Friday, September 28, 2007


Man, I'm doing very little on this site nowadays aside from either plugging my favorite horror movies or plugging my own stuff.

Had enough? Maybe? Well, tough. We folks at Nosedive Central have been creating, rehearsing and producing stuff for the past month now (and don't see any light at the end of the tunnel until Year's End), so the last thing I'm going to do is keep quiet about it.


Tomorrow night is the first entry in Vampire Cowboys' Saturday Night Saloon series, featuring (among works by Jeff Lewonczyk, A. Rey Pamatmat, Robert Ross Parker and Webb Wilcoxen) Episode One of Nosedive's Wild West Noir series, Pinkie, a fictionalized account of a former Pinkerton Agent starting his own independent private investigation agency in a Colorado town in the 1890s.


Episode I: "What's That Smell?"

Written by James Comtois

Featuring Becky Comtois, James Comtois, Brian Silliman and Christopher Yustin.

Directed by Pete Boisvert

Saturday, September 29th, 2007 at 8 p.m.


111 Conselyea Street, #2L

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Click here for a map.

Admission is free.

For more information, check out Vampire Cowboys' Web site.

The first Saloon is being performed as part of the New Williamsburg Performing Arts Alliance's Free Fest this weekend.

I'm actually very much looking forward to seeing the other entries in this series (especially considering Jeff Lewonczyk adapted and directed one of the best plays I've seen this year, not to mention Robert Ross Parker).

Anyway, that's it for me. Have a good weekend, folks. Hope to see some of you at the Battle Ranch tomorrow.

Hoping he's got his lines down,

James "Paraphrase King" Comtois

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Do as Big Dog does."

Very well said, Bubba...

(H/t Joshua James.)

Tired of evasive hypocrisy,

James "Sigh..." Comtois

Labels: ,

In Just Two Weeks...

Nosedive Productions, the Sleazy Yet Delicious Eye Candy of the New York Theatre Scene, presents the second installment in its annual BLOOD BROTHERS series…


Last year, the folks at Nosedive presented horror plays originally staged at Theatre du Grand-Guignol from the late-19th to early-20th centuries.

This year, they present an evening of one-act plays and vignettes in the vein of American 1950s-style pulp horror.

Featuring brand-spankin new depraved and morbid works by:

(Star of Nosedive’s The Adventures Of Nervous-Boy and author of Universal Robots and Hail Satan)

(The Vampire Cowboy who wrote Living Dead In Denmark and Men Of Steel)

(You; that guy who wrote This Blog Post and the aforementioned Nervous-Boy)

October 11 – 27, Thursdays through Saturdays

The 78th Street Theatre Lab (236 78th Street near Broadway)

All shows are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18.

For tickets go here.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Audition (Odishon) (Takashi Miike 1999)

"This movie's creeping me out."
-Rob Zombie

(Warning: although this essay, like all of the Jamespeak essays on horror films, contains spoilers, I highly recommend you do not read this entry unless you have already seen the film or have absolutely no intention of doing so [which of course then begs the question, "Why do you want to read an essay on a film you have no interest in seeing?"])

Some reading this may not consider Takashi Miike's 1999 film about a widower hosting a set of auditions for a phony film to find a new wife a horror film per se. On the other hand, some reading this may consider Audition so scary, so disturbing, so unsettling, that no other label could possibly apply.

Audition is tough to categorize (supernatural thriller doesn't work, neither does suspense, nor mystery) as well as summarize (it's almost as open-ended, ambiguous, and open to interpretation as anything David Lynch has made).

Miike's film offers either an indictment of how men abuse and objectify women, a portrait of male paranoia about seemingly nice and "normal" girlfriends turning insane, a masterful technical exercise in building suspense and dread, or all three.

Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is a middle-aged widower who lost his wife to illness seven years prior. His 17-year-old son, Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki), plans to move out when he finishes school and worries about his father being alone, so he suggests he begin dating again. So, Aoyama's film producer friend Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura) comes up with a plan to hold a mock-audition, in which young, beautiful women would audition for the "part" of Aoyama's new wife, under the impression that they are auditioning for a new film, but actually so Aoyama can marry the winning girl. Aoyama is immediately taken with Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), a very sweet and shy young woman.

In her audition, Asami says that she was once a ballerina, but had to permanently give up dancing due to an injury. This caused her to be suicidal for a time, but is apparently now picking up the pieces of her life. Since Aoyama is still grieving over his wife's death, he becomes strongly attracted to the sad yet resilient Asami.

So far, the story - and style - of the film is ostensibly Sleepless in Seattle transplanted to Tokyo: a romantic comedy/drama through and through. There is no indication whatsoever that we're watching a horror film. Although Aoyama's plan may not be the most ethical way to find a new wife, Ishibashi plays him with such sadness and sincerity that he never seems sinister; he really is the Nicest Guy in the World. Also, Shiina plays Asami with such soft vulnerability you can't help but care for her as well; she really is the Sweetest Girl in the World.

Then things change when Aoyama decides to call Asami for a date.

As he calls and waits for her to answer, we see Asami sitting on the floor in her tiny apartment, her head down, listening to the phone ring. In the background is a large burlap sack. The phone keeps ringing. She doesn't move. Then the sack lurches forward as a guttural human noise belches from it. (This sequence starts around the minute-and-a-half mark:)

It's here where the movie turns. The audience gets a slowly mounted feeling of dread and the thought: "This is not the story I thought it was," not only occurs, but builds after Asami literally disappears after - during? - she and Aoyama consummate their relationship later in the film.

