FILM :: DAVID CRONENBERG :: HORROR MASTER :: POSTERS + HAIKUS

David Cronenberg… A master standing at the nexus of the psychological, the sexual, the surreal and the body. His films are nothing short of controversial. Their success lies in that. It is the vivid, pulsating and often uncomfy issues that come out of that nexus that make even the most unhinged films of his oeuvre truly memorable.

This is part of a new series I’ll be posting to TSFP in tribute to masters of the horror film genre. For each post, I will feature a set of posters that master’s work inspired me to create and share reviews of the corresponding films. These reviews will be a bit different than my usual, however. Rather than the full-depth explorations I am prone to, these will be in the form of haikus. Though I can’t promise that they will reach ANY level of artistic value, the idea is that successful art should inspire more art

For Mr. Cronenberg, I am featuring 5 films he directed and one he starred in. Enjoy!

Like the posters? You can find out how to get them at my poster site.

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SHIVERS

shivers_poster_tsfp
THE REVIEW ::

Prototypical,
Paranoid Body Horror.
Primal Lust Means Death.

THE BROOD

thebrood_poster_tsfp
THE REVIEW ::

Through “Psychoplasmics,”
Rage Creates Mutant Offspring.
Divorce Devastates.

SCANNERS

scanners_poster_tsfp
THE REVIEW ::

Telekenetics –
Reading Minds, Exploding Heads.
Ironsides Steals Scenes.

VIDEODROME

videodrome_poster_tsfp
THE REVIEW ::

Sex, Torture, Murder –
TV Throbs With Lurid Life.
The New World Order.

THE FLY

thefly_poster_full_tsfp
THE REVIEW ::

It’s The Little Things.
Hubris Evolves, Destroys, Kills.
Horror With a Soul.

NIGHTBREED

nightbreed_poster_tsfp
THE REVIEW ::

Fantasy Horror –
Clive Barker’s Butchered Opus.
Dr. Decker Slays.

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FILM :: BEST OF HORROR SHORTS… “SUCKABLOOD”

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Big ups to Ben Tillett for this week’s Horror Film Short at TSFP. This one has a wonderfully childlike quality and that makes it even more devilishly enjoyable as a horror short.

“Suckablood” serves as a sterling example of “how to make a dollar out of 50 cents,” creating something very fun and very skillful in its simplicity with limited resources and few players in the mix. Writing, casting, narration, cinematography, lighting are all on point here and give us a polished package.

Though “Suckablood” isn’t fright-filled for adults, it’s a ton of creepy, gothic fun just the same. Call the kids for this one.

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ART :: THE TOP 50 HORROR POSTERS OF ALL TIME… 10 >> 6

As you may be able to tell, I love great poster art, but especially posters from the great horror movie cannon. This is the fifth installment of my countdown of the best of the genre.

Here’s how I selected the list. I used three main criteria to shape my decisions ::

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>> DESIGN / IMAGE — This is the baseline. As a designer by trade, I feel strongly that any great or effective poster HAS to start here. Is the poster effective as a piece of art? Is the poster is a strong representative of the art of graphic design? Did it capture a particular spirit or movement in design?

>> TITILLATION / PROMOTION — Though we tend to contextualize film and the associated collateral as “art,” it is ultimately a form of commerce. Any movie poster has to promote the film it supports either through a delicious tease or overt sales pitch. How effective is the poster at selling the film it is tied to?

>> IMPACT / LEGACY — Sometimes even mediocre films get truly great posters. Sometimes, we even remember the image of the poster far longer than the film itself. What was the lasting effect of the poster? Was it iconic or timeless in some way? Was a part of a larger context?

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Every poster on this list is a cocktail of the above elements, mixed in different ways. All successful in their own right. Let’s jump in to 10 >> 6…

numbers10

themummy

1932

numbers09

american_werewolf_in_london_poster_

1981

numbers08

childrenofthedamned

1964

numbers07

i_saw_the_devil

2010

numbers06


chud

1984

Look for Part XI, coming right up!

Special thanks to http://www.impawards.com for many of the images in this countdown. AWESOME site.

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FILM :: REVIEW… NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979)

Another review from the world of dark cinema.

With each review, I am also sharing minimalist movie posters I have created for every film after watching it. Like the poster? You can find it at my collected poster site.

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FILM :: NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE
YEAR :: 1979
DIRECTOR :: Werner Herzog

nosferatu_strangefar

In “Nosferatu the Vampyre,” Werner Herzog has given us a gift.

At turns funny, creepy, uncomfy, winsome, campy and lonely, but always beautiful in execution, the film brings us far more than a remake of F.W. Murnau’s seminal 1922 classic. True, there are shots that totally faithfully recreate the genius of the original in tribute to what Herzog has called the finest German film ever made, but it is the quirky emotional soul of this film that makes it so fresh.

