Halloween Scene: The Shining (1980) & Room 237 (2012)

The Shining movie PosterHave you ever had a movie in your life that has built up such legendary status that you almost don’t want to watch it? Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was like that for me, but not always. Back in high school I tried watching it a few times, but kept hitting roadblocks. One time, a bunch of us were watching it in a friend’s basement where we were sleeping over. I think we got to the bathtub scene when a friend started freaking out and demanded we turn it off. I begrudgingly obliged and it wound up being the kind of movie that got swept away.

As I mentioned when reviewing Stephen King’s book, I picked up a DVD copy of the movie last year, but still hadn’t gotten around to watching it until today and you know what? I kind of didn’t like it. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Shining (1980) & Room 237 (2012)

Batman Trade Post: Year One & All-Star Batman And Robin

batman year one Batman: Year One (DC)
Written by Frank Miller, drawn by Dave Mazzucchelli
Collects Batman #404-407

It’s amazing when you think about not only how many different approaches Batman can handle, but also how many seminal stories are attached to the character. Whenever you get or got into comics, these stories are tent poles that changed the game. You either read them as they happen or feel their influence later on down the line.

When I came to Batman around the time of Knightfall, I was experiencing the latter. That would have been around 1992, six years after Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and five after the “Year One” story was published in Batman. To say those were wildly influential stories for the character would still be an understatement. I’m far from an expert, but it seems like Frank Miller was continuing many of the elements developed in the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams era, but I can’t say that for certain because of my limited experience. Anyway, this was a more serious take on Batman.

But like I said, that take on the character was very much the norm when I started reading those comics and, even though it was held up on the same level as Dark Knight Returns, I must admit that I’d only read it once before last week when I thought it would be a good idea to read Miller’s Batbooks in chronological order (as far as the character goes, not real time). I was going to start with Year One, then check out All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder and then end with DKR and maybe Dark Knight Strikes Again if I could easily get my hands on it. There was a big hitch in that plan, but I’ll get to that later. The point is that I hadn’t read Year One in a long time, but really enjoyed the experience this time around.

If you’re reading this blog you probably already know the basic story of Year One, it’s a look at Batman’s first year in Gotham playing hero. While he’s trying to figure out the best way to run around in disguise, fight criminals without killing them and striking fear in the hearts of men, Selina Kyle is giving up her career as a whore to become a thief and Jim Gordon’s doing his best to clean up Gotham and its police force.

In fact — and I’m sure this has been said before — this book is far more Jim Gordon’s Year One (In Gotham) than it is a Batman story. Sure, Miller puts you inside Batman’s cowl as he figures out this crime fighting thing, but the far more interesting story being told here is of the morally imperfect man trying to do the right thing in his day job as a cop. He takes his lumps, gives as good as he gets and worries about raising his unborn child in such a terrible city. At the same time, he’s stepping out on his wife with Detective Sarah Essen. It’s uncomfortable reading that no matter what, but even more so if you were reading when I was and know that Gordon eventually gets with Essen.

The emotional weight of the books comes across from Miller’s subtle writing, but also from Dave Mazzucchelli’s pencils. He’s an artist that I don’t have much experience with, but I was struck by how the art felt equally loose and detailed. I’m not quite sure if that makes any sense, but I think it has something to do with the thick lines used and the warm yet muted color pallet used throughout the book.

All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder All-Star Batman And Robin, The Boy Wonder (DC)
Written by Frank Miller, drawn by Jim Lee
Collects All-Star Batman And Robin #1-9

I had a great time getting back to this seminal work and will add my name to the nearly infinitely long list of people who think it should be required reading for comic fans. It’s just such a great piece of comic book creation that it made my look at All-Star Batman And Robin, The Boy Wonder come off as skewed.

My intention was to see how Miller’s version of Batman grew from Year One to All-Star and into Dark Knight, but I found that comparing the two books did no favors for All-Star. While Year One is very subtle and nuanced, there’s no room for any of that in this other book jam packed with loudmouthed extras and sociopathic heroes. When my buddy Sean Collins reviewed the book in 2009, I had just re-read it and liked it. But this time around I flipped back to the negative side. I get that it’s parody and over the top, but I think there are too many elements of the basic Batman character left out of the proceedings that it’s not actually a Batman comic anymore. This time it felt kind of like one of those Mark Millar comics where he takes a basic superhero concept, “turns it on its ear,” adds profanity and sells a million copies. I’m not a fan of those books. Jim Lee’s artwork sure is pretty though.

