Mall Insecurity: Just A Few More Chopping Days Left Until Splatter Cine-mas at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents CHOPPING MALL (1986); Dir. Jim Wynorski; Starring Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Barbara Crampton, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov; Tuesday, Dec. 10 @ 9:30 (photos and merch table open @ 9); Plaza Theater; Trailer here; Facebook Event Page here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

In the middle of the holiday season, when shopping centers are teeming with masses of bargain-hungry consumers, who doesn’t wish that a few bloodthirsty killbots could be unleashed to thin out the crowds? Look no further than the Plaza Theatre for some vicarious thrills as Splatter Cinema presents CHOPPING MALL!

You know, there was a time when a Jim Wynorski movie meant something. Granted, it didn’t mean much. But you knew what you were getting when you saw his name on the screen—an exploitation movie that didn’t take itself seriously in the least, and that sent itself and the genre up for affectionate ribbing. In short, a kind of low-rent Joe Dante flick (which makes sense, as both directors came from the benches of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures farm team). This is best exemplified in his two most fully-realized movies: his 1983 feature debut THE LOST EMPIRE (a comic variation on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME but with a lot more nudity) and his more successful follow-up, CHOPPING MALL.

CHOPPING MALL answers the age-old question, “what would happen if mall security was handled by robots, and a freak lightning storm caused them all to go kill-crazy on a bunch of teens partying in a furniture store after-hours?” This question has plagued theologians, philosophers and scientists for centuries, and finally found all of its potential ramifications explored in full, rich, intellectual detail in the hands of Jim Wynorski. The answer, of course, is “well, the kids would start dying in hilariously bloody ways, and it would look a lot like DAWN OF THE DEAD if, instead of zombies, there were really cheap robots that looked kind of like Number 5 from SHORT CIRCUIT, yet acted like the ED-209 from ROBOCOP.”

Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov in CHOPPING MALL (1996).

Wynorski’s direction is perfectly adequate for this. It’s not pushing any envelopes or even trying to be groundbreaking in any way, but it’s tight and well-paced, creating a fun sense of tension while at the same time allowing you to chuckle at the complete outlandishness of it all. The movie hides its cheapness reasonably well, making the most of its Sherman Oaks Galleria setting, and features a host of familiar faces to distract you from the low budget. Among the teens getting slaughtered are Kelli Maroney from NIGHT OF THE COMET, Tony O’Dell from HEAD OF THE CLASS, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s Russell Todd and scream queen Barbara Crampton of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND fame. Cameos are provided by the always-welcome Dick Miller (as Walter Paisley, his character name from A BUCKET OF BLOOD) and the delightful team of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, reprising their roles of EATING RAOUL’s Paul and Mary Bland.

In short, CHOPPING MALL is just a whole hell of a lot of fun, and one of the better (and bloodier) ways to blow off steam this time of year. If you want to turn your over-taxed, shopped-out brain off and have a riotously good time, you could hardly do better than watching a shopping mall turn against the idiots populating it. And don’t forget to show up early and get your photo taken in a gore-filled recreation of one of the movie’s scenes! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

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

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Bring Me the Fangs of Alfredo Garcia: Splatter Cinema’s November Movie JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES Features Some Badass Bloodsuckers But Is a Better Western Than a Horror Movie

Posted on: Nov 11th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee; Tuesday, Nov. 12 @ 9:30 p.m. (pictures and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Still feeling unsatisfied after all of the horrors that Halloween and the Buried Alive! Film Festival had to offer? Not a problem! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre keep the gore flowing with their presentation of JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES! Turn up early to have your photo taken in a recreation of one of the film’s tableaux and check out the merch table!

Okay. Let’s be honest: the end of the 1980s was probably the worst thing that could have happened to John Carpenter. After a decade and a half of superior filmmaking—capped off by 1988’s savage and darkly comic take on Reagan’s America, THEY LIVE—the road suddenly became very bumpy for the director. Misfires like 1992’s MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, 1993’s Showtime Networks project BODY BAGS and 1995’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED were interspersed with deliberate attempts to recapture past glories. 1995’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, surprisingly, worked; it succeeded in closing off his Lovecraftian “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with THE THING and continued with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. But his re-teaming with Kurt Russell on 1996’s ESCAPE FROM L.A. was hardly a patch on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. It wasn’t even 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, for crying out loud. And when a quickly-made cash-in knock-off by Enzo G. Castellari is a more entertaining follow-up than the official one, then something is rotten in the state of Carpenter. Realizing that he just wasn’t having fun making movies anymore, John Carpenter decided to retire.

Why, then, did Carpenter change his mind after just two years and film an adaptation of John Steakley’s VAMPIRE$? He largely rejected the plot of the source novel, and pretty much tossed aside the two screenplay drafts that were offered to him, so it wasn’t the story that pulled him back into the game. A good guess is that he saw this as a chance to once again have fun. And how? By making the western that he’d always wanted to make.

He’d attempted to make a western once before with his second feature, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. It was originally set in the Old West as a cross between RIO BRAVO and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. However, budgetary restrictions forced him to update the scenario to a present day urban setting. And while Carpenter had long integrated elements from his favorite western filmmakers into his work (Howard Hawks, John Ford and Sergio Leone among them), he had never explicitly returned to the genre. VAMPIRES’ Southwestern setting and revamping (no pun intended) of a “hired guns” trope allowed him to explicitly return to his own favorite genre.

The storyline is relatively simple. A crack team of Vatican-backed vampire hunters takes out a cell of vamps holed up in a New Mexico house. Afterward, an ambush back at their motel leaves only the team’s leader, Jack Crow (James Woods), his partner Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a prostitute (Sheryl Lee). Crow pulls together a new team in order to take out the vampire’s leader and his army. There’s some supernatural gussying-up going on (the vamps are after an ancient relic, there’s a climactic exorcism ritual as a plot turn), but as you can see, this is largely a “cowboys vs. Indians” story disguised as a horror movie.

Is it successful? Well, not entirely. It actually makes a fairly good run at turning THE WILD BUNCH into a horror flick, its action sequences are well-staged and deftly shot, it sports a typically good score from Carpenter and it’s more lively than almost anything Carpenter had done in the decade following THEY LIVE. But the leads are woefully miscast. James Woods is sufficiently vicious as a hired killer, but—let’s face it—there’s nobody among us that wouldn’t have rather seen Kurt Russell as the lead of this John Carpenter horror/western hybrid. Daniel Baldwin is…well…Daniel Baldwin, as unfortunate as that might be, and Sheryl Lee is merely okay in her role as Katrina, the prostitute-turned-vampire. But they’re all serviceable in their roles; it’s not like any of them are really bad actors. They’re just not quite right for the project. So while all of this may make this sound like it’s just one of Carpenter’s weaker films, why is it so poorly regarded?

