Thursday, December 31, 2009

21st Century Terrors, Part 4: 2003

A Happy New Year to one and all--and what better way to commemorate the end of the Aughts than with another installment of 21st Century Terrors, The Vault's look back at the last decade in horror? This time we look back on a year that saw the genre in full bloom, both in the U.S. and abroad.

If for nothing else, 2003 will be remembered as the year that a grunge rocker who made his name on the alternative scene of the early 1990s would step into the horror world full-time. Rob Zombie had long incorporated horror motifs in his music and his well-crafted stage persona, but this time he was throwing his tattered cowboy hat into the directorial arena, taking aim at making his very own horror film.

The result would be House of 1,000 Corpses, one of the defining horror movies of the 2000s. A synthesis of the '70s exploitation horror that had mesmerized Zombie in his youth, the movie was a quirky, surreal blend of dark black comedy and the most grisly, brutal violence. House of 1,000 Corpses gave us the diabolical Firefly clan, and most memorable of all, one of the decade's greatest horror icons--Captain Spaulding, played to sinister, uproarious perfection by B-movie veteran Sid Haig.

Zombie's love of exploitation horror meant appearances by Karen Black and Bill Moseley--and who could forget the infamous Dr. Satan? Despite its derivative nature, in some ways Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses was one of those kinds of movies that epitomizes an era in the genre.

In a way, this was also the year that gave birth to another 2000s horror mainstay, Saw. Love it or hate it, no one can deny the importance of this film, its magnitude and the impact it had on horror this decade. It was this year that director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell produced a short film--nine minutes to be exact--that would reveal their groundbreaking concept to the world. The short would become the seed for the decade's most dominant horror franchise. The following year, Wan and Whannell would literally change the face of horror by turning it into a feature film.

Meanwhile, around the world, the genre was truly thriving. France, soon to be a major player on the terror scene, gave us Alexandre Aja's High Tension, considered by many to be among the finest fright flicks of the decade. Japan brought forth Ju-On 2, the sequel to the original version of The Grudge; South Korea gave us 4 Inyong Shiktak, which would later be remade in the U.S. as the dreadful The Uninvited. Also in Japan, the brilliant Takashi Miike created Chakushin Ari, which would also later be remade in America as the awful One Missed Call.

From another corner of the English-speaking world, namely Australia, came Undead--the year's big contribution to the recently exploded zombie rebirth. And although it was a somewhat lackluster film overall, you have to give the Spierig brothers an E for Effort. They brought a ton of enthusiasm to the zombie subgenre, and generated a lot of buzz in the process, keeping people interested in those nasty flesh-eating ghouls.

But speaking of remaking horror movies, that whole trend would continue in 2003. Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes, now infamous for pumping out cynical remake after cynical remake, would make some waves with one of their earliest efforts, a redo of the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre. More slick and stylish than the early '70s grindhouse favorite, the new TCM also provided more backstory to the movie's characters--some would say to the story's general detriment. The pattern was officially set for so many groan-inducing remakes to come...

Other past genre icons returned in different ways. We'll always remember 2003 as the year that Freddy finally met Jason in the most highly anticipated horror smackdown since Frankenstein battled the Wolf Man. It had been a long time coming, but this fun monster mash-up finally came to fruition, returning Krueger and Voorhees to the screen for the first time in years (especially Freddy, who hadn't reared his scorched head in nearly a decade). If not taken too seriously, this far-from-scary flick turned out to be one hell of a fun ride.

Two of the 2000s primary franchises, Final Destination and Jeepers Creepers, cranked out their first sequels--some would say they were superior to the originals, particularly in the case of FD. And another franchise would take off--namely Wrong Turn, an effective entry in the "cannibalistic inbred lunatic" horror subgenre. Some innovative kills and the lovely Eliza Dushku made this one a cut above, and it quickly became one of the decade's cult faves.

Horror was indeed in full bloody bloom in 2003, taking a darker, gorier turn than ever. By now, fans had a feel for what they could expect from the decade that would see a return to the more visceral, intense horror of yore, while still taking it in innovative new directions.

