Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Third Row Goes to Hell - The Final Friday

...wait, Halloween's on a Wednesday this year?  Ah crap...

Well, it's been a damn good run this month (compared to last year, these posts actually got up on time...well, on time plus the NYCC diversion.)

But, all good things must come to an end, so here we are at the end of another horror-filled October.  Been a lot of pretty good surprises along the way, and I have to say I've had fun with it.  Made some notes for next year as well as some possible ideas for how to tweak the format when the time comes.  In the meantime, we're gonna be back to one movie a while for a while, albeit with longer reviews in turn (starting this Friday, so not off the hook this week yet.)

So, if you don't mind, feel free to sit down with whatever candy the kids didn't grab and join me in saluting the last week of movies for this year's run.

You know, in trying to come up with a caption for this one, it dawns on me...
Has there ever been a slasher movie where it's actually the babysitter that's the killer?  I imagine there's probably something, but it just seems weird there's nothing coming to me on that front.

10/27 - The House of the Devil

Movies like this make me realize how the concept of homage gets taken for granted in horror.  I mean, it gets tossed around a LOT, and often with very mixed results.  The plus side is, when a film like this comes around, it really does remind one that it can still be used right.  Marking relatively new director Ti West's first foray into horror, this film is a pretty open salute to horror films of the 80s.  The part where this works well is in the fact that, unlike a lot of homage films, there are no direct call outs.  Nor are there the old joking send-ups of the old tropes.  Instead, this plays out as a latter day attempt at making an 80s-style horror film (with particular emphasis on the styles of slasher and occult horror.)  With this in mind, admittedly the story is pretty basic horror premise - protagonist Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, in an overall good debut as the target/protagonist for the proceedings) has managed to get a babysitting job on the night of a much-hyped lunar eclipse.  Though the job seems a little dubious (thanks in part to the fact the man who hires her is veteran character actor Tom Noonan, who actually manages to dance between seeming trustworthy and creepy well here, is willing to pay VERY well for the night,) she still accepts.  As the night goes on, however, and strange occurences begin, it becomes clear this isn't going to be your standard 'watch the place for a few hours' gig.  Employing a lot of the camera styles and film stocks popularized in the 80s, West's approach to capturing a classic feel comes across less like the usual 'well meaning send-up' and more like an honest to god love letter from someone very well-versed in the workings of horror cinema.  It won't necessarily raise the bar, and to a quick glance, it comes across as a pretty standard horror film, not bad, but standard.  It's largely for horror veterans that this film really shows what it's made of, and does it with enough sincerity it's hard not to love it.

To their credit, while they're pretty ruthless to their enemies, the freaks are actually pretty kind here.  I mean, nowadays they'd have hazed the ever loving Hell out of her.  By comparison, a chant's actually pretty assuring.

(and for a fun fact - that dwarf would make another prominent appearance years later...after the circus fell through, he'd be running Bartertown.  He can afford to look smug here.)

10/28 - Freaks

OK, let's get it all out of our systems now before we start this one...and a one, and a two and a
...OK.  Sorry.  Had to.  It's almost tradition with that movie now.

You know, rewatching this and reading the backstory on the film, I've decided one thing.  In the event I was ever given access to a time machine (yeah, that old debate) I don't think I'd try to use it to do anything history-shaking, due to obvious long-term consequences.  Instead, I'd travel back in time to 1932 to see this as it ran in theaters.  This would be one part to see if there was any truth to the legend of audiences losing their proverbial shit over the movie, and one part for the chance to see the complete film in its original form (sadly, the better part of a half hour of footage has since been excised and is believed lost to the ages.)  That said, even truncated this remains a pretty fascinating film...and also one that it's a marvel actually got made as it did.  Based on a short story, Tod Browning's cult classic made one decision that still precedes much of the film's fame - the decision to cast much of the film with real 'sideshow' performers.  This is part of what made the film infamous so many years ago, as regular filmgoers were shocked by them (ironically adding weight to one of the film's main themes.)  It's also this knowledge, and the awareness of our own PC culture, that makes this film such a lightning in a jar piece of cinema.  No one would EVER be able to get away with making a movie like this nowadays, even though the film actually portrays the titular freaks as more human than most of the 'normal' cast.  Despite all that controversy, the film has endured and even carved itself a notch within the popular culture, so much so that even people unfamiliar with the movie will recognize the cry of "One of us!"  Rewatching the movie, I'm still impressed with how well it's actually held up.  There are a few awkward bits, admittedly, largely products of the rewrites the film was subjected to when test audiences took issue with its initially much darker finale, but overall the film's somewhat grim tale of the camaraderie between circus folk and what happens when that is crossed remains effective to this day.

The interesting thing about this is, despite all the various and somewhat intimidating equipment Hell has at their use here, they aren't actually in possession of the Machine That Goes 'Ping!'

10/29 - Jacob's Ladder

Whenever the old joke about spoiling twist endings comes up, I'm always a bit surprised at how often this one goes unmentioned.  Doubly so since its reveal has been lifted by later films that then become known for that twist (I won't say which for those who haven't seen it, nor will I claim this movie had first dibs, as other stories have also done it prior to this film.)  I think part of the surprise is also just being a bit saddened that this film isn't as well known as it feels like it should be.  Coming in fresh off the heels of his success with the thriller, Fatal Attraction, Adrian Lyne put together one Hell of a psychological horror film and one that's left a pretty strong indent on a lot of works that came after it (to name just a few - the Silent Hill game series makes many direct callbacks to the film, as does the movie Session 9, and just about anything you've seen where they do the high-speed head thrashing effect?  This was thee on that started that.)  Additionally, as 'surprise ending' films go, this is actually one of those films that still holds up well on repeated viewing, as I was pleased to be reminded of this time.  In fact, this is one of those cases where the ending actually gets strengthened on repeat watches since you can see how well Lyne and scriptwriter Bruce Joel Rubin put everything together.  With the exception of one subplot that, while good, kind of feels awkwardly attached (partially due to parts of it being removed from the finished film) everything fits together well here.  But, to get away from that aspect and discuss the rest of the film, it's actually a kind of curious mix in a lot of ways.  Between Jacob Singer's (Tim Robbins, doing a great job with the wringer he gets put through in this) visions of demons, questions of his time in Vietnam, and his own detachment in the present, the story seems to balance several different 'styles' in a way.  At any given point, the movie can feel like a character study, an occult horror film, or a conspiracy thriller, and all three surprisingly mingle pretty well, and actually lead to a couple of genuinely creepy sequences.  Those, in particular, I have to take a moment to really give Lyne and his team props for (seeing as this IS being picked for its merits as a horror film, after all.)  Between some eery flashes early in the film, all the way up to the film's famous hospital sequence, this movie creates a unique and still pretty damn disturbing vision of Hell.  By basing parts of his vision of actual medical deformities (thalydomide babies in particular) Lyne creates a Hell that feels disturbingly closer than the usual Biblical fire and brimstone, which causes the sequences to resonate that much more.  Hell, I still have flashes of this movie in subway stations.  It's definitely one of the films from this list that stays with you, and not just for the creepiness, during some scenes the film is also surprisingly pretty touching.  A bit of a different style of horror, but even outside of that, just well worth giving a watch to see what you think.

Well, I can't speak for the rest of you, but personally if I saw more workplace pools like this, I'd be more inclined to take part in them.

10/30 - The Cabin in the Woods

OK, I admit now it's gonna be a bit ironic to speak well of this after earlier busting on the practice of films that send up horror tropes...but Hell with it, just cause it's ovedone doesn't mean some films don't still do it well.  As the most recent film on this year's list, even factoring in that it was kept on the shelves for a couple of years, this was one I wound up enjoying more than I expected to back when it first came out.  On seeing it again for this list, I was surprised to find it still holds up as a pretty fun movie.  Not gonna be anything to keep me awake at night, but as we come to the home stretch, it's a pretty fun movie to unwind to.  That said, the rewatch has confirmed one thing for me - while I enjoy the whole movie overall, there is one aspect of it in particular that really sells it for me - the control room team.  The kids in the cabin are OK and have a few decent moments, and to their credit, the cast playing them all really look to be having fun with their roles.  For me, however, the real entertainment came in the film's idea of a behind the scenes crew that has to keep the carnage running on an operated system.  In particular, the two main controllers (played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who have both become so used to this procedure that they regularly joke through the proceedings and have betting pools made based on the outcome.  The whole movie could have been told just from the control perspective and I'd have still enjoyed it (though I have to admit, the film's second half WOULD be a bit awkward without the other pieces in play.)  As a humorous take on the horror tropes, the movie is helped by the fact it doesn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time doesn't seem to forget what it's sending up.  The result is a story that, while possessing a wonderfully sick sense of humor (thanks in strong part to the script by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard) still carries itself as a plausible, and, even as a genre-send up, still fairly inventive horror film.  Even the big reveal the end, while I'm not quite sure I'd call it the game changer some have suggested, still holds up pretty well as an end result for the idea they've built up and set into motion.  Again, I'm not sure I'd say this will change the face of horror, but damned if it hasn't been one of the most fun things to come into it in a while.

