Archive for September, 2015

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Stop me at any time if you think you’ve heard this one before : a group of four amateur paranormal investigators have decided to spend the night at an abandoned insane asylum to see if all the rumors they’ve heard about the joynt being haunted are true. They’re filing the whole thing for their half-assed internet TV show. They set up shop, things go bump in the night, and whaddaya know — turns out they should have stayed away after all.

So what makes 2015’s Archivo 253 any different from the slew of found-footage horror flicks that exploit this very same (and very tired) premise? Nothing, other than the fact that it was made in Mexico and you’ve actually gotta read the insipid dialogue rather than just hear it.

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At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that I must be selling director Abe Rosenberg’s (funny, that name doesn’t sound particularly Mexican to me, but whatever) low-budget opus a little short, but rest assured, I’m not. This is the re-hash to end all re-hashes and apart from its country of origin, the only thing to differentiate this snooze-fest from its peers is the fact that at least 75% of the film is shot in green-hued “night vision.” Seriously, Abe, five minutes would have been plenty, but over an hour? That’s just overkill, dude.

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I can forgive the fact that all four of our principal characters (Anna Cetti as Isabella, Michel Chauvet as Diego, Mario Escalante as Mateo, and Juan Luis Tovar as Charly) are more or less personality-free-zones, and in a pinch I can even forgive the fact that this set-up has been done to death, but what I absolutely can’t forgive is that nothing interesting happens in this movie. It doesn’t take as long to get going as some of these “let’s visit an old looney bin and see what happens” flicks sometimes do, but it doesn’t matter, because nothing of any note gets going at any point. “We’re picking up some readings on our ghost activity meters” really isn’t enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up these days — in fact, it never was. But hey, at least this time they’re saying it in Spanish.

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Still, loyal readers of this site have no doubt ignored my advice in the past and will do so again, so if you’re one of them, you can check Archivo 253 out on Netflix right now. It’s not available on Blu-ray or DVD yet, but have to imagine that some fool-hardy independent outfit with nothing better to sink their money into will probably release it at some point, given that distribution rights certainly won’t — or at least shouldn’t — cost very much. If I were in their shoes, though, I’d just douse a few grand with gasoline and light it on fire in my back yard. You’ll be out the money either way, sure, but why wait countless months to lose it when taking a match to it is so much quicker and more convenient?

There’s no doubt that this film will richly deserve a place on any “worst of the year” list that I might put together come December/January, but you know what? Odds are pretty good that I’ll have completely forgotten about it by then.

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Not so long ago — in fact, just last week, if memory serves me correctly — we did a mini-round-up of reviews of films based (sometimes quite loosely) on the works of H.P. Lovecraft in honor of his 125th birthday, and while I didn’t think I’d be re-visiting the world of so-called “Lovecraftiana” again nearly so soon, when Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence #4 hit comics shops yesterday I simply had to, given that it’s based so heavily on The Dunwich Horror , the 1970 celluloid version of which I almost-literally just did a little write-up on . Soooooo — since I figured it would be worth delving into these murky backwaters one more time to have a closer look at just how this four-color printed story differs from its literary and cinematic step-siblings, let’s get our hands dirty, shall we?

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For those of you who have been following Providence from the outset — for shame! — the format is deceptively simple : in 1919,  recently-resigned newspaperman Robert Black (who leads something of a double life in that he’s secretly gay and secretly Jewish) is trying to put together his own idea of “The Great American Novel,” one based loosely on the intriguing conceit that there is a “secret country” hidden beneath the public face of the United states, and is following up on the whereabouts of a tome of occult lore that he hopes will point him in the right direction for his literary endeavors. Every issue sees him come into contact with strange situations and characters that Lovecraft fans will immediately recognize as being featured in the author’s works, and it’s fairly obvious that at some point Lovecraft is going to either encounter Black himself or stumble across his notes and will extrapolate his fictions from him/them accordingly. Fun little “side clues” are dropped in along the way that tie into other stories of his, but by and large one famous Lovecraft yarn features as the “backbone” for each chapter, with issue one taking most of its cues from Cool Air,  issue two delving into The Horror At Red Hook,  issue three fleshing out the supposedly “real” story behind The Shadow Over Innsmouth, etc. At the beginning of issue four, Black is in the “company town” of Athol, Massachusetts, which served as the real-life basis for The Dunwich Horror, so you know from the outset which way things are headed here. And if you’re still unsure, well —  by the time our protagnoist meets the inbred branch of the  Wheatley family tree a few pages in, there’s no more room for guesswork.

