Tuesday, November 13, 2012

THE BIG BAD: Official MPAA Rating

In anticipation of the DVD release of THE BIG BAD, the film has been officially rated R by the MPAA "for bloody violence, language and drug use."

Monday, November 12, 2012

THE BIG BAD Review on Aint It Cool News

"With some great performances by pretty much the entire cast and some talented camerawork under the direction of Bryan Enk from a script by the lead actress, this is a smaller budgeted film that knows how to pack in scares and action." A nice review of THE BIG BAD on Aint It Cool News (scroll to about two-thirds down the page).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It Came From Outer Space: Braving the ALIEN Quartet

gotta/enk cohort David Robson (blogger at the House of Sparrows) traces the strands of the horror film in a wildly parenthetical trek through all four stories in the Alien Quartet.

"In space, no one can hear you scream..."

It's a juicy tagline, and in 1979 it made us take notice. Alien wasn't the first film to mine the outer reaches of space for horror - indeed, some hip cultural commentators have noticed the elements it has in common with IT! The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires. (And H.P. Lovecraft made a career of mining the unexplored territories of space for wonder and horror earlier still.) But it was Alien that truly instilled sci-fi/horror in the popular consciousness, from its quietly spooky setting to its xenomorphic antagonist lurking in the shadows. And its connection to the then-nascent slasher model has been noted - though it predated the ur-slashery of Friday the 13th and its sequels, all of the slasher elements are there: isolated setting, diverse cast of characters who get offed one by one in colorful and startling ways, and, in the film's eventual protagonist Ellen Ripley, a Final Girl who overcomes her terror and finally faces down the killer. Sigourney Weaver made such an impression in this star-making role that it can be argued that her work was as crucial in establishing the Final Girl as a model in countless horror films to follow as that of Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween (the more obvious precursor).

So powerful a character was Ripley that she was brought back for three sequels. Just as the title creatures prove adaptable and xenomorphic, so do the sequels themselves change character and genre: James Cameron's Aliens sees Ripley sign on for a military mission to combat the beasts in Cameron's future war/action story; David Fincher mines an AIDS allegory in the story of Ripley's battle against a single creature on an austere prison planet in Alien3; and finally Jean-Pierre Jeunet crafts Alien Resurrection as an arthouse fantasia similar to his earlier darkly whimsical creations. And yet the horror aspects of the first film do inform these mutant chapters.

Though decades pass between Alien and Aliens, the Aliens emerge as a threat the moment Ripley regains consciousness, as if they were laying dormant in wait for her. David Thomson, in his engaging if contestable book on the series, argues compellingly that this can't be a coincidence, that the Aliens return in response to Ripley's awakening, much in the way that Melanie Daniels' booty call to Bodega Bay seems to provoke the avian attacks of The Birds. And though the Weyland-Yutani corporation, in their ongoing efforts to use Ripley to exploit the aliens for profit, serves as a villain of the films, it is the weirdly Gothic relationship between Ripley and the aliens that truly drives them. In Aliens this is sealed by the duality between Ripley (whose growing fondness for young Newt becomes a kind of motherhood) and the Alien Queen (who, justly pissed by Ripley's destruction of her eggs, comes after her for revenge).

A cybersleep away from the wartime histrionics of Aliens we find Ripley landing on Fiorina "Fury" 161. Though Alien3 is Fincher's first feature, he demonstrates an affinity for horror, from the tastefully gruesome autopsy of a beloved character from the previous film (per good horror, ANYONE can die at ANY TIME) to the slow reveal of the creature's new canine form. The bond between Ripley and the aliens tightens as it is revealed that she's carrying the embryo of an alien queen inside her, and that old horror standby, the fiery climax, claims them both.

And yet the story continues two hundred years later in Alien Resurrection, as a cloned Ripley (Number 8) awakens to find herself an alien/human hybrid. The alien DNA within her gives us a truly awesome Ripley, and Weaver's playing of Number 8's strength, ferocity, and sensuality is a joy to watch (she should have the role of Countess Dracula all sewn up, even a decade later). Under Jeunet's direction (and with the glistening photography of Darius Khondji), the Aliens themselves look spectacularly malignant. An underwater chase scene takes on a nightmare quality and becomes one of the franchise's most memorable set pieces (despite the general disdain heaped upon this sequel, not least by screenwriter Joss Whedon).

