Metal and horror have quite a bit in common. Both try and explore the dark sides of the human experience, and both are quite comfortable using gruesome imagery to shock people into a thumb sucking fetal position. Sometimes bands or performers will use horror to shock their audience, and it usually works out very well for them. Before Marilyn Manson we had Alice Cooper and of course, bubble gum music's queens of shock rock, Kiss. In underground metal, plenty of acts have followed King Diamond's lead and used horror fiction as themes in their music. Look at how long Gwar has been around. And well before any of them we had Screamin' Jay Hawkins popping up out of coffins as far back as the late 50's and early 60's. Horror and rock are coconspirators in America's dark counterculture history that have finally become so ingrained in our psyche that we have Ozzy Osbourne selling us cars with "Crazy Train", and in case any of you haven't noticed, zombies have been lumbering into our commercials for the last two or three years. Horror and metal were meant to be together.
Once I had been scared out of my wits a couple of times as a kid, I was hooked on horror. There is nothing like having the crap scared out of you to make you feel alive, right? I was super excited to see 'Alien' when it came out. I was twelve and spending the summer with my aunt and uncle ( Hey, guys! ) in Tucson, Arizona. Nosferatu and The Wicked Witch of the West scared me as a little guy, but 'Alien' spoke to the sci-fi dork in me ( a dork is worse than a simple nerd, right? ) and the thought of a scary science fiction movie was a real thrill. I remember that after we went to see the movie I was all but paralyzed with fear laying in bed at night for the rest of the visit. You see, that damned alien was pacing up and down the hallway just waiting for me to stick my head out of my room. Squish! No more Stephen! Just a wet spot where I stood. Oh, and maybe a drop or two of blood. A year or two later I watched 'The Shining' with my best friend Danny, and I was a fan for life. Let the bleeding begin! I would be remiss if I failed to mention the fact that my Dad decided to to throw a wad of paper ( or maybe it was one of the four packs of cigarettes he went through every day ) at me during an especially tense scene which caused me to run up the hallway, completely lost in rage, fear and humiliation. I remember my Dad calling after me "Do you need to change your pants?" Cute, Dad. I'll remember that in a few years when you actually need help changing your pants. Who will be laughing then?
So horror hooked me well before heavy music. Different people love different kinds of horror, and you can get into all kinds of pretentious conversations about classic horror movies, French and Italian horror offerings, or any number of sub-categories. There are a few older horror movies that I like, but Monica and I both prefer the massive volume of blood that is used in today's horror films. Torture, slithering organs and gratuitous violence make us both warm and tingly inside. I thought I'd share a few of my/our favorites of the last few years with you. Believe me, I could write all week long about all of the horror movies that I enjoy but for the purpose of this post I'll keep it to five that really stand out to me from the last decade. One of which is a totally fun, Halloween party type movie, two are high tension contagion movies, one pushes the limits of what is distasteful and offensive like no other, and one is just a damned fine scary movie with blood and bikinis, all of which highlight different aspects of what God intended when he created horror movies.
Let's dive in, shall we?
28 Days Later
Though this movie feels like a zombie film, it is technically a virus that changes otherwise sweet, innocent people into red-eyed, ravenous, human flesh devouring track stars. None of the traditional lumbering undead for director, Danny Boyle. These undead are relentless, and really, really fast. The opening scene shows some animal rights activists breaking into an animal testing lab in London. What did their not-so-thought out plan get them by the time the scene ends? How about a face full of angry monkey virus and lots of blood! Oh yeah, these people open the proverbial can of undead monkey worms in a way that really gets your blood pumping from the word, "Go"! Turns out, these monkeys had been infected with the "Rage Virus" and did not use sign language like their cute cousins on PBS to explain that they were not very happy with their living conditions. This lot was more into face eating and limb tearing to show their dissatisfaction.
Fast forward to one Cillian Murphy, who finds himself waking up in a completely abandoned hospital without any idea how or why he ended up there. He makes his way out of the hospital and out onto the streets of London, which are completely desolate. There are some really cool images of an empty city before he eventually figures out that anyone who groans instead of speaking, especially if parts of them are missing, is not someone to ask what day it is. Some very well armed good samaritans happened to run into him and bail him out of a dooky storm, preventing the movie from being about fifteen minutes long.
The rest of the movie has Cillian wandering the country side with an ever changing, and ever dying group of people seeking some stability in this new, "post-Rage virus" world full of the undead and future victims. It has an art film aesthetic that works really well, particularly when juxtaposed with the soundtrack which has been emulated several times since this film. Suffice it to say the 'stability' Murphy and his compatriots sought turned out to be anything but stable. Fortunately, Murphy's character has a vengeful side that tips the scales in his company's favor. I don't usually like happy endings in horror movies, but this one was directed in such a way that I actually smiled for the characters when they finally were found by someone who could help them. And after all, isn't it always about the sequel?
