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July 31, 2011

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol. 6: King Kong Lives

"Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't." - Eli Cash

If you love The Royal Tenenbaums like you're supposed to, you no doubt laugh heartily whenever considering Owen Wilson's character pitching his General Custer fanfic novel.  After all, it just doesn't work.  The whole purpose of the Little Big Horn story is that Custer died....the story doesn't work the other way.  You can't tell the story of American ignorance and the massacre that occurred and just add "Oh, but the guy in charge walked away unscathed". That's ridiculous.
Equally ridiculous would be a movie in which King Kong Lives, but that's exactly what the team of director John Guillermin and producer Dino De Laurentiis decided to give us ten years after their flaccid remake of the 1933 classic.  Part medical drama and part love story, King Kong Lives seems to exist only to a) grab cash (which it failed to do, making less than $5 million at the box office) and b) provide a happier ending to the Kong story that had saddened viewers for 60+ years.  De Laurentiis must have thought that viewers really wanted to see things made right for the King, but the attempts to sugar coat one of cinema's greatest tragedies quickly become quite maddening.
To be fair, the folks behind King Kong Lives do take their job very seriously - which is one of the biggest problems working against the film.  Sure, King Kong was intended to be a dramatic fantasy tale in each of its previous forms, but this is the '80s, man.  And you're trying to tell me that Kong is alive, that a female Kong has been found in Borneo (a throw away line of dialogue suggests that Borneo and Skull Island were once the part of the same land mass) by a low-rent Indiana Jones/Crocodile Dundee and brought in for a blood transplant, and that Sarah Conner herself (Linda Hamilton, continuing to have the sexiest/rattiest hair of the decade) is the voice of reason? I'm sorry, but you gotta back off on the heavy music and forced facial expressions if you wanna win in the '80s sci-fi scene.
As far as I can tell, this was the only "totally '80s "moment of the film
Luckily, the film has some unique charms up its sleeve, thanks to the unintentionally hilarious weight that is given to the romantic relationships between King Kong and Lady Kong and between Hamilton's doctor and the Indy Dundee character (played by Brian Kerwin, who's allegedly a soap opera star these days).  I mean, you can't really watch Linda Hamilton justify a romp in the woods with the line "We're primates too" and not laugh.  The film also gets a bit of cred from me for casting the awesome John Ashton - most known as the hard-nosed Taggart in Beverly Hills Cop - as a cruel Army commander who sets his sights on the Kongs, but - once again - the film takes all of this far more seriously than it really should.  
Sergeant Taggart is not amused.
One of the great pleasures of genre cinema is when a filmmaker knows what they're making is silly and embraces that fact; allowing everyone to have fun with what's going on.  It's safe to say that Guillermin never subscribed to this philosophy.  Considering his two Kong films and other flicks like The Towering Inferno and Sheena, I have to wonder if Guillermin would have been known as the Michael Bay of the '70s and '80s if the internet had existed back then.  His films are full of what is technically "action" but everything seems so straightforward and serious and well...kind of dull.  Roger Ebert famously quipped that everyone in King Kong Lives knew they were in a boring movie, but I'm really not sure that Guillermin did.  It's sad, really.
And that's pretty much what makes King Kong Lives such a fascinating turd - because everything about it stinks and at the same time it's mere existence is kind of hypnotic.  They really thought this story, with these plot developments and this monkey love story could work?  In the '80s?  Did they not see the rest of the '80s?  Were they in a coma for 10 years just like Kong was?  I really want to know. 
Alas, I will continue to speculate. I will sit here, and I will stare at the DVD copy of it often, and I will wonder how exactly King Kong Lives managed to be just what King Kong Lives is.  I'll sit here and watch Kong wander around the southern U.S., eating gators and peeping on young lovers in Swamp Thing territory before the dramatic conclusion to Kong's journey is revealed - and I'll try to figure out just why King Kong Lives is what King Kong Lives is.  If you really enjoy bad cinema - or, if you have a group of friends together who want to brainstorm one of cinema's most unnecessary films - then King Kong Lives might just keep your mind racing too.

July 30, 2011

The Reef

(2011, Dir. by Andrew Traucki.)

(Note From The Mike: This will probably be one of my shorter reviews. Quite simply, I can not focus today. The NFL is back, my Packers are starting training camp and dealing with free agent losses at the same time (I might have a heart attack if they don't add a veteran inside linebacker soon), and my brain is entirely mush.  Heck, I had to stop this movie about half way through because I realized I'd been worrying about that and the possibility of wide receiver James Jones signing with the Vikings for about 20 minutes.  And then I restarted, and got distracted again, and finally just backed all the way up.  At that point I did make it through the movie, and thus you're getting a review.  Be grateful that I made it this far. Or, if you're already tired of my rambling that has nothing to do with the movie, just go ahead and click away.  I won't judge, this isn't my best movie buff day.)

The Reef - which has come straight out of Australia to the U.S. DVD market this month - is one of those little horror films that could which sticks to its premise and keeps things simple.  It's very reminiscent of the 2003 indie flick Open Water - the basic premise of folks stranded at sea and left to deal with the predators of the sea is the same - but folks who found the rough visuals of that film concerning should be more pleased with this film's slick finish.

The Reef tells the story of a group of friends who head out to sea on a sailboat despite a fellow on the shore reminding them that various breeds of sharks inhabit the waters.  It's a standard horror movie crew - two couples and one spare dude makes five - but weight is added to the group dynamics by the fact that sea-ready Luke (played by Damian Walshe-Howling, who has a gruff pseudo-Statham thing going on) is joined on the voyage by his ex, Kate, who's a little skeptical about trusting him.  This becomes a serious problem when the sailboat - of course - hits an underwater rock and is sunk, leaving the quintet stranded far from land.

Well, it might not be that far.  Luke is confident that he knows the sea, and that the group could swim to a nearby island. But we all know what happens when swimming happens - SHARKS HAPPEN.  And this bugs me every time I see one of these "people get stranded with no one to rescue them" movies. Everyone starts freaking out about whether they should stay on the sinking ship or whether they should dive in the water - and any smart viewer just knows that there's no right answer.  It's so cruel.  Horror viewers want to feel like they can solve the problem even though the characters can't - but I can never figure out what I'd do in this situation.  And that adds that little dagger to the viewer's mind, because we're worried about two possibilities instead of one.  It's simple, but kind of genius at the same time.