Herzog starts with his story. Though he is clearly drawing very heavily from Stoker and Murnau here, he also brings his own masterful additions and touches to the story. This scene, not present in either original story is a wonderful example.


As stunning as it is arresting… and memorable.

That story acts as the bedrock on which the actors build their a-list performances for “Nosferatu.”

The ever-troubled-and-mesmeric Klaus Kinski heads the cast in the role of Count Dracula, giving the film its most hilarious and creepy scenes and acting as the forsaken, isolated soul at the center of the production. This is as good as it gets with a modern vampire performance. I can NOT thank Herzog and Kinski ENOUGH for eschewing the contemporary trend towards sexy or dashing vampire images, started in 1931 with Lugosi. Kinski’s Dracula is a repulsive, manipulative, lonely little creature, living as a parasite and it gives the film a vastly different feel for the better.

The rest of the cast is wonderful as well.

Isabelle Adjani’s performance as Lucy captures so much silent film spirit that is is a joy. Her eyes are worth the price of admission alone! Just look at them here ::

IsabelleAdjaniNosferatu10

Bruno Ganz also gives us a really fun turn as Jonathan, both as the pining lover and the newly minted vampire.

Also worth a mention is the nutty Roland Topor as a comedic Renfield. Hilarious and zany.

The other thing to mention here is the GORGEOUS cinematography. The land and the city becomes another cast member in “Nosferatu” through Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein’s shots. Filmed in the rugged Tatra Mountains of Slovakia, a weathered Czech castle and the picturesque Netherlands, the film is simply beautiful.

I do have to say in closing that this film is not for everyone. Fans of the debonair vampire myth, the lover with fangs, will likely not get this. For me, that’s just fine. I’ll take my Dracula with extra creeps, please.

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RATING ………………. 4.5 STARS

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FILM :: REVIEW… IT FOLLOWS (2015)

I have been looking for a reason to come back to “The Strange, Far Places.” I missed it. A bit like an old friend that I haven’t seen in months. Life has simply been so very busy, work has been tyrannical and I’m embarrassed to say that inspiration has been hard to come by.

That changed this weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Lakeline here in Austin, Texas.

I return inspired with another review from the world of dark cinema.

With each review, I am also sharing minimalist movie posters I have created for every film after watching it. ( More on my film poster project at large, here.  ANNNND… I’ve also launched a fun NEW FILM POSTER PROJECT here. )

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FILM :: IT FOLLOWS
YEAR :: 2015
DIRECTOR :: David Robert Mitchell

itfollows_horror

What was the source of my rediscovered inspiration, you ask?

I was stirred back to action by an exciting new film that is rightfully becoming the darling of the American horror scene. Of course, I’m talking about the indie masterwork “It Follows.”

Masterwork? For a sophomore effort from a relatively young writer / director / DP team? Yep. It’s high praise AND it’s totally deserved.

The name of the game with “It Follows” is transcendence, the preternatural quality that allows great work to become something far greater.

It starts with concept. Though it’s a simple one… A sexually-transmitted haunting curse… It is its ties to the greater restlessness of adolescence that make this concept far broader and greater.

The plot of “It Follows” swims in the waters of the thirsty longing of need, the deep waters of the sleepy-eyed and eternal pull to the bloom of sexuality slashed by the resulting loss of innocence and the march toward adulthood and ultimately, death. The looming figure of death chases us all, relentlessly pursuing Man with a singularity of purpose, no matter how much we all try to screw it away. We defy death with the electric flowering of our acts of procreation, but can only temporarily slow its steady, morbid advance. It’s always there.

That’s all a part of the central theme of “It Follows” and it’s heady stuff for what could be called a teen horror film. The whole thing could consequently fall into a messy polemic were it not for the sure hand of storyteller / writer / director David Robert Mitchell who imbues the proceedings with just enough mystery to keep us both riveted and questioning in turns.

Then, there’s style. Mitchell and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis have turned a modest $2M indie into a totally artful experience. That has its roots in the influence of greats.

We see John Carpenter and David Lynch here, no question. Many will see that. The masters’ tools are clearly in Mitchel and Gioulakis’ toolbox and they manifest themselves in awesome ways here through the slowly turning and thoroughly disquieting screw of great surreal storytelling.

A heavy visual influence on “It Follows” many may not pick up on is the artistic eye of artist and photographer Gregory Crewdson (at least in what I see). His mark was unmistakable to me and I, for one, was thrilled to see it. Throughout the film, the influence is pervasive, driving the dreamlike tableaus of light and quietly suggested deeper levels of meaning we see, rendering even simple scenes both breathtakingly beautiful and uncomfortably claustrophobic at the same time.

Look at these images from Crewdson’s work.

