Tuesday, May 27

The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price

 
 
103 years ago today the incomparable Vincent Price was born. What better day to officially announce my newest project - THE FANTASTIC FILMS OF VINCENT PRICE - a chronological journey through the films of Vincent Price, starting with his first, Service de Luxe in 1938. I'll be analyzing, discussing, and showing clips from each in this video podcast. I'll touch on all of them, but will focus primarily on his horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films, plus any additional Price projects I feel like spotlighting - like his appearance on the Brady Bunch, or his 1975 TV appearance with Alice Cooper, or the 1974 Horror Hall of Fame...
 
I've set up a separate blog for this project at:
 
Debuting in 2 weeks, on June 10th.
I do hope you'll join me… it will be a thriller!

Saturday, May 17

Sad Farewell

Yesterday I received news that Magoo Gelehrter had passed away. I called my friend Cameron McCasland and asked if he’d heard anything about this. I was hoping that it wasn’t true, was just a rumor or misunderstanding of some kind, but he hadn’t heard anything. I next contacted my friend J. Sorrels, again hoping against hope, but J. didn’t have any news either. A couple of hours later I was deeply saddened to see official confirmation on the Shilling Shockers Facebook page.



Magoo Gelehrter was the man who played the werewolf Garou on the horror host program SHILLING SHOCKERS with his wife, Danielle. They began the show in 2006, and the very next year won a Rondo Award for Best Horror Host. 

 

Magoo was the little guy with a funny name and a huge personality – to meet Magoo was to fall in love with him. Funny, intelligent, warm-hearted and full of love of life. I first met Magoo and Danielle in person at Wonderfest, the year they won the Rondo Award. I was thrilled they took part in annual live show I host there each year, but the real fun of the weekend was just meeting and hanging out with them. We became fast friends off the bat, and talked about how much we wished we lived in the same town, and could hang out more often. We stayed in touch, and became even closer, and in 2010 worked together on the short film THE DREADFUL HALLOWGREEN SPECIAL. That was a fun project and I’m proud of how it turned out. It couldn’t have been a smoother, easier working experience. No egos, no problems, no hang-ups of any kind – it worked the way collaborations are supposed to work, in huge part due to the personalities of Dani and Magoo.

I have something of a love/hate relationship with Social Media. I find myself almost hitting the delete button on Facebook often, but there is a lot of good stuff that outweighs the drama and negativity that are so rampant there. But I’ve really come to appreciate INSTAGRAM over the last couple of years. It’s a different experience, and folks there tend to post an entirely different sort of material. It is more personal, for the most part, and more intimate. And Magoo was a voracious Instagrammer. 





 Anyone who has followed Magoo over there, under the title Garouvie, has enjoyed a true creative outpouring over the past couple of years.


He had a really great eye and a real flair for capturing the beauty and joy  in everyday objects, and his sense of humor really shines through in his pictures. His love for Danielle shines through equally brightly. I love this picture in particular. The caption is priceless.

 

Look who rolled back into town. So iconic my brain stops to see her face. #truelove



I had the pleasure of inducting Penny Dreadful and Garou into the Horror Host Hall of Fame this year. When I learned they’d been nominated I contacted Halloween Jack and asked if I could induct them when they win. Not if, when. Because I knew they would, and deservingly so. Danielle had hoped to be there in person to accept the award, but couldn’t because Garou was back in the hospital that weekend, and in fact had surgery that same day. I had truly mixed feelings as I spoke that morning, because as happy as I was for the both of them I was equally sad for what they were going through. I called Danielle after the ceremony and told her how it went, and mailed their award to them later that week.

 

Danielle has been amazingly supportive for Magoo. I remember when he was first diagnosed with Cancer they refused to even mention the disease by name. They were going to fight it, and by God Magoo did. He gave it his all, and he stayed positive throughout. And Danielle honored her husband by not only being there for him, but also continuing to live her life. Just last week she performed in a stage adaptation of Young Frankenstein, in the role of Frau Blucher. I know it must have been tempting to just curl up depressed and never leave the house, but that wasn’t happening. Both of them continued living life to the fullest, and whenever I talked with Danielle on the phone she always sounded strong, and positive.

