31 January 2008

Tearing your soul apart: Hellraiser (1987) review

Plot
Frank Cotton is a mysterious man who buys a mysterious box from an equally mysterious Asian hawker. What is even more mysterious is that the Asian hawker is peddling in Morocco. Puzzled by the mysteries of the demographic irregularities, but seemingly undeterred by the mysteries of the mysterious box, Frank opens it with the aid of garden variety sputtering candles and late night deja-voodoo. A breed of hell-spawn demons called cenobites appear. They offer boundless sensual experience to Frank. Without even buying him a drink. Frank is not so mysteriously drawn to sadomasochism. Given the option of having a breed of demons torture his body and soul, or joining the Church of Scientology, a "dangerous cult", Frank wisely chooses to try his luck with the demons instead.







Visit Operation Clambake!

Frank likes a little S&M kink amongst consenting adults, but he realises true exploitation when he sees it. After meeting the cenobites, Frank mysteriously disappears from his home - body, soul, mysterious box, cenobites and all. Authorities suspect Scientology has something to do with it. All the circumstantial evidence points to extra-terrestrial beings with a lust for life and an appetite for destruction, not to mention the resemblance between Xenu-bite and cenobite. It won't be the first time either. Nevertheless, Frank's brother Larry follows in his footsteps, in more ways than one. Larry soon moves into Frank's dilapidated house along with Frank's widowed wife. Seems like one could take nepotism too far after all.



But there is a screw loose. There are also nails loose, sticking out of the walls in Frank's house. Loose nails could get handy when there isn't another loose screw around with an S&M infatuation. Must be for when Frank gets lonely. While moving in, Larry cuts his hand on one of the nails, which proves to be the final nail in his coffin. Some of his blood is spilt on the floor. This mysteriously awakens the remains of Frank. Frank is such a rude character, he doesn't even wait for the sequel to make a comeback. He mysteriously escapes the cenobites, who spend the rest of the film terrorising Frank's terrifying step daughter for information instead of following the stench of rotting flesh to Frank's hideout. Gaining the upper hand over your opponent with emotional blackmail instead of sleuth tactics certainly compensates for its lack of efficiency with sheer style. The cenobites live up to their reputation for tearing souls apart, offering boundless sensual experience, evading all manners of taxation and traumatising several survivors. That's the cenobites. Not the Scientologists.

Review

  • This film is seriously lacking in the technical department. It is Barker's first attempt at directing a feature film, and it shows. The shots are composed haphazardly, so unethically unaesthetic that it doesn't look like they were composed at all. There are some clever shots which work very well, making it clear that Barker was merely not cognisant of composition protocol.

  • This is not to say the film fails to create atmosphere. On the contrary, mostly due to the innate storytelling genius of Barker and the music of Christopher Young, the film does manage to create binding tension. Not only for Frank. Barker manages to let the story unfold, raising all the right questions, leaving all the right questions unanswered. It does get a little muddled towards the end, mostly because the questions which are answered offer no real resolution. At least the ending itself is rather splendid.

  • Christoper Young was commissioned to write the score after Barker first tried to work with an Industrial soundtrack by fellow Brits Coil. Barker found the music they made short of listenable - "bowl churning", just like good Industrial should be, in fact. Young provides his usual model of excellence. His musical scores are like motion pictures on their own. The music of Christopher Young creates a black hole, sucking the viewer into another dimension.

  • You will love this film if you adore latex props in lieu of CGI, and can look past the glaring shortcomings of the shots. It obeys nearly all the commandments of horror, especially with regards to the characters. Some of Frank's blood doesn't look realistic at all. It looks more like paint. Frank's metamorphosis is done very well, but it could always do with more ooze, and naturally more buckets of blood!


Conclusion
A mildly entertaining, classy horror with Barker redeeming himself from the lacking film technique thanks to the brilliant storytelling. The performances of the largely unknown cast are also noteworthy. For fans of dark fantasy and true special effects craftsmanship.

Director
Clive Barker

Cast
Doug Bradley
Clare Higgins
Ashley Laurence
Andrew Robinson
Oliver Smith

Rating

28 January 2008

How Not To Use Subliminal Programming

World war era despots. Banana republic dictators. Aggressive advertising campaigns. All these have one thing in common - propaganda. Propaganda was used as clear as daylight during the World Wars, but lately things have taken a dark turn. I am referring to subliminal programming.

For the past month or so, you have been treated to various amazing reviews. You know they are amazing, because I am doing the Jedi mind trick with you, while giving you the suggestion that they are amazing. You believe they are amazing, because your will power is no match for my will power. I have used all my manna to procure the will power of infinity. Under different circumstances, I would give the suggestion that your eyelids are growing weary, that your eyelids are growing heavy, and you need to close them. But then you would not be able to read my blog, so under these circumstances, I present to you an overview of my fairly prolific blog posts during the past few months.

