Friday, August 30, 2013

Amityville II: The Possession

Amityville II: The Possession and I have a history. We go way, way back. It's one of the main reasons I watch horror movies to this day and it also shaped the way I watch them.

When I was a kid I had the best babysitter. Her name was Jana. She was beautiful and cool and an incredibly talented artist. I idolized her. One night, while she was watching me, we started flipping through channels on the television. It must have been close to Christmas because one channel was showing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I really wanted to watch that. Jana didn't. She kept surfing the channels until she found Amityville II: The Possession. She wanted to watch that. I did not. I wanted her to go back to Rudolph. But we had a second tv upstairs and Jana said I could up there and watch whatever I wanted. She said it was alright, I didn't need to stay downstairs with her. But I'd seen the opening moments of this Amityville movie, with the creepy-ass lullaby music and the foreboding side shots of the house with the iconic attic windows that look like eyes. I was scared. No way in hell was I gonna go upstairs and watch Rudolph or anything else on my own. I had no choice but to stay downstairs with Jana and endure the horror. 

My parents made it home long before the movie ended. But it was too late. The damage was done. There are three scenes in particular that I clearly remember seeing that night. I remember the mover discovering the false wall in the basement and going into the hidden room, which is crawling with flies and all manner of leaky, drippy filth. I remember the older brother, who has been hearing demonic voices through his headphones, looking down malevolently from his attic bedroom window on his unsuspecting family and friends below in the yard. But the scene that really got to me was the one where the invisible but undeniably evil forces in the house paint disrespectful graffiti all over the walls of the younger children's bedroom. While the children are in the room, screaming in terror. When the parents get to the room the children try to explain the mess, saying it wasn't them it was the brushes. Their father's not buying it. He's a hothead and a bully and he removes his belt and starts beating the kids with it. This was too much for little-me.

Then it got worse. After my parents got home my dad drove Jana back to her house and I rode with them. Jana told my dad about the movie and told him that she had explained to me that it wasn't real and there was nothing to be frightened about. My dad, however, begged to differ. Nope, he told her, that's based on a true story. It really happened. I'm in the backseat of the truck and I hear that. How on earth am I supposed to react to that bombshell? Thanks a lot, Dad.

It would be years before I'd watch Amityville II: The Possession in its entirety. But just like Stephen Gammell's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark illustrations, the scenes I remembered from watching the movie that night with Jana have always stayed with me. Though it's not the most well-made or frightening movie around it was my first real exposure to the genre. It scared me but the fear developed, as I grew older, into a morbid fascination with horror stories.

Although it's the second entry in the series, Amityville II: The Possession is technically a prequel, loosely based on actual crimes committed in the house at 112 Ocean Avenue before the Lutz family moved in and the events that formed the basis for the original Amityville Horror allegedly transpired. Amityville II opens with the Montelli family, father Anthony, mother Dolores and children Sonny, Patricia, Mark and Jan moving into their dream home. Within the first few minutes of the movie it's apparent that Anthony is an overbearing and, at times, frightening patriarch. I believe that the house begins to have an effect on the Montellis as soon as they set foot on the property but I also think it uses pre-existing familial tensions to create a highly volatile situation. I almost felt like the house was testing the Montellis in the earlier half of the movie, trying to determine which member of the family would make the perfect conduit for its diabolical plans. The entity within the home eventually possesses the oldest Montelli child, Sonny. Although there are moments when Sonny appears to be in control most his actions in the second half of the movie are attributed to the demonic presence that's using him for a host. Sonny is most certainly not himself when he takes his father's shotgun and proceeds to murder his parents and his three siblings (a truly unsettling and heartbreaking sequence in the movie). When the family priest, Father Adamsky (an admirable performance by James Olson), arrives on the scene after the brutal killings have occurred Sonny claims to have no memory of the crimes he has committed. Adamsky becomes convinced that Sonny is possessed and vows to exorcise the demon, even though the church refuses to sanction his actions. 

