Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Beerening: Scotch Ale + Brown Ale brewday

Scotch Ale Tasting:

Initial tastings of the ale are downright offensive.  It tastes like cat urine.  The first bottle is acrid, and burns all my senses.  It's pretty awful.  After a few weeks it's managed to upgrade itself to "bland", which still isn't too great to drink but at least isn't as awful as it used to be.  Moving on from that, it went through a stage where it smelled really yeasty but didn't give up a lot of hints regarding the beer itself.
I was originally shooting for a very low level of carbonation to approximate English pub ales.  After the first few tastings I decided to try to re-carbonate to a higher level of carbonation to attempt to make the flavor a bit less bland.  I tried to add additional carbonation using pre-measured conditioning tablets.  I opened every bottle, added 2 tablets, and quickly recapped using sanitized caps.  I had a few gushers, which is probably similar to the mentos+coke effect and could have been avoided by putting all the bottles into the fridge for a few hours first.  CO2 dissolves better in cold liquid.
 After a week it was more carbonated, which helped the blandness but still tasted the same.  Another week or so after that something odd happened...the flavors "rounded out", for lack of a better term.
 What used to be really thin and sharp flavors, not metallic but with a bit of that character, became much warmer and everything seemed a lot more cohesive.  It almost feels like I can actually judge it as a beer and not just relegate it to the bin of things that taste awful.  I can't quite identify everything in it, which is still troublesome but I can definitely pick out a light maltiness with a toffee like body.  Something in there is very similar to Werther's candies, but not quite as buttery.  I definitely didn't manage to get the fruity yeast esthers I was trying for, which might have helped this beer a lot.
It's still a very light beer, which disappoints me because I really wanted something with more character and complexity, but it's actually shaping up to be something quaffable.  I've learned a few things from this, even if the beer is less than stellar:

#1 I tried too many new things.  All-grain, decoction, Belgian Aromatic Malt, brown sugar.  I tried a lot of new stuff and I don't know what's making up the flavors I really don't like.

#2 My ability to hold a mash temp is freaking terrible.  If I were to shoot higher to begin with or take more intermediate steps to maintain a temperature, I might do better.

Brown Ale brewday:

Moving on from that, I decided to step back and make a really simple beer to try to refine my technique.  I also bought the Beersmith software, since I figure it could help me with some mash calculations.

I decided to shoot for a Brown Ale using only 3 malts, 2 hops, and a basic yeast I've used before.
12 lbs. US 2-row
2 lbs. Briess Special Roast
.5 lb US Chocolate Malt

1 oz cascade @ 60 minutes
1 oz cascade @ 30 minutes
1 oz glacier @ 10 minutes

Yeast: Wyeast 1272 - American Ale II
 Since one of my major problems has been holding a mash temperature I decided to use the same basic technique as last time and improve upon it instead of trying something totally new.  In the Scotch Ale writeup I mentioned using an "improvised mashtun" but didn't really go into detail about that.  My improvised mashtun was a ginormous nylon grain bag in my bottling bucket with a spoon wedged inside between the bag and the inside opening of the spigot.  Even with the top on, the plastic is just too good at giving off heat to hold the temperature for the length of the mash.

This time, to try to mitigate that I wrapped the bucket tightly in a blanket.  I also told Beersmith I was using plastic, so it could take the thermal properties of my mashtun into account while calculating my strike water temperature.  Since the Scotch Ale was so bland and light bodied I decided to mash a bit higher as well.

Unfortunately, I'm still trying to figure out Beersmith's interface so I screwed up and misread the temperature and used a strike temp that was way too low.  I wound up in the high 140's instead of the mid 150's, and realized I'd screwed the pooch.  I pulled off a bit of my mash immediately and also added some additional water from the tap, totaling about 1-2 gallons of water, and boiled it.  As soon as it was boiling I poured it back into the mash and stirred up, which got me to a lot more respectable temperature.

Even with the wrapping I still lost a decent amount of heat so I might need to upgrade to actual insulation, or just sack up and do an actual Coleman Cooler MLT conversion.

I just let the mash rest, and then lautered to another bucket.  I managed to get about 1.062 gravity from my first "gyle".  I added my sparge water and let it sit, then lautered again.  According to my refractometer readings of the runnings, at 1.020, I could have kept going but I had way more wort than I'm actually capable of boiling so I decided to leave it be.  Generally you can lauter all the way down to about 1.008 before you start extracting tannins.  In all I collected 5.5 gallons of wort with a combined pre-boil gravity of 1.052.

In the past I've topped up my boil kettle during the boil to maintain volume, so I have to top off less once the wort is in the fermenter.  This time I knew I had too much wort and wasn't going to boil off enough over the hour, so I got the 2nd largest kettle in my apartment and filled that with wort hoping the extra boil off would let me use all my wort.  I followed my hopping schedule as advertised, with the only real exception being I tossed a few pellets into the secondary boil, which I started a little earlier than the primary boil.

Prior to this brew I'd built my own immersion wort chiller, basically following what this guy did:

It's really easy and really cheap, there is pretty much no reason not to do it.
I chilled with that, and it took about 15 minutes to get to a pitchable temperature.
Post-boil I had 4 gallons of wort and topped back up to 5.5 gallons and pitched yeast.  My Original Gravity was 1.048

I actually brewed this on Dec 5th, it's taken me this long to get around to writing this.  The beer is about ready for bottling, so hopefully this goes better than the last.  The krausen has fallen, and I hope to get around to bottling this weekend.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

October Horror 2011 - Post-season - Greatest hits 2009

I didn't originally write anything about the first October Horror Viewing season in 2009, but we watched some really good movies that year.  So the first entry in the post season is this writeup of the entirety of the 2009 season.

That year we had simple categories since we were just starting:  Zombies, Slashers, Hauntings & Exorcisms, and Scifi Horror.

Zombies week:  Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, Quarantine, Dead Snow, Braindead.

All these movies were pretty solid.  Shaun and Zombieland are zombie/comedy classics and are very funny.  Dead Snow was really fun to watch because of the novelty of the concept of Nazi Zombies and the balls to film zombies in bright daylight in the snow.  Definitely a highlight and something I enjoy watching again from time to time.  Although we originally watched the sub'd version I have a dub now which is much more fulfilling.  28 Days Later is a modern classic for being one of the first movies of the current zombie cultural resurgence, and also for the unapologetic fast zombies.  Quarantine deserves special distinction since it was so unsettling it took me 3 tries to watch to the end.  Braindead is an early Peter Jackson movie and is just weird.  I don't know what to say about it, it's beyond messed up.  I think my favorite of the week, horror wise, was Quarantine.  In general I liked Shaun of the Dead the best since it is REALLY funny.

Slashers: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Cut, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2004), Saw, Prom Night (2004)

Prom Night was also on this year's list, partially because we either never watched it in 2009 or just didn't remember watching it in 2009.  Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street are all huge classics.  I probably liked Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street the best.  Friday the 13th has pretty excellent kills and the twist killer reveal absolutely floored me the first time I saw it.  Nightmare of course put Robert Englund's Freddy on the map, and I really like him as a character because of how bizarre and manic he is while still being half a second away from killing you dead.  I think Cut deserves special mention for being quite fun to watch with a pretty novel concept.  It's a little silly, but hey...Molly Ringwald in a horror movie.

Hauntings & Exorcisms: The Unborn, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, 1408, A Haunting in Connecticut, The Amityville Horror, 13 Ghosts.

Exorcism movies are some of my favorites.  The Exorcism of Emily Rose is probably #1 on my list of scariest movies ever.  I watched it at 2 in the afternoon, with all the lights on, in a dorm room, with the door open, on a green tinted 15" CRT monitor and it still scared the crap out of it.  Personally the least solid movie in this week was Rosemary's Baby.  I just didn't think it aged well and it was kindof weird and boring.  The Amityville (remake) was decent, although a little visual at the expense of personality.  The Omen (remake) was also fun, but a bit silly.  It was just a bit too easy to mock.  13 Ghosts is one of my favorite movies, but not particularly scary.  It's a very original concept and the execution is wonderfully stylish.  The Unborn is also very stylish, with some excellent jump scares and a few genuinely creepy moments.  1408 is also very creepy, but feels a little rushed and frantic.  They probably didn't want to run out of things to do since the movie was set in a single room.  A Haunting in Connecticut is probably my favorite horror movie out of the week.  Pretty much everything it does is perfect.

Scifi Horror: Pulse, The Mist, Dreamcatcher, The Thing, Doom, Event Horizon, Aliens.

