Thursday, December 28, 2017

Get Out! My 10 Favorite Horror Movies Of 2017


I've already listed my 10 favorite non-genre films in one of my previous posts. And also, my 2017 music discoveries. I've even done the best vinyl soundtrack releases of the year! But what about the horror? Oh, the horror!

If you're a listener of the Shock Waves podcast, then you already know my top 10 horror movies of the year! But regardless, people love to see a list. And so, I'll provide that here below, but I still strongly recommend you check out Shock Waves Episode 77 embedded below first.



The obligatory preface, these are just my personal highlights of the year, mostly based on one time viewings and my experiences of seeing them. I missed out on a few titles: RAW, THE TRANSFIGURATION, IT COMES AT NIGHT, CREEP 2, JIGSAW. I'll list a few notable mentions at the end of this piece, but for now, here's my top 10!

10 - A DARK SONG


An extremely ambitious and impressive debut from writer/director Liam Gavin, A DARK SONG is a contained story with two people in one house; a determined woman and a damaged occultist attempting to perform a dangerous ritual in order for her to communicate with her dead child. But is there more going on than meets the eye? Of course there is!

9 - HAPPY DEATH DAY


It's been so long since we've had a traditional "slasher" movie play in theaters! And while this one takes a queue from GROUNDHOG DAY and puts it in a horror setting, it's an absolute blast. This is definitely catered to a much younger audience, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it, mainly because I loved the characters, in particular leads Isreal Broussard (as the innocently charming Carter Davis) and Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman, who begins the movie as the traditional bitchy girl and morphs into "the final girl." Plus, the killer is pretty darned cool looking. This one's just pure fun.

8 - LIFE


This one surprised me! I didn't watch it until after nabbing it during a Black Friday sale, and what struck me about it was how unpredictable and scary it was! An all star cast fronted by Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson, this was pretty much a modernized "ALIEN" with maybe a bit of THE THING. Go in blindly, let go of all expectations, and just let yourself be swept away by this tense, paranoid thriller. (Germophobes, beware!)

7 - 1922


This was the year of Stephen King! And we got not only one, but two Netflix original movies based on his work. I knew next to nothing about 1922. I wasn't familiar with the source material, but I'm a huge Thomas Jane fan, and here, he gives an incredible performance as farmer Wilfred James, who conspires with his son to murder his wife. It's a dark drama of the Coen Brothers variety. And it's compelling and fascinating to watch how this story unfolds, especially in the aftermath of said murder! Highly recommended.

6 - ANNABELLE: CREATION


David Sandberg is two for two in terms of taking simple straight-forward scripts and elevating the material in a way that most filmmakers would be unable to do. The first ANNABELLE has its moments, but is a bit of a misstep for this shared "CONJURING universe." But ANNABELLE: CREATION is a prequel that brings it all together and ties up all loose threads. It actually retcon's the story in a way that makes the first ANNABELLE a better movie! And it's scary! A fun rollarcoaster ride that doesn't simply focus on one possessed doll, but evil demons, entities, and even a fun mention of "The Nun!" In terms of pure popcorn horror, this prequel delivers!

5 - THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER


Here's a film that myself and Elric from Shock Waves have been praising for years. I caught it at Beyond Fest under the title of FEBRUARY, and I was completely engulfed by Oz Perkins' classy, atmospheric and stunning debut. I wonder if this loses it's power on the small screen, but regardless, I'm just glad it's finally out in the world. Admirers of Ti West's work, take note. It's as if David Lynch made THE SHINING, and added a Satanic element to it. Also, Elvis Perkins' score is terrific and unsettling. You can find this one on Amazon Prime right now.

4 - IT


Probably the cultural horror event of the year, IT surpassed all expectations and was much bigger than I think any of us could've anticipated. Much like ANNABELLE: CREATION, this version is a nearly perfect studio horror film. It hits all the beats you'd expect, delivers scares like clockwork every 10 minutes, and at least in spirit, stays true to the original King novel, even if it isn't exactly all that faithful of an adaptation. I still have a soft spot for the 90's TV mini-series, but this was a great theatrical horror movie, and now I patiently wait to see how it'll all resolve itself when IT: CHAPTER 2 arrives in theaters in 2019. This is one of those rare cases where the sequel will either strengthen or weaken the impact of this first movie on repeat viewings. I have faith in director Andy Muschietti.

3 - GERALD'S GAME


Mike Flanagan proves yet again that he's our modern "Master of Horror." This time, he adapts Stephen King's novel GERALD'S GAME, often thought of as an un-adaptable King story, and does it with finesse as a Netflix original movie. The majority of the book finds Jesse handcuffed to a bed after her husband Gerald suffers a heart attack. How does one film everything that follows? Flanagan found the most logical way, and delivers easily the most cringe-inducing and horrific horror scene of any movie this year, let alone of the decade! It's not traditional King, but for those that like their horror a bit different, you should definitely watch this on Netflix ASAP. (They'll also be putting out Flanagan's long-delayed and excellent BEFORE I WAKE on January 5th, which features yet another stellar Thomas Jane performance.)

2 - THE DEVIL'S CANDY


This is a film I was fortunate enough to catch on the big screen very early in the year, and although I've only seen it once, it stuck with me and remains one of my favorite modern horror flicks. I'm talking about filmmaker Sean Bryne's sophomore feature THE DEVIL'S CANDY. Having been a fan of his first flick THE LOVED ONES, I was curious how this story revolving around an artist/metalhead, played by Ethan Embry, would play out. It's the relationship between Embry's Jesse Hellman and his wife and daughter that really make you care about these characters. They've moved into a home where the previous tenant went crazy over supposed Satanic forces. He'd block it out by playing a distorted electric guitar really, really loud. (Hence, heavy metal is the cure, in this case!) Are those same forces speaking to Jesse? Loved the hell out of this movie, and I think you will too.

