Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hidden Horrors.


(Article originally published in the June 2014 issue of The Scene)

Being a fellow who likes to pass himself off as a purveyor of the critical breaking down of most things cinematic, I figured it was about time to swing some attention over to a fine assembly of stellar written critiques care of a wide variety of kindred souls. Yes, we're talking text here, a book named 'Hidden Horror' (Kitley's Krypt) is a right ambitious little tome that tasks itself with offering any willing reader some well formed and engaging insight into not one but one hundred and one so-called 'overlooked' (or 'undervalued', if you will) films crafted and broadcast under the rich horror genre umbrella. It may be the perfect answer to that eternal query many have put forth when seeking appropriate material for that next movie night, 'I wonder if there's anything good to rent that I haven't already seen?'

The guiding hand behind this whole concept, from genesis to final published product, is an unabashed horror nerd cum magazine/blog writer/thespian/ a whole bunch of other related stuff working out of that windy Chicago place calling himself Aaron Christensen (aka-Dr. AC). Sir. Christensen (who contributes his own piece examining the merits of Larry Fessenden's vampire opus 'Habit') has set about to a culling together of 101 impassioned and heavily opinionated individuals from all over this damn planet (the states, the U.K., Scandinavia etc.) and challenged them each to assemble a short list of beloved fright films that they felt would be truly deserving of a second (or in some cases first) chance to shine in front of a much greater viewing population then what they've thus far received. After whittling it all down to a singular selection, each of these eager literati were directed to argue in favor of their respective movies as best they could, the final resulting
 passages may differ in appeal to a great degree when matched up with many a reader's own specific taste patterns but so be it. Ample debate and discussion is my guesstimate as to the healthy outcome of all this along with the expanding of many a reader's overall film viewing education.

The contents of 'Hidden Horror' spans the gamut of the history of the genre entire, the writings contained within touch base on everything from the growing pains of the silent era (Dreyer's 'Vampyr', 'The Hands of Orlac', 'The Penalty') to the fruitful decades following the spoken word's invasion of the film form ('Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man', 'Kill, Baby...Kill', 'Phantom of the Paradise', 'Humanoids From the Deep' and on and on...) and onward to the waning years of the 20th Century as well as the dawn of its successor.

Each essay attacks its selected subject matter from a wide birth of angles. Many choose to implant the origin story of their first encounter with the pleasures of the horror film universe, often by virtue of their film of focus. Witness, for quick example, both Mark Allen Gunnells' and Dave Fuentes' side by side write ups on the Canadian bred, 1983 slasher 'Curtains' and the 1981 Television movie 'Dark Night of the Scarecrow' respectively. Both scribes emphasize the long in the past first contact made as impressionable youths with said films and the lasting impact they made upon them as they pursued further frights while clinging to a love of the pictures that helped to mold their affection for macabre cinema.

Elsewhere, Indiana native and online contributor (blogs and online sites figure into the lives of a majority of Hidden Horror's participants) J. Nelson Smith relates how some sample bits found on a Skinny Puppy record lead him to the 1973 British chiller 'The Legend of Hell House'. J.T. McRoberts, a micro-budget filmmaker out of North Carolina tells of a convention vendor turning him on to the uber oddball Japanese freak fest 'Kairo' (or 'Pulse' as it and its' obligatory remake are known here) and also there is the case of Lee Marohn who, after years of careful avoidance, and the advent of a handy 31 Days of Horror marathon commitment, at last uncovered the stand alone charms of the largely rejected 'Halloween III : Season of the Witch'.

 A gent named Patrick Mathewes turned his piqued interest in the great, quirky filmmaker Larry Cohen (care a career retrospective article he stumbled across) into an impetus to track down 'Q-The Winged Serpent', from 1982, and bask in its' wonderful, pre-CGI cheese bag monster effects as well as one grand, over the top performance by lead actor Michael Moriarty. There is also a sobering, honest digestion of the grandma of all rape/revenge epics 'I Spit on your Grave' (the 1978 original, mind you) by a lady, B.J. Colangelo, who opens up to the fact the she is a real time victim of sexual violence. This gives her startlingly positive take on this long loathed shocker extra gravity as she makes a case for its' value as a statement against violence toward women instead of the misogynistic masturbation fantasy most viewers and critics have made it out to be.