Once the group - or at least part of the group - starts swimming, the film takes a familiar path.  I mean, there are only so many things you can do with a group of people stranded at sea.  And yet, The Reef does manage to bring a few new twists to the table - most notably a surprisingly tense scene with a sea turtle.  You wouldn't expect a sea turtle to be menacing - and honestly, it isn't that menacing on screen - but the scene is set up perfectly and drawn out to build great suspense that culminates in a surprising reveal.  This scene establishes clearly that director Traucki has a talent to build tension, and he utilizes this well throughout the rest of the film. With so few options - you can't exactly add a musical number or shift to an alternate location when your characters are lost at sea - this becomes crucial to keeping the film going strong.

The only problem that arises from The Reef - which is technically competent and offers legitimate chills - is that the whole thing seems so standard.  We've seen this plot before, both at sea and on land, and at times I wondered if there was any new ground really being covered by the film.  It's a minor quibble, considering how competent the whole thing is, but does the world really need one more paint by numbers survival flick? Aside from the complex relationship between Luke and Kate, I'm not sure much in the film seemed fresh to me.

It's a small concern, but it leaves me not willing to give The Reef my highest recommendation.  This is a fine film, a good film even, with better than average acting and effective direction.  I do recommend it, and it does reach heights that are similar to recent survival favorites like Frozen or Rogue. But, unlike those films, this film takes place in familiar waters - and a trained horror fan will probably see it as slightly derivative.

Perhaps I'm wrong, and I do plan on giving the film another view when I'm not so scatterbrained.  As is, I do recommend The Reef if you're looking for a new water-based horror film, just leave any thoughts about Jaws - or even the campy and fantastic Deep Blue Sea - at the door.  This is a stripped down shark terror, which offers all the tension but none of the extras. Then again, if you're opposed to extras like LL Cool J avenging his beloved bird against a "smart" shark, you'll probably find this one quite pleasing.

July 28, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #82 - Let's Scare Jessica to Death

Don't you kind of wonder if someone was intoxicated when this film's title was first spoken?  Like, it's late Friday night/early Saturday morning, a bunch of dudes are enjoying the late '60s a little too much, and one of them - after a peaceful exchange with his "spiritual advisor" - muses "Hey man....shit....well....I don't know man, let's do somethin'.  Let's Scare Jessica to Death, man!"  Then, hijinks ensue.  At least that's how I imagine it.

That said, let's do this review proper....ahem.....OK.
Do you ever watch someone's face when they're in an awkward situation?  Heck, it doesn't have to even be an awkward situation, just watch their face in any situation - a social setting, a private conversation, the workplace, whatever.  You don't have to stare and be a creeper about it, just keep an eye out for it sometime.  If you do, you'll probably notice that a person's face often gives their first reaction to any situation.  The lips form different shapes, the eyes move from side to side as needed, they might even bring a hand to their face or tilt their head when necessary.  It's a pretty simple way to get a bead on what's going on inside someone's mind.  Doesn't mean you'll be right, but it's interesting nonetheless.

(Oh, and while you're watching their face....remember that someone else is probably watching yours!)
I mention this because Let's Scare Jessica to Death is made up of about 60% face watching.  Jessica, played by Zorha Lampert, is a young woman who's just been released from a mental facility and promptly leaves the city - in a hearse - with her husband and a friend.  The trio plan to live in an old abandoned lakeside house that her husband has purchased, because apparently that seems like the safest thing to do when you've just left a mental placement.  I'm not sure who Jessica's doctors/case managers were, but I think it's safe to say they suck at discharge planning.
With Jessica living in a new place - and with a new homeless hippie friend living their too - her face quickly goes from content to confused.  And we watch it.  All. The. Time.  The movie seems resigned to just linger on Jessica's face as the conversations and events around her are unfolding, allowing Lampert to present a manic distress that comes from being in a new place with a seemingly new life and new expectations of what life is to her.  But, as her inner monologue tells us repeatedly, it seems things aren't as simple as the others seem to think they are. 
For starters, everyone up in the house decides it's a good idea to talk about morbid stuff.  I mean, The first night in the house ends in a seance.  I mean, before they get to the house they stop in a cemetery so Jessica can get some etchings of headstones for her walls.  Heck, even old pictures become discussions of how the people who lived in the house died, and Jessica's mind - and face - continues to race.
Then the real stuff starts to happen.  Well, we're not sure if it's real, but it's the stuff that horror fans want to see.  A mysterious woman appears in an old dress, Jessica begins to hear voices, and a dead and bloodied fisherman shows up in the woods outside the house.  And, as Jessica starts to slip even deeper and deeper into confusion, one of the creepier scenes ever filmed occurs as the woman in white rises up out of the water and comes into contact with Jessica, leading to a frantic, muddled final act that leaves the viewer wondering exactly what the hell just happened.  Some viewers will probably find this a bit maddening - but hey, so did Jessica.
From start to finish, Let's Scare Jessica to Death is quite simply a haunting film.  I mean that literally, because the opening shot of the film  (pictured above) is one of the more breathtaking things I've ever seen.  It's a simple nature shot that could even be stock footage, but it just seems quietly ominous as is.  The sun is setting, the mist is clouding our vision, and everything seems a bit too still.  It really sets the pace for the rest of the film, in which the visuals and sounds - including a musical score that perfectly adapts to Jessica's fluid mental state - are slowly allowed to become stable on screen so we can form an attachment to them.  It's a film that's surprisingly confident in the viewer's ability to get involved with the characters' plight through slow reveals, which is greatly appreciated.  (In that regard, Let's Scare Jessica to Death is basically the opposite of the modern horror hit (which torques me off) Insidious.)
Lampert is certainly key to the film's success in drawing our attention, and she seems to relish the chance to be a crazy lady on screen.  There aren't many - if any - moments in the film when she breaks from Jessica's disturbed state, and her devotion to the role makes me think she must have been committed. (Har har, bad puns!)  The other cast members, particularly Mariclare Costello as the hippie-turned-object-of-confusion, do a fine job supporting her, but there's no mistaking that this is Jessica's movie, and that none outside of her and her face are the star.
So, we've got a movie that's 60% a frantic face which is complemented by creepy old houses, misty lakes, ghost and vampire implications, and one dude with an awesome mustache.  What's not to love about that?  I say nothing.  Let's Scare Jessica to Death is one of the most unique horror films I've seen and - despite the fact it turns 40 next weekend - the meat and potatoes of the film's message haven't aged a bit. (The clothing and hairstyles, on the other hand, have aged quite a bit.)  Though we get a deep look into Jessica's mind, we're never really sure what to believe about the film.  But we do know that it's not ending till Jessica's scared enough that there will be death....and that's really all we need, isn't it?  Go find this one, and don't forget to watch those faces!
Just because I'm from Iowa and my blog needs more tractors.

