Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lazy Sunday

The Lazy Song

Starting today's blog commentary with a pleasant painting by Bob Ross, Joy Of Painting fame, I usually watch this on a morning before I hit the road for work, he is a skilled guy I don't like painting but he makes it look easy, almost accessible which is the skill and allure of the program.

Have read through the papers today, not much going on. Was at the Vipers Ice Hockey match last night, and they won 4-3. There is a match tonight but don't know whether we will be going. D turned up which was a nice surprise, he left early I hope he enjoyed it. Admittedly it was not the most excellent of games, bit slow-paced. Ice Hockey is either your thing or it isn't really. I certainly enjoy it. Plus we always sit in the same place and you get the know the guys that sit near you. 2 blokes in particular we get along and have a laugh with during the game.

Read in the paper that Arsenal need to be in the Champions League every year to be able to pay off the new stadium. Are they crazy? Asking any club to qualify year after year is asking a lot. Although to get into the draw they only have to finish in the top 4 in the league and for Arsenal not to do that is almost unthinkable in the current game. Newcastle are struggling, reflected in the new Football Manager 2013 game which looks excellent, really immerse. New features which look a major improvement are the scouting options, the pre-match team-talks, feeder clubs and player interaction.

Am about to get ready and hit the bike with the iPod for a half hour or so. This will be the exercise for the day then I will ring Rob and sort out tonight, if he confirms he can play snooker I will not go to the hockey. Save a bit of cash for a change. Not particularly looking forward to work this week but considering the office search is now in full swing as we lost another premises because of commercial agents dithering and not returning calls we are looking elsewhere.

Won 2 out of 3 practice SNG's on Poka Academy. Wish I was that good in real life!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top 45 Horror Films Ever!

English: This is the official logo of the amer...

I've decided it's about time I made up a list of my top 40-odd something or other to entertain the audience. Obviously it would be too easy to put the entire top 45 here at once so I've decided to do it in weekly installments leading up to that scariest of horror events, Halloween. I'll still be doing my other lists but consider this the big Friday list. (I'll follow this up with other bigger lists) First up though, there are a couple of points I should make;

What is Horror? Whilst making the list, this was the hardest question to answer. What do we consider a horror film. I could quote a dictionary reference here but I'm not going to because that's just plain clichéd, in fact one could say it's as clichéd as the innocent girl getting off whilst all her friends die at the end of the film. The problem really lies in what scares us in cinema today and the answer seems universally amongst many people to be nothing, an answer I might add that I find frightening in itself. I'm not going to lie, there are films on this list that many will not consider horror (and by that I don't mean that I've included the scariest film ever made: Battlefield Earth) but I do consider them such.

Why is such and such a film not on list? Probably because it's rubbish. I am most likely going to have another list in a couple of weeks of the horror films which I consider most over-rated. I might add that there are lots that many people include that I don't like.

Are you sure you've seen enough to comment? I love horror films. I've certainly seen enough to be making a decent list. There may be some gaps and if I re-made this list in a few years I'm sure there'd be some changes.

What was Number 46? Probably Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Which is a brilliant film. Way better than the first one. Actually I probably prefer it to half the films on this list but I just couldn't find a place for it. It's sort of like the relative who comes to visit but you don't have enough chairs for. (Actually come to think of it, how come every time I visit my relatives they don't have enough chairs... wait a sec. Nah, can't be.)

45 - The Car (1977)

When the Lumière brothers first exhibited their film "L'Arrivée D'Un Train À La Ciotat" people apparently ran terrified from the theatre, or something to that effect. That oft-repeated, and probably ever changing, story surely has to be mentioned in this list somewhere so I thought I'd add it here to demonstrate the fear vehicles hold in the imagination of man. (A couple of years ago Channel 4 here in the UK produced an absolutely terrible list of the "Scariest Moments" from TV and film voted by visitors to their website. A lot of good films were there but the list also included ridiculously silly scenes from soap operas and surprisingly L'Arrivée D'Un Train À La Ciotat. I say surprisingly not because I'm saying that it's not scary, I have no real context with which to understand what a film must've looked like to the unsuspecting audience, but it definitely seemed doubtful that any or today's audiences voted for this, at least not enough to get it onto a list. It really raised suspicion for me about how the channel puts together their many list programmes. On a seperate note, another interesting thing about that film is that I heard somewhere that there was a guy in the audience that night who reviewed the film saying not that it was frightening but only that he could not see the scientific value in the invention which, I think you'll agree, is a fascinating insight into the mind of the Victorian critic.)