Alien remains a milestone in the history of horror, and an influence on many of the films that followed it, be they sci-fi horror films like Event Horizon or more earthbound offerings. But the strands of cinematic horror can be found even in the more fanciful mutations of the later films in the Alien Quartet, shadowing Ripley as doggedly as her shiny, malevolent, rapacious nemeses.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Lost Youth of THE LOST BOYS

Cry little sister, come to your brother! gotta/enk films' own Bryan Enk reflects on THE LOST BOYS that almost was. Head back to the Murder Capital of the World.

Do you like The Lost Boys? Of course you do, what damn fool doesn't? But do you realize just how close one of your favorite movies came to never existing? Yeah, really close. Damn.

Okay, that's not entirely accurate. The Lost Boys was going to see the light of day, one way or another. It's just that it was originally set to be a much different film than the one you know (and love!) now.

It's all been burned into your brain for a long time (1987 was a while ago, chum): the first team-up of the two Coreys (Haim and Feldman, if you want to get formal); Kiefer Sutherland leading his gang of motorcycle-riding teenage vamps through the somewhat oddly post-apocalyptic streets of "Santa Carla," California (the "Murder Capital of the World"); Jason Patric engaging in a crossfade-happy would-be sex scene with Jami Gertz.

Hell, you probably even remember the pony-tailed, muscular "saxophone player from The Lost Boys," a reference made by Kenny Powers in the Season Two premiere of HBO's Eastbound & Down.

Anyway, that movie came close to never happening. The original script called for something different entirely.  

The Lost Boys was originally inspired by the success of The Goonies (and really, what wasn't?), which is probably how producer Richard Donner got involved in the first place. The script by Janice Fischer and James Jeremias featured "Goonie-type 5th and 6th grade vampires," with the Frog Brothers (eventually played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) originally described as "chubby eight-year-old Cub scouts."

That would've been a very different movie indeed, one perhaps more in line with the traditional idea of "the Lost Boys" and the Peter Pan story they come from. Like The Goonies, it would've been two hours of little kids running around and screaming -- apparently, Donner loves that stuff, because he was originally set to direct the film himself.

Then some executive at Warner Bros. looked at the script and exclaimed, "Hogwash!" The script went through a major rehaul by Jeffrey Boam (in which every character aged about five years) and Donner handed directing duties over to Joel Schumacher because all this nonsense was taking too damn long.

So, the next time you revisit The Lost Boys, pause and reflect on how it could've been a much ... louder movie.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

FREDDY VS. JASON: There Can Be Only One

It was a long-awaited battle that was destined to only go one round. Get in the ring (of evil!) with gotta/enk's own Bryan Enk

When Freddy vs. Jason finally became a reality, fans rejoiced. And so did New Line, which had been trying to make the epic battle actually happen for 16 years.

New Line and Paramount (which owned the Friday the 13th franchise back in the day) first tried to make FvJ back in 1987, which had brought us to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors with Freddy and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives with Jason. The two studios ultimately wanted to license the other's character so they could control the making of FvJ, though no one could agree on a story and negotiations were never finalized. Paramount went on to make Friday Part VII: The New Blood (1988) and New Line continued with Nightmare 4: The Dream Master (1988).

After Friday Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) performed poorly at the box office, producer Sean Cunningham decided he wanted to reacquire the rights to the Friday the 13th franchise and start working with New Line on making FvJ happen. However, FvJ was put on hold again when Wes Craven returned to New Line to work on Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994), which allowed Cunningham to go all-out with Jason Goes to Hell (1993), which was designed to open the door to the crossover with Freddy (the final shot features Freddy's glove emerging from the ground and grabbing Jason's mask).

However, FvJ would still face delays, so Cunningham was forced to create yet another sequel to keep the Friday the 13th franchise fresh in the minds of audiences. Jason X (2002) put Jason in outer space and ended up being a fan favorite further down the road, though it was the lowest grossing of the Friday films at the box office (and also had the largest budget).

At this point, FvJ had spent over 15 years in development hell and $6 million had been spent on 18 unused scripts from more than 12 screenwriters. However, Freddy vs. Jason fianlly saw the light of day in 2003 and went on to gross over $114 million on a budget of $30 million.

The success of the film, of course, prompted a whole slew of proposed "Vs." movies -- and not one of them ever became a reality. Maybe everyone became hesitant at attempting yet another "Vs." team-up after FvJ took so long to make. Maybe everyone realized that a "Vs." movie has the danger of being all concept and no story. Whatever the reasons, here are a few projects where no one showed up for battle.

Freddy vs. Jason 2
After your movie makes over $100 million, of course you're going to start thinking about a sequel. The ending of FvJ left the door open for a sequel (or two, or three ...), after all. Alas, it would turn out that Freddy and Jason would only engage in mortal combat once, and both franchises went on to be rebooted with Friday the 13th (2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).

Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash
This would've been any fan boy's biggest dream come true -- New Line was actually developing a story that would throw Ashley J. Williams of The Evil Dead into the mix with the two horror icons. It would've been a battle of wits as well as sharp objects this time around, as Ash and Freddy tried to wisecrack each other to death. Development on this one ceased after no one could come up with a good reason (excuse?) as to why these three would ever end up in the same universe in the first place -- and how Ash could ever stand a chance of surviving such an encounter.

Helloween: Pinhead vs. Michael Myers
After Dimension saw how much New Line made on FvJ, they started envisioning a battle between their two horror icons. The idea of Pinhead of the Hellraiser franchise going up against Michael Myers of the Halloween series is actually almost as exciting as Freddy taking on Jason, but it was not meant to be. You kind of turn in part of your "Horror Card" when you do a "Vs." film -- there's something rather comedic about the whole "Vs." premise, and Dimension maybe decided that they didn't want to take Pinhead or Michael in that direction.

Chucky vs. Leprechaun
We don't think this ever went beyond someone putting together a poster in Photoshop. But it would be sweet, wouldn't it?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Horror Trivia Challenge #3

Think you know horror movies? Test your knowledge one last time with gotta/enk's third and FINAL Horror Trivia Challenge!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

gotta/enk Double Feature at Charlotte Horror Fest

It's a gotta/enk weekend at the Charlotte Horror Fest! Anniversary Dinner screens on Saturday, 10/27 at 4:30PM ET and The Big Bad screens on Sunday, 10/28 at 7PM ET.

Cleansed of Your Sins: Ten Facts About the Shower Scene of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO

Did Hitchcock actually use ice-cold water to get Janet Leigh to REALLY scream? Get in the shower with gotta/enk's own Bryan Enk as he presents ten facts about the most infamous scene from PSYCHO.

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most influential directors in the history of cinema. A master of suspense and film technique in general, he is often copied and rarely equaled. He crafted many memorable movie moments using unique cinematic "tricks" and styles that are still used today (and referenced as being "Hitchcockian"), though perhaps the most famous and influential of these moments is what is often referred to as simply the "shower scene" of Psycho (1960).

You know it, and you love it. Who doesn't? Janet Leigh gets stabbed about a thousand times, screaming her head off 'til she can't scream no more. It's the stuff of movie legend ... and more than a few myths. Here we'll present ten facts behind the making of this particular piece of movie history.

1. The "shower scene" was shot from December 17 through December 23, 1959. The three-minute scene (it seems longer, doesn't it?) features 77 different camera angles -- most of which are extreme close-ups -- and includes 50 cuts, which makes you feel like you're having a damn heart attack while watching it.

2. The blood was chocolate syrup, the "fake blood" of choice in the industry for black and white film.

3. The sound of the knife entering Janet Leigh's flesh was done by plunging a knife into a melon (why do we have a feeling it was Hitchcock himself that did the plunging?).

4. For the shot where the camera is looking straight into the showerhead, the inner holes in the spout were blocked and the camera was equipped with a long lens and placed further back. The water from the shower appears to be hitting the lens but it's actually going around and past it.

5. According to Janet Leigh herself, that's her in the shower the entire time -- a stunt double was never used for the scene. However, in Robert Graysmith's book, The Girl in Hitchcock's Shower, it is said that Marli Renfro was Leigh's body double for some of the shots. Either way, after making this movie, Leigh had trouble taking showers for the rest of her life.

6. Hitchcock did not use ice-cold water for the scene in order to inspire realistic screams from Janet Leigh.

7. While some were recorded "live" while shooting the scene and others were recorded later during post production, all of the screams are Leigh's.

8. Hitchcock did not withhold the fact that her character was going to be murdered from Janet Leigh in order to get a more "authentic" reaction.

9. Alfred Hitchcock directed this scene. Somehow a rumor started that Saul Bass, who designed many of Hitchcock's title sequences, had actually called the shots.

10. The claim that the shower scene never once shows a knife puncturing flesh is false. If you watch the scene frame by frame (and many have), you can see a shot in which the knife penetrates Leigh's abdomen (which was actually a prosthetic prop, of course).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Freaky-Deaky Special Effects of THE EXORCIST

gotta/enk's own Bryan Enk peeks behind the curtain of what many consider to be the best horror movie of all time, The Exorcist. Come on up to the bedroom.

