really brave enough to be in the same room with kane hodder while he’s holding a rusty machete.
Let’s Take a Virtual Terror Tour
google street view is both one of the coolest and one of the creepiest things ever invented. not only can you travel instantly around the globe, you can look into the windows of people living thousands of miles away, see drunk people passed out on street corners or dead animals hit by the google car. sticking with the ‘creepy’ angle, i’ve used google maps to travel to several horror movie related locales, most of which you’ll instantly recognize. from the now almost unrecognizable and physically relocated myers’ house from halloween to the deadly steps from the exorcist located just a few miles from where i live, i think i’ve hit several of the most iconic locations in horror history. for example, here’s what the nightmare on elm street house looked like in the film, and how it looks today via google street view.
just click the links below to cyber-travel to the listed film location and see what it looks like today. if you go on your own little horror safari and find any additional locations, please add them in the comments section.
Left 4 Dead 3D
if you recently purchased my bloody valentine 3d, friday the 13th part 3d or anything else in 3d (if you own the adventures of sharkboy and lavagirl, i wouldn’t admit that publicly), i may have found another use for all those paper glasses you have laying around. if you game on a pc and have an nvidia 8xxx series or later video card, you may be able to play some of your favorite games (most notably left 4 dead) in another mind-altering dimension, for free!
just head over to the nvidia driver download page and get the 3d vision drivers (you can download the ‘full driver cd’ if you don’t have the latest normal nvidia drivers, or just get the ‘3d vision drivers only’ if you’re up to date). install those, telling the install you don’t have the infrared hardware and choose the color combination of your glasses, and head into your nvidia control panel and turn on the 3d settings. suddenly your favorite games are being gamed in the 3rd dimension. no fuss, no muss. easy, breezy, beautiful.
here’s a complete list of the games that support this technology. i plan to take a look at spore, painkiller, crysis and sacred 2: fallen angel in tri-dimensions, in addition to the valve games.
i originally heard about this in an article at gamerslastwill that lists requiring some registry hacks, but the drivers must have been updated since then as all i had to do was install and it worked like a dream. you may need to follow some of the instructions listed in that article if you’re having problems or are trying to get this to run in windows xp 32-bit.
What The Hell Is An Onechanbara?
i have no idea what ‘onechanbara’ means, but i definitely have a handle on the next three words that comprise the subtitle of the wii version of this game — bikini zombie slayers. after reading those words and realizing they are part of the title of a video game, there are only two reasonable reactions — 1) you think any game called that must be amazingly stupid and decide you have no interest in it or 2) you stopped reading this sentence long ago to open a new tab and see how much next-day shipping is at ebgames.com and how many copies of onechanbara they have in stock. it’s rare that you can decide whether you want to play a game solely based on the title, but this is one of those times.
two different onechanbara games were released recently, one for the wii and one for the xbox 360. bikini zombie slayers on the wii is technically the sequel to bikini samurai squad on the 360. i hope it’s not ruining the surprise to say that i’m a big fan of these two games, despite all the largely negative reviews. x-play on the g4 channel rated both the xbox 360 onechanbara game and the wii version an impressive one out of five stars. are the onechanbara games really that bad? is something wrong with me that i like them? i think the answer to both those questions is a definitive ‘no,’ because i think these particular negative reviews say more about video game journalism than about the games themselves.
it’s obvious that, as a story-telling medium, video games are still quite immature. game developers don’t seem ready to address mature themes in the same way as other forms of art, likely because game censors and the general public don’t seem ready to accept any attempts (e.g. mass effect, the gta hot coffee silliness). less talked about, though, is the fact that the video game media also has a lot of growing up to do, not just video games themselves. the complexity and diversity of the video game world is equitable to that of film, but video game reviews are typically no where near as sophisticated as those written by film critics.
until fairly recently, jon and i would rate films on a quantitative scale (e.g., five stars). we abandoned this practice because, while it seems natural at first glance, comparing films this way just isn’t always that useful or fair. can you really break down the ‘quality’ of a film into numeric ratings on characteristics like acting, writing, direction, photography, music, etc? is it really fair to compare films like schindler’s list and evil dead 2 on the same scale? both are amazing pieces of art, but they have little in common besides the fact they can be viewed using the same technology. judging these films using the same criteria is a disservice to both.
