Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Archive for August, 2011


Commodus (Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus; 31 August 161 – 31 December 192), was Roman Emperor from 180 to 192. He also ruled as co-emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 177 until his father’s death in 180.

Commodus had always laid stress on his unique status as a source of god-like power, liberality and physical prowess. Innumerable statues around the empire were set up portraying him in the guise of Hercules, reinforcing the image of him as a demigod, a physical giant, a protector and a battler against beasts and men.

The emperor also had a passion for gladiatorial combat, which he took so far as to take to the arena himself, dressed as a gladiator. The Romans found Commodus’ naked gladiatorial combats to be scandalous and disgraceful. In the arena, Commodus always won since his opponents always submitted to the emperor. Thus, these public fights would not end in a death. Privately, it was his custom to slay his practice opponents. For each appearance in the arena, he charged the city of Rome a million sesterces, straining the Roman economy.

Commodus raised the ire of many military officials in Rome for his Hercules persona in the arena. Often, wounded soldiers and amputees would be placed in the arena for Commodus to slay with a sword. Commodus’ eccentric behaviour would not stop there. Citizens of Rome missing their feet through accident or illness were taken to the arena, where they were tethered together for Commodus to club to death while pretending they were giants. These acts may have contributed to his assassination.

Commodus was also known for fighting exotic animals in the arena, often to the horror of the Roman people. According to Gibbon, Commodus once killed 100 lions in a single day. Later, he decapitated a running ostrich with a specially designed dart and afterwards carried the bleeding head of the dead bird and his sword over to the section where the Senators sat and gesticulated as though they were next. On another occasion, Commodus killed three elephants on the floor of the arena by himself. Finally, Commodus killed a giraffe which was considered to be a strange and helpless beast. In November 192, Commodus held Plebian Games in which he shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning, and fought as a gladiator every afternoon, naturally winning all the bouts.

GLADIATOR: Portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ (2000). The story follows Russell Crowe as loyal Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, who is betrayed when Commodus, murders his father and seizes the throne. Reduced to slavery, Maximus rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murder of his family and his Emperor. Phoenix portrayed Commodus as a vain, power hungry and socippathic young man who is jealous of and despises Maximus because his father Marcus Aurelius favors the General over him. Marcus Aurelius died of plague at Vindobona and was not murdered by his son Commodus. The character of Maximus is fictional, although in some respects he resembles the historical figures of Narcissus (the character’s name in the first draft of the screenplay and the real killer of Commodus), Spartacus (who led a significant slave revolt), Cincinnatus (a farmer who became dictator, saved Rome from invasion, then resigned his 6-month appointment after fifteen days), and Marcus Nonius Macrinus (a trusted general and friend of Marcus Aurelius). Although Commodus engaged in show combat in the Colosseum, he was strangled by the wrestler Narcissus in his bath, not killed in the arena, and reigned for several years, unlike the brief period shown in the film.


Caligula (Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 31 August AD 12 – 24 January AD 41), also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 to 41. The young Gaius earned the nickname Caligula (meaning “little soldier’s boot”) from his father’s soldiers while accompanying him during his campaigns in Germania. 

Surviving sources present a number of stories about Caligula that illustrate cruelty and insanity; self-absorbed, angry, killed on a whim, and who indulged in too much spending and sex. He is accused of sleeping with other men’s wives and bragging about it, killing for mere amusement, causing starvation, and wanting a statue of himself erected in the Temple of Jerusalem for his worship. Once at some games at which he was presiding, he ordered his guards to throw an entire section of the crowd into the arena during intermission to be eaten by animals because there were no criminals to be prosecuted and he was bored. Caligula has also been accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla and Livilla, and prostituted them to other men. He sent troops on illogical military exercises, turned the palace into a brothel, and most famously, planned or promised to make his horse, Incitatus, a consul, and actually appointed him a priest.

The validity of these accounts is debatable. In Roman political culture, insanity and sexual perversity were often presented hand-in-hand with poor government.

Caligula has been played by Ralph Bates in the 1968 ITV television series ‘The Caesars; John Hurt in the 1976 BBC television series ‘I, Claudius’; John McEnery in the 1985 miniseries ‘A.D.’; Szabolcs Hajdu in the 1996 film ‘Caligula’; and John Simm in the 2004 miniseries ‘Imperium Nerone’. A feature-length historical film ‘Caligula’ was completed in 1979, in which Malcolm MacDowall played the lead role. The film alienated audiences with extremely explicit sex and violence and received extremely negative reviews.

Southern Comfort ****

A squad of Louisiana National Guardsmen set out for weekend manoeuvres in the bayou. Their objective is simple; all they have to do is navigate through the swamp to a designated meeting point then they can go home. These weekend warriors, led by Staff Sergeant Poole (Peter Coyote) are a disparate group; private Spencer (Keith Carradine) is the cool intellectual of the group, who has organised some prostitutes for the squad at the end of the training; Corporal Hardin (Powers Boothe) has been transferred from Texas; Corporal Lonnie Reece (Fred Ward) the redneck racist; Stuckey (Lewis Smith) the loose cannon; Sergeant Casper (Les Lannom): Corporal ‘Coach’ Bowden (Alan Autry), a gum teacher by trade who is more than a little gung-ho and private Tyrone Cribbs (T.K. Carter), and Simms  (Franklyn Seales) are excellent support.

