Saturday, October 28, 2006

HORROR MONTH: Scream-a-thon

Kudos to Joseph B. and It's a Mad Mad Blog, who had the ghoulish idea to host a blog-a-thon for your Top 15 Horror Movies. Since DVD Panache's inclusion in Dennis Cozzalio's bloody successful Robert Aldrich blog-a-thon brought in so many new readers, I say why not to another blog-a-thon (and besides, I was running low on ideas for Horror Month). I usually don't like to rank movies, but in this genre I definitely have a top 5, so here goes:

15. Jeepers Creepers
Before you raise the back of your hand in my general direction, allow me to explain the story that goes with this selection -- which is admittedly a troubled, uneven movie that fails to live up to the promise of its first act.

It was the summer of 2001, I was in the midst of a carefree summer job as an ice cream man in Portland. It was August and my interest in the job was waning, and I found myself loafing more than usual, and this day would be my ultimate loaf. A naive mother had given me a crisp $5 bill in hopes that I could find her daughter at a nearby block party and give her some ice cream. This was definitely not going to happen, but I took her money just the same, and figured what better destination for a lazy, greedy ice cream man than Lloyd Cinemas, and what better lazy summer day movie to see than 'Jeepers Creepers'? I sheepisly parked my three-wheeled ice cream cart in the parking lot and went to the movie, which strangely had me scared absolutely shitless for the first half, then eventually tailed off. Anyway, what was memorable about this outing is that afterward I headed for the exits with the 10 or so other people that were in the theater, and they all watched in somewhat amusement as I casually sauntered over to my three-wheeled ice cream cart, sped off and quickly shifted into my third and final gear. For so many reasons I felt more like a genuine jackass than most days, and that's my 'Jeepers Creepers' story.

14. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Of the three horror sequel machine franchises from the 1980s (Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street), you have to at least admire the Friday the 13th sequels for trying to mix things up. The killer starts out of course as Jason's mother in the original, then in the sequel Jason is simply a woods-living, burlap sack-wearing hermit killer before finally donning the mask in the third one, seemingly killed for good by Corey Feldman in the fourth (and for a brief time, the 'final chapter'), stupidly copy-catted in the fifth ('A New Beginning' = a new stream of cash), before he is awesomely brought back to his bad self in my favorite sequel. This one has a lot going for it, starting with the name, it's so perfect. Then you have the tacky-yet-fun way Jason is resurrected: two teens want to 'make sure' he's dead, so of course they pick a night heavy on the lightning to visit his grave; after diggin and opening up his coffin, one of the boys (despite obviously seeing that he's dead) plants a rod into Jason, only to have said rod struck by lightning and have Jason rise out of his grave like Frankenstein. Jason doesn't waste any time in literally ripping the heart out of one of the boys, then we're treated to a James Bond-style credits intro with Jason walking onto a black background and slashing the screen open. Everything works well and I could watch this opening every day and still be entertained.

13. Prince of Darkness
John Carpenter's most underrated horror entry, 'Prince of Darkness' is a great entry into the brains vs. evil series with our gang of intellectuals battling satan with nary a 2 x 4 (okay, I think there's one 2 x 4) to defend themselves. There's a lot to like here, starting with Victor Wong (!) as a professor who leads his team of students into an abandoned ghetto church where an ancient canister of green goo may hold the devil himself. Outside the church, a gang of hypnotized homeless people start to gather (led by Alice Cooper) as satan's powers start to take control of the area. Making matters interesting is that our heroes are experiencing the same dreams: an apparent video transmission from the future. You can tell Carpenter had a blast making this and there aren't any cop-outs with the story and climax.

12. Village of the Damned (1960)

The idea of children overwhelming adults is a great horror device, especially since the grownups seemingly can't fight back since . . . they're just children. Even though the budget was dirt thin, the production values in this British thriller are high and the special effects (rather, effect of the children's hypnotizing eyes) really work. What makes this one stand the test of time is just the acting of the kids, they always look terrifying.

11. The Blair Witch Project

Don't laugh. Or stop reading. I'll admit that viewed on its own today, this movie is ineffective, but when I saw it (first week it was released), everyone in the theater (including me) was genuinely frightened. It might have something to do that it was simply more of an experience at a theater, when its low-res, jarring camera work had a dizzying effect. I saw it with two girls who had no knowledge at all of the movie, and they thought it was a straight-up documentary. For them it was without a doubt the scariest thing they had ever seen. I knew that it was fiction, but really had not read much about it. Years later I watched it again on video with a group of people who hated it, and even I admitted that much of the charm was lost, but for me on that one summer day in Ketchum, Idaho it was worthy of this stature in my book.