FROM CREWDSON…

gregory-crewdson-untitled-series-beneath-the-roses-1390117621_org
Daughter_cover_2
crewd-2003-2005-untitled-maple-street-web

It’s impossible not to see that mark in scenes like this still taken from “It Follows.”

FROM “IT FOLLOWS” …

it-follows-car

Beautiful.

If the filmmakers don’t see that influence, tell a humble fan. But it certainly seems unmistakable to me.

There are several other predecessors we see here as well. From the sorrowful teen angst of “The Virgin Suicides” to the detached brutality of “Brick,” “It Follows” is in good company.

That’s not to say the film is derivative. It’s not. It just stands on the shoulders of these landmarks, only to reach to its own heights.

The score is next. Composer Rich Vreeland, AKA Disasterpeace, has created something that exerts an almost auteur-like influence on the mood of “It Follows.” It’s funny to see this soundtrack released at the same moment as John Carpenter’s quiet love letter to evocative minimalism, “Lost Themes.” The two records, when listened back-to-back, almost act as a double album, with Vreeland again clearly building on the incredible work of Carpenter (or soundtrack greats Goblin in a big way as well) while reaching to new territory on his own. This soundtrack instantly finds a place along side those masters in the great horror music canon. I bought it immediately and have been enjoying the heck out of it.

“It Follows” is also quite well cast. Top to bottom, everyone is well-suited for their roles. Lead Maika Monroe heads the cast with a performance that is both awash in a beautiful, simple, naive sexuality as well as a resigned and disaffected dispassion, underscoring the themes of youth, adulthood and death at the core of the film. Keir Gilchrist is her steadfast partner in driving those themes home through his desperately-in-love turn as the youthful Paul. The remaining supporting cast plays out aspects of those themes pitch-perfectly.

In all, “It Follows” is a haunting exploration of the role that sex and relationships play in the doorway between the bravado of youth and the adult onslaught of death. It is a striking and thought-provoking instant classic.

My poster above hits on something directly from the film, but also hints at the nature of the film as well. “It Follows” pushes past the basics of modern horror into it’s own space, building on the icons that came before it, but also putting a bullet in the head of the complacency of the genre we see so often today.

See. This. Film.

strangelogoforblog_5_stars

RATING ………………. 5 STARS

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FILM :: REVIEW… SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)

Another review from the world of dark cinema.

With each review, I am also sharing minimalist movie posters I have created for every film after watching it. ( More on my film poster project at large, here. )

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FILM :: SHUTTER ISLAND
YEAR :: 2010
DIRECTOR :: Martin Scorsese

shutterisland_horror

“What happened?”


Bravo, Mr. Willard, as always.

But… Mike LaFontaine? In a “Shutter Island” review? What happened?

Indulge me.

I have been told may times over the years that, like Mr. LaFontaine, I have a signature phrase. Or more specifically, many of them. One person told me that “IT IS WHAT IT IS” would be on my tombstone. I have also been told “NOICE,” “THAT’S NOT IDEAL,” and so many others are my “thing.” In all honesty, I have mixed feelings about all of those.

One phrase, however, has come up consistently and it is something truly ownable. Something that I do proudly accept as my own and in the sitcom that I call “life,” it is one I keep returning to… “I WANT TO LIKE IT MORE THAN I DO.” Others that I have known have co-opted it and used it freely, invoking my name with each use. It’s an odd one, but really, so damned useful.

Why? The phrase is so useful because it says that there’s a lot to like about what’s being evaluated, but that it comes up short in some way. There are some things that are, or at least should be, working about whatever it is. Some success. BUT, despite that success, it is missing something essential at its core that would inspire me to actually LIKE it. I don’t hate it, but I certainly don’t actually like it either. It’s a nuanced, qualified and even partial dislike in 9 short words. Useful.

Annnd, that brings us to my review of “Shutter Island” and forms the bond with Mike LaFontaine. I really have to invoke my catchphrase on this one… “I WANT TO LIKE IT MORE THAN I DO.”

I found myself saying that several times while I watched this film.

What’s to like here?

There’s no question that Scorsese is doing his best Hitchcock impression here and it’s a solid one. He handles the material with a sure hand, leading us through the story’s twists with a careful, deliberate touch. It does work… And though we’re not really getting Hitch, it’s a pretty reasonable facsimile.

The film is also well cast. Top to bottom, this is an immensely talented group that clearly know their craft. DiCaprio is obviously at the center of this group and he too seems to be attempting to pay tribute to the Hitchcock greats, conjuring echoes of Jimmy Stewart in his legendary Hitch roles. Of particular note in the remaining cast are Kingsley, who turns in the film’s most creepy and diabolically successful performance, von Sydow, perfectly suited for his part in the serpentine drama of the film and Williams, who brings a truly beautiful-but-unplugged sense of psychopathy to her turn as Dolores.