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These Wheatleys are, of course, the basis for the (alright, equally) fictional Whateleys in Lovecraft’s story, and while the first three segments of Providence have certainly come up trumps in the “creepy” department, things definitely take a turn for the overtly horrific this time out as the nature of isolated country living in the early part of the last century comes to the fore. Let’s just say that when there was no one else around to fuck, a lot of folks simply made do with who was nearby.

Maintaining the “purity” of one’s genetic stock was, of course, a particular obsession with the eugenics-crazed Lovecraft, and as anyone who’s read Smax knows, inbreeding is a topic that Moore has explored in the past with suitably cringe-worth results, as well, so if you’re going to base a contemporary horror comic around the love that damn well better not speak its name, these two are probably your best choices to serve as guides, so — I dunno. Congratulations, I guess, to Messrs. Moore and Lovecraft both for being the perfect autors to tell a story based on this admittedly nauseating premise.

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And yeah, if there’s one thing Providence #4 can definitely claim to be, it’s nauseating. And I mean that as a sincere compliment, since making the reader uncomfortable is the whole point of good horror. Black cottons on to the fact that there’s literally no one else who could be the father of monstrous Willard Wheatley (or, as he’s known in the story and on the silver screen, Wilbur Whateley) than his own grand-pappy, Garland, and while his mother, Lavinia,  was confined to a lunatic asylum in the film version, here poor, uneducated, albino (and quite likely inbred herself) Leticia still lives at home with her father, and spends most of her time attempting to piece together in her feeble mind exactly what the hell happened to her the night she was impregnated in 1912. Lovecraft hints at it The Dunwich Horror, but Moore drops all pretense here and rips the curtain of “literary respectability” away most violently indeed. Let’s just say it’s not a reading experience designed with the faint of heart in mind.

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For us sick fucks, though, it borders on the flat-out revelatory. Needless to say there’s a lot more than a simple dip into the family gene pool going on here, and there’s good reason why Willard is a hulking full-grown ape of a man (the issue is titled “White Apes,” another Lovecraft reference for those who care to do the requisite leg-work) who can apparently fuse glass cubes together with his bare hands in order to form tesseracts, which presumably come in handy in his family’s more unconventional spare-time activities. And yeah, if molesting your own daughter is more “conventional” than the other shit they’re up to, it’s safe to say that the Wheatleys are into some far-out stuff —oh, by the way, has anyone seen Wilbur’s invisible sibling, John -Divine?

Silly me, of course not — I just said he’s invisible (at least to us). But his presence looms very large in this story, to put it mildly. I think I’ll leave it at that.

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Moore takes the occasion of Providence #4 to make some spot-on criticisms of the elitism running rampant through the occult secret society that Garland and his clan have been unceremoniously booted from, and shines a pretty glaring light on the prejudices of the time (including those shared by Lovecraft himself), but it doesn’t feel too terribly heavy-handed given that the characters we’re directed to have sympathy for are engaged in some odious and twisted activities themselves, so maybe at the end of the day it’s fair to say that this is a story with no real “good guys” — especially considering what a self-absorbed — and frankly clueless — ass-hat Black himself comes off as being in the issue’s always-fascinating-and-necessary backmatter.

Top it all off with Jacen Burrows’ increasingly- confident and richly-detailed art (seriously, this guy’s going to be a superstar artist for “The Big Two” one of these days — assuming he’s interested), some intriguing hints as to where things are going in terms of the overall narrative (as an aside, it took me a few passes through to figure out what, exactly, was being depicted on page one of this issue, but once I did — wow), and what you’ve got here is a thoroughly masterful “re-imagining” of a timeless horror classic that certainly rewards multiple re-readings and re-mystifies Lovecraft’s original work by, ironically, de-mysifying its ugly underbelly for all to see.

I certainly had a damn good time watching Daniel Haller’s 1970 film adaptation of The Dunwich Horror again for the first time in many years (who can argue with Dean Stockwell’s turn as Wilbur?), but as far as “revisionist Lovecraft” goes, right now Providence is in a class by itself, and issue #4 is the strongest one yet — even if it requires an equally strong stomach.

