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Horror at The Oscars!

February 26th, 2012 · 8 Comments

Exactly twenty years ago (give or take a month- March 30, 1992) a horror film called SILENCE OF THE LAMBS made mincemeat of the Academy Awards. It devoured all of the major categories, a feat achieved only twice before (by IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.) Some folks are a little hesitant about slapping the horror label on SILENCE, so let me do it for them and without pause. It seems the more accomplished a movie is, the more likely some are to address it as a “psychological thriller” and nothing gets my non-silent goat more. JONATHAN DEMME’s film is certainly rich and expansive enough to elude simple stagnant classification but, at the end of the day, without the element of horror, it has no bones to stand. Let me ask you, if somebody showed up to your Oscar party wearing clothes made of human skin and a mask constructed of another person’s torn off face would you think their outfit was horrifying or thrilling? Exactly. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is horror.

Crikey, if SILENCE isn’t horror then what is? Besides the already mentioned body mutilation, violence and death, SILENCE straps on a diving helmet and plunges into the less easily defined depths of the pit. Yeah, there’s some nifty crime & mystery stuff going on and Clarice’s ascension past those who underestimate her is immensely gratifying, but her anguish and regret over not being able to save an animal she meant to protect from slaughter is the real spirit crushing agent of darkness here. We come to find out Clarice is haunted by past events and I think that emotional/spiritual horror is a sharper more persistent blade. For instance, I have a Facebook page and many of my pals are horror fans, so I’m pretty much besieged with images of “horror” everyday: zombies, vamps, decapitations, the usual snore parade. Every once in a while somebody will post a picture of an animal being harmed under a title like “Stop this!” and I know they are trying to do the right thing but it’s like throwing battery acid in my eyes and it makes my soul barf for humanity. Meaning, I’m not convinced the lambs of the title will ever be silenced. That’s horror.

I get the drift of those that say SILENCE is not horror. I understand their logic and points and politely chuck those ideas towards the dustbin in my head. This is more than an issue of semantics for me. Can I just keep this one victorious memory intact and unmolested by those who live to rain on my parade? When SILENCE won that night twenty years ago, in my mind, the entire horror genre won and more importantly (to me) so did I. It seemed that finally something I cared about was getting some respect. (It did not hurt that just the year before KATHY BATES wrangled a best actress award for MISERY too.) I had grown up watching the movies that I dug utterly disrespected and devalued and frankly, I was sick of it. In 1992 it seemed like the world was catching up to what I already knew. I started to imagine a future where I didn’t have to add an extra star or up the letter grade to every review of a horror film I read in order to make up for the preexisting prejudice. I’m sad to tell you, I’m still waiting for that day.

Maybe I’m OK with that. Some art forms are born to walk the fringes. I don’t expect everyone to like horror films but I do believe they deserve to be judged fairly rather than automatically dismissed because some find their subject matter distasteful. Really though, how can anyone expect horror as a genre to emerge from the ghetto when those who claim to be its biggest supporters are the very ones who most vehemently rip the movies themselves to shreds? If you want to read a truly venomous take on a horror film, your best bet is a horror fan site, a place where boycotting movies that are not filmed yet, burning directors at the stake and tearing apart nearly everything that comes down the pike save for a few worn out sacred cows are a matter of course; with fans like these, who needs enemies? That’s coming from a gay guy who twenty years ago was still firmly in the closet at a gay friendly Oscar party when SILENCE OF THE LAMBS won. Nothing drags a movement down like the naysaying, doubting Thomases from within. Tonight I’ll be at another Oscar party but this time not as a self-sabotaging malcontent. Maybe the world of horror hasn’t progressed as much as I would have liked in the past two decades but I have. I’m seriously going to toast SILENCE OF THE LAMBS 20TH anniversary win tonight and I’ll do it as a loud, proud devoted fan of horror…get used to it.

