Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: Zombies vs Nazis: A Lost History of the Walking Dead

Since I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the writing genius of Scott Kenemore - Zombie, Ohio - I thought it imperative to read more great stuff from this author who has immersed himself in the world of the undead. Next on the list was Zombies vs Nazis: A Lost History of the Walking Dead, and though I much preferred Kenemore's writing in novelization, this book was no doubt a joy to read as well.

What COULD have happened at the end of the book.
The story is told in a series of letters, or reports, to SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich by three Nazi officers sent to Haiti during WW2 to research the possible existence of zombies and to harness the secret for creating these monsters to make an army of Nazi zombies. These three characters are Gunther Knecht (the leader of the three), Franz Baedecker, and Oswaldt Gehrin.

Though not technically a narrative book, Zombies vs Nazis does read similar to a novel, as each letter from the three Nazi inspectors tells a story of their progressing findings about zombies. They meet a zombie, meet several Bocors and Mambos - priests and priestesses with the power to raise zombies - and eventually learn and participate in the ritual to create a zombie. I don't know how much, if any, of this is part of actual Voodoo mythology, but it makes sense for the story.

I was immensely pleased to find that Zombies vs Nazis contained the same dry/black humor that made Zombie, Ohio such a joy to read. In this book, the humor comes with a bit more subtlety, like the perfect English and big words the inspectors use to describe the ridiculous situations they are in. Personal parenthetical comments given by Knecht were perhaps the best ones. I especially like the part where Father Gill (a clergyman working in Haiti) has introduced Knecht to the Bocor named Grandmarnier, like the "libation," and Knecht says "Though this surprised me at the time, in retrospect, I should have known that a drunkard like Gill would naturally associate with people bearing a relationship to alcohol in one way or another."

Author Scott Kenemore
The entirety of "Communication 10" from Inspector Baedecker to Heydrich, however, is the highlight of the book. Nothing to do with zombies, but it is freaking hilarious when read in the context of previous chapters. Read the book and you'll know! The personalities of each character are cleverly laid out in the missives in the way each person writes and the things that others have to say about them. This chapter in particular is more than an indication of Kenemore's talent for the hilarious and obscure.

The illustrations in the book by Adam Wallenta, albeit a bit sparse, also add to the humor and overall tone of the book. I love the style of the drawings, with the subtle detail and thick black outlines. The zombies look both gross and very, very funny. Page 204 is probably my favorite! In fact the overall look of the book is part of the appeal, because aside from the illustrations, the pages containing Knecht's letters are splattered with blood.

Perhaps it was just an unfortunate consequence of the style the book was written in, but I was a little disappointed at the lack of bloody zombie action! It's the gorehound in me, I apologize. When looking at the story as a whole, though, I can't help but love what Kenemore has presented here. I also can't help but believe that this book would make a fantastic zom-com film. I'm thinking actors like Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, and/or Harvey Keitel for the main roles. Somebody get on that, right now.

As far as I'm concerned, the self-proclaimed zombie expert Scott Kenemore has done it again and delivered a comical zombie tale that shows the disastrous side of people's attempts to control zombies or otherwise mess around with the walking dead (Day of the Dead, anyone?). Zombies vs Nazis: A Lost History of the Walking Dead is a fun, fast, and immensely entertaining read for anybody who loves zombies and the hijinks they can create.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Project Terrible: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

Maynard, start running. I have finally stopped playing Uncharted 3 long enough to grudgingly watch Manos: The Hands of Fate and all I can say is... YOU. ARE. SO. FREAKING. DEAD. I am literally two minutes into this movie and I'm dreading the next hour. I mean, this has to be a joke, right? This can't really be an actual movie, can it?

Well, yes and no. A quick search on the Wikipedia tells me that Manos was made on a bet by a fertilizer salesman. A fertilizer salesman. Okay. It was shot in and around El Paso, Texas with some community theater people as the stars and a budget that was pooled together by everyone from what they could find in between their couch cushions. How in the hell did they even get this played at a theater?

