Archive for October, 2009

Halloween and Slime

Posted in Miscellaneous on October 31, 2009 by Scott Emerson

Happy Halloween, everyone. Hope you have your Silver Shamrock masks on!

I have to say, Halloween tends to be less fun each year. And I don’t think it’s as simple as the change in perspective that comes with age; the holiday just doesn’t seem to be what it once was. Many people like to bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, but it’s always been that way, and to no real detriment. So what gives?

Even children don’t seem to enjoy the day anymore. The other night I was passing out candy to trick-or-treaters–you’d think these kids were expecting razor blades and arsenic, such was their enthusiasm. A knock on the door and there they are, slump-shouldered, treat bag hanging open, and an expression that says Look, we both know why I’m here, so can I have some candy? I have midget porn on my computer to get back to. Seriously, you’d find more pep on the streets of Calcutta. Are kids really that cynical these days that the prospect of barrels of free candy cannot excite them? Only one child–the last one, in fact–even bothered with the words “trick or treat.” Oh well, at least everyone was polite and said “Thank you.”

Maybe it’s not the kids’ fault. Adults seem to be sucking all the fun out of Halloween, whether it’s relegating trick-or-treating to the sterile safety of the local mall (because there’s nothing more exhilirating than a handful of warm chocolate from the Hot Dog Hut) or discourage costumes that are even remotely scary (to say nothing on the moratorium declared on costume “weapons.”). No wonder these kids aren’t enjoying themselves.

Me, my Halloween was pretty good. I got to spend the afternoon with author/filmmaker Greg Lamberson (PERSONAL DEMONS and JOHNNY GRUESOME, and who also orchestrated my grisly demise in his film SLIME CITY MASSACRE) at his book signing in Erie. Despite the heavy traffic flowing through the store, there wasn’t much of a turnout–bad for Greg, good for me, as I got to pick his brain on both publishing and indie filmmaking. One memorable soul was the guy who got an inscribed copy of PERSONAL DEMONS and (we’re pretty sure) wandered to the back of the store to ditch it–thanks for the support, dude. Between this guy and the Obama/McCain debate last year, Greg can count on at least one crackpot in Erie.

You probably missed it, but last night my work was featured on Prof. Hyde’s Traveling Snake Oil Halloween Show, an Internet radio program hosted by my good friend Tim Denman. Featured was my never-before-seen story “Caveat Emptor” and some holiday-appropriate haiku, as well as plenty of other goodies. You can check out the archives at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/Tim-Denman/2009/10/31/Prof-Hydes-Traveling-Snake-Oil-Halloween-Show.

How Inappropriate!

Posted in Miscellaneous on October 13, 2009 by Scott Emerson

Funny how-to video from YouTube, showing how to flag inappropriate content. Among the many things that don’t belong on the site are nudity, hate-speech, (so much for my upcoming NAKED NAZIS MAKING BOMBS special) and clips from Greg Lamberson’s SLIME CITY.

So if you’re going to cram your guts back into your stomach-vagina, do it somewhere else.

Interview: Famous People in Meadville

Posted in 365 Days of the Dead, Miscellaneous, Movies on October 13, 2009 by Scott Emerson

My friend, local celebrity hunter Jessica Miller, did a brief interview with me for her new blog Famous People in Meadville. We of course discussed zombies. Why not stop by and give it a look.

http://famouspeopleinmeadville.blogspot.com/2009/10/scott-emerson.html

Walk, Don’t Run

Posted in Music on October 12, 2009 by Scott Emerson

One of my favorite songs, though I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why it resonates with me the way it does. Like many surf standards of the ’60s it’s been covered a number of times. Here are some I like best.

Of course, we have the version made famous by The Ventures.

The Ventures came up with another version four years later, “Walk Don’t Run ’64.”

The Shadows were a 1970’s cover band specializing in “retro” tunes. Their version:

How about Chet Atkins, performing it the way it was originally written?

Not exotic enough for you? How about a Spanish flavor?

Okay, what you really want is Japanese puppets on the ukulele, right?

365 Days of the Dead Revisited: American Zombie

Posted in 365 Days of the Dead, Movies on October 5, 2009 by Scott Emerson

(This review was initially posted as Day 269 of 365 Days of the Dead.)

