Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Santa "Scarface" Claus Says, "Say Hello-Ho-Ho to My Little Friend!"

It looks like we've come a long way from the days when kids were told that they'd shoot their eyes out if they got Red Ryder BB guns for Christmas.

"In this country, you gotta make the toys first. When you make the toys, 
you then get the guns. When you get the guns, then you get the power."

From Seattle PI: "An Arizona gun club is offering a chance for children and their families to pose for photos with Santa while holding pistols and military-style rifles. ... Ron Kennedy, general manager of the Scottsdale Gun Club, said the business got the idea for the photo op last year when a club member happened to come in dressed as Santa and other members wanted their picture taken while they were holding their guns. ... Kennedy, whose club offers guns for sale and rental and has a 32-lane indoor shooting range, said the event wasn't aimed at children, but the club supports the right of parents to include their children in the photos and believes that's a personal choice."

This story has been popping up at news sites all over the Internet today. I normally wouldn't post about something like this, but the Christmas photos from the Scottsdale Gun Club that have been circulating because of this story are so gleefully morbid that they belong on a horror-oriented blog like mine. Sure, a violence-prone Santa Claus has been the subject of countless movies, songs, video games, and TV shows such as South Park and Futurama. (Also, don't forget "Raging Rudolph", the classic animated short from Mad TV.) But seeing so many people--toddlers included--eagerly taking pictures of themselves with Santa while proudly brandishing an arsenal of high-powered weaponry just makes my dark, twisted soul shine with holiday cheer.

Looking at these photos, the following thoughts come to mind:
  • Good little boys and girls get automatic weapons from Santa, but bad little boys and girls only get revolvers in their stockings.
  • While the Scottsdale Gun Club Santa Claus photos sound like a novel idea, this isn't the first time that Christmas photos like these have been taken. In 1974, Mrs. Claus received a photo that was a lot like the gun club photos, except that the people in it were wearing ski masks and it came with a ransom note demanding $100 million in unmarked bills and five sacks full of free toys.
  • Fun fact: In 1996, Santa Claus accidentally shot himself in the leg because he forgot to turn the safety on before climbing down a chimney.
  • Giving toys to children is only a part-time gig for Santa. For the other 11 months of the year, he's an international arms dealer.
  • In order to keep up with his Yuletide competitor, the Easter Bunny now hands out festively-painted hand grenades and plastic explosive Peeps.
  • While it's OK to kiss someone under the mistletoe, don't do it when Santa Claus is in the room. Otherwise, he'll want to play a game he calls "William Tell".
  • The Scottsdale Gun Club also wanted to have a life-size Nativity set for their Christmas photos, but baby Jesus kept dropping the semi-automatic AR-15 with attached grenade launcher.
  • Now that he has complete control of the North Pole, Generalissimo Franco Claus plans to install his own junta in the South Pole after he stages a coup against Jack Frost.
  • A holiday tip for kids: To be sure that Santa came to your house, check under the tree on Christmas morning. If you're still not sure, check for empty shell casings and gunshot residue (GSR) around the fire place.
Click below for more pictures of Shotgun Santa and his Merry Christmas Militia, and feel free to make up a few captions of your own.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Muppets Review: The Return of Everyone's Favorite Felt Friends

Reviving dormant franchises for new audiences can be a tricky thing, particularly when it comes to franchises that are based on animated characters. As in any franchise revival, there's always the tension between appealing to new fans while maintaining the interest of the original fans; very rarely do these rival tensions balance evenly. When it comes to animated characters, the common approaches to revival appear to be either dumbing down the characters to appeal to kids (for the sake of merchandising), or putting the characters in the "real world" alongside known actors (for the sake of celebrity name recognition value), or both. These strategies rarely work, but they've succeeded just enough for Hollywood to keep them in their franchise revival playbook.

