Friday, May 24, 2013

Music to Horrify the Undead Soul

I'm a  little bit pissed off at myself.

Last night, while flipping channels and enjoying a 5Vulture  Dark Ale, I happened across the 2005 remake of John Carpenter's The Fog.

I'm pissed because I watched it.

I'm pissed because I broke my 'No PG-13 Movies. Ever.' rule.

Mostly I'm pissed because it was so terrible.

The simple truth is the the original Fog from 1980 is not in any conceivable sense Carpenter's best. Story-wise, it was actually pretty bland. It was not necessarily scary - at least not in the way that Halloween was. The story, and especially the end, were not as tight as they could be. Sandwiched between probably his two greatest horror masterpieces, Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982), it is a borderline disappointment on many levels.

 It did, however, have a great feel to it that was classic Carpenter. For all of its failings, there was still some of the classic Carpenter brilliance that makes it stand out. Rob Bottin's effects were spot on. The way it was shot gave it a spooky, creepy feel that was unmistakably scary. It was low budget as low budget can get, but Carpenter shot it like a big budget film and it feels greater than it was. The scenes with the stalking ghosts, especially on the boat, the Sea Grass, in the beginning, have a chilling dread that is palpable. So, even when Carpenter sucks, he's still good.

As an added bonus, this movie is a study in horror references. For the devoted horror fan, you can see them everywhere. There are Lovecraft references, Poe references, Hitchcock references, sly asides to other horror auteurs and characters named after horror greats like Dan O'Bannon, or Vincent Price's classic Dr. Phibes. There's even a cameo by Carpenter himself, playing a character named Ben Trammer. Also - and this is a really important piece - it featured Nancy Loomis (nee Kyes). The same actress who played Annie Brackett in Halloween. I can honestly say that I have had a crush on her since I first saw her in Halloween. Look at it this way, when one looks back on the unholy fascination and attraction Dr. Zombie has with horror movie scream queens - the top three will always be Linnea Quigley as Trash from Return of the Living Dead, Charlie Spradling from numerous early Full Moon outings, and Nancy Loomis as Annie Brackett.  

So, based on my... love is too strong a word; let's say, based on my respect and deep like for the original, I thought I might want to see the remake. Add to that the fact that it was still produced by Carpenter and Debra Hill, and Debra helped with the re-writes. It was also her last film before succumbing to cancer. I felt kind of obligated to watch it.

I should have known better when, in the opening seen, they started with a Fall Out Boy song and I saw that the lead was the dude who played Clark Kent in Smallville. Goddammit. How do you replace Tom Atkins with some 19 year old pretty boy? How do you replace Jamie Lee Curtis with the blond snotty chick from Lost?

It all went down hill from there. There was no gore, it wasn't scary at all, and the entire cast was - apparently - put together by sending an email to the WB and seeing if any of the ridiculously pretty and vacuous leads from whatever passes for teen drama over there were interested.

It was mind-numbingly stupid. It was insipid. It lacked anything remotely scary, gory, or at all redeeming. I feel mortified for the memory of Debra Hill in that this was her last film. I feel shame for myself because I was forced to endure a horror movie that wasn't a horror movie and that just kept getting worse and worse - like the progression of some horrible blood poisoning as it marches inexorably up your arm from a wound, the veins it is climbing up turning black with an ichor-like venom as it crawls slowly, lethally, towards your doomed heart.

This movie was that fucking bad.

So, why am I telling you about this? Because I - in my circuitous, long winded way -- want to talk about music.

'What?' you may be asking, "What are you talking about, Doctor Zombie. What in the bloody blue fuck does that have to do with a really bad remake of a bad Carpenter film?!"

That or, maybe, "Are you off your meds again?"... as you back slowly away from my wild-eyed looks,

No. My point here is that music matters. I mentioned it before, but the fact that this crappy remake started with a Fall Out Boy song says volumes about the chances of this movie being any good.