If you see anything extraordinary in this blog, it is just a figment of your imagination. There are no intentional subliminal messages in this blog whatsoever. If you see anything of that nature, you will dismiss it as a figment of your imagination, but you will enjoy this blog. This blog makes you happy. Almost as happy as Moaner Lisa:


Apologies to the genius of Da Vinci.

You know that this blog brings you the best in horror and heavy metal reviews. Yes, it is true that there are other excellent horror blogs. I know you adore the Vault of Horror for its up to the minute news and lucid writing, of which lucid writing also characterises this blog. Yes, it is an excellent blog. You should visit it often, but does that blog offer you RSS subscriptions via email? The Necro Files offer you this, and more. Vault of Horror may be competitive in the horror department, but only The Necro Files can offer you horror as well as heavy metal.

Revisit the pure majesty of my personal 5 best heavy metal posts thus far:

Compare them with these visual delights - the majesty of my personal 5 best horror posts thus far:

Why this bleak look upon all things from the past? The truth is I will be too busy to update this blog as often as I had been. You can expect roughly one update per week. While you should visit my blog often, for your convenience it is perhaps best to subscribe to my RSS feed via email. I have many loyal subscribers, as you can see from my RSS feed count, but I always need more. I am like the Wendigo, my hunger is never satisfied.


To subscribe to my RSS feeds, please see the widgets to your right. Reader count may or may not reflect actual RSS subscribers.

I know what you are thinking. You want to know what exactly this has to do with the improper use of subliminal programming? Well, there is only one suitable answer.

What subliminal programming?

23 January 2008

W.A.S.P - The Crimson Idol (1992) review



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Review
You might argue that W.A.S.P is in fact hair metal, or at best shock rock. I maintain there's a world of a difference between the lawlessness of W.A.S.P and the sugary radio friendly ballads of Poison that make Bon Jovi seem loud. It's all relative. When the likes of Mötley "umlaut" Crüe, W.A.S.P and Venom came around, they were doing something outrageous for their time. When Poison came along, they were cashing in on the popularity of the Crüe, minus the risk of arson to their hotel. W.A.S.P is pure heavy metal, Poison is good business sense.

The Crimson Idol was originally conceived as a Blackie Lawless solo album. The reasons were that Blackie had been the only remaining member left in the band by the time the nineties came around, with the rest succumbed to drugs, rehab or foul, tempting wenches. One of these succubi is Chris Holmes, as you can plainly see:



Corporate pressures ensured that Blackie put the W.A.S.P moniker on the album, due to the marketing stunt known as branding. Critics disregard the Idol as a lacklustre attempt, but what do critics know anyway? Critics are spineless, megalomaniacs who couldn't write a song if Cthulhu put them to sleep and they woke up with the sheet music in their hands. Critics couldn't hold a tune if it were duct taped... to... their... foreheads. Wait, something about a pot and a kettle?

Moving along swiftly. The Crimson Idol is a concept album, written by a rock star, about the life of a rock star. Now this fained attempt at metarockstardom might seem revolutionary to those unfamiliar with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars or the Monkees, but it's really flogging a dead horse. Imagine how much this horse resembled biltong by the time Marilyn Manson made Antichrist Superstar, several years after the Crimson Idol came out. As far as concept albums go, the first popular one is arguably Tommy by The Who. Tommy has a fairly captivating story about a deaf, dumb, blind kid who drowns but didn't literally drown since drowning here is a metaphor for getting over your ego and becoming one with the one true ideal ego, young grasshopper. The songwriting is excellent and the standard of musicianship is high. These aspects are also found in the Crimson Idol. What it lacks in concept is definitely compensated for in the songwriting department. It might just be my imagination, or my love for Tommy (now don't read anything into that, emo), but the drums on Crimson Idol remind me of the unmistakable drumming of Keith Moon on many of the songs.

Like all true heavy metal albums, this album has its obligatory share of power ballads. It might be a good idea to have something flammable handy so you could sway a light from side to side during these. Like a cat. Clean singing has lately fallen out of favour with metal bands outside of Europe (the band and the continent). However, there is but one Rob Halford, and but one Blackie Lawless. Blackie manages to find the balance between writing a plain song and experimenting with a bit of complexity without compromising either.

