Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The family in the Enfield case consisted of a mother, two daughters and two sons; Margaret, aged 12, a younger sister, Janet, aged 11, Johnny, aged 10 and Billy, aged 7. Billy had a speech impediment. Johnny featured only marginally in the inexplicable events, at least 26 of which the investigators considered could not be accounted for by fraud. These included moving furniture, flying marbles, interference with bedclothes, cold breezes, pools of water on the floor, apparitions, physical assaults, graffiti, equipment malfunction and failure, disappearance and reappearance of objects, apparent levitations, and fires which spontaneously ignited and extinguished themselves.

Among other alleged phenomena they witnessed was Janet speaking using her false vocal folds for hours on end while she was apparently possessed by another entity. Speaking in this way is believed to be medically impossible. When speaking with the false cords Janet said she was "Bill" who had died in the house of a brain hemorrhage. The "Bill" persona habitually made jokes and exhibited a very nasty temper, swearing at Maurice, once calling him a "fucking old sod." Grosse was contacted by a man who claimed to be Bill's son. Recordings were made of these occurrences.

Monday, January 30, 2012


So much more.

Is it true?

So I've recently found out a few things that I couldn't believe were actually true. Maybe you'll read them and go, duh Hazel that's old news! Or you'll be just as enlightened as I was.

Btw, they all concern America. You crazy Americans you! 

#1 America hasn't got any round-a-bouts. 

Seriously? I'm jealous! Over here you can't go more than ten feet without coming into contact with one! We even have DOUBLE round-a-bouts. Yeah. We're hardcore.

#2 All men are circumcised at birth

In the recent Celebrity Big Brother, two American twins were disgusted when they found out that British men aren't circumcised at birth. The British guys couldn't believe that American guys were! I did piss myself laughing when the twins asked if the sex was the same and that they'd be grossed out if confronted with a non-circumcised cock!

#3 Everyone has to do some sort of military service

This is the one I'm least sure of. Is it true? I have no idea. I just have a hard time imaging hardcore gamers or barbie bimbos actually doing this. All I know is that it would be hilarious if Britain tried to implement that system - it would undoubtedly start more riots! Which ironically, would see them fighting anyway...

So yeah, let me know if any of those are true! 

Saturday, January 28, 2012


When I first started blogging at my old blog, I posted all the time. Sometimes more than once in a day. I think I even did three posts in one day once....

But now, even though I have some ideas for posts. I lack serious motivation. It's like, I'm ready to type but the words just won't come and I'm infuriated by that white "new post" screen. Sigh. I have no doubt that once I start back at uni I'll be dying to blog compared to now when I can, but can't be bothered to.

That's just the way my world works I'm afraid!

Friday, January 27, 2012


Sorry for being such a lazy blogger lately guys, I've just been suffering from Writer's Block. So to make up for it, enjoy this new HISHE video!


Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.

Holy shit.

What's that expression? Something about putting a bunch of monkeys and typewriters into a locked room and eventually they'll write Shakespeare?

The Asylum has produced approximately 65 films, and if we're sticking with the monkey metaphor, they are still at the "hurling turds" stage.

The Amityville Haunting portrays – in the ever-so-popular found footage format – the Benson family moving into 112 Ocean Avenue. Your family unit consists of Doug (the angry Marine father), Virginia (the way-too-attractive-to-have-three-kids wife/mother), Lori (the generic bitchy teen daughter who spends the entire movie texting), Tyler (the shaggy-haired middle child/our cameraman), and Melanie (the generic youngest daughter who quite ably communicates with the ghosts while simultaneously doing nothing to dispel the stereotype of the shitty child actor). They move in, last five days, test your patience, and then die. (Spoiler.)

For those of you who don't know about The Asylum, they are an ultra low-budget production and distribution house that primarily support the horror genre. They've been in the business for over ten years, and in that time, they've developed a reputation for producing "mockbusters," which are rip-offs of more popular – and generally better – mainstream films. And when I say rip-off, I don't mean that Apollo 18 is a rip-off of Paranormal Activity. I mean that in the same year Sony released Battle: Los Angeles and The Da Vinci Code, The Asylum released Battle IN Los Angeles and The Da Vinci Treasure. When Marvel Films released Thor, suddenly Almighty Thor existed.

My personal favorite? The Asylum produced a movie with this log line:  
A race of alien robots has conquered the Earth and forced humanity underground. After three hundred years of domination, a small group of humans develop a plan to defeat the mechanical invaders in the ultimate battle between man and machine. 
It is so very awesomely called Transmorphers.

There are numerous other examples, but I believe you get the point.

The Amityville Haunting was announced not too long after another, more legitimate project was announced: The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes. What was supposed to serve as a quasi-sequel to the 2005 Ryan Reynolds-starring The Amityville Horror was put into turnaround soon after its initial announcement, I believe due to the then-financial woes of MGM. The Asylum snapped up this concept and shot their own movie – from the looks of things – in roughly a day and a half. Aping what was obviously going to be the concept, we have The Amityville Horror meets Paranormal Activity.

While it suffers from the same ailments that plague most low budget horror films (terrible acting, a terrible script, terrible pacing, and a rudimentary attempt to jazz up the execution in hopes to cover the bad odor of those three previous terrible things), I freely admit to you that during the film I became genuinely freaked out. I honestly didn’t think I would experience anything like this during the movie, but it happened. (More on that later.)

As previously mentioned, your host is unfortunately a very precocious child named Tyler. His camera-handling skills are about as adept as a dead man's ability to jazzercise. Numerous times during the film he defends his decision to film everything with the excuse, "It's for my documentary." Not a single explanation for what this documentary is about ever comes up. He also says the line, "I hate it when no one believes me!" at least three times during the movie…to himself. Over the course of five days, he never changes his clothes. Not a single time.

"I'm gonna mumble about ghosts for thirty minutes while
someone plays video games loudly in the background and my
mother makes dinner. Then I'm gonna put this on Youtube and
people are gonna care for some reason."

When the Benson family first tours the Amityville house and decide to buy it, the realtor goes outside and is immediately killed. Man, I knew the current real estate market was hurting, but I didn't think it was full-on murder!

Click me!