One of the crucial keys behind the success of John Carpenter's movies is the fact that he controls the music in them almost pathologically. He writes many of his themes and - although in many cases they're seemingly simplistic - in most every other respect they are brutally effective at setting a mood and are almost a character in and of themselves. It is not an overstatement to say that the jangling 5/4 timed Halloween theme was a huge part of Michael Meyer's and Halloween's success.

I think that - from a horror standpoint - music is a key element. I am a music person and it is an important part of my own creative process. I listen to music when I write, critically listen to it when watching horror cinema, and also listen to creepy stuff when I'm relaxing. Like ALL of us old Goth, horror hounds do.

So, I decided to do a post about some of the things - musically - that are rocking Dr. Z's creepy world right now.

Music to Soothe the Undead Soul

Midnight Syndicate - Midnight Syndicate should be part of any horror fan's musical library. Now, as a matter of full disclosure, I am a non-biased promoter of Midnight Syndicate. I have a link to them at the bottom of my page and I am also listed on their website. I'm featured as a member of their Legions of Night - artists, musicians, and writers who are fans and who draw inspiration from Midnight Syndicate's unique sound. I am also listed on their site for a review I did of their last album, Carnival Arcane. 

But even if one takes my bias out of the picture... Midnight Syndicate is awesome. They write horror and Halloween themed music that is at times simultaneously haunting, beautiful, and creepy. They specialize in Halloween and music that evokes images of abandoned graveyards, or sanitariums, or lichen-covered catacombs. They are our kind of people, my lovely undead minions. The twisted minds behind Midnight Syndicate - Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka - create soundscapes of horror and fantasy.

For my part, they are crucial when I'm writing. Nothing helps me get in the mood more than Midnight Syndicate. I will wait until everyone goes to bed, pour myself a glass of Irish whiskey - or perhaps a glass of absinth - light some candles, and let the voices in my head scream at me as I try to coax them out in writing onto my laptop.

In fact, I'm listening to them as I write this right now. I'm listening to Darkness Descends off of their Halloween Music Collection. I'm looking forward to their upcoming release - Monsters of Legend. Their soon to be released CD is an homage to the classic horror movies we all know and love. As Edward writes on their website:
"Our approach on this upcoming album is to transport you 'into' the world of classic horror films by Universal, Hammer Films, and others. We want you to feel like you've been dropped right into one of those films - a mysterious world where any creature could be lurking in a shadowy forest or passing by your window at night.... As we did in The 13th Hour and Carnival Arcane we try to achieve this through music and sound design. This will be another great disc to listen to with headphones in a darkened room. "

Check them out, dear reader. You won't be disappointed.

Tonight of the Living Dead - Created by the band, 400 Lonely Things, Tonight of the Living Dead is an interesting experiment in music that I've been listening to for the last week or so. This song (album? musical composition?) is a long remix of the music from the original 1968 Night of the Loving Dead (NOTLD) soundtrack and it captures the cool, ambient musical nature of the greatest zombie film of all time. Go to the link above and take a look at the accompanying video (embedded below as well). It cuts the music together with a neat video mix of the original movie. It's a neat idea and the music is way cool. It's also, in my mind, a very good example of the nature of music and its impact on cinema. NOTLD is another of those movies that owes much of its horror ambience to the soundtrack. In the case of NOTLD, all of the music was catalog music purchased from the library of Capitol Records. Much of it has appeared in other movies and TV shows contemporaneously. However, the music itself is uniquely a part of Romero's vision. It adds to and makes the movie better.

I first discovered it when a new fan posted a link to the web page on the Living Dead Festival Facebook page. The page is run by Gary Streiner - the sound guy from the original Night of the Living Dead. The members of the page over there jumped on the poster pretty hard as there's a history of exploitation of the NOTLD copyrights and brand. Many felt this was another case of that. The exploitation of the property is valid, the jumping on the fan maybe not so much. She was just sharing something she thought was cool.