As they bitch and complain while trudging through the swamp they realise that recent rains have cut them off form their objective, desperate to finish the job and go home they steal some local Cajun canoes. In a moment of stupidity, Stuckey fires off some blank rounds at the locals who return live fire, killing Sergeant Poole. The guardsmen make it to the opposite shore where leaderless, their lack of experience is exposed as panic sets in and a thirst for revenge clouds their judgement.

They catch a one-armed local (Brion James), blaming him for Poole’s death, they beat him and accidentally destroy his home before dragging him off through the swamp to bring him to ‘justice’. However, they are pursued by a group of locals (including Sonny Landham) who know the swamp and are far more equipped to deal with the game of cat and mouse which unfolds.

Director Walter Hills feature ‘Southern Comfort’ (1981) stirs up comparisons to John Boorman’s ‘Deliverance’ and to a lesser extent ‘First Blood’. The film is an intense chase-thriller, full of suspense, exhilarating, tense and atmospheric. An excellent script, lean and taut, Hill spends a brief amount of time introducing us to the characters before throwing them and us headlong into the action. Their various character flaws bubble to the surface as their situation worsens and the tension mounts. The cast are all solid delivering a good ensemble performance.

Beautifully shot by Andrew Lazslo, cinematographer for Hill’s ‘The Warriors’ and ‘Streets of Fire’ as well as the similar ‘First Blood’. Using the light and reflections within the swamp to full effect to create a claustrophobic and haunting setting; the Cajun hunters are almost ghost like, we never see them clearly until the end of the movie.     

The soundtrack by Hill regular Ry Cooder is eerie and seductive. It draws the viewer into the scenes, expanding the visuals; it’s both unnerving and beautiful. Cooder has supplied scores for other Walter hill movies ‘The Long Riders’, ‘Streets of Fire’, ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Geronimo’ as well as beautiful scores for ‘Alamo Bay’ and ‘Paris, Texas’.

The film was seen at time of release as a Vietnam allegory but that perception has waned slightly over the years. It still looks and feels contemporary and any first time viewer would be hard pressed to say with any certainty when it was made or indeed, when it is set.

Highly recommended; this is another triumph of muscular film making from director Walter Hill. Southern Comfort is as good as the best Vietnam movies of the 80’s and better than the rest.

Quality: 4 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Mary Shelley (30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel, ‘Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus’ (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In May 1816, Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley, and their son travelled to Geneva with Claire Clairmont. They planned to spend the summer with the poet Lord Byron, whose recent affair with Claire had left her pregnant. The party arrived at Geneva on 14 May 1816, where Mary called herself “Mrs Shelley”. Byron joined them on 25 May, with his young physician, John William Polidori, and rented the Villa Diodati, close to Lake Geneva at the village of Cologny; Percy Shelley rented a smaller building called Maison Chapuis on the waterfront nearby. They spent their time writing, boating on the lake, and talking late into the night.

“It proved a wet, ungenial summer”, Mary Shelley remembered in 1831, “and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house”. Amongst other subjects, the conversation turned to the experiments of the 18th-century natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have animated dead matter, and to galvanism and the feasibility of returning a corpse or assembled body parts to life. Sitting around a log fire at Byron’s villa, the company also amused themselves by reading German ghost stories, prompting Byron to suggest they each write their own supernatural tale. Shortly afterwards, in a waking dream, Mary Godwin conceived the idea for Frankenstein:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With Percy Shelley’s encouragement, she expanded this tale into her first novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818.  She later described that summer in Switzerland as the moment “when I first stepped out from childhood into life”.

In 1986, Ken Russell turned the tale of that night in Geneva into the film ‘Gothic’.

Although primarily known for Frankenstein, Mary wrote the even darker ‘The Last Man’, published in 1826.  The book tells of a future world that has been ravaged by a plague. The novel was harshly reviewed at the time, and was virtually unknown until a scholarly revival beginning in the 1960s. The Last Man received the worst reviews of all of Mary Shelley’s novels: most reviewers derided the very theme of lastness, which had become a common one in the previous two decades. Individual reviewers labeled the book “sickening”, criticised its “stupid cruelties”, and called the author’s imagination “diseased”. Mary Shelley later spoke of The Last Man as one of her favourite works. The novel was not republished until 1965. In the 20th century it received new critical attention, perhaps because the idea of an apocalyptic future has become more relevant. Ahead of her time.

El Paramo

New trailer for The Squad (El Paramo), a new Colombian military horror film. Synopsis:
All contact with a military base high in the desolate wastelands of Colombia has been lost. The authorities – believing the base to have fallen to a terrorist attack – send a nine-man squad to investigate.When they arrive, the men discover a shocking scene of carnage, and only one survivor – a mute woman in chains.
Gradually the isolation, the inability to communicate with the outside worldand the impossibility of escape begin to undermine the sanity of the soldiers.They start to question the identity of their enemy, and the true nature of the strange, silent woman. Is she a terrorist? A victim? Or something moresinister? Something supernatural… Paranoia takes root. Prisoners of fear and the terrible secret they share, their humanity abandoned, the men turn savagely on each other.

Death Valley

MTV’s new show ‘Death Valley’ premieres tonight on the US Network. Sounds like fun, here’s the synopsis from the MTV site:

A year ago, vampires, werewolves and zombies mysteriously descended upon the streets of California’s San Fernando Valley. Death Valley is the dark comedy that follows the cops that capture the monsters, and the camera crew that captures the cops.

