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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

October Horror Festival: Land of the Dead and Hollow Man

Happy Halloween everyone! I wish I wasn't feeling so under the weather on my 2nd favorite holiday, but I'll manage. Tonight's movie selection will be obvious and traditional, which will be posted by tomorrow morning, but last night after a very bad day at the office, I crashed in front of the tube (despite some deadline pieces looming over my head) and took out Land of the Dead and then my wife came home with Hollow Man for me, that lovely redhead of mine!

With Land of the Dead, I found it more than ironic that George A. Romero found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to fight against a remake of his own movie Dawn of the Dead, and moreover, watch the remake bring in more money and overt acclaim from the press. I don't know, I'd be a little pissed if it was me, particularly since Land of the Dead is the better of the two films, even if I will grudgingly admit the Dawn of the Dead remake was a lot better than I expected, particularly that brilliant opening sequence. Compared the original, though? Please.

I love that Land of the Dead resurrects the old 30s and 40s Universal logo with the plane putzing around the globe, but in this film, it goes slower as blackness engulfs the logo. Classy and effective. As the story goes, the dead have grown in numbers and are starting to get a little smarter. A large cluster of humans have holed up in a section of Pittsburgh, and interestingly another caste system is set into place thanks to mogul Dennis Hopper who seizes the largest building in the city for himself as declared lord of the city. As in a normal society, you have to make large duckets and be approved by his snobbish committee in order to live in the building. Meanwhile, the rest of the people live in the streets while the hired military guard the perimeters.

Hopper has a set of hired hands who do runs outside of Pittsburgh to scavenge for food and supplies amongst the "stenches," or living dead. Simon Baker plays Riley Denbo, the conscience of the story, and his second is Cholo DeMora, played by John Leguizamo. Leguizamo's character has high ambitions to live in Dennis Hopper's tower Fiddler's Green, and thinks nothing of sacrificing one of his team members to a zombie in order to procure a few extra cigars to ass-kiss with. Of course, Hopper remains unimpressed overall and denies Cholo's residence in Fiddler's Green, much less squaring up Cholo's pay. This causes Cholo to steal a high tech war machine designed by Riley in an attempt to extort Hopper. It's interesting to see how regular politics and backstabbing can still occur in the midst of an undead holocaust...

As Riley is hired to steal back his own creation, Land of the Dead embarks on a series of gory effects, apparently more over-the-top than the version that appeared in the film. Since Romero had to sit back and take an NC-17 when he released Day of the Dead back in 1986, he reportedly took his lumps to get the R for Land of the Dead, but had his final cut ready for the DVD version, and it's as bloody as the other films. As the zombies follow one of their own who has enough cognizance to lead a march towards Pittsburgh, as well as learn to operate a gun, "Big Daddy," played by Eugene Clark, extends the "Bub" character of Day of the Dead. Be sharp, viewers, because "Bub" makes a very fast cameo in this film, as does Tom Savini, reprising his biker role from Dawn of the Dead.

Many people parallel Land of the Dead to the Bush administration, particularly Donald Rumsfeld. There's a certain validity to it, but I think Dennis Hopper's megalomaniac role is apropos towards any governor, administrator, president, whatever you want to call him. The commentary is more towards social order and class systeming, even in the midst of a worldwide tragedy. The message is that as human beings, we're compelled towards hedonism, even more so when faced with terrible odds of survival.

With Hollow Man, yeah, it's a bloody mess, yeah, it's full of sexual exploitation, and yeah, Claude Rains and HG Wells would probably sigh heavily, but I'm rather fond of this film despite. The effects are superb, the story is pretty good overall, and Kevin Bacon does a credible job playing the arrogant Sebastian Caine, a sleepless scientist who discovers a breakthrough serum towards maintaining invisibility.

With the always alluring Elizabeth Shue playing his ex-girlfriend and current teammate Linda McKay, you identify with Bacon's jealousy and rage, because despite his shortfalls, I personally kept wishing she'd ditch the nerdy Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin) and get back with Kevin Bacon. Unfortunately, the sympathy you feel for Bacon lasts only so long as he deteriorates mentally after submitting himself to the invisibility experiment. The minute he smashes a laboratory dog in its cage, you start to loathe what he's become. Yeah, he's a smug prick beforehand, but his genius makes you strangely root for him, thus his betrayal of his team makes Hollow Man a pretty neat excursion.

As Bacon molests one of his team members in her sleep (Kim Dixon), the effect is titillating because I'm sure there's enough of us horndogs out there who've daydreamed of doing that exact same thing, but doesn't that constitute rape of a sort? Dixon is in for far worse, as is the entire team, because this is a Paul Verhoeven film (Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers) and that means you're guaranteed the nudity, you're guaranteed a lot of special effects, you're guaranteed a slick pacing, and of course, you're guaranteed a lot of blood.

Okay, so The Invisible Man will likely never be topped because it was so groundbreaking for its time, but Hollow Man did a pretty decent job overall, despite its overt sleaziness. Crazy enough to think that a former Hollywood A-lister like Cristian Slater would appear in the direct-to-video Hollow Man 2. Like Starship Troopers 2, I'm a little afraid to approach it. God help us when they get desperate enough that the mass population of horror fans stop caring about Friday the 13th that they just do a direct-to-video cash-in.

Monday, October 30, 2006

October Horror Festival: Silver Bullet

Okay, so I had to cover A Static Lullaby last night (nice guys, very hospitable; thanks for the beer, dudes, that was a hell of a set you played), actually got home at a decent hour for once and wifey and I watched Silver Bullet, the adaptation of Stephen King's Cycle of the Werewolf novella. Interestingly, my copy of the book was found in a shred bin without a cover.

As far as King adaptations of the eighties go, this one is pretty good. It benefits from a solid cast including Gary Busey as the drunken Uncle Red, Corey Haim as the wheelchair-strapped Marty Coslaw (go on, make your cole slaw jokes like I did), Terry O'Quinn from the first two Stepfather movies playing the town sheriff, and Everett McGill, who was on an acting roll at this time as Reverend Lowe.

I actually heard someone ask why Silver Bullet was rated R. Um, perhaps because there's a beheading in the opening sequence, along with gratuitous follow-up shots of the severed head? What a sadly desensitized world we live in... Come on, this isn't Goosebumps!

The Silver Bullet in question is partially the name of Marty's cool motorized wheelchair, but since this is a werewolf movie, then that aspect applies as well, particularly when it comes to dispatching the werewolf, who happens to be the town clergyman. Do you wonder if King and the filmmakers feel a little weird about this given all the recent accusations exploding throughout the Catholic church? At either rate, it was a pretty neat and unexpected twist for 1985, and I think that's what makes the story work, having your town being ripped to shreds by your local reverend. Now that'll keep the heathens in line, won't it?

I think the scariest moment of Silver Bullet comes when Marty is trapped in the covered bridge with Reverend Lowe pacing outside and taunting him. It's a pliably frightening prospect to have your wheelchair out of gas (if you're so fortunate enough to afford one) and a person you've accused of murder having you essentially at his whim. Good stuff.

In some ways, Silver Bullet is tame, but overall, it's one of the better outings that came along in that slew of Stephen King adaptations we all discussed during the Graveyard Shift entry. It all seems weird in retrospect that the horror genre relied so heavily on Stephen King but has kind of put its shoulder to him. The man is still a genius (and let's finally forgive him for Maximum Overdrive), but you'll note that despite the very good adaptation of Desperation by Mick Garris (not to mention Garris' grossly underrated version of Riding the Bullet) and King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes miniseries on TNT that was hit and miss, the movie-making world has sort of drifted away from King after bleeding him dry through the eighties and nineties. I'm sure King's doing just fine without Hollywood, but it does bring about a sour grapes thing, at least in a subtle way...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A trip to Crystal Lake, 2006

For you Friday the 13th fans, earlier this year I was granted access to Camp No-Be-Bos-Co in Blairstown, NJ where the original Friday the 13th was filmed by Sean S. Cunningham. I did an article for Metal Maniacs about the camp as a follow-up to my interview with Betsy Palmer I did prior to this adventure. Much of the camp remains intact as did in 1980, though a few buildings were either moved elsewhere or removed altogether. The building that had the rifles is gone altogether, and the bathrooms seen in the film has been converted into a regular bunkhouse, which the park ranger told me a trespasser mistook the new bathrooms to be the old one, broke into it like a vandal and posted online that the camp owners were ruining the place! Unbelievable. The camp still operates as a seasonal Boy Scout camp and the park ranger means business for all wanderers onto the camp. He's tight with the fuzz and doesn't hesitate to send trespassers to the pokey. But it's a beautiful place and maintains the creepy aura of the fictitious Camp Crystal Lake--in real-time known as Sand Pond. As a special treat for Halloween, I wanted to share a few of my pictures with you all...

