Friday, December 27, 2013

They Don't (Paint) 'em Like They Used To . . . .

With the upcoming release of my first nonfiction book, 666 HAIR-RAISING HORROR MOVIE TRIVIA QUESTIONS (Post Mortem Press), I've been thinking a lot about how I got here.  I've been pondering my lifelong fascination with "things that go bump in the night", and I've done a lot of reminiscing on the seminal books/movies/etc that made me what I am today.

     With that in mind, I wanted to do something just for fun:  a list of the movies that scared me the most when I was a kid.  Note that I'm not talking about the movies themselves.  In some cases, I didn't see them until years later (and there's at least one title on this list that I've never seen).  It was the cover art on those old VHS tapes that kept me awake at night.  Oh, the countless hours I spent hanging out in the Horror section of the video stores (remember those?) while my dad browsed for something to watch!  Of course, it wasn't uncommon to find that the films inside those bulky clamshell cases didn't live up to the nightmare fuel promised on the outside.  Like the song* says, the chase is better than the catch.

      In any event, this jaded old horror fan has been chasing that feeling ever since . . . that mix of terror/infatuation as I stared at the images on those video boxes, the "real world" fading to a dull murmur around me 'til Dad finally came looking for me with his rentals in hand . . . .

     I'd be willing to bet, if you're reading this, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Hit me up, friends -- I'd love to hear about the movie art that made an impression on you, back in the day.  They don't make 'em like they used to, do they?

     I'm not sure this one scared me, I just thought it was oh-so-freakin' cool.  I might even go so far as to say that this one ranks among the five greatest images ever created for a horror film's promo materials, in my opinion.  Iconic.  Eerie.  Perfect.


     I remember very little about this one, other than the fact that the killer on the back terrified the pint-sized yours truly, probably even more than the hand coming out of the grave on the front.  And guess who played said black-robed-slasher-with-embalming-trocar-in-hand?  None other than a young Bill Paxton.


      Notice a theme here?  Yeah, hands coming out of graves gave Little J.N. goosebumps.  And this one most definitely did live up to what its cover promised.  The Evil Dead has been one of my favorite films ever since that first time I saw it.

THE PREY (1984)

     It was just an axe.  No big deal.  Half of those old VHS covers used to have axes on them, or hulking silhouettes carrying axe-like killing tools.  But it was the tagline on this one that gave me goosebumps when I was a kid:  "It's not human, and it's got an axe!"
     Come on.  That's pretty scary whether you're eight or eighty.


     Re-Animator's cover art wasn't really scary, per se, just fascinating.  I had to know more!  That tagline was so odd . . . should I be rooting for a weirdo with a head in a dish on his desk, or that mysterious shape stepping out of the shadows behind him?  Cool stuff.


     A weird sort of . . . "paradox" (is that the word I'm looking for?) exists in the fact that Children of the Corn scared me when I was a kid.  Just think about it for a second:  if you were a minor living in the world of Corn, you would be safe.  Only the adults are doomed, after all.  Still . . . that arm holding the scythe aloft, preparing to bring the blade down into God-knows-what . . . and the glowing eyes of those tiny figures within the rows . . . yeah, this one never failed to terrify me.


     I don't know why this one bothered me as much as it did.  I think it was the head in the box.  And the way old Mother was half there, half not.  The whole thing was more than a little goofy, I was old enough to know once I finally got around to seeing Mother's Day, but in a more innocent time this artwork made me feel like I was looking at something I wasn't supposed to see.


     Look at his eyes.  His eyes, man.  The dude is obviously off his rocker.  Plus, there's the woman with the bloody boob.  How'd that happen?  I didn't want to know . . . yet, at the same time, I did.  I really wanted to know.

SPASMS (1983)

      My dad rented this one at some point, and even at the age of just nine or ten I knew it was ridiculous.  Something about a giant snake biting people and making their faces get all lumpy like that dude on the front.  That's all I remember.  Oh, yeah, and the boobs.  The boobs you could almost but not quite see (all of).  I used to stare at this one a lot.  But I'm pretty sure that, as I got older, I stared at this cover for entirely different reasons . . . . 


