Sunday, October 30, 2011

Finding The Flesh Eaters

Stop me if you heard this one: A group of people become stranded on a desert island . . . where they encounter a horde of monsters that viciously kill them one at a time!

Oh, you have heard of that? Well, what if the island monsters were the product of MAD SCIENCE! BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

So you've heard of that one too. OK, Mr. Smarty Pants--what if the mad science was NAZI mad science and the monsters were MICROSCOPIC FLESH EATERS!!!

That's the premise of The Flesh Eaters, a creature feature that was originally released back in 1964 and the only movie ever directed by Jack Curtis. The movie's plot follows a charter airplane pilot, an alcoholic actress and her comely assistant, a marine biologist and a shipwrecked beatnik as they struggle to find their way off of an uninhabited island that's surrounded by the titular flesh eaters, whose presence render the ocean water around the island acidic.

For as grim and gory as this premise sounds, don't be fooled--The Flesh Eaters is 87 minutes worth of low-budget camp, with hammy scripting, unconvincing effects, and dramatic performances that vary greatly in their quality. (Several reviews I've read of this movie have even speculated if it was the accidental inspiration for Gilligan's Island.) That said, The Flesh Eaters is not without its charms and it has enough interesting details to earn a footnote mention in American low-budget horror history. Read on for the full flesh feast, with a side order of jellyfish sushi.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Why of The Fly

If you're a fan of The Fly movies, check this out: The cover story of the latest Rue Morgue issue is a retrospective devoted to the five Fly films. The retrospective's features include an interview with David Cronenberg, where he briefly mentions the "oblique" sequel script he has written to his 1986 version of The Fly, as well as a look back at the original Fly trilogy and its respective man-fly monstrosities. A noteworthy highlight in this issue is the interview with Chris Walas and Eric Stolz about The Fly II, which provides some fascinating insight into the production of this troubled sequel. Judging from Walas' comments about the original story that he had in mind, The Fly II could have been a much more worthy continuation of Cronenberg's movie had the studio heads just let him do what he wanted instead of forcing him to restructure his story to target a particularly desirable-yet-misunderstood audience demographic.

Not to be left out of this Fly fan fun, I figured that now would be a good time to post an article I wrote about Hollywood’s most infamous insect hybrid. Before I started blogging about all things monster movie related, I got my first movie monster article published in issue #116 of Filmfax magazine back in the fall of 2007. Having no idea how to get my fan appreciation-oriented writing published, I figured that I’d write about one of my favorite movie monsters in a way that would coincide with Fox Home Entertainment’s release of The Fly Collection, a four-disc DVD box set of the original Fly trilogy: The Fly (1958), The Return of the Fly (1959), and The Curse of the Fly (1965). The article was titled “The Multifaceted Fly”, and it examined one of the more unique horror/sci-fi trilogies in Hollywood history to understand why it continues to bug film fans to this day. Read on…

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Baphomet Says, "Happy Halloween!"

Now that I have your attention, I just thought that I'd let you know that the fine folks over at the Fierce and Nerdy site have asked me to contribute a few thoughts about the best holiday of the year, Halloween. In my post, I write about how much I enjoy Halloween and why, how horror film fans can best celebrate the holiday, and suggestions of what you can do if you're stuck in a community that treats Halloween like Satan's annual membership drive. You can read the post here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Gallery of Low-Budget Gill Men

Last August, I saw on the Tears of Envy blog a link to a post in The Guardian's Film Blog called "Where's the thrill in today's cookie-cutter monster movies?" by Phelim O'Neill. In the post, O'Neill bemoans the lack of creativity in recent movie monster designs. As his post states, "The big movies this year have been full of monsters, aliens, robots – all sorts of creatures and creations. On the surface, there's never been a better time for lovers of monster movies. But when you look closer at the beasties themselves, you see how similar they are to one another; how they look like they were clumsily Frankensteined together from existing ogres. In truth, there's never been a worse time for movie monsters."

Personally, I think that O'Neill has it all wrong--not so much about movie monster designs, but about monster movies in general. The overwhelming majority of creature features are usually cheap rip-offs of superior films, both in terms of plot and monster design. This was true during the early days of Hollywood and it is no different now. O'Neill waxes nostalgic that "we're not seeing anything like the iconic creatures of old", but for every classic example he cites--Frankenstein (1933), Alien (1979), Basket Case (1982), and so on--he ignores the countless movie monsters that were inspired by the classics but fell far short of being effective and original. Not every monster designer can be the next Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker or Stan Winston, and even those who are don't always get the recognition they deserve.

