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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

oooom

http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/59568#comments

Blistering show last night, good times! ...WFMU's 2015 fundraiser is only two weeks away, so get ready, Castleheads. We'll have some great prize giveaways, sterling co-hosts, and a premium CDr collection of some of the rarest Krautrock gems from my personal collection, entitled Raritäten Krautspieler (see a brief description, cover art, and other WFMU DJ premiums for 2015 at this page; our cover model is the stunning Hannah Fierman, famed for her role in the "Amateur Night" segment of V/H/S, thanks to Castle super-listener Ken Weaver, who photographed and designed the cover.)

Shown above, one of my heroes—Michael Findlay—the prolific, oddball, talented and tragic auteur behind such films as Shriek of the Mutilated, the Flesh trilogy, Satan's Bed, and The Ultimate Degenerate (from which our capture comes.) Findlay's films, made in close collaboration with his wife Roberta, represent a vaunted obsession for me. For the unique consumer of cine-exploitation, once you've seen a "Findlay" or two, you're hooked, on their distinctive darkness, moody post-Bergman photography, meandering plots and irresistible sleaze. Ultimate Degenerate is one of his more readily digestible features; a great place to start for the uninitiated. Considering especially that Findlay's works were made for the cheap-and-cheerful Times Square circuit of the 60s and 70s, they represent considerable vision, and the boldness and craft to try and tell strange and "real" stories, and to make "art," for what were essentially brown-overcoat, paper bag jack-off emporiums.

On to last night's musical selections, there was much appreciation for a vintage Siouxsie hit, one of my favorites, as well as a full tape side from Heavydeath, ace doom purveyors whose recorded works are seeing the light of day thanks to Caligari Records. Much dank and ominous groove from WFMU favorites Cadaver Eyes, followed by an ongoing discussion (my bad, I think I started it) of maggots,  and their unique talent / virtue for consuming necrotic flesh. Praise also for GIDIM, who were not even part of last night's playlist, but have been so in weeks prior—a great, one-man Midwestern black metal monolith, with a new split on Broken Limbs Recordings with Leather Chalice, and we did hear a staggeringly good track from the Leather Chalice side of the tape.

Also, heavy praise for our last set, which included red fish blue fish's new, clamorous rendering of Stockhausen's "Mikrophonie," a live cassette track by our old friends Caldera Lakes (the first artist ever to contribute exclusive music for our show, and our first-ever entry at the My Castle of Quiet portal on WFMU's Free Music Archive; -hi Eva and Brittany, hope you are doing stellar!), and a phantasmagorical selection by Head Dress, from Frozen In Time II, the second three-cassette collection of various-artist Ingmar Berman-inspired sound works released by Black Horizons.

Click on the spat-faced Spencer above, one of M. Finlday's many twisted characterizations, to reach the accuplaylist, audio archive and listener comments for last night's horrocast™, and thanks for tuning in.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Necro pages

http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/59360

Castlehead / comment love this week for GIDIM (new split w Leather Chalice coming on Broken Limbs  Feb. 17; we premiered a track from each last week) | early Summoning | Vorde (our live guests, coming 4.28, just shy of Walpurgisnacht.)

Personal highs included tracks from Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom (new cs reissue on Caligari Records) | Nekromantiker (a steal @ $10!) | Electric Funeral | Vilkacis | Bog Oak | Bludded Head | Arvo Zylo (great new tape!) | Mood Organ (on the excellent, new MOTOR label, out of Seattle) | Contact | ...and a new track from Faust.

Our eerily comic screen capture this week comes from Chester Novell Turner's Tales From the Quadead Zone. Turner, more well known for the wild and sensational Black Devil Doll From Hell, is without question a most-unique, bizarro voice in no-budget American cinema; his films look cheap, but have a quality of vision that far exceeds any production value.

