September 30, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Freaks

Title: Freaks
Starring: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Bosco Ates
Director: Tod Browning
Written by: Willis Goldbeck and Leon Gordon
Released: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1932)

This movie has been something of an urban legend when I was growing up. It was the talk of the schoolyard on more than one occasion, groups of boys and girls huddled together as one boy insisted that the monsters and freaks depicted in the film were the genuine article. But when pressed for details, things turned vague, and one had to wonder if the movie really existed. And when it was confirmed in later years that it was true, that it did exist, it was just like an urban legend in that everyone had heard of it, but hardly anyone at all had actually seen it.

I guess there are two factors that contributed to this film's entry into horror's mythos. Firstly, the sideshow characters depicted in the film are legitimate sideshow performers, from the conjoined twins, to the half-man, to the so-called pinheads. Secondly, the movie so shocked audiences of the 1930s that it was subsequently banned. If that kind of response isn't bound to make a movie the stuff of legend, nothing will.

As it stands, the movie is hardly what I would describe as shocking--not by today's standards, that's for certain. But there is an air about it, with its fabled history, that gives the movie something of a timeless quality. It's not just a moralistic tale about judging people by their appearance and the cruelty that comes from such prejudice, but the time capsule effect of seeing an era that has long since past, yet has carried on in other forms to this very day.

In a circus full of carnival performers, a midget falls in love with the most beautiful woman in the circus, who in turn uses her suitor as a pawn and source of distasteful amusement. Along with her strongman accomplice and lover, she plots to bilk the little man of every cent he's worth, which turns out to be a substantial amount. But there is a code among the "freaks." Hurt one and you hurt them all. Offend one and you offend them all.

As a child, the movie was described to me in such a way that I was under the impression that the freaks were the villains of the film. Quite the opposite, I would learn in later years. But I wonder, for a movie in its time that was banned from theaters, if audiences may have seen the relatively shocking appearance of the characters and considered them the villains regardless of the subject matter.

There are scattered moments in the movie when it seemed like Tod Browning, who himself was once a contortionist, wanted his players to be shown as much for their appearances and antics, as much as actors in a film. To see a man with no arms or legs manage to strike his own match and light his own cigarette was a particular highlight, as far as those moments go. But I was glad to see that such moments didn't detract from the actual story told.

The acting is dated and a bit clunky among the less-refined actors in the cast, but there is definitely a charm about it to be appreciated by audiences. I think there are more than a few people reluctant to watch this movie because of that mystique the movie's history carries, but I think it deserves to be seen as simply a sixty-minute tale of betrayal and revenge.

Rabid Rewind: Brand Upon the Brain

Title: Brand Upon the Brain
Starring: Erick Steffen Maahs, Sullivan Brown, Gretchen Krich
Narrator: Isabella Rossellini
Director: Guy Maddin
Written by: Guy Maddin, George Toles, and Louis Negin
Released: The Film Company (2006)
Genre: Horror

The New York Times called this "one of the year's [2006] ten best films." From that snippet and seeing the film for myself, I can only conclude that either I and the Times have very different tastes in film. For me, this was one of the most interminable pieces of cinema to sit through in some time. It's the kind of film that demands an explicitly open mind in order derive any kind of entertainment. I gave it a half-hour, which should have been plenty in order for the story to be told in the way it was told. However, this movie clocks in at ninety minutes, and that just won't do for me.

It's a silent film ... sort of. What the film does is pose as a silent film, but has dubbed sound effects and narration by the lovely Isabella Rossellini. The movie was anything but silent, but was stylized in a way to harken back to those old pre-talkie days of cinema. It's black-and-white clippy film with that Charlie Chaplin style of acting, with interjecting frames of exposition and dialogue. But the sound is crystal clear and the narration comes booming in over everything. I can appreciate it as a style choice, but it feels like such a put-on and so faked for the sake of appearances that I couldn't get into the story.

And the story sounded really interesting, which is why I borrowed the DVD from the library in the first place. Guy Maddin (not the real Guy, but a character of the director's name) is called back to his childhood home by his mother, asking him to repaint the lighthouse to bring it to some semblance of its former glory one last time before she passes on. Soon after arriving and getting to work, Guy starts seeing things and remembers the strange instances of his childhood. As a child under the watchful and repressive eye of his mother, Guy and his sister lived in the upstairs of the lighthouse along with the orphans the family cared for, while his father performed experiments in the basement. He recalls a mystery involving strange scars on the heads of the children, and a surreal encounter with a famed brother/sister detective team that came to the island to solve its mystery.

The whole story is a weird interpretation of moments from Guy Maddin's own childhood, though it is nowhere close to being an autobiographical piece lest he wind up in a madhouse. For the imagination and the daring to create such a film, and snagging Rossellini to narrate it, Maddin deserves a heap of credit. But the end result is a rather uninviting piece of film. Had it been presented as a short film, like 30-40 minutes, it would have been much more digestible for me. As it stands, a viewer really needs to have an affinity for experimental film making and eclectic approaches to the old-fashioned storytelling ways.

I can't say I'd recommend this to anyone looking for something more conventional. If you're a bit daring give a try, though. You might appreciate it more than me.

September 29, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #66: Lisa Mannetti's "51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

I loved, loved--LOVED--the debut novel The Gentling Box by Lisa Mannetti. And if you'd like to know why, then read my review of it here. That book came out in 2008 though, and for 2010 she has something completely different for readers. A humorous nonfiction collaboration with artist Glenn Chadbourne entitled 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover.

If you've ever broken up with someone and secretly wished they wind up six feet under, and preferably under grizzly circumstances, then this book might be a little slice of catharsis for you. Not that I'm feeling particularly jilted, myself, but I do enjoy dark comedy. And when it comes with that "I know how you feel" kind of sentiment, then I'm all for it.