Aliens was a poor choice, as it much more action focused than Alien.  Doom as well, I honestly don't know why we put it there.  I guess it had some horror moments in the middle.  Dreamcatcher is another great movie that has a lot of fun moments, it's just a bit more disturbing than creepy.  Still well worth watching.  The Mist was a great tense movie, but the ending is very polarizing.  You either really love it or you hate the death out of it.  It gets a major thing right that a lot of monster movies just forget: The monsters are scarier the less you see of them.  Pulse is a guilty pleasure for me.  It never seems to get a lot of respect and the sequel was horrible.  It's got a lot of plot holes but I just love the concept and the execution is competent enough to make it interesting.  Event Horizon is a modern horror classic, as far as I'm concerned.  It's scary, it's gross, it's bizarre.  The concept is innovative and the execution is horrifyingly tense.  It's also one of my favorite scary movies and does pretty much nothing wrong.


Friday, October 28, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 28 - The Last Winter

The Last Winter, released in 2006 was directed by Larry Fessenden.  It stars Ron Perlman and Connie Britton.

As the final movie of the official horror viewing season this year I was really expecting something fun, especially with Ron Perlman in the lead role.  Unfortunately the movie ruined itself in the last act deciding to be preachy instead of just presenting a cool story with the message they wanted.  I'm aware it's a bit of a hot-button issue, but they could've taken the high road and just presented things without the soap box.

The basics here are that an American oil company is trying to build an ice road to a remote spot in the arctic circle so they can open a well.  The oil reserve they're trying to tap is apparently large enough to secure U.S. energy independence for quite some time.  The project leader, played by Ron Perlman immediately begins butting heads with the environmentalist who's been assigned to the base to report to the government with environmental impact assessments.  Effectively, the government sold the land to the company under the condition that they operate an environmentally sound operation on it.  The environmentalist won't let Ron Perlman build the ice road because it's not cold enough for the road to be safely built, but Perlman's character just doesn't care and is going to find a way to get this oil.

The movie itself is actually really good for the most part.  The characters are pretty genuine, if a bit difficult to distinguish.  Ron Perlman's character is a bit one note and inappropriately angry, which plays into the obvious preachiness because he represents the company and we're supposed to hate him.  Everyone else seems like real people just trying to do their jobs in a stressful environment.  What they really do well here is that the tension is mostly accomplished through the behavior of the characters: They act strange, they don't quite behave normally or as they used to.  It's very unnerving.  This is amplified by how isolated the cast is to begin with, and then by how much time each of them spends alone.  You hear things happening off camera, the characters see things that the camera doesn't show and since no one else is around to verify you just don't know if it really happened or if it was in their head.  The tension is supremely built for the first 80% or so of the movie.

Then in the middle of the 3rd act they start showing us far too much.  Instead of leaving it nebulous, they make it obviously clear what's happening, and what's happening is just stupid.  If you can forgive Larry for hopping on the soapbox right at the end there it's actually a pretty good supernatural suspense movie.  If you can't, it's still a good movie that got ruined at the end by obnoxious moralizing.

With this, Horror Viewing Season 2011 is over.  We only planned 28 movies instead of 31 since it's easier to divide into 4 categories and also for a bit of buffer.  I may fill the remaining 3 days by adding some additional movies I liked or really good movies from 2009's crop.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 27 - Cry_Wolf

Cry_Wolf is a 2005 American movie directed by Katie Couric's nephew and stars Not-Thora Birch, Jared Padalecki, and Jon Bon Jovi.

It's a pretty interesting premise:  Owen is the new guy at a preparatory high school in Australia and falls in with a group of students who break out of their dorms at night and gather in the school's chapel to play a game they call Cry Wolf.  The game is a sociology game where one member of the group is designated a Wolf, and nobody in the game knows who.  Each "night" the Wolf "murders" someone.  This is followed by a round of accusations and the townsfolk eventually "lynch" whoever they think is the Wolf.

After a girl is murdered in the nearby woods the students invent a serial killer called The Wolf and write an email to the student body describing the kills he makes as he works through a school.  They design the kills after members of their own group.  As mass hysteria grows they revel in how they're causing it all, until Bon Jovi discovers the fraud and threatens to expel Owen.  I don't remember exactly why they let him stay.

Owen begins receiving threatening IMs and messages from the Wolf, as if he was suddenly a real person.  Paranoia among the group builds and Owen is attacked by someone dressed exactly as the Wolf they made up.  There's a double and triple twist, which aren't actually horrible.

It's a pretty decent mystery/thriller sort of movie, with a fairly inventive story.  It fails to hold attention at points and it's sometimes difficult to follow who the female characters are.  I don't think I would watch it again, but it was actually pretty fun the first time around.  It felt a bit like a late 90's teen slasher movie, just a bit more intelligent.

Horror Season 2011 concludes tomorrow with: The Last Winter, set in the Arctic.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 26 - Shutter

Released in 2008 Shutter is an American remake of a Thai film of the same name from 2004.  The remake stars Joshua Jackson in the lead role.

The story is that an American photographer who previous lived in Japan has moved back to the states for a period of time.  He eventually gets married and accepts a job offer to move back to Japan.  From the honeymoon onward it seems some spirit is stalking the newlyweds mostly manifesting as distortions in photographs.  As the haunting intensifies the spirit manifest as hallucinations and then is able to manifest in the physical world just enough to kill some people until they die.  The nature of the haunting is revealed, then re-revealed.  The film closes with Josh Jackson in a mental hospital in a catatonic state with burns on his neck and face.

The movie is well developed, although not very creepy.  It is fairly suspenseful.  What drags it down a bit is the characters.  Namely, I want to punch most of them.  Josh himself isn't bad, but a bit dismissive and and makes some dumb moves.  In the end it turns out he's a big huge asshole, but it just doesn't make sense.  His wife has an unfortunate tendency to go wife-rage jealousy on every single woman who wanders within 4 feet of her husband.  The other characters are mostly superfluous.

The end is actually pretty damned creepy, with the final photo taking being just really messed up.  The film is a bit lackluster as a whole, but everything in it is pretty good.  It's worth watching because it is suspenseful and creepy at points, but probably not worth rewatching.

With the larger continents done, we move to Australia for: Cry_Wolf.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 25 - Dominion

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist was released in 2005 on the coattails of Exorcist: The Beginning.  It could almost be classified as a remake.

Basically in 2004 Paul Schrader was hired to film a prequel to 1973's The Exorcist with a story written by Caleb Carr and William Wisher, jr.  Schrader had essentially finished his movie when the studio decided it wasn't to its liking and hired Renny Harlin to refilm the movie.  The resulting movie, Exorcist: The Beginning, was released in 2004 to poor reception on the part of audience and critics alike.  Since the version the studio liked was doing poorly they decided to give the version they didn't like a chance and threw Schrader a few thousand dollars to finish his movie, which they released in 2005 with the name Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist.

It's really interesting to compare both of those movies since they have the same story and effectively the same plot, with different direction, and slightly different screenplays and cast.  The movies are so vastly different that the author of the original Exorcist story describes The Beginning as his most humiliating professional experience while saying that Dominion is "Handsome, classy, and elegant".

Both movies tell of Father Lankester Merrin's first encounter with the demon Pazuzu prior to the events of The Exorcist.  The events depicted vary quite wildly from the flashback sequences of those events from Exorcist II: The Heretic.  The basic premise is that after suffering a crisis of faith during World War II, Father Merrin takes a leave of absence and joins an archeological expedition to East Africa which uncovers an early Christian Church that was built on the ruins of an older pagan temple dedicated to Pazuzu.  The demon possesses a local pariah and does spiritual battle with Merrin.  The encounter reaffirms his faith and Merrin dedicates himself to the exorcism of demons and eternal battle with Pazuzu.

Dominion is a profoundly subtle and uncomfortable film, favoring atmosphere building and story to creep out the audience over grotesque visuals.  It's a movie that's difficult to look away from.  When it's not showing something designed for obvious shock, it's building an atmosphere saturated with cultural tension between African natives and British military forces.  The story evolves slowly, as Merrin is forced to confront the demon with the aid of God.  Even though the final transition involves Merrin regaining his faith and using it to save the woman who he can no longer be with because of that faith, the movie doesn't harp on a religious message.  It's a personal struggle of Lankester Merrin to believe in God despite the overwhelming presence of evil and wider mentions of religion are only really used to establish a context or contribute to the tension.

The demon and the evil events in Dominion are much creepier, while The Beginning winds up being far more typical of supernatural horror, and as such far less creepy.

Both movies are worth checking out to compare with each other, but if you were to only watch one of them Dominion would be it.  It's a much creepier movie across the board with better developed characters and thick layers of tension.  It's subtle without being tied to the idea that subtle means that nothing happens, and has great lulls between tense moments.  Comparatively, The Beginning bashes the audience over the head with important points because it doesn't trust them not to miss those points, and panders to an "EVIL MUST BE SICK" mentality to the point where it does the story a disservice.  Dominion, as Ebert put it, takes evil seriously.

Next up, Asia with the Shutter remake.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 24 - The Shrine

The Shrine is a 2010 Canadian horror movie directed by Jon Knautz and starring Aaron Ashmore.

