Oct 25, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Halloween)

10/25/2005 10:36 PM EST

By B.E. Earl

Hey kids! Earl here again in response to Slyde’s claim that I “wouldn’t know a good horror move from a teletubbies marathon”. That’s right, I left in his misspelling of the word “movie” and his lack of an apostrophe at the end of “teletubbies”. Dick! Since Halloween is right around the corner, I thought I would share with you my Top 5 favorite Horror films, or at least the Top 5 that I could think of off of the top of my head. Whew! Quite a few “tops” in that last sentence, weren’t there?

My only criteria for including a film on this list is that said film had to have scared me. Not startled me or grossed me out, but out and out scared me. You see, I love Horror films, but very few actually achieve their goal with me. I dig werewolf films, but besides a few scenes in The Howling and Dog Soldiers (and one really scary scene in Bad Moon), they make me grin more than they frighten me. I like zombie movies, but I haven’t found any that have truly terrified me. Don’t get me wrong. Dead people walking around is scary stuff, but not something that has ever made me lose any sleep. Don’t even get me started on vampire movies. I’d have trouble naming even one that was truly scary. No, I prefer my scares to be a little more psychological and a little less visceral. So without further ado:

5. Halloween (1978) – I can’t have a Halloween-inspired Horror film list without the granddaddy of all slasher flicks. Some prefer Psycho or even Friday the 13th, but for my money it has never been done better than John Carpenter’s tale of Michael Myers and the night he came home. This is just an amazing film and it truly proves that less is more when it comes to a good scare. Halloween can be shown (and is shown) on network TV with the bare minimum of editing. No on-screen deaths, no graphic display of the victim’s bodies, and almost no profanity at all. Just a classic story of madman guided by some mysterious force to wreak havoc on an innocent town. The accompanying score, by John Carpenter himself, is so perfect that the mere sound of it is enough to frighten some people. Bonus shout-out to Mr. Carpenter for also making The Fog and The Thing, two Horror films that work almost as well as Halloween but fall short of making on my list.

4. The Shining (1980) – I used to be a big fan of Stephen King and I’ve always been one of Stanley Kubrick, so it should be no surprise that this film makes it onto my list. While the film version wound up being quite different from the novel, I feel that in many ways the film worked much better as a Horror story than the novel ever did. Stephen King always had a problem ending his novels (try figuring out why “The Stand” doesn’t end 100 pages earlier), and “The Shining” was no different. Instead of turning Jack Torrance into an actual monster (as King did in the novel), Kubrick’s version of Jack was much less over-the-top and much more sinister. The utter isolation that the movie portrays lends itself to the madness that eventually overcomes Jack, or IS IT madness that overcomes him? Is it a ghost story or is it a story of a man driven insane by a combination of solitude and his own demons? And just what the hell is going on in that room with the dude dressed like a dog? Scary and beautifully made, The Shining is a must-see for Horror fans of all ages.

3. Event Horizon (1997) – I just know that I am going to have a hard time explaining why I’ve included this film on my list. I didn’t like it when I first saw it, and I’m not so sure I even like it now when I think about it. But this film grew on me, and not in a good way. It is just creepy as all hell. From Sam Neill walking around with no eyes toward the end to those short (thankfully) peeks into the hell dimension that the ship came back from, this is one creepy film. It’s one of those movies that I will not watch if I see that it is going to be on, because its’ just too damn scary and I know I’ll be pissed at myself for getting creeped-out by a crappy film. Let us just move on.

2. The Omen (1976) – For all intensive purposes, I could have included Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist in this slot, but The Omen always frightened me a hell of a lot more than any of those other films. I think that one of the reasons is that the accompanying score by Jerry Goldsmith (much like Carpenter’s in Halloween) added so much to the terror factor in the film that it is difficult to separate one from the other. I especially love the ending shot of the movie when Damien looks over to the camera and gives the viewer in the audience a creepy little smile. Brrrrr! Chills people! Maybe it has something to do with evil kids, but this is a film that is delightfully scary. Damn, I gotta go out and get this one on DVD!

1. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) – This is the grand poobah of all scary films in my humble opinion. Sure, it was a cheesy made-for-TV film starring Kim Darby that probably played on a Sunday night when it was first shown, but oh the memories! In case you are unfamiliar with this little gem, the action revolves around a couple who have inherited a mansion from some long-gone relative. A bricked up fireplace is opened and a whole host of little pointy-headed demon critters come flooding out. You see, these dudes are what became of Ms. Darby’s ancestors and they want her to join their little club. Sounds goofy, right? Yet this was a movie that I had to watch every single time it was on when I was younger and it would scare the livin’ bejesus out of me for weeks! I haven’t seen it in a while, but I was an adult the last time I saw it and it still did the trick for me. Little demon walking across the bathroom floor with a straight razor just as big as it is coming to get you in the shower = scary in my book. If you can find it, give it a try and see how it ranks on your fright-O-meter.

Well, that should do about wrap it up. Maybe Slyde will grace us with some of his favorite scary movies some time in the near future, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Until next time, have a Happy Halloween! - Earl

Oct 6, 2005


By B.E. Earl

10/06/2005 6:27 PM EST

At the rate I have been posting lately, as opposed to Earl, we should probably change this site's name to Earlsblog.com. Anyhow, Earl has graced us with another review, this time for the new movie Serenity. Anyhow, take it away Earl.... - Slyde

Hey kids! It’s Earl again as Slyde is apparently way too lazy/busy to contribute to his own site. I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts about the new film Serenity which opened up last weekend to so-so business here in the ‘ole U.S. of A. Serenity is a sequel, of sorts, of the late, great Fox television series “Firefly” created by Joss Whedon. Now one thing you have to know is that I am a late convert to the cult of Whedon, but a cultist nonetheless so I may not be the most objective kid in the sandbox. I’m actually not going to give you my review of the film (which I thought was fantastic), so hopefully my objectivity, or lack thereof, won’t come into play. No sir, my intent is to give you some background info on the television show so that you might be better prepared when you go see the film. AND YOU WILL GO SEE THE FILM! Sorry, got taken over by Satan there for a moment. I’ll try not to let it happen again.

The Setting
“Firefly” is set roughly 500 years in the future. The human race has moved on from the “Earth that was” or the planet that we currently call home. You see, our numbers had swelled so vastly that we needed to colonize other worlds and solar systems. The last remaining great economic powers of old Earth were the United States and China. Just about everyone speaks both English and Chinese, although it seems that they only slip into Chinese when yelling at each other or cursing (maybe to slip past the old FOX censors, eh?). The main governing body of the galaxy is the Alliance.

The Alliance runs the central planets in the system with a closed fist, but the outlying planets govern themselves mostly in a fairly straightforward metaphor for the United States during the time of the Old West. In fact, “Firefly” is as much of a Western as it is a piece of Science Fiction. The territories are hard places to live, but they do have a sense of independence from the Alliance. The Alliance doesn’t appear to be the obvious evil that the Empire was in Star Wars, however, there is something dodgy about it. So dodgy that a group of planets fought a war against the Alliance in order to guarantee their own independence. It didn’t work as the Alliance won, and the freedom fighters suffered enormous casualties.

The Ship
Serenity is not only the name of the film, it is also the name of the Firefly-class spaceship that many of the characters of the show and film call home. It’s a fairly cool-looking hunk o’ junk that is used mostly as a cargo ship by the crew, although it is that cargo that often gets them into trouble. You see, the crew of the Serenity works a bit outside of the law. They’ll handle smuggling jobs, illicit transport, and even outright robbery to make a living. We’ll talk about that in a bit. The boat (as they refer to Serenity) is also named after a famous battle in the previously mentioned war. It was the battle that finally broke the backs of the freedom fighters leading to an overwhelming victory by the Alliance.

