As regular readers will recall, this is the time of the year to look back over what has been, and pronounce judgment, good or bad, on the events and occurrences in the world of Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy. It has also been a year of change, as the Unimonster branched out from his former home at http://www.creaturescape.com/ into this, The Unimonster’s Crypt; as well as my home away from home in Count Gore De Vol’s Dungeon.
We’ve said goodbye to old friends and hello to new ones. We’ve followed growing trends and witnessed the end of franchises. Gotten another year older, another pound (or ten…) heavier, and added a few more gray hairs to the mix.
As with most years, there have been plenty of both the good and the bad to discuss, and we will go over the high- (and low…) lights in turn, dissecting each with all the finesse of Michael Myers carving the New Year’s Day Ham.
So I sit here now, a fine old single malt scotch in hand, ready to press rewind on 2007 and give you the best and worst of the year in Horror. Most of this is all in good fun, though I never hesitate to throw a dart or two (dozen…) when necessary. So get comfortable, relax, pour yourself a libation, and enjoy.
1.) Screw-Up of the Year:
a. The lack of a celebration for THE MUMMY’s 75th
b. CAPTIVITY’s marketing plan
c. Letting Uwe Boll direct FOUR movies in one year!!!
e. Best Buy’s handling of the Universal Collector set’s distribution
One of the easier topics to fill-out as I make these lists each year are the ones involving screwed-up movies, screwed-up people, or just screw-ups in general. One, there’s never any shortage of material, and two; I’m usually pissed off enough about the screw-up to have already written the piece in my mind. This year was no different.
Following last year’s superior 75th anniversary editions for DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, I had high hopes for a similar celebration for THE MUMMY’s 75th, which occurred in December. As usual, though, my favorite monster got stiffed by Universal (no puns intended), and no such celebration ensued. I can understand less enthusiasm on Universal’s part for this film as opposed to the previous two releases; what I can’t understand, or forget, is the studio’s total disrespect for this landmark film.
CAPTIVITY was a poor film, a badly executed rip-off of SAW. Still, given the rather high tolerance for retreaded crap that the Horror-loving public has, it should’ve been able to make back the paltry sum invested in this no-talent cast. Unfortunately, in a year marked by high profile abductions and disappearances, the marketing people at After Dark Films and Lion’s Gate decided to go with an ad campaign that was a virtual primer on the abduction of a woman. Even confirmed gore-fans found it distasteful, and CAPTIVITY bombed spectacularly, not even appearing on a list of the top 200(!) films of the year, by Box-Office take.
Last year, Best Buy stores came out with the first volume of the Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, a great box set of five of Universal’s best Sci-Fi programmers from the 1950’s. Those of us lucky enough to get our copies of this set straight from Best Buy were in the position of having bought IBM stock in the 1960’s… the price of these sets, originally priced around $20, soon climbed to more than five times that on eBay. This year, they released two sets, the Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2, and the Universal Horror Classic Archive. While the exclusive Best Buy arrangement doesn’t cause me any hardship, the spotty distribution and impossible to navigate Best Buy web-site does. Best Buy, if you’re the exclusive source for these discs, fine; I have no problem buying them from you. But you damn well better have them in stock in ALL your stores, and for God’s sake, spend a little money on a decent search engine for your web-site… you can’t search for movies the same way you do for big-screen TV’s.
There may well be directors out there with less talent and imagination than Uwe Boll, but industrial film and dog food commercial makers don’t count. Actually, that Mighty Dog commercial I saw last night was a helluva lot more entertaining than ALONE IN THE DARK. The fact that this man continually has new projects thrust at him, despite his record of critical and financial failures, is astounding to me, and makes me wonder if there is a government program whose sole purpose is to keep him working. If so, then they really got their money’s worth this year, with no fewer than four steaming piles of Boll served up to the Horror consumer. FOUR! Lovecraft on his best day never conceived a thought more frightening than that.
But the top Screw-Up of the year has to be Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s homage to the no-budget, store-front theater staples of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, GRINDHOUSE. A brilliant conception, the execution simply fell short of working. There are many reasons for this, most notably the fact that this directing duo’s typical fan base is far too young to have any memory of Grindhouse theaters, Drive-In’s, or their associated films. The production’s design played a part, as well. In their effort to replicate the look and feel of a Grindhouse film, they went a bit too far. Film splices and cuts were common enough in this type of film; entire missing reels weren’t. Instead of recapturing the feel of the old days as the filmmakers intended, this simply proved too disruptive to the movie, and killed it for most. Nor was the decision to set events in the present conducive to that spirit they were trying to capture; the picture might have worked better had it been set in the “grindhouse” era of the ‘70’s. Overall, I loved the idea behind GRINDHOUSE, just as I love Grindhouse and Drive-In style movies. I just wish the execution had been carried out better than it was.
2.) Brilliant Idea of the Year:
a. The Fake Trailers in GRINDHOUSE
b. 8 Films to Die For, Year 2
c. Who Wants to be the Next Elvira?
d. Universal’s re-release for Broadcast of the Classic Horror Package
I hate Reality TV… Truly, truly hate it. So my describing a reality show, Who Wants to be the Next Elvira, as a possible BIotY might not make much sense.
