Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Crowd by Ray Bradbury

***(out of four stars)

What triggers our morbid fascinations? Why is it when we see an automobile accident we must take a quick glance, no matter how awful or fatal the crash may be? Is it something we really must see? Or is it just morbid curiosity? And really, where does the crowd of spectators come from? Have you ever noticed that people flock in groups when something horrible has happened to somebody else?

These observations are handled lightly in Ray Bradbury's short story called, The Crowd.

Here is the gist of this story. A man named Mr. Spallner is in a car accident. He can vividly see what is happening as the crash occurs. He screams. The car crashes into a wall and pain radiates throughout his body. Then a sudden silence. A crowd emerges from nowhere and begin talking. He sees the faces of some of the people. They wonder if they should move him. He hears sirens, police activity and he's loaded into an ambulance.

He spends some time in a hospital. When he's released he observes another accident; this time with a different victim. He notices the crowd again, gathering around the victim. The same familiar faces are seen in the crowd. They move the victim; proving to be a fatal mistake.

Soon, Spallner witnesses yet another car accident with the same crowd gathering around the victim. After gathering some newspaper clippings, Spallner finds out that the same crowd is gathering around different accidents over and over again.

In the end, Spallner is involved in yet another crash. Once again, he's the victim and once again the crowd gathers around his body. He hears the same voices, and sees the same faces. He can't speak or cry out as the crowd contemplates moving him. When they finally do move him he dies.

This is a classic ghost story. In the story, it's hinted that the crowd chooses who to move and who not to move. Once they decide the fate of the victim, that victim becomes one with the crowd. The story is written with Bradbury's typical brilliance. It's a quick read (only about 12 pages long) and the story is very entertaining. I love short stories because you don't have to dedicate much time to them, yet you're rewarded just the same. I read this story from a collection of Ray Bradbury's short stories called, The October Country. If you pass by this book and/or the story, give it a read.

Bradbury said that this story was inspired by a true event. He witnessed a car accident; the victims all stumbled out of the car and fell over dead. There was a crowd that came from literally nowhere. The weird thing is, Bradbury says that there was a cemetery nearby. Therefore, where did that crowd come from?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Deviant: The Shocking True Story of ED GEIN, The Original "Psycho"

****(out of four stars)

Have you ever wondered where infamous horror films like, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Psycho and Silence of the Lambs derived from? Well one name rings true to all of these films. The name is Ed Gein. After his grisly crimes he was infamously dubbed, The Butcher of Plainfield. His crimes sent shock waves throughout Wisconsin and the rest of the United States. Many people knew very little about the little, shy man named Ed Gein, but after his heinous crimes no one ever forgot about him.

Ed Gein grew up in a household with an alcoholic father and a religiously domineering mother. He and his brother Henry were close, but after Henry died in a mysterious fire, Ed only had his mother to lean on. When she died Ed Gein was lost. He stayed to himself; often reading graphic comics and books about the Nazi atrocities. He was a recluse, a loner and hardly anyone ever came within the walls of his home.

Most of you know the story of Ed Gein. Aside from the movies mentioned above, there are tons of other films inspired by his life and crimes. Just google them and you'll find an abundance of material on the Butcher from Plainfield.

If you don't want a movie, let me recommend an excellent read. Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, The Original "Psycho" is an outstanding book written by Harold Schechter. This book covers it all. Everything from Ed's childhood; his early upbringing with his overbearing, often overly possessive mother and his abusive father George, to his crimes, his trial and his being institutionalized.

Harold Schechter writes with such prose that at some moments you think you're reading a story so shocking that it could only be made from a wild imagination. This kind of horror is only seen in the movies, right? Wrong!

The book follows neighbors, law officials, friends and everyone else involved in the Gein story. From first hand accounts, the story and life of Ed Gein is unraveled right before your eyes.

Ed was only charged with two killings. But his ghoulish behavior is really why he's renowned. It seems that Ed liked to dig up bones of the recently (or long) deceased. He crafted soup bowls, lamp shades, and made "death masks" out of the dead bodies. And yes, he even dressed up in the skin suit of a woman. He would wear the face, breast vest and even the vagina. See the resemblance with Leatherface yet?