What makes Audition such an effective film is that you never know quite where it's going, even though it's been building to its conclusion all along. In fact, I remember the first time I saw this movie I could have sworn I read the wrong description. (Even though I was expecting a horror film and was getting a romance, I became so absorbed in watching the two characters' relationship develop I no longer cared.)

After Asami disappears, Aoyama tries to track her down. During his sleuthing, he finds some things about Asami that makes him think she may not be the innocent darling he perceived her as.

At the old ballet studio where Asami claims to have trained, Aoyama finds a disabled old man in a wheelchair with artificial feet who reveals that he sexually assaulted Asami as a child. He then goes to the bar where Asami used to work, which has been closed for a year because the woman who was in charge was found dismembered with wire. When the police put her body back together, they found thirteen fingers, three ears, and two tongues.

Unable to find her, Aoyama goes home, has a drink, and then faints.

It turns out Asami was waiting for Aoyama and has drugged him. She's now prepared to slowly - and delicately - torture and dismember him.

Before getting to the torture sequence, the movie cuts to a series of bizarre and gruesome images either revealing Asami's past or what Aoyama imagines to be her past, based on his discoveries (the burlap sack opening to reveal a naked man missing his feet, tongue, ear and fingers is a particularly unsettling sight).

Asami is apparently the victim of years of systematic physical and sexual abuse from a number of people from her past.

When Aoyama comes to from this montage of nightmarish and seemingly disconnected scenes, Asami injects him with a serum that paralyzes his body but keeps his nerves awake (so he can experience the pain thoroughly). She then sticks needles into his chest and under the eyelids then flicks them. Finally, she cuts off his left foot with a sharp wire (not unlike piano wire).

During all this, she explains the reason why she is doing this is because he is just like everyone else: he is unable to love only her. See, he has a deceased wife (whom he will always love), a son (whom she plans to kill as well), and a dog (whom she has killed), so he will never truly be hers.

"I only have you," she explains. "But you have so many others."

That Aoyama is the Nicest Guy in the World makes it difficult to side with Asami's indictments, no matter how valid they are. That he now has giant needles sticking out of his eyes that Asami flicks also makes it problematic.

Miike constantly plays with audience expectations throughout the movie, creating doubt as to what exactly is real and what is the result of a fevered dream (a la Sam Lowry's "escape" at the end of Terry Gilliam's Brazil or the final 20 minutes of Lynch's Mulholland Dr.).

Audition takes its time establishing believable and likable characters, setting up events that go from believable to nightmarish, and steadily building tension to make the final 15 minutes of the film absolutely terrifying.

This is definitely not a film for the squeamish (seriously, folks: even Rob Zombie finds this movie disturbing).

Revealing why I never date,

James "I Don't Like Needles" Comtois

Labels: ,

Plays and Playwrights 2008 Selections Announced

You can find the list over here.

Congratulations, Mac! This is very well deserved.

And of course, congratulations to every other author included.

Ready to pre-order his copy,

James "Pretty Little Cheerleader" Comtois

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 24, 2007

Nosedive's Pinkie and Vampire Cowboys' Saturday Night Saloon

Beginning this Saturday, Vampire Cowboys launches its newest awesomeness, The Saturday Night Saloon, a semi-monthly party at THE BATTLE RANCH featuring brand new genre-bending serialized plays.

Nosedive's entry into this series is Pinkie, a Western/noir written by (and apparently featuring) Yours Truly. This five-part serial play is ultimately my attempt to transplant Raymond Chandler into the West of the 1890s. I've written the first two episodes and about half of the third one, so we'll see how this all turns out.

The pilot episode takes place this Saturday, September 29 at 8 p.m. at the Vampire Cowboys Battle Ranch on 111 Conselyea Street, #2L in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

And did I mention it's free.

Plus for a $5 donation, you get all-you-can-drink beer .

You should definitely check it out. (I mean, you don't want to miss the first episode, do you?)

Because, after all, I'll be nagging you to come see stuff of mine that ain't free very, very soon.

Enjoy it while it lasts,

James "Ex-Pinkerton Agent" Comtois

Labels: , , ,

The Good Fight Review for

My review of the play The Good Fight is now up on

* * *

The Good Fight is a musical written by the late Nick Enright and composed by David King about a popular Australian boxer who has gone to the United States to compete for the world title and evade military service during the First World War while his boyhood friend... [keep reading]

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Vagina Dentata" Gets Remounted in Vegas

It looks like in October through November, this company will stage this play of mine in Vegas. Hot dog!

Spreading the nastiness,

James "I Meant With The Writing" Comtois

Labels: , , , , ,

An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)

For some reason, werewolf movies leave me cold. I'm not 100% sure why this is, but I do have some theories. One of them is that, when you get right down to it, werewolves themselves just aren't very interesting. As opposed to vampires, werewolves aren't immortal, can't speak, aren't intelligent (aside from in the instinctual sense), and don't have much in the way of personalities. There's the blatant metaphor for the werewolf - the civilized man becoming a beast - but once you catch onto that metaphor, there's not much left to it.

Let's look at the recent spate of werewolf movies: only a handful of them are really any good at all. Although not a bad movie, Mike Nichols's Wolf leaves much to be desired (mainly, um, scares). Joe Dante's The Howling isn't bad, although the Howling franchise is laughable (especially the first sequel, Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf, one of the few movies Christopher Lee has made that he's actually apologized for).

I freely admit that I have neither seen Bad Moon or the recent Skinwalkers, but reviews have been far from kind (as of this writing, Skinwalkersw has a 16% "Fresh Rating" on and film critic James Berardinelli has put Bad Moon on his Bottom Ten list for being one of the worst films of the '90s).