Much as I love his work, I'm not so sure how I'm feeling about Cronenberg's live-action South Park adaptation.

10/31 - The Brood

...and so we come to the big day...and the randomizer has decided to take us to a bit more of a personal dark side on this one.
In starting this, I just have to say - if I was ever given a chance to talk to David Cronenberg and discuss one of his movies and only one of his movies, I think this one might be it.  Not because I think this is his best work (if pressed, I'd probably give that to either A History of Violence or Dead Ringers,) but because I'm genuinely fascinated to hear what he has to say about a film that, just on watching it, you can tell was a personal project for him.  Granted, this has also been confirmed in part through some interviews, but even before learning he made this film as a result of a divorce and custody battle, one definitely gets the sense there was some personal sentiment feeding into the movie.  In a way, I think that's part of why this feels like the movie where Cronenberg finally came into his own.  I say this with all respect to the earlier offerings of Shivers and Rabid, by the way.  They were both great concepts and had some interesting scenes, but this really feels like the first time everything locked into place and he really started to develop the strong style we've come to know and love.
(On that note, 62 movies in now and this is the first time Cronenberg's made it in?  Damn...)
Leave it to the man to actually take the oft-visited concept of murderous children and still manage to take it into some new territory.  It helps that, in this case, they're not a main cause, but a side-effect of something else, that, honestly, makes for a much more compelling film.  The murderous little dwarves, while an interesting piece of bio-horror, are part of a much more down to earth storyline involving, as the earlier comments might suggest, a divorced couple (played by Art Hindle and a well-cast Samantha Eggar) in a custody battle over their child, whom Frank (Hindle) suspects is being abused.  Alongside this, there are some interesting ideas posited by a part of Nola's (Eggar) storyline, involving her membership in a sort of pseudo-science cult run by Oliver Reed as Dr. Hal Raglan, a man whose ideas suggest that certain emotions can take physical form.  Of course, even he is surprised as to just how far this is taken, and it's this element that really helps elevate this beyond just being a 'body horror gone awry' story.  Amid the strange body tricks and the murderous children, Cronenberg throws an additional, overshadowing specter into the storyline, that really shapes much of where it all goes.  At its core, the big monster that drives much of this film is a theme of the destructive nature a cycle of abuse can have if it's allowed to continue through generations.  The end result makes for a surprisingly memorable outing for Cronenberg, culminating in a rather squirm-inducing finale that really helps cement the man's reputation for intelligent body horror.  It's true he'd definitely go on to bigger and better things after this, but given the chance, I'd still be intrigued to hear him talk about the nature of a lot of the ideas that went into this movie.


and that, as they say, is that...feels pretty good to have now gotten this done two years in a row.  Rather growing to like this custom.

Anyway, as stated above, we'll be going back to a film a week here, starting with this Friday...and oh, this one's gonna be a prize (but we'll discuss that later.)

To everyone reading, I hope you have/had a Happy Halloween (and keeping fingers crossed for everyone on other parts of the east coast this week.  Things turned out OK up here, but I know other areas weren't as luck there.  Pulling for you guys!)

Additionally, may see about working more general entries in during the week in the future alongside the reviews Fridays (and if you guys have any suggestions for titles, either for future Halloween projects, or just general review, by all means, drop me a line!  Outside suggestion is part of how I get to find new stuff!)

But for now, till Friday!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween Week IV: The Revenge

So at last we come to the penultimate week of this year's Halloween entries.  Been a pretty fun year so far, and this week's entries have all proved pretty worth it.  Actually feels like a shame it's almost over.

On the plus side, that means I can go back to just one of these a week, so small blessings...

That said, let's get started.

In certain regions of the world, this degree of bloodshot eyes is a trait of distinction among filmmakers...
...or potentially homicidal insanity.
To be fair, in some parts of the world, these can go hand in hand.

10/20 - At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

With this, I finally check off another one of those horror 'to dos' I probably should have attended to years ago.  I can now say I've finally seen one of the somewhat famous 'Coffin Joe' movies that are staples of Brazilian horror.  I have to say, I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but the result was interesting.  For a lot of the film, I wasn't even sure I'd necessarily call it horror.  Good, but not horror.  It concerns the man who the US would call Coffin Joe (in the actual film, he's called Zé do Caixão (played by the movie's director, José Mojica Marins)) and his borderline nihilistic view that gives him an almost Mr. Hyde-like sense of entitlement.  This isn't to say that there aren't some horrifying bits to this.  In fact, his general view of himself as freer of consequences than many of his peers leads him to often resort to intimidation and violence to accomplish his ends, resulting in some surprisingly good effects shots for a 60s movie.  Effects that still hold up nowadays (a sequence involving a broken bottle and two fingers comes to mind, for example.)  It isn't really until the last half hour that the more otherworldly horror comes into effect, as Zé's crimes come back to haunt him when one of his victims vows vengeance beyond the grave.  Prior to this point, the horror comes simply with his willingness to torture, manipulate, and kill in his quest to continue his bloodline.  In the last half, it comes as a form of retribution.  It actually becomes somewhat gratifying, as it's seeing a complete bastard reap what he's sown.  It's a curious story, really - the setup and general narrative make it feel almost like the kind of ghost story one would tell around a campfire.  The classic tale of a complete monster who goes too far and that spooky element that eventually brings it all back around on him.  While I imagine the more heavily religious culture of 60s Brazil may feel a bit odd to some contemporary viewers, it still makes for an interesting experience for a sample of South American horror cinema.  I'm actually rather curious to give the sequels a go in the future.

KILL IT WITH--Oh, do I even need to bother typing it?  Half of you already thought it just by seeing this.

10/21 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Following up on The Thing last year, this will be this year's 'remake that doesn't suck' entry.  On giving it another watch for this list, I'm actually impressed with how well this movie's held up.  Even the 70s aesthetic doesn't really weigh on the film heavily enough to hold it back, and the narrative and cast all still work well nowadays.  That said, while I still believe the original has a lot of merit, I do like what this film does with the concept - the ante has been upped, but at the same time it certainly doesn't feel it at first.  Like in the earlier version, the invasion is handled as a very gradual burn, and it leads to some great moments as you try and sort out who's been turned and who hasn't.  What effects shots there are have also aged surprisingly well, as some of the pod births are still damned creepy to watch nowadays.  That said, this is still one where the scariest of the ideas comes from the concept rather than any visual conceits - the entire idea that something like this could get you so subtly while you sleep that you don't even realize it until it's too late is a downright unsettling idea to think over, and the film follows that through in spades.  As you get into the second half, a truly apocalyptic feel begins to sink in and the first film's lingering threat feels much more real - that there may be no escape from this threat after all.  As I'd mentioned before, the cast really do add a lot to this, both as humans and even after they've been converted - some even almost making a decent argument for the conversion (albeit not one I'd sign up for regardless.)  In particular, Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy as two of the major players in the invasion are in top form, each giving one of their best in their performances, which I feel hesitant to say too much about for fear of spoilers.  I admit that feels a bit odd to say on this one, at least with regards to its ending which is so well known it's become the subject of both popular internet memes and even several pop culture references (last season's Christmas episode of Community is a great recent example of this.)  Of course, like many other classics, you shouldn't let knowing the ending deter you from watching this one.  It's still a great take on a classic story.

The ultimate mark of a psychotic craftsman:
You see a kill that left a mess, he sees the makings of a creative new hand puppet.

