Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Overlook Posted by Picasa

"You were always the best of 'em Lloyd!" Posted by Picasa

"Come play with us Danny. Forever and ever..." Posted by Picasa

'All work and no play...' Posted by Picasa

"You are the caretaker Mr. Torrance. You have always been the caretaker." Posted by Picasa

Okay, rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, scissors beat paper and axe beats knife! Posted by Picasa

"I'm comin' Dan!" Posted by Picasa

Please tell me what I think is going on is not going on! Posted by Picasa

"I am the Pumpkin King!" Posted by Picasa

"Shine on you crazy diamond!"

Well, I have talked about some of the typical Halloween beasties and reviewed a representative movie for each. However, there is still one Halloween icon that we have not discussed. Think of any Halloween advertising or packaging you have seen. What image do you always find? Bats? Gravestones? Ghosts? Gobins? Indeed these and more often appear, but there is one image, one idea that is so synonymous with Halloween that we sometimes overlook it. The haunted house. That is the concept behind our final Halloween film for 2005. The perception that some places and structures are evil.

The Shining

The Shining was made by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1980. Some people who were big Steven King fans publicly stated that they did not like the film because the story differed from that of the book. King himself did not like the film because he thought that Jack Nicholson's character seemed crazy from the start and this lessened the impact of the hotel's influence. I have read the book and seen the film several times (including seeing it during it's original theatrical release) and, in my opinion, both versions are excellent.

I admit I am one of those people who read books and then see the movies based on the books and complain that the book was better. I won't digress on this, but I think this happens because an author has much more freedom to tell a story than a filmmaker. Add to that the fact that anyone who reads the book before seeing the movie has preconceived ideas of how the movie should be presented and these nearly always differ from how the film actually is composed. It is kind of like a self fulfilling prophecy. You set yourself up for disappointment.

The book and the movie both tell a similar story, with the same characters, setting and conclusion. The difference is in how the characters reach the conclusion. The book is primarily about father - son relationships ravaged by violence and the emotional turmoil that results. The supernatural is part of the story, but not the prime mover.

The movie also examines father - son relationships and violence. However, in the film the emphasis is less on the psychological aspect of how violence destroys love, and much more on the supernatural aspect of evil influence leading to madness.

The Plot:

The Torrance family Jack (Jack Nicholson), Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and Danny (Danny Lloyd) spend a winter alone at a grand old hotel high in the Colorado Rockys where Jack has been hired to be the winter caretaker.

The Hook:

Once at the Overlook Hotel, the already strained family relationship is preyed upon by the evil supernatural influence of the Overlook.

The Goodies:

I have to admit, I really am not sure how to proceed here. I do not want to go through and review the story because that would take too long and would not be any fun. Most of the movies I have reviewed this far have some silly aspects - intentional or not - that I can point out and joke about. The Shining does not have any of these moments, because it is not really a b-movie. This film has big stars, a big budget, Steven King and Stanley Kubrick! I have included it here because I think it is a great scary movie with fantastic acting and cinematography. It is perhaps the best "haunted house" movie ever made. Some people think that any movie that deals with the supernatural is automatically a b-movie. I guess that is the loophole I have exploited. Anyway, you know this movie will be on TV sometime during Halloween week, so it seems to me to be a no-brainer.

So, if I am not going to run through the story, what can I offer you instead? Well, as I watched the movie, I started to think about some of the major aspects of it as a film presentation. I think these are worth closer examination.


Kubrick was big on using visual and auditory contrast in film to invoke moods and emotion in the audience. You can clearly see this in any of his films. A big deal has always been made of this technique in flims like 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, but I think it works even better in The Shining.

The opening shots of Jack driving up the long and twisting mountain road to get to the Overlook. The helicopter shots of the hotel itself in the high mountains with nothing but snow capped ridges and peaks all around it. The scenes in the hotel once all of the usual employees have left for the off-season. The contrast of the huge proportions of the hotel compared to the relative smallness of Jack, Wendy and especially Danny. All of these implant the notion in the viewer that the Torrances are now stranded in an environment that is both physically and psychologically threatening. The hotel and it's surroundings seem immensely huge, old and
powerful. The people seem pitifully small and weak.

