Some have seen it, some have not. For the latter, this is your chance to check out Ray Santilli's alien autopsy video which is admittedly fake but for a long time during the 1990s gave people something to dream about.
May 28, 2009
In all likelihood, you have seen Mars Attacks! but you still cannot decide whether it's good or bad. Well, you're a bit older now and you have seen more of the world. Your understanding of movies and especially early science fiction / horror flicks has improved and your tastes have moved along with it. You have seen that Will Smith remake of The Day When the Earth Stood Still and you are also aware of the original from 1951 as well the batch of similar films that also came out during the 1950s. Well, it is due time you re-watch Mars Attacks! and absorb all its genius the way those pesky little aliens smoke nuclear bombs! Let's face it: every single scene in the film is there for a reason and every single angle you look at / approach its contents is both ridiculously funny and freakishly scary. Plus, it has a double dose of Jack Nicholson AND megaplus, Tom Jones sings to save the day! Trust me, re-watch and you'll wonder why on earth you didn't like it the first time around. Then again, if you already like it, well... repetitium est mater studiorum!
May 25, 2009
Amazing sights the human eye has never seen before! Frankly, I love this new 3D wave (My Bloody Valentine etc.) as it gives us the chance to re-live part of cinema's past. If they'd only show old movies in this format, too. Ah, well...
May 24, 2009
On 22 May, we aired an episode devoted to the duality of that big old Count Dracula, and the ways in which this duality has led to the separation of modern fictional vampires into basically two tribes, the Sinister Sexual Deviants (stretching from Bela Lugosi's charming Dracula) and the Riders of the Plague (evolving from Max Schreck's rat-like Count Orlok). What will follow in this post are some observations on the Dracula / Nosferatu movies and comments on certain peculiarities about both. If you find the text boring, just scroll down to the playlist and stream the latest show :)
About daytime TV and classic horrors
Back in the mid-1990s, a local television station used to run a marathon of old horror movies including Universal and Hammer productions, which it played at noon every working day of the week. Since this was a period of the day immediately after school when nothing was happening and there was little else on TV, I more or less mechanically fell into watching some of the classic movies of the genre, among which were all the original Dracula movies. My reaction at the time was, "Well, they're not that scary," and if compared to some of the PG movies I had seen like The Goonies and the second Indiana Jones for instance, they were indeed pretty tame. Case in point: if one lives by the cinema's version of truth, the bats seem to be much bigger in India than they are in Transylvania.
But Dracula movies were entertaining in more ways than one. First, there was Bela Lugosi whose appearance and accent were absolutely magnetic even as everyone around him appeared amateurish at best, including the screenplay writer. Then, there was the moment of waiting through the entire duration of Son of Dracula for the characters within to realize what Alucard spelled backwards means, which against better judgment is surprisingly entertaining, much like someone else's stupidity can be amusing. Finally, there was the genuine stuff of horror. I particularly liked Christopher Lee as the Count, for three reasons: 1. there was blood on the screen, 2. the movies were in color, and 3. was it me or was there sexual tension between the vampires and their victims? Just look at the trailer for the first Hammer Dracula and tell me I'm imagining.
Without Van Helsing, there is no Dracula
That Christopher Lee had Peter Cushing as Professor Abraham Van Helsing on his tail was also a big plus in my book. Cushing's Van Helsing is a full-on action hero with strong personality and human failings, which makes him the perfect vampire hunter. Universal's Van Helsing, on the other hand, was played by the epically annoying and bully-ish Edward Van Sloan, the same actor who played Dr. Waldman in Boris Karloff's Frankenstein, and who seemed to be a much worse disease to society (and Bela Lugosi's film) than any vampire in all of history. Sir Anthony Hopkins in Coppola's version is somewhere between these two with a slight spice of Hannibal Lecter thrown in for good measure. In many ways then, the treatment of Van Helsing in the Dracula movies is indicative of the direction and quality of the movies themselves. I'll be watching the movies with Jack Palance and Frank Langella just to see if this is true (note: at this point in time, those two versions seem utterly useless, save maybe for the performances).