1 - GET OUT


What can I say? Jordan Peele's first foray into the horror genre couldn't have come at a more perfect time. Once in a blue moon, a horror film will tap into the public subconscious and really hit a nerve, and this was that movie. Playing like an expanded TWILIGHT ZONE episode, or more accurately BLACK MIRROR, Chris (the great Daniel Kaluuya) is brought home by his new girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her family. But, things aren't as they seem, both with Rose's folks and the entire town. You've probably read plenty about this movie, so for those of you that have seen and loved it, I'll present to you a fun video of Jordan Peele answering fan theories regarding GET OUT.



Notable Mentions:

A lot of people hated THE DARK TOWER, but I've seen it twice now and on its own, I think it's a fine modern Western fairy tale with a great third act showdown between good and evil. Now, I'm not well versed in the source material; I've never read any of the books, so I can understand that people that have been invested in those for years and years would be disappointed by this adaptation, but as I mentioned earlier, I don't think IT is faithful to the novel at all. And yet, it works for most people. Hey, I like THE DARK TOWER and that's that. Take it or leave it.

SPLIT was a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan. It's always great to see how Don Mancini continues the CHILD'S PLAY franchise while still maintaining continuity! So, CULT OF CHUCKY was a wild ride. And there was a little indie flick called AARON'S BLOOD that I thought had a unique spin and told a great, modern vampire story. I recommend that one too.

I loved Guillermo del Toro's latest THE SHAPE OF WATER, but I struggled to call it a "horror" movie, and hence it's on my best of (non-genre) list instead.

If you want to see all of the Shock Waves crew's picks, one of our savvy listeners created this Letterboxd list for your convenience.

Be sure to listen, rate, and subscribe to Shock Waves on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or direct: http://shockwaves.libsyn.com/ (We're also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)

Here's to another horror filled year in 2018! (Hopefully just on the big screen! We've had enough real life horror to last us a while!)


UPDATE: Go in blindly, and check out BETTER WATCH OUT as well! A modern Christmas horror classic in the making. 'Nuff said!




Friday, December 22, 2017

Where's The Revolution? 2017 Music Discoveries!


As we close out yet another year, one of my favorite things to do is look back, in particular on what was going on musically. You get a good idea of the year's soundtrack (and in essence your own personal soundtrack) based on what came out that year, and which of your favorite artists have pushed new boundaries with their music. For me, hearing new, exciting things inspires, and forces me to push my own creative boundaries.

So, some of these are new discoveries. Most are new music from musicians and bands I've known and loved for years. I missed out on a few key releases here. It seems like post-September, we got bombarded with a ton of great new stuff, so it got hard to keep up! I missed the new albums from U2, The Killers, Bjork, The XX, Lorde, Quicksand, and so on. But I did enjoy the following.

ST VINCENT: Masseduction


This is probably my favorite album of the year. I honestly didn't discover St. Vincent until she was 4 albums deep (5 if you include her collaboration with David Bryne), but once I saw her perform Lithium with the remaining members of Nirvana for the Rock n' Roll Hall Of Fame, I did a deep dive into her discography and fell instantly in love. I've been anticipating new music, just like the rest of the world, since then. "Masseduction" didn't disappoint. It's a natural progression for her as an artist, and the perfect amalgamation of everything she's done before, except there's a new underlining confident sexiness to the songs. I compare it to what both Prince or David Bowie were able to exude in all of their music, and St Vincent is the heir apparent. Just listen to when her voice goes up for the chorus of the title track when she sings, "I can't turn off what turns me on."



The whole album is solid, but another standout is the first single "Los Ageless." If you haven't gotten into St. Vincent yet, you should! And you can easily start with this album and work your way backwards.



A PERFECT CIRCLE: The Doomed (Single)


It seems every few months, every music related publication posts some sort of "TOOL album coming soon" obligatory post. And that's fine, and I'd be excited to hear more TOOL music, but what about Maynard's other band A Perfect Circle? I know they did a recent tour, but I assumed they weren't officially a "band" anymore. So, when they abruptly dropped the new single "The Doomed," it was a complete pleasant surprise! The downside? It's only one track with no signs of it coming from a more elaborate full length. Will there be an album? Or was this just a one off? The upside? Because it's only one song, I listened to it on repeat several times in a row and really fell in love with it by the third or forth listen, primarily because the song structure is vastly different from your tradition "pop" or "rock" song, and it clicked with me on subsequent listens. Here's hoping 2018 gives us more from A Perfect Circle!



Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: HALLOWEEN


When I heard news of this on the week of Friday, October 13th, I was convinced it was a practical joke. But alas, it was not! The mighty Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails reinterpreted John Carpenter's infamous theme for HALLOWEEN. The result is the below 7 plus minute mood piece that weaves in and out of what you know while sprinkling in that NIN touch. Can you imagine? Nine Inch Nails covering John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN theme? That happened in 2017. Michael Myers would be proud!



L7: Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago


Another one off single that I hope leads to more, L7 returned to the stage in these last few years picking up where they left off in the late 90's. On top of that, we also got the excellent documentary L7: PRETEND WE'RE DEAD. And surprisingly, in honor of Trump, they dropped this new song "Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago." It's like they didn't miss a beat, and it's just as rockin' and fun as any of their earlier albums. Fingers crossed we'll hear more from the gals in L7 in 2018. They deserve all the accolades in the world for rocking harder than almost every other band out there.



JEREMY ENIGK: Ghosts


Sunny Day Real Estate has been, and remains, one of my all time favorite bands. And so, I'm always curious and excited when frontman Jeremy Enigk promises new music. This actually started as a Pledge Music campaign a few years back and took all that time to push it to the finish line. The result is this lush, mellow, and beautiful batch of new songs as only Jeremy could sing and play. This came out simultaneously with a "Rarities" compilation, and if I may be candid, that collection is the album I gravitated towards more, for personal reasons. It was great to finally hear a proper demo of the track "Asleep Under Last Weeks News," which Jeremy used to play way back on his first solo tour. Early demos of "Carnival" and "Abigail Anne" are also a treat. I almost look at Ghosts and Rarities as a double album representing past and present. Both are worth picking up!



