Archive for August 2008

The 12 Movies Meme (Week 1 of 2)

Chick Young from Trash Aesthetics has tagged me.

Here is the scenario that was posed to him by Ross from Anchorwoman in Peril!:

"Tag! You’re it... Or rather I’m it – at least for the rest of this post – because AiP has been tagged to take part in The 12 Movies Meme by Piper at Lazy Eye Theatre. Inspired by Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody’s recently announced programme for the New Beverly Cinema, Piper is asking other bloggers to imagine their own ideal twelve-night movie stint, preferably with some sort of thread uniting the whole thing."

The meme curse demands that I tag five other people when my list is done. The problem is that I don't know five other people who regularly maintain blogs. In lieu of tagging, I am altering the rules. In my opinion, not being able to tag other people demands that I make the imaginary film festival grander. So, what I am going to do is program the ULTIMATE science fiction/horror film festival. What do I mean by "ULTIMATE"? I mean 13 consecutive nights of quality cinema. Each night will present a different theme that science fiction and horror stories typically explore. Furthermore, the lines between science fiction and horror are often blurred. A theme that is presented on one night will very likely crop up on a different night when we are exploring another theme. Also, the night will typically be organized into classic film and modern film (although we'll depart from this from time to time). Finally, why science fiction and horror? As the old saying goes "write what you know". Avid readers of this blog know that science fiction and horror are my bag. Always have been.

And now, commence au festival!

MONDAY - "The Terror from Beyond Space!"

To kickoff the festival, we're going to explore a classic paradigm in science fiction / horror: the alien menace. Our first film, "Planet of the Vampires", was released by American International Pictures in 1965. Mario Bava, the Italian grandmaster of horror cinema, co-wrote and directed. The film tells the story of an interplanetary expedition that receives a distress signal from a distant planet. When they reach the desolate planet, each member of the expedition becomes possessed. I chose this film to open the festival because I believe that it is one of the nexus points of science fiction and horror cinema. Not only did it heavily inspire our second film of the evening (more on that in a moment), but I see parallels with "Planet of the Vampires" and George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead", which ushered in an entirely separate genre in horror (more on this later in the festival).

Our second film, "Alien", was released by 20th Century Fox in 1979. Written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett and directed by Ridley Scott, this is quite simply one of my all time favourite films. The basic plot is the same: a group of interplanetary miners are on their way home with a large shipment of ore when they receive an eerie distress signal of unknown origin. What follows is one of the scariest films ever made. Ridley Scott raised the B-movie origins of this film to high art. He and co-writer O'Bannon were very astute and hired conceptual artist H.R. Giger to design the alien stowaway. This is also the first time in our festival in which we see the lines blur between science fiction and horror. While the film shares some of the same furniture as science fiction (space exploration), it is primarily a horror film. It contains one of the landmark scenes in the genre, commonly referred to as the "chest-burster" scene. "Alien" is a truly stunning achievement in science fiction/horror cinema. (Personal Note: I was after both of my parents to let me see "Alien". They thought I was too young. This went on for quite a few years. Then, one fateful summer afternoon when I was 11, my mom went out. She came home with VHS rentals of both "Alien" and "Aliens". Mom said "Have fun" to both my dad and I and left us alone to watch...a very memorable and impressionable afternoon.)

TUESDAY - "Who Goes There?"

The second night of the festival will examine another classic science fiction / horror paradigm: things that go bump in the night. Tonight is special, because we're going to open with a classic Twilight Zone episode called "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street". Written by Rod Serling, this segment shows what happens when the power goes out in a sleepy suburb. It is a very clever and thought provoking examination of prejudice and paranoia through the lens of science fiction and horror. I grew up watching reruns of The Twilight Zone on Detroit WXON Channel 20 every weekday afternoon after school. This episode is a personal favourite. It also dovetails quite nicely into this evening's features.

The first feature is "John Carpenter's The Thing", inspired by the novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell and the 1951 film "The Thing from Another World". Kurt Russell is a member of a scientific expedition in the Arctic. The expedition discovers a UFO that was buried in the ice millions of years ago. Its inhabitant has he ability to perfectly copy lifeforms right down to the DNA. This is a dynamite nailbiter of a film, examining fear and paranoia. The spider head sequence ranks up there with the chestburster sequence from "Alien" ("Oh you've gotta be fucking kidding!"). It is also another classic "I wasn't allowed to watch this as a child" film.

