Vincent Van Gogh and Amanda Knox Death Art and Oddity

Vincent Van Gogh and Amanda Knox Death Art and Oddity

It is not often that two news items crop up with an unusual connection but look online at today’s news stories, today as in November 5, 2014 and Vincent Van Gogh and Amanda Knox both figure heavily in the same areas, art and death, with a good measure of oddity thrown in. At first glance there is no tangible thread between the two very disparate individuals. Aside from the fact that centuries separate the two, the Dutch born painter died in 1890 and Knox, a twice convicted murderer of her British roommate in Italy, was not even born until 1987, it has emerged today, however, that there is a connection between the two.

The Pact (2012) It’s Not What It Looks Like

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Don’t let the trailers fool you. I was expecting something completely different after being bombarded with misleading trailers; first in the cinema and then on the internet. Despite my false expectations, the film surprised the hell out of me and I really enjoyed it.

Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy The Pact is actually a “lengthening ” of his short film of the same name. The short starred Jewel Staite and I don’t mind going on record saying I think it’s a shame she wasn’t used in this version of the film.

Nicole (Anna Bruckner) is alone in her mother’s house. Mom is dead and the funeral is the next day. Nicole calls her sister Annie (Caity Lotz) and demands that she come over. Before Annie can get there, something happens to Nicole and she vanishes after going into a dark room in the hallway.

When Annie arrives, Nicole cannot be found. But according to Annie this is not unusual for her sister. After the funeral (Nicole is not there) Annie’s cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and Nicole’s daughter Eva (Dakota Bright) come to the house. Annie has a nightmare and when she wakes up, Liz is missing and some real scary shit is going down in the house.

It is unusual in films for an area of “occult” activity to take place in a “cracker-box” two bedroom tract house. But this movie uses this suburban setting masterfully. I will admit to jumping almost out of my skin at least three and a half times watching the events that unfolded in this little house.

I expected a completely different film. The trailers were misleading and I thought it would be like a Paranormal Activity rip-off and it did put me off a bit. I finally decided to give it a go after watching the trailer yet again and reacting to the Skype call where Nicole is talking to her daughter and she asks, “Who’s that behind you mommy?”

The was not so much a horror film as it was a supernatural thriller/mystery. The main protagonist was, once she pulled in that outthrust lower lip, someone you could warm to. She also convinced the hell out of me when she got frightened. So although I was disappointed that the lovely and talented Jewel Staite was not in this film, I did discover the considerable acting talents of Caity Lotz.

The only real problem I had was with the blind “medium/clairvoyant” character Stevie (played by Haley Hudson). The filmmakers seemed to go out of their way to make this character as strange-looking as possible. She might as well have had a sign around her neck stating, “Look! I’m weird-looking/acting and not normal! Of course I can talk to the dead!”

It was not big, nor was it clever. It was, if anything, just annoying and it detracted from the film. But despite this drawback, I still jumped like a Mexican jumping bean on speed several times and I swear that my heart stopped at least once. Pretty good for a film that is not really a horror film in the “classic” sense of the term.

So at the end of all this discourse, I have to say it’s a definite 4 out of 5 star film for me. It scared me in all the right places and it introduced me to Caity Lotz whom I don’t recall ever seeing on film before.

Put a lid on your popcorn bowl while watching this film or it will wind up all over the floor and the furniture.

Ouija believe this is actually pretty scary?
Ouija believe this is actually pretty scary?

 

 

Sick Nurses (2007): No Pills for These Ills

Written and directed by Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat, Sick Nurses is an atypical Thai horror film. No nudity, poor special effects and a languid almost sleepy pace.

The film takes place in a deserted hospital that is manned by what appears to be a skeleton crew, while the rest of the staff are attending an award ceremony. The skeleton crew consists of six nurses and a doctor. While he goes to the award ceremony, the nurses start getting killed by a dark ghostly woman.

At the start of the film, we are helpfully told that seven days after someone dies they will return to their loved one. While the six nurses interact with one another, we get flashbacks to seven days previously when another nurse Tahwaan (Chon Wachananon) is murdered by all of them. She was “engaged” to Dr Taa (Wichan Jarujinda) who decided he liked her younger sister Nook (Chidjan Rujiphun) much more. So much more, in fact, that he has gotten Nook pregnant.