The Car has to be seen as part of that whole possessed vehicle sub-genre of horror, probably missed by few, to which Christine and Maximum Overdrive also belong. Personally I love the ridiculousness of all these films. It's like someone was sitting one night watching Night Of The Living Dead and thought to themselves what if the zombies were actually cars. After all who could blame them? People like cars. People also like zombies. Why not mix the two? (I guess there's probably a lot of people who could answer that question with a simple "because it's a shit idea" but they'd be wrong.) If only they'd made a film where the cars looked like zombies, with zombie faces and zombie style slow speeds. Anyway, the plot of this particular film revolves around a small town whose residents suddenly find their quiet lives interrupted by the coming of an evil and apparently driverless black car (I hadn't thought of it until just now but do you think there was some secret racist subtext flowing through this film. That damned James Brolin!). They find that the car has apparent religious leanings when they learn that they can avoid it by going onto consecrated ground though I can't remember if they ever learn why. It's simply genius. Watching a car chase innocent people on bikes and a crowd of school children around is priceless if you're into that sort of thing. (Writing this particular entry has made me wonder if anyone has made any possessed train films, wherein a train terrorises a poor unfortunate station. I suppose it could be called Night Of The Living Dead Thomas The Tank Engines. On second thoughts...)

44 - The Beyond (1981)

Lucio Fulci, as I'm sure many of you will know, was like a one-man Italian horror film industry. His films range from bad to really bad. Actually that's not really fair but I'm not going to lie about the fact that the quality of the films was not always consistent. There are many who consider this, apparently entitled "E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldilà" in Italy, to be his best. I've not really seen enough of his other work to comment on that claim but this is certainly the best I've seen. Secretly it's absolutely terrible but it's so bizarre that it's undeniably compelling. You can't take your eyes off screen when a spider begins to tear apart a character's face, even though the entire scene makes little sense. When the film suddenly changes into a zombie film you are confused at best but somehow not quite put off. There's random scenes with a car at the end of a road which I never quite worked out and there's a whole secret hidden vortex in a basement which seems to be there for no reason other than to beam people to bizarre locations, including what we suppose is hell in a scene that surprised me by actually being visually well made. As horror goes, gory it certainly is but I'd be reluctant to call it scary, unless of course you're someone who is particularly scared of flesh eating spiders, in which case you're screwed.

43 - The Relic (1997)

Ridiculously silly monster movie with a plot that makes little to no sense, not because it's confusing but because it's riddled with faux-science and Penelope Ann Miller's constant overly melodramatic style of acting. Of course it's also so much fun and one of a few films on this list which I simply can't resist watching if it's on TV, no matter how stupid I think it is. I think it is the perfect material for future archives, to show the tomorrow's generations every monster movie cliché in action. (Look at the serious contemplation on the faces of Tom Sizemore and Miller, true thinkers!)

42 - Candyman (1992)

Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman. There that made this whole list just that little bit more full of filler. Clive Barker. I'm not going to repeat his name five times for fear that I'll get yet another piece of that Hellraiser crap. Thankfully this film was nothing like that, instead it was probably one of the best examination of urban legends cinema has raised. The way that it manages to create the entire Candyman myth, complete with the way the fear and superstition surrounding it effects the inner-city residents, is certainly far more realistic than any of its peers' attempts. Lets face it, Virginia Madsen is far more convincing as an educated person who comes to believe than the dumb students in the film Urban Legend (a fun but undeniably stupid film) who I really struggle to believe could even get into college. Well all that and the fact that it's got Tony Todd with a hook!

