January 21, 2009

INTERVIEW - Lars Horntveth Releases Kaleidoscopic Album That Lynch Would Love

The Norwegian ensemble Jaga Jazzist has been a platform for many side projects, but Lars Horntveth has really raised the stakes with his new album, joining forces with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra to produce a 36-minute single track that invites the listener to take an uninterrupted journey across an imaginative sonic landscape (though passages of it are available to preview here). Here's my chat with Horntveth about some of the intentions and influences that made Kaleidoscopic possible...


TB: Continuity is a battleground issue in both music and film. Some filmmakers, such as David Lynch, disapprove of films being broken up into chapters on DVD, trying to make it more difficult for the viewer to disrupt the continuity of films. Meanwhile, the music industry is rapidly struggling to adapt to a world where listeners buy singles, not albums. Does Kaleidoscopic's structure comment on these sorts of issues?

LH: Yes, absolutely. The decision not to cut the album up in tracks was very thought through. It's not that I want to be difficult, but I think Kaleidoscopic has to be listened to from start to finish. There is just too much music released these days and so much of it just don't get the attention it deserves. I just like the idea that you sit down, relax and listen to music. Also that you make time for the music to work. Not all albums are made so you can “understand it” on the first listen. I love albums that take time to understand or like cause they are often those I listen to for many years. So I wanted to make an album like that.

TB: I read that you count Joanna Newsom among your influences. Can you describe Newsom's impact on Kaleidoscopic?

LH: Joanna Newsom´s Ys was on of the main reasons I wanted to have just on composition on the album. There are 5 tracks on Ys, but they are very long. I think for a pop/alternative singer like Newsom, it's a very brave decision to do that. I guess there were some fans that fell off, but she most certainly got some new, very dedicated ones. Musically, one of my all time favorite composers, Van Dyke Parks, has arranged the orchestra on the album and Jim O'Rourke mixed it. That's inspiration enough for me.

TB: What does the new Jaga Jazzist work you're rehearsing sound like to you after working on your own music for so long?

LH: Actually, the new Jaga album is already recorded. We are mixing it in February 2009. I think we have managed to combine more complex elements in the music this time. More progressive stuff, harder to play, but still catchy I think. While What We Must was a more straight going, indie rock/shoegazer influenced album, this one is very detailed and “written out.” It´s influenced by Steve Reich, Rick Wakeman, Dungen, Spirit, Fela Kuti, King Crimson, MGMT, Air etc. Hehe, I think it's too early for me to say what this album actually sounds like...

TB: How do you know when a musical idea you've had is something for Jaga Jazzist or something for you to work on solo?

LH: That's is actually not a problem for me. First of all, I have three main projects that I work with; Jaga, The National Bank and my solo stuff. There are so many people involved in these bands, so we have to plan our time very far ahead. So it just gets very natural what to do. We took a break with Jaga for almost 3 years, in that time it was natural for me to do something on my own. Another aspect is that with Jaga, I write for nine people I have known almost all my life, not nine professional musicians. In my solo works I work with classically trained musicians who just play what's on the written sheet. So the processes are very different from each other, democracy versus dictatorship.

TB: You set out to make this album without knowing what the outcome would be. Is that an experiment you'd like to repeat for future albums?

LH: I think that the idea of writing chronologically was very interesting and challenging. The main thing was to keep focus on what would be the right curve of the album. Not to make it too intense, but also not too quiet. I think that it could work to do something like this again. Anyway, I like concept albums, so I'll probably have some kind of dogma thing going on next time as well.

January 20, 2009

VERSUS POLL - Desroy All Bridezillas!

Obnoxious and downright villainous bridesmaids, here is what you have to look forward to! Click here to help decide which of these 16 uncouth damsels has the worst etiquette...

January 19, 2009

Guest Post at Trailers Undone - Coming Attractions, Yet To Come

I was invited to write a guest article for the site Trailers Undone, a great blog about movie trailers by a fellow MeFite. Here's my bit about the phenomenon of bootleged previews that have inflamed the internet, popping up all over to let us know which trailers we're not cool enough to have seen in person, with links to the "leaked" trailers for Tron, Star Trek, and The Wolf Man (for which I am personally wetting myself in anticipation). Did I miss any good ones? I'd love some links in the comments over there...

