Monday, August 29, 2011

Fun At The Hollywood Wax Museum

TheGirl has been on a much-needed little mini-vacation these past few days to the heart of the Ozarks... also known as Branson, Missouri. No, I didn't go to any of the stupid shows that Branson is most known for (we stayed far away from the Dixie Stampede, thank you very much, Dolly Parton can suck it) but we did enjoy a day at Silver Dollar City. I rode some awesome roller coasters and drank my weight in multi-flavored Icees.

Branson also boasts lots of fun little tourist trap museums. This includes the Hollywood Wax Museum (pictured above), for which I was super excited. Here are some horror- and nonhorror-related highlights from that trip. Let's get our wax on.

So normally at these wax museums they make the display to where you can get in there with the wax dudes or dudettes and take a picture. But where were three of the biggest icons of horror located? Yup - Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees were all up high in a balcony somewhere where I couldn't get near them. Bastards. I was, however, close enough to notice that the Michael Myers wax statue was an absolutely horrible likeness.

See? Even with the mask on, I can tell that this looks like shit.

Other horror people I couldn't get close enough to also include...
Linda Blair all tied up and possessed from The Exorcist...

The Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera...

... and Elvira and Hellboy. 

Oh well. I still got some nice shots with...
Frankenstein's monster...


Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter...

... and everybody's favorite misunderstood murderer, Leatherface.

Oh yeah, the Cryptkeeper was there, too. Isn't he cute?

And because any self-respecting horror fan hates all things Twilight...
... here's me strangling Bella Swan.


Loving on Matthew McConaughey.

Hanging with The Godfather himself.

Sailing with Jack on the Titanic (I really couldn't resist).

Chilling with the guys from Terminator 2.

Kicking butt with Charlie's Angels.

Getting frisky with Hugh Hefner.

Smooching on David Hasselhoff.

Getting Gone with the Wind with Scarlett and Rhett. 
Rhett is also shitty looking... Seriously, does that look like Clark Gable to anyone?

Trying (and failing) to be as cool as Sam Jackson.

And being cute with Marilyn and Bogie.

All in all, a pretty fun time. Who knew you could meet so many celebrities in one day? Even the dead ones? Wax makes everything cool.

Monday, August 22, 2011

UPDATE on My "Say What, Netflix?" Post

Okay, this is too weird. A few weeks ago, I posted a little snippet about how somebody at Netflix had written an absolutely horrid description for the classic 1954 flick Creature from the Black Lagoon (original post is here). It read like this:

"A legend in the history of B-movie fare. How many female scientists travel the Amazon bedecked in bikini-wear calculated to charm an anaconda off a branch?"

Ugh. It makes me shudder having to write it out again. BUT, as I'm perusing through the movies in my queue yet again, via my Playstation 3, the other day, I notice something strange. Lo and behold, the description for CFTBL had been changed. To something that actually makes sense - and that actually tells you something about the movie. It now reads:

"A group of scientists embarks on a perilous hunt for marine fossils deep in the amazon, where they encounter a strange and lonely amphibious creature."

Ah, that's so much better. This description, however, is only on the Netflix menu for internet ready devices, like my PS3. The original horrendous description is still on the Netflix website. You're close, Netflix, so close! I believe that one person can make a difference, so if someone working there reads this, please take those terrible sentences off of the internet forever and make all the grammar bitches of the world happy once again.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Random Stephen King-ness: The Dead Zone (Viking, 1979)

I used to be a big reader, and would pick up a book whenever I had any kind of free time and, to use a cliche, get lost in the story between the pages. Now the only time I can get my lazy brain to pick up a book is at work when I'm on lunch break. 

Anyway. I haven't bought any new books lately so I had to grab something off my shelf the other day to take to work for said lunch break. My Stephen King bookshelf is always a good place to look for something to read that I know I'm going to like. I hadn't read The Dead Zone in several years so I was excited to become reacquainted with it. And when I was done, I realized how completely in love with this book I am.

The Dead Zone is the story of Johnny Smith, who is in a terrible car accident the night he takes his girlfriend, Sarah, to the county fair. He falls into a coma and doesn't awaken until four and a half years passes. Johnny soon finds out that not only has the world changed, but he has too. When he touches a person or object, he gets psychic visions of future or past events - usually not good events. As Johnny recovers, this new "gift" allows him to help several people, but when he gets a terrifying vision of the world from an up-and-coming politician, he has to make the hardest decision of his life.