Conclusion
Feast your ears on the Tommy of the nineties. On the Dimmu Borgir DVD, you will hear W.A.S.P ringing through the tour bus and the corridors on several occasions. Most bands do not know their roots, this is why they try to reinvent the wheel around every turn. If the metalcore/rap metal/mallcore bands had W.A.S.P ringing through their tour bus instead of the occasional Metallica and idiotic (c)rap, they would be inventing Harley Davidsons instead of kick scooters. The RDA of W.A.S.P is two tracks, three times a day. It is the cure that most bands desperately need to be more than second rate cover bands. Baby steps. The Crimson Idol brings out the manimal in you.

Track listing

  1. The Titanic Overture

  2. The Invisible Boy

  3. Arena of Pleasure

  4. Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue)

  5. The Gypsy Meets the Boy

  6. Doctor Rockter

  7. I Am One

  8. The Idol

  9. Hold on to my Heart

  10. The Great Misconceptions of Me



Personell
Blackie Lawless: vocals; guitars; bass guitar; keyboards.
Bob Kulick: lead guitar.
Frankie Banali: drums.
Stet Howland: drums.

Rating

19 January 2008

Necrophagist - Epitaph (2004) review



Review
Since the days Ritchie Blackmore played classically inspired leads for Deep Purple, a neo-classical movement has erupted in popular music. Yngwie Malmsteen became synonymous with the movement thanks to his high level of technical virtuosity, particularly his sweep arpeggios. Since then, the cheese has been cut back considerably but the sweep picking technique remains a trusted item in the metal guitarist bag of tricks.

Necrophagist released their debut, Onset of Putrefaction, in 1999. Suiçmez played and recorded most of the instruments on the album and left the drum duties to Steve Jobs. The sound on the album is lacking, and of course for this kind of music having a machine do any work is a disgrace. The album has recently been re-recorded by Suiçmez, who was never pleased with its sound. Despite this, the album caught on well with fans of brutally technical music.

Following the relative success of Onset of Putrefaction, Suiçmez assembled a band of session musicians and toured extensively. Epitaph was recorded after the tour, mostly with live musicians.

You will be completely arpeggionated after listening to Epitaph. Suiçmez is an incredibly skilled and amazingly tasteful guitarist - enough so that Ibanez designed their Xiphos guitar with him:



The lyrics deal with your standard death metal fanfare of death and destruction. That much is compulsory, but the riffs drip with melody. All the arpeggios provided by guitarist and bassist (and one could almost claim the drummer too) are enough to confuse a nest of killer bees. There is a feeling of very strictly organised chaos in every track. Picture the nest of killer bees getting confused and then proceeding to fly along sine graphs, cosine graphs and a host of other hypnotic trajectories to torment a ferret on a raft in the Limpopo river. Despite the fact that Africa does not have killer bees. Or ferrets. Basically, imagine extremely mathematical noise.

Conclusion
Suiçmez is a fair vocalist, clearly from the Melissa Cross school of screeching, but applies these methods to gargling and growling. The technical skills on display with this album are on par with that of Vital Remains, with Necrophagist being far less brutal. It lends itself to the Cynic school of odd rhythms, syncopated palm mutes and aristocratic drumming. There is a great variety of styles on display. Even though the album is barely longer than half an hour, it doesn't leave one with a feeling of emptiness once it is over. In fact, you want to listen to it on repeat.

Track listing

  1. Stabwound

  2. The Stillborn One

  3. Ignominious & Pale

  4. Diminished to B

  5. Epitaph

  6. Only Ash Remains

  7. Seven

  8. Symbiotic in Theory



Personell
Muhammed Suiçmez: Guitar; vocals.
Christian Muenzner: Guitar.
Stefan Fimmers: Bass guitar.
Hannes Grossmann: Drums.

And in case you were wondering, my personality type:

INTJ - "Mastermind". Introverted intellectual with a preference for finding certainty. A builder of systems and the applier of theoretical models. 2.1% of total population.
Free Jung Personality Test (similar to Myers-Briggs/MBTI)


Rating

17 January 2008

Unpleasant dreams, darling Vampira (1921 - 2008)

It is simply impossible to foster a love for B-Grades without developing a crush on Vampira at some point. Vampira (Maila Nurmi) was a Finnish-born actress who is best known for presenting The Vampira Show. She passed away on 10 January 2008, aged 86. I learned of the sad news from the Vault of Horror. Excellent blog, read it sometime.



The Vampira Show
Maila constructed the character Vampira from various sources, including the evil queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, several silent era actresses and Morticia Addams from the Addams Family. During the show, Vampira would drape herself over a double ended Victorian sofa, with skulls and a pet spider, Rolo, her only company. Skulls and sofa would bask in her aura while she presented a film for the night. The film would be suitable entertainment for the off screen ghosts, and similarly suitable to torment her advertisers. Sounds like a dream date!

