Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Discount Bin Movie Club #7: Halloween

Nope I'm not talking about the Rob Zombie remake. I'm talking about the original John Carpenter horror classic HALLOWEEN, that even though it wasn't the first 'slasher' film, did give the genre legs.

The film starred movie veteran Donald Pleasance as the definitive Dr. Sam Loomis and Jamie Lee Curtis in her feature film debut as babysitter/killer target Laurie Strode and Nick Castle as The Shape, better known as Micheal Myers.

Like all good horror stories, the plot is simple and direct. Michael Myers killed his sister when he was a little boy in 1963. In 1978, he escapes from the booby hatch, and, thanks to a brief glimpse of her through the window of his old house, becomes obsessed with nerdy babysitter Laurie Strode.

Then the killings begin and it's up to Michael's shrink Dr. Loomis to stop him before he wipes out the whole town with a little .38 caliber therapy.

Now modern gore-hound deride the film because

1. It is relatively bloodless. takes a while for the killings to begin

3. The audience never learns much beyond the bare minimum of the backstory of killer Michael Myers.

Well, I think those are the film's strengths.

1. Gore is overrated as an element in horror. There was a time when it was shocking and new, but that time has passed. Hell, the CSI franchise dish out more gore than the average Dario Argento picture. The makers of Halloween opted to go for fear over disgust.

2. It does take a while from the initial burst of violence with Michael's juvenile killing of his sister, to get to the murders of the babysitters and their friends, but that was a good choice by the filmmakers. It allowed them to let the characters have a little personality. Sure none of them are Hamlet but it's enough for the audience to identify with them enough to feel horrified at their deaths.

3. It is necessary to make Micheal Myers an enigma. Everything about him is kept vague, because the audience needs to see him as more than just a nut with a knife, but as an unstoppable force of evil.

The film even sets up questions about Michael and blatantly refuses to answer them. These deliberate loose ends make the film more unsettling because there's nothing scarier than the unknown.

All in all, the film Halloween is a mandatory addition to any horror fans DVD collection. And Anchor Bay's latest 'remastered' edition looks even sharper and clearer than it probably did when it was released in theaters. This edition (there are dozens) also comes with a 'making of' featurette made in the year 2000 and it's loaded with trivia and amusing stories about the making of the movie.

"You Moronic gore-hounds wouldn't know good horror if it stabbed you in the chest and nailed you to a wall!" -Michael Myers.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

On Comedy: Not The 9 O'Clock News

Today is the debut of what I hope will be a new feature of this blog. It's called On Comedy, and in it I will look at classic comedy sketches and analyze what works.

Today I'm looking at some sketches done by Not The Nine O'Clock News a show that was not only devised by the 'TV Generation' but also a show about TV, that could only be done on TV.

First a little history.

Most sketch comedy was done in the form of a stage-bound revue show, with a studio audience, musical acts, and they didn't go out much on location.

Monty Python
changed all that with their quickly changing sketches, and while they did a lot of 'stage-style' material, many sketches were shot on location, a radical move at the time.

In fact they were so successful that many thought sketch comedy was dead without them.

Well some folks at the BBC thought differently. They pieced together a new sketch show starring up and comer Rowan Atkinson, Oxfard Revue veteran and director Mel Smith, Australian actress Pamela Stephenson, and Welshman Griff Rhys-Jones, whose sister was dating the producer at the time.

Now what made them radically different was that they rejected the 'stage show on TV' format that had made a comeback since the debut of SNL and made a show that could only be done on TV.

But enough of the history lesson, let's look at the material. First up is Rowan Atkinson and an off-screen Mel Smith in The Judge.

This sketch works because it follows a basic rule of comedy, use the unexpected and if possible, make it naughty.

The set up: Rowan is a judge, and appears elderly, out of touch, stuffy and possibly senile. Since that is the stereotype of British jurisprudence, it's is what's expected. The audience is lulled into thinking that it will be a sketch about him being stuffy, senile and out of touch with the modern world.

The punchline: Despite not knowing about digital watches, video recorders, and whatnot, he knows exactly what the deluxe inflatable woman is. This is the unexpected. He may be out of touch about most ordinary things, but he is very knowledgeable about sex toys, introducing the element of schoolboy naughtiness that cannot help but inspire a giggle.

Then there's a quick edit, and they're out of there and onto another joke.

There's not wasted time working on catchphrases or trying to stretch it out in order to score a movie deal, like a certain other sketch show that will remain talentless. They do the job and they do it quick.

