Wednesday, October 31, 2012

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: Top 10 Silent Horror Films

In the early days of motion pictures, films were silent; without sound, music or spoken dialogue, and there are millions of moviegoers today who have NO idea what they're missing! Back in the early 20th century until the late 1920's, film was truly art. Before the age of the "talkies" after 1927, synchronized sound was available during that time, but due to the technical challenges involved, they were very costly and impractical. Although many American film companies were producing silent films, some of the best examples of silent film came out of Europe. While most silent films focused on adventure or romance, filmmakers found that the silent film was perfectly suited to the horror genre. With the advent of the German Expressionism movement, films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922) set the standard of what silent horror films had to offer. If you consider yourself a horror movie fan and you have never seen any of these films than think again. Until you experience these films you have no idea what TRUE horror is! CHERNOBOG'S BLOG Proudly Presents: The Top 10 Silent Horror Films!
#10 Frankenstein (1910) - Directed by J. Searle Dawley, This Thomas Edison produced, one-reeler was the first motion picture adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic novel. Only 16 minutes long, the film starred Augustus Phillips as Dr. Frankenstein, Charles Ogle as the Monster, and Mary Fuller as the doctor's fiancée. This film features one of the most original creation scenes as Frankenstein makes the creature from a skeletal being in a vat of chemicals which was filmed in reverse.

#9 The Golem (1915) Directed by  Paul Wegener & Carl BoeseThe Golem was featured in a series of three films portraying the ancient Jewish legend of The Golem, an artificial man created by a rabbi to protect the Jewish people.

#8 The Monster (1925) - Directed by Roland West, The Monster is a film with an odd mixture of horror and comedy. An aspiring detective happens upon a mad scientist: Dr. Gustave Ziska (Lon Chaney), who inhabits an abandoned sanatorium, performs insane experiments on his patients.

#7 Faust (1926) - Directed F.W. Murnau, this was the first film adaptation of the legendary tale of  Faust, a man who makes a deal with the devil. Starring Gösta Ekman as Faust and Emil Jannings as Mephisto, the film was one of the most complex and expensive productions by the UFA. The "Bald Mountain" scene served as the inspiration for the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in Walt Disney's 1940 animated film Fantasia (also the inspiration for Chernobog's Blog and my wbesite: Chernobog's Lair!)

#6 Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) - Directed by Benjamin Christensen - Häxan is a Swedish/Danish, pseudo-documentary about the history of witchcraft in Europe. Inspired by the director's interest in the occult and his studies of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century guidebook for witch hunters, the film features disturbing imagery along with graphic depictions of sex violence, and Satanic rituals. The film was censored and banned in several countries including the United States until it was re-released in 1968 with a dramatic narration by author  William S. Burroughs.

#5 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Directed by Robert Wiene and starring Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt as the somnambulist (sleepwalker) Caesar who he uses to commit murder. The film has the most striking examples of German Expressionism in cinema with art direction by designer Hermann Warm.

#4 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) - Directed by John S. Robertson and starring John Barrymore as Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde, based on the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, the film features one of the most unique transformation sequences in film history as it was achieved mostly with no make-up, only the ability of Barrymore to contort his face. The final appearance of Mr, Hyde is especially disturbing as he dons a pointed head. The film has been remade a number of times, most notably later in the 1931 version starring Fredric March.
Lon Chaney in London After Midnight
#3 London After Midnight (1927) - Starring Lon Chaney as a fake vampire. This film is considered amongst one of the many lost films of the silent era as no existing footage of the film is known to exist. In 2002, Turner Classic Movies commissioned restoration producer Rick Schmidlin to produce a 45 minute reconstruction of the film, using surviving production photographs.

#2 The Phantom of the Opera (1925) - Directed by Rupert Julian and starring Lon Chaney Sr. as Erik, The Phantom. The original Phantom of the Opera is considered to be the most popular and most successful silent horror film of all time. Based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, the production was plagued with problems from the start between the director and the cast. Later famed producer  Carl Laemmle assigned Edward Sedgwick as the director to re-shoot much of the film including a new ending. The highly original and influential make-up effects created by Lon Chaney himself (as with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)) was inspired by the novel and wounded soldiers from the first World War. The film features a short scene where The Phantom appears as The Red Death which was filmed in two-color "Technicolor", which was revolutionary for the time. The film sparked a new era for Universal Pictures as hey embarked to produce some of the most iconic horror film monsters ever including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney was set to play Count Dracula, but due to his untimely death in 1930, the studio finally chose Bela Lugosi. The Phantom of the Opera has been remade many times including the 1943 Universal version starring Claude Rains and the recent 2004 version directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Gerard Butler.

