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Horror Movie A Day with Michael Ramstead, p.I

0 Comments 17 October 2013

Long Beach artist Michael Ramstead sits down to discuss a month drawing horror-themed sketches.

 

By Daniel Barron

 

Long Beach artist Michael Ramstead came to my attention when I saw his brilliant album cover for musician Cossbysweater.  I knew he needed to be featured in Yay! LA.  In September, Ramstead announced that he would be watching a horror film every day during the month of October and producing a sketch inspired by each film.  The list includes everything from genre classics to obscure modern gems and as die-hard horror fan I knew this site needed to be involved.  The following is the first half of our conversation in which we got geeky about the freaky.

 

Michael Ramstead art

D: I was a huge fan of this and I did not like the first one.  I only liked two out of the five segments, the first one about the succubus and the last one.  I thought all four of them were pretty solid in this one.  The production value is better, the vignettes are scarier, it manages to make some old ideas like zombies fresh.  The third segment, about the Indonesian cult, had me completely terrified.  It’s an instant classic.  Even before it takes a left turn into Crazy Town it’s still scary in a very real-world way. 

M: I totally agree with you.  The sequel really built on the concept of the first one.  I think the first one suffered mainly from having too much in too short of a time.  This one felt like it had more breathing room.  I really enjoyed it.  They’re all very apocalyptic, whether it involved zombies or aliens, and it shows that found-footage can focus on some pretty out-there stuff.   I agree with you that “Safe Haven” one is the strongest.  And not to spoil anything but the ending is pretty funny and ironic.

D: It’s pretty perfect.  I also thought the framing device worked a lot better this time, which I hated in the last one.  This one was pretty creepy and I think it actually paid off. 

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D: I thought this one was fairly middle-of-the-road PG-13 horror.  I guess I can see how it got the Guillermo del Toro stamp of approval, because it has that “sympathy for the monster” thing going on that’s a recurring theme in his work.  Jessica Chastain elevates this.  She’s a wonderful actress and she treats the material just as seriously as if she were doing a Terrence Malick movie.  Also, all I can say about that punk rock look of hers is: boi-yoi-yoi-yooooiiiiing!

M: I was kind of disappointed by this one.  I think it’s a really interesting concept and I kind of wish they went into the psychology of it a bit more.  You’ve got these two feral kids and these parents who aren’t ready to be parents and I feel like it could be a really interesting dynamic.

D: I just don’t think predictable jump scares and CGI ghosts are that scary.

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D: I’m actually a big fan of Park Chan-wook from Oldboy and Stoker and Lady Vengeance.  Because this is a horror movie, I expected it to be a wall-to-wall gorefest, just completely transgressive.  It’s actually a lot more comedic than I expected.  It’s hard to believe that a scene where two characters are biting and sucking each others’ blood during sex isn’t even the most fucked up sex scene he’s ever directed.  I thought this was decent.

M: I thought it was pretty interesting.  My favorite part is the scene towards the middle.  This is going a little bit into spoilers, but it had one of the most interesting ghost stories that I had seen, the way he haunts them while they’re having sex.  Vampires are super over-exposed but I think this does offer a pretty original take on the vampire mythos.

D: It came out around the same time as Let The Right One in and they both breathed some life into the subgenre.

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D: I used to hate horror movies.  Now it’s one of my favorite genres.  Part of it was my mother’s conditioning, she made me think that I wouldn’t like them.  But also, there were two things that traumatized me as a kid.  One was when I flipped on The Shining at night when it was just at the scene with the twin girls. The other was the scene is Poltergeist when the guy sees his face melt off in the mirror.  I just remember screaming and running out of the room when that happened.  It’s become something of cinema lore that even though Tobe Hooper is credited as the director it was actually mostly influenced by Steven Spielberg.  I don’t know how many people would agree with me, but I think Spielberg is the great horror director that never was.  Jaws is terrifying, Jurassic Park is really tense, this, War of the Worlds.  Even E.T. has scary parts!  It makes me wish he wasn’t such a “prestige” filmmaker so that he could just “slum it” and goes balls-out with a scary movie. 

