Thursday, April 18, 2013

Django Unchained Special Features (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo)

I wasn't kidding when I told you guys that I was swept away by Django Unchained.  In addition to watching the film twice in three days, I have also watched all of the special features.  Now, I'm not going to do a review per se, this is bonus content we're talking about, but anyone who enjoyed the film should check it out.  Sometimes you watch the extras on a disc you purchase and it seems like they just threw something together so they could list it on the back of the box.  That wasn't the case with Django, as the special features are thoughtful and boast contributions from all of the key players involved in the making of the film.  I had a great time with the extra stuff, and I'm already itching to watch the movie again.  It seems obsessive, I know, but movies like that only come around every so often.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Top 5 Bond Villains

Look, the Bond franchise has provided us with one of the most beloved series of films ever, and the villains have always been an integral part of the brand's success.  There are so many wonderful performances in this vein that tailoring a Top 5 has been quite a chore.  Narrowing my list down to 10 was challenging enough, and now I have to cut that list in half.  I can't fit all of my favorites into a Top 5, so I'm going to miss some of yours as well.  With that said, I have done my best, and it's time to break it down.

Top 5 Bond Villains

#1) Jaws - Richard Kiel - The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker (1977 / 1979)

I'm going to be completely honest with you: Jaws is the reason I initially fell in love with the James Bond franchise.  I've been a fan of Peter Benchley's novel and Spielberg's film version of Jaws for about as long as I can remember, so it's probably not all that surprising that this obvious tie-in (loosely based on a hoodlum with steel teeth named Horror who appeared in Ian Fleming's novel The Spy Who Loved Me) captured my imagination.  I'm not sure what age I was, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 to 8 when a Bond marathon running on some channel (maybe it was TBS?) pinned my father to the couch.  I was curious, but I probably wasn't quite old enough to fall in love with the material.  Then Jaws hit the scene in The Spy Who Loved Me, and there were sharks and an underwater lair in that one to boot.  Boom!  Another Bond fan joined the team.  It was really that simple, and the presence of this zany henchman spawned a lifelong love for a classic film franchise. 

It's tempting to think of Jaws merely in terms of stature as Richard Kiel's height and size instantly provided Bond with a frightening opponent.  He's big and strong and that along with his terrible bite are staples of the character, but Kiel's performance is why this massive henchman remains endearing to fans.  There's something charming about this brute who does his very best to kill 007 in several big action sequences.  In fact, Kiel died during his confrontation with the shark during an initial cut of the picture, only for test audiences to inspire the filmmakers to reshoot that bit and keep Jaws around for an encore.  In Moonraker the big lug morphs from Bond's nemesis to an unlikely ally, helping him defeat Hugo Drax and providing a lot of comic relief in the process.

Jaws is a different kind of henchmen, a unique physical specimen with a wealth of mights and a ferocious appetite who somehow wins our hearts.  His verbal exchanges with Bond produce a number of zingers, the various fights--to include punch-ups taking place on planes, trains, and cable cars are first-rate entertainment.  His presence is directly responsible for a number of explosive setpieces the likes of which this franchise is famous for.  Richard Kiel went through a lot of pain to deliver this extremely enjoyable performance and I have to award him with the top spot on my list.

#2) 006/Alec Trevelyan - Sean Bean - Goldeneye (1995)

Look, every Bond film featuring Pierce Brosnan (who was a terrific fit for the role) is average at best aside from one, but Goldeneye (his first attempt) is an epic entry in the series.  Easily a Top 5 outing for 007, Goldeneye takes viewers on a thrilling ride wherein Sean Bean shines as a fellow agent who becomes one of Bond's most dangerous enemies.  A spectacular opening sequence that features 006 (Bean) and 007 working together establishes Trevelyan as an equal; unfortunately, it isn't long before Bond is shaken by his comrade's apparent death.  It's only a ruse, however, and as the film unfolds, a one-time ally emerges as a calculating villain who has no fear of 007.

As Trevelyan, who adopts the name "Janus" during his criminal exploits, Bean offers up a fantastic performance.  Of course, that should come as no surprise.  Bean is a guy who may not get the acclaim he truly deserves, yet he seldom misfires in any part and he has his fair share of fans.  Anyone who digs memes can attest to that.  He clearly relishes the opportunity to play a villain in such a beloved series, though his performance is grounded enough that he doesn't chew as much scenery as many actors would.  The end result is a potent dose of realism in a film that might become cartoonish under different circumstances.  Some Bond films feel a bit like pageantry, and while they're lavish enough to be wildly entertaining, that can diminish the tension.  That isn't the case here; 006 never becomes a caricature, and in Bean's capable hands, he is an intriguing character who represents a legitimate threat to Bond.  

The battle between Bond and Trevelyan that brings the action to a close is a worthy finale, a riveting fight that finds the two men grappling on an antenna platform situated hundreds of feet above a satellite dish.  They have a personal exchange before Trevelyan is dispatched, once again providing the film with a dash of levity that serves to elevate the picture.  Yes, Goldeneye offers up many of the franchise's trademark flourishes, to include massive action scenes, unbelievable stunts, sexy Bond girls, and even a henchwoman who is more than a match for most of the henchmen the series has provided us with.  Yet I think it's the relationship between 006 and 007 and the performances of Bean and Brosnan that put this one over the top.  He may not be as flamboyant as many of the villains of this list, but Bean's Alec Trevelyan is a well-rounded character who gives Bond a run for his money in one of the best films in a massive series.

#3) Red Grant - Robert Shaw - From Russia with Love (1963)

Another henchman makes the cut . . .

In the second Bond film, 007 is hunted by a ruthless assassin who has been given the task of eliminating our hero by the nefarious SPECTRE organization.  This assassin is Red Grant, a homicidal maniac who escaped from prison and was subsequently recruited by SPECTRE.  He is a violent madman who provides Bond with a most fearsome adversary.   When the two finally come to blows, Sean Connery and Robert Shaw stage one of the cinema's best fight scenes on the Orient Express.  In many ways, despite the success of Dr. No, From Russia with Love is hailed as the prototypical Bond film.  This smash hit yielded a formula that has produced a multitude of hits, so perhaps we should look to Shaw and Red Grant as the inspiration for all of the memorable henchmen who would later provide the franchise with such excitement and grandeur.   

Robert Shaw was a terrific actor, and I've always been a big fan of his work.  He belongs on this list because in his capable hands the character of Red Grant becomes a frightening vessel of carnage who seems totally capable of disposing of 007.  In fact, he does just that in a misleading opening sequence that is guaranteed to hook the viewer.  Grant is sly, deliberate, and physically imposing.  Shaw provides this killer with a cold and ruthless demeanor that underscores his terrible potential.  From Russia with Love is one of the strongest entries in the bond series, and I think Red Grant is a huge part of the picture's enduring success.  The battle aboard the Orient Express remains one of the most gripping fight scenes Bond has ever engaged in, and it could be the best of the lot.

It was about time that a villain from one of fan favorite Sean Connery's 007 films made the cut, right?  Unfortunately, Red Grant will be the only fiend who tangled with Connery to make my Top 5, but that shouldn't diminish Shaw's contribution to the Bond legacy.  The lengthy game of cat-and-mouse pitting Grant and Bond against one another and their epic showdown combine to cement From Russia with Love as one of the best films in the series.  Robert Shaw was surely one of the cinema's greatest performers, and while he will forever be remembered and loved as Quint from Jaws, his other roles ought not be overlooked.  This would include two villainous performances of note, those being his role in this film and his equally memorable performance in The Sting.  

#4) Scaramanga - Christopher Lee - The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

This is a no-brainer, isn't it?  I mean, since Christopher Lee played a Bond villain, he has to make the cut, right?  I think so, but The Man with the Golden Gun has a lot of haters.  I'm not one of them, but I wouldn't feel bad about including him here even if I was.  Most of the people who don't like Moore's second Bond picture readily acknowledge that Christopher Lee did a fantastic job as the heavy.  In fact, I think most of the people who despise the film are basing their opinions more on the presence of Clifton James as J. W. Pepper, who has to be the most-hated character in the entire series.  Forgive me, but I actually enjoy his antics.  No, I'm not bothered by Pepper's presence at all, but let's get back to Scaramanga, a wonderful presence in an underrated entry in the Bond series.  I think this is a great example of a film that is owned by the villain.  Hell, Francisco Scaramanga is The Man with the Golden Gun, so his dominant performance shouldn't catch anyone off-guard.

Christopher Lee's ability to play a villain to stunning effect need not be documented.  Seriously, the guy has played Dracula and Saruman, and he has terrified audiences the world over in countless horror films of merit.  I will only note that he was at the top of his game here, and as an actor, Lee was every bit as cunning and adept as the character he portrayed.  He rules this picture, and while Moore is my favorite Bond, he should have received second billing this time out.  Scaramanga is a master assassin, a feared killer who needs only a singe shot to eliminate his prey and charges one million dollars per kill.  As a result, he has amassed great wealth, and his island lair is a visual treat.  He has a henchman named Nick Nack, and this charming little underling routinely hires assassins to kill his boss.  Scaramanga doesn't mind; in fact, he encourages this practice as it keeps him at the top of his game.  He even goes so far as to wish Nick Nack better luck next time after dispatching one of the hired killers.  Scaramanga also has a third nipple, and since Nick Nack represents him in his dealings, allowing his boss to remain anonymous, this little tidbit is key to Bond's pursuit of the infamous assassin.  

The plot revolves around solar power and an energy crisis, and there's a doomsday device of sorts lurking in the wings, yet those elements are secondary.  Scaramanga is truly more interested in a duel with Bond (who he sees as an equal) than his larger schemes.  In many ways, he does what he does just to lure 007 into a confrontation.  Not only that, but Scaramanga is eager to challenge Bond despite the fact that his golden gun only holds a single bullet.  Bond has eight shots in his .32 Walther PPK, but our villain is supremely confident and he hosts the challenge on his turf.  Part of Scaramanga's sprawling estate includes a combination of a funhouse and a maze, and this is where his duel with Bond will conclude.  Part of what makes this dapper villain so memorable is his desire to go toe to toe with 007, particularly since it isn't an integral part of his master plan or a quest for revenge.  No, it's merely a matter of wanting to see who the better man is.  That's essentially what The Man with the Golden Gun boils down to, and that puts Christopher Lee on center stage, earning him the #4 spot on my list of the Top 5 Bond Villains.

#5) Baron Samedi - Geoffrey Holder - Live and Let Die (1973)

And another Henchman makes the cut!

Live and Let Die is notable for being Roger Moore's first Bond film, but there are many reasons to cherish this one.  I would argue that Paul McCartney provided the best song the Bond films have produced for this movie, and characters like Baron Samedi give the picture a sinister vibe that I greatly enjoy.  Based upon one of the Loa of the dead in Haitian Voodoo (learn more here) and sporting that figure's trademark top hat and jacket, Samedi is a menacing figure with a mischievous spirit.  The movie uses the supernatural aspects of the character's heritage to great effect, and this is a singular occurrence in the franchise's storied history.

Geoffrey Holder was born to play this part.  His height, his deep voice, that spooky laugh he mastered, and his abilities as a dancer and choreographer lift this diabolical henchman into the upper echelon of Bond foes.  Yes, Samedi is a henchman, but he overshadows Yaphet Kotto (who does a fine job, truth be told) as the lead villain.  It's also worth noting that Samedi is not your typical henchman, as he aids the film's villains without ever truly being one of them.  In some ways, this mysterious figure with the ability to cheat death is at odds with the Bond legacy, but in a plot with a heavy dose of tarot cards and cult rituals, he manages to fit in nicely.

In closing, I should admit that I feel that Live and Let Die is one of the most entertaining and unique chapters in the Bond series, and it owes a tremendous debt to Geoffrey Holder and Baron Samedi.  What makes him worthy of a spot in this Top 5?  He's everything you could ask for in a villain and more.  He's physically imposing, he's creepy, and he provides 007 with a different breed of foe, a supernatural menace.  This is the only time Bond would square off with such a fiend, and the results are thrilling.  Baron Samedi is everything I look for in a Bond villain.  He's bold, he has a significant presence, he makes life hard for our hero, and he does so in entertaining fashion. 

. . . 

There are a few things that stand out about this list.  First, my love for Roger Moore (and his early Bond films, in particular) is on clear display here.  He's my favorite Bond, and that obviously had a significant impact on this list.  Second, I too shook my head at Blofield's absence.  Here's the problem: as much as I liked Donald Pleasance and Telly Savales and the films they were in, none of the individual performances warranted a spot here.  Additionally, as diverse and sporadic as Blofield's appearances were, I didn't feel there was enough unity amongst them to combine them into a singular entry.  Finally, I showed the henchmen a lot of love, to be sure.  That aspect of this Top 5 may inspire some discussion.

What do you think?  Did I do a good job?

Who did I miss?

Was I wrong to include so many henchmen?

Do you strenuously object to any of these choices?  Do you strenuously object to all of them?  Do tell.
And hey, you know what?  Go ahead and hit me with the Connery arguments if you like, I'm game.  Hell, I'll dare to defend The Man with the Golden Gun and J. W. Pepper both if I have to.

Django Unchained

Disclaimer: I am an avid fan of Quentin Tarantino.  I think he is the best director working today, and I love the way he approaches and films his material.  That's not all, though, for his soundtracks are incredible and the casts he cobbles together are exceptional.  All gushing aside, I think I can provide an honest assessment of his work.  Why?  Well, I think he is that damn good, and I'm apparently not the only one.  Regardless, I wanted to let you know how much I cherish his work, and you should also know that I am a huge fan of spaghetti westerns.  Yes, noting that I was eager to see Django Unchained would represent an understatement of the highest order, but now that we've gotten the disclaimer stuff out of the way, let's talk about QT's latest.

Last night, I finally got to sit down with Django, and I feel that Quentin has delivered another instant classic.  Despite a lengthy run-time (165 minutes) and a plot that wanders at times--much like its heroes--I'm not sure that our generation's finest director ever missed a beat with this one.  A loving homage to spaghetti westerns fused with an unflinching take on a controversial topic, Django Unchained is like nothing you have ever seen before.  There's warmth, there's deplorable human behavior, there's heroism, and there's lots and lots of bloody vengeance. 

After seeing slavery through Tarantino's eyes, every gruesome act of retribution is a triumph of sorts.  There is a lot bloodshed, and with every drop of innocent blood spilled, we thirst for larger quantities of bad guy blood.  Thankfully, there are lots of bad guys on hand.  Our heroes, a slave and a bounty hunter, are played by Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.  They have their sights set on a vicious plantation owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and they must contend with various villains played by the likes of Don Johnson, Walton Goggins, James Remar, Bruce Dern, and Tarantino fave Samuel L. Jackson.  No one fails to deliver the goods, though Waltz and Jackson do their best to steal the show.

