The Squeaky Reel

An outlet for my thoughts on film, music, books, and various off-topic ramblings.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Best Metal Albums of 2009

I’ve spent this past year hungrily devouring metal. New, old, whatever. And while there were a lot of great old albums and bands that I’ve either not listened to in forever or have just come across that I loved the hell out of this past year, there were also a number of new albums that caught my attention. So, in no particular order and with no strict limit on number, here are the albums from this past year that I can’t get enough of.

Oranssi Pazuzu – Muukalainen Puhuu: Holy crap. These Finns came from out of nowhere and yanked my skull right outta my head with this one. Black metal meets Krautrock and spawns this slab of unholy goodness. It’s like Mayhem on mushrooms, or Can possessed by Satan himself. Psychedelic space-rock as performed by a band of demons. From the first notes of this album, I knew it was going to be on constant play, and by the end, my fate was cemented.

Blut aus Nord – Memoria Vestuta II: Dialogue With the Stars: The French are freakin’ unstoppable when it comes to coming up with quality Black metal these days. After years of interim releases, the trio finally follows up their 1996 album Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age with an album that is simultaneously fragile and brutal; beautiful and harsh; melodic and uncompromising; progressive and primitive. After 15 years on the scene, this could be their masterpiece.

Yob – The Great Cessation: You want heavy? You want an album that feels like a slab of concrete slowly creeping over your entire being? You want the doom-laden tunefulness of classic Sabbath filtered through post-Melvins sludge? You want riffs coming at you with the inescapable force of a tidal wave of molasses? You want pure, slow-building anger and aggression expressed in musical form? You want this album.

Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know: It’s Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice. You know what you’re getting before you even put this on. The capper is the fact that you’re not disappointed by it not living up to its list of ingredients. It’s maybe not a classic on the level of Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell, but it’s ten times better than Dehumanizer ever thought about being, and possibly the best thing any of these vets have put their name on in over a decade.

Gama Bomb – Tales From the Grave in Space: Typically, I like my metal evil. The more evil, the better. But sometimes you need to come up for sunlight, and this is a nice li’l change of pace. These Irish bastards indulge in some hardcore Among the Living-era Anthrax worship on this album, and bring some fun to the Thrash revival. Plus, I have to give props to any band that namechecks Ronny Cox and flatly states both that “if you don’t like Kurt Russell, you’re scum,” and “Bill Paxton wasn’t in Innerspace, but by Christ we wish he was” in the same song. And with songs like “Mussolini Mosh,” you know that these guys grew up with Scott Ian pull-outs from Rip magazine on their walls. Or, hell, maybe Kerrang, what with them being from the UK and all. You get my drift.

Immortal – All Shall Fall: After the breakup of this pioneering Norwegian Black metal act and the Motörhead-influenced piledriver that was vocalist Abbath’s sideproject I (with their 2006 album Between Two Worlds), it was doubtful that the mighty Immortal would return to again ride with us into the frozen wastelands. But 2009 brought us this, another blackened excursion into the icy realm of Blashyrkh, which can proudly stand alongside any of their albums. If you’re gonna buy one new release by a band in black-and-white facepaint this year, make it this one.

Kylesa – Static Tensions: I’m a sucker for any band with two drummers. From Butthole Surfers to Adam & the Ants, there’s something about the tribal fury that two drummers evoke that knocks me sideways. Great songwriting only helps, and Kylesa delivers that through unstoppable riffage and melodic leads rising through thick, primal Southern Sludge. This album will run you over like a customized 1976 Chevy van, and then stop, pick you up, and get you stoned.

Arckanum – ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ: Say what? This Swedish one-man Black metal assault writes songs based in Anti-Cosmic Chaos occultism in ancient Swedish. And he sounds like a rampaging horde of a thousand Vikings charged with the task of tearing the time-space continuum apart in order to sink their teeth into the juicy Chaos lurking behind it. And yet he never forgets to offer up hooks aplenty somehow. It stunned me into silence upon first listen, but quickly had me furiously headbanging to every riff. Yowza (which is ancient Swedish for “yowza”)!