You know, back in the day, we didn't this fancy computer graphics technology stuff. We had to do our special effects the old fashioned way: by doing it for real. We also had to walk 20 miles to school in the snow while bleeding from multiple wounds.

Rather than reminiscing on the hardships of childhood, let's go back to early '70s Hollywood, when director William Friedkin had the considerable challenge of bringing William Peter Blatty's acclaimed horror novel, The Exorcist, to the big screen. How in the hell was he going to pull off some of the crazy crap that's in the novel, like making the bed levitate and making the room cold enough to see the actors' breath and making poor Regan vomit pea soup to the point where the audience really believes it's happening for real?

Here's a look at some movie magic, '70s style.

Regan's Bedroom

Today you can just add visible "breath" via CGI, and wham, you're somewhere cold! Back in the early '70s, you had to ... well, actually make it cold. To achieve the effect of the demon taking a more powerful hold on Regan, William Friedkin had her bedroom turned into a freezer.

The effects team "cocooned" the set with eight inches of fiberglass insulation, isolating the space that was 40 feet square by 20 feet high. Four meat packing cooling fan units were then positioned above the area and effectively froze the set. Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller are visibly freezing in those scenes, and that's because, well, they actually are. Linda Blair isn't freezing, though -- demons don't get cold.

Regan's Bed

Regan's bed was made out of steel tubing, as the effects team knew from the start that it was going to take some heavy damage being thrashed about throughout the film. The levitating bed was done with a beam that went from the back of the headboard and through the wall behind it with counter weights on either side. The bed was then lifted up and pulled back down simultaneously on either side, causing it to rock violently.

So, essentially, the effect was done "in reverse" -- the bed was already up and the effects team was trying to pull it back down to the floor. Presto! Instant demonic goings-on.

Regan's Pea Soup

There are many memorable images in The Exorcist, though the most iconic might be the one that always inspires the ... well, noisiest audience response. We speak, of course, of poor Father Karras (Jason Miller) getting a face full of pea soup, upchucked by the Regan-demon. Special effects artist Dick Smith actually considered this to be the most difficult effect to achieve in the entire film.

The contraption the effects team assembled to pull off this gross-out gag was rather elaborate, sounding like the kind of thing you'd see in a Saw movie. Flattened tubes were fitted across Linda Blair's cheeks that were connected to a tube with a nozzle that went across her mouth like a horse's bridle. The rear part of the device went back below her ears and was connected to rubber hoses that went down her back.

The biggest challenge was actually keeping the pea soup at the proper temperature and properly seasoned. Pea soup was chosen without thinking it would become so iconic an image -- it was used simply because it was relatively cheap and had a color close to the idea of bile-like vomit. Little did the effects team know such an innocuous food item would become synonymous with the idea of pure evil!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Horror Trivia Challenge #2

Think you know horror movies? Test your knowledge with gotta/enk's second Horror Trivia Challenge!


Anniversary Dinner will be broadcast tonight at 11PM PT as part of the ShockerFest International Film Festival. Please vote for our zombie short as Favorite Mini-Short Horror Film!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Tender Boughs of Innocence Burn First: TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME

gotta/enk cohort Patrick Shearer wants all his garmonbozia (pain and sorrow). Write it in your diary.

For my money, cinematic horror is most effective when it takes a metaphor and makes it a tangible part of the world it’s depicting. George Romero’s lost, consumerist zombies returning to wander the malls of America until they rot in Dawn of the Dead. The rage babies of Cronenberg’s The Brood. Or the embodiment of "the evil that men do" known only as BOB, a creature that feeds on pain and sorrow, possessing his victims through years of molestation and incestuous sex in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

David Lynch’s films chart that twilight zone where the real gradually fades into the surreal, using keenly observed human behavior, often pushed to the edge of absurdity, and stringing it all together with the threads of dream logic. Many don’t think of his work as pure horror, but as a teenager -- supposedly the same age as Laura Palmer and her friends -- it sure registered as horror to me, and inspired some of the most chilling night terrors of my life. Anyone who’s gotten too close to their unconscious mind will know that horror is always within reach.

Yet Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was a box office and critical failure when it was released to the public in 1992, even booed by its initial audience at Cannes, and it’s not terribly difficult to see why. The first fifteen minutes of Fire Walk With Me are spent in a sinister analog of the town of Twin Peaks, not the town that viewers came to know and love over the course of 30 episodes. And there aren’t ANY characters (other than Lynch himself as hearing-impaired FBI Regional Chief Gordon Cole) with which the fans had become familiar during that time. For those who saw the film in theaters expecting it to pick up where the finale of the show left off, this made for a deeply confusing start. 

