5.31.2017

Pantelegraph






All this and more at Pantelegraph

5.29.2017

Back from the dead, and then back again

"In a few short weeks, it will be 1980, the beginning of a new decade. Here at the FANGORIA offices we're looking to the 80s with great anticipation. The 70s were kind of boring toward the end, but the 80s look like they're going to be frightfully fun. It seems like there's going to be some new ground broken in the horror film. The fascination with science fiction has run out of steam, and we are now ready to get back to basics."
- Bob Woods, Editor
FANGORIA Magazine
Issue #4



In the spring/summer of 2003, I embarked on a weekly DVD buying binge of all the major horror franchises of the (then) past 25 years: Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I'd spent the previous 10 years peripherally fascinated & mildly obsessed with these movies - most of which I'd never seen until they sat on my shelf in disc form.

In an appropriately literal sense of the word, horror movies haunted me my whole life - particularly the ones from my generation: the 1980s. Like my mother before me, I started young, and if heredity sharpened the blade, environment certainly swung the axe. To put it cordially, my sister inadvertently 'allowed' me to view both Elm Street and Freddy's Revenge at the mature age of 3. I'll never be sure of how much I absorbed as I watched them, but I am aware that it firmly established two things: for me, Freddy Krueger would be the once and future king of the monsters. Secondly, all theses scary movies that I was unable to get my hands on until the availability and affordability of DVDs were all a lot scarier (and better) in my head. In other words, the movies I did see weren't as scary as the ones I didn't (Exorcist aside).

I started buying Fangoria Magazine when I was 9 or 10 - around the time of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Casually at first, then obsessively. I couldn't know it at the time, but this was a fun and bizarre period for horror - the early to mid 90s. The slasher boom had died (until Scream) leaving the genre in some nameless void that was blindly firing in every direction: Flatliners, Candyman, Dr. Giggles, Leprechaun, Innocent Blood, Brainscan, The Prophecy. In addition to Dracula, there was also Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Wolf. John Carpenter seemed to be on a tireless winning streak with Memoirs of An Invisible Man, In the Mouth of Madness and Village of the Damned. After the success of Misery, there was a Stephen King adaptation in the theater or on TV every other week. And, throughout this entire mini-era, Tales From the Crypt was kickin' ass. In hindsight, a lot of it was as good as the 80s, or better. Definitely better than all that came after.
To be totally honest, I wasn't exactly Reading these Fangorias as much as I was Looking them. How could I not? The color pictures of gory wounds and monster faces were their own kinda pornography. Some starchy interview with Mick Garris couldn't compare with that. At least, not at that age. I guess I was, as the magazine itself called us, a 'Gorehound.' I began seeking out any place that sold periodicals, trying to determine who got the next issue the fastest. One of the greatest thrills was when my mom sent away for 3 back issues of my choice, & rushing home from school every day like Ralphie Parker to check the mailbox.

It's funny - if I had actually read-read more of the articles, I woulda had a better understanding of some of the bigger game I was missing. The wonderful thing about Fangoria (back when it was wonderful) was how honest they were, and how high their standards were. For all their eye-popping, head-splitting cover stories, when it came time to review stuff, they really didn't like much of anything. And how could they? Between the mainstream stuff, the independent stuff, and the drive-in movies (which eventually became the cable and direct-to-video movies) the volume of dreck was knee-deep. They were always loud & proud about what they thought was good: The Haunting, The Stepfather, Night of the Creeps, Dawn of the Dead, The Entity. But, I was surprised - sometimes pleased, sometimes saddened - by what they though was not so good: Halloween II, I Eat Your Skin, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, The Toxic Avenger, Chopping Mall and every single Friday the 13th. Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree with any of these, the interesting and sorta encouraging thing about these opinions is that they came from an institution that championed and advertised the genre, but were not affected by camp or nostalgia. They knew when we deserved better, and while their covers promoted otherwise, they were rarely swayed by franchise fandom.