I think it's cool too.

Aklo - Of course, it's not a proper post by Dr. Zombie if it doesn't in some way reference the greatness of H.P. Lovecraft. I discovered Aklo quite by chance. Aklo is another band experimenting with sound and music. It's random weirdness, disconcertingly odd, and an altogether discordant mixture of what madness must sound like. In other words, I love it. Aklo, by the way, is a language that Arthur Machen made up and was used by Lovecraft in several of his stories, most notably The Dunwich Horror. Aklo (the band) makes Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos-themed albums that try to capture the weirdness that Old Man of Providence wrote about.

I am - as we all know - a geek of epic proportions. One of the ways in which that geekiness manifested itself - at least back in high school and college, was through role-playing games. And, being the horror fool I am, Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu remains my all time favorite RPG. It was the first serious game I played and it introduced myself and legions of new fans to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. My friends and I -and especially our Gamemaster, Jay - were all huge fans of the game and we went to enormous lengths to set the mood. We always played at night, with candles, and played eerie music in the background. To this day, whenever I role-play (sadly not often enough anymore), music is an essential part of the process.

And Aklo is the perfect music to fight cultists, Cthulhu, Nyarlothotep, Azathoth, and the other pantheons of Outer and Elder Gods to... or at least to lose gobs of insanity to. Take you pick.

And, by the way, for any of my friends reading this, that reminds me... I need me some horror roleplaying. Anyone interested?

And, finally to wrap things up, I wanted to add the theme to the original Fog, as composed by John Carpenter. The sad fact is that many of today's horror movies lack the passion of the classics, and that's because they lack the music.

Seriously, listen to this and tell me differently.

If only we could get some of the modern studios to look at music by groups like Midnight Syndicate, or Aklo. Horror movies, and horror music, by horror fans. How awesome would that be?!?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Top 10 Beers of Horror!

I've recently been absolutely trapped by an app on my iPhone that my brother Richie exposed to me. And by trapped, I mean trapped in the same inexorable way that a dying planet is trapped in a downward gravity spiral as it's slowly pulled into its once life giving sun. Or, perhaps in the way that will - once and for all - finally finish the wanton destruction to my liver that began so many years ago in college when I discovered the wonder, joy, and blood poisoning elixir most commonly know as beer.

The app is called Untappd. They have a website and have versions that are available on most mobile devices too.

Anyway, Untappd works by tracking your beer drinking and the number of unique beers you drink. It rewards you by giving badges for trying certain beers, or drinking in certain places. It's a social app, so you're also seeing what your friends are drinking, and what badges they've earned.

It's absolutely fucking addicting.

Here's the problem with the whole badge component... Dr. Z finds himself getting into gamer mode. It's great in that it has me trying beers I would have never tried before (who knew there was a whole class of beer known as sour beers?!?) But I'm in bad shape, man. And, by gamer mode, I mean that I'm fascinated and fixated and constantly trying to get more badges. It's a terrible temptation and it's - seriously - killing both my liver and, to some larger extent, Mrs. Zombie - who is seriously fed up with my checking in every gorram beer I drink.

My quest for unknown and untried beer (and the subsequent rewarding of unique badges!) has led to my nixing restaurants on date nights because they don't have a good beer selection. Seriously.

I do have to take a second and mention that Mrs. Zombie is a saint to put up with my shit. If it's not one harebrained scheme or another, or my bugging her for a new Harley, or even my endless fascination with horror movies and other forms of geekery - she puts up with a lot. I think Untappd, however, is going to be the death knell of any patience she has for me.

For instance, yesterday I ran out on my lunch break and hit this really cool beverage store in Mentor on State Route 306 that sells craft and import beers by the bottle. They claim to have over 3000 different craft and import beers - and I tend to believe them. I spent almost 20 dollars on a six pack of assorted beers. 1 of them was a Two Brothers Brewery Cane and Abel because my other brother Phil (who's also been sucked into the Untappd psychosis) recommended it as one of the best rye beers he's ever had. The other 5 were all Belgian beers because there's a Belgian Holiday badge for drinking 5 beers brewed in Belgian. I also picked up an unnecessarily large bottle of Orkney Brewing Dragonhead Stout because I'm a fan of that particular Scottish Brewery.