Follow the horrific yet comedic exploits of the newly formed Undead Task Force (UTF), a division of the LAPD created to combat the emergence of monsters in the San Fernando Valley. Death Valley showcases the outrageous and courageous men and women working the toughest beat in the US: Death Valley.

Balancing dark humor with horror, the show is built upon cold-blooded conflict and character driven comedy, following the cops bent on keeping the streets safe from the presence of the paranormal. Documenting each case of zombie, vampire and werewolf encounter is the daring camera crew that is embedded within the task force, quickly revealing that the monster problem goes much deeper than anyone could have possibly imagined.

Full of subtext about living in today’s insane world, Death Valley is at its core a fun, non-stop thrill ride featuring chases, hardcore kills, and extraordinary creatures. The zombies are disgusting, menacing and brutal, the vampires are dangerous, smart and powerful and the werewolves are beastly and insane. From “blood-for-sex” prostitution busts to undead traffic jams, every call from dispatch will take you to a place you’ve never been: right to the bleeding heart of Death Valley.

William Friedkin

William Friedkin (born August 29, 1935) is an American film director, producer and screenwriter best known for directing ‘The French Connection’ in 1971 and ‘The Exorcist’ in 1973; for the former, he won the Academy Award for Best Director. His most recent film, ‘Bug’ (2006) won the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival. He’s just completed the comedy/drama  Killer Joe which is due for release later this year.

After seeing the movie ‘Citizen Kane’ as a boy, Friedkin became fascinated with movies. He began working for WGN-TV immediately after high school. He eventually started his directorial career doing live television shows and documentaries. As mentioned in Friedkin’s voice-over commentary on the DVD re-release of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’, Friedkin also directed one of the last episodes of ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ in 1965, called “Off Season”.

In 1965 Friedkin moved to Hollywood and two years later released his first feature film, ‘Good Times’ starring Sonny and Cher. Several other “art” films followed (including the gay-themed movie ‘The Boys in the Band’), although Friedkin did not necessarily want to be known as an art house director. He wanted to be known for action, serious drama, and for stories about an America turned upside down by crime, hypocrisy, the occult, and amorality, which he mounted up into his films.

In 1971, his ‘The French Connection’ was released to wide critical acclaim. Shot in a gritty style more suited for documentaries than Hollywood features, the film won five Academy Awards, including an Academy Award for Best Picture and of course, Best Director.

Friedkin followed up with 1973’s ‘The Exorcist’, based on William Peter Blatty’s  best-selling novel, which revolutionized the horror genre and is considered by some critics to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Friedkin’s directorial ‘ethics’ however, came into serious question when filming the now notorious scene where Linda Blair smacks Ellen Burstyn, causing her to fly backwards into a break-away table. Even after warning Friedkin the stuntman was “pulling her too hard,” Friedkin prompted him to pull her harder, resulting in a permanent back injury for Burstyn. The Exorcist was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won the Best Adapted Screenplay Award. Check out my review/reminiscence here

Unfortunately, Friedkin’s later movies did not achieve the same success. ‘Sorcerer’ (1977), a $22 million dollar American remake of the French classic ‘Wages of Fear’, starring Roy Scheider, was overshadowed by the box-office success of Star Wars, which was released around the same time. Friedkin considers it his finest film, and was personally devastated by its financial and critical failure (as mentioned by Friedkin himself in the documentary series The Directors (1999). I had the pleasure of seeing Friedkin present a new printof Sorcerer and perform an excellent Q & A immediately after. He was honest, engaging and a great raconteur… he also signed my Exorcist poster which is now a treasured possession.

Sorcerer was shortly followed by the crime-comedy ‘The Brinks Job’ (1978), based on the real-life Great Brink’s Robbery in Boston, which was also unsuccessful at the box-office. In 1980, he directed the highly controversial gay-themed crime thriller ‘Cruising’, starring Al Pacino, which was protested against even during its making and remains the subject of heated debate to this day.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Friedkin’s films received mostly lackluster reviews and moderate ticket sales. ‘Deal of the Century’ (1983), starring Chevy Chase, Gregory Hines and Sigourney Weaver, was sometimes regarded as a latter-day Dr. Strangelove, though it was generally savaged by critics. However, his action/crime movie ‘To Live and Die in L.A.'(1985), starring William Petersen and Willem Dafoe, was a critical favorite and drew comparisons to Friedkin’s own The French Connection (particularly for its car-chase sequence), while his courtroom-drama/thriller ‘Rampage’ (1987) received a fairly positive review from Roger Ebert. ‘The Guardian’ (1990) and ‘Jade’ (1995), starring Linda Fiorentino, received somewhat favorable response from critics and audiences. Friedkin even said that Jade was the favorite of all the films he had made.

In 2000, The Exorcist was re-released in theaters with extra footage and grossed $40 million in the U.S. alone. Friedkin’s involvement in 2007’s ‘Bug’ resulted from a positive experience watching the stage version in 2004. He was surprised to find that he was, metaphorically, on the same page as the playwright and felt that he could relate well to the story.

Later, Friedkin directed an episode of the hit TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigations entitled “Cockroaches,” which re-teamed him with To Live and Die In L.A. star William Petersen. He would go on to direct again for CSI’s 200th episode, “Mascara.”