Anyway, the "plot" of the movie is as such: A family of three - mother Maggie, daughter Debbie, and father Mike - get lost on the road toward their vacation spot and end up spending the night at some house where there's a weird guy named Torgo who worships some "Master" and the Master has six ugly wives and nothing else makes sense or is worth talking about. Oh, there's also a random couple that keeps making out in their car. What do they have to do with the plot of the movie? Nothing. Grrrrr.

Where do I start with the bad in this movie? The obvious thing is the production quality which is... well, let's check out thesaurus.com for all the synonyms for "bad": abominable, atrocious, garbage, godawful, beastly, inferior, inadequate, poor, substandard, unacceptable. Yup, that about sums it up. The people who made this movie admittedly didn't know what the hell they were doing and dear goodness, does it show. The editing, however, is a thousand times worse. There are countless mistakes in continuity and an obscene amount of jump cuts that made me cringe every time it happened. Oh, did I mention the part where the clapboard comes into frame? Bad, so bad.

And the sound - jeebus. For the first twenty minutes, there is absolutely no ambient sound at all which is something I have never seen before. All you hear is the shitty dialouge and the annoying music that sounds like it would be more appropriate in a jazz bar. There were times, though, that I would have preferred no sound over the incomparable shitty acting by these theater geeks. When they weren't just standing there delivering their lines like pieces of wood, they were giving stupid awkward pauses that lasted about five seconds before delivering their lines. Several times there were awkward pauses where everyone in the scene stood around and didn't say anything! It was so freaking aggravating.

Let's talk about everyone's favorite crazy guy - Torgo! He's the Master's crony and man-bitch who does his bidding. He's also a guy who repeats himself a lot and walks around like he's either really drunk or trying to hold in a large dump, I can't decide. All I have to say is that I hope the actor was drunk while making this movie because that way he would have no memory of the horrid stuff he did.

The Master is actually played pretty well by whatever-his-name-is but the women playing his six wives are another story. They suck. Really, really suck. Which is kind of sad considering that the Master's wives don't do much except argue with each other for ten minutes about whether or not they should kill Debbie. It's really the worst argument I've ever heard. They literally say the exact same thing about seven times so it's no surprise that they can't come to an agreement. The wives also (famously) get into several spectacular cat-fights with each other for no apparent reason. They include some random bitch slapping and the shoving of faces into the sand, but I found that these fights were sadly not as sexy as they could have been. For shame.

So, Maynard, congratulations. This is the worst, most obscure movie ever made and I can now add my name to the very short list of people who were able to sit through the whole thing. Hopefully I will never have to do it again.

I did kinda dig the Master's cloak, though. When he spreads his arms out there are these two huge red hands on it. It'd be awesome to have that thing just to wear around the house.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Random Non-Horror Reviews

It's no secret that sometimes people need a break. Recently, I got a break not only from my work, but also from my whole freaking state and the people I see every day. And it was glorious. When I got back, I fully intended to get right back into watching those good ole horror movies again, but I just wasn't into it. It was time to watch some of those other movies that are out there, and thank goodness that the two films I randomly picked out from Netflix all turned out to be really good.

The Killing Jar (2010)
I will freely admit that I only wanted to watch The Killing Jar because Michael Madsen was in it. Plain and simple, that was the only motivation I needed. Who doesn't love this man, really? You know you do, so go out and watch this movie.

The Killing Jar tells the story of several patrons at a small town diner who become suspicious of a strange and rude man who enters the establishment late at night. Reports of the brutal murder of an entire family spook them into thinking that this man (Madsen) is the culprit.

