Sunday, October 17, 2010

I started drawing again during the summer, and here's a sample.  Drew this from the cover of THE INCREDIBLE HULK # 200.
I've been working on a huge article about the Superman movies, and it reminded me of this.  Yep, that's me in the Jimmy Olson get-up.

~ Doc

Saturday, October 16, 2010


     Movies have been a part of my existence pretty much since day one and that also included horror movies.  I'm not sure what the hell my parents were thinking- maybe it was because they were kids raising kids- but my earliest movie memories had Mrs. Voorhees stalking camp counselors, Jack Torrance chasing his wife and son through a hotel with an ax, and Max fending off the mohawked followers of Lord Humongous alongside Luke learning the ways of The Force, Dumbo discovering he can fly, and Dorothy trying to get back home to Auntie Em.  I’m still not sure what their logic was, but I am thankful I did get to experience quite a few 80’s splatterfests back in the days when the technological smackdown was between VHS and Beta, and the following seven were the films that guaranteed quite a few nights of covers pulled over my eyes.

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Not so much the whole movie, but definitely the last act.  The reason the final third of Friday the 13th was so scary for me back then was the fact that Mrs. Voorhess (played to the hilt by Betsy Palmer) looked a lot like my grandmother.  Seeing Jason’s mother running around chasing Adrienne King while talking to herself ended up being what I would imagine if Grandma had completely lost it.  Ultimately, it was that finale in which Jason pops out of the water that truly scared me shitless, and it still remains one of the greatest scare moments ever!

The Shining was my first Stephen King movie, and it was also my introduction to Jack Nicholson.  I must have been four or five when I first saw this movie as it debuted on the telly, but despite the usual scene trimmings, this movie was one of the biggest nightmare factories of my childhood.  All of it: the cascade of blood coming out of the elevator, the creepy twin girls, the music, Danny’s muttering of “Redrum”, Jack on the rampage, and whatever the hell was going on in that room Wendy looked into while searching for her son.  As I got older and started catching The Shining on cable, the film became even scarier, thanks in large part to the infamous Room 237 scene.  Sure, King wasn’t a big fan of Kubrick’s final product, and it became a topic in the never-ending “what-was-better-the-book-or-the-movie?” debate, but I experienced The Shining before knowing any of that!  For me, this was one of the most frightening movie moments of my youth, and to this day The Shining still packs a punch. 

Simply put, Poltergeist was so absolutely frightening as a kid, because it brought everything children are afraid of to vivid, and sometimes excruciating, life.  I recently watched Poltergeist on Turner Classic Movies, and I was surprised that it remains so scary even after more than a quarter century of slashers, psychological thrillers, and Saw knock-offs… and it’s rated PG!  The Poltergeist film series on the whole also has a very disturbing behind-the-scenes legacy, which adds another nerve-wrecking dimension to what is already a horror masterpiece.

IT (The first half)
One of Tim Curry’s most memorable roles is that of the evil clown, Pennywise, who torments a group of small-town kids in IT.   I remember the hype that preceded this TV mini-series, based on another Stephen King novel, and the first two hours certainly delivered.  IT would forever make me feel very cautious about being near clowns, if Poltergeist’s clown doll didn’t do that already!  Then came the conclusion the next night, and it was a severe letdown.  Still, remembering Pennywise’s horrid and brutal abuse of the protagonists makes me nostalgic for the days when filmmakers had the balls to put kids in danger in horror films.

1981’s Blood Beach, the story of beach-goers pulled underneath the sand by an unknown force, is a unique case of a movie that was so terrifying to me as a five-year-old, when I revisited it in my adult life I was surprised to find that now I think it is a complete piece of shit!  Don’t get me wrong, it is enjoyably bit of dirty, low-budget exploitation fair, but how I could have been possibly been so scared of this movie that the next time I went to the beach I didn’t want to walk out onto the sand still eludes me.

During the mid-to-late 1980’s it seemed all of Middle America was soiling their underpants about Satanism.  Thanks to the “Night Stalker”, Richard Ramirez, there were all sorts of pundits and dickhead parents on talk shows like Geraldo, Donahue, and Morton Downey, Jr. (remember him?) declaring heavy metal as “the devil’s music”, and sadly I bought into that (though at the same time, highly intrigued!).  It wasn’t long before one listen to my mom’s We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Roll album by Black Sabbath set me back on the right path, but I digress.  In addition to the idea of finding a hole to Hell in your own backyard, it was the paranoia about heavy metal being the gateway drug to joining a satanic cult that added another frightening layer to 1987’s The Gate.   It’ll be interesting to see what Alex Winter does with that in his upcoming remake, although I doubt anyone will find anything remotely scary about bone-headed costumed acts like ICP or Hollywood Undead.

