Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Killjoy 1969-2018

Sad news recently, as Killjoy (real name, Frank Pucci), main man of early death metal band Necrophagia, died.  I have been a fan of Necrophagia for years, leading me to also enjoy other bands Killjoy participated in: Wurdulak, The Ravenous, Cabal, Enoch, Haxxan, and others.

I am very happy that I had the opportunity to see him with Necrophagia and also got to meet him.  He was quite friendly and Necrophagia put on a great show.  I remember being at the front of the crowd right in front of Killjoy and singing (or growling, I suppose would be more appropriate) parts of the song when Killjoy held the microphone out to me and the guy next to me on multiple occasions (especially during the song "Cannibal Holocaust").  The headliner on that tour was actually 1349, but I was there to see Necrophagia and Necrophagia did not disappoint.

Killjoy performing with Necrophagia, 2015

I remember being at the Housecore Horror Festival a few years back and wearing a Necrophagia shirt I got back in the '90s when Holocausto de la Morte was new.  I ran into Phil Anselmo (co-founder of the festival and guitar player for Necrophagia during the Holocausto days) that day and he saw my shirt, then commented, "That's old-school, man."  I also got complimented on that same shirt many years earlier at a Mortician show when I ran into Mortician bassist/vocalist, Will Rahmer.

Another interesting, and coincidental, thing I wanted to mention was that in the liner notes of Necrophagia's Divine Art of Torture, Killjoy called Jack Ketchum (who also recently died) "the best horror author in the fucking universe."

Killjoy left quite a bit for us to listen to and for that, I am thankful, but I still wish he had longer, as he was not that old.  Goodbye, Killjoy, and thanks for all the great music.

Farewell, Jack Ketchum

Back in January of this year, Dallas Mayr, also known as Jack Ketchum, died.  He was not the most well-known author,  but where his name was known (primarily among horror fans), his reputation was that of a writer who performed literary assaults on his readers' senses and emotions.  He gave the world two of the most legendary, brutal horror novels of the 20th century: Off Season and The Girl Next Door.

Off Season was his first novel and despite the fact that the publisher, Ballantine, had required numerous cuts from Mayr to tone down the dark, gruesome, and relentlessly bleak feel of the book, it was a lean, mean, and utterly vicious read.  Not even reaching the 200-page mark, the novel left no room for the literary self-indulgence that seems to plague many novels today, stretching what should be a 250-page story into a bloated 500-page one.  Of course, many years later, Dallas was able to republish the novel in a form more to his liking, known as the Unexpurgated Version, which is the one most commonly found now  Either version is highly recommended and if you enjoyed one version, check out the other as well, if you can (the original can be hard to find,  but the Unexpurgated Version is relatively easy to get).

First edition of Off Season (left) and hardcover edition of the Unxpurgated Version (right)

Off Season was eventually followed by a sequel, Offspring (which was made into a movie).  Later, this was followed by The Woman, which was developed as both a movie and a novel, in collaboration with Lucky McGee.

Then there is The Girl Next Door.  Whereas Off Season is gruesome and brutal, dragging the reader through a horrific struggle to survive a night among a deranged cannibalistic clan, The Girl Next Door just makes you feel sickened with humanity and the sadistic things it is capable of.  Of these two, Off Season is the more enjoyable.  This is not to say that The Girl Next Door is a bad book, quite the contrary, it is an excellent book.  However, I don't think it is anybody's idea of a good time.  It guts you and may even make you feel helpless, but it is remarkable.  Still, it is not a book for everybody.  It is made all the more disturbing due to the fact that it is very heavily based on a true story.  The novel itself is a work of fiction, but just barely.  The characters and setting are Mayr's own invention, but the events don't stray too far from the truth.  This is a fairly common theme in his work, actually, basing stories one real stories, sometimes just one particular element of the story, sometimes the bulk of it.  Off Season, in fact, is based on the story of Sawney Bean, who is almost certainly just a legend, though his story has been related as fact quite frequently.  Modern historians point out a lack of any contemporary evidence of his existence and crimes and have come to the conclusion that he never existed at all.