The interior of the hotel, which is a real old hotel located in the Canadian Rockys I believe, provides other opportunities for the use of contrast. The decor and colors, none of which were changed for the film add to the foreboding mood. Again the rooms are huge, the people small, but these rooms are painted in bold colors that really jump out at you. For example the scene where Jack and the ghost of a man named Mr. Grady have a conversation in the men's room. The room is painted bold red and white. This is quite an image especially on the big screen! And of course there is The Gold Room. This is a huge ballroom with a gigantic bar stretched across one end. The room is all done in gold and features an Art Deco vaulted ceiling with recessed lighting. When Jack first goes into this room it is completely empty, later he walks into a mysterious party in full swing, the room is full of people, and they all know him! That is another contrast; empty quiet hallway - huge ballroom full of people and music - bang!

Another use of contrast is in the presentation of the characters themselves. Jack progresses from clean shaven to having an unkempt beard during his stay at the hotel. In one scene Jack is just standing there not moving seemingly in a trance, he is brightly lit in contrast to his surroundings. This is a great scene that invokes the sense that the hotel is manipulating Jack - all without any dialog or even movement! Shelly Duvall's hair seems to be dyed a very dark black. This contrasts with her rather pale skin tone. It does not seem like much, but I think it makes the scenes where she is screaming in terror even more powerful. And of course there is Danny. This cute, quiet little boy is playing one moment or riding his big wheel around the hotel (with the contrasting sound of the wheels rolling over bare floor then carpet over and over) and the next scene he is confronted with images of horror that he simply cannot hope to comprehend. The shots of his silent screaming are some of the most disturbing in the entire movie.

Sound and Music:

Right from the very beginning of the film, the music lets you know you are in for an unnerving experience. In fact, I do not recall any music in this film that I would not call creepy. Even the music used in certain scenes that is not intentionally spooky - the 1920's era music in the Gold Room, the Roadrunner theme playing on TV - helps invoke a feeling of dread because it is happy music playing during very unhappy situations.

Contrast is used here also, to either enhance the audience's appreciation of the scene, or to lull them into thinking nothing is going on right before a shock. There is a piece of music that introduces some of the scenes where Danny "shines". We get used to hearing that and knowing something is coming, then Danny has visions or can hear conversations in another part of the hotel and there is no introductory music!

Music is used to enhance the shocking scenes. There will be no music prior to a shock, such as when Jack "greets" Dick Halloran in the deserted lobby, and then a crescendo to multiply the shock.

Sounds are also used to good effect. In some of the music you can hear what seem like voices howling or moaning. The sound of the wind emphasizes the fact that the Torrances are trapped in the snowbound hotel. As the film moves toward it's climax, the sound of a beating heart is played over the scenes.

The last half hour of the movie uses sound and music to really get the viewers on the edge of their seats. From a soundtrack that only featured music in key scenes it progresses to a constant hectic frenzy with lots of percussion keeping the feeling of anxiety high. And then, in the last scene with Jack, it quiets down again (hint: contrast!).


The Shining is paced very well. It keeps building tension, with very few scenes that let the pressure subside. This really sets the scene for the frantic ending. The film is over 2 hours long, but moves along so well that you never find yourself looking at your watch wondering when it will end.

Great Lines:

The only safety valve for the otherwise unrelenting build up of tension and pressure are the great lines and performance of Jack Nicholson. Don't get me wrong, everyone in the film does a great job, especially Danny Lloyd. But Nicholson's performance is just fantastic. Everything from the sound of his voice to the facial expressions he makes and the way he moves lets you know that the character of Jack Torrance is just waiting to explode. And when he explodes hs is even better! Good Lord, did he practice in front of a mirror? Nicholson's improvisation even dictated some scenes. There is a scene where he is goofing off and bouncing a tennis ball off the walls in the lobby. Reportedly the script only said, 'Jack is not working.' He got so good at swinging the axe that real doors were used instead of the break-apart ones that had been prepared. And Kubrick then had the camera follow the swing of the axe head in those scenes upping the energy considerably. And the famous line, "Heeeer's Johnny!" was improvised by Nicholson.

