Monday, November 29, 2010

Enter the Dark - Updates

First off if you are in the Boston area this Wednesday, Dec. 1, it's YOUR LUCKY DAY!
Thanks to Mike Snoonian and Chris Hallock over at All Things Horror, Enter the Dark will be playing with El Monstro Del Mar! (which recently took home the award for Best Feature at the Dark Carnival Film Fest), and two other nasty little horror short gems, The Living Want Me Dead, and Get Off My Porch.

Wednesday, December 1
The Somerville Theater
55 Davis Square, Somerville MA 02143
8 pm/$5

El Monstro Del Mar! is an insanely cool exploitation monster flick from down under that has been generating some massive buzz for it's generous Russ Meyer meets Roger Corman vibe.  How can you pass that up?

Speaking of awards...

I'm super excited that my little snack 'o' dread, Enter the Dark took home the award for Best Short at the Dark Carnival Film FestivalWow - as a filmmaker, you don't do it for the awards, but it feels really great when you do get some recognition that all your hard work is actually having an effect on folks.  I really wish I could have attended - it looked like everyone there had a blast.

Also, I just found out that Enter the Dark was nominated in three categories by the Maverick Movie Awards:
- Best Director
- Best Sound Design/Editing
- Best Special Effects

(Drumroll please...) 

And we won for Best Sound Design/Editing!  This is really cool for me because I do think that sound is enormously important in telling a story (especially a horror story) through the language of cinema.  Although oftentimes overlooked, sound hits the audience in an immediate and subconscious way.  For an indie film director, good sound design is the most cost-effective way to creating an authentic and deeply resonant experience.  Try to imagine Eraserhead without that jarring, industrial nightmare soundtrack.

The ironic thing about winning this award is that Enter the Dark has many instances of little or no sound.  Just as composition in art is all about positive and negative space, so is sound.  What many forget is that silence is sometimes the most effective way to heighten tension - and horror movies are all about tension.

We've also been getting some great write-ups by fellow horror bloggers and websites:

The Independent Critic: Enter the Dark is an effective, psychologically thrilling chiller ... involving, slick and suspenseful.

The Man-Cave: Miro provided me with something that I crave as a horror fan. A legitimate scare.

I Like Horror Movies: Fans of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY will be happy to discover this spooky short!

All Things Horror: ...effectively creepy with an atmosphere that kept me looking over my shoulder constantly.

Cinema Crazed: …a nail biting bonanza of moments that will definitely keep audiences watching in anticipation the entire time…

Zombies DON'T Run: …a short movie that's shot very well, creepy as all hell, and has a twist that may just catch you off guard…

For all you aspiring filmmakers out there, just be aware that none of this comes without work.  Since I completed post-production on this movie, I have easily spent 20 hours a week making all this happen.  From burning DVDs, contacting possible reviewers, submitting to festivals, mailing out DVDs, creating postcards, updating the website, Facebook and Twitter - all this is a non-stop marketing blitz.  And I've really only done a small amount.  If this were a feature film I really would want a professional publicist and marketing team, with the end result hopefully that ever-elusive distribution deal.

But for now I'll keep humming along - probably until next summer when I will have completed a full festival circuit.  Then I'll start on the next project - probably another short that may hopefully help to sell a feature idea.

If I'm lucky...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Netflix Short Takes

I've been filling my head with lots of movies via Netflix recently.  I must be working on some idea lurking in the deep recesses of my subconscious that may eventually become a new short movie.

Or... I'm just giving myself nightmares for no good reason.

Anyway, here's a quick look at some of the movies that have been washing over my brain:

Moon  2009 - Directed by Duncan Jones

Moon is a quiet, atmospheric sci-fi film that effectively captured my attention.  Sam Rockwell is brilliant, delivering two great performances as a man and his clone.  Or a clone and a man.  Er - as a clone and a clone - whatever.  This movie borrows ideas freely from 2001, Blade Runner, Silent Running and Solaris, but mostly captures the loneliness and madness that would ensue from being isolated on the moon.  As an interesting sidenote, the director just happens to be David Bowie's son, so I found it impossible to watch this movie and not sing to myself, "Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do..."