I’m probably completely wrong on this because I’m also not a DKR scholar by any means, but the complete shift in tone from Year One to All-Star threw me for a loop. I think I could probably still enjoy this book on its own, separate from any other Batman, but right now, I’m going to put it aside and move on to something else.

Halloween Scene: Day Of The Dead (1985)

day of the dead scream factory I don’t think I’ve ever really given George A. Romero’s Day Of The Dead a fair shot. I’m not quite sure why. Back in my VHS-renting days at my local Family Video, I remember watching both versions of Night, Dawn and Day. Eventually I got one of the cheapo copies of the original movie on DVD and became a huge fan of Dawn to the point where I got that four disc DVD set several years back. But what about Day? Why had I only ever watched that movie once?

One reason might go back to a snafu at a video store in college. I went to school at Ohio Wesleyan in the small town of Delaware. There’s a nice main street that has (had?) a guitar store, a record store, several restaurants and a lot of other little places to check out. While walking around my freshman year, I saw a privately owned video store that was going out of business and therefore selling off its stock. I walked through and picked up a quartet of movies: Mom, Leprechaun In Space, Hot Potato and Day Of The Dead. The first three were just curiosities, but I was excited to own this Romero film. When I got back to my dorm, though, I slid the tape out of the cover and realized it was actually Dawn. I wound up falling even harder in love with that movie, to the point where I would have it on while studying or working on a paper and even fell asleep to it several times.

It’s funny to think of how my favorite horror movie list might look these days had I had easier access to Day. And, thanks to my buddy Rob passing me the recently released Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Day Of The Dead, now I do. Romero’s third zombie film was originally going to be a giant, big-budget, explosion-filled action film, but instead he decided to split up his deal to also make Knightriders and Creepshow. In the excellent documentary included on the disc, Romero says he loves the finished version because he distilled the original script into a smaller, more claustrophobic script that focused on a group of scientists and soldiers in an underground research facility trying to figure out what’s going on with the risen dead.

One of the things I love so much about Dawn is that includes a little bit of everything, but not to the detriment of anything. Day, however, is a much more focused, angry film that focuses on the tensions rising not only from these people living in a world where one of the basic realities of life has been abolished, but also the ones that come from their shared task which includes wrangling zombies for research purposes. It’s not like these survivors are holed up and focused mainly on living like they were in Dawn, they’re constantly staring death in the face, which means they can’t ignore it no matter how many RVs you set up with tropical decorations. There’s a lot of emotion in the works here and it’s amazingly well conveyed by the assembled cast.

day of the dead VHS

And, man, Tom Savini and his crew absolutely murdered the effects in this film. The gore gags are fantastic — made all the more realistic thanks to the use of actual pigs’ blood and entrails — and the zombie make-up and appliances are just insanely good looking. As much as I love Dawn, I like how the zombies in Day look less neon-y. And, of course, the best of the bunch is Bub, the zombie we see learning (or remembering) how to use some common household items. This is a theme Romero wanted to include more of in this film that gets picked up on in Land Of The Dead and probably the next to films Diary Of The Dead and Survival Of The Dead, which I haven’t seen yet. It such a cool theme that I never really thought about before, but why wouldn’t zombies begin to evolve after a fashion the longer they’re around, especially as they become the dominant life form.

If you’re a fan of Day Of The Dead or haven’t ever seen it, I highly recommend checking out the Scream Factory offering. The movie looks fantastic and I had a good time going through a few of the special features. The documentary has just about everyone involved with the film talking about what it was like to make the movie. Since I came to horror so long after this movie came out, I didn’t realize how reviled it was when it debuted in theaters. I’m glad to hear that it’s gone on an upswing in fan popularity over the years because it really is a complex film that says a lot about society without being ham-fisted and still including some of the all time best special effects of all time. What are you waiting for? Go watch it already!

