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By Charles On 1 Nov, 2011 At 10:10 PM | Categorized As Featured, Movie News, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarWell, its over. October, my favorite month of the year, over and done. This year I had one of the most eventful Octobers in recent memory, despite lacking con attendance, or managing to eat something pumpkin flavored every day, as I usually attempt to. But it was still memorable nonetheless, because I did manage to accomplish something I had been wanting to try for years.

Lower Karazhan- People actually break IN to this place.

I watched horror movies. A lot of them. One every day, give or take. And most of them underground, low budget, cheap thrills. This is something I’m proud of, actually- normally my Octobers consist of nightly walks, a few movies here and there, and a whole lot of creepy dungeon crawling on World of Warcraft. This year, since I mercifully quit that addiction just as the month was starting, I had to fill my time with other things. So I set out to cram as much Halloween-related stuff into my nights as possible, breaking the idea of quality and replacing it entirely with nothing more than pure quantity.

Here’s how it broke down.

Best movie nobody heard of: “Bereavement.” A prequel to the indie-horror slasher flick “Malevolence,” this movie told the story of a boy abducted from his parent’s front yard and forced to help an insane serial killer with his work. The setting- rural America, a rundown meat packing plant, and local school- worked to make this tale more tense than some others. Added to it the somewhat offbeat nature of both the killer and the boy (who feels no pain, literally), and what came out was a twisted, violent, bloody mess of a movie that kept me fully engrossed for its duration. And I liked the ending, which is so rare these days.

Best “classic” movie: This past month, I made sure to watch at least a few “established” movie franchises. While I avoided the “Saw,” “Halloween,” “Nightmare/Friday the 13th” movies, as I’ve seen them enough, I did manage to partake of some Romero, Craven and Williamson blood candy. I was tempted to say “Scream” for this one. I loved that movie, and the recent third sequel (Scre4m). But the movie I enjoyed the most this past month? “Dawn of the Dead.”

I love a good zombie movie. I love watching hordes of the undead rampaging through the streets, terrorizing people. In fact, in the past few years, the movies I have remembered the most have all been zombie flicks- be it the Nazi marauding death machines in “Dead Snow,” or the shambling hordes standing between Woody T Harrelson and his search for a twinkie in “Zombieland.” “Dawn of the Dead” is equal parts comedy and survival-horror joint- trying to stay alive while trapped in a shopping mall, as the dead close in around a small cluster of survivors. Watching those survivors slowly go crazy and turn on each other. The last, mad dash for freedom. And the hope of better days, trounced in the end credits. It’s probably the most realistic zombie movie ever made (sorry, Tallahassee), and full of enough humanity to leave a lasting impact.

Whiskey not included

Movie that made me take a drink right after the credits rolled: “Last House in the Woods.” Not to be confused with the revenge/horror “Last House on the Left,” this was an Italian movie, that made me never want to watch another Italian horror film as long as I live. Part of the Ghost House Underground series of indie films, it revolved around a pair of lovers beset upon by thugs, a well-to-do family living alone at the edge of the forest, mutant freaks, cannibalism, and a decent-sized body count.

I should have known better. After all, I love the films of Dario Argento, and that man is one twisted soul. But what I got, after a somewhat confusing intro, degenerated into a mindless gore-fest, with predictably bloody effects, minimalist music and an ending so profoundly messed up, that I immediately needed a swig of something strong to block it out. If you can find this one on DVD, watch it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but shows exactly what passes for horror in Italy. God help us all.

Best foreign film: “Let The Right One In.” I watched, in all, maybe 6 foreign movies this month, two of them Japanese, two Italian, and two Scandinavian. The Japanese ones were predictably weird, with bizarre endings and strange cinematography. The Italian ones…well, read the previous entry. One of the Scandinavian ones was “Troll Hunter,” which I reviewed this past weekend, and the other one was a delicious vampire film that managed to do right what ever single vampire love story fails to.

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, “Let The Right One In” is, at heart, a love story between two 12 year old children- blond-haired Oskar, a perpetual victim of bullying, and dark haired Eli, a vampire trapped in the body of a preteen. When Eli moves in next door, Oskar is delighted to have a new friend, who helps him find himself. As for Eli, she begins to see a new world, and a new life, in the form of innocent Oskar. The film is a solid mix of blood and honey- you cheer when Oskar (finally) stands up for himself, and expresses his feelings to the vampire next door, and you cringe when Eli loses her caretaker and is forced to hunt for food, leaving behind a trail of bodies. But this film succeeds where “Twilight” fails miserably- it makes the characters both human and believable. And that makes the romance believable as well.

