Walpurgisnacht 2011

Now to the Brocken the witches hie,
The stubble is yellow, the corn is green;
Thither the gathering legions fly,
And sitting aloft is Sir Urian seen:
O’er stick and o’er stone they go whirling along,
Witches and he-goats, a motley throng.

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Faust”

Tonight is a most magical night, the night of Walpurgis.  Also associated with the pagan holiday of Beltane, Walpurgis Night falls on the eve of May Day, exactly between the Vernal Equinox and Summer Solstice.  While it owes its name to Saint Walpurga (ca. 710-777/9), the holiday has come to represent fertility and continued life, heralding the coming of spring and the end of the frigid winter months.  According to legend it is also a time when witches hold their revelries in a great sabbat, a scene that has been depicted in great works of art and literature for centuries.  

Tonight is a time of change, and a time to celebrate the joy of living.  I have a very special ritual in mind for the arrival of spring and a new chapter in my life.  I invite my gentle readers to also take this time to reflect and invigorate their lives with the ecstatic pleasures of carnal existence.

Let him that hath understanding understand.

666

Sympathy for the Devil: Black Butler

Before I get back into my Romero Retrospective, I would like to take a moment to talk about something that’s been on my mind (and my television) for the past week or two: Black Butler.  Also known by its original Japanese title, Kuroshitsuji (黒執事), Black Butler first appeared in September 2006 as a manga penned by artist Yana Toboso.  While I never read the original manga, the 24-episode anime (directed by Toshiya Shinohara) caught my eye in October 2008 with its Victorian trappings and a particular sense of fashion that smacks heavily of Gothic & Lolita.  However, the general dearth of noteworthy titles being produced by the flagging anime industry served to discourage me from ever viewing this particular title, but recently a friend recommended it to me and so I determined that I would give it a proper viewing.

The first episode introduces us to Earl Ciel Phantomhive, 12-year-old toy and candy magnate in Victorian England, and his mysterious and handsome butler, Sebastian Michaelis (brought devilishly to life by award-winning voice actor Daisuke Ono).  Ciel inherited the Phantomhive empire after the unexplained deaths of his parents two years previously, and also assumed the family’s duties as the “Queen’s Guard Dog,” an office acting as the Crown’s unseen hand in Great Britain’s underworld.  Sebastian’s incredible talents inform us that he is, as he so often reminds us, “one hell of a butler” (actually, a Japanese pun that can also mean “a devil and a butler), and we learn that his preternatural abilities are not without a supernatural explanation.  He is, in fact, a demon who has been bound in a Faustian pact whereby he will serve Ciel until he has exacted revenge upon those who slayed his parents and sullied the Phantomhive name.   And, in true Mephistophelian fashion, when Ciel’s vengeance is complete the demon will be allowed to feast upon the young boy’s soul at leisure.  Along the way, various otherworldly beings are also introduced: an eccentric undertaker with a penchant for laughs, a flaming transvestite reaper, a devil dog that transforms into a beautiful young man when excited (while retaining the mind of a dog), and a maniacal angel bent on cleansing mankind of impurity.  Even the ostensibly human characters are often endowed with unusual abilities and personalities, and the chaos that ensues is at times bewildering even for someone as steeped in the vicissitudes of animated mayhem as I.

As may be inferred from the character descriptions above, this anime is not exactly a historically accurate portrayal of life in fin de siècle England or Victorian society.  While it takes great pains to introduce various aspects of the lives of nobility (such as pointing out specific teas and desserts enjoyed by the wealthy in those days), the audience learns quickly to take their disbelief, crumple it up, and dump it unceremoniously out the window.  That said, the animation quality (which ranges from merely adequate to rather impressive) allows for a significant amount of detail in the backgrounds, especially the Phantomhive mansion with its elegant carvings, intricate damasks, and gorgeous teaware.

