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September 30, 2012

Introducing The October 2012 Awesome Horror Party

...because I can't think of a catchier title than that.

Us horror freaks, we live for this month. The way I see it, it started with Halloween, and then we were sitting around one day and we were like: "You know what, we want more. We'll take all of October now."  And so we did. And it was good.

Here at FMWL, I have not been up to par - at least by my standards - over the last few months.  But October is like two hours away now, and my goal is to slow life down enough that I can make some fun stuff happen here this month.  I plan to do so in a few ways, which I will detail below.
  • The end of The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown?
I've been dragging this thing on since March as a way to get short posts out on days when I'm content challenged share a list of what are currently my favorite films in all of horror.  My initial plan was to post on all 50 movies by the end of October, and at this point I have 12 films to go.  Can I do it? We'll find out.
  • Lots of links to October Horror Goodness from all over the cyber 'verse.
If there's one thing I can guarantee about this October, it's that there will be a lot of horror lovin' folks on a lot of websites that will be knocking it out of the park this month.  And if I can't be an everyday warrior in the name of our favorite genre, I will at least do my best to point you in the direction of some good stuff.

If you're one of those horror loving writers with big plans for October - actually, plans of any size will do - make sure to find me via email or Facebook or Twitter and let me know.  I hope to do what I can to dig up some of the best stuff I find this month, because the celebration of horror in October needs to be a lot bigger than just me.
  • How The Mike Found Horror
One of my favorite horror fiends, Christine from over at Fascination With Fear, recently put together an inventive listing project that blew my mind.  And with her permission, I'm stealing it and making it my own.

Throughout October, I will post a series of lists (YES! More lists!) with a common theme - How The Mike Found Horror.  These lists will break down many of the things that entertained, educated, and even inspired me through my youth, and will explain how these entities made me the Mike I am today.  Some of these things may be review to my regular readers - I just might mention The Blob at some point - but I am really looking forward to talking about some of the little things that pushed me down this macabre path of awesomeness.  Think of it as one of those "This is Your Life" things....if you're old enough to know what that means. Heck, I'm not old enough to know what that means.  I just know it from when Mankind did it to The Rock.  Don't worry though, it'll be fun.

  • And your regular schedule of reviews and the Midnight Movie of the Week and more stuff.
Because that's what I do.  Hopefully it's as awesome as Dr. Doom's acoustic album.

September 28, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #143 - Runaway

If you have a thing for robot bugs and mustaches, then there's never been a better movie for you than Runaway.  Fresh out of the Tom Selleck era of the 1980s, this is the tale of one cop, one terrorist, and a rogue's gallery of defective - or, as the title says, runaway - robots.  It's the kind of film that only the '80s could produce - complete with bad hairstyles, surprised topless women, and a hero who is unflappable in every way - that also borrows heavily from things like Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and The Jetsons.
Magnum P.I. The Guy Who Passed on Indiana Jones Tom Selleck stars as an incredibly manly police officer with a mustache Jack Ramsey, who knows more about robots than anyone else.  He used to be a normal manly cop, until he developed vertigo (and you gotta wonder if that's gonna come in to play later on....) which led him to embrace the challenges of dealing with robots that go awry in cornfields and construction sites and other harmless places.  But fate has its eyes on Jack and his new partner/love interest (played by the future Mrs. Richard Marx, Cynthia Rhodes), who soon find themselves dealing with the first homicide committed by a robot. Apparently somebody didn't teach Asimov's three laws.
That somebody comes in the form of criminal Charles Luther, played by a bare-faced Gene Simmons, who's both a) incredibly smart and b) cheesy enough to claim he's with 'Acme Robot Repairs' at one point.  The KISS legend is certainly trying to distance himself from his well-known persona here in his first big screen role.  The musician would go full terrorist later in the '80s, when he co-starred with Rutger Hauer in Wanted: Dead or Alive, but here he plays a little more like something out of a cartoon, complete with his army of robots that includes some six legged metal freaks.
The set up sounds pretty comical, and as I look at the film now - compared to the way I looked at it in the late '80s when I was a kid - it's easy to see how silly Runaway is.  Writer/director Michael Crichton - yes, that Michael Crichton - would direct only one more feature after this one, and comparisons between this and his debut masterwork Westworld show that time wasn't too kind to Crichton as a director.  While that film worked sly comedy into its gripping tension, this one feels a little more like a running inside joke on the audience than a tense thriller.
Of course, the thing any child of the '80s who experienced the film will first mention about Runaway is Luther's army of killer robot spiders. Even though they clearly have six legs, the film repeatedly refers to them as spiders.  I never noticed this until tonight, and I have to admit that it really bugs me right now. (And I apologize for that unintentional pun.)  But when I get past that realization, I can still see just how much those robo-spiders made my skin crawl when I was a kid.  A sequence in a public restroom has one of the metal creepers sneaking under a bathroom stall, and that image always kind of made me queasy.  And then there's the finale, which involves a construction site and an elevator and several of the metal buggers, which is still pretty tense thanks to the ominous robo-spiders.
Runaway won't win a lot of awards for depth or power, but it's still a pretty cool piece of '80s action with a goofy sci-fi kick thrown in.  Do you have to be from the '80s to get it? Maybe you do.  I mean, you probably don't have to be Marty McFly and actually travel from the '80s, but maybe you had to be there for Magnum P.I. and grizzled cop movies and that robot from Rocky IV.  You probably have to be younger than those old people who watch Selleck in those Jesse Stone movies too.  But there's a niche that should appreciate Runaway, and I'm glad I can be a part of it.  Because robot spiders are awesome.