Tahwaan learning the hard way about when not to threaten to call the police.

Tahwaan is, understandably, upset. She threatens to tell the police about Dr Taa and the six nurses’ sideline of selling dead bodies. Once this threat leaves her lips, the nurses grab her and force her onto an operating table. With Tahwaan struggling and fighting for her life, one of the women gives her an injection and another stabs her.

Now that Tahwaan is dead, Dr Taa sells her body, only to be told that the client cannot take delivery for seven days. Wrapping the body in a black plastic bag and putting it in the boot (trunk) of his car with dry ice, Taa plans on dropping the body off after the award ceremony. Meanwhile, the remaining nurses get separated and killed by the vengeful spirit of Tahwaan.

This film, if it had gotten a bigger budget and been filmed in Japan versus Thailand, might just have been scary as hell. As it is, it falls into the “so bad it’s good” category of so many other low-budget horror films. Due to the restrictions placed on Thai actresses concerning nudity, one nurse, and the doctor in an earlier scene, takes a shower with her clothes on. The incongruity of showering in gym shorts, a bra and a t-shirt is never explained and makes no real sense.

There are other “touches” in the film that are just as puzzling and funny. Younger sister Nook goes to the toilet to use a pregnancy test. When she urinates on the tester, it changes instantaneously to show the result. The scene then becomes even funnier when she goes to put the used tester back in her purse and it is full of testers. She must have twenty or thirty of the things in her bag.

Nook, again, is cornered on a stairwell by nurses who have no face, just hair (with a bun, yet) and they attack her. She battles these faceless nurses (there appear to be 50 or more) with a pregnancy tester, which appears to help her win against these outlandish odds. Most of the funnier scenes seemed to deal with Nook, although, the other nurses had their fair share of silly moments.

I watched this film quite a few years ago and stupidly traded it in for another film. Sick Nurses is almost sophomoric in its attempts to scare the audience, but it is these very amateurish attempts that make the film so enjoyable. The title of the film seems to refer to the foibles of the nurses themselves.

Am and Orn, narcissism times two.

Tahwaan has a secret, two of the nurses Am and Orn are narcissistic and only have eyes for each other (they are twins), another nurse is Anorexic, another is Bulimic, yet another is obsessed with jewellery and expensive items; and Nook is promiscuous enough to steal Dr Taa from her big sister. They all have some sort of “sickness;” hence the title Sick Nurses.

Once Tahwaan comes back as a dark (greenish?) vengeful spirit, the film relies on the old Asian axiom of long hair over the face and an OBE *In case you are interested OBE stands for One-Big-Eye.* to create fear.

When the girls are being controlled by Tahwaan, their body parts become dark green and work against them or each other as in the case with the twins. There is a plot twist at the end of the film that is shown via Dr Taa’s flashbacks. But the twist is not blazingly original. In fact it is the same plot twist used in the 2004 Thai film Shutter.

It appears that this particular theme is something that weighs on the average Thai citizen or is perhaps a very serious taboo. I can’t tell you what the twist is, but if you are familiar with the film, Shutter you will know.

In some instances, Sick Nurses almost appears to be intended to be a black comedy/horror. But some of the unintentional laughs (like those inspired by some really dodgy CGI) make it obvious that comedy/horror was not the directors’ or the producer’s aim.

Still, it is a fun film to watch and the simultaneous timeline of the plot works well enough for the viewer to admire the directors intent if not their final product.

My final verdict is that this is an interesting film to watch and if you have seen earlier Thai horror films you can see the improvement that they’ve made with the genre. Certainly not as good or clever as Shutter or 4bia (Phobia) it is nonetheless better than The Ghost of Mae Nak, or some of their earlier efforts.

Whatever these nurses are suffering from there are no pills for their ills and the film is definitely worth a look and a giggle.

Tahwaan paying back little sister Nook for her treachery.