Ultimately, JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES falls victim to its placement in his filmography. It came at the end of a “lost decade” of sorts, when his career needed a severe revitalization, and when he desperately needed to make an Important John Carpenter Film. And this movie is blissfully unimportant. Carpenter just wanted to have some fun once again, and if it had landed somewhere around BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA in his oeuvre, it would be seen as a nice little detour. Not a damaging entry into his work history, just a fast-paced bit of vampire killing with western flair. But in the context of his career, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time.

So, my advice is this: take the movie out of context. Forget what Carpenter needed, and focus on what it is: a beer-drinking, hell-raising, rip-snorting, ass-kicking, heart-staking, head-cutting, over-the-top, balls-out bit of fun. Don’t even look at it as a horror movie. Because it’s really not, once you get past the surface. Look at it as a blood-soaked action/western with vampires as the villains and James Woods chewing up the scenery like it was made out of cheeseburgers. And have a ball, because everyone making it appears to have been having one.

And thank your lucky stars that it’s not GHOSTS OF MARS.

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

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Step Right Up to CARNIVAL OF SOULS, Just One of a Macabre Menagerie of Movies at the Plaza Theatre’s October FrightFest

Posted on: Oct 16th, 2013 By:

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962); Dir. Herk Harvey; Starring Candace Hilligoss and Sidney Berger; Friday, Oct. 18 @ 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 19 @ 5:30 p.m. & 7:20 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

During the Plaza Theatre’s week-long celebration of classic horror, a number of legendary films are being shown, including NOSFERATU, WHITE ZOMBIE, FRANKENSTEIN and THE INVISIBLE MAN. But sandwiched in there is a film that dwelled in relative obscurity for years before home video led to its rediscovery and reappraisal: Herk Harvey’s incredible CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

The film’s plot is deceptively slim. Church organist Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) and her two girlfriends are challenged to a drag race over a rickety bridge, and plunge into the river below. While the police drag the river for the remains, Mary emerges with no knowledge of how she survived. Upon leaving the town of Lawrence, Kansas, for Utah, she starts experiencing supernatural events that grow in intensity. She sees haunting visions of a ghoulish, pasty-faced man everywhere she goes. A nearby abandoned carnival pavilion seems to be pulling her toward it. And, eventually, she begins experiencing states where she becomes literally detached from her surroundings—nobody can see or hear her. These all seem to be leading her to an inevitable fate, as she is continually beckoned to take her rightful place among the dead in the Carnival of Souls.

The bones of the story may seem familiar if you’re a fan of old-time radio or THE TWILIGHT ZONE. A similar tale was first told on THE ORSON WELLES SHOW in 1941. “The Hitch-Hiker” took place on a cross-country drive, after the narrator (Ronald, played by Welles) has a car accident following a blow-out. After getting his tire fixed, he sees the same haunting hitchhiker motioning to him at various points on his journey. Nobody he encounters sees the strange man, yet the hitcher continues to appear along his route. At a stop, he calls home only to receive the news that he never survived that accident, and realizes that the hitcher is Death himself, waiting for him to accept his fate and move on. The story was a radio staple for years, and was later adapted by Rod Serling for TWILIGHT ZONE, with Inger Stevens in the lead role of “Nan.”

The story of a person who should have died—who may, in fact, be dead as the story proceeds—is not an original one, and has been seen many times before and since CARNIVAL OF SOULS. From Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story “An Encounter at Owl Creek Bridge” to 1990’s JACOB’S LADDER and 2001’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, and from 1983’s SOLE SURVIVOR to 1999’s THE SIXTH SENSE, the basic story proves to be still-fertile ground.

But few have done it as well as CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

Herk Harvey, an industrial filmmaker based in Lawrence, came up with the film’s premise as he passed the then-closed Saltair Pavilion on his way to Salt Lake City. To set his film apart, he claims to have wanted to achieve “the look of a Bergman, the feel of a Cocteau.” His atmospheric lighting and high-contrast cinematography come about as close to that as one can achieve on a $33,000 budget. The film is one of those rare “dreamlike” movies that earns its name. The looming camera angles and the oppressive feeling of dread that accompanies her strange visions translate Mary’s sense of feeling trapped in some otherworldly web to the screen with incredible effectiveness. CARNIVAL’s organ score also adds to the disorienting effect of the film. The textual reason for its presence is an explicit reference to Mary’s profession, but its unconscious association is with silent film. And the intrusion of something from another time or place (the specter of death, the abandoned pavilion) into our present is one of the main conflicts that defines the atmosphere of the movie.

Lee Strasberg-trained star Candace Hilligoss also deserves strong praise, as she carries the entire weight of this film. She has the task of making the character of Mary Henry—who is extremely distancing and unsympathetic—into a character that we fear for. Hers is not a character that we immediately identify with. Everyone that reaches out to her gets pushed away (some deservedly so), and yet we eventually identify with her growing need to connect. As her supernatural experiences become more and more frequent, she suddenly finds that she needs these people. They’re at least less unnerving than that strange man she keeps seeing.

The movie was relegated to the bottom half of double bills upon release, and while late-night broadcasts inspired a small cult of film buffs to take cues from it, CARNIVAL’s quiet approach to horror kept the film from spreading far outside those numbers. It wasn’t until 1989, with the debut of the film on VHS, that people really began to take notice. New prints were struck and screened at art-houses and film festivals across the country, and Herk Harvey—who had continued to be a successful industrial movie maker and film instructor—was finally able to see his only feature film gain the kind of respect and acclaim that it had long deserved.

Herk Harvey joined the Carnival in 1996.

This is not a movie to be slept on. It’s a small, haunting masterpiece of horror cinema that was almost forgotten. It’s the kind of re-discovery that you wish would happen more often. Feel that pull? It’s the call of the Plaza, drawing you into this CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Care to dance?

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

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Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Deliver a Night of Horror with DAWN OF THE DEAD!

