November 30, 2009

Episode 18 - The Dark Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents… some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age.”

H.P. Lovecraft in “The Call of Cthulhu”

Everyone knows Stephen King, everyone knows Edgar Allan Poe, but ask your friends and I bet you'll get the same answer from 9 out of 10: "No, I don't know H.P. Lovecraft. Should I?" Well, there is a strong enough reason why Danse Macabre kicks off its journey through the long list of literary and cinematic horror authors with the candle-carrying fellow pictured above and below. It just wouldn't be possible to continue with the show at this point without introducing the most influential horror writer of the 20th century - Mr. Howard Phillips Lovecraft out of Providence, Rhode Island, United States, born in 1890 and passed on in 1937.

If you're asking yourself whether you've seen any film based on his works, please don't. Although there are numerous films that carry the Lovecraft name, few of them can even begin to compare with the written word. Of course, there's the cult horror comedy known as Re-Animator (1985) based on the short story "Herbert West: Re-Animator" but it's the exception rather than the rule. Besides, the film never deals with the philosophy that festers at the roots of Lovecraft's work and makes this skinny fellow influential to this very day.

OK, so let's try to sum Lovecraft in a couple of paragraphs. As you'll notice, it takes bits and pieces from another author we have discussed i.e. Mary Shelley, and more importantly, every current author of the macabre worth his salt is indebted to some extent to Lovecraft (King and Barker, especially). Well, here it goes...

As deep as the human imagination might seem to us, humanity cannot really grasp concepts that go beyond its existence, beyond that which makes itself apparent. Science does give us new answers each day but it has its limitations. We are as small in the grand scheme of the World as a microbe is small in comparison to us, so how could we ever aspire to understand what lies on the other side of our current knowledge? How could we aspire to control it? To surpass it?

Lovecraft's heroes, stranded before alien civilizations and strange cults, are aware of the power hidden behind these great truths, yet they continue to challenge them in their search for a semblance of real knowledge. When faced with the truths of the Universe, though, these same characters go on to become clinically insane, as true knowledge becomes so horrifying to them that they feel it would be best to shun it. Ignorance would be bliss in face of the horrors they come to know, but still, they try to grasp them and never give up until it's too late.

Lovecraft’s cynicism towards science and human knowledge is pervasive, thus molding dark, brooding worlds where no light can be shed about its ancient, occult secrets, and where mankind faces indescribable horrors, powerless to defend itself against them. Just check out the Cthulhu mythos in all its glory.

This and more is the subject of the 18th episode of the show, originally aired on 2 October (we know we're late with the episodes but we promise, we'll get in step soon!). Musically speaking, it's time for some prog rock via King Crimson and Caravan as well as the perfectly suitable Isis and Nick Gisburne's reading of Lovecraft's early story "The Beast in the Cave".

>>> Stream the episode away!

>>> Download the whole thing and don't look back!

November 29, 2009

The Wolfman Posters

There's a lot of bad press about The Wolfman due to its difficult production process, though I'm sure there's also a pro-vampire plot against werecreatures lurking somewhere in the dark Holywood underground. Whatever the movie turns out to be in the end, the posters are here for your viewing pleasure, and while they aren't anything special, I like the light historical touch in the selection of fonts, especially on the version above the text.

November 27, 2009

Triumph of Death!

The Triumph of Death by Pieter Brueghel the Elder shouldn't be new for you. After all, the famous painting is almost 500 years old and has been used for virutally everything despite how dark it is. No, the reason we're putting it on today is just to remind you that Danse Macabre is coming near its 25th episode, which will appropriately be devoted to the Grim Reaper personified and include a few surprises. Click on the picture to enlarge!

Rolly - Suicide Kiss

Aaah... Suicide Club... It's just one of those films that is better felt than seen what with all the melancholic ultraviolence and the preference of implications over outright explanations. Take this key scene for instance: the Japanese musician known as Rolly takes the role of Genesis, an ego-maniac who does sick stuff to girls and animals just to get some media attention, and in the process encapsulates the everpresent nihilism of his surroundings - even though he has nothing to do whatsoever with any of the important events. I can imagine, if this film were made in the 1970s, it would have been the ideal David Bowie vehicle.

November 18, 2009

Akira: Original Soundtrack (1990)

No matter how hard Roland Emmerich works on destroying the world - and New York City in particular - he will never ever come close to the impact that Akira achieves with each pulse of the human nuclear bomb known as Tetsuo. That the anime film co-written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo has lost none of its sparkle in the two decades since its release is a remarkable achievement, but what's even more remarkable is that as many anime productions have been made according to its blueprint, certain elements of Akira are still without an equal.

