CRIMINAL PODCAST – “A NEW KIND OF LIFE” – 10/31/19

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Artwork: Julienne Alexander.

Listen to it on: Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, etc.

“In 1930, a Cuban woman named Elena de Hoyos went to the hospital in Key West, Florida. She had a bad cough, and her family was afraid she had Tuberculosis. She met a German x-ray technician who called himself “Count Von Cosel” and who claimed he could save her, using unusual methods he’d invented himself. But on October 25, 1931, Elena de Hoyos died. Count Von Cosel wrote that a strange new kind of life began for him.”

Breaking rules is a Halloween tradition. You know, harmless subversiveness – like TP-ing Old Man McKinney’s Buick or distributing THC Jolly Ranchers to trick-or-treaters*. Well, here’s my act of spooky defiance: today, I recommend not a movie… But a PODCAST EPISODE!!

::CUE STROBE LIGHTS, THUNDER CLAP AND AGONIZED GHOST MOANS::

My sister and I became obsessed with the true story of Carl Tanzler (aka Count Von Cosel) after a Key West ghost tour, some fifteen years ago. Incidentally, weirdo Key West has a lot of great local legends that you should be aware of (including Robert the Doll.) But Von Cosel’s macabre exploits really stood out to us because they verifiably happened.

If you’re unfamiliar with this dude, I would keep it that way until you listen to the episode. It’s pretty wild stuff and, for my money, it’s best to go in cold. I’ll just say that the Count was a kooky charlatan who became a little too enamored with a tuberculosis patient named Elena. And his infatuation didn’t end when she died…

Criminal is a painstakingly researched and wonderfully executed podcast that I can’t recommend enough. It’s no surprise that this is the most detailed account of the story I’ve heard so far. Lend it your ears.

And Happy Halloween!!!

Gross-o-Meter: 5/10. Gross stuff happens to dead bodies. That’s why we typically bury/burn them.

*Not a thing.

CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL – 10/30/19

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Peep it on: YouTube, Troma Now.

“The sole survivor of an ill-fated mining expedition tells how his taste for gold was replaced by that of human flesh.”

The source material for Cannibal! The Musical by Trey Parker is the true tale of Alferd Packer – a prospector who resorted to cannibalism during a failed journey from Utah to Breckenridge in the winter of 1874. Parker took that story, added a bunch of made-up shit, and tossed in some of his signature poop humor, gore and musical numbers. The result is a toe-tappingly perverse, micro-budget dark comedy with a heart of gold.

I’ll emphasize that this is not for everyone. It probably helps to have an affinity for / some knowledge of musicals – there are a bunch of hilarious nods to Oklahoma! in particular. But even if you’re just curious to see what the South Park dudes were up to as babies, this is worth the watch. You can definitely see seeds of the remarkable body of work that’s followed. (Trey Parker even does Cartman around the 16 minute mark.)

Unfortunately, the YouTube upload is rather low-res. Alternatively, you can sign up for a free month of Troma Now or rent it on Amazon Prime.

Gross-o-Meter: 7.5/10. The consumption of blood and guts. Plus a gratuitous, spurting cyclops eye.

HAUNT – 10/29/19

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Peep it on: Shudder. 

“On Halloween, a group of friends encounter an “extreme” haunted house that promises to feed on their darkest fears. The night turns deadly as they come to the horrifying realization that some nightmares are real.” 

Calling Haunt a “new Halloween classic” might be a hair hyperbolic. But only a hair. And is it the perfect flick for the final Torturous Tuesday of the season? You bet your creepy generic clown mask it is. 

From the writing team behind A Quiet Place*, Haunt is a lean, aesthetically delightful thriller whose twisted set pieces live up to its logline. I happen to love houses of the “haunted” and “fun” variety and screening Haunt is like walking through a demented combination of the two** without leaving your couch. I also admire the film’s “unsafe” quality – I found myself surprised by where and how far this impish carnival of barbarism was willing to go. 

As icing on the cake, neither the backstory nor the characters made me want to drink bleach – which is more than I can say for a lot of horror movies centered around shot-guzzling college kids. 

Highly recommend this one. Loved it.

Gross-o-Meter: 8/10. I shouted “NO!!!” at my television screen more than once. I don’t usually do that. At the very least, prepare to do some wincing. 