The only thing I'm wondering prior to reading it, however, is why Lisa didn't invent a 52nd fiendish method. Then she could sell decks of playing cards with Glenn's illustrations on each one. Think about it, Lisa. :) After all, Christmas is fast approaching and everyone needs stocking stuffers.

September 28, 2010

Rabid Reads: "The Devil You Know" by Poppy Z. Brite

The Devil You Know
by Poppy Z. Brite
Gauntlet Press (2005)
ISBN 1-88736-887-9

If Poppy Z. Brite didn't reside in New Orleans, you'd swear her collection The Devil You Know was nothing short of a morbid preoccupation with the historically vibrant city. This collection of short stories, the majority of which are set in New Orleans come before the devastating events of Hurricane Katrina (published as a collection in 2005 prior to the disaster). Through a present day lens The Devil You Know feels like a time capsule of something magical that may very well have been lost in Katrina's aftermath. But I speak only as someone new to Brite's work and unfamiliar with the goings on of Louisiana life. I can say confidently, however, that she offers readers a lens through which to appreciate the Big Easy.

The collection contains thirteen stories originally published between 1999 and 2003. And there is a surprising thread that runs through quite a few of the stories: food. To be specific, the eclectic blend of cuisine found in New Orleans via its restaurants. With a region so saturated in gothic charm and folklore, it's interesting that Brite used culinary delights as a through-line in this collection. As a person who enjoys a great meal too, however, I can see the allure. And I'll be damned if there wasn't a scene or two through the book that made me hungry.

Food isn't the only thing on the menu, so to speak. Brite offers an assortment of characters that range from quirky to vengeful to indulgent.

"The Devil You Know" kicks off the collection as a short story in the middle of Mardi Gras as the Devil and a feline companion getting ready to partake in the festivities. A story inspired by the art of Alan M. Clark, it ably dances between the surreal and the topical.

"Oh Death, Where Is Thy Spatula?", one of the food-themed stories of the book, wound up being one of my favorites from the collection. It's about a coroner who discovers her favorite chef has died and she starts looking into the black magic of New Orleans for a way to have him--and his talents--back in her life.

There is also "Lantern Marsh", a story I originally read in the anthology, October Dreams. Plus, a couple of stories based in the worlds of The Matrix and Hellboy. "Burn, Baby, Burn" stars the Hellboy character Liz Sherman the firestarter, and became another favorite of mine.

It's a collection that holds the two big loves of Brite's, New Orleans and food, but also offers a broad spectrum to her work. The quality should come as no surprise to fans of her work, as she's managed to garner the acclaim of Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, and Peter Straub no less. If those writers will go on record to praise her work, who am I to argue?


September 27, 2010

And the Winner Is ... (plus more contest news)

I think I will count this giveaway as a success thanks to the number of entries and new visitors to the blog. Too bad I couldn't have made it truly international (Sorry, Cate).

A couple interesting tidbits from the info volunteered by the entrants: 20% of those entered were Canadian, which is about par for the course I suppose since we're one tenth the size of America; and the majority of those entered singled out Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells as the book they're most eager to read from the five.

Okay, enough stalling. I tallied up all the entries and gave each follower of the blog an extra one. Each entry had a number and picked out one of those numbers for me, which ended up belonging to ...


Congratulations to Ken, and I'll be e-mailing you momentarily. Incidentally, you can visit Ken's own blog at

Thanks to everyone who entered and/or got the word out about this giveaway. I greatly appreciate it. Hopefully, I'll be able to host another shelf-clearing giveaway--maybe around Christmas time if the stars align just so.

If you're looking for another giveaway on this blog between now and then, you'll want to stop by here on October 1st because Scott Nicholson's Kindle Giveaway Blog Tour will be making a pit stop at Wag The Fox. So be sure to check that out.

September 24, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Resident Evil

Resident Evil
starring Milla Jovovich, Eric Mabius, and Michelle Rodriguez
written & directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Screen Gems (2002)

I may be in the minority among movie fans when it relates to Resident Evil because I think it's a pretty good horror film. It's by no means a masterpiece, but for a film that's basically a body count film it accomplishes what it sets out to do: provide an exciting thrill ride with plenty of zombies. And when you consider that the source material is a 90s era video-game, it's downright great compared to its peers.

I remember playing Capcom's Resident Evil on the Playstation back in the day. A spooky game with quite a few tense moments and jump-scares, but I never cared for the rigid game play. Super Mario Bros. had a more robust playable character as far as I'm concerned. The subject matter and the plot for Resident Evil though, that's where the enjoyment of the game rested. The film adaptation was eventually made by Paul Anderson, but I wonder how the movie would have looked if George Romero's script had been approved when he was originally signed to direct.

The movie centers on Alice (Milla Jovovich) who wakes up at the start of the movie with amnesia, naked in a shower inside a mansion. As she explores the mansion, she finds two others with amnesia--one of whom is supposedly her husband--and a group of commandos. There has been a virus outbreak in an underground laboratory run by the Umbrella Corporation, and Alice is an employee subjected to a nerve gas that wiped her and memories of the other two, and the mansion is a kind of backdoor entrance to the lab. They all venture into the facility and find everyone down there is dead. But, of course, the virus has some after effects beyond killing people, as all of the dead rise up as zombies and go on the attack.

When I watched this movie, I thought the blending of horror and sci-fi was well done. The underground lab gave a great sense of the being buried alive. The commandos felt very two-dimensional though, with the exception of Michelle Rodriguez who somehow manages to give the most cardboard characters a glimmer of rough-edged humanity. Rodriguez has been typecast over the years to play this kind of role, but she's just so damned good at it. As for Milla Jovovich playing Alice, I thought she portrayed remarkably well a fragile and frightened damsel with an emerging bravery and bad-ass attitude that manifests as her memory returns.