September 26, 2012

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #13 - Frankenstein

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil   Number 30 - Evil Dead II  Number 29 - Dead of Night  Number 28 - Carnival of Souls  Number 27 - Nosferatu  Number 26 - Candyman  Number 25 - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre  Number 24 - Horror of Dracula  Number 23 - The Wicker Man  Number 22 - Suspiria  Number 21 - The Omen  Number 20 - Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told  Number 19 - Rosemary's Baby  Number 18 - The Devil Rides Out  Number 17 - The Blob  Number 16 - Gremlins  Number 15 - Targets  Number 14 - Fright Night
(1931, Dir. by James Whale.)
Why It's Here:
There are few things in this world that actually give me goosebumps and make me crazy jealous.  One of them is when I hear those stories about how people of 1931 freaked out and passed out and rioted when they saw Frankenstein on screen.  Like, if there was one place in history I had a chance to time travel to, I'd be there to see it happen. I'd be chomping on popcorn and laughing from the back row.  I might even join in for fun. It'd be a blast. 

The Moment That Changes Everything:
There are two moments that stand out completely in Frankenstein - one when "It's alive!" gets shouted, and one when the big ol' monster meets a little girl.  The former is perhaps the greatest announcement in horror history, while the latter is still one of the most shocking moments on film more than 80 years later.  But for me, the most interesting exchange in the film is the brief encounter between creator and created while a mob is on the prowl in the final act. There's more that I wish was said - especially after I read Mary Shelley's beautiful novel - but the simple showdown gives the film's conflict that little extra push over the edge that it needs in its final moments.

It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
Easiest choice on the list.  Follow this up with the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. A lot of people - maybe even a majority of horror fans - will tell you that Bride surpasses the original.  I am not of that mindset (some of the comedy bugs me a little, and I think it misses on a few attempts to link to the book), but I won't deny that Bride of Frankenstein is still a fascinating piece of horror history and a must see for any lover of this film.

What It Means To Me:
I generally moan about any adaptation of Frankenstein - one of my favorite books - and I'll even go so far as to throw Whale's film in with other adaptations that missed some of my favorite parts of the book.  But this vision of Frankenstein has become something truly iconic, creating a visage of horror that is still recognizable to most any person on the planet.  With Karloff's performance and scenes that still have great power, this film deserves its own place among horror's most fantastic achievements.

September 24, 2012


(2012, Dir. by Pete Travis.)

When I heard that a new Judge Dredd film was on the way a while back, my initial reaction was something along the lines of "That's freakin' weird, man!"  The British comic icon has been around since 1977, but remains relatively unknown to most.  In America, the character is most recognizable from a poorly received film from 1995, in which Sylvester Stallone took on the lead role and growled about being the law.  To be honest, there are some people who were teenagers in the mid-90s (myself included) who will argue that the Stallone film is a blast for all the wrong reasons.  But fans of the character wanted more, and now they have it.

A new story with no ties to the previous film, Dredd lets Karl Urban - whose face would be recognizable from The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek if the film would show it - put on the trademark uniform of the Judge and re-introduce viewers to the world of Mega-City One.  Opening narration explains how most of the United States has been eradicated and now exists only as "The Cursed Earth", while hundreds of millions of people are literally stacked into these mega-cities.  Dredd and a rookie Judge - the less scary-named Anderson, played by Juno's Olivia Thirlby - end up traveling into one of the mega-structures in the mega-city when some drugged-up bodies get thrown down 200 stories and splatter in a courtyard, and the fun picks up from there.

(I suppose this is the point where I should point out that the premise is eerily similar to this year's new action sensation, The Raid: Redemption.  Many have cried foul - or harsher things - as they see two movies about high rise buildings and a gauntlet of battles released months apart, but there's no rip off here in my eyes.  I loved The Raid, but I'm not going to let that stop me from enjoying a movie that happens to have a similar set. OK?)

Inside the building we find a pretty standard future gang, filled with miscreants and dirty faced people (at least by sci-fi movie standards) and led by a disfigured ex-prostitute/drug lord known simply as Ma-Ma.  She's played by Lena Headey, of 300 and The Sarah Conner Chronicles, and her drug of choice is a new future concoction called "Slo-Mo".  This drug, administered through a simple inhaler, slows the user's body down to 1% of real-time - that's not a joke, the movie actually says it - which allows for several annoying shots of things moving really slow and sparkling and looking incredibly goofy when compared to the rest of the gritty action film.  These slow-motion scenes are overused early in the story and hurt the film's charm, but the director smartly pumps the brakes on this until the right moment in the final act.  In fact, that final moment of Slo-Mo action kind of made the whole thing worthwhile.

The rest of the film is Urban and Thirlby making their way through the 200 story tower, which means a lot of Urban growling one word sentences from beneath his trademark helmet - unlike Stallone, the actor stays true to Dredd lore and never removes his headpiece - and a lot of Thirlby being the unsure and human piece of the puzzle. The rookie judge - helmetless due to some psychic "powers" that the film uses to escape from plot holes - doesn't feel like an add-on, and actually overshadows the mostly-silent title character in regard to the film's plot.  The performance won't win many awards, but it's noteworthy that this miniature girl stands tall in a brutal movie about the future's Dirty Harry.

