Crash Analysis Support Team: Gays in Horror (Part II) – Guest Post from David McDonald

monstercloset7Well, after a couple of false starts, I finally got off to an auspicious beginning. Not the one I’d hoped for, but it turned out well just the same, sending me fast-forward into a more recent past (the 80s) where I stumbled first upon one of those throwing-caution-to-the-wind projects Troma Entertainment likes to toss out:

Monster in the Closet from 1986.

At first I was at a loss to figure out what possibly possessed Wiki to put this on a gays-in-horror list in the first place, unless it was a tribute to style: it was campy enough for eight movies, to be sure. And quite appropriately, Monster in the Closet had no intention of taking itself seriously, including a veteran cast that fits right in with the hyperbole. With the film’s relaxed pace, it looks like everyone had a blast making this goofball enterprise, practically cheering on writer/director Bob Dahlin as he co-opted one classic after another, from Superman to War of the Worlds (the 1953 version) to (yet again) Alien. No matter, though. It’s quite watchable, and is guaranteed to leave you chuckling.

The plot is terminally juicy and stalwart in the face of brazen clunkiness: An evil creature makes its lair in the clothes closets of its victims’ homes, snatching them at opportune moments. The dialog is extraordinary; pearls of unabashed cliché drop with unflinching regularity. Bespectacled Richard Clark, a cub reporter, played by handsome Donald Grant, wrangles his way into investigating the murders and teams up with Sheriff Ketchem (Claude Akins), who spits his chaw into any handy receptacle. Ketchem has already given the brushoff to biology professor and love interest Diane Bennett (Denise DuBarry). Eventually, the Eccentric Scientist Dr. Pennyworth (Henry Gibson) gets involved, determined to communicate with the creature, with Army General Turnbull (Donald Moffat) nipping at his heels, determined to destroy the menace. Several unsuccessful attempts are made to vanquish the beast, until—

What did you say? … What’s this have to do with gay people? I thought you’d never ask!

Turns out the Monster (Kevin Peter Hall), on closer inspection of its victims, gets the hots for Clark — who promptly goes unconscious — and carries him off to find the nearest closet where presumably they both can live in domestic bliss. Meanwhile, Diane’s 10-year-old son and Imperiled Tyke, “Professor” Bennett, figures out the only way to kill the creature is to destroy every closet in the kingdom — Sorry, in the country — and so they do…except one! And so, off trudges the Monster, carrying his oft-catatonic beau (he riles briefly from time to time) to the top of the Transamerica Building. In deference to those who want to screen this film for themselves, I won’t reveal the ending, but as in every tragic love story (which is pretty much what this film turned into plot-wise) suffice it to say that it’s bittersweet.

So, okay. Why did Wiki decide to put this on the “gay” list? According to the article, the decision was based on two assumptions, one pivotal and another incidental. First: Is the Monster male or female? Hard to say, because there’s a contradiction: It had the musculature of a male, but not the plumbing. Had I watched without being forewarned, I’m not sure I would have jumped to the same conclusion Wiki did. Second: The part was played by a male, presumably to make the beast larger and more intimidating – or… was it a sly statement on the part of the filmmakers? In the long run, no one really knows for sure.

Also, as part of the title, the now-iconic phrase, “In the closet,” could make a case for a gay theme. But not necessarily. Those three words represent only half a hint, and it depends largely on the prefix. For example, a “skeleton” in the closet is a generic phrase coined in the 19th Century, which refers to any secret that would damage the reputation or credibility of a person or persons — including homosexuality. Conversely, “coming out” of the closet doesn’t necessarily denote hiding or shame.

But there is one correlation that I believe deserves some mention. In 1986, the full horror of AIDS and its impact on society in general and the gay population in particular was in full swing. At this point many of the misconceptions and much of the panic surrounding AIDS was still going strong. A nasty fight still raged between NIH Director Dr. Robert Gallo with the original French researchers, vying for the prestigious claim of isolating HIV; attorney Geoffrey Bowers was suing the Philadelphia law firm who employed him, which later inspired the 1993 film, Philadelphia; and speaking of Philly, beautiful lesbian model and veteran druggie Gia dies of AIDS from an infected needle, followed by the eponymous film with then-newcomer Angelina Jolie in the title role.

Not that I believe the Monster in the Closet represents AIDS or those with the disease per se; instead, I interpret it as representing the fear engendered by it. And noteworthy is that the “Monster” killed indiscriminately, just as AIDS did (and does): the beautiful co-ed, the blind elderly man, the little girl, the cavalier authorities (cops, military) out to destroy it, and the scientist seeking to understand it.

