Tuesday, September 13, 2016

As Is Customary - A Remotely Spooky Halloween Story by Josh Underwood (Re-posted Elsewhere)

Night had swept the day clean and stars were the only residue left behind to pepper brightly the swath of darkened sky that hung over Lexington. The ember-like burn of the sunset had long since been anchored down behind the mountains. Near the outskirts of the city, the hills hummed with the sound of nocturnal insects and the yammering of twilight scavengers. Kevin Holt sat on the porch of his home with a grimace pulled tight over his face.
He knew they would be coming. So he waited. As he did every year on that night – stooped in his rocking chair – his shotgun stuffed with shells.
He spat a mixture of tobacco and saliva into the gravel and rolled his tongue over the grain of his teeth.
“They'll be coming any minute now.” said Holt, speaking to a shadow that lingered behind the screen door of the house. “Now that the sun has gone down, they'll come out.”
“Why don't you just give it up, Kevin?” The shadow replied, it was his wife Meryl. “How long you gonna fight this battle?”
“Every year Meryl. Every year they come stalking up my drive with their evil intentions, hellbent on forcing their devilish ways on good hard-working Christians.”
“It ain't as bad as all that.” Meryl sighed. “Come on inside now, why don't you just let it go for once? Who's hurting?”
Kevin stood, his chair belligerently scraping the porch. “Those of us that fear the lord!” He jabbed his arthritic digit into the air. “Those of us with a strong moral core! Those of us who have enough sense to know not to let the Devil in on his unholiest of nights! Those of us...” He trailed off and his shoulders slumped. He spat again into the night. Meryl had gone back into the house and left him alone to his ranting. He walked over to the door and peered inside. She had gone back into the kitchen.
The old man looked over his shoulder, and after making sure he wouldn't be seen, knelt to retrieve something from beneath the step of the porch. He chuckled as he found what he had prepared and left there the night before.
“This year'll be the last. I'll fix it to where they'll never come back.”


“SpearPOINT Marduk Report:”
Spoken into OverDruid Nimrod's Syntax-Bridge, the phrase – originating from the Alpha-Orionus Span just beyond Betelgeuse – still carried its demanding tone even from light-years away.
The creature turned its head to the sky. The large, glassy black orbs that protruded from its pale, otherwise featureless face glimmered in the moonlight which sparsely penetrated the surrounding trees.
The Marduk, its body not completely compliant with the atmosphere, produced a long, unwholesome and dissonant tone. The vibrations of the call caused the surrounding crickets to halt their efforts – and the Marduk was left in a chilly silence – save for the wind and the creaking bark of the forest.
The Syntax it had brought was malfunctioning – so in return it could not converse in the native language of the planet it had come to.
The OverDruid spoke again through the transmitter. “SpearPOINT Understood: Syntax-Bridge malfunction. Contact translation protocol unABLE. Proceed and make contact As Is Customary?”
A chortling cackle in retort came from the Marduk – an eerie vocal clucking that resembled a backwards mask of human laughter.
The Marduk's slender legs and limbs picked carefully through the woods – a ghostly vibrant contrast to the vacuumous night.


Thomas pulled on his pumpkin mask, the final ornament of his costume. The smell of the latex and the condensation of his breath on the inside of the mask an always pungent reminder that the time was near. He smiled under his new face.
He had already put on his skeleton body suit, becoming an amalgam of the holiday – nothing in particular yet everything that it represented all at once. A mishmash that made him happy. He could hear his brother's rowdy friends downstairs getting ready to go out into the evening and cause trouble. After coming home from school he had seen the rolls of toilet paper and the spray cans hidden in his brother's room. Todd, his sibling, hadn't noticed him snooping so Thomas had been able to avoid persecution.
“We're going out mom!” he heard Todd yell.
“Don't forget your brother!” demanded the parent.
There was a roar of discontent from Todd and his hoods.
Thomas lowered his jack-o-lantern grin. He didn't like going out with Todd either, but it was the only way his mom would let him trick or treat. His heart was brave for Halloween – and his want to fulfill the night's purpose was stronger than his dislike for his brother. He grabbed up his plastic candy bucket, a jack-o-lantern as well, and rushed downstairs.


“Look Mouth,” Mouth was Todd's nickname for Thomas. They all walked down the street together. Todd and his friends weren't even dressed up. They looked ugly enough, Thomas observed, peeking out through his pumpkin eyes. “just try to keep up okay? And don't whine and cry when we get to that geezer Holt's place.”
Thomas stopped and tilted his head. He hated going to Kevin Holt's farmhouse. It always meant trouble. Kevin was Todd's favorite person to pick on. It didn't make sense to Thomas, as it was that Mr. Holt was extraordinarily ill-tempered and completely terrifying to the ten-year-old.
Thomas stopped and fiddled with the stump atop his mask – struggling perhaps with a rite of passage that the preteen boy could never comprehend.
“I said keep up Mouth!”
Thomas pointed at a group of children on a nearby doorstep. A parent opened the door dumping copious amounts of sweets into their outstretched hands.
Todd grunted. “Alright kid... Guys hold up!” There were more groans from the boys. “Let my little brother get some candy or my mom will ride me into the wall.”


“SPEARpoint Report:”
The Marduk leaned out from behind the corner of a house, just so that its head dangled around the edge at an unnatural height, to observe the lit street beyond. A series of clicks and pops vibrated out from its throat muscles – a shapeless utterance.
“UnderSTOOD:” Began The Nimrod. “As is Customary – Inhabitants augment their appearance for practical or ritual purpose. UNDERstood: Also gift-giving-receiving Social and otherWise.”


