Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dark Night of the Scarecrow: I Made Up At Least Two Words In This Review

Way back when Dark Night of the Scarecrow finally became available for people to buy on DVD, I put it on my queue. Why not I thought. Who doesn't love a good scarecrow movie? In fact, it is my firm belief that scarecrows get the shaft quite easily in the horror world. This is a right shame because scarecrows are pretty terrifying. No matter how cute or funny the Scarecrow in the Wizard of OZ is supposed to be, he's still a scarecrow and therefore scary.

Understand? Scarecrows are not to be messed with. Typically scarecrows come alive to kill people or worse--stalk them until they die in some other horrible way. Is it really a coincidence that the two most popular scary kids shows each had an episode devoted to scarecrows? No way.

This is why I was terribly excited to see Dark Night of the Scarecrow. I didn't know too much going in, only that it was a made for TV movie and that there was most likely a scarecrow involved. What I found upon viewing it however was that it's actually a much better TV movie than most all TV movies. That is a bold statement considering I've seen about 3 made for TV movies (One of them is 15 and Pregnant which wins every time) but just go with it. Dark Night of the Scarecrow doesn't feel weighed down by cheesy made for TV dialogue or real life issues. Sure it's light on actual scares and blood but hey--it's TV!

Bubba Ritter is one of those 36 year olds who has the mind of a child.

He finds comfort in playing with the children whom he sees as nothing less than his equals. The townspeople do not approve of this. Most notably this is the evil mailman Otis--who has now joined ranks amongst the other villainous mailmen of the entertainment industry.

Like the scary truck driver mail man in Funny Farm

and Newman.

Otis is appalled at Bubba and warns everyone that one of these days he's going to do something bad to one of those kids and that they'll be the only ones to stop him! Well, one day Bubba and his best friend Marylee go exploring in the magical garden of gnomes. Bubba is too afraid to sneak past the fence but Marylee proceeds and has a grand old time pretending to smoke a pipe with the lawn gnomes.

Then suddenly a mean and scary dog comes and Marylee is scared. She calls out to Bubba who finally crashes through the fence and tries to save her, while the lawn gnomes watch helplessly.

Next we see Bubba holding the limp body of Marylee and the whole town breaks out in Frenzy.

Otis and his buddies decide it's up to them to bring the justice and they set off with guns and dogs. Bubba's mother in a desperate attempt to save him, tells him to play the hiding game, while the men continue their search. Soon they come across a scarecrow and after careful investigation find that the scarecrow is really Bubba.

Then, firing squad style, the men shoot Bubba.

Immediately after, they get a call claiming that the search has been called off--Marylee is okay after all, and apparently Bubba had saved her life. After a court hearing gone wrong, the men get off...or do they? It's not long after this when each man starts to see a mysterious scarecrow in their fields. And they all mysteriously are killed one by one. Hmmmmmm!

I don't usually do a play by play synopsis like that but I found it necessary to stress the importance of how sad that opening scene is. It takes about 30 minutes for the entire beginning of the story to be settled, but it's a completely frown inducing 30 minutes if you ask me. Poor Bubba. That's the thing about Dark Night of the Scarecrow--it's really fucking sad. Sure, I like to think I reserve all my sadness and frowning for animal deaths and when strong black men cry, but Bubba? HE'S INNOCENT! Dark Night of the Scarecrow surprised me in this way. How often do I really care about made for TV movie characters? Not very often.

Unfortunately what I like most about Dark Night of the Scarecrow is also what I like least about it in terms of its success as a horror movie. Here's the thing people, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is not very scary. There's some creepiness going on, like when a random scarecrow shows up in a field--but it's not acted upon.

We don't get very close to the scarecrow or anything. Likewise the death scenes are pretty muted. Yes it is a made for TV movie, but we see nothing at all. Although I will say I like the cutaway scenes to something suggestive. Like a big plop of jam preserves on a plate when a guy gets massacred by a farm machine.

I guess I just expected more thrills and chills. I expected us to see a scarecrow wandering around a bit and being all gross and scare-crowy. I don't even know what that means, but for review sake let's just say that means he's limping and dropping hay behind him--and also that he might be smelly.