This is a very compelling read and I recommend it to any true crime fan. This stuff is only supposed to be made in the movies, not real life. We do have our fair share of "real" monsters lurking about.

Oh and by the way, his last name is pronounced Gein as in lean. His name does not rhyme with fine. Sorry I had to point that out but it just gets on my nerves.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Gingerbread Girl by Stephen King

*1/2(out of four stars)

After the sudden death (crib death) of her two month old baby, Emily takes up running. It's therapeutic and helps her mend the wounds of losing her child. Meanwhile, her marriage with Henry is failing quickly and she begins running from that as well. Soon, she's running from just about everything. She contacts her father and asks if she can reside at his vacation home on the Florida Keys. She needs some time to re-evaluate her life, marriage and well being.

While at the Florida Keys, she continues to run. The only contact she has is with an old man named, Deke Hollis. Deke tells her about a man named Jim Pickering. Deke finds it odd that Pickering always brings a girl with him to the keys. Pickering calls these girls his nieces. Deke also tells Emily that most of the young women are never seen again.

Soon Emily runs into trouble. On one of her runs she passes Pickering's house. She notices a young women in Pickering's trunk; stabbed to death. Pickering sneaks up behind her and knocks her out. When she awakes he has her in his house. She's tied to a chair with duct tape. He plans on killing her but hesitates. He asks her if anyone knew she was there and she tells him the old man. He leaves the house, supposedly to kill Deke.

When he returns, Emily frees herself. She wounds Jim Pickering and runs out of the house. Pickering begins to follow her but just doesn't have the stamina or speed to keep up. As Emily runs along the beach, trying to escape her assailant, she's surprised to see a latino male in the ocean. The latino tries to help her, but is out witted by Jim Pickering. Pickering kills the man with scissors. Emily swims out in the ocean and Pickering follows her. Pickering can't swim and ultimately drowns in the ocean.

By the end of the story, Emily still contemplates her future with Henry and her life.

I really wanted to like the character of Emily. I felt sympathetic because of the loss of her child, but that just wasn't enough. The baby succumbed to crib death. It wasn't her fault.  It wasn't Henry's fault either.  But she still runs out on her marriage. I wasn't sure what she had planned for the rest of her life. She was just running... literally! I usually love the way King writes his characters. Most of the time they're genuine and feel natural. Emily was just an unlikable character too me. In my opinion, she's one of the weaker characters King has penned.

The killer (Jim Pickering) is a total buffoon. For a guy who's killed on numerous occasions, his strategy was weak. The guy didn't muster an ounce of fear from me. At no point was this character threatening. Somehow, you knew Emily would prevail. I really wanted closure with her story, but there was none. She began running and I assume she'll continue to run. The story is predictable and lacks real suspense.

If you're a die hard Stephen King fan, give this short novella a read. However, you'll find better stories by him. This story just felt flat throughout. Generic story, with no redeeming qualities.

Reading info: This story was first published in the July edition of Esquire back in June of 2007. It's also an installment in a collection of King's short stories called, Just After Sunset. And finally, an audio edition was made by Simon and Schuster in 2008. The story is read by Mare Winningham. This is the version I've used to take in this story.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

WOLFMAN (2010)

***(out of four stars)

I saw the Wolfman when it opened back in February of 2010. My initial reaction to the film was very positive. I still stand by this film - even after watching it three times - including the extended cut.

To tell you the complete truth, I was very reluctant to even see this film. It was plagued with problems from the moment of its inception. After a long list of directors either backing out or just not fitting the bill, it was decided that Joe Johnston would direct the picture. Then, he threw out the original script, hired his own writer and went from there. When the film was finally completed it was pushed back nearly two years. This usually means that something is drastically wrong with the film if they are still doing re shoots after principal photography had long finished. Many speculated on how good this film could possibly be. In the end, the film received negative reviews and made very little money at the box office.

With the abundance of remakes being done each year it was almost destined that something as untouchable as the Wolfman would eventually be toyed with.

It had been nearly seventy years since Lon Chaney Jr. played the role of the sympathetic, Lawrence Talbot. Now, many moons later, (pun intended) Benicio Del Doro is running around in the Oscar Award winning Wolfman make-up by the legendary, Rick Baker.

