THE LAST KNOCK presents: Television Channels Horror at the Movies

The Last Knock

Yes, you read that title right. Many a horror film has included television as a horror device. Sure, there’s the phenomenal Videodrome and The Ring, as well as the much loved original Poltergeist, but have you seen the others on our list? Listen in to get those titles! Beyond that, why should an actual television freak us out and give us the heebie-jeebies? Oh, you’ll have to listen in to find that out too.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@liljsez @MelanieMcCurdie @ValeriePrucha @SiaraTyr @JessicaCameron_ @RealJillyG @AFiendOnFilm @LianeMoonRaven @thesecasey @RonGizmo @machinemeannow

31 by Jonny Numb

31-poster-art-1[102 minutes. R. Director: Rob Zombie]

Watching 31 as a Rob Zombie fan is a precarious proposition. I found myself wanting to forgive so much of it; wanted to give it a pass and champion its worth because “the devil’s in the details”; and insist that the premise, while heavily flawed (and frankly lazy), lent itself to an overall atmosphere of visceral terror, and was enough to excuse its shortcomings in character, narrative, and logic.

But in the end, I just couldn’t – Zombie had asked far too much of his audience’s good faith, and delivered a disappointment.

31 isn’t without value; and while it shows an obvious (and perhaps deliberate) regression for the filmmaker, it provides a decent amount of compelling images and affecting moments. Viewers unfamiliar with Zombie’s brand of horror will not be converted, and fans will be left wondering why it isn’t better than what’s onscreen. As I fall into the latter bracket, my score of 31 may rank a little higher in spite of itself; others should gauge their expectations accordingly.

The film has a clincher of an opening: an out-of-focus Doom-Head (Richard Brake, from Zombie’s Halloween II) walks down a corridor, toward the viewer, until his smeared greasepaint face, beady eyes, and blood-smeared mouth dominate the screen, inescapable. Shot in black-and-white, he dispenses a philosophical monologue about the function of clowns in a historical context to his latest victim before dispatching him with an ax. Whereas the Firefly family were all shrill, profane bluster in their conversations, Brake convinces, with chilling authority, that he’s a total psychopath. It’s a promising beginning that devolves into convention far too quickly.

The director’s incalculable debt to Tobe Hooper and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reaches its saturation point with 31. The film is a veritable freakshow of psychos crafty with switchblades; sad clowns brandishing chainsaws; tutu-wearing giants wielding large, blunt objects; Betty Boop-voiced harlequins skilled with sharp objects; and Nazi midgets as ravenous as rabid dogs. It actually owes just as much – if not more – to Hooper’s own underrated carnival-gone-wrong opus, The Funhouse.

Given Zombie’s proven skills in delivering visceral impact, the effect of 31 somehow comes off as sloppier, jerkier, and less controlled a picture than Hooper’s notoriously sloppy, jerky, and compromised pictures. The tone isn’t wild or anarchic more than just maddeningly dissonant. The excessive grain and desaturated color palate presents a convincing vision of Hell, but also makes the film feel like just another Saw sequel.

The setup is so perfunctory that even Zombie seems bored by it: a group of carnies traveling across Texas are waylaid by a group of sadists on Halloween night, 1976. Presided over by a trio of retirement-age psychos adorned in Victorian Judge garb, the film does poke at the type of sick-fuck bourgeoisie that Cheap Thrills did a better job of satirizing. This side of the story is never really explored beyond a surface level, and the “rules” of the event (try to survive over the course of a 12-hour siege) are so basic that the film never springs forward with anything truly surprising. Furthermore, there is so little development in the early going that the performances – which are actually very good – are locked in a similar fight (to inhabit three-dimensional characters).

The script abides by that repetitive, tried-and-true structure of characters wandering around or waiting to be attacked, fighting twisted psychos, killing or getting killed, and repeating until one or none are left. The Judges (Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, and Jane Carr) offer summaries and transitional lead-ins via PA, but how they’re monitoring the developments is never made clear; and their periodic announcements of characters’ odds of survival are illogical and hyperbolic (perhaps indicative of the insanity under the wigs?).

Which segues into the biggest issue plaguing 31: while the content is repulsive, it’s almost fittingly so for Rob Zombie’s defiantly un-PC, white-trash world of scummy and/or destitute characters. While he finds new ways to make viewers squirm in their seats, his meat-grinder aesthetic touches are the true villain of the piece: confusion rules the action scenes, which employ excessive close-ups; while this is irritating, it’s compounded to migraine-inducing lengths with the use of shaky handheld camera. In his Halloween films, this tactic worked in moderation, ramping up the visceral effect of the violence; in 31, the aforementioned tics – compounded even further by the dark, dank, and desaturated color palate – makes the action nearly impossible to follow.

