Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where Did This Blog Go?

I received an inquiry recently about what has become of this blog. My last post was in April, and now it's June--this after maintaining a fairly steady output of at least one post per week for more than a year.

There are several reasons for this. The main one is that I am working on an entirely different book from Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films, and the new book is occupying all my spare time. The new book has nothing in particular to do with horror or films, so it's not appropriate to discuss it here. One result of this project has been to take my attention temporarily off horror films.

Another reason for stepping away from the blog is that The Human Centipede II, the last horror film I watched (and reviewed in my last post), was such a terrible movie. After seeing that, I didn't feel like seeing any new horror films for a while. This is not a new phenomenon; the same thing happened back in 1989 when I saw the atrocious Fly II. It passed then; I am sure it will pass now.

I hope to return when my work on the new book is completed and my horror juices have been replenished. Until then, thank you for your interest.

George Ochoa

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Human Centipede Takes a Wrong Turn

I was a fan of The Human Centipede (First Sequence) and defended it against detractors. But the sequel, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011), is a disappointment.

The basic problem is that the sequel is just a gorier parody of the original. The original was not particularly gory at all, using wit and suggestion to evoke the horror of the deformed destructive being (DDB), which was a combination of a mad scientist and his creation, three people sewn together mouth to anus to form a single digestive tract. In the sequel, there is no mad scientist, just a mad parking attendant named Martin, who is obsessed with making a human centipede of his own after watching it done in the original movie.

Since Martin, unlike the original mad scientist, is not a surgeon, he conducts his surgery with ordinary household tools and a whack from a crowbar as an anesthetic. In the spirit of excess, he makes his human centipede with twelve people, not three. The movie is much gorier than the original, showing all the details of the homemade surgery, from knocking out teeth to stapling mouths to rear ends. (I saw the unrated version and don't know what this all looked like in other versions.) This is slightly comic, and frequently disgusting, but it is never horrific. There was more to fear in the original mad scientist's speech and diagram of how he would do the surgery than in watching it done.

Then there is Martin himself. Morbidly obese, he is not much of a pleasure to watch, especially because we often have to watch him naked or nearly naked. Again, this is not horrific, just unpleasant.

The movie is in black-and-white except for certain brown splats on the screen that indicate the digestive system of the human centipede is working. This type of joke would go well in a scatological teen comedy, but it seems out of place here.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Saturday, April 7, 2012

God and Horror Movies

Just in time for Passover and Easter, here is a meditation on God and horror movies.

Not all horror movies explicitly involve God, but many do, such as The Exorcist. As pictured above, the deformed destructive being (DDB) in the film--the demon possessing the little girl Regan--is confronted by an adversary who is an authorized agent of God, a man of the cloth, Fr. Merrin. God stands in opposition to the DDB, and the divine agents are heroic, in contrast to the evil monstrousness of the DDB.

This opposition is widespread in the vampire subgenre. Dracula and other vampires are regularly confronted by vampire hunters wielding crosses, who are thus made de facto agents of God. The cross seems to be painful, fearful, even acidic to the vampire, showing his subordination to the power of God. Again, God is opposed to the DDB.

But the question left unanswered in all such stories is why God, who is supposed to be all-powerful, permits the existence of the DDBs at all. This is a version of the classic theological problem of evil, which has never been solved with sufficient finality to stop it from being raised again and again.

One possible answer that the horror movie offers is that God sends DDBs to punish wrongdoers. This is the apparent position of all such films, such as Frankenstein, in which a mad scientist transgresses against God's law (eg, by creating a DDB), and is punished for his transgression (eg, by having the DDB go berserk on him). But curiously, in such a film, the DDB stands in the position of agent of God--a punitive agent, but an agent nonetheless. Far from being opposed to DDBs, in such films, God seems to use them--even, perhaps, like them. And if he likes them, is it possible he is like them?

