March 31, 2008

Playboy Editor Robert DeSalvo On Hef and Horror

Robert DeSalvo is an old friend of mine, and one of the very first people I interviewed for AMC's Who Loves Horror? series. Working at Playboy has to have its own built-in horrors, but he makes it sound enviable and glamorous all the same. Here's the rest of what he had to say back in January:

TB: What question do people usually ask you about your job?

RD: There are a few questions that always come up. "Have you been to the Mansion?" "Is Hef really involved with the magazine?" "Can you get me into a Mansion party?" The answers are: "Yes," "absolutely" and "no."

TB: What're some things you have to (or get to) do at Playboy that you wouldn't if you worked at a different magazine?

RD: I work at Playboy Studio West in Santa Monica, California where we shoot a lot of the centerfolds, so instead of a traditional office environment I work in a studio where there's constant activity from constructing and disassembling sets. We have models walking around in robes and hanging out in our lounge in between shoots. I interview most of the Playmates, so I suspect this setting is a change of pace from the usual tête–à–tête at a coffee shop. Also, since Holly Madison works at the studio as a photo assistant, the E! crew is often there filming her for The Girls Next Door. You never know when you might walk down the hall to grab some water and end up as an extra on a reality TV show. The energy is infectious, though. I feel fortunate to not work someplace with beige walls filled with people wearing ties hunched over desks in cubicles.

TB: Can you tell me why you like horror movies or why they're important?

RD: We live in dark times filled with terrorism, injustices and uncertainty that are far scarier than anything captured on celluloid. With horror films you get to see a filmmaker's interpretation of society's woes and how that manifests itself on-screen, which is fascinating from a psychological standpoint. I've always been into folklore, superstition and myths, and the horror genre is just a modern way of telling those old campfire stories. I think horror films are therapeutic in a way, too. You go into a dark theater for a thrill ride, face your fears, and walk away unscathed and maybe a little bit stronger. If only real life worked out that neatly.

TB: Any movie this year you're particularly looking forward to?

RD: I want to see Hellboy II even more since I saw Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. If he puts a fraction of the creativity into the Hellboy sequel that he did into Pan's Labyrinth, it'll be worth the ride. I'm also curious if Indiana Jones IV will have the same feel as the other ones did after so much time has passed, but I have faith. And I'll be first in line for The X-Files 2 this summer because it was my favorite TV show in the '90s and I miss Scully and Mulder big time. The truth is still out there.

Beast At Bay

A log-time proponent of Impromptu Ten-Minute Dance Party, I find that the single "Run" from the new Gnarls Barkley album packs all the benefits of ITMDP into just under three minutes. Though apparently there is a risk of seizures from the video:

March 26, 2008

Like the Oscars, For Zombies

Here's a poll I put together that lets you vote on the best zombie movies of all time. The voting works tournament-style: your round-one winners advance so you get to pit them against each other in the next round, etc. Enjoy!

Dancin' and a Lovin' at the Love Shack Funplex

The B-52's new album Funplex just came out. I saw them play a bunch of the songs in October, and was pretty surprised (and impressed) that they've still got it. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so.



March 25, 2008

Interview: Black Phoenix Founder Talks Shop

Since all the cool kids are wearing perfumes from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab lately (I'm hooked on Black Forest, Tex really enjoys his Jazz Funeral, and Chris swears by Coyote) I interviewed founder and creative director Beth Moriarty for AMC, curious about her horror-themed fragrances and her taste in movies. Unfortunately in the space of my article we were barely able to scratch the surface of her incredibly thoughtful answers; the insight and energy Beth puts into her trade is astounding, just what you'd hope when you're reading the hundreds of lush product descriptions on the BPAL site.

I couldn't bear to toss all that aside, so here's our interview in its entirety, a peek behind the curtain at the mind of a deliciously mad perfumier (sort of like a mad hatter, I imagine, only tinged with belladonna instead of mercury).

ME: Can you describe the challenge of crafting horror-inspired scents?

SHE: We're conditioned to find certain scents attractive as perfumes. There are traditional formulas in classic perfumery – a chord structure you're expected to follow. The challenge in creating horror-themed scents lies is forcing yourself to throw that all away. I need to make sure that I'm not distracted by some conservative standard of beauty or by the conventional, tried and true mechanics of perfume. Because of the nature of our company and the topics we use for our inspiration, the desired end result dictates the entire composition of the perfume. It is my belief that there is a true beauty in the macabre, and that's what we try to exemplify. Beautiful scents can evoke haunting, disturbing, and terrifying imagery. It is most important to me that I stay true to the concept that I'm working with, regardless of whether the scent conforms to what's considered acceptable or desirable in mainstream perfume, and in the end people may find that the scent of graveyard dirt, embalming fluid, or shoggoth pheremones stimulates them. Conventional beauty is so friggin' boring. I'd rather wear a scent that embodies the sensuality of Salome or the ferocity of the Sacred Whore of Babylon than some pre-packaged formulaic Sexy Perfume™ that was conceived of in a sterile chemist's laboratory.

I think another challenge is making sure you don't take yourself too seriously. No one should take themselves too seriously, especially a woman that makes Eau de Herbert West for a living.

ME: What BPAL scent do you personally wear the most?

SHE: You never get over your first true love, and mine's Snake Oil.

ME: Which classic horror stories or movies would you like to see get contemporary movie treatment?

SHE: I'd like to see more Lovecraft. You can never have enough Lovecraft. Iä! Shub-Niggurath!

ME: Can you tell me why you think horror movies are important?

