Back to Basics

It’s becoming harder and harder nowadays to devote yourself completely to something. It’s a world filled with so much distraction, but opportunity, that carries us from one passion to the next.  And it’s as easy as that; we’re six-year-olds hooked on sharks one week and pirates the next.  But we’re hooked nonetheless.

You are here because we share a common passion that, throughout all of the world’s ups and downs and heres and theres, has stuck with us.  Which I think means it’s a true passion, one solid thing to go back to when the other things don’t work out, or we lose interest.  But never will we ever lose our horror.

So where did it all start? I’ve been writing for this blog for about a year now, and after some time devoted to other passions (school! Not building Twinkie palaces, I swear) I’ve come back thinking long and hard about where my love of horror began.  And I’ve been thinking about what your answers to this might be, too.  We’re all different ages, from different places, exposed to this genre in so many different ways.  It’s a story we love to tell, but we’re not often asked to tell it.  So tell it!  Here’s mine.

Halloween was always my favorite holiday.  Candy, sure, but there’s an air around it, that autumn eeriness that embodies the thrill of being scared and the feeling of invincibility that follows the initial shock, that feeling that you are here and can conquer anything.  It was everything.  It set the foundation for my love of horror.

Then, it was just being in a certain place at a certain time.  I watched my first R-rated movie at my brother’s friend’s house.  It was Ghost Ship of all things, which burned a depressingly disappointing image of people getting sliced in half with a wire cord into my mind forever. The rest of the time I covered my eyes.  I was ten. The next year I stopped watching The Sixth Sense at the part Haley Joel Osment hides under his tent from a perpetually-puking ghost girl.  I had a thing with vomit. Yeah, it was an unforgivable start.

But in high school I was dragged to the premiere of Saw IV, never having seen the first three.  I watched it, and despite the fact that the twist ending made zero sense to me at the time, I was filled—elated—with that feeling of having conquered something.  It wasn’t so much the movie, or the gore factor even.  It was the thrill and the excitement of a theater full of people who had waited a whole year for this thing.  I was swept up.

I lost myself in it.  First the Saw movies (of which I soon was holding yearly marathons), then the classics (Halloween, Nightmare on Elm St., Friday the 13th), the shit remakes, even, and the soon the ones I became obsessed over: The Shining and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  These two transcended the genre for me; they made me want to write horror, direct horror.  As many of you understand, I’m sure, it’s a whirlwind spiral.  You simply cannot get enough.  It led me from the insane (David Lynch) to the fun (Romero, Hostel) to the compelling (The Walking Dead, that’s right), to the downright terrifying (Audition).

So here I am, at a point where I’m trying to keep up with the much-talked-about new releases of horror, while still digging through the trenches of indie and foreign movies for something unique.  But it does not always work, and sometimes it all seems like it’s the same as everything else out there.

So here, I’ll turn it over to everyone reading this, including fellow blog-writers.  Celebrate this Halloween by looking back and finding the things that first drew you in and sparked that love of horror.  Share them, compare them, and perhaps even ignite that passion in someone who hasn’t yet succumbed to love of the macabre.  Tell me your story.

Bryan defends Paranormal Activity:The Marked Ones

On Activities out of the Norm



I often think that as fans of horror, we hold our franchises closest to our hearts.  So, as we are disappointed when they inevitably start to decline and lose that magic, at the same time we expect it to happen. The thing is, though, the producers of these movies never really seem to catch on.  A few installments down the line we might get one better than what we’re used to, but it’s basically still the same thing regurgitated over and over; it’s never as inventive or original as the first one or two.

But now here’s Paranormal Activity, a franchise that started with a bang.  It was probably the most talked-about horror movie in recent memory with a profitable, somewhat original idea and a marketing campaign unlike any other.  Then a couple of sequels, more of the same, with a couple of interesting twists.  The fourth, however, was just boring. Not to dwell too much, but it had a redeeming factor: a story thread emerged that connected these movies beyond the surface.The best thing about this thread involving a secret cult or coven of mysterious women is the restraint the filmmakers show in, well, not really showing too much of them or their story.  Originally, it seemed like this was just a plot device or an excuse for scares, but now, with The Marked Ones, the people behind Paranormal Activity are going for something much bigger.

It’s an ambitious idea, but it’s also breaking the boundaries of modern horror and the way franchises are “supposed” to go.  The stage has been set with the story of Katie and Micah, but its ripples are the focus now.  Instead of regurgitation, The Marked Ones has opted for a turnaround.

Nevermind the found-footage clichés; here we have an all-Latino cast in organic performances, all within a culture notorious for being deeply religious.  Alone, it is a refreshing horror flick not about witches or demons or possession, but about reaction.  Yeah, we know that white suburban couples will freak out when doors slam, but what about a tight-knit family of minorities? What will the impact lead to? And most importantly, why hasn’t it been done before?

The Marked Ones has done what I thought was impossible at this point:it has saved the Paranormal Activity franchise from a fate of annual one-time scares.  It is expanding it into a universe within film, albeit fantastical and unlikely, something that can branch off of itself and not only grow for years, but remain fresh and interesting again and again. The common thread is just the start, if the franchise continues on this path.  It can jump from one culture to another and, with some inventive writing, become something repeatedly decent, unlike anything the genre has ever seen before.  There’s a ton of potential here, we just have to wait and see.  See you next Halloween.


Bryan’s Basement:On Reboots and Chainsaw Massacres


On Reboots and Chainsaw Massacres: Bryan Akerley

There are only so many times you can “reinvent” something before that something runs out of ways to be invented again.  Then, pretty soon, it’s the same regurgitated nothing and all thoughts of integrity and originality have long since gone out the window.

But now, recently, the horror genre is shifting once again.