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Dante Tomaselli’s Top Ten Horror Scores

December 14th, 2011 · 7 Comments

UNK SEZ: You guys remember our pal the multi talented DANTE TOMASELLI (Interview HERE). Well, DANTE has just concluded scoring his latest film TORTURE CHAMBER so I asked him what movie scores were his favorites and influenced him the most. Below are his favorite top ten scores alongside some fresh images from his forthcoming film (Check out the official site HERE)! Thanks for sharing this with us Dante, You’ve got great taste!

1.) HALLOWEEN

I experienced Halloween in theatres at my birthday party in 1979. I just turned 10. My childhood friends were petrified and some of are still traumatized. It’s hard to describe the impact of this movie to the younger generation because you really had to experience Halloween in theatres. It had a ferocious grip on audiences. I haven’t seen anything match its power. To this day, most critics and fans declare Halloween the ultimate horror film and I wholeheartedly agree. The music is 50% of the film’s equation. Halloween’s heart-pounding, anxiety-inducing theme is so powerful. It’s become the anthem for classic horror films, and definitely something you can’t escape around October. I can’t escape it. It’s been the ringtone on my phone for years. Analogue synthesizer music was popular during the 60’s and 70’s in sci-fi and horror films but Halloween took that kind of sound design to a whole new level. This is a landmark horror soundtrack. Flickering and glowing like a devilish jack-o-lantern, the music is sinister and playfully evil. I’m forever influenced by this motion picture and its soundtrack. Thank you, John Carpenter.

2.) SUSPIRIA

I saw this film in my late twenties, during post production of my first feature, Desecration. How did I not ever see it? I remember the commercial on TV when I was 7-years-old. There was a seductive woman brushing her hair…her back to the camera. We hear her child-like voice. Roses are red. Violets are blue…She’s telling a poem. She swings around. Her face is a skull. Then a man’s voice says, ‘You can run from Suspiria…but you cannot escape…Suspiria.’ It was a whispery, evil voice…S-U-S-P-I-R-I-A. Somehow, where I lived in New Jersey, Suspiria wasn’t distributed. Eventually, though, I do remember seeing the title in video stores, and oddly ignoring it. I guess I was in my own fog at the time. When I finally watched the film, I felt like it was a religious experience. The same feeling I got while watching The House with Laughing Windows. It’s the kind of movie that must be properly viewed at night, in darkness, in stereo. Any other way diminishes it. The music by Goblin is so dense and multi-layered. Synthesizers, rhythm guitars, real instruments, all kinds of drums. You can get lost in its labyrinth design. Especially the beginning of the Suspiria theme. It starts off with a child’s lullaby, actually beautiful and soft but then these obscene whispers crash in and the drum beats more insistent.

3.) THE FOG

My mother and I saw The Fog in theatres in 1980. I was 10. We were already fans of Carpenter’s Halloween. The theatre was called Totowa Cinema on Route 46 in Totowa, New Jersey. My father owned a Jewelry and Bridal Store in the mall where the movie played. I remember my mother was slightly disappointed by The Fog, I guess because she was comparing it to Halloween, but I absolutely loved the film. Everything about it. I was electrified. I was completely obsessed with the images and sounds and murky ghost storyline. The Fog. I’d illustrate the title, in its own special font on my grammar school notebooks. I always loved typography. The music in this film totally jumped out at me…just like Halloween…and there’s a mysterious knocking at the door. TAP. TAP. TAP. TAP. I used to mimic that all the time on different doors….There was a wood burning stove in our garage and I used the stoker to strike the door, pretending I was one of the ghouls. Around this time, I played an electronic organ. I’d sit home and fantasize. Low tones. Also, I played the pounding beat on electronic drums in my basement. I’d pound the drums, in a trance, over and over. It’s that section of the film where the fog is chasing everyone through the streets. Ahhhh. I love that. Nothing beats the Moog synthesizer analogue soundscape. It just pushes my button. When I purchased the soundtrack to The Fog I listened to it non-stop. You get the feeling that something is chasing you…and it’s coming closer and closer….The film has state-of-the-art moody electronic sound design.

