What’s it about? A ragtag group of samurais launch a suicide attack on an evil nobleman and his retinueof armed guards.
Who’s in it? Bunch of crazy Japanese dudes.
You’ll like it if… You like Westerns, Japanese culture, and bloody sword fights. Compares to Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven.
I’m gonna be straight up with you here: This movie is badass.
It’s a typical guy movie in that it’s dark, violent, and deals with the highfalutin concept of honor.
The latter is most important, as this movie is about samurai warriors – which are pretty much honor personified.
In fact, the movie opens with a dude committing seppuku/harakiri right on the steps of a palace courtyard. He does this as a form of protest against the shogun’s half-brother Lord Naritsugu – an absolutely grotesque individual born with a “vicious nature.”
And so the question of honor is raised right from the start.
Principally, we are asked to contemplate exactly what it is to be honorable.
To hear Lord Naritsugu tell it, honor means a strict adherence to tradition. When his top advisor, Handbei, finds him torturing a family, Naritsugu reminds him that the samurai code stresses honor and duty above all, and that it is a master’s duty to punish his servants.
“Dying for one’s master is the way of the samurai,” he says. “Dying for one’s husband is the way of women. “
Of course, it’s not clear that Naritsugu actually believes this. It looks more like he’s using “duty” as transparent and cynical cover to legitimize his brutality.
In fact, Naritsugu’s misdeeds actually threaten to upset the peace that’s reigned for many years prior to his ascendance. And that seems to be exactly what he wants.
Hanbei, on the other hand, does believe in honor and duty. For better or worse, he has pledged fealty to Naritsugu, and he will die before he disavows that pledge.
Shimada Shinzaemon, the assassin enlisted to deal with Naritsugu, is also pledged to service. But for him honor is something more than strict adherence to the social order.
Shinza isn’t just interested in doing his master’s bidding. He’s looking to mete out some samurai justice.
Dude was just chillin’ out fishing before being summoned to his task. But when he sees the results of Naritsugu’s handiwork firsthand, his mission morphs into a personal quest.
“As a samurai, I’ll do what must be done for the people,” he tells Hanbei.
Hanbei’s reply: “A samurai must do but one thing: Serve his master.”
And so the stage is set. Shimada Shinzaemon and ragtag group of assassins set out to kill Naritsugu, even if it means dying themselves.
In fact, their own deaths are almost pre-requisite. The only death for a samurai is an honorable death – either by your enemy’s hand, or by your own.
And so death comes to dominate the story. The last 45 minutes (out of a total 2 hours) are devoted to a wild battle scene, in which the confrontation plays out to its bloody conclusion.
It’s thirteen versus two-hundred. Elaborate traps are set and sprung. Hails of arrows are launched. Swords are swung in the samurai ballet. And heads roll. Literally.
What’s it about? A mother and her son are haunted by a mysterious monster, and perhaps something more.
Who’s in it? Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, The Babadook
You’ll like it if… You like psychological horror. This isn’t a slasher. There are no cheap scares. It’s suspense driven. Compares to The Innocents and the Amityville Horror.
“Ba-Ba-Ba… DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!”
That’s the sound of the Babadook knocking. It’s a shadowy figure that fills the room with its presence, donning a large tattered cape and brandishing razor sharp fingers.
Spawned from a wicked children’s book, this monster torments a single mother, Amelia, and her six-year-old son.
At first, only the child, Samuel, can see it or sense its presence. For that reason the first part of the movie relies on a pretty tired trope of the haunted child and frustrated/exasperated parent (a la Henry Miller’s classic ghost fable “The Turn of the Screw,” its film adaptation “The Innocents,” and Steven King’s The Shining).
Thankfully, the plot soon evolves beyond that, as the Babadook shifts its attention from Samuel to Amelia.
Furthermore, as the movie goes on, it becomes clearer that the Babadook may not be an outside invader at all, but rather the spawn of Amelia’s own subconscious – an amalgam of grief, guilt, and anger wrought by the untimely death of her husband, Oskar.
You see, Oskar was killed on the same day Samuel was born. Nearly seven years later, Amelia is still struggling to cope. There’s a terrible loneliness inside of her, and as much as she loves her son, it seems that at least a tiny part of her blames Samuel for Oskar’s death.
Samuel’s eccentricities don’t help matters, either. He’s pretty irritating early on. So much so that I found it really hard to sympathize with him. Though to be fair, his tantrums are at least somewhat validated by the appearance of an actual monster.