If you're just here to see a guy dressed as Judge Dredd being snarky and blowing people up, you're going to get that too.  Urban never wavers as he portrays the antihero with a one-note tone of cynicism. He also carries his Lawgiver weapon - a cool future tool that the film plays with wonderfully - with poise, and he fills the costume quite well.  This isn't the most demanding role from a physical standpoint - unlike many modern action films, hand-to-hand combat is almost nonexistent - but Dredd still looks and acts like someone I'd be scared to meet in a back alley if I'd done something naughty.  And it's nice to see a film that still relies on good old fashioned guns instead of choreographed dance fighting.

Fans of blood splatter should find everything they desire when it comes to the action.  Shot in 3D - though I, out of spite for the gimmick, watched the 2D version - there's plenty of computer generated arterial spray that is designed for a full "in your face" effect.  There's still plenty to see without the 3D, with the most impressive sequence coming near the finale as Anderson and Dredd shoot their way through a lot of nameless assailants.  The film moves at a manic pace, and if you blink you might miss some of the carnage. I commented after the film that it felt like the shortest movie I've ever seen, and I was surprised to find that it ran 95 minutes when I checked after the showing.

Dredd meets its simple goals, staying true to the established character while providing a modern edge to the gritty action plot.  I wished that there was more of a focus on the science fiction aspects of the story, but at the same time I realize that more exposition would have killed the pace the film was going for.  While the story could have focused on being an origin story, like we've seen so many times before in the comic adaptation world, it seems like director Pete Travis and writer Alex Garland decided to throw caution to the wind and put everything on the line for one high-octane bullet storm.  It worked for me, and I think anyone looking for a bit of popcorn violence should enjoy this Judge Dredd tale.

September 21, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #142 - The Game

As I revisited The Game for the first time in several years this week - thanks to an immaculate restoration by the good folks of the Criterion Collection - I quickly noticed that I couldn't get what my football coach would have called a "shit-eating grin" off of my face.  If you've seen the film - and if you bought what the ending was selling - you know exactly why I had that problem.  Like many of the bravest thrillers ever made, The Game throws all of its weight behind one idea that will be revealed in the film's final minutes, for better or worse.  And it's safe to say that I've always loved that reveal.
The high-concept premise behind the film is a thing of beauty. A rich businessman with no sense of humor and little compassion for others is given an odd gift by his younger and wilder brother: the chance to play a game run by a mysterious company.  Why would he play this game? According to his brother, it's because it will make his life "fun".  But, in true Hollywood fashion, the game enters and a nightmare follows with it.
The resulting carnage follows said rich man - Nicholas Van Orton, as played by Michael Douglas - as he falls into a series of elaborate and dangerous scenarios that involve death, drugs, potential drowning, and even guns.  As the film moves throughout San Francisco there are more than enough moments that should make a first time viewer roll their eyes and scoff about how unrealistic the film is.  I'm certainly of the mindset that patience pays off with this film, but there will undoubtedly be some who won't make it to where the film is going or won't be on-board with the conclusions when they get there.  I of course won't say that those people are wrong - that would be rude - but I might secretly wonder if their life, too, could use a little fun.
It's not everyone's type of fun, because this is one macabre film.  The most masterful touch by director David Fincher might be the connection between Nicholas and his father, who committed suicide in front of his young son.  These events are recreated through dreamlike flashback sequences early in the film that are incredibly eerie and seem slightly out of place at first glance.  But, now that I've seen the film plenty of times, I can't understate how pertinent and marvelous these sequences are in this film.  They are the backbone of everything Fincher and company are trying to say here, and they still send chills down my spine 15 years later.
The most disturbing reality in the film is that this company - Consumer Recreation Services, whose initials start to haunt Nicholas throughout his game - seems to have taken complete control of this man's life.  We watch him lose his connections and resources throughout the film, and he loses power over his world by the hour. It's a chore to watch at times as the man's life continues to get worse and worse, but the lucky thing for us viewers is that Nicholas Van Orton isn't really a likeable character.  Douglas can do desperate with the best of 'em - this would play wonderfully next to his disgruntled vigilante film Falling Down - but the humorless rich dude act doesn't make us like him much early in the film.
Therein lies the tragic comedy aspect of our film. Fincher introduces us to a man we shouldn't like, then tortures him until we see him as a sympathetic character.  As the trials that Nicholas must face become more elaborate, the film reveals the fantastic allegory that is hidden under its dreary exterior.  I can't say too much about where the film goes with Nicholas' plight - this is one of those films that I get nervous talking about, because I think it's so wonderful that I'd never ever dream of spoiling it for anyone - but I do recommend that the viewer loosen their grip on reality and let the chaotic events that make up The Game run their course before they jump to any conclusions.
It is often lost in the shuffle when Fincher's early films are discussed - it doesn't have the grime of Seven, the attitude of Fight Club, or the "Wait, that girl grows up to be the Twilight girl?" of Panic Room - but The Game still strikes me as Fincher's most profound work.  It is a truly haunting film with what I consider to be one of the most perfect endings ever put on film. It takes some getting used to - I'm pretty sure us 16 year olds in that 1997 movie theater thought we were smarter than it when it first happened  to us - but it makes more and more sense every time I see this movie. I'm in on the joke now, and I'm glad that I've got a grin that's inspired by this meticulously plotted mind-bender.

