Friday, October 31, 2008

Spooky, Scary

As I mentioned before, one of my favourite Halloween pastimes is to indulge in some freaky movies with friends. We've had several such marathons over the years and I was thinking today about what some of my favourite movies are in the genre. I have a hard time with lists, because calling anything my "favourite" feels like I'm being disrespectful of all the others I love. But I'm going to give it a shot anyway -- just for fun. These aren't the scariest movies I've ever seen, nor are they the best, but they are the ones I love for reasons entirely my own. I don't think I could limit myself to just 10, so here are 13 of my favourite freaky flicks (order is mostly arbitrary, although I feel pretty strongly about #1):

13. Suspiria (1977)
I said that some of movies on this list are not actually very scary, but I do find Suspiria pretty damn frightening. The gothic synth music has a lot to do with it, as does the movie's outlandish color palette. Really, the movie's greatest special effect is its juxtaposition of many surreal elements with unflinchingly raw depictions of death. It's a very unsettling combination of fantasy and groin-kickingly horrible nastiness. Memorable moment: the razor wire room.

12. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Although it's also damn scary, it fascinating that this movie doesn't even come close to matching the notorious reputation it's earned over the years for bloodshed and violence. For one, it's not nearly as bloody a movie as you might expect. Most of the best scares come through dialogue, set design, cinematography, and implied violence. It's easily one of the creepiest movies I've ever seen and even the ultra-low budget never hampers that ($140,000, supposedly). Memorable moment: the dinner scene -- so good, they reused it for the (crappy) sequel.

11. Slither (2006)
Slither is more of a gross-out comedy than a horror film, but that's right up my alley -- especially because it succeeds so well at both. It's a shame that this movie performed so terribly in theatres, because horror-comedies are a rare breed and it's even more rare when they get the balance right. Plus, Nathan Fillion (Serenity), and Elizabeth Banks (Zack & Miri, W) produced some genuinely likeable characters. Memorable moment: squid Grant takes down a cow.

10. The Descent (2005)
I've seen this movie twice now and although it's rather bleak, the second viewing cemented that I really liked it. For one, it manages to be scary even long before any flesh-eating monsters show up, often just through the use of lighting and environments. Second, there's a lot more going on in that cave than just victims running from predators. You get to know a lot about the characters' backstories and an entirely separate personal drama plays out between them as they try to survive their ordeal. Memorable moment: Beth reveals Juno's betrayal.

9. 28 Days Later (2002)
I know it's not exactly perfect, but several aspects of this movie struck a chord for me. For one, Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins) totally rules in this movie and deep inside, I cheered at his transformation from a simple bike courier to a Rambo-like force of nature. Meanwhile, the excellent soundtrack, haunting scenery, and performances by the likes of Brendan Gleeson (Gangs of New York) lend a little gravitas to what might otherwise be another silly zombie movie. And no, I'm not interested in arguing about whether or not, it's really a zombie movie. Memorable moment: Frank looks up at a crow.

8. Bubba Ho-tep (2002)
This is one bizarre trip of a comedy-fantasy-drama-horror movie. Bubba Ho-tep is anchored by two phenomenal performances: Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead) as an aging Elvis and the late Ossie Davis (Do the Right Thing) as JFK, who was dyed to resemble a black man after an assassination attempt. Together, they live in a nursing home and team up to fight off an ancient, evil mummy. On paper, none of this sounds like it should work, but the movie is full of pleasant surprises. Memorable moment: Elvis chooses the simple life.

7. Ravenous (1999)
Here's another wacky one. Two of my favourite actors, Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) and Guy Pearce (Memento), are put together in a cannibalism movie on the US frontier with lots of perky banjo music. Once again, there's a lot more going on here than just a horror movie or even a simple black comedy. It's multi-faceted, it's entertaining, and it's thoughtful. Memorable moment: "He was tough. But then, a good soldier ought to be."

6. Romero's "Dead" trilogy (1968, 1978, 1985)
I'm bulking these together because I couldn't choose a favourite. I think they all have their pros and cons. Dawn of the Dead is the most thoughtfully composed of the trio, Night of the Living Dead is most haunting, and the oft-maligned Day of the Dead remains the most visceral of the bunch. I'm probably less harsh on Day than others because it's the first one I saw. It certainly takes a while to pick up steam, but once the film gets rolling, there's some pretty remarkable mayhem on display. Memorable moment: the demise of Captain Rhodes.

5. Alien (1979)
Alien is great, because not only is it genuinely scary and intriguing, but it's also exceptionally well made. Directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator), it is particularly remarkable for its dense atmosphere and impressive sets. The actors all pull their weight, the effects are phenomenal given the film's budget, and the suspense is almost unbearable in the film's key scenes. I don't know what else to say. Everything here just works very well. Memorable moment: there's a stowaway aboard the shuttle.

4. The Thing (1982)
Speaking of aliens, The Thing by John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York) features probably the coolest alien I've ever seen on screen. As the title suggests, there's absolutely no way to describe it other than "a thing." It has no shape, no voice -- it just is. And that's scary as hell. Memorable moment: Um, that head has spider legs.