Thomas was happy enough. His plastic pumpkin was filled with candy. Halloween had been set free in his mind and he merrily tromped along behind his brother, until he remembered their mission's end. His Autumnal victory was cut short as they reached the long driveway which led through the cow fields and to Mr. Holt's farm. As the boys began their trek Thomas stayed behind.
“Come on Mouth!” Whispered Todd Sharply.
Thomas shook his head – the toothy grin of his mask wobbling.
“Just leave him!” One of the other boys said.
Todd shot his brother a worried look. “Just stay here, okay? We'll be right back.”
Thomas sighed as he watched the teenagers walk off into the fields – where there were no more streetlights.
After awhile of waiting Thomas began to grow uneasy. He thought about walking home but was afraid to go alone. He was also afraid of being alone right were he was. To put his mind at ease he sat down with his plastic pumpkin and began to dig through his candy. He had gotten some good pieces. Full ones too, not the fun-sized cheap bits from the dollar store.
As he was wrist-deep in sugar, Thomas stopped rummaging and held very still. A sound had pricked his attention – or rather – a lack of sound – as he realized the static hum of the chirping crickets had abruptly ceased.
He stood up and dusted off his costume. The boy turned and his mask began to shake, the only betrayal of his abject terror as he saw the impossibly tall and slender figure looming over him. Thomas gripped the handle of his treat bucket strictly– trying to instill in him some sense of will as sanity began to quickly peel back from his brain.


“REPORT: Establish Contact – As is Customary.”


The thing stooped downward and held out a gesturing finger to the boy. Thomas was quickly losing his footing in reality – sweat was pouring out from under his mask. The creature looked back and forth between Thomas's mask and the plastic pumpkin he held in his hand. Several times it did this until it reached out and slowly pulled up on the mask, revealing Thomas's face, eyes wide and mouth agape with fear.
A bubbling noise came from the creature as it slid the mask over its own head.
“MARDUK – Understood.”
It had been enough for Thomas – he forgot about his brother and his candy. Dropping his bucket he ran as fast as he could in the direction of his neighborhood.


Kevin Holt could hardly contain himself. He squatted down in his hiding spot, watching one of the Devil's own walk up to his porch. The lanky teenager, in some sort of bodysuit, had already begged himself a whole bucket of candy and was wearing a pumpkin mask to hide his face.
“Can't hide your face from the eyes of the Lord!” he screamed out. He struck a match and ignited the cache of home made fireworks he had stowed nearby.
The sound was immense – a crackling cascade of popping shots and sparks. The visitor howled in dismay as it was disheveled by the noise. It turned immediately in the direction of Holt but then bounded in the opposite direction with long strides, disappearing into trees.
“That's right you Satanic son of a bitch! You won't ever come back this way again! Don't you tread on me!”
The old man laughed until he fell flat on his back.


Todd and his friends all cringed simultaneously when they heard the explosions.
“Holt has a gun! He's shooting at us! Run!”


“UNDerstood – ATTEMPted CONtact met with LOCAL HOSTILITY – As is Customary – Retaliate with Show of FORCE.”


Holt wiped his eyes and sniffed. He got up and turned to go inside but something caught his eye, just along the edge of the trees. The trick-or-treater was standing in the foliage staring directly at him.
“Get on out of here! Can't you take a hint! Get before I call the police!”
It was something about the way the costumed stranger stepped out from the trees that caused Kevin's resolve to pause. Delicately, with a calculated mixture of agile certainty and tactical menace. The old farmer tried to move but found his knees locked in fear. Fear of what he asked himself? Just a greasy little punk with a stupid dime store mask? Then, as the pumpkin-faced thing slowly began walking up the porch steps, and he saw its glistening, unnatural skin in the moonlight, he knew. It was fear of the Devil. The last thing he saw was the inordinately long, gray fingers of the thing before they pressed his teary eyes into the back of his head.


“MARDUK responding. Local hostilities disMissed. Attempted to make contact, As is Customary – to no diplomatic end. NEUTRALization is suggested.”


“Received: PLANET species inDIcative of TRIBAL-lvl governing and mentality --- QUE for TERmination. PREPARE total invasion scenario NI.BI.RU. And await further instruction -”


“Agreed. Received. MARDUK proceeding with SHOW OF FORCE.” The Marduk removed its fingers from Kevin Holt and hoisted his body up off the floor, carrying it into the woods.


In the morning Meryl Holt opened the door to the farmhouse and put a hand to her brow. She looked out over the hills and called for her husband, who had never come in after his ridiculous fireworks show the night before. She had heard the racket from the bedroom upstairs and refused to have any part in it, but since then become concerned by his absence.
She squinted against the light of the rising sun – completely unaware of the mess at her feet.
She took a step forward into what was left of a ragged Halloween mask, a pumpkin. She grunted to herself and bent over to pick it up, but paused just before reaching it, noticing the thick red fluid seeping out from beneath.

Meryl Holt screamed as her husband's head rolled down the porch steps – she had thought the mask was empty – after all – there were no eyes to see through the holes of the jack-o-lantern.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

It doesn't get any grosser than this (Prt. 2)

The Captain is quick to discover the breakout and just as quickly resigns to his fate. He introduces each of them to Dodger and banishes the group to the basement. After a few moments of awkward tension as the kids watch Dodger take a bath, both voyeuristic and perverse, we find that the basement is filled with even more strange and medieval artifacts, including the portrait of Torok from Troll – insinuating some sort of vague canon between the two films. Perhaps the kids are trolls themselves, imprisoned by magic in grotesque mortal shells - longing to take up spear and fork alongside their master to wage war against Harry Potter and the rest of humanity.



That isn't the only way the two movies overlap, as Phil Fondacaro (of Ghoulies 2 fame), the actor beneath Greaser Greg, played Torok in Troll as well.

Manzini, perhaps struggling with some sense of unflappable paternity, delivers a somewhat rousing and motivational speech to the kids - justifying their imprisonment with the time-honored adage that "normies" (or non-uglies) will invariably seek out to destroy what they do not understand. This is one of the few points in the film where a sort of pseudo-moral becomes evident - a fleeting solidification of reason within the movie's otherwise unchallenged and chaotic pace of madness. This is of course immediately terminated without remorse by the simpering, snot-glossy smirk of Messy Tessy, as she reminds Dodger of the task at hand - that her, along with the rest of the Hills Have Eyes orphans, must help him claim the affection of Tangerine.
Dodger and Tangerine's forbidden love seems to be in close orbit to the film's central purpose (to gross one out) perhaps appealing to that juvenile urge to always have what we can only imagine we need. A thirst for the social forbidden. The children see the apparent gap as a non-issue, where as I always thought it was more of an issue of puberty.
During a trip to sell her clothes and fishing lures, Tangerine informs Dodger about the nature of the business. Be it selling questionable attire to elbow-and-knee-dancers at underage dance clubs or panhandling is left to viewer speculation. Juice shows up once again, cementing his role as the heel and ticking that last box on his dickhead checklist after taking all of Tangerine's earnings for the night.