Tyler tells us the realtor has died of an "anerism," but still, "it's really weird!" Later, he overhears a conversation between the parents about the house's history – namely the 1974 DeFeo murders that started this whole mess in the first place – and decides the house must be haunted. While I want to commend the filmmakers for setting this film outside of the Amityville world we all know and loathe – meaning the 8 films – and having it be "the real house" in which the DeFeo murders took place, I soon quickly realized this was probably due to a legal loophole that allowed them to make this movie and not have their asses sued off by MGM/Dimension Films, who own the actual film rights. I should also mention that the house where the movie takes place is clearly nowhere near the same shape, size, or in the same location as the “real” Amityville house.

The movie goes to great lengths to establish that much horror has occurred at 112 Ocean Avenue (in the form of both a nervous realtor and a suspicious detective who later shows up and really wants to know why the hell the family would choose to live in such a terrible house). Despite this, when Tyler asks three moving men in the beginning of the film about the "Amityville house" and its legend, the three men laugh, never having heard of such a thing. The black mover even makes a joke about black people dying first in horror movies. One of the other movers responds, "You better watch out, then!"

Huh? He knows. He's the one who just made the fucking joke.

Though The Amityville Haunting desperately tries to ape the Paranormal Activity formula, it fails miserably. For instance, Paranormal Activity features escalating levels of creep and leads to a final-act death of a lead character. It's a subtle film that takes its time, and effectively so. The Amityville Haunting, however, kills six people within the first fifteen minutes (one of whom is enigmatically named Reddit), and yet you still manage to stop caring about anything happening in the film almost immediately. 

Many of the events are excruciatingly dull, and those that aren't manage to be interesting only because of the pedestrian manner in which they are executed. At no point do the ghosts actually look like ghosts, but rather bored actors in thrift store suits with a splash of blood across their faces. In fact, the one ghost that Melanie interacts with the entire movie – whose name alternates between John Matthews and John Matthew – is just some random kid. Watch as he sits on the floor, or at the table, and wears very modern clothes. No blood—not even white powder slapped across his face to make him appear the least bit unnatural. He's just...some kid.

Realtor, this is one of my annoying children.
And that's my other annoying child, but in boy form.

Based on how the characters interact, I can only assume a very loose script was used, allowing actors to bounce dialogue off each other and improvise in the moment—and by this I mean they randomly speak over each other's lines, so most of the dialogue never sounds genuine.

For instance:

Mother: (pointing out son who is filming) Don't mind him, he thinks he is the next Steven Spielberg. He films everything.

Realtor: Oh, don't we all?


My personal favorite line exchange comes during the second act of the film, when the father discovers his teen daughter, Lori, has been sneaking out late at night to see a boy from the neighborhood. Sitting at the table with a police officer, this masterful wordplay ensues:

Father: My daughter has been sneaking out with...this kid.

Cop: I bet it was that kid!

- "It was that kid, right?"
- "It was that kid!"
- "That fucking kid!"
- "That...fucking...kid."

At one point in the movie, Tyler has Melanie ask the ghost what it wants. The ghost then tells Melanie, who tells her brother, "he wants you, Mommy, and Daddy to leave, and he wants me to stay here forever."

Ouch. Quite a burn for Lori, who is apparently destined for neither leaving the house, nor staying. Have you ever tried being nowhere? It's really, really hard.

As you can imagine, the scary events in the house escalate, leading to a terrifying conclusion. Now see, I said "you can imagine" because you'd have to, as that doesn't actually happen here. Things remain painfully dull up until the last second, in which each family member is murdered in completely unimaginative (and off-screen) ways.

The movie ends with close-ups of "coroner's investigation reports" for each family member killed. An official cause of death for one of the family members reads: heart and lung “separtion."

Good one.

I really wanted to give The Asylum the benefit of the doubt when it came to this movie. First of all, at the end of the day, they manage to make movies. That's something most of us wish we could do, and for those of us that have, we know it's not a terribly easy thing to accomplish. Not to mention that The Asylum's usual budgets are never that big for their productions, which doesn't make things easier for them. Regardless, they sometimes manage to attract people worth a damn (Lance Henriksen, for instance). I was hoping that the ability for them to spend even less on a movie by making a found footage flick would, in turn, allow them to focus more on the script and telling a good story. Sadly, I was wrong. Not only is the movie incompetently made in almost every general sense, I am really starting to feel like we’re all being had—every single one of us that goes out of our way to see one of their movies. I feel contempt from these filmmakers. I feel like they are laughing at us all – in some Andy Kauffman-esque way – as we struggle to remain invested in their work. These people clearly have money (when compared to me, anyway), and as previously mentioned, are capable of attracting people I actually want to see in movies. Why won’t they try? Why won’t they attempt to make something that’s good? Just by odds alone, that should have happened by now.

Oh, right. The thing I mentioned earlier that completely freaked me out? During the movie, I went into the other room and one of my flameless LED candles had turned on by itself!

How did it DO that??


Thursday, January 26, 2012


The Demonologist, an account of Ed and Lorraine Warren's career in demonology, is one creepy-ass book. The Warrens' names should sound familiar if you’re an "Amityville Horror" obsessive. (I am—with the original conspiracy, anyway, not the tepid film series.) To those who followed the saga of 112 Ocean Ave, either in its heyday, or in subsequent books, television specials, and/or truly abhorrent film adaptations, the Warrens should already feel like family. When the Lutz family fled their brief home after only 28 days and spouted off about the evil residing within, outsiders who eventually became involved in the controversy were actively split in regards to the legitimacy of the claims. In short, they either believed the Lutzes, or they didn’t. The Warrens and other occult specialists did, Law enforcement didn’t, and the media didn't care—but they covered every inch of it like hungry canines.

While The Demonologist does mention Amityville from time to time, the Warrens don’t have much to say on the subject, other than they believed in the Lutzes and tried to help as best as they could. Instead, the book is actually a very detailed account of their careers and their life together—and of the evil that often followed them home from their “exorcisms.” The Warrens generally helped rid two kinds of infestation: oppression (ongoing harassment by a demon to break down a person’s will and make their body easier to inhabit) or possession (the invasion of a person’s body by a foreign entity). The book is largely comprised of direct quotes from Ed and Lorraine themselves, relating their own experience and encounters. 