Last, but definitely not least, is Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.  I was in first grade when this came to home video, via the now-legendary Media Home Entertainment, and it shook me to the core like no other film at that time.  First of all, kids have nightmares, and what better way to scare the little ones to the point of lunacy than a movie about a guy who kills you in your nightmares?  However, for those of us who were kids in the 80’s, A Nightmare on Elm Street was the scariest movie of all-time, because we were constantly bombarded with “Stranger Danger”,  and here was a character who preyed upon children, was put to death, and now preyed upon them in their dreams.  The film viciously suggested to us, the innocent, that evil would never be extinguished, and that it would always find a way to hurt us.  Not even six sub-par (and sometimes goofy) sequels, distillation into a merchandising machine, or a pointless remake can take away our first memories of Freddy Kruger, who, thanks the original (and still the best) nightmare on Elm Street, is our face of the boogeyman.

~ Doctor Splatter

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Journey to The Beyond: A Fan's Discovery of Fulci's Classic

     Released in 1981, The Beyond, directed by Lucio Fulci, has amassed a horde of devoted fans throughout the years, including Quentin Tarantino, who would praise and re-release the film. At this point, I can already hear you shouting at me, “Wait, we know all this already! So what?” Well, believe it or not there are horror fans out there who may not even heard of this movie. Now that The Beyond has made its long-awaited debut on Blu-ray, I find it necessary to share the history of and my perspective on it directly to those who only know the legend of Fulci’s film or who are totally unfamiliar with it. I find it important, because for a long time I was both of those examples. I have only been aware of The Beyond for about a dozen years, and for most of that time the film would just be just that: a legend. So, I know how it feels to be late to the party.
      I have been a fan of horror cinema since I was a kid, and I had seen plenty of cult films and obscure oddities throughout my youth, but it wasn’t until 2002 that I first came across something regarding The Beyond. There was a British entertainment magazine- I don’t remember which one- that belonged to my roommate at the time sitting on the kitchen table, and as I was flipping through it the film's most famous screenshot caught my attention. Naturally, I started reading the article, which not only introduced me to the film but also to the Video Nasty phenomenon in England during the 1980s. It was this moment that launched my love affair with The Beyond and its legendary creator, Lucio Fulci.
     Fulci, who passed away in March of 1996, had a career that spanned nearly forty years and across many different genres of film. In fact, his directorial debut, Jukebox Kids, was a musical comedy. Fulci would go on to westerns (Four of the Apocalypse), crime dramas (Contraband), a period piece (Beatrice Cenci), and, more famously, a series of thrillers (A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Don’t Torture a Duckling, and The Psychic). Yet, the man remains infamous for a succession of over-the-top and extremely gory horror films around the turn of the 1980s. Fulci’s unrelenting, apocalyptic epics of eye-gouging, throat-ripping, and murderous rotting corpses continue to attract new fans. The Beyond is considered to be the filmmaker’s masterpiece. 
     The second in an unofficial trilogy (which started with City of the Living Dead and concluded with The House by the Cemetery) begins in the Seven Doors Hotel in 1927 Louisiana, where an angry mob comes to lynch a painter named Schwieck, who they suspect to be an “ungodly warlock”. Schwieck warns he‘s the only one who could help them, but in their blinded fear they drag him down to the basement. Already, Fulci hits the ground running as the mob whip the flesh off his body with chains and crucify him to the wall with steel nails before dousing him with quicklime. Cut to 1981, and New Yorker Liza (Katherine MacColl) has inherited the now dilapidated hotel, and is working diligently to repair it for re-opening. In no time at all, strange things are afoot. First, the housepainter mysteriously falls off a scaffold, prompting local doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck) to come and take him to the hospital. Liza then runs into a blind woman named Emily (Sarah Keller), who begs her to leave the hotel. Meanwhile, a plumber comes to examine the flooded labyrinthine basement, unwittingly re-discovers the portal after it had been walled over, and pays for it big time! Even after all the accidents, her distrust in the employees who “came with the hotel”, and the constant visits and doom prophecies of Emily, Liza is still determined to stay. However, the occurrences get more frightening and the evisceration escalates to jaw-dropping levels, forcing Liza and the self-assured McCabe to try and uncover the truth about the hotel, or at least a version of it that will satisfy their sense of rationality. The whole thing climaxes in a shoot-out with the undead in a deserted hospital, which leads to one of the more bizarre endings in horror movies.