However, there is one werewolf movie in recent years (recent meaning since the original 1941 film The Wolf Man starring Lon Cheney) that, although not bringing much new to the table in terms of story or werewolf mythology, serves as a superlative template to the modern werewolf film.

Although in many ways John Landis's 1981 film An American Werewolf in London is about as conventional a werewolf movie as you can get (a guy turns into werewolf, goes on killing spree, gets shot then turns back into a human), it's less a conventional werewolf movie and more a slapstick comedy run amok: a live-action "Itchy & Scratchy" cartoon (and about as funny and brutal as one, too).

Landis's film can either be viewed as a pitch-black mean-spirited comedy or a very, very funny horror film. That two versions of the song "Blue Moon" bookend the movie and that Miss Piggy and Kermit are credited as themselves in the closing credits (the main character has a dream in which his younger siblings are watching The Muppet Show) should give you a good idea of the film's mindset.

Which isn't to say that American Werewolf isn't scary. It is. You can never quite trust the filmmakers; you feel like they're ready to pull the rug out from under you at any moment. Consider the double-dream sequence where the character thinks he's woken from a nightmare, only to find himself in a new nightmare:

This is actually a good thing (it is, after all, a horror film we're talking about, so the goal is to not feel fully at ease).

Having Landis, who specialized primarily in comedies (Kentucky Fried Movie, National Lampoon's Animal House, Blues Brothers), its writer-director also makes American Werewolf work as both a horror film and a comedy. Landis understands the fine line and connection between comedy and horror and frequently blends both without veering too far off into either.

The movie opens with two American students, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) backpacking through England and coming across a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. At this pub, not only are its customers quiet and creepy, there's a pentagram on its wall that said customers don't want to explain. One guy warns the two students to beware of the full moon and stick to the road.

And do they indeed stick to the road? Of course not. Instead, they stray off the path, get lost in the woods and get attacked by werewolves. In the attack, Jack is killed. David is wounded.

A few days later, David finds himself recovering in a London hospital. There, the rotting corpse of his dead friend Jack visits him and warns him to kill himself before the next full moon. See, he's turned into a werewolf and will start an uncontrollable killing spree when the moon turns full.

David, of course, refuses to heed the warnings of his friend, falls in love with his nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), and moves in with her.

Jack insists, however, regardless of how quickly he's decaying, that David kill himself. Rather than kill himself, David turns into a werewolf and goes on a killing spree through London.

I always get a kick out of Jack's impromptu visits with David, slowly decaying more with each subsequent visit, and even bringing along the (grumpy yet oddly cordial) ghosts of David's victims ("Can't say we're pleased to meet you.").

The comedy makes the horror that much more ghoulish and the horror in the film can't help but cause laughter (albeit shocked and appalled laughter). Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson are two of the few other directors I can think of that can offer this blend of copious bloodletting and huge laughs right.

Consider the climactic scene in which the werewolf's appearance in Piccadilly Circus sets off an utterly absurd chain reaction that leads to a seemingly endless and brutal multi-auto pileup accident, where countless drivers, passengers and pedestrians are decapitated, run over, cut in two and flattened. It's graphic and horrific, but at the same time, you can't help laugh (again, in that shocked and appalled way) at how utterly over-the-top it is, or be reminded of the epic car chase in Blues Brothers or the homecoming parade piling up in the alley in Animal House.

Landis tried in the '90s at a comedy-horror vampire film, Innocent Blood, which could charitably be described as unfortunate (although I did like Robert Loggia's corpse get up off the morgue table and run off, with one mortician going, "Stop him!" and the other, played by Frank Oz, going, "You stop him!").

Despite Landis's slightly lackluster resume in the '90s and modern day, he revitalized the idea of the werewolf movie, even though no one seems to have followed in his footsteps. True, the story is not the most original, but how can you not love a movie whose tagline promises: "From The Director Of Animal House...A Different Kind of Animal?"

Liking to bite things,

James "Furry Beast" Comtois

Labels: ,

Quote Du Jour


"In his unstoppable commentary about himself, Bush has become as certain of his exalted place in history as he is of his policy's rightness. ... History has become a magical incantation for him, a kind of prayerful refuge where he is safe from having to think in the present. For Bush, history is supernatural, a deus ex machina, nothing less than a kind of divine intervention enabling him to enter presidential Valhalla. Through his fantasy about history as afterlife - the stairway to paradise - he rationalizes his current course."

-Sidney Blumenthal

I'll resume writing about fictional horrors soon..

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Aw. Yeah.

For Season 07-08, Vampire Cowboys launches its newest adventure in awesomeness, THE SATURDAY NIGHT SALOON, a semi-monthly party at THE BATTLE RANCH featuring brand new genre-bending serialized plays by NYC's hottest indie theatre artists.

And the best part, it's all FREE!

Plus for a $5 donation, you get all-you-can-drink beer (or until we run out).



Featuring all new exciting ongoing series by:

James Comtois
Co-Artistic Director of NOSEDIVE PRODUCTIONS

Jeff Lewonczyk

Rey Pamatmat

Robert Ross Parker
Co-Artistic Director of VAMPIRE COWBOYS

Webb Wilcoxen

Saturday, September 29th, 2007 @ 8pm



111 Conselyea Street, #2L

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

(The following essay - as with all horror film essays on Jamespeak - contain spoilers. If you have not seen the film and don't want anything ruined for you, I suggest you read no further.)


"My family's always been in meat."
-The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, five young people drive through Texas to spend the weekend in an old house two of the young people grew up in. They pass by a slaughterhouse, which starts a reluctant discussion in the van about the upgrades in cattle-slaughtering technology: in the olden days, the workers killed the cows by hitting them in the heads with a hammer. Now, there's a new air gun that theoretically kills the cows instantaneously (and therefore more humanely).