41 - The City Of The Dead (1960)

Ah, Christopher Lee. This is the first of his entries on this list. The first of the great. His very name should send shivers down your spine. If we're going to be honest, and you all know it's wrong to tell fibs, he is the Horror Movie incarnate. If we want to talk about horror sub-genres then you have to agree that he is a whole genre into himself. This relatively early effort has him play a professor who sends a student off to a mysterious village (yeah, it's definitely not a city like the title suggests!) with a history of witchcraft, curses and apparently a fine range of smoke machines which produce a permanent and quite eerie fog. As you'd expect Christopher Lee is up to his neck in all this (the witchcraft that is and not the fog which seems to only ever reach the height of the average person's knees) and it's not long before the innocent young virgin finds herself the victim of a good old fashioned sacrifice. (Interestingly, this film follows that whole Psycho change of main character half-way through structure. Ruined the film for those who haven't seen it but you'll just have to believe me when I say that you see it coming anyway.) For some reason this film had the cringeworthy title "Horror Hotel" in the US, presumably a more appealing title to the drive-in b-movie audience. It's not a very well appreciated film but I don't really see why. It's apparently available really cheap on DVD but I can't say I've seen it about. (For people in the UK with access to digital TV, it's also shown on the Horror Channel along with a vast selection of crap you'd otherwise ignore!)

40 - An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Surprisingly the second film on this list to come from the year of my birth 1981. I bet you really weren't interested in that piece of irrelevant trivia. Of course, back in '81 I wasn't able to watch this sort of film. If I had (not that I'd remember it) I'm sure I'd have spent the rest of my life checking for abnormal hair growth on every single part of my body just in case I had to suffer that change. I can't think of another film which demonstrates a painful and horrific supernatural change better. The way the bones twist and turn makes me squirm just thinking about it. I'm not even going to tell you what it makes me feel about rural England. Other than Straw Dogs, I can't think of a better example of a film that'd put Americans off coming to the UK. (That being said I can't really think of a better advert than the-apparently-allergic-to-clothes Jenny Agutter.) According to the IMDb, this film also has one of the funniest misleading taglines I've ever read in "From the director of Animal House -- a different kind of animal" although come to think of it Flounder would've made a great werewolf!

39 - The Others (2001)

This film probably won me over the moment the name "Eric Sykes" unexpectedly appeared on screen. I remember turning to a friend in the cinema and letting out a little "yeah!". Of course, the film was unexpectedly good too. I really didn't expect the filmmakers to pull off an successful old-fashioned ghost story. It's pretty predictable stuff especially if you're familiar with the likes of M.R. James but it's the foreboding atmosphere of the whole thing that makes it entertaining. I absolutely loved the way the house was filmed with every corner hiding some dark secret from the past that the barely glowing candlelight can't hope to illuminate. And it's got Eric Sykes in it. (Also when you watch it the second time you get to giggle slightly at the genius of the first line of the film.)

38 - The Invisible Man (1933)

What would you do if you were invisible? Every man and boy in the world knows the answer to this question. Why? Well we're all just obsessed with the hypothetical. The second thing I'd do is run around shouting "The Whole World's My Hiding Place!" which would confuse everybody. Especially all the people who I'd "haunt". I'd also try my hand at being an invisible actor. I mean think about the jobs that would be on offer! There's bound to be lots of work for the unemployed and bodiless. I'd also wrap myself up in bandages just to see what the feels like. I'd stand behind everybody and make faces at them. In fact, I'd do all sorts of immature things like that. I'd put people off whilst they were counting. I'd go round doors at Halloween and scare everybody. I wouldn't go near any experimental government buildings because, as everybody who watches too many movies knows, governments perform devious experiments on invisible people. I'm sure it goes on all the time. I'd lift people up when they weren't expecting it. Oh, I know, I know, I would pretend to be a poltergeist and see how many paranormal investigators I can make a fool of. Being invisible would be cool. (Much cooler than Kevin Bacon in the atrocious Hollow Man.)