July 26, 2011

"So You Want To Be A Monster?" Episode 1 - He Who Kills

Let's face it. In the horror world, there's usually only one thing that's gonna get your movie over the top.  A MONSTER.  But what we horror fans often forget is that the term monster is entirely subjective.  After all, what may be a monster to you might not be a monster to me.  You might see Bozo the Clown (R.I.P!) walking down the street and freak out at his clowny features, but if I see Bozo the Clown walking down the street I'd be like "Dude, can I play the toss the ball in the cups game? Seriously, that game was like the best thing to happen during my childhood that wasn't Hulk Hogan."  To me Bozo's just a guy in an outfit who made me dream of getting the chance to put balls in cups for a big prize, but to you who fear clowns - he's a monster.
It's worth discussing how and why any potential monster makes the jump to full monsterhood - and here at FMWL, we're up the challenge.  So allow me to introduce our newest feature - which, as you can see, is titled "So You Want To Be A Monster?" - in which I will use my keen insights and opinions (along with some scientific criteria determined by me) to determine just what it is that puts certain villains into the hallowed grounds of Monsterdom.  So, let's meet our first contestant
As played by some carved wood in Trilogy of Terror & as written by Richard Matheson in Prey.

Let's learn a little more about our contestant!
Direct from Africa comes He Who Kills - a Zuni Fetish Doll who's not much of a charmer and carries a small (but useful) stick.  Alleged to contain the spirit of a full-sized hunter, He comes equipped with a trusty spear and a lot of pointy teeth, which really bring out his dark black eyes.  He's midsection gives me the impression that He might need a sandwich or two, but his small size just might be his greatest asset.  He also enjoys hunting, sleeping in boxes, and anything else that allows him to never comb his hair.

The Criteria:
Each contestant will be given a score of 1-4 (1 being a Not Monstrous, 4 being Incredibly Monstrous) on five core traits that could define any monster.  The total of all five ratings will be added up and turned into a percentage to form the contestant's "Monster Rating", which will show us just how much of a monster they really are.  In my head, I'd say a Monster Rating of 80 or above is fantastic, a Monster rating of 60 or above is solid, and anything under 60 means that monster might have some glaring weaknesses.

The five traits? Well, they're listed let's do this.
 Monster Rating Category 1: Physical Prowess
It's really hard to size up He Who Kills.  He can't be more than 18 inches tall on a good day, and probably weighs under five pounds.  Considering that one could grab him and chuck him out a window with ease - or, if they're feeling more Fargo-y they could throw him in a woodchipper and make a chopped Zuni salad - He's certainly not imposing, which is one of the key parts of this category in my mind.  But, as mentioned above, his size is also an asset.  He might be under your bed or couch right now. Or, He might be hiding in your closet behind some towels or pillows.  You really can't rightfully know...and that's worth something.  Though I have concerns about his flexibility, I'd say his rating in this category is Partially Monstrous - which equals a score of 2.

Monster Rating Category 2: Destructive Capabilities
While He's size doesn't put him among the most threatening of folks, I think he ranks higher in this category than I first thought.  That spear and those teeth are awfully pointy, and a poor human's Achilles tendon just happens to be right at his level.  Remember that pencil in Evil Dead?  Yeah, that would be a killer move for He to hit you with.  And once he brings someone to their knees and starts moving around at a fast speed, the amount of damage he can do is pretty serious.  That spear could go a lot of places (ear lobes, eyeballs, reproductive cavities) where it could cause a lot of damage.  It might take him some time to get control, but when he does I think he can be Totally Monstrous - which equals a score of 3.
Monster Rating Category 3: Psychology & Motivation
To be a monster, there has to be some unpredictability.  It's sometimes scarier to know what's going on in the mind of the monster, but at other times it's simply not possible to understand them. And this can effect how much a monster effects us differently in every situation.

In the case of He, there is pretty much no knowing what's going on inside this wooden doll's mind.  He doesn't speak real words, he doesn't emote. In fact, he only does one thing - he kills.  Hence, his name.  So, while we can't very well know much about the little wooden killer or the spirit which inhabits it - we certainly know that it has a singular purpose...and that's pretty cool in Monster terms.  I think the one track mind hurts his score a little, but the primal nature of the little guy has to be admired.  I'd say that equals a rating of Totally Monstrous - and another score of 3.

Monster Rating Category 4: Good Ol' Creepiness
Truthfully, I'm not sure I can rate He Who Kills very high on the creepiness factor.  I mean, He does look kinda scary (and He reads even scarier, because Matheson is a boss) - but it's also kind of hard to take him seriously with those wide eyes and that excited grin.  And, thanks to Karen Black, he's not even the creepiest thing in his portion of Trilogy of Terror.  Then again, do I want him standing on my end table watching me while I sleep?  Not really, but I'd be more open to that than Michael Myers standing over me.  So I'm gonna say his score here is Partially Monstrous, which adds another score of 2 to his total.

Monster Rating Category 5: External Factors
This is the catch all category of our discussion, which will hopefully stop me from forgetting important aspects of our characters' monster application.  In the case of He Who Kills, I feel like I must discuss the allegations of a Zuni Hunter's soul being trapped inside him, because that's pretty effed up.
Let's stop and think about this for a minute. According to Ms. Black's Amelia "there's supposed to be some Zuni hunter's spirit inside of" He Who Kills, and only a golden chain can prevent He from coming to life.  Now it's totally obvious that that's going to happen, and when it does the thing becomes more volatile than a 12 year-old Call of Duty addict after too many Monster Energy Drinks.  He gets ahold of knife and he just starts stabbing and growling and biting.  Now...can you imagine what the hunter that's trapped inside that thing must have been like?  Yikes.  That scares me.  We'll say He Who Kills gets an extra 3 points based on that, because that's Totally Monstrous.

The Monster Rating: 
 2 Partially Monstrous ratings (2 points each); 3 Totally Monstrous ratings (3 points each - for a total score of 13.  When divided by the total amount of points possible (20), we find that.....  
He Who Kills has a Monster Rating of 65

What It Means: 
There's no denying that He Who Kills is one of the more inventive monsters I've come across, and the idea of a doll possessed by a killer's soul (which would come up again 13 years later in Child's Play) definitely gives me a few chills.  If there's a problem with the resilient hunter, it's simply that he's too small to be a long term threat.  And, to be honest, the trained horror fan might say he's even kind of cute.  If nothing else, he's a lot less scary than THIS:

July 25, 2011

FMWL Indie Spotlight - Absentia

(2011, Dir. by Mike Flanagan.)