Robert Richardson was the DP on “Shutter Island” and his cinematography for the film is immensely successful. The film is gorgeous to watch. The best cinematographers are able to use their skills as a clear storytelling device, making the camera almost like another performer, underscoring and shaping the tale being told through the film. Richardson is able to do that here and it really works so well.

Well… Jeez, Dave… That’s an awful lot to like. So, where does “I WANT TO LIKE IT MORE THAN I DO” come in?

I have mentioned Hitchcock so often in this review because of the obvious homage that this film is to his work — from “Psycho” to “North by Northwest” to “Spellbound” to “Notorious” and “Vertigo” (in a BIG way), there are lifts and nods all over the place. Soooo, it helps to compare “Shutter Island” to its inspiration to see the differences and why I think the film falls a bit short.

It’s about emotional resonance. Though the film is competent on so many levels (even downright masterful on a few), it never really makes us care. When I watch those Hitchcock classics I mentioned, I’m not just a spectator. I am compelled to invest on a passionate, sympathetic level in those stories and charaters. That’s absent here.

The film becomes the beautiful, well-dressed, successful date that just doesn’t stir your heart. It SHOULD work. You SHOULD be head over heels. But you just don’t feel it. There’s no flame.

In all, “I WANT TO LIKE IT MORE THAN I DO.” It’s so unfortunate, because it’s a beautiful, well-cast film. It just didn’t make me care.

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RATING ………………. 3 STARS

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FILM :: BEST OF HORROR SHORTS… “THE JUMP”

filmshorts

Hats off to Charles Huettner for this week’s Horror Film Short at TSFP. He created it as a part of the Late Night Work Club’s collection of shorts entitled “Ghost Stories.” All of the pieces in the collection could easily be featured here and I will be selecting some others as a part of this series, but Huettner’s “The Jump” is worth singling out in particular.

This gorgeous little animated piece captures everything I love about where animation has gone and is headed. Atmospheric, indie, stylistic and above all… INTERESTING, work like this is a hot poker in the eye of all of the hyper realistic CG monstrosities that so many studios are churching out. There’s a place for that too, but I think there is just so much artistic intent that shows through here. And that’s just the style of “The Jump.”

The story itself is quite elegant with very strong storytelling drawing us into it. This is how so many shorts used to be. I remember running to my local indie theatre, The Little in Rochester New York, in my formative years for now classic short animation festivals. So many were mysterious and intriguing from “the get” with a strong sense of “questioning” in the early seconds that pulls the viewer in. So often, that quality of discovery can be lost in technique or heavy handedness these days. Huettner doesn’t lose that focus here. “The Jump” is a wonderful little ghost story, wonderfully told.

I really have to give big ups on sound design here as well. The sound, in turns, reminded me of the masterwork “Akira” and even Miyazaki a bit.

In all, a tour de force, and I’m thrilled to share it.

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LITERATURE :: REVIEWS… “THE OTHER” and “HARVEST HOME” BY THOMAS TRYON

I return to normalcy at “The Strange, Far Places” after settling with the family into a new home here in Cedar Park, Texas, FINALLY beginning to bring to an end this crazy cross-country relocation process. AND… It’s fitting that I am penning this post from the “library” in our new digs, because today’s reviews are of two absolute PILLARS of modern horror lit.

bookreview_others

“I have just discovered Thomas Tryon,” your TSFP author says VERY sheepishly.

How could this have happened? In my meanderings through all things horror… How could I have missed these seminal works of modern horror? How could I have never taken the time to explore Tryon’s work?

Well… I can really offer no excuse. Mea maxima culpa.

I suppose it’s rather like actually trying a genuine NY bagel for the first time… Alllll warm and chewy, piled in bacon / scallion cream cheese. I watched my wife do that one. Or perhaps my first experience with Bananas Foster, the flames uniting the flavors of the dish in sweet perfection. There is a dawning that echoes from the experience and makes one ask “Where the hell was I?”

Tryon is one of those guys who you used to just have to shake your head at. That guy in your dorm at college you didn’t know if you should love or hate. You know the type. You do love him because you want to BE him, but you hate the fact that you can’t. So, you rather jealously remain ambivalent. Tyron had true matinee idol rugged good looks and a successful acting career, so that would be enough for many. But to then leave that burgeoning career to start writing is amazing. Annnd THEN to master the writing game in a truly lyrical way… Well, that’s the stuff that makes you shake your head in awe.

tom_tryon

Look at that gent. Damn you… And THANK YOU, Thomas Tryon for being so awesome.

I’m reviewing two of Tryon’s masterworks today, “Harvest Home” and “The Others.” I am thrilled to share these with you. I will review them together because I view them as a perfect one-two KO punch of classic horror perfection.