In the end, the evidently invincible Monster was destroyed by preventing its retreat back into the closet — or put another way, the fear was eliminated by forcing it out into the open once and for all to be dealt with.

In terms of form, however, it’s still a low-brow, silly romp, and quite enjoyable on its own flaky terms. Or as my editor would say, “Check your brain at the door.” Just remember: pick your brain back up on your way out. Just sayin’.

David was born in Baltimore into a military family and moved across the United States throughout most of his childhood. He received a BA in Liberal Studies from Thomas Edison State College and has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has written critiques for prose and film for various publications while writing screenplays, four of which have placed in competitions, his last being the psychological thriller, “Little Girl Found,” a Second Rounder at the Austin Film Festival. He has worked as a producer on three films with a fourth in the works, including his own short screenplay “Gambit.” Meanwhile he is finishing the first in a series of male-on-male vampire fiction entitled “Shared Blood,” due to be published early Summer 2015. You can follow him on Twitter: @deepfocusllc and on his website at: http://davidemcdonald.com

(Photo from Rely On Horror.)

Crash Discussion: Horror Movie Posters

The Last KnockEver wonder about the nuances behind the colors and composition of horror movie posters? If not, THE LAST KNOCK will fill you in,  as we also focus on iconic posters such as THE EXORCIST, JAWS, and ALIEN – and much more, of course.

Crash Discussion: Interview with Horror Author Nathan Ballingrud

The Last KnockNathan Ballingrud, an exceptional horror writer, tells us about his latest work, “The Visible Filth” and other stories. We also look at horror in general, from literature to film, and also discuss the merits of writing.

Crash Analysis: Review of The Cobblestone Corridor (2015)

10974335_795592357187945_8225404832071833192_o-2Director, writer, and star, Erik C. Bloomquist brings us The Cobblestone Corner, a Neo-Noir thriller with snappy dialogue, strong characters, and a solid premise that one could easily find on any college campus: the destruction of a professor’s career thanks to questionable means. But we’re not on a college campus. We’re at the Alfred Pierce Preparatory School where posh kids live up to tradition by being stalwart and smarmy, as they flip imaginary bitcoins to decide if they should go to Princeton or Harvard.

Right from the beginning, however, we know something’s different about this story. After all, we’re with high school kids who are certainly in an adult situation, and handling the world as if they’ve had years of experience under their belts. Even the school’s newspaper, run by the unyielding Allan Archer (Bloomquist), tackles the periodical as if it were The New York Times. You want to find out about the next school bake sale or whose birthday is coming up? Forget it. The Pierce Gazette is about hard news: baseball team steroid controversy, the all-girl fight club, and more.

Sure, I was on my high school paper, and as Feature Editor when I wrote a piece about a crack in the gym wall (almost twenty feet long, mind you), it was cut to avoid issues with the administration. But when Archer begins his narration about how he’s “different”, he’s informing the audience that this whole tale is different. Think of Bloomquist as bridging the gap between Rian Johnson’s Brick and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. We’re definitely in an alternative and cooler universe for certain.

In The Cobblestone Corner, as in Brick, the teens talk like they’re thirty, and their mature nature is frightening. It’s as if they started mixing mommy’s cocktails at age nine when they had their first cigars. Bloomquist takes it one step further by having the characters deliver banter from the forties. The great thing? It all works. Thanks to excellent characters, and a consistency in how they collectively carry themselves, suspension of belief about age and capability is not only acceptable, it’s warranted as well as welcomed. Forget about tears and whining, these kids most likely handle stress with Xanax and single malt scotch.

Besides Archer, we have Logan Underwood (Alec Richards), the first year student with a lot to learn about writing hard-hitting news. Johnny Baker (Adam Weppler), the kid who could probably run a prison because he can get his hands on anything, shines as that guy in the know. Nicholas Tucci plays the patient yet stern teacher/advisor to Archer, and he works hard to make certain his Editor-in-Chief knows his place, even though Archer maintains a little smartass smile along with every quip. And Elizabeth Merriweather (Madeleine Dauer), the femme fatale who knows she’s gorgeous and could manipulate most anyone to do anything – but can she get Archer to do her bidding and investigate a respected instructor’s sudden demise? Sure, there are others of Peirce’s finest with goals and desires, and this creates a great soup of characters that keeps the story rolling at a high rate of speed and the dialogue razor sharp.