#1 Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (a.k.a. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, 1922) - Directed by F.W. Murnau, and starring Max Schreck as Count Orlok, Nosferatu is one of the single-most innovative and influential silent horror films today. Produced as an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, the vampire was renamed due to copyright laws. The film contains THE most visually shocking vampire in the history of cinema, which was also the inspiration for the TV movie adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot (1979). The film was later remade as Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, a.k.a. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht) by director Werner Herzog, and starred Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula. The story of the original film's production was fictionalized in the film Shadow of the Vampire (2000) directed by E. Elias Merhige starring John Malkovich as director F.W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck/Orlock.
Clips from Silent Horror films (I'd turn OFF the sound if I were you!)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Music Review: Dethklok - Dethalbum III

Since 2006, there has been only one truly original virtual/animated metal band on prime-time TV...and that is DETHKLOK!!! The brainchild of musician, creator, writer, and producer Brendon Small, Metalocalypse/Dethklok has been bringing the blackest, most brutal metal ever since their premiere on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim six years ago. Since then, they have released three DVD collections, two music albums and ton's of merchandise (not to mention a string of promotional concert tours!). After this years conclusion of season four, Williams Street, (makers of Robot Chicken) has released the third album from MetalocalypseDethklok - Dethalbum III! This album comes in two different versions: the Regular Edition and the Deluxe Edition. The album contains 12 tracks and features music from seasons three and four of Metalocalypse. With the Deluxe Edition you get a special Bonus DVD with a 32-minute making-of documentary, music videos and also a special iron-on patch. Usually, the music albums coincide with the release of the DVDs whereas Dethalbum III was released on October 16th, season four is expected to be released on DVD ("Church of the Black Klok") on October 30th.
The third album has everything fans have come to expect from the virtual band Dethklok, and more! With all music written by Brendon Small, including vocals and guitars, the album features Gene Hoglan on drums and Bryan Beller on bass. For those who don't know who Dethklok "really" is: there is Nathan Explosion on vocals, Skwisgaar Skwigelf on lead guitar, Pickles the drummer, Toki Wartooth on rhythm guitar and William Murderface on bass guitar. The band itself, (although fictional) has become a notable band in the world of heavy metal/death metal music. While existing as more of a parody/farcical, Spinal Tap-like band, they are in fact, an actual touring band. Currently, the band with Brendon Small is on tour with Machine Head, All That Remains and The Black Dahlia Murder and as a fan since the beginning, I'm looking forward to finally seeing them next month at The House of Blues in Dallas. The tour was scheduled earlier this year but was cancelled and rescheduled due to the arrest and trial of co-headliner Lamb of God's Randy Blythe in Prague for manslaughter. Dethalbum III is an impressive album with a variety of tracks including such favorites as: "The Galaxy", "Starved", "Biological Warfare" and "Rejoin". My only criticism is that this is also to date this album contains some of the most explicit and vulgar lyrics yet, especially considering the name of the first track. And as far as the arrangement of the album goes, the first track should have definitely been "The Galaxy" as it is the most epic track ever! As of now, it has surpassed Dethalbum II (2009), peaking at #10 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling over 20,000 copies in the first week, thus making it the highest charting death metal album! I highly recommend it to any fan of Metalocalypse/Dethklok and pick up the Deluxe Edition ASAP!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dallas Comic-Con: Fan Days