To emphasize my point, consider Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). It's one of the classic examples that O'Neill cites, and rightfully so. Even though the titular Creature is really just a guy in a suit, it's easy to forget that when watching it on the silver screen because the suit was so well designed. Even more impressive was that the suit could be used to shoot lengthy underwater scenes where the Creature swims gracefully among fish, seaweed and other denizens of the deep, thus further convincing the audience that what they were seeing wasn't human. Such an impressive feat inspired many imitators, all of which bear some similarities to the original Creature but come nowhere close to being successful on their own due to lack of creativity, sloppy design and poor funding. This photo gallery is devoted to these bargain-basement beasts, both how they were depicted in their movies' posters and what they actually looked like. Click below to see the gallery.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Epitafios: When a High School Reunion is Murder

In last week's episode of Criminal Minds, "Painless", survivors of a devastating high school killing spree are being murdered by a similar killer on the eve of the spree's 10th anniversary. While the episode was probably written with real-life high school tragedies such as the Columbine massacre in mind, it was very similar in its style to slasher films where the killer is motivated to seek revenge against those who he/she believes to be responsible for some past trauma. Thus, this Criminal Minds outing reminded me of classic slasher flicks such as Prom Night and Happy Birthday to Me. It also reminded me of Epitafios, a 12 episode mini-series from Argentina that was produced by HBO Latin America in 2004.

Epitafios follows ex-detective Renzo Márquez (Julio Chávez) as he investigates a series of gruesome murders that are somehow linked to four students who died during a high school hostage situation five years earlier. The series' title is a nod to the killer's signature: he writes cryptic epitaphs for each of his intended victims. While the story strains at times to provide enough twists and tension to fill 12 episodes, Epitafios is a must-see for anyone who likes a good giallo or slasher story--particularly a story that isn't restricted to a two-hour (or less) running time.

A second Epitafios miniseries was released in 2009, which centers around a killing spree committed by killer who has dual personalities. Check out the official Epitafios site for more details about this top-notch TV thriller.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Poughkeepsie Tapes Review: Horrific Homicides Caught on Home Video

Being a horror movie fan requires a bit of effort to get the full benefits that this genre of cinema has to offer. There are the horror classics that everyone knows about (fan or not), classics that are usually easy to find for rental or purchase. Then there are the horror films that are heavily promoted by the big studios regardless of their actual quality; these too are easy to find and most people have heard of them. Yet there's another category of horror films, films that few people know about but are well worth seeking out because they provide shocks and shivers in ways that most mainstream and classic horror films don't. Such is the case of The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a found footage mockumentary film that was directed by John Erick Dowdle and written by Dowdle and his brother Drew Dowdle.

I heard about Poughkeepsie Tapes back in 2007 when it was playing the indie film festival circuit. I didn't do much to look for it because on the basis of the brief plot summary that I initially heard, it sounded like the found footage version of a Saw movie (much like how Cloverfield is a found footage version of a kaiju movie or how The Last Exorcism is a found footage version of a demonic possession movie). As I heard more about the film over the years, I found out that Poughkeepsie Tapes is far from being a "torture porn" movie, so I decided to seek it out--except that I couldn't find it. Even though this movie got the Dowdle brothers work in Hollywood, Poughkeepsie Tapes didn't find a national distributor. After finally tracking this title down, I think I found out why: Poughkeepsie Tapes is a very good movie, perhaps too good for its own good. Read on for my complete review.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Halloween + Home Improvement Hardware = Zombie Preparedness

Check this out, and it's just in time for the second season premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead:

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the Westlake Ace Hardware chain of stores in Nebraska have rolled out "Zombie Preparedness Centers". This Halloween season ad campaign involves posters, buttons, and store employees who offer advice on which tools, cleaners and locks are most effective at fighting off hordes of the ravenous undead. Click here to read the whole story.

