Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Frights: Beautiful Horrors

Horror films don't by necessity have to be ugly-looking. Some excellent movies combine fear and dread with some of the most stunning visuals you'll ever see.

Masque of the Red Death (1964)
One of the many adaptations of Poe stories done in the 1960s, Masque of the Red Death is exceptional for several reasons. It features a nicely evil performance by Vincent Price which, while not rising to the heights of 1968's Witchfinder General, avoids the hamminess that marred some of his genre outings. Price gets good support from Hazel Court and Jane Asher as, respectively, his wife and a young innocent he's bent on corrupting. The screenplay does a good adaptation of the story, combining it with another Poe tale, "Hop Frog." And most of all, it looks gorgeous, thanks mainly to cinematography by Nicolas Roeg. While the plot is (as with all Poe adaptations) slight at best, the use of color is a feast for the eyes, with even such simple things as candles looking lovely in shades of deep green, with the colored rooms and costumes, and, most hauntingly, the various figures of death in all their colors. Watch the trailer.

Suspiria (1977)
Dario Argento's classic is a triumph of style over substance. A young ballerina (the always underrated Jessica Harper) arrives at a German dance academy, and soon discovers that the entire faculty is a coven of witches. Said coven is basically an excuse to show inventive murders, but the film's great triumph is its look. Its use of color (with scenes bathed in gorgeous green, blue, or red light) and use of light (deepest black punctuated by flashes of light both worldly and unworldly) make us believe in the supernatural goings-on even when the screenplay can't. The whole movie has a fever-dream quality that stays with you long afterward.
Watch the trailer.

Les Yeux Sans Visage (1960)
Georges Franju's haunting, melancholy film takes a much quieter approach to horror than the other two films mentioned above. A Parisian doctor kidnaps young women so he can use transplants to restore the beauty of his daughter's face (which was badly scarred in a car accident). The daughter (Edith Scob in an iconic performance) wears a white mask that hides her face except for her eyes, which convey the girl's deep sadness as transplant after transplant fails and her father's attempts become more misguided. The haunting black-and-white cinematography at times gives the film a fairy-tale quality and at other times is coldly clinical in its portrayal of just what the father is doing. Recommended for any horror enthusiast.
Watch the trailer.

Next week: Get out your toys in the attic - it's time for some tales of ordinary madness.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Frights: Old-School Spookiness

Hello and welcome to the first of this month's Friday Frights, a weekly celebration of the horror genre.

This week I want to call out some nice, old-fashioned horrors. They're spooky and eerie and a bit genteel, but don't worry — I'll bring on the crazier stuff in future installments.

The Changeling
This sublime ghost story came out in the early 1980s and was buried in a glut of horror films, but it's got a considerable cult following. George C. Scott is John, a composer whose wife and daughter die in a roadside accident. Three months later, the still-grieving John is trying to move on with life; he takes a teaching position at a college and rents a gorgeous old mansion so he'll have the peace and quiet he needs to create. Unfortunately, peace and quiet are in short supply as he is wakened each morning by rhythmic banging noises and experiences other strange phenomenon. It's soon clear that the mansion is haunted by the ghost of a child, and the screenplay cleverly gives John a reason to stay in the haunted house, as he hopes to help the child to ease his grief and assuage his guilt at being unable to save his own child. But John uncovers some nasty, buried secrets and learns why the child's ghost is not at rest.

The Changeling's scares may bore some modern audiences, especially those used to jump cuts and gore shots. There's almost no blood, though there is a fairly upsetting scene of murder. What makes the movie work so well is its melancholy tone and its sympathetic characters, particularly John. Recommended, and it's the sort of movie you can watch with your folks.

The Monkey's Paw
This classic short story by W. W. Jacobs has been imitated countless times, but is premise never gets old. That's because it offers a dark take on the ultimate wish — to bring a loved one back from the dead. A nice old couple obtain the titular monkey's paw, which has the power to grant three wishes. The couple wish for cash, and get it — as an insurance settlement when their son dies in a horrific accident. The grief-stricken mother uses the paw for her second wish — for the son to be alive again. But will this wish be fulfilled in the way she hopes? Read it and let me know what you think.

