September 29, 2008

INTERVIEW - Quarantine Director John Erick Dowdle Tells His Half of the Story

The Dowdles are a team effort, and hopefully always will be. Drew and John Erick wrote, directed, and produced Quarantine (which opens October 10th) and The Poughkeepsie Tapes (to be released in '09 if all goes well with the former) and John's wife Stacy Chbosky stars in both. In this week's column at AMC, John told me about their collective leap from obscurity and their high hopes for continuing to make very upsetting movies together. Drew was unavailable for comment, as he was attending his high school reunion; having a feature film opening the following week is a way better strategy than merely claiming you invented Post-Its. Below are a few extra notes from John:

On casting Quarantine:

"We got very lucky with our casting. The style we’re shooting in is all from the camera's point of view, so it’s almost like filming a live play -- except the set has extra dimensions that we could move through. So we needed a great cast that could hold their own for five-minute-long takes and not blow it... You have children and animals and effects and stunts, and it’s all just happening live. We were blessed to get Jennifer Carpenter – she’s a phenomenal actor. I don't know if you saw The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but when she tears the lid off it, she’s crazy! It’s mind-blowing."

On the day the tide turned in the Dowdles' career:

"It was one of those overnight successes that happens after 15 years of working nonstop and saying, “This is going to pay off, Mom, I swear!” It had been a long time coming, and there had been some really dark days – dark YEARS – trying to make that happen. There was literally one week where it all clicked into place – The Poughkeepsie Tapes got sold, it made a splash and got some great reviews, and then we got Quarantine, all within about a week.

On that high school reunion situation:

"I skipped my ten year reunion, because what could I say? 'Yeah, I’m still in LA, still poor, nothing’s happening.' Drew’s cleaning up this year, I’m sure."

September 26, 2008

Today's Obsessions...

About 2 minutes into this video you'll be so deep in crazy that you'll have to dig down to get out...

Decorate your basement with Sharpie! The fumes will distract you from the radon.

Sarah Silverman solves the Florida election problem in one fell swoop.

Wanna look just right for your big meltdown in front of Katie Couric? Paula Young's gotcha covered.

The Four Aces

Having recently finished posting all four Aces, today Arcanalogue gets the band back together and explains what being number one is all about when it comes to the Tarot. Unless Aces are high, of course -- then you've got elevens!

September 22, 2008

MicroHorror Featured Pick -- "From Famine To Feast"

With Blindness opening next week and The Road coming later this fall (and the stock market falling all the while), my tastes have been running rather apocalyptic. Many thanks to Stephanie Campisi for this elegantly nasty little number:

"From Famine To Feast"
by Stephanie Campisi


The boy’s face was a thick, fluid rendering of blowflies. They crusted his eyes like false lashes, and crawled around his chapped, broken lips, their shimmering wings vibrating against their fat black bodies. The boy’s stomach was distended; he looked like a spoon, with the bulging, swooping curve of his gut leading into his rail-thin upper body. His ribs protruded; it was as though he had swallowed a birdcage that was pushing out from within.

Father Terence dusted the flies away with a hand soft from hemp balm and decorated with a series of gold rings engraved with brief notes to the Lord. His own arms were husky, with his upper arm drifting fleshily down over his elbow, and his forearms bulging here and there.

“It will be all right, my child,” he whispered, waving reverently at the new cloud of flies that had taken up residence upon the famished boy’s face.

Father Terence’s forehead creased into sweaty folds as he thought about the tragedy that had befallen his land, his followers. The blight had affected everybody who had ever come under his church roof, and now there was very little food for anybody. Villagers were scratching underneath the bricks of their homes for millipedes and slater bugs, were digging up skinny worms, skewering them on filthy fingernails and wrapping them in dried banana leaves, were drinking from pools milky with disturbed dirt and mosquito larvae.

There was nothing to eat, and it was having an effect upon everybody, even the wealthy and the elite in their houses of white blocks of stone and crenulated rooftops. Though, of course, they had not let anybody but the Father know their difficulties. They would come to confession, describing their kidnappings of infants, the stewing, the boiling, the stripping of flesh from the bone.

“It will be all right, my child,” he whispered, lifting the boy into his arms. The boy was a dark feather, flyblown and hot from the desert sun. His tiny toes bulged at the ends, like mushrooms.

Father Terence carried the boy up the dusty path that led to the church. Inside, the cool, unmoving air of the church, air that had sat there for centuries it seemed, refreshed the boy a little, for he stirred, his vague movement like a small fish slapping against his hunter’s hand.

The blight had affected everybody who had ever come under his church roof, and now there was very little food for anybody.

And Father Terence had to make do.

Copyright: © 2008 Stephanie Campisi

INTERVIEW - Why Bruce Campbell Is Looking Forward to Halloween -- and Eventually, Evil Dead 4

This October you may get to ask Bruce Campbell a few questions yourself; the actor/director will be touring with his new film My Name Is Bruce, landing here in NYC on Halloween for a screening at the Sunshine. You'll have to check out my AMC column for Bruce's MNIB filmmaking recollections... But while you're here, you may as well soak in everything he told me about that Evil Dead remake that he and Sam Raimi are always threatening to do.

I refuse to believe that I'll ever meet a nicer guy to spend 22 minutes on the phone with than Bruce Campbell. I'm beginning to see why everyone wants to live at his house in the middle of nowhere...


TB: Did you always suspect you'd wind up living out in the woods and talking to yourself?

BC: Yes! It’s an acquired taste, you have to desire it. It’s a strange little home that we have... We have no cell service out there, and it unnerves some of my city friends. They ask, “How can you sleep here at night?” What, are the wolves going to tear through the screens and come in and drag me away? They can’t handle the quiet or the lack of light (there aren’t any street lights on any of the roads, so it’s basically pay attention or die). Other people come up, however, and say, “Oh... I have to live at your house. Starting now.”

The area in Southern Oregon where I live is actually the most undecided voter block in the nation. George Bush went there twice to try to rally the troops. Our kind of people though, they don’t want to be told what to do by anybody. It's the rich people and rural people who are anti-government; rural people are afraid of government because because they’ve never seen any other humans before. Where I live, we’ve got neo-nazis and real outdoor crazies.

TB: At least if you don’t have cell-phone service, you know the neo-nazis don’t either...

BC: Exactly. We’re all on a level playing field.

TB: You'll be in New York for Halloween. Have you seen the parade we have here?