(OK, there's one more thing I just have to say. It's about the ending. I suppose it could be construed as a SPOILER, but I'm giving no details.

The movie doesn't work if the ending goes the other way. I know there are people who believe otherwise, but I will defend this until my last breath.  It would make perfect sense for the film to end with the opposite ending, but that ending wouldn't make the film have any kind of relevance. I'm not just talking about relevance from a shock standpoint, I'm saying there would be no relevant reason for the film to exist.  There are those who say the on-screen ending is an "easy way out", but in my book the movie becomes about 97% less daring if it switches the ending.  The ending, as is, gives the movie its flavor.)

September 18, 2012

The Corridor

(2010, Dir. by Evan Kelly.)

On first glance, I felt like The Corridor lost some steam in the final act. As I continued to think about the film after its conclusion, however, I started to think I was a bit off with that assessment.  The Corridor is not a film that loses steam.  If anything, it's a film that picks up steam at such a pace that the viewer's brain might stop comprehending what's going on.

Clearly this could earn The Corridor that "mind trip" label that often gets thrown at movies which don't pander to traditional storytelling techniques, but The Corridor isn't all random occurrences and trickeration. (Yes, I stole that word from John Madden and tried to make it a thing. So?) It's definitely one of those movies that I can't start to explain without giving something away, but that's mostly because it's a relatively fresh concept.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about The Corridor is how it starts with something strange (a man hiding in the closet while his dead mother is on the hallway floor and his friends are trying to figure out what's going on) then becomes something normal (a bunch of friends heading into the wild for a getaway/reunion) and then becomes something completely unheard of and out of control.  The plot is about as linear as it could be when you consider the strange dimensional rift going on in this snowy wilderness, but the twists that occur are abrupt and unconventional. 

As the film allows its characters to explore their lives and their pasts it takes on a tone that will remind many viewers of Stephen King, particularly reminding me of the failed film adaptation of Dreamcatcher.  The relationships here aren't incredibly deep or interesting, but they seem pretty natural as the film progresses.  The group of actors are all pretty competent at playing these simple roles, so the film avoids falling into one of those traps where a bad actor makes an independent horror film feel less prolific.

The dynamic between these men is good, but it's the other part of The Corridor - involving the titular vortex and wackiness that ranges to mind control to knives and blood - that will keep people thinking about this one after the film ends.  The final act has some special effects that aren't high quality and they even make it a little difficult to take the film seriously at times, but open-minded viewers should be able to get past these quibbles. 

The rest of the film has some effective chills (recurring visions of that mother got under my skin), some painful brutality, and even a bit of humor.  The whole thing might not come together perfectly, but there's a lot of originality here.  The Corridor didn't feel like a must see as the end credits rolled, but a day later I keep thinking back to it, and I'm anxious to give it another go.  A film that provokes this much thought is certainly worth a solid recommendation.

September 17, 2012

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #14 - Fright Night

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil   Number 30 - Evil Dead II  Number 29 - Dead of Night  Number 28 - Carnival of Souls  Number 27 - Nosferatu  Number 26 - Candyman  Number 25 - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre  Number 24 - Horror of Dracula  Number 23 - The Wicker Man  Number 22 - Suspiria  Number 21 - The Omen  Number 20 - Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told  Number 19 - Rosemary's Baby  Number 18 - The Devil Rides Out  Number 17 - The Blob  Number 16 - Gremlins  Number 15 - Targets
Fright Night
(1985, Dir. by Tom Holland.)
 Why It's Here:
Tom Holland is one of the unsung heroes in horror history.  The man who wrote the shockingly entertaining Psycho II and later helmed the original Child's Play gave us a truly fantastic piece of horror in 1985, with the release of the self-aware vampire tale Fright Night.  A film that seems like it would be at home in the modern culture of horror comedies (which makes it hard to believe that a recent remake arrived with no charm and no thrills), Fright Night plays off of vampire mythology while openly spoofing horror film cliches and providing heavy doses of comedy, romance, and action.  

The Moment That Changes Everything:
Alfred Hitchcock is my boy, and Rear Window is precisely my favorite movie ever.  And I kind of love everything Rear Window-y.  So when Charlie Brewster starts to look out his window and sees his new neighbor sporting fangs with a lady of the night, I start to lose my stuff.  As a crazy-minded child I always wanted to stumble upon something out of a horror movie - I didn't quite understand how that could end BADLY - and seeing this kid stumble into a vampire saga makes me smile.

It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
This is a bit of a lay up, but it only makes sense to combine Fright Night with the other well known film about teenagers and vampires from the 1980s, The Lost Boys. I'm of the mindset that that film isn't as great as it could be because it's not Fright Night, but many others are of the mindset that Fright Night would be better if it were The Lost Boys. Who's right? Who's wrong? You decide.

What It Means to Me:
Fright Night and I go way back, as I was no more than 10 or 11 the first time I saw parts of it on HBO. It was like watching one of those comedies from the '80s that my parents had shown me...but there was also that part where Evil Ed turned into that thing and then that wicked cool scene with him and Roddy McDowell's Peter Vincent battling in the final act. I've never forgotten the first time I saw that, and I've had an extreme soft spot for the film ever since. I'm grateful that it holds up on repeat viewings, and I've grown more certain that it is one of the best films the horror genre has to offer as time goes by.

