Someone's in the house. He's watching. He's creeping round, only you can't see him. He's watching you from the walls. He's right behind you now. Looking over your shoulder. He wants the remote control. He's a bad boy. He wants to watch bad movies. Bad bad Ronald...

Friday, August 26, 2011

PopCereal Remembers... Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (TV 1973)

Don't Be Afraid of the Marketing Schemes!

This post was originally posted over at Pop Cereal... so, I guess it's really a remake.  Son of a bitch!!  I hate remakes!!

The remake phenomenon has taken another, odd twist this week.  It used to be that older films were remade to try and bring the classic story into a more modern age, making accessible, once again, to a new generation.  Lately, tough, the remake has become more a marketing scheme, trying to get the audience who grew up with the original movie or TV program to crawl back into their childhood clothes and enjoy another romp with their favorite characters (albeit a newer trendier, more adult oriented romp).  But with Guillermo del Toro's newly produced remake of the TV Movie of the Week classic Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, the original audience for this movie are way way out of the standard money-spending target audience range of 15-35 year-olds.  But, even with that said, I'm not sure the original audience is even much interested in seeing this movie remade.

But, maybe that's just me.  The plot of the movie is surely a creepy one: young bride in a new home starts hearing and seeing little creatures after opening a sealed up fireplace.  The movie was truly frightful for me when I saw it at 12 years-old.  And truth be told, it still was fairly chilling having seen it a few times as an adult.  But, do I need to see it remade?  No, not really.  Especially, seeing the trailers which make it look like so many of the other spookers about houses possessed.  The trailer actually looks like the American remakes of some of the better Spanish thrillers.

The fun part about the original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, as well as many of the TV thrillers of that era, is that the setting of the story was decidedly ours.  The world was that of the everyday.  And the people who lived in them were all people who were familiar to us.  When the creepy things came out, they came into our world.  In the original TV movie, Sally Farnham (played by Kim Darby) was just like any other young newlywed, with the same joys and troubles any of the viewers would experience.  That is, until she dabbles in places where she shouldn't.  And then, the creepers come into her world... our world.  This is what made it so frightful -- that these little unseen creepy creatures, who no one knows of, and no one sees, could somehow come get us.  It sent shivers down our spines to think that one day, when all is fair and bright, that suddenly we are sneaked up on by the unknown.  What's worse is, who would ever believe you when you try and explain?

All of this "our world" stuff seems to have been drained from today's thrillers. The world we enter in today's horror is their world -- the world of the creepers.  The contemporary setting in these films are not so normal anymore, but ripe for sorrow and hurt, and the players seem resigned to the notion that misery is just around the corner. Contemporary horror seems so filled with dark and dankness that when the thrills and creepers finally arrive, the audience is already so overwhelmed with dread that the madness needs to be escalated by use of loud noises, thunderous clashes of music, and explosive violence.  Yes, many times that recipe has proved effectual, but more than often it hasn't.

For me, however, I think the horror works better when our world of everydayness is suddenly invaded by the creepies. 

Here's a peep at my review of the original TV Movie.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

PEEPHOLE REVIEW: A Horrible Way to Die (2010)

Rack Focus: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Flipping the serial killer story into a character-driven study of lost lives, Adam Wingard's A Horrible Way to Die is a slow burning, atmospheric thriller that uses mood over effects to convey its misery and horror.

The story follows Sarah (Amy Seimetz), a mousey young woman battling alcoholism and the memories of a troublesome past relationship. Content to hide her feelings within, Sarah still forges a tepid relationship with Kevin (Joe Swamberg), a young man she's met during AA meetings.  In the meantime, we're also introduced to Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen) an escaped murderer with a media following, whose path is destined to cross Sarah's. Simon Barrett's slow burn script fragments the parallel plotlines of Sarah and Garrick, scrambling time so that their pasts clash with their present, and careen towards that inevitable meeting.
A discovery of truth

Wingard has taken more than a notice of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, subduing much of the violence to glimpses of the results of Garrick's nasty work, and then peppering in some on screen gore to build tension. The imagery (by cinematographers Chris Hilleke and Mark Shelhorse), as well reflects the muted landscapes of Henry, but is also as inviting, at times, as it is depressing. The images change focus and meander (sometimes to the point of tediousness), never letting the viewer get quite settles in.