BC: I saw it 2 years ago, it was really a blast. It made me glad that there are still so many freaks out in the world -- that it’s not all just Wall Street stuff. I think we need more rebellion, and this is a sort of planned rebellion. People need an outlet, and I think Halloween is good for that. There’s like a hundred thousand cops in NYC who are out on Halloween because of all the freaks pouring in for the parade! My favorite gag with the officers is going up and saying, "Man, I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve seen a lot of costumes tonight but yours is the best.” Of course half the guys just go, “Get the fuck out of here!”

TB: Are you ready to start talking about the new Evil Dead movie that is supposedly in the works?

BC: I wish I could... It’s so enigmatic! I’ll hear a rumor sometimes about things that Sam has said. I heard that at the convention Sam said he’d be doing Evil Dead 4. But then I heard he said he’d be doing Spiderman 4 and 5 back-to-back. And I thought, "When are you going to do Evil Dead 4? Seven years from now when those other two behemoth films are done??" Sam has the full desire and interest to do it though, and so do I -- as long as it’s with him. I’m way past that whole “let it go” phase! So whatever, we’ll do it eventually. But I’m doing this TV show right now, and he’s making big-budget movies, so it’s a matter of actually finding time to do it. That’s the truth of it, there’s no scuttlebutt or anything. But there’s no script, either!

TB: Would you want to play a part in it, in addition to working behind the camera?

BC: I think it’s a remake, so I wouldn't be anywhere onscreen. Unless I’m the old guy at the bait shop going, “You kids have a great weekend!” It’s a new batch of people with a new set of circumstances, I would think. I’m lobbying for the remake to be done like the old days when we were shooting on 16mm. Go with total nobodies, because no one in the original cast was anybody – we were just a bunch of schmoes from Michigan, so let’s get a bunch of schmoes from Michigan again. Just assemble five cast members who are 21, like we were, and put them through absolute hell for about ten weeks. I’d do it retro, go easy on the digital stuff... goback to real stage-based effects, which can be shocking in their hokeyness or their reality or whatever. Sam’s a great magician, he can do a whole mixed bag.

TB: So this wouldn't be one of those big-budget do-overs that we all dread?

BC: I would definitely go back to a low-budget docuhorror feel. When you hear “remake” you think giant, like a big $40 million version. My feeling is no; the first Evil Dead cost $400 thousand in 1979, and I’d like to make it again for the equivalent amount. Then I think you’d have something; the people would want to see what you could pull off within those parameters. I swear to god, the same story doesn’t even seem so interesting anymore somehow, I think we'd need a whole new dynamic... and then the sequel could just pick up wherever we leave off.

TB: I think people would appreciate that, horror fans can smell a big-budget sequel coming a mile a way.

BC: Yeah, Blair Witch 2 is a great example. Now that's a film where you think, “Well, the studio sure got their mitts all over that!” It’s funny, they probably scraped together $40 million for that sequel and considered it low-budget. Blair Witch is one of my favorite movies and I haven’t even seen it – well I’ve seen five minutes, but I think if I watched the rest I’d barf or get a headache. I want to send them a tripod for christmas. But it’s because of what it represents: it means that these guys took a movie and found a brilliant marketing strategy that planted enough infotainment fear in your brain to want to believe in it. For the sequel, I’m not sure why bigger had to be better. Every sequel is more expensive, even with Evil Dead, where the sequel was way more expensive. For part 4, why would we even make a $40 million movie? Why not deliver an old fashioned ass-kicking -- heavy objects and primitive weaponry!

September 21, 2008

Seen Between Fingers -- Stop The Midnight Meat Train, Chris Kelly Wants to Get Off

In this regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly reports back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies. I'd promised you all Eraserhead for this week, but the Landmark Sunshine Cinema wound up hosting a midnight screening of Clive Barker's bedeviled new film The Midnight Meat Train, so we took a short detour. No spoilers ahead for those anxiously awaiting its DVD release...

The Midnight Meat Train is one of those movies that I should absolutely never see on the big screen. The goriness of bludgeonings, when paired with the realistic claustrophobia of a late-night subway ride, is way too much for my small tolerance. Luckily, I didn’t see this movie in the theater.

I mean, I was in the theater when it was showing. I just didn’t see it.

You get the sense from its title alone that a high ratio of violence is going to occur on said "meat train" (a term that I’m surprised wasn’t snatched up by the porn industry first). This gave me a good indicator of when to watch -- or not watch -- the film: as soon as the subway rolled into the station, I clasped my hands firmly over my face, allowing only a tiny crack through which to view the blurry corners of limbs and faces that had possibly already been detached from their owners. The resulting scenes presented me with only the vaguest idea of what was going on, supplemented with an array of admittedly skillful shrieks, groans, and squelches associated with the rendering of humans into their composite parts.

I have to say, the crowd was going wild as I sat there trying not to hyperventilate. If you’re into this kind of thing -- and I assume you are if you’re reading this column -- then whatever happened in those trains is probably going to thoroughly entertain you. I can say for certain that a man in a suit rides the train. He’s got a leather valise. In that valise is the largest, shiniest hammer I have ever seen. As the train enters the tunnel, he approaches unsuspecting riders menacingly and… whoops, look at that, the screen went black. Auditory cues indicate that they do something other than exchange business cards and plan to meet later for a networking luncheon.

Unfortunately, without the “benefit” of the many scenes in which people’s innards are revealed, MMT had only its scripted lines with which to entice me. As it turns out, no one making this film cared quite as much about dialogue, pacing, or internal logic as they did about hammer murder. Most of the scenes outside the subway drew unanimous laughter from the crowd. In particular, conversations that did not involve the subway killer fell flat. The further we got from the possibility of bloodshed, the worse it became. A confusing and unexpected sex scene, a viciously overacted visit from Brooke Shields, and an increasingly unbelievable series of choices from our lead characters all conspired to remove the horror from this horror movie, ruining the mood and leaving the audience scratching their heads or giggling. I won’t even talk about the ending, not because I want to avoid spoilers but because I find it too ridiculous to dignify with a straightforward description.

In the end, I’m glad for MMT’s flaws; if the tension had continued to build skillfully and insidiously manner, I might have died of a heart attack before the credits rolled. Instead, I was treated to a fun, mildly frightening melodrama interspersed with surreal, kaleidoscope-esque images viewed through my barely-parted fingers. If you have the opportunity to catch this one in the theaters (which most of the country will not), then go ahead and see it. Fans of the genre will enjoy the whole thing; wimps like myself will find that there’s a surprising amount of comedy buried in there if you’re willing to close your eyes and pretend that every subway ride sounds like... that.

Next week: David Lynch's Eraserhead (No, really, we swear!)

