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June 29, 2010

A New Breed Joins FMWL's Hall of Fame!

Back around the end of March, in celebration of FMWL's 100th post, I inducted the first class into From Midnight, With Love's Hall of Fame. Now, just over three months and 70 posts later, I've decided it's just about time to induct a second group into that non-existent Hall. With no further ado, let's see who shall be recognized for "significant contributions to the love The Mike has for Midnight & Cult cinema."The Filmmaker's Branch
I couldn't think of a better place to start my second look at the filmmakers who've brought Midnight to Mike than with the man who made the zed word happen. He is, of course, George A. Romero.Though little needs to be said about what Romero did with his zombie films, particularly his initial low budget trilogy of Night/Dawn/Day, it's worth noting he's also offered human horrors like the vampire drama Martin and fun horrors like the anthology masterpiece Creepshow. And the contributions he's made to independent horror by proving how far a little care can go? Astounding.
If America's master of suspense is Alfred Hitchcock (Too bad, Brits, we stole the cheeky monkey!), Italy's is most certainly Dario Argento. Suspiria, Deep Red, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Phenomena, Tenebrae, and more. Maybe he's lost a step with age, but the fact he's still cranking out films (like Romero!), is a testament to his love for the genre.

The Actor's Branch
The toughest omission from that first class of Hall of Famers back in March was most definitely Kurt Russell. The man headlined three of my favorite films from John Carpenter, and defined anti-hero as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. A recent return to the cult scene in Tarantino's Death Proof only proved what I already knew: Kurt Russell is a bad, bad man. (Y'know, in a good way.)
Caroline Munro.
Because from Hammer's late films to a short stint as a Bond girl to The Dr. Phibes films...she always looked really, really good. And she's a fine actress too.
If there's one woman who embodies everything I believe about how amazing women can be, it's Laurie Strode as played by Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. She went on to fill that role in films like Terror Train and Prom Night, plus starred in other genre classics like The Fog, Roadgames, and Virus. OK, maybe not Virus, but at least she tried.
The Exorcist
stands as probably the most revered horror movie of the last 49 years. With apologies to The Silence of the Lambs, it's the last true horror film to garner an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It also got three nominations in acting categories, two of which went to Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair as the mother/daughter duo terrorized by the demon Pazuzu. While Oscar nominations aren't generally worth much, these ones were right on the money. The duo make the terror real, especially poor little Linda, who was clearly scarred enough to grow up and star in Savage Streets. Well played, Ms. Blair.

The Modern-Day Branch
If there's been one director who's made me believe I might see a filmmaker as awesome as John Carpenter in my adult years, it's Neil Marshall. After debuting with Dog Soldiers and graduating to The Descent, Marshall even managed to throwback to Carpenter's Escape from New York with Doomsday. Many were put off by that film, but its playful use of genre tactics left me as sure as ever that Marshall will be a force in the cult cinema field for years to come. Bring on Centurion and whatever you've got next, good sir!

The 1980s Pop Star's Branch
I don't know anything about Debbie/Deborah Gibson's musical career. I used to think that she had a song called Electro-Cute, which made me think of her as the cuter pop version of Frankenstein's monster, but 22 years later I found out she actually had an album called Electric Youth. Regardless, seeing her battle the triad of Mega Shark, Giant Octopus, and the uncontrollable urge to look directly into the camera these days is well worth a spot in the glittery wing of FMWL's Hall.

The Monster's Branch
The Phantom of the Opera
gets into FMWL's Hall of Fame based on two facts: 1) the 1925 Lon Chaney film not only taught me about silent films but helped me learn to read; and 2) It allows me to randomly sing "THE PHAAAAAAAANNNNNNNTOM of the OPPPPPERA is here...inside my blog." (Followed, of course, by a heavy DUN DUN DUN DUN DAAAAAAAA! beat on the coffee table.)
On the other side of the Monster's Branch, I have to plug Gremlins' Gizmo. Because he's so darn cute. MOGWAI!

The Joe Bob Briggs Branch
If you missed last time I inducted folks, the Joe Bob Branch is where I honor people who have inspired me in my writing, and/or in maintaining this blog and my obsession with Midnight entertainment. This time around, I thought it appropriate to focus on two writers of fiction whose work across the worlds of print, TV, and cinema, have always kept me thinking and dreaming.
I'll admit that I most surely have not read enough of Richard Matheson's work, but everything he's done that I've experienced has left me grinning. I am Legend is a book I can pick up repeatedly, and the films he's helped create - including The Legend of Hell House, The Night Stalker, Duel, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and plenty more - have always reminded me how simple storytelling can trump gimmicky tricks any day. Oh yeah, and he wrote a lot of episodes of The Twilight Zone. Speaking of....Rod freakin' Serling. The man behind The Twilight Zone. Allow me to rephrase: The man behind The Twilight Zone. Yeah. He created THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He didn't just stand there and read someone's script at the beginning of most every episode, he wrote stuff. He pitched stuff. He connected with awesome people like Richard Matheson. He pretty much created the most effective piece of genre television EVER. He's pretty much TV's Jesus.

If that's not a Hall of Fame class, I don't know what is. Until next time, my dear readers, thanks for keeping me in a state of perpetual midnight lovin'!

June 28, 2010

Random Horror Throwdown: The Omen (1976) vs. The Blob (1988)

That's right, my fine feathered finks! A Blob finally makes an appearance in the Random Horror Throwdown! But, it's not necessarily THE Blob...I mean, it is The Blob, but it's 1988's remake of The Blob. Not a remake is The Omen - which was however remade horribly, despite starring one of my favorite people named Liev Schreiber. They say that numbers never lie, so let's check into how the pinkish people eater fares against the spawn of a jackal.