The 5 Belgian brews, by the way, is how a lot of the badges work. If you drink, for instance, 10 IPA's - you get the 'I Believe in IPA' badge. Or, if you drink 10 beers from the UK, you get the 'God Save the Queen Badge'. They also do special holiday badges, so if you drink a beer on St. Patty's, you get a special 2013 St. Patty's day badge... or Cinco De Mayo, or Halloween, or New Year's, or whatever.

You see how that can get addicting, right? Right?

Anyway, on to the whole purpose of this post. Since I've been absolutely stupid with my beer consumption lately, I'm getting a good feel for some of the cool craft brews out there. There's nothing Doctor Zombie loves more than drinking a couple beers while watching a horror movie. Whether it's a classic Hammer film with old Peter Cushing and Chrisopher Lee, or a modern zombie film, or an 80's slasher flick, or anything with Lon Chaney and/or Boris Karloff - I love sitting down, turning off all the lights, cranking the surround sound, popping on a horror flick, and relishing the delicious hoppy goodness of a great beer.

So, in that vein, here's my list of great horror themed beers!

Some rules: I have some from the same brewery and that's simply my personal affinity for certain breweries - however, they are also breweries that specialize in types of beers. And those beers betray the fact that someone, somewhere in the brewery, has the requisite irreverence that comes with being a horror fan of some sort or other. I honestly think there's someone at these breweries who - like us - just dig cool spooky or horror-themed stuff. Also, the beers have to be horror-themed in some way, they need to be GOOD, and while they may be seasonal - a true brew hound should be able to find them year round if they try hard enough.

If not, you can always do what Dr. Zombie does - stockpile them like he does Monster Cereals, baby!

So, on to the list of the Top 10 Horror Themed Beers!

10) Full Pint Brewing Night of the Living Stout - Night of the Living Stout is a ridiculously smooth, dark, easy drinking stout that comes from, of course, the Pittsburgh-based Full Pint Brewing. Pittsburgh, as we all know, is the home of the modern zombie film, and this stout with the kick ass label does that reputation proud. It pours with very little head, and could be trouble because it goes down so easy.

Suggested Parings: Enjoy with a side of zombie flicks - preferably something from the Maestro, himself - George A. Romero!

9) Rogue Dead Guy Ale - Always a classic. While writing this, I flipped over to their site and saw that Dead Guy is actually a German-style ale, which I find surprising because I don't care for German beer. If they have German beers that are in the style of Dead Guy, I may need to re-evaluate my opinion. It's got a healthy alcohol content (6.5%) and is actually really easy to drink. It looks wonderful in a glass with it's deep rich color and is a delightful combination of maltiness with citrus undertones. Bonus - Rogue always has the best tap handles. You know that a bar serves Rogue when you see the squatting skeleton grinning at you from across the bar.

Suggested Pairings: John Carpenter's The Fog, old episodes of Scooby Doo, or anything with Bruce Campbell! Klaatu Verada Nik... necklace? Nedra? Nose?...  Also while watching Grimm on NBC. Monroe, everyone's favorite Blutbad, loves this brew!

8) New Holland The Poet - Another fine example of New Holland's expertise in turning out exceptional craft brews, The Poet is a delicious oatmeal stout that is pleasing to the eye and filled with delicious hints of chocolate and caramel. Like any good oatmeal stout, it is creamy and fabulous. The label is adorned with an ominous raven silhouette and is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's line from Alice in Wonderland, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Although nonsensical and the point was that it had no answer, (and was indicative of  the Madhatter's madness)... I still prefer the alternative: Because Poe wrote on both! Old Edgar Allen is a genius and honored by this delicious brew!