Here’s what the publisher’s description has to say about the stories::

THE OTHER — “Holland and Niles Perry are identical thirteen-year-old twins. They are close, close enough, almost, to read each other’s thoughts, but they couldn’t be more different. Holland is bold and mischievous, a bad influence, while Niles is kind and eager to please, the sort of boy who makes parents proud. The Perrys live in the bucolic New England town their family settled centuries ago, and as it happens, the extended clan has gathered at its ancestral farm this summer to mourn the death of the twins’ father in a most unfortunate accident. Mrs. Perry still hasn’t recovered from the shock of her husband’s gruesome end and stays sequestered in her room, leaving her sons to roam free. As the summer goes on, though, and Holland’s pranks become increasingly sinister, Niles finds he can no longer make excuses for his brother’s actions.

Thomas Tryon’s best-selling novel about a homegrown monster is an eerie examination of the darkness that dwells within everyone. It is a landmark of psychological horror that is a worthy descendent of the books of James Hogg, Robert Louis Stevenson, Shirley Jackson, and Patricia Highsmith..”

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HARVEST HOME — “After watching his asthmatic daughter suffer in the foul city air, Theodore Constantine decides to get back to the land. When he and his wife search New England for the perfect nineteenth-century home, they find no township more charming, no countryside more idyllic than the farming village of Cornwall Coombe. Here they begin a new life: simple, pure, close to nature—and ultimately more terrifying than Manhattan’s darkest alley.

When the Constantines win the friendship of the town matriarch, the mysterious Widow Fortune, they are invited to join the ancient festival of Harvest Home, a ceremony whose quaintness disguises dark intentions. In this bucolic hamlet, where bootleggers work by moonlight and all of the villagers seem to share the same last name, the past is more present than outsiders can fathom—and something far more sinister than the annual harvest is about to rise out of the earth.”

These publisher’s summaries might feel like stories you’ve heard before, but don’t let that deter you. That’s only because Tryon has proven SO influential. Both of these are landmark works and so many have plumbed their genius to create lesser spawn.

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THE OTHER

“The Other” is the quintessential sibling / twins horror story. It twists and turns, beguiling and manipulating the reader, allowing us to fall under its spell and then shocking us in a new direction, turning us like . Then doing it all over again. Repeatedly. This is no mean feat. Even the jaded modern reader finds themselves at the novel’s mercy leaving you like you want to read it again when you finish, just to see how Tryon did it. This is real psychological horror.

I think a huge part of Tryon’s ability to beguile us into submission is directly to dazzling lyrical style. This is gorgeously crafted prose. Plain and simple. Look at this quote ::

The icehouse was fronted by big doors, warped and wide enough for a wagon. Leaning against one, he let his weight swing it inward. The interior was cool and dim; sun through the ruined roof sketched in beams, rafters, scaffolding; through the giant hole in the platform flooring, where the blocks of ice used to be hauled up, the river was a lake of murky green. Cattails clustered at the bank, sausages skewered on slender wands. Removing his sneakers, Niles waded knee-deep into the water. A flat bug skittered across its surface, spidery legs tracing intricate geometric patterns behind. Slippery gray mud at the bottom oozed between his toes; he gripped for balance as he edged along a narrow shelf and reached out to break the stalks of the rushes.

With a goodly harvest, almost more than he could manage, he footed his way back along the mud shelf to the loading platform. He dropped the cattails in a heap and lay on his belly beside them, head hanging over the platform edge, eyes staring meditatively down at the water. It was pleasant there in the shadows. It smelled of coolness, like a fern garden; like the well once had before they sealed it up. From upside down, one piling, gloved with green algae and slime, and larger than the rest, seemed to rear back as though resisting the gray mud that mired it. He squinted, looked hard, saw: primordial ooze, spawning strange beings down below, a race of quasi-lunged, half-legged creatures dragging themselves along the bottom; a world sunless, gloomy, nocturnal, where sunken logs lay, sodden and heavy, poor dead drowned things, and with them, hidden in the murk, savage bloated creatures, mouths wide as shovels, thick lips nuzzling threads of water-whitened ganglia, picking clean of flesh skeletons through whose empty eye-sockets coldly glowing eels wound like night trains, while overhead, through the ruined roof, pterodactyls soared the vacant sky.

He drifted, dreamed; and dreamed some more.

Are you even serious??? Muscular. Transformative. Poetic. This lush mastery of language, coupled with a true craftsman’s touch for story creation places “The Other” among the great horror lit canon. Amazing for a debut novel, no less. Sheesh.

Here are a few of the reviews from the book’s entry into the market. I don’t usually include these, but here… I think they made great sense.