Let's take the original soundtrack, for example: the damn thing may be a splendidly commercial mix of ethnic chants and futuristic soundscapes but it is also infused with weirdness down to its bone marrow. Needless to say, it's considered a cult classic, standing immediately next to the soundtrack for Blade Runner (fun fact: both films take place in 2019). Now of course, you've heard plenty of soundtracks that sound similar to Akira but is there anything out there that can measure to the utter menace of "Tetsuo"? Come on, the second the epic chants kick in you know you're witnessing something that's bigger than life! And don't let me get started on the string of shiny little gems such as "Doll's Polyphony", which may sound unlistenable at first but has an amazing replay value and is bound to stick with you for years. Anyway, just download it, OK? OK! :)

>>> Download the stuff!

November 15, 2009

Audition (1999)

How to describe what viewers are getting themselves into when they start watching Miike Takashi's Audition? The film is not particularly scary, nor is it gory in comparison to Miike's other works, yet it is a uniquely unsettling experience that will linger on in the memory of anyone who completes it in one sitting. People often talk about the ending and how sick and shocking it is but again, even those often quoted "last 15 minutes" aren't that horrible or strong on their own to warrant the attention the film has been getting.

If you ask me, the human drama contained in the voyage of the main character - the kind-but-lonely Shigeharu Aoyama - to win the heart of the "audition girl" is much more important. It is here that Miike scores the big points: he develops Shigeharu and the mysterious Asami step by step, layer by layer, while pitching in poignant comments about what love and loneliness are in the modern Japanese society (oh, and can you spot the actions that reek of male chauvinism?). It is only when a moving burlap bag enters the picture that one realizes how royally fucked things can get.

However, the problem doesn't lie in the body bag, the nightmare, nor the torture scene - these are all decoys to underline the hidden danger and the epic amounts of pain it can lead to. No, the real problem lies in the bed that Shigeharu and Asami share, which is all about blinding pretense born out of loneliness. I particularly love the color pallete cue at the beginning of the third act when things grow particularly nasty on the emotional front for Shigeharu.

Finally, the torture scene was actually an afterthought that popped up in the middle of the film's production. According to Miike himself, he was originally going to end the film just as Asami was preparing to do her worst to Shihegaru, but was convinced to go all the way by his associates. I wonder what the film would have looked like if the script wasn't changed. Could it have been more shocking? After all, while acupuncture and clear amputation are nasty and unexpected, I'm sure the average viewer can imagine even worse ways to end one's life.

Check out below what some well-known faces have to say about Audition. Here, kiri kiri kiri!

November 13, 2009

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

It is somewhat ironic that my favorite slasher is the one film that truly deconstructs the genre. No, it's not New Nightmare and it's certainly not Scream, even though both of these Wes Craven vehicles were interesting attempts at breathing new life to the stale subgenre. Have you ever heard of Leslie Vernon? Don't worry if you haven't: you soon shall! Mixing documentary-style analysis of slasher flicks - with heavy doses of feminist theory - and actual slasher plot, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is one of those small films that feels much much bigger. Of course, it has its failings - it's pretentious and it's not that scary - but none of that matters as it gradually unmasks every slice'n'dice flick you've ever seen. The third act and the credits scene may be predictable but it's because the film gives all the predictions you will see... except the big twist, of course, he-he... Enough talking, let's re-watch this puppy again!

P.S.: Did I mention that Robert Englund acts in a Loomis- like role here? No?

November 10, 2009

Friday the 13th Posters

The art work for Friday the 13th may not be the best thing since sliced bread but there is something oddly attractive about it, whether it's the reliance on text for the earlier films or the implicit belief that the title and the iconic hockey mask are enough to get the cinemas filled. Probably what I like the best about the posters here, though, is that there is a clear rhythm to them, which gives out the feeling that Friday the 13th is really a kooky TV show or even an animated series. Funny enough, there is a kooky TV show titled Friday the 13th, which has nothing to do with the films except for the producers and the oddly similar poster/DVD art, and Jason Voorhees has made quite a few comic book appearances. Of course, this is not the complete set of posters for the film series, but then again, would you really miss anything to do with that moronic crapfest called Jason X? Yeah, that's what I thought.