The horror movie begins to present the possibility that God is himself a DDB: that the universe itself is monstrous to its ground. This may be the ultimate scariness of horror movies. Only a few films go very far along these lines. Bride of Frankenstein suggests, with its Christ-imagery surrounding the monster, not so much that the monster is Christ-like as that Christ is monster-like. And Frailty suggests that God is ordering a serial killer to kill. Other horror movies are more content to maintain a simple surface opposition between God and DDB. But it may be that all horror movies in which God is involved have the potential to be interpreted more along the lines of a link between God and DDB.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Horror Dialogue

Most horror movies are best remembered for their scary moments and scenes of mayhem, and these often occur with little to no dialogue. Nevertheless, horror movies have produced some fine bits of dialogue over the years, whether spoken by deformed destructive beings or by the normals they attack. Here are a few of my favorites.

"Be afraid. Be very afraid."
--Geena Davis in The Fly

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
--Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs

"It's alive! It's alive!"
--Colin Clive in Frankenstein

"For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you are a wise man, Van Helsing."
--Bela Lugosi in Dracula

"Thanks for the bullet."
--Henry Hull in Werewolf of London

"Kill the brain and you kill the ghoul."
--TV announcer in Night of the Living Dead

"A boy's best friend is his mother."
--Anthony Perkins in Psycho

"What is the law?"
--Charles Laughton in Island of Lost Souls

"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
--Roy Scheider in Jaws

"What an excellent day for an exorcism."
--Mercedes McCambridge supplying the voice of Linda Blair in The Exorcist

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Thing, Again

Last month, I wrote about The Thing from Another World (1951), the first of three film adaptations to date of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. This time my subject is the most recent of these adaptations, the 2011 The Thing.

I hate to criticize The Thing, because it has the pretty and winsome Mary Elizabeth Winstead in it, and any film that includes her can't be all bad. I've been following her career since she was playing a super-powered teenager in Sky High, and I keep waiting to see her break out into something I think worthy of her talents, such as the Greer Garson part in a remake of Mrs. Miniver. Anyway, this movie is not what I had in mind.

The key word here is derivative. The Thing 2011 is supposed to be a prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing 1982, but in all respects except continuity it is essentially a remake, and an inferior one. Once again a group of Antarctic scientists battle a shape-shifting alien that has been thawed out of ice. Once again the alien takes on the appearance of the scientists and a test has to be devised to find out who's who. Once again flamethrowers are the principal weapon against the thing. Everything good in it (aside from Winstead) is a copy of something that was done better in Carpenter's version.

Even the creature effects are not exactly better. They are more sophisticated, using CGI that was not available in 1982. But Rob Bottin did more with less in 1982, inventively using mechanical effects and puppetry to generate the deformed destructive being (DDB). The 1982 DDB was more innovative and more horrifying.

It is not that The Thing 2011 is terrible. It has some genuine jolts. Despite myself, when the creature first leapt out of the ice, I jumped sufficiently to spill beer on my basement sofa. (Beer is my favorite drink when watching a movie like The Thing, the basement my favorite location.) The Thing 2011 is a nice reminder of how good the previous versions of Who Goes There? were--and for that matter, how good a story Who Goes There? is. But it is, so far, the least of the line of cinematic incarnations.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Handsome Mr. Hyde

It is coming up on the one-year anniversary of this blog (March 26, 2011) and of the publication of the book on which it is based, Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films. To mark the occasion, I can't do better than direct you to Jon Towlson's positive review of the book in Starburst.

And now on to today's subject: Mr. Hyde, the evil creature into which the otherwise normal scientist Dr. Jekyll transforms himself by chemical means. The tradition in most film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is to present Dr. Jekyll as handsome and Mr. Hyde as hideous (Fredric March's portrayal in the 1932 adaptation) or at least unpleasant-looking (Spencer Tracy's portrayal in the 1941 version). The idea is to take some good-looking actor and then, in special-effects heavy transformation scenes, slather on ugly makeup to turn him into a brute.

What never makes sense in these movies is why Jekyll would want to take a chemical to make himself look worse. In real life, as the cosmetics industry and fitness centers attest, people go to great efforts to make themselves look better, not worse. If they do end up looking worse, it is by accident of the aging process and behaviors such as overeating.

