1 Nov
2017

The Events of November 2017!

Happy November, friends!  November is one of my very favorite months of the year!  It has Thanksgiving, which is a totally top drawer holiday, and it's usually when the weather starts getting well and truly chilly, which I always look forward to.  Sweater weather is the best weather!  November is also a month of all kinds of crazy awesome stuff at Kards Unlimited!  Find out more after the break!

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30 Oct
2017

The Early Works of Peter Jackson

 

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post contains images of blood and gore.

Also: SPOILERS!!!

When I was 15 or 16 years old,  I loved hardcore punk music, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and gory horror films.  I was a young punk kid.  I wore black.  Tons of black.

Dip Shit

Yeesh.  Anyways.  My top 3 favorite gore movies are Evil Dead 2, Cannibal: The Musical, and Braindead (released in North America under the title Dead Alive).  I've recently revisited all of these movies and it's fair to say that they've stood the test of time.

Evil Dead 2 is kind of a remake of The Evil Dead, with the second one presenting a much looser, goofier vibe than the original.  Cannibal: The Musical uses the gore genre as a springboard for witty humor and sight gags akin to the movie AirplaneBraindead, however, tops all of them. Using slapstick humor, plenty of gross-out scenes, impressive practical effects and buckets upon buckets of blood, this is the bloodiest, goriest movie I've ever seen.  I can't imagine another movie will ever top it with regard to the amount of fake blood splashed all around the set and actors, especially at the end.

This makes me happy

The Evil Dead trilogy was the brain child of Sam Raimi, who would go on to direct the original Spiderman trilogy and Cannibal: The Musical is the first feature length film of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Braindead, however, is actually the third feature-length film of legendary director Peter Jackson (or Petey Jax, as he likes to be called), whose birthday is October 31!  His first two movie are in the same vein as Braindead.  His first film, Bad Taste, follows three members of a paramilitary troop who try to foil the plans of alien invaders intent on harvesting humans for an intergalactic fast-food franchise.  Simply typing that sentence fills me with unspeakable joy.

Gross. And awesome. Grawesome. GRAWESOME!!!!

His second film is an all-puppet feature, Meet the Feebles, that plays like a Muppets production on a bad acid trip (or perhaps a good PCP trip, if such a thing exists).  Following the exploits of a dysfunctional stage troupe, the movie explores many sordid subjects such as drug addiction, adultery, rape, murder, suicide, pornography and many more.  Too many more, to be completely honest.  Even knowing what I knew about this movie, I really wasn't ready for just how sordid the material would be.  Willfully displaying over-the-top violence with no regard for taste is one thing.  Most of us will probably never have a run-in with organ harvesting aliens.  But Meet The Feebles handles delicate subject matter the way Lennie from Of Mice and Men handles rabbits.  They bleed, they vomit, they smoke, they shoot heroin, they eat shit, and they disappoint more often than they impress.  They're The Feebles and they are available for free on YouTube.

Braindead, by comparison, is really good-natured.  A team of explorers, while on an expedition to Skull Island, capture a Sumatran Rat-Monkey.  After the leader of the group is bitten by the Rat-Monkey, he is hacked up with a machete by his team members.

Short summation of the movie: The monkey is shipped to a New Zealand zoo, it bites a woman, she turns into a zombie, and her son tries to keep the whole incident under wraps by housing the growing horde of zombies in his mansion.  The story hits a gory climax with an incredible scene involving a room full of zombies and one man with a lawnmower.

THIS is the Peter Jackson I know.  And while my friends and I were indulging in these bloody disgusting delights, Jackson was dominating the world with his adaptations of The Lord Of The Rings.  I've recently watched all three films (thanks Mel), and they are unimpeachable.  I went in with high expectations and was still blown away (Return of the King in particular is quite good.  Poor Smeagol.)  I quite enjoyed his other films, as well.  The Frighteners was fun and King Kong was surprisingly well-executed, if a little long.

Jackson was delivered from the world of red corn syrup and bad acting with his film Beautiful Creatures.  His post-splatstick (great term) films are certainly admirable, but to my mind, nothing will compare to the corny macabre brilliance of Braindead.  Maybe one day he will follow in the footsteps of Sam Raimi and make a return to that world.  After all, red food dye and corn syrup is much cheaper than chainmail.

Happy Birthday, Petey Jax!