Lynch diligently defies series fans’ expectations, focusing instead on the initial (and central) mystery that started it all in the first place: the final days in the life, and brutal death, of Laura Palmer. Some fans of the show felt Lynch was covering ground already well-trod by the series itself, while doing away with the quirky, soap-operatic tone of the weekly show and replacing it with the high stakes, life-and-death struggle of a promiscuous, drug-addled teenager in an increasingly confusing and dangerous world. Where’s the fun in that? 

Lynch sees Laura Palmer as the epitome of the tragic heroine, a beautiful young girl barely keeping her head above the rising tide, unable to connect with anyone around her, and unable to arrest her momentum. There’s a sense of mounting dread throughout the film because we all know how this story ends -- in her brutal murder at the hands of her incestuous father. And Lynch doesn’t pull his punches. The climax of the story is as bloody and disturbing as any slasher film.  

Perhaps the show’s audience had forgotten, or had never experienced, Frank Booth’s mix of violence and sexual perversity in Blue Velvet. Perhaps they hadn’t bothered to see Wild at Heart when it came out in 1990, while Twin Peaks was still on the air. Or maybe they’d just hoped that someone would be there to temper Lynch’s natural inclinations toward the brutal and the uncanny, as series co-creator Mark Frost had been. Within its two-hour plus running time, Lynch hones in on the main themes of the Twin Peaks story in its purest form -- a town so caught up in its own mysteries that it can’t protect its most beloved and innocent members from what goes on behind closed doors.

When Twin Peaks first aired, I was thirteen years old and still in that zone just across the line in pubescence, living in a body that seemed foreign to me. It was conceivable that I could -- seemingly after a single night’s sleep -- be transformed into something else entirely. I was a small adult, trying to navigate a world I was sure I understood, yet I kept running into circumstances that would change without warning, suddenly seeming alien and occult, and people around me accepted them without question.

To say that I boarded Lynch's train at the exact right time is an understatement. 

But Laura was already gone by the time I first met her on television. She was dead, wrapped in plastic -- no longer a girl, just a mystery. To return to Twin Peaks on the big screen -- to watch in terrified fascination as she came to her brutal end -- was a deeply disturbing experience made all the more effective by a tremendous performance by Sheryl Lee. Lee has committed to moments of abject terror that bring on goosebumps just remembering them. She has the ability to inhabit the full range of the emotional spectrum, and still making you feel that every moment is fraught with meaning and hidden portents, just as any teenager on hormonal overdrive knows it is. Watch the scene between she and Lenny Von Dohlen as Harold Smith, and see the terror in her face after her own minor transformation when she recites the title of the film. Or the look of abject terror in her eyes every time she interacts with her father (the brilliantly creepy Ray Wise). This is a performance in which you think the stakes can’t get any higher, and then they do. The material never would have worked without an actress willing to put herself through emotional hell.  

What captured my imagination, and what found its way into my nightmares, were those sudden immediate transformations and the juxtaposition of interior and exterior. From a young age, I suffered from nightmares in which I knew that my parents -- the only buffer I had between myself and the mysteries of the outside world -- were actually aliens, or pod people, but definitely NOT my parents, and I could never prove it to anyone because the only way I knew it was by their changed behavior.

So the image of Leland and BOB sharing a body (and BOB’s desperate wish to BE Laura Palmer by being inside of her), of the old man in the hotel and the Giant in Cooper’s vision being the same entity, of the deep woods that transform into the red-draped interior of the Red Room, of the strange Man From Another Place who it’s inferred is actually MIKE’s missing arm, all made sense on a deep level AND still terrified me. On-screen we see primal energies manifesting in our everyday world, pre-cursored by the smell of burning oil, of flashes of electricity and light (the image of electrical current even shows up in the zig-zag, white and black pattern that makes up the floor of the Red Room). We see objects that are both one thing and something entirely different at the same time. Lynch’s obsession with duality (the show is called Twin Peaks, for God’s sake) is finally fully illustrated in the form of doppelgangers -- the terrifying, white-eyed, chaotic-evil twins of characters we see in the finale of the series -- that inhabit the Black Lodge. We see the effortless swapping of identities, where people can go to sleep one person and wake up another, and where there’s no outward indication that anything has changed. Except their behavior.

The ending of Fire Walk With Me is rough -- one of the most harrowing, brutal and lonely stretches of film I’ve ever seen. In the end, even Laura’s guardian angel abandons her. 