Trade Post: Finding Gossamyr Volume 1

finding gossamyr vol 1 Finding Gossamyr Volume 1 (Th3rd World Studios)
Written by David A. Rodriguez, drawn by Sarah Ellerton

I find myself getting more and more into the idea of all-ages comics these days. In addition to covering some of those book for my regular gig over at Comic Book Resources, I also feel like there’s something really important about giving kids of a certain age the kinds of stories that feel a bit dangerous and teach lessons about perseverance without being too on-the-nose about it. When I was a kid, we had a ton of movies along those lines from The Goonies and E.T. to Monster Squad and plenty of other examples in between. It seems like, aside from a few examples, entertainment aimed at kids is a bit too clean and tidy. But, it also seems like those kinds of stories are being told in comics by people my age who were all influenced by those movies. As far as I’m concerned, the more of that the better.

So, when Th3rd World Studios sent me an email and asked if I’de be interested in reading a book called Finding Gossamyr about a couple of kids transported to a realm where magic and math are essentially the same thing, I was instantly interested. To get a bit more into the story details, the book stars orphaned brother and sister Jenna and Denny. Jenna’s trying to get Denny into an exclusive school where he can focus his strange ability to solve any problem placed in front of him, which is exactly what he does during the test. The problem? Solving the presented equation unlocks a door to another world called Gossamyr that’s being attacked by extradimensional jerkwads known as Desecrators. Both siblings use their abilities — Denny’s math-magic and Jenna’s veterinary skills — to make friends and stay alive in this wild new world.

There are a few key story elements that I really enjoyed in this work. For one thing, all of this starts because Jenna wants to get rid of her brother. Now, that sounds cold, but it’s also realistic. They don’t say it outright in the book, but I’m fairly certain Denny’s supposed to be autistic. I don’t have any experience with autism myself, but his character seemed in line with that of Max on Parenthood. She’s basically had to devote her entire life to her brother which has left her nearly no room to have one of her own. It was a selfish decision that sent their lives into crazy new places, but it’s handled realistically and with emotion. I love how complicated this becomes throughout the story, which adds to the overall feel of the book which comes off as very honest.

The fantasy elements are also pretty neat. There’s obviously a big, well developed world here that we’re only getting a small glance at, but the details we do get (math-magic, cool animals, boats that sail up mountains) are cool and easy to digest. A huge reason for all of this is thanks to Sarah Ellerton’s artwork which looks sort of figures you’d see in a CGI animated feature. I’ll always love traditional comic art styles, but it’s great seeing new and different approaches brought in to this field. She nails the human characters — which are well fleshed out by Rodriguez — but also the creatures whose facial expressions make them more than just obstacles to get over.

I’m not a big fantasy fan, though this book helped me figure out where the line is for me. If we’re dealing with a story like this one or The Wizard Of Oz or Labyrinth or The Return Of King Doug, where a person from the real world goes to the fantastical one (or vice versa), I’m interested. If it kicks off already set in that world, I’m less interested. This is odd because I don’t feel the same way about stories set on earth, other dimension or even other planets, but that’s where I’m at. I guess I appreciate having that character I can relate to who helps cut down on the barrier of entry. Maybe it’s because I don’t like having to figure out ALL the ways this new world is different on my own and prefer to learn them through the main character.

My only complaint about this book is that the coloring or printing seems a little dark at times. If the characters are wearing white, they’re always pretty easy to make out, but when you’re dealing with a dark monster attacking a dark-clad character at night it can be tough figuring out what’s happening. Luckily that’s not a common problem. There’s usually another background color running throughout the scene that helps separate the various figures and make everything pop.

I definitely enjoyed this book and look forward to further Gossamyr efforts from Rodriguez and Ellerton. But, the real question is whether I’d hand this book to my kid or another in my sphere. The answer is a firm yes. In fact, my 2-and-a-half-year old flipped through this book with me for a few minutes, but her attention span is crazy short. She seemed to like the art, but still hasn’t sat through a whole comic, let alone a trade. When she’s older, though, this will definitely be one of the books I show her.

