It’s Wise to Walk Away From The Computer Sometimes.

As many of us socialize and interact with each other increasingly online, and less in person, I feel that the way we disagree with one another has taken a turn for the worse.

I spend a significant amount of time on online forums and social networking sites like Facebook, and it’s hard to escape the impression that people are either becoming bigger assholes as time goes by, or are arguing increasingly over differences of opinion. Respectful debate seems to be much rarer than in the past, and I’m always shocked and dismayed at just how quickly a lot of people will take the low road, or allow themselves to become the online equivalent of a screaming psycho just because someone has dared to challenge their opinion about something.

Almost daily I see people go for each other’s throats on sites like Facebook, over politics or disagreements on social issues more often than not.  Many of these scuffles seem to be between intelligent, if emotionally immature people. 

I find myself disliking these folks even when I share their basic values, or agree with their opinions. 

Sometimes, they are an example of “the smartest kids in the room” – a person who is intelligent, but also arrogant, and in love with their own viewpoint. They have little to no room in their life for any opinion that runs counter to their own. You’ll see these folks on both sides of the political spectrum, often at the farthest extremes. They’ve figured it all out, and will gladly tell you how the world should be. Any opinion slightly divergent from theirs is a sign that the person with that opinion is not enlightened or is some sort of nutty Libtard or a throwback Conservanazi.

When these folks are challenged, rather than relying on the evidence to make their case, they will instead castigate the person that they’re arguing with, throwing out insults or using terminology meant to rob their foil of value.  It’s a cheap way to reduce that person’s credibility. A person that feels their point of view is the better one should be prepared to defend it in a rational non-emotional manner. It is a strategy of the weak to just try to shame or shout down another person, unless that person is obviously a racist or something equally horrible.

Yet people throw around terms like “racist” too readily and easily in these arguments. That is an effective way of devaluing an opposing viewpoint, but unless the person you’re speaking to really IS a racist, then it’s a cheap shot.

That’s the thing. Trying to pigeonhole an opponent as being a member of some very broad and disparaged group is a shitty attempt to depersonalize them, and that’s the case whether they are liberal, conservative, or a member by default of some broad group. “Gun Owners” or “Pot Smokers.” Whatever.

Just because a person has a loose affiliation with some huge population of people, it’s rarely accurate to assume that they feel like the rest of that group. “You just feel that way because you’re a Conservanazi gun licker!” Or “Well, you’re a libtard, of course you believe that.” They’re fairly sad attempts to win an argument, and at best, simplify very complicated human behavioral patterns.

So why do otherwise nice and intelligent people fall into these unpleasant interaction patterns?

Because it feels good. Being self righteous about anything feels great, and appeals to the selfish, ego-driven desire to always be “right,” even when most issues are a lot more complicated than simply being right all of the time.

Most people are insecure on some basic level, and forcefully imposing their opinion, which can come across as bullying, feels good to that ego feed.

Throw into the mix an increasingly polarized nation where entertainment and opinion pieces are portrayed as “News,” and people are just itching to fight. And that’s another issue. Yes, some of these folks are unpleasant types that are confrontational bullies in person. But most aren’t. It’s a unique and sad side effect of interacting with each other on the Internet. The fact that we don’t see each other face to face makes us more willing to be mean to each other. It also robs of us some very primal visual cues that have shaped human interactions since day one. We’re more willing to virtually yell at someone online than most of us would ever do in person. We also are less likely to perceive some stranger online as a real person, and to act as if they are just an enemy that disagrees and should be punished.

It’s sad.

The thing is, even when a person has the evidence to prove to most of us that their view is a better one, or at least deserves serious consideration, it’s difficult or impossible to take them seriously when they pepper that opinion with rude assumptions about others, or start throwing around terminology like “redneck” or “libtard.” At that point, the person acting in that manner might as well be an angry baboon throwing feces.

It’s valuable to realize that we can ALL come across like that pissed off simian, because it’s possible to make a good point or to debate well without losing your temper and appearing like an ill-natured child. It takes self mastery to do that of course, so many just never bother.