Amityville II: The Possession is certainly reminiscent of earlier horror films, the most obvious being The Exorcist. The resolution to the story is more or less lifted straight from the William Friedkin classic. The abusive father and the domestic violence in the movie reminds me of The Shining and the demon POV shots are very much like the ones that feature in The Evil Dead. While Amityville II may lack the style and originality of these other more celebrated horror titles I still think it's pretty effective and entertaining. I think Anthony Montelli is pretty repulsive from the start. I hate the way his wife and eldest daughter cower before him and go out of their way to keep him appeased. I still hate the scene when he beats his younger children with his belt. It is every bit as harrowing to me as it was when I saw it as a child. And I hate the way he systematically shatters oldest child Sonny's self-esteem. I think Jack Magner turns in a particularly effective performance as Sonny. At times troubled, menacing and creepy but also sensitive and sympathetic. I think he fights until the very end to retain as much of his humanity as possible while under the control of a powerful and entirely evil entity.

I also enjoyed Diane Franklin's performance as older sister Patricia. She and Sonny have a close bond that's established early on in the movie but devolves into an incredibly troubling incest side plot once Sonny is possessed. I'm not really sure what to make of that development. I mean, this isn't Cathy and Chris in Flowers in the Attic, hooking up because, y'know, they're locked in a freakin' attic, hormones raging, with no one else to turn to for comfort. Nope, this is a demon-possessed older brother putting the make on his sister as an affront to God. And the sister kind of knows what's up and goes along with it anyway. And even though she goes to Father Adamsky to confess she later tells her brother that she's not ashamed of what they've done. It's just all over the place. Kind of like when it's revealed that the house was built on an ancient Indian burial ground (of course) by a witch who fled from the trials in Salem. And it also appears to have some kind of hell mouth in the basement. That is a lot of bad juju to throw at the audience. Better to pick one atrocity and run with it, rather than throwing all of them against the wall to find the one that sticks.

And yet. And yet. Even the missteps are kind of charming. I know I'm biased because I saw it as a kid and it made such an impression on me but I really do think this an alright flick. It's dated and clunky but it has some good gore effects and some decent acting. If you like this sort of thing and you keep your expectations reasonable you're liable to have a good time with this one.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

All Time Top Ten: Tori Amos

Last week, Tori Amos turned fifty. The big day kind of snuck up on me, though, since T and I aren't quite as close as we used to be. I will always count her first four albums among my all-time favorites but I've given up on trying to like the new stuff. I wish I could enjoy her recent output like I do her earlier work but I've come to terms with the fact that the two of us aren't on the same page anymore. I still wish her all the best, even though we've gone our separate ways. In honor of Tori's big day, Joe Reid picked and ranked her top 100 songs for Flavorwire. I agreed with a lot of his choices, disagreed with others, then realized "Here. In My Head" was nowhere to be found so I dismissed his list outright. I have no desire to pick and rank my own Tori top 100 but I've come up with my own top ten. I'm not saying they're the best. Some of them aren't even current favorites. But all of them have been incredibly important to me at one point or another in my life. I've included my favorite lyrics for each one as well.

1. Cloud on My Tongue (Under the Pink)
"Thought I was over the bridge now"
This has been my favorite for quite a while. I've never been able to pinpoint exactly what it is that I love about it. I can't even tell you for sure what in the hell it's about. I know the stories and explanations she gives (something about Anthony Kiedis hitting on her in front of her boyfriend at the VMAs) but they don't entirely jibe with the images that form in my head every time I hear this song. It's like a really melancholy bedtime story. The lyrics are just brilliant but that "over the bridge" part at the end is so emotionally charged and full of regret. It slays me every time.

2. Sugar (B-side, Little Earthquakes, though I'm referring to the live version from To Venus and Back)
"Not enough, just not enough"
I know the stories about this one, too. Tori had a crush on a gay male friend who made her tea but always forgot how many sugars she wanted. And when she was coming up with the lyrics she heard Freddie Mercury in her head singing the chorus. That's all well and good. In fact, that's a pretty great set-up for a song. But I love it for an entirely different reason. In the summer of 2007 Days of Our Lives did this awful storyline with Chelsea Brady and Nick Fallon. Oh my God! That guy? Again? Have I really managed to work a reference to my favorite Days character into this list? Yes. Yes, I have. So, in the summer of 2007 Chelsea was with Nick but she hadn't forgiven him for losing his virginity to her mom. She was attracted to Abe Carver's nephew, Jett, and he was definitely into her. Jett was a typical beefcake daytime dreamboat. Attractive in a bland, plastic way and about as intellectually stimulating as a box of glue sticks. Chelsea wanted to leave Nick for Jett but ended up sleeping with Nick, mostly out of confusion and a sense of guilt but also because she still had genuine feelings for him. Chelsea had never slept with anyone. And the morning afterwards it was apparent that the experience did very little for her. She even told Stephanie that it was like "I blinked and it was over." Ouch. While I maintain that this had less to do with Nick's skills as a lover and more to do with Chelsea's state of mind at the time there's no denying the fact that Nick was set up to look like the lesser man compared to Jett. To Chelsea he was sweet but not enough to satisfy her. Just not enough. This became my unofficial anthem for Chick, my beautiful, doomed and most beloved 'ship.