Posted on: Oct 8th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978); Dir. George A. Romero; Starring Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, David Emge, Scott Reninger and Tom Savini; Tuesday, Oct. 8 @ 9:30 p.m. (photo and merch table open @ 9 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s here! The season of Samhain is upon us, when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. And in acknowledgement of that, Splatter Cinema rips the veil asunder and brings the living dead directly into the Plaza Theatre with a screening of George Romero’s epic masterpiece of massacre, DAWN OF THE DEAD!

“When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

There are zombie movies, and there are Zombie Movies. And George Romero is the architect—directly or indirectly—of almost every one of them made after 1968.

1968 saw the director change the very definition of the word zombie (though it’s not uttered a single time) with his classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Before his ghouls stalked the screen, the cinematic zombie was tied closely to the mythology of Haitian voodoo: reanimated corpses brought back through ritual and acting as tools under the control of a powerful magician. But Romero’s stark vision cast off those supernatural chains. His zombies were still reanimated corpses, true, but his were under no man’s thrall or control. They shuffled across the landscape with a single goal: to feast on the flesh of the living. And unlike traditional zombies, they multiplied in number; every person wounded (but not consumed) by the walking dead became one of them. And any corpse whose body was not destroyed was resurrected and became part of their number.

And whether intentional or not, NIGHT introduced an aspect of social criticism to the subgenre. Star Duane Jones became the first African-American horror hero, and his mere presence added a layer of subtext to the film. And with its graphic violence coming on the heels of the “Summer of Love,” NIGHT seemed to speak to both the horrors witnessed regularly on the nightly news as the Vietnam War continued unabated, and to the spread of mindless violence present in American society.

In the interim, countless number of filmmakers followed in Romero’s footsteps with varying degrees of success. And while some did attempt to tie the supernatural back into the equation (Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBI 2 and Bob Clark’s CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS being notably among them), even those tended to stick with Romero’s zero-sum “the living vs. the dead” equation.

A decade later, DAWN OF THE DEAD upped the ante on NIGHT considerably.

DAWN takes place shortly after the events of NIGHT (though time-adjusted to the late 1970s), and picks up as the living dead seem to be gaining the upper hand. SWAT teams are being utilized to clean up dead-infested urban areas, but after a mere three weeks, society is beginning to spiral into chaos. A handful of survivors (two TV staffers and two SWAT team members) try to make an escape from Philadelphia into safer territory using the TV station’s helicopter. Spotting a shopping mall, and deciding that it would be easy to secure such a location, the team decide to take their chances and land.

DAWN not only goes NIGHT one better on the social front by giving us strong African American and female lead characters in Ken Foree’s Peter Washington and Gaylen Ross’ Francine Parker (NIGHT’s Barbara, in comparison, spends the entire movie in a state of shock and vacillating between hysterics and detachment), but it also contains multiple levels of satire. While the film explicitly depicts our heroes attempting to placate or avoid their concerns by indulging in rampant materialism, it also shows that this is no real escape; that the threats ignored by mindless diversion still gather steam and can—and will—intrude when you least expect it. Romero also stacks the film with multiple scenes of zombies aimlessly walking the mall, the implicit message being that this mindless consumerism is truly mindless—a rote activity that has become almost reflexive in human nature. And with the introduction of Tom Savini’s invading gang of bikers into the equation, he shows that the living can be just as mindless and dangerous as the dead.

But lest you think that this is a film purely made up of rhetoric, let me stress that this is all subtext. The text of the movie is all pure apocalyptic zombie horror. Romero, a master of composition and editing, ratchets up the feeling of dread from the beginning, plunging us into a world where order is fracturing and the constant threat of horrific death is right around every corner. Tom Savini’s groundbreaking effects top anything seen in gore film history to that date, and critics such as CINEFANTASTIQUE’s Steven Biodrowski agree, claiming that the film turned gore and horror into “a form of art.”

The film even launched the entire Italian zombie film craze. Unable to find any investors willing to back the film in the US, Romero secured the film’s funding with the help of Dario Argento, who invited Romero to Rome to work on the screenplay. The two collaborated on the film’s script (though the extent of Argento’s involvement is debated), Argento brought the band Goblin aboard to score the film, and Argento retained international non-English rights to the film’s distribution. He released it in a tightened-up version (cut from 126 to 119 minutes and featuring more of Goblin’s score) overseas as ZOMBI. The impact was immediate, with Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBI 2 being a quickly-devised unofficial follow-up and a host of other productions following in its wake.

Domestically, the film has deservedly received almost unanimous praise, named by many as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Some, like EMPIRE magazine and the NEW YORK TIMES, go a step farther, proclaiming it one of the best films of all time, full stop.

…And here it is in Atlanta for a one-night screening. Do you need any more reason to go? Well, let’s add in the chance to have your picture made in a recreation of one of the film’s ghoulish tableaux. If that’s not enough for you, then, well…you might just be dead yourself.

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

Category: Retro Review | TAGS: None

Take a Savage Journey with Blast-Off Burlesque and the Plaza Theatre as TABOO LA-LA presents FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS!

Posted on: Sep 17th, 2013 By:

Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO LA-LApresents FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998); Dir. Terry Gilliam; Starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro; Saturday, September 28 @ 10 p.m. (pre-show cocktails at 9 p.m.); Ages 18+ only; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s time for Blast-Off Burlesque to tempt us with TABOO LA-LA at the Plaza Theatre! This time we venture into Bat Country with Hunter S. Thompson and Terry Gilliam for FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS!

It’s easy to celebrate Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for all the wrong reasons. FAR too many people see him only as a caricature: senses blazingly altered by some high-octane combination of hard drugs and bourbon, firing his guns at anything that dares blink in and out of his peripheral vision and ranting unintelligibly at imaginary phantasms. For these people, he’s become a counterculture hero not because of his accomplishments or the words he’s written, but because of a persona.

Sure, it’s a persona that he called into existence and encouraged to a large extent. Why? Because, goddammit, you need a larger-than-life personality to stand up next to those works of his. You can’t be some milquetoast beat reporter and deliver epic pieces of immersive journalism like “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” “Freak Power in the Rockies” or “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat.” Nor can you be a typical Washington Beltway insider and compose the incredible series of articles that would eventually make up FEAR AND LOATHING: ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ’72, perhaps the greatest piece of political journalism ever written. No, you’ve got to be a daredevil. You’ve got to be a shaman, using sacramental substances to achieve the frenzied mental state needed to venture into the heart of darkness and divine the inner essence of a situation. You’ve got to be the kind of drug-crazed madman who is unafraid to sacrifice accuracy on the altar of journalism to summon forth the Elder Gods of Truth.