Let's talk about Waltz for a moment.  He scored his second Oscar for his role as Dr. King Schultz after earning his first for his work in Tarantino's last release, Inglorious Basterds.  What a find Waltz has proven to be.  In Django Unchanined, he is every bit as likable as he was despicable in the part of Hans Landa.  He owns scene after scene; his timing and his delivery are a joy to behold, and he gives the picture a much-needed dose of wholesome fun.  Every word he says and every move he makes serve to enrich the film, and though Foxx was brilliant as Django, I do feel that Waltz's magnetism  overshadowed Jamie's talent.   

By the same token, though DiCaprio was equally compelling, Samuel L. Jackson threatened his status as the premiere heavy.  Jackson gave us a thunderous performance here, dominating the material with a vigor that only Sam could summon.  There is nothing likable about his character, the devious Stephen, and yet you can't take your eyes off of him.  He snarls, grovels, and schemes, and the role takes Jackson to some dark places that he isn't reluctant to explore.  DiCaprio is equally sinister, and he seems to delight in depicting Calvin Candie as a flashy yet superficial menace, a trashy poser with a lot of money and power paired with an utter lack of morality.

There are smaller performances that bolster the picture, to include James Remar in a pair of roles and a funny cameo by Jonah Hill.  That scene was so horribly wrong and yet so very funny.  Only Tarantino can pull off gags like that.  Every aspect of his film is on par with his ability to write and direct, and the editing, the sets and the costumes, the music, all of the essentials are on point.  The color palette is immersive, the shot selection continues Tarantino's love (and gift) for recycling, and the choreography is at an all-time high.  The action is deft and the booming gunshots and the bright red splashes of blood are epic.  Whenever Django goes on the warpath, gunning down deserving monsters masquerading as men, the brazen style is almost enough to drive the viewer into a state of euphoria. 

Yes, I know there has been some controversy regarding Django Unchained.  Spike Lee is extremely jealous of Tarantino and has maintained an overtly hypocritical grudge against QT for years.  He and many others have blasted the film for its graphic portrayal of slavery and its repeated use of the n-word.  I bring this up because you have heard about it, but I encourage you to shrug it off.  The subject warrants a bold approach, and I applaud the director for his refusal to soften the impact of the picture.  If there's any subject that warrants such disclosure, surely this is it.  Yes, it's bold, but there's a lot of honesty captured in this show, and it would have been wrong to handle the material delicately.  There has also been some scrutiny given recent random acts of violence, but people have to keep art and life separate.  I don't buy into that at all, though I think I should point it out here.  If you feel differently about either of these subjects, you should probably skip this one. 

In closing, I encourage you to spend a little time with Django as he searches for his wife in a hellish vision of the pre-Civil War South.  Thankfully, he has the charming Dr. King Schultz at his side, and their remarkable partnership should provide audiences with a gripping experience for years to come.  I haven't revealed much of the plot for a reason.  If you haven't seen this one yet, you still probably know far too much about the film going in.  This is a journey, and we know where it's going from the very start, but the film takes its time getting there.  I encourage you to enjoy the ride and drink up the scenery.  Django Unchained is a brilliant film that boasts a royal conclusion, but every frame is deserving of your attention.  This is significant art, make no mistake about it, and it will start conservations.  Yet it is also a fine example of just how riveting and entertaining motion pictures can be.  Like Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained offers more than a typical Tarantino thrill ride.  This is another picture with heart, an emotional vessel that will provoke you when it isn't making you laugh or cheer.  One can only imagine what QT will do next, but he has his work cut out for him if he wants to improve upon this splendid treat.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I see why Spike Lee is a jealous motherf*cker

Yes, I know, I didn't drop my #2 Bond Villain today, but please understand that I was very busy on several fronts early in the day, and then I was completely swept away by Django Unchained.  Seriously, what's up with Quentin Tarantino?  Everyone is supposed to drop the ball from time to time.  Every artist is entitled to fail every once in a while.  That's the nature of the game we play, and anyone who goes out on a limb over and over again is bound to miss the mark at some point, right?

Not Quentin Tarantino.  He just delivers one instant classic after another.  Like it's easy or something.  It's unbelievable.  Hell, it's driving Spike Lee crazy, and he should be one proud dude, immune to such pettiness.  I just can't fathom it.

So, I was overwhelmed by greatness tonight, but I'll be on it tomorrow.  The good news is that in addition to learning who my top 2 Bond villains are, you'll also get a review of a genuine masterpiece.  If you, like me, were unfortunate enough to miss this one in theaters, everything good you've heard about Django Unchained is true. 


Monday, April 15, 2013

Trailer Park Trash & Vampires Excerpt: Meet Lynne Shelby

Let's cut right to the chase.  I'm a fan of girl power, and there are some strong female characters in my book.  However, it's not like you can title your novel Trailer Park Trash & Vampires without inviting a tramp or two to the party.  With that said, I would like to introduce you to Lynne Shelby. 

     The following scene takes place at Sloggins Recreational Center, a local hotspot where the misfits from Ryker's Trailer Park and the rich kids from The Glen (a posh retirement community located nearby) gather for a dip in the swimming pool.  It's a hot summer day and the place is packed, but Lynne Shelby is about to hit the scene and she's eager to add some drama to the proceedings.   

Trailer Park Trash & Vampires Excerpt: Meet Lynne Shelby
 (from Chapter 1: Brilliant Summer Day)

After she claimed a lawn chair with a towel, Lynne Shelby slipped out of her shorts.  Her nails were painted black so they would match her miniscule bikini.  She peeled off her shirt and a kid wearing red swimming trunks actually gasped.  The exercise was really paying off.  She was willing to bet that no one here could even come close to guessing her age.
“Can you believe that?”  An old hag wearing a straw hat big enough to pass for a modest sombrero griped loudly.
“Senile old bitty,” Lynne Shelby hissed, making sure that her voice was every bit as loud.  She was hoping that her would-be adversary would say something back.  Lynne remained tense for the better part of a minute, her eyes blazing with primal heat.  Nothing would be better than a confrontation.  She absolutely thrived on being the center of attention. 
Alas, there was no fight in the older woman.  Aware that she was being baited, she wisely decided to say no more.
Lynne studied her surroundings, anxious to discover someone looking at her.  She was wearing one of her slightest swimsuits, a scant bikini with a Brazilian-cut bottom that left most of her round ass exposed to the world.  Lynne Shelby was quite proud of what the good lord had given her.  She had the kind of body that men wanted and she knew it. 
She applied plenty of lotion so that her tan skin glistened in the burning sun.  Yearning to feel eyes raking her over, she began to stretch provocatively.    A smile spread across her lips as she caught some of the kids from The Glen openly ogling her.  She pretended to make adjustments to her top while in reality she was merely pressing her breasts together to make her cleavage appear more significant. 
“Oh my,” the woman who had spoke out earlier groaned.  “Would ya just look at that?  This ain’t a strip club, is it?”  As she shook her head in disgust there came a strong gust of wind and she had to grab her big hat to keep it from being blown off.
Her short brown hair whipping about in the sudden breeze, Lynne moistened her lips with her tongue and gave the boys a knowing wink.  She knew what they would be thinking about later when they were lying in bed.  The thought of what they would do to themselves with her body in mind brought a fierce gush of warmth between her thighs.
She was 39, and in less than two months she would be 40, but she could still turn any man’s head, whether he was 15 or 55.
She was fine.  It wasn’t easy to keep a flat stomach and a firm ass.  Lynne ran two miles on a daily basis and worked out for forty-five minutes or longer at least four days a week.  It was hard work, but she wanted men to want her.
Men were all that mattered, men like Lennie Prescott, . . . she’d love to bring him home for the night.  He was getting big, but she knew he could give her a ride.  For some reason she couldn’t comprehend, as of yet, she had been unable to snare him.  She had certainly tried.  Her trailer was on Lot 7, just behind his camper.
Okay, maybe the fact that he lived in a camper was a bit of a turn-off, but aside from that, Lennie Prescott was all man.  She had been hanging out in enough bars in Bisby and Miller a few years ago to catch glimpses of him playing basketball on the television, and that alone afforded him more celebrity than anyone else in Little Drop.
She had flaunted her wares enough when he was around, but he hadn’t copped to it thus far.  She was spending a lot more time lying out in the sun than was necessary, and whenever he was outside she was always finding some reason to bend over.  He didn’t seem to be interested in anything other than drinking.
Maybe he was just too drunk to respond properly. 
Maybe he was just going to take a little more work to get started.  All men started differently but finished the same.
After thinking it over for a moment, Lynne decided that she was just going to have to be a little more forward with Mr. Prescott.  The feisty cougar grinned as she basked in the blazing heat, rubbing her delicate feet together and scanning the poolside, always conscious of the hungry stares she attracted.
“Excuse me,” she said to a teenage boy with pale skin that was already starting to burn.  “Would you mind putting a little more lotion on my back?”
“Really?”  He asked eagerly, blushing furiously.
“Really,” Lynne said. 
She allowed him to rub more lotion on her legs as well, smiling broadly as the woman in the straw hat wondered if someone should call the police.  When the teenage boy’s erection nudged her left foot as he worked on her calves, she briefly caressed the small bulge in his baggy swimming trucks with her heel.  When he finished, he sat beside her for at least five minutes before he dared to stand and depart, and she smiled the whole time, chatting amicably about nothing in particular.
It was good to be wanted.  For Lynne Shelby, little else mattered.

