VOW (7/30/2012): Autopsy – All Tomorrow’s Funerals

Posted in VOWS on July 31, 2012 by Peter S

This week’s music video if none other than “All Tomorrow’s Funerals” by Death metal legends, Autopsy. This track is off of their most recent album “All Tomorrow’s Funerals” which was released earlier this year.

No, this video doesn’t have drama or theatrics. No, it doesn’t have cinematic production quality. No, it doesn’t have a storyline or scenario that plays out. What this video does have is the purity of four scary-looking guys playing Death metal and wandering around an old building.

Sure, I love Black metal: the theatrics, the look, the image. But sometimes, the “image” takes on a life of its own and can get in the way of the music. Autopsy provides a nice contrast to that, and gets back to the core “essence” of the music.

One of the best things about this video is that it looks like it was filmed around 1988. That’s not an insult, it’s the highest compliment! They truly captured that look of that era. Great song, too. One of the best modern examples of the late 1980s-early 1990s Death metal sound. I love it. The link is below. Enjoy!

Autopsy video for “All Tomorrow’s Funerals”

Your friend,

P

Review of “I Saw the Devil”

Posted in Movie reviews on July 31, 2012 by Peter S

Choi Min-sik, Oh San-ha (photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

For years, I have had a love/hate relationship with Asian horror films. Lately, the relationship has gotten much better, but I had to put in a lot of effort to get it to this point. Initially, the trouble started around the time when “Ringu” and “Ju-on” ( and their American equivalents “The Ring” and “The Grudge”) became popular. I liked the visual style, atmosphere, and the serious tone, but I felt that the storyline in both of those films was just “eh”. That’s the only way I could sum it up, by shrugging my shoulders and saying “eh”. They were decent films and well made, but I felt that the stories were commonplace and were not all that impressive – or scary for that matter. I know I am a finicky audience member because I have seen a lot of horror films and I like my horror to be off-of-the-beaten-path, but even so, I didn’t get what all of the fuss over Asian horror was about.

So, I continued along and tried a few Asian films every now and then. I watched the Hong Kong version of “The Eye” and I felt “eh” about that too. I watched “The Host” and I wasn’t totally happy with that either. Not a bad film, but it lacked a solid identity. It tried to be an infection film and a monster movie, but it mainly turned out to be a well-made Sy-Fy Channel/Asylum movie. Although, “The Host” did have an original storyline and didn’t have the prerequisite “-oid”, “dino-“, “mega-“, or “vs” in the title.

Despite my frustration, I pressed on and dug a little deeper. I watched “Reincarnation” (one of the original After Dark Horrorfest films) and I thought it was better that what I had been watching but it still wasn’t spectacular. Shortly after, I watched “3 Extremes” (the first one) and I actually liked it. The film contained three bizarre and interesting stories that were about something other than ghosts enacting revenge by crawling out of TVs, walls, and bathtubs (yes, I know, one tale is about revenge, but it is revenge performed by a human psychopath).

Then came the day when a friend showed me “Battle Royale”. Finally, I was fulfilled by an Asian horror film and I began to realize what all of the fuss was about. My friend actually set me on the right course and told me that I had to dig even deeper. He explained that the popular films coming out of Asia were the ones that had mass appeal for a mass American audience. They weren’t necessarily the best that Asian horror has to offer. He was right. There were some incredible Asian horror films out there and one in particular changed my whole attitude towards the subgenre.

About a year ago, I saw “Oldboy” for the first time. It totally floored me. It was the best Asian horror film that I had seen (it is much more than horror, but that’s the easiest way to put it). It’s epic, disturbing, beautiful, and the story is totally enthralling. I loved it so much that I considered it to the best South Korean horror film That is… until now. Until I watched “I Saw the Devil”. Now, I consider “Oldboy” to be one of the best horror films to come out of South Korea.

Kim In-seo (photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“I Saw the Devil” is a film from South Korean director, Kim Jee-woon. It is about a highly-trained government agent (played by Lee Byung-hun) whose pregnant wife is murdered by a serial killer (played by Choi Min-sik). The agent is devastated and after taking some vacation time, he begins to track down his wife’s killer. The agent finally catches up to the killer, right before he claims another female victim. The agent beats the killer senseless and injures him, but lets the killer live. When the killer comes to, he starts to realize what is going on. The rest of the film is about the hunter becoming the hunted and as this plays out, the nature of revenge is fully explored.

First off, one of the strong points of the film is that it is not too “heady” or preachy in its exploration of revenge. The agent is torn up by his wife’s murder and he wishes to enact revenge on the killer. However, it gets to the point where the agent is almost reluctant to keep going, almost wishing for someone to tell him to stop. There’s a nice scene where he actually breaks down in tears and you get the sense that he’s thinking, “What the hell am I doing? Is this what I wanted? Am I satisfied now?” The film poses many interesting questions like that and it is done in an entertaining way.