The Crew
Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) – Mal is a former soldier with the losing side of the war with the Alliance. He, in fact, was one of the survivors of the battle of Serenity Valley along with his second-in-command, Zoe. Mal has got a lot of issues. He’s obviously not happy with the Alliance and he is constantly being tormented by his inner demons. His choice to turn to a life of smuggling is just another way of thumbing his nose at the oppressive Alliance. However, he appears to be a good man with a heard of gold, ding! He’s also quite in love with Inara, a prostitute who lives on one of the shuttles of the Serenity. Secretly, of course.

Zoe (Gina Torres) – Zoe, as previously mentioned, is a former soldier who followed Mal into a life of smuggling. She is the consummate warrior woman, clearly not someone whom you would want to mess with. She is unwaveringly loyal to Mal and she wears her leather outfit quite nicely, thank you.

Hoban “Wash” Washburn (Alan Tudyk) – Wash is the pilot of the Serenity, and the husband of Zoe. He’s mainly there for comic relief. We don’t know much about his past, but it doesn’t appear to matter that much. He wears Hawaiian shirts and has plastic dinosaurs about his console, and that is about as much as we need to know.

Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite) – Kaylee is the resident mechanic on board the ship. She’s a bit of a spitfire whose mechanical skills appear to be more intuitive than learned through any formal education. She is the wide-eyed innocent of the crew, even while possessing a more-than healthy sexual appetite. Kaylee is fun.

Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) – Jayne is the muscle on the crew. Although he doesn’t really have a title, he was jokingly referred to as the public relations officer. He’s simple and downright mean, but you want to have him on your side in a firefight. He also has, on more than one occasion, shown an inclination towards turning on his fellow crewmembers, and he can be bribed to switch sides if the money is right.

Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) – Inara is a prostitute who rents out one of the two shuttles on board Serenity in a mutually beneficial agreement between Mal and her. You see, prostitutes are a bit different in this world then they are in ours. Companions, as they prefer to be called, are treated with incredible respect by the civilized worlds. They go through a tremendous amount of training to become a companion, and they are incredibly bright and knowledgeable in many areas. Having a resident companion on board is beneficial to crew for her contacts and the doors that those contacts can open. She also lends an air of respectability to the otherwise rag-tag group of travelers. She is also quite in love with Mal, secretly of course.

Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) – Damn it was nice to see Ron Glass working regularly again. The well-named Book is hard to read by his cover. He is a man of religion, but he has admitted that Book is not even his real name. His mysterious past has something to do with either a military, political or consular post within the Alliance. He is Mal’s conscience on the ship.

Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Mahar) – Simon and his sister, River, are fugitives from the Alliance. Simon came aboard Serenity with his sister as his cargo. He was eventually found out by Mal the rest of the crew, although Mal agreed to keep him and his sister on board as crew. Simon is a brilliant doctor who gave up a great career to save the life of his sister. He’s also kind of boring.

River Tam (Summer Glau) – River is a gifted teenager who was taken by the Alliance at a young age and manipulated into a tool that they could use for a number of reasons. She has some psychic abilities and she is quite the talented fighter. She is also an absolute mental mess. In whatever procedures the Alliance used to enhance her abilities, they also managed to strip out some of her brains ability to operate in a so-called normal manner. She is highly sought after by the Alliance because of her abilities and the secrets that she may have stumbled onto. Secrets that could hurt the Alliance at its very core.

Okay. Now you are ready to go out and see Serenity. It has been rumored that if this film grosses more than $80 million worldwide, there will be a sequel or two. Joss Whedon had apparently scripted out 5 seasons of “Firefly” and he still has stories to tell. So go see it. You don’t want me to use my Satan voice again, do you?

Oct 2, 2005

Oh, the HORROR of it all!

by B.E. Earl

10/02/2005 11:50 PM EST

As I said in the last post, here is another great article written by B.E. Earl. Since he gave it to me over a month ago, some of the "Upcoming" movie references may now be a tad outdated. Please blame my excessive laziness for this fact, and not the fact that B.E. wouldn't know a good horror movie if it came up and bit him on the ass (which it just might, one day...those things are ORNERY) - Slyde.