10. Blue Velvet
David Lynch's classic is hard to put into just one genre, but its horror elements permeate the whole film and it contains one of the all-time most terrifying scenes. After Kyle MacLachlan's character first meets Frank Booth (No. 1 on my list of the Five Characters You Meet in Hell), he is taken to Ben's house, where he endures the worst 20 minutes of his life. In front of Frank's friends, he is emasculated and thoroughly humiliated, though Frank makes it feel like it's how he treats anybody. You get the feeling through the whole scene that Frank is just teetering on and off the edge of homicidal rage, and when he can't take the weight of Roy Orbison's 'In Dreams' (which Ben sings in a bizarre karoake moment), he snaps. Frank is my favorite cinematic monster, and this is his movie.

9. Demon Knight
Outside of Troll 2, maybe the most fun you can have watching a bad horror movie. Billy Zane is given no leash as he plays a demon out for souls, Dick Miller is Dick Miller, and you even get Thomas Hayden Church and Jada Pinkett-Smith. A sort of Zulu-meets-The Exorcist thrill ride, here's a sampling of what you get: demonic Billy Zane, Christ's blood can keep demons out if it's dripped on a doorway (check that: makes demons explode), a road house full of miscreants and all sorts of weapons, demons getting shot in the eyes (that's how you kill 'em) and Dick Miller in a room full of topless, beer-drinking women. It's best when watched with a group.

8. Return of the Living Dead III
Take a look at the above picture, that's our heroine in this surprisingly original zombie movie. After his girlfriend is killed in a motorcycle accident, she is brought back to life through some nifty military technology. But the two lovebirds didn't count on her insatiable appetite for brains, or the fact that only pain can temprarily ease her hunger. Julie gets proactive and creates this new look for herself (see above), but she's still got the munchies (oh does she!). We're also given way too many lost limbs and quarts of blood, a couple cyber-zombies and an oddly touching (Shakespearean . . . almost) climax. The original in this series is also worth a look (skip the sequel), but the zombie queen character really does it for me, it's rare that you get much originality with zombie movies.

7. Psycho
The murders in this classic isn't what makes it one of my favorite horror movies, it's the lines Norman Bates gets, and how he delivers them. I always get a chill when I hear him say 'a boy's best friend is his mother' -- there's so many things wrong with it, and the timing is so perfect. The scariest part may be when Vera Miles wanders into Norman's mother's room -- nothing really happens, but you're on the edge of your seat the whole time . . . and then you see the bed.

6. The Thing
Carpenter not only creates a superior remake of the classic The Thing From Another World! (the movie Jamie Lee Curtis puts on while Michael Meyers is on the loose in Carpenter's Halloween), but he also set a benchmark of special effects terror which has rarely been equaled. Far ahead of its time, who can forget the severed head sprouting legs and crawling off like a spider? With equal parts claustrophobia and mystery, the tension is boiling throughout most of the movie. Filled with so many memorable scares (the blood testing scene still gives me trembles), 'The Thing' was perhaps the highpoint for 80s horror.

5. Freaks
Tod Browning really was the Wes Craven or John Carpenter of his era, doing monster movies such as 'Dracula,' 'Mark of the Vampire,' and other freak-fests like 'The Unknown' and 'The Devil Doll.' But 'Freaks' remains his best. Visions of The Living Torso lighting his cigarette or the hideous pinhead siblings remain shocking to this day. Best of all, 'Freaks' never comes off as exploitation, the movie never judges the freaks, showing that it's us 'normal' people who are the most troublesome creatures. Though the freaks are respected, they're responsible for the biggest scares of the movie: the 'gooble gobble' welcoming feast, stalking their tormentor in the rain and the shot of The Human Torso writhing in the mud with a knife in his mouth.

4. Rosemary's Baby
Entrapment is an emotion utilized by the best thrillers (see: almost all Hitchcock movies), and Roman Polansky took it a step further by having Mia Farrow's character feel completely trapped even though she lived in New York. No matter who she turned to, it seemed they were also involved in the horrible plot to impregnate her with the anti-christ. It speaks to Farrow and Polansky that the most twisted and frightening element of the movie is just a slight twinkle in the actress' eye at the very end. You know when she approaches the baby carriage there's two ways she can react, and when you see that twinkle in her eye and the roots of a smile, you feel sick to your stomach

3. Bride of Frankenstein
The best sequel in horror history, and right up there with The Godfather Part II as the best of any genre. 'Bride' takes the Frankenstein story further, introducing us to a monster who has grown and mad scientists who aren't ready to stop their work. The emotions of love, birth and homoeroticism help this go beyond being just a monster movie. Filled with strange and deep characters (I actually prefer Dr. Pretorious to Dr. Frankenstein), the movie slowly builds to the inevitable meeting between bride and groom before they resort to the one thing that brought them together: death.