In June 2010, author William Peter Blatty, promoting his latest novel, revealed that Friedkin has committed to direct the feature film adaptation of his thriller, ‘Dimiter’. This would mark almost forty years since their previous collaboration, ‘The Exorcist’, not counting the failed collaboration between the two on ‘The Exorcist III’. The idea for the book itself actually came to Blatty while sitting in Friedkin’s office in 1972 during the first film’s production, as he read an article concerning the then atheist-run state of Albania executing a priest for baptizing a new-born infant. He has been working on it on and off ever since 1974, and, upon its completion, sat down with Friedkin for a one-on-one interview in The Huffington Post a few days after Blatty named Friedkin as attached to direct. According to the author, his friend and director has been eager to adapt the story for the last three years.

The Exorcist – Desktop BG

Ed Gein

Edward Theodore “Ed” Gein (August 27, 1906– July 26, 1984) was an American murderer. His crimes, which he committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, garnered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin.

After police found body parts in his house in 1957, Gein confessed to killing two women: tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954, and a Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, in 1957. Initially found unfit to stand trial, following confinement in a mental health facility, he was tried in 1968 for the murder of Worden and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in a mental hospitals, the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. The body of Bernice Worden was found in Gein’s shed; her head and the head of Mary Hogan were found inside his house. Robert H. Gollmar, the judge in the Gein case, wrote: “Due to prohibitive costs, Gein was tried for only one murder — that of Mrs. Worden.”

With fewer than three murders attributed, Gein does not meet the traditional definition of a serial killer. However it is the insane collection of human body parts that has given rise to the Ed Geinmythology. Searching the house, authorities found:

  • Four noses
  • Whole human bones and fragments
  • Nine masks of human skin
  • Bowls made from human skulls
  • Ten female heads with the tops sawn off
  • Human skin covering several chair seats
  • Mary Hogan’s head in a paper bag
  • Bernice Worden’s head in a burlap sack
  • Nine vulvas in a shoe box
  • A belt made from human female nipples
  • Skulls on his bedposts
  • Organs in the refrigerator
  • A pair of lips on a draw string for a windowshade
  • A lampshade made from the skin from a human face

These artifacts were photographed at the crime lab and then were properly destroyed.

Regardless, according to the creators Robert Bloch, Tobe Hooper and Thomas Harris, his real-life case influenced the creation of fictional serial killers Norman Bates from ‘Psycho’, Leatherface from ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, and Jame Gumb from ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. 

The story of Ed Gein has had a lasting impact on western popular culture as evidenced by its numerous appearances in movies, music and literature. Apart from influencing 3 of the horror genres most iconic movies, Gein’s story was adapted into a number of movies, including ‘Deranged’ (1974), ‘In the Light of the Moon’ (2000) released in the U.S. as ‘Ed Gein’ (2001), and ‘Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield’ (2007). Deranged is disturbingly creepy, the others, as is usual with this fare, are awful. A biographical musical titled ‘Ed Gein: the Musical’ premiered on January 2, 2010 in Menasha, Wisconsin. Haven’t seen it…

On July 26, 1984, Gein died of respiratory and heart failure due to cancer in Stovall Hall at the Mendota Mental Health Institute. His grave site in the Plainfield cemetery was frequently vandalized over the years; souvenir seekers chipped off pieces of his gravestone before the bulk of it was stolen in 2000. The gravestone was recovered in June 2001 near Seattle and is now in a museum in Waushara County. Rot in Hell.

Ghostbusters 3

Ghostbusters 3 has been in developmental limbo for years, held up in large part by the studio’s inability to get leading man Bill Murray to commit, or for that matter even read a script. Yesterday, franchise co-star Dan Aykroyd said the film will shoot next year, even if Murray’s not in. “That is our hope. We have an excellent script,” he said on radio’s The Dennis Miller Show. ”What we have to remember is that Ghostbusters is bigger than any one component, although Billy was absolutely the lead and contributed to it in a massive way, as was the director and Harold (Ramis), myself and Sigourney (Weaver). The concept is much larger than any individual role and the promise of Ghostbusters 3 is that we get to hand the equipment and the franchise down to new blood.” Somebody better tell the execs at Sony, where it’s still no movie. And for that matter, Murray.

Frankenstein Update

How many remakes, reboots and reimaginings are currently being shot, written or ‘brain-stormed’ by various studios? I love the Mary Shelley novel, the old Universal classics, the Hammer versions form the 60’s and Kenneth Branaghs more faithful, shirt-ripping tale from 1994. However, the majority of movies based on the popular tale are generally awful… apparently there are as many as 8 versions in the works at various stages.

It appears that Shawn Levy is about to helm a version for Fox. For those wondering who the hell is Shawn Levy, he made Date Night, Night at the Museum 1 & 2, Pink Panther remake and Cheaper by the Dozen… Wow… an obvious choice! I just don’t get it. Max Landis has written the script, described as a new take on the novel..

There was National Theatre version, directed by Danny Boyle and screened around the world.

NBC are planning a version written by ‘House’ executive producers Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner. At least they have a bit of form…

In some good news on the subject, Guillermo Del Toro is working on his own version of which it has been previsouly reported that actor Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy films) would play the creature, and it would be based on Bernie Wrightson’s art. That’ the version we want to see!