That being said, and continuing with Zombie’s “greatest hits” approach to style, the use of slow motion, freeze frame – always accompanied by a chilling, omniscient push-in – and a convincingly frozen-in-time vision of a hot-as-hell, abandoned-by-God Texas landscape is almost compelling enough to compensate for his more ribald auteur tendencies. There are even moments that sing with a bizarre sort of poetic brilliance – a dual chainsaw duel is literally cut to ribbons, but turns the abrasive industrial noise and an underlying sample of Goblin’s Suspiria score into something rather aptly balletic.

Another positive: Zombie collects his familiar repertory group and plugs them into unlikely roles. As Charly, Sheri Moon Zombie exhibits a physicality that echoes Baby Firefly, but possesses a vulnerability that metamorphoses into hard-bitten toughness that’s like a close-but-no-cigar female corollary to Snake Plissken. Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips) is the Rob Zombie surrogate, a snaggletoothed jokester who is eventually forced into rationalizing unfathomable, life-or-death scenarios; he’s a relatable character by the end. Perhaps most distinctive among our heroes is Venus (Meg Foster), an unassuming matriarch who possesses equal parts down-to-earth rationality, compassion, and delusion once events start to spiral downward – it’s a great performance (miles from her work in The Lords of Salem and They Live) that, like much of the rest of the ensemble, demands more development. On the villain end, the trio of McDowell, Geeson, and Carr deliver what they can with their vaguely-defined roles, while Elizabeth Daily leaves an impish impression as a cross between Baby Firefly and Harley Quinn. But it’s Brake’s Doom-Head who runs roughshod over the rest of the Rogues’ Gallery – a signature Zombie concoction who does S&M in a manner as queasy, unglamorous, and savage as the Cenobites in Hellraiser.

But overall, 31 is too conventional to transcend beyond its basest intentions. The ending is confusing and contradictory (and appears to have been edited out of order), and the film is too serious in tone to be just a winking homage. The Ginsu editing, gritty visuals, and disjointed narrative – the hallmarks of many horror directors working in the shadow of Zombie – have been too overused to exist solely for their own sake anymore. And with this year’s crop of similarly-themed survival-horror films – Green Room; Don’t Breathe; and Hush – going out of their way to push the genre forward,  feels hopelessly stuck in the 1970s.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) spends his days clowning around for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and writes horrific movie reviews by night. His work can also be found at loudgreenbird.com. He judges other things via antisocial media @JonnyNumb (Twitter and Letterboxd), and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace.

 

(Art via Joblo.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Director of the Damned: Alexandre Aja

The Last Knock

Born in Paris, Alexandre Aja blew open that door to the horror realm with with the gritty High Tension, the feature he wrote and directed in 2003. After the splinters from that door finished rocketing throughout the genre, and woke up studio executives in Hollywood, Aja took on the Hills Have Eyes remake, followed by the Piranha relaunch with more projects to follow.

We look at Aja’s career and directing style, his choice of projects, and the films he has produced, such as the Maniac remake and The Other Side of the Door.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@zSurvivorLog @TormentOfLaurie @nicolemalonso @OklahomaWard @SamesCarolyn @machinemeannow @RealJillyG @BleedingCritic @AnnThraxx @AFiendOnFilm @LianeMoonRaven @isaacrthorne @MelanieMcCurdie @RonGizmo @TheresaSnyder19 @Talk2Cleo @KeyzKeyzworth @d_m_elms @RSBrzoska @Garvey66 @aicforever @LoudGreenBird @dixiefairy @FriscoKidTX

Ouija: It’s Only A Game by Dee Emm Elms

 

ouija_07-1024x575Perception isn’t reality.

I know that. You know that. Everyone knows that.

And, yet, we give in to treating our perceptions like reality all the time. It’s almost like it’s a self-indulgent game the vast majority of people play near-constantly with the Universe.

It’s so pervasive, in fact, that some people make careers that depend on making particular perceptions seem like a specific reality. We even ask them to do it! Examples: actors, singers, magicians, “spiritual mediums” … and writers. These are people who rely on convincing the rest of us to look over there and not over here. Talented performers in those fields play that game with other people’s perceptions. They convince the entire world to watch the jangling keys, that the hands behind their backs aren’t up to anything, and that what’s happening in front of our eyes is real – or feels real, at least – even if it’s obviously impossible.

And, a lot of the time, we go along with this. Happily, in fact. We’re willing to play along and take part in the game because these are pleasant fictions. We enjoy them – even when we play games pretending to talk to the dead, to use the example of spirit-mediums. Take the Ouija board. We put our hands on its planchette, and we play at talking to the dead despite all that this could entail. Despite the amazing possibilities of what it might really mean to commune with the dead. Do we think of talking to the great minds lost to time? No. We ask about ourselves. We let the lie of magical thinking overtake us and we play along, and we insist “it’s only a game.”  We’re not going to admit that we’re the ones moving the planchette. It’s that person over there, across from us.

