RETRO AFF PREVIEW: Satanic Panic Strikes Back: 666 Questions (OK, Only 9) with Eddie Ray

Posted on: Mar 25th, 2015 By:

Satanic Panic 2 poster
SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (2015); Dir. Eddie Ray; Writer Max Fisher; Starring Matthew Gallo, Marlinda Phillips, Kevin Vickery, Cherry Delrosario; Friday, March 27 @ 6:30pm; 7 Stages; Tickets $10; Trailer

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

On Friday night, the Atlanta Film Festival is going to unleash a Satanic Panic.

I’m talking about the band, of course. The brainchild of local filmmaker and Kool Kat Eddie Ray, Satanic Panic is a world famous dance band who happens to throw their allegiance in with the Dark One himself, at least as long as the cameras are watching. After barely surviving a brush with real Satanists in their first short film, the band’s new adventure is taking the AFF stage.

We asked Eddie if he’d answer 666 questions, and well, he answered nine about the band, the movie, and that time he was mistaken for a Satanist.

ATLRetro: Where did Satanic Panic come from? Do you remember when you first got the idea?

Eddie Ray: The original concept came from me and a friend of mine named Matt Gallo. He plays B. Elza Bob in both films. We were watching JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS, and I said what about a Satanic Dance Band? Then we both got really excited about the characters and the concept for the first one and I sat down and wrote it. We came up with characters and costumes pretty fast. The sequel was written and directed by me and Max Fisher.

This is the second Satanic Panic adventure. How would you sum it up for people who may not have seen the original?

The first one is about a band called Satanic Panic, and they are the number 1 band on the planet. Their dance songs are about Satan and all things unholy, but offstage they are just normal people who are not into that Satan shit at all. They are just about the money. Their producer, Dick Dano, is up to no good and adds a subliminal message to one of their songs “6-6-Sexy” that tells real Satan Worshippers that they need to sacrifice the band. Luckily the Government steps in and forces Satanic Panic to secretly work for them. Now the chase is on. Why does Dick Dano want them sacrificed? Will the Satan Worshippers get them? Will Satanic Panic still be the number 1 band on the planet and government spies?

Satanic Panic stomp on a Satanist in SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (2015).

Satanic Panic stomp on a Satanist in SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (2015).

A new band, When Tempers Flare, is challenging Satanic Panic. Are These The Misfits to Satanic Panic’s Jem and the Holograms? Where does the new band stand on the Satan issue?

Yes, When Tempers Flare is out to get Satanic Panic! They are The Misfits to Satanic Panic’s Jem for sure. When Tempers Flare is tough, and they don’t take no shit from nobody. Especially from no honkeys. They are not into Satan or Satanic Panic at all, and they want to be Number 1. Satanic Panic now has one more thing to worry about. An evil female rap group! The girls who play them are amazing, too.

These characters seem like spoofs on the 1980s, back when people saw Satanists everywhere, especially in the music industry. Were you trying to flip the script by putting the Satanists in the suburbs?

Totally, in the ’80s and early ’90s there was a “Satanic Panic” going on. Everyone was afraid they were going to be sacrificed or killed by Satan worshippers. I remember the principal in my school coming over the loud speaker saying there will be no talk of Satan in this school because the day before some cheerleader got a death threat from a “Satan Worshipper.” They literally brought people, who they thought might be Satan worshippers, up to the office to be interviewed. Even me! I was so offended. I wore a lot of black because it was fucking slimming. Let’s be real. The principal said this to me, “we know you worship Satan, son, tell us!” I just said, “Call my fucking mother!” I am serious. I was pissed. They called her, and she came up there and raised hell! She was like my son is not a goddamn Satanist! Haha. We found out days later it was a jock that sent the death threat to the cheerleader because she didn’t put out. I am serious. There were no Satan worshippers. I love that story though. Haha.

When Tempers Flare.

When Tempers Flare.

In a recent podcast, you talked about planning out the story beyond the current film. Is there a planned conclusion, or will Satanic Panic keep going for as long as you’re interested?

Yes, while we were writing and filming part 1, we were talking about part 2 and 3. Max Fisher and I know what happen in part 3. We knew the ending for 3 while doing part 1. Yes, there is an ending! The ending is amazing too. Well we think so. YOU WILL LAUGH AND SHIT YOUR PANTS!!!!!

Did you feel any pressure to try and top the first film’s humor and insanity?

I don’t know about pressure, but sequels should always be bigger and better than the first. They should change and take you in new directions and not be the same as the first films. Throw some surprises in there so you and the audience stay interested. Keep shit fun! When Tempers Flare keeps things fun for sure in part 2. There are a few more surprises, too. You will seeeeeeeee. The cast and crew do such an amazing job in the sequel they will blow your mind! Me and Max Fisher really gave you all the bells, whistles and cartwheels in this film.

Satanists conspire via seance to bring down Satanic Panic.

Satanists conspire via seance to bring down Satanic Panic.

The Satanic Panic music videos are key moments in the films. What’s the process for developing the music? Do the songs influence the script, or do the scripts determine the songs?

I think it’s both. In the first film we show their music video for “6-6-Sexy” and how crazy and violent it is. Then later right before they shoot their music for “I Put A Hex On My Ex,” their real lives turn crazy and violent. So now their real lives become their music videos. That continues in part 2. Life imitates art and vice versa. I love how music influences all our lives and our emotions in the real world. Dan Foley writes our music, and he is a genius. Without his music, we would be lost.

These films resemble live-action cartoons, with bright color and madcap, rapid-style humor. Would you say your work at Adult Swim influenced your style?

I think so, in some ways. I think I came to Adult Swim because of those reasons to begin with. I love cartoons and animation, and I view life through those eyes. I wish people walked around with big hair and bright costumes.  The world would be more fun for sure. My office at Adult Swim looks like a Tiki Hut. I like to pretend I work on the beach in a SCOOBY DOO episode.

satpan2-indulgeAre there any ideas you just deemed too out there for these films? Or just too difficult to shoot? If so, care to share one?  

I don’t know if we ever think anything is too much. I always say, “Too much? Umm not enough!” Fight scenes are always difficult to shoot. If we had the money or time, we would’ve had everyone on fuckin’ wires flying around kicking and punching like in THE MATRIX probably. That would’ve been amazing.  I also wish we had the band getting out of a helicopter.

SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS plays at the Atlanta Film Festival on Friday, March 27, @ 6:30 pm. Click here for more details.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Retro Review: In ERASERHEAD, Everything Is Fine: A Lynch Classic Lurks into Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 26th, 2015 By:

MPW-30819ERASERHEAD (1977); Dir. David Lynch; Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts and Laurel Near; Tuesday, March 3 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets $11; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues its “Midtown Cinema Classics” series with ERASERHEAD, the debut feature from one of this country’s most iconoclastic and distinctive filmmakers, David Lynch. Though made with an almost non-existent budget and shot over the course of five years, it quickly became one of the defining films of the “Midnight Movie” circuit and established Lynch as a singular artist with a visual strength and innovative storytelling style that must be reckoned with.