However, what really kept me engrossed in the tale, and what leads me to give a predominantly positive appraisal of this work, is its portrayal of the classic revenge story.  After the opening credits, Ciel has already made his deal with the devil and is busy at the task of pursuing his parents’ murderers.  One might expect to see many episodes where Ciel is taught moral lessons about the meaningless of vengeance, and how his life is not worth throwing away for revenge.  His parents would have wanted him to live out the rest of his days in health and happiness, not dwelling on hatred and anger.  After all, as Confucius said, “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  One might expect such moralist platitudes, but one would be wrong, and this is exactly why I find this anime to be so absolutely refreshing!  SPOILER ALERT!  In fact, later in the series Ciel is confronted with the illusion of his dead parents, who encourage him to give up his feckless attempt to avenge them and live a happy life.  Ciel almost caves in to their persuasion, but ultimately realizes that he already died on that day two years ago, and if he were to give up his hatred and lust for vengeance, there would be nothing left!  His strength of will and desire for justice are the very forces that animate him, and he cannot let go of them lest he become little more than a walking corpse.

Ciel seems to live by the LaVeyan code that states, “if a man smite thee on one cheek, smash him on the other!”  When he temporarily gives in to despair toward the end of the series, Sebastian abandons him to suffer alone for a time (while still watching over him in feline form), so that he will renew his determination and, presumably, become an even more delicious soul for the demon to devour.  Sebastian is the perfect epicurean throughout each episode, acting as both sadist and masochist in a striking depiction of a true devil following the proud literary tradition of German portrayals of Old Nick.  Like Shaw’s Satan he is a perfect gentleman and paragon of etiquette.  While he does not show any particular care for individual lives, he echoes Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in that he seems to have some pity for humans, and even displays compassion at times, although always in his own best interest.  As the series progresses we see him protecting Ciel from harm, but also allowing certain events to occur, always manipulating and controlling each situation in such a way as to mold and shape Ciel’s soul into the ultimate demonic delicacy.  This fascinating interplay is paradoxically both that of father and child and of predator and prey, a diabolical conundrum that only the Devil himself could summon up.

In the end, Black Butler is a dark and compelling story wrapped up innocuously in a whole lot of pseudo-Victorian fluff and frills and zany characters, with a few good laughs along the way.  If you can get past the inconsistencies and gaping plot holes, the memorable cast and fairly impressive production values might make you want to barter off your soul to Sebastian as well…I know I do.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with the Green Fairy, and I don’t want to be late…

Romero Retrospective: Land of the Dead

Welcome back to my Romero Retrospective, where I take a look back at the monumental films of that giant among horror masters, George A. Romero.  This time we flash forward to 2005, when Romero finally released the fourth installment in his Living Dead series, Land of the Dead, after a 20-year hiatus.  Land presents the final chapter of the series following the events of Night of the Living Dead, as the later films seem to function more as reboots of the franchise.  So now, without further ado, I’d like to sit back and take a look at this gloriously gruesome addition to the Dead legacy.

Looks like God left the phone off the hook.

The Good

Land of the Dead is a film full of “firsts.”  It is the first of the series to be created on a significantly large budget ($15-16 million), the first to be filmed outside of the US (in Ontario, Canada), and the first to receive an MPAA rating (although the original, unrated cut was later released on DVD).  For me personally, Land was the first Romero film that I ever had the opportunity to see on the big screen during its original theatrical release.

I can remember it like it was yesterday.  Two of my fellow partners in crime follow me into the darkened cinema, where an atmosphere of eager anticipation reigns as we wait with bated breath for the latest delightful horrors to be bestowed upon us by the “Grandfather of the Zombie.”  The classic Universal Pictures globe logo flashes in black & white across the screen, reminding us that this is indeed a major motion picture, but at the same is an attempt to hearken back to the early days of Romero’s career in horror.

Even with the more graphic sequences cut down to meet the MPAA requirements, the carnage onscreen is thoroughly impressive, with various grotesqueries serving as a garnish for the very human story at the film’s core.  The majority of the action takes place in the director’s beloved city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (all shots of the city were added via CGI), and the film shows us that “The City of Bridges” has become one of mankind’s final bastions of hope against the undead menace.  Surrounded by rivers on three sides, the city’s natural topography and an electrified barrier combine to create the ideal fortress; however, not all is as it seems.  Business magnate Paul Kaufman (served up with a flourish and heaping spoonful of dry wit by the inimitable late Dennis Hopper) has made the small settlement his own personal empire, with the privileged upper class living luxuriously in the Fiddler’s Green skyscraper, while the remaining citizens are forced to live in the lawless streets below, with little or no access to critical supplies.  (Incidentally, it has always been my theory that Kaufman must surely be a reference to Edgar J. Kaufmann, one of Pittsburgh’s leading businessmen in the early twentieth century who was responsible for several noteworthy landmarks in the city).  Kaufman’s military presence is epitomized by Dead Reckoning (originally set to be the film’s title), an armored vehicle bristling with machine guns and its own missile launching system that is used for raiding missions to collect supplies from the surrounding abandoned municipalities.