I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about what exactly the Babadook is, except to say that some demons can’t be killed. Sometimes, you just have to learn to live with them.
Also, one more note about the Babadook…
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Babadook does look rather minstrel. It reminds me of the infamous British “Golliwog.”
The fact that this movie is Australian is pertinent here, as the country has a history of minstrel shows and blackface that’s as long and sordid as that of the United States.
In fact, it might even be worse. While blackface is overwhelmingly regarded as inappropriate and offensive in the United States, it’s not such a huge deal in Australia – something Harry Connick Jr. found out a few years ago…
To be clear, I don’t think there was any intention of referencing blackface. But I do see some similarities to what one might call a “voodoo” or “witch doctor” archetype. And those references appeared to be echoed in a very brief, and creepy television scene that represents Amelia’s descent into madness.
In any case, the Babadook is pretty good. It’s dark and gritty. It’s gotten a lot of favorable reviews, and they’re well deserved.
If you have some time to kill, or just want to take a stroll down memory lane, head over to Atari.com and play some of the games.
They’re nothing special in the context of today’s entertainment, but it’s easy to see the appeal, especially to someone back in 1972.
Atari didn’t invent the home video game system, but it was certainly a pioneer. It brought a vivid imagination and programming innovation to a fledgling industry.
Yet, somehow, it doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves. Nintendo gets far more credit, even though it was really just standing on Atari’s shoulders.
I think that’s largely because of the video game crash of 1983. A collapse as spectacular as Atari’s tends to come with a loss of credibility.
Age could have something to do with it, too. My fondest gaming memories are Nintendo-based. I’m not sure if we even had an Atari when I was small. (We actually had an Intellivision.)
So the Atari 2600 is rather mythic to me. I’m familiar with the games, but I’ve never really played them.
As a result, I’ve never played E.T. – the video game, which has legendarily won the title of “Worst. Video Game. Ever.”
Though, that’s exactly the reputation “Atari: Game Over” seeks to confront.
Screenwriter and film-maker Zak Penn travels to Alamogordo, New Mexico in search of the fabled Atari El Dorado.
That is, legend has it, that dragged under by the abysmal failure of E.T. the video game, the dying company, with its last gasp, dumped millions of unsold cartridges in a landfill. They did this in secret, under the cover of night, like top-secret government agents burying a defunct nuclear warhead.
Penn isn’t the only one interested in such lore. He’s aided in his journey by Joe Lewandowski, a former employee at the Alamogordo dump, who has spent years investigating the alleged dump site and convincing the local government to let him excavate it.
I honestly don’t know. But whatever the reason, the Atari generation clearly felt strongly about this. Hundreds of Gen-Xers travelled out into the middle of nowhere, braving desert heat and a Dust Bowl-level sandstorm just to watch construction equipment dig up trash.
The catharsis of the event is most palpably felt by Howard Scott Warshaw, Atari’s ace engineer and the genius behind the E.T. game.
I’m not being sarcastic when I say genius, either. While many video game players panned E.T.’s playability, its formulation was a stunning technical achievement.
Bound by an absurd deadline, Warshaw was tasked with creating Atari’s flagship game in a matter of weeks. Even with modern technology video games take months, and even years, to design, code, craft and polish. Warshaw had just weeks.
It’s hard to blame Warshaw under those conditions. After all, he’s not the one that told Atari to spend a rumored $22 million for the rights to license Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster movie and then rush to get it out by Christmas.
Yet, that’s precisely what happened.
Howard Scott Warshaw, who was probably the greatest video game designer of the era, unquestionably a pioneer in the field, took the fall not just for game, but the collapse of Atari as a whole.
The poor bastard. He’s not even a game designer anymore. He’s a psychologist that works exclusively with other computer geeks in Silicon Valley.
How sadly fitting…
So for me, the emotional thrust of this movie wasn’t in the nostalgia it dredged up for games I played as a kid, it was Warshaw tearing up at the sight of his past literally being dug out of dump and laid before him.
But unlike the ignominious burial, this event was celebrated by the gaming community his art touched so deeply.
Indeed, sometimes, making the very worst of something is an achievement in its own right.
What’s it about? People grappling with varying forms of corruption in China.
Who’s in it? Wu Jiang, Baoqiang Wang, Tao Zhao
You’ll like it if… you can handle subtitles and moderate violence. If you’re curious about China. And if you like good movies.