That is why The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, the 1960 Hammer Films adaptation, is so refreshing. Here Dr. Jekyll (Paul Massie) is a bearded, aging, rather plain-looking man who, when transformed into Hyde, becomes young, clean-shaven, and handsome. His low, weary voice becomes light and airy. And all this happens without the benefit of elaborate special effects. With a little editing, the camera simply cuts away from Jekyll (who, this time, is the one wearing the heavier makeup) and cuts back to Hyde.

Of course, Hyde is evil. He indulges in all sorts of wanton, lascivious pleasures, and he has a violent streak that issues in several murders. But at least one can figure out why Jekyll keeps turning himself back into Hyde. As Hyde he is youthful and good-looking, in addition to being able to fulfill any fantasy he desires. Hyde even has an interesting philosophy, based on "energy and reason."

The movie is not quite as good as I may be making it sound. No movie version that I have seen has fully captured the horror of Hyde in Stevenson's novella, including Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. Even with the presence of Christopher Lee as a debauched friend and the lover of Jekyll's wife, the film is a little ponderous. But it is worth seeing if only because it presents a Hyde who makes physical sense.

George Ochoa

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Angel of Death

The primary purpose of the horror film is to present a deformed and destructive being (DDB), or monster. But not every movie with a DDB is a horror film. If the film's primary purpose is something other than presenting the DDB, then it is not a horror film. Even so, it can include a memorably horrific sequence in which a DDB is presented. An example is the Biblical epic The Ten Commandments (1956).

The primary purpose of The Ten Commandments is to tell the religious story of Moses, not to present a DDB. Nevertheless, at least one sequence in this film is straight out of a horror movie. Moses has been demanding that Pharaoh let the Hebrew slaves go, and Pharaoh has been refusing. So God, through Moses, sends ten plagues against Egypt to persuade Pharaoh. The one that most strikes fear into the Egyptians is the one that works best as a miniature horror movie: the death of all the first-born children of Egypt.

The perpetrator of this plague is the Angel of Death, a luminous green mist that creeps and branches across the night sky as if it were a web being spun. Little by little it descends, and when it reaches the earth, it rolls with a sickly cast along the ground, leaving unharmed those who are not first-born but killing the first-born, whether they are adults or children. It also leaves the Hebrews unharmed; they are preserved by staying indoors and marking their doorways with lamb's blood, according to the instructions of Moses.

The sequence cuts back and forth between the Hebrews inside--who are terrified by the screams of the dying outside, even as the Hebrews partake of their first Passover--and the Egyptians dying in the streets. Not many deaths are shown, and there is no gore, but a couple of deaths are highlighted for emphasis: that of a soldier who is the first-born of the commander of the host, and Pharaoh's own little boy.

The metaphysics of the Angel of Death are not spelled out, but presumably, if this is his job, he is present whenever anybody dies. In that case, what is deformed about his appearance in this film is that he is not felling people at the usual rate or with the usual rationale; instead, by God's order, he is selecting, all in one night, the first-born of an entire nation, as a punishment and a means of persuasion. The persuasion works, and a defeated Pharaoh allows the Hebrews to leave Egypt. So the Angel of Death is not only a deformed and destructive being--a DDB--but a powerful one.

Cecil B. DeMille made many movies besides The Ten Commandments, but as far as I know he never tried his hand at a horror film. Judging by the effectiveness of the Angel of Death sequence, he might have done a good job of it.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sharks Meet Torture Porn

Unfortunately, I missed Shark Night when it was in theaters in 3D. I had to settle for the 2D DVD version. Even this was pretty good.

Much of the purpose of a film like Shark Night is to ogle bodies, and the bodies here are nicely formed. There are the bikini-clad babes, the buff young men, and, of course, the sharks, fierce CGI-and-animatronic creations with stiff fins and ugly teeth. A particularly nice body is that of the lead, Sara Paxton, who plays a college girl named Sara. Shark Night is the type of movie in which, during the day, Sara wears a bikini and then at night, to cover up, she puts on an unbuttoned sweater and continues to wear the bikini.