Caught in between the class conflicts are those directly under Kaufman’s employ, particularly the main protagonist Riley Denbo (Simon Baker), the designer and former commander of Dead Reckoning, and Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo), who serves as the vehicle’s second in command and carries out most of Kaufman’s dirty work.  These two characters represent two differing views of the social situation. Riley and his partner Charlie (Robert Joy) feel disgusted with the ever-widening gap between Fiddler’s Green and the suffering masses below, and seek to escape to a “world without fences.”  Cholo, on the other hand, works diligently to ingratiate himself with Kaufman so that he can eventually have his own apartment in the Green.  When Kaufman balks at his request, Cholo refuses to be a lickspittle to the man and hijacks Dead Reckoning, threatening to bombard the Green with an all-out missile assault if he doesn’t receive a vast sum of money in compensation.

Riley, who has meanwhile been caught up in a cagey situation by rescuing a woman named Slack (played by the stunning Asia Argento) from a gangster, is recruited by Kaufman to stop Cholo and return Dead Reckoning at all costs.  Unfortunately, Cholo’s threat is the least of his problems, as the ever-evolving zombies discover that they can cross over the river bottom unharmed to emerge on the other side, wreaking havoc on the unsuspecting populace who now find themselves caged in by the very fences that once protected them.  I won’t go any further than that, except to say the film ends spectacularly, following conventions set by Dawn and Day in that it leaves off on a fairly uplifting note with hope for humanity’s future still intact.

As with the previous Romero films, Land of the Dead’s nail-biting action and cringe-worthy carnage are underscored by its realistic and powerful characters.  Bolstered by a solid budget, Romero brings in household names like Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo to add some Hollywood credibility to his latest flick.  In fact, these two actors are so enjoyable and witty in their roles that I can (almost) completely forgive them for taking part in the bastardized travesty that was the Super Mario Bros. movie (childhood scars run deep…).  Another high point of the cast (for me personally) is femme fatale Asia Argento, daughter of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, and a notable director/actress in her own right.  Romero’s directorial vision is complemented and enhanced by the players on his blood-spattered stage in various ways, as some of the most memorable lines of the film were ad-libbed by the actors themselves.  Zombie cameos by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (creators of the previous year’s Shaun of the Dead), make-up artist Gregory Nicotero, and Tom Savini, round out the stellar cast.  Romero’s own daughter even makes an appearance as a soldier!

Another continued tradition is the director’s scathing wit and biting social satire, which was enough to earn three out of four stars from film critic Roger Ebert for a unique portrayal of the increasing socioeconomic gap in the USA and questionable practices of its government in conducting the war in Iraq.  Without relying on expository dialogue or overly simplistic analogies, Land sinks its teeth the zeitgeist of its time and refuses to let go.

The Bad

In a world where the dead are returning to life, the word “trouble” loses much of its meaning.

Notwithstanding the above praises, however, I do find that on at least one or two occasions the film resorts to what I would refer to as stooping to the lowest common denominator.  Even Romero himself admits that Dennis Hopper’s line, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” is essentially beating the audience over the head with the film’s critical message.  Compared to his later films however, I find those few instances more than forgivable in light of the movie’s overall effectiveness.

I often hear that die-hard critics of the original trilogy are less than exuberant about this particular endeavor, probably due in part to the simple fact that it was positively received by the mass media and was created on a large budget.  Cries of “selling out” are mostly unjustified, however, as I am more inclined to agree with Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro when he says, “Finally someone was smart enough to realize that it was about time, and gave George the tools. It should be a cause of celebration amongst all of us that Michelangelo has started another ceiling. It’s really a momentous occasion …”

The Undead

Zombies, man.  They creep me out.

In Day of the Dead, George Romero gave us Bub, a veritable Pavlov’s dog among zombies who responded to positive reinforcement and was even able to display some basic human emotions.  Bub’s legacy goes one step further in Land of the Dead, as we meet “Big Daddy,” a former gas station clerk whose superior awareness as a ghoul prompts him to rally his decomposing comrades together and infiltrate the stronghold of the living.  As is often the case, the zombies serve as a mirror, exposing the hideous and decaying façade of a society bloated with corruption, but also showing the basic side of humankind’s carnal nature and our need for freedom.