Spot where Betsy Palmer and Adrienne King duel at the film's end Photo Copyright 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Former bathrooms in film, now Price Lodge, looking into Sand Pond aka Crystal Lake Photo Copyright 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Van Dusen Lodge, where most of the cabin interiors were filmed Photo Copyright 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

October Horror Festival: House of Dracula

House of Dracula is curious bit of moviemaking because in 1945 Bela Lugosi was out of the scene as was Lon Chaney, who donned the fangs and cape in Son of Dracula prior to this one. In steps future legend and Universal staple John Carradine as the famous Vlad, this time in search of a cure to his affliction. Of course, Dracula was supposed to be dead at this point, but like the Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street series, suspension of disbelief applies.

Crazily enough, Larry Talbot, aka The Wolf Man (replayed by Lon Chaney, Jr.), is also looking to be rid of his curse, and both end up consulting the same doctor, whose treatment is through voluntary blood transfusion, and it is here where House of Dracula ought to be called instead House of the Wolf Man because that's the main focus for much of the movie until the doctor goes mad from his transfusion work and rampages towards the end. Of course, for the coup de gras, Frankenstein (played by western mainstray Glenn Strange) makes a stomping appearance and inadvertently helps cure Talbot...hooray!

Jane Adams bravely took on the role of the hunchback assistant Nina (I mean, why not, if Frankenstein is supposed to be represented in this horror ghoul all-star collision course?), and she plays the role with beauty and sympathy, but what's her purpose other than shock value? She doesn't get cured! I mean, come on, didn't all of you want her and Lon Chaney, Jr. to both get cured, fall in love and kiss in front of a full moon to symbolize their triumph over adversity? Gads.

In essence House of Dracula is a big cashout, obviously to lure the post-World War II American audience into an hour seven's worth of mindless entertainment using a crossover marketing ploy? Hell, that stunt worked in comic books over and over until readers got wise in the late nineties. Still, House of Dracula is a pretty good film in general as far as exploitive sequels go. As I alluded before, Universal at their worst back in the day is far more charming than much of the dreck sequels heaped upon us in the eighties and so forth.

I was going for a trifecta last night by starting Land of the Dead, but nodded off. Quite a busy day, actually. That'll hopefully be the next one on the list.

October Horror Festival: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Alright, kiddies, we're getting to the nitty gritty with Halloween just around the corner and I'm excited and sad that the month is coming to a close. Not that it means one stops watching horror movies afterwards, but I have a slush pile of DVDs to review, so I'm going to have to budget my viewing time, especially since I'm conducing an interview with A Static Lullaby and covering their gig this evening.

So let's see what can get done in the short time left of October... Yesterday, after I did an interview with a visual artist named Bryan Barnes, we did a lot of overdue house cleaning, was dropped in on by a friend, and later we fired up the popcorn and put on Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. This little film is something of completed business in my marriage and it another friend of ours named Matt to dig up the title of this classic made-for-TV movie. One of the things that solidified my relationship with my wife was not only her appreciation of horror movies, but her willingness to eat dinner while watching the original Dawn of the Dead. On occasion, she will balk if something is just too offensive, but overall, she's got an iron gut and I love watching horror with her. Better than a long-ago girlfriend who accidentally socked me in the balls when she jumped in theater during Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

For the longest time my wife (then girlfriend) and I were trolling around trying to come up with this film that she'd remembered from her childhood. Somehow I'd been shielded in 1973 and whatever years it re-ran on television, and there's a pretty good reason, since the little bastards that run amok through Don't Be Afraid of the Dark are nasty and for the time, scary as hell. My wife kept telling me about a film where little creatures dragged the main character away and that's all she could tell me. We rented all three Subspecies movies hoping that was it, but it wasn't. I tried Critters, Ghoulies, Troll, all of those little beastie movies from the 80s. I tried Puppet Master, Dolls, Trilogy of Terror. Nada. When Matt said he'd finally found the movie, we were excited and upset because it wasn't in print here in the U.S. I had to order this on DVD from Germany on a leap of faith and fortunately it was a good copy, so much that I ended up ordering The Burning from the same company, a great plan because that DVD had the Tom Savini installment of the Paramount documentary Scream Greats as a bonus feature. Sweeeeeeet.

Anyway, I'm dragging on here. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is absolutely one of those genuine popcorn movies, as I noted to my wife while thinking back to the Jiffy Pop stove popcorn and what a huge treat it was for popcorn and movie night when I a kid. One of the big to-dos about Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was that it had William Demarest, best known as Uncle Charlie from My Three Sons in it. The film is basically this: Kim Darby and her rather obnoxious husband (played by Jim Hutton) inherits her grandmother's mansion and through persistent curiosity, inadvertent unleashes a bunch of trapped beasties that greet you in the film with some unnerving whispering. They've been a part of the house for centuries, and as Darby ignores the warnings from Demarest not to open the sealed fireplace in the study, she pays the price.

For 1973, this movie might as well be judged by 2000 standards. Despite the fact that the creatures' mouths don't move, but their chins do, they're creepy little buggers and they terrorize the hell out of Darby and the audience, particularly when they succeed in their mission to make her a permanent fixture of the gloomy Victorian mansion. Again, evil triumphs, and in this case, you actually feel for Darby because her career-obsesssed hubby treats her like a whining brat and he has no one to blame by the film's end. There was talk of a remake of thie film last year, to which I say piss off! We don't want it!!!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Masters of Horror Season 2 begins

I've spent a number of months this year pimping Showtime's Masters of Horror in both my metal column in AMP magazine as a special feature dedicated to horror releases, as well as conducting interviews with a few of the directors for Metal Maniacs magazine, including Stuart Gordon, Don Coscarelli and series mastermind Mick Garris. All three of these filmmaking legends were super-kind to me and very down-to-earth. I could spend a blog entry talking about each of them, but if you spot them in Metal Maniacs, let that do the speaking. I will say that each of them were complimentary to me and they all graciously extended our allotted time together. These are directors I've long had respect for as a horror fan, so getting this time with them is quite invaluable.

It's wonderful that Season 2 begins right before Halloween, and during my month-long celebration of horror. Last season I was particularly fond of Dario Argento's "Jenifer," John Carpenter's "Cigarette Burns," Don Coscarelli's "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" and the daring "Haeckel's Tale" and its barrier-smashing necrophilia scenes. This is not to slight any of the other movies of Season 1 because I was quite fond of them all. I think of Joe Dante's war protest piece "Homecoming" and realize that like the heavy metal and punk rock music that I cover so extensively, all it takes is a self-righteous megalomaniac in office to stir the anger of free-thinking non-conservatives.

Last season we saw a cannibal nymphomaniac, corpse screwing, lesbian pregnantees, a voluptuous deer woman that tramples her bedpartners into hamburger, a moonfaced marauder, a film that causes its viewers to kill, undead soldiers from the Iraq war, psychic sex and murder, a pair of dueling serial killers and witches sacrificing in the hell do you top that?

As Masters of Horror kicked off Season 2 tonight with Tobe Hooper's (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, TCM2, The Funhouse) "The Damned Thing," within the first five minutes, we see a young boy forced to watch his mother get blown away by his suddenly crazed father, then the father nauseatingly disemboweled and spun around from an unseen force. That's what you call getting your viewer's attention in a hurry!

I'm not going to reveal many spoilers about "The Damned Thing," but the general plot is focused upon the adult version of the boy, now the town sheriff (played by Sean Patrick Flannery) and estranged from his wife and son. As a series of self-inflicted deaths crop up around the town (many of them quite gory), the town erupts into chaos as the entity in question is responsible for setting it all off. Reportedly the nemesis appears once every generation in Flannery's family, and here is where I'll stop and let you all watch for yourselves, though I will note that Showtime obviously gave Mick Garris and his band of mischief-makers a little more fiduciary benefits, judging by the CGI manifestation of the entity by the episode's end. All I can say about the ending of this story is that if you read my previous post about what I do like about Halloween III: Season of the Witch, that'll give you a slight hint. I kind of found it ironic such a parallel between a mostly bad film like Halloween III and a sharp bit of storytelling in "The Damned Thing" exists. That, or maybe I need to do a few shots and call it a night...