September 18, 2008

INTERVIEW - In a New Film by Sean Donnelly, Tiffany's Stalkers Imagine What "Could've Been"

In I Think We're Alone Now, two strangers share a common interest: they have both devoted huge portions of their life to stalking the '80s pop icon Tiffany. The trailer introduces Jeff Turner and Kelly McCormick as two lonely individuals whose tireless obsession has become an uncanny source of comfort in their lives. (If the trailer unsettles you, then hold onto your hats, because there's a lot more where that came from!)

The film screens this weekend at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX, but you can view it in its entirety via the festival's website. In the meantime, I spoke with filmmaker Sean Donnelly today about obsession, a documentarian's responsibilities, and Turner and McCorkmick's reactions to his work. Oh, and about Tiffany herself, of course...


TB: I'd love to know a little about how all this started, though I'm sure you've answered that question a million times by now...

SD: Not a million, more like 30 times. But I've never told the whole story until now...

I was in Santa Cruz, California at my parent's house over Christmas break during my sophomore year at NYU's Film and Television program. I was walking down the street with an old friend, Jordy Cohen, and we just randomly met Jeff Turner on the street. He was a very charismatic and friendly guy, and we thought he'd be great for a short film we were working on at the time. Jeff was enthusiastic about being a part of it, and as we got to know him we were more and more fascinated by him. (As a side note, the film school style short we made was terrible and will hopefully never be seen again.)

We didn't learn about his history with Tiffany until our 4th or 5th time going to his house. When he showed us his radionics machine which he uses to communicate with Tiffany on a spiritual level from a distance, we knew that we had an interesting story on our hands. I shot new footage every time I came back to Santa Cruz over the next 5 or 6 years. I showed some of the roughly edited footage to a friend of mine at NYU, Phil Buccellato, and he was hooked. He ended up helping me shoot and edit the rest of the film.

[Name withheld] on a Tiffany fan site told us that she had encountered another person, Kelly McCormick, who was as obsessed with Tiffany as Jeff. She put me in touch with her, and Kelly was very excited to be a part of the film. Phil was the first one to meet Kelly, and took a 14 hour bus ride with her from Denver to Las Vegas on her way to see a Tiffany concert. We didn't really know how the two stories would fit together, or if we even needed Kelly's story at all. Eventually we realized that the two compliment each other very well. Jeff is a little bit lighter and makes more jokes, while Kelly's story is much more intense and emotional.

TB: Can you clarify for me the extent to which Tiffany herself has been involved with this film, or about any contact you've had with her while making it?

SD: When I first approached Tiffany in 2002 she was very friendly and more than happy to let me interview her. When I asked her questions about Jeff, however, she was no longer interested in talking to me. I interviewed her twice, but none of that footage made the final cut of the film. Ultimately the film isn't about Tiffany, so the footage didn't really make sense in the movie. Once the film was completed, I sent a copy to her agent. He told me he thought it was very well done and interesting, but that he didn't want to show it to Tiffany because it might scare her.

TB: Your subjects seem so disarmingly candid; how much time did you spend with them?

SD: The film was shot over 6 years so we got to know them very well. When we were in Denver with Kelly we stayed up late watching movies from her collection like Tron and The Girl Next Door. We spent a lot of time talking to her over meals, seeing action movies in the theater and hanging around Denver hot-spots with her. I even slept on her couch the first time I went out there. And I still keep in touch with Kelly and get emails from her weekly.

As far as Jeff goes, we spent even more time with him since he lives a few minutes from my parents house. At first I thought Jeff was a pretty quirky guy, but I definitely grew to like him a lot more over time. I hope watching the film has that same effect on people.

TB: Have Jeff and Kelly screened the film, and if so, can you tell me their reactions?

SD: I sent Kelly a DVD of the film and she watched it with her new girlfriend, Myra. This is from the email she wrote me after she saw it: "...If you like for me to be in any more of your films, please don't hesitate to let me know! ... Awesome work, Sean! I am very pleased!!!"

Jeff saw the movie for the first time at the Cinequest film festival in San Jose. He said "The film was much better than I expected". His Q+A from that screening is on youtube here.

TB: Documentarians who bring seriously offbeat or mentally unwell individuals into public view always wind up facing accusations of being exploitative -- the Maysles with Grey Gardens, for example. Did you feel a great deal of pressure in filming and editing this movie because of that?

SD: Definitely. That was our major concern when editing the film, and why it took us so long to finish it. There was a lot of footage that we cut because of those types of issues. I think in the end we made a very accurate and fair film about these people, and they would agree. Still though, we have gotten a few comments from people who say they think we exploited them. A friend of mine made a documentary about drug addicts at Sundance a few years ago, and she said she got many of the same types of comments, so maybe it is unavoidable.

TB: Our discomfort with these individuals and this subject matter is hard to pin down. I can't tell if it's because their obsessive nature is so familiar to all of us on some level, or because their perspectives seem so far-fetched and alien. Can you comment on this?

SD: I don't think the film has any agenda. The point of it is to introduce the world to these people, and let them walk away with their own conclusions. The people who say the film is hilarious say it because they would find the subjects hilarious in real life. The people who say the film is really dark would be terrified of the subjects in real life. Most people walk right by these people (and people like them) everyday, and ignore them. Hardly anyone ever takes the time to get to know and understand them. This movie forces the audience to hang out with these people for 70 minutes and listen to everything they have to say, and that causes great discomfort for some people.

TB: Do you believe that a culture of consumerism and advertising is partly responsible for fueling obsessive tendencies in certain susceptible people, and maybe even cultivates them in people who are less susceptible?

SD: I do. Both Jeff and Kelly are pop culture junkies. Jeff can tell you the year just about any movie came out between 1940 to now. He watches hours of movies and TV everyday, and stops by the store every week to read the tabloids. Kelly watches tons of movies, mostly big budget action movies. (She once told me, "No offense Sean, but I'm not a big fan of independent films.") Having access to this much personal information about people you don't know can make you feel a lot closer to them, especially when you don't have many strong relationships in your life.

September 17, 2008

The Four Queens

Today Arcanalogue has posted an overview of all four Queens from the Tarot deck, having recently covered the card in all four suits. Take a brief look under the hood and see what makes these ladies tick!

Celebrate October's Blood Moon With BPAL

Every month contains its own lunar holiday, and our beloved sponsor Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab anoints each of them with a signature fragrance and rad T-shirt design. Welcome to October and the waxing of the Blood Moon:

In October, the crop harvest has past, and all hands turn to the Hunt: the third and final harvest before winter. Blood Moon shines over huntsmen as they ride over reaped grain in pursuit of their prey.

In Christian mythology, Blood Moon may have a darker significance:

"And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind." -- Revelation 6:12-13

The feral scent of the heat of the chase, deep woods, undulating musks, brushed by forest flora, swirled in the incense of the anointed cherub that covereth,and touched by blood-dimmed lunar oils.