Mastodon – Crack the Skye: Yeah, every hipster on this godforsaken planet has this on their year-end “best of” list. And yeah, it’s a lot less “edgy” and aggressive than their earlier albums, which has provoked cries of “sellout” and “catering to the mainstream” from the naysayers. And yeah, it might just be the beard talking. But man, I kept playing this thing all year long. And I’m not gonna stop just because a lot of tight-pantsed doofuses like it too.

Baroness – Blue Record: See above. Word-for-word.

Behemoth – Evangelion: Oh, hells yeah. THIS is how you pummel someone to death with the pure Satanic power of metal. It’s a welcome step back from the clinical, technical, Nile-worshipping precision of previous album The Apostasy into a more emotive fury. The drums are a bit too triggered-sounding for my liking, but it’s hard to argue with it while it’s busy punching you in the freakin’ face.

Zoroaster – Voice of Saturn: Am I being biased because they’re local? Maybe. Is it because I spent all night running around the Plaza Theatre during the video shoot for “White Dwarf?” Could be. But hell, man, few people do the crushing psychedelic doom metal thang better than Zoroaster, and they’re doing it right on this. It’s a bit more spacey than their earlier albums, but I’m cool with that, ‘cuz I likes it spacey.

Slayer – World Painted Blood: Their previous album marked the return of Dave Lombardo to the drum chair, and was the beneficiary of the “they’re back!” hype machine. Unfortunately, while Christ Illusion was still pretty damned good, it wasn’t the return to form as advertised. This fixes that. The guitars may still be a little too down-tuned for the Slayer purists out there, but it’s easily their best album since the unholy Trinity (Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss).

Glorior Belli – Meet Us At the Southern Sign: Mmm. Blues-influenced Black metal? From a bunch of Theistic Satanists from France? Oh, sign me right the Hell up for this. It’s just crazy enough that it just might work! You occasionally, on tracks like “In Every Grief-Stricken Blues,” get the feeling that this is what Lynyrd Skynyrd’s doppelgangers from that parallel universe in the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek might sound like, and that’s all kinds of a good thing.

Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions: Those Southern Lord head honchos once again turn in an album of big, honking slabs of Drone/Doom, but have opened up the sonic palette a bit to include a whole host of new instrumentation: horns, choirs, strings among them. It winds up being simultaneously their most accessible and most directly affecting work in years. Kudos also to lead vox madman Atilla Csihar, who contributes some of the most adventurous vocal work since Diamanda Galas back in the day. Also one of the most effective live shows I’ve ever attended, despite the vibrations threatening to damage the light fixtures and the impenetrable dry ice fog setting off the smoke alarms in Athens’ Seney-Stovall Chapel.

Also much-listened-to-and-enjoyed this past year: 3 Inches of Blood – Here Waits Thy Doom; Teitanblood – Seven Chalices; Marduk – Wormwood; Merrimack – Grey Rigorism; Dethklok – Dethalbum II; Absu – Absu; Diamatregon – Crossroad; Skeletonwitch – Breathing the Fire; Nachtmystium – Doomsday Derelicts EP; Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures (though is it metal? I dunno.); Whiplash – Unborn Again; Voivod – Infini; Beherit – Engram…and probably a few more that I’m forgetting.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Halloween II: The Tragedy of Michael Myers