10/22 - Versus

This is one it took me a bit to sort my thoughts on.  Not because it's a confusing movie, nor is it bad.  Actually, I had a lot of fun with this movie, I just felt a bit odd calling it a horror film.  Not that that's stopped me from reviewing something here in the past.  It certainly has some horror elements to it at least, which do earn it a spot in here, but at the same time, its overall presentation almost feels more like an action piece with supernatural elements than a straight-up horror piece.  That said, it's still a pretty wild ride from Ryuhei Kitamura (who many may recognize for the kaiju throwdown Godzilla: Final Wars.)  Here, he crafts an initially somewhat puzzling story involving two felons on the run and a mix-up with the Yakuza in a mysterious place known as the Forest of Resurrection (a forest, the movie's prologue explains, that is one of the 666 entrances to a world of darkness.)  In this forest, a battle for command of the powers of darkness is about to unfold.  Zombies, martial arts, gunplay, and katanas will all fly culminating in a showdown between two of the individuals (Tak Sakaguchi and Hideo Sakaki) who are in the latest round of a centuries old battle for this ancient power.  The film's narrative is a bit odd at first, but as you get into the ride, things fall into place and it becomes a pretty enjoyable spree of bloody kills and stylized-yet-messy combat.  Some of it's even pretty damn funny.  My only regret is that, for this project, I was only able to track down the original cut, as I'm now curious to see how the Ultimate Versus holds up.  Not sure I'd say this is a must for a horror ride, but if you want a nice actioner along the way, this one's well worth the time.

They always laugh when you tell them the things that can go wrong trimming a tree...when will they learn to listen?

10/23 - Phantasm

You know, this may sound a bit dickish, but I have to admit, this one surprised me.  This is a movie I have a lot of love for. I watched this one a lot in high school, so I've got some fond memories.  Coming at it again for this, I was braced and kind of dreading that I'd find the movie wouldn't hold up well.  While I admit a couple of the effects have taken a knock with time (the insect monster comes to mind) I was still pleasantly surprised to find the movie has aged better than I expected it would.  I mean, yeah, some parts of it are still very much a product of their times, but the movie is still fairly enjoyable to watch nowadays.  For a cast and crew that, at the time, were very much on the indy side of things, much of this is still pretty watchable, and for a young lead, A Michael Baldwin actually plays protagonist Mike and his fear a lot better than many in his age group would.  Next to him, of course, the one other performance that merits praise in this is Angus Scrimm as the film's antagonist, the mysterious Tall Man.  For an actor who gets very few lines or real moments to show his menace, Scrimm has the right level of presence to give the role a genuinely creepy air while also feeling rather mysterious.  The story itself is a bit odd in some regards, particularly with the nature of just who the Tall Man is and where he's from, but that unknown element actually adds to the fun - Especially with regards to the film's now iconic silver sphere, whose use is probably one of the single most well known scenes in the film (and still looks quite well done nowadays.)  I'm not gonna say the film has aged spectacularly, but for the resources and the age, it's actually kept itself together a lot better than I was initially braced for.  It felt good to be able to rewatch it now and find I could still enjoy it.  Plus, that theme song still gets stuck in my head to this day, but that's matter for another time.

...oh, what the Hell, just this once:

Also, before we go on, a fun bit of trivia, because I promised you people could learn something from this...and I was then informed that's a binding contract.

This film marks the second time for one of the more unorthodox cast members to be featured in this month's films - the house featured in the movie Burnt Offerings would go on to be used for the Morningside Funeral Home within this movie, as featured below:
Phantasm above, Burnt Offerings below.  Apparently it's also been featured in several more films besides these.


10/24 - The Beyond

Remember how I said last year I realized I hadn't seen nearly enough Italian horror?  Well this was my latest bid to fix that as well as a reflection of that fact - this marks the first time I've ever seen anything by Lucio Fulci.  As what's hailed as one of his best movies, it was a pretty curious film to start with.  Going into this, I didn't know much about it outside of its history of censorship within the US (which is, itself, a pretty cool little story, but not one I'll take up too much of your time with.)  The finished film is a bit all over the place, but it actually works despite that.  That said, there is some reasoning behind said all-over narrative: both in the fact that Fulci was interested in trying to create a sort of nonlinear haunted house movie and the fact that it got some of its narrative hampered by the fact the backers wanted a zombie movie, so he further modified it to suit their needs.  The resulting film, while a bit vague on narrative, still makes a strong name for itself through its individual scenes.  Especially the kills - just as Argento is known for his particularly brutal deaths, Fulci's are as brutal as they are fiendishly creative.  Spiders, nails, acid, and one pretty brutal eye gouge are among some of the memorable and painful ways people are taken down in this movie, and Fulci's effects further add to the squirms.  All this tied into a plot loosely hinged around a doorway into Hell makes for a film that, while not one you watch for compelling story, is still certainly worth a watch for the visuals it subjects you to.  Even if I found myself trying to make sense of some of what I saw, I genuinely enjoyed seeing it all the same.

Further adding to that documentary feel, there's days the bus really DOES feel like this.

10/25 - Carnival of Souls

Another film whose backstory is almost as interesting as the film itself.  The only feature of documentary director Herk Harvey, this is one of the granddaddies of cult cinema - complete with the fact it didn't really get its actual standing until years after its release when it gained a following from playing the late night film circuit.  Outside of the cult scene, it's also worth acknowledging as one of the first milestones in psychological horror.  After surviving a car crash, Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss, in a debut role that makes it a shame she barely got work after this) tries to relocate and settle into a new life.  Something feels off, however, as she finds herself being subject to strange hallucinations, including being pursued by a mute, mysterious man (played by director Harvey.)  Mary's attempts to get to the bottom of this find her being repeatedly called to a myserious, abandoned carnival, and on the verge of revealing answers she may not like.  Harvey's documentarian eye surprisingly proves an asset on this film.  Rather than play things up with over the top scare tricks, his approach feeling more grounded in reality actually adds to the eeriness of the proceedings.  Even moments of hallucination are aided by this, as it adds to a sense of being uncertain of what is real and what is simply in Mary's head alone.  While the ending may feel a bit predictable to modern viewers, given how often others have imitated it, it still doesn't detract from the overall film experience.  It's actually something of a shame that so many of the principles in this only ever made this one grab at feature films - not only is this a great feature on its own, there's a lot of potential for future projects that they could have done from here.  Though I imagine the fact this film was practically forgotten and didn't get its fair dues until many years later may have unfortunately added to that.
Additionally, as I seem to be wont to spam particular edition cases where public domain is concerned, it's plugging time again.  In this case I would say, if you don't mind putting down a little extra coin for this one, the Criterion release of the film is well worth looking into - like the Kino releases mentioned in previous entries, they do a great job restoring the picture and sound, and the extras enclosed with it really do add to the overall experience.  Even if you're just looking for the film itself...well, again, this is a pretty trustworthy quality label (plus, they have both the original theatrical cut and the subsequent director's cut.)

and on one last bit of bizarre trivia here - alongside generally doing documentaries, the last directorial effort by Harvey was an episode of Reading Rainbow in the mid-80s.  Just one of those surreal little bits of food for thought.

Strange as it may be to believe looking at them, modern Japanese game shows have actually scaled back a LOT compared to the things they used to allow in the 60s.

10/26 - Jigoku

...and now to round out the week, we're gonna take a little stop off in Hell.  No, really.  That's the main focus of the second half of this film.  Made in 1960, this movie was the last hurrah of Shintōhō Studios, as the last film they made before going out of business.  And what a note they picked to go out on...
This is definitely one of the more ambitious titles have covered in this year's run, and thematically has some pretty unique ideas going for it.  The first half of the film isn't quite as directly horror-related, instead playing more into the themes of guilt and sin.  Of course, most of the guilt is largely just placed on protagonist Shiro (played by Shigeru Amachi,) whose involvement in a fateful hit and run involves him in an increasing spiral of horrible things involving himself, those connected to the victim, and the other people around him - many of whom have their own skeletons in the closet.  Further stirring the pot here is Shiro's friend, Tamura (Yōichi
Numata, playing a mix of smug and sociopathic,) who is all too happy to remind everyone of their crimes while passing the buck on his own misdeeds with impunity.  Eventually, everyone's crimes come to roost around the midway point and the film changes its gears into a more openly horror route - an all expenses paid tour of Japan's version of Hell.  While the narrative in this part is considerably less linear, it more than makes up for it in the visual elements - some impressive-while-minimalist sets combined with some surprisingly well done scenes of gore for the torture the film's cast suffer for their crimes make this part striking.  Likewise, the direction really helps here.  While the first part has a few interesting twists while it plays with Shiro's guilt (in particular there's a moment in a taxi that made me do a doubletake on the first watch,) it's the eerily dreamlike nature of the scenes in Hell that helps them to stand out.  On top of this, the cast all handle the material well, particularly impressive in Numata's case, as he had admitted to having a hard time figuring out what to make of Tamura at the time of filming - despite that, he still manages to turn him into a memorable, if enigmatic, antagonist.  As a straight-up horror film, this may leave some people wanting, especially in its set-up, but the overall package is still a fascinating piece of Japanese horror that sadly seems to be overlooked with much of the focus on the more recent works.  Between the cultural aspects explored in their vision of the afterlife, and really just the ideas the film plays with about the notions of guilt and the role it plays on people, this has enough of its own voice to more than make up for any sense one would have that it lacks in straight horror.