January 16, 2009

MicroHorror Featured Pick - "I Am Done! Or, The Last Entry of J. P. Lawson"

This is the 14th story from MicroHorror that I've featured -- a mere microcosm of the site's cyclopean compilation of 666-words-or-less fiction. This entry by Seth Furman reminds me of Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a book whose images are leaping-off points for bizarre tales; as you read over the entries and begin mentally filling in the blanks, you wind up considering all sorts of dreadful things...

"I Am Done! Or, The Last Entry of J. P. Lawson"
by Seth Furman


October 31, 1962

And so this will be my last entry. I am tired. Years it seems. Years. For years I have diligently kept this journal and now I am tired. They have beaten me at every turn but I have finally figured it out. Without my words they are nothing. Without my thoughts they are undone. They enter my mind through my musings and once inside are free to play. I will host their games no more. I am finished. I have won!

November 1, 1962

And so this will be my last entry. I am tired. Years it seems. Years. For years I have diligently kept this journal and now I am tired. They have beaten me at every turn but I have finally figured it out. Without my words they are nothing. Without my thoughts they are undone. They enter my mind through my musings and once inside are free to play. I will host their games no more. I am finished. I have won!

November 2, 1962

And so this will be my last entry. I am tired. Years it seems. Years. For years I have diligently kept this journal and now I am tired. They have beaten me at every turn but I have finally figured it out. Without my words they are nothing. Without my thoughts they are undone. They enter my mind through my musings and once inside are free to play. I will host their games no more. I am finished. I have won!

November 3, 1962

And so this will be my last entry. I am tired. Years it seems. Years. For years I have diligently kept this journal and now I am tired. They have beaten me at every turn but I have finally figured it out. Without my words they are nothing. Without my thoughts they are undone. They enter my mind through my musings and once inside are free to play. I will host their games no more. I am finished. I have won!

November 4, 1962

And so this will be my last entry. I am tired. Years it seems. Years. For years I have diligently kept this journal and now I am tired. They have beaten me at every turn but I have finally figured it out. Without my words they are nothing. Without my thoughts they are undone. They enter my mind through my musings and once inside are free to play. I will host their games no more. I am finished. I have won!

Copyright: © 2008 Seth Furman

January 14, 2009

Seen Between Fingers - Chris Kelly Wooed By Original Bloody Valentine

In this regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly reports back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies. (He's also starring in a NYC revival of Torch Song Trilogy that opens next week, if you care to see him in his natural habitat.) In anticipation of My Bloody Valentine 3D, which I hope to inflict on him next week, I decided that a look back at the original slasher classic was in order. Surprise -- I think he liked it!

My Bloody Valentine was released less than a year after Friday the 13th, so while it is tempting to view it as just another slasher flick, it’s important to put the work in context. The many tropes that have since emerged (the teenagers murdered as punishment for intercourse, the faceless killer driven by childhood trauma, the disposable blonde in the first ten minutes) were fresher at the time. I’m having trouble seeing the piece as anything other than the continuation of a trend, but I’ll do my best to focus on the aspects that are better than, or different from, other selections from the youth-mauling genre.

Let’s start with the setting, which is bleak as fuck. This is a town in which the most romantic scene takes place on a cold, gray, windy outcropping littered with scrub grass. The best view for miles, the place where you bring your lady to win back her affection, has a view of what is probably a sewage treatment plant or other industrial blemish. Though we never see the inside of a local home, their exteriors suggest that they are little more than storage units. If you ever call PODS to move your belongings, consider what it might be like to forgo the relocation process and simply pack yourself into that sad metal rectangle. Perhaps this squalid hamlet’s depressing surface is what has driven the population to perform all sex acts underground; we are, after all, shown three instances of (or at least attempts at) subterranean copulation, without the faintest hint that one might pursue such an activity in, say, a bed in someone’s “house.”

The oppressive awfulness of daily life in a mining town does a great deal to temper the impact of the film’s many deaths. These are people who could not possibly care less. Consider the first victim, a woman whose only joy in life is to leave the listless Laundromat she runs to festoon the town with streamers in a futile attempt to erase the memory of a series of grisly deaths. If her entire life will be one long dryer cycle anyway, is she not better off dead? Look at this motley collection of mulletted, doughy, chinless halfwits. Working filthy jobs, drinking cheap beer, butting their interchangeable personalities against each other in some rudimentary attempt at conversation—it’s tough at times to say whether this is murder or mercy.