27 Oct
2017

My Buddy, Frank

The last Friday of every October is reserved to honor one of and, in my opinion, the greatest of, Great Monsters. You know who The Greats are: Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Mummy, and The Wolfman. But who am I talking about? I'm talking, of course, about Frankenstein. Okay, okay, I KNOW, Frankenstein's monster. For this post, don't hate me, I'm going to call him Frankenstein. It's just easier that way, since Frankenstein's monster is a pain to type every time.

Look at how much emotion is in this still frame alone. Are any of the other great monsters so well-developed? No.

I really liked monster stories when I was little. The Monster at the End of the Book with loveable Grover was my favorite as a tot. Long before I should have been rebelling, I would sneak out after lights out while my parents were watching X-Files and watch from behind the couch, spooking myself with the supernatural. Now going for my MFA in Creative Writing, my very first stab at writing, in elementary school, was a picture book about a haunted house, the monsters who lived there, and how they weren't actually all that bad once you got to know them.

But what really encouraged my monster mania was the 1987 film, The Monster Squad. About a gang of young horror movie fans who learn that their town is being overrun by monsters (and of course the grownups won't believe them), they decide to take the matter into their own hands.

What the trailer doesn't really show, though, is how Frankenstein's role plays out in the film. The children befriend Frank, and, for a kids' movie, does a lot to explore just what it means to be human and what it means to be monster (it even has a subtle reference to the Holocaust, further muddling the line). The "monster" in the film resembles Boris Karloff's Frankenstein a bit more than Mary Shelley's (more on that later), and even plays on the famous scene in the 1931 film with the little girl near the river, but he is very human. The youngest member of the squad (the annoying younger sister, my favorite, since I was essentially this girl in my neighborhood) forces the older boys to see Frank in a new way. He is not scary. He is not evil. He is not a monster. He protects the children, essentially turning his back on the actual monsters that the world has grouped him with based on appearance alone.

This movie is one of the few movies that makes me cry.  Every time. Every. Time. The scene involves Frankenstein. It's sadder than what you're picturing. I'll pretend, though, that everyone lives happily ever after, and that this is the final shot of the movie:

Frankenstein is such a wonderful monster because he is so very human. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein set the bar for this way back in 1818. Shelley's monster is much more human-looking than Boris Karloff's. Tall, yes, misshapen and scarred, yes, but human. And, unlike some re-imaginings, he is intelligent. He is aware that his creator's disgust for him is wrong. That he shouldn't be judged by his appearance alone. I wrote a paper once about society's propensity toward 'othering' those whose appearances don't fit within societal norm. Shelley's Frankenstein was inextricable from my argument. Shelley makes the reader aware of just how deeply the so-called creature (as in, not human) feels, and how it's society that turns him into the actual monster he becomes. The novel has some of the most haunting lines I've ever read in literature.

He is so utterly alone he even envies the devil himself:

'Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred.' Chapter 15.

I mean, come on. How can you not sympathize with this guy? Interestingly enough, one of the most-oft quoted lines on the internet is not, in fact, from the book, but from the 1994 Kenneth Branagh film, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein:

But, man, is it a fine piece of writing (notice satisfy versus indulge). And that's the thing with Frankenstein, I've yet to see a reincarnation that lacks heart (ok, or at least is really fun to watch). So, if you are like me, and love all things Frankenstein, here are a few more ways to get your fix.

Books:

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley. The beloved classic. (Book Riot did a really awesome post       of the best covers printed, if you're interested in such nerdy things. It's here.)

The Frankenstein Series, Dean Koontz. A modern re-working of the tale focusing on a mysterious tattooed man who    teams with detectives to solve crimes.

Television:

Penny Dreadful, Showtime. This three-season show features both Dr. Frankenstein and his creation as main                   characters. It is gory, graphic, and incredibly engaging. My mom and I watched this show together. If you're                  familiar with the show, you'll probably know why it should have been more awkward than it actually was.

Films:

All of the Frankenstein adaptations: Boris Karloff's 1931 film, plus 1935's Bride of Frankenstein and '39's Son of              Frankenstein. More recently we've seen the Kenneth Branagh film and 2014's I, Frankenstein.

Young Frankenstein. The classic laugh-your-patootie-off comedic reinterpretation from Mel Brooks.

Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. An even older comedic movie, part of a series in which the bumbling duo run    into monsters.

The Monster Squad. Not about Frankenstein's monster, per se, but super seriously worth a watch, anyway. Seriously.

23 Oct
2017

Hats for Sale!

 

9 Oct
2017

IT (2017)

SPOILERS!