As far as the serial killing goes, it is familiar territory but it is very well-done. The killer’s mother and father think that he is strange but don’t know about his hidden life as a killer. He is a cannibal and he is friends with other killers who are cannibals. He kills simply out of lust for the killing and it seems like he can’t stop. However, the really interesting thing about the serial killer is that he doesn’t care about any human and he really has nothing to lose. As the film progresses, this becomes a dilemma for the agent and the following questions are posed: What do you take away from a killer who cares about nothing? How do you inflict pain and loss on this guy?

Those are interesting thoughts and the superb acting helps bring those thoughts to the surface. Lee Byung-hun (as the agent) has a nice discipline and stoicism about him that sets up some powerful emotion moments where he breaks down. He is highly focused on his mission but you can see that it is torturing him on the inside. Choi Min-sik (as the killer) is awesome and he is a thrill to watch. I did say that the serial killer content is familiar, but Min-sik’s acting makes it interesting and fresh. He has the perfect combination of charm, a friendly face, and the bloodlust of predatory animal. Despite some predictability in the overall film, Min-sik has an unpredictable quality where you are not sure what he is going to do in each situation. Plus, you forget all about his character in “Oldboy”. He is that good in this. These two main actors also have a fantastic supporting cast, which brings out the best in this film.

Lee Byung-hun (photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

Yes, this is predominantly a thinking man’s horror film and there is a lot of “meat” to it. However, another strength of the film is that it still manages to deliver thrills and horror. It has a very nice balance which runs from the “high” philosophical musings of revenge down to the graphic, depraved violence of the lowest level of humanity. There is something for everyone in this film – you get both substance and style.

One incredible scene – that I have to draw attention to – demonstrates that sub-human, depraved type of violence. It’s after one of the agent’s encounters with the killer. After escaping and making it to the nearby highway, the killer hails a taxi that just happens to be travelling on the lonesome stretch of road. After chatting with the driver and passenger for few moments, the killer makes his intentions known and he proceeds to stab both of them to death. As he is stabbing the two men, the camera follows the action by moving around the whole frame of the cab (it looks like they constructed the interior of a cab on set and slowly rotated it as the camera was rolling). The blood spray is horrific, the violence is jarring, and it’s a lovely scene. In fact, it’s one of the best kill scenes that I’ve ever experienced in a horror film. It’s beautiful and it is a nice contrast to the thought-provoking material of the film.

As one can tell, I highly recommend “I Saw the Devil”. It is epic, it is much more than horror, it crosses many genres, gives excellent food for thought, gives some gory thrills, the cinematography is flawless, and it leaves you feeling satisifed with the experience. The only drawbacks are the predictability, the typical background of the killer, and the ending  – which felt more like an epilogue then a climax. But after thinking about it, the ending does make a lot of sense because it fits in with the overall message of the film, regarding the nature of revenge. See that, I’m still thinking about the film. “I Saw the Devil” definitely sticks with you and it is worth every moment of your time.

Review and Quick Byte by Peter Syslo  

VOW (07/23/2012): Behemoth – Ov Fire and the Void

Posted in VOWS on July 23, 2012 by Peter S

This week’s music video is “Ov Fire and the Void” by Behemoth. The band is from my ancestral land, Poland, and I am actually drinking a can of piwo (beer) as I am writing this. Na zdrowie!(cheers!) However, it’s Canadian beer so I don’t know where the hell I am… in a global sense.

I know, everybody talks about Behemoth’s video for “Lucifer” – and that is a good video – but, I don’t think that it is their best song. Musically, I prefer “Ov Fire and the Void” because it’s a little heavier, a little faster, has some nice atmospheric synth layers, and it displays more of their death metal influences. I haven’t listened to the whole “Evangelion” album, but it seems that the band is going in more of a slower, black metal direction. There’s nothing wrong with that – they’re a great band – it’s just my personal taste. I’m just drawn to the energy of faster music, regardless of the genre.

The video for “Ov Fire and the Void” has the same type of high-quality visuals as “Lucifer”. Basically, the video is about a girl who commits suicide and succumbs to evil forces in the after life. It’s very dark, the visuals are stunning, and it fits perfectly with the music.

Before clicking on the link below, be forewarned that the video is unrated. It does contain some nudity and graphic imagery (it’s not that bad, I just wanted to let you know). Children, the elderly, the infirmed, religious extremists, unreasonable people, and even pets should avert their gaze!

