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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Van of the Dead Commentary: Vampire Films to Get Real With

Schreck's Orlok remains the most fearsome neck gnawer of the genre.

With vampire lore being watered down for bedroom wall worship these days, I feel it's best in the interest of Halloween to excuse ourselves from the Twilight and Vampire Chronicles teen 'n tween fodder and get real. Though vampire films have frequently been sensuous over the years, we've lost sight of the darkness, so to speak, in the interest of creating hipster love and angst fang bangs for a current MTV generation raised on melodrama instead of music.

The vampire film today has become slick, metro and focused on exploiting the same teenage social subdivision syndrome which has spoken to 13 to 18 year olds since The Blackboard Jungle in the Fabulous Fifties. Kids ostracize one another even without a hidden pair of incisors, so enough already, I say. Let's get back to the primitive. Vampires were once frightening. Now they're cleverly used as pitch-Nosferatu.

Vampire films have been coming at us for nearly a century now and there have been many attempts to deviate from the stalk and suck motif by utilizing comedy like Once Bitten and Love at First Bite or going to absurd extremities, i.e. Blacula. Malcolm McDowell portrayed a whimsically skittish vampire doubling as a night watchman in a blood bank in Tales From the Crypt's "The Reluctant Vampire." Batman and Dracula have squared off in animation land and then there's the space sucker gallavanting in zero G through Lifeforce.

But honestly, the true vampire tale is one trying to provoke or titillate, not one plying for Moon Man Awards. Here's a generous handful of vampire films to get real with...

The original Nosferatu from 1922. Still the vamp yarn to beat.

What else needs to be said? For the ages.

Is that Emily really a vampire or is Jessica F-ed in the head?

One for my Danish sista across the pond, Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1932 classic, Vampyr.

One of George A. Romero's earlier films, this vampire is perhaps more insidious than your average as he drugs up his victims then slices their wrists to drink their blood. Is he really a vampire, though? Sick.

Another of Bela's runs in the vampire mire. Legendary only due to a cutting of 15-plus minutes of footage that reportedly suggested incest back in 1935 when this film was released. Dogs willlll hunt!

I nearly pissed my bed as a young 'un watching that kid's best friend come back from the dead, scratching on his bedroom window. Zoiks and away!

It may have bombed theatrically in '87, but Near Dark has earned a major cult following, deservedly so. One of the best vampire films of the modern age.

Too bad this one's being remade. Who can possibly outdo Roddy MacDowell's Fear-Laden Vampire Killer in Fright Night? One of my personal favorites.

Not much of a story, but it's stylishly filmed (come on, it's Hammer!), attractively lit and oh yeah, the delicious Ingrid Pitt shows her yabbas. That alone earns a thumbs up.

Next to Bela and Max, is there a more iconic Drac than Christopher Lee?

A loose interpretation of Bram Stoker's classic yarn Hammer-style, it holds up due to the tag team awesomeness of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

The film poster for Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is funnier than the content. Hard to believe it came out rated G in the U.S. back in '68.

Love it or hate it, 30 Days is one of the coolest fang frolic concepts ever.

Yeah, this is a vogue film, but seldom few have matched the lushness of Interview and how can you not be impacted by the emotional sunlight dispatching of their adopted "daughter?"

Turning a so-so Marvel comics character into a major league vamp buster, the Blade series lost sight of itself on the second film after delivering a high-impact first installment. Blade Trinity is pretty good, too. The opening scene with the vampire rave and Traci Lords' banging techno in the original Blade is one of the most visceral moments in vampire cinema.

Red hot Lucy Liu tears some up in this excellent vamp-action vehicle also featuring a cameo by Marilyn Manson.

Alright, admittedly The Lost Boys was the Twilight of the eighties, but it still packs a wallop.

The Subspecies series was done on the cheap by filming all three films in the same location in Romania. A direct-to-video phenomenon courtesy of Full Moon, Subspecies holds a captive cult audience because of Radu's badass-ness, plus those little minions are such nasty buggers!

The best of the numerous attempts to convey Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Two words: Vincent Price.

Yet another retelling of Stoker set in Virginia. The cover's juicy, anyway.

The undead takes on the mob! This one's a bloody riot.

They wanted to develop this Hammer fan favorite into a regular t.v. series. Imagine the possiblities...