This weekend I got to attend Dallas Comic-Con's Fan Days at Irving Convention Center in Irving, Texas! 'Fan Days' is a special event sponsored by The Dallas Comic-Con which has been running since 1994. The Dallas Comic-Con usually occurs in May along with the Sci-Fi Expo in February. Fan Days is a huge pop-culture event presenting celebrity guess from movies and TV along with comic book artists and writers and of course a huge dealers room with tons of comics and collectibles! Some of this year's special celebrity guests included: Bruce Campbell, Felicia Day, Robert Englund, Ray Park, Sean Astin, Lance Henrikson, Ralph Bakshi, Ian McDiarmid, David Prowse and Stan Lee! The 501st also made an appearance along with the U.S. Marivne Corps. Reserve to support Toys For Tots. I have always been a regular attendee of some of the major conventions that occur around the Dallas-Ft.Wroth Metroplex (i.e. All-Con, A-Kon, AnimeFest, Comic-Con, Texas Frightmare) even when I was younger I would attend Star trek conventions with my parents.
Stan Lee
As conventions get bigger and more popular (and more crowded!) prices go up as well as the quality of celebrity guests get better. I have enjoyed going to these for years but it seems like every year it just gets crazier and even more expensive! I am a devoted con-goer and celebrity autograph collector. While back in the day for the price of admission you could get autographs from whatever celebrity you wanted (on your item) with an occasional fee if you wanted to purchase any photos or merchandise they might have. But in recent years, celebrities have been charging more and more for their autographs, anywhere from an average of $20 to $30. Now the average price at Comic-Con is $40 with some celebrities charging more. The most expensive guests this years included Stan Lee who charged $50 for an autograph and Ian McDiarmid for $100! And that's not including the offered "Photo-Op" or even personalization. With the thousands of people attending and even more thousands who only come for the autographs this makes it increasingly hard for the average fan to acquire autographs from your favorite guests. Some events like Dallas Comic-Con are even offering V.I.P. tickets for amounts up to $100 which gives those lucky few who pay for it many advantages such as early admission, preferred seating and even autograph or photo op 'jumps’ which allow you to "move forward in front of any general admission badge customers in any autograph line or photo op line".
Bruce Campbell
When I pre-ordered my ticket for the convention I had one goal in mind: to meet Bruce Campbell! Star of such cult/horror movies as The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness along with a number of TV (Hercules/Xena, Brisco County, Jr., Burn Notice), movie cameo appearances (Spider-man Trilogy) and voice work. I was excited to meet Stan Lee as well, but I had met him at a very special event when I was younger. I was also hoping to meet Star Wars actors like David Prowse, Ian McDiarmid and Ray Park. I had purchased my autograph ticket for Bruce Campbell so that I would be guaranteed to get an autograph but I didn't spend on the 'photo-op' ticket. While the convention started on Friday, the biggest and busiest day is always Saturday. There were so many people at the con (which was possibly over-sold) that most of the parking was in the adjacent field that surrounded the convention center. When I arrived around 11am, I happened to pass by Steve Niles' booth who was nice enough to sign my trade paperback of 30 Days of Night with no charge! Then I headed to the 4th floor to the main stage for the Bruce Campbell Q&A at 12pm. The panel was fairly crowded with fans as Bruce appeared dressed in a bright, white-suit. The first thing he talked about was the remake of Evil Dead and even treated us to an exclusive view of the trailer! Bruce and director of the original Sam Raimi, serve as producers of the film directed by Fede Alvarez. Bruce apparently fully endorses the film and says it is really different than the original. Bruce also talked about his experiences as 'Ash' on the The Evil Dead trilogy as well as Man with the Screaming Brain, Bubba Ho-Tep, and My Name Is Bruce. He also talked about his views on Evil Dead: The Musical. After the Q&A ended at 1pm, I headed back down to the 3rd floor to see what time the autograph session would be. It wasn't until 3pm so I figured I had some time. Right across the hall was the line for Ray Park, famous for his martial-arts work as The Headless Horseman's stunt-double in Sleepy Hollow, Snake-Eyes in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and of course Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Unfortunately, after I had waited in line for almost two hours for Ray, they cut off the line with me
Ray Park
While I now had to get in line for Bruce Campbell, I was impressed with the helpfulness of the con-staff and volunteers who assured me that I would be able to get into the next autograph session for Ray Park. I got in line for Bruce which had formed outside in a shaded walkway. I was waiting patiently with Group 2 with my ticket in hand and my Special Necronomicon Edition DVD of The Evil Dead! For anyone who follows my Twitter or Facebook feed knows, I was growing increasingly impatient in-line. While the weather was pleasant, the wind was very strong being under the outdoor, covered-walkway. Two hours later...I finally got in to see him around 5pm, he was very nice, signed my DVD/book with his flourished signature of Bruce along with 'Ash' and even added "P.S. Burn This!". Afterwards I was able to 'cut' in-line to see Ray Park, who was very approachable and easy to talk to, where I bought a nice glossy 8x10 of Darth Maul and later got to meet David 'Dave' Prowse who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars Trilogy. As he did sign a glossy picture of Darth Vader I bought, he seemed somewhat enfeebled and was rather curt with me as he was also preoccupied, talking to a young lady (in a Star Trek uniform no less!?). Despite my one disappointment, I was very happy to have met Steve Niles, Bruce Campbell and Ray Park. Although I spent most of my Saturday waiting in lines (for almost 5 hours!) and very little time enjoying the rest of the convention, I was however, able to pick up a few affordable items from the dealers room, along with a few pictures and some great memories of one of the largest conventions I have ever been too...unfortunately I probably won't be coming back to for a long, long time!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