“It is perhaps unfair and a little inaccurate to typecast The Other as a horror story. It is so ingenious and well-written that it transcends that—or any—label. The setting is the small Connecticut town of Pequot Landing, which under other circumstances, might be idyllic.  But the people who inhabit Tryon’s New England are just as haunted as O’Neill’s, and a lot more violent…His [Tryon’s] characterizations have depth and subtlety, the narrative is well-paced and suspenseful. Where he really excels is with mood and atmosphere. Rarely have such commonplace surroundings been made to seem quite so dark and menacing and chillingly evil.” – Chicago Tribune

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“This first novel from Thomas Tryon is a distinguished one, it may well leave you blenched with horror, but it is beautifully, even poetically, wrought, and within its boundaries there would seem an actual divination into the spirit of murderess insanity….In due time The Other will doubtless become one of the classics of horror tales, comparable to The Turn of the Screw.” – Dorothy B. Hughes, Los Angeles Times

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“A humdinger… A whirlpool of Oh-My-God horror. Please congratulate Mr. Tryon for me. What a marvelous job he’s done.” – Ira Levin, author of “Rosemary’s Baby”

I could NOT agree more. This is a can’t miss read, perfect for your Halloween season.

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RATING ………………. 5 STARS

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HARVEST HOME

Tryon followed the 1971 masterpiece of “The Other,” in 1973 with “Harvest Home.” No sophomore slump for this guy. “Harvest Home” is yet another memorable entry into the “Hall of Greats of Horror Literature.” Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place?

Tryon is working with themes of neo-paganism here and rarely, if ever, has the subject been handled so deftly; with such a strong hand. Again, if a story of small town horror and neo-pagan ritual seems like something we’ve heard before, it’s only because other writers have borrowed so liberally from this work. Tryon, in his first shot at it, DEFINES this type of story. Though there are others in that followed, many that we all know well (Mr. King, I’m looking at you with “Children of the Corn”), this is the one to read.

Now, I do have to give props where they are due. The great Lovecraft himself mastered the art of small town northeastern horror and we see that clearly echoed here. And, lest we forget, 1967’s “Ritual” from David Pinner was a HIGHLY deft and influential work along these lines, eventually forming the basis for the horror film classic “The Wicker Man” (which came out a year after “Harvest Home”). So to be fair, Tryon had some weighty predecessors to stand on. However, this book is different, unique, and that’s why it defines the sub-genre for me.

Why? Again, I think it’s the peerless combination of pitch-perfect pacing and intricate plot creation here powered by Tryon’s tantalizingly rich language. The book ingratiates itself to us, working its way inside through pace, allowing us to totally identify with the main characters. Then it draws us in further through the intrigue of plot on top of subplot, layering and texturizing the story. And all of it presented in Tryon’s gorgeous prose. It adds up to something deeply affecting and horrifyingly unforgettable.

That can’t be understated here. This book really is affecting. It got inside me. It bubbles with an inner energy that is at once edgy and subversive, palpably sexually charged, claustrophobic and wonderfully devilish. I literally laughed out loud when I hit the end of this book, reveling in how it toyed with me and the heady mix of emotions that I felt. I have not done this in a very long time, but I reread both the climax and ending of this novel (among other passages) over and over in the weeks after I finished it, unable to dismiss it from my mind.

In all, this is the perfect follow-up to “The Other” and an awesome way to celebrate the harvest season. Read it.

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RATING ………………. 5 STARS

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ART :: THE TOP 50 HORROR POSTERS OF ALL TIME… 15 >> 11

As you may be able to tell, I love great poster art, but especially posters from the great horror movie cannon. This is the fifth installment of my countdown of the best of the genre.

Here’s how I selected the list. I used three main criteria to shape my decisions ::

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>> DESIGN / IMAGE — This is the baseline. As a designer by trade, I feel strongly that any great or effective poster HAS to start here. Is the poster effective as a piece of art? Is the poster is a strong representative of the art of graphic design? Did it capture a particular spirit or movement in design?

>> TITILLATION / PROMOTION — Though we tend to contextualize film and the associated collateral as “art,” it is ultimately a form of commerce. Any movie poster has to promote the film it supports either through a delicious tease or overt sales pitch. How effective is the poster at selling the film it is tied to?

>> IMPACT / LEGACY — Sometimes even mediocre films get truly great posters. Sometimes, we even remember the image of the poster far longer than the film itself. What was the lasting effect of the poster? Was it iconic or timeless in some way? Was a part of a larger context?

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Every poster on this list is a cocktail of the above elements, mixed in different ways. All successful in their own right. Let’s jump in to 15 >> 11…

numbers15

king_kong

1933

numbers14

werewolves_on_wheels

1971

numbers13

invasion_of_the_saucer_men

1957

numbers12

army_of_darkness

1992

numbers11

evil_dead
1981

Look for Part IX, coming right up!

