Tuesday, October 31, 2017


David Butterfield's Spectator UK article "How Brass Eye skewered our hysterical media age" is an excellent look back at one of the most iconic projects by the single most original satirist of the 20th century (and beyond): Chris Morris.  It begins:
It took less than three hours – but in six late-night, high-octane blows the self-assurance of the British media was irredeemably shaken. The attack was long coming and much deserved. Since the attack’s medium, like its target, was televisual, the show was predictably passed from pillar to post and held back for more than a year. But two decades ago, in 1997, Brass Eye finally aired on Channel 4. Its impact and legacy remain unparalleled in the annals of British comedy. 
For those too young or too cloistered to have seen the show, its character resists description. Think of a bewildering cocktail of Newsnight and the Book of Revelations, liberally spiked with MDMA. Its presenter, Chris Morris (playing himself, among a host of other tortuously-named characters), steered the show like an end-of-days prophet, a captain standing unruffled at the helm of HMS Universe as it sinks into the mire. Despite the parodic, pyrotechnic graphics, the hysterical headlines and the absurdity of its stories, the format had the cocksure swagger of a slick, high-budget news revue. Unsuspecting viewers could be forgiven if they were roped into believing its twaddle-ridden dystopia. 
Turbo-charged with sharp suits and messianic zeal, this apocalyptic take on Britain under last-gasp-Major had the disturbing ring of truth. 
It neither was, nor is, easy viewing. At every turn, Brass Eye grasped the nettles few would or could: AIDS, animal rights, pornography, drug abuse, race. Yet its approach was not moral grand-standing or strawman napalming. Instead, it played out these infinitely complex issues – partly through actors, partly through earnest but unassuming talking heads – to reveal the infirm and often hypocritical positions of the commentariat. 
While Brass Eye made fools of the politicians and celebrities who fell for its hoaxes, its one continual target was itself: the no-nonsense, black-and-white, world-resolving tribunal of current affairs. 
The episodes’ subjects suggested an innocuous survey of contemporary society, providing the springboard for urgent, if bizarre, campaigns. A decade before the term ‘virtue-signalling’ was coined by Joseph Bulbulia, Brass Eye showed the great and good of British society climbing over one another to exhibit their support of a cause – any cause – from the woes of Karla the Elephant (whose depression had caused her head to become lodged in her rectum) to the wrongs of Heavy Electricity (which can fall from the sky like an ‘invisible lead soup’, reducing its victims to eight inches in height). At all turns, Morris deployed the shrill language of the supercilious reporter, albeit fed through a mangle and tumble dryer: ‘themoralmometer’, ‘braintanglia’ and ‘roboplegic wrongcock’ give a sense of his inimitable neologisms. 
Morris threw himself wholly into the fray. In the ‘Drugs’ episode, he wandered the streets of Notting Hill asking an increasingly bemused dealer for ‘Yellow bentines’, ‘Triple-sod’ and ‘Clarky Cat’. Despite the obvious nonsense of the context, many keenly flaunted their anti-drug credentials. David Amess MP was so shocked by reports of the synthetic Czechoslovakian drug ‘Cake’ that he questioned the Home Office minister about this dangerous ‘made-up drug’. (Hansard of 24 July 1996 enshrines the moment.) Other eager campaigners – Noel Edmonds, Sir Bernard Ingham, Bernard Manning and Rolf Harris – seemed unperturbed by the fact they were holding (literally) cake-sized pills throughout their soliloquies. 
The response of the press – an indirect casualty of the assault – was universally negative: rather than reconsider their histrionic over-simplification, they found fresh fuel for that fire. Halfway through the series the Daily Mail asked of Morris, ‘Is this the most hated man in Britain?’ At the Baftas, Brass Eye was, paradoxically, a booed nominee. 
Despite the show’s seismic shock, it seemed that after the series aired Brass Eye had disappeared from the world entirely. And it had – except for one of the most challenging half-hours in televisual history, and then the most complained about. In 2001, Channel 4 boldly aired a Brass Eye special dubbed Paedogeddon, a Crimewatch-esque rally against anything that could contain a scintilla of paedophilic fear. The programme emerged against the backdrop of the News of the World’s name-and-shame campaign, when panic ran wild – and even paediatricians came under attack. Amid the frenzy, DJ Neil ‘Doctor’ Fox was only too happy to assert, on national television, that ‘paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me… Now that is scientific fact – there’s no real evidence for it – but it is scientific fact.’ Gary Lineker helped unravel surreal text-message slang attributed to paedophiles, Richard Blackwood warned of noxious and predatory keyboards, Phil Collins sang the praises of Nonce Sense, and Lord Coe held up before-and-after photographs of an offender, unaware that he held stills of Hall and Oates. The episode was complex and obscure in its satire: it caused outrage among press and politicians, and still leaves many scratching their heads. But as a distillation of the excited hysteria of the media pursuing stories of this nature, it’s right on the money.
There's lots of great stuff left in the article, as the above excerpts less than a third of it, so do keep reading to learn more about what history will surely regard as a canonical offering.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Time for another Guest Post from our old pal ACD! This time, Ace dives deep into the Netflix pool in order to seek out the precious pearls of horror movie goodness with which to liven up your Halloween night, be it a hang-out with friends, a full-blown party, or all by your lonesome! Enjoy! - YOPJ
Our old pal Jerky asked me for my take on what’s available on Netflix Streaming for Halloween week. I shall not pay much attention to the worst. The horror genre is so particularly well-acclimated to absolutely terrible film-making that to pick the lousy ones is like shooting fish in a barrel. Netflix has beefed up their streaming library of horror from about 15 films to 75 over the past week and a half, and a quick scroll through the dreck will readily support this proposition.