Also of interest is the way the film mixes subgenres to create a brew that is, if not original, at least up to date. The film is a mix of slasher film, torture porn, southern Gothic, and berserk biota. Like the Friday the 13th-type slasher films, a group of friends (this time from college) go off for a pleasant lakeside getaway, with the intention of having lots of sex. Instead they get slashed, this time by the hungry sharks that inhabit the lake. Like Hostel-type torture porn, the group of friends is tormented by a cabal of sadistic bad guys who have planted the sharks in the lake to make snuff films to distribute on the Internet. Like Deliverance-type southern Gothic, the bad guys are backwoods southerners (this time in the Louisiana bayous). Like Jaws-type berserk biota, the chief agents of destruction are animals preying on people, sharks.

There are many mysteries to Shark Night. How exactly did the bad guys, who do not seem like the brightest bulbs in the bayous, manage to collect all these sharks and populate the lake with them? Did anyone ever settle the issue of how saltwater sharks manage to live in a freshwater lake (the question is discussed feverishly in the film, then abandoned to provide more time for escaping from sharks)? How did Tulane University get convinced to allow Shark Night to use its logo? Was it a good career move for Katharine McPhee to strip to her underwear in the film? It must have been, because she now has her own TV series, Smash.

Shark Night is reminiscent of another recent film, the 2010 remake of Piranha, but I enjoyed it more because it did more with less. It is no Jaws--it is not even Deep Blue Sea--but it is entertaining.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Keep Watching the Skies

Before there was The Thing (2011) with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, before there was The Thing (1982) with Kurt Russell, there was The Thing from Another World (1951), a horror movie that deserves to be remembered.

It didn't have the flamboyant shape-shifting special effects or the greater fidelity to the source material (a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr.) found in the 1982 The Thing, directed by John Carpenter. What it did have was Howard Hawks, the great studio-era director whose Winchester Pictures produced The Thing from Another World. Credited as producer, Hawks did not officially direct The Thing from Another World--that credit goes to Christian Nyby. But it has long been thought that he might have directed it for Nyby, and at the least his influence is all over it. It has rapid-fire dialogue in which characters interrupt one another; a focus on men in action; a feisty love interest who talks back to her man; and a curiosity and skepticism about scientists--all hallmarks of Hawks. Above all, it has the tension and style of the master cinematic story-teller.

The Thing from Another World is about an alien buried in Arctic ice who is dug up and accidentally restored to life. A plant-based life form who looks something like Karloff's Frankenstein monster (heavy brow, flat head, big physique)--although he is never seen clearly in the film--the Thing goes ravaging through an army base, seeking the blood on which it lives. Guns won't kill it, and a debate goes on between the soldiers and the chief scientist about whether it should be killed at all or reasoned with. This being a horror movie, reasoning with the creature does not win the day.

There are no stars in the cast, unless you count James Arness as the Thing. Then unknown, he went on to star for two decades as Matt Dillon in TV's Gunsmoke. Other than that, the players were competent character actors who did a good job making the outlandish story believable. With the ending came one of the most memorable lines in horror and science fiction history, a warning called in by a reporter to the outside world: "Keep watching the skies!"

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sexual Parasites

Horror movies have mixed attitudes toward sex. The slasher subgenre is always showing teenagers having sex, then slaughtering those teenagers, leading the slasher movie Scream to articulate the horror movie rule, "You can never have sex." Whereas such movies suggest that the slasher disapproves of sex, other horror movie monsters seem to like sex--or at least iconic images of sex. Dracula is always biting women on the neck and sucking their blood, in a kind of metaphor for sex. However, my vote for the most peculiar horror movie take on sex is They Came from Within (aka Shivers, 1975), an early work by Canadian director David Cronenberg. What makes it so strange is that its deformed destructive being (DDB) is a parasite that causes people to want to have sex.