On the other hand, there are the title characters of the new movie The Muppets. They aren't cartoon characters but they are closely associated with kid-friendly entertainment, and they've had a long history of featuring celebrity guest stars. With these two attributes, one would expect to see the Muppets in their latest movie suffer the same grim fate as Rocky and Bullwinkle (see The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle) and the Looney Tunes characters (see Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action). Thankfully, not only does The Muppets avoid the common revival mistakes, but it succeeds in capturing the very things that made the Muppets so entertaining in the first place. After seeing this movie, two conclusions immediately came to mind:

1. We really did lose something special when Muppet creator Jim Henson passed away back in 1990.

2. The Muppets is a fantastic tribute to what Henson left behind--which is pretty amazing, considering that it was made by the same people who brought us Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek.

Read on for my full review.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Narrative of Victor Karloch: Haunted Horrors in Miniature

A friend of mine just let me know about a movie project that sounds like a unique exercise in the genre of horror: The Narrative of Victor Karloch, by Spirit Cabinet.

According to the Spirit Cabinet site, "Victor Karloch is a Victorian ghost story puppet film and live stage performance (at selected theaters) produced by Heather Henson's Handmade Puppet Dreams Films and The Jim Henson Foundation. ... The film incorporates 30" tall bunraku-style rod puppets, shadow puppetry, traditional in-camera effects, and digital atmospheric effects to present a gothic tale narrated by Victor Karloch, an alchemist, ghost hunter, and scholar who has devoted his life to the exploration of the supernatural." Victor Karloch was written by Kevin McTurk, a special effects artist whose previous projects include Batman Returns, Jurassic Park, and King Kong, and it will feature the vocal talents of Christopher Lloyd, Chris Parnell, Lance Henriksen, and Doug Jones.

Judging from the preview trailer on the Spirit Cabinet site, Victor Karloch looks like it's going to be a rich visual treat for horror film fans. Since puppet films are so rare in the U.S. as it is, it's hard to think of a horror film that's performed completely by puppets and miniatures. Yet as the trailer shows, this particular production scale, along with the puppets' physical details and movements, add a distinct sense of dread and disorientation that most live-action horror films lack. Such an unusual approach to telling a cinematic horror tale reminds me of the 2005 film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's short story, "The Call of Cthulhu". That film, which was produced by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman and distributed by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, was produced in a way so that it would appear as if it were a monochrome silent film from 1926, the year when Lovecraft's story was first published. Between Victor Karloch and the Cthulhu adaptation, it seems that unusual tales are best told in unusual ways in order to maximize their impact on audiences.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Batman: Brave and the Bold Bids Farewell, while Young Justice has a Haunting Halloween

Last weekend, Cartoon Network aired the series finale of Batman: Brave and the Bold. The final episode, titled "Mitefall!", was written by noted DC vet Paul Dini. In "Mitefall!", inter-dimensional fanboy Batmite has grown tired of Brave and the Bold and decides to sabotage the show so that it will be cancelled and replaced by a darker, more dramatic Batman series. In a curious twist, this is the only episode of Brave and the Bold that isn't so much of a tribute to the Silver Age of DC Comics as it is a satirical jab at how TV shows--both live-action and animated alike--"jump the shark". Each of Batmite's strategies to undermine Brave and the Bold are textbook examples of shark jumping, such as the addition of cute yet superfluous characters, needlessly changing central locations, and casting Ted McGinley. Yet for as unusual as this episode is, it still makes for a fitting finale to one of the smartest Batman shows to air on TV. Adding to the finale's fun is Henry Winkler, who provides the voice of Ambush Bug. It's a shame they saved Winkler for the last episode, because his take on Ambush Bug would have been great to see in more Brave and the Bold episodes.