As Franklin (Paul A. Partain), the wheelchair-bound slaughterhouse enthusiast continues to expound on the positive aspects of the air gun, the fivesome notices a very odd-looking hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) and decides to pick him up.

They ask the hitchhiker, who seems physically and mentally damaged, where he's been and where he's going. He's going home after taking pictures at the old slaughterhouse. Franklin asks the hitchhiker to weigh in on the value of the gun, which upsets the hitchhiker. "The air gun's no good," he says. The gun caused people to lose their jobs, specifically implying members of his family. He prefers hitting the livestock in the head with a hammer.

Later in the film, one of the five vacationers (Kirk, played by William Vail) enters a nearby farmhouse to ask if they can get some gas for the van.

Upon entry, one of the farmhouse's inhabitants, a giant man (Leatherface, played by Gunnar Hansen), making terrified pig-like squealing noises and wearing a mask made of what appears to be human flesh, panics and hits Kirk in the head with a hammer, killing Kirk instantly.

Later, Kirk's girlfriend Pam (Teri McMinn), tired of waiting for her boyfriend, enters the house, and finds a room littered with bones and skins from various animals - humans, cows, chickens - teeth, and chicken feathers. She starts to feel sick and runs out of the house. Leatherface, however, sees her, panics again, chases her, pulls her into the house, and plants her on a meat hook (a freakin' meat hook, people!) before resuming carving her boyfriend up (for, we later discover, dinner) with the titular chain saw.

We discover that the Sawyer family inhabits the farmhouse, which is made up of retarded grave robbing cannibals, and that the hitchhiker the kids picked up is Leatherface's brother.

If there's an underlying message to Tobe Hooper's 1974 film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie that simultaneously revels in and transcends its grindhouse/Grand Guignol roots, it's that we're all cattle.

It is also quite possibly the most terrifying and effective horror film ever made.

Despite living up to its name and reputation as being horrifically over-the-top and relentless (in his original review, Roger Ebert wrote: "[it] is as violent and gruesome and blood-soaked as the title promises."), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is also quite subtle, something none of its imitators seem to grasp. The movie, for example, lets the audience figure out for themselves in hindsight what the vacationers are eating when they make the pit stop at the gas station/barbecue shack.

(Tangential trivia tidbit: for those who pay close attention and are really interested, Leatherface's real name in the movie is Bubba Sawyer [his brother calls him that when he asks for help bringing Grandpa (John Dugan) down the stairs]. I've never been able to catch what the other family members' names are, or if they're even mentioned. We only know their surname because we see a shot of the mailbox late in the film.)

Although using a number of stock horror movie conventions (kids playing in an abandoned house, kids entering a stranger's house, the van that's out of gas), none of them feel like clichéd conventions and many of them turn out to be red herrings.

In other words, there's no point in the movie where you think, "These people are stupid." When I watch it I realize I wouldn't behave or respond too differently. That the dialogue is often improvised also gives the characters - and movie - a sense of realism that helps making The Texas Chain Saw Massacre so horrific.

The first half of the film is shot almost documentary style, with very few flashy or fancy cuts or camera angles. The use of music is minimal (and mostly live). The day that the teenagers land their van by Sally (Marilyn Burns) and Franklin's father's house is about as idyllic and unthreatening as you can get. When Kirk goes into what turns out to be Leatherface's house, there's nothing ominous about it: it's a fairly regular-looking farmhouse (some would say that the bizarre makeshift decorations in the front yard are clear warning signs, but they're really part-in-parcel with most farmhouses. If you're in the North Atlantic, check out some farmhouses in upstate New York or New England and you'll see what I mean).

The second half is ultimately Sally, the one and only survivor from the group, running for her life, screaming her lungs out and being terrified out of her mind. It's here where Hooper and cinematographer Daniel Pearl abandons the documentary style for quick cuts, extreme close-ups (seriously, how far into Burns's eye does that camera go?) and intense music cues.

It is, in a word, relentless. And I do mean Re. Lent. Less.

Hooper does a masterful job keeping the audience with Sally the whole time: we not only empathize and identify with her, we feel like we're running for our lives ourselves. Every time I watch the final act of the film I feel like my appendix is about to burst, thinking that I couldn't possibly run that fast for that long without collapsing.

Although Hooper has said in interviews that this film was a response to Watergate and Vietnam (then again, weren't all horror movies in the '70s purported to be responses to Watergate and Vietnam?), and one can make an argument for such an angle (the movie is, after all, about hippies getting slaughtered), it's more obviously a response to the meat processing industry, our assembly-line culture (the Sawyer family consists of laid off slaughterhouse workers) and an argument against eating meat.

I admit I find it vaguely amusing that such a vicious and graphic film is ultimately a plea for vegetarianism, but then again many of the horror films of the '70s were far from subtle with their messages.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of those movies that is both part of and creator of a formula that no film or filmmaker has quite been able to duplicate, not even Hooper himself. The humor found in Chain Saw, and yes, there is some humor (how else do you describe the Sawyer family acting as cheerleaders to their senile and semi-conscious Grandpa who tries - and fails - to hit Sally in the head with the hammer, or when we see Leatherface in a matronly mask, wig and apron preparing for dinner?), is too blunt and broad in the Hooper-directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

The film is so effective, powerful and well made it almost defies analysis. Sure, there is a lot of "meat" to the film (pardon the pun), but no one goes to see this film to hear a commentary on the meat processing industry or an argument for vegetarianism. However, the morality behind the film helps it transcend being merely an exercise in artless cruelty and nihilism.