They Came from Within takes place at a high-rise apartment complex near Montreal. A mad scientist who believes humans have become too cerebral, out of touch with their bodies, devises a parasite that will make people crave sex. The wormlike parasite lives in people's bodies and spreads from person to person by kissing, blood, grates, drains, and other vectors. The parasites infest the building and soon people are running around sexually attacking each other, spreading more parasites, and generally creating chaos. A doctor who works in a clinic at the building tries to stop the madness, but is ultimately sucked in by it. A closing newscast suggests that the infected sex zombies are spreading out to the larger area of Montreal.

The movie occupies an interesting place in movie history. The shuffling mindlessness of the sex zombies owes a debt to Night of the Living Dead, but otherwise the film is starkly original, particularly in its portrayal of the parasites. The wriggling creatures, who can burst from chests and leap onto faces, are a probable inspiration for the alien in Alien.

What is most interesting about They Came from Within is its attitude toward sex. The premise seems bizarre: a mad scientist thinks people don't have enough desire for sex? Has he ever been in high school? Or college? People seem to have plenty of desire for sex. Yet in this movie, one can almost see what he means. The doctor, for example, has an attractive nurse girlfriend who strips in front of him without arousing any interest. Only when the sex-zombified girlfriend attacks him, and presumably infects him, does he have a chance of recovering his own libido. The movie appears to be siding with the mad scientist--regarding modern humans as undersexed, and requiring that they take a dose, however disgusting and horrible it may seem, of old-fashioned carnality.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Horror vs. Action

Lately I've been writing about action films, and it occurs to me there is much overlap between that genre and horror. Both are centrally concerned with the struggle between more or less normal characters and some kind of destructive nemesis. Both usually involve violence and fear.

The main difference is in the primary purpose of each genre--what it is principally trying to do. The horror film's primary purpose is the presentation of a deformed destructive being (DDB), ie, the monster. The action film's primary purpose is the presentation of a physical fight between a hero and a villain. The horror film mainly wants to show you the monster; the action film wants to show you a fight. This difference is marked between two closely connected films, Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986).

Alien is the story of a grotesque extraterrestrial that gets aboard a spaceship and starts killing the crew one by one. Though the DDB is rarely shown in full detail, the focus of the movie is this monster, and the prevailing feeling is one of fear. Attempts to fight the alien with makeshift weapons are mostly ineffectual. At the end, the final girl, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), barely manages to defeat the alien by having it sucked into space. Alien is clearly a horror movie: it is all about the DDB.

Aliens, the first and best sequel to Alien, is also about the species of extraterrestrials that caused such havoc in the first film. Weaver returns as Ripley to contront the creatures again. But this time she is accompanied by a squad of space marines wielding heavy weaponry. In a series of dynamite action scenes on a desolate planet, she and the marines wage battle against hordes of aliens, only to find themselves outfought. The few survivors devise a plan to leave. With minutes ticking before the area is about to undergo nuclear explosion, Ripley has to stay and fight more aliens in single combat--including the dreaded alien queen--to protect a little girl, Newt. Ripley and Newt escape on their spaceship, only for Ripley to have to face the alien queen again. Ripley does so in a mechanical loader that resembles yellow battle armor. After exchanging punches, Ripley again forces the alien to be sucked into space.

The difference is tremendous. Aliens is not a horror movie at all--it is an action movie. The point is not primarily to show the DDB but to show the hero (Ripley and her marines) having one physical fight after another with the villain (the alien queen and her aliens). Ripley's heroism is emphasized by giving her a child to protect; the alien queen's villainy is emphasized by having her focus on attacking the child. Alien and Aliens show how closely the horror movie and the action movie are linked--so closely that one can be transformed into another with the addition of a few more weapons and some space marines.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Announcing the New Year's Contest Winner

Jon T has been selected by random drawing to win a free copy of Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films. Congratulations, Jon T! To claim your prize, email me at with your postal mailing address. I will send the book to that address.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the New Year's Contest.

George Ochoa

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Playing with Acromegaly

This will be the last reminder about the contest (see rules) before it ends on Tuesday, January 31. Become a public follower of this blog by then, and you have a chance to win my book, Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films. Welcome to those who have joined this month.

