Sunday, October 18, 2009

Halloween Movie Guide

The following is an expanded version of last year's Halloween movie post.  If you are looking for something seasonal to rent or order from Netflicks, I am your man. 
JackolanternThe U.S. has five holidays that are really celebrated: Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Valentine's Day.  Halloween comes second in terms of store displays and yard ornaments, and, after Christmas, it is my favorite holiday.  This is due to the simple fact that I am incurably fond of the spooky story.  In case you are looking for a good Halloween movie, I have some suggestions.
The best single Halloween movie is, well, Halloween, John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece, if only on account of its subject.  It builds on the plausible and provocative idea that real monsters lurk in the subconscious mind, and is carried by master performances: Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis.  If you want something more suitable for children, try The Adams Family.  This superbly crafted homage to the old TV show is perfect for watching while munching on popcorn and distributing candy to miniature ghouls at the door. And don't forget Ghost Busters, which is also safe for the kids.  GB was a genuinely novel idea: demon fighters who approach their job as if they were plumbers.  Also, the mix of the supernatural and science fiction genres has roots in the beginnings of modern horror fiction.  You find it obviously in Frankenstein, and in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Unfortunately, it all but falls out of almost all the vampire movies. 

Mummykarloff If you want something classic, go back to the 1930's, when our four basic Halloween monsters saw their first moonlight.  Frankenstein (1931) ranks as the undisputed father of the modern monster story, with a number of scenes that have become cultural motifs.  And you gotta love Boris Karloff as the monster.  But Bela Lugosi as Dracula (also filmed in 1931) is an almost perfect horror film.  There is a collection out now that includes a Spanish version, filmed at night using the same script and sets, for Mexican audiences.  My kids got it for me for Christmas.  Karloff appeared a year after Frankenstein in The Mummy. The plot serves as a template for later versions of Dracula: resurrected man/demon pursues a woman who reminds him of his long lost love.  I think it's Karloff's best role.  Ten years after Frankenstein came Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man.  Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.  The inescapable and undeserved curse sets this one apart from all the others. 
Tingler1 I would add one movie to this list oldies that never gets the credit it deserves: The Tingler (1959), with Vincent Price.  It represents the best work of William Castle, the Alfred Hitchcock of B movie horror.  Like Ghost Busters, this story is based on a genuinely innovative idea.  Price plays Dr. Warren Chapin, who discovers that the tingling feeling we get when afraid is caused by a creature that lives in the spine of every human being.  When we get scared, it grows.  When we scream, it shrinks back to insignificance.  Castle actually had the seats in some theaters wired to produce a mild shock during a moment when the audience is supposed to be scared, and a narrator urges them to scream in order to save themselves.  But it needs no such theatrics.  Great acting and a strong screenplay make it a true gem.   
For a few laughs, try Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein, in my view, Brook's best movie. There is more than a little sexual innuendo, but it will fly right over the heads of most young trick-or-treaters.  Not safe for children, but delicious for more mature audiences, is The Rockey Horror Picture Show.  A good rock and roll soundtrack, and a lot of young men and women with too much time on their hands, made this into one of the most successful musicals of all time.   It's a good spoof on the Frankenstein story, with a lot of B movie sci fi thrown in.  I myself had the honor of playing the criminologist for one performance when Rockey was produced at Northern.   Finally, almost any collection of The Simpsons Tree House of Horror is good for the holiday. 