Behemoth’s video for “Ov Fire and the Void”   

Your Friend,

Monroe Ficus

VOW (07/12/2012): Nine Inch Nails – The Perfect Drug

Posted in VOWS on July 12, 2012 by Peter S

This week, I chose something a little different: “The Perfect Drug” by Nine Inch Nails. It’s a beautifully dark video that looks like a combinaton of Edgar Allen Poe, European Romantic literature, and a Hammer Studios film. The song isn’t my favorite from NIN, but this is one of those cases where the video does enhance the music.

Sadly, the video didn’t get much attention back in 1997. The song was on the soundtrack for David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”, which didn’t get much attention either – except from David Lynch fans. It’s funny, I remember discussing the video for “The Perfect Drug”, with a friend, and we both agreed that a video like that should be recognized on so-called Video-Music-Award shows.

Honestly, what is the criteria for an award-worthy music video? Do the visuals even matter? Does it have to be a good song? Is it based upon popularity and airplay? Is it based upon the push of record company marketing? Viewer requests? What is it? What makes a music video worthy of an award? What are the qualifications?

I never knew and I still don’t know. Well, I think it’s safe to say that most award shows – at least in the U.S. – are rooted in marketing and are a sham.

But, that’s one positive thing about the internet. You are free to search out these hidden gems on your own. So, if you desire, click below to take a look at a Nine Inch Nails hidden gem.

The Nine Inch Nails video for “The Perfect Drug”

Your Friend,

P

Review of “Scary Tales”

Posted in Movie reviews on July 12, 2012 by Peter S

“Scary Tales” is the latest film from Geno McGahee and X Posse Productions. It is a horror anthology that is comprised of four individual stories plus a fifth “wraparound” story. The film is based upon the following premise: four high school friends in a remote cabin tell scary stories in a “hey, I heard about this one guy across town…” kind of way. If you are a fan of 1970s and 1980s horror anthologies, you will notice that the style is very similar to those types of films. Actually, “Scary Tales” is a reshoot/reimagining of an earlier unreleased version of the film, by McGahee and X Posse.

The first tale is called “The Bully” and it is about a man who comes face-to-face with the consequences of his violent tendencies. The second is “Curiosity Kills”, which focuses on two cousins who are on the run after a family incident. They stumble upon a house in the woods that looks abandoned, but they discover it may still have occupants. The third is a genre-crossing story called “Majority Rules”. It’s a mix of crime caper and horror that’s about a poker game gone wrong. The fourth is “The Bridge” – my personal favorite –  which is about a small-town bridge that may or may not be cursed by an evil presence. The fifth and final tale is called “The Cabin”. This is the wraparound story that involves the four friends (from the beginning of the film) telling their scary stories.

There’s no sense beating around the bush with this one, so I’ll get right to the point: I really liked “Scary Tales” and I think that it is McGahee’s best film.

Since the film is about storytelling, I think that I’ll start with the writing. McGahee pulled out all the stops with his writing and crafted a refined, interesting, and airtight script. He even injects some social commentary into it by incorporating aspects of the current, lousy economy (job market, behind on mortgage, etc). Overall, he took a textured, multi-layered approach to writing each of the five tales and that is one of the main reasons why “Scary Tales” is his best work.

I’ll use “The Bridge” to give you an example of the excellent writing. One thing that I loved about “The Bridge” was the fact that McGahee not only wrote a story about a cursed bridge but he went deeper and actually wrote an entire mythology behind the cursed bridge (like the killer’s back story in a slasher film). There were period-consistent images of the bankers and the railroad tycoons who originally built the bridge and the footage had the look of a historical documentary. That was incredible and you don’t often see that quality and depth in independent productions.

Along with the stories, McGahee also employed finely-tuned dialogue throughout the film. The way that he wrote the dialogue left room for each actor to express emotion rather than just deliver lines. I have always liked McGahee’s dialogue – it is very intelligent and he says a lot – but there were times in the past where there was too much dialogue for some scenes. This time, McGahee took a pinpointed approach – said more with less words – and this allowed each scene to “breathe” a little. This, in turn, made the whole film seem more “real”, because it reflected how people really talk and interact with one another.

One nice example of the refined dialogue was in “Curiosity Kills”. There is a scene where the two cousins are talking by a campfire. Each has a line or two of dialogue, then there is a second or two of silence, then the dialogue picks up again. During that bit of silence, you see facial expressions and you, the viewer, get to digest what was said. This was very effective because it demonstrated a “natural” type of interaction (one person speaks – the other listens, thinks about what was said, and then responds). As a byproduct of the dialogue, I felt that “Curiosity Kills” contained some of the best acting in the film.