But what if it was real? Who wants to entertain that thought? Almost no one. If it were real, there might be implications. Consequences. We want the real world to be magical, but we don’t want to admit how terrifying a magical world would actually be.

Terror can be giddy, and magic is fun. There’s an immediate motivational reward in playing along – and rewards can be that pervasive. We wave our hands. We specifically dismiss our doubts in order to get the reward. We want to be entertained. We want good movies, or a memorable show, or a sense of calm that our long-lost aunt is tending to her begonias in a benevolent afterlife, instead of rotting in the ground in a nullified state.

Over a lifetime, we train ourselves to indulge these pleasant fictions, and to seek out those rewards to the point that we learn it’s easier to get that reward if we don’t care about looking behind the curtain.

But that’s the precise moment when things really start to get dangerous.

Because you know who else relies on making perception seem like reality? Politicians. Con artists. Murderers. And when they succeed at pulling off their big tricks, it’s far from harmless. It ends up with folks manipulated, bankrupted, or dead.

And, yet, our desire to be entertained pushes through our common sense even then. We keep voting for the same kinds of politicians. We turn con artists into celebrities – once they’ve retired, of course, so we know they won’t get us. And we turn murderers into folk heroes.

That’s how much we want to be entertained. We can put up with anything if you give it a soundtrack and some flashy lights. And that scares me. A lot. Because there are smart people out there, right now, relying on our lack of critical thinking skills to do the world a lot of damage.

Everyone should know that. You should know that. I should know that.

Which is why it’s important for stories to have a point that connects to reality in some way. That stories should never exist in the vacuum of being “just stories.” Stories have to tie in to something real for us to enjoy them, even if it’s on a rudimentary level. Even if it’s basic and fundamental. Because that’s the tether that links us back to the real world, no matter how entertained we are.

Some people dismiss this kind of storytelling as “having an agenda.” But my favorite stories always have agendas.

Oliver Twist is a classically entertaining period novel, but it also exposes the horrors of child labor and the toll of bureaucracy on young lives. And To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t just a gripping courtroom thriller; it has much to say about society and the divisions we force upon each other.

And then there’s Cujo, my favorite book of all time.

Cujo is about a woman and a child trying to survive a series of terrifying attacks on them by a diseased dog. But that’s just a metaphor. When I first read Cujo, I got about a third of the way in … and then, suddenly, I realized something important: the story in front of me wasn’t the whole story. Sure, the reader gets the usual Stephen King creep-and-crawl hijinks. But when I looked deeper and really thought about it, I found a much bigger and much more intimate story beneath that surface: A family breaking down and disintegrating. And the theme to that disintegration was vicious, unrelenting abuse. The woman and child weren’t just incidentally “woman” and “child” here; they represented the man-woman-child dynamic of a “typical American family.” The woman and child were being victimized by the enormous, muscled, sick, and vengeful Cujo as a symbol of someone who is part of the family getting sick – outright diseased – and turning on people American culture symbolically identifies as unable to defend themselves. Almost everything in Cujo can be seen as some kind of metaphor. Conflating Tad’s fear of the dark with his anxiety over his often-absent parents; the anti-monster incantation is an IOU as much as anything else. Consider, too, that no matter how hard Donna fights, Tad is dying in that car anyway – because she’s fighting an abstract battle beyond the literal one on the page. Cujo isn’t really the enemy. Time and heat and dehydration are. it’s destruction in slow-motion, by degrees. And consider, too, how the book is obsessed with blending elements of horror and the banal: children’s breakfast cereals that wind up terrifying parents, the monstrous eyes in Tad’s closet that foreshadow his dark fate. They all tie back to undercurrents of evil lurking beneath a placid and pastoral exterior, an American way of life that’s dying in King’s book and our real world as well. It isn’t a rabid dog that’s poisoning the world of the story. It’s us. It’s the way we don’t deal with the fears and anxieties these metaphors represent.

And horror, especially, always needs these metaphors. Because horror, whether as a craft or as an art form, absolutely requires a core of real emotion to work since it’s rooted in real human emotions: dread, unease, and fear. Sure, you can force someone’s instincts to kick in with a loud noise or a transient visual surprise, but that isn’t horror. If it were, we’d call it horror whenever someone dropped a plate at your favorite restaurant. I mean – you jumped, right? But that’s just electricity in your brain. We know that there’s more to horror than just the surprise of unexpected data.

Metaphors are the difference.

Horror uses the most primal symbols of our subconscious language to get at places we don’t visit in conscious awareness. Those plates dropping – that’s the surface.  Adrenaline – that’s just a chemical reaction. The thing we call horror, the thing we love, is so much more than these elements.

Horror as a genre is about our real-life concerns and anxieties, pulled from our own collective subconscious and made manifest by artisans and craftspeople for all to see and to cope with. And that’s key. Horror isn’t just about the unknown being there, or horror would be a dark room and nothing more. Horror is about creating representations of ourselves as we venture into that dark room, and find or lose the courage to turn on the light and see what’s actually in there. It’s about exploring. Coming out on the other side and being okay.