All deeper meanings aside, Land of the Dead offers us some of the most impressive flesh-eating monstrosities ever to shamble into our nightmares.  While there are a great deal of CGI effects involved in the film, a large portion of them were simply used for environments or general enhancements.  Thanks to the large budget, Gregory Nicotero was able to create a gory arsenal of puppets and prosthetics that blend seamlessly together with the digital effects to reap a bloody harvest of entrails and severed limbs that will please even the most jaded gore-hounds.  The forcible removal of a navel piercing by the rotten teeth of a ravenous zombie, fingernails shredded against a metal wall, and other blood-curdling scenes are sure to stick in the viewer’s brain long after the ending credits.

On a personal note, I find Land of the Dead to be one of my favorite installments of Romero’s entire series, running a close second to Dawn of the Dead for pure fun factor.  It also marks a turning point in the series, closing the curtain for the Diary of the Dead reboot.  But I’ll talk more about that later. Full of spills, chills, and bone-crunching thrills, no one should miss this highly enjoyable addition to George’s legacy.

Comic Book Review: The Walking Dead

Last year I received as a Christmas gift Image Comics’ The Walking Dead: Compendium One, a massive tome collecting the first 48 issues of the American monthly comic book that recently inspired a highly popular AMC miniseries.  Being in Japan (and generally averse to watching television), I have yet to view the series itself and give it a fair appraisal.  The comic book, however, is absolutely fantastic.  I’ll be getting back to my Romero Retrospective later this week, but for now I’d like to talk a little bit about what is quite possibly the greatest zombie epic ever committed to trade paperback form.

The Story

When we meet our protagonist, Kentucky police officer Rick Grimes, he is in the middle of a heated roadside gun battle with an escaped convict.  Rick is heavily wounded and falls into a coma, waking up in the hospital weeks later.  In a plot development reminiscent of the final scene in Resident Evil (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002), our would-be hero finds that he has just managed to sleep through a zombie apocalypse, narrowly escaping the flesh-eating hordes in the hospital and discovering that the town around him has been completely overrun by the plague of walking corpses.  Without giving too many spoilers away, Rick manages to reunite with his wife, Lori, and his son, Carl, who were able to evade the undying menace along with a ragtag gang of survivors.  Death follows the group as they attempt to find a safe haven to settle into, eventually arriving at a prison complex that they stake out as their new home.  More dangerous than the threat of ravaging ghouls, however, is the deterioration of human relationships that gnaws away at the foundations of their tribe.  The end of the first compendium ends on a cliffhanger, just as all appears to be lost.  The second compendium is yet to be released, but the complete series is currently available in trade paperback, hardcover, and omnibus editions.

The Characters

Much like the great zombie epics of the silver screen, what truly sets TWD apart from other literary or comic book adaptations of the genre is the strength of its characters.  Human relationships play a pivotal role in the story’s progression, often overshadowing the more obvious issue of the world being filled with people who just won’t stay dead.  The main character of Rick is the one with whom the reader will most easily identify.  In the beginning, his clearheaded thinking and quiet but firm leadership abilities set him up as a hero.  However, this is a story about humans being pushed to the utmost limits of their ability to adapt and cope with a harsh and adverse reality, and so it isn’t long before Rick’s decisions become questionable.  Like the other characters, he too exposes his weakness, and falls prey to hypocrisy, deceit, and poor decision-making.  Writing a flawed character certainly isn’t difficult, but creator Robert Kirkman gives us a genuinely likable character that we cheer for in spite of such flaws.  This realism propels the story forward and keeps us on the edge of our seats.

Another positive point: No one is safe.  And I mean no one.  Given the fact that Rick is the main character, we can be reasonably sure that he will survive, but that’s not to say that he won’t see Hell before the curtain closes.  The body count rises and the suspense never lets up, as likable characters are suddenly done in just when we finally thought we knew them.  This precarious balance is maintained well throughout the story, and gives testament to Kirkman’s excellent storytelling abilities.

