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Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Recommended Chillers

The skeletal hand of autumn is starting to hold sway. The nights are getting longer and the winds bring a chill air. Now is the dark season. A time for staying indoors, staying safe from the things that only emerge from under the light of the pale moon. So I present to you a list of some of the most chill-inducing films and short stories to help set the mood. Perfect for Halloween, and the long winter ahead.

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Alone with the Horrors: The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell.

Ramsey Campbell is not to be trusted. He does not write fun, zany, entertaining horror stories. No, he writes horror stories with the intent of fucking you up. A creeping dread pulls you along through one of his narratives. Till you get to the end, where something happens, you are not quite sure what it was, but you are sure that you wish you had not seen it. And now that you had, you will not be sleeping. There are many collections of his work I could have chosen, Demons by Daylight and Cold Print are personal favorites. But Alone with the Horrors collects most of his best chilling work. Some of my favorites include The Companion, The Brood, and The End of a Summers Day. Keep the lights on.

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The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett.

Jon Padgett writes like he has seen your nightmares. Like he has been inside your head. He writes like he is talking to you. Showing you sights you thought you wanted to see, until you see how Jon has perverted them and corrupted them. Leaving your dreams a twisted nightmare. Stories like The Mindfulness of Horror Practise, The Indoor Swamp, and 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism have this hypnotic power, this dark delirium that Jon Padgett immerses you in, never to let you go.

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Pulse ( Kairo ) directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

People ask me all the time what the most frightening film I have ever seen is. I, without even needing to think about it reply, Pulse. They laugh and tell me about how they have seen Ringu and are can handle Japanese horror. I say, here, borrow this, then tell me what you think. To a person, every single one has come back, silent and visibly shaken, and admitted that Pulse creeped them out. This film has this sinister power, I challenge anyone to watch it and say it did not scare them. Something about unseen things in the shadowy corners, things you did not realize were there the whole time, then you see them, and they watch you, and come towards you, real, real, slow. The camera does not cut, the camera does not pan, the ghostly things just keeps looking right at you and they keep coming closer and closer. The first time I watched Pulse I had to turn it off halfway through. The sense of dread was overpowering. To this day I hesitate to revisit this film.

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Night of the Living Dead directed by George Romero

Maybe the most downbeat film I have ever seen. A vision of the end of the world that is just devastating. The zombies that Romero shows us are ourselves, what we all will become. Rotted and corrupt. He shoves our deceased bodies in our faces. They rise and they attack and they will not be defeated, the only result is death. There is no escape in this film. Everyone falls apart and everyone turns on each other. There is nowhere to run to. No one to save you. Night of the Living Dead shows us the worst of ourselves. And there is nothing we can do about it. A real-life nightmare of cinema. Everyone has seen it and talked about it. But it has not lost one bit of its power to shock and scare its audience.

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Let’s Scare Jessica to Death directed by John D. Hancock

Maybe my favorite of the whole genre of psychological ghost films. An atmospheric chiller that never lets go of its secrets. In a strange way, it is the offspring of the film Carnival of Souls and the novella Carmilla. A perfect film to be caught late at night on television when you are in a half asleep state. Its dreamlike rhythms are absolutely intoxicating and will get under your skin. Beware the still waters and the dark woods, for you do not know what is out there, whispering your name….

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Blackcoat's Daughter

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter has to be one of the finest horror films of this decade. A true original, a masterwork seemingly lost in a tide of pointless prequels and unwanted remakes. If I had to describe the filmic landscape of The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I would say a combination of the cold Canadian backdrop of the films of David Cronenberg, the diabolical nightside philosophies of The Witch, and the slow creeping dread and sense of impending doom of the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hideo Nakata. The Blackcoat's Daughter is the first film from director Oz Perkins, who also directed the ghostly slow burn, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. Based on these two films, I think the chilly, icy, quiet branch of the horror genre may be seeing a resurgence in the capable hands of Oz Perkins.

During the dead of winter, two stranded students are enveloped into the sinister manipulations of evil forces that lurk behind the everyday. A tale that is both darkly hypnotic and seductively vague, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is not a safe film to watch during the midnight hour. It is a study in unease and will have you looking at shadowy corners, both hoping and dreading that something is there. Highly recommended.   

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Black Cats and Black Graves: The Films of Lucio Fulci.