So, overall I think Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a very well done made for TV movie. Sub par- horror film and I'm a bit confused why horror fans are so quick to jump on this love wagon. Love wagon riders, can I have your thoughts please?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Twin Peaks: Joining the Cool Kids

I'm so glad that I can finally sit with the cool kids at the lunch table. No more of this, "Who is Laura Palmer?" embarrassment or pretending that I know who BOB is. Yes, you can all welcome me into the group because I've experienced Twin Peaks for myself. After watching the series in only a few short weeks and finally ending today with Fire Walk With Me, I'm ready to talk.

Let it be known that I had certain expectations going into Twin Peaks. I expected scene after scene of oddity and visions of scary things that would have surely put me into a coma had I seen them when I was little. I expected an intriguing mystery and the signature style of David Lynch echoing off every wall in the room. Mostly however I expected the creepy--and I got it, sort of.

Here is what I think about Twin Peaks:

If I could play both Cooper's dream and the ending scene in the Black Lodge repeatedly throughout my day, I would be simultaneously happy and terrified.

I LOVE these parts--a little too much to be frank. I find myself alone in my bedroom trying to mimic the strange dance steps of the midget in the red suit.

I practice speaking backwards when I'm trying to fall asleep late at night. These scenes are the ones that slap you in the face and yell really loudly---LYNCH! I knew he was hiding somewhere.

To be honest even though it pains me a little to say this--I can really only say that I like Twin Peaks.

Like, I LIKE you Twin Peaks. (Yes that is a Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Quote, thank you very much)

But. And a big but, I love the episodes that David Lynch directs.

Anything else feels like a lack luster detective series in a sleepy town--which is exactly what Twin Peaks is. The difference is that when David Lynch is calling the shots, the lack luster detective series gets sprinkled with some very exciting and exotic spices. Don't hate on me. I can tell you're hating on me and it's fine. As with most things I experience, I'm late to the party so all the purists have a small right to call me out.

Here's the thing though. I have an outside point of view at all of this. I'm watching the entire series in a consecutive line and finishing with the film. There is some good and bad news because of this. The good news is that all those people crying that Fire Walk With Me is completely different from the TV show are wrong (it's exactly like it only with boobs) and the bad news is that I can understand why it got cancelled prematurely.

The fact is--the show felt just as I explained it above. Really amazing and awesome in some parts and episodes, and terribly boring and pointless in others. There feels like something was missing in Twin Peaks short running. The characters were there and they were great. The story however felt much too pulled in different directions--with only one story being very interesting and important to the ultimate question.

It IS the death of Laura Palmer that excites people the most after all.

It's that supernatural element that gets people amped up and curious about how things will unfold. Even when Laura's killer is revealed prematurely--we still crave what happens because we know that BOB is not finished yet. He didn't die--the idea of him and the vision of his face still exists. The Black Lodge still exists. So maybe that is what Twin Peaks needed in the end-- a little focus.

Still though, one cannot deny that I do love several aspects of both the show and the film. I love the quirkiness. The oddball aspect. I love Kyle Maclachlan

and the camaraderie happening between he and his police boys. I love the terrifying visions of BOB, lurking either just out of sight or completely in your face.

I love the little things---like those subtle David Lynch trademarks; a singer or performer in a bar, clueless detectives, and driving on long highways. I love the Log Lady with a deep and confusing passion.

Fire Walk With Me additionally paints a stunning portrait of Laura Palmer's last days. This film although received coldly by most--was the perfect thing to do with leftover Twin Peaks scraps. Like I said earlier, we all (probably) only cared about Laura Palmer. And even though Sheryl Lee is a terrible over-acter, her entire story and the eventual collapse of her mind and body is both horrifying and depressing. Plus, it brings back the creepy with the midget in the red suit and BOB and Mike. Plus there is cocaine and boobs. And a really, really scary "nightclub" that makes me cry.

So please do not take my thoughts as attacks against Twin Peaks. I do love it and I love this whole world that Lynch and Frost created. It gave me something to come home to at least, something to look forward to. Sure, it may not have lived up to my expectations, but in the end---I can go dancing with the midget in the red suit all I want.