Taking Stock

121712_2256_BlamingViol2.jpgI started blogging on WordPress on the 21st of March 2012. I had been blogging on two other sites the previous year and felt I needed a change. WordPress had a lot to offer a novice like me, easy access to images that could be related to my blog and the ability to do “pingbacks” to other articles that were related by content. It also offered an increased readership, although I did not know that when I started out.

I’ve passed the 40,000 hit mark today and I’ve reached the 200 mark on followers (except when you back out the publicize numbers it’s still just under 200). To say that my blogging is exceeding my humble expectations is the understatement of the century. My goals, when I started blogging way back at the tail end of 2010 were two-fold. I wanted to get in the habit of writing daily and I wanted this writing to be a springboard of sorts. A springboard that might just propel me back on the track of writing fiction.

So far those goals have been met. I’ve written two pieces of “flash fiction” and finished a short story that I did the first draft of over ten years ago. I’ve uploaded these onto my blog for perusal from the community and as a signpost for myself. Just writing and uploading those three bits of work has proved to me that I can still do it and that my dream of publishing my first ever book, a collection of short stories, could be a very real possibility.

Of course I am working on the “no news is bad news” philosophy here. No one commented on my three fictional offerings in an actively negative way nor in a passive one; might I add. And I don’t think it has been because of a lack of input, my little blog has gotten over 2,200 comments on my 481 blog posts. Not too bad for a blog that has only really existed for ten months. Of course quite a few of my initial blog posts were re-hashes from my other sites. But it did not take long to get into the swing of doing multiple posts on any given day.

Blogging has really been a lifesaver for me. My last three years have been quite eventful and even traumatic at times and once was actually a life or death event. Despite taking more pain medication than “Carter’s got little pills” I’ve managed to get a post out every day; sometimes more. Blogging has allowed me to trot out a rusty seldom used vocabulary and writing skills that I had thought lost forever. My confidence grows with each post and I now look at the folder that’s labelled ‘Mike’s Writing’ with excitement and not a depressed sort of dread.

When I look back to my early years of attempting to write “grown-up” fiction and the first ever typewriter I used, I chuckle. I had a borrowed Underwood that required you to have Arnold Schwarzenegger fingers and it had a lazy t. I then saved up my pennies and bought the cheapest electric typewriter you could find, a Brother. The funny thing was as my equipment got upgraded, my input went down. I can recall my excitement when I got a Brother word processor. I wrote part of three short stories (one was almost a ‘novella) and that was it. I did not write anything else on it.

Life and it’s every day challenges (along with a marriage that required a lot more effort than it should have) was slowly killing anything resembling creativity in me. The short story The Haunted Pub Tour, I actually wrote the entire first draft at work and saved it on a floppy disc (a big one) that followed me on two successive moves. When we got our first home computer, the disc was too big and I had to hunt around for the printed copy so I could write a second draft.

I then put that particular story in my folder along with a screenplay and a myriad of short stories none of which had ever gone beyond the second draft stage. It was when my daughter Meg went to university and had to “blog” as part of the curriculum that I learned of this interesting medium. She used to complain bitterly about having to do them and that was the only reason I took notice. I thought to myself that these blog things must be terribly difficult for her to hate them so much. I did eventually learn that it was not the difficulty of the blog that she hated it was the very fact of it that irritated.

I investigated and decided that this blog thing might just be what I needed. For the record, my first blog post (posted in October 2010) consisted of  just two sentences; written after consuming a huge amount of beer. For posterity here it is:

I’m still coming to grips with all these internet phenomenon call social network sites.  Now I’m trying to learn about these Blog thingies…Why do I bother?? Cos it’s nice to learn new things!

As you can no doubt tell from the two (or three now I look at it a bit closer) sentences I was also trying to get to grips with social networking; a project that I am still working on.

So I’m going to raise my metaphorical glass high and toast firstly my followers and all those lovely people who have stopped by, pulled up a chair and had a look around. (I appreciate it more than you could possibly know) I’m also going to toast myself and my daughter; myself because without me, the blog would never be written and my daughter because she’s never stopped supporting me in my writing quest.

Cheers!

toast

Black Light: Don’t Look Too Deep by Melton, Dunstan & Romano

Or read too much…

It is probably a pretty good idea to avoid a book written by three writers. It is probably an even better idea to avoid a book written by two of these three writers who wrote screenplays for four of the Saw movies. These same two writers, Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan also won the Project Greenlight film making contest with their entry of Feast.