In truth, it’s not the show itself I’m praising, but the movement, nationwide, that’s bringing back the Horror-Host. From the dean of Horror-hosts, Zacherley, out on the convention circuit and winning the coveted Rondo, to Svengoolie in Chicago broadcasting the great Universal classics once more, to Elvira herself, hosts are hot once again, and I for one am overjoyed.
There are books out about the great hosts, from Zacherley’s biography, “Good Night, Whatever You Are” written by Richard Scrivani, to “Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows”, by Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw, and programs featuring hosts are springing up everywhere, from local broadcast channels to Internet podcasts.
This next Brilliant Idea is, more properly, one of the most Brilliant Ideas of 2006—The “Eight Movies to Die For…” film festival. The second installment of this film-fest, like the first, brought mixed results. Still, After Dark and Lion’s Gate, as well as the individual filmmakers, deserve kudos for doing something, anything, outside the Hollywood mold. Hopefully, we could see the start of a trend here.
One of the year’s best, at least when it comes to Brilliant Ideas, is undoubtedly the fake movie trailers that served to frame and separate the two parts of Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE. Produced by such Horror notables as Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and Edgar Wright, these brief preview clips for non-existent movies are easily the best part of the film. If anything in GRINDHOUSE took me back to the days when a much-younger Unimonster used to frequent a certain theater in a run-down part of town, it was these clips. From MACHETE, Robert Rodriguez’ (who also directed PLANET TERROR, the first GRINDHOUSE segment…) take on the Action genre, to Zombie’s Nazi Sexploitation romp WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS, to Edgar Wright’s Amicus-inspired DON’T, to Eli Roth’s blatant rip on HALLOWEEN, THANKSGIVING, these trailers make me want to see these films. If you want to know what grindhouse films were really like, skip the movie… just watch these little gems.
However, nothing that happened in the world of Horror this year was as brilliant as Universal’s decision to once again release it’s library of Classic Horror Films, titles such as FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF-MAN, and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, to local markets for broadcast. That’s the way that most of us first fell in love with these movies, and it warms the cold, dark, hollows of the Unimonster’s heart to think that a new generation of MonsterKids are even now falling for these films. When combined with the resurgence of popularity of Horror-Hosts mentioned previously, it was a virtual time-warp back to 1957.
One of the Hosts who benefited greatly from this release was Chicago’s favorite ‘son’, Svengoolie; and it was Neal Sabin, the general manager at his flagship station WCIU, who was the driving force behind these films returning to the Chicagoland area. Quite frankly, it’s doubtful that this happy event would have occurred had he not fought for it to happen, and those who love the Classic Monsters and wish to see their love live on in a new generation owe this man a debt of gratitude. While I have no influence with the powers that be, I want to see someone who does nominate these two men, who have made a unique and lasting contribution to the world of Classic Horror, for a 2007 Rondo award.
3.) The “Give Me Closure” Award for Best Ending of the Year:
a. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END—(Trilogy Finale)
b. The Death of Ray Ferry’s Bastardized “Famous Monsters” Clone
c. RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION—(Trilogy Finale)
d. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Final book in the Series)
This year saw a number of long-running arcs draw to a close, including one that far out-stayed its welcome.
No one who’s read my columns should have any doubt where my loyalties lie in the Forry-Ferry controversy… Forry Ackerman is a life-long icon of mine, while Ray Ferry is bottom-feeding pond scum. Ok, to be fair, that’s not true; he merely resembles bottom-feeding pond scum. The audacity of this man’s continual grasping for unearned glory and credit for a publication with which he was unconnected in its heyday is obscene and insulting in the extreme, and his announcement that his re-creation of FM would cease publication is terrific news… IF he’s telling the truth.
Movies based on video games almost never succeed… usually because Uwe Boll is connected in some way to the production. The one exception to that rule was Paul W.S. Anderson’s RESIDENT EVIL. Milla Jovovich is the one certified female Action star capable of carrying a movie as action-intensive as the RESIDENT EVIL series. In RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION, she performs as well in the now-familiar role of Eve as she did in the first two films. Yes, the story was incredibly weak, and the series overall is played out… but watching her kick zombie ass one more time is worth the bumpy ride.
Prior to PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, my opinion of Johnny Depp as an actor was, admittedly, none too high. While I loved Tim Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW, that owed less to Depp’s performance, as good as it was, than to Burton’s perfect vision of the Washington Irving tale. But Captain Jack Sparrow changed my opinion considerably, and for the better. I was hooked on the character from the moment of his arrival in Port Royal, and it has been quite a ride since then. This, the third installment in the franchise (I won’t bet against there being a fourth…) is easily the most ambitious one yet, and does an excellent job tying up the loose ends from the first two films. At more than two and a half hours it does tend to run long, but just sit back and enjoy the ride… it’s worth it!
But without a doubt the best ending of the year has to be the end of the epic Harry Potter saga. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was perhaps the most anticipated book release in modern history, and immediately upon release became the best-seller of the year. Bringing the story of “the Boy who Lived” and “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” to a successful conclusion looked to be a Herculean task, but author J. K. Rowling proved up to it, constructing an ending that I believe satisfied almost all Potter fans. From Snape’s elevation to the post of Headmaster, to the ultimate confrontation of the Battle of Hogwarts, to the tying up of loose ends in the epilogue set 19 years later, long-time Potter fans were engrossed in the end of a journey that had taken nearly ten years to complete. Personally… I can’t wait for the movie!!