At this point we're brought back to the kids and learn that some of their fellows are missing. 
As they search other garbage pails, they mention Ultra Violet, and Banana Anna (originally Anna Banana), two legit characters who are MIA.



They're concerned with their friends but seem to have no recollection of how, when, or where they were lost. I guess the pail-searching is founded but contradicting to the earlier notion that ugly people are just as well, by insinuating they should all be found in garbage cans.
As Dodger's relationship with the kids matures, he learns that they can sew - a collective talent they somehow all share despite their varying degrees of physical deformity and mental shortcomings.
Nevertheless their effort is spot-on and professional, also surprisingly clean considering the amount of  bodily fluids involved with their day to day existence.
Tangerine puts in an order and Dodger immediately interns the kids into labor, to create the needed demand within a grossly unrealistic deadline.
The solution rests on the film's singular musical number - a laborious song about friendship and working together during which they break into a tailor shop and steal the needed tools to complete their task. Dodger drives them with conviction, but they shirk their duties after he leaves and sneak into a movie theater. Once there they proceed to thieve food and be generally disruptive. Continuing their brand of destruction, they later crash a biker bar and cause a brawl. At this point one would think the only theme the movie has championed is that ugly people are easily manipulated, aggressive thugs who steal and break stuff. However, when Windy Winston befriends a biker after farting off a dude's mustache - a more universal tone is fleshed out - that of the lowest common denominator - showing us that Winston's man-salute signifies that great resonance of truth which brings us all together.

Upon returning, Dodger and Manzini express their concern for the safety of the missing kids. Those accounted for inform them of the 'State Home for the Ugly', a horrible place where they fear their friends have been imprisoned (much like Manzini's basement only government funded). I have to admit I sort of relished the appearance of the two Barney Fife-level officers patrolling the street mid-daylight with a giant butterfly net, sacking less than attractive people and locking them up in small cells labeled with their offense (IE too old, too fat, Clint Howard).
They locate the Home and make devise a plan to infiltrate it under the cover of night.
In the meantime Dodger and Tangerine start raking in their dirty money, profiting off the bent backs of their broken and subordinate workers.
Juice continues to profit as well - steamrolling his girlfriend and her stooge into surrendering their gains.
Once Tangerine is introduced to the kids, her venomous glands begin to salivate even more at the pretense of fast fame and cheap thrills. She folds their efforts under her label and the stage is set for her spearhead into the fashion world - a show at the local department store.

Tormenting Tangerine 45b.
Tangerine tightens her grip on Dodger by adding seductive undertones to her demands - and threatens to report the kids to the State if they show their proud faces at the fashion show. She also begins to manipulate Dodger more often, slacking his plans to help rescue the missing Garbage Pails.
The movie begins to escalate - rolling toward its explosive (literal meaning upcoming) conclusion.

Disgusted Dodger 31a.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ho, Ho, No!

Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever (2014)


It's almost like modern Christmas specials shouldn't exist. It's possible the 'out of touch' fibers which genetically strangle my DNA are continuing their strict regimen of de-evolution as I become more and more of a cultural bigot, but, most post-millennial specials seem insubstantial - with no genuine message beyond that which is uncomfortably chorfed through acidic flaps of indigestion - stale aftertastes of better and more thought-out times where the season would shine through every time and cast a spell on those eager to believe in the holiday.
Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever isn't as bad as it could be - for social media and internet culture to have ham-fisted this movie into existence on the worst possible medium (the Lifetime Network) is a deranged holiday miracle unto itself - which is something we should all be excited about (you know the sort of temporary excitement you feel when opening a new bag of Doritos).
There is some loose plot about an expensive dog being stolen by a duo of crooks (who in themselves are so much a parody's parody that they cease to exist as human beings and fade into something akin to white noise) and a little girl's Christmas wish which enables her to hear Grumpy Cat speaking (voiced by Aubrey Plaza, the monotonous funeral dirge of her exhumed face-sounds finally made relevant by the sour and disparaging look of the dwarf cat). The word loose is a credit in reality, as the entire airy spectacle is one enormous summary of the Grumpy Cat phenomenon itself - being that cats are those creatures which rule our subconscious by occupying the 2% of our free web-browsing time when we aren't looking at porn. Combine this infatuation with a cat that looks abnormal (on a scale of weird that leans more toward cute) and fill the remaining space with humanized catch phrases and sentiments and you have a whole lot of money being tossed about to a clueless animal and its handlers.
And it works! The movie was purchased by me! And gave me exactly what I wanted, to look at dopey animals around Christmas time.
It stands to reason that Worst Christmas Ever is a testament to our preoccupation with wallowing in the deep end of the low, reveling in it even - as we are made in the image of God Himself so we do honor the birth of his only son with radical and fanged indulgences of marketable and themed embarrassments and abandonment.
It is what it most certainly was intended to be - as good as an animal-centric movie can be with a sub-tier animal actor on meme-generated crutches who obliviously rests in the shadows of real animal actors like Roddy McDowall and that dog from K-9.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It doesn't get any grosser than this (Prt. 1)