It's gonna be really hard for me to write a review of Absentia that seems like I can form coherent thoughts that make sense. It's not that I've got something against the movie, really it isn't.  It's just that Absentia is....well, Absentia is pretty much the kind of horror movie that makes me love horror movies.  And truthfully - I'm quite smitten by it.  I laid in bed thinking about it and getting creeped out for far too long last night - and that's the mark of a wonderful horror movie.

If you're not familiar with Absentia, I should probably start with an explanation of what it is.  Absentia - the word - comes from the latin term in absentia, meaning "in the absence".  In the film Absentia, the term is used in relation to a woman's ability to cope with the disappearance of her husband and the paperwork that has to be done to get a death certificate issued after he's been missing for more than seven years.

Rest assured, this isn't a horror movie about paperwork.  However, it is really hard to break down just what Absentia is a horror movie about, because the movie is what I would call a dual purpose threat.  The first half of the movie is about the pregnant woman, Tricia (played by Courtney Bell) dealing with everything that's going on around her.  With her husband missing for such an extended amount of time and her younger sister Callie (played by Katie Parker) returning to visit her after years dealing with drug addiction, Tricia has a lot on her mind.  Oh, and while dealing with that all....she starts seeing visions of her missing husband.  Visions that scare the crud out of even me.  I can't understate how much the first interaction between her and the vision got under my skin, but it literally did send a chill up my spine. And that's a fantastic way to set the tone for the rest of the film.

There are some pretty abrupt changes in what Absentia is as the film reaches a midpoint and the husband's appearance changes, and it  becomes evident that this isn't just a simple haunting or a guilt-ridden visions flick.  Maybe it is a haunting or a guilt-ridden visions flick - I'm not entirely sure I've answered all the Absentia questions that are floating around my head - but it's certainly not simple.  Suddenly, Callie and Tricia are dealing with their own personal demons - not to mention whatever may or may not be going on in the dark tunnel down the street.  I know, I know. I'm doing one of those "Mike doesn't want to tell you the details of the movie because he's afraid it'll ruin it" things.  But a film like Absentia plays so much better if the viewer's open to every possibility, and I don't want y'all to miss a surprise because I let it out of the bag too early.. 

What are some things I can tell you about Absentia, you ask?  Well, I can tell you that writer/director/editor Mike Flanagan is skilled at providing a good shock - the film made me jump in my seat at least twice - and also has a skill for building tension slowly.  This is particularly evident when the film enters the ominous tunnel, which takes on a life of its own as the film goes on.  As I mentioned, there are unanswered questions throughout the film - I'm still not sure how the first half ties into the second - but Flanagan (assisted by a steady camera, an effective musical score and a deliberate pace) offers plenty of opportunities to ponder the madness at work in this film.  This resulted in my heartbeat running at double time as the film rolled through the final act, because I was hooked on wanting to know what happens next.

And that's where Absentia really wins me over, because it's willing to make me think and it's willing to challenge my expectations and it's willing to do all that while being well-made and well-acted (Bell and Parker are seriously good, and the rest of the cast is quite competent) and pretty darn smart.  Sure, there are questions left behind and some of the twists leave me feeling a little cheated because I don't know what everything means, but the film's just so darn lovable anyway.  It's original, it's fun, it's scary, it's's just really darn cool. 

For more information on Absentia, head on over to the official site, or follow the film through Facebook or Twitter.  I really can't recommend it enough, this is the most exciting horror film I've come across in some time, and a true must see for any horror fan.

July 24, 2011

Today's post at From Midnight, With Love is brought to you by....

If you run a website or blog and you've been on the internet for any amount of time at all, the odds are that you've gotten a few requests from advertisers.  More likely than not, you've been contact by someone who wants you to review their product - which isn't related to your site - or you've gotten vague requests from companies that may or may not exist who don't really give you any reason to get back to them other than the dangling carrot that is a few dollars.  It's how the internet works.

Here at FMWL, I've always intended to stay away from advertisements.  It's not that I don't like money, it's just that I don't find it worth the hassle.  FMWL is my site (thanks to a gracious loan of space from Google and Blogger, naturally), and I want it to represent what I want it to represent.

But if I were to consider picking up a few sponsors, there's a short list of companies/business I'd consider accepting advertisements from.  Fortunately for me, most of them don't exist.  So, let's take a look at a few fictional businesses that FMWL would be proud to support on this bland blog page....

The Bates Motel
I'm all about second chances, so I'd be very willing to put the past in the past and support this relatively quiet country resort.  It's secluded and quaint, and just a short drive off of the main highway.  Sure, security is a concern and privacy is variable (You might not want to ask for Cabin 1!), but Norman Bates will at least insure that there's fresh linens, and you'll sleep comfortably knowing that a sleazy Dennis Franz type manager isn't there running the place like a flophouse.  Stay away from the mean Mother in the house on the hill and you'll have a quiet stay.
The Downingtown Diner
Don't worry folks, the kids aren't running away from the food!  The Downingtown Diner may have actually been a real place, though I am relatively sure that it wasn't across the street from The Colonial Theater - which is sad, because I think a man could live on movies and hometown food alone.  Alas, I have a soft spot for old school diners - or at least what old school diners seem like in movies - and I'm pretty sure the place has enough fire extinguishers around to make sure that it'll never burn down. It's a no Blob zone, and I bet it tastes great!
The Rabbit in Red Lounge
If you desire entertainment after your dinner, there's always The Rabbit in Red Lounge. To be honest, I don't know what said Lounge is - we're never shown it in Halloween - but the fact that Michael Myers leaves behind the matchbook for Dr. Loomis to inspect has to mean he approves of it, right?  I mean, there's no other good reason for the matchbook to get from the dashboard of a stationwagon to the scene of a murder and clothes theft (Sorry, man from the Phelps Garage, your company isn't getting advertised after this scene), is there?  Anyway, the Rabbit in Red might turn out to be a place of ill repute - that bunny looks vaguely familiar - but if it's good enough for Michael it's good enough for FMWL.
The Slaughtered Lamb
For FMWL's friends across the pond, I present The Slaughtered Lamb.  It's a bit of a drive out of of London, and the locals are a bit secretive, but it's got ambiance.  I don't even use the alcohol, but I kind of want to hang our there anyway.  Plus, darts.  Darts rock the body that rocks the party.  Go for the jokes and darts, and stay....well, stay clear of the moors!
Cut-Rite Chain Saws
If shopping is what you're looking for, head on down to Texas and Cut-Rite Chain Saws - which I have to imagine is the Holy Grail of chain saw retailers.  It doesn't look like much from the outside, but look at what you come across once you get inside....
Seriously, just go ahead and click on that image to see the full picture.  Go ahead, I'll wait here.