The Movies:

The Omen (1976, Dir. by Richard Donner.)
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner.
IMDB Synopsis: An American ambassador learns to his horror that his son is actually the literal Antichrist. (Note from The Mike: As opposed to, of course, the figurative Antichrist. Y'know, like that guy who seems to be the son of the devil, but is actually just a bad director with a catchy name who didn't understand the point of Carpenter's Halloween.)

The Blob
(1988, Dir. by Chuck Russell.)
Starring: Kevin Dillon, Shawnee Smith, Donovan Leitch.
IMDB Synopsis: A strange lifeform consumes everything in its path as it grows and grows. (Note from The Mike: Not to be a d-hole, but I kinda think the reason it grows is because it consumes. This guy seems to state the opposite. He fell for one of the two FMWL blunders: Never go in against The Blob when The Mike is on the line!!!!!)

The Directors:
For my money, Richard Donner is one of the most underrated directors of the last 35 years. He's never been big on the award circuits, but his blockbusters like Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon (x4), and - one of my personal faves - Conspiracy Theory have never ceased to entertain. Plus the dude directed a few episodes of The Twilight, the REAL Twilight Zone.

The Blob's Chuck Russell, who also powered A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and has directed no less than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, and The Rock (Eraser, The Mask, and The Scorpion King), is no slouch either. But nothing there compares to the three films I listed for Donner, and the point must go to The Omen. (1-0, The Omen leads.)

The Plots:
If there's one thing I love beside blobs, it's horror films that use religion to their advantage. The Omen, as part three of the unofficial "Unholy Trilogy", taps into that with plenty of Bible references, crazy priests, and even a catchy rhyme. But y'know what? The Blob has...a blob. Point awarded. (1-1.)

The Casts:
Of all the "leading men" that have gained fame in Hollywood, Gregory Peck - who makes one of his final appearances in The Omen - has always been one of my least favorite. I'm not necessarily opposed to the guy, but he's always been slightly wooden for my tastes. I'll take a Robert Mitchum or a Glenn Ford or a Richard Widmark over him any day. Lee Remick does fine as his trophy wife, and Billie Whitelaw is inspired as the protective nanny to Harvey Stephens' Damien.

Russell's Blob features a decent cast, with Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith giving likable performances, and several veteran character actors like Jeffrey De Munn, Del Close, Carmen Filipi, and Art LaFleur helping out. But The Omen has one thing The Blob doesn't...David Warner. Most underrated actor ever? Maybe. He's worth the point for The Omen. (2-1, The Omen leads.)

The Blobs:
Well, The Blob has one. The Omen doesn't. That's worth a point. (2-2.)

My Experience With the Films:

Anyone who's spent a minute on this site knows one thing: I LOVE THE BLOB. I love it long time. I think the longest post I've ever written for this site was the one in which I discussed the underlying social commentary in both versions of The Blob.

The Omen, on the other hand, has been a horror favorite of mine for a long time. It was once Midnight Movie of the Week, which clearly matters, and at times would have definitely ranked among my very favorite horrors. Is that enough to put it over a version of The Blob?

This Choice is Like:
I kinda want to re-use my Donald Sutherland/Karen Allen/Animal House analogy from the Creepshow vs. Night of the Creeps throwdown, but that's cheating. What I'm really hoping for is some outside interference...were this a tag team match of The Blob '58 and The Blob '88 vs. The Omen '76 and The Omen '06; there'd be no question which team is better. But Donner's film doesn't have the remake holding it back here, and Russell's doesn't have its more Mike-friendly predecessor to protect it. It's like Virgil with no Million Dollar Man. (I don't know why '80s WWF references work so well in these Throwdowns, but they darn sure do!)So About That Final Point?:
I do love Blobs so. But I love the remake a strong bit less than I love the 1958 epic. I love The Omen so. And I don't have to consider its remake. In a close battle, I gotta assume that the original Blob would show up and attack The Omen, setting up a main event feud for the future. But that would get The Blob remake disqualified...and give a point via disqualification - perhaps unfairly - to The Omen. (3-2, The Omen wins!)

(Note From The Mike: Will Irvin Yeaworth's Blob take action against The Omen for smiting its baby brother? Where does "The Film J.R. Shot", Beware! The Blob fit into the drama? Perhaps future Throwdowns will bring these answers. Perhaps!)

June 27, 2010

It's Alive

1974, Dir. by Larry Cohen.

(This review is written with inspiration from the Final Girl Film Club, over at the most excellent Final Girl blog. Go there for many other commentaries on and reviews of this flick...and other awesome stuff too!)

There's a scene near the beginning of Larry Cohen's It's Alive - which must be labeled as such due to a recent remake - that is as effective as any scene in any horror film I've seen. In it, Frank Davis (played by John P. Ryan) is standing in the hallway outside the room in which his wife Lenore (Sharon Farrell) is trying to give birth to the couple's second child. The actor's mannerisms fit the role of expectant father perfectly, as he paces quietly while eyeballing the newborns the hospital is already caring for. Though I've only witnessed the expectant father in his native habitat as a spectator (thank golly, y'all definitely don't want a Little The Mike runnin' 'round this place) it's easy for me to see that this man is comfortably in that place where "I'm gonna have a new kid" meets "Why the heck isn't this over yet?".

Then, the doors which lead to the birthing room burst open. Knowing the film's title and premise (and especially the wonderful tagline "There's only ONE thing wrong with the Davis baby: IT'S ALIVE") the viewer might expect a monstrous attacker, or a fleet of fleeing doctors, or at least some kind of shrieking scream. Instead, we simply get one male doctor, who gets outside the door, takes a deep breath, and falls limp to the floor.