The villains are for the most part a horde of mindless zombies. There's not a lot to say there, but the mutations the heroes come across in their efforts to destroy the Red Queen are unique enough to make the film stand out from other zombie flicks. The Red Queen, a computer program that runs the facility and actively orchestrates the virus outbreak, adds a face to the enemy. A cold and calculating artificial intelligence with an army of zombies at its disposal, the Red Queen becomes all the creepier because its voice and avatar are fashioned after its creator's deceased daughter--a young girl who died from a disease the lab was supposedly trying to cure.

My appreciation for the film may be skewed because I think Milla Jovovich is just a cool kitten. I mean, I didn't even hate the two sequels it spawned thanks to her. Mind you, I'm not in any hurry to see the new 3-D sequel, Resident Evil: Afterlife. Not even Milla can sway me into spending money on such a repellent gimmick. The original Resident Evil is not without its flaws, like the stilted dialog and flagrant asides to fans of the video-games. I think there's enough of the movie to like though, that it deserves a chance from folks who haven't seen it yet.

Rabid Rewind: Alien

starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and Yaphet Kotto
directed by Ridley Scott
screenplay by Dan O'Bannon
20th Century Fox (1979)

Alien is one of the scariest science-fiction films you'll ever see in your life. It exemplifies the best of what can happen when you blend science-fiction and horror. And the strange thing of it is that if not for the decision to cast a woman (Sigourney Weaver) in the lead role to make the film stand out from the boys club of action films, Alien might have been considered average when it hit theaters. Actually, the movie did get some mixed reviews during its release. One reviewer of the day went so far as to call the movie "an empty bag of tricks." Wow. I wonder if that guy stands by his review.

Set in the late 21st century, a towing vessel is hauling a payload of minerals back to Earth when they receive a distress signal. They find only a corpse and a chamber full of ominous alien eggs. One opens and the hatchling attaches itself to the face of Kane (John Hurt). Everybody hauls ass back on board the ship and heads for home only to discover Kane has an alien growing inside him. And when the thing bursts out of his chest and scurries across the mess hall table like a coked-up squirrel, the rest of the crew have to figure out how to catch it and kill it before they all wind up as human incubators.

I first saw this movie during my tween years in the early nineties and it scared the daylights out of me. Ridley Scott presents the movie in the beginning in such a way as to lull the audience into thinking it might be more sci-fi mystery with some suspense thrown in. But when John Hurt's death scene occurs, the explosion into a relentless horror film is jarring to the senses. A claustrophobic feeling of terror courses throughout the movie, as the crew gets picked off one by one. Somehow, it avoids being a body count movie and turns into something a bit grander.

Sigourney Weaver plays a great bad-ass in the movie, especially when she starts taking the fight to the alien. Tom Skerritt, meanwhile, is always a great a-hole and plays a good foil of Ripley. John Hurt and Ian Holm are always welcome on the screen, too. As far as the design of the alien is concerned, it's iconic. Dan O'Bannon was influenced by artist H.R. Giger in particular when it came to the aliens sleek and sensual arachnoid appearance, and even had Giger hired on to design a great deal more. I dare say that despite strong performances by the cast--all notably older than typical horror film teen fodder--the alien steals the movie. It must have been memorable, because there's apparently a piece of the original alien costume at the Smithsonian.

Alien is simply one of those films I doubt I'll ever grow tired of watching. The sequels are less memorable with me, but that's to be expected given the nature of cinema. The seemingly endless rivalry/duality between Ripley and the alien in those movies is an intriguing one, though. And it all started with this excellent film.

September 23, 2010

Getting Graphic: "Wonder Woman: Love and Murder" by Jodi Picoult

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder
written by Jodi Picoult
illustrated by Terry Dodson, Drew Johnson, and Paco Diaz
published by DC Comics (2007)
ISBN 978-1-4012-1487-6

It's rather remarkable that nearly every major superhero in comic books has received a major motion picture adaptation in the last ten years except for one conspicuous exception: Wonder Woman. Why is that, I wonder. It surely can't be because the character is female. Jennifer Garner stank up the screen as Elecktra, and Halle Berry starred in the even worse Catwoman, so why is it ... Oh. I think I just realized why Hollywood doesn't want to give Wonder Woman a chance. Crud.

At least the comic books are good, and even attracting notable novelists to take a turn at the helm. Sometimes you have to question the wisdom of letting a non-comic book writer jump into the captain's chair, but in Jodi Picoult's case she did a bang-up job. I say this because, as a guy who isn't a regular follower of any comic books, I found I was easily immersed with the story as it unfolded despite my lack of familiarity with nearly all of the characters involved.

The introduction lays out the groundwork. Wonder Woman is lying low as her alter-ego Dianna Prince, working with the Department of Metahuman Affairs (basically an agency that polices the superheroes and supervillains of the DC universe). She killed a villain working with a covert government agency, which traumatized her heroic sensibilities and now she's doing some soul-searching--and avoiding the authorities as they hunt what is perceived as a rogue superhero in Wonder Woman.

So while Dianna Prince tries to get by with her chauvinistic partner, Nemesis, avoid being found out as Wonder Woman, and still save the day when duty calls, things become all the more complicated when an old enemy, Circe, reappears with a master plan to wreak havoc on Wonder Woman, the Justice League of America, and basically the world at large.

While I thought the back-and-forth between Wonder Woman and Nemesis got a little hammy on more than one occasion with the whole love/hate flirtation, all of the other interactions between characters seemed to come well and felt relatively organic. Picoult seemed to understand each character's motivations and history and brought it all out in many scenes. The witty barbs got a little tiring midway through, but that kind of banter is par for the course with superhero comics, I find. I guess some levity is needed when the world is in peril.

The artwork was crisp and seeing cameos from other DC superheroes like Batman was a nice addition. If I had to take a shot at any of the visuals, it would have to be some of the poses struck by Wonder Woman. I cannot think of any point at which a character should look so ridiculous, and a scene where she visits a museum at night and stares at her own effigy was particularly weird because of her frozen, mid-karate chop posture.

The book ends off on a climactic note and leads right into the next volume, which I will now have to hunt down so I can find out what happens next. I don't think Jodi Picoult writes that volume, however. Too bad.

September 22, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #65: Alexandra Sokoloff's "Book of Shadows"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

Back in March, I mentioned my wanting to read The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff. Well, I haven't even gotten around to reading that book yet, and she's already put out another novel that sounds like it could be very promising.

Book of Shadows deals with a subject that has been kind of overlooked on the big stages in fiction, unless of course you consider Harry Potter. I am referring to witchcraft. But, I doubt Sokoloff is writing about an American Hogwart's in this novel. Nope, I think she has imagined something with much sharper teeth.

It sounds like Sokoloff has used to this novel to examine the idea of the male psyche holding an aversion to feminine power, in this case of a supernatural variety. Take a hard-boiled, gritty cop and join him up with a modern day witch. On the surface, it might sound a bit hokey and reminiscent of a paranormal "Odd Couple," but Sokoloff is a talent author and I think she's aiming for something other than an opposites attract scenario. And it sounds like she really did her homework on the whole Salem witches history, too.

Have you heard about this novel? Does it sounds like something you'd like to read, too?

September 21, 2010

On My Radar: "Zero Gravity" Coming Out as Limited Edition Hardcover

I received word last week from Pill Hill Press that the sci-fi anthology Zero Gravity, in which my short story "The Stand-Ins" is included, is being released as a limited edition hardcover. Neat-o.

It's still available in trade paperback and e-book formats, but now there is the third option of a blue-or-gray cloth hardcover binding (with slipcover) which will sell for $19.99 US through to December 31st.

But it's only available through their website, so click on the link above for all the details if it sparks your interest.

This thrilling collection features thirteen fantastic adventures set in the cold vacuum of space. Read about rogues, scoundrels, aliens, robots, heroes, junkers and priests as you explore the rich and creative diversity of the following stories:

Junker’s Fancy By Rosemary Jones, Leech Run By Scott W. Baker, A Space Romance By Paul A. Freeman, Hawking’s Caution By Mark Rivett, Parhelion By David Schembri, To Stand Among Kings By Kenneth Mark Hoover, The Unicorn Tree By Alethea Kontis, The Beacon of Hope By Gregory L Norris, Tangwen’s Last Heist By C.B. Calsing, The Stand-Ins By Gef Fox, Glacier Castle By Will Morton, Rescue By Margaret Karmazin, At One Stride Comes the Dark By Murray Leeder.

Getting Graphic: "House of Clay" by Naomi Nowak

Title: House of Clay
Author/Illustrator: Naomi Nowak
Published: NBM Comics Lit (2007)
ISBN 978-1-56163-511-5

In my efforts to read more and more graphic novels, it seems to me that few are written or illustrated by women. I hope that's due to the fact that I've only been reading them for a little over a year now. In fact, until I happened upon this book I hadn't read a single graphic novel written by a female author. Go figure. The comic book realm has always felt like a bit of a boys club anyway. On the odd occasion when I read a Wizard magazine (a popular mag dedicated to the medium), seeing a woman's name listed as an author or illustrator was an insanely rare occurrence. Now, I'm on a hunt for graphic novels written and/or illustrated by women. And my first chance is with this Naomi Nowak's House of Clay.

While I can't say I particularly enjoyed this book, I did appreciate Nowak's art style throughout. There was a bit of a free-flowing essence to it, like watching leaves travel across the surface of a stream. Instead of following through the story through rigid square panels, each page had a kind of windswept look to it.

As far as the story goes ... it wasn't my cup of tea. Josephine, a young woman striking out on her own takes a job as a seamstress to save money so she can go to nursing school. She does have one more thing holding her back besides a lack of funds, though. She faints at the sight of blood. Swoon might be the more appropriate term in the book. She also has a strained relationship with well-off family and her only confidants are a mute coworker and a palm reader down the street. The narrative of Josephine's story feels disjointed in parts and was difficult to grasp what exactly was going on at times.

Throw in the fact that I just didn't really like Josephine as a character with her mincing and swooning on nearly every page, and this book just didn't leave much for me to like beyond an appreciation for the artwork. I'm a hairy, smelly brute of a man, however, so it stands to reason that I may not be a target audience. If you get a chance to read this book, I say give it a shot, but be aware that this is closer to an illustrated YA novel than anything else.

September 20, 2010

My Five: Favorite Bad-Ass Chicks in Horror

Since this is a pseudo-themed month on Wag the Fox dedicated to the debs, I thought I'd throw up a fave five list of my favorite ass-kicking ladies of horror. If horror literature can be accused of being a boys club, you can bet your ass horror cinema has been a boys club too. If I'm wrong then maybe someone could explain why so many female characters in horror have been depicted as ditzy, witless, and feckless fodder for whatever goes bump in the night.

There are those gems in horror, however, that show how a woman is capable of kicking as much ass as any guy--whether they are good are evil. And that's what this list is all about--the bad-asses. Now, since I'm only listing five as usual, it is inevitable that some deserving names are going to be left out. Whether I just didn't think those characters ranked as high personally (Natasha Henstridge in Species), or because I haven't seen a film starring a particularly formidable filly (Day of the Woman), I have no doubt you will be able to think of a name or two that should appear on the list. If so, please feel free to leave a comment and share your opinion--or blog your own list and send me a link. For now, here are my fave five.

#5 Milla Jovovich as Alice in Resident Evil - Say what you will about the quality of movies Milla has starred in, but please don't tell me she is the preeminent action stars of the 21st century. If The Fifth Element was a horror film, I'd have put her performance as Leeloo (did I spell that right?) on the list. But since it's not, I'm going with Alice. Even though the franchise has lost the magic it had with the sequels, I am still a fan of the first film thanks in large part to Milla's ability to look drop dead gorgeous while killing zombie hordes. I liked her when she appeared nude in the shower during the first act, but I loved her when she wheel-kicked that zombie Doberman.

#4 Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling in Planet Terror - Here's an actress that probably resembles a pin-up model more than any other gal on this list. And of the other ladies with pin-up attributes, I don't think any of them starred as a one-legged stripper with a shotgun/machine gun/rocket launcher prosthetic. Cherry doesn't come off as all that bad-ass in the movie until after she loses her leg and whats-his-name slaps on that shotgun to her stump and coaxes her into blasting the mutants into messy pieces. If nothing else, she's the most bad-ass amputee I've seen in horror.

#3 Katherine Isabelle as Ginger from Ginger Snaps - This is probably the best Canadian horror film I've seen, and the ones I haven't seen yet probably won't top it. Emily Perkins goes on to become the bad-ass in the sequel, but even she can't top Ginger's conflicting emotions of torment and delight as a teenage werewolf with an ever-growing bloodlust. The sexiness factor diminishes a bit later in the film when she starts growing hair all over her body--and that tail makes an appearance--but Ginger is a ravenous killing machine not long after being bitten herself. Megan Fox wishes she could have appeared this sexy and vicious in Jennifer's Body.

#2 Salma Hayek as Santatica Pandemonium in From Dusk Til Dawn - Okay, Hayek's role is really a fairly minor one in the film, but holy crap, does she steal the show or what? When the festivities inside the Titty Twister begin and Santatica does her snake dance, that's pretty bad-ass. But when she--and if you are about to be spoiled because you haven't seen this film yet, it's your own fault--turns into a vampire and starts tearing into people like they're teriyaki beef jerky, she's the baddest thing on two legs in that place.

#1 Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien - Was there really any doubt that I would place Ripley in the top spot? In the horror genre, and outside genre entirely, I dare say Ellen Ripley remains a standard-bearer in Hollywood with regards to presenting a strong female character. The role at face value seems like it was originally designed for a male actor, since Ripley is skulking through a spaceship trying to kill a vicious alien creature before it kills her. The kind of movie where you might expect some muscled-up action star to run around on screen and spout off cheesy one-liners. Ripley, however, stands out through character development throughout the film and a balance of heroism and vulnerability. Oh, she gets scared sh-tless, but she doesn't back down when it's crunch time and run off in her high heels towards her demise.

September 17, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife
starring Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, and Ron Livingston
directed by Robert Schwentke
screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin
based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger
Alliance Films (2009)

Even though I had an inclination to read the book first, when the opportunity to sit down and watch this movie arrived I took it. Now that I've seen the film, I may still go back to read Audrey Niffenegger's novel just to see if I can better understand the convoluted tale the movie was trying to tell.

It's a love story about Henry (Eric Bana) and Clare (Rachel McAdams). Clare first meets Henry when she's six years old and playing in a field--but Henry is already a grown man. Turns out he's a time traveler, and an involuntary one at that. His strange ability came to him when he was a young boy and disappeared from the backseat of his mother's car just before it was struck by a trucking rig. He's then approached by an older version of himself who explains what is happening to him and that he better get used to it, because it's going to happen a lot. Oh, and his clothes can't go back in time with him, so he's always popping up somewhere stark naked--like a sappy John Connor.

Now while Clare may have been introduced to Henry when she was a child, in his timeline he doesn't meet her until he's in his thirties. At least I think he's in his thirties, but he might be in his late-twenties by that point. Bana's appearance changes so little beyond a bit of hair growth, some stubble, and a faint tinge of gray in his sideburns, that it's a trial to discern if he's his younger self or his forty year old self.

The story is all over the map and if you're not paying attention to every scene chances are pretty good that you'll get lost in the shuffle. The point of view shifts between Henry and Clare quite a bit, as we stick with Clare and her linear existence in time, then hang around with Henry as he is dipping and diving through time and always near Clare or his mother. The fits of time travel are caused by a bunch of things: stress, televisions, electro magnetism, and even alcohol.

Despite the meandering time lines, the plot basically sticks to the question of whether their relationship can withstand--quite literally--the test of time. And things become all the more complicated for them when Clare is to become pregnant and suffer a miscarriage at some point in the future. Buh-buh-BUH!

I thought it was an okay movie with some surprisingly mediocre acting from the cast, but I must admit to getting the tiniest bit misty at the very end of the film. What can I say, I don't get sniffy but I'm not a robot. For a date movie, this would be a pretty good one to go with if The Notebook isn't an option.

Rabid Rewind: Red Eye

Red Eye
starring Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, and Brian Cox
directed by Wes Craven
screenplay by Carl Ellsworth
Dreamworks Pictures (2005)

Here's a movie that played about like a modern day Hitchcock film. Heck, if someone were to tell me the screenplay for Red Eye had been discovered in the attic of the Hitchcock estate, I would be surprised. What did surprise me a little about the movie is that it's directed by Wes Craven, a writer/director responsible for Freddy Kruger, a guy I would not expect to helm as cerebral a film as this. My preconceptions of Craven were shattered when I saw this movie years ago.