Carnival of Souls
This low-budget wonder, made by film-makers who usually did educational and training films, opens with a carful of boys challenging a carful of girls to a drag race. The girls' car goes off a bridge and into a river, and a considerable time later, sole survivor Mary is found on the muddy river shore with no clear recollection of how she survive the accident. Mary almost immediately starts driving to a far town to take a job, and along the way finds herself haunted by a mysterious, cadaverous man and drawn to an abandoned lakeside pavilion. While the story of Carnival of Souls is slight and its ending has been stolen so many times that it will no longer be the jaw-dropper it no doubt was back in 1962, it's still remarkable in its use of sound and especially imagery, some of which is still being imitated in movies to this day. It may not surprise you, but it will definitely stay with you.

I hope these works get your October off to a good start!

Next Friday: Beautiful Horrors or, When Scary is Pretty

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Rant Alert: I Hate September

I know that T. S. Eliot said that April was the cruelest month, but my least favorite time of the year is September.

For me, the main problem with September is one of geography. In other parts of the country, September is the start of autumn. It's a time when the weather starts cooling and leaves start falling. Whereas in Southern California, September is actually one of the hottest months of the year - certainly hotter than June, which is notorious for its overcast skies known as "June gloom."

This wouldn't be a problem except that my mailbox gets full of foodie catalogs going on and on about roasting and "savor the flavors of fall" and hey look here's our Thanksgiving preview issue. All this while it's still 90 damn degrees here and I'm stuck grilling again when what I really want to do is roast some potatoes or make a big pot of soup.

Even throwing out the catalogs doesn't help, because if you venture out of the house into the 90-degree heat, every Starbucks you pass is selling pumpkin-spiced* drinks, in honor of fall. And those just don't work when you're in your shorts and sweating every time you poke your head out the door.

And part of the problem with September is that it's supposed to be fall but is really still summer - the most overrated of all the seasons. Summer stopped being fun for me when I stopped getting summer vacations (moving to a much less temperate area of California didn't help either). Summer sucks when you're a responsible adult, as you have to deal with erratic family schedules (not to mention having to plan summer camps and whatnot months in advance) and with finding the sweet spot for running the A/C (just enough so everyone isn't constantly hot and uncomfortable, not enough to require declaring bankruptcy).

So that person you see in a house with the thermostat set at 79, looking grumpy and browsing through cookbooks in anticipation of going nuts with roasting when the weather cools? That would be me. I hate September.

*Personally I find anything that is pumpkin-spiced and isn't pie or bread to be disgusting, but that's not the point.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

Kelly's Big Score: Cinematic Edition

So a friend was purging his DVD shelves and offering movies for a few bucks. For a mere pittance I got:

  • Marathon Man
  • Thriller: A Cruel Picture
  • Prince of Darkness
  • Theater of Blood
  • The Exorcist
  • Long Weekend
  • They Live
  • Straw Dogs
  • Jackie Brown
  • Grindhouse Trailer Classics

Lots of stuff for me to watch!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Comic-Con 2015 Day 4: Thrilling Adventures and Relative Relaxation

We got up at a reasonably civilized hour and packed up for the last day of con. First on the agenda was the Thrilling Adventure Hour over at Nerd HQ. I confess that the Thrilling Adventure Hour is one of those things I haven't found time to get into, even though it seems right up my alley. The panel was fun and laugh-filled, and Amy Acker is just as sweet and charming as she was in Angel and Much Ado About Nothing (seriously, she's like a flower).

After the panel it was time for one last round of shopping, and I also went back to Nerd HQ for a while to sip a cocktail and enjoy the relative peace and quiet. Then it was back to the convention center for the showing of the Buffy musical "Once More With Feeling." This had an added bonus of an appearance by Juliet Landau, talking about her forthcoming documentary on vampires in myth, legend and pop culture. Unfortunately, the showing of the musical itself was plagued by both technical issues and by audience members booing and yelling insults at Dawn's character. (I've encountered Dawn haters before but never this bad, and I just don't get it.)

I left a bit early to swing by the Ralph's and get some food to eat while I waited for the train home. I got to the train station early, as I only had a coach seat and I've seen how nuts it gets for the train leaving San Diego. I boarded the train without incident, and am not writing this blog entry. (Thanks, Amtrak wifi!)