Here's a concise run down of the film:

Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells) is out and about in the dark woods. He is viciously attacked, maimed and killed by a werewolf. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is a Shakespearean actor and is contacted by Ben's Fiance, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt). At this point they don't know that Ben is dead, so Lawrence returns to his native Blackmoor to try and help find him. Upon his arrival, he finds out that Ben's body had been found and stored in a slaughter house. From his wounds, it is apparent that Ben had been killed by some kind of animal. Lawrence's estranged father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) offers temporary shelter for his son. Lawrence and Sir John have a unhealthy past ever since the supposed suicide of his mother. Later, Lawrence visits some gypsies on a full moon. A werewolf attacks the camp and Lawrence is bitten. Now, he's doomed with lycanthropy.

Okay, before I talk about the positive attributes of the film, I'll state the negatives. First, I'm not a huge fan of CGI. When it's done correctly and believably it's fine. But there are certain scenes in this film that throw me for a loop. One, for example, is a scene where Lawrence has transformed into the wolf and is running around on top of some buildings. The CGI, in my opinion, isn't adequate for the times. It looks horrible, to put it lightly. And when the wolf runs on all fours it looks cartoonish. This was something that director, Joe Johnston had done re shoots on. Originally the wolf was running on two legs, which looked better to me anyway. Second, is the love angle between Lawrence and his brother's fiance, Gwen. I find it hard to believe that she can easily move on and fall in love with another man immediately after the death of her soon to be husband. It's the guys brother for Christ sake! I see where they were trying to go with it, but it just didn't feel natural. I understand that the romantic angle helps with character development, but why should I feel sorry for him. I'm already sympathetic because he's got an incurable disease that he's dealing with. I don't give a shit if he love his brother's girl. Who cares. Why is it in there? Does it even need to be?

Enough with the negative. The reasons why this film works for me is because of the atmosphere, the folklore and the acting. Benicio Del Toro does a fine job as Lawrence Talbot. He captures that same sympathy that allured me into the original 1941 classic. Del Toro is no Lon Chaney Jr., but he conveys that emotion and helps the viewer get into the story. And when the scene isn't plagued with CGI and Del Toro is running around in full practical make-up, it really impresses me. I loved watching him slaughter the townsfolk and at certain parts the gore was spot on.

The make-up is stellar and Rick Baker actually won an Oscar for his stunning work. I was very impressed with what he did with the Wolfman concept. This is a film that leans heavily on makeup and if it isn't done right; then the film would ultimately fail. Thankfully, the legend is still proving why he's one of the best. Hence the reason why the film didn't fail for me.

The rest of the cast fits the bill. Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins are good in their roles. Hopkins is convincing as the estranged father and Blunt is constantly torn; while trying to help find a cure for Lawrence. Hugo Weaving plays Inspector Francis Abberline and he's probably my second favorite actor in this movie. His scenes with the Wolfman are intense and some of the best in the film.

You know, I hear a lot of horror fans dog on this film. I'm still not sure why. I realize I'm in the minority here, but this film is actually a really good, poignant remake. Yes, there are flaws in this film. Yes, there are certain elements - like the CGI and love angle - that could have been avoided, but as a whole this film is highly recommended by me. Just like the wave of Zombie movies that are made each year; only a few stand the test of time. This is also true with werewolf films. You get many, but only a few are really good. This - in my opinion - is a prime example of a werewolf film done right. Atmosphere... Great Make-up... adequate acting and some great gore effects!

One final note. When I purchased the DVD it came with the regular theatrical version and the director's cut. The director's cut has a nice little scene with Max Von Sydow. In this scene he gives Lawrence the infamous silver-headed cane. Director Joe Johnston took out these little scenes in the theatrical version to hurry up the first transformations.

Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving and Anthony Hopkins

Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self

Directed by: Joe Johnston

119 min (unrated director's cut)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Demonic Toys (1992)

**(out of four stars)

When I was a kid I was obsessed with evil toy films. I loved watching Puppet Master, Child's Play and a slew of others. Another favorite of mine was the film of todays topic of discussion. Demonic Toys!