Yeah, there's no less than 25 chainsaws on display!  There's even chainsaws hanging from the ceiling! And, if chainsaws aren't your thing, they've also got gas cans, what appears to be a weed whacker, one dusty helmet with a protective visor, and what appears to be a black chainsaw case that makes me want to walk around with a chainsaw like musicians walk around with a guitar.  I'm sorry, but if you can't get a thrill out of Cut-Rite Chain Saws' inventory (PLUS YOU CAN TEST THE SAWS ON LOGS OUTSIDE!) then you need to check your pulse.
Noah's Arcade
Despite persistent rumors about a) the fairness of the games inside the arcade, and b) the owner's lewd activities with goats - I think Noah's Arcade sounds like a hoot.  I mean, two of every game? That's awesome!  And we all know that the real problem with Noah's Arcade sponsoring Wayne's World was that slimy "Pralines and Dick" flavored Benjamin, and he's out of the picture here. So I'm inviting you all to come bust a move where the games are played. It's hip. It's fresh. It's Noah's Arcade.

(BTW, there's a commercial for Noah's Arcade that was filmed for Wayne's World - you can see it on the monitors when the commercial break starts after Noah's interview with Wayne - and I want to see it. It's not a special feature on the DVD, and it's not on YouTube. I CRY FOUL.)
The Stuff
Gaaaaahhhh! I know The Stuff is bad for you. Like, really, really bad for you. Seriously bad for you. But I'd let them advertise here anyway, because they've got their stuff together. (And I am terribly sorry for that pun.)  You've got '80s models, neon lights, fluffy polar bear coats, green one piece swimwear...and a blobby yogurty substance that takes over the body and eats you from the inside out. Take out the last part of that, leave the models coats and swimwear....and you've got Mike sold.  (Not sold enough to eat The Stuff, mind you....just sold enough to sell it.
The Federal Service
If I can be serious for a minute, I want everyone to know that The Mike and FMWL are firmly behind all the young men and women who enlist to protect their nation.  I say that because a) it's nice of them to do it while I sit home writing this crap, and b) BUGS ARE SERIOUS BUSINESS. With that in mind, The Federal Service as seen in Starship Troopers wouldn't even need to pay for FMWL to show them love.  They're heroes, because they protect us from giant bugs that are gross and may or may not have vaginas for noses. I and the rest of FMWL's readers are in their debt. Would You Like To Know More?

So, if officials from any of these fake companies/business/branches of service are out there and want to send me some money...well, send me some money for this post. I need more pizza soon.

What say you, Midnight Warriors? Have any favorite fictional spots you'd promote? Hit up the comments and let me know!

July 23, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #81 - Panic in Year Zero!

Nothing like eating under an open sky, even if it is radioactive!  - Frankie Avalon, Teen Idol/Philosophizer
There's also almost nothing that scares me more than the end of civilization. Not from a "Oh no, what would I do without cable and frozen pizzas!" standpoint, more from a "Y'know, people get awfully cranky when they're shaken from their comfort zone".  After all, just look at the reports you see about people who riot after disasters or sporting events or other things that humans have the ability to survive and cope with if they could only stop and think and not get carried away.  The bottom line, to put it simply, is that people don't react well to change.  And a global change - like, for example, a series of nuclear attacks to large cities which wipe out amenities and governments - could quickly send humanity into a downward spiral.
That series of attacks is the catalyst for the drama in Panic in Year Zero!, a 1962 black-and-white sci-fi film from American International Pictures and Star/Director Ray Milland.  When I met the film, it was what music fans would call the "b-side" of a double feature DVD with the Vincent Price classic The Last Man on Earth, and I didn't even bother to check it out for some time after picking up the disc.  After all, I finally had a good looking DVD of the film in which Price headlines Richard Matheson's I Am Legend - what more could I want?
I might have wanted a more human based apocalypse tale - which is what Panic in Year Zero offers.  I've always had a soft spot for this kind of "humans turning on each other when the pressure's on" tale, whether it be through things like the infamous "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" episode of The Twilight Zone or something like the underrated 1996 film The Trigger Effect, in which Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue try to last through an L.A. power outage. While both of those examples simply teased an end to civilization, Panic in Year Zero gives us a full vision of what the event that changes the rules could look like.
The story follows a family of four - husband and wife Harry and Ann (Milland and Jean Hagen) and their children (a son played by teen idol Frankie Avalon and a daughter played by Spider Baby's Mary Mitchel) - who leave Los Angeles early in the morning on a camping trip and soon witness the event that sends society into an uproar.  With a head start on the rest of society - thanks to their 4 AM departure and the livable trailer they're pulling behind the car - Harry and the family manage to pick up supplies without incident, but things spiral out of control pretty quickly.  One of the first signs that things have broken from the norm comes when the family stops for gas, only to find that the advertised price of 34 cents per gallon (YES, 34 cents/gallon!) has gone up to $90 for a tank. To put that in perspective, that basically means that the real world increase in price of gas that occurred between 1962 and 2011 happened in a few hours.  Unable to pay for gas at that price, Harry and his family must take the gas by force.  It's then that the panic of the title starts picking up steam.
 The action in the film never hits a manic pace - the final product is just a family sci-fi flick that shows its age these days - but there are loads of intrigue regarding the family's fight for survival.  A trio of teen hoodlums who reminded me slightly of The Last House on the Left's crew provide one of the stronger oppositions in the film, and things get a little dark in the final act when confrontation is necessary.  The film even goes so far as to imply that a female character has become a sexual victim of the three thugs, which still surprises me considering the film's time of production and generally cheeky drive-in nature.  It's a little difficult to buy Avalon toting a rifle, but the change in these characters and the implications of how bad society can get are what gives the film most of its power.  If the Bleach Blanket Bingo guy has to carry a weapon, it has definitely hit the fan.
As director and star, Milland does a good job of keeping the film grounded, which is also the role of his onscreen character.  Harry is a fine patriarch under the circumstances, giving direction - but not orders - to his family as they try their hardest not to become victims in this chaotic new landscape.  A favorite moment occurs when the family - now safely secluded in a cave - sits down for dinner and is surprised to hear him start into a prayer thanking the Lord for getting the family through the day.  Religion and science fiction were often tied together in the '50s and early '60s, and though this scene will appear cheesy by today's standards (heck, that statement probably applies to the whole movie) it's a great addition to help us understand why the plight of these characters is worth following.
As the film moves to its conclusion the characters' morals and beliefs must take a back seat to their needs at times, and there are moments when the characters are forced to act in selfish and violent ways to ensure their survival.  Much of the final act, which crescendos to a tense final scene, plays into this - reminding us that frustration and pressure can easily block some of our basic courtesies - putting Harry and family on the other end of the gun.  This all leads to an abrupt conclusion which doesn't even try to wrap up all our concerns, which is a fitting way to keep the film's message strong.
With strong direction from Milland and a jazzy musical score by Les Baxter, Panic in Year Zero is a great example of how classic science fiction films could be both family friendly and mentally stimulating.  It also avoids going political in its message, because there are far more primal matters of right and wrong that must take precedence in this post-nuclear setting.  The result is a great drive-in diversion that's perfect for a Saturday matinee; a sci-fi film that can still entertain and provoke wonder.

