Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nineteen Ninety-No.

So here we are, back in the nostalgia again, this time the Nineties. Thanks to the Millennials, we get to revisit everything that made me take refuge in basement raves until the lights came on and I was forced out into the real world to get a job and start becoming the "fiscally conservative-socially liberal" no-fun butt boil I am today. Today I am Camie 4.0, Wife and Mother Edition, teetering on the edge of nostalgia wallow for the Nineties, with my ass sticking out into the 2010s, struggling to keep from falling into the trap.

I'm gonna make it, world! Yeah!
After graduating from high school in the early 90s, I dove into my baby adulthood with zeal. Hanging out late into the night with my DJ friend at KUCI, the college radio station of my future alma mater, I dug into the crates for Shoegaze, challenged the FCC and heard crazy stories direct from some pretty big-deal rap artists of the time, who would stumble in at 3 a.m. to schlep around with whoever was in the station (mostly, us). When we weren't at the station, we were at the raves, hiding in the bathrooms pre-show until our hookups gave us the all-clear. A five-dollar cover was serious stuff for an 18-year-old at the time.

My twenties were a mess, as they're meant to be. I spent most of my money on Depeche Mode, Fangoria and Empire, bourgeoisie crap at the mall, and brownie sundaes at Norms. And I was a major brat. I snuck into the orchestra section at Phantom and threw Cheerios at people. I snuck into U2's Pop tour with a camera between my legs and then less than 15 minutes later, chucked it into the crowd and loudly declared the concert a toilet of musical diarrhea, stomping back to the car with my equally shitty girlfriends to go drinking on Sunset before the band laid into their third horrible song. An accelerated student since first grade (GATE, honors, AP, etc.), I failed the first year of college because I was too busy playing Mortal Kombat in the cafeteria. Or sneaking into Magic Mountain with my friend Rami (Christ, did I ever pay for anything?).

But mostly, I snuck into films. Problem was, there weren't any films worth sneaking into before Scream came out. And when it did, I lost my shit. I'm serious, I saw it at least 20 times from Christmas 1996 until they finally pulled it out of cinemas in late 1997. And like the fool I was, I thought everything after Scream would be just as rad. I went to all the shitegeist that followed: The Faculty. Disturbing BehaviorI Know What You Did Last Summer. Urban Legend. Urban Outfitters. I was hungry for that great Scream experience. I wouldn't get it again until Halloween: H20 in 1998, the year I discovered Asian horror—and Ringu.

I look back on The Blair Witch Project—which rounded out the decade and (for me) didn't come close to delivering on its promise—as the film that shut down the teen horror ensembles (or, as I like to call them, "Dawson's Shriek") and ushered in the two letters that, when paired with the most unlucky number, stir primal fear into the hearts of horror lovers everywhere: PG-13. But how can you say that—silly rabbit—when Blair Witch was an "R"? Well, because it was a big-ol' cussfest, duh. Samuel L. Jackson would've been proud of that script.

Thanks to Blair Witch, the studios figured out that they could put even more asses (i.e., under-seventeens) in seats by making horror films that, well, implied horror. So we got The Haunting, a modest hit that got everyone raiding the coffers for more films to CGI I mean remake. Somehow, out of all of that, we got Dark Castle and the fun R-rated William Castle remakes, but the studio diverted from its original purpose two Castles and one Castle-ite film later (Ghost Ship, with that opening scene I heart), while the PG-13s survive and thrive.

I have only ever truly loved ONE PG-13 film: Drag Me to Hell (2009). What about Poltergeist (1982)? PG. What about The Watcher In the Woods (1980)? PG. Drag Me to Hell is like that potato ice cream I had in Idaho in 1985: it's so good, but like, how?!!

Obviously, Sam Raimi is how. But he can't make every PG-13 horror film. Otherwise, I'd beg him to go back and remake all the other films that assaulted our senses in the Nineties. Starting with Urban Outfitters.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Cam's Labyrinth.

Me running out of shits to give in 1982.
In the Eighties, back when moms in good neighborhoods still marked their children's heights on the wall, kids measured their maturity in horror films. If they weren't chanting time-honored recess classics such as "I Know You Are But What Am I, Infinity" and discussing the latest glow-in-the-dark whatever, they were one-upping each other with stories of who saw what that weekend, and what was coming out in the next.

