26 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: http://videowatchdog.blogspot.com/search?q=captain+howdy . 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!!!!

19 August 2008

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.

18 August 2008

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.

09 August 2008

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.