4.) Best Cameo in a Non-“Stoned” Role:
a. Keith Richards as Captain Teague—PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
There really was just one choice here, and anyone who saw Richards’ performance as the Keeper of the Pirate Code, (and Captain Jack Sparrow’s father…) Captain Teague, would agree. The viewer is never quite sure if Richards is uncommonly good at mimicking Captain Jack’s trademark mannerisms and speech, or if Depp was just exceptionally good at capturing his personality. Either way, seeing the two of them play off one another is pure magic.
5.) Movie Monster of the Year:
a. The Vampires—30 DAYS OF NIGHT
b. Mary Shaw—DEAD SILENCE
c. The “Sickos”—GRINDHOUSE: PLANET TERROR
d. The “Not-Zombies”—28 WEEKS LATER
e. Lord Voldemort—HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
When 28 DAYS LATER came out a few years ago, Danny Boyle, the film’s director, was quite adamant that the creatures doing the killing in the film were not zombies… well, my thoughts on the matter were “if it acts like a zombie, and eats like a zombie, then it’s a zombie…” but it wasn’t my movie. The No-Zombie pretense continues for this year’s 28 WEEKS LATER, the follow-up to the phenomenally successful Brit import.
Set in London six months after the “plague” of the first film, it finds the US Army in place, helping to restore some level of normalcy to the British capital. A new outbreak begins, unleashing hordes of Not-Zombies on the American troops. Voracious, savage, and frenetic, they resembled Pit Bulls on espresso. Call them what you want, they were effective.
Though not really zombies either, the “Sickos” from Robert Rodriguez’ PLANET TERROR segment of GRINDHOUSE are certainly the best… or should I say ‘worst’, looking creatures of that type in some time. Covered in pulsating, suppurating pustules, slime dripping off them, gradually transforming into shapeless blobs, they were easily the nastiest critters of the year.
Steve Niles’ popular graphic novel, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, made the transition to the big screen this year, and though it failed to capture the sheer terror inherent in the basic story, it did feature a pretty impressive pack of the Undead. Not the best of their kind, to be sure… but a damn sight better than the foppish, Nancy-boy bloodsuckers Hollywood seems enamored of since INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE nearly killed the Vampire genre. No offense to Anne Rice, but vampires who dress like Liberace doing LA CAGE AUX FOLLES really aren’t very frightening.
Though his screen time was limited, Voldemort’s presence was felt throughout HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. From the Dementors attack upon Harry in Little Whinging, to the seizure of Hogwarts by the corrupted Ministry of Magic, to the battle in the Department of Mysteries, the shadow of He-who-shall-not-be-Named lay like a pall over every scene. Part of the reason for this character’s effectiveness no doubt lies in the rich history that has been built up in the previous films; we did not actually meet Voldemort until everyone was completely familiar with him, and in corporeal form he did not disappoint. Which leads us to the other part of the reason for his success: Ralph Fiennes.
One of the best actors working today, his ability to transform himself to fit virtually any role is simply incredible; there are few actors whose performances I truly look forward to, and he is definitely on that short list.
But for my vote, (since that’s the only one that counts here…) Judith Roberts’ appearance as Mary Shaw, the ghost of an evil, child-murdering ventriloquist in DEAD SILENCE, was the one to beat. As I mentioned in my review of the DVD, I find ventriloquist’s dummies just inherently frightening, as though they embody all the negative energy of the ventriloquist. And when you start with an inherently evil woman manipulating the dummy… well, you have the makings of a damn good, old-fashioned Horror Film, and the best monster of the year.
6.) Best Movie no one Saw:
a. DEAD SILENCE
b. BLACK SHEEP
Though it’s not often thought of as a hotbed of the Horror Film, it must be remembered that New Zealand has given us a number of important additions to the genre, most notably a man by the name of Peter Jackson. Known primarily as the Oscar-winning director of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, as well as the 2005 remake of KING KONG, few remember that he made his name as the director of such low-budget Kiwi films as DEAD ALIVE, HEAVENLY CREATURES, and THE FRIGHTENERS.
Well, there’s a new breed of Kiwi Horror this year, and it goes by the name BLACK SHEEP. A horror-comedy in the style of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, BLACK SHEEP is a satirical look at what happens when you genetically engineer sheep… and the resulting critters take on a definite fondness for human flesh. Considering sheep outnumber people in New Zealand, you can see where this might be a problem. As I’ve observed before, Horror and Comedy are just naturally synergistic, like chocolate and peanut butter, steak and potatoes, ham and cheese… hmmm, I’m hungry. Oh well…
But the best movie to be ignored this year was DEAD SILENCE, from the creative minds that brought you SAW. However, this is as far from the SAW franchise as you’re likely to get in a Horror Film. This is a pure, old-fashioned ghost story, an eerie, atmospheric tale in the style of the William Castle films of forty years ago. Not the best movie of the year, but probably the best you haven’t seen.
7.) Worst Movie Everyone Saw:
b. HANNIBAL RISING
c. THE HILLS HAVE EYES II
Once more, sequels and remakes are the bane of my existence, and there’s no shortage of them in the list of less than good movies that graced our screens the past year. While the movie-going public summarily dismisses most crappy movies, occasionally you’ll see a real stinker that for some unknown reason cleans up at the Box-Office. Here are four that fit that description.