The film opens with an unknown man dressed in a gown strapped to a cross-shaped table as a cloaked cult chants odd prayers in Polish, then hammer a grotesque mask into his face.  Cue credits.

Flash forward and we meet Carmen, a reporter who's in a failing relationship with Marcus, a photographer.  Carmen is in the professional doghouse for writing a controversial article.  In a misguided attempt to salvage both her career and relationship she suggests Marcus accompany her on a "vacation" to the Polish village of Alvania, and while he's their he can help her do a story on the original man's death.  The original man was a reporter for the same paper, incidentally.  They take along an intern named Sara.

When arriving they do a few uncomfortable "ha ha look at how weird and backwards these rural Polish hicks are" scenes before finally seeing an unnatural grey cloud above the forest, which was mentioned in the original reporter's notes.  They go to investigate and after being initially warned away from the forest, they sneak past the villagers and discover the cloud reaches the ground and forms a dense and visible wall.  Sara and Carmen enter the fog and are lost for a time.  When they come out, they find a little girl who speaks passable English to lead them to a barn containing several corpses, all wearing masks like the reporter in the beginning of the movie.

The group is captured by the cult, and separated.  I'm going to stop here since I don't want to give away anything interesting.  If you want the full synopsis, head to wikipedia, or go ahead and watch the movie.

The opening bit where the leads first enter the village are pretty uncomfortable, but not in a good way.  They're poorly handled and a little silly, even though it's obvious they're trying to be tense.  The scenes inside the fog itself are a pretty good warm up, and although a bit unsurprising are well executed.  After the discovery of the corpse barn the movie takes a very sharp turn into more grotesque and interesting territory.  There are very bizarre monster effects that function both as jump scares but also to blur the lines between what's happening and what might be happening.  Are they hallucinations, or some sort of "true" vision revealing real monsters?  This sort of thing only escalates until the movie more or less answers the question in a pretty novel way.  I wasn't surprised by it because they made it make sense that it was happening, but not so much that I saw it coming halfway through the movie.  I also really like the twist that the angry, scowling, knife-wielding Pollack isn't actually a bad guy.

One thing I didn't like was that a significant portion of the movie was in Polish, and had no subtitles.  It was still relatively easy to follow the action and the depth of what happened at the end really didn't need spoken words to appreciate, however I think it could've benefited from subtitling or just using English for at least a bit more of the dialog during the cult's scenes.  It could have added a lot of depth to the mythology and also made the movie more accessible to a wider audience.

The makeup effects are also very good, but you can tell they're really low budget which is a bit distracting, they could have benefited greatly from just a tiny bit more money in the makeup department.

All in all, it's very good and well worth checking out.  It is tense, creepy, and interesting.  Sometimes even downright jumpy scary, but it's not relying on that to freak you out, which is where it wins.

Onward! To Africa!  Tomorrow is Dominion: The Prequel to The Exorcist.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 23 - And Soon the darkness

And Soon the Darkness, released in 2010 is a remake of a 1970 British film also called And Soon the Darkness.  It is set in Argentina and features Karl Urban, Odette Yustman, and Amber Heard.

Amber Heard is one of the current crop of scream queens making some fair decent movies.  All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is actually one of my favorite under-appreciated slasher movies.

Odette Yustman is also pretty strong in both horror and mainstream.  She's even got a recurring role in the current season of House.  It doesn't hurt that she looks like Meghan Fox if Meghan Fox had acting talent.

And Soon the Darkness is the story of two American girls who are on vacation together in Argentina.  They separate from a bike tour and tool around the country.  We join them on their last night in the country where they stay in a hotel but go out and get shithoused at a bar.  Odette's character, Ellie, spends a lot of it making out with a guy while Amber's Stephanie obviously doesn't approve.  The guy ends up following them back to their hotel and being creepy, they're saved by Karl Urban.  They're so drunk they don't get up early enough and miss their bus back to the airport.  Instead of trying to make other travel arrangements they decide to tour the country some more and visit some waterfalls.  They have a fight and get separated, Ellie gets kidnapped.  Steph and Karl Urban try to rescue her, there's death, some twists, more death, angsty, etc.  Eventually Stephanie gets free and is rescued by Argentinian military.

I glossed over a lot of details in the name of avoiding spoiling anything, and also because I just don't want to go into it.

The movie is unfortunately dull, despite its best attempts at action sequences and throwing around twists so as not be accused of being formula.  The earlier action sequences suffer from none of the characters acting intelligently, and the twists are predictable...which kindof defeats the point of twists.

The characters don't really help since our protagonist, Steph, is really a one note that waffles around most of the first act before being defined completely by her attachment to Ellie.  Ellie is a stereotype of the annoying party-girl with a deep friendship with a more innocent girl, and that just really made me dislike her.  The entire character just grated on me and I spent a lot of the movie lamenting her time on screen.  Steph isn't much more interesting, but she is at least not annoying.  She suffers from being too afraid to act appropriately.  Even when she starts to go final-girl, she only survives by pure luck and not any sort of transformative badassery.

Karl Urban is actually the best to watch because even though he's also a one-note, the performance manages to tone down that aspect enough to give the impression he might be a fully realized person.

The movie does one kindof interesting, artsy thing.  While starting off in full color, as the movie goes along they desaturate the colors and increase the contrast.  It's a cool little thing to read some subtext into, but the rest of the movie is just dull.  The plot was very similar to other kidnap/revenge stories like Hostel or Taken, with only very few variations from formula.

Not really worth the effort.

With The Americas complete, we venture to Europe with: The Shrine

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 22 - The Brood

Released in 1979, The Brood was directed by David Cronenberg, probably best known for movies like The Fly, Videodrome, and Scanners.  This is the first entry in "Around the World" week and takes place in North America.

The Brood tells the story of a experimental psychotherapy technique developed by a psychologist named Dr. Raglin, who is an expert on repressed rage.  The technique, called psychoplasmics, works by forcing the subject to face traumatic experiences or emotions to a depth that causes physical manifestations on the body, which are cleared by "going through" the experience and leaving it behind.

The main character's wife is in therapy undergoing this treatment, while engaged in a bitter custody battle over their daughter, Candice.  Convinced the wife is beating the daughter during visits to the hospital, he tries to uncover what really goes on during the visits and the therapy sessions.  While he investigates Dr. Raglin, anyone who's offended or injured the wife begins dying.  They're being murdered by creepy, mutant children in snowsuits.  The body count extends to include the wife's parents and a school teacher who Candice bonds to as a surrogate mother.

This movie isn't nearly as bizarre and mind-bending as most of Cronenberg's other films, and not quite as downright disturbing and disgusting.  Instead, he favors more of a mystery story that slowly unravels the origin of the "Brood" of murder-children.  The ending bit is pretty disgusting, but is more of a one time shock than the constant unrelenting bombardment of most Cronenberg.

I enjoyed it well enough for what it was, and the mystery was fun to follow.  Probably worth checking out if you're into the whole "Body-horror" thing, or need to give someone an intro because this is sort of "Body-horror Lite".

Tomorrow we travel to South American and watch: And soon the Darkness.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 21 - Paranormal Activity 3

I've learned 2 things today: Paranormal Activity 3 is a really scary movie and I'm one of the 5 people under age 35 that are capable of not talking for an hour and a half.

One of the unfortunate perils of seeing movies in theaters is the possibility that the audience is filled with disrespectful, juvenile, bros in flat-brimmed baseball caps and simpering, self-entitled college girls who really believe the entire audience should be made aware of their every thought and fear during the runtime of the film.  I am not kidding when I say one asshole brought a bulb-style bike horn to the theater, and squeaked it during the movie.  (P.S. if you are one of those people, you need to end yourself immediately.  A movie ticket costs at least $9, that is way too expensive to be forced to listen to you trying to pretend we're all here for your stand up hour.  Nobody needs your commentary, keep it to your damned self.)

That said, I think it's even more impressive that Paranormal Activity 3 is one of the most skin-crawling, gut-wrenchingly scary movies I have seen all year.  Despite the best efforts of the Mask of the Brotasm I was able to get involved enough in this movie to be concerned that I had just eaten and neglected to bring a change of pants.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a distant prequel to the events of Paranormal Activities 1 and 2, taking place in 1988.  It chronicles the initial haunting of Katie and her sister Kristi by the demon that would later torment them in adulthood.  PA3 has one of the more believable reasons for a found footage movie to have cameras everywhere:  Katie and Kristi live with their mother, Julie, and her boyfriend, Dennis.  Dennis is a professional cameraman.  He makes his living by video taping other people's important events.  This is why he has a garage full of cameras, VHS tapes, and editing equipment.  It's far more plausible than PA2's nanny/security cameras.

