...randomness surrounding Guided by Voices, Robert Pollard, and other great indie rock bands; a quasi objective look at "my" sporting teams; the random horror film; plus other crap as we see fit...all with a Pittsburgh based feel.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Horror

Every October, Jess & I stack the horror flicks at the top of the Netflix Q. Some newly scene, some revisited. Many of the latter, however, since I believe the modern horror film has become, well...just too modern. Too many of today's films rely on post-production & state-of-the-art gimmickry that usually turns the movie into an overblown, overcast, overproduced, overbudgeted pile of junk. It amazes me all of these remakes that keep getting shoved into our faces: The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen, The Fog, When a Stranger Calls, etc, etc. It's a shame that the majority of the present day movie viewers that these redo's are marketed toward can not appreciate the originals for what they were. Otherwise, why make them? Instead of the junk of today, give me some old school artistic vision, some craftiness with the camera, and a spooky musical score.

One note before we start, regarding an annoying trait of some horror film viewers. When I sit down in the big chair with popcorn & Jujyfruits in hand, I totally submerse myself into the movie (picking at the teeth, aside). I'm ready to be entertained, and in the case of this particular genre...scared, spooked, or just left feeling awkward and creeped out. If you're the type of person that comes out of a scary movie with a challenging attitude of "that didn't scare me" or "that couldn't happen," then you should probably skip these recommendations. You may simply find them "cheesy." Go watch some feel good Sandy Bullock dumb ass movie.

As mentioned, much of what you'll see here are older films, which are simply what I prefer when it comes to this genre. These films offer a certain aesthetic that you just can't find in today's horror. Right on time for Halloween weekend, here's a few of the best ones we've watched (of about 30) over the past month:

Suspiria (1977) - Frickin FANTASTIC film, and probably my favorite one directed by Italian horror master, Dario Argento. For those sub-title haters in the crowd...don't get yer panties in a bunch. It's all English speaking, although there are some dubbed voices in there. However, nothing to deter from how great this film is.

I believe the tagline on Suspiria was, "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes, are the first 92." Probably not the greatest tagline for those viewers (like me) who don't wish to know the length of a film before it starts, especially suspenseful thrillers. SPOILERS, PEOPLE!

I don't know anything about film making, but I'm told Argento's use of colors (is it the technicolor technique?) that's one of the enduring qualities that makes the images in Suspiria so unique. The murder sequences are simply horific, and the music to the film, performed by a band named "Goblin," ranks right up there with John Carpenter's original Halloween music...at least in my book.

Without giving away too much of the story, it's basically the best horror film you'll ever see about witches, co-written by Argento and his girlfriend at the time, Daria Nicolodi.

Recommendation: Serious Hi-Fives

Martin (1977) - George A. Romero's low budget film about a teenage kid, Martin (left), who believes he is a vampire. Don't expect Night of the Living Dead, or Dawn of the Dead here. It's a tad different from those zombie classics in that there's no classic monster images. I mean...Martin is a vampire (or is he? maybe he's not?), but there are no fangs piercing from his gums. He doesn't rise at night from a coffin and he doesn't get deterred by clumps of garlic.

On the contrary, Martin, played by John Amplas, stalks his prey in a more concise, practical way than your typical "nosferatu," which his uncle calls him throughout the film (which is pretty comical, actually). Martin's manuerisms and Romero's setting lend a realism to this film, whereas other vampire movies may lean towards more of a fantasy realm.

My fellow Pittsburgh posse will find it even more interesting in that it was filmed locally in Braddock, PA. As a special treatie for all my fellow RMU kids, you get to see former Robert Morris professor Tony Buba, who gets a little cameo role as a drug dealer at the end of the movie. This is also the first film that Romero had pal Buba do the sound for (the 2nd, I'm rather certain was Dawn of the Dead). Make sure you don't skip the extras of the DVD, which includes a short little 'making of Martin.' The house that Martin is shot in is actually Buba's former home in Braddock (you even get to see Mama Buba interviewed!). Great stuff.

confidential note to the RMU-ers: if anyone has the ability, please forward this to Tony. I would love to hear how he's doing. Word on the streets (translate: Nick), is that he's now working locally on a documentary, but you'd all know better than me. Selfishly speaking, I'd also like to know how in the world I can ever see 'Lightning Over Braddock: A Rustbowl Fantasy.'