China has always been a mysterious country. Whether it’s behind a great wall, within the confines of a forbidden palace, or cloaked in the shroud of bureaucracy, China’s inner-workings are always obscured from view.
Centuries of invasion and exploitation have left the country notoriously distrustful of outsiders. China is decidedly introverted – a characteristic that’s been exacerbated by its autocratic leadership.
So it’s fascinating, and in a sense comforting, to see the kind of vulnerability laid bare by A Touch of Sin.
The movie’s brooding atmosphere, violent and sexual overtones, and critical view of public policy got it banned on the Mainland.
But its rich characters, robust storylines, and forceful direction got it nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival,with director Jia Zhangke winning the award for Best Screenplay. (Both the movie and Jia could have won an Oscar, too, but it wasn’t eligible since China banned its official release.)
I didn’t know it before I saw this movie, but Jia is a big deal.
Another one of his films, Still Life, won the top award at the Venice Film Festival. He’s a subversive force China, a country that takes its censorship very seriously.
Rather than present an idealized version of China that Beijing wants people to see, Jia focuses on a more authentic depiction of life in the world’s fastest developing economy – specifically the alienation and disorientation felt by so many Chinese people.
A Touch of Sin divides its focus among four main characters, all of which are driven to violent acts, and in some cases, ends. They’re mini-tragedies that play out against the grim backdrop of a rapidly industrializing nation. (All of them are based on real-life incidents.)
At a small coal-mining village in Shanxi, the air is rife with both soot and corruption. Government officials operate on a plane separate from the local workers. They fly high in private jets, soaring over motorcycle taxis and train wrecks.
In Dongguan, wealthy businessmen choose from a buffet of high-priced prostitutes, while factory workers down the road churn out cheap clothes and iPhones.
In each case, the gears of cold, mechanical progress grind on, lubricated by human blood.
It may not sound like there’s much in common with the U.S. experience, but in truth, the stories are eerily familiar. If it were cast with white, English-speaking actors, it would be easy to picture these stories unfolding in the United States or Europe, as opposed to China – a country that is considered an ascending power that will inevitably challenge Western hegemony.
At its core, this movie is about a country whose social and political structures struggle to keep pace with the evolving desires of its people. It’s about a population of farmers-turned-factory workers-turned consumers. It’s about people overwhelmed by the stress, indulgences, extravagance, disparity, and violence that money can bring.
It’s about the high human cost of wealth.
These stories play out so graphically, with such humanity and vulnerability, that by the end, China doesn’t seem so mysterious at all.
It’s a struggle that dates back to the Plebeians and Patricians of Ancient Rome. It was personified by the populist crusade of Robin Hood in the Middle Ages. And it was settled quite violently during the French Revolution of the Enlightenment, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and all the strikes and skirmishes in between.
It endures to this day, obviously, with the 1% vs. the 99%.
So it’s no surprise that a such a timeless conflict has its ballads.
Honestly, there are so many songs about the subject, the ones I list below are chosen practically at random.
And yet, it’s all so terribly one sided. Every single song written on the subject seems to come from the side of the poor/working class.
I couldn’t find any songs about suppressing wages, circumventing the tax code, or buying a vacation home.
I’m not going to speculate as to why. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
In any case, here is a small sampling of what’s out there…
16 Tons – Merle Travis
When I was a kid, we used to sing this song in music class. It’s kind of a weird thing for a bunch of kids to be singing in school, when you think about it. But I remember wondering back then what exactly the “company store” was.
Well, now I know that these were basically just stores that sold food and other daily necessities. However, they were owned by the company that employed you.
Not only that, most of the low wage workers rented rooms, beds and sheets from their employer as well, effectively sending their entire paycheck right back where it came from.
Eventually, this gave rise to the company town – entire towns owned and operated by a private company.
The most famous of those was Pullman, Chicago, which was owned and operated by the Pullman train car company in the 1880s. This ultimately ended in disaster.
The economic panic of 1893 crushed Pullman’s business. The company slashed wages, but kept prices in its company stores, as well as the rents on its houses. The result was one of the largest strikes in U.S. history – the nationwide railroad strike of 1894.
Some 250,000 workers boycotted Pullman, riots caused $80 million in damages and 30 people were killed before the government stepped in.
It’s easy to forget that people died striking for things like fair wages and an eight-hour work day. But it happened.
The roots of class warfare run deep in America.
Kill the Poor – The Dead Kennedys
They say punk is dead, and in a sense, it is.
But the dream lives on.
Never before, or since, has musical rebellion been so direct, so hostile, so abrasive.
