Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween 2015

Hi everyone. Happy Halloween! Mine hasn't been all that great unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the complete lack of celebration it gets in Australia, resulting in a decidedly unfitting atmosphere, making it feel like just another day. *sigh*

Well anyway, I celebrated by preparing some snacks the night before-Some custard and jelly, and coconut chocolate balls-and watching the complete run of short-lived supernatural comedy series Dead Gorgeous.Despite how down I was feeling, that awesome show is always enough to raise my spirits.

As for my yearly Halloween poetry tradition, well obviously I've been feeling way too bleh today to pen anything, and I'm way too tired to now, given it's almost midnight. Instead, I'll make a separate post for them. And yes, I said 'them'. I'm going to write a few spooky poems! Inspiration courtesy of the awesome Emilie Rommel Shimkus!

So, to close, I hope everyone has had a fantastic Halloween, and I wish you all good luck!...

"Skulls are always so happy Maybe they haven't realized they're dead."

-Fran Bow

"It's nearly closing time, on a grey gloomy day..."

-The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary

More blank posts

I'm so sorry about these blank posts. I feel horrible about it. I've been so busy, and pretty overwhelmed. I didn't have the time to finish these reviews and essays. I will try to as soon as I can, and I hope this'll be the last time anything like this happens.

*This post will self-destruct in...*

An Essay on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Dr. Caligari (1989)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2005)

In the village of Holstenwall, a carnival has begun, and the sinister Dr. Caligari has set up a fortune telling show with his somnambulist patient Cesare. Good friends Francis and Alan go to visit, but when the latter asks how long he has to live, Cesare responds with 'Until tomorrow's dawn'. The prediction comes true, and Alan becomes the second victim of a mysterious series of killings that have rocked the village. Francis is convinced that Caligari is the murderer, and tries to discover who and what he really is...

You might expect this 2005 iteration of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to be a legitimate movie in its own right, but it really isn't. You see, it's a remake in the sense that it's got new actors, but they're projected onto the existing movie via green screen, with the old performers having been photoshopped out. The result is a shot-for-shot remake, with the new actors miming the actions of the previous ones. While this is a rather creative experiment, I also feel it's somewhat lazy. Perhaps this is tied into the movie being a remake. If this was simply an original tale with the actors pasted onto a series of locations drawn for the film, that would be an interesting path to go down, but it feels pointless when the first movie already exists, and it already had the actors on these sets for real. If you're not going to do anything differently with a remake, that's already a bad sign, but if it's literally the same movie but with new people, why not just stick to the superior version?

There's more wrong with this movie, and that's down to the sound. You see, this isn't a silent movie. Everyone talks. While I'll try not to hold the fact that everyone's American against them, I will judge their heinously poor acting. Whether it was genuine lack of talent, or a creative decision to emulate the broader emotions of silent actors, it's still bad, with terrible performances all round, resulting in an unsatisfying experience. Then comes the dialogue. Expanding the dialogue of the original Caligari doesn't seem too bad of an idea on paper, as we do have to deal with the transition between silent to sound, which if left untouched could leave us with very little for the actors to say. The problem here is that the film makes unnecessary additions, which are really unsubtle, don't fit at all with how the story's meant to be told, and make the twist ending way more telegraphed than it was in the original movie, where it was completely unexpected.

For example, there are constant reminders and assertions that Francis might be a little short on his tether, with lines like "How did it happen? Did it all really happen?", "It's either him or I've completely lost my mind.", and "He exists purely in a world within himself." (said of Caligari moments before the twist) which is frustrating. I get that they're trying to foreshadow the character's mental condition, but by constantly bringing attention to it, they're jeopardising the surprise of the twist at the end. The only touches I appreciated were Francis's vague recognition of Caligari, as if he's 'seen him before, in the back of my mind, in a dream or a nightmare', and his reaction upon realising the doctor has entered an asylum.