I've written before about how skillfully Brave and the Bold has paid tribute to the Silver Age (see my previous Brave and the Bold post here) and while this attribute is directly recognized in the show's finale, I think that Dini is trying to make a larger point outside of his shark jumping gags. Some comic book fans begrudge the campiness of many Silver Age superhero stories, but that period of time was an integral part of superhero history. Not only did that era see the birth of Marvel Comics, but it also featured significant and lasting revisions to several classic DC superheroes, superheroes such as Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Atom. Most importantly, the sense of creative, colorful playfulness that permeated the Silver Age played a major role in building most of the DC universe. (It seems that no matter how many reboots DC does, many of their superheroes retain backgrounds and traits that originated in the Silver Age.) If I didn't know any better, it would seem that Dini's underlying message in "Mitefall!" is that even though darker and more dramatic superhero stories are the current style of choice, it would be a mistake for comic book fans to forget the Silver Age, what made it work, and its many contributions to the superhero genre. I couldn't agree more.

Shortly after the Brave and the Bold's finale was "Secrets", the Halloween episode of Young Justice that somehow got pushed back to November. I've been impressed with Young Justice since its first episode, and it continues to hold my hold my attention. Instead of basing a cartoon on some pre-existing teenage superhero team from DC's comic books (such as Teen Titans or the Legion of Super Heroes), Young Justice assembles a cast of sidekick characters in a way that allows for a different approach to the DC universe.

Along those lines, "Secrets" is a stand-alone adventure that places Artemis and Zatanna in Manhattan, where they encounter a bizarre sword-wielding villain named Harm who harbors a gruesome secret. "Secret" starts off as a standard superhero adventure and then grows into a memorable ghost story--a rare feat for any superhero cartoon. As an added treat to this nifty trick, "Secrets" also has a subplot featuring Superboy, Miss Martian and Kid Flash that makes clever references to Orson Welles' notorious Halloween prank of 1938 and to two cartoon Marvins--one a Martian, the other a superhero wannabe who's familiar to die-hard DC cartoon fans.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rest In Peace 2 Review: The Chronicles of ChromeSkull

For as much as I love them, slasher films just aren't what they used to be. Naturally, it's hard to recapture the golden era of the slasher film when this horror subgenre was relatively new (at least here in the U.S., anyway), an era that started during the late 70s and began to wane during the mid-80s. Yet for a straightforward plot structure that revolves around a masked and/or disfigured psychopath with a perchance for killing sprees, it seems that the time where slashers can reach the iconic status previously achieved by the likes of Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger is largely over.

This is not to say that horror filmmakers have given up their efforts to create memorable movie murderers. Case in point: ChromeSkull, the resident killer in the Laid to Rest movies. When he first appeared in 2009, not much was revealed about this bald, hulking masked killer other than his real name (Jesse Cromeans), his passion for killing lots and lots of people with his big, serrated hunting knives, his preference to communicate through electronic means (such as text messages) rather than talking, and his need to capture all of his ghastly, gory deeds on video tape. (There were also very strong suggestions that he's a necrophiliac as well.)

A few months ago, ChromeSkull did what all killers who yearn for slasher stardom do: He returned in his first sequel, ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2. Picking up right where the first film ended, ChromeSkull continues his killing spree in the sequel--but with very mixed results. The best part about this sequel is that it mixes up the slasher formula enough to keep you guessing what will happen next (something that most slasher sequels never do); the worst part is that the story never congeals enough to build dramatic momentum or to introduce new characters who are genuinely interesting. Read on for the complete review of this fearsome yet frustrating sequel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Green Lantern Arrives On Cartoon Network, with DC Nation Scheduled for 2012

Last weekend, Cartoon Network aired the one-hour premiere of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the new CGI cartoon that's devoted to DC's top space cop. This series stands out for two reasons: It's the first DC cartoon series that's completely CGI, and it's the first DC TV series in a long time that doesn't directly involve Superman, Batman, or one of their supporting characters (such as Robin). Even though the box office performance of the live-action Green Lantern movie from last summer didn't live up to Time-Warner's expectations, it's nice to see that they're still willing to invest time and money into Green Lantern, with the hopes that they'll do the same for other DC characters.