4.) HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

It was 1982. I was 12 and I couldn’t wait for its release. The commercials on TV were striking with a spider crawling out of an old hag’s mouth accompanied by nightmarish music. I was so excited. The Night No one Comes Home. Perfect tag line. Then I saw the film. I already read the tie-in book, so I knew what to expect…Robots. I liked the film but didn’t love it. Still, I admired its fresh approach and loved its Dean Cundey widescreen cinematography. Mostly, mainly, I was ecstatic about the music. What perfect electronic horror music! I bought the album and listened to it endlessly. I still do. While nothing beats the theme to the original, overall as an album, this is definitely a better listening experience…and with the widest selection of doom-laced worlds. To me, it sounds like it would be a very dark solo album from Greg Hawkes, the imaginative keyboardist from The Cars. For example, Drive to Santa Mira…it has the distinct John Carpenter low toned vibe while incorporating a new dreamy organ with lots of reverb. Every single track stands out as an example of haunting mood music. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth created magic here. This is synth horror heaven and should probably be number one on my list. I could just listen to Halloween 3: Season of the Witch until the end of time.

5.) SOUNDS TO MAKE YOU SHIVER

This is actually not a movie but a horror sound fx album. It was played around Halloween in the 70’s and 80’s…and in many different funhouses as background music. Halloween was every day for me, so I’d listen to Sounds to Make You Shiver all the time, especially from 1st to 6th grade. The album consists mainly of moans and screams and thunderstorms. First we hear a woman groaning in pain and a man sadistically laughing with a chain clanging in the background. You feel like you’re in a dungeon. I got lost in the howling wind and thunderstorms and creepy, thick atmospheres. In a trance, I would listen…My imagination lighting up. Side 2 has variations of screams, witches cackles, cats, growling dogs and more moody and violent storms. Midway through, the sounds morph into an ambient, almost experimental piece with dreamy piano, guitar and bells…mixed with echoed footsteps…and a chain dragging on a castle floor.

6.) THE SHINING

At times you can hear devils giggling. I used to scare my younger brother just by playing the music. This spine-tingling score by Wendy Carlos, a pioneer in electronic music, has an almost demonic power. I swear it’s transmitted straight from hell. The opening theme is expertly constructed…so delicately woven…It’s bone-chilling. Atmospheric, psychedelic, macabre and surreal…It floats on another plane. There is nothing like this Moog synthesizer music, it creates its own space. I love Wendy’s score for A Clockwork Orange too. Her sound is so otherworldly….

7.) ALICE, SWEET ALICE

My cousin, Alfred Sole’s film, doesn’t have a soundtrack that’s released and it should. Stephen Lawrence conjures one of the most dreamily sinister themes I’ve ever heard. I’m referring to the sparkling lullaby mixed with the menacing tones and breathy vocals. It’s cold and sleek and evil as can be, just like the movie. The swirling violins are unnerving and in-your-face. I love all the small interludes with haunted piano and reverb. The opening titles music is surprisingly reserved and reminds me of a warped version of The Godfather. Very Italian…family tragedy….On the DVD copies, you can find a montage of the film’s old stills…and the music playing over these images is the breathy, ice-cold theme to Alice, Sweet Alice…extended. I loop it over and over….

8.) SCANNERS

Howard Shore scored The Brood and Videodrome, also favorites. He’s an expert in somber, deadly serious soundscapes. You don’t just hear them, you feel them. The trancelike electronic music here is percolating, staccato, moaning in pain. He captures emotional violence. In fact, my first short film was called Emotional Violence. It got me into Pratt Institute, the film department. It was a non-linear montage about a suicidal girl with an abusive boyfriend and mother. My mother, an actress, played the mother. I had Scanners music throughout. How could I resist? I know I could never sell it. I can’t find the film now.

9.) THE THING

This soundtrack reminds me of being in high school and listening to the cassette on my walkman. I’d get completely lost in this gorgeous, classy horror music. It’s amazing how Ennio Morricone was channeling John Carpenter, intentionally or not. Sometimes it really sounds like him. I love Morricone’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage too. That should be on this top 10 list. The Thing’s theme, with its pulsating electronic tone, is genuinely hypnotic. I can play it over and over and over. There’s something off-kilter, almost avant garde in its repetitiveness. It’s minimalist. But not all of the soundtrack is like that. There are violin compositions that are spacious, warm, lush and eerie. There are also some screeching violins that are all-out terrifying.