Special thanks to http://www.impawards.com for many of the images in this countdown. AWESOME site.

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FILM :: REVIEW… SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1959)

Another review from the world of dark cinema.

With each review, I am also sharing minimalist movie posters I have created for every film after watching it. ( More on my film poster project at large, here. )

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FILM :: SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER
YEAR :: 1959
DIRECTOR :: Joseph Mankiewicz

suddenlylastsummer_horror

“Suddenly, Last Summer.” Just saying the name in film circles stirs conversation. Yes… Homosexuality was considered taboo when the film was released. Yes… Cannibalism and predation are still bizarre territory and… Yes… There are some cartoonish performances in their intensity, here. BUT… IMHO, this is a striking bit of cinema and I think it has gotten a bad rap in many ways. In reviewing it, I thought I would address those criticisms head on.

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WHAT ABOUT THE SOURCE MATERIAL?

Ahhhh… Tennessee Williams, the great American bundle of neurotic literary genius. He was a literary giant of the 20th century and among the absolute best playwrights of the modern era. He gave us the story that forms the basis for this striking film. The play was challenging material when it was written and remains so to this day, but Williams does his usual masterful job of broaching a range of sensitive subjects in ways that are both deft and unforgettable. However, no matter how deftly it is approached, theater that addresses sexually predatory behaviors, homosexuality in the 1950s, mental illness, human exploitation, lobotomy, pedophilia and CANNIBALISM is just GOING to be a challenge for audiences.

The censors were a bit aghast at this one and they did have to lame the material in order to allow it to make it to the screen. Director Mankiewicz also wanted to bring out his own vision within the original work. Things got changed up a bit in the process. Williams was NOT pleased, as you might imagine, later saying that the film made him want to “throw up.”

All of this may be true on some level, but I do think the themes and the “edge” are still within this film. It is still lurid and psychologically fascinating at its core and that makes it a great watch for me.

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IS THE FILM HOMOPHOBIC?

Although the censors wanted to see this as an anti-gay piece, seeing the film as an illustration “the horrors of such a lifestyle,” they forced the filmmakers to remove any direct references to homosexuality. That has resulted in a long-standing reputation as a “homophobic” film for “Suddenly, Last Summer.”

HOWEVER…

Even taking into account a healthy amount of self-loathing on the part of Williams, it’s very difficult to imagine a genuinely homophobic story from someone partnered for more than 14 years with his personal secretary, the dashing Frank Merlo. Williams was gay, clearly not homophobic, so the source material remains agnostic on this, choosing not to demonize the homosexual lifestyle, but rather predation of any kind and from any sexual perspective.

True enough, the film was adapted for the screen by another of our “American Lions of Letters,” Gore Vidal, a self-declared bisexual with some decided self-loathing around homosexuality. It is true that Vidal did have trouble with the idea of self-identifying as strictly a “gay man.” He was however, most assuredly, a “power top,” having sex with over 1000 men before he was 25 years old and going on to enjoy dalliances with many of the stars of his era (even carousing with Williams himself). Though he may have been existentially conflicted on the subject of homosexuality and the meaning of the term “gay,” in practice, the great screenwriter of “Suddenly, Last Summer” was not. This also does not make this a homophobic film.

And what of the final cut of the film? Does it add, in the end, homophobia to the mix? Again, it’s difficult to give the film bad marks on this front as the film’s central on-screen villain, the detestable Mrs. Violet Venable is straight and certainly where the film’s gay character, Sebastian, learned his predatory behaviors. Often literally descending from above in an elevator and decked out as a ravenous raptor, some bizarre bird of prey, the hetero Violet is certainly the most “hateable” character in the film. Though this matriarch’s attempt to cloud the truth about her son’s sexual lifestyle lies at the film’s central drama, Violet also has a complex relationship with it, acting as “bait,” attracting young men for Sebastian to prey upon for sexual favor. Fascinating.

I do not think this film is homophobic, but rather again demonstrates a hatred of predatory behavior of any kind. Seriously, it’s time to look past this.

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HEYYYY… WHAT ABOUT THE PERFORMANCES?

OK. There are some performances that border upon caricature here. Fair enough.

BUT… I think this is just what the material needs. It only serves to underscore the wonderfully skewed, funhouse mirror of a story that we are experiencing in “Suddenly, Last Summer.” I may be in the minority, but I really thought the actors here did an amazing job with difficult storytelling. And let’s not forget that it’s a hell of a cast here, too. At the top of the bill, we have the legendary Katherine Hepburn as the frighteningly detached Violet Venable, the gorgeous Elizabeth Taylor as the unhinged Catherine Holly and as foil to them both, Montgomery Clift as the inscrutable and unflappable Dr. Cukrowitz. Let’s not forget Albert Dekker, Mercedes McCambridge and Gary Raymond to boot. All heavy hitters to be sure and, for me, they bring a lot to their respective roles.