For a first episode, the premiere of Green Lantern was fun to watch. It involved Hal Jordan and his ally Kilowog traveling to a remote area of space where Green Lanterns are being killed off by an unknown assailant. From what I could determine from the premiere's pacing, it consisted of two parts of a multi-episode story. Since the Green Lantern's narrative world consists of multiple planets and aliens, I think it's a smart move for this series to have multi-episode story arcs, even though it will inevitably invite some comparisons to Cartoon Network’s other multi-episode space adventure CGI cartoon series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Nevertheless, with DC animation vet Bruce Timm serving as executive producer, I have high hopes for what the new Green Lantern series can contribute to expanding the DC universe outside of its comic book base.

The Green Lantern's premiere was peppered with ads for something called DC Nation, which promises to begin airing on Cartoon Network in 2012. The ads gave some idea of what DC Nation is supposed to provide, including video shorts that feature DC characters and news pertaining to the DC universe that will air during episodes of Green Lantern, Young Justice, and Beware The Batman, another CGI DC cartoon series that's scheduled to premiere in 2013. According to the Deadline Hollywood site, DC Nation will be a "multi-platform, branded block of original programming and exclusive content based on the DC Comics library of legendary character properties, DC Nation is developed in partnership with Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment. The all-new venture will harness the publishing, theatrical and television assets together for one powerful on-air block on Cartoon Network with exclusive online content."

Will DC's efforts to build a new generation of fans though its efforts on Cartoon Network prove to be as successful as Marvel's recent build-up to the upcoming multi-superhero Avengers movie? Stay tuned to find out--same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eerie Publications' Horror Comics Cover Art: Once, Twice, Three Times the Terror

During the Halloween season the other week, the Monster Brains blog did a series of posts devoted to the comic book cover art from the various horror titles published by Eerie Publications during the 60s and 70s. These anthology titles included Witches' Tales, Tales of Voodoo, Weird, Terror Tales, Tales From The Tomb and Horror Tales. The covers of these comics are fantastic examples of pulp horror art, both grisly and lurid (and somewhat sleazy) in equal measure. I'm convinced that the artists who produced the colorful VHS cover art for low budget horror movies during the 80s were heavily influenced by these comics.

Yet what surprised me when viewing the cover posted by Monster Brains was how much Eerie Publications reused the same art across their various titles. Not all of the covers are repeats, but just enough are that it's hard not to notice. I suppose there are only so many ways that a comic book artist can show people being bitten, stabbed, dismembered and decapitated in a single panel, as there are only so many ways that one can show vampires, mummies, werewolves, demons, zombies and mad scientists attacking both helpless victims and each other. Some covers are exact duplicates, others are near matches, while even more are combinations of the same characters with different backgrounds. Click below to see how much Eerie Publications believed in recycling.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Puss In Boots Review: A Comedic Computer-Generated Cat Caper in 3D

When I first heard that DreamWorks was planning a movie spin-off to their Shrek franchise that featured Puss in Boots as the main character, I was somewhat skeptical. After all, Shrek was scraping the bottom of the barrel of fairy tale satire by the end of its four-movie run, so I couldn't imagine that there'd be much left for a stand-alone Puss in Boots movie. Thankfully, I was proven wrong: Puss in Boots is a fun, goofy adventure that's fit for audiences of all ages.

Puss in Boots follows the adventures of its titular character (voiced by Antonio Banderas) as he partners with mastermind Humpty "Alexander" Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and feline thief extraordinaire Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) for a big score: the fabled golden egg-laying goose from a particular giant-dwelling castle in the clouds.

Puss in Boots isn't as cheeky as the Shrek movies, and that ultimately works in its favor. Instead of saturating the script with pop culture references and taking repeated jabs at Disney's interpretations of classic fairy tales--and at Disney itself--Puss in Boots milks most of its humor from the inherent absurdity of fairy tales, action-adventure movies, anthropomorphized animals and eggs, and its own warped interpretations of fairy tale characters. (The versions of Jack and Jill that appear in this movie have to be seen to be believed.) Overall, the movie looks and feels like a Sergio Leone-esque Spaghetti Western set in an off-kilter fairy tale world and it works wonderfully. Hayao Miyazaki fans will also find themselves having brief flashbacks to Castle in the Sky, particularly during the unexpectedly touching resolution to one of the key character's narrative arcs.

