Quick Horror Review: John Carpenter’s The Fog


I have something of a tradition with John Carpenter’s The Fog. Every year, I try to watch the film on the date and time where the story starts – April 20th, at around 11:55pm. It’s not the scariest of stories, but it does have a spooky atmosphere that lends itself well to Halloween – or any late quiet night. I love this movie.

The Fog marked the first film that John Carpenter worked on after Halloween, collaborating with the late Debra Hill, who also produced the movie. She’d go on to also produce both Escape From New York and Escape from L.A for Carpenter. While it didn’t really have the impact of Halloween, it held up until Escape from New York came out the following year.

Here’s the story:

In the town of Antonio Bay, an old captain (John Houseman) explains to some children about the ill-fated Elizabeth Dane (what a beautiful name, I might add), a ship that belonged a rich of crew of lepers led by someone named Blake. The heads of the town conspired to steal the gold by setting up the ship to crash against the docks. It works out for the Conspirators, as they are “aided by a unearthy fog” that blinds the Leper ship’s navigators. and the gold they collect helps to form the great town the kids play in to this day.

What they don’t realize is that vengeance is coming in the form of that very same fog, as the ghost of the Lepers have come to claim the lives of the six conspirators…or their direct descendants.

As a kid, I had a problem with that. You mean because my great great grandparents messed up somewhere ages ago, I have to get killed for it? I remember thinking that it really wasn’t fair, but I’m kind of diverging from the topic here. The story gives you four points of view. You have Nick (Tom Atkins, sans his signature mustache) and a hitchhiker he picks up played by then scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. You have Curtis mother, Janet Leigh, who’s character is working on the anniversary party for the town and her assistant, Sandy, played by Nancy Loomis (who appeared in the first three Halloween films). The third comes from Adrienne Barbeau’s character, Stevie Wayne, who works for the local radio station. Her character acts as the warning voice for the town and she starts to notice that something’s going on when her son gives her a piece of Driftwood that later echoes Blake’s warning. The final viewpoint comes from Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), who discovers Blake’s diary and learns the truth about what happened 100 years ago. His character helps to piece the mystery together, somewhat.

Carpenter and Hill gathered many of their friends, who went on to work on other films for this. Tommy Lee Wallace went on to direct Halloween III: Season of the Witch (and coincidentally did the voice of the Silver Shamrock ad-man in the commercial) and Vampires: Los Muertos. Wallace’s name was given to Carpenter fan favorite Buck Flower. Nick Castle’s name was given to Tom Atkins character. Makeup Wizard Rob Bottin (who also played Blake in the film) went on to do some of the effects in The Thing.

The makeup effects in this film were okay. The lighting and fog did more to obscure than to actually help one see what was doing the attacking, but it really worked for some of the shadowing in the film. If the movie has any drawbacks, it’s that there’s a really low body count to the film. In essence, there are only 6 people the ghosts are after, so these are only the ones they actually get. It would have been interesting if there were a few random deaths, or more individuals in danger, but I supposed it worked out well for the time period.

The Fog is a nice film to catch late at night. You won’t find it at the upper rankings of top horror films, but it’s one to try, at least. Don’t even bother with the Remake for this one. It’s not even work talking about.

A Quickie Horror Review: The Black Cat (dir. by Lucio Fulci)


For my first horror review of October, I want to tell you about a movie that was directed by one of my favorite Italian filmmakers, Lucio Fulci.  That movie is the unjustly neglected Gato nero, or the Black Cat

In The Black Cat (loosely — and I do mean loosely — based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story), the great David Warbeck plays a detective who is  sent to a small English village to investigate a series of mysterious deaths.  Corpses are turning up covered in scratches.  A man crashes his car after a black cat suddenly shows up in the passenger’s seat.  A young couple is found dead in a locked-up boathouse.  Evidence suggests that the killer entered through a small air vent.  No human could fit through that vent but…how about a cat?  Warbeck enlists the aid of a visiting American photographer (Mimsy Farmer) to investigate the crimes and he soon comes across a half-crazed medium (Patrick Magee) who just happens to own an adorable, if ill-tempered, black cat…