2. Halloween
What would horror be without this movie? It jump-started a string of slasher flicks that continued into the 90s and perhaps actually furthered the culture of Halloween as well. Beyond all the hype, 'Halloween' is genius from start to finish -- slightly amazing considering it was made on a tiny budget and was the first real effort from Carpenter. Camera tricks such as young Michael donning a mask while we are seeing through his eyes and garnering many scares in broad daylight (that walk home of Lauie's just kills me) is what made this stand out from other gore fests. But that's one thing that 'Halloween' thankfully lacks -- excessive gore. Grindhouse pictures in the 70s gained audiences through shock-value, but there's really not much of that in 'Halloween,' the scares come from expert filmmaking and acting. Carpenter plays it close to the vest for most of the movie, letting his scares slowly build and then inserting seminal moments of fright -- Laurie discovering all the bodies of her friends, Michael Meyers' (err, The Shape) mask briefly being removed, Laurie watching the murder unfold across the street.

1. The Night of the Hunter

If there's a movie more important to today's horror genre than 'Halloween,' it's 'The Night of the Hunter,' which introduced many horror canons and did it with timeless, revolutionary images and one of the scariest villains of all-time. Faithful DVD Panache readers (I know you're out there) will know that I reference this movie often, and I have to admit it's one of my all-time favorites. In an era when horror movies meant monsters and aliens, Charles Laughton gave us Rev. Harry Powell, a man with 'LOVE' and 'HATE' tattooed on his knuckles, who believed he was serving God with his many killings. Powell carries with him the powers of persuasion and a deep hatred for the sinful temptations that only women can provide man.

Our heroes are John and Pearl, who watched their father be dragged away after he robbed a bank. His cellmate was Powell, who learned that somewhere in that river town was the buried money. In an endless series of unforgettable images, Powell enters the lives of John and Pearl when his silhouette is projected on their bedroom wall from a street light. Powell aims to find the loot by marrying their mother, thus introducing the movie's trademark horror element. Since the movie is told (and sometimes shot) through the eyes of the children, we feel the youthful helplessness they experience with Powell as their step-father. John's calls of foul go unheeded by adults in the community, and it's not until their mother is murdered that they take action into their own hands. After luring Powell into the basement, the kids unleash their trap on the killer, escaping and locking him in. It's then when 'Night of the Hunter' changes from a psychological horror to a straight-up slasher movie, with Powell playing the role of the tireless stalker, who seemingly travels at a leisurely pace, but is able to keep up with his prey.

Elements such as having John and Pearl escape just out of the killer's grasp would be used again and again in horror movies, but Laughton's impossible images could never be replicated: an overhead reveal of one of Powell's victims -- only her arm visible to a group of kids, Pearl's dollar bill doll floating to the feet of an unsuspecting Powell, and the movie's trademark scene --
Willa's body waving in the weeds underwater.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

HORROR MONTH: Me and Ghoulio Down by the Cemetery

By rule, horror movies are filled with cliches, it's just a matter of how well they're utilized. One of the more prolific horror cliches is the cemetery as a dominant location. It makes for an easy eerieness and is a device for terror such as zombies and grave digging (or nude dancing in the case of Return of the Living Dead). With perhaps thousands of cemetery scenes existing on film, there are some who stand above the rest, and I give you some of my favorite cinema cemeteries:

The Omen
Easily the scariest scene in a movie full of them. Gregory Peck and David Warner (in familiar territory as a kook) find themselves in a ghostly Italian cemetery looking for evidence that Peck's child is the anti-Christ. Of course the skies are black and full of lightning, but how director Richard Donner really ups the tension here is having his characters stalked by a trio of demon dogs. Peck and Warner thought they were alone until they find themselves being tracked by the eyes of three ghastly dobermans. This sequence plays out perfectly and I've watched it dozens of times, I even stopped to watch it when I noticed the Spanish channel was showing 'The Omen' one time.

Not only does 'Phantasm' have two handfuls of cemetery scenes, but this is one HELLUVA cemetery and accompanying mortuary. Vast and chilling, with the Holy Shit-freaky Tall Man presiding its grounds, this is not your average cemetery. The mortuary is even more spooky, with a magic flying orb/killing machine waiting for any sneaky kids who are the main characters in a horror movie. Stay the hell out of this cemetery and the whole town in general, and be sure to watch until the very end (goddamn that Tall Man!)