Garbage Pail Kids (1987) Prt. 1

Pry back the panel of the mind and you will find a bundle of superficial and impulsive thoughts. Begin to untangle that bundle and soon you will reveal the circuitry of deep thoughts. Questions which hinder us on our climb up the daunting scale of spiritual enlightenment. These are the concepts which keep our eyes open and staring at the ceiling when we're trying to sleep – the ever-inching inconsistencies we feel with what we've been told all our lives about why things are.
Eventually, either through science or discovery, most things which exist have an origin that can be deduced and defined conclusively, but the further back we look, the more often we hear ourselves ask the question:
“What came before that?”
It has been said that landscape of the mind is infinite – and that its powerful calculative skills can dwarf those of any artificially thinking machine (or something, its been a minute since I've watched Donald in Mathmagic Land), but I believe differently. I will agree that our existential theories have come a long way and that we have developed a great many theories as to why we are here why we've made the things we've made. However, I believe there is a limit to what we can derive from our current rung on the cosmic ladder, and, at some point, whether or not we and our collective works are all just complex curls of smoke and flame still flashing out in pre-determined chaos from the mouthpiece of some great and ancient cosmic explosion, we have to accept the possibility of things without origin - or at least, beginnings so shrouded in spacial uncertainty that we lack the facilities to give them dimension. In short – we have to accept for now, that some things just are.
And this, in my opinion, is how the Garbage Pail Kids movie came to be.


In 1987 there was a live action Garbage Pail Kids movie. I won't spend much time explaining where GPK originated. Chances are, if you're reading this, the trading cards were 90% of your pre-teenage life at one point and you had doubles and triples stuck all over everything you owned. You were talking up your parents for another pack through your bloody, war-scarred begging-hole, which you mutilated on a semi-daily basis by eating those sheets of pink, powdery, quarry pit slate which came included.
Oh I ate the stuff too – and who can say why? Perhaps it was that in our childhood minds we saw it as our first extraordinary challenge – a wild terrain for us to tame, subvert, and conquer by chewing it to pulp and then spitting it out not two minutes later – already eager for another slab to prove our toughness, our greatness.
I never knew a kid who didn't eat the gum. It was part of the process, and like the movie came to be, it just was.


The GPK movie is exactly what you don't expect it to be – that being said – I personally had no preconceived notion of what it was supposed to be before seeing it for the first time. Even as a kid I remember sensing a disconnect with it, I almost resented it in the way I resented Masters of the Universe (even though MotU did have the luxury of an original story premise to ignore where GPK did not).
They (the Kids) were just these horrible little characters with no purpose other than to parody other things and commit the full compliment of all childhood taboos our parents were at war with and sometimes even gruesome acts of self mutilation, earmarks of healthy boyhood wonderment and therefore very marketable, and very collectible.
They were another multifaceted tool in the arsenal used against our fathers, our mothers, those who loved us and wanted nothing more than for us to be calm and non-disruptive. In the end the movie reflected few of these noble concepts and became a parody of the parodies themselves.
I love this movie... now. Its easily in my top 100 (somewhere near the middle). As an adult I have embraced it as an outstanding example of the kind of malarkey they could get away with in the cinematic 80s. I also feel like its criminally underplayed, shoved underneath other weird-ass quirky films from the same era. Too often when talking with fellow fans of awful things I hear them restate my comment with a question mark.
“There was a Garbage Pail Kids movie?”
To which I always respond “Oh yeah, and a cartoon.”
But that will come later.


How old are those kids anyway?
Dodger is a troubled youth – much like the projected target audience of the movie he just can't seem to fit in without rubbing against the grain of society. Also, much like his only slightly more popular parallel, Bastion, from the Never Ending Story – he is consistently assaulted and shaken down by a particular group of bullies who seem to specifically target him (though Bastion's bullies seemed at least to be in his same age group).




Great hair - Shaking down children must really pay off.
Dodger's group of bullies chase him down and corner him as the film opens. The thugs are managed by a dude named Juice who, as you can see, is just about as cool as his name.
There's also Wally and Blythe, a surly, handsome woman who steals her scenes with a sensuous sort of primitive doughiness.


The real villain however, is a nemesis of the heart, Tangerine – the manipulative girlfriend to Juice who begins to bend Dodger's heart, tempered by his love her, to serve her own agenda – more on this later.


After the robbery – Dodger makes his way to the Curio shop in which he finds refuge from his attackers. Run around the corner to a magical book shop and you find yourself immersed in a fantastic journey on the back of a Luck Dragon - take a wrong turn however into a thrift store filled with bizarre antiques and you end up with a garbage can packed with eugenically perverted midgets who wet themselves and vomit uncontrollably. That's what they like to call “the other side of the coin”. The shop owner, an out of work magician named Manzini, has hired Dodger to do something... Though by the look of it it is neither to clean or organize. As such the slime encrusted pail which sits directly in the way of just about everything becomes a point of interest. Dodger is naturally curious and Manzini warns him never to touch it (then put it up fucker).
Manzini has a lot of great dialogue which really dwarfs what everyone else has to say in the rest of the film. I love that. There's always these high-caliber actors who hit the curb on these movies but refuse to compromise their personal integrity.

 “Losing is relative my dear boy, what matters is conceding with grace.”

Manzini intensifies his ominous warning by comparing the trash can to Pandora's box – furthering Dodger's infatuation with it.
Not long after, when Tangerine stops by the Curio – Dodger uses the opportunity to awkwardly reveal his teenage crush for her by luring her in with the promise of helping her with her “Creations”. After making sure no one will see, she agrees to step inside. It is at this point that we begin to see her dualistic malignity – as she begins to play one side against the other – dating Juice for the obligatory social value pressed onto her by her peers while leaning on Dodger to supplement her selfish endeavors.

This statue is as cold as my soul.

Tangerine's “Creations” are outfits and fashion accessories that she labels as funky and off-beat - 100% of which resemble that shirt Denise made for Theo in that one episode of the Cosby Show.