Witnessing this immediately sends Frank, who was peaceful 4 seconds earlier, into a frenzy. He sprints down the hall, past attempted restraints, frantically attempting to reach his family. Along the way the camera lingers just enough to give us a glimpse of a nasty gash in the doctor's face, the type an animal's claw would probably leave. When Frank finally reaches his screaming wife, he finds a lot of blood, an umbilical cord that appears to have been severed by a bite, and a hole in the ceiling from which "it" must have escaped.

The trouble with It's Alive is that a scene that shows off that kind of brutality, both physically and mentally, is really difficult to top. Even in this case, where the viewer is left with little to no clue of what "it" looks like or really is, the dilemma that's left for our characters doesn't seem likely to top those few moments in pure terror. Though it's not really a bad thing to have a scene that is so affecting, it seems like the movie hits a peak that threatens to take the wind out of the rest of the film.

It's Alive manages to stay interesting through its 90 minutes, mostly due to the strong performance of Ryan (any aspiring horror filmmakers who want to know how to get the most out of their actors should really try to seek out Cohen, the man has some kind of gift) and the film's focus on the differing reactions the father and mother have to "it". But it also seems to drag at times, especially when the police get involved; and I never felt Lenore's side of the story was given enough screen time.

Despite these concerns, It's Alive has definitely grown on me during this second viewing. That hospital scene should earn it a place on any horror addict's "To Do" list, and Cohen is smart enough to avoid having the film fall completely on its face in the hour that follows that "money" scene. If you want to find the most straight-faced killer baby film out there, you can't do better than trusting one spawned by Larry Cohen.

June 26, 2010

Three Horror Comics That Would Make Awesome TV Shows

(Note from The Mike: Today's post is from another newcomer to From Midnight, With Love; Dylan Duarte from They're a great site with a fun blog (seriously, it took me like 12 seconds to find The Blob referenced there; which equals awesomeness), and they're big fans of FMWL. With no further ado, here's Dylan's look at horror comics that he'd love to see on the small screen.)

With Frank Darabont's Television adaption of The Walking Dead shambling around the corner, it's peaked my interest in comics, horror, and television shows, especially when all three are combined. Here are three other horror comics that would make for awesome TV shows.
The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense
Sure, they've already made two Hellboy feature films, as well as a few animated ones, but to Hell with Hellboy. The organization in which he works for, the B.R.P.D., is very much deserving of its own television show. Everyone loves a good detective show (or even the not-so-good ones), as evidenced by the glut of them littering the small screen. B.R.P.D. would be like The X-Files, except instead of Mulder believing in aliens, he would be one. Hellboy is part of the team, so he would still show up, but the amphibious Abe Sapien would be front and center, getting a much bigger role.
Morbius: The Living Vampire
Dr. Michael Morbius was a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist who was dying from a rare blood disease. He whipped up an experimental cure involving vampire bats and electroshock therapy - I kid you not - that ended up turning him into something like a vampire rather than curing him. He doesn't possess all of the legendary vampire powers or weaknesses, but he's strong, fast, ugly, and needs human blood to survive.

Originally I wasn't going to list Morbius on here because a show of his own may be too similar to Angel, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off. But if done right, in a s
erious, scientific, and tragic fashion, Morbius could reach levels of depth that David Boreanaz could only dream of. It could follow Morbius as he tries to control his inner demons, resembling The Incredible Hulk more than Angel.
Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange has been on the small screen several times in animated form and in a 1978 live-action TV-movie in which he looked more like a porn star than a badass sorcerer. Cast that image out of your mind's eye forever and imagine a dark, supernatural thriller in which Doctor Stephen Strange is some sort of spiritual detective, spending his days battling things not of this realm as he hunts down his arch-nemesis Baron Mordo. I'm certain something like it has been done before, but the fact that I can't think of any specific examples means that it's never been done right. The recent television adaptation The Dresden Files comes to mind, but Harry Dresden was a wizard who fought creatures like vampires and werewolves. I imagine Strange's foes to be much less corporeal.

Dylan Duarte is a horror buff and writer who writes about
Halloween costumes over at He can be reached at dylnduarte at

June 24, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #25 - John Carpenter's The Thing

If you talk to anyone who loves horror movies these days, you're bound to hear John Carpenter's The Thing brought up. I think it might just be the most well-respected and admired horror film released in my lifetime...and I was barely a year old when it was released. However, it was originally panned by critics and viewers, who threw around phrases like "foolish, depressing, overproduced" and "the quintessential moron movie of the 1980s" and "a wretched excess". One critic even went so far as to say that John Carpenter's film was "sacrificing everything at the altar of gore". Today, I view all these quotes as examples of why film criticism is often a worthless exercise in snobbery.

I must admit that The Thing is a film I never really understood in my younger years. As a student of cinema, I read reviews like those and dismissed the film as something I should wait on. When I finally did see it, with my Fasha, I was more confused than anything else.
The film offered a simple enough premise...twelve men trapped without rescue while an unseen force terrorizes them. But what really left me baffled were the characters in Carpenter's film. Aside from Kurt Russell and his beard, and that guy from the Quaker Oats ads, I had a ton of trouble keeping tabs on who the heck they were inside The Thing's world.