4 stars (out of 5)

Trick r' Treat 2007 - Michael Dougherty

This little Halloween treat recalls some of the classic horror anthology flicks like Creepshow, as a number of storylines intertwine on a night when all the spooks come out to play. With tongue planted firmly on cheek, Dougherty still manages to set up some nice scares and easily the best Halloween atmosphere since... well, since the original Halloween.  The fact that this movie (which features Anna Paquin) was unable to get a theatrical release proves how broken the current distribution model is today.  Sure to be a Hallows Eve classic for years to come.

3 1/2 stars

Ginger Snaps  2000 - John Fawcett

If Heathers and American Werewolf in London had a quickie, this would be their lovechild - the movie Jennifer's Body wanted to be, but couldn't get it right.  A clever coming of age story of two sisters, their morbid fascination with death and the teenage bummers that come with being a werewolf, this movie, brilliantly written by Fawcett and Karen Walton, shines brightest in the relationship between the sisters.  While the tone in the first act is perfect, the movie becomes a one-note song and drags a bit in the middle when it becomes obvious that older sis is becoming a hairy beast, and lil' sis is going to try to stop it.  However, the film redeems itself with a powerful ending as it focuses again mostly on the bonds of sisterhood, and less on the bloody scares of lycanthropy.

3 1/2 stars

Inland Empire 2006 - David Lynch

For diehard fans only, Inland Empire is Lynch's most inaccessible and unabashedly surreal movie since Eraserhead.  The story of an actress, Laura Dern, who gets a part on a new movie, whose story may be cursed, who then gets involved with her leading man and then literally falls into her role - blurring the lines of reality, dream, cinema, consciousness, and a room with rabbit-headed people speaking in non-sequitors, Inland Empire is simultaneously frustrating, tedious, brain-fatiguing, thought-provoking and amazing.  Oh yeah, and there's another whole plot-line involving eastern-European prostitutes.  And a crying woman who watches the whole movie with you, on tv.  Or is it radio?

Trying to decipher the riddle of this movie is pointless - it speaks directly to your subconscious.  Let the images and concepts bathe you and take you.  No one does dream-logic like Lynch, and this is his most intricate and rudderless journey yet.  But there are moments of pure Jungian cinema that no one but Lynch can pull off.

3 stars

For an inside look at Lynch's ground-breaking filmmaking techniques for Inland Empire (shot on DV video over the course of a couple of years, with no finished script - which explains a lot) be sure to check out the documentaries, Lynch and Lynch 2.  Again, these are for true Lynch fans only - those who would enjoy a verite look into the mind and working habits of this true auteur.

Antichrist 2009 - Lars von Trier

The most controversial movie of last year, Antichrist is a love letter to depression and madness.  When it premiered at Cannes, it received a large share of jeers and hisses, along with a special anti-award as "the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world".  Seeing the movie already knowing all the hype and fuss actually sets it up much better - I was able to go in, already aware of the "shocking bits" and focus more on the amazing tone and courageous performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

If nothing else, von Trier showcases amazing cinematic chops and scenes of pure brilliance and horror that stick with you long after the more talked about provocative self-mutilating shocks.  Of note are the tour-de-force black and white prologue; the dream scenes of her walking through the woods, her body magically illuminated as she moves in super slo-motion; the shots of bodies and hands rising through the earth; and especially the self-disemboweling fox who mystifyingly utters the words, "Chaos reigns".

Indeed it does.

3 1/2 stars

Deep Red 1975 - Dario Argento

Argento's finest movie not called Suspiria, Deep Red is an almost-masterpiece filled with wondeful giallo shocks.  Argento, like Lynch and von Trier, excels mostly in producing singular moments, memorable scenes of extraordinary beauty and horror.  If you pay too much attention to the actual plot, glaring cracks appear, so instead focus on those moments: the opening murder scene where shattered glass inevitably takes on a major role; the amazing art direction of the Hopper-Nighthawks inspired night club; and the crazy scene of the self-propelled cackling toy.  Argento's masterfully suspenseful setups are as critical as his lovingly gore-filled murderous climaxes.

4 stars

Funny Games 1997 - Michael Haneke.