Okay, so Rob Zombie's Halloween II is out.
Full disclosure: I was an extra in the movie. I worked on it for a day (I was supposed to work on it the second day, but overslept and missed the bus to the town of Newborn, Georgia where it was filming).
As a longtime supporter of Zombie's work, both on record and on screen, I had somewhat high expectations for this. I didn't hate his remake of John Carpenter's classic, and from what he'd been saying about the film (and what I saw during the shoot), it sounded like this was going to be closer to House of 1000 Corpses than the previous film. More direct-from-the-head-of-Zombie.
But man, is this thing ever compromised.
There are some good things about it. Brad Dourif is excellent as Sheriff Lee Brackett. Danielle Harris does a really good job with her role as his daughter, Annie. Zombie gets some good footage during the film -- he clearly shows that he has a great eye for composition, and that the visual sense of HO1KC and The Devil's Rejects (and some of Halloween) was no happy accident. He's a talented filmmaker, I'll still contend. But it's all in service to so little in this movie.
Over a third of the running time, it seems, is taken up with a disconnected subplot involving Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Samuel Loomis and his agent Nancy McDonald (Mary Birdsong) basically going on a promotional tour to support his new book which exploits the events and deaths seen in the previous film. There is no contact between Loomis and any of the principal characters in the movie whatsoever until the last few minutes. Some say that this is because McDowell's contract to appear in the film wasn't signed until after shooting commenced, and that he was given a subplot that would be easy enough to remove from the film in case negotiations fell through. At any rate, his tacked-on storyline feels artificial and completely separate from the rest of the film. And from reports (and what I saw on set) there was *so much* that was shot that didn't make it in, and I'd say largely because of the necessity (contractually-speaking) to spend so much time in McDowell's company. And the plot of this film needs more time spent on fleshing it out, not spent on Loomis grumpily toddling about the book tour circuit getting flak for writing his tome. Because of this (and also probably because of some last-minute reshoots), coherence is thrown out the window. Plot mechanics don't work. Shared visions take place without there being any reason for their existence, or our learning anything meaningful about them. Characters appear only to be killed a moment later, with no real connection made to them. Elaborate sets that were built for the film are not seen. Establishing shots are cut short. Scenes start and seem to be cut as short as possible to squeeze everything in, almost cutting away in mid-sentence.
Overall, you get the feeling that Zombie is *trying* with this film, but that he's been hamstrung by the situation. He took over the film in December of last year without a script. He had only a few weeks to get a script put together for shooting in March, for an already-cemented August release date. He was, according to his twitter feed, only 100% finished on August 14, only 2 weeks away from opening day. But it's the equivalent of handing me a 1,000 page novel that I've never read, and telling me that I need to write a report on it due the following morning (and then stepping in at 4 AM and telling me that I need to take 1/3 of my essay in a different direction). I'm going to work my ass off to get it finished, but you can't really expect it to be any good. And you get that sense of desperation from the final film. Elements are tossed at the story in hopes that they'll work, and if they don't, that's just too bad because there's no time to change them. There's the thing with shared visions that winds up being half-baked. There's the fact that Laurie discovers that she's Michael's sister, but her dealing with this fact only happens in the last 1/3 of the movie, and isn't touched upon with any depth. There's the Sam Loomis plot. There's Laurie's emotional and physical scarring from the previous film. There's the sense that Brackett's life has been turned upside down from the events of the previous film. None of it given time to develop, none of it given the thought to see if it works in the film's context.
It's just not any good. Like I say, there are good elements lurking within it, and I think that given a chance, it could've been a good movie (Zombie's first assembly ran 4 hours -- there's got to be some stuff in there that would flesh out any one or two of the underdeveloped bits mentioned above that would have improved the movie). But as it stands, it's just too flawed to survive. At least in this cut.
The thing I resent the most, though, is that I'm gonna have to cough up the dough for the DVD just to still-frame through the "Phantom Jam" sequence to see if I can be glimpsed. And sitting through it again isn't something I'm gonna relish, even if it is in slo-mo.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

RIP, Lux

To add to the injustices of this year thus far, a capper. Lux Interior, frontman of the seminal 1970s punk-rock-a-billy band The Cramps, has died. One of the greatest frontmen in rock history. If not THE best. Others come close -- Dave Vanian, Mark Mothersbaugh, Iggy, Mick, Daltrey, etc. -- but few came close to the visceral energy and lust for life (sorry Ig) that Lux put into each and every goddamned performance. I was just listening to the Cramps and saying that I was worried about them -- that they hadn't toured in a while, and hadn't recorded any new music either. Little did I know. I'm gonna miss them more than I can probably express. Lux and Ivy were role models for any alterna-couple, and were always what I hoped would be the ultimate fate of Jenn and me: living life how we wanted, on our own terms and fiercely in love with each other. And fuck it, man; they still are my role models. They set a goddamned standard that should be followed by anyone.