I am always looking for good horror movies I have not already seen, and I found one this week: a little known PRC quickie from 1944 called The Monster Maker. It stars veteran character actor J. Carrol Naish, who is best known to horror fans as mad scientist Boris Karloff's hunchbacked assistant in House of Frankenstein, released the same year. Here Naish is himself a mad scientist, Dr. Igor Markoff (good name). He is playing around with an actual disease, acromegaly, a glandular disorder that causes distortion of the face and hands, and that afflicted real-life B-movie player Rondo Hatton, who used it to look menacing on film. Markoff has a more sinister use for the disease.

It seems that Markoff has fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of a famous concert pianist, Anthony Lawrence (Ralph Morgan). To make things more twisted, Markoff desires the daughter because she reminds him of his dead wife, whom he drove to suicide by injecting her with acromegaly in a jealous rage (he made her hideous so no other man would look at her). Markoff injects Lawrence with acromegaly, turning him into a hideous monster and ruining his piano career. Markoff promises to cure Lawrence if he will get his daughter to marry the mad scientist--presumably so he can inject her with acromegaly too.

All this and I haven't even gotten to the gorilla. That's right, there's a fierce gorilla locked up in a cage for some reason, and when it gets loose...

The Monster Maker is 62 minutes long, and it moves right along at a nice pace. Naish's performance is typically good, the support is competent, the agromegaly makeup is well done, and though the sets are few, the maximum is made of them. From the point of view of deformed destructive being (DDB) theory, The Monster Maker is interesting because this mad scientist has dedicated his life to generating deformity that results in destructiveness. Markoff is himself a DDB (his mind is deformed and destructive) whose madness is precisely in wanting to make more DDBs (these acromegalics are not only deformed but, it turns out, destructive). Even when he gets a hold of beauty, he wants to turn her into one of his beasts. This is a low-budget film that is both entertaining and philosophically suggestive.

George Ochoa

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Mad Scientist

A staple of the horror movie is the mad scientist, and with good reason. The purpose of the horror film is to present a deformed destructive being (DDB), and the mad scientist, through his demented experiments, produces just that: a monster that is new, unnatural, and terrifying. In so doing, he is almost an avatar of the filmmaker, doing within the movie what the filmmaker tries to do through the movie.

The granddaddy of mad scientists is Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein in Frankenstein. With his intense, neurotic look, his tendency toward screeching, his desire to play God, he set the pattern for mad scientists throughout horror film history. The DDB he created from dead flesh, the Frankenstein monster, was the pattern for later experimental monstrosities.

An ethical rule of horror films that Frankenstein violated is the rule prohibiting tampering with nature, often set in a religious context (God is the ruler of nature; therefore, altering nature is forbidden). This rule continued to be violated in future films. In The Invisible Man, the title character confesses on his deathbed, "I meddled in things that man must leave alone." Invisibility might not seem like such a sacrilegious thing to aim for, but in the horror film any monkeying around with nature can be disastrous.

The mad scientist is always trying some new alteration of nature: teleportation in The Fly; turning animals into people in The Island of Lost Souls; reviving the dead in Re-Animator; separating out the good and evil components of man in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; creating a twelve-limbed humanoid in The Human Centipede; reconstructing alien DNA in Species. The plan is always to create something that can be controlled, but the experiment always turns on the creator; the DDB breaks its bounds. This is true whether the DDB is, respectively, a fly-human hybrid, animal-men, crazed zombies, Mr. Hyde, the human centipede, or a deadly Natasha Henstridge.

The mad scientist is sometimes remorseful for what he has done, but sometimes he doesn't care. Peter Cushing's Frankenstein in the Hammer Frankenstein series never seemed repentant for his monstrosities. In any case, we can expect more mad scientists in horror movies, because they are so successful in creating DDBs.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

P.S. Don't forget to enter the contest.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"The 4th Floor"

Reminder: You have until January 31, 2012, to enter the drawing to win a free copy of my book, Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films, just by following this blog publicly. See this post for  details.