Now, you'd think I would've won at least one of those contests, but no; when you're a kid, the currency lies in what you saw, where. I spent most of my weekends at home, so I saw a crapload of things, but in my bedroom, on my VCR.

 Sure, I was lucky enough to see some horror films during their original run: Dawn of the Dead, Phantasm, Halloween immediately come to mind. But I was a tiny child back then, we were at the drive-in, and my parents were stoned until at least 1981, so while I get a score of 420 on the Tommy Chong scale for effort, that scale means nothing on 1984 playgrounds.

Hey you, last good film Romero made, how ya doin?
What horror films had I seen in the cinema by that point? Silent Scream and Children of the Corn. The former was the last horror film my parents ever took me to, probably because they were sobering up by that point and realized their taste in horror was better when they were high. And I saw the latter with my cousins, who were older and could drive.

By 1985, my parents had more little mouths to feed, and the days of horror at the drive-in gradually phased into Saturday afternoon matinee fantasy fare such as ET, The Neverending Story, Annie, and Ghostbusters. They would not allow me to watch A Nightmare On Elm Street, which was the big film everyone on the playground was still talking about a year after its release. What a total loser, huh?

But what my parents didn't know, however, was that I had already seen it. When you have little ones tugging at your Chic jeans, you sure as hell can't keep tabs on the older ones as much as you'd like. I cradled my ANOES and other rentals like a baby as I walked home from the mom n' pop, picking up the pace as fast as I could without dropping the stack. I couldn't wait to get home. And just as I still do today, I prepared my viewing space with the steadfastness of a man preparing a good wank after the wife's left the house. Snacks, check. Pillows scattered all over my bedroom floor, check. Locked door, check. And then, I slid the tape into the VCR and waited for the magic.

That creepy WARNING message at the start, that gorgeous Media Home Entertainment intro leading into the dark and foreboding New Line ident. These features on the VHS are as much an integral part of  watching ANOES as the film itself. I may be old, but no kid today is going to experience that kind of pleasure—the buildup—that only VHS can offer. Put in a DVD, and you might go straight to the good stuff, but chances are, you'll get a menu, and if you're like me, you go straight to the Special Features.

The Read Scare.
What made these films so palatible to me as a child? Well, for a start, they were a lot less scarier than my reality. My dad was heavy into the Worldwide Church of God cult by 1985, and we were subsequently no longer allowed to observe holidays—which meant no more Halloween, aka my Christmas. From my last blog entry, you'll also remember that I was forced to go to church two times a week. My parents did not go; my dad probably figured that his subscription to Plain Truth, a publication of the Worldwide Church of God, was enough.

Plus, Freddy Krueger was no match for the Night Stalker, who was killing people for real in Southern California that summer. Add to that me getting teased at school for everything we've suddenly decided is so cool now, and you can see that these films provided a wonderful escape for a kid who just wanted to get through the day with her soul intact.

So while the other kids around me felt "grown up" just by watching horror films, I was using horror films to shield me from a life that was getting far too grown up by the day. Just seeing that YouTube clip takes me back to the most wonderful part of my childhood. The good feelings are stirred. The healing is once again fulfilled.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Electric Dreams.

I started developing at twelve. My best girlfriend at the time was six months older and still light as a feather, flat as a board, but she had a long, lean figure, clear olive skin and a gorgeous face, and I burned with envy every day as she scorched up the halls of 6th grade. I was the exact opposite: short, not flat, cursed with acne and glasses, and growing out a bad home Jheri curl that I had begged for (and miraculously gotten) in 1983 (thanks, Thriller's Ola Ray). My milkshake was not bringing the boys to the yard, which was fine in 1987; Hellraiser came out that year and I had better things to do. I didn't envy my friend because she was strikingly beautiful (well, perhaps I did a little), but rather, because she could still walk around and be twelve, while my boobs were practically busting (yep) me out of childhood and into a womanhood that I didn't need or want. By the end of the school year, she turned into a total tit (yep) and ditched the friendship for a better version of me: a short, curvy, pretty Latina Oreo with that Cybill Shepherd Moonlighting bob all the betches wanted.