First, a summary: The Man in the Planet pushes a lever and things go into motion. Grey, desolate cityscapes. Harsh concrète pulses of industrial noise interspersed with the jaunty organ music of Fats Waller. Flickering lights in the hallway. Henry Spencer, a man with a questionable hairstyle. A family dinner with a bleeding, miniature roast chicken. “They’re new!” A revelation. “They’re still not sure it is a baby!” Something that looks like a goat fetus swaddled in bandages. The Lady in the Radiator. “In Heaven, everything is fine.” Crying. Oh, the crying. The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall. Visions. We have a title. Scissors. Confrontation. Explosions. An embrace. And despite the Man in the Planet’s attempts, those levers will not go back. No way to slow down.

There is no effective way to critically assess a movie like ERASERHEAD. It just exists, monolithic. Even discussing the making of the movie is a faulty way to approach the film. It’s too mundane. Too workaday. Is it interesting that Lynch filmed it while on an AFI scholarship and used their campus as filming locations? That it took over five years to complete and that he shot it around his schedule as a newspaper delivery boy? That star Jack Nance’s then-wife, assistant director Catherine “The Log Lady” Coulson helped fund it by donating her entire salary as a waitress? That nobody will speak of the nature or construction of the baby prop? Perhaps. But none of that is nearly as interesting as the movie itself.

eraserhead2You can try to analyze it and its symbols, but as David Lynch has always been such a closed book when it comes to discussing his own work, that approach depends entirely on what you bring to the table. Is it a horror movie about the terror a parent faces when an unwanted child is brought into the world? Sure! Why not? It’s an easy read of the text. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d say if you were to attempt to summarize the plot in a linear fashion. But try to tie that to a theory that this reflected Lynch’s mindset at the time, and that’s all on you. Lynch isn’t talking, and he’s never going to tell you that you’re right. For all you know, he thought the movie was high comedy. From on-set reports, that’s precisely what he thought about the Dennis Hopper/Isabella Rossellini scenes in BLUE VELVET, and those are freaking harrowing. No, the only way to approach the film on any interpretive level is to take the postmodern stance that the “meaning” of any work of art is dependent entirely on the viewer. And for what it’s worth, Lynch is completely on board with that. You come to it with the baggage you bring, and you walk away from it eyeing your baggage suspiciously.

Universally speaking, and without getting into personal interpretation, the only thing I can do is insist that you undertake this experience without hesitation, and try to relate to you the film’s ugly beauty. The production design is incredible, and Lynch establishes early on that he is expert at bringing on board cinematographers who can translate his inner visions to celluloid. ERASERHEAD is photographed beautifully. What it captures is often bleak, horrifying and miserable, but depicted with incredible detail and economy. Though the film presents incredibly unpleasant themes and sets its sights on incredibly unpleasant visuals, it does so with such a striking aesthetic impact that you cannot help but appreciate the care, passion and technical precision and accomplishment behind every frame. Lynch, trained as a painter, knows how to work effectively within a frame and does so with a remarkable style and uniform visual sense.

eraserhead-645-75What’s more striking, though, is how this single work has come to define David Lynch as a filmmaker. Even more than his many early short films, this is the lynchpin (and may the Man in the Planet strike me dead for making that pun) for all of his subsequent works. The unnerving sense of “is this supposed to be funny?” bubbling up from the depths of the darkest sequences. Trademark visual motifs (figures emerging from shadows, the unreliability of electric light sources), storytelling elements (the blurring of dream and reality, odd chanteuses appearing at crucial moments to perform for us), visual composition (alternating black-and-white set design, long establishing shots, seemingly random inserts) and sound design (ever-present ambient noise, strangely anachronistic musical score) all find their wellspring here. Even in casting, Lynch’s oeuvre is tied together by this film, in which he first cast his most frequently-used actor, the late Jack Nance as Henry Spencer. Nance’s distinctive presence and oddball style made him a perfect choice for many subsequent cult films, and Lynch continued to use him in nearly all of his subsequent features (save for THE ELEPHANT MAN) until Jack Nance’s death in 1996.

Frank Zappa coined the notions of “conceptual continuity” and the “Project/Object,” in which he posited that all of his work—every album, song, interview, etc.—was all part of the same Big Work of Art that he was eternally designing as he went along. In a way, this is true of Lynch’s work as well. You could spend days going back and forth about the concepts of identity in his films and how MULHOLLAND DR. is the feminine flip side to the male-dominated diabolism of LOST HIGHWAY, and how all of that relates to the shifting and blurring definition of “self” in INLAND EMPIRE. You could follow the threads of adultery and its repercussions that pop up with regularity throughout his work. You could focus on the almost religious reverence he consistently devotes to the physically aberrant. And you could easily use any of those examinations to tie all of his work together as one big Project/Object. But you’d be hard pressed to do so without coming to the conclusion that it all comes together perfectly in one spot and flows out from that source: ERASERHEAD.

Or maybe not. It’s kinda up to you.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at

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Retro Review: A Meanness in This World: Traveling Through Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 20th, 2015 By:

badlandsBADLANDS (1973); Dir. Terrence Malick; Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek and Warren Oates; Tuesday, Feb. 24 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets $11; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

If you’re looking for a reason—any reason—to go see a movie, look no further. The Landmark Midtown Art Cinema kicks off its “Midtown Cinema Classics” series with one of the greatest modern American films, Terrence Malick’s debut feature BADLANDS.

Some filmmakers take decades to find their voice. Yet there are others who seem to arrive on this earth fully formed. Orson Welles stormed out of the gate in 1941 having assembled his influences into an entirely identifiable personal style with CITIZEN KANE. David Lynch emerged from the shadows in 1977 with the most David Lynch-iest film ever made, ERASERHEAD. Martin Scorsese captured everyone’s attention with the first example of what can only be called a Martin Scorsese Movie with 1973’s MEAN STREETS (while not his debut, his two previous features were the atypical BOXCAR BERTHA, a project-for-hire under the auspices of Roger Corman, and WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR?, a short film he expanded over the course of several years into a very different feature). And that same year, Terrence Malick debuted his own idiosyncratic means of storytelling with the brooding, brilliant BADLANDS.

Told from the viewpoint of Holly (Sissy Spacek), a 15-year-old girl growing up in The Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota, BADLANDS examines Holly’s infatuation with 25-year-old greaser Kit (Martin Sheen) as they slowly fall in love. While she obsesses over him romantically as they explore each other’s philosophies on life, his own psychotic and amoral side reveals itself and together they violently remove any obstacle that threatens to stand between them and the life with each other they desire. Based loosely on the real-life murderous exploits of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, BADLANDS also stands as a poetic examination of life, love and death set against the dusty, sun-baked plains of the Midwest.

Contemplative in tone and deliberate in pace, BADLANDS set the tone for Malick’s further career as he examined such subjects as war (THE THIN RED LINE), the founding of Jamestown (THE NEW WORLD) and the meaning of life itself (THE TREE OF LIFE). Even at this early stage of his career, though, he proves himself a master of imagery and composition and creates an experience that is pure cinema. Painterly tableaux fill the screen and slowly reveal their emotional heart as Spacek’s narration combines with the haunting strains of experimental classical composers such as Erik Satie or Carl Orff. Moments of incredible beauty are carved out of nothing but light, color and shadow. Divorced from attempts to emulate the rhythms and cadences of literature or stagework, Malick’s world can only exist in those rays of light captured by a camera, painstakingly edited into a cohesive statement and then projected onto a screen.