That is all I really need after all.

I'll talk about Twin Peaks again and one of these days we can get together and swap theories and play truth or dare. Because there is A LOT to discuss obviously....and so much I still don't understand. Sigh.

Also, the next time someone makes me angry I'm going to be wishing that a BOB comes into your bedroom late at night. So be careful what you say.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Artistic Inspiration In The Cell

I've always been under the impression that Tarsem Singh's, The Cell was one of the most artistically intriguing films to ever be made. It wasn't a great film really, but the segments done in the minds of our characters were some of the most creative and oddly beautiful that I had ever seen. Sure, I could do without the police banter, and the miscasting of Vince Vaughn as an intelligent and haughty FBI agent--plus can I really buy that Jennifer Lopez's character smokes pot and frolics around in a sexy pair of black underwear while in the comfort of her own home?

Not so much. Still, you can't deny that The Cell has some truly breathtaking segments that are just cool looking.

I had always thought that The Cell was pretty original, that is until I did some research surrounding the artistic inspiration and then I thought a bit differently. This isn't necessarily a problem--people are inspired all the time and Tarsem's visions usually are pushed much further than the original inspirations go. What I find to be interesting however, is that Tarsem and his team rarely if ever, talk about the inspirations that went into the film and instead, the crew talks about his originality. After doing this research however, I've found that inspirations behind the art in The Cell are pretty damn interesting. Exact copies or not---this is the kind of art that makes YOU want to create---which is presumably why The Cell happened in the first place.

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst was one of the dominating forces in the British art scene during the 1990s and still today is reported to be the wealthiest living artist in Great Britain. One of his most famous series involved taking actual dead animals, preserving them in formaldehyde and dissecting their bodies.

Most notably this was done with a cow, sometimes halved with its inside being exposed,

and other times broken into pieces.

Look familiar? It was this particular piece that inspired the famous horse scene in The Cell.

I do love this scene, and obviously it IS a bit different since we do get to witness the actual splitting of the horse. But I still find it odd that Hirst is not mentioned in the commentary on this particular scene. It's a pretty blatant "rip off" that the writer seems to get all the credit for--thanks to his insistence on using a horse, and yet I still find it to be one of the most effective scenes in Carl Stargher's head. Mostly, I can never seem to get that wildly fast ticking clock out of my head. Oh and P.S. little Carl Stargher is Lizzie McGuire's brother. Whatever happened to him?

H.R. Giger

I don't see a ton of influence by H.R. Giger in The Cell, but he is still referenced as a notable inspiration. Giger will be well known to us horror fans, as he won an Academy Award for Achievement in Visual Effects for Alien. It was in fact Giger's compendium of images, Necronomicon, that was given to Ridley Scott during Alien's pre-production that prompted him to hire Giger to produce the artwork and conceptual designs for the film. Perhaps this is why I fail to see a real correlation between Giger and The Cell. All I see is the erotic alien sex positions.

I feel very "naughty" when I look at these......*blush*

The only real sort of inspiration I can really see, is from this particular artwork from The Necronomicon.

I can definitely see a tad of inspiration taken for the design of Vincent D'Onofrio's scary alter ego in The Cell.

Although I suppose you could also see a bit of Jennifer Lopez's "slave" gear as well.

It IS a little alien-ish no?

Odd Nerdrum

Besides having a sweet ass name, Odd Nerdrum is Norwegian and made a name for himself by doing art that was not so agreeable to Norway's standards at the time. Now however, many realize that his art is pretty neat. Sometimes creepy, sometimes romantic--Nerdrum explains his art by calling it kitsch rather than art. It is these two paintings however that win the award for most direct inspiration.

If you combine what the three strange men (?) (I mean I think I can see their enormous bulges but who knows) are wearing with the position that the people are in the second one you get this extremely memorable image.

My love for this particular scene knows no bounds. In fact, it was this scene that got me infatuated with the film in the first place. It's insanely creepy and surreal, and the way that the three women whisper things and then go back to gaping at the sky, really does wonders on your mind.