I was also fascinated to hear of the incredible conflict on-set during the making of this film. After a car crash near Taylor’s house prior to casting, Clift had become highly dependent on alcohol and drugs to make it through the day. Taylor insisted that he be hired for the Cukrowitz role. He found his long, emotional, “talky” scenes exhausting and required special help filming them. Director Mankiewicz showed little patience for the delays, berating Clift throughout filming. When the final “CUT” was called for the film, Hepburn reportedly approached the director and spat in his face for what she considered inexcusable treatment of Clift. How can you NOT think that something FASCINATING can come of that sort of combative and difficult chemistry? Come ON?

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Again, this film is a challenge on a host of levels. No question. But I feel it’s time to recognize it for the classic that it is. Challenges or not. The fact that it still makes us uncomfortable and perhaps even scares us after well over a half-century is a testament to the power and the skin-crawling rewards “Suddenly, Last Summer” can offer.

strangelogoforblog_4_stars

RATING ………………. 4 STARS

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ME :: WINONA BOULEVARD… MIDNIGHT… 1989… “STILL LOVING YOU”

Winona Boulevard winds through a swath of the leafy Rochester, New York suburb of Irondequoit, the town where I grew up. Rolling past manicured lawns fronting family homes and kissing a public park, the street was one of my favorite places to go out for a run.

As a young man, I was a runner. Well, really, I still am. These days I just find myself far from the liquid freedom of movement of those halcyon days of youth. One thing that I haven’t lost over the years, however, is my love of a late-night jaunt in the ol’ running shoes.

I worked a summer job in high school as a Ride Operator (Read: Carny) at Seabreeze, a local amusement park. After the park closed, I often tried to hook up with friends for the night. Sometimes, it was just too late. On those nights, I slipped on the running shoes and headed out into the cool night along Winona.

Today, I heard a song that reminded me of an experience I had on one of those midnight runs.

Yes, the Scorpions classic, “Still Loving You.” I know that the song isn’t a horror staple in any way. Really it’s a song about attempting to reclaim a lost love. But it is unquestionably atmospheric and proved a haunting companion for this experience.

A hot summer day had given way to a cool night, raising a foggy mist in the air. A mid-August full moon cast a glow over the landscape, bringing out a surreal chiaroscuro in the darkness.

As I rounded the blind corner at Chapel Hill Drive, the haunting opening guitar strains of “Still Loving You” surged through my headphones.

What I saw next can only be described as true kismet.

exorcist_post
In a bizarre almost-recreation of the iconic poster from “The Exorcist,” I came upon the stone keep of All Saints Anglican Church with one of the clergy lit in the darkness by a single old-style lamp, standing in mist, looking up at the rock steeple.

I found a real picture of the church. I have done a little light Photoshop magic to merely hint at the scene here.

stilllovingyou

I felt transported. It was like standing in that legendary scene from the film, watching Father Merrin pausing at the work before him before entering the terrifying MacNeil household. An icy chill poured down my spine.

I stood silent to leave the scene interrupted. Minutes passed and eventually the tableau was broken when the clergyman left.

I haven’t forgotten that experience and every time I hear that song, I think of the night I was visited by Father Merrin.

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ART :: THE TOP 50 HORROR POSTERS OF ALL TIME… 20 >> 16

As you may be able to tell, I love great poster art, but especially posters from the great horror movie cannon. This is the fifth installment of my countdown of the best of the genre.

Here’s how I selected the list. I used three main criteria to shape my decisions ::

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>> DESIGN / IMAGE — This is the baseline. As a designer by trade, I feel strongly that any great or effective poster HAS to start here. Is the poster effective as a piece of art? Is the poster is a strong representative of the art of graphic design? Did it capture a particular spirit or movement in design?

>> TITILLATION / PROMOTION — Though we tend to contextualize film and the associated collateral as “art,” it is ultimately a form of commerce. Any movie poster has to promote the film it supports either through a delicious tease or overt sales pitch. How effective is the poster at selling the film it is tied to?

>> IMPACT / LEGACY — Sometimes even mediocre films get truly great posters. Sometimes, we even remember the image of the poster far longer than the film itself. What was the lasting effect of the poster? Was it iconic or timeless in some way? Was a part of a larger context?

======

Every poster on this list is a cocktail of the above elements, mixed in different ways. All successful in their own right. Let’s jump in to 20 >> 16…

numbers20

hills2

2007

numbers19

thething

1982

numbers18

jaws

1975

numbers17

halloween

1978

numbers16

andy_warhols_frankenstein

1973

Look for Part VIII, coming right up!

Special thanks to http://www.impawards.com for many of the images in this countdown. AWESOME site.

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