which brings me to my point — video game journalists, more often than not, judge all games as though they were each an attempt to reach one singular goal. they compare games against the same criteria regardless of the intent or intended audience. just as you can’t judge every film as though it were trying to be schindler’s list, you can’t judge every game as though it were attempting to top gears of war. not every game is a super-high production value project with aspirations of being the game to buy this holiday season. not every game wants to show off cutting edge graphics or max out the number of pixel shaders that can be used to render yet another ridiculously muscled space marine (note: i have no clue what a pixel shader is). sometimes you just want to play peggle. and sometimes you just want to cut up badly rendered zombies with a girl in a bikini brandishing samurai swords.
onechanbara isn’t trying to be the big blockbuster action film of the summer — it’s far more akin to films from the grindhouse era or straight-to-video b-movie releases. it’s a low-budget affair, of that there is no doubt. the enemy a.i. is non-existent, models clip into each other constantly, the few times you get to drive a motorcycle the controls feel like warm mollasses and the menu systems were obviously designed by someone who couldn’t even spell the word ‘usability.’ that said… i don’t really care about all that, and neither did the creators. these games are fun as hell. there is a lot of hidden depth in the item management and controls that most reviews neglect to mention, but yes, all you really need to do in the game is button mash repeatedly to make your scantly-clothed heroine slice zombies up into itty bitty pieces until you get to the next boss fight. what’s wrong with that? that sounds like an action i actually wouldn’t mind doing over and over again. i must have diced 10,000 zombies by now with my dual swords, but i still giggle every. single. time.
these games are pure b-movie cheese, complete with the requisite extreme violence and gratuitous nudity. more time was spent on all the different unlockable clothing options for your multiple heroines than on level design because this isn’t a game about navigating complex mazes — it’s about getting from point a to point b with as little thought and as much fun as possible. i see that simplicity as a big plus, not something to be criticized. while fallout 3 and gears of war sit gathering dust, i throw in the onechanbara games quite often because sometimes i just want to kill zombies… not watch half hour cut scenes or solve intricate puzzles. that isn’t to say there isn’t a place for games that focus on those types of things — just that there’s definitely room for games with other agendas.
i did manage to find one review that truly understood how these games should be played and judged. 1up really seems to get “it.” these are budget titles ($40 on 360, $30 on wii) that share the same ridiculous premise and are meant to be short-lived guilty pleasures and nothing more. that still doesn’t mean these are quality examples of guilty pleasures, but tell me this — how bad can a game which features a boss fight with a zombie whale really be?
if you play either of these games and want to dig deeper into them, you will definitely need the following guides from ign because the books that come with the games are useless.
The Last Horror Film and Shuttle
the last horror film
this week see’s the release of david winters’ 1982 film the last horror film (aka fanatic) on dvd. genre fans will immediately recognize joe spinell and caroline munro from their leading roles in maniac. this reunion is no coincidence as the last horror film is, in many ways, the spiritual sequel to that classic slasher. the success of maniac gave its producers the freedom to make another film, which they cleverly wrote to occur at the 1981 cannes’ film festival, not only putting the cast and crew right in the middle of cannes’, but also allowing them to stay in the best hotels free of charge. what results is a film whose “making of” story may be more interesting than the film itself, but luckily several interviews and a fantastic dvd commentary track ensure that you receive both.
fans of the disturbing nature and extreme violence of maniac may be let down by the last horror film. the tone of the film is far closer to that of an episode of murder, she wrote… than a classic slasher. you will not see any scalpings or exploding heads (or, angela lansbury, to be fair). however, if you were a fan of spinell’s portrayal of psychotic photographer frank, then you should be equally pleased by his scenery-chewing antics as filmmaker vinny durand. vinny is just as delusional as frank, believing himself to be the next great filmmaker and convinced that if he gets his favorite horror scream queen (munro) into his film, he’ll be an instant success. when attempts to convince her to be in his film fail, he begins following and filming her without her knowledge, slowly piecing his film together from the celluloid fragments he can steal of her daily life. i rather like that setup and the film has some surprises, but it never ventures into the subversive territory that maniac occupies. the film also features one of the oddest soundtracks i’ve ever heard. it sounds like the director just hit ‘shuffle’ on his ipod and let random chance choose the songs for each scene, as their appropriateness to the situation was obviously not the deciding criteria. this gives the whole film a surreal and playful quality that may or may not have been intended.