November 9, 2009

Shock Labyrinth

Takashi Shimizu, the director behind the Ju-On: The Grudge films is coming back with a new film, and as you can see here - it's got quite a nice one sheet treatment. The Shock Labyrinth is in 3D, and as far I can tell, it shouldn't have any children ghosts in it. Instead, the film is about a group of teenagers who are forced to deal with the sudden and unexpected return of a friend who’s been missing for years and is dead sick... OK, so there is a haunted hospital in here somewhere, which should be fun - after all, the trailers clearly show a roller coaster- but I wouldn't expect a masterpiece. Anyhoo, check out the clip below, but make sure you first learn Japanese :)

November 5, 2009

The House of Hammer

At one point in the 1970s, Hammer Productions released a string of 30-something magazine -format comics titled The House of Hammer. Since there is very little information online for this comics series, I'm morally obliged to tell you that the contents of each issue were rather simple retellings of Hammer's most famous movies - starting with Horror of Dracula - plus an interesting genre-related essay thrown in for good measure. Still, even as the magazine was only a continuation of a long-ish tradition of pulpy British comics, it was genuinely charming! To make things more dynamic, the subject matter often went beyond Hammer's stock characters and well into the territories of other popular monsters, which seems to have worked (although it's difficult to judge things from today's perspective, given the powerful nostalgia involved). So, let's cut things short: download the first 7 issues at The Manchester Morgue - it's the website that takes full credit for this rare find - and enjoy!

>>> Download issues 1-7, good man!

November 4, 2009

Kate Bush - Hammer Horror

Gotta love Kate Bush. Who else would release a single about a British horror films studio and back it up with a ballet act?

November 3, 2009

The Mummy (1959) Reminder

This is one of the few Hammer trailers that actually works! 50 years later, I'd still love to watch Christopher Lee as the ruthless Mummy. For some reason, this role suits him much beter than the similar role of the monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) either because The Mummy is a much more fluid film overall or because I cannot get Boris Karloff off my mind when thinking of the classic Shelley character.

November 2, 2009

Episode 17: The Greatest Hits of the Marquis De Sade

This one was always going to be a tough show due to its inherent unpleasantness as well as its utter disregard for good taste. After all, while you may not agree with the derogatory term "torture porn" I am sure you can see where it comes from. What many fail to see, however, is that not only are these films simply the most recent trend in a long-lasting cultural tradition, they are also an apt comment of the times we're living in. The good horror film needs to hit a nerve i.e. a painful issue that people would rather sweep under the rug than face it in all its ugliness. Remember Abu Ghraib? Remember Joseph Fritzl? True events stemming from the heart of our so-called civilized society that for once we cannot mask - and which are the real subject of the often detested subgenre we're discussing here.

Of course, the "torture porn" flicks are pure exploitation and generally aim for our most basic fears and not our brains. There are exceptions, though: the first Saw film and Martyrs are far from mindless and the latter digs particularly deep with its game-changing finale. Let's go a bit further back: remember Misery - the book and the film? The torture there wasn't nearly as physical as it was psychological - but it was torture nonetheless, and at the time it had something to say about both our fascination with the imaginary world of the media and the facade of the peaceful God-fearing viewer behind which evil lurks.

None of the shtick about the shallowness or depth of these films matter, though, as they cut into the collective subconscious almost instinctively, recognizing the voyeur in each of us that we would never let out on the surface in different circumstances. People who are not simply passive observers but take part in the actions, on the other hand, receive public scorn based on moral (almost never ethical) principles particularly if they're caught (like that doomed libertarian Marquis De Sade). How these same moral principles allowed for the inqusition and public lynching is beyond me, but again, logic doesn't need to play into it. Torture is natural to human beings, and films about torture are just as natural - either as an aid to face the ugly truth or as a release valve - whatever you need, really.

This isn't to say you should watch these films - at the end of the day, most of them have week stories topped with bad finishing - but in case you do, don't disregard them just because you cannot stomach them. For instance, I couldn't stomach Visitor Q but I cannot deny that beneath all the filth lies an interesting commentary about the modern Japanese family unit.

Anyhoo, on with the show, which boasts many more conversation topics including readings of the classic Hansel & Gretel story and substantial info on the infamous marquis, along with some awesome music :)

>>> Download the show, good man!

>>> Stream the show, Scottie!

November 1, 2009

Top 5 Halloween Movies

There is a very good reason why I was waiting 'till after Halloween to present my list of best movies for this special event. Namely, I first wanted to go through at least one more movie marathon before I put my stamp on any list - and what a marathon it was! Even though none of the films I watched yesterday appear on the list below, they are all interesting in one aspect or another, and they were all heaps of fun, which is precisely what I want from my Halloween movie experience. In this manner, me and my buddeis went through parts of Howling and Poltergeist, as well as the entire length of Jeepers Creepers, The Hunger (1983) and My Bloody Valentine (2009), a total amount of some 6 hours of film! Add to this Thursday's warm-up party and Friday's radio show, and I think I've had quite the perfect holiday. On to the list...