“WTF” did I just watch movie: “Hausu.” I said I watched some Japanese movies this month, and this one was the hands-down strangest. Having been a fan of J-horror for some time, I had heard about this movie, but never had the chance to actually see it. I heard it was bizarre, and very f-ed up, and figured it was a blend of the terrifying “Ringu” (The Ring) and decidedly art-house “Jigoku” (Hell). Well…

“Hausu” (House) is a typical haunted house movie, with a number of young girls traveling to the countryside to visit the Aunt of one of their friends, Oshare. Upon arriving, they each start dying, one by one, eaten by the malevolent entities in the “House,” until none remain. Sounds pretty much like standard fare, right? Not in the slightest. The girls all have names that stereotype their glaring character type (Kung-Fu fights, Sweet is adorable), and are themselves caricatures of stereotypical schoolgirls. The monster that lives in the “House” is equal parts lonely spirt, and her bakeneko. There are random musical numbers throughout the movie, lots of dancing, and at one point a girl is killed by pillows. If this sounds utterly ridiculous, it is. And worth every minute you spend watching it.

Movie that kept me awake all night: “Paranormal Activity.” I love these movies for three reasons: first, they take place in suburban tract housing, not predictably old gothic homes; second, they feature demons, not ghosts, and this offers a wealth more storytelling potential; third, each one is better than the previous. So when I watched the third installment the week before Halloween, I spent the rest of the night catching up on the previous 2. And let me tell you something- I stayed awake all night. I’m not ashamed to admit that, either. Paranormal Activity messes me up, keeps me jumping and won’t let me look away, because unlike any other film of its ilk (like, say, 13 Ghosts), it has a healthy dose of realism in it that makes the back corners of my mind believe in it. Blair Witch did the same to me in 1999, The Ring did it in 2003, and Paranormal Activity does it now.

The third installment was the best one yet, with slowly building tension, an ending that hits you before you expect it, and enough story to fit it into the continuity prepared by the first two films. It’s not a seamless fit, they did have to do a bit of retconning, but the end result features the most tension I’ve felt in a “cam flick” to date, and the ending sequence is damn near flawless, as far as I’m concerned.

Best “stupid” horror movie: “Dinoshark.” Roger Corman + Eric Balfour + Bad CG x Lovely Mexican scenery / no plot whatsoever = Uwe Bolle’s worst nightmare.

Most squandered potential: “Shadows of the  Dead.” I got this in one of those “12 Movies for $5” sets they often sell at Best Buy around this time of year, and while the premise was intriguing, the end result was just plan pathetic. The story is about a young couple who get lost in the woods on the way to a cabin for a romantic weekend. The man get bitten by a zombie and starts dying, so he of course infects his girlfriend and they are stuck alone, in the woods, dying together. Potential story-lines involving love and the struggle to retain one’s humanity are there, but are easily overshadowed by the hokey dialogue, dime-store makeup, and general lack of acting ability of the two leads. This could have been great: instead it made me shrug and move on. This movie edged out “Land of the Dead,” only because that movie had explosions and Dennis Hopper, two things that would have possibly made this one a bit more entertaining.

The Obligatory Stephen King reference: “Storm of the Century.” Billed as his first miniseries written exclusively for television, I remember loving this movie a little too much back in High School. Now that I’ve had a chance to see it again, it didn’t hold up all that well. I remember Andre Linoge being creepier, the storm being more devastating, the demonic references less obvious and the ending being a bit more screwed up. But still, it was a trip down memory lane, and didn’t make me laugh as much as re-watching “The Shining” did.

Number 10- Low budget laugh riot: “Red Riding Hood.” Not the Amanda Seyfried “Twilight-esque” retelling of the classic fairy tale, this one was on the same box set as “Shadows of the Dead,” and was infinitely better. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not- the acting is over the top and hilarious, the blood is plentiful, the story is just barely there enough to keep it going, you see the ending coming almost from the beginning, and then it surprises you with the single most ridiculous twist I’ve ever had the privilege of sitting through. This film was worth all 60 cents I paid for it.

 

Oh Damn, I forgot one: “Wake Wood.” Timothy Spall + “Wicker Man” + “Pet Sematery” x Irish Countryside / Why wasn’t Christopher Lee in this movie too? = I want to see more.

By Charles On 14 Aug, 2011 At 09:46 PM | Categorized As Comics/Manga, Featured, Reviews | With 2 Comments

No GravatarRemember how a few years ago shinigami were all the rage? Well, times change, and so does the mangaverse. Where one day there were death gods galore, recently I’ve noticed a huge upswing in another lovely creation of the Japanese folklore experience, albeit an older and more developed one. Yes fellows, the time of the Yokai has come, and we have nothing to do but fear it. But fear it in a good way.