I loathed this movie.  Really.  I can't remember a movie I hated more.  Haneke has created an anti-movie wrapped up as a home-invasion thriller that is a big F.U. to his audience.  He essentially mocks his audience the whole way through - breaking down the 4th wall - goading them to examine why they are watching such perverse violence.  Well you know what, I didn't make this meaningless violent dreck - you did.  I hated everyone in the movie - the stupid family who deserved to die for their lack of survivor instincts (I mean please... PICK UP A FRIGGIN WEAPON ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!??!), the smug, cheeky lunatics whose faces I wanted to smash in, and even the dog who barks incessantly.  Oh, isn't it clever when Haneke lets his sadistic killer pick up the remote and rewind the movie to change the outcome - yeah, watch this buddy as I fast forward through your movie so I can see if there is any point to this Brechtian meta masturbation.  This is the only movie I can recall flipping the bird to as it painfully got to it's final shot. Let me outta here.

Haneke, please leave the big ideas to filmmakers who can handle it. If you want to watch a movie that deals with themes of violence in society and the media, do yourself a favor and watch something of value like A Clockwork Orange or Taxi Driver.
1 star (only because of the first act suspenseful buildup of the cheeky, ever-polite intruders)

Godzilla: Final Wars 2004 - (does it really matter?)

Step 1 - Connect PS3 player to Plasma screen
Step 2 - download Netflix Watch Instantly App to PS3
Step 3 - stream movies from your Netflix queue through the PS3 to your big-ass screen
Step 4 - pick out the loudest, biggest, Godzilla-est movie ever
Step 5 - tell your two kids they're gonna see something really cool
Step 6 - non-stop giant monster-on-monster action
Step 7 - happy kids
Step 8 - happy dad
Step 9 - do it again (what Godzilla movie are we watching next, Dad?)

3 stars

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Your Worldview Terrifies Me: Se7en and the Four Shades of Horror

When it came time to shoot the final scene of my short horror movie, Enter the Dark, I knew it had to have a certain tone.  This dark ending had to deliver a crushing psychological blow, like the amazingly resonant movies of David Lynch - especially Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive.

A few days before shooting the final scene, I got this gnawing feeling that I needed watch Se7en, one of my all-time favorite films.  As I sat in admiration of the incredible skill involved in that movie - the script, the acting, art direction, cinematography and of course, David Fincher's overall vision, I was mostly overcome by the absolute bleakness of its ending, and especially the amazing performance by Brad Pitt as he is forced to make an impossible decision with the realization that no matter what he does, evil has already won.

I knew I was watching the embodiment of what my ending had to be.

The night that we shot our ending, I had my actor, Charles step into my office, and we alone sat in the darkness and watched that ending of Se7en.  Then we stepped into my hallway and shot our scene.

This got me thinking - what about this movie (Se7en) makes it so above the ordinary for me?  Why does it emote such feelings of dread in me, while other so-called horror films seem so shallow.  It struck me that in this movie, the key issue is that evil has already won.  Throughout the film, Somerset tries to warn Mills that society is rotten to its core, but Mills only learns after he has paid the ultimate sacrifice. 

To me, it is this pessimistic worldview that ultimately terrifies me.  As I examined some of the films that have effected me the most, I realized that most of them contain elements of this same worldview.  Extrapolating this further, I realized there are really four different worldviews that a horror movie (or any story, for that matter) can be set in.  How a storyteller sees the world will greatly influence the shades of horror that he or she creates.

There are 4 primary worldviews: Light, Grey, Dark, and Empty(I know these may sound silly - bear with me with the names, you'll see where I'm headed in a sec.)

-LIGHT - In this world, people are inherently good.  The systems they create: Science, Education, Politics, The Media, The Police, The Military, The Church are all essentially good.  Therefore, the world in which we live is essentially good.  The occasional outbreaks of bad behaving people are anomalies that are swiftly and effectively dealt with by the systems we set up to protect us.

There is no evil - no monsters, no demons. There are simply misbehaving individuals that may have been damaged as children.  Rehabilitation is always the best way to deal with misbehaving individuals. They can always be fixed - there is always a cure.

Good ultimately and always triumphs.  The perfect refinement of our systems will ultimately lead to peace and nirvana.

-GREY - All people have good and evil within them.  Who they become is determined by their upbringing, and ultimately their actions.  Every one of us, every day by our own actions choose to be good or evil.

However, there definitely is real Evil in this worldview - some of which can never be rehabilitated.  The systems we create may be corrupted by this evil and at times work against us. However, Good can always battle back when enough people band together to take a stand and fight against the exposed Evil.

The battle rages on...

-DARK - People are inherently selfish, greedy, violent, sadistic and destructive.  The systems they create reflect their diseased state.  Occasionally there may be glimpses of people who try to do good, but they are ultimately taken down by the true wretched state of mankind.