Dawn of the Dead, 2004
My favorite older horror movie is the George Romero classic, 'Night of the Living Dead'. I know, that's not so unusual or obscure, but I just don't care for most old movies. Everyone falls head over heels in love the moment they meet, and by today's standards the films crawl at a snail's pace with not very much going on to hold your attention. When I was younger I really liked the original 'Dawn of the Dead', the sequel to 'Night of the Living Dead', but time has not been kind to that movie at all. Enter the 2004 remake with Sarah Polley, Mekhi Pfiefer and Ving Rhames. This remake has a little of everything that is great in horror; suspense, a zombie baby, brief nudity, a cast full of victims, hopelessness, humor and lots of blood. This movie is about as much fun as you can pack into an hour and forty minutes.
I love it when a movie gets things rolling from the very beginning. It really grabs your attention and lets you know that you are in for a helluva ride. The opening scene in this remake is one of the better "Oh shit!" beginnings you can find, and is worth the price of the rental just for that alone. Sarah Polley's life get's turned upside down after her boyfriend's neck gets ripped inside out by the formerly cute girl next door. It's one of those "How would I handle such an abrupt turn of events?" moments that we all need to be prepared for in when life turns ugly. Well, if nearly wetting my pants when my Dad threw the cigarette pack at me when I was fourteen is any indication, I think I might not fare so well. Actually, there is a Zombie Apocalypse Aptitude Test online and I rated pretty well, so I think Monica and I would be okay as long as zombies are held captive by a sofa and a television. At any rate, Sarah Polley made all of the right moves even as her neighbors become zombie food in their front yards and her boyfriend-turned-rabid human eater tries to catch up with her while she drives away from her old life, straight into the Zombie Apocalypse.
In keeping with the original, a shopping mall provides a refuge for several wayward travelers while also serving as a Pavlovian beacon for hordes of zombie shoppers. These guys are worse than regular shoppers though. Not only do they refuse to get out of your way, but these clueless jerks actually try and eat you when you get close. God, I hate the mall! No Pottery Barn can be a paradise forever though. After a pretty interesting scene with a quick decision about what to do with a newly born zom-baby and a great scene in which some tension is released as the characters pass the time shooting Hollywood look alike zombies in the parking lot, things take a turn for the worse. Zombies always find a way in. In this case, a goody two shoes selfishly risks everything to save the one life she still cares for after watching her father turn into a practice target for a point blank, zombie head shot ( she would not have scored so high on the Zombie Apocalypse Test! ) and this group of very well portrayed 'normal' people have to make a run for it in some suped up buses that have been converted into zombie plowing death-mobiles. Interesting characters drop like flies as the company gets whittled down to three frazzled people who quickly run out of options.
This movie never gets old to me. There are no dull spots, and they have just enough fun with the story development that the film really does entertain on many levels. Most of the time the humor in horror movies ruins the film. I think the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise really dumbed down the genre much like how the success of Nu Metal stifled the creativity of underground metal. 'Dawn of the Dead' did a great job of mixing subtle humor in with gnashing zombies. Sarah Polley and the rest of the cast really delivered in this far superior remake of a George Romero classic.
Large groups of lost, hungover Westerners stand out like a sore thumb in poorer sections of Brazil, and this particular group has the whole village coming after them before too long. Apparently the locals don't take to well to strangers laying their kids out by throwing rocks at them. A guy who had been with them the night before at the beach bar intervenes before a mob makes things even worse for the group who clearly have no idea how to get out of their predicament. Kiko decides to take them to safety at his uncle's house on a mountain, but the trek is quite a long one. A pretty route, but a long one. Just long enough for you to begin to question their savior's motives, and in fact, he begins to have second thoughts about what might await them once his uncle comes back. All of this creates a great tension that remains constant throughout the rest of the film.
I love how Turistas is paced. These party seekers have never partied like they are about to in this movie! Needless to say, when Kiko's uncle does show up, hope fades away in no time despite Kiko's protests. I won't give any more than that away. There is also a great chase scene that could make someone without closed space issues claustrophobic, and make someone who is already claustrophobic claw their way through the sofa and out of the room to get some fresh air, which is ironically kind of what our lost travelers find themselves in desperate need of to survive. If you don't mind horror without the obligatory 'gotcha' kind of instant gratification scares that are used instead of a real plot, and if you aren't offended by younger women in bikini bottoms, 'Turistas' is definitely one to check out. In fact, Monica and I might just watch it tonight.
28 Weeks Later
The opening scene in '28 Weeks Later' is pure horror movie magic. I mean, the shit hits the fan so hard and so fast that my heart races by the time the scene ends. Robert Carlyle speaks for all of us once it's clear he'll survive another day when he perfectly repeats, shell shocked and out of breath, "Oh shit... oh shit.. oh shit..." The movie opens with him and his wife making dinner in a farm house they came across with a cast of others whose names all change to something like "Aaahhrrrgghhhh-hhh-zzzz" ten minutes later. Their fate was sealed when they broke Zombie Apocalypse Survival, Rule 11-C: Never allow someone else into your habitat without a full interview and screening. Yeah the kid who comes knocking on the farm house door is cute and all, but sometimes where Law of the Jungle should prevail, we confuse ourselves with the sudden presence of annoying "feelings"! The kid is running from something after all, and the next wave of visitors won't be bothered by such formalities as a polite knock on the front door. Shit... meet fan!