Bringing things full circle, the brilliant Shadow of the Vampire, a fictional account about disturbing events surrounding the filming of Max Schreck's Nosferatu. Bold and provocative, a must-see.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Van of the Dead's Halloween Hoardefest - Nightmare Revisited

Danny Elfman is one of the greatest composers of our time along with John Williams and Hans Zimmer. Celebrated largely as Tim Burton's musical right hand for many years now, people tend to forget Elfman was the giddy, eyes-shifting master emcee in front of Oingo Boingo. A crafty, slinky gaze Elfman had in Boingo, which left the impression he favored macabre gallows humor. By now we know that to be truth.

A gross percentage of those who do remember Boingo only know "Weird Science" and "Dead Man's Party." Sad, considering Oingo Boingo wrote a considerable number of fun-filled, frolicking horror-tinged jams. "No One Lives Forever" should be heralded for jacking up the scene where Leatherface torments a pair of hellraising frat boys on a bloody bridge to doom in Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The two components were made for each other, as the horn section in Boingo accelerated ol' Bubba's chainsaw screeching against car metal, plus the pulpy screams of the fratheads while DJ Stretch records all of it in a paralyzed stupor. Timeless stuff.

"No Spill Blood," "Insanity," "Skin," "Pain," "Spider," "Flesh 'n Blood," "Grey Matter," "Nasty Habits" and "Insects" are all other Boingo boppers leading to Elfman's future in fugue. He's since scored some of Burton's most successful films including Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd and of course, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Despite a continued flourishment in composing film music, Nightmare remains Elfman's personal masterpiece to this point. From the orchestration to the brilliant lyrics spinning the tale of our beloved Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, Elfman's music bringing The Nightmare Before Christmas to life stands as a cinematic and aural triumph. It is ageless though well of its moment in 1993. Nothing like The Nightmare Before Christmas had been delivered despite Rankin Bass' best efforts, and even though Burton's The Corpse Bride is up to the task, both he and Elfman were in a zone with Nightmare.

Two years ago, Disney opted to celebrate the 15th anniversary of The Nightmare Before Christmas by issuing Nightmare Revisited, one of the coolest recordings to emerge under their imprint. It's not just the fact Nightmare Revisited boasts some loudness with Korn, Flyleaf, Marilyn Manson and Rise Against. It's the fact nearly every artist coming to this project does Elfman's music justice with new twists, re-imagined arrangements and full-on bravado to create an altogether new listening experience.

These are songs ingrained upon fans of the film and Danny Elfman, be it the unnerving imp-shriek on "Kidnap the Sandy Claws" to the woeful melancholy exposed on "Jack's Lament." Of course, the film's signature song is the delightful exposition song "What's This?" where Jack Skellington finds himself in a new world and discovering it with the same inquisitiveness and excitement as a child. To hear Elfman chant "What's This?" like he's emerged from the forest and seen snow for the very first time (as Skellington does in the movie), you buy into the concept that ugliness can be swept into the light and gads, it just be least for a few moments, anyway.

On Nightmare Revisited, Flyleaf inherits Elfman's coveted joy of discovery ode. An uneviable task for most bands. Screw this one up, you've embarassed a master and the entire venture is for naught. You get the impression, though, Danny Elfman might've wept quietly in a closet while hearing the playbacks on Nightmare Revisited, in particular Flyleaf's riveting take on "What's This?" They summon the courage to play it downtempo instead of spritely, more Goth instead of happy-go-lucky. Some people may take offense by Flyleaf's morose interpretation, but stick with it, because Lacey Mosley knocks out a home run once she reaches her crescendos and dammit, you feel even sorrier for Skellington than before with Mosley's passionate wallowing.

Even if Korn's "Kidnap the Sandy Klaws" is delivered like a predictable Korn chunk and spew and Sparklehorse dips into a shaky Prince tribute (Parade era) with "Jack's Obsession," Nightmare Revisited transcends the moment and its artists deliver far more than what's expected of them.

The most stellar performance goes to The Polyphonic Spree with their mini-epic extension of "Town Meeting Song." Metalheads are going to automatically think this is Bigelf performing until you check the credits and realize what a titanic overture The Polyphonic Spree has created in salute to Elfman. They weave a seventies rockcapade with shades of Elton John at his best and Queen, not to mention Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd. Incredible. If the man is capable of tears, undoubtedly Elfman's beady eyes were flooded with this astounding seven-plus-minute re-imagination.

