Friday, April 3, 2015

Back to the Ol' Drawing Board: Rediscovering a Passion

 As a kid, I loved to draw. What kid doesn’t? Well, in my case, I was really good at it. Unfortunately, I don’t think anything from my childhood or adolescence survived the times or numerous moves, but I still have memories of those little art projects. One that comes to mind wasn’t so little: I used to make my own videocassette covers. I don’t mean recreating all that awesome VHS art that adorned video rental shelves back in the 80s. I mean I made boxes for movies I just made up. Covers, back photos, synopsis, credits, the whole thing. The films I dreamed in my head would either be live-action versions of my favorite cartoons (Robotech was a big one) or crazy titles like Slime School (Obviously influenced by all the Nickelodeon I was watching). Those made-up boxes would be displayed on my headboard like a real movie collection. I went through my grade school and high school years drawing monsters, cartoon characters, superheroes, band logos, and quite a bit of Halloween illustrations. I was captivated by pop-culture visuals, and I had fun letting it all fire my imaginative spirit.

At some point during my college career, I stopped. Honestly, it ended up like everything else I was told I was good at: I reached a point where I gave up rather than try to make myself better. I lacked discipline. Why? Because I was convinced no matter how hard I worked, it would not be good enough, so what’s the point?

It’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Yes, self-esteem issues. As quickly as I would throw myself into a new creative outlet, I’d lose focus, then my resolve. I’ve hardly sang since junior college. I’ve had a guitar for almost twenty years. I still don’t know how to read music. I tried my hand at stand-up comedy. I walked away after two open mics. Hell, just look how often I’ve posted on this blog the past five years. I allowed it to interfere with not only my talents, but other aspects of my life, as well. Truth is, I have gone through my adulthood acting such a coward. I never took chances. Risks. Adventure. Christ, I’ve never even been out of the country. The worst part is, I had built up this really arrogant front so people couldn’t see how I saw myself. And whenever anyone would see past that and try to help me, I would react very defensively and/or shut them out.

As a result, I lost the greatest romance I ever had.

Jenn is the most special person I have ever met. An incredible soul, a great thinker, an excellent writer, and a brilliant sense of humor. She understood me better than anyone. Right off the bat, we knew we were meant for each other. We were a team. Both with an enormous love for the horror genre. She saw the best in me and continuously tried to bring it out. After watching me draw a picture of Jim Aparo-era Batman, she bought me a drawing pad, sketchbook, and a set of pencils for my birthday one year.

So, what happened? Just like clockwork, I stopped trying. I stopped growing. Couldn’t shut up the voices of self-doubt in my head. Eventually, I wasn’t able to communicate with her out of fear she would look down on me, even when I fucking knew better. And she couldn’t communicate with me because I would shut down and make her feel like she didn’t know what she was talking about. We stopped being a team. I let that arrogant front get in the way, too. I made her feel like she was the lesser of the two of us, in private and in public. I had no consideration for her feelings at all. I admit it: I was a jerk.

Jenn stood up for herself. Just like Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. “I break up with you.” Despite the fact that I felt in my heart the best thing for us was to be just friends for awhile, once again, I lost my focus and my resolve. The whole time we were stuck under the same roof after we split, I tried to “fix” the relationship. All our conversations ended up going around in circles, because I could not admit to her or myself my faults. I knew I needed the time and effort to figure out who I was, but all I did was sit around feeling hurt. It's clear I was too scared of the change, and all my actions suggested I only wanted to restore the status quo of our relationship. Extremely selfish on my part. I did nothing to make her feel like I was her best friend. She moved out and I, too, had to vacate the apartment we shared. I haven’t spoken to her since. Not because I'm mad at her. Not at all. She had every right to leave. I figured I was the last person she wanted to talk to now that she has own own place and independence. I forced myself to be able to be with myself.