September 13, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #141 - Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Hellraiser - in it's pure and original concentration - is one of my favorite horror movies to talk about, particularly because of the way in which it shakes my perception of horror.  Every time someone asks me about horror movies I'm all high and might and say things like "Oh man, it's not about the gore, it's about..." and then I talk about "good vs. evil" or "demons in the mind's eye" or something that makes horror seem like a noble and altruistic venture.  And then I watch something like Hellraiser - something that I find perverse and disgusting - and I'm calmed and fascinated.  And I even find it kind of beautiful.  Hellraiser is basically Schrodinger's Cat for horror fans - you can believe you're not fascinated by it when you're not looking at it, but when you pull back the lid and look at it you have to face whatever you see.
The calm fascination that I find in Hellraiser comes, I think, from the distance between myself and the film. Sure, I'm seeing people ripped apart and am face to face with grotesque demons who have fantastic special effects around them, but I'm still safe at home with a TV screen and several other items separating me from the hell that I can see. The things I see are even some times effecting me physically, but I can at the same time realize that this physical response is controlled by my mental response to Hellraiser as an external stimuli.  I'm making this sound really technical, but I really do think that Hellraiser has some kind of philosophical relevance to my life as a horror fan. I can't be the guy who "only likes highbrow horror" if I like Hellraiser.  I also can't say that gore can not equal high art if I like Hellraiser.
Which brings us to Hellbound: Hellraiser II. If Hellraiser is a splattery philosophical debate inside my head, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is the nightmare I have when I go to sleep.  It's less coherent and there are times when the flaws in logic that derail so many nightmares shine through the cracks, but at the same time it hits home plenty of times and even opens our mind to possibilities of horror that we didn't think of before.  It expands upon the events of the first film - even recounting most of them in a myriad of flashback scenes - in plenty of ways, and leaves the viewer at least intrigued by the possibilities it presents.
The plot of the film picks up after the events of Hellraiser, with our survivor Kristy (Ashley Laurence) in a mental hospital and a bloody mattress that holds the key to reanimation that occurred in the house from the first film.  Julia, the evil stepmother (and let's just take a moment to consider the use of the evil stepmother here and how it makes Hellraiser and Hellraiser II kind of like an animated Disney classic) from the first film is soon reborn and then re-skinned thanks to spilled blood, and then the two end up running around the world of the Cenobites.  There's more to it than that, but not a whole lot more.
Let's get back to that world of the Cenobites. Remember that time in the first movie when Pinhead was all "We have such sights to show you!"? He was not kidding.  The most amazing thing about Hellraiser II, to me, is the grand scale "Hell" that our characters end up roaming.  The visuals are very stilted these days - what would now be CGI is accomplished here by matte paintings and illusions of perception - but the labyrinth style (which again makes me think of children's fairy tales) world that entraps our characters has always widened my eyes and made me think about the possibilities that are out there.
 The biggest problem with Hellraiser II is that it keeps making you think about Hellraiser, which was a much tighter and engrossing film. The sequel is far more abstract than the film that came before it, and it simply can not match the feeling that Hellraiser gave us. The first film felt real, even though we knew it wasn't, while this film offers things like Cenobite-ed psychiatric doctors that fly around like a monkey from The Wizard of Oz that are just too dreamlike to be taken seriously.
Hellraiser II does offer up a nightmare world, but it's the difference between that nightmare world and the incredibly realistic - save a few cheesy effects - world that the first film created that holds it back from being truly special.  Still, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a top notch sequel and a worthy addition to the story Clive Barker created.  The grand scale vision of Barker's Hell that we see in this film is unmatched in other Hellraiser films (then again, most Hellraiser films after this one offer little of anything worthwhile), and some great visuals and cenobite carnage should send fans of the first film home happy.

September 11, 2012

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #15 - Targets

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil   Number 30 - Evil Dead II  Number 29 - Dead of Night  Number 28 - Carnival of Souls  Number 27 - Nosferatu  Number 26 - Candyman  Number 25 - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre  Number 24 - Horror of Dracula  Number 23 - The Wicker Man  Number 22 - Suspiria  Number 21 - The Omen  Number 20 - Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told  Number 19 - Rosemary's Baby  Number 18 - The Devil Rides Out  Number 17 - The Blob  Number 16 - Gremlins
(1968, Dir. by Peter Bogdanovich.)
Why It's Here:
A lot of horror fans talk about how horror movies were now and also talk about how horror movies were "back then".  Back then, to me, signifies a time when the supernatural reigned supreme and when "scary" stories were more about the unknown and less about the uninhibited.  And no film illustrated the state of horror like Targets, a wonderfully plotted human horror film that allowed Boris Karloff to show off his understanding of the genre one last time.

The Moment That Changes Everything:
Though Karloff is pulling back the curtain on his well-known persona throughout the film, but in the film's final scenes we get one last glimpse of the Karloff we know and love.  And his reaction to the human killer that he faces off with is one of my favorite moments in horror history.

It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
For more late Karloff greatness - at a much sillier pace - I can never get enough of The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. I know, the combination of hard nosed serial killer film and goofy party ghost story seems a little sweet and salty for some tastes, but the pair of films should give a good indication of just how much fun the late Karloff was having with his infamous name at his age. 

What It Means To Me:
Targets is truly one of my favorite films in any genre, because it's such a fascinating time capsule for cinema history.  Openly spoofing a real film - The Terror, which Karloff starred in for Roger Corman five years earlier - and asking plenty of questions about society's response to the genre, Bogdanovich and Karloff manage to come together with a special story that works on many levels.  You might doubt its horror status at times, but when young Tim O'Kelly starts to take aim at the unsuspecting the film becomes very tense and very wonderful.  Most of the films left on this list deserve the "one-of-a-kind" label, but I truly don't think I've ever seen a film that accomplishes the same things Targets does.