3. Honey (B-side, Under the Pink)
"And I think I could leave your world if she was the better girl"
This one reminds me of a guy I kinda sorta dated in college. And I'm just gonna leave it at that.

4. Here. In My Head (B-side, Little Earthquakes)
"Maybe I'm just the horizon you run to when she has left you"
I love what Tori says about this one (source - hereinmyhead.com):
"Do you sometimes just dream. And you think your dreams are what you’re really living, but you’re really not. That’s like my life all the time. I’m always in this dream going ‘Wow, this is really happening!’. And it’s like, ‘No Tori, it isn’t, this is just all in your mind.’ And this song came from that place, it’s like all in my mind. I think I write better when I’m all in my mind, so in a way it’s kind of good that I live in my dreams than it is anyway…"
I live, like, ninety-eight percent of my life in my head. If I had a theme song this would probably be it. The '92 live version from The Bottom Line in New York is especially excellent.

5. Butterfly (Higher Learning soundtrack)
"Pom poms and cherry blondes and their kittens still wrapped in cement"
I have no idea. It's just sad. And the imagery is weird. And there are Sylvia Plath references. Sometimes that's all I need. 

6. Girl (Little Earthquakes)
"Screams from the bluebells can't make them go away"
My first love. Little Earthquakes was amazing to me from start to finish but this song gets a gold star for beautifully and perfectly encapsulating adolescent insecurity. 

7. Icicle (Under the Pink)
"I could have, I should have, I didn't, so"
Equal parts haunting and naughty. I adored it in high school. I love the long piano intro at the beginning. And I love how the emotion in her voice builds and climaxes in a way that mirrors the song's narrative. 

8. Mother (Little Earthquakes)
"Breadcrumbs lost under the snow" 
This one is just good storytelling. A very well-crafted song with lots of detailed imagery. I am a sucker for fairy tale references so the Hansel and Gretel line is the one that sticks in my head.

9. Bells for Her (Under the Pink)
"Blank ettes who can't find their thread and their bare"
This one goes hand in hand with "Girl." I think it touches on the same themes but in a young adult rather than an adolescent context. Lots of folks prefer the more traditional live version but I think the album version, on that tinkling upright piano that sounds like a broken music box, is far more effective.

10. Doughnut Song (Boys for Pele)
"Two suns too many too many able fires"
I consider Boys for Pele to be my favorite album. It's so raw and wounded. I think it's the most ambitious thing Tori has ever attempted. I don't count many of the individual songs among my very favorites but the album, as a whole, works so well for me. I have always been partial to this one. This is one of the more straightforward tracks. I love Caton's hypnotic guitar work. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Meeting Blake Berris

the incredible blake berris & me I am still trying to process my experience at yesterday's Days of Our Lives fan event at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Atlanta. I can't really imagine how the day could have been any better for me. Yesterday morning I attended a two hour Q&A with Blake Berris, Casey Deidrick, Jen Lilley and Chandler Massey. There were fifteen people in the audience. And two of them didn't even show up until the session was almost over. It was less like a Q&A and more like a friendly, informal discussion between a small group of people. When I bought my ticket I had no intention of even asking questions, I was just hoping to grab a seat close enough to the actors to be able to get a good look at them. I was also hoping this first session would get me used to being in the same room as Blake, so that I could (maybe) be a little less freaked out when I met him - for real - at the afternoon autograph session. But the intimacy of the event pretty much demanded that everyone participate and by the end most of us had. I didn't ask that many questions but I did speak up a couple of times. I got a really good reply from Blake at one point, when he talked about a drama teacher he had who made an enormous impact on him. He was so focused and thoughtful in his response and he made eye contact with me the entire time he was talking. It was intense for me. Just before the session ended he mentioned wishing he could shoot some therapy scenes with Marlena. This made my day because I really want therapy for Nick, too. So I said "Yeah, Nick really needs therapy," and Blake nodded and replied emphatically that he did. Again, we had a moment. And it was awesome.