Also check out the official Westlake Ace Hardware Zombie Preparedness Center site. This site offers zombie defense and zombie proofing tips for humans, as well as bodily repairs and home and lifestyle tips for zombies. (Ace's site is "equal zombor-tunity", so it doesn't discriminate between the living and the reanimated.) This reminds me of the Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse blog post that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published last May, which later included an interview with World War Z author Max Brooks.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wii Play Motion Review

As a Wii owner from the days of its first release, I'm very familiar with the handful of titles that Nintendo has produced over the years to introduce gamers to what the Wii's motion-based controllers can do. First, Wii Play and Wii Sports were released to show the unique game play opportunities presented by the Wiimote. Then, Wii Fit was released to demonstrate the capabilities of the Wii Balance Board. When Nintendo modified the Wiimote with the Wii MotionPlus accessory, it was bundled with the Wii Sports Resort game so that gamers could see how the new accessory enhanced Wii game play through greater accuracy. Each of these titles are great to play, but they were obviously designed and marketed as software to demonstrate Wii's hardware capabilities.

Wii Play Motion is a sequel to Wii Play, one of Wii's aforementioned demo titles. From what I've heard, Wii Play Motion is intended to demonstrate the Wii Remote Plus, which is bundled with the game. The Wii Remote Plus is the same as the Wiimote except that it has the WiiMotion Plus accessory built into it. I can see why Nintendo wants to promote the usage of the Wii Remote Plus, since that is one of the peripherals that will be part of Nintendo's upcoming Wii U system. Yet in terms of functionality, the Wii Remote Plus does everything that a Wiimote and Wii MotionPlus combo can do, so releasing a new game to promote the Wii Remote Plus seems anti-climactic--particularly since the Wii Remote Plus was released in November 2010 and Wii Play Motion didn't arrive on the shelves until June 2011.

With such an unusual background, how does Wii Play Motion fare as an actual game? It's better than what I expected, although it does have a few disappointments. Read on for my complete review.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Home-Made Monsters Terrorize Historical Landmark Theater!

Last Halloween season, I published a post about the work of Georgette Gaynor, a self-taught monster maker who uses her creepy creations to benefit local charity events in southern Virginia. She's still at it and this time, her life-sized superfreaks are going to the theater!

Gaynor's monsters will be available for bidding and purchase at The New Colony Theater in Portsmouth, VA during the following events:

* The Monster Walks, which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on October 15, 28 and 29. Admission for the walks is $2 per person, and everyone is welcome.

* The Zombie Party, which will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Admission for the party is $25 per person and $40 per couple, and RSVPs must be made by October 7. Click here to see a copy of the invitation. The Zombie Party is aimed at adults (the dress code is "zombie chic") and it includes a performance by the award-winning Viginia Youth Symphony Orchestra (VYSO), which will perform music from Phantom of the Opera, The Dark Knight, and other selections fit for Halloween.

All 76 of Gaynor's monsters will be at these events, including some new monsters that have been added to her horrific horde since last year. For those who prefer compact creeps, 13 monster heads will also be available. Some of the proceeds will go to VYSO, a non-profit organization devoted to helping young students explore their musical interests. Click below to see a picture gallery of some of the monsters that will haunt New Colony Theater this Halloween.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kaiju Anatomy 101 (UPDATED)

I don't know who'd have a scalpel big enough to look inside of these guys, but here are two full-color anatomical paintings of Godzilla and Hedorah (a.k.a. The Smog Monster).

I found these over at the Monster Brains blog, although the original artist has yet to be identified. I'm guessing that King Ghidorah probably stepped on him before he could sign his work.

Update, 10/7/11: I just found some additional anatomical drawings of kaiju over at the Pink Tentacle site. This set includes another drawing of Godzilla, as well as pictures of Anguirus, Gamera, and Mothra larva.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Campy, Kooky Commercials Worth Watching: Dwayne vs. The Giant Robot

Apparently, somebody doesn't like Dwayne.

This commercial, which is titled "State of Chaos", relishes in kaiju humor, particularly with two of its 'victims' nonchalantly commenting on what the rampaging giant robot is doing to Dwayne's property--and finally Dwayne. Such humor suggests that the writer of this commercial took a page out of artist John Brosio's playbook when creating this ad for State Farm. If that is so, then I think that the folks at State Farm do not understand the Paul Verhoeven-esque satire that results from applying the style of someone like Brosio to an advertisement for an insurance company.

Man, that robot does not like OCP executives.

For more rampaging robot fun, go to State Farm's Chaos in Your Town site. (Trust me, it’s worth the visit.) You can also learn more about the commercial's production here and here.