Monday, 31 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 31 (Halloween)

Really, what else could it have been for tonight? It was always going to be this. We've danced and waltzed for so long around everything and anything, and now it's time to cap it off with one of the greats. We've confronted the ancient ones inside us who demand the Slashing Beasts give us blood, so now we are armed with the power to confront this one. The game-changer. John Carpenter, back before he made visceral aliens, accidentally created one of the most iconic slasher horror movies in 1978. Or... did he? Halloween, in its original form, almost owes more to a thriller than it does to a slasher. Yet, there are kills. Oh yes, how there are kills. Now that we're enlightened, for a few horrible minutes we actually become the slasher. There's no camera angles, no trickery, nothing. Just one continous POV shot as our Slashing Beast snaps and gets a kitchen knife and mask before stabbing his sister to death. She just had sex, see. Is this where it all started? The sins old man Mordecai was blathering on about? Not quite. No, Michael Myers is quite unlike the other slashers. Pamela Voorhees was driven by grief and the voice of her son in her head demanding blood. Jason Voorhees was driven time and time again by revenge for his dead mother. Fred Krueger was driven by revenge against those who burned him alive, taking it out on their children. Even Billy Loomis was driven by revenge against the family that broke his own up... and anyone he and his associate didn't like along the way.

All of these slashers had a certain passion driving their machinations. Yes, even the lumbering zombie that is Jason Voorhees (who we never actually encountered) is driven at some level by passion for his mother. Michael Myers is different. He's the Boogeyman. Dr. Sam Loomis believes that Michael is pure evil, but I doubt it. It's not evil. It's not even an absence of good, precisely. It's an absence, plain and simple. Michael Myers is the Void, he is Entropy, and here in the dead of fall in suburban Illinois circa 1978 Entropy will come for many. Halloween, despite having several deaths, is remarkably bloodless. It still has that slasher spirit to it and sexy teens are stabbed or choked until they die, but there's no joy to it. Especially when Michael kills the dog. The exception is that ridiculous scene where Michael puts on a bedsheet and wears the glasses of the dead boyfriend he just stabbed. It's so goddamned silly. Our final girl this time, dear sweet Jamie Lee Curtis, is outside of the action for most of it. It's only in the last 20 minutes that she discovers the body and confronts Entropy as it tries to stab and choke her out, and she manages to survive long enough to escape it. Was it the Boogeyman? Oh yes, Laurie. Yes it was. I first saw Halloween exactly three years ago tonight. I loved it. I watched it then, like I did now, with the lights off while the sun went down and kids in costume knocked on the door. It was brilliant then, and lord help me it's still brilliant in a lot of ways. It doesn't revel, and Michael never talks so he's not passing judgment on THOSE DIRTY SEXHAVING TEENS or screaming like a petulant little child because his victim got away from him and DARED to taunt him. Michael is just pure Entropy, and Halloween is a pure void of a spooky film wherein people are killed.

And then a sequel happened. God. I dislike Halloween II, and I've seen it twice. Once in 2014 and once again in 2015. I blame Friday the 13th for this. In 1980 it upped the ante on the slasher, gaining its own gravity as it was shoving arrows through people's throats. Halloween II had to follow suit. It picks up right where the original left off, but the same spirit has been abandoned. Michael is still a silent force of entropy, but everything is more contrived. More victims for him to pick off. More gruesome ways to die. He shoves a woman's face into boiling water and cooks her, for god's sakes! Then you have the retcon of Laurie being his sister, which... meh. In the end, Michael blows up and that was to be the end of him. Halloween III has nothing to do with him. People hated this, and he came back. I want to love Halloween III precisely because it's so unloved because A BLOO BLOO IT DOESN'T HAVE THE MASKED MAN STABBING THE SEXY TEEN IN IT. Alas, though it does great things, I can't call it a favorite. Still, what a premise. Bringing back the occult darkness of Samhain via ritualistic sacrifice. Not of the teen sexhavers, but the innocent children who just want to trick or treat in peace. Their very masks weaponized with Celtic energy, ready to melt their heads into so many creepy crawlies and otherworldly monsters. Yikes.

That's it, I think. 31 days of horror. 31 screams to be had. It's been a fun project. I hope your Halloween was good, and I hope your month was good. Rest well, knowing that the terrors are behind you all for another year. Not me, though. I have my own fight ahead. NaNoWriMo, in which 50,000 words of fiction are going to somehow course through these fingers and fire off into a word document. Wish me luck. Facing a Slashing Beast will be easy compared to this. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 30 (The Cabin In The Woods)

I wonder what this movie is about.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Unfortunately, things take a darker turn while they're up there. One by one, they die horrible deaths, until only one girl is left standing at the end, victorious over the wild-eyed monsters trying to kill her. It all sounds pretty standard, and it usually is... but you forget our waltz. Wait. Are you getting a sense of deja vu as well? We're back in the woods again. Weren't we here yesterday? Or was it last week? I can't be sure any more. Lines are being blurred. This is... dear God, this is the power of meta being applied to us! We're caught in a chronic hysterisis! we're supposed to be talking about The Cabin In The Woods, and how brilliant it is. Instead we're--

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Except, while all that is happening, there's a whole other movie hiding within. The fourth wall isn't just porous or broken. It is non-existant. On the other side are technicians working in an underground bunker, plotting everything that happens in the other movie. These are the behind-the-scenes crew, and this is just another job for them. Just another production steeped in the blood of the impure. Hell, their man up above even says it. They are impure and will be cleansed... and they laugh at how intense he is. Jesus Christ, Mordecai, get it together. Whatever horror show these folks are planning, it's not going to end well for these kids. We need to warn them before it's too--

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Except, their cabin's cellar is full of strange and mystical objects. The behind-the-scenes guys have a betting pool going, and now the kids are checking out all these things. We know what this is. We never watched Ghostbusters for the blog. Either of them. This is in the playbook of Gozer. Choose the form of the destructor, the Slashing Beast that will haunt. A ballerina? A ghost? A killer clown? The choice is made. Zombie redneck torture family. Everything that literal Chad feared about Tucker and Dale, given reanimated flesh. 40 minutes in, death has come for our college kids. May we accept this offering in humility and fear, even as a screaming blonde's head is severed. It soon becomes apparent that they are trapped; trapped in an isolated bubble, unseen puppet masters plotting their deaths. Plot they do, and die they do, until our final girl is screaming and suffering for the entertainment of... someone. Who? Who could it be--

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Unfortunately, things take a darker turn while they're up there. One by one, they die horrible deaths, until only one girl is left standing at the end, victorious over the wild-eyed monsters trying to kill her. Except... that's not what happens. The stoner lived. He and our pure final girl escape into the underground. With no fourth wall and no other hope, they leap off of the screen and into the writer's room. Every monster, every magic being, every beast. Everything you ever were afraid of is down here, and the technicians are in a panic. They know. Failure to adhere to The Formula will mean certain doom. Certain doom comes, though. Our two kids get out. They know they're on the chopping block to appease something. They defy their fate. They break the chronic hysterisis, and purge the system.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. There are ancient things who demand entertainment in the form of blood. The technicians and behind-the-scenes folk offer them a variety of scenarios, all following the same theme. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Unfortunately, things take a darker turn while they're up there. One by one, they die horrible deaths, until only one girl is left standing at the end, victorious over the wild-eyed monsters trying to kill her. This is what happens. This is what's always happened. Time and time again this has happened, and the ancient ones have been appeased. That is not what happens here. Here, then, is a different sort of appeasement. Every monster ever made, rampaging throughout the facility, killing every technician in sight. Their machinations fail, and they're wiped out... except for their leader, who confronts the two remaining kids with the truth. If they don't die, the ancient ones revolt and it's the end of the world. They refuse. They defy their destiny, and the ancient ones rise up. The world ends.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. The ancient ones are us. The Cabin In The Woods has engineered a meta scenario in which a bunch of people meticuously set up the violent deaths of innocent college kids, all beholden to a bullshit set of rules and archetypes about who dies first and who can live to tell the tale. All of it to satisfy the whims of the creatures watching, who will end the world if they're not appeased. It's us. Us, the people watching people get arrows stuck through their throats or blended in their beds or killed by aliens from outer space. Hell, the director of the facility is Sigourney Weaver! A final girl herself who has transcended things in her survival, and now follows the rules. Cabin In The Woods is the Undertale of slasher films; much how that game twists the knife on player convention in RPGs, The Cabin In The Woods has you watching people who are calmly watching people be murdered. You might think it's super fucked up. It is! This is what confronting the Slashing Beast is all about! It's the realization that watching people get murdered for no reason is super fucked up! It's brilliant. Its ending is still satisfying, even to this blood-soaked ancient god. It's an absolutely wonderful self-aware horror film, and the best of the meta ones. Tucker and Dale comes close, though. We know more about ourselves now. We know how to confront the Slashing Beast. Now we can go back. Back to one of the keypoints where it began.

It's Halloween night. Let's finish this.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 29 (Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil)

You've got red on you.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Unfortunately, things take a darker turn while they're up there. One by one, they die horrible deaths, until only one girl is left standing at the end, victorious over the wild-eyed monster trying to kill her. It all sounds pretty standard, and it usually is... but you forget our waltz. The Mistress of Meta is here, and it's only now that we can understand what's happening here. This is a deliberate trilogy of meta horror movies that has been chosen. Scream flipped things around and passed judgement on the slashers themselves. This movie flips an entire premise around, in order to pass judgement on the typical horror movie victims. This is Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, and it's actually pretty brilliant. I'm about to spoil it so go see it or something. I know I haven't given that disclaimer before, but before we had standard horror movies. With meta, the way the twisted premises work are important. So. Go see Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, please. Now let's talk about how it's brilliant.