Now when I die, don'tcha bury me at all.
Just nail those bones up on the wall.
Beneath these bones let these words be seen:
"This is the bloody gears of a boppin' machine."

Roll on.
Rock on.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Eventually, Prince Sirki visits us all...

It has been reported today that beloved icon of horror fandom everywhere, Forrest J. Ackerman, has passed away after a protracted battle with congestive heart failure.

FJA, or "Uncle Forry" to many, was the creator of the seminal monster mag Famous Monsters of Filmland, literary agent to many science fiction authors, inventor of the term "sci-fi," and basically established the world of fandom as it exists today. He was an uncredited contributor to the screenplay of Mad Monster Party (which is going to cast a certain melancholy pall over the upcoming Silver Scream Spook Show...either that or cause a riotous celebration of all those things FJA loved; I hope for the latter), and frequent cameo-appearance mainstay of horror films throughout the years.

It's hard for me to write about this, because Forry was such a huge influence on me. I'd never have been as enthusiastic about monster movies when I was a kid without FM to point the way and encourage me. I'd never have enjoyed monster-themed novelty songs or aspired to be a TV horror host (still dreaming of that one) without FJA's love of pun-filled humor and write-ups on TV hosts from across the country. I'd never have developed a fascination for the behind-the-scenes aspect of horror flicks (in kindergarten, I could tell you who played nearly every role in all the major Universal horror movies, who directed 'em, who scored 'em, who did the makeup, and why Kenneth Strickfaden was so important) without Forry's devotion to all aspects of the movies themselves. So yeah, this is gonna hit me hard for the next couple of days. I'll probably wind up watching The Raven and Comedy of Terrors to try to brighten things up.

So farewell, dear FJA. The world will not see your like again.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Are you hung up?

"We're involved in kind of a low-key war against apathy. I don't know how you're doing on apathy over there, but we've got a lot of it, boys and girls. A lot of what we do is designed to annoy people to the point where they might -- just for a second -- question enough of their environment to do something about it. As long as they don't feel their environment, they don't worry about it. They're not going to do anything to change it. And something's gotta be done -- before America scarfs up the world and shits on it."
-- Frank Vincent Zappa, England, 1968

This past couple weeks or so, I've been on a pretty serious Zappa bender, thanks to a thread over at the A/V Maniacs Forum. I haven't gone back into the Zappa catalog for a while now (I go through phases), but the act of recommending some of his stuff, and diving into the reasons why I picked this or that, got me going. I guess my tastes on his music are pretty cemented, because I found that my opinions haven't really fluctuated that much. I still prefer the Mothers' early material, and find a goodly-sized chunk of his later work a little too "frat boy" in its humor (though there's no arguing -- in my opinion, of course -- his instrumental talent and the immense control he has in recalling various pieces of his past in orchestrating the "conceptual continuity" approach he mastered at *any* stage of his career). However, even though I've been revisiting a lot of his albums, the one record I've strategically avoided (as it's long been my most-listened-to work of his) still remains my favorite.

We're Only In It For The Money.

While Freak Out! is not only important for being what it is when it was (released in 1966, it is ahead of its time and ahead of trends by about 2-3 years at least), it is almost too conventional in its approach most of the time to live up to the legend created by the Mothers, even with the presence of tracks like "Help, I'm a Rock" or "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet." That's part of its genius, no mistake -- it's a polished attempt to "take on" various musical genres in a full-brunt attack on pop culture and the establishment. Absolutely Free delves head-first into the lunacy hinted at on the previous album (and quickly establishes conceptual continuity by basing its first track, "Plastic People," on a triplet from "Who Are the Brain Police?" from the debut -- "What would you do if the people you knew / Were the plastic that melted / And the chromium, too?"), but in being divided into two distinct oratorios, it loses a bit of the concentrated focus of what was to come.