I took my belonging back with me to my folks’ house so I can save the money I have while I look for a new job and place. I used the opportunity to do some real soul-searching. The only way I was ever going to grow as a human being was to finally admit to myself how childish I had been acting and why. Somewhere along the way, I got too caught up in how people thought of me. The reality is I gave up on things not because I thought that no matter how hard I worked it wouldn’t be good enough for me, but because I was afraid it would not be good enough for other people. As soon as I fully realized that- and how pathetic the course of my life had been- it became easier to see myself differently. I started thinking more positively about my own worth.

Out of that, something unexpected happened. I pulled out the drawing pad, sketchbook, and pencils Jenn bought for me. I found a drawing I did five years ago. The only time I ever put to use one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone ever gave me.

I still can’t remember what motivated me to draw this in the first place. It had been so long since I did anything substantial, I believed I had lost the ability. One look at The Incredible Hulk, created by my own hand, was all it took. Without a second thought, I started drawing again. I didn’t just start doodling a bunch of bullshit. I immediately gave myself a challenge and went for it. In all the time I spent with pen and paper as a kid, I never once tried to draw a real person. I researched some tips on the Internet, practiced a few times on the pad, and then went to work in the sketchbook. All that was going through my mind while I was working was how much I was really getting a kick out of what I was doing. It wasn’t like other artistic endeavors I blindly dived into, where it was a constant struggle that ultimately felt unrewarding. The real shock came when I was finished. I had done it. The person I wanted to draw was right there on the paper. For the first time in a good long while, I was proud of what I had accomplished. From that point on, I didn’t stop. I couldn't. All those years trying to find something fulfilling, drawing was there the whole time. It has restored my confidence, renewed a sense of discipline, and is re-teaching me the value of patience. That's because this is a talent that I have always had and I truly love doing. And there’s no way in hell I’m ever letting this go to waste again.

Here’s the first gruesome batch of practice sketches:

 This week's worth of work has shown that I haven't lost my touch at all. In fact, it's shown that I'm already getting better. Because I tried. I took a chance. I pushed myself without any stress or worry about what anybody would think. Being able to look at what I've done with a smile on my face is rewarding enough, but I'm also aware of the therapeutic value of drawing. It's helped me give me a new outlook on myself and my future. I'm heading back to Los Angeles a braver, more patient, more humble person. I'm finally ready to forge a destiny all my own.

Oh, and that first real person I chose to draw? Yep, it's Jenn. Drawing her picture was a way for me to channel how much I miss her. Only time and effort will tell if we can be best friends again, but this is my tribute. A small thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the gifts she's given me and how they continue to inspire me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

CACOPHONOUS RACKET: 5 Albums That Get Me in the Spirit of Halloween

We're now deep into the murk of the Halloween season, but, for me, it sure doesn't quite feel like it. Living in sunny Southern California- with the added woe of a devastating drought- has made it more difficult to get into the spirit of things. If it wasn't for the pumpkins in front of grocery stores or the decorations at Target, I wouldn't have known it was October at all. So, music has been the necessary tool for me to get me excited about this time of year. Being a fan of heavy metal music and film scores, I have more than enough options to help me revel in Halloween. I thought I would share five albums in particular that I first spin every year to immediately feel the vibe of our favorite holiday.

Black Sabbath- Black Sabbath

I never owned Black Sabbath's ground-breaking debut album in high school, but most of it could be found on my mom's vinyl copy of their 1976 greatest hits collection, We Sold Our Souls for Rock n' Roll. Listening to the song "Black Sabbath" for the first time on vinyl on the giant wood stereo console we once owned was one of the most mind-blowing music experiences of my life. The opening sound effects of rain, thunder, and church bells gave way to the most pulverizing guitar riff ever. The end was nigh, and guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward brought it. Then came the wicked wail of Ozzy Osbourne, and heavy metal was fully unleashed on to the earth. Forty-five years after its release (!), the records brilliant combination of working-class shithole gloom and Hammer horror imagery makes this a no-brainer for Halloween tuneage.