Finally, there comes a point where a wise person just walks away – There’s nothing to be gained by freaking out, or by going round after round with someone that resorts to cheap bickering or abusive language. What’s the point in that? The chances are that most online arguments aren’t going to change anyone’s mind. Maintaining a certain calm while outlining one’s position  might get the opponent thinking. But if that’s not possible, there is no shame to just leave the conversation. It’s probably healthier for you, and if your position is a good one, outlined civilly, then it will be read later and evaluated against the person that was acting badly.

It’s pretty obvious when some boor derives pleasure in imposing their opinion upon others, but it only works if a person allows them to do it. Just leaving the conversation often leaves the bully with little to say.Image

Pieces (1982) – Mounds of Body Parts, Naked College Girls, and Testicles Crushed… Fun For the Whole Family?

Pieces (1982)

“Pieces” is one of the seedier slasher films from the heyday of the genre. It’s gained a cult following since its release, but also plenty of critics. Although the movie takes place in Boston, it was directed in Spain by Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon from a story written by Eurosleaze veteran Joe  D’Amato, and it shows. Nothing about this film indicates “Shot in the USA using English speaking actors.”

Low budget slasher film veteran Christopher George has a leading role, and Linda Day plays the main female love interest, but most of the other actors and actresses have a distinctly early 80’s European feel to them. Even the locker rooms and other locations look like the Spanish locations they really were.

The story, like most Slasher films, begins with a prologue – in this case, set in 1942. A young boy is caught putting a puzzle together, and his mom freaks completely out because it’s a photo of a naked woman. While she goes ballistic, the boy brutally murders and dismembers her with an ax. The cops that investigate are fooled into believing that a young boy wouldn’t be capable of such an act, so he isn’t a suspect in the crime.

Fast forward to 1982 and someone is murdering and dismembering coeds at a University in Spain…er…”Boston”.

Without going into the intricacies of the plot, basically the grown up version of the little boy from the film’s prologue is chopping up women to make his own human puzzle. That’s really the plot in a nutshell.

So is “Pieces” a good film? No, of course not. It’s a terrible, trashy, and exploitative film. It even looks ugly and cheap, sort of a soft focused “shot on 16mm” look. The blood is too red, everything else is sort of washed out looking.

But is “Pieces” a fun film? Yes, I think so. It’s really violent, but while the director wasn’t shy about laying on copious amounts of gore, none of the effects are particularly convincing. For some reason Euro horror films from the time period tended to be a little more vicious, and a lot more depraved, than their American equivalents. There’s also a lot of violence against women (usually naked or mostly naked) on display. I gave up making excuses for these films years ago. If seeing a nude woman menaced by a chainsaw-wielding guy, and then chopped in two makes you angry, then definitely steer clear of “Pieces.” There are beheadings, stabbings through the head, body parts sewn together, victims reduced to a pile of parts, or cut clean in two…and more. 

None of it is done very well, but the filmmakers really went for the gold in this respect.

Yet nothing in this film is depicted in a way that I can take seriously. Some of the dialogue is surreal in its awkwardness. At one point, a coed waxes on about how there’s nothing better in the whole world than smoking grass and fucking on a waterbed, and the acting throughout this film is cringeworthy.

It’s also hard to take scenes set in 1942 seriously when they include close-ups of a push button phone being used, and even the naked woman on the 1942-era puzzle looks straight out of 1978.

There’s plenty of gore, none of it realistic, a not insubstantial amount of naked female flesh, a ridiculous plot, but lots of slasher movies from the time period contained those elements. Fortunately for anyone watching “Pieces,” the middle section of the story doesn’t bog down and get boring (something all too common within many films of the genre.)

I will add that while almost all of the violence is directed at women in this movie, there is a ludicrous shock ending that remains one of my favorite of all time. After the big reveal of the killer’s identity, the corpse of a woman made from the sewn together parts of many bodies suddenly springs into action (her arm anyway) and grabs the young hero guy’s crotch, crushing his balls like grapes, with a big squirt of blood spraying out. 