Realism instead of sensationalism in Nosferatu
But then, there's Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror, which severely reduces the role of Van Helsing, a move that is very significant to what the movie and its heritage are really about. You see, in the Dracula novel and movies, Van Helsing is part of the solution of the problem, which is a combination of sexual awakening and invasion of foreign values. While Nosferatu is still based on Bram Stoker's novel, it contains no sexual implications whatsoever and most everything in it is sterile and cold to the point that there are no values to stand for. Instead, Nosferatu is about plague and death, and Van Helsing cannot do much about either in the same manner people feel powerless in front of new viruses such as the swine fly nowadays. Like death, Count Orlok is a remorselessly hungry monster, a fact that Shadow of the Vampire uses to define obsession.
The above is especially important for Herzog's version of Nosferatu where we get to see death in masses as a direct consequence of the Count's arrival as a flock of mice (in this version, the Count's name reverts to Dracula but the appearance and everything else remains true to Murnau's vision). Some might argue that Klaus Kinski's take the Count does send hints of sexual desire, and one could use the poster below as evidence, but I disagree: the Count himself is a sick man that longs to feel healthy again, and there is nothing sexual in the cold mechanics of his feeding, not from the Count's side and definitely not from Lucy Harker's side. This brutally realistic simplicity in the place of the usual treacherous romanticism is what I love about the Nosferatu films, why I prefer them over the Dracula films (of course, here I'm ignoring the sequel, the maligned Nosferatu in Venice from 1988, which has little in common with its predecessor apart from the lead actor).
Check out the following sequence. It easily fits into my 10 best scenes from the 1970s...
Now it's time for the playlist, which draws heavily from the soundtrack from From Dusk 'Till Dawn as well as some hits from the last century. Click here for streaming.
Finally, before I leave you with the full version of Murnau's Nosferatu I'll just mention 'Salem's Lot and 30 Days of Night. You figure out what they mean... :) 'Till next episode...
May 23, 2009
It all started back in 1897 when Bram Stoker published his critically acclaimed novel about the evil Count from Transylvania that got on the nerves of some boring Englishmen. It really kicked off, however, in 1931 when Universal released the first "official" Dracula film starring Bela Lugosi (who had previously played the Count on theater stages across the States) and hasn't stopped ever since. For the last 78 years we've had Lon Chaney Jr., Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Udo Kier, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman and Gerard Butler all play Dracula at one point or another; we've had Dracula battle Frankenstein and Batman; we've had black Dracula, Warhol's Dracula, and even Turkish Dracula; and let's not forget, we've had freakin' Count Chocula cereals! So... that reminder aside, let's just go to previewing some of the posters that stand proudly (and sometimes not so proudly) behind of some of these movies. Enjoy!
May 22, 2009
Of course it was going to happen at some point: an episode devoted to dreams and The Sandman. For this occasion, we invited director Sasa Stanisic as a guest to give us a picture of why this series of graphic novels is so successful not just as entertainment but as an art work with a multitude of layers within layers. His answer in summary, it's because of how well the author Neil Gaiman establishes the novel's world where ancient myths and popular culture intersect. Our answer is a bit less constructed: it's because Morpheus looks a lot like Robert Smith from the Cure (even though he really copies the physical appearance of the author himself). Plus, it doesn't hurt that the stories are so touchy: take one element out of each Sandman tale, and it all falls apart into a stream of piled up emotions... which, of course, adds to the drama of narration.
We also discussed some aspects of dreaming as well as the horror of waking up into infinity, a concept that gives fuel to one of the scariest non-horror films of the last 10 years, Richard Linklater's Waking Life. Freddy Krueger was also mentioned briefly, and of course, mostly in the context of the blood geyser sequence everyone is talking about...