I’ve seen Feast and apart from one moment very early on in the film that made me fall apart laughing, the film was dross. It’s where a guy fights his way through a crowd of alien type monsters in a bar parking lot. He crashes into the bar holding a pump shotgun and after closing the door, someone behind the bar says, “Who the hell are you?” Pumping the shotgun the man says, “I’m the guy that’s gonna save your ass!” The second this statement leaves shotgun man’s lips, a monster breaks through a window and (if I remember correctly) crunches the guy’s head off like the top of a Tootsie roll.

The added “credit” of having written four of the Saw films has little to no punching power because they did not write the first Saw film which was pretty damn great and definitely outside the box. The rest were tired sequels that first tried to rekindle the magic of the original and then just pandered to the fans of hack and slash horror with a bucket of gore added for the bloodthirsty teen fans.

Stephen Romano, the third writer in this trio of men in a poorly floating tub, has the dubious distinction of adapting a story for Master’s of Horror and is  the author of the illustrated novel Shock Festival. I have no way of knowing how much (or how little) Romano contributed to this mishmash of a book, but just adhering to the old saying of “too many cooks spoil the broth,” is enough for me to think that anything he added just helped to sink this book further into its own mire.

I seriously cannot tell if the three were trying to “piggyback” on the success of Supernatural (which, unbelievably is still going on; I lost interest after the dad died) or are just trying to invent a new exorcist type private eye, Sam Spade with a shovel and an urn instead of a gun and a hot moll on his arm.

The other thought that briefly flashed through my head was that they were trying to write another Vampire$ (written by John Steakley) about a bigger than life character named Jack Crow and his little posse of vampire slayers who called themselves Vampire$ Inc. The two books are not too dissimilar although Black Light does just boast one protagonist by the name of Buck Carlsbad. It even looks like they’ve taken a page or two from the comic Hellblazer (made into a not too bad film with Keanu Reeves called Constantine). Regardless of what they were trying to do, it doesn’t work.

Buck Carlsbad is no Jack Crow.

Buck Carlsbad is an orphan. His parents died when he was four. He himself either died or was so close to death that he has developed certain skills. One of these skills is to “exorcise” spirits (called walkers) by swallowing them up. He then holds the walker inside his body and when the time is right, he regurgitates the spirit into a silver urn and buries it.

He also has the ability to see the “black light.” It is a dead dimension, where all things dead converge and, according to Buck, it’s nice there. The writers have gone to great pains to paint Buck as a type of idiot savant. Uneducated and unrefined; I don’t honestly remember when I’ve read the word “ain’t” used so many times and so pointlessly.

I have a problem with protagonists that I cannot believe in or even like. The picture that has been painted of Buck Carlsbad is not two-dimensional; on the contrary, he appears to have so many dimensions that it is hard to imagine one chap having that many sides to him. But my problem is not just with Buck.

All the characters in the book appear to be clichés or stereotypes of the horror/fantasy genre. The pacing of the book is clunky and wooden. But worst of all is that I just don’t care.

I’ve tried to. Hand on my heart, I’ve given this book one hell of a chance and in return I feel like it’s given me the finger and tried to kick me in the family jewels.

I started reading chapter 1 yesterday. I am now in chapter 7 and until I sat down to write this review, I was doggedly reading page 89. I was mid-sentence when, with a groan of despair, I gave up. I cannot dredge up one iota of enthusiasm for this slow, dragging story with characters I feel absolutely nothing for.

And before you start accusing me of not loving the horror genre; I will state that I love horror, when it is written well or filmed well. Or even when it’s done so badly that it’s funny. Black Light falls into none of these categories.

I have unfurled the white flag and I surrender. I cannot fight this book any longer and I will be returning it tomorrow to the obscurity it deserves. This book would score a 0 out of 5 stars for not containing one sliver of ingenuity apart from their obvious plot device based on an apparent combination of the film The Grudge 2 and the character of John Coffey from Stephen King‘s The Green Mile.

Avoid at all costs.

Sort of how I felt while trying to read this book.