With Halloween just around the corner, there are always a few frighteningly fun films out around this time. One of the more "family-friendly" seasonal films comes from one of my all-time, favorite directors: Tim Burton! While I haven't been too happy with some of his recent movies (i.e. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010)), I have however, been a longtime fan of his earlier, darker films such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, or Batman. This time, Tim Burton actually remade one of his own films, namely Frankenweenie! For those who don't know, the new Frankenweenie is actually based on Burton's 1984 live-action short-film, which Tim directed during his brief stint at Disney, which he was later fired from for "wasting their resources". It wasn't long before he would return to Disney/Touchstone Pictures and produce the highly successful The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) which remains one of the most popular titles and not to mention, successful merchandising properties for Disney today. Now Burton has re-envisioned his original idea, which almost 30 years ago, Disney had said was "too scary for family viewing".
Frankenweenie (2012) is a full-length, black-and-white, 3D, stop-motion animation film directed by Tim Burton, which, exactly like his original, is a dog-centred parody of Universal's Classic Frankenstein (1931). Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is a young but odd boy, who likes to make his own monster movies. His only friend is his beloved dog, Sparky (voiced by Frank Welker). One fateful day, Sparky is hit by a car! Inconsolable despite his parent's efforts (Mr. (Martin Short) and Mrs. (Catherine O'Hara) Frankenstein), Victor becomes inspired by his new,  eccentric science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), who demonstrates how electricity affects the nervous system of a dead frog. That night, Victor goes to the pet cemetery and digs up his dead dog and attempts to reanimate him using the power of lightning! Although his experiment is a success, Victor carelessly confides in his creepy classmate Edgar E. Gore (Atticus Shaffer). Then all Hell breaks loose (literally!) when his other classmates learn of his triumph and try to replicate Victor's experiment on their own dearly-departed pets!
The original Frankenweenie, circa 1984
As a fan of the original Frankenweenie at an early age (which was my first introduction to the world of Tim Burton), I remember seeing the censored version on the Disney Channel many years ago. I still own a long out-of-print VHS copy of it, along with the uncut version, which is featured on the Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The new Frankenweenie retains much of the same dark, tongue-in-cheek elements of Burton's earlier work. While the plot remains virtually unchanged, there is the addition of more characters and even a love-interest: the shy Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), niece to New Holland's over-bearing Mayor, Mr. Burgemeister (also Martin Short). The new movie delves more into Victor's character and we get to see more interaction between him and his devoted dog before his unfortunate accident. We are also introduced to some of Victor's more "unusual" classmates (actually their all a little unusual!) including: Nassor, Toshiaki, "Weird Girl" and Bob. The delightful way in which the characters are portrayed are very reminiscent of other famous horror movie actors and personalities. Mr. Rzykruski bears a strong resemblance to Vincent Price, Nassor is very much like Boris Karloff along with his signature lisp, while the hilariously-hunchbacked Edgar E. Gore seems like a cross between Dwight Frye and Peter Lorre. As for the wide-eyed "Weird Girl" and her creepy cat Mr. Whiskers (Dee Bradley Baker), she is pure "Burton-esque"! As for the seemingly "normal" characters who inhabit the little town of New Holland, there are Victor's parents who are so ridiculously oblivious to his activities that they only become involved when his mother accidentally discovers the undead pooch living in their attic. There is one particular moment later in the movie that I found both surprising and confusing where the townspeople confront Mr. Rzykruski (Inherit the Wind-style) about what he is teaching their children and instead of trying to reason with them or explain himself he simply points out very blatantly, how stupid and ignorant they all are! Although the movie is chock full of macabre madness and frighteningly funny moments, there is almost too much going on in the movie which takes away from it's original story of a boy who is unwilling to accept the death of his dog. I suppose Tim Burton and Disney made the agreement to downplay the whole doggy-death while keeping the kid's attention with a lot of crazy characters and creepy creatures such as a flying bat/cat, mutant sea-monkeys and a giant, Godzilla-like turtle! By the climax of the film, there are so many things going on that the original plot is lost and you forget that this all started with Victor and Sparky.
The original Frankenweenie short was very direct and was able to tell the whole story in less than 30 minutes. The final windmill scene as in the original Frankenweenie and it's inspiration, the original Frankenstein, is altered drastically. Without spoiling the end, I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed as I felt it lost much in the way of the emotional impact that I remember feeling when I first saw a boy bring his dog back from the grave. For anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet as a child, the story is very relateable. But as for all of the extra craziness brought on by the horrific hi-jinx, you begin to question why Tim Burton felt the need to remake it in the first place. If you are a fan of the original Frankenweenie, it might be fun to see, but lower your expectations. Frankenweenie is fun, visually and technologically entertaining but it lacks substance. As for other horror-themed animated films this year, I felt ParaNorman was superior.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Star Wars Reads Day: Top 10 Star Wars Books