The voice acting is solid across the board, but a lion's share of the film's charm lies with Banderas' portrayal of Puss. Banderas clearly has a blast playing this character, and I envy the production team that got to watch him record his lines.

Of course, adding considerably to my viewing pleasure was how I saw Puss in Boots--in IMAX 3D. I have yet to see a feature-length CGI cartoon in 3D that has disappointed me in its visual quality but Puss in Boots in particular makes ample use of the 3D format, which adds an extra crispness to its many wide-angle vista shots of the desert, its action scenes, and its multi-layered city landscapes.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

JawsFest 3 Premieres in Chicopee, MA

Last December, I posted a review of two JawsFest DVDs produced by Lou and Dianna "Yana" Pisano (you can see the review here). These fan-made DVDs are feature-length love letters to the Jaws franchise, and they provide Jaws fans with footage of the original JawsFest event that was held in 2005 and tours of various locations throughout Martha's Vineyard where scenes from three of the Jaws movies were shot. Now, almost a year later, the Pisanos have completed the third and final chapter of the their Jaws fan appreciation trilogy, JawsFest 3: The Invasion of JawsFest '10, and they held a premiere showing of it last weekend in Chicopee, Massachusetts. From what I've heard, the event was a big success in spite of the unexpected snow storm that slammed the east coast during the last weekend of October.

JawsFest 3 is a two-disc DVD set, with over three hours of Jaws fan-friendly footage. One of the bonus features is a documentary produced and directed by Justin White called "The Making Of Lou and Yana's JawsFest Trilogy". The set also includes a map of Martha's Vineyard that identifies the locations where Jaws was shot--an ideal collectible for any Jaws fan who one day plans on visiting these same locations in the future. I already placed my pre-order for the set, so expect to see a review here in a few weeks. Click here to place your pre-order of JawsFest 3 and to order copies of the first two JawsFest DVDs.

Also, be sure to pick up the latest issue of SCREAM magazine that features Lou Pisano's article, "The Guts of Jaws 2: Appreciating an Underappreciated Sequel". Order your copy of issue 8 of SCREAM magazine here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ten Terminator Toys That Should Be Made

When it comes to collecting toys, models and miniatures, it's not easy being a Terminator fan. Unlike the larger and more popular sci-fi franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek, the number of scale replicas for particular robots and vehicles from the Terminator franchise are limited in variety, are often hard to find, and can be very expensive. Here's a list of Terminator robots and vehicles that should be made available in some form (a die-cast miniature, a highly-detailed toy, etc.) for those who enjoy collecting killer machines from the future.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oxitec is Remaking Mimic--with Mosquitoes!

My, how times have changed. In the 1997 movie Mimic, scientists genetically engineer a breed of insect that's intended to reduce the population of cockroaches in New York City that are spreading a lethal virus. Fast-forward to 2011, and such a premise is no longer science fiction. According to last Sunday's edition of The New York Times:

"Researchers on Sunday reported initial signs of success from the first release into the environment of mosquitoes engineered to pass a lethal gene to their offspring, killing them before they reach adulthood. The results, and other work elsewhere, could herald an age in which genetically modified insects will be used to help control agricultural pests and insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria. ... Authorities in the Florida Keys, which in 2009 experienced its first cases of dengue fever in decades, hope to conduct an open-air test of the modified mosquitoes as early as December, pending approval from the Agriculture Department."

What could possibly go wrong, you ask? Some of the engineered mosquitoes could develop immunity to the lethal gene and pass that resistance to their offspring, which could very well make them harder to kill in the long run. Since this is for a good cause, I would like to see this effort succeed. I'm just hoping that none of these genetically-tampered bugs wind up looking like this guy: