Monday, October 22, 2018

Short Attention Span Review: Halloween (2018)

Short Attention Span Review: Halloween (2018)

Like so many of my fellow fright fans, I have been eagerly awaiting this one.  While it is proving somewhat divisive, I will add my voice to the camp that is heaping praise on this nightmarish follow-up to John Carpenter's original classic.  It is not perfect, and it may not match the power of the first one, which was leaner, meaner, and far more unexpected upon arrival.  However, it is a tremendous addition to the franchise, easily qualifying as the best addition to the Halloween legacy; some may deem that slight praise, but I enjoy most of the movies in this series.  However, if necessary, I will go even further in my recommendation here, for I found this Halloween to be one of the best sequels I have ever encountered.  It is the rare second chapter that adds to the story rather than rehashing it, paving the way for a grand new vision of what transpired after Michael's gruesome homecoming back in 1978.  It does so in a bold manner, ignoring everything that came after the first picture and raising the stakes dramatically, taking the protagonist on a sensational journey through PTSD, determination, and alienation.  And in the end, it puts Laurie and those she holds most dear (even if they don't necessarily share this affection) to the ultimate test.  Throughout this grim odyssey, Jamie Lee Curtis fires on all cylinders, offering up what may just be her definitive performance--and further cementing her place in the hallowed hall of scream queens.  In fact, she may just own the top spot on that list thanks to this riveting showcase. One can only imagine how thrilled she must have been when she received this script, which is built upon a vision of Laurie Strode as a deeply troubled woman who becomes a force to be reckoned with by refusing to to be a victim.  Both the opening and the closing are supreme, with the grand finale standing as one of the better showdowns I have seen in such fare.  There are a few dry spots along the way, but there are also numerous clever set pieces rooted in suspense and terror, and at least one major surprise.  Curtis isn't the only one seeking to elevate this picture, as her co-stars also perform admirably, and Carpenter's updated score is positively massive.  Honestly, this is the finest treat I could have hoped to receive this October, and I encourage horror fans to catch this one in the cinema.  David Gordon Green has done a remarkable job with one of the genre's most chilling entities, and opportunities to take in a horror film of this stature on the big screen should not be missed.

Final Grade: A

Jamie Lee Curtis has never been better, and this Halloween is a worthy follow-up to the John Carpenter original that ignited a legacy of terror.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Powerful Pages: Maynard's House by Herman Raucher (1980)

Powerful Pages: Maynard's House by Herman Raucher (1980)

This book had quite an impact on me in my youth, but it had faded into the fog of memory.  With that in mind, I was eager to revisit it this year during the spooky season, but I did so with some trepidation.  All too often, art that wowed us in our formative years wilts under mature inspection.  I shouldn't have worried.  Herman Raucher's thoroughly unique haunted house tale seems even more significant upon deeper reflection, and I somehow doubt this impression will dwindle going forward.  The author has a gift for detail that shows up everywhere, painting a lovely picture of a foreboding setting, deftly fleshing out the characters, and thoroughly ensnaring the reader in a nuanced plot.  The story centers on a plucky Vietnam vet with a quick tongue and an impulsive need to leap headlong into challenging situations.  He has inherited a fallen comrade's meager home in the harshest recesses of New England.  There, this adrift fellow who desires nothing more than some sense of purpose finds himself in the midst of another war.  In fact, he finds himself fighting several battles on treacherous fronts, with a loss in any of these conflicts spelling certain doom for our stubborn hero.  Beyond the isolation of his new home, Austin Fletcher must contend with a serious case of PTSD*, a harrowing winter, and a desperate search for identity in a world where he can never find sanctuary.  Oh yeah, and the house is haunted by a vengeful witch, and there may or may not be a ferocious bear on the prowl.  Given the protagonist's weakening grasp on reality, much of the novel leaves the reader to determine whether or not the perils at hand are real or imagined.  Lest that sounds too quaint for my fellow horror fans, fear not, for the sense of dread is powerful, and in one of the most riveting passages I have ever encountered, Raucher plunges the reader into a nightmarish depiction of absolute evil guaranteed to unnerve even the hardiest of the hardy.  The ending is perhaps the strongest portion of an impressive work and a delightful read.  Some may find it too mercurial to rank among the best excursions into the macabre that literature has to offer us, but I'm obliged to give Maynard's House my highest recommendation.

*The author conveys the combat veteran's condition with alarming precision and incredible empathy, and this novel was written long before analysis had graduated from a simple understanding of so-called "shell shock" to the more detailed study and acceptance of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder we see today.