It's called efficiency.

This same efficiency can be seen in this sketch also featuring Atkinson.

Now this operates on the principle of absurdity. He's stealing, but he's still looking for the best price. Such blatant illogic is where it comes from, and they don't waste time with speeches about the issue, they just let the camera show it.

And that's why it works. The sort speeches found in a stage-bound production would give the audience time to ponder the situation, and in sketch comedy time is the enemy. You have to get the laugh done quick and be on the next sketch before the devil knows it's dead.

Also shooting it on location at a real store, lends some credibility to the sheer silliness inherent in the sketch. Punctuating the laugh.

Now they also brought this same efficiency to their longer sketches. Take for example this parody of long running British quiz show University Challenge.

First, an element of absurdity. The top-level students are all from two of Britain's toughest prisons, and despite their educational qualifications, (another absurdist element) they're not there to discuss science or the arts. They're there to snitch or 'grass' on their associates to win early parole or a slot in witness protection.

Having the policeman pop up right beside the host is an excellent addition. Also look at how he pops up. He appears out of nowhere, gives a suspicious quick look-round, then takes out his notebook to start scribbling away. In less than a second he encapsulates that this is a rather shady deal all round, but does it anyway.

Also, the use of the camera is important to the sketch. On a stage they would all be at a distance from the audience. Their appearance would have to be exaggerated to make it obvious to a stage audience that they're criminals. But on TV they're able to go with a more realistic thuggish look, as a counterpoint to the absurdity of the sketch itself.

They also don't waste time, getting through the questions and answers quickly, and the 'help' the host offers, isn't a clue, but a bribe. It uses comedy to show the problems arising from Britain's program of parole for snitching becoming so widespread.

Now when the show wrapped, they wanted to go out with a laugh, and they did, using this blend of sentimentality and bawdy humour.

If you don't know why it's funny, you don't get out enough.

Or maybe you do get out enough and that's why...

That's all for now.

I hope to do this again soon, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Millisecond Men Part 6




"Argle thrax!" grumbled the Treskarian, brandishing a strange looking pistol.

"Damn," said Bob, "it's much more convenient on TV, all the aliens speak English."

"That weapon's enough translation for me," said Quo Vida raising her hands.

"Why are you raising your hands?" asked Bob of the hologram of Quid Civitas.  "You're already dead."

The hologram shrugged.  "Force of habit and experience."

Bob raised his shotgun and pointed it at the alien.

"You drop your weapon punk!" growled Bob, channeling the spirit of Lee Marvin.

"Your gun is useless," said Quo Vida.

"You know that," hissed Bob, "I know that, but I'm hoping he doesn't know that."

The Treskarian paused.  Though its face was behind an opaque mask, Bob could see confusion in its body language.

"It's working," said Bob, "now I show him how useless this is."

Bob pulled the trigger.

A ball of flame and hot metal formed at the mouth of the shotgun's barrel.  Then it froze.

The Treskarian raised his pistol.

Bob shoved the shotgun into the alien's face.  Suddenly the alien flew backwards from the weapon and slammed into the wall.  The ball of fire and metal stuck to its face and the pistol flew from its hand.

Bob grabbed the barrel of the shotgun and swung.

The butt of the shotgun connected with the alien's helmet and knocked the creature to the floor.

"You kicked its ass," said Quo Vida, amazed.

"Sorry," said Bob.  "I just don't like getting threatened, especially by something that's going to blow up the universe.  Is it dead?"

Quo Vida took out her does-all and scanned the creature.

"Out cold," said Quo Vida.

Bob picked up the alien's pistol.  "This should work, shouldn't it?"

"Yes," answered Quo Vida, "but I'd point that end away from you."

"Thanks for the tip," said Bob.

"There is only one thing that could synchronize the time-streams," said the hologram of Quid Civitas, who then flickered and took the form of a triangular rock with a red stone in the center.  "It is called the Stone of Time.  It appears to be common rocks, but is in fact pure tachyons and exists both inside and outside this time stream.  The only problem is that it's a legend, no one knows where it is."

"I know where it is," said Bob.


Thursday, 4 October 2007

The Millisecond Men Part 5




Quo Vida spun around when she heard the voice behind her.

"Quid?" she said, tears choking her voice.

Bob had spun around to, his useless shotgun raised, for no reason other than his own comfort. In front of them was a tall man in a double breasted charcoal grey pin-striped suit and matching fedora.