One of the most egregiously offensive of these was HANNIBAL RISING, a thoroughly unnecessary exploration into the childhood and early adulthood of Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS fame. There are some characters that need no explanation. You don’t want to peer inside them; you just want to revel in their evilness.
Leatherface, Michael Myers, and Hannibal Lecter are three such characters, and all have received in-depth psychoanalysis on film in recent years. None of these efforts to ‘understand’ these movie madmen were warranted, nor were any as good as the original. However, at least the remakes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HALLOWEEN were enjoyable in their own way. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for HANNIBAL RISING.
VACANCY starts with a good, under-explored premise and, through a combination of poorly-drawn characters, standard plot clichés, and generally bad acting, manages to drive it right into the realm of mediocrity. The leads, (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) are shrill, bitter and argumentative toward each other, to the point where the viewer is unable to feel the least sympathy or concern for their characters. Not only do we feel no connection to them when they find themselves trapped in a violent, life-threatening situation; I was actually rooting against them!
Wes Craven’s original THE HILLS HAVE EYES has never been a favorite film of mine. Oh, that first one was good enough, but I’ve always felt that Craven wrung every usable drop of blood out of this particular turnip of an idea. I will admit I was pleasantly surprised by the remake; still, it really milked the concept dry. This pointless sequel only serves to prove that.
One of the true masterworks of film from the unmatched master of suspense and fear, Alfred Hitchcock, is 1954’s REAR WINDOW. Starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, it tells of a news photographer (Stewart), laid up due to a broken leg, who passes his days in a voyeuristic observation of his neighbors across the courtyard of their apartment. One night he witnesses a man murder his wife, but can get no one to believe him save Kelly. What’s more, the murderer now knows he was seen, and that the only witness is helpless and bed-ridden.
It’s one of Stewart’s best performances, and the chemistry between he and Kelly is undeniably intense... together, they totally captivate the audience. Grace Kelly was one of the most beautiful women ever captured on film, and she personified class and elegance the way Marilyn Monroe exuded pure, natural, animal sex.
Technically, Hitchcock was at his most inventive with… What? What’s that? Why am I discussing a 53-year-old classic instead of DISTURBIA, my choice for Worst Movie Everyone Saw this past year? Simple… DISTURBIA, which claimed to be a remake of REAR WINDOW, was absolute crap, a pale imitation vomited up by the Hollywood Regurgitation machine. Stewart’s photographer with a broken leg was replaced by some no-name, pimply-face kid on house arrest, Kelly’s alluring heiress by the no-name Maxim babe of the week, and a literate, suspenseful, coherent plot by a series of set-piece shock scenes strung together. Seriously, which would you rather read about?
8.) The “Blast from the Past, Horror Host with the Most”:
a. Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul
In this year of the rebirth of the hosted horror show, we find one who was there at the very beginning still inspiring fans, and two who began their careers in the ‘70’s & ‘80’s still going strong.
Perhaps the second host to gain true national prominence, (the first, undoubtedly, being Vampira…) Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul debuted in New York City in 1958, and, in one form or another, remained on the air until 1967. The resurgence in his popularity came when his was cast as the voice of Aylmer in Frank Henenlotter’s low-budget hit BRAIN DAMAGE. Since then, he’s been active on the Convention circuit, had his biography published, and cut a new album, “Internment for Two”, harkening back to his recording of “Dinner with Drac” in 1958. It was for “Internment for Two” that he won the coveted Rondo award for Best CD of 2006. The award was presented to Zacherley at the Wonderfest Convention this past May.
Likewise, Elvira’s been enjoying a sudden boom in popularity this year, with three double-feature DVD released under her brand, and a reality TV show dedicated to finding the “Next Elvira”, though as her legions of dedicated fans will attest, there’s only one “mistress of the night.”
But the best host working today, and certainly the one whose program reaches the largest audience, is Berwyn’s own (Ber-WYNN? Yes, Berwyn…) Svengoolie. A Chicagoland staple for the past 28 years, this was a special year for Svengoolie, as he broadcast the classic Universal Horrors for the first time in years. He was also featured in “Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows”, by Ted Okuda and Mark Yurkiw.
Those who haven’t been exposed to Svengoolie’s program simply have no idea just what they are missing. Part Horror film, part comedy routine—all fun! From Sven’s patented “Svensurround,” or the addition of sound effects to, ahem, help the movie along, to the viewer mail, to the flight of the rubber chickens to close out the show, Svengoolie is a trip back to the time when all stations had some sort of locally-produced programming. It might not have been good; in fact, it frequently wasn’t. But it was uniquely ours, in a way that network and nationally-syndicated programming wasn’t, and we loved it.
Another aspect of Sven’s show that deserves mentioning is that it is carried on an over-the-air, broadcast channel, meaning it’s available to all within range of its signal. You don’t have to have cable or satellite to see this great program; you simply have to tune in, and let Sven take you back to simpler days. This means that these great movies are there for those unable to afford anything other than good, old-fashioned, broadcast TV. All this entertainment… for free! You can’t beat that.