      The Beyond never got a proper theatrical release in the U.S. when it was produced. Instead, it was relegated to a very limited run in theaters and on home video in the US as the heavily-censored Seven Doors of Death in 1983. It wasn’t until 1998 that Quentin Tarantino and Grindhouse Releasing (founded by Sage Stallone and film editor Bob Murawski) re-mastered the film and gave it a real American debut on the midnight movie circuit, as well as a DVD release by Anchor Bay (in standard and a limited tin editions) in 2000. A blessing for those who waited patiently for the film to be brought stateside in its uncut form, but I was still in the dark. At the time of the re-release I was still stuck in the rural, cultural black hole of Coalinga, California, still under the impression that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was the only midnight movie that ever existed. By the time I became familiar with The Beyond, both DVD editions were dried up. Instead I was stuck with a cheap disc of the butchered Seven Doors of Death, given to me as a Christmas present.
     When I popped in Seven Doors of Death, I had no clue it was a heavily-cut version of The Beyond. The fake title card should have been the first clue, but it was becoming more and more apparent the plot seemed all-too-familiar to the film I had only read about. In addition to the crappy transfer, there just seemed to be no purpose to what was going on, therefore making a very pointless experience. It wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of the image that first turned me onto The Beyond that confirmed my greatest fear: I was indeed watching a bogus cut of the movie I had been searching for. It was one of the most disappointing movie moments of my life, compounded by the fact I discovered soon afterwards that the Anchor Bay DVD was now out of print. I actually gave up on The Beyond for a while. It would take seeing Fulci’s 1979 opus, Zombie, in its uncut edition to re-ignite my interest in the director, as well as my pursuit of The Beyond. I had a Netflix account, but they were no help. So, I had no choice but to plop down some serious cash for a used copy of the limited tin edition on Amazon. Hey, if I was going to spend money on a movie I (on some level) never saw I might as well go all the way. I’m glad I did; The Beyond lives up to its legend, and has become my favorite of the Fulci gore pictures of this period.
      The critics, though, were never on the side of The Beyond, or Fulci’s body of work for that matter. Those who viewed the film during its 1998 debut in America weren’t just dismissive of it; they were merciless. A very famous critic from the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “The plot involves … excuse me for a moment while I laugh uncontrollably at having written the words ’the plot involves’”. One reviewer called The Beyond’s plot “annoyingly threadbare”, while another from the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “Hell is worse than this?” While I believe both factions are rightfully entitled to their opinions, I have to tip the scale over to the side of the legions of the Fulci faithful. What the mainstream critics failed to see- or rather chose to ignore- is the intention of The Beyond and, more importantly, it’s execution. This isn’t like most of the American slasher films that followed throughout the rest of the Eighties, whose sacrifice of storytelling in sole favor of gore is clearly out of laziness. With The Beyond, Fulci wanted to make a purely visual gothic horror piece. The point of the plot is to act as, as one reviewer favorable to the movie calls it, a “clothesline” for the gore sequences. The Beyond, even after nearly thirty years, never fails to shock as it delivers some of the most spectacularly gory moments ever put on screen (courtesy of FX artist Giannetto De Rossi). It is the pay-off of those extremely violent moments which the movie builds up to, and the reason why, without those pay-offs, the Seven Doors of Death version is nothing more than an aimless mess. The audacity- and maybe a little viciousness on Fulci’s part- behind the sanguineous set pieces is why the film continues to pack a gross-out punch! The Beyond walks a really weird line between a traditional narrative film and avant-garde cinema. Whether or not popular film critics will ever give the movie kudos for trying- or even acknowledge such notion, period- doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter. 
     It was a long journey to experience The Beyond in all its gothic, gory glory. You always hear about instances of the chase being much better than the catch, but in this case I have been savoring the catch every single time The Beyond is on my TV. Younger horror fans will also savor and appreciate what Fulci delivers with this film. Lucky for them, the film is once again available on DVD, this time courtesy of Grindhouse Releasing, who also released a stunning 3-disc Blu-ray edition last month (complete with a CD of the film's score!) . The Beyond serves as a worthwhile ride into the surrealistic and a spectacular introduction for anyone looking to discover Lucio Fulci and Italian horror cinema. 