The systems we create perpetuate a vision that they are protecting us simply to keep us passive - like sheep being led to the slaughter.

Dystopia and destruction are the ultimate outcome.

-EMPTY - There is no good or evil, no right are wrong.  Things just happen.  There is no meaning.

The systems we create do what we tell them to - no more or no less.

In this Nihilistic vision, there is no final judgement -no God or Devil.  What you do, how you treat your family, how you interact with the world matters not.

You are ultimately alone in the universe.

So, if we go back to my old pal, Se7en you might say that it lives squarely in the Dark worldview. I think that is what makes it so damn frightening to me.  If you were to draw a graph (and you know how much I like graphs) and place Se7en on a spectrum from Light to Dark, you might see something like this:

Now, most films will not live entirely within one of these worldviews, but will tend to have elements of one or more.  Looking at a bunch of my favorite movies, if I had a bunch of time to waste, I might graph them like this: (click on image to enlarge)

I find this to be an interesting way to look at movies, and horror movies in particular.  You can see that most of my favorite movies tend to live in the areas of Dark or Empty, or some combo of both.  You'll also notice that almost no horror films live in the Light worldview (no surprise there) so I added some stuff like E.T. and Care Bears Movie so you can see what would live there.  And if anyone can find a movie that is both Light and Empty, please let me know.  A happy, positively nihilistic film is something I'd like to see someone pull off - perhaps the ending of Life of Brian comes close??

Of course this is all open to interpretation, which is ultimately what makes it so interesting.  So, I invite you to argue with me, make your own graphs, chart tv shows, books, comic books do whatever.  It might help illuminate why you've always been attracted to or repelled by certain stories.

The question also becomes then, how do you view the world?  Where would it be charted in the above graph?  I think for me, I'd like to live in the Light world, but know that's a fairy tale.  More and more, I'm convinced we live in a Grey world - somewhere between Grey and Empty. Yeah, we exist in a world somewhere between Alien and Jaws.

Heaven help us all...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Enter the Dark - updates

First off I'm excited to report that Enter the Dark is now available via IndieFlix!

- $1.95 for 30-day stream
- $5.95 for a DVD that you can keep forever and use to scare your friends.

For anyone who has been under a rock for the last six months, Enter the Dark is a short horror movie that I wrote and directed (and edited and produced, yadaa yadaa...).  It tells the story of two buddies who are led on an adventure of paranormal encounters: cold spots, an eerie talking children's book, unexplained apparitions and a final mystery that leads to an unforgettably disturbing ending.

Or something like that.

Yeah, I know it sounds a lot like Paranormal Activity, but trust me... it's a lot different.  In a good way.

It has been getting some great buzz and positive reviews as it has made its way through the film festival circuit.

Speaking of which...

Enter the Dark will be playing at the Dark Carnival Film Festival, Saturday November 20th at 4:00 in lovely Bloomington, Indiana.  It looks like a cool festival with none other than Joe Bob Briggs hosting this year's festivities.  Joe Bob says check it out!

At that same festival, we have just been nominated for three awards:

- Best Short
- Best Editing
- Best Supporting Actor (my buddy, Rob Sandusky)

See, I told you we've been getting good buzz.  Fingers crossed - hopefully we can bring home some hardware.

In other news, the team from Enter the Dark recently had a great time attending the screening at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival.
(L-R) Actor, Charles Yoakum, Writer/Director(and blogger)Todd MirĂ³, Sound Recordist Ben Weiner & 2nd Unit DP/Assistant Cameraman Eduardo Silva outside the Sacramento Horror Film Festival 

The festival was very well organized and we screened in a block of very good shorts, including the very funny, award-winning, The Familiar.  Charles and I were able to do a little Q&A session with emcee, and filmmaker, Blake Reigle who had a tremendous knowledge of the horror genre and asked intelligent, and interesting questions.

Although I was nervous at first, Blake put me right at ease.

Charles has 'em cracking up as usual...
I was able to speak with some other attending filmmakers including James Tuverson (Zombies Take the School Yard), Matthew Roth (The Man Who Collected Food), and Producer Ethan Cushing (Devil's Creek).  Needless to say the atmosphere and experience was much better than what happened to us in Chicago.

That's all for now from the indieworld!