9.) Good-byes and Farewells:
a. Pete Kleinow—(Stop-Motion Animator, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD; ARMY OF DARKNESS): January 6
b. Yvonne DeCarlo—(Actress, “Lily Munster”): January 8
c. Freddie Francis—(Director, Numerous Hammer Horrors): March 17
d. Bob Clark—(Director, BLACK CHRISTMAS; CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS): April 4
e. Kurt Vonnegut—(Author, “Slaughterhouse 5”; “Fahrenheit 451”): April 11
f. Bobby “Boris” Pickett—(Singer, “The Monster Mash”): April 25
g. Gordon Scott—(Actor, Numerous Tarzan films): April 30
h. Curtis Harrington—(Director, Low-Budget Horror films): May 6
i. Kerwin Mathews—(Actor, THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD): July 5
j. Karl Hardman—(Actor/Producer, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD): September 22
k. Charles B. Griffith—(Director, Roger Corman-produced films): September 28
l. Lois Maxwell—(Actress, “Moneypenny” in the James Bond films): September 29
m. Richard Valley—(Editor/Publisher, “Scarlet Street” magazine): October 12
n. Jeanne Carmen—(Actress, THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS): December 20
There’s not much for me to say here… nothing clever, or sarcastic, or funny. Just open and honest.
For me, this list represents the loss of some of the important touchstones of my youth… people who, directly or indirectly, are responsible for fueling my love of Horror Films. And much, much more. From the enticingly eerie Lily Munster, Yvonne DeCarlo; to the talented director of two of my all-time favorite movies, Bob Clark; to the editor and publisher of “Scarlet Street” Magazine, Richard Valley… a man I did not know, yet his death was keenly felt by mutual friends, this has been a year filled with loss. Some led long, full, rich lives; most left us far too soon and too young. All will be missed. Requiescat in Pace.
10.) Genre Magazine of the Year:
a. “Rue Morgue”
b. “Amazing Figure Modeler”
d. “Scary Monsters”
Though the internet was supposed to sound the death-knell of the printed word, there are still plenty of Genre magazines on the shelves of our bookstores and newsstands, and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. Indeed, new mags seem to sprout like mushrooms, though most fail within a brief period of time.
Horror-Hound is one of the new crop of ‘mushrooms’, and you have to give the staff there all due credit for taking the chance on publishing a magazine. While I haven’t seen much of their product, what I have seen looks well-done and professional, and they deserve a nod just for giving it a try.
Scary Monsters magazine is an “either-or” proposition… either you like it’s retro style and feel, or you hate it. I’m in the former camp. It’s not a style that would work for most mags, but their coverage of the genre is devoted almost exclusively to Classic Horror, and for that, it has a certain nostalgic charm to it. It’s not a style I would choose to emulate if I were to put out a mag, but in a sea of Fango-clones, it does tend to stand out.
One of the fastest-growing segments of the Horror-hobby is Model-building, a subject that was covered extensively at CreatureScape. This past year saw the old Unimonster get in-depth, up-close-and-personal with that branch of the hobby as I attended Wonderfest 2007 with the gang from Horrorbles.com. While I’ve always been a model-builder, my figure-building experience was limited to my long-vanished Aurora Monsters from childhood. But while at Wonderfest, I picked up a few issues of Amazing Figure Modeler and was instantly hooked. I had no idea of the incredible variety of figures available; everything from B-Movie monsters to World War II troops to Nudie Cuties. And AFM covers them all… very thoroughly. No newcomer to modeling in general, I was particularly impressed by the detailed descriptions of techniques that the writers recommend for these types of kits; knowledge that is uniquely useful for me. One caveat, though. The magazine does have articles and photos about kits that feature nudity. It displays these kits without the usual black dots or bars covering the ‘good’ parts, so parental discretion is advised.
But my choice for Magazine of the Year is, as always, “Rue Morgue.” It’s not for everyone; there’s frequent nudity, graphic gore, and foul language. It’s an adult magazine that focuses on everything Horror, and I love it.
I know when RM arrives each month that I’m going to be both informed and entertained, that I’m going to learn something new about this genre that I love so much. Yes, the mag isn’t what you might want to read while sitting in your doctor’s waiting room, and I certainly wouldn’t let a ten-year old MonsterKid read it. And it does aggravate me at times that the editorial slant of the mag is decidedly left of… Left. Still, it’s the one mag I do subscribe to, because for Pure Horror Entertainment… It’s still the best.
11.) Import of the Year:
a. HOT FUZZ
b. BLACK SHEEP
c. The Pang Brothers
d. Zoë Bell
One of the best examples of Asian horror in the past several years is JIAN GUI, ~aka~ THE EYE, a 2002 film from twin brothers in Hong Kong, Oxide Pang Chung and Danny Pang. This year, they directed their first American production, THE MESSENGERS. While this film wasn’t quite as good as hoped, I’m expecting to see some tremendous Horror Films from this pair in the near future.
I’ve already discussed BLACK SHEEP, and just how much I enjoyed this New Zealand import. Though it did have a limited theatrical run here, it is widely available on DVD, and I would recommend you seek it out.