The Brother's Quay

The kind of art that the Quay Brothers make, is the kind of art that keeps me up at night. By that I mean, it's creepy stop-animation short films featuring scary broken dolls, and sometimes creepy old men. Their most well known film, Street of Crocodiles is the epitome of this, and when one looks at it, it's not too difficult to figure out where The Cell got some of its inspiration from.

I speak mostly of the notable scene where J Lo is investigating all the "scenes" of the living dolls. Creepy, dusty surroundings, dolls with broken arms and faces--it may not be a literal inspiration but it still harkens back to the Quay Brothers...only more naked and scarier. Also, Carl's real life dolls found in his apartment could be considered cousins of the dolls in Street of Crocodiles me thinks.

Nine Inch Nails

Surprised are you? Didn't you know that when I use the term "art" I also mean things like music videos? Remember music videos? They were once integral parts of an artist's music career, and now they are lost somewhere on MTV2 and play only at 3 AM. Sigh.

While the Brother's Quay, Street of Crocodiles inspired in some ways The Cell--it was actually Street of Crocodiles (and Joel-Peter Witkin!) that inspired the Nine Inch Nails video Closer--directed by Mark Romanek. In my opinion--Closer carries most of the inspiration behind the dolls scene in The Cell.

I couldn't remember this video very well until I saw it, and then I remembered that I did remember it but I had blocked it out because it scared the crap out of me. I guess I didn't do well with monkey's tied to crucifixes and beating hearts tied to chairs...

It looks to me like the set design in the doll chamber was influenced directly by the set in Closer. Most notably this whole contraption of a wheel with cables, that opens up a sliding panel, revealing people behind it.

Nine Inch Nails

The Cell

In the Cell these aren't weird old men however, these are scary dolls, and also a really muscular man/women.

Also, a neat thing in Closer---is this image of the two girls bound by their hair.

Which is actually an image taken from Fantastic Planet.

Which is what J. Lo chooses to fall asleep to in The Cell! Crazy I know.

Marilyn Manson

I had forgotten how fucking scary Marilyn Manson is. If you read my story up top, you'll notice that one of my fears growing up was gothic people. No offense gothic people, but you scared the crap out of me when I was little... (and maybe still sort of today....). Marilyn Manson is like the grandaddy of my terror though. I remember back in the day, while watching MTV, Marilyn Manson always popped up on TRL and then I would run screaming into the next room.

His two Floria Sigismondi directed videos The Beautiful People and Tourniquet however, are what I think are the strongest inspirations for the design of the dolls in The Cell.

Marilyn Manson

The Cell

Marilyn Manson

The Cell

The Cell

And while, there aren't any really scary tall people in long coat things in The Cell--it's really just the atmosphere, and the kind of brutality that exists in both of these music videos that really harkens back to The Cell. It's that gross dirty, sick, sexual, violence that really gets to you. A clear marker of tone if you ask me. Here are some more shots of creepiness thanks to Marilyn Manson.



It feels funny to put Madonna next to Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails--but if you remember, Madonna's videos had their own special brand of creepiness to them as well. And believe it or not, Mark Romanek who directed Closer and The Perfect Drug for Nine Inch Nails, also directed Bedtime Story for Madonna. It is Bedtime Story, that contains another almost mirror image of a scene from The Cell.

This rotating cube, that contains visions of Madonna, can also be scene in one of the last scenes in The Cell, when Vince Vaughn and J. Lo are searching for the key to the lost girl's whereabouts.

There's also this very familiar color scheme happening in Bedtime Story,

that reminds me of the giant purple cape scene in The Cell.

Also, there are a few shots of Madonna in a pool with some creepy skeletal animals.

Which definitely echoes a few of Carl's dolls in The Cell.

So as you can see, inspirations comes from a million things apparently. Maybe that's what I love the most about The Cell, it really does feel like the best parts of the creepiest nightmares. For your viewing pleasure, I have also decided to include a few more of my favorite images from The Cell. Perhaps you'll be able to find other instances of inspiration?

Good grief, I think I'm unapologetically in love with the surreal scenes inside the mind of Carl in The Cell. How about you? Watch this video of J. Lo's first trip inside of the mind of Carl and try to tell me it's not the coolest looking thing ever....tons of rip offed images or not.