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Monday, Oct 13, 2008

The real independent cinema, the one being championed by skylarking individuals with camcorders and a vision, has its own set of unappreciated auteurs. There’s the guiding light Godard Giuseppe Andrews, able to channel both the trailer park and toilet humor with equal imagination. Damon Packard can’t get his oversized originality out of Spielberg’s sphere of influence and the ‘70s ABC Movie of the Week, while Chris Seaver literally creams over the high concept stupidity of the proceeding Greed decade. Add in the Campbell Brothers and their meticulously crafted homages, and you’ve got quite an impressive list. However, one name needs to be added to this cinematic Mt. Rushes-more - 51 year old Warren F. Disbrow. If genius had a conservative sounding name, it would be this knotty New Jersey savant.


For many in DVD nation, Disbrow first came to geek cult fame with his remarkable Troma Double Feature Flesh Eaters from Outer Space/ Invasion for Flesh and Blood. This pair of alien invasion insanity is highly recommended to anyone looking for cinema that doesn’t cater to the normal or the nuanced. Disbrow’s broad, sweeping, erratic epics are just the tonic for a recreational existence lived in direct to video Hell. Later on, he released the demonic delight Scarlet Moon. If Disbrow was comparable to a jerryrigged genre David Lynch, this movie was Dune. The final product stands as a sensational mishmash of comedy and corpses, devil worship and dumbness. Naturally, aficionados wondered what his next cinematic step would be.


Who could have imagined it would be a combination wistful nostalgia trip and nasty slasher epic? With Haunted Hay Ride, Disbrow delivers a throwback treasure, a splatter filled festival of Fall, friendship, and vivisection. While it may not be as accomplished (or unhinged) as his other films, it does do something that few mainstream movies can claim - it shows a real passion and love of the often misbegotten genre. If anything, Disbrow is horror’s gatekeeper, a man who’s made it his career to collect and care for the many monster movie fear factors that have been tossed aside for more ‘real’ scares. Haunted Hay Ride may sound like a rejection of same, that is, until you realize that with his new serial killer character, he’s simply shifting the paradigm from the paranormal to people.



When we first meet Hate, the scarred figure in the permanently affixed fright mask (that’s right - Disbrow’s villain literally screws his metallic skull face right onto his head via a drill) is teaching his father a deadly thing or two about bad parenting. Soon, he is off to Brock Farms to torture and torment the employees and visitors to the famed title tour. Mr. Brock, an older no nonsense kind of man, can’t believe that his beloved workers are disappearing one by one. Naturally, this raises concerns about the police…and publicity. In the meantime, a pair of on again/off again lovers, along with two of their slacker buddies, take in the last hay ride of the season. Little do they know that Hate is waiting to make this the best, and bloodiest, Halloween ever.


At first glance, Haunted Hay Ride looks like an episode of the classic Scooby-Doo taken to serious, psychotic extremes. Unlike the Saturday Morning spook show from the ‘70s, Disbrow keeps the body count high and the gore plentiful. Fans of flowing bodily fluids will truly enjoy the ample arterial spray here. Some of the F/X are obviously fudged, but a few leave a lasting sense of distress. Hate also cuts a rather impressive swath. While he’s not the beefiest bad guy in the slice and dice spectrum, his unrelenting desire to kill puts him a clever “cut” above. Indeed, there hasn’t been a executioner this obsessed with slaughter since Jason faced off against Freddy.


Disbrow also does something that every fledging fright filmmaker needs to take note of. The Brock Farms location - actual working businesses in Freehold and Colt’s Neck, New Jersey -  makes a wonderful backdrop for the action. Local haunted attraction Dracula’s Domain also makes an appearance. But it’s the farm, with its lush grounds, oversized animal statues (including a few animatronic dinosaurs), and acres of wooded trails, that’s a perfect place for a horror movie. There is a real sense of authenticity, a feeling that we’ve actually walked into a family business beleaguered by a rampaging maniac. Thanks to the classic deadpan acting style of Disbrow’s dad, Warren Sr., the Brock enterprise becomes part of our recognizable world. It’s not a lonesome abandoned building or an art director’s fever dream. This helps heighten the suspense.



If Haunted Hay Ride has a flaw, it’s in its victim-ology. Of the foursome we follow throughout the 90 minute running time, none make that much of an impression. Our hero and his gal pal snipe at each other so often that we wish Hate would show up and put them out of each other’s misery, and the dunderheaded duo they chum up to (who go off on a surreal subplot involving an aborted drug deal) are practically opaque as individuals. Luckily, this is counteracted by the employees of Brock Farms. Everyone, from office staff to attraction workers come across as genial, sincere, and very, very real. When they die, we feel a twinge of unfairness. When Hate takes on the leads, we tend to lose interest.


Still, for all its minor shortcoming, Haunted Hay Ride is a great deal of retro-fun. It’s the classic case of a ‘80s Saturday Night, the “take anything” trip to the local Mom and Pop video store that produced as many gems as junk piles. With such a direct-to-video dynamic, Disbrow comes up with a near classic, a film that feels wholly original and yet simultaneously similar to everything that came before. Some will miss his old lunacy, the mixing of ideas and individual beats to create macabre that resembles nothing else in the dread lexicon. But Haunted Hay Ride is pure history, like watching a live action adaptation of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Forgive its little faults and simply enjoy someone who inherently understands the nature of the beast. Warren F. Disbrow deserves a place among other outsider auteurs. Haunted Hay Ride might just guarantee such an appointment.


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Monday, Oct 13, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-10-13...

