Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Old Ones Were, Are, And Shall Be...


I can't contain my excitement about this news. The whole net is reporting today that Guillermo del Toro's long in development Lovecraft adaptation At The Mountains Of Madness is going to be his next production. This is particularly good news for people who've been following it's creeping, crawling progress, because only just recently the project was depressingly declared as being all but dead. That news came as a double blow, right after the news that del Toro finally walked away from the floundering Hobbit movies. Right now I couldn't care less if The Hobbit ever gets made. I just want to see Madness.

The really awesome thing about this announcement is that it looks like the movie is going to be bankrolled by none other than James Cameron. Now, other than his cool production design, with Bob Skotak, on Galaxy Of Terror, I'm not a big fan of the uber director's work (ok, I love ALIENS too). BUT, his involvement as producer bodes very well for the successful realisation of GDT's vision for Madness. Guillermo has said for years that Madness will be a very difficult film to get made because it needs to be hugely expensive at the same time as being almost impossible to market. In his own words:

"ATMOM is a delicate project to push through a studio: no love interest, no female characters, no happy ending...

But I believe it's time to resurrect the big tentpole horror movie. The event horror movie. Like THE EXORCIST was, or THE SHINING or ALIEN or JAWS in their time..."


... in other words, having Cameron on board - with all his money, clout and technological resources - is just what this sprawling nightmare epic needs. Cyclopean alien cities, Elder Things, Shoggoths... terror, blood and madness in the Antarctic wastes. Pre-production starts soon. It could be lensing as soon as this time next year. FUCK YES.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

INTERZONE DISPATCHES: Report #2

MAX... I'm so glad you came to me. I've been through it all myself you see.


The hallucinations, the headaches, the uncertainty. It won't go away, but it will get easier if you stop resisting and accept that this is your new reality now. However, you'll have to learn to live in a very strange new world...

Let's take a look at some examples of contemporary art and design that are obviously influenced by the works of David Cronenberg. That the ideas he first postulated in Shivers are still having such an influence on the arts 35 years later is interesting. Is it a testament to the depth and richness of his vision? Or are artists cribbing from Cronenberg for a more superficial reason, namely that the imagery in his films is so fetishistically pleasing? I'll leave that up to you to decide...



CATHODE RAY MISSION



This was a group exhibition of video art held at the Waterside Project Space, a new gallery in East London. It was set up to resemble the interior of the Mission from Videodrome, quite an ingenious gimmick for a video installation. In the gallery's own words:

Cathode Ray Mission creates a fictional environment in which to display artists' video. With its technologically redundant display equipment, ad-hoc office architecture and low-budget aesthetics, the strategy stands in opposition to the mundane, yet readily available, platforms for exhibition.


Website HERE



TECHNOLOGY MADE FLESH


The images of TVs, VHS cassettes, typewriters, gaming consoles etc, transforming into living organisms - complete with veins, umbilical cords and entrails - are some of the most unsettling and memorable in Cronenberg's films:















... and in reverse - Flesh transforms into technology in eXistenZ:



MIO IIZAWA'S MECHANICAL TUMOR

Here we have a computer with a tumorous organ seemingly growing from it, the tumor actually serving a functional purpose (see Videodrome). Japanese artist Mio Iizawa's Mechanical Tumor uses internal motors and pneumatic actuators to graphically react to the demands placed on the computer's CPU. The tumor pulses and grows when more programs and utilities are being run.




BAR-RECTUM


Joep van Lieshout is a dutch designer/artist who creates works (through his Rotterdam based firm Atelier Van Lieshout) that are simultaneously art, design and functional architecture. His description of the fully functional "Arsch Bar" in Vienna, Austria:

BarRectum, Arsch Bar, Asshole Bar, Bar Anus. While the translations sound different, the form is universally recognizable. The bar takes its shape from the human digestive system: starting with the tongue, continuing to the stomach, moving through the small and the large intestines and exiting through the anus. While BarRectum is anatomically correct, the last part of the large intestine has been inflated to a humongous size to hold as many drinking customers at the bar as possible. The anus itself is part of a large door that doubles as an emergency exit.


A browse through AVL's website reveals many more works that are undeniably Cronenbergian in nature, including some giant disembodied heads that are reminiscent of the artist Pierce's work in Scanners (seen in his studio).



INSECT EROTICISM

Another recurrent nightmare in Cronenberg's films is inter-species sex between humans and insects (although most obvious in The Fly & Naked Lunch, see also the insect-like gynecological instruments in Dead Ringers):






These French posters (below) for safe sex and AIDS awareness are reminiscent of the disturbing centipede rape in Naked Lunch as well as the Japanese Lunch poster. Not to mention that when Veronica is having sex with Seth after his trip through the Telepods, she's basically doing it with a giant fly. It's certainly not a stretch to imagine a French advertising company referencing Cronenberg, as he's more popular in France than anywhere else in the world. Just last year he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, the highest decoration in France.