Her indifference is crushing. Dodger tries to entice her with buttons, pins, beads and repeatedly she rebuffs. Just as his abasement is reaching a boil, Juice and his jackbooted thugs return to give him another lamming.
But Dodger is now in his element, and they are on his turf. Using the objects in the store he proceeds to evade the thugs with Globetrotter levels of improvised, environmental precision. The scuffle ends up tipping the pail – disaster!
Slime begins to ooze onto the floor as the bar is raised.
Juice throws Dodger into the outside manhole and opens a valve of raw sewage onto him. The Kids, now loose from their tin prison come to the rescue – and we're given our first raw exposure to the deranged cast. 'Kids' is a relative term at this point, after seeing what they have to offer. Only some of them resemble actual children.
The appearance of the Kids is a traumatizing event. As none of their apparent characteristics are ever given any sort of development prior to or during the meat of the plot – their lack of a unified theme (other than the fact they're all about about the same height) is fairly abrasive. The result is a stubby-legged mass of nonsensical dialogue and unappealing parts and textures which shambles through the movie, more like a single, multi-limbed biologic monstrosity than seven individual characters.


In fact, only two of the Kids ever show any sort of individuality beyond the others, who essentially remain as walking fart jokes.
Greaser Greg, a parody of a subculture from the 50s, and Ali Gator, both diligently assert their would-be alpha status within the pack through aggressive and confrontational displays of leadership. For instance: Greg is the only Kid who is seen brandishing a weapon – while Gator is constantly alluding to his taste for human flesh. The other Kids are obviously a pass-out to purists – “book to film” nerds who would undoubtedly question the adaptation's relevance to its original source material – an issue already standing on weak legs considering the exclusion of Adam Bomb and Jay Decay.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Some quick thoughts on Willow Creek.

Bobcat Goldthwait's
Willow Creek (2014)


~spoiler free~

Found footage. Like there's just all this footage lying around everywhere. Found footage films have become somewhat of a chore for me. A trend which has somehow outlasted the generation that originally appreciated it and lapsed into a new generation of horror fans who think it's something new. I normally avoid these movies since having watched the adversarial boner-killer that is V/H/S, nothing but a baited hook to oldsters like me, but it's fucking hard because there are so many being made. However, having said that, I remember fondly the somewhat limited resurgence of it when Cloverfield came out and I found myself wondering 'Well what makes me like Cloverfield, when I really can't stand this sort of thing?'.
It has something to do with subject matter. Hell, who doesn't like giant monsters – and suddenly the found footage aspect of it was somehow newer, edgier and more engaging. I found myself for a time seeking them out again. Movies like REC were fairly thrilling to me, while others, like Paranormal Activity, I found to be just as insipid and dull as the Blair Witch series ever was.
While the sub-genre made good progress in the capable hands of those who were willing to try something new – it fell on its ass when directors and producers relied on nothing but jump scares and loud noises. The popularity of the found footage movie did well within the mainstream either way and suddenly the horror movie was getting another shot at the big screen.
So yeah, in short it was a thing and now its just kind of a thing, limping along behind its recently panned-out success with straight-to-video releases and cash-ins, pandering its way down the line of bored people who want to recapture the realistic horror of found footage.
Often I see a movie that snags my interest and often when it ends up being a FF movie I kind of pout for a while and then forget all about it.
But in this case – my willingness to buy anything Bigfoot won out and I decided to watch Willow Creek.
Promising me 'the monster movie of the summer', with its visceral red jacket and bitching cover art it tickled the buying bone just under the wad of blackened organic tar that is my congealed lust for simian destruction.
I went into it skeptical as always – skepticism being a strange taste in my mouth because as a horror fan with no recognizable standards – the dignity of being a snob about these movies is an opportunity I've long since passed up (I will never once ask you to put any faith into anything I say about anything ever, good luck!). Found footage, to me, often translates into a method of delivery which increasingly rouses suspense from the viewer, even though there's nothing really happening but the mundane self-indulgent posturing of whoever it is that has the hand-cam. This could also be translated into being lazy. The viewer knows something is supposed to happen at some point so they're always on edge – paranoid about that inevitable moment when something is bound to bother them. This is the primary source for those annoying back-of-the-DVD quotes:
I was on the edge of my seat! (waiting for something to happen)
A jarring experiment in suspense! (because the movie is called 'All These People Eventually Die' and they just keep drinking and cursing like frat boys)
And I'll admit that initially Willow Creek did seem lazy to me. In fact, if I didn't have the infatuation with Bigfeets that I do I would have found it unwatchable – as the first hour or so of the movie is nothing but a Sasquatch enthusiast and his reluctant girlfriend out on a trip to the original Patterson film site. It was shot on location so it was interesting to me in the way a documentary about the Patterson film would be, so I kept with it.
However the movie does has a turning point. During the first night of their trip into the woods to reach the site, they are awoken by vocalizations in the distance. This is a nearly 30 minute, single shot scene where the couple sits frozen in their tent, afraid to move an inch, only whispering to one another frantically as the noises of clacking wood and ape-like wailing grow closer. If you end up loving or hating this movie, this is the scene you should at least give a nod to.
The entire shot is very organic and very real – mirroring that painfully human moment we've all had – sitting up from our beds, remaining as still as we can – even willing our hearts to beat softer – persuading our lungs to expand more shallowly – straining to hear, what we thought we heard, somewhere not so far off in the darkness. Moments pass without it, the sound of some thing in the shadows which is aware of you, and you ease up a little, your muscles relax, only to have it come in again out of sequence – freezing its hold on you now with more emphasis, causing more deliberation, because it has become louder, closer.
Its a brilliant scene because we've all been there. That moment where rationality shifts out of existence and you think to yourself “This is it. There is something out there that maybe isn't quite explainable and I can't handle that”.
The movie is worth watching for that feeling alone – and after it – the remainder is almost inconsequential.

I've always thought of fear as something that bothers the soul of you, your mind and your heart – not just some cheap shock popping in off angle to yell in your face. To me there's a difference between being startled, and being afraid, and it takes a real talent to project that difference on screen. I wasn't overly impressed with Willow Creek but for that scene, and if you, like me, like to remind yourself from time to time just how irrational we can be – I suggest you watch it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

You thought they were from another planet... You were right!