Click on the zoned-out Mom, "living high," to reach the playlist, comments, and audio archive for this week's horrorcast™, and thanks for tuning in.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thanks for the RAT ! ! !

http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/59264

I remember when I learned the difference between "lunch" and "luncheon"—lunch just happens, it's the midday meal, for many of us, while luncheons are "held." Ladies hold luncheons—women attend, sometimes girls, sometimes men—but luncheons are held, by ladies, and usually in someone's honor. My fantasy is that Jezebel mag holds a luncheon in Nightbitch's honor—it'll be then that I know we are all truly equal, and fearlessly so, and mere words will cease to have the power we imbue them with, when neo-feminists can celebrate (and they should) such a testosterone-laden TRUE METAL combo as our guests last night. For anyone who ever wore a chain wallet, and / or held up the horns in earnest, Nightbitch are your band, and I joke, as there are plenty of chicks who can raise up music like Nightbitch, and are perhaps even more devoted, true metalheads than many a dude who finds himself swimming in the metal gene pool.

My point? We lost one such woman this week—Katherine Ludwig, founding editor of Metal Maniacs magazine (remember print media, kids?)—a Mom, a generous friend, a straight shooter, and as true as true metal enthusiasts get. She shall be missed, by many. R.I.P., Katherine—your suffering is over, and now you have all the time to fly by night, and soak up all the great metal music the universe has to offer, watch over your son, and carry your righteous nature into the misty afterlife.

Getting back to our special, live guests, rarely if ever has My Castle of Quiet been in more solid, classic-metal territory—with swirling lead guitar (Ryan Adams, also with former Castle guests One Master, their 2013 live set subsequently published on CS by NoVisible Scars), chunky Hammond organ, and the most-solid of solid back lines. Starting with the theme from Phantasm, then launching into a set of their simply great original songs, that also included choice covers from Iron Maiden and Deep Purple, Nightbitch laid it down for all to hear, and their outstanding, new, self-titled 10" releases on The Ajna Offensive on March 15 (beware!)

Last night's horrorcast™ also featured the exclusive premiere of two tracks from the upcoming Leather Chalice / GIDIM split tape on Broken Limbs Recordings, both bands fitting right in to the Castle pantheon—filthy, idiosyncratic, one-man black metal projects that are worthy of your extreme focus—cassette edition of 100 releases on Feb. 17.

Also new last night, another Castle premiere of sorts, by the one-of-a-kind Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom, the 2010 album by this mighty, Pagan, Motörhead-inspired Birmingham combo, to be reissued on tape by the mighty Caligari Records.

Also of note on our playlist, new selections by former Castle guests IDES | the great Vorde | Kyle Eyre Clyd (2014 live Castle collab with Rodger Stella just posted!; Kyle Eyre Clyd on SoundCloud) | ...as well as a track by the ever-present R. Nikolaenko, and some dark dynamite on cassette from México's Horrendus. Our opening set also featured a much-appreciated (see our headline, above) classic track from Deep Purple In Rock.

Thanks for listening, and for your many effusive comments aimed at our special guests. Click above on the translucently pale, alluring Tilda Swinton (having just sampled "the good stuff"), from Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, an uncommon, landmark vampire saga—to reach the playlist, listener comments and audio stream of last night's horrorcast.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fantastico!

http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/59168

The media frenzy over Snowpocalypse 2015 resulted in a whole lot of nothing, unless you work or invest in the supermarket industry, as is most often the case; the ever-susceptible, with a will to embrace the panic, will say, "but hey, Hurricane Sandy!" and that being the singular exception, aren't you even a bit tired of being manipulated? I performed my habitual, bi-weekly round of grocery shopping, even grabbing a few extra things to drink and snack upon Sunday night, but in my gut, I knew the resulting 1/4-to-1/3 of what was predicted for snowfall would be what would likely happen.
Stop being so READY for disaster! People in Canada are laughing at us....

THAT SAID, due to the predictions and warnings, my brain was very much in hibernation mode, and I thought it possible that instead of a live Castle program, you'd all be treated to this, my special with director Frank Henenlotter from 2011 (a great show to stream if you've not yet heard it, and more than a bit removed from "standard" Castle fare.) Alas, my interview / discussion with the Basket Case / Brain Damage / Bad Biology auteur will have to wait until the next regional disaster for a possible on-air repeat.

Personal highlights from last night's horrocast™ included new selections from new releases by Caïna (new on BLR) | Vorde (great album!) | Nekromantiker | and NightBitch, who we'll be hosting for a live set NEXT WEEK. The Shaved Women > Night Bitch span got a "Brilliant set!" from listener Frito Puente, many thanks!

Listeners seemed to really groove to our last set / hour, typically where "dark" meets "esoteric," with great selections from Edgar Froese (R.I.P.) | Spettro Family | M Dwinell, and others.