Well, one week left.  I don't mind saying now we've got some good ones lined up for sending this month off, so I hope you'll be with us.

and just to provide some incentive, if you don't come, something terrible will happen to this small chi--
...oh dammit.

Anyway, hope to see you again this time next week!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Trick or Treat, Motherf--

...I mean, we're back!

Well, this has officially been a busy week in the Third Row.  Between the multi-part NYCC report (which ran anywhere from informative to cantankerous) and now we round out the week with the next installment of the Halloween festivities (that I really need to find a better name for...seriously, anyone got anything?)

So go get something to drink, cause this is gonna be a slightly longer entry...

Starting things off, we have

Despite the popular mythology of Satan demanding blood sacrifices as loyalty, the actual Prince of Darkness is a bit more fratboy in his initiations.

10/11 - Häxan

Appropriately, we bridge from last week's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to starting this week with our other silent film entry this year.  Benjamin Christensen's Häxan (translated - Witch) is something of an odd film in a number of ways, really.  On the one hand, it presents itself as a documentary.  At the same time, however, it chooses to convey some of its information through a separate narrative within the film encompassing an entire process of witchcraft trials.  As you can guess from the title off the bat, this film is purporting to cover the subject of witchcraft.  In this light, the first few chapters do play out in a sort of lecture style, with information text cards intercut with either old artwork or diagrams demonstrating the points they're making.  This section is largely concerned with discussing many old beliefs about the universe and evil, as that's going to form the basis of much of the film.  From there, we come to a few small segments of semi-narrative, demonstrating some of the aspects of the culture that witchcraft fears grew in (things like a man being cursed by a witch or a pair of men conducting a covert autopsy in the interests of science who are then accused of witchcraft.)  After that we come to the story that makes up the bulk of the film - focusing on the family of a dying man who believes he was cursed and who then accuse a local crone of the misdeed.  Most of this narrative in particular is focused on the entire process by which confessions are derived through torture and subsequently other people are named either from fear or retaliation.  In this regard, the film actually does, for its time, a pretty solid job of really demonstrating the fearful nature which allowed the trials to become as prominent as they did.  It's also in here and the earlier segment that the film really shows some of the director's ambition, as well as how this would go on to be the most expensive silent Scandinavian film in history - the many scenes of black masses and consorting with demons actually hold up well as old school special effects and makeup go.  If there's any weakness this film has, it lies in the fact the film's age trips up some of its ideology - most notable in the final part, which posits parallels between what was once seen as witchcraft and hysteria.  This part professes some now very outdated ideas regarding psychology, and it does trip up the film somewhat (though for when it was made, you can only hold them just so responsible here.)  The overall product is certainly interesting enough to give a look - a blend of early documentary, some supernatural horror narrative, and a pretty bold eye for the silent era carried along by a pretty capable cast of actors (in particular Marie Pedersen as the old woman whose accusation makes up the bulk of the film.)  I'm not gonna say it's anything that will keep you up at night, but as a piece of film history, it's certainly a memorable one to watch.

Bad - Getting violently stabbed by the pizza boy
e - The realization that, alongside the horrible pain, your last thought stands to be that you won't be getting that complimentary Crazy Bread after all.

10/12 - Perfect Blue

Yeah, I don't mind saying it: one of the more disturbing entries this year is an animated film.  Anyone who's seen it can understand why I'm saying this, anyone who hasn't...well...give it a watch and see what you think.  As one of the few anime directors to get major attention in the west that isn't Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon made a name for himself with some pretty mind-bending fare, ranging anywhere from surreal dives into people's dreams to a time-shifting story exploring an actress's past.  In this case, he turned that mind-bending skill more toward the angle of psychological horror, and in the process a pretty scathing look at the entertainment industry.  The story follows Mima Kirogoe (voiced by Junko Iwao,) a singer in a Japanese pop trio which has gained itself a sizable fanbase (it's pretty telling that all the fans we see in the beginning of the film are all older guys.)  At a concert, she announces she's planning to quit the pop scene and pursue a serious acting career.  At first, this seems like a good idea...then things start going awry.  Between stalkers, violent acts to those around her, and the mounting pressure within the industry to do things she would rather not be doing in the interests of advancing her own career (surprisingly, sleeping with directors isn't on there...but it's still pretty dubious all the same,) Mima finds her life coming unwound hard and fast.  Throw in bodies piling up that she may or may not have a connection with, and we're soon as confused as she is over what's real, what's staged, and what's illusion.  After a while, you almost forget that it's an animated movie and just get caught up in the entire mystery.  It speaks pretty well for Kon that he can pull this off, and even with animated people, still present some legitimately creepy scenes (including a scene in a parking lot that manages to make pop music unsettling.)
Also, as an additional piece of trivia goes - director Darren Aronofsky had secured the rights to do a live-action film of this at one point...and for those who are wondering, surprisingly this wasn't for making Black Swan.  It was actually to do a similar scene from this movie in his own Requiem for a Dream (though it's pretty obvious this also inspired parts of BS as well.)

Bloody remains in ominous paper - Nothing says 'Don't Steal Other People's Stuff From the Company Fridge' quite as well...

10/13 - A Tale of Two Sisters

Again with bridging themes this much for the randomizer doing its job.  In this case, the shared ideas of Asian cinema and things not being as they initially seem go hand in hand on these two films.  In this case, it's a South Korean thriller by director Kim Ji-Woon (itself based on a folktale.)  This is one of those films that I have to commend for the fact it actually managed to throw me for a loop in a few cases.  It starts off with a seemingly straightforward story - two sisters that have been under psychological care are being brought home to live with their father.  On getting there, they find a stepmother waiting for them who is less than thrilled by their presence.  It comes across as your classic 'evil outside stepparent vs two siblings who will look out for each other' idea at first...and that's just the first fast one it pulled.  Much of this film is good at the idea of keeping you trying to make sense of what's happening, as it seems even the characters are even themselves lost in delusions as things go on.  Even at the very end, there are some lingering moments of wondering just how much of what you've seen was actual story.  Alongside Ji-Woon's direction and script, a big part of what helps keep the mystery here is the performances from the cast - in particular Im Soo-Jung and Moon Geun Young as the titular sisters, Su-mi and Su-Yeon.  In particular Soo-Jung as the older sister really helps carry a lot of the film and is vital to helping maintain the uncertainty the helps keep the narrative going.  Not necessarily a downright scary film, but a very fascinating puzzle to mull over and enjoy in any case.

Pictured - Bruce Campbell's 'Another Successful Convention Over' Face

10/14 - The Evil Dead

You know, I think this is one of those films I've come to appreciate more and more as I rewatch it.  This isn't to say I've ever disliked the film, cause I have enjoyed it.  It's more, for the longest time, I was among those who considered this the weak end of the Evil Dead trilogy.  I think this was in large part since it lacked that sort of slapstick angle that helped keep 2 and 3 trucking through the bad effects and that total unwillingness to take itself seriously.  As I look at it more though, I think that's actually part of its charm for me.  Yeah, it's a low-budget horror film with effects that time has been downright ruthless to and it doesn't try to play itself for laughs.  That adds to it for me - it's the kind of film that has a lot of heart going for it despite its budgetary limitations.  While a lot of it is kind of goofy now, there are some elements of it that actually have aged better than they would appear on first glance.  Some of the scenes, for example, still manage to actually make for a couple of decent jolts (the moment when the possessions first begin, for example, I still think is a great bit of build-up to a memorable payoff.)  Additionally, even amid a lot of rather b-grade moments now, a few of the effects still hold up well (what can I say?  The pencil stab scene STILL makes me cringe.)  Also, while I love the persona that Ash would become in the later films, I think the way he's depicted within the first film really does work with the most serious style here - yeah, Bruce doesn't deliver award-winning acting, but it's still a pretty game effort at showing someone who's trying to keep their cool in a situation that is rapidly flying out of his hands.  Looking at it now, while it's a different flavor from the rest of the trilogy, I'd still say the classic Evil Dead has just as much merit behind it as its successors do.  It's a different sort of enjoyment now, but still worthy of being counted alongside the other two.

One thing I will say for this movie's haunted house - very few others would let you see their score card displayed quite so openly.