Badlands-104But lest this sound like a movie full of art-film clichés that holds you at arm’s length with its own sense of pretentious self-importance, BADLANDS is instead Malick’s most accessible film and a perfect entry point for those unfamiliar or intimidated by the visionary director’s work. It may perhaps be his masterpiece (with DAYS OF HEAVEN running close behind). Malick’s singular approach is wed to an incredibly compelling story, so that the dynamic of the narrative propels the audience through even the film’s most low-key moments. When you combine this with the career-making performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, you have a film that it is nearly impossible to look away from.

Presented as part of Landmark Midtown Art Cinema’s “Midtown Cinema Classics” series, you have the rare opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the modern classics of American cinema in its natural habitat—on a theater screen. Please do not let this pass you by.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at

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Retro Review: Splatter Cinema and the Cinevision Screening Room Shine a 35mm Light on Hannibal Lecter with THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS!

Posted on: Feb 18th, 2015 By:

silence-of-the-lamb-posterSplatter Cinema and Enjoy the Film present THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991); Dir. Jonathan Demme; Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Ted Levine; Saturday, Feb. 21 @ 8:30 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room; Tickets $10 (cash only); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema returns to the Cinevision Screening Room with the help of Enjoy the Film! This time, they’re delivering a 35mm archival print of what is probably the most celebrated mainstream horror film of the 1990s: Jonatham Demme’s staggering THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But don’t be fooled by its widespread appeal. Demme serves up a disturbing dinner of pure horror. With some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Trivia time: how many horror films have won Academy Awards? Precisely one—Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Sure, you could make an argument that it’s not really a horror film, but a police procedural or crime thriller. However, if the horror film has taught us anything, it’s that some of its best examples transcend the artificial divisions of genre and the common tropes to be found therein. Michael Reeves’ 1968 masterpiece WITCHFINDER GENERAL, for instance, could be accurately described as simply a period drama depicting the all-too-human hypocrisy and fear-mongering of a 17th century opportunist who falsely labels his victims “witches” to further his power-grabbing. But that doesn’t dilute the weighty sense of pure horror that pervades and permeates the entire film. Likewise, LAMBS cannot be excised from the horror genre by a reductive view of its mechanics. Its function is to frighten, to shock. To horrify. And Demme knows how to twist nerves alongside conventions.

The plot is something that could have come out of any television franchise (and has been copied by many on multiple occasions): a serial killer is on the loose, and the only way to capture him is by turning to an imprisoned serial killer for assistance. Simple enough. But it’s in the details and execution that the film’s true horror is summoned.

The imprisoned serial killer is the infamous cannibal psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), whose game plan for liberation involves offering up information in exchange for weaseling into the mind of the investigating FBI officer, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). Starling is seeking out murderer Jame Gumb (Ted Levine), nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” in honor of his penchant for skinning his female victims’ corpses. The film does not shy away from Gumb’s deeply disturbing actions, which are based on the gruesome case histories of Ted Bundy and Ed Gein (Gein having been the inspiration for horror films such as DERANGED, PSYCHO and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE), among other real-life serial killers.silencehannibal

But while the portions of the film devoted to Gumb are the source of incredible dread, it’s the shadow of Lecter that extends over the entire film that provides so much of its horrors. From his gothic-influenced asylum cell, Lecter’s influence over the movie’s proceedings colors every frame. Whether it’s how he directs Starling’s perception of every event that takes place or how the audience constantly questions in what manner he will use those events to his advantage later on, his presence is felt throughout. And from what we know of him, this presence can be nothing but malevolent. When the film culminates in pulse-pounding setpieces of tension and repulsion, we do not walk out of the film having been thrilled. We walk out having been put through the ringer and looking over our shoulders.

Though the performances of Hopkins, Foster and Levine are all vitally important to the film’s success, as is the screenplay by Ted Tally and the source novel by Thomas Harris, SILENCE is largely Demme’s show. In the hands of a director with less genre experience, the almost surreal sense of the gothic in Lecter’s scenes and the seedy feel of Gumb’s house of horrors might have been toned down. The temptation would be to make Lecter’s environs clinical and sterile (as his Atlanta-based cell in the High Museum is depicted in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER, based on Thomas Harris’ earlier novel RED DRAGON), and Gumb’s small-town home more under-the-radar normal. But Demme—then an arthouse fave for MELVIN AND HOWARD, SOMETHING WILD, STOP MAKING SENSE, MARRIED TO THE MOB and SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA—came from the world of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. There he labored on exploitation movies like ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME and THE HOT BOX before directing such twisted takes on 1970s genre fare as CAGED HEAT and CRAZY MAMA. Under Corman’s tutelage, he learned his way around the worlds of exploitation and horror filmmaking, and applied those lessons well to this big-budget studio project. (Corman himself gets a cameo appearance as a Congressman.)

clariceIt’s a masterful evocation of influences from horror and exploitation’s past, and Demme conjures these elements in a subtle way, melding them with a more “mainstream” Hollywood approach that manages both to satisfy genre aficionados and invite in a more general public. It’s an approach that has been mirrored by the contemporary TV series HANNIBAL in its own telling of the mad doctor’s exploits. Meanwhile, Demme also manages to echo his earlier work for Corman by playing around with expected gender politics and slyly undercutting authority figures without alienating his audience. Demme is sure-footed every inch of the way, and while many of his films are as good, I’d be hard-pressed to say that any of them surpass this achievement. And for once, I agree wholeheartedly with the Academy voters who awarded this film Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay—only one of three films in history to sweep all five top awards.

As 35mm presentations are becoming rarer and rarer, it becomes exponentially more important to catch landmark films such as this—well-projected in their intended format—when the chance arises. That’s why I’m thrilled that Splatter Cinema is bringing this to Cinevision Screening Room in partnership with ATLRetro Kool Kat Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film. Ben has long been committed to expert 35mm projection, and his presentation of this archival print should be a beautiful experience. Add in the fun that Splatter brings to every screening they host, and you’ve got an event that cannot be missed.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at

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RETRO REVIEW: Don’t Get Them Jolly! GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH Brings Hell-iday Cheer to Splatter Cinema at Its New Location Cinevision!

Posted on: Dec 7th, 2014 By:

splattergremSplatter Cinema presents GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990); Dir. Joe Dante; Starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates and Christopher Lee; Tuesday, Dec. 9 @ 8:00 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room; Tickets $10 (cash only); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema is back! After a brief spell hosting films at the Chambers of Horror Halloween haunt, Splatter has teamed up with ATLRetro Kool Kat Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film and the Cinevision Screening Room to bring us the brilliantly bloody and the sublimely sickening. And while this month’s feature probably isn’t the first flick to spring to mind when you think “splatter,” its wildly imaginative and horrific effects work, combined with its completely uninhibited attitude, all add up to a perfect way to kick off a new era of Splatterdom this holiday season. Because after a seven-year search for a 35mm print, they have returned to bring you…GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH.