Sure, I play a lot of games.  I edit the Multimedia section here at PopMatters, I write this blog, I review things, and when I’m not producing PopMatters content, chances are I’m playing (or, heck, thinking about) some sort of game.  I call it a hobby, others call it an obsession, and that’s fine.  Still, there’s a genre of game that I’ve simply never come around to: the sandbox game.  That’s why despite the fact that I think Saints Row 2 is the biggest release of the week, there’s a good chance I’m simply not going to play it—I’m basing my assumption based almost entirely upon the interests of my writers and what seems to be the gaming press at large.


It’s not that Saints Row 2 doesn’t look any fun; on the contrary, it looks like it takes the gloss, the unrepentantly crass sense of humor, and the wreak-as-much-havok-as-possible gameplay stye of the original and doubles all of it.  It’s more a matter of simply not finding the idea of driving around another huge game-generated world shooting up people who are considered your enemy at any given moment, fulfilling whatever missions happen to come up over the course of a tremendous, sprawling storyline all that appealing.  I played GTA IV, and I liked it well enough, but not so much that I was ever motivated to chase achievements or venture into its online component.  Maybe it’s a matter of simply not having large enough blocks of free time available to truly allow these game worlds to seep into me.  Maybe it’s a matter of the gritty “realism” being a little too caustic for my attempts at escapist entertainment.  Whatever it is, I’m sure plenty of you will have fun with Saints Row 2, but without even playing it, I can almost guarantee that it just ain’t for me.


Anyone who’s read this blog has probably already figured out that I’ll be too busy playing Sam & Max on the Wii this week anyway.  That’s right, Season One finally gets the console treatment, and anyone averse to PC games who’s been even the remotest bit curious about the canine detective and his rabbityish sidekick had better buy it.


Frustrated with this football season’s unpredictability?  Did your favorite team just unexpectedly lose to…ARIZONA (this being one of the few times Buffalo can empathize with Dallas)?  Maybe you can take out your frustrations with Blitz: The League II, the sequel to the EXTREME football action game from Midway.  Didn’t you hear me?  It’s EXTREME!  There are a host of Littlest Pet Shop games coming out this week for the DS, at least one of which is almost guaranteed to end up in my house right next to Sam & Max on my shelf, and if confusing game titles is your thing, you’re sure to get a kick out of Rock University Presents: The Naked Brothers Band The Game, a title that surely means something to tweens getting their kicks on Nick, but means absolutely nothing to me.


So there you go!  What releases are you looking for at the store this week?  Are there any genres out there that you have a blind spot to?  Can Spongebob possibly be slapped on any more products?  Leave a message in the comments and let me know, after you check out the Saints Row 2 trailer and the full release list after…the jump.


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Monday, Oct 13, 2008
Ghost House - "Samuel L. Jackson"

This is almost a summer song slush fund.  Despite hailing from Chicago, Ghost House molts more in a single song than most rappers do in a career. Spank Rock, OutKast, and codeine sippers of world all scramble on the angles of this electro-infused monument to being a “bad ass mutha fuckah”. Granted, that’s hardly new territory in the genre ego built, but the Ghost House crew have some humility in their hubris, which makes the self-inflation part of the song’s sky high energy and not just bragadacio baggage. 


The opening keyboard riff, wiry and alien, sounds like a totally warped and reinvented take of the keyboard wash in Justin Timberlake’s “My Love”. I’m no Timberlake fan, but I’ll take every version of that space age stutter that I can get. The verbal flow gets skipped like a stone and shifted into frenzied knots just before drifting into the slow-mo sludge hook. “Samuel L. Jackson” unpretentiously swarms you with switched up rhythms, sexy come on’s and a sound grafted from the best of the cutting edges.


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Monday, Oct 13, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Todd Snider
Snider is offering his new album, Peace Queer, for free between now and October 31. Download the entire record in sparkling MP3 and watch for PopMatters’ review later this week.
Peace Queer album [MP3s]


Deerhoof
Chandelier Searchlight [Video]


Mercury Rev
Senses on Fire (Fujiya & Miyagi mix) [MP3]
     


Wilderness
Strand the Test of Time [MP3]
     


Fredrik
Black Fur [MP3]
     


1986 [Video]


 

Nick T. (of Islands, The Unicorns)
Let It Go (Flying Lotus remix) [MP3]
     


Simon Bookish
Dumb Terminal [MP3]
     



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Monday, Oct 13, 2008

Have you ever stayed in a hostel with a shelf (or more likely, a bookcase) of travel/leisure reading just there for the taking? The idea being, if you finish your book while you’re in residence, leave it behind and select something new, whether it be a Rough Guide to your next destination, some light YA fiction, or maybe even a chunky biography of some now-deceased heavyweight politician or diplomat.


Personally, I have trouble leaving my own book behind in exchange for something different, and yet I can appreciate the trade-off. Why carry around something you’ve already finished when you could lighten the load, or at least maintain it, by leaving your book for someone else to enjoy, and taking along an interesting looking cast-off?


image

Oftentimes the shelves of books-for-trade have wonderful offerings. And it turns out that it’s not just thrifty hostels that tend to have a shelf or two of discarded volumes. A friend in town for a visit just told me about her experience staying at a B&B in New Brunswick, Canada, where the friendly owner insisted that if she saw anything she was interested in on the bookshelves, she take it with her. The book that caught my friend’s eye is The Mermaid of Paris (2003) by Cary Fagan, and when she moves on after her week’s visit, she’ll probably leave it with me. We’ll see if I’m able to let her select a volume from my shelves for the next leg of her journey.


What’s the best trade you’ve made while traveling? Or do you find it impossible to leave one of your own books behind?


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