That’s also why my favorite medium in which to experience horror is through film, because that journey can be actively shared by so many people at the same time.

There is nothing like going into a dark theater with other people – a packed house, ideally – and seeing a new horror movie. Not a jaded legion of critics, but an audience who’s there to really experience the horror. To explore those anxieties together in a safe environment. Horror movies are at heart participatory experiences. In most good films, the audience is often relatively quiet. In a good horror movie, in those moments right before the big reveal of what’s lurking on the other side of the curtain, the audience is silent.

But then comes screaming, or laughing, or both. Gasps. Exhalations. And, at the movies, we do it together – and we come out fine on the other side. This is essential to horror because the genre is self-reflective even as it most often addresses the unseen.

Go back to the Ouija board and consider the tropes. Despite the aunt with the begonias, that’s not really what most people are asking Ouija boards. They’re asking about themselves. They’re asking for secrets and truths. “Where’s the family money hidden?” or “Did you love me?” or “Was I responsible for your death?” We care about ourselves more than the dead. We use the board to wake the dead, and check up on them or to ask them for clarity. Consider that. If the Ouija board were real, it would be a tool with which we would ostensibly be using to draw the dead from the commonly-presumed peace of some afterlife to answer questions as we demand that the spirit move a little planchette across a game board.

Now, reverse the pleasant fiction and really consider this from the other side. Could any good come from that? Would we really want to bother people we care about if the board and planchette really had that power? If the pleasant fiction were actually real?

It is this conflict between the pleasant fiction and the horrifying implications of that fiction that’s at the heart of one of my favorite horror movies: Ouija. It takes the paradoxical nature of talking to the dead with a children’s board game, and tells a story that plays out the conflict inherent in those disparate elements by using metaphor in ways that lets the audience question human nature.

Ouija was written by husband-and-wife duo Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, with the latter directing. It tells the story of Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke), a young woman who suffers a terrible loss that drives her to use a Ouija board. Part of what I love about Ouija is that you have to pay attention to really see into the lives of the characters, and I don’t want to take all that away from anyone who hasn’t seen the movie. It’s not about twists and turns and shocks. It’s about the way events impact the characters and the audience, too. There are surprises, but sharing the learning experience with the characters as they delve deeper into the film’s mysteries is more important.

So don’t expect this film to reinvent the wheel. In fact, the film was sharply criticized for being derivative and unoriginal. But many of those critics missed vital material of Ouija that not only make it unique, but something to celebrate in the horror genre.

It’s worth noting that Ouija made $100 million dollars. Now, popularity isn’t an indicator of quality, but there’s something else going on with the movie that helps explain the disconnect between critic and audience, and what many critics missed or didn’t bother to investigate, which contributed to the film’s success, while also tying into the shared experience of horror.

Ouija is principally about observation. About seeing the surface versus seeing the truth. It’s about the fight we all struggle with about accepting those easy answers versus being critical, aware, and attentive in the moment. It’s about the way, when someone kills themselves, we tsk and say, “But she seemed so happy.” It’s about the way we judge by appearance: where beautiful means nice and ugly means horrible. It’s about how we view innocence versus guilt. It’s about where and how we assign blame. It’s about loss and grief.

Grief, especially, factors in as a big part of the story of Ouija in ways we don’t typically see in horror.

Example: in the Nightmare on Elm Street series we see funerals for characters who have died at the hands of Freddy Krueger. These are usually brief vignettes, often serving the purpose of finding the hero character struggling to explain what caused that character’s death so that the adult contingent of the story can express exasperated disbelief.

In Ouija, virtually the entire first half of the film deals with Laine’s grief. And that grief comes back, again and again, and we still experience this through Laine by the time the movie has ended. That’s not just unusual for a horror movie – it’s virtually unheard-of, save The Sixth Sense, Paperhouse, The Orphanage, and The Reflecting Skin.

But that’s not the norm. In horror movies, people die, and the story moves on. As with the aforementioned Nightmare on Elm Street series, you might get a few scenes of tears, but for the most part you just don’t get to follow characters along as they come to grips with loss. And if you do, there’s usually some gut-wrenching twist where we find out the protagonist caused the loss or was the killer all along or some other such out-of-left-field nonsense.

After all, grief is a difficult emotion. It’s tough to experience, and can be almost as tough to write – let alone write well. But it’s the emotional core of Ouija, the idea of how we cope with loss, and the lengths we’ll go when we want – need – the pain of grief to stop, even if just for a little while.

Since Ouija was written to have this powerful emotional core at the heart of the story, that is why so many critics missed the point of the film. The emotions at play flew past them.

And a big reason for this is that the vast majority of critics are men.

Because here’s the other amazing thing about Ouija – it’s about women.