Tomorrow this post will be updated with photos and some final thoughts on the con.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Comic-Con 2015 Day 3: No Hate for the Hateful Eight

I got up at a really unpleasant hour of the morning to get in line for Hall H and the panel for Quentin Tarantino's new film, The Hateful Eight. (I refuse to sleep out all night for any panel that doesn't involve a full-body massage administered by Bruce Campbell.) I followed the line past the tents, out past the marina, and onto an area nicknamed "the island" by Hall H line campers. Whilst waiting, I chatted with a nice guy named Henry, and eventually the line compressed as people got out of their sleeping bags. We ended up under the tents and figured that this meant we would get into the hall. Sure enough, we were ushered in with room to spare and settled down for the panels.

The view from the end of the Hall H line, about 6 a.m.

The first was the Warner Brothers panel, which featured previews of (and extremely brief panels for) The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Pan, Suicide Squad, and Batman vs. Superman. All of these movies certainly look well made, but nothing seemed particularly compelling about them. It was nice to see Hugh Jackman at the panel for Pan, though.

After that it was a combo panel for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and for Patient Zero. Of the two, the latter actually seems a bit more interesting primarily because of the cast (two Game of Thrones alumni, Matt Smith doing a credible American accent, and Stanley Tucci being a boss). But nothing that can't wait for Netflix.

Then we finally had what I had come here for: Tarantino introducing his new film, The Hateful Eight. Actually, first off was a filmed intro with Samuel L. Jackson explaining the the movie was filmed in 70mm Panavision and that a limited-engagement "roadshow" release was planned. (Consider my ticket bought.) Then Tarantino was there, being his usual hyper, verbose self; cast members Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern (among others) didn't get to talk much but all seemed very enthusiastic about the film. The capper to the panel was that we all got swag: a lobby-card-style poster for the film.

Kurt Russell at the Hateful Eight panel.

Quentin Tarantino at the Hateful Eight panel.

After the panel I met Scott for lunch (at The Field, a very good Irish pub), and then we did a bit more looking around at the vendor room before heading upstairs to a panel that showed a planned (but never published) 3-D EC comic, complete with a dramatic reading and 3-D glasses. Lots of fun. Dinner was at a mediocre and overpriced BBQ place.

And of course, it wouldn't be Comic-Con without some cosplayers and other oddities.

"Stay on target."

Cosplaying scooter riders.

Nux and Imperator Furiosa out for dinner. WITNESS ME!

Tomorrow: Thrilling Adventure Hour and one last round of shopping.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Comic-Con 2015 Day 2: Con Men and Deadites

Had a relatively restful morning, taking our time and getting to the Con before opening time. We loitered outside, waiting for the doors to open so we could hit the exhibitor floor. This wait was made annoying by various SDCC personnel who gave us much conflicting information about when the doors would open and which entrance we should use, but eventual it was all sorted out. The wait was also notable for that elusive phenomenon of spotting a celebrity in the wild (i.e., not as part of a panel or other scheduled appearance), when I saw Nathan Fillion walking outside the con, heading in the general direction of Hall H. This would not be my last encounter with Mr. Fillion this day.

Once we got in, Scott and I spent a good couple hours looking around. I got a Dalek t-shirt for Alex, and a Fantagraphics collection of George Evans's comics work for myself. Scott was given a free poster at Shout Factory for being a punk rock enthusiast. 

After lunch I headed over to Nerd HQ for the Con Man panel. While I was waiting I got myself a Nerd HQ messenger bag, which I like because it's pink (I can incorporate it into my "Let's take pink back from the princesses" campaign). Then it was on to the panel itself, which was lots of fun. The guests were: Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, P.J. Haarsma, Tricia Helfer, Alison Haislip, Michael Trucco, Nolan North, and Casper Van Dien. We got to see the trailer for Con Man and hear about the making of the web series, which looks like it's going to be a hilarious yet respectful look at the con life.

Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion at the Con Man Nerd HQ panel 
(my apologies for crappy photo quality)

I was prepared to immediately leave after the panel was over and hustle back to the convention center, as I wanted to be sure we got into the Ash vs. Evil Dead panel, but the Nerd HQ folks had a surprise for us. The Con Man panel were going to take pictures with all 200 panel attendees. Well, I could hardly pass that up, as you can see.

Nathan Fillion doesn't seem to like my hat very much.