Rachel McAdams plays a hotel manager with a fear of flying on a flight to her home in Miami. While waiting for her flight to board she meets a handsome stranger played by Cillian Murphy and is then pleasantly surprised to discover they are seated next to each other during the flight. Up to this point, the movie feels like it could be one of those insipid romantic films you find on Lifetime. Mercifully, it's a ruse on the audience and Murphy's character quickly lets his true colors show as he informs McAdam's character that he is an assassin set to kill the Homeland Security's Deputy Security who will be a guest at her hotel. He threatens to have an accomplice kill her father if she doesn't cooperate in aiding him access to the hotel so he can complete his mission. Despite his menacing nature, McAdams continually attempted to alerts others and prevent him from completing his task or following through on his threats.

There are a couple of moments that are infuriating in their defiance of logic, as is common in suspense films in the same vein as this. The kind of moments that provoke audience members to scream at the screen while the heroine does something mind-numbingly ineffectual. Overall, the menacing nature of Cillian Murphy is superb--and a far superior performance to his stint as the Scarecrow in Batman Begins. The guy just oozes malevolence. Rachel McAdams by contrast is an ideal choice as a heroine with both a palpable fear and steely resolve to do the right thing.

The scenes on board the plane are probably the best part of the movie as that is where the tension feels the most genuine. It's in the moments after the plane lands and the impending climax unfolds that the film declines into the usual thwart-the-villain shenanigans with last minutes saves and false finishes. In fact, I'm a bit surprised that Wes Craven and the screenwriters didn't try to find a better way to have even more of the story unfold on board the plane. Ah well, the movie is still a highly enjoyable experience with strong performances from the main cast--honorable mention to Brian Cox as McAdams' father.

If you haven't seen this movie and you're the type who goes for those old Hitchcock movies like Vertigo and North by Northwest, I dare say you ought to give this one a go.

September 16, 2010

Rabid Reads: "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson
The Viking Press (1959)
Penguin Books edition (1999)
246 pages
ISBN 0140287434

After too long a time, I finally read Shirley Jackson's renowned novel, The Haunting of Hill House. I saw the film adaptation starring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones when it first hit theaters in '99, but it has long since been wiped from my memory aside from a couple of lingering scenes that still stick in my mind. I'm thankful for the memory block, because it allowed me to dive into Jackson's tale anew--free of the disappointment I felt after seeing the movie.

I love a good haunted house tale, as I grew up in a house rumored by some in the community to be haunted. Truth be told, it was just a mildly imposing house sitting atop a hill that looked like the sort that should have a ghost or two wandering about, yet did not--though a few strange and unexplained occurrences did take place in that old house. So, with The Haunting of Hill House I was ready to have my spine tingled.

Eleanor Vance is a woman in need of a place to belong. After years of caring for her ailing mother, the old gal has kicked off and left Eleanor with a modest inheritance and a condescending sister. She's also a bit of a medium too, since she has garnered the attention of one Dr. John Montague who is searching for people with potential clairvoyant, extrasensory, and psychic abilities to aid him in investigating a reputedly haunted house.

Eleanor winds up being only one of two people--a flighty woman named Theodora being the other--to answer Montague's request, coming to Hill House to stay for a week or so in order to witness and record any strange happenings about the property. Joining them are Dr. Montague himself and the disputed heir of the property, Luke Sanderson. As a quartet they stay in the house and seem to spend as much time entertaining one another through droll humor as they do in trying to find any kind of ghostly activity.

In terms of horror, this is a very understated novel. It relies primarily on establishing mood and characters than hammering away at the reader's senses with suspense and jump-scares. Oh, there are a number of scenes that are absolutely drenched in gothic charm and ghostly phenomena, but gruesomeness is not on the menu when it comes to this book.

As far as the characters are concerned, I found each more annoying than the last. The story unfolds through Eleanor's eyes basically, and I wound up seeing her as a cloying, insecure mouse of a woman constantly at odds with herself and those around her. Theodora, Luke, and even Dr. Montague create an insufferably flippant and otiose gang of supporting characters. Not to mention the even more unsavory characters that make appearances later in the book. Sympathy lies solely with Eleanor, and even then it was an effort for me to give it to her as they explored the house and experienced its unsettling apparitions.

I will not spoil how the story plays out despite the book being over a half-century old. It's worth reading just to say you've read it. Personally, I thought it was good overall, but Jackson's insistence on presenting the characters through dialogue heavily peppered with forced humor tried my patience more than once. Intentional though it may have been in establishing the characters, it didn't jibe with me. Aside from that quibble, I am inclined to agree that this is a classic worth checking out. But Richard Matheson's Hell House remains the standard bearer, in my opinion, when it comes to haunted house stories.

BBAW: Forgotten Treasure

The theme for today's BBAW is forgotten treasures. Those books we feel should get more attention from readers, yet are overshadowed by the books that garner all the hype and hoopla. As a fan of horror fiction, there is a plethora of books for me to choose from. In the past year alone, there are numerous titles that have gone neglected by the average reader for no other reason than that they are categorized in a maligned genre. But for today, I'll offer a classic that has faded from memory and ought not to be ignored.

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe - When I got back into reading and was looking to branch out from the Stephen King novels that had been my initial return to the written word, I read a list of must-read horror novels compiled within a book on writing horror. Among the titles listed was a book I had never heard tell of by an author I was also unfamiliar with, but the premise for the book was too intriguing to pass up. It's a story told from the perspective of a disturbed young man with a rather skewed sense of reality and a growing hostility to all those around him. As a way to make a living and redeem himself in the community, he gets a job at the local abattoir and seems to take a shine to it despite the menial duties he is given. There's a bit of a surreal feeling through much of the book as the young man rationalizes his antisocial behavior and increasingly violent thoughts towards certain individuals. Where Dan Wells' recent novel was titled I Am not a Serial Killer, McCabe's novel could have easily been titled I Most Certainly Am a Serial Killer.