However, unlike Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, A Horrible Way to Die doesn't feel quite as fully realized.  The performances are beautifully tempered and impressive -- especially Seimetz, who is completely convincing with her downward gaze and hurried, obliging smile -- but the mumblecore mood, which works better for dramas, doesn't create the necessary tension for the thriller inside this movie to truly breakout.
Experiencing the truth
Half the problem may be the twist ending.  There are subtle mentions, through peripheral news stories, of a growing, cult like fan base, who write Garrick letters and mount websites in his honor.  The seemingly nonchalance of these bits are intentional, as to not hint at the big twist in the third act. Nonetheless, the surprise comes off more as a device, rather than cleverly suspenseful.  Wingard and Barrett took great care to not give in to the standard schemes of the horror/thriller genre, with their quietly paced story, and nuanced performances, that the discordant twist flips the climax back to the old standard genre trickery, and cheats the audience out of an ending that would be more befitting to the emotionally visceral character study they'd been enticed by.  I can't help but wonder what a better film this would have been, had they worked more at developing the phenomenon of Garrick Turrell's celebrity (maybe as a social comment) and tying it all into his character and his relationship to his world and Sarah's, instead of simply using it all as a dodge to establish the final twist.
 Outside the letdown at the end, A Horrible Way to Die invigorates the notion that horror doesn't have to be bone crushing or loud to be effective.  Mush like some of the slow burn genre classics of the 70s, A Horrible Way to Die is a great way to get your thrills.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BAD RONALD RANTS! The Munsters Remake!?!

Yeah sure, I'm an angry bastard sometimes.  Especially when my childhood joys are fondled like money making trinkets by some money hungry Industry dink. Is there no one left in Hollywood or TV land who can formulate an original idea anymore?
... again!

From The Hollywood Reporter:

"...As first reported by TV Guide, the network is developing a remake of The Munsters with Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

New NBC Entertainment topper Robert Greenblatt is said to like the idea of a remake and has asked Fuller to take another attempt at the project.

Fuller and NBC first made an attempt to revive the 1960s CBS sitcom last year, with the Peacock ultimately passing. Fuller’s new look is said to be an edgier and slightly darker hour long take exploring origins of Herman and Lily Munster (Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo) and how they arrived at the famed 1313 Mockingbird Lane address..."

Edgier?  Darker? Origins?  What the function junction?  Hey Greenblatt -- why not make up your own story about a bunch of dead people who come back to life and live in suburbia, and clunk it up with your silly mythology and dark edgy origins?  Why can't we have our Munsters just the way we like them?  Silly, mild, and fun?  
Listen you little Hollywood twit... why don't you fuck off!
This remake business is really getting to be a bummer. 

NBC has also announced a reboot of another 60s classic sitcom Bewitched.  Oy!

Friday, August 12, 2011

PEEPHOLE REVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Get your paws off my damn dirty sequel!!

I am a huge fan of the POTA films.  Have been ever since I saw the original 1969 Planet of the Apes at the Central Drive-in when I was all of seven years old.  Every since then, they've become a touchstone of my movie watching experience throughout the rest of my life.  I'd always enjoyed the marvel and excitement of the Ape world, but, as well, I've come to deeply appreciated the commentary the films provide.  Even as a 7 year-old I could see that something else, besides action and adventure, was going on in those stories.  The imagery, the words, all looked and felt familiar.  I may not have understood a lot what was going on at age 7, but with the wisdom of years, the older I got, the more I understood the deeper messages of the POTA films.