And it's true: in this superficial pile of 70s and 80s pop trash, there were a few gems - even a couple diamonds. But overall, this 'golden age' of iconic terror left a lot to be desired. That being said, I discovered the only way to enjoy the Friday the 13th movies is to watch them all in succession (or, as the kids say, "binge" them). To watch any of them on their own (especially the first 5) is like going to a restaurant, reading the menu for 87 minutes, then leaving.

In the years and years to come, I kept buying and buying horror, trying to fill a void created by my own anticipation and expectation. I ended up selling nearly as much as I bought - I got rid of hundreds & kept dozens. That seemed to be the ratio of the good to the not-so-good. I'd had a handful of favorites, but that's all it was - a handful. By 2010, I'd hit a wall & found there wasn't much left in the genre on digital format. And apparently, I'm in some kinda minority, which is the point of all this.

I haven't had an interest in VHS since the 90s, and I never got into bootlegs, VOD or streaming. Physical media - of all kinds - has always been very important to me, and becomes more precious as it slowly slips away. Therein lies a unique tradeoff though: throughout this past decade, there has been a boom of new and/or expanding video distribution companies that have been rescuing, reviving, restoring and releasing obscure genre titles that, perhaps, I've been waiting my whole life for, heard of but forgot about, or plainly never heard of at all. These companies have single-handedly revived my love of (or interest in) seeing new stuff - even if it's old-new - and bridging the gap in this time when I have no interest in anything new-new. And more than that still, they'e cornered me back into trading in my take-home pay for digital restoration. For anyone who's not hip to this, basically these places are giving the Criterion treatment to the video nasties. And for anyone who's seen the 2013 documentaries Adjust Your Tracking or Rewind This! will find that the films that are sustaining VHS as cult are finally getting the big transfer.

In no particular order, here are 10 titles that got the upgrade they deserved, or the availability they never had...

- Paul


Society (1989)
Studio: Arrow Video
Brian Yuzna's feature debut plays out like the scariest Twilight Zone episode never made.








Cannibal Terror (1981)
Studio: Severin
The best thing about cannibal movies has usually been the score. This may rank as #1.









Witchtrap (1989)
Studio: Vinegar Syndrome
Aaron Sorkin only wishes he could write dialogue this sharp.








Terrorvison (1986)/The Video Dead (1987)
Studio: Scream Factory
A double feature set that pairs two movies that go together better than The Godfather saga.









Highway to Hell (1991)
Studio: Kino Lorber
Chad Lowe does what any of us would do: journey through hell to rescue Kristy Swanson.









Sledgehammer (1983)
Studio: Intervision
Shot-on-video supernatural slasher flick is better than most Friday the 13ths.









Killer Workout, aka Aerobicide (1986)
Studio: Slasher Films
From the director of Sledgehammer, combines fitness and stabbing = more 80s than Cyndi Lauper singing the Pee Wee's Playhouse theme.








Demons (1985)
Studio: Synapse
One of the greatest horror movies ever made gets the blu-ray makeover.









The Nesting (1981)
Studio: Blue Underground
Unlike bees, you can't dodge zombies by diving into a body of water.









Alienator (1990)
Studio: Scream Factory
Coming out June 2017. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

5.21.2017

The Bat, The Cat, and The Penguin : 25 Years of Summer Vacation

It's hard for me to acknowledge that Tim Burton was the author of my childhood - if for no other reason than he hasn't made a movie I've liked since Ed Wood. And doesn't that just make sense - everything he made prior to 1995 was in perfect alignment with where my interests were & where they we going. Either that or they were steering them. In any case, it seems unfair for one man to have such a monopoly on everything cool (or geeky). Kinda like J. J. Abrams now or, more broadly, Marvel Comics. Between the ages of 3 and 7 I was introduced to Pee Wee Herman, Beetlejuice, Batman (and the Joker) and Edward Scissorhands. That's a relentless cavalcade of colorful characters, especially on an impressionable young mind. There was no escape. Not for me.
The weeks leading up to June 19th, 1992 can only be described as a full-on cultural blitz aimed directly at my brain. All the gods were in cahoots: school was ending, weather getting nicer, and Batman "returning" all culminated into an orgy of voluptuous shock and awe. Like Dick Tracy before it, I was in love with Batman Returns before it ever hit the screen.

Firstly, this was a time when McDonald's was a cathedral of holy magic - to partner with them was like a blessing from the pope. And back then, a movie this monumental deserved promotional items for both the grown-up meals and the Happy Meals. The plastic toy cars were fine (they resembled nothing from the movie) but were pretty lame in comparison to the Supersize soda cups covered in beautiful wraparound murals, and I don't think ever before or since have McDonald's fries come in a solid black cardboard cup. That was fuckin' badass.

I was a card collector. Baseball, movies, TV shows, stickers, nudie cards, even the Gulf War had a set. Anything past or present with cultural relevance were wrapped into wax or foil packages, & I was there to rip 'em open. And they could be found everywhere: supermarkets, department stores, gas stations. I had a few dozen comics, but cards were really my comics. I'd amassed the entire set of series 1 from the first Batman. (There was a second series, but I think I'd moved onto Dick Tracy at that point). Returns had two simultaneous card series: the dull cardboard Topps series, and the glossy expensive Stadium Club Cards printed on "Kodak stock" and boasting a shiny Bat symbol in the corner of each card.

More than cards or stickers, T-shirts or action figures, lunch boxes or McD's cups, my big thing for
most of the 90s was posters. They were my first 'tattoos,' a visual way to display all my interests over a unified canvas. The only good promotional stuff to come out of the first movie - other than the cards - were the posters (which were just blown up publicity photos). To this day, the stylish, gothic character posters for part 2 are still some of the most striking images put out by a studio. (Modern day 'alternative posters' for this movie can't improve on the originals). After the '89 movie came out, the '60s TV series started to show up in syndication here and there, and that's how I became aware of and familiar with the other villains. So by the time these characters with the Burton-makeovers started showing up in magazines and on posters, I was able to have the same beside-myself-reactions as the rest of the world. And they covered my walls, my ceiling, my door, and even inside my closet.

At that age, I don't think I had any "concern regarding its potential to live up to the previous film." I was aware that it could maybe corrupt my monogamous love affair with the Joker. My experience with sequels at that point ranged from okay to pretty great (Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Back to the Future, Star Wars), but as I've written here once before, I'd rarely been, before or since, that excited for a movie. It was possible that my mindset may have been a little bit along the lines of "the presence of the Joker makes any movie better." (I learned in August of 2016 that that's simply not true). What it eventually came down to was: I like Batman more than any other superhero or superhero empire, and I like Batman villains more than most characters of fiction.
I don't wanna 'review' the movie or anything - I'd find that boring & so would you. It certainly lived up to the hype that they were throwing at me & that I built up in my mind. Even now it's still pretty damn good. It's when Tim was still the man, and it's a tie with the '89 movie in terms of favorites (Rises is my #1, while Jess, coincidentally, has always said Returns).

Ironically, out of all this stuff, these posters and French fries and everything, the most notable thing about the movie, for me, was the comic book. DC released a 'companion comic' that pretty much
acted as a storyboarded script. The dialogue (minus some cursing) and scenes played out identical to the feature itself. This fascinated me because it was like owing a movie script. So fascinated, in fact, that I 'adapted' it myself, with my own artwork and some minor structuring and dialogue changes, into two issues. Ergo, Batman Returns was the first script I ever wrote.

Jess thinks of it as a Christmas movie (mostly because it is). That's tough for me, because it'll always be the movie that kicked off my summer vacation in 1992; the start of the "bonus days" as my father called them (the last several non-school days at the end of June). It was also exciting to be part of something - to like what everyone else likes, and to be way into something that's so popular that you're constantly ensconced in that very obsession. (I think the last time I felt that was Revenge of the Sith). Because of that, that summer & several others were like a Christmas morning that lasted for 2 months and change.

Today, everything's different. There's no action. But, do you really think I'm gonna be the cantankerous old movie geek again & complain about the current state of summer movies, superheroes, and pop culture in general? Of course! This is Bennett Media, asshole! Do you think McCafé is gonna have Wonder Woman salad this season? How about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bottles of water? If they did, would you care? Would kids care? I don't. Now when I order a happy meal they give me apple slices and yogurt. I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

- Paul

5.09.2017

SEARSTOWN

In the spring of 2011, Eileen Janowicz, a PhD in Forensic Psychology and Industrial Organizational Psychology, and her colleague, Keith Richard (not Richards), a PhD in Parapsychology, concluded after an eleven year experiment that spanned four continents, that ghosts, are in fact, real. However, their findings and what they determine as the definition of "ghosts" is pretty loose. But if that weren't enough, what they did discover and prove beyond a reasonable doubt is far more fascinating and shocking. Of course, what's more shocking than scientific proof of life after death?
"Everything we think we've known about ghosts up till this point has come from films and literature," says Janowicz. "I think the biggest misconception - which I shared up until very recently - is that they're deceased."
And with that miraculous claim, Janowicz and Richard are in full agreement that some ghosts... are alive?!
"Once you accept that, you can begin to understand how the rest of it falls into place," Richard says coyly. So, what is 'the rest of it?'
"This isn't just about ghosts," says Richard. "This also covers telepathy, astral projection, time travel, past lives, telekinesis, and maybe even the existence of a higher power." He confesses this with such casual abandon, it could either hurt his credibility as someone who's not taking it seriously, or, he believes in it with such certainty that it must be true.
Janowicz is quite the opposite - at least in demeanor. Her timidness is due, somewhat, to the fact that this amazing discovery received almost no notice from the press or public. The reason for this is strangely coincidental. "When we began the process of testing and gathering data and gaining some credibility and momentum, the attack on the World Trade Center happened," she says. "When we finally reached a conclusion, and wanted to share it with the world, the very next day, Osama bin Laden was killed." Once again, Public Enemy #1 had overshadowed the possibility of the world's potential for galactic enlightenment. "Something like that," laugh Janowicz. "I've reached a point where I'm just happy being aware of it, and I'm less concerned with spreading the word, as it were."
Well, perhaps just this once, they'll make another attempt to spread the word - at least to us. At the very least, how about an explanation into what any of this is. What is this amazing discovery?
"The bigger picture is what's important here," says Janowicz. "What we've determined is that, basically, every square inch of this planet is haunted." While 'haunted' conjures up a lot of gothic imagery to you and I, it ended up being the key word amongst Janowicz, Richard, and their team of nearly two dozen researchers. "In every home, school, office, shopping mall, or wide open space, there is some level of paranormal activity. There are some people in the [parapsychology] field who will agree with that. What we've determined is that we - you and me, who are still alive - can add to or even create this activity with our presence, and that it will linger once we've left that space."
This is what this scientific team refers to as The Metaphysical Footprint.
"Try and think of a place - a physical space or dwelling - where you had an intense emotional experience. Or perhaps several experiences. Maybe your childhood home. What we're stating, very plainly, is that the house you grew up in is currently haunted. By you."
If this statement by Janowicz doesn't perfectly illustrate the discovery, Richard has a similar, broader take.
"It's like The Shining," he says. "Everything leaves a trace of itself behind - whether you've left the Earth or left the room. Simply put, if you're feeling something, having an emotion, and you're standing in this spot, you're leaving a bruise on the ground. And anybody who passes over that spot after you can feel it, like a bruise."
A theory such as this sounds like it's more suited to geological surveyors than psychologists.
"Oh, we've covered that," Janowicz says with an almost laugh. "We left nothing to chance. We've thought of everything."
So, what of the ghosts we always thought were there, but weren't sure? Do we 'haunt' after we die?
"Technically, yes," says Richard. "But, it's part of your living self that's doing the haunting. Speaking in physical terms, if you leave dirty dishes in the sink, and then you died, the dishes are still in that sink. You leave behind more than you take with you."
Does this provide an explanation for every and any ghost sighting claim in history?
"The legitimate ones, yeah!" says Richard. "Most claims have been seeing people - faded images that - that float or move in nonspecific ways. Additionally, and notably, they're always clothed. If these are 'souls' that have passed on, why are they dressed? Did their wardrobe die with them? When someone is fortunate or perceptive enough to see a ghost, what they are seeing is... it's like, a home movie of someone's memory. They may be dead, or still alive somewhere. It may be a conscious memory or subconscious, but they are witnessing the past."
There have been claims - many claims, in fact - of people communicating with the dead, even interacting. If these are not souls that have passed on, but just moving memories, how exactly is this possible? Are we manipulating the past by 'contacting spirits?' Is there such a thing as an intelligent haunting? What about mediums and those who claim to speak with the dead?
"We never set out to prove the validity of any of that stuff," says Janowicz. "Based on what we've found, all of that seems highly improbable. But, if it is true, then it must somehow exist alongside what we now know to be absolutely true."
They are very, very certain of their claims. But in this short interview format, what we've been told raises more questions than answers.
Apart from the apparent 9/11 curse, there must be some larger reason as to why this kind of find isn't on the news every single day.
"It clashes with most religious beliefs," says Richard. "Like a lot of science, that's always gonna be a tough sell."
That makes sense. Janowicz has an even more realistic, sobering explanation.
"It's like climate change. If it doesn't present an immediate, tangible obstacle in people's lives, they either don't believe it or they don't care."
Ironically, that is very true, except when it comes to religion. Dean Keith Simonton, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UC Davis points out, "Most articles published in the sciences are never cited by anybody. Most compositions are not recorded. Most works of art aren't displayed."
Apart from maybe being too fantastic to believe, people may be disheartened to learn that, perhaps, the afterlife is just a recording for others to watch. "It's simply palpable nostalgia," says Richard. "People already dislike nostalgia - it stifles progress." Janowicz adds, "It illustrates the strength in the fabric of our existence - that we're all connected. We all want to be remembered after we're gone; to leave our mark. We're here to say that we all do!"
At the end of the day, after all of this, we're left with the two biggest questions: what were the methods used that led to this conclusion, and, what exactly is the proof?
Janowicz and Richard both remain vague on these two points specifically, for reasons that aren't entirely clear. It may perhaps be bitterness regarding the lack of attention their efforts have garnered. (Janowicz's book on the subject, Our Own Shadow, has yet to find a publisher). Of course, a more skeptical person could claim that there never were any answers. The latter seems unlikely, especially if one takes the time to do some digging.
In the timespan of the experiment (2000-2011) there are many recorded instances of experts and students alike in various scientific fields conducting seemingly bizarre or random tests all over the globe - all contributing a piece to The Metaphysical Footprint. Sandra Waters of Oxford University may or may not have been conducting experiments utilizing animal torture and the possibility of distress transference from subject to subject. Rex Jung, a neuroscientist from New Mexico, mapped our neural networks between previously unrelated parts of the brain. There was someone by the name of Shawn (could be first or last) who may or may not have been a geologist who visited Alcatraz, The Bermuda Triangle, Pompeii, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and lastly, Disney World. The purpose of these lists of what kind of data was gathered from these locations is not entirely clear. Most of the reports of these instances are just as nonspecific, or even more so. The bulk of the details are in the yet-to-be-published book, which Janowicz is wisely guarding as unsolicited property.
As for proof? Richard says, "Go down to your local shopping mall. That's all the proof you'll ever need."
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