FOO FIGHTERS: Concrete & Gold


Sonic Highways, both the show and the album were released back in 2014, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that there was a new Foo Fighters record this year, but it was surprising! I didn't learn about it until a friend texted me a week or two after it was released, and so it was fun to jump on iTunes and instantly download an album I had no idea existed. At this point, the Foo Fighters tend to get a lot of shit from music "purists" (snobs), but I'll always have respect for Dave Grohl, just for the sheer body of work he consistently puts out into the world. With the Foos, you kind of know what you're going to get, and this album is a pretty solid rock record. If anything, their love of Led Zepplin (and Queen) is at its peak here, and they're channeling the rock gods across all 11 tracks. Not one of their best, but there's some great trademark Foo Fighter riffs and melodies all over this thing.



QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: Villains


OK, so the Foo's channeled some Led Zepplin for their latest, and then the Queens Of The Stone Age came along and doubled down on that with their new album Villains, which rocks even harder! My fave track is the opener "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," but be patient, the song doesn't kick in until the 1:48 mark and when it does, the album doesn't let up! In terms of pure rock, this is one of the best of the year and just grooves and rumbles from start to finish. It's only 9 tracks and clocks in at about 48 minutes, but it packs a punch.



NINE INCH NAILS: Add Violence


Last year, Nine Inch Nails promised new music before 2016 was over, and they delivered right at the tail end of December with an EP titled "Not The Actual Events." It was intended to be the first of three EP's. And while I do like it, I'll admit to being a bit underwhelmed by those 5 tracks, and thought maybe they rushed them out to fulfill that "new music" promise. But then the second EP "Add Violence" dropped mid-summer, and the grander picture started to emerge. "Add Violence" was a bit more straight forward, traditional NIN, kicking off with the single/opening track "Less Than." But I decided to create a playlist that combined both EP's chronologically, and went back to their previous album "Hesitation Marks." (Which is better than you remember.) When you listen to the first 2 EP's together as an album, it feels and sounds like the logical next progression to "Hesitation Marks." Now I can't wait for the third EP, so we can hear the whole thing come together!



ROYAL BLOOD: How Did We Get So Dark?


Royal Blood's debut was one of my favorite discoveries of 2015. I doubt a rock song of the last decade is going to top the sheer furiosity and power of "Out Of The Black." And the rest of their self titled debut kicked just as much ass. So, with their follow up "How Did We Get So Dark?" they maintain their stature as the most epic sounding two-piece band of ever, without stepping too far outside the sound they established. I don't think this album is as strong as the first one, it's probably equally as good and delivers the same type of rock. It's just 10 solid tracks and a respectable sophomore, but I'm looking forward to what their 3rd record will sound like and if they'll deviate from the rock sound they've already perfected. Regardless, it's still great and how many bands deliver an equally great second album?



LIFE OF AGONY: A Place Where There’s No Pain


Another pleasant surprise I discovered while skimming through records at a local shop, I knew that Life Of Agony had reunited for a handful of shows across the country, now fronted by Mina Caputo (formally Keith), but I didn't realize they'd also recorded and released an album with 10 brand new tracks! Their 1993 debut "River Runs Red" is the quintessential East Coast hardcore album. And while I've loved all their albums in between, those records sound like an amalgamation of all the individual band mates influences and tastes as opposed to tapping into what made that first album so special. "A Place Where There's No Pain" sounds like the spiritual, appropriate follow up to "River Runs Red." With Mina embracing her life as a transgender person, there's even more passion behind the lyrics and vocals than ever before. And riff-wise, the album just rocks so hard.



JIMMY URINE: The Secret Cinematic Sounds Of Jimmy Urine


This is a fun and totally wacky album. Jimmy Urine, the frontman of Mindless Self Indulgence and The Left Rights, released this "solo" album "The Secret Cinematic Sounds of Jimmy Urine" which is exactly as the title implies. The opening track "Fighting With A Melody" is a trademark Jimmy Urine song with vocals, while the rest of the album is comprised of instrumental tracks to a non-existent movie. Lots of fun themes that make me long for a corresponding movie to go along with them! Worth a listen if you're looking for something a bit off-kilter and unique. Check out my personal fave track "I Want To Be Human" below!



BODY COUNT: Bloodlust


Yes. Just fuck yes. In these turbulent times, there's no one better to rage against the machine than the band that original shouted "Cop Killer" back in 1992. Ice T and crew are back with one of the fiercest metal albums of the year, "Bloodlust." "No Lives Matter" and "Black Hoodie" are the stand outs, but there's plenty to love across the 11 tracks here, including a guest appearance by Megadeth's Dave Mustaine on the opening track "Civil War" and a killer cover of Slayer's "Raining Blood." This is the epitome of the type of music we need in this post-Trump era America. "No Lives Matter" should be our freakin' anthem right now.





THE FLASH (Grant Gustin): Running Home To You


Shut up! I'm not crying! You're crying! Ah yes. I love the DC TV shows on the CW, the stand out for me being THE FLASH, and this year, they did an all musical episode showcasing Barry Allen/The Flash actor Grant Gustin's post-GLEE vocal abilities with a guest appearance by fellow GLEE alumna Melissa Benoist, SUPERGIRL herself! An EP was released on iTunes to coincide with the episode, which I bought immediately after watching it. Sure, there's something fun about The Flash and Supergirl singing a duet on an album together, but the track that pulled at my heart strings was "Running Home To You," a ballad that Barry sings to his fiance Iris West (Candice Patton) in the closing moments of that episode. Gets me every time! Damn this kid for being so ridiculous talents and for having that voice too!



DEPECHE MODE: Spirit


We got a new Depeche Mode album this year! And yet again, it came a mere few months after Trump's inauguration, and although the album was probably in the works for a while, it's hard not to see the correlation between modern politics and their first single "Where's The Revolution?" Perhaps the song was a direct result of the election and written at the tail end of recording? "Poorman" is another track that seems awfully timely. Regardless of its inspiration, the entire album has a sense of urgency and energy that comes only with the best of Depeche Mode's discs, and "Spirit" is one of their best efforts in years.