There are too many cool lines in this film - mostly by Nicholson - to choose from. There is a good collection of them at The Internet Movie Database:

My favorites come from the conversations Jack has with Lloyd the bartender and Mr. Grady.

I don't know what else to say, and this post it still too long! If you have never seen The Shining before you owe it to yourself to do so. If you can, see it at the theater on the big screen. If that is not possible, get the DVD and watch it in widescreen format, preferably on a widescreen TV with surround-sound. At night. In the dark.

If you have seen it before, watch it again and think about the things I have pointed out.

This is a great film.

"I am the Pumpkin King!"

Want a brew that just oozes Halloween? Ya need to get yourself a pumpkin ale. Do I really need to explain what a pumpkin ale is? It's just what ya think it is Slappy, ale made with pumpkin. I went to my local beer store and browsed the dozen pumpkin brews available, and chose the one with the label I liked most! Ha! Don't call me fickle!

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, ABV = 8.00% and IBU = 10 to 20 I would guess.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale is produced by Weyerbacher Brewing Company, Inc. in Easton, PA.

Okay you get the pumpkin, but why is it an 'Imperial' ale? Well, back in the days of the Tsars, English ale was exported to Russia. The Russian court like the English ales but felt they could use a bit more of a kick. Since it was always bad to disappoint a royal client, the brewers started making ales with a higher alcohol content and additional flavorings. A style was born.

Color: A deep ruby amber, just a little too dark to be called a red ale.

Aroma: A surprisingly gentle pumpkin and spice aroma without any hoppiness.

Head: A small tight dense head forms upon pouring, but then disappears.

Taste: A sweet mild but full malt taste with a very delicate hint of pumpkin and spice. The bottle says that cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves are added during brewing. I could not really distinguish the individual spices, except for a little clove taste.

Finish: Mild and sour, not very bitter. The hops do not assert themselves.

Aftertaste: Kind of like pumpkin pie, only lasts a minute or so.

The pumpkin adds body and richness to this beer, but not too much flavor. I have had pumpkin ales that I like much better, but this is a good beer overall. I'm not sure if I could identify it as a pumpkin ale by taste alone.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale would be a good beer to serve to a friend who thinks that any beer made with pumpkin must be yucky.

Well, the 2005 Halloween movie reviews are finished. There are hundreds more I could have reviewed, but I think these 5 were a good cross section of themes, styles and eras.

I really should have thought of this earlier! 2 weeks is not enough time for this kind of project! I was originally going to include a couple of comedies, but time ran out. But I think Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Young Frankenstein would be appropriate for any Halloween bash.

Y'all have a safe and fun filled Halloween! Give generously to the little weeners - you don't want any tricks played on ya now do ya?


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Economy class. Posted by Picasa

You want to go where everybody knows your name. Posted by Picasa

Hmmm... Posted by Picasa

"Shall I be forced to feed you David?" Oh Jenny! You saucy little flirt! Posted by Picasa

I have dreams like this all the time. Posted by Picasa

Hey! Just who is doing the biting around here? Posted by Picasa

Too much Dr. Pepper perhaps? Posted by Picasa

Botox? Posted by Picasa

Big dogs! Landing on my face! Posted by Picasa

"You better stay away from him! He'll rip your lungs out Jim!"

Okay. Zombies (or ghouls - whatever). Check. Vampires (with hyenas and rats). Check. Ghosts (and supernatural weather conditions) Check. Let's see, what other Halloween critters can you think of? Little whinning bratty snot-nose kids dressed as the latest stupid cartoon charcters that barely say "Trick or treat!" and then complain about what you give them. Yeah. There are always lots of those. Kind of makes you wish a werewolf would jump out of the bushes and rip the little ingrates appart! Hey, there's an idea!

An American Werewolf in London

Werewolves are a staple of European folklore. In fact, were-creatures are a common folk belief throughout the world. The animals vary by region. There are weretigers in India, werefoxes in China, even weresharks in Polynesia!

There are several variations on the European werewolf myth. During ancient times it was believed that a werewolf could change whenever he or she wished. Additionaly, it was not automatically assumed that werewolves were evil in those days. Later it became firmly established that werewolves were minions of Satan - just like witches.