Throw a rubber dart at your TV screen if you want a really bad horror movie on Netflix. As for really good ones, there are no timeless horror classics available. There is no Exorcist or Omen or House On Haunted Hill or Silence Of The Lambs or The Shining or Wait Until Dark, nor even cheesy genre standards such as The Hills Have Eyes or Last House On The Left or either Evil Dead (I prefer the second, wittier one) or Nosferatu or Village Of The Damned. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night Of The Living Dead were there a few weeks ago, and maybe still are.

I’d rather do a Top 10 list in the order of 10 through 1, but let’s get the three good ones out of the way at the outset, which most of you have seen, probably more than once, and for the rest of you, you must see immediately, for they represent a glaring lacuna in your cinematic lexicon. Then we can plumb the fun-but-not-necessary ones.

1. JAWS ~ It isn't classic horror, but it’s one of the reasons Spielberg has more films in the AFI Top 100 than Kubrick or Hitchcock or Ford or Wilder. My ex won’t let her daughter watch it, and I understand why – it spoilt me for deep-water swimming also. Its special effects, ground-breaking at the time, have aged worse than 2001 or The Day The Earth Stood Still. The shark is almost an object of derision now, and most people under 40 who watch the film just sort of chortle at how improbable the shark looks to the modern eye.

But let’s remember whom the young Spielberg had to direct: Robert Shaw, just a few years after Academy Award nominated performances in A Man For All Seasons and The Sting, and shortly before his untimely death; Roy Scheider in his prime, between The French Connection and All That Jazz; and Richard Dreyfuss in his equivalent prime, between American Graffiti and Close Encounters.

Also let us not forget that this was a very good film indeed. It won three Oscars, it was nominated for Best Picture, and it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Would I let my kid watch it? Probably not. But maybe so. It’s not my call to make. And I’m in Denver right now, where there are no sharks in the water.

2. Young Frankenstein ~ Seriously? If you haven’t seen this of course you must watch it. I first saw it before marijuana entered my behavioral repertoire, and it was just as funny then. Whereas try watching Superbad or Harold & Kumar without getting high (warning, not nearly as funny). It is also fantastic for younger children. It’s not particularly scary, nor is it meant to be. The two sexual innuendos – Roll Roll Roll In The Hay, and the final scene, inquiring which anatomical part the monster had traded for the brain – go straight over the heads of any kid younger than 12. And it’s just so damn funny.