Not eating headcheese,

James "Bubba Sawyer" Comtois

Labels: ,

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pre-Order Tickets For The Blood Brothers Present: PULP

You can do so by going here.

Getting warmed up,

James "Crypt Keeper" Comtois

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)

(This is part of my series on horror films that tickle my fancy. As is the case with all of these entries, this contains spoilers.)

Coming out the same year as John Carpenter's Halloween, George A. Romero's sequel to his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead is an entirely different beast. This is a film that, unlike Halloween, is incredibly bloody, has a great deal of social commentary and (interestingly enough) doesn't deliver on many scares at all (if any). In fact, I will agree with Romero's own assessment that Dawn of the Dead, although a brilliant movie, is more of a comedy than horror film.

Sure, it's violent, gruesome and features some depraved images - I know I couldn't pay my mother to watch this film - but when you consider the bulk of the gore is coming from characters you're deliberately made to not care about (mainly, the zombies and a few of the bikers), it's not entirely accurate to say that this imagery is "frightening."

In Romero's Living Dead series, kicked off by the aforementioned Night of, for some unknown reason (some suspect nuclear radiation, others think it's part of the Rapture), the dead rise from their graves to eat human flesh.

Dawn opens in a frenzied TV studio where broadcasters and commentators are delivering and screaming misinformation. Meanwhile, a SWAT team storms a housing project where zombies have been reported.

A group of survivors - two SWAT Team officers (Peter and Roger, played by Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger, respectively), a traffic reporting helicopter pilot (Stephen, a.k.a. "Flyboy," played by David Emgee), and Flyboy's television executive girlfriend (Francine, played by Gaylen Ross) - leave the city via a copter Flyboy steals to find a safe haven from the zombies and ultimately decide upon an abandoned shopping mall. At first, they think it's a good temporary port in the storm for them to regroup and get supplies.

But then, they realize living in a shopping mall is a dream come true.

Let's face it: Romero lays the social commentary on as thick as the intestines. We can't help but laugh and understand what we're seeing in those montages of the zombies shuffling through the mall while innocuous elevator music is playing overhead, nor when the survivors go on a hog-wild shopping spree in their newfound resting spot. In an interview, special effects and makeup artist Tom Savini mentioned that Dawn was ultimately about kids locking themselves in the candy store.

Romero portrays an environment where civilization has been stripped away and shows how the survivors deal with said environment. It's not about what happens to the characters so much as to how they pass their downtime and come to realize that they're in hog heaven. As critic Roger Ebert writes in his review of the film, "[T]here is nothing quite like a plague of zombies to wonderfully focus your attention on what really matters to you."

In this case, what's important to the survivors is simply stuff.

In his academic essay for Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture entitled Zombies, Malls, and the Consumerism Debate: George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Stephen Harper writes:

"Once the survivors in Dawn have exterminated the zombies in the mall and secured the doors, they indulge in a carnivalesque parody of rampant consumerism. Their delight is heightened by their awareness that they have not a safe enclave, but have skilfully [sic] taken the entire mall from the zombies and driven them out."

Romero's anti-consumerism message is far from subtle. After all, we are told that the reason why the zombies are congregating to the shopping mall in large numbers is because they're now creatures of pure habit.

"They're after the place. They don't know why, they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here," says Peter.

Here's more of what Ebert writes:

"George Romero deliberately intends to go too far in Dawn of the Dead. He's dealing very consciously with the ways in which images can affect us, and if we sit through the film (many people cannot) we make some curious discoveries.

One is that the fates of the zombies, who are destroyed wholesale in all sorts of terrible ways, don't affect us so much after awhile. They aren't being killed, after all: They're already dead. They're even a little comic, lurching about a shopping center and trying to plod up the down escalator.

Ebert's point is crucial: after a while, the zombies aren't seen as The Enemy. Their feeding frenzies, which are depicted as slow and compulsive, are not based on any sort of glee or malice. They have no "plan." They feel no pain when attacked (note the blank look on the face of one zombie when Tom Savini's biker character buries a machete in its skull). Simply put, they do what they do and are what they are.

Sure enough, the real enemies in Dawn are the survivors. Eventually, a motorbike gang discovers the mall and invades it, looting the stores (even ripping the jewelry off zombies themselves), trashing the place and messing with the zombies. (They even throw cream pies in their faces. Seriously.)

And, as much as we in the audience relate to the four survivors, how can we respond when Flyboy aims his rifle at the invading biker bang and growls, "We were here first. It's ours. We took it?" (They're literally ready to kill to keep their...well...stuff.)

I am a big fan of Romero's Living Dead series, even thoroughly enjoying his latest, Land of the Dead. My personal favorite of the series is the third one, Day of the Dead, to which 28 Days Later owes a huge debt. My mind keeps going to Romero's ever-expanding world created with the simple premise of how flesh-eating corpses being "the norm" for day-to-day living causes the evolution or disintegration of civilization.

I admire Romero's ability to provide both heavy and insightful social commentary, but also not skimp out on the gruesome bloodletting. These films succeed in providing both equally and thoroughly. No one going to see any of these films wanting to see a disgusting, blood-soaked drive-in style monster movie will feel gypped, likewise with cinephiles wanting more "meat" on their entertainment's bones.

Shooting anyone who comes near my stuff in the head,

James "Mindless Consumer" Comtois

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Congratulations... Qui and Abby! That is indeed some wonderful news.

The folks at Nosedive Central got damn near misty-eyed on Saturday night!

Oddly sensitive,

James "Teddy Bear" Comtois

Labels: ,

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Well, I've now decided to start on the long-time-ago promised series of essays on horror films and was going to start with another, but since I just wrote about Rob Zombie's remake, I figure why not start the series off with the original. Be forewarned that there are spoilers in the following; I'm working under the impression that the majority of people reading this have already seen the film.