As the poster behind Kurt and beard states above...they aren't labeled. We learn that one of them is the doctor, and that one is the pilot, and that one is in charge of the radio. We learn names, but never through introductions. After all, these are twelve guys in a confined environment, and why would they have to introduce themselves? They already know who they are. It's as if the movie just happened upon their camp, and they went on with their daily lives. As a viewer, I was kind of baffled...and sometimes I still am. I looked at the photo below just now and quickly realized that - even though I've seen the movie at least a dozen times in the last twelve years - I'm not exactly sure who the guy over Mr. Quaker's left shoulder is. (If I had to guess right now, I might say Fuchs.)
Not only are the characters nonchalantly referenced throughout Carpenter's film, but the viewer is never given any background information on any of these characters. This really baffled me. Why should I care what happens to Bennings if the only thing I know about him is that he plays cards? I know Russell's R.J. Macready (who, unlike most of the cast, is at least given initials as a first name) is cool because of his beard, but shouldn't I know a little more about him? Is he married? Does he like cats? Has he ever beaten that "cheating bitch" of a chess computer? (Note from the "cheating bitch" chess computer: I'm afraid I can't let him do that, The Mike.)
But with a few more viewings (because each attempt to figure out who was who left me feeling more wonderful about the film), something struck me like a hammer to the temple. Others had been trying to tell it to me, but I was as dense to this fact as Keith David is when being told to wear sunglasses.

The thing about The Thing is that we need these men to be on an equal playing field. For the film to live up to the question of "Who Goes There?" once posed by author Joseph Campbell, we can't have any hints tipping us off as to who is on either side of The Thing's infection. If the film had added extra personality to these characters, we might have had an easier time spotting changes in characters' behaviors or emotions. We might have become upset when a character who we liked became a victim. We might have made human connections - but that's not what the movie is about. By not providing this data to the viewer, the film leaves us wondering more about the force that's after these men than the men themselves. This allows Carpenter's film to sacrifice nothing - and to become one of the most unpredictable, open-ended horror films of all-time.
We like to think we know what's going on when the credits finally do roll, assisted by Ennio Morricone's subliminal score, but there's little in the film that gives us reason to believe one party over the other. Many have offered commentary about the characters' actions, the characters' locations, and even the characters' races; but the fact is that none of us can really know "Who Goes There". John Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster never give us enough information to really know anything about the characters and the Thing that is after them. While that might be frustrating to someone looking for a human drama, like those critics (and I) were, it allows The Thing to become a paranoia filled bit of unease that will keep any viewer thinking.

If that's a "moron movie", I'm afraid I'm a proud moron.

(By the way, if you're looking for more Thing-ness, check out The Paradise of Horror, where it's The Thing Week!)

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

June 22, 2010

Random Horror Throwdown - The Descent vs. Near Dark

They say it's "a man's world". Clearly, they have never watched a horror film that wasn't directed by Eli Roth. But even with the dominance of women who live til the final reel in horror, very few horror films have ever really given women true power. This week, women step up and take that power in our Random Horror Throwdown; as Neil Marshall's The Descent - a 2005 chiller with a (basically) all lady cast - faces off with Near Dark - the 1987 vampire flick from future Oscar queen Kathryn Bigelow. With this many women involved, you gotta think this one's gonna get purse-onal. (Ha hey! Did you see what I did there? what women have...y'know...ah, never mind. I shame me.)


The Movies:
The Descent (2005, Dir. by Neil Marshall.)
Starring: Shauna McDonald, Natalie Mendoza.
IMDB Synopsis: A woman goes on vacation with her family and friends and her husband and her daughter encounters a tragic accident. One year later she goes hiking with her friends and they get trapped in the cave. With a lack of supply, they struggle to survive and they meet strange blood thirsty creatures. (Note from The Mike: This is another one of those synopses that focuses on the "And then...." method of writing. I kinda love it, maybe I need to rethink my approach to blogging.)

Near Dark (1987, Dir. by Kathryn Bigelow.)
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton.
IMDB Synopsis: A young man reluctantly joins a travelling "family" of evil vampires, when the girl he'd tried to seduce is part of that group. (Note from The Mike: Y'know, "evil" is a harsh word, bub. Sure, these vampires are a bit sadistic, maybe even vile, but who are you to call them "evil"? And why is your IMDB handle "Jesus"?)

The Directors:
I'm going to get this one out of the way first, because I love both directors dearly and it's painful to only reward one. The three films I've seen from Marshall have rocked me like few filmmakers since Carpenter have. Bigelow has made some very fine films too, from this one to the all-too-cool Point Break (which is not as good as Point Blank, by the way) and the underappreciated Jamie Lee Curtis flick Blue Steel, which co-stars the underappreciated Ron Silver. And, of course, she has the previously mentioned Oscar. But Marshall's hit three home runs in three at-bats...and I'm gonna take a risk and bet on his potential here. That makes one point for The Descent. (1-0, The Descent leads.)

The Casts:
As great as the ladies of The Descent are in their film, this one can hardly be argued. Near Dark boasts none less than Lance Henriksen AND Bill Paxton, who normally only team up under Bigelow's ex, James Cameron. Plus there's the fine '80s lady Jenny Wright, another Cameron veteran in Jennette Goldstein, and "son-of-The Exorcist" Joshua Miller. And Miller does exactly what his father did in 1973, giving the best performance in a great horror film - despite the more known stars around him. Near Dark takes this round. (1-1.)

So, The Mike pumped up the females at the start of this battle, but has given two straight po
ints to the guys? What's the deal with that?
You make a fine point, omniscient question poser! And I assure you, I mean no disrespect! In fact, I'll give both movies a point right now, just because Bigelow's awesome and because the women of The Descent are so good at what they do. (2-2.)

That was a total cop-out, The Mike! Why don't you just tell us how you really feel?
Ask and ye shall receive, genie in the internet's bottle. Here's what this matchup really has me thinking:

In the history of horror cinema, women have always been victims first and foremost. Most of that comes from society, where we're all taught at a young age that most things exist on either side of a line between masculine and feminine. Whenever the concept of being afraid comes up on that continuum, it's generally placed on the feminine side. Thus, the survivor girl happened instead of the survivor guy.

