Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pumpkinhead & Evilspeak

It's October. And it's that time of year when I get the itch for some good horror movies.

As a child of the 1980's, I like my horror movies from that era of the 70's and 80's -- when the slasher craze was booming and quality directors like John Carpenter, William Friedkin and Richard Donner were pushing the envelope with taboo themes and ample gore.

So while there are still dozens if not hundreds of horror movies from that era that I have yet to see, I can't help but feel like I've seen most of the great horror movies from the 70's and 80's.

And while watching Pumpkinhead, a movie that I had such high hopes for, and Evilspeak, a movie I knew would suck but wanted to watch it for nostalgic reasons, my fears were realized: Maybe I have seen all of the good horror movies from the 70's and 80's.

Pumpkinhead was made in 1988 by Stan Winston, who you may know as the special effects wizard from films such as The Terminator and Aliens. He's a true visionary. And so when he stepped behind the camera, you'd think the quality of his films would be in line with that of his special effects work.


I should have known there was a reason why Winston's only feature film directing credits are Pumpkinhead and a Gnome Named Gnorm. But that didn't keep me from wanting to like this movie. First, it's called Pumpkinhead. Great title. Second, it's Winston, so you know the make-up and creature effects should be great. And for the most part, they are. Third, the name alone is awesome. Fourth, Lance Henrikson is in it. Come on! That alone should make it awesome.

The plot also piqued my interest: A father invokes a demon to seek revenge on the teenagers who accidentally killed his son. But sadly, Pumpkinhead feels amateurish from the start and never improves. And where's the gore? I expected Winston to really show off the special effects here as a director, but aside from some nasty creature effects, the film was pretty tame by the standards of the 80's. By comparison, Raiders of the Lost Ark, a PG movie had more gore. All we get in Pumpkinhead is off-screen killings and after the fact blood.

On the positive side, the movie looks good despite the crappy DVD version I watched. Winston wisely borrowed James Cameron's steel-blue palate and incorporated some burnt oranges to give the film a nice visual feel that oozes Halloween.

But in the end, the idea of Pumpkinhead is better than the actual movie. And while I usually balk at the idea of horror movies being remade for modern audiences, I think Pumpkinhead could actually benefit from the recent remake craze. Just don't let Michael Bay get a hold of it.

Up next was the 1981 film Evilspeak starring Clint Howard, who's appearance alone made it a cult classic. I'd watched Evilspeak when I was twelve or so when our local TV station aired horror movies on Saturday's at 2 p.m. It was edited to hell, of course, but some of the images of the film had stayed with me over the years. And when I signed up for Netflix, I added Evilspeak to my queue, knowing that it wasn't a movie I could stroll down to the local video store to rent.

Evilspeak has some infamous qualities to it, since it was a Video Nasty in England back in the 80's and 90's. But while watching it, I wondered why. The first hour and fifteen minutes of the 95 minute film is just talk. That's right. We aren't even strung along with a random killing here and there. All we get is poor Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) being relentlessly bullied and typing away crazily on a 1981 era computer to resurrect a Satanic spirit and get revenge on his classmates. It's really just a Carrie rip-off with really bad Atari graphics. And slllooooowwwww!

The last ten or fifteen minutes are almost worth the wait, but even the climax is too short. But get this. In the final act we get: a woman eaten alive by pigs, an upside-down impaling on a chandelier, a nail in the wrist of Jesus on a crucifix shoot into a guy's forehead, Clint Howard floating in the air wielding a giant sword, multiple beheadings, and a heart ripped out of a guy's chest!

If ever there was a horror movie that you could watch on You Tube, Evilspeak is it. Just watch the film's trailer and then the last fifteen minutes and you will have not missed a thing. I will give props to the makers of Evilspeak for the computer-being-used-for-bad themes that were about 20 years before its time. So while Evilspeak does have some things going for it, it's just too damn slow.

So yeah, I'm a little disappointed that I'm having trouble finding good horror movies from the 70's and 80's to wet my beak during this Halloween season, but it's still fun to watch a movie I haven't seen before or haven't seen in a long time.

And ironically, I've watched three excellent horror movies in the last year that were all made within the past three years: Trick r Treat, House of the Devil and Paranormal Activity. All of these films were made with the qualities of 70's and 80's horror movie -- "less is more".

So while I may not find many more good movies from my favorite era of horror films, at least some current directors are using what made horror movies so good back then, and transporting them to the present day.

I guess I can't complain.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Conservative Ravens give away win to New England

Deion Branch celebrates a 4th quarter touchdown catch in the Patriots' overtime win over the Ravens.

It was one of those games when your team is up in the 4th quarter and you start thinking about how sweet it will be to see that opposing team's fan at work on Monday and rub in the win.

I mean, the Ravens had a 20-10 lead in the 4th quarter. The lead should have been safe with the Ravens defense, right?