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In any discussion of the great horror directors, the name of Lucio Fulci must be high on the list. His dark landscapes of fog-enshrouded cemeteries, plagues of rotting zombies, malevolent spider attacks, and obsessive ocular violence, are a must visit in the dismal night covered country of horror cinema. Fulci’s zombie trilogy, The Gates Hell, The Beyond, and The House by the Cemetery, were a formative viewing experience in my life. Seeing The Gates of Hell at around the age of 12 or 13 both scared me so much I ran out of the room around the halfway point of the movie, and fascinated me with its operatic violence against the body and it’s just overwhelming doom-laden gothic atmosphere. The Gates of Hell was the gateway drug that turned me into a horror film fanatic. His later zombie film The Beyond further pushed the envelope of surreal filmic transgression. The Beyond stands with toe to toe with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as the pillars of the zombie film. Fulci then hit us with The House by the Cemetery, which on first watch I have to admit I was kind of baffled and confused by. More a haunted house film than a zombie invasion film like The Gates of Hell and The Beyond. But on subsequent viewings, I have come to love the subtle deliriums and just bizarre plot twists of The House by the Cemetery. In all three films, there is this kind of unseen chaos, inflecting the film and the viewer. The characters move through the films like they are lost in some foggy haze, and the films end with a shocking bewilderment rather than any kind of finality. The human body is not the only thing on attack in these films, it’s as if the zombies are carriers of a primal chaos, attacking both reason and narrative. At the end any of these films, you are left in a place of dark confusion, slowly you realize that in fact, you the viewer, were the one that was under attack.

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Fulci first burst onto the horror scene with what may be his most famous and influential film, Zombie. Fulci takes Romero’s undead apocalypse scenario from his Living Dead series and brings it back to the zombie’s genres roots by taking place on a secluded tropical island, paying subtle homage to films like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie. Zombie is maybe the most ‘pure’ zombie film alongside Bianchi’s Burial Ground. You show up for outrageous gore and shambling corpses, and the film outright drowns you in bodily corruption and death. Zombie is an unimpeachable classic of the genre and not to be missed. Also, I must recommend a more obscure Fulci film that deserves a second look by horror fans. And that film would be The Black Cat. A clever homage to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat is a remarkably fast-paced, suspenseful murder mystery, which is a definite departure from the surreal zombie films he is more known for. To anyone who thinks Fulci is a hack who could not direct a mainstream horror film with a more recognizable plot and realistic characters, I urge them to watch The Black Cat. The film follows the general plot of Poe’s story, a man, who may or may not be a murderer, is under attack by a malefic black cat. The black cat may be some kind of demon or may just be the paranoid delusion of a tormented mind. And something that I found absolutely charming about this film is, the black cat that is featured in this, under a backdrop of sinister music and growling sound effects, is a delightfully beautiful cat who seems more interested in preening for the camera and looking gorgeous then actually trying to look like an evil cat. And the cat has a ton of screen time, every second outshining all else in the film.  While the film is a dead serious horror film, the cat is so damned cute that it steals the show. It’s so cute that you would be tempted to take it home, let it into your family, where it will haunt your every move, and trap you in its sinister manipulations. I think that may be the paramount thing to understanding why Fulci’s films work so well, he was a director who knew what the audience wanted, he knew who the real stars of his films were, whether black cats or undead zombies. He made horror films for horror fans, he would deliver exactly what you wanted, and leave you trapped in its nightmare.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Unearthly Beauty of the Cinematic Other

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After watching Alien: Covenant with a friend, we got into the usual conversation people have following film viewing, what was good and what was bad about it. He hated it, thought it was full of bad acting and nonsensical plot driven decisions. Which it is. But then I argued that the film had merit. It did contain some rather startling and brilliant imagery. My positive review was pretty much based solely on the scene down in the underground chambers, where David summons one of his alien offspring to come forth. It stands straight up, a disturbingly blank white face dripping with crimson blood. And David looks at it like a father or a mother would, with pride and maybe even a bit of tenderness, and whispers about how you must blow on its nose, to earn its trust. It is just such a strange and bizarrely intimate scene. That is a scene that will live forever in my mind. The rest of the film may not be that great, but what do you do with a bad film that contains a moment of absolute beauty and perfection, that many great films try for but just miss? Similarly, I also love Alien: Resurrection for the scene where Ripley is carried, coming in and out of consciousness, in the arms of a Xenomorph, like a sleeping lover, into that pit of flesh, tentacles, and other biomechanical protuberances. There she is swallowed ever so slowly into the maw, her face enraptured as in a dream, as if her cosmic destiny had finally revealed itself. The rest of the film is barely watchable. But that scene stands with the first 40 minutes of the original Alien as filmic masterpieces of cosmic mystery and perverseness.