Today I feel sad that such a sweet, creative man was taken from this world. He loved life with a passion, loved his little dog Krispy, and loved his wife Danielle most of all. They were partner in the truest sense – partners in life, and partners on the show. We are all going to miss you, Magoo. You are the best.


Wednesday, May 14

I SCREAM YOU SCREAM...

Listening to the latest Rue Morgue podcast and their HORROR COURT was interesting. Stuart Feedback Andrews squared off against Alexandria West (Co-host of The Faculty of Horror Podcast with Andrea Subisatti) in a 2-part podcast discussing the virtues of the film and leaving it up to the viewers to decide, by votes, whether Scream is guilty or not guilty of being a horrible film, as Stuart suggests. Alexandria does a fine job defending her point of view, as does Feedback. It is a film I’ve been tempted to write about for a while now, as it was THE biggest film of the 90s, and one that is fairly polarizing in terms of audience reaction.

So. My thoughts on Scream, 1996. Director Wes Craven. Miramax Films.
 
In college I studied Art History pretty extensively, and one thing that always stuck with me was the theory that every successful art movement is a reaction to the one directly preceding it. The same holds true for all art forms, including film and music. Take, for instance, the example of Punk Rock music. It is a direct reaction to the excesses of 70s radio rock, the long, drawn-out over-produced jam tracks, polished to the point of tediousness with all the energy drained out of it. Enter Punk Rock, a refreshing breath of explosive energy and short, raw tracks that seemed a diametric opposition of its predecessors. In the 80s Heavy Metal was all the rage and more and more bands jumped on the craze until the music became a joke. The bands in the late 80s/early 90s were almost a parody of the early metal bands. The genre had become increasingly outlandish and self-effacing.  Compare a band like Poison to the early 80s Invasion of British metal bands – if you didn’t know better you’d think they’re a parody, an intentional mockery of their predecessors. The scene was in dire need of something new and fresh; enter Nirvana and Grunge, exactly the stripped-down shot in the arm so desperately needed.  
 

Horror movies in the 80s were the same way. Slasher films were incredibly successful and an ever-increasing number of them began popping up in the early 80s. By the end of the decade, however, the genre was overwrought and tired, and the slashers popping up in the 90s were pale imitations of their predecessors, recycling the same tired plots and setups. They had become, in many ways, downright silly, if truth be told.

 

SCREAM came along in 1996 as the icing to the bloody cake, with a mega budget, superstar cast, and self-aware characters spouting pop culture facts and horror movie “rules” for survival. Scream was to horror movies what Poison was to Heavy Metal; a joke, a parody, a mockery of its predecessors - to put it bluntly, an embarrassment to serious horror movies, albeit a financially successful one. But then Poison raked in millions of dollars, too.

BUT here’s the difference; the early slasher films were trying to make a legitimately scary horror film. There is a real sincerity to them, an honesty that is lacking in Scream. They didn’t have the budget or production quality behind them that Craven had, but you had to admire them in spite of it because they were sincerely giving it their all. Craven, on the other hand, wasn’t trying to make a real horror film, because he was jaded by this point. The previous year he had directed the dreadful flop VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN. He was out of tricks, and all that was left was to parody real horror films, something he had previously experimented with in WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE two years prior. He almost passed on directing Scream, and is on record stating he was thinking of moving away from the horror genre. Scream was a disingenuous sham, nothing more than a string of gimmicks. The entire killer on the phone plot was a tired trope even in the 90s, channeling such films as WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, BLACK CHRISTMAS, THE NEW YORK RIPPER and even William Castle’s I SAW WHAT YOU DID and so many others.

I’ve had arguments with friends (well, one in particular) who credit Scream with saving the horror genre, when this is honestly a bit of historical rewriting. In truth Scream almost killed the entire horror market, and made a mockery of the genre. Its effect was far reaching, spawning a host of equally tiresome self-aware flicks and near comedies. Scream was a big budget, bloated franchise full of pretty faces and superstar actors. It was the equivalent of 70s stadium bands, full of excess and extravagance but little substance.