What makes John Carpenter's 1978 film Halloween work so well is that it has all the elements - and let's face it, clichés - of the Unstoppable Monster, Women-In-Danger and Haunted House movies, stripped down to their bare essentials. Not one frame in this movie is excessive or wasteful: it shows the exact minimum of what you need to see in order to understand what's happening, which makes it such a tense and terrifying viewing experience.

Halloween was made on a relatively low budget (about $300,000) and as a labor of love by Carpenter, producer and co-writer Debra Hill, and his cast and crew, which shows. Because it went on to gross more than $50 million, a (let's be charitable) disappointing franchise and subpar subgenre (the slasher movie) were inevitably made. Despite this, in terms of filmmaking, Carpenter's film is more closely aligned with Hitchcock's Psycho than with the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street movies (not surprising, then, that Janet Leigh's daughter is cast as the heroine and Donald Pleasence's character is named after a character from Hitchcock's film).

Unlike some of the other horror films that I hope to blather on about on this site in the near future, Halloween doesn't really have anything of substance to say: as opposed to several horror films from the '70s like Dawn of the Dead or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, there's no social commentary or "message" to be found in this movie. The story is about as simple as you can get: a deranged killer escapes an insane asylum to wreak havoc on his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night.

But that's beside the point: Halloween is an example of masterful filmmaking.

Unlike its sequels and imitators, Halloween is very light on gore and featuring a relatively low body count for a horror film but lingers in the imagination as being a bloodbath. Again, this is because Carpenter follows Hitchcock's cues from Psycho, particularly from its infamous shower scene: you swear to yourself that you saw the knife make contact with Marion Crane somewhere in those 90-plus shots, but you really didn't.

In fact, you rarely ever get a good look at Michael Myers, the giant mute killer in the revamped Captain Kirk mask (simply listed in the credits as "The Shape," played by Nick Castle), aside from in silhouette or in passing. Two of the most frightening scenes - the Shape's escape from the mental institution in the beginning and when Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis in her feature film debut) rips off his mask in the end - are when he's not wearing his mask, because even though you can technically see his face, you still couldn't say what he looks like (his facial expression - or lack thereof - doesn't seem too different from the mask itself).

(I had toyed with the idea of pointing out the really terrifying scenes and describing them, but then this would go on indefinitely. Plus, I think everyone who's seen this movie has very different thoughts as to which scenes are the most terrifying. I think, in addition to the previously mentioned scenes, the scene where the Shape is attacking Laurie in the closet while the light bulb is turning on and off is absolutely terrifying. My sister pointed out that the music-free scene where the boy Laurie is babysitting sees the Shape carrying the body of one of her friends in the house across the street gives her the willies. Other people have other scenes. So let's just say that trying to find a mass consensus as to which scenes are the scariest is an exercise in futility.)

The opening scene depicts the brutal murder of a teenaged girl, presented as one long, continuous shot from the point of view of a masked killer (well, okay, there are actually hidden three cuts but never mind). I remember the first time I saw this in high school with friends. We all laughed at the somewhat cheesy image of the killer stabbing the girl. Then the killer comes down the stairs and goes outside to meet a middle-aged couple pulling their car up front. The couple looks concerned at the killer. "Michael...?" the man asks. He pulls off the mask and the camera cuts to show a young boy, about six years old, wearing a clown costume and holding a butcher's knife. We stopped laughing.

After that opening scene, not only aren't there any more first person point-of-view shots, there is no point in the film where the audience identifies with the killer.

(Carpenter makes sure that the viewer's sympathies and connection always lie with introverted virginal babysitter Laurie Strode and her friends, who the Shape stalks. These characters are not merely two-dimensional killer fodder: they are funny and intelligent characters with quirky and believable personalities.)

Through methodic camerawork, measured and deliberate pacing, and a haunting yet simple musical score that slowly builds its notes and themes one on top of each other, Carpenter slowly and steadily ratchets up the tension until the horrific and relentless finale between Laurie and the Shape.

Here's an example:

If you notice when the Shape comes out of the shadows to attack Laurie, he doesn't spring out (in fact, he rarely jumps out at his victims throughout the movie). The camera's aperture changes to allow the Shape to be visible. In other words, he's been there the whole time, but the audience - and Laurie - isn't aware of him until it's too late.

On one hand, it's a shame that Halloween has been lumped in with such uninspired dreck as Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Black Christmas, but it's not terribly surprising. For good or for bad, because of its enormous financial success, Halloween spawned the slasher films from the late-'70s the mid-'80s. Despite this, Halloween is in a league all of its own because it actually delivers scares.

Never babysitting again,

James "Unless I Get Paid More" Comtois

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Full Throttle

So it looks as though Nosedive's going to be annoying the living hell out of people with performance nonstop until the end of the year. Will Yours Truly be able to keep it together and keep that plastic smile on his face until 2008, or will he be a mass of tics and nerves come December?

We shall see, Dear Readers. We. Shall. See.

We had our first read-through of the scripts for October’s The Blood Brothers Present: PULP last night with the cast, and it looks as though it’s going to be a whole lot of fun. This was the first chance I had to hear Mac’s and Qui’s scripts, both of which are very fun in that macabre sort of way (in Qui's short, Mr. Nguyen even points out that yes, bitches, there’s going to be the use of a chainsaw. I'm so glad that won't be my problem to stage).

Even though that doesn’t go up for a few weeks, I can say with certainty that The Blood Brothers Present: PULP will be a lot of fun. You can buy your tickets here.