The Art

Breaking away from the tradition of full-color American comic strips, the monochromatic scheme of TWD matches perfectly with the gritty realism of the situations and characters that it portrays.  Originally penned by Tony Moore, the artwork was taken over Charlie Adlard from Issue #7, resulting in a rather noticeable change of tone in the overall work.  While Moore’s backgrounds and settings were more intricately detailed, I found that Adlard was able to more effectively convey the emotional turmoil of the characters through their features, a skill which becomes especially essential as emotions intensify and tensions reach the breaking point in the later issues.  As such, the change in artists could almost be seen as moving along with the logical progression of the story, and the shift is not so noticeable as to be terribly distracting.

Conclusion

While occasionally lapsing into hackneyed or predictable dialogue (“We are the walking dead!”),  the solid writing and realistic characters remain fairly consistent throughout, a quality that was surely a large factor in the acceptance of this work in receiving the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series.  There is a great deal of originality present in the tale, considering its genre, but the creators are not afraid to throw in some subtle references to past legends.  In my first read-through alone, I noticed that there is a young African-American boy named Duane Jones (the actor who played Ben in Night of the Living Dead), and Rick and Lori have a daughter named Judith (most likely a reference to Judith O’Dea, who portrayed Barbra in NOTLD).  Overall, The Walking Dead is a stirring and unique tale both as a comic book and as a zombie epic, and it surely deserves a place on any zombie lover’s bookshelf.

While we’re on the subject of comics, if you’re in the mood for something a little more light-hearted, be sure to check out my dear friend Gregory Snader’s four-panel webcomic, Gothy Goths.  In film-related news,  Yoshihiro Nishimura is heading to the Brussels Fantastic Film Festival to promote his latest film, Helldriver, and The Machine Girl director Noboru Iguchi is set to begin filming his new horror flick tomorrow here in Japan!  It looks like there will be some exciting developments in the near future, so I will be sure to keep you posted!

Romero Retrospective: Day of the Dead

Bonsoir!  A brief furlough in Western Japan (see my previous post) has delayed this next installment of my Romero Retrospective series, but here it is ladies and gentlemen: my humble thoughts on the third cinematic incarnation of George A. Romero’s Dead series, Day of the Dead (1985).

The Dead Walk!

The Good

While perhaps not considered the capstone of Romero’s works taking up the subject of the walking dead, the director himself holds it to be his peculiar pampered darling among the series.  Taking into account that the budget for Day of the Dead was cut nearly in half due to its inevitable release without an MPAA rating (effectively constricting the story and forcing a rewrite of the script), a closer examination is necessary in order to understand just why Romero thinks of this film as the greatest feather in his directorial cap.

Set in an underground bunker near the Everglades in Florida, Day paints a tragic portrait of human society at one of its lowest moments.  A scientific investigatory team supported by the military works under harsh conditions to find a solution to the plague that has wreaked havoc on the world above, but the trigger-happy military officers grow restless in their duties of watching over the fruitless researches.  While head scientist Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) secretly experiments on fallen officers and undead specimens to find a way to domesticate the zombies, the choleric Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) grows impatient with their apparent lack of progress despite the sacrifices of his men in obtaining the specimens.  Caught in the middle of this power struggle is our heroine, Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille), who struggles as the only female in the entire group while watching Logan raise his “pet” zombie (affectionately called Bub) and seeing tensions rise among the officers.  Apart from the two main factions, helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander) and whiskey-swigging technician William McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) have found a secluded area of the facility where they set up their own personal paradise in a mobile home among the bats and gloom.   Meanwhile, Lori’s military-employed lover, Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.), grows mentally unstable as time progresses, becoming bitten himself and escalating the already high level of tension.  When Captain Rhodes discovers that Dr. Logan has been experimenting on his men’s corpses and using them as “rewards” for Bub, the scientist is gunned down and the remaining members of the scientific team are killed or forced into the specimen corral.  In a final effort of desperation and misguided revenge, Miguel opens the surrounding aboveground fences and opens the entrance to the bunker, allowing the festering hordes to flood into the base.  Rhodes and his men are hunted down by Bub as he seeks to avenge his “father,” Dr. Logan, and eventually they are torn to pieces and devoured by the flesh-eating mob.  Sarah, John, and William finally reach the helicopter and manage to escape to an island to live out the rest of their days (presumably) in peace.