Cinematographer Mike Magilnik kept the camera moving, and he brings the viewer some great angles, even in talking head scenes that would normally sink larger productions. The great thing, especially with the Neo-Noir element, is that he didn’t rely on dark scenes and long shadows. Yes, they were present on occasion, but just like Bloomquist’s dialogue, we weren’t hit with classic Noir tropes at every turn. Otherwise, with a little more money and a hairstylist, The Cobblestone Corner could easily have been a period piece.

As editor, Bloomquist knew when to keep scenes crisp and fast like Sam Peckinpaugh, and when to let them roll on a little longer to create atmosphere and intrigue. This helped maintain a steady beat that also matched the rhythm of the dialogue. Therefore, the last item to work in concert with the other elements is Gyom Amphoux’s score – and like a diligent gumshoe on the case, he always hit the right notes at the right time.

So what happened to the professor who may have been forced out of a job? You’ll have to wait and watch The Cobblestone Corner for yourself. Most important, any producer can see that this short would make for an excellent and offbeat television series (on cable without restrictions, please), or, with a few more additions, one awesome feature film. The only misgivings to be addressed: it was hard to tell if the lovely Madeleine Dauer was trying to play it sultry or coy near film’s end, and it would be great to see Archer in some sort of danger. And as for those who might complain about little to no character arc for our journalist hero, well, that’s Noir, baby. The reason Archer can take on the mystery is because of who he is. It’s Archer’s personality, his character, that leads us to story’s end.

Now, why did I write about a film that isn’t a horror? Because, if you recall from Bloomquist’s THE LAST KNOCK interview from February 2014 (http://bit.ly/1EqMK9b), he has his mind set on his horror, Founder’s Day. Like all filmmakers, he needs funding to make that happen, and it’s hoped that The Cobblestone Corner will prove to be an excellent calling card – and it should definitely open doors as well as wallets. To find out more about The Cobblestone Corner, visit http://www.erikbloomquist.com/, and to learn more about Erik C. Bloomquist, check out his IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4620395/.

4.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo: The Cobblestone Corner Facebook Page)

Crash Discussion: Scores to Scream By

The Last KnockScores and soundtracks can make or break any film, but in horror, musical placement is paramount to capture mood and atmosphere, and to set tone and elaborate on theme. Find out some of the best and worst horror cinema has to offer, and what filmmakers can do to make their horror films even better through music.

Crash Discussion: THE BABADOOK (2014)

The Last Knock
THE BABADOOK has been celebrated because it has lived up to the horror hype. Why? Billy and Jonny will let you know, and review this dramatic horror phenomenon.

 

Crash Discussion: WOLFCOP

 

The Last KnockIs THE LAST KNOCK team howling at WOLFCOP or ripping it to shreds? Find out in this episode

devoted to a B-movie creature feature with bite, comedy, and action. Billy and Jonny claw their way through Lowell Dean’s film about the new cop in town, and whether you should support your new furry cop to put him down for good..

Crash Analysis Support Team: Gays in Horror (Part I) – Guest Post from David McDonald

Victim_1961_posterWhen I was offered the opportunity to write on the topic of LGBT in horror — especially by a true aficionado with a formidable reputation for high standards of the genre, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance. I plan to share my insights, and hope that you’ll do the same, since this will be a new adventure for me as I broaden my horror palate, so to speak.

You see, as fond as I am of horror, I am woefully untutored when it comes to the horror cinema world in general. Oh, sure, I’ve seen some of the “greats,” like Night of the Living Dead, most of the Halloween franchise, not to mention extraordinary hybrids like Alien and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In fact, speaking of hybrids, you may agree that horror finds its way into many other genres, and for good reason: its basic element is fear, one of the most fundamental — if not THE most fundamental — of human experiences. I ask you, good readers, to bear in mind this reference to hybrids for later on.

First, though, please allow me a tribute to someone whom I truly admire. With respect to the broader presentation of gays in cinema (horror included) I defer to the late, great Vito Russo, whose tome “The Celluloid Closet” (and the subsequent film of the same name) remains the unparalleled authority on the subject. If you have not yet read (or seen) it, I highly recommend you do so at once.

So, my first task as a novice in horror in general — and gay horror in particular — was where to begin? Google, naturally, which — naturally — listed two sites prominently: Wikipedia and IMDB; the former had 124 hyperlinks, the latter had 100 entries with dates, which affords some perspective over time, especially as it relates to the impact of gay persons in an evolving society. So from that list of 100 I culled what I believe is a good — meaning fair — sampling of LGBT themes in horror. The first thing I noticed that with scouring for films dating from 1936 to 2014, there were very few until the 1980s: Dracula’s Daughter (1936); Rope (1948); and The Creeper (1977).

