Monday, November 23, 2009

More Horror Reading

Like I said, I do occasionally read a bit and this has been on my agenda for too long: I read John Dies at the End and I need to tell you what I thought. So, here goes nothing!

The book is written by David Wong, a feature writer over at (hilarious website, I recommend you check it out if you get a chance) and it's abundantly clear from the beginning this book doesn't take itself too seriously. John Dies at the End has a brilliant mix of comedy and horror contained in its pages, showing Wong's love for both genres. For example, a monster composed entirely of pieces of meat (the head is a turkey, a deer tongue hanging below it, hams for legs, sausages for fingers) actually conjures up quite a scare when it first comes to life. However, as it speaks, it says, "So nice we could meat again." Wong says he has no way of knowing if it actually said "meet" or "meat", but he gives it the benefit of the doubt. Oh, did I forget to mention the main character (besides John, that is) is also named David Wong? It's not his actual name, but it's a combination of a generic American first name and one of the most common last names in the world, so as to make him hard to find. As David does battle with the "meatstrocity", you find a writer who knows how to make you laugh but create a terrifying situation to laugh at.

The stories told by the character David Wong get increasingly stranger towards the end of the book (yes, the meat monster is one of the tamer tales in the beginning of the book). Wong is being interviewed for a magazine article and he delves deeper and deeper into a world of the unknown opened up by soy sauce and tiny, brain-eating worms. As wig monsters try to hunt him down in a Vegas hypnotist's show, he manages to avoid the all-seeing eye of Korrok. John then tracks down a giant crab with a gorilla riding it and opens an inter-dimensional rift to a place where naked people try to kill the fake John and David. Are you following any of this?

Trust me, it's just as absurd in the book.

However, it will make more sense if you read the book. And that's where the strength of this book lies: in its absurdity and ability to make light of terrifying situations. The descriptions in the book are fun to read and you wonder just what sort of screwed up monsters Wong will craft for you next. And aside from an unhealthy obsession with phallic objects, the monsters remain original and different every time he introduces them. The book is a spellbinding read and highly enjoyable. It's also fairly quick, for those of you with short attention spans.

I urge to find it and read it. John Dies at the End is great fun and a must-read for horror and comedy fans alike.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Straight To Video Gems: The Signal

So I'm going to keep on telling you guys about the great little gems I find that go straight to video here in the US. I will also try to include movies that either got a very limited release in theaters or ones that were released in other countries but not here. So today, I give a little love a personal favorite of mine from the last couple of years:

The Signal

It opens with a woman by the name of Mya cheating on her husband and her lover Ben tells her they can run away together and be happy. She doesn't know what to say, so Ben tells her to think about it and gives her a mix cd he made for her. As she goes down to the parking structure, she has a couple of odd run-ins with some random people and gets a little freaked out. As she arrives home to her husband Lewis, strange things are happening in the hallway of their apartment building. Lewis is getting ready to watch the game with his friends, but some sort of strange signal is coming through the TV instead of the game. It seems to effect Lewis in a very strange way. A small argument amongst the men escalates into Lewis going berserk and killing one of his friends. As Mya scrambles to get away from Lewis, she finds more terrible things going on in the hallway. As chaos envelopes everything around her, she scrambles to find a safe place and thus begins Lewis and Ben trying to find her before the other.

The movie is shot in 3 different parts: the beginning, which is straight horror; the middle, which is more lighthearted and would qualify as a dark comedy; and the end, which is more of a blend of horror, comedy, and love story. Each segment is written and directed by a different person, giving it three distinct styles in one movie. But the most impressive thing is that while each segment feels a little different, they all still flow and gel like a single entity, never making you feel like you are watching a different movie. They all work together really well and give the movie just the right feel. Some people will tell you they didn't like how the movie never really decided what it wanted to be, but I perceive that to be The Signal's greatest strength: it does three genres (horror, comedy, romance) and does all of them well.