     Show me a kid who wouldn't be traumatized by Santa crawling down a chimney with an axe, and I'll show you a kid who needs therapy.


      Those claws scared the crap out of me.  Imagine what they could to do naked flesh.  But even worse was Eddie's face on the back.  I vividly recall seeing a review of The Howling on Siskel & Ebert back in the day; when they showed a clip of the transformation scene I had nightmares later that evening.
      Too bad, in the years since, I've always found this one to be incredibly overrated (please send all hate mail to newmanjam-AT-gmail-DOT-com).

     Not even one of this movie's better covers.  In fact, this edition is pretty bad.  But the dude slowly rising to . . . well, I'm not sure I knew at that age what he was gonna get up to, but I did know it couldn't be good . . . yeah, it worked on me.  Bigtime.  You might say it scared me to death.
     Go ahead and groan.  'Cause, yeah, the pun was atrocious.


     I have never seen this movie.  But when I was a kid, I found that tattooed-hand-with-a-knife terrifying beyond words.  Whomever it belonged to, he had a long way to swim . . . but I had no doubt he would get there.  And when he did, I knew it wasn't gonna be pretty, whatever he planned to do to those poor people on that boat.


       One of the best.  I couldn't wait to buy a ticket from that ghastly thing in the booth.  And when I did, this one lived up to my expectations in every way.

ZOMBIE (1979)

     Believe it or not, it's only been within the last decade that I saw this film for the first time.  But, mannnn . . . back in the day, there was no scarier cover art.  I would pick up this box and stare at it every single time my father and I went into the video store, but I was always too afraid to ask if we could rent it.  I was sure that this had to be the scariest film ever made.
     I mean, look at 'im!  The guy has worms in his eyes!  Yyyuuuck!

* Motorhead/"The Chase Is Better Than the Catch"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

150 Words About . . . "THE WORLD'S END".

     Another fun film from the Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fellas.  While this one’s not quite as LOL funny as their previous movies, I loved it almost as much (and I should note that The World’s End feels like one of those movies that will grow on me by leaps and bounds with every subsequent viewing).  Oddly enough, I was surprised by how poignant I found this one to be, when all was said and done.  That’s right, I just called a movie about body-snatching alien robots that bleed blue ink poignant.  You’ll pop this one into the player for the laughs, but afterward you’ll find yourself pondering its themes of friendship, personal identity, and conformity.  It’s a sci-fi horror comedy, but you might just grow a little misty-eyed.  More quality stuff from the very talented Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.  Can’t wait to see what comes next!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Thanks for dropping by!

My resolution for the upcoming year is to update my blog regularly.  You're never gonna see long, rambling essays from me -- I don't write enough anyway, so time spent throwing word-count into a blog is better spent working on new stories and novels for you guys to read -- but I do need to update more often.

So what I'm gonna start doing are (very) brief reviews for stuff I've recently watched/read/listened to/etc.  I'm gonna call 'em "150 Words About...", as each mini-review will clock in at exactly 150 words.  Short n' sweet and sorta stream-of-consciousness.  

To kick this off, I give you my Five Favorite Horror Films of 2013 list (unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a Top TEN list for the record, as I didn't see ten films this year that impressed me enough to call 'em favorites).  Commentary on each entry abides by the "150 words" rule.  

Please drop me a line or leave a Comment below telling me about your own picks.  I would love to hear about your favorites of 2013!

#5:  YOU’RE NEXT   I ignored the hype for the longest time, assuming You’re Next was just another “home-invasion-by-people-in-spooky-masks” movie (and I’m so done with those).  But after reading a number of extremely positive reviews from folks whose opinions I trust, I had to see it.  While the film does fit into that home-invasion-etc. subgenre, director Adam Wingard and company were able to make it all feel original.  One thing that really surprised me about You’re Next was the humor -- I never expected it to be so funny!  It’s not a horror-comedy by any means, but a genuinely suspenseful film that finds its humor in the interactions between its characters and their snappy dialogue when things get tense.  I dug the twists, too.  You’re Next wasn’t perfect.  Few films are.  It was, however, a very pleasant surprise, and deserves a spot on my Favorites of 2013 list.  I can admit I was wrong.

