Friday, October 1, 2010

31 Days of Halloween - Day 1 - Welcome Back, Halloween!

           Man. I love Halloween. Every year at this time I have to ponder whether I love this holiday or Christmas more. This year I’m pondering it more seriously since stupid Target has a bunch of Christmas merchandise out already. At the back of the Halloween section.
C’mon, assholes. Can’t we just enjoy this primal, relatively low-impact month of thrills and chills before we have to start stressing about money and relatives and all of the nerve-wracking shit that goes along with the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
Okay. Maybe I prefer Halloween just a bit. But only a little bit.
           Chances are the Troublemaker family is at this very minute covering Stately Troublemaker Manor with ghosts, zombies and tombstones. For the first time in several years I’m off on the 1st of October, so we’re pretty much getting an extra weekend of spooky goodness this year. There will be ghosts and ghoulies on the porch, graves in the front yard and maybe even a giant monster coming up out of the ground on the side of the house if I can figure that one out.
I’ll be putting my Halloween playlist back on the Zune. In much the same way that you wouldn’t listen to Christmas carols in July (unless you’re riding with Mick Foley), I don’t listen to Halloween music the rest of the year. Sure, the Misfits, Calabrese and Rob Zombie are always in rotation; but music from horror movies and certain other spooky-themed classics are off-limits the rest of the year. We’ll listen to those as we construct our house of not-so-horrors.
I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do in The Dungeon this year. It’s pretty easy just to hang up some heads, fill jars and bottles with oddly-colored liquids and call it a day. I’d like to do a little more this year. Granted, we’ve pretty much given up on a full-fledged Halloween party for the time being; but I’d still like to have a creepy mini-sideshow for visitors through the month.
And here on Needless Things I’ll be keeping it creepy all month long. For the past several Octobers I have had month-long Halloween coverage on the old MySpace blog. Now that I have a vastly superior setup I intend to make use of it. I’ll be posting a ton of brand new content all month, as well as reposting old favorites from past years. I’m also considering updates to old articles and “Special Edition” versions. I had a vision for those old articles, but the technology at the time limited my ability to present them like I wanted to. Why does that sound familiar? And somewhat blasphemous…
So that’s what’s happening. I suppose I could have put off the big start until Monday so this introduction wouldn’t seem so disjointed, but I’m not a retailer and this ain’t no White Sale. This is…
Phantom Troublemaker’s 31 Days of Halloween
And I’m kicking it off with a review of one of my new favorite movies of all time: Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist.
This is a significant piece for a whole bunch of reasons. First, The Mist is my very favorite of Stephen King’s short stories.
The article itself is significant to me because it was the last one I e-mailed to MC4TR to be published. There was a mix-up and it never went up, so when my old flash drive got destroyed earlier this year I thought one of my favorite pieces was gone. Luckily, I was able to recover it from the e-mail I had sent to Gnoll.
I’ve sat on it all this time because I wanted something of a special occasion to post it.
This is also a significant time for my review of The Mist because of a giant fucking event that is coming at the end of the month. In a move that I never imagined could be possible, The Walking Dead is coming to television. On AMC on Halloween night. Written and directed by Frank Fucking Darabont. And if you don’t know why Darabont deserves that significance in between his names, then you obviously haven’t see The Mist. You need to amend that situation ASAP, and here’s why:
The Mist – Blu-Ray
By Phantom Troublemaker

