Mister B. Gone

Mister B. Gone
Mister B. Gone

by Clive Barker

Mister B. Gone purports to be a 600 year old manuscript imprisoning the eponymous minor demon forever.  Periodically throughout the book, the demon begs you to burn the novel, freeing him from the endless cold torment of his dungeon.  When you refuse, he tries to pursuade you by telling the story of his life in all its villainy and horror.  It’s not a bad read, but not really that great, either.  Some more comments below, though I must warn you there are spoilers ahead.

  • In many ways, it’s a bildungsroman about a young demon making his way in the world.  It’s gruesome and detailed and, before you know it, the story ends.  I’m not sure what it is about the shape of the story, but it feels like it never gives the main demon time to get rolling before we reach the conclusion.
  • It’s also a story about storytelling.  As I wrote above, Jabotok (that’s the demon’s formal name) exhorts, pleads, threatens, and chides you to burn the book at every turn.  While it gets a little tiresome at times, it also wears on you a little bit.  One of his threats has to do with the idea that reading to the end of the book will release him from its pages and, cynic and modern person though you are, you can’t help but ponder for a moment what an utter horror it would be if it were true.  Of course, working in the novel’s disfavor, in that regard, is its publication.  A one-of-a-kind manuscript would be much more convincing in this way.  But it continually reflects on the idea that you won’t stop reading, and calls you both stupid and cruel for continuing.
  • The end of the book turns, too, on the immense value of the printing press for humankind, and the dark Secret, that Heaven and Hell are in a detante, and that they’ve divided up the world in order to maintain the balance between them.  Grim, but also an amusing and cynical idea.
  • Where Barker succeeds the best are, as usual, the passages of extreme horror blended seamlessly into the story.  As a demon, the title character engages in a number of appalling acts that are communicated in nauseating detail and yet don’t make you completely dislike him.  It’s the power of the first person narrator, to bend the reader to sympathy even as we revile the acts s/he engages in.
  • Finally, and this is a little thing, the title really bugs me.  The main character’s name is Jakabok Botch, but he goes by Mister B among friends.  The title doesn’t really make a lot of sense and feels, to me, like a cute pun.

Overall, not a bad book, but not Barker’s best either.  I enjoyed both The Great and Secret Show and Arabat more.

Lifeforce

Lifeforce
Lifeforce

Meh.  You’d think a movie involving space vampires, a naked lady, and zombies (er, space zombies?) would be great.  You’d be wrong.  This movie isn’t terrible, but there are lots of other movies that do what it does better.  Here are some comparisons (I freely admit that comparing a movie to others that came later isn’t really fair, but I don’t care):

  • Trope: The astronauts find a creepy spaceship that seems mysteriously organic.  Inside are creepy aliens.
    They did it better in… Alien. The creepy alien isn’t creepy when it’s a naked lady (see below).  Also, it’s lame that this is the same screenwriter as Alien.  Dan O’Bannon, what were you thinking?
  • Trope: Naked alien lady seduces men and kills them to accomplish her alien deeds.
    They did it better in…Species. The mid-nineties sex/splatter fest was clearly inspired by this film.  One interpretation of LifeForce is that it plays on the vagina dentata, positing a terrifying sexual figure who devours men.  Species took this idea and made it much more interesting.
  • Trope: London is destroyed by zombies as people try to figure out how to stop the plague.
    They did it better in…Every zombie movie.  The problem with the zombies in this film is that they never got enough play to become frightening or even interesting.  They were a prop to move the plot forward.  I wonder if the zombies were just a bleed-over from Dan O’Bannon’s other 1985 project, Return of the Living Dead.
  • Trope: Something strange happens out in space and we shouldn’t have brought it back. (The film begins with a visit to Halley’s comet where they find the mysterious ship.)
    They did it better in…Event Horizon, which I actually liked much better than most people did.
  • Trope: We find impossibly old aliens and it turns out they may have been here before.
    They did it better in…2001: A Space Odyssey. ‘Nuff said.

For each notable person involved in the film, there’s something better to watch.  Patrick Stewart? X-Men or the first TNG movie.  Dan O’Bannon? Return of the Living Dead or Alien. Tobe Hooper directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Poltergeist.  Cinematographer Alan Hume shot A Fish Called Wanda.  Composer Henry Mancini wrote The Pink Panther and Peter Gunn.  Editor John Grover cut a couple Bond films and Labyrinth.  This seems to be one of those movies with lots of skilled people that just didn’t go anywhere.

I just hope Mathilda May got some extra green for each scene she had to do topless or naked, if for no better reason than as a kickback for keeping the costume budget low.