Fulci is well-known for directing such seminal (and gory) horror films as Zombi 2 and The Beyond trilogy.  The Black Cat was made during the same period of time as his more infamous films but it has never received as much attention.  Perhaps that’s because The Black Cat almost doesn’t feel like a Fulci film.  The gore is played down, the plot is coherent and (for a Fulci film) surprisingly linear, and the film even has a playful sense of humor to it.  Indeed, this often feels more like a minor, if entertaining, Hammer film than a Fulci film.  However, visually, this film is clearly the work of Lucio Fulci.  With his constantly prowling camera following isolated characters through dark streets and passageways, Fulci manages to make a small English village feel just as menacing as the dying Caribbean island from Zombi 2.  For all the attention given to Fulci as a “master of gore,” the true strength of his best films came from Fulci’s ability to create a palpable atmosphere of dread.  Fulci used gore as a tool but not as a crutch and if The Black Cat is a minor Fulci film, it’s still a film that proves that he was a far better director than even many of his fans give him credit for.

The Black Cat is surprisingly well-acted by a cast that’s made up of an appealing  combination of Fulci regulars and English B-movie veterans.  I read an old interview in which Warbeck complained that he felt his performance here was “boring,” but actually he was the perfect lead for this type of film, likable and with enough of a sense of humor to keep you watching.  Al Cliver may not be a household name but he and his blonde mustache seemed to show up in just about every movie Fulci made and he shows up here as well.  This time, he’s playing a local English constable and he’s no more believable here than he was playing a scientist in The Beyond or a boat captain in Zombi 2.  Still, any true Fulci fan will always be happy to see Cliver show up in a Fulci film because — much like familiar but bland wall paper — he lets us know that we’re home.  Patrick Magee is probably best known for his over-the-top performance as Mr. Alexander in A Clockwork Orange.  Magee goes just as much over-the-top here but, just as in A Clockwork Orange, Magee’s performance fits in perfectly with the film he’s appearing in.  Much as Stanley Kubrick contrasted Magee’s performance with Malcolm McDowell’s more subtle work, Fulci contrasts Magee’s theatrical approach with the more relaxed performances of Warbeck and Farmer.  Did I just compare Lucio Fulci to Stanley Kubrick?  Yes, I did and I stand by it.

However, the real star of this film is the black cat.  Trust me, this black cat (or black cats as I imagine several were used) is both adorable and blood-thirsty.  I still say that our cat Doc is the cutest black cat in the world but this film’s murderous feline comes in a very close second.

Doc, the greatest black cat ever!

The Walking Dead: “Torn Apart” 6-Part Webisodes


It’s just 13 days more days til the season 2 premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead series. The show has been a runaway hit for the network and for all involved. The past summer has seen some major turmoil within the creative team (mostly the firing of show-runner Frank Darabont halfway through the season 2 filming), but the show still remains one of the most awaited ones for 2011 with millions of fans waiting to see what’s in store for Rick Grimes and his small group of survivors.

Leading up to the show’s October 16 premiere the people at AMC and the show decided to create six webisodes showing the life of the first zombie Rick comes across in the first season. Yes, these 2.5 minute webisodes details the life of the “Bicycle Girl” before she joined the ranks of the undead. The webisodes were directed by the show’s lead make-up effects guru in Greg Nicotero.

One would think that AMC would release one webisode every other day until the seasoon 2 premiere but they’ve tortured fans of the show enough with all the drama this past summer and decided to release all 6 webisodes at the same time.

From what I saw these webisodes were well-done and added an extra but of tragic backstory to one of the iconic figures of the first season. Here’s to hoping this becomes a regular practice with each new season for the show.

Part 1: “A New Day”

Part 2: “Family Matters”

Part 3: “Domestic Violence”

Part 4: “Neighborly Advice”

Part 5: “Step-Mother”

Part 6: “Everything Dies”

Comment on what you’ve just watched. Do you think the family’s decisions made things worse or were things just too far gone for them to reach safety? What would you do differently if in their shoes?

Source: AMC TV: The Walking Dead

Review: Flogging Molly – Speed of Darkness


Dave King, the frontman to Flogging Molly, is going to turn 50 in two months, and the band’s debut studio album is barely a decade old. King has a long musical history pre-dating Swagger, playing in various bands that included former members of Motörhead and Krokus, and he was actively involved in writing and performing Irish folk music by at least 1993. So while Speed of Darkness might only be the band’s fifth studio album, spanning only six years, it’s something of a late career effort.