1968's We're Only In It For The Money found Zappa at his most biting to date, with his focus directed in laser-like precision, and though the music jumps from one place to another with alarming rapidity, it feels like much more of a complete and coherent work than anything he'd done previous. While much has been made of the album's seeming tweak of the nose of hippiedom, it feels like much much more of a statement of outrage than that. From the album cover to the final note, I take it as a severe riposte to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It's as if Zappa took one look at/listen to the Fab Four's masterpiece and reacted violently. The album seems to be ranting, "How DARE you? You guys, in your fancy marching band outfits, are trying to peddle some kind of bullshit 'love is all you need' message to the kids out there because it sounds like that's what they wanna hear, while people are fucking DYING? Look, boys, you can sing about some lovely little meter maid all you want, but when the cops are out there cracking freaks' heads open with their batons, the kind of utopian, loveable message you're putting out there is gonna wind up getting someone fucking KILLED. You're never going to get people to change the goddamned world by saying that all they need to do is love each other while they sit around on their thumbs waiting to have their heads smashed in. That kind of thinking breeds apathy, kids. You wanna motivate the freaks? Tell 'em what the real poop is. Fuck, you've painted me in this corner now, and the only way out of this is for me to catalog all of the idiocy out there in the REAL WORLD as opposed to this loveable little quirky fantasy realm you guys are dishing out. And you're not going to like what you hear, because the problem isn't just with the guys in charge. Yeah, they're a hassle too, but it's also with the coattail riders your little album is inspiring, the hippie tourist types who think that if they put a wig on and head on over to Haight Street, that they'll be instantly as turned on as the REAL freaks who've been dwelling on the fringes for years. It's with the stupid hard-liners who think that if you're not aesthetically matching every other nonconformist out there, that you're completely unacceptable. Thanks a lot, you guys."

And the album just goes from there. There are slight departures into describing the "true" freaks and how society has impacted them ("Let's Make the Water Turn Black" and "The Idiot Bastard Son"), and the album eventually makes its way around to some summations of optimism despite the state of things at the time. "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" is often described as being a tongue-in-cheek sarcastic take on the "free love" movement, but I don't think this is the case. I think it's actually pretty sincere, especially in that it's paired with "Mother People."

"There will come a time
When everybody who is lonely
Will be free to sing and dance and love.
There will come a time
When every evil that we know
Will be an evil that we can rise above.
Who cares if hair is long or short
Or sprayed or partly grayed?
We know that hair ain't where it's at.
There will come a time
When you won't even be ashamed if you are fat."

Part of the album's theme is intolerance for diversion on both sides of the aisle. True freaks, the album seems to argue, don't care how you look; it's a state of mind and a way of life. Both hippies and the establishment want you to conform to their own ideas of what is aesthetically acceptable. The trick is to not buy into their pigeonholing and to be who you are, loudly. With that in mind, it's hard to take that song as being overtly satirical. It's pretty simple in its meaning. This is reinforced by the bridge between this song and "Mother People," a reprise of the song "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?"

"What's the ugliest
Part of your body?
What's the ugliest
Part of your body?
Some say your nose,
Some say your toes,
But I think it's your mind."

Don't change how you look. Change how you think. Stop buying into either side's arguments and think for yourself. You'll be absolutely free, only if you want to be. "Mother People" follows this, and it's essentially a rallying call:

"We are the other people
We are the other people
We are the other people
You're the other people, too.
Found a way to get to you."

Interspersed with this call for unity among the diverse are questions posed to those who don't "get it." "Do you think that I'm crazy, out of my mind?" "Do you think my pants are too tight? Do you think that I'm creepy?" These are answered by declarations that "I'm another person." Despite how different we all are, we're all other people. There's room for all of us.

...And then the optimism is undercut by "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny." A piece of Musique concrète, the work is meant to be evocative of Franz Kafka's "In the Penal Colony" (and in fact, FZ recommends reading the story before listening to the song), implying that this is where we're headed if things don't change. If minds aren't altered. If America scarfs up the world and shits on it. This refers back to the earlier track "Concentration Moon," which is sung from the perspective of a freak who has been imprisoned for unknown crimes and looks longingly at the night sky:

"Concentration moon,
Over the camp in the valley,
Concentration moon,
Wish I was back in the alley
With all of my friends,
Still roaming free
Hair growing out
Every hole in me...