It is far more accurate to say the film that turned the tide in horror was THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, a little film made on a shoestring budget that shocked the world with its success. Suddenly the path was paved – fuck spending millions and hiring “stars” for your film, now anyone with a camera and an idea could make their own movie! Blair Witch was the Ramones of the horror world, inspiring legions of filmmakers to grab a camera and start shooting.

You know what the working title for Scream was? SCARY MOVIE. How appropriate that the outright comedy spoof film of the same name came out in 2000. THAT movie, unlike Scream, doesn’t masquerade as a real film; it tells you outright that it is a comedy, a spoof, a parody of the genre, a joke. Just as Scream is. And a lame one at that.

Sunday, May 4

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - REVIEW



The latest entry in Sony’s Spider-Man franchise has arrived, The Amazing Spider-man 2. Released nationwide this Friday, May 2, 2014, it features Spider-Man, again played by Andrew Garfield, this time facing three separate super-villains. Read my review of the first Garfield film here.

But before I get into the plot too much, let me give a word of warning. I don’t want to be “that guy,” the asshole who issues spoilers without warning, so let me say up front, there WILL BE spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen it yet, bookmark this page, go see the film, then return here and see if you agree with my assessment.

Let me ask you a question. We all know the legend of Spider-Man from the comics, and previous incarnations. What was the one greatest lesson Spider-man learned? The one mantra he lived his life by, fought his battles under, the credo that shaped his very existence through a sad lesson-learned?
“With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility.”

We all know it. Stan the Man taught us well. It was, perhaps, the greatest single line in any comic book, Marvel, DC, or otherwise. With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.


And you see, that’s a lesson this version of Spider-Man goes out of its way to avoid. THIS Spider-Man is obsessed with the mysterious fate of his parents, who died in the original comics. But not in this film. In this one his parents not only were alive until he was , from the looks of the kid playing a young Peter, around age 8. Then they unceremoniously dumped him at his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben’s house and left.  And Peter is tortured by this, and must learn the truth of what happened to them.



The truth lies with Osborne Industries. In this film everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, ties into Osborne Industries. His parents worked there, and were scientists working on genetically mutated radioactive spiders. Those were the same spiders that gave Peter his superhuman abilities, by the way. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter’s girlfriend, also works at Osborn Industries. We are introduced to Peter’s old friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) in this film, whose father Norman (Chris Cooper) is dying of a rare, destructive disease that has been inherited by young Harry. He is just starting to feel the degenerative effects, and they are increasing rapidly, causing shaking extremities and skin lesions, and ultimately killing him.




We meet a man named Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx, who also works at Oscorp. He is an electrical engineer, and a major nerdy guy, in the awkward, goofy, over-the-top tape on the bridge of the glasses kind of way. He is also a really big fan of Spider-man, and when he has his life saved by the wallcrawler he becomes obsessed with him, plastering the walls of his apartment with pictures and newspaper clippings of him. 



 Spidey saves him from being run over by a truck that is driven by a criminal with a barb wire tattoo across his forehead. He’s stolen a truck from – you guessed it – Osborn Industries – which has a bunch of vials with glowing yellow liquid inside. 



The criminal driving the truck is a man named Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). Spidey manages to stop the truck and captures Aleksei, who is transferred to a prison called the Ravencroft Institute, which is a kind of poor man’s Arkham Asylum. 



Peter is tortured by the ghost of Gwen’s dad, Police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), who died in the first film. He warned Peter to stay away from Gwen in that film, and his ghost keeps showing up to remind him to keep his distance. Peter breaks up with her to get peace of mind.



Meanwhile we learn that Max Dillon has had his designs usurped, used without any credit given to him. He is ordered to stay late one night, which happens to be his birthday, and fix an electrical problem, there is an accident and he is electrocuted and falls into a vat of electrical eels (?), which bite him and somehow give him super powers. It’s all pretty nebulous, but he steps out of that vat glowing bright blue and tossing bolts of lightning out of his fingertips. He learns that he can sap electricity from wires, and heads for the heart of town to drain as much power as possible. 

