Thursday, March 29, 2012

Audition (Japan)

One of the most disturbing (and, therefore, one of my favorite) films I've ever seen is Japan's Audition. Directed by Takashi Miike, this horror film caught me completely off-guard. I hadn't heard anything about it prior to watching it and that made it even better. I'll give you the plot without going into too much detail in case you plan on seeing it (highly advisable!).

It's the story of a man named Aoyama who is searching for a new wife. One of his best friends, being in the film industry, suggests Aoyama "audition" women to fill the role under the pretense that they're casting a new movie. His interest is sparked by a beautiful, shy woman named Asami and they quickly fall in love. However, after finding out that the audition was faked Asami leaves Aoyama and the story follows his every move as he tries to regain her trust and win her heart once more. Mission accomplished, they marry but the next morning he awakens to find her gone. His search for her is where the movie truly begins for us fans of Asian Horror when what Aoyama finds is not what any of us had expected. From that point forward the film is like a grisly accident on the 405 freeway where you know you shouldn't slow down to look, and yet you do. A warning to the faint of heart: the graphic images may stay with you for a long, long time.

Possibly director Miike's attempt to shake his finger at men who, even today, search for that stereotypical docile, subservient Asian wife, this film makes all of us who are single question if we're going deep enough when screening our potential mates. Like me, it may even cause you to stop dating for a few months.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Evergreen Cemetery

Having photographed many cemeteries in Europe and South America, I wanted to shoot some of the local graveyards which, I feel, are often just as beautiful even though they aren't as ornate or grandiose as those in other countries. Unfortunately, I've often been confronted by security guards telling me I'm not allowed to photograph within the cemeteries and once was asked to erase my memory card while the guard stood over me. Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights, however, did not seem to have an issue with me wandering freely, D-SLR camera around my neck, shooting their beautiful grounds. Thanks to my friend Jayne Osborne for meeting me there and showing me some of the highlights.

Evergreen is the oldest non-denominational cemetery in the city (est. 1877) with over 300,000 people buried there. The rich history of Los Angeles is evident as you walk through its various sections. Most impressive for me was the number of veterans buried there and the old, weathered tombstones that I find so mesmerizing. Be sure to check it out when you're in the area. Oh, and say, "hi" to Joe Blow when you find him.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kill the bastards!

Vandals in Marville, France broke into the local charnel house and broke the skull boxes on the altar and smashed the skulls. KILL THE BASTARDS! Above is a before and after photo so you can see the damage that was done. To me, this is inexcusable. I can't even imagine what would go through someone's mind that would cause them to destroy something so beautiful and so sacred. This is a centuries old tradition for the French and a way for them to honor the dead. The locals are very upset to say the least. Sorry, I have to say it one more time: KILL THE BASTARDS! (Photo courtesy of Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Silent House

I went to a 5:10 showing of The Silent House on a Friday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles hoping for an empty theater. I was thrilled when I entered to find I was alone. Aah, the thought of sitting all alone in the theater while watching a horror film was o-gazmic, to say the least, but I was soon disappointed when two giggling girls walked in, followed by a lovey-dovey couple who would have been better off getting a room at the nearby Figueroa Hotel. Still, I did my best to ignore them as the lights went down and The Silent House filled the screen.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the film - all I'd heard was that it was supposedly filmed in one take, in real time (like Hitchcock's Rope) and that was enough for me. I knew it ultimately wouldn't scare me since I've "seen 'em all," but I was intrigued nonetheless.

The verdict? I have to say I was pleasantly surprised although I hated the ending. Elizabeth Olsen did a great job playing the skittish daughter who's at her family's summer home with her father and uncle while they fix the place up prior to its sale. Again, not knowing what to expect, I wasn't sure if the movie was about a haunted house or if this was a case of a home invasion. I'm glad I wasn't aware of the plot prior to taking my seat because the writer purposely left this question unanswered until 3/4 of the way through the film. My favorite portion of the movie was the Polaroid sequence for its intensity (I won't reveal more than this in case you want to see it). In all fairness, I will say that the film managed to make this self-proclaimed Queen of Horror (me) jump out of my seat a few times. I love that.

Since seeing The Silent House, I've seen an interview with Elizabeth Olsen and she evaded all questions regarding the movie being shot in one take. Her answer, "Whether it was or it wasn't, the important thing is that the audience is watching the movie in 'real time' which is unique." Okay, so apparently it wasn't filmed in one take. But I've also heard that achieving the long periods of footage was extremely difficult and tiring for both cast and crew. For example, they'd shoot flawlessly for 25 minutes and then a prop guy would accidentally appear in the shot and they'd have to start over again. So, for the amount of effort to make this as true to real time as possible, I'll give them the thumbs up.

As with most American horror films these days, this is a remake of a foreign movie. La Casa Muda was the original title (Uruguay) and was one of those "based on a true story" films. After seeing The Silent House I watched the original because I wanted to compare the two to see if anything got lost in translation or, perhaps, was improved upon. I typically compare Asian horror to their American counterparts (The Grudge, The Ring, Dark Water, One Missed Call, etc.) so I wanted to do the same here.