*Full disclosure, I didn’t care for that joint. Fight me. Regardless, this is nothing like AQP

**Albeit one where people get maimed and/or die.

BEST WORST MOVIE – 10/28/19

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Peep it on: Amazon Prime.

A look at the making of the film Troll 2 (1990) and its journey from being crowned the “worst film of all time” to a cherished cult classic.”

Best Worst Movie by Michael Paul Stephenson really puts a smile on my mug. It concerns the beloved 1990 cinematic train-wreck known as Troll 2, as well as the many colorful characters in its orbit. Principal cast, key members of the creative team and a throng of Troll 2 superfans all get their say in this documentary and the result is both fascinating and heartwarming.

It can be tricky chronicling a, let’s say, “not great” movie without being mean-spirited. But Best Worst Movie pulls it off – in part because it was directed by someone who appeared in Troll 2 and clearly has great empathy for the other participants. Best Worst Movie‘s other winning ingredient is George Hardy, another Troll 2 actor who’s so astoundingly good-natured and upbeat about the whole experience that he’s impervious to shame or ridicule.

This is awesome, feel-good stuff. In the words of one of the Troll 2 enthusiasts interviewed in the film: “I feel like you’d have to, like, not have a heart or something to not like it.” You could consider brushing up on Troll 2 beforehand. But it’s not required – the documentary treats its audience as if they haven’t seen it. (Plus you get to witness a lot of the “best worst” bits in the documentary.)

Gross-o-Meter: 1/10. They show some clips from Troll 2 that contain green goo. But I think you can handle green goo.

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE – 10/25/19

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Peep it on: Netflix, Shudder.

“Two siblings and three of their friends en route to visit their grandfather’s grave in Texas fall victim to a family of cannibalistic psychopaths.”

I’m going to use this recommendation as an excuse to tell my Tobe Hooper story. (Tobe Hooper, of course, was the director and co-writer of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.)

In 2014, The Cannes Film Festival honored the 40th anniversary of Chain Saw with a special screening introduced by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, The Neon Demon.) At 10:00am the morning of the screening, Hooper was slated to do a Q&A. I happened to be at Cannes as part of a class at NYU and I was more jazzed about this than, like, literally anything else the festival had to offer. 

So while the rest of my classmates slept in or lined up for the latest Dardenne Brothers wank-off*, I dragged my hungover corpse to the American Pavillion to see T-Hoopz speak. Did I mention I was hungover? I was. Very much so. Turns out consuming alcohol was a local pass-time. (And who was I to disrespect the French by abstaining?) 

I was sitting on the left-hand aisle of the pavillion, looking like groggy, bloated death, when suddenly I glimpsed his iconic haircut and specs out of my peripheral vision. He was going to walk right past me on his way to the stage. We locked eyes. I tried to think of something good to say like, “I’m a huge fan!” or “Can I pitch you all my half-baked horror movie ideas?” But my social anxiety rendered me mute and smiling creepily.  

Then, his expression changed. Like he recognized me or something. I could tell he was going to speak to me – hopefully to say, “I like the cut of your jib, kid – want to be my protege?!”

He stopped right next to me, peered into my puffy eyes, chuckled and said: 

“You look how I feel.” 

Then he shuffled onward. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that. But I never washed my ears again.** 

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a masterpiece. For those who care a lot about horror, I know I’m preaching to the choir. But to casual fans of the genre who’ve perhaps dismissed this title as a senseless carnival of gore and sadism, I gently urge you to give it a shot. It is an exploitation film to be sure – one that lives up to its title – but the craftsmanship and imagination on display is awe-inspiring. The putrid, sweaty art direction. The arresting documentary-like feel to the dialogue, cinematography and editing. I especially love the specificity of all the characters, particularly the villains. Each of the Sawyers has his own distinct, maniacal personality and fascinating role in the family’s hierarchy. 

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a sticky, sweltering, artsy descent into hell. You really gotta see it if you haven’t. 

Gross-o-Meter: 7/10. I mean, it’s nasty. But there’s not as much on-screen gore as one might expect – quite a bit of the violence is suggested.

*I’m just being colorful. Two Days, One Night was excellent. 

**Not true. I Q-Tip with the best of them.