Tuesday's second feature is Neil Marshall's "The Descent", one of the four modern horror films in the festival that I think stands toe-to-toe with the classics. A group of women go on a spelunking trip in the Appalachian mountains. Something (or things?) pick off the ladies one-by-one. While it may sound derivative, "The Descent" will make your heart leap out of your chest. And, not only is it scary, the film has brilliant character development. You get to know each character. The tension in the film comes from the relationships between the characters in addition to the things that go bump in the night.

WEDNESDAY - "Danse Macabre"

The third night of our festival showcases films based on the works of Stephen King. adaptations of Mr. King's work has been...spotty at best. However, there are a few gems out there. One of those gems was last year's "The Mist" adapted and directed by Frank Darabont. A small town in Maine is suddenly enveloped by a dense mist that rolls in off of the lake. The mist traps residents of the town in a local supermarket. When night falls, creatures great and small emerge from the mist. Folks, this one is an absolute nail-biter and is the second of four modern horror films in the festival. This is Darabont's third film adaptation of King's work (the others being "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile").

Our second film is "The Shining" from the legendary Stanley Kubrick. Jack Torrence, a struggling writer, brings his wife and son to the overlook hotel for a winter caretaker job. Torrence thinks that he'll be able to complete his novel amidst the isolation. However, the isolation slowly drives Jack insane...his son is psychic...the hotel is haunted. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. This film is controversial amongst the King fans because it's not a very faithful adaptation of the book. However, it is an AMAZING kubrick film. Whatever kind of film Kubrick tried to make (science fiction, film noir, swords/sandals epic, etc.), he always strived to make the defining film of the genre. "The Shining" is no exception. It is one of the finest haunted house films ever made.

THURSDAY - "Possession"

Tonight, we will start out with another excellent episode of "The Twilight Zone" called "The Howling Man". This episode, written by Charles Beaumont, is about a man who is lost in Eastern Europe and discovers a castle. Since this is the Twilight Zone, the castle is a prison for Satan himself. This episode is another personal favourite and features the legendary John Carradine in the role of the Devil's jailer.

The episode also sets up the theme for this evening's films. Tonight, we bear witness to demons. Our first film, Ingmar Bergman's "Persona", is not strictly a horror film, per se. However, the characters of the film (a nurse and her psychiatric patient) seem haunted throughout the entire film. The film also starts out with a devastating montage in which it seems that the very fabric of the film is possessed.

This brings us to our second feature of the evening: THE EXORCIST. Why the capital letters? Because this is one of the scariest films ever made. The plot is simple: young Regan MacNeil is possessed by the demon Pazuzu. The film, written by William Peter Blatty (based on his novel) and directed by William Friedkin, is a textbook example of how to scare people. Once again, the very fabric of the film seems to be possessed.

My choice to pair these two films is based on an essay written by film historian Tim Lucas, which can be found here: . This extremely enlightening essay outlines the visual and thematic similarities between the two films.

FRIDAY - "Hell Awaits"

This evening's selections have one very simple theme in common: visceral gore. Lots of it. We open with "Suspiria", co-written and directed by the Italian grandmaster of horror Dario Argento. Ballet student Suzy Banyon travels to Europe to attend an exclusive ballet school. Little does she know that it is run by witches. We spend the duration of the film following Suzy as she witnesses each of her classmates die in varying grisly ways. Argento is not known for his narratives (in other words, he is horrible at plotting). However, the supernatural theme allows Argento to rely on dream logic. This is fantastic stuff and is my favourite of Argento's work.

Friday's second feature is also our first sequel of the festival: "Hellbound: Hellraiser II". Fret not dear readers. You don't need to see the first "Hellraiser" in order to understand the second. "Hellbound" does a very good job of recapping the events of the first film. Based on a story by Clive Barker, "Hellbound" continues the story of Kirsty. The film opens with Kirsty in an insane asylum. She has been committed after her experiences in the first film. The asylum is run by Doctor Channard. As is usual in horror films, the good doctor is not what he seems. He is trying to unlock a puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration, which opens the gates to Hell. Unfortunately, Hell is inhabited by the Cenobites. These are particularly vicious creatures led by the infamous Pinhead. This film has been a favourite of mine since grade school (your humble narrator is very sick). It is my pleasure to unleash its horrors upon you, my gentle readers.