Plan 9 from Outer Space
Directed by Ed Wood, he of the dubious title "worst director of all time", Vampira reputedly refused to utter a word of the script because she found it too terrible. Ed Wood merely took her lines out, allowing her to appear as a cameo zombie. Sort of. Since then, the film has earned the dubious title of "the worst film of all time". That is simply not true. I can think of at least 5 films worse than Plan 9: Jurassic Park III is worse; Gigli is worse; Napoleon Dynamite is worse; Spawn is worse; Catwoman is worse. Then there is The Rookie, which for all its recycled footage and leather faced Dennis Quaid can't possibly be better than any B-Grade. I wish I had seen the Disney logo before I watched that crap. I got free tickets and I still want to be paid damages for the hour and a half or so I can never have back.

Vampira's Attic
Vampira had several battles with the film industry. At some point, she wanted to sue series which took her likeness and capitalised on it. Sooner or later, film makers declined working with her, and she opened an antique shop called Vampira's Attic. Apparently she was adept at making jewellery and clothes. She made a few adornments for Grace Slick and Frank Zappa among others.

She came to star in a few documentaries about schlock. Eventually these culminated in a documentary all about her, entitled Vampira: The Movie. This documentary is said to contain the last recorded interview with Maila.



Unpleasant dreams, darlings
I offer my condolences to her family and friends. Her official site asks that those who wish to show their appreciation of her life forward donations to the Much Love Animal Rescue in her memory.

15 January 2008

The Shining (1980) review

Plot
Writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) decides to moonlight as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Despite concerns for cabin fever, he takes his family to the desolate hotel, which gets snowed in during winter. His son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), often talks to an imaginary friend. Instead of giving Danny valuable information like the lottery numbers, this imaginary friend reveals extra sensory information about family trips to Danny on a daily basis. He warns Danny against visiting the hotel. Danny tells his mom (Shelley Duval) that he doesn't wish to visit the Overlook Hotel, but he gets dragged there anyway, imaginary friend and all.



Once at the hotel, one of the staff offers to look after Danny while his parents are shown around. Dick Hallorann (Scatman Cothers) gives Danny some ice cream and reveals that he knows Danny is psychic. Being telepathic is a condition Dick's grandmother described as 'the shining'. Most people would shrug it off as an ice cream headache, but not these two. Danny asks about room 273. Dick is visibly upset and demands that Danny stayed out of that room.

Some inexplicable incidents occur which cause Jack Torrance to experience an existential crisis. Are they hallucinations? Is Jack's crisis a product of his struggle with alcoholism? Is the hotel really haunted? Is Danny really telepathic or was this in the days before the dangers of too much tartrazine were known? Questions such as these eventually drive Jack to wield an axe against anything with body heat.

Review
Based on the book by Stephen King. If you see that anywhere on a DVD cover, chances are it's a terrible movie. However, it is unfair to compare a book to films based on the book. They are different media with different strengths and weaknesses. Judging the film on its own, Kubrick does manage to capture the desolate winter. The immense loneliness of the Overlook Hotel is captured beautifully. Likewise, the sheer majestic size of the hotel compared with the insignificant size of its inhabitants is captured very well.

There is also a mini series version produced in 1997. This version owes more to the book than the Kubrick version, but lacks the distinctive nitpicking Kubrick style. As an illustration, Kubrick demanded that all the pages of Jack Torrance's book be typed. All they consist of are multiple instances of the line 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'. Heaven knows why they couldn't photocopy it.

The pace is excruciatingly slow. It is very hard to have a film with such a plodding pace that still builds tension. Rosemary's Baby is an example of a slow film that does manage to build tension all the way through, but the Shining is not. Kubrick decides to focus on the story of Danny instead of on the ramblings of Jack's mind. This is the only source of horror in the film, since the hallucinations are not particularly scary nor striking. If I recall, the book had much more by means of paranormal events, with a very clear decent into both madness and poltergeists on behalf of Jack. This film relies on your ability as the viewer to put yourself in the shoes of Danny, imagining that you are at the mercy of your parents and one of them tries to root you out because of a vision of a lady in the water. A lady who is not your mother. Naughty, naughty!

The character of Dick Hallorann is the coolest, slickest black man ever to be portrayed on celluloid. Check out his porno pad! I bet even Hugh Hefner looked upon that pad with envy. That pad is so überporno he doesn't even need to play Barry White to convince women to part with their clothes in there. No wonder he was reluctant to go to the hotel in aid of Danny.

Conclusion
Judging the film by the 10 commandments of horror, it does have all the right characters. It does have buckets of blood, albeit not in a gory way. It sincerely lacks by means of fake latex heads and it does take forever to get to the end. But it does have a surprising twist once it does get to the end. This is a Kubrick film. When viewed as such, it is a product of high culture. It is however, not a very good horror film, despite the classic Jack Nicholson performance in one of his most lauded roles.