The beginning deluge of chaos gives it a very frantic feel and the gore in it is pretty sparse. It's violent, yes, but it's more blood than gore, just opting to splatter people in fake blood rather than disemboweling them. There is a lot of violence however, so faint of heart beware. However, the bloodiest parts are often some of the funniest parts once you get past the first third of the movie. A couple expecting guests for their New Years Party and one winding up dead, a man talking to a disembodied head, and a guy spraying bug spray in people's eyes are all among the things that would normally seem rather grim, but The Signal handles all with a comedic deftness that most funny movies can't even achieve.

Overall, The Signal is one of my favorite movies of the last couple of years, let alone horror. I really enjoyed watching it because it was something new to me. The plot is pretty heavily borrowed from the Stephen King novel Cell (or coincidentally is very similar), but it's just different enough that it isn't just a rip-off. It's a very worthwhile film if you have a chance to check it out!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cell Phones in Horror

After coming across this nice little video, I just had to share this with all of you guys:

It is quite the cop out: no cell reception. But it makes sense in a lot of the movies because of the location. I am not mad because if you didn't insert that one little line, then everyone would ask, "Why don't they just use their cell to call for help?" It's a bit of a crutch, but it's rather essential to most of the movies. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Master of Horror: Stephen King

So in my previous installments of my Master of Horror theme, I have examined filmmakers and how their movies rate. Well, with the upcoming release of his new book, I decided to take a look at Stephen King's writings and how they have fared being turned into movies. Now, I haven't seen all of the movies that have been made from his books, but i have seen a good deal of them. I had to narrow down the list, so here are the requirements for my list:

1. No miniseries. Yes, I liked The Stand and things like that, but I want movies here.
2. Has to be based of a book or story by King. I love Creepshow and Rose Red, but I want this to be an adaptation of an existing work.
3. I will stick to the horror side of King. Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile are all good movies, but they aren't horror.
4. No sequels. Yes, he may have made up the characters for Children of the Corn 4 or Pet Sematary 2, but he didn't write what they were based off of. Well, in a way I guess, but no.
5. No matter how the movie was, it's not King's fault (necessarily).

*As always, this isn't a complete filmography. If you want to see that, go here.

Carrie (1976): A brilliant movie. Not much can be said about this Brian De Palma masterpiece. It's a little dated, sure, but even film critics that don't like horror can't help but admit this is a great movie. Good book too.

The Shining (1980): Replace "Brian De Palma" with "Stanley Kubrick" in the previous review, and that's how I feel here. Consistently number 1 or 2 on my favorite horror movies of all time lists, The Shining is amazingly well done and terrifying to this day.

Cujo (1983): This movie wasn't that bad, but it didn't have nearly the punch the novel did. This stems greatly from the severely changed ending. Warning: Spoilers for a 20 year old film and older book!: In the book, the mother and her son are trapped in a car in the heat. She ends up killing the rampaging dog to come back to the car and find her son died. She snaps and coddles the dead boy even after the EMTs arrive and try to take the body from her. It's powerful, disparate, and moving. The movie ends with her and the son surviving. Sure, it's a happy-go-lucky standard Hollywood ending, but come on! That really bugs me. The movie isn't terrible though, so you can still watch it.

The Dead Zone (1983): One of David Cronenberg's few horror movies that doesn't feature a lot of grotesque creatures and gore effects. However, it's still captivating. The Dead Zone was an establishing movie for Christopher Walken and even though he does mostly goofy stuff now, you can see that he can act very well if need be. A must see, in my opinion.

(1983): A double whammy: Stephen King and John Carpenter. The duo did amazingly well with this movie, making a murderous car one of the scariest things in the 80s. It's not Carpenter's best film, but it's a good one for sure, and an essential for any fan of either Carpenter or King.

Children of the Corn (1984): A cult classic. While it looks a little more dated than some of the other King movies from this era, it did manage to spawn quite the movie franchise and it terrified me when I was a kid, that's for sure. After a recent viewing, it didn't quite have the same effect, but it's still a good movie.