One rude guest can ruin a cozy dinner with friends. A few dozen motivated undead with designs on the guests' organs totally changes the vibe! The dinner music doesn't work anymore, and there is no need to stick around until everyone's roofies kick in because you're not going to have time to go through their belongings anyway. To avoid ruining one of the great scenes in contemporary horror I'll just say that Mr. Carlyle, who moments earlier correctly identified the threat of the sympathetic kid who was really the Bringer of Death though his warnings were ignored, is suddenly faced with his own Zombie Survival test. Knowing full well the reality of an eventual Zombie Apocalypse, Monica and I have assured and reassured that we each have permission to flee for our lives if it's the difference between one's survival and a quaint death together at the hands of flesh starved undead types. I don't know if Carlyle and his wife had had that discussion before. Something tells me they may not have had the foresight to sort that one out ahead of time.
Jump ahead say, twenty eight weeks later,and the movie picks up as Carlyle's two kids are being brought into their new digs, reuniting what's left of their family in London. A very well directed scene back at their new apartment shows his daughter and son's shock and horror as Carlyle recalls what happened to him and their mother at the farmhouse. You actually find yourself sympathizing with him even as his version doesn't quite match what really happened. I mean, what would you have done? She's not in the room now... so tell me the truth. Fortunately, his daughter is relieved that either of their parents made it out alive. All is well in London... yeah, right.
To leave you all eager to see the movie, I'll sum it up for you. Kids are more trouble than they are worth, just ask any honest parent. Any creature that you don't actually watch die can, and will be used against you. Same goes for people. It only takes one a-hole to ruin things for everyone. If dozens of soldiers begin frantically repeating the term "Code Red" around you, find shelter. If you ever have a chance to watch London get firebombed at night, have a camera with you above all the action in a plane. It looks really kick ass! Undead people with a personal beef are a real buzzkill, especially if they are kind of fast. And finally, you can convert an auditorium of freaked out humans into a crimson death pit full of savage, highly irritable viral zombies in minutes! What a great film!
The Human Centipede ll
The set up is ridiculous, and the main character is a creepy little bug-eyed butterball of sexual deviant, but when combined with the fact that the movie is black and white and less than an hour and a half long makes it feel like a visual short story. Comparisons to 'Eraserhead' immediately come to mind because of the surreal, dark vibe the movies share. Also, there are quite a bit of dark fluids and semi-solids that flow, and occasionally explode out of different orifices throughout both films. The main character in the movie is obsessed with the first installment of 'The Human Centipede' and is about to enter the construction phase of his own human centipede when the film begins. The character Martin just gets creepier and creepier as he rounds up unwilling subjects and leaves them tied up in his low rent version of an operating room/torture pit. Everyone who encounters him is disgusted by him, as you will be, and even his mother tries to kill herself because of her shame at how her life as an insane, bereaved widow with a dim-witted troll for a son has unfolded Come to think of it, almost everyone in the movie dies except for Martin. The one woman who made it out of the gutted warehouse even made an unwitting sacrificial offering in her own way. That scene really stood out the first time we saw the film. There is so much that is shocking to the senses that it has taken three viewings to remember exactly how much insanity is in this movie. It is a roller coaster ride that very purposefully stretches your limits.
Let's see what kinds of things get covered in this wonderfully sick offering: History of incest, check. Self mutilation, check. Matricide... yep got that one, too. Several skull cracking swings of a crowbar, wouldn't leave home without 'em! Okay, moving along... nudity ( boys and girls 'cause we are fair ), revenge beatings, staple gun surgery, multiple exposed tendon slices, a deliciously grueling tooth and hammer scene, laxative injections followed by an obligatory poop spray party and rape, a disgruntled link in the human centipede chain ripping his face away from the ass it had been surprisingly well stapled to, a spontaneous fourth term abortion ( fourth term?!?! ) and some head shots and slit throats. All while Martin shows us his emotional range as he goes from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat. Yep, that just about covers it, like the shiny black blood and lumpy greenish grey butt pudding that covers the actors in this Citizen Kane of creepy troll-turned-budget-surgeon flicks. Orson Wells must be proud to pass the torch on to Tom Six. I just can't wait for the third installment.
So there you are, faithful followers. My list of fun movies to check out during the most wonderfully horror filled time of year, Halloween. I hope that you enjoy these, and all of your own favorites as often as you can. Horror films are one of the things that make life great! I'll actually have a couple of posts up in the next few days that are Halloween related instead of music related. This blog isn't just about music and dogs. Right now Loincloth and Confessor are both rolling along with new songs and getting Marcus up to speed, respectfully. All is well in our little Sheltopia. Hope your own homes are as happy as ours!
Oh, Monica and I are fortunate in that so many of the things that we love in music, movies and art are nearly identical. Two of our long time favorite movies are the ones that cinched my love of the horror genre. In the last three weeks we have had the good fortune to have seen both "The Shining" and "Alien" in theaters here in town. Both movies have stood the test of time, and it was great to feel like we were reliving the past by seeing two 'old friends' again for the first time in years. Bravo, Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott! You have made our lives a little better!
Happy Halloween, everybody!