PA3 also has the good sense to drop the number of cameras used from the absurd total PA2 had.  For a large portion of the movie PA3 only uses 2 cameras.  They eventually add a 3rd camera, which has been attached to an oscillating fan, in order to catch more action.  This camera in particular had amazing potential for scary shots because it was in a regular motion.  They could easily add or remove elements from the scene when the camera wasn't showing them and also set off jump scares just barely out of frame.  The fact that you never really know what was going to show up as the camera was oscillating really contributed to the amount of tension those scenes had.

They also introduce a "witchcraft" aspect to the movie as a means of explanation of the presence of the demon, but they barely spend any time on it.  It results in providing some context to things, without explaining them too much.

They expertly build and release tension and exploit that to make great scares, and not just jump scares.  The scares here are far more shocking than the original movie, but rely more on tension than what the second movie did.

I think I might like it better than the original, but I might need to sit on that statement for a few weeks, maybe rewatch them both when they do a DVD release.  It's a very good movie and well worth ponying up the cash to the theater to see.

Tomorrow we begin the trip around the world, starting with David Cronenburg's The Brood, in North America.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 20 - Evil Things

Evil Things is a 2009 indie horror movie by Dominic Perez.

Following the disappearance of 5 pretty white folks a VHS tape is delivered anonymously to the FBI.  The tape is labeled with a handwritten note that just says "Evil Things".  On the tape is a pre-edited copy of THIS MOVIE.  OMGZ!

Most of the film is shot by one of the 5 lead characters, who is a film school student with aspirations of being a documentary film maker.  He's chronicling his friend's 21st birthday party, which takes place at an absolutely sweet house in the middle of the woods owned by the friend's Aunt.  The movie starts off in NYC at the beginning of the drive to the house and follows them as they're harassed by an unknown stalker in a van.  After a snow storm they end up at the house and spend the night drinking and partying, then the next day they spend several hours lost in the woods.  That night, they're picked off one by one, off camera.  The film ends with an over the shoulder shot of the killer editing the video and making a really creepy animal noise, which was heard earlier in the woods.  Then the film re-ends showing the killer video taping the cast hours before their road trip started.  Then shows more of the events of the movie from the killer's perspective during the credits.

The movie as a whole is pretty lackluster.  The scares are competently executed but not well supported by the surrounding scenes.  Also after a slower start the action takes off so quickly it glosses over what happens to a lot of the characters, which makes their ends lose some of their impact.  The complete lack of explanation of anything is also a little annoying.  Even after watching the credits you're left with no real idea of why the killer is doing anything.  For all we know, he really likes video cameras and kills anyone with one so he can liberate it.  The clicking animal noise, while supremely creepy, is given no context...the killer just makes that noise.  It's weird.  I'm not sure if the director was trying to be artsy or avant-garde by starting so many threads and ideas and never really tying any of them up, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.  Sometimes this can be really good, like in Inception where the movie ending is designed to be ambiguous with regards to the single question of "Is Cobb still dreaming?".  However, this works because Nolan expertly crafted the narrative around the question and chose that single question to leave open.  Perez's ending lacks any of this focus.

Unfortunately this is probably a little too confused to be really worth watching, unless you wanted to try to decipher whatever mythos might exist.

Found footage week closes with: Paranormal Activity 3.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 19 - Troll Hunter

Troll Hunter is a 2010 Norwegian movie released stateside in June 2011.

The found footage in this case comes from hard drives containing digital video shot by a group of film students who start the movie pursuing an alleged bear poacher.  They overstep just far enough to get involved with the poacher, who turns out to be Hans: Norway's only registered Troll Hunter.  Hans' job is to exterminate trolls who go outside of their territorial boundaries, or venture to a place where humans might discover them.  They begin following Hans as he tries to discover why so many trolls have fled their designated areas.

Ultra violet light causes trolls to violently explode or calcify depending on their age, and they have an insatiable craving for the blood of a Christian man.

There's nothing exceptional about the found footage camera work or premise.  In fact the camera gets annoying sometimes taping things that it doesn't seem like a rational person would tape.

However, the special effects were pretty nice.  They played off the uncanny valley-ness of modern CGI by designing trolls that looked a bit silly on purpose.  But the way they moved and the proportion and placement in the scene made them seem real, but still wrong somehow.  The effect of which is that you feel they really don't belong in the scene but it could just be because you're looking at a TROLL and it just doesn't make sense to your brain.

The story was compelling, if a bit simple, and the troll scenes were very tense.  The final boss was epic in the truest sense of the word.  The relative difference in size between the troll and the battle tankified jeep was mind boggling.  The ending of the found footage was a bit weak, but the post-epilogue bit of the state official was actually pretty fun.

Definitely worth watching for action, thrills, it's a little scary but more in the dark fantasy way than the horror way.  Good stuff, those Norwegian movies.

Next up: Evil Things

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 18 - Apollo 18

Apollo 18's premise is that it's pieced together from recently recovered footage taken by the crew of the Apollo 18 mission.  The last official manned moon landing was the Apollo 17 mission, and 18 was cancelled.

The story begins with the mission being uncancelled and the 3-man crew informed they'll be allowed to go to the moon.  Once they arrive they experience technical difficulties, odd sensations, and eventually discover the remains of a secret, failed Russian mission and a dead cosmonaut.  They float an implication that the creepy problems and paranoia might be a result of a haunting by the dead cosmonaut and not the obvious creepy, stealthy alien.  But it never really pans out.

I think this uses the most plausible explanation for the constant presence of camera of any found footage horror movie I have ever seen.  Even the standard "Film crew" framing device inevitably leads to at least one moment where you think to yourself "Why the hell are they filming THAT?".  Either it's wildly inappropriate, or absurdly dull.  Another common trope in found footage is the camera operator will inexplicably manage to hold the camera amazingly steady while fleeing for their lives.  I really appreciated that in Apollo 18 a lot of the cameras were stationary or mounted to something.  Either a helmet, a vehicle.  Basically anything other than an astronaut having to hold a camera.  It makes an amazing amount of logical sense and allows the director to shoot from several angles and have the camera flail wildly when handheld in a stressful situation without losing the audience.

The movie is really good at being generally tense, and the final few scenes are very hectic and had you really sucked in and focused.  However, it's not scary, it's just tense.  When the movie and ends and tension releases you find yourself really disappointed, since nothing really happens.  There are really only 2 creepy things that happen, and the rest of the movie is tension between the characters.  There's nothing wrong with that sort of tension but the problem here is that it never leads anywhere.  You never discover anything about the presence/haunting on the moon, the crew all dies and...that's that.  The end.

Even with that, I enjoyed watching it because it is good, and even creepy.  It's just a bit of a let down because none of it leads anywhere.

Tomorrow night is the Norwegian import: Troll Hunter.

The Beerening: Wee heavy brew day

I haven't written anything about my homebrewing hobby yet, but this past brew day I did several very interesting things that probably deserve to be discussed a little bit.

With late fall and winter rapidly approaching I really wanted to brew something rich and malty, with a lot of complexity to enjoy, but low ABV so I could drink it after only about a week in the bottle and drink a couple of them without getting owned.  I settled on a Scotch Ale 80/-, which should be between 4-5% ABV.  Scotch ales are copper to amber colored, malty, toasty, caramely, with very little hoppiness and a nice touch of fruity esthers from yeast.

My basic recipe was:
63% American Six-row Pale (7.5 pounds)
17% American Vienna (2 pounds)
13% Brown Sugar (1.5 pounds)
4% American Crystal 40L (0.5 pounds)
4% Belgian Aromatic (0.5 pounds)

1 oz Fuggles @ 60 minutes
1.5 oz Kent Goldings @ 20 minutes
The color of this recipe is about 9 SRM, which is within the style but I really would like it a little darker.

To darken it up I decided to try two new techniques.  The first being the decoction mash, and the second being deliberate kettle caramelization.  Both of these techniques add certain flavors and will darken the color of my beer.

A bit of background:
Decoction mashing is a result of early brewers' inability to accurately measure temperatures while mashing.  The premise is that after mashing in and stirring your grain bed well, you pull an amount of the thick part of the mash (basically the soaked grain material) out of the mashtun and boil it for several minutes before adding it back to the main mash.  The technique is a well known hallmark of German brewing, and adds bready and biscuity flavors as well as darkening the mash.

Kettle Caramelization is simple a side affect of a concentrated wort.  An extended boil is a good way to condense the wort to make higher ABV beers, and would cause caramelization.  Most modern Scotch ale recipes just include a decent amount of Crystal malt, but in Brewing Classic Styles Jamil discusses a smaller unhopped boil whose entire purpose is to deliberately caramelize some of your wort.  This traditional technique adds caramal notes, toffee flavors, and residual sweetness to the brew since the process renders some of the sugars unfermentable.  It's not as reliable as using Crystal malt, but it's an interesting technique to try.