The acting in "The Damned Thing" is solid all-around, and Hooper's pacing is very slick. I can only imagine the strains of working in a format of an hour versus an hour-and-a-half or so feature format, much less the opposite extreme of confining it all to a measley half hour. In my interviews with the directors this year, they all sounded quite comfortable in this format, and the results spanning from last year to "The Damned Thing" tonight gives me hope that this series is going to have some staying power.

As the series goes on, I'll check in here from time-to-time and blather a bit about how Masters of Horror is progressing and hopefully garnish some feedback from you, my devoted readership...

Friday, October 27, 2006

October Horror Festival: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

I distinctly remember Leonard Maltin pleading with viewers on Entertainment Tonight for people to avoid Halloween III: Season of the Witch like the plague. I mean, he pleaded, almost in a whining demeanor. For a guy who hated Halloween II he sure made a big stink about the third film not having Michael Myers in it. Of course, so did everyone else. That alone made me inquisitive about Season of the Witch. Chuck D warned everyone about believing hype and at age 12 I read the novelization of this film and admittedly was turned off by its more complex concept.

I would later turn to the film for my first viewing and while Halloween III is a bit of a clunker because of its $2.5 million budget, there's something disturbingly right about this film. I'm actually glad there's no Michael Myers. In fact, John Carpenter and Debra Hill only agreed to do this movie upon the contingency that Michael have no part of this film. Salud, I say...

Come on, whether or not you want to admit it, that Silver Shamrock jingle echoes in your brain every so often. In our household, my wife takes the first part and I finish it up as we tool around the house. Its one of those little things we do subconsciously as a couple and as much as she dislikes this film, there's no escaping that grating "doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo Happy Happy Halloween, Halloween...Happy Happy Halloween...Silver Shamrock!"

Okay, so you want the plot? Probably not, but you're getting the loose end version anyway! Tom Atkins, who appeared all over the place in the eighties (including Carpenter's The Fog and Escape From New York), checks in as Dr. Challis, a drunken divorcee who falls into the lap of bizarre mystery when a patient holding a rubber pumpkin mask is delivered into his care. Not long thereafter, an automaton in a clean-pressed suit kills his charge then sets himself on fire in the hospital parking lot. This particular assassin is none other than Dick Warlock, who played The Shape (aka Michael Myers) in Halloween II, so quit your bitching, people! Techinically, Michael is represented in this film!

Enter Stacey Nelkin as Ellie Grimbridge, who inadvertently lures Atkins into untapping the source of her father's murderer. The trail leads to the Silver Shamrock plant, located in an isolated California town where the inhabitants are forced curfew at 6:00 pm and essentially live a drone existence. Of course, drones are what the film's villain Conal Cochran (played by Dan O'Herlihy) specialize in. Inside the Silver Shamrock plant are more robots, as is a stolen piece of Stonehenge, all part of a fiendish plot to kill children and their parents via the Silver Shamrock masks that have large microchips on the back. Cochran is a modern-day warlock hell-bent on turning the holiday of Halloween back to its druid origins.

Okay, so this is beyond a stretch. You're probably ready to turn it off with just the Stonehenge pillar piece being implausibly swiped out of England and transported to California. If you're going to keep watching Halloween III, you must turn your brain right off, friends. As quickly as Atkins and the aggrieved Nelkin hop into the sack together, it's a signal that this movie was quickly assembled with a minute budget that only yielded $14 million at the box office. At least Maltin can feel proud for completing his mission!

The reason I like this idiotic film is because I aabsolutely love the ending, where Atkins has managed to convince two of the television studios to block the notorious Silver Shamrock ad on Halloween night that is supposed to trigger the sensors in the masks, only to fail, as a third station continues to carry the advertisement. Screams of "turn it off! turn it off!" followed by a fade into the closing credits is what good horror is about. Some people are pissed that evil triumphs in this film, but on occasion it has to! That's why The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars films! Evil wins! It annoys you and makes you want the good guys to come back as quickly as possible.

It also helps that Carpenter and his old music partner Alan Howarth came up with a stylish and creepy synthesizer score for Halloween III that was a bit more dynamic than even the second film's, even if I favor Halloween II's score over them all.

In summation, what I would say about Halloween III: Season of the Witch is that it's actually better than the next three films, and it's ironic that the sixth film The Curse of Michael Myers explored more of the druid connection as to why he's indomitable. Yes, the Samhain thing was triggered in the second film, but I think more people quietly dig Halloween III than you realize. And yes, that's Nancy Kyes (formerly Loomis), aka Annie from the original Halloween playing Atkins' ex-wife in this film. Carpenter and Hill may have wanted certain disassociations with Halloween III but the deeper you dig into this sucker, they're more loyal to their franchise than meets the eye, and it isn't until Halloween H2O that we get a truly good Halloween film in the series.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

October Horror Festival - Tremors

There are some horror films that are so gloriously retro that they work because of it. For instance, Matinee was quite cool, so was Arachnophobia and Eight Legged Freaks in their own modest ways. Let's face it, you and I are all probably close in age and how much do you envy your parents for being able to see those fifties B movie classics in the drive ins like they did? Too bad most of them were making out instead of watching (this, according to my mom, a drive-in vet), because with the exception of one time where wifey and I got it on in the back seat at the drive-in, we usually sit and watch and wish we'd been around when it all started. To see I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Them, Tarantula, Beast From a Thousand Fathoms and even (yikes) The Slime People in the drive-ins.... Damn, how glorious.

Tremors from 1990 was touted as a throwback style of horror though with a contemporary spin. For a PG-13 film, this movie doesn't skimp on the grue! I never picked up on the fact that this is a Universal film until this evening and that probably helps the nostalgic feel of the film.

Why Tremors is so great is not only because of the giant earth slugs and snakes that belch out of the ground and gobble up the few people who inhabit a desert town hilariously named "Perfection," it's because of the cast. Kevin Bacon plays his strangely named character Valentine McKee with a delightful over-the-top huckstery that compliments his partner Fred Ward, and the two have great chemistry together. The fact that Bacon loses rock, scissors, paper to Ward every stinking time is a breath of humor that paces the mostly-relentless action to Tremors, and they're nearly upstaged by the gung-ho couple played by Family Ties' Michael Gross and country singer Reba McEntire.

Throw in the sorta cute Finn Carter for the obligatory love interest for Bacon, and Tremors rocks and rolls with a few disgusting moments, but a lot of bang throughout the film. Despite looking like the sand worms of Dune, these "graboids" present the viewer with an improbable but highly fun dose of horror that indeed is like the fifties schlock films we love so much.

Amazingly, I've only seen 15 minutes of Tremors 2 and I believe there's two more sequels beyond that with Michael Gross returning in the fourth film. I believe I saw something on the web about a fifth one too? I'm a little skeptical, honestly. The reason this film works so well is because of a sharp cast that doesn't take themselves too seriously. Don't know if that same mojo is repeated in the sequels. After all, they're sequels...

Horror sequels that just plain suck

Before I get to tonight's horror film review, which will be Tremors, I just thought it would be fun to take a poke at horror sequels that blow chunks and invite everyone to chime in with their additions and opinions.

While I think that Scream 2 tried way too hard to be clever by posturing as a crappy and cliche horror sequel within the confines of its own film, I do appreciate how it tried to reiterate just how bad the movie industry--particularly the horror realm--has plied for our disposable income by tacking on Roman numerals or sequential numeration to films that struck gold with viewers. The eighties literally breathed on the sequel, not only in horror, but across the board. Too bad everything couldn't be top-notch like the Die Hard, Terminator and Lethal Weapon series that were all pretty fine movies with their sequels, but then you have sequels to Bloodfist or the Police Academy series that bit the weenie once they took their sabbatical to Miami...

But since we're (or at least I am) in a horror kinda mood this month, let's stick it to some of the crummiest sequels horror has churned out and we, like absolute whores, watched them at least once...

1. The Exorcist II - The Heretic - Perhaps the worst freakin' sequel ever made. Can I get an "amen?" Most people hate Exorcist III as well, but not me. I dig that film, even if it's a little sluggish

2. The Howling II: Your Sister's a Werewolf - Christ, the only redeeming value of this train wreck is Sybil Danning ripping her leather vest open and showing us the much that the editors thought it wise to play it repeatedly during the end credits. Christopher Lee ought to be ashamed he showed his dignified face in this piece of shit

3. Halloween 4 - 6 - You're asking "Why didn't you put Halloween III - Season of the Witch in here?" Yeah, III is a piece of junk, but I like it for some stupid reason, and lucky you, it's going to make the festival this year, muhahahahahahahaha!!! As for 4 through 6, they're just pitiful. His neice should've kicked his ass; instead we get to see Michael cry in the fifth film...ugh, gag me...and this was not the way for Donald Pleasance to finish a reknowned career...

4. Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby - I mentioned this earlier, and I barely remember this turd other than there being a lot of acid trips disguised as satanic rituals...this one needs to just bugger off forever

5. Friday the 13th VII and VIII - okay, so we get "Carrie" versus Jason in the seventh film and Jason running amok in New York City after that... God, somehow, I thought Jason X was a breath of fresh air in comparison to these stinkers

6. The Hills Have Eyes 2 - It's amazing how many young kids don't even know that The Hills Have Eyes released this year is a remake, much less that a sequel of the original came about, one where it's told through the dog's point-of-view....ummmmmm....woof...

7. Return of the Living Dead II - Metal Mark and I saw this in the movies and Jesus, was this a severe letdown...the first one is a minor masterpiece and I really like the third one too, but this one is just plain bullcrap...

8. Alien 3 - prize goes to the first person who admitted they managed to stay awake in the theater....I fell asleep numerous times...there are a few cool moments of this film, but overall, slower than Tom the Turtle in a tar pit

9. Texas Chainsaw Massacre - The Next Generation - I don't care if Renee Zellweger was in it and sexy as all get-out; this was a bullshit remake, plain and simple...let's all fart in its general direction

10. Return to Salem's Lot - another one where nudity is the only highpoint; doesn't say much about this flick, does it?

Go ahead, friends, and fire away!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


So to continue this post, I have to say that it's almost impossible to not watch Jack Nicholson. True, there's plenty of non-Nicholson fans out there, but I think he's one of those quirky legends (obviously the mentor of Christian Slater), who despite a movie's worth, is compelling to watch. Take, for instance, the very slow Wolf.

If Nicholson wasn't so appealing in his dry wit and deadpan calm sophistication, and if Michelle Pfeiffer wasn't so hot in this film, why bother? It's amazing that a pretty good story that would serve better as an hour-and-a-half format can run another half hour, and that's the detraction to this film.

As Nicholson nails a stray wolf en route from a book contract sale in New England (damn, where's these people when I need them?), he hits a stray wolf not exactly indigenous to the area. Thinking it dead, Nicholson tries to move the animal and gets bitten, thus setting him on a less than Lon Chaney-esque romp in hairy fashion.

Perhaps the background story of Nicholson being demoted from senior editor of his publishing firm due to the undermining of the eternally annoying James Spader (he has such a talent for making you want to smack his smug ass in every film he appears in) derails the film from its true course, but it does allow us to get into Nicholson's character Will a bit deeper, particularly as his senses become more acute than the average mortal. That's the fun part, watching Nicholson use these new gifts to "sniff" out Spader's betrayal, as well his wife's, with whom Spader is boinking on the side.

This naturally sets up the romance with Pfeiffer, and while she can sell just about anything she's asked to do (meow, anyone?), her affair with Nicholson isn't as steamy as it could've been, therefore, it comes off as a bit unbelievable. Her concern for Nicholson's transformation issues is perhaps the most pliable part of their relationship, if not for her somewhat cold treatment in the early stages. Of course, it's not to be unexpected she's the daughter of the president of the book firm who puts Nicholson on the skids.

There's other minute problems in Wolf, such as lighting and sequencing issues, but when Nicholson gets in front of the camera, you're practically compelled to watch. Too bad I wanted The Joker instead of a werewolf outta this one...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

October Horror Fest: Graveyard Shift and Wolf

So I was home sick yesterday, and too bad I slept most of the day or I could've had a nice round robin of films in bed, but as it was, I went out to get ginger ale between these two films, grabbed my wallet and left my stinking house key behind! Luckily I had my truck spare on me and then had to proceed to my wife's job to get the house key. Quite humiliating, and no fun when you've already been barfing from the night previously. I'll laugh at it on the weekend.

So I managed to squeeze in Stephen King's Graveyard Shift, one of those films you're not totally sure why you like, but you do. Maybe its Stephen Macht's exaggerated Noreaster performance as Warwick, the tightwad scumbag who owns a mill infested by rats. In light of being shut down after a mysterious "accident" when an employee gets shredded by the mill's picker, Warwick assembles a cleanup crew including drifter John Hall (David Andrews) and what they find below the cellar is improbable, unexplainable and just nasty as all get-out.

Call it a bat-rat or whatever you think to lump on this beastie, but the giant cellar dweller in this film rips up most of the cast. I think particularly disgusting is when Jimmy Woodward's character Carmichael has his hand gnawed through a hole, and when he pulls it out, gore flings all over the place.

I can't recall if Stephen King approved of this adaptation or not. I recall when I originally saw it noting that it strayed quite a bit from the original short story that appeared in King's Night Shift collection. Wirh Brad Dourif playing his ratcatcher character in his customary over-the-top fashion, and Vic Polizos as Brogan screaming like a lunatic gunner in the field with the power hose, Graveyard Shift is a rather entertaining bit of horror, if you don't expect a whole hell of a lot.

And Wolf will have to hold as I am running late all of a sudden...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

October Horror Fest: My Bloody Valentine

It's amazing to watch some movies that lent fascination in your youth to see how they hold up to more adult eyes. My Bloody Valentine from 1981 is one of the many eighties flicks to tumble out of the wake of the success the original Friday the 13th enjoyed the year previously. Ironically, Friday the 13th Part 2 came out the same year as My Bloody Valentine and the latter is somewhat better, but not by much. It's kind of funny when you look at it see how much holiday and calendar-themed horror came about after the first Halloween film, like this one, the Friday the 13th series, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Graduation Day, April Fool's Day and Happy Birthday to Me.

In My Bloody Valentine, the main appeal of this rather dumb movie is the aesthetics of being trapped in a mine with a psychopath on your heels. It is here and only here where the movie works as an effective horror vehicle. The plot is simply thus, a miner named Harry Warden is caught in an underground detonation on Valentine's Day survives but his comrades are killed. He stakes his revenge against the mine owners and the town by snuffing them and ripping their hearts out in a symbolic and gory Valentine's Day gesture. 20 years later, everyone thinks the miner is finally gone from their lives and as they propose a Valentine's Day dance, the legend of Warden and his bloody heart plucking resumes again.

Keep in mind the town is conveniently (and agonizingly) called Valentine's Bluffs. I think that tells you all you need to know. So why keep watching? I asked myself that and I think it's merely a bit of teenage nostalgia, but the film has moderate amounts of gore and typical sexuality that is tame by eighties standards, and the way the movie ends was something of a surprise back in the day, but now, it's just pretty damned lame and implausible. Then again, weren't many of these films that way?

Thus the movie is almost forgettable, so much that there's a band that goes by the same name that has more relevance today than this film. Try to look for it online in a general search engine and you'll know what I'm talking about. Still, for us Gen X'ers, this just an hour and a half of foolish reminiscing and that's the reason it makes it into the player. That, and to be trapped in that mine, even without a killer? Forget that.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Amon Amarth - With Oden On Our Side

You might say this is my current rage album, one I can't get the hell away from, like the new Isis album and the offshoot Isis band albums I've been digging real hard like Red Sparowes and Windmills By the Ocean... I wrote this review on Amon Amarth for my next column in AMP magazine. If you like metal that is both textured and aggressive, this is the way to go...

From upcoming "Death From Below" column, AMP magazine, by Ray Van Horn, Jr.


With Oden On Our Side
Metal Blade

There’s a debate as to whether or not AMON AMARTH are to be classified as death metal or “Viking metal,” not that categorization does anyone real service but us self-serving journalists! I myself take the death metal route because they have that sound, albeit with more finesse and elegance than your typical smash-up death band. It’s not just because of Johan Hegg’s serpentine yowls, but…oh hell, they’re death metal, for crying out loud…

Now that we have that unnecessary formality out of the way, let’s have a gander at the newest offering from AMON AMARTH, one of the year’s most triumphant bodies of work, With Oden On Our Side. Truly, this is one of the classiest metal albums you’re going to get your mits on and it finds AMON AMARTH at their most confident.