September 7, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #140 - The Day The Earth Caught Fire

 And if there is a future for man - insensitive as he is, proud and defiant in his pursuit of power - let him resolve to live with nothing, for he knows well how to do so.  Then he may say once more: "Truly, the light is sweet...and what a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to see the sun."
Perhaps more relevant now than it was in 1961, Val Guest's The Day The Earth Caught Fire is a rare science fiction film from its time that refuses to sugar coat the outlook of mankind's future.  A production of Great Britain - which I'm assuming received its X Certificate (in modern terms that's basically the MPAA's R rating) specifically for being grim and dismal - there's none of that American flavored stuff with "cute" kids or unbridled patriotism here.  Guest's film, instead, focuses on the reactions of a bunch of newspaper men to an unnatural thing that folks today would warming.
Shot in black and white - with a couple of orange tinged sequences bookending the film for effect - The Day The Earth Caught Fire has little eye for spectacle.  The title will draw comparisons to similarly named sci-fi hits of its time, but saucers, robots, or view screens don't appear anywhere in this film's landscape.  Instead, Guest does his best to turn London into a desolate wasteland and even evokes some martial law chaos to add to the film's frantic attempts at terror.  There are some strong visuals in the film, for sure, but much of the film's strength comes from the men and women who seem to be battling against time even though they have no idea what they are up against.
The cast is led by Edward Judd, a rather typical chisel-jawed leading man type, and Leo McKern, who most horror fans will recognize from his memorable bit part in The Omen.  The former plays the straight man with a good command, particularly when dealing with leading lady Janet Munro and in his interactions with his editor (real world newspaper man Arthur Christiansen, who plays himself), which consist primarily of debates about why he should keep doing his job when the world seems to be spiraling out of control.  McKern gets the juicier role, and the gruff voiced actor steals a few of the many talkative scenes in the newsroom in an Edward G. Robinson kind of way.
We learn a little more about the scientific side of the film as the plot goes on - and the explanation of why the Earth seems to be baking is certainly fantastic in nature - but it's the film's political dealings that really carry the most intrigue.  As with many films of its era, "the bomb" is front and center in the plot, which leads to a lot of politics and a sense of global dread.  Though the film's script focuses in on the news men and their quick thinking approach to the problem, Guest makes sure to spend ample time showing them as they interact with an increasingly panic stricken society.  The film escalates well, and the spectacular moments of carnage and marital law late in the film resonate because the film has built its way up to them so well.
The film's ideas should still resonate today, but Guest and company may have underestimated man's ability to destroy the world on their own.  The characters in the film talk about weather patterns and things like "ice flow charts" that we still hear about in global warming discussions today, but the primary difference is of course that we don't need to blame nuclear weaponry for current weather concerns.  The film lives on as a prophetic one in a way, but I don't think screenwriters of 1961 would have predicted the technologies we'd abuse over the next 50 years accurately.  Almost ironically, several bleak scenes set in a busy London square feature a large British Petroleum advertisement that's innocently hanging out in the background.
The Day The Earth Caught Fire spends a lot of time asking questions, but it's very content to not answer all of them. In fact, I'd say it ends at a perfect point to inspire thought in the viewer.  This is a more hypothetical and grounded science fiction fan than many fans of the genre are used to, but it stands out thanks to its logical and intellectual approach to apocalypse cinema.  I know a lot of people see a film from this era with a title like this one and immediately assume there's going to be cheese involved, but I think Val Guest's work here could surprise you if you've got your mind open to it.  This is a take-no prisoners attack on humanity that drives home its point loudly.

September 5, 2012

FMWL Indie Spotlight - The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features

(2012, Dir. by Strephon Taylor.)
There's this picture that I've seen several times on this here internet that has always spoken to me. I never bothered to look into the backstory of said picture.  In fact, I think I once knew who the man in the picture was and why it was taken, but I think I mentally blocked myself from retaining that information.  I mean, the picture was so cool - so why did I need to know why it was so cool?  Anyway, the picture looked like this:
So yeah. That's an awesome picture. And for me, the picture was awesome because I looked at that catchphrase written on that oval backdrop, and I just smiled.  I'm a dude who loves horror movies (I really hope you knew that by now, if not....SURPRISE!), and I love the idea that watching horror movies builds up a person's resolve.  Perhaps it's a childish belief, and perhaps it could be said that a dedicated conviction to any hobby could build a person's resolve - but I still kind of love it.  And the guy looks like a perfect time capsule back to a simpler time in horror, and I loved that too.  Yet I never really looked into who this guy was.

Anyway, my computer tells me that it was September of 2010 when I downloaded this picture that I thought was awesome.  And it was just about two weeks ago that a guy named Strephon Taylor contacted me about a DVD produced by November Fire called The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features.  I've been pretty worn out by work lately and also playing too many video games when I'm coming home like a zombie and it's been hard to keep up with emails, but I skimmed the dude's email and saw that this was a documentary about a horror host of days gone by and I was like "Oh, cool, I want to see that!" because I love horror hosts.  And then the DVD showed up and I looked at the insanely cool packaging (more on that in a bit) and I was like "Hey....that's the guy from the picture!"