Bubbahotep If you are looking for some more undiscovered but sinister gems, rent Bubba HoTep. This happens to be my favorite movie.  A geriatric Elvis (Bruce Campbell) and a Black man who thinks he is JFK (Ozzie Davis) battle a mummy in a nursing home.  In the climax, when Ozzie Davis starts his motorized wheel chair in motion to challenge the mummy, well, I still get tears in my eyes.  If you want something with more bite, try Cat People, with marvelous work by Natassja Kinski and Malcom McDowell.  The movie is transformed into a masterpiece by Giorgio Moroder's dense electronic score, which is every bit as good as the soundtrack from Chariots of Fire.  Another good bet is Demon Knight, a tale that pushes all my buttons.  A lone warrior who carries what amounts to the blood of Christ battles to keep a legion of demons from invading the world.  Mortally wounded, he passes his mission to a teenage girl who, like Barabbas, was a thief.  That, I submit, is a story.
If you are drawn to the zombie genre, there is no substitute for George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.  It is not easy to recommend any of the spin-offs, other than the remake Dawn of the Dead (2004).  But I warn you, the latter is a very dark and genuinely scary movie.  Also scary is 28 Days Later, a movie that introduced the fast zombie to the genre.  It's not a true zombie movie, as "the Ringuinfected" are living human beings who have been turned into proto-zombies by a  rabies-like virus. If you want something cheap and cheesy, try Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972),  a very amateurish drama about a troop of amateur thespians who manage to wake up an army of corpses.  It is a cult classic that I just happened to have watched for the first time tonight. 
Finally, if you are wondering what to order from Netflicks and you are in the mood for something very dark but culturally expanding, you might dip into some Asian horror.  Three excellent choices for All Hallows Eve are Ringu (The Ring), Ju-On (The Grudge), and The Eye.  The first two have American made versions.  Unlike most A-Horror fans, I think the American Ring is as good as the Japanese original, but avoid the English version of  The GrudgeThe Eye, from Hong Kong, is wonderfully produced and acted movie with beautiful cinematography, and it is a deeply moving story.

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Zombieland is a Gas!


Here is a recent post from my SDP blog.  It is a reasonable sample of what you can expect at nekakro.  

SDP has been unwavering on one vital point of public policy: protecting America from the Zombie menace. In fact, our commitment to gun rights is largely motivated by our stern conviction that only an armed citizenry has any chance against hordes of the walking dead.
So, over the years, we have paid attention to zombies in film and literature. In that spirit my colleagues Dr. Schaff and Dr. Grettler accompanied me to Zombieland. I think we all agreed that it was about as much fun as any movie we have seen this year. 

It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine). The four are survivors of the zombie plague that has killed nearly everyone, and they are known to each other by their hometowns: Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock. Columbus, a nerdy college student who was afraid of everything and could only dream of having a girlfriend, is finally driven out into the world by its near demise. He serves as narrator and gives us a list of rules (#2: always shoot the zombie twice) that is simultaneously hilarious and worth writing down in case the real thing happens. 

Small spoiler: the zombies are pz2 class creatures. They are pseudo-zombies, which is to say, not really dead but living human beings converted into zombie-like beings by a virus. The "2" indicates that they are fast pseudo-zombies, as opposed the staggering speed creatures that once populated the genre. 

The excellence of the movie depends on two things. First, it maintains an almost perfect balance between horror movie seriousness and comic relief. Second, it is chock full of very funny, very original and unexpected lines. Example: "You're like a giant cockblocking robot made by the government," and "God Bless Rednecks! Big trucks and bigger guns."
End of the world movies are very popular. Zombies walk through a lot of them. I don't think there is much seriousness in this movie, though there is at least a vague we only came alive when everyone else died theme, and a weird sort of pro-family theme. But it is consistently delicious.

welcome to East of Evil!

For several years now I have participated in a political blog called South Dakota Politics, which is really about national politics (there is a history there).  I frequently posted on jazz music there, and finally created a blog specifically devoted to jazz: Jazz Note SDP.  Another topic I posted on occasionally at SDP was the horror genre.  I have been fond of scary movies since I was very young.  My taste for the genre has never weakened, but these days I like to think about the genre in a more or less academic way.  Well, I have often given thought to a blog specifically devoted to horror, and here it is.  

I will be posting a lot of the things that were earlier posted on SDP, but I intend to build a coherent body of posts to guide intelligent horror fans (that's you) to the best kind of movies and other media, and to give you some provocative analysis to chew on.  Whether I keep it up depends on whether I get a readership and generate some conversations in the posts.  Please let me know if what you read here is of interest.  

ps.  I have changed the title of this blog.