#4:  BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO   Filmed in 2012 but not widely available until 2013, Berberian Sound Studio is a film that I can’t recommend to everyone.  Why?  Well, it’s not really a horror film.  But it is about giallo films.  Toby Jones (The Mist) plays a sound designer who has been hired to fly to Italy to work on a movie called The Equestrian Vortex.  While we never see said project ourselves (at least, no more than a few frames?), we hear it.  And the things we hear make it very clear that our hero is working on what might be the most terrifying film ever made.  So begins a downward spiral into insanity.  Berberian Sound Studio is for those who are looking for something different.  If nothing else, I guarantee you’ve never seen – or heard – anything like it.  Oh, yeah . . . and I really wanna see The Equestrian Vortex, the nonexistent film-within-a-film.

#3:  EVIL DEAD   They said it couldn’t be done.  I was skeptical too.  But they pulled it off!  Some fans complained about the lack of humor – that’s what I loved about it.  Others claimed there was too much gore – that’s what I loved about it.  A lot of folks lamented the absence of Ash – that’s what I really loved about it!  Evil Dead 2013 did something different, while respecting its source material.  I admit I do see more of its flaws every time I watch it, and I’ll probably never again love it as much as I did that first time in the theater – I saw it with my oldest friends in the world, and how we cackled at that last-second cameo! –but I still found it to be one of the better remakes of the last decade.  I also found it . . . dare I say . . . friggin’ scary.

#2:  MANIAC   I was one of the few who didn’t scoff when I heard Alexandra Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3D) was producing a remake of William Lustig’s sleaze-classic Maniac.  I enjoyed the original, but was never a huge fan.  2013’s update proved to be one hell of a gruesome yet oddly beautiful film.  I knew lead Elijah Wood could be scary (his performance in Sin City is nightmare fuel, despite the fact that he never stopped smiling through the whole thing), but in this one he’s sympathetic too (sure, his character scalps women, but with mommy issues like this, it would have been a miracle for this dude to turn out any other way!).  The first-person-POV was a unique, unsettling touch that puts the viewer in the killer’s mind/body without ever feeling “gimmicky”, and the soundtrack was one of the most haunting I’ve heard in years.  Buy the Bluray, then the soundtrack.

#1:  WE ARE WHAT WE ARE   Jim Mickle’s (Mulberry Street, Stakeland) remake of the Spanish film Somos Lo Que Hay not only earns the top spot on my Favorites of 2013 list, it might just be my favorite American horror film since 2007’s The Mist.  This one’s as much Southern Gothic as it is horror; it’s gory when it needs to be, but not to the degree you'd expect for a film about a family of cannibals (think Frailty in tone, more than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  A somber mood is established from the first frame, thanks to a never-ending rain that almost becomes a character in itself.  Featuring another sublime performance from Michael Parks (From Dusk Till Dawn, Red State) as a medical examiner haunted by the disappearance of his daughter, We Are What We Are has me more excited than ever for Mickle’s next film, an adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s Cold In July.

BONUS:  One that nearly made the list . . . watch for it in 2014:

OMNIVOROS   This Spanish film reminded me of a story by one of my favorite writers, Graham Masterton’s “The Secret Shih Tan”.  A food critic investigates “clandestine restaurants”, where rich patrons dine on exotic dishes not found on the menu at McDonald’s.  But when his search for the ultimate taboo leads to a group of people who feast on human flesh, he’s forced to reconsider how far he’ll go to further his career.  For a film about cannibalism, I admired how Omnivoros avoided the obvious trappings, i.e., splashing blood n’ guts around.  While there are gory moments -- one involving boiling water and a straight-razor made me cringe, something that rarely happens to this jaded old horror nerd -- the story is structured like a mystery, so when the sick stuff happens it’s even more shocking.  If you’re cool with subtitles, check it out (sometimes you have to warn people about that).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013