But before we can get to the graphic onstage dismemberment, Vampire Cowboys’ "Saturday Night Saloon," a monthly series of cross-genre serial short plays, has its debut show Saturday, September 29 at the Battle Ranch on 111 Conselyea Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at 8 p.m. Nosedive's entry will be a western/noir serial called Pinkie, for which I’ve written the first two episodes.

Pete and I have just discovered, to our bemusement, that the second installment in October falls on closing night of Blood Brothers, which means we won’t be able to cast anyone in that episode that's already in the October show. (Of course, the idea that we’d have to postpone or sit that one out is just a bunch of malarkey, sister!)

Now I know what you're thinking, I know what you're thinking. Right now, you're thinking, "Wow, guys. That's a lot of stuff going on. That's all you’ve got going on though, right?"


Vampire Cowboys again has invited Nosedive Central to participate in their annual REVAMPED fundraiser happening in November at the Bowery Poetry Club. This year the theme is "Science Fiction Fairy Tales," so I'm currently working on something called, "Beowulf, Krygor 9 & the Unicorn." It should be, of course, a tad silly.

And of course in December we’ll be reprising A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol, but I’ll plug the hell out of that in greater detail at a later date.

So check out one of these shows. Or all of them, actually.

Seriously, what else do you have going on for the rest of the year?

(So, honestly, folks. Do I come across more like a used car salesman or a guy who's just done a brick of blow and has been up for 47 hours straight?)


Possibly scaring his readership,

James "Clenchtooth" Comtois

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Blood Brothers Present: PULP

From Nosedive Productions…

The Blood Brothers Present: PULP

Listening To Reason by James Comtois
Directed by Matt Johnston

Dead Things Kill Nicely by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Pete Boisvert & Patrick Shearer

Best Served Cold by Mac Rogers
Directed by Pete Boisvert & Patrick Shearer

Featuring Gyda Arber, Michael Criscuolo, Anna Kull, Marc Landers, Jessi Gotta and Brian Silliman

The 78th Street Theatre Lab
October 11-13, 18-20, 25-27, Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.

“For sheer playful fun, make this gory confection your Halloween treat."
Time Out New York

“Sheer, merry sadism, sexual savagery, and witty humor."
The Off-Off-Broadway Review

A deranged psycho killer, deaf to pleas for mercy, tries one last-ditch effort to dodge the cops through the reluctant help of one terrified hostage. Molly, a young teen looking for a quick snog in the woods, now has to cover a zombie hicky. And Brianne has to keep Marybeth from pulling the trigger for just eight more minutes, but learns that, when talking for one’s life, time has a way of slowing down.

This is The Blood Brothers Present: PULP, Nosedive Productions’ follow-up to last year’s Blood Brothers Present: An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror. James Comtois (The Adventures of Nervous-Boy), Qui Nguyen (Men of Steel, Living Dead in Denmark) and Mac Rogers (Universal Robots, Hail Satan), New York indie theatre scene’s hottest — and let’s face it, sickest — playwrights write three original works inspired by the pulp horror comics and short stories of the 1940s and ‘50s.

In addition to these one-acts, the evening will also present original vignettes directed by Pete Boisvert, Rebecca Comtois, Patrick Shearer and Stephanie Williams.

The Blood Brothers Present: PULP features graphic violence and strong sexual situations and is recommended for adults only.

Since its formation in 1999 by director Pete Boisvert and playwright James Comtois, Nosedive Productions has enjoyed pushing the proverbial envelope with its plays. One of the company’s original plays, The Adventures of Nervous-Boy (A Penny Dreadful), was hailed by Martin Denton as “one of the best directed and best produced indie theatre shows” in 2006 and was published in the New York Theatre Experience’s Plays and Playwrights 2007 anthology. Its latest play, Suburban Peepshow, has recently been published by Original Works Publishing. The company is Mr. Boisvert, Mr. Comtois, Rebecca Comtois (Technical Director), Patrick Shearer (Artistic Associate) and Stephanie Williams (Company Manager).

The Blood Brothers Present will be performed at the 78th Street Theatre Lab (236 West 78th St. at Broadway) October 11-13, 18-20, 25-27 (Thursday through Saturday). All shows are at 8 p.m. and tickets are $18. Subway: 1 to 79th Street; A to 81st Street; or 1 2 or 3 to 72nd Street. For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit

• • •

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pete and I Are Cartoon Characters

Our friend from high school, Jeremy Yuenger, has a comic strip called "Leave, Freeze or Die" that's featured in The main characters are (mildly) fictionalized versions of his (our) fellow high school alum.

His current arc is entitled "James Deletes His MySpace Page," which you can find here (and continues to strip #168).

Yes, that's kinda sorta how Pete and I looked and dressed in high school. Quit your snickering.

Always wanting to be a cartoon character,

James "Earthworm Jim" Comtois


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rob Zombie's Halloween

Oddly enough, I didn't hate Rob Zombie's Halloween. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I actually liked it (albeit with some reservations). It's definitely Zombie's best feature film to-date, although I admit that's not saying much.

I approached Zombie's first two movies, House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, with an intense desire to like and champion them. But unfortunately, I couldn't (and can't). With Corpses and Rejects, Zombie knows how to make a good-looking horror film, but doesn't know the first thing about tension or suspense (crucial ingredients to any horror film worth its weight in intestines). Not only did I not think for a second that the kids in Corpses were going to survive, I didn't care if they did, so I spent the bulk of that film checking my watch and the run-time on the DVD case, thinking, "Okay, got 40 minutes left before this crew of murderers kills these brats."