VIDEODROME


Finally, in April of this year Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art used Videodrome for it's inspiration for a large scale audio/visual installation. It's well worth watching, as much of it is striking and provocative (using imagery from horror movies a few times to good effect).



GRINDHOUSE



A red band trailer that actually delivers the goods? Most definitely. Or is it just spoiling every gag in the movie? If not, then Machete really is looking like a satisfyingly bloody movie. Another possible gripe is the amount of CG blood splattering around. The whole point of Grindhouse is to relive the '70's aesthetic, so hopefully this has it's share of fun practical gags too. I have to admit that I like the idea of having Machete and Thanksgiving sitting next to Planet Terror and Death Proof on the DVD shelf.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Kill Sports


Check out my post over at IllCon on fictional sports in SF and horror movies. It covers the sick death games found in Hostel, Cube, Rollerball and Death Race 2000, among others.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

INTERZONE DISPATCHES: Report #1

"You'll forgive me if I don't stay around to watch.
I just can't cope with the freaky stuff"

Over half a year into this blog, and the EYE is yet to cast it's baleful gaze sufficiently upon my favourite director... Mr. David Cronenberg. To remedy that I'm embarking on a series of reports dedicated to the Canadian Master. These reports are comprised of data gleaned from various
covert sources of intelligence within the Zone and Annexia.

A WARNING that reading these will result in the development of tumors in the human cerebrum. If you read too much, you will feel these words coalesce, and become Flesh... uncontrollable Flesh.

I'll be looking at some recent examples of Cronenbergian influence & references in art, design and popular culture. I'll also be uploading a few of Cronenberg's rare short films for download. No, not Transfer, From The Drain, Stereo or Crimes Of The Future (the latter two of which have been easily available for a while now on Blue Underground's excellent Fast Company DVD). Rather, some of his early genre TV work, made at the same time that he was crafting his seminal shockers, Shivers and Rabid. These will be pretty rare to most people.

So keep watching here on CIVIC TV (Channel 83, Cable 12).


First up let's take a look at Cronenberg's short film Camera, commissioned by the Toronto International Film Fest in 2000 to celebrate it's 25th anniversary. Made just after eXistenZ, this brilliant and beautifully crafted short shares that film's connection to Videodrome in it's exploration of the Media's ability to transform the psyche, and through that, the body. Again technology is given "life" (though here it's less overtly organic). We've seen TVs, videotapes, typewriters and game consoles take on a malevolent life of their own. Now the camera itself becomes the antagonist.

It's pretty obvious that Cronenberg had Videodrome on the brain (pun intended) again at this period of his career, when Camera's human protagonist relates a nightmare he had:

"it was the movie that was doing it. I had caught some kind of disease from the movie... and it was making me grow old... bringing me closer and closer... to death."

And it's the protagonist of this little film that really makes it work. Cronenberg has a habit of sticking with actors he likes, which has resulted in some fascinating lesser-knowns turning up repeatedly in his movies to great effect (see Robert A. Silverman: Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, Naked Lunch & eXistenZ). To that end, here he wisely chose veteran Canadian character actor Leslie Carlson, with whom he'd worked on three previous films. They'd collaborated before on The Fly & The Dead Zone - but most famously on Videodrome, where Carlson memorably portrayed the sleazy, sinister Barry Convex. Also of note to fans of Canadian genre film, Carlson began his career in two Canuck horror classics, Bob Clark's Black Christmas & Alan Ormsby's Deranged (above right).

In this little film he gives it his all (and that's a considerable amount), and his performance is memorable and emotionally affecting. Pretty amazing, given the film's brief running time of only six minutes. In fact, it's surprising how profound & moving this little piece is - an obvious testament to Cronenberg's brilliance and Carlson's skills. Please download the short below, it's a really nice quality AVI at about 100MB. And remember, your reality is already half video hallucination. If you're not careful, it will become total hallucination. The tumor is growing.


Monday, 12 July 2010

CONTACT: Human Horror


Jeremiah Kipp's impressive short film Contact has recently garnered him enough attention to land him his first feature length directorial job (Swine, featuring Tom Savini in a juicy role as a homicidal maniac!)... and it's not hard to see why. It's also earned raves from horror legends Frank Henenlotter and Larry Fessenden, among others.