M: It’s the first classic that I picked for this list.  I remember seeing it as a kid and the thing that freaked me out the most was that clown and I remember watching it this time worrying about that scene.  I was thinking, “Is this going to scare me as a twenty-five-year-old?  Am I gonna get nightmares all over again?”  This kind of feels like a kid’s movie nowadays. 

 

Michael Ramstead art

D: I don’t know this one.

M: I guess this one is pretty obscure.  It’s on Netflix right now.  I saw it awhile ago, when I was in college.  It’s about a family that goes on a road trip to their grandmother’s house.  There’s a dad, a mom, a brother and a sister and the sister’s boyfriend.  They’re on this long stretch of road and take a shortcut and all of these really strange things start happening to them.  It’s pretty Twilight Zone-y.

D: Would you recommend it?

M: Yeah, I think it’s pretty effective.

Michael Ramstead art

D: I had never seen this before.  Other than the first Halloween I’m not really a big slasher movie guy.  Shitty acting aside, I feel like this holds up pretty well.  At times I would characterize it as Argento-lite.  I like a lot of the practical effects.  It’s interesting how many of the elements that people associate with horror franchises only came into place in their later installments.  Robert Englund is credited as “Fred Kreuger” in this, in Halloween Michael Myers was simply referred to in the credits as “The Shape,” Jason Vorhees wasn’t the villain until the second Friday the 13th and didn’t get his hockey mask until the third movie.  I understand this series gets a lot more jokey and ironic as it goes along. 

M: I’d never seen it, either.  I’m the same way, I’m not a slasher guy.  The fact that this man can attack people in their sleep is a really great premise because the movie can use all sorts of really interesting surreal dream imagery.  I think the most effective shot is when Nancy falls asleep in class and then looks over and sees her dead friend standing up in a clear, bloody body bag.  You don’t see a lot of scary scenes that take place during the day and that was a very shocking moment.

D: You know it’s an old movie when it requires the audience leap that Johnny Depp can’t get laid.

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D: It’s been awhile since I watched this, I saw it when it came out.  I was a huge fan of Ti West’s House of the Devil.  It was really great at playing to the Hitchcock “bomb under the table” theory that the anticipation is much scarier than the actual release.  This follows the same principle and I thought it was fairly strong but it didn’t quite pay off for me as much as West’s last movie. 

M: I like House of the Devil visually but I thought it was very simple.  It was kind of an exercise in capturing that 80s style.  The Inkeepers goes for the same mood but because it’s set in modern times it doesn’t have that visual novelty to it.  I watched it with a friend of mine and we found everything leading up to the horror actually really enjoyable.  The two characters were funny and charismatic.  They hate their job but there’s really good chemistry between them.  A lot of movies in horror struggle to make that downtime work.

D: Sara Paxton is usually cast in more high school queen bee type roles so to have her be so appealing and sympathetic as kind of a dork really surprised me.

Michael Ramstead art

D: This is where I started to wonder if my found-footage fatigue is starting to set in.  The CGI was pretty good, although I think the conceit kind of camouflages any flaws.  It’s easier to make something look good when you shoot in the dark or use night vision.  I like the designs of the trolls a lot, though.  When the trolls weren’t onscreen I found myself rather bored for stretches.  It reminded me a bit of Monsters. Have you seen that?

M: No.

D: Oh, you should definitely check it out!  It’s also on Netflix.  It’s a movie about the aftermath of a giant monster war.  It was made for no money, the director made the special effects on his Mac, and he shot it in places in South America that had been hit by hurricanes so all of the landscapes of utter desolation are totally authentic.  There are murals on the walls depicting the cataclysmic events that happened, you see memorials to the dead, it’s really great at world-building in the way that Trollhunters strives for, but it’s more effective.  It only shows the monsters at the end, but it still keeps your attention throughout.

M: I liked this movie.  I think it comes down to how they handled the monsters.  Like you said, it might have looked good because of the format.  It looked as convincing as I needed it to be.  The designs are good and I liked that it knew how absurd it was, it’s pretty funny at times.  I guess the parts leading up to the trolls could be more interesting.  I also just loved looking at all of those Norwegian landscapes, it was pretty beautiful.