The book’s author, Gerald Daniel Brittle, does a commendable job taking this information and weaving in relevant information to fill in the gaps and create a coherent narrative. Chapters alternate between recollections of more memorable visits to homes where demon infestations once occurred, and the Warrens’ clear explanations of demonology in answers to questions author Brittle poses—and it’s especially helpful that Brittle asks the same questions that you or I would while reading the book.

What exactly is demonology? How does one become a demonologist? Because psychology is so often mentioned alongside cases where demonology (specifically exorcisms) is involved, does that mean there is a correlation between the two? Why don’t more people know about demonology?

Ed mainly handles these questions, answering each with a wealth of information based on his years of experience in the field. While Lorraine, too, is considered a demonologist, she instead refers to herself as a clairvoyant—one who is more sensitive to her surroundings and capable of seeing, hearing, and sensing things that most people do not. Houses infested with demons, she explains in the book, give off moods just like a human being does, and she is able to sense these moods during her preliminary walkthroughs of the houses in question. She also claims to see “auras,” which provide information – in the form of different colored halos – that surround every human being.

The Amityville House: 112 Ocean Ave
Even with Ed matter-of-factly reiterating information from past cases, the book is effortlessly creepy. A typical person who saw 1973’s The Exorcist and found it over-the-top would be shocked at how that film only managed to scratch the surface of what a true exorcism entails, and the traits those infested with a demon or demons may possess. The Exorcist featured unnatural vomit, physical manipulation of the unfortunate host, wildly fluctuating temperatures surrounding the possessed, and the knowledge of previously unknown languages. Ed Warren verifies all of this activity in the book. What The Exorcist didn’t portray was the materialization/dematerialization of objects, faces of the possessed briefly transforming into that of an animal’s, the smell or even physical appearance of excrement, or the presentation of foreign objects not previously located in the house. In one instance during an exorcism, Ed claimed a softball-sized rock appeared in midair and thudded on the floor, and upon having the rock tested by a specialist at a nearby university, confirmed that that specific rock was from a wooded area over 75 miles away. It’s this kind of information – unorthodox, unusual, and inherently unthreatening – that truly makes the claims that much more unnerving. Yes, if during The Exorcist Regan’s face had broken out into that of a cat or dog (or a gorilla, which Ed claims occurs the most frequently), the audience would have broken out into jeers. But with the mere explanation of that having happened in the past before you only in words, your imagination fills in the gaps, and it becomes a genuinely frightening thought—because that simply does not jibe with everything we like to think we know about the subject of exorcism. We think spinning heads and pea soup, not animal noises and mysterious stones falling from the sky and pelting the house of the afflicted.

While the book touches on some rather famous cases, such as West Germany’s Annaliese Michele (which inspired The Exorcism of Emily Rose), and the possession of Robbie Mannheim (alias), a boy from Maryland (which later inspired The Exorcist), a large portion is dedicated to the oppression/possession of the Donovan family. It is during these pages when the book is at its creepiest, and photographs of the damage done by the spirits are present.

Ed shares one particular encounter – not related to a case the Warrens were investigating – that I found especially unnerving, only because of how random the encounter was:
Only a few months ago, Lorraine and I had just been on a television show uptown in New York City. Afterwards, we took a taxi down to Chinatown for lunch. As we were walking along the street we saw there was some trouble at the corner, with police cars all around. So I suggested we cut through a walkway or alley on our left-hand size, which led to Mott Street.

Well, we took the alley, which was full of beat-up trashcans overflowing with garbage. Flies, maggots, and vermin were everywhere. The combination of the heat and the stink of decomposing garbage quickly began to sour our stomachs. Nevertheless, we kept going. Further back, the alley crooked slightly, so that beyond the middle you could no longer see the street.

We walked quickly, but as we got to the middle of the alleyway, at the end of this long row of trashcans, we saw two feet sticking out. I told Lorraine to stand still while I walked up ahead. When I got closer, I saw it was a man—a derelict. He was a Caucasian, between thirty-five and sixty-five—you couldn’t tell. The man was barely alive, sitting up against the wall with his legs stretched out into the path. He was filthier than anyone I have ever seen: covered with sores and scabs, and obviously riddled with disease.

But that just begins to tell the story. Because piled on top of him – as though he were sitting in bed with a quilt over him – were heaps of runny, putrefying garbage. This foul mess covered the man all the way up to his chest and down to his knees. His arms were plopped in the middle of this rotting slop, and flies were landing all over his face and body. Rats had apparently been gnawing on his feet and toes. It was evident the man hadn’t moved in days.

Ironically, his shoes were neatly placed beside him, shined up and ready to go. Now I have been in war and I have seen spiritual abominations in haunted houses but I doubt if I’ve ever seen anything so repulsive or disgusting in my life. How could this happen? How could a human being be reduced to such a stage?

I looked at this poor, wretched soul from the feet up, and was overtaken with compassion and grief. When I finally came to look upon his face, I was stunned and instinctively took a step back. His face was twisted into a perverse sneer—and there was that ugly, inhuman look of delirium in his eyes. Then I knew what had happened to him. And what was possessing that man, in turn, knew me, too.

‘You bastard!’ I said to it, so sickened was I by this scene. It laughed, mockingly. ‘I am killing him,’ it said to me. ‘In a few days, he will be dead. And do you know, there is nothing you can do about it. Because it is already done.’
Also in the book are several pages of transcribed audiotapes featuring Ed’s interrogations with the possessed. A piece of one of those interrogations is as follows:
Voice: I do not choose to be here!
Ed Warren (EW): Why did you come then?
Voice: I am under the Power!
EW: Whose power?
Voice: A white light!
EW: Describe yourself to me.
Voice: No. (A crucifix is then set in place, followed by agonized screaming by the possessing spirit.)
EW: Describe yourself to me!
Voice: I must in truth tell you what I look like. I am wicked—and ugly looking. I am inhuman. I am vindictive. I have a horrible face. I have much gross hair on my body. My eyes are deepsunk. I am black all over. I am burnt. I grow hair. My nails are long, my toes are clawed. I have a tail. I use a spear. What else do you want to know?
EW: What do you call yourself?
Voice: (Proclaiming) I am Resisilobus! I am Resisilobus!

