Thursday, November 14, 2013

Block Cocked.

So, the mighty Goliath of the brick-and-mortar video stores fell this week, and I'll admit I was a bit sad, but not because consumers no longer wanted to make it a Blockbuster night (or day, for that matter). For me, the closure marked the absolute end of one of the most sublime rituals dating from childhood—the video rental experience.


On the bright side, we can expect another Halloween Express.
This ritual began every Friday in the "mom n' pop" tucked into my town's local strip mall, my gangly little body entering the shop with a pocket full of quarters and exiting with spindly arms straining under stacks of random horror and comedy titles, each one cherrypicked for nudity, gore and Pippi Longstocking. My loot was easy to slip past my parents, who were perpetually baking like pies until the timer went off around 1985, the same year Blockbuster opened. The kind, middle-aged couple that ran the video store became like surrogate parents to me. They eventually knew what types of films I liked, and held back some of the new releases every Friday so that I could get first crack at films like Sleepaway Camp. They also saved me from being kidnapped in the parking lot on one trip. A car full of men was no match for the Vietnam veteran who ran out of his shop, swooped me up, and carried me to safety—and VHS nirvana. Shelves of new tapes swept over the trauma of the event like a tidal wave of possibilities. I recovered with an alacrity that I now consider astonishing, if not alarming.

Unfortunately, with childhood resilience comes adolescent changeability in equal measure. As supermarket chains began adding in-store video rentals, I was all over them with the loyalty of a Benedict Arnold, or an Alexis Carrington. Colby. Cougar. Mellencamp. Anyway, a supermarket became just one more place to rent lovely stacks of lovely films, so when Blockbuster hit, I was no more partisan than a career polititian at election time. A superstore with supershelves of superfilms was right on time to add something new to the excess that defined the 1980s, but it never dawned on me back then that as Blockbuster ate up the real estate, it was swallowing the mom n' pops along with it. I look back now and I'm ashamed at how easy that meal went down.

Fast-forwarding to the present, it's sobering to see pretty much the same thing play out again, except this time, Blockbuster is the bill of fare. Why go out and rent a video when we can tub-o-lard at home on our sofas, settees, couches, beds and box springs, with remotes in our hands and Netflix at the ready. Fine, we'll rent a movie for a buck, but we'd better be able to bring it back when we damn well please. Otherwise, give us our Hulu, our Roku, our Apple TV and our Internet. And haven't we earned it? Well, yes. We logged a lot of miles in those VHS days. And we were too poor to own Laserdisc, but we balked at the dawning of DVD and now Blu-ray beckons our bucks like pixelated predators. I will be had, over and over again. But there was something so delicious about renting a video, and later, a DVD. Just to peruse the aisles and weigh the options, to play Siskel-and-Ebert with whoever was with us. All of that is gone now—for the most part. My husband and I enjoy shopping for films at our new favorite record store, Second Spin, but we look back at the bones of our beloved DVD Planet—which itself transitioned from a brick-and-mortar store to an online presence a few years back—and we know that our days in the aisles are numbered.

I bid adieu to Blockbuster, and give it props for lasting as long as it did, and for putting up a hell of a fight by trying to play the Netflix game. In the end, the company that aligned itself with VHS and DVDs couldn't even shake the associations and rebrand itself in the unrelenting marketplace of streaming media. And now it's gone and we'll get over it. There's just too many other, better choices to turn us on. But I wonder if we are better off.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Match Game.

"Wait a goddamned minute, I thought Jason had blue eyes."
Until a few weeks ago, it had been a long time since the last time I was sucked into a round of one of my favorite blood sports: Fanboy Fighting (Timeshare Dodging at Excalibur Las Vegas is the other one). I love when people try to test me on my horror shit. It’s great fun, and I almost always collect new friends from the spoils.
Now, I don’t proclaim to know anything—in fact, I can confirm that I know 100 percent of nothing 50 percent of the time)—but I do know how I feel about certain aspects in horror. I know that I generally loathe remaking any horror film (even the bad ones). I know that horror is now mostly about money and no longer about ideas (you can tell which films are truly about ideas by their ratio of practical effects-to-CGI). And I know that you cannot have a Freddy Vs. Jason without Kane Hodder as Jason.