SHE: Is it cheesy to quote people? Poe said, 'We are attracted to terror because we long to know some reality above this surface of appearances that we are doomed to labor in. We long to know some kind of transcendent verity. Some glimpse of truth. Some supernal beauty.' I couldn't possibly agree more. There's beauty to be found in Hellraiser's Cenobites and the sexual liberation of Dracula's brides. I understand that people reap a great deal of pleasure from the arousal they get from fear and the adrenaline rush that most horror films provide, but I think that only goes so far. A truly good horror story forces you to examine parts of your own psyche that, in the course of a normal day, you would never intentionally confront, and shows you beauty in places you wouldn't normally expect to find it.

ME: If you had to pick your favorites...?

SHE: I love Roger Corman's Poe cycle, all of the James Whale horror movies, and the artistry of the German Expressionist horror films. I love macabre comedy and camp, like Arsenic and Old Lace and The Fearless Vampire Killers. I enjoy suspense/thriller horror more than I love slasher/gorefest movies, and there are a lot of B-movies out there that I adore. I love a hell of a lot of horror, but if I were to break down my favorites…

(Beth's top ten horror movies were posted in the AMC article, which you can check out here.)

My sincere thanks to Beth and the rest of the BPAL team, what would we do (or smell like) without you??

March 24, 2008

The Weekly Recap Nobody Asked For, Part II

In my last post about bad reviews, I had no ideas what was in store for me this week. It looks like I've become the main review-reaper over at Monsterfest; each week I'll be harvesting the juiciest snark and most penetrating quotes for all theatrical and DVD releases, as well as the horror films showing on AMC. The party started today with reviews of the latest J-horror ripoff, Shutter, and will continue this afternoon with reviews of Lost Highway (available on dvd in widescreen for the first time ever!), The Mist, The Fury, Gothika, and more.

Other fun news:

A masochistic blogger reads and critiques all the Goosebumps books

A headless robot that will haunt your nightmares

My apology to John Carpenter for not believing The Thing was scary

March 17, 2008

A Great Love of Bad Reviews

As long as I can remember, I've been in love with bad movie reviews. When I was a kid I used to flip to the back of the TV Guide that came free with our local newspaper and search for monster movies, but I'd eventually read the pithy blurbs about every single other movie that would be airing that week, relishing the one-stars in particular. This is how I learned about great movies such as Repo Man and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover at a tender age-- movies so strange that one-sentence captions could barely even hint at their plots, except to say that Violence, Nudity, and Adult Situations were involved. You could almost say that my love of inscrutable films began with dour, bitchy reviews of them.

Often bad reviews are a smoke signal given off by a truly great movie; just as often, they warn when a real crap-ass outfit has just teetered off the assembly-line. And even positive reviews can contain some exquisitely snarky observations that cut so close to the truth that they give you a vicarious thrill at being included. "The emperor has no clothes," they tell you, "But that's no reason to leave the parade."

My favorite assignment at AMC is to weekly read every review I can find of the most recent horror/suspense/sci-fi movie and single out the very choicest cuts, the remarks that transcend their context and momentarily illuminate a staff-writer's dim, twilit world. Sure, Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic quote reviewers, but they often go for the low-hanging fruit, and I only rarely wind up pulling the same quote they do. Here's a buffet of the films I've covered in the last couple of months:

One Missed Call
The Eye
Diary of the Dead
The Signal
10,000 B.C.
Funny Games

Having screened Funny Games myself the other night, I took a weird comfort in the mostly negative (but very thoughtful) reviews I read. I have to say they helped me understand and articulate what I felt about the film, which was mostly dismay. And honestly, I think it was really pathetic of Naomi Watts to use her Executive Producer status to get the title changed for the American release (as seen above).

March 12, 2008

The Weekly Recap No One Asked For

I've got a lot of stories flying around right now, but some are better than others, so here's a weeks worth of highlights you may have missed the first time around. If you are stalking me, then feel free to skim, you've probably seen these already.

First, in case I haven't mentioned it before, I've begun writing bar reviews for New York Magazine. I rarely drink or go to bars, but if you offer to pay me I'll do just about anything. My first review debuted this week, you can check it out here.

You may recall that I cut my writing teeth adapting Barry Gifford's novel Baby Cat-Face to the stage; I interviewed Barry about screenwriting this week for AMC, you can see what he has to say here.

I am probably going to hell for exploiting MetaFilter yet again, but this thread in which lostburner asks for advice on how to look normal (read: less like a Matrix reject) in a black trench coat inspired me to return to the watering hole. Here I offer up AskMe's fashion advice to AMC's readers, in hopes that we all learn a valuable social lesson on the occasional benefits of peer pressure.

This trailer for the upcoming film The Fall makes me cry a little. The story seems incredibly sharp, the little girl's performance seems genuinely childlike (compared to the precocious future Promises applicants we're used to). The premise seems almost von-Triersian. Who will go see this with me?

Last (and quite possibly, least) I posted a bit of news this week explaining exactly how Jonathan Rhys-Meyers wound up being cast in the new psycho-hilbilly romp Shelter. Turns out the casting calls have all been looking for interestingly deformed would-be actors. That's practically the headline of his resume!

(As for the photo above, that's a group I came upon this weekend that was protesting the Beijing 2008 Olympics because of China's occupation of Tibet. NYC City Council Member Tony Avella is hoping to compel American teams to withdraw from the games because of China's egregious human rights violations. The protest was especially noteworthy due to the sight of hundreds of colorful flags lighting up the grey March afternoon.)

March 10, 2008

Polaroid Purgatory


Vince and I were discussing Purgatory on our way to the train when we suddenly noticed this snapshot glazed to the sidewalk under a frozen puddle. The effect is startling; I don't know who this person is, but I hope they end up in the right place.

Photo Under Ice