10/15 - Burnt Offerings

Hmm...this actually seems to be the only haunted house movie on the list this year.  A bit more surprising is the fact that I've not actually touched on...actually a LOT of the classics from this sub-section.  Will have to fix that in the future.
In this case, it's kind of a curious one.  I wouldn't call it one of the greats, but it's got some interesting ideas to it in any case.  For one thing, the idea that it's not so much ghosts that inhabit the building so much as the building itself is alive.  Others have done this before, but it's still a worthwhile angle to see played with here.  Likewise, this is a case of a film where the house latches on to one person in particular in the group, in this case mother Marian Rolf (Karen Black) to act on their behalf, though it also seems to try and take control
of the others at times to get what it wants.  It's actually pretty interesting that, for the most part, there are no actual ghosts within this movie.  About the only thing that comes close is a grinning chauffeur that becomes a recurring hallucination for the father, Ben (Oliver Reed.)  Most of the time, it's more personified in the fact the house seems to drive people to less than characteristic behaviors that leaves them wondering.  As time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear the building has its own plan for the people...and they're not gonna like it.  Admittedly, outside of this idea, it feels rather formulaic.  Despite that, however, it still makes a game effort with its story, even if it doesn't elevate itself to a timeless classic as a result.  I mean, there's very few things I can call majorly memorable about it, but at the same time, there's not a lot I can say actively bad for it either.  It's a pretty good variation on the genre, but not really one I'd call a must-see.  If you get the chance, go for it, but don't go overboard for it.

A disappointed Slenderman turns away, his fleeting hopes of at least getting some candy this Halloween dashed into the dirt...

10/16 - Marble Hornets

This is probably one of the most curious entries I've encountered on the list so far.  One part for its fairly unconventional narrative style (it's actually a series of short webfilms compiled together after the fact to make a full narrative) and one part for its role in the growing internet urban legend that is Slenderman.  Started as a small web series by a couple of users from the website SomethingAwful, this has become one of the  forerunners in terms of internet-based horror films.  On finally sitting down to watch it, I can certainly see where the appeal comes from.  I mean, at first I was a bit mixed on the movie, in part due to the fact it was giving Blair Witch vibes (one of these days I will probably finally sit down and go over why that film didn't do it for me.)  As it went on, however, I wound up getting into the narrative - itself one man's attempts to try and sort of why a friend of his would so suddenly and erratically abandon his student film, and in the process gets himself mixed up in something unknown and horrifying as well.  Oddly, I think one of the things I wound up really liking about this film was the fact that, in the end, we still aren't any surer of what's happened than the protagonist, Jay, is.  We know he's gotten mixed up in something that seems to exist beyond our comprehension, and that leads to a couple of pretty effective jolts at points in the movie, but like Jay, we're still left unclear as to just what the Hell it is.  Maybe this will be explaining in the upcoming 'Part 2' they apparently are planning to make, but even if that never comes, I'd be happy with the film as it currently is.  It still stands as an interesting demonstration of what motivated filmmakers using the internet right can do  outside of the traditional studio norms and make a pretty damn creepy story out of the deal too.  I actually almost feel more impressed with what it means by virtue of existing than what it means as a horror film on its own.

For some reason, the look here almost evokes a happy dog to me...a somewhat psychotic dog with a taste for human brains, but a happy dog never the less.

10/17 - Return of the Living Dead

...and after the unsolved creepiness of Marble Hornets, this was just a needed jump up for air.  Penned by Dan O'Bannon (of Alien fame,) this was designed as a sort of follow-up to Romero's classic horror film (albeit they didn't realize at the time he was working on his own in the now seminal Dawn of the Dead.)  As a sort of 'brother from another mother' movie, it works out pretty well.  It bases its premise in part off the idea that the entire notion of the original Night of the Living Dead was itself an actual event, albeit one whose facts were fudged for the movie (in particular this leads to a great scene as the cast lament at the fact the movie's method for disposing of the undead doesn't work on the zombies in their film.)  At the same time, however, the movie plays itself with a black sense of humor and definitely plays up a lot of its subject matter for laughs.  Especially amusing is, despite its joking style, this also adds to some of the well known zombie tropes (this, for example, is the film that popularized "BRAAAAAAAAAAINS!")  It makes for a pretty fun shot in the arm for the zombie genre, even if it is in something of a copyright grey area.  Dancing just on the line between goofy comedy and a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of the material it's playing with, it's actually a pretty strong zombie movie and comedy.

Scene from the movie, or Nic Cage prepping for Ghost Rider 3 - You decide.

10/18 - The Serpent and the Rainbow

Odd confession time - while I have a great deal of respect for the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as his 1970s offerings, I think this might take my vote for favorite Wes Craven movie.  I think part of why it stands out to me is because it's a very different sort of film - both for him and for the zombie genre, as it were.  Loosely basing itself on the book of the same name by Wade Davis, Craven puts together a narrative delving into the voodoo culture of Haiti.  It feels like a different sort of film for him, and he definitely handles the material well - finding unsettling material both within the dark underbelly of voodoo and with crossing the local authorities as a result (probably one of the most disturbing scenes within the movie is a torture scene made after an arrest.)  While it plays some of the elements a bit more along the lines of the supernatural than the simply unusual realm of drugs that makes up the original true story, those elements really help add to the story - creating questions of what's real, what's drug-induced hallucination, and whether or not there is truly any power within voodoo or not.  It's the act of keeping that line blurred that helps keep the movie worth following to me.

This is just one of the many examples of how the London Olympics were almost THAT much more hardcore before the ideas were sadly nixed.

10/19 - 28 Days Later

With this, we round out the week, and mark a breather in the zombie movies.  That's right, I'm saying this isn't a zombie movie, and not just because Danny Boyle says no.  The more I look at it, the more I see this film as being part of the sadly more underappreciated 'plague' style of horror films.  I mean, the Rage virus itself doesn't actually reanimate the dead - rather it infects the living and drives them completely insane.  It's actually more akin to a hypervirulent version of rabies than an actual zombie story.  Though I would be lying if I said the story doesn't contain some of the other hallmarks of what's usually used in the zombie story, though a medical outbreak can cause them to happen as well.  Interestingly, said viral outbreak also happens under disturbingly plausible circumstances (how many animal rights groups do stop to consider what they might be unleashing onto the world when they raid labs?)  Much of the actual outbreak happens off-screen as we spend more of the film with protagonist Jim (Cillian Murphy) trying to make sense of the living Hell he's woken up into.  It's more of a story of survival in the aftermath of this massive outbreak, and in time, the question of whether or not those who haven't been infected can be trusted or not.  So, yeah, in some ways, it does have a lot of the familiar elements of a zombie film, but, again, those are still pretty common for disease too.  Beyond splitting hairs about the sub-genre, I have to say, in general, this is just a really well done thriller for Boyle.  He builds some great elements of suspense, especially early on when we're as in the dark as Jim about just what this virus has done to the world, though even still maintaining that dread once we've learned all the details.  Likewise, the supporting cast are all quite strong, with some great performances from Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, and Christopher Eccleston each handling the outbreak in their own ways.  Honestly, of this year's entries, this is one of the ones I'd place on the high end for worth seeing if you haven't already.

Well, that actually has us all up to speed again.  Excellent!

Until next Friday when we have these back on a regular pace again!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lines and Loathing at New York Comic Con - THE FINAL CHAPTER

Well, we're 2 for 2, and so we come to this, the last day.  In terms of news or cool industry finds, I regret to say there's not much to this final entry.  It's more a write-up of the aforementioned part because they're largely why Sunday didn't really amount to much.

and so we come to Part 3

See? I Didn't Lie About The Lines and Loathing

Pictured - What the sign makers took for a clever comparison to a madhouse would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, after our misgivings over the crowds on Saturday, we decided to try to wander back once more into the breach for Sunday.  Admittedly, in terms of events, there was only one thing was particularly gunning for - the autograph session with Kevin Conroy (the voice of Batman from the 90s animated series.)  That said, the walk there should have been an indication something was awry.  As we neared the Javits Center, we asked a group that was leaving how the center was looking.  Their warnings...well...see the attached photo.

For optimal irony, the promotional spot for The Walking Dead was sparse by comparison.

That said, this wasn't just the outside.  As we had intended to leave from the con, this meant we had to try and deal with the coat check.

...Of those, the first was already full, the second had a line spanning the convention center's floor.  Under the circumstances, this meant an awkward moment as my girlfriend begrudgingly offered to watch the bags while I went to the autograph line.