Float disappointed me. It had nothing of the immediate appeal of Swagger, Drunken Lullabies, or Within a Mile of Home. Though the music and lyrics might have been appealing after a few reflective listens, I never felt compelled to put in the effort. What I liked most about the band was missing and I frankly didn’t have the time in 2008 to dig deeper. The thought immediately came to me that their first three albums had been the product of a lifetime of creative creations that had simply not been fully developed into recorded songs, and that on Float, in contrast, for the first time Flogging Molly had to produce new material from scratch. Given King’s age, perhaps the four years between Within a Mile of Home and Float just weren’t sufficient to really develop something noteworthy.

But again, 2008 was an off year for me in general. Speed of Darkness I am at more liberty to assess.


Speed of Darkness

What I noticed immediately was a more explosive sound. The opening song kicks off with a sort of energy that I never picked up on passively listening to Float. It definitely grabbed my attention. But while a part of me was excited by this return, the actual content of the song had me worried. It seemed a bit too heavy for its own good. That the song is meant to be a little more dark than usual might be implied by its title, but really, what Irish folk song isn’t dark? In a style so permeated by a morbid sense of humor, the song’s serious tone just felt shallow. The folk takes second stage to the punk/hard rock, and the sort of anger King expresses is neither particularly poignant nor encased in music sufficiently care-free to drive its point home.

It lacked the means by which Irish folk conveys such a heightened feeling of sincerity. I didn’t feel like whatever King had to say got through. This sort of shallowness, not of thought necessarily, but at least of its conveyance, would be my watchword for the rest of the album.


Revolution

I didn’t have to look far. Revolution probably wasn’t the best choice of songs to follow up Speed of Darkness, because it only served to confirm my suspicions. The whole power to the proletariat theme permeating the album is presented so narrowly that it seems a century distant from reality, never mind that the issues they wish to confront are quite active. This song attempts to tap into sentiments that may have stood strong in the industrial age, but I question whether their target audience, in spite of being able to relate to the problems King addresses, really view their hardships in terms of a simple class struggle. Americans aren’t starving in the streets of Detroit, reading Marx, and forming up political discussion groups. Times are tough, but the issues manifest elsewhere, and “I lost my job, it’s time for a revolution,” is an absurdly shallow (if anything counterrevolutionary) solution to modern concerns.

I’m not picking sides or calling Flogging Molly out on anything, I’m just saying that the lyrical theme which appears on Revolution and continues to surface throughout the album isn’t nearly so inspiring as they would like it to be, and as, given another year of brainstorming before entering the studio, I think they could have made it.

Hand in hand, the music is a bore.


The Power’s Out

But my negative remarks take precedence only because their previous albums were so good and because they seem to be trying so hard. Speed of Darkness is not a dead weight; it’s a mish-mash. That initial impression on the opening song–that feeling that something of their old energy was back–was not a complete illusion. The Power’s Out is at least one song entirely on par with their old material. The sort of shallowness I sense in the album’s overarching message is entirely forgiven when given to lyrics and music that are effectively moving. What I hear in this song that Speed of Darkness and Revolution lack is earnest conviction. This is the sort of song where you can feel King’s passion. He’s speaking from the heart, not just regurgitating rhetoric, and the whole band seems to feed off of it. The lines are better composed, the music better written, the delivery more convincing… There’s a central spark igniting their real talent.


A Prayer for Me in Silence

And while I think it safe to call Speed of Darkness their most rock-oriented album to date, snubbing the folk side of their sound far more than I would have liked, there are a number of nice little acoustic numbers filling the gaps that serve well to warm an otherwise bleak collection of songs.

Speed of Darkness is one of those textbook average albums. It’s never “bad” but frequently bores, pays ample homage to the generic, struggles lyrically to live up to its own standards, but does occasionally break into something above the bar. As I said, Dave King is about to turn 50, and to call it a disappointment would overlook the fact that he has a long, successful career behind him. It can be hard to accept this, given that they’ve only released five albums, but in context it’s perhaps unfair to even compare this to the likes of Swagger. I mean no one says of a new Iron Maiden album “It’s got nothing on Number of the Beast,” or refuses to enjoy it on those grounds. There comes a certain point in an artist’s career where average becomes appreciable, and you have to respect him for at least trying to keep it real.

But this is a band, not a one-man project, and furthermore I have no insight into King’s state of mind. If he still feels like his musical peak has yet to come and he has something to prove, and the rest of the band is with him, then I challenge him to do better. If they’re just out there having fun and aren’t trying to surpass their finer hours, then Speed of Darkness is a respectable work. Just nothing special.