So yeah, long story short (TOO LATE!) - the guy in this picture that I've loved is a horror host named Bob Wilkins. And I didn't even make that connection, ever, until this friggin' DVD showed up on my doorstep. The point of the story? I am a big honkin' doofus!
Now that my history (or lack thereof) with Mr. Wilkins' work has been detailed in painstakingly silly detail, let's talk about the man himself. As I quickly learned from the press release when I re-read it after realizing I am a doofus and the description on this DVD package, Bob Wilkins hosted horror movies on three television stations in California from 1966 to 1981, a fifteen year run that included more than 1800 movies.  Wearing nothing more than a suit and some very distinguished glasses, Wilkins made his name by being a straight shooter about the movies he was showing - which basically means that he told the audience when the film stunk - and by showing up to work a lot of times with a lot of movies.

Proclaiming that it covers every one of those movies that Wilkins hosted, the first reaction that I had to The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features was the feeling of being overwhelmed.  The format of a film is less like a traditional documentary and more like an ad reel for what Wilkins represented.  The first thing that captured my eyes was the "ticker", of sorts, at the bottom of the screen, which scrolled through the entire documentary and listed the film or films that were shown on every single Bob Wilkins hosted show.  The folks at November Fire boast that "you definitely will not catch it all on a single viewing", and this ticker alone makes their claim accurate. As these dates and titles are being shown on screen the rest of the screen is throwing tons of information at us, and there's no way I saw everything there was to see.

For most of the film, one of the comic book-esque panels on the screen shows vintage artwork for a film being mentioned or artwork from Wilkins' show.  At the same time, the majority of the screen speeds through a collection of interviews with Wilkins, footage from his shows, and trailers of the films he covers.  There is no narrator or host, and there are very few telling interviews with anyone but Wilkins, who is only featured in retrospective footage briefly throughout the film.  The most lengthy interviews are transferred from his past shows, showing off the host's interactions with stars.  
These interviews are also few and far between, but all fantastic and interesting in their own way.  Christopher Lee and John Carradine represent the classic horror scene, while a sequence with John Landis, John Belushi and Donald Sutherland talking about Animal House and their other projects of the time is completely bizarre. (At one macabre point, a potentially stoned Belushi even jokes quietly about his impending horrible death.)  Perhaps the best piece of vintage Wilkins material in the film is an interview with Blacula star William Marshall, which shows off the host's ability to work with an actor, discussing the serious tone of the film in question and how it relates to different races.  The film notes early that Wilkins didn't always care for or have a ton of knowledge about the films he was showing - and that he faced some criticism for suggesting viewers change the channel at times - but each of this interviews show the man as a respectful host and a quick thinker in conversation.

The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features is certainly marketed to a complete genre nut or a prospective horror scholar, but I imagine some will find the product slightly disappointing.  The use of film trailers seems a lot like filler at times, and I felt like there were a few gaps where the only information relevant to Wilkins and his journey in horror was the list of titles that kept showing up on the bottom of the screen.  There's a lot of good information about Wilkins and his show throughout the film, but I at times felt like the amount of material was a little slim for an 87 minute documentary.

Thankfully, I am one of those genre nuts, so I wasn't too put off by interludes that showed off the films Wilkins hosted.  Like most good documentaries about those in the film industry, I was left with a list of movies I wanted to watch or re-watch and plenty of reminders as to why I love movies.  But most importantly, the work of Bob Wilkins that is shown here reminds me why I love spreading the word about horror cinema to all you people out there.  Bob Wilkins was a trailblazer in horror cinema, and The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features seems like the perfect way for horror fans to experience his unique place in horror history.  

If you're interested in checking out The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features, head on over to November Fire or pick up the disc at  On the topic of the DVD, I should note that fans of Wilkins should love the fantastic packaging job that November Fire has done here.  The colorful cover shown at the top of this post is complemented on the cardboard packaging by a reproduction of a "Creature Feature Fan Club" membership card featuring Wilkins and a certificate that denotes membership in a Creature Feature Freak Fan Club.  The latter comes with an honest comment that Wilkins signed off on, which I will reproduce below as an example of Wilkins' fantastic persona.

KTVU Channel 2 appreciates your loyal support and contribution
in making Horror, Fantasy, and Monster Movies an important part
of the American Way of Life. Bob Wilkins, Channel 2, the economy,
and our nation thank you. Your continued viewing of these movies on
Saturday nights will Help Keep America Strong.
                                                                                                 - Bob Wilkins

I'd sign my name to that club any day of the week.

September 3, 2012

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #16 - Gremlins

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil   Number 30 - Evil Dead II  Number 29 - Dead of Night  Number 28 - Carnival of Souls  Number 27 - Nosferatu  Number 26 - Candyman  Number 25 - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre  Number 24 - Horror of Dracula  Number 23 - The Wicker Man  Number 22 - Suspiria  Number 21 - The Omen  Number 20 - Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told  Number 19 - Rosemary's Baby  Number 18 - The Devil Rides Out  Number 17 - The Blob
(1984, Dir. by Joe Dante.)
  Why It's Here:
Gremlins is kind of the Keyser Soze of horror movies, because parents didn't really know what they were doing when they showed it to us kids in the '80s.  It had Steven Spielberg's name on it and a cute little marketable thing named Gizmo (and let's not kid ourselves, I STILL want a Gizmo), so they showed it to us.  But really, when you break down what Gremlins actually is - which many parents did too late, leading to a minor controversy and the invent of the PG-13 rating by the MPAA - you start to notice that it's actually Joe Dante's vision of a kitschy 1950s' sci-fi/horror flick.  And, thanks to a lot of talented special effects people, Dante and company were able to create some surprisingly gory little critters and a level of monster carnage that entertains horror viewers of any age.