And this is where the fight found me. My Twitter opponent gave all he had, coming back at me for why it wasn’t necessary to have Kane Hodder when we had Robert Englund (and to that end, a Freddy Vs. Jason with Hodder and no Englund would be just as c-c-c-rap-rap-rap). Eventually, my opponent caved, I conceded that despite no Hodder, the folding bed death scene was awesome, and we shook virtual hands and returned to our feeds. I was basically repeating a universal opinion, so much like the time I received an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas without any cake mix, I didn’t really win anything. Plus, let’s just be real—pitting Freddy against Jason was a horrible idea. But the spirit of the fight and the film in general made me think about some horror matchups that actually do carry the potential to be pretty killer.

Freddy Vs. Ash

I’ll admit I have an affinity for the strong, silent Freddy—you know, back when he was quietly trying to knock off Nancy and all of her friends? But there’s something to be said for Primetime Bitch Freddy up against a Grrroovy Ash. Imagine all the classic one-liners. And if you took away the lip service, you’d still have two proven titans who seem unstoppable in their respective films. The finger knives versus the chainsaw? Now we’re playing with power.

The Tall Man Vs. Pinhead

Now, if anything, these two villains are conservationists. One hates a waste of good suffering, and the other repurposes the dead into the horror equivalent of Sand People. Not bad, right? Plus, what girl doesn’t appreciate a Tall Man with a commanding presence? In this film, you’d get two. This is a matchup with class, accompanied by a kick-ass prog score. Wouldn’t it be a trip to watch these two get inside each other’s heads to compete for souls?

Jason Voorhees Vs. Michael Myers

Yes. This feels good to me. When I was growing up in the 1980s, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees cut the two most imposing figures in horror. They were the best kind of silent but deadly, and they achieved their body counts with razor-sharp precision and unyielding terror. Unfortunately, a film with this kind of matchup leaves all the dialogue to today’s teenagers, and not a Kevin Bacon among them. But if one thing defines these two villains, it’s their mastery of the POV kill, so why not let their stalking do the talking?

Just make sure that when casting Jason, the right man is behind the mask.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Now, where have I seen this before?
I think we’re taken by demonic possession in the same way that we’re consumed by zombies. Beneath the initial Viking-like churlishness we exhibit at every snarl and flesh-bargaining mastication lies the rub that we are basically watching ourselves. And that scares the hell into us.
Inherently, we can be demons. Yes, we can be heroes, but on the shit end of the stick, we can be zombies. Naturally, both transformations demand a lot of us—and by a lot, I mean nothing less than our total selves. I’ve never been a) possessed or b) a zombie, but I think it’s safe to assume that with the former, your body, mind and spirit are occupied by malevolent forces, while with the latter, everything that comprises your individuality—that essence that made you shove peas up your nose as a child and sleep with total strangers as an adult—is sieved into a primordial void. One might argue that adolescence gives us a sneak preview of each.

So, what’s my point? That teenagers are bat-shit crazy? That we can be Vikings, heroes, zombies and demons? That Medieval Times should add zombie jousting to their dinner tournaments? Yes to all of these, but mainly, my point is that there comes a time when genre fans must acknowledge that the same circle of horror filmmakers are reheating the veal and serving it up as steak. I mentioned on Twitter that I was going to review The Conjuring on my blog, so I suppose this is the crux of it. The Conjuring is a good film, but only because the actors in it elevate the material. I mean, Lilli Taylor? Vera Farmiga? That’s anti-suckage insurance right there.  I wish all horror directors would invest in the premium.

