Saturday, October 29, 2011

Top 5 Treehouse of Horror Episodes

As a child, The Simpsons' annual Treehouse of Horror episode was as important to me as going Trick or Treating. In fact, I believe there were a couple times that I cut Trick or Treating short so I could catch the marathon.

The Treehouse of Horror series was a big introduction to the world of horror movies. In fact, this is where I saw a lot of horror movies before I ever saw the real thing. Going back and looking at the episodes as an adult makes me appreciate them more. The Simpsons, in their prime, are arguably the best contemporary satirical team. Their dedication to the horror genre only makes me love them more...

Here are my 5 favourite Treehouse of Horror segments

#5 Citizen Kang
 I learned most of my politics from this episode alone. When Kang and Kodos kidnap Bob Dole and Bill Clinton and impersonate them to gain control of the country it's an all out political battle. It's also one of the most quotable Treehouse episodes with:
"Always twirling toward freedom!"
"Abortions for some, miniature American flags for everyone!"
"What about a third party candidate?" "Go ahead, throw your vote away!"

#4 Dial Z For Zombie

"Dad, you killed the Zombie Flanders!"
"He was a zombie?"
This is the ultimate zombie parody way before Shaun of the Dead made it cool. Every zombie parody you see today (and there are a lot) owes some kind of debt to this episode.

#3 Hungry Are The Damned
Never has there been a better use of space dust.
"How to Cook Humans" > "How to Cook For Humans" > "How to Cook Forty Humans" > "How to Cook For Forty Humans."

#2 Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace

"Lousy Smarch weather!"
A great satire of one of my favourite movies. There is nothing better when they parody the last minute scare with Willy getting off the bus.

#1 The Shinning
"Shh! Do you want to get sued?"
 This episode exemplifies why The Treehouse of Horror series works so well. Yes, they're making fun of horror movies but the reason it works so well is because the writers know the genre so well. With great satire comes great responsibility.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Where Are They Now in HORROR... Breaker High

Well, this is Scare Tactic's 100th post which also coincides with my horror film article in the Toronto Star and I have to say, the love I get for this little blog has a lot to do with the Where Are They Now... series. And what better show to examine than Canada's own Breaker High.

Did you know the show ran for only a year? And did you know that in that year they filmed 44 freakin' episodes?? (My favourite episode names being To Kill A Mocking-Nerd and Silence of the Lamborghini) Now for anyone who doesn't know what Breaker High is, please read the following description:

Breaker High is a television show which airs weekdays at 4:00PM on UPN. The show is about a high school cruise ship which not only teaches academics, but also gives first hand cultural experiences from around the world. The ship consistsof 500 students, but the show focuses on a group of 8. All the students come from different backgrounds and situations but they all work together as one group. The cast has great chemistry and together they just... CLICK! The situations and character development just... WORK! This show is full of drama and tons of comedy that anyone can appreciate. Overall, Breaker High is a great way to start your homework routine or take a break from life!

Never has a high school drama been described with so many exclamation points!!!!!!!! Seriously though... it was a weird time. High school was on a boat. Kids loved it. I remember watching it but possibly only because I didn't want to watch Oprah with my Mom.

But who comes out as HORROR CHAMP SUPREME??????? Let's do this!

Rachel Wilson as Tamira Goldstein who appeared as "Mother" in Saw 3D
Now, this is a tricky one... One of the leads was in one of the biggest horror franchises of the last decade but had the lowest score. (Yes, I score these. There's actually a panel involved. Do you think I'd make this stuff up off of my whims and fancies?)

But really how can I possibly give a decent placing to someone playing "Mother" in Saw 3D? I can't. I simply can't. For those of you that remember Breaker High Tamira had an oddly spelled name and was dirt poor. So dirt poor she had to pay her way attending high school on a cruise ship by doing some kind of vague work study program.

The sad thing is, she probably didn't even get killed in Saw, she just a principal actor who got a close up when she screamed. Horror fail, Rachel Wilson. You also have the most boring name.

Terri Conn as Ashley Dupree who appeared as Sandra Wilson in iMurders
Terri should be a heck of a lot higher on this list because... well... let all look at this poster for a moment:
It's a bloody mouse! And the events take place on a "Myspace-esque website". But Miss Conn was credited under another name when she did this so clearly it doesn't matter as much to her as it does to me. Therefore, she's second to last.

I also want to mention how the character she plays is one letter away from being this lady...
So close yet so very, very far.

Kyle Alisharan as Alex Pineda who appeared as Baggage Handler in Snakes on A Plane
Oh man, things are rough when you don't even have a picture up on IMDB... but luckily for you, and one .05 Google search, I found this:
He's the clean-cut handsome jock who is pretty non-date-rape-y. You know him all through high school and then he fades out of your memory until you think you see him as a baggage handler at the airport then, oh no! There are snakes on your muthaf**king plane. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Wait, where was I?

Ryan Gosling as Sean Hanlon  who appeared as some D-Bag in Stay and Murder By Numbers
I'm going to admit,  the more people love this guy the more I think he's a tool bag. I mean, he's okay. I really liked Lars and the Real Girl but this guy:

as some kind of murderous mastermind. I think not.

And look at those bangs!! That's precisely what I try to get my hair NOT to do!

Which leaves us with....

Tyler Labine as Jimmy Farrell who appeared as Dale in  Tucker and Dale vs Evil

I can't tell a lie. Tyler wins because a) this film is Canadian b) I haven't seen it and c) Cerie from 30 Rock is in it. Wins all around!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fine Young Cannibals

Every so often a movie comes along that is way more interesting then it has any right to be. It's more innovative, weird, ambitious and silly then you would expect going in. The other night I watched Ravenous (1999) which I had never seen and Evil Dead II which I've lost count of how many times I've seen.