About a decade ago the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise became one of the first franchises to be rebooted after over two decades of sequels.  And who better to do so than Michael Bay, right? Starring Jessica Biel (before she married Justin Timberlake), this movie obviously had the makings of a horror classic… Or not. No wonder Timberlake still writes songs about Britney.

Anyway, this movie and even more so its prequel a couple years later peaked the emergence of a trend: taking much-beloved horror icons from the 70’s and 80’s and giving them backstories. That’s right; take Leatherface, Freddy, Jason, Michael, etc. and remove the one thing that made their original films so terrifying: the mystery.

What’s the point? It is pure cinematic filler.  There are exceptions; I enjoyed Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake if only for the chilling idea of a young Michael Myers and his psychological bully complex.  But Halloween ’78 is timeless because a masked man showed up out of virtually nowhere, in a town that could be any, to murder teenagers for reasons only he knows.  That is horror.

It is the same for Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Tobe Hooper’s original was, and is perhaps, the scariest movie ever made.  It’s remake attempted to be a dramatic chronicle of a depraved and murderous family.  But the original could have been a documentary.  It feels real still.  You are not an audience in a theater watching actors get killed gruesomely; you are at that dinner table, sick to your stomach and disoriented, and disturbed beyond imagination.  It is visceral.

Instead, horror in the 2000’s became about knowing everything and seeing everything.  It was supposed to feel more personal, but it did the opposite.  I used to be afraid to sleep because Freddy Krueger could invade anyone’s dreams.  Now I’m just thankful I didn’t go to that particular daycare when I was a kid; he won’t come after me!

But now, here’s Texas Chainsaw in 3D.  Again, the franchise is on the forefront of what I believe is a shift in the genre.  Here’s a twist—spoiler alert—instead of learning everything about Leatherface, make him identifiable.  Make him a hero! Well, a misunderstood anti-hero.  He just wanted to protect his family, don’t be so quick to judge.

But here’s the thing: it’s bloodier than ever, it’s stupid, but it’s fun! Because we’re not bogged down with so much drama—I mean this is a slasher movie—we get to see a minor twist on the formula that may not have been possible if this weren’t a franchise we know so well.  I want to see more of these cynical horror reboots that aren’t taking themselves so seriously.  It’s what Freddy vs. Jason did before anyone caught on, and that’s one of the most underrated slasher movies of all time, but more on that later.

The fun fades fast, though, because here we are with our ever-evolving franchises within a genre that is constantly trying to reinvent itself and find new directions.  What we have to realize is the death of the slasher classic.  These new movies can be entertaining, but they will never be timeless, never be visceral like those original movies.  And the monsters, the icons, have stood the test of time.  Why try creating a new one in a movie that only aspires to be a flash in the pan? These movies are the wheels of horror:why reinvent them? It works just fine. For now.


Bryan Defends Escape From Tomorrow

Caution:spoilers ahead

So, about three months ago a blog I followed came out with an article about “the movie Disney doesn’t want you to see” and with a title like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued? Subsequently, I read everything I could find on this movie: how it was filmed illegally in Disneyland and Disney World, how director Randy Moore positioned his actors to be filmed without notice from any tourists around them and the resulting massive lawsuit Disney placed on it (which was dropped only earlier this year, allowing the movie to see light of day).  It’s a fascinating backstory, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch it.

The movie’s trailer made the whole thing look like an off-the-rails ,hallucinatory experience with horrifying visuals.  The little summary blurbs made it sound like a horror movie about a father losing his sanity in the “Happiest Place on Earth”, however,  the movie follows a  story arc that not only jumped around in narration, but in genre as well.  All of the  “scary” scenes were only disturbing to the characters and not the audience. This is a trait not shared by David Lynch films ,to which L.C. Fremont made reference. In a Lynch film, the characters are almost always in on the surrealism and more effectively so.  This movie doesn’t begin to live up to the hype, but I didn’t hate it, either. One of the most entertaining aspects was that it was filmed in such a familiar place.  I would watch it again if only to point out which scenes were Disneyland and which were Disney World.  It’s hard to say, “I’ve been there!” to a lot of horror films.  This especially worked for me during the “It’s a Small World” scene because I’m pretty sure that exact same thing happened to me last time I was on that ride. Yet, the movie didn’t scare me. It certainly could have, and probably should have, given the originality of the idea and the fact that it takes place in Disneyland, but, if you ignore the marketing of itself as a horror movie, it becomes something else entirely.

Now, I’m not middle-aged but I highly doubt the male midlife crisis is a horror story. Instead, it’s something ridiculous and quite possibly fake: another thing societal pressures have created in men to make them think they made a mistake getting married, taking that job, etc. just due to hindsight bias.  I’m well into the realm of cynicism, but what better place to have a movie about how phony society can be than Disneyland?

Our meathead main character ,Jim, going through this “crisis” , getting spit on by underage French girls for the sake of it  dies at the end, having ignored the advice of a robot . The robot is the only one making sense around here.  When we see him in a happier situation, he’s entering the hotel in a sort of Kubrickian “Shining” reference that this robot doctor had foreshadowed and tried to help him achieve: the life he always wanted to lead.   Yet man (Jim), in his hubris, escapes heroically only to fail.  If anything, Moore is telling us to just do it right the first time, though, it’s a lot of ridiculousness to wade through to get there.  The biggest problem with this movie is that there isn’t enough here to work with. Not enough to prove my argument, or much else, and what we’re left with is a movie that Disney decided wasn’t that threatening after all.  I was entertained, but I really don’t think repeated viewings are going to make any more sense of it. The best we can do is try to understand it, talk about what it might mean, but mainly, make a joke or two about cat flu and call it a day.