THE FUTURE IS POINTLESS: EP


Last but not least is this obscure EP from a mysterious band called THE FUTURE IS POINTLESS. My friend Will Rot directed a video clip for the band, otherwise I might have completely missed out on this rockin', blistering debut.



The above is only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the EP is just as fierce and reminiscent of the early 2000's "nu metal," done with much more finesse, and much better than any band of that misogynist era. It's strange, mysterious, and just really, really great.



So there you have it! A lot of tunes rocked my world in 2017. Here's hoping I turned a few of you onto something new!

I'm sure there's plenty I missed or haven't gotten to yet, so tell me in the comments - what were YOUR favorite music releases of the year?



Sunday, December 17, 2017

My 10 Favorite (Non-Horror Genre) Movies Of 2017!


What's this?! A blog post that is neither music related nor horror-centric?

Well, look, it's my personal blog! I can do whatever the hell I want here!

And it dawned on me that because of my 14 year history writing exclusively for horror web publications, I've never actually cataloged my favorite non-horror movies in any sort of "end of the year" list. So, I'll be damned, I'm going to do it right here, right now!

Fair warning, if you're familiar with my general tastes either from listening to the Shock Waves podcast, or the much broader "pop culture" show I co-host with Tony Giles TWO DUDES TALKING, you'll know that my sensibilities tend to fall on the "commercial" side. Meaning, my entire list isn't going to be compromised of "art-house" fare or festival darlings or solely new foreign films. I like what I like! And really... it's just my opinion. What does anyone care about that?

But, for the select few that do care, here we go. And naturally, I missed quite a bit this year: DUNKIRK, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, I TONYA, THREE BILLBOARDS. Anything "genre" will be in my next blog dedicated to my top 10 horror movies of 2017. (Which I already revealed in the latest episode of Shock Waves!) For now, here's my favorite 10 films that came out this year!

10 - JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND


I have a love of documentaries, especially ones that offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of movies. This Netflix original, however, I initially had a lot of trouble getting through. JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND features a new interview with Jim Carrey and never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage of the making-of MAN ON THE MOON, the Andy Kaufman bio-pic from director Milo Forman, dating about 20 years back. What we never got to see was Carrey's transformation into Andy Kaufman and his vulgar counterpart Tony Clifton. This takes "method" acting to a new level, and hence, it was really, really uncomfortable to watch some of the annoying antics Carrey put the entire cast, crew, and the nearing-a-nervous-breakdown director on set. But, it's also the incredible story of how Carrey "made it" and how even after all your dreams are fulfilled and you make 10 million dollars for a movie, the problems you had before are still there. What else is there to achieve? A fascinating look at fame, a troubled artist reflecting on the period where he was on the top of his game, and a loving tribute to the one comedian who couldn't take any of this stuff seriously.

9 - LOGAN


This was a pleasant surprise! After the success of the R rated DEADPOOL, and a few X-Men movies that I enjoyed, but that definitely started to feel a bit repetitive, I was initially nervous about this "R rated" take on Wolverine by director James Mangold with Hugh Jackman claiming this would be his final time playing the title character. And in fact, for the first 20 or so minutes, with an excessive amount of F bombs, I was convinced this wasn't going to be for me. BUT, what emerged was one of the most emotionally poignant stories about a "family," stripped down to simply Logan, Professor X (as the father figure), and Laura, an angry young mutant that shares Wolverine's abilities and rage, trying to stick it out and survive. It also has the key underpinnings of a traditional Western. When the trio end up with the Munson family in the center part of the movie, and things go South for all of them, it hurt. I genuinely cared about all these characters introduced, along with the ones I've watched on screen for 17 years now. By the end, I was, in fact, sobbing in my seat. If this truly is the last time Jackman plays Wolverine as he promises (same for Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier), they went out on such a high note. Only downside? We never got Wolverine's yellow and brown comic book costume!!!


8 - I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE


The directorial debut of actor Macon Blair premiered on Netflix as one of their originals back in February of 2017, and was one of the wildest, most unique, and at times shocking new films I saw this year. Melanie Lynskey plays Ruth, a woman who is passive about the negative things in her life up until she's burglarized. Along with her eccentric, nunchuck touting neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood), she sets about getting her stuff back and evening the scales a bit. They inadvertently get in the path of a group of deranged criminals, led by Jesus Lizard singer David Yow! The conclusion to this black comedy is absolutely bonkers and goes way beyond what you'd expect. I love Blair as an actor, but as his writing & directorial debut, I can't wait to see what other kinds of stories he has to tell!

7 - WONDER WOMAN


I love superheros. I grew up a ginormous comic book fan. I want all these comic book movies to be good, so when I critique one of the DC movies, it's not because I'm predetermined to make some sort of Marvel versus DC argument. Hell, I grew up on the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies and Michael Keaton's BATMAN. I want all of these movies to be awesome, and I'm glad I live in a time where they're getting made! That said, it's been a rocky start for the DC cinematic universe these last few years. While I appreciate some of Zach Snyder's films, he has proven to be the absolute wrong choice for SUPERMAN and the JUSTICE LEAGUE. And I tried to watch SUICIDE SQUAD a second time when I got the 3D Blu-Ray, and just couldn't make it through it again. The entire point of these stories with superheros is to show us the best that we can be; how they can inspire us to be better. And finally, WONDER WOMAN was the movie to get that spirit 100 percent right. On top of that, it was thrilling, fun, and full of heart, not to mention filled with irresistible characters, including Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Etta (Lucy Davis), Ewan Brenner from the TRAINSPOTTING movies, and many more. Sure, the third act fell into the usual CGI finale battle we've come to expect, but Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins delivered exactly the hero we absolutely needed this year, especially considering what's going on in the world right now.