One of the perennially under-appreciated contributions to comedic genius is The Set-Up Guy. Tommy Smothers to Dickie Smothers, Laurel to Hardy, Gracie to George. Dan Ackroyd is wonderful, and neither Belushi, Murray, Martin nor Chase would have been half as funny without his nerdly softball pitches for them to swing at. But among the best ever have been women. Audrey Meadows, Mary Tyler Moore, Kate Hudson, Rosalind Russell, Claudette Colbert, even Salma Hayek. And one thing that surprises me every time I watch Young Frankenstein is that among its stellar cast of over-the-top goofballs – Gene Wilder, Cloris Leachman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, and Marty Feldman – the one who consistently sets them up, with pitch-perfect timing, is the lovely young Terri Garr. She should be required watching in Comedy 101 classes in drama school.

I saw this movie in 6th or 7th grade. I’ve watched it with kids as young as 5 or 6. You actually can’t watch Blazing Saddles with them. You’ll need to be explaining ethical issues the whole time, regarding the N-word and the status of women and the fact that there weren’t any women and so men needed to dress up as women and take it up the ass… ad nauseum, until you turn it off 19 minutes in and say “hey, ya know, we’ll watch this when you’re in 8th grade.” But Young Frankenstein works from ages 5 to 90.

Even if you can anticipate every fucking joke. Put, the candle, back.

3. The Sixth Sense ~ This is a tricky film. I’m pretty good at anticipating where some non-linear narratives are heading, and I had Mulholland Drive and Irreversible and The Salton Sea and Memento sussed out pretty early – in fact, with a couple of them I actually guessed that they would take it a step farther than they did. My extra twists would have made them better, ahem. But I was genuinely surprised at the end of The Sixth Sense. So if you’ve never seen it, you really ought to. It’s not a horror film in the standard definition, but it’s scary, and fun, and well-acted, and well-scripted.

But here’s the real problem – if you HAVE seen it before, it just doesn’t work nearly as well. Because all of your brain that processes sub-rosa context will be telling you: “dude, you know what’s really going on”, and it becomes anti-climactic. When a horror movie pretty much depends on one surprise punchline to pull it together, and you already know the punchline, it really undermines the sense of wonder that you enjoyed the first time ‘round. I’ve found that watching The Sixth Sense after the first time is an annoying exercise in spotting which scenes must be imaginary and which ones are actually plot flaws, because backtracking from the surprise, they couldn’t have happened that way.

So, while avoiding too much spoiler discussion, my recommendation is schizophrenic:
  1. If you’ve never seen it, watch it. It’s quite good.
  2. If you’ve seen it, wait another decade, when you won’t have forgotten the punchline, but you won’t be as nit-picky about how they got to the punchline.
OK, so there are the three very fine films available in the Horror category of Netflix over Halloween week. Let’s now count down #10 through #4.

10. Cult Of Chucky ~ I may or may not have seen the original Child’s Play. I remember a movie about toys attacking their owners or the children in the house. Not the wonderful ABC Movie Of The Week, around 1974 or so, Trilogy Of Terror, where the last of three vignettes has a Polynesian tiki doll chasing Karen Black around her apartment. But something about evil toys or dolls with knives. Or do I mean leprechauns? Whatever. But I watched this Chucky, and it’s stupid fun. There are plot flaws you could drive a 34-wheel Mexican doble-semi-remolque through. There are all too many times you are shouting at the screen or the screenwriters “what the fucking fuck, you stupid fucks, that makes no fucking sense, you motherfucking morons. Fuck!” Which is true of most horror movies. Spoiler alert: the two middle-aged semi-hot Chucky cult chicks suck face and grab each other’s titties all through the climactic scene, while a female Chucky doll chuckles maniacally. You know you want to watch this. Marijuana recommended.

9. Children Of The Corn ~ I’d give this a middle-of-the-King thumbs-up. Here I might as well piss off YOPJ (who, any of you devotees of his out there know, is a devotee of Kubrick) by saying that this film is not in the same league as Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, or Stand By Me. Am I missing one? It is better than Cujo. Apt Pupil was a mess, so better than that too. OK, fine, Jerky, I’ll grant you, it’s not as good as The Shining either, which I thought went off the rails as soon as the boy saw the twins and the bleeding walls. Up until then, among the best suspense movies ever. For me, the climax came 45 minutes before the climax, when Olive Oil saw “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” on his typewriter. Children of the Corn is creepy, obviously derivative of the early 60s British classic, Village Of The Damned. But it’s a good horror movie.