And I mean ALL about women. Women talking to women. Women engaging with other women. Women fighting other women. This movie owns the Bechdel Test and the Sexy Lamp Test and owns them both well.

There are men in Ouija, yes, but they are not at the core or heart of the film. It’s not their story.  It’s Laine’s and Debbie’s and Liz’s and Sarah’s and Doris’ and Paulina’s – and that’s a big deal. Heck, even Laine’s absent mother, who isn’t even in the movie, figures significantly into the overall meaning of the story.

And, yes, women have been an important part of the horror genre for a long time, which has been written about extensively. In fact, if you’re unfamiliar with this topic, I urge you to Google “horror and feminism” and read all about it.

Ouija isn’t alone in its focus on women, but it is unique in just how strong and important that focus is to the story, with Laine at the center. I praise the cast across the board, but I do want to emphasize that Olivia Cooke gives a reserved performance that never fails to make clear Laine’s feelings for the different women in her life.

I love Ouija for taking the time to do that as well, and that we get to see the film explore concepts of sisterhood, motherhood, women’s friendships, and more. We get to see a wide variety of relationships, from connections to conflicts, between this small cast of characters that matter to women.

But Ouija was scoffed at by critics, like Brian Viner who called the film “… like High School Musical, only with screaming”. Jonathan Romney remarked that “The bumps and thumps are mechanical, the young stars insipid and the otherworldly entity the kids contact is called Doris.” And finally, Alonso Duralde said it was “a bloodless kiddie horror show.”

These critics miss the point. They watched Ouija, but they only saw the surface and it didn’t compute because they didn’t look through their metaphorical planchette. Instead, they saw ghosts, but they didn’t see what the ghosts meant. They saw simple scares, but didn’t think about the emotions behind them. In other words, they only saw the creep-and-crawl. They saw the building blocks, but missed the art and craft of what the blocks had built.

And I think it’s because the movie centers on women. We’re increasingly seeing male critics attack movies centered on women simply because of that fact, and often before the films even come out. Like when a noted Men’s Rights advocate demanded a boycott of Mad Max: Fury Road because he felt the film was “feminist propaganda.” Or the innumerable critics who attacked the new Ghostbusters without having seen it simply because women made up the lead roles.

But stories with agendas will keep being made because social commentary is part of storytelling and always has been. It’s why fictional stories get told in the first place. And if you don’t watch horror movies like Ouija with attentive eyes, you’re going to miss out like the critics when they didn’t notice what’s right in front of them.

It’s a shame when you miss out like this because that’s the point of horror: to dare to explore things more deeply than those surface elements. To hold the planchette up to your eye and see what you’re told can’t be seen.

Go ahead. Take a look. What are you afraid of?

It’s only a game – isn’t it?

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Dee Emm Elms was born in 1972 in Glens Falls, New York. Dee writes about many subjects ranging from social justice issues to Lost In Space, and often mixes them together. Her favorite topic is horror, and horror movies in particular. Her novel Sidlings may be read at sidlings.com, and she would be pleased for you to check it out.  Dee may be contacted at her email sidlingsnovel@gmail.com, or her Twitter: @d_m_elms.

(Movie still from Movie Pinas.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Author Israel Finn

The Last Knock

When it comes to writing horror fiction, Israel Finn’s concerned about the elements that breathe quality into the genre: story and character, as well as a working knowledge of the writing craft and a respect for language. We discuss Finn’s horror stories and their origins, and the tremendous influence Richard Matheson and Stephen King had on him. There’s more, of course, regarding horror cinema, and maybe most importantly, how Finn became a solid, disciplined writer even though he originally hated reading. Do not miss this excellent and thought provoking interview for writers, readers, and audience members who love horror in all its forms.

You can find Israel Finn on his website on Facebook and on Twitter. Pay a visit to his Amazon page, and do not forget to look at his latest, Dreaming at the Top of My Lungs, the unabridged audible edition.

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) and the Dread of Difference – Part III by Jonny Numb

ghostbusters-2016-post-credits-sceneIn the horror world, nobody knows better what it’s like to be ostracized for having a contrary vision than Rob Zombie. Revered as the dreadlocked ringleader of White Zombie for years before he ever helmed his first feature, he seemed a natural fit for horror cinema. His first two films – House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects – were steeped in 1970s genre influence (particularly the works of Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, and Sam Peckinpah), and fans responded with enthusiasm. In an unlikely twist of fate, Dimension Films solicited a remake of Halloween to the auteur, who accepted.

Heavily hyped and coasting on the faith of fans looking forward to Zombie’s take on the well-regarded John Carpenter film, it met with mixed reviews but a voracious opening weekend. I was as curious as anyone else, and saw it on opening day in a packed theater.

So here’s the thing: I have watched Carpenter’s Halloween many times over the years, and every time, I try to understand what a majority of horror fans see as its 90 minutes unfold. I simply don’t get it, and I can’t even appreciate its historical value as the forerunner of the “slasher” craze, especially since 1974’s superior Black Christmas does indeed exist.