The Ravens, who had been able to move the ball well against the Patriots defense all day, switched to conservative mode on both sides of the ball with the 10 point lead and the Patriots climbed their way back into the game and eventually won 23-20 in overtime.

It was the kind of loss where Ravens fans want to run the coaching staff out of town: Cam Cameron for sticking with Ray Rice too long and refusing to throw down field in the 4th quarter, Gregg Mattison for using the prevent defense, which only prevented the Ravens from winning, and John Harbaugh who elected to punt on a 4th and 1 on the Ravens 47-yard line with 9:10 left in the game, instead of going for it and killing the clock.

Joe Flacco had an excellent day, completing 27 of 35 passes, throwing for 285 yards, 2 TD's and 0 INT's. And yet Cameron didn't trust Flacco to throw down the field in the 4th quarter? I'm sorry, but when you take the girl to the dance, you dance with her. Cameron's erratic treatment of Flacco thus far has been head-scratching and infuriating.

Ray Rice, meanwhile, had trouble getting going all day. He had 28 rushes and 88 yards which comes out to a 3.1 YPC average, yet Cameron put the game on Rice's shoulders in the second half, and failed to adjust when it became apparent that Rice was not able to move the chains. Willis McGahee, meanwhile, didn't get a single snap the entire game. If Cameron was insistent on running the ball to kill the clock, McGahee's fresh legs may have helped.

And the defense didn't help either. In Baltimore, you think that a 10 point lead is safe in the 4th quarter, whether at home or on the road. After all, it's the way the Ravens have won games in the past -- but those were different times when the Ravens had no offense -- and Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and TJ Houshmandzadeh were playing in different cities. But the Ravens defense had a hand in the loss, too. The Ravens defense allowed New England put together 2 4th quarter drives that forced overtime: a 4 minute, 8 play drive that resulted in a touchdown to make the score 20-17 and then a 7 minute, 13 play drive that resulted in the game-tying field goal.

And like the conservative play calling on offense, the Ravens defense switched to vanilla schemes, rushing only three linemen, giving Tom Brady ample time to throw in the pocket with zero pressure.

And in overtime, the generic play calling continued. The Ravens were content to engage in a battle of field position with the Patriots when they should have been going for the jugular. A Le'Ron McClain unsportsmanlike conduct penalty backed the Ravens up to their 17 yard line instead of getting the gall at the 27. And on that drive, the Ravens gained 35 yards, which would have put the Ravens around the Patriots 38-yard line. Granted, it would have been a 55-yard field goal, and Billy Cundiff has been nothing but erratic with the Ravens, but when it's for a win on the road, you have to take a shot.

But in the end, it was the Patriots who won that battle. The defense allowed the Patriots to get into field goal range with a 5 minute, 7 play, 45-yard drive that resulted in the game-winning field goal with just under 2 minutes left in overtime.

The media will lap up the Patriots come from behind win and continue to hang from Tom Brady's jock while celebrating the return of WR Deion Branch, who had several clutch catches late in the game. But most intelligent football fans will also realize that the Ravens took their foot off the throat of the Patriots sometime toward the end of the 3rd quarter, and gave the Patriots life.

It's becoming obvious that Cam Cameron has some glaring flaws in his game planning strategy. His refusal to stick with Ray Rice and his 5.4 YPC average in Cincinnati ultimately cost the Ravens the game and his insistence to stick with Rice last Sunday cost the Ravens another game. It's as if the criticism from his time as offensive coordinator in San Diego has followed him to Baltimore and he's learned nothing from it.

That said, if there is anything positive to take away from the loss, it's that the Ravens can learn from their mistakes. If they hadn't taken their foot off the gas pedal late in the game, they could have very well won. This isn't the mid-2000's Ravens anymore where a 10 point lead must be treated carefully like a valuable artifact. We've got a top-tier quarterback in Joe Flacco. We've got three excellent WR's in Boldin, Mason and Houshmandzadeh. There's a reason why Ozzie Newsome brought those guys in here -- and it's to win football games with them.

Yet on Sunday, it felt strangely like 2004 again.

The Ravens take on the Buffalo Bills this Sunday before their bye week on 10/31.

Ravens tame the Broncos, 31-17

Ray Rice had a huge day in the Ravens 31-17 win over the Denver Broncos.

By now, Denver has to hate Baltimore. Even the crabcakes.

The Ravens improved to 5-0 against the Broncos in Baltimore with a 31-17 win.

Ray Rice woke up from his 2010 slumber, rushing for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns. Joe Flacco and Willis McGahee each chipped in with rushing TD's of their own and Flacco also threw for 196 yards, supplementing the Ravens ground game which was in cruise control all day.