Oh, and Bruce Campbell is planning to appear in Bruce Vs Frankenstein, a sequel to 2007’s My Name is Bruce. It was announced in January and described then as “The Expendables of horror.” So is Bruce Vs Frankenstein still on the cards? Campbell reveals: “It is if the script is shootable, as they say. “One thing I’ve learned over the years is that a bad script will equal a bad movie, so we’re trying to get it to be a good script so it’ll be a good movie.”

We’ve had so many variations on the Frankenstein theme it’s hard to keep up: ‘House of Frankenstein’, ‘Revenge of Frankenstein’, ‘Curse of Frankenstein’, ‘Horror of Frankenstein’, ‘The Evil of Frankenstein’, ‘Tales of Frankenstein’, ‘Ghost of Frankenstein’, ‘Son of Frankenstein’, ‘Lady Frankenstein’, ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’, ‘Frankenstein Vs. the Wolfman’, ‘Dracula Vs. Frankenstein’, ‘Frankenstein Created Woman’, ‘Mistress Frankenstein’, ‘I Was A Teenage Frankenstein’, ‘Young Frankenstein’, ‘Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’, ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’, ‘Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein’, ‘Alvin & The Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein’, ‘Frankenstein Conquers the World’, ‘Andy Warhols Frankenstein’, a slew of TV adaptations and something called ‘Bikini Frankenstein’. 

I think I should go home and watch ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ from my old Universal Classic DVD.

The Gerber Syndrome

Contagion has it all, big budget, quality director and big name cast… The Gerber Syndrome has a similar story but the similarities end there. Still, it might be an interesting independent movie.

SYNOPSIS: We all know how easy it is to get infected by a virus. But this time its not just any virus. It’s the Gerber syndrome, a new pathology that doesnt look like a normal flu. A TV crew is making a documentary about this new pathology. It’s the Gerber syndrome, a highly contagious virus with devastating effects. Through the testimony of three people that are directly involved with the disease (a doctor, an infected girl, a young security agent) the truth is revelead, and it is way more terrifing than what the authorities want us to believe.Because the Gerber syndrome is already between us. And it’s very, very contagious…


An international traveler reaches into the snack bowl at an airport bar before passing her credit card to a waiter. A business meeting begins with a round of handshakes. A man coughs on a crowded bus… One contact. One instant. And a lethal virus is transmitted. When Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns to Minneapolis from business in Hong Kong, what she thought was jet lag takes a virulent turn. Two days later, she’s dead in the ER and the doctors tell her shocked and grieving husband (Matt Damon) they have no idea why. Soon, others exhibit the same mysterious symptoms: hacking coughs and fever, followed by seizure, brain hemorrhage…and ultimately, death. In Minneapolis, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, the numbers quickly multiply: one case becomes four, then sixteen, then hundreds, thousands, as the contagion sweeps across all borders, fueled by the countless human interactions that make up the course of an average day. A global pandemic explodes.

At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers mobilize to break the code of a unique biological pathogen as it continues to mutate. Deputy Director Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) tries to allay the growing panic despite his own personal concerns, and must send a brave young doctor (Kate Winslet) into harm’s way. At the same time, amid a rising tide of suspicion over a potential vaccine—and who gets it first—Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organization works through the network of connections that could lead back to the source of what they’re dealing with. As the death toll escalates and people struggle to protect themselves and their loved ones in a society breaking down, one activist blogger (Jude Law) claims the public isn’t getting the truth about what’s really going on, and sets off an epidemic of paranoia and fear as infectious as the virus itself. 

Academy Award® winner Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) directs the global thriller “Contagion,” in what appears to be a more mature and thoughtful look at global meltdown after the spread of a deadly virus. In the vein of the UK Television series ‘Survivors’. Soderbergh has brought together a stellar international ensemble cast led by Academy Award® winner Marion Cotillard; Academy Award® winner Matt Damon; Academy Award® nominee Laurence Fishburne; Academy Award® nominee Jude Law; Academy Award® winner Gwyneth Paltrow; and Academy Award® winner Kate Winslet. Entertainment company.

Night of the Living Dead *****

Second review in a short series of five, featuring one of the five major groundbreaking horror movies of the late 60’s through early 80’s. The movies on the list are: The Night of the Living Dead (1968); The Last House on the Left (1972); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Halloween (1978) and ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981). These movies set the templates that have been used to make and remake hundreds of horror movies of varying quality for the last 30+ years.

Barbara ((Judith O’Dea) and her annoying brother Johnny are visiting their father’s grave. They see a man stumbling towards them as Johnny tries to scare her, making lame jokes: “They’re coming to get you Barbara”, when suddenly the man attacks her. Johnny comes to her rescue and is killed; Barbara escapes and pursued by the undead assailant, makes it to an apparently abandoned farmhouse.

Shocked by the discovery of a dead body she tries to leave and encounters Ben (Duane Jones) whose truck has run out of gas. Ben fights off 3 undead attackers and before realising that the farmhouse is surrounded by dozens of them. He sets to work boarding up the windows while relating his story to Barbara of the carnage he’s see; at the same time informing the audience of the scale of the situation. This is driven further home by the doom laden news reports from the ever present radio: “Attacks by the undead”, “Partially devoured by their attackers”, “The killers are eating the flesh of the people they kill”; then television news break announcing that a radioactive satellite, the Venus probe, is responsible for the dead returning to life .