Which is not to say that there aren’t genuinely scary moments. Sure, the opener seems clich├ęd now, but I bet at the time, audiences were stunned when the titillation was interrupted by the total boner-killer of a pick-axe piercing through the heart (and, just to drive the point home, the heart-shaped tattoo) of the village’s most buxom inhabitant. And what about that scene with the mining coveralls descending from the ceiling? That shit was bananas. I expected gore, but I didn’t expect the mounting pressure and disorientation of that poor, piggy girl’s scramble for safety amidst flaccid replicas of her assailant. Good show!

Actually, while we’re on the topic of gore, now is a good time to mention the fact that this movie comes to us pre-sanitized. Nine awful minutes were famously excised by the MPAA. For a lightweight like me, this comes as welcome respite, but chances are that most of you are desperate for whatever craven splatters and slices you can get. In that case, we’re both in luck: I managed to squeeze this review in while the footage is still unavailable, and you can all treat yourselves to an extra-gross Valentine’s Day when LionsGate releases an uncut DVD next month (that is, if Wikipedia is to be believed, which it is sometimes not). I’m sure I’d have less jokes to make and more pants to wet if I had seen the original version in all its viscera-encrusted glory.

As it stands, this movie was a really fun guilty pleasure for me. It was occasionally intense, but mostly just hilarious. This is the kind of stupendous train wreck in which the lead stud’s Canadian accent makes him sound like a gay high schooler trying to hide his lisp and the only female to actually have sex looks like she’s maybe a dude. I encourage you all to invite your friends over for popcorn to watch this while playing “Who Dies Next?” or offering your own MST3K commentary. You won’t be disappointed.

January 13, 2009

INTERVIEW - My Bloody Valentine 3D Director Patrick Lussier Keeps It In The Family

Considering how much of last year he spent hunched over in a dank cave shooting a slasher movie, editor-turned-director Patrick Lussier seemed incredibly chipper as we spoke about the upcoming My Bloody Valentine 3D, the first horror movie to play around with the brand-new 3D technology we've all been hearing about (since none of us actually saw Journey to the Center of the Earth). You can read the first half of my interview at AMC, and the rest is right here. Watch your head -- MBV3D opens Friday!


TB: People always say that the version of movie we end up seeing is formed by the editor, not the director. In the age of digital media, is that more true or less true?

PL: I think it's always been true... So much of the movie that you make is built in editing; you have so much control over what it can become and the shape of the performances, and I think that's always been the case. Digital technology affords you the ability to shoot more in less time, which means there's more emphasis on editing because there are more possibilities -- but the more you have to sift through, the harder it can be to find those kernels of gold to create the best movie possible.

TB: As a director, do you think you'll always edit your own films?

PL: Probably, but I like to edit with somebody so I have a fresh eye as well. I'll definitely shoot something with a specific way in mind, and someone else can come in and may show it to you in a way you hadn't expected. It's important to have a creative partner, there can be some great surprises.

TB: 3D is really taking off. Do you think other audience immersion techniques on their way in too?

PL: Surely, if you go to theme parks, they've been explored and exploited for years now. As for 3D, having seen it a few times from the audience, you see the amazing reaction people have to it, and how participatory it is. It's a genuinely pleasurable experience just viewing the technology, before you even consider the content. 3D feels like it has potential to really catch on; the more theaters that can add it, the more viable it's going to become, to the point where you could have two or three 3D movies in release at the same time -- that will be how you know when it has really arrived. Even now with this film you can sense that people are having that theme-park sort of experience, which makes it a really fun date movie. That kind of scary-fun, not like a torture-porn movie or anything. We wanted it to be a fun throwback to those great '80s slasher films, with really advanced technology, and that's what it is.

TB: Looking at your cast, particularly the younger ones, it's impressive how many film credits they seem to be racking up lately. Did you find them to be a particularly ambitious group?

PL: The cast we had was amazing. They were all so enthusiastic about the project and their characters and the story and bringing their absolute A-game every day on set, never taking their foot off the accelerator during the 18 hours a day that we were shooting, and in incredibly exhausting conditions. This is Megan Boone's first film, and she was so in tune with the character and film, and had such boundless enthusiasm. She brought an unbelievable amount of terror to her role. Myself and the DP would watch her during her big scenes, and we couldn’t believe how riled up they were getting and how terrified they were, it almost became impossible to say "Cut!" because you were on the edge of your seat just watching them as they were performing.