D: It’s being remade by Neill Marshall, who made Dog Soldiers and The Descent.

M: The Descent is great.

D: It’s a masterpiece.  I kind of wish he would put his energies elsewhere but he’s definitely qualified for the job.  I’ll keep an open mind.

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D: I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one.  I think we can all agree that it has the transformation scene to be beat and it will probably never be topped, although YouTube The Company of Wolves if you want to see something that comes close.

M: I’d never seen this one until now.  I really liked its sense of humor.  I think that’s a running thing where horror movies with a sense of humor are my favorite.  This one has a great sense of humor, especially with his friend coming back to him over and over again and getting increasingly more decomposed. 

Michael Ramstead art

D: Now this is my fuckin’ jam.  I like Universal horror movies, but I hadn’t seen this one until today.  It’s fantastic and it holds up very well.  Now it’s sort of viewed as a gay parable because director James Whale was a homosexual.  That movie Gods & Monsters with Ian McKellan is all about that.  I guess you could call it My Two Scientist Dads.  I wonder if any of that subtext registered at all in 1935.  Karloff plays the Monster so broad and yet he’s still able to work in these subtleties that make it a very soulful performance.

M: There’s a lot of emotion in it.  The horror genre now is mostly just about scaring the audience. They don’t try to make you find the monster identifiable.  This monster is running around being attacked by people when he didn’t even ask to be created.  He’s all alone and learns about how friends are good and being alone is bad and all he wants is a girlfriend.  Then she rejects him.  It’s very tragic and also it’s very human.  I had heard that gay parable theory and that’s also very interesting.

D: I think it’s a nice touch that Elsa Lanchester plays both The Bride and Mary Shelley at the beginning of the movie.  The gay undertones are pretty in-your-face with Dr. Pretorius.  If that actor played him anymore fabulously he would be Snagglepuss.

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D: What is there to say about this that hasn’t already been said?  I think we all remember the first time we saw it.  It stands alongside A Clockwork Orange as a movie from the 70s that will probably never stop being shocking.  Can you believe this was originally a Christmas release?  And it was still a big box office hit.

M: I remember the first time I saw it.  In my mom’s computer room we had a TV screen that was thirteen inches and it was on TV and I was so scared that I slooowly backed out the room.  There isn’t much to say because it’s The Beatles of horror.

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D: I haven’t even heard of this one.  You said it’s from the director of Inside, which alongside Martyrs is one of the great cinematic endurance tests. It’s a masochistic exercise.  Who would have thought that the most extreme horror movies would come out of France?

M: It’s a follow-up to Inside, but it’s not as intense at all.  It starts off with- it’s got a very complicated plot- it starts off with a girl training to be an inpatient- I don’t even know what it’s called- but she goes to people’s houses when they’re sick to give them shots and take care of them.  She finds out one of the patients is really rich and has a hidden treasure and her and her friends try and break into the house to steal the treasure.  And then from there it becomes kind of a vampire movie kind of a ghost movie kind of a monster movie.  It’s got some cool fairy tale-type visuals, it borrows a bit from Suspiria and has witchcraft and evil ceremonies.  It’s kind of hurt by its complicated plot.  It leaves you wondering what happened and doesn’t explain as much as it could.  Overall, it’s interesting, but it’s too complicated to say it’s great.

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D: This was a pleasant surprise for me.  It’s from Laika, the same studio that made Coraline, and I wish I had supported both of them in the theater.  Not only is the animation beautiful, but they both have a sensibility and a sense of humor that’s very sly and subversive.  It’s clear that this studio is only making films that they want to see, they’re not making some fucking pandering Dreamworks product.  It’s the kind of movie that geek parents can take their kids to as a way of planting the seeds of geekdom.  It made me laugh a lot, especially the line, “What are you doing shooting civilians?  That is for the police to do!”

M: I’m with you all the way through.  It works artistically and emotionally.  It’s also really open-minded and has a good message about acceptance.  I thought it was really great.

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D: I thought this was brilliant.  It looks beautiful, it creates tension just through a close-up of a face on a turning doorknob.  It’s a classic and I think it really holds up.  I can’t imagine how scary it must have been for audiences in 1963.