There's also a greater expansion to events to make them tie together that much more, as if that makes the writing automatically better. To give an example, we're told that Alan just so happened to be frightened of fortune tellers when he was a child, and he also has mental health issues stemming from a fear of his mortality. While I feel this could be an interesting way to expand this character, it kinda robs the moment of a bit of its tension, ironically by trying to create more. In the original movie, it's just a casual fairground game, where Alan is a random dude who asks a silly question for fun, and doesn't expect such a confronting answer. The horror of an innocuous carnival game so quickly turning into a portent of doom is what makes it scarier, as does an assured and jovial man becoming terrified. Here though he's already a nervous wreck one poor decision away from a breakdown. Also, one weird is how characters keep pooh-poohing Francis's suspicions of Caligari being the murderer by saying 'Well, Alan was mentally ill, you know'. What the hell are you talking about, guys? Just because you think Caligari and Cesare aren't involved, there was still foul play. The man was stabbed to death!

For all its adding of extra plot points, characters, and 'depth', the movie misses out several key moments from the original, creating plot holes or unexplained moments in the process, like why the titular madman crazily yelling "I am Caligari!" over and over again is important. Alan's presence at the end also misses a subtle but important and very interesting detail about the old version's final scene. If X is really X, and everyone is there, why isn't Alan?

The aesthetic of Caligari '05 is good in the sense that it looked great in the old Caligari, and in some spots here it looks fine, but in others it's really bad, with poor composition making it apparent these actors don't belong, with the worst scene being Cesare's rooftop walk, and him walking with his arm against a wall. Alternatively, there are a few other scenes seemingly shot on a real set, which is strange. If you're going to the trouble of not remaking the movie visually but instead adhering to all the existing film, why bother with a real set if it's just for a 1 minute scene in a non-descript police office?

Another nuisance is the presence of new digital shadows as well as the brighter lighting in all of the scenes, as if the director thought the film simply being in black and white would be enough to sort out all of the thematic lighting. These moments make Caligari '05 far too bright, and ignore the fact that the black markings you see on walls everywhere are actually meant to be shadows themselves. Finally, there's one scene near the end where the quality of the original film takes a sudden downturn, which clashes with both the rest of the film, and the actors onscreen at that moment.

The visual direction is basically copying the 1920 film, but there are a few nicely framed new shots added in here and there.

Between his hilarious 'anger', fake sniffles, and weak desk thumps, Judson Pearce Morgan really does a poor job as the lead character, although I have to wonder how much of it is his fault, since practically no-one is good here! Doug Jones visually disappoints as Cesare, looking more wimpy and goofy than freaky and intimidating. In fact, he looks like Michael Cera raided a goth's make-up bag! He also looks less like a pallid corpse when resting in his cabinet and more like someone genuinely sleeping, which is more realistic I guess, but looks sillier. Daamen J Krall as Dr. Caligari is mixed. He's ok in some places, but not so much in others, and his constant cackling makes him a bit one-note. Lauren Birkell is one of the better actors, but her big reactions feel very overdone and amateurish. Neil Hopkins as Alan is likewise better than most, even if not perfect. One last issue with everyone's performances is that they talk and act in a very modern fashion, feeling at odds with the old German expressionistic look to everything. I will however give props to the actors for almost pronouncing Cesare correctly (with Morgan hitting it dead-on). It's a little thing, sure, but something I take notice of. It's one of the many reasons I appreciate Madeline Reynal from Dr. Caligari 1989 so much.

The music here is ok, but not great, and it kinda lacks subtlety, like it's trying too hard to constantly remind you that this is a scary movie.

One last note is this film's seeming disrespect towards the old Caligari. The first sign is the end credits only crediting the crew of the remake, and no-one behind the scenes of the original. Second is a story I heard that I don't know if is true. If it isn't, then no matter and this can be safely disregarded, but if it is (and it could very well be), jeez! Apparently in a Q&A session during Caligari 2005's screening run, 'director' and 'writer' David Lee Fisher actually admitted to never having seen the original Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in full, always having fastforwarded through it as he found it too slow moving, and also admitted to not understanding its plot and themes. Doth mayhaps thou thinkest you shouldn't have fucking remade it then, my good sir?

For the last 10+ years, David Lee Fisher has been trying to get another 'remake' of this sort of Nosferatu off the ground, with Doug Jones as Count Orlok. On one hand this really does show Doug Jones as a stand-up guy, and not an arrogant Hollywood prima donna who finds certain roles and projects 'beneath him', but on the other hand, is it really worth going to so much time and trouble for something that's not even a real remake? I don't think so. One could get literally the same experience by simply watching the original Nosferatu. If you're gonna do a remake, actually have it be a remake! Don't be ridiculous. Whether or not this project ever formulates I'm not sure, but I AM certain that it could be nothing but disappointing, and that is exactly what this 'remake' of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is...