On to my actual brew:
I hit my first mash rest of 145F and let it rest for 20 minutes, then started pulling thick mash for my first decoction.  Michael Dawson of BrewingTV advocates 1qt thick mash per pound of grist, but I wasn't sure how much this would raise my temperature so I pulled off a bit less. 
 This is about 6 quarts of thick mash, it looked a little watery so I added 2 more quarts that were more diligently strained, resulting in this:
I boiled these 8 quarts of thick mash for about 15 minutes.

There was a minor technical issue with my stove and it took me longer to get the grains to a boil than I wanted.  My improvised mashtun lost a lot of heat, so when I added the decoction back in  I barely managed to break even.  So I stirred the mash up and pulled another 4 quarts of thick mash and brought that to a boil.  I let it boil about 10 minutes and added it back to my main mash, raising the temperature to 149F.  I felt that was a decent rest temp so I let the mash rest there for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes I lautered.  My grist absorbed a LOT of water and I only ended up with 1.5 gallons of first runnings.  However, those running had a gravity of 1.075, which is pretty decent.  In Brewing Classic Styles Jamil recommends pulling 1 gallon of first runnings and boiling that off.  The common discussion on the internet involves boiling this down to 1 or 2 quarts.  I set the runnings to boil and wandered off to watch some Star Trek.  About an hour and some odd later I had lost most of the volume and was down to about half a gallon.  The color was gorgeous and it smelled absolutely incredible.

I decided to sparge with about 3.5 gallons at 155F.  I heated the water and then poured it into the mashtun.  The soaked grain absorbed NONE of it so I had a really thin sparge.  I let it sit for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly, and lautered again.  I ended up collecting all 3.5 gallons at a gravity of 1.020, which is a very weak 2nd running.  The color was substantially lighter due to not being boiled to death.

From there I mixed the caramelized wort and the 2nd runnings until there was about 3.5 gallons in my boil kettle.  After the hot break, I added the remaining 2nd runnings as the kettle boiled off until I had all of the 2nd runnings in the kettle.  Then I added my hops and did a regular 60 minute boil.

After the boil I cooled the wort to about 90F and mixed in 2.5 gallons of cold water, bringing it to about 70F.  I had a final volume of 5.5 gallons of 1.049 wort, into which I pitched 500mL of Scottish Ale starter.

It's been fermenting at roughly 65F ambient temperature.  It'll probably another 2-3 weeks until I bottle it, and then a week in the bottle should have it ready for drinking at right around Thanksgiving.

Cooling, the cold break is particularly hypnotic.
Drink on!


Monday, October 17, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 17 - Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust is a 1980 Italian movie directed by Ruggero Deodato.  It is considered the grand-daddy of the found footage genre and one of the most disgusting and controversial movies of all time.  After the movie's original release, the film was seized until the director could prove to a court of law that he didn't kill his cast.

The first half of this movie focuses on anthropologist Harold Monroe leading an expedition into the South American jungle to rescue a lost group of an American documentary film crew.  They really drive home the point in the intro that the film crew is American.  The second half is Monroe watching the footage of the original crew that he recovered and discovering why the original crew was brutally murdered and displayed like a grotesque christmas ornament.

The movie is famous for its anti-exploitation message and contains a form of the iconic "Who is the real monster?" line.

This movie is sick.  It is gross.  It is disgusting.  It would be difficult to watch if I hadn't had my soul removed from years of internet shock memes.  The effects are quite good when they're used correctly, but often look like bad paper mach√©.  What helps the gore effects out is the use of actual gore.  One of the controversies of this movie is that the animals that were killed by the cast during the found footage portion are really being killed on film.  It's so undeniably real that it lends credence to the effects used to simulate the human murder and dismemberment.  Unfortunately, these scenes are actual slaughter.  It's disgusting and it makes me hate the characters.

...Crap, I'm supposed to hate the characters.  The original film crew are raging assholes, we're supposed to hate them and be satisfied by their eventual death and dismemberment.  It works.  Between the senseless animal murder, the sadistic treatment of the natives, and the rape I honestly felt the characters deserved to die.

Cannibal Holocaust isn't what I'd call a good movie.  It's disgusting and morally reprehensible, and the characters deserve their gruesome deaths.  Really the only thing that makes this worth watching is the horror cred you get from having watched Cannibal Holocaust

Move along.

Tomorrow night, found footage continues with Apollo 18.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 16 - The Blair Witch Project

The second entry in Found Footage week is 1999's smash hit The Blair Witch project.  Found footage movies had been in the periphery of the genre for years, perhaps one of the earliest examples was 1980's Cannibal Holocaust.  However, Blair Witch managed to bring it into the mainstream of the horror genre through an innovative internet marketing campaign which attempted to provide validity to the assertion that the recovered film was legitimate.  Even though the Blair Witch franchise attempt failed utterly with the sublimely terrible Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, the success of The Blair Witch Project enabled later films like Cloverfield, Quarantine, Paranormal Activity, and Grave Encounters.

Blair Witch has quite a reputation surrounding it, unfortunately I just don't think it's deserved.  For something that's supposed to be real footage some of the actions of the characters seem utterly contrived and I just can't imagine a real person doing something like that.

The majority of the film's running time is spent trekking through the woods and arguing with each other, which grated on my nerves so much that by the time actually scary things started happening I just didn't care.  Further, the build up to the climax is scarier than the actual close.  The tent shaking scene in particular is pretty tense.

They open a lot of things that they never really answer, but I suppose that was create an air of mystery...but that sort of thing is silly in the movie itself.  You've already convinced people to watch it, just resolve things for them.  The unknown fate of one of the characters may have been alluding to a continuation of the story in the sequel, but then they made a sequel that didn't pick up that plot thread at all.

If the movie had a stronger ending I might accept its flaws, but the end is just such a let down it seems more silly than scary.  Maybe if I didn't have such a strong disbelief from so many years on the internet, or if I'd had the immersion of a theater, I would think better of the ending.

Anyway, next up is the original found footage: Cannibal Holocaust.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 15 - [REC] (2007)

I'm not entirely sure that this should be here, as this is the original movie that was later remade.  However, we'd watched the remake, Quarantine, a few years back when Blockbuster was still in business and this seemed like a good opportunity to watch the original movie.

[REC] is a 2007 Spanish film which was remade barely 1 year later as the English language Quarantine.  It was written and directed by John Erik Dowdle, who was responsible for the cult found footage movie The Poughkeepsie Tapes.  GIFs from that have been making their way around the internet as some of the most damned creepy scenes ever.

The premise of both movies is that a news channel reporter is shadowing the local fire department as a human interest story for a late-night news show when they receive a call to rescue an elderly woman trapped inside her apartment.  When they arrive, the woman is covered in blood and very aggressive.  She ends up biting one of the responders.  When they attempt to evacuate the responder to the hospital they discover the police and the army have surrounded the building in a quarantine as part of Biological, Chemical, or Nuclear response.  The rest of the movie follows the group of tenants as their group slowly fractures and becomes infected with something very similar to a Zombie virus (√† la 28 Days Later) until the only survivors are the newscaster and her cameraman who take refuge in the attic apartment where they discover the source of the disease before being murdered by patient 0.

People criticize the remake quite a bit for being mostly a shot-for-shot remake of the original with very little original spin.  After watching both movies, that complaint seems to come mostly from hipsters who believe foreign movies are better by virtue of being foreign movies, who believe English language remakes of foreign movies are always bad because we Americans have no sense of what makes a scary movie and bulldoze over the subtlety and superior sense of horror that foreign movies innately posses.

[REC] by itself is a great movie, it's claustrophobic, shocking, and creepy.  It's bloody, and violent without becoming an action movie.  The film is a testament to the found footage genre.  It's terrifying without doing much over most of its running time and despite a minor stumble during the last 10 minutes has what might be one of the most terrifying final 5 minutes of any movie. EVER.  I am not kidding, the end of this movie was beyond scary.  I will admit that it was harder to get into because it relies extensively on very fast paced storytelling, which is difficult when reading subtitles.  I have no particular hatred of subtitles, but they do make things a little harder to follow.  Especially in something that moves this quickly.  Even with that against it, it's a truly great movie in its own right. 

The remake acknowledges this by being 90% the same. However, the remake is shot with a better sense of composition and pacing.  They've created a few new scenes that didn't exist in the original movie that serve very well to heighten or maintain the tension established in previous shots.  One of these new scenes is the reason it took me 3 tries to finish the movie for the first time.  It's truly something I didn't want to watch.  Some of the more subtle effects were used to extend the capabilities of the zombies so that their movements threw them into a very uncomfortable part of the uncanny valley. Also, an issue I had with [REC] was that it looked like the majority of it took place during the day and was very well lit from outside the building. This didn't make sense for something set during the overnight shift of a fire department. Quarantine had much better lighting.

The running time of the remake is ~89 minutes and the running time or the original is ~78 minutes.

I was more affected and more frightened by the first 82 minutes of the remake, but the final 7 or so minutes are far more scary than the remake's finale.  The original takes a minor tangent into religious explanation for the events before abandoning it right before the end.  After this weird religion thing it becomes far creepier than the remake.