Click on the over-helmeted, murderous knight, above, from the first scene of Michele Soavi's The Church (a long time personal favorite) to reach the audio archive, playlist and comments for last night's program. Thanks for listening.

NIGHT BITCH live next week, Facebook event here

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Special Victims Team

http://wfmu.org/playlists/WB

Last night's live set by Couch Slut was so gloriously heavy, it had a blast radius—which means I'll be thinking about it, musing on it for weeks, months to come. It was without question the most anticipated, in sheer numbers—the most talked-about and keenly discussed of all our live My Castle of Quiet sessions. The Castle is at its very best when there's a real-time sense of community and open exchange, via our playlist, event page and Facebook group. That the band themselves turned out to be awesome, relatable individuals was / is one of the great benefits of doing what I do at WFMU. Don't miss the chance to pick up their album, via handshake inc., and if you're in the NY area, catch them live this Friday @ Saint Vitus, their record-release show.

Much love on our playlist also for The Frogs | Guilty Feelings (an amazing album for $1!) | and sets that included Young and In The Way | the legendary and under-appreciated Cherubs | Alucarda | Shaved Women | Deformity | Ivy | Energy Vampires | Contact | Zombies Under Stress (great Netherlands eerie-electronics project, still active! The track we heard was from 1987.) | and a terrific new 7" by our friend and former guest Lea Bertucci.

Not much to add at this point, as I'm still recovering from last night's seminar of heaviness.

Click on this week's screen capture, the ghostly final scene from Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974; a personal favorite, and the first ever "the calls are coming from inside the house" movie) to reach the streaming audio archive, brisk and lively discussion board, and playlist from last night's horrorcast™.

In two weeks, we'll have live music again, with guests NightBitch!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

lets build a palace .... and drag our shit through the halls!

http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/58970

And here I was, thinking that there should be a metal band named "Tipper Gore," turns out there already is. No worse a name for a band than Form A Log, or Personal and The Pizzas.

We were very much in expected Castle territory last night, starting off with the most-unholy quartet of tracks by Ancestors (grimy, horror-basement "bonus material") | Abruptum (antique 10") | Swallowed | The Body and Thou. Followed in short order by a set that included comment-worthy tracks by Pest | the ever-present Orthank | Smorzando (anyone else notice that the signature riff recalled "Another Brick in the Wall"?) | Lalo Schifrin | Young And In The Way | Ivy | the ever-present Raspberry Bulbs | Shaved Women (new album!; band link is to live 2012 MCoQ set) | the ever-present Impalers | and the trailer audio for Jerzy Sklimowski's great film The Shout.

Lots more followed; including new tracks by Luciferum Penis | Bog Oak | the ever-present R. Nikolaenko | ex-WFMU staffer and supergenius John Schnall | Excepter | and the welcome surprise of a great 1968 Philip Glass recording, new on LP / CD / mp3.

Thanks to artist Gea Philes for finding / sharing this week's screen capture, from Leos Carax's Pola X. A love-dance slog through tomato soup! Click there to reach the playlist, audio archive, and your always-appreciated Castlehead commentary.

NEXT WEEK! LIVE MUSIC FROM COUCH SLUT!!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Yay! I know injustice!

http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/58870

So, the buoyancy of the holiday break comes crashing back down to reality. I fell for it, maybe more than most. Too bad that all our lives cannot be more in general like that week or so of relative quiet, and joyfulness. "Reality" isn't just a bitch, this year at least, it's more of a cruel mistress.

...I liked doing something a little different, opening the show with a few more seasonally gloomy selections, easing in to the expected burst of high-energy roust, grind and blackness. ...I enjoyed very much the triumvirate-opening of C93, Bad Seeds and Weyes Blood (excellent new album, The Innocents, with thematic ties to the great 1961 film; the band is currently on North American tour), leading into the playlist-notable selection of Mogwai's central musical theme from Les Revenants (a simply enthralling French TV series, known here as The Returned, and based on the noteworthy film They Came Back (2004, written and directed by Robin Campillo.) Mogwai are a highly evolved instrumental combo, that for all their years of varied, excellent work, deserve more of my attention in general.