As a movement, punk rock was a direct assault on contemporary values – one that eschewed capitalism in favor of a lawless anarchy.
It raises the stakes far above the battle for decent wages and a respectable living to a fight for our very souls.
It’s not just about capitalism now, it’s about materialism. To a punk, the working man is stuck on a treadmill – a circular pursuit of material excess meant to keep us all in line.
He is governed by unjust hypocrites. Social orders are established not for the public good, but to protect and expand the interests of the elite.
Hence the lament of Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys whose morbid, hyperbolic satire set the standard for punk rock class warfare.
In “Kill the Poor,” Biafra sings of a world in which the wealthy finally exterminate the poor using a nuclear bomb…
“The sun beams down on a brand new day
No more welfare tax to pay
Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light
Jobless millions whisked away
At last we have more room to play
All systems go to kill the poor tonight…”
You almost wonder why rich people don’t do it – just eliminate all the “takers,” “thugs,” “punks,” and “welfare queens” in one fell swoop…
Maybe because if they did, there’d be no one to pick the crops, scrub the toilets, and clean the dishes.
Thatcher Fucked the Kids – Frank Turner
At the height of the 1980s U.S. punk movement, Ronald Reagan was the living embodiment capitalist excess, cronyism and inequity. As such, he was and a frequent target of the U.S. hardcore punk movement.
So too was his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher.
In fact, you could make the case that Thatcher was even more loathed.
This woman was so hated that when she died in 2013, “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” topped the UK iTunes chart for online downloads. (Punk song “I am in Love With Margaret Thatcher” got the number six spot.)
In his song “Tramp Down the Dirt,” Elvis Costello – who I always thought of as a mild-mannered guy – tells Thatcher: “There’s one thing I know I’d like to live long enough to savor. That’s the day when they finally put you in the ground. I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.”
Where does all of this animosity come from?
Well, as with President Reagan in the U.S., there was a push towards privatization and away from government services. Public housing was sold off. The social safety net was scaled back. And the tax burden was shifted from the rich to the poor and middle class.
All of this created a situation whereby the late 1980s a small portion of U.K. was enjoying a boom, while the rest was suffering.
And so a lot of British people hate Margaret Thatcher.
That includes Frank Turner, a musician whose song “Thatcher Fucked the Kids” falls into the small “fuzz folk” or “folk punk” niche. It carries the same angry punk ethos but shifts the focus from ripping guitar chords to melodic arcs and lyrical story-telling.
It’s a satisfying melding. Sometimes, punk can be too grating and folk too boring. So you mash the two together and there’s a nice middle ground.
Changes – Tupac Shakur
It goes without saying Tupac died too soon.
But in addition to that obvious tragedy, one of the things I find so unfortunate about Tupac’s career was that the content of his music shifted from social plight to self-aggrandizement and childish feuds.
He went from rapping about police brutality, drug addiction, single mothers, sexism, and life growing up in a poor community, to rapping about drinking Alize, fucking groupies, and killing his enemies.
It was a huge waste of a mind, and a voice, that could be so profound, so incisive, and so transformative.
The song ‘Changes’ is kind of obvious or cliché, but it’s also Tupac at his best. You can see how many of the thoughts he posits remain relevant 20 years later…
“Cops give a damn about a negro,
Pull a trigger kill a nigger, he’s a hero…”
“We ain’t ready to see a black president…”
“There’s war on the streets and war in the Middle East
Instead of a war on poverty,
They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me…”
So it’s really no surprise that when he wasn’t smoking weed and downing thug passion at a club, Tupac managed to build a movement, what he called “Thug Life.”
People hear that phrase and think it’s just gangsta slang, but it wasn’t. Thug Life was a call for change. It was a philosophy that recognized of the failings our socioeconomic system, but also advocated for improvement from within.
On the one hand, Tupac never blamed anyone for doing something illegal or outside the system to survive or get ahead. If you need to sell crack to feed yourself or your family, then you need to sell crack.
That’s just the way it is.
But on the other hand, if you’re just an absentee father, running the streets and shirking your responsibilities… Well, that’s a problem, too.
I look at where so many 90s rappers ended up. Dr. Dre is hawking Beats. Ice Cube is doing family-friendly movies. Snoop Lion is doing whatever the hell he’s doing. I wonder what Tupac would be doing if he were alive today.
Would he be out there selling 2pac brand liqueur? Or would he be saying some real shit?