8. The Legend Of Hell House ~ Speaking of derivative, this could have been an alternative screenplay for the wonderful House On Haunted Hill. Roddy McDowall is the star, so that should give you a measure of its class. He was probably the third-bill actor in the same year’s Planet Of The Apes. The trope is so hackneyed as to be yawn-inducing: you have to spend a night or a week in a haunted house. Maybe you have a few scientists and psychics among you who can perceive some insight before their grisly deaths. But this is solid Brit Goth, from the same era as Train of Horror, The Wicker Man, Straw Dogs, etc. Leave subtlety to Gielgud and Olivier, we’ve got screams to scream.

7. John Dies At The End ~ This is a silly satire, based on a modestly popular web serial, about two paranormal investigators, and starring Paul Giamatti. I enjoyed it, but would highly recommend marijuana beforehand and during. What I like best about it is being able to spoil it without a spoiler alert: John totally dies at the end.

6. Hostel ~ Oddly, when I first saw this film I had just been on a travel-writing assignment – a beer tour of German and Austrian and Czech towns along the Rhine and Danube. Yes I said beer tour – I was commissioned to sample beers en route (pity me, dear reader) from Amsterdam to Prague, and I believe my companion and I got to about 130 different beers over 15 days. 115 of those beers were downed after parking the car, I should add. We started in Amsterdam, where the hot female lures picked up the American dupes in the movie, and ended in Czesky Krumlov, where the torture brothel was clearly located. The plotline is creepy – international businessmen bid at auction for the right to torture to death victims of their chosen demographic. Sort of like how it works in real life at the El Paso-Juarez border. This film is graphic and unpleasant, but it does its job, and is a solid second-rate gore-fest.

5. Hellraiser ~ I saw this film in its theatrical debut, in Times Square, 1987. I can recommend no other venue, except for Harlem, Brooklyn, or The Bronx, for watching horror movies. Because you may be sure the audience will be shouting at the screen: “Don’t go into the cellar, you stupid bitch!” “Call the PO-lice, you fucking MO-ron!” The reviews upon its release were as schizophrenic as they get, ranging from Best British Horror Movie Ever to Execrable Piece Of Shit. A man buys a puzzle box, and then has the misfortune of un-puzzling it. Which leads to him being torn apart by fish-hooks from an alternate dimension. Hilarity ensues.

4. Donnie Darko ~ This is not standard horror genre fare. If you haven’t seen it, you must. If you have, then try and find the original rather than the Director’s Cut, which telegraphs some of the punches via its insipid chapter openings with tag lines that expose too many cards. What is there to say about the Gyllenhaal kids? They’ve both benefited immensely and simultaneously been smothered by their Hollywood Insider mommy and daddy. Until their legal age of majority they were only allowed to audition for parts, but never perform in anything not produced by their parents. But they were good, at a young age. Jake playing Billy Crystal’s kid in City Slickers might have been a McCauley Culkin/Haley Joel Osment sort of breakout role, but for his over-bearing parents. At the same time, he and his older sister Maggie got into Columbia, which, unlike Penn, Cornell, and Dartmouth, is a legitimate Ivy. So the parents’ being protective about childhood and studying is not the worst fate a child could suffer. Her big breakthrough was The Secretary, as Jim Spader’s S&M office slut. His was Brokeback Mountain, as Heath Ledger’s S&M office slut. Did they do it on set? Ledger’s dead, so I’m afraid we will never know. In any case, he is superb in this film, and Maggie, as a side-prop, more or less, is funny as hell, when not being poignant. A big rabbit tells him the world will end soon. Echo & The Bunnymen agree. So do Tears For Fears, the soundtrack is sublime. The rest is worthy of Wes Anderson. This is as good as B-movies get.

Editor’s Note: Netflix isn’t stupid, and the Horror section continues to expand, after the writing of this piece. A few other notable films have been added, so choose accordingly.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


GERALD'S GAME (Netflix) - I went through an incredibly passionate Stephen King phase during adolescence, during which time I read every single thing he ever wrote. Good Lord, could that man throw a scare into me. There are images and moments in Salem's Lot, The Shining, and Pet Sematary that still give me goosebumps, and I'll argue for The Dead Zone's status as a Great American Novel to this day.