What else did we do? We talked about I Spit On Your Grave, (the most talked-about, if far from the best rape-revenge film; I personally prefer both Ms. 45 and Baise Moi) and how despite the claims of the original trailer, that "there isn't a jury in this country that would convict her," listener JakeGould noted that, "I think there is a jury in Ferguson that would convict her. How dare she fight back!"

We also touched on the burden of work, the kind you don't necessarily enjoy but do solely for pay, and how people tend to "blossom" during those few days to a week or more of respite some of us enjoy during the holidays. Case in point that last week's comments / chat was one of the most active, lively and brisk The Castle has seen in many a month.

Also, video-game music once again infiltrated our show, with selections from Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, and I again have my son to thank for directing my attention to these most-Castle-friendly of selections.

Releases by Bog Oak | Bleak (also currently on tour!) | Human Bodies | J. Soliday | Sale Freux | Contact | and the ever-present Zavod' also thrilled.

Click on our eerie capture from You're Next (which, though it did not resonate with me quite enough to make The Castle's end-of-year film list, warranted two views and was very enjoyable) to reach the archived audio, playlist and comments for last night's horrorcast™. Thanks as always for tuning in / joining in.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My reasons for not playing video games and not doing cocaine are nearly identical.

http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/58774

Great time last night! Confirms my feeling that it's ALWAYS a good policy to have low expectations; I went in last night, feeling like my energy was low, and the show was going to be so-so, middling. 'Twas not the case! Folks were enjoying the music, and the commentary, and that always seems to make for a lively, enthused discussion on the playlist. Last night's playlist comments scrolled to the floor like a Medieval decree. We went from pro sports, to police brutality, to Bob Clark's movies, to Barney Miller, to great teen movies in general, to Repo Man, to mall culture, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, classic video games, on and on. At its best, The Castle feels like I'm hosting a great party.


I'm still tired, slept five hours approx., trying to gear up for festivities tonight, but I really want to thank everyone for their energetic participation! The tangents were sharp, the comments ranged from astute, to nostalgic, to very funny! Tracy - I'm still laughing about "Ferrero Rocher"! (see above.) ...And who is the mysterious "Denizen," the "rotting corpse"? Always intrigued by those who are drawn in by The Castle's dim, flickering light.


Seemed as though people were really enjoying all the music, I'd say personally that the entire playlist was a "favorite," but some that jumped out were:

Human Bodies | Raspberry Bulbs | Enbilulugugal | Cannibal Movie | music from The Legend of Zelda | Blood Rhythms | Lars Greve | Bog Oak

Wishing everyone a great, better year in 2015, Castleheads and artists alike.

Click on the ruminative, metalized face up top, from the great The Boxer's Omen, to reach the archived audio, playlist and comments for last night's horrorcast™.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

...less enforced cheer

http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/58673 

Bowie, Bowie, Bowie. When strangers ask me what I like in music, I state all the obvious Castle choices, but Bowie is always in there, too. At least up to and including Scary Monsters, his albums were groundbreaking, way ahead of anyone's "time," the ideal melding of rock, pop and art. As I eagerly received each new release as a lad, every one was a dazzling, innovative, cold fish slap in the face of music-industry expectations; I reveled in his "Berlin phase," Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, all of it. Glad that our opening selection of "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" made an impression.

Going to try and keep this short, been blogging my fingers off, but there was listener appreciation for many selections last night, and I wholly concur:

Doomsday Student new! | Fear (my singular nod to the holiday) | Swallowed | Couch Slut (live on our show 1.20-21) | Dope Body | ZepulkrAxnaar | Durazis | new Dhampyr | Choke Thirst Die | new Alraune | Orthank | ...and an absolutely great, new tape side from Australia's Half High.

Tracks by R. Nikolaenko, Grasshopper, and Antonius Rex were also personal highs. ...

I'm not much for the "enforced cheer" of the holidays, as listener SeanG put it, and our playlist topper (see above), by Lulu Cipher, sums up my general sentiment. Some people are nicer this time of year, kinder to one another, to strangers, while many more seem to pull inward, looking after their own interests even more than usual, stealing packages right off my porch, and driving like maniacs across our area, to secure every stocking-stuffer, and make sure Aunt Tillie has her Diet Sprite.

Take care of the ones you love, hold them close, remind them that you love them. Reach out to a lonely friend.