The Crow- Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

One album I did own in high school was the soundtrack to Brandon Lee's final film, The Crow. Now, before you say "cliche" or "nostalgia trip", I listened to this album today, and I am shocked by how great it holds up twenty years later. It is incredible that a collection of songs from such diverse artists can sound so fluid and uniform. And it all captures the movie's urban ghost story tone perfectly. From The Cure's classic, "Burn" to Pantera's cover of Poison Idea's "The Badge" to Jane Siberry's beautiful "It Can't Rain All the Time", nothing seems out of place. Well, maybe Rage Against the Machine's white-men-are-evil diatribe "Darkness", but it's smooth-jazz verses saves it from being totally out of place. Another highlight is nine inch nails' rendition of "Dead Souls" by Joy Division, one of James O'Barr's influences in creating the comic book the film is based on. You can listen to that song below:

Misfits- Walk Among Us

I still remember a description of The Misfits I read in an issue of Guitar World back in 1996. I'm paraphrasing, but I'm sure it said, "The Misfits always looked like a zombie football team, ready to crack someone's skull open and eat their brains at the sound of a whistle." I was on the hunt for a group that would be my ultimate Halloween band, and after reading that, I thought I had hit the jackpot. My first Misfits record ended up being the hardcore-infused Earth A.D., but when I put on its predecessor, Walk Among Us, that's when I really felt like I had struck gold. The low-budget production, Danzig's Elvis swagger, the bubblegum hooks, and their Munsters-esque image created an Atomic-Age, b-movie sensibility that made each listen more fun than the next. To this day, Walk Among Us is the first LP I put on to kick off the Halloween season.

Slayer- Reign in Blood

Reign in Blood was not my first Slayer album (That distinction goes to Seasons in the Abyss), but it's the one that left the biggest mark on me. Yeah, like a big, gaping head wound. An unrelenting barrage of evil, reducing weakling humans to mush, but mesmerizing me into its infernal spell. I could not get enough of it. Still can't get enough of it. The surgical precision of drummer Dave Lombardo and guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King makes sure of that. The opening scream of bassist/vocalist Tom Araya on "Angel of Death" is still blood-curdling. The closing track, "Raining Blood" brings the whole album's concept of Hell on Earth to its only logical conclusion: Hell will descent, and there will truly be no escape.

Goblin- Suspiria

As far as film scores go, yes, John Carpenter's Halloween soundtrack is essential for the season, Not only does it conjure images of the film in your head, but also visions of falling leaves, overcast days, and jack o' lanterns. For me, there is one other soundtrack album that perfectly captures the essence of Halloween, and that is the one for the 1977 film, Suspiria. Outside of Dario Argento's masterpiece, the soundtrack album itself has one of the creepiest atmospheres ever caught on tape. Italy's Goblin utilized an array of unconventional instruments and spooky vocals to turn their brand of heavy metal prog-rock into something wickedly unique and spellbinding. Like Carpenter's music for Halloween, Goblin's score for Suspiria evokes not only scenes from the movie, but also images of dark forests, gothic settings, and witches doing dastardly deeds.

So, what albums do you automatically spin when the leaves start to fall and the stores start selling shitloads of candy? Sound off in the comments below!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Five Best-Used Songs in Horror Movies

One thing all horror fans can agree on is that the one aspect that can make or break a film is the music. While there is plenty of unforgettable music created specifically for horror movies, let's not forget there are times filmmakers have also utilized existing works, too. Besides, honestly, aren't you tired of hearing about "Dream Warriors" yet? The five tunes I have listed below are, to me, the best-used songs in horror films. I'm not saying they are the best songs that happen to show up. Trust me, I'd love to include Accept's "Fast as a Shark" (played during the motorcycle scene in Demons) just because it's a kick-ass song. Totally different kind of list. These tracks were picked for a reason. As you'll see, the reasons vary, but the uniform criteria is that these songs worked so well they are forever synonymous with the films in which they were used.