Suggested Pairings: The 1960 Vincent Price classic, The Fall of the House of Usher; or the 1963 Roger Corman version of The Raven (again, Vincent Price, with the addition of Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and a young Jack Nicholson!).

7) Three Floyds Zombie Dust - I just tried this a few weeks ago, but how could I not give something this awesome a try?!? Zombie Dust is an IPA and I'm not an IPA fan generally. The endless overhopping of beer, I think, diminishes the taste of the beer. I know this is a palate thing, but I often get a weird grassy, herbal tate when I drink IPA's. Three Floyd's Zombie Dust, however, was a pleasant surprise. It tasted good with light, crisp notes that weren't blasted with ridiculous amounts of hops during the brewing process. I'm also an admitted sucker when it comes to good packaging and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the label on this bottle.

Suggested Pairings: Best when served on tap, but it does come in a bottle. Pick up a six pack, turn on the Netflix, and kill the six pack while watching as many low budget, direct to DVD/Netflix zombie films you can. It will buzz you up quick, and deaden the pain of the shit that attempts - and fails - to pass for competent horror film making. Trust me, Zombie Dust will make all groovy, baby.

6) Orkney Skull Splitter - This is not a beer for the weak. It comes from the Orkney brewery, on the Orkney Islands. Orkney has been inhabited for 5000 years and was run by the Vikings for thousands of years before Alfred the Great established the Danelaw. And that tradition of conquest and pillaging shows itself in the beer brewed there. This is a beer that is best drank from the skull of your enemy. It is strong, deliciously so. Seriously, a couple beers into this and you'll find yourself looking for a horned helmet and a nearby village to pillage and rape. This bloodthirstiness works well with horror movies with high gore value.

Suggested Pairings: Like I said, something violent and gory. Saw 1 or 2, Eli Roth torture porn like Cabin Fever or Hostel, or just some good old fashioned 80's slasher flicks. Nothing says 'BLLLAAAARRRGGHGHH! KILL!" like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Rob Zombie's House of a 1000 Corpses. 

5) Great Lakes Lake Erie Monster - A Great Lakes Brewing offering. Although more of a traditional IPA, I couldn't keep from including it. It's got a great label and pays homage to Lake Erie's very own cryptid. Seriously, there's monsters out there in the blue-green, choppy, dangerous depths of Lake Eerie. Why else would there be so many shipwrecks?!?

Suggested Pairings: The Creature from The Black Lagoon, the deep sea sci-fi thriller Virus with Jamie Lee Curtis, Open Water, or Japanese-made, Matthew Broderick-less Godzilla flicks. As an alternative, whilst watching Cleveland's own minor league hockey team, the Lake Erie Monsters, on Sportschannel Ohio!

4) Ommegang Gnomegang - Although not truly horror-themed, one could say that gnomes are at least fantasy, geeky based? Truthfully, I couldn't leave off one of my new favorite breweries. The New York state based Brewery Ommegang is mind-blowingly good. Everything I've tried from them is fabulous. They repeatedly take the top two spots EVERY YEAR of the best craft brews in the US. Gnomegang is a Belgian-style Hennepin that is delicious, light, crisp, and decadently effervescent. If you've never had anything from Brewery Ommegang, please, do yourself a favor and get yourself some. Believe me, you will not be disappointed.

Suggested Pairings: Leprechaun, Critters, or Gremlins 1 and 2. I might even suggest Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth for the otherworldly, fairy-like creatures. Anything gnome-like will do!

3) New Holland Ichabod - New Holland Brewing out of Michigan is amazing to me because every single beer I've ever had from them is delicious. Their seasonal pumpkin brew, Ichabod, is no exception. I consider myself an expert on pumpkin beers. I start drinking them in early September, and will regularly continue buying them through Christmas. I will also, as I've said before, stockpile them. Fortunately, my beer store of choice keeps it on hand all year as they have a distribution deal with New Holland. Sporting the Headless Horseman on its label, Ichabod is a perfect example of a pumpkin brew. Not too heavy on the nutmeg and allspice, it lets the flavor of the pumpkin through, and lets everyone's favorite orange gourd be the star.