For those not familiar with Buba, the documentary above was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at 1989's Sundance Film Fest. And for another little tidbit (straight from my personal Rain Man of film; translate again: Nick), legend has it that Mr. Buba actually shared a room at that Sundance with Mr. Steven Soderburgh, who happened to be premiering a little indie classic that year called, Sex, Lies & Videotape. Now that is some trivia bustin-out shits right there people...straight from your friends at 'Empties Crushed'.

HOLY CRAP, Nick! Six Degrees of Tony Buba! Starting with Robert Pollard (hint: use Soderburgh's Bubble). Or something like that.

OK, sorry for the sidetrack. Anyways...if you haven't yet seen Martin, it's well worth the spin.

last house

Last House on the Left (1972) - to avoid fainting, keep repeating:
It's only a movie
It's only a movie
It's only a movie

Or at least that's what the original trailer advised. Legend has it that when this film first hit theatres, there were people leaving in disgust, some even vomitting in the aisles. So that's pretty cool, right there. Wes Craven's first film is not your typical horror flick in that it's not as scary as it is brutally creepy & over-the-edge violent. One of its original titles that producer Sean S. Cunningham (who later produced the original Friday the 13th) came up with was "Sex Crime of the Century." But they later settled on 'Last House...' when some marketing guru saw it and suggested the title to Cunningham & Craven. A nice little extra in the DVD is the making of the movie, which surprisingly features the entire cast of the film (give or take a couple).

Included in the 'making' is David Hess (left, raping), the actor who plays Krug, the leader of this motley crue of thugery. Hess also does the original music for the film, a kind of goofy folk spin, which offers a stark, yet lighthearted contrast to the happenings on the screen. Not to say it's not effective. Quite the contrary, it adds a real-ness, everyday-ness kind of appeal that screams 'this crazy shit can really happen.'

It's amazing to compare this work from Craven, and say, The Hills Have Eyes (another creepy gem, imho) to a movie like Red Eye, which I thought was complete garbage (sorry, Wes). Hey, but those are the Hollywood blockbusters that pay the bills.

I won't spoil the rest of the Last House on the Left but let's just say that the violence bestowed upon the two original girlies is not the end the terror. So strap yourself in with this one, don't pee your pants (foreshadowing), and remember that it's only a movie.

Evil Dead (1982) - maybe the first of the horror / comedy genre that I'm aware of, with a little less of the latter than its two follow-ups, Dead By Dawn and Army of Darkness. A group of friends go to a cabin in the woods for nice weekend of fun, and happen to find a taped translation of a 'Book of the Dead.' There's definitely a lesson to be learned here. Don't ever actually play the translation. That's when the evil arises from the woods. That's when the gore happens. Lots of gore. Bloody & brutal gore.

Bruce Campbell would go on to define the genre, and for any fan of his, I would highly recommend seeing this one 1st and foremost.

Nosferatu (1922) - OK. Let's get this straight. I highly doubt this film's gonna scare anyone. I've seen lists, and heard comments on how it's one of the "scarier" films of all time. I would say that's a reach. I mean...it's a silent film! Hence, prep yourself for some humorous over-acting to compensate. But please don't let that scare you.

I do, however, highly recommend checking it out from a simple nostalgic point of view. And I would dare say that Count Orlok (played by Max Schreck) is definitely one of the creepiest looking monsters of all time. Other film buffs will probably be able to tell you why it's such a great historical film, but I'll stay away from such conversation, and leave that to the more knowledgeable film peeps.