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This kind of beautiful imagery trapped within a low-rent film is not limited to the Alien series. It seems to be almost a tradition in the science fiction film. Who can forget the hairy long-tongued monster from The Brainiac carrying out his foretold doom? The invasion of evil crawling brains from Fiend without a Face? The hypnotic alien with a vaginal face bringing the end of the world from Goke: Bodysnatcher from Hell? All those films have these scenes that seem lifted from some odd fever dream. I would say that the Alien franchise certainly contains less campy fun and offbeat imagination then films like It Came From Outer Space or The Mysterians. But even in big-budget science fiction, the bizarre and dreamlike image can still be found.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: Burial Ground

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Severin Films recently released a Blu-Ray of one of my favorite horror films. The all mighty Burial Ground! A film basically about upper-class sex perverts trapped in a mansion while under siege from weapon wielding undead hordes. Gut eating, incestuous perversion, and strange atmospherics are on the menu in this Italian classic from 1981, directed by Andrea Bianchi. To me, Burial Ground is the most “pure” Zombie film. It does not waste time with subplots or attempted social commentary. Its focus is on the body, decay, desire, and an all pervasive strangeness.

Zombie films, at their best, shine a perverse light on social norms. The walking dead, devouring the living, is both an inversion ( the dead eating the living ), and an examination, of how we as humans live on a day to day basis but tend to sublimate for our own comfort. We eat what once was living tissue to survive, we eye each other's fleshy bodies with lustful and malicious desire. We don’t want to be confronted with the facts of our own mortality, so the Zombie, literally busting down the door to kill us, taps into these really primal fears we have about our brief and tenuous lives. The whole idea of a walking corpse is just surreal and disturbing. The realization that the Zombie is this looking glass version of us, rotting and dead, but still driven with this all consuming hunger, is where the Zombie film gets its power to disturb. Burial Ground, in its pulpy straightforwardness, is, in fact, one of the more interesting and transgressive films to come out of the 1980’s.

For my money, Burial Ground may have the best looking Zombies ever put to celluloid. Special effects master Gino de Rossi delivers these skeletal, maggot ridden, shambling, walking corpses that are the stuff of nightmares. The musical score is fantastic, a combination of 80’s synth and odd jazzy numbers, and is one of the weirdest scores for a film I have ever heard. It perfectly sets the mood with this unsettling morose and doom laden synthy dirge. And you can’t talk about Burial Ground without mentioning one of the all time weirdest performances. Peter Bark as the young Michael, with his much-quoted line, “ This cloth smells of death “, and his constant groping of his mother is just amazing perverse. Peter Bark has developed quite the cult following and has earned a place in horror film infamy. Severin Films did an amazing job with their Blu-Ray, I never realized how colorful and beautifully shot Burial Ground really is, having seen it mainly on bad washed out and drab VHS copies. I think Burial Ground tends to be overlooked by the Fulci and Argento films of that era, and think it’s long overdue for Burial Ground to get another look. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

New release! Phantasm/Chimera!

Phantasmal: adjective
pertaining to or of the nature of a phantasm; unreal; illusory; spectral:
phantasmal creatures of nightmare.

Chimerical: adjective
she-goat or monster; a hybrid
an unusual creature; fanciful, imaginary:
it came toward us, shifting forms, one thing then another, chimerical in aspect.