SATURDAY - "They Came From Within"

Saturday's films deal with critters that burrow their way into human bodies and control their every move. YUM! The first film, "Shivers", is an early classic written and directed by David Cronenberg (the first of two of his films in this festival). A Montreal doctor discovers a parasite infestation in his apartment community. The parasites cause a drastic increase in the sexual appetite in their hosts. Cronenberg uses "Shivers" to explore one of his classic themes: body horror. (He went on to explore this theme further in later films such as "Rabid", "The Brood", "Videodrome" and "Dead Ringers" amongst others.) Rather than go for the simple gross-out horror, Cronenberg explores sexual mores and politics through the lens of the horror film.

Inspired by "Shivers", writer/director James Gunn made "Slither", the third of four modern horror films in our festival. However, where "Shivers" was serious, "Slither" is hilarious. A meteorite lands in a sleepy town, bringing with it an evil alien parasite. Gunn pays homage to quite a few classic horror films (many of them are in this festival). This film is a blast...equal parts funny and scary. It also features a knock-out performance by Nathan Fillion.

SUNDAY - "The Dead Shall Walk The Earth"

We close the first week of our festival with the mother of all horror themes: ZOMBIES! We're going to do something a little different tonight. This evening features an original film and its remake. George A. Romero's zombie films are legendary. The second film in the series, "Dawn of the Dead", has an interesting history: Dario Argento contacted Romero and asked him to make a sequel to "Night of the Living Dead". Romero accepted. Controversy followed the film due to its graphic content. The MPAA gave it an X rating, the kiss of death for box office success. Undaunted, Romero released the film unrated and made a boat-load of cash. The story of the film doesn't stop here. Part of the deal between Romero and Argento gave Argento final cut of the film in international markets. The story remains the same for all cuts: survivors of the zombie holocaust find refuge in a local shopping mall. While Romero uses the zombie film as biting social satire, Argento focuses on the visceral horror. Argento also chose to use more music from the band Goblin, who scored the majority of Argento's films back in the day. It is Argento's cut that we will be viewing this evening. This is simply the author's preference and should take nothing away from Romero's original cut, which is great in its own right.

The second feature is the 2004 remake, the fourth and final modern horror film in our festival. Written by James Gunn (with uncredited re-writes by Michael Tolkin and Scott Frank) and directed by Zach Snyder, the basic plot again features survivors of the zombie holocaust finding refuge in a shopping mall. That is where the similarities end. This is the quintessential existentialist horror film. The lengthy pre-opening credit sequence establishes our main character: nurse Ana Clark is just leaving her shift at the hospital. Numerous patients are brought in for mysterious bite-wounds. We follow Ana home. She is happily greeted by one of the neighborhood children. Her husband is waiting for her so they can enjoy a date night. Early the next morning, they are awoken by the child...only she has been turned into a zombie. She bites Ana's husband, who is turned into a zombie within moments. What follows is a hair-raising escape sequence that leads into one of the great opening credits sequences (all to the score of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around"). I love this film. I love this film even more than the original (and I love the original a LOT). It plays to my sensibilities of horror cinema: it must be BLEAK. It is the perfect capper to the first week of our two week festival.

When next we meet, WEEK TWO!!!!

It's Nancy Kovack Day!

The Gorgeous Nancy Kovack as "Nona"

It's Nancy Kovack Day! Ahh, Nancy - was I the only 6 year-old who went mad for this lusty, cultured, Michigan born beauty?! I think not. My introduction to Nancy Kovack was, like many around my age, via her role as Nona (above) in the Star Trek episode A Private Little War, or as Queenie in the Batman S01, Ep 5 The Joker is Wild. and S01 Ep 6 Batman Gets Riled. But, it didn't take long for me at all to start noticing her in many of her Television appearances of the 60s and 70s, Bewitched, Get Smart, The Invaders, I Spy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Perry Mason, Hawaii Five-O, It Takes a Thief, etc, and her film work - most notoriously, her role as Medea in Jason and the Argonauts and that amazing, erotic, super-charged dance sequence. As me Grandpappy used to say, "hubba hubba."

