Posts Tagged ‘horror films’

Last week, I had the delightful opportunity to check out a film called Cockneys vs Zombies, and found it to be quite fun, if perhaps a little light on the red and the ultraviolence. But what the hell, it has Brick Top and Pussy Galore killing the undead and the most suspenseful pensioner-with-a-walker chase sequence ever committed to film. Want to know more?

Cockneys vs Zombies at Zombie Hamster

Although the Zed-word genre may seem to be running on fumes, it appears there may still be some ideas to be mined, and this one does it pretty well. Shout Factory’s Scream Factory sub-label presents this nifty little film, packed with fun extras.

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darkstarI recently took a look at an old favorite, which I had the absolute pleasure of seeing on the big screen in my younger days. This 1974 film revels in its low-budget glory, alternating seriousness with the type of goofiness that can only come with the profound boredom of protracted interstellar travel and the inescapable overfamiliarity of one’s shipmates.

The film wears its age like a gold star, and showcases the blooming brilliance of its young creators, one of whom we lost way too soon. Directed by John Carpenter and co-written by Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon, I present the philosophical, knuckleheaded odyssey that is Dark Star.

Dark Star at Zombie Hamster

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 

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

 

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

contagionI found this the other day, from a blog I started and abandoned back in 2011 and I figured, why not post it here?

Disclaimer: This piece is written for those who have already seen the film Contagion. If you haven’t and don’t want to know what happens, then don’t read the essay.  

On the surface, Steven Soderbergh’s new film Contagion is about a lethal virus tearing a path across the planet. We are along for the ride, from what may or may not be Patient Zero, until such time as a vaccine has been developed and the virus locked away in cryo-storage, ostensibly for research purposes.

Beneath the surface, however, there is much more at hand than a simple ‘killer plague’ movie. Released just two days prior to the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Contagion is an allegorical, haunting, and often painful look at our species and the way that we buckle under the slightest of pressures. Most tellingly, of all the cities represented as the story unfolds and the virus rages, New York is nowhere to be seen and, unless I’m mistaken, is not even mentioned. Even more telling is the conspicuous absence of police and firefighters, the very people we look to in times of trouble, and who played significant parts in the days and weeks that followed the September 11 attacks. The reason, as I see it, is an overt attempt to make us think of that cruel and stupid day ten years ago and the quixotic ‘War on Terror’ which ensued. By deliberately removing such iconic subjects, we are forced all the more to think of them, because they have become synonymous with disaster. The only real authority we see are military personnel in gas masks, whose presence reinforces the sense of absolute chaos our world has fallen into. The politicians, true to form, have vanished into their underground bunkers, where they will comfortably ride the storm out while the people they claim to serve are dying in the streets.

The story begins on Day 2, with an infected woman who has been traveling abroad. She may or may not have had an affair, and many of us assume that her acquiring the disease is a result of, and punishment for, her infidelity, thus beginning the central theme of the film, moralizing on things about which we have no knowledge. We learn early on (and are shown numerous examples) that the virus is spread through fomite transmission, which reflects the hand-washing and -sanitizing mania of several years ago, not to mention the cultural xenophobia so prevalent in the last decade. The question of the virus’ (eventually named MEV-1) origin persists throughout the film: is it a case of outright bioterrorism, a conspiracy launched by the pharmaceutical industry to generate profits, or a government experiment gone awry and if so, which government unleashed it? In the desperate chase to maintain a live specimen and develop a vaccine, we are subjected to political grandstanding, special interest obfuscation, self-serving medicos and bureaucrats, and a muckraking Australian blogger (shades of Rupert Murdoch) whose miraculous cure by homeopathy is ultimately shown to be nothing more than medicine-show profiteering off of the fears of a populace desperate for protection.

Although the pandemic is a global disaster, Contagion is an intensely personal film. Unlike the disaster films of the 1970s, there are very few special effects set pieces, no soap-opera cheesiness, and no emotional swells of orchestral music to accompany the drama. The music is sparse and simple, and we get only small glimpses into the character’s lives, which echo the disaster coverage to which we have become all too accustomed. What the people are doing right now is what matters, good, bad, or otherwise. This minimalist approach to character development actually makes the characters more accessible than if we knew their entire life stories, because any of them could be any of us, particularly because moral baggage usually just serves to allow us to place ourselves above the characters and therefore renders them unrelatable.

As I write this, there is an endless barrage of imagery on the television from ten years ago, the majority of which shows how we, as a nation, came together in the face of national tragedy and how so many worked tirelessly, side by side, to pull victims from the rubble of the Towers. This ‘strength of the human spirit’ theme is pervasive in TV disaster coverage, whether it’s 9/11, the ’89 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Northridge earthquake, and countless others. I agree that in those times of crisis, many people came together and it was an amazing thing to experience. These disasters, however, were severely localized, which allowed most people to experience them from a safe distance. With a global pandemic, things quickly degenerate to the level of depravity witnessed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Lacking the relative comfort of safety, authority, and separation, the human race largely goes feral. Unfortunately, I believe this to be a fairly accurate forecast of how things will be if a global catastrophe were to occur.

When a vaccine is developed, predictably, those in positions of power and influence are the first to receive a life-saving dose while the rest of humanity must wait until their birthday-based lottery number is called, a process that will take years to complete. In a final, savage stroke of irony, we finally learn that the global pandemic was the result of an infected bat dropping a banana it was eating, which was then eaten by a pig. The pig is taken to market and sold to a restaurant and is handled by a chef with no apparent regard for kitchen hygiene, who shakes hands with the woman who became Patient Zero. No corporate conspiracy, no evil government machinations, no terrorists, just blind chance and carelessness and that, perhaps, is the genius of Contagion: as humans, we have a desperate, driving need to place some sort of significance to the things that happen to us. Our collective ego demands that there be something much larger, something more epic than just a bat, a banana, a pig, and a slob to be the vessel of our ruination. It’s too random for us to fathom because if such a seemingly minor series of events can be our undoing, then maybe we’re not at the top of the food chain after all and for many, that realization is the ultimate terror.

I would suggest then that the real villain of Contagion is not the virus; rather, it is the human race’s uncanny ability to discard its humanity with reckless abandon and degenerate into a torch-and-pitchfork mentality the moment things go sideways while, at the same moment, steadfastly proclaiming ourselves to be the masters of the universe when in reality, we face extinction in countless, minuscule ways every day. Unnerving, unflinching and raw, Contagion is a cautionary lesson in social evolution that demands our attention.

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned…
   — Yeats