September 16, 2008

INTERVIEW - Tobin Bell Explains What Sets Saw Apart

"Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises."

That's an excerpt from a poem that Tobin Bell referred me to as we discussed his long-running stint as the serial killer-cum-moralist "Jigsaw" in all five Saw films. I admitted to him that I'd only recently seen the original Saw for the first time, and that I was surprised to feel that it didn't seem to fit the "torture porn" bill that people have hung on the franchise. But most surprising was Bell himself, who shared his thoughts on acting and the significance of the Saw movies with an alacrity and wit that I found very refreshing. Here's the product of that conversation, and here are a few more thoughts from the reigning grandmaster of fear.

On his character's pivotal role in the Saw films:

"It’s always fun to be central. But I learned from the first film of any real consequence that I did, Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning: I didn't come into that film until halfway through, and I did not have a big part in it, but on a certain level, the point where I arrived in the story was really very powerful. It really helped jump-start people's recognition of me in film."

On Saw being lumped in with "torture porn:"

"I don’t want to bash anyone else’s movie, but I think I know what you’re talking about. The kind of films you’re talking about, I don’t think they have the intelligence or the storytelling that our films strive for."

On relating to a character who faces his own mortality:

"D.H. Lawrence wrote a poem called Ship of Death. It’s a favorite of mine, it makes you think and gives you pause and makes you think about where we are all headed – and we are all headed there."

September 14, 2008

Today's Obsessions...

Cake Wrecks: one tragic, inedible eyesore after another.

Sarah Palin vivisected by the NY Times, finally.

Pope Benedict derides love of money and power as "pagan," then flies home in a solid-gold plane.

Meryl Streep vanishes into character and devours souls in the new Doubt trailer.

September 11, 2008

MicroHorror Featured Pick -- "Flawed Jewel"

Congrats to MicroHorror for posting its 1000th story! This week's glistening selection by C. Morgan Clayton is from the most recent batch of entries:

"Flawed Jewel"
by C. Morgan Clayton


Dragonflies dance outside my window; their shifting silhouettes touch the frosted glass, even in the night. It is for me they wait, my treasures adorned with emeralds and amethysts and sapphires, disguised in beauty, yet deadly to the unsuspecting. Cunning in their game, as I am.

From my lair, you enticed me with promises I could not dismiss, offered light, and then tainted it with wind and clouds and rain. Your deceit begat this tormented soul–my mind twisted and tangled. The dark daggers in your eyes, my love, mirror the pain inflicted upon my heart, torn and ravaged.

Lovelorn and lost, my innocence raped, I unleashed my dark secret. The dragonflies and I are as one, alike in our assault, and I preyed on you, but unlike mine, your crimson wounds will heal. An imperfect suffering is yours, but I promise to return.

Today a man in white inquired as to why I harbor a sinister side. I smiled and asked, “Do you like dragonflies?” He did not answer, only closed the door. I thought I heard a key turn.

Copyright: © 2008 C. Morgan Clayton

September 10, 2008

Seen Between Fingers -- Chris Kelly Takes Argento's Ballerina Challenge

In this regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly reports back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies. I decided that by suffering through two Hellraiser films, Chris had earned a break from the ordinary. It seems that Dario Argento's 1977 classic struck quite a nerve...

Well, score one for horror fans. As it turns out, I genuinely liked Suspiria. It is a frightening, engrossing, all-around well-made film. I'm still going to mock it, as that is my job, but I thought you should know that it comes from a loving place this time. Like when a ballet teacher makes you dance until you hemorrhage: she just wants to see you grow as an artist.

I knew from the first moment that I was going to enjoy this one. Before anything really happened, I was hooked in with the eerie accompaniment of Goblin's score. The music plays over the entirely mundane depiction of Jessica Harper walking hesitantly through a German airport. It's normal in every way, but the haunting chords and rhythmic open-and-close of the automatic doors highlight the tension of being alone in a foreign country in a palpable way. I was clenching my fists so tightly I almost bled, and this is before anyone in the movie has even considered razoring someone in the face. In general, the soundtrack is best used when nothing all that scary is happening: it's baffling how alarmed I became at the pointless story about an old lady snoring.

Harper's character proves to be a helpful foil during the film, because she behaves much as I would if I were thrown into a ballet school run by occultists. And that's the thing: no one is working too hard to put up a front here. Madame Blanc, who runs the school, exudes the kind of practiced politeness described by the neighbors of serial killers in televised interviews. Her best teacher, Miss Tanner, is built like a ham-hock in high heels with a voice like an automatic garage door. Pavlo, their servant, has a rapist's leer that is, despite assertions to the contrary, only worsened by his false teeth. These are the first three people Suzy meets at the school, and yet what is a person to do in these circumstances? I've met lots of creepers in my day, and the inherent politeness in most of us forces us to play along. Suzy's activities, sleeping arrangements, and food consumption are taken over in short succession, but it all seems so plausible. Who goes around accusing people of being witches? They're German artists, after all, which is probably the most airtight cover story they could have dreamt up.

Dario Argento knows that to scare people -- or at least to scare me -- you need to toy with expectations. It's not enough to surprise or shock; you have to undermine reasonable assumptions. There are few deaths in this movie, but the ones that are there are spectacular and sent me instantly covering my face and howling like a toddler. Surely if you're above the third floor, you can lock the door and rest assured that no one will magically teleport through your window! (You can't.) Of course when you jump to safety from a raised ledge, the floor below won?t be a teeming mass of barbed wire! (It will.) Certainly a blind man with his seeing-eye dog in an empty courtyard will be able to hear his attacker coming! (He won't). Every time you think you know what's next, you're wrong, and Argento is all too happy to rub your nose in it, allowing the camera to linger lustily on the gore that results from guessing incorrectly.

Another smart trick is to provide the viewer with only as much information as one of the protagonists would have. And bear in mind, Argento didn't stage this story at a MENSA retreat. Out intrepid investigators are distressed, perhaps brainwashed, definitely malnourished ballerinas: they're graceful as swans, with about the same cognitive capacity. The conceit works, however. We're given just enough input to pique our curiosity, but never enough to answer the questions being posed. Maggots are eating through the ceiling, people are disappearing left and right, and that horrible Miss Tanner continues to shoot white-hot hatred from her eyes, but everything terrible that happens is quickly glossed over by the faculty. The students are left to accept the propaganda or explore at their own peril, and it's unclear which choice is worse. As the film's finale proves, by the time you realize you're surrounded by witches, it's a bit late to be asking questions about their master plan. It's fight or flight, and the movie is positively triumphant in its ability to convey that dire anxiety.