July 19, 2011

Book Review - Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

In the history of my writing this blog, I estimate that I've hurled about 733 backhanded insults at horror films because they weren't made in the 1970s.  In doing so, I've repeatedly referred to the films of that decade as the "Golden Age of Horror" and lamented the fact that the overwhelming majority of horror films from the 1980s and beyond lost the power of their predecessors.  The genre became formulaic, and in doing so it lost something the films of that era had.  Something that Jason Zinoman calls Shock Value.

Truthfully, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what changed when the '70s ended.  At times I blame Friday the 13th, at others I mention the disappearance of supernatural and religious based horrors. (People these days will blame a lot of problems on religion, but I can't think of a time when its existence has hurt the horror genre...but that's another story for another day.)  Zinoman's book takes a far less theoretical approach than I do; focusing on the handful of filmmakers who made the biggest horror hits between 1968 and 1979 and looking back at the events that led to some of the most game-changing horror films we've ever seen.

All the films you'd expect are represented, and most of them - occasionally in roundabout ways - get a full chapter devoted to them.  Rosemary's Baby kicks off the book, as Zinoman recounts the early stages of the film and how William Castle ended up not directing the film with Vincent Price in the cast, and Night of the Living Dead and Targets also represent the late '60s.  (BTW, I can not understate how excited I was to find Targets getting some love in the book.  To me, it's basically the most underrated movie ever.)  As the book roles into the 1970s Zinoman brings forth The Exorcist, The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, and Alien - among others - and we'd expect nothing less from a book that promises to cover the decade's best horror filmmakers.  There's also a surprising amount of time spent on John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's collaboration on Dark Star.  You wouldn't expect this sci-fi spoof to be a major player in the horror scene, but Zinoman does an excellent job of recognizing the connection between the film and each filmmaker's later works.

Zinoman seems to have been given the ability to look "behind the curtain" into the production of these films, and the amount of knowledge he presents on each film and each filmmaker is astounding.  While his discussion of each filmmaker is full of useful information, I was pretty blown away by his work in discussing the films of Wes Craven and Brian De Palma.  Craven's Last House has always struck me as one of the great "rogue" horror films because it falls so far outside the bounds of what we're used to seeing onscreen, and Zinoman does a fantastic job of getting behind Craven's assault on audiences in that film and The Hills Have Eyes.  His chapter on De Palma focuses primarily on Carrie, but it also draws out the voyeuristic side of De Palma's films that most already recognized - and offers a pretty fascinating look into why De Palma's films creep on their characters the way they do. 

The more heartbreaking side of the book features O'Bannon and Carpenter.  Two of my favorite voices in horror are chronicled here, and the recollection of the rift in their friendship that grew nasty over the years definitely was hard to read.  Again, Zinoman seems to have been given a lot of information (which seems to be mostly from O'Bannon's side) regarding what happened between these men at USC and after graduation.  The stories behind Dark Star, Halloween, and Alien all tie back to these two men and their different visions, and it's kind of sad to know that they had to go separate ways.  OK, maybe it's only sad if you're a huge horror nerd like me, but it's sad nonetheless.

I could keep rambling on and give away the whole book, but there's a simple way to sum up what I'm trying to say. If you've got any interest in the horror films of this era, Shock Value is a book you need to read.  If I had to teach someone on horror of the decade, this would be required reading.  (However, it's probably better if you see the movies first....don't worry, there's a comprehensive index in the back of the book!)

I did find some comments in the book that I personally disagree with (I'm not sure most horror fans would vote Rosemary's Baby as the best horror movie ever, and I don't feel The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead have lost potency with age), but primarily he's talking about the same thing I'm trying to talk about here. (The difference is he's doing it well.)  There was something different about these horror films and the bold filmmakers behind them, and Shock Value manages to bottle that lightning into an easy to read 240ish pages.  Zinoman has done an amazing job of putting all of this information together, and his love for the genre carries the book from there.

If you believe in "The Golden Age of Horror", you need to find a copy of Shock Value immediately.

 Shock Value by Jason Zinoman has been provided for review by TLC Book Tours.  Head over there for more information on Shock Value, including more reviews from other great horror blogs!

Or, just head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy!

July 18, 2011

The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer

(1993, Dir. by David R. Bowen.)

The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer isn't so secret revealing as I hoped it'd be.  For example, the one part of Jeffrey Dahmer's story that most interests me has been glossed over entirely here.  But that's OK, I suppose, because even Dahmer's Wikipedia page misses the point.  What's the point, you ask?  The point is that, from ages 2-6, Jeffrey Dahmer's father went to school at Iowa State University, meaning that toddler Dahmer lived about two miles from where The Mike is sitting right now.  But nooooo, Dahmer's family couldn't stay put...and thus my sweet little town doesn't have a serial killer we get to lay claim to.  I cry foul!


Now that we're past my little tantrum, let's talk about the film itself.  The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer (which totally maddens me by using that colon instead of the word OF) is s far cry from Things, the other new DVD release from Intervision Picture Corp. that I reviewed a few days ago.    In fact, the only things these two films have in common are that they were released straight to VHS and that they are now released by the same company on DVD.

Much to my surprise - even though the DVD packaging says exactly what I didn't believe - The Secret Life is a shockingly serious film.  Director David R. Bowen and writer/star Carl Crew - fascinated by the accounts of the killer (who had been captured two years earlier and was still alive in prison at the time the film was released) - set out to make the closest account of Dahmer's exploits possible, leaving the expectations of a horror fan at the door.  This isn't a cheesy, action packed account of a killer on the loose - it's a straight-forward tale that seems to revel in the chance to show what really happened.  Bowen and Crew produced the film in secrecy - assuming they would be fighting with Hollywood productions who picked up Dahmer's story - only to find that no one else dared to make a film based on the killer at the time.  A backlash from the media and the families of those involved of course followed, and it's safe to assume that the film's approach to the killer was one of the biggest concerns.  This plays like a documentary; like an episode of a true crime TV show that turned into one big re-enactment. 