I simply enjoy the creepy images of Orlock and his castle, as well as the landscape shots of old Germany. There's a cool extra in the DVD that will show you comparison photos of both Bismarck, Germany then and now, and many of the buildings, while some are refurbished, still stand today. Call me a romantic turd, but I think that's well worth the rental.

At the very least, if the silent-ness of the film bores you (there is a score, at least), maybe Nosferatu can serve as a mood piece for some background fodder at your next Halloween clam bake. I guess that may come off as blasphemy to some folk.

Audition (2000)
- now while Audition isn't silent, it is a Japanese film, so prep yourself for some sub-titles. I know that will have many of you running for the exits, but you'd be very remissed if you didn't give this one a shot. It's not really your prototypical horror film, but trust me...you will be horrified by the time it's over. And it's definitely a slow mover, but that's part of the greatness of Audition. Director Takashi Miike slowly builds the tension throughout, right up to one of the most memorable climatic scenes in any horror film, ever. Providing you can keep your eyes on the screen.

Please see this film. You will not be disappointed and you will most definitely be disturbed.

Demons (1985) - think 28 Days Later, but trapped inside a movie theatre, and without the disappointing 2nd half. Or at least that's what these ghoul-like zombie demons seem resemble (i.e. they're fast). When I originally saw Demons, I'd mistakenly thought that it was another Dario Argento directed film. Well...Argento is actually the producer of the film, and it is directed by fellow Italian, Lamberto Bava. Upon watching the first five minutes, it's obvious it's not Argento directed, because it just doesn't seem as good as say, Suspiria (above), or Tenebre, or Phenomena.

That's not to say Demons isn't a quality, fun-packed ride through the world of flesh eating ghouls. Corny 80's music aside, Demons is a lot of fun. So bottom line...don't expect Argento, but I'd recommend it nonetheless.

Shock Waves (1976) - as one of the quotes on the poster above claims, "the BEST of the Nazi Zombie horror movies." What it forgets to mention, they can also breath under water!

Actually, the only other Nazi zombie film I saw was Zombie Lake, which sucked.

But Shock Waves, on the other hand, is magnificent on every level (yes...I'm sticking by that statement). I love this film more and more each year. You can all poke fun at me all you want, but it's become an obsession. As Jess is my witness, an October can't go by without watching Shock Waves at least once.

It starts out with a still black & white photo of an actual group of Nazi SS troopers, with a narration that sounds like it's right out of In Search Of, minus the Leonard Nimoy voice. Legend has it that during WWII, some German Frankenstein-like doctors designed this indestructible soldier, trained in killing people with their bare hands (sounds like Bicks, actually). Oh, and they could breath under water. They called them...the "Death Corps."

Well, the Death Corps ship set sail for a 3 hour tour, during which, the war had ended. The ship turns into a ghost ship at some point because it gets lost and is never heard from again. Until now. Somewhere off the coast of Miami, some 40 years later, these crazy German bastards are up to no good.

Much of the film takes place on this tropical isle, during daylight hours as a group of vactioners are taking a little cruise in the Atlantic. It's this summer holiday setting, cast amidst the terror of the zombies, that gives Shock Waves a dichotemy of sorts that I'm pretty fond of.

Supporting roles by horror legends Peter Cushing and John Carradine lend a little credence to an otherwise unknown cast. A young Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Dead Zone) appears as the skimpy clothed whore. The best way I can say it:

Shock Waves is EVERYTHING!

Here's the original trailer, which I found from some dude on You Tube (it's somewhat soothing to the senses to know there are other Shock Waves fans out there):

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Canadians are Coming!

Got to see Broken Social Scene last night at a jam-packed Mr. Small's (where else, ey?). BTW...the blog title above is not just a reference to this Toronto based indie band, but also a loving shout-out to all of our Canadian pals we miss hanging with.

I didn't really get into BSS's last self-titled album that much from 2005, but I absolutely loved 2002's "You Forgot It In People," pretty much one of my favorite records of that year. I did hear some nice little ditties in the set that didn't pass the familiarity test, so I really need to give that 2005 album a little more attention.