And another, in which the possessing entity allegedly called himself Fred and spoke in a British cockney accent:
EW: Do you want me to bring a priest in here?
Voice: Yeah, all right. Bring ‘im in here. I’ll kick ‘im in the backside.
EW: What would you say if the Blessed Mother told you to leave, Fred?
Voice: Yeccch. Ugh.
EW: Do you know what this is, Fred? What do you see?
Voice: Uh…a cross.
EW: That’s right, a cross. That cross means your days are numbered here.
Voice: I’m gonna chop somebody’s head off.
EW: The next time I come back here, Fred, you’d better be gone. Because the next time I come I’m bringing a very powerful exorcist with me, someone you won’t want to mess with.
Voice: (There is a long lull.) Ed. Ed. Ed…Ed…Ed-ward.
EW: What is it, Fred?
Voice: Let’s play exorcist. Go get the holy water.
The Demonologist is infinitely fascinating to those with even a passing interest in the subject, regardless of where your belief system might lie. However, I must warn you that this book is definitely not for everyone. If you are a person who fervently believes that the world you see before you is all there is to see—that there’s nothing beyond—then you will probably receive no enjoyment from this book whatsoever. While the history and information would probably be interesting to all readers, its claims would be so easily dismissed from the first page that there would be no point for some people to continue reading. For all intents and purposes, the book is labeled and considered non-fiction—much to the chagrin of the more close-minded that question that label with a smirk.

I am a skeptic, by and large. I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts and demons and everything in between, but I also don’t believe things like that are impossible, either. Unlikely, perhaps—but not impossible. So when Ed recites, without a hint of irony, his experiences with haunted mirrors, or Ouija boards presenting very real dangers, your own personal prejudice is going to determine how you react. Because I am not 100% on board with the beliefs of the Warrens, I found some of the claims bordering on absurdity. However, the Warrens firmly believe in their careers as demonologists, and in the unseen entities they battle on almost a daily basis, and so because of that the book gets my respect. They were fully aware, even during the writing of this book, that they were opening themselves up to mockery by the more close-minded, but they were not deterred by that fact—instead, their aim of the book remains emphatically clear: demons are very real, and can very easily enter our world. The Warrens dictate what kind of people are more open to these invading entities (those who spend most of their days angry, or depressed; those considering suicide; alcoholics/drug addicts), and what things a person has to do to invite them in. (While the Warrens resist talking specifically about what a person has to do to entice these entities, they do confirm certain ceremonies performed by various people who later became victims of demons they foolishly invited into their life.)

To lend a little credibility to the Warrens’ careers, it should be noted that they have never accepted payment from those claiming to suffer from demonic oppression or possession. If you called the Warrens, they came to you, and if they determined your claims were genuine, they stayed until the invading entities were gone—for free. Further, they even insisted on bringing home with them any particular items that may have been the catalyst for an invading demonic entity in the first place. They reason that to leave the objects with the family runs the risk of letting the same demon back into their lives, or to destroy the cursed item would unleash the demon into the world in general. And so, their “dark museum” grew considerably over the years:
There are about a hundred items in the collection so far, and almost every item has a story attached to it. There’s a string of pearls that when worn around the neck, strangles the wearer. There’s the long black spike a satanic witch used long ago to murder her newborn infant as a sacrifice to the devil. There is the sage plaster doll dressed in Victorian clothing that not only took on the features of the old lady who once owned it, but became animated and behaved like a human being for over 20 years. There are the crania of human skulls that have been used as “chalices of ecstasy” for drinking human blood during witchcraft rituals. There’s the coffin in which a possessed man slept each night for his whole adult life. There are stones – some quite sizeable – that fell out of the sky onto homes under diabolical siege. There are crucifies that have actually been exploded by demonic spirits and excrement. There are written pacts with the devil, the black candles and conjuring book from the Hillman case, and by the door to Ed’s office is hung the conjuring mirror take from Oliver Bernbaum’s house in New Jersey. The planchette and burned picture frames from the Dononvan case are displayed on a table not far from a wooden cabinet in which Annabelle, the Raggedy Ann doll, now sits holding a plain wood crucifix in her little cloth hand.
The Demonologist was first published in 1980 and then for a long time afterwards was out of print, but a new edition is available, and time has been well to its contents. The information remains rich, intriguing, and scary. While Ed Warren is sadly no longer with us (he died in 2006), Lorraine has continued the battle against the darkness as a member of The New England Society for Psychic Research.

As I write this, Insidious’ James Wan is hard at work on a film tentatively known as The Untitled Warren Files Project, which will dive into the Warrens’ past to tell the story of the Perrons, a Rhode Island family who dealt with a demon infestation of their own during the 1970s. While the exploits of the family may have been discussed in the book, their name is never used, so it’s hard to say. So far the cast is looking great: Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga will play the Warrens, and Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor will play the Perrons. After James Wan showed what he could do with Insidious, and Dead Silence before it (shut up, I liked it), I look immensely forward to another creepy show.

The book is available on Amazon, naturally, and several chunks can be sampled here.

For more information on the Warrens, be sure to check out their (woefully out-of-date) official website.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shall I Tell You About My Day?

This is my last week off before I start my second semester of university and I fully intend to make the most it. That is, until mother nature arrived and well you get the picture. Curse being a woman! 

Although, I had no plans anyway. Getting it now means that I won't have it on our anniversary next week and I won't be sick as a pig at uni. So Mother Nature? You have good timing for once.

I didn't feel like blogging today to be honest. The only reason I'm making an effort is because I got a sweet comment from my newest follower Ridx who... revitalised me I guess. Albeit this post isn't all that great, just me telling you about my week so far. Exciting eh?

Oh but I did accomplish something this week! I rewatched an old anime that I adored as a child called Escaflowne or The Vision of Escaflowne to be completely accurate. It was just as awesome as I remembered it, even if I did cringe a little at some of the dialogue! The only thing I hated about this anime as a child was the ending and yup, I still hate it as an adult. I won't spoil it for those of you who are interested. Well, that's partly true, the real reason is that it would take far too long to explain!

So yeah, that's been the height of it. Apart from enjoying some hilarious emails from Lexie who was born literally two days after me, and although she's from across the pond, I still consider her my virtual twin. She's awesome.

Now I'm off to listen to some more Lindsey Stirling...