Near Dark's "survivor" character, in a complete role reversal from most horrors - especially from the 1980s -is Adrian Pasdar's Caleb. Also reversing roles is Wright as Mae, who becomes a protector and leader to Caleb - two roles that are generally reserved for the heroic male in these horror films. Bigelow handles this all wonderfully, as she too is a woman filling a role that's primarily for a male - directing a film that offers realistic terror from its characters without submitting to the things genders have been taught since before horror films existed.

Then there's The Descent. Neil Marshall is a director who has most certainly subscribed to the idea of women in power, from the moment he had a woman rescue a platoon of soldiers in Dog Soldiers to the casting of Rhona Mitra as Snake Plissken in his Escape flick (OK, not really, but close enough). Unlike those films - and unlike Near Dark - The Descent is all about giving women power.

With the only male character dying after becoming a point of contention between two strong women (and before the film's opening title screen), The Descent is squarely focused on putting women in a difficult situation in which their only resource is each other. I've been around large groups of females who are stuck with each other. I assure you, they do not play nice. When The Descent's plot escalates and the women are forced into action, Marshall offers the viewer female characters whose knee-jerk reactions and survival instincts seem realistic, even in the face of a ridiculous situation. Marshall offers truly human characters, and a lot of the film's tension comes from that fact alone.
This Choice is Like:
My male instinct is to make a joke about answering a woman who asks how she looks in a dress here. Y'know, it's that "there's no right answer" stereotype. (For the record, my standard response is "Yes.")

So, About That Final Point?:
For two very good reasons, both Near Dark and The Descent are milestones for women in horror cinema. Both films have thrilled me, kept me intrigued, and gave me great memories. In the end, the final point is simply coming down to which one of these terrific films I feel is paced a little better than the other and provides a few more thrills. And that film is, The Descent. (3-2, The Descent leads.)

(Note from The Mike: So, in typical male fashion, I've found two wonderful steps for womankind...and quickly pitted them against each other until only one remains. Ladies, you need to destroy us males soon, we're bad news!)

(Double Note from The Mike: This is the fifth RHT that's featured films from different years, and it's the first time I've given the nudge to the newer film. Am I getting soft?)

June 21, 2010

The Midnight Warriors Return Triumphantly!

I asked, and you responded! What followed was nothing less than brilliance (except for the bad puns I'll probably use to describe them and their articles). Please welcome to FMWL, a guild of Midnight Warriors - both new and old. For those who haven't been round these parts recently, the question I posed to them all was....

"What's guaranteed to make you happy when it comes to Horror, Genre, or Cult cinema?"

Leading off, from the most wonderful blog From Beyond Depraved, the one and only Joe Monster with his take on the joy of Werewolfs. (Thankfully, Taylor Lautner makes no cameo appearance!)

Returning for a second tour of duty is Jinx, hostess with the most-est over at Totally Jinxed, who offers up a gleeful glance at five things that bring her happiness, including The Mike faves like setting a film on a spaceship or an old-fashioned whodunit! (Note to self: Whodunit...on a spaceship. Someone book it now!)

Another return participant is Enbrethliel who blogs fromage-style over at Shredded Cheddar. In response to our query she offers up a thrilling list of her top five "priest figures" in horror, a list I heartily approve of!

Participating in her first turn as a MW is AE from over at emma blackwood, which promises "A garden of man-eating plants and scary movies."! Not only that, but her list of 10 Horror Happy-makers had me dancing the Charleston - REALLY!

Also stepping in for the first time at FMWL is Stacia from the wonderful (and also freakin' gorgeous) blog She Blogged By Night. Her simple answer to my question is a fine one - Bela!

Our final return participant was one of my first blogging acquaintances, who can probably be blamed for me getting in way over my head in this blog game. She is none other than Nicki Nix from Hey! Look Behind You, and she offers up a Top 10 list that should make any Midnight Warrior proud. Seriously, it's got DVDs on it. The Mike and DVDs are like ham and cheese.

Last but not least is a blogger who's quickly become one of the most prolific viewers I've seen, Emily C from The Quest to Watch Every Movie Ever Made. She's sent over a Top 5 List which covers a ton of horror happy...and I'm gonna let it take this post home. Before I go, one last hearty THANK YOU! to all of the Midnight Warriors out there who're reading this. Until we meet again, keep finding whatever it is about flicks that makes you happy - no matter where you have to go to find it!

With no further ado, here's Emily C's rocking list........

5. Tom Atkins - Whenever I'm watching a movie and I see that Tom Atkins is in it, I find my heart melting, and I know that no matter what, whether I like a movie or not, Tom Atkin's presence will make it better just by his being in it. Seeing his face on screen makes me instantly happy, whether he is playing a douche (Creepshow) or an awesome dude. He's not the typical Hollywood leading man type that you picture in your head nowadays (you know, 20-something with a 20-pack), but something about him is so charismatic and so charming, that he wins my heart over whenever he's on screen.

4. The Fog - I read a post on Kindertrauma just the other day about The Fog, and what's not in The Fog, and it embodied everything I absolutely love about this movie. It's a movie that I was initially slow to warm to, as when I first saw it, it wasn't "exciting" enough for me (I was in that dumb teenage stage), but over the years it was grown on me, and now it is one of my absolutely favorite horror films. It's not actually my number one horror film, but it's the film that I reach to in my DVD collection the most. Whatever kind of day I'm having, or whatever kind of mood I'm in, The Fog seems to always be the perfect fit. It's one of those films that I could watch every day for the rest of my life and not get tired of. Its spooky story and haunting music just lull me into a trance of happiness that nothing can shake. Oh yeah, and Tom Atkins is in it of course!