Thursday, August 26, 2010

IIIIIII Love... Living in the City!

Greetings Ghoulies,
     This is my first transmission from the City of Angels. Today marks two weeks since my arrival in Los Angeles. Most of that time has been spent getting furniture, groceries, looking for a job, and building ALL the furniture that was purchased. It's been an exhausting fourteen days, but it has never been boring.  One thing for certain, being back in the place where I was spawned has given me a new-found sense of confidence in pursuing what I really want to do, and that is to be involved in the horror film genre in some capacity. Whether it's making them, getting them made, or just writing about them, to simply ignore my calling out of others' sense of practicality is criminal to my soul. That is why, coupled with the fact that I have another blog on Tumblr for my other nerdy shit, I have a stronger resolve to write more about horror cinema here, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.

     So, let's get busy. There has been a lot that has gone on in the genre, and I don't have a hell of a lot of time tonight, so here come the bullet points of some the happenings that have taken place in my absence, followed by the obligatory, smart-ass thoughts only an internet troll like me could dish out.

  •  No, I have not seen any new movies since the summer began (Honestly, the last horror flick I went to see in theaters was Drag Me to Hell). In fact, I'm not sure if there was anything high-profile that was released during the summer. Going out to watch a film is ridiculously expensive nowadays, and the idea of plopping down $20- $30 for just ONE trip to see ONE flick is not the kind of absurdity I find value in at all. I have become frugal, and therefore fickle, about my choices. Given the ho-hum response to Predators this past July, I think I was wise in saving my cash. There are two films making the rounds as we speak: Alexander Aja's remake of Piranha (in 3-D) and the Eli Roth-produced The Last Exorcism. I wasn't gung-ho on seeing the former, due to my constant fist-shaking at remakes (I seem to be one of the few who didn't like his version of The Hills Have Eyes.), and the eyes immediately rolled at the sight of the latter's PG-13 rating. Lo and behold, though, both films have been getting positive responses from critics and fans. Two horror movies that everyone seem to like out at the same time?! Gasp! That seems to be the case. Who knew? Right now, I'm very enthusiastic about seeing both movies, and I hope to find the means to watch them right away.
  • Speaking of remakes, there is now a trailer for Matt Reeves' Let Me In, the Americanized version of the awesomely original Let the Right One In. Judging from the trailer it pretty much looks EXACTLY like the Swedish version, only with English dialogue. Is it just me, or does that seem like a big waste of money to you? I'm not an expert, but I'm sure Gus Van Sant would be a more likely person to ask.
  • Grindhouse, the theatrical version, with all the faux trailers, is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray on October 5th. It's about goddamn time!
  • The remake of one of my all-time favorite monster movies, Fright Night is going to happen. So is, believe it or not, I Spit On Your Grave! There's no trailer for Fright Night yet, but I Spit... has one. I don't see the new "Day of the Woman" being high-profile enough to warrant the same kind of negative attention that was paid in full to the original. This year's crown of controversy goes to Kick-Ass's Hit Girl. As far as Fright Night is concerned, I won't have anything to say about it until I see a trailer, even with my man-crush, David "Doctor Who" Tennant, playing the role of Peter Vincent.
  • After an eleven year absence, the Ghostface Killer is back, terrorizing teens (while quizzing them on horror trivia) in Scream 4! The old gang is back: Wes Craven directing, Kevin Williamson writing, with Neve and the Arquettes returning to the cast. I have to tell you folks, I'm not a Scream hater, and I never was. It is wholly unfair to blame the state of the genre on one film. Older people (Siskel and Ebert, especially) were bitching and moaning about slashers in the 1980's, and publicly faulting Halloween for it. Scream was a kick-ass scare flick, and it still packs a punch fifteen years later. I just hope the fourth entry will only add to that legacy when it opens April 15th, 2011. Until then, Craven has another film, entitled My Soul to Take, coming out October 8th. I just hope it's not Cursed.
  • It looks like a remake of Hellraiser isn't on the table. Instead, it's ANOTHER sequel: Hellraiser: Revelations. This will be the ninth movie, but this time, however, Doug Bradley won't be reprising his most famous role, Pinhead. Thanks, but no thanks. No Bradley, no go. It's not like any of the sequels after Hell on Earth were any good anyways. Other unnecessary sequels being churned out: Underworld 4, Final Destination 5, The Lost Boys 3, and Saw VII.
  • I cannot wait for AMC's series, The Walking Dead (based on the Image comic book by Robert Kirkman). 'Nuff said.
  • One remake I am excited for (We're still talking about those?) is Adam Gierasch's redux of the 1987 oddity, Night of the Demons. I have been keeping tabs on this one, thanks in large part to Ryan Turek and I really enjoyed the original's gratuity, so I obviously expect that in the update, especially when the director proclaims his love for the original. The film premieres at Grauman's Mann Chinese theater in Hollywood on October 9th and comes to DVD October 19th. There is also a "Hootenanny" to celebrate the release of the film October 2nd at the Dragonfly (featuring LA Death Rock legends 45 Grave!). I would've liked to attend both events, but I have a wedding and a Zombie Ball to attend on the 2nd, while the New Beverly Cinema is hosting an all-night horror marathon on the 9th. Skinny white boy's burden, I guess.
     Well, that is all this Medical Deviant has to diagnose tonight. I'm sure none of this was news to anyone, but give me a break, I'm catching up. Now that I'm settled in my new digs, it is time to let the debauchery and depravity flourish anew.

