Monday, April 27, 2009

Troy Hickman, Master of the DP!

I LOVE the Doom Patrol. Love them, love them, love them. And if I had my choice of any assignment at DC, it would be writing the Doom Patrol. No, not the Vertigo-style DP. No, not whatever the heck John Byrne did with them. I'd like to write the DP as they were in the 60s (and maybe set in the 60s...maybe a pre-Crisis 60s at that).

Anyone from DC reading this? Do you want a great comic series? Because that's what I'd give you. I've been waiting to write this one since I was about five (but I promise not to write it like I am...except for a childlike awe and affection for the material).

I've got stuff to keep me busy in the meantime, but think about it, DC...


One of my favorite bands, The Upper Crust, has a new album out, Revenge For Imagined Slights, which you can buy at their website here. They recently made an appearance on Craig Ferguson's show, and they still rocque like no one else...

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Horror!

I feel like writing some quick movie I am! And you can't stop me!

Anyway, when I pop a movie into the DVD player, it's quite often a B grade horror film. Or a C grade horror film. Or...well, you get the point. To Lea's chagrin, I have a real jones for these things, even though I know going into it that most of the time they're going to be kind...less than stellar. But that's OK! I find that even in the bad ones, I find concepts, scenes, etc. that appeal to me. And let's face it, if you have to watch a bad movie, a bad horror movie is one of the better choices (bad comedy is the worst, and the most obvious, and truly a scourge on this planet).

So, that having been said, let's get going. I'm going to use a specific "cheap horror" rating for these, based on a one to ten scale (ten being a great flick like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and one being Joe Castro's evil, awful fever dream, Terror Toons). I'll also try to go from worst to best, saving the primo stuff for last...which means you can imagine how I feel about this first stenchmonster below...

First up, Alive or Dead. Terrible name for a horror film, by the way (and it makes me want to sing "You spin me right round, baby, right round"). The plot? Oh, hell, you tell me. It starts off with a decent premise: a woman comes across an abandoned bus with the words "Help Me" scrawled on the inside of one of the windows. Okey dokey. And the first twenty minutes or so are interesting enough to keep me going. But then...frankly, I can't tell you what happens after that. It involves a big lummox chasing two women around, and being very inept at it. That's him in the pic above, by the way, and I have to call shenanigans, as he looks MUCH scarier and more formidable here than in the movie. In actuality, he looks sort of like wrestling's late John Tenta (Earthquake, the Shark, Golga, etc.), but without the grace and charisma. There's some sort of a subplot involving this loser tying women up and impregnating them, I think (what is it with so many of these movies, especially the crazed hillbilly/mountain man/mutant ones, taking a "Mars Needs Women" angle?). Anyway, watch this one only if you want the pleasure of explaining to your ol' Uncle Troy what the @#$% it was about.

Two Stars - **

Next we have Malevolence. The idea here is that you have some bank robbers show up at a house (or close to one) where a serial killer has been operating. And...golly...he ends up killing them! Very little here is any more surprising than that. And even the killings are fairly bland for this sort of fare. There is an epilogue that seems somewhat tacked on, but it does raise the movie in my esteem just a bit, so good for them. I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to see this, but if you have an unlimited rental deal like I do, I don't think you'll feel your intelligence is TOO insulted by this one.

Three stars - ***

And...Plasterhead. OK, so this is about four college kids from Jersey going on spring break to Florida. They find a woman's purse, go to a small town and try to return it, and get caught up in a lot of murderous mayhem. Frankly, there's not much to recommend this movie except the fact that its main character is called Plasterhead, and that's no small thing. He has some sort of origin involving a bunch of racists working over a black guy and leaving him for dead, but that's really just a lot of yah-yah; what's important here is that he covers his head in plaster and calls himself Plasterhead. There's also a really crazy redneck gas station guy who has to be seen to be appreciated. This moves along too slowly, and they spend a strangely inordinate amount of time talking about the fact that the town they're in used to be called something else (I'm not big on movies that use zoning ordinances as fodder for terror). It's worth a look if you have nothing else to do, though, as it has a character called Plasterhead.

Midnight Movie - This one is in the vein of stuff like The Video Dead, Shocker, and Wes Craven's New Nightmare, though not as memorable as any of those. The premise is that a low-budget horror film was made in the 1970s, and the star/director eventually went crazy, got out of the nuthouse five years ago, and may be on the loose and menacing. The film in question, by the way, seems somewhat like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though it has the unlikely title "The Dark Beneath" (sounds like a movie about Cicely Tyson's butt to me). Anyway, a bunch of teen-agers end up at a midnight showing of this "classic" flick, and before you know it, the murderer from the movie leaves the screen and guessed it...killing folks in the theater. For what it is, it's fairly well done, and there are a few neat touches. Unfortunately, there are also some plot holes big enough to drive a hovercraft through (and if I catch them, then you KNOW they're a problem). There's also a biker character played quite nicely by Stanley Ellsworth who's the best character in the movie, but the most creative name they could come up with for him was "Harley"? Hey, why not call the police detective "Flatfoot" or the little kid "Ankle-Biter"? Anyway, this one may not be an instant classic, but it did entertain me for most of the ninety minutes or so that it ran, so it's worth a look.

Five stars - *****

Storm Warning is the tale of an Australian guy and his French girlfriend who are out boating when a storm forces them to take cover on a small island. As it turns out, it's the home a a crazy guy and his sons, who are involved in a grow-op, abductions, rapes, murders, and probably even the occasional tearing the sticker off a mattress. Pretty basic "terrorized by the locals" plot, but it's fairly well done. You get a real sense of depravity from the evil family, and a nice catharsis when they're eventually turned into lunch meat. There's a "nice" scene where an attempted rape goes terribly wrong for the perpetrator, and it had me audibly saying "Ouch!" as I watched it. If you enjoy stuff like Wolf Creek, this will probably grab you.

Five Stars - *****

Eden Lake - Here's another Aussie horror film (they're really turning 'em out) that has a similar premise to Storm Warning. A young couple are on a holiday, and they suddenly find themselves the victims of a sadistic bunch. In this case, though, the attackers are a group of 12-17 year olds, who end up doing some very nasty things to our protagonists. This one gets points for giving you a sense of both the peer pressure involved for these kids, and also for the sociopaths that their upbringing has led them to be. It reminds me a little of stuff like The River's Edge or Over the Edge (I guess nothing makes your film edgier than putting "edge" right there in the title). I'm torn on the ending, which is powerful, but which seems a little too similar to Last House on the Left (or Virgin Spring, for that matter), and is a bit contrived. This one is sufficiently tense and definitely worth the time to watch it.

Six Stars - ******

Hatchet? Well, it's just a lot of fun. Concept? A bunch of people are on a boat tour of the bayou, when they are confronted with the slasher du jour, one Victor Crowley. The PR campaign for this one plays strongly on the angle that ol' Vic is going to be the next Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees, and I think that's expecting a lot from the newbie, but he is one scary-looking sack of pucks who really seems to enjoy his work (and for whom you feel a certain pity, which is no small feat for a guy who's lopping off the heads of innocents). What makes this one stand out among the field of similar flicks is mainly the dialog, which is quite smart in comparison to most low budget (or even big budget) horror. A number of solid laughs in the midst of the mayhem, and you get the feeling that the cast and crew don't take themselves too seriously. I wouldn't mind seeing Victor return.

Six Stars - ******

Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer seems to be an attempt to make Evil Dead/Army of Darkness with a lot less money and a lot fewer Raimi-cam moments. And ya know, for the most part it works. Jack himself is a hapless everyman loser, but once he begins his monster-slaying, he's the man. Yeah, it takes way too long for that monster-slaying to happen, but personally I'm hoping for some sequels, as this seems more like an origin story than anything else. And yes, they try to hard to make it something special instead of letting it happen naturally, but it was still enjoyable. Good performances all around (the omnipresent Robert Englund, who I think is in half the movies I've reviewed here, is particularly good this time out). Trevor Matthews plays Jack with a certain degree of restraint that keeps it from going TOO gonzo (he reminds me a little of Jason Lee). Decent (non CGI!) effects, coherent script, and just a fair amount of fun overall.

Seven Stars - ******

Before any of you pinkboys point out that Quarantine is a remake of the Spanish film [REC], I need to point out that I don't give a rat's rosy red ass. I'm sure that's a wonderful movie, and I'll see it eventually, but I'm not going to let this turn into one of those "oh, the foreign original is SO much better" hatefests. Save that for your Eurotrash and movies where big-eyed Japanese girls crabwalk toward their victims. I enjoyed Quarantine quite a lot. It was genuinely scary and suspenseful in spots, and I don't see that with a lot of movies these days. The acting was good, the pacing was great, and the whole thing had a kind of claustrophobic feeling that we haven't seen since John Carpenter's heyday with things like Assault on Precinct Thirteen. Yeah, there's a bit of shaky hand-held camera work that may bother a few folks, but hey, I'm Mr. Vertigo, and I didn't have a bit of trouble with it (or with the Blair Witch Project, for that matter). This is a good one to watch if you want your significant other to cling to you out of the heebie jeebies.
Seven Stars - *******

Feast 3 - Look, I'm not going to go into any great description here, because there is truly no way to describe the work of John Gulager. If you haven't seen the three Feast movies, go out and rent them today and watch them all in succession (but DON'T watch #3 if you haven't seen the previous ones). Suffice it to say, Gulager doesn't make horror films like anyone else on the planet. The guy is fearless, showing things on screen that just make you literally say "oh, no, he's not going to...he's wouldn't...oh, my gosh, the @#$% actually showed that!" The basic premise is as simple as can be: there are a bunch of monsters out there, and they're killing people. What more do you need? But between the mayhem and the bloodshed and the breaking of the fourth wall and the use of John's dad, Clu Gulager, and the midget luchadores and Henry Rollins and the lesbian bikers and the armless samurai and the mentally challenged cleric and the baby...oh, lord, the baby...well, just watch 'em, gang, then report back to me.
I salute you, John Gulager.
Rating - Unratable (but so damned entertaining).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where Goofiness Dwells!

Like most of you, I'd had a lifelong love affair with monsters (no, this is not a commentary on my past relationships), and one of my favorite comics as a kid was Marvel's classic reprint anthology, Where Monsters Dwell (and, in fact, the piece from Common Grounds that was nominated for Best Short Story was my homage to those wacky tales, "Where Monsters Dine"). Those plus-sized creatures really stirred my imagination, and left an indelible imprint on my various body parts. One of the wildest thing about them were the covers. Let's take a look at some of this wonderful, beautiful goofiness.

WMD #2 featured Sporr, who sounds like he'd be great to smear on an open wound. What grabs me about this cover image are the folks down front trying to bar the castle door so Sporr can't get out, when clearly his limbs are all over the place, and barring any great lack of upper body strength, I'm pretty sure he could lift his big red ass out of there. And you'll note the title features the popular "I Created..." statement. I think Stan liked having these guys be the architects of their own demise (though in the end they always seemed to outsmart the monsters; giant pseudo-octopi are scary, but not necessary Mensa members).

Here's WMD #3 with our old buddy Grottu. No, I'm not exactly sure why a giant ant would be called Grottu either, but then he probably doesn't know why a human would be called Englebert Humperdinck. Gotta love the caption: "You think it's a typical day. You walk down the street." Yeah, and then you come face to crotch with one gi-normous picnic pest! And like almost all of Marvel's big monsters, whatever their type, origin, etc., he's a bi-ped. I think at the end of the issue he's burned up by a giant bully with a magnifying glass or something. Hey, check out the girl on the bottom right; is it me, or does she look like the X-Men's Jubilee in her Robin-esque duds?

I tended to buy a lot of issues of WMD from the drugstore around the corner from my barber. My dad would take me to get my haircut, then let me run over and buy myself a funnybook, and they tended to be one of these. This one above, WMD #9, was one of those. I'm not even sure if "Bombu" looked anything like this in the story (I seem to recall being disappointed that he was just some jive-turkey witch doctor or somesuch). He doesn't look all THAT great on the cover. Check out his eyes; I think he's falling asleep in mid-menace!

WMD #8 - No, I'm not sure what's going on here, either. Apparently this loser has stumbled into the Crypt of the Four-Armed Men. Uh...if it's a crypt why are they ostensibly alive? And what's so intrinsically scary about dudes with a couple extra limbs? They can give you a beat-down twice as fast? He should have known they'd sense his presence, though, because as we all know, to be four-armed is to be forewarned...

Everyone knows Groot from WMD #6, and I'm pretty sure he's probably made recent appearances (in comics I don't have). Funny how a tree monster would be named "Groot," eh? Sure, quite a coincidence, but it beats the hell out of a giant ant named Grottu! Notable here is the guy who is apparently going to defeat Groot, a fella with the testicular fortitude to stand right in front of the Arborial Asskicker and TELL him not only that he's going to open up a can of weed killer on him, but WHEN he's going to do it! Apparently Groot's not the only one with some major wood...

WMD #10 was another of my barber shop comics, and I have such a memory of lying on the basement floor and reading this when I was probably five or so. Gigantus was a very cool sea monster of epic proportions (and I think maybe an alien), but I felt very embarrassed for him, given the way we puny humans defeated him. They got a special FX guy to build basically a paper mache version of an even BIGGER monster (who looked a bit like It the Living Colossus), and had it "tell" Gigantus that it and its kind were going to take over the planet, so Gigantus had to high tail it out of there. If Gigantus had just bothered to take a close look at this thing, he would've instantly seen it for what it was, but I guess he left his glasses in the briny deep.

In WMD #4, we have more in the "I Created" vein, and this goober apparently made a monster in his cellar. What seems strange about that notion is that he seems to be coming down the stairs with a flashlight, and is surprised by the creature. Hey, buddy, you just told us not only that you were responsible for it, but where it is! Don't plead ignorance now! By the way, I have to say that the monster in question does not exactly fill one with terror. He's kind of like a muppet that the Hensons left on some dressing room floor.

Finally, from WMD #11, we have...Gruto (all the nonsensical conglomerations of syllables in the world, and Stan gives us "Gruto," "Grottu," and "Groot"?). I have to call shenanigans on this one, though, as he's billed as "the creature from nowhere." Well, he seems to be clearly coming out of a hole, doesn't he? So isn't that where he's from? In their defense, though, I'm not sure I would've picked up a comic featuring "Gruto, the Creature Who Came Out of a Hole!" It also asks us to guess the strange secret of Gruto. I'm guessing probably psoriasis, halitosis, or possibly even mild incontinence.
Anyway, that's enough for now, but we'll revisit WMD soon, as there's lots more to see. Now get out there and save a small town from a giant eggplant, you slackers...

New Column Up!

I have a new column up over at Newsarama, dealing with my convention experiences (comic cons, that is, not my turning tricks with the Elks). Check it out here, and please leave some comments (I think a lot of folks end up not even knowing these have been posted).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Troy Hickman's Middle Name is Douglas

(This is for my class; ignore it, the rest of you folks).