The Leopard Man
A rusty thriller, but nonetheless home to a pair of the scariest
sequences I've ever seen. Both of them involves a leopard, and the scarier of the two takes place in a cemetery. An unlucky girl in a terrorized New Mexico town finds herself locked inside a claustrophobic, moon-lit cemetery -- the kind with a big gate and high stone walls. What the girl does not notice is that in the big oak tree overhanging the cemetery is a hungry panther. The scene is nearly silent and the pacing is note-perfect for some genuine chills.

I've seen this movie so many times, and I am still patiently waiting for a real DVD release. The movie really kicks into gear when Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis meet our title character after being shrunk down to size and exploring the miniature town in their attic. Beetlejuice is buried in the cemetery and the couple has to dig him up in a beautifully-twisted Tim Burton trademark scene where Baldwin and Davis stick shovels into the fake grass of the cemetery and find Michael Keaton back when he could still find work. It's a simple scene, but it -- like the rest of the movie -- has the perfect look to it, in the way only Burton could do it.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I realize this is Horror Month and all, and that this post is about cemeteries in horror movies, but I couldn't let myself publish this without mentioning the greatest cemetery ever caught on film. A mammoth finale setpiece, the endless expanse where 'Unknown' is buried along with the treasure is unconscioubly beautiful and impossibly grand. It's also when the best theme of Morricone's classic score kicks in, leading to the fulfilling tri-duel climax. I have no idea how they made this cemetery (was it already like that? is it still there?), but man I love looking at it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

HORROR MONTH: 15 'Sweet' minutes

DVD Panache is proud to be a part of Dennis Cozzalio's Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon today. Dennis organized this nice event, and his blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule serves as the launching point for several other blogs contributing Aldrich-themed blogs (I particularly enjoyed Andy Horbal's take on The Dirty Dozen and the Last Supper). Since it is Horror Month here at DVD Panache, I chose to take a look at perhaps my favorite opening sequence of any horror movie -- Aldrich's Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte. In 15 minutes we get giant chunks of the plot, unforgettable shots and a pace and sense of dread that the movie really never reaches again after the credits roll.


'Sweet Charlotte' is Aldrich's unofficial follow-up to his timeless What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Both films deal with simmering family tension and jealousy, and with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis lighting up the screen in 'Baby Jane,' it was planned for them to reprise their co-billing, but it was not to be (Crawford's role was offered to several other prominent actresses, as explained in greater detail here). Olivia de Havilland eventually accepted the role and her quiet, repressed demeanor was a perfect contrast to Davis' searing expressions. Besides themes and cast members, 'Baby Jane' and 'Sweet Charlotte' also share highly memorable opening sequences. In 'Baby Jane,' Aldrich gives us a brief but effective expository flashback to the good times, before flashing forward to the troublesome present and giving us the title card. The long delay of the opening credits would be seen in other Aldrich movies (such as 'The Dirty Dozen,' where it was used to great effect). Aldrich no doubt saw that using a prologue such as this before the credits could be used to take his audience off guard and draw their attention even more, and he ratcheted up this technique to the highest possible level in 'Sweet Charlotte,' where we are given a variety of scenes, tones and imagery before we are told what movie we are watching.

Aldrich opens the film with a series of stationary shots of a striking Louisiana mansion during the prohibition era. Each shot shows a different angle of the house and gradually draws closer, until the faint talk we heard in the first couple shots becomes Victor Buono's bellowing Big Sam Hollis. The terse exchanges between Big Sam and John Mayhew (a young Bruce Dern) gives us plot tidbits from characters whose only screen time is in this opening prologue. John is married to Jewel, but plans on eloping with Big Sam's daughter Charlotte at an upcoming party, until Big Sam tells him to do otherwise. Key foreshadowing in this scene includes John defending himself with a chair as Big Sam approaches him and a painting of Big Sam seemingly looking down on John. The next sequence is set up perfectly as Big Sam begins to tell John what his instructions are for the following night's party.

The party sequence is where the prologue literally starts dripping with Aldrich's craftsmanship. We are led into the stately event and hear our first nugget of pulp dialogue: 'Have you seen Charlotte? I've got some killing news to tell her.' I had always heard this line as 'killer news,' but the subtitles say otherwise and it just adds to the subtle camp horror nature of the party scenes. As the inquisitive guest leaves to find Charlotte, she runs into a nervous Big Sam, who mutters something to himself before exiting quickly -- leading the camera to a waiter carrying an ice bucket with a bottle of champagne in it, which Aldrich's lens follows through the room (more foreshadowing, as we will soon find out), before holding on a Hollis family portrait.

