Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Page 15 of 57

31 Days of Horror: Tremors / Tremors 2

tremors 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Long overdue rewatch on Blu-ray / Unseen sequels

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1990’s
Crazy Animal Movie
Franchise


 

#20. Tremors (1990)

 

tremors poster

 

I hold Tremors up as the pinnacle of modern creature features. After watching Komodo last weekI felt compelled to conclude the “Crazy Animal Movie” requirement of the Hooptober Challenge with this old favorite. I’ve owned the Tremors Attack Pack Blu-ray release for a few years now and I’ve failed, despite my intentions, to watch Tremors each of the past two Halloweens. I’d had it up to here with lackluster animal movies. Killerfish, Day of the Animals, Komodo — all of these films have only reinforced my aggravation over lazy savage animal movies.

I couldn’t decide if fictional animals counted towards the requirement, but I decided I didn’t care either. These were animals. They were crazy. Bring on the big ass worms.

 

31 days of horror tremors

 

Tremors works because it embraces the historical absurdity of the animal attack genre. Giant Leeches. Slugs. Killer shrews. You name the creature, it’s attacked people on cinema. With an eye on a retro-brand of filmmaking and a nod toward self-awareness, director Ron Underwood downplays terror in favor of spectacle and humor. In the place of exposition or a brief origin story, Tremors substitutes ecological wonder. Characters marvel at the existence of the Graboids, their physiological adaptations that have allowed them to exist undetected in the earth for millions of years.

They might want to eat you, but by god that’s an impressive specimen! Check out those independently operated tongue snakes! And spikes that allow them to push themselves through the dirt!

Impressive creature effects only carry a film so far. The tone of the film must reflect the creatures themselves. First, the creatures cannot be the joke. While the face-value of Tremors suggests otherwise, (giant carnivorous worms!) the Graboids never become the punchline. The high-concept narrative allows the tremendous, entertaining collection of character actors to act and react to a preposterous scenario. An isolated Nevada town under siege by subterranean monsters. A pair of mostly capable handymen, a geologist and a right-wing gun nut hold the fort.

 

tremors 31 days of horror

 

Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire and Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China) buy in completely. (Though, Kevin Bacon has confessed that at the time he felt the film represented a career low.) With the worms presented as the Abbott to the humans’ Costello, the creatures can afford to just be monstrous. The rest of the humor comes naturally.

I might be blinded by irrational love for Tremors because it’s really not actually quite that good… but I’d be lying if I gave it anything short of five Hertzies.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating5

 

So what would happen to this balance when the sequel loses its director and goes direct-to-video six years later?

 

#21. Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

 

tremors 2

 

The film carries on.

The budget has been noticeably downgraded. The worms lose their independently operating snake-tongues and most of the special effects involve fountains of exploded worm goo. The actors outside Ward and Gross barely passed the “acting their way out of a paper bag” test. Chris Gartin replaces Kevin Bacon with a less mature version of Bacon’s already immature character and he’s only mostly annoying. Gartin comes around by the end of the movie but still reminds me of a low-rent Justin Bartha. Michael Gross inflates the NRA survivalist persona, filling up some of the personality vacancy.

 

tremors 2 31 days of horror

 

Fans of the original will find enjoy #2. Aftershocks finds new creative ways to attack with worms. Recommended. Even the wife got into this one. Extra half star because reasons.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating31-2

Tremors blu-rayAvailability: All four Tremors flicks can be had on the cheap. No excuse.

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Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo

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31 Days of Horror: Komodo (1999)

komodo 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Unseen DVD

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1990’s
Crazy Animal Movie


 

#19. Komodo (1999)

Komodo poster

 

 

I’m entertained by the subtle ways I change the format of these posts. Each and every change I’ve made over the course of 19 posts wouldn’t even be noticed by the average reader. Hell, forget the average reader. If some person existed that made a sick point to read every one of these 31 Days of Horror posts, even they wouldn’t notice the differences. Give up? I centered the film title and poster. Swell, huh? (Help me. I’m losing my mind.)

But about Komodo.

Komodo belongs to the animal attack subsection of the horror genre. More specifically, the sub-sub-genre of animal attack movies where the attacking animal manifests as something innately toothless. The creature itself doesn’t have to be toothless, though that certainly solidifies its sub-sub-genre status. See: Slugs, Swarm, Night of the Lepus. You get the picture. Komodo falls into this category despite having a potentially monstrous killer creature.