Look for a flub on this album, you’re not going to find it. Scrutinize and pick it apart with a fine-tooth comb, you’re going to go away frustrated. Take any song, like the speed-hungry “Asator” or the gallant metal march of “Runes to My Memory,” or the heritage-spiced “Under the Northern Star” or the combination of all of these on “Cry of the Blackbirds.” They’re all carefully structured, beautifully written metal odes that hail the Viking call-to-arms better than even TYR manages. Go on, I dare you to try and pick this album apart; you’re a pussy if you even try. With Oden On Our Side is a masterpiece for our scene because of its precision but also because of its rhythms and tempos that range from brutal to exquisite. Lord, how can you not be moved by the opening sequence of the final song “Prediction of Warfare?” much less its cinematic feel overall?

All that being said, With Oden On Our Side has now become the death metal album to beat…

Ray's notes about writing the first novel at Fred Charles' blog

Fred Charles, one of my new compatriots here in Blogland, invited me to write a piece in his absence and he specifically asked me to write about finishing your first novel. My thriller novel "Mentor" was a labor of love, but a labor indeed, and I talk rather lengthy about it at Fred's blog. Please scroll down and hit the link to his blog and check out my entry. Love ya mucho for that.

If you're interesting in snagging a copy of my book, go to, but it's also easy enough to hit or


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

October Horror Festival: Rosemary's Baby

I suppose to modern audiences this film comes off as tame and actually slow-moving, but for the true connoissuer, 1968's Rosemary's Baby is one of the genre's gems. Okay, so as we go along, we might be asking Mia Farrow why the hell she continuously submits to the evil tidings going on around her, when she randomly suspects things are wrong.

I don't think I need to rehash the plot of Rosemary's Baby here; we all know it involves a wallflower wife being offered up to the devil by her struggling actor husband as host for the satanic incubus in question.

The thing to consider here is why Mia Farrow would go back in a scene after she's dumped the grimy sludge her apparently good-doobie old neighbor(Ruth Gordon) has been making her drink, knowing that it's been making her and her unborn deathly ill, only to gladly take the foul swill in a subsequent series of events? Is the devil's stranglehold over her so abslute that Mia fails to see reason, even when she continously gets clues along the way? The answer is, yeah, that's probably the answer. I personally find it a tad naive, but in the interest of this otherwise disturbing horror great, suffice it to say that Mia's tryst with Lucifer had deeper penetration than merely vaginally!

A hearty thumbs-up to that inspired dream sequence that is supposed to cover up the dirty deed, only to have Mia Farrow scream "This isn't a dream, it's really happening!" Too bad she couldn't act further upon that reality check... Of course, we wouldn't have a movie then, would we?

Okay, so I'm probably nitpicking on a widely-accepted horror classic, and honestly, the startling thing to me while watching it for this year's horror fest was how much foreshadowing there was to the event that I'd never identified before, probably because I was too distracted or too young to appreciate it. I've seen this film a number of times, mostly in bits and pieces, though I've had a number of sit-throughs, but after this time (a full sit-through), I really applaud Roman Polanski's ability to drop us breadcrumbs along the way, some subtle, some blatant. You're asking me for specifics? Where's the fun in that? Go watch it yourself!

And sorry, but I couldn't help but think of painful scabbed knees when Mia suggests to her deceitful husband Guy (John Cassavetes) that they make love the first night in their unfurnished apartment. My wife and I chuckled at the intentional awkwardness of the scene as the couple shirks their clothes off strenuously and with as much passion as a sea urchin getting it on with a puffer fish. How's that for a visual?

And finally, whatever you do, do not--I repeat, do not--let yourself get trapped into watching 1976's Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby. This rubbish makes Exorcist II: The Heretic look like the manna of all sequels...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Back From the Beach

If you're from the east coast, particularly anywhere from Virginia to Maine, reading this tagline is probably beyond surreal, and honestly, to say that I ran around in shorts outdoors in October, even with my shirt off for a brief time, when in a couple of weeks we'll be seeing costumed marauders trolling around for candy, well, it's true. To be perfectly honest, I almost sniffed around Ocean City, Maryland in search of a fishing boat looking for hire because I didn't want to leave. To be granted respite from both of my work lives for a weekend, that was as valuable as it gets. I've needed a recharge for quite some time, and while a weekend is certainly not enough to shake the stress I contend with during the day in the title company as well as the mounting piles of promo here that needs reviewed--particularly since I'm getting a lot of phone calls about them lately--well, seriously, it's enough to make one drop trouser to it all, particularly when you want to greet the sun instead of curse its rising, even after two nights of hard drinking. Submitted for your approval, the reason why sunsrises at the beach change your whole attitude towards life...

Photo (c) 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

I'm grateful my folks were down at the beach and made arrangements to put wife and I up for free at their hotel. We've done it in years past and just for some reason, it all felt even more special this year because I was able to forget the fast pace of my life and enjoy the fact that my wife and I went along the tide as she collected shells and I took loads of photographs and got flirted with a few times along the way (which really doesn't happen to me anymore), and we spotted dolphins that didn't show up too well on-camera even with my 10x zoom, and the weekend was filled with Guinness, Long Island iced teas, rowdy conversation in our favorite bar, The Salty Dog, and feeding the gulls off of the balcony, to the point they took the crackers right out of my hand. Here's a shot of a couple of my ocean friends I had to leave behind...the expressions are priceless...

Photo (c) 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

It all strips it down nicely, if you can manage to get out of your self-important life and enjoy the reality around you. We even hotel crashed by wandering into other hotels to use the bathrooms and to look at old-time photos of Ocean City from the '30s and '40s, all the while a group of people from the WWII era sat around a piano and sang old tunes you don't hear anywhere unless you were brought up correctly, like "Chattanooga Choo Choo." The simplicity of it is so aesthetically sobering, particularly when you think of life as one big rush to the next little or big thing, which will resume for me tomorrow, naturally.

So to try and make sense of it all, I'll remember the company spent with my loving family, the quiet time in the hotel jacuzzi with the wife, the bike for four we pedaled down the boardwalk, the cute blond quietly inviting me to another world I won't go to, the constant roar of the waves that is spiritually cleansing, the fact that we tried to do a late-night horrror marathon of the original version of The Haunting and Poltergeist and kept nodding off from a drunken stupor... I'm already missing the salty air and the faint rumble of the Corvettes that took over Ocean City this weekend, and the adorable waitress at Harpoon Hannah's who carded my wife but not me and told me it was because I looked "distinguished." Nice save, little lady....

Thursday, October 12, 2006

My Alternate Life as a Country Song

I miss doing the open mike that I was doing for almost two years at local bookstores and coffeehouses here in Maryland. I was doing it for about 2-3 times a week, and while I was quite horrible at it in the beginning, I soon developed a reading personality and was warmly-received everywhere I read at. Like I said, I miss it big-time. It defined me as a writer and as a soul with a voice. From time-to-time I will post some of my poems, spoken word and outright sheer tripe like this irredeemable but (to me) pretty danged funny little ditty...hope you enjoy and don't take offense

My Alternate Life as a Country Song
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Copyright 2006

well I found my wife in bed with my mistress
comparing notes on me while doing 69
neither had a flattering thing to say
Johnsons worked wonders for them, all except mine

and my royalty check never came in the mail
all whopping thirty-eight bucks
my dad spent it on donuts, cigarettes and gin
wrong address, no Junior on the check, man my publisher sucks

and I tripped over my daughter’s bra
plucked like a corncob, lying on the floor
the basement sofa smelled like preteen sex
Lord, how did we raise such a whore?

and my dog died last week, my cat’s sick too
my daughter’s boyfriend drank my last beer
the wife won’t put out, she ignores my pain
I have guys calling me; someone said I’m queer
likely my wife

and I’m ready for some football, but the cable’s out
the car won’t start, I can’t shit but fart
I’ve got hate mail, death threats and overdue bills
I’m paying rent now since wifey and I live apart

and I found my mistress in bed again with my wife
doing each other with vegetables I just bought
the nerve of those two, breaking into my pad
relishing my tears, loving they’d been caught

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Where is the danger in heavy music?

In lieu of my interview tomorrow night with Skid Row, I've been thinking long and hard about what made heavy music so alluring when it first gained notoriety in the late seventies and early eighties. I walked by a co-worker's cubicle and heard AC/DC's "Hells Bells" playing and I commented to her that the song just has no danger element to it anymore. Back in 1980, we would've feared the repercussions from our parents if they heard us playing that song, much less the whole Back in Black album with other songs like "Let Me Put My Love Into You," "Shoot to Thrill" or even the title cut. Back then, it all signaled sex, murder and Satanism, which means AC/DC just happened to write a bunch of bullshit and gloss it over with some nasty chords and riffs that make it sinister and outlaw-ish.