The huge POTA fan that I am, however, I am not wrapped up in the so-called mythology of the series.  I don't theorize how the Earth was taken over by Apes, or try to map out the genealogy to trace Cornelius back to modern day, or theorize on Ape history and culture.  I never felt the need to wrap myself up within that world.  I just love watching the movies and analyzing the commentary.  The mythology aspect seems to be the hobby of the newer generations, where shows like Lost require mandatory Internet research, and true fanmanship is gauged by your CosPlay status.  It's this over-involvement in things other than the story that eventually eroded my overall enjoyment of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. So much attention is given to the invention of a new franchise backstory and hidden clues, and tying them together with the homages to the original POTA series, that it felt as if the actual story being told on the screen was second hand business.
Take your social commentary and shove it!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not without its merits.  Like the original film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a visual treat.  The cinematography is wonderful, and the visual effects are astounding.  You may already know this about me -- that I am not a big special effects kinda guy -- so, for me to sit back and enjoy CG animation, it's a big thing. I have always been fine with the rubber masked look of the original Apes -- and the transparency of all the effects of those days -- because I've always felt that it was all a part of the showmanship.  The Harryhausen models never looked so real, but in my imagination.  For me, that was the point of movie magic, that we understood it was all fake, yet we were still so taken.  The updated effects of the 2011 film are surely a treat, though.  Caesar was done with such CG artistry that I fell for him as a full on character.  The only flaw in the CG effects came with some of the peripheral creatures.  With much effort and attention given to the main Ape characters -- Caesar, the gorilla, the orangutan... --  the supporting cast of monkeys seemed wooden at times, their movements not jibing with the masterful animation of the main cast.

Story-wise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes did hint at some good ideas... or a good idea. Caesar, the central chimp of the story, asks "What is Caesar?"  The simple question is asked of his owner, scientist Will Rodman, played by James Franco.  Will has sneaked Caesar out of the labs at Gen-Sys, where he has developed a drug for Alzheimer's called ALZ-112.  Caesar's mother was the primary lab animal being tested by Will's team, who has discovered that the drug has improved the chimp's brain functions.  When the chimp, named Bright Eyes (get it?) goes ape in Will's sales pitch meeting with the pharm companies, Bright Eyes has to be put down, with all the rest of the lab chimps.  It's at this point that Will discovers that Bright Eyes has been hiding something in her cage... a baby chimp.  So, it wasn't the ALZ-112 that made her violent!  She was only trying to protect her baby.  Wracked with guilt, and not prepared to put a baby chimp down, Will takes the chimp home to raise it on his own.  Will's father, played by John Lithgow, in the early stages of Alzheimer's himself, names the chimp Caesar (another get-it?).  Caesar becomes not just their secret pet, but more of a son and grandson.  As Caesar grows older, he progresses in intelligence, even developing communication skills with Will through sign language.  But then, when Will requests that Caesar wear a leash while on one of their regular visits to the Muir Woods, Caesar is saddened and confused, asking that disheartened, but all-encompassing question: What is Caesar?
Anyone see my purpose?

The question is pointed at the fact that Caesar is confused as to whether he is a pet that needs to be collared and leashed, or is he something more... maybe Will's "son"?  The question also means something more: what are animals to humans?  In the opening sequence we watch as men cruelly hunt down chimpanzees in the jungle, capturing them in boxes and exporting them to the labs at Gen-Sys, to be lab test animals.  Is this the purpose of animals on Earth, to be whatever humans want them to be?  A pet?  A lab animal?  Not only is Caesar asking about his own identity, but he is speaking to the greater arrogance of humankind -- who are we humans, to take charge of creatures below us in the food chain, just because we can?

Caesar's self-awareness question is unique to this movie, but the message of human arrogance is one that is borrowed from Rise's POTA predecessors.  In the 1968 film Heston's character, Taylor, speaks quite boldly of his contempt for humankind, and the arrogance that humans display by going to war against their brothers, and starving others while building wealth and glory.  However, unlike Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the original Planet of the Apes demonstrates its commentary with much more discussion, and sharper writing and skilled character development. The undeniable references to the social upheaval of the 60s -- race relations, Vietnam, class struggles, the environment -- are deftly interwoven into the story, adding an element of urgency -- images of Taylor being hosed down mimic the news footage of black Civil Rights protesters being hosed by police; Zira's words "All humans look alike..." mimic the words we've all heard from our friends or acquaintances -- which, if only as a historical lesson, are still resonant today.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes lacks this urgency.  The message of how we treat animals is certainly a current issue, but it's delivered with the biased punch of a PETA ad -- bad people are being cruel to animals!  Besides this message, there is nothing more that really resonates to the current events of the day.    