 

komodo 1999

 

Komodo dragons rule the isolated ecosystems in which they live — the tippy top of the food chain. They’re believed to be ancient lizards, dating back almost 4million years. The only species of these giants left on the planet. It was once believed that the komodo caused sepsis in its prey due to saliva highly concentrated with bacteria; however, recent studies from 2013 have shown that the bacteria resembles the saliva of just about any obligate carnivore. Myth in this instance proves more potent than fact. Even though the movie takes advantage of this sepsis/paralysis myth, it fails to render this trait — something that could have been used to foster some legitimate terror — as anything more than a footnote.

The film arrived in 1999 as part of the straight-to-video glut of creature features that took advantage of newly inexpensive CGI effects. Considering the film’s budget, the komodo effects — a mix of practical puppetry for close ups and CGI — become the movie’s one legitimate strength. Director Michael Lantieri (Jurassic Park‘s creature creator) has a good sense to withhold a full appearance of the dragons to maximize later utility. Though here’s the rub. Despite the komodo’s size and supposed paralytic saliva, they’re really not an inherently frightening animal. In order to turn them monstrous, Komodo‘s komodos become killing machines as a result of experimental hormone therapy.

The PG-13 rating prevents much bloodletting and discourages brutality that could have better established these hormone-laden killing machines. Even without knowing Lantieri’s connection to Jurassic Park, viewers will note a number of regurgitated setpieces and scenarios refashioned on a smaller Komodo/direct-to-video scale.

 

komodo 1999

 

Final Thoughts:

Is there a reason to watch Komodo? No. Not really. Creature feature aficionados usually skew towards the more kitschy variety of films produced in the 1950’s and 60’s. Late 1990’s CGI with an $11million budget doesn’t generally wind their clock. With this kind of sub-sub-genre toothless creature attack DNA, Komodo needed to be less competent to be truly notable.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating2
Komodo dvdAvailability: Get your Komodo fix. 

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Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko

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31 Days of Horror: Kuroneko

kuroneko 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Unseen Criterion Shame

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1960’s
Country of Origin –
 Japan


 

#18. Kuroneko (1968)

kuroneko posterkuroneko poster

Yabu no Naka no Kuroneko, the Japanese title for Kuroneko takes the prize for most literal name of a transcendent piece of cinema. (I assume.) The literal English translation, “A Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove,” paints a very precise picture. Kaneto Shindo’s film showcases bamboo groves and black cats, oftentimes in the same image and beautifully rendered. Truth in advertisement.

Of course, such precision fails to convey nuance beyond the light and shadow. Even without nuance, however, Kuroneko is a beautiful film. A collection of still images could populate an entire gallery installation.

 

kuroneko

 

A band of traveling samurai rape and murder Yone and her daughter-in-law Shige. They burn down their house, take their food and depart. A black cat appears and licks the bodies of the women.  The women return as spirits having pledged to avenge their death by murdering all samurai. All samurai includes Shige’s husband Gintoki who’d gone off to war in the faraway north. They lure their samurai to an illusory estate in a bamboo grove (a spot near where their house once stood), seduce, then destroy. When news of these samurai butchers reaches governor Raiko, he sends Gintoki to destroy the spirits.

The term “elegiac” resonated while watching Kuroneko. The word itself rolls off the tongue and inspires non-specific romantic pining, sort of like Hector Elizondo. Literally “elegiac” means an expression of sorrow for something now past.

 

kuroneko 31 days of horror

 

The women react to the lives they’ve lost, the blissful illusion of sanctuary. A home, a family, the belief in the altruism of a protective warrior class. As farming peasants, as women, Yone and Shige represented the lowest tier of the caste system, other than ethnic minorities, convicted criminals, etc. (the “burakumin”). Despite their status, they lived a contented existence. A violent death and total disillusionment ferried them back to their vengeful purgatory where they are charged with more than just measure-for-measure revenge. Within this context of mourning the loss of their life and a worldview of untarnished pastoral purity, the notion of Kuroneko as an elegy becomes especially potent.

Let’s further consider the definition of elegiac within poetry. I had to brush up on the broader strokes of the elegiac couplet because it’s been almost twenty years since I last used or studied the term. Greek lyrical poets used elegiac couplets for themes on a smaller scale than the epic. The couplet stands on its own but contributes to the larger work. Individual, isolated pieces of the whole. Though for this conversation the specifics don’t necessarily matter as much as the function of the elegiac couplet. Let’s dig up some of that Freshman English class.