3. Likable and Relatable Characters - Not to be negative in this post on happiness, but there are so many movies nowadays where the characters are just unlikable scumbags and that's really a downer. I love it when horror movies actually have characters that I like, and that I can see myself being friends with if they were actually real people. That's not to say that these characters have to be perfect, in fact flaws are good and these flaws contribute to their realism. I know that many horror films have an abundance of characters that are just fodder, and in a slasher for example, will become victims of the killer anyway, but if the characters are likable, and we have the chance to get to know them a bit, then when the killer is coming after them, it makes the movie more suspenseful. If you have some kind of investment in the characters that might possibly become the killer's next victims then you actually feel like shouting at the screen telling the character to look behind them. Having a jerk in a horror film is fine, but they all shouldn't be jerks, and when I find myself liking the characters that I'm watching (take Halloween '78 for example), I am a very happy camper.

2. Awesome Music - I love it when there is good music in a horror movie, whether it be a score that was composed specifically for a movie, or previously written songs that were chosen specifically for a movie. For example, many of John Carpenter's scores are entirely haunting, and simple, and fit his movies perfectly to create a specific mood, being used to enhance tension, or whatever he wants you to feel. On the other hand, in The Devil's Rejects, previously composed songs were selected for the soundtrack, and they work just as well to create a specific mood. I can't listen to "Free Bird" now without picturing the spectacular shootout between the Firefly's and the police, and for a specific song/scene combination to be that memorable is awesome.

1. Awesome Dancing - Usually "awesome" dancing for me has a humorous side to it, and dances like the disco dance in Prom Night, or Crispin Glover's improvised dance in Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, are guaranteed to make me happy. The goofier the dance, the better in my opinion, whether at the time it was supposed to be serious or not. I know that Prom Night isn't the best horror movie ever (although I have a nostalgic fondness for it), but when the disco dancing starts, and the "Prom Night" song comes on, I can't help but smile. Similarly, when Crispin Glover turns on "Love is a Lie" and starts his totally '80s dance, any frown that I may have had on my face vanishes. Whether it be doing the robot in Friday the 13th Part V, or demonic dancing in Night of the Demons, awesome dancing is something that always makes me happy and puts me in a good mood!

The Stuff

1985, Dir. by Larry Cohen.

Considering my love for all things blobular or blobesque, I have no idea why Larry Cohen's The Stuff has evaded me for so long. It always seemed to be throwing itself in my path by showing up in bargain bins and used DVD racks consistently, but something kept me from grabbing it. Now that I've finally seen it, I'm a little baffled as to what was wrong with me to avoid it for so long.

From guerrilla writer/director Larry Cohen, most famed for It's Alive and Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff starts with a pair of arctic workers discovering a bubbling substance that most definitely isn't snow. They go straight past the "let's poke it with a stick" phase to the "let's taste it" phase, and quickly realize that this "stuff" tastes sweet...and addictive. Flash forward a bit, and The Stuff is the world's best selling much so that ice cream companies hire an investigator (regular Cohen colleague Michael Moriarty) to figure out what The Stuff exactly is.

From there, the film throws in a young boy who doesn't get his family's obsession with that darn Stuff, an advertiser responsible for sexifying The Stuff, and a few other kooky characters (including SNL alum Garrett Morris, who I've always wished was more known). Cohen makes his film's satiric points extremely clear - the film is foremost a statement about the consumerism of the '80s, and would make a fabulous double-bill with Carpenter's They Live - but I was surprised to find how much the film also borrowed from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There are some wonderful moments of unease, especially when the suspicious boy (Scott Bloom) has to deal with his Stuff-altered family. The film also makes the characters who recognize the stuff's power work through a lot of questions about where they can go and who they can trust as the film moves into its final act, which again reminds of classic sci-fi/invasion stories. (This all isn't too surprising when you notice that Cohen would go on to co-write the story behind Abel Ferrara's 1993 remake, Body Snatchers.)

The Stuff itself is an extremely nondescript substance, which lacks the charm of my beloved Blob, but fulfills the film's purpose well. Portrayed by the combined efforts of ice-cream, yogurt, and fire-extinguisher foam, it's a simple creature whose aggressive nature is shown off well via some cool effects. The film's biggest effect occurs when a money shot of Stuff traps an insurgent against a wall, a nice bit of trick film-making that was created in the same room that hosted Johnny Depp's demise in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

But the real villain here is, of course, society. A low calorie dessert that can replace ice cream is enough to get almost everyone in the film's world hooked, and I'm sure most of us witnessing today's obsession with weight loss wouldn't find that hard to believe. Like the greatest parasitic evils on film, The Stuff lives in the weak and the wounded. (Oh, and the world of advertising, too.)

As a film, The Stuff (by the way, it's really difficult to write a descriptive review when you have to refer to a film, a food stuff, and a parasite as "The Stuff", so sorry if this has gotten convoluted) both impressed me and kept me entertained. Cohen brings his A-game, producing a film that's less raw and disjointed than his previous efforts, and the cast shines. Moriarty has long been a favorite of mine through his work in Cohen's Q and Pick Me Up (also playing the heroic patriarch in Troll with gusto), and his method stylings work here. The lovely Andrea Marcovicci (previously of The Hand), Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, and Patrick O'Neal also give good support.

As far as amorphous killing machine films go, The Stuff is one to see. Ripe with plenty of social relevance, solid acting, and a goopy killer, it's got something for anyone who, like me, has looked at the horror genre and realized that never enough. I'm glad to have finally made contact with The Stuff, and I urge anyone out there who's looking for a sci-fi/horror/creature fix to give it a whirl.

June 20, 2010

The Post in Which FMWL Mixes Father's Day and Psycho

It's been a family filled six weeks here at FMWL, with a Mother's Day tribute leading into memories of my sister on her birthday and then my own birthday. Now, Father's Day is upon us and the family circle becomes complete.