10.) CHRISTINE

Cold and pristine, John Carpenter’s Christine score is embedded in my psyche. Just like the soundtracks to Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 3, The Fog and Prince of Darkness, Christine has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. A bit clipped, which makes for a jumpy listening experience. But it’s not really meant to stand on its own, even though it does. John Carpenter is all about scoring to picture. It’s thin and glacial and it works. The throbbing baritone employed throughout is pure old-school Carpenter. I love it. The scene where Arnie says, ‘Show me’ and that electronic bell pierces through the atmosphere…followed by the galloping low tone…cinematic magic. It takes my breath away and sometimes brings a tear to my eye. I’m in awe of the way the music changes the environment, how it completely elevates and transforms the scene. The chase compositions are melodic. There’s that propulsive beat that feels like all early Carpenter themes wrapped into one.

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The Visitor :: Five Favorite Things

February 8th, 2011 · 7 Comments

The OVIDIO G. ASSONITIS (TENTACLES, MADHOUSE, BEYOND THE DOOR)-produced THE VISITOR from 1979 is just too much for your Unk to handle all his own, so I have elicited the help of both AUNT JOHN and our good pal AMANDA BY NIGHT of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM. As far as I’m concerned, the movie is spectacularly daffy enough to be absolutely critic proof so the question I posed before them and myself was simply, “What are your five favorite things about THE VISITOR?” All three of our answers are below…

First up, AMANDA BY NIGHT‘s FIVE VISITOR FAVES:

1. JOANNE NAIL – this enticing actress’ portrayal of the put-upon mother with the crazy ass womb is one of sympathy and grace. And her wardrobe is simply to die for. When you think about it (I mean, really think about it), has anyone else made being thrust through glass look so elegant? I could say the same about her chain swinging badassary in SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, but alas I shall save that for another day!

2. Ice Skating as the Deadliest Sport in the World – In a movie almost all about whacky set-pieces, one of the most fantastic scenes features our creepy little traumatot Katy luring some slightly older boys into a game of survival of the fittest. They fail on every possible level but it’s so much fun to watch!

3. Crazy Cameos – From GLEN FORD to SAM PECKINPAH, someone had the goods on a few of the more prominent people of Hollywood society. Also, there hasn’t been a pairing as cool as JOHN HUSTON and SHELLEY WINTERS since, well, since they were first featured together in TENTACLES just two years before! Wow, were those guys an item?

4. The Power of Pong – Not only is the game shown often, it’s used as a device to create suspense… and it works! All of this terror is brought to us via the crazy 1979 version of awesome home theater. Remember those curved large screen TVs which flooded images with the help of those giant red, green and blue lights coming from something called “front projection.” Yeah, 1979 ruled! You had to sit in just the right spot to actually see anything, but it reminds me of the first high-tech store my childhood town had. It was called Video Concepts (which was eventually bought by Radio Shack and closed down… lame) and this odd, curvy TV was all the rage. They make good use of it in THE VISITOR and it brought back every single little kid mall memory I ever had… now that’s scary!

5. THE VISITOR as a symbol for the chaotic incoherence of life – No, I am not joking. Is THE VISITOR in any way reminiscent of real life? Even ’70s high-tech real life? Nope. But I think sometimes confusion in films works because confusion has to work in our everyday lives. I mean, we’ve got a little girl who is driving her mom nuts and hates her babysitters. Sound familiar? I guess that’s the core of this movie and through the warped bewilderment of film as a mirror of our lives, we also get straight up escapism. I guess if you needed to write an academic paper on THE VISITOR, you could pull all kinds of crap out of it (especially with that ending!), but you can also completely shut down and watch the pretty lights. It’s nice.