The Vitamin String Quartet follows Polyphonic Spree with the gorgeous chamber instrumental "Jack and Sally Montage." This is Halloween, even if Marilyn Manson gets dibs on the actual song. Manson cuts "This is Halloween" in a heavy thread, yet if you listen deeply, he's tipping a ghoulish brow to Elfman by doing it precisely as if Oingo Boingo had recorded it, minus the brass section. Salud.

The always-interesting Devotchka opens up Nightmare Revisited with a Fiddler On the Roof-splashed polka mindset to "Overture," while Elfman himself graces the project with bookend narration. Sweeter that he first appears after Devotchka instead of before. Automatically you know Nightmare Revisited is skipping convention.

Surprisingly, the pop punkers on Nightmare Revisited show their moxy and bang out some great tunes. Plain White T's are fabulous with "Poor Jack," while The All-American Rejects get the listener into the proper mindframe with "Jack's Lament." Both bands treat Skellington's befuddled musings with dignity and bring zero emo into their work. Jack Skellington is an emotional character, but since the term "emo" has been redefined since the days of Rites of Spring and Dag Nasty, it's highly appropriate Plain White T's and The All-American Rejects sink themselves into the character and hoist the Pumpkin King's crown on-high. Meanwhile, Rise Against plays to their own strengths on "Making Christmas" and its inherent agitation and picked-up speed works like a charm.

The Yoshida Brothers really take the cake on "Nabbed" by fusing traditional Japanese strings with warbled electro fusion and even if it could've been trimmed by a minute, it throws you on a strange pillow to be assaulted immediately by the stirring flamenco of Rodrigo y Gabriela's "Oogie Boogie's Song." You won't ever view Oogie the same way, believe me.

Amy Lee also soars with "Sally's Song" and by the time Shiny Toy Guns weaves Nightmare Revisited to a drafty quietus, if you're not impressed by the ensemble brought into action for this operation, then go dive into Elfman's original score.

Most of these types of enterprises should be approached cautiously because you don't necessarily know if their hearts are in the right places or if there's a commodity-mindedness at work. Nightmare Revisited hardly moos; in fact, it whispers as much as it howls. No Mickey Mouse hot dog dancing at work here. Nightmare Revisited is carefully constructed and reverential of its original source. This album is reflective of Danny Elfman's genius in the manner these songs can be rethought as vibrantly as they are. If you're looking for a good Halloween alternative to the usual monster mashes, this is a hell of a stopover.

And Danny, if you're reading this, PLEASE reform Boingo!!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Van of the Dead CD Review: Saw 3-D Soundtrack

Saw 3-D Soundtrack
2010 Sony Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Commemorating, if you will, the apparent final segment of the bloody Saw franchise, the film comes out this week in the now-gimmicky 3-D format along with a 16 song "soundtrack" purporting itself as "music inspired by the motion picture."

While this writer has been a stout follower of the Saw series (more so for the bit-by-bit story revelation with each film than the gonzo splatter), an objection must be filed against this soundtrack. Okay, sure, the Saw film soundtracks have always held a candle for format radio rock along with the random "cool" underground selections to pass them off as legit. However, with the Saw 3-D soundtrack, the cash cow element rings more blatantly than ever.

Even if soundtracks of the past for The Crow, Spawn and the Mortal Kombat films have likewise attempted to come off hipper than their benefactors, those films made solid use of the core songs while dumping in a few extras under the "inspired by" caveat.

Caveat is the operative word with Saw 3-D's soundtrack. Upon examination of the playlist, it's a Who's Who of Sony, Universal, Virgin and Island/Def Jam rock acts with a couple of breakouts from The End Records, the latter in the form of Lordi and Dir En Grey.

Unfortunately, what you get on Saw 3-D is 13 songs having been out there on the market quite a bit with three "unreleased" cuts (from the aforementioned Dir En Grey plus Saving Abel and Saliva) which we're to assume were recorded for the moment. Of these three, only the Japanese metal expressionists Dir En Grey seizes said moment and creates a miasma of distortion, grind, growl and subliminal emo, thus it becomes the only worthy horror film song of the three new tunes. Saliva panders to the lowest common denominator with their stomp and drink chugger "Badass," while Saving Abel's "Never" opens the soundtrack with a safe 'n steady FM-ready party jam.