Friday, April 12, 2013

New Top 5 Update

Wow.  Picking my Top 5 Bond Villains has turned out to be quite the task.  I'm a huge fan of the Bond films, and the series has provided me with so many stellar antagonists to choose from.  Thus far, I've succeeded only in producing a list of 10 deserving candidates.  Now, I must dig in deeper and name my Top 5.  Before I do that, however, I thought I would give you a little peak behind the curtain, if you will, by letting you in on who the ten finalists are.

They are listed here, and they are in no particular order:

Blofield - Donald Pleasance is probably my favorite, but Telly Savales was great too, and there are a few to choose from

Jaws - Richard Kiel

Oddjob - Harold Sakata

Scaramanga - Christopher Lee

Dr. No - Joseph Wiseman

006 - Sean Bean

Sanchez - Robert Davi

Red Grant - Robert Shaw

Baron Samedi - Geoffrey Holder

Max Zorin - Christopher Walken

Stay tuned, peeps, as I'll unveil my choice for #5 later today.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Next Top 5

I'm going to start up a new Top 5 later tonight, and this time I'm going to name my Top 5 Bond Villains.  I'm a Bond fanatic, so this should be a lot of fun.  I would like to thank the boxing dynamo known as Kip Wallace for the suggestion.


Yes, call him Vino, because that man is aging like wine.  Last night, Kobe played 48 minutes and put up 47 points.  He added 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals, and he was credited with 4 blocked shots.  How many times did he turn the ball over during this stellar performance?  Once.  Keep in mind, this was only the latest in a string of rousing performances from one of the game's best players.

No one can dispute the fact that Kobe is still in the top five, and I still believe he's the best player in the league.  Think about how many games he has played, and think of how much he has been through this year.  To call this a turbulent season for the Lakers would be a grand understatement, and just look at how Kobe has performed.  The dude is a stone cold killer on the basketball court.  There are guys with better stats on the season, I know this, but examine their situations.  No one has worked as hard as Kobe Bryant this year.  No one.

Now, this isn't going to be the year that Kobe Bryant gets his sixth ring.  You know it, and I know it, but I'm not so sure that Kobe knows it.  The Lakers will make the playoffs, and sometimes strange things happen when it matters most.

Regardless, Kobe Bryant is on fire, and despite the fact that his squad is fighting to make the post-season, this has been one of his most impressive campaigns. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Top 5 Gorefests

Now, just so we're clear, my criteria for composing this list will not be merely based upon the level of gore, but also the quality of the film.  I'm not interested in drivel, no matter how disgusting it may be, but a well-made feature boasting some obnoxious gore.  Special effects are an artform, and gore belongs under that umbrella, but what difference does the quality of the effects make if the movie in question is a complete and total piece of shit?  Now, my definition of drivel is a bit loose, so filmmakers like Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava will make the cut, yet I can't summon any love for pictures from directors like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Jess Franco.

Anyway, time is wasting, so let's get disgusting up in here!

#1) The Evil Dead (original) - 1981

The 80s dominate this list, and since that decade is still known for its excess, maybe that's appropriate.  Regardless, of all the films to make the cut, this one clearly had the biggest impact on the horror genre.  This film gave us Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, and it spawned a franchise that is still making serious noise on the scene.  The budget was minimal and the players were amateurs, but the damn thing still works to perfection.  Yes, it is incredibly dated, but it still has raw power.  Putting this disc in your player is like lighting a fuse.  Despite the obvious limitations, this little picture that could wound up being the most vicious assault on audiences to be featured on this list.

You know the drill: five teens head out for a weekend getaway at a spooky old cabin in the woods.  Everything is going great until they release terrible demons into the world.  Soon they're hacking one another to pieces in the name of bloody horror, and the ending is a real bummer.  Despite the limitations of the budget, Raimi's creativity and the courage of the cast give The Evil Dead a major boost.  I say courage because if you believe everything you read, Raimi has made a living out of beating the hell out of Bruce Campbell, to include driving motorbikes into The Chin's chin. 

The gore is tremendous, and the last ten minutes of the picture are among the goriest moments ever captured on film.  The most disturbing scene in the piece may be the tree rape, and though that bit is relatively gore-free, it is totally cringe-worthy.  Demon-possessed teenagers are dismembered and both the cast and the cabin are painted red with blood as a hero known as Ash rises to the occasion.  There is an abundance of carnage, and Raimi is wildly inventive and eager to disgust in his application of the effects.  I also enjoy the score, and many of the big scares sprinkled throughout the film owe a great deal to the audio. 

A new version of this cult classic is tearing it up in theaters as I write this, but the original has a pedigree that will be difficult to match.  If you're looking for an atmospheric and bloody rampage that reeks of doom and awesomeness, you're looking for The Evil Dead.  Yes, doom and awesomeness.  It's The Evil Dead, for crying out loud.  The film is a gorefest with considerable mood, opening with a sense of doom and slowly gaining steam before an overblown and incredibly repulsive climax.  This one has been giving me the willies for a long time, and I have no qualms about putting The Evil Dead at the top of this Top 5.

#2) Bad Taste - 1987

There are ridiculous movies, and then there are those movies that make ridiculous movies seem positively normal.  This is one of those movies.  Bad Taste is a true love letter to film, a picture where most everything falls short aside from director Peter Jackson's passion, and yet that alone elevates everything around it.  The end result is one of the goofiest horror-comedies ever, and it is a bizarre film loaded with memorable sequences and an outrageous amount of gore.  The acting is average, the effects are inept yet hilarious, and the plot is almost non-existent, but the movie is consistently entertaining and warrants repeat viewings.  You can show it to your friends and you can even show it to your parents. 

What?  I'm not kidding.  I showed it to mine.  Of course, I once forced my parents to sit through Lamberto Bava's dreadfully awful Devil Fish, so my argument is flawed. 