The book received a fair amount of acclaim in its day, and even had a film adaptation back in the eighties. But aside from that one recommendation in that book on writing, I have not seen a single mention of Patrick McCabe's work anywhere. Pity too, because it's a damned good book.

September 15, 2010

On My Radar: Giveaways Galore

In case you don't already know, I'm currently hosting my very first book giveaway. The "Win These Five" giveaway can be found here with one lucky winner receiving five fantastic dark fiction titles. But I'm not the only one hosting a giveaway through Book Blogger Appreciation Week--oh no. There is a metric ton of stuff happening right now and if you're quick you can throw your name in the hat too.

Let's start with Cate Gardner, shall we? Her new short story collection, Strange Men in Pin-Striped Suits, is being released and to celebrate there is a blog award contest under way, in which there are two fantastic prizes to be won. Not only that, but Cate is hosting a separate contest with a copy of the speculative fiction anthology Triangulation up for grabs.

Then there is Scott Nicholson and his Haunted Computer Blog Tour. The award winning author is on a tear right now with this tour, and each stop along the way offers readers a chance to win an Amazon Kindle DX. And if that's not enough, there's also a chance to win a Kindle 3 through his newsletter, and even a chance to win an immense number of his e-books by following him on Twitter. Just head over to his site for all the details.

Oh, so you like the looks of that Amazon Kindle Wireless, do you? Well why don't you check out the Simply Reading Kindle Giveaway hosted by Simply Stacie and Luxury Reading. Until October 4th you have the opportunity to earn multiple entries and better your chances at winning that pretty little gadget. Plus, there are bunches of e-books to be won as well. What are you waiting for?

If that's not enough chances to win a Kindle, then you need to head over to The Printed Page. Over there, you have a chance at winning an Amazon Kindle if you live in the U.S., while international entrants have a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card. That fantastic contest comes to an end on September 23rd.

And if you're still not satisfied, here's a whole list of contests and giveaways for you to check out:

  • Win two Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 graphic novels via The Unread Reader

  • Win Gary Shteygart's Super Sad True Love Story via Nonsuch Books (ends September 17th)

  • Win a book of your choice through Book Depository via Shelf Love (ends September 17th)

  • Win a book of your choice via Reading Vacation--and Melina will also order a copy for herself to read and review (ends September 17th)

  • Win a book of your choice (up to $15 US value) through Book Depository via Fiction Vixen (ends September 17th)

  • Three chances to win your choice (three picks to 1st place winner) from a dozen books via in which a girl reads (ends September 19th)

  • Win a book of your choice (up to £6 value) through Book Depository via Book Chick City (ends September 19th)

  • Win books of your choice (up to £10 in total) through Book Depository via Cherry Mischievous (ends September 30th)

  • Win Emma Donaghue's Room via Rebecca Reads (ends October 1st)

  • Win Pittacus Lore's I Am Number Four via I Heart Monster (ends October 27th)

Wish List Wednesday #64: Elizabeth Bear's "Dust"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

Okay, last week I mentioned I was up to my neck in trilogies and series that I have yet to finish. Honestly, I've lost count. Well, that doesn't mean that I don't have a few titles on my wish list that are not the first novels of proposed trilogies. It's a problem I'm trying to address.

Elizabeth Bear is a fantasy and sci-fi author with quite a few titles to her credit in the few years since her debut. I've yet to read any of her novels, but there is one out this year that sounds promising.

Titled Dust, it's the first book in a sci-fi trilogy called Jacob's Ladder. It's about a giant spaceship called Jacob's Ladder that houses colonists traversing the stars. They've been out there a long time and have undergone a kind of evolution through nanotechnology over hundreds of years. It's hardly a utopian environment though, with a few factions ready to battle it out with each other. And to top things off, the star they're orbiting is ready to go supernova and the ship needs to be repaired before they can haul ass out of there.

The synopsis I've read makes it sound like a sci-fi novel with dashes of fantasy thrown in for flavor. It could be a good read, as I do like it when genres are successfully mixed.

Have you heard of this author's work before? What do you think about the premise for this novel and trilogy?

BBAW: Unexpected Treasure

This time around BBAW wants to know about the genre we tried out in the past year and the book blog that encouraged us to give it a shot. For me, the genre I delved into this past year was romance.

I grew up in a house where the most plentiful titles were published by Harlequin. My mother and her sisters have voraciously read romance novels for as long as I can remember, trading them back and forth among themselves by the bagful. So, you can imagine my aversion to the genre both as a male and as a kid growing up surrounded by books that didn't tell stories about space aliens and superheroes. I grew up in a house that listened to country music almost exclusively, so guess how much country I voluntarily listen to nowadays. That's right--not much.

Well, around Christmas of last year I was doing my usual blogroll browsing when I noticed a link to a "Birthday Bash" book giveaway. Being a sucker for a book giveaway, I checked it out when I saw there were no less than thirty-five books to be won. The contest was hosted by Brande at Book Junkie and the majority of titles listed were romance. I had been looking for a book-related New Year's resolution and decided that if I won the giveaway I would make it a point to read romantic fiction finally as a way to further expand my reading habits. It's easy to get locked into a comfort zone when reading, and while my affinity rests with dark fiction, I always try to read a steady diet of books outside the horror genre.

Fast forward to New Year's and I won the contest. So all year I've been receiving books from Brande, and what I haven't read I've passed on to my mother and my aunts. Of the books I've received, I've personally read somewhere around a dozen of them. I haven't been swayed into becoming a fan of the genre, but quite a few of the titles were much more enjoyable than I originally anticipated. Of course, my favorites among the group have been the ones that have blended with the urban fantasy and sci-fi genres (most notably Sins of the Flesh by Caridad Peneiro and The Confessions of Max Tuvoli by Andrew Sean Greer).