I walked into work around 8:45 a.m.  I said out loud, to nobody in particular, "Hey! I saw the new IT!"  My coworkers gave me a strange look.  Adam, my manager, said, "Okay...how was it?"

"It was...good!"  There's a long pause after this.  My coworkers know me well enough to know that I'm not going to leave it at that.  Adam asks, "Is there any reason it wasn't great?"  And, in fact, there is a reason.  But the reason has less to do with the movie and more to do with the genre it occupies.

Let me get the short, fair review out of the way right now.  The 2017 movie is really good.  Bill Skarsgård delivers a much better rendition of Pennywise than Tim Curry.  The kids are hilarious and have great chemistry. The movie itself does a great job creating an incredibly tense and creepy atmosphere, and delivers plenty of jump-in-your-seat scares and gross-out scenes.  My experience was more than satisfactory.  There were a couple of moments where I was legitimately scared.  The scene with the film projector, in particular, had me grabbing my head with my mouth agape, letting out small whimpers.  Short answer: Go see this movie; you will not be disappointed.

I should probably get this out of the way, as well.  I'm not going to talk about the book.  The book is better than the swing-and-a-miss 1990 miniseries AND the new movie.  The general rule of film adaptations of iconic books still applies here.  If you are sitting in line at the DMV, or have a lengthy prison sentence coming up, I would recommend reading it (assuming the guards don't confiscate it.  The 1,000+ page novel is definitely big enough to be considered a weapon, even the soft cover).

This was the version my brother owned. I used to stare at it and wonder what it was about. Memories...

So I'm just going to compare the miniseries and the movie.  And, really, the deck is stacked against the miniseries.  IT (the monster) is a shape-shifting reality-bender who manifests itself as your greatest fears.  IT is a great antagonist.  But in 1990, the technology simply wasn't available to make IT look believable yet.  The miniseries relied heavily on practical effects, which is fine, but if you are going to have a character that can transform into your greatest fears, leaning heavily on digital effects isn't the worst idea.  The 2017 movie had decades of technological breakthroughs on its side, and used them to great effect.

The following clip puts scenes from each of the video versions side by side:

The creators of the movie also had the miniseries itself on their side.  A filmed adaptation of the novel acted as a guide for what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. The miniseries had the daunting task of turning a huge novel into a two-part television series without any visual aids other than storyboards and illustrations.

That's another thing to keep in mind.  2017's IT was given an R-rating and a theatrical release.  The miniseries was broadcast on ABC.  Looking at those facts alone as a consumer, which one would you like to see?

If there is one good thing to say about the miniseries, it's Tim Curry's performance.  A perfect blend of funny and disturbing, Tim Curry's rendition of Pennywise was almost universally praised by critics.  This can't be overstated. Any time he is on screen, it's hard to look away.  Director Tommy Lee Wallace said his job, basically, "was to give Tim the stage and not get in his way too much. He was like Robin Williams in the way he brought a spontaneous improvisation to the part."

So how does Bill Skarsgård's performance square up with the original?  Quite well, actually.  For one, he doesn't try to rip off Curry.  He interprets Pennywise in a much darker way. He's more menacing and less funny.  He's still goofy, but instead of relying on shtick and vaudeville comedy, he's more predatory.  And to be honest, I think it makes way more sense, considering that IT isn't a clown, but a timeless entity that poses as a clown in order to lure in its prey of choice, children.  Skarsgård's Pennywise just makes more sense, in general, even if he's a less-entertaining character than Curry.

The miniseries had one advantage, however, and I'd like to talk about it.  The miniseries didn't really feel like a horror movie.  The content was horrific, no doubt, but it caught you off guard.  The movie, on the other hand, felt like a standard horror film.  Even if you had no expectations walking into the theater, you knew within the first five minutes that frightening stuff was going to happen.  Everything indicates this.  The music, the lighting, the camera direction.  It all follows the conventions of modern-day horror movies.  The miniseries seemed more like an after-school special that was infected by some nefarious entity.  It may have been corny, but it had the element of surprise on its side.

I knew going in to the movie that it wasn't going to be a game changer.  It's a horror flick, and it has to answer to the people who funded it.  This means it's not going to be experimental.  It has to follow the conventions laid down by previous successful horror films so that it can make money.  If not, we may not get to see the sequel that the film sets up at the end.  Oh well, guess I'll keep waiting for the next Shining.

But even though it's pretty much a standard horror film, it does an exceptional job.  The horror content is visceral and plentiful.  Solid acting, good story, good pacing, really good camera direction.  Well worth the money.  I'll probably see it again.