I followed the film’s promotional campaign and read articles in Fangoria, Rue Morgue, and online outlets like Dread Central with fevered interest, to the point where I probably spoiled the film for myself. My function as a ticket-buying consumer taking my seat in that theater on August 31, 2007, was the hope that Zombie wouldn’t deliver a slavish remake of Carpenter’s film. For what it’s worth, the trailers and stills I’d seen leaned strongly toward that possibility.

Despite some continuity errors that resulted from test screenings and post-production tinkering (an unfortunate norm at Dimension), I appreciated Zombie’s theatrical cut, which created a fleshed-out backstory for Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch as a child; Tyler Mane as an adult) prior to returning to the familiar beats of the 1978 film. The writer-director put his own gritty stamp on these familiar characters and events, bringing a fresh perspective to the well-trod material (diminished over the years by a string of increasingly unnecessary sequels). And the “unrated director’s cut” that popped up on DVD later enriched the proceedings with about 15 minutes of additional footage.

What’s interesting about Halloween is how the fans that championed Rob Zombie’s previous films, and banged the drums for his vision of this remake, recoiled when they finally saw it. Granted, the film cobbled its share of supporters, but the collective reaction – even outside of mainstream critics (the film has a 25% rating at Rotten Tomatoes) – was one of derision. Many cited how it fell short in comparison to Carpenter’s film, others took issue with the violence and some overwrought acting, and more felt the compression of the events of the 1978 version didn’t work next to the new backstory.

The film is not free of flaws, but the greatest irony is that Zombie went from being one of horror’s potential saviors to a pariah whose subsequent works were met with apprehension or pre-emptive condemnation. When questioned about the sequels Dimension had commissioned, Zombie stated he’d do no more than the 2007 version, something that was taken to task when he returned as the writer-director of Halloween II in 2009 (which carries an even less favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The sequel ventured fearlessly into territory so abstract that it became a psychologically dense art film, full of metaphors and hallucinogenic nightmare imagery (yes, I’m one of its few adherents). One can see the liberation of Zombie casting off the chains of fan service he felt (at least somewhat) bound by with Halloween, giving a dual middle finger to his detractors.

And perhaps that’s the point: whether making or viewing remakes, re-imaginings, or re-whatevers, the best course of action is to follow instinct and push the incessantly-chattering voices of the World Wide Web aside. I would bet that the assholes downvoting the Ghostbusters trailer and sending hate-tweets to Leslie Jones are part of the same collective that posts Game of Thrones spoilers on social media for the sole purpose of pissing people off. After all, fairy tales (and some infamous horror movies) have established that trolls are little more than snarky mischief-makers who do their damnedest to throw wrenches in the gears of life, just because. That mischief has metamorphosed into something more sociologically rotten in North American culture, where changing the gender of the Ghostbusters results in a flood of sexist and racist bile spewed by anonymous cowards. For all the civil discourse and productive communication that can take place online, this pre-emptive assault on Ghostbusters shines a shameful light on a generation that’s known nothing but entitlement, and is therefore unable to process a decision that stands defiant in the face of how things should be (not to make an overblown comparison, but such mentalities allowed men to keep slaves and robbed women of the right to vote, but – silly me! – those notions will be absorbed in the sexist-racist vortex where the trolls reside).

Let’s be honest: the worst damage that could have been done to the Ghostbusters name would’ve been 1) putting a sad III behind the title (17 years after the last sequel); 2) bringing back the aging, past-their-prime (Sigourney Weaver excepted) original cast for a depressing nostalgia trip; or 3) having said past-their-prime cast shuffle through an obligatory prologue where they hand over the reins to Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and – in a bit of comeback casting – Dane Cook. Megan Fox could play a sexy secretary, because why the fuck not? And the older generation can return to help the young(er) generation during the final showdown, because, you know, teamwork! Up top, bro!

No thanks.

As the United States seems to grow madder – in the Lewis Carrol sense – with each passing hour, Feig and company took a “risk” by doing something as simple as casting women in roles previously inhabited by men, and that Ghostbusters had a “soft” opening weekend speaks as a distressing testament to the type of “groupthink” George Orwell warned us proles about. I would relegate such nonsense to a few ornery cranks, but with the rise of a full-time sexist and racist bully to the Republican nomination for the highest office in the land, I have a nagging itch that this may become our New Normal, whether it be the entertainment we choose to peruse or in our daily lives.

Within this sea of insanity, it seems like the only logical choice is to support the assertive, ghost-chasing gals who avoid drama and actually get stuff done – I’d vote them all into office in a heartbeat. Not only are they cool as hell; they’re unencumbered by the trivialities by which we’ve come to define our own lives (aside from, of course, the low wonton count in Chinese takeout – seriously, what’s up with that?).

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).