Either way, this original is great and the remake is really a remake done right where the original is adapted and expanded on to make it better for the target audience.

Tomorrow night we check out the movie that kicked off modern found footage revival: The Blair Witch Project.

Friday, October 14, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 14 - The Thing (2011)

This movie isn't a remake by strict definition but is, in fact, a prequel.  However the story and premise is so similar to that of the original that it could easily be a remake with creative editing.

The first The Thing was released in 1982, written by Bill Lancaster (of Bad News Bears fame) and directed by John Carpenter.  The movie was itself a remake of the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World, which was based on the 1938 novella Who Goes There?, though Carpenter's movie is more faithful to the source material than the original movie.  Carpenter had effectively invented the modern slasher 4 years prior with 1978's Halloween and the original movie really saw him upping his game.  The film is considered a horror classic for its bleeding edge special effects and effectiveness in creating sensations of claustrophobia and paranoia.  The movie was rife with brooding tension that exploded effectively at the finale.  It was brilliant combination of bizarre and disgusting with tense and psychological, and is consistently ranked one of the scariest movies of all time.

The prequel was written by Ronald Moore, a writer for Star Treks TNG, DS9, and VOY and Battlestar: Galactica, and Eric Heisserer who wrote the screenplay for the Nightmare remake and the script for Final Destination 5.  It was directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., in his feature film directorial debut.

The basics of the story is that a research team at a remote Antarctic station encounter an alien monster that has the capability to perfectly mimic any organism at the cellular level.  The alien feeds on each member of the team while they slowly fall apart and turn on each other due to their suspicion that one of the others is The Thing.  In the end the research station is destroyed in an attempt to kill the creature and the final few survivors are left in the unforgiving cold to die, unable to trust each other.

The only major variation from this is that in the prequel they dig up the alien before it breaks out, and the end of the prequel dovetails directly into the opening shot of the original movie.

The prequel has a bit more of a meandering opening while it assembles its cast and establishes the setting.  I will say that the sweeping shots of the snowy wasteland are pretty gorgeous.  It also picks a much more higher pitch once the action does start, burning through cast members much more quickly than the original did.  It made it a bit chaotic at times, and hard to follow.  To an extent this served to highlight the chaos and panic in the film, but it was too easy to lose track of characters which is a bit disappointing to me when I'm trying to follow a story.  It also did a pretty decent job of recreating the claustrophobic environments of the first movie, but not so much the paranoia.  The movie moved too quickly to really identify with any of the characters, although I think that was more because it was trying to make you feel like you were part of the events by dragging you through the plot at a break-neck speed.

Early on there was some awkward hand-held camera shots, which is usually a way of placing the audience inside a scene and making the action seem tense and unstable.  Thankfully it either stopped being as noticeable or they stopped using it before the middle point.

The worst point of the entire movie is probably the CGI, and that is to say it was jaw-droppingly terrible.  The original did everything with incredible models, animatronics, puppets, and massive creativity in picking their shots.  Everything looked real and disgusting, albeit a bit hokey sometimes.  This remake uses real, practical effects sparingly, and even then it uses them when the monster is mostly out of shot.  I'm sure this saved them money, but it meant that when the monster was being shown in all its glory it was entirely CG.  So what should have been the most horrifying and disgusting shots were reduced to CGI that would have looked dated 5 years ago.  There were definitely spots when it looked good, but it was also very hard to be afraid of because of the spots where it looked like a stupid.

In fact, the majority of the forms the monster took that were new to this movie (e.g. the woman's head hanging off the back of the monster) looked silly.  The best ones were when they borrowed forms from the original movie.  It had to be in the two-faced, backwards form by the end for the original timeline to work, and when it got there it looked the best.

The theater I saw it in had the sound up absurdly loud, and the creature sounds were really high pitched.  The sound system assaulted me and left me a bruised and battered man.  It was traumatic.

All negatives aside, I actually thought this was a pretty decent movie.  It wasn't quite as good as the original because of the really bad CGI.  The decision to focus more on chaos and panic was well served by the faster pacing, although I really liked the paranoia and tension of the first one.  This doesn't quite hold up to the original as a horror film, because the creature effects and sense of claustrophobia in the original are much scarier than the immersion in the chaos of the prequel.

This was a fun scifi/action/thriller.  Watch this, then watch the original to continue the story and get creeped the hell out.

Re-rererererere week is over!  Tomorrow night, Found Footage week starts with [REC]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 13 - Fright Night (2011)

Last year's October Horror month started with the original Fright Night, from 1985.

I really like how they've updated the original for this remake.  Instead of copping out and just updating the setting and some superficial trimmings they really revamped (lawl) the entire story and all the characters to make sense in a modern context.

The basic idea here is that a vampire moves into a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood, and the nerdy guy living next door discovers he's actually a vampire.  No one believes him, and he eventually loses his best friend and girl-interest to the vampire.  His only hope is to enlist Peter Vincent, an entertainer who appears to be "faking the funk", to help him kill the vampire and protect his mom.  The vampire is a funny character because while being ostensibly a modern predatory alpha male in both movies he's still bound by old-school vampire rules.  There's a pretty funny scene where Colin Ferrel's vampire is fishing for an invitation from Anton Yelchin's Charley.

The character that was updated the most was probably Peter Vincent.  In the original Peter Vincent was a meek old man played by Roddy McDowall.  He was the host of a late night horror movie show called "Fright Night", which showed the 1930's-1950's Hammer Studios-style gothic horror films Vincent once starred in.  In the remake Peter Vincent is a multimillionaire magician performing a highly theatrical stage show in Las Vegas called "Fright Night" in which he battles vampires and a host of other demons with the power of magic.  He's also a collector of rare and magical artifacts and books, mostly concerning vampires, which he keeps in his gigantic hotel penthouse along with his gorgeous wife.  His wife hates his guts, he's completely superficial, and quite often hammered on Midori liqueur.  The character is played with a sloppy, but confident, swagger by David Tennant.  He's very fun to watch in the role, although there are a few time when he falls into the giddy and excitable Dr. Who mannerisms which don't seem to fit very well.

It's a nice casual vampire movie, very well executed.  It's not a dark story, or dark humor, but not quite as comedic as something like Shaun of the Dead.  A good balance of somewhat unsettling visual effects and light story.

And I definitely don't see Christopher Mintz-Plasse getting into gay porn for a decade like the original "Evil" Ed.

Anyway.  Tomorrow is a return to the Theatre for The Thing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 12 - Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Edit, 6/30/2014: So I messed something up here. It had been a few years since I'd watched the original Nightmare so it wasn't exactly fresh in my mind. The whole plot from the remake regarding the original kids' connection to Freddy was a pure invention of that film. In the original this didn't happen at all and Krueger was a straight child murderer, not an accused molester. For some reason I had thought this plot existed in the original but was left ambiguous in the sense that the kids accused him and the parents took out their vigilante justice but it was never confirmed and the remake messed it up by making it a did-he/didn't-he mystery that was confirmed as he did. Adding the molestation at all still adds a dimension of sexual deviancy to the character but it also changes Freddy's motivations completely. This time around he's simply seeking revenge on kids who told their parents what he had done, leading them to kill him. However in the original, Freddy's connection to the kids was through the actions of their parents who killed him after he was acquitted of murder, very much visiting the sins of the parents upon the children old testament style.
So I got it wrong about the ambiguity since that plot was never in the original film, but I think the point about the backstory change is legitimate because he's still a less interesting character when he's out for simple revenge on the kids who led to his being caught for child-boning.
The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise began in 1984. The first movie, and most of the series was written and directed by horror magnate Wes Craven.  The series spawned 9 sequels, including a cross over with Jason Vorhees.  However, the series lost steam and the final Freddy-only movie was 1994's New Nightmare.  Freddy was dormant again until 2003 when Freddy Vs. Jason was released.

Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes company produced this 2010 remake, which was written by the writer of the Doom movie and the directorial debut of Samuel Bayer (who had previously only done music videos).  Robert Englund didn't reprise his role as the iconic Freddy and was replaced by Jackie Earle Haley, fresh off roles as Rorschach in Watchmen and George Noyce in Shutter Island.

Background aside, I really hate this movie.  I think it's one of the worst major productions and an absolute affront to one of the most iconic horror franchises ever.

The movie relies far too much on jump scares, which really devalues the more atmospheric scenes in between jump scare scenes.  Each individual scene is actually pretty well put together, but the movie as a whole never comes together.  There's just not a lot of tension, and even though the nightmares look very good they don't serve to be scary or unnerving in any way.  This is probably because of a dependency on CGI, which I don't normally find too much of a detractor but here it just doesn't look very good.