Now let’s talk to AUNT JOHN:

1. THE HAWK
What was it about the ‘70s and the falconry fad? It seemed like everyone and the their mother had one of those padded leather hand mitts and a scary bird to match, but in THE VISITOR, Squeaky the hawk (or was it a falcon?) had free range to fly all over the place. Who in their right mind let’s their child keep one of these things in the house?

2. THE HOUSE
From its railing-less, open back stairs to the strangely ornate cement work surrounding its pool, the Collins’ house is truly something to behold. Bonus points for the incongruous 7-Up Tiffany style light fixture hanging in the kitchen.

3. THE HOUSEKEEPER
SHELLEY, SHELLEY, SHELLEY! She is in maybe three scenes, and she steals everyone last one of them because who can really compete with the force of nature that is WINTERS? Was it W.C. FIELDS who said he would never work with kids or animals? Well, kids and animals should probably never work with SHELLEY WINTERS based on the masterful bitch slapping she delivered to PAIGE CONNER.

4. THE HUSTON
Throughout the film, it looked to me like JOHN HUSTON knew less about what was going on than I did, but there is one scene towards the end where he makes the strangest face after conducting an impromptu light show on the top of a skyscraper. The eye roll says it all.

5. THE HOTTIES
Bald is beautiful and the brigade of follicly challenged bruisers were like a big bag of confusing eye-candy. Apparently they are angels but you would have never known it from the menacing looks on some of their faces.

Last up UNK:

1. THOSE GLASSES!

I’m not one to be too observant when it comes to fashion but these are some spectacular spectacles and if I understand the movie correctly, they have the power to manipulate basketball players like KAREEM ABDUL-JABAR by remote control. O.K. I admit it, I did not understand the movie correctly.

2. LANCE HENRIKSEN

HENRIKSEN followed up roles in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and DAMIEN: OMEN 2 with his part in THE VISITOR which is kind of like starring in peanut butter and then starring in jelly and then starring in GOOBER GRAPE. It’s always nice to see early HENRIKSEN and note how even at a young age, he stood out of the pack as an offbeat presence. If I were speaking of any other movie besides THE VISITOR I would be able to say that he was the most otherworldly effect in the entire film, but this is a movie that throws a blonde wig on aquamarine-eyed FRANCO (DJANGO) NERO and sells him as Jesus Christ.

3. AHEAD OF THEIR TIME VISUALS

I realize now that logic and sense can go peddle its papers elsewhere for all I care if a movie can stun me enough with its visuals. THE VISITOR’s arresting surrealism not only looks cool but also foretells the direction that movies will steer towards once music videos become popular in the early eighties. The bit on the rooftop with the nonsensical shadow hands flapping behind sheets seems ripped right out of a MTV mainstay years away from THE VISTOR’s 1979 release. Let’s hear it for proper presentation too, this title may have seemed like a throwaway on VHS but given the space to reveal all of its charms on DVD it transforms into a keeper. Strangely enough THE VISITOR’s director GIULIO PARADISI was the assistant director on FELLINI’s 8 1/2 !

4. THE SCORE

Holy crap FRANCO MICALIZZI’s score is utterly fantastic and better than Earth deserves. It’s epic and galaxy dwarfing and in complete denial about the nonsense unfolding on screen.

5. PAIGE CONNER

Little PAIGE may have been in over her head starring in this insanity but she fares no lesser than the seasoned professionals that surround her. Foul-mouthed tots are a post EXORCIST horror staple, yet CONNER’s Georgian accent adds an extra kick to her profanities. CODE RED’s recent DVD provides an interview with PAIGE today. She’s looking damn good and shares that STRASBERG-trained SHELLEY WINTERS didn’t hold back when slapping her across the face within the movie. Why does that not surprise me? PAIGE may not have gotten laurels thrown at her at the time of this film’s release but all I know is that when she reacts to accidently shooting her own mother in the movie with a shrug and a “shit happens” grimace, I totally believed her.

Thanks to AUNT JOHN and AMANDA REYES of MADE FOR TV MAYHEM for helping a rendered nearly speechless bro-ogger out! THE VISITOR, you really are something else.

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