I had no intention of linking these two films, but what do you know? They are totally connected! If you squint. And take off your glasses. And stand 20 feet away.

Ok, ok... they're both just weird. But one is awesome weird and one is "meh" weird. Ravenous is about cannibalism and the demons in Evil Dead will swallow your soul. So there is some element of digestion in both of them.... Right? Right.

Ravenous deals with a bunch of soldiers in and around the civil war. Guy Pearce is a coward and Robert Carlyle likes to eat people, there are also a gaggle of other soldiers whose main uses are to ask Guy about himself to reveal his character then be eaten by Robert. The most noticeable thing about Ravenous is the score by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz). It's brave, that's the best thing I can say about it. It's so truly odd and disconcerting that a film score could so overtake a movie. Also, Guy Pearce can't fall. He can't. Watching him fall is like watching someone who has never seen anyone fall try to fall. It was a really special moment in my life the first time I watched the part where he falls mid-way through Ravenous. And it was still special the 2 times I rewound and watched it again.

The big problem with Ravenous is it wants to be weirder than it is. Director Antonia Bird is all set to make a dark satire but the script is waaaaay too by the book. The script is a pretty typical thriller. People die under mysterious circumstances,hero solves it, throw in a twist, hero solves that, BAM, ending. Take away the historical setting, some great casting choices and you've got every movie Monica Potter and Ashley Judd was in, ever.

Evil Dead. Oh, what can I say about you that hasn't been said already. Actually, what can I say that B-Sol over at the Vault of Horror hasn't already said? It's one of the best write-ups of one of the best horror films series. What I like about Evil Dead is it takes a simple concept and expounds on it. It also has enough shocks to warrant the laughs. What horror film fan doesn't love the voice over of "workshed". Liking Evil Dead is akin to being in the cool kids club. Well, maybe not the cool kids club but definitely the funny kids club.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ambiguously Made Duos

Ever since I started wee ol' Scare Tactic people ask me all the time: Why horror? What is horror? What's my name? Where am I??????????????

And I have to say, these questions are valid. How exactly does one define horror? I don't think any one person can define it. As I've said before, horror is subjective. What scares me may not necessarily scare you. That's part of the beauty of horror.

As horror films continually fight to gain and maintain legitimacy there are a lot of films that horror film fans would like to add to the genre (i.e. Black Swan, Se7en). So I thought we could take a look at two similar films, one rendered firmly in the horror genre and the other more ambiguously straddling the line between horror and drama/thriller. I thinking Saw and Silence of the Lambs is a good place to start.

Now Silence of the Lambs (according to IMDB anyway) is classified as a "Thriller". Thrillers are described as using suspense, tension and excitement to engage an audience. They rely on the "edge of your seat" feeling and building towards some kind of big, huge, life-changing climax. Thinking back on Silence of the Lambs it does all of those things... so does Saw if you think about it.

My initial thought  is that Saw has more graphic violence ... but then again, so does Silence of the Lambs. When Hannibal Lecter beats the security guard to death then wears his skin... yeah, that. I guess what it comes down to is that Saw trades on its violence. Let's compare posters shall we?

How delightfully intriguing and engaging.....
Wait a minute! With Saw we've got a random hand that doesn't look like it's in the best health. But this Silence of the Lambs poster... It's so... different... Let's take an even closer look...
That's Salvador Dali's The Skull. A skull made out of ladies!!!!
See? It's way classy. And Silence of the Lambs is way better than some random hand. Am I right?

Beyond the poster what about the actual films? I think that Silence of the Lambs is a far superior film, but let's keep in mind it was based on a best-selling novel, had the backing of a major studio and  had some of the most talented people in the industry involved in it. Saw, on the other hand was made for next to nothing by an independent studio that saw a short film and thought it could be extrapolated into a full length feature. I think Saw suffers from its newness. There's a lot of ideas an promise in it but ultimately it feels strung together. It relies too much on its shocks and not enough on the inherent puzzle solving which, for my money, is the most engaging part of the movie.

Silence of the Lambs was a hit right off the bat while Saw found its audience steadily through word of mouth. It didn't help its credibility that the Saw franchise churned out a new installment every Halloween until Paranormal Activity came along but even Silence of the Lambs produced some extremely sub-par offerings (Red Dragon anyone?).

So where does this leave us? I'm going to argue that Silence of the Lambs and Saw are both horror in that they are both horrific. Seriously. Silence of the Lambs, I think, is actually more messed up and shocking than Saw. Silence of the Lambs is not perceived as horror because the film company doesn't want it to be dismissed. Fair? No. True? Probably.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Horror Movie Coolie: Sara(Stefania Casini) from Suspiria (1977)

I've talked before about the value of friends in horror films and how I love the undead out of Dario Argento's milestone film Suspiria. I got to watch Suspiria last night with someone who'd never seen it before and on all my previous viewings I never noticed how awesome Sara is. She really does most of Suzy's leg work and, unfortunately, draws the short stick in the long run.

Let us count the ways Sara is a Coolie:

1. She tries to stop Suzy from even setting foot in the school.
2. She doesn't take crap from Olga, Queen Of The Weird Hairstyles.
3. She doesn't fall for the witches tricks. She quietly works under the radar to gather the most information with arousing the least suspicion.
4. She correctly identifies the Directress' snore in the gym scene.
5. When she's in danger she does the best she can with the really shitty barbed-wire situation.
6. She's arguably the coolest undead person ever.

In most regards, Sara should have been the Final Girl. Everything points to it. So it's crappy that she can't be there to stab the hell out of the Directress with Suzy in the end, even though she doesn't, she fights like hell to escape.  Seriously, if I ever go to a dance school in Germany, the first person I'm looking up is a chick called Sara.

She has pins in her eyes. I'd like to see Olga do better.