Here, in no order at all, are the five greatest examples of using an outside song to enhance a horror film:

"Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield, The Exorcist (1973)
What mainstream audiences know as the "theme" to The Exorcist, is actually the first five minutes of prog-rocker Mike Oldfield's side-long epic, "Tubular Bells, Part I". It's pretty clear that Oldfield was not thinking "creepy atmosphere" when he came up with the intro, because the rest of the composition resembles nothing like it. William Friedkin, though, thought it was the right choice to add to "the scariest movie of all time." Oh boy, did he hit the jackpot. The melody is so eerily catchy with it's hushed, odd rhythm, ensuring its infamous association with The Exorcist. More importantly, it's so beautifully played, it simultaneously captures the very human drama of the film.

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, Halloween (1978)
Hands down, one of the best examples of a song used to enhance a moment on screen comes in the form of Blue Oyster Cult's signature anthem, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper", in John Carpenter's Halloween. In the scene, Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) are riding in the car with the song on the radio, chit-chatting, smoking pot, and completely unaware of The Shape's existence, let alone the fact that he's following close behind in his stolen station wagon. Off their fourth album, 1976's Agents of Fortune, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was BOC's mainstream breakthrough, their biggest hit single, and is one of the greatest heavy metal songs ever written. It also puts every corny, corporate, kiss-ass hard rock power ballad that followed it to shame with its hauntingly beautiful, even philosophical, exploration of love that never dies. It works in the scene on the surface level of The Shape personifying Death, but the romanticism of the lyrics definitely adds a new layer to the bond between Laurie and her masked stalker.

Of course, an honorable mention goes to The Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman", which made its way into Halloween II. Similar to "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" in the previous film, the lyrics to "Mr. Sandman" ends up providing more subtext to the relationship between The Shape and Laurie. This time around, though, thanks to the film's plot twist, that subtext is more lurid.

"The Gonk" by Herbert Chappell, Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The most famous piece of elevator music ever. This library track, composed by Herbert Chappell and recorded in 1965, was used as the mall music for George A. Romero's zombie masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead. The snappy little number against the backdrop of hordes of the undead shuffling through a shopping center was as black-humored as social commentary gets, making it just as memorable as Goblin's original score for the film.

"Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus, Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Next on the list is "Goodbye Horses", an obscure 1988 darkwave song by the group, Q Lazzarus. The track has become famous thanks to Ted Levine's beyond awkward dance in 1991's Silence of the Lambs. You would think a song about transcending the ordinary and mundane would be a joyous listen, but the shadowy music gives the lyrics a rather darkened edge. That's why this underground classic is the perfect soundtrack for Buffalo Bill's subterranean dungeon.

"Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen, Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 years after its release, Queen's 1978 anthem, "Don't Stop Me Now" (off their underrated album, Jazz), was given new life after its inclusion in Edgar Wright's legendary horror comedy, Shaun of the Dead. I say inclusion, because Wright didn't just lay the song on top of the action, he made it part of the movie. As you can see and hear in the clip below, the scene is a hilarious blend of sound design, sound editing, choreography, and film editing. In addition, the song randomly plays as the Winchester's jukebox magically turns on during a crucial moment in the film, as Shaun's turn from aimless drone to true hero becomes complete.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Scream Factory Wishlist, Part II

It seemed inevitable that there would be a Part II of my wishlist. I wasn't thinking sequel- sure, that's what they all say- but that changed over the weekend when I was listening to a marathon of the GeekNation podcast, Killer P.O.V. (hosted by Fangoria's Rebekah McKendry, FEARnet's Rob G., and Inside Horror's Elric Kane). In one episode, Scream Factory's marketing director, Jeff Nelson, was a guest. During that conversation, they mentioned a film I could not believe I totally blanked on when I was coming up with the initial list. It's one that should have been at the very top of that list, because I have been waiting for-evah for it to make its disc debut. I quickly came up with an idea: rather than simply update the previous post, I decided to make another list of films that I think need the Scream Factory treatment. So, here's some more wishful thinking, starting with that film almost lost in the wind of my brain fart:

Blood Beach (1981)

This movie was a very memorable part of my early horror movie-watching. I was five when I saw Blood Beach on cable, and it scared the living crap out of me. So much that, the next time the family went to the coast, I was too scared to walk out onto the beach in fear of being sucked into the sand. Twelve years went by before I would ever see it again. At one point, I thought I dreamed the movie up in my head! I caught it on TBS my junior year of high school, back when they used to show low-budget fare late at night, and I was shocked to discover... how god-awful it was! Seriously, after it was done I was like, "Really?! I was scared shitless by that?!" Eventually, I came to be charmed by how much of a scuzzy, low-rent piece of crap it is, and by the time the Anchor Bays of the world started releasing cult horror films on DVD, I patiently waited for Blood Beach to get its turn. I'm still waiting. I'm now hoping Scream Factory can come to my rescue.

Firestarter (1984)

I would be extremely happy if Firestarter is included in Scream's deal with Universal. This was one of my favorite King adaptations as a kid, and I still think it's pretty good, despite the fact that Tangerine Dream's score hasn't aged well. Firestarter is also where my life-long crush on Drew Barrymore began. It looks like the bare-bones DVD Universal put out all the way back in 1998 is out-of-print, so I believe it's high time to rekindle this title. Yeah, I went there. But honestly, what a coup it would be for the Factory if they got Barrymore involved to do an interview or a commentary for the Blu-ray.


Christine (1983) and Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Just like Fright Night, John Carpenter's Christine and Tom Savini's remake of Night of the Living Dead were given very limited Blu-Ray releases by Twilight Time. From what I read about these disc and looking at Twilight Time's entire catalog, it's obvious that this is not a fan-friendly label. All they do is recycle content onto the newer format, and, to me, high definition alone is no incentive to fork over a wad of cash for a new disc. I was happy to trade in our Halloween II, Halloween III and Phantasm II DVDs for the Scream Factory Blu-Rays, because they offered reasons to upgrade. Twilight Time doesn't.

New Year's Evil (1980)

I love finding 80's slashers I missed out on as a kid. It's a fun hobby for me. Jenn and I rang in January 1st with this early Cannon Films production a couple of years ago, and I personally liked it. Even though it was released after Friday the 13th, New Year's Evil was made at a time when the slasher formula was not entirely set in stone. So instead, it made for an unintentionally humorous cash-in on Halloween. I almost bought this on Amazon, until I read this in the description:
"This product is manufactured on demand using DVD-R recordable media.'s standard return policy will apply.
This product is expected to play back in DVD Video "play only" devices, and may not play in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives."
Uh, no thanks. Since this is one of your library titles, MGM, why don't you go ahead and let the Factory give us the real deal?

Prom Night (1979)

I'm loving that more of Jamie Lee Curtis's scream queen-era films are getting the Scream Factory treatment, and Prom Night should be no exception. This is another movie that needs saving from Cheap DVD Label Hell.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

I don't know what prompted me to skip this movie when it came out in '87. The poster looked awesome. The trailer looked cool. Maybe it was because it was a Part II, and I had no memory of a Part I? Who knows. We rented it from Netflix last year, and I'm kicking myself for missing it the first time around. Even though it wasn't intended at first to be a sequel, I like it better than the original Prom Night. Hello Mary Lou is just nuts! I'm sure there's a following, so, considering this is another MGM library title, this movie would be a surefire hit for Scream Factory.