Log Lady (to Laura Palmer): “When this kind of fire starts it is very hard to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first and the wind rises and then all goodness is in jeopardy.”

And that's how it feels to us, and to our memories of being a teenager -- not just that our own goodness is in jeopardy, but that ALL goodness is in jeopardy.

There is a concept in Western Ceremonial Magic where, before one can be pronounced a Master of the Temple, the magician must cross the abyss -- the gulf that exists between the phenomenal world of manifestation and its opposite. To make the crossing, he or she must say goodbye to their Guardian Angel -- their higher self, or guide --  and travel alone to the other side. If one fails the challenge, one remains in the abyss, wandering in darkness. If one succeeds, they are rejoined by their guardian on the other side and they continue along the path.

The final sequence of the film is of Laura in the Red Room, looking older than we’ve ever seen her; a grown woman. In my imagination, she’s been caught in the Red Room with Agent Cooper for some time (though time in the Lodges doesn’t work the same as it does outside, as evidenced by the varying states of solidity of Cooper’s cup of coffee.) In Agent Cooper, Laura’s finally found someone that can understand (and genuinely wants to know) her story. Cooper can see it from all angles just as she herself has experienced it, with an open heart but without the lingering social ties of shame and fear. His particular talent as an investigator, a blend of both his powerful mental acuity and his deep, mystical connection to a spiritual path make him the perfect witness to the strange events of her life and its final moment. And with that sharing of her experience, her guardian angel/her luck/her grace returns and frees her from her imprisonment in the Red Room. We get to see her face, bathed in light, as she smiles and laughs with relief and pure joy. 

In Lynch’s Twin Peaks, there is no Final Girl. But that moment of joy seems to free Laura Palmer from loneliness and the grief that came before. There is, if nothing else, a respite from horror. One wonders if that’s simply David Lynch longing to bring her some modicum of relief for all he’s put her through.

Now if we could just find out what happens to Agent Cooper...

ANNIVERSARY DINNER Shout-Out on Planet Etheria

Thanks to our friends at Planet Etheria for the Anniversary Dinner / Thriller! Chiller! shout-out. Zombie invasion in Grand Rapids this weekend!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Horror Trivia Challenge #1

Now it's time to see if you're scary smart. Test your horror movie knowledge with our first Horror Trivia Challenge.

ANNIVERSARY DINNER: Charlotte Horror Fest Nominations

Charlotte Horror Fest has nominated Anniversary Dinner for four awards: Best Short Film, Best Cinematography (Daryl Lathon), Best Make-Up (Jane Rose) and Best Actress (Jessi Gotta). Congrats to the cast and crew!


The zombies have reached Los Angeles! Anniversary Dinner is an Official Selection of the Screamfest Horror Film Festival, Oct. 12-21.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Past, Present and Future of Sci-Fi Horror

gotta/enk cohort Stephanie Cox-Williams, Supreme Commander of Gort and "the Tom Savini of Off-Off Broadway," tells us that "Sci-Fi Horror" has been around a lot longer than since it started actually being called "Sci-Fi Horror." Join Stephanie where no one can hear you scream

It was a dark and stormy night.

There were sounds, a humming, coming from below the floor.

I looked, and I could see nothing.

In space no one can hear you scream.

The above are some good ways a horror story can start out.

For most, “Sci-Fi Horror” may seem like a relatively new genre, really only hitting its stride cinematically with Alien (1979). However, this genre has been around and lumped into every other Science Fiction subgenre for a long time (maybe because horror, for a long time, was seen as camp or unintelligent mind candy).

Since the 1950s, some science fiction has followed the outline of the classic horror plot and played heavily on the fear of what we do not know – and outer space, being chock full of mysteries, has always been a field ripe for the picking. Take, for example, The Thing (From Another World) (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). 

Theaters that screened The Thing (From Another World) had nurses and doctors on call to make sure that audience members wouldn’t have a heart attack or faint at the sight of the “Thing”; there were accounts of women fainting during some of the first viewings so they actually re-cut the movie to show less of the alien creature. My father saw this when he was very young at the drive-in and that night, while sleepwalking, crawled over his sleeping brother and out the window above him and ended up walking into the street.  When someone found him and brought him back home, he said he had a nightmare that the “Thing” was chasing him. The old horror movies thrive on such stories.

In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we are quietly taken over by an alien race, inhabiting our bodies and making us devoid of humanity and human emotion … something far more frightening than a dream demon or a robot sent to kill the mother of the future human resistance. Here, we fall asleep only to wake up in a never-ending nightmare of being controlled by something alien in an attempt to create a “better race of humans,” an overarching theme that goes back to the horrors of World War II and Hitler’s SS regime – an idea (and practice) more “horrific” than “science fiction.” 