Thee is no reason for this weird zombie-like action in the logic of the film. It’s just there “because.” If nothing else, I figure that this scene displays an equal willingness to show horrible stuff happening to males. Almost as if to say “Yes, we hate women, but we hate Men too!”

So if brutality and bad filmmaking aren’t a deal killer, “Pieces” will definitely entertain a fan of early slashers, if for no other reason because the crude attempts to shock us are unintentionally funny in their execution.

If I gave out stars, I’d give “Pieces” 5 out of 10. It’s really a three star film, but goes at the proceedings with a tasteless gusto that earns it two more.Image

The Hole, Or What Heppens When The Abyss Stares Back.

The Hole (2009)

I stumbled across this film on Netflix. Initially, it looked dumb, and I was going to skip it until I saw that it had been directed by Joe Dante. I’m a fan of Mr. Dante’s work, and hadn’t seen anything new by him in years, so I figured I’d take a chance on “The Hole”

The story begins with the Thompson family moving from Brooklyn to small town Bensenville. This move is one of many, and older brother Dane is not particularly happy about being relocated again. His mother tries to reach out to him, but it’s obvious that this is not a new problem. Younger brother Lucas seems happier, or at least more resigned to the move, and while the brothers clash early on, it’s obvious that they share a close bond.

Two things occur quickly – the brothers meet the cute next-door neighbor girl, Julie, and they discover a super creepy wooden trap door in their basement, which is securely locked with multiple padlocks (always a good sign).

Despite the sinister-looking trap door in an otherwise nice and normal looking home, the Thompson brothers manage to get it open. They discover a seemingly bottomless hole that light doesn’t seem to penetrate. After lowering a video camera on a line, they see…something.  Julie helpfully informs them that an old weirdo nicknamed “Creepy Carl” used to live in the house. They attempt to secure the trap door, but it’s pretty obvious that something or things will soon be crawling out of it to wreak havoc on our young protagonists.

The powers of Darkness, or some reasonable stand-ins, do indeed crawl out to wreak said havoc. In short order both Lucas and Julie encounter scary beasties – Julie meeting a spooky little girl (obviously some sort of ghost) and Lucas being attacked by a sinister jester doll.

We soon discover that these are the manifested fears of both kids come to life. A visit to Creepy Carl is in order. He has taken up residence at an abandoned factory, where he has one room that is lit by hundreds of light bulbs. The guy clearly doesn’t like the dark. Old Carl (played by Joe Dante regular Bruce Dern) immediately loses his shit when the kids tell him about opening his trap door (Bensenville must have very loose house inspection policies, for that to have not been discovered before the home sold). Carl starts screaming about “The Darkness,” and how it’s going to come kill all of them.

The kids beat a quick retreat, and a short time later the Darkness does pay Carl a visit. We don’t see what comes for him or what happens, but we can assume it’s a terminal case of “Bad Shit.” Regardless, it’s the last we ever see of Carl.

The kids piece together a theory that the ancient evil contained within “The Hole”  brings the fears of anyone that stares into it to life. It’s apparently a literal version of staring into the Abyss long enough for it to stare back at you…or something vaguely Nietzschean in nature.

While Lucas and Julie manage to defeat and dispel their living fearbeasts, we are left to wonder when Dane’s will make an appearance. When it does, the reasons for the Thompson family’s multiple moves is revealed, and there is a showdown within the endless nightmare world contained within the Hole.

I’ll leave it at that.

So how is “The Hole” over all? It’s not a perfect film, but I enjoyed it for the most part. Joe Dante is a great director, and he establishes mood and atmosphere very well. The central kid characters are portrayed very well by the actors playing them, and it was refreshing to see a film where the teen and preteen characters seemed like they could be real people – not too movie-star attractive or unnatural in some way. They have believable interactions and relationships with one another. It was also a treat to see Dante regulars like Bruce Dern and Dick Miller (in a cameo as the pizza delivery guy). So there are some good things happening in this film.