One of the most infamous elements of The Girl Next Door is the original cover, which Dallas hated.  Featuring a skeletal cheerleader that would look at home on the cover of an R.L.Stine book, it wholly misrepresented the book it accompanied, giving the expectation of a fun little horror tale, one which may give you some goosebumps and maybe a giddy shiver or two.  Instead, the book grabs you and throws you into a living nightmare, forcing you to endure barbaric inhumanity.  It would be like purchasing a record with Pat Boone on the cover, then playing it, only to hear Deicide blasting from the speakers.

First edition of The Girl Next Door (left) with its infamous cheerleader cover and a reissue with more appropriate art (right)

The first work of his I actually read was The Lost.  More of a suspense novel than an out-and-out horror novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it and it led to me picking up more of his work.  An interesting thing about his work in horror is that he rarely went into supernatural territory, preferring to keep things more uncomfortably realistic and disturbing.  The man did it extremely well.

With his death, the world of horror, and I would argue literature in general, has suffered a major loss.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Beyond the Darkness Blu-Ray

The deranged folks at Severin are at it again.  This time we are talking about Joe D'Amato's morbid classic, Buio Omega, more commonly known in English as Beyond the Darkness or the name I first saw it under on VHS many, many years ago: Buried Alive.


If you have not seen this film, it is a nasty one.  I think at least part of the film's intent was to make its audience sick.  It is gruesome and rather unpleasant in many places, featuring fairly lengthy sequences involving the disposal of a body, the embalming and dressing of another body, plus some good old gory violence.  Add in a classic Goblin score and you have yet another reason that Italian cinema was so wonderful.

I got my copy directly from Severin in the Necro Bundle, which features the Blu-Ray with a CD of Goblin's score, along with a reproduction of the theatrical poster Aquarius Releasing made for its release as Buried Alive, a t-shirt, an air freshener, and a pin.  It is a rather nice package, which is worth picking up if this kind of movie is your thing.

Enamel pin (left) and air freshener- ah, the smell of acidbath (right)

T-shirt design

Reproduction of the U.S theatrical poster

For the extras on the disc, Severin didn't go overboard, but did include some good stuff instead of just cramming the disc full of filler.  There are interviews with cast members, a trailer, plus a lengthy piece about D'Amato.  The extra bit I was happiest about was the inclusion of the Goblin score CD (although this is only for the first batch, about 2,500 I believe).  I always enjoy having the scores for these movies, as they are almost universally great. And why shouldn't they be?  Italy is home to some of the greatest film composers who have ever lived: Riz Ortolani, Fabio Frizzi, Goblin, Nico Fidenco, plus so many others, including the nigh-untouchable Ennio Morricone.

As for the movie itself, this one deals with a man whose wife has just died.  He is a wealthy man whose hobby is taxidermy.  Once his wife has died, he is not able to let her go, so he snatches her body and injects it with chemicals to preserve her as best as possible. By this point, he is rather disturbed and takes up a new hobby: murder, or omicidio, if you prefer your Italian horror in Italian.  He has a housekeeper that assists in his murderous activities.  Things naturally escalate to quite a finish.  Check it out for yourself to see how it all goes down in the end.

 This is certainly a worthy addition to any Italian horror fan's collection and is definitely recommended.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Nightmare on Elm Street Soundtrack Box Set

If you grew up in the '80s as I did, Freddy Krueger is bound to be as recognizable to you as the Trix rabbit, or, more appropriately, Count Chocula.  Most people automatically think of Freddy's glove and his wisecracks, but there was more to the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.  One major aspect that is memorable, although still somewhat overlooked, is the music.  The scores for these movies were excellent (some more than others, of course).  Varèse Sarabande put together a beautiful package for those of us who love the music as well as the movies.

This is a collection of the scores for each movie, from Wes Craven's classic original film to the misguided Freddy Vs. Jason.  Each CD includes the original soundtrack album, then additional material not included on those original releases.  There is a whole hell of a lot of music included in this box, with the CDs ranging from about 55 minutes to around 75.