Beautifully shot in dreamlike black & white, the film features excellent performances, particularly from it's lead, New York actress Zoe Daelman Chlanda. Although almost completely dialogue-free, the outstanding cast convey all the subtle emotion required to make Contact a thought provoking and memorable experience. Personally, I was blown away by the oppressive, sinister sound design, that immediately got under my skin and had me paying close attention. I'm a big fan of sound design being a feature in horror movies and this is some of the best work I've heard in ages. The understated score complements it well, and the whole comes off as sounding like Eraserhead if it were scored by Howard Shore circa Videodrome.

So what's on this little horror film's mind? Perhaps you should go watch it first. You can do that
HERE. Go ahead, I'll wait...

On the surface Contact appears to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of drugs, but I think at it's heart, the film is more concerned with people, and the ways in which they relate to each other. For me, Contact - as the name implies - is a meditation on the complexities, uncertainties and frailties of relationships. Each segment of the film features distinctly different forms of human interaction - cold, loving, callous, erotic, manipulative and finally caring and forgiving... or is it?



Have you ever looked at a friend, lover or long-term partner, and suddenly thought to yourself "who is this person, and why are we really together?". Realised that your knowledge and understanding of them might only be very superficial, and that you may in fact be sharing your house and life with a total stranger?

It's a very unsettling and tough moment of human realisation, and difficult to face. It's hard because it forces one to look at a very painful truth... that in the end, no matter how many people we surround ourselves with, we are all - every one of us - very much alone. And the ultimate outcome of that fact is that when we die... it's an experience that we all face alone. This is true horror. Primal horror.

I think the hallucinogenic trip that the two lovers at the heart of the film's narrative take together serves to illustrate this perfectly. Profound drug experiences, particularly psychedelic ones, are capable of stripping away our superficial "masks" and exposing a more raw, truthful self beneath. Zoe Daelman Chlanda's character sees through the veneer of her boyfriend's charm, and into an interior that may be more selfish and possessive than he outwardly appears. To recognise ulterior motives in someone you trust can be a very painful experience.

The more disturbing relationship in Contact, however, is between Chlanda's character and her father. His character is cold and difficult to read because he maintains a rigidly controlled exterior. There are indications though, that all is not right between father and daughter. Does she feel guilt for something? Was he abusive? Is his abuse the reason for her freakout while on the drug? The unanswered question about whether their contact at the end is caring and loving, or tainted with something darker makes for a thought provoking conclusion.



I asked Jeremiah a few questions about Contact, and his answers below make for good reading:

EYE: I see some Cronenberg influence in the body horror aspect of the drug hallucinations. Also parts of the minimalist score remind me a little of early Howard Shore, e.g. Videodrome. Is that the case, or am I just projecting?

JK: Cronenberg is one of the masters of the genre, using body horror imagery in a suggestive way. It's impossible not to feel some influence when you're using a gore effect as an extension of a human emotion or fear. In eXistenZ, the Jude Law character expresses a very specific fear of penetration; in The Fly our hero is rotting away and transforming into a giant insect, which can stand in for any number of diseases that eat away a human being. Our main effect was two people kissing and their faces fuse together, so the couple is literally stuck together and the woman has to tear herself away from him - it's a way of dramatizing that fear of connection, and who we are connected to. But while Cronenberg was an inspiration, the image actually was inspired by a painting by Edward Munch called "The Kiss", where lovers are intertwined and seem to be molding into one entity.

While I don't specifically think the great Howard Shore's name came up, the beautifully minimalist score by Tom Burns has been compared to horror movies from the 1970s/80s that were very spare. We didn't talk about other composers; I think Tom was responding to the fact that this movie was pared down to the essential; plot, character, even the image is black and white, so he responded accordingly with his music. But I'm sure he'd be honored and humbled by the comparison to Shore, one of the most powerful film composers of our time.

EYE: I'm a bit slow on ambiguous, subtle plotting and metaphor etc. Can you please elaborate briefly on any subtext, message, or whatever that may exist in the film? Or should it just be taken on face value?

JK: I'm unable to handle ambiguity either. If the movie is open to the viewer for interpretation, I hope it's because the movie is, in fact, very specific. When you're directing actors, they need to understand what the characters want, how they go about getting that, where they come from and where they are going. I don't think it's possible to do that if the logic of the movie is fuzzy. That said, we also pared down the movie to the essential, so it could be told visually instead of through dialogue. The characters are presented as archetypes (the lovers, the parents, the dealer, etc) and because of that, I think the audience has more room to use their imagination. They can fill in a lot, as long as you have retained a logic in your movie no matter how metaphoric it may seem. The subtext has been interpreted as "don't use drugs" or "it's difficult to take an emotional plunge" depending on who is watching the movie. Let's just say that the title of the movie is CONTACT, and that if you ask yourself "how are the characters making contact in each scene?" you'll have an easy road map for navigating the film. I didn't set out to make a deliberately complex movie; I think if read on an intuitive or emotional level, the movie will reveal what it is. I hope people enjoy the film, or are moved, or shaken, or affected in some way; we made this movie for an audience, not for ourselves.