Anthony Michael Hall as John Smith in
The Dead Zone TV series
This book absolutely KILLS me. I read one completely unbelievable review of someone who didn't like this book because it was too "depressing." The reviewer wanted more psychic-vision-action and less emotional humdrum. While I hate to badger someone for their opinion, I cannot agree with or understand this. Anonymous reviewer, I give you Literature Lesson No. 1: The Dead Zone is a tragedy and Johnny Smith is its tragic hero. Which means that bad shit will happen, especially to the hero, and things will not work out all right in the end.

Johnny is much more than the main character of the piece, he is the element that the whole book hinges on. What Stephen King created here is probably his most successful and sympathetic character EVER. Quite simply, you have to like this person or the book just does not work. John Smith (no middle initial), as the name suggests, is the epitome of the Everyman. He is an average, nice guy who loves his girlfriend, his parents, and his job as a high school teacher. Everything he says and the way he deals with the situations he is thrust into makes you like and respect the man all the more. And hopefully it kills you just as much as it does me the way people treat him and the physical and emotional torture he goes through throughout the course of the book.

Actually, the only time that Johnny sways from his good demeanor is while he's having the visions. Sometimes he is able to essentially become the people he is seeing - most famously when he informs Sheriff Bannerman that deputy Frank Dodd is the Castle Rock strangler, a serial killer who has raped and strangled several women over the past few years. While handling evidence from one of the crime scenes, Johnny is put in Dodd's place, speaking in a scary voice, voicing Dodd's thoughts during the murder. This, and other incidents during Johnny's visions, hurts other people's perceptions of him, frightening those who witness it. 

Then there are the other people who treat Johnny like crap because of his visions. Of course it's logical that people wouldn't believe him. A real, honest-to-goodness psychic? Sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel. But all the detractors and people that attack him personally for what he can do makes the reader angry. He has helped people - saved a person's house from burning, caught a sadistic murderer, found a doctor's long lost mother - and still people avoid him like the plague. Even those who believe him don't want to be around him, don't want him touching them for fear of what he might see about themselves. 

Johnny never wants the limelight or even recognition for what he can do. His reaction to his most violent visions is instinctual - to help people. Even as reporters and anonymous letters call him a fraud and a terrible human being, it doesn't really seem to faze him because he never asked for any of this. He doesn't want to use his new power, but when he sees something truly frightening, he can't help but to try to help because that's just the kind of man he is, detractors be damned. The way he handles himself with these people just breaks your heart because we as the reader of course know he's not a fake and therefore we are always on his side, and we immediately loathe anybody who says something against this wonderful man that we have come to love.

Over time, Johnny begins to deteriorate. King describes other people's thoughts of him: a skinny, frail, and sickly looking man that probably doesn't have much time left. And Johnny knows it. As he investigates the politician who will bring about nuclear war, Greg Stillson, he knows this is his last chance to act on his most important vision. His attempt to assassinate Stillson fails/succeeds, as he doesn't kill Stillson but does manage to ruin his political career forever. Johnny dies shortly after - yes, the main character that we have loved and sympathized with through this whole book, whom we wanted nothing but good things to happen to, succumbs to the inevitable fate of the tragic hero. 

Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith in
David Cronenberg's film version of The Dead Zone.
His mission essentially accomplished, how should we feel about this hero's demise? His head injury as a child, coupled with the car crash in his twenties and the toll the visions take, allow a brain tumor to form. His miraculous recovery from his coma was apparently not meant to last, as fate (and perhaps a higher power) had other things in store for him. And Johnny should be admired for what he did with his second chance, even though we are sad and angry about what he had to go through.

So what I'm trying to say here is that I admire and love what King has created. As a literary device, I don't understand why Johnny Smith and The Dead Zone is not studied in English classes. Seriously. More than Hamlet, this is a tragedy of our time and even though it was written 30 years ago, all these events could just as easily happen today. John Smith is the ultimate sympathetic character, who deals with adversity and difficult decisions with integrity and strength and then must pay for his choices. He's one of the best characters Stephen King ever came up with and one that should be looked up to and studied.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Award? For Me? Why, Thank You!

It's been a while since any awards have made the rounds here, and random though they might be, they're still fun to give and to receive! My fellow horror sister Jenny Krueger (her blog is Memoirs of a Scream Queen...) recently thought I deserved the Liebster Blog award.

I have no idea what that is or what it means but it must be cool, so thank you Jenny! Love you too. And now I have to follow the rules and re-gift the award to 5 other deserving blogs with less than 200 followers so's they can get some dang traffic! My picks are:

My blog buddy Maynard at Maynard Morrissey's HORROR MOVIE DIARY

Nicki at Hey! Look Behind You!

Fred [the Wolf] at Full Moon Reviews (come on, y'all, follow this guy! He's great!)