On the whole, “Scary Tales” has some of the best acting that I have seen in a McGahee film. I know that he worked with some new actors on this, who were all very good and added greatly to the film. However, I also want to give credit to his returning/veteran actors and note that they have really grown as performers. Again, I think that McGahee’s script helped with this because it seemed like all of the actors were very comfortable with the material. That, in turn, made performances seem genuine. Actually, the theme of the whole “Scary Tales” experience is just that: the actors, Geno McGahee, and the crew have become comfortable, confident, and have come-into-their-own.

Moving on to the technical aspects of “Scary Tales”, I thought that the cinematography and lighting were excellent. McGahee and crew have become very skilled at night shots; they are well-lit, they have clarity, yet they still demonstrate that natural beauty of the night. Overall, the camera was used very skillfully and really told the tale, visually (also a result of great editing). This is especially noticeable when two characters are interacting. The camera shifts from one to the other, exemplifying the interaction rather than the camera focusing on both at the same time.

The set design and locations were great, which also strengthened the visual element of the film. “The Bridge” was my favorite example of this, with the wonderful historical shots and the imposing look of the actual bridge.

The effects and make-up looked great and worked extremely well. There was also some CGI, but it was well-done and looked real. McGahee and crew know how to work with effects and seem to use the less-is-more approach when filming/editing an effects shot. The effect is clearly seen but the pull-away or cut preserves the “realness” of the effect.

Finally, the music added nice atmosphere and provided some pacing to the film. Actually, the film seemed “fuller” with a score, enhancing the overall “Scary Tales” experience. Yet another reason for the professional quality of this film.

After all of that, I really don’t have much criticism. Creatively, Scary Tales is excellent. The only problems I would mention are a few minor things, such as: the sound level occasionally is uneven (a few very loud door slams) and a line of dialogue here and there sounds a little forced. But, that’s it… and that’s just being nitpicky.

With “Scary Tales”, McGahee and crew have made it to the next level. For an independent company, the quality and craftsmanship is amazing. It is very impressive work and it doesn’t feel like five separate stories – it is a unified whole. Every shot has meaning and nothing is superfluous. While I was watching it, I kind of forgot that I was reviewing it. I was thoroughly enjoying it and was immersed in the experience. When you get right down to it, I think that’s the mark of a good film. When you don’t have to try to watch it. When it just pulls you in and you want to see what happens next.

Review and Quick Byte by Peter Syslo

VOW (6/27/2012): Suffocation – Cataclysmic Purification

Posted in VOWS on June 30, 2012 by Peter S

The music Video-Of-the-Week for this upcoming July 4th holiday is “Cataclysmic Purification” by Suffocation. I thought with the fireworks and all, some good old explosive Death metal was in order. Suffocation is one of the forefather-bands of the modern Tech-Death movement and the guys deserve every ounce of credit for consistenly creating strong music that is faithful to their specific and unique “sound”.

Perhaps the best way to describe “Cataclysmic Purification” is: great song, great video. There are scenes of the band members playing in an old industrial building and there are quick shots of animation that are reminiscent of some of the animation in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. In fact, “Cataclysmic Purification” is like a gory version of “Goodbye Blue Sky” (my favorite moment in “The Wall”). You could also describe the animation as the type of thing that investigators would find in a serial killer’s notebook from high school.

Enjoy, have a happy fourth (U.S. readers), and click the link below!

Suffocation video for “Cataclysmic Purification”

Your Friend,

P

VOW (06/20/2012): Huntress – Eight of Swords

Posted in VOWS on June 23, 2012 by Peter S

This week, the video that’s been on my mind is “Eight of Swords” by Huntress. It’s a fantasy-inspired video that’s chock full of Pagan imagery and earthy visuals that are reminiscent of sword-and-sorcery films. Before I go on, I just want to stop and say that “Huntress” is a great band name. Isn’t it? It’s one of those names you wish you thought of when you were scrawling dozens of flaccid names on the back of your electric bill envelope.

One reason I chose this video is because the music is actually enhanced by the visual content. On its own, the song is a solid, straightforward mix of Power, Black, and Pagan metal that is based upon the natural minor, or Aeolian, scale. If you’re not familiar with the musical terms, the song has an Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, or old-Metallica type of sound to it. “Eight of Swords” is a really good song, but I tend to lean more towards the tonalities used in Death metal. So, I think the creators did a really good job with the video because it did “sell” me on the song.

Along with the visuals, I do want to mention lead singer Jill Janus. Her vocals have a distinct quality which is sort of a combination of Kimberly Goss and Dirty Harry, with a pinch of Angela Gossow. She goes from clean vocals, to a slight raspiness, and occasionally delves into piercing shrieks that accent the intensity of the music. In short, she one of the most interesting female vocalists that I have heard in a while. And in case you were wondering, the answer is yes. You will enjoy looking at her. What are you waiting for? Click the link below!

Huntress video for “Eight of Swords”

Your Friend,

P