April 30, 2009

Episode 3: Werewolves of the Big City

Thomas Hobbes said, "Homo homini lupus" and he knew quite well what he was talking about. After all, there is a reason why the wolf man myth came to being as early as the first recorded civilizations and became a staple of European folklore. Let's face it: we're all split personalities to some extent, divided between our civilized ideals and the animal within. The human kind knew this long before Freud decided to show up and tag the wolf man with definitions of his own. Just ask Little Red Riding Hood.

On April 24th, Danse Macabre devoted an entire episode to the wolf man, quoting passages from literature and mighty werewolf's Wikipedia. Special attention was given to the origin of werewolf beliefs and how this tied with the stories about werehyenas and werejaguars in places where the wolf is not a common predator. The biggest discovery, however, was the technique of changing into a werewolf, which apparently differs significantly from one place to another. The most pleasant act of shape shifting has been described by the 16th century Swedish writer Olaus Magnus according to whom the Livonian werewolves were initiated by drinking special beer and repeating a chant - like football hooligans, really.

Download the full playlist HERE.

As you'll notice in the list, we gave our kudos to our Japanese brethren, Guitar Wolf and Boris which never seem to slow down, trading the safe and serious for pure wildness, just like real wolf men. It is to them that I devote the two best werewolf transformation scenes of all time. Enjoy!

If you own the rights to any of the material posted here and would like it removed, please e-mail me and I will take it down.

April 29, 2009

Vincent Price Movie Posters

This post goes to the one and only Vincent Price. His work in the 1950's and 1960's, particularly in gimmick flicks like The Tingler (1958) and his Edgar Allan Poe series with director Roger Corman, can rarely be matched for success in any genre. With his smooth voice, high brows and sinister moustache he created a persona that remains the embodiment of deviation 'till this very day. What you'll find below is a list of some 28 posters, eight of which fall on the mega-success that the original 3D House of Wax was in its time. Enjoy! 

They're Made Out of Meat

While not quite macabre, They're Made Our of Meat is a great sci-fi short that works remarkably well for a study of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Directed by Stephen O'Regan and based on a short story by Terry Bisson, the film oozes atmosphere from that first shot of the diner until the sudden disappearance (teleportation?) of the bemused aliens. Tom Noonan is brilliant as always and Ben Bailey is hilarious in his disgust for the human species that is "made out of MEAT." Check it out and keep in mind - eating the human kind of meat is called "cannibalism" and is not advised to people who live in countries where it is illegal.

April 28, 2009

Dead of Night Official Blog

If you're a fan of Bonelli's series of Dylan Dog comic books, you should be aware by now that a film based on the character is finally in the shooting stages with Brandon Routh of Superman fame starring as the titular detective of nightmares. The film is called Dead of Night (yes, just like the classic omnibus from 1945) and has quite a decent team attached to it, lead by director Kevin Munroe and including the Oscar-winning makeup team from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The production, however, is plagued with a lot of criticism over a series of announced changes to the plot and characters including omissions of key figures and a radical location shift. The case of Constantine is being mentioned on regular basis, which certainly won't  help in building any anticipation (that said, I do like Constantine for what it is).

Well, now there's an official Dead of Night production blog run by Dan Forcey (the VP of Development at Platinum Studios), which is mostly targeted at allaying fears regarding the creation of this film, and of course, triggering positive word-of-mouth for the final product. I think it works on both accounts, at least so far, and here's why. Let's start with Dan Forcey himself - he seems to be really involved in the making of this film, which is to say that he has read the comics and is aware of Dellamorte Dellamore, the brilliant Italian zombie flick based on a character from the Dylan Dog universe. Then, the name of Gioj Demarco seems to appear every now and then - this is the director and foreign library specialist attached to the film who apparently went through the script just prior to shooting and did a draft specifically intended to make things more faithfull to the comics. So far so good but what about the plot and characters?

Well, it's a mixed bag and it could still go either way, but it doesn't seem to be nearly as bad as initially thought. To begin with, the red shirt and the Beetle are there, so that's covered. Then, from what I have gathered, there probably will be a logical explanation in the film about why we'll find Dylan Dog in New Orleans and not in London, which is fine considering that there have been several episodes with Dylan Dog travelling abroad. Dan Forcey's explanation of why Groucho will not appear in the film is also quite fair, but it remains to be seen how the new character Marcus will relate to what Groucho represents in the comics. Regarding inspector Bloch, it seems that he won't appear in the film as a major character but there could be a smaller part or some kind of acknowledgment (I hope it's the first). Finally, and I think this is the most important thing: there seems to be a genuine drive towards making Dead of Night more of a mystery film than an actioneer. Whether Dylan Dog will keep his personality or not remains to be seen.

For more info in the upcoming months, keep track of the blog. In the meantime, if you need something to wet your Dylan Dog appetite, download the Simulmondo game from 1992 called Dylan Dog - The Murderers! :)

April 27, 2009

Zombina and The Skeletones

After the death of Lux Interior, I got really big into psychobilly and went all over the internet to find as many Cramps-inspired bands as humanly possible. One of the bands that I found was the cheeky quintet from Liverpool, England, called Zombina and The Skeletones... which, come to think of it, doesn't sound anything like the Cramps.

