Friday, November 30, 2007

Off Season by Jack Ketchum (1980)

I have to admit that in terms of horror novels, I haven't ventured too far from Stephen King (my all time favorite) However, when I heard about Jack Ketchum due to the two movies coming out related to one of his books, I dropped by Borders to see what was in stock. There wasn't much of a selection, so I settled on Off Season.

Off Season, Ketchum's first book, was initially heavily edited in order to be released. Many saw the book as not much more than violent pornography, but I believe horror fans will have a different view.

Overall, Off Season was a fantastic read, and in fact, I finished it in about two days. It begins with a young woman from New York, Carla, who rented a cabin in rural Maine in order to finish a project. But before delving into her work, she has invited some friends, including her sister, Marjie, to visit for the week. Everyone arrives and settles in for fun and relaxation, but little do they know (dun-dun-dun) that there is a family of cannibals residing nearby, complete with several maniacal children.

I was truly impressed by the way that Ketchum represents the cannibal family. These are not Hannibal Lecter types -- otherwise civilized humans with a taste for liver and fava beans, or even comparable to the family in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre -- inbred Southern hicks that have gone a little off the deep end. Ketchum thoroughly describes the cannibals as they are -- primitive animalistic humans who have been living this way for generations and have no understanding of civilization or even modern tools and technology. In no part of the book do you ever feel compassion or understanding for these individuals.

My only minor complaint with this story (and I've heard this in reference to other Ketchum works) is that it was a little hard to keep track of the characters at times -- he uses names for the "humans" in the story, but the cannibal family are all referred to with vague monikers (man in red shirt, tall lanky man, pregnant woman, etc.)

This book is extremely graphic in terms of sex and violence, but I found it very gripping, enthralling, and interesting. Shortly after I finished reading, I found out that there is a sequel (The Offspring) and I am heading over to put my order in at Amazon. Definitely a good read for a hardcore horror fan, but not for the weak of heart.

Grade: B+ (SK's The Shining -- before you saw the Stanley Kubrick movie)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tourist Trap (1979)

So I must admit that I rented this movie for one reason only -- I read that it is Stephen King's all-time favorite horror movie. Due to the fact that my mom once made me ground beef and Spaghettios because she heard it was SK's favorite food (I have no idea if there's any truth to this), I felt obligated to watch this flick.

Tourist Trap is definitely a fun and creepy little movie. It begins when a young couples' car breaks down (isn't that always how it is?) and the boyfriend goes off in search of help, as the girlfriend stays behind. After a while, friends of the girl drive by and offer to help find her boyfriend, who has now been gone for quite some time.

So the group wanders off the highway onto some weird side road (obviously, bad idea) and happens upon this little roadside museum/gift shop that consequently offers hot springs to swim in. So, of course, the girls strip down and go swimming (wtf? weren't they looking for someone?) and the owner of this place (Mr Slausen, played by Chuck Connors) finds them, they explain they're looking for their friend, etc.

Through a few random turns of events, the group of friends all find out that the "tourist trap" and accompanying house are filled with deadly mannequins that come to life, as well as Mr. Slausen's crazy brother Davey. As it turns out, Davey delights in making humans into mannequins (another kind of wtf moment -- wouldn't the bodies rot inside?) and of course this group of poor young victims are left to evade the psycho Davey and killer mannequins.

This movie is definitely good for some campy giggles (you'll be laughing at "see my friend!" and "we're going to have a party" for quite some time) and the creepy factor on this movie is pretty high. The plot is pretty "eh" but the ending is a nice little twist. I recommend it for some fun, accompanied by a few cocktails and friends that would get a kick out of it as well.

Grade: C+ (Tina being dragged across the ceiling in Nightmare on Elm Street)

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

As a major Rob Zombie fan, I must admit that I am slightly biased when it comes to his movies. So, it's time for my confession -- I LOVE House of 1000 Corpses. Although it has been slammed as one of the worst horror movies ever, it's one of my favorites in my collection.

I think the problem most people have with "House" is that they take it a bit too seriously. I look at it as the first venture from an extremely devoted horror fan like myself who just wanted to make a kick-ass horror movie. Sure, the plot kind of goes nowhere, and about an hour and ten minutes in, it veers off into obscurity, but the characters are awesome, the gore factor is there, the vibe is campy, and it even has a few laughs.

I think the story behind "House" adds to it's charm as well. The film was finished in 2000 (after some shooting at the house from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, as well extra scenes in Zombie's basement) but Universal rejected it due to fear of an NC-17 rating. Even after edits, they shopped it around for three years before Lions Gate (IMHO, one of the only places that will take actual horror nowadays) picked it up. This lead to the series of "the movie no one wanted you to see" trailers.

So, to the actual movie. "House" follows four college students (including Rainn Wilson, who currently stars as Dwight on the Office) as they travel across the country gathering material for a book about strange roadside attractions. They come across "Captain Spaulding's Musuem of Monsters and Madmen," and of course, have to make a stop. After exploring the museum, and learning of local legend Doctor Satan, they want to know more. So Captain Spaulding (played by a hysterical and creepy Sid Haig) draws them a crude map and sends them on their way.

The next course of events follows in true horror fashion -- they pick up a gorgeous (but subseqently insane) hitchhiker, get a flat tire, and end up in a situation reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but with much kitcschier characters. The four students become involved in a fight for their lives (and sanity, I suppose) against a family of backwoods crazies with a basement full of dead cheerleaders.

So, if you're looking for the next horror classic, I wouldn't look to House of 1000 Corpses. But if you're looking for some good, campy, gory fun (and Sheri Moon Zombie in assless chaps) then House (and a few strong drinks) is a good bet.

Grade: B+ (Knife through Kevin Bacon's chest in Friday the 13th)