There are people who sincerely believe that a sequel is automatically inferior to its predecessor. They’ll tell you, for instance, that STAR WARS is a de facto better movie than THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK because it laid the necessary groundwork for the latter film’s existence. These people are what I like to call “wrong.”

Case in point: GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. Now, don’t misjudge my feelings: I unabashedly love the original GREMLINS. It’s one of my favorite Christmas movies and I’ve gone on about it at length here before. But I have a special place in my heart for its sequel. And that place is front row center. While GREMLINS paints a raucous picture of monster-fueled anarchy breaking out in idyllic Small Town, USA, GREMLINS 2 is pure madness in the Big Apple from start to finish.

As opposed to the more direct plotting of the first film, the storyline in GREMLINS 2 is more a series of hooks from which director Joe Dante can hang gags; and as such, it’s pretty all over the place. After the death of Gizmo’s owner Mr. Wing, the mogwai falls into the hands of the science division of Clamp Enterprises (headed by the always-welcome Christopher Lee). He is rescued by old friends and coincidental Clamp employees Billy Peltzer and his fiancée Kate Beringer (Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, reprising their roles from the first film). However, a series of accidents cause more mogwai to be created, and havoc erupts in the locked-down Clamp Center as the gremlins plan to escape into New York City. There are constant sub-plots about disgruntled cable-show hosts, Billy’s job prospects and his flirtatious boss, out-of-town visitors, etc. But as I said, they’re mainly there to provide launching pads for parodies and jokes.

gremlins-al lewisWhile the first movie evoked the feeling of Chuck Jones Looney Tunes shorts with its self-referential send-ups of Spielbergian cinematic suburbia, it still played within the confines of a Spielberg movie or a late-period Jones cartoon. It was dark and violent, but still warm in the way that producer Steven Spielberg’s family films and so many of Chuck Jones’ later cartoons frequently are. Jones’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, for instance, lets us relish the Grinch’s delicious villainy by softening the blow with redemption and acceptance. Lessons are learned, people get better, and he—he himself, the Grinch—carved the roast beast.

GREMLINS 2, on the other hand, channels pure bizarro Jones. I’m talking DUCK AMUCK. THE DOVER BOYS AT PIMENTO UNIVERSITY. DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24 ½TH CENTURY. It’s almost nothing but wall-to-wall psychosis and fourth-wall breaking. It knowingly and overtly parodies GREMLINS. (At one point Leonard Maltin shows up to pan the first film, and is attacked and devoured by mogwai.) It features Christopher Lee as…well, Christopher Lee playing a villain. Sure, the character is nominally Dr. Catheter, but the point of his presence is for Christopher Lee to be identifiably playing Christopher Lee playing a villain—much like how he shows up in THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN to play Christopher Lee playing Dracula. There are countless in-jokes hidden away in background details, like some Will Elder story in a 1950s issue of MAD. There are parodies of other films, like RAMBO, THE WIZARD OF OZ, KING KONG, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and many more. Daniel Clamp, the head of Clamp Enterprises with a burgeoning cable television empire, is a parody of both Donald Trump and Ted Turner. Even Al Lewis’ late-1980s stint for Turner as “Grandpa” hosting horror flicks on TBSSUPER SCARY SATURDAY is parodied. Hulk Hogan shows up for no good reason whatsoever. A plot turn that sees the mogwai become genetically mutated not only allows a Wile E. Coyote-esque “super genius” gremlin to exist, but also creates a hotsy-totsy female mogwai in order to bring us some “Bugs Bunny in drag” sequences. And to drive the point home completely, Bugs and Daffy Duck bookend the movie. If the first movie let the insanity of a Warner Brothers cartoon invade our mundane reality, this movie rejects your reality and substitutes its own.

All this to say that there is nothing in this movie I do not love wholeheartedly. Far from being sleek and streamlined, this movie is maximalism in action: gag piled on top of gag, with everyone involved in the movie completely game. Joe Dante is at his peak here, with impeccable timing and incredibly nuanced detail all in the service of pure wackiness. Christopher Lee gets to show off his rarely utilized comic chops. Tony RandallTony Randall, people!—is absolutely perfect as the super-intelligent Brain Gremlin. Dick Miller has a sizeable role, and that’s practically reason enough to see it right there. The screenplay by Charlie Haas (OVER THE EDGE, MATINEE) captures just the right balance of meta-humor and cleverly constructed plot dynamics so that we are never just bogged down in jokes; there’s a solid through-line that propels us along. Throw in the typically top-notch (and at times both monstrous and disgusting) effects work of Rick Baker and his crew, along with the gift of a bigger budget, and you’ve got a sequel that is every bit the equal of its predecessor, if not surpassing it.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at


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Fear Potion #9: Buried Alive Film Festival UnEarth’s World’s Best Horror to Atlanta

Posted on: Nov 19th, 2014 By:

2014BAFFPOSTERThe Ninth Annual Buried Alive Film Festival; Saturday, Nov. 22, 3:00 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.; Sunday, Nov. 23, 1:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Fabrefaction Theatre; Tickets $50 (all access, both days), $10 per programming block, available here. Opening night party Friday, Nov. 21, 8:00 p.m. – 11:59 p.m. @ Joystick Game Bar.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Need a reason to be bloody thankful this month? Well, here’s something to make your twisted Thanksgiving complete: the notorious Buried Alive Film Festival (BAFF) is back for its ninth reincarnation! Atlanta’s favorite, longest-running horror film festival will be at Fabrefaction Theatre on November 22 and 23. This year, Festival Director (and ATLRetro Kool Kat of the Week) Blake Myers and the Buried Alive team have exhumed three features and 50 short films—almost 20 hours of programming including nine American premieres and three world premieres! With a host of filmmakers in attendance, this year promises to be a glorious celebration of horror, further sealing Atlanta’s place as the horror capitol of the nation!

baskin 1The weekend kicks off in style with an opening night party at Joystick Game Bar on Friday, Nov. 21, from 8 p.m. to midnight. Come on out and meet the filmmakers behind this year’s fearsome feast of fright! But pace yourself, because Saturday’s programming starts off at 3 p.m. with Shorts Program 1: Tentacles, Kidney Stones and Cannibalism. This exploration of the darkly comic and disturbingly surreal spans the globe, from here to Turkey and back again. Highlights include the post-apocalyptic doom of THE LAST HALLOWEEN, a disorienting trip with four Turkish policemen into the gaping maw of Hell in the highly acclaimed (by no less than Eli Roth and Richard Stanley) BASKIN, the hilariously gory DEAD ALIVE-meets-“Love Potion Number 9” French splatstick of SPEED FUCKING and the world premiere of local director Jay Halloway’s subterranean terror UNDERLOCK.

Extreme_PinocchioBAFF reconvenes at 5 p.m. for Shorts Program 2: Some Real, Some Fake, All Fucked Up. Taking a more realistic turn than the previous program, these shorts focus on the horrors of the here-and-now, ranging from the twisted psychosis of EXTREME PINOCCHIO, also French, to the provocative documentary GLASS EYES OF LOCUST BAYOU. The standouts in this category—along with those previously mentioned—include the American premieres of the funerary revenge short PARA NOCHES DE INSOMNIO and the expertly executed murder of RELLIK.