Another Kiwi import that’s worth checking out is Zoë Bell, the stuntwoman-turned-actress featured in Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF playing herself. Not the typical Hollywood beauty, she has a girl-next-door cuteness to her that makes her very attractive and relatable to the viewer. Besides, how can you not like a woman who gets this excited about a ’70 Dodge Challenger R/T with a 440 four-barrel V-8 and four on the floor? Hey, Horror movies aren’t my whole life!
While it’s not, strictly speaking, a genre film, the latest effort from the guys responsible for SHAUN OF THE DEAD simply has to be recognized for the great movie that it is. HOT FUZZ, by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, is an absolute blast in every possible way. Pegg’s performance as a gung-ho, by-the-book supercop is dead on, and even better than his work in SOTD. If you haven’t seen it yet… do so!
12.) DVD Release of the Year:
a. SPIDER BABY Director’s Cut
b. BLADE RUNNER Final Cut Ultimate Edition
c. EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA ~aka~ HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB
d. THE MONSTER SQUAD 20th Anniversary Edition
e. GRINDHOUSE—PLANET TERROR / GRINDHOUSE—DEATH PROOF Extended and Unrated 2-Disc Special Editions
Thankfully, there seems to be no slowdown in the trend of vintage Horror goodies finding their way to DVD, and this year sees four nominees for DVD of the Year that are old favorites, far from successful in their theatrical runs, but which took on new life in the age of home video.
The lone exceptions to that are the two DVD’s that were created when the Quentin Tarantino-produced GRINDHOUSE was split into its constituent parts. By extending both segments to feature length, Rodriguez and Tarantino managed to correct most of the flaws that plagued the theatrical release of the film, while keeping the intent intact.
The one problem with the discs is Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF. I can overlook the director’s foot fetish and penchant for long, expository scenes… but his failure to include the fake trailers discussed earlier in this column is simply unforgivable.
Jack Hill’s 1968 masterpiece SPIDER BABY or, THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD was very nearly a ‘lost’ film, languishing on a L.A. film lab’s shelf until it was dusted off and released on VHS in the early ‘80’s. It slowly built a cult following as a quirky, offbeat Horror Comedy, based primarily on the strong performances of the cast of mainly unknown actors. The one exception to this was Lon Chaney, Jr. as Bruno, the caretaker of the estate, and the surviving Merrye family members. Among the unknowns that turn in such admirable performances are a young Sid Haig, of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES fame, and Jill Banner, a stunningly beautiful young woman who plays Virginia, one of the Merrye sisters, who fancies herself a spider with a very deadly bite. But they are not exceptions; the cast as a whole shines in this movie.
Dark Sky worked with Hill to restore this film to pristine condition, gave it enough special features to please the hardest-to-please fan, and packaged it beautifully. It really is a must-have DVD.
Another must-have, at least for fans of Euro-Horror or Paul Naschy, is the superior release of EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA ~aka~ HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, from BCI. Completely remastered and restored, this uncut presentation just blows fans of the film away, many of whom have never seen it in complete form. I was one of these latter, and, while I had always enjoyed the movie in its edited form, this uncut version is superb.
One of the best-loved cult films of the last 30 years is Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic BLADE RUNNER. This nihilistic vision of humanity’s near future, where androids known as Replicants are hunted by the law, did not have an easy genesis, and adding to the lore of this film is the fact that, in addition to the theatrical version, at least two different director’s cuts exist. The BLADE RUNNER Final Cut Ultimate Edition, released in December, contains every version of the film, including what Scott himself considers to be the “definitive” cut. In addition to the movie, you’re presented with special features galore, photos, booklets… all contained in a case which resembles a briefcase prop from the film. This movie certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, but if it’s yours, then this is the set to have.
Though is was a financial failure at the Box-Office when it was released, Fred Dekker’s THE MONSTER SQUAD found new life when it hit the VHS circuit. People who had grown up loving the classic Universal Monsters found this film to be a postcard from their childhoods, a reminder of simpler times and simpler pleasures. Many now had children of their own, and found the film a great way to introduce the monsters they themselves loved as children to the next generation.
The one drawback to this is that, prior to this year, there’s never been an official DVD release of this movie. The viewer was stuck with either the aging VHS release, or one of the multitude of bootleg DVD-R’s on the market… all copied from the aging VHS release. However, 2007 was the 20th anniversary of the film’s release, and Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment chose to celebrate it with a spectacular DVD treatment.
First, the film has been completely restored to pristine condition, which really pops out in direct comparison with the old, scratchy, pan-and-scan VHS. Add in a wealth of special features, including a documentary on the making of this classic, and you easily have the Unimonster’s pick for DVD Release of the Year.
13.) DVD Boxed or Collector’s Set of the Year:
a. The Universal/Best Buy Collections
b. The Godzilla Collection Box Set
c. The Fly Classic Collection
d. The Mario Bava Collection, Vols. 1 & 2
While it’s never been a particular favorite of mine, it’s hard to deny the importance to the genre of Kurt Neumann’s 1958 classic THE FLY. Thanks in large part to a couple of unforgettable scenes, as well as an excellent performance from Vincent Price, the movie is ingrained into the consciousness of Horror fans everywhere. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment does a better-than-usual job with this set, which features not only the 1958 film, but the two sequels: RETURN OF THE FLY, and CURSE OF THE FLY.