From a cinematic perspective, there are plenty of problems with Bowen and Crew's approach.  The film follows Dahmer (played by Crew, who bears some resemblance to the real killer) as he goes through the motions of picking up gay men, luring them into his apartment, and offing them in various ways.  This formula is repeated with little filler in between luring-and-killing scenes, and thus the film becomes repetitive pretty quickly.  The biggest changes from scene to scene generally are the manners with which Dahmer will dispose of each victim, but also include changes in the random creepy underpants that Dahmer's oft-pantless victims are wearing.  Y'know that old saying about wearing nice underwear just in case? These guys must have heard that message, because their varying briefs had more colors than a bag of Skittles. Anyway, my point is that when the different colors of underpants that you're forced to stare at are the biggest change from scene to scene, that probably means your film is formulaic to a fault.

The other minor issue I had with the film came from Crew's performance as Dahmer.  In general, I thought he did a good job of making the character creepy and I certainly wouldn't go back to his apartment with him after seeing the film.  (Then again, I'm straight and wear boxers, so I'd be safe anyway.)  The issue, albeit minor, was that it was near impossible to look at and listen to the performance without wondering if he was trying to mimic "Buffalo Bill" from The Silence of the Lambs.  There are moments throughout the film when Dahmer seems to have left the building and you just end up waiting for Crew to scream something about the lotion and the basket.  Again, I think the performance is generally good, particularly for what the film is, but it's hard for it to step out of the shadow of Ted Levine's performance two years earlier.

That said, the biggest plus about The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer is that it is a surprisingly relevant film.  By avoiding campy or cheesy turns, Bowen and Crew really seem to get us interested in the life of Dahmer, even offering some understanding into the character's mind.  All of this was done without permission of the people involved and without any books that had been written or any other source material, but the film still feels kind of like it's the "authorized" look into what went on during Jeffrey Dahmer's real world killing spree.  The film isn't terribly gritty or stylized either, which certainly adds to the real-life intrigue of the tale.  Dahmer has been brought to film since, but it's hard for me to believe that any of the more polished versions could keep me as interested as Bowen and Crew were able to here.

The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer is by no means a great film, and I kinda got sick of it at times.  But it really does seem to be trying to mean something, and I have to give credit to the film for presenting Dahmer's story so directly.  Events and names have been changed, of course, but The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer still manages to feel like it's close to reality at every turn...which is a pretty unsettling thought when you consider the man the film was based on. (Even if it decides to omit the glorious landscapes of Ames, Iowa!)

Intervision's release of The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer isn't packed with as many features as their DVD of Things was, but it does offer an audio commentary by Bowen and Crew and a trailer.  The disc makes up for its lack of bonuses with audio and video transfers that are far superior to the one on the Things disc.  Though the film still looks like it's on a VHS, it at least looks like a clean VHS that hasn't been run through a chainsaw.

For more information on The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer, head on over to the Intervision Picture Corp. site, or head over to Amazon for purchasing information!

July 17, 2011

[REC] 2

(2009, Dir. by Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza.)

If you ever want to know what's wrong with Hollywood studios, take a look at [REC] and [REC] 2.  The first film was released overseas in 2007 to much fanfare, which naturally led Sony Pictures to get ahold of the rights to the film - so they could remake it.  That led to a) the mostly scene-for-scene remake Quarantine happening in 2008, and b) [REC]'s American release being postponed until July of 2009, after Quarantine was already past theaters and on to home video.

Fast forward two years to this week and you'll find the DVD release of [REC] 2.  Why now, despite the fact it was in festivals as of October '09?  Oh, it's because the Direct-to-DVD Quarantine 2 is out already.  History repeats itself.

This whole situation is shameful for many reasons, but the biggest reason horror lovers should care about the whole Sony screwjob is that both [REC] films are fan-freakin'-tastic horror movies.

[REC] 2 (which is like the hardest title in the world to type because of that dang [ sign that I always think requires the shift key) picks up shortly after [REC] closes, as a S.W.A.T. team and a priest enter the fated apartment building minutes after the conclusion of that film.  It took me a minute to figure out just what the reasoning for this was - truthfully, I'd forgotten a couple of the minor reveals in the third act of the first film - but thankfully this sequel takes a few moments to remind us what is going on.  The film is certainly a little more talky than its precursor, but that doesn't mean the tension is gone.  In fact, I'd say the increased knowledge of the proceeding actually adds to the intrigue.

The extra exposition also doesn't slow the film's pace, and the returning directors offer plenty of fast-paced and gore-infused violence throughout the film.  At times it seems like zombies/infected/potentially-something-elses are coming out of nowhere. I must admit that I wondered where all these people were while quarantined inside the building for the entire first movie, but the film sends a clear message - that no one is safe at any time.

As it jumps from one person's perspective to another, [REC] 2 goes through a slight lull in the middle of the film when things start to get repetitive.  While there's still plenty of action, you can really only see an infected dude or dudette shamble down a corridor and then attack so many times before it gets redundant.  The filmmakers must have recognized this danger, because the third act introduces a surprise that changes our view on the ordeal that the characters in these two films have been through.  I won't even think of going into details here - the reveal is worth the wait - but it definitely took [REC] 2 to a place I didn't expect it to go to.

You obviously need to have seen the first film to enjoy [REC] 2, but I see no reason any horror fan (who speaks Spanish or knows how to read) wouldn't love these two claustrophobic, action packed, tension filled films.  As for the sequel, it has everything a horror fan could ask for, and is one of the rare sequels that manages to capture the same success as its predecessor.  After its final act surprises, I'm left confident that whatever Balaguero and Plaza do next - even if it is [REC] 3 - will be worth checking out. 

July 14, 2011


(1989, Dir. by Andrew Jordan.)

Yes, it's true. I have witnessed Things.  I'm not exactly sure that I know what those Things were, and I'm even less sure that I know what I can say to accurately sum up Things.  I remember a comedian once discussing a movie by saying that the writer picked up 7 or 8 scripts, jammed them in a shotgun, fired that against a wall and then picked up the scraps, putting those scraps together to make the script of some movie he didn't like.  Something tells me the screenwriting behind Things was something like that...but without the scripts.  I'm betting they just slapped together blank pieces of paper from different bundles, or something.