After that bit of fun, I got back to the convention center. Scott and I ended up camping out in the Sense8 panel (which was just its creator talking, no other panelists) and then enjoying the Ash vs. Evil Dead panel. We got to see two versions of the trailer, and then hear from guests that included Sam Raimi, Lucy Lawless (it's very strange to hear her speak in her natural Kiwi accent), and the ever-awesome Bruce Campbell. Bruce was in fine form, being both funny and snarky, and even hosting an impromptu Ash cosplay contest (the winner was the girl whose costume had "groovy" on the butt).

Ivan Raimi, Sam Raimi, Lucy Lawless, and Bruce Campbell whet our appetites for Ash vs. Evil Dead

After the panel, we went to Smash Burger for dinner (very tasty but at that point we were so hungry most anything would have tasted good) and then back to the hotel for a soak in the spa.

Tomorrow: Hoping to meet the Hateful Eight!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Comic-Con 2015 Day 1: A Little Business, A Little Pleasure

The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. Due to extenuating circumstances, beyond an (unsuccessful) bid to get autograph tickets for Doctor Who, I didn't get to spend any time at the con until late afternoon. Once there, I headed for the exhibitor floor, where I bought some buttons for my fangirl jacket, and then a plush Serenity from the California Browncoats.

Then it was over to William Wu Books to pass the time and see if anyone had bought my book. When I arrived, no one had, but as I was chatting, someone bought the book and I signed it for him. Thank you, Jason, for buying A Nerd Girl's Guide to Cinema! I hope you enjoy it!

After that I met up with my husband, who had driven down to the con. We went out for some very good Mexican food at La Fiesta. The margaritas were good too, hence the brevity of this post. I need to get to bed now.

Tomorrow: The Con Man panel at Nerd HQ, and hoping to encounter Bruce Campbell and some Evil Dead!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Comic-Con 2015 Day 0: Up Against the Wall

The trip down to San Diego was pleasant and uneventful. I took the Gold Line down to Union Station, where I caught the Amtrak down to San Diego. We had lucked out in getting the Town and Country hotel, which is right on the trolley, thus saving us considerable time and money. Once at the hotel we got in the first of many lines - the one to check into our hotel.

When we checked in, the clerk said that our room did not have a view, and were we OK with that? We assured her we were, but we weren't quite prepared for what "no view" meant.

The view from our balcony

After Erik and I had a good laugh and sang a rousing chorus of "Is There Anybody Out There" from the Wall album, we caught the trolley back to the convention center to get checked in. Again, we waited in a line (quelle surprise) but emerged victorious with my first ever Comic-Con Creative Professional badge. Check it out.

My badge! 

Usually I have no interest in Preview Night, but we went in briefly so I could visit Booth 5627, William Wu Books, and see my book available for sale. And there it was!

Just $15! What a bargain!

By this time we were very hungry, so we left the center and went in search of food. The Old Spaghetti Factory had no wait (have never seen that before during con) so we took advantage of the situation and ate ourselves silly on pasta and garlic bread. Then we went to Ralph's to get snack supplies for the next few days, and retired to the hotel to jump in the pool for a bit.

Tomorrow: The quest for Hall H and  panels for Doctor Who and Con Man!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Off to San Diego for Comic-Con!

This time tomorrow I should be arriving in San Diego for Comic-Con, where I'll be joining more than 100,000 of my nerdy brethren for four days of geeking out, attending panels, and standing in lines.

I'm particularly excited because my book A Nerd Girl's Guide To Cinema will be on sale at exhibitor booth 5627 (William Wu Books). Stop by, take a look at the book, pick up some free postcards and bookmarks, and who knows, you may see me there too.

I'll also be trying for the Doctor Who, Con Man, Hateful Eight, and Ash vs. Evil Dead panels, and doing my usual shopping.

Look for updates each evening! And lots of this:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thoughts on seeing "Jaws" on the big screen

It's no secret to anyone who knows me well that Jaws is one of my favorite movies. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's pretty much a perfect film. It's got a well-balanced three-act structure, a compelling story, deftly sketched characters, and excellent acting. Plus it's damned entertaining and still scary after all these years.