EYE: Are you taking it on the festival circuit?

JK: We decided not to take the film along the festival circuit. I wanted to put it online as an experiment and see if we could potentially find a wider audience that way. I think the web has changed the way short films can get out there into the world. festivals are great, and some international fests have picked up Contact and are screening it. We had fun making subtitles for the two or three lines of dialogue in the movie. But the web was a way of allowing everyone to see the work: audiences, critics, other filmmakers and producers. As it turns out, two producers saw the movie and hired me to direct a feature starring Tom Savini as a result of seeing it online. But I think it's worth pointing out that while we are all very proud of the film, we didn't set out to make a calling card. Contact was made because we set out to make the best film we could, and it was commissioned by a Halloween film festival in New York that only demanded the film had gore and nudity. It was made for an incredibly low budget ($600) and that may have forced us to be more creative than we would have been otherwise.


Check out more on Jeremiah's forthcoming horror feature Swine, starring Tom Savini, at Fangoria here.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

I Don't Care About The Wild Wild Girls


Dear Alex Aja... what happened?

This is the first bit of promotional material for Aja's upcoming Piranha remake that has been even remotely good (but that tagline, ugh). It is a good poster, reminiscent of the superb one sheet for Dante's '78 original. But other than some early excitment about KNB's gore FX for the movie (that admittedly looks impressive)... Piranha 2010 is not looking good.

The first half of the trailer looks promising. Then, not so promising. And I
hope that's unfinished CG on the piranha... because it looks like shit. Every bit of US promo that we've seen; from various permutations of the logo, to the teaser poster, to those embarrassingly stupid viral websites, just screams half-assed. The Wild Wild Girls are really, really weak.

Why am I being so negative? Because I love Alex Aja.

I love High Tension. I've never understood why so many people hate the ending, because Tension doesn't require a logical resolution. It's just a kick-ass celebration of both gialli and slasher movies that - in the tradition of many great gialli - is more concerned with visual style and effectively staged mayhem than a coherent narrative. It's flawlessly shot, particularly in the first act where it's a very "still" movie, and manages to juxtapose some moments of genuine beauty against all the horror.


It's not all just pretty pictures though. The deliberate pacing of the first act really does build a lot of tension that pays off later on. The performances are excellent throughout. The killer is
really cool. The gore is well executed, and the violence is shocking and disturbing. Haute Tension est fantastique!

I love The Hills Have Eyes even more! Hills is my favourite of the recent explosion of American remakes, and is the only one that I personally think has improved on the original (other than Last House and NOES, I'm not the biggest Craven fan).

Again, it's just perfectly shot. The desert is stunningly photographed, but it also looks hostile, menacing and lethal. The score, by Tomandandy, is one of the best horror scores of the last decade. Tension-building, creepy and ethereal; it really evokes feelings of the isolation and tragedy that you're seeing play out on the screen. The makeup and gore by KNB is top-notch, easily amongst their best work ever.


And the violence... brutal, unrelenting, shocking and ultimately, disturbingly
cathartic. Surely this criminally mistreated underclass of fringe-dwelling mutants should be pitied. But as we watch our anti-gun, liberal hero suddenly change into a vengeful gun-toting warmonger - losing part of his humanity in the process - we cheer for the spilled blood of the disenfranchised mutants. We cheer because they attacked the sanctity of Christian values and the family unit... and for that they must die. They may be cannibal mass-murderers, but in the end aren't they just desperately trying to survive in the aftermath of having their whole world destroyed by the government's callous nuclear testing? They are an insignificant class of humans, living on the edge of "civilisation"; expendable, collateral casualties of the profiteering military-industrial complex.

Tough, thought-provoking and savage, The Hills Have Eyes was an amazingly promising followup to Tension.

Then Aja made
Mirrors. Mirrors was not only one of the shittiest horror movies of the last decade, but one of the worst movies of any genre. Ever. It sucked. How do you follow two such great movies with... that.

So, I really want Piranha to be good. Not only because I dig Aja, and I know he can do great things, but because I love the sub-genre! Underwater monster movies rule! I hope it surprises me and turns out to be the fun, popcorn creature feature that it's being sold as. But I think that maybe this fish is gonna stink.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Suspiriorum Profundus!



Check out my post at Illogical Contraption on the newly reformed and soon to be touring Goblin. Simonetti is back in the lineup, along with original members Massimo Morante and Maurizio Guarini. Check out the post here, and thanks to Cinezilla for the inspiration!