And I know, I know, we're somehow supposed to be worried for the family of killers in Rejects when William Forsythe's rogue cop crosses the line and begins to torture them to death, but I wasn't sold for a minute. I just thought, "Hell. If there's any group of fictitious characters I feel no sympathy for whatsoever, it's this group of mean-spirited assholes."

So, I approached his remake of Halloween, a movie of which I didn't believe required a remake, with some trepidation. On one hand, not only is Zombie 0.1 for 2.1 with me (I liked his "Werewolf Women of the SS" trailer for Grindhouse, hence the .1), he's remaking a touchstone of horror films.

On the other, perhaps if he worked on someone else's already established material, he could bypass the problem found in his previous films (the inability to write a genuinely tense and suspenseful story).

Now, does he bypass the aforementioned problem? Well...yes and no.

Also, does it even compare to the 1978 original? Of course not. Not even close. But I knew that going in.

Zombie's Halloween is really two movies (the way Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is ostensibly two separate and distinct movies): the first half is a case study (or rather, Case Study) of a psychopath. We watch Michael Myers's (played as a kid by Daeg Faerch) sad and abusive childhood, his being bullied at school, and his predilection for killing and cutting up little furry animals (then later members of his own family). We then see him institutionalized and interviewed by Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcom McDowell), where his psychiatrist first has hope, then slowly gives up on young Myers.

The second half is pretty much a faithful remake of John Carpenter's original film (which even reprises chunks of dialogue verbatim): three young high school girls getting ready to either baby-sit or get laid on Halloween night, only to be hunted down by Myers 17 or so years later (now played by Tyler Mane), who's now a mute hulking giant in a distorted William Shatner mask.

The case study portion is actually quite captivating and powerful, easily the best section of the movie and an admirable take for something that's ultimately a slasher film. Faerch is perfectly cast as the young serial killer, with his pudgy face hidden behind long blonde hair looking both innocent and teeming with rage.

Before young Michael brutally murders his mother's horrific boyfriend (Forsythe), older sister Judith (Hanna R. Hall), and her boyfriend in an extraordinary expansion of the opening scene from the original, he has a penchant for wearing masks, much to the dismay of his family. When at the institution, he spends most of his time in his cell making new masks (he finds himself ugly, and wants to hide his face all the time). I was impressed at the shot of his cell that, after being incarcerated for 17 years, is filled wall-to-wall with an array of paper mache masks.

The scenes where Dr. Loomis tries to reach young Michael Myers show surprising depth and realism. Dr. Loomis asks a pretty cheery and polite little kid what he remembers about murdering the bulk of his family. Michael offers him a shy and somewhat precocious shrug, and then asks when he can see his family. The psychiatrist then asks Michael to explain how, if he has no memory of killing most of his family. Again, the kid just mumbles an evasive, "Dunno."

As is the case with Corpses and Rejects, the movie looks great. Phil Parmet's camerawork is utterly captivating. Zombie always knows how to make his movies look good (he's such an obvious fanboy of '70s style exploitation flicks he always takes such time and care into making his movies look like they come from that that era and school of guerrilla filmmaking). The use of ultra-saturated color and ultra-dark shadow offers the viewer some genuine eye candy (if you're into really repulsive blood-soaked grindhouse films like me).

The problem with Haloween, however, is that it wants to have his cake and eat it, too (which is honestly the same problem all of Zombie's movies have thus far). The audience is expected to sympathize and identify with Myers and to be utterly repelled, horrified and disgusted by him. The case study portion and unstoppable monster section don't fit together because the former makes Myers a somewhat three-dimensional (albeit disturbing and unpleasant) character while the latter makes him merely a personality-free catalyst for plot events.

The second half of the film is a surprisingly faithful remake of the original, although what made Carpenter's film so brilliant was its simplicity: he, along with producer and co-writer Debra Hill, took all the clichés of the Unstoppable Monster film and Haunted House movie and stripped them to their bare essentials (Nick Castle, who played the adult Myers in the original, was simply credited as "The Shape"). Because we spend the first hour following Myers's upbringing and institutionalization in Zombie's remake, we're not left in the dark the way Laurie is as to who-or what-this thing chasing her is (which makes Jamie Lee Curtis's portrayal of terror in the '78 version much more relatable than Scout Taylor-Compton's in the '07 version).

As of this writing, Zombie's remake of Halloween has a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes, which I think is highly unfair. No, it's not the original. So what? It had no hope and no intention of being so (Zombie clearly knows better). Although I have some problems with it, I think it does highlight some of the best attributes of the original and offers a chance for Zombie to show off his gifts for filmmaking.

Wondering why Austin Powers is killing these people,

James "Nope, I Don't Find That Joke Old" Comtois

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'm Back

With damn near nothing to report, aside from the blueberry beer in Maine still tastes like freakin' blueberries, people.

I just submitted Episode One of Nosedive's entry in Vampire Cowboys's impending Saturday Night Saloon, a Western/noir series called Pinkie, which I hope people will get a kick out of. It will be performed on Saturday, September 29 at the Vampire Cowboys Battle Ranch in Williamsburg. I just finished Episode Two and am halfway through Ep. Three, so I'm clearly having fun with this this Philip Marlowe-in-the-Wild West story.

Also, The Blood Brothers shows have all been cast, and I'm really looking forward to having everyone on board with this and excited to see how they'll all turn out. Matt Johnston will be directing my larger piece, "Listening to Reason," and it looks as though Lil' Sistois will be directing my shorter piece, "Metaphor."

I'll be nattering about The Blood Brothers Present: PULP on this site often for the next few weeks.

Wow. Looks as though I actually did have some things to report. How 'bout that?

Returning to the pile of work on my desk,

James "Sigh, Back to Work" Comtois

Labels: , , , , ,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.