M: It’s a really good character study.  The main character is emotional and tortured.  Some of the scenes in it are still genuinely chilling.  There’s a shot of a close-up of a wall and you hear voices in the background and it is terrifying.  And it’s just a voice and a wall!  It’s a great movie.

D: The 1999 remake is one of the first horror movies that I saw in the theater and it’s just an embarrassment.  Who looked at this movie and thought, “You know what would be a lot better?  CGI ghosts!”  It’s so much more obvious in every single way, down to making it explicit that the Theo character is a lesbian.  It’s just fucking awful.

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D: This is another one you’re going to have to tell me all about.  I see that it’s based off of an H.P. Lovecraft story?

M: It’s adapted from a story that he wrote.  I imagine it’s very different since this one takes place in the modern day and his was most likely set when he wrote it.  It’s definitely for fans of schlocky, gory, funny horror movies.  It’s really over-the-top with the gore and showing people get their heads ripped off.  It’s pretty entertaining.  I can see why this movie has a following.

D: They don’t make movie gore like they did in the 80s with films like Videodrome and John Carpenter’s The Thing.  I miss practical effects.

 

BONUS

 

Michael Ramstead art

D: I’ve never heard of this one and the notion that I got from you was that you enjoyed drawing from it rather than watching it.

M: When I first saw this movie I thought it was lacking and the more I think about it he more I like it.  It definitely lacks that factor that would make it a cult classic.  The violence isn’t graphic enough, it’s never funny enough, it’s not even “girly” enough, so it’s kind of in this weird limbo where it isn’t culty enough to develop a following.  I still think the script is pretty solid.  It kind of feels like the kind of 50s sci-fi movie that Mystery Science Theater would mock only done well.  I heard somewhere that one of the characters was the inspiration for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because it empowers the women without sexualizing them.  They’re always pretty clever and take-charge.

Michael Ramstead art

D: What made you choose to watch this one?

M: I watched the third done because I kept seeing it on lists that it was the fan-favorite.  The first one is probably the best.  Even though I haven’t seen all of them I can see why they might have a soft spot for this one.  It’s got more characters and the deaths are more creative.  Nancy from the first one returns and you can see her taking on Freddy in a different way.

Michael Ramstead art

D: I understand that the whole movie is presented as a single shot, real-time, although obviously the filmmakers have to cheat.  Did they pull it off?  I really dig Elisabeth Olsen.

M: Me too.  I love Martha Marcy May Marlene.  It think it’s worth checking just for the experiment.  The story could use a little work but the continuous shot idea is pretty cool.

Michael Ramstead art

D: I saw this a long time ago and I remember liking it a lot.  I personally prefer werewolf designs that are more similar to this and The Howling, where they look more lupine and have that long snout, rather than the more humanoid Universal monster Wolf Man.  Is this movie actually good?  I just remember the line, “I hope I give you the shits!”

M: This is definitely more of an action horror movie. It’s fun, and I don’t watch many action movies but this is a pretty good marriage of action and horror.  I agree with your opinion on werewolf designs.  Making a werewolf look more like a wolf than a man really makes it a monster.  You don’t feel any sympathy for these things that are attacking whereas with the Wolf Man he’s more of a misunderstood beast.  He’s still a guy!

Michael Ramstead art

D: What’s this?  Is it American?

M: I think it’s American.  It takes place in Ireland. It’s definitely the campiest movie on my list.  It’s pretty campy, it has a character name Bluto in it.  Even though it has some cool visuals it’s definitely something you watch in order to laugh at it.

 

View the rest of Michael’s Horror Movie A Day project in Part II.

 

To purchase artwork from Michael’s Horror Movie A Day series contact him at michaelramsteadart@gmail.com.

View more of Michael Ramstead‘s artwork on his official website.

Follow Michael Ramstead on Twitter and Instagram at @michaelramstead.

‘Like’ him on Facebook.

 

More art from Michael Ramstead…

 

Michael Ramstead art

 

michael ramstead art

 

michael ramstead art

 

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- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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