6 - OKJA


Another Netflix original, but one I was fortunate enough to see on the big screen. I wonder if this had the same whimsical magic at home for people as it had with a sold out crowd the way I got to experience it? The New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles had a 35mm print created exclusively for their theater and programmed a full week of Joon-ho Bong's latest. (On some night's, it was paired with his other features, such as SNOWPIERCER.) The gist of the story revolves around this giant corporation, fronted by Tilda Swinton's Lucy Mirando, in which they're breeding this new animal and raising them for eventual consumption. But one of these beautiful creatures, affectionately named Okja, has formed an incredible friendship with 10 year old Mija in an isolated part of South Korea. When they take Okja back to the States, she sets out on an adventure to get her friend back, and teams up with a group of anti-animal cruelty advocates. Very much like Joon-ho's THE HOST, this film crosses a lot of genres and mixes a whole lot of tones through out, but deep down, it's got a lot of heart. The only thing that sticks out like a sore thumb for me is Jake Gyllenhaal playing reality TV survivalist Johnny Wilcox. He makes a "choice" with how to play that character, and goes for it. I just think it's the wrong choice. (And hey, I loved him in LIFE, also out this year.) Paul Dano on the other hand, and Steven Yeun absolutely shine in their respective roles as Jay and K. If you haven't seen it yet, put it on your Netflix Instant queue. And be sure to wait until after the credits for one more scene...

5 - SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING



At this point, we've now had 5 Spider-Man movies. And Spider-Man is my all time favorite comic book character. I recall seeing Sam Raimi's first film 7 or 8 times in theaters!? 4 times within the first 24 hours of release! At the time, I was just so happy that a Spider-Man movie finally existed and now look where comic book movies are at! That said, it was amazing to hear that after many years of rights entanglement, Sony had wisely made the decision to let Marvel use the character and collaborate on future movies. With 2 scenes in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, Marvel managed to return Spider-Man to all his glory and give us the best cinematic version of him yet! So what could director Jim Watts bring to the table that would be new in his next solo outing? A lot!

My favorite thing about the new Spider-Man is that almost every aspect of it was brand new and not based on some pre-existing version of the character. Nothing directly lifted from any comic books stories, or recycling characters or villains we'd already seen on the big screen. We got the mighty Michael Keaton as Andrian Toomes aka The Vulture (who isn't nearly as big a villain as Tony Stark is!), the Shocker and The Tinkerer (in minor roles, rather than the traditional over-stuffing of multiple villains), a rich, diverse cast of irresistible supporting characters (Ned Leeds, Liz Allen, Michelle). A companion in artificial intelligence Karen (aka the Spidey suit's voice) played by Jennifer Connelly. The answer to what happens when Spider-Man doesn't have buildings to swing from, and much, much more. It relies very heavily on embedding itself in the pre-established Marvel Cinematic Universe, but they pulled it off. As a die-hard Spidey fan, it managed to surprise me multiple times through out, and instantly became one of my favorite Spider-Man films. Can't wait for Tom Holland's return in THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR!

4 - BABY DRIVER



I like Edgar Wright movies, but I don't love them the way most people do. Sure, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a horror/comedy masterpiece and among one of my all time favorites, but... SCOTT PILGRIM? Oof. So, I wasn't in too much of a rush to see his latest, filled with the usual quirky actors, great soundtrack, fast paced editing, and everything else that comes along with Wright's style. Even worse is that everyone kept telling me how much I'd love this movie, which also deterred me from seeing it sooner. But, I took advantage of a Black Friday deal, kicked back when it arrived, and made a Friday night of it. Damn those friends that kept pushing me to see it, because they were right. I loved it. It kicks off with the John Spencer Blues Explosion, so I perked up at that. And the first act played like a traditional Wright film. But then, it just takes a wonderful, surprising dark turn. And suddenly the stakes are incredibly high! And Jamie Foxx is scary as hell! And so is Jon Hamm! And the soundtrack continues to kick ass! By the end, I was taken aback by the underlining romantic story, which reminded me in spirit of TRUE ROMANCE. (With, of course, a heavy influence from Walter Hill's THE DRIVER. A masterpiece if you haven't seen it.) I'm extremely smitten by the characters that Ansel Elgort and Lily James brought to life. Go in the way I did, knowing as little as possible, and let go & enjoy!

3 - STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI



I had a really tough, stressful, long week at work. But last Thursday, with the impending holidays, things started to lighten up. We had a board game day in the office and my fellow co-workers and I enjoyed a round of MIXTAPE MASSACRE. Then, I trekked over to the Arclight Cinemas in Sherman Oaks, because low and behold, a freakin' new STAR WARS movie was out and I almost completely forgot about it with my workload. 2 and half hours later, I was all smiles. I had a good, enthusiastic audience. There were maybe 5 key moments that elicited applause. And I was so thrilled by how little I knew about the movie going in. I managed to avoid all spoilers and only had the two trailers as reference, but Rian Johnson managed to deliver one of the first STAR WARS movies that truly kept me guessing the whole way through, thoroughly entertained me, let me spend some time with characters of past and present that I love, and took me to where no other STAR WARS movie has as of yet. Basically, I'm just happy they keep making these now that I can enjoy them as an adult. I mean, Luke Skywalker!!! In a new STAR WARS movie! Then, the next morning, I was baffled by the tremendous amount of hate and negativity this film seems to have garnered. I genuinely don't know what people want out of a STAR WARS movie anymore? It's a space opera! It's entertainment. I just want to let go and forget about this incredibly toxic world we live in nowadays, and the crap that's consistently hammered at us on social media. I loved them all, but the major complaint on the last two movies were that they skewed a little too close to the original film. Now this one is too different for peoples tastes? So again, I don't know what other people want. But I know that I loved this movie. Kylo Ren has proven to be one of the most fascinating, conflicted characters of the entire saga, and I love Rey. You can read my buddy Eric Vespe's spoiler break down on the themes of the movie if you want more specifics on why I loved it as much as I did, as he sums it up better than I ever could. This was one of my favorite theatrical experiences this year. And it will one day go down as one of the best STAR WARS movies, mark my words.