According to their site, Zombina and The Skeletones are a horror rock band, "100% pure rock'n'roll genius from the very pits of their tortured vampiric souls since 1998". If that sounds a bit cheesy, it's because it is cheesy. Just listen to their Halloween Hollerin'! LP (2003) and you'll understand how fully and unabashedly cheesy this band really is. Zombina and the Skeletones are also major fun, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about zombies and frankenladies sung over driving doo wop garage punk, creating quite the atmosphere for a nice chilled-out Halloween dance. That the band member names are horror-inspired and that the songs are rich with tasty pop hooks cannot hurt either.

  • Taste the Blood of Zombina and the Skeletones (2002)
  • Halloween Hollerin'! (2003)
  • Monsters on 45 (2006)
  • Death Valley High (2006)
  • Out of the Crypt and Into Your Heart (2008)

April 26, 2009

Episode 2: The Ghost of El Burro

Ghost in a Cave by Peter Szustka

Ah, ghosts. What would life be without them? 

It seems that U.S. law would took a few hits. Apparently, some time ago, a married couple was permitted in court to break a contract for the purchase of an old house near the Hudson River because the house was haunted. On this premise, the State of New York recognizes ghosts, or at least, that's what they say. 

Honestly, I don't believe this really happened - the sources that offer this story (and plenty others) are not that reliable. That said, there is something about the concept of ghosts that no matter how unbelievable some stories get, leaves some room for doubt. What if it wasn't just a trick of the eye? What if that chair really moved because someone pushed it? What if the reports of ghost trains and phantom ships were not made up? What if...?

Well, even Sir Arthur C. Clarke could not deny that there is a room for doubt. In 1985, the independent television network ITV broadcast Sir Clarke's World of Strange Powers, a thirteen part television series that looked at paranormal occurrences, including ghosts. Episode 2, "Things That Go Bump in the Night" talks about poltergeists and concludes that their existence is possible and needs to be additionally researched. Similarly, in episode 5, "Ghosts, Apparitions and Haunted Houses," Sir Clarke states that the titular occurrences are "very likely."

In this spirit, episode 2 of Danse Macabre focused on hauntings, banshees, poltergeists, and popular series such as Ghost Hunters. The music followed suit so we got a playlist that looks this:

Download the full playlist HERE.

We also discussed some of the best ghost movies ever and also name-dropped Patrick Swayze quite a few times. When all is said and done, however, there is no denying the spell of the Ring tape. 'Till the next post, enjoy your lives!

If you own the rights to any of the material posted here and would like it removed, please e-mail me and I will take it down. 

Ghost Movies

Films about ghosts fall into a subgenre all of its own. The "ghost movie" can be anything from a Japanese scare fest to a Patrick Swayze vehicle, from an '80s blockbuster comedy starring Bill Murray to a subtle '60s adaptation of a Henry James classic. Some of these films are pure genius, elevating the art form to new levels, clearing the stage for a billion knock-offs to follow, while other are... uh... well, knock-offs. What's important is that all of the ghost movies fulfil one function - they act as mirrors, reflecting our troubled pasts and most hidden fears - and the really good ghost movies explode their function into a supernova, often leaving the viewer into a fuzzy state of shock long after the movie is over. This "definition" of the ghost movie is not made with the purpose of knocking down comedies and Patrick Swayze - in fact, I think Ghost Busters and Ghost are really good films. However, the list of best ghost movies I have seen so far looks something like this:

1. The Shining (1980) 

It's a Stanley Kubrick film based on a Stephen King novel and it is as disturbing as its conclusion is unclear. Apart from Delbert Grady and his twin daughters, where do all these other ghosts come from? What's up with that slo-mo elevator scene? The Bath Lady? The Shining has some stomach-churning and gory images but it doesn't rely on them; instead, it is pedal to the metal with scary music based on Bela Bartok's works and brilliant Steadicam cinematography. The terrifying mood and atmosphere of the film is only supplemented by Jack Nicholson's performance as the aggressive Jack Torrance and Shelley Duvall's as the seemingly weak Wendy Torrance. If you don't know what "Heeere's Johnny!" means, you don't know cinema.

2. The Innocents (1961)

A ghost film or a psychological study? Based on Henry James' classic novel The Turn of the Screw, directed by Jack Clayton and starring Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, absolutely everything in this black-and-white film is based on speculation and nothing is really shown. That Miss Giddens sees shadows and premonitions everywhere around her might be more about her repressed sexuality than it is about the strange behavior of the children Miles and Flora she is supposed to be looking after. As the prequel The Nightcomers released in 1971 and starring one Marlon Brando shows, the things you don't know are almost always scarier than the things you do know, no matter how disgusting or revolting they might be. Oh, and that all too brief Quint apparition: what a scene!