When the session ended the actors left the room and the audience filed out after them. My husband had wandered down from our room to the lobby and he was able to catch a glimpse of Blake as he was leaving, which made me happy. I was attending the events by myself and I really wanted Robert to see the guy I was making such a fuss over in person. His reaction to Blake? "He's very tall." We had a few hours to kill before the autograph session (there was a lunch with the actors but I couldn't afford the ticket price and I probably would've gotten stuff stuck in my teeth anyway, which would've sucked) so we went and had lunch then drove to IKEA and wandered around, looking at sofas and bathroom fixtures, until it was time to head back to the hotel.

I admit I was very nervous about this part of the day. I really wanted to meet Blake and get an autograph and a picture with him. But I didn't want to make a fool out of myself and come across like a great big doofus. And I was self conscious about my nose hairs and my chapped lips. My husband tried to assure me that Blake probably wouldn't have a reason to look up my nose and I had to admit that the chances were slim. He told me everything was gonna be fine. And of course it was. It was better than fine. It was pretty much perfect.

Having no idea whatsoever how these things work I was especially concerned about getting my pictures with the actors. I was on my own, who would take them for me? Turns out there was actually an event staff member on hand to do that but I ended up pairing up with this really awesome, gorgeous lady and we took pictures for each other. This lady was confident and a total pro. She had an awesome camera, she had the Days of Our Lives 45th Anniversary commemorative book, she had, like, three different types of Sharpie. She came prepared. I just followed her lead.

Chandler Massey was the first actor to arrive. He came in the room with the rest of us. There were chairs lining one wall and then the same four round, high-legged tables as before, at the Q&A, where the actors would sit. There were more people than there had been at the morning session but still only something like twenty. Maybe twenty-five tops. All the fans sat in the chairs against the wall and Chandler went and sat at his table. It was like no one knew how to kick things off. Then awesome lady said "Do we have to wait for the rest of them?" and one of the staff members said no, we could start and up she went, glancing back at me and saying "You can come, too." I cannot overstate the coolness of this sassy gal. I would have been lost without her. She got her autographs with Chandler and I snapped pics of them together. Then it was my turn. After Blake, Chandler was probably my favorite. He's quiet but he seems so comfortable and at ease in his own skin. He's got a dry sense of humor and he's very quick witted. I told him that Mom and I thought he was just darling. He thanked me. I said he lit up the tv screen. He said that was probably because he was on meth. So cheeky. When we posed for our picture we put our arms around each other's shoulders. At the last minute I threw my other arm around him too and he followed suit. I remember thinking to myself "I've got this. I can do this. I'm gonna be fine."

Just as we were wrapping up with Chandler the rest of the actors arrived. Sassy lady and I were first in line at Blake's table. I got to stand right behind her while Blake signed her autographs. I was just a few feet away, at most. At one point he looked up at me and grinned. I about died. I remembered thinking, during the Q&A that morning, that all the actors looked just like they do on tv. Which makes sense because it's video and it's HD, as my husband pointed out. But it's still weird to see people in person who look just like they do on the television screen every day. Here's the thing about Blake, though: up close he is gorgeous. Like, knock the breath right out of your chest gorgeous. Like, "How are you even real?" gorgeous. I'm not kidding. He's got these brilliant, bright eyes that just bore right into you. His hair is like a work of art. It rivals Tennant's Tenth Doctor 'do in terms of rumpled excellence. Seeing him up close it almost feels like the Blake Berris you see on Days of Our Lives is in black and white but Blake Berris in person is technicolor. He's just vivid. I know I'm biased but, damn, he's got something. That thing. Like when people used to say Warren Beatty could walk into a crowded room but when he talked to you it made you feel like you were the only two people on earth? It's that thing. I was aware of other people but it was still just Blake and me. This is our exchange, reconstructed as close to verbatim as my memory will allow:

Me: Hi.
Blake: Hi. What's your name?
Me: Diana.
Blake: (exclaiming) Oh, you're Diana!
He said this loudly enough that someone else nearby kind of giggled. And I was a little thrown. I thought there was a chance he'd recognize me from social media but I'd told myself not to be disappointed if he didn't.
Blake: I recognize your face. From your twitter.
At this point I totally lost it. I reached over, grabbed his hand and gushed "Blake, I'm so happy to meet you!" What I said next is a bit of a blur. I'm sure I had the presence of mind not to cry out "I love you" but I think I said something about him being "my favorite" and there was probably some excited hand-flapping and my face turned scarlet. I know this because my new sassy friend pointed it out. She also said something like "This is so cute." This part really is fuzzy for me. All I know is that Blake responded by saying "Aww," hopping up from his seat, and coming towards me with outstretched arms for a hug. I also know this is the exact moment where I fell in love with him. I have always drawn a distinction between Nick and Blake. Nick, hot mess that he is, is the one I love. It matters not that he is a work of fiction. I adore him. When Fairuza Balk's character in Almost Famous talks about the Band Aids loving some silly little piece of music so much that it hurts? That's how I love Nick Fallon. Before yesterday I would  have said I love Blake but only as Nick. I love what he brings to the role and I could never accept another actor in the part if it were recast. But I get that Blake and Nick are not the same person at all. I really appreciate the way Blake interacts with his fans on twitter but I think I honestly did not expect real Blake to be quite this awesome. Much as I told myself I'd play it cool or just freak out internally when I met him I freaked out for real. At least enough that the people around me were aware that I was kind of overcome with emotion. The fact that Blake responded by jumping up and reassuring me with a hug? That's kind. And generous. It just made me feel like he was present, emotionally, in kind of the same way that I was. It's hard to explain. I want to explain it better than this. I only spent a few moments with him and I was definitely overwhelmed but also entirely at ease. That has everything to do with the way he responded to me. He just seemed very genuine and open-hearted. I don't know how anyone could meet him and not fall in love with him. 

So, Blake Berris gave me this great big awesome hug. I have a particular weakness for really good hugs. There's a right and a wrong way to do them, I think. You've got to put your whole body into it. You can't be stingy or superficial about it. Blake Berris knows how to hug. He's got it down. And he's tall. Six foot two. I'm not sure my chin cleared his shoulder. I think my face was kind of buried in his shoulder. And I was just holding onto him and I cried out "I can't believe I'm hugging Nick Fallon!" And I couldn't. I still cannot believe it. 

After that I got my autographs and my picture. I just went for it again, with the photo op. I threw my arms around this guy and pressed my head against his and grinned like a fiend. The first picture was blurry. I remember saying something like "That's okay, I can stand here as long as I need to." The second one is the one I included with this post. I love this picture. I love that Blake is wearing the same henley he was wearing when he met Werner Herzog a few weeks back. I love that I'm wearing a freakin' corduroy jacket in August. I love that we're both grinning and it's all teeth. I look at this picture and I can't help but smile. 

After the picture I told Blake it was so nice to meet him. He said the same. I said "You're amazing." He replied "You're amazing." Love. Love. So much love for this young man.

After that I met Jen and Casey. Jen is hilarious and adorable. Very together and professional and funny and sweet. Casey was the quietest one of the bunch. I liked that about him, given my own introverted nature, but I also spent the least time with him. He's actually off the show now. Just like Chandler, who's just filmed his final scenes. I wish them both the best in their future endeavors.

I really enjoyed meeting all four of these talented young people. But I would be lying if I said I was there for anyone other than Blake. My loyalty to Nick comes before my loyalty to Days of Our Lives. Having met Blake, I'm entirely loyal to him now, too. I'm hoping Nick sticks around Days for a long time but I also hope Blake finds all kinds of other opportunities. He's wonderful and wonderfully talented. I want everyone to be able to see that and appreciate it.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Happy Birthday, Blake Berris!