We then find John telling Charlotte the news: he's dropping the plans to elope, but insists that he 'really loved her at one time.' As we see Charlotte sobbing (her face hidden, as it will be for the entire scene) and John trying to console her, the camera slowly pans left, leading to a shot of the two characters through the bars of a bird cage. Inconsolable, Charlotte storms off and yells 'I could KILL YOU!' Aldrich is not hiding the fact that someone (most likely John) is going to be killed before the party, and the looming dread is further enhanced by an overly long shot of a butcher knife used by a waiter to open a champagne case -- and a later look showing us that someone has swiped it. These shots are interspersed with looks at the still nervous Big Sam pacing outside, perhaps contemplating -- a murder?

We then find John toying with Charlotte's bouquet she threw at him in the previous scene, apparently waiting for his jilted lover to return and practicing what he will say to her. The door slowly opens and an unseen figure enters, John expects to see Charlotte, but all we see is that butcher knife wailing away on John -- cutting off his hand (still clutching the bouquet) in a shocking vision of gore (his stump of an arm now resembling that champagne bottle the camera focused on earlier). The knife continues to fall on John, and his screams and blood fill the room (with the encaged birds being the only real witnesses). This violent scene sets up the film's signature moment:

As the band plays one last number ('Goodbye Ladies'), we finally get our first look at Charlotte: bathed in shadows save for horror-filled eyes, she is set against the backdrop of the lively party until that inquisitive guest with the 'killing news' finally spots her. 'Oh there's Charlotte!' silences the band and the rest of the room as they turn to see Charlotte with her back turned. As our title character turns around we see her white dress has a large blotch of blood around the waist -- evoking all kinds of murderous coming-of-age metaphors. Gasps are the only words uttered before Big Sam spies his daughter and slowly approaches her: 'Come with me baby,' 'I don't want to, Papa.' The shot of Big Sam holding out his hand fades to black, leaving us Aldrich's finale of the prologue.

We are shown the house again, but it is now 1964. A group of boys approach the decaying mansion and dare one of their members to go inside, their minds on the legend of Charlotte Willis murdering her lover with a butcher knife. The terrified boy enters the silent house -- his nerves set ablaze by the chimes of a grandfather clock -- and spies a nearby music box. He goes around a large armchair and picks it up, before being scared nearly to death by a startled Charlotte who had been sleeping in the chair. Charlotte seems dazed, and the screaming boy escapes out a nearby door. Holding the open music box, Charlotte approaches the open door and calls out for John. The boys laugh and run off and we hear that the mystery of Charlotte has now become a youthful chant: 'Chop, chop sweet Charlotte/Chop chop till he's dead . . . ' The confused Charlotte takes up a quarter of the screen, as the opening credits fill the darkness surrounding her, leading to the above title card at the 15-minute mark.

This 15 minute prologue remains startling, becoming one of those opening moments that locks you into a film. Throughout the prologue, Aldrich displayed a number of economic techniques of exposition, giving the audiences a great deal of character background and plot points without using much dialogue at all -- while at the same time setting the perfect macabre mood which will permeate the rest of the running time.

Monday, October 09, 2006

HORROR MONTH: Goblins, Trolls and Screams

I was fortunate to enjoy a free Showtime preview this weekend. I had expected to enjoy some quality new releases (just one) and maybe some trademark Showtime T&A (zilch). Never did I expect that I would be introduced to a cinematic landmark and a budding obsession of mine: Troll 2.

Currently occupying the No. 3 spot on IMDB's list of the Bottom 100 movies, 'Troll 2' is not simply a horrible movie, but an experience that words cannot prepare you for. It is not just one of the worst movies ever made, but a level of entertainment that defies categorization and explanation, but I will do my best.

Our Players
One of the reasons 'Troll 2' struck me was that by accident it introduced cinema to a new style of acting. An evolution of Italian Neo-Realism, whereby non-actors are used to portray real life, 'Troll 2' uses what could be called 'Italian Non-Budgetism.' Director Claudio Fragasso is Italian, and to get around the haggles of a budget, he utilized non-actors out of necessity, in many cases people who perhaps had never seen a movie. If you skim the IMDB page for 'Troll 2,' most of the cast have no other film credits to their name. There are many line deliveries in this movie that sound like they're from the first day of auditions for a high school play, when prospective actors are reciting lines from a play they have likely not read. It doesn't help matters that the script often feels like it was hastily written off-camera just before shooting, examples:

HOLLY: 'If my father catches us he'll cut off your little nuts and eat them!' (Talk of a father eating adolescent testicles is always a good way to start a movie)

JOSHUA: 'Did they (the goblins) eat him?'
GRANDPA: 'Yes, with a voracity that has never been seen on Earth.' (Goddamn those goblins were hungry!)

