Writing for Crying Children II [Guest Comic]

• Friday, February 26, 2010 0 comments
The second of my guest strips at Pictures of Crying Children has went up over at the PCC website, though I can't take 100% credit for this one. My original script was a slight jibe at myself, sort of an inside joke, but one of the interesting and helpful things about writing for other people, and other people's characters, is that you learn the intricate details of said characters, and the importance of sticking to little details about them. So what we end up with is something the lends itself better to the established characters' personalities I was writing for, and is less about me.

There's a part of every writer's work that's just a reflection of themselves. Any writer who says otherwise is [usually] either being modestly clever or intentionally thick, and I think in younger writers it's always a bit stronger, because... well, we're younger, less refined, less comfortable leaving the things we know behind when doing our work. I've always been really forgiving of myself when it comes to this -- I don't mind throwing subtle nods to personal things in, a lot of my characters have at least some aspect of my own personality in them, or they're going through things that I myself am familiar with. It's not a sin, I don't think, to have a comfort zone, particularly if you feel like the material in said comfort zone is fresh, and you want it to be said. There are drawbacks to it [not every sad-sack I write is reflection on me, not every love interest is some girl I've pined for or lost, not every douchebag is someone who's wronged me], but for now it works, and at 24 and still unfilmed and unpublished [mostly], I don't think I can be accused of going back to the well one too many times.

But.

Pictures of Crying Children isn't about me. And leaving yourself behind [or at least most of yourself] to write something? That's been a new, fun challenge. And it helps that I'm working with an absolutely brilliant artist in Ms. [soon to be Mrs.] CheriAnn Stevens.

Check out the new comic here. And definitely keep checking PCC for more comics, written by me or otherwise, every Monday and Friday.


Also, on a personal note, thank you, everyone, for the kind words during what has been another trying time for my family. I appreciate the support more than I could intimate here. Thank you.

The only reason I'm making this post is because I didn't sleep last night.

• Thursday, February 25, 2010 6 comments
My dad's widow passed away the other day. Naturally, this has been very hard on the family.

I don't really have a lot to say about it here. Mostly, it's keeping me very busy in a lot nonspecific ways, and that's on top of a handful of other things I've been trying to do. None of them are nearly as important, but the point is there has been absolutely no time for any blogging.

I had a few plans for things to go up this week, including something special that Horror Week gave me a chance to do. Because of the way things are going, everything's been pushed back to next week, where I'm told there will be another PCC comic written by yours truly, and the thing I had planned for this week, and, hopefully, more work on Nova. I'm trying to cut out seven pages before the end of March, so I can submit it to this contest that a friend told me about. I'll probably be doing similar submissions in the future, depending on how this one goes [maybe in spite of how this one goes], so it's pretty important I get started soon.

There likely won't be any updates for the rest of the week, unless Justin puts up new sketches, or something in that vein happens. And even then, it might have to wait until next week. The only reason I'm making this post at all is because I'm not sleeping right now, and I'm too tired to fix the broken chair out on the front porch.

I'm also sorry if I sound a little... clinical. It's just one of those times.

Writing for Crying Children [Guest Comic]

• Monday, February 22, 2010 1 comments
I mentioned last week I'd been working on some different style comics, and the first one went up today over at "Pictures of Crying Children," run by friend of the Mojo Wire and occasional guest blogger, CheriAnn "Nixon" Stevens.



"Pictures of Crying Children" is a rad webcomic that CheriAnn writes and illustrates with her fiance Ian, and they're always asking for guest submissions, be it comics or scripts, and it just seemed like a great opportunity to do a little comic work again, which has always been what I enjoyed doing the most. Now, unlike with Justin and Sam, I'm not quite as involved with the process since they run such a tight ship over at PCC, which is fine and a lot more like how the process works on more professional level, so you're basically getting to see the finished work as I do. Which is just... amazing, to say the very least.

I want to thank CheriAnn for the opportunity to be a part of what they're doing over there at PCC, as it was really a lot of fun and a good challenge to try my hand at writing webcomics, and I'm hoping to do a few more before all is said and done. I sent CheriAnn several scripts this time, so expect to see more collaborations/guest strips pop up over time, and I encourage everyone to go and check out the PCC comic and their website [which updates on Mondays and Friday] whether I'm writing for them or not. It's great stuff.

The reason for the radio silence.

• Friday, February 19, 2010 1 comments
There actually isn't one. Or at least not a good one.

Beginning of my week was spent mostly working on a little project that I'll probably be talking about a lot more next week. I've actually got a couple of special things planned for next week, and I encourage people to swing by, and look at some of the new stuff that has cropped up at least partially thanks to Horror Week.

Admittedly, Horror Week is partially the reason I haven't been posting as much. It's been hard to get back in the swing of things after giving up the blog for so long, and honestly I haven't started anything new, or written anything I was comfortable talking about here. I'm hoping to get going again soon, but all told, it's Oscar season, and I've been watching and re-watching a lot of great movies, reading a little more than I have been, and all in response to this family-related thing that's going on. I apologize for being vague -- it's just not really my place to share it in a public forum, but if you're curious you're welcome to ask about it. I think by now, most people who talk to me at any great length probably know.

Been doing a lot of thinking too. "Soul-searching," I believe they call it. It has been as helpful as the bullshit terminology might lead you to think it would be.

I also still am open to some feedback on "Nova" -- I've been working on it again, trying to get it to a twenty-five minute running time, and would be more than happy if someone had suggestions, or just wanted to talk to me about it. I've mentioned before, there's something a little House-like in the way I work... having people to bounce things off of, or just hear what they think might or might not be wrong is helpful. I lost a friend recently who was really good at doing this for me, so I'm looking to fill that position anew, I guess.

Of course, it's also sort of maddening to even think about doing another draft of "Nova." I've done seven [technically eight, if you count the lost -goddammit- Severe Cut], and even I'm pretty pleased with what I've ended up with. Hubristically speaking, I'm kind of terrified I'm making a beautiful woman shorter. Physically shorter. Or, maybe, literary breast-reduction?

Even I think that's kind of sexist. Moving on.

So, any help or thoughts, especially in the next week or so? I would really appreciate that.

And... watch this space. Well, not specifically this one, but the general blog-type-area. Interesting, fun things may be happening come Monday.

Cheers. More soon.


EDIT:

Justin has a new sketch posted over at his blog for the comic [re: Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name]. Really good argument for me checking the reader before making a post here first.

Another Cash sketch.

• Saturday, February 13, 2010 0 comments
Justin has put up another Cash sketch [re: Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name]. I'm really excited to see these pages. Plus, this new one really encapsulates the western feel I was going for with the book.

I've been working this week on something a little bit different for me, specifically, shorter, more newspaper-style comic strips. I didn't think it would be quite as difficult as it has been, but I'm kind of a long-winded dude, and with the exception of some of the stuff Sam and I did back in school for projects of hers this is new territory for me. I've managed to put together about ten of these little four or five panel strips this week, now I'm just trying to figure out what's actually good, and what's just sort... bordering on Ziggy.

No offense meant to Ziggy, of course.

Not much of a post, I realize, but after all the guest blogs it might take me awhile to get back into the swing of things.

Calamity Cash Update: Rumble.

• Monday, February 8, 2010 2 comments
I won't say you've seen the last of the "Top Ten Horror Films of the Decade" lists here, but we're definitely close enough to handle some other business.

Justin has posted some new comic sketches [re: Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name] over on his blog, including this one that I've snagged just because of how cool it looks, and the fact that it features what I consider one of the most badass words in this glorious English language.

Justin's post is also pretty informative, and gives you at least a partial look at what my comic book scripts used to look like, as opposed to the script to "Real Quality Comics" I posted which used the strict template included with my screenwriting program. I still, honestly, haven't decided which I liked best, and am hoping to figure out how to set up my own custom template with the software somewhere down the line, as both formats have things I do and don't like.

More important than my shit, however, is that Justin gives you a good look at how he goes from script to layouts, which for me is one my favorite parts of the process to look at, because it's truly the half-way point between what I wrote, and what he's about to draw. There will always be changes, of course -- I'm not Alan Moore, and even when my panels and dialogue get really out of hand and specific, it's my philosophy to default to the artist's judgment 99% of the time when it comes to things like page layout and paneling. A good example is that excerpt posted above, which was not scripted as a separate panel but works far better in the overall flow of the action/dialogue than what I'd written for it to be.

I've been writing a little bit this past week/week and a half/two weeks, but admittedly the bulk of my free time has went to preparing everyone's lists for Horror Week, which was actually a much bigger job than I expected at times. A lot of this blame lays squarely on the shoulders of blogger.com, if I dare bite the hand that feeds me, as layouts filled with images and links do not look the same in preview mode as they do when actually posted. Admittedly, this is probably partially my fault for using a custom template, but a better preview option would likely solve a few of my minor headaches. Then again, the fact that I only get minor headaches from a free service is kind of amazing of Google, so I'm hesitant to bitch much more.

And... honestly I think the whole "Best Horror Films of the Decade" lists turned out incredibly well and I'm really thankful for everyone who stepped up and got involved, and it was never bothersome digging up links or images to go along with all these fun commentaries because it really felt like thought and care were put into these lists. Thank you all for that. The Mojo Wire also saw record traffic, and there were more comments on entries than there ever were when it was just yours truly writing them, and I hope at least a few of the visitors will choose to stick around, and see what I'm up to, and what's on my mind. Furthermore, if anyone has any ideas for guest blogs, or just would like to do one, absolutely feel free to suggest it to me. This turned out really well, and I don't mind sharing at all.

Anyway. Back to what I was saying about the little bit of writing I've been doing -- I've had a couple of small breakthroughs on old projects, specifically "Assisted Living" and "Trendsetter." The latter was particularly interesting, and came to me while listening to the Mountain Goats's song "No Children." As far as either project goes, I haven't really made a plan to move forward on any actual scripting yet -- I've been really busy in my day-to-day lately, and also, frankly, I've just been reevaluating what's a good use of my time, or more specifically, what kind of realistic goal I can really have working on screenplays knowing I don't have the funding or connections to proceed beyond the writing part.

Then again, there's also something to be said just for writing for writing's sake.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I've also been doing some prose, which if I can get myself focused I may post some of here. Though I'm pretty sure my next project will involve going back to, of all things, Nova. For a particular reason I find myself in a place where I need to sweat about seven pages out of it, and if anyone is up for helping me with this, I'd be much obliged. I'm actually kicking myself pretty hard because I did do a much shorter version of Nova which I called the "Severe Cut," but that particular copy has mysterious disappeared from my hard drive -- and anyway, it was closer to ten or twelve pages shorter, and took out too many things that right now I'm pretty keen on keeping.

More soon. And thanks again, to everyone, who made these past two weeks work so well.

Guest Blog: Andrew Kaluzynski's Top Ten Horror Films of the Decade [Just when you thought they were over...]

• Friday, February 5, 2010 3 comments
--Note from the Management: I know I said we were done when I posted mine, but Andrew sent me his list last night and made me realize that some really excellent "Masters of Horror" episodes went unmentioned. Besides, it was good of him to put together a list, and I've even been told that I might get one or two more before this weekend is over -- so as long as you send 'em, I'm gonna post 'em.


by Andrew Kaluzynski.


10. Final Destination 2
(2003)

After seeing the trailer for the first installment of this trash film franchise I initially had no interest in viewing the sequel. However, the Rube Goldberg Esq. death scenes have proved to be one of the most entertaining sick guilty pleasures of my life. As ridiculous as the premise is… you can’t argue with the creativity and craft that went into this ultimately trivial movie.






9. Slither (2006)

Ewwww… just, ewww. I’m not sure I should elaborate. I certainly don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about this movie.









8. Battle Royale (2000)

The first time I saw this movie I was on mushrooms. That might have something to do with the fact that it’s on my list. Or it could be that the imagined future of reality tv as population control is far to prophetic to ignore. Don’t watch this on mushrooms. It’s a bad idea.







7. Family (2006)

(o.k. So the next two on my list are technically part of the Showtime series “Masters of Horror” but I feel, because of their sheer lo budget pizazz, they deserve to be on my list.) Family is a lovely little film that features George Wendt (that’s right, George Wendt from Cheers!) as a nice, homely, local yokel type, neighbor with a lovely American as apple pie family. That is, until some yuppies move in next door and ruin everything. Gee, I wonder what you're doing with that cadaver sized vat of acid in your basement?




6. Imprint (2006)

I only chose this because I find it impossible to choose any of J-horror director Takashi Miike’s films for this list. Really, anything he did in the last decade should go near the top. But, for sheer obscurities sake, I’m choosing Imprint. This "dark stranger who's got a bone to pick with a prostitute" story is quickly spattered with a riverboat load of dead fetuses, home abortions, mommy issues, and sentient conjoined twins with eyes, fingers, and yappy little mouths.




5. American Psycho (2000)

Frightened naked hooker = bull eye for falling chain-saw. Ironically, the most frightening scene in this passable adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s classic psychological thriller is the one in which a group of stoic C.E.Os have a pissing contest over the font and quality of paper stock of their business cards.

David Van Patten: [re: business card] "Good coloring."

Patrick Bateman: "That's 'Bone'."

*Shudder*


4.The Host (2006)

A South Korean monster flick with a sense of humor and a heart… As much a story about government crisis management tactics and family dynamics as it is about special effects and action. Moral of the story: never dump 200 barrels of formaldehyde into a high traffic waterway.







3. Drag Me To Hell (2009)

With Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi managed to craft a film that is absurd, grotesque, over the top, and just downright silly. And still this movie manages to be chilling and horrifying for all the right reasons. And who can argue with a well placed “hang in there” poster with a cute kitten dangling from a branch? Seriously.






2. Inland Empire (2006)

Terrifying, confusing, and exhausting, Inland Empire captures everything that I love to hate about California and American culture without being too blatant or preachy. There’s a lot to chew on here. (Bunny Rabbits!) I wasn’t sure I liked this movie the first time I watched it, but, like all of Lynch’s best work, repeat viewings improved my experience. Unlike most thrillers, prone to fall apart once the viewer knows what’s coming, Inland Empire is actually scarier the second and third times around. For me, the true horror of this film lies not in the suspense effects or relentless mind fuckery that Lynch unleashes on his audience, but in conceptual deconstruction of American culture, selfish cruelty of human interaction, and lack of control some of us seem to have of the holes we dig ourselves into. (I don't entirely agree with Lynch's subject material... but it sure scares the hell out of me.)


1. The Orphanage (2007)

The Orphanage is as much a tearjerker as a horror film. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but mostly, you’ll be on the edge of your seat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horror film that manages to be as sentimental and emotionally exhausting as The Orphanage. The characters are beautifully crafted and the devices used to ease us into the supernatural are, however conventional (creepy children with bags over their heads… “come play with us” etc), ingeniously subtle and perfectly executed. There’s nothing like going to see a film where the entire audience gives off simultaneous gasps and screams… but maybe that’s why I liked this one so much. Ah the catharsis of the theater.



Andrew Kaluzynski is a filmmaker and musician living in Emeryville, California. He and Randall went to school together at Bennington College, where at least two conversations took place about the superiority of the Scarlet Spider. In his spare time, Andrew does video installations, and sometimes writes on his blog “Andrew in the East Bay.” If self-awareness were a sword, he’d be Hattori Hanzo.

Guest B-- oh, wait! This is My Top Ten Horror Films of the Decade

• Thursday, February 4, 2010 1 comments
Hey! It's finally my turn [which you can tell by all the repeated images and Asian language posters].


10. Slither (2006)

People hail Cloverfield as the return of the monster movie, but Slither actually beat J. J. Abrams to the punch by two years. Not the big, crazy, Godzilla-like rampaging monster, but the staple of old-school American horror – the sympathetic freak show, the creature from the abyss who just wants to be loved. Oh, and to eat people, and enslave the human race. And unlike Cloverfield, Slither never takes itself too seriously, and gives us everything we really want in a movie like this – a lot of gross out moments, a believable damsel in distress who’s not exactly a damsel [Elizabeth Banks], and the square-jawed Errol Flynn of today – Nathan Fillion.


I remain shocked that this movie isn’t a bigger deal than it is, and I think if it had been released in previous decade, it probably would be – as it’s really more of a DVD film, ripe with extras and deleted scenes, and in-joke catchphrases that would have made it huge with the cult crowd. Still, there’s plenty here to enjoy, with loads of humor and great monster makeup, not to mention one or two legitimate creep-out moments. And it all ends pretty much how it should, with a smile, and a wink, and Fillion’s assurance that all’s well in hand because, well, “I’m Bill Pardy.”


We are all Bill Pardy.



9. Dawn of the Dead (2004 Remake)

The past ten years was plagued with substandard remakes of great horror films that most people had never seen before, and as a fan of all those movies of yesterday, I was absolutely certain I wasn’t going to list a single one of them. Problem with taking that stance is, Zack Snyder and James Gunn’s remake of the Romero classic is actually really, really good, and with a few other films helped usher in the return of the zombie to horror.


Sure, this version lacks a lot of the social commentary the original had, but it makes up for it by doing a really good ensemble cast horror film where you actually come to care about the characters as something more than just eventual victims. The gore factor in this really high too, and even when completely locked down in the mall the movie never lets you feel entirely safe. Little flourishes like sprinting zombies and updated news footage makes the concept seem fresher than it actually is, and the filmmakers are smart enough to know that horror film or not, if you have Ving Rhames, you better have him make a speech. All of this would have made the movie memorable – but the horror of the zombie birth knocks this up to one of the scarier films in the whole of the genre.



8. [REC] (2007)

[REC] is a Spanish horror film that caused enough of a stir to get an American-made near-shot-for-shot remake called Quarantine, which was actually pretty good too, but still paled in comparison to the original, taking the Blair Witch-style shaky cam approach and telling a horrific story which, depending on who you ask, either redefines the zombie genre, or re-imagines demonic possession.


What strange hairs to have to split.


The movie takes it sweet time getting to bulk of the action, and suffers a little from its slow start, but once things start rolling the scares are almost nonstop, and I watched the last thirty minutes of [REC] tensed up and with my fingernails dug into my own thigh. This feeling of perpetual clench covers the movies weaker moments well, and the way it was filmed makes you feel more like you’re actually in the building with these creatures, as opposed to just watching what happened after the fact, like the aforementioned Blair Witch or Cloverfield. I’ll be honest, as cliché as it is to say, this is the only movie on this list I still don’t feel comfortable watching alone.



7. Frailty (2001)

I have a strong personal connection to this movie, as long before I actually saw it I sat in a car with my Dad as he told me about this strange little film where Bill Paxton wields an axe with “OTIS” carved in it and kills people with his kids along for the ride. When I finally got around to watching it, I was surprised that instead of an oddball, Evil Dead-style slaughter-fest what I really got was an incredibly deep psychological thriller that gives you just enough to keep you interested, but never tips its hand entirely until the very end.


Of course any movie that relies so heavily on a twist ending runs the risk of running only on its own shock value, and I’ll admit after seeing it once I really didn’t expect it to have the same weight on continued viewings. To my surprise, it actually gets stronger, with little tells to what’s going on that I didn’t notice the first time through, and just a really strong sense of story structure that sucked me in again even though I knew where I was going. Take note, M. Night Shyamalan; this is how it should be done.


6. Cabin Fever (2002)

I read an interview with Eli Roth that made me seek out Cabin Fever, where the director talked at length about how far American Horror had fallen, pointing out that once upon time movies like The Shining and The Exorcist were considered pinnacles of filmmaking, only to have the genre as a whole lowered by the continued sequel-driven drek of serial slasher films. Roth claimed that if he had a goal in making horror movies, it was to bring the genre back to the prominence it deserved, and Cabin Fever was his first noticed attempt.


If that truly was Roth’s goal [which we might be able to doubt, what with the Hostel series and all], then this movie is taking horror back to basics. If Cabin Fever seems familiar, it is, having a lot obviously in common with early grindhouse exploitation movies, and almost mimicking Craven’s The Last House on the Left in structure, if not in spirit. The movie has everything you’d expect, like sex, gore, and a good dose of humor, but where it really shines is in showing us just how shitty we can be to each other – as the group basically abandons the first infected, their friend Karen, to be quarantined on a dirty mattress in an old shed, and that’s just the first atrocity as we watch even our POV hero character [played by Rider Strong] make worse and worse decisions in the name of self-preservation. And it’s all for naught. Roth would revisit this theme later in “Hostel,” but somehow, almost unbelievably; it works better here, even with crazy redneck cops and swallowed harmonicas. Go figure.



5. The Descent (2005)

The Descent is one of those rare films that might actually be scarier before the monsters show up. There’s a lot about this film that reminds me of an absolute classic in the horror genre – Alien, with its claustrophobic sets and intelligent use of light [or in this case, the lack thereof]. With an all female cast, this British made [but set in America] film makes some interesting choices in how it goes about frightening the audience, with some of the most terrifying moments occurring just because of the characters’ surroundings. When one of the women becomes frightened while pulling through a particularly tight crevice, the horror of her winding up stuck there is as or more terrifying than when the subterranean creatures show up to start eating everyone.


But let’s not sell the monsters short either. Everything about them, from their blindness, to their agility, to their humanoid shape make them prime antagonists for the numerous encounters with the climbers in the latter half of the film, and any confrontation between the women and these creatures seem to take on a greater weight, because in each battle victory for our heroes seems plausible, with just the right bit of cleverness here, or the slightest touch of luck there.


Of course, even if they manage to beat their attackers, or escape them momentarily, there’s still the matter of finding a way out of the cave.


And while all that is very well and good for the genre as a whole, where The Descent really shines is how perfectly realized the world it’s set in is. Though only alluded to, the complexities of the relationships between the women are many and nuanced, and not chucked right out the window because “bigger things are going on.” Add to this characters’ one ray of hope coming from the drawing and equipment left behind by climbers from years before, and the movie manages to achieve something very difficult for a film with hissing monsters – realism.



4. 28 Days Later (2002)

One of the most difficult, and annoying, conceits of the zombie genre is the big reveal. Not that there’s anything particularly uninteresting with patient zero, but when ghouls really get to be an interesting threat is when there’s an actual horde to do battle with, and a world in which they rule. 28 Days Later takes care of this in its title alone, and with only a short intro to someone doing something very unseemly with a bunch of monkeys, we’re off and running [as are the zombies], as soon as our protagonist Jim awakes in an abandoned London hospital.


And an abandoned London has never looked so desolate or beautiful – in a strictly shit your pants sort of way. As the film goes on Jim sees how cutthroat things have gotten, and the zombies of U.K. turn out not to be the living dead but rather a rage-driven horde of people now driven to chase, eat, and murder anything in their way, all the while vomiting blood and screaming. Couple this with the fact that ghouls seem to be most fond of attacking at night, and you’ve already gotten the perfect movie monsters for a new age zombie movie.


But that’s just what makes 28 Days Later a very good movie. What makes the film truly, truly great is all the wonderful performances it was blessed with, from Naomi Harris and Chris Eccelston, to Danny Boyle’s Hail Mary directorial prowess after the god-awful abortion of a film that was “The Beach.” And the best of all of them was the heretofore unknown Cillian Murphy, playing young Jim who’s growing up in this new, savage world. And deep down we feel for Jim, and want him to keep some of that innocence he woke up with at the beginning in his hospital bed, but cracks start to form as he kills a rage infected child all on his own, and from there it’s a steady ride downhill to the point that not even Selena [Harris] recognizes him as he comes crashing to her rescue, blood soaked and killing barehanded like the rage infected Brits just outside the gate.


My only complaint with this film has to be the feel good ending – the character arc of Jim always made it hard for me to believe there would be anything left in the world for him if he survived, and even though that ending was filmed [twice actually], most prefer the theatrical “happy” repose Jim and his companions are given at the end of the film. And that’s fine. This is horror done almost like art – excellent storytelling, perfect antagonists, plenty of scares, great dialogue, and just a slight dash of social commentary. Dawn of the Dead was the remake – but 28 Days Later is far close to the spirit of Romero’s original forays into zombie horror.



3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

I almost didn’t put this so high. I personally think humor and horror go hand-in-hand, though, and usually the best scary movies are the ones that are smart enough to not just be about freaking the audience out over and over again. The genre is, at least a little, about catharsis after all.


And so we have Shaun of the Dead, another British horror movie that may or may not have bumped it’s more serious cousin 28 Days Later down a place on this list with a brilliant reference near its end. Everything here is back to normal, with slightly more classical, shambling undead, and a couple of dimwitted but loveable protagonists in the form of Shaun and Ed [Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, respectively]. Is Shaun of the Dead ever actually scary? Not… exactly, though there are one or two hair-raising moments when Shaun finds his flat mate Pete already standing dead in the shower, or when the whole cast is trapped in the car with recently reanimated Bill Nighy, ready to punctuate a heartfelt moment with some flesh eating. But mostly, Shaun of the Dead is about being smart, being clever, and referencing things in such a way so as not to just carry itself on previous subject matter alone.


Oh, the references. All of the Romero films, obviously, and “An American Werewolf” gets a nod in the form of a manic cabby, and “We’re coming to get you Barbara!” is assigned more to this film than any other that it previously made an appearance in. And if you’re really into Edgar Wright, and his whole crew, you’ll find more than a couple mentions of the precursor to Shaun, the BBC comedy Spaced. And as for the original jokes, well, they’re all fast, sharp, and hilarious, and unlike a lot of British comedy, aren’t left just to word play – a slip at the market, or a moment to wind up a disposable camera, and I’m laughing as hard as I ever have. And just when you think they can’t possibly have another good laugh in them, well…


There’s a dance battle with an obese, undead barkeep to Queen.


This isn’t to say its all laughs. There are some legitimately touching moments, like Shaun having to do in his own reanimated mother, or Ed, moments before death, saying one more immature goodbye to his friend. Arguably the most impressive thing the movie does is move so seamlessly between violence and laughs, while still managing to strike a believable somber tone. And before it can get heavy? Wright and company breaks it up by ripping poor David to pieces.



2. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

Remember how I mentioned earlier that they remade [REC] almost shot-for-shot for an American audience? Well, the director of the Poughkeepsie Tapes, John Erick Dowdle, was the guy they got to do it.


Much like Quarantine and [REC], Poughkeepsie Tapes resembles the Blair Witch style, with a healthy dose of grindhouse mockumentary thrown in for color. The plot of the film is pretty loose, too, following New York City police detectives as they sift through over 800 video tapes seized in raid on an abandoned house in the suburbs. On the tapes are a visual record of an unknown killer and his series of crimes. The content of the tapes are studied by the detectives in hopes of uncovering the killer’s and his victims’ identities, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that no such revelations are to be had, and the true story is the effects that the disturbing images begin to have on those watching.


The effect on the viewer is a similar one, and why even with the sparse plot I have to rank The Poughkeepsie Tapes so high. Yes, there are disturbing images in the film – a lot of which, if presented on its own in something like Saw or Hostel might come across as torture porn [and if someone wanted to call this that, I don’t think I could come up with a strong argument to the contrary], but what sets The Poughkeepsie Tapes apart is the fact that it puts a context and weight to these scenes, the people who see them matter to us, and what they do to the people who see them matter, and by the end, I wasn’t entirely sure if I was watching and reacting to the movie, or watching and reacting to the movies within the movie.


It’s rare that a horror film sticks with me. The only other example that readily jumps to my mind was the 1997 Austrian horror film Funny Games, which though not from the decade we’ve been talking about I can only encourage everyone here to actively seek out and see. My first time seeing Funny Games, I was angry, incensed, and couldn’t get the movie out of my mind. It eventually became one of my favorites. The Poughkeepsie Tapes shares this rare honor with it – I walked away annoyed, incredibly disturbed without payoff, and completely unable to put the movie out of my mind. I knew this meant that like Games I’d come to love it.


Until then, I was sleeping with the lights on.



1. Lat den ratte komma in/Let the Right One In (2008)

What’s to be said that everyone else hasn’t? If this was my list of the best movies of the past ten years period, Let the Right On In would probably settle somewhere between Clerks 2 and The Hurt Locker [which is high praise if you know me], and is probably one of the better and more original flicks made way beyond the past decade.

As far as the vampire subsection of horror goes, this might be the kind of vamp movie that could have never been made in the U.S.A. Two aspects of the genre tend to fascinate most American creators and artists – the sexual/romantic aspect, and the supposed “curse” of immortality, which often takes the form of flashy, privileged boredom. It’s these hobby-horses that keep a lot of vampire-related media to these fanciful, fashion driven pieces which involve either body glitter, skin-tight leather, or Victorian collars that make it look like the undead are being kept from licking their stitches. And it’s not like there isn’t a market for all of that – there very much is, and I wouldn’t presume to say otherwise – but the genre’s been back to that well so many times if it’s not getting dry, then at the very least we’re getting bored with the taste.


So the Swedes throw out all of that, take the vampires pretty much as back to basics as you can go, even forgoing the usual teen-to-twenty-something age range to sort of enchanting look at a pre-teen world. The end result is a movie about an immortal killer and her bumbling slave which has been repeatedly and correctly called a “coming of age” story. The movie manages to be terrifying at times, but in other moments it becomes downright charming, a feeling that if the viewer pauses to realize makes everything feel even more unnerving. Let the Right One In is enchanting, but also a shocking horror show, and the fact that those two seemingly opposing forces operate so well together makes this movie special.


Earlier when talking about Cabin Fever, I mentioned how far the horror genre had fallen thanks to the uninspired, brain-dead slasher flicks that turned all horror movies into lepers among the other genres in filmmaking. Once, films like The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Shining were revered, even considered Oscar contenders – and Let the Right One In deserves to stand right along with them.


The Management would like to thank everyone who got involved in horror week [re: week-ish] here on the Mojo Wire, from those who submitted guest blogs to all the visitors and new readers. Randall sincerely hopes they'll decide to stick around after all the blood and guts are over, but is otherwise happy to be taking his blog back. Special thanks goes to John Wiswell, who came up with this idea, and the website IMP Awards, which provided most of the movie posters.

Guest Blog: Zoe Chevat's Top Ten Horror Films of the Decade

• Wednesday, February 3, 2010 3 comments
by Zoe Chevat.

When I think about the horror movies I saw in the last ten years, what I’m looking for is a good, memorable scare. Not a load of effects, torture porn, or slashers chasing bright young things in a movie based on a video game. I want a director to be clever enough to disturb me. They’re not all ‘horror’ movies in the conventional sense, but the 10 films listed here included some element or another that wormed its way into my consciousness and stayed. I wouldn’t call it a definitive list. But if you haven’t seen some of these, get thee to a NetFlix account.

In no particular order:

Audition (2000 in U.S. release) – The past decade was a new golden age for imported Asian horror, and director Takashi Miike served as the undisputed king. This film, which follows a widower as he auditions women for the “part” of his new wife, only to get more than he bargained for, caused a stir with foreign audiences. Unflinching, uncompromising, and not for the faint of heart.








The Host (2006) – A strangely beautiful and plainly strange film from South Korea, The Host had a fresh take on ye olde monster movie. Includes the obligatory death of a dumb American tourist, as well as a tension-building use of cell phones.









Hard Candy (2006) While not strictly a horror movie, I count this among the more disturbing releases of the decade. Patrick Wilson stars as a photographer and sexual predator who gets a nasty surprise when he lures a 14-year-old he met on the Internet to his home. The ultimate antidote to Juno, it ensures that you never think about red hoodies or Ellen Page the same way again.







Mulholland Drive (2001) Another non-‘horror’ thriller that spooked me more than all the sequels to Saw. Originally planned as the pilot of a television series (can you imagine?), Mulholland Dr. keeps the lid on its boiler in the finest noir tradition. Too surreal and too highbrow for some, but for those who like it, it’s Lynch at the height of his powers.








The Ring (2002) – Alas, the Japanese original was released in 1999, so we’ll have to go with the American remake. Yes, it was the film that spawned a thousand parodies, a sequel, and a string of American ripoffs of other Japanese films trying to capitalize on its success. But precisely the things that make it parody-worthy, like a great concept, and startling visuals, are exactly the things that make it worth watching.







Save the Green Planet! (2003) – Another Korean flick, this one about a crazed loser who, convinced he is the only one who can save the Earth from an alien invasion, kidnaps and tortures a salaryman in his basement. The psychological games and grisly scenarios almost make up for the pathetic ending.









28 Days Later (2002) The mainstream origin of the “fast zombie” genre, we’ve all mentioned it here because it’s damn good. See it.











Let the Right One In (2004) – About as unconventional of a take on the vampire movie as one could find, this Swedish film found something fresh and original, and – dare I say it – sweet in an old standby.










American Psycho (2000) – This adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel sparked controversy from feminist groups, despite being directed by a woman. Clearly, I have fewer scruples. Either that, or I saw the sly, black-as-night humor in the descent of an 80s Wall Street player into homicidal oblivion. If nothing else, see it for Christian Bale’s pitch perfect performance as slimy serial killer Patrick Bateman.







The Orphanage (2007)– Classy, well paced, and solid straight through, this Spanish film by Juan Antonio Bayona has gotten well deserved critical praise, but flew under the radar of mainstream audiences. If you want a robust scare to wash down the bad taste of Hostel II or Daybreakers, this one’s for you.









Zoe Chevat is an animator and graphic artist currently attending graduate school at CalArts out in sunny, well, obviously, California. She met Randall at Bennington College where, not to give too much away, a lot of incredulity was involved. You can keep up with her on her blog, AnachroLush, which she updates regularly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with all sort of macabre curiosities and retro-futurist dandyisms. Sometimes, she even posts her own art and animation.

Guest Blog: Audrey Quaranta's Top Ten Horror Films of the Decade

• Tuesday, February 2, 2010 1 comments
by Audrey Quaranta.

My name is Audrey, and I am a gore hound.

My Top 10 Horror Movies of the Decade are really 10 of the movies I had the most fun watching. My formula, in case you’re wondering, is FUN = (GORE + OFFENSIVENESS) x DECENT STORY + VIOLENT CHARACTERS / π.

A secondary requirement is that the film be memorable. At this point in my life, I watch at least two horror movies a week. That’s…a lot…in a decade. If a film is really good, it will stay with me.

There are many, many movies I loved over the last ten years, but I had to narrow it down somehow.

Oh, and I didn’t feel the need to mention Shaun of the Dead – that’s way too obvious.

Here goes:

10) Zombie Strippers (2008) – Start with Jenna Jameson as a stripper. Awesome. Then turn her into a zombie and have her and her stripper friends wreak bloody havoc on the club they work in. Really fucking awesome.










9) Gutterballs (2008) – Ryan Nicholson is a director I admire and can relate to, since we are both, apparently, freaks. He mixes sex and exploitative gore with unapologetic cinematic eloquence. It’s the kind of thrill you don’t want anyone to catch you getting.









8) Freddy vs. Jason (2003) – Okay, this is obviously not really a good movie. Nor is all that bloody. But Freddy and Jason are two of my childhood heroes. And now they’re gonna fight? Yes, please.











7) Feast (2005) – John Gulager was selected to make Feast on that Project Greenlight reality show, and boy, am I glad he was. What he spawned is a trilogy of monster gore movies that are kill after ridiculous kill. Pure violent bliss. Oh, and the monsters get giant erections and screw. And the first film’s got Henry Rollins. Need I say more?








6) Cabin Fever (2002) – Eli Roth might be best known and as The Bear Jew in Inglorious Basterds, or maybe even for the Hostel movies, if anyone remembers those. But he broke into my world by dealing with one of my favorite subjects – flesh-eating disease! Love it.










5) The Hills Have Eyes (2006) – This is the only – ONLY – situation in which I will say I like the remake better. I love you, Wes Craven, but Alexandre Aja did it harder and better. Honorable mention goes to his French-language film, Haute Tension.










4) The Descent (2005) – The main reason I loved this movie so much is that it’s all about women. Well, so is Zombie Strippers, I guess…but the absence of men lets the women fill all the roles of a horror movie. It shouldn’t take an all-female cast for this to finally happen, but it does, and The Descent makes it real and scary.








3) Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) – This movie is shameless in its wit. This is a world in which Freddy and Jason and Michael are real, and Leslie is another killer who has invited a film crew to document his latest spree and his search for a fitting survivor girl. I would consider Nathan Baesel’s portrayal of Leslie one of the best horror performances of the decade as well.








2) Saw (2004) – Alright, I know this series has gone to shit. But when Saw first started it picked up 2000’s horror by its ankles and took its lunch money. Jigsaw is a new iconic killer, and he’s damn sexy too. The plot was great, the twist ending was an actual surprise (for me at least) and what’s more fun than all those nasty tests? Watching people fail them, of course.







1) The Devil’s Rejects (2005) –House of 1,000 Corpses is exquisite is it’s own right, but Rob Zombie took his lovable (really) family of killers and removed the fantastical camp. The Devil’s Rejects is gritty, even filthy. The horror is in the stark realism of the physical and emotional violence that is strong enough to emanate from the screen. It maintains humor from within its characters and from some ‘70s throwbacks, but it is the film’s everyday darkness that hurts, in a good way. People are capable of being this ugly and yet Zombie maintains so much of the killers’ humanity that I found myself rooting for the bad guys. I love to be appalled, and Baby, Otis, and Spaulding definitely deliver. Plus, I’ve never seen a better use of Free Bird.




Honorable mentions: 1408, American Psycho, Black Sheep, Grindhouse, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Hatchet, I Sell the Dead, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, Jennifer’s Body, Land of the Dead, Midnight Meat Train, Murder Party, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Silent Hill, Slither, Teeth, Trailer Park of Terror, Wrong Turn, Wendigo, Zodiac, Zombie Honeymoon, Zombieland.


Audrey Quaranta is a freelance writer from Staten Island, New York, and a New School Alumnus. Though she and Randall have never met in person, he considers a kindred spirit, which he also hopes she takes as a compliment. You can read more of Audrey’s writings on Horror films at horror.about.com.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

• Monday, February 1, 2010 2 comments
Hey, sorry everyone. Momentary pause in the horror-fest.

Today is my Dad's birthday -- the first one since he died. And though it wasn't originally in my plan, the closer it got the more I thought I should commemorate it in some way. I wish I had some great written tribute to offer up here, like a couple of the ones I've done before. Even if they would have been a little corny, like that Green Lantern one. But I don't, because I was gladly wrapped up in this scary movie thing, and today kind of snuck up on me. I guess I was trying not to think about it.

As much as I hate to be this kind of person, if you were planning on writing me an e-mail, or a Facebook message, or maybe sending me a tweet, or a text, or giving me a call, today wouldn't be a terrible day to do that. I'll admit, I'm not looking to talk about it, but a little distraction is always welcome. And if not, it's fine, I'm fine, I think I'd just feel weird acting like everything's okay and scheduling another list to go up at nine this morning.

I hope everyone's been enjoying these lists so far. Posting them has been a lot of fun for me, and we still have a few more. Dad loved movies, and he would have gotten a real kick out of this, I think. Except for Ian's Hulk bashing. Dad really dug The Hulk.

A new Top Ten Horror List will go up bright and early tomorrow, courtesy of my friend and self-professed gore-hound Audrey.