After a short break, we’re back at 7 p.m. to ponder love, desire and the meaning of “togetherness” in Shorts Program 3: Healthy Relationships. Whether living or dead, functional or dysfunctional, human or inhuman, all of the permutations of companionship are on display in this variety of shorts. Two noteworthy local entries make debuts during this program—Brandon Delaney’s first-person dialogue MY BOYFRIEND’S BAG in its world premiere, and local filmmaker James Sizemore’s Satanic opus GOAT WITCH which hits Georgia screens for the first time. Also getting American premieres are two UK shorts: SKIN, which turns the hostage/captor relationship on its head, and the unsettling physical manifestation of a deteriorating relationship of SPLIT. Add in the Norwegian sadistic ANGST, PISS AND SHIT and the fetish-laden morgue visit of I AM MONSTER, and you’ve got an evening full of romance. Well, in a manner of speaking anyway.

satpanicNight falls with the festival’s first feature program at 9 p.m. This kicks off with two shorts: the tortured texts of M IS FOR MOBILE and the Georgia premiere of Patrick Longstreth’s Tybee Island-lensed giant monster rampage HELLYFISH. That’s followed by the world premiere of ATLRetro Kool Kat Eddie Ray’s long-awaited second entry in his epically comic tale of devil worship, rock ‘n’ roll warfare and government conspiracies, SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS!

As the festival heads into the wee hours at 11 p.m., the second feature program of the night is Andres Torres’ horrifying journey through the seedy underbelly of the New York art world and into the twisted mind of a lonely hot dog vendor, BAG BOY LOVER BOY. Driven by killer performances and an escalating sense of discomfort, this film—which meets us at the cross-section of William Lustig’s MANIAC and Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD—is well worth staying up for. The evening closes with a French short film that explores the unease lurking under the comforts of HOME.

988Feeling rested? Slept well after the horrors of the night before? Already got your brunch on and ready to go? Good! Because Buried Alive rises again Sunday at 1 p.m. with Shorts Program 4: Scary Animal Monsters from Outer Space at Your Service. As the program’s title suggests, the selection here is widely varied. The subjects range from the whimsical DEAD HEARTS to the vengeful water spirits of SHUI GUI, from a killer’s paranoia in SEMBLANCE to the wild Australian pathogenic zombie-kangaroo horror of WATERBORNE. Receiving its American premiere is the hilarious BUDGET CUTS, an instructional short on how to maintain your serial killer lifestyle when time and money are tight. Also making its American debut is THE BEAR FAMILY SECRET, a stark and powerful tale of homebound human horror set during the Brazilian dictatorship of 1970. And on the local front, Dayna Noffke unveils her latest work, RECOMPENSE, in its world premiere! It’s a twisty little gem in the EC Comics tradition, in which a prisoner finds out just how much his freedom will cost.

Hana-Dama-p1The first feature program of the day follows at 3 p.m. The supporting short, DONE IN, follows a man’s reminiscences as he pens his farewell to this world. In the featured slot is the American premiere of veteran Japanese director Hisayasu Satô’s HANA-DAMA: THE ORIGINS. A visually explosive exploration of the torment a young girl faces at school and at home, the film takes a novel path in its tale of revenge: a bullied student becomes possessed by a flower, the Hana-Dama, which makes manifest the secret desires of all those who have caused her pain.

At 5 p.m., we leave the realm of the photorealistic behind and enter Drawn and Quartered: The Animation Program. This series of shorts is bookended by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, in adaptations from Moonbot Studios: visually stunning old-school animation adaptations of THE RAVEN and THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO. In between, the festival is serving up two tales of teddy bear terror in MEAN TEDDIES and UNICORN BLOOD, the final evolution of life rising from a wasteland in Germany’s OMEGA, a wacky SHINING-inspired tale of wacky sibling rivalry and murder in the witty THE LAST RESORT and a knowing tale about the importance of choosing the right doctor in EYE IN TUNA CARE. On the local front, Amanda Smith fistoffirepresents a disturbing stop-motion account of a romantic dinner gone horribly awry in TRUE LOVE, and Wally Chung presents a cautionary warning about conformity and discrimination in TALL EVIL. One entry that stands out, however, is Finnish director Tomi Malkki’s FIST OF FIRE (aka TULIKOURA), the surprisingly touching story of a dying death metal drummer, his faithful dog and his post-mortem journey. Maybe my love of Finnish metal is showing through, but the short is moving and ghoulishly funny in addition to being totally and brutally metal. Malkki also will be in attendance, all the way from Finland, to talk about his film.

The second feature program of the day starts at 7 p.m. with another local offering: the Georgia premiere of Robert Bryce Milburn’s AMERICAN HELL, a short glimpse of the nightmare of isolation a family confronts when they are subject to a home invasion. That provides a perfect lead-in to the feature attraction, Adam Petke and sunderSean Blau’s THE SUNDERLAND EXPERIMENT, quite simply one of the most gob-smackingly original films this festival has to offer. This quietly building piece of cosmic horror is set in the isolated, fenced-off desert town of Sunderland. Something identifying itself as an “angel” has converted the town into a strange simulacrum of everyday society, and the adults into its surrogates. The children can either accept the angel’s “blessing” and become like their parents, or become the “fallen” and are left to fend for themselves in the wasteland surrounding the town’s border. One of the young men, David, is destined to learn the truth about his family, the town, and the true nature of the angel that controls their lives. It’s a stunning piece of work.

The festival closes on a holly jolly note at 9 p.m. with Shorts Program 5: A Very Special Zombie Christmas. MR. DENTONN opens the proceedings with the fairy tale-esque story of a sinister visitor that enters homes through mirrors and steals children’s souls. Afterward, we take a peek into the Troma-esque comedy of CHRISTMAS EVE PET MASSACRE, where the world’s worst family finds that their pets are more than glad to bite the hands that feed them. Then it’s off to Latin America for ZUGAR ZOMBIE—a potent cocktail of political corruption, the undead and grand irony. Finally, we wrap things up at the festival imagesmuch like we started: with a delicious look at Halloween. This time, it’s Jonathan Rej and Shane Morton’s ATLANTA ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. A group of rowdy youths (the best kind) find themselves trapped in a cheesy haunted house when the zombie uprising breaks out. Is it all part of Professor Morté’s spook show? Or is it all too real? A labor of love from pretty much everyone involved with the dearly-departed Halloween haunt of the same name and the Atlanta horror film scene, it’s a gut-busting and gut-munching RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD-styled throwback to the heyday of ‘80s zombie horror. Stick around afterwards to find out the Festival winners (Disclosure: ATLRetro Publisher/Editor Anya Martin is a judge). It’s also the perfect way to close yet another fantastic run of the Buried Alive Film Festival.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at


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Retro Review: Stop the World, I Want To See THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL Presented by Enjoy the Film and Cinevision!