Varèse Sarabande really did a wonderful job with the packaging on this one.  The 8 CDs are in cardboard sleeves, but they took the extra step of putting each disc in a plastic inner sleeve that protects it from the various scratches that tend show up when stored in cardboard sleeves.  When laid out, the covers of the cardboard sleeves make a large piece of artwork made for this release.

                                Box cover (left) and the booklet (right)

                                               Miniature Freddy Sweater cover that slips over the box

                                   All eight cardboard sleeves lined up to show the new artwork

This is quite a release, but it is also quite an expensive one.  While I absolutely do recommend it, I only recommend it to Elm Street fans who also like film scores.  If you haven't the patience or interest in listening to the score of any movie, you would do best to skip this.  If you do enjoy film scores, then it isn't cheap, but you do get quite a bit for your money.

Just don't try to get it off of eBay.  It makes the list price seem cheap in comparison.

Exhumed- Death Revenge

2017 has been quite a year for death metal, particularly older death metal bands.  To date, this year has seen new releases from Immolation, Incantation, Obituary, Broken Hope, Origin, Suffocation, and others, with upcoming releases from Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel.  And these haven't just been new releases, but good ones, too.  Time will tell for the Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel releases, as those are due out in November and December, respectively.

One of the most recent of this batch of death metal is the newest release from one of my favorite death/grind bands, Exhumed, entitled Death Revenge.

      Death Revenge LP with lyric sheet/poster and Death Revenge CD

Exhumed has been around for quite a long time at this point, starting its career with demos and multiple split releases before moving into full-length releases with the now-classic Gore Metal in 1998.  This was followed up by the superb Slaughtercult, then the more mature and melodic Anatomy Is Destiny.  After this, the band went on an extended vacation, right on the heels of a cover album, Garbage Daze Re-Regurgitated in 2005.  The band finally resurfaced with a renewed vigor with 2011's All Guts, No Glory.  

Then, on October 13 of this year (Friday the 13th, in case you're wondering), the newest album hit the shelves.  Death Revenge is a concept album based on the real-life crimes of William Burke and William Hare in 19th century Scotland.  If you are unfamiliar with this pair, they lived during a time in which people often referred to as resurrectionists would dig up recently interred corpses to sell off to doctors for use in anatomy classes.  At the time, allowed for corpses of deceased criminals and the like for use in anatomy courses, but the simple fact was that the demand was greater than the supply.  So, some enterprising folks would dig up the dead and take them to doctors who would pay for their efforts, knowing better than to inquire at to the corpses' origins.

Burke and Hare decided that this one would be a good way to make some money, but I suppose the digging up the corpses was a bit too much work.  They decided it was much more efficient to create the supply through just killing people.  Mind you, this started off somewhat innocently with the death of a lodger at Hare's house.  Burke and Hare pulled the body from the coffin before it went into the ground and sold it.  Things escalated from there, but Burke and Hare were eventually caught.

There is much more to the story, but that is the basic idea and this is what Death Revenge is all about.  Exhumed's main man, Matt Harvey, read about the duo and decided it would be excellent material for a death metal album.  Well, he is certainly correct.

The first thing that struck me with this album was the cover art, which reminds me of a theatrical poster for some '70s Eurohorror flick-- one that probably features numerous exceptionally attractive women who have no qualms showing their boobs every ten minutes or so, for no other reason than the simple fact that it is highly appreciated by the audience.  The cover even has crease marks, like you would find on older posters, when they were shipped out folded, rather than rolled up.

One of the next things that I was rather excited to find out was the fact that this album marks the return of Ross Sewage, who had departed the band after Gore Metal.  His vocals on that album were such a great counterpoint to those of Matt Harvey.  Other people stepped in after to handle the lower, more guttural vocals, which Ross had previously supplied, each doing a commendable job, but it was just never quite the same as those wonderfully low and gurgly growls Ross belted out.  He's back and has apparently not lost his skills, I am happy to say.  In fact, my only real gripe regarding Slaughtercult was the low vocals, which were supplied by Mike Beams, who did quite well, even if it wasn't quite the same as having Ross handling them, but they seemed low in the mix, almost being felt more than heard.