Well, like I said, it turns the whole premise around. From the college kids' point of view, they're being picked off one by one by a pair of psychotic redneck serial killers. What is actually happening is a comedy of errors and misunderstandings. Tucker and Dale are harmless country boys who just want to fix up their vacation home, drink beer, and go fishing. Their act of helping the girl who falls into the water and hits her head convinces the other kids that their friend has been KIDNAPPED BY THE HILLBILLIES and sets this whole nonsense off. These idiots aren't getting picked off. They're just the most accident-prone group of slasher fodder to ever exist, and they're too blinded to realize that this is what is happening. Everything they see and hear is filtered through their own prejudices, none more so than their de facto leader. This guy. This fucking guy. He's the standard slasher movie jock character, a total dudebro Chad whose actual fucking name is Chad. Utterly determined to make THE HILLBILLIES pay for the murder of his friends, this guy. He even captures one and cuts off two of his fingers, demanding their lady friend back. Threatened to shoot an innocent dog, too! Why is he so blinded by all this? He's got some tragic backstory about his mother barely surviving a bog-standard HILLBILLY MURDER SPREE or some shit, so that is why he DISTRUSTS ALL COUNTRY FOLK ON SIGHT. This line of thinking spreads, of course. Even characters who don't hold that particular prejudice are utterly blinded to the reasonable truth being presented right in fucking front of them. Their friend is saying that these country boys aren't violent murderers and that she's perfectly fine? IT'S VERY OBVIOUSLY STOCKHOLM SYNDROME SHE'S JOINED FORCES WITH THE DEVIL HILLBILLIES! Look through the cabin window and see Chad and Dale sitting at the table having tea? Reasonable chat? THEY MUST BE HELD HOSTAGE BY THOSE HILLBILLIES IT IS THE ONLY EXPLANATION! Oh, and in that latter case, those fools charge in and cause the deaths of not only themselves but the other girl in the cabin with them.

Well, then the final act has Chad rushing off with Allison, the lady friend who's been with Tucker and Dale all this time. Does he go for help from his severe injuries? I mean, he survived an exploding cabin and looks like fucking Two-Face at this point. Nope. He, and I swear to Jesus this is true, takes her to a lumber mill and ties her up like a mustache-twirling villain, ready to saw her in half. What in the everloving fuck? Here's the real evil. A well-adjusted college kid who presumably wanted to get laid in the woods encountered some ordinary country folk and became a murderous psycho himself. The revelation that his father was a murderous psycho country boy who forced himself upon his mother is only icing on the cake. The real evil in the title was prejudice, and Chad is not only full of it but he literally has become the embodiment of the thing he was so determined to kill with a hand axe for this entire movie; a petty murderous "half-hillbilly" who wants to saw an innocent girl in half for DARING to not hate those country bastards as much as he does. Go back to that cold open, though. That little found footage snippet where two people die. That's him! He survived and he's the killer now! He has been revealed as every bit the monster as the people he hates, and in doing so the meta has condemned the victims for being blinded to the real truth. What's the movie call that again? Ah yes. "Lack of communication.". An infuriating trope, usually, but applied well in this movie because of the dark comedy of it all. A man trips and falls into a wood chipper because he was determined to stab a man from behind, for god's sakes! Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil was very enjoyable, however, and a great little reversal of everything we thought we knew about Slashing. Hold up, though. Today we saw the standard horror victim be judged. Yesterday it was the standard horror killer. Who's left? You should know. The fourth wall's gone now, washed away by the dance. Everyone on stage has faced their judgement, so there's only one group left to be judged.

Us. Tomorrow we face our accusations in another cabin in the woods...

Friday, 28 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 28 (Scream)

My favorite scary movie is the one where the petulant
manbaby asshole is the killer, did you ever see that one?
Well, you know what? That was a lot better than I was expecting, but also infuriating in one specific way that we'll get to. For now, consider the late great Wes Craven. If you'll recall, he weaponized dreams in 1984 and made another surprisingly great horror slasher film. Hollywood co-opted that and churned out a bunch of sequels before "killing" Freddy in 1991. Somewhere in this time period, Wes began to waltz with a wonderful creative spirit, she known to us as the Mistress of Meta. Here is where the fourth wall begins to blur, as he created a new Freddy film: Wes Craven's New Nightmare. No time to cover it in depth, I'm afraid, but the concept is brilliant metafiction and it definitely has a shock to it after seeing Freddy do a fucking themed kill with a Power Glove. Of course, we're not here for that. Wes's dance with the Mistress of Meta grew stronger, and in 1996 we wore down the horror movie fourth wall enough to create Scream. This is how we confront the Slashing Beast. We waltz with the Meta and make the fourth wall porous, allowing the entropy to be reflected. Typical alchemical mumbo-jumbo. So, Scream is famous as being a trend-setter that poked fun at horror movie tropes and giving the genre a bit of a shot in the arm. How is it today? Fine, I suppose.

The opening wastes no time, and that first 10 or 15 minutes with Drew Barrymore could be its own short horror film. It's a perfect use of escalating tension and showing the Red Water... but there's that other thing now. Drew and the killer on the phone discuss horror movies, and eventually he demands to quiz her on them. Our killer, you see, is a Big Fan. He trips her up, of course. Iconography (and extreme panic) beat the true history, and Drew says Jason was the killer in Friday the 13th. AH AH AH ACTUALLY IT WAS BETSY PALMER AS MRS. VOORHEES. She dies for this. Our killer has fucking Fake Slasher Fan Girled Drew Barrymore for this. You can just imagine him seething internally. HOW CAN ANYONE BE SO FUCKING STUPID AS TO NOT KNOW THAT, IF I HAD AN AXE I'D BURY IT IN HER HEAD LIKE THE GIRL IN THE BATHROOM GOT IT, I CAN'T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS. The meta continues, of course. Our killer seems to think the walls are porous as well, making all these references to horror films... even if our characters don't. Our poor main girl, Sydney, is making wisecracks about horror movie victims who run up the stairs instead of out the door. Then, when the killer attacks... up the stairs she goes! Whoops! Wes is pulling his same tricks again, and Sydney is just as competent at surviving as Nancy before her was. Speaking of the killer, and we will speak of him in great length once he's unmasked... wow. Ghostface really did become a horror icon of his own, huh? It's the simplest costume and yet it's instantly recognizable. I remember seeing those costumes in the 90's. I didn't know the name Ghostface, so I just called them "the Scream guy". Like fuck I'd watch this in 1996. I hadn't even seen Alien yet. I do recall that cousin who would lend me Alien watching Scream with surround sound in his home, at night. Yikes. That woulda been freaky.

Of course, one of the keys to all of this is Jamie Kennedy. He works at the video store, he's seen this horror shit. He knows the tropes, he knows the rules. He's looked through the porous portal of the fourth wall and seen us. Better not have sex! Or do drugs! Or say you'll be right back! You're asking for karmic justice and untimely death, because these are the Holy Tropes! Still, that's all made-up bullshit. Some clever writer came up with it, and when you think about it those aren't sins worthy of death. They have sex in the movies to show a bit of skin to the audience, to arouse. They're drinking and doing pot because getting drunk and drug use is what sexy teens do when it's just them! These are normal parts of life, not some fucking stain upon their souls that condemns them to, oh I don't know, get fucked up by a garage door while trying to escape a ghostfaced killer. As a random example. Jamie Kennedy's just drunk, he doesn't know that shit. What are the excuses of our killers? Yes, killers. Two teens working in tandem to slice and dice, and for what? Petty revenge and... shits and giggles. It is scarier when there's no motive, but that's only true for the giggly asshole who agreed to let his friend kill his girlfriend. No, the other one, Billy Loomis? He's got a motive, alright. Something about his dad cheating with Sydney's mom and him killing the mom in revenge and wanting to get elaborate revenge a year later. Okay. Wes knew that the last time he made a slasher villain, he became a popular character and got used to death. This time, I think Wes set out to make sure that wouldn't happen again. Oh, Ghostface comes back. It's just a costume, and anyone with bloodlust can put it on and cut up some folks.

Billy and Stu don't come back. Nobody would want them to. They are perhaps the most unlikable, irredeemable slasher movie villains I have seen in a while. Watching the movie while knowing Billy actually IS a serial killer plotting to dramatically stab Sydney to death paints him as a gigantic asshole. Obvious, I know, but fire it up and watch him. He is a perfect picture of what Sydney herself is manipulated into confessing; selfish and self-absorbed. HIS dad couldn't be at fault. NO IT WAS THAT FUCKING WOMAN WHO SEDUCED HIM. I'LL STAB HER TO DEATH FOR IT! How DARE Sydney not want to have sex with me after a year! I just want to have sex with her so she breaks the FORBIDDEN HORROR MOVIE RULE OF HAVING SEX! IF SHE HAS SEX THEN IT'S OKAY FOR ME TO STAB HER AND WATCH HER FUCKING DIE! AND LAUGH! LAUGH AND THEN FRAME HER AND LIVE MY LIFE TOTALLY SATISFIED! I do this a lot in movies, especially ones where people are in on a conspiracy of some kind like this. Mockingly getting into their fucking heads and making myself mad at what selfish entitled shitlords they are. And yet, I share some of that pettiness myself. See, I'm a horror movie audience member. These two get killed at the end before they can pull off the final act of their scheme. That's too good an ending for them, if the implicit intent is to condemn them for taking bullshit horror movie tropes too literally. Add 10 minutes to the movie. Have them arrested. Show them on trial, show them getting grilled on the witness stand. Show the judge handing down his verdict. What's the problem? I'm watching a movie in which I watch people die already. Show me the death of hope. Zoom in on their fucking eyes as they get sent to prison for life. If we're going to condemn them, let's really condemn them. Of course, the true beautiful reveal of how petulant they are comes when Sydney calls them on the phone and taunts them. Billy is swearing up a storm, vowing he'll kill that bitch, he'll kill her, how dare she steal my trick, that's my trick I'm the killer she's just some bitch she's not allowed to do that. Et cetera.