 

A Tribute To Wes Craven

Posted: September 1, 2015 in movies
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If I had a dime for every time I heard “I didn’t even know Wes Craven was ill” today, I’d be a very wealthy man. And if I could add in the times I said it myself, I’d be doubly rich. Sadly, no one’s paying me for either either hearing or saying it, so all that means is that we’re stuck with the shitty reality that one of the true masters of modern horror is no longer with us. And I’m still broke. The latter,can probably be fixed — the former, tragically, can’t.

Brain cancer is an especially horrific way to go, and I hope that Wes was surrounded by family and friends and went peacefully into the land of eternal sleep and nightmare. I add “nightmare” in there because, let’s face it, he’d probably be bored in an afterlife that was all rainbows, candy, sunshine, and smiles. I’m sure Mr. Craven enjoyed life’s pleasantries as much as anyone, but in all honesty, he was so damn good at telling tales of terror, tragedy, and torment that he must have had at least some sort of affinity for what the unadventurous call the “ugly” side of human existence — and thank goodness (or badness) that he did, because without his fevered imaginings, life would be sooooo much more boring for us horror fans.

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It all started with 1972’s The Last House On The Left (okay, so he actually made one film before that, but we won’t talk about that here), and the simple truth of the matter is this : that flick was so brutal, so visceral, and so immediate (as well as so agonizingly tone-deaf, with sickening rape and murder juxtaposed against idiotic Keystone Kops-style bungling , the end result being a flilm that was actually stronger for the fact that its director so clearly didn’t quite know what he was doing yet)  that he probably could have quit then and there and still would have been  assured of leaving some sort of legacy behind. But he didn’t. Craven was never one to rest on his laurels, and before the decade was out he’d also unleashed The Hills Have Eyes on an audience that was in no way ready for it — and probably still isn’t. The term “ahead of his time” gets thrown about way too easily and frequently these days, but who can argue that in his case it doesn’t absolutely apply?

As does another word that comes far too cheap in our modern lexicon — “legend.” Thinking about it, by the time his career and life were over, that  probably became too small a word to encompass all that Craven did (and was), but he cemented his “legendary” status in the 1980s by creating the Nightmare On Elm Street series and its iconic lead character, Freddy Krueger.  Sure, Freddy became something of a wacky figure of fun in fairly short order, but that’s hardly Craven’s fault —go ahead and watch the first NOES film again sometime (soon), and re-familiarize yourself with just what a flat-out monstrously evil bastard ol’ claws-and-burns was in that one. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.

Having once again established himself as the decade’s pace-setter in his genre of choice, Craven then went on to to give us a generous helping of under-appreciated gems (Deadly FriendThe People Under The Stairs) and acknowledged classics (The Serpent And The Rainbow) before the curtain closed on the ’80s, and you could be forgiven for thinking that, by that point, he might have finally started to see the times pass him by a bit.

Nope. The 1990s proved to be the auteur‘s most critically and commercially successful decade yet, as he incorporated so-called “meta-textual” elements into his work with the superb Wes Craven’s New Nightmare before toning the self-awareness down just a notch and figuring out how to sell it to the masses with the runaway hit Scream series. Finally, Hollywood realized they had a genuine visionary on their hands, and they even gave him a crack at directing a prestigious Meryl Streep project. Who could have predicted that when David Hess was shoving his knife up into — well, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

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Roll on the new millennium, and while Craven didn’t set the horror world on its ear again as he had in each of the previous three decades, he still found himself at the helm of some impressive efforts, my favorite being the gripping and suspenseful Red Eye, and in 2011 he went back to the well with Scream one more (and last) time, deftly demonstrating, against all odds and popular “wisdom,” that there was still plenty of life left in that signature franchise yet. Wes was in no way “yesterday’s news.”

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All of which makes yesterday’s actual news so hard to fathom. Not so long ago, making it to the age of 76 was considered a life well-lived indeed, and while no one would argue that the good Mr. Craven didn’t have exactly that, you get the distinct feeling that he left so many stories on the table when he passed on. His movies by and large don’t even feel particularly dated, much less “old,” and given that he’d laid down the gauntlet for everyone else to try and pick up in the ’70s, the ’80s, and the ’90s, there was little doubt, at least in my mind, that he could — and maybe even would — do so again. He was, after all, a master at spotting not just where horror was at, but where it needed to go in the future to stay relevant. His movies always had something of a youthful approach to them, whether he was making them at age 25, 35, 45, 55, or 65. He didn’t just “keep his finger on the pulse,” he set the pulse. And he set it racing.