the real star of this dvd from troma entertainment is the commentary track featuring producer and best friend of joe spinell, luke walter. walter reminisces about his departed friend and the making of this film with humor, brutal honesty and a thick new york accent. rarely does a commentary track eclipse its subject, but this one does. other interesting special features including an interview with maniac director william lustig and the short film mr. robbie (aka maniac 2), starring spinell. while rather odd and tame if compared to maniac, the last horror film is a definite “must buy” for joe spinell fans and worth a look for any fan of early 80s horror.
magnolia pictures has been putting out several good horror films lately (e.g., let the right one in, the signal, etc.), and you can add shuttle to that list. shuttle is a great horror film and a great mystery, which is a rare combination. this a tightly written script about a group of people stepping onto an airport shuttle bus that is driven by — (wait for it…) — a murderous psychopath. despite the simple premise, the story ends up being rather complicated, although that isn’t immediately apparent. events occur early in the film that you immediately disregard because they seem unimportant, but they all come back later in surprising ways.
while this isn’t an artistic or highbrow tour de force like let the right one in, that shouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing it. shuttle is dark and gritty material told with style and talent and filtered through an exploitation lens. the filmmakers only goal seems to have been to create a slick thriller that will keep your attention and shock you in ways you didn’t expect and, if that’s so, those behind the creation of shuttle should consider it a complete success.
Horror DVD Releases – Week of May 19th, 2009
with a title like mega-shark vs. giant octopus, i’m very tempted to choose it as the pick of the week. i mean, how great of a title is that? however, i’m going to have to go with my bloody valentine 3d. i loved it in the theater and i’m hopeful that the 3d on the dvd will be effective despite not being the real3d used theatrically. i guess we’ll find out tuesday whether they’ve finally found a way to make 3d watchable on your television or whether it’ll just be another example of a blue/red headache and squint inducing imitation of the original experience.
Pick of the Week
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
Haunted by the mining-related massacre that took place there on Valentine’s Day a decade ago, Tom (Jensen Ackles) returns to his hometown to find some closure. But no sooner does he arrive than a pickax-wielding madman begins a new bloody killing spree. Now, many suspect that the murderous miner has returned to claim his final victims — including Tom. Patrick Lussier directs this remake of the 1981 horror classic.
Held captive in an underground prison by a sadistic sicko who fancies himself a surgeon, four women fight for their lives, knowing the exact time they’re scheduled to die thanks to a crudely carved set of four-digit numbers on each of their bodies. None of them can remember how they got there, but if any of them figure out the secret to their imprisonment, they stand at least some chance of surviving. James Eaves directs.
Detective Story (2007)
In this shocking thriller from controversial filmmaker Takashi Miike, businessman Takashima Raita (Kuroudo Maki) and private eye Kazama Raita (Kazuya Nakayama) hunt for a brutal serial killer with a bazaar fondness for human organs. When three women, one being Kazama’s client, are found dead and stripped of vital organs, the two Raitas team up to find the murderer, and the trail leads to an eccentric artist with a unique artistic medium.
Skull & Bones (2007)
When gay college buddies Nathan (Derrick Wolf) and Justin (Michael Cross Burke) accidentally kill one of their classmates, they discover a shared passion for homicide. So after a group of Ivy League snobs humiliates them, they decide to take action together. Soon they start kidnapping the guys one by one and wielding their vengeance. T.S. Slaughter writes and directs this gay-themed slasher flick that co-stars Ryan G. Metzger.
Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009)
After a series of mysterious disasters occurs in the Pacific, from the disappearance of a plane to the destruction of an oil rig, a group of scientists discovers that a secret military mission has unearthed a prehistoric shark and a giant octopus. When the government learns of the existence of the menacing beasts, the team of scientists is tasked with formulating a plan to destroy the phenomenal creatures. Lorenzo Lamas and Deborah Gibson star.
The Devil’s Ground (2008)
Carrie Mitchell (Daryl Hannah) is suddenly swept into a world of terror when a blood-soaked young woman (Leah Gibson) stumbles in front of her car and relates a horrific tale of a murderous rampage at an Indian burial ground, in this indie thriller directed by Michael Bafaro. Now, it’s up to Carrie to deliver the girl to safety as the psychotic killer who slaughtered her companions pursues them. Twan Holliday and Lee Tomaschefski co-star.
The Last Horror Film (1982)
Determined to cast her in his first movie, wannabe producer Vinny Durand (Joe Spinell) relentlessly pursues scream queen Jenna Bates (Caroline Munro). Vinny’s determination soon turns deadly, however, and Jenna’s life becomes far more horrifying than any of her slasher flicks. Set against the backdrop of the Cannes Film Festival, this award-winning tale of blood and obsession is directed by David Winters.
True Blood: Season One (2008)
Mind-reading Louisiana waitress Sookie Stackhouse’s (Anna Paquin, in a Golden Globe-winning role) life gets complicated when she falls for vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) in a world where vampires live openly and drink synthetic blood. Trying to improve their image and legitimize their finances, the out-of-the-coffin bloodsuckers hire PR firms and contribute to influential Republican politicians. Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under”) helms the HBO series.
killing floor, sort of like left 4 dead lite for the pc, was released this week and you can pick it up cheap ($20) on steam. it’s a fully co-op zombie shooter where you and friends fight off wave after wave of various ugly monstrosities in a variety of locations. between rounds you can visit the store and quickly restock on bullets, weapons and perks. it’s no l4d by a long shot, but it is a nice, fast-paced co-op excursion when you don’t have time for a full round of valve’s zombie-fest or you want something that’ a little more arcade-y and features more chainsaws. i just joined steam and am looking for horror peeps to play with, so add ‘evilontwolegs’ if you’re up for trying out killing floor or playing any of the other multiplayer horror-themed games.
P2 and Martyrs
Anyone who’s a fan of Seinfeld knows the “Parking Garage” episode in which George, Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer spend the entire show wandering a parking garage looking for their lost car, while encountering unsympathetic strangers and a heartless security guard. More than any other episode, “The Parking Garage” perfectly embodies the absurd humor and peripatetic sense of postmodern alienation of this “show about nothing.” I can’t prove it, but I’ll wager that the writers of P2, Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur, love that episode as well, and not just because P2 has the same setting. P2 also has a subversive sense of humor, largely due to the terrific performance of Wes Bentley as the psychotic parking attendant Thomas. He’s all the more terrifying because he loves Elvis (and does a pretty decent impersonation) and insists that he’s basically a good guy. Toward the end of the film, as his victim turns the tables on him, he sincerely complains that “you’re trying to get me fired!” This isn’t to say that P2 isn’t horrifying. Thomas is all the more unsettling because of his delusions, and he does a good job of traumatizing Angela, the unfortunate woman he’s been stalking and who’s trapped in his parking garage. She’s rendered barefoot, bare-chested, and bloodied, but she survives the ordeal and emerges from it with perhaps a new sense of strength and determination, all of which is symbolized at the end of the film by the way she hobbles her way out of the garage’s darkened tunnel toward the warm, bright light of the outside world. If all of this is a bit formulaic—and it certainly is—then it’s forgivable because it’s executed so perfectly well. As Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers is fond of saying, “if you don’t know where this movie will go, then you’ve never seen a movie.” Even so, P2 is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.