Today Blake Berris, who plays my most beloved Nick Fallon on Days of Our Lives, turns twenty-nine. Tomorrow he and three other actors from Days will be in Atlanta for a fan event. I have missed previous events but Atlanta's the closest he's come to Knoxville so I pounced on the opportunity to attend. Tomorrow, after obsessing over this crazy, tragic, goofy, endearing and utterly fascinating character for just shy of seven years, I will get to meet the talented young man who works so hard to bring him to life. I am beyond excited. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Evil Dead (2013)

I have a long, complicated relationship with horror movies. I liked odd stuff when I was a kid. My affection for Jim Henson's darker fare was all-consuming: The Dark Crystal kind of ruled my six year-old world. I liked ghost stories and cryptozoology and even when I found things frightening I still kind of loved them. I remember seeing Gremlins on the big screen and shaking like a leaf during most of it. I was so scared but I did not want to leave the theater. At some point, though, certain things really started to freak me out. Not in a fun way but in a bad way. I think it may have had something to do with transitioning from a laid-back, organically structured Montessori School environment to the more rigid and oppressive public school system when I was nine. But it could just as likely have been that I was easily overstimulated and obsessive by nature. 

As a result, I couldn't shut out things that truly frightened me any more than I could the things I enjoyed. The best (or worst) example I can give is my reaction to seeing Stephen Gammell's illustrations for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a kid. Alvin Schwartz's folklore anthologies are written for children and the stories themselves are not particularly scary. Gammell's illustrations, on the other hand, are seriously the stuff of nightmares. So when a friend of mine checked out one of these seemingly harmless horror-fests from our school library I made the mistake of flipping through it. And I was petrified. The images were so grotesque and eerie and after I saw them I could not stop thinking about them. All the time. It wasn't like I thought anything bad was coming for me or was going to happen to me. The images just troubled me deeply. I wanted them out of my head but the harder I tried not to think about them the more I thought about them. In the morning, in the evening, at dinner time, indoors, outdoors, it did not matter. My dad even agreed to buy me a doll I'd been wanting if I would just, please, stop thinking about and talking about those scary pictures. But I couldn't shut them out of my thoughts. I had no way to keep my mind from fixating on them. I don't remember how long this lasted. In my memory it was months of agony but most likely it was closer to a week or two. And eventually the unwelcome thoughts started to recede. I didn't do anything special to make them go away - I just got over it. Then, a few years later, in junior high, I checked out the books for myself. It was a great big deal for me to do this but I wanted to face my fear. So I did. And it was fine. 

This is my rambling way of explaining why, and how, I watch horror movies. Part of me is still that freaked-out nine year-old, trying to confront and overcome her worst nightmares. And partly it's benign masochism, which is fairly common. Common enough that CBS Sunday Morning did a story about it a few weeks back. Benign masochism makes people do things like watch scary movies, ride roller coasters and eat incredibly hot and spicy food, because sometimes doing something scary or painful (while being aware that you aren't in any real danger) can actually be a lot of fun. 

I have a real passion for good old-fashioned scary movies. Haunted houses, ghosts and stories that blur the line between supernatural and psychological terror make me indescribably happy. I seek out these kinds of stories and I am never afraid to watch them. My fear kicks in when I confront gory movies. Maybe I think I'll get the images stuck in my head, like I did Gammell's drawings, and I won't be able to get them out. Despite the fact that that never happens I always imagine that it will, since it did when I was little. As a result I make a great big production out of watching certain movies. This year's Evil Dead remake/reboot/re-imagining/re-whatever was one of those movies.

It actually took me years to watch Sam Raimi's original The Evil Dead. I saw part two in college and enjoyed it, because it was over the top and unrealistic in a fun, hilarious way rather than a grim, serious way. Humor pretty much neutralizes the ick factor for me. But I knew Raimi's first Evil Dead film was not slapstick. So instead of just checking it out for myself I obsessed over it. I researched it. I read reviews and plot summaries. I let it fester. And finally, when I couldn't stand it any longer, I sat down and watched it. And I loved it. It's gross and creepy and at times genuinely scary. But it's also fun, in a benignly masochistic way.

I approached Fede Alvarez's new Evil Dead the same way I did Raimi's original. I researched it meticulously, followed message board discussions, read reviews and watched the red band trailers over and over again. I thought I could handle it but I wasn't sure. Though it was tag-lined "The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience" the consensus amongst the sources I read was that the film was not really scary. The hype over the wall-to-wall gore, however, was incessant. In my mind this was going to be the most gruesome, brutal and disgusting viewing experience of my life. And the movie, for the most part, was utilizing practical, rather than digital effects. I thought that sounded great. For me there is still a tactile quality to real effect work that trumps all but the most sophisticated digital technology. I so badly wanted to support hand-crafted horror. I made plans to go see the movie with a dear friend. Then I got anxious at the last minute and backed out. I put off seeing it again and again until I missed my opportunity to see it on the big screen entirely. I was very disappointed in myself. So when the movie finally arrived on Amazon Streaming I bit the bullet. After several glasses of liquid courage (in the form of red wine), I rented Evil Dead and prepared to be grossed out of my mind.