Lately I’ve had a chance to catch up on some of the yokai related series floating around, and today I’d like to write a bit about one of the manga I’ve been enjoying. Though it was initially released in 2008, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan was only recently released in the United States through Viz media. And with four volumes of the manga currently available, plus the first season of the anime through their website, I thought I would share some of my views and impressions on this series. Nura follows the life of middle school student Rikuo Nura, a bespectacled, curious boy who just happens to be the grandson of Nurarihyon, the Supreme Commander of Pandemonium and leader of the “ruling syndicate” of the yokai. He lives in an old mansion, half decrepit, half fancy, and completely full of yokai loyal to his grandfather, and by extension, to him. As a boy, Rikuo is so accustomed to the presence of the yokai in his life that he cannot see them as anything but friendly and funny “family members.” This notion is challenged one day by a haughty fellow student, Kiyotsugu, who insists that yokai not only are evil, but that they don’t exist. (Technically Kiyotsugu is half right, yokai aren’t saints by any stretch of the imagination.)

When he steps up to defend the yokai he has lived with all his life, the ridicule leads him to suddenly stop trying to embrace his heritage as the descendant of Nurarihyon, and focus on being all human, all the time. But there’s a little catch to this assertion. See, whenever his friends are threatened, Rikuo transforms into a powerful yokai, a modern Nurarihyon, in order to combat the threat. While in this form, he is powerful, fast and barely resembles the human boy he is by day. Unfortunately, he also seems to forget that he can become this yokai when he reverts back to plain little Rikuo. This becomes a major issue later on in the early volumes, because the yokai Rikuo is determined to succeed his grandfather as “The Third” supreme commander, while the human Rikuo could care less. This conflict of interests eventually becomes a major plot point in the series (at least through volume 3), and leads the Nura syndicate to appear weak in the face of encroachment from other yokai clans.

As a manga, Nura feels a lot like Bleach at times. There are definite parallels between the stories of Rikuo Nura and Ichigo Kurosaki in the early volumes, as they come to grips with their newfound powers. There is also a heavy amount of fighting going on as the stories progress, imitating the now classic theme found within boys battle manga. While not identical, the art styles are definitely similar enough at times, with page wide spreads of attacks that are hard to discern on their own but still very flashy and visibly appealing. And Rikuo, while not exactly Ichigo all the time, does become a very arrogant warrior when his powers manifest. Were this the main selling point of “Rise of the Yokai Clan,” I probably would have put the manga down and stopped caring. But leave it to creator Hiroshi Shiibashi to make the series interesting by adding to it a healthy dose of Japanese folklore.

Anyone with even a passing interest or knowledge of yokai will find this series an interesting tweak on source mythology. Most, if not all, of the major yokai are presented here in quirky fashion. Karasu-tengu, historically a wise crowlike yokai capable of playing tricks while kicking serious ass, is shown here as a tiny black bird who keeps order among the various members of the household. Yuki-onna, the Ice Queen, who steals breath from the living in order to keep warm, is a bubbly girl about Rikuo’s age who follows him round waving flags, cooking dinner, and acting like a “big sister.” The Bakeneko clan, traditionally ghostly cats who run the gamut of helpful to hurtful, are gambling trickster spirits who run the “red light district” in Rikuo’s home town (known as Ukiyoe town, a tribute to the old style of Japanese woodcuts known as ukiyo-e, of which a great many yokai images were created). And the Kappa, a water goblin who prowls the shores and rivers of Japan to this day, lives in the pond out behind the Nura mansion. Indeed, Shiibashi takes a lot of liberties with his sources over the course of the manga, keeping the powers (and sometimes personality) of the yokai he chooses to incorporate into the story, while infusing them with personality quirks and traits that make them more comical than scary.

He also takes pride in creating his own yokai, like the -tabo “twins” Aotabo and Kurotabo, themselves powerful warriors (and former monks) who became yokai in life and now serve the syndicate faithfully. Indeed, this idea that humans can transform into yokai is a central part of the overarching plot of the series (and the main focus of Rikuo’s development as a character) and serves to add a sense of humanity to characters whose primary motivation in folklore is to scare people. Also impressively, Shiibashi spares little when designing the yokai forms, incorporating a lot of art styles that go right back to Toriyama Sekien, who illustrated one of the first manuals on yokai a few centuries back. (He even uses recreations of some of Sekien’s own illustrations at times when introducing major yokai “mover and shakers” into the story.)

For those interested in the idea of yokai (or who love to look at them), Nura is an entertaining introduction and imagining of yokai tales. Indeed, this is its main appeal, and offers enough material and monsters to keep the series running for a long time. The art suits the story, which itself is a little predictable in the end, but still enjoyable nonetheless.