October 6th is Star Wars Reads Day! On this day, fans come together to celebrate reading and Star Wars. Star Wars and reading have been a big part of my life for a long time. As a life-long fan of Star Wars I started reading very early and Star Wars books were my gateway to reading more. And as a reader, writer and teacher, I have always heavily advocated reading. Most of the Star Wars books and comics are part of the "Expanded Universe" in the Star Wars canon. These deal with stories and characters created apart from the regular cast of characters, some have even grown in popularity equal to that of the movies. To celebrate Star Wars Reads Day, CHERNOBOG'S BLOG Presents: The Top 10 Star Wars Books! "May the Force Be With You!"

#10 Death Troopers (2009) by Joe Schreiber - the first horror story based in the Star Wars Universe since the "Galaxy of Fear" series in the 90's. A  deadly contagion infects the Imperial prison barge The Purge as survivors try to escape from legions of the undead!

#9 The New Jedi Order: Star By Star by Troy Denning - in the 10th installment of "The New Jedi Order" series, the Yuuzhan Vong have begun cloning voxyn, creatures capable of hunting Jedi through the Force and killing them.

#8 Rogue Squadron (1996) by Michael Stackpole - the first novel in the Star Wars: X-wing series. Wedge Antilles has gathered a group of pilots together to recreate the legendary Rogue Squadron, as a dual X-wing and commando squadron.

#7 The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime (1999) by R. A. Salvatore - the first installment of "The New Jedi Order" series this book features the controversial death of Chewbacca!

#6 "The Jedi Academy Trilogy" (1994) by Kevin J. Anderson - Part of a three-book series including Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice and Champions of the Force the series chronicles Luke Skywalker's early attempts to rebuild the Jedi Order after the defeat of the Emperor.

#5 Shadows of the Empire (1996) by Steve Perry - Shadows of the Empire was a multimedia project created by Lucasfilm in 1996 which included the novel, comic book series, video game and an accompanying soundtrack. The novel introduced Prince Xizor, an alien overlord of the largest criminal organization in the galaxy who's goal is to take Darth Vader's place at the Emperor's side. It also introduced another new character to the saga: Dash Rendar, a smuggler, who served as Han Solo's replacement.

#4 "The Thrawn Trilogy" by Timothy Zahn - One of the most popular book series in the Expanded Star Wars Universe, "The Thrawn Trilogy" includes Heir to the Empire (1991), Dark Force Rising (1992) and The Last Command (1993). The series introduced many popular characters, such as Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and of course Grand Admiral Thrawn! As the Rebellion is now the New Republic, the remnants of the Imperial Resistance have chosen Admiral Thrawn to lead an attack on the New Republic with a Dark Jedi at his side!

#3 "The Han Solo Adventures" (1979) by Brian Daley - a trilogy of novels set in the Star Wars universe two years before the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The novels include Han Solo At Star's End, Han Solo's Revenge and Han Solo and The Lost Legacy.

#2 Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978) by Alan Dean Foster - originaly intended as a sequel, it was the first original full-length Star Wars novel to be published after the release of the original Star Wars film, it is also the first novel to be included in what was to be known as the Expanded Universe. Luke and Leia find themselves on the swampy planet of Mimban in search of the fabled Kaiburr crystal!

#1 Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (1976) by George Lucas and Alan Dean Foster - While the book was based on the original screenplay of Star Wars written by George Lucas, the novel was actually ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster and was published almost six months before the May, 1977 release of of the movie. The book differs greatly from the movie in several ways including changes in names and new characters not in the film, as well as the destruction of Alderaan is nonexistent and the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi is changed.

LINKS: Star, Star Wars Reads on Facebook, 501st Legion