How did it start?
Thousands of creeps
Killed in the park.
Try and explain:
Scab of a nation
Driven insane.
Don't cry
Gotta go bye-bye
Suddenly die-die

Threatened by US.
Drag a few creeps
Away in a bus.
Prisoner: lock
Smash a few creeps
In the face with a rock..."

A prophetic work, given that it was recorded in '67, and that it basically encapsulates the events of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. But these tensions were boiling across the nation, despite how things were being painted as the "Summer of Love." Zappa's condemnation of the Beatles was somewhat justified, then: he knew better than they did what was going down on the streets. The same ideas are continued on the next song, "Mom & Dad" (which could also be seen as an answer to the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home"):

"Mama! Mama!
Someone said they made some noise;
The cops have shot some girls & boys.
You'll sit home & drink all night;
They looked too weird . . . it served them right

Ever take a minute just to show a real emotion

In between the moisture cream & velvet facial lotion?
Ever tell your kids you're glad that they can think?
Ever say you loved 'em? Ever let 'em watch you drink?
Ever wonder why your daughter looked so sad?
It's such a drag to have to love a plastic Mom & Dad

Mama! Mama!

Your child was killed in the park today
Shot by the cops as she quietly lay
By the side of the creeps she knew . . .
They killed her too."

Yes, it's a little bit of vocal teenage heaven, right here on earth.

We're Ony In It For The Money is an uncompromising work, musically challenging (encompassing -- as was FZ's wont at the time -- doo-wop, psychedelia, blues structures, modern classical, jazz, R&B, and the aforementioned musique concrète), and as socially, politically and emotionally direct as Zappa probably ever got. Others came close, but to me this is his best work in focusing all three aspects at once. And it manages to be funny while doing it. And serve as a prelude to the "Zappa's always listening" motif that keeps cropping up in 200 Motels, with Record Plant co-founder and this album's engineer, Gary Kellgren, whispering constantly about how much he hates working for Zappa and how he knows that FZ's probably listening to every word he says.

The original RykoDisc CD release of this put it on a two-fer CD with Lumpy Gravy, but the album was drastically remixed, with the rhythm section completely re-recorded. As a result, the entire album sounds completely different from its original vinyl release. Numerous effects were replaced, vocal parts were entirely altered, the presence of any number of instruments was changed, etc. It also sounds remarkably cold compared to the vinyl version. I eventually came around to appreciating it as a kind of late-period Zappa reinterpretation of the album, but for listening pleasure, the reissue (using the original 1968 mix -- or as close to it as can be approximated using the surviving source materials) is the way to go.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008


Tim Lucas once again spurs my memory over at Video Watchblog with his review of SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES. This is one of my favorite magick-related films, and (though it predates it) has the same kind of sensibility as the Alan Moore/Stephen R. Bissette/John Totleben run on DC's Swamp Thing (could this stem from the fact that both Moore and screenwriter Robert Phippeny are both sorcerers? Couldn't hurt, I guess.). In fact, the film feels closer in spirit to the comic's character of John Constantine and the Vertigo comics spin-off title Hellblazer than that comic's official adaptation, CONSTANTINE. Far from how the film was marketed, it's not a horror film at all. It's a literate, witty, serio-comic look at a particular practitioner of magick and his quest to empower himself and take on the establishment (not bad goals, all said). It's probably the best onscreen depiction of an eclectic/chaos magickian (Simon doesn't follow any set path, and is openly contemptuous of the Wicca-esque orthodoxy as portrayed by the group led by Warhol superstar Ultra Violet). Sure, few have magickal mirrors that allow them to physically enter the astral plane and walk among the gods, but we all can't be so lucky as that (plus, if you take that as just a symbolic representation of achieving gnosis, then it's still pretty damned accurate).

I really don't have much else to say that Tim's review hasn't already said (and better), but I urge anyone who is remotely interested in any of the works mentioned above to check it out.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Friday the 13th is over...