Born in Flint, Michigan, Nancy was a very brainy and very beautiful young lady. She entered the University of Michigan at a very young age, some reports claim she entered at 15 and graduated at 19 - going on from there to win numerous Beauty Pageants. She ultimately caught the eye of Hollywood and started out on the Jackie Gleason show, the rest is history. Nancy essentially retired after she married symphony orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta. I have not seen a photograph of her in a very long time. She didn't even do the Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Magnum PI, Simon and Simon, Fall Guy, Hotel, What Have You tour, which many many actors and actresses would do to for various reasons (from simply keeping busy and in the public psyche - to "hey I need the cash").

Early 60's "Coppertone" Advertisement

I miss Nancy - she hasn't been on the scene in a very, very long time. Hope she knows that she's got many loyal fans out there.

personal note to chick young

nicko - work on the 12 movies meme has commenced. it's slow-going, but i like what i'm seeing. i have to rewatch 5 of the films on the list...mostly because it's been awhile since i've seen them and i need to make sure that my memory isn't playing tricks on me. so, not only do i get to exercise my writing skills, but i also get to rewatch a lot of old favourites. i hope that the results are worth the wait.

ever onward.

Forthcoming Publication

I finally got word that my first publication is going to press. I answered a call for papers for an edited anthology on the Dracula myth (from a trans-cultural perspective) nearly two years ago. Anthologies can take a looooong time. But I received word from one of the two editors last night that Scarecrow Press is the publisher and the project is nearing completion. As a super cool bonus, the world's leading horror historian David J. Skal (pictured at left) is writing the introduction to the book. I love David Skal, anyone with even a passing familiarity with the genre knows his name. My chapter discusses the Toho Dracula Trilogy - here's a portion of the abstract: This chapter explores the curious existence of a trio of Japanese financed, produced, directed, and distributed vampire films from the early 1970s – Legacy of Dracula (1970), Lake of Dracula (1971) and Evil of Dracula (1974). This essay characterizes the cross-cultural properties of these films and then attempts to explain, beyond cross-cultural parameters, the more formal issues of identity in the modern Japanese horror film. These three films, marked with and odd "Western Gothic" aesthetic appear to be the product of much more than mere imitation/appropriation of a successful British economic and aesthetic model (Hammer Studios, the trilogy’s most obvious economic and aesthetic antecedent); they are representative of a fear and anxiety of foreign rule and interference consonant with the period under which they were produced. And so forth and so on... The picture that has been the calling card for Trash Aesthetics (at the top of this page) is taken from this Dracula trilogy. At any rate, it's very cool that this is finally being published. Now, back to the dissertation...

Here are some promotional materials and stills from these films to give you an idea of what my chapter is all about aesthetically.

Terry Pratchett

i just stumbled on this article over at bbc:

writer terry pratchett describes his life with altzheimer's disease. even though i don't suffer from altzheimer's, i can relate to some of what mr. pratchett talks about in regard to living life with a chronic ailment.

i find his outlook inspiring. and i also really like his key philosophies: make room for it, surround yourself with toys and make life interesting.

It's Joan Collins Day!

Yes, that's right it's Joan Collins day here at Trash Aesthetics. Why? Hey, why the fuck not?

Is Joan Collins even one of Chick Young's favorite TOP gals of all-time you ask yourself? Absolutely! See, I've got very fond memories of Joan and was indeed ga ga over her. But, it frequently depended on the venue. Dynasty? Not so much (although I watched it - and let me tell you when Joan posed nude for Playboy in 81' or 82' that Playboy made the rounds at my Junior High School and I am sure it caused a fair amount of DNA to be spilled).

I recently bought a copy of Midnite Movies' double feature of Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Two very fine Amicus British horror anthologies from the early 70s (a decade careful readers will note that I am fond of). And I was hit with a powerful wave of Nostalgia for Joan as I put in Tales from the Crypt - which I had not watched in many years. While watching it, I was reminded of her beauty and charm and it got me motivated to have Joan Collins Day. That's the fascinating and gripping true account regarding the STORY BEHIND the story. True Story.