And here I thought I wouldn't have a lot to say about this one. I was wrong. It's pretty good! Of course, the Mistress of Meta's power has only grown from these waltzes. She'll dance her endless dance, and others will dance with her. That porous hole in the fourth wall is only going to get bigger. Let's take a few steps ourselves. We need to wisen ourselves, broaden our horizons. We've been looking at things all wrong, wanting condemnation and life sentences for fucking movie slasher villains. So, Mistress of Meta. Let's dance for a while... and, while we do, I'd like to make a request. I wish for you to show me something. It won't be hard for one such as you, I promise.

Show me a horror slasher film... but from the other side.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 27 (Creepshow)

The Scream Team wants you to know they
really love old comic books.
Well, it's one big party, so it's appropriate that my first hazy encounter with this one would be at a party in 1995. My best friend at the time was into horror. I was still petrified by it. My sister was part of that whole Columbia House Stephen King movie of the month club that would eventually bring a monster clown into our house, but right now all it brought in was a VHS tape of this movie. It was close to that friend's birthday, and I lent him the tape to watch at his party. I didn't watch, though. No, antisocial old me was in the next room, playing Game Boy. Super Mario Land 2, if I remember rightly. There are two vivid memories I have of seeing scenes from this movie at that party; one that I misinterpreted for years, and one that stuck with me as a horrific moment. A third came later when a cousin watched the tape on VHS and I happened to see, but less horrific than that second one. The point is, everyone and everything's here for this party, including three special folks who have been mentioned on here in passing. Stephen King, master of horror, arbiter of my phobias and nightmares and eventual writing idol. George A. Romero, patient zero of the zombie apocalypse that ran rampant throughout film and created new and powerful strains. Tom Savini, Man Who Makes The Red Water Come Out Behind The Scenes. Together this dream team created a celebration about 35 years ago. This is Creepshow, and it still remains one of my favorite horror movies. Try telling that to the kid scared shitless in the other room playing the space levels in Mario 2.

Creepshow, at its heart, is a tribute piece. It is an attempt by a bunch of folks to pay homage to an antiquated piece of horror nostalgia; the EC horror comics of the 1950s. Gruesome and gross Tales From The Crypt-esque shit in which assholes become the subjects of supernatural revenge and get theirs in absolutely horrific ways. Which, Creepshow absolutely does to an extent. Four of the five stories do have assholes who have done some sort of wrong, implicit or explicit, getting completely fucked up by a monster or zombie or something. That last one is the exception, but we'll get to that. At least there's a reasoning this time; these are either bad people, or people who have committed some evil against someone else. More often than not this is the case. Creepshow has that going for it, but what it also has is style. This is a comic book movie, and I mean that in an almost literal sense. You get comic book framing at certain points, comic bubbles that set location, comic book transitions, the works. Whenever something scary happens the lighting changes to unnatural hues of red and blue or sometimes green, and it gives everything this visual flare. The only other movie I can think of off the top of my head that tops this as a "comic book movie" style-wise is Shaun Of The Dead. Hey look, Edgar Wright and pals were invited to the party! Here at the party, we get five stories. I'll try and talk about them
very briefly because I'm already on the second paragraph here. Let us begin.

Father's Day: Rich assholes (and Ed Harris) get fucked up by the reanimated zombie body of their rich great-aunt's dead father who she murdered with an ashtray because he was being a rich asshole. The dead guy rising from the grave and demanding his Father's Day cake is the "third" thing I saw with that cousin that stuck with me. This one's a great start to the movie, and I love its use of time and its ridiculous ending. Also Ed Harris gets his head squashed by a tombstone. Wow.

The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill: Is this... horror comedy? I don't know. Stephen King himself plays the title role as some farmer who finds a meteor and touches it and starts turning into a plant. Infamous for the immortal line spoken when Jordy pours out the meteor's goop, "METEORSHIT!". This one starts out goofy with all sorts of imagination scenes but then gets spookier as shit keeps growing, and ends on the fucking dark turn of Jordy blowing his plant head off with a shotgun. He didn't do anything wrong, so he's not an asshole. Just a farmer or some shit.

Something To Tide You Over: Recognizable people everywhere in this one. Leslie Nielsen is the villain! It's not played goofy, either! He's a serious credible threat! This was AFTER Airplane, even. Anyway, Ted Danson is also in it, and the girl from Dawn Of The Dead. It's fucked up because Leslie Nielsen reacts to finding out that his wife is cheating on him with Ted Danson with a scheme. He buries them up to their heads in sand on the beach, past the high tide line, and films them as the tide comes in and starts drowning them. I walked in on this at the party and for years I thought Ted Danson was a head in a sidewalk for some reason. Must have just caught a glimpse. This is a good kind of horror because just thinking about being put in that situation is horrific. Oh yeah, and since supernatural revenge is a thing, they come back as seaweed zombies to do the same thing to Leslie Nielsen. He even shoots them in the head and it doesn't stop them! Your zombie rules have no effect against SUPERNATURAL REVENGE!

The Crate: The longest of the five stories, this one is full of plenty of the Red Water. Wait, in fact, it's some of the only Red Water in the whole movie! Alright, so this crate gets found at this university and inside is a monster that eats people. He eats the janitor and a grad student before the professor runs off screaming and gibbering about it to his professor pal, who then uses the thing to kill his wife. His wife is... well, she's an asshole through and through but she didn't do anything wrong. Still, holy fuck are the gore effects in this one hardcore. The lighting trickery I mentioned helps too. They must have loved this one because it's the longest, and it shows. It's a great story and a great way to end the movie.

Well, Creepshow sure was-- What? Oh, we're not done? Oh right. Well, we should have been done but they decided to go for one last tale and it's one I prefer to skip because it's just... okay, you'll see.

They're Creeping Up On You: GOD DAMN IT! I had to rewatch it to be thorough for the blog, but this one fucks me up still. There's a rich asshole in a penthouse suite who's a businessman of some import and a business deal makes another businessman shoot himself in the head. Because of this he is now MARKED FOR SUPERNATURAL DEATH. Zombies? No. Crate monsters? No no. Cockroaches. Thousands of them. I have a friend who hates cockroaches and knowing this was in the movie has made him avoid it. He is right to do so. JOE IF YOU'RE READING THIS, VERY CALMLY CLOSE THE TAB RIGHT NOW. NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW. AND IF ANY OF YOU DON'T LIKE COCKROACHES THIS IS YOUR WARNING TOO! RUN! FOR GOD'S SAKES, RUN! LAST CHANCE!

Okay, now that we've warded them off... the climax. This is what I walked in on at that party and it haunts me to this day. Our rich asshole eventually keels over in a cockroach-infested bedroom. His dead body starts to twitch, blood oozing from his head. The goddamned fucking cockroaches start coming out of his mouth and then bursting out of his skin! JESUS CHRIST! Horrified me. Horrifies me still, but it's not as bad now 20-odd years later.

That is Creepshow. Barring those ugly gross 15 minutes, I love it. It's a love that I had to acquire upon rediscovering the movie when I was old enough to handle it, but its style is so unique that I can't help it. Any movie that does something different and interesting like this is enough to grab my attention. I'd suggest it, but you can probably just call it after The Crate is over. You don't need that cockroach shit in your life. For all I've ragged on Romero over Dawn Of The Dead... he directed a winner here! Good job! Good job to Tom Savini's effects too! Hell, good job to King for all those books and saying METEORSHIT convincingly! This is a great horror party... but there's someone missing. Didn't Wes Craven get an invite? Oh. Oh, that's right. He's been out with the final power we need to confront the Slashers with. What's more, we're invited.

For the next three days, we tango with the Mistress That Is "Meta".

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 26 (Five Nights At Freddy's)

Let me tell you something; the meteoric rise of Let's Play has been something else. I've been involved with this shit for nine years now, and watching it change from this weird niche little thing, to becoming the front for some sort of small but concentrated trolling effort against those deemed "inferior", to this. Its eventual "mainstream" rise. South Park did an episode on it, for Christ's sakes. It's a thing that has risen up. Horror games have risen right along with it, and there are folks who have made a good chunk of change and fame by combining the two. Point your webcam at yourself, record some footage, and play the scary game whilst reacting. Many games have gained notoriety via famous Let's Play types screeching their faces off over what terrors lurk within, and here we'll be looking at one: Scott Cawthon's Five Nights At Freddy's.

At its base level, Five Nights At Freddy's is relatively minimalist as far as gameplay goes. No sprawling narrative, no huge world, none of that. You're some asshole working security at a Chuck E Cheese expy during the night shift and you have to make sure the animatronics don't run rampant and do bad shit. Your controls in the game amount to pushing buttons, but that's all deliberate. A sense of control would dull the sheer shock and tension that this experience has to offer, and it's absolutely dripping with that. The animatronics almost work on Blink rules, where observing them with your security camera will keep them right where they are, unable to move. Unfortunately, observing outright isn't enough. You have very limited power supply for your 12-6 night shift, and conserving it is an absolute priority. Things get tougher in later nights, of course, and you have more systems to manage. Not just the cameras, but the doors and lights on either side of you must be managed should anything slip by your radar and attempt to get in. If they do, you lose, and loss in this game amounts to a jumpscare. That's important. The utter pants-shitting tension from playing Five Nights At Freddy's is by wanting to survive the night; to not lose and be jumpscared by a screeching animatronic nightmare. The serpent eats its own tail here, as the panic from watching your power dwindle as you frantically flip between camera feeds to track those bastard animatronics down causes the fear you are trying to avoid. Then there's Foxy. Dear sweet Foxy who can transcend the rules if he chooses. Flipping to a camera and actually seeing the Foxy animatronic running towards your station is a moment that will send you over the edge.