Like vampires, werewolves were associated with disease. Many people were tortured and killed because they were suspected of being werewolves.

The "classic" werewolf mythology that we know today - full moon, wolvesbane, mark of the beast, you will become one if bitten but not killed, the werewolf not remembering what was done in wolf form, destroyed by silver - was created from different folklore beliefs by Curt Siodmak, the writer of The Wolfman (Universal 1941).

The Plot:

David and Jack are two young Americans who have just started their cross-Europe hitchiking tour in nothern England. They stop at a pub in a little town and are told by several people to "Stay on the road," and "Keep off the moors!" and "Beware the moonlight!" Once they leave the pub - at night - they head right across the moors. Oops. The full moon comes out, and suddenly they are attacked! Jack is killed and David injured before the locals show up and shoot their attacker.

The Hook:

You did read the title of the movie above, right?

The Goodies:

I love this movie. In my opinion it is one of the best werewolf movies ever made.

In order for any werewolf movie to work it has to get certain features of the mythology right. The hero - who is usually the werewolf himself - has to be likable. If the audience does not like the hero they will not care what happens to him and subsequently not be very involved in the story. Most of the people in the film must not beleive in werewolves, especially the hero, in order to set the stage for the terrifying truth that werewolves are real and the hero is one. The transformation scenes must be done well. The werewolf problem must be resolved somehow by the end of the film. And most impotant of all, the tragic aspect of the situation must be examined.

An American Werewolf in London nails these crucial story elements.

The hero is David Kessler, played by David Naughton (if you are old enough, you may remember him as the Dr. Pepper guy. "Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?"). David is an average collage age American guy. He is smart, funny and seems like someone you would like to have as a friend.

The film was released in 1981 and is set in the modern contemporary world. No one believes in silly stuff like werewolves! Except for the townsfolk of East Proctor. They do believe, in fact they know werewolves are real, and they take great pains to keep it all a secret. "Should the world know our business?!"

When David eventually turns into a werewolf the transformation scene is fantastic! We see it all, and since it comes at the end of a funny little musical montage the sudden transformation is a real shock. The effects for this scene, which were designed by Rick Baker, won the Acadamy Award for best special effects. The thing that really sells this scene is the fact that it is played as being a terrifying and excruciatingly painful process. Even if you think David is just a goof, the pain and fear he goes through in this scene implants a ton of sympathy for the character.

The tragic element is well played out. We feel pain for David, his friend Jack, the people David kills, and Alex, David's new found love interest. The film starts out with two friends bopping around the English countryside and just gets more and more painfull for all of these characters until the climax is reached at the very end of the film.

But An American Werewolf in London does not just get the required elements of werewolf mythology right - it adds it's own special refinements and other features to become a very well balanced and entertaining film.

It takes a while for David to realize that he is a werewolf. He has some very strange and frightening dreams and has conversations with his dead and rapidly decomposing friend Jack. The dialog in these scenes is wonderful and funny. After the initial shock, they just talk like nothing much happened - except for the bad news Jack drops on David. These events lead David to the conclusion that he is going insane. And because the film plays out for a bit of time without any werewolf scenes, the viewer might think he is correct. Perhaps there is no werewolf and the whole thing is a psychological thriller. Then we are hit in the face with that transformation scene!

One of the things Jack tells David is a bit of new werewolf lore (well, at least it is new to werewolf movies). It seems that none of his victims can rest in peace until he (David) dies. They are doomed to walk the earth as living dead until the werewolf bloodline is severed. I thought that was a cool little twist.

An American Werewolf in London was written and directed by John Landis. Landis was known for his comedies like Animal House and The Blues Brothers. And now he has made a horror filck? People must have wondered if the movie would work as a horror film. It does - very well, but that does not mean that a few of Landis' trademarks are missing.

The film is full of humor, none of which takes away from the horror or tragic aspects of the story. In fact the humor makes the film better, it helps move the non-scary scenes along and provides welcome contrast to the frights and blood.

All of John Landis' movies have great music in them and An American Werewolf in London is no exception. the original music score was done by Elmer Bernstein and is supplimented by several popular songs - all of which have something to do with the moon! Get it?