TB: Are there any 3D movies from your youth that you remember with any fondness?

PL: I remember seeing a few of them, like Jaws 3D, and Spacehunter, and kind of going, "Eh…" The technology at that time was a little clumsy. It was a noble attempt but they didn't have the technology to make 3D such an incredibly immersive, high-quality experience.

TB: You've worked with your son, Devin Lessier, multiple times over the years, including MBV3D. can you tell me about the working relationship you two have?

PL: Since the time he was two I've been training him to work in editing rooms, and he's kind of grown up in the environment. A few years ago he decided that he wanted to pursue a career in editing, and when he was 15 he started working for us on Red Eye as our post-production PA, and then he did some work for us in Cursed, and did a great job. He's so technology-savvy, way more than I am, having had a computer since he was a child. He has such a natural understanding of systems and databases and how things work and how to find things and how to move and make things. He became an invaluable asset almost immediately. And to get to work with him and watch his career blossom -- he was the apprentice for The Eye and was First Assistant Editor on Quarantine with the Dowdle brothers. It was incredible to have him on Valentine, to know you had someone who would always shoot you straight. He's incredibly smart -- of course, you know he's my son, so what else am I going to say? But to get to work with him fills me with nothing but pride.

Beware The Azalea Trail Maids And Their Hypnotic Parasols Of Slavery

Does this image fill you with righteous indignation? According to the Alabama NAACP, it should. The Azalea Trail Maids began promenading in 1929 in an effort to get people to plant azaleas along the streets of Mobile, AL, but apparently some think their floofy costumes are a throwback to the days of slavery and are trying to get them banned from walking in Barack Obama's inaugural procession. I'm acutely sensitive to issues of discrimination and oppression and think the NAACP is usually an incredibly useful organization, but I don't think anyone ever felt oppressed by a hoop-skirt except the people who've had to wear them.

Considering the fact that the White House and the Capitol building were built by slaves, and that the inauguration event will be kept civil by policemen on horseback and others leading trained attack-dogs, going after the Trail Maids for dressing like Aunt Pittypat is pretty fucking harsh. If you'd like to contact the Washington DC branch of the NAACP and urge them to make a statement appealing to reason, here's the information:

Phone: (202) 463-2940
Fax: (202) 463-2953
Email: washingtonbureau@naacpnet.org

January 12, 2009

INTERVIEW - Ladies And Gentleman, The President Of The American Tarantula Society

When it comes to appreciating the unique charms of the world's largest spiders, you can't beat the American Tarantula Society for education and advocacy. Last week I spoke to Wade Harrell (the Society's president) all about the ATS and the objects of their affection -- if you've ever wondered how to send a tarantula in the mail, or how to store a hundred of them in your home, then this is definitely an interview you aren't likely to forget!


TB: So, do you live somewhere where there are a lot of tarantulas?

WH: No, I actually live in Richmond, VA. There are no tarantulas here; in the US, tarantulas live west of the Mississippi River.

TB: How did you get involved in the ATS?

WH: I found out about the ATS from an ad in a magazine. It was probably '96 or so; I was keeping a lot of exotic pets, mostly reptiles, and I'd started getting into things like tarantulas and scorpions, and had a few of those. I became a member, and then I became a contributor, and then I started going to their conferences. Eventually I got involved with their board of directors. With that kind of group, if you sit there long enough, they'll eventually put you in a leadership position.

TB: How would you characterize the people involved in the ATS?

WH: It's all kinds of people. It's kind of like that with the exotic pets scene in general, which is a good mixture -- everyone from bikers and goth teenagers to computer geeks, families with kids, and scientists. Tarantulas aren't related to reptiles at all, but as to the people that like them, it's kind of an offshoot of the reptile hobby; most of the reptile events have people selling tarantulas there. The ATS holds our own annual conferences, pretty much the only yearly event that's devoted to tarantula enthusiasts solely -- though we do talk about scorpions and other arachnids as well.

TB: What work and/or honors come along with being the President of the ATS?

WH: When I first started I was writing articles for the magazine and stuff like that; when you get to the higher levels, a lot of it is administrative. The good parts involve trying to figure out what you want to do with a society like this. When the ATS started, there was no network for people at all, because there was no internet yet. Now people obviously get most of their information from participating in various web forums, so figuring out what the role of a society is in this new environment is very exciting. The direction we need to go in is more educational, and try to foster an appreciation for not just tarantulas and other arachnids, but nature in general. They're not just bugs in a box; we want people to think about the context in which they live their natural life.