What of the Let's Play connection, then? Well, the answer is schadenfreude, in part. At least that's what I believe to be the case. Adding the smokescreen of a charismatic talking head in the corner creates a layer between you and the fear. The interactivity of flipping those switches causes a real panic and creates that wondrous tension, but you need not experience it yourself. Living vicariously through your chosen charismatic avatar is also valid. It's as valid as watching a horror film, after all. Just, these folks might be a bit more hammy with their fear. It mostly feels genuine, though. Mostly. I've done it. I've lived through Five Nights At Freddy's vicariously via our chosen charismatic avatar. Chill as he gets jumpscared yet again! Thrill as the power level runs out deep into 5 AM, waiting to see if 6 will hit before the animatronics come and claim him! Watch as the success of this game gives Scott Cawthon the funds to crank out many more of these minimalist experiences in record time. I swear the man's said he's been done with the series at least twice now. Like a Slasher Beast, his creation keeps coming back from the grave, ready to scare again. Five Nights At Freddy's is... effective. Let's give it that. Whether or not it needed a bunch of sequels to expand on its lore and add new mechanics is questionable, but I won't begrudge the original. It's become a horror game classic by virtue of its popularity, and I will admit it's fun to see chosen charismatic avatars panic and lose their cool as the power runs out and animatronics stalk them. It's a party, in a way. Reminds me of another party I was at once.

One that ended in TERROR!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 25 (The Monster Squad)

'Cause this is Thriller, Thriller night...
One more little jaunt into the genre of kids fighting against monsters. This is a movie I have of course heard of, and I knew most of the bits going in. I still decided to give it a shot because someone brought it up the other day and I needed exactly one more thing to cover in order to fill up time between now and Halloween, when this 31 Screams nonsense ends. So, this is The Monster Squad, and that title does have an obvious double meaning. Sure, it's probably meant to be about the kids who know stuff about monsters and have a club, but it could just as easily apply to the five-monster squad of iconic horror movie critters who've banded together in this one. Like It, the base goal here is a celebration of all the old monsters. There's Frankenstein's Monster, a Wolfman, a mummy, a goddamn Creature possibly from a Black Lagoon, and Dracula as the leader of the bunch. Wait, holy shit. You know what? It actually did turn into all of these in the book. Only two in the movie, but he definitely became all five of these at some point in that book. Interesting. Very interesting. That still doesn't mean I dig The Monster Squad all that much.

The big objection, and probably the thing at the heart of this movie, is that it's too short. It's got an 80 minute running time. I was fine with Army of Darkness and whatnot for this because it was brisk. I didn't need Monster Squad to be a two hour movie, but 90 minutes would have done it. Maybe. What to pepper into that extra ten minutes? Making the main cast likeable, for one. Here we have a movie that feels like it wants to be The Goonies, but the kids in The Goonies were really charismatic and great in their interactions. These kids are not. The kids in Ernest Scared Stupid weren't either, mind, but they were a lesser focus in favor of letting Jim Varney ham it up. For movie protagonists, they're just sort of there and dealing with monsters. More to the point, they're kind of assholes. This is the kind of movie that terms like "problematic" were meant for. It's a perfectly functional movie that has basic entertainment value, but a handful of things that kind of jaw-dropped me. Like casual use of homophobic slurs, which I can't really judge as being period accurate or not because I was an infant in 1987. Worse is when the cool older kid basically blackmails a Monster Squad member's older sister into being their "pure maiden" who recites an incantation to suck all the monsters into a black hole. The cheeky fucker's taken pictures of her changing from her bedroom window and threatens to put them up at school if she doesn't help. And this is a protagonist! What in the fuck? That's fucking awful! Bullshit, Monster Squad! Bullshit!

The running time also leaves things feeling rushed. Our main kid sees a note that a Mr. Alucard called about his Van Helsing diary, and hears that a mummy got stolen from a museum plus the body of a guy who said he was a werewolf disappeared. He immediately goes into full on MONSTERS ARE REAL AND WE HAVE TO FIGHT THEM GUYS mode. What this could have used is him actually getting attacked by a monster and barely surviving. I dunno, anything other than a hasty conclusion like that. The monsters themselves are great, for what little we see them. You barely get any encounters with them and when you do they die quick. I seriously forgot the Creature was there until he burst out of the lake! Then he just gets a shotgun to the chest and dies! There is that neat bit where the Wolfman gets fucking exploded and his body parts come back together. Also, Wolfman's got nards. Something's to be said about the balance between good and evil and the mystic amulet and Van Helsing and all that jazz. I did like the straight-up admittance that Van Helsing's attack on Dracula failed with the opening crawl just saying "they blew it.". Frankenstein's Monster is a good portrayal, too, and befriending the little girl is a nice callback to the actual book. It's very sad when he gets sucked into the void, of course. He'd learned to be a nice guy. I guess the void is indiscriminate, as it sucked up like half of Van Helsing's dudes as well. That's Monster Squad. It's... okay. A little too short with characters that didn't endear themselves to me and one or two really off-putting elements, but the monster effects are great and there's lots of funny likes and explosions. I can see why it would become a cult classic, but it's not a new Halloween favorite on the level of, say, Dead Alive. Still, let's not get depressed. It's almost Halloween and it's time for the pre-emptive Halloween party! We'll have some fun for the next day or so before we go off and confront the Slasher with some very clever friends. Besides, we're going out for your favorite!


Monday, 24 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 24 (Ernest Scared Stupid)

Man, Vern, this thing was scary.
I had completely forgotten this existed, mind. It was nowhere near my initial listmaking and nobody requested it. I just so happened to see a topic about this series of movies a few days ago, and that made me remember this movie and just how fucked up it was. I even posted in the topic about how frightened I was of this movie as a young one, and several folks actually agreed with me. This isn't like the It paranoia where just the cover was enough to send me into a fit. No, I actually had this movie taped from TV by my family and I saw it a few times. Yeah, to a seven year old Ernest P. Worrell is pretty goddamned funny, but there was also a great evil lurking within this film. A troll. A troll who specifically stalks children, turning them into little wooden effigies in order to fuel his own power and bring to life his troll children. Sweet Jesus. I was a kid watching this. I was within range of the troll's specific targeting, and the thought of a fucking monster turning me into a little wooden effigy was absolutely horrific to me. It's one of those things that sticks with you from childhood. You've heard about some of those already. It and Fred Krueger are among them. There's also Jason Voorhees (briefly) and the opening scene of Basic Instinct where Sharon Stone stabs a guy in the chest. There are a few more from one other specific movie, but we'll save those for later. For now, Ernest Scared Stupid.

Even the opening credits are striking, with Jim Varney making faces intercut with clips from old black and white horror films. It's setting a mood that even my impressionable little mind figured out back then; this is a scary movie because of all the monster clips, but it's also a funny one because Ernest is making funny faces. The mixing of comedy and horror is nothing new, but to me it was! I'm starting to think my gravitation towards comedy horror might have roots here, much like the roots of the ancient tree the troll is buried under. Said troll, when one really thinks about it, is quite similar to It when you think about it. An ancient monster-thing that wakes up after a long sleep and wants nothing more than to get all the kids in town, and the kids are the ones who have to band against it. It's basic and there are lots of differences, but they're playing with the same vibes. Then there's Ernest, who is very silly and managed to entertain me even as an adult. Also this movie has Eartha Kitt in it, but I didn't know her from any other old lady because I'd only seen scattered glimpses of Adam West Batman and The Emperor's New Groove was almost a decade away. At one point Ernest is describing how serious and scary this situation with the troll is to her, and he says it's like "eighth-level Mario Brothers." Not quite, I'm afraid; even at 7 I'd rather deal with the big scary jumps in 8-1 than deal with a monster troll. Even now some of these scenes are pretty damn scary! The bit where the little girl nervously looks under her bed only to find her teddy bear, and then comes back up to the troll on the bed WITH her is fucked up and spooky today. You could pull that move in an actual horror movie, let alone some sort of family comedy where a comic actor does a bunch of impressions and accents in costumes a few times! Not to mention the bits where the troll fucks with the lead kid by using his friend's voice to taunt him. What a great trick.

Then there are just the absurd things. Like how the shopkeeper guys have over 1000 dollars worth of anti-troll equipment for Ernest. At first I thought they were just trying to swindle an idiot from his money, but they honest to god have branded anti-troll gear! What the fuck? Then there's Ernest's idiocy in finding the troll's weakness; I'm sorry, but "authenic Bulgarian miak" is something that's stuck with me all these years. Even when the troll army is awakened, you'd expect shit to get real. It doesn't. It turns into a bunch of slapstick that would make Bruce Campbell blush! It's comedy and horror mixed very well, but even the troll remains when they're blasted by their real weakness, milk, are gory and goopy. Then the movie gets scary again once the head troll calls on the evil powers of the tree to make him a super troll who's immune to milk. Shit seems hopeless, but the head troll's still weak to unconditional love. So... Ernest waltzs with the troll and kisses his snotty lil nose and that kills him, hooray! This is... well, it's a nostalgic movie for me. I grew out of the fear and now I can acknowledge it as a weird little movie that's pretty fucked up for a 7 year-old to watch on VHS. I don't even think I saw any other Ernest movies as a kid! This was my only one! I am glad I remembered it, though. It was good to go back to this old childhood fear and... well, not conquer it. That happened naturally on growing up. This was more of a re-experiencing. We've only got one week until Halloween! The party is ramping up. That dread beast of Slashing's got to be confronted soon, but we can chill out with the other monsters first.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 23 (Dead Alive)

You've got red on you.
This is one I never would have watched on my own. One of the very few suggestions I got for this entire project. So, thanks for that, Thom. What I've been directed to here is a hidden alley in between two familiar houses, a space between spaces in which I've found a secret history that occupies two times at once. It's 1957 avec 1992, and we've gone to the other side of the globe. Somewhere in New Zealand, where the zombies still roam. It's a double secret history, in fact; this is Dead Alive. A movie which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, will go on to inspire Shaun Of The Dead. You know, that film I'm quite fond of. It was directed by a fellow named Peter Jackson, who would go on to make some very long films about Lord Of The Rings and make about ten trillion dollars doing so. There's actually a third secret history lurking here, right when the film opens: Skull Island. Peter Jackson will go on to make a Skull Island filled with monsters and other prehistoric terrors and a really goddamned gigantic ape, but here all it has are natives and a rare specimen: a Sumatran rat monkey. Whatever it is, its bite seems concerning enough for a guide's explorers to hack off extremities upon discovering that he's been bitten. Despite this, the thing goes off to the zoo. Okay, we can guess how this will go since we know this is a zombie movie. Still, surprises are to be had.