~ Doctor Splatter

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

MARVELous Summer

Hey Ghoulies,
     Doctor Splatter has returned from another long hiatus, only this time it's been probably the most productive couple of months I have had in a long while, and I couldn't feel happier and grateful for it. I finally managed to crawl out of the cowshit-scented, conservative toilet bowl that is the Central San Joaquin Valley. I ended up back in my old hometown with my folks in the fall of 2007, after a very bitter break-up and alcohol-infused feud with my ex-girlfriend. More on that later, considering there are a couple of old, dear buds I recently got back in touch with via Facebook, and they're probably reading this and wondering what the hell happened. For right now, though, this about my present, and my glorious future with my lovely partner in crime, Jennica.

     Originally, I came up here to Sacramento in May for two reasons: to spend my birthday with Jenn, who was taking me to see Iron Man 2 (which, by the way, opened on my birthday and totally rocked!), and to look for a summer job to save up to relocate to Fullerton, CA, in Orange County. Jenn was accepted to Cal State Fullerton, and she was all set to go there, thinking there wasn't a snowball chance in hell she'd be accepted to USC, which was her preference. Given the current state of the economy, I was expecting the job hunt to be just as exasperating and spirit-crushing as it had been for me the last two years and that I'd be right back in Coalinga, back to square one again. However, it seems the gods are shining down on both of us. Three days after I showed up I snagged an interview at the Wal-Mart where Jenn's mother works. I was hired on the spot, and I'm now working as overnight maintenance for the summer. Mind you, working for the country's largest retailer is not a career goal I have, nor is it a cultural environment I (under any other circumstances) want to associate myself with. I know I sound elitist, but I could care less. However, I'm not going to bore you today with a long-winded soap-box speech on the douchebaggery of the house Uncle Sam Walton built. It is a means to an end, and I'm willing to put up with the armies of the morally-bankrupt, barely-literate, morbidly-obese, contraceptive-impaired living dead, and the equally socially short-sighted kiss-asses I work with, in order to get what I want. Thought I'd get that out of the way.

     Then, something happened on Jenn's end that makes our dream of being a big-city, horror-obsessed, co-habitator couple even better and even more worthwhile: she was accepted to the University of Southern California! In case you don't know, Jennica is majoring in psychology, and was recommended by her counselor to apply to USC. Again, she thought it was a longshot, and that's because Jenn has the same self-esteem issue I've struggled with: short-changing yourself no matter how many people think you are incredible. Jennica is a brilliant woman and deserves to be recognized for that, and be allowed into an institution that will help her reach the potential she has, but I think because of the social status she was raised in she felt that was unattainable. I know, because I'm still trying to overcome that myself, and I sensed Jenn was more so content with attending Cal State Fullerton. She was more overjoyed with the notion of just getting out of Sacramento and not being around her family everyday. So naturally, when she got the acceptence letter from USC, Jenn was completely blind-sided.  I wish I could've seen the look on her face when she got the envelope and opened it up, but I was at work. I called her up after I received a text from her, and I could just tell from the sound of her voice what she was feeling: shock, awe, excitement, terror, sense of accomplishment, etc. I knew she was destined for this and deserved every bit of it, so I couldn't wait to tell her how much I love her and how proud I am of her.