And if you’re not that person, then you need to invent that person and become that person.

Which brings us to Raoul Duke and his journey with his personal attorney, Doctor Gonzo, into the godforsaken land of Las Vegas in 1971—the story of which would become Hunter S. Thompson’s landmark novel FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS: A SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN DREAM.

Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp find FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998).

Thompson’s tale is actually a portmanteau of two trips into the desert city with his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, lawyer and Chicano activist. The first was intended to be a retreat for the two of them to discuss an article Thompson was writing about the death of Mexican-American journalist Rubén Salazar. Thompson used an invitation from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED to write a series of photo captions about the Mint 500 motorcycle race as an excuse, and the two of them descended onto the city.

250 words. That’s all they wanted.

Instead, he spent 36 hours straight, “feverishly writing in my notebook,” describing the pair’s wild adventures in Las Vegas and creating the expansive first part of the novel. And then, after the insane experience they undertook, they went back. Thompson took an assignment from ROLLING STONE to report on the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs held a few weeks later in Vegas, and further explored an idea that manifested during the first trip: that the rebellion of the 1960s had failed, and that the American Dream was now manifest in the crass, loud and materialistic oasis of Las Vegas.

Thompson combined the two trips into one story, which ROLLING STONE published as a two-part serial illustrated by Ralph Steadman, and which was later compiled into a novel. In creating what he admitted was “an essentially fictional framework,” Thompson assigned himself and Acosta pseudonyms: Raoul Duke (a nom de plume frequently used by Thompson and originally used as his byline for the ROLLING STONE serialization) and Doctor Gonzo. As for the book itself, it’s hard to say how much of what is written about is strictly accurate. It’s easy to say that the whole thing is true. What may have appeared at first as a wacky drug-fueled adventure turned into a work mournful of the failure of the ‘60s revolution, furious at the insane excess of artifice and celebration of the futile pursuit of money that is Las Vegas, and aghast that Vegas survived the revolution to stand in representation of the American Dream.

For years, the thing was regarded as being as unfilmable as NAKED LUNCH. Surreal, hallucinatory and depicting any number of illegal and violent acts by its protagonists, it just seemed to be too much to exist on a movie screen. Sure, they tried. Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone both gave it a shot, but only one movie wound up being made in the wake of those early efforts. WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (which attempted to shoehorn “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl,” “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat” and LAS VEGAS into one movie) starred Bill Murray, and was widely panned, particularly by Thompson himself. He praised Murray’s performance, but said the movie was saddled with “a bad, dumb, low-level, low-rent script.”

A direct adaptation eluded filmmakers for years, but that ended in 1998. After Rhino Films went through protracted tangling with director Alex Cox (whose screenplay Thompson viscerally hated), Terry Gilliam was brought on board to helm the film adaptation of the novel, and his surreal vision was a perfect match for the material. Though Gilliam had never used drugs, he researched the effects of all the chemicals used by the characters to create a series of visual effects that would mirror how the drugs would have affected their perception. The end result, while not exactly matching the horrifically ugly darkness of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations, stands on its own as a fully-formed take on Thompson’s subject matter.

Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro were cast as Duke and Gonzo, respectively, and both underwent extensive preparation for their roles. Del Toro gained 45 pounds and immersed himself in studying the life of Oscar Zeta Acosta, and Johnny Depp spent four months living with Thompson at his Woody Creek ranch. Depp assembled his wardrobe from Thompson’s clothes of the time, wore a pendant of Thompson’s that was a gift from Acosta, and shaved his head in imitation of Thompson’s own male pattern baldness. The research and work paid off in spades. Depp and del Toro inhabit their roles perfectly. While they may come across as slightly cartoonish exaggerations of both Thompson and Acosta, it must be remembered that the Duke and Gonzo of the novel are slightly cartoonish exaggerations of Thompson and Acosta.

More gonzo antics by Depp and Del Toro in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998).

Terry Gilliam stated that he wanted the film to be polarizing—that he wanted it to be known as both the greatest and worst film of all time. And, thusly, it sharply divided critics: it currently holds a 50% average on the review aggregator ROTTENTOMATOES.com. Meanwhile, the film was a huge commercial failure. Filmgoers wanting to see the handsome Depp and del Toro got presented with a pair that were deliberately ugly. Filmgoers wanting to see a modern drug comedy wound up with something less a comedy and more a tragedy. And filmgoers wanting to see the Thompson perpetuated by DOONESBURY’s Uncle Duke character (and practically every other mass media depiction of the author) wound up with the only-slightly-fictionalized Thompson of the book, which is far closer to Thompson the man than Thompson the caricature.

Thankfully, due to home video releases, the film has built up a large, faithful audience, and it’s that crowd which is invited to the Plaza Theatre as Blast-Off Burlesque’s TABOO LA-LA brings us a screening of Gilliam’s adaptation. The pre-show kicks off at 9 p.m. with complimentary cocktails served up in the lobby, and then things kick into high gear with a live stage show from Blast-Off Burlesque featuring special guests Tom Jones, Elvis (somehow I’m guessing that these might not be the actual Tom Jones and Elvis) and Batastic. There will also be a Gonzo Costume contest and an Ether Walk contest with prizes from Libertine and the Cherry Blossom Salon, as well an art display of Lucy’s Barbara Streisand portraits! So come down and enjoy one of the greatest films of the 1990s while celebrating Hunter S. Thompson for all the right reasons.

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

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Retro Review: Don’t Go Into the Light—Go Into the Plaza Theatre! Splatter Cinema Scares Up Some POLTERGEIST Activity!

Posted on: Sep 8th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema Presents POLTERGEIST (1982); Dir. Tobe Hooper; Starring JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson and Zelda Rubenstein; Tuesday, September 10 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s Splatter Cinema time once again! And with September upon us, and the first hints of autumn in the air, it’s also time for ghosts to take flight. With that in mind, Splatter Cinema and the legendarily haunted Plaza Theatre join forces to bring you POLTERGEIST! Come by at 9 to have your picture made in a recreation of a scene from the movie, and stop by the merch table!

POLTERGEIST, man. It’s a movie that comes with a lot of baggage if you’re a horror film fan. It’s impossible to dig into the movie at all without getting tangled up in contradictory recollections of who’s responsible for the final product. And it’s incredibly easy to wind up in vicious arguments with fellow horror geeks just by venturing into that subject. The question that inevitably gets asked and debated over is this: who actually directed the movie?