Illegal Aliens (2007)

Inhabitants of Earth are at perpetual risk from alien invasion, so says the PSA at the beginning of Illegal Aliens, which not only warns us of this danger, but informs us of how the Intergalactic Council has taken steps to protect all of humanity. Entrusting the safety of countless lives within the capabilities of a highly trained trio of shape-shifting extraterrestrial agents – the Council sends these officers to Earth – instructing them to assume the shape of the locality.
Two of the aliens, which in their native form look like giant Wacky Wally wall crawlers, are seen barreling through the stars, cutting off spacecraft and chirping tired tropes about how badly women drive. The third alien, however, is in the form of a pig screaming through the vacuum of space. It's a pretty peculiar choice which is never really explained as anything other than a set up for a joke about bacon as the pig alights into flame and begins burning up as it enters the atmosphere.
The aliens strike down somewhere in LA at night and form a massive crater upon impact. A nearby hobo, sure enough with bottle and brown bag in hand, is unsettled from his cardboard nest and wanders out drunk and agape, as he watches the smoking hole and listens to the aliens arguing in their own language about which form they should take.
Chance intervenes and blows a porn magazine into the crater and fate is set in motion. Three sexy girls arise from the crater – all dressed in lingerie. I really can't tell you how many times as a young boy I wished that sexy women would just appear wherever I was and save me the effort of having to mentality facilitate them, but I never once imagined that sexy girls would emerge from a pig-crater in some soupy back alley.
The aliens walk into a nearby bar packed with the usual thugs – and this one guy comes out from behind the bar and immediately begins to rub his face all over these strange street women in their underwear without question. He smacks one on the ass and it leads to a goofy bar fight, I guess to demonstrate the fact that the women have some form of martial training.

Several days later, the aliens have made their home in LA and are lounging about, still in underwear, waiting for some action. There's this surreal third-wall moment where the alien Lucy, played by Anna Nicole, is watching herself on television (actual scenes from the The Anna Nicole Show which ran legitimately from 2002 to 2004, ending three years before the filming of this movie), insinuating that the real Anna Nicole had been a shape-shifting alien crime fighter all along. I think it was meant to be a humorous nod to her bizarre behavior on the show but I for one think far too critically about really pointless shit for this sort of existential thinking to ever lock into place.
The surlier of the trio, Cameron, establishes herself as the leader of team through her affirmative dialogue and take-charge attitude.
The third girl never had a name, or it was mentioned so little that I never caught it. I didn't care enough to give her a place-holder.

While the Illegals are busy acclimating into society, the movie shifts once again back into space, and to a fourth alien who is approaching the planet.
Now, being a fan of professional wrestling, I feel the need to prepare an aside for anyone who isn't familiar with the 90s era female wrestler Chyna. Chyna, born Joan Marie Laurer, is a big girl. A relic, really, from a time when lady wrestlers could and would match up against male wrestlers and hold their own. I won't take too much time harking on the fact that Chyna was probably meant to be a man. With her enormous build and muscle tone, squared jaw and breasts that were at best tacked on tenuously for given intervals of time between frog splashes and moonsaults, you can't say she wasn't trying. Anyone who lived through the 90s and watched WWF knows this already. I guess I can say it was good to see her, though the movie was made six years ago and she's probably even more of a canvas mat accident now.
The fourth alien, a rogue scientist known as Rex, inhabits Chyna's body as opposed to shifting into one of his own.
Rex walks Chyna into the same bar the Illegals entered previously and shoots the owner. She (excuse the pronoun trouble) immediately takes over the bar and uses it as a base of operations, recruiting the delinquents within into a hardcore smash and grab crime scheme as she begins hijacking convoys and stealing experimental technology.

Chyna's long years of professional acting as a professional wrestler instinctively lurch into play as a strange behavioral tick manifests, which makes Rex's voice pinch off into octaves of screeching and cringe-inducing guttural heaving while dialogue is delivered. An awkward choice, the sort of decision that makes you almost wish you had some sort of directorial commentary just so you can sleep at night...
Rex's first hit is a truck filled with cool top-secret boxes. After stealing it, she proceeds to blow up more cars with the face-rubbing guy from before, and one other, as a high-profile heist crew who later plant explosives and infiltrate government buildings. It all comes together really well and then gets rammed down your throat so you can really taste the experience.


Intermittently I was treated with the background noise that was Anna Nicole Smith. Her off-key line delivery and incessant jokes about her own vacuum of character seemed to punctuate the movie every time the action tapered off. She had this strange adult-child mentality that prevented her from filling any other role than the one who farts and laughs at her own farts. Most of her screen time was a randy combination of sluttiness and clumsy stupidity, which did loan the role a pinch of authenticity, as Anna Nicole's legacy is not exactly brilliant. In retrospect I realize that her space pig moment from the beginning of the film was symbolic, a personification of everything we came to know of the woman through MTV and her time spent in the train wreck obituaries that were the celebrity tabloids.

The Illegal Aliens answer to a sentient computer-being known as Syntax, who cues the women in on the recent developments concerning Rex's technological thefts. They deduce that the offender must be alien in origin as well. He also informs them, based on unseen and unexplained algorithms, that all the items on the snatch list are parts needed to built a 'Mega Gravitron' – a weapon of mass destruction powerful enough to destroy the world.

The girls go on a stakeout – attempting to case the next location on Rex's agenda from a building across the street. At this point Lucy (Anna Nicole) pulls a dildo out of the couch she's on to bring some levity to the gritty, true crime plot that's been keeping me white-knuckled for the longest forty minutes of my life. She sticks it in her ear, and then waves it around like a light saber. We're to assume she doesn't know what a vibrator is, even though the aforementioned looseness of Lucy's personality would contradict her confusion... Or maybe it's simply that they don't have vaginas on her home planet, or maybe their vaginas are in their ears.
The warehouse explodes, the aliens move in, and there's a chase scene with a lot of synchronized fake-breast shaking.
Rex hijacks a bus, and it was revealed to me then, that Lucy can shape-shift into complex working machines as well, because she turns into a car and the other girls get inside of her to catch up with Rex. There's a car chase of no significance in a generic under-bridge area, Rex's car flips, and Lucy turns back into her human form with the other aliens sitting on top of her – answering the Transformers passenger mystery for all of us.