An Essay on Fiancee of Dracula (2002)

I Am Nightmare (2014)

Surreal auteur M Dot Strange has to date made only three films, but each is a very distinctive piece of cinema. The first, We Are the Strange, was a homage to all things video game that more than lived up to its title, while Heart String Marionette was an interesting thematic journey following a band of disparate characters who may or may not exist. Today I'll determine if his latest film I Am Nightmare lives up to his reputation...

In a world of dolls, Lantern Town is called the place that never changes. What soon becomes apparent to new citizen Marie and her adopted children is that it's harbouring a dark secret. The rules the town abides by force the kids to spend their days working and nights out on monster patrol on the village outskirts, while the adults are always relaxing with abandon in the local watering hole. People have been mysteriously disappearing, and Marie's children are the only left in the entire town. Spurring them into action is the arrival of a mysterious silent mam, devoted to hunting the nightmares that haunt Lantern Town...

I Am Nightmare gets off to an odd start, but it's quite an effectively spooky film! It's more of a dark fantasy than horror, but not short of scenes and imagery that might scare the pants of some people. Kind of an interesting genre distinction to think about.

Being somewhat immature kids, the main group of characters start off a bit annoying, but grow on you before too long. It's a double edged sword when they start disappearing though. On one hand it works by delivering a crushing sense of loneliness coming in as the circle tightens on the remaining kids, but on the other hand, we see very little of the others until the end, with some of them only getting one or two lines, if any. Another point on the positive end though is that some of the gang disappearing allows for more dialogue and focus for the up-until-then more lacking in character kids. The character of Shy seems particularly hard done by, barely appearing, although probably getting one of the stronger narrative journeys in the film. Despite this importance she only appears fleetingly before vanishing altogether in the latter hour until the end. During the climax she shows up again to kick ass and take names, but it felt too little too late, with her ultimately being underused.

The mysterious, tough, and sorrowful Nightmare Hunter is an interesting character, but a little confusing. How much power does he have, to be imprisoned one minute then killing corrupt townsfolk the next, only to be powerless in jail later and said townspeople to not really be dead, even though they were. Just because they're Nightmares, surely that doesn't make them immune from being killed, as we see. It's all a bit of a muddle sometimes. Despite that, this is a dialogue free character who gets all his emotion across through visuals, which is impressive in how well it works. His story ultimately plays out well, with an emotional ending.

The villains are pretty over-the-top and one-dimensional, but this feels intentional. The feeling of being stuck in a town where the authorities are blatantly evil and acting like everything is fine lends quite a repressive atmosphere to the village of Lantern Town.

The finale gets perhaps a little overblown, feeling a little too much like a video game with its giant mech fight, and it gets a little overzealous with the constant cutting back and forth again and again and again, to an interminable degree. It goes beyond the point of being suspenseful and into just plain tedium. Overall, the length of 127 minutes was perhaps a bit much. There are a few scenes I could imagine being pared down a bit, the climax included.

The animation for I Am Nightmare was done in the Unity video game engine,and it mostly lends itself well to the kind of movie this is. It looks cheap for sure, and the narrated explanation at the beginning that these people are all dolls only goes so far to remedy this, but for such a micro-budget film made by one guy, it's one heck of an achievement. As for the more noticeable flaws in the animation, there are sometimes little glitches, and at times it looks like we're watching avatars in a video game moving around, but for the most part it's fluid enough. I didn't much appreciate the boob 'jiggle physics' in a few of Shy's scenes. Something I did appreciate with the animation was the way shadows dance, and the presence of reflections, which must've been a pain to pull off, but a worthwhile one.

The design for the nightmare monsters is a creative mix of spooky and silly, with their cartoony vibe meshing well with their spookier off-putting nature.

The score to I Am Nightmare is very spooky, with a music-box type main theme, with a few different leitmotif arrangements. The other tracks are very good too! They really elevate the film from one level of spookiness to another.