Anyway, back to Bad Taste.  Big melon-headed aliens with huge ass-cheeks that burst out of their pants (I couldn't make this stuff up) have disposed of all the people in a small town to provide meat for an intergalactic fast food chain.  It's up to four unlikely heroes to save the day, and these buffoons are up to the challenge.  There's so much gore on display, I don't know where to begin.  Maybe I should just start by pointing out that our hero will have his skull cracked open, but he'll survive by scooping his brains back into his cranium and tying a bandana around his head.  People and big melon-headed aliens with huge ass-cheeks that burst out of their pants are maimed, bloody floors are mopped, and puke is ingested.  Bad Taste takes its name to heart, and the movie is a gleeful gorefest that is packed with chuckles. 

There are no real scares in Bad Taste, though there is a lot of action and maybe even a dab of suspense.  Peter Jackson's vision and energy are on full display, and while no one could have predicted just how far he would take his talent, his devotion was obvious.  This picture is at the other end of the spectrum from a picture like The Fly, a deep and moving film, as it is a hollow vessel designed solely to entertain.  Having said that, it is both efficient and effective, and there's nothing wrong with 91 minutes of silly fun.

#3) City of the Living Dead (a.k.a. Gates of Hell) - 1980

In truth, some people may have filled a list of their Top 5 Gorefests with films directed by the one and only Lucio Fulci, and it would be hard to deny that his catalog warrants such attention.  Seriously, there are classics like The Beyond and Zombie, and oddities like New York Ripper or A Lizard in a Woman's Skin to choose from.  There's also City of the Living Dead, one of his stronger pictures, and a movie that is truly disgusting.  Additionally, I always enjoyed Christopher George's work, and his presence is a major asset to this gorefest.  In fact, I think George may have been the finest leading man to star in one of Fulci's films, and much like Zombie, City of the Living Dead is not as bizarre and disjointed as some of Fulci's work.  This is a rather coherent and utterly nightmarish horror film that will test your gag reflex.

What's it about?  Well, it's just your typical "priest hangs himself in a cemetery, opening the gates of hell" yarn.  George plays a reporter who teams with a young psychic (Catriona MacColl) to try and close the gates before All Saints Day, thereby preventing the dead from rising up to consume the living all over the globe.  There are a multitude of gruesome sights, to include people bleeding from their eyes, people vomiting up their intestines, drills to the head, maggot storms, and some of the most fearsome ghouls you'll ever encounter on film.  There are ample servings of dread, suspense, and gore to be had, and while there are an abundance of flaws on display, Fulci still manages to ship the freight.  Watching City of the Living Dead is a bit like enduring a terrible nightmare, and I think that's just what Lucio was going for.  Forgive me if you find watching it to be a bit of an ordeal, but Fulci felt that horror films were supposed to challenge and revolt the audience in equal measures.

I have a strong stomach, and no movie has ever made me physically ill, but few have come as close as this one.  The effects are frightening, the mood is ominous, the score is unnerving, and Fulci really puts the screws to the viewer throughout.  There are surprising deaths, shocking images, and all the gore you expect from the Godfather of Gore.  This isn't his best film, but I think that it is his most gruesome feature, and it is also one of his most effective.  Yes, it goes off the deep end from time to time, to include zombies that teleport, but it also has some of his best stuff, like the incredibly tense buried alive bit and the big finale.  City of the Living Dead is a true gorefest, and I think it is the best Fulci film for this particular list.  Some may disagree, and I won't protest as long they favor The Beyond or Zombie, but I've made my choice.

#4) The Fly (remake) - 1986

 Everyone loves a Brundlefly, right?  Fans of Trailer Park Trash & Vampires know that I do.  This has to be one of the best remakes out there.  Cronenberg's take on The Fly is a mind-boggling odyssey into terror ripe with fantastic performances and grotesque visuals.  The drama and gore are supported by a powerful story that will move and revolt you.  This one isn't for the squeamish, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a thoughtful tale, and Cronenberg, a true master, was in top form here.  As a result, the movie is rewarding for those who cherish the principles of film production and horror buffs alike.  The terribly underrated Jeff Goldblum is sensational throughout, and the part of Seth Brundle is one of the most challenging roles you're apt to see portrayed in a horror film. 

The film has little to do with its 1958 predecessor aside from a most basic plot description: a scientist becomes a disgusting man/fly hybrid after a daring teleportation experiment goes wrong.  There are ample opportunities for the crew to display startling effects, and some of the material is extremely hard to watch.  The various side effects of Brundle's grisly transformation and an assault via regurgitation represent some of the most repulsive scenes depicted.  This one isn't packed to the gills with gore, it's not that kind of picture, but there are several disgusting sequences that earn the film the #4 spot on my list.

I'll close by noting that Cronenberg made this picture after watching his father struggle with disease.  With that in mind, know that when you slip this disc in and press "PLAY" you're getting ready to go an emotional rollercoaster ride.  Those who are simply looking for cheap thrills might not be as pleased with the outcome, but anyone who cherishes a good film will find this gorefest to be a pleasant surprise.  Stellar performances courtesy of the key players and a challenging story that ultimately descends into darkness and heartbreak give The Fly a resonance that most of the films on this list lack.  Finally, I have the utmost respect for David Cronenberg and his body of work, and despite my reverence for Videodrome and Scanners, I feel that The Fly is his best picture.

#5) Demons - 1985

Dario Argento penned the script, and the director is Lamberto Bava, son of the legendary Mario Bava, so this was a major film.  The budget is obvious, as the effects are convincing and the wild screenplay calls for some truly outrageous carnage to unfold in this unsettling gem from the 80s.  The soundtrack is all 80s all of the time, with contributions from Mötley Crüe, Billy Idol, and (gasp!) Rick Springfield.   The acting is decent, but there aren't any big stars in the mix, and that's okay.  I have always felt that low-budget horror flicks can benefit from the lack of an established lead.  That makes it harder to know who will make it to the end credits, and that means all of the primary characters are vulnerable, ratcheting up the tension.  That's the case here, and a number of performers deliver riveting performances.  My favorite is Bobby Rhodes as Tony, a pimp who doesn't blink an eye and whips out his switchblade when the people around him start turning into bloodthirsty monsters.

The gore is absurd, particularly the transformation stuff and a birth that I can't adequately describe for you.  Of course, there is a ton of violence, so you'll see people mangled in a variety of ways.  The blood never stops gushing, as this one doesn't take long to get started and stampedes toward a zany conclusion.  The basic premise is that a couple of friends venture to a cinema in West Berlin after one of them is given free passes by a truly bizarre character.  The theater itself is more than a little strange, and the movie being shown is a horror film centered on demons, a picture tied together with some mumbo-jumbo about predictions made by Nostradamus.  Things that happen in this movie-within-a-movie begin to happen within the theater, and soon the place is overrun by ravenous demons.  Before the movie ends, a man riding a motorcycle and wielding a sword will drive through the cinema, slicing up demons as he goes, and a helicopter will crash through the roof.  It's that kind of film.

I have a lot of love for this one, and I think the sequel presented a worthy follow-up.  I loved seeing many of the same players in different roles.  Demons is incredibly violent and incredibly disgusting, and it is surely one of the better gory films that you're apt to view.  It is also very entertaining, and though it is tied to the 80s and it is so over-stylized and bizarre that many won't be able to endure, I hereby label it a gorefest of significance.  Demons boasts striking visuals, a bold color palette, and throbs with enough energy to fuel a dozen lesser pictures.  You may love it or you may hate it, but you won't be bored, and you will be disgusted.