After his plans are foiled by the Illegals, Rex begins to rattle off a bit of prose, revealing his plot to destroy Earth and move his own home planet into its place. This is because the star which warms his own world is very quickly dying – and total orbit re-synchronization is obviously the most easily executable course of action.

Rex then once again attempts to steal another important component for the Gravitron. This time the Illegal aliens commandeer a bus from its driver to chase her down – so far displaying no actual talent or skill as space-faring secret agents but rather cruising through the movie on nothing but their ability to wear low cut tops and demand favors with pouty orgasm faces.
The chase ends up intersecting with a speeding train – Rex rams it – and after another explosion we cut back to LA – leaving the outcome open for speculation, or most likely a director's cut.

Cameron offers a bit of background on the criminal Rex as Lucy retires to the bathroom for what I can only generally summarize as a roaring “session” of diarrhea. Carmen's recounting of Rex's relationship with her (they dated before Rex became a woman) is shouted over a seamless, deafening wash of farting and liquid fecal pounding. Rex was a scientist who was part of a rebel group, trying to take over, and demolish other planets to remedy their dying star (mentioned before). He was imprisoned by Cameron herself, and then escaped several years later.

Syntax informs the ladies that there is but one last piece Rex needs to build her weapon (even though at least two of her attempts to steal parts had been unsuccessful by this point). The final and most important part of the Gravitron, the Colliding Syncotron, is in possession of the scientist who built it, and the only man who can operate it, who resides somewhere in Montana.
Traveling to the home of the scientist, the women find that the place has been ransacked – there's an overturned bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, some pretty heated suspense music, and a fork in the microwave which is about to explode. I don't know if this is a real thing or not, I almost got went to try it (don't you look down your nose at me, I'm not a Googler, I learn by living my life damn it) but when the entire building atomized in a bloom of smoke and conflagration I quickly put the the utensil back into its drawer.
I can't say at that point I hadn't learned anything from Illegal Aliens. I had learned two things actually, that forks may explode when microwaved, and that the resulting explosion would more than likely level several hundred square feet.


They find that Rex has kidnapped the scientist. Lucy transforms into an ATTACK CHOPPER and proceeds to gun down Rex's caravan of vehicles. More trucks explode. There's so much exploding in this movie. I can't tell you how many times something explodes in Illegal Aliens. I don't know if they were trying to drown the movie in explosions to soften its slightly autistic edges, or if the movie itself was built around a surplus of leftover theatrical-grade explosives.
The scientist wakes up in Cameron's crotch, Rex is gone, and the Syncotron has been destroyed.

The Illegals immediately tell the scientist that they're extraterrestrials, who are trying to stop the apocalypse. He buys into it pretty easily, which I took to be a little unbelievable, but at this point the end of the movie was in sight and I just wanted to clench, pinch, and flush.
In the next scene, seemingly out of context, the director suddenly remembered the third, nameless alien hadn't had much development, or really any at all. Attempting to quickly add some depth to her character, she is seen working on a muscle car – insinuating that she may be a beautiful woman, but she's also a strong woman who ignores all gender assigned convention and can cut it on her own in a two-fisted man's world. That's all I really got though, I guess it was supposed to last for the rest of the movie and forecast her attitude through to the end. Sort of like, “This is who this girl is if you didn't know,” attempting to dilute the objectivity of women which the film had lavished on up to that point.
Their way of telling me “See? We're not really just trying to get this movie by on lady lumps and belly-shirts alone,” although she was wearing a belly-shirt while working on the car.

Soon after, Cameron and the scientist go on a date. This is to get the two of them out of the house so Rex can attack while the only semi-capable alien is out of the picture. The nameless alien (muscle car) is attacked and knocked out, Lucy (farts) is taken, and Syntax the intelligent computer, is destroyed, garnishing a reserved nod from me as Chyna delivers the pretty swell one-liner “CPU later.”


As this icy BM of a movie neared is final round of gut-shivering bowel cramps, I was taken to Rex's island lair – where the Mega Gravitron sat primed and ready.
Not missing any opportunity to include Anna Nicole's asshole into the script, Rex forces both her and the scientist to anally receive mind-controlling suppositories, so she can force Lucy to transform into a Syncotron replacement, and the scientist to operate her.
Soon after the Gravitron is powered up and aimed at the moon – which Rex intends to blow up to move the Earth on up and out.


The two free-roaming aliens fix Syntax and get him to locate the island. As they touch down, Rex summons large, mutant crabs to attack the women, which get mowed down when Homeland Security decides to show up with an army of helicopters. This gives the ladies a chance to prance through the destruction on the balls of their feet, shaking their upper halves, again with that weird plastic rack motion that reminds one of a light switch flicking on and off rather than anything remotely sexual.

Some of Rex's thugs make up their mind to save the world because they're pretty attached to it. I was eager to wrap this session up as I felt, personally, I had absorbed as much from Illegal Aliens as I could and once again I didn't care much to dissect the contrivance at hand.
That being said, between the decision to save the world and pulling the suppository out of Anna Nicole's rectum, I realized the weight of the choice they had to make. These men were not cowards, and by far the true heroes of the movie.

Anna asks why her poopy hole is sore (actual words used in the film) and then dive-tackles Chyna for one of the most unappealing cat fights I've ever witnessed. The whole ordeal was a mangled mess of cavernous, stationary, bowling alley cleavage and a not-quite-definable masculinity that was drowned in baritone caterwauling.

With Anna pulled out from the machine – the world celebrates – Rex is thrown into the machine and in one final explosion, it takes the whole island with it.