What is it? The first publication from Plutonian Press! Released August 1st. The title? Phantasm/Chimera. It is an anthology featuring some of, what I feel to be, best writers of the weird and fantastic working today. Phantasm/Chimera is a collection of all horror, some weird, some creepy, some erotic, some surreal. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to publish a horror anthology. I had a lot of fun creating this, and I hope all The Plutonian readers enjoy this book! Here is the table of contents:

Lost in Strange Shadow: An Appreciation of Nightmare Horror - Scott Dwyer
The Wind, The Dust - Adam Golaski
Provisions for a Journey - Matthew M. Bartlett
The Bruised Veil - Christopher Slatsky
The Last of Liquid Sleep - Thana Niveau
The Hole - Brian Evenson
The Hotel Pelagornis, 1899 - Livia Llewellyn
Binding - Mike Allen
The Great, Grey Bulk - Jon Padgett
Chrysalis - John Claude Smith
Fiending Apophenia - Clint Smith
The Last American Lion Pelt - Jason A. Wyckoff      

All of the authors contributed amazing stories, from strange alien imposters to ghostly invasions, from demonic perversions to drug fueled hallucinations. I want to extend a huge thank you to everyone who submitted a story, thank you so much for giving a first-time publisher a chance. I want to give a special thanks to two people who really jumped in and gave me incredible help and advice. Amanda Rejman for all her support. And Adam Golaski for going above and beyond in making sure the end product was something special.

Anyway, again I hope everyone digs the book. If you feel like it, reviews on Goodreads and Amazon is always a good thing. Please let me know what you think! If people like Phantasm/Chimera… there may be a vol 2…..
Here is the link to buy a copy, available now. It also will be available later on Amazon around the middle of August.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: Twin Peaks: The Return

I have been a lifelong fan of David Lynch. It would not be far fetched to say my first viewing of Eraserhead at the age of 17 completely and irrevocably changed my perceptions on what film can accomplish and how deep into the swampy waters of the subconscious it was possible to dive into. So after hearing that Lynch was breaking his nearly decade long silence and releasing a new television series Twin Peaks: The Return, I was pretty damn excited.

Lynch’s work, like any filmmaker, has different periods of subject matter and overall execution. To me, his first 3 films are his masterpieces and will stand the test of time as American classics. Eraserhead with its shadowy nightmare of biology and desire, a movie that defines what a Midnight Movie should be. The Elephant Man is this smog cloaked industrial gothic melodrama, and maybe his most optimistic film, it has a genuine hope for love and redemption for the tragic Joseph Merrick, a truly heartbreaking film. And lastly Blue Velvet, which shines a bright spotlight on the perversity and strangeness of American society.

Then after those early triumphs, Lynch seems to get a bit lost on what he is trying to accomplish and maybe reads a bit to many of his own reviews. Mid-era Lynch almost seems like Lynch trying to create works that he thinks the public expects of him. I include in this period Twin Peaks, Fire Walk with Me, and Wild at Heart. They just don’t feel genuine to me. They are overly humorous, randomly surreal, and seemingly no real intent behind them besides to offer a product to his fans. I am not saying these works do not have their charms or that they are not entertaining, I am saying however that they are beneath what Lynch is capable of.

And now we are in the third phase of Lynch’s filmography. After stepping back from films for a while Lynch unleashed Lost Highway, a flawed masterpiece. The first 30 minutes are some of the most dread filled minutes in cinema history. And the Mystery Man is a genuine nightmare encased in human flesh. The second half of Lost Highway has many great scenes, but falls to the randomness that has plagued a lot of his films. Then he hit us with two absolute masterpieces, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. These are both films more about holes in logic and dreams and reality sliding and overlapping into each other until you can not where one ends and one begins. Both of these films are set in LA and Hollywood, and take the slippery nature of films to reality and exposes how nebulous the divide between them really is. Lynch really attacks the viewer's preconceived notions of perception versus imagination and leaves the film viewer in a state of unease and confusion as they leave the movie theater.

And now we come to his newest work Twin Peaks: The Return. At the time of this writing, eight episodes have been released. I am happy to say this is some of the best work Lynch has done in years. In this stagnant artistic climate and troubling political landscape we find ourselves in, Lynch’s direct transgression and surrealism are both brave and much needed. Thankfully Lynch does not care about what the fan expectations of what a new Twin Peaks should be. From the first episode Lynch attacks the viewer and lets it be known, these are uncharted waters. From evil Cooper to the disturbing creatures appearing in the dark, this show is meant to be subversive and disturbing. In no way is this some fun nostalgia filled retread of the original series. And the last episode so far released, the now legendary episode 8, is certainly one of the greatest hours of television ever created. Episode 8 can stand on its own as a short film. It recalls the greats of cinema like Bergman and Cocteau with its sublime beauty of images and penetrating insight into the insanity of the universe we find ourselves trapped in. I can not wait to see what else Lynch has in store for us.