I think of how Ozzy's "Crazy Train" used to be considered one of the most wicked-sounding melodies in rock 'n roll. Hell, Ozzy himself was considered the ambassador of evil at one time, but now he, like "Crazy Train" have been so overexposed to the general public at large, they've become saccharine. "Crazy Train" can be heard coming out of cells as ringtones, and I'm sorry, that's just wrong.

Sports arenas have dumbed down and reduced dangerous music by making them between-play anthems like the aforementioned "Hells Bells" in football stadiums, Guns 'n Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" before nearly every puck drop in any hockey game, and even The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" is just another excuse for sports fans to yell something, anything, to get motivated in the game.

At one time the New York Dolls were considered threatening to the status quo. Kiss thereafter until the bubblegum element caught up with them in the midst of their runaway success, but seriously, how dangerous is "Rock 'n Roll All Nite" anymore, much less "Heaven's On Fire?" Even "Personality Crisis" by the Dolls, while still retaining some of its primal bite in a jaded, what've-you-got-for-me-now contemporary rock society, has been watered down by attrition due to the glam revival of the eighties. Poison is admittedly a guilty pleasure, and Hanoi Rocks had enough gristle between the pop elements to be interesting, and of course, Dee Snider prides himself on being glam in Twisted Sister, but when you watch a sporting event and the opposition scores on the home team, what do you hear? The loudspeaker belching "We're Not Gonna Take It." For Christ's sake, the religious right tried to ban that song and video back in the day! It was a statement of pride and rebellion for alienated youth, not bigwig suits in their skyboxes twiddling their thumbs when their teams aren't performing well.

I could go on and on, because even though we're in the midst of a metal revival, the same mistakes are being made as the first time around, namely that one style dictates the norm and those looking to cash in sell out to it, thereby reducing the danger element of the sound they're emanating. When you know the black outfits they're wearing are a freaking uniform, there's no danger to that, particularly when you know Hot Topic donated the gear as an endorsement deal. It's the same as a NASCAR stock car or professional bull rider these days: corporate-owned.

Now granted, there's some seriously deadly music out there deep in the underground if you hunt for it. I'm refreshed that the new Celtic Frost album is so dark-sounding, because it replenishes what they lost with Cold Lake. The far-flung reaches of death metal, black metal, grind, doom and that dank underbelly of music is where you're going to find the danger in rock today, but be warned; imposters lurk there too. Marilyn Manson is partially responsible for it, whether it was intentional or not, but black metal is becoming vogue with Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, and that's alarming in itself. While both of these bands are terrific, if you can find their t-shirts at the mall, there's something wrong.

Monday, October 09, 2006

October Horror Festival: The Invisible Man's Revenge

While both Claude Rains and a young Vincent Price are who most horror aficiandos associate with the bandaged marauder known as The Invisible Man, the last of the Universal adaptations finished off on a slightly more serious note after The Invisible Agent and the hilarious Invisible Woman that had Shemp from The Three Stooges cast in a bumbling role he was more than suited for.

This time around, The Invisible Man is not the scientist, but a thought-dead sauve Yankee played by John Hall who comes to claim his fortune from a wealthy British couple that left him stranded on the expedition that gained their riches. Hall's character Robert Griffin is a bit of antihero as immediately we find that he's murdered in his escape from a hospital and upon reuniting with his former associates Sir Jasper Herrick (Lester Matthews) and Lady Irene Herrick (Gale Sondergard, one of the inspirations to the witch in Snow White), he instantly demands their entire legacy.

Needless to say, this doesn't sit well with the masters of the estate and they drug Griffin and shove him on his way out of the mansion where he nearly drowns in a nearby pond. To stake his revenge, Griffin stumbles upon a doctor's house (very convenient) played by John Carradine, who is working on an invisibility serum (you just knew that was coming) and the vengeance-minded Griffin submits to the fateful experiment that sets the chain of events of The Invisble Man's Revenge into motion that includes blackmail and murder.

Where The Invisible Man's Revenge works is, of course, the special effects. On occasion, the digital remaster of this film reveals some of the faint outlines of Jon Hall's facade, which younger audiences are going to find lame as hell. Us old farts can excuse such transgressions, particularly when you put it into context that this movie was done in 1944. In some ways, it marks a little slip in Universal's budget for a fifth Invisible Man installment, but considering some of the Grade B shlock that would come out in the fifties (although a lot of it is way cool fun), a little shadow here and there is easily forgivable.

If there's any setbacks to The Invisible Man's Revenge, it's the hokey acting in the opening ten minutes that settles down afterwards, and the fact that Griffin's attraction to the Herricks' daughter Julie (Evelyn Ankers) just isn't believable, particularly when Julie barely knows who he is. Of course, the breakfast sequence later in the movie after Griffin pledges to make himself visible again in the hopes that he will be able to woo Julie away from her just doesn't work. Some revenge, threatening and extorting using invisibility, then begging the victim to make his daughter "see" him as a worthy suitor, hence his need to drain John Carradine's blood in a transfusion to become visible again. Call it a tragic character flaw if you like, but it's hogwash, I say.

That aside, The Invisible Man's Revenge is an otherwise solid bit of horror entertainment. The funnest sequence comes when the invisible Griffin helps his derelict benefactor Herbert Higgins (Leon Errol) win a dart contest in a pub. If any of you have seen the Robert Zemeckis cult film Amazon Women on the Moon, you'll recall the "Son of the Invisible Man" skit where the "invisible man" runs visibly naked in the pub while carrying the dart across the room while the patrons humble him in deadpan fashion. If you haven't seen that gem, you're missing out...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

October Horror Festival: Cannibal Holocaust

There is such a thing as going too far in horror entertainment and while I expected nothing less from 1980's infamous Cannibal Holocaust, particularly since I'd been warmed up for this disgusting spectacle years ago through the equally nauseating Make Them Die Slowly, but I don't know, man. Maybe the years are piling up on me. Twenty years ago you wouldn't be able to get me to shut up about a movie like this.

After all, the true gore conoisseur has to be driven wild with bloody ecstacy by the sights of disemboweling, torture, rape, dismemberment and of course cannibalism, but in Cannibal Holocaust, the movie dubbed the most notorious of all time and reportedly banned in over 50 countries, it ups the ante past expectation. It's enough to see turtles being gored and eaten by the white people of the film, much less the cannibals that lop of the craniums of lemurs and go to town. But to be witness to such vomit-producing scenes as a woman being impaled through her entire body after being raped by the white documentarians of the movie, and to see another cannibal do horrible things to his mate's vagina, and finally, to see a fetus disemboweled out of a cannibal woman, you tell this taking things too far?

The story is very similar to Make Them Die Slowly in that a university professor is hired to find a missing documentary crew in the jungles. What he is subjected to is horrific enough as a survivor, but the film footage of the dispatched crew is just bloody revolting, scenes filled withe penis whacking, rape and beheading, the whole nine yards. The film crew is presented as reprehensible whites who go in with noble intentions but surrender to hedonism once confronted by the cannibals. In turn, the cannibals extol a bloody revenge and as the film concludes with the professor wondering who's the real cannibal in the overall schism of humanity, it's the same ending as Make Them Die Slowly and the end feeling is like you're dirtier for your troubles.

Not to sound moralistic or anything, but there's a difference between the cartoonish gore of the original Dawn of the Dead and something that is equally fantastical, but far more over-the-top in Cannibal Holocaust. This film is just wrong, period, the end.

Stories From the Road: Iron Maiden

I intended this post to be upbeat, full of happiness and enthusiasm, to begin with how much life was turned around when my cousin-in-law sat me down in his bedroom, told me I was listening to shit with Top 40 radio and introduced me to Iron Maiden's Killers. I wasn't the same afterwards. I wanted to gloss and gleam about how much I've loved Iron Maiden since the early eighties and how I still say they're the supreme heavy metal band of all-time. I wanted to reiterate what a joy it was to finally reach a plateau as a music journalist to have Nicko McBrain on the other end of my phone, rolling along like we were throwing down pints together. Yes indeed, this is how I wanted it to begin...

None of that changes, actually. Iron Maiden is still the best, they're not to blame in the least for what happened to me this evening. In fact, I bought my Maiden concert shirt on the way out despite my anger. One day all will be righted in my world, but for now, a momentous personal occasion was soured by negligence, and despite the fact that I was flat against the stage in my own photo pit, as close to Iron Maiden as I'd dreamed about in my teenage years, I came home from Camden, New Jersey full of piss and vinegar and I'm mad. Mad at Tweeter Center and mad that I can't get over what happened, even though I took home a better souvenir than anyone who got to see the entire show as you'll witness below:

Keep in mind I'm looking for no sympathy. After all, I get a gratuitous amount of freebies in this industry: CDs, DVDs, free concerts, interviews with people I've always dreamed about talking with. I live a charmed existence in my second life, and normally something like this--which has never happened to me before--would be something of some irritation if I were closer to home, but in this instance, I was 2.5 hours away from home and almost 40 bucks in the hole from tolls and parking. That part is to be expected, but it underscores the anger I felt this evening.

When I arrived at Tweeter Center, I was on such a high. Earlier in the day, I'd gotten promo reissues of Trouble's The Skull and Psalm 9 in my mailbox and I was enjoying them on the road. I was making good time despite the rain and despite the pee breaks, and I had to laugh despite the $15 parking fee that the parking garage near Tweeter was logjammed with metalheads lounging on their vehicles, tailgating, thundering metal in an echoey environment. It was so much like the movie Heavy Metal Parking Lot but inside a garage. My, how the times have changed...

The Tweeter Center is actually a nice facility situated on the waterfront across from Philadelphia, and I was really taken by the view. Points in this place's favor for when I decided to write the show up. Well, those points went bye bye and dipped drastically into the negative...

I go to claim my ticket and photo pass that was promised by the record label, and to my astonishment, I'm told I have a photo pass only! In some of the smaller venues, all I've needed was a photo pass. Obviously this is the major leagues and while I've covered the Sounds of the Underground festival and stuff like that where the stages are getting bigger before my eyes, so too is the red tape, apparently.

In a panic that I'd driven 2.5 hours to make this gig and I had no ticket for the show, I punched digits all over the place, having my wife call my contact then me with his number, then my friends, then my editor at Metal Maniacs who was coming to show as well...lots of calls, none of them made a difference because I couldn't connect with my label contact.

Worse, the Tweeter peeps said the label was being stingy on tickets, thus my temper was really flaring. I've had a short but mutually beneficial relationship thus far with Maiden's label, and it just didn't seem right. No matter, none of it. I protested, explained I had a ticket plus the pass, strongly mentioned I'd come quite far to get there. No matter, none of it. I was given a release form that I thought was going to be for my ticket. Nope. Just a photo policy Iron Maiden wanted signed.

You can imagine how I felt with this mixture of emotions. I was being given access directly to the stage for three songs. Anyone in their right mind would kill to be in my position, and yet, I felt the magic of the moment for only a short time, partially because I was busy firing off photos and knowing in the back of my mind that after the third song I was going home.

Photo copyright (c) 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

To top it off, I was going to be meeting our own Blogging wordsmith Fred Charles after the gig, on top of my friends and editors from New York. Instead, I drove into the night and let Red Sparowes play on loop. Knowing that I'd been fucked over this evening kept me wide awake on the long drive home, knowing that I had some choice words for certain parties and also knowing that I was acting like a punk bitch about it all.

If it wasn't for the 5 hours I'd put on the road to do this gig, I could let it go. Now that I have the story apparently straight, it appears that Tweeter Center screwed me and another journalist there. Why this is, I don't know. The show was sold out. I'd heard great things about the place, but this mishap appears at face value to be malicious. I could forgive it all if someone at the guest services said they screwed up, but I kept getting hope dangled over my head by them and when my time in the photo pit was over, they naturally had no tickets left whatsoever.

Photo copyright (c) 2006 Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In all my time covering bands, the biggest faux pas I've had to overcome was a missing photo pass at an Overkill gig that was remedied immediately since the publicist was there on-site. It's going to take me a few days to let this go, and I feel like a pansy grumbling about this on the blog, but you know, fuck it and fuck Tweeter Center...if this is the kind of value they put on having press in their venue, let the chips fall... Too bad such a beautiful moment in my music life had to be ruined by corporate bullshit.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Music: Is It Really Good For the Soul?

My post today was actually going to be the continuation of the October Horrorfest with Bela Lugosi's White Zombie, but I fell asleep at the exact same part while trying to watch it twice last night. Another vigorous work week capped by a night out with the wife and some sushi just did me in. So I won't cheat; it's not official unless I've really watched it. And with Iron Maiden tonight...maybe I'll still be jazzed after the 2.5 hour drive home, ha! Or maybe not, but getting to the topic I want to discuss with you all today...

A friend of mine is at a sort of crossroads in music and it's got me disturbed slightly, but I understand completely how he feels. Without naming the specific friend and band in question, I have to take accountability for exposing and plugging this band with huge enthusiasm and we had a great time with this band and yet while I personally draw a feeling of cleansing from this particular band, my friend acknoweldges their greatness but worries about being led down a dark path, namely where does the dark parts of the music lead him or any listener for that matter? The question overall became whether or not there's a corruptability factor to one's spirit in such music or if the music itself has a spiritual quality about it.

We've been talking about it quite at length and I hope he finds the answers he's looking for, but what's lingering on my mind right now is to question whether or not music itself is good for the soul. Let me share with you a snippet of my conversation with my friend and how I personally believe that without music, my personal soul would already be condemned:

"I think there's potential to follow the road to superiority complex when you march to your own beat and so few people around you get what good and real music is about. It really is hard to tell someone they're listening to absolute drivel, especially when they get more support around them instead of yourself. I've always felt like an alien in this life, which is why music is so important to me. It identifies me, and yeah, I've gone down very dark paths frequently in my life, real destructive internal struggles where if I didn’t find a proper soundtrack to all of that aggression I was going to physically lash out somehow. That's why I need metal and punk in my life, not that I ever see myself erupting on the outside and doing something morally corrupt, but I acknowledge that I have a dark side and I nurture it strictly through music and horror entertainment, then I let it go. It works.

This allows me to embrace my light side and seek out the beauty of the world, to look for peace, to preach peace. Whenever I want to just be done with this life and see what's beyond, I come to my senses and realize what a gift we're offered with mortality. It's a chance for us to explore ourselves and our world and attempt to prepare ourselves and our souls for the afterlife. So in a way, the darkness that I squash through aggressive outlets helps me prepare. I know this probably sounds ridiculous, but it's how I feel and how I make sense of the mind-blowing duality that most of us human beings have."

So yeah, I truly do feel like an alien at some times, but I've found there are more kindred spirits out there; you just have to connect, and music is the bridge. It really is. To me, when music is so carefully prepared that you're taking the journey with the musician and they allow you to climax with them, there's a purging effect at work that is so remarkable you have to feel it to know what it means. You can't get this emotional effect from that awful new Kelis song (I'm so disappointed in her after her very catchy Vanity 6-like Tasty album), and you can't get it from a mindless (and soulless) cover of "Tainted Love" by some prefab corporate siren that you'll only remember her name for two minutes.

Music is obviously a very personal thing for its listeners, and my only fear is the zombification effect from those who put no effort into their listening choices, that corporate radio is the one, true voice that speaks to them. Not even the Plan 9 From Outer Space can dull them into such useless slugs...

True music is written from the soul that is obviously trying to connect with other souls of like minds and ears, and in the end, good music helps us along on our journeys through this life. So my conclusion would be that music is good for the soul, but I suppose it depends on what parameters you personally put on it. The energy one person feels off of a death metal album could possibly corrupt another person, depending on their backgrounds and their willingness to courageously confront themselves. For me, I find that the new Amon Amarth album makes me feel spiritually alive, yet Gorgoroth makes me acknowledge that they're an outstanding black metal band, but I'm not sure I'm into their ideals. Instead, I feed off of their energy, let it dispel whatever rage is boiling inside of me and I then turn to some Mozart or Joni Mitchell or Art Blakey, something with a lighter but musically-valid value. It's a duality all human beings possess and this is how I personally make sense of it all.

Does any of this make sense with you all or did I just ramble on here?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Let the October Horror Festival Begin!

I was wondering to myself if Mark inspired me or not, but I was flirting with the idea of documenting this year's October Horror Festival just for no damn reason whatsoever in the hopes you'll be entertained.

Next to Christmas, Halloween is my favorite holiday and I try to celebrate by running horror movies throughout the month. I started this exercise 9 years ago and successfully played a horror movie every day that October except for one day. The busier I've gotten over the years, the slimmer the return figure has become. In an attempt to ground myself a little, I'm going to try and hit as many horror pieces as possible this month, then do a little writeup for fun, keeping you, my friends, in the loop of this rather dumb but personally fun exercise, and what a way to kick it off than the ludicrous but wonderfully idiotic Sleepaway Camp 2: Happy Campers.