3. Re-Animator (1985)
This movie probably isn't as great as its spot in the list might suggest, but I can't help loving how wacky it is. I love how the solution to every zombie problem is to make more zombies, like maybe it will turn out better this time. The fact that the characters never learn anything from their errors and that actor Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners) manages to hold that scornful scowl through the entire film make this amazingly entertaining. But the late David Gale as Dr. Hill steals most scenes anyway, even if he spends most of the film separated from his body. Memorable moment: I can't decide between the decapitated zombie head's attempt at sex or a character getting strangled to death by another's re-animated intestines.

2. The Fly (1986)
Director David Cronenberg has been on a roll again in recent years (History of Violence, Eastern Promises), but this remains one of my favourite movies of his. A remake of the 1958 sci-fi classic, The Fly is probably the closest thing to a pure horror movie he's ever made and it packs one hell of an emotional punch. In retrospect, the film is a perfect encapsulation of Cronenberg's fascination with the human body; here, humanity and monstrosity fight for control of a single body. It's both horrifying and heartbreaking. Memorable moment: Brundlefly wishes for death.

1. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Not only is Evil Dead 2 one of my favourite horror movies ever, but it's probably also earned a spot in my general list of favourite movies -- horror or otherwise. While the first entry in this series was a respectable nightmare of unrelenting shock and gore, the sequel deftly adds slapstick comedy and absurdism into the mix. Like its predecessor, Evil Dead 2 does little to hide its amateur roots, but what it lacks in polish, it makes up for in sheer inventiveness and energy. Bruce Campbell (TV's Burn Notice) as Ash spends most of the movie by himself, the hapless victim of torturous spirits and his decapitated girlfriend, but his greatest enemy turns out to be his own posessed hand, which he is forced to remove with a chainsaw. And then his night really gets bad... Anyway, this movie is awesomely entertaining and you should love it, too. Memorable moment: "A Farewell to Arms."

Honorable mentions: Phantasm 2, Grindhouse, King Kong (1933), Braindead, From Beyond, Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Videodrome, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween (1978), Jaws, The Exorcist, Army of Darkness, The Sixth Sense, The Hidden, Silence of the Lambs

Monday, October 27, 2008

No Easy Cure

The Cure's new album, 4:13 Dream, was made available for online listening in its entirety this weekend, via the band's MySpace site. This is the first time I've heard the album as a whole. Frankly, my expectations were low, because the four singles leading up to the release didn't really do that much for me. As it turns out, those are actually some of my least favourite songs on the album. I'm as surprised as anyone, but this is by far their best and most consistent album in a long time -- probably since the days of Wish, back in 1992. Incidentally, it's also the first album since 1992 to feature guitarist Porl Thompson in the lineup, so maybe it shouldn't be so surprising after all.

Like I said, the four pre-release singles really don't do the album justice. Album opener "Underneath the Stars" and "The Hungry Ghost" are stand outs, while songs like "Switch" and "It's Over" exhibit an intensity that The Cure haven't shown in years. It's a nice change of pace after the drudgery of Bloodflowers and kinda half-hearted self-titled album. Yay!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Geek Out, Slip In

The last few years, I've used Hallowe'en as an excuse to bring together people at our place to watch some totally fucked up scary movies. I'm sure the same thing happens in countless other households; it's always good fun to watch this type of flick with friends. This year, I think we're moving the festivities to a friend's house with a big, new tv, but the tradition seems likely to stay alive. That excites me. All signs indicate that we'll be returning to a certain John Carpenter film that I probably don't have to name. I haven't watched it in 2 or 3 years, so I'm ready for another viewing, and there are a few among us who have actually never seen it. Plus, it's a good movie, so I have no qualms about watching it again.

On a related note, there've been lots of new movies lately that I want to see. I already took last weekend to catch up on [Rec], a spanish horror movie that came highly recommended. I didn't think the movie was all that phenomenal, but it definitely had some very effective moments. The material was well-worn and cliche-ridden, but a few small tweaks to the formula almost made it feel fresh again. Apparently there's now also an American remake called Quarantine (with Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter), but I hear it sticks very closely to the original. I don't really understand the point, so I probably won't bother with it unless someone can give me a reason to.

I'm also very curious to see this Swedish vampire movie that's getting very favourable reviews all over the place right now called Let the Right One In. By most accounts, it's not a pure horror film, but that doesn't make it any less intriguing. Plus, it's named after a Morrissey song, so that's bonus points right there. Unfortunately, I'll probably never get to see it in a theatre. I'll have to settle for a trailer for now...

Friday, October 17, 2008

I was listening to the sound of the waves breaking

Finally, some finished music from the new ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead album appeared online today. It's in crappy MySpace quality, but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying it. The last album was definitely not the band's strongest effort, but the new stuff sounds pretty awesome, so far. More raw, more powerful, and generally livelier than anything from the last few years. That bridge in the second half of the song is pretty intense. I'm officially excited.

