Posts Tagged ‘film essay’

masters_of_horror__cigarette_burns_-_john_carpenterYep, it’s that time again. I have a new piece up at Zombie Hamster, this time it’s about John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, which was part of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series.

The thing about horror writing is that, when the film or book or TV show is good, it touches a part of us, something deep, which we can’t readily separate from the source material. It becomes personal, bringing not just our fears into the light, but also our desires, our obsessions. In this case, while the base story is about locating a supposedly lost film, it’s really about the everlasting quest for the next thrill, the next scare, and that’s the magic of this film. It captures our desire to see that which shouldn’t be seen, to learn that which we’d probably be better off not knowing.

It’s about the pursuit of the forbidden, the profane, that last door at the end of a long and darkened hallway that both attracts and repulses, and the truths that may be exposed when it is finally, irrevocably opened. This is the heart of horror.


I recently viewed Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (soon to be released on DVD by the British Film Institute) for the first time recently, and was completely taken by surprise. It was one of those rare events in which an animated feature thoroughly engaged my attention and imagination, and the result was, frankly, enchanting. This is not a film to be missed.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed at Zombie Hamster

Films like this are why I love movies; in the right hands, we can be whisked away to new and different worlds, given a fresh perspective, and stare in wonder at the work of true visionaries.

wickerman_burnsI’ve got a new essay over at Zombie Hamster, after a brief hiatus. This time, I took a look at what is considered by many to be the greatest of all British horror films, The Wicker Man (1973). This was a perennial favorite at the local repertory movie house in the town where I grew up, playing several times a year in the 1970s and 1980s, before the theatre changed into an independent / art house cinema. Being a natural-born horror geek, it intrigued me, but was one of those few films that I wasn’t allowed to see just yet.

Anyway, I eventually saw it in my late teens, and just didn’t get it. Most of the film takes place in broad daylight, there are no obvious monsters, no blood, none of the traditional earmarks of what most of us consider horror. Fast forward to now, and I got my hands on the out-of-print director’s cut, which restored around eleven minutes from the theatrical release.

This time, I got it. Now, I count this amazing film as one of my personal favorites. Check it out:

The Wicker Man at Zombie Hamster

250px-SerpentandtherainbowI am not a fan of Wes Craven. While I do like The Hills Have Eyes and The Serpent and the Rainbow, I think the majority of his work is derivative and extremely overrated. In particular, Last House on the Left troubles me. While part of it is intensely personal horror, focusing on the loss of control over one’s sanity and one’s self (truly horrifying, to say the least), the other part is this lame schtick-laden goofy cop thing that subverts the intensity of the bad stuff. I just don’t understand why he felt it necessary to do that.

The Scream movies are basically Craven’s way of saying, “I have nothing new to bring to this party, so I’m gonna re-package the same old crap and feed it to you. But I’ll feed it to you with a smug wink to let you know that I know that you know it’s the same old crap, and that’ll make it new.”

I digress.

I recently watched The Serpent and the Rainbow for the first time since its premiere, and found that it has only gotten better with age. Read on, if you dare:

Happy Happy Island People at Zombie Hamster

PassionI’ll be the first to admit, I was pretty stoked to see that De Palma had a new film coming out, and that it looked like a return to the kind of voyeuristic, warped, erotic thrillers with which he had made a name for himself all those years ago. However, after having seen his new film, Passion, I was left to wonder if maybe I was expecting too much, and had to consider that sometimes, one’s own shoes might be the most difficult to fill.

Passion at Zombie Hamster 

In my youth, as a growing devotee of film, I came across a book at the library, titled The Golden Turkey Awards. This book, penned by part-time film critic and full-time idiot Michael Medved, took great pains to mock many of the less-than-stellar efforts by movie makers down the years. In his opinion, Medved bestowed the title of Worst Director Of All Time on none other than Ed Wood, director of Glenn or GlendaBride of the Monster, and the immortal Plan Nine From Outer Space. Talk about edgy; picking on Ed Wood is about as challenging as looking at fish in a barrel.