Actually, he wasn't so much standing in front of them but floating a few inches above the floor.

"Dude," said Bob, "you're flickering."

"I'm an interactive holographic simulacrum of the Quantum Agent Quid Civitas," replied Quid.

Bob looked over at Quo Vida and saw a tear run down her cheek.

"Is this one of those 'if you see this message I'm already dead' kind of things?" asked Bob.

The holographic simulacrum nodded.

"Sorry," said Bob to Quo Vida.

"What happened?" asked Quo Vida.

"You know that I... or to be more accurate, the person I'm modeled after was always fascinated by Millinarian dimensions," said Quid. "Well I decided to break the rules, go into the past and visit one that we had scanned using a temporal compression and expansion matrix."

"Then what happened?"

"I met the Treskarians," said Quid. "I learned something we missed in our scan. They were the only sentient life in their universe and for good reason, they killed everything else."

"That's not good," said Bob.

"It isn't," said Quid. "They overpowered me. Forced me to teach them about our technology and then they killed me. Thankfully I was able to record my neural patterns into the holo-web before they cut off my head."

Quo Vida stepped back, he hand over her mouth.

"They don't want to last a millisecond of our time," said Quid. "They want to bring their universe in sync with ours..."

"They did," said Quo Vida. "They destroyed it all."

"But you survived," said Quid. "That means that you can stop them. All we need to know is why they came here, to this primitive time and planet."

"I happen to live in this primitive time," snapped Bob.

"Yeah," said Quid. "Why are you working with a guy in pyjamas and a housecoat that has definitely seen better days?"

"He's a tachyon emitter," said Quo Vida. "Long story but he has proven to be good in a pinch."

"Thank you," said Bob.

"He better be good," said Quid. "Because a Treskarian just walked in behind you."

While you're waiting for the next exciting installment, pre-order OUT OF THE GUTTER's Issue 3.
It has to be great, I'm in it.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Discount Bin Film Club #4: The Changeling!

Hello there.

Today is the first of October, and in keeping with my promise, this will be a month of scaaaarrrryyy movies that I've found in the Discount Bin.

First up is THE CHANGELING (1980-Canada) starring George C. Scott, Trish VanDeVere, and Melvyn Douglas and directed by Peter Medak.

The film was made during the waning days of what became known as the 'tax shelter boom' in Canadian cinema. This program allowed investors in movies to reap the benefits of tax breaks and profit (by legally deducting more money than they invested) whether the film made money or not.

Now most of the movies made in this era were pretty cheap and pretty awful, but it was the period that brought the world David Cronenberg and produced such cult classics as Black Christmas, The Silent Partner and the supernatural horror film The Changeling.

The story is fairly simple. A successful and famous composer named John Russell (Scott) is an emotional wreck since losing his wife and daughter in a car accident. Desperate for a change of scenery he moves to his home city, that hasn't visited in a long time, to take a job teaching music at the local university and work on a new orchestral project.

A friend recommends that he get a lady from the local historical society (Van DeVere) to help him find a place to live. The society will lease him a place relatively cheaply if he promises to retain it's historical character. He finds a large rambling mansion with an acoustically perfect music room, and it's available at a price that can't be beat. So he moves in.

But he's not alone in the house.

There's a spirit there, and it's emotionally unstable. It wants its new housemate to expose the dark secret of the previous owners. A secret that involves a wealthy and powerful US Senator (Douglas).

The film scared the royal cheese out of me when I first saw it at the age of 12 on CBC's summer movie line-up, and when I found it for $4.99 at Wal-Mart I had to see if it still had any power.

It does.

The film doesn't have any fancy special effects, no glowing ectoplasm, no ghostly death rays, and no gore. It produces scares the way they should be done, through solid suspenseful film making.

Director Medak piles on the suspense through editing, eerie music and masterful cinematography by John Coquillon who fills every shadow with dread. And the house, which qualifies as a character in itself, has plenty of shadows. One scene that illustrates how well the film was made was the seance scene. It's just a group of people sitting around a table talking, but it is still one of the creepiest scenes you will ever see.

My only complaint is that the ending seems a tad rushed. There were some elements that I get the feeling were intended to be used for the finale, but had to drop them due to budgetary and time constraints.

All in all, The Changeling is an excellent little fright film to lend chills to a dark autumn evening with the lights down low.

You'll also never look at a simple rubber ball the same way again.

When you see the movie you'll know what I'm talking about.