Final Grade: A+

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Short Attention Span Review: The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Short Attention Span Review: House by the Cemetery (1981)

While commonly regarded as one of Italian gore maestro Lucio Fulci's best efforts, House by the Cemetery is likely his most-maligned fan favorite.  This criticism isn't unwarranted, as in many ways the picture is a bit of a mess.  The English dub is an abomination, mostly due to the horrible job they did with young Bob's dialogue, which is truly wretched.  Also, either the picture lost a lot in terms of editing and that sub-par dub, or the script was a mess.  The film is littered with plot holes and boasts some of the most questionable character logic you'll ever see.  This may work in its favor, however, as House by the Cemetery functions largely as a surreal nightmare.  It is also so derivative that it becomes its own unique absurdity, if such a thing is possible, riffing on a gruesome host of beloved horror tropes.  These elements include everything from haunted houses, mad scientists, ghouls, spooky kids, ghastly premonitions, housewives going mad, driven dads who may just be lunatics, to good old-fashioned slasher flicks.  On the positive side of the coin, the cinematography is astounding, the score is mesmerizing, and Fulci brings his trademark gory gloom and doom to a full boil.  He really finds his stride in the last reel, which is utterly horrific, and the director's undying love for downer endings gives this climax some added impact.  Reasonable viewers may well find themselves talking to the screen as things spiral out of control in that final reel.  I watched this one last night, and I said "Nope" a great many times and offered up some iteration of "Don't go in the basement!" at least a dozen times or more.  Unlike The Beyond, Zombi, or City of the Living Dead, Fulci doesn't quite nail the parting shot, which I'm not quite sure I can make heads or tails of.  The verdict is clear, however; House by the Cemetery falls well short of Lucio Fulci's best output, but probably warrants a spot in his Top 5.  It is more than a little problematic, but the creepy factor is high, and the final act is relentless and terrifying in equal measures.

Final Grade: B-

It's a bit of a mess, but it still works, and the scares come fast and furious as House by the Cemetery  nears its grim conclusion.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Short Attention Span Review: Rogue (2007)

Short Attention Span Review: Rogue (2007)

Yes, I have a weakness for both creature features and nature runs amok outings, so they had me at giant crocodile.  However, for every Alligator there are at least a dozen lackluster imitations.  So, despite the presence of director Greg McLean at the helm and genre favorite Radha Mitchell in a lead role, I was no more than cautiously optimistic when I first sat down to watch this 2007 production.  While it was no Jaws (I'm sorry, I know there will never be another Jaws, but like everyone else who pens such reviews, I'm required to say that of any picture in this vein), I can heartily recommend this nailbiter from down under.  Like many fine Australian featurs that precede it, Rogue makes great use of the stunning locales and the rugged mystique of the Outback.  It also makes great use of a sharp script and several fine performances, with the first act serving as both a showcase for stunning cinematography that makes great use of some splendid scenery and a compelling introduction to an assortment of characters.  Most are likable enough, though Sam Worthington shines in an early role as a complete tool who summons some major heroism when the going gets tough and the tough start getting devoured by a mammoth crocodile.  The second act is more about mounting tension and features some white-knuckle thrills, while the third and finale act is a bloody showdown between man and beast.  While that third act is wildly unrealistic but unquestionably entertaining, it's really the first two acts that lift Rogue toward the high water mark for such fare.  In the end, this is a crafty horror flick that aspires to be nothing more than a killer B movie--and sticks the landing.

Final Grade: B

Given that this comes from the director of Wolf Creek, it should come as no surprise that it packs a bit more suspense and tension than your average nature runs amok chiller.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Short Attention Span Review: The Predator (2018)

Short Attention Span Review: The Predator (2018)