Director
Stanley Kubrick

Cast
Lia Beldman
Scatman Crothers
Shelley Duval
Danny Lloyd
Jack Nicholson

Rating

12 January 2008

The 10 Commandments of Horror (part 2)

At last, the merciful completion of the final five commandments of horror. If you missed out on the most excellent first instalment, you can find it here. Here follows the remaining five, with an extra one because I know you have been losing sleep over this:


5. Thou shalt have as thine protagonist a female, untainted and nubile

There are perfectly valid academic reasons for having a female in the role of thine protagonist. Of course, being untainted is not a requirement for sequels. Nay, the protagonist is to be deflowered in the first instalment to enable the franchise to bloom. If she is not deflowered, she is to be beheaded, but giveth head one way or another she shalt! Although you should definitely make her nubile in the sequels. You don't want continuity errors.


4. Thou shalt have a twist at the end

And let it be filled with surprise. The original Friday the 13th had this right, at least. You could get away without a plot, if you provide a sufficiently macabre twist at the end. Another case in point is Children of the Corn III, but I don't want to give anything away yet. A classy, well-executed example could be found in the Ninth Gate.


3. Thou shalt have a fleeting conclusion

Unless you pay heed to the sound advice of the ninth commandment with much fervour and prolong your film for the sake of that law. Or perhaps to drench the cast in a few more buckets of blood. Or perhaps both. The conclusion should last at most 20 minutes. You don't have to tie up all the loose ends, because you might want to make a sequel. Or seven. Which leads us to our next commandment.


2. Thou shalt sequel, and often so

Because you will get it wrong a few times. Nightmare on Elm Street is an excellent example of a franchise that had its very high points and very low nadirs. The Final Nightmare is not bad at all, despite the reviews you may read, and the DVD version even comes with a 3D ending. The secret is to keep your protagonist in character. Do not get artsy, you want to expand the fan base of the original. Rather than changing the rules or the personality abruptly, try to let the personality think of cunning ways to work around the rules you establish in the first film of the franchise. It's called a catharsis. Just because your audience only wants to see gratuitous inexplicable boob shots and buckets of blood, does not mean you should not develop a character. You must have a bigger budget by now, which means - yes: more buckets of blood, more elaborate real fake latex heads, more ooze and more inexplicable boob shots. A developing character, which unfolds onscreen, would result in more sequels. Which means more buckets of blood, and you get the idea.


1. Thou shalt not remake, ever.

Not even if thou can't sequel due to man made copyright laws. Thou shalt spawn then a prequel, but nay, a remake never. It is a grave sin and your children shalt be struck by pox. A business of rabid ferrets shalt devour them, and then the business of rabid ferrets shalt be infected with pox, and then the children of the business of rabid ferrets infected with pox shalt be infected with pox, and infect your children's children with pox before the children of the business of rabid ferrets infected with pox shalt devour the children of your children, who had been infected with pox originally, before their children devour your children's children again. Then an unknown film maker of straight-to-video nasties, who used the business of rabid ferrets infected with pox as a more economic solution to latex heads in one of his films, which would probably get reviewed here at one time or another, shalt be infected with pox, and spit on the graves of your children, and your children's children, before digging them up, infecting them with pox again and then your children, your children's children, the film maker's children and the film maker himself shalt be devoured by a business of rabid ferrets, with no known relation to the business of rabid ferrets from before, or the business of rabid ferrets from before before. I am not sure if they too would be infected with pox, but I hope so.

If you ever think of making a remake, remember that being struck thrice by pox carried by a business of rabid ferrets is not ponies and rainbows. There are countless of terrible remakes, some of which feature Paris Hilton, none of which I am going to name. Not even if it sticks to all the other commandments of horror can a remake be excused.

The only remakes which are to be excused, are the ones on my list. But I only made that list to cast a silver lining around a dark cloud of ferret morsels.

Just to be perfectly clear:

0. Thou shalt not remake, ever!

10 January 2008

The 10 Commandments of Horror

What makes a good horror film?

A difficult question. Many a man has lain awoke at night, pondering such a question. Many a woman has burnt her bush in agony. Many a man has lain awoke at night, after being burnt by the bush of a woman in agony over such a question. Some women too, but those aren't the kind of films under scrutiny here. Thankfully, He who walks behind the rows has given us His commandments. Stick to these, up and coming producers of gore filled horror, and thou coffers shalt be full, and thine jacuzzi frequented by buxom beauties.