Personally speaking, sometimes it takes a good live performace of a band's more recent stuff to kickstart my interests. Typically, I don't warm up to the whole "this is the first song on our new album" thingy that quick. But that's just a flaw in my armor. So I'll definitely give their more recent stuff some more spins...at least a couple more times.

If you'd like to see BSS live with its full montage of musicians (I think I counted 11 on stage at various times at Mr. Small's), I'd do so sooner rather than later. From the sounds of frontman, Kevin Drew (not the scruffy dude above...that's bass player Brendan Canning), it doesn't look like they will be taking the full crew on tour with them in the future. I'm no tour manager, but I can imagine it might be hard to coordinate a dozen schedules of band members who only play part time with the band. Not to mention all of the misc. little side projects of the band members like Apostles of Hustle, Metric, Stars, and Do Make Say Think (who actually opened for BSS).

So in the future, you may be getting a smaller, more condensed Broken Social Scene. We will see.

Anyway...good times were had. A lot friendly Canadian folk in the crowd. Miller Lites were consumed. And it appears they were well received in Pittsburgh, so hopefully they'll come back, even if it is a Cliff Notes version of the full band. Local reviews:

Here's some sampling. This one always makes me wanna pick up my air bass. From the aforementioned You Forgot It In People:
(left click to play, right click to download):
Broken Social Scene - Cause = Time

And here's some live video action of "7/4 (Shoreline)", featuring part time vocalist Emily Haines. It didn't come out all that great b/c of the whole darkness thing at Mr. Smalls, and it appears to be a bit outta sink with the audio, but here ya go anyway:

Probably a better visual representation of the same song, courtesy of Arts & Crafts Record Label:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Inspiration for 'Empties Crushed'

The Inspiration for Empties Crushed
Yes. The inspiration for 'Empties Crushed' (the blog, that is) came partly from this masked gentleman, who shall remain nameless. The line "empties crushed," of course, is from none other than lyrical genious Robert Pollard, the greatest songerwriter from the greatest band ever. Or at least Jess & I think so.

note: the links in the right sidebar are your friends in this instance

Some may know this crazy character as "The Face" for his poker prowess. Others familiar with fantasy baseball may know him as "Carlos Lee for Cash." I'm not sure who he thinks he's kidding, but what kinda bullsh*t "STAFF" is he part of?!?!?

Anyways...after moving from Chicago in 2001, I'd since developed the habit of e-mailing old friends with quirky little thoughts, top 10 lists, and other sorts of nonsensical time wasting crap. After all, I've got a plethora of amazing thoughts to share. After sending a group e-mail about some stupid Top Blah Blah of 2006 list, I received a response from the Face that went something like this:

"Hey Gary, you turd box. Why don't you just start a blog you big dork."

That was all the motivation I needed. Find some crafty in my own mind blog title. Blog started. Infinite wisdom & knowledge is shared.

Guided by Voices fan or not, here's a little treatie for all the kids. I'd originally found the following live MP3 on Soulseek a few years back. I had it sitting on my hd for a couple years before I actually realized where/when it was from. Later, I'd come to stupidly realize, "hey...I was at that show." It was September of 2002. A small little intimate gathering of...I don't know...say 400 (I'm terrible at estimating attendance) at the old Grog Shop in Cleveland was privy to the 2.5 hour, 48 song set. Song #2 of the set was "Subspace Biographies," which contains the lyric "empties crushed" referred to as the title of this fantastic blog (as well as the line "there is nothing worse than an undetermined person"). I was standing about 2 deep, Doug-side. If you listen closely, I think you can hear me singing ;)

Play loud, and give yourself some room for leg kicks. Altogether now:

Bah Bah Bah, Bah Bah Bah, Bah Bah Bah Bah Dah:
(left click to play, right click to download):
GBV - Subspace Biographies - Live at the Grog Shop, 2002