Click on Lulu's Darkwave Holiday Card to reach our archived audio, playlist and listener comments for last night's horrorcast™.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Women, In Power and In Peril; film highlights from my 2014 (plus a music list)

The Internet is full of lists; end-of-year, top 10s, top 20s and 25s, often just a collection of line items laid bare, sometimes hyperlinked, sometimes not, and it's often left to the reader to do their own research. The Internet is also full of opinions (and we know what gets said about those), and it's made it way too easy to surf in, say your bit, and beat a hasty retreat, without laying down any sufficient backup data.

With music, I get it, a list is a list is a list—you have the artist name, the release title, and if you like what I like in general, you may already know about it and agree, if not, you'll look it up when time allows. But with film, there's way too many "authorities" out there, who do little more than hand out a bare-bones plot description, call it a review, call it "writing," and I think it's a big part of the reason people say, "Another film list, great. Haven't seen one of those in 5 minutes!" There's a lot of crappy, tossed-off film commentary online, and in some cases it completely sidesteps what I think is the very critical element of WHY this writer liked this film. Film criticism is the place for opinion, a more-than-apropos venue to make it personal; but here in the USA, where we're used to getting a heavy slant in our news media, with maybe, if we're lucky, a side dish of factual information, it's all ass-backwards. I'll continue to work against this tide, with gratitude to those whose pay attention, read instead of skim, and have looked forward to these film lists of mine for however many years I've been doing them.

When I looked at my notes for this year, one common element became abruptly apparent—women. Almost all the films on my list featured a female protagonist, in many cases also an antagonist, and I found this striking, both for the indicated shift in cinematic storytelling (especially in genre and horror stories), as well as the impossible-to-ignore lack of a significant other in my own life, a void that becomes more gaping with time, which may have led me to "favorite" these excellent tales of the female—in power, in conflict, in subjugation and in madness.

King KellyKing Kelly (2012) - This movie gets billed as a drama, but to me it's a thriller, as horrific as any genre film, and maybe that's because I remember a time before the online world filtered, dictated, and straight-up controlled our daily existence. It's an ultimate indictment of the look-at-me generation, where more than ever, women are worshipped solely for their appearance, for "hot pics," where Instragram likes matter infinitely more than the ability to make good conversation. Whether women are more, or less empowered by these circumstances is arguable, and a topic for a whole other post. King Kelly is a webcam girl—the focus of modern, straight-male idolatry—and in her self-crafted universe, which extends into the physical world almost immediately in this harrowing piece of hand-cam cinema, she's for sure empowered, if not in control; like a steamroller with no driver, Kelly creates havoc and destruction for all who hover near her flame. She's just trying to be the hot girl, get some shit done, while engaging in some moderate-to-severe manipulation, and it all flies horribly and tragically out of control. Some may laugh as this movie; I found it to be anxiety-inducing entertainment, loaded with a mounting paranoia. In the Cold War era, we had The Manchurian Candidate, in the Internet age, standards duly lowered, we have King Kelly, and her potential for casual, callous trampling on human life; for me, more frightening, and less comprehensible, than Frank Sinatra's hypnotized assassin. King Kelly is all too real, and just a click away.

Mandy LaneAll the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) - A bit older, but new to Netflix, this is going to seem at first like a very standard, teens-on-holiday-getting-picked-off-one-by-one B movie, but don't be fooled. The plot thickens rapidly, like social tar, and I'm perhaps giving away a minor spoiler to say that there is no outside killer, no masked, machete-wielding antagonist preying on innocents, but that's a change for the better. Mandy Lane and her "friends" are far from blameless cannon fodder, and again we find ourselves in the midst of a bitter, no-punches-pulled indictment of American youth, twisting and perverting their entitlement into scheming, murderous intent. What seems at first like some light competition over the girl voted most crushworthy, spins rapidly into a classic tragedy, with a body count to rival Hamlet. My own son is now just entering his teenage years, making this more-than-it-appears tale of twisty teen murder all the more palpable and provocative to me personally.