Since its release of the excellent GOJIRA Double-Feature DVD in 2005, Classic Media has been keeping Kaijû-fans everywhere happy with regular releases of the original Toho prints of some of the greatest films of the Showa era. Now they’ve gathered all their previous DVD’s, along with two as yet unreleased films, into the Godzilla Collection Box Set. The two unreleased films, GOJIRA-MINIRA-GABARA: ORU KAIJÛ DAISHINGEKI ~aka~ GODZILLA’S REVENGE, and MEKAGOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU ~aka~ MECHAGODZILLA’S COUNTER-ATTACK; TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.
If this set has a drawback, it’s price. With a list price of $80, for what amounts to two DVD’s I don’t already own, there’s no denying it’s expensive… especially since those films are due to be released individually in February. Still, the set is spectacular, and if you haven’t already purchased these Discs separately, then by all means put it on your short list.
Mario Bava is perhaps the greatest director Italy ever produced; certainly he was the greatest Italian Horror director. From LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO ~aka~ BLACK SUNDAY, to LA CASA DELL’ESORCISMO ~aka~ LISA AND THE DEVIL, he charted the paths that Euro-Horror would take. His SEI DONNE PER L’ASSASINO ~aka~ BLOOD AND BLACK LACE was the basis for the Italian Giallo genre, and REAZIONE A CATENA ~aka~ A BAY OF BLOOD directly inspired FRIDAY THE 13TH, and remains my favorite Bava film.
Now, a dozen of his films have been gathered together in a two-volume collection that is a must-have for fans of this outstanding filmmaker. At around $40 each volume, they aren’t cheap… but they’re definitely worth it.
Without a doubt, though, the title of Best Set of the Year has to be shared by the twin releases from Universal and Best Buy… the Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2, and the Universal Horror Classic Archive. Universal Horrors are, after all, my first love, and the fact that someone, anyone, cares enough to keep putting these collections out is always going to score points with me. Add to that the fact that Universal has finally seen fit to release, in the Sci-Fi collection, my favorite Giant Bug move, THE DEADLY MANTIS, and this one is a no-brainer for me.
14.) Crapfest of the Year:
b. THE INVASION
In just a few short years, Rob Zombie has made himself one of the hottest directors working in Horror Films today. His debut feature, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, began the move back to the grittier, gorier, Grindhouse-type of film, finally breaking the back of the “Dawson’s Creek meets Freddy Krueger” style of Horror that dominated the genre in the latter half of the ‘90’s.
This year, he turned his attention to remaking one of the seminal films of the genre, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. It wasn’t the first Slasher film, and it borrowed heavily from the Italian Giallos, but it firmly lodged the concept of the Unstoppable Slasher in the subconscious of the Horror fan. My love for this film, and my utter complete opposition to remaking such iconic films, was mollified only slightly when it was announced that Zombie was helming the project.
While I loved HO1KC, and thought THE DEVIL’S REJECT was a well-done, if somewhat weaker project, I was quite unprepared to have anyone, even Zombie, monkeying around with one of my favorite films. Much as I suspected, he took it in directions that I would have preferred he avoided. Gone are the suspense, the terror, the absolute conviction that Michael Myers isn’t just another psychopath, but the embodiment of pure evil. What remains simply isn’t worth the effort. Thanks Rob, but I’ll stick with JC’s version.
If anything has become clear about Nicole Kidman, other than the fact that she has the personality of a kippered herring, it’s that she is Box-Office death. Critics may love her… but critics don’t pay for tickets, and even if they did, there aren’t that many of them. This year, she starred in an ill-conceived remake of the classic INVASION OF THE BODY-SNATCHERS, titled THE INVASION. This thoroughly unnecessary remake bombed spectacularly at the Box-Office, falling far short of breaking even.
I’ve already mentioned just how bad DISTURBIA was, and I see little reason to invest much time in revisiting it now. The fact that it wasn’t even the worst movie of the year is sad commentary on the state of Hollywood-based Horror Films.
VACANCY didn’t need to be on this list; the concept, the premise, of the film is very sound, and properly presented would make a good movie. The trouble is that it was completely mishandled from start to finish. At no point in the first 45 minutes of the film are you given any reason to care about the two leads. They’re bitter, spiteful, cruel, and completely unsympathetic. Suddenly, they’re in danger, and the viewer is supposed to care? Why?
But the Crapfest of the Year, much like the Movie of the Year [see below], was apparent at my first viewing of it. CAPTIVITY failed in every possible measure to entertain me, which is all I ask of any film. A stolen, hackneyed plot; weak-as-water direction; and a cast that couldn’t land a dinner theater production of HAIR, combine to form what is easily the worst movie of the year.
15.) Creature(s) of the Year:
a. Neal Sabin and Rich Koz (Svengoolie)—for their Contributions to the next generation of MonsterKids
Though it’s hard to believe, if you’re much under the age of thirty, you’re likely never to have known a time when you did not have either cable television or a VCR, and the ability to see just about any movie you might want at your own convenience. A time when you couldn’t just stop by the neighborhood Video store and pick up the hot new release, or that old favorite you’re in the mood to watch again… or just find it on one of the multitude of channels available to you at the touch of a remote.
Well, youngsters, such wasn’t always the case. When I was but a wee lad, we had four channels… yes, just four. We had the ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS affiliates, and that was it. And VCR’s, though they existed, were a plaything for the rich, not something that you would find in the average home. My dad did have remote control, though… my brother and I, as well as anyone passing within reach of the television set when he wanted it changed.