TB: It's quite an impressive and unusual-sounding title you have. Do you get to invoke it often?

WH: Only when I'm trying to do something for the organization. Like if I'm trying to get someone to contribute materials -- we have a quarterly magazine, and I'm always trying to get people to write for it, so I tell them I'm the President of the American Tarantula Society, and once they stop laughing…

TB: How do the hobbyist and scientific contingents interact?

WH: One of the things we try to do is try and bring the scientific community and the hobbyist individuals closer together. I'd say our membership is probably 85% amateur enthusiasts and 15% people engaged in some kind of scientific work, and of those there are only a handful that work specifically with tarantulas. Unfortunately there's no money in tarantulas, they have no economic importance, aside from the people selling them for pet trade. There is some venom research going on with them. But mostly there's not much incentive to work with tarantulas right now. Hopefully there can become more interest as scientists realize how many people really do care about it.

TB: On your "So You Found A Tarantula..." page, there are instructions for shipping tarantulas to ATS for research purposes. Do people really send them to you?

WH: Well, the person who receives them Brent Hendrixson, a researcher who's active with us and contributes to our magazine. I'm not sure how many he gets a year, but it's a fair number. We try to promote what he's doing because he's doing a lot of DNA work and taxonomic work -- Even though tarantulas are large, seemingly conspicuous spiders, they're actually very poorly studied, so we're not even close to knowing even how many species are living in the United States. That's what he's trying to work on.

But I do personally receive tarantulas in the mail, and I've sent them in the mail. It's kind of a nail-biting proposition at times, because you want them to be okay... Tarantulas are surprisingly delicate animals. They can't really survive any impacts, so you have to really pack them -- in fact, you pretty much have to immobilize them. You put them inside a plastic cup and pack paper towels around them and tape it up, and then in turn have that immobilized inside a Styrofoam box so it's insulated, and then you send it express overnight. That's pretty much the standard method, but it depends… some carriers won't take them, and some will. Some will tell you that they won't, but they really will.

TB: You mean postal carriers?

WH: Yeah, it turns out the Post Office will carry live tarantulas. Periodically their policies change -- sometimes they say no live creatures at all, sometimes they'll say spiders are okay but you can't ship scorpions. There are some very strange, inconsistent rules; you can ship lizards, but not snakes or turtles. All the carriers are that way, so you have to stay on top of what the current regulations are. There's no specific law against it, it's just the policies of the shipper.

TB: Is that the kind of thing the ATS might lobby against, if laws or policies changed?

WH: We would try to be involved in that. We're not a huge organization, it's not like we have attorneys on staff that we can just send out to take care of things, so the most we could do is write letters and try to explain that there's a right way and a wrong way to do these things. It's usually nothing that singles out tarantulas specifically, mostly just blanket regulations covering all exotic pets.

TB: Are there any creatures out there that fill you with the same dread that most people usually reserve for large hairy spiders?

WH: Not really. Flies are really gross, and some of the maggot-oriented things I've witnessed in my years of working with animals were pretty disgusting. Most of the animals that bother me are the ones you'd have a pretty good reason to be bothered by -- parasites, and things like that. I'm not a big fan of mites and ticks. Just like other animals, tarantulas have mites that bother them, and getting rid of them can be a major problem. But in terms of just being creepy, there's nothing really.

TB: Are there any tarantula-themed movies that you really enjoy?

WH: Of course there's the classic Tarantula, which is kind of a silly one. But I like the earlier scenes in that movie, where the effects are done using an actual tarantula. The dog-sized tarantula in a laboratory cage is a very cool image -- they've got other animals too, like a giant rabbit, but of course it's tarantula that escapes. The movie also has an uncredited role, Clint Eastwood is actually in it as the jet pilot who napalms the tarantula.

Earth Versus the Spider is a really funny one, even lower budget than Tarantula, but they use an actual tarantula for almost all the shots in that movie. They never say explain why there's a giant tarantula, which is one of my favorite things about it. It's just there in the middle of the desert eating people for some reason.

TB: I noted that Tarantula.com is taken by some kind of media company, and they're really not doing much with it at the moment. Would you ever consider a campaign to make them surrender the name, in the name of science?