Herein lies the inherent fault of the Saw 3-D soundtrack. It should be called "Brodown Tailgating Music Before the Godsmack Show" soundtrack. Seriously.

In my interview with Filter's Richard Patrick for Retaliate #1, Patrick comments how today's rock is fashioned strictly after the mold of Nickelback. Listen to this album straight through and you'll give him his point. Add to the script Papa Roach and Staind, and this tap serves as the primary vibe of the soundtrack. Hinder, My Darkest Days, Default, Saving Abel, I-Exist and Adelitas Way...all polished and primed for AOR with the same ready-made chord progressions and raise your booze in the air ethos. Umm, I want to play a game here, to coin Jigsaw's vernacular. I'm not interested in faux angst to sell $9.00 beers under the guise of a horror soundtrack.

Snazzy of executive producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules to hoist Krokus' latest tune "Hoodoo Woman" and the agitated punk-industrial-crunk ragefest of Wagdug Futuristic Unity's "Ram the Crush" to deviate from the album's ho-hum it's been awhile norm. Wagdug is a major force on this album and they serve up one of the very few moments of extremity for a film series which has made its namesake on extreme.

On the bipolar end of the spectrum is Nitzer Ebb's trance-dancer "Promises," by far Saw 3-D's finest hour music-wise. If you're reading this and saying "Nitzer Who?" then book yourself a semester at Industrial 101. This song does fit Saw 3-D on a subliminal level and better yet, it's a catchy, bumpy dance number ready for tweaking in the terror zone like Traci Lords did for Blade.

Chad Bennington's Dead By Sunrise checks in with "Condemned," the best of the mainstream cuts, though it's merely borderline with horror flavor. Tool worshippers Karnivool also make an appearance with "Goliath," but you get the feeling they were included simply to class up the album a bit prog-wise. Ditto for Kopek's "Love is Dead," which has a tough groove to it, but it feels more at home in a street fighting epic than a gory puzzle escape series.

Tres cool that the Finnish answer to Gwar, Lordi gets a chance to play on a horror film soundtrack, yet the fist-banging anthem "This is Heavy Metal" is a dunderheaded pick, sorry. It's a case of trying too hard to get hip. Dig harder, folks.

Let's hope Saw 3-D the film has more zip, more revelation and more fun than the overly midtempo brew slug music representing it.

Rating: **1/2

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 10/27/10

Hey there, readers! Following some time out spent in the land where grownups can be found lollygagging around in mouse and dog ears and barking at their brood, I'm ready to get back to work.

Retaliate #1 was nearly ready before I took my pause, so I'll be striving to spit-shine it up by the weekend.

Here at The Metal Minute, we'll be taking a look at the Saw 3-D soundtrack a day before the film arrives in theaters and then kick out some Halloween Hoardefest fun prior to more reviews forthcoming after the season of Samhain winds down.

Sad that my production schedule of Retaliate has sidelined my usual month-long celebration of Halloween, but at least there is the "Van of the Dead" section in the magazine where you'll read interviews with Mick Garris, Adam Green and Jonny Trunk to keep the in spirit of spooks. I love Halloween so much it's uncool I've been unable to keep to it, but at least in Disney World, they've been pumping pumpkins and throwing Mickey-themed Halloween parties all month. Too bad you have to pay $65 a pop extra to attend. Got them bills to pay, sorry, Mickey. If the trip hadn't been paid for at the beginning of the year, we certainly wouldn't have been down there to begin with. Worth the aggravation, though. They treat you right down there.

And speaking of Halloween, are we really that obsessed with Snooki and The Situation people want to dress like them for Halloween? The world is a-changing and I'm not sure I dig it. Is there any irony the Snooki sculpt is a Halloween favorite this year? Considering Elsa Lanchester set a decades-long precedent for Halloween hair, there's little coincidence, I'd say.

Scream until you like it...