At any rate, it also got me thinking about the stories that were relayed in the first Natalie Wood biography I read when I was about 19. Collins was heavily involved with Warren Beatty while Natalie was making Splendour in the Grass with Beatty - and of course, Natalie and Beatty hooked up - Natalie dropped husband Robert Wagner for Beatty and the tabloids were convinced that Joan Collins would latch on to Robert so they could commiserate and presumably - fornicate. R.J. was devastated - left for Italy and didn't return for quite some time. Sad that. Warren dumped Natalie awhile later - according to the biography for a fucking hat check girl. Warren - what a snake. Time for another pic...

So, sometimes here at Trash Aesthetics, we have empty, bullshit posts about nothing in particular. Today, I honor Joan Collins. I always thought she was drop-dead gorgeous and still do. Here's to you Joan...

Now, that's a killer 70s publicity still if there ever was...

"No One is in Control. The World is Rutterless" - Alan Moore

As I lie here at 2:30 in the a.m. watching a recap of the Olympics, hoping to get "sleepy", and contemplating the 147 things that need to be done tomorrow, I am struck with a palpable emotional overload. And, I might add, this palpable feeling has been growing steadily for years now.

What I don't exactly understand is why.

At the mere age of 38 I am saturated with desperate nostalgia for a "time better spent." I maneuver through a culture so completely different from the one I knew growing up that the thought of returning to it consumes me. I crave desperately to crawl back into a geographical and temporal womb. To kick off my shoes and put my feet up on an ottoman called "yesterday."

As a child of the 1970s, I must admit that I feel a complete and total disconnect from the youth culture of today. Not always mind you, I do teach hordes of undergraduates every semester and "connect" on various levels with various students. But, this feeling is a more macro disenchantment, ambivalence, and disenfranchisement in "general" which as a result, has left me clueless and disillusioned. I don't know how to navigate anymore - a captain without a compass or even a star to sail by. The world is rutterless...

I find something "good" everyday as there is much good in this world of ours. But, I yearn for the slower pace of my childhood. I yearn for rotary telephones, typewriters, family dinners, playing in the snow with my brother, fishing on those long, hot, dog day summer afternoons, the sting of sweat in the corners of my eyes as I reeled in a small mouth bass, the sweet plum compote that my grandmother would make, watching the four o'clock movie while eating an oatmeal raisin cookie (in a pre-cable society and on a television set that only received seven or eight channels because that's all we had). We all have a nostalgia for our childhoods, none of which were perfect, but they are remembered that way. I am not blind to the problems that I or we had back then. It's not so much that I want to go back to my childhood, I just want to go back to the 1970s - period. Did you know that while I sit around doing work - I have the Game Show Network on for several hours every day? Why? Because the re-runs of Match Game, Card Sharks, Family Feud, (and others) teleport me back to the mid to late 70s - a time where things made SENSE to me. Yes, I'm grateful for some of the "modern conveniences" of life today, but I would give them all up in a second to go back. The state of world affairs was a bloody mess then too - many dominant ideologies of that period are thankfully no longer sanctioned, political and economic matters were (as usual) chaotic, core issues that face us today were but whispers, and so forth and so on, and yet, I still would want to go, in spite of all that.

The cultural differences between 1970 and 1980 seem very small to me. The differences between 1980 and 1990 also seem insignificant. The differences between 1990 and 2000 are crater like. And 2008, just seems an extension of this chasm.

A student told me - just last week - that the technology of your average cell phone eclipses the technology put into the NASA spacecraft program that sent men to the moon. 1969. The year before I was born. That's the place I belong. I'm an anachronism in 2008. One of my heroes, Alan Moore, addresses this phenomena in the following, please watch:

Maybe I subconsciously chose a profession where I can keep the past alive and well because this society often leaves me cold.

blogus interruptus

there will be a pause in the updates for the time being. my sister and i are in the midst of getting ready to move to a different apartment. packing, painting, moving, working and additional life stuff prevent me from updating at this time.

fret not, though, fearless readers...always returning will indeed return. in what little spare time that i do have, i've been working on a new essay. this essay has been started at the behest of my good friend, resident exploitation film expert and all around madman chick young over at trash aesthetics.

(personal note to chick - in addition to the lack of time, the reason that this is taking so long is that i'm altering the meme rules. what i'm working up is a bit...vast. be patient...all will make sense...hopefully sooner rather than later.)

the next post is going to be a lot of fun. for a bit of insight into what i'm working on, treat yourself by surfing on over to trash aesthetics.