Many critics have been eager to call the 2007 mockumentary AMERICAN ZOMBIE “the movie DIARY OF THE DEAD should’ve been,” but I’ll have to disagree. Not because DIARY is a better film–personally, I think ZOMBIE tops not only Romero’s recent film, but similar mock-docs like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and CLOVERFIELD–but because it’s a case of apples and oranges; their formats may be the same, but these are two entirely different films.

Maybe it’s all in the layers. DIARY operated best on the surface as a slick, thrill-oriented example of genre entertainment, but with AMERICAN ZOMBIE director Grace Lee finds the human side of the undead. The result is a deeper, multi-faceted film that deals its hand slowly, never quite revealing its true nature until it’s got you in its grip.

The movie stars Lee and cinematographer John Solomon, playing fictitious versions of themselves, as they compile footage for a documentary on the living dead in America. In this alternate reality zombies are a significant yet reviled and misunderstood segment of the population, and the documentary’s goal is to not only put a face on the dead, but to change the public’s perspective and make them more acceptable.

The filmmakers follow four different zombies: Ivan, a likable slacker doofus who works at a convenience store; Judy, a perpetually perky customer service rep for an organic foods company; Joel, the militant organizer of a zombie-rights group; and Lisa, a New Age artist. We get to hear how they became zombies, what their day-to-day existences are like, what they hope the future holds, even their tentative romances with the living (Ivan’s even got a zombie-groupie girlfriend).

Even at this primary level AMERICAN ZOMBIE works extremely well. The actors skillfully blend fiction and reality, the filmmakers are far less annoying than those BLAIR WITCH fucks, and unlike DIARY or CLOVERFIELD (which never transcended their faux-reality trappings), it feels like a genuine documentary. Lee manages to fit in a subtle commentary on the film-making process (like when Lee and Solomon debate using narrative techniques for a documentary or how far reality can be manipulated) and the nature of collaboration as well. But the movie takes us a step further, slowly working in certain details–such as the recurring motif of voids, and the presence of vials of blue liquid in the zombies’ refrigerators–that foreshadow ZOMBIE’s shift into darker territory.

The dry, black humor that runs throughout the film gradually takes a backseat as Lee and Solomon try to gain access to Live Dead, a zombie-only festival that takes place every year (and generates all sorts of ghastly rumors about what really goes on). A considerable portion of the film takes place there as the filmmakers are (reluctantly) allowed in, and it’s here that Lee’s strength as a storyteller kicks in. A steadily mounting sense of unease permeates the proceedings as Lee and Solomon interview increasingly wary participants; previous details are brought to the fore, and as the film crew begins to learn just what goes on the suspense is expertly ratcheted. (Lee stumbles a bit as she tries a little too hard to recreate a BLAIR WITCH-style atmosphere, but this minor misstep does not impact the build-up of this segment.) The Live Dead climax, in which the festival’s secrets are finally revealed, is a beautifully understated moment of horror, a scene which epitomizes the concept that what you don’t see is far more terrifying than what you do. An excellent, chilling tableaux.

The down side is that it tends to make the film’s resolution a little anticlimactic as each characters’ storyline is wrapped up. But Lee finishes well, if not perfectly. We see the doc’s subjects going on with their lives, all of them affected by Live Dead, especially Judy, whose upbeat demeanor has been changed by what she’s seen, both at the festival and in her life. Her transformation is the most disturbing note of the movie’s finale, unfortunately overshadowed by the more dramatic, “tragic” depiction of Solomon’s last-minute zombie bite; yet thanks to the multiple layers Lee has placed AMERICAN ZOMBIE ends on a quietly shattering note.

Simply put, AMERICAN ZOMBIE is the best living dead film of the decade. Miss it at your peril.

365 Days of the Dead Revisited: The Flesh

Posted in 365 Days of the Dead, Movies on October 4, 2009 by Scott Emerson

(Note: This review was initially posted as Day 223 of 365 Days of the Dead. Again, the complete archives can be found at http://www.365daysofthedead.blogspot.com.)

One of the more interesting aspects of 365 Days of the Dead was interacting with filmmakers whose work I’d reviewed. Some, like Mike Lombardo of Reel Splatter Productions, went on to become good friends; others called me a meanie poopie-head for saying anything negative about their baby (“My mom said the ending was good!”). Several weeks after I posted the following review I received an email from John Demars, the short’s director; not only did he respond to my scathing critique without resorting to childish name-calling or excuse-flinging, he thanked me for including his work alongside that of Romero and Fulci. It was a refreshingly professional and mature reaction, one you rarely see in the ego-entitled realm of student and amateur filmmaking. Hell, had I known he’d be such a good sport I wouldn’t have been so hard on him (so much for journalistic integrity, I suppose).