Posted on: Oct 19th, 2014 By:

Ultimatum_a_la_Tierra_-__-_The_Day_the_Earth_Stood_Still_-_tt0043456_-_1951__-_FrTHE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951); Dir. Robert Wise; Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe; Thursday, Oct 23 @ 7:30 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room (visit the event page for address and directions); All tickets $10 (Atlanta Film Festival members save 20%); Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Let’s kick off the Halloween season in retro style, and take a trip to 1951 and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film has partnered with the Cinevision Screening Room for a series titled Monsters in Black and White, delivering three classic features screened in optimal presentations. Special guests introduce each picture, and the series promises to give an intimate “film club” type experience that is sure to make viewers wish that every film they see could be shown with as much care.

In the years immediately following the media coverage of 1947’s mysterious crash in Roswell, New Mexico, the “flying saucer” became a symbol of mankind’s fears and hopes for the future. After seeing both the possibilities and dangers of science entering the atomic age at the close of World War II, and with nations looking toward the skies as they ushered in a new era in rocket technology, we gazed into the unknowable distances of space and wondered what an advanced technology might usher onto our tiny planet. Sure, there had long been stories of alien visitors landing on our world, ranging from H.G. WellsTHE WAR OF THE WORLDS to Siegel and Shuster’s SUPERMAN comics. But the speculation around the events in Roswell brought the topic of extraterrestrial invaders directly into pop culture’s field of vision. And while so many of these tales dealt with hostile attacks from Little Green Men, one stands out as a plea for peace from the heavens: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

gal-bot-gort-jpgThe film sees alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his robot sentry Gort arrive on Earth to warn us against using our growing technological capabilities as a vehicle for greater violence, yet in a familiar turn, the benevolent visitor faces nothing but violence, resistance and persecution from the time of his arrival. The Klaatu-as-Christ metaphor (Klaatu—who also dies, is resurrected, and then ascends into heaven—even takes on the pseudonym of “Major Carpenter”) somehow escaped director Robert Wise’s view, but screenwriter Edmund North was clever enough to make the metaphor merely an emphasis of the movie’s universal themes. After all, the worries expressed in the movie knew no religious boundaries. We had just put the horrors of World War II to bed when the Cold War began, with tensions escalating between East and West. America had involved itself in the Korean War. Meanwhile, the US and USSR had started working seriously on competing space programs, and both sides had concerns that these programs would be of primary use as respective platforms of attack. All of these elements came together and formed the subtext of this film. And while the roots of the film’s themes are set deeply in the 1950s, the larger message of the movie—a call for understanding and cooperation between competing nations and ideologies—is something that never loses its poignancy.

…All of which makes the film seem far preachier than it actually is, when you get down to it. The movie itself is more than simply its message; it is also a compelling drama with nuanced performances from Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. It is also thrilling, quickly paced, gorgeously photographed and full of groundbreaking special effects (few “flying saucers” of the era look as impressive as Klaatu’s, and Gort’s streamlined design is timeless in its elegance). Not to be overlooked is Bernard Herrmann’s classic score: a masterpiece of eclectic orchestration utilizing two theremins and a variety of electric instruments. It, along with the scores to 1950’s ROCKETSHIP X-M and ‘51’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, would forever link the theremin with the eerie sounds of science fiction.

A movie this impressive should be seen in the best conditions. And a well-preserved 35mm print with stunning sound, viewed with an eager audience, is the best way to experience THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Lucky for you, then, that Ben Ruder, Enjoy the Film and Cinevision are giving you the chance to see it under precisely those conditions. Don’t miss out on catching this, one of the most impressive of all the classic 1950s sci-fi yarns in its natural habitat.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at

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Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back onto the Pavement! The World Famous Drive-Invasion Hits Turner Field!

Posted on: Sep 4th, 2014 By:

driveinvasion2014The World Famous Drive-Invasion 2014; Turner Field Green Lot (521 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312); Saturday, September 6; Gates open @ 10 a.m.; Admission $25 per person with car or $12.50 walk-up/no car ($26 through Ticketmaster).

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

You can’t keep some things down. When it turned out that the conversion to studio-controlled digital projectors made it impossible for the Starlight Drive-In to continue hosting the annual Drive-Invasion, things looked bleak for a while. But thanks to the tireless efforts of some of Atlanta’s finest, Drive-Invasion has found a new home: Turner Field. They’ll be setting up in Turner Field’s Green Lot and among the attractions you will find a 1000-foot grilling area, Jim Stacy’s Food Truck Midway (serving up a wide array of local culinary delights curated by Pallookaville’s own Mr. Stacy), the Silverscreen Gasoline Car Show (featuring the Discovery Channel CAFÉ RACER host and custom car celebrity, Atlanta’s own Bryan Fuller), an artists’ market, a kids’ play zone and two music stages.

Music-wise, you can expect an ear-filling variety of bands designed for maximum enjoyment before the sun goes down. You want some retro surf-rock action? Step right up and enjoy the sounds of Mystery Men?, Andrew & the Disapyramids (featuring ATLRetro Kool Kat Joshua Longino), and a tribute to the legendary Penetrators. You need some country-fried tastiness? Move it on over to the honky-tonkin’ tunes of Ghost Riders Car Club (featuring Kool Kat Spike Fullerton) and Cletis & His City Cousins (featuring Kool Kat Cletis Reid) . In the mood for some frenzied beat action? Get in the garage with The Brimstones, Rocket 350 and Jimmy & the Teasers. And for straight-up adrenaline-pumping rock and roll, blast off to Bigfoot (featuring Kool Kat Jett Bryant), Dusty Booze & the Baby Haters, Gargantua and The Biters.

But all that is prelude. They call this Drive-Invasion for a reason: drive-in movies. And they’re celebrating the end of the summer with a trio of beach party horror flicks that will keep the mood rocking until the last frame unspools across the screen: THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, JAWS and MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND.

hpb001THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964); Dir. Del Tenney; Starring John Scott, Alice Lyon and Allan Laurel; Trailer here.

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH answers the question “why only have one Creature from the Black Lagoon, when you can have a whole gang of them?” It tells a story old as time: when radioactive waste is dumped into the ocean, it creates a whole mess of monsters who then rise from the depths to kill innocent teens. It’s then up to young Hank and concerned father Dr. Gavin to find a way to stop the rampaging amphibious creatures. Imagine if HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1996) came out in 1964, and replace the gore and nudity with dancing and stomping beach music (provided by the Del-Aires, with half of their songs and all of the film’s score written by future porn legend Zebedy Colt!). HORROR zips along breezily thanks to director Del Tenney’s sure hand, and thanks to him keeping his tongue firmly planted in cheek. It’s not quite a send-up, but more a lighthearted take on teen horror and beach party flicks, much like INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957).

jaws-posterJAWS (1975); Dir. Steven Spielberg; Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw; based on a novel by Peter Benchley; john oath Trailer here.