And this is the major flaw of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, that it didn't dig any deeper than that simple question.  Just here, in this review, I've invested more into that little question of Caesar's than the filmmakers did.  Unlike the 1968 Planet of the Apes, there doesn't seem to be any urgency to Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  God knows, there's so much that can be discussed related to the notion that humans arrogance has grown more intolerable since the 1970s.  We're in the midst of another tangled mess of a war. There's global warming, and the "green" movement.  Racism is still very much (and sadly) alive.  There is so much that the original POTA films (along with the TV Drama and cartoon) tackled, that I can't help but feel cheated by this latest re-imagining.

Instead of depth and conversation, Rise of the Planet of the Apes throws down a pile of characters who do nothing more than demonstrate that stale idea that humans can be assholes, or that humans can be complacent.  The neighbor next door to Will is prime example.  The man apparently lives for no other reason but to be a total and utterly un-compassionate prick.  He threatens Will when Caesar breaks out of the house and winds up on his property, and then humiliates and berates Will father, when, in a cloud of confusion caused by his Alzheimer's, he tries to drive off in his car.  Oh, and he also yells at people who come to Will's house and knock on his door.  Then there's the folks at the San Bruno Primate Shelter, where Caesar is sent after protecting his "grandfather" and assaulting the mean neighbor, after the whole incident with the car.  What the purpose of the shelter is is pretty vague,  but for some reason the family who runs the facility (headed up by Brian Cox) aren't big fans of primates.  They have elaborate dwellings for the primates in their care, decked out in trees and rocks and all kinds of things the primates love.  And they show it all off with such pride to Will, when he comes to deliver Caesar.  But them, when all the people leave, the primates are chased through a labyrinth of tunnels to be cruelly boxed up in tiny cages.  But why?  What's worse is that one of the kids watching over the primates has an unsavory anger towards the monkeys.  But, here's the thing.  The kid treats the primates as if he's a bully in junior high.  He yells insults at them and mocks them terribly... but, um, they're monkeys.  Insults and mockery don't really come off as cruelty, when it's animals who are being called names.  But, with that aside, the vile anger this kid has towards the animals is never explained, so his cruelty towards them is shallow.  Then there are the policeman, who have to deal with the rogue monkeys when they break out of the shelter.  There never seems to be a moment of confusion or bewilderment from the officers.  They simply attack the apes with impunity, mowing them down with machine guns and charging at them with helicopters.  The anger towards the animals, in every aspct, is just plain confusing.  People are bad...animals are good.  Check.  Here's a bad human -- he talks naughty to monkeys.  Here's a bad human -- he talks nasty to his neighbors.  Okay, we get the point... humans can be pricks.  Now... what else you got?

What is frustrating about these stereotypes and their useless behavior, is that there are name actors in some roles that should really have had more meat on their bones.  Why are award winning actors like Frieda Pinto and Brian Cox delegated to roles where their shining talents aren't even used, let alone needed?  Maybe they could've been used in the other roles, where they could've put some edge to the stereotypes?  For some reason, I think these actors' talents may come up in the already planned sequels.  Let's hope so.  And let's hope that the future new POTA franchise films will be stronger in commentary and story, as they are in visual wonders.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is simply too wrapped up in the mythology of itself, painstakingly paying homage to the originals series and their creators, and fashioning a history for the new franchise. This is probably why Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes off as incomplete.  Planet of the Apes was its own story, with a beginning, a middle, and and end.  They didn't tie their writers up with leaving room for a sequel, yet alone a franchise.  But Rise of the Planet of the Apes seems to have dropped off after a third act that seemed more like a second act plot point.  Instead of making a nice third act, one that would wrap the story up, we're left, instead, with all but a to be continued tag on the screen.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Bad Ronald Gets a Nod for the Liebster Blog Award!

This one came straight outa the blue for me.  I'd been hiding away in my attic office from my My Little Pony frenzied girls, trying to get some desperately needed editing done, when I decided to first check my emails and tweets (yes, it's called procrastination -- try it some time!).  Much to my surprise, I find a really swell tweet from Mr. Anthony Corwin from over at his blog The Futurist. He was informing me, as well as 4 other lucky folks, that he'd nominated us all for the Liebster Blog Award!