It’s a tough question to answer. Superficially speaking, it’s a Tobe Hooper film. His name is on it as director, the Director’s Guild of America states that he’s the director, and there are plenty of people who worked on the movie who steadfastly insist that Hooper directed it. But on the other hand, there are also plenty of people who worked on the film that say that producer Steven Spielberg was the man really calling the shots (Spielberg himself even implied as much in pre-release interviews, only to have to backtrack and issue public apologies afterward). Many claim that Spielberg took over for an unreliable Hooper, but due to DGA rules and his exclusive contract with Universal Studios to make E.T., he could not remove Hooper’s name from the project and claim ownership for himself. Others claim that it was a much more collaborative effort than simply one-or-the-other, and that all of Hooper’s directorial decisions were made in conjunction with Spielberg. (In any case, most people agree that Spielberg had final say.)

Then you have those who believe that this whole “Spielberg was really the director” rumor came from the studio itself. That when faced with having to market a “family friendly” film helmed by the director of 1974’s THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE—a man whose name wasn’t a sure-fire selling point—the studio leaked that Spielberg was the “real” director of the movie. A behind-the-scenes featurette was made that only showed Hooper once: standing alone, silent, drinking a can of Coke and identified only by a subtitle. In the set of film stills released to the press to promote the film, there were several shots of Spielberg on set, but only one of Hooper—and in that shot, he’s sitting next to Spielberg, who is telling Hooper what to do. In the trailer, Spielberg’s name is mentioned and appears onscreen twice before Tobe Hooper’s, whose name is never spoken and in much smaller type than the credit “A STEVEN SPIELBERG Production.” The whole thing does smack of the studio wanting to distance itself from Hooper.

Add in that Hooper hasn’t had the most spotless track record beyond TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, SALEM’S LOT (1979) and POLTERGEIST (though I love 1977’s EATEN ALIVE and 1981’s THE FUNHOUSE more than I have any reasonable right to; I’m in the distinct minority on that issue) and the picture gets muddier and muddier, and it’s just a messy situation any way you look at it.

The real question, though, is this: is POLTERGEIST a good movie? And the answer is—no matter who’s responsible for it—yes. It’s a good movie. But it’s not great. It feels like a compromise in many regards, and that’s what has given the authorship argument legs over the years. You get the feeling that it wants to be a lot scarier than it is, but that it too frequently errs on the side of playing it safe. It seems really conscious of the fact that it must receive a PG rating. There are certainly some terrifying moments (please note: a scene that begins with a steak crawling across a countertop can’t end well, and clowns are always harbingers of doom), but any suspense tends to get overshadowed by Spielbergian spectacle.

However, it’s a tremendously fun movie. The story is simple: the Freelings are living in quiet suburban comfort when their house is suddenly plagued by poltergeist activity, and their daughter Carol-Anne is taken by the spirits into their ghostly realm. The family calls upon a team of psychic researchers and a medium to exorcise their home and save their daughter. Within this basic framework, any number of frightening set pieces have been constructed, and to see them executed on the big screen is a rare treat. POLTERGEIST is the kind of movie that just doesn’t translate to home video viewing effectively; it must be seen LARGER THAN LIFE for the visuals to really deliver. The performances are engaging and authentic, drawing the audience in and rooting them in the movie’s emotional core. JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson have a chemistry together that both makes us believe them as the married couple they’re portraying and allows us to share their fright and torment as the supernatural elements ramp up. And though her performance has been parodied and lampooned endlessly, Zelda Rubenstein as the diminutive medium Tangina Barrons is incredibly memorable and effective, her kindly demeanor and small stature belying the force of will and strength she brings to the surface.

So forget the controversy over who did what. Nobody knows to this day whether Howard Hawks or the credited Christian Nyby directed 1951’s THE THING, but what is remembered is the film itself. Likewise, enjoy POLTERGEIST for the movie it is, rather than whose movie it is.

Now, who wants to speculate over the film’s relationship and debts to Richard Matheson’s “Little Girl Lost,” and why Spielberg was so quick to get TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE into production?

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

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Going Back to the Bizarre Birthing of Burton: Splatter Cinema Raises Blythe Spirits with BEETLEJUICE at the Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema Presents BEETLEJUICE (1988); Dir. Tim Burton; Starring Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara; Tuesday, August 19 @ 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

This month, Splatter Cinema goes a little off the beaten path at the Plaza Theatre. This month’s showing is not the typical gore-soaked exploitation fare you’re likely to see them serve up. But the way that BEETLEJUICE enthusiastically revels in horror and delights in depicting twisted flesh makes it a good choice for those of the Splatter Cinema mindset.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Tim Burton wasn’t a “thing.” That there wasn’t an identifiable “Tim Burton” style. And that there was a time when BEETLEJUICE was a sudden and surprising leap into the dark comic realm that would eventually come to define that style.

Burton had exploded onto the film world with his previous film, 1985’s PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. While that movie contains themes that he would revisit many times in the future (particularly “childlike protagonist exists in a fanciful universe seemingly of his/her own creation until a shock tosses them into the outside world”), it also contains the off-kilter and baroque visual sensibility that is a hallmark of his films to this day. But aside from the “Large Marge” and “clown hospital” scenes, there’s little of the horror-steeped atmosphere that saturates so much of his work.

BEETLEJUICE is where (aside from his earlier short films, which were largely unseen by the public at that point) Burton first seamlessly blended equal parts horror and quirky comedy into the recognizable whole that would come to identify the director.

The film focuses on a young couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), who find themselves unexpectedly deceased and forced to haunt their New England home. When the Deetzes (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones and Winona Rider) move in, the Maitlands are forced to circumvent the bureaucracy of the afterlife and engage “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton, pronounced and also known as “Beetlejuice”) to force the new residents out. As to be expected, wacky antics ensue.

In collaboration with production designer Bo Welch, Burton used the foundation of the screenplay to paint his comic sensibilities in a luridly-colored, high-contrast gothic horror sheen. His scenes in the afterlife and during Beetlejuice’s reign of terror in the Maitlands’/Deetzes’ home look like Charles Addams’ cartoons filmed in the style of SUSPIRIA. Grotestqueries bathed in candy-colored lighting schemes. Welch and Burton would develop this aesthetic even further in collaboration on 1990’s EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and 1992’s BATMAN RETURNS, firmly establishing this as the “Tim Burton” trademark style.