Halloween Scene: The Halloween Marathon

halloween poster I wasn’t very creative when it came to my Halloween movie marathon this year. On the 30th, I was flipping through Netflix to see what was available on Instant when I realized I should ring in one of my favorite holidays with my favorite slasher movie, Halloween. As it turned out, I was too tired to finish the film (I seem to be turning more and more into an old man with each passing day), but I did wind up watching the rest of the original, 2, 4, 5 and Curse on Halloween. I popped the discs in my computer and watched them pretty small, but with a toddler running around, it’s not like I can watch these movies on what she calls “the big TV.”

As I mentioned in my list of movies that scared me, the original Halloween still gets to me. Since I’ve reviewed all of these movies before, though, I’ll probably just drop a few highlights and things I wanted to point out. I can’t believe I didn’t point this out before, but most of the kids in Haddonfield are complete asshats and are throughout the series. I also like how you don’t get much explanation for why Michael is the way  he is or how he can do the things he does. Also, it’s crazy how much you see of Michael in this film.

One question was answered for me on this watching. I’ve always thought it was crazy how Michael could plan out his kills so well and pose them and all that. This time, I noticed that Loomis said he’d been basically planning this night for 20 years. Makes sense to me! Here’s something else to think about: while Michael was planning, do you think he knew that he couldn’t be killed or did he go in thinking he was human?

I also realized another reason why this movie is so effective: it has so many different scary elements going on. There’s Carpenter’s score, the sense of being followed in broad daylight, the primal fear of the night, the kills, all of the performances from the young women, everything about Michael from his size to his faceless appearance, the fact that Laurie’s protecting children (something I never really thought about before). Chances are pretty good, this film hits on at least one of your fears.

halloween 2 poster Halloween II, which was penned by original writers John Carpenter and Debra Hill with Rick Rosenthal directing, carries on that legacy of combining multiple fears, this time adding in new elements: the fear of hospitals, the fear of being drugged and helpless and that sense of dread that comes from knowing what Michael can do and him still being loose (if that makes sense).

One big story detail that I never really thought about much was how young Michael Myers is. Loomis says he’s 21. That’s super young! Also, while the first one felt a lot more planned out — because it was, as noted above — Michael is a lot more reactionary in this one, trying to get the one that got away. This movie also picks up on something else I thought about while watching the first movie: Michael wasn’t super secretive about being out on Halloween, so people must have seen him, right? That’s mentioned a bit in this film.

I think this is a pretty solid sequel, but it lacks a little focus when it comes to characters. First it seems like the one nurse is the focus, then it switched to the one who gets drowned/burned, then back to the blonde nurse. Laurie’s of course up for the part, but she doesn’t really do much throughout the film until the end. And, as usual, Loomis is all over the place. That plus, the fact that Rosenthal’s no Carpenter, makes this movie not quite as good as the original, but still a solid offering in my opinion.

halloween 4 poster I skipped Season Of The Witch because I watched it casually a few weeks ago and it also holds no bearing on what I like to call the main series. For what it’s worth, I still love that weird movie. Anyway, the slasher’s story continued with Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers. This one introduces Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie who shares a strange connection with her uncle Michael who has been kept in an asylum for the ten years between 2 and 4. First and foremost it needs to be said how damn good Danielle Harris is as Jamie in this and the next film. She has a heaviness to her that doesn’t come easy for actors, especially child ones.

Anyway, this film continues a few of the themes I’ve noticed. The kids in this movie are even worse than the ones in the original. They straight-up make fun of Jamie for having a dead mom. Even worse, one of the kids sullies his MASK costume by being a total jerkwad. This film also expands on the parties involved in the Michael Myers threat. In the first one it was Loomis, teenagers and eventually the cops. With the second the teens were swapped out for hospital employees. In this one you get the hick-ish lynch mob as well. Plus, since we’re dealing with a story that takes place 10 years after the original, there’s people who have lived with that initial tragedy. I think there’s an interesting commentary here about how we bury our past to the point where it can come back and stab us with a shotgun.

Another more esoteric thing that came to mind while watching these movies is that they’re as much about regular people trying to comprehend the idea of an unkillable man as they are about the man himself. In the real world you can write certain things off as tricks of the light or your mind playing tricks on you, but in these movies, some of the characters discover that those things might also be Myers. They also have to deal with the insanity that comes from experiencing these things. In Loomis’ case, these recurring meet-ups have clearly played with his sanity.