On the other hand, the story is pretty simple. I like the concept, and simple can work fine when handled well (consider a movie like “Suspiria” for an example) but none of the scares are particularly scary. There’s a pretty nice set piece involving a swimming pool, and I like the fact that the scene takes place in bright daylight and is still effective, but genuine scares are pretty scarce in this film.

The ending confrontation was OK, but also a bit of a let down. I just expected a bigger “Big Bad” or something. None of the other creeps from The Hole were any better.  The ghost girl had an interesting back story, but just wasn’t very scary, and the evil jester doll…how many times are we expected to be scared of an evil doll? We’ve all seen that handled in a more sinister manner than it is in “The Hole.”  

So it’s a mixed bag. You get realistic and like able main characters, some appearances by cult favorite actors, and a slightly new take on the old “Our worst fears come to life” plot device, so “The Hole” struck me as a fun enough way to spend an hour and a half. If I handed out “stars,” I’d give it 6 out of 10. Add another if you tend to like Joe Dante’s movies. I didn’t pay attention to the rating this had, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was PG13. There’s no really strong or violent content, certainly no nudity, and I didn’t even notice much cursing. I might have just phased out any profanity, as I have a potty mouth, and barely notice that stuff anymore.

If you like well-made films with some creepy content, and aren’t put off by a horror film that’s not really scary or violent, then “The Hole” might be right up your alley.Image

Skintaster’s Guide to Foreign Horror Film. Part 1 – Dario Argento.

I’m a horror fan. As someone that’s sought out films of that genre since I was a kid in the 1970’s, I definitely have strong opinions about what I enjoy and what I don’t. Like many horror fans, I consider the period of time from the late 60’s to the mid 80’s to be a golden age for Horror films, and I have tried to track down as many of them from that time period as I possibly can – always on the lookout for some obscure rarity, or a movie that I had never known about.

This has become much easier over the last few years, as it seems that almost everything has become available one way or another. That was not always the case though. In the years before the Internet, most horror fans like myself were limited to the films that were shown at the local movie theater, or made it onto cable or the shelves of mom and pop video rental stores.

Those early video stores were both a blessing and a curse for horror fans like myself. The video rental industry had created a demand for films on VHS, and there were only so many major American releases out there. Horror films were always popular, and to feed the demand for home viewing, films were released in the US from all over the world. Europe, in particular, was a vast resource for films that got released on VHS in America. 

In the case of films from Great Britain, the transition was usually an easy one. Cultural differences aside, the fact that those films were shot in English meant that they wouldn’t need to be altered to make sense to a typical American. Movies coming from parts of Europe where English wasn’t the native language usually got a dicier treatment before being widely distributed in the US. A lot of the time those films suffered from being badly edited, usually of graphic sex or violence Then they were dubbed, sometimes very clumsily, rendering the version that made it into the US almost unwatchable or incomprehensible. Adding to the confusion was the fact that many of those weird dubbed foreign horror films were marketed in ways that tried to trick us into thinking that the film was made in the US, with the director and actors billed under American-sounding pseudonyms. Only when popping the film into the VCR would it become obvious you were duped – minimalist early synth soundtracks and lots of suspiciously Italian or Spanish looking surnames in the credits were usually a good tell. 

In any case, after being burned a few times – renting what promised to be an entertaining zombie film or something, only to realize that it was a fairly awful Italian low-budget film that had been hacked to pieces, I tended to stay clear of most foreign horror films for many years. There were exceptions of course – I knew Dario Argento was usually a good bet for an interesting film, and knew that Lucio Fulci had made at least a couple of films that while maybe not “great” were at least entertaining, but outside of a handful of foreign directors like those guys, I generally avoided foreign horror for quite some time.

Sadly, I missed out on a lot of good stuff as a result, and have only recently began to explore, and in some cases reacquaint myself with certain films and directors that came from non-English speaking countries. I say “reacquaint” because in quite a few cases, I’d take a chance on some of these films way back in the mom and pop video store days and take it home to discover that I’d rented another low budget, dubbed, and terrible Italian horror film.  So for years, I just generally avoided them, and learned how to tell it was a foreign film before being fooled by Americanized names or an impressively lurid box cover. 