 Spidey confronts him, and Max is at first flattered and glad to meet his idol. He isn’t sure what’s happened to him and needs help. Spidey tries to talk to him about it when a police sniper takes a shot at Max, and he snaps. In a VERY quick turn of motivation, he suddenly decides he hates Spidey with all his might and wants to kill him. He spends the rest of the movie trying to destroy him. Spidey defeats him, by spraying him with water from a firehose, which short circuits him. 

Meanwhile we get this on-again, off-again love relationship going on with Pete and Gwen. Peter learns his parents were really scientists for Osborne, and had uploaded corporate secrets to a secret base called “Roosevelt.” This is an underground facility under the subway tunnels. He finds it, and finally discovers the truth of his parents. 


Harry, however, has been ousted from his own company in a corporate takeover. He is forced out, and as a last ditch effort visits Max Dillon in the Ravencroft Institute which, oh yeah, is also owned BY OSBORNE INDUSTRIES. He teams up with Max, who has inexplicably started calling himself Electro now, and they decide to team up – so electro can get Spider-Man and Harry can get his blood, which he’s become convinced can cure him as he’s learned his powers came from Osborne labs. 



Electro causes a blackout, and Spidey has to go stop him. He defeats, and kills, him – with the help of Gwen, by overloading his power and causing him to “blow up.” BUT – Harry shows up, because he has now become the Green Goblin. You see, his dad also had a top secret lab where he was building super villain armors, and there was a suit of armor and jet flyer there (that just so happened to fit Harry perfectly), and also, conveniently, had a healing mode that fixed his wounds. Oh, and he injected himself with spider venom from the spiders that bit Peter too. It’s all confusing. Somehow that helped cure him of the disease. But it didn’t either. It caused a backlash that almost killed him, but the armor’s healing mode… saved him… I think.



Anyway, he’s the Green Goblin now, and flies in to battle Spidey, and captures Gwen, and takes her to the top of a clock tower, where Spidey and he fight. And in the process Gwen falls to her death. Spidey defeats the Green Goblin, who is taken – you guessed it – to the Ravencroft Institute. A mysterious man in a hat visits him in jail – we saw this dude in the first film too – and he releases Aleksei Sytsevich, and gives him a suit of armor. It’s a giant mechanical Rhino armor. And the film ends with Spidey squaring off against the Rhino, undoubtedly defeating him.

That is, in a nutshell, the new film. Osborne Industries runs everything in New York City. Among the armors we saw in the underground laboratory at Osborne Industries were also a vulture suit and Doctor Octopus tentacles, which were moving of their own accord and “alive” much like the ones in the Raimi version. Osborne Industries is a big, giant catch-all for any plot device needed. It is lazy, amateurish screenwriting, truth be told.



The thing this film gets right is Spidey himself in the suit. The logos are different, and there is an arbitrary cutout section in the red across his back, but otherwise it looks pretty good. There is still a stupid basketball texture to his suit, and a lame explanation for why he can take so many direct blasts from Electro without dying – his suit is apparently made of a type of rubber – and therefore can sustain blasts of millions of volts of electricity. Aha. But the look and feel of Spidey – wise-cracking and flipping around, is otherwise dead-on.

 
There isn’t, inexplicably, any WALL-CRAWLING in this film! Spidey is seen swinging, flipping, and sticking to things, but only in one scene is he actually crawling on a wall, while trying to, weirdly, take off his costume hurriedly before Aunt May comes into his room, he crawls onto the wall? Anyway – other than that they try to avoid having him wall-crawl. Maybe to be different from the Raimi versions?

The effects of Spidey swinging are fantastic. Special effects have really progressed, and I give huge praise to the effects team. That is top notch. 


 Gwen is done really well. She looks like she stepped right off the page. Excellent casting there. And when Gwen dies, in a fall from the top of the clock similar to the one in the comics from the bridge, she is wearing almost the exact outfit from the comics. Nice touch there. Wish they'd stayed as true throughout.