Technically, Rope — an adaptation of the 1929 play of the same name — is not so much straight-up horror as suspense, something director Alfred Hitchcock was known for; but it also explores the banality of evil (also a Hitchcock watermark) even among the overbred like the rich-kid antiheroes, Brandon and Phillip, styled after the true-life murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. As these two were lovers in real life, it’s not surprising that the Hayes Office allowed the hints at the nature of their relationship to underscore queers as cold-blooded villains, a phenomenon that wasn’t honed to perfection until the 1970s, a good example being the two scenes involving LGBT criminals in Freebie and the Bean (1974).

My point is that horror isn’t limited to the supernatural or blood-soaked in chaotic mayhem. Horror is often clean and shiny, all around us, in the shadows of human experience, just as quiet but invaluable acts goodness and charity shine in the daylight yet little regarded.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more expertly explored as in Britain’s 1961 landmark drama/horror hybrid, Victim, in which a gay, highly placed government official decides to expose a blackmail ring against homosexuals (the first time “that word” was used on film) at the risk of destroying not only his own career, but his standing in society. The pursuit and persecution of “Boy Barrett” in the first part of the film is nothing less than terrifying and poignant. And more horrific yet, in its own way, is a subplot (and red herring) that involves a pair of male lover extortionists. Interestingly, the audiences polled at the initial screenings were horrified that the pair of blackmailers (a homophobic, priggish woman and her smug, mercenary male partner) were presented in such a negative light. Despite this, the film is unflinching in presenting a balanced view of attitudes and biases, both on behalf of gays and straights, within the context of that era.

In the final analysis, clearly neither the filmmakers of Victim nor its actors who took on these controversial parts had any intentions of shying away from exposing the  horror that was commonplace in everyday British life. It’s important to bear in mind that in the UK in 1961, sex between consenting adult males was a criminal offense, punishable by two years in prison. Victim is felt to be instrumental in eventually changing the laws for the better: homosexuality “downgraded” to a mental illness in the UK, and finally decriminalized altogether in 1967.

So while Victim is a landmark film in terms of social justice, more to the point it also breaks ground in terms of mundane evil, horror of a very special, folksy variety, full of sunshine, but horror nonetheless.

Now, in future I will discuss the topic of LGBT persons in the more conventional presentations (in film terms) of horror: blood and guts, bumps in the night, werewolves and vampires; there are a plethora of films that include LGBT persons.

See you next time!

David was born in Baltimore into a military family and moved across the United States throughout most of his childhood. He received a BA in Liberal Studies from Thomas Edison State College and has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has written critiques for prose and film for various publications while writing screenplays, four of which have placed in competitions, his last being the psychological thriller, “Little Girl Found,” a Second Rounder at the Austin Film Festival. He has worked as a producer on three films with a fourth in the works, including his own short screenplay “Gambit.” Meanwhile he is finishing the first in a series of male-on-male vampire fiction entitled “Shared Blood,” due to be published early Summer 2015. You can follow him on Twitter: @deepfocusllc and on his website at: http://davidemcdonald.com

(Photo from Wikipedia.)

 

 

Crash Discussion: Horror Anthologies

Anthologies havThe Last Knocke brought horror fans great story collections over the decades, and we take a look at the best and maybe little known. Engage those tales that made the genre all the more potent with TRICK ‘R TREAT, BLACK SABBATH, THEATRE BIZARRE, CREEPSHOW and many more.

Feel free to leave comments of your favorites and the page, and please don’t forget to leave a starred review on iTunes to help THE LAST KNOCK grow.

 

Crash Analysis Support Team: IT FOLLOWS (2014) – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

it-follows-movie-poster-uk[100 minutes. R. Director: David Robert Mitchell]

Horror films that expose the cracks in the suburban façade can be especially compelling when said facades are presented with a hint of accuracy. In BLUE VELVET (among many others), small-town America is a deceptive mask unto itself, where horror crawls beneath the surface, looking for any possible chance to break out. David Robert Mitchell’s absurd yet compelling IT FOLLOWS looks to minimalist means to convey “the banality of evil,” but its decision to focus on familiar suburban locales lends it an additional sheen of unease.