And yet, the tension I felt throughout the film broke to laughter almost instantly as the credits began with the redundant announcement: YOU HAVE BEEN WATCHING SUSPIRIA. It was at this exact moment that I realized how silly the movie might look upon review. To truly grasp its level of nonsense, I had to try to explain the plot to a friend who had never seen it. Most of it sounded like this:

So wait, the witches run a ballet school?

Well, yeah.

But they kill all the students.

No, no, most of the students they just teach to dance. They only kill a few. Just the nosy ones, I guess.

So you're telling me that they legitimately teach lots of people ballet but occasionally kill with witchcraft?

Um, yes.

When the movie ends, the gaps in the story that seemed insignificant as people were dying suddenly seem glaring and insurmountable. What exactly were they feeding Suzy? Why did it make her tired? What was the deal with the maggots in the attic? Why did the directress sleep among the students and keep everyone awake with her vile wheezing? Do the witches really support their school through the occasional sacrifice of a student? Is that a viable business plan? Why are they so committed to the arts, anyway??

I recommend that you see Suspiria. Just turn it off as soon as it's over and never think about it again. You're much smarter than Suzy and her friends, and the burden of that intelligence will ruin the movie forever. And if that doesn't, the planned remake sure will.

Next week: David Lynch's Eraserhead

September 9, 2008

INTERVIEW - How Nick Hooker Turned Grace Jones Into a Corporate Cannibal

If you've already seen Grace Jones' hypnotically insectile performance in the video for "Corporate Cannibal" -- the first single from her upcoming album Hurricane -- then you surely haven't forgotten the experience. If you haven't yet been initiated, click the interview link below, where you'll also find a detailed conversation with the video's creator, Nick Hooker. Our chat about the filmmaking process (and the miraculous Jones herself) was captured in just one take... just like the video itself:


TB: How did you wind up working on this video?

NH: Ivor Guest is a very talented producer and a very good friend of mine; he started working on the album with Grace, and we both became friends with her. She'd already seen and liked some work I'd done for U2. Ivor and Grace had just finished recording the album, but hadn't remixed or mastered it or anything. They played it for me and Grace just said, "Listen, which of these do you like?" Right away I jumped at the one I visually responded to the most, and that of course was "Corporate Cannibal."

TB: The video's concept is deceptively simple. How do you pitch an idea like that?

NH: Actually, I didn't. She trusted me. That's just who she is... Grace is incredibly smart, very wise. I think that's how she works; when she trusts someone, that's it! She just goes for it. So I didn't know before I made the video precisely what I was going to do -- all I knew was that I wanted to get her head, and I wanted to get her intensity. I didn't do concept drawings or sketches, or pre-visual stuff... I just found it. She only had one worry, which is that I'd hold back -- that I wasn't going to go whole-hog.

TB: Can you tell me a little about what it's like to spend time with Grace?

NH: First of all, she's hyper-charismatic. It's like a condition that she has. Also, she's been famous for a very long time, so she really understands how to master her charisma. I've been out with her at times when she's dialed it down, and she becomes practically invisible... anonymous. And then I've seen her turn it on and turn it up, and when she does that, within 5 minutes people are suddenly starting to pay attention, and within 10 there's a crowd. After about 15 it's like, "How are we going to get out of here?"

TB: What's the rest of Hurricane like?

NH: Half of it is really strong vintage Grace that you can easily connect to her earlier stuff, and then the other half is much more contemporary, and of course "Corporate Cannibal" is an example of that. It's funny, when Ivor first told me he was working with her, I noticed something... I've always loved her music and I've always thought she was amazing, but I'd never realized that every day, when I'm in New York, I'd hear her music playing somewhere -- whether it was in a bar or cafe, in a taxi, in a shop. It's just there. It's part of the soundscape of the city.

TB: What did you (and Grace) have to do to capture these striking images?

NH: Because she's a model, she has like a Marlene Dietrich thing where she knows exactly what the light's doing to her, or how she looks from two different sides... She's very confident in her beauty. When we shot, she'd just been in Jamaica for three months, so she was intensely black, like dark, dark black. She didn't have any makeup on... in fact we put a face-mask on her, like a skin, and used it to peel off every bit of dirt and grit, whatever the city had put on her face that day. All that remained was sort of the raw glow of her skin. She had a bit of lip-gloss, and that's it. There are people out there working on videos for artists out there like Madonna and Mariah Carey, and they spend weeks and weeks rotoscoping every shot and removing every blemish... It doesn't take much to make Grace look good.

TB: Did you have to film over and over to get it right?

NH: It was only one take! There were two cameras: one camera directly in front of her on a tripod, and there was a handheld infra-red camera that I was operating. If you look at the video, you'll see there's a lot of head-on stuff, and the other material is a little bit grainier and it's all from the right. That's the handheld, same take. We did other run-throughs to set up, but we just wound up filming the once. We started working at midnight, and we finished as the sun was coming up.

TB: And then after that, what next?

NH: When I got back to New York and I finally put the head into the computer, I found the key image that was going to be the cornerstone of the video. Then my heart sank, because I knew it was going to be a frame-by-frame job and it was going to take weeks and weeks! It was very labor intensive... very low-fi on the input side of things, but hi-fi on the output. But there wasn't any time pressure, and I wasn't nervous about anyone breathing down my neck. In fact, she almost forgot about it! When she came back to New York, I went to visit her and show her some raw, unedited pieces. It's funny, I was recovering from a hernia operation, and I still had the stitches in; I walked in and opened my laptop and played the clips for her, and she couldn't believe it, she went completely mad, and jumped on me -- so I'm staggering around holding her and thinking any second my hernia scar is going to give way and 30 feet of intestines are going to fly across the room.

TB: Overall, it sounds like a pretty surreal production experience!

NH: Yes... honestly it was refreshing to be able to go fast. It didn't have that quality which I often dread, in which we're in the studio and the clock is ticking and money is being spend, and every hour that goes by is another $10,000 out the window. Fuck fuck fuck... panic panic panic! It was a really truly ideal situation. There's a misunderstanding about Grace that some people have and need to get straightened out on, which is that she's just a sort of lump of clay in the hands of these Svengali types, that her work is really their work. That's completely wrong. She's very savvy, smart, sophisticated artist who really knows what she's doing. Sometimes when we were editing she'd make calls about the edits that made me think, "Fucking hell!" But then she always ended up being right. She was almost always bang-on.