. . .

So there you have it.  I hope it was disgusting enough for you.  Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts.

Were the gorefests of the 80s as excessive as I recall, or did I favor that era a bit too much?

Did I pick the wrong Fulci film?  Should there have been more from the Godfather of Gore on this list?

Was I wrong not to include Dawn of the Dead or Suspiria?  Or any of a dozen other titles that may have warranted a spot on the list?  

What should I discuss in my next Top 5?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Mighty Chris Visions

I had the pleasure of working with Chris Visions on the illustrated edition of my novel, Trailer Park Trash & Vampires.  The artwork gracing my page here is from the stupendous cover he prepared, and all of the grisly illustrations he composed for the book were savage treats.  He has a wealth of skill and style, and I could go on and about his composition.  Recently, I got to interview Chris for RVA Magazine.  The end result was a fun piece that reveals a lot about Chris and his methods, among other things.  I encourage you to check out RVA and scope out my interview with the mighty Chris Visions.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thanks, Roger

I didn't always agree with him, but I loved to read his reviews, for he did such a fantastic job of expressing his thoughts.  Indeed, it wasn't just his sound understanding of film that made Roger Ebert so special, it was his ability to provide such vibrant depictions of his reactions to the movies he watched.  While I always found time to see how he sized up my personal favorites, his writing was of such quality that I was compelled to read his take on titles I had no interest in as well. 

I always felt that he was very honest, and whether I shared his opinion or not, I never felt that he harbored any ulterior motives for rating movies as he did.  In short, his work didn't seem as empty or contrived as much of what's out there.  It was always refreshing to know that he was never going to use his platform to direct attention toward himself or tow any company lines.  He was there to do a job, and he did it well.  Too many critics seem to think their reviews are about them, and too many are too quick to echo one another when they compose their reviews.  Now, Roger was very opinionated and he had unique ways of expressing himself, so there was a wealth of personality in his reviews, but that was merely a side effect.  He wrote about the films and their stars, the directors, the writers, and the producers who fund it all.  He wrote about their efforts lovingly, and he didn't mind going against the grain. 

There can be no doubt that Roger Ebert treasured movies, and I think his passion was a boon to the very art he so cherished.  He was good for the movies, no one can argue that, and his voice will be sorely missed.  I'm sure there are countless people across the globe giving his legacy a big thumbs-up today, and he surely deserves it.  Thanks, Roger. 

Top 5 Zombie Films

Well, the third season of The Walking Dead has drawn to a close, but that doesn't mean that we can't find time to celebrate our favorite films featuring zombies.  In fact, it might just get the bitter taste out of our mouths after sitting through that lackluster season finale.

Yes, seeing legions of the undead advance on the living has seldom been so en vogue, but this sub-genre has offered up a great many quality films over the years.  Many of them rank among my personal favorites, and I would be lying if I didn't say that I consider myself to be an expert of sorts on the subject.  So then, let's get this party started.  I hope you will share your thoughts, and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Top 5 Zombie Films

1) Return of the Living Dead - 1985

Look, sometimes the pedigree isn't there, yet the end result can still turn out to be a masterpiece.  There aren't enough people out there who cherish Dan O'Bannon and actors like Clu Galager and James Karen were never household names, but it doesn't matter.  Return of the Living Dead is an absolute blast, an insane riff on zombie movies that winds up improving upon the very pictures that it was inspired by and set out to rib.  This surprising outcome isn't necessarily tied to the steady direction or the the terrific performances, and it can't be attributed directly to the rollicking punk score or the quality effects either.  No, Return of the Living Dead works as well as it does because it is a sum of its parts, and they fit together perfectly.

Every role is given the same weight, and that is one of the keys to the movie's power.  Every second matters, and time is running out.  Every scene counts.  Every death is striking.  This is no horror film fueled by senseless nudity and a body count, but it isn't going to disappoint anyone looking for such cheap thrills either.  At the end of the day, everyone should be happy.

This is a fast-moving story with incredible momentum and some of the finest dialogue ever scripted.  It boasts fast zombies and it was made long before recent trends made that the norm.  ROTLD marries itself to the punk rock scene to terrific effect, to include a morbidly charming band of teenage rogues at the forefront, and that superb soundtrack.  There are songs from The Cramps and The Damned and the music really adds a lot to the movie.  The script is wildly inventive, the pace is relentless, and the special effects are totally convincing.

Most of all, though, it's that acidic dialogue that really makes this one work.  As the shit hits the fan and stress levels rise, the characters gripe, plead, sob, taunt, and snarl at one another in a most realistic fashion.  Sometimes they're all talking at once, and the tension is palpable as they face off in verbal duels that resonate.  Exchanges like this one make ROTLD a genuine pleasure:

Chuck: Hey, Casey, do you like sex with death?
Casey: Yeah, so fuck off and die.

Or this one:

Suicide: How come you guys only come around when you need a ride someplace?
Spider: 'Cause you're one spooky motherfucker.

Here's another of my faves:

Frank: What are we gonna do, Burt?
Burt: I'll tell you what I'm going to do.  I'm going to be sued by the Darrow Chemical Company.  I might even be investigated by the government.  I might become very famous.  I might even lose my business.  I might even go to jail, goddamit!  That's what I'm going to do!

And, of course:

Frank: Watch your tongue, boy, if you like this job!
Freddy: Like this job!?!

Return of the Living Dead is volatile, it's scary, it's disgusting, it's lean, and it's just a hell of a good time.  It has to be one of my favorite movies over all, and I'm officially pegging it as my top zombie flick.  It's a quick and bumpy ride that is packed with thrills and laughs, and it remains a fresh take on a beloved sub-genre long after it should have grown stale.  In fact, I think the opposite is true, and as horror features that generate as many chuckles all too often veer into parody, this dazzling blend of terror and humor is becoming more and more potent.  Yes, it's a wild ride, but it also has some serious bite.  This one has it all, and though it may be a strange pick for the top spot on this list, I think it is ferocious enough to warrant it.

2) Dawn of the Dead (original) - 1978

No one says: "Screw the MPAA, we'll release the damn thing unrated."  No one.  Well, no one except George Romero, who landed a major hit in the process.  No one else could capture the goriest satire ever and perhaps one of the most profound statements on commercialism we'll ever see on film.  No one else would have been able to dig so deeply into the premise, lovingly mining each character and the fragile relationships this nightmarish scenario gives birth to.  No one else could have brought us the sheer heartbreak that comes as a result of watching these determined survivors struggle, facing off with both the undead and their futile attempts to pretend that things really aren't all that different when there aren't zombies trying to knock down the door.

Dawn of the Dead follows four survivors trying to find their way in a zombie apocalypse.  They set up shop in a mall and make an attempt to find some sort of solace.  They find some measure of peace, but it isn't long before a marauding band of bikers/looters come barreling through.  It's a tragedy, really, but there are thrills, and there's a lot of humor, and somehow this one doesn't wind up feeling like the downer it truly is.  While the viewer must pay an emotional toll, there is a lot of fun to be had along the way.  This film has a little bit of everything, to include terror, drama, suspense, and comedy, and it strives to be a character study of the highest order.

It should be noted that none of the leads were established stars, but that doesn't stop these thespians from putting on a hell of show.  The four lead roles are all rather complex, but all of the performers involved deliver.  Tom Savini shines in a small but crucial part, and his effects work is still impressive to behold.  That man was a wizard, and his importance to the horror genre can't be overstated.  I believe this was his finest hour and his strongest contribution to the industry.