Now the playlist for The Endless Dream... As you will notice, the song selection for this episode is divided in two radically different halves, the first devoted to "totally uncool" golden oldies that are not only quoted in Neil Gaiman's masterpiece, but also happen to be among my favorite single songs of all time; and the second soaking in a much darker sound full of "hits" such as Einsturzende Neubauten's "Armenia." More importantly, starting from this episode the show is fully recorded and available for your listening experience by clicking HERE...
Finally, it would be a terrible shame to omit the classic homage to the Candy Colored Clown: Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet! Sweet dreams...
If you own the rights to any of the material poster here and would like it removed, please e-mail me and I will take it down.
May 19, 2009
Episode 5, "Dance of the Bogeymen" (aired on May 8), is by far the weirdest of the ones we've had so far, indulging in every screwball track and musical number that would fit in Rocky Horror's Brad and Jannet's sleeves. The episode was partially devoted to the concept of the "bogeyman" and the different forms it takes around the globe, from the "small man" in the Bahamas to "bussemanden" in Denmark to "babaroga" in Croatia and Macedonia. In one way or another, most of the modern horror villains can be considered as bogeymen, and this holds particularly true for Michael Myers (well, duh, "Was that the boogieman?" quote at the end of Halloween pretty much spells it out).
The second part of the show was devoted entirely to musicals, including well-known tracks from Rocky Horror Picture Show and Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as more recent fare coming from the soundtrack for Repo! The Genetic Opera. This combination is a bit of a roller coaster ride, what with Nightmare's gorgeous rhymes, Rocky's bohemian party 'till you drop attitude, and Repo's industrial carny aggression. It was indeed a weird show, and I loved every second of it :)
Finally, HERE you can download the complete playlist of the night. Enjoy!
If you own the rights to any of the material poster here and would like it removed, please e-mail me and I will take it down.
May 18, 2009
I stumbled on True Blood a few weeks ago, and I must say I'm mightily impressed by the first four episodes. Created by the team behind Six Feet Under, this relatively new show is about a world where vampires attempt to live along humans, and where humans for some reason are completely out of their freakin' minds. Well, the 1st season of the show has made a big splash apparently, and the 2nd season will be kicking things off in big fashion come June 14, so let this post serve you as a reminder or eye-opener, whatever you prefer.
May 17, 2009
By now, introducing Neil Gaiman's Sandman should be as completely superfluous as introducing the Batman, but it isn't. People that don't read comics on regular basis are generally unaware of Gaiman's achievements in literature. Blame the mainstream media, and blame Pavlov: they are responsible for conditioning the public to take notice only if something is adapted as a blockbuster motion picture. Then again, maybe it is better this way. The Sandman should feel very personal and shared only with the chosen few. But don't take my word. Just read the first book and decide for yourself. Or, if you have already read it, pat yourself on the back. In any case, I don't feel up to the task to give proper introduction to one of the most profound characters in comics, and I will instead provide you with this link and that link. Enjoy, and sweet dreams!
Macedonian TV production is not particularly rich. You can count on one hand the programs that have made impact over a longer period of time: Tussled Alphabet, Dossier Skopje, Boo! Tailors, K-15, and last but not least, Stories from the Macedonian Folklore (all my translations). Since this is a blog about horror, it has to be stressed that none of these shows has been created to scare people, but that said, certain characters or episodes of each can easily be edited into more traditional horror shows or anthologies.
"Dream," an episode of Stories... stands out in particular with its macabre story line, and thick atmosphere. For some reason, it really reminds me of Italian film productions in the late 1970s, and its finale is actually quite shocking given that it was targeting children. That the episode includes a few oniric sequences is also a big plus in my book. So, for the reasons stated above, below you will find both parts of the episode for your viewing pleasure (in Macedonian only!).
Oh, and just one last thought before I let you go: pay attention to the eerie synth-laden soundtrack, and if you know where it comes from, please leave a comment or e-mail me.