While the outdoor scenes in the beginning and end of the film were shot near Florida’s Fort Myers and the Everglades, the bulk of the film takes place within an underground facility in Pennsylvania.  Like Dawn of the Dead before it, the location of the story nearly becomes a character in and of itself.  The Gateway Commerce Center, a non-active limestone mine converted into a storage facility in Lawrence County outside of Pittsburgh, is a vast underground network with a unique atmosphere that is completely its own.  Modern walls and doorways are suddenly interrupted by massive outcroppings of rock that intrude across corridors and provide a stark reminder of the subterranean setting.  This stone-walled tomb was not without its effects on the cast and crew.  Long days and nights in the darkness and 50 F temperatures cast a palpable gloom over the company, and high humidity resulted in technical difficulties as well.

These and other factors may have contributed to what I consider to be the most praiseworthy aspect of the film: its realism.  And yes, while this film was more poorly received than its predecessors, and some of the performances of its actors have been described as downright risible, I believe that a solid script and strong characterization serve to make this the grittiest of Romero’s original trilogy.  The profanity and vitriol of the military officers’ speeches borders sometimes on the hysterical, and I believe this to be purely intentional.  Every person in the facility is being stretched to his or her limits, and some are beginning to crack.  I personally find Joseph Pilato’s character to be extremely effective, providing a “love to hate” kind of bad guy without going over the edge and becoming completely one-dimensional.  Lori Cardille’s acting may appear to be a bit too stoic at first, but her terrifying dreams belie the psychological turmoil beneath her composed façade.  The daughter of famed Pittsburgh TV personality “Chilly Billy” (who appeared as a reporter in both NOTLD and its remake), Lori’s delivery of Romero’s strong female character erases any question of the director’s ability to give us a powerful heroine who is nonetheless sympathetic and vulnerable.  The stark portrayal of a small vestige of humanity on the verge of utter collapse is what, in my opinion, makes Day an effective film and resulted in Romero’s own high evaluation.

The Bad

As the most heavily maligned of the original Dead trilogy, critics were rankled by Day’s less than stellar performances and an atmosphere that was considered too dark and depressing.  As mentioned above, I think that strong acting was actually what kept this film from sinking even farther below the level of its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead, and the dark, nihilistic tone of the work serves to buoy it up and place it higher among the ranks of the zombie genre.

That being said, there are some characters (Miguel comes to mind) who are somewhat less than suitable for their parts.  Some of these small failures can probably be written off as concessions made for budgetary reasons, which brings me to my next point.  Part of the depressing nature of the film results from its predominant location of a cold, dank underground facility, but what would have happened if Romero had been given the budget he originally requested, and had actually created the Gone with the Wind of zombie epics that he intended?  While recent DVD extras offer a tantalizing glimpse, unfortunately we will never truly know what this film may have been.

To be honest, I could have done with a little less of the expository dialogue, mostly dished out by John the Jamaican helicopter pilot.  The strength of Romero’s satire lies in its stark imagery and striking situations. Unnecessary exegesis on the scourge of living dead and mankind’s relationship to God is simply distracting, and only serves to slow down the pacing of the film as a whole.  But enough about the philosophical stuff, let’s talk about zombies!

The Undead

With Tom Savini back on board and make-up artist Gregory Nicotero (who also played Private Johnson) along for the ride, Day of the Dead ups the ante for OH MY GOD! Where is your faaace?!?  Ahem, it raises the bar with more prosthetics, more latex, and more fake entrails to deaden up Romero’s symphony of horrors.   Unforgettable ghouls like “Dr. Tongue” (seen in the photo) are quite striking for the sheer gruesomeness of their visages, and there’s a pretty fair amount of gut-spilling to be had along the way.  However, surely the prize for Most Lovable Zombie must go to the one and only Bub.  Played by Sherman Howard, Bub’s wrinkled and decaying face nonetheless allows for an outstanding range of emotions to be conveyed.  Recognition flashes across his gangrenous features as he sees items that he knew from his previous life, and his bloodshot eyes light up when he hears nostalgic music from a pair of headphones.  His sorrow at Dr. Logan’s death and blind hatred towards his murderer, Rhodes, round out the  basic animal emotions that are portrayed spectacularly in this sympathetic creature, ironically making him one of the most “human” characters in the entire film.