When it comes to The Fasha and The Mike, movies have never been the king of our castle. That honor belongs to, and shall always belong to, Green Bay Packers football. But beyond our adherence to the Lombardi code (God, Family, & the Green Bay Packers), there have been some fabulous movie moments. I've found many all-time favorites via the man - ranging from his insistence upon John Carpenter's The Thing (which I initially rebuked, but that's a different story...) to the time when he took 8 year old I to see The 'Burbs (which is definitely the movie that triggered the "movies about psycho killers can be fun?" switch in my brain). He even instilled in me a love for Minilla, the Son of Godzilla! But there's one fateful movie experience with dad that has stuck with me for nearly 15 years, even haunting a few dreams.It was a normal week night as teenage The Mike, starving to fulfill his lust for Hitchcock after viewings of Rear Window, The Birds, and Vertigo, plopped down on the cushy leather sofa for his first viewing of Psycho. Opposite he, in his trusty recliner, sat The Fasha, with decades of horror movie experiences in his past.

Now, I've seen a lot of movies in my life, but I feel very comfortable saying that this was the most intense viewing experience of my life. I entered the film entirely blind to what was going to occur, and was on the edge of my seat, enthralled near immediately. I knew something was up with this Bates fellow, and I knew whatever happened would probably shock me. As the film rolled my dad must have come to know this too, because shortly after the shower curtain hit the floor, he looked at me and said ----- wait just a minute --------

(Before I tell you all what he said, I suppose I should make a statement. If you, for whatever reason have not seen Psycho, you should probably do that before reading any further. I really hope that no one reading this hasn't seen it....I mean, it is freaking Psycho...but just in case, THIS IS A WARNING THAT GIGANTIC SPOILERS ARE ABOUT TO BE UNLEASHED.)

Shortly after the shower curtain hit the floor, The Fasha looked at me and said: "You know the mother's dead, right?"

Needless to say, my jaw dropped a bit. This was Hitchcock, mastering his craft, doing something the likes of which I'd never seen in cinema, and with more than an hour of Bernard Herrmann's shrieking score until one of cinema's greatest reveals...the air had been let out of my sails. Dad quickly tried to cover with a "Uhh, I think they say that in one of the sequels", but my level of baffledness had reached a peak.

At this point in my life, as addicted to movies as I am, I would consider ending friendships over a spoiler of this magnitude...though I'm not sure many exist. Can you think of a bigger spoiler? This wasn't some Bruce Willis was dead all along BS, this was the Master of Suspense at his most masochistic. This was a game changer akin to Brett Favre's worst overzealous interception (for me, that one happened in the 2004 playoffs at Philly, but that's a different story too).Looking back, I'm pretty sure that this was the worst thing my Dad ever did to me. But when I consider the possibilities, and all the deadbeat dads I encounter on a daily basis, it's a fantastic reminder of how blessed I've been in life. Psycho isn't any worse because of it - still has to be among my five favorite horror films - and my Fasha's still mega-awesome, even if he might occasionally spend 3 straight hours of a road trip back from Green Bay listening to the same Coldplay song on repeat. (Yes, that really happened. But still, he's awesome.)

The man brought me up to work hard, to love the most noble and storied franchise in professional sports, and to enjoy the crud out of having a laugh (occasionally while scaring Mamada during horror movies - you all should have seen her when he screamed at the final scare at the end of Carrie). We all go a little spoliery sometimes, but that's easy to get past (eventually). Everything else is worth a Happy Fasha's Day, for sure.

And now, the obligatory Creepshow picture, to wish all the great dads out there their own Happy Father's Day! Have some Jell-O Cake!

June 17, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #24 - Fire in the Sky

By this point in my blogging career, I've covered about 47 different things that terrified me as a child. I wouldn't say I was a weakling (even though I was), I'd simply say that I was easily influenced. What became perhaps my biggest fear was started by the work of that dastardly Robert Stack on Unsolved Mysteries. Of course, I'm talking about the imminent threat of an alien attack and/or an alien abduction. This fear even carried to the point when my 9 year-old self became convinced that he saw a set of flying lights in the sky, and carried out through the point when he was asked to meet with his elementary school's guidance counselor to deal with his claims.

(In news I'd assume is unrelated, this was around the same time when my parents began to worry that I had mental deficiencies.)

So when 1993 rolled around and the sensational ad campaign for Fire in the Sky - BASED ON A TRUE STORY! - came around, slightly older The Mike became extremely intrigued. Unfortunately, he didn't yet have the wits to convince his parents to take him to see the film, and was left assuming that their rationale of "the guy in the paper said it was bad" and "no, there aren't any cool actors in it" were simply a guise to keep him from being whisked away by his own imagination again. They must have waved something shiny in front of him too, because he quickly forgot the film existed and went back to playing Tecmo Super Bowl on his Nintendo Entertainment System, only to discover it again at a later time.
Now that I'm a fully maximized version of The Mike, I kind of see their point. Fire in the Sky - though definitely flawed and awfully mucked up - would have brought some kind of terror to my young mind. Though its vision of abduction varies from the "real" accounts by author/victim Travis Walton (played here by The Cutting Edge heartthrob D.B. Sweeney), there's a lot of fear to be found in the film's depiction of abduction.