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Yet another student short zombie film, this time for a 2007 production class at NC State. According to director Johnny Demarsico, the assignment was to create a two-to-three-minute “narrative film.” Well, I don’t think Demarsico quite grasped the concept of narrative, since the term implies the presence of a story–something that THE FLESH definitely does not possess. (And don’t even try to argue that length was a factor, lest I beat you upon the head and shoulders with a copy of Michael Arnzen’s excellent flash fiction collection 100 JOLTS.) I’m just hoping Demarsico’s professor graded him on technical and not creative accomplishment, otherwise somebody’s financial aid is getting rescinded.

Demarsico shot THE FLESH in 16mm, so at least the film doesn’t look like shit, but unfortunately that’s really all it has going for it. Well, that and foxy brunette Angela Guinane as a terrorized jogger, but when a character is so oblivious she doesn’t notice a zombie RIGHT BEHIND HER not once but three times in as many minutes, it makes you yearn for a real scream queen like Debbie Rochon (who would’ve torn some shit up, even in a piddling affair like this).

Yet even in a film as complex and profound as a toothpaste commercial, Demarsico manages to screw up the minimal gore (such as a shallow or non-existent arm wound–depending on the angle–that spews blood like a severed artery) and soundtrack; though filmed without natural sound, sparing us from the presumably miserable dialogue, THE FLESH lifts for its score Goblin’s DAWN OF THE DEAD theme (which has not only been co-opted ad nauseum by amateur productions, but in this context it’s like using Michaelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” for a paint-by-numbers class) and the Cranberries’ “Zombie” (a good song, but laughable in its inappropriateness).

365 Days of the Dead Revisited: The Stink of Flesh

Posted in 365 Days of the Dead, Movies on October 3, 2009 by Scott Emerson

(Note: This post initially appeared as Day 23 of 365 Days of the Dead. The complete 365 Days archives can be found at http://www.365daysofthedead.blogspot.com.)

Zombie films get the Penthouse Forum treatment in this 2005 release from writer/director Scott Phillips. Taking the apocalypse-survival scenario and turning it on its, um, ear, FLESH seems on the surface just another slice of sleaze and gore. But the more exploitive elements are simply a mask to a surprisingly serious look at the complexities of human relationships.

Kurly Tlapoyawa is Matool (given the subject matter, a dirty pun as much as a Fulci reference), a bespectacled badass who prefers a hands-on approach to killing zombies. He’s taken to a ranch house in the New Mexico wasteland by Nathan (Ross Kelly), as a playmate for his wife Dexy (full-figured beauty Diva). You see, Nathan and Dexy practice an “alternative lifestyle,” something that’s been rather difficult to do with the world being overrun with the living dead. It seems like the perfect situation for everyone; days are spent killing zombies, while at night Nathan watches as Matool services Dexy (accompanied by Dexy’s sister Sassy, who’s got a Belial-like “twin” attached to her side). Everybody’s happy, until a trio of soldiers show up, one of them infected by a zombie bite, looking for shelter. And though it’s Christmas for Dexy with a couple of extra studs on hand, Nathan starts to experience the first pangs of jealousy.

THE STINK OF FLESH rises head and shoulders above the usual ultra-low-budget fare, thanks mostly to the skill of director Phillips (it doesn’t hurt that he’s had extensive film experience, his resume starting with RED DAWN). He presents Nathan and Dexy as real people, treating their relationship as an honest expression of human sexuality; he does an admirable job with all of his characters, in fact, allowing their interpersonal relationships to develop and drive the story (the only exception is Sassy, who really isn’t defined beyond her deformity, and is poorly-acted to boot). And though Phillips refrains from making a cheap T&A gore picture, he does throw in a few gruesome elements (such as the naked zombie girl Nathan keeps chained in the barn) and raunchy humor (most of which is actually funny). My only real gripe is the ending which leaves a couple of issues unresolved, but doesn’t really detract from the unsettling conclusion the story’s been building up to.

In a market deluged with shitbombs like DEAD CLOWNS and DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS!, THE STINK OF FLESH stands out as a shining example that a movie doesn’t have to be unrelentingly stupid just because it has no money. I’m looking forward to seeing Phillips’s follow-up, GIMME SKELTER.