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Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010
Twenty examples of how Hollywood sees Hell - and the main Mangoat hanging out there.

From Faust to Futurama, silent films to CG spectacles, Satan has been a solid component of popular entertainment for eons. Want a simply symbol of evil? Call on Old Scratch. Hope to show how a life spent in selfish hedonism will lead to an eternity in Hell? Bring on Beelzebub. As much as the ethereal concept of God “seeing” and surrounding us has been left wholly to an audience’s imagination, the pervasive notion of iniquity has mandated a true flesh and blood manifestation. Apparently, good is easier to handle as a unseen ethos than bad. As the latest uneven incarnation of damnation hits theaters (The Last Exorcism on 27 August), SE&L looks at 20 Famous/Infamous illustrations of the Devil.  While visually diverse and uniquely different, one thing about visualizing vice remains the same - the dread is only as palpable as the person (or persona) playing the part.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

For fright fans, there is a hierarchy of Italian horror filmmakers. At the top is Dario Argento, the Mediterranean Master of Suspense who often rivals the brazen Golden Age Hollywood heavyweight he’s often compared to. Beneath him is an array of ancillary directors—pupils like Michele Soavi (Dellamorte, Dellamore), and rivals such as Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust), and Mario Bava (Black Sunday). Pulling up the rear are the ‘rejects’, the directors who have mastered few of the artform’s tricks, but brought their own slick—and sometimes sickening—sensibility to the medium. They include Bava’s son Lamberto (Demons, Demons 2) and the most infamous of them all, the architect of arterial spray, Lucio Fulci.

Though he dabbled in dozens of genres during his length career, the one time art critic turned gross-out auteur is best known for a series of scary movies in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. These efforts literally redefined the use of grue and blood-drenched F/X in dread—specifically a group that began with 1977’s The Psychic, and touched on cruel classics like Zombi, The City of the Living Dead, The Black Cat, The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery, ending with The New York Ripper. Though he would continue to make films until his death in the mid ‘90s, this string of sensational, sometimes surreal splatterfests proved that there was more to the middle-aged maestro than sloppy spaghetti westerns and weak-willed giallo.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Take away the jokes and you've removed 90% of the reason for Freddy Krueger's Greed Decade fame. Turn him into something real and repugnant and the blowback is nuclear.

It’s all the movies fault, when you think about it. Monsters aren’t supposed to be endearing. Instead, they are supposed to haunt the very fabric of your nightmares and dreamscapes. Similarly, human versions of said villains aren’t supposed to be ripe for idolatry, their horrific forms finding their way on t-shirts, tumblers, and other pop culture marketing mementos. They are criminals, after all, walking reminders of the inherent dangers lurking within all societies. When the ‘80s delivered the notion of easily available home video to the average viewer, it awakened a weird attitude toward terror. Locked in the living room, able to share the scare experience with only their own chosen circle of influence, fear quickly morphed into familiarity, and then strangely enough, fun.

So it’s been interesting to see the amount of real vitriol flung at the recent remakes of so-called “classic” ‘70s and ‘80s horror films. While their status as all time masterworks is questionable at best, their beloved nature illustrates something unusual about the entire do-over ideal. Granted, no compilation of opinion can be truly accurate. As noted many times before, mainstream film critics and commentators generally hate the genre, dismissing it outright without giving it a moment’s mindful consideration. The Evil Dead or John Carpenter’s version of The Thing could be the creepiest, most craven experience in all of fear and yet someone in the shadow of their own monitor will deem it unworthy of satisfying its own cinematic mandates—if they consider it at all.

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Thursday, Apr 29, 2010
Taking advantage of his unusual looks and complex demeanor, directors such as Todd Field and Zack Snyder have recognized that when it comes to able anti-heroes, the brilliant bad guys we clearly love to loathe, Haley is absolutely flawless.

Jackie Earle Haley was a child star. He made a major splash in The Bad News Bears (the Walter Matthau/Tatum O’Neal version) as greasy pre-teen cool guy Kelly Leak and solidified his post-kiddie stardom with an amazing turn in the Oscar winning Breaking Away. Some may even remember him as the suave-lite sidekick to Tom Cruise in the tacky teen sex comedy Losin’ It. But after appearing in a couple of low budget horror films in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, Haley decided to drop out of Hollywood. No longer capable of playing the pimply loners with a simultaneously schizophrenic sweet/sinister side, he moved to Texas and became a successful director of TV commercial. Another tale of youthful aspirations undermined by adult realities.

Almost 13 years passed before Sean Penn suggested he be part of the All the King’s Men remake. It was a risky move, considering Haley’s mature celebrity was shaky at best. Taking the small part of bodyguard Roderick “Sugar Boy” Ellis, the actor re-announced his desire to be part of the movie mainstream - and then came on like gangbusters. Since then, he’s done nothing but definitive work. Beginning in 2006, Haley has given three Academy-worthy performances in high profile films, acting turns which illustrate how powerful this unassuming star can be. Taking advantage of his unusual looks and complex demeanor, directors such as Todd Field and Zack Snyder have recognized that when it comes to able anti-heroes, the brilliant bad guys we clearly love to loathe, Haley is absolutely flawless.

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Wednesday, Apr 28, 2010
Yet the most reasonable explanation for A Nightmare on Elm Street's continuing relevance has less to do with subtext and more to do with simplicity. Like a good ghost story, it lasts because it works.

The original was a spark of creative fire in an era soaked in simplified slasher excess. It represented the best of its iconic director’s demented vision, and spawned a series of diminishing return sequels - each one forgetting the frights of the first to play up the comic angle of the main character. By the time its legendary status was cemented with a bad ass battle royale with a certain slaughter stalker from Camp Crystal Lake, audience interest had waned. They were no longer interest in the bastard son of a thousand maniacs, his deadly finger razors, the tattered striped sweater and a crumple fedora. What had begun in 1984 with an idea about “dreams that could kill” became the monster mythos of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and with it, the induction of molester turned mass murderer Freddy Krueger into the Horror Hall of Fame.

Writer/director Wes Craven could have never imagined the extended franchise life his creepy character would soon have when he stumbled across a newspaper article about young people dying in their sleep. The teens - refugees from Cambodia fleeing Pol Pot’s genocidal regime - where having such disturbed nightmares that they refused to rest. Some who did never woke up again. Taking that material and fusing it to his own interest in Eastern philosophy and a handful of childhood memories, Craven created the accused child killer who ends up the charred vengeance of some grieving parents. As Nightmare begins, Freddy Krueger has vowed payback of a perverse, paranormal design. Haunting the offspring of those who wronged him, he systematically enters their sleep, and with his deadly hand of knives, continues his accused crimes.

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