My new Project Terrible friend at MONDO BIZARRO

Andrew at Who Wants Taters???, who writes some of the funniest shit I've read online!

It was so hard to pick just five because there are tons of blogs that I read that certainly deserve a lot more traffic and followers! Please don't feel left out!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Catching Up On The Classics: Targets (1968)

In the book I reviewed recently, Shock Value by Jason Zinoman, the author wrote a good chunk about this movie called Targets, comparing and contrasting it to Psycho as one of the movies that brought in the wave of New Horror films in the 70s. I had never heard of Targets before, but the emphasis that Zinoman put on this movie made me extremely curious about it.

Targets is the story of aging horror movie actor Byron Orlock (splendidly and amazingly played by Boris Karloff). Orlock feels like a dinosaur that no one is scared of anymore in a world that is becoming increasingly more violent. At the same time, a young man named Robert Thompson is slowly going mad until his violent tendencies send him on a homicidal rampage with his sniper rifle. The two mens' worlds collide when Robert attacks people at a drive-in theater where Orlock is making his final public appearance.

This movie was absolutely fan-freaking-tastic. I am so freaking in love with it right now and I cannot believe that I had never even heard of it before! Why is this never on anybody's lists of the greatest movies ever??? Okay, that is perhaps a bit over-exaggeration but not really because I was obviously very impressed with Peter Bogdanovich's directorial debut. This is, in fact, probably one of the most successful and effective debuts I've ever seen. Very well shot and a really amazing story.

The scenes with Orlock and his associates were to some people rather boring and not really in conjunction with the other half of the film but I really enjoyed these parts. I think I understood the intention better after having read Zinoman's book and comprehended the finality of the Old Horror era that Orlock apparently ruled in. His despair over the end of his career and appeal is understandable, and it's sweet how all the people around him care about him so much, even if he seems resistant to their affections.

The humor in the film is some fucking funny stuff. Peter Bogdanovich himself as Sammy was no doubt my favorite part of the whole piece, as the scene where he shows up to Orlock's hotel room drunk is kind of masterfully acted. But Karloff has a great moment in this part too. Waking up hung over, Orlock is walking to the door and gets scared by his own reflection in the mirror. So, so, so, so funny.

Our killer Robert starts out the movie as anything but. He has a very Leave it to Beaver home life that should make him happy (even though he and his wife have to live with his parents - awkward, much?) but something inside him, in a way that is never explained, is making him have violent thoughts about killing people.

When he finally takes action on these thoughts, which he tries talking to his wife about one night and gets the brush off (although she did have to go to work - understandable excuse), he carries out his plans methodically and emotionally. He kills his wife, mother, and an innocent grocery boy in a chillingly calm manner and leisurely eats a sandwich before killing about ten people on the freeway. Robert only shows emotion when he is finally caught after his drive-in massacre, when Orlock comes upon him and slaps him silly. Orlock's line "Is this what I was afraid of?" proves that these kinds of killers are nothing but cowards, as Robert whimpers like a baby in a corner before being taken away by police. He is in fact quite a bumbling killer, continually dropping stuff at the scenes of his crimes.

Robert's murder spree on the freeway was undoubtedly one of the most chilling and horrible things I've seen. It is simply - in fact, almost boringly - shot and there is no blood; you only see the people die as they appear in the rifle's crosshairs. What makes this scene so powerful is the very fact of just what Robert is doing - he is nonchalantly sniping random people as they are driving down the freeway. He hits one, and he goes right on to the next. This is sadly nothing new in our reality and it was really nothing new back then either. This movie came shortly after Charles Whitman climbed a clock tower in Texas and gunned down over a dozen people. The randomness of victims in more recent school shootings is also a parallel. And with these real-life incidents in mind, Robert's actions become all the more disturbing because not only can this happen in real life, it actually has happened in real life, too many times.

Direction and camera work are all fairly top notch. When Robert is shooting people, there are a lot of POV shots - the crosshairs in the gun, through the hole in the movie screen - putting the audience in the killer's shoes, but never really inside his mind or motivations. My favorite bit was when Robert was sitting on the bed in the dark smoking, and the light source is seemingly coming from the burnt tip of the cigarette. The effect was perhaps rudimentarily executed but the intent was there and it was very cool to watch.

I can clearly see why Jason Zinoman chose this film to introduce his analysis of horror films from the 70s. It pretty much lays out his hypothesis of how old horror monsters were replaced with new human monsters, with the great Boris Karloff himself symbolically passing the torch. Targets is everything the poster says it is - remarkable, terrifying, and thrilling. But I'd also add hilarious, iconic, and innovative.