5. Creepshow (1982)

Written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero, this flick is everything it says on the posters: fun, unpretentious and scary in the old school EC Comics sense. An anthology of five stories that come alive out of a comic book during Halloween, this film gets progressively better with each passing minute, combining dark comedy with true gross-out moments and some very effective lightning effects. If you're looking for films that have the feel of comics, look no further: this is it, and it predates Sin City by 23 years! Out of the five stories my favorite would have to be "The Crate" what with its campfire three-step development, the mysterious monster that finally gets out and the sequences of wishful thinking that would become the staple of Six Feet Under much later. The film is slightly uneven and it has dated a bit but if you ask me, it only gives it additional pulpy charm. A must-see!

4. Halloween (1978)

Yes, only fourth place on this list, and there are two reasons why. 1) It is not the scariest film of all time and it's not that well-made either - the Loomis storyline is shabby at best and a disaster at worst; 2) It is not really about boogeymen or Halloween - the events happen on the 31st October but they are not necessarily tied to the holiday itself. That said, I really like the film as it carries a certain amount of subdued mystery all the way through, translating the quiet at the eye of the storm to the big screen with unexpected nuesance. While its closest-related films may be scarier (Black Christmas from 1974) or gorier (Friday the 13th from 1981), this is certainly the best of the bunch and I recommend it is seen before any of its competitors, sequels or remakes for the best effect (a difficult feat nowadays but one that needs to be aimed for). Cudos to John Carpenter for making it out of almost nothing.

3. Evil Dead II (1987)

I must admit I watched the Evil Dead films in reverse order, starting with Army of Darkness (1992), which made me well-prepared for the kind of over-the-top slapstick humor this series is known for but not the ahead-of-its-time graphic horror that marks the original film. Evil Dead II, then, is the perfect balance of the two extremes and may be one of the best 85-minute films I have ever seen. Sam Raimi vision here is so sharp and strong, the film doesn't side-track for a single second and only takes a break for 5 minutes at the end of the first act - before Raimi assaults his main hero Ash and the viewers with everything he's got. Bruce Campbell goes nuts in the role of Ash, jumping around with anger, running around from faceless monsters, or laughing maniacally as he cuts off his right hand - and all of it is as hysterically funny as it is monumentally involving. If you like your Halloween movies to be roller coaster rides full of wacked out monsters like I do, you will definitely agree with me on this pick.

2. Donnie Darko (2001)

Yes, Donnie Darko, a film that may not be horror or scary in the traditional sense but contains all the mystery, ominous foreboding and masks you're normally looking for in Halloween films, plus its key event takes place on Halloween and it references The Evil Dead in a major way. Let's call it a Halloween film with brains, then, because that's precisely what it is. I'm not sure which version to recommend - the original or the director's cut - because they are quite different in tone, and the soundtrack, which here plays a huge part in the definition of emotional cues, is shuffled from one version to the other. One thing I'm 100% sure in, however, is that the journey of the titular character has never left anyone cold, and in this time and age when we see the various media for the corporate product that they always have been, it is nice to know that there still exist narratives that escape our logical judgement and make us appreciate them with our hearts.

1. Trick 'r Treat (2009)

Nevermind the hype: it won't matter in a couple of years when this film's production history will be largely forgotten and the film will already have the status of a Halloween classic. What separates Trick 'r Treat from any other choice on this list - and any other film in the world - is that it lives and breathes the holiday, taking stabs at it from all angles, including pumpkin carving, ghost stories, street parades, candy bars with razors in them, and a few supernatural creatures here and there. The only other film that comes close to capturing the Halloween spirit as well is actually Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween, which is sadly dragged down by bad hack'n'slash script. Trick 'r Treat, on the other hand, never drags: it is simple, free-flowing and engaging at all stops of the five stories it includes, its characters interacting with each other beyond their native narrative archs in the most complementary ways, making enough room for Sam - the holiday spirit - to do the damage where it is really needed. What I find interesting about Trick 'r Treat is that it naturally extends from Creepshow, using the comic book format as a starting point as well as similar techniques to introduce tropes that originate in the 1950s, but unlike Creepshow, its moralism is strictly tied to the holiday itself. What can I say, I truly love this film!