Now, as with any compendium of notable size, there are going to be bits that anyone could take issue with every bit as likely as to jump up and down and shout 'I love that movie!' Myself, I spotted but a few choices I never would have made like 'The Hills Have Eyes' or 'Psycho II' (another choice, 'Tremors' with its multiple spin offs and Kevin Bacon presence, simply baffled me altogether) but I found a great number more that I heartily agree with (some passing examples-'Brain Damage', 'The Signal', 'Santa Sangre', 'May' and the mighty, mystical 'Dust Devil' which I rambled about in this publication many moons ago). There proved to be a fair smattering of flicks I have yet to run my eyes across too, ('Eden Lake', 'In A Glass Cage', 'Alucarda') some further that I'd never even heard of (where do I even find something called 'The Other Side?').

Such a vast array of geek savvy options could only be served up by an equal batch of authors. As mentioned earlier, many an online, blog-chic wordsmith is present and accounted for in addition to print media pros (the big three genre rags, Fangoria, Rue Morgue and HorrorHound are well represented here, no worries) and even a few local lads. Oshkosh native and 'Dead Weight' main man John Pata takes a playful stab at Spanish schlockmeister Juan Piquer-Simon's 1982 gorefest 'Pieces' and our very own Gavin Schmitt gives up some much needed love to Herschell Gordon Lewis with his lavish appraisal of his 1972 effort 'The Gore Gore Girls'.

In total, Hidden Horror delivers on its promise to fitfully celebrate '101 underrated and overlooked fright flicks'. It even boasts a decent little intro by director William Lustig (whose notorious 1980 sociopath study 'Maniac' gets its due in the book too) to help ease the reader into the fray. All in all, Hidden Horror might just prove to be the new bible you hold by your side as you stalk your local video joint or online queue.

Make the commitment to Hidden Horror, starting

Oh, if anybody out there happens to have a copy of the uncut DVD version of Andrzej  Zulawski's 'Possession' I can borrow, hit me up accordingly at

Thanks a bunch.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


(or, Some Fits of art that belong to Harmony Korine.)

This is a throwback piece originally published in the Jan. 2010 issue of the Central Wisconsin newspaper The Scene.

Sometime this year I pray to hold the privilege of catching a potentially life corrupting piece of no-rent cinema by the name of 'Trash Humpers' (view what passes just barely for a trailer here, The 'plot details', such as they are, involve the day to day misbehaviors of a small mob of apparently geriatric assholes (embodied by a cast that includes Korine himself in grubby old timer masks and wigs) as they seek to raise the bar on all out anti-social deviance. The film sports a deliberately dodgy aesthetic, like some kind of oft viewed VHS bootleg derived from a clandestine tape trading circle. This intriguing mess was wrestled together in a reported few weeks time for change by an erstwhile enemy of the mainstream named Harmony Korine.

Korine is a singular artistic voice out of Nashville, Tennessee that first left scars on the public conscious as the father of the script that became Larry Clark's unwavering debut 'Kids', a movie that addressed many of the darker truths of juvenile delinquency. That picture's critical and art crowd notoriety earned Korine the freedom to adhere to an unfiltered exploration of some of his own thematic whims and obsessions via a series of films, publications and exhibitions that would nurture a fervent cult status.

Among the films, the first (and, by far, finest) would be a one of a kind number, built to polarize called 'Gummo'. The first time I laid eyes on this glorious little eyesore, I was boozing it up proper at a house party that resisted in the hateful majority when I popped the tape in (circa 1998) convinced we would all be changed for the better. I found myself imprisoned in its' gut level fairytale ramblings and way left field visionary tendencies to the point where I became completely fixated, I couldn't tare my sockets away from the screen.

Korine's pseudo apocalyptic chronicle of a bleak living atmosphere in small town Ohio (post tornado) is like a trip through the most criminally endearing and car crash compelling hell the mind can fabricate. One lasting image follows another for one and a half hours and then it's gone, leaving one with the sizable task of processing just what has transpired. The very loose sketch of a storyline involves two bottom feeder protagonists (Nick Sutton, Jacob Reynolds) and their interfacing with peers and perpetrators in about the streets of what can best be discerned as an 'impoverished' neighborhood. To a manic soundtrack of droning narration, death metal and sludgy ambiance one can bare helpless witness to the loopy sights of redneck royalty drinking, fighting, sporting mullets, drowning cats, being gross, open heart confessing to a homosexually inclined midget and defying political correctness at every open opportunity.

Two specific moments that encapsulate the bent worth of the picture for me are; 1-a junkyard showdown of sorts between two grubby pre-pube cowpokes and a poor fella sporting large fake rabbit ears that they proceed to attack, rob and berate at beautiful length. 2-a portly retarded chick dressed in a Krokus t-shirt holding a plastic baby doll and reciting her 'A,B,C's'. That's not to mention the  shirtless wrestling match involving a fold out table or the guy who pimps his obese, half-wit sister or the kid eating spaghetti while bathing in filthy water or.....get the picture yet?