So a thanks to Brande for spurring me into that New Year's resolution. I might not be a convert, but I'm certainly more open-minded to the genre than I was a year ago.

September 14, 2010

On My Radar: 11 Horror (or Horror-ish) Movies to Watch Out for at TIFF 2010

TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) has become a litmus test for movies heading into the fall season, arguably more so than Cannes as the homegrown talent gets a greater chance to flourish in Toronto. But the focus usually lies with those Oscar contenders, the low-key dramas with brooding performances from A-list actors. All fine and merry for the Access Hollywood crowd that wants to hobnob with George Clooney and Brad Pitt, but surely there are some horror movies that could use some attention at the film festival too. And not what Hollywood considers horror either, but some damned good movies that will scare the heck out of you.

Here are eleven films slated to be screened at TIFF this week that just might be what any self-respecting horror fan should look out for in the coming months. They run the gamut in styles and tone, and a couple look absolutely marvelous. Take a look at the list and tell me if there's a movie in there that sounds like it's your cup of tea.

  1. Bad Faith (Sweden) - It seems like Sweden is on a bit of a hot streak with regards to its storytellers. My cynical side tells me this suspense film is capitalizing on the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but my more appreciative side thinks we might be receiving a second high-caliber thriller about a woman's obsessive hunt for a serial killer. This one is supposed to have some subtle comedic nods to the genre, too.

  2. Black Swan (United States) - Before Natalie Portman goes off to deal with zombies in a Jane Austen landscape, she's going to play a ballerina with a diminishing grip on reality. It's a psychological thriller set in the backstage of a ballet, which is about the only way you could make me care about ballet. Throw in Mila Kunis as Portman's rival and my interest is about as peaked as it's going to get.

  3. Bunraku (United States) - This one is an action film rather than a horror film, but at first glance I can't help but include it as a film to watch out for in the future. Josh Hartnett and Woody Harrelson team up with Japanese pop star GACKT, forming a trio of avengers in a gunless dystopia ruled by a ruthless overlord played by Ron Perlman. Forget the gunplay, because this one is all about the swords. A spaghetti western mixed with a samurai revenge film, and a dash of Demi Moore thrown in, this stylistic action movie might be a runaway hit.

  4. Cold Fish (Japan) - This is apparently based on a true story, and if it is then this darkly enticing film should wind up being even more unsettling than if it was pure fiction. A tropical fish store owner befriends another after his step-daughter runs afoul of the law. The other shop owner offers her a job and a second chance, but the step-dad winds up ensnared his trail of corruption and murder. I guess his new friend likes to kill folks and dispose of them in gruesome ways.

  5. The Edge (Russia) - When I think of The Edge, I think of Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins fighting a giant grizzly bear. If I ever lay eyes on this Russian genre-bending movie though, that's likely to change. This one sounds cra-zee, with a post-WW2 Russian labor camp ritualistically serving a monster of a steam engine train, and a mysterious soldier returning to use the train in order to find an undead girl with an obsession about trains. I need to find a trailer for this one.

  6. Insidious (United States) - It's a haunted house movie, so you know it'll catch my attention. Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson play a young married couple who move into a house only to have their young son lapse into a coma. After that, all bets are off for the family. In movie-land, it's pretty hard to set yourself apart from the pack when it comes to stories about hauntings--and the pack is full of rejects and mongrels from recent years. I think this one has a chance a cut above the lackluster rest, though.

  7. Let Me In (United States/United Kingdom) - Undoubtedly, this is the one movie on this list getting the most buzz on the blogosphere. Director Matt Reeves assures fans of the original Swedish film--and the Lindqvist novel it's based on--that his movie will not suck. After learning of his casting choices (Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Richard Jenkins) and seeing a couple of teasers, I'm willing to take him at his word. This might be the movie I'm most looking forward to seeing coming out of TIFF.

  8. Rare Exports (Finland/Norway/France/Sweden) - I'm not entirely sure what to make of this one after reading the description for it, but it sounds quirky enough that it might be really good. A small community in the northern reaches of Finland is turned on its head when a group of supposed archaeologists start excavating a hill, disturbing the locals' livelihoods. It's not long that a young boy from the community notices that the excavation has something to do with one of the fabled houses of Santa Claus--and I guess the Santa in question ain't exactly a jolly old soul.

  9. Stakeland (United States) - Vampires. They're all over the place, and I'm not at all surprised to see another vampire flick rear its fanged head at TIFF. It's described as a road movie in a dystopian world ruled by ravenous vampires. With the protagonist being a teenage boy taken under the wing of a lone hunter, it sounds eerily similar to last year's Zombieland minus the sardonic wit. This may be a surprise hit among horror fans, but my cynical side disagrees.

  10. Vanishing on 7th Street (United States) - This movie is practically ripped from a lost Rod Serling script. In fact, there is something reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode "Midnight Sun" to this film. A power outage occurs and when the lights come back on nearly everyone is gone, their clothes discarded on the ground akin to the Rapture. Those still around have to contend with fewer and fewer hours of daylight as the world gradually plunges into darkness. It might sound a bit hokey, but it's made by the guy who did Session 9 and The Machinist, Brad Anderson.

  11. The Ward (United States) - John Carpenter, ladies and gentlemen. F-ck yeah. Amber Heard plays a woman institutionalized after she's blamed for burning down a farmhouse, winding up in a psychiatric hospital that may not be willing to ever let her leave--at least not alive. The movie's setup sound like a cross between Rosemary's Baby and Girl, Interrupted. What the hell do I care? It's John Carpenter, ladies and gentlemen!