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Song of the Week #10

Lindsey Stirling - Electric Daisy Violin

Learning to play the violin is one of my all time Life Ambitions. And because of this, I'm extremely jealous of this young artist. I seriously want to be her...


On paper, 7 Nights of Darkness shouldn’t have worked. And it barely did. It was low budget to the nth degree, and Allen Kellogg is not only credited as the lead actor, but also the writer, director, producer, and editor. Ed Wood should have just flashed through your head, as he did mine while the credits of 7 Nights rolled. The film, on its own merits, wasn’t bad. It doesn’t come anywhere near the heights of its POV-ghost-hunting brethren like Paranormal Activity or Grave Encounters, but it could easily have been just another piece of shit direct-to-video trash hole.

I give Kellogg semi-credit for finally committing to film an obvious premise like ghost hunters investigating a supposedly haunted building and actually coming across real ghosts(!) That may come across as a slight against the film (and I guess it kind of is), but seriously…it’s about time someone finally brought that concept to a film. That premise was just hanging around in the air, waiting for someone to grab at it and nail it down. And while it would be easy to just accuse 7 Nights of being a rip-off of the very similarly themed Grave Encounters (which was shot in 2009 and made film festival rounds for nearly two years), I have enough knowledge of low budget filmmaking to know that small, passion projects like these can sometimes take years to complete. In this case, I’ll give 7 Nights the benefit of the doubt that this premise came about organically, and its creator could only say, “oh, God damn it,” when news of Grave Encounters began making the rounds.

The plot is fairly simple: six folks (four dudes, two chicks) are chosen to spend seven nights in Madison Seminary, an abandoned and allegedly haunted building. Those who remain in the building all seven nights will be rewarded with a million dollars to split between them. They are to film everything at all times, and they are to complete a task assigned to them each night they are there. Failure to follow these orders will be considered non-compliance, and the offer becomes void.

Needless to say, the inhuman sounds begin, as do the fuzzy sightings of something leering in the corner. The creepy set pieces begin to escalate…and people start to disappear.

The Good:
Kellogg as a director does a nice job of working well within his budget and manages to create some genuinely creepy moments—some of which you may see coming, but are still effective, anyway. (Fuck that doll.)

Kellogg as a writer is also quite competent. At no point does any character ever do something beyond belief—and one of them even surprises you with a clever revelation of their own. Everyone reacts how one should react (well, mostly…until the end)—and this is a real service to the film.

The ending is quite Blair Witch-inspired (let’s face it, no one ever survives the found footage sub-genre, do they?), and if you’re watching the film under the right circumstances, it’s a satisfyingly creepy conclusion to the journey.

The Bad:
I’ve seen a lot of garbage over the years—ranging from the A-list to off-the-alphabet low budgeters that offend you with the thought of their very existence. When 7 Nights began, I honestly thought it didn’t have a prayer. The caliber of acting in the film becomes painfully clear almost immediately, and my own personal prejudice against low budget horror admittedly made me discard the idea that Kellogg purposely attempted to fill his cast with “real” people instead of raiding a local community acting troupe. While I won’t say the performances are across-the-board bad (Meredith Kochan’s Brooke comes across as very natural and believable), let’s just say some of these folks need to seriously reconsider their future as actors. Kellogg’s own performance as Carter left a lot to be desired: His “natural” attempts at humor came across as forced and utterly obnoxious, and for me he was nearly the most unlikeable character in the film. (That honor goes to Todd, played by Mick Garris doppelganger Larry Nehring, who [betraying my role as a “professional” reviewer for a moment], acts like a total bitch from his first minute until his last.) At one point in the film, when one of the film’s characters insists on investigating a crawl space under a set of stairs, Kellogg’s Carter literally repeats derivates of ”wait,” “stop,” and “don’t go in there,” so many times I literally wanted to rip the DVD out of my player and throw it at my neighbor’s dog. By the time Carter’s tearful third-act revelation in his private diary video entry takes place, which would have been a great service in establishing sympathy, it is too little, too late. And despite his desire to become “the leader” of the remaining characters, he spends the rest of the movie hiding in a room and begging everyone to just stay there with him.

Lastly – and this is more nit-picky than anything else – why is this film taking place in a seminary? At no point in the film is religion mentioned – nor anything having to do with priests. But what we do see, however, is a medical chair allegedly used for lobotomies. Why is this chair in a seminary? Did the filmmakers suffer a brain fart and call it Madison Seminary when they really meant Madison Sanitarium? Or am I just a dumb ass who was asleep when this chapter was discussed during Common Sense 101

The Low Down:
All in all, I’ve seen a lot worse in this sub-genre. It’s certainly better than both Apollo 18 and Atrocious—two POV flicks that received much more attention and were actually turgid wastes of every filmmaking-related resource. In the right frame of mind, and if you’re forgiving of supremely low budget films, this is a gem, while unpolished, that is still worth your time.

Grade: B–

Monday, January 23, 2012

RANT: FRIDAY THE 13th (2009)

This past Friday the 13th led me to rediscover my love for the perpetual film franchise of the same name. I’ve been watching Jason run amuck ever since I was a wee one. At the time, I was too young and poor to own actual copies of the films, so I was reduced to watching versions taped off of television from ABC’s “Million Dollar Movie” and USA’s “Up All Night." Yes, the gore was heavily edited. Yes, there was no nudity to be found. And yes, even terse lines of dialogue like “thank God” were edited to be simply “thank ___.” But at that time, I took anything I could get. And I wore those tapes out without much effort.

Jason Voorhees, both pre- and post-zombie, was kind of my hero. He was a monstrous force of nature with which to be reckoned. He crushed heads and introduced axes to bodies without prejudice. He cared little for the half-naked nubiles that were helplessly straddled on the floor in front of him—he wanted nothing more than to throw them out the window, or to stab them…you know…down there. The Friday the 13th series was even, in essence, my first exposure to sex (and in a largely overblown way, its consequences). I didn’t have the birds-and-the-bees talk with my embarrassed father, nor did my older brother one day sneak home a badly dubbed VHS tape filled with porn (at least not right away), and my inevitable tour of duty in Sex Ed 101 would come far too late. No sir, I learned all about the ways of female anatomy from The Final Chapter.