The Liebster Blog Award aims to highlight amazing bloggers who happen to have less than 200 followers. Hopefully you’ll all visit the blogs that I'll, in turn, be suggesting below and follow them because of their awesomeness.

But, before I continue on with my Liebster nods, I want you to go visit Tony over at his blog and become a member.  He deserves your readership!  Can't thank him enough for putting my blog in the spotlight.  Movies have been a central part of my life ever since I can remember.  I know that's cliche, but it's so so true.  I have clear memories of certain points in my childhood (like when my tryke broke down, and I had to sadly watch my twin brother ride his around at age 3).  And Horror had always caught my eye.  I was not yet even in kindergarten when Dark Shadows came on, and it became my first ever favorite TV show (well, outside Captain Kangaroo).  Hammer Horror films were always hotly anticipated.  And then, at about age 10, at a family friend's house, I got to see the unedited showing of Rosemary's Baby on Home Box Office.  I was forever changed.  At the same time, the Planet of the Apes movies were in full swing, and I had been enjoying each one, with great interest.  These particular films, with their underlying social commentary making tiny footprints on my psyche, helped shape the style and tone of the films I would grow up to enjoy.

Hey!  The orchestra is starting to play, so I better wrap this up.  Thanks again to Tony.  And thanks to Mr. or Ms. Liebster for inventing this award. I would most definitely hand over a nod to Tony, for his great work -- but, someone has beaten me to that honor.  So, just as he did, I will now direct you to five different bloggers, whom I feel also deserve your attention.

As always, first there are the rules:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!
And now, here are my picks:
Muir first came to my attention with the book Horror Films of the 1970s.  The title alone commanded me to buy, but the reviews and critiques and insight to the make-up of a horror film are astounding.  He has a keen eye, and enjoy his writing, and I rarely ever disagree with his views. But even when I do, I can't dismiss him, because I know he's earnest and genuine in his thoughts. Reading his reviews and essays reminds me of the old Siskel & Ebert reviews. [Right now, I'm loving his Planet of the Apes material]

For years and years I walk the Earth with my hidden affliction... my love of the Made for Television movie (of the 70s variety).  My childhood and teen years were built around watching these fantastic gems of small screen cinema.  When the Internets opened up for business, I discovered that I wasn't the only one who loved these great TV MOWs (that's TV Movie of the Weeks to you newbs), but there were hundreds of others willing to trade and write about them. Amanda by Night is the proprietor at MFTVM, and you should check it out.

This is one of the first blogs I started following -- if not the first.  Jason (no last name given) not only delivers a catalog full of retro horror and Halloween delights -- music, video clips, artwork, retro toys and games -- but he also shares his Monster Kid memories.  Jason hasn't been blogging much lately, so maybe with some boosted interest, he'll continue posting more.
Lela Richmond's straight from the brain stem thoughts and musings of film, music and TV are fun and stimulating.  She also has a horror related blog All the World's a Horror Show... which she doesn't keep up as much as EPP (probably because I was, and am, the ONLY member of the site -- for shame people!!).

I love the female perspective on the horror genre, especially when they observe with wit and intelligence.  SQ has both, and her reviews and commentary are hilarious and honest.  There are many women out there with genre related blogs -- some are real popular -- and Scream Queen should definitely be on your go-to list.

Now... as a footnote, I have no idea what a Liebster is, or why they're giving awards to bloggers.  I hesitated at first, after Googling the name Liebster Awards, and merely found several other sites who are doing the same thing as I just did, above.  I couldn't find a site where Liebster Awards are explained, or defined... or even verify.  But, the thing is, this little tagging game has its rewards.  I get to send you guys off to look at other blogs that I feel are worthy of your time, and... my blog membership has already gained 2 new members, just for being mentioned in Tony's blog.  Hopefully, everyone benefits from this, most likely, faux award.  Ohh... and if;n the Liebs is a real award... by all means, I'd be honored!!!!!!!