But if you took the actors out of this film, you’d essentially just have what is tantamount to a TV movie on the level of 1977’s The Possessed. Of course, the market saturation began in the Seventies, thanks to a film about a little girl who just wanted to play some Ouija and buy a horse (sidebar—Ellen Burstyn trying to sell Sunday as a great day for a birthday is probably the one terrible bit of acting she has ever done).  That film became a hit, and then suddenly, everyone was possessed with possession. Producers catered to it then for the same reasons why they throw their support at it now: because it’s easy money.  The same thing happened with the zombie subgenre, to the extent of Fulci having to slip some undead into The Beyond just to appease his investors. And I think that’s the worst of it—when  artistic integrity is forced to take a backseat to studio self indulgence. It’s much more of an offense to me than simply tacking “of the Dead” to your protagonist and calling it a film—which is, by the way, a whole other Oprah.  
Having said all of this, I don’t go to the cinema to have my life changed. I realize that we could transfer this argument to any other horror subgenre, such as the slasher. My problem with rehashing the same old ideas is that it’s being done to the exclusion of new ones. There are writers and directors out there waiting for an opportunity to get their stories out , and they’re being ignored in favor of their “more proven” counterparts. If you’re a fledgling filmmaker, you quickly find that social media only works if your community supports you (and good luck with that), or if you are successful in lighting your farts on camera without cauterizing your anus. One of the wonderful things about horror in the Eighties is that while the market was exhausted with bad demonic possession, zombie and slasher films, it also offered up a wellspring of work for everyone—especially first-time directors and women—so that everyone could put their slant on the genre. And they did. But when it comes to seeing anything original for our money today, I guess we can all just go to hell.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Horror occupies but a tiny corner of the Internets—which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who you are. If you are a high-profile horror writer caught with your hands in the copy jar, then you are grateful to have chosen an industry that is already so marginalized that even your relationship with a famous director fails to elevate your “bad” to a blind news item.

No, you can't come in, I'm being fabulous.
And therein lies my point. A notable horror journalist has committed intellectual theft—really, one of the worst things you can do in any industry—and no one outside of horror is giving a crap, much less donating a fart. The fire is pretty much 100 percent contained.  Thus begging the question: if no one outside of horror cares, then why has everyone in horror become so delusional?

I can’t really say everyone. For every icon who is an ass to his fans, there’s a Bruce Campbell, or a Lloyd Kaufman, or insert the name of any horror icon you dared reach out to online who not only surprised you by responding—but damn near gave you a heart attack by being gracious (for me—Anne Rice, who I will always love for her emails). And to be fair, some icons are correct to keep a (loving) distance on social media in order to protect themselves and their families from the Crazies. But you still get that they appreciate their fans and care if they die.

No, this one goes out to the stewards of horror: the writers. The icons who gave us the novels that became the films. The journalists who made names for themselves with their sharp observations or gallows humor. The former creates horror, and the latter shapes it, and neither can exist without the other. But both are becoming compromised by social media, which has cultivated the very un-horror need for One of Us to become Better Than You.

The writer I once respected has turned into a silly, conceited old wannabe rock star desperately chasing outrageousness. The journalist I mentioned on Twitter as an influence—who responded by saturating my feed with retweets of media reports praising her Oscar gown—has become a lesson for those who prefer their parables to be pretty. Now while these two have become some of the worst offenders in my world, there are others. The obnoxious child of a legendary author who fancies himself the gatekeeper of a horror dynasty and forgets that his father holds the keys. The film critics who got the memo on their genius and have moved on to being clever. Don’t bother tweeting to them, they can’t be fucked. But be sure to listen to their podcasts. Devil horns.

Where would these people who are Better Than You be without One of Us? Answer: they’d be working a goddamned day job while pursuing their real passion over the white noise of Cronenberg. Like I do. Like you do. We are supposed to be in this for the love, not for the lucre. When I was growing up, there wasn’t anyone in my life from 1980 to 1993 who loved horror films, short of my fifth-grade best friend, and even then it ranked third in her life behind unicorns and Val Kilmer.  So now we’ve got a caste system? Bullshit. Really, who in hell do people think they are? They’d better have an idea, because for the most part, the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue.  And I prefer horror over mysteries.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Reel Genius.

Can I survive any horror film? I survived House of the Dead.
I have this theory that I could survive some of my favorite horror films. But then I also theorized that I could shield my car from the rain at work the other day by parking it under a tree—and I was right, except my car was covered in bird shit by lunchtime.