INTERVIEW - Poltergeist's JoBeth Williams Prefers Making Films to Remaking Them

Like most fans, I feel really strange about the news that a Poltergeist remake is in the works. After a recent screening of the original I felt particularly entranced the emotional demand of JoBeth Williams' role. She agreed to chat with me this week about MGM's announcement, but also opened up about her directorial work. And here's a choice bit about her role on the show Dexter, playing the mother of the serial killer's girlfriend:

"I loved doing this, I'm a big fan of the show -- the writing, directing, acting, all of it! And Michael C. Hall is just the nicest North Carolina guy. But you get into a scene with him and look into his eyes while the cameras are rolling, and you think, killer! It was very exciting to play this character, because she challenged his character. I kept saying to the producers, 'Please, let him kill my character, I think that would be great!' And they'd say, 'His character only kills other killers...He can't kill you unless you're a killer.' Still, it was fun to play such a great, very flawed character."

September 7, 2008

Time Capsule From 1983 Reveals English Isn't Roger Ebert's First Language

I've read lots of arguments over whether Roger Ebert deserves his title of American critic-laureate. In my opinion, it needn't be a matter of which films he likes or dislikes -- almost anytime I wind up reading his reviews, his writing alone is enough to damn him. Here are some excerpts from his review of a film I recently saw for the first time on the recommendation of my oral surgeon, 1983's The Hunger. The fact that I adored the movie and Ebert considered it "agonizingly bad" is secondary to his incredibly leaden, hackneyed self-expression:

"After an initial orgy of fancy camerawork, the movie settles down into the story of Bowie's final days. He has that disease, where you age suddenly."

"Then Sarandon visits the lavish town house where Deneuve and Bowie lived, and that's where a glass of sherry leads to the seduction scene. Now I've got to be honest about this scene. Part of its interest lies in the fact that Catherine Deneuve herself and Susan Sarandon herself are acting in the scene. That gives it a level of reality that would be lacking in a porno film, even a much more explicit one."

"Sarandon's scene by the window in Atlantic City, bathing herself with lemons, created great sultriness."

"There's so much crosscutting, so many memories, so many apparent flashbacks, that the real drama is lost -- the drama of a living human being seduced into vampirism. In Herzog's Nosferatu we felt some of the blood-scented lure of eternal death-in-life. Here it's just -- how would an ad put it? -- 'Catherine Deneuve for Dracula.'"

I don't really understand much of what Ebert's saying here, although it appears that he celebrated his editor's day off by skimming The Hunger for moments of "great sultriness." As one observant friend put it, "That's some Borat shit, right there."

September 5, 2008

I try not to editorialize...

...but if I never hear the words "hockey-mom," "PTA," or "Alaska" again, it will be too soon.

Jon Stewart expertly dismantling the GOP's fawning.

Wonkette on what "hockey-mom" is code for.

Gloria Steinem says: "Wrong woman, wrong message."

An unfortunate

Today's Obsessions...

On second thought, maybe the world can live without "Spy Kids + Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me = Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Kids." [Via MeFi]

Gus Van Sant's Milk finally gets a trailer.

Cat Heaven, or Crazy Cat-Lady Heaven?

An exhibition of Charles Burns' artwork, including works from Black Hole, will be in NYC through October 5th. Anyone want to ditch work and go get repulsed with me?

September 4, 2008

MicroHorror Featured Pick -- "Strip Tarot"

Each week you'll find a new 666-words-or-less story from MicroHorror showcased here on Hermitosis. Perhaps I'm impartial, but Kevin Sweeney managed to fire my imagination with just five sentences:

"Strip Tarot"
by Kevin Sweeney


The Hanged Man, the Fool, the five of cups, the five of swords, the ace of coins.

The Devil, the World, the Female Pope, the seven of wands, the nine of swords.

“Take it off,” he said, grinning.

“Sorry pal, Erebus hold ‘em rules, remember?” she said.

Damn. Aces wild. He sighed, and pulled the flesh from his skull.

Copyright: © 2008 Kevin Sweeney

September 3, 2008

INTERVIEW - Jewell Parker Rhodes Bases Her Voodoo Mythos on Real Monsters and Memories

In her novel Voodoo Dreams, Jewell Parker Rhodes told the story of real-life voodoo priestess Marie Laveau's rise to adulthood (as well as power and infamy) in 19th century New Orleans. The tale doesn't end there, however. This month Rhodes published the second installation of her trilogy that extends Laveau's lineage to the present day. Kirkus Reviews describes Yellow Moon as "...a satisfying and eerie story that lies somewhere between the work of Anne Rice and James Lee Burke... A spooky, sexy novel about things that go bump in the night."

Bump indeed... While Yellow Moon continues to usher medical doctor Marie Levant toward truths about her ancestry and identity (a journey that began in 2005 with Voodoo Season), it also introduces an ancient evil in the form of the wazimamoto, a vampiric entity from African folklore that stalks a pre-Katrina New Orleans. In this incredible interview, Rhodes speaks at length about the practical and mystical aspects of storytelling -- and about making monsters that ooze authenticity.


TB: Having spent so many years writing the powerful dreams and visions of your characters, do you set more store by these kinds of experiences in real life than you used to?

JPR: My grandmother Ernestine, who taught me to believe in the power of dreams, raised me. She’d moved north to Pittsburgh -- and brought from the south, her hoodoo/voodoo traditions. She’d say: “A bird with a crooked wing means sorrow;” “Signs everywhere. Pay attention;” “Scratch a wall, somebody die.”

More importantly, my grandmother who has been dead for thirty years is still alive to me today. In the African American community the dead are never gone, their spirits are always accessible to us as ancestors. I still speak with my grandmother every day.

I believe in dreaming -- the power of dreaming for healing and making one’s self “whole.” Writing Voodoo Dreams helped to heal me. The process literally changed my life. As I was writing, I had vivid dreams -- even dream-states while writing. I also felt the presence of Marie Laveau and my grandmother. In the Amazon short -- “Down South: A Granddaughter’s Memories,” and the book, Porch Stories: A Grandmother’s Guide to Happiness, I celebrate my grandmother’s tales. As a child I witnessed grandmother getting an “impossible” call from an aunt who had just died. I can also tell you that my grandmother, while a minister’s wife, was also a conjure woman -- but I didn’t truly understand what she was teaching me until I wrote my first novel, Voodoo Dreams. I told my grandmother, just before she died, that I was writing a tale about a child “born with a caul,” which meant that the child would be prophetic with visions, dreams. Grandmother was so happy. She promptly told me how to bury a caul and never to forget the power of my own dreaming.

TB: Though the creature/killer in Yellow Moon, the wazimamoto, has traditional African roots, getting to make this monster your own must have been exciting. Can you describe that process?