Seemed like a simple plan. ...then I saw the line.  Approximately 4 "Is this the end of the Conroy line?" moments later, I took my place quite a ways into the Block.  The wait that followed...well...let's put it this way.  I was in the line for the better part of a half-hour to an hour.  Over that time, the line moved roughly 20 feet.

Now, if I was just there solo, sure, I'd ride that out.  But with someone else waiting on the other end of that...well...I couldn't really do that in good conscience. 

So, I begrudgingly gave NYCC the game point on that one and hopefully he'll be making appearances elsewhere in the future.

So how was the con overall?  I find myself mixed.  As the first two entries show, there were some pretty damned cool events, and some of the guests were very worth taking the time to see.   When this con was good, it was surprisingly good.

But now we come to the grievances the title of this whole thing allude to.  For a con as prominent as this one, management here was surprisingly slipshod.  Security was virtually nonexistent (it hadn't really sunk in on me until afterward just how easily one could get some downright questionable things into the Javits Center.)  The guides were almost a month out of date and the con staff were seemingly limited in how much info they could provide.  On this note, while the internet guide for the convention was up to date, there were only two places within the Javits center you could access the internet, and those required payment as it was.  On top of this, the center itself was something of a cell signal black hole, which made connecting with other people an uphill battle.  The lines were an absolute clusterfuck, with the IGN Theater being the crown jewel of the proceedings.  It's a shame that something that, in terms of sheer events should have been so awesome was ultimately kneecapped by such poor handling.  I mean, this was so mismanaged that, were he alive, it would give Joseph Conrad a sizable hardon.

...OK, that's a pretty reaching comparison, but you get the idea.

Honestly, it feels like the biggest problem the con had overall could be summed up in numbers.  During the weekend, I'd heard there was apparently some discussion that the numbers were being compared to those of San Diego.  Now, this is all well and good as an idea...but the problem is, the Javits is simply NOT equipped to handle near as many people as SDCC is.  Additionally, with the revisions to the center still continuing, there were parts of the Javits center that were simply cut off from the con (for example, an entire floor that was in use back in 2011 for the remnants of New York Anime Fest was now completely off limits this year.)  So the numbers grew while the space was pared down.  On top of this, entry became a bigger problem by virtue of the fact they only maintained one entrance.  So thousands of people were being bottlenecked into a single entrance under the defense of concern for a fire hazard.  Never mind the fact that, with these numbers and that single entrance, the place was already looking at the risks of trampling deaths in the event of a fire, assuming things didn't just block up entirely.  Now, admittedly, I can't blame the con completely on this - it wasn't exactly a secret that stores in the area were buying up batches of con passes and then scalping them off.  At the same time, though, the fact that the con was listed as sold out should have been a sign to the NYCC staff to step up their game accordingly.  Instead, Saturday and Sunday felt as though they genuinely didn't expect everyone to show, and thus were ill-prepared for the numbers they got.  This is the best case, anyway.  Worst case would be that they got overeager to be able to have an event close to SDCC and never stopped to ask if they could truly handle those kinds of numbers...cause to be honest, the Javits is NOT cut out for it.

All things considered, I would say unto anyone considering this in the future - weigh your options:  If there's guests you really want to see, go for maybe a day (and be sure to consult the site carefully as to which day this would be on.  Don't trust the paper guides.)

For my vote, I'm thinking next year I may just opt for the more local, and considerably less costly horror convention Rock & Shock.  Yeah, it doesn't have nearly as much industry coverage, but it's also much smaller, more easily managed, has a better sense of what they can handle, and honestly, that lower count makes it actually easier to talk more with the guests, as there's less pressure to keep the line moving.  I will keep an eye on future NYCC reports all the same.  If I hear subsequent years show signs the staff have their act together again, I'll make it a point to give them another look.  As it is now though, it will take a MAJOR incentive to get me back there next year. yeah, admittedly this was kind of an iffy entry.  Anyway, keep an eye out near the end of the week.  We'll have the next entry in the Halloween weeks back, including the final two movies missing from last week.

Till then!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lines and Loathing at New York Comic Con Pt 2

Before I begin, let me just say...

Internet, you filthy bastard, you've finally won.  Despite my overall reservations with doing so, I finally broke down and set up a Twitter.  That's right, now I have two means to shamelessly whore my work onto the unsuspecting of the web (...who am I kidding?  Nowadays no one is unsuspecting on the web.)

So yeah, to anyone who's actually using it, look for me at if you feel so inclined.

If not...well, hey, chances are I'm plugging this to you by some other means anyway...


Part the Second - SATURDAY -Or
'Maybe Sartre Was Right'

OK.  I'm gonna try and keep the bulk of my grievances until the third and final part...but given many of the problems started up today, well...things ARE gonna start getting touched on here.

That said, the start of the day was largely pretty good - rather than going onto the Show Floor, we spent much of the early part of the day checking out The Block - a smaller area set aside for companies with less prominent features.  Actually, that really helped here, as there were considerably fewer people to have to wade through as a result of that.  Also learned of a couple of pretty cool groups advertised there, including a table for IFC and an NY-based group that specializes in hunting down old vintage or out-of-print novels for resale (and in some cases, trying to reacquire the copyrights to reprint them for modern readers.)  In terms of areas of the con, this was probably one of the most pleasant, and even the vendors here were a lot more talkative and friendly (not to say the guys on the show floor weren't, but they were also a lot busier thanks to the crowds.)

From there, we headed to the first panel of the day - a promotion for the website Viki.  They're a video streaming service that largely focuses on Asian film and television with translations that seems to be recently working on making steps into the American market (their primary demographic is still SouthEast Asia.)

It was this or we try to get a pic during the episode itself...this is less likely to irritate con security.

In this case, they were promoting their latest licensing acquisition, which is a pretty impressive coup for its reputation, the 1970s classic Rose of Versailles.  For those not familiar with the title, this is considered one of the most influential shoujo (girl targeted) anime out there, so much so that it's a cross-demographic hit that really had a resonating cultural impact.  So getting that released over here is a pretty big moment.   Additionally, the panel was overseen by Dr. Susan Napier, one of the major academic voices that's helped allow anime to find its footing the US.  This was especially useful since she really helped explain why this show is considered such a classic and why some elements of it remain relevant even today (for those wondering, the story concerns the heir of a French noble who, despite being born a girl, he raises as a son.  As she grows up, she is appointed a royal guard in the court of Marie Antoinette, in a story that plays out over the backdrop of the French Revolution.)  Overall, it was a pretty damn informative panel, though I do have one complaint with it, though that was less a fault of the panel and more where it was held.  Showing us the subtitled first episode in advance for a show that they officially start showing in December - very cool way to raise interest.  Showing it in a small room where anyone from rows 4 back will only be able to see parts of the subtitles through the sea of heads... ...less cool.  Based on visuals alone, however, I am interested in looking into this.  It also helps that I'm a sucker for the classics.  Which is why I was even further pleased to learn they apparently plan to continue to try and acquire and stream more classics alongside this.  To that end, if you have any interest, look up their site even now.  Though the show doesn't really get rolling for another few months, I think the first episode is still up and they have a lot of other interesting material to go through as well, all free.

Now here's where the grievances begin.  At this point, we had hoped to try and check out the IGN theater, where they were offering a look at the upcoming updates of Carrie and The Evil Dead.  I know, normally I'm iffy on remakes, but I am curious to hear where these go, especially given the latter is still being overseen by Sam Raimi.  Of course, the catch was being able to get into the theater...that was...somehow, calling it folly seems like the nice way to put it.  You see, for those who haven't been there before, the IGN theater is where THE major events of NYCC are held.  In particular on this day was the promotion for the third season of The Walking Dead.  What did this amount to?  People had been waiting since roughly midnight the night before to get in... ...and stay in... ...and stay in.

Rather than show you the proverbial huddled masses, please enjoy this more open air/access promotion they'd set up outside for the third season.

In short, the theater was full from roughly 9 AM that morning.  There was a line of people waiting in futility for a chance to get in, to the point where con staff were stationed outside informing people the IGN theater was full.  Now, to their credit, they did try to meet people halfway on this by streaming the panel outside the theater for those who couldn't get in.  Unfortunately, between a seating system they hadn't worked out and the fact the room right outside the theater is something of an echo chamber...this was kind of a problem.  So we begrudgingly called the IGN a loss and decided to check out some of the other panels.

(I'll be coming back to the IGN shenanigans in part 3 more.)

So, instead of the Carrie-Evil Dead panel, we went to the announcement of comic writer Garth Ennis's latest project.  Now, in light of his work on such various and rather shocking comics as Preacher, The Boys, and Crossed, people wondered what this announcement would be.