The series was simply a large part of my childhood. During middle school history class, I would design my own posters for the existing entries, as well as “what if?” concepts:

Jason Vs. The Army

Jason Vs. Jaws

Jason Vs. Some Weird Thing Covered in White Out That’s Supposed To Be Michael Myers (I was, and continue to be, a shitty artist.)

In art class, after being given molding foam to sculpt anything we wished, other kids looked on in confusion as I created a hockey mask, compete with blood-red triangle. A childhood friend and I used to sleep over each other’s houses every time a Friday the 13th marathon was scheduled to air, even though between the two of us we’d seen the films a hundred times. At a “sidewalk sale” at my local mall (where old storeroom items were sold for next to nothing), I just about had a boner-heart attack combo when finding a poster for Jason Lives.

Despite all this, I would understandably never describe any of the series’ entries as high art—not even the first film, which by default receives more love than it deserves. Slasher movies resulting in legitimately good cinema – Halloween naturally comes to mind – is a rarity. Sure, they’re “good” in the sense that you like them, and they are certainly entertaining...but they weren’t written to push your emotional buttons and make you realize something about yourself. They were written so you could laugh as the fat chick on the side of the road gets a pickaxe through her neck. They were made so you could scream as you realize Final Girl is completely alone, and the masked maniac could be around any corner. Slasher movies are buffalo wings and beer. They’re an option, they’re delicious, but at the end of the day, they’re junk. (But that’s okay!)

Unlike the Halloween or A Nightmare Elm Street series, most Friday the 13th fans do not point to the first film as their sole favorite. In fact, a large portion cites it as among the series' weakest to date (the top honor most likely going to the Jason-less A New Beginning). Although indifference towards the first film is a direct result of the lack of Jason, being that he’s become synonymous with the series as we all know it (and rightfully so), I also wonder if the unlove comes as the result of it merely being the first film, and hence should have tried to break new ground. Less was expected of Parts 2 and 3, which were the same old thing, and hence held to less rigorous standards. As for a fan favorite, I think it’s safe to say the Crispin Glover dance-infected The Final Chapter would be the victor. (It’s my preferred entry.)

Despite the lack of “quality” in each successive sequel, insofar as could be expected of Friday the 13th, you cannot claim that each entry post-Final Chapter was not trying something new.

A New Beginning pissed off a lot of fans by removing Jason from the equation and replacing him with a copycat killer. Luckily, the movie boasts a healthy amount of the red stuff, and director Danny Steiner infuses the movie with a slimy yet effective grindhouse tone. Even with the disappointment that the real Jason sat this one out, it’s a natural continuation of the Tommy Jarvis saga, which began in The Final Chapter. It's effectively directed, and had Jason actually been the killer in the film, I believe A New Beginning would be considered a highpoint in the series.

Jason Lives, most would agree, is the most “fun” of the series to date. By then, tongue was firmly planted in cheek and it shows, both on the page and on the screen. For a series in which two of the previous entries took place in summer camps (Jason Lives being the third), we finally have younger kids in the cast, and miraculously they are not completely annoying. Despite all this (and despite the goofy but lovable James Bond-esque opening title sequence), let it not be said that Jason Lives does not live up to its namesake and its reputation. Jason, resurrected from the grave, is back with a vengeance. People are smashed through RV walls, ripped apart, and bent in half. Heads are stabbed and triple decapitations are on the menu. “Fun” tone notwithstanding, the threat is still very real. Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead) caps off the Tommy Jarvis story with the best iteration of the character and puts Jason back in the lake for good (haha, not). Director Tom McLoughlin channels Joe Dante and the Amblin Films aesthetic, delivering a hoot-and-a-half of a Friday film. For the first time, characters of all ages (kids! teens! adults! old men!) are included, and it brings an understated legitimacy to the movie.

The New Blood also receives much backlash, though unduly so. Yes, the whole Jason vs. Carrie aesthetic, brought to life by Final Girl’s uncanny ability for telekinesis, was a little absurd, but most fans have been pretty forgiving of that plot point. What they are not forgiving of, however, is the chopped and heavily edited version that finally made it to theaters. Director John Carl Buecher, having previously spent his time in special effects, filled his movie with what could have been the most impressive deaths since Savini’s masterpiece, The Final Chapter. Sadly, except for some recently resurrected and intensely grainy footage, it’s likely these deaths will never be restored for a future edition. Regardless of what the MPAA did to the movie, and not director Buechler, a new direction was explored, albeit unsuccessfully, so the movie is not totally without its merits. Not to mention that the Jason brought to life in The New Blood (played for the first of four times by fan favorite Kane Hodder) was at his most absolutely bad-ass looking—exposed spine and all. 

Jason Takes A Cruise Ship/Vancouver Manhattan comes next. Unfortunately, what sounded like a clever and exciting script was hacked apart for budgetary reasons, and so writer/director Rob Hedden had to sacrifice much of his vision. Originally set to shoot scenes in Madison Square Garden (where Julius was supposed to get his head punched off) and the Brooklyn Bridge – and with a finale in the Statue of Liberty – Hedden was forced to shift most of the action to that god damned cruise ship. (In case you were wondering, 34 minutes of the movie's 96-minute running time "takes place" in New York, and roughly two minutes of that time is actually shot there.) What writer/director Hedden can be blamed for, however, is fucking up the series' mythos by impossibly suggesting that Final Girl and Jason were children around the same time, making Jason either both a zombie killer AND a lake-haunting boy ghost, or Final Girl the oldest fucking high school senior on record. Also, while Jason's immortality and uncanny talent for taking lives have always bordered on absurd, Manhattan takes it one step further and bestows on him the completely ludicrous ability to teleport. At film's end, Jason screams like an elephant and drowns in toxic waste.

It had a really fun teaser poster, though:

Once the Paramount reign of Friday the 13th ended and New Line Cinema stepped in to adopt the rotting mongoloid, Jason then went to Hell, space, and Elm Street. Most would agree none of them were a return to form for the masked killer (though I unabashedly love Freddy vs. Jason).

In 2003, New Line Cinema unleashed the very controversial remake of Tobe Hooper’s seminal 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. While it certainly was a project motivated by money (what Hollywood films aren’t?), it wasn’t necessarily part of the ensuing remake craze that would soon follow—it was merely the first. It was the catalyst that set into motion the realization that brand names like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween all had street value. The strength of their titles would cut through everything else being released and easily compete for the attentions of the masses.