Maximum Overdrive (1986): This is the only movie that King has no excuse for. It's a bad movie, based off a mediocre short story that marks the only movie King ever directed. He was so turned off after doing this movie, he vowed never to direct again. Probably a good thing.

The Running Man (1987): So bad, yet so good. So very 80s. It's cheesy, but that's half the appeal of the movie. I can't in good conscience call it a good movie, but I can't say it's a bad movie either.

Pet Sematary (1989): One of my favorite horror movies of all time. It's so very creepy and macabre, I can't help but love it. Gage still creeps me out and the Achilles' tendon scene will forever give me the willies:

Misery (1990): Rob Reiner does it again with a Stephen King story. Kathy Bates is perfect. James Caan gives a great performance as the crippled writer. And we find the second consecutive movie with a brilliant "cringe inducing moment": the hobbling scene. Just watch this and tell me you don't shudder:

The Lawnmower Man (1992): Yeah, King actually removed his credit from this movie because he disliked it so much. It wasn't very good, but it was still based off a story by the man himself, so like it or not, he's got a tie to it. This one was pretty bad.

Sleepwalkers 1992): I can remember watching this as a kid and being fairly frightened of it. The problem is, when I bought it a couple years ago for $5 on DVD, it definitely has not aged well. I was tempted to call this a good one, but it's not. It's a pretty bad movie upon my recent review.

The Dark Half (1993): Romero directs this rather dull adaptation of a King story. It's pretty uninspired, but I already wrote about it in my Romero MoH article.

The Mangler (1995): You would think that if Tobe Hooper and Stephen King hooked up, they would be able to make a good movie out of that (especially featuring Robert Englund!). But alas, The Mangler pretty much sucks, so it was not meant to be.

The Night Flier (1997): I actually think this is an underrated King adaptation and that it deserves a better reputation. I liked this movie, even if it was a bit low budget. It's by no means the best King adaptation out there, but I feel like it's a nice little flick.

Apt Pupil (1998): I wrestled with putting this on the list as it's more of a drama than horror, but I feel like the performance Brad Renfro turned was haunting enough. A movie that should be on everyone's radar, we find a Nazi war criminal (Ian McKellan) hiding in America for 50 years, only to have a high school student recognize him and make him tell war horror stories. A truly frightening film.

Dreamcatcher (2003): One of my favorite King books turned into a rather thin movie. It was pretty boring and not nearly as engaging as the book was. Though seeing a "shit weasel" come to life on screen was pretty satisfying.

Secret Window (2004): So this movie isn't really anything all that great, but the actors in it are the reason to watch it. Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, and Charles Dutton are all quite good in their roles. The ending is trite and been done before (and better), but the rest of the movie is made good by the actors.

1408 (2007): I really liked this short story and the prospect of seeing John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson bring the main characters to life excited me. It was, however a pretty forgettable horror movie. I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't anything I have any desire to watch again.

The Mist (2007): I love this movie... in black and white. I like it in color too, don't get me wrong, but it's amazing in B&W. It's so well done and the creatures look great in the grayscale color scheme (they were a little hokey in color). The ending is so powerful, it's amazing.

And that's all I've seen of his. That totals up 8 great movies, 6 okay movies, and 7 bad movies. It seems that the 90s weren't very good to King, as most of the bad movies came from that era. Although that's also when a couple good miniseries came (It, The Stand) and when some of his best non-horror work was done (Shawshank, The Green Mile, Dolores Claiborne). But in the end, I consider him a Master of Horror regardless of the number of bad movies, mostly because he had little influence over them (aside from Maximum Overdrive). Stephen King continues to scare to this day and let me tell you, I am excited about an adaptation of Cell, if it ever happens (especially now that Eli Roth isn't attached).

My hats off to you, Stephen King. Keep writing!