Then there’s JAWS. What can one say about this movie? When I was a tyke, it was so effective that even this unabashed horror movie fanatic—as committed then as I am today—believed that there were sharks hiding under my bed. (And yes, I fully grasped the logical problem in that scenario.) JAWS established Steven Spielberg as a Big-Time Director after years of working in TV and smaller-budgeted films like THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974). It also singlehandedly created the modern summer “blockbuster” phenomenon (and simultaneously marked the end of the “New Hollywood” period of the late 1960s and early ‘70s), and its style and craftsmanship has exerted a lasting influence far beyond its immediate impact. It is, in many ways, a nearly perfect movie. Pitch-perfect performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw are wed to dialogue so fresh that it’s still being quoted, imitated and parodied nearly 40 years after the film’s release. Add to that Spielberg’s precise direction, one of John Williams’ best scores and Verna Field’s expert editing, which work together to create an escalating tension that reaches peaks high enough to make you completely ignore the badly malfunctioning mechanical shark.

mad_doctor_of_blood_island_poster_01MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968); Dir. Eddie Romero and Gerardo de Leon; Starring John Ashley, Angelique Pettyjohn and Ronald Remy; Trailer (featuring narration from the legendary Brother Theodore) here.

Rounding out the program is MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, probably the pinnacle of writer/producer/director Eddie Romero’s Philippine-lensed series of “Blood Island” movies. And while that may sound like a pretty small category for a film to qualify as “the best,” keep in mind that there are something like 10 of them (six in the series, and four tangentially related). In this entry, John Ashley—the co-star of multiple AIP “Beach Party” flicks—stars as a pathologist who turns up at Blood Island to study the health of the natives, only to find mysterious deaths linked to the appearance of what appears to be green blood. Throw in Angelique Pettyjohn, heaps of nudity and gore, some of the most ludicrous pseudo-science ever spouted in a movie script and a rampaging monster that must be seen to be believed, and you have what amounts to one of the most definitive drive-in movies ever created. While it may never be regarded as a cinematic classic, it is an experience that I wholeheartedly suggest you undertake. It’s not for nothing that Eddie Romero was named the National Artist of the Philippines in 2003.

And let me take this time to warn you: to survive your exposure to the energies of MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND and to ward off contagion in the days after Drive-Invasion, you must prepare yourself by taking the Oath of the Green Blood, which will ensure that you will never become a green-blooded monster. Vials of Doctor Lorca’s Green Blood Potion will be available to the first 1000 visitors who stop by the Drive-Invasion booth or Professor Morté’s Silver Scream Spookshow booth. Remember: stay safe. Protection is prevention.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at

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Retro Review: Revisiting THE VISITOR, The Most Insane Non-Indie Horror Movie Ever Filmed in Atlanta

Posted on: Jul 12th, 2014 By:

Contraband Cinema presents THE VISITOR (1979); Dir. Michael J. Paradise; Starring John Huston, Paige Conner, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen; One Night Only, July 12 @7:00pm, Eyedrum; Tickets $7.00 at the door and actress Paige Conner will be attendance.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Early in THE VISITOR, an 8-year-old girl opens a wrapped present at her birthday party. Because we’ve been watching the movie, we know that the present contains a tacky statue of a bird, but now the girl inexplicably finds a gun. She grins, points it at partygoers, but then casually tosses it onto a table, which causes it to fire a slug into the back of another character, who then waits the length of a dramatic pause before collapsing to the ground. The entire incident goes from gift-giving to gunfire tragedy in less than 10 seconds.

The reaction among my friends watching the film in my living room was loud. “Wait, what?” “What the hell just happened?!” After a few moments and a few laughs, they calmed, awaiting the explanation that was sure to come.

But, of course, this is THE VISITOR we’re talking about. Explanations aren’t on its agenda, not when every second of screen time is another opportunity to smash a morsel of blazing, brain-melting insanity directly into the film. This is a movie in which legendary Hollywood director John Huston plays an “intergalactic warrior” matching wits with his greatest nemesis, a pre-tween telekinetic and her pet falcon. This is a movie in which director Sam Peckinpah plays an abortion doctor and Lance Henriksen an evil basketball team owner. This is a movie in which skating rinks and street food shops are the sites of supernatural murders. This is a movie in which the fate of the universe is decided in late-1970s Atlanta. But, above all, this is a movie that exists.

THE VISITOR fits loosely into the subgenre of supernatural child movies that bloomed in the wake of William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST (1973). Instead of a demon, little Katy Collins (Paige Conner) is under the sway of an evil intergalactic force named, of all things, Sateen, whose fractured soul is being reborn into children on Earth. I think. Honestly, the film is a tough to puzzle out, as if its heady ideas were being translated through some unfamiliar language which, in a literal sense, they were. The film was an Italian-American coproduction, written and directed by Italians and then translated into English for the sometimes-baffled American cast. But the film also routinely garbles cinematic language, connecting scenes and images that don’t make logical sense, dropping plot threads as soon as they’re introduced, and failing to explain, well, anything. In THE VISITOR, a guardian can tell a character that nothing bad will ever happen to her again about five nanoseconds before someone runs that character into a glass aquarium, and it’s not just OK, it’s expected. Anything less insane would belong to another movie.

THE VISITOR is the fevered brainchild of Italian schlock producer Ovidio Assonitis. He was The Asylum of his day, grabbing any idea that had traction in the public and churning out his own low-cost replica. From THE EXORCIST he invented BEYOND THE DOOR (1974). From JAWS (1975) he developed TENTACLES (1977) (also starring Huston!). From PIRANHA (1978) came, well, PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981). Right away, however, something felt a bit different about THE VISITOR. The production had a whiff of class about it as Huston’s name and cachet attracted more big names to the cast, including the likes of Mel Ferrer, Shelley Winters and Glenn Ford. Assonitis even shot scenes in Rome, Italy, before moving the production to the tax-friendly vistas of downtown Atlanta.

Paige Conner in THE VISITOR (1979). Drafthouse Films.

For locals the film not only exists as a virtual tour through a past version of the city—including looks at Underground Atlanta, The Omni and other retro locales—but as a dubious legacy for some of the Atlanta’s most famous figures. The credits reserve a special thanks for Mayor Maynard Jackson, who worked hard to bring the production to town, and the film owes memorable scenes and locations to the cavalier whims of Ted Turner. According to legend, Assonitis wagered the fate of the production on a Hawks game with Turner. If the Hawks won, the production would get access to Turner’s home as a shooting location free of charge. The Hawks did indeed win, and the production not only gained access to Turner’s home, but the Omni as well for a key scene in which the possessed little girl explodes a basketball with her mind. (Supposedly, eagle-eyed fans can spot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the scene as well as radio personalities Neal Boortz and Steve Somers. So there’s that.)

It’s unclear whether the city or Turner were grateful for the chance to contribute. THE VISITOR flopped miserably (and predictably) at the box office, perhaps because the world just wasn’t ready to see Franco Nero (DJANGO [1966]) as Jesus Christ or to see Lance Henriksen attacked by a ceramic switchblade bird. The film made a paltry amount of money at the box office, and that’s just counting the money they got to keep. In an interview on the film’s DVD, Henriksen talks about the film’s legendary badness and his embarrassment at a screening in New York when he heard audience members demanding their hard-earned money back. Henriksen’s opinion of the film represents the consensus at the time of its premiere, but time has a way of changing the story, and THE VISITOR’s story has changed.

The film’s first supporter was supposedly Huston himself, who immediately recognized something special hiding among the frames of the film and kept an elusive VHS of the movie near his deathbed. It took longer for audiences to catch on, but a few did, and a passionate cult helped the film become a regular at midnight screening and trendy repertory houses. Audiences came for the irony and stayed for the film’s unrivaled uniqueness. THE VISITOR doesn’t make a lot of sense, but compensates with mood. THE VISITOR has a dreamlike tone, cultivating something like madness out of its odd juxtapositions of tone and images, or of the powerful performances in service of a story that can’t be unraveled. The film appears assured and confident in the story it’s telling, leaving audiences wondering if the answers are in there after all, just waiting for a keystone piece of information to unlock them. Does it make sense that Henriksen’s evil, but certainly human, tycoon character needs to marry his girlfriend in order to create another wicked psychic child? Probably not, but Henriksen seems to believe it, so why shouldn’t we?

The big coup for THE VISITOR in its reassessment came earlier this year, when Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of the trendsetting Alamo Drafthouse theater chain in Austin, Texas, released a wonderful new Blu-Ray edition of the film, made with the kind of loving care and attention usually reserved for a Criterion Collection release of a prestige classic. It’s safe to say that more eyes have been on the film in the past year than in the past few decades, and the movie seems to be well on its way to a complete rehabilitation.

By this point in the article, you probably have an idea if THE VISITOR is for you. If it is, then I highly recommend seeing it as soon as possible, and Eyedrum, along with Contraband Cinema, are giving you the chance. Saturday night, July 12, the art gallery is hosting a screening of the film with actress Paige Conner in attendance. Alongside the film will be an art exhibit featuring “new and original pieces based on this unique film by a variety of local artists.” This is a special opportunity to experience a forgotten piece of Atlanta cinema history in the midst of its revival and rediscovery.

THE VISITOR, at long last, has arrived.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Retro Review: The Plaza Theatre Celebrates 50 Years of The Beatles’ A HARD DAY’S NIGHT With a Gorgeous New Restoration!

Posted on: Jul 2nd, 2014 By:

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964); Dir. Richard Lester; Starring The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr); Runs Friday, July 4 – Thursday, July 10 (see Plaza Theatre website for times and ticket prices); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Has it been 50 years already? Hard to tell when it comes to something timeless, and there are few films as timeless as The Beatles’ motion picture debut, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT. Chock full of great music, wild comedy, groundbreaking direction and a witty, snappy script, it’s enjoyable enough on any occasion. But with a beautiful, newly-minted restoration, there’s no better way to commemorate the movie’s half-centenary than spending an evening at the Plaza Theatre with the “Fab Four”.

When it comes to rock & roll movies, there are generally three camps. There are straight-up documentaries and concert films, like The Band’s THE LAST WALTZ, ELVIS: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS, WOODSTOCK or Dylan’s DON’T LOOK BACK. Then there are the films where a rock star gets shunted into some generally cockamamie scenario which has musical performances conveniently hanging off of it, such as most Elvis movies or Herman’s HermitsMRS. BROWN YOU’VE GOT A LOVELY DAUGHTER. Then there are those films where you’ve got a plot and actors that serve chiefly to prop up a handful of showcase musical numbers, featuring musicians that you don’t really see outside of those isolated performances, aside from maybe five minutes of acting to establish their presence in the film. This is typical of most 1950s rock & roll movies (Elvis vehicles excluded) like THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK and—in later years—the Ramones’ tribute to these flicks, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL.

Then, there are the exceptions, and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is one of the most striking. It’s not a documentary, though it probably gets closer to the true spirit of The Beatles and Beatlemania than any documentary could. It’s not tied up in some convoluted plot that exists to just fill time between songs (that would be their follow-up movie, the winkingly self-conscious HELP!). And with The Beatles starring as themselves, it breaks away from the ‘50s template. At the time, it was truly revolutionary. There really wasn’t much else like it.

And it remains the single greatest rock and roll movie ever made.

Like Joe Bob Briggs used to say, it doesn’t have any plot to get in the way of the story. The Beatles have to make it to a TV studio for a live broadcast, putting up with Paul’s troublemaking grandfather (“He’s very clean.”) and the trappings of superstardom along the way. That’s it. But that threadbare plot allows plenty of time for the lads’ personalities to shine through and firmly establish each of them as distinct characters. It also allows ample opportunity to present The Beatles’ music organically: not only as score, but as source—in staged rehearsals and run-throughs leading up to their on-air performance.

The script is incredibly clever, providing constant tangential episodes within the film that deliver small moments of energy, so we never hit a dead spell in the journey. As a result, it plays as something of a sketch film, with the consistent forward dynamic of the band’s race to the TV studio maintaining an overarching momentum. In addition, screenwriter Alun Owen spent several days with the foursome and drew dialogue from interviews with the band to deliver Beatles “characters” that were true to each individual member of the group.

Director Richard Lester was a left-field candidate for helming the film, personally chosen by The Beatles on the basis of his work with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan on TV and in the 1960 theatrical short THE RUNNING JUMPING & STANDING STILL FILM. Visually inventive and wildly imaginative, he not only innovatively captured live music performances, but also delivered crazed comic sequences (such as the opening chase scene, a rapid-fire interview segment and the wild “We’re out!”/”Can’t Buy Me Love” romp). It all comes across as pure giddy exuberance in cinematic form. And even though it depicts The Beatles as prisoners of their own fame, it’s also early enough that we’re still seeing them enjoying the view from between the bars. (As Orson Welles said, “if you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”)

Acting-wise, The Beatles are surprisingly confident on-screen. Paul comes across as level-headed and charming, George as dryly droll, John as sardonic and anarchic and Ringo as sensitive and compassionate. It’s Ringo in particular that shines during a sequence in which he escapes from the TV studio to anonymously wander about town and winds up palling around with a young kid. The keen script, Lester’s deft direction and Ringo’s performance join forces to create one of the film’s most memorable chapters.

And then there’s the music. Rather than use the film to push already-existing product, aside from the previously-released “Can’t Buy Me Love” and a quick medley of hits as the basis for their TV performance, the film uses newly-composed, original material by the band. And the resulting LP, their first to not feature any cover songs, is perhaps The Beatles’ first great album. With all songs written by Lennon and McCartney, it firmly established The Beatles as a truly self-contained unit—and one that sounded uniquely like themselves, rather than a large derivative of artists that came before.

I could write for forever and never be able to capture what strange magic this film conjures. It’s pure electricity on film. It’s full of the joy of life and the living of it. Like I said before, it’s the greatest rock & roll film ever made. And what the hell, one of the greatest films, full stop. And hey! If you need more convincing to see this after all of the superlatives I’ve been piling on, it has been newly digitally restored for the film’s 50th anniversary, with a new 5.1 sound mix created at Apple Studios, and word on the street is that the end result is a marvel.

So drop what you’re doing and see this at your earliest convenience. Even if you don’t know it, you need a reminder of why The Beatles were one of the biggest phenomena of the 20th century, and there’s no more entertaining way to get that reminder than with this film.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at

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