One thing my parents definitely had wrong was the commentary on the cast. Though none of the cast were big names, they represent a slew of recognizable faces. Most prominent is Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 fame, who gives a strong performance as Walton's boss/friend who becomes the focal point of the small town investigation into Travis' disappearance. The first hour of the film is primarily focused on Patrick and his crew, which also includes Peter Berg (The Last Seduction, Cop Land) and Craig Sheffer (Nightbreed, The Program) - who I've often assumed were the same person. Guess they win this round.
Fire in the Sky never really focuses on sci-fi, horror, or drama entirely, which seems to stem from a desire to present the "true events" as feasible to the viewer. Patrick does an admirable job carrying the drama and making us care about the people who witnessed the abduction; which is needed considering how little screen-time is actually spent with Sweeney's Walton. Patrick gets a lot of help from director Robert Lieberman, who never takes the material lightly. Also assisting the first half of the film to stay afloat is the fantastic James Garner as the investigator called in to deal with the disappearance. Garner brings credibility to both the film and the plot, and his character starts to believe the witnesses the film gains tension.

Once Walton reappears in the story, his traumatic encounter is unleashed upon us. The fantastic scenery aboard the alien craft seems natural, and it's nice to see that the designers didn't fall into the trap of trying to create a ship that's full of shiny gadgets and smooth contours. It surprised me to read that the producers instructed screenwriter Tracy Torme to change many details of Walton's account to punch up the abduction, as the film seems restrained in this regard. This adds to the intensity when Travis is brought into his hosts' scientific lair, and their experiments are extremely unsettling to me even as an adult.
I've noted that the film is full of flaws, and part of me wonders if I'm recommending the idea behind the film moreso than the film itself. While I never fully found myself interested in Travis Walton as a character - partially because of his restrained screen-time pre-abduction, partially because Sweeney seems to be channeling a boring version of Paul Rudd in the role - I admire the film for showing a version of this story that manages to offer some space-bound chills while looking at the Earth-bound effects on others. Fire in the Sky doesn't hit on enough points to be a full-fledged sci-fi classic, but its attempts to make us "believe" are appreciated by my vulnerable mind. If Travis Walton did experience this all, maybe that radio tower that little The Mike was terrified of really was something else.

I'll keep watching out, just in case Robert Stack was right.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

June 15, 2010

A Midnight Warrior Speaks! Are you next?

By this point, I'm sure everyone out there who's reading this is contemplating their entry in this month's Midnight Warriors festivities. R.D. Penning, the horror-obsessed mind behind a blog called Dead End Drive-In, has already offered up his take on the question I've posed. Below, he lists 10 things that assure his happiness when it comes to what Lady Gaga calls the horror game.10. Adam Green - He has the ability to make amazing horror or thriller movies, like Frozen or Spiral, and makes them semi-relatable to normal people. He always brings something fresh to the plate, whether it be realistic scenarios or unbelievably fun hack and slash ode to the 80's like Hatchet.

9. French Horror and its ever rising greatness - I'll admit, I thought High Tension was absolutely horrible, but lately they have blown my mind with flicks like Martyrs, Inside, Ils, etc. I hope they keep up the good work!

8. Let The Right One In - Amidst a slew of diamond sparkling pansy vampires, there manages to be a vampire film that blows me away, and that can still give me chills. With this movie, I hope we see a rebirth in quality vampire movies.

7. The Independent Horror World - Through blogging, I found a whole other world filled with bad-ass filmmakers and actors that have a passion for horror that shows in their films. I've seen amazing films from Jeremiah Kipp (Contact, The Christmas Party), Bart Mastronardi (Vindication), Dominick Sivilli (Contact, Vindication), and an awesome trailer for Distortion from Richard Diaz. Not to mention great actors, including Deneen Melody, Kaylee Williams, Zoe Daelman Chalnda, Julin Jean, Roxy Vandiver, Allan Rowe Kelly (also a great director), plus the people I have personally worked with - Wes Worthing and Jenna Giovanni. There are so many awesome people working on awesome movies out there, and I love it!

6. The occasional movie that keeps the creature feature title alive - Cloverfield, The Host, Feast Trilogy. The creature features that are worth it are few and far between, but man I love it when a good one comes together. (That A-Team quote's just for you, Mike.)

5. SyFy Channel movies - Anyone who doesn't like SyFy Channel movies should be shot, haha. How could you not like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, or Mega Pirahna, or Ice Spiders, or any movie Lance Henriksen is in these days? Every Saturday and Sunday, these movies make my world go round.

4. Horror Comic books - There used to be a time where I didn't watch many movies. I know, I know, hard to believe. When I wasn't watching movies I was reading good ol' fashion horror books. My time table for reading has gone down quite a bit these days, and so I turn to a short fix: horror comic books. They have come such a long way, and I am really starting to enjoy many of them. How could you not when you have stuff like Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash at your disposal?

3. Fellow bloggers - You guys frickin rock! There is nothing that gets me pumped more to see a movie than hearing about it from a fellow blogger. It is intense! Especially when you have opportunities like The Midnight Warriors!!!

2. Horror Conventions - While I don't make it to any of them, I wish I could. I have so many friends that do go, and the pictures they post make me jealous. I will make it to one one of these days. Just knowing there are so many other people out there who have a love for the genre makes me happy.

1. No matter what happens to me in life, I know that horror movies will always be there for me. They never leave. They never die. I don't have to feed them, even though they feed me. There is a type of horror movie for every mood that I am in.
All in all, there is no need to split it up into sub-genres, for I just LOVE Horror.

A big thanks to Mr. Penning for his enthusiastic (you all don't have to do a Top 10, by the way!) participation in this month's festivities! To the rest of you, don't forget to send your response (or a link to a posted response on your own blog, if that's your fancy) to the Midnight Warriors assignment
"What's guaranteed to make you happy when it comes to Horror, Genre, or Cult cinema?" to The Mike at by Monday June 21st!

Again, thanks to Mr. Penning, and to all The Midnight Warriors out there! I look forward to unleashing all your replies!