Things might be the most ridiculously incoherent movie ever made.  I can't even begin to tell you what occurred in the film, because...well, because the film doesn't make any sense.  And it knows it.  One could possibly say that Things is a David Lynch style mindtrip, but one would also certainly assume that Lynch has total control over his film and a talented eye for what he wants to show us.  I certainly wouldn't say the same thing about Things, because the disjointed film certainly seems to have no rhyme or reason.

Most of the film involves two friends bumbling about a house in the woods while their dialogue directly references films like The Evil Dead and The Last House on the Left.  Many strange and brutal things (there's that word again!) occur to the two men, before their plight is suddenly explained away by a newswoman (adult film star Amber Lynn, who stays clothed and serious throughout the bizarre film) and a new scene begins.  I kind of want to call the film's narrative a "stream of consciousness" type thing...but anyone who could conceive of such a stream needs some kind of mental treatment and probably some anti-psychotic medication.

I really, truly, mean it when I say that I have never seen anything in my life that is like Things.  Is that a good thing? I have no idea.  But this alleged cult masterpiece -  complete with cheesy gore, repetitive music and the worst sound design and post-dubbed dialogue I have ever witnessed - seems to have set out to be this uninterpretable piece of carnage...which is what it is.  So I guess, in that way, Things is a success.

I don't think that success is worth much -  the most incoherent piece of crud is still a piece of crud - but it does leave Things in a class of its own.  If you want to see the most incomprehensible direct-to-VHS gorefest to ever come out of Canada - you want to see Things.

Things is now available on DVD (and, in some places, VHS) via Intervision Picture Corp, who have put together a surprisingly packed DVD.  The disc includes a commentary with the director and stars (which, I have to admit, I'm curious to hear), plus interviews with famous fans (among them are Hobo With a Shotgun director Jason Eisener and Tobe Freakin' Hooper!), a 20th anniversary reunion panel, some vintage behind the scenes stuff with Lynn, and more.  Though the film's transfer seems to have been taken from a badly beaten VHS tape, it stands as a reminder that you can't really polish a turd.

Alas, Intervision has done as much polishing as is possible, and members of Things' "cult" will be ecstatic to see this package.  If you're one of them - or if you simply can't turn away from a film that even I can't begin to describe, then you should head over to Intervision's site and witness Things with your own eyes.

You've been warned.

Midnight Movie of the Week #80 - Deranged

One of the great bits of trivia in the history of horror cinema states that both Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were based on the same real life killer - a Wisconsin man by the name of Ed Gein.  If you're just hearing that for the first time, I'm sure you're as perplexed as I was the first time I did.  After all, Norman Bates and Leatherface couldn't be more different. Right? 
If you have any information on the connection between these movies, please call Unsolved Mysteries at 1 (800) 876-5353.
The truth about the real world Gein definitely falls somewhere between the two films, with the main connections being his love of taxidermy and the effect losing his mother had on him (Psycho) and his decision to keep trophies that he took from graves and victims, including masks made of human skin (TCM).  Oh, and did I mention that Ed Gein also wanted a sex change and was making himself a "female suit" out of skin? Yep, he was the inspiration for The Silence of the Lambs' "Buffalo Bill" too.
If you've ever wanted proof that both Psycho and TCM are based on the same character, Deranged exists as the thematic bridge between the two horror classics.  Produced by rock music promoter Tom Karr (who used his earnings from concerts to fund the film) and released by the legendary American International Pictures, Deranged opens and closes with reminders that the things that occur in the film are based on true events.  And, despite many changes (including the character's name), the film manages to mimic much of Gein's infamous life.
The star of the film - playing the disturbed Midwestern killer Ezra Cobb - is Roberts Blossom, who sadly passed away at the age of 87 last Friday.  Blossom is most likely most known to the younger generation of film fans as the creepy old man from Home Alone, and is also known to horror fans as the man who sells a red car to a nerdy teenager in John Carpenter's Christine.  But Deranged - for better or worse - is certainly his most iconic performance.  The soft-spoken actor certainly doesn't look like someone who would be caught up in such brutal affairs, but he shows often that he's able to slip into the primal side as an aggressor.  It's the kind of role that most actors wouldn't take, but Blossom seems very natural in the dual-purpose role.  (What that says about the man, who I'd like to believe was as sweet as his Home Alone character, is something I'll leave to your interpretation.)
That's co-director Alan Ormsby, cameo-ing via photo. Ormsby would go on to write FMWL favorite Popcorn.
Co-directed by Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things alumni Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby (Speaking of Christmas movies: Gillen would go on to play the department store Santa in A Christmas Story!), Deranged is a raw little chiller that definitely plants its roots in reality.  A "journalist" narrates the film and occasionally shows up on screen to relay plot details and Ezra's inner turmoil, making us feel like the film is letting us in on some kind of dark and twisted secret.  The special effects team, which was led by a young Tom Savini, also do their part to make the rotting corpses and loose flesh that we see around Ezra's estate seem realistic, and there's a strange and fascinating charm to just how ugly the sets can become.   
There's something really haunting about just how unpolished this film is.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre also benefited from its gritty nature but, unlike Hooper's take on Gein, the filmmakers never really push Deranged to move more quickly and to turn into a race for your life.  Ormsby and Gillen prefer to unravel the plot slowly by giving us only small doses of Ezra's violence, which are surrounded by the character being a helpless, tragic soul. It's hard to really dislike the guy, because we don't see him as someone who's plotting out vicious crimes for most of the film - he's just a deeply disturbed dude who goes a little mad (sometimes).
When the carnage does occur, Savini and crew bring their best stuff to the table.  The reveal of Ezra covered in a skin mask is certainly an unsettling sight, and his final victim's demise (which is taken almost directly from the real Gein case) shocked even me.  I'm not saying the brutality on screen matches up with today's CGI standards, but I will say that it complements the true crime feel of the film wonderfully.  We know what the film's end game is from the first time our narrator walks on screen, but even then there's no way our narrator could have prepared us for what we do see in the second half of the film.
Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill and Leatherface may have re-written history in the name of horror, but there's still something to be said for Ezra Cobb's place in history.  This is "true" horror at its grittiest, and the film has survived as a great drive-in horror film that is carried by a powerful lead performance.  These days, Deranged is available to watch instantly on Netflix (and is part of an awesome Midnite Movies Double Feature DVD with Motel Hell!), and I urge anyone who is a fan of '70s horror, true crime stories, and/or Home Alone to seek it out soon.  This is the unique kind of '70s horror film that is worth finding.