Along with Madsen, this movie actually has a very nice and recognizable cast. The lone waitress of the diner, Noreen, is played by the wonderful Amber Benson, best known (at least by me) as Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Harold Perrineau is John Dixon, another stranger in the diner. Danny Trejo is the tough diner cook and Lew Temple is the sheriff with a big mouth and no courage. Later on, there's also Jake Busey, who is the same sleazy character he pretty much always plays. In fact, Madsen, Temple, and Trejo all play to their respective types in this movie which was disappointing at points. Madsen even seems a little bored with his role in certain scenes, but then other times, he's right on the mark. Bad day, maybe?

More so than Madsen himself, I'd have to say that his shotgun is a big star of the film. I mean, look at that thing! What the hell is that? With the shells on top? That's so AWESOME! Anyway. The Killing Jar is a lot more bloody than I thought it was going to be and there are some great effects work on several people's deaths. Heads are blown off and throats are cut. Keeps it interesting.

For a small film with really not a lot going on, I was surprised at how into it I was. There are several twists in the plot, and even though they become rather predictable once the story gets going, they no doubt added to what otherwise would have been a rather boring film. Once we really get into the meat of the plot, there's enough there to make you want to watch the rest of the movie, if only to see how it ends.

Trust (2010)
Hello, my name is Michele.
Hi, Michele.
And I am a Law and Order: SVU-aholic.
Thank you, Michele.
I am so addicted to everything about that show - the hard-hitting stories, the intense drama, and the unabashed show of emotion. 

What does all this have to do with this 2010 flick Trust, you ask? Well, again, I didn't need much more motivation to watch it after reading the synopsis which could very well have been an episode of SVU. Clive Owen plays the father of 14-year-old Annie who becomes the victim of an online sexual predator. And while the father obsesses over finding the man who hurt her, the daughter delves deeper into confusion and despair.

Though this sounds like your standard Lifetime movie fair, the progressing story turns out to be a little different. One of the biggest things that annoyed me, or that I had trouble understanding, was the fact that for most of the movie, Annie doesn't even believe that she was raped by this man. She is admirably a little put off when she finally meets up with her online friend, "Charlie," and finds out that he is about 15 years older than he said he was. Still, she goes with him to his motel room and... you know what happens. She's convinced that the two of them just had sex, and though she has strange feelings about it, she is still protective of Charlie and is constantly angry at her father for trying to catch him.

The movie is not so much about the apprehension of Charlie than it is about the disintegration of the family and everybody's mixed feelings about the situation. Annie is young and impressionable and I can't honestly remember what it was like to be 14 so it's hard for me to get into her mindset. I am, however, very attracted to Clive Owen's portrayal of Annie's father, Will. He never hides his emotions about what happened to his daughter, even when those emotions and actions are causing more problems with the family. Will's character is probably the most honest and heartbreaking one of the whole piece.

The conclusion may not be enough to satisfy what people want to see happen - Charlie is never caught - but for what the story was about it makes sense. It's about Annie and her father finally understanding each other and each other's feelings and coming back to what they used to be before their world fell apart. Trust is a very effective drama, and quite a surprising one for it being directed by David Schwimmer!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ghostbusters Mini-Tour in NYC

I'm back from the Big Apple, people. It was a great trip all around, just so's you know. We had great weather, saw lots of sites, and, aside from the blisters on my feet from all the walking, it was a fantastic time and I'm ready to go back and catch up on all the stuff we didn't have time to see.

I went to New York City because a friend from high school lives there and it was a great excuse to go visit her and see the city, as well. One thing I made her do was go to the famous Ghostbusters firehouse, now known as Hook & Ladder No. 8 on North Moore Street in Tribeca.

And here it is as it stands today!

And there I am standing by it! I saw some dudes inside, but was too chicken to ask if I could go in. I know this location was only used for the exteriors, but they apparently have some memorabilia from the movies hanging around inside. I don't think they would have let us, anyway. Boo.

During our trip, we made a stop at the beautiful New York Public Library, which, as Ghostbusters fans know, is also a landmark from the film. It's where the guys encounter the terrifying librarian ghost and is also the first shot of the movie, with that spooky music playing over it.