JPR: Ever since I was a teenager and stumbled onto the idea of the African vampire, I’ve been waiting for the right tale to create the monster! Stoker’s Dracula seeks immortality; the wazimamoto, a vampire created from colonial oppression in Africa, seeks to destroy cultural traditions. For Africans, the British, French and Portuguese tried to steal “cultural blood.” So, Africans created oral tales of a vampire that drains blood. In America, we can talk about the slave traders as wazimamotos and folks who are mentally enslaved, who learn from the oppressors to hate their selves and their culture, can become wazimamotos, too.

I created my wazimamoto with the same respect that I would use to create any other character. The vampire has a history and motivation and while racist and misogynistic, it is also vulnerable and sympathetic.

I especially liked creating the vampire as a spirit that rises from the water. Water can baptize, cleanse. Agwe, the sea-god, is a force within the water. And water symbolizes the middle passage and all the sick slaves who were tossed overboard into the waters. My vampire comes to life not knowing what it is or who it had been in the past. In uncovering knowledge about itself, accessing memories, it has an opportunity to make a choice -- heal instead of hurt. But the wazimamoto—in learning its own name and history, rebirths itself into a killing machine. I like, too, how my vampire prefers the blood of sinners -- a pedophile priest, a murdering musician, etc. Evil begets more evil.

My creation was fun to write but underneath the vampire persona (I hope!) are some real questions about the nature of goodness and evil, the nature of humanity and re-birth.

TB: Voodoo is a classic staple of film and fiction to this day, usually exploiting these traditions for a cheap scare; your novels, though often scary, strive against that trend. Do you find it hard to strike that balance?

JPR: Absolutely. Stereotypes about voodoo lurk insidiously inside our cultural imagination. As a novelist, I try to be transgressive, working within fictional traditions -- historical, mystery, and horror -- yet, always questioning the cultural subtext of imagery, characterization, and themes that appear in western literature. This questioning helps me layer another perspective that has been historically suppressed in our history books, literature, and media.

For example, in Voodoo Dreams, I can embrace the idea that snakes are evil and use it to play on reader’s fears -- but then undermine that fear by discussing how many Louisiana slaves were forcibly baptized Catholic because the masters were fearful of their African-based spiritual traditions. In Catholicism, the snake from the Garden of Eden is evil, Satan, the fallen angel. But for slaves from an African tradition, the snake isn’t evil; rather, Damballah, the snake-god, is symbolic of fertility and creation. In authentic voodoo, knowledge is always considered good. So, in the voodoo tradition, Eve’s “fall from grace” isn’t a “fall” at all.

In western culture, we’re taught that darkness is evil; blackness, terrifying. In America, particularly, darkness was used as a religious reason to enslave Africans. The belief that Cain was given the “mark” of darkness for fratricide, and that all black peoples are Cain’s children marked by his sin, is terrible. In my books, I can overturn conventional imagery by demonstrating that darkness can be comforting (a home place for one’s soul) and that all people of color are beautiful. Darkness can be as illuminating as light.

As a writer, I try to use literary conventions that “scare" us; but, then, I try to educate and demonstrate another perspective. In Voodoo Dreams, I juxtapose authentic versus inauthentic voodoo ceremonies. I ask the question: how did we get these stereotypes of African-based faiths? While the short answer is racism and the slave trade, I also consider how the great Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau, might have contributed to these stereotypes. If you were a woman living at a time when most women of color were slaves or mistresses, and you discovered that by playing to the dominant culture’s fears, you could have more freedom and aid your community, wouldn’t you scare the dominant culture even more?

TB: How has that informed the way you portray zombies?

JPR: The zombies in Voodoo Dreams and Voodoo Season are terrifying. Nonetheless, research indicates that zombies can be created by using chemicals from “the gills of a puffer fish,” known for their paralytic power. I embrace this idea and argue that in authentic voodoo, with its respect for human life, no one would ever create a zombie. But as in all religions, there are those who practice faith in a humanistic, loving way and those who use faith as an excuse to hurt, discriminate, and oppress.

In my novels, zombies aren’t creatures trying to eat people. Rather, they are people who are experiencing the ultimate horror of losing their identity. Losing one’s self is something to cry about -- a human tragedy far more graphic, and psychologically terrifying, than shuffling around as a dim-witted cannibal. If zombies are mentally alive, then what does it mean for their bodies to buried? In Voodoo Season, a caesarean is performed on a young girl that my protagonist believes is dead, but isn’t. That’s horrifying.

In Voodoo Season, the zombies are quadroon women being used for modern-day prostitution. This echoes the tradition of nineteenth century New Orleans’ quadroon balls when women of color were bred quadroon -- to be one-fourth black, and become mistresses for French aristocrats. (This tradition was truly perverse.)

TB: How do you feel about the state and fate of New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina -- especially since the city's gothic and romantic associations have always seemed so connected to its geography?

JPR: Voodoo Season was published the day the levees broke in New Orleans. Because of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, my mystery/ horror trilogy, was forever changed. My protagonist, Dr. Marie Levant (Laveau’s descendant) is a doctor in Charity Hospital. In Voodoo Season, Dr. Levant is just learning about her spiritual heritage. In Yellow Moon, it rains never-ending, because as a writer, I know, the hurricane is coming. Dr. Levant is tested both spiritually and scientifically…because Hurricane Levee Blues, the last novel will have a monster more devastating than the wazimamoto—namely, social and environmental injustice. It is no accident that parts of Louisiana and Mississippi are called “Cancer Alley.” It is no accident that the bayous are rapidly disappearing, no accident that poor people and people of color were hurt disproportionately because of Katrina.

On September 23, I am scheduled to give a reading in New Orleans at Octavia Books. As I write this, Hurricane Gustav has become a Category Three Hurricane and New Orleanians are trying to evacuate their city. Can disaster really strike twice? I hope not. As Americans, we show our true character in how we protect all our citizens and communities.

TB: What does it feel like to find yourself entrusted with introducing new generations to voodoo traditions and tales? Are you surprised to find yourself still writing about these things after all these years?

JPR: I never would have guessed how central Marie Laveau and voodoo would have become to my writing career. I’m not from New Orleans but I feel it is my second home -- the landscape, people, and the food all call to my soul. When I started writing about voodoo, many folks told me they were afraid to read my books -- not because of horror conventions, but because they were afraid that I would contribute to stereotypical images.

Over the years, I have been honored by the folks who read my novels -- especially honored that Voodoo Dreams (a 1993 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Authors selection) has stayed alive and available for so many years. There are German, British, and Italian editions. Recorded Books did an audio version in 2002 and, in 2008, a Turkish publisher bought translation rights.