If you’re reading this blog, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve seen Martyrs and that you have strong opinions about it. It’s one of those rare films that has galvanized the horror community into camps. However, I think the one thing that’s beyond dispute is that this is NOT a formulaic film. What begins as a straightforward (and really terrific) torture/revenge story about the psychology of survival transforms into something else entirely. The film’s odd trajectory might not work for everyone, but I think it’s an interesting attempt to take “torture porn” into new terrain, or to underscore one of the underlying themes of the genre. Martyrs is an attempt to illustrate that something horrifying, grotesque, and also strangely sublime happens when we’re traumatized beyond our breaking point. As Hunter S. Thompson put it (and as Warren Zevon sang it), “you’re a whole different person when you’re scared.” Ironically, in exploring this new terrain, director Pascal Laugier borrows extensively from the theme and iconography of Carl Dreyer’s landmark 1928 film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. In order to more faithfully narrate the trial and execution of the famous French martyr, Dreyer developed new camera techniques to meticulously document the nuanced suffering and spiritual transformation as expressed by the actor’s face. Dreyer’s film is a haunting, fearless, and brilliant study of the politics and psychology of human suffering and spiritual transformation. Even though Martyrs never flinches from its treatment of pain and torment, it doesn’t quite capture Dreyer’s esoteric sense of his subject matter because Laugier reduces his version to something far more brazen and glib. Still, to his credit, Laugier proves that contemporary torture porn, especially of the French variety, has a very austere and established pedigree.
Horror DVD Releases – Week of May 12th, 2009
s. darko and plague town both look interesting, but i have the highest hope for the grudge 3. directed by the guy who brought us splinter last month (toby wilkins), i’m hoping he can bring the same quality seen in that film to a series whose first sequel was rather disappointing.
Pick of the Week
The Grudge 3 (2009)
Fearful of meeting a gruesome death, young Jake (Matthew Knight) tries to convince his psychiatrist (Shawnee Smith) that an evil curse led to the slaughter of his entire family. Meanwhile, a young woman from Japan (Emi Ikehata) arrives in Chicago and attempts to stop the curse for good. This third installment of the popular Grudge horror movie series also stars Marina Sirtis, Beau Mirchoff and Johanna E. Braddy.
S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale (2009)
In this trippy sequel to Donnie Darko, Donnie’s younger sister, Samantha (Daveigh Chase), sets out for Hollywood, only to become stranded in a remote town where she begins to have visions concerning the end of the world. Now she and best friend Corey (Briana Evigan) must unravel the mystery — and confront their own demons — before the world is doomed. Chris Fisher directs this genre-bending thriller that also stars Jackson Rathbone.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
A prequel to the first two Underworld films, this fantasy explains the origins of the feud between the Vampires and the Lycans. Aided by his secret love, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), courageous Lucian (Michael Sheen) leads the Lycans in battle against brutal Vampire king Viktor (Bill Nighy). Determined to break the king’s enslavement of his people, Lucian faces off against the Death Dealer army in a bid for Lycan independence.
Plague Town (2008)
While unearthing their ancestral roots in Ireland, members of a dysfunctional American family (David Lombard, Erica Rhodes, Josslyn DeCrosta and Lindsay Goranson) find themselves stranded in a remote country setting, surrounded by a sinister secret. The locals are creepy, to say the least. But could they be hiding a far more frightening truth about their own children? David Gregory directs this freak-filled gore-fest.
Cycle of Fear: There is No End (2008)
Amnesia-stricken Tabetha (Valerie Morrissey) doesn’t know what happened the fateful night a dozen of her teen friends were killed, but the answer to the mystery — which involves a witch named Selena Sutton (Diane DaSilva-Bowles) — could be within her own sketchbook. Manuel H. Da Silva directs this spooky supernatural thriller that also stars Rachael Ancheril, Tony Porfilio and Sean Kaufmann.
Kane Hodder stars as Dennis L. Rader — the seemingly benign husband, father and church president who led a secret life as the “B.T.K.” killer (police code for “bind, torture and kill”) — in this psychological thriller inspired by actual events. Claiming 10 lives over the course of 20 years and evading the authorities for more than 30, Rader managed to fool everyone into thinking he was normal. Everyone, that is, except his victims.
An adaptation of the 2002 Korean film Addicted, this thriller stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as a young woman whose husband and brother-in-law each fall into comas. When the brother-in-law comes back to consciousness first, he acts as if he is her husband, making her more and more uncomfortable. Soon she begins to suspect that unnatural forces are working against her.