I wish he were still around, and that more wisdom and maturity would have come with age. I wish he would have turned away from all the trouble that money, guns, and hos bring, and instead focused on the social plight he opined on with such sincere poetry.
I wish he refined the Thug Life message and reached his full potential as a powerful voice in American society.
On one level, Tupac’s death is the same tragedy we see every day – the tragedy of another young black male lost to gang violence.
But it’s also the tragedy of a man who was strong enough to survive five gunshot wounds, but weak enough to succumb to the material excess wrought by his creative talent and entrepreneurial success.
It’s the tragedy of a visionary artist, a genius, whose mind couldn’t navigate the booby traps inherent in our society to fully exploit the opportunity that abounds.
What’s it about? A rich kid finds out the super-city his father presides over owes its existence to the exploitation of an underclass of workers. Trouble ensues when a mad scientist sends a robot woman to lead a rebellion.
Who’s in it? The pertinent figure here is three-time Academy Award-winning composer Giorgio Moroder. It’s he who spent three years restoring this German film, a large portion of which was lost. It also features music from such 80s luminaries as Pat Benatar, Billy Squier, Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler, and Adam Ant.
You’ll like it if… You’ve been waiting for someone to mash H.G. Wells’s Time Machine up with George Orwell’s 1984 and lay a rad 80s soundtrack over it.
Time. This movie is all about time – the past, present, and future.
It was originally made in 1926, it’s set in the year 2026, and it was updated and restored in 1984.
That’s right. This is a silent film set to a modern soundtrack (modern in the 80s that is).
So how does that translate exactly?
One way I’d describe it is to say it’s a lot like watching the Wizard of Oz while playing Dark Side of the Moon.
Old-timey visuals – visuals whose ambition and imagination far exceeded the technical capabilities of their day – are mashed up with a modern soundtrack that is far more appropriate to the content than it has any right to be.
Another way to describe it would be as a rock opera of sorts, along the lines of The Who’s Tommy, or Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Basically it’s like a 1980s music video that transcended its purpose as a promotional tool to establish itself as art its own right. (They were a rarity but they existed.)
However, that has far more to do with the movie itself, rather than the score. After watching this version of Metropolis I looked the original up on Youtube.
The original score lends the film far more gravitas. That is, it’s tempting to call Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis campy, but I think that goes a bit too far.
Suffice to say, there are a few parts where the music doesn’t quite fit the film’s aesthetic. Still, I found such disconnects more amusing than distracting.
It’s also more entertaining. No doubt, the original Metropolis is a masterpiece. But it’s also nearly a century old, so it’s a bit of an adjustment for the modern viewer. If the modern score is campy, the original is tedious and archaic.
The music notwithstanding, the acting, though silent, is remarkable and the story is timeless.
It’s a good movie.
So if you’re in the mood for something different, give it a shot. You have to be open-minded though… or high.
The AV Club runs a feature called HateSong, in which (quasi-) celebrities talk about why they hate a certain song.
It’s good feature. You can actually feel the burden of torment lifting from these people’s shoulders as they rail against the instrument of their torture.
I yearn, desperately, to share in their collective catharsis.
Many worthy songs have been chosen… but one has not.
Somehow, none of the subjects interviewed by the AV Club have hated on the song that’s tortured me (and all of us really) for more than a decade.
Well, that changes right now.
Today, I usurp the AV Club’s feature and tell the world why “Kryptonite,” by 3 Doors Down, is the worst song ever made.
I’ll get to that in a minute but first off, just look at the assholes in that picture up top.
I mean really LOOK at them.
Gaze upon their faux-hawks, their chain wallets, and their thrift-store chic. Look deep into their dead-eye gazes and tell me if you see anything resembling a soul.
That one guy is wearing not one, but two cross necklaces. He’s like fundamentalist version of Mr. T.
This is the band “3 Doors Down.” And yes, that’s 3 Doors Down, not Three Doors Down, even though EVERYONE in the universe knows we spell out numbers under 10.
And guess what, I looked up how they came up with that dud of a band name on Wikipedia:
“When the three men were walking through the town, they saw a building where some letters had fallen off its sign, and it read ‘Doors Down.’ Since at the time they consisted of three people, they added the ‘3’ to create 3 Doors Down.’”
Amazing. You can name your band anything. You can pull words out of a hat.
You could call your band: Slippery Onion, the Hospital Bombers, the Jolly Green Giants, the Doormen, Midgets Ride at Sunset, Peabrain and the Mulefuckers… Literally anything.