I believe twenty-first century readers are more open to diverse stories, tales of differing paths toward spirituality. I also believe readers identify with my passion and my respect for all cultures and people. And if I can entertain a reader... so much the better. My job is to make readers believe in miracles, feel that the world is alive with spirits, and understand that voodoo is rooted in life-affirming beliefs. I made this journey in understanding -- I knew nothing about voodoo, nothing about Louisiana history, nothing about the voodoo queen who, it is said, walked on water and healed yellow fever victims with brush of her hand.

Fundamentally, I’m a storyteller -- telling stories that I need to believe in, stories that have the potential to shape my life. I believe I was “called” to write about Marie Laveau and voodoo; however, I’m not a religious or cultural expert. Just a tale-maker. I’m still searching for clarity -- asking essential questions about how to live a good life. Amazingly enough, I’ve found answers in telling tales about the bayou, wazimamotos, zombies, spirit-loas, and the music inherent in African-based faiths. I’m so grateful.

September 2, 2008

Seen Between Fingers -- Chris Kelly Returns to Hell, Fires Decorator

For this new regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly will be reporting back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies. Two weeks ago Hellraiser left him cold. Considering how crazy-bananas the sequel is, I figured one bad turn deserves another...

OK, horror fans, you’ve officially lost me.

It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal of a trashy movie, a scary movie, a gross movie, or even an outright terrible movie. All of these indulgences have their place. What I don’t understand is how anyone could willingly subject themselves to a viewing of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which is easily one of the crappiest pieces of so-called entertainment I have ever seen. That it was chosen for me as viewing material suggests that it enjoys continued popularity despite being an unsalvageable mess. So incoherent is the work that I cannot review it. I give you, instead, a list of completely unanswerable questions suggested by the events depicted (which I hesitate to dignify with the term “plot”).

1. What’s so terrifying about flying hooks?

Is anyone going to defend the blatant overuse of this completely un-scary tactic? This movie starts out pretty much exactly like the last one (ignoring, of course, the rehash of the first film’s ending, which must have looked dated even to audiences seeing it only a year later). It’s less thrilling the second time around. Sure, they added nails, but we’ve already seen Pinhead, and it’s otherwise pretty much the same flesh-fishing as before. Later, the Cenobites punctuate their interrogation of Kirsty with a little menacing swing of the chain, and interestingly, we learn that Pinhead pre-gores his hooks: even though he only hits the wall, his weapon still drips blood. It’s more odd than it is creepy. Then there’s the disappointing showdown nearer to the end of the movie -- all it takes to kill a Cenobite is a flying hook? Within ten seconds, the movie’s four most ominous characters are neatly dispatched with the same tool that one uses to lure a cod to its pan-seared grave. The law of diminishing returns has rarely been so effectively illustrated.

2. How much murder-blood does it take to rebuild a human body?

This is a question from both movies, really, but Hellbound in particular seems to make inefficient use of its resources. To resurrect Julia from the mattress, Dr. Channard brings home a mental patient and allows him to mutilate himself in the most awful scene of the film (it goes on forever and I’ll admit to fast-forwarding through half of it). Before the dude is even close to dead, his plasma has provided enough material for our favorite ‘80s antivixen to build an entire skeleton, including cartilage and supporting muscle structure. Six murders later, however, she’s still missing quite a bit of flesh. What gives? How much blood does it take to create a square inch of skin? We’re eight bodies deep before she’s fully formed. I feel like that’s just wasteful.

3. Where did Dr. Channard learn to decorate?

The time spent at chez Channard fills the viewer with disquiet, and not only because he has fallen in lust with an undead mass of viscera (more on that later). Let’s examine his choices as an interior designer. His study is painted in lush forest green, populated with tasteful wooden furniture, lined with books and pictures, and generally adorned in an austere-yet-homey fashion. That is, if one can ignore the old soiled mattress he eventually hauls into the center of the room. The rest of his house, on the other hand, is white and empty -- literally. I don’t think I saw a single piece of furniture anywhere else in the place, despite the fact that the external shots clearly establish it as a veritable estate. Does he really spend so much time in that one room that he never felt the need to furnish the rest of his living space? Sure, that left him with plenty of open area in which to savage his patients, but he can’t have planned for that when he moved in. Better still: at the end, there’s suddenly shit everywhere to pack up. Where did the moving men find all those chairs? What’s in all those boxes? This house was a wasteland.

4. Why is Julia so irresistible?

Yes, the scene where Channard bandages her is kind of arty and unnerving, but really? His first interaction with her was to watch her bloody, half-formed corpse wriggle across the room to eat a mutilated lunatic alive. Even his unhealthy obsession with Hell doesn’t quite make it plausible that he’d be sexually compelled by a woman whose entire body is a gaping wound. She does look less icy this time around, but then again, maybe that’s just because it’s such a relief when we finally see her with skin.

5. What were the writers thinking?

It was nearly impossible for me to write this column because of Hellbound’s exceptionally low level of quality. It makes no fucking sense at all. It’s long, and it clearly doesn’t need to be. The most nauseating bits, namely the inmate’s self-inflicted razor wounds and Julia’s mummification, are dispensed early: it’s beyond me why they didn’t just clock this one at 75 minutes and call it a day. I’m also still completely in the dark about the purpose of that cube. Sometimes it calls Cenobites, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you need it to enter Hell, while at other times you can just go there because you feel like it. Sometimes it’s a different shape, which makes people act as if life is suddenly more difficult, though nothing seems immediately worse. Oh, and how did Channard manage to keep a basement full of filthy howling nightmare people secret for so long? Where did he learn to drape a bedsheet like a Grecian dress? Since when is it possible to wear someone else’s skin as a convincing disguise? God, I could go on and on.

I’m disappointed that this is considered a classic of the genre. It does not give me high hopes for my future assignments.

Next week: Dario Argento's Suspiria

INTERVIEW - Five Minutes With David Cronenberg

Okay, I'll just say it. Last week I got to interview David Cronenberg.

During my trip to Los Angeles I visited the exquisite set of The Fly: The Opera, listened intently as Placido Domingo and Howard Shore explained how all this came about, and waited bashfully to see if I would actually get a chance to speak with Cronenberg one-on-one. You can read the results of our five-minute conversation here in my Web Stalker column. I wish that I had extra bits to offer you here, but I'm lucky I got anything at all. Upon reviewing my recording, however, I can at least report that he didn't sound nearly as miffed that I called his movies "disgusting" as it seemed at the time.

It was a productive trip. In the coming weeks, look out for interviews with Tobin Bell, JoBeth Williams, and Bruce Campbell...