Saturday, October 31, 2009

still Halloween, barely.

Your Proprietor realizes that it's a bit remiss of an ostensibly horror-slanted blog to almost go post-free on Halloween. I beg your indulgence, and promise that there's more to come in November, some of it on topic, some of it way off. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the vibe of the evening (the House doesn't really have a view, per se), and wishing you all the spookiest that the holiday has to offer.

To Collinsport with me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Last Douchebag on Earth

Your proprietor had been looking forward to tonight's screening at the Clay Theatre - two films starring Vincent Price: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA. The latter film in particular was a bit of a prize, since the last time we'd seen that name on a San Francisco marquee the film print had been lost in transit, by a shipping company I decline to name.

So I was pleased to see local impresario and curator August Ragone get another shot at screening it. I wasn't looking forward to THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, which had been aired on late night television numerous times and hadn't captured my interest, but whatever.

TLMOE remains a low-budget oddity, marked by low production values and very uneven acting, but seen theatrically, in its proper Cinemascope ratio, it does become more than I had expected, with some fine moments of Price at his most despairing and two or three genuine chills as Price, the final survivor of a plague that has turned the human race into feral vampires, struggles to preserve a life he's no longer sure is worth living.

The film wasn't the problem. The audience, comprised mainly of hipsters or others who should Just Fucking Know Better, were the problem: snorting audibly at the admittedly hackneyed dialogue, not turning their cell phones off in advance of the movie, coming in mid-movie and kicking the seats in front of them. I switched my seat several times during the film, each time confronted by a different latecomer who sat near me, unengaged, giggling at (not with, crucially, but at) the film.

Those who know the film may note a weird commonality between the struggles of Price and the proprietor, being a lone man struggling to avoid aberrant behavior until he's no longer sure what he's fighting for or why. When at the film's end (SPOILERS, obviously) Price is finally killed by a society of half-human survivors, the message is rendered clearly and painfully: Price is the monster, having annihilated several members of this new race who are only trying to survive.

Thus chided by the film I was trying so earnestly to give a chance, I left the theatre as soon as it had finished. Not sure if I'll ever get another shot at LIGEIA projected, but I live in hope. I have returned to the House of Sparrows to enjoy a brownie and a glass of milk, and watch tonight's EASTWICK in lieu of this elusive film.

That said: If you've snorted at a movie through its running time, you don't get to pat yourself on the back by applauding at the end.

Let that be the epitaph of your proprietor, The Last Douchebag On Earth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the fourth post

An inauspicious number, some say. Mindful of superstition your proprietor is, so why not confront the spell by jamming it?

Here's Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On short 444-444-4444.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Your proprietor took up the assignment* to watch and discuss SLAUGHTER HIGH with a certain bemusement; my own high school reunion is happening this coming weekend, and so the timing was somewhat amusing. What warnings would the film have for my own real-life situation? What could I learn from SLAUGHTER HIGH that I could apply to my return to my own high school environs, and the people therein?

The answer to both questions is: Nothing at all.

The film begins with the humiliation of a clueless teenage nerd named Marty. Lured into a locker room by the promise of a cherry-busting encounter with cool-girl Carol, Marty is instead captured on film being given a swirlie by, presumably, all of the school’s in-crowd (half of whom were filling film crew positions, a technical detail that your reporter appreciated). Marty tries to collect himself by doing some extra-curricular work in the school’s chemistry lab; he’s subjected to yet another prank that disfigures him.

Five years later the kids are invited to a reunion back at the old school, which they find in disrepair and slated for demolition. They find themselves trapped within, and stalked by a murderous madman wearing a letter jacket and a jester’s mask. Is their stalker a grudge-driven Marty, or something worse?

SLAUGHTER HIGH’s a compelling mess, initially drawing its characters VERY broadly, pursing comedy without wit and horror without suspense. The casting of Caroline Munro as Carol doesn’t help: veteran that she is and as fine as she looks, she’s clearly NOT the late-teens, early-20s the role calls for, and led your proprietor to initially wonder if Marty was being seduced by a school faculty member (most of the cast, like Munro, are British, and some of the American accents are...inconsistent). Post-high school we find that Carol’s an in-demand actress, negotiating a role with a sleazy producer. We know he’s sleazy because he has a PIECES one-sheet on his office wall. You remember:

Nice little in-joke there, as PIECES producer/co-writer Dick Randall was a producer on this film as well. The game-for-anything-but-thinking-nothing-through joie de vivre that made PIECES so winning eventually manifests in SLAUGHTER HIGH. As stupid as the first half often is, it does wear down one’s resistance – there’s a childish gag at about the film’s midpoint involving a funnel, and if you laugh at it (I did), you’re set for the film’s second half.

There’s a remarkable tonal shift that happens here: as Marty’s classmates get picked off, the film becomes more serious (even Harry Manfredini’s score, which had been a VERY 80s cheap synth pastiche, becomes more shaded and interesting here). Slasher fans will be pleased by the creative and varied kills used to dispatch the various characters. By the time we get to Carol’s inevitable one-on-one showdown with the killer the film’s built genuine suspense. And it doesn’t resolve as predictably as one might have expected.

Your humble scribe’s not one to enjoy movies ironically; I’m not a fan of the so-bad-it’s-good! kind of thinking. So I’m pleasingly perplexed by a film like SLAUGHTER HIGH. It’s not the work of competent auteurs, and the points it scores all feel like accidents. And yet in spite of itself it DOES score points: it’s less predictable than a more polished movie would have been, and the thing’s never boring.

I watched the film in the Lost Collection edition from Lionsgate, which offers an unrated, extended cut (yay!) in 5.1 digital audio (yay!) and in fullscreen ratio (boo!), the absurdity of which is totally in keeping with the movie. As is the optional Trivia Track, which picks the damnedest times to ask the viewer trivia questions or offer factoids about the various methods of murder deployed onscreen.

Though I’m not basking in the glow of a brilliant new discovery, I am pleased to have experienced SLAUGHTER HIGH in the run-up both to my own high school reunion and to Halloween. I can’t imagine any of my own classmates will stalk us wearing a jester’s mask; should this actually prove to be the case, I’ll be sure to write about it here. Assuming I survive, of course.

* = This review written for Final Girl’s October Film Club, run, as always, by the brilliant and beautiful Stacie Ponder.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A dispatch from the East Coast

Some people get emailed photos of cats and children. This is the kind of picture that comes to the House of Sparrows.

The sender is the gentleman on the left in this picture, New York's Bryan Enk. Enk's an old friend and occasional collaborator of your proprietor. Halloween sees the latest and (Enk threatens) final installment of his Sinister Six film series, SINISTER SIX MUST BE DESTROYED! (exclamation point mine) - if you're in lower Manhattan on October 31 or November 1, the House recommends the screening, which features twelve short horror films by some fine filmmaking talent.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I bid you welcome....

Even your host isn't sure where this doorway leads.

Good Evening. My name is David Robson, and this is the House of Sparrows.

Though I blog elsewhere on other things (both professionally and personally), I'm opening the House here to give my thoughts on horror and fantasy film their own venue. This said, other topics will no doubt be covered, from live events in San Francsico to the kickass episode of Dark Shadows I just watched.

I'm still building the House and discovering/developing its voice, but I hope you'll feel comfortable enough to join me in the House's various rooms, and share your thoughts and comments with me.

In the meantime, I got a grimoire that tells me that today's a lucky day for spellcasting (and that Fridays are ideal for spells relating to arts, entertainment, and love). The House of Sparrows is open. Welcome.