Joined by Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and their sick child, and young couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley), who have been hiding in the cellar; the group make a stand.

Taking a brilliantly simple idea, which obviously draws inspiration from ‘Rio Bravo’ and ‘The Birds’, throwing a disparate group of strangers together and made us care for them; and using the limitations of the budget to his advantage by restricting the group to one confined set, George Romero has crafted the prototype zombie movie; the template for all that followed it.

The real strength of the film is in the human drama within the house; the group are fractured, argumentative and divisive, building tension throughout. The characters are believable, displaying their fears, prejudice and vulnerability. As viewers we’re initially apprehensive about them, but as the film unfolds we’re willing them to survive, and Romero being a realist, he kills them off unceremoniously, family members literally ‘eating their own’.

The cast of unknowns inhabit their roles well, delivering believable depictions of fear, cowardice, stupidity and uncertainty. However this is Romero’s film, his script, his politics, his direction, and he delivers on all fronts. The use of gore must also have been quite shocking; having the zombies eating actual meat lends the cannibalistic scenes some realism and although not as graphic as the gore thrown onto the screens with the relentless ‘torture porn’ movies, it still holds up today.

A lot has been made of Romero’s social commentary within the film, made at the height of the Civil Rights movement and Americas involvement in Vietnam. Making a black man the more heroic figure within the group, then dispatching him so callously at the hands of the ‘good old boys’ can’t have been missed by m any viewers at the original time of release.

This is an exceptional film, a real classic of the horror genre, bettered only by Romero’s own follow up, the superlative ‘Dawn of the Dead’. Avoid the 30th Anniversary Edition DVD; it contains some awful new footage shot by alleged fans of the original. Also avoid the colourised version and the 1990 remake, which although not abysmal is pointless when you can watch this.

Turn out the lights, board up the windows, sit back and enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie gets a 3D make-over

DISNEY PRESS RELEASE: From creative genius Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” The Nightmare Before Christmas”) comes “Frankenweenie,” a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life—with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.

A stop-motion animated film, “Frankenweenie” will be filmed in black and white and rendered in 3D, which will elevate the classic style to a whole new experience.

In Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.


  • · When Tim Burton originally conceived the idea for “Frankenweenie,” he envisioned it as a full-length, stop-motion animated film. Due to budget constraints, he instead directed it as a live-action short, released in 1984.
  • · “Frankenweenie” follows in the footsteps of Tim Burton’s other stop-motion animated films “Corpse Bride” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”—both of which were nominated for Academy Awards®.
  • · Over 200 puppets and sets were created for the film.
  • · The voice cast includes four actors who worked with Burton on previous films: Winona Ryder (“Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands”), Catherine O’Hara (“Beetlejuice,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas”), Martin Short (“Mars Attacks!”) and Martin Landau (“Ed Wood,” Sleepy Hollow”).
  • · Several of the character names—Victor, Elsa Van Helsing, Edgar “E” Gore and Mr. Burgermeister— were inspired by classic horror films.

The Dibbuk Box

Check out this creepy story, courtesy of Brad at work. It’s such a great, creepy tale in the mould of ‘Drag Me To Hell’ and it looks likely to be the next feature from horror supremo Sam Raimi’s production company Ghost House.

Jason Haxton, the curator of a medical museum in a small Missouri town, learns of the mysterious cabinet and is intrigued by it as an artifact to be studied and researched. He places a bid on eBay and he soon finds himself the proud owner of the dibbuk box. But as he carefully investigates and records everything he can about this unusual item said to be possessed by a Jewish spirit, Haxton discovers far more than he bargained for. In this true account, a dark story comes to light—a story that began at the time of the Holocaust and seems to have come full circle.

Listen to the podcast at ‘Darkness Radio’ that features an interview with Jason Haxton.

Takashi Miike

Takashi Miike (born August 24, 1960) is a highly prolific and controversial Japanese flimmaker. He has directed over seventy theatrical, video, and television productions since his debut in 1991. In the years 2001 and 2002 alone, Miike is credited with directing fifteen productions. His films range from violent and bizarre to dramatic and family-friendly.

Miike’s theatrical debut was the film ‘The Third Gangster’ (1995). However it was ‘Shinjuku Triad Society’ (1995) that was the first of his theatrical releases to gain public attention. The film showcased his extreme style and his recurring themes, and its success gave him the freedom to work on higher-budgeted pictures. Shinjuku Triad Society is also the first film in what is labeled his “Black Society Trilogy”, which also includes ‘Rainy Dog’ (1997) and ‘Ley Lines’ (1999). He gained international fame in 2000 when his romantic horror film ‘Audition’ (1999) his violent Yakuza epic ‘Dead or Alive’ (1999), and his controversial manga adaptation of ‘Ichi the Killer’ (2001) played at international film festivals. He has since gained a strong cult following in the West that is growing steadily with the increase in DVD releases of his works. His latest film ‘Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai’ premiered In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. I reviewed ’13 Assassins’ a week or so ago.

Miike has garnered international notoriety for depicting shocking scenes of extreme violence and sexual perversions. Many of his films contain graphic and lurid bloodshed, often portrayed in an over-the-top, cartoonish manner. Much of his work depicts the activities of criminals (especially Yakuza) or concern themselves with non-Japanese living in Japan. He is known for his black sense of humour and for pushing the boundaries of censorship as far as they will go.