However, even though Ross is back in the fold, this is not Gore Metal Part 2.  The grindy aspects of Exhumed have diminished over the years, as the band grew more melodic.  This is not all that surprising, since this is a band heavily influenced by the legendary Carcass.  Unlike Carcass, though, I think Exhumed has managed to balance the melodic elements without losing too much of the aggressive death metal approach.  Carcass at one point had essentially become hard rock, just performed by a death metal band.

Exhumed has always had a knack for good, strong riffs, and this has not changed any.  This may be a more mature version of Exhumed, but it is still Exhumed, showing that a band can progress without losing its essence.

I am not the biggest fan of melodic death metal, but I don't think Exhumed really falls into that category, being more of a straight-up death metal band with melodic elements.  The band has not forsaken the blast beats that have been a major element of the band since the beginning, there just aren't quite as many as in the days when Exhumed shared space on a release with the likes of the ever-enjoyable Hemdale.

I have already listened to this one more than many other albums I have bought in more recent years.  This is definitely one of my top albums of the year.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Grindhouse- 10th Anniversary

It has now been a decade since the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature, Grindhouse, hit theaters.  Despite the fact that it did not perform as well as expected at the box office, I still believe, to this day, that this was one of the best movie-going experiences in my lifetime.  For me, personally, most movies don't seem to warrant going to the theater these days.  I think it is a combination of modern home viewing technology and the movies that are made today.  There are plenty of good movies that come out today, but they don't grab my attention quite the way movies used to and are on DVD and Blu-Ray just a few short months later, playing theaters for just a few brief weeks, so there is only a small window to go see them in the theaters now.

With Grindhouse, it was different.  This was something I waited for and looked forward to for some time before the release.  It was one that I knew would be best to see in the theater.  This one actually made me excited to go to the movies again. 

I was not disappointed.

What I got was over 3 hours of bloody, violent, deranged, crazy entertainment and it was more than worth the ticket price.  For the same you would pay to see any other regular movie, you got two feature-length movies, plus several trailers for non-existing movies.  It was a bargain.

Unfortunately, I think many people just did not get it.  I suppose that is to be expected, as not everybody is familiar with exploitation cinema and the grindhouse era.  That lack of familiarity for many people seemed to mean that they were not able to fully enjoy the movies and the trailers sandwiched between them.  Instead, they would wonder why something is the way it is and why the movies look the way they do, etc.

The Movies:

Planet Terror DVD cover

Planet Terror is the first of the two movies and the more rapidly-paced of the two.  I think it was a good idea to put this one first, just to get everything going quickly.  It is bloody, chaotic, and just plain fun.  It is absurd, it is exciting, and it takes you on a great ride.  It doesn't hurt that there are a good few rather attractive women in it, including Robert's nieces (credited here as "the Crazy Babysitter Twins").

Death Proof DVD cover

Death Proof, on the other hand, is more of a slow-burn movie (although it, too, features many very attractive women), which is a bit more in keeping with movies from the exploitation/grindhouse era.  All the crazy violence and action that would fill the trailer was generally from the last 20-30 minutes of the movie.  Many found Death Proof to be mostly boring, which I can understand, but do not agree with.  Of the two movies, this is the one I prefer.  I think both movies are excellent and very enjoyable, but I watch Death Proof way more frequently than I watch Planet Terror.  In fact, going off of how often I watch each of them, Death Proof is my favorite Tarantino movie, period.  I know I am in the minority on this (even the man himself has referred to it as the worst movie he will ever make), but that is my honest opinion.

The Trailers:

The first trailer is shown before Planet Terror, which is for Machete (which was actually made into a movie later).  From the look to some of the dialogue to the violence to the narration, this trailer really captures the feel of those old trailers.

The remaining trailers are shown between the two movies.  There is Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS, which really sounds like it would be a fun movie.  The mix of ideas in this one is ridiculous, but at the same time just kooky enough that it could really make for one hell of an entertaining movie.  Zombie apparently shot enough for a feature or at least close to it.  If any of the other footage will ever see the light of day, I have no idea.  Obviously, this trailer is bringing out some of the old nazi-exploitation vibe, which is great.  I will say that I think this trailer is the least convincing as far as the old, worn-out look that they all have.  This one looks like a new trailer with digital wear and tear added.  This is not enough, however to ruin the fun of the trailer and I would still dig seeing this as a complete movie.