3. Dark Water (2002)

The original Japanese Dark Water, directed by the same Hideo Nakata that stands behind the original Ring, is by far the best film of the yurei bunch (Ring, The Grudge, One Missed Call etc.), mostly because it really is a heartfelt human drama with ghosts in it. The everyday problems that recently divorced Yoshimi Matsubara and her daughter Ikuko Matsubara go through are easy to relate to, and the pressure that starts mounting as soon as Yoshimi realizes she might not be the best parent for her daughter is what makes the film. The ghost of the missing girl is there just to move things a little faster, a kind of catalyst and a constant reminder of what could happen to Ikuko if she doesn't move immediately with her father. If you watch the film this way, paying attention to all the nuances Nakata has brought to this bleak story, there is no way that the ending will leave you cold.

4. The Changeling (1980)
This is not Clint Eastwood's Angelina Jolie vehicle but Peter Medak's atmospheric take on the haunted house story with George C. Scott as the main protagonist. The story here is about John Rusell, a composer still shaken from the death of his wife and daughter, who moves to a house still possessed by the ghost of a child murdered a long, long time ago. The Changeling is the kind of film that has "spooky" and "supernatural thriller" written all over it, but what makes it particularly good is that it fully delivers on its promise, piling one mystery on top of another until it reaches a conclusion that is as emotionally satisfactory as it is logically predictable. Watch for the scene with the bouncing ball - so many directors have aped it since but nobody has ever come close to Peter Medak's work here. 

5. The Orphanage (2007)

Produced by Guillermo del Toro, The Orphanage is an amazing piece of work not so much because of what it presents you with (great characterization, beautiful cinematography) but because of the emotional state it leaves you in after its running time. It is a wretched story and it is particularly wretched towards its characters - there is no happy ending for anyone attached to the titular orphanage, and least of all, for the children living in it. In many ways, this film is a cross between The Innocents and Dark Water, playing hard and strong on the issue of parental inadequacy found both in the main character and her predecessor(s), subtly questioning the viewer's parental skills in the process. That Belen Rueda as Laura feels so real in her heartbreak doesn't help the viewer, either: by the time she finally resolves the mystery of the orphanage and her son's disappearance, there is simply no way for one to hold tears, no way in the world.

Honorable mention:  Kaidan (1964), The Sixth Sense (1999), The Others (2001).

Bottom line: if you want to make an effective ghost movie, your best bet is on having a female lead and plot that revolves around endangered children! :)  No, I'm just kidding... or am I?

April 21, 2009

Stephen King - Danse Macabre (1982)

Early on in his career as a mega-successful novelist, Stephen King got bored of constantly answering the question, "Why do you write horror stories?" and so he used his lectures on the subject of Gothic literature at the University of Maine to draw up a non-fiction book about the horror genre.  The resulting work - Danse Macabre - covered horror fiction in print, radio, film and comics, and the genre's influence on U.S. popular culture in the period from 1950 to 1980.  The book came out in 1982, and immediately caught the attention of the public, first by shining some light on King's personal attachment to horror comics and films in his youth - all told in the casual style typical for his fiction - and then by exploring common archetypes such as the Vampire-Werewolf-Thing trinity, and the Apollonian-Dionysian nature of horror. The book serves particularly well as a document of American radio programs, B-movies and TV productions made during the period covered, although King does get a bit stuck in the mud on few occasions such as the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series of which he is very critical.

All in all, Danse Macabre is the best starting point for anybody who has passed the stage of mere curiosity about the genre and has acquired proper interest for scary movies and books. Given King's masterful storytelling, I'd even say that anybody with taste for non-fiction would enjoy this book for what it is. Simply put, Danse Macabre is one of the most important books ever published on the horror genre, along with H.P. Lovecraft's own Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) and Carol J. Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992). 

Download Danse Macabre, and have fun while reading it, or go on and buy it - it's a book worth reading a couple of times.

April 13, 2009

Episode 1: Invitation to Dance

"...where every Friday is Friday the 13th!"

The new show "Danse Macabre" on radio Kanal 103 (Skopje, Macedonia) kicked off in gory style on Friday, March 10. Hosted by Ivica Serdarot and a revolving door of ├╝bercool friends, from now on the show will be casting magic spells via FM radio every Friday at midnight.

"Danse Macabre" is the French phrase for the widespread concept/allegory known as the Dance of Death in the English language, Danza Macabra in Italian and Spanish, and Totentanz in German. La Danse Macabre consists of the personified death leading a row of dancing skeletal figures from all walks of life to the grave. In the late-medieval period, the concept was produced to remind people of how fragile their lives were. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts, the earliest known artistic example found in a Parisian cemetery dating from 1424. 

As the visual image of Death personified, the Dance of Death is nowadays routinely tied to the horror genre and related events such as the annual celebration of Halloween. 

In this sense, the show "Danse Macabre" is a late night radio program with a horror sensibility, a program that pays its respect to the genre by focusing on all of its manifestations and quirks, having fun with its better-known monsters and creatures, introducing its more obscure representatives, and finally, discussing some serious current issues through the prism of the macabre. Oh, and there's some great music, too! :)

Playlist for episode numero uno

Starting from episode 2, blog visitors will be able to download entire show playlist, and if the gods of currently available technology allow us, we'll put entire shows available for download - but be warned! the show usually goes in Macedonian, hehe...

That's it for introductions. Check this space for regular updates, and stay swell in the meantime!