So what happened?

After the mostly-decent Chainsaw remake hit theaters with great success, every single horror movie with the least bit of title recognition had a remake announced. Iconic titles like Halloween and The Omen, the more obscure like Black Christmas and My Bloody Valentine, and the sucked-the-first-time Prom Night and House on Sorority Row—nothing was safe. The horror genre was raped by the movie gods and vomited on screen with mostly pitiful results.

None of them missed the boat as badly as 2009’s Friday the 13th. This, truly, was one of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever had the extreme misfortune of seeing in theaters. It was the first time that I remember even feeling embarrassed to be sitting in those theater seats—knowing that I had paid to be there, and before that, excitedly told any chum who would listen that I would be attending the special midnight showing.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween was a complete shit storm from minute one to minute oh-my-god-let-this-fucking-movie-end. I’d cite it as another abysmal experience in the theater, and probably a worse movie than 2009’s Friday the 13th. So why the extreme hate towards the latter? Because Carpenter’s 1978 cheapie classic is just that—a classic. While it certainly didn’t create the slasher sub-genre, it created all the rules that Friday the 13th and hundreds of other imitators to follow would beat into the ground: Fuck and die, do drugs and die, the virginal heroine lives, kill the killer three times, etc, etc. And in Carpenter’s film, this collection of soon-to-be-clich├ęs was wrapped around a story of Halloween shenanigans and evil let loose on suburban streets. It was scary because it seemed real, and it felt like it could happen, but mostly because it was just a great movie. Any attempted remake had a lot to live up to. Zombie “tried” and miserably failed. And while the first Friday the 13th ripped off Halloween’s concept, and though the Sean Cunningham-directed flick was not responsible for the familiar slasher tropes that have since become textbook, it solidified them. 1980’s Friday the 13th was a cheap but enjoyable imitation. It was a little special, but not much. And the concept was sinfully basic.

When the soulless production team of Bay et al. announced the remake of Friday the 13th, every horror enthusiast and their mother knew they weren’t actually remaking the first film, in which the killer is not Jason at all, but his mother. Instead, they were remaking what goes through everyone’s minds when you say the words “Friday the 13th”—Jason, with mask, cutting down teens with machetes in the woods. That’s all you need, that’s all Friday the 13th is, and – despite all the later sequels' attempts to try new things – that’s all Jason Voorhees is ever going to be. You can take the killer out of the woods, but you can’t take the woods out of the killer.

When the remake of Friday the 13th was announced I was excited. By this time, Platinum Dunes had already given the world the aforementioned remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – which was shockingly good – as well as their follow-up project, The Amityville Horror, starring Ryan Reynolds’ beard and abs. Amityville was mostly greeted with a boo-hiss from critics – both legitimate and fans – but I dug it. It was simple, effective, and provided a few scares. While obviously the victim of “needs more dumb shit!” reshoots, it’s still a competent little flick. Then PD’s version of The Hitcher came along, and was anemic in every sense of the word. The script didn't attempt to do one new thing, except change one specific dynamic that was perfect the way it was: the male and female lead characters were swapped so that Sean Bean’s Ryder became fixated on the female lead instead of the male, as it was in the original thriller. Because of this, the oddly homoerotic cat-and-mouse tone of The Hitcher '81 became just another formulaic case of a maniac victimizing a smart’n’sassy girl. Been there, done that. A hundred times.

Still, PD was 2-for-3 in my eyes, and each announcement in regards to the Friday the 13th remake really seemed to indicate they knew what they were doing:

The writers of Freddy Vs. Jason would be writing the script. (Hey, I liked that movie!)

The director of 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be getting behind the camera. (Hey, I liked that movie, too!)

Jared Padalecki, star of "Supernatural,"  would be playing the lead role of Clay— basically a reiteration of Jason-hunter Rob from The Final Chapter. (Hey, I love "Supernatural!" And the kid can actually act!)

The movie was soon shot, set visit reports showed great enthusiasm from all those involved, and the trailer masterfully captured the tone of the original movies, even going as far as mimicking the “death countdown” from thirteen, as the trailer for the original film did 30 years prior.

So how did it all get so fucked up so badly? How did they get all of this seemingly so right and then flush it right down the toilet?

It begins with the script. You’ll never (ever) have me bemoaning the idea that characters in a Friday the 13th movie should have development coming out the ass, because I don’t need that. If I want character development, I’ll go see a movie that doesn’t end in “Part 12.” What I want, desperately, is for the characters not to be truly annoying. If I have to spend 90 minutes with these people, I’d rather not spend that time resisting pulling my own face off and begging Jason to show up and vivisect all of them at once. Writers craft scripts like this and then grin at you and say, “the kids feel like real kids!” If Friday the 13th’s kids are based on real kids, Planet Earth is doomed.

Most of the deaths are incredibly lazy and border on that unfun Hostel bullshit, taking the deaths out of fun Friday the 13th territory and instead making them look merely unpleasant and simultaneously boring. Case in point: a character wanders around a dark garage looking for god-knows-what, spending almost five straight minutes talking to himself. The music is mounting and you know Jason’s about to pop up and give this kid a death we all hope is glorious. So what happens? Jason DOES pop up, but instead of something amazing and clever, he shoves a screwdriver into the kid’s throat. It’s not fun, but boring—and uncomfortable. That’s not why we’re here. We've come for titillation, not revulsion.

As far as Jason’s killing capabilities go, I’m a little more lenient than some other fans. If Jason wants to shoot an arrow into some girl’s skull, that’s fine – in previous entries, I’ve seen him throw spikes directly into people’s faces from afar with deadly precision, so I won’t complain about the method – but to then flash to Jason’s old room and show us that he once won a trophy for archery in his youth? Who fucking cares? You mean the writers thought they were clever enough to “explain” why Jason is good with a bow-and-arrow, yet when it came time for him to find his hockey mask for the first time – in a moment that should have been iconic – they write a scene where he literally finds the fucking thing on the floor?

Come on guys, really?