WH: That's kind of an interesting idea! [laughs] But I think that the word "tarantula" is pretty common in popular culture. And there's actually a lot of debate within the tarantula hobbyist groups over whether you should really call these spiders tarantulas or not to begin with... The original spiders that were called tarantulas were actually these kinds of wolf spiders that lived in Southern Italy; they became very famous because it was believed that they were dangerous to people, even though they weren't. And when people were describing these huge spiders from South America and other places, they started calling those tarantulas too. So now the name applies to all the large hairy spiders included in the group Theraphosidae, which is the family that tarantulas occupy today, and all those wolf spiders are in a totally different family.

TB: Is there a name that these people have proposed to be used instead?

WH: That's another thing people like to debate! Of course some scientific types say that we should reject common names altogether, and just call them Theraphosidae. In Africa they're often called baboon spiders, mainly because somebody thought their legs looked like baboon fingers when they're in a burrow with their legs sticking out of the hole. In South America they're often called bird spiders, because certain kinds can kill birds, though it occurs only rarely. In Asia there are some called earth tigers or tiger spiders, as many of them are striped, and they're often very aggressive when they're disturbed. So, there are a lot of names already out there.

TB: Do you happen to own any tarantulas now?

WH: Oh yes! I've probably got… oh, a hundred right now. A lot of them are babies -- I breed them sometimes -- so they're small, about a quarter inch across. My largest one now is about 8 inches across.

TB: I can only imagine that this takes up a lot of space… Do they have their own separate enclosures?

WH: Yes, they have to have their own cages. They don't have huge brains… they will eat each other. To a tarantula, another tarantula is just another big bug to eat. The good news is that they don't require a lot of space as individuals. The small babies live in pill vials, you know, little 3-4 oz. containers, so that's pretty easy. When they get larger, a 5-10 gallon aquarium is more than enough space for most.

TB: That seems astonishing to me, because I have three cats, and if I wake up in the middle of the night and the house is on fire, how am I going to get three cats out of the house? I can only imagine what you'd do with a hundred tarantulas...

WH: That would be tough... It's usually a good idea if you have a lot of these kinds of pets to let somebody know. There are a lot of notification things you can do; through pet stores you can purchase actual labels for all your doors that say "Please rescue my pets." Obviously, as I have a whole bunch, that would be a challenge.

TB: If you had a sticker that said "Firemen: Please rescue my hundred tarantulas," it would probably good for keeping out burglars too.

WH: [Laughs] Yes, it probably would.

January 10, 2009

January's The Best Time Of Year To Be Alone Again (Naturally)

Is there anything better than a really depressing song in the darkest days of January? I'm terribly partial to Gilbert O'Sullivan's 1972 hit Alone Again (Naturally), which he sings so matter-of-factly that one wonders whether men in white coats were waiting for him just offstage. Here it is, with lyrics added for maximum downward spiraling:

He's not alone -- countless others have covered the song to let you know just how terribly they ache inside, and how badly they want to throw themselves off of a tower. As a tribute to seasonal depression everywhere, I'd like to present the very best and worst versions the world has to offer...

Click Here (Naturally)

Nina Simone, that champion song-stealer and frequently hazy ad-libber, trumped O'Sullivan pretty soundly when she unveiled her starkly autobiographical rewrite:
"I remember this afternoon
When my sister came into the room
She refused to say how my father was
But I knew he'd be dying soon.
And I was oh so glad, and it was oh so sad
That I realized that I despised this man I once called father.
In his hanging on, with fingers clutching
His body now just eighty-eight pounds
Blinded eyes still searching
For some distant dream that had faded away at the seams.
Dying alone, naturally..."

And so forth. However, while her version's on iTunes, there's no video, so we'll have to set her aside for the moment in favor of more faithfully documented covers, like Shirley Bassey's. The ultimate drama queen, she definitely takes more than she gives during her 7 minutes at the bottom of the heap -- Bassey's wringing the life-giving essence out of every syllable, leaving the viewer with the dried-up husk:

If it's rock-bottom inertia you're after, no one can dethrone Cass Elliot. A year and a half before her untimely death, Elliot presses her face against a rain-streaked windowpane, wearing dark garments of penitence and listlessly drifting through the song like she's on pills. The thunderous applause at the end as she finishes and slumps in her chair is heartbreaking:

This dubious club mix is pretty hard to love, until the moment when the pipe-organ starts booming, right as he sings about getting left at the altar. The video is shit, but I've got to hand it to this guy for creating a moment of sick irony that's worthy of a really awesome black comedy:

Sungha Jung's videos have been around a while now and the cuteness is wearing off rapidly, but there's something about the sight of a child nodding out over this song that makes me worry whether he'll make it to adulthood. Some people are too sensitive for this world...