But these jags put maximum effort in exerting no effort whatsoever. There couldn’t possibly be a less inspired way to name your band. They might as well have gone with “Guitar. Bass. Drums.”
So right from the outset, these guys are an uninspired farce.
But then there’s this dickpunch of a song…
As many of you no doubt remember, Kryptonite came out in January 2000, which is fitting, because it put an exclaimation point on the greatest period of regression in the history of music.
Indeed, the decade of the 90s began with innovative and awesome bands like R.E.M. and Guns N’ Roses, passing the baton to Nirvana and Pearl Jam. At the same time, hip-hop truly evolved with Run DMC and the Beastie Boys giving way to 2Pac, Biggie, and NWA.
Yet, somehow we closed out the decade with rap acts like Puff Daddy and Sisquo on the one hand and “rock” bands Nickleback and Creed on the other.
And so in 2000, we’re left with this shit-ass band, 3 Doors Down, which is really just a generic, souless, cacaphonic fuckwagon.
This band is the equivalent of this…
It’s a hydrogenated mush that offends your palette with its banality. It tastes so much like cardboard that it tastes like shit.
And it’s emblematic of everything that went wrong with music in the 90s. We went from anti-corp grunge and indie rock – bands who idolized the DIY, hardcore punk bands of the 80s – to an inauthentic, commercialized derivative.
And Kryptonite is the end product. It’s an imitation of an imitation.
It’s not even a motel painting; it’s the painting of a motel painting, of a motel painting.
And this unforgivable piece of shit has followed me around for a decade and a half. It hit No. 3 on the the billboard Top 100 chart. The album sold 6 million copies. It was No. 1 on the Modern Rock chart for 11 weeks. That’s three months, an entire summer!
This thing was played ad nauseum, and each time it killed a tiny little part of me. It’s a succubous, a leech that feeds off the cringes of its hapless listeners.
And sadly, for that reason, it will be immortal.
At some point in their lives, my kids will hear this song. It will play in the background of a movie about the 90s. They proabably won’t even notice. Only I will notice, and no matter how quietly it plays it will reach a level of unspeakable loudness in my head. I will get a headache from it.
That shitty guitar riff will kick up and this human tampon of a singer will call out his hellish refrain:
“If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman…”
The song’s lyrics don’t even makes sense; they’re completely contradictory to one another.
Look them up for yourself, because I’m not going to reprint them here. They should never be reprinted anywhere… at all… ever. They should be abolished and forgotten like some ancient druid chant that summons the dead.
Fuck this stupid ass song. And fuck 3 Doors Down.
Note: If there’s a song that gnaws at your soul the way this one chews on mine, by all means write me an e-mail about it and I will post it. (Or if you’re too lazy, just tell me what song it is, and if I hate it too, I’ll shit on it for you.)
I think it’s human nature to want to identify with a story teller. They’re sharing an experience with you and you want to see it from their point of view. That’s part of the fun, to step outside yourself and see things a different way.
But as much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t identify with Sean, the protagonist of Wolf in White Van.
Hell, Sean can’t even identify with himself.
“Whoever Sean is, it’s not who I think he is; all the details I think I know about things are lies,” he says at one point.
At another: “I sift and rake and dig around in my vivid recollections of young Sean… I try to see what makes him tick, but I know a secret about young Sean… nothing makes him tick. It just happens all by itself…”
Indeed, Sean’s inner-workings – his motives, his goals, his dreams, his fears… – are virtually impossible to reach. It’s as if they’re locked deep within a fortress, in a distant wasteland, guarded by warlords and radioactive fallout.
Just trying to access that fortress is a hazard in and of itself – hazard, upon hazard, upon hazard.
Just like Trace Italian.
Trace Italian is a game Sean invented. It’s a fictional fortress located in Kansas, the last remaining refuge in a world ravaged by nuclear war. The objective is to simply get there, to penetrate the citadel and find safety in its inner-sanctum.
Sean is something like the Dungeon Master in D&D. He sets players on a path and sends them four options by mail. The players respond with their move, and Sean sends back the consequences of that move, along with four more options. And so the game goes… on until the player gives up.
No one ever reaches the Trace Italian, and rarely do they die. They simply wander through its labrynthian coil, a spiral that never reaches its center.
You can spend hours, days, or even years trying to get there it, but it’s virtually guaranteed that you won’t. It’s an indecipherable code, like the book’s name.
A guest on the 700 club might say this is a Satanic message, but really, it’s a phrase that raises more questions than answers.