While terribly underrated, Day of the Dead has been an insidious influence on the zombie genre.  Spawning a sequel and remake, Day also played an integral role in shaping several aspects of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), not to mention Resident Evil: Extinction (Russell Mulcahy, 2007).  This particular piece of cinema is one of the keys to understanding George A. Romero’s directorial vision, and represents a turning point in the Dead series of films.  But I’ll get deeper into that in my later installments.  For now, if you haven’t already, get out there and take a look at this chilling slice of horror cinema…if you have the stomach for it that is.

Mystic, Fetish, & Gothic Bar IDEA

Let us go out this evening for pleasure.  The night is still young…

The gibbous moon hangs heavily above the cosmopolitan port city of Kobe, as myriad neon signs and street lamps attempt to compete with Luna’s celestial effulgence.  With the Rokko mountain range looming far ahead of me, I make my way across a bustling thoroughfare, progressing northward toward the historical Kitano-chō district that is renowned for its turn-of-the-century Western mansions and picturesque mountainside views of the city and harbor below.  The bright lights of downtown are now behind me, and a subdued atmosphere pervades the passages and alleyways before me.  I catch sight of a Christian church, and even a mosque, all giving evidence of this area’s rich background as a collection of foreigners’ residences and consulates during the Meiji and Taisho periods of Japan’s history.  My goal does not lie with such modern beacons of organized religion. No, I seek a different Mecca, and my pilgrimage is nothing less than heretical.

My path slopes upward, and only a few passersby can be seen, on their way home or back down toward the more lively centers of nightlife that wait below.  The street is no different from any other, or so it would seem.  Ahead of me I catch sight of the sign that I have been searching for.  An ominous shadow stretches menacingly across the sidewalk onto the street: a gargoyle, illuminated from behind above a pitch-black building.  No sign announces the name of the establishment, but the heavy studded doors leave no question.  This is Kobe’s premier Gothic fetish bar, IDEA.

Photo courtesy of idea666.com

Stepping inside of a darkened entryway, the subdued lights of a sleek and modern bar glow invitingly from the interior.  In time with the dull, thudding bass from within, twilight hues of cobalt, indigo, and crimson alternate across the bar surface dominated by a luminous demonic sigil, the personal symbol of the owner, Midori.  On either side of the mark are glass panels that cover baleful beds of gleaming nails protruding upward.  The light yet heady scents of incense and leather float cloyingly in the air, and it isn’t long before the mistress of the house makes her appearance.

Attired appropriately in a flowing black dress with her long dark tresses tumbling over her shoulders, Midori is flanked by a blonde leather-clad vixen and a young Gothic & Lolita-type sporting curly ebony locks.  Her imposing appearance certainly lives up to the part of a mistress of such an establishment, but upon recognizing me she immediately breaks out a warm welcome in a mellifluous Kansai dialect.  I’ve known Midori since her days employed at Club DOMA, another fetish bar in the area, and I make it a point to visit her new establishment whenever my business brings me to Western Japan.

Photo courtesy of idea666.com

As a talented kinbaku (Japanese rope-binding) artist, Midori opened IDEA on July 4th, 2010 in the hopes of creating her own unique mystical space, and she has certainly succeeded.  Midori is the cousin of DJ Taiki, renowned as the diabolical force behind Osaka’s Gothic scene and owner of the occult shop Territory, and it was he who contributed to some of the more detailed aspects of the club’s design.  The iron bars behind the counter are divided into three sections of six bars each, and such details extend even to the powder room, where 72 iron bars line the walls to represent the demons recounted in the Ars Goetia.  As a nod to more modern horror tastes, a life-size replica of the famous Count in his transformed bat-like state from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992) hangs from above.

The split-level design with a high ceiling allows for aerial shows and even suspension performances, and there have been numerous events since the establishment’s opening last year.  The aforementioned “beds of nails” are available for more adventurous customers, and the VIP room upstairs includes comfortable couches and a canopied bed.  A DJ console has been installed for events, and the musical accompaniment is usually hand-picked by Taiki, featuring hard tech industrial, synth pop, new wave, and aggrotech.

Photo courtesy of idea666.com

The hours fly by in discussions of the occult, horror films, music, and mutual acquaintances, and before I know it the witching hour is upon us.  This would usually mean that the nocturnal rituals are just beginning.  Unfortunately, for me it means that there is a train to catch.  Nevertheless, I leave behind that unhallowed space secure in the knowledge that there will always be a dark sanctuary for children of the night, nestled between the mountains and the sea here in Kobe.