Which brings us up against that near-transparent membrane between official covers and the ad-hoc karaoke attempts that people love putting up on YouTube for some reason. This fellow and his neck-brace is a clear challenger to O'Sullivan's monopoly on grief:

January 8, 2009

Seen Between Fingers - Don't Quit Your Day Job, Dracula!

In this regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly reports back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies (he's also one of the judges of my January Interview Contest). Chris always seems susceptible to atmosphere and storytelling, so when I found out he'd never seen 1992's Dracula remake, it was a no-brainer to assign it. Unfortunately the movie itself is sort of a no-brainer -- it hasn't aged nearly as well as one might hope...

What confounds me about Bram Stoker's Dracula is how primed I was to enjoy it. The sight of Gary Oldman decked out in wrinkles and kabuki robes while licking a razor is forever seared in my mind as a new and invigorating take on an icon whose image had remained unquestioned for decades. The film holds a considerable reputation and has left a legacy of visual references and parodies. It was so prevalent in the '90s that I owned and regularly listened to the CD soundtrack even though I had never seen the movie itself. I was sure that a piece with such a strong reputation would bring quite a bit to the table. How, then, could it have run so far adrift from my expectations?

A number of hugely enticing and creative elements come together in this work. It's a credit to the costumer that the old man wrapped in gold fabric with Mickey Mouse ears for hair has become an accepted vision of our favorite vampire. The boldness of that redesign is practically equivalent to dressing Santa in a pin-striped suit, [Editor's note: see Palm Centro's accursed take on St. Nick here] and the fact that it seems justified is almost miraculous. The movie also sounds scary; from the swelling trumpets during the opening battle to the operatic soprano that precedes Mina’s first (we assume) taste of bestiality, it’s still clear that someone has created an ideal score to which to lose your mind slowly. The dialogue and acting aren't all bad, empirically speaking, and yet so much goes wrong.

According to IMDB, the script was initially envisioned as a made-for-TV movie. It helps to cling to this idea as you watch the madness unfold. I think Francis Ford Coppola might have had the word “theatrical” in mind for his direction, but “hokey” might be a more fitting description. The vivid colors! The cycles and repetitions! The bloody blood! Remember high school English class, when you had to find the symbolism in The Scarlet Letter? That’s what this feels like. I know camp when I see it, and I definitely watched a couple hours of it here.

With the exception of Keanu Reeves, Coppola assembled a pretty capable cast, only to have them take turns gnawing the scenery to bits. Anthony Hopkins commits the worst sins in this regard, using an accent as absurd and erratic as his line delivery. Winona Ryder was never the strongest performer in the world, and her presence simultaneously shouts “Hey, it's the '90s!” and “Wow, am I ever uncomfortable!” Gary Oldman gets a little more leeway by the nature of his role, and thus comes out relatively unscathed. Under that much make-up, you pretty much have to give the same performance whether you're playing an undead bat-count or Edna Turnblad. In hindsight, the unkindest hand is unfortunately dealt to Sadie Frost, whose “And introducing...” credit only serves to illustrate how few people in Hollywood wanted to meet her. This girl banged a latex wolf on a concrete casting couch and still barely ever managed more silver screen credits than costar Tom Waits. (Speaking of which: Tom Waits?)

The uniform lack of subtlety employed by all involved is supremely distracting. Almost every choice made in or about the movie raised immediate questions. Why has Winona Ryder worn six dresses in the exact same shade of mint green? Why are Dracula's eyes superimposed on fucking everything? The landscape is so red -- is his castle on Mars? Has no one thought to make Sadie Frost a dress capable of restraining both her breasts at the same time? Does she really wear that slutty red nightgown to bed even when she's on the verge of death? Has the "loose wolf"subplot really existed entirely so we can watch the lead characters pet it for a while? No, seriously, Tom Waits? Is anything scary going to happen? Am I watching TBS right now?