The acting is good for the most part. Richard Grove does a great job, playing a very different kind of villain than he did as Lord Wor in Heart String Marionette. It's really good seeing him in more stuff nowadays (especially indie stuff like this), as I liked him in Scanner Cop. I thought he was one of the best actors in that movie too (assuming this is the same actor, of course, and I'm not hilariously wrong).

Anna Brisbin (aka Brizzy Voices) does quintuple-duty in voicing most of the kids, along with other characters, and she does a great job! Her performances all sounds varied and different, and she's definitely instrumental in carrying the movie. She's not perfect as her deliveries early on sound a bit phony and unimpressive, but that doesn't last long, and she settles into the characters well. It was a little hard to tell the gender of the characters at first, but dialogue clears it up quickly enough, so it's not a big issue

As well as being his most consistent animation-wise, this is M Dot Strange's most straightforward film yet, telling a perfectly cohesive story in the one small location, with no bizarre diversions, or flourishes. According to him, this is because he wanted to test the skills of his storytelling in a normal context, and I definitely think he succeeded. I also think it shows off his style of writing well. Even in a more straightforward tale, not everything is told to the viewer straight up, at least not right away, and you're still made to think. That shows trust in the audience.

I Am Nightmare is an interesting watch. While it may not be to everybody's tastes   And if you've only just heard of the works of M Dot Strange, this is a good introduction. It showcases a lot of the weirder elements that make up his film, but without the really out-there moments that might put people off if they go in unprepared. Of the three films he's made so far, I think this is probably my favourite...

Heart String Marionette (2012)

I wish there were more films like those of M Dot Strange, as I enjoy not only these kinds of movies period, but also their existence. It's always nice to see creative sparks in all genres, no matter how weird or niche. Heart String Marionette definitely fits those bills, and is exactly as bizarre as its creators reputation suggests...

In a strange world of puppets, a lone hero named Samhaine Tsuke comes into existence to help a little boy who may be his brother. In search of an evil clown, the hero is struck down, but comes back, teaming up with an irreverent stripper, Siouxsie Silen, and Tatsuya, a boastful yet skilled archer. Samhaine continues his quest, determined to find this malevolent clown, and stop the evil machinations of Lord Wor...

Heart String Marionette is more straightforward than Strange's previous film We Are the Strange, but it's still a wildly surreal film. It's a postmodernist tale that's very much up to interpretation. It doesn't really get off to a good start, marred by poor acting, seemingly pointless bizarreness, and a story that feels both nonsensical and taking a while to get to a point. This all improves, thankfully, but it's not a good first impression. The point where the film started impressing me more was the encounter between Samhaine and the monster attacking Siouxsie, about 20 minutes in. From then on the film starts feeling more ordered. Still weird as heck, but it feels less like 'weird for weird's sake' and like there's more of a point behind everything, as well as a more consistent story, with the more surreal and narrative-bending elements fitting in more when they appear.

The pace is one of the weakest parts of Heart String Marionette. Sometimes it's good, but then we get long lulls where not much happens, and even good scenes that are too long. They don't feel overlong but not much actually happens in them, making them feel like time wasters. Because of this it takes a while before certain characters either get introduced, or interact properly with the rest of the cast.

When it comes to the more artistic and thematic elements of the story, it wasn't entirely successful to me. The biggest issue is that there's too little context. It's hard to make one's own interpretation of events when the story takes place in a totally fantastical world filled with elements we know nothing about. Some stuff gets cleared up as the movie progresses, but a lot doesn't too, and it feels a bit unfair, like being expected to write an essay on a film-within-a-film that we were never shown.

The scene when Samhaine approaches Lord Wor's castle is where the story really starts coming together in a satisfying way, despite some of the reveals come a little out of left field. Things start to decline afterwards though. The events that occur just seem weird, like a soap opera level switcheroo involving parentage, which flips around more than once, culminating in a devil killing diversion that ends up being entirely pointless and serves no role in the story, besides echoing an earlier line.

Finally, the ending is a bit of a mess. First it's a real downer that just stops mid-scene, and we're treated to the end credits, but once they end, the the movie keeps going, finally delivering a satisfactory climax, despite the absence of an important scene (I'll explain later). This whole wrap-up left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, particularly the near-exclusion of Siouxsie. There are some neat moments in the denouement, but it feels like it needed a little something more given all the themes at play, to wrap up the story better.