And while the Broncos' Kyle Orton threw for 314 yards and 2 TD's, it was mostly of the garbage variety. The Broncos trailed 31-10 during the final 5 minutes of the game. The Ravens defense gave up the passing yardage, but shut down the run, and employed a bend-don't-break mentality all day.

All in all, it was a good sound win as the Ravens improved to 4-1.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

I am all for remaking movies.

I'll use any excuse to revisit a beloved movie universe, whether it is via a remake or an unnecessary sequel. We watch movies to escape reality and feel a certain way, and I always welcome going back to the time when I first experienced some of my favorite childhood movies, regardless of whether they are actually any good. Like any good road trip, it's the journey and not the destination that makes it worth while.

However, the 2010 remake of Wes Craven's 1984 classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street is making me doubt this opinion. Here we have a remake that is totally devoid of the suspense and humor that made the original one of the better slasher movies of the 80's. Even Jackie Earle Haley, who was the lone bright spot in another lifeless film -- Watchmen -- fails to exude menace in his rebooted version of Freddy Kruger.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with this remake. The film has nothing to say. Any good remake takes the original film's central idea and runs with it -- often applying the themes and morals to the current times. But Nightmare fails to do any of this. How great would it have been for this film to say something about the over medication of today's children? That somehow ADD or anti-depression medication are somehow causing these nightmares to occur. Or make the origin of this film's Freddy Kruger a chat-room trolling pedophile. Anything to update the remake for the present day and age.

The only thing this remake has going for it is a character's surprising death about a half hour into the film. But if you've ever seen Psycho -- and yes, even the remake -- you may find yourself rolling your eyes. Even a supposed main character's surprising death early in a film is nothing new.

Platinum Dunes, the studio behind this useless piece of trash, is also responsible for the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. Chainsaw boringly kept the movie setting in the 1970's, like the original, and Friday unwisely updated the film to present time when it could have mined the original's early 1980's setting for laughs and nostalgia. If Platinum Dunes have proven anything, it's that they are only in the horror movie remake business to make money. And yes, I know money is the bottom line for all movie studios, but the total disregard of quality in these remakes downright is shameful.

I guess I shouldn't expect anything more from the man who's directed all three Transformers movies.

In the end, A Nightmare on Elm Street is just that, a nightmare. And like any unnecessary remake, it only makes the viewer yearn for the original film.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Tale of Two Seasons

Ever wonder what God looks like?

"It was the worst of times, it was the best of times..."

I know I got it backwards, but only because the Orioles ended what was shaping up to be the worst season in franchise history -- and one of the worst seasons modern baseball -- with two months that saw the team do a complete 180 degree turn from futility to respectability.

On August 1st, the Orioles were 32-73 and on pace for 114 losses. But then Buck Showalter arrived on August 2nd and said "Let there be competitive baseball" and the Orioles finished 34-23 during two of the most surreal and enjoyable months to the 2010 season.

Was Buck Showalter's appearance in the dugout the sole reason for the improvement? I think Occam's Razor makes sense in this situation. The easiest answer must be the right one.

The players even admitted that Buck was the reason for the better record.

So it was Buck all along!

I'm still in shock. I mean, you have to remember that this was the same team that had Garrett Atkins and his .562 OPS playing 1B for three months. This was the same team that couldn't knock in a runner in scoring position if someone had a gun to the Oriole Bird's head. This was a team that couldn't protect a lead if the other team was using whiffleball bats.

Those days seem so long ago, yet they were barely over two and a half months ago.

The list of things that the almighty Buck Showalter has accomplished since managing his first game on August 3rd are amazing...

- He won more games as manager in two months (34) than Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel did combined in four (32).
- He oversaw the first winning months of August and September since 1997.
- He oversaw a 17 game period of play against the AL East where the Orioles had a winning record (14-13).
- He oversaw the team with the best record in the AL East since becoming manager.
- He oversaw the team with the second best record in the AL since becoming manager.
- And because of his final two months as manager, the Orioles had the first season to season record improvement since 2003-2004.

If Buck Showalter doesn't receive a vote for Manager of the Year, I don't know what to say. His participation in one of the most drastic turnarounds in the history of Major League Baseball deserves at least one token vote. Even if it comes from a writer at the Baltimore Sun.

Yes, Buck does deserve a lion's share of the credit. But let's not forget the players' role in this turnaround.

Brad Bergesen, who had a meltdown in Seattle in April that was painful to watch, pitched his way back from Norfolk -- twice -- to become the Orioles' best pitcher over the stretch of August and September. Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Jeremy Guthrie also played a part in making the final two months of the season some of the best pitched periods of Orioles baseball in years.

After watching these guys pitch their asses off for two months it's impossible not to get excited about the rotation for 2011.

The offense never underwent the drastic transformation that the starting pitching did under Showalter, but guys like Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis remain the offensive core of the team. Hopefully GM Andy MacPhail will burn the midnight oil trying to get this line-up the true clean-up hitter it desperately needs.