10. Thou shalt have buckets of blood

And why not? It is a horror film. Most people find bleeding horrific. Horror films should not only exploit that feeling, but also reinforce the idea that bleeding is horrific. People should think before they make other people bleed and before they make themselves bleed. It is similar to cathedrals showing images of hell on the interior. If horror films had enough buckets of blood, no amount of listening to Marilyn Manson at an impressionable age could bring one to cut your own thighs while feeling sorry for yourself. Save the emo, put buckets of blood in your horror films. Buckets of blood work particularly well when combined with inexplicable boob shots.


9. Thou shalt have inexplicable boob shots

Exhibit A (or more like exhibit 32C): Kelly Brook from Ripper, a letter from hell.


I think we're all agreed on this one.


8. Thou shalt have as thine antagonist a male, middle-aged and unsettling

The original (and only) Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is the benchmark for all slasher flicks. While the speckled teenage hitch-hiker is unsettling, he is not nearly as unsettling as the middle-aged chainsaw wielding unsettling Leatherface. Observe how effectively that film combines not one, but a few female protagonists. They did not break the fifth commandment, which made their eighth commandment much more sensible. Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street continue with this tradition.

There are some very successful horrors that incorporate children as antagonists. The Omen (1976) series comes to mind. This is because children are evil and we should destroy their souls. Do your bit to prevent a real-life The Omen today: tell a kid Santa is short for Satan, he's just trying to trick them.


7. Thou shalt have fake latex heads

Yes, computer generated imagery (CGI) does have its place. For morphing, for making people leap from tall buildings, for adding explosions, for underwater or outer space scenes. Even for the occasional beast, to give it a radio active glow, or to enhance the buckets of blood. However, nothing can replace real fake latex heads. Imagine Lady Frankenstein without the real fake latex heads. I couldn't. If you could, you should go study 3D animation. Come to think of it, latex tentacles are a great idea too. There's a small yet dedicated niche market for live action hentai out there, and I want to see those people pleased. Not see them being pleased in the physical sense, but pleased in the metaphorical sense.. but those aren't the kind of films under scrutiny here.


6. Thou shalt have ooze

Thanks to the invention of K-Y Jelly, no latex monster needs to be without ooze ever again. People who are afraid of snakes, incorrectly describe them as being slimy. Being slimy is one of those properties that still reverberates within our subconscious minds with something distasteful and unsavoury. We associate slimy not only with cafe Greeks, but also with disgusting creepy things that want to get into your pants. Come to think of it... oh never mind. The point is ooze makes latex more horrific. Slime must remind us subconsciously of Vincent Price's Brylcreem hair. Blood, sweat, tears and K-Y Jelly. It makes all the horror fit.

What is the fifth commandment? Why are there only five commandments, when the topic clearly states there are ten? Rest assured, for those who write commandments work but one day per week. The rest of thine commandments are hither - sooner than you could find a talking donkey. I post with much haste!

07 January 2008

Vital Remains : Icons of Evil (2007) review



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Personell
Glen Benton, Tony Lazaro, Dave Suzuki.

Track listing

  1. Where is Your God Now

  2. Icons of Evil

  3. Scorned

  4. Born to Rape the World

  5. Reborn... the Upheaval of Nihility

  6. Hammer Down the Nails

  7. Shrapnel Embedded Flesh

  8. Til Death

  9. In Infamy

  10. Disciples of Hell" (Yngwie Malmsteen Cover)



Review
Certain infidels who were unimpressed by latter Deicide efforts maintain Glen Benton should stick with Dave Suzuki in Vital Remains instead of continuing with his own band. That, or he should have fulfilled his self-destructive prophesy and committed Glenoncide at age 33. While Glen seems like a jovial fellow, crucifix burnt on his forehead and drunken delinquencies besides (or maybe because), the guy is not the sharpest splinter on a vampire stake. However, with the last Deicide effort, the shunned Son of Satan himself rose considerably in my estimation. This Vital Remains album further redeems Benton.

The previous Vital Remains album, Dechristianize, started with a Carmina Burana sample. As much as I admire Orff's work, the smell of Old Spice is not one I'd like to associate with a heavy metal record. Nay, I prefer the stench of redemption, or better yet the stench of fire and brimstone. It seems that Suzuki shares my passion for perdition. Icons of Evil kicks off with a sample from The Passion of the Christ. The movie was not as Good as the Book, but the sample is a marked improvement over the Orff cliche.

Suzuki is a matchless guitarist and a matchless drummer. If you liked Dechristianize, you would like Icons of Evil. Seemingly effortless sweep arpeggios, tumultuous drums and sinister writing orchestrated together with Glen Benton's vocals resembling a lawnmower running over rabid ferrets. I've had this album for about 2 months, and I'm still not tired of it. My neighbours are a different story though...