     So, yeah... That is what our summer has turned out to be: both of us preparing for moving to Los Angeles, while getting a taste of living together at the same time. After a two-and-a-half year relationship that's been entirely long-distance, just having the same zip code would've been a welcomed change. Sharing the same space with Jenn right now is a wonderful bonus, and has done nothing but rock. In addition, I get to take Jenn out to dinner on occasion, got my BlackBerry service back, practically got a whole new summer wardrobe, and throughout the rest of the summer, I'll also be brushing up on some computer programs, making more contacts and looking for career opportunities in LA, while Jenn has been successful at finding apartments for us. We're currently looking at a couple of studios and 1-bedrooms around the $850- $900 range.

     It hasn't all been work, work, work. We still manage to get some movie-watching in. I'll have my thoughts on all of what we've seen later. Plus, even with saving up for relocation, I've also managed to continue my hobby of superhero geekdom. This summer really has been all about Marvel comics for me. I got a few B-Day presents for myself: three Frank Miller-era Daredevil comics, plus old paperback collecting the first five issues of The Avengers. As quaint as those old Avengers issues are, it's great to be able to read them and to gain that sense of history, especially with the movie coming in 2012. I have never read of the books from Miller's run on Daredevil in the early 80's, save a reprint that came with my Marvel Legends Movie Daredevil figure. So far, they've just been bad-ass!

     Of course, with the release of Iron Man 2 also come the action figures. I did get a few of the 3 3/4 inch movie figures, thinking the Marvel Legends-style movie figures I've been collecting for close to a decade were over and done with, and that I couldn't have the new toys alongside the old ones. So, I ended up getting smaller versions of the Iron Man Mark I, Mark III, and Iron Monger figures I already have in addition to Iron Man Mark V, VI, and War Machine from the new movie. Come to find out afterwards that there is a 6" series for Iron Man 2, they're only available at Wal-Mart! At first came, "Fuck," but soon afterwards, I came to the solution to sell the smaller figures on eBay. Very quickly, folks ate those up, and I was able to get some dough back. At the moment I have a 6" Iron Man Mark VI to go along with my figures from the first film. Hopefully I can get War Machine and the Mark V armor in the stores, because there seems to be less of those two, and they are WAY overpriced online. Supposedly, there's going to be Mark IV (with interchangable heads), Nick Fury, and Black Widow coming next, but Hasbro BETTER have a Whiplash figure down the line! I'm getting annoyed with the fact that there are way fewer villian action figures made from all the movie lines. No Kingpin or Bullseye from Daredevil, no Lady Deathstrike from X2, no Mephisto from Ghost Rider, or an Abomination figure to go along with the Target exclusive Hulk I have.

     That's the jist of what my summer has been so far. I feel really lucky and grateful to not only be working towards something big again, but to also have my love and best friend by my side. Ever since I've been here, my self-confidence has shot through the roof. Yes, I have to attribute that to what I've done, but I also have to thank Jennica for her help and support, too. Despite some stress, nervousness, and a little constipation, we've been having a lot of fun and are extremely excited about our future together. It is simply incredible that after two-and-a-half years we are not only still very much in love, but continue to bring the best out of each other. I am blessed.

~ Doc


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review of When A Stranger Calls (1979)

When A Stranger Calls (1979)
5 out of 10 stars.

     Even though Halloween, John Carpenter’s 1978 tale of a masked killer stalking babysitters on the titular holiday, is regarded (by some at least) to be the first slasher movie, it wasn’t until 1980’s Friday the 13th  that the innovations solidified into conventions.  It was the blockbuster success of that film that cemented the slasher as a new subgenre of horror.  The period in between those two films was a rather shaky one, and 1979’s When a Stranger Calls reflects that.  After a masterfully suspenseful first twenty minutes that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat, When a Stranger Calls quickly, and without warning, turns into a confusing mess and winds up an entirely disappointing failure.