Dawn of the Dead is certainly Romero's best movie, and it may just be the richest zombie film of all time.  I enjoyed the remake, but it lacked the depth and the scope of the original.  In truth, this is the biggest and most remarkable zombie picture of them all, and it is amazing to think that George set his sights so high and delivered such a rousing feature.  Dawn of the Dead is a true juggernaut, a massive film that continues to shock and entertain.  Many will argue that it should hold the top spot on this list, and, in fact, it did when I last sat down to rank the best of the zombie films.  I have the utmost respect for this film, and I can appreciate the argument that it should be king of the mountain.  I just chose to go in a different direction this time.

3)  Night of the Living Dead (original) - 1968

The little picture that started it all is still a potent horror film; it remains genuinely disturbing and continues to inspire conversation some 45 years after its release.  Throughout this lean descent into terror, Romero offers up one deft observation after another.  Despite the presence of the undead fiends who have risen from the grave, it is George's ability to stage conflict amongst the living that makes NOTLD so worthwhile.  This is a theme that he would explore in greater detail throughout his career, but this is Romero at his most bloodthirsty, and the end result is damn impressive.

This is a scary yarn, a grim voyage that concludes on a sour note, and certainly much of the reverence the film receives is due to its ability to scare audiences decades after its original release.  Additionally, people often think that this film is lacking in gore, but I would argue that it merely seems that way because it was shot in black-and-white.  The gore is there, make no mistake about it, it's just that it isn't bright red.  There is a lot of gut-munching, and if there is more gore in George's later efforts, that might have a lot to do with longer running times.

This is a true ensemble piece, following a group of survivors who are immediately thrust into a world gone mad, a world where the dead eat the living.  They take refuge in a desolate farmhouse, and it isn't long before they begin to turn on one another.  This "family" under duress doesn't co-exist well and the tension is almost unbearable at times.  Yes, it's a simple premise, but it serves as the foundation for a rewarding picture that has garnered legions of fans.  The movie works, and the bare-bones premise yields a lot of wit, a lot of insight, and a wealth of scares.

10 years before Romero directed Dawn of the Dead, his talent and his love for the genre were evident.  Though his career trajectory has represented a decline, this film announced the arrival of a genuine presence.  Romero's debut film starts with a bang and never relents, and everyone watching knew that the director of this feature was a voice to be reckoned with.  He would produce at least one more classic, a superior film entitled Dawn of the Dead, but that film has its own spot on this list.  This spot belongs to Night of the Living Dead, a movie that is one of the most significant horror films of all time for a variety of reasons.  Most importantly, NOTLD is a highly-entertaining piece of social commentary that has proven to be a timeless frightfest.

4) Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive) - 1992

Zombies have rarely been so much fun.  In 1992, Peter Jackson managed to make one of the sub-genre's most gleefully disgusting pictures of all time.  Braindead is a bizarre love story that is packed with laughs and oozing blood, and you're not likely to find another picture like it.  Indeed, this film goes to such extremes that it nearly becomes a spoof.  There's a kung-fu priest who kicks ass for the lord, a fiendish zombie tot who our hero takes to the park, a vicious Sumatran Rat-Monkey, and the most domineering mother of all time.  Seriously, that mother is a real piece of work.  She makes the Sumatran Rat-Monkey seem like Mickey Mouse.

Forget the plot, this isn't that kind of movie.  This is a movie that is determined to disgust you and tickle your funny-bone in equal measures, and it so far-fetched that it actually becomes quite cartoonish.  While the fright factor is rather low, the film is consistently funny and exciting.

Honestly, I can't emphasize enough just how disgusting Braindead is, but it may just be the bloodiest movie ever filmed.  Romero got an "X" when he submitted Dawn of the Dead to the ratings board in 1978, and it's hard to see how this film fared any better.  Perhaps the MPAA gave Braindead the benefit of the doubt because of the tone, but chuckles aside, this movie is incredibly gross.

There are entire scenes where our hero wages war in a crimson landscape littered with body parts.  The finale is deliriously over-the-top and positively revolting, and it presents a "rebirth" that would have made Freud loose his lunch.  Yes, I went there, and no, I don't have a fever.  Peter Jackson had a fever, and the only prescription he was interested in was more insanity.  That's how he went from Meet the Feebles and Bad Taste to perhaps the only film that could possibly make those productions seem tame, and that would be Braindead, his finest film to date.  Yes, that means I'm placing Braindead above Jackson's LOTR pictures, which are far superior films.  Yet they're rather boring in comparison to this unsettling gem that never fails to provide me with a killer case of the giggles.

5) Zombie (a.k.a. Zombi 2) – 1979

My choice for #5 on this list is the finest offering from a man hailed as the "Godfather of Gore" for good reason.  Some of the films soon to be unveiled here are loaded with quirky humor, but this one is a grueling watch from start to finish.  Yes, Lucio Fulci was known for making his audience squirm, and he was at the very top of his game here.  Some might argue that The Beyond is his best film, but I strongly disagree.  Here, Fulci is on fire, making great use of an ominous score with tribal flourishes and a spooky tropical setting.  Additionally, unlike many of his features, the plot is rather coherent this time out.  Having said that, there's still room for a truly absurd scene where a zombie duels with a shark that will have you admiring the guts (or stupidity) of a man who may just be the world's bravest stuntman.  Yet the true highlight of the picture may be the infamous "eyeball scene" that some of you may have heard about, and that bit is still guaranteed to make you cringe.  

The plot is simple enough: a gutsy reporter and a daring damsel head to a mysterious island in search of her father.  Score 10 points if you expect them to stumble into a nightmare filled with flesh-eating corpses that have somehow come back to life.  Give yourself an additional 10 points if you don't expect anyone to make it out alive.  Yet the power of Zombie has little to do with plot, and owes a great debt to the atmosphere and the horror that Fulci unleashes.   

Zombie is exceptionally gory, and I think it features the most frightening zombies ever depicted on film or television.  There is one sequence where the dead rise from an overgrown cemetery in the midst of the jungle that is positively terrifiying.  Lucio wasn't known for his finesse, and as such this one can be a bit clumsy at times, but it remains tense and frightening after all these years.  In fact, it is probably the scariest film that will be featured on this list.  It might be the most depressing as well, for the 70s were known for gut-wrenching horror flicks with downer endings, and Zombie is no exception.  Speaking of which, the ending is a classic.  Zombie remains one of the most intriguing zombie films ever put on film.  If you haven't experienced Lucio Fulci's most competent shocker, now would be a good time to let this Zombie take a big bite out of you.

. . .

Well, what do you think? 

What's your favorite zombie film? 

What movie should land at the top of the list? 

Note: I have to give a shout out to all the cool people over at RVA Magazine who have been so supportive of me and my work over the years.  I have published a great many Top 5 pieces for them, and this will be an updated version of one of them.  I would just dust off the original, but every time I sit down with one of these lists after a little time away, it changes.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy this Top 5, because you can certainly look forward to more, and if you're not familiar with RVA, do yourself a favor and check them out.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 16 (Welcome to the Tombs)

Warning: this is as much of a recap as it is a review, so here there be SPOILERS.

The third season of The Walking Dead is a wrap.  In recent weeks, the show had been on fire, and the momentum and hype this strong run generated served to create lofty expectations for the last episode.  Yes, the big finale sought to place an exclamation point on the season, and in many ways it succeeded.  Yet it must be noted that in many ways it was also very disappointing.  Now, I felt that "Welcome to the Tombs" was a solid episode, and were this week 14 or 15, I think I would be more lenient.  However, I think most everyone was expecting much more from the season finale, and despite several important deaths and some extremely intense material, this one failed to close out Season 3 with a bang.  It didn't really come close, truth be told.