The Moment That Changes Everything:
While the monster effects of the film and some smart direction by Dante are the things that establish Gremlins as a horror film, it's a unique monologue that shows just how dark this film's vision is.  When Phoebe Cates' character starts to recount why she doesn't care for Christmas, it quickly becomes clear that this is a film with an insidious taste for the dark side of cinema.

It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
People want me to say Critters, but I'm not gonna say Critters.  Critters isn't fun enough to be in Gremlins' league.  You know what is fun enough to be in Gremlins' league? Tremors!  Tremors has to be Gremlins' western-flavored cousin or something.  There's probably a really intelligent paper about society in small towns in horror cinema of that era that could draw upon the differences between these small towns.  I'm not smart enough to write it - I'd probably have to use the term dichotomy, and that thing's a son-of-a-monkey to type - but I'm saying it could be written.

What It Means To Me:
A lot of people might tell you that Gremlins is the perfect horror movie for kids.  But those of us that grew up with it know there's a little more to Gremlins than that.  I'm not saying this is for adults only, of course, but there's a lot of stuff here - like that speech from Cates - that is too far gone for the littlest horror fans.  But Gremlins is still a key piece of any introduction to horror for me, and the fact that it still plays so well to an adult horror fan is the ultimate testament to its greatness.

September 1, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #139 - Godzilla vs. Megalon

When I look at Godzilla vs. Megalon as an adult, I start to think back to my childhood experience with Godzilla.  And when I think about my childhood experience with Godzilla, I realize why it's so difficult for me to take Godzilla seriously.
Don't get me wrong, I truly love The Big G. I have a whole shelf that's just Godzilla movies and other giant monstery productions from the far east. And yeah, the original Gojira - in its un-Americanized format - is a freakin' masterpiece of science fiction cinema.  But I got to know The King of the Monsters from his later films, particularly this one, that were more aimed toward children.  And apparently, some of the children who were inspired by the big guy were a little weird.  Like this kid...
Which brings us back to Godzilla vs. Megalon, which spends more than half its film following two men - who seem to live in the nerdiest part of scientistland known to man - and a young boy that (I think) is the son of one of them. These men and their annoying child - who, in the American Dub, sounds like the offspring of Pippi Longstockings and all three of the Chipmunks - are the target of European espionage due to their own personal robot - the amazing Jet Jaguar.
Nowadays I find it slightly odd that two dudes and a kid on a pocket bike had their own robot just hanging out in a Japanese flat, but when I was a kid it was pretty much the best thing ever.  My family and I howled at the absurdity of Jet Jaguar, but at the same time I kind of thought...well, no I didn't. I didn't think Jet Jaguar was cool, which is what I was about to type. But I felt like Jet Jaguar was...I don't know...the future, perhaps.  Like, maybe someday we could just have a Jet Jaguar around the house...and that would be cool.  Sure, I know now that Jet Jaguar was basically a test dummy for some TV show or toy or something that vanished after this film happened, but back then Jet Jaguar seemed like the future.  It's like Godzilla was Hulk Hogan and Jet Jaguar was the new Hulk Hogan, or like he was Rodimus Prime or whatnot. I know, it's silly. But you can't blame me, I was a child.
The parts of the first half of Godzilla vs. Megalon that aren't Jet Jaguar are bizarre and sometimes ridiculous, including an underwater cult that has something to do with the statues on Easter Island and plenty of "action" that wants to be James Bond-esque but includes things like a ridiculous car chase down a hill that ends with some kind of fail trombone sounding noise.  I think Godzilla vs. Megalon might have actually been my first time appreciating how good a "bad" movie could be as a kid, and this was well before the guys on Mystery Science Theater 3000 got their hands on this one.
Oh, there's monster battles in this film too, in case you were wondering.  The title introduces Megalon, a four-limbed beetle with a Christmas tree topper for an antennae, to face Godzilla - but it's more than 48 minutes into the 81 minute film before the big guy gets involved.  The normally human sized Jet Jaguar "programs himself to increase his own size" to try and take on the bug, but around the one hour mark in the film the directors must have realized that Megalon was stupid and decided to call for backup.  Enter Gigan, one of the most beloved Godzilla opponents, who had been introduced in the previous film - who makes the battle a kind of tag team match once Godzilla finally lumbers into the picture.  The battle is still surprisingly fun - particularly thanks to Gigan and the wonderful finale - but it's also clear that this is the Godzilla series at its kitschiest.
There are surely better ways to spend your time with Godzilla, but I'm still excited by the foolish fun that is Godzilla vs. Megalon.  It's been part of my life for a long time - I can't count the number of times my father, sister, and I have randomly mentioned Jet Jaguar - and it's great to revisit it and still see what I loved about it as a child.  Those who are unfamiliar with Godzilla sequels - and there are PLENTY of them - might get a kick out of this one ironically, like those MST3K guys did, and I can see their point too.  But there's an innocent part of me that thinks this thing is a blast, and I'm grateful that the film still brings it out.
Bonus picture of annoying kid on pocket bike!