And with that, I present you with a sampling of favorites (no order):

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The original DOTD came out when malls were just beginning to flourish, and my world consisted solely of Zwieback cookies and New Zoo Revue. If an actual zombie apocalypse had occurred at that time, I think I would've been all set had my stoner parents sought shelter in a Kinderfoto. Plus, they were baked all the time anyway and could've easily passed themselves off as zombies. Perfect.

But today? There was a point in my life when I never met a mall I didn't like, but now, you'll hardly ever find me or anyone else in one. Which probably still makes the mall the best place to hide. I'm comfortable with eating gigantic pretzels for the remainder of my days. The key to surviving the mall during a ZA is to find a White House | Black Market and hide there. WHBM is, without question, the most pointless shop in any mall. Honestly, WTF do they sell there, segregated chinos? If the theory holds true that zombies revisit the places they used to go when they were living, then it's guaranteed that you'll be pretty much left alone in a WHBM. Grab a plasma TV from Sears. Get an Orange Julius or Mrs. Field's cookies from the outskirts of the food court. No one will be in those places, either. You're welcome.

Shivers (1975)
I love this film. It came out the year I was born, which is just so apropos. Now, this one puts me at a crossroads. I love to make out, I love the Seventies and I'm a fan of pools and parties, so can I resist a good Seventies makeout pool party? I think I can, I think I can. Mostly because I don't love a big, gnarly slug entering my body that I'm not legally contracted to love, honor and cherish. So, time to assess the situation at hand. It's 1975, I'm in Canada, and Canadians are nice—so nice that we just assume that our neighbors to the North will take us in as we're running from a ZA in the States (cough, Land of the Dead). The only thing that would probably make them not be nice is a murderous, horny parasite.

The key to surviving this one? Eliminate the sexy places and go hide on Degrassi street, where they've got enough to worry about, like teen pregnancy and class elections. I can while away my days listening to Rush and eating poutine. Most teenagers on TV today are played by 38-year-olds, anyway. I'm packing my bags as we speak.

The Beyond (1981)
What? Some poor bastard was accused of witchcraft and savagely murdered in this hotel I just purchased—and it encompasses the seven doors of death, one of which is now open to scores of the living dead? Alrighty, I'm off to the Motel 6. They're leaving the light on for me.

The Fog (1980)
I figure nothing will confuse evil fishermen more than seeing nice fishermen on a box of breaded fillets—so I'll be loading up on some Gorton's. After all, we're supposed to trust the Gorton's fisherman, and to that end I'll be pelting them with frozen boxes featuring his likeness from atop my bitchin' lighthouse radio station. You didn't actually think I was going to eat those things, did you? I'm married to an Englishman. I've tasted the good stuff.

What—you expected me to have an actual strategy? I'm in a lighthouse! When I'm that high up, the only thing I'll need to do is decide what records to play.

I'm thinking the Zombies.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Idle Worship.

Picture it: Sicily, 1932. Except Sicily is Irvine, and let's just say 1932 is 1997. I was in my seat at a Rage Against the Machine gig at the former Irvine Meadows (now Verizon Wireless) Amphitheatre, waiting for my then-best friend George and her sloppy-drunk friend, a pretty blonde skidmark named Mary, to bring me back a $5 margarita. Minutes turned into an hour, an hour turned into an hour and a half, and by the time all the pre-Occupiers were setting fire to the bleacher seats (no joke), I had begun to wonder if these bitches had actually driven the two hours through San Diego County into Mexico for my drink. Eventually, the show was over, and I was not only without a drink, I was without a ride home.

Fortunately, Irvine Meadows was fairly close to my house, so I dialed a friend and he made the short drive over to the venue parking lot to pick me up. Well, one day and a half-assed apology later, George explained—tail between her teeth—that while she and Mary were walking to the queue for drinks, they slipped and fell and rolled all the way down to the pit, where they were scooped up by security, burped and diapered and whisked off to the backstage area—where they met Rage.