Now, the beginning was great.  In fact, I thought this might have been one of The Walking Dead's strongest opening reels.  The Governor worked Milton over and gave him an ultimatum: kill Andrea or die.  I knew Milton was a goner back in Week 14--and, as I recall, in addition to noting that I didn't see him making it to Season 4, I also noted that I couldn't decide if I liked his odds of seeing Season 4 more than those of that sucker who was traveling with Tyreese--but I didn't expect to see Woodbury's resident scientist/idiot make such a ballsy exit.  Anyway, instead of offing Andrea, Milt made a lunge at The Governor and got stabbed for his efforts.  To make matters worse, The Governor coolly advised Milton that he was going to turn and kill Andrea in spite of his heroics.  This was also some of the best stuff we've seen yet courtesy of David Morrissey as The Governor, and the "Kill or die . . . or . . . die and kill" line was sweet. 

Yes, we were off and running, and I was thinking that we were in for quite a show.  Now, so far as Andrea, Milton, and The Governor were concerned, I was right.  Most everything else seemed to be a bit lacking, especially when you consider that this was the end of the road for what has thus far proven to be a damn good season of a terrific program.  Unfortunately, while a killer episode may have established this as the finest season thus far, the end result was a decisive third-place finish for Season 3.  No doubt about it.

Back at the prison, our merry band of survivors were getting ready to bolt.  Carl was ticked off, Glenn was concerned, and Rick and Michonne had a bizarre "I almost handed you to The Governor on a silver platter, but you're one of us" talk that was more than a little odd.  To their credit, Andrew Lincoln and Danai Guriri somehow managed to get the job done, but it was just a strange little chat that I didn't really dig.

In Woodbury, The Governor rallied his troops and led the charge toward the prison, minus Tyreese.  The big dude who can't shoot for shit spoke up during The Governor's Patton impersonation and declared that he wasn't there to fight other people.  After stating that he was going to sit this one out, he offered to stay behind to protect the women and children.    I liked this development, but I thought this scene was also a bit clumsy.  Much of the finale seemed rushed to me, as though AMC was hastily advancing the plot.  At this point, the episode was clearly losing steam, but a worthy finale was still within reach.  After all, the inevitable confrontation we've been waiting for was on the horizon.  Or was it?

Let's talk about what happened at the prison.  Why?  I guess I have to, that's why.  This review/recap wouldn't be complete without it.  Basically, The Governor's troops (I should probably put an asterisk beside troops, but more on that later) hit the scene and blasted the shit out of the prison and all the walkers gathered around the entrance.  In truth, this assault was fairly badass, aside from the fact that Rick and his people were nowhere to be seen.  Growing more and more agitated with every second that passed, The Governor led his troops deeper and deeper into the prison, chasing shadows and rushing toward the distant moans of the undead.  This is probably the point where most of his troops started to realize that The Governor didn't really know what the fuck he was doing.

This fool's army came across a trap, setting off a couple of flash-bombs and attracting walkers.  They escaped the prison and came under fire from Glenn and Maggie, who were clad in body armor.  They sprayed a hell of a lot of lead, but I'm not sure that they hit anyone.  Regardless, The Governor's troops took off, running toward their vehicles.  It was as if the commanding arsenal that they had attacked the prison with mere moments ago was utterly forgotten, and it was patently obvious that The Governor's attempt to play general was bound to end in failure.  Yes, AMC butchered the big confrontation, totally marring both the finale and the season itself in the process.  The bad guys blew a bunch of walkers up, two of Rick's people took a few shots at them, and the bad guys jumped in their vehicles and drove off.  It was a lesson in how NOT to present a thrilling conclusion to a story.

Rick and the rest of the gang emerged and celebrated.  Yay for them.  Oh, and Carl iced some kid who was trying to surrender, much to Hershel's dismay, and then told his dad he killed a soldier who "drew" on him.  Hershel told Rick otherwise and now we have some drama to carry over into Season 4.  Meanwhile, The Governor made his people stop in the middle of the road.  They tell him it's over, they're not soldiers, and he loses it.  This was a very effective scene, and both the music and Morrissey were excellent here.  He gunned all of the troops down aside from Martinez and that one guy that some people thought was Tyreese back at the beginning of the season.  Oh, and the victims here included that sucker who was traveling with Tyreese.  Milton, we'll miss.  That sucker?  Well, we didn't really give a damn about him, now did we?

The Governor and his remaining troops, both of whom were doing an admirable job of playing it cool, got in a truck and drove off.  I bet no one was telling jokes during that ride.  Where did they go?  Well, I thought they were going back to Woodbury, but either I was wrong or they got lost.  What's next for The Governor?  Who knows?  I don't.  Nor does anyone who was relying on the big season finale for information.  That was the last we would see of David Morrissey in Season 3.

Finally, we made our way back to Andrea and Milton.  He had dropped a pair of pliers behind her when The Governor made him gather up all the instruments of torture just lying around earlier in the show.  Milton told Andrea about the pliers, and told her to hurry.  She told him she was going to get out of the chair and save them both, and he told her she was going to get out of the chair and finish him off.  He knew he wasn't going to make it, and he kept telling Andrea to hurry.  She didn't do a great job of listening to him, and by the time she was finally making some progress, Milton was dead.  Soon he turned and began to make his way toward her.  The camera cut away and we heard Andrea scream.

Rick, Michonne, and Daryl decided to go to Woodbury.  I don't know what they were thinking.  I think the writers of the show were thinking for them at that point, and they had loose ends to tie off and the clock was ticking.  Anyway, they picked up this one chick who survived The Governor's massacre so she could join the crew and tell them what happened.   Later, they reached Woodbury and found Andrea.  We thought she was in the clear, because we weren't going to be fooled by that scream after the cutaway, right?  But we were wrong.  She had freed herself and finished Milton off, but not before he took a little bite out of her chest.  Next, we got some emotional stuff that felt rushed on Rick's behalf, but genuine coming from Michonne.  Andrea shot herself and our trio wound up taking Tyreese and all of Woodbury's remaining residents, namely the women and children, back to the prison.

How do I feel about Andrea's exit?  I'm pretty sure I hate it.  This season now stands as a complete and total waste of one of the better performers on the show and one of the comic's most beloved characters.  Andrea was a solid component of AMC's The Walking Dead in the first two seasons, but Season 3 served as a tremendous disappointment in regards to her character.  Maybe the show will find a way to make this up to me, but that's a tall order.

I guess that just about sums it up.  In truth, this episode probably wasn't as bad as it sounds, and I do believe that it would have been perfectly acceptable if it wasn't the season finale.  Yet there was so much to accomplish and the audience's hopes were so high that it's really hard to give this show a good grade in light of the circumstances.  This season warranted a gripping finale with a big showdown, and in truth it needed such an outcome to warrant all the hype and drama that brought us here.  Yet it was a letdown and it cheapened much of what transpired in Season 3.  As bizarre as it sounds, I would have to close this blog out by saying that I enjoyed the episode, particularly the stuff with Andrea, Milton, and The Governor, but I was very disappointed at the same time.  This was a solid episode, but it wasn't a worthy season finale.  Not by a long shot.

Am I being too hard on "Welcome to the Tombs"?

Am I being too hard on Season 3?

When will Rick and The Governor finally come to blows?

Is Carl fucked up?
I'll answer that one for you: Yes, but it's to be expected.

If I'm right, can AMC's The Walking Dead redeem itself in Season 4?