Saturday, October 14, 2006

Friday the Thirteenth

Heard about the Yahoo! Time Capsule? The idea is to gather contemporary digital data from anyone interested and bury it in a secret spot in California. And there were grand plans to project the same information into space from Teotihuacán's* majestic Pyramid of the Sun in central México.* I guess it was supposedly an ancient slash state-of-the-art statement. It's moot, now. México has denied Yahoo! use of this national heritage treasure for this scheme.* I guess Mexico was concerned about the damaging side-effects of crowds, massive electrical equipment, laser beams, and pyramid-side digital projections (never mind the uncomfortable statement made by using a usurped culture's religious shrine as a quirky US gala stage). Not bad for a country that allows smoking in its art museums. Last night's Movie-thon movie was a double bill. The Equinox, a Journey into the Supernatural was made by well-connected Famous Monsters of Filmdom fans in the late sixties for the sum of $6,500. The amateur production then garnered the notice of schlock guru Jack H. Harris, who optioned distribution, re-edited the film with new footage, and opened it in 1970 under the shortened title Equinox.* I watched both versions after midnight last night. Both have the following plot, with re-edited differences presented in italics. David is a genius geology student who embarks on a blind date to a(n Equinox?) party with friends, or to meet his professor in the woods. On a detour to picnic at his missing professor's cabin, the teens confront painstakingly-animated clay models of rubber monster costumes, a park ranger named Asmodeus, and the book of the dead. Overflowing with the reasons why Evil Dead was ever made, Equinox was more influential than "good," though the excitement the filmmakers felt for the culture of horror cinema is charming and infectious. [Cavin]

Friday, October 13, 2006


For several days I haven't paid much attention to Oaxaca. Last weekend, talks* between protestors and the federal government made some headway. The six-month protest seemed poised to relax: protestors planned to allow federal police through barricades in the city center. Monday, a march from Oaxaca that began a couple of weeks ago arrived in the outskirts of México City,* gathered reinforcements, and made camp at the senate building. Yesterday, progress stalled when Oaxacan patrols refused to give access to federal police until governor Ruiz is fired. Then gunshots erupted as protestors attempted to take over local public safety offices. But today senators arrive to judge whether there are truly grounds for Ruiz's removal,* so that's something. Last night's One-man Movie-thon something returned to Hammer Films via The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)*. As the movie begins, British newlyweds have gone astray during their tour of Bavaria. When their teens-era auto invariably runs out of gas, they seek shelter at the local mostly-abandoned inn--the only other tenant a drunkard who stabbed a corpse with a shovel in the pre-credit sequence. The wife feels like she is being watched. Soon enough an invitation arrives by ghostly-horse-drawn chariot, summoning the couple to dinner with Dr. Ravna (cf., revenant, n, 1. one who returns after death) at his haunted-looking "château" on the hill. After a pleasant evening with the bad doctor and his family, they are invited to the parlor where junior hammers out some somber dirges on the piano. None of the Revenant family seems to be drinking the goblets of tokay littering the room. When the bride begins to feel, um, hypnotized by their long evening, they retire to their hotel room. But the doctor has big plans for them at this year's costume party! Classic. Highly recommended. [Cavin]

Thursday, October 12, 2006


In last night's October-fest Movie-thon feature Uzumaki,* something strange is happening in the quaint little mountain town of Kurozou. It is being haunted--cursed really--by the symbol of the spiral (That's what the four Japanese characters transliterated to "uzumaki" mean, by the way). Obedient high school student Kirie doesn't know what to do. Her boyfriend's dad is slowly turning crazy: badgering her father for spiral-motif pottery, stalking around town with a camcorder filming random uzumaki, and surrounding himself with curlicue castoffs at home. It seems like a mere oddity until he commits extravagant suicide, spinning himself to death in the family washing machine. Soon there are patterns curling in the sky over the village crematorium, and reality is spinning around, too: students are growing swirly snail shells and extravagant curly hairdos. Those who resist the uzumaki fare no better: rejection of the ancient symbol prompts one survivor to shave the whorls off her fingertips and cut off her own ears. Are all the townies doomed? The nice thing about Uzumaki is that it isn't self-consciously odd: weird things are happening but the characters aren't laughing, they're terrified. The movie wields its wicked wit through passé, and also stomach-turning, moments of realism before counteracting with the later mind-warping excesses. This effective counterpoint lends a snarky, sneaky menace to the growing unnaturalism of the plot. Strange camera angles and editing add to the air of otherworldliness, as does the bizarre use of mutated color and the assault of spooky sounds. Who knew that listening to the many feet of a millipede spiraling up the metal banister of a hospital bed could be so scary? The whole movie is similarly effective. Making a point to avoid gotcha startles, it prefers to terrorize with a steadily creeping, encircling doom. Highly recommended. [Cavin]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