I am probably the last guy on the planet you could sell a comedic reboot of this material to.  I treasure the first entry from 1987, and I think the sequel was a lesser film but a worthy follow-up nonetheless.  The later crossovers with those other extraterrestial fiends we all know and love so well were average at best, but I found them to be guilty pleasures.  Well, I liked the first one anyway.  All things considered, this is a franchise that I have strong feelings for, particularly when it comes to that original classic, a testament to manliness and gruesome thrills.  So, yeah, the very idea of a comedic reboot makes me cringe.  And yet . . . I guess it's a good thing I'm a big fan of Fred Dekker's filmography, with both Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad registering as personal favorites.  Make no mistake, this quirky chiller/thriller has his fingerprints all over it.  He may be playing in Shane Black's sandbox (and Black's raunchy humor is on display throughout), but The Predator feels more like Dekker's take on the first two features.  As such, it is a lot of fun.  In addition to being chock full of laughs, it also has some heart, it's gory as all get out, and it has several rollicking action set pieces.  Now, many will not share my affection for Dekker's wit, and thus the shift in tone will drive them up the wall.  It is surely a departure, and not a minor one.  Yet it offers numerous callbacks to the first two outings and assembles a badass* team of its own.  In terms of casting, Black nailed it, with Boyd Holbrook showing serious promise as a leading man while Thomas Jane gives one of his most unique performances to date as a loose cannon with Tourette's syndrome.  The rest of the gang manages to deliver big on the humor front while also holding it down when it's time to throw down.  I'm relatively certain that this one sports the biggest body count of the series by a hefty margin.  The frequent forays into bloody mayhem that litter the screen with corpses should ensure that those who find the absurdist approach bothersome are able to wring some joy out of a viewing.  We're dealing with a different breed of predator, no doubt about it, but I had a blast with this wonky creature feature that bombards viewers with jokes, bullets, and body parts.

*Certifiable, but badass.

Final Grade: B

Boyd Holbrook, leading man? This movie shows that he can do the job.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Powerful Pages: Neomicon (2010-2011) and Providence (2015-2017) by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

Powerful Pages: Neonomicon (2010-2011) and Providence (2015-2017) by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows:

I have read some strange shit, people, but nothing quite like this.  I'm combining these reviews because the two tales are essentially one epic piece of literature, with Providence acting as both prequel and sequel to its predecessor.  Either collection would be oddly incomplete without its counterpart, and those who sully themselves with either piece of this demented puzzle should put all the pieces together and gaze with terror upon the work as a whole.  Essentially, this is Alan Moore's take on Lovecraftian horror (Lovecraft himself even pops up in the proceedings) with stunning art courtesy of Jacen Burrows.  Aside from Watchmen and his legendary Swamp Thing run, this must be considered Moore's most compelling material to date, and it is entirely possible that his writing has never been better.  Yet it is also entirely true that he has never been this provocative, and both Neonomicon and Providence are extremely difficult reads.  I actually had a bit of a revelation while reading this.  It involves Moore's take on Lovecraftian horror.  As some might surmise given this dynamic artist's knack for expanding upon contemporary mythology, he actually redefines this sub-genre and takes it to new heights in the process.  He does so by taking it to repulsive lows, and therein lies the revelation.  Given that Lovecraft's beloved prose is rather dated and he approached his vile musings with a dry and methodical tone, I believe that most who seek to revisit the subject matter that so enthralled him do so without really appreciating the terror and deviance that punctuates his forbidden folklore.  As such, most Lovecraftian horror as we know it is a bit too quaint, a bit too intellectual, and entirely too detached from reality.  Moore has no interest in paying homage or pulling punches, and he allows his twisted tale of ancient evil and tortured vessels to play out in stunning fashion without distancing his readers from the grotesque dread or the carnal depravity that this unholy descent into madness and horror warrants.  I will confess that I repeatedly yearned to put this blood-curdling opus down.  I found both offerings to be deeply disturbing and equally woeful.  However, the writing was so powerful and the tale was so gripping that I had no choice but to see it through.  Like many tales that are hard to endure but perfectly realized, it is tough to provide a fair assessment.  If I give this an "A," I feel like I'm encouraging my readers to go snag a copy and dig in, and surely the craftmanship warrants as much, yet I'm inclined to spare you.  Much of the art that I highly recommend is entertaining above all else, and this is quality art at the opposite end of the spectrum.  It is a supreme piece of storytelling, indeed, but I'm not promising you a good time if you embark upon this journey.  No, quite the opposite.  Buckle up, peeps, those of you who try this one on for size may wind up emotionally scarred.  That is sincerity, not hyperbole, such is the power and the spellbinding horror of Neonomicon and Providence.

Note: like Watchmen, each issue of Providence boasts supplemental material beyond the standard comic pages employed to deliver the goods.  And, like Watchmen, readers must make time for this material as well.  It is integral to the story.

Final Grade: A+.  But I warned you.  Proceed with caution.  Or don't proceed at all.  Maybe read Watchmen instead.  I don't think anyone ever doubted their sanity as they worked their way through that testament to the grandeur of comics.

Dark, grim, and utterly deplorable, this sprawling saga is a diabolical journey that qualifies as perahps the single most demented selection of worthwhile fiction that I have ever encountered.