Sometime during my first year of university, however, I read The Dark Half, then Four Past Midnight, and both left me cold, at which point I gave up on King... as a writer of fiction, at least. This means I never got around to reading Gerald's Game, which if I recall correctly came out in a year when something like six or seven other Stephen King novels were published, and the man's legendary literary fecundity went from being a wonder to being a bit of a running joke.

Watching shit-hot indie horror specialist Mike Flanagan's stylish, assured version of Gerald's Game, I was reminded of what I loved so much about reading King's novels as a teen: His knack for telling stories that make you greedy to read more, his uncanny ability to develop extraordinary horror out of ordinary, everyday life circumstances, and his ability to create solid, believable characters via grace notes that say so much with so little... which, I realize, is ironic when discussing a writer who is often justly accused of logorrhea.

These little bullet reviews of mine are not meant to serve as film analysis or serious criticism. If and when I do start publishing more serious criticism on this particular blog... trust me, you'll recognize it. Mostly though, considering how many people read this blog (a couple dozen people a day at most), these reviews mostly serve as a way to remind myself of which movies I've seen, and whether or not I liked them. And, to my few readers, to maybe give an indication as to why I did or didn't like a movie, so that they can guess as to whether or not they might like it.

So, bottom line, I liked Gerald's Game. I liked it a lot. In fact, it instantly enters the ranks of my favorite Stephen King adaptations ever, putting it up there with Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, Reiner's Misery, Darabont's The Mist, and DePalma's Carrie. The acting is great. Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are both, as usual, amazing. It spooked me. It impressed me with its visuals. It made me squirm in empathetic agony. It made me deeply uncomfortable. Even with its somewhat clumsy and tacked on coda, and despite its occasionally cavalier approach to incredibly touchy subject matter, this is a B movie that earns an A+ from me.

THE VOID ~ This... this is a tough one. As a lifelong horror fan, I'm generally predisposed to liking (and rooting for) films like The Void. It's a low budget affair, everyone involved is clearly game, the story contains some original ideas and a shit-ton of homages to (rip-offs of?) past movie favorites both well known and obscure, and it features some truly arresting visuals and occasionally impressive practical (i.e. non-CGI) special effects.

It's also a freaking mess, with an impossible to follow plot, way too many convenient coincidences, occasionally painful performances and dialogue, no likable characters worth rooting for, the occasional SFX fail that takes you right out of the action, and a first act jam-packed with some of my most hated cliche's and unforgivable genre movie sins.

Weird thing is, the deeper I got into this movie and the less sense it was making in terms of traditional plot and storytelling... the more I found myself willing to forgive its sins. Because, for some bizarre reason, once the filmmakers decide to give up on the "siege movie" motif of the first two acts -- it's pretty obvious they never really had their hearts in it -- and just let their freak flags fly with the surrealistic Lovecraftian nightmare of the extended third act... I gave up trying to make sense of the plot, or keep track of the characters and their motivations, and just let the movie wash over me in all its trippy, disgusting glory.

And you know something? If you'd asked me halfway through the movie how I felt about it, I would have expressed my extreme displeasure at having been taken in by the slick "80's retro" vibe of the music and the advertising and the Stranger Things font used in all the promo material, causing me to waste my time with such a greasy slice of cinematic sleaze. But when the end credits started to roll, I couldn't say that I was disappointed by it.

None of it makes a lick of sense, and I can't in good conscience recommend this to any cohort other than rabid horror movie fanatics, H.P. Lovecraft aficionados, fans of practical special effects, and lovers of Italian gore-meister Lucio Fulci's somber late period films (The Beyond, for instance, which might be one of The Void's least obvious but most direct inspirations). However, if you don't mind when there's way more rough than diamond in your diamonds-in-the-rough, and you're okay with a movie where the whole is lesser than the sum of its best parts... then maybe give The Void a try.

You know what? Come to think of it, The Void might make for the perfect Halloween party background movie. Even if you pay attention, you won't really understand it any more than the people who don't, the first half is mostly silly and easy to ignore, and the all the best parts don't require that you understand what's going on in order to be fully enjoyed!

So, bottom line, The Void is a bad movie. But I really liked almost as many things as I really hated about it. Your mileage may vary, but I'd really love to know what other people think about this one. If you want, include your own bullet reviews in the comments section, below.