What exactly does it mean? Why no article, ‘the’ or ‘a’? Is the wolf locked in the back of the van or riding shotgun? Is it driving?
Like Sean’s narrative, it’s ultimately enigmatic.
Sean doesn’t know why he does the things that he does, and you won’t either.
That’s not really the point, though.
Like fighting your way to the Trace, it’s more about the journey than the destination. It’s a walking tour of a tortured wasteland, a dark and dangerous land patrolled by mutants.
At one point, a long time ago, there was a fortune teller that might have been able to help you navigate the terrain. But he’s dead now. So the best you can do is rummage through his remnants – a few vague artifacts and the key to a door you’ll never find.
Or as Sean puts it…
“There’s power in thinking you’re about to meet somebody who knows what’s next for you, and there’s another level of power in seeing that person’s body on the floor, having to get the information from him somehow now that he’s no longer in any condition to give it.”
What’s it about? An old man and young girl (a vampire) move into a small Swedish community and immediately start offing people.
Who’s in it? Buncha Swedes.
You’ll like it if… You are interested in vampires that aren’t brooding teenagers. You can handle subtitles (more on that below). You can appreciate cinematography and direction (They’re fantastic in this movie). You have crush on Sweden.
Let the Right One In isn’t just one of my favorite horror movies, it’s one of my favorite movies, period.
The story, acting, and visuals are absolutely captivating.
Set in Stockholm, circa 1982, the environment is dominated by darkness. Days are gray and nights are black. Just looking at the sparse, snow-covered landscape, its dense forests and empty streets stretching out into frigid oblivion, is enough to give you chills.
But then there’s the shroud of death.
An old man moves into an apartment complex with a young girl, presumably a relation. It soon becomes apparent that the little girl is a vampire and they must harvest blood to sustain her.
In the meantime, she befriends a local boy, who’s besieged by strife at home and bullies at school.
The story builds from there, and it’s as original as it is tragic.
Its characters test the boundaries of love, devotion, and even sexuality. They’re forced to weigh their own lives against the lives of other innocent people. They are marginalized as outcasts, and yet, they’re inexcorably chained together.
The sense of desolation – both physical and spiritual – is palpable as these characters are driven to extremes. The climate is unforgiving, and so are they.
I really would recommend this movie to anyone. It is technically a horror, and violence is obviously a part of that, but it’s really not that bad. There’s nothing in here that couldn’t be shown on cable. (i.e. Game of Thrones-level)
Of course, you might also be turned off by the subtitles. Again, they’re really not that bad – mostly because there isn’t very much talking in the film.
I’ve watched foreign movies before, and it’s aggravating when you spend so much time speed-reading dialogue that you miss the action onscreen. This movie doesn’t have that problem.
It’s very easy to follow.
Still, if you can’t handle it, then you might consider the American remake: Let Me In, which features Chloe Grace Moretz.
Obviously, it’s not as good, but the story is pretty much the same. (They’re both based on the same novel.)
You really should watch the original, though. It’s packed with the dark chill of a cold winter’s night and the burning sting of frostbite.
As many of you know, I’ve been actively seeking creepy sounds for the Halloween season.
Some of you were even kind enough to offer up your suggestions. And they were, in fact, absolutely terrifying.
So I’ve decided to include some of them (as many as I could!) in this mix tape offering.
It’s broken into two categories…
The first are songs that scare me, J-Money.
The second section includes songs I solicited from friends.
I know you guys didn’t know I was going to use your suggestions for this, and honestly I didn’t, either. It just happened.
In any case, thanks for your feedback!
Let’s get to it…
Songs That Scare Me
Teddy Bear’s Picnic – Henry Hall and His Orchestra
Of all the songs on this list, this one scares the most shit out of me.
Just what is this?
Is this supposed to be a kids’ song? Because it sounds like something Jack the Ripper would sing while gleefully tormenting a prostitute.
For a song about teddy bears, this is the least wholesome sound I’ve ever heard.
The creepy voice… The shifts from high to low… The ominous, yet gleeful tone…
And above all else, lyrics that are terrifyingly vague:
“If you go down in the woods today you’re in for a big surprise… You better go in disguise…”
Well first, aren’t the woods a public space? Shouldn’t I just be able to go whenever I damn-well please?
Because the Teddy Bears are lying there in ambush “beneath the trees where nobody sees” to “hide and seek as long as they please.”
Okay, well, why this particular day then? This sounds like a ritual. Is today the day the Teddy Bears harvest organs?