There wasn't a lot for visual aids to this one.  This was prettymuch just a cool q&a with Ennis.  Then again, with the focus being on Crossed, would you guys have really wanted to see some of the images they could put together for it?

...and to my surprise (and partial horror) the announcement was this - Ennis has secured the rights to do filmed adaptations of his comic Crossed.

For those not familiar with the comic, I will say this - even for Ennis, this one's not for the faint of heart.  The series concerns an epidemic a la the Rage Virus in 28 Days Later.  However, rather than simply being turned into berserkers, the virus in Crossed turns people into ruthless sadists.  They don't just kill, they torture, rape, and carry out actions with express intent of infecting others.  It's a virus with a sense of malice.  Which is why I was surprised that this was the work Ennis was going ahead with filming.  The initial project will be a series of R-rated webisodes, with a subsequent unrated DVD release at the end of each season of 6 episodes.  The end goal of this project will eventually be a feature film adaptation written and directed by Ennis himself.  When that will be remains to be seen, as filming of the webisodes doesn't start until next spring.  Additionally, despite trusting the title to others for some time now, Ennis has announced he will be coming back for a subsequent run on the series in the near future, in helping write a backstory on the 'Patient Zero' that started the whole outbreak.

Appropriately, Dale's face here pretty well sums up my initial response to the announcement.

After outlining the project, Ennis opened the floor to q&a, which lent itself to some interesting insights to him and his work in general.  Alongside questions of his stance on superheroes (as he puts it, he doesn't hate them, but he does feel they have "a chokehold on the comics industry") he answered questions about plans to adapt his other two main titles (both Preacher and The Boys remain optioned out, but as it stands, no plans have been made for them.)  Alongside discussion of his views of the industry and future plans (he MAY take a shot at writing prose sometime, but he still plans to mainly stay with comics,) questions about specific elements of his past works came up.  Of these, two stood as highlights.  The first was what started as a joking question about the vampire character Cassidy (from Preacher) and his reaction to the current view of vampires.  This lead to Ennis discussing how Cassidy himself was based on the vampires in the movie Near Dark, and how he felt there was a tendency in recent horror to try and humanize monsters (Crossed itself being a partial response to this movement.)  The second regarded the origins of two of the infamous Section 8 heroes Ennis created for the comic Hitman.  Most notably, the creepy hero turned web meme Bueno Excellente (pictured below for those not familiar with him.)  In this case, he started as the result of being at the bar with friends hanging out when one mentioned a horror film (Ennis can't remember the name) where one character repeatedly responded to things with phrases like "Bueno" and "Excellente."  The phrases stuck, and eventually formed into a name...and from there spiraled into, in Ennis's own words "a sweating pervert with a 36" erection."

In the immortal words of Crow T. Robot: "SEE YOU IN YOUR NIGHTMARES!"

Overall, while it was no IGN theater, it was still a pretty fun panel to be at, and Ennis has gotten me interested in checking out more of his work through discussing it (so much so that I've been binging on The Boys lately.)  So, despite my initial "OH GOD WHY?" on reading it, I might give his Crossed webisodes a go when the time comes.

From there, and because it was nearby, we decided to pay Mr. Mignola a second visit for his panel regarding the upcoming comic Hellboy in Hell.  I was pleasantly surprised with the format here.  As they set it up, they only intended to talk a small sales pitch, then let fans ask their questions to make up the bulk of the panel.

Again, they didn't give us a lot of visual aid to work with here...though they gave us some great discussion.

This actually lead to a lot of interesting info that otherwise wouldn't have come up in a straight sales pitch.  Though the pitch did make some interesting reveals (Hellboy in Hell starts in December, for the record.  Alongside that, several past characters will be returning in other stories, including fan favorite crime fighter-cum-thorn in the Nazis' side, Lobster Johnson.)  Among things that were discussed in fan questions were questions of influence (while Mignola says he has no specific influences, he does admit to something of a soft spot for Norse mythology and being inspired by painters more than comic artists) to future plans for both Hellboy as well as other creations.  In the latter case, Mignola has said that The Amazing Screw-On Head will not be returning at any point.  Not out of any sense of dislike so much as he simply feels he's done all he can with the idea.  In the case of other Hellboy-related tie-ins, he currently has heard no word about plans for a third beyond the fact he's up for it and he knows Ron Perlman is up for it whenever Del Toro wants to make it happen.  To this end, as far as he knows, there will be no word on another animated Hellboy movie unless another prominent Hellboy-related release comes up for it to tie into.  A lot of the q&a actually went into the creative process behind the Hellboy/BPRD world and Mike and the other artists all offered some interesting insights into it (things like Hellboy's death had been loosely planned, but there was no set timeline - the pieces simply fell into place and how they're trying to avoid making their version of Hell bear resemblance to any popularized versions of Hell out there.)

In closing, they did also address the question of talks about Mignola's Joe Golem novel being adapted into a movie (it has been optioned with Alex Proyas attached to write and direct...which I have to say, should prove interesting.)  The last question of the panel being when someone asked if Hellboy had in fact been in Hell before - they pointed out the comic in question was actually done as a joke and didn't really hold much bearing over the main canon.

Honestly, next to the Legendary panel, I think this was one of my favorites of the weekend - even if it did remind me just how far behind in reading Hellboy I've been (working on that.)  The team were all informative and offered some interesting takes on where the series is going as well as their creative insights that lead to things that have happened now.  While Mike will always be known as the main force (though he was somewhat held back for a 7 year stretch there) it's good to know the Hellboy/BPRD series have been in some great hands alongside his as well.  Just hearing them all talk about this world they've all added to, I look forward to getting caught up.

Plus, got to meet Mignola a second time.  He really is a nice guy.

From here, we called it a night again...well...a night after a nice ramen dinner, a public transport clusterfuck and my guts racing Hellboy to Hell (and based on Mignola's estimates, getting there way before him.)  But that's not really con-related, so that's not a story I'll bore you with.

Keep an eye out tomorrow for the final chapter of Lines and Loathing At New York Comic Con
COMPLAINTS AND GRIEVANCES (or 'Where the Hell Are the Lines and Loathing?  You Said There'd Be Lines and Loathing!')

In closing, I leave you with this image from outside the con that day.
Boba's life was never the same after that Sarlacc incident...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lines and Loathing at New York Comic Con Pt 1

Well, as was promised last time, last week's entry was cut off for a reason.  This past weekend saw New York Comic Con come and go.  In a show of good faith, and to make up for the fact I split this week's entry (Thursday and Friday will come attached to next week's entry, for the record) I have promised a writeup of my experience with the con.

So here it is.  I will say this year was a mixed experience.  Many of the events were good (those will be discussed first) but there were some problems which will be discussed in passing and elaborated on in the next two parts.

That said, let's start from Part 1:

Everything Is Better With Giant Monsters know, sometimes these just kind of explain themselves.  I can't be cheeky all the time.

Well, to start with, rather glad heeded the advice was given last time.  Rather than showing up right at the start, we waited a bit for the initial rush to die down. 

The line was still daunting, but not nearly as bad as it had been last year, so there was some relief there.

For the first part, there weren't any events were immediately gunning for, so simply explored the show floor. 

Where Bandai had this camped out front to greet people.  Gotta say, pretty damn nice sight to enter to.

The spread this year had some pretty interesting features - Marvel actually arranged an interesting promotion for their Marvel Online game.  On signing up for the beta, each guest was given two cards.  From there,
they could take part in several other Marvel-related promotions throughout the con and receive more of the cards as a result.  On completion of all twelve, they were offered a bonus chance to be rendered in a Marvel style.  Admittedly, didn't run the full spread, but thought it was a pretty cool idea for encouraging fans to sample a little of everything Marvel had to offer on the show floor. 

Yeah, they're not Marvel, but for lack of a better bridge to the Marvel Online stuff, I'll take this bridge.

Another major standout going to the Lego booth, who are embracing their Lord of the Rings tie-in with a vengeance.  Alongside videos promoting the upcoming Lego LotR videogame (including a pretty amusing segment of Frodo screwing around with the ring to Samwise's annoyance) and large-size Lego statues of Bilbo and Gandalf on display.  Of course, they also still gave due coverage to their tie-ins with Star Wars and DC Superheroes as well.  Their entire section was fun even just to look at.

The more I think about this one, the more I feel bad for whoever built these, since eventually they will likely have to be taken apart again.