As can be easily gleaned from the above rambling, this is a particular work for a particular mind set. If you ever find that you are growing impatient with the big budget, formulaic narrative standards long established as commercially viable, if you have trouble forcing yourself into caring for Sandra Bullock and her forced good Samaritan routine with some poor homeless football prodigy or John Cusack outliving the end of the world, then I think Mr. Korine has the antidote for your wayward soul.

With 'Trash Humpers' still lingering on my 'as yet to see' wish list, I will have to lend passing nods to the rest of Harmony Korine's directorial efforts.

'Julien Donkey-Boy' came close on the heels of the almighty 'Gummo' and suffered immediate letdown syndrome brought on by over zealous expectations on my part. It just goes to prove, one can only be taken aback the way Korine's crazed debut did me once, all coming after begins to feel redundant. So with 'Julien' there was an initial impression of 'seen this sorta thing before', as the film indulged in many similar themes and ideas though with a nod more to the linear in terms of the narrative pattern.

Repeat visits to this sophomore effort after I managed to vacate any pretentious expectations allowed me to extract the jewels of eccentricity that help 'Julien Donkey-Boy' triumph on its own malformed terms. This saga of the manic titular individual (played by 'Trainspotting' alum, Ewen Bremner) his quasi-militant pops (the great German director Werner Herzog, who dives in full force) and the sister (ChloĆ«  Sevigny) with whom he is expecting an offspring actually rests upon a basic domestic drama outline, adhering to more linear terms in juxtaposition with 'Gummo'. But, if you think Harmony Korine is about to safely coast through this thing on formula alone, let me tell ya folks, not going to happen.

Korine and his cameraman, Anthony Dod Mantle, have conspired to rep the obvious mental shortcomings of dear Julien care a multi layering of the initial footage. They've taken it from digital and dumped it onto 16mm film stock and blown the result up to 35 mm to really grain drench the imagery into a remarkably erratic level. Never, to me, has such manic delirium held this type of dreamy appeal. The employment of heavily distorted visuals and even the occasional sharp switch to still photography and random blurring effects at first may come off as pure stunts of artsy self gratification, but, upon further digestion, read more as the spill over of the warped energy emanating from the eccentricities contained herein.

Korine even manages a fair collection of stand alone moments (though markedly less so then in 'Gummo'). Prime among there are the sight of a group of blind people getting down at a bowling ally and Julien's heavily put-upon brother (Evan Neumann) wrestling viciously with a plastic garbage receptacle (this director sure digs his humans battling inanimate objects). Oh, I cannot disregard the diminutive Black Albino ('straight from Alabama, way down south and you know that I'm a...') busting loose on the freestyle.

The film was created under the guidelines of the Dogma 95 manifesto (which can be retrieved here- set forth by Danish mavens Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, though Korine managed to take liberties when it suited him. The finished film ended up in the loving arms of cult cinema nerds after some scattered play-dates (mostly fests) and Korine stepped away from features for several years to focus on various other outlets (shorts, music videos, a script for another Larry Clark film-'Ken Park', photo exhibitions and a dabbling in substance abuse and depression) before landing his biggest scale project in 'Mister Lonely'.

The problem with this tale of love, angst and endless daydreaming shared by a commune of celebrity impersonators is that its higher end production values and semi-name actors work at some opposition to the Harmony Korine methodology in favor of the stranger things in this here human race. There is a measured stifling quality on hand as we follow a faux Michael Jackson (Diego Luna) and Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) and various others as they struggle to mount an ambitious performance piece for the locals in a remote section of Scotland (!!). Yes, absurd, but played far too straight too much of the time to truly work. Only an altogether out of place side plot involving Werner Herzog (again, a scene stealer) as a priest flying relief missions in Central America with a handful of fearless, sky diving nuns provides any true link with the inventive retardation of either of the director's previous films.

Korine himself has suggested some dissatisfaction with both the greater demands of a more expensive (for him-$8-9million) project and the finished result. Thus we come full circle to the film he has created partly as an antidote to said misgivings and partly as an extension of the freak voice that made his freshman and sophomore pictures so worthy. 'Trash Humpers' could very well be the apex of Harmony Korine's love affair with the romantic abnormalities of human behavior and the ever crooked paths they nurture into the kind of storytelling he finds priority level film making material.

I hope I will not be the only fool waiting in anticipation for a shot to spend some screen time on some random Nashville street with a few filthy degenerates giving blatant irrationality a good/bad name.

One more thing, it should be noted in passing that both 'Gummo' and 'Julien Donkey-Boy' are available on the cheap ($5.79 each) at the friendly Internet warehouse

Anything crude and/or impolite that anyone would wish to add can be submitted