I’ll be the first to admit that Ed Wood was not a talented writer, actor, or director. His films are difficult to watch, and their imperfections are the stuff of legend. I get that, and I’ll not contest the opinion that surely there must have been other things he could have done better, like maybe selling vacuum cleaners or being a chimney sweep. HOWEVER…Ed had heart, and a genuine love for movies that transcend the quality of his oeuvre and that, if nothing else, sets him apart from the countless number of hacks who commit crap to celluloid with a paycheck, and little else, in mind.

Medved, who I won’t bother to link or tag, was once upon a time a somewhat decent film critic; unfortunately, he decided at some point that he could only review films through the tainted lens of his personal beliefs and politics, completely subjugating the objectivism that is necessary for competent film analysis. And that’s okay, because he makes the rest of us look awesome by comparison. But his empty-headed stance on Ed Wood pisses me off, and I’ll tell you why.

If one is going to attempt to bestow such a title on a filmmaker, there are a great many qualifications that must be considered. In my mind, a truly awful filmmaker must be able to evoke terrible performances from decent actors, must be willing to throw narrative out the window in favor of pretty visuals, put more thought into the trailers than the actual films, and must, above all else, embrace the cynicism of Hollywood which dictates box office receipts are infinitely more important than competent storytelling. With these factors in mind, there can be only one ‘filmmaker’ who is truly deserving of being called the worst ever.

Michael Goddamn Bay.

No other director has achieved the heights of empty-headed nonsense peddling than Bay; his films all but scream at audiences: “I am a big, stupid, expensive movie! I am going to fill your head with noise and overwhelm your senses with crap and you will pay me to do it, again and again!” And it works. It bloody well works. This speaks volumes, not just about Bay’s ability to make people line up to see his tripe again and again, but also about how low the bar for American filmmaking has sunk. We are living in an age when dunderheaded nincompoopery is openly celebrated as popular culture (Honey Boo-Boo and Kardashians? Is this really who we are in the twenty-first century?).

Michael Bay is the storyteller for a generation of idiots, and is largely responsible for helping turn them into idiots, sheep willingly herded into the queue at the googolplex, to watch his latest cinematic turd splash into the empty space where their brains are supposed to be. Moronic dialogue? No problem, just blow something up. Plot holes through which a cow could easily be thrown? Blow up something bigger. No clue what to do next? Easy – just have the stars staring slack-jawed into the distance while the camera spins around them. Take thirty shots where five would suffice, it’ll confuse them into thinking something important is happening. No filmmaker, past or present, better exemplifies the cynical commercialism and bloated-budget mentality that is almost singlehandedly killing the American film industry than this clown.

sunrise_murnau-580x396And so we reach the end of my abbreviated retrospective on the German Expressionist era of filmmaking. It was fascinating to take some time learning about the sociopolitical dynamics of the movement, and to see the interconnectedness of a society on the brink of a national breakdown, not to mention the ominous foreshadowing of what was to come in the years ahead.

To my line of thinking, and this is hardly a unique standpoint, film is oftentimes a direct reflection of the society in which it is produced, and carries a great many messages to those who are inclined to look for them.

Exodus & Rebirth

Thanks to all who have checked it out, and there will be more historical retrospectives to come.

MetropolisThe second installment on my series of examinations into the world of German Expressionism is now at Zombie Hamster, In this essay, we take a look at two of the most influential films ever made: one provides the basic blueprint for all vampire stories (whilst cleverly portraying a growing sense of national xenophobia), while the other is still considered by many to be the best science fiction film ever made (whilst illustrating the ever-expanding rift between the privileged and the poor). I’m quite enjoying visiting these classic films, which I regard as dear old friends. Curious? Check it out:

A World Distorted


a-hijacking-poster-324x480I have a new review up at Zombie Hamster, for a film well worth checking out:

A Hijacking

Excellent stuff, great cast, completely believable. Check it out!

23-59-posterThere’s a new review up at Zombie Hamster! This time, it’s the Malaysian-Singaporean supernatural story, 23:59. I quite enjoyed its unconventional approach. Good stuff.

Check it out