For one, this movie is hilarious. I praised Shaun Of The Dead because it was very witty, but this movie is some sort of dark comedy gold. Eventually our hero, Lionel, must deal with the fact that his mother has been bitten by a gross stop-motion Sumatran rat monkey and is starting to decay and ooze everywhere and eat her own ear if it should fall into custard. Once his mother and the nurse treating her turn into zombies, you'd expect the plague to spread typically from there. No. No, Lionel just keeps them locked up in his cellar and occasionally is forced to shoot them up with tranquilizers that he gets from a presumed Nazi war criminal veterinarian in order to keep them from roaming about. This doesn't work because she gets out and is buried and still comes back after that, turning a bunch of hooligans into zombies. Then... and I can't believe this happened, but it bears documentation for any of you who have not seen this and need to know joy in your life, the priest who buried Lionel's mother comes out to see what the commotion is, sees zombies, and starts to karate fight them after yelling "I KICK ASS FOR THE LORD!". It's the most over the top shit, topped only by what the priest does after he gets turned into a zombie and shacked up at Lionel's place. Again, there is no easy way to put this. He has sex with the nurse and the nurse instantly gives birth to a horribly deformed zombie baby. Who Lionel then actually takes to the park in a stroller and tries to play it off as having a normal child. It's fucking hilarious.

Dead Alive's other claim to fame is the gore. There's a bunch of gross shit in the first hour or so, but the climax is the ultimate display of Liking It When The Red Water Comes Out. Lionel tries to mercy-kill all the zombies with poison, but the poison turned out to be fucking animal stimulant and they all come back as super zombies and fuck up everyone at the party upstairs. It's here that shit gets over the top and bloody and had my mouth dropping at just how far it went with this madness. You have Lionel's uncle rapidly hacking up a bunch of zombies with kitchen knives, a zombie's guts falling out of him and still pursuing Lionel like an animal, the zombie baby tearing its way through someone's head... and the lawnmower. Lionel holding a fucking gas lawnmower up and ramming it blade first into a horde of zombies, getting drenched in blood in the process. You can't help but admire it. Oh, and then his mom becomes a big fat naked zombie dinosaur or some shit and tries to shove Lionel back into the womb. You can't make this shit up. Dead Alive is... well, it's great. It mostly avoids all the tired old zombie tropes, and the two unique things it has going for it are being jaw-droppingly hilarious/absurd, and the Red Ocean That Comes Out. If you can handle your gore, you gotta see this one. I'm very glad I did.

Now, I forgot halfway into this writeup that Dead Alive was supposed to be tomorrow's, and the movie I watched on Saturday night was supposed to be today's. Eh, the hell with it. Tomorrow is another childhood fear.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 22 (Doctor Who: Blink)

If you know the later rule of Weeping Angels,
Back to the world of Doctor Who, and like some mad time traveller we have jumped ahead in time by 32 years. The days of dodgy rubber suits are gone now in 2007, and in its wake we have all the wonders of CGI... or what the BBC can afford in 2007. For all of that, though, this is the low-budget one of 2007. It is a "Doctor-Lite" which has the Doctor, who is now David Tennant, take on a passive role as he is not the central focus. Its "monster" is nothing more than stone statues, for god's sakes! How in the world do you make that scary? Answer: Be Steven Moffat. Moffat, if nothing else, is very fond of the same conceptual horror bits that make things like A Nightmare On Elm Street terrifying. His specialty is creating alien monsters that operate on arcane rules somehow linked to the involuntary natural processes of human beings. Admittedly, in later years he will come to rely on this well a bit too much; Series 8 of Doctor Who containing at least three instances of this. Here, in 2007, we're free of that! This is the basis of it all, his first go at it... and holy fuck did he succeed. This is Blink, and it is terrifying.

Certainly, I can attest to this because I was there-ish. Back then the episodes aired months later on the CBC in Canada, and I had no computer of my own to fully torrent with reckless abandon. Doctor Who would not quite take off on this side of the pond until the aforementioned Moffat years, but for now I had no real idea what to expect other than a hasty trailer where the Doctor told us not to blink or we'd die. So it was that, with best friend visiting, we both sat back to watch the tale of terror before us. The poor sod had to walk back home after that, in the dark. Rewatching Blink and knowing of all the Moffat horrors and re-use of their central monster that would come defanged them, so to speak... but I still remember being goddamned petrified in 2007 when I watched this. The sheer brilliance of Blink comes from its monster, the Weeping Angels. To explain: they are creatures that appear to be harmless stone statues. They are actually using some sort of defense mechanism, and are powerful predators. When observed, they're simple statues. When unobserved, they can move at lightning speed. Even a fraction of a second when you are not actively observing them will allow them to move, including... you guessed it, the act of blinking. A semi-involuntary bodily function, but one we eventually need to do nonetheless. Oh, but they don't kill you if you blink and let them get to you. No. They banish you into the past, and you live out the rest of your life isolated from your own time. You may find happiness back there, but it's the potential in your own time that was snuffed out that the Angels desire; they feed on it. They literally eat everything that you could have been for sustenance. Even imagining it is terrifying, and we see a few cases of it in the episode itself.

The further brilliance would later be retconned, but here it is pure: the fourth wall is nonexistant for the purposes of the Angels and their defense mechanism. If they're onscreen, they cannot move. Even if the characters in the episode are not observing them, we are, and that is enough to keep them in place. The key of the episode, and the most terrifying scene on first watch, is the climax in the basement. The Angels point at a light bulb, causing interference. It flickers in a strobe effect, darkening the room for both the characters in peril and us, and with each flash of the light the Angel has gotten closer. In the end, though, the Angels are undone by their own rules and tricked to look at each other, forever keeping them in a state of observation. Of course, rules are made to be broken, and they will in the future. Speaking of the future, this episode is a temporal goddamned mess. A "predestination paradox" would be the term, or we could use the infamous bit of Doctor Who technobabble introduced in this episode: "Timey-wimey." We see it when main heroine Sally Sparrow's friend is banished to 1920, as the letter delivered to Sally explaining that the friend has been banished and lived out her life in full is actually delivered before said friend is banished in the first place! Smaller loops inside bigger ones, as it turns out that the only reason the Doctor knew everything he did to help Sally out from his own stranding in 1969 was because Sally encounters him at the end of the episode, before it's happened to him, and gives him all of the information he'll need. Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey. Blink is still actually pretty scary if you let yourself think about it. The final shots, overlaying David Tennant's "blink and you're dead" monologue over shots of real-life statues, seem to suggest that any statue could be a Weeping Angel ready to kill you. Indeed, in five years we'll have the goddamned Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel. For now, though, Steven Moffat has created a new kind of sci-fi conceptual horror. It is one he will milk for most of its worth in time, but here at the beginning it is pure, it is deadly, and it can only be halted in one way.

Don't blink.

Friday, 21 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 21 (World War Z)

"The important thing was, I had an onion
on my belt. Which was the style at the time."
At last, it's time to talk about a book! Yes, I know they made a movie out of this. I doubt I'll ever see it. Cry pardon, but this is the one piece of zombie apocalypse fiction to actually resonate with me to some degree. A movie can't possibly do what this book did, unless it went all out with the anthology mode of storytelling. Which, skimming the movie synopsis, it looks for all the world like a story-driven plot following Brad Pitt around the world during the zombie apocalypse. Which... that's not World War Z. Absolutely not. They got half of it right, but that's not what World War Z is. I would have covered a book sooner but... well, I technically did with It. Also my next choice would have been Mark Z. Danielewski's House Of Leaves, but I'll be goddamned if I have the ability to explain any of that shit. I'll just say that if you like conceptual horror and absolutely bonkers narrative nonlinear storytelling, you should check it out for sure, and leave it at it. Now then! World War Z! Where does it succeed where something else traditionalist, like our poor whipping boy Dawn Of The Dead, failed?

The answer is simple. Scale. World War Z is just that: a world war. Not the story of some people in a mall ambiguously watching the TV signal go out. Not even some really funny people in a pub surrounded by zombies! This is the story of how the world fell into the shit of the zombie apocalypse... but it's more than that. This is an oral history, a post-war recollection of the shit that went down by the people who were there and lived to tell the tale. Yes, there were zombies and material society as we basically knew it collapsed and a bunch of people were probably assholes in that landscape and WHO ARE THE REAL MONSTERS and all that shit, but FUCK THAT. Humanity prevailed. It was forever altered by the infected reanimated dead running around biting people and whatnot, and as of the book's fictional writing will still need a lot of work... but humanity won out. I find this far more interesting than the traditional usual approach, in case that hasn't become clear by now. Maybe the tight focus on a few survivors in a linear fashion works for a lot of people, but not for me who already finds the zombie thing dull. No, this book actually made it interesting for me. It's a series of shorter stories, told as personal recollections, that span a global scale. Still, the vignettes follow a logical progression from the first outbreaks to the usual widespread panic to the attempts of humanity to escape and eventually fight back. The key story, for me anyways, is the Battle Of Yonkers in which the US Army is totally routed by the advancing undead. Their training is in dealing with an entirely human foe that can be incapacitated and wounded and demoralized, but zombies have none of this weakness and just keep on coming. It almost feels like a condemnation of the 140 minutes of grey people getting shot in the head; a real soldier would be trained to aim for the chest, not the head, and that training is hard to overcome in a crisis like that.

The vignettes and small stories manage to do what most zombie fiction doesn't for me: it makes everything feel more human. You get a sense of the masses, how they all react, and how different people deal with the crisis outside of these little microcosms and isolated pockets of folks holed up in some shithole waiting for the end. There's even a lot of stuff that just comes as a natural result of thinking about the rules of zombie fiction but, to my knowledge, hadn't been done before. For instance, heart transplants from infected bodies. Or zombies under the ocean. Or what happened to people up in space. The list goes on. It remains the best "traditional" piece of zombie fiction I've consumed, without any odd quirk like being really funny or also actually dealing with demons and skeleton armies. I can't imagine much else that could really surpass it in the genre of undead monsters who want brains, so it's got that going for it. Give it a read if you're into the whole zombie thing. It's a ride.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 20 (Army Of Darkness)

Hail to the king, baby.
Holy fuck, was that ever fun. Army of Darkness is just a goofy silly spooky movie, with the slightest hint of something darker lurking within the wings. It's very nearly a complete 180 from Evil Dead 2 in tone; where that movie was definitely a horror movie, this is more of an action comedy. I quite like action comedy, and the familiar Evil Dead element of demons and possessed people is definitely present in there so it's not leaving you totally in the dark. Nevertheless, it's a different sort of movie... but god, what a brisk little experience. It's maybe 80 minutes long if you include the credits. You could almost watch it twice in the time one viewing of Dawn Of The Dead would take you, and things again move along at a clip. Of course, being an action movie gives it a different sort of pace. A horror movie is paced by the horrific deaths of the people in its situation, and the scares, ramping up until there's one or two folks left to confront the evil. Here, your acts are a bit different. Act 1: Ash earning the trust of the medieval folk. Act 2: Ash's quest for the Necronomicon and his assorted trials and fuckups. Act 3: A base under seige by a fucking undead army, and all the swordfighting and whatnot that comes of it. Well, let's tackle those bit by bit. Like the last movie, we get a quick little summary of the film before it. Things are a bit different and they bothered to refilm a whole bunch of it, recasting Linda and reshooting the bit where Ash cuts off his own hand. Quite why they did that, I don't know; I doubt it was an issue with reusing Evil Dead 2 footage because a moment later they reuse Evil Dead 2 footage and show Ash falling through the portal. Hell, I'm pretty sure Ash falling into the Middle Ages and landing is reused footage as well! Weird. What's striking is how differently Ash is acting here. Maybe it was spending half of Evil Dead 2 alone and getting fucking tormented by demons, but here he's a lot more of... well, an asshole. He's got total disdain for all the commoners, calling them "primitives" and whatnot... yikes. It can be funny to watch him just be totally done with this shit, particulary the bit where he climbs out of the pit and starts shouting at everyone. He doesn't actually give a shit about stopping the undead or whatever. All he wants is to go back to his own time. It's weird that he thinks that would even be possible, but lucky for him it is. All he's got to do is pick up a book and say three magic words. Easy peasy, right? Well...

First, though, spooky scenes in the woods and the return of the magic Steadicam or whatever that chases him into an old windmill. It's still really effective and great... but that's about the last really spooky thing in this movie. Well, there was also the geyser of blood from the pit, that was really good. Other than that, the movie's fairly bloodless. Anyway, the windmill is where we go full slapstick... and bleed in a bit of my Clara Oswald talk, because what should beseige Ash but tinier versions of himself born from the shards of a mirror? This is absolutely ridiculous. From RAMMING SPEEEEED to Ash having to pry his face from the stove with a spatula to getting his foot pricked, it's total Looney Tunes. Even more so than when his own hand was fucking around. Then some body horror as one of them gets inside him and starts growing out of him like a fucking tumor, creating... Bad Ash! A literal dark mirror of our hero! Well, Bad Ash forgot one thing. Good? Bad? The other one is the guy with the gun. (Or Ash is not that good, depending on your cut.) How do you bury a dark mirror? You act like a smartass and then copy the shot from Evil Dead 2 where you give Linda's grave a cross. Even more ridiculousness abounds in the graveyard, with fake Necronomicons that suck Ash in and give him an elongated face he has to cartoonishly shake away, or bite him. Then comes lifting the real book... and the motherfucker forgot the words. It's three goddamned words and he forgot it. They had scrolls and ink! They shoulda gave him this shit in writing... but then again I suppose they expected him to remember three little fucking words. He did not, and we get more slapstick with skeletons as all hell breaks loose. Bad Ash is revived, looking like zombie Randall Flagg (how's that for a semi-obscure reference?) and they've even got Ash's cute medieval girl! Oh no! Ash at first doesn't give two shits, but I guess he's an asshole with a heart of gold because he decides to help these poor doomed fools out. Bad Ash, being a dark mirror, is also taking command of the titular Army of Darkness and turning Ash's medieval girl into a demon while he's at it.

And then the battle begins. The credits simply billed this as Bruce Campbell Vs. Army Of Darkness. That's what we got here, in a sense. It's a good thing he brought a chemistry book with him to that cabin, because he can make gunpowder and fuck up an advancing army of skeletons. What follows is just action movie gold. There are stop-motion skeletons, explosions, sword fights, comedy beats, some sort of fucking steampunk car with a propeller blade... holy shit. It's incredible; a comedic Helm's Deep done 10 years beforehand. A simple sort of satisfaction, but a satisfaction nonetheless. You even get to see a burned stop-motion dark mirror skeleton zombie of Ash get catapaulted and explode at the end. The day is saved, everything's made right... and now all that's left is for Ash to get home. Which he does on the VHS copy I had. I own the theatrical cut so that's what I've been watching, but the first time I saw the movie was the director's cut. I've seen both endings, and I enjoy them both. The "S Mart" ending on the theatrical is fitting with what the movie's been building up Ash as. He fucks up the words again and that somehow brings the demons to the store so he can blast them with a shotgun and kiss a pretty lady, roll credits ding. The "sleep" ending also continues the theme of Ash being a grade-A moron, as the fucker can't even count to six properly which makes him sleep through the end of the world. It's pretty bleak, but it fits with Ash's idiocy and it's what Sam Raimi wanted at first so who am I to say it's inferior? Well, that's Army of Darkness. I dunno if I like how much of an asshole Ash is now, but I can't deny that at its base level it is a fun action movie with spooky themes that is also over in less than an hour and a half. I can dig that. Fun is a good thing; just look at that Dirty Pair writeup again. Throw it on before Halloween comes around and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Next time: The best zombie apocalypse story ever?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 19 (Evil Dead 2)

So this isn't technically a movie about the living dead and societal collapse. Whoops. Still, fuck it. There are scary monsters who look like dead people coming after the living. It's close enough for my liking. Evil Dead 2! I've skipped ahead because that's a bit more interesting than the original Evil Dead. I remember liking it, but it's pretty much a straight horror movie. Admirable considering that Sam Raimi barely had two coins to rub together while making the thing, but it's a straight horror movie and shit evolves to be somewhat more interesting. Namely, it gets goofy as shit. I always thought that Evil Dead 2 was a "one foot in the door" kind of movie, where it's still scary and spooky but there's also a playful sense of goofiness. I was a little off in this assumption because Evil Dead 2 is indeed a horror movie. Not that there isn't that goofiness at play, but before we get to that we have ourselves a genuine spooky film. The first 10 minutes are this condensed "remake" of the original. Kids go to cabin in the woods, kids play tape of professor reading from the Book Of The Dead, OH SHIT DEMONS. We even pick up with the POV shot that ended the original Evil Dead as Ash is screaming! What follows is utterly bizarre. Dead girlfriends rising from their graves, pirouetting around like necromantic ballerinas with their heads gone. Ash's own reflection strangling him. Half of this movie is happening, and the other half debatedly isn't. The surreal shit like this is either all a delusion, or the demons are actively fucking with him. Here, then, is where the goofiness comes in. His girlfriend's severed head bites his hand for 45 minutes before he gets the head in a vice, and that's enough to get the demon mojo in it. His hand then begins beating the shit out of him, smashing plates and shit against his own head. That knocks him out and then the hand "sees" a meat cleaver and eagerly begins tugging the body along to get at it and kill. What are we even witnessing here? It's slapstick horror, and it ends with the gruesome inevitability of Ash chainsawing his own goddamned hand off.

Or you'd think so. No, the hand keeps on fucking with him now that it's free. Crawling into the walls, getting caught in a mousetrap, flipping him the bird... and when he does appear to get it? A literal geyser of blood shitblasts him in the face before turning into black ichor before reversing back into the wall. This is demented Looney Tunes or some shit. It's enough to drive someone mad... and, as the entire room starts laughing at him and Ash joins in, you might wonder if that's what's happened. Then more people arrive to the cabin! Fresh fodder to be picked off! That's where the other half of this movie goes, and it's surprising that only one of the four to come to the cabin gets possessed. He didn't even get bit or anything, what happened? It's a strange and surreal sort of base under siege, made all the odder by some of the choices. Like more stop-motion to show a creepy zombie lady's face turn into a monster snake. Or that whooshing POV thing that keeps screeching towards people. Or those absolutely fucked-up tilts. Or the poor girl who gets all fucked up by a tree! That's a callback to the first movie, and thank god she doesn't get literally fucked by the tree because that woulda been bad, to say the least. As if shit couldn't get weirder, our climax involves the cabin being attacked by a giant tree monster that then busts in with a giant monster face! A monster face that bleeds blue when you hit it in the eye with your chainsaw hand! OH FUCK I FORGOT! ASH PUTS A CHAINSAW AROUND HIS STUMP WHERE HIS HAND USED TO BE AND HAS A CHAINSAW HAND NOW! HOLY FUCK, THAT'S GROOVY! You think shit couldn't get any weirder? Well you were wrong because the movie ends with Ash getting sent back in fucking time to the Middle Ages or whatever! That's a plot thread we'll deal with tomorrow, but for now...

...well, that's a movie. Its main draw is being quite unlike anything else out there. Sure, it's a horror movie with monsters coming after people in the woods, which sounds like the most cliche thing ever and would make a good basis for being self-aware of those cliches, but something about this sells it. The fact that they're not zombies, but demons. Or how they actively like to fuck with you because they're demons and demons like to fuck around. Or the increasingly bonkers moments and shots and situations that keep cropping up. I could go on, but this is quite good. It's not my favorite Evil Dead thing though. No, that's tomorrow. In the end, this is a very good horror movie with a brisk 80-minute running time. I appreciate them getting right to it and not really wasting any time, I really do! Brevity is important and I had to sit through 140 minutes of Dawn Of The Dead, which had none of that. This moves along at a clip... but in the end, it's not quite as memorable as its sequel to me. More on that tomorrow, but we're gonna have a fun time. So, to the upcoming movie, all I have to say is...

Give me some sugar, baby.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 18 (Shaun Of The Dead)

You've got red on you.
Well, that was much better and captured my attention far more than poor George Romero did. Sorry, George. You'll get your moment in the limelight because there's a movie you worked on that I adore, but for now we're talking about this one. First off, I don't know how the hell this worked. This came out the same year as the 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead, which I don't think I'm going to touch ever. In fact its London premiere was 10 days after Dawn 2004 came out. Back in 2004 I just assumed the movie had been put out as a timely parody of sorts, but I'm not sure how much of this is the case. Whether deliberate reaction or no, the fact remains that they came out in the same year and this one's name is a rhyme of the other. I hadn't seen Dawn Of The Dead, either of them, in September 2004, but I was there for this one. I was in the theater with college friends; we'd all gone out to the mall together for something to do on Saturday afternoon, and as I recall it was spur of the moment. It ended up being really great, and to this day it's still my second-favorite Edgar Wright thing I've seen.

So, what makes this good and entertaining to me where Dawn Of The Dead wasn't? For one, it's funny as fuck. Edgar Wright is a goddamned master of callback humor. So much of the sharp dialogue in these movies come right back to you in completely different contexts and that makes it funny. Stuff like "You've got red on you" or "No, I'm sorry, Shaun" or I could go on and on. Hell, Hot Fuzz is this personified; the last half-hour is a climax built almost entirely on these sharp callbacks, and that's what makes it my favorite Edgar Wright movie. Point is, being a really funny zombie movie is good! It's a change of pace from the dire tones of that other film and so many others like it. Who says the end of the world has to be grim? More to the point, we get to see normal life before it all goes sour. Well, shit is going sour in the background, but life is going on as normal. Hell, even when the shit hits the fan and the zombie apocalypse is upon us, things go on as normal. Case in point, and another instance of the callbacks, Shaun's second run down to the shops to get a Coke and Cornetto while everything is fucked up where he doesn't even notice due to being hung over. Then everyone does notice and... wow. Having not seen Dawn Of The Dead before, I didn't realize how the premise is somewhat mirrored in Shaun Of The Dead. The main thrust of the action is getting to a safe space with no zombies in it. In Dawn, it was the shopping mall. In Shaun, it's the Winchester pub. Both are places of consumerism, and neither last in the end. Still, we see a lot of differences. For how much I didn't like it, the folks in Dawn were a lot better at making their place zombie-proof... until a bunch of bikers fucked it up. Here, shit isn't safe from the get-go and Shaun's dreams of holing up in the Winchester are basically dashed after a few hours. Everything is constantly under assault, the back door is blocked, the zombie owners are still around... yikes. It's a bad situation all around. Things only get more and more grim, and it's here that Shaun gets a leg up over Dawn. In Dawn everything was fucked from the get-go. After two hours of that, you get a little numb to the tension. In Shaun we actually keep descending, and the zombies keep advancing and taking more and more of the Winchester and killing off more people. It makes things tense, and I like that.

There's not much else for me to praise, other than saying it's very very funny. Its editing is clever because Edgar Wright is also a clever editor! That bit with the channel surfing is nice, and the repeated montages of Shaun's plan to hole up from the zombies that speed up as he revises them is good. It's also a piece of zombie fiction that doesn't end on an ambiguous downer: we win! We domesticate the goddamn undead for reality TV and low-end jobs! It's a fucked up world, but it's still our world. For this, it works. Most zombie fiction just ends on those down notes anyway, so this is welcome. Shaun Of The Dead is a very good film, and a very good zombie film! These movies about undead monsters can be funny! Wait, what's that? They've done that before? Ah yes, of course. We can spend a day or two on those, of course. Well, I've only one thing to say to our next bit of focus.


Monday, 17 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 17 (Dawn Of The Dead)

So! All these shambling things running around, trying to kill us. All of our passive enjoyment of watching people get got by the monsters is on full display. We like it when the red water comes out. Eventually we'll confront the slasher and this display of culture, but for now let's go in a different direction, something a bit out of left field. It's time to talk about zombie fiction! I'm not the biggest fan of it, and yet there is a market for it. That is not to say that there aren't pieces of zombie fiction I like or love, but they have to be doing something beyond the base requirements. We'll get to those, but first we have to get at a base. To that end, today I watched George Romero's zombie classic, Dawn Of The Dead! I admit I probably could have dug up the original Night Of The Living Dead on Youtube, since it's public domain and all... but I've had Dawn Of The Dead on my hard drive for three years now and I wanted to get it out of the way. Well, it's out of the way now. So, what have we got here?

Well, a world that's already fucked, for one. The zombies are already here, and they've basically fucked everything up and the country's in a state of martial law. Everyone's yelling at each other in a TV station, there's awful people with guns taking pleasure in being able to finally just shoot other people in the head without repercussion, and oh yeah. Corpses are getting the fuck up and biting people and ripping at their flesh and making the red water come out. In the midst of this we have four people who decide that this shit is fucked and that they're out, escaping in a helicopter for new lands. More spooky zombies come at them in places and get all fucked up but eventually they find an abandoned mall and decide to hunker down in it. This is where we stay for the rest of the movie. Now, to its credit, the abandoned mall is a pretty great setting. I liked seeing all the stores and stuff the place had to offer, and if you had to bunker down someplace during a zombie outbreak, a mall would seem pretty ideal... once you cleaned out all the zombies anyway. Which they actually do! Sure, one of them gets bitten during the process of blocking the zombies from the main entrance, but c'est la vie. He still gets to help out and have fun in the arcade before he turns, so good on him. Over time, the three survivors turn the mall into their own little safe space, even as the world around them is probably utterly fucked. They can manage to hold out there! Then a bunch of bikers break in, loot the place, and ruin everything. Another one dies, and two of them escape in their chopper, roll credits. So that's the movie!

I dunno. It was... well, a zombie movie! I think I've been spoiled by the more clever zombie movies that have come out to be really down with this baseline no-frills approach, but that can't be because even the baseline no-frills slasher movies still crackle with tension and whatnot to keep my attention. Here we have a 140-minute movie where some people run up and down a mall shooting extras in grey facepaint in the head, and sometimes having a spot of trouble with them. The red water is neat, I suppose, because it's a very vibrant red that makes it stand out. Who did that? Tom Savini? Oh, he did the brutal shit in Friday the 13th as well? I wonder if we'll see him and George Romero again. Ah well. This movie was slow for me. The worst kind of slow where I was actively watching the clock, pausing it to check Twitter every half hour or so. I was not engaged at all, not really, because it's a zombie movie. We're all fucked anyway. There's more symbolism to unpack about consumerism and literal zombies wanting nothing more than to get into the mall for reasons unknown to their zombie brains. Also one of the characters says the word "zombie" at some point. I thought that was against the rules. Oh, and that bizarre fucking bit where the bikers start throwing pies into the zombie's faces and spraying them with seltzer! What the FUCK? I don't have anything else. It's a horror classic which inspired many a zombie film, but the underlying message of WHO ARE THE REAL ZOMBIES HERE, SPOILERS IT'S HUMANITY has been hammered to death in most pieces of zombie media so I'm cold on this. Don't worry, we'll get to the ones that I DO like... but for now. Ehh.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 16 (Night Trap)

The intersect between the world of slashers and the world of video games was minimal, at first, if only because video games themselves were minimal. Things changed eventually, at first only a half-attempt in 1987 that went nowhere due to the console it was being developed for actually not coming out; Hasbro's Control-Vision (codenamed NEMO, even! Can we escape the world of dreams?). It would be five years before the concept saw the light of day, and it got more than that. We're 24 years and 1 day into the future from when this thing was unleashed unto the world. Watch out behind you, because it's Night Trap. I'll lay it out there; Night Trap is not all that good. I didn't even play it, as its nature resists against traditional means of playing it. Night Trap, however, is perfectly watchable depending on who's cutting the footage. Well, maybe not perfectly. It's not all that well-acted either, if we're being honest. Still, it's got that "so bad it's good" thing going for it in places, and it also earned itself a bit of infamy back in the day. I called it The Left Hand Of The Nemesis, and it's time to fess up; it's more high-concept stuff inspired by Phil Sandifer. In his Super Nintendo Project, he took Mortal Kombat to task for what it did, and the totemic power of pure cruelty its popularity enabled. Night Trap and Mortal Kombat are, of course, linked at the hilt thanks to that pure cruelty: specifically a moral panic that led the older ones in the 90's to wonder just what in the fuck was up with video games being so goddamned violent nowadays. It's a debate that's still rolling on, but at the heart of its root is Night Trap and Night Trap definitely owes its own roots to the slasher genre, in a sense. Still, in this medium, there's something crackling.

For one, the full-motion video aspect of the game combines with its premise to create a horror movie in which you're the arbiter of fate. You, yes you, the person holding the controller, are in control here. You're even referred to as such, only called "Control" the entire time. Your commander, in briefing you on your situation and how to control it, is even holding a Sega Genesis controller up as he explains things. The mission is simple enough. Keep the cool teens alive at all costs, and monitor things within the spooky house by swapping cameras. If some lumbering monster should come rushing forth, all you need to do is trigger a trap... unless, of course, the clever bastards who own the house mentioned that they were changing the access codes. Then you're kind of fucked. There's a duality here, and it's odd. Usually in these films, the deaths are the exciting part because there's a jump scare and some horrific murder weapon and probably even lots of blood. Night Trap pales in comparison to Friday the 13th, but thank god for it; imagine the moral panic if it did. Nevertheless, if you're not paying attention, these girls will die and it could be for any number of reasons. Maybe you weren't watching that camera. Maybe the access code got changed on you. Maybe, just maybe... you wanted to see what it looked like when a bunch of black-masked creeps hooked a collar drill around a screaming teen girl's neck and siphoned out her blood. The game does not side with you on this, and your commander will chew you out for allowing such nonsense to happen on what was supposed to be your watch. If you're not going to do your job properly, someone else will. Game Over. Night Trap wants you to succeed and keep everyone alive while also fucking up as many black masked half-vampires as possible with a bunch of traps. This isn't some fucked-up horror movie where all you can do is watch. You're in control, and you can save them! You need to in order to complete the game!

You're not going to, though. At least, not on your first try. Or fourth. Or tenth, even. To "win" at Night Trap, to save everyone, you have to put yourself through loops. Watching the footage, switching around cameras, trying and failing to catch everything. Every failure will sting, but the story never really changes. You'll know when and where the owners of the house plot to change the access codes, when the Augers will strike, when to trap things and when to protect the girls. Your repeated failures create a myriad of dead timelines with dead girls, but the memory remains. Once you commit the path to memory, you've "solved" Night Trap. You can pull off a flawless run, like the one up above. You can save them. There's also "movie" cuts of Night Trap, and I watched one in preparation for this. It was less than stellar, because we have the whims of the editor to consider. This editor posited that Control was actually an asshole, and since we're working with raw footage, Control cannot be penalized for the fail state. Things can continue all while Control does the absolute worst possible job, only intervening when it would make the story more tragic. It even ends on the bad ending, for god's sakes! This is, believe it or not, a corrupted version. Nemesis chuckles from its dark throne. Isn't this funny? They're all dying, just like a real horror movie. Horrific. We need to look away from the world of slashers for a while. Right now, in the middle of this dud that nonetheless created moral panic, we can find a guiding light. With interactivity came the weakening of the fourth wall, and this is a horror film that plays with the concept of someone watching all this fucked up shit happening to innocent teens and enjoying it on a visceral level. For all of the moral panic, the goal of Night Trap is to save everyone. You're not meant to watch it like a horror movie. You're meant to relive it over and over until you get it right, or shelve the thing and move on. Other films will come along that play with the tropes and metanarrative of slasher participation, but not yet. Not in 1992. In 1992, we're reloading Night Trap again because those little fuckers changed the code again. But, the day of judgement for slashers is coming.

Watch out behind you.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 15 (A Nightmare On Elm Street)

Welcome to prime time, b-- Wait, wrong one.
It's time once again to delve into a land of dreams and nightmares. Nothing quite as complex as this, though. This is not a world in which we're struggling with anxiety and latching onto the well wishes of trusted friends, letting the words soar us up into the heavens of functionality like a life preserver. No, this is far simpler. There's a monster who's out for blood, a killer who takes great glee in stalking his prey. He skulks about, larger than life, enjoying himself. Taking his time. What separates him from that other lumbering guy or his mother is his method of attack. The knife gloves are novel, sure, but he strikes within the world of dreams. He turns them into nightmares and blurs the boundaries between worlds, creating a liminal space dripping with blood. This is the haunt of Fred Krueger, and this is A Nightmare On Elm Street. Surprisingly, I found it utterly incredible. There's personal history here, albeit fleeting. I knew of Fred Krueger as a child, and he utterly terrified me in the period before I knew about a certain monster clown. He gets you when you're asleep and dreaming! There's nothing you can do to avoid him because sleeping is an involuntary human function that we're all required to do in order to survive! You have to sleep sometime and that's when he comes to get you! The conceptual nature of it terrified me, to a point where I remember walking home from a friend's after they were about to play the movie, humming Queen's "We Will Rock You" to myself as I walked in order to sway away the terror. Years later I saw the movie, and it was really scary! There's all sorts of fucked up shit, people get killed, poor Johnny Depp gets fucking pureed into a geyser of blood! Oh my god! So it was that I threw it on again for this project, expecting to be wincing at the screen like I was at times with Friday the 13th, before giving it a slightly more favorable writeup than that because Reasons.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to not actually terrify me that much. More to the point, it's actually brilliant in a lot of ways and quite unlike a typical slasher a la Friday the 13th or... I dunno, Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Erase from history all of those sequels that try to up the ante, and what do you have? A weird guy with a burnt face who comes after you in your dreams. That's what you had before, but he's far less goofy and cavalier about it. Oh, he's still having fun, but he's down to business and not doing anything silly like themed kills. More to the point... for an ostensible "slasher" film, the body count is pitifully low. Four. That's it. Even Alien had more, and it took half the running time before it started to kill people. Friday the 13th was constant in its brutality, and also brutal in its brutality. Half of the kills in Nightmare On Elm Street are bloodless, for god's sakes! Granted, it makes up for this by having Johnny Depp's aforementioned death compensate with a literal geyser, but still! It's a remarkable bit of restraint from the late great Wes Craven, one that the people who continue to churn out those sequels we're not talking about lose in favor of upping the ante. But then, what of motive? Pamela Vorhees killed for her son, and Jason Vorhees killed for his mother. Fred Krueger's motives are a lot like Pamela's, borne from a need for revenge... but it's how he does it that makes things a little more interesting and less devoted to condeming sexy teens for daring to fuck in a scary movie. Although, the first teens to fuck are the first two to go, but as said that's half the kills. Mixed reaction there, but Fred still has his reasoning. In life, he was a murderer of children who got off of his conviction on a technicality. A group of parents banded together and took vigilante justice upon him, burning him to death. He has fun killing the teens he does kill, but they're not the true focus of his revenge. It may be stated in a sequel or something, but the implication is there in the original; this is his revenge against the parents. We don't know why Fred Krueger's spirit has come back to stalk sexy teens in their dreams now, in 1984, as opposed to immediately after his death... but I can theorize. Maybe I've played too much Dangan Ronpa, but it seemed like Fred lay dormant in the afterlife, watching and waiting. Those who killed him to protect their children enjoyed their lives of peace, watching their kids grow up. Now they're teens, just about ready to go out into the world and make their own lives! So full of potential! How proud their parents must be! Then, the reaping. Fred is cutting them down at their prime, taking from those who killed him what they value most. Slicing and dicing their hope, in order to drive them into despair. What could stop such a determined monster?

A hopeful and determined teenage girl, of course. Amidst all this despair, she keeps herself awake out of utter abject fear at first. She even has a run-in or three with Fred in the world of dreams, and manages to escape every time with minor injuries. Then Fred makes a mistake. He purees Johnny Depp, and she was sweet on poor Johnny Depp. It's on now. She's armed with the knowledge she needs from her encounters. She knows that reality and the world of dreams are malleable, and that things can pass between them; not just injuries, but objects. Fred's power has made it so, and in swiping his hat she's learned the fundamental rules. Her plot is to grab Fred and haul him into reality, where he can be harmed. Maybe even killed. She even bothers to set up a bunch of goddamned booby traps in her house, 6 years before that little McAllister squirt! Then she goes into her dream, terrified but still defiant of the fearful beast hunting her. She's calling out to him, demanding he show himself. He does, and the fight is on. She can run, but she can also taunt. Then, the plan is successful. Into reality he comes, ever hunting and stalking, absolutely fucking determined to slice her to bits. Her mom dared to steal his fucking knife glove and keep it as a totem of her supposed "defeat" of Fred! Oh, she will suffer for this, and so too will her daughter. That plan changes a bit after he gets fucked up by a few traps and lit on fire again. Fuck this elaborate revenge shit, he'll just do what he should have done and kill one of the ones who did this to him. Which he does! Just for good measure, he'll kill that defiant one as well... but again, she knows the rules. Fear is what he thrives on, and fear is what she must quench in order to stop him. She revokes all of the arcane power that her terror granted him, and turns her back on him, demanding that her nightmare become a dream. Which, it does! At least for Wes Craven, anyway; someone decided it would be better to end on a final scare and have everything be fucked. Makes no sense to me, and just opened the door for those sequels. Ah well.

Even so, it's an effective movie for what's supposedly a slasher! It's not about piling up the bodies, but about building tension and making one fear the conceptual horror of getting fucked up in your dreams. It and its ilk scared me as a child and as a teen when I bothered to watch them all, but now as an adult? It's a great little spooky movie, and one with some rad little synth riffs in it. Fred would go on and on for a time, until Hollywood got tired and blew him up in 3D. Then Wes Craven came back and made him scary again, upping the ante by adding metafiction to the conceptual horror. Then he actually fought that lumbering hockey mask guy, using him to build back up that arcane power of terror and having to wrassle with him once hockey mask guy decided that killing lots of sexy teens was more his style. Then they tried remaking it and bleh. That's all for Fred's influence here, save for one other piece of conceptual horror that we'll cover. It's got nothing to do with dreams, though. Good as the film is, though, it is part of the Evil Power of Slashing that darkens everything it touches. Wes Craven would help invoke a step to reflect that power back at us, imperfect as it was... but we can't get there just yet. Instead we'll go further into the realm of Evil.

How about we tackle the Left Hand Of The Nemesis?