Hi, folks! Earl here. I recently saw a commercial for a new horror film that will be coming out to a theater near you shortly. It’s called The Cave, and I was interested enough to check out some of the details on IMDB.com yesterday. Not “interested” in actually going to see the film, but more like “interested” in how derivative it appears to be. The trailer showed a group of divers (or some kind of adventure seekers) getting trapped in a network of underwater caves. Then some kind of Big Bad begins to pick them off, and it appears as if it either infects some of the team members or takes over their bodies in some “body snatcher/the killer is amongst us” kind of way. I don’t know the exact details, and maybe I never will. But three films jumped to mind as soon as I saw this commercial. John Carpenter’s version of The Thing (victims assimilated by beastie in remote location), Pitch Black (maybe because Cole Hauser is in both), and Alien (replace deep space with deep caves…now THAT is clever).

When I checked the feedback on IMDB.com, I saw that many of the posters were comparing it to a British film by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) called The Descent. Apparently they have some very similar plot lines, although The Descent has yet to be released theatrically in the US. This got me thinking about the sad state of the Horror genre in American film over the last few years. Here goes:

To get a good feel for the assortment of Horror films that have been produced in the last few years, I once again consulted the oracle of all things, er, movie-ish in IMDB.com. They have a great search engine within their own site called a Power Search. So, I looked for the top 100 Horror films (as voted by IMDB users with at least 1000 votes) that were produced from 2000 to 2005. I then culled the herd by dropping anything with less than a 6.9 out of 10 rating which left me with a not so round 26 films. They are as follows (with foreign titles translated into English):

Film Rating Country

1. Battle Royale 7.9 Japan

2. Shaun of the Dead 7.9 UK

3. The Others 7.8 France/Spain/US

4. Vampire Hunter D 7.7 Japan/Hong Kong

5. Butterfly Effect, The 7.7 US

6. Descent, The 7.7 UK

7. Bubba Ho-Tep 7.6 US

8. Tale of Two Sister, A 7.6 South Korea

9. Saw 7.5 US/Australia

10. Frailty 7.4 US/Italy/Germany

11. Dawn of the Dead 7.4 US

12. Devil’s Backbone, The 7.4 Mexico

13. Ring, The 7.4 US

14. Happiness of the Katakuris, The 7.3 Japan

15. Identity 7.3 US

16. 28 Days Later… 7.3 UK

17. Irreversible 7.2 France

18. Visitor Q 7.1 Japan

19. Brotherhood of the Wolf 7.1 France

20. Devil’s Rejects, The 7.1 US

21. Ichii the Killer 7.1 Japan

22. Dark Water 7.1 Japan

23. Eye, The 7.0 Japan

24. Land of the Dead 7.0 US

25. Ginger Snaps 6.9 Canada

26. American Psycho 6.9 US

As you can see there is a decidedly international flavor to the list with the US only accounting for 11 of the 26 films. It’s no surprise that Japan is second on the list with 7 entries, followed by the UK with 3 films. Now, before I start to critique these films let me say that I have seen less than half of the titles listed. But that isn’t going to stop me from “Eberting” them anyway.

Let’s start with the American Films. Right away I can whittle this group down by excluding comedies (Bubba Ho-Tep), remakes (Dawn of the Dead and The Ring), sequels/rip-offs (Land of the Dead and The Devil’s Rejects) and any movie that stars Ashton Kutcher (The Butterfly Effect). This leaves us with a tidy five US-made Horror films in the last few years that meet our haughty criteria.

The Others by Alejandro Amenabar is a wonderfully creepy film with an engaging cast. Part of it was even filmed here in Huntington at Oheka Castle. But considering the director’s origins (Chile) and the fact that the cast is mostly British or Australian, this film really takes on an international tone. The US is also listed third in the credits for country of origin behind France and Spain. So this is a tough one to include as being truly “American”, for me at least.

Saw by James Wan is also a film that includes some international ties. Mr. Wan grew up as an Asian in Australia, and this is his first film working in the US. That aside, it was a very creepy serial killer film that kept audiences guessing until the very end. I’m still not 100% sure what the hell happened, but I know that I liked it. It is sure to be ruined by numerous sequels, but this film stands out as something highly original.