2 - THE DISASTER ARTIST



I've never seen THE ROOM. I've seen enough of it via You Tube clips, and have heard enough about the bizarre and surreal cinematic experience created by the enigma known as Tommy Wiseau that I felt I didn't really need to subject myself to a movie people referred to as "so bad it's good," a term I actually despise. But, I also have a tremendous soft spot for movies about making movies. And so, James Franco literally channels Tommy Wiseau and directs a stellar adaptation of the stranger-than-fiction book THE DISASTER ARTIST. ED WOOD remains my favorite Tim Burton movie, and even to this day I haven't seen a whole lot of Ed Wood movies, so I didn't think it'd matter if I saw THE ROOM going into this one. And it didn't. This film skews that fine line of being a bit sad and depressing. Does it make fun of someone that genuinely was trying to make a great film? Or deep down, is it a heartfelt tale about two friends not letting each other give up on their dreams? Maybe it's all of that and more, but having now seen it twice, it's heart is absolutely in the right place. And Franco deserves an Oscar. OK, and maybe now I will check out THE ROOM.

1 - THE SHAPE OF WATER


Last but not least is the new movie from Guillermo del Toro, which as most people are saying (and I agree) is his best film. The screening I caught at the Arclight had a video Q & A with del Toro following the presentation and in it, the interviewer asks him when did he first get the idea for THE SHAPE OF WATER? Del Toro recounts seeing the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON for the first time on TV when he was 6 years old, and in particular the scene when the Creature is swimming in what could be considered an operatic dance with Julie Adams. In that moment, del Toro thought, "wow, I really hope they end up together!" And hence, that's what this movie is about.

It's 1962 and a lonely, mute janitor discovers that a merman is being held captive at the facility she works at, and they form a bond. Sally Hawkins is incredible as the sweet, mute Elisa. Del Toro regular Doug Jones is the creature, of course. Richard Jenkins is her neighbor Giles. And Michael Shannon plays the villainous Richard Strickland. At this point in his career, del Toro absolutely has complete command of the camera, and I couldn't help but marvel at the constant fluidity of the first 20-25 minutes or so. The whole movie just moves and flows like the adult fairytale it really is. And while I loved the majority of it, I was a bit baffled by a few bits. Things like creature sex, cat consumption, and a musical number. Sometimes I wonder if del Toro brings us to that edge, and pushes us a bit just to see what we'll accept, or what he can get away with. But those things can't deter from the fact that this is still one of the best, most unique movie experiences I've had all year.

NOTABLE MENTIONS!


Another surprising, and incredible cinematic experience this year was THOR: RAGNOROK, directed by WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS' Taika Waititi. It took the last dark and serious THOR movie, and basically threw out every major plot point as a joke in this new one. (Much like THE LAST JEDI did of THE FORCE AWAKENS, now that I think about it!) At first, I was alarmed by this tonal shift into comedic territory, but by the time the Hulk shows up in the movie, it completely won me over, and I just walked out of that movie having had a total blast. Similarly, seeing KONG: SKULL ISLAND at the beginning of this year in 3D IMAX was equally as fun a time as I've ever had at the movies. All I wanted was Kong, a giant monster, to fight other giant monsters, and I got that in spades. Plus: John C. Reilly? Samuel L. Jackson? Brie Larson? Shea Whigham? Solid cast across the board. It was just pure fun.

Now that the holiday break is almost upon us, I'm looking for a little downtime to catch up on whatever movies I may have missed, not to mention some great TV we had this year. And even more Netflix originals that just dropped!

For the curious, my previous blog post focused on my favorite horror vinyl soundtrack releases. Check that out right here!


UPDATE: With 3 days left to spare until the end of the year, I just watched writer/director Martin McDonagh's latest flick THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. And it is a masterpiece! Several years back, my roommate pushed me to watch McDonagh's first feature IN BURGES, if anything, to solidify that Colin Farrell is a pretty darned great actor and deserves a pass for everything because of IN BURGES, and I agreed. Haven't seen his second feature SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS yet, but after checking out THREE BILLBOARDS, it's shot up to the top of my Amazon Prime queue. The less you know the better, but in broad strokes, it's about a town rocked by the murder of a teenage girl, and the three billboards posted from a grieving mother asking why. Top notch performances by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell, multiple twists and turns, and a gut-wrenching character drama, THREE BILLBOARDS is my favorite of the year.



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Now Spinning: The Best Vinyl Soundtrack Releases of 2017!


Well, another year has come and gone, and with 2017 winding down, we're each collectively looking back at our favorite things of the year. You know, the things that have enriched and enhanced our lives over the course of the last 12 months? Movies, music, events, experiences, games! I'll have blogs for some of those other things later this month, but for now, I'm going to focus solely on horror soundtrack vinyl releases!

As I've mentioned before, most recently on the "things we're thankful for" episode of the Shock Waves podcast, I couldn't be more thrilled by the horror soundtrack revival of the last few years. I've always loved and appreciated movie music, and now it's taken on this new life with these really elaborate vinyl releases, aimed at hardcore genre fans, such as myself.

Of course, it's all about the music, but I love that much like with the Blu-Ray collector's market, these labels have gone the extra mile to really deliver a physical product that encapsulates the essence of what we love about each individual title. There were so many great releases this year, both new and old, but let's look at a handful of the best "horror" ones, shall we?

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: BOX OF SOULS (Mondo/Death Waltz)


A few years back, Varese Sarabande released a great CD box set that collected expanded editions of all of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET scores into one package, complete with a collectible booklet and exclusive poster, wrapped up in a miniature version of Freddy's infamous red and green sweater. The NIGHTMARE franchise has a lot of history, and one of the most fascinating aspects of it is just how many well respected and noteworthy composers were brought on to craft the musical landscape of Freddy Krueger's world(s), most of them very early in their careers. And so, I always held out hope for a vinyl release of any of these scores, especially considering how difficult it is to track down original pressings. Finally, Death Waltz and Mondo have answered our prayers.