Suggested Pairings: John Carpenter's Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 3, and Halloween H20. We can all forget about the other inferior sequels and should admit that these 4 movies make up the best representation of Carpenter and Debra Hill's vision. Carpenter's 1978 Halloween, by the way, is watched year round in Dr. Zombie's Midnight Theater of Terror.

2) Great Lakes Nosferatu - Going local, but that's because Great Lakes is a fabulous brewery. Cleveland is square in the middle of the craft brew revolution with several really good local breweries (like The Market Garden Brewery, or Indigo Imp, or Thirsty Dog, or  Buckeye Brewing); but Great Lakes remains the king. They consistently produce fabulous tasting beer and Nosferatu is my personal favorite. It's a weird, hard to define beer. It's blood red when poured in a glass, but isn't a true red ale. It's got a wonderfully high alcohol content (8%), and comes only in four packs around Halloween (and those 4 packs cost what you would pay for a 12 pack of imported mass produced beer). It has a bitter aftertaste that smacks of the high alcohol content. By all considerations, I should hate this beer. It's harsh, bitter, and not what i normally drink. That said, I love it. I spend an inordinate amount of money snatching up 4 packs of the shit and can usually make it stretch until summer. In addition to that, I have a Great Lakes Brewing growler for the sole purpose of making my annual autumn pilgrimage to the Great Lakes Brewery's west side location in order to get some Nosferatu direct from the keg. I can't tell you how awesome this beer is.

Suggested Pairings: Near Dark, The Lost Boys, 30 Days of Night, Dracula (1931), Bram Stoker's Dracula (with Winona Ryder! Dear, sweet, Winona. Sigh), or Underworld. Really, any vampire flick that plays around Halloween, because that's the only time you can get it. I recommend AMC's Fearnet... it's on constant play for the entire month of October at my casa!

1) Wychwood Hobgoblin - Quite likely my favorite beer, Hobgoblin is the quintessential English Strong Ale. It is delicious, smooth, and has a taste unlike any other strong ale or ESB out there. If you get a chance, check out the awesome design of the Wychwood Brewery website. I love this beer. It is everything a beer should be. It's got a strong bite at the beginning, but finishes smooth. It's drinkability is off the scale and it has a delicious nutty, malty flavor. Wychwood is a cool as hell brewery as well. They have a vintage looking witch as their logo, the hobgoblin on the label appeals to the dark, Pagan part of me, and they have some other great brews out there. In the US, I can get Hobgoblin, Dark Goblin Special Reserve (which is like an amped up Hobgoblin), Wychcraft (a delicious golden ale), and Scarecrow Organic (an English Pale Ale). That's it though.

They have several UK-only brews I'd love to try. They have beers like Gingerbeard (a ginger beer), Pumpking (a pumpkin), Dirty tackle (an English bitter), and a number of other seasonal and special brews unavailable here in the US. This makes me sad. Guess I'll need to get back to the UK in a few years...

Suggested Pairings: Any horror, sci-fi, fantasy, or otherwise geeky movie, TV show, or just drinking on the porch, or at parties, or anywhere. Really... this is a fabulous beer and I can't recommend it enough.

Runners up: 
Harpoon UFO White
Wychwood Scarecrow Organic
Spring House Brewing Braaaiins! Pumpkin Ale for Zombies
Rogue Farms Pumpkin Patch Ale

So there it is. Beers for the horror-minded. Hope you enjoy.

Oh, and if you're interested in joining in the madness that is Untappd, feel free to friend me. Search for me under the name: DoctorZombie. I'll be happy to friend you and help you too lose your life to endless hours of badge collecting and drunken revelry. You're soon to be undead liver will thank you for it!