The building looks a little dingy in the movie (maybe it was just how it was filmed or something) but in real life, it is an absolutely gorgeous building outside and in.

And here's me with the lion on the right side of the steps, the one that appears in the first shot of the movie.

I know there's a lot of other places we could have seen - Dana's apartment building or maybe the hotel where Slimer shows up - but we only had three full days for sightseeing so I was happy to work these two locations into our itinerary. Yay for Ghostbusters!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Michele will be MIA...

...for the next week or so while she goes on a much needed little vacation to the fabulous NEW YORK CITY! Woot woot! It may take me a while to get back in the blog of swinging things (or something like that) but I will return. Doesn't mean I'll have anything interesting to say when I return or anything, but whatever.

And Blog Buddy Maynard, I apologize but I did not get to watch my Project Terrible movie from you yet! But it's the first thing on my agenda when I get back, in case you think I forgot about you.

Be well, bloggers!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Project Terrible: 7 Angels in Eden (2007)

Two bad movies down, two to go. Wolf Ninja at Gaming Creatively had well enough reason to punish me after the last Project Terrible round, where I made him watch the apparently horrendous and un-watchable film Kill the Scream Queen. I sorry, Wolf Ninja. For the most part, you (along with Mondo) got your revenge on me with 7 Angels in Eden.

This is usually the paragraph where I give a brief synopsis of the film but that is a little difficult with this one. All I gotta say is that the pretentious synopsis given on most websites, which was probably written by the pretentious creator, has absolutely nothing to do with what happens in 7 Angels in Eden. It talks about how the two main characters, Will and Mia, are maybe the last people left on Earth and they have to fight these supposed "seven angels" to get to "the light" and escape "the darkness" in this barren landscape that looks like Texas, and maybe become the new Adam and Eve to repopulate the earth.

No. Just... no. That is absolutely ridiculous and I did not get any of that while watching this drivel. You want to know what the movie is about? These two guys have gotten into a car accident - there are several hideously blue-tinted flashbacks of a couple people severely injured in a hospital - and are stuck in a sort of limbo or purgatory or whatever together as they are heading toward "the light," or death.

Or something stupid like that, I don't know.

The point is that for a good 40 or 45 minute chunk out of this movie, the viewer has no idea what the fuck is going on. Will and Mia are driving around, stopping in random places, talking about stupid stuff, and acting like they are high as kites and don't know what the hell they are doing. This whole thing is so freaking confusing and frustrating that I was ready to quit on this movie after the first third (I'm surprised I even got that far with how pissed off I was) but I trucked through. The first part is also filmed in this horrible orange filter, not as bad as the blue filter though, which is supposed to give it this dream- or nightmare-like quality, but the use of it is inconsistent. It's there for all of the first part, then the coloring changes sporadically after that from the orange to normal coloring and it's just silly. Doesn't make any sense.

There aren't really any effects in the movie, aside from the rampant abuse of color correction, but the beginning and the end have something so atrocious that I have to mention it. There's some introductory and expository text in both these parts with a voiceover by someone who has obviously never done a voiceover in his life, and you can't read a word of the text (which is some more drivel that has nothing to do with the movie) because they have again used some digital effect similar to what I have on my own Mac. It just looks so amateurish and ridiculous. Plus, the voice sounds all scary and Satan-like, talking about the evil "angels" and it sets up the audience for some horror movie, when the movie itself has a completely different mood and tone. 

So here's the but. I can kind of see how this could have been a really good movie. I can see the potential in the direction and the ingenuity of shots; I just think the filmmaker was limited in his resources. After all, digital will never look as beautiful as film, you can't argue that. And the story itself isn't that bad really. If everything could just be cleaned up and make a little more sense, this could be a pretty compelling piece. As it is, though, it reads as nothing but a dream-like experimental film that reminds of some of the stuff my classmates and I produced in college.