An object lesson in keeping your feet on the floor of your car

Death Proof
Death Proof

I saw Planet Terror a while ago (zombie movie, natch), but only just got around to seeing Tarentino’s half of Grindhouse: Death Proof.  I think Peter Travers’ review nails much of what I like about the film.  While it does play on all the traits you would expect (indeed, DEMAND) from a car-based exploitation flick, it also eludes and overshoots them.  The plot structure seemed, to me, to mirror I Spit on Your Grave, turning the “victim” of the attack (the second attack in this film) into the aggressor.  And Russel’s performance turned at times on a dime, hovering between scuzzy and menacing for a while, dropping into horrible, and then shifting into pathetic.  A few more thoughts:

While I thought the film’s cultural references were amusing and interesting, there’s something about the Tarentino-isms that didn’t work for me as much in this film.  The conversation around the restaurant table felt like a stale style.  To be fair, QT mainstreamed that style, but with a decade’s worth of screenwriters imitating and stretching it, there needed to be something new.  I also appreciated the feel of the film (the simulacra of wear in the footage worked the best), but not having the nostalgia for the grindhouse movies themselves, something was lost on me, I’m sure.

Tarentino’s films usually have a lesson.  In Pulp Fiction, we learned to take our gun with us when we go to the bathroom.  In Reservoir Dogs, I think it was something about ears.  Death Proof shows us, in the most stark terms possible, that we should not ride with our legs or feet out the window. Really.

Update: I almost forgot!  During one of the car crashes, you can clearly hear Stuntman Mike yelp the The Wilhelm Scream.

Dead People

Aka Messiah of Evil

I got this movie as part of a $10 9-movie pack called “The Living Dead.” While the movies themselves aren’t amazing, the DVD transfers are actually pretty good. Messiah of Evil tells an H.P. Lovecraft kind of story: much like “Dagon,” a young woman goes to see her father in a local seaside town, only to find that her father is missing and the townspeople are acting, well, weird. She meets a cool dude and his two girlfriends, and hooks up with him because, well, who knows? It turns out there are zombies everywhere — mostly squares — who have a neato, Carnival of the Souls look and feel to them.

Someone in the Amazon reviews mentioned that this movie is shot — and feels — like a nightmare. I agree. The effect of the film is disorienting and there are strange narratives leaps, such as when crowds of zombies appear from nowhere, that seem more akin to a dream than a linear narrative.

The film has two or three really cool zombie attack scenes. My favorite is the one embedded here. The woman in the scene has just run away from Thom and his second girlfriend, because she’s irritated that he’s hitting on a third girl. She sees one person walking and pursues her, hoping to find some help. Instead, she finds something else entirely. Mwa ha ha!

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82PBRerytEI]

Some more images and thoughts below:

Thom and Toni
The main guy is Thom, this paragon of 1970s style, with the awesomely huge tie and three piece suits. He has two girlfriends and, barring the zombies, would have picked up Arletty as well.

Red stairwayBloody hand
The movie abounds in nifty atmospheric shots that give it a nightmarish quality. Arletty’s father’s studio is particularly creepy, with figures of zombie-like men on the walls and strange lines creating angles of perspective that run to infinity.

A creepy hallway
The film uses a classic asylum wraparound from which Arletty tells her story. The only shot of the asylum, alas, is this strange backlit hallway. It’s kinda creepy, but mostly just confusing.

Zombies hands on a skylight
You know you’re in trouble when you’ve got zombies on your ceiling.

Watching movies with zombiesUh oh
The two creepiest sequences are when Thom’s girlfriends get eaten. One stumbles upon a crowd of zombies in the meat department of a Ralph’s grocery. The other dies in a movie theatre. During both death sequences, the shots cut back and forth between murders and the environment. A simple reading of the conservatively dressed zombies and the two locations (grocery and cinema) imply the culture clash of the late 60s, perhaps.

Creepy old man
Finally, those of you who enjoy Elisha Cook Jr, of The Maltese Falcon and other films, will be glad to see him as the crazy old man who tells the first half of the mythology of the movie.

But the best part about the movie, especially for you, dear reader, is that it is in the public domain. Go download it yourself from The Internet Archive: Dead People (1973)

The Shrieker

poster for the shriekerAndrew gave me a box of movies from a closeout sale at a video store, and I’ve finally found a spot in my schedule to crack them open. This is the first of what will likely be many wonderful reviews of films unequaled in, well, something.

While Shrieker certainly won’t win any awards, it’s entertainingly bad. The setup is smooth, establishing categories for the characters in much the same way Cube did. The categories make for easy character dynamics, but they all lose their cool when a pig-squealing two-face shows up.

The mix of characters and a couple twists worked well for me, and the monster was fine for a low-end horror movie. I was a bit curious about why a creepy beast with two faces (and thus two mouths) would leave scratches all over its victims, but let’s call that “artistic license.”

Most notable about this film is that it comes from Full Moon films, creators of the execrable The Dead Hate the Living. I consider the fact that this film wasn’t terrible a near miss. That was a close one, Andrew. I’m putting you on notice.

My live-blogging silliness below the fold.

Continue reading The Shrieker

Slither

Slither poster

I don’t know anything about this movie. I remember seeing a trailer for it and thinking it looked good. I also remember a student or friend who told me it was a kind of a zombie movie. Sitting here to wait the novocaine off, I’m gonna watch it and liveblog.

Continue reading Slither