My copy has a slipcase with an anguished face and the title in handsome red crimson writing. Once inside the slipcase, a rather disturbing image of the king of kings being nailed to the cross meets me. Seriously man, petty blasphemies are one thing, but why Elvis? You just don't go there. The horror doesn't end there.

Inside the booklet, we find the band posing in front of unsavoury banners. In the middle, there is a centrefold. Before you get all excited at the prospect of seeing Glen in lederhosen, let me explain. It is a painting of the three guys in the band and Eddie from Iron Maiden on horseback. The four horsemen are gripping chains. These chains are tied to a body at their centre, the body being that of Elvis. Their horses are ripping the body of Elvis apart. Now that is too much metal for one hand.

Here is a little taste of the track Born to Rape the World live, with Brian Hobbie on vocals. He looks rather jehovial himself:


Conclusion
Suzuki furthers the ambitions of his brilliant project with this worthy release. Technical death metal in the tradition of Tampa still owns all. Ultimately, technical finesse and brute force tactics combine in a smorgasbord of fire, brimstone and the passion of the Elvis. The Malmsteen cover is a brutal kick in the nads, but in a nice way. Ruthless like a rabid ferret!

Rating

05 January 2008

Shock (1953) review


Director
Alfred L. Werker

Cast
Frank Latimore
Lynn Bari
Vincent Price
Anabel Shaw
Charles Trowbridge

Shop for Vincent Price films on DVD at Amazon.com!

Plot
Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) lapses into a state of Shock after witnessing a murder. Her concerned boyfriend finds her unable to speak, unable to cook and unable to clean. The unable to speak part soon loses its novelty and he becomes perturbed because she is unable to cook or clean. Instead of becoming sexually liberated, he decides to seek help in the form of Dr Cross (Vincent Price), a specialist on afflictions of the mind, among them Shock. It turns out Janet witnessed a murder and the gruesome details of the horrendous crime left her in a state of Shock. Dr Cross offers to help Janet in his private asylum, but all is not ponies and rainbows, nay nay. As Janet comes to her senses, slowly regaining her ability to perform minor domestic tasks, she recognises Dr Cross as the perpetrator. More Shock!

Review
Vincent Price is the undisputed king of horror actors. If his eerie hypnotic voice and intimidating tall frame are not enough to give anyone the creeps, his Brylcreem hair most definitely is. Shock is a film noir film. This does not necessarily equate it with the glamour of Hollywood, but it does have vintage black and white charm.

The performances are over the top, with long Pinter pauses during dialogue. Likewise, the exaggerated gestures contribute to the otherworldly feel of the film. The film is dated, but give Shock some credit - it came out in 1953. I think the plot is a brilliant idea and even listed it as one of the films I feel Hollywood should remake. Some peculiar innovation is evident in the dream sequence. It is always fascinating to see how much variation the limits of black and white offer.

The over the top performances are a pleasure. At one point, the doctor who first discovers Janet concludes: "I think she suffers from ... Shock. All it needs is a little DUN dun DUUUUUN! each time the word shock is mentioned, although I admit it might detract from the dramatic irony.

Those interested in how gender roles were instilled by the media during the fifties would note what a sweet housewife Janet portrays. Even in her dreams, she has a man who is ready to sweep her off her feet while she is content to sweep nothing but the porch. Her man is a working man, and one in uniform no less. What an Utopian domestic vision.

Conclusion
The film is dated. Vincent Price is as charismatic as usual. This alone makes Shock worth seeing. The film is not particularly graphic, relying more on the suspenseful feeling of 'what-if' doctors are reckless with their authority.

Rating

04 January 2008

Fidelity on High: Say goodbye to dynamic range on CD

"The recording industry has decided that since you like a bit of salt, they're going to screw off the cap and tip the entire fucking cruet on your meal." - The Ladyfingers Blog



Format wars
Hi fidelity sound. There are few things more glorious than relishing the full sized cover of vinyl, seeing the heart of the record player fed by the veins of the groove and being soaked in the full dynamic range of a high quality recording.

My father is a fan of classical music. He used to buy Herbert von Karajan conducted Beethoven excursions on vinyl, then transfer it to cassette deck for his car and personal use. We did not have a grand hi-fi setup, but it was sufficient to enjoy good music. My father was not alone, it was the norm to record your vinyl onto cassette deck. Even so, it would be ludicrous to suggest vinyl should be produced to cater for cassette quality sound. Most blindfold tests find that the sound of vinyl is superior to that of a CD, with cassettes wiped under the carpet as an embarrassing gadget of the 80s.