There is symbolism and meaning and aforethought to 7 Angels in Eden, I really see that. But I can't overlook the messy plot points, the cheap effects, or the weird and annoying acting, especially by the director himself, Marshall Mills who plays Will, and the people who play the "angels." These seven weird people they meet randomly off the side of the road still don't make that much sense to me. It took me a while, but I finally realized that these guys were representing the 7 deadly sins and they kept talking about how they didn't want Will and Mia to go away, so were they sent to them, as they were dying, to tempt them to go to hell? I don't know. And I think I need to stop analyzing this movie right now.

Seven Angels in Eden is still a fairly terrible movie that has this air about it like it thinks it is so important. And indeed, it might have been, but there are just too many things wrong here and nothing that warrants subsequent viewings. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Project Terrible: Little Hercules (2009)

Um, okay. This movie is obviously not my usual fare, but as Project Terrible demands it, I had to watch this atrocious kid movie given to me by Thomas D over at Cinema Gonzo. I'm all for some kick ass Roman mythology, don't get me wrong, but Hulk Hogan as Zeus? In a family movie that was originally in 3D? I'm already pissed off.

Hercules, the 12-year-old half-god half-mortal son of Zeus, wants to get off Mount Olympus for a while and check out what it's like to be a mortal. Zeus is mad about this, but still tries to help him in his journey, and Hera, as mythology tells us, thwarts him at every turn, trying to banish Hercules from Mount Olympus forever. Hercules befriends a boy named Curtis ("Little C") and tries to make a name for himself in the school's athletics department, competing in several Olympic-like events.

Little Hercules is played by Richard Sandrak, a young man known throughout the world for being one of the youngest bodybuilders. In fact, I think his real nickname is actually "Little Hercules." I saw this kid on Ripley's Believe It or Not and he is more ripped than I will ever be, I'm sad to say. Other actors in this hot mess include the aforementioned Hulk Hogan as Zeus, whose overacting should be considered a felony; Elliot Gould as Socrates, who is usually a fine character actor but not in this garbage; and even Judd Nelson, whose dishwater acting should also be considered a felony. Also, the chick playing Hera has the most annoying accent I have ever heard.

Seriously, this is the kind of "acting" and action that you rarely see outside of middle school or even elementary school plays. All the actors' gestures, the fight sequences... they were all half-assed, like you could tell that they didn't even care about making their actions realistic or believable. Yes, the whole plot of the movie is supposed to be unbelievable - based on mythology and all that - but there had to have been a better way for them to pull this off.

I think the mythology part was actually fairly accurate so that's one point for the movie. The thing I found most annoying though was that when Hercules arrives in Burbank, California after skateboarding down from Mount Olympus on his shield (I SWEAR TO GOSH, THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS), and tells people that he is Hercules, son of Zeus, from Mount Olympus and all that - some of the people seem to have no knowledge of the legend of Hercules at all. They're just all, "Oh hi, Hercules," like it's only a slightly weird name to have. I'm pretty sure that most everyone in the world, young and old, at least know the basic story of Hercules. Seriously.

The production value is just awful throughout. It looks like there was a lot of green screen work for the scenes of Zeus and Hera on Mount Olympus and it's terrible! The whole area is blindingly white and shiny and doesn't look the least bit real. When Zeus and this other big guy get into a "fight of the Gods!", Zeus is throwing these ridiculous looking lightning bolts at the guy that are so amateurishly done. Then they have another fight later on in "Babylon," which looks exactly like one of the fighting areas from Mortal Kombat. Probably the worst part was when Zeus appeared to Hercules in the water of the toilet bowl at Curtis's house. THE TOILET. My head hurts.