Yep. My at-the-time favorite band. So anyway, to keep a long story from getting longer, George presented me with a photo she took of my at-the-time rock n' roll fantasy, Zack de la Rocha, who posed for it after she told him what a shart she had been for leaving her best friend back up in the hosebleed section. Wonderful end to a crappy story, right? Yep, except two things: one, Zack's reply to George's story was, "tell your friend it's just a concert," and two, in the photo that was MEANT for yours truly, Zack de la Rocha—beautiful, soulful, lyrical enemy of the Man and my personal idol—was flipping me off. The bird was the word. And that middle finger was straight up, now tell me.

I heard her boogers can turn back the aging process.
So, what the hell is it all about, Alfie? Well, fast-forward to just a few days ago. My RATM days are dust in the wind, I wear sensible shoes and read Suze Orman, and for the most part, I only really listen to the 24-hour news channel or my old Steely Dan or Roxy Music CDs in my car. Anyway, I was on the old Twitter, twatting away to a genre director who I have loved since I was a small child. I asked him for some words of encouragement for my husband, who is currently shopping his script to producers. I didn't ask this man to read the script, nor did I attach my husband's promotional trailer to the tweet. I simply—and very politely and respectfully—asked this man to offer up some advice. I waited one day. Two days. Three days. And finally, I checked this director's Twitter and noticed that he had replied to other tweets—just not my tweet. And suddenly, I was getting the memo. I knew that this man read everyone's tweets, and had undoubtedly read mine. He was just not going to reply to it. Not now, not ever. Good morning, good afternoon and goodnight.

I felt like a fool, a bit like how I had felt back in 1997. I don't just reach out every day to people I look up to on Twitter. It may be easy for some to take advantage, but not for me, and for the most part, I keep a very respectful distance. It wasn't easy to send that tweet, and by deleting it, I was hoping that I could pretend it never, ever happened. Except it had. I had opened myself up to a genre director who I held close to my horror heart and had supported for over 30 years, and he was basically telling me no quarter.

And I sort of get it. Celebrities probably get that kind of request tweeted to them every day by minions like myself. But goddamn, would it have killed him to reply back? It could've just been a two-word reply, like "stay strong," or "rock on," or ... obviously, we're learning here that if I were a celebrity, I'd be shit at the two-word reply. But you get me. And yes, I'm 100% positive that some of you may be thinking that this guy doesn't owe me anything, and yes, I'm 100,000% positive that others may be thinking that this guy's catalogue of genius pretty much part and parcel gives him the right to do whatever he wants. So, let's apply these two thoughts to the real-world benchmark:

Horror Director Legend doesn't owe me anything.
Alrighty, he made a movie. I watched it and loved it. The transaction is complete, so by all accounts, you're right, he doesn't owe me anything. But then HDL makes another version of said movie. Then another. With a VHS here, DVD there, here a cut, there a cut, everywhere a cut cut—until one shelf of my home is entirely reserved for this one effing film. A film that, by the way, I also saw at the cinema every time it was tucked and pulled and squeezed into a limited-release revival. You're telling me HDL can't reply back with two words of support to a loyal fan and fellow independent filmmaker in return?

Horror Director Legend can do whatever he wants.
Fine. Let's apply this logic. Can he perform my annual Pap smear and pelvic exam if he wants? Can he fill up all the potholes on the Hollywood freeway if he wants? Can he make the Kardashians go away if he wants? Can he keep Starbucks from raising the price of my grande iced chai tea latte if he wants? No, he fucking can't. He's just a man. But what he can do is reply back to a tweet. I reply back to tweets. Even if someone isn't following me, I reply back. It's just polite. And yes, I haven't even directed one film. But I can tie a cherry stem into a knot with my tongue, and that's some spectacular shit.

But this is how most celebrities behave on Twitter. They want you to follow them and buy their crap, but they'll never follow you back or reply to your tweets. And I think that sucks. But the one equalizer is that everyone—Zack de la Rocha and his finger penis included—is on this earth for a limited time only. Beyonce will probably be laid into a lifesize Barbie box first, but we're all going down into the ground. And good luck getting anyone to follow you there.