The three protagonists are an ok bunch, with some positives, and some negatives. Samhaine is brooding and flowery with his prose, but that's intentional, and it helps that his prose is well written. Siouxsie is pretty insufferable most of the time, and at any point where she almost becomes interesting and endearing, the movie stops bothering. Tatsuya appears only very sporadically in the first half, but is a ball. He's the liveliest and most fun member of the cast, and it's a shame he shows up so late, because he gets in some really good interactions with the other two heroes.

The villains appear less, and are less interesting. They don't really have much motivation besides being evil, and Lord Wor is confusing at the best of times.

The animation in Heart String Marionette is mixed. In some parts it looks really good, and in others, not so much, such as characters jerkily wobbling when they shouldn't. There's a neat stop motion effect to a lot of the film. Regardless of the sometimes not-so-good quality, I not only applaud the effort (this was all done by one man after all) and the creativity to visualise this bizarre and dark world. The direction is not without fault, but it has its moments, with really neat cinematography.

The dialogue here is really interesting in some places. Some of it is deliberately cliche and traditional, which works for what the story is emulating. It also wears its inspirations on its sleeve, paying homage to works such as Berserk ("A man takes up a sword to protect the wound in his heart..."). Some lines are quite a chuckle, too, but others feel a bit on the asinine side to say the least, and the instances of swearing feel really forced.

The acting is over-the-top, and enjoyable in places. JP Anderson delivers an interesting performance as Samhaine, while Asil Aceves is good in the very different role of Siouxsie, albeit sometimes grating (which I put down more to the writing than her performance). M Dot Strange himself voices Tatsuya, while Ricky Grove as the villainous Lord Wor is low-key, but dangerous, Also nifty is that Mindless Self Indulgence lead singer Jimmy Urine is in this! He's only in it for one scene, but he definitely gets time to shine as The Body. The actor playing the mysterious child is pretty awful though!

The score to Heart String Marionette is fantastic! It's an eerie and effective score that permeates through the whole movie, adding so much mood and character. If there was no music in the film, it'd be a bit of a drag.

Because of...reasons, the original score is no longer a part of the movie, and it's current form as the 'Uberector's cut' has a different score, by M Dot Strange himself. Thankfully I love the current score, and think it fits in really well, complementing the movie and its atmosphere perfectly. It's also not as loud and screechily annoying as the original one was (of what I've heard from it, all I can say is 'Ouch, my poor ears!'). I definitely recommend you watch this alternate cut, however it's purportedly missing an important scene that ties the whole final battle together. I say purported not because I haven't seen this scene but rather because I did, and didn't really understand what was going on.

Even down to the neat title, Heart String Marionette is a really good film! It's not flawless at all, but if you enjoy surreal odysseys, and as long as you remember to stay all the way through the ending credits, you may well enjoy this gloomy oddity and what it has to offer...

A Look at Sandra's Little Girl Music Video (1985)

Don't Look Now meets Eyes Wide Shut

Perhaps she hasn't somehow escaped by random deus ex machina. The only times we see her after that, she's either with the little girl [saying farewell] in a misty void, and then walking alone in an empty Venetian square. Perhaps she's now doomed] to occupy the same position the girl once did. Maybe the girl is an innocent in all this whose soul was simply trapped, and the woman's [sacrifice] has ensured    can finally pass on into the afterlife

Angela Venezia

image being destroyed
However, something interesting we see in this montage is the photo in the  being put back in! If that's the case, why was it not destroyed? Why was it taken out/For what reason was it taken out? And why the heck is there a photograph of a girl who died in 1797?? I only just noticed that now! Ah/Oh well, dramatic license.

we see  item drop

instead of stopping her they clap as she goes, signifying that she's not only playing right into their hands, but already has fallen under their grasp, tnd they cruelly congratulate their new prisoner.

The only thing left unexplained/answered is why. For what purpose is a cadre of harlequins stealing people's souls   And what the = any of this has to do with a cautionary song about  bad relationships? Buggered if I know!