Is that why I need I need a disguise? Lest I be discovered to be an intruder? Then what?
There’s only this ominous warning at the end:
“If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone!
It’s lovely down in the woods today but safer to stay at home.
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because
today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.”
Good God. What the hell is going on in these woods?
Who are these “Teddy Bears”?
Who the hell is Henry Hill, for that matter? And how many kids did he molest and leave in the forest before hanging himself from the nearest branch?
These are questions for which we will never have answers.
Gooble Gobble, One of Us – Freaks
It would be easy to look at this clip and say it’s not so much the song as it is the circus freaks singing it.
And that’s probably true… to a point.
Still, the song itself is creepy.
I can’t imagine being at a party and having my hosts break into this weird chant of acceptance. You could just go with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” you know?
And if you’re truly accepting someone into your ranks, freakish or not, you need not say so explicitly in the song’s lyrics. That just makes it sound sarcastic.
I like to think I’d be polite in such a situation, but I definitely understand Cleopatra’s reaction. Depending on how things had gone to that point, and how intoxicated I’d gotten, I might freak out, too.
Tom Waits… Just Tom Waits in General
Everywhere I looked, and everyone I asked offered up one Tom Waits song as another.
And rightfully so. He’s an awesome, brilliant musician, whom we all love. And yet, his music can be both bizarre and creepy.
A lot of these old recordings creep me out, and that’s especially true of Leadbelly.
After all, this is someone who went to prison for shooting and killing a man (a relative no less) over a woman. He got out of jail on good behavior, only to go back five years later for stabbing another guy in a fight. And while serving that second term, he got in a fight with another inmate, who stabbed him in the neck.
Finally, after leaving prison for a second time, Leadbelly records this, his signature song, about pursuing a sexual relationship with a minor.
The whole thing sounds terribly menacing. It’s got that whole “If I can’t have you no one can!” vibe that makes me picture him slowly strangling this poor Irene girl with guitar string whilst shushing her to sleep.
He also intimates a desire to commit suicide, either by drowning himself in a river or overdosing with morphine.
“I wish I’d never seen your face,
I’m sorry you ever was born.
“Throbbing Gristle tried to create a disorienting aura to illustrate the pain, despair, and confusion of a woman who was burnt so badly that her flesh looked like hamburger meat. They also tried to create an ominous, evil sound to display the cruelty of keeping someone like that alive. It’s a very disturbing song.”
Alright. Well thanks for that! See you in my nightmares!
Yeah, totally. I get it.
Sure these kids are annoying but they’re scary, too. They’re really everything that’s wrong with the upcoming generation.
They dress like hipsters… They hide lackluster vocals behind outlandish choreography… They’re way happier than they have any right to be…
They’re really just a bunch of entitled fucks.
And worse, in this particular video, they’re giving their phone numbers to strangers (unsolicited), which is the exact opposite of what they should be doing.
Especially with sickos like Henry Hall running loose.
You dumb kids deserve what’s coming to you: Underemployment, crippling debt, shattered illusions, and a Teddy Bear picnic.
Kids in General
This one comes standard. Everyone knows kids are creepy.
What is it about this kind of broken playground music that’s so chilling, though?
Logically, I don’t understand it, because I never met a kid who scared me.
Kids, they’re not so big. You can push them right down or whatever. They’re so weak.
But if you were to happen across one perched listlessly on an overgrown fountain, singing a song like this on an overcast day?
It’d be fucking terrifying.
Kids are weird.
Obviously. This is another no-brainer.
You got a carnival; you got freaks, carnies, and clowns.
What can I say? It’s a weird culture.
But whatever. If they want chocolate give them the damn chocolate. They look like they bite.
DIMMU BORGIR – Progenies of The Great Apocalypse
No. Just no.
These guys are trying wayyyy to hard.
I keep picturing them at their day jobs. Guys like this wear facepaint so you won’t recognize them when they’re toasting your sandwich at Quiznos.
Look guys – Kenny, Bill, Kevin – we all love Halloween but it can’t be year-round. I know full-well you’re not going home to sacrifice anybody. Your mom would never let you get away with that on her new carpet.
There’s not even enough room in the trailer, anyway.
If you wanted us to believe you were spawned from Hell you really shouldn’t of blown 3/4 of your budget on that stripper flopping around on a leash.
You’re damned alright, but not to a fiery inferno. More like an Arby’s in Des Moines with perpetually sticky floors.