Also from 2003:

  • Beyond Re-Animator
  • Gothika
  • House of the Dead
  • The Toolbox Murders
  • Willard

Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001
Part 3: 2002

* * * * * * * * * *

On a side note, I just want to take the time out to belatedly thank Marc Patterson, editor of the superb Brutal as Hell. A month ago, BAH kicked off a new series called "Horror Bloggers We Love", and yours truly was the very first to be profiled. Thanks again, Marc! As for the rest of you, pay BAH a visit--it's chock-full of excellent horror goodness from the likes of Marc and talented horror savant/grammar nazi Britt Hayes...

And while I have your attention, please be so kind as to head over to's 2009 Sexiest Geek Contest and cast your vote for loyal Vault dweller and writer Paige MacGregor. That is all.

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Black Sheep's Top 10 of 2009

I sit before my computer on the last day of 2009. In a matter of hours, there will be so much going on that I will not be able find two minutes together to accomplish anything really so it's best that I get this done now, when I can give it the attention it truly deserves. 2009 was a great year for me and the movies. Early on in the year, I began publishing a regular monthly column on The Movie Network's "Movie Entertainment" magazine's website and it has since been picked up by The Movie Network itself. In April, I attended the Tribeca Film Festival for the first time and ended up meeting and interviewing one of my favorite director's, Steven Soderbergh. My interview with him about THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE would go on to be published on CBC's website. In May, I left my day job and prepared to move to Toronto, which I did in July. The summer was a great time to be unemployed and I managed to sustain myself on zero incoming cash until just after the Toronto International Film Festival. This year, I saw nearly 20 films at the festival, compared to a scant five the year before. I also had the chance to sit and interview the star and director of this year's indie success, PRECIOUS. I have had to return to working my day job now but 2010 awaits and I'm closer now than ever before.

Alright, so that's me. Now what about the movies? I knew all year that I was going to be leaving my day job at some point so I was able to get excited about a lot of the movies that were coming out this year. And a lot of them did not disappoint. As per usual, my full list of best performances and films will be coming soon with the announcement of the Mouton d'Or awards in January but the following is my Top 10 films of 2009, in alphabetical order. Even as I write these very words to you, I have a short list of eleven titles and I'm still not sure what will make it and what won't. The suspense is killing me! Anyway, here goes ... (click on any title for the full Black Sheep review)

Directed by Marc Webb

I've seen this film three times and it makes me smile and feel good about everything every time. This anti-love story is so infectious and so enchanting that it somehow ignites my personal quest for love while simultaneously breaking down all the myths about love I've subscribed to all these years. The adorable Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are the cutest couple of the year!

Directed by Neil Blomkamp

When I first saw this film, I was floored. It was original; it was exciting; I was completely convinced that South Africa had been overrun with alien life. It isn't every day that you catch a film that is visually remarkable, action packed and socially conscious at the same time with absolutely no trace of compromise. I was also pretty floored because the moment it ended, I knew it was going to find its way on this list.

Directed by Lone Scherfig

This film was the toast of TIFF and I could not get in no matter how hard I tried. It was well worth the wait. Its classic style and subtle screenplay brought new perspective to the feminist plight. Star, Carey Mulligan carries the ecstasy of a first love with the jubilance of a little girl and the weight of the consequences to dating an older man with grace and restraint. I for one definitely felt like I learnt something.

Directed by Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is a particular taste and I was thrilled to see that taste make a successful transition into the realm of animation. Watching this adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic is a constant delight. It truly digs its own path, striking the perfect balance between adult insight and childlike excitement throughout. In a world where Pixar owns the monopoly on satisfying adult animation (and rightfully so), it is refreshing to see that others out there can not only pull it off too but bring something new as well.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

By now, you've no doubt seen this film on every Top 10 list in the world. It is an obvious choice but it is also the right choice. Bigelow managed to craft a highly explosive film about trying to make sure bombs don't go off. The film is naturally tense but all the more so because Bigelow sneaks us into this military bomb squad in Iraq by shooting from as many different perspectives as possible. Perhaps this is why it is the least judgmental Iraq war film to date.