After some exploring we made our first stop of the day, getting an autograph from Stan Lee's table (itself a gift my girlfriend got for someone else.)  While the pricing was a bit steep, this was actually one of the better handled events saw over the weekend.  Getting the tickets in advance and then letting each person know a time to come back really helped keep things running smoothly.  That said, the signing itself was somewhat rushed...though admittedly I can somewhat understand why - I mean, Lee had a pacemaker put in recently, so I can see why he wouldn't be full-steam.  Though his handlers were a bit brusque all things considered.  Still, was one of the better handled events of the weekend, but that will be gone into later.

Alongside the publicity shots like this, they actually had the suits themselves in glass.  Looks very promising.

In one last highlight of the show floor, we swung by Legendary Studios booth - which had a nice display of some of their previous films as well as some looks at items from their upcoming Pacific Rim.  The highlight of these being two of the pilot suits on display - themselves a nice mix of a sleeker modern design and an older, more classic look.  That said, I'll be coming back to Pacific Rim later, as it ties into one of the highlights of Friday.

From here, went down to Artist's Alley to catch up with a few artists (in my particular case, Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy.)  There was some initial issues with George Perez owing to tickets and a lot of people bailing from lines, but largely, this experience went pretty smoothly.  The artists were all pretty friendly (and to our surprise, Mignola showed up early.)  So some initial frustration aside, this part was pretty nicely handled.

After missing Mignola last year, this was one of the highlights for me this time.
Additionally, was interesting to have him indirectly confirm why I'd been unable to find a one-off he'd written since it has been out of print.
(...seriously, if you get the chance, look up The Doom That Came to Gotham - Mignola runs Batman through a Lovecraft filter and it is glorious.)

From there, checked out the promotional spot for the upcoming multi-platform game Aliens: Colonial Marines.  Said game taking itself from where James Cameron's sequel left off.  While I admit I'm kind of behind on more recent gaming, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intrigued by where this one could be going.  The 'get your picture taken in a power loader fighting a xenomorph' promotion certainly didn't hurt things either.

As my girlfriend decides to put Giger's anatomical design to the test and nail the bastard in the nether-regions.

The next encounter...admittedly I didn't get the full blast of this compared to my girlfriend - the autograph pit.  Yeah, that's not the best name for it, but Hell with it, with the organization there, that was about as good as it's gonna get.  In this case, she went for the Carrie Fisher line.  Now, I was interested initially as well, even with the $60 charge (contracts, they are a bitch) but seeing that line just...I'll be honest, even as a congoer, I have my limits on crowds.  She had already paid for a spot in line, so she decided to stick it out (and more power to her for that) meanwhile, I went ahead to secure a seat at the panel we were really gunning for on Friday (will get to that in due time.)

Anyway, at the suggestion of the staff themselves, I wound up scoping out a spot for said panel by checking out the panel they had running before it.  Turns out, it was actually pretty interesting.  It was a presentation for a group called 4th Wall Studios.  They're a production company based on internet-based television.  It's pretty surprising to realize how much the production quality on internet television has gone up in recent years.  In particular, living up to their names, this site is taking steps to up the interactivity that web-television allows, in particular through use of other devices to add to the experience, such as calls or texts onto your cellphone at certain points in the programming to give insights that wouldn't be as broadcasted otherwise.  Further surprising is the range of shows they're looking at trying to apply these and other developments to - things ranging from comedies (Dirty Work, a currently running series about a team of crime scene cleaners) to horror (Dark Wall, an anthology series inviting different writers and directors to bring their style to each new storyline) to sci-fi (Flare, a series exploring a world where the sky has gone dark and power has gone out...for the record, they were apparently working on this before the series Revolution was announced and that was something of a setback, but they're keeping with it) to even animation (Airship Dracula, a steampunk readaptation of the original Stoker story featuring Alan Tudyk.)  Having never heard of this company before, I'm intrigued enough to look into more of their works in the next few days.

...and now we come to the big one I'd been waiting for - Legendary Comics. 

...and yeah, this partially gives away the main highlight of the panel now, but still read the first two parts of this one - they still sound pretty damn cool.

 Why was this one a highlight?  Because this company is an off-shoot of the movie production company Legendary Studios - and in large part, the panel was tied in to promoting their major film for next year. 

But first, we got to learn about what they were working on as straight-up comics went - including debuting a new series over the weekend entitled The Tower Chronicles.  The series, involving a supernatural bounty hunter, seems to have enough ambition going into it that, despite the premise feeling a little cliched, I'm curious enough to give it a look. 

From there, they introduced their second most prominent announcement of the panel - the newest comic by acclaimed writer Grant Morrison.  I have to say, from what they described, it sounds interesting.  In a nutshell, the new title 'Annihilator' (named for the 'Great Annihilator' black hole at the center of the galaxy) follows a down-on-his luck writer who's been contracted to work on a script for what will be a major tentpole blockbuster.  Said blockbuster, called 'Annihilator' itself is an update of an old pulp antihero character (within universe.)  As the pressure mounts (Morrison mentioned deadlines of various sorts as a theme in this work,) the desperate writer makes a deal with the Devil - the terms of the deal, however, result in said antihero being brought from the page into reality...and into the writer's life.  It sounds like Morrison's penchant for the meta is taking a very interesting turn on this one, and I'm rather curious to see how it turns out.

...and from there came the moment many were waiting for - in promotion for next year's Pacific Rim, Legendary's panel brought out acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro.  Prior to actually discussing anything, Del Toro offered the audiences good news and bad news:

The bad news - it was recommended to him not to replay the PR teaser trailer that had been shown at San Diego Comic Con over the summer.
The good news - in his own words: "I don't give a fuck!"

...suffice it to say, he played it for us anyway...and damn, I try not to get too psyched for trailers too often, but this one...OK, I am pretty damn excited.  Most of the cast all turned up in varying capacities, and more importantly we got to see the film's monstrous Kaiju and giant robot Jaegers in action.  The designs and the directing in their action were impressive, and I can only imagine what they'll be like on the big screen.  From there, Del Toro discussed the project, which lead to many interesting insights - for one, the man's enthusiasm and passion for this project is infectious.  I mean, even outside of the trailer itself, I found myself getting more excited just hearing him discuss the project and the amount of effort put into it - one of the highlights was showing us a few pages from his notebooks...while the image isn't as clear as it could be, the amount of detail this man has put in his jaw-dropping (he jokingly compared them to John Doe's notebooks in 'Se7en'.) 

Additional trivia - while it doesn't show clearly here, it's all in Spanish to boot.  To be expected, but still...just one of those cool bits of info.

In particular, this feels like a labor of love, both from the way he talks of it (he described part of the project as wanting to bring back a more romantic feel to and an adventure movie, not wanting the film to look sleek or overly futuristic.  In fact, one of the major influences they wound up turning to in designing the film's feel was World War II (properly reflected in a promotional poster they handed out at the con in the style of a WWII propaganda poster.) 

I do feel kind of bad for missing when they were handing these out though.  The main teaser poster is nice, but I REALLY like this one.

From there, they discussed in part why this ties into the comics branch of Legendary - they were also announcing a set of comics that would tie in with the film's release.  Del Toro, a fan of transmedia approaches sees this as a way to add to the already immersive world feel they're trying for within the movie itself.  In terms of specific details, they've announced at least three stories from three writers, including exploring just what prompted this universe to turn to humanoid robots as means to fight the Kaiju.  Further to this end, the artists working on the comics are being given direct access to the film as it goes so everything will keep a consistent visual style.  At this point, the floor was opened up to q&a (not surprisingly, the questions were all for Del Toro.)  Among these, the highlights were with regards to if there are plans for future movies (as it stands, they are designing the world so more stories could occur within it, so while nothing is planned, they won't say no to it), the decision to convert to 3D (despite his initial reservations, Del Toro did come around on this, in his own words doing "a full Romney" on seeing the results of it.)  Additionally, there was discussion on the Kaiju design, which Del Toro encouraged creativity on, but also set two restrictions - nothing overly referential (as he put it, they wanted it to be a movie by fans, but not a fan movie) and they had to look somewhat believable as real animals.

At that point, the panel ended - though despite everyone else leaving, Del Toro was an awesome sport and stuck around to sign things and look at art from congoers until he was told again they had to go.  Even then, he still insisted on at least finishing signing the things that had been handed to him.

Suffice it to say, of the con in general, Del Toro was probably the highlight - not just because of the work he's done, but because he was a genuinely great guest: outgoing, enthusiastic, and more than happy to be talking with fans about shared loves.  VERY worth seeing in person if you ever get the chance.

Seriously, I would love to shoot the proverbial shit with this guy some time...