Halloween 5 poster

Halloween 5 picks up where 4 left off, showing how Michael survived the end of the previous film and catching us up on Jamie since she stabbed her step mom. She’s not speaking now, which leads to some super creepy and sad moments, but now shares an even stronger connection with her recently revived uncle.

I actually don’t have too much to add to my initial review of this film. Harris is still awesome as Jamie. Michael’s still scary. Loomis is still increasingly crazy. One element of this film that really stood out to me this time around was how dangerous it felt. In addition to terrorizing a child, Michael kills Rachel, a character you would think was off limits.

While watching this movie I realized that one of the great things about the Halloween series is that the sequels are so easily distinguishable. After a while the Friday The 13th films get really confusing, same with the Nightmare movies, but each Halloween flick is different enough that they’re pretty easy to keep straight.

Halloween-The-Curse-of-Michael-Myers-movie-poster

The first time I went through and watched the sequels, I was surprised with how much I liked 4 and 5, and wound up not liking Curse. Much like my recent re-watching of Jason Goes To Hell, though, I found myself liking this film a lot more the second time around. I think a big part of that is knowing that it’s not super great and having lower expectations. Paul Rudd is stellar in this film, bringing a crawling intensity to his portrayal of an older Tommy Doyle. I will say that this film tries a little too hard to make connections to the previous films though. Jamie (not Harris) is in the beginning, her baby is a major part of the story, then you’ve got the Strodes inexplicably living in the Myers house (was her dad unable to sell it and just had to move in?). I think there’s a real tragic story behind Mr. Strode’s decent into assholery.

Even though this isn’t a great movie and I didn’t see it until much later, I feel like I can relate to aspects of it a lot more because it was filmed in the 90s which were a very formative decade for me. There’s a Power Ranger in the kid’s bedroom. Plus, the music and clothes are of my youth, so even though I know it’s not great and I’ve only seen it twice, there’s a familiarity there that I relate to on some level.

And with that, we conclude what I consider the main Halloween series. When Jamie Lee Curtis returned for Halloween H2O and Resurrection, those films ignored parts 46 which I still think is kind of lame. Anyway, Michael Myers is still my favorite slasher and I think this series still holds up pretty well, especially if you think of the original as more of an outlier of quality (in the positive direction) than an indicator of the whole series which is far below that. This season I also watched every single Friday The 13th film for a list I did on Topless Robot called The 20 Most Deserving Victims In The Friday The 13th Films and I can easily say that Halloween is the more solid franchise, though there will always be a soft spot in my horror heart for all the classic 80s slasher franchises.

One last quick thought about the series. Whether conscious or not, I think these films share a lot of connections with Night Of The Living Dead. I know they’re completely different, but the opening scenes of both movies reminded me of one another. Night starts with that long shot of the car slowly driving up the winding road while Halloween has the long POV shot of young Michael taking out his sister. Then, in the second film someone’s actually watching Night. Plus, as I noted above, these films focus on regular people dealing with horrific elements that challenge their traditional thoughts on death.

Halloween Scene: Ten Notable Movies That Scared This Jaded Horror Fan

I’ve seen a lot of horror movies since I started getting into the genre around the age of 16. Like a lot of horror fans, I feel like I’ve become somewhat jaded over the years. Once you see enough of these things, you can see the Matrix a little bit and know when a scare is coming — if you can tell the difference between an impending jump scare and a legit one, you’ve got the super scardar. And yet, there are still the scenes that scared us when we started out and even though they’re fewer and farther between these days, the new films that still give us the willies or come out of nowhere to spook us. I figured with Halloween still in the air — and inspired by awesome horror blogger Stacie Ponder doing something similar over on her excellent Final Girl blog — I’d run down the ten movies that scared me over the years. I’m sure there’s more out there in the world, but these are the ones that came to mind, either because they entered my life at just the right time, scared me for a moment or created an atmosphere that still ooks me out to this day. So, in no particular order, here’s the ten movies the still spook me in no particular order. Consider yourself warned, spoilers abound after the jump!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: Ten Notable Movies That Scared This Jaded Horror Fan