Tremors (1990)

Aside from Jurassic Park, Tremors is the best monster movie of the 90s. And Ariana Richards is in both of them. How about that? I really hope this one is also part of Scream Factory's deal with Universal, because since the latter didn't give it the lavish 100th Anniversary Blu-Ray release like many of its other titles, then they should let the former do it justice. In addition to the DVD extras, I would love to hear a Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward commentary, wouldn't you? Hell, if the new key art is anything like this Fright Rags shirt, I'm sold:

Last, but definitely not least...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2 (1986)
I was totally going to leave this off the list; I'm pretty positive Scream Factory will re-release Chainsaw 2 as a collector's edition. Why did I include it, then? Because the artwork for MGM's 2006 "Gruesome Edition" fucking sucks. I love the movie, love the bonuses, love the fact the DVD was a Christmas present from my brother, but the art pisses me off to no end. The cover was completely Saw-ed in an obvious attempt to lure younger buyers, therefore unindicative of what the movie is. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2 is the looniest, most garish funhouse ride ever committed to film. It's what House of 1,000 Corpses only dreams of being. I would rather just have the above poster as the cover, but I've got plenty of faith in SF's art department to come up with key art that will better represent how sickeningly insane this movie is.

Scream Factory home:

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013


 "Now Syd, don't you blame the movies! Movies don't create psychos! Movies make psychos more creative!"

I never did catch Wes Craven's Scream in theaters when it first opened in December of 1996. I don't remember it coming to my hometown, which was a bummer. Growing up on horror movies, I was totally stoked to see a movie that prided itself a scary movie after enduring years of "psychological thrillers". Alas, I had to wait until the VHS release to be at the party. Thankfully, with the enormous success of the first film, both Scream 2 and 3 came to town, and I was able to see those big-screen with my brothers. Eleven years after #3, I caught Scream 4 opening weekend, this time with Jenn. I actually enjoyed that film more than I did the previous installment (I seem to be one of the few who enjoyed it, period), but I started to really feel bad about missing the first film in theaters. Especially since it has become a movie that never gets old for me. So, when I heard the New Beverly Cinema and Horror Movie a Day were hosting a midnight showing of the first Scream on Saturday, I was not about to let an opportunity to right that wrong pass me by.

If any proof were needed that Scream is indeed a classic film, then the turnout for this screening was it. Jenn and myself were the first ones to arrive, and it was a bizarre sight to watch the line behind us get longer and longer in what seemed to be no time at all. After sixteen years, the picture can still pack a movie house. Not that that was surprising, but seeing the amount of younger faces reaffirmed me how long-lasting the film's impact has been, as well. Soon, our friend, Mike Brieburg, joined us, but not before checking out how far back the line went. You guessed it; around the block.

Before the movie started, Horror Movie a Day founder, Brian Collins, served up some Scream trivia to give away some DVD prizes, but first he brought Shock Till You Drop managing editor, Ryan Turek to the stage to quickly plugged the DVD release of the bonus features to his awesome retrospective documentary, Still Screaming. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend it, because it is as much a blast to watch as the films themselves. Then it was Q&A time with Scream's editor, Patrick Lussier. There was nothing really revelatory about the discussion, but it was pretty cool hearing from the editor himself about dealing with the movie's constant resubmitting to the MPAA for an R-rating.

After the Q&A finished, it was movie time. No trailer, no nothing. Straight into the Dimension Films logo, the telephone ringing as the title appears, and then a horror milestone commenced as Drew Barrymore answers the phone. Watching Scream this way was a thrill, for sure. Yes, it's smart, hilarious, and brutal, but it's even better on film projected on a big screen. There was also this odd feeling I got, like I was looking through a window to the past. In one way, Scream 4 was still fresh in my memory, so watching this- for the most part- same cast 16 years younger soon after was kinda trippy. In another way, Scream 1 came out just before I turned 20, so I felt a strange bit of nostalgia I never experienced before.

I no longer have the shame of the original- and best- Scream being the only one in the series I haven't watched in a theater. Since the franchise is now going to be turned into a show for MTV, I'm happy that the last of the Scream movies I see on the big screen is the first one. A really wacky way of looking at it, yeah, especially afterwards, but I'm still grateful I had this chance. Thanks to the New Beverly and Brian Collins for the screening, and thanks to Jenn and Mike for sharing it with me.

Oh, and here's a link to where you can order the 2-disc DVD of bonus features to that documentary, Still Screaming: