Monday, May 30, 2011

Linux Mint on an Acer TravelMate 630


If you ever wondered what I use to hammer my horror movie reviews into while I sit in front of the telly, the answer is an old Acer TravelMate 630 which I usually refer to as my "craptop".

It's not my only laptop computer. I also have three Panasonic Toughbook CF-27s (two 300mhz and one 500mhz currently running Windows 2000 which I use for work), a Sony Vaio FX-101 (with Ubuntu 10.10 on it just for use as a DVD player), an old Apple iBook (500mhz with Tiger and upgraded to DVD) and an Asus EeePC (with EasyPeasy - a netbook version of Ubuntu - on it) which is too small to be useful for anything but watching YouTube.

Apart from the Sony Vaio which I bought from Comet back in 2001, all these old laptops have come dirt cheap from ebay without RAM, hard drives or power supplies which I've added later. I usually max these things out and run through just about every Windows operating system known to man before trying to force Linux on them and, until only last week, the Acer TravelMate was creaking its way through Windows XP SP3.

You would think that a Pentium 4 laptop with a 1.8ghz processor, 512mb RAM and a 40gb hard drive would be more than adequate for my portable computing needs and you'd be right. The trouble is that I can't abide Windows and, now that I have a Roku box to watch Netflix, I don't need XP for anything. I stopped playing games on computers around 2004 when I got an X-Box.

So, to cut a long story short, I have spent the best part of a week installing just about every version of Linux onto my Acer TravelMate only for it to keep freezing. I tried Ubuntu (from 8.10 through to 11.04) only to have either the annoying Orinoco internal wireless card not be able to connect to WPA or have crappy graphics due to no drivers for the 32mb Nvidia Geforce2go. I also went through all versions of Puppy, Xubuntu, OpenSuse, and Fedora before finally getting somewhere with Xubuntu 11.04 until it crashed irrecoverably.

What I found with Xubuntu was that without the new "experimental" Nvidia drivers, DVD and AVI playback was covered with flickering lines all over the screen. With the drivers, it would work for a while then randomly freeze. With Linux Mint 11 only a couple of days old, I knew it would have the same drivers but I thought it would be more stable so I tried it.

What I can tell you is that Linux Mint 11 will work on an Acer TravelMate 630 but it's still not quite right. The problem is that to prevent freezing, it has to be run with ACPI off. Obviously that means that the Nvidia drivers don't kick in and you can't shut down automatically but everything else works including the internet. Watching movies on it without the Nvidia drivers is impossible and I found that I couldn't even close VLC player while viewing "Dust Devil" (1992) which was very annoying.

It's nearly there though. I posted a screenshot above to show you how good it looks. I may have to go back to Windows XP yet again but I'm going to wait a while to see if some bright spark can come up for a fix for the "ACPI versus Nvidia" problem which has plagued thousands of laptops (according to my Googling) ever since Linux was invented. That Plymouth boot screen nonsense has to go too. I tried all the fixes and I've still never seen it work on any computer (even my desktop).

Anyway, that's how I've been wasting all my free time. I've been playing with Linux while watching all sorts of crappy "2 stars out of 5" horror films on streaming Netflix which seem to be all that they have to offer.

I just watched "Black Death" (as a physical DVD from Netflix since it won't be streaming until June 6th) and I wasn't overly impressed. I don't think it really counts as a horror film but it was pretty horrible with all that shaky camerawork. Christopher Smith has made a couple of films which I enjoyed, "Severance" (2006) and "Triangle" (2009), but, unfortunately, "Black Death" (2010) was not another one of them. It had a couple of gory bits but it was just too slow and boring. I had to watch it twice due to falling asleep the first time and I hate it when that happens.

As ever, I'm working on quite a few horror movie reviews which I'll post eventually but it's nearly Summer and I've lost a lot of my inertia due to the overwhelming heat and thunderstorms where I live. I'm not sure if there's anything worth looking forward to among this year's Summer movies but I expect to find a lot to hate about the "Fright Night" remake. I'm probably not going to like it and, as biased as that may be, it's how I feel about most of these unnecessary remakes. I very much doubt that anything about "Fright Night" will change my mind although David Tennant replacing Roddy McDowell may work in its favour and I never did like William Ragsdale or his Charley Brewster character in the original anyway.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Another Versatile Blogger Award


Thanks to Nomar Knight of "Knight Chills", I have now received "The Versatile Blogger Award" for the third time.

The award comes with a few rules which I've never bothered with before but, since I haven't written anything for a week, I might as well do this properly.

The Rules
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4. Contact the winners to congratulate them.

7 random facts about me
1. I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York. :)
2. I don't drink coffee and even the smell of it makes me want to throw up.
3. I have a collection of Audrey Hepburn films, books, and dolls.
4. I'm a big fan of Ubuntu Linux and use it on every computer that I own.
5. I hated maths at school and have never used any of it since.
6. I am addicted to Monster energy drinks.
7. I don't have an iPhone and my iPods are cheap fakes.

My 5 nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award
1. Zombie of "Zombies Everywhere" - http://zombehseverywhereman.blogspot.com.
2. Slowdeath77 of "Horror Smorgasbord" - http://horrorsmorgasbord.blogspot.com.
3. Johnny Zombie of "Fly Paper Dungeon" - http://flypaperdungeon.blogspot.com.
4. LJ of "A Racing Mind" - http://lj-30sandcounting.blogspot.com.
5. Jenny Krueger of "Memoirs of a Scream Queen" - http://memoirsofascreamqueen.blogspot.com.

If you got left out, don't worry. I'm sure that I'll get this award again as the meme continues to go around and you'll get a mention eventually.

By the way, I haven't been blogging for a week due to my Netflix addiction. I've been catching up on loads of TV shows while trying unsuccessfully to install any kind of working Linux on my ancient Acer TravelMate 630 laptop. I haven't had time to watch any horror movies at all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's not the end of the world

Ok, so presumably we are all still here for now and nothing happened. Did you really believe that anybody would vanish yesterday or zombies would rise from their graves? Disappointing, wasn't it?

Since I'm still in the mood, here's a list of my "Top Five Post-Apocalypse Movies".


1) Dawn of the Dead (2004)



"A nurse, a policeman, a young married couple, a salesman, and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall."

I actually prefer Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" over the original.


2) 28 Days Later (2002)



"Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary."

Although I can't stand Cillian Murphy, this was one of the best post-apocalyptic movies until "The Walking Dead" hit our TV screens last year.


3) Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)



"Survivors of the Raccoon City catastrophe travel across the Nevada desert, hoping to make it to Alaska. Alice joins the caravan and their fight against the evil Umbrella Corp."

It may be based on a computer game but you can't fault all the action or Milla Jovovich in this one.


4) Night of the Comet (1984)



"A comet wipes out most of life on Earth, leaving two Valley Girls to fight the evil types who survive."

Partly a guilty pleasure but still one of the best sci-fi horror movies from the '80s.


5) The Book of Eli (2010)



"A post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind."

No zombies anywhere but still a damn fine movie with a clever twist even though it's derivative of just about everything from "Mad Max 2" onwards.


What are your favourites?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Since it may well be the end of the world tomorrow



This may be my final post.

According to Harold Camping,
"It's going to be a horror story of tremendous proportion."

Oh well, at least it won't be a remake.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May's Horror Cat of the Month

This month, it's the pizza-loving Jack from "The First Power" (1990).

"A killer is given the gas chamber after committing several demonic murders. His spirit is released and given power by the Devil. Now the cop that caught him before must find a way to do it again."

I bet you thought that Garfield was the only cat who ate Italian food.

For more horror cats, please check out http://horrorcats.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Sentinel (1977)



"Not ready for marriage, a fashion model moves into an unbelievably nice Brooklyn Heights apartment, where scary occurrences turn into a much more frightening turn of events."

Since I've been completely addicted to my Roku box and watching scores of Netflix movies for the last few days, I've decided to start reviewing a few of the better ones that I've seen. Obviously, this time it's Michael Winner's "The Sentinel".

I don't think I've rewatched "The Sentinel" since it was shown on Channel Four way back in the '80s and I didn't actually like it at the time due to having a totally irrational dislike of Burgess Meredith. There are just some actors and actresses who have me changing TV channels quicker than green grass through a goose and Burgess "The Penguin" Meredith is up there along with the Baldwins, Arquettes and Colin Farrell.

Fortunately for me, Burgess Meredith doesn't spend nearly as long on screen in "The Sentinel" as the absolutely gorgeous Cristina Raines who I remember most from "Flamingo Road". Yes, I used to watch some pretty strange things when I was a kid.

Anyway, "The Sentinel" is very much a "good vs. evil" movie in a similar vein to "Rosemary's Baby" but with far more diabolical goings on and an even more downbeat twist ending. The ending really is quite unexpected though I'm sure some people would say that they saw it coming from the beginning. I really didn't get into all the "Catholics versus The Devil" stuff otherwise I probably have picked up on what was really going on sooner but, honestly, I was just enjoying all the haunted house style shenanigans and bizarre characters to even guess at the bigger picture.

The other thing which completely distracted me was the huge number of famous actors and actresses in "The Sentinel" who are known for much better roles. If you are anything like me, you'll find yourself asking, "Isn't that so-and-so?" quite often and, yes, it really is so-and-so too. Even what you might think are just cameos or bit parts actually contain some very well known actors indeed.

What I really like about this film was that it had some genuinely creepy moments and stayed completely serious in places where it could have become somewhat ludicrous. If you are in the right frame of mind, however, you could probably also watch "The Sentinel" as a sick comedy in the way that some people now think of "The Exorcist".

One major problem for a modern audience is that there are a lot of times when nothing scary happens at all and the pace of the movie drags. If you've watched a lot of TV horror movies from the '70s then you'll probably think you are watching another one rather than an actual theatrical release. Some of this is due to a quite superfluous subplot with cops played by Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken. I must admit that any '70s horror films that lazily throw a cop sublot into the mix really turn me off whether it's Christopher Walken as one of those cops or not.

I won't say that "The Sentinel" is my favourite horror movie but I certainly wouldn't discount it as a legitimate entry into the genre. It has a couple of decent jump scares and some scenes near the end which exploit a load of physically deformed people in ways that even Tod Browning would be proud of.

If you are a fan of '70s horror movies then you'll probably like this. It's not nearly as good as "The Omen" (1976) as a genuinely frightening Catholicism-based supernatural horror but it is still entertaining enough and has a few shocks if you haven't seen too many other horror films from this time. I rate "The Sentinel" as "Just Average".

Monday, May 16, 2011

Deadgirl (2008)



"Two high school boys discover an imprisoned woman in an abandoned mental asylum who cannot die."

This isn't a review as such but just a shoutout to Jenny Spain who I had as a friend on MySpace and Twitter without ever realising that she was an actress or that she was even in this film.

I watched "Deadgirl" so long ago that I don't remember all the details about it except that it reminded me a bit of an R. Chetwynd-Hayes short story called "The Resurrectionist" and one scene in particular was done better a lot better in "Teeth".

I have no idea if the budget was a problem or if it was just toned down to receive an R-rating rather than staying "Unrated", but either way, it just didn't go far enough to make it stand out. It looked cheap, had nobody in who I'd ever heard of before, and I was bored by it.

Maybe I'll watch it again one day and write a full review but I know that I didn't enjoy it and found the subject matter to be little more than an adolescent male fantasy which I couldn't relate to.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A day without Blogger, a day with Roku

Since Blogger was unavailable all day yesterday and most of today (and it appears to have temporarily deleted my review of "Fright"), I watched a load of stuff through the streaming Netflix channel on my new Roku player.

For those who don't know what a Roku player is, check out their website at wwww.roku.com. I've wanted one for ages due to not being able to play Netflix streaming movies on my desktop computer but I was just waiting for a substantial number of horror movies which I'd never seen to become available. Having played with the Roku player for nearly two days now, it's the end of my cable TV subscription. No more annoying commercials for me.

Anyway, here's a quick recap of what I watched which may give you an insight into what happens when a horror movie addict like me first gets a Roku player. It may surprise you because I didn't just watch horror movies.

The Gates
I completely missed this TV series about a gated community of vampires, werewolves, witches and other monsters. Having read that it was cancelled after one season, I wasn't expecting it to be any good so I thought I'd just watch the pilot episode and move on. Unfortunately, it was really good and I ended up watching all the episodes one after another. I don't understand why it was cancelled but the same thing happened to "Firefly", "Farscape", "The Burning Zone", "Invasion" and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" too and it's very annoying. Why great horror and sci-fi TV shows get axed while all those lame comedies about dopey husbands and nagging wives run for years must be an Illuminati conspiracy or something.

Harper's Island
I've only watched the first episode so far but it seems good in a gory Agatha Christie way.

Where's Jack? (1969)
An old film starring Tommy Steele based on the adventures of Jack Sheppard, the thief and jail-breaker who became a folk hero in 1720s London. I remembered it being better and less embarrassing than it actually was but I still enjoyed it.

High Lane (2009)
I switched this off after less than five minutes because I can't stand dubbed movies. Unfortunately a lot of foreign movies on Netflix are like this probably due to the subtitles not showing up so well with lower quality streams.

Devour (2005)
I've passed on this horror movie a number of times at Big Lots because I thought it was likely to be crap. It turned out to be quite enjoyable and had very good production values so it wasn't a turd at all even though the ending wasn't exactly brilliant.

Mutants (2009)
Surprisingly, this French rip-off of every other zombie/virus movie wasn't dubbed. I fast-forwarded through most of it because it dragged on too long and the lead actress was disappointingly plain. It was all very predictable, and I didn't enjoy any of it after the first couple of kills.

Bones
I hadn't watched any of the fifth season so I started playing catch-up especially now that it's reached its sixth.

Growing Op (2008)
I don't know why I started watching a Canadian comedy-drama about a home-schooled teenager who decided that he wanted to go to a normal high school instead of staying with his cannabis-growing parents, but I got into it because it wasn't too silly and ended up watching it all the way to its surprise ending. It was good, but I don't feel like I got anything out of the experience.

Summer Lovers (1982)
I have no idea what it was about as I skipped through it for the dirty parts and then rated it as 1 out of 5.

The Horseman (2008)
This was an exceptionally gory Australian revenge movie which I absolutely loved. A father goes after a gang of pornographers who drugged, raped and killed his daughter. Some of the action was a bit far-fetched, but it was all really gritty stuff and the torture scenes were very satisfying. I'm not sure what to classify this film as since it really ticked all the "torture porn" boxes. Probably the best way to describe it is as a far more violent and realistic version of "Death Wish". I rated it as 5 out of 5.

House of 9 (2005)
Although it was a little bit like "Cube" and lot like the more recent "Exam", I suppose it could be classed as a psychological horror (or a bit like "Saw 2" but without all the traps). I enjoyed it, but it was far from being the best of its kind. I rated it as 3 of 5 because it was quite good until the stupid ending.

From Paris with Love (2010)
I really had no interest in this light-hearted but nicely violent and low-brow action film, but I enjoyed it for what it was. It's a bit of a throwback to all those '80s buddy cop movies but with secret agents against terrorists. It was all pretty pointless and forgettable, but that can be said of most action films anyway. I gave it 3 out of 5.

En la Cama (2005)
I thought it would be filth but the stream was too fuzzy and the camerawork too annoying so it was another one that I skipped through in about five minutes.

Man, Woman and the Wall (2006)
This one was nothing but a softcore porno with a stupid story round it. I don't watch many Japanese films as it is and I can't say that I paid much attention to this one either. I thought it was going to be a psycho-stalker kind of film but it was a misguided love story as far as I could tell.

Driftwood (2006)
I'd seen this supernatural drama before but I'd forgotten most of what it was about so I watched it again. I suppose you could call it a ghost story, but it wasn't a scary one and some of the acting was really bad. It had that dweebie guy from "Sex and the City" (not that I'd ever admit to watching it) as a prison guard and he was probably the best actor in it. There was also yet another one of those wrestler-turned-actor types who should have stuck with his previous career. I didn't completely hate it even so. I gave it 2 out of 5.

So that's how I spent my time while I couldn't get into Blogger. How did you spend your Friday the 13th?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fright (1971)



"Young babysitter Amanda arrives at the Lloyd residence to spend the evening looking after their young son. Soon after the Lloyds leave, a series of frightening occurrences in the gloomy old house have Amanda's nerves on edge. The real terror begins, however, when the child's biological father appears after recently escaping from a nearby mental institution."

I've been watching a lot of films containing outstanding portrayals of nutters lately and it would be remiss of me if I didn't say something about "Fright".

Since I'm one of those people who will argue until I'm red in the face that the plot of "Fright" paved the way for "Halloween" (1978), I have to admit that John Carpenter probably had no idea of this film's existence when he made his own. Psychos escaping from asylums and seeking revenge was nothing new in the horror genre even in 1971 but, whereas John Carpenter added a few supernatural abilities to Michael Myers, "Fright" dealt with a much more human and sympathetic character.

"Fright" is almost a film of two distinct halves due to focusing first on Susan George (as babysitter Amanda) and then eclipsing her performance with the late Ian Bannen (as nutty Brian). When I say "almost", it's because Susan George in her skimpy lilac mini-dress absolutely carries this film from beginning to end.

Obviously this isn't just a story with two actors such as "Sleuth" (1972) but the others are little more than supporting roles. Honor Blackman does her best to act paranoid, Cockney geezer Dennis Waterman tries to be Amanda's desperately horny boyfriend, and George Cole is, well, just the same slightly amusing George Cole as he ever was though he's still eight years away from becoming Arthur Daley. There's nothing wrong with any of their performances and none of them are merely two-dimension bit parts but, as I said, this is Susan George's vehicle most of all.

Since I wasn't really alive at the time that "Fright" came out (1972 in the USA), I have absolutely no idea about what the reaction was to it. If you compare it to "The Exorcist" (1973), it's obvious that horror movies really increased in nastiness in little over a year. I know that it's a bit like comparing oranges with apples but "Fright" seems like a bit of a throwback to a much tamer world of horror movies. The fact that there's some quite brutal violence and lots of screaming does little to persuade me otherwise.

I suppose there's something a lot more cosy about British horror movies which didn't often go for gritty realism until much later than the American equivalents. "Fright" is full of well-mannered Brits all saying "please" and "thank you" though on one occasion Susan George lets a lovely four-letter expletive out and there's never any doubt in your mind that this is a horror movie.

If this was an American horror, Susan George's slip would have been one of those annoying clichés which would set her out to be either morally or mentally unstable. In "Fright", our heroine is very much a prototype for the even more foul-mouthed Margot Kidder in "Black Christmas" (1974). You know that Susan George isn't just an innocent dumb blonde with a pretty face and it makes her character real.

Of course, Susan George is also a fantastic piece of flawless eyecandy as well as being a feisty final girl. I really don't know a lot about her as an actress though she was footballer George Best's girlfriend at one point and also starred in the infamous "Straw Dogs" (1971). If she ever looked more beautiful in a film than she did in "Fright" then I want to see it.

Anyway, once creepy Ian Bannen turns up, Susan George is almost pushed completely out of the limelight by his acting prowess. Although he's not nearly as good in "Fright" as he is in "The Offence" (1972), there are some obvious parallels between the way Ian Bannen plays Brian and the suspected paedophile Kenneth Baxter. Maybe it's because he does a weird mumbling thing every so often but Ian Bannen really gets under my skin (or on my last nerve). I know it's wrong to speak ill of the dead but there was just something very sinister and menacing about Ian Bannen in every role that I've ever seen him in. He was probably a lovely man in real life though and, weirdly, that shows through too in the scene with his screen son (Tara Collinson) which looks improvised rather than scripted. Maybe it's just me but I felt a little bit sorry for nutty Brian.

I really don't have anything else to say about "Fright" other than recommending that you watch it. Yes, it's a little bit dated now but not in a bad way, and, no, it's not really very scary or exciting when compared to modern slashers but it still has some very effective moments. Watch out for a couple of self-aware "meta" moments which pre-date the "Scream" series by a quarter of a century.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Twisted Nerve (1968)



"Martin is a troubled young man. With a mother who insists on treating him like a child, a stepfather who can't wait to see the back of him, and a mongoliod brother shut away in an institution, is it any wonder he retreats into an alternate personality... that of six year old Georgie? It is Georgie who befriends Susan Harper, but friendship soon turns into obsession. When Susan begins to distance herself, something inside Georgie snaps and he embarks on a killing spree, with Susan as the next target."

As I'm in a somewhat nostalgic mood today, nostalgic for when there were actually some very entertaining British movies still being made, I decided to watch "Twisted Nerve" which is one of my favourite Hywel Bennett films.

If you've never heard of Hywel Bennett then either you just aren't old enough or you aren't British enough to remember his long running '80s sitcom, "Shelley". As someone who always wanted to grow up to be an idle layabout, the philosophising dolite, Shelley, was a bit of a hero to me growing up in Thatcher's Britain.

It was only much later on that I discovered Hywel Bennett's films including "The Family Way" (1966), "Percy" (1971), and "Endless Night" (1972), most of which saw him paired with either Hayley Mills, Elke Sommer or both. I'd never even heard of "Twisted Nerve" until it was shown on Channel Four in 2007 but I liked it immediately.

I'd been trying to get a copy of this film since then but in the end I just rewatched it on YouTube. I've never seen "Twisted Nerve" available on DVD although I once saw it turn up on a Mill Creek Entertainment pack which they discontinued before I could buy it. From the number of bootleg versions which I've discovered, I think it's fair to assume that "Twisted Nerve" is now in the Public Domain. As a collector, I don't like buying bootleg DVDs but I may order the official Region 2 release eventually.

Anyway, since "Twisted Nerve" is more of a psychological thriller rather than a horror movie, I suppose I ought to justify the fact that it is going into The Vault. It's probably not enough for me to just mention the words, "Mongoloid" and "Psychotic Behaviour", but those are the terms which a narrator's voiceover addresses at the beginning of the film:
"Ladies and gentlemen, because of the controversy already aroused, the producers of this film wish to re-emphasize what is already stated in the film, that there is no established scientific connection between Mongolism and psychotic or criminal behaviour."

Yeah, it hooked me straight away too. If the producers were forced to add a disclaimer because of complaints about the content of their film then that film was most certainly for me!

Of course it wouldn't matter whether the subject matter was controversial or not if "Twisted Nerve" wasn't a damn fine film with an engaging story and exceptional performances from the cast. I didn't know until I read it on the IMDb, but it seems that Alfred Hitchcock cast both Barry Foster and Billie Whitelaw in "Frenzy" (1972) after watching their performances in "Twisted Nerve". Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett went on to star in "Endless Night", an Agatha Christie adaptation. and I also recommend that one too.

I'm not going to outline the story of "Twisted Nerve" or list any memorable moments because I believe it to be a film best watched with no prior knowledge whatsoever. Suffice it to say that it's very '60s in style but also suitably creepy when it needs to be. If you like films such as "Girly" (1970) then you'll like this too.

Something Evil (1972)



"A young couple moves into a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania. What they don't know is that there is an unseen presence in the house, and that it wants to take possession of the wife."

The IMDb description of this early Steven Spielberg TV horror film is wrong for so many reasons that I have to explain what they are before moving on. For a start, I don't think you could really describe the odd pairing of Darren McGavin and (admittedly younger) Sandy Dennis as a young couple. Secondly, the unseen presence is not confined to the house and it isn't unseen or even unheard either. Does it want to take possession of the wife? Well, I saw no evidence of that but maybe.

I'd seen "Something Evil" being shown on late night TV so many times in the late '80s and early '90s that I was convinced that ITV had run out of money for new films. Actually, one year it was shown three times by TVS which got bought out by Meridian so I must have been right.

Anyway, "Something Evil" has always been one of my favourite Steven Spielberg films not just because it's a "Spielberg" but because it's one of the weirdest horror stories that you could imagine. It's a bizarre mix of a standard haunted house story with possession thrown in which ends with a real vomit-inducing, sickly sweet cop out.

As yet another TV movie without a real trailer available from YouTube (where, once again, you can watch the whole thing if you haven't already seen it) or an official DVD release, I feel justified in giving a more spoiler heavy review than usual.

Basically, the Wordens (Paul, Marjorie and their two little kids) decide to move from the big city to an old farmhouse in the countryside. Even though geographically I suspect that they are supposed to be in the North East of Pennsylvania due to Paul's commuting to work in New York city every day, I think that it was all filmed in California.

While Paul (Darren McGavin) is away doing whatever advertising people do, Marjorie (Sandy Dennis) is left alone with the two brats and spends her time being uselessly artistic until "something evil" starts screaming like a baby from the barn. At first I thought it was a cat based on a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene in the introduction where the kids are playing with some kittens. I'm not entirely sure that the sound isn't of a cat howling to begin with either until it turns into the most annoying noise on the planet. No, I don't like babies, their noise, their smell or anything about children at all so I would have been disappointed if all Sandy Dennis had found was an abandoned sprog.

Of course, even though she's completely alone without "Kolchak" to protect her, the late Sandy Dennis' character still has to embarrassingly venture out alone to see where the sounds are coming from with all the suspense and tension that you can pack into a walk from one wooden building to another. What she discovers is a jar of red goo which lights up and screams even louder. I don't know about you but I would have taken it straight to a TV station and made myself uber famous but, since this is a horror movie, our heroine just runs away terrified.

Now as much as Sandy Dennis is trouser-arousingly easy on the eye in a proto Ashley Judd way, I really found her Marjorie character to be very annoying. Apart from calling her husband at work (probably 300 miles away!) every five minutes and hysterically wanting him to come home immediately, she then gets involved in all sorts of bogus looking pentagram-painting and talisman-making escapades. Aye, she's all about the arts and crafts.

All this is pretty tame stuff really though until people start dying. In typical TV movie fashion, a couple of morally vacuous victims are set-up for an obligatory exploding car death which is only vaguely interesting because of its unexpected placement and the bad cut to the Worden's reaction to the news of their demise.

Other tropes include an old knowledgeable neighbour who provides a bit of history and help as well as his overly familiar son who does the same. In Classical terms they would be the chorus providing the exposition and so it's clear that Spielberg was still learning his craft at this point. A quick comparison with "Poltergeist" (1982) shows how he later abandoned that use of types as he also reworked this entire story.

Although it is easily possible to watch "Something Evil" without thinking ahead to Spielberg's later horror (and sometimes horrible) efforts, there are a lot of typical Spielberg elements in this film including a pre-occupation with family, cutely ugly kids, and a "love conquers evil" ending which makes you want to put your foot through the TV screen.

I'm just going to ruin the ending completely by telling you that the evil presence that makes the strawberry jam scream eventually possesses the Worden's son Stevie (Johnny Whitaker). You won't see that twist coming at all no matter how astute you are. You also certainly won't guess at the lame way the kid is exorcised even though I've already told you.

Since you have no reason to watch this now (but I know you'll want to anyway), I'll just mention that "Something Evil" is most remembered for containing a scene of "Spirit Photography" which was even more popular in the '70s than the crap about orbs on all those faked paranormal TV shows today. The "revealing something nasty which nobody noticed until the pictures were developed" routine found its way into a lot of famous '70s movies including "The Omen" (1976) where it was a major plot device. I'm sure that there is a shorter name for it and one day I might look it up but, for now, all I need to say about it is that it was a more glaringly obvious contrivance than the glowing eyes themselves.

From all this, you are probably thinking that I'm not going to recommend "Something Evil". Well, au contraire, I'm going to surprise you all by sticking this in The Vault. Although I believe "Something Evil" to be a weaker film than Steven Spielberg's far less supernatural TV movie "Duel" (1971), it provides a great insight into the early creativity of a now world famous filmmaker whether you like his later stuff or not. It even has a few good scares too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Cinematic Alphabet

Even though my entire blog could be described as an A-Z of horror movies, I saw this meme being passed around a while back and have finally given it a go.

I'm not going to post a ton of screencaps or videos. This is just a quick list and short explanation of why each film that I've chosen is on there.

A is for An American Werewolf in London because it isn't a horror-comedy.
B is for Bram Stoker's Dracula and the scene where Mina kisses Lucy.
C is for The Collector starring Terence Stamp as a kidnapper of pretty girls.
D is for Dawn of the Dead since I prefer the remake over the original.
E is for Event Horizon because even though it's sci-fi, it's still horror.
F is for Frankenstein Created Woman which is the best thing Hammer did.
G is for The Ghoul starring Peter Cushing and John Hurt in their best roles ever.
H is for Hellraiser II: Hellbound because I would do Julia too.
I is for It especially the first half of this Stephen King adaptation.
J is for Jaws just because I like the male-bonding scenes.
K is for The Kingdom (aka "Riget") which I watched religiously on BBC2.
L is for The Legend of Hell House for outstandingly sexy Gayle Hunnicut.
M is for Monkey Shines because I used to like monkeys.
N is for The New Daughter which has the best director's commentary ever.
O is for Orphan for all the wrong reasons.
P is for Phantoms (aka "Meridien") for werewolf-sex with Sherilyn Fenn.
Q is for Q - The Winged Serpent which nobody seems to remember except me.
R is for Rawhead Rex because it's so underrated.
S is for Satan's Triangle which scared me a child.
T is for Teeth just for Jess Weixler getting progressively hotter.
U is for The Unnameable for having a great monster which it wastes.
V is for The Vineyard because I liked the brunette with big boobs in it.
W is for The Woods which is a million times better than "Suspiria".
X is for The X-Files movie from 1998 which killed the overrated TV series.
Y is for Young Frankenstein even though I don't really like it.
Z is for Zoltan: Hound of Dracula because it's almost the stupidest idea for a horror movie that anyone could think of.

And just for the sake of "LinkWithin", here's a picture of Willow asleep.

Crowhaven Farm (1970)



"A young couple inherits a farm. Hoping that the rural location might help to patch up their strained marriage, they move into it, only to be confronted by the supernatural forces that inhabit it."

I have to thank Jinx for reminding me about "Crowhaven Farm". I don't have a real trailer to adorn this post with as "Crowhaven Farm" was a made-for-TV movie and there isn't one. If you search on YouTube, you will easily find fan trailers and can even watch the full movie, but I'm not going to encourage copyright theft by posting links here.

Copyright theft is a bit of a grey area when it comes to my own VHS copy of "Crowhaven Farm" which I recorded off the telly back in the early '90s. The jury is still out on whether or not using a video recorder for the purpose it was intended is actually legal, but since VHS is obsolete now anyway, I don't suppose it even matters. Bootlegging has dogged most DVD releases of TV horror movies from the '70s, but it seems that there was a legitimate version of "Crowhaven Farm" released in 2008 (though you may never find a copy of it anywhere now).

Anyway, if you've never even heard of "Crowhaven Farm", I wouldn't be at all surprised. It's a tale of witchcraft and covens which tried to cash in on the success of "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) in some ways but was completely unlike it in many others. I've yet to see a really good film about witchcraft, but if I was forced to make a list of the "top ten witchcraft films of all time", "Crowhaven Farm" would be one that I'd have to add.

As a horror movie, "Crowhaven Farm" is very tame and would probably appeal more to women of a certain age than your average horror fan. As a man, it's not one of my favourite films at all as much as I can appreciate Hope Lange who plays the lead. Hope Lange is very attractive as Maggie Porter, but her hair is a little bit too short for my taste, and her character is somewhat underdeveloped and inconsistent.

I'm not sure whether it was intended or if I'm just able to recognise a certain "type" with some people (either in real life or as fictional characters), but all the way through, I could visualise Maggie Porter being a really nasty piece of work for some reason. If you are American, in particular, or you've ever worked in retail or catering, you'll understand exactly where I'm coming from if I mention "entitlement issues". Maggie Porter had the potential to be the customer from Hell, and it was something I couldn't shake out of my mind. When the "twist" came, my suspicions were proved correct, but I'm not sure if the average American audience of 1970 would have picked up on it. It was a very subtle suggestion, but it was most certainly there.

Obviously the whole story points to Maggie Porter not being quite the innocent that she seems but there's a big problem with how much you can sympathise with her plight. It's a bit like how, in "Drag Me to Hell" (2009), you are made to feel unsure about Christine Brown (Alison Lohman). If you've haven't seen "Drag Me to Hell" then I really have no better way of explaining it to you. A similar technique and story was also used in "Angel Heart" (1987) although Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel was a much more likeable character than Maggie Porter.

Now that I've mentioned "Angel Heart", I've given away a huge spoiler, but it's not as if "Crowhaven Farm" isn't completely predictable from the start anyway. I would love to say that "Crowhaven Farm" was derivative of a lot of other Satanic and witchcraft movies, but I don't think this particular storyline was ever done before even though it's been done several times since. I'm sure someone with a lot of knowledge about Barbara Steele's Italian movies from the '60s will be able to correct me if I'm wrong.

Other things which I noticed about "Crowhaven Farm" were not only that it didn't have any obvious places where commercials had once been inserted, but it honestly had a pretty good atmosphere considering the low-budget and acting abilities of the cast. I wouldn't say that it was much more than creepy, but some people might find it genuinely disturbing.

One thing I found very disturbing was a certain young girl sharing a bed with Maggie's husband Ben (Paul Burke). I have absolutely no idea what age Cindy Eilbacher (who played Jennifer) was supposed to be without Googling it, but she looked like she was twelve. The whole "crush" thing which was going on in that scene was beyond creepy in ways that even "Orphan" (2009) didn't achieve. Skipping to the end of the story for a moment, I can tell you that it got far more sinister and even more "crushing" (including a different kind) was involved.

For anyone British watching this, the name "Ben Porter" will immediately have them thinking about the late Gary Olsen who played a character by the same name in the BBC's long running comedy "2point4 Children". Well, that's what happened to me watching it, and I'm British so I thought I'd share that moment. It's funny when character names get used in different scenarios especially if you take a flight of fancy and re-imagine "Crowhaven Farm" done as a comedy. That certainly wasn't the intention though as there is absolutely no comic relief whatsoever in this movie, and there aren't even any unintentional laughs.

There are a few plot holes and things to be nit-picky over, of course, but the bottom line is that "Crowhaven Farm" is a 100% played-straight thriller. Only the fact that it's from the beginning of the '70s makes it at all "cheesy", but that's only because of the fashions. As much as I could tear each and every actor's performance apart, I'm not going to because the movie, as a whole, was very enjoyable.

So, without further ado, I'm adding "Crowhaven Farm" to The Vault. As far as I know, the story was original, and it's a must-see movie for all fans of witchcraft stories.

The Crow (1994)



"A man brutally murdered comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancée's murder."

I know that I'm going to be torn apart for this but I rewatched "The Crow" earlier and now wonder why I put it in the "Video Vault" since it isn't actually a horror film at all.

I hadn't really thought about it too much before but I can now see that "The Crow" was little more than a comicbook reworking of "High Plains Drifter" (1973) or "The Wraith" (1986). We all know the tragedy that surrounds Brandon Lee's finest hour and "The Crow" is still a great film but is it horror? No.

Seventeen years ago, horror movies had dried-up in much the same way as they have recently. People and, more importantly, the studios just weren't interested. Coppola's "Dracula" (1992) had been a bigger success than it would have been in the heyday of the '80s and we were yet to discover the joys of "trendy teen horror" films such as "Scream" (1996), "The Craft" (1996), and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (1997). Into the middle of this came "The Crow" and, quite frankly, we were all completely blown away by it.

Unfortunately, we've now had slews of badly made no-budget handycam independents, torture porn and CGI fuelled remakes to sour our taste buds so when it comes to reviewing (or quite literally re-viewing) "The Crow" there is always an element of seeing it through rose-tinted glasses. Personally, I love nearly everything about "The Crow" and what it stood for at the time so of course I'm biased.

From the noirish, neo-gothic, and just completely dark and uncomfortable setting of Alex Proyas' alternative Detroit (actually Los Angeles), everything about "The Crow" screams horror movie. Brutal murders, returning from the dead and, let's be honest, more than a few nods to Edgar Allan Poe, should place "The Crow" firmly in supernatural horror territory. But, if you look past these gimmicks, the heart of "The Crow" is an action film.

Thus I've been torn about keeping it in the "Video Vault" for the same reasons that I wouldn't necessarily put "Batman Returns" (1992) in there either. Is it nasty, scary or horrific enough to stay?

Well, I'm pleased to say that, if you are in the right frame of mind, "The Crow" is absolutely terrifying at times. Horrific? Yes, indeed. Brutal? Some of the kills easily equal anything from the the 2000s but they are done with considerably more style. "The Crow" may have had a target audience of wannabe-goth comicbook nerds but I'm sure it can still hold its own for horror geeks as well.

The only weak points of "The Crow" are in the editing. Since I've already alluded to Brandon Lee's accidental death at the time of filming, you know that "The Crow" isn't exactly how it was meant to be. The admittedly very skilful editing obviously saved it but you can't help but wonder what might have been. Well, I know I do. The bits that have always thrown me are Eric's weaker more human moments towards the end but some people love those even more than the badass version.

Since I doubt that any of us haven't seen "The Crow" there's little point in me going through how awesome the acting is, especially Michael Wincott as "Top Dollar", David Patrick Kelly as "T-Bird" and. my favourite, Jon Polito as foul-mouthed pawnbroker "Gideon". I can even admit to fancying Darla (Anna Levine) for all the wrong reasons though perhaps I shouldn't.

So, yes, I am still recommending "The Crow" to everybody. This is what my generation had back in the day instead of "Twilight" and I think we got the better deal. It may not be a real horror film per se (and how I hate "South Park" for making me sound like an emo when I write those words) but it certainly contains enough genre elements to make it such. If we can can count the also comicbook action film "Blade" (1998) as a horror because of the vampire elements then I think "The Crow" should be seen as the ultimate supernatural action movie too.

What do you think?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)

(AKA "Amityville: The Evil Escapes")



"The demonic forces in the haunted Long Island house escape through a mystical lamp which finds its way to a remote California mansion where the evil manipulates a little girl by manifesting itself in the form of her dead father."

If I have one horror movie in my collection which I can describe as a "guilty pleasure", it's this one. Back in the '80s I was into all things "Amityville" and when the chance came to buy this "Medusa Pictures" release on VHS from Blockbuster, I was parting with my £4.99 for the previewed tape before you could say, "Stock Clearance Sale". The funny thing was that I don't think that I ever watched it more than a couple of times again.

Since I upgraded to the DVD version fairly recently, before I discovered that "Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes" was actually a made-for-TV movie, I was really looking forward to nostalgically revisiting my teenage obsession. Oh, how I wish that I hadn't!

The problem with "Amityville 4" is not that the plot is completely ridiculous. I've heard stories on Talk Radio about people buying haunted objects before now which really put the willies up me and I don't rule anything out when it comes to the supernatural. No, the terrible thing about "Amityville 4" is that it just isn't a very scary film at all especially now that I know why the horror elements were so toned down.

Through a mixture of false memories involving "The Blob" (1988), I remembered the hand down the waste disposal scene as being much gorier than it actually was. Seeing how contrived it all was now makes the scene totally cringeworthy rather than horrible. If the "MST3K" guys ever got hold of this film then I'm sure they'd be saying the same things as me to the line, "He'll live." Yeah, he'll live but with a hook for a hand!

Other ridiculous moments abound including a knife with blood on it that disappears and then reappears again, a floor lamp with possibly the longest electrical cord on it ever, and an actor (now famous for being a certain "Star Trek" character) playing a child though he is obviously in his mid-20s. Also the acting, without a shadow of a doubt, is a bit horrible.

Continuity-wise, "Amityville 4" ignores all the other sequels and has a beginning which is based very loosely on the alleged yard sale which the Lutzes had a few months after fleeing their famous Long Island address. It's just as well really since "Amityville III" had the whole building explode and burn. I suppose you could place "Amityville 4" as a kind of prequel to the events of "Amityville III" if you twist logic enough to suggest that more than one demon was inhabiting the house. Biblically, there is a demon called "Legion" so by all means use that as an example if you wish.

It's probably best to not try to overthink "Amityville 4" as it really doesn't stand up to a lot of analysis. As a watered-down version of the original with as much gore as the TV censors would allow, it's entertaining enough but it has become rather dated. Like 99.9% of horror films, "Amityville 4" is simply a product rather than a work of art and has to be viewed accordingly.

I suppose, at the time, I really must have liked Zoe Trilling who stars as Amanda Evans (though she appears on the credits as Geri Betzler). Now all I see is her awful '80s perm though it's not nearly as bad as the haircut on Aron Eisenberg who plays her brother, Brian Evans. Think Corey Haim from "The Lost Boys" (1987) but with even less fashion sense.

"Amityville 4" isn't all that bad technically. It looks ok but it's obviously not as a widescreen version on the DVD due to the time and format it was made in. The sound seems to be mono too which is not unexpected. Since I no longer have the VHS version I can't compare the two but I'm sure the videotape was in mono as well.

Without spoiling it for you, I'll just tell you that ending must have influenced "Fallen" (1998) though, since "Fallen" homages "The First Power" (1990) and "The Hidden" (1987) among others, I can't say for sure. Transmigration has been used a lot of times in horror and sci-fi movies over the years but the vessel in this case makes me very suspicious.

Anyway, "Amityville 4" is a former member of The Vault which I'm now moving into the Just Average section. It's not a truly awful film like "Amityville III" (though I've probably made it sound like it is) but it's a bit tame and adds nothing new to the haunted house subgenre.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

On being an egocentric horror movie reviewer

"Hello, my name is Dr Blood and I'm an egocentric horror movie reviewer."

Yes, I know it sounds like a parody of an Alcoholics Anonymous introduction (which it is) but it's the best way to begin one of my rare "meta" moments. Like all movie reviewers of course I'm egocentric and believe myself to be right otherwise I wouldn't be writing a blog in the first place.

What really seems to get people bent all out of shape when they encounter a blog like mine is that I'm not merely giving opinions. Anyone who has ever seen a movie of any kind will have an opinion about it and can start writing a blog should they feel like throwing themselves into this attention-seeking maelstrom of online writers. No, what I try to do is objectively quantify and qualify horror movies into specific categories, recommend the good ones and tear apart the bad. Does that make me different from other bloggers dealing with the same products? Maybe not, but I think so.

I've mentioned it before (a long time ago) but it's worth repeating, if you start writing a movie review blog without the very basic educational training in criticism that would lend any credibility to what you have to say then you'll soon get very bored with blogging. Even with Bachelor's degrees in "Film Appreciation" or "Literary Criticism", you are still likely to get burnt out to some extent and, to be honest, the blogs of film school students are often the most hyperbolic, alienating and boring things to read on the internet anyway. Some people with absolutely no training or academic qualifications write the most entertaining blogs that I've ever read but that doesn't make their opinions anything other than just opinions.

Only a couple of years ago there was a huge wave of "Negative Nancies" all trying their hardest to outdo each other with expletive laden similes of exactly how much movies sucked. Aside from the amusing use of which animal's apendages were being sucked hardest, most of those blogger's opinions have fallen out of favour. Yes, I too can be as negative as is humanly possible when the film deserves it but, again, it's not merely opinion but objective appraisal. Like most people, I do aim to be as positive as possible especially when I've spent money on a product.

Anyway, as much as I want this post to be all about me, let's look at a few terms which most people don't even realise they are using. I also felt like writing something educational for a change which may be useful when you are watching, reviewing or even making a movie.

Here are some great big Greek words that we all should know (with links to Wikipedia so you can learn them at your leisure): Exposition, Aristeia, Ecphrasis, Catharsis, Mimesis, Peripeteia, Anagnorisis, and Hamartia. It's pointless throwing the word "formulaic" into a movie review if you don't know what those formulas are or where the "tropes" and "clichés" that exist originally came from.

And here's some useful Latin (which has the explanation so you don't have to click anything):
"In medias res", or "into the middle of things"; this describes a popular narrative technique that appears frequently in ancient epics and remains popular to this day.
"Bonus dormitat Homerus" or "good Homer nods"; an indication that even the most skilled poet can make continuity errors.

Basically, you can save yourself the huge expense of a Classical education with one trip to Wikipedia and a good read of the article on "Ars Poetica".

The best quotation ever which is very applicable to horror movie reviewing in particular:
"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper catharsis of these emotions." (Aristotle)

Finally, here are the rules that filmmakers need to know before they try to break them: Classical Unities, and Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

Having mentioned all these "rules" and "terms" that we should all be for the most part unconsciously using when we review films, I am often very aware that if I or anyone else actually wrote a review containing them, I probably wouldn't read it. "Art is best when hidden" is another useful Aristotelian principle. Blogs which throw around words such as "auteur" and empty phrases such as "in and of itself" are likely to meet with more scorn, ridicule or disinterest than any other. Always be on your guard against purple prose.

None of us are perfect (even Homer nods, remember?) but I think we all try to write the best posts that we can within our means. I doubt that any of us are making any money from our blogs and we all do it mainly as a hobby. If you do it as a job to get advertising revenue then shame on you.

As an egocentric horror movie reviewer, of course I think my blog is better than anyone else's and as reviewers yourself, don't you think the same thing when you click "Publish Post"? Be honest, when you've read through your copy several times, made your corrections and added a few more details, don't you feel a little bit like Shakespeare? Aren't you just hoping for hundreds of comments from people you don't really know and will never meet in real life just to fulfil your need to be acknowledged? Is that so wrong? Hell, no. Keep writing and enjoy it! It's why we are bloggers!


If none of this interests you, here's a picture of a monkey French kissing a cat.

The Eclipse (2009)



"In a seaside Irish town, a widower sparks with a visiting horror novelist while he also begins to believe he is seeing ghosts."

Having just wasted another Netflix rental on this drivel, I need to tell you that, although it was beautifully filmed and acted, it wasn't at all the ghost story that horror fans would expect it to be. Don't be fooled by the trailer.

"The Eclipse" was really a drama all about grief, letting go, and finding love. Worse than that, it was also a weird "love triangle" story of older people. Aidan Quinn was a narcissistic celebrity author who had an affair with Iben Hjejle and still fancied her while Ciarán Hinds became her new interest. I don't even care what their character names were. Even the thought of any of these people bumping uglies made me feel slightly queasy. Actually seeing Ciarán Hinds sucking face with Iben Hjejle was worse than watching two Shar-Peis going at it.

This film was easily the most boring thing that I've struggled through this year (and that includes "Insidious" and "Sucker Punch"). There were attempts at a couple of jump scare "supernatural" moments but I was too close to falling asleep when they happened to pay much attention. One of the ghosts was Ciarán Hinds' father and he was still alive!

It could have been good but it felt like a TV soap opera to me and just dragged on and on with little action and no resolution. "The Eclipse" really shouldn't have been marketed as a ghost story. It wasn't scary and I was very disappointed.

I don't recommend this film to anyone except insomniacs.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What's on your desktop? (Part Deux)


Well, it's the seventh day of May 2011. A week ago Ubuntu 9.10 reached the end of its life (as far as any support from Canonical is concerned) so I downloaded the new Ubuntu 11.04 and tried it out on my laptop.

Basically it's no different to any other version of Ubuntu Linux as long as you don't use the Unity desktop which everybody seems to be moaning about but which wouldn't even work on my computer in the first place. If you just choose "Ubuntu Classic" from the log-in screen then it all looks just the same. I also added the Xfce desktop because its about 100 times faster and I can play games better without the desktop itself hogging all the resources.

The only problems I had were the usual ones. The Plymouth boot screen didn't appear correctly (or at all!) and it took several reboots to get the background wallpaper to change. I had the same problems with 10.04 and 10.10 so, after trying them out for about a week, I ended up putting Windows XP back on my laptop.

As far as new applications go, OpenOffice is now called LibreOffice and Firefox 4 is the default browser. So, having checked Ubuntu 11.04 out on my laptop, I decided to not even bother upgrading my desktop computer at all. I already have Firefox 4 though it's called Minefield (4.0b13pre 3-22-2011) on my version of Ubuntu 9.10 and I'm quite happy with OpenOffice 3.1 especially as I rarely use it.

Anyway, since I'm keeping Ubuntu 9.10 on my desktop, I just thought I'd post a screencap of it (above) to mark this moment. I'm not upgrading to another version of Linux on my main computer until something goes drastically and irrecoverably wrong. Since I've had Ubuntu 9.10 working perfectly since, well, October 2009 (obviously), I can vouch for it being the best operating system I've ever used.

I can use Microsoft Word and Excel (using Crossover), scan things with Xsane, burn DVDs and CDs with DeVeDe and Brasero, watch my horror movies with VLC player and Mplayer, do all my graphics with GIMP, as well as use a multitude of MP3 players. I also have a couple of hundred free games which are just as good as anything you'd buy. I love Ubuntu 9.10!

The only thing I can't do with Ubuntu (or any form of Linux for that matter) is watch streaming Netflix movies. Maybe one day they'll give in and write the code for something that isn't just for Windows or Intel Macs especially as the Roku box is Linux based anyway. If Netflix can already stream to Blu-ray players, X-boxes, Playstations, and Wii consoles, it's stupid of them to leave Linux users out.

By the way, my desktop computer is an Acer AM1100-B1410A which I bought new from Wal-Mart in 2008. It came with Windows Vista (which was horrible) but it's also had Windows XP and Windows 7 on it briefly. Any OS which needs to have a ton of bloated anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware software installed on it (with dozens of programs which all need to be updated individually) is just not for me.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Burning Bright (2010)



"A thriller centered on a young woman and her autistic little brother who are trapped in a house with a ravenous tiger during a hurricane."

I saw someone on Twitter mention that they were watching "Burning Bright" so I had to check it out for myself. I'm not sure that you could really describe it as a horror film but it did have some of the elements that we've all come to expect from the genre.

Starring Garret Dillahunt (Krug in "The Last House on the Left") and Briana Evigan (Cassidy in "Sorority Row"), "Burning Bright" at least used two actors with previous horror movie experience rather than someone you've never heard of even though their parts could have been played by absolutely anyone.

Basically, the whole film is an attempted murder using a tiger as the weapon. Johnny Gaveneau (Garret Dillahunt) buys an ex-circus Bengal tiger from Meat Loaf and, after using some illegal immigrants to stormproof his house, he locks the big cat in the now fortified building along with his two stepchildren. Obviously, Kelly (Briana Evigan) and her brother Tom (Charlie Tahan) spend the rest of the story trying to avoid being eaten.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Well, it would have been very good if only more use had been made of the tiger. Apart from one scene which mimicked the most exciting velociraptor attack in "Jurassic Park", you don't really get to see enough of the tiger and there isn't the feeling of menace that it should evoke.

Some of the tiger's antics are unintentionally amusing. From being able to smash its head through the wall in a "Here's Johnny!" moment to jumping through a glass door, you would think that a ferocious beast like that would have no problem savaging the hell out of a sexy, sweaty, piece of meat like Briana Evigan. All she got was a little clawing on one leg which made her perspire even more.

As much as I wanted to see Briana Evigan get eaten, I really wanted to see her annoying, retarded onscreen brother get devoured. If I'd been in her place, that kid would have been sacrificed to the tiger quite quickly. There are even hints (and a dream sequence) that her character would be capable of doing the same thing but it just didn't happen. The kid was such easy prey too.

Other ludicrous moments that annoyed me were that the tiger was not only impervious to sedative drugs but bullets fired at point blank range too. Even though I'm a cat owner, I don't know much about tigers apart from them being bigger than lions but I'm pretty sure that a handgun bullet to the face would stop one.

Anyway, given the predictable nature of films like this, I think you can guess what happens at the end without me spoiling it any more for you. The trailer gives it away if you watch it closely.

I actually enjoyed "Burning Bright" on a purely superficial and slightly sick level mainly because I wanted to see the tiger eat somebody. I felt sorry for the hungry tiger and, basically, just wanted to see it eat anything.

The acting was surprisingly okay especially as Briana Evigan carried the whole thing. Garret Dillahunt was underused but did well and the less said about the little kid, the better. I think it was a mistake to try and get sympathy for an autistic kid in a movie like this especially as he did nothing to make you want to care about him in the first place.

What worries me most about this film is that you just know that someone out there will probably try and do the same thing for real one day. In my darker moments, I've even thought about doing something like this myself but involving some very evil people, rabid feral cats and a tin shed. Now that would make a good film.

I'm torn as to whether or not to recommend "Burning Bright" since, although it had the potential to be very good and was quite an original idea, it didn't have enough tension or jump scares where it counted. If I had to rate it, I'd say it was average (maybe slightly below) but still quite entertaining. It was worth a Netflix rental anyway but isn't something that I'd rewatch.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Black Cat (1934)



"American honeymooners in Hungary are trapped in the home of a Satan-worshipping priest when the bride is taken there for medical help following a road accident."

Well, I think it's about time to get back to this blog after working on the other one which I'm sure you all know about. If you don't then the title of this movie will give it away. Yes, I've been watching a lot of films with cats in them lately.

Anyway, I don't think I ever watched this particular version of "The Black Cat" all the way through before. I remember starting to watch it on Channel Four many years ago but switched it off for being boring beyond belief. Having watched it entirely now, I stick by that original opinion and I'll also add that it was complete crap too.

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi have always been classed as "horror gods" by aficionados of the genre but I've never really been all that keen on either of them. While I can happily admit that Karloff was great as the Frankenstein monster, everything else that I've ever seen him in left me cold. Bela Lugosi was really only famous for a very stagey version of Dracula which I didn't see until long after Christopher Lee became the famous vampire in my mind. Together in one movie, it's hard to tell where the overacting and melodrama even begins or ends with each of them.

Make no mistake about it, "The Black Cat" is a terrible movie even for the time. Not only is it horribly dated but the plot is full of what I can only describe as "WTF moments". One minute, it's all romance with an annoyingly recognisable classical piece of music in the background, the next, a dead daughter who isn't really dead appears from nowhere with minimal explanation as to who she is or why, in Hungary, she can speak perfect English.

Add to this all the stuff about Karloff's unpronounceable character, Hjalmar Poelzig, being some kind of general in the Hungarian army who is now a world famous architect and a Satanic priest, and you soon start to wonder what exactly whoever made this stuff up was drinking.

Obviously the biggest let down for me was that the black cat of the title didn't really do anything except let himself be carried around by Karloff a lot in a "James Bond villain" kind of way. Cat-phobic Bela Lugosi threw what I think was a scalpel at the poor creature at one point and everybody thought the cat was dead but, after a small lesson from Karloff about how according to mythology black cats are immortal, the beast was back unscathed.

I have to give the film some credit for mixing as many stupid ideas together as possible though. There aren't many films from this era that contain a futuristic house, a perfectly preserved dead wife kept in a glass box in the basement, and the threat of someone being flayed alive.

Blowing the aforementioned house to pieces with a self-destruct mechanism that set off a load of dynamite probably should have come sooner in the plot though as making it all the way to the end of "The Black Cat" was absolute torture. Not only was there some ridiculous comic relief in the middle with two Carpathian cops which killed any attempt at seriousness in the whole film completely but the ending was so rushed that you wonder why the first half-hour tried to build up so much mystery.

I really didn't get this film at all. Obviously it was done on the cheap starring at least two overrated actors who should have retired after the silent era and the others didn't really go on to do anything that we'd remember either. I suppose I can't really slam them for their acting ability as it was probably perfectly acceptable for the time but I can certainly mention the awful dialogue that came out of their mouths and the way they delivered it.

Having looked this up on the IMDb, it's actually quite horrifying that "The Black Cat" has scored 7.2 out of 10. Even if I was feeling charitable, which I'm not, I'd only give it 2 out of 10 and that would be for the set.

If you ever see this movie as a standalone DVD, I suggest that you avoid it like the plague. It may only be 65 minutes long but it's so slow and uneventful that you'll feel like you've been watching it for days. It's not a horror film and can barely be described as a thriller since it has no scares or thrills whatsoever.