They also changed the backstory of the Freddy character to make him more blatantly evil, instead of the ambiguous nature of the original Freddy.  His characterization is also more of a nasty, sexual, and aggressive monster and less of a mischievous and silly but also warped and dangerous.  Some of the glove mannerisms contributed by Haley are a nice addition but the lackadaisical delivery of the lines makes it seem like Freddy's taken a horse tranquilizer and is trying to get some ass before he passes out.  The changes to the character really remove the dynamic nature that separated him from the lumbering beasts that ordinarily inhabit the slasher genre, and without that everything seems a bit mediocre.

The original movie's effects aren't even that bad.  The fashions are a bit dated, but the movie certainly doesn't feel as old as some of the others from the 70s and 80s I've watched.  It's well worth watching over this.  This is just...not interesting, not scary.  It may have worked better if they'd invented their own supernatural slasher, but new-Freddy can't hold a candle to old-Freddy and it brings the remake down to "generic".

Next up, a trip to the Theatre for Fright Night.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 11 - Friday the 13th (2009)

The first Friday the 13th was released in 1980 to cash in on the popularity of Halloween.  That film was a success on its own and spawned 9 sequels and a crossover with Freddy of Nightmare on Elm Street before being rebooted by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company.

The original's plot centered around a group of teens who have been hired as camp counselors to get an abandoned campground at Crystal Lake running again.  Years ago the camp was shut down following the drowning death of a mentally disabled camper.  The camper was unsupervised because the counselors who were meant to watch him were screwing.  Standard slasher moralizing.  There's a fairly excellent twist ending, before twist endings were cliche.

The remake destroys the twist from the original within a minute or two of its running time and is nowhere near as focused in plot.  It meanders a bit, I think for the sake of upping its body count.

The new version begins with a flashback to Jason's childhood, then fastforwards to a group of delinquent teens hiking in the woods.  They're trekking to find a large crop of wild marijuana hidden in the wood with plans to harvest the plants and then sell them and get massively rich.  They make camp for the night and proceed to drink, smoke, and screw until Jason appears to punish them all for their promiscuity.  Jason dispatches them all within a few minutes and cue credits.

6 weeks later we meet a slightly larger and even douchier group of teens heading to Ritchie Rich's father's cabin in the woods.  There's a tangential relation to the first group of teens in Sam from Supernatural, who is the brother of one of the girls in the first group.  They make it up to the cabin where they drink, smoke, and screw.  The characters play their stereotypes pretty well, even if it is a bit obnoxious.  It does serve to distinguish everyone and provide some semblance of a personality to identify with, which is nice.

The murder is very fun, pretty well paced, varied, and creative.  There's also a lot of real practical effects instead of CG which really helps them look meaty.

It's a little dark and high contrast, but such is the way with most modern horror movies.

However, the characters in the first are much better, the kills are more fun since they're much better lit.  The original story is better than the remake, and the twist at the end I think is part of what made it such a classic.  It is very 70's-tastic since it was only 1980, but if you can stomach that it's a much worthier movie to watch.

Next up:  Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Monday, October 10, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 10 - Prom Night (2008)

Prom Night was a Canadian slash movie released in 1980.  It starred Jamie Lee Curtis, who was also in the original Halloween.  I haven't seen the original film so I can only evaluate this one as it stands alone.

The premise is that a young girl's teacher develops an obsession with her, and is fired from the school.  He then breaks into her house and kills her entire family in front of her as she hides in the closet.  3 years of intense therapy and adoption by her aunt and uncle later, she's all grown up and about to graduate high school.

However, the killer escaped jail and tracked her down on the night of the senior prom.  In his obsessive jealousy he then stalks the hotel where the dance is held, killing off hotel employees and all the girl's friends.  The majority of these kills are quick and obfuscated stabs to the abdomen with a large pocket knife.

All the killings are identical, so they all blur together.  This effect isn't helped by how generic all the characters are.  At best case the character has shown enough personality to be disliked as a shallow caricature of a high school stereotype.  There's no one to identify with, so there is no horror to what is happening.  Even the lead character, who we spend a lot of time with, fails to connect.  The actress was decent, the writing just didn't give her anything except a series of scenes to wander through.

The movie's glossy and well constructed but flat and utterly uninteresting.  It's not even particularly bloody or suspenseful.  I can't say I disliked watching it, I was just a little bored because I didn't get anything gory to watch or anything interesting to think about.

Next up: Friday the 13th (2009)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 9 - Halloween (2007)

The original Halloween was released in 1978 under the direction of John Carpenter.  The film was one of the progenitors of the original slasher genre and gave birth to one of its most recognizable icons.  It's basically the guidebook for how to make a slasher movie.

Old school Halloween focused more on suspense than is standard for the genre it spawned, and was fueled by what might be the best soundtrack in all of horror movie history.  In fact, when Halloween was first screened all audiences found it boring and tame but once the famous odd-time theme was introduced the exact same footage was exciting and tense.  I could easily music-theory-nerd on the theme for an hour, but I digress.

Halloween: H20 attempted to rebuild the ailing franchise in 1998, at the tail end of the 90's slasher resurgence led by Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend.  But despite an impressive performance at the box office, this was the last film of the original Michael Myers timeline.

This 2007 reboot is directed by Rob Zombie, who had previously directed House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects which were very slick but mostly bizarre and gory.  Zombie's version differs quite a lot from the original in tone and characterization.  While Carpenter's film was mostly Laurie Strode's story, Zombie's version is very much Michael's story and includes a lengthy origin story where we see Michael's childhood, and psychotic break.  We also see his first few months being treated by Dr. Loomis, and then his escape from the psychiatric hospital.  Here, Zombie is playing the long game, similar to many super hero movies that spend most of their first installment on the origin story.  It's paid off since now that Michael is a real character who we've actually seen go from child to monster and that makes him infinitely more compelling.  It also means the sequel can pick right up and continue developing the mythology in a sane way instead of the ridiculous progression the original timeline took.

One odd thing I thought was a bit tacked in was an actual Michael Myers mask.  In the '78 version the iconic mask was actually a Captain Kirk mask that was spray painted white.  Michael stole the mask from a local costume shop when he first arrived in town.  In the '07 version it's an actual Michael Myers Halloween mask that Judith Myers' boyfriend puts on while they're getting ready to bone.  He then tries to convince her to let him wear it while the screw.  The scene is just weird and contributes nothing except to introduce the mask so that Michael can save it and wear it later.

I really want to see Zombie's sequel to this now, because this movie was just really good.  It had good characterization, creative direction and camera work, great tension, fun kills and excellent make up and effects.  I really enjoyed the original movie, and this version is a perfect homage to it while still standing up on its own as the beginning of a new Michael Myers timeline.

On deck:  Prom Night (2008)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 8 - Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The first Dawn of the Dead was a George Romera zombie movie from 1978, part of the original Trilogy of the Dead which consisted of 1968's Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and 1985's Day of the Dead.

This 2004 remake was directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Suckerpunch).  The film is visually striking and is awash with Snyder's signatures, including specific use of slow motion and a noticeable soundtrack using contemporary songs.  The story of both movies are fairly similar: In the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse a small group of survivors lock themselves inside of a shopping mall and deal with personal conflicts while trying to survive the growing number of zombies amassing outside and in the lower floors of the mall.  Beyond that there isn't much similarity.

The original film was rife with social commentary about consumerist culture and materialism, which doesn't present itself at all in the remake.  The remake plays more with personal drama between characters but is far less high minded.  Also, zombies in the remake have human or better capabilities while the original featured Romero's famed slow zombies.

The remake on its own is very entertaining.  The writing is good and the characters are fun.  It's got a nice, brisk pace that manages to avoid dragging too much towards the end of the 2nd act.  The effects are really good and realistically bloody.  The zombies were scary, the actions scenes were pretty tense.  The non-action scenes served pretty well to setup the next bit of story while maintaining a slightly desperate or creepy tone.  I really liked the soundtrack with short montages set to Johnny Cash and Richard Cheese.

In fact, I think the only thing I didn't actually like about this movie was the subplot with Mekhi Phifer and his Russian Mail-order Bride.  I honestly don't believe anyone that "From the Hood", or that street smart, would be that damned stupid.  Plus, that scene killed off one of my favorite characters.

The original movie had a pretty uncertain ending, where you could decide for yourself if you wanted the characters to live or die.  The remake's ending was a lot more clear-cut, or at least I thought.  When I had watched this I was convinced the cast all died in the final zombie attack where the camera is dropped, but wikipedia describes this ending as "leaving their fate unknown".

Either way, it's a great zombie movie that's very well balanced between human drama, gore, and action.  It's well worth watching both, since the original is a classic, but this one capably stands on its own.  It's also pretty obvious watching it that the Dead Rising video game took some major cues from the movie: Exploding gas station, set in a mall, unorthodox weapons, a dog.  The biker gang in the original movie is pretty similar to the convicts in the game.  Dead Rising in some ways led to the Left 4 Dead series and by proxy Dead Island.  So yeah.  Good movie.