So while it was one of the most painful seasons to watch for four months, it was also surprisingly one of the most enjoyable for the final two.

The offseason will go by slow -- you can count on that. But hopefully we'll have some things to be excited about as MacPhail tries to upgrade this club, especially at 1B, SS and 3B.

Is it too early for Hot Stove baseball?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ravens beat Steelers!!! And I was in Cancun!!!

My wife Kelly and I, watching the Ravens vs. Steelers game at the Tequila Barrel in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.

Our friends, Jason and Jaime, watching the game with us.

It's been more than a week since the Ravens topped the Steelers 17-14 in what was one of the greatest Ravens wins in franchise history.

Trailing 14-10 with just a minute left in the 4th quarter, Joe Flacco finally devised one of those game-winning drives that all other great QB's have in their portfolio, hitting T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the endzone and silencing the Steeler fans in Pittsburgh. It was the first time the Ravens have won in Pittsburgh since 2006.

The reason for the late blog entry? I was in Cancun.

Was I able to watch it, you ask?

You bet.

I searched far and wide for a bar that was showing the game and finally found one in Playa Del Carmen. It was called the Tequilla Barrel. Cool place. And there was even a Steeler fan there watching the game, too.

So instead of recapping the game, which I am sure has been burned into the brains of Ravens fans by now, I'll share my experience of watching the Ravens beating the Steelers while I was in paradise.

My wife, Kelly, and my friends, Jason and Jaime, decided to go to Cancun for a much needed vacation. We'd never gone on an extended trip together, outside of Ocean City, so it was great to finally have another couple to hang out with at our resort. We arrived on Saturday, October 2nd and stayed the entire week at the NOW Jade Resort just outside of Puerto Morelos, which is about twenty minutes south of Cancun.

Originally, our plan had been to go to Carlos N Charlies, which is also located in Playa Del Carmen, a touristy town about a half an hour south of our resort. We'd heard rumors that the sports bar in our resort would be showing the game, but we didn't want to risk it. If we stayed, and the resort was not showing the game, we'd be screwed -- and miss the game.

So dressed in our Ravens jerseys, the four of us caught the local ADO bus to Playa Del Carmen. Whereas taxis can cost upwards of $30 to get to Playa Del Carmen, the ADO bus cost $1.60. If you're thinking that the local bus in Mexico is like it usually is in the movies, with people holding chickens in the back of a busted van, you couldn't be more wrong. The ADO buses are basically tour buses, the same kind that blue hairs take on their trips to Atlantic City. They are air-conditioned, have a bathroom and show movies.

When we arrived in Playa Del Carmen around eleven o'clock, we scoped out Carlos N Charlies. And when we saw it was closed, Jason began to panic. Since Cancun is an hour behind Eastern Standard Time, the games started at Noon. And with less than an hour to go, we still wanted to be 100% sure that the game would be showed, and now it looked like we'd be waiting until game time to see if the game was going to be aired because we couldn't get a definitely answer if any place would actually be showing the game.

I'd read on that the Tequila Barrel was actually a better place to watch the game. So we headed to the other side of PDC to find it. Along the way, someone we ran into on the street confirmed that the Barrel was indeed better than Carlos N Charlies.

Along the way across town, store owners tried to lure us into their stores. "Flacco, Flacco, Flacco," they called after us, since three of us were wearing Flacco jerseys. They showed us Ravens ponchos. Mostly, they just tried to get our attention so they could sell us their wares. A few people asked us if we wanted to get high.

When we finally found the Tequila Barrel, we were able to confirm that the game was actually going to be showed, along with all of the other NFL games that day, since the bar has the NFL Sunday Ticket. It was also filled with fans of other teams, who had come there for the same reason -- to watch their teams play while on vacation. So we breathed a sigh of relief and ordered some beers, waiting for the game to begin.

Ironically, our friends Jason and Jaime knew another couple, Chris and Kim, who were staying close by in Playa Del Carmen that same weekend. So by the time the game started, we were six deep in the Tequila Barrel, cheering the Ravens on. We were representing!

The game, as Ravens fans know by now, was a certified classic. I nearly lost my voice screaming like a little girl when Flacco hit TJ Houshmandzadeh for the game winning touchdown. The Steeler fan in the bar with us tipped his cap before heading back out into the sunshine and to celebrate, the four of us did shots of pomegranate (purple) tequila.

I went on record saying that it was probably one of the best days of my life.

I still stand by it.

As we headed back toward the ADO bus for the trip back to our resort, a few more people called after us, "Flacco, Flacco, Flacco!" Some of them asked us again, "Do you want to get high?"

We were already high off a Ravens victory...and we still had a week to spend in beautiful Mexico.

It would have been an amazing trip even if the Ravens had lost. The Ravens win was just icing on the cake.