It only took being burned by a handful of Jesus Franco films to avoid films like “Oasis of the Zombies” for decades.

But now? What can I say? Perhaps in the spirit of trying to expand my horizons, or just out of stubbornness and boredom with mainstream horror, I recently began to revisit some of those foreign films and also began to explore deeper into the previously obscure material that’s become more easily available I recent years. This has been very satisfying, because while it’s true that I’ve stumbled across quite a few real turds on this quest, I’ve also discovered a whole world of horror and exploitation films that I never knew existed.

I had discovered the better known films of Dario Argento over 25 years ago. When it comes to Italian horror filmmakers, Argento is definitely one of the most revered, and that is deserved. At his best, the man’s films are among the best horror movies ever made. His 1977 masterpiece “Suspiria” is often cited for it’s influence, and regularly makes it into countdown lists of the best horror movies. It’s easy to see his remarkable visual style influenced other great horror films like John Carpenter’s “Halloween,”
 and for most of the 1970’s and much of the 80’s, Argento made many unforgettably visual and engaging films. His best work has a dreamlike quality, and while the plots are often simple, or don’t always make a lot of sense, he masterfully creates stories that are both full of unease and horror, but are also beautiful to watch. Argento got his start making Giallos, which were a uniquely Italian genre of violent thrillers that often featured brutal set pieces and supernatural themes. The Giallo films were a large movement involving many Italian directors in the 60’s and 70’s, and largely influenced the American slasher films kickstarted by the success of “Halloween.” Any horror fan not familiar with Dario Argento’s work should rectify that as soon as possible, as his films are some of the more easily accessible
Italian horror films, and also hugely entertaining and influential. Some suggestions to get started would include:

Profondo Rosso – one of his finest early films,and one that has all of Argento’s stylistic traits and visual flair, Profondo Rosso, or “Deep Red” as it was known here in the US, combined the Giallo style of thriller with Argento’s attraction to the supernatural, and it’s one of his finest films. It’s finally been released in this country in a fairly complete and unedited form.

Suspiria – considered his masterpiece, and with good reason, Suspiria is the film that put Argento on the map outside of Italy, and is probably his most visually striking film. It is like watching a nightmare unfold, and is among my favorite horror films of all time. The soundtrack by the progressive/experimental rock band Goblin is almost a character itself, and helps set the mood of the film.

Inferno – a sequel to Suspiria, Inferno is like watching a fairy tale on film. Much more visually oriented than sensical, it’s a unique film.

And of course there are many others worth tracking down. Argento’s earlier Giallos are still stylish thrillers, and while different in tone than his later work, they are some of the best the genre has to offer.Image
 
Next up – More on Argento, and other Italian masters of horror.

Grabbin Your Way Into a Girl’s Heart – Lessons Learned From “The Van”.

The Van (1977)

The tale of a creepy recent high school grad that buys a tricked out custom van for the sole purpose of increasing his sexual conquests with the lady’s in his shitty little town… Which looks to be somewhere near the California coast.

Lots of fun in a creeptacular “The 70s were pretty scary” kind of way. The “hero” is completely gross, and really grabby… Apparently it was acceptable foreplay in the late 1970s to hang out at a pizza parlor to trick young women into your van to share a joint, and then to try to fondle them in a manner close to sexual assault, without quite slipping into actual rape territory

There’s also a subplot involving the town bully who also has a custom van, and the protagonist trying to win over the girl he really likes.

This could almost have been a PG movie or a tv film if not for the surprisingly heavy dose of nudity throughout the film. In a funny scene, the sexually aggressive “Fat girl” turns the rapey tables on our hero, and it’s obvious that the concept of “fat” was very different a few decades back… She’s pretty hot, and few people would consider a woman built like her as being “fat” these days.

Danny Devito is also in this relic, and it’s probably one he leaves off of his resume these days.

I enjoyed it by the way… But the 70s were obviously a “different” (Really creepy) time.

You’ll also hear that awful “Chevy Van” song a bunch of times throughout the film.

The whole thing is on YouTube for anyone interested.Image