Listen to "Bells of Creation" (MySpace)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cereal killer

Once again, I felt overwhelmed today by the number of ridiculous/scary food-related items in my RSS feeds.

Maple Leaf mulls use of listeria-curbing additive (Globe & Mail)
Surely, the answer to making overly processed mass-produced meats safer for mass consumption is to process them even further and extend their already swollen ingredient lists with a just-recently-approved preservative.

CFIA issues warning over No Name flour (CBC)
This doesn't seem to be a significant issue so far, but apparently stores in Ontario have received flour that's jacked up with "high levels of folic acid, iron, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine." Curiously, no mention is made (in this article or others) of how all those extra vitamins and nutrients ended up in the flour. Is it a common practice for these things to be added during processing? What's wrong with just grinding up wheat? Isn't that how they make flour? Or is that process not cutting it anymore? Or did a strain of super-wheat accidentally enter the mill?

More will fall ill from E. coli, officials warn
(Globe & Mail)
50 people are thought to be infected so far (although not all of those are confirmed yet) and more are expected, after an E. coli outbreak at an Ontario Harvey's fast food restaurant. As if the people of Ontario didn't already have enough to fear from tainted meat and flour full of excessive vitamins, now they have another bacteria outbreak to track down. As one commenter on the article states: "...we are all doomed to die in a giant plague." More precisely, it seems we are all doomed to die in a giant plague that will most likely be created by ourselves in the first place.

Man continues making kebabs after discovering corpse in kitchen (Reuters UK)
Also, flies on a chicken, spit on the floor, blood, and a dude smoking... That all sounds pretty safe to me. I'll take 3, please.

Fortified water... for dogs (via Accidental Hedonist)
If our society has reached a point where people are paying money for products like this, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that we're also poisoning ourselves on a daily basis with new bacteria, chemicals, and poor safety measures. Did I mention it comes in four delicious flavours? Peanut butter, parsley, spearmint, and lemongrass.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Election Time Again

Hey, so we had an election in Canada yesterday. Turns out the butler did it. Actually, no, but that would have been more entertaining. Basically, we have slightly fewer Liberal seats, but slightly more Conservative and NDP seats. The Greens made a big leap in the overall vote, but still no seats (6.8% of total vote).

Total seats for 2008 (plus 2006 numbers):
143 Conservative (up from 124)
76 Liberal (down from 103)
50 Bloc Quebecois (previously 51)
37 NDP (up from 29)
0 Green (no change)

Fredericton's results look like this:
Keith Ashfield (Con) - 17,968 (42.61%)
David Innes (Lib) - 13,316 (31.58%)
Jesse Travis (NDP) - 6,440 (15.27%)
Mary Babineau (Green) - 4,273 (10.13%)
Ben Kelly (CAP) - 168 (0.4%)

This marks the first time in 15 years that Fredericton has a non-Liberal candidate. There was also a significant showing for the Greens, with the 2006 candidate (Philip Duchastel) pulling in only 884 votes (1.88%).

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's groin-grabbingly delicious

I somehow ended up reading food reviews at McSweeney's recently. I never even realized they covered that sort of thing, but then I happened upon an entire page of them. What a treasure trove of awesomeness.

Orbit Mint Mojito Gum
"It tastes enough like a mojito that if I were nauseated from drinking too many mojitos and my friend gave me a piece of this gum, I would punch her in the tits."
Mary Turner

4-Alarm Spicy Chicken Sandwich From Wendy's
"I cried a little, and couldn't taste anything for a long time."
Peter Scott Bartsch

Flapjack Shot (Jack Daniels and maple syrup)
"It tastes like when my grandpa used to make us pancakes when he was drunk. Only now I'm the one getting drunk. And there aren't any pancakes."
Jacy Wojcik

Bubble Yum: Hershey's Genuine Chocolate Flavor
" cost 95 cents for a five-piece pack, which is just too expensive for something so fucking gross."
Angela Colford

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Goddamn Batman

Thanks to Mary for pointing me towards this little beauty... Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blinded by the light

Hot on the heels of protests against the films Towelhead and Tropic Thunder, the latest film to draw the ire of activists is Blindness. The film was directed by Academy Award nominee Fernando Meirelles (City of God) based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago. The IMDB summary reads:
A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant "white blindness". Those first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital where the newly created "society of the blind" quickly breaks down.
In a Huffington Post article, a representative of the National Federation of the Blind says:
"The movie portrays blind people as monsters, and I believe it to be a lie," said Maurer, president of the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind. "Blindness doesn't turn decent people into monsters."


The movie reinforces inaccurate stereotypes, including that the blind cannot care for themselves and are perpetually disoriented, according to the NFB.
Now, I haven't seen the movie, but I've seen enough other movies and read enough books to know that the intention of the film is most likely to establish an allegorical scenario, not to antagonize blind people. Blindness may not turn decent people into monsters, but mass epidemics can. There's a very significant difference and -- maybe I'm too optimistic -- I think most average moviegoers can figure this out as well.

Blind Activists Plan Protest Of Julianne Moore Movie (Huffington Post)
"Blindness" movie trailer (Apple Trailers)