It would have been all too easy for the screenplay to serve simply as a hook from which Burton could hang a number of ghoulish setpieces. It’s to the credit of writers Michael McDowell, Larry Wilson and Warren Skaaren that the film is as engaging as it is. By keeping the “ghosts” of the movie benign and well-meaning—and the new residents not malevolent but incredibly selfish and irritating—Beetlejuice’s diabolical motives put both families in a sympathetic light.

And the cast’s performances can’t be overlooked in helping create the rounded characters of the movie. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are both amiable and sweetly romantic as the ghostly Maitlands, while Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones are their polar opposites: antagonistic and back-bitingly snarky. Where Baldwin and Davis are convincingly laid-back and plain, the performances of O’Hara and Jones are deftly high-strung and pretentious. Winona Ryder as young Goth daughter Lydia Deetz bridges both worlds—not only figuratively in the temperament of the clashing couples, but literally within the story as she is the only person able to see and converse with the Maitlands—and delivers a performance in turns dryly sardonic, cooly detatched and warmly engaging.

Winona Ryder in BEETLEJUICE.

But the movie truly belongs to Michael Keaton. As Betelgeuse/Beetlejuice, his performance clashes perfectly with everyone else’s. No matter how engaging or off-putting the Maitlands and Deetzes may be, the performances of Baldwin, Davis, Jones, O’Hara and Ryder are tightly restrained and controlled. Keaton, on the other hand, is entirely explosive and cartoonishly over-the-top; issuing forth a rapid-fire patter of one-liners, non-sequiturs, mumbled asides and mad proclamations delivered at the top of his voice. He’s physically manic as well, leaping about and flailing around wildly, as if Burton was randomly jolting Keaton with a live electric wire just off-screen. He turns Beetlejuice from a simple, evil prankster into something larger than life. If, you know, he were alive rather than a moldering corpse.

And if the movie belongs to anyone else, it’s Burton. This is where the Tim Burton we now know was born: the bright colors washing over stark black-and-white-patterned spookiness of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, the stylized locations and set design of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, the dark humor of FRANKENWEENIE. They all spring from here. But few mesh these elements together with as much effortless skill as BEETLEJUICE.

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

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A Marx Brothers Political Uprising: DUCK SOUP Serves Up a Perfect Bowl of Comedy and International Relations at the Movie Tavern!

Posted on: Aug 6th, 2013 By:

DUCK SOUP (1933); Dir. Leo McCarey; Starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo) and Margaret Dumont; Tuesday, Aug. 6 and Thursday, Aug. 9 @ 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 8 @ 11:30 a.m.; Movie Tavern; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Movie Tavern’s Retro Cinema series is devoting the entire month of August to classic comedies! And it’s hard to think of a more classic comedy than the Marx Brothers masterpiece DUCK SOUP!

Growing up, I had two obsessions: horror movies and Groucho Marx. In the small town of Lanett, Alabama, we were able to get a handful of Atlanta UHF stations (kids, ask your folks what UHF stations were). WTCG 17—later to become WTBS—had the horror movie front covered. And WHAE 46 had Groucho, with reruns of YOU BET YOUR LIFE that I’d watch every night before bed. That’s where I first discovered the waggling eyebrows, sardonic humor and unmatched wordplay of the mustachioed Marx. I thought he was the funniest human being to ever walk the face of this puny planet. And from there, I worked backwards. When I couldn’t see a Marx Brothers movie, I’d pore over the Richard J. Anobile-edited stills-and-dialogue collection WHY A DUCK? and learn the quips by heart.

All of this is prelude to why I’m tempted to just say “DUCK SOUP is perfect,” drop the mic and walk off stage. What else need be said? It’s perfect, it’s playing, go see it.

But that wouldn’t be a review, now would it? It’s barely an opinion. It’s just this side of being a sentence.

Now, there will be those who will claim that other Marx Brothers movies, particularly their films made at MGM, are better. There will be those who’ll sing the praises of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA or trot out A DAY AT THE RACES. These people are, how do you say, wrong. Sure, those may be more accomplished films. They did pull off the feat of placing the Brothers’ anarchic humor in a traditional Hollywood movie framework. But like Joe Bob Briggs would say, there’s too much plot getting in the way of the story. Too much romantic frou-frou between Allan Jones and whatever leading lady had to be subjected to his bland appeal. And these movies do the unspeakable: they make the Brothers nice. The Marxes are interested in helping people by, say, keeping two love-struck opera singers together or by saving a sanitarium from being foreclosed upon.

DUCK SOUP—like the Brothers’ other, earlier Paramount pictures—has no interest in making the Brothers likeable. All the Brothers want to do is cause disorder and discord. Every Marx Brothers character in the film is either ineffectual or irresponsible, or both. None of them actually want to do what their characters are assigned to do. Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the newly-appointed head of the bankrupt nation of Freedonia. He, of course, has no interest in governing. All he has an interest in is the compound interest in the bank accounts of Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, at her Margaret Dumont-iest), whom he is determined to marry. He’s being spied upon by Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) from the neighboring country of Sylvania. They, of course, have no interest in spying on Firefly. They don’t really have much interest in doing anything except pestering the local lemonade vendor (Edgar Kennedy) or going to baseball games on their employer’s dime. Then there’s the forever-to-be-underrated Zeppo Marx, who—as Firefly’s secretary Bob Roland—is mostly there to provide the “straight man” role for Groucho to lob jokes at. He’s the only person there who seemingly wants to do the job he’s assigned (though Firefly sees him as being incompetent), but that’s Zeppo for you. Say what you will, though, the Marxes never had a better straight man than Zeppo.

There’s so much to love in this movie. There’s the break-in scene, where Chico and Harpo don greasepaint and pajamas and are virtually indistinguishable from Groucho. (There’s no need in referring to them by character name—they’re playing the Marx Brothers here, as they always do.) There’s the Groucho/Harpo mirror scene. The war, in which every character’s costume changes between edits. The “We’re Going to War!” musical number. Groucho’s constant failure to leave the capitol building by motorcycle. The glorious back-and-forth that occurs whenever Groucho and Chico share a scene. The reality-shattering existence of Harpo Marx, who is presented as an almost supernatural agent of chaos (how else does a live, barking dog emerge from the doghouse tattooed on his chest?). I could go on and on all night. Get to know me for longer than a week, and I probably will.