The Day the Earth Stood Still is probably less horrifying and more a tale of caution as one of the first “humanoid” aliens tries to tell us that the Earth’s newfound atomic energy has made all of the very highly advanced alien beings out there in the universe very nervous. Indeed, if we use space travel to destroy and/or take over outer space civilizations with our atomic bombs, then they will sick their large indestructible robots on us.

The journey of this film is really that of an alien on another world as he tries to discern how aggressive our race is. And then there is the indestructible robot named Gort – from the beam of light where its eyes should be, it can zap and kill a human being with one blink. Here the “horror” comes from an alien being that is a technological advancement, not from the humanoid alien who can speak English. Its ominous silence and us not knowing where or when he may strike next makes the robot horrifying.

Flash forward closer to my day and age and you get some really good remakes of Invasion and The Thing. Along with that comes to mind 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and, of course, the beloved Alien (1979).

Before I get into those two, however, here are some other horrific sci-fi films that made an impression on me at a tender young age:

  1. The Black Hole (1979) takes place in space within the proximity of a black hole. There is only one human on board the USS Cygnus as the rest of the crew are robots, including this really scary one that floats and looks like a linebacker on a football team. (SPOILER) Actually, the captain of the ship lobotomized his crew after they mutinied and turned them into the robot crew. The film also stars Anthony Perkins – the presence of the “Psycho” star automatically gives it a scary edge. Even though it’s a Disney flick and has some cute laughs, The Black Hole could easily be categorized as Sci-Fi Horror.
  2. Tron (1982) this one doesn’t technically happen in space but within a mainframe of a super-computer. Our hero gets zapped into the mainframe and must play for his life against other computer programs and the Master Control Program, which is a large spinning talking column creature of death. The closing scene with the MCP was pretty horrific for me as a child. 
  3. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): I had nightmares about getting turned into the representative of V’Ger, bald and with a shining disc in the middle of my neck. This isn’t really a Sci-Fi Horror film, but the idea of a human being losing their conscience and their soul and killed just to relay a message to other humans is pretty horrific.
2001: A Space Odyssey is probably one of the slowest examples of “slow-burn horror.” I remember seeing this film at a very young age on network television, and after I had seen what they called the sequel - 2010: The Year We Make Contact - I knew I needed to go back and watch the original. I tried to watch it on and off again for years before finally getting through this epic movie that’s divided into four major sections.

It’s interesting as - with almost no dialogue - the tension level of the first section (“The Dawn of Man”) becomes a bit unnerving, either because you want one of the characters to just say something or because the film really does create a sense of mystery as to what you are watching and what you could be waiting for. 

Once the crew of the Discovery is en route to Jupiter, the movie really feels like three shorter films connected together. This is where the real horror comes in as we have our three-person crew sleeping soundly while two mild-mannered pilots – Bowman and Poole - spend years at the wheel. They are utterly alone. 

Then we get to the red glowing light of HAL 9000, the computer. Here we find the computer that we programmed and created turning against the crew, killing them all except for Bowman. And then there’s the creepy end to HAL, singing “Daisy Bell,” the first song he ever learned. Right before he goes, he asks Bowman if he can sing it to him.  

Then there’s the portion of the movie that’s a surrealistic journey through color, time and space with Bowman. I remember being a little bit scared and apprehensive of the black monolith and still am a bit to this day.

Alien is the first science fiction film (that I know of) to be categorized as a “science fiction horror film” or Sci-Fi Horror. This was the embodiment of a haunted house in space. Now, granted, I saw Aliens first and then went back to Alien a year or so later, but both more or less follow a familiar sci-fi formula: Outer space, no escape, an alien race that only cares about surviving and making prey/food out of anything in its way … and, of course the new spin - you can’t kill it because it bleeds acid.  

However, the kicker of this series was the idea that the aliens - although, very, very scary - were just as scary as humankind. In the first iteration, “The Company” deemed the humans on the ship expendable and demanded the capture of this horrific creature at any cost. The second was a human being, a friend, from “The Company” who made us all believe he was in it to destroy these creatures and save the settlers on the planet; however, this was not the case. The third was technically “The Company” as an entity again. The fourth was yet again humans - military this time - trying to harness the aliens to finally make/train them to be a military weapon.

Alien and all its iterations made for the perfect horror movie - fearing the alien, the fear of being trapped with nowhere to run, no communication with anyone who can help you, fearing the wiping out of the human race and fearing your own neighbor.