The justification of the industry to produce CD recordings of lacklustre quality is the way music is consumed. Most people are likely to never own a copy of their favourite song, since they can listen to it on-line or get it free on their iPods if they visit certain kiosks. If they do own a copy, it is likely to end up in mp3 format. I see certain parallels with the cassette tape of the 80s.

CD quality sound
CD quality sound is technically defined as digitised sound at 44,1 kHz and 16 bits. This is the ISO definition, the so-called Red Book ideal of what CD quality sound should be. These numbers are not arbitrary (see the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem), as a sampling rate of double the maximum frequency to be recorded is needed. This dictates that you need at least 44 kHz to represent an audio spectrum between 20 Hz and 22 kHz, which is approximately the range of human hearing.

The 44,1 kHz number refers to the frequency of samples taken. 16 bit refers to the size of the samples taken. For a stereo recording, 16 bits are used for each channel.

MP3 quality sound
MP3 is a compressed audio format. It works by stripping unnecessary (supposedly inaudible) aspects from sound. Since the sound is stripped, it does have lower sound quality than CD. Apple's AAC and Microsoft's WMA are currently competing with MP3 as downloaded formats, although most companies offer high quality MP3 as consumers tend to demand MP3.

Since most consumers tend to rip their CDs to MP3, or merely consume music on radio or in MP3 format to begin with, the industry insists to level the dynamic range of CD recordings. In other words, all the brights are as bright as the dull parts. Dynamic range needs the disparity between quiet and loud - something Black Sabbath calls 'heaven and hell.' CD recordings now have MP3 quality. Instead of ripping CD quality MP3s, you can only rip MP3 quality MP3. Instead of listening to CD quality CDs, you can only listen to MP3 quality CD.

Your dynamic range or mine?
I am a convert to the CD format. While I do appreciate the rich tones of vinyl, it is a matter of convenience for me to own a CD. Optical formats tend to last longer, and I can choose my own sampling rates when I rip my CDs onto my hard drive. Since I treat my CDs as master copies, I do not feel the need to buy MP3 quality CD.

Why do people still buy CDs when the odds are stacked against them? The RIAA is suing women and children - in some cases even people who rip their own CDs onto their computers. The major players are slowly realising that DRM enabled formats are deterring the already dwindling consumer market, but not fast enough. All these factors merely make it more convenient, more logical and more reliable to download unsolicited content. It removes the risk for the consumer of sitting with MP3s that can't be transferred between devices and now, thanks to the industry catering for the demands of MP3 listeners, doesn't even capitalise on the benefits of CD quality sound.

Resources

02 January 2008

Ripper, letter from hell (2001) review


Director
John Eyres

Cast
Kelly Brook
A.J. Cook
Daniella Evangelista
Bruce Payne
Emmanuelle Vaugier

Plot
Molly Keller (A.J. Cook) survived a serial killer incident which cost her her parents and nearly all of their insurance money to replace boats. She is now a student of forensic psychology under a famous author in the field. Surprisingly, her ordeal of a few years ago is not over. A Jack the Ripper fan starts hacking teens in her class. In her class of mostly foreign exchange students, the tension runs almost as high as their suspicions of each other in their quest to find the killer.

Review
I feel sorry for Molly Keller. She has stereotypical teenage angst, she gets all the cheesy lines and she has to pretend she is hardcore. I would say the dialogue is the single worst feature of this film.

Another weird aspect is the police officer working on the case. Yes, you read right. There is a serial killer running amok, but the authorities assigned only one police officer to the case. He has to corner off crime scenes, gather evidence and babysit Molly. No wonder they don't catch the guy all that quickly. Plus he looks like Jack the Ripper himself!

Moving on to the positive aspects: the first murder scene is done very well. Buckets of blood, lots of suspense, looks feasible enough for you to think it is one of your own parties gone horribly wrong. Did I mention buckets of blood? Yes, there are buckets of blood, but only in the first killing.

The actors are largely unknown, but most of them did a splendid job with lacking dialogue. Especially the scream queens - remarkable screaming, remarkable panic attacks.

The ending is a little bit inconclusive. This is not a problem, but on a budget like this it is unlikely that there would ever be a sequel. From the unknown actors used, to the blood that looks like paint, to the fake Rammstein and fake White Zombie bands on the soundtrack, everything spells this is your one shot at making a slasher movie. I would rather make one kick-ass slasher flick, even though it is a genre product, rather than try to be arty with open endings.

Conclusion
The intentional gaps in the plot could be forgiven. However, the unintentional gaps in the plot need attention. This is a slasher genre film, and as such is slightly worse than Valentine. Having a Jack the Ripper copycat killer is interesting to begin with, if they stuck with the genre formula, it could have been better. Still entertaining, but not great.

Rating

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