It was on one of those channels that I first saw the great Universal Classics… FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, SON OF DRACULA, and all their kith and kin. And WCIU in Chicago is carrying on this great tradition to this day, spreading the love of classic horror to a new generation of MonsterKids, the same way we fell in love with it. The two men responsible for this are Neal Sabin, the station’s General Manager, and Rich Koz, better known to generations of fans as Svengoolie. In any ordinary year these two men would be deserving of this accolade, just on the basis of this long-running show, very nearly the last of it’s kind. But this was far from an ordinary year.
This year, Sabin managed to land the Universal Classic Horror package for the station to broadcast. This was not a easy task, and Sabin must be congratulated, not only for managing to pull it off, but for having the foresight to see the importance of these films, and that they need to be seen by those who might not have the money to buy the Legacy collections, or might not have cable, in order to catch them on TCM or AMC. Nor should we ignore Koz’s contributions to this effort. Without Svengoolie and his highly popular program, there would have been no incentive to bring these films to the Chicago market.
It behooves those of us who love these films to do all we can to preserve them, as well as spreading the enjoyment and appreciation for them to the next generation. These two men have made a career of doing just that, and are deserving of all the honor it is in my meager power to do them. They are also deserving of my sincere thanks.
16.) Movie of the Year:
a. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
b. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
d. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (3-D Re-release)
e. I AM LEGEND
Fans of Richard Matheson have been waiting for a faithful adaptation of his novella “I am Legend” for nearly fifty years now, ever since Vincent Price’s memorable performance as Robert Neville in the 1964 Italian production THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. Though it was closer to the novel than 1971’s THE OMEGA MAN, fans still yearned for the original story to be filmed. For at least ten years, different actors, directors, and studios have been attached to a new version of the novel, none of which came to fruition. It finally took the star power of Will Smith, perhaps the most bankable actor working today, to get it made. I’ve yet to see it, so I’ll withhold judgment on its authenticity. Judging from its blockbuster performance at the Box-Office, however, it’s easy to see that this movie is a serious contender for MotY.
Ok, so it was first released in 1993, and the 3-D version’s been out more than a year. But Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS had a wide Re-release this past October, and in the brief two months it has been out has made nearly $15 million—proof that this twisted take on holiday traditions is as good now as it was 14 years ago.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END was the capstone to the Disney trilogy based on the Disneyland ride. Trilogies are difficult to do properly; you’re always expected to top the previous film, while not venturing too far from the world you previously constructed. POTC: AWE pulled this off to perfection and, had it been released in a year apart from the following two movies, would have easily won MotY.
In the span of six years and five films, the boy wizard Harry Potter has evolved from a wide-eyed awestruck orphan into an angst-ridden young man with a mortal enemy and the weight of the wizarding world on his shoulders… adulthood apparently comes early to wizards and witches. Though I’ve never read the books, I love the Harry Potter movies, and the latest is the best so far. Gone are any traces of the series origins as a children’s tale… this is real world stuff they’re dealing with. Well, real wizarding world, that is. Death, love, betrayal, loyalty… as the saga progresses, it begins to resemble a Greek tragedy in scope and complexity, and all I can say is… give me more!!!
Speaking of Greek tragedies, or at least Greek history, brings me to my choice as Movie of the Year. Not really Horror, not really Sci-Fi, Zack Snyder’s 300 is hard to define, but easy to enjoy. Based on Frank Miller’s stupendous graphic novel of the same name, which in turn drew inspiration from the 1962 movie THE 300 SPARTANS, the film relates the historical account of the Battle of Thermopylae, albeit with large doses of artistic and dramatic license.
Thermopylae, fought in August, 473 BC, pitted the 300,000 man army of the Persian Emperor Xerxes against a force of 6-10,000 Greeks, led by 300 Spartan warriors under their King Leonidas. The Spartans held the vital pass at Thermopylae for three days against the vastly larger Persian force, until the Phoecian troops guarding their flank were scattered, allowing the Persians to encircle the 300. That is the history. The movie is something else entirely.
First, they started with Miller’s unique visual design and palette, bathing every frame in bold, vivid reds, blacks, bronzes, and golds. Then the dry, though inspiring, historical accounts were transformed into the personal story of Leonidas, and his drive to do his duty as his honor demanded. The acting, especially Gerard Butler’s, was excellent, and the visual effects tied everything together in one gorgeous package. I knew the first time I saw 300 that it was going to take one hell of a movie to beat it out for MotY… some came close, but not close enough.
So there it is… 2007 in review. On the whole, not a bad year, from a genre point of view. I’ve seen some tremendously good movies, as well as some staggeringly bad ones, and I’m sure that I’ll be able to say the same next year at this time. We have the third Brendan Fraser MUMMY film to look forward to, as well as the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, SPIDER BABY, and THE WOLF-MAN remakes… although “look forward to…” might be the wrong choice of words for those films. We’ll have the next installment in Harry Potter’s battle against Voldemort to discuss, along with, hopefully, more Universal/Best Buy collaborations.
And, God willing, I will be here writing on all of it for you, the Horror fans. Happy 2008, everyone!