I work with a lot of independent theatre productions and I have definitely seen a surge of more film-like theatre productions. One genre that is attempted on stage again and again is horror, whether with a yearly Halloween production or going back to the roots of splatter in the style of grand guignol. Last year, I was asked to assist in over five zombie productions for independent theatre and thought that this was going to go on for a long time.  

However, the beginning of this year brought a different tune. It started with The Honeycomb Trilogy produced by Gideon Productions, a three-part story of aliens invading the Earth in an attempt to save it from the humans slowly destroying it by using up all its resources, the alien occupation of the Earth, the end of that occupation and the beginning of the new human race. This epic journey took into account the horror of the destruction of the family unit, where the killer slowly picks the family off one by one - or, like in the remake of The Thing, everyone finally stops trusting and loving one another. 

Now I am in the midst of working on effects/gore for another Sci-Fi Horror piece called Motherboard, set in 2485, 20 years after a barely-suppressed robot uprising wiped out most of humanity. This play follows the last robot, a humanoid nanny unit, as she reawakens into this world her kind wrought and tries to find her place in it. This show is chocked full of horrific scenes of death and destruction in a futuristic new reality. 

This brings me to thinking that maybe we are coming back to fearing the unknown of space and technology; that this will be the genre that will start to dominate film and theatre. Maybe with the advancements of technology moving faster than we can keep up comes the idea that maybe we are moving too fast. Maybe these tales are telling us to take a moment, look to the heavens, be prepared and be amazed at what will come. 

ANNIVERSARY DINNER at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival

The zombie invasion of California continues! Anniversary Dinner is an Official Selection of the Sacramento Horror Film Festival, Oct. 12-14!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thriller! Chiller! Interview with Jessi Gotta

"I just want to be able to keep making movies that I believe in ... for a nice long time." gotta/enk's own Jessi Gotta talks with Thriller! Chiller! about Anniversary Dinner, META/STASIS and her experiences as a writer, director, producer and actor.

Friday, October 5, 2012

28 DAYS LATER: High-Class, Low-Budget Horror

Danny Boyle changed the horror movie game with his low-budget DV feature, 28 DAYS LATER. Get infected with gotta/enk's own Bryan Enk.

Upon the success of 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle was credited with revitalizing the zombie movie without really making a zombie movie (they're "Infected," not zombies, but we're not going to get into such tediousness here). There's something else he should be credited with revitalizing: the art -- and the intimacy -- of the low-budget horror film.

Horror is hard, and it's even harder when you don't have many resources. Sure, Danny Boyle had a bigger budget on 28 Days Later than most indie filmmakers are able to scrounge together. But he still had the challenge of portraying a post-apocalyptic world without the benefit of CGI landscapes and large-scale images of destruction.

To achieve a feeling of the end of the world, Boyle took a page out of George Romero's book. Night of the Living Dead (1968) was made on a low budget, and it's considered one of the most atmospheric and effective horror films ever made. The trick was to create a feeling of dread and despair on a very personal and identifiable level -- if you can make the audience feel that, then they'll buy the premise that what's happening around one single house in the woods is also probably happening everywhere else in the world. Get personal and intimate -- that might be Step One toward making a good low-budget horror movie.

Boyle certainly did this with 28 Days Later. Shooting on cheap DV cameras not only kept the budget down but also created a raw and chaotic atmosphere -- DV may not look as "good" as film (and it never will), but use DV to its strengths and it can do things film can never do ... and I don't mean just being able to fit into the kind of tight corners that giant film cameras can't. Video gives a sense of immediacy, of uncensored reality, something that also worked with The Blair Witch Project -- use video right and you can make the audience really believe that most of London got wiped out by a "rage virus" ... without actually seeing that large-scale devastation.

Boyle was also smart in keeping his cast small. Also like Night of the Living Dead before it, 28 Days Later keeps it tight and personal by focusing on one small group of people that become a "family," a familiar survivalist (and human) response to a crisis. We don't see the Prime Minister on the phone calling in an air strike. We don't see dozens of government agents typing frantically as grim-looking executives stare at giant computer screens. We're on a journey with regular people, just like us, and that makes the situation all the more plausible -- and effective.

Sure, the scenario was expanded to a more familiar "Hollywood" approach with 2007's 28 Weeks Later (as was the follow-up to Night of the Living Dead, 1978's Dawn of the Dead -- sort of, anyway). But before the Army was called in, there was just a bicycle messenger and his three new friends, trying to make sense of it all -- just like we would.