Of course it is difficult to work with actors with little or no experience, or even ones with a limited range of emotiosn. For example, the main character is a little boy named Joshua, who goes the entire running time with his squinted eyes, gritted teeth and never lowers his voice to anything less than the kind of screaming that is usually reserved for extreme bodily harm. Margo Prey (in her only cinematic credit) portrays Joshua's mother, and can be easily described as ugly. It doesn't help her cause that her only acting 'skill' is to leave her mouth and eyes boldly agape for extended periods of time. George Hardy portrays Joshua's father, and was famously simply a dentist from a nearby Utah town.

Our story
The problem with most horrible low-budget horror/scifi movies is that they're boring, mostly because they take a simplistic story that's already been done (big monster/aliens/slasher). In 'Troll 2' this isn't a problem, because it tells a highly original story. It starts with Peter, a clean cut boy in the 1800s walking through the forest with a tri corner hat (that's what they wore back then). The narrator tells us that fear was sticking to him like dew on leaves, and it doesn't help matters when he stumbles upon some goblins wearing burlap sacks. Peter runs, and eventually runs into a beautiful girl with freckles painted (poorly) on her face. She lovingly gives him some disgusting green goo that he eagerly laps, but then everything goes wrong, as green punch starts pouring out of his skin and the girl with freckles painted on her face turns into a goblin.

We soon find out that the narrator was indeed Grandpa Seth (no need to remember this name, as it accounts for nearly half the words in the movie, usually delivered as 'GRANDPA SETH!!!!!!!! HELP US!!!!!!!!'), who was reading bedside to Joshua from a children's book that looks in one shot to be titled 'Davey the Goblin.' As Joshua is shouting questions to Grandpa Seth about the goblins, his mother knocks on the door and we find out that Grandpa has actually been dead for 6 months, but he still comes to Joshua's room to read him stories (among his other abilities: stopping time, materializing as a person, making molotov cocktails and escaping from Hell for a few minutes at a time). Before he disappeared, Grandpa told Joshua that goblins still exist (this is a key plot point), but his mom tells him that the family is off to spend a month in the country to unwind.

You can probably guess what happens from here on out: the family goes to a town called Nilbog, which is populated by country rubes who are actually vegetarian goblins who trick you into eating their magical forest food, so you will melt into green goo to be eaten by them. There are also many interesting subplots (some not involving a sexual encounter involving a boy, a witch named Creedence and an ear of corn), such as a boy who turns into a plant and Nilbog's friendly Sheriff named Gene Freak.

Keen readers will notice that I did not use the word 'troll' once in my description. This is by design, as the word 'troll' is not uttered once and as far as anyone can tell, 'Troll 2' has nothing to do with 'Troll,' a 1986 movie about trolls (not goblins) invading a San Francisco apartment complex.

Trolling for genius
My simple description may make it sound like 'Troll 2' is undeserving of the accolades I've reaped upon it, but consider the following:

--In one remarkable scene, Joshua's family is set to unwittingly eat some of the goblin food (usually shown as cakes with green frosting, english muffins with green frosting and sandwiches with green frosting). Grandpa Seth to the rescue, advising Joshua 'for the love of God, don't let them eat!' Helpfully, Gramps freezes time and gives Joshua 30 seconds to think of a solution. Joshua doesn't let him down, as he thinks of an obvious answer: pissing all over the green-frosted feast. This leads to a pantheon quote from dad: 'These people are letting us stay in their house, and you can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it!'

--One moving revelation is that Nilbog is actually Goblin spelled backwards. Goblins are a clever bunch, naming your town 'Goblin' would be much too obvious, no?

--When Evil Preacher Goblin goes against Joshua (molotov cocktail) and Grandpa Seth (fire extinguisher -- 'to cause confusion'), the Goblin condemns Grandpa's spirit to hell. Joshua asks if Grandpa really is in hell, to which he replies '
No! But I know a trick that a friend of mine who went there taught me!' Oh.

--The final battle features Joshua's secret weapon (a balogna sandwich) and his family touching a Stonehenge rock and concentrating very hard (helped by Joshua urging them on with 'CONCENTRATE HARDER!!!!!').