May 12, 2009
When I was a kid, I found werewolf movies unbearably scary. Late at night, I would have sneaked quietly in the living room to watch some movie, say Silver Bullet (1985), and then spend most of the running time with my eyes covered by a sweaty piece of blanket. I was scared of the werewolves even when they were in their "normal" human shapes - there was something wrong about them.
This fright of mine might have had something to do with the mega-impressive poster for The Company of Wolves that hung from the walls of my neighborhood video store, adding fuel to my fantasies every time I'd drop by to rent a VHS. "How did that wolf get in there?" I was thinking. "Is it possible for the man to have eaten the wolf?" I was shocked, my already weak grasp of human anatomy completely shattered by the remote possibility that there could be enough space for a full grown wolf in the adult man's body.
Well, years passed, and at some point I finally watched The Company of Wolves only to realize that I had known it all along as the Little Red Riding Hood story. Nowadays, having read so much additional literature, I also know what the wolf-inside-the-man poster really signifies (Mr. Hyde, please say hello). Does any of it help? No, not at all. I still feel rather uncomfortable with werewolf movies, more so than with any other subgenre, and if you ask me why, the following list is what I would have to offer instead of an answer:
1. The Company of Wolves (1984)
As someone somewhere said, The Company of Wolves is not really a horror movie but a complex psychologically charged tale about growing up into adolescence. Your preferred analyst - Freud? Jung? - gets an invitation as well, as most of the story is told through dreams that often go in unexpected directions. Brought to the screen by director Neil Jordan along with masterful design and transformation scenes, this movie is rather hard to find but it is a truly unforgettable experience that will change your outlook on folklore fairy tales and scary movies.
2. Howling (1981)
Forget slashers, the Michaels and Jasons of the world. If you want to know where scary movies really were at in the 1980's, just check out The Howling, a film that single-handedly brought back the werewolf to the mainstream, all while presenting a critique on the werewolf tale and some of the media issues that would define the rest of the decade. Forever tied through the special effects department to that other werewolf film that hit cinemas only months later in 1981 (see below), The Howling is slightly weak on characterization but it completely makes up for it with a plot that is both fast-moving and neatly layered, and of course, the transformation scene that would set the standard for ever and ever. Oh, and please disregard those wrecks that pose as sequels - the people behind them have been punished enough.
3. Dog Soldiers (2002)
Dog Soldiers is a beast of the best kind: a tabloid werewolf version of Predator (1987) on steroids! That director Neil Marshall knows what he's doing can be picked up from the start, especially as we get to know the main characters of the ride that follows, the British soldiers sent to a disastrous training mission in the Scottish wilderness. Apart from the frenzied action sequences that run through the second half of the film, what really sets Dog Soldiers apart is the strong attitude and cheeky humor that cut deep through its bones. The film isn't boring for a single second and that last shot is bloody brilliant both in its irony and the double meaning that few people have really picked on - was everything in the film just a retelling of what the guy has said in the paper?
4. The Wolf Man (1941)
a. Before The Wolf Man and Lon Chaney Jr. there were no werewolves in movies, but only hairy men pretending to be werewolves - just check out Werewolf of London (1935) for comparison; b. Before The Wolf Man there was nothing anywhere about silver being used to hurt or kill werewolves, so this is really where all modern stories began; c. "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright..." 'Nuff said.
5. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Trailing The Howling by four months, and thus becoming that other werewolf movie of the year, was probably distressing for director John Landis who had worked on this film as a pet project for no less than 10 years. Luckily, non of the tension-behind-the-scenes shows in the final product, and the film won lots of money upon its release, as well as an Oscar for best make up. What's more important, the serious footed horror comedy combo that Landis re-introduced to cinema works really well 28 years later, even as the special effects - as amazing as they were at the time - have aged significantly. However, one thing has always bugged me about the American Werewolf in London: it is a damn dark movie, maybe too dark, given how likable the main character is and how the humor surrounds his tragedy. Should I mention the transformation scene again? :)