     Directed by Fred Walton, the movie opens with a very promising first act as babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) comes to watch the children of Dr. and Mrs. Mandrakis.  The couple leaves for their night out, and the kids are already in bed, so Jill makes herself at home.  An hour into her stay, the phone rings.  She answers, expecting a call from a boy, but there’s no response on the other end.  Jill hangs up.  The phone quickly rings afterwards, only this time a man eerily asks her, “Have you checked the children?”  At first she blows it off as a prank, but soon the calls become more frequent and menacing,  and it becomes clear to Jill that this is no prank.  It may be all-too-familiar to a lot of moviegoers these days, but with pacing, sparse music, light and shadow, and Kane’s performance, Walton creates a tense, nail-biting sequence that, to this day, effectively builds to a heart-stopping climax.  This is also where the film offers a memorable plot twist that has since become ingrained in the popular consciousness (even though Black Christmas used it five years before).  Sadly, the rest of the film does next to nothing to deliver on the promise.

     The movie moves ahead seven years, as private investigator John Clifford, played by Charles Durning, is called upon by Dr. Mandrakis.  Clifford was the detective called to the scene of the crime, and who later put the maniac behind bars.  We learn that the madman behind the phone is English immigrant Curt Duncan, played by Tom Beckley in his final role (and who was actually ill during filming).  Duncan has escaped from a mental hospital, and the doctor hires the P.I. to track him down.  At this point When a Stranger Calls unexpectedly ceases from being a straight-ahead slasher and becomes somewhat of an urban crime thriller…and a really poor one at that.  For close to an hour the film meanders along as Clifford searches the seedy city streets for Duncan, who’s now a homeless derelict wandering about and pestering a middle-aged woman named Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst).  None of what made the opening sequence of the film so nerve-wrecking is present here.  The pacing is dreadfully dull, there are no thrills to speak of, and the story goes nowhere.  Beckley is a good performer, but the mystique surrounding his character is all but evaporated, and Duncan is reduced to a pathetic, socially-awkward creep.  Durning just plods along in a role that is so clich├ęd (the hard-nosed, no-nonsense cop) we can’t root for him.  As if to apologize for the sudden shift in direction, Walton tacks on a contrived ending that has the killer once again attacking Jill, who somehow managed to be adjusted enough to get married and have two kids in a span of only seven years.  Carol Kane’s character in this part of the movie is so underwritten it resembles more of a parody of her earlier appearance.

     So how could a picture start out so effectively frightening only to quickly squander all that potential?  According to the Internet Movie Database, the first twenty minutes of When a Stranger Calls was shot as a short film entitled “The Sitter”.  After the success of Halloween, though, Walton decided to expand the script into a feature.  It’s painfully obvious that there wasn’t a lot of work put into building upon the initial story, resulting in a movie that has no idea what it wants to be.  If it had remained what it was originally intended to be, it could’ve been the best short horror film ever made.  Instead, When a Stranger Calls stands as a wobbly bridge between the Hitchcock-ian past and the slasher future.  If you do wish to watch this movie, watch it for only those first twenty minutes! 

~ Doctor Splatter

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New followers & new Nightmare

Hey Ghoulies!

     Whoa, I have new followers!  That's a great thing to see.  Welcome to the Lab, all those that dared to enter.  I guess I have Twitter to thank for that.  I've been spending more time there, and I have "met" some pretty cool horror fans from the U.S. and U.K. because of it.  I'm still on Facebook a lot as well, but I use it to keep in contact with people, not to play those stupid games, mind you.
     There's something about those two social networks I thought about yesterday: I look at my followers on Twitter, and then my friends list on Facebook, and remembered that they were, at one point, two very different worlds.  Looking back at what my Facebook page became, it was a pretty "safe" environment.  In the beginning, it was great.  Facebook was my grown-up alternative to the cyberspace Jerry Springer show that was- and still is- MySpace.  After some time, most of the people on there were family, old classmates, old co-workers, and friends of exes.  Because of the old classmates from high school, specifically, it was beginning to be a family-friendly place, and it was bothersome.  As you might have guessed, most of the people from that part of my life have gotten married, had kids, and all that stuff.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with that in it of itself, but coupled with the fact that I was raised in a rather rural part of California?  Yeah, despite the passage of time, and getting past the Welcome to the Dollhouse dramatics, I still can't relate, you know?  I don't know, maybe it was the self-conscious part of me, but I was imagining that it was a pretty pathetic thing to be an outcast on the internet.  That feeling didn't last long, but despite the concern, I've met a few really great friends who share my enthusiasm for all things horror on Facebook, who then started following me on Twitter, which then opened the floodgates!  Because of Twitter, I've "met" a lot of horror film fans and/or writers in the last few weeks.  Here's the funny part: some of the followers on Twitter are now my friends on Facebook (I even got a message from Night of the Demons director, Kevin Tenney!).  I say funny, because with all the horror fans, writers, artists, punkers, and "misfits" in general put together, seeing them migrate towards my safe-and-sane Facebook page like a disease brings a big ol' Joker smile to my face!  So, yeah... Thanks, guys!