I couldn't help but feel as though the whole fiasco was being run by my high school theater teacher. Each atmospheric element that could have been creepy if the audience was trusted to notice it on their own was instead turned up to eleven and thrust in our faces. Sure, it's a nice touch that Dracula's shadow doesn't always line up with his motions perfectly, but after ten minutes of watching the actor and his projected image polka around each other, it gets a little tiresome. Similarly, it's enough (too much, really) that Winona Ryder plays dual roles: we don't need constant dissolves between her two characters. More and more, I got the impression that the production team thought I was pretty stupid. And that's the thing: if you have to tell me I'm frightened, then I'm not really frightened.

When the credits began to roll, I was left largely confused. I can't for the life of me figure out why we collectively remember Dracula so fondly. What was it about the previous decade that allowed us to believe that we enjoyed this film? I kept waiting for the big awesome thing that would make me want to keep watching. In the end, it was a big win for Eiko Ishioka, who snagged herself an Oscar by turning the onscreen fiasco into a runway for her evocative fashions. Without her visionary stylings, I find it hard to believe that we'd still be talking about this movie today.

January 3, 2009

MicroHorror Featured Pick - "The Magician's Dilemma"

Normally MicroHorror's creator, Nathan Rosen, gives me full sway in my decision of which story from his 1000+ collection to feature here, so I was a little alarmed this week when he intervened, demanding that one particular story from the myriad 2008 Halloween contest entries be selected. Though taken aback by his insistence, I have no choice but to capitulate if I want to stay in his good graces -- so here's my own little story, submitted to the 2008 Halloween contest whose winners were reprinted here over the last few weeks...

"The Magician's Dilemma"
by Tom Blunt


I have two rabbits in my act, always two. One of them is named Clover and enjoys ravaging lettuce leaves off of a saucer near my feet while I prepare my own meager dinner. The other one never lives long enough to earn a name; it is placed within an “enchanted” golden box before a rapt audience, and crushed quickly and painlessly when the force of my entire upper body descends on it. I present its pathetic, ruined body and blood-dewed fur to the crowd, and then after a series of flourishes inspired by mystics of the Orient, the creature suddenly revives entirely -- or rather, patient Clover has emerged from my secret sleeve, and the wet baggage of her double has taken residence there, its blood cooling as it soaks through the lining and tattoos my underthings with damp roses. Clover takes a bow, to thunderous applause; we both dine well on show nights.

Two rabbits, two cages. But last night there was a terrific clamor on the stairs as I stood in my room perfecting my technique in the mirror; a false alarm, a large chamber pot (and not the tiny maid carrying it) had tumbled and emptied its contents onto the landing. When I returned to my room a moment later, two pairs of identical eyes greeted me from the floor. Two blank curious faces, interchangeable in their beauty and innocence, one of them destined to share my pillow, the other to bleed in my pocket and swim in my stew.

Tonight, in the wings, I watch the red-faced man with the poodle act as he guides his pups through candy-colored hoops. The audience coos; deep down, they know how often a dog must be whipped to learn those tricks -- but aren’t our lives made so much richer by these splendid flashes of magic? I understand their desperate laughter as I brood over the stowed creature nestled close to my body; it feels like an alien thing to me, a malignant cuckoo’s egg. Opening the box beside me, I reach in with one hand to fondle its cargo, begging silently for a spark of recognition as I caress its anonymous features in the darkness. Clover?

“You’re on,” hisses the pock-marked stagehand. The moment the spotlight smites my eyes and the stamping crowd booms, I feel a sudden stiff, frightened kick against my inner thigh, then another. But it is too late! Small claws dig into my flesh as I clamber through the routine, sweatily producing a long-stemmed rose from a woman’s d├ęcolletage and turning a decanter of milk into sour wine. I can’t stop now, the audience already knows what the golden box is for; it’s what they came for. With trembling hands I remove the lid and lift Clover high for their appraisal. I straighten myself to my full height and steel myself for the grand finale.

Copyright: © 2008 Tom Blunt

January 2, 2009

VERSUS POLL - Movie Wrestler Smackdown

I'm currently in the middle of composing a bunch of fun tournament polls for AMC, the kind of thing where various movie characters are pitted against each other in an imaginary competition for some sort of epic title. In honor of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, here's a bunch of Hollywood types who have, for one reason or another, entered the ring. Click here to vote for a winner...