And, of course, it would not be a John Landis film without a big old multivehicle crash scene!

Great Lines:

At the start of the film, when David and Jack get out of the back of a truck full of sheep, Jack (played by Griffin Dunne) looks back and says, "Bye girls!"

Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) tells David, "I'm sure if there were a monster roaming around northern England, we would have seen it on the telly."

When the dead Jack first talks to David he mentions that he is surrounded by the dead and asks, "Have you ever talked to a corpse? It's boring!"

When Jack insists that David must kill himself, David's reply is, "I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf!"

David wakes up naked at the London zoo after his first transformation. He tricks a little boy and takes his balloons to cover himself. The boy goes back to his mother and says, "A naked American man stole my balloons!"

While discussing how he should kill himself in a porno theater with his dead victims (now that's humor!), David asks, "Don't I need a silver bullet?" Jack rolls his eyes and says, "Oh be serious!"

To use an advertising phrase; if you are only going to see one werewolf movie this Hallloween, see An American Werewolf in London.

I do have one problem with this movie. David turns into a werewolf on two consecutive nights. Isn't it technically only a full moon for one night a month? Oh well, nothing is perfect.

Finally, I would like to mention Jenny Agutter who plays Nurse Alex Price. I am not a Catholic, but I have a confession to make. I have had a crush on Jenny Agutter ever since my sister took me to see Logan's Run in 1976! She is pretty and sexy and just damn cute all at once. And her voice! Oh Lord! The scene in the hospital were she, wearing a sexy nurses uniform, gets in bed with David and says, "Shall I be forced to feed you David?" Whoa Nelly! You have no idea how much I love that scene. Trust me you have no idea.

And now for a creature of a different sort - Bert Grant's Hopzilla IPA.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking - what the heck is IPA!? IPA stands for India Pale Ale. You see, when the Brits made India a part of the British Empire, they had to station quite a few troops over there to keep the peace. In other words, to stop Indians from thinking that they had any rights what so ever. These troops wanted beer. It was always a good idea to keep the troops happy, so the government made deals with brewers to ship over English ale. Well, that did not turn out so good. Remember, ale is stored at room temperature, but it gets a bit hotter in India than in England and the trip by ship was very long. The beer often arrived spoiled. So, the brewers experimented and came up with an ale that was higher in alcohol content (so as to keep it from spoiling too quickly) and a bit lighter than traditional English ales. The troops loved it. IPA was born.

Bert Grant's Hopzilla IPA (Yakima Brewing & Malting Co., Yakima, WA) focuses on another aspect of IPA, the fact that it was, and is, usually very hopped. What does that mean? Simply that hops are added to the beer more than once during the brewing process. Hopzilla is triple hopped, so hops are added at three different stages of production.

ABV = 5.00% (rather low for an IPA) and IBU = 90+ (due to the triple hopping).

Color: Hopzilla has a nice light amber color and is slightly cloudy due to the triple hopping.

Aroma: Hops hops and more hops! A sharp resin-like aroma from the high hop content. Hops yield an acid which makes beer sour and a resin which provides aroma.

Hopzilla forms a quasi-persistent head that fades soon after pouring. What do you think of that BB?

Well, from the build-up I bet you already have an idea of how this beer tastes. It is slightly sweet at first, but that quickly changes to sour and ends with a powerfully bitter finish. The aftertaste is strong and long lasting. This is a beer that you can taste hours later when you belch. And that is all due to the hops. However, the taste is smooth, it has no sudden jolt and never degenerates into a skunk funk.

Bert Grant's Hopzilla IPA is a good beer - if you want maximum hop effect. I have to say that it is not a beer I would necessarily buy again. I like beers that offer a little bit more complexity of flavor. If you dig hops, try it.

Don't say I did not warn you.

Two more days to Halloween! If you would like to watch my final Halloween movie, it is on A&E tonight at 8:00pm EST.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Yeah sure, it all starts with beer! Posted by Picasa

Ouchies! Posted by Picasa

All single moms looked like that in the 70's. Posted by Picasa

Wonder what that means? Posted by Picasa

Bye bye babysitter! Posted by Picasa

Man of the cross. Posted by Picasa

Old is good. Posted by Picasa