(Photo by Screen Rant.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Fan Service

The Last Knock

No, we’re not talking about “happy endings” from horror filmmakers, you poor desperate soul – or fixing that busted fan of yours that ran all summer long. “Fan service” has usually been associate with manga and anime from Japan, where scenes are purposefully injected into the story to satisfy fans. Has fan service been used in horror? You bet. And we’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. Wait, was that fan service for Sergio Leone? Just listen to the show and find out how some horror filmmakers go out of their way to please you.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@TimothiousSmith @thewarpedone @MO_Donn @TormentOfLaurie @madbradpotts @RealJillyG @tonyakay @ScreenplayStory @EmilyDiPrimio @OwenMcCuenQuest @MirandaNading @AFiendOnFilm @MelanieMcCurdie @wilkravitz @Talk2Cleo @GlassEyePix

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) and the Dread of Difference – Part II by Jonny Numb

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So here’s the thing: along with Green Room and Suicide Squad, Ghostbusters was one of my most anticipated movies of 2016. That’s right – an uberfan who had faith in the comedic track record of the actors and the quality of Feig’s previous efforts (Bridesmaids, Spy, and the short-lived TV series “Freaks and Geeks”) had me itching with palpable anticipation. As with any big-budget reboot of a long-dormant, much-loved franchise, the potential for greatness or awfulness is equally present, resting on the simple fact that you can’t please everyone.

Is the new Ghostbusters completely successful? No. At times, the actors are allowed to venture too far into improvisational territory (a flaw in all of Feig’s films), which stalls the pace. Some of the punchlines don’t land, and at times, the characters’ deliveries are so feverish that one feels the writers were going for broke in the sheer volume of attempted gags. In the last act, some of the action choreography is hard to follow (but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling). And the cameos from the original cast members often stick out like a sore, shoehorned thumb (I will say, though, that they saved the best for last). All that being said, one of its biggest successes is replicating the sense of camaraderie that informed the all-male teaming of the original: this has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with smart characterization. I loved this scrappy new paranormal collective, from Kristen Wiig’s meek, puritanically-dressed college professor; Melissa McCarthy’s outspoken scientist; Leslie Jones’s street-smart, take-no-shit transit officer; and especially Kate McKinnon’s discombobulated, non-sequitur-uttering physicist (Feig gets some of the biggest laughs from cutaways to her incredible reaction shots). While Chris Hemsworth’s himbo secretary is a hit-or-miss one-note joke, it’s nice to see the Avengers star poking fun at Hollywood’s fickle attitudes toward the expectations that come with physical beauty.

Perhaps there’s some buried logic to the phenomenon of sight-unseen hatred toward Ghostbusters, something that could be attributed to J.J. Abrams’ ascent to the Spielberg throne as the newly-minted master of the any-season blockbuster. Spielberg has long been considered a strong storyteller and adept visual stylist, but has also earned heckles for his overt sentimentality and saccharine dramatic cues. With a latter-day Spielberg flick, regardless of the subject matter, it’s a fairly sure bet the type of film you’re going to get.

With Abrams, whose successful updating of the ultimate fanboy franchises – the one-two power punch of Star Trek and Star Wars – has rendered him one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. But this has come not from a wild embrace of risk, but rather an aversion to challenge. Granted, his interpretations of these much-loved, generation-spanning series make for rousing, big-budget entertainment, but the level of risk doesn’t really extend beyond the wild-card actors he uses to fill out the cast (unknowns – or lesser-knowns – buffered by thespian lifers). And even then, the Star Treks lean on Leonard Nimoy cameos and characters who, despite the new faces inhabiting the roles, have already had decades of development. The same goes for The Force Awakens, where all the virtual ink spilled over Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her influence over the future of female-led blockbusters was marginalized by Abrams’ over-reliance on giving fans their due with the requisite appearances by Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hammill, and the usual gang of costumes and CGI. Ridley is fine, but plays second banana to the wistful nostalgia most fans paid for, making one wonder at the reaction had none of the established characters and actors logged an appearance. Personal friends (more well-versed in the Star Wars mythos than I) tend to be of two schools of thought on the film: that it’s great in spite of – or because of – its heavy leaning on the plot of A New Hope.

Like Spielberg, Abrams is a fine storyteller who also happens to have his finger on the pulse of what the public wants. It’s interesting to gauge my reaction toward Super 8 – his foray into original storytelling – and how the stunning visuals attempted to wrestle the disjointed plot into submission. With nods toward E.T., The Goonies, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Abrams once again looked to well-established nostalgia to win over audiences and critics. I responded to the characters’ relationships while struggling with the arbitrary plot developments and ILM-styled overkill. The film has an 82% “fresh” rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, but its existence in 2016 seems relegated solely to jabs from critics comparing it to the NetFlix series, Stranger Things.