The Legacy

Thankfully, I'm not the only one smitten with this movie, check out the official fan web site, which features lots of good information and even some snazzy t-shirts for sale. Last year in New York City, 'Troll 2' was screened at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, with most of the cast attending for a Q&A session (videos of this event are on YouTube here and here). As you can imagine, college screenings of 'Troll 2' have helped spur its cult status, as well as MGM's Troll/Troll 2 DVD release. As I said earlier, the full brilliance of 'Troll 2' cannot be done justice by words alone, so please enjoy this extensive clip montage on YouTube, as well as this stylish 'Troll 2' music video and faux trailer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

HORROR MONTH: DVD Survival Guide

To fill up your month of horror, you will no doubt need countless movies of said genre to occupy your time before the holiday season arrives. If you haven't noticed, horror fans -- maybe more than any other genre -- are entitled to a booty of low-price but high-quality DVDs, often in handy box sets. I've noticed some particularly juicy deals lately, and I will pass the savings on to you, in the hopes that your Halloween movie viewings be that much better.

Fright Pack: Campy Classics
The sight of this box set at BestBuy today actually inspired this column, I couldn't believe such a set existed without my knowledge. Apparently Anchor Bay has a variety of these Fright Packs in other horror genres (check them out here), but this set is easily the most impressive. Encased in delectable lunch box/six pack packaging, it includes Sleepaway Camp (complete trash, as I have explained, but worth owning at this price), Return to Horror High, Transylvania 6-5000, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, Vamp and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. 'Vamp' is a definite weak link in this otherwise outstanding bunch, but the rest are all quality camp horror. I never even realized there was a sequel to 'Horror High,' but it sounds fun, as does 'Elvira.' 'Transylvania' is a great Halloween comedy with a cast including Jeff Goldblum, Michael Richards and a very young Geena Davis. Thankfully Anchor Bay has priced this right, and it's pretty hard to resist this time of year.

The Nightmare on Elm Street Collection

This one's been around for a long time, and was an instant hit because it was high quality with a very attractive MSRP ($60), now the price has dropped even more, and even though I'm not the biggest 'Nightmare' fan, I just may have to pick this one up now. Originally released as nothing more than a display box with all the regular DVDs inside (as well as the extras DVD), it has apparently been re-released in more elegant packaging with slip cases for each movie (whose spines combine to form a nice pic of Freddie on one side of the box). No luck in finding a picture of it online, but it looks very sharp and it even comes with 3-D glasses for 'Freddie's Dead,' as well as an extras disc loaded with goodies. If only this much care was given to the whoop-dee-shit Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan set, which puts two movies on each disc and offers little in the way of extras.

The Val Lewton Horror Collection

A very impressive (and popular) set that gives you nine genuinely chilling horror classics. I haven't seen all of these, but from what I've seen of Lewton, I really need to buy this one. I saw The Leopard Man and The Body Snatcher earlier this year and really got into both of them, The Leopard Man in particular. While uneven as a whole, 'The Leopard Man' has a few scenes that will still scare almost anyone, notably a scene in a cemetery that I will touch on later this mont. Lewton was a prolific horror producer, with Cat People being his best known work. For $50 this is a great buy and a slice of horror that any fan of the genre should check out.

Frankenstein, Dracula: The Legacy Collections ($20 each)
Universal outdid everyone's expectations when they gave the 'Legacy' treatment to all their monsters two years ago (in celebration of, ugh, 'Van Helsing'). You can probably stand to pass over the sets for Creature and the Invisible Man, but these two are essential. Not all of the 5 movies included in the sets are exactly worthwhile, but in Dracula's case you get the Bela Lugosi classic, but also the Spanish version -- filmed on the same set as the English version, but some consider the Spanish version superior in ways because they were able to observe the English filmmakers and see what worked and what didn't. Frankenstein's Legacy series is a must-buy if only for 'Frankenstein' and 'Bride of Frankenstein,' the latter being one of the greatest sequels ever made, enriching the character and offering a superior story. It's for these reasons that you should take the Legacy series over the recently-released 75th anniversary editions of Dracula and Frankenstein, which have remastered quality but not the broad appeal of offering multiple movies for only $20.

Various Double Feature DVDs ($7-$10)
You can still find a lot of trashy/camp horror on double feature DVDs, which usually means there's one quality movie on it. The best example of this I found was a Tales From the Crypt double feature with Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood on it. While 'Demon Knight' is one helluva bloody good ride (a sure bet to please everyone at a Halloween party), 'Bordello of Blood' has Dennis Miller and nothing else. Same goes for Poltergeist II/III, the former is an underrated chiller while the latter is unintentionally hilarious throughout, only you feel bad laughing because the little girl who played Carol Ann died during shooting.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

HORROR MONTH: Kids can be so cruel

I'm trying to make October into horror month here on DVD Panache, which means I am committing to posting more than I did in September. Since Horror Month is in its infancy, I will begin it by taking a look at the younger creations in horror movies, specifically the kids who have made life a living hell for some unfortunate souls. (Note: Stereotypical youthful horror characters -- Children of the Corn, Poltergeist, Exorcist, et al -- were mostly avoided for your protection.