BUT offsetting the brilliant casting of Gwen is Andrew Garfield, who is SO WRONG as Peter Parker. He is an awful, terrible, horrible choice as Peter. I can’t get emphasize too strongly how much I despise his casting as the lead of this film, and likewise the portrayal of the character in these films. In High School Peter was never the cool, hip, swing in at the last minute and kiss the Valedictorian in front of the entire school to wild applause kind of guy. This Peter is a hipster – to put it bluntly. Hipster and self-centered, and kind of unlikable, honestly.

Captain Stacy in the comics loved Peter. He knew Pete was Spider-Man yet kept it a secret to his dying days, to protect his identity. His dying words were, “Take care of her son. She loves you so very much.” In these films they’ve perverted that. Stacy now HATES Spidey, and upon learning he was Peter, told him to stay away from her. This changes the entire dynamic, undercutting another iconic moment of Spider-Man mythos.

Perhaps the biggest miscue of all in this movie is the villains. They completely DESTROY the villains. And here’s the thing – Spider Man comics have the greatest villains of any book, period. Batman is a close second, but Spidey’s are tops. All you have to do is be faithful to the comics. BUT - They screw up EVERYTHING, and I mean EVERYTHING about them. Electro is a white man in the comics – they have Jamie Foxx play him here. That in and of itself isn’t that big a deal – but why the arbitrary change? He isn’t a dorky nerdy guy in the books. He didn’t glow bright neon blue. And he didn’t fly or move through electrical wires. And later, when he and Harry team up, he suddenly has a snazzy black rubber looking suit. Where the hell did that come from? Oh yeah – of course! Osborne Industries!!

When the Green Goblin appeared onscreen I laughed out loud! I mean,come on!! That’s the best design you could come up with for Spidey’s arch-nemesis? Cheap-looking armor, lame makeup, and all so goofy looking! In fact, he looks just like Beavis, from  the Beavis and Butthead cartoon!!Hilarious!!




Rhino was equally laughable. Looked like some kind of reject from the Transformers. Really lame looking.



Holy Shades of Schumacher, it just occurred to me. You know what this film was? This film was a modern-day equivalent of BATMAN FOREVER. You had the dorky, nerdy guy who works at a major Giant industry (Wayne enterprises) in which everything in the city seems to revolve around. He is obsessed with the town’s superhero (Batman) but, through a bizarre twist of fate, becomes instead rejected and turned into a super villain (the Riddler). Both were played by comedians (Jim Carey and Jamie Foxx). Both teamed up with another super villain to get revenge on their arch rival. It’s the exact same plot!



 The music in this film was absolutely atrocious. It was so abrasive, so – BAD – that at one point I turned to my son and remarked at how dumb the score was at that moment. When Foxx’s character is onscreen before changing they play this dumb theme, dorky and playful and cartoonish, like something straight out of the Schumacher films. The main theme is a type of almost non-music; progressive chords that build and go nowhere, sort of reminiscent of the Superman theme in the new film. And there are arbitrary techno scores and sounds thrown in throughout the film, like bad rave music. Cheap sounding and very, very hip, I suppose. At one point Peter puts on headphones and listens to some total hipster song, a happy-happy tune called Gone, Gone, Gone by a guy name Phillip Phillips. It is truly terrible and plays right into Pete’s hipster vibe. And in the end credit there is a godawful rap song thrown in. Just really, really terrible choices of music.

By the way, Sony makes sure to jam in your face their logo and brand as often as possible during this film, from their logo front and center on electrical devices to the Vaio logos on the backs of every laptop, including Pete's parent's in the beginning of the film. You definitely won't forget who made this thing.

Finally, most egregious of all, Pete’s uncle and his death are really unimportant. As we discussed before, THE ONE event that shaped Spidey’s character is an afterthought in this film. Oh, his aunt plays lip service to it, mostly while packing away his things so she can move on. Forget about him. Like Peter did, apparently. Because, you know, in the first film, he never caught Ben’s killer. He just let him go, never sought him out, tracked him down, made him pay. He just disappeared and that was it. And he doesn’t do so in this film either. That is old news, apparently. 

Peter never said the words “with great power comes great responsibility,” because he never learned that lesson. And unfortunately, neither did the producers of this film.


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