Which begs the question: Is there simply greater appeal for mainstream films that give audiences what they want, every time, with a minimum of surprise? While Marvel’s comic-book juggernauts continue to kick dirt in the faces of their seasonal competitors, the films themselves hit familiar beats and draw appeal largely from the impressive ensemble casts that tie the action together. Is there an emotional pulse? Sure. But when will this mass-marketed bubble burst?

To be concluded…

Part III available Wednesday, August 31!

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).

(Photo by Geek.com.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Filmmaker Mark Dossett

The Last Knock

Mark Dossett didn’t just dream about making a horror film – he made it a goal, and his first feature, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom became a reality. Mark discusses how he made a horror period piece on a budget, what led him to turn down three distributors, why his star Shannon Scott is so amazing, and he gives us a look inside his upcoming thriller, As They Fall.

You can find Mark on IMDb and follow him on Twitter. Better still, check out his film, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom.

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) and the Dread of Difference* – Part I by Jonny Numb

ghostbusters-2016-cast-proton-packs-imagesRowan (Neil Casey), the central villain of the new Ghostbusters, is a nerd. He’s so lame, in fact, that he erroneously flashes the hand-sign for “love” – not devil-horns – as he walks into an Ozzy Osbourne concert. His modus operandi is to provoke enough spectral disturbances around New York City that he unleashes a concentration of angry ghosts into the world. He insists that their voices, like his own, have fallen on deaf ears – “kindred spirits,” if you will, to his own underappreciated, “the-world-must-pay-for-my-failings” mentality.

When Rowan optimizes his powers, he resorts to the lameness of having a bunch of cops and National Guardsmen strike Saturday Night Fever poses for his own amusement. Furthermore, he even co-opts the classic “Ghostbusters” logo and repurposes it in order to take on his final form, which bears a resemblance to a slightly less blobby Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

It’s hard to tell whether the character of Rowan was a bit of snarky commentary in director Paul Feig’s and co-writer Katie Dippold’s script, which hews closely to the story structure and character-development style of the1984 original. It was a given that a few kooks hiding behind anonymous social-media handles would take to the web to spin their opinions on why an all-female version of Ghostbusters could never work, but the reality was a more widespread outcry.

Like the Westboro Baptist Church, the trolls of the Internet found their target, lugging a ten-ton bucket of bile on their backs in an act of assumed pop-culture purism. When prolific YouTube personality James Rolfe (better known as the Angry Video Game Nerd) released a video stating why he wouldn’t be seeing the new film, he became a folk hero to those anonymous online voices while stirring the anger of trolls eager to burn a path to the film’s box-office failure.

I guess they figured Feig, Dippold, and everyone involved with the new Ghostbusters owed them something – that “something” being a reboot sans estrogen. The outrage even prompted distributor Sony to buckle, promising the outraged contingent a male-centric version, a development that has gone curiously silent. (And I gotta say: what a bunch of pussies for undermining their own film.)

I didn’t go out of my way to read any of the vitriol; I didn’t seek out negative hashtags on Twitter. I have enough real things to worry about in my life – things that affect me on a daily basis – without going out of my way to find more things to get pissed off about (I haven’t been a teenager or a twentysomething in a long time). Granted, I will admit that one of my favorite pick-me-ups is reading negative reviews of the Electric Factory (a popular Philadelphia concert venue) on Yelp – the difference being, I can vouch for the awfulness of the venue based on years of experience attending concerts there (fuck you, Ticketmaster!).

For me, the art of slagging something only takes on artistic value when you’ve actually exposed yourself to what you’re slagging. If you’re basing your opinion solely on conjecture, rumor, and a 2-minute trailer without having seen the film itself, then you deserve to be shamed when someone who’s done their due diligence calls you out on it.

Granted, I read articles about the backlash for months before the film was released. While it is customary to respond to remakes, prequels, and sequels of well-regarded films with apprehension, the pre-emptive scorn loaded upon Feig’s Ghostbusters was more hair-raising than witnessing an actual supernatural occurrence. We horror fans might be the most apprehensive of all, perhaps because our much-beloved genre receives so little respect in the first place: many among us bristled at the notion of The Hills Have Eyes being remade, only to discover that, hey, Alexandre Aja actually knew what he was doing!

Funny: I am as big a fan of the original Ghostbusters as anyone else. That film, and especially the long-running cartoon series, served as my gateway drug into the worlds of horror and the fantastic. Even though the film is not formally classified as being a part of the genre, you can find it reviewed in VideoHound’s Horror Show, John Stanley’s Creature Features, and my first-ever book on the genre (which I still own) – Movie Monsters (“Ghostbusters is scary and funny,” author Gary Poole proclaims). I can nerd out about the Murray-Aykroyd-Ramis-Hudson films with the most devoted of nerds, and that is something I take great pride in.

To be continued…

* Author’s Note: The title is a deliberate nod to Barry Keith Grant’s The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, which I would recommend to anybody interested in gender studies as it relates to the horror genre.

Part II available Wednesday, August 24!

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).

(Photo by IndieWire.)