     So, the last thing I shot my mouth off on before I took a break was Platinum Dunes' upcoming remake of Wes Craven's 1984 masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street.  In the months since my last post, I still haven't made a decision as to whether or not I'm going to see this.  Honestly,  I have never been so on-the-fence about a remake as much as this one.  A part of is still curious about it (courtesy of the trailer below), but another part of me is convinced that it will not have the nerve-shattering impact the original had on me when I first watched it in 1st Grade.  Again, we'll have to wait and see.  Watch trailer Number 2, and judge for yourself.  The movie opens April 30th.  All I can say to Platinum Dunes is: Good luck trying to retain any business after Iron Man 2 opens the next weekend!

~ Doctor Splatter

Monday, March 15, 2010

     So yeah... I'm back, and it sure has been a hell of a long time, I know.  I don't want to bore anyone with the world's-smallest-violin-playing details, but for the past six months, I have been consumed by "real life stuff".  However, despite the uncertainty of what still lies ahead of me, I'm happy and healthy at least, and ready to get back to doing something I love on a more regular basis.  What I have to work on is keeping in mind how much happier I am when I'm writing, and that it's here for me when I need it.
     I'm still on the hunt for a steady paycheck, though.  Finding a job in this teeny, tiny conservative wet dream is not exactly easy.  I did manage to get a job at K-Mart- yes, they still exist- this Christmas season, but as soon as JC's B-Day was over, they let me go.  I may be back to square one, but now it's not about just me getting out of here.  After being in a long-distance relationship for more than two years, I decided it was time to go the next step and build a life with my lovely lady, and fellow horror fanatic, Jennica.  She'll be transferring to either USC or San Diego State this Autumn, so time and money are of the essence, to say the least!
     You might have noticed the blog has a new name.  That's not the only change.  Now, I have always liked comedy, but I never had any aspirations to be a comedic writer or stand-up performer.  After George Carlin passed away 2 years ago, though, it seems, to me anyways, there has been a void not only in the comedy world, but also in mine.
     Discovering Carlin the stand-up comedian was like discovering your favourite rock band for the first time.  Actually, let me correct that: Seeing George Carlin on HBO for the first time is like getting to hear a record by a band that you were forbidden to listen to.  You've heard all the reasons from parents and teachers why you're not supposed to listen to "that 'music'", but all it does is strengthen your resolve, your desire, to hear it.  Then, at long last, when you get a hold of that record and put it on, it completely enthralls you!  It makes you feel alive in a way you've never felt before, because you understand why all of authority condemns them, but also why they will never get it.  The songs, hell the band, then become your personal battle cry! That was my experience when I witnessed my first George Carlin HBO Special.  No other comic has come close to giving me that same illicit thrill, and that's why he's always been my favourite.
     That is why I have decided to throw some occasional comedy into this blog by adding my own ranting, but hopefully funny, insights, remarks, and diatribes about whatever is going on.  I absolutely hate the present state of comedy (More on that later.) and when Carlin died, I was heartbroken.  Who else is going to be the one who brazenly and brilliantly makes us laugh in a culture dominated by brainless, overgrown boys?  After a while I realized that if I want that same thrill again from the power of laughter, I would have to do it myself.  Provide myself with my own humour and satire, and share it with those in need of a good chuckle.  I'm not setting my sights on being the next Carlin, mind you.  That would obvious and pretentious of me.  The point of this is that if there's something that bothers me that much, there are better ways for me to express that than lashing out, which is something I'm notorious for doing in the past.  And anger management is boring!  Poking jabs at something is more fun.  To quote Johnny Rotten, "You can't affect change unless you attack the very thing that's holding you down."  Wait, rock analogies?  Do it yourself?  Quoting Johnny Rotten?  Punk comedy, maybe?

     Anyways, the Lab is officially up and running.  Let's see what kind of horrors I can create!

~Doctor Splatter