Don't is a throwback to all the movies that had the word "don't" in their titles, of which there were many: Don't Go in the House, Don't Answer the Phone, Don't Go in the Woods Alone, Don't Look in the Basement-- you get the idea.  Some of these are actually referred to in the trailer's narration.  This is one of the most well-done of the trailers.  It really looks like something from 1977 or so.  There are even some shots that brilliantly-recreated shots from real movies, such as The Legend of Hell House.

Thanksgiving brings back the good old days of the holiday-themed slasher movie.  This one looks grimy and sleazy as hell, filled with blood, severed heads, and boobs.  Eli Roth's narration is priceless and completes the feel of those old slasher trailers.

To top off the trailers, there was also a fake commercial for the Tarantino-universe restaurant, The Acuña Boys.  If you have never seen any of these old commercials for restaurants like this, they really look just like this one looks.

All told, Grindhouse was and is a movie-experience like none other these days.  It takes viewers back to a different time, when you felt like you got a bit more for what you paid and it delivers.  Even though I think this is best experienced in an actual theater, it is still great fun in your own home on your TV in your living room, either alone or with a couple friends.

If you never gave this one a go, you should.  And if you did, but hated it, well it isn't for everybody.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Punisher Import Blu-Ray

Okay, so this isn't exactly horror, but it certainly has an old exploitation cinema appeal to it, which I love.  I am talking about the 1989 film adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, The Punisher, featuring Dolph Lundgren in the title role.  This movie was made by New World Pictures in Australia, although it still takes place in the U.S.  Due to the financial situation with the studio at the time, it was not released theatrically in the U.S. (although it was in much of the rest of the world), but instead was released straight-to-video in 1991 or so.

I remember reading some pretty negative reactions to this movie in the letters section of some Punisher comics back in those days, which I never really understood.  Sure, it isn't exactly super faithful to the source material, but I think the basic idea is still intact and let's be honest, having Castle running around in the same outfit he wears in the comics would have looked really kooky, although the fact that he does not wear that costume seems to be a big complaint about this movie.  I think the more recent movies have done well with the costume and incorporating the classic skull design into his costume, but by then, the comics had already changed the Punisher's costume to something less superhero-ish and more realistic, so the transition to screen with the newer look was pretty simple.

However, I have always liked the look the character has in this particular movie.  I think they made a good choice in simplifying the look and finding a look that is less flashy and comic bookish.  I suppose that sounds a little weird, since it is a movie based on a comic book, but the fact is that what works on the pages of a comic book does not necessarily work on the screen in a live action movie.

All that aside, if nothing else, I think The Punisher was just a really enjoyable, and pretty damned violent, revenge/action movie.

I was very happy to see that there is a Blu-Ray release of the movie out now, which is actually an import from Australia, but it is, thankfully, region-free.  I was especially glad to see that there are different versions of the movie included in the release.  One is a workprint version from the director, which features a good bit of stuff left out of the final movie, mainly what amounts to an entire reel focusing on Frank's final couple of days before he becomes the Punisher.  You get to see him as a cop, working with his partner, Jake (played by the always-great Louis Gossett Jr.) and even see the heroin bust that is mentioned later on in the movie.  This extra footage establishes more of the characters and their histories with each other.  While I think the film still works without it, I think the loss of this material from the finished movie does impact the way it plays significantly.  In the final version, when you first see Frank, he is the Punisher, but originally, you saw him as Frank Castle, saw him being a father and husband, as well as a cop and a good friend, which also impacts the later scenes between the Punisher and his former partner, Jake.

Also included is a fairly recent interview with Dolph Lundgren, in which he seems to be pretty fond of the movie, although he does state that he feels the removal of the first section of the movie takes away from the character and the movie overall.  I find it difficult to disagree with him there.

Certainly, this is a release worth picking up if you are also a fan of this underappreciated film.