Full Moon entertainment has always entertained me. Charles Band's crazy world of animated, possessed toys are some of my favorites as a child. Remember I wasn't watching Superman, Batman or comic book heroes. My heroes were Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers and the demonically possessed dolls. These films hold nostalgia for me and I love them to this day. Aside from maybe Chucky, he's become quite annoying.

The films starts out with Judith (Tracy Scoggins) and her boyfriend/partner Matt (Jeff Celentano). Judith is telling Matt of a reoccurring dream that has been plaguing her lately. In the dream two young boys are playing a game of WAR with some playing cards. The metaphor here - is good versus evil - if you haven't already guessed it. They sit in a desolate parking, talking about their future together and with a child on the way, they seem happy. Then, a car pulls in next to them. Apparently they're also undercover cops and the two thugs that they encounter are selling guns from foreign countries. When the situation goes awry, Lincoln (Michael Russo) one of the thugs, shoots and kills Matt. There goes that happy relationship. Judith then shoots and wounds Hesse, (thug #2) but both men manage to elude capture and escape into a warehouse that's inhabited by a bunch of toys. Judith is besides herself as she mourns the loss of her beloved Matt. With Vengeance on her mind, and a gun in her hand, she chases after Lincoln and Hesse.

Soon we're introduced to some of the Demonic Toys. Among the toys is the foul mouthed, Baby Oopsy Daisy. A clown in a jack in the box named, Jack Attack. The not so cuddly teddy bear named, Grizzly and Mr. Static, a robot that shoots blue lasers from his two arms.

Hesse is wounded badly and eventually gets ravaged by Grizzly and Jack Attack. Mr. Static finishes him off with some fatal shots about the body. Meanwhile, Judith catches up with Lincoln in a storage room. After a struggle, Lincoln is handcuffed. Both he and Judith are locked in the storage room by an unseen force.

Charnetski,(Peter Schrum) the overweight, whiskey drinking security guard is oblivious as to what is going on. Instead, he sits watching Puppet Master on the little monitor by his desk. After a bit, he gets hungry for some chicken. He calls in an order at Chunky Chicken and his friend, Mark (Bentley Mitchum, Grandson of Robert Mitchum) arrives shortly after with the food.

They hear a commotion somewhere in the vast warehouse and investigate. They find Judith and Charnetski is told to go get some help. He ventures off in the warehouse and is brutally killed by the toys. And by brutal I mean, throat maiming and a knife to the nuts. Yeah, brutal.

We're eventually introduced to a social outcast named, Annie, who kind of knows what's going on. She tells the others that the warehouse is haunted. She's killed shortly after by one of the killer toys. Without spoiling the rest of the film, I'll say that the evil little demon kid (the one in Judith's dreams, don't worry you'll point him out) does have his own devilish plans for Judith's unborn child. You'll just have to watch the movie to find out for yourself.

I'm not saying that Demonic Toys has anything new to offer the world of horror. But with its charm and good sense of humor (Baby Oopsie Daisy's constant insults) it's a fun film. Much like other toy horror films this one is really no different. I just personally hold it higher on the pedestal. I remember seeing it as a kid and always found quite a bit of enjoyment out of it.

The effects for the time are actually pretty good and do maintain that level of believability to this day. The screenplay came from the pen of David S. Goyer who also wrote other such films as: Dark City, The Blade Trilogy, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Put the kids to bed, dim the lights and make sure the toys are locked in the closet. You never know... you just never know.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Films I've Bought... Recently

I've been finding some great deals on some great titles. I was in an F.Y.E the other night and found a bunch of used DVDs for great prices. I usually walk out of there with four or five films and spend about $20! I guess that's not too shabby of a deal, right? Tonight, before sitting my ass in a packed theatre to see "Insidious", I ventured over the Wal-mart and found some other gems for very low prices. Here is a list of films that I've bought within the last three weeks.


I haven't upgraded to Blu-ray yet because I don't feel that there is anything wrong with DVD. Sure, Blu-ray might look sharper and much better than DVD, but I'm not sure I want all the grit taken out of some of these classics. Hell, if Blu-ray can make The Texas Chain Saw Massacre look like it was made yesterday, why the hell would I want to watch that? I dunno. I will purchase Blu-rays soon, but I'm not sure I'll ever stop collecting DVDs. I've got way too much money invested in them to just stop. Then again, you never know with me.