Thursday, November 28, 2013

Apple Is the New Pumpkin

Hard cider is everywhere and with it, apple-flavored malt beverages that are to cider what Pat Boone was to Little Richard.

Yet Shock Top beer, a craft-y arm of the Anheuser-Busch behemoth, did something that no other cider pretender has done. At least not that we've encountered.

Their Honeycrisp Apple Wheat brew combines a Belgian-style wheat beer with cider-ish flavor. A daring drinker could probably get the same effect, and maybe better results, by pouring specific amounts of a favorite wheat beer and a tasty hard cider into a mug without letting anyone else dictate the taste.

But Shock Top's effort does the work for you and the result is refreshing and not nearly as sweet as we anticipated. The wheat beer isn't as prominent, it's more like a cracker with a big slice of Granny Smith apple on it. And in a pleasant divergence from the typical big-brewery attack, the fruit isn't sticky with sugar.

It's worth a try for something different. The light, almost sour taste -- for the apple element is much closer to Granny Smiths than Honeycrisp -- made for a good contrast to the heavy, dark beers that stock shelves during the winter.

And ignore that ridiculous label too.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Holidays With the Devil

Hammer Films produced a lot of inventive, effective horror movies during the 1960s and early ‘70s. They put out a lot of dreck too, but that’s to be expected and in no way dampens the positively English stamp they put all over classic and new horror stories during their run as a go-to brand for movie-night scares. Even their duds are still fun in the right setting.

Just because Halloween has passed doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some occult spookiness. We recommend a double feature of two Hammer titles: The Devil Rides Out (1968) and The Witches aka The Devil’s Own (1966). If anyone questions why you’re watching movies about the occult instead of some Christmas nonsense, tell them you’re following the European tradition of sharing ghost stories during the holidays. Then press play before they can protest.

The Devil’s Own
Hitchcock vet Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Suspicion) stars as Gwen Mayfield, an English school teacher working in Africa. After a jarring encounter with a tribal shaman, and the local ancient pagan practices, she heads back to England. But soon after Mayfield settles in the village of Heddaby, she starts to notice strange behavior in the locals and outright claims of witchcraft.

Fontaine’s a joy to watch, hitting a very Hitchcock-esque tone of the everywoman in over her head. Mayfield tries to keep her wits and logic about her despite the mounting evidence that occult skullduggery is happening right before her eyes.

The pagan ritual at the climax of Devil’s Own may put off some viewers, as it seems a little like a community theater idea, but if those actors can commit to it, just give yourself over to the diet Walpurgisnacht and enjoy the ride. Besides, based on Pentecostal congregations, this performance probably isn’t too far off from the real thing.

One of the big charms of The Devil’s Own is the pacing of the story. There are pauses and diversions built into the story, including a surprising chapter in which Fontaine’s character is institutionalized. It makes the loaded front-end of the movie novel-like.

Based on Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters viewers shouldn’t have too much trouble sorting the mystery of the village, and the ending reeks of MPAA style fiddling. But everything leading up to that is a good fun and a nice choice for viewers who generally avoid horror movies.


The Devil Rides Out
Christopher Lee gets to branch out from his regular Hammer jobs as Dracula, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s monster in this chilling tale of Satanism.

Lee plays Nicholas Duc le Richleau (!), a scholar of the dark arts who calls on an old friend, Van Ryn, for help. Richleau is worried about a young acquaintance of his, Simon Aron. A visit to Aron’s estate confirms Richleau’s fear. There are 12 guests at Aron’s “party” and the guest called Mocata (the wonderful Charles Gray) has a certain air about him.

Spoiler: Mocata leads a Satanic cult and plans on baptizing Aron and his lady friend Tanith. Richleau is not about to let that happen, and the chase is on.

Rides Out is based on the Dennis Wheatly novel of the same name. We’ve never read it, but the film leads us to believe that Wheatly must have devoured the works of M.R. James, as the film unfolds with the casually mounting terror of James’ work, with real-world scares (a car chase on narrow country roads) gradually giving way to other worldly horror.

He sees you when you're sleeping
When Mocata actually summons Old Scratch (perhaps it’s Baphomet?) viewers may wonder where the filmmakers could go from there. Giant spider aside – which isn’t bad, but suffers from the effects budget – how do you top a middle act appearance from the Devil? Oh, but they do top it.

Richleau and his cohorts fumble on the way to toppling Mocata, ending in a showdown that turns out to be a demonstration for why you don’t come between a mother and her child. We repeat: Don’t mess with mom.

Like Devil’s Own, Rides Out leans on a denouement that must have been at the bidding of various decency groups in Britain. And that’s fine. We don’t mind the happy ending, even if it does seem to be the cinematic equivalent of handing out a tiny bible as we exit the theater.

Everything else in Rides Out reads like source material for the wave of heavy metal bands that were beginning to fire up their amps, sparking up doobs, and incanting the names of demons for shock effect in the decade that followed. Surely Angel Witch has a DVD of this movie on their tour bus.

Reference material: Occult/Satanism horror tends toward the ridiculous or gore-filled. But somewhere along an alternate scale of films such as The Believers, The 39 Steps, and House of the Devil is the right tone for these two Hammer films. And we didn't link to The Witches/Devil's Own on IMDB for this piece, because the stupid DVD art gives away the big twist.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

TL;DR -- More Typing, Less Monkey

In scouring the unpaved service roads, blind alleys and drainage ditches of the information superhighway to put together this year's Halloween Frenzy, we accumulated a few items that, while strange or even a little scary, didn't fit within the tasteful orange and black boundaries we try to maintain.

That doesn't mean we don't want to share them. So welcome to our clearance sale.

First up is an ultimately sad tale all the way back from January of this year, so if it's a rerun to you, we apologize. But this tale of vorarephilia is fascinating. Canada's National Post reports of a man who sought help at a Toronto psychiatric hospital in 2012.

The man expressed a desire to be consumed by a "large, dominant woman." He wanted to be eaten. Most cases of vorarephilia involve the diagnosed party as wanting to eat others. So this man's case proved unusual and worth further study. There's so much more to this story, including a puzzling end.

From strange consumption to mass consumption: On October 10, Truth Dig reported on a horrible prediction from this year's Chocolate Industry Network Conference in London. The forecast for chocolate does not look good friends. Evidence mounts.

One day, future generations will only know of the confection through a few perverted tales and perhaps a candy wrapper on display in a temple somewhere. We try to make light of this situation because as the adage goes, sometimes laughing is the only alternative to tears.

All mythologies have end-of-days stories. Norse mythology tells of Ragnarok, the ultimate battle of the gods against the giants that will result in the death of Odin, the all-father, and the plunging of Midgard [that's Earth, y'all -- ed.] into endless dark, cold winter.

As it turns out, some Norse scholars in England think Ragnarok is about to commence, and they blew a symbolic horn to mark the beginning of the end, which should arrive 100 days from Nov 15. Thanks, guys!

Read all about it on the Daily Mail site, which features a ton of video ads, so adjust your volume accordingly. [And a tip of the antlered helmet to the supremely wonderful Walt Simonson for the late-breaking news lead.]

We end this three-course feast of strange with a chewy dessert called The Bus. It's been making the rounds at comics, writing and art blogs for the past couple months, and with good reason. It's a series of short comic strips by Paul Kirchner. We know nothing more about it or him. We could look him up and find out, but frankly, the mystery just adds to the charm of The Bus.

Thursday, November 7, 2013