Directed by Lee Daniels

From a filmmaking perspective, this one is certainly uneven at times but its boldness is so striking that it certainly earns its place amongst the best of the year. This story of a young woman, overweight, pregnant, illiterate and abused, is the most unlikely of success stories. It is fueled by some of the most brave performances of the year from one of the most eclectic casts of the year. It is Daniels though who deserves the biggest applause here for getting people to stop ignoring this girl and see her for who she is inside.

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Who knew that the Coen Brothers could get so personal and still feel completely disassociated? Michael Stuhlbarg's incredible performance as Larry Gopnick allows this tale of misfortune to transcend its Jewish roots and become a tale for unlucky folks everywhere. Watching his life is like watching a train wreck just get worse and worse but somehow all the while, thanks to that special Coen touch, deep, genuine sympathy is inspired aplenty.

Directed by Cory Fukunaga

I cannot say enough good things about this first feature from Cory Fukunaga. Two complete strangers end up on the same journey to cross the Mexican border into the United States and neither their lives nor ours are the same for having the experience. Each of their characters is going through their own individual struggles but the solace they find in each other makes every hardship they suffer worth it. Fukunaga is a bold new voice.

Directed by Tom Ford

Fashion designer, Tom Ford's directorial debut, is just plain stunning. It's 1960's design is authentic and exquisite and the performances from Colin Firth and Julianne Moore are fresh and exciting for each of them. By adapting Christopher Isherwood's novel of the same name about a man coping with the death of his longtime lover in a world that doesn't acknowledge that love, Ford has made more than a film; he has also made a very compelling argument for gay marriage and the rights that should be afforded gay men and women everywhere. And naturally, he did it in style.

Directed by Jason Reitman

Films that are decidedly adult in theme and tone have struggled recently to connect with audiences but this one is so perfectly executed that it is not only reaching its audience but going far beyond it. The zeitgeist factors in this film, from the crumbling economic backdrop to the increasingly guarded approach towards love and human interaction, make it easy for most to identify with it. The entire cast (George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick) is lovely; the tone is respectful; and thanks to Reitman, the whole thing soars.

Directed by Steve McQueen

OK, so I found a way to cheat the Top 10. Don't hate on me. I did not include this film in the actual Top 10 as it is considered a 2008 entry but as it did not play in Canada until this year, it warrants mentioning. This 2008 festival favorite went unnoticed in North American cinemas this past spring but that doesn't shock me. Hunger strikes and graphic prison violence are not exactly crowd pleasers. If you are up for it, you must see this film. It will turn your stomach but it will furiously turn the wheels of your mind as well.

There you have it folks. These were my favorite films from 2009. Here is to an excellent 2010!

Zombie Batman In Blackest Night Series Toys

Batman gets a seriously creepy makeover for the Blackest Night comic series by DC Comics. The figure line has become increasingly popular, hence this set is series #5...

Other characters figures includes Nekron, the Lord of the Unliving; Hawkman, the winged warrior who joins the Black Lanterns after falling victim to them; Deadman, the ghost hero who’s tormented by voices of the dead; and of course, our beloved Batman.


What NOT To Do This New Years!

Crazy Motorbike Designs

I love the Predator-custom look complete with trophy skull/spinal cord on the side!

This Biplane concept motorcycle was presented in 2007 by Suzuki in Tokyo and has lovely futuristic detailing.

This orange and grey colored machine made its first appearance in the 2008 National Motorcycle Show in Toronto. It was invented by 18-year-old Ben J. Poss Gulak, who also gave the unique motorcycle certain interesting features, like running on electricity and being controlled by body language.

This bike gets the Rat Fink (Ed Daddy Roth)look at the Motorcycle Rally, South Dakota

This Jaguar cat-inspired concept bike was created by Barend Massow Hemmes of Massow Concept Cycles along with Polar cycles of Doncaster UK.



Designer Jinha Lee wondered what was possible if pixels escaped from the monitor and became physical objects, so he created Bloxels.
These small devices are a prototype for a new type of display system that Lee began working on while studying at the University of Tokyo.

The design uses a module-based approach, consisting of translucent cubes that emit a colorful glow according to the transmitted data from the neighbouring bloxels. the user can freely move the blocks around and the image will transform accordingly.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hump-Day Harangue: Harold Ramis, I'm Ready to Believe You

The confirmation seems to have finally solidified. Writer/producer/actor Harold Ramis, also known to fans as Dr. Egon Spengler, collector of spores, molds and fungus, has officially declared in an interview this month with Heeb magazine that the third film in the Ghostbusters franchise will lense next summer, with a 2011 release date planned. And I couldn't be happier.

Here's part of what he had to say:

Something's going to happen. Dan [Aykroyd] did write a spec GB3 screenplay a few years ago, but no one was motivated to pursue it. Now, 25 years after the original, there seems to be some willingness to proceed and apparently a substantial public appetite for a sequel. We'll introduce some new young Ghostbusters, and all the old guys will be in it, too. Think Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future. [not sure what the heck that means]

Granted, I think I have a bit of a sunnier outlook on all these latter-day continuations of '70s/'80s franchises than some. While we can all agree that--with the exception of the second half of Revenge of the Sith--the Star Wars prequels were utter abortions, I wouldn't say the same, for example, about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crysytal Skull, which, although it was no Raiders by any means, I got a kick out of. I also geeked out hardcore to Bryan Singer's Donner-faithful Superman Returns, and was utterly blown away by Stallone's return in Rocky Balboa.

So, why not the Ghostbusters? As a kid, it was my favorite movie, hands-down. And while the sequel was one of the major letdowns of my young moviegoing years, I've still always held out hope that a superior third installment would happen. I even remember getting excited some years back thanks to rumors of a new GB flick that would include Chris Farley and Chris Rock amongst the new generation. Sadly, that never came to pass.

But now, this. Ghostbusters fever has been growing lately, as the '80s generation is now at the height of its decision-making power in Hollywood (see Transformers and G.I. Joe. Well, on second thought, don't.) We've seen major excitement this year surrounding just a new video game using the original cast members, so it was a no-brainer that interest would resurface in a Ghostbusters 3.

The optimistic part of me believes that with this many people involved--quality individuals mind you, the Murrays, Weavers and Reitmans of the world--it would have to be an impressive project to get them all on board at all (although I can hear the Crystal Skull haters chiming in on that one). Still, I particularly feel this way about Bill Murray. The guy has gone on to be such a bigger deal than he was even then, and has a rep for choosing solid roles. He has nothing to gain by being part of a lackluster sequel, and I'd bet he was the toughest one to convince to take part at all. So it gives me hope that he'd consent to be involved.

What also gives me hope is a very interesting tidbit of information leaked earlier this month. It's divided the fan community, but you can count me among the intrigued. Apparently, while promoting Avatar to the press, Sigourney Weaver let slip that in the new movie, Dr. Peter Venkman will be... a ghost.

If you've been monitoring the news, then that's no news to you, but I have to say that it has me more jazzed than ever. Talk about throwing the status quo out the window and going all-out! With Venkman as a spook, this will definitely be no by-the-numbers nostalgia-driven reunion movie. This is something different, unique, and interesting. This shakes things up.

What will be the dynamic? Will he be at odds with his fellow Busters since crossing over to the other team? Will he still be a part of the team, even in phantasm form? What, if anything, will be his relationship with Dana, and their son Oscar--who, at this point, is rumored to have grown up to be one of the famous paranormal investigators and eliminators?

Add to this the fact that the guys behind the American version of The Office are penning the script (possibly based on Dan Akroyd's older treatment?) and this is shaping up to be something of a potentially highly entertaining nature. It's been two decades since the boys in gray donned their proton packs (unless you count Ray Stantz' 1995 cameo in the Casper movie, which I sure as hell don't), and I'm more than ready to welcome them with open arms.

Back off man, their scientists.