I spent a lot of time in my bedroom watching VHS. Had it been possible to spend 1987 to 1990 in that bedroom, I would've. My parents were in their Thirtysomething period, and my younger sisters and I were forced to go to church twice a week: Sunday morning for service, and Thursday nights for youth group. A van would pick us up, and presumably, my parents used these times to create more kids for me to look after. Sweet.

The van was driven by a kindly old man, and his wife and two young grandsons were usually in tow. Also in the van were three young Mexican sisters, who I became friendly with, and who attended services as part of the church's charity outreach.  I didn't mind church too much, mostly because I had a screaming crush (of course it was unrequited, duh) with a boy called Josh, who looked a lot like Doug from the '90s cartoon. He was very cute, a smartass with kind blue eyes and a strong sense of purpose. The leader of our youth fellowship was the pastor's daughter, a squat, bossy girl with glasses and a standard-issue Mary Lou Retton haircut. I got on her good side very early on, and we became good twice-a-week friends. My favorite book in the Bible was the Book of Revelation, for obvious reasons. It remains the scariest thing I've ever read to this day.

I spent every weekend in the summer of 1987 in the Inland Empire, which was going through a Metal phase (just before Freestyle hit). This was a wonderful time for me. My cousin, another mulatta who had just moved there from Orange County, was right in the thick of it, wearing black and all the candy you see on a kid just playing with the Dark Side: spikes, gloves, dis, dat. Her look was more Metal Madonna than Jersey For Serious, but she was also developing, and it was in that hormonal intersection where we bonded. But, she had something else. She had cable.

Now, for all you Millennials out there, not everyone had cable in 1987. I sure as hell didn't. My cousin and I would stay up late and wear out the remote, and one night, we stumbled upon the most glorious thing ever.

Scrambled Playboy.

For the rest of the summer, my cousin and I took turns looking out for her parents while we worked the cable box like a Rubik's cube, trying to uncover the wonderful mysteries. The Playboy Channel was just fun back then, and whenever the stars aligned, we could get a great picture for up to 45 minutes at a time. I was fascinated by these beautiful women frolicking in the balmy sunshine, bodies baked golden by Bain Du Soleil and big frosted hair brought to you by Sun-In. They were nude and had the best '80s boobs, and they were deliriously happy about everything, and I wanted that feeling so hard. I think my cousin did, too, because we were freebasing boobs in no time. Electric Blue. Emmanuelle. Silly '80s entries such as Hamburger: The Motion Picture, and the like.

By the time that summer ended and I was entering junior high, I was a little more comfortable with what was happening to me, but I couldn't reconcile my very-adult education with the twice-a-week Bible scene, and I began to question everything (notably, the delicious irony of forcing me to go to church, wrapped around a creamy hypocrisy center). 

When I started high school in 1989, I stopped going to church altogether.

The 1990s rocked me in many ways. I graduated college, explored sexuality in every aspect, spent my paychecks on Depeche Mode concerts and craploads of movies, and got into all sorts of mayhem with my group of girlfriends. And my relationship with my parents, which is good now, began to rear its inevitable ugly head.

The church I went to as a kid relocated from place to place, popping up like a parochial whack-a-mole until it ultimately shut down. My local newspaper told a wider, sadder story. That gentle van driver? He murdered his wife and grandsons a few years after I stopped going, shooting them in their heads as they slept before killing himself. Josh became a youth pastor and died the way he lived; caring for others. In 1995, a man he took in and was counseling ordered him into a bedroom and shot him there, execution style. I took the news of his death pretty hard. Evie joined a gang and got pregnant, her story of redemption making headlines in a popular magazine. And last I heard of the three Mexican sisters, one of them had been beaten to death by a live-in boyfriend. Another had been shot. I hope neither is true.

Now before I close this on a downer, I want to go back to that scrambled Playboy. I think it saved me. I know, right? But look, those boobies introduced me to the Other. Another consideration. Option C. I can still love God and have lust, whether it comes in Carnal or Celluloid. Many of you don't believe; I do and we're all cool with each other, because our common denominator thrives on addition. And I was never good at dividing. Breast wishes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Event Horizon.