Speaking of bullshit, what is with these kids and their utter masturbatory obsession with smoking weed? Yeah, I get it. Teens smoke weed. Teens have always smoked weed, and will always smoke weed. You know who else smoked weed? My parents. And yours. We're not doing anything new here, people. But talk about beating your audience over the head with it: The movie opens with kids hunting for a pot field, and then later, more kids come along and smoke weed and laugh, because OMG, weed is fucking hysterical. Since when did weed become synonymous with Friday the 13th? Did these writers accidentally rent Friday instead when writing their script? (That’s a terrible fucking joke, I know.) 

Listen, the original Friday the 13th entries are horrendously dated, I’ll freely admit it: There are no cell phones. Kids dance "the robot" and have gigantic hair. The guys wear shorter shorts than the girls. For an entry or two, punk was “in.” But you know what none of these kids ever did? Made a huge goddamn production out of the fact they were smoking weed. And do you know why? Because despite how goofy the Friday the 13th kids of yesteryear might seem to the current masses, they were – and are – fucking cooler than kids today. They didn’t take out their bongs and pipes and do puppet shows. They didn’t go “awwww yeaaaah!” when someone took out an ounce and waved it around like a Polaroid. They didn’t say “this is some good shit!” or laugh “I am so stoned!” They passed the joint, smoked, and played some acoustic. That was it and that was all, and that’s all we ever needed.

I understand PD felt the need to pander to their audience and remind us that we’ve all smoked weed before and we should all remember how cool and fun and hilarious it was when we did. (This generation, after all, is the reason Adam Sandler and Larry the Cable Guy rule the box office. Clearly, our taste is spiraling downward at a rapid rate.) But here’s a news flash for you: my friends and I weren’t total douche bags about it. We smoked and listened to Cypress Hill in solitude. We sometimes wrote in journals. We relaxed and didn’t harp on the fact of what we’d just done. Talking about smoking weed while you’re smoking weed: Is this something kids honestly do? Do they narrate their entire lives this way? “Awwww yeah, I’m gonna eat these Honey Combs and the milk’s gonna fill my belly!” It honestly feels like PD is elbowing me in the side as I try to watch their film. "Remember when you smoked weed, buddy? Remember?"

Yeah, I remember. And since you're nagging me with a question, I've got one for you: How come every single character in your movie is fucking retarded? I mean, were you seriously going to just masturbate in the middle of the living room since no one was around at the time, Black Kid? The fuck is the matter with you? I remember a lot of dumb shit from the older Friday the 13th movies: a girl serenading her man as he takes a shit inside a disgusting outhouse, and another girl flashing her own tits in the mirror and shouting, "it's showtime!" I do not ever recall a character looking around, and after noticing that everyone is suspiciously missing, prepping for some out-in-the-open masturbation.

In general, all of Friday the 13th 2009 feels like a cheap parody of the original series.

Multiple references to smoking weed? Check.

Multiple scenes of absurd reasons to be naked? Check. (And seriously, do real people go water skiing topless, or randomly take their breasts out and show them to someone else?)

Multiple deaths containing at least one iota of originality? Uh…

Not helping matters is the lifeless film score by Steve Jablonksy. A graduate from Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions (a company in which Zimmer mentors other composers to successfully recreate his own huge and epic sound that could be heard in every major action movie during the mid-90s), Jablonksy is PD’s go-to guy. Unfortunately, the composer sees fit to keep “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma” and toss the rest—unaware of how effective, scary, and unusual Harry Manfredini’s original music truly was. While I’ve always recognized the success of the original Friday flicks in conjunction with Manfredini’s score, the recently released soundtrack collection from La La Land made me realize just how brilliant of a composer he is/was. This isn’t music you can hum, like Halloween, Phantasm, or Jaws. Notes are all over the place and hardly repetitive – more Herrmann than Carpenter – and the collection of harsh strings, harps, and low brass is no less than masterful. It’s a superior film score that deserved just as much respect as Jason himself, but given the complete lack of understanding as to what made Jason a great character, it would seem Harry’s score never had a chance. (For an example of how to do this the right way, see Graeme Revell's score for Freddy Vs. Jason, which effectively marries Manfredini's Friday stuff with Charles Bernstein's Nightmare stuff, all the while writing his own original compositions.)

My only kudos I have for the film is entirely dedicated to Derek Mears as Jason. A long time fan of the series, he understood that – despite what people think – Jason Voorhees really is a “character,” and as such, he should be played by someone who is going to do more than just walk. Mears did a great job bringing some life to Jason, but it’s a shame he didn’t have a stronger script to ensure an appropriate level of quality. If so, future trips to Crystal Lake would have been ensured. (Friday the 13th had a great opening weekend, but bad word-of-mouth caused a severe drop off afterward, thus killing any current plans for an immediate follow up.)

No, I don’t care that Jason runs in the film (because he did in Parts 3 and 4). No, I don’t care that he’s somehow rigged electricity in his childhood home (because he managed to finagle a working toilet in the middle of the woods in Part 2). However, I DO think it’s ridiculous that the movie would purposely establish one backwoods character owning a wood chipper and show him throwing stuff into it, leading us to assume that Jason is going to grab some poor soul and throw them in...which never happens. I DO think it's ridiculous to establish that the town of Crystal Lake knows that Jason is running around in the woods, yet aren't that concerned about it, so long as he doesn't bother them. I DO think it's ridiculous that Jason would chain up a random girl and even go as far as to feed her for a week, all because she resembled his mother. And I DO think it's ridiculous that an abandoned summer camp would be infested with a series of underground tunnels that Jason travels with ease. Why are they even there? Did Jason dig them himself? Were they perhaps left over from the old mining days? If only the writers had taken two seconds – had written ONE line of dialogue – to explain this little development, being that a large portion of the third act takes place primarily within these tunnels.

Instead they opted to explain why Jason is so handy with a fucking bow-and-arrow.

Good work, nerds.

To those at Platinum Dunes: this isn’t Don Corleone we’re talking about here. Nor Indiana Jones, John McClaine, or even Batman. It’s Jason fucking Voorhees. Put a mask on him, dump him in the woods, give him some unannoying kids to kill in clever ways, and add a twist of lemon for freshness. You’re not reinventing the wheel here. You’re only keeping it turning. That’s all we ever wanted. And you totally blew it.