Granted, some fans balked at the $250 dollar price tag, but when you really do the math, that's about $35 a record for 7 LP's (8 if you count NEW NIGHTMARE as a 2-disc set), which is the average price for these special edition style releases individually. Dubbed the "Box Of Souls," this version came in a box with a booklet and all new original artwork for each film. And you know what? It's worth every penny. This is hands down the best vinyl release of the year. Gorgeous new cover artwork, great packaging and liner notes, and most importantly, each record sounds incredible. From Charles Bernstein's original themes, to Christopher Youngs' work on the sequel, or Craig Safan on 4, or even Brian May's work on FREDDY'S DEAD, it's all here.

Even better? Just like the CD box set, it includes all the extended, alternate, or deleted cues, in particular, the extra stuff for DREAM WARRIORS which is among my favorite stuff of the entire franchise. If you're looking for a Christmas gift? I'd hint to your loved ones this set. Or if you know a die-hard Freddy/soundtrack fan? You'd be a hero to get them this.

THE THING: Deluxe Edition, music by Ennio Morricone (Waxwork Records)


This was definitely the year of the stellar box set! And among one of my personal favorites was Waxwork Records new deluxe edition of Ennio Morricone's classic score for John Carpenter's THE THING. An original issue copy of this release has eluded me for years, and so I was excited when Waxwork announced it on their slate. But then came details of the "deluxe" version which retailed for about $70 bucks. Should I go for it? Or wait until I stumbled upon an original issue which sells for roughly the same price? I went for it. And the moment it was in my hand, I didn't regret this purchase one bit. The outer sleeve cracks open and harbors the actual record inside. There's an interview with Carpenter in the notes, and the record itself sounds and looks as wonderful, as it is dreary. In particular, one touch I loved is how the center of the LP is a drop of blood intended to evoke the infamous "blood test" scene. It's details like this that prove these are releases by fans, for fans.

BATES MOTEL, music by Chris Bacon (iam8bit)


Here's one that completely took me by surprise! I already liked the music from composer Chris Bacon for THE BATES MOTEL series. After all, I'm considered something of a PSYCHO expert, and was a devoted viewer of the A&E series. Some digital versions of the show's music have existed before, but then iam8bit pulled out all the stops for their vinyl release! When this thing showed up at my door, I felt like a kid playing with an incredibly elaborate and delicate toy! The centerfold is a "pop-up" with the Psycho house, and let me tell you... on several occasions, I opened this thing too wide and was unable to close it! The letter from the composer comes on Bates Motel stationary. And the sleeves (which are too big to actually put the LP's in) are beautiful portraits of Norman and Mother facing each other. The records themselves are white with blood red swirls, re-enacting the shower scene whenever you spin 'em. This sold out pretty quickly, but I'm thankful to have snagged one of the first ones hot off the presses!

HELLRAISER, music by Christopher Young (Lakeshore Records Release)


Christopher Young's score for HELLRAISER is legendary, as is the suffering the cenobites, led by Pinhead, promise in Clive Barker's masterpiece movie. And this year, it got multiple releases on vinyl. Mondo had done a pretty beautiful looking version with original art by Matt Ryan Robin, as well as a 7 inch box set version meant to mimic the Lament Configuration box. But I went for Lakeshore Records standard release, which featured the original theatrical one-sheet poster as the cover art. The LP itself came in blood red, and is now one of the prized additions to my collection! When it comes to the horror classics, you can't go wrong with the original score for HELLRAISER!

JOHN CARPENTER: ANTHOLOGY (Sacred Bones)


Who would've thought that at age 69, going on 70, the "Master of Horror" John Carpenter would find massive success as a rock star?! After a successful tour promoting his two original albums LOST THEMES and LOST THEMES II, and a handful of re-recorded classics released last year as EP's, Sacred Bones and Carpenter (including his bandmates Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies) tripled down and delivered ANTHOLOGY this year. As the title implies, this is a collection of all of his indelible themes from his entire filmography. For those (such as myself) that went for the "deluxe" edition, we were treated to a bonus 7 inch featuring the VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and BODY BAGS themes, as well as a series of collectible cards, each one with a single drawing to represent each movie. You can get this digitally still, and the standard LP is also available.

ALIEN: Complete Motion Picture Soundtrack, Deluxe Edition (Mondo)


I already have the original issue of Jerry Goldsmith's landmark score to Ridley Scott's ALIEN. So, it took a few moments of internal struggle before I pulled the trigger on this new expanded Mondo release, also being offered in a "deluxe" package. Pre-orders went up way back in May (I think), and so when this showed up at my apartment in early December, I had almost completely forgotten about it. Then I pulled this bad boy out. And to think... I hesitated. This features all of Goldsmith's music for the film across two LP's, the original soundtrack release remastered, and a 4th LP of un-used cues, demos, and other treasures. The packaging itself is in a sturdy box, and the art for each LP chronicles the evolution of the ALIEN during the course of the first film. If ALIEN ranks up there as one of your favorite genre films of all time, this is a must own.

THE DEVIL’S CANDY (Mondo)


How 'bout music for some new films? One movie I caught earlier this year on the big screen was Sean Bryne's latest THE DEVIL'S CANDY. I've been eagerly anticipating the follow up to THE LOVED ONES since I saw that movie, and this did not disappoint! Between the unique story, the family dynamic on screen, Ethan Embry's performance, and the dreary metal-esque score by Michael Yezerski, this is one of my favorite horror movies of 2017. So, I was thrilled when Mondo/Death Waltz added it to their robust queue for the year. This one is still available on vinyl, and you can sample it digitally via the Bandcamp page.

THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (Mondo)


I first saw the debut feature from Oz Perkins, then titled FEBRUARY, at Beyond Fest a few years back, and the experience was so mesmerizing that I was anxious to revisit it, in particular because of the music that his brother Elvis Perkins composed for the film. Thankfully, the movie finally got a release earlier this year, and once again, Mondo/Death Waltz delivered the score to coincide with the release. Although the first pressing of the LP sold out, it looks like they're prepping for another pressing of it. You can also find this one digitally on their Bandcamp. I bought both because this is a wonderfully weird and moody soundtrack, complete with everything from ambient score to mini-folk tunes. It's really great and you should check it out ASAP.