I was not grossed out of my mind. Don't get wrong, this Evil Dead is plenty gross. It just wasn't the thing I'd built it up in my mind to be. And that's my fault, not the movie's. But even if I hadn't built it up in my mind the way I did I think there'd still be things that would've bothered me about it. 

I think the acting is pretty solid all around. The script, however, doesn't work for me at all. As I watched I was distracted by the dialogue, which felt stilted, clunky and artificial. I initially loved the idea of giving protagonist Mia (played by Jane Levy) a drug addiction backstory to explain why she and her friends don't leave the secluded cabin they're staying in when things start to get hinky (because most of the initial weirdness is attributed to Mia's fragile state of mind as she detoxes). But after thirty minutes or so of plot detail and character development I just wanted these kids to stop talking and start dying horrible, over-the-top deaths.

Of course they did. But it still felt underwhelming. I don't particularly care for the look and feel of the movie. The location itself looks great but the editing and photography seems choppy and slick. It was hard to appreciate the realism of the practical gore (which, as promised, is incredibly impressive) when it felt, at times, like I was watching a music video. More than anything I felt removed from what was happening on screen in a way that was very dissatisfying. That is, at least, until the last half hour or so.

For me, the final act of Evil Dead comes alive in a way that the earlier acts do not. The camera work becomes interesting. And Jane Levy is allowed to become unhinged and over the top in a really exciting way. Watching Mia do battle with the Abomination (the demonic entity she and her friends have unwittingly unleashed) as blood rains from the sky is exhilarating. What a spectacle! What a payoff! I actually re-watched the last part a second time because I found it so entertaining.

I still prefer Raimi's original but there is definitely plenty to admire and enjoy in this new Evil Dead. Watching it is not a bad way to spend a Friday night. If Alvazez chooses to continue the saga I'll make sure to tune in. I may even work up the courage to see the next one on the big screen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

All Good Things . . .

fireplace I am sitting in the darkened living room of my sister-in-law's house, listening to the hum of the dishwasher and the clothes dryer, trying to enjoy the final hours of our wonderful trip to Colorado Springs. Vacations, obviously, have to end and I know nobody likes to go home but that doesn't make this part of the process any easier. There's a roaring fire a few feet in front of me. Sure, it's not a "real" fire but it's pretty cool. I wish we had a fireplace at home. And a view like the one out the living room windows. It's especially gorgeous when it's dark out. I woke up very early a couple of days last week (still acclimating to the Mountain Time Zone) and each time I did I enjoyed the twinkling lights of the city below the house, spreading out from the base of Cheyenne Mountain. This is a beautiful part of the country. I hope we'll get to come back again soon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Breaking Bad in ABQ - The Quick and Dirty Edition

I love a lot of television shows. A lot. I really believe Breaking Bad is the best one I've seen. After four and a half seasons it has yet to take a misstep. I was beyond excited to be in Albuquerque when the final season started this past Sunday. There is tons of information online about filming locations for the series. If we'd had more time we could have found so much more. We tried to stay close to town and hit the highlights.

breaking bad - walter & skyler white's house Our first stop, of course, was Walter White's house. I wonder if anyone has tried to throw a pizza onto the roof.
  breaking bad - a1a (octopus) car wash The Octopus Car Wash. Known as the A1A Car Wash in the series. Where Walt and Skyler launder their drug money.
  
  breaking bad - gus fring's house Gus Fring's house. My husband and I love Gus. What a cool, impressive, terrifying adversary.

  breaking bad - hank & marie schrader's house Hank and Marie's house. I like to think the interior decor is heavy on the purple.
  breaking bad - jesse pinkman's house Jesse Pinkman's house. I got very emotional at this one. Jesse is my favorite. I love him with all my heart.
  breaking bad - crossroads motel Crossroads Motel, where we see most of Wendy's scenes. Wendy is another favorite minor character. I love it when she stands up to Hank during interrogation. She's a pistol and a survivor.
  breaking bad - los pollos hermanos (twisters) Los Pollos Hermanos, also known as Twisters. I like that they freely advertise their Breaking Bad connection. Eating a chicken sandwich in Gus Fring's restaurant was quite thrilling.

breaking bad - jesse & jane's duplex Jesse and Jane's duplex. Where Jane dies and Jesse wakes up to find his beloved's cold, dead corpse in bed next to him. Poor, poor Jesse.
  breaking bad - near the spot where mike died The Rio Grande. Just outside Albuquerque, near Bernalillo. This is not the exact spot where Mike died but it's pretty close. There was no way to get any closer without trespassing. I did my best to honor Pop-Pop, since he's my second favorite character after Jesse.

Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center

colorado wolf & wildlife preserve colorado wolf & wildlife preserve colorado wolf & wildlife preserve colorado wolf & wildlife preserveOne of the most memorable parts of our trip was our visit to the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide, Colorado. This beautiful facility houses and cares for foxes, coyotes and wolves that have been abandoned or rescued from fur farms, canned hunting facilities, zoos and photo farms that either could not or would not look after them. We did a feeding tour at dusk, which is probably a little more dramatic than their basic tour. We got to make the rounds to the various enclosures with a tour guide and watch as she fed the animals their dinner (lots of whole, raw steaks, chicken breasts and hamburger patties). It was cold, drizzly and thundering the entire time. Ordinarily I would not be wandering around in the woods during such conditions but I was so psyched to be on this tour, surrounded by all these beautiful canids. Our tour guide was knowledgable, passionate and personable. I loved the end of the tour, when she led us in a group howl and then the wolves, all around us, chimed in. That was amazing. Working in a facility like this is pretty much my dream job. I love that they exist and I applaud the good work that they do.

Pikes Peak

ascending ascending summit summit summit descending We set aside a few hours last Friday morning to drive up Pikes Peak. While not as immersive an experience as our drive through the Rockies it was a really fun and beautiful adventure. Once again we encountered some amazing bighorn sheep. They were right by the side of the road as I approached but I wasn't camera ready, which is why they only appear as specs on the horizon in my pictures. We just spent a few moments at the summit (enough time to snap pictures and eat a couple World Famous Donuts at the Summit House) because it was cold and the thin air made us lightheaded but it was a very enjoyable and exciting way to spend a morning. We would like to try the cog railroad some time. Probably in the winter when the mountain is covered in snow. That would be cool.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Red Rock Canyon Open Space

red rock canyon open space red rock canyon open space red rock canyon open space red rock canyon open space
When we were planning for our trip our biggest problem wasn't finding places to hike it was narrowing down the selection. There are options all around us out here. The state of Colorado is like a gigantic Nike advertisement. Everywhere we look people are biking, hiking, boating. It's fantastic. So far we've stuck pretty close to our home base in Colorado Springs. On Monday we enjoyed the trails (and prairie dogs) at Cheyenne Mountain State Park and yesterday we explored the Red Rock Canyon Open Space. This natural area is very close to its far more famous counterpart, The Garden of the Gods (the Gods were even visible to us from several points along the trails that we hiked) but they are a bit more understated and rustic. The trails are well maintained and clearly marked. None of them are particularly long but we were able to combine several to form a really nice little loop hike that wound around the bases of several of the formations and then climbed upwards and offered terrific views. If I lived here I would visit this place all the time. Being out amongst the big red rocks is peaceful and satisfying

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Day in the Rockies

trail ridge road tundra communities trail tundra communities trail tundra communities trail tundra communities trail trail ridge road
Yesterday was my first visit to the Rocky Mountains National Park. We drove from Estes Park to Grand Lake along the Trail Ridge Road. We stopped off in the higher elevations to hike the short but spectacular Tundra Communities Trail. We saw lots of wildlife: marmots, pikas, elk and gorgeous bighorn sheep. As 
we were leaving the park we saw a moose standing perfectly still in a field just to the left of our car. She looked like the gorgeous, rangy creature from the opening credits to Northern Exposure. It had just started to rain and, as we watched, she shook the rain from her coat and trotted away. The park is absolutely beautiful and overwhelming for an east coast gal like me. Everything is big and dramatic and unlike anything back home. I could never say I prefer one setting over the other but it's awe-inspiring to experience so much natural diversity. Thank goodness for our National Parks Service. We are so lucky to have it.