I think his best film is ‘Audition’ (1999), the film has been likened to ‘Misery’ and ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ due to its graphic violence. However, the torture scene in the movie is very brief, and only a few shots show the actual torture, focusing more on Asami’s sadistic enjoyment of it. Among filmmakers featured on Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments” (on which the film appeared at #11), notable horror directors including Eli Roth, John Landis and Rob Zombie found the film very difficult to watch,given its grisly content; Landis said that the film was so disturbing that he couldn’t enjoy it at all. Massive internet movie site, Bloody Disgusting ranked the film fourteenth in their list of the ‘Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade’, with the article saying “Considered by many to be Takashi Miike’s masterpiece, this cringe-inducing, seriously disturbed film boasts one of the most unbearable scenes of torture in movie history… It’s revolting in the best possible way; the prolific Miike goes for the jugular here, and he cuts deep.”

One of his most controversial films was the ultra-violent ‘Ichi the Killer’ (2001), adapted from a manga comic of the same name and starring Tadanobu Asano as a sadomasochistic Yakuza enforcer. The extreme violence was initially exploited to promote the film: during its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, the audience received “barf bags” emblazoned with the film’s logo as a promotional gimmick (one typically flamboyant gory killing involves a character slicing a man in half from head to groin, and severing another’s face, which then slides down a nearby wall).

However, the BBFC refused to allow the release of the film uncut in Britain, citing its extreme levels of sexual violence towards women. In Hong Kong, 15 minutes of footage were cut. In the United States it has been shown uncut (unrated).

In 2005, Miike was invited to direct an episode of the ‘Masters of Horror’ anthology series. The series, featuring episodes by a range of established horror directors such as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and Dario Argento, was supposed to provide directors with relative creative freedom and relaxed restrictions on violent and sexual content (Some violent content was edited from the Dario Argento-directed episode ‘Jenifer’). However, when the Showtime cable network acquired the rights to the series, the Miike-directed episode ‘Imprint’ was deemed too disturbing for the network. Showtime cancelled it from the broadcast lineup even after extended negotiations, though it was retained as part of the series’ DVD release. Mick Garris, creator and executive producer of the series, described the episode as “amazing, but hard even for me to watch… definitely the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen”.

An American Werewolf in London – BTS

Check out these excellent behind the scenes shots from ‘An American Werewolf in London’ on

Park Chan-wook

Park Chan-wook (born August 23, 1963) is a South Korean film director, writer, producer and former film critic. One of the most acclaimed and popular filmmakers in his native country, Park is most known for his films ‘Joint Security Area’ (2000), ‘Thirst’ (2009) and what has become known as The Vengeance Trilogy,  consisting of 2002’s ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’, ‘Oldboy’ (2003) and ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’ (2005). His films are noted for their immaculate framing and often brutal subject matter.

His debut feature film was ‘The Moon is… The Sun’s Dream’ (1992), and after five years, he made his second film ‘Trio’ (1997) . Neither of his early films were successful, and he pursued a career as a film critic to make a living. Then in 2000, Park directed ‘Joint Security Area’, which was a great success both commercially and critically, at the time of its release becoming the most-watched film ever made in South Korea. This success made it possible for him to make his next film more independently – ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’  is the result of this creative freedom.

After winning the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for the film ‘Oldboy’ (2003), a journalist asked, “in your film, why is the vengeance repeating?”. According to Park, he decided to make three consecutive films with revenge as the central theme. Park said his films are about the utter futility of vengeance and how it wreaks havoc on the lives of everyone involved. Despite extreme violence in his films, Park is regarded as one of the most popular film directors in Korea, with three of his last five feature films all drawing audiences of over 3 million. This makes Park the director of three films in the thirty all-time highest grossing films in South Korea.

American director Quentin Tarantino is an avowed fan of Park. As the head judge in 2004 Cannes Film Festival, he personally pushed for Park’s ‘Oldboy’ to be awarded the Palme d’Or (the honor eventually went to Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 9/11). Oldboy garnered the Grand Prix, the second-highest honor in the competition. Tarantino also regards Park’s Joint Security Area to be one of “the top twenty films made since 1992.”

In 2009, Park directed his first vampire film, ‘Thirst’ (2009) which won Prix du jury along with ‘Fish Tank’, directed by Andrea Arnold at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. The film tells the story of a priest—who is in love with his friend’s wife—turning into a vampire through a failed medical experiment. Park has stated, “This film was originally called ‘The Bat’ to convey a sense of horror. After all, it is about vampires. But it is also more than that. It is about passion and a love triangle. I feel that it is unique because it is not just a thriller, and not merely a horror film, but an illicit love story as well.”

Earlier in 2011, Park said his new fantasy-horror film Paranmanjang (Night Fishing) was shot entirely on the iPhone.

Green Lantern – by my 5¾ year old son

Another review from my 5¾ year old son. The star rating is deceptive… it changes for random reasons.