Okay, that's enough talking about Little Hercules. You all aren't going to watch it, and I'm going to try to forget that I ever did. This was obviously a movie made just to showcase the famous bodybuilder kid and nothing more. I don't think kids would even enjoy this movie.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Project Terrible: Five Across the Eyes (2006)

Project Terrible is back for Round 4, people, and this time I don't think I'm going to find any hidden gems that actually aren't that terrible if anything can be learned from the first movie on my list - Five Across the Eyes, a horrible indie shocker picked out for me by the man behind Mondo Bizarro.

Mondo, I know you said you weren't going to play nice with me this time around, but REALLY. Did I truly deserve this, just for making you watch Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives? I mean, that one had to at least have been laughably bad in a sort of good way, right? Five Across the Eyes was probably the most painful experience of my life, even worse than that one time when I was little and a horse stepped on my foot. I thought THAT was pain but trust me, nothing can compare to the evil torture that is Five Across the Eyes.

In this putrefying mess of a movie, five girls driving back from a football game make the mistake of taking the back roads and get lost. When they stop at a store to ask directions, they accidentally hit another person's car and drive off. When the person hunts them down on the road, the girls find out that the owner is a psychopathic woman who spends the next 90 minutes chasing down and torturing the girls one by one.

I will admit that this movie gets one thing right, and that is the advertising. The poster is actually a nice picture and, after seeing the movie, is a good way to fool us into thinking we are going to see a nice little indie horror movie. When I first heard the title Five Across the Eyes, which is a slang term meaning "to slap someone across the face," I was intrigued. It's a different kind of title that rolls off the tongue well, but at the same time it is delightfully ambiguous because it doesn't really tell you what's in store for you. And indeed the movie itself is like a slap in the face - some people say it slaps you in the face with its brutality, I say it slaps you in the face with its ineptitude.

The movie is shot in real time with something that looks like a Sony Handycam camcorder that you can buy at Wal-Mart for 200 bucks. Maybe they were going for that raw, gritty feeling that is better executed in movies like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but they completely fail. The $4,000 shoestring budget (no, really... the budget for this movie was $4,000) could not even afford the minimal crew a decent light set. One long scene of the woman humiliating the girls by making them undress is shot completely from one angle, obviously because it was dark and they had to use the headlights of the car as their lighting design. Pitiful. The picture is dark and grainy and shot composition is mediocre and below amateurish. There's lots of bad low angles and sloppy zooms that leads to out of focus shots.

Did I mention that it took two directors to make this movie? And neither one of them thought that they should maybe invest in a freaking tripod at the least?! Besides the advertising, I will give the filmmakers another positive point for making the villain a female. Definitely something we don't see every day. However, the woman's violation of the girls is so extremely sexually brutal that it might as well have been committed by a man. She rapes one girl with the handle of a screwdriver and sodomizes another with a freaking shotgun - not to mention the biting off of fingers, pulling out of teeth, or electrocution with car battery cables.

The acting from all these no-names was the one thing that surprisingly didn't bother me. What DID bother me was the incessant talking - or to be more accurate, SCREECHING - over one another for a good 30 minutes straight. "We should turn back!" "No, we can't turn back, she'll find us!" "Seriously, guys, we need to get out of here right now!" "Just drive, Belle, step on it!" All this at the same fucking time. A cacophony of screaming teenage girls is not the best soundtrack for a movie, believe me. Not to mention that the ambient sound of cicadas is downright deafening at points. The best actress was probably the psycho woman, who is delightfully cuckoo and actually really beautiful when you look past the blood and bugged-out eyes.

Maybe I can kinda-sorta-not-really see where people are coming from when they praise this movie, but for my tastes and my respect for the art of filmmaking, the sub-par technical skill presented here makes Five Across the Eyes one of the worst movies I've seen.

If you don't believe me, let me tell you about another scene: the girls are in a car chase with the woman early in the movie and they try to stop her by throwing various objects at her car. When that doesn't work, one girl - and I'm being dead serious here - takes a dump and throws it at the woman's windshield. I have no words for that.