In the midst of all of the Friday the 13th clones that sprouted up in the eighties, the most nefarious has to be the original Sleepaway Camp. Who could ever forget that dastardly dangling shock ending if you've seen it? What a way to compensate for a horribly low budget film that somehow got pulled off because it had a small degree of sensitivity amidst the silliness of the film.

Well, even sillier was its decidedly campy sequel and how in the world Pamela Springsteen agreed to take the role of Angela is beyond me, but golly, what a performance! Okay, so she can't sing worth squat, and her "I'm a Happy Camper" song is just painful beyond words, but I think deep down it was intended to be awful, considering Sleepaway Camp 2 does its damnedest to cultivate everything of the eighties horror genre from subtle to outright fun exploitation. If you're talking about the characters taking on names of popular teen actors of the eighties like Emilio, Charlie, Ally, Demi, Molly, Lea, Rob and so on, you can tell this film takes itself as seriously as the rowdy, over-the-top kill scenes in the film, underscored by crazy one-liners as Freddy Kruger became famous for by the third Nightmare on Elm Street.

There's a reason that a film this overtly dumb works like a charm, and it's not just because Valerie Hartman and Susan Marie Snyder flash themselves like Saturday night down in the blue light district; Sleepaway Camp 2 has a ton of humor and stupid charm and it's filmed rather well, honestly. Brian Patrick Clarke steals of the gag lines as head counselor T.C. and this is the reason you watch the film and leave your brain at the door. Yeah, the movie's pretty gory, and yeah, Pamela Springsteen plays the butch-hermaphrodite-holier-than-thou murderer with a twisted sense of ideology and morals, and yeah, that's Anvil with "Straight Between the Eyes" during the opening credits right after Pamela socks a camper in the face with a log then cuts her tongue out (note: I brought the fact that Anvil had a song in this film when talking to Lips and we had a good laugh since he's yet to see the royalties paid, either) but the main reason Sleepaway Camp 2 is so appealing despite its awfulness is that you're laughing for all the right reasons.

I mean, come on, what's more hilarious than when a blindfolded camper sticks her hand into buckets full of "imaginary" gross things like "slimy gopher guts," Angela's bucket has "dead teenager's brains." When asked by another counselor what's really in there, she answers sheepishly "Dead Teenager's Brains." Love it.

Also of note is the fact that Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen's sister Renee plays the puritanical Molly who just happens to have the finest ass at camp.

Amazingly enough, there was a third official Sleepaway Camp movie, Teenage Wasteland that was filmed immediately after Unhappy Campers. That one, my friends, is just an utter turd. They used the same camp, filmed it instantly after the second movie, and it lacks the stupid charm of its predecessor. That one is pure sleaze and will not make the cut of this festival. I hear there's actually another Sleepaway Camp movie that was shot and stored away. There's also reports on the website of Return to Sleepaway Camp featuring one of the survivors of the original film, Ronnie. Just what you needed, right? I probably pushed your tolerance level here as it is....

Music to Light Your Lava Lamp By

So even though the lava lamp may on occasion still be scrutinized by conventional people as a hippie tool, I personally find relaxation and comfort in the lava lamp. How else can you produce something so hallucinogenic without toking or shooting? I need to get back into it, honestly. I have two lava lamps and put them on every other weekend, maybe, but at one point they were my sanctuary, to fire them up with a select batch of calming music, the perfect remedy to a bad day, which I have more than not anymore. If you haven't tried it, invest the 10 or 12 bucks, turn it on and soon you'll gravitate by osmosis towards a certain batch of music in your collection that will act as personal therapy. Here's some of my must-have albums for lava lamp perusal:

Beatles - Sgt. Peppers
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
American Beauty soundtrack
Steely Dan - Aja
Candlebox - Happy Pills
Tori Amos - From the Choirgirl Hotel

Eventually Isis will become part of the intinerary, which is a special honor indeed...

Anyone else out there trip on what I'm saying here?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Artist Development in Today's Music Scene

I was sent a very intriguing DVD yesterday called Before the Music Dies and the vibe that I drew from it was that it was like a Michael Moore piece targeted against the recording industry, but with a large distinction: truth versus propaganda.

In short, the thesis of this documentary is to go deep into the reasons why there are so many talented artists lurking around the United States alone that deserve a shot or at least an extensive period to develop themeselves once on a label. Is music a commodity as the DVD proposes?

You bet it is, at least from the view of the larger labels. On this documentary, it's shown where a clearly talented musician like Doyle Bramhall II was essentially ousted by this label because he didn't want to conform to what they were demanding of him. Instead of selling out, he opted out and the label dropped him without a thought.

Meanwhile, you have cash cow "artists" with questionable skills who are tailored and prefabricated behind-the-scenes, which is something painted elaborately on this documentary. Everything a real music fan might've suspected about the mighty label juggernaut is seemingly true; that image makers and musical spin doctors put together a piece of property (or piece of ass, if you really want to get nasty about it) that is guaranteed to move units amongst a designated demographic of casual pop culture lovers who could care less that Ani DiFranco is the only game playing in town on a given night, not when Jessica Simpson is rolling in the next day.

Before the Music Dies even goes so far as to shed light on what industry insiders refer to as "payola," which means a kickback to radio stations for agreeing to format their playlists with repeat spins of designated tunes. There's a reason most mainstream pop and hip hop stations (mostly owned by Clear Channel) play the same shit over and over and over again, almost on the hour...

But what about the bands and artists who bust their butts trying to make a living at their trade and get knocked down the minute they hit stride? It's a pretty sickening thing to see a flavor-of-the-week band rise up one month, peak in their cycle, then suddenly find themselves gone less than a year later because the album sales of their follow-up album didn't do squat. Most of it is due to a lack of promotion, but more importantly, it's because of a lack of artist development. When you're told to write the next big hit and fill the rest of the album up with throwaway material just to get the product out there, chances are it's going to suck, and even bigger chances are the masses aren't going to embrace it. That's assuming it passed the test market first.

I interviewed Skinny, the drummer of Mushroomhead about a month ago and we discussed why his band had shifted from Universal Records to the revitalized Megaforce. Truly something was amiss, not to slag on Megaforce, who were responsible for some of metal's giants in the eighties like Anthrax, Overkill and yes, Metallica. By the time Megaforce allied itself with Atlantic, even a band like Raven stood the chance to vault into the mainstream, though their blatant attempt at pop metal killed that chance before it ever got started.

Skinny informed that Mushroomhead's last album XIII debuted in the top forty album sales and moved about 300,000 copies during it's full cycle run. Now, I personally love XIII and thought it was one of the best metal albums released that year, but not only did Mushroomhead have to combat the overwhelming success of Slipknot, who fans were disillusioned into thinking Mushroomhead was a knockoff when the truth is it's vice-versa, but Mushroomhead had to contend with the major label syndrome.

Skinny noted to me how joyous Mushroomhead was about selling albums of that magnitude, but the response from Universal was "Yeah, but it didn't break the Top 10." When it came time to renew their contract, Universal dumped Mushroomhead. Does anyone else see a problem here?

I think there are plenty of indie labels who would sell their souls to have a band reach that plateau of album sales, especially in a market like today where finding people who admit they buy their music anymore is like finding someone admit they're an Arizona Cardinals fan.

It's a crying shame, really, because there's been plenty of bands that have flirted with the big-time or hit the big time and fallen...Third Eye Blind comes to mind...all because they're not being given proper artist development. So many bands quit once they've peaked and stumbled because the humiliation of it is too much to bear, so much it impedes their creative flow, and as long as the big labels and corporate radio stations groom and sculpt music to suit their bottom-lines, this cycle is doomed to repeat itself unless the music world hijacks it back.

Sirius and XM radio are two of the first formats to take a stand, while the whistle-blowing aspect of Before the Music Dies boldly throws down at the industry while having big names like Eric Clapton, Erykah Badu, Dave Matthews, Elvis Costello, Branford Marsalis, nd Bonnie Raitt stand up and offer their views in support of the project.

It chilled me on this documentary when a guy stood in the middle of a bunch of drunken party girls screaming the latest Ashlee Simpson song and listening to them credit her as a valid artist, and having no clue who Bob Dylan is. Even further chilling is the proposition that Bob Dylan would never have been given a shot in today's market. Brrrrr.....