Like most great pieces of art, it wasn’t well-received in its time. During the Depression, filmgoers were put off by the mean-spirited and anti-authoritarian tone of the movie. And critics felt the story too disjointed and harsh, too sour and unpleasant. Pure, uncut Marxism was too much for many to deal with in those dark days. Even Groucho thought little of the movie (but he was, you have to remember, a grouch). But in ensuing years, it’s been reappraised, and for good reason. Its ridicule of war and the Powers That Be helped it gain a foothold in the minds of rebellious youth in the decades since, and appealed to the steadily growing cynicism of the American psyche. It’s now considered a masterpiece and one of the most influential film comedies of all time.

When Woody Allen’s character Mickey, in his 1986 film HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, searches for meaning after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he walks into a chance screening of DUCK SOUP during the “We’re Going to War” sequence. He recounts:

“I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts and be logical and put the world back into rational perspective. And I went upstairs to the balcony, and I sat down, and the movie was a film that I’d seen many times in my life since I was a kid, and I always loved it. I’m watching these people up on the screen and I started getting hooked on the film. I started to feel, how can you even think of killing yourself? I mean, isn’t it so stupid? Look at all the people up there on the screen. They’re real funny, and what if the worst is true? What if there is no God and you only go around once and that’s it? Well, ya know, don’t you wanna be part of the experience? You know, what the hell? It’s not all a drag. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Jeez, I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I’m never gonna get, and just enjoy it while it lasts.’ And after, who knows? I mean maybe there is something. Nobody really knows. I know ‘maybe’ is a very slim reed to hang your whole life on, but that’s the best we have. And then I started to sit back, and I actually began to enjoy myself.”

DUCK SOUP, ladies and gentlemen. It’s one of those things that make life worth living.

Because it’s perfect.

*Drops mic, walks off stage.*

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Who You Gonna Call? GHOSTBUSTERS! Landmark Midtown Art Cinema Gets Some Frightfully Funny Midnight Madness Fri. Aug 2 and Sat. Aug 3

Posted on: Jul 31st, 2013 By:

GHOSTBUSTERS (1984); Dir. Ivan Reitman; Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Annie Potts; August 2 & 3 @ Midnight; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Midnight Madness has descended upon the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema! This time, they’re bringing you one of the greatest comedies of the 1980s, the spook-stravaganza, GHOSTBUSTERS!

Sometimes you need a film that challenges your belief system. Sometimes you need a film that will rouse you to action. Sometimes you need a film that makes you ask tough questions about the world we live in.

And sometimes you just need a film that’s only out to entertain you in the biggest possible way. Few films accomplish this like GHOSTBUSTERS.

Three New York City parapsychologists—Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Raymond Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis)—after being kicked out of their tony Columbia University gigs, decide to monetize their research by setting up a “ghost extermination” service out of an old firehouse. Business is slow, but a successful capture at the Sedgewick Hotel leads to huge demand for their services and rock-star status in the city. Meanwhile, they are hired by Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), whose apartment is being haunted by a entity known as Zuul. Her neighbor, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), becomes possessed by Zuul’s companion demigod, Vinz Clortho. That would be bad enough, but the arrival of these two beings on this plane, along with the rise in supernatural phenomena, signals the coming destruction of this planet at the hands of Sumerian deity Gozer the Gozerian. Assisted by new hire Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), the team must try to find a way to stop the apocalyptic plans of Gozer and round up the hordes of suddenly-freed spirits plaguing NYC.

Yeah, I know. It reads as incredibly complicated and far-fetched, and peppered with names that sound ripped from some late-night Dungeons & Dragons campaign. But frankly, none of this matters because all this mythological-sounding hoosafudge is just there to be in service to the kind of inspired, wacky comedy that was the stock-in-trade of Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray at the time. Sure, it’s a movie about ghosts, but there’s no sentimentality in their treatment of them (unlike, say, Peter Jackson’s similarly-themed THE FRIGHTENERS) and not even any real fright involved in their treatment. The ghosts on parade are rarely even remotely spooky: they’re just neon-green-colored pranksters for the most part. And even the agent of the ultimate destruction of humankind gets played for laughs at the very end. It’s the direct spawn of Bob Hope’s 1942 comedy THE GHOST BREAKERS and the Bowery Boys’ 1946 farce SPOOK BUSTERS.

GHOSTBUSTERS sports one of the great comic screenplays. Tightly constructed, it never spins wildly out of control the way that Aykroyd’s THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) does, but his flights of fancy elevate the reality-based comedy that his co-writer Harold Ramis frequently deals in. Ramis grounds Aykroyd, while Aykroyd provides Ramis with an excuse to play in a more fantastic milieu. And the entire process is aided by Murray’s keen sense of improvisational skills in performance. Tonally speaking, the movie is probably closest to director Ivan Reitman’s previous collaboration with Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, STRIPES (1981). Like that film, GHOSTBUSTERS is primarily centered on the semi-improvised performance of Murray and the comic chemistry of the team around him.

Bill Murray examines a possessed Sigourney Weaver in GHOSTBUSTERS (Columbia Pictures, 1984).

The downside to this approach is that brilliant comic actors like Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd get overshadowed by Murray’s dominating presence (Ramis, as the deadpan Egon, makes a more lasting impression than Aykroyd), but they work solidly as a team in support of—and providing the necessary “straight man” grounding for—Murray’s performance. And without their sense of camaraderie, the whole film would likely fall apart. Standing out and holding their own against Murray, though, are Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver. Moranis deftly works his nebbish character (honed in his days at SCTV and given a more sympathetic treatment in 1986’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) against type as Louis becomes possessed by Vinz Clortho, and makes it seem just through the physicality of his acting as if his tiny frame is an ill-fitting suit for some huge and monstrous beast. Sigourney Weaver likewise plays dual roles strongly—both as the independent musician who is simultaneously repelled and attracted by Peter Venkman’s overtures, and as possessed by the…erm…extremely sexually agressive Zuul.

Visually, the movie is BIG. There are great practical, animation and optical effects on display throughout. The sets are amazing, ranging from the humble firehouse location to the climactic skyscraper rooftop extravaganza designed for Gozer’s arrival. Miniature work and puppetry are handled expertly. The cinematography by László Kovács (veteran of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND [1977] and THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES [1964]) is gorgeous.

A haunted supersized Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man terrorizes Manhattan in GHOSTBUSTERS (Columbia Pictures, 1984).