There's something uncannily wrong with last night's Horror-Fest movie Frankenfish,* and that thing is the toward the middle. When the movie begins it is very natural. Filmed on sunlit locations in an easy-going handheld way, the film has a charming realism. This part of the movie asks these questions: can there be characters in a horror film worth caring about? Can they be professional and intelligent even with deeply southern accents? Can they embody rich three-dimensionality with a few strokes of the brush? The answers are yes. Sam is a medical examiner in some Louisiana parish, called off of one grizzly murder to work another. His new assignment takes him, along with a federal fisheries agent, deep into the bayou. Soon we begin to meet the usual rogues gallery of horror fodder: a naked, pot-soaked hippy couple, a grimly-scarred 'Nam vet, and a potion-brewing voodoo woman with a cataract. These characters are as thin as paper targets, but are still, save one, presented with humanity and respect. I kept wanting to flip back to the cover and make sure this thing was really called Frankenfish. Then the weird midpoint happens, and after that the movie seeks the answers to new questions. Is it possible to insert snarling computer-animated fish seamlessly into live-action? Will the cliché "scared uptight corporate white guy" make it through alive? Should a villainous "most dangerous game" thug appear late in the forth act to explain everything? The second half of this movie should have been answered with a no. Or maybe the first half should have. A swamp, wader-deep with giant northern snakeheads! This is precisely the movie I initially wanted to watch, except after that first half was such an unexpectedly A movie, when the B-side flipped up it seemed a letdown, somehow. [Cavin]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Last night's October-thon movie was Panic in Year Zero! (1962)* directed by and starring Ray Milland. Not a horror movie, per se (but movie-thon topical if only for title punctuation), this Panic takes place in the kinder, gentler cold war of the sixties: after an era when cinematic radiation unearthed stomping monsters or grew giant ant armies, but prior to the fiery apocalypses and nuclear winters of the seventies and eighties. A time between knowing too little and too much, when we still had faith in automated protections and the possibility of outrunning fallout. Harry and family (including Frankie Avalon!) embark on their vacation one morning, but between here and there, here and there are blasted in a nuclear strike by unnamed European and Asiatic nations. From a safe distance, they witness the movie's lone mushroom cloud ascending over the horizon. Dad, a Civil Defense Corpsman, knows just where CONELRAD* broadcasts on the AM dial. Now, Harry will attempt to pilot his family through a resulting holocaust at once grimly pessimistic and naively upbeat. Sure, civilization panics in the aftermath, and the rough rule the road; but soon civilization will assert itself and rule-of-law will be reestablished. Can Harry and family make it through the nuclear interim? Besides being hopelessly dated in its holocaust science, the movie is absurd for its crashing Les Baxter hot jazz score waxing upbeat, daddy-o, over jaunty scenes of desperate road war. It's shot in eye-popping widescreen, framing little of interest off-road. While on the road, however, this precursor to, and possible inspiration for, Mad Max achieves a certain worth. It's fairly prescient too: several scenes, especially one where civil defenders attempt to protect an idyllic hamlet from L.A. refugees, uncomfortably precreate real-world events in Gretna, LA after Hurricane Katrina apocalypsed New Orleans.* [Cavin]

Monday, October 09, 2006


We were perusing a Halloween display at the store recently, and we realized that intermixed with the familiar US decorations there were some more traditional El Dia de los Muertos things: cut crepe banners of flower-eyed calaveras in sombreros, candlelit ofrendas, and the month Noviembre. Today's after-midnight movie-thon screening was Dreams in the Witch-House,* a return to Lovecraftian form by frequently over-the-top master of horror Stuart Gordon, his entry in the privately-produced, possibly superb Masters of Horror series. Pseudo science, upgraded to pseudo non-Euclidian string physics, is being practiced by grad student Walter in the supposed quietude of an overgrown three hundred year old sublet in some weedy suburbia. But between him and his doctorate are significant diversions: a loudly-praying tenant, a babysitter-seeking single mother, a witch, rats, and the strange parameters of insanity. Walter finds himself in the middle of various love/hate triangles, culminating in some of the most intense baby-in-peril moments I've seen on film. All of H.P. Lovecraft's familiar decorations make cameos: skewed angles, Miskatonic University, the hidebound Necronomicon, and Brown Jenkin. The original story* introduced the popular character of Brown Jenkin, a rat with a human face. This is a concept that looks risible on paper, assuming that any levity can be found in Lovecraft's literature, and is especially comical in cinematic realization--even when rendered by a master of wry camp like Mr. Gordon. Otherwise this film is quite good: concentrated and intense with pitch-perfect turns in every role. The movie evokes many of the beautifully-painted book covers popularized on reprints of H.P.'s work in the eighties. It also plausibly illustrates the madness Lovecraft proposed was the byproduct of associating with the paranormal universe. The movie notably includes some fantastic baby stuntman work. So far the Masters of Horror* series is most recommended. [Cavin]

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Exactly one hundred years before my mother's birthday in 1980, a galleon carrying a leper colony was overtaken by a freak fog bank off Spivey's Point, somewhere along the US Pacific coast. Misidentifying a campfire as guide light, she dashed herself on the rocky shore, and every man aboard met his briny fate. Or so says John Houseman, playing a crotchety old fisherman in the opening minutes of John Carpenter's the Fog,* last night's do-it-yourself October Film Festival screening. Says Houseman, some day the fog will return, and well-armed zombies will stumble from the tide to exact bloody revenge. Three minutes into the movie we already have a pretty good idea of what might befall the town of Antonio Bay in the next eighty-seven. Happy centennial Antonio! I like the idea of "telling not showing" the plot, in the introduction no less, and then letting the bodies fall were they may. The Fog is uneven: beginning with a nerve-wracking environment of spreading menace, keyed to the sounds of everyday life--horns, clanking bottles, the radio--it comes slightly apart in its second act as we focus on a handful of individuals throughout their uncanny night. Come to discover, the filmmakers themselves disliked the original cut of this movie, and went back to work on it. They shot all of the good intro stuff ad-lib just weeks before the movie opened. But even when the Fog falters it's effective; scenes of the encroaching mist, and its shambling crew of weedy silhouettes with fishhooks, never stop being frightening. Speaking of never-ending fright, today's news notes that two more narco heads have been found in a colonial town near Morelia. The attached note insists that the killers are not "extortionists," and ends with "PS, I'm waiting for your next call."* Creepy. [Cavin]