This is all purely speculation, and I could be wrong, but that's alright. Art like this is made for different interpretations, so there are never any wrong answers, not even when you're taking the piss. All in all, this music video is quite a nice oddity for an 80's pop singer! It sure did something right if people like me are theorizing on it 30 years later

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Salad Fingers (2004-2013)

Back in 2004 was a somewhat different time for the internet. I can remember it, and I also remember being in school when Salad Fingers became an internet phenomena. Everyone in IT class (where we had access to computers, and a very lax teacher) would gather around a computer to watch the five episodes of this psychological horror/black comedy webseries. Following then, more episodes of Salad Fingers occasionally appeared, with David Firth usually making them a year apart, at least, with each one being anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes long.

In a desolate, post-apocalyptic world, a strange green man named Salad Fingers lives alone, with three puppets that he occasionally likes to taste. Aroused by the sensation of feeling rusty objects, particularly spoons, Salad Fingers is completely delusional, sometimes entertaining corpses as guests, measuring how far a tree is moving, or giving birth to inanimate black slime, along with more sinister things...

Unfortunately, as much as I loved it as a kid, Salad Fingers really doesn't hold up for me. I find it pretty boring, to be honest. Occasionally I got a chuckle from its black comedy, but for the most part, I just found everything to be dull.

Practically every plot is unrealized to its full potential. There could be so much creepy and bizarre stuff going on, but instead, there's just a few pointless scenes that don't go as far as they could have, and feel like they end too soon, then the episodes are over, with nothing having been accomplished, even in the context of a nonsense surrealist horror.

The soundtrack to Salad Fingers, which makes an attempt at being eerie, is made up of ambient minimalist tunes, including tracks from Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, among others, and it can get tiresome pretty quickly. I like some Minimalistic music, but others, not so much. Beware the Friendly Stranger in particular, as it's a bit too soft and boring, never going anywhere. I mean, I know that Minimalist music deliberately doesn't 'go anywhere', but Friendly Stranger never goes anywhere. As for other tracks, such as the darker music that plays at certain points, it's apparently David Firth himself playing the guitar, reversed and slowed down. It works well, although it's pretty much the one short chord, repeated a lot over the whole series.

The animation is perfectly serviceable for a flash animated webseries. Is it basic? Sure, but that's ok, even if it does look really dated. It gets a bit better in the last two episodes (made in 2011 and 2013, respectively), as the characters aren't as stiff, move less awkwardly, Salad Fingers actually has arms in long shots, and the locations are a bit better done. They're still pretty blank, but they're an improvement.

The voice acting in Salad Fingers, pretty much entirely done by David Firth, is pretty good, even if it is clearly him playing multiple roles.

Overall, I find Salad Fingers to be a pretty boring and unenjoyable series, and a bit of a missed opportunity. If you want something with very dark and morbid humour to enjoy, all you need to do is go read some A Softer World. However, I am glad for its popularity. Not only did I enjoy it when I was a kid, but something this twisted going viral is always neat....

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nattasha Bennett's First Video Review

Hi all. My online blogging and writing pal Natasha Smith (formerly Bennett), writer of such tales as War of the Soulites (a fantastic sci-fi horror trilogy as dark as Lexx), and Autumn's Spirit, has made a video review! She's no stranger to blogging, but this is her first effort at making a video review, and I'm here to plug it.

In this video Natasha is looking at a hilariously bad game rendition of the Bloody Mary tale for the Xbox 360. For a first-time video, it's well-done, and Natasha is a likable and humorous host.

This is still only a first video, so she is still finding her ground. As such, the choice of game for review is a short and simple one, and the video is only two minutes long. This is fine, as a shorter length can be good when one is still learning the kinks of producing such material, particularly for the first time.

So, if you have a couple minutes to spare, here's a neat video to watch, and if you want to read some of Natasha's reviews, her blog can be found here!...

Ghoulish Welcomes for a New October

Good evening, and welcome to October, the month where nightmares come true! AHAHAHAHAHAHAA! This month, I shall be looking at a wide variety of films, full of creeping terror! I'll also be penning some essays on certain horror films! Which, you wonder? You'll find out soon enough. No Doctor Mabuse movies though, unfortunately. I couldn't find any cheap copies of Testament/German language-English subtitles version of Thousand Eyes in time for October.

As Elvira, Our Lady of the Night says, unpleasant dreams...