Re-week continues tomorrow with Rob Zombie's Halloween.

Friday, October 7, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 7 - The Ninth Gate

The Ninth Gate is the most modern feeling movie of the season, although The Order was released 4 years after it.  The Ninth Gate was released in 1999, along with a slew of other Satanic stories, and stars a pre-Burton Johnny Depp.

The premise here is that there is a book, written in the mid 17th century by Aristide Torchia called The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows.  There are 3 surviving copies of the book in 1999 and one is in the possession of a Boris Balkan, who hires Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) to authenticate the book against the other 2 copies for him.

Corso is a rare-book buyer and dealer who operates on the shadier side of things, often conning people out of collections in order to sell them at a profit.  He smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish, to the point where it's a bit ridiculous.

Corso's investigation into the books leads him into a massive conspiracy involving a secret society of very rich and powerful people who are attempting to use the book to summon ultimate power or commune with the devil or something.

The writing in this movie is probably the best we've had all week.  It's very focused, but very natural and quite witty when it needed to be.  It was mostly a mystery with a few supernatural elements sprinkled in for effect, but would've been just as entertaining without them.  The excellent character writing and acting actually helps you relate to these characters as people, that sort of thing is important when you're watching a movie where the majority of the characters are eccentric and absurdly rich book collectors.

The only real points playing against the movie are the ending, which was just a bit confusing, and the soundtrack.  They'd managed to explain everything up to that point without a painfully obvious exposition dump but just kindof dropped the ball in the last 5 minutes.  I had no idea who the girl was supposed to be or how she related to the rest of the plot, except to haul Depp along when he lost the trail.  The soundtrack had some great moments where the orchestral score really complimented the epicness of what was going on, but other times it dropped into this funky bassoon and trumpet based theme which was very reminiscent of bits of Ghostbusters or those black & white "industry!" Disney cartoons.  It really did the atmosphere the movie was trying to build a disservice.

Children of the Corn was probably the best "horror" movie so far, but this I think is the best movie in general.  It was just really fun to watch even if the supernatural elements were superfluous and without them this would have no right belonging in October Horror Season.

I guess that's a back handed endorsement: It's not horror, but it is creepy at a few points and a good movie, watch it anyway.

With this movie, Cults week is over.  Kicking off Re-rererererererereerere-whatever will be 2004's Dawn of the Dead, a remake of the 1978 Dawn of the Dead.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 6 - Children of the Corn

He wants you too, Malachai!
Children of the Corn was first shot in 1984 and is based on a short story by Stephen King.  It stars Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton.

Children of the Corn is another classic horror movie and is based on a cult of children in a rural Nebraska town that murders the adults.  They take over the town and spend 3 years murdering any outsiders who happen upon it while practicing a bizarre "Coming of Age" ritual when the children turn 19.  All in the name of "He who walks behind the rows".  Effectively a "Corn God".

I like that Children hints at the powerful nature gods of ancient pagan religions, something that was also poked at in an episode of Supernatural starring Paris Hilton.  Children of the Corn is a pretty good movie that is very well constructed and beautifully cast.  It suffers a bit when screened to modern audiences because some of the cinematography that was probably pretty atmospheric and creepy comes off as kindof cheesy and schlocky.  Likely, this is due to the success of the Horror genre in the 80s leading to a lot of poor imitations over the last 20-30 years.

The actor that was cast to play Isaac, the original leader of the Children, suffers from a Growth Hormone Deficiency.  The effect of this is that at age 25 he had the body of a 12 year old boy, while having a very unique voice and facial features that were subtly "old" looking for the age of the character.  It also meant he wasn't a child actor and could pull off the part more convincingly than a child could.  The character was "off" in so many slight ways he almost fell into the uncanny valley and was very unsettling to watch.

The movie isn't exactly "scary" in the sense of modern movies, but it's very good and well constructed.  There's a large amount of creepiness that I can really appreciate and I like that it doesn't depend on gore or shock like a modern play on the concept probably would.  Although I will admit that a more modern take on the story would appeal more to modern audiences and be scarier to those audiences who expect more visual thrills rather than depending on shear psychological "THESE ARE FREAKING KIDS" WTF-ery.

I think there is actual a modern remake, but I haven't seen it.
Either way the story on this original is very good and well worth watching if you're a fan of the genre, but don't expect to be scared by it, just pretty unnerved.

Closing out Cults week is "The Ninth Gate"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 5 - The Collective

The Collective, a 2008 independent "paranoid thriller".

The Collective has a list of credits that usually worries me.  The cast is very small, 12 names in total, and most of those only have 1-2 speaking lines if they have any.  The worrisome part is that most of the cast also have several other credited positions in the production.  The 2 lead actors also wrote the movie, directed it, edited it, and helped score the soundtrack.  Now, I'm not trying to imply that all indy movies like that are bad, it's just that it's often a red flag because of how just terrible Tommy Wiseau's The Room is.  It can turn into the one person who's the protagonist, writer, director, producer, wall-paper artist just fellating themselves for the entire movie's runtime.

Thankfully,  The Collective isn't one of those movies.  It's actually very competent and everyone involved is a pretty decent actor.  The soundtrack isn't particularly interesting, but it's serviceable.  The writing isn't quite as taut as you'd want this sort of movie and there are a few scenes that don't add much and probably should've been left on the cutting room floor.

In the movie, Tyler gets a terse voicemail from her sister, Jessica, using someone else's phone asking for help.  Tyler hops a red-eye flight to New York City immediately to try to find her sister.  Everyone Tyler speaks to is secretive, evasive, and paranoid.  Tyler eventually discovers her sister has become involved with a group of elite Manhattanites that have formed a secret society in an old cathedral, where they attempt to explore faith and the power of the spirit by mishmashing different cultures' religious ceremonies.  Things go horribly wrong during one of these and a member dies.  Naturally, this leads to a cover-up and the whodunnit is the central mystery of the plot.

Unfortunately the movie really failed hook me into caring about the mystery, and really doesn't offer clues or any explanation.  By the end I didn't know if they had actually solved it correctly, and I really didn't care.  The way the characters were reacting seems to imply they didn't care either.  It just didn't seem like there was much at stake, and even the rescue of the sister seemed to just go perfectly even though there were problems along the way.

It's kindof like marketing a movie as a Police Drama, and then it's just a movie about a traffic cop writing tickets all day without any issues except one driver got a little angry but then backed down when the cop threatened to arrest him.

Next up is Steven King's Children of the Corn.  This one is actually movie length, we checked.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October Horror 2011: Day 4 - Suspiria

I finally got my Xbox to play the English dub of Suspiria directed by Dario Argento.

Released originally in Italian in 1977, Suspiria is not only considered a classic horror film but one of the best movies ever.

The premise of this movie is that an American ballet dancer decides to take her career to the next level by going to study at an ultra-prestigious German ballet school.  Unfortunately the school is a front for a coven of witches who derive power from torturing and murdering the students.

I really liked this one, it's probably the best movie of the season so far.  Even with the elements that I really had a hard time enjoying this was supremely creepy and very focused, which are qualities everything else this year has lacked.  It's heavily atmospheric, very bloody (for the 70's, anyway), and very imagery heavy.  The soundtrack has what might be one of the best horror motifs I've ever heard next to the Halloween soundtrack.

Unfortunately the soundtrack is also the first thing that I found somewhat distracting.  It has a tendency to get absurdly loud during the tense scenes, especially during the murders.  And it's not a typical modern soundtrack that's built around being melodic or rhythmic in a traditional sense, it's a 70's style synth, sample, and noise soundtrack.  It also has the peculiar tendency to cut off abruptly during a scene change from scary night time to a daytime scene.  It makes the dialog very hard to understand since it's so quiet in comparison.

I'm also pretty sure they got a lighting director who was used to working in the theater to design their lighting.  It's definitely a unique look but compared to more modern movies that have done that it looks a bit too strong.  The movie is overwhelmingly red.  Everything is bright red.  So bright red my eyes hurt a few times.  The lighting is red, the walls are red, the wine is red, the blood is red...all the same red.  There was one scene where a character dumped some wine down the sink then had to scrub it off the bowl because it was pretty clearly red paint.  They also have a heavy green light at certain times, and sometimes they even pull out blue lighting towards the end.  At times it serves the atmosphere very well, others it's "MIEN EYES THAT IS SO RED".  Thankfully it seems to serve the atmosphere most of the time, just when it doesn't work it pretty glaring.

The ending sprint is absolutely glorious, and the sound design was just great.  The noises and the voice the witch queen was using were truly creepy in the most visceral sense.  It made my skin crawl.

Definitely a must-see.

I'm heading out of town for a few days for a friend's wedding so the next few movies might have to get back dated, or I'll just post multiple reviews per day if I have to catch up since I might miss a few.

On deck: The Collective