I'm watching you read this. Btw, thanks.
The last horror film I went to that screamed "event" viewing was The Blair Witch Project (1999). For me, this film is less remarkable for its content and more memorable for the hype that preceded it months earlier. Although we were nearing the end of not only a decade but an entire century, the Internet was still an exciting mystery to most, a wild new frontier whose purpose in western society would be apparent in the future, though not so clearly defined in that moment. The Blair Witch Project seized upon this vulnerability and exploited it to such success that GeoCitizens everywhere were convinced that the film's three actors, portraying campers, were actually missing people in real life. The fourth wall effectively toppled over, its levies irreparable ever since.

While I was pretty confident that the three "missing" campers were probably safely serving coffee somewhere in Maryland, waiting for their big breaks to happen, I was admittedly swept up in the machine. I spent considerable time on the film's website, pouring over bios, reading up on their last whereabouts, poking through the evidence and replaying the infamous found footage. It didn't hurt that the names of the campers, and the actors who played them, were one in the same. Today, I mostly remember hurling into a toilet at what was then AMC The Block at Orange—deeply disappointed, sick to my stomach and swearing that I would never, ever again see The Blair Witch Project.

I did eventually see it again when it hit DVD, to see if the shaky camera scenes were any less debilitating at home (they weren't). And to show that I was dead serious about being finished with anything Blair Witch, I attended a sneak preview of Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, which Fangoria hosted in Pasadena immediately following their Weekend of Horrors. The only horrors at that showing, I presume, were the faces of the organizers when the audience (myself included) laughed.

But it was at that aforementioned Weekend of Horrors where I met the director of another event movie—and, inarguably, one of the greatest films of all time—The Exorcist. Like the total nerd that I am, I based all of my questions to William Friedkin around the DVD commentary for the 25th Anniversary Edition, and spooged all over the (then) soon-to-be-released "Version You've Never Seen" DVD, and he was gracious and lovely and even charming in his responses, quite the opposite of the man I had prepared myself to meet, a composite of stories I'd read or heard of his mythos on set and elsewhere.

I wasn't even a blip on the radar when The Exorcist came out, but one of my favorite anythings about this movie—or in cinema, really—is the spectacle that surrounded its release in 1973. I could watch the audience reactions for this film all day, any day, until the end of the Internets, and then I'd probably just pull out that anniversary edition and watch the BBC documentary Fear of God. Now, I'm about to make one of those "duh" statements; particularly, that the Internet was not around in 1973, but that's just the point. Back then, "www" was what the Volkswagen logo looked like on a Saturday night in the garage after a few Budweisers. If you wanted to know if a movie was worth seeing—if it was an event—you simply drove past your local walk-in to see the long queues, looked up the weekend Box Office takes in the newspaper, or turned on the TV to see if Brinkley or Cronkite were covering it. And when the cinemas unwrapped The Exorcist one day after Christmas in 1973, everybody was.

So, what's the next big event horror film? Your guess is as good as mine. I mean, the studios are either remaking the shit out of everything right now, or they're bastardizing films from other countries (you know that U.S. remake of Dead Snow is practically writing itself), or they're making sequels of films that they'll eventually remake in 20 years' time (how about a remake of Sinister? Anyone? Bueller?). We don't have anything as new and exciting as the Internet to get behind (sure, the commercial rise of the mobile phone brought us One Missed Call out of Japan, and later, the interactive App from the Netherlands). And even as Ringu was becoming event viewing for the Japanese in 1998, the DVD was beginning its descent on VHS, the format upon which the entire crux of Miike's film is based. Social media has now also made a dent with Unfollowed, but I didn't see anyone from the Neutrogena set forming a line outside my neighborhood cineplex to see it.

I can say, without a doubt, that the next big event film (in general) will be the latest Star Wars installment. Which makes me think that perhaps our future Big Horror Event lies somewhere in our past. There's been talk of another Halloween, and (thankfully) not the Rob Zombie incarnation. But I'd much rather see a return to the Friday franchise—with Kane Hodder. Or another Evil Dead film (yes, I know about the STARZ thing), with Bruce Campbell. Sure, neither series carries the critical and theological weight of The Exorcist, but both have possessed the public in their own ways, and maybe when it comes to resurrecting the Big Horror Event, it's better the devil you know.