From wikipedia:

Each couplet consists of a hexameter verse followed by a pentameter verse. The following is a graphic representation of its scansion. Note that – is a long syllable, u a short syllable, and U is either one long syllable or two short syllables:

– U | – U | – U | – U | – u u | – –

– U | – U | – || – u u | – u u | –

 

kuroneko 31 days of horror

 

In it’s original Greek and eventually Latin usage, the elegiac couplet was considered a lesser art form. Elegiac poets liberally borrowed the themes of the epic in order to lend more gravitas to the shorter, more accessible elegies. As a horror film, also typically considered lesser art, does not Kuroneko struggle against the same kind of bias? The themes of Kuroneko resonate well beyond the horror genre.

The beauty of the couplet manifests in poetic simplicity. The same holds true for Kuroneko narrative, which relies on light, shadow and often silence. Fog dances among the bamboo forest, the reeds of which appear overdeveloped during processing and reinforces the haunting estate’s isolation. Pure whites and pure blacks. Only the fog lies somewhere in between. Nothing but blackness appears beyond the forest. This turns the most minimal of set designs into limitless space.

 

kuroneko

 

Though Shindo handles the seduction of the samurai with a deft touch, and an eye first concerned with visual poetry, Kuroneko embraces the thematic essentials of a horror film. He begins the film with the massacre of the women and their home, but shows none of the samurai’s overt trespasses. The violence agains the women is left to the imagination — only an image of their charred bodies — but our imagination is often more potent. The women, however, exact their pound of flesh by biting their victims in the neck, ripping throats like a big cat killing its prey.

When Gintoki arrives at the women’s lair, the film strays from any horrific imagery and moves toward a Shakespearean tragedy. Two lovers, reunited. An unnatural coupling of man and spirit. Shige surrenders her soul to hell for one more week with her husband. Meanwhile Gintoki’s mother, bound by her oath to destroy the samurai, offers her son no family discount.

Whether you’re spellbound by the imagery or wrapped up in the sworn vengeance of the wronged women, Kuroneko casts a timeless spell. Conservation of language. The visual poetry of the black and white image. Revenge and honor. Love and death. The shattered sanctuary of home. Elegiac, indeed.

 

Final Thoughts:

After finishing Kuroneko, I sat in silence, watching the Criterion menu. The ultimate sign of respect for any film — silent reflection. (Though, on the flipside, I also sat silently after finishing Nightmare on Elm Street 2 because holy hell that was one terrible movie.)

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating41-2

 

 

kuroneko blu-ray Availability: The Kuroneko Criterion Collection Blu-ray/DVD can be purchased wherever fine Criterions are sold. 

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Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown

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Halloween Stuff Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 – mixtapes

Stuff #1 Mixtape

The Maxell XL II 90, my tape of choice

Some time ago I unearthed a plushy Denon cassette tape case containing a few of my old 90’s mixtapes. I named all of them “Stuff Vol. x” for ease of organization. They were mismatched collections of my music of the moment. New or old, it really didn’t matter. I don’t ever recall compiling a themed playlist and I certainly didn’t find any in my old tapes. I didn’t believe in sonic constraints. From those tapes I created Spotify playlists to recreate the contents. You can find these “Mixtape Project” posts here, here, and here.

We music lovers of a certain age romanticize mixtapes. Sure, now we have unlimited access to music and can craft complex 100-track playlists in a wink and a nod because of our massive digital media collections. And that’s considered progress, but it’s removed the scrutiny and intent involved in making a 45- or 60-minute mixtape. Mixtapes were a labor of love.

I made all mine on a Kenwood stack system with a 5-CD changer plus extra tray. A Christmas present from my parents in the year 1991. The repetitive queuing and the corresponding play/record pressing on the tape deck. It would take hours to perfect one of these tapes, never mind the preparation and selection before the recording even began. I even used some of my dad’s records to add a scratchy, retro feel through a couple of vinyl-based recordings. I miss it, so I’m going to resurrect Stuff with a new weekly bl-g series. Each week, I’ll use some variety of prompt to create a new mixtape.

Thus I give you my first new offering, a mixtape of Halloween-inspired favorites new and old (but mostly old). If you’re back in the mixtape business, I’d love to see some of your creations. I’ll post links to fellow mixtapers in the posts. And if you created a Halloween mix of your own, post a link in the comments!

 

halloween stuff volume 1 mixtape

Halloween Stuff Vol. 1

 

 

halloween stuff vol. 2

Halloween Stuff Vol. 2

 

31 Days of Horror: The Unknown

the unknown 1927 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Shame:
Didn’t-think-I’d-seen-it-but-I’d-totally-seen-it Shame

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1920’s
Silent


 

The Advance Word: It was on the DVR and Joan Crawford.