Frailty by Bill Paxton (I didn’t realize he directed it) is an unusual film for me to judge. I liked all the performances in the picture, and the novelty of the plot wasn’t lost on me. It very nearly works as a perfect study of mental illness and its’ effect on the family. However, I find it hard to include as a Horror film, per se. The fact that I wasn’t frightened or horrified in any way might be the problem I had with it. I don’t know. It just didn’t “get” me the way a good Horror film should.

Identity by James Mangold is another film that I was surprised to see on the list. I did enjoy seeing it (big fan of John Cusack), and it’s “Ten Little Indians” plot was fun to watch unfold, but as with Frailty I feel that it didn’t encompass some of the elements that define a good Horror movie for me. It was if I was watching the movie just to see what the “big twist” was going to be.

American Psycho by Mary Harron (based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel) was just a crazy, crazy movie with everyone’s favorite Batman, Christian Bale, giving us an over-the-top horrific performance as the title character. The very real moments of pure horror are offset by some very funny insights into the yuppie lifestyle of the 1980’s. The narrow edge of what is real and what evils lie solely within Bale’s character’s mind is what makes this movie so much fun to watch. Well, that and Willem Dafoe. Man, that guy is just creepy to look at!

Did you notice a common thread between these five films? I mentioned it while talking about Identity. All five of these films include a “big twist” ending. It’s as if American Horror in film have become almost solely derivative of 1999’s The Sixth Sense in the past few years. Yeah, I know…the “big twist” in American Horror has been around since Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho (and probably way before that), but it seems to be steadily building momentum. There is nothing wrong with it, but it bothers me that I thought that a great film like The Others was slightly tainted because I left the theater thinking that it was really good, but The Sixth Sense did it a little better.

Now the non-US films on the above lists really include some original and grand examples of Horror, and Japan is definitely leading the way. Most of the top grossing Horror films made in the US nowadays (The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water) are remakes of original Japanese Horror films. It’s like the obsession Hollywood had with remaking French Comedies a few years back. The old “let’s take something of theirs and make it ours” kind of philosophy. In most cases, the original far outshines the remake, but American audiences seem to really have a problem watching foreign language films with subtitles. Sad.

Battle Royale (so I’ve heard) is just a brutish “Lord of the Flies” tale of a group of school children forced onto an island with the intent of murdering one another until there is a sole survivor. It is so brutal that it is not available through mainstream avenues in the US, nor is it likely to be remade here in this country due to its themes of violence and children. Visitor Q, Ichii the Killer, The Eye and Dark Water are all highly praised as truly original entries in the Horror genre. Vampire Hunter D is an animated film, but one that is supposedly one of the best examples of Horror/Anime around. From what I’ve read of The Happiness of the Katakuris, it may not belong on the list as its’ tale of a family taking over a remote hotel is told in a Musical/Comedy setting.

There are some other great original films on the list made in the UK, France, Mexico and even Canada. I’ve already mentioned The Descent, but Danny Boyle made zombies cool again in 28 Days Later…, and Edgar Wright made them funny in Shaun of the Dead. Brotherhood of the Wolf is one of my favorite movies (in any of the genres it fits) made in recent years. Its’ visual style and martial arts action fit well with its’ historical accuracy. If you haven’t seen this film, do yourself a favor and check it out. The Devil’s Backbone is Guillermo del Toro’s (Hellboy) breakout hit from a few years back, and this guy has a film style that looks good even in crappy movies like Blade II. Another personal favorite on the list is Ginger Snaps out of Canada. I really liked the idea of a werewolf movie as a metaphor for puberty and all the wonderful things that come with it. It may not have been as downright scary as Dog Soldiers, but I enjoyed it just as much if not more.

Well, I managed to trash American Horror a bit more than I praised International Horror, but you can see where I wanted to go with this. The focus here in the US seems to be more on generating box office gold by more derivative means, while the creative side of Horror is left to filmmakers abroad. Hey, I appreciate a good film no matter what country it was created in, but let’s hope that this trend slows down in the near future. Horror films have been a staple in the diet of American filmgoers for a long time now, and we are getting a bit tired of the stale servings of late.