Alyce KillsAlyce Kills (2011) - Get ready to leap forward a near-generation, as Alyce is Mandy Lane and King Kelly's big sister, a New York City girl of opportunity, who gets a taste for homicide. The city is unnerving, shaking to the core, even (or especially) for a pretty white girl—it's competitive, and riddled with constant temptation to bad behavior. In NYC, there are more reasons to spin deliciously and unrepentantly out of control than to maintain even the appearance of doing the right thing, and Alyce's fall is as grandiose and fascinating to watch as it is inspirational. Having not lived in the city since 1998, I'm now what film writer Thom Andersen would call a "low tourist," in that I delight in depictions of my former home's flaws and hypocrisies. Alyce kills, indeed she does, but she's also a heroine, a "fuck it" icon, for those who know firsthand how NYC can hammer any semblance of a moral code out of a person. One of my favorites on this list.

Nymph()maniacNymph()maniac (2013) - Lars Von Trier has once again made a film I can sink my teeth into, after a few films where, as a fan of his work generally, he lost me, with stories too figurative, symbolic and esoteric to have much impact. I like Von Trier at his most gritty, critical and mean-spirited, and to call his films "sexist" is an oversimplification that entirely misses the point; the men come off no better, often worse, and Von Trier at his best is holding up an unflinching mirror, saying "this is how shitty we are, look at how we treat each other." In my view, the director must worship women, because he can't keep himself from telling obsessive stories about them. Charlotte Gainsbourg absolutely shines, as does Uma Thurman (in one brief but intense scene), while the male characters in Nymph()maniac, though crucial to the story flow, are scummy, transparent wallpaper, not worthy of the complexity and gut-wrenching humanity of Von Trier's women. If anything, the director hates MEN, and I felt shame, even horror, at my own fellows, while watching this epic of human degradation. And is Gainsbourg's sex maniac a victim by chance or a victim by choice? A bit of both, provocative enough to have the film scholars flapping about what this film "means" for decades.

FluktEscape (Flukt) (2012) - The literal translation of this film's Norwegian title is Flight, and fly it does, an action / adventure depiction of the struggle between two women; one a teenage girl, grappling for survival after witnessing the barbaric slaughter of her parents and younger brother, the other a Norse warrior woman, brutal and possessed by forward movement and survival in its rawest form, with a tragic, dark past of her own. Capturing the teen, the warrior, fiercest in her band  (comprised otherwise of formidable males), intends to use the girl as breeding stock, and as one might imagine, the girl does anything and everything to escape her fate as the tribe baby maker. Such ensues a ragged pursuit through pre-industrial Norway, over land and water, arrows and rocks flying, bodies falling, and that's the movie. Simple, but not predictable, and raucously engaging.

The MachineThe Machine (2013) - All films, genre / sci-fi stories especially, should inhabit their own, idiosyncratic world of production design, and The Machine does this with stunning accomplishment—the computers, comm systems, labs, and the titular android itself—all impressive, and quite second nature to the film's character inhabitants. I think of The Machine as a sister film to Beyond the Black Rainbow, if only for their shared moody framing, and roots in 70s sci-fi classics, all achieved with a comparatively small budget to the CGI-dominated blockbusters. In brief, a team of talented AI scientists is broken apart when the woman, a new hire, is assassinated by higher ups for spying; the man, in his grief and frustration with their cruel, crooked bosses at the MOD, designs a powerful AI android, The Machine, with the likeness and basic personality profile of his dead colleague. (He hadn't time to fall in love with her, though he almost certainly would have.) A struggle between the altruistic scientist, his machine, and the evil government ensues, a familiar theme for sure, but this story is done with incredibly meticulous camera work, script, and design; not a single shot is wasted, and the film is engrossing from scene one, and never stops to breathe. A remarkable accomplishment for a first-Internationally-distributed feature, and I can't wait to see what director Caradog James does next.

Comforting SkinComforting Skin - A drifting, aimless, Vancouver hipster is frustrated with her restless life of drugs, shitty boyfriends, and partying. She's in quiet love with her asexual roommate, an impossibly repressed nerd, who loves her but isn't helping, too wrapped in his own head. In an effort to shed her past, and achieve some big catharsis, she gets a very unique tattoo from a mysterious local shop. The sunless, overcast drapery of the city perfectly shrouds this story of 30-something angst, a beautiful woman (especially on the inside, as that's the point of the character) and her search for deeper meaning and yes, love. Her tattoo begins talking to her, and an ecstatic, though perilous, symbiosis ensues, and while this might sound ridiculous, it's not played for laughs; much more like I Stand Alone, but with a delicate woman in emotional turmoil at its center, rather than Gaspar Noe's viciously misanthropic, violent Boucher. I can relate to both characters, Comforting Skin's Koffie, as well as Le Boucher; my internal dialogue is rich, and definitely not for publication, and it's the relatability of the character (a fearless, stunning performance by Victoria Bidewell) that really sold this film to me. This 2011 feature is newly streaming on Netflix, and will delight those who enjoy small-scale, women's stories, with a hefty infusion of the psychological-supernatural.