#17. The Unknown (1927)

the unknown 1927 lobby card

I’d planned to rewatch Jean Epstein’s La chute de la maison Usher for the “silent movie” requirement of the Hoop-Tober 3.0 Challenge but one night I was in bed, skimming the DVR for a movie to watch and I found that I’d set this to record from TCM. I often watch silent or foreign movies in bed at night because I can keep the volume down so not to disturb Mrs. 30Hz — who actually likes going to sleep at a relatively reasonable hour. The Unknown checked off a couple of CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober challenge boxes so I ran with it. I actually don’t own any unwatched silent horror films. Hurray for small victories.

Oh, hey, by the way… you’ve seen this movie before, knucklehead.

This brand of shame turned out to be something entirely different. I have a weird vault-like memory for recalling exactly when and where and with whom I first saw a movie. I assume this vault is taking up space that could have been helpful during high school trigonometry or that Java class I almost failed in college. The Unknown, true to title, escaped cataloging.

the unknown 1927 joan crawford

One should remember Lon Chaney throwing knives at 22-year-old gypsy Joan Crawford with his toes. Even once the trace memory kicked in, I kept watching. I couldn’t look away. Lon Chaney’s performance in The Unknown is haunting. ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces” created a pitiable villain of disarming obsession and enviable passion.

Chaney plays Alonzo, a double-thumbed murderer hiding among circus “freaks” by pretending he has no arms. He falls in love with the gypsy girl Estrellita. Estrellita, however, is also coveted by Malabar the Strong Man. She cowers at his musclebound touch and laments the men that always want to touch her.  Malabar’s not a bad guy; he’s just a broheim that’s clumsy with affection. Meanwhile, Alonzo waxes Estrellita’s father when he uncovers Alonzo’s true identity. Estrellita turns to Alonzo for comfort, the man without arms and without groping paws. She repeatedly talks about how amazing it would be to love a man without hands.

Alonzo tries to raise his hand. To say “ME!” ME, PLEASE!” but of course his hands are tied… our at least bound in a corset. To get that close to Estrellita, to embrace Estrellita he’d need to do away with those pesky appendages once and for all.

So he does.

the unknown lon chaney

 

Maybe that doesn’t sound especially unnerving. Maybe that sounds like a bunch of silly silent movie hyperbole… but in the hands of Tod Browning, that silly little slice of hyperbole left me unsettled all over again. I’d forgotten about the amputation. Consider the special brand of obsession that must incite someone to remove body parts. Lon Chaney lays bare every ounce of Alonzo’s emotional anguish and moral ambivalence.

The choice to amputate perfectly good arms, as it does, backfires. When Alonzo returns to the circus, he finds that Estrellita has fallen in love with the hamfisted Malabar and he’s arrived just in time to attend their wedding. Alonzo snaps and plots his final revenge.

 

triple facepalm

The Unknown serves as a direct precursor to Browning’s more famous outing: 1932’s Freaks (which also includes the love triangle between a circus freak, a beauty and a strong man). The thematic reliance upon circus and carnival acts was no happenstance. Browning himself ran away to join the circus at 16. During those early years in show business, he worked a carnival “talker,” performed in his own act billed as the “Living Corpse,” and clowned around with Ringling Brothers. Not until he met D.W. Griffith at a variety theater in New York City, did Tod Browning venture into filmmaking. (He’s an extra in Intolerance, by the way.)

While Freaks is perhaps more unsettling in its own visceral way, The Unknown proves to be the more successful film overall due to Lon Chaney’s singular performance. Contemporary reviews likened the film to “a visit to the dissection room at the hospital.” Undoubtedly, Browning’s film ventures into uncomfortable territory but our modern sensibilities should be sturdier than that of a 1927 cinema critic.

While Browning’s story maintains that same disturbing sense of macabre drama, our 2016 sensibilities will be drawn (and quartered — you’ll understand if you watch the film) to the early notions of gender politics and sexual harassment. The love triangle where the “hot” girl chooses the insensitive “jock” over the “weird” guy remains timeless social dynamism.

And with that I’ll move on to some actual Watch Pile shame. Time is running low, and these movies aren’t watching themselves.

 

the unknown 1927

Final Thoughts:

Joan Crawford at 22 doesn’t come with the crazy eyes. Who knew? (Well, technically I did… because I’d seen this before, but that’s beside the point.)

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating4

 

 


lon chaney collection dvdAvailability:
 The Unknown can be found on TCM’s Lon Chaney Collection DVD set. 

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Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals

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