John and Pearl (The Night of the Hunter)
The original lil' basteds paved the way for
countless other tikes who would foil the villain in the end. Like I am known to say, 'Hunter' is truly one of the greatest American movies ever made, and certainly one of the all-time bests in the horror genre -- but that's for another post (possibly this month), because what we're focusing on here is its child stars. After their father is hanged for robbery, only John and Pearl know where he hid the loot. They never planned on having to contend with Robert Mitchum's Rev. Powell, a terrifying creature who believes he is doing God's dirty work. After resisting Powell's inquiries about the money for the first act, the action really kicks up when the children set a trap for him in the basement and escape on foot. In a shot that would be repeated in countless slahser movies decades later, John and Pearl just barely escape into a boat, just as Powell sinks into the mud, his prey just beyond his reach. In a ploy that would again be repeated in horror movies, Powell's character never tires -- seemingly getting stronger as the chase goes on. In a movie full of polarizing shots, we see John waking up in a barn -- apparently safe -- only to see the silhouette of Powell riding a horse on the horizon (singing a creepy hymn), to which John wonders, 'don't he ever sleep?'

Miles and Flora (
The Innocents)
Maybe the most chilling of any black and white horror movie, 'The Innocents' remains the prototype of subtle terror, and still one of the most eerie portrayals of ghosts ever seen on screen. When Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr, who recently turned 85) takes the job of governess at a sprawling estate, she doesn't count on the former masters of the house still having a hold on the grounds, and it doesn't help matters when the two 'innocents,' Miles and Flora, insist she's crazy. The first times we see a spirit, it's merely a shadowy figure atop a tower -- but we get better and better glimpses of them as the movie goes along, and apparently Miss Giddens is the only person to see them. One of the first horror movies to use the invincible nature of youth, whereby an adult has to keep themselves from simply slapping around a child.

The Children (
Village of the Damned)
While 'The Innocents' focused on the seemingly pure nature of children, 1960's 'Village of the Damned' twisted the imagery of innocence to create an all-new monster. An extremely low-budget production, 'Village' is set after everyone in a small English hamlet falls unconcscious for some strange reason. After they awake, all the women are pregnant, and give birth in rapid succession to blond children with piercing eyes. The group of children do everything together, and their powers of persuasion soon become apparent. An obvious metaphor of conformity and loss of individuality, 'Village' is a powerful monster movie because its villains are unflinchingly evil and horrifying. In addition to the hypnosis eye effects, all the kids are voiced by adult actors, giving them a hyper-intelligent and eerie nature. Like many great horror films, no explanation is given for the evil phenonmenon (unlike John Carpenter's inferior remake).

Charlie (
Parents just don't understand, especially when their participation in a government experiment gives you the supernatural power to create fires. I hate it when that happens. Drew Barrymore and her dad (piss poor telekinetic) are captured by the feds who hope to turn her powers into WMDs ('Send in the little girl!'), but when things get nasty, watch out. This movie is pretty boring up until the end, which seems to have used about 80 percent of the budget. Charlie (Barrymore) finally realizes that if she wants these government types off her trail for good she's going to have to get mad, and you won't like her when she's mad. After a lifetime of lighting hay on fire and boiling water with her mind, Charlie gets wise and starts creating fireballs and generally makes things go boom. Perhaps even scarier than Barrymore's character is that the movie tries to pass off George C. Scott as a Native American sniper.

Monster Squad (The Monster Squad)
Again, this gem is still unavailable on DVD, this remains the best youth-empowering horror movie to date (as in, if the monsters come, only kids will know what to do about them). Watch as Horace slaps Dracula with a garlic-heavy slice of pizza or when he rips a shotgun out of a dead policeman's hands and lays the Creature to waste. Be amazed with the most ingenious disposal of a mummy ever conceived (he's literally nothing without those bandages) and some of the most brutal treatment of a werewolf (not just a kick to the 'nards,' but a stick of dynamite in his belt). These kids know how to get it done, and can only laugh when the army finally shows up at the end, prompting this wonderfully predictable ending dialogue: 'Who are you kids?' 'We're the Monster Squad.'

Note: The above picture is actually yours truly in 2nd grade, clothed in my most successful Halloween costume