And then, we have to mention the soundtrack. Not only is the score by Elmer Bernstein (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN [1960], TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD [1962]) among his best, Ray Parker, Jr.’s title song has proven to be as endlessly quotable as the movie itself. Even if you’ve never seen the movie (and I’m speaking to all 12 of you who haven’t), you likely recognize “Who you gonna call?” and “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” instantly.

What I’m trying to say, people, is that this is one of those nearly perfect comedies. The whole thing works like, well, gangbusters. It’s constantly fun, consistently hilarious and incredibly engaging. There’s not a down moment in the movie, not a minute where it lags. If it’s not a Grand Statement by one of cinema’s great auteurs, it’s a masterfully-crafted piece of pop entertainment.

And sometimes, that’s all that’s called for.

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

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Dark and Dangerous: Revisiting the Dalton Duet as The Plaza Theatre’s 50 Years of Bond Celebration Continues!

Posted on: Jul 14th, 2013 By:

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987); Dir. John Glen; Starring Timothy Dalton, Maryam D’Abo, John Rhys-Davies and Joe Don Baker; Monday, July 15 @ 7:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

LICENSE TO KILL (1989); Dir. John Glen; Starring Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi and Joe Don Baker; Tuesday, July 16 @ 7:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The celebration of James Bond’s 50th anniversary at the Plaza Theatre continues throughout the month of July, and as we hit the middle of the month, we find ourselves at another crossroads in the Bond series. So once again I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of movies you may have overlooked in favor of the higher-profile Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig entries.

Unexpected developments in casting the Bond series always lead to interesting results. Prior to 1969’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (OHMSS; see our Retro Review here), Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s Eon Productions had unsuccessfully wooed Roger Moore to take over the role of James Bond. Instead, they cast George Lazenby as a more grounded and serious protagonist compared to the increasingly gadget-reliant Sean Connery Bond.

The eventual Roger Moore entries, likewise, became increasingly criticized as the 1970s progressed and the series entered the 1980s. The Bond films had seemingly embraced the decade’s love of camp, and also appeared over-reliant on current cinematic trends. By the time of 1985’s A VIEW TO A KILL, the nearly 60-year-old Moore had already been upstaged by the unofficial return of Connery in the non-Eon NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)—a film that at least addressed Bond’s increasing age (and Connery was three years Moore’s junior!). Eon then turned its bullet-sights on Pierce Brosnan, who was then starring in the about-to-be-cancelled TV series REMINGTON STEELE. With the Bond interest raising Brosnan’s cache, however, NBC renewed the program and put a kibosh on Eon’s efforts.

In a move as unexpected as Eon’s offer of the role to George Lazenby, the part was extended to relatively little-known film and TV actor Timothy Dalton. Dalton—most recognized for his roles in 1978’s mini-series CENTENNIAL and 1980’s FLASH GORDON—may have been more of a known quantity than Lazenby in his day, but was untested in comparison to the more-established Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan prior to their castings.

In a parallel with Eon’s desires to take the character back to basics after Connery’s departure, Dalton’s Bond was an attempt to return to the early Connery days and to bring back realism to the series. And with 1987’s THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, the series delivered the darkest Bond to date: a tense tale of espionage between MI6 and the KGB in the waning days of the Cold War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Timothy Dalton and Maryam D'Abo in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

Looking at the film today, Dalton brings a grim seriousness to his Bond, obviously still haunted by the death of his wife Tracy and channeling his violent energy into the work. His self-performed stunt work is also excellent. The direction by veteran Bond helmsman John Glen is tight, yet still preserves the gloss and slickness long associated with the franchise. It’s a solid effort all around, with a screenplay that rises to the demand of re-establishing Bond in the contemporary world nearly as successfully as OHMSS. While some critics went after the film’s lack of humor, I feel that it’s one of the most underrated Bonds: a hard-hitting take on the character with a keen intensity not generally seen in the series. The only downside to the film is its dated score (the last by John Barry, incorporating glaringly ‘80s sequenced rhythm tracks) and a truly unfortunate title song by A-Ha.

Sadly, a confluence of events derailed what looked to be a developing good thing and cast a shadow on the fortunes of 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL. The fall of the Soviet empire ended the Cold War and suddenly made traditional Bondian international espionage seem dated: the very fate that Ian Fleming worried would impact the series in the mid-’60s. In response, the film focused on an international cocaine-smuggling ring, a storyline which made the film seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of nearly every other successful action-adventure franchise of the time. In addition, a writers’ strike led to difficulties in scripting the film as long-time Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum was largely removed from its creation. If that weren’t enough, budget problems resulted in this being the first Bond not to feature locations filmed in the U.K. Instead, the movie was shot largely in Florida and Mexico. The success of LIVING DAYLIGHTS’ darker take on Bond led to this film offering an even darker and more violent look at the character, but instead of extending what worked about Dalton’s performance, it further removed Bond from his previous depictions and rendered him almost unrecognizable.

Critically speaking, LICENSE TO KILL self-consciously takes things too far, resulting in a James Bond movie that doesn’t really feel anything like a James Bond movie. Dalton succeeds much as he did in the previous film, but his good efforts are in service to a compromised vision and merely echo the previous, better film. In an ill-advised attempt to recall an OHMSS plot point (and perhaps to justify the lack of London locations and keep official MI6 spy work out of the picture), Bond unsuccessfully attempts to resign from MI6. (In OHMSS, Bond is instead given leave, and in LICENSE Bond is temporarily suspended and his license to kill revoked.) It may have been an attempt to link this depiction of the character to his source, but it simply shows how much better this plot turn was handled in the 1969 entry. Even as a general action film, LICENSE falls flat in comparison to other contemporary efforts such as 1987’s LETHAL WEAPON or 1988’s DIE HARD. Is it a horrible film? Not hardly. Even the worst films of the Bond series are still entertaining. But it’s definitely a disheartening effort when compared to the entry that immediately preceded it.

Unfortunately, Dalton was never able to star in another Bond film. Legal problems put a hiatus on the series, and it would be six years before another Bond film would be made. During the break and with the future of the franchise in doubt, Dalton decided to hang up his hat and move on to other projects. Because of his limited run, Dalton’s films have been largely overlooked (another echo of Lazenby’s turn), but they deserve a closer inspection. His approach to Bond lays the seeds for Daniel Craig’s eventual more gritty portrayal, and beyond the pleasures that both films offer (though admittedly harder to come by in the second), it’s interesting to view them now in light of the recent Bond films.

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

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