MonstersMonsters - A magnificent sleeper of a scrappy, sci-fi road movie, set in a post-alien-invasion contaminated zone between Mexico and the US. The aliens don't necessarily mean us harm, they are simply so large, and non-humanoid (the latter a favorite personal theme, as it's arrogant of us to assume that aliens would be humanoid; shades of G. Roddenberry's invention circa classic Trek.) A rough, opportunistic, press photographer is tasked with escorting his publisher's somewhat spoiled, runaway daughter through this "infected" area, where quick death is the order of the day, every day, simply by way of accidental brushes with these gigantic aliens, not to mention desperate bands of individuals who occupy the zone. Where at first, the daughter acts as though it's incumbent upon the photographer to help her survive—a rich brat who's above such dire circumstances—and for his part, the photographer responds with sardonic condescension, their struggle and necessary conciliation is experienced by the viewer in a visceral, believable, and non-episodic fashion. When we finally do see the alien invaders it's a glorious scene; I usually cringe at CGI, but these massive, colorful aliens are quite inventively rendered, and in the course of Monsters' climactic scene, we learn by seeing, that these intruders experience togetherness, even love, much like the duo whose survival we've been tracking for the entire film. Monsters never panders, dumbs down, or takes a single cheap or melodramatic shot, as bare bones as a science-fiction tale could possibly be, having quietly slipped past most of us back in 2010.

The PackThe Pack - Another film from 2010, The Pack is one of the more lurid and straight-up horror features on this list, bloody and shocking to the extreme. I've seen it twice, enjoyed it so much as to buy the DVD (which these days is really saying something), and filed it away, its previous absence from this list a mere oversight. The story centers, for the second time on this list, on the struggle between two women—a beautiful, young, mysterious traveler played by Emilie Dequenne, and her captor, simply known as La Spack, played by the excellent Yolande Moreau, more known for her starring roles in French dramas like When the Sea Rises, and Séraphine. La Spack is a loving mother, a doting one, both to her "normal" son, and his arguably less-fortunate brothers, who live underground, emerging only at night, to um, feed. The scenes of The Pack rising from the earth are striking, and this is a filthy, grimy film, with all sorts of awful things to say about human (and inhuman) nature. The Pack climaxes with a siege, where a few survivors / potential victims are holed up in a barn, trying in vain to keep the carnivorous golems at bay. Exciting, shocking, original and clever, with a "gotcha" ending to boot—all the elements of a great horror tale.

Starry EyesStarry Eyes (2014) - Hollywood is built on a foundation of evil, we all know that by now, yes? And that evil exists both in its higher ups—the execs, casting directors and producers—and its lower downs—the aspiring actors, actresses, and wannabe filmmakers, all of them ambitious, brutally competitive and hoarding a lot or a little power, whatever they can get their hands on. Starry Eyes is the story of a woman caught between these two tinseltown subsets, spending most of her time with her crummy, judgmental, backbiting "friends," when she's not working at her degrading food-service job, or weeping in a pile after blowing her latest audition. An opportunity arises, seemingly our girl's shot at the big time, but there's a hefty price to be paid, and several very difficult decisions to make, moral hurdles, each more difficult than the last. Sarah's ensuing transformational ordeal, and several brutal murder scenes, are some of the sickest splatter I've seen on screen in years, and to be honest, I'm somewhat immune at this point, but Starry Eyes had me reversing the film to see its several "money shots" again. This film shows the ugliness of L.A.'s film industry (and again, I'm "low touristing"), exaggerated to Rosemary's Baby extremes and beyond with grisly effect. The saying, "I'll do anything for this role" is taken to new, horrible heights, and Starry Eyes is a bent-back-spring of tension, building to a bizarro, 80s-style climax.