RING OF DARKNESS (Four Flies)


I had never heard of RING OF DARKNESS aka Un'ombra nell'ombra, until I attended an LA Rendezvous! event with my TWO DUDES TALKING co-host Tony Giles, where they screened a VHS of the movie, and were celebrating the release of this accompanying soundtrack LP from Four Flies. Within the first 2 minutes of the movie, I knew I had to own this score. It's that great. And as the movie progressed, I was pleasantly surprised to recognize a lot of the music from the 1982 Juan Piquer Simon masterpiece PIECES. Highly recommended and you can still find the record at the Two Headed Dog store!

OPERA, music by Claudio Simonetti (Rust Blade)


Here's another release that caught me off guard. I was already sold on Rust Blade's release of Claudio Simonetti's music for Dario Argento's OPERA. The LP arrived, I put it on, and was grooving along. When I flipped it over to side B, I was treated to new remixed versions of Simonetti's score! And they were spectacular! In fact, the one embedded below is one of my personal fave remixes this year. Pick this up if you can!!!



EVIL DEAD 2 (Waxwork Records)


This is a no brainer. For years, I've often cited EVIL DEAD 2 as not only my favorite horror movie, but my favorite movie of all time. That's shifted slightly. I go back and forth now between this and Hitchcock's PSYCHO, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for the EVIL DEAD 2 score. Hence, I was thrilled to see it get the Waxwork Records treatment, complete with new artwork fully decided on by fans that voted online. Looks great, sounds great, and it's Joseph LoDuca doing EVIL DEAD! Must own.



PREDATOR (Real Gone Music)


Real Gone Music has also upped their game this year and one of my most coveted scores long overdue for a vinyl release was PREDATOR by Alan Silvestri! This gatefold beauty, which came in green and brown "campo" coloring, or even rarer "infrared" sold out pretty quickly. Here's hoping the demand will call for another pressing, and maybe PREDATOR 2!

FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (Waxwork Records)


Whereas Mondo gave us all the NIGHTMARE scores all in one shot, I've rather enjoyed Waxwork Records approach to the FRIDAY THE 13TH soundtrack releases; we've been getting them once a year, chronologically, and they normally go on sale on a Friday the 13th. Naturally, the funny thing about the FRIDAY series, at least for the first 6 or so, is that they basically use the same Harry Manfredini music over and over again, but the revealing liner notes by director Joseph Zito explain how the score for THE FINAL CHAPTER came to be. And although, yeah, most of it is familiar, there's a slightly darker tone to it than from previous films, which 100 percent fits PART 4, which I always found to be the kick-ass, no holds barred, angry as hell Jason Voorhees movie. And I mean, that packaging? Something every FRIDAY THE 13TH fan can get behind!

Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (Dago Red)


Dagored does some incredible releases of rare or overlooked underrated soundtrack scores. This was a random find during one of my Amoeba visits in Hollywood where I was completely unaware that the music for Bava's BLACK SABBATH had come out again. Cool plastic insert, great moody music, and the complete spirit & tone of one of the best horror anthologies ever made.

ESCAPE FROM LA (Real Gone Music)


It's been a hell of a year for John Carpenter, and it continues to be! We've gotten ANTHOLOGY, re-issues of his CHRISTINE score, along with a new music video for the CHRISTINE theme, directed by the man himself. And we even got a 2 LP vinyl release of his collaboration with the late, great Shirley Walker on ESCAPE FROM LA. After all these years, I think my favorite piece of original Carpenter music has to be the theme to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and so it was fun to revisit this completely rocked out version of those themes. And it comes in "Limited Test Tube Clear with Plutoxin Virus Green Splatter Vinyl?" Sign me up!

BRAIN DAMAGE (Terror Vision)


Oh, bless the find fiends at Terror Vision for putting out Gus Russo & Clutch Reiser's score for arguably Frank Henenlotter's best film BRAIN DAMAGE. The filmography of Henenlotter is like no other, and the same can be said with the accompanying music for all his films. This one's still available, and you can buy the LP, or stream the music digitally direct from the Bandcamp page. Do it. Make Aylmer proud!

CREEPSHOW 2 (Waxwork Records)


I'm going to keep these next few picks short, because they're all Waxwork releases, and what more can I add? They all speak for themselves. One of their earliest, most successful release was for the original CREEPSHOW, and so it seemed inevitable that they'd eventually release the music to CREEPSHOW 2 by Les Reed and Rick Wakeman. Musically, it's not as strong as John Harrison's CREEPSHOW score, but it's still pretty darned good, and quite frankly, the comic book-esque packaging will win me over every time.

THE EXORCIST (Waxwork Records)



Another one that I already owned the original issue of, but had to get is THE EXORCIST. Look - it's one of the most famous horror movies of all time. Every one should own this music. But the new art is terrific, and most importantly the remastered version sounds better than ever. I love that director William Friedkin took a prog rock song like "Tubular Bells" and made it into something that's instantly scary sounding.

THE BABADOOK (Waxwork Records)


I'm squeezing this one in because it's been in the works for a long, long time, and it literally just hit my inbox. Much like the elaborate packaging for THE BATES MOTEL score, this one opens up with a pop up of the Babadook. It's almost as unsettling as the music itself! Thankfully, the shrieks of the film's kid are nowhere to be found here.


I also have to mention the HOUSE OF WAXWORK comic book. This year, we saw the release of Issue #1, and while I had always thought the concept behind a comic book with accompanying score was cool, I was not prepared for how much I actually enjoyed the experience of reading the book while spinning the tunes. Side A is the HOUSE OF WAXWORK theme (co-composed by Douglas Pipes) and then the music for "Occult Slumber Party." Side B is the music for "The Lighthouse Keeper." The themes run just about the length it would take you to read each story, and so they succeeded in providing a whole unique TALES FROM THE CRYPT/CREEPSHOW-esque interactive experience. I also dig the David Lynch-looking Die-Rector! I'm sure these suckers take a lot to produce, but count me in for future issues!

Notable mentions: All the TWIN PEAKS releases.

What about you guys? What were some of YOUR favorite horror soundtrack releases of 2017? Let me know in the comments below!