Nightmare Revisited
Dawn of the Dead Unreleased Incidental Music
Matsuriza - Matsuri Daiko
Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave
Saw 3-D soundtrack
The Memorials - s/t
Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.
Circle Jerks - Group Sex
Ill Nino - Dead World Order
Queens of the Stone Age - s/t reissue
Robert Plant & Allison Krauss - Raising Sand
The Absence - Enemy Unbound

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Hoardefest: Bambi Meets Godzilla

It's a classic...

Monday, October 25, 2010


What's hanging, gang? Took a little downtime to recharge the batteries, even if the energy was redirected towards a rambunctious little one.

I came across this cool performance artist on the street, similar to the silver statue man you can usually spot in Times Square a block away from the underwear cowboy. From head-to-toe this red axe slinger was drenched in paint and he would pose with anyone who came up to him, then return to a statuesque stance. Life is fun where you find it.

Returning to action here at The Metal Minute and putting the finalizing touches on Retaliate #1, get ready...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Circle Jerks - "Operation" Live 12/23/85

From one of the greatest punk albums of all-time, Group Sex...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday - 10/13/10

Happy midweek and mid-October to y'all!

Man, another month is blitzing by and it's usually a time spent obsessively playing horror films all month until Halloween, but yours truly has been grossly under the weather and pushing forward with the debut issue of Retaliate magazine. Layouts are 90% finished, so this will be coming atcha very soon! Stay tuned for final updates before the launch.

I had an interview with Black Label Society guitarist Nick Catanese on Saturday for Retaliate and I'd say he was one of my favorite guests for this issue. The cat's a real, down-to-earth dude who made me laugh after I asked him if Zakk Wylde puts the band through the same weightlifting regimen he subscribes to. Nick had roaring by telling me his exercise regimen is spent lifting the Xbox controller and playing NHL 2011 after each BLS gig. That's rock 'n roll. Unfortunately, Nick's BLS vest and cell phone were pinched at a Guitar World gig the band was performing at, which set him back considerable money; not to mention losing a one-of-a-kind vest given to him by Wylde. Props to Nick for being good natured during our interview and very nice to my little one who came in for a minute to watch his daddy in action.

My thanks as ever to The Metal Minute's loyal supporters. I've been trying get some reviews kicking up here for you but I'm obsessively grinding Retaliate into a reality and you'll see more writing here shortly. Hope you've been enjoying the live photos. Suffice it to say, more of those can be found in Retaliate.

If you haven't heard the new Killing Joke album Absolute Dissent, do check it out immediately. This is the real deal. Original lineup, no cash-in schmaltz. It's one of Killing Joke's finest creative efforts and certainly one of the best albums of 2010, pick your genre.

For now, be well, be loud...

Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
The Absence - Enemy Unbound
Slayer - Reign in Blood
Slayer - Undisputed Attitude
Slayer - Diabolus in Musica
Slayer - World Painted Blood
Subhumans - 29:29 Split Vision
Overkill - Feel the Fire
Overkill - Fuck You and Then Some
Devo - Something for Everybody
Ozzy Osbourne - No Rest for the Wicked
Robert Plant & Allison Krauss - Raising Sand
Devotchka - How it Ends
Black Label Society - Order of the Black
Papa Roach - Time for Annihilation: On the Record & On the Road
Accept - Metal Heart

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Van of the Dead Commentary: Has Hollywood Gone Too Far With the Horror Remakes?

With my upcoming Retaliate magazine, I am incorporating a section on the horror genre. Frankly, I can beat this topic to death because I'm just stunned by the gratuitous heisting of past horror films, namely the cash cow reboots of 70s and 80s vehicles.

The most recent addition this week is the remake of the 1988 cult classic Night of the Demons. The original isn't a masterpiece, but it sure was a breath of fresh air in the midst of the big slasher party dominating the eighties, and though formulaic upon hindsight, I can't fathom why a need to redo it became necessary.

Chainsaw, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left, The Omen, Amityville, The Fog, My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night, it's all coming back in mostly inferior makeabuck fashion. Okay, sure, every generation has seen fit to resurrect vampires, wolfmen, mummies and Frankensteins, but Jesus wept, enough already!

With a reported remake of the brutal rapefest I Spit On Your Grave on the way, how much nastier does it need to be from the original? Seriously, enough.

How about your thoughts, readers? Have you had enough of the horror film hijacking?