I got the chance to see it on the big screen for the first time ever, and it was a wonderful experience. Much as I love movies on DVD/Blu-Ray in the privacy of my own home, there's no substitute for seeing a film with an appreciative audience. (The audience at the showing of Jaws was particularly good, applauding at the famous "You're gonna need a bigger boat" line and respectfully awed at the Indianapolis monologue.)

If you're at all a fan of the film, you should seek out one of these 40th Anniversary showings put on by Fathom Events. In the meantime, here is my review of it from my book A Nerd Girl's Guide To Cinema:

I try not to throw around the words “masterpiece” or “perfection” too often, but I really have to use them when I talk about Jaws. Everything about it just works so well. The terror it instills in the audience. The three-act dramatic structure. The performances, especially by the three leads. John Williams’ famous score. I could go on and on. And it’s still being ripped off and paid homage to more than thirty years after its release.Jaws is one of those movies that is so embedded in the American culture that even people who haven’t seen it know the basics, but here goes. A great white shark decides to make the New England island of Amity his lunch buffet, his first victim being an unlucky skinny-dipper. Water-phobic sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider in an underrated performance), a New York City √©migr√© who’s still settling into his role as Amity’s leading lawman, wants to close the beaches but the mayor (odious Murray Hamilton), who’s thinking only of the dollars the summer tourists bring in, won’t have it. More deaths happen, and it’s up to Brody along with ichthyologist Hooper (hyper Richard Dreyfuss) and fisherman/shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) head out to sea to kill the shark.It’s hard to pinpoint what makes Jaws so effective after all these years. Certainly there’s the unease all of us have, consciously or not, at being in the ocean where we are (literally) out of our element. The ocean is big, its motion is out of our control, and most of the time you can’t see what’s around you. There really is no way to know what’s swimming just beyond you or beneath you. And it’s not easy to escape it, as the scene of panicked beach-goers fleeing the water demonstrates: people flounder, get knocked over, and no matter how fast they move they’re no match for the predator that’s after them.
That’s a major factor, but what really makes Jaws work is how real it feels. If the movie was made today, the beaches of Amity would be packed with pretty hardbodies. But the beaches of Jaws are full of ordinary people. Families, people of every age and variety, from the partiers in the opening scene to the wannabe landscape painter who sees the shark in the estuary. They’re people just like us and we identify with them.
Of the shark-hunting trio, it’s Brody we meet first, and though he’s the least entertaining of the three, he’s the one we relate to. He’s a man who’s decent — even honorable. He’s left crime-ridden New York City behind and, despite his deep fear of the water (notice during the second shark attack scene, he runs down to the water but doesn’t get his feet wet) has moved to an island to give his wife and children a better life. He’s “not an Islander” and is still finding his way among the town’s petty politics; it’s not his fault that the beaches aren’t closed and more deaths occur, but as a lawman he feels responsible. And when his own son has a narrow escape from the shark it’s his duty not just as a lawman but as a father to help find and kill the shark. Always an underrated actor, Scheider gives an excellent performance, particularly when the action moves to Quint’s boat and he is completely (and literally of course) in over his head, relegated to “chum duty” because he doesn’t know which rope to pull. Probably his best acting moment is during a night-time attack by the shark when Brody draws his handgun and wears a look of fear as he realizes that the weapon that may have served him in the past will do no good.
Fear and bravery are two themes that come up often during the movie’s third act, from Brody’s last stand against the shark to Hooper’s descent into the shark cage. Throughout the shark hunt scenes we’ve seen Hooper’s boyish enthusiasm over the shark become increasingly manic in response to the “arrr, I don’t need a city boy on me ship” taunts from Quint. (It’s interesting that Quint never taunts Brody but rather treats him with a sort of benign pity.) But all of Hooper’s bluster goes away when he’s ready to go into the shark cage, and is unable to spit into his mask because the fear reaction has dried up his saliva. Likewise, all of Quint’s “here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women” banter goes away, first when he gives his haunting monologue about the USS Indianapolis, then when he realizes that of the hundreds of sharks he’s hunted, this one may be his match.
Today’s blockbusters are so big, so loud, so focused on the next big thrill that they’ve forgotten how to tell stories and get audience members involved. Jaws could be made again. Yes, the shark would look better. But the soul of the movie — ordinary people against the terrors the deep can hold — would be lost. If you need your faith in the power of cinema restored, watch Jaws again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thursday, June 11, 2015