I first saw Frank Darabont’s adaptation of my favorite Stephen King short story when it was released for home viewing (I am irritated by the lack of an all-encompassing term like “came out on DVD” , since we now have to consider Blu-Ray and DVD formats) about two years ago. We rented the single-disc DVD version, mainly because I hadn’t heard enough about the film to outright buy it. You may not know this (yeah, right), but adaptations of Mr. King’s work run the gamut from fantastic (Misery, Cujo, The Shawshank Redemption) to bad-but-acceptable (The Langoliers, Desperation) to laughable (It, The Stand, The Tommyknockers). In short, I’m not buying any King movies sight unseen (unless the Eli Roth Cell adaptation actually happens).
The Mist became one of my new favorite movies as soon as the end credits started rolling.
Whenever that happens, I – like most dorks – start researching. I found out the two-disc DVD and the Blu-Ray both included Frank Darabont’s original intention for the movie – a black-and-white version. I had to have it. Like I said, though; I’m a dork. This means I had to have the best version possible. I knew a Blu-Ray player wasn’t too far in the Troublemaker family’s future, so I wanted to wait until I could see this newly discovered gem in the magic of Hi-Def.
We got a PlayStation 3 later in the year, but in the rush of new movies and games The Mist got overlooked. By the time I thought about it again it had been out for over a year, so I held out for a used copy. I’m a cheap bastard.
Anyway, one thing led to another and I finally got to sit down and enjoy the Blu-Ray release of The Mist last week while I was home sick. I spent an entire night devouring every minute of this edition and now I’m going to tell you all about it. Spoiler-free, of course.
The Movie
Like I said, I loved the color version when I saw it and was intrigued by Darabont’s claims that the B&W release was superior. I didn’t necessarily doubt the guy, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept. How could a technically inferior release be better?
First, let me outline the virtues of the movie itself.
The Mist has been my favorite Stephen King short since the first time I read it out of my stained, used copy of Skeleton Crew; purchased from a local used book store where I obtained most of my current library. It creeped me the fuck out, and I still think it is one of King’s most nightmarish works. My love for it only grew when years later King retconned it into the whole Dark Tower universe in a way that only the biggest douche could argue with.
To say that Darabont – who wrote and directed the film – succeeded in adapting King’s work would be a massive understatement. The screen version of The Mist is more like the full realization of Stephen King’s creative vision. Darabont is the Hama to King’s Hasbro, if you get my meaning. And if you’re reading this, you probably do. What was already great is now a more fleshed out and cohesive narrative.
The cast is great. Thomas Jane leads, and if you have any doubts about his abilities you can forget them. There is no trace of shark wrangler or vigilante here. You get a loving father and husband who just happens to be a man that values The Right Thing. Laurie Holden is very strong as a woman who wants people to be better than they are, the impeccable Andre Braugher plays Jane’s neighbor – the cynic – and Marcia Gay Harden is thoroughly hateable as the fundamentalist nutjob shrew that wants to make everybody’s bad day worse. I hate to leave out the rest of the great ensemble cast, but those are the four principles. If you want a list, go to IMDB. I’ll just vouch for everyone else and say they’re great, even the kid who plays Jane’s son. Doomsday even shows up for the party! I know from the features that Darabont has a stable of regulars he always uses, but I couldn’t point them out. As much as I respect The Green Mile and Shawshank, they just aren’t my kind of movies (I’ve seen ‘em and they are wonderful. Just not my thing).
The story is a snowball that gradually gains momentum until it is finally so big and out of control that you have to just grab your balls and go, “Aaaaaaahh!” I guarantee you will be emotionally drained by the time you are done with this thing. As much as it is a big ‘ol monster movie, it is also very much a character-driven piece about the thresholds of morality and the perils of group-think and the sheep mentality. A poignant message for our times, no?
The effects are above reproach. All of the monsters were designed by the collaborative forces of Greg Nicotero and Bernie Fucking Wrightson, so you know they’re going to make you hide behind the couch. Especially given that there is not one moment of “that looks like CGI” in the movie. The movie even manages to portray what I had previously considered an unfilmable scene towards the end of the story. It’s fucking HUGE.
And that’s where the magic of the B&W version comes in. As good as the mist and creature effects look in color, in black-and-white they are fucking real. Watching The Mist in its intended colorless form is like watching the grandest, creepiest, most disturbing old-school Twilight Zone episode ever produced. I’m talking it puts the Shatner airplane one to shame. It is fucking disorienting in its surreality in a way no movie I’ve ever seen has been. Somehow, this movie is more vivid without pigment.
Also, if you don’t know the ending (the film ends differently from the short story, to King’s approval – and jealousy! – no less) don’t spoil it for yourself. The last movie that had as profound an effect on me was probably Tetsuo: The Iron Man. I saw that one twenty years ago and I still haven’t recovered.

5 out of 5 Horrifying Fucking Spider-Monsters
The Features
The Blu-Ray is almost as packed with features as my current Gold Standard (Blu Standard?), Star Trek. There are several featurettes, deleted scenes with commentary, both versions of the movie, a conversation with Stephen King and Frank Darabont that is both enlightening and entertaining, a commentary track featuring Darabont and a tribute to legendary poster artist Drew Struzan; who Thomas Jane’s character is somewhat of a tribute to, and whose artwork is featured in Jane’s art studio in the film’s opening. You may not know Struzan’s name, but you sure as hell know his work.
The commentary is amazing. I say this not because it is the best I’ve heard – it isn’t. That would be Cannibal: The Musical. What makes The Mist’s commentary so amazing is that it is the first director-only commentary I have ever heard that never gets boring, even for a second. I have long maintained that the ideal commentary consists of the director, a producer and not less than two but not more than three actors. My reasoning is that everybody keeps everybody else on track. The director keeps the actors from going off on tangents about their dogs, the actors keep the director from prattling on about technical details and they all keep the producer from just sitting there jabbering about how great everybody is. Frank Darabont bucks the boring director trend by being engaging, quick and informative without ever falling off into the sort of tedium that only directors (and hardcore movie snobs) care about.
The rest of the features are all so good that I sat and watched every minute and wanted more. It is incredibly rare for me to do that anymore. With my time-consuming job and my family I just rarely have the desire to invest the six-plus hours it requires to take in a whole Special Edition presentation in one sitting.
The only thing I really missed was a cast commentary. Darabont’s was great, but I’d really like to have more of the “human-interest” type of content that performers usually provide. As such, the home release gets:

4 out of 5 Terrifying Toothy Tentacles

Until next time, stay creepy

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