After I had finished with Illegal Aliens, I cast it aside like a dejected lover. Well, not a lover really, more of a Family Dollar backside prostitute – whom I envisioned looking much like Cameron or any of the ladies from the movie. I had had my way with it and to be honest it had been a horrible lay. One cannot expect the warmth of more satisfying company when you look for companionship within the marsh, but that's not why we came here, is it? Hopefully now, if you're reading this, you're a little wiser and can save that ninety five minutes of your life for something more productive. Like microwaving a fork.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

in the middle of the ocean, a new form of horror is taking shape.





it has to be annoying. you spend years of your life deeply steeped in genetic and biological scientific study - or let's say - days on end of meticulous militant training... real top-of-the-class stuff. you excel and overcome physical and mental adversity for weeks, months, years, until it finally pays off. you're enlisted to become part of a high-tier government project. your life is paid for - sure the work is a little risky and there are a lot of dangerous secrets flying around, but your long ordeal has finally gotten you into the big leagues. you're exceeding where most others have failed, pressing your mind and body to the limits and breaking down all the walls in a world of advancing technology.
so one night you're working out in the middle of the ocean on a top-secret black operations-funded oil rig, and things get a little frumpy...
everyone has to expect some setbacks right? some money is lost, valuable data compromised, maybe even a person or two or three or four dies? all in the order of crisis management. nothing you can't handle. sure enough. that is unless a group of curious survivors casually drift up at the most inopportune time to climb aboard at the exact moment there is a compound-wide security wipe-out and stroll right along into the heart of your laboratory - touching everything they can see, breathing all over the specimens, and arming themselves with very costly firearms that will most likely be taken out of your paycheck if you survive. drink all the coffee in the break room and eat my sandwich out of the fridge while you're at it. well great, thanks. hey, and fuck you. why did your yacht full of heroin have to blow up on my shift? like i don't have enough to deal with with this rabid clump of mutant DNA sliming up all the vents and liquefying people?

so proteus is one of several horror movies i've seen that takes place out there on the high seas. inevitably i always assume that sea-creatures will end up being more terrifying than shore-side monsters, as the ocean is already packed with soulless abominations that exist purely to strike terror directly into the deepest portion of your gut. it was less satisfying, then, that the thing which stalked the half-sunken halls of the film ended up being a bit more man-made than something that was just unearthed and swam up from the blackest depths. but i'm a man, i deal with these things - and i'm not one to turn my nose up at a genetic experiment gone wrong - leviathan or mutant alike - who's really that picky?
so we kick this bitch off with a group of six drug dealers (one of which is actually an undercover cop) and about twelve bags of dope being loaded onto a yacht to escape some ordeal with the triads. one fellow, paul, is already bleeding through his face and missing a few fingers right from the start - so i was sure that more dismemberment was to come.
at some point during the opening credits the boat blows up and the crew is set adrift on a raft until they plunk into a seemingly abandoned oil rig. normally i would complain about the plot-crutch of a group of inexperienced people insisting on worsening their situation by exploring some hollowed-out place of misfortune they probably shouldn't... but i let it slide this time seeing as they were floating abroad with nothing to eat but a bag full of drugs.
now i knew some dank shit was already happening inside. there was at least one panicky security officer running from some serious color-tinted monster vision already teased before the smugglers got on deck.
after making themselves comfortable (as they always do), the group discovers lumps of clothing laid all about the rig - and plenty of empty animal cages and living quarters. the whole place is dripping with slime - and paul (the fingerless fellow) goes off almost immediately and gets taken out by the red lens filter and ingested... i guess? his face sort of melts off into some awesome late 90s CG effect.
my faith wavered a bit when i put the slime and the clothes together like some tubby-limbed child doing grade school math while waving his arm and grunting at the teacher... i had already nailed this flick down as a slime creature feature which i'm never pleased with. not the good kind - like the blob - but the sort where they just toss a bunch of fluid around and insinuate you to death. not to say i have an aversion to slimy movies, i just prefer to see the stuff in action.
anyhow anyhow anyhow.
so eventually you're told what's going on - after a few of the people who have died start showing up in spanking condition - though it was fairly straightforward all along. a crazy doctor named shelley (name drop) was hired out by an eccentric billionaire to explore the boundaries of human DNA to potentially unlock the secret of eternal life. the doctor mentions that the body and all of its elements are 95% water and that the trick was to exploit the meatier remaining 5% into something that would defeat death.
it just has to sound good normally, but i found myself making a 5% meatier effort to explain the contrivance away and caught the reflection of my contorted face on the television screen and thought it was a jump-scare.
so this biological element was tested on a great white shark (always good to test that radical and unstable virus on something with five rows of teeth) they nicknamed 'charlie'. from this point on the creature is referred to thusly.
most of this knowledge comes from a tape which alex (the undercover DEA agent) finds, that shelley had made himself.
it got a bit more interesting when they explained that charlie sort of gelled himself and slopped out of the tank to take over the remaining staff on hand - gathering their traits and forming a mental collective - but it was still a little hands off for my taste. a lot of the kills were made by reusing actors who had come back after they had died to kill again by jamming a feeding appendage down the throat of their victim.
just before the doctor succumbs to charlie on camera, he hints at a way to defeat the entity by using a large amount of heroin.
sometimes you just get all the best cards...
there's a lot of menial elements in the movie that i've not even bothered to mention - various little thickets of disinterest about the characters who you don't really care for to begin with - but i'll just let that sauce marinate until i forget i've left it on the stove.
let's get to what i really want to talk about - and probably the reason you should watch this rank load yourself - the final confrontation.
the final battle against charlie gets real when alex's girlfriend (a previous victim) returns and tries to pull on his muscled heart just before his escape from the rig. she offers to show him charlie's "true form" and begins to buckle and gag until a five-story-tall creature ERUPTS FROM HER FACE which is genuinely awesome and looks like a cross between the universal studios jaws ride and a street shark. alex begins to pelt the monster with BAGS OF HEROIN, each time prompting it to stop what it's doing and lap up the smack.
this is just to slow charlie down until he douses the beast with gasoline and scrambles a trail of it back to a mess of hand grenades (the most overused method of ending large killer things, second only to 'laying prone behind an upward-angled pointy stick') but it doesn't even matter - at that point in the movie i had gotten what i came for.
proteus has lain mostly dormant since 1995 for good reason. at first most would probably decry it as one of many similar movies that rolled out unhindered off the aliens meets abyss craze - but they aren't aware of the key issue this movie provides - and that is: under the most extreme and particular circumstances - drugs are good for something.