...and I never watched a single one of the flicks in that series.
It's not that I don't have some amount of affection for them, mind. It's just that I've seen 1-6 enough times to last me for a while, and the ones that followed don't do much for me. (Though I do kind of have a soft spot for the silliness of Jason X and the monster-mash team-up of Freddy vs. Jason.)

For the record, I like the even-numbered entries in the series up through 6. 1, 3 and 5 just don't work for me. (Though admittedly I haven't seen 3 in 3-D; I might change my tune otherwise.)

Now that *that* is out of the way...

More quick notes on a recent viewing:

I've mentioned the misanthropic nature of Fulci's horror work. But I don't believe that another movie can actively *hate* quite like the late Roger Watkins' Last House on Dead End Street. The movie is fueled entirely on speed and anger. It eschews the fantastic or surreal aspects of Fulci's work, and instead creates as "real" a world as possible. However, it holds its audience at arm's length, refusing to let the viewer identify with anyone within the film's world. The constant voice-over work and detatched tone of the recording (there is *no* room tone in this, just varying levels of echo), continually remind the viewer that he or she is watching a movie. But this doesn't really give the audience any respite. It actually puts the viewer in an extremely uncomfortable position, given the subject matter of the film (Terry Hawkins, a recent release from prison, helms a series of filmed murders in order to seek retribution on those who had wronged him previously). Constantly reminded that we are the audience, and that we sought out this film in the first place, we have to ask ourselves: are we as depraved as the audience Terry believes exists for his "horror film?"

Now, there is generally nothing I hate more in film than a director who believes himself to be better than his audience. For instance, Michael Haneke's Funny Games or Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust. Both films seem to be saying, "you see these horrible things I'm filming? It's your fault -- I wouldn't be filming this stuff if it weren't for you sitting out there demanding this on your cinema screens." (Haneke's film doesn't sidestep the issue -- it tells you this quite literally, in to-the-audience addresses from the film's protagonist. Deodato may be ham-fisted, but at least he ain't *this* ham-fisted.) When Deodato closes his film with the line "who are the real cannibals?", he's not implicating himself in anything. Watkins doesn't play that game. He's not claiming to be above the audience. He's questioning his own relationship with the material at the same time he's questioning ours. Casting himself as Terry Hawkins was a stroke of brilliance; when he delivers lines like the almost-chanted "I'm directing this fuckin' movie!!!" or "you bet your ass this is for real!", he's blurring the line between himself and Terry to an almost unbelievable extent. He's just as responsible for what is going on as anyone, and he knows it. But he wants you to be just as aware of your role in this.

The film eventually becomes something akin to a magickal ritual, with shifting identities, invocation of godforms, release and banishment. And by that, I don't mean that the film is simply depicting something akin to a magickal ritual -- the film itself becomes that. To what end, I am not sure, though I suspect that it is a kind of catharsis via psychodrama. We are being made to recognize the Terry Hawkins existing within us, and when we are finally implicated in this and asked to share the burden, we banish him into the darkness. The constantly-shifting identities (accomplished by the brilliant use of masks being exchanged among the cast members) call into question exactly who is whom, and who is doing exactly what. Are we the protagonist or the victim in this game of role-playing? The answer is both: we are Terry, and the Terry within us will destroy us if he is given free rein. By the time that the closing sequence is completed, with the violation of the eye (and by extension, the audience; the final shot forces us to share the POV of the final victim), we have been made complicit in the acts we have seen, we are shown that we are the final victims of this misanthropy made flesh, and the rite is done. Despite the added-on postscript (in which a voice-over tells us that Terry and his pirates are serving 999-year sentences for their acts, a bit of narration added by the film's distributors after the fact and without Watkins' approval), the implication is that Terry is still out there; or, more to the point, Terry is still *in* there, and we're all tainted by his presence. No one is innocent; we are all guilty; we are all Terry and Terry is all of us.

Oddly, I wore my LHODES t-shirt to Whole Foods the other day, and was asked about it by employees *twice*. Never been asked about it before, but there it was, twice in one day. Dunno what that means, but I figured it was time to watch it again.

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