“Green Lantern is about good guys fighting bad guys, but it’s not like Captain America who is joined with the army, he fights bad guys on his own. He is called Hal and he becomes the Green Lantern when a green light takes him to the ocean where an Alien has crashed; when the alien is knocked out he gives his ring to Hal. The Green Lantern can think about anything and make it, like a sword, a machine gun and giant fists, and he doesn’t have to use his hands to take his mask off. The bad guy has a fat face with big veins on his head. He helps the big brown monster but the big brown monster kills him by sucking his skeleton out and the dirty old skeleton falls to the ground. And Hal kills the big brown monster by throwing it into the sun and the big brown monster explodes. It is good fun but a little bit scary for little kids. Green Lantern is a better good guy than Captain America but the Red Skull is a better baddie than the guy with the big head with veins.”

5 out of 5 stars *****

Underworld: Awakening

Another Resident Evil is on the way, and this fourth instalment in the Underworld series will be released in January. I’ll probably see it if there’s nothing else on that week, and as with Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil, watching Kate Beckinsale is easy… however i just don’t get why these movies are so profitable…

Captain America ***

New York in 1942, America is recruiting heavily for war; determined to serve, young Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is deemed physically unfit for military service, yet again. He has applied 5 times in different boroughs and has been rejected in every one. He is finally accepted into a secret training facility by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci); after proving himself to be courageous, smart and compassionate, Steve is deemed the ideal candidate for Dr. Erskine’s  gene experiment. The process, which is run by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), is a success and transforms Rogers’ weak body into the perfect human specimen. Almost immediately, Dr. Erskine is assassinated, by an agent of HYDRA, his equipment destroyed and with the loss of the final serum the experiment can never be repeated.

In Europe, Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), head of the HYDRA division is amassing his own private army. The Nazi party isn’t extreme enough for this guy, he wants to take over ‘everything’; and to do so, enlists the help of Dr. (Toby Jones) and some mystical, all-powerful, Norse god artefact.

Rogers is initially misused by the US Military as a propaganda tool to sell war bonds, grows frustrated and with the help of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark embarks on a one man raid on one of Schmidt’s munitions facilities, rescuing 200 allied prisoners. Captain America is born; with the help of a ‘conveniently evenly split along racial lines’ team he takes the war to Schmidt who has undergone his own transformation, into the Red Skull.

I was never a fan of Captain America in comic book form, and wasn’t particularly interested in seeing this movie version. My son wanted to see it so off we went, and I’m pleased we did. It’s a much better quality movie and a lot more fun than I expected.

The actors all deliver fairly solid performances for this kind of movie; Chris Evans is very likeable as Steve Rogers, as the Captain anyone could play him, but it is his performance as ‘skinny Steve’ that grounds the movie and gives us a character to like and cheer for. Hugo Weaving is hamming it up as Johann Schmidt, but that’s no bad thing, ditto solid support work from Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones delivering good performances without really trying.

As expected from a comic book blockbuster, there are a lot of massive CGI set pieces throughout, however it is the ‘Benjamin Button’ skinny Steve that is the best work; that apart, the special effects are a mixed bag. The 1940’s setting gives the movie a naturally classy look and it reminded me of the ‘Rocketeer’ from , which is a compliment to the design team. 

Captain America is a fun movie; sure it’s implausible, brash, loud and filled with clichés, and it’s also a suitable preview to the forthcoming ‘The Avengers’ which in the hands of comic nerd hero Joss Whedon should be a good story. However Whedon is not a proven director and that’s where Marvel has also slipped up here after setting the bar high with Thor which was a pleasant surprise. As with this, I wasn’t a fan of the comics, but in Kenneth Branagh they had a good director who knows how to play those familial problems and get the best out of his actors. In director Joe Johnson, Marvel have taken a safe bet, he’s done big budget effects laden movies before, however this movie doesn’t deliver the quality of characterisation set by Thor; or the fun of the Jon Favreau directed ‘Iron Man’ movies. In Whedon they seem to have given the fanboys what they want but at what cost?

Quality: 3 out of 5 stars

Any good: 3 out of 5 stars

Star Wars – New Zealand Mint Coins!

The latest ultimate nerd ‘must-have’… I want them. The New Zealand Mint is proud to launch one of cinema’s most enduring and beloved franchises, Star Wars, as a legal tender coin set. These coin series will be hugely popular for both Star Wars devotees and coin-collectors alike. This first series is a limited mintage and are quite simply out of this Universe. Don’t deny the Force within you, and get your set today.

The first series includes eight 1oz 999 Silver coins depicting the characters of the Star Wars movies packaged in two unique four coin sets. The coins feature a full coloured image of your favourite character duos of Luke Skywalker / Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi / Yoda, R2-D2 / C-3PO, Han Solo / Chewbacca.

Millenium Falcon coin set

The second set of four coins feature the dark side including Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, Death Star, and a Stormtrooper.

Darth Vader coin set

Each coin in the Star Wars set is struck from 1oz of pure silver. No more than 7,500 of each coin will be issued by the New Zealand Mint. The coins are legal tender of Niue Island.

The silver coin series will be packaged as two unique sets of four coins. One will be the Darth Vader head, and the other the Millennium Falcon ship, representing the dark side and the Rebel Alliance. Open the Darth Vader case and hear authentic movie sound effects of Darth Vader breathing. Open the Millennium Falcon case and hear authentic movie sound effects of the ship’s iconic “jump to light speed”.

Each Star Wars set comes with an individually numbered certificate of authenticity issued by New Zealand Mint

Zombie (Z-108) – Teaser

Nasty trailer for Joe Chien’s ‘Zombie 108’ This is the Asian trailer, not the new western version, it is longer and tackier… and a lot more fun!