I had a chance recently to see a movie I'd never heard of, The 4th Floor (1999), starring Juliette Lewis and William Hurt. I was glad I did, not because the movie was good but because it was weird. Here was Hurt, the Oscar-winning star of Kiss of the Spider Woman, appearing as support in a grade B horror movie. Here was Lewis, whining and getting hysterical in her usual Lewis way--which is to say, a weird way. Here was Tobin Bell doing his creepy potential serial killer thing as if preparing for Saw, which he would make five years later.

The plot of The 4th Floor hinges on an apartment that Lewis inherits and doesn't want to give up, even though a mysterious downstairs neighbor (on the fourth floor) is sending her menacing notes about making too much noise. The dispute escalates, and soon the neighbor is sending her maggots and mice, and otherwise making her life unpleasant. Lewis has never seen this neighbor, and the movie is built like an old-fashioned mystery, where you have several suspects to choose from, including Bell, who lives across the street and peeps in at Lewis, and Hurt, a TV weatherman who is Lewis's boyfriend. Neighbors Shelley Duvall and Austin Pendleton are possibilities too.

It doesn't really matter who the maniac is, and in fact the movie is a little muddy about it, finally implicating at least two individuals. The point seems to be to build tension and generate scares, and here the movie falls short. The pace is leaden and the plot twists unbelievable. In one episode, Lewis is facing off against her adversary, and decides to deck the person with an artsy plaque she has mounted on her wall. So she starts pounding her feet into broken glass in an effort to make the plaque fall. And it falls. Now, I have had objects around the house that tend to fall at inopportune times, and the whole point is that you can't control when they fall--they just do, sometimes. Lewis seems to be violating the law of entropy by controlling disorder in an orderly way.

Despite these problems, The 4th Floor was kind of entertaining. It was offbeat and mildly wacky. And it had the worst fake commercial for a TV weatherman I have ever seen.

George Ochoa

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Collecting Movie Stills

Reminder: You have until January 31, 2012, to enter the drawing to win a free copy of my book, Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films, just by following this blog publicly. See this post for  details.

One reason you might like this book is because it contains forty-seven movie stills (like the one from The Others, above) hand-picked by me and handsomely reproduced in black-and-white by the publisher, McFarland. Putting together these pictures was a labor of love that reminded me of my earliest encounters with movie still collecting, back in the 1970s. In those days, when I was a high school student in Queens, my friends and I would take the subway to Manhattan to attend fan conventions, like the Star Trek Con, Creation, and the Nostalgia Con. We would spend hours rifling through boxes of movie stills, lobby cards, and posters, mostly from horror, science fiction, and fantasy films. We bought as much as a teenager could afford and took it all home.

At one point my room was decorated with posters from The Exorcist, The Omen, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange. Some lobby cards went on the walls too. But the stills stayed in a file drawer, in clear plastic protectors in a green binder, and whenever I took them out I handled them carefully. These were pieces of movies to be treated with respect, glossy fragments that epitomized films I loved--Rosemary's Baby, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Planet of the Apes.

A few years later, I outgrew the whole movie fan thing and gave away much of my collection. No more posters, no more lobby cards. Don't ask me what I was thinking; I guess I wanted a simpler life. I did keep the green binder of stills, but I didn't know why. I never looked at them.

Later, I became a born-again movie fan. I guess I was ready for a more complex life. I got so interested in horror films I wrote this book about them, Deformed and Destructive Beings, and now I knew why I had kept the green binder. It was to provide art for the book. I picked out a few of the best stills, and there they are now--including, though it is not a horror film, a great shot of Sinbad's fight with the skeleton in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

I needed a lot more stills, so I went on eBay and trolled the movie merchandise markets there. I also stopped off at Jerry Ohlinger's physical store in Manhattan, which I hadn't visited since I was much younger. Among my finds was that shot of Nicole Kidman looking beautiful and ethereal with her two children from The Others, an image of the monster in The Fly II attacking a victim (terrible movie, nice shot), and a picture of Ash being strangled by his own dismembered hand in Evil Dead II.

It's all in the book. And it's nice to be back among the movie fans.

George Ochoa