37 - Young Frankenstein (1974)

"It's Fronkensteen!" I hear you shout. More an adoring homage than a spoof, Young Frankenstein screams of too much time spent watching film. Every detail is wonderfully recreated from the original James Whale/Boris Karloff classic and every joke is a classic, especially from Marty Feldman's Igor "Call it... a hunch. Ba-dum chi." Peter Boyle is also the second best Frankenstein's Monster ever! Frau Blücher indeed!

36 - Event Horizon (1997)

Sci-fi horror was one of the areas of this list with which I did have a problem truly classifying what was "horror". Sometimes I think when Science fiction seeks to include horror elements it gets lost. Event Horizon was a film I actually forgot about until right at the end of making this list not because of its quality but due to the fact that much of the film is wrapped up in the whole science fiction warp drives and computer technology stuff but the more I thought about it, the more I remembered about the real horror at the heart of the film. The beast sent back from hell as a something which is depicted in many sci-fi films as a clinically sterile environment. The manipulation of weak human psyches, through hallucination and fear, to perform its twisted bidding. In many ways it's actually more horror than many other films on the list.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Time Travel

My car now has bumper stickers. My favorite was one I found that says "My other car is a Pynchon Novel". Pynchon is an eccentric novelist who writes complex, eclectic pieces that are rather challenging to read. Mention one to an English teacher and they'll make that sort of wide-mouth horror face and shake their head. Now, I like Pynchon; which is why I slapped this sticker on there. The thing is that it doesn't mean anything. It's a joke because it doesn't make any sense. Those are the best kind of jokes. For example:

A man walks into a bar. He's an alcoholic who is destroying his life.

See? It's starts like a funny quip, but it's actually a dead-pan replica of a regular joke. Hilarity!

So, what's the problem with this? Well, now people ask me what it means. So, when someone catches the message and questions me, I simply look them in the eye, and look like I'm thinking really intensely for a minute. Then I'll stroke my chin and say "Well, what doesn't it mean?"

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's The End Of The World As We Know It...And I Feel Fine.

I Feel Fine (album)

Kim Jong-Un of North Korea tested a bomb the other day; he detonated a puny nuclear device. This means the end of the world is near, right? Maybe, but I’ve heard this song before. For me, growing up in the 70s and 80s meant Russia was going to annihilate us at any moment. Though that never happened, we were prepared. There were dangers far worse lurking in the shadows.

My grade school in Detroit was built in 1947, during a time in our history when Russia was developing its own nukes and therefore a threat. And since Detroit was a major industrial city, we became a primary target. It was a massive structure that came with a huge underground shelter. We were told that if the Russian attacked with nukes, we would be safe from the radiation if not from the initial blast. In fact, it was designated an official “Fallout Shelter” for our sector…or region…or district in Detroit. I don’t recall exactly what it was. In any case it was quite a building.

By the time I attended the school in the late Seventies the building was showing its age. It wasn't exactly crumbling around us, but it was in dire need of serious maintenance. That didn’t mean the fallout shelter wasn’t still functional. Hell, bingo was held there every Friday night. It was the only space that could hold that many people. It was three times the size of our gymnasium.

We still used it for our drills, though. People realized a decade earlier that the “Duck and Cover” drill was, well…stupid, but we still practiced air-raid and tornado drills that required a calm and orderly procession down to the shelter. Once there, the kids (actually it was me) were anything but calm and orderly. So while we waited for the “All Clear signal from our principal, I would make it snow.

The water and heat pipes that sprang from the antique boiler and branched out toward the upper levels, were covered in a thick asbestos wrap – insulation – that hadn’t been changed since 1947. The janitors always left their brooms leaning up against some wall and I always grabbed one. With a good WHACK! of the broom handle, the asbestos insulation’s dried, outer wrap cracked open and a steady shower of fine yellow dust would float down over the girls, land in their hair, coat their long eyelashes and make everyone cough. It was awesome.

We had our drills once every month, which means I made it snow nine times every school year. I must have done this for at least two years straight. And while I think that our school kept us safe from Russia's ominous presence, I had been the real threat. It was I who endangered everyone in that dusty old basement, and I fear that I have probably given half of the kids, including myself, lung cancer.

Talk about irony!!