Rising genre ingénue Maika Monroe (THE GUEST) plays Jan, a suburban girl with feelings for rugged bad boy Hugh (Joshua Jackson doppelganger Jake Weary). A synth-heavy score captures the awkwardness of their date at the very beginning: it could be the start of any quirky romantic comedy-drama, if only the colors weren’t desaturated and the sky wasn’t perpetually overcast. By engaging in a seemingly innocent, time-killing waiting game, Mitchell sets the tone for what’s to come: Jan suggests to Hugh that they each pick out a person in the theater whom they’d rather be, and have the other guess whom it might be. This sets up the notion of identity as its own transferable quantity, which is useful because, after the couple has (consensual) sex, Hugh reveals to Jan that he’s just passed along a sinister supernatural force.

That’s right: we’ve gone from STD as parasite (SHIVERS) to STD as Resident Demon.

IT FOLLOWS is a possession flick in a manner similar to THE SIXTH SENSE (wherein the individual who can see what others cannot is, for all intents and purposes, “cursed”). The manner in which Mitchell repurposes the tired horror relationship between sex and death contains trace elements of David Cronenberg’s notions of virology and mutation (particularly, sex as a process both organic and inorganic); only here, the invading force is supernatural, and thrives on the eroding sanity of its victims. When our “Scooby Doo”-styled collective of teen snoops investigates the rooms of a run-down house, the icy, clinical detachment with which a stash of porno magazines and wadded-up tissues is presented appropriately skirts any prurient interest. (By this point in the film, sex has become the equivalent of a high-school health-class scare film, in more ways than one.)

Mitchell also scores a coup in making his teenage characters likable. They sit in living rooms, watch bad B movies, play cards, and work at ice-cream shops. After Jan’s brush with fate, conversations about sex fall within the same context the Van Helsing character would talk of banishing a curse (also refreshing: there is no real Van Helsing character here). There are intriguing and queasy passages wherein Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Greg (Daniel Zovatto) seek intimacy with Jan, for reasons both ambiguous (a sense of self-sacrifice and respect) and obvious (a chance to get laid). With promiscuity (not abstinence) being the key to survival, the film could’ve easily spiraled into poor taste; instead, it is presented with a morality that is rare in the genre (indeed, keeping ahead of what “follows” is its own tricky game). Is what transpires in the end a testament of true love, or a way of staving off the inevitable?

As with the shots of unassuming suburban exteriors and ramshackle urban houses, the aesthetic technique rarely goes into flashy territory. With DP Mike Gioulakis, Mitchell utilizes dim lighting schemes to underscore seemingly bland scenes (Jan sitting in an English lecture, for instance) that also draws attention to an unavoidable, encroaching darkness. In establishing the lurking presence, there is a compelling mix of long shots that provide the isolating impression of someone (or something) lying in wait. The use of slow pans (sometimes 360s) to fully establish a landscape is sometimes used to inform the viewer of a danger our characters don’t see, or, just as impressively, as a rabbit-hole fake-out. The same can be said for the chilling dolly shots (sometimes a character’s POV, sometimes not), which barrel forward with the same kind of unrelenting force Sam Raimi wielded so well in the EVIL DEAD films.

For all IT FOLLOWS does right, there are times when it drops the ball: during a beach scene, the blocking feels too stiff and obvious, even if its intent is the lead-up to an unconventional surprise. Problematically, that surprise is almost rendered silly by some green-screened choreography. And, further still, the falling action of this scene uses a cheesy J-Horror cliché as a throwaway jump scare. (Actually, I suppose that scene is my biggest complaint about the whole movie.) There are also times when Disasterpeace’s otherwise excellent 8-bit score does its job too well, piling on the ominous cues in the lead-up to certain scares.

But for horror fans, the good outweighs the bad. The characters are believably portrayed (Monroe could very well be the next Chloe Sevigny), and their situation is easily relatable. There is also an admirable dismissal of all the “you can’t be serious” clichés that too often hamstring this type of conceptually tricky story. Adherents of the genre will enjoy spotting the surface-level nods to films like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and HALLOWEEN, among others. Mitchell also utilizes a swimming pool with as much brooding menace as Jacques Tourneur and Paul Schrader ever did. And Disasterpeace’s music continues the exciting trend of composers moving further away from majestic orchestral scores, offering something primitive, flawed, and altogether appropriate.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb is a proud prole in service to that Orwellian nightmare known as State Government. He writes movie reviews at: numbviews.livejournal.com. Also find him on Twitter at @JonnyNumb and Letterboxd – username Jonny Numb. And, of course, he is the co-host of THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes.

(Photo from Movie Guy Ty.)