Honorable mention:

Darknet - A very well done, Canadian horror-anthology series, with plenty of clever twists, some repeating characters, blood and sex aplenty. Looking forward very much to a second season.

Shrooms - Another oversight / unintended omission, Paddy Breathnach's smartly done 2007 story mixes psychedelics, murder and the supernatural on an island off the Irish coast. A good bad trip.

Witching & Bitching - Alex de la Iglesia finally makes a new film worthy of his legacy and the excellent early features, Day of the Beast and Acción Mutante. A fast, funny, explosive thrill ride, bursting with black humor.

Acts of Random Violence - Similar to Alyce Kills above, though from a male perspective, and a bit more sardonic, cheap and cheerful. A Manhattanite hipster, a British expat, buys a gun and stops giving a shit.

Oculus - A larger-budget Hollywood horror feature, but good is good. A toxic, haunted, antique mirror, with a century of death and destruction behind its glass, a beautiful woman determined to get answers, and a family tragedy, the story played out in shifting time bursts, with subtlety and "blink, you missed it" scares.
Music list:  Top tens are not for me, voracious consumer of music that I am. Reduction to a choice ten, or even 25, would shortchange too many of the releases that made my year livable. If you don't see your release listed here, it's more likely an oversight than an intentional slight. Much gratitude to all the artists and labels. ...

Unicorn Hard-On - Weird Universe | De Hel - In De Hel | Yellow Eyes - The Desert Mourns EP | Cirrhus - s/t LP | Moonknight - Senmorta | Intolerant - all | Grue - Casualty of the Psychic Wars | Richard Youngs - Live on WFMU's Airborne Event | Korgonthurus - Ikuisuuden Arvet | Dan Peck - solo LP | Death Factory - Invisible Aggressor | One Master - Live in the Castle of Quiet | William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes - Room 237 OST | Morgirion - None Left To Worship | Vardan - all | Oppressive Light - Life Hates Me... | Triebtat - Der Weg in die Depression | Patrick Cowley - 2LP retrospective | Nostalgic Darkness - s/t | Avulse - I Am The Liquor | Venowl - all | Haat - Opgegraven en Misbruikt | Folteraar - lathe 7" & CS set | Alberich - Live on WFMU's Distort Jersey City | Vulcanus 68 / Thomas Carnacki - split LP | Hexis / Tenebris - digital split | Hexis / Primitive Man - 10" | John Carpenter - Prince of Darkness LP reissue | Spettro Family - La Famiglia Spettro 10" | Witchbeam - Tales of the Ghede Zodiac | Mister Matthews - 10 Cuba Libres | Pest - Tenebris Obortis | Cacasonica / Malveillance - split CS | Apotokia - Kathaarian Vortex | Deathstick - s/t demo | Deathcircle - all | Cave Ritual - all | Egoism - Demo I | Grasshopper - Dark Sabbath: Symbols of Evil | Black Hat - Thought of Two | Void Prayer - s/t CS | Cloud Rat - all | Recreant - Still Burn | Harassor - Into Unknown Depths | Ides - digital split w/ Inertia | Заводь [Zavod'] - Крізь коло і п'ять кутів | DiE - Vexed EP | Ghast - Dread Doom Ruin | Kreig - 7" | Bleak - EP | Black Cilice - reissues | Rodger Stella - Kosmische Dub & One Dark Eye | Josh Millrod - Seeking the Millenary Kingdom | Black Whispers - Negative Ways of Life | WOLD - Postsocial | Forgotten Spell - Opening the Skies of Sulphuric Paradise | Raspberry Bulbs - Privacy | Lussuria - Industriale Illuminato | York Factory Complaint - Lost in the SpectacleEnergy Vampires - Energy Vampires | Laster - De Verste Verte Is Hier | Uniform - 12" | Nocnitsa - Reveling of Foul Spirits | Ahna - Empire 12" | Swallowed - Lunarterial | Dope Body - Lifer | Planning For Burial / Liar in Wait - split 7" | Husere Grav / FRKSE - split LP | Couch Slut - My Life As a Woman | R. Nikolaenko - YouTube channel | Sixx - Sister Devil | Black Magic SS - Panzerwitch | Alraune - The Process of Self-Immolation