I'm not sure if I found the original version flat in comparison to the American release because I'd already seen the American version and knew what to expect, but overall I felt that the original lacked the suspense and cohesive storytelling of its counterpart. Also filmed in "one shot," I found the cinematography bland and at one point when the sound becomes muffled (for obvious reasons that I won't disclose here for fear of spoiling the plot) all the film managed to do was become annoying. Although the denouement was different in each film, I have to say that the American version did the audience a great service in fleshing out the storyline and creating more nuances in both character development and cinematography. This time, the American remake wins my vote.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Walking Dead - Season 2 finale

**SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't yet caught up on all of your Season 2 episodes, proceed with caution. This posting will r-u-i-n it for you!**

Season 2 did not disappoint. It was zombie-licious! I guess the producers heard us screaming like we were being eaten alive, because this season had more "walkers" than last and, bar the fact that it started out pretty slowly, the second half of the season was filled with more character development, action, and the unexpected. Dale? Shane?! WTF?!?!

The biggest transformation this season was, by far, Carl. You could literally see him grow from a child into a young man throughout the 13 episodes (I love that even their number of episodes is superstitiously scary). Did it have something to do with his near-death experience or did it have more to do with his idolization of Shane? He went from being a naive, little boy to a smug, sometimes hard-hearted kid - even urging his Dad to shoot their prisoner, Randall. His cocky attitude got the best of him (and ultimately Dale) when he encountered the zombie, stuck in the mud, and egged that poor zombie on so much that it freed itself and found its way onto the nearby farm only to spill Dale's entrails all over the place. How ironic that Dale's last words were, "We don't shoot the living!" when only moments later he visually begged his friends to "put him down" as he lay dying in ghastly misery.

And, I'm sorry, but I just have to vent about Lori here. I hate her character! Every week I literally end up yelling at my TV, "Bitch! Whore!" She played Rick and Shane against each other and now that Rick killed Shane she doesn't want Rick to touch her? What the...? On The Talking Dead the producers explained that she was angry at herself. I don't know. It didn't come across that way. What I do know is that she has always been my least-favorite character. Bitch! Whore!

I do, however, like where Rick's character development is headed. "This is no longer a democracy!" It's about time this guy grew a pair. I could see it coming as soon as he killed the two guys in the bar - something changed for the better. We all knew right then, right there, that there was a new sheriff in town. Now, if we could get him to kill his wife... Bitch! Whore! Sorry, I digress.

My biggest surprise this season was Shane being killed. I really thought they'd keep Shane around because he was the perfect antagonist to Rick and his moral values along with the tension he brought wanting to be replace Rick as a husband and a father. It caught me off guard, too, when  Carl aimed his gun toward his Dad only to shoot past him to bring Zombie Shane down. Nice shooting, kid.

So, the farm is gone. Everyone carries the virus. Rick has become a tyrant. We have a new character (Andrea's savior). And there's a damn prison across the lake. I don't know about you, but September can't come soon enough. I want to know if Lori's going to give birth to a zombie baby. Bitch! Whore!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ghost Dog

This photo was posted on FB by my "friends" at the Boyle Heights Paranormal Project. (Photo copyright Michael Campbell) After going outdoors to shoot the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, Michael Campbell forgot to reset his camera settings which had been set for a long exposure. Accidentally shooting this in his kitchen on a 2-second exposure reveals a ghostly Pomeranian dog in the lower right corner. Do you see it? Michael has no animals in the house, so he believes that this could be a spirit living in a different frequency, made evident to our dimension by the long exposure. One skeptic has already called, "Foul!" on BHPP's FB page claiming that it's simply matrixing due to the movement of the person's left foot during the long exposure and has requested that the photo be taken to an expert. I love naysayers, but I tend to lean toward claims of the paranormal, especially when I can see the dog's semi-expressive face staring straight into the camera!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ghost Hunters International (*yawn)

"On this week's episode of... Ghost Hunters..." Seriously. They need to eliminate Ghost Hunters International from the franchise. Either that or they need a new team and they need to send them to Asia. Asia is so haunted! But the current team really doesn't do anything for me. Every week you can count on Joe Chin squealing that something touched him. Really? I think it's wishful thinking, Joe. I don't think a living person would touch you, let alone a dead one. And then there's Chris who's been put in the position of trying to carry the show, but she just isn't strong enough. She's cute, but she has absolutely nothing to offer when it comes to investigating. Let's mix it up, people.

And what's the real reason behind Grant's departure from Ghost Hunters? To pursue Graphic Design?! WTF?! Who believed that? Let me see... You used to be a plumber, then you got your own highly successful television show, became a celebrity (of sorts), and you're leaving the show to become a graphic designer. I guess that missing wedding ring on his finger has nothing to do with his decision, huh. Oh, okay. Cool, Grant! Thanks for being real - just like your investigations.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Charnel Houses & Ossuaries

Do you know about charnel houses and ossuaries? I thought I did until I met Paul Koudounaris and read The Empire of Death, his wonderfully detailed book on these Catholic novelties. Many of these charnel houses/rooms are not known to the public therefore Paul spent many years doing research on his own, initially through the internet and then traveling to these choice destinations in order to photograph them. He was given special permission to do so and his Fine Arts degree is evident in the richly, beautifully detailed images within the pages of this cool coffee table book. Five years in the making, this book is chockfull of history and is not only an interesting read, but it's also candy for the eyes. I thought I'd never see anything more stunning than the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris, but I was wrong. This book has become my travel bucket list. You can order it here:
Welcome to O-gazms. If it goes "bump" in the night, you'll probably find it, or a mutilated, rotting piece of it, somewhere within this blog. This blog was started through the encouragement of a couple of my friends who find my fascination with death, the macabre, and the paranormal a bit... shall we say, quirky?