Retro Review: Shatner and Borgnine Give Satan His Due: THE DEVIL’S RAIN Will Fall on the 11th Annual Rock & Roll Monster Bash!

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 By:

Rock & Roll Monster Bash presents THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975); Dir. Robert Fuest; Starring William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn and Joan Prather; Sunday, June 2; Starlight Six Drive-In; Buy tickets here. Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s Rock & Roll Monster Bashin’ time, kiddiwinkies! And if you’ve spent all day celebrating at the Starlight Six Drive-In, there’s no better way to cap off the night than with a double-bill of diabolical delights. And it doesn’t get more diabolical or delightful than THE DEVIL’S RAIN.

Okay, I’m biased. Let’s get that straight from the start. Around my house, if there’s a movie made in the ‘60s or ‘70s about a bunch of folks worshipping Our Downstairs Neighbor, I’m giving that sucker the benefit of the doubt. And likewise, if your name is Robert Fuest, and you’ve directed a movie about anything, I’m giving that sucker the benefit of the doubt.

This is why it’s constantly puzzled me that folks give THE DEVIL’S RAIN such short shrift. Even in the limited genre that is Satanic Cinema of the Sixties and Seventies, it gets relatively little love. And I’m not talking about pitting its reputation against that of established classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY. I’m talking stuff like THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, THE WITCHMAKER, BEYOND THE DOOR, ALUCARDA, and on and on and on. I mean, sure, huge chunks of the movie don’t make a lick of sense. But that’s never stood in the way of a film building up a cult following.

Partially, I think it’s got to have something to do with the prevailing notion that anything touched by the Hand of Shatner outside of the STAR TREK franchise is somehow shameful at worst, and best appreciated as camp at best. And maybe it’s got something to do with so much of the cast being composed of actors either well past their prime and heading for the Irwin Allen Disaster Movie Retirement Home (Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn, Eddie Albert) or so early on in their careers that they don’t make much impact (Tom Skerritt, John Travolta). Maybe it’s because Ernest Borgnine spends most of the movie going so over-the-top that you can’t see bottom anymore. Maybe it’s because the movie’s promotional tagline is so grammatically incorrect that I’ve been trying to decipher it for decades (“Heaven help us all when…The Devil’s Rain!” Huh? When the Devil’s Rain does what? Are you trying to say “when the Devils rain?” or “when the Devils reign?” Are you confusing your plurals and possessives?)

Or maybe it’s because some people don’t like to have fun, for crying out loud. Because this is one fun movie.

Re-hashing the plot won’t help anybody, so I’ll just say this: Ernest Borgnine is the reincarnation of a devil-worshipping warlock burned at the stake long ago, and he’s back (and holed up in a church in the desert) to obtain a book kept hidden over these many years by William Shatner’s family. There’s a Snowglobe of the Damned called “The Devil’s Rain” that contains the souls of those Borgnine has ensnared. There’s some pseudo-scientific gobbeldy-gook about ESP that brings Shatner’s extended family of Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert and Joan Prather into the mix. There are flashbacks to the burnings. There are lots of folks in black robes with no eyes (including John Travolta) running around doing Borgnine’s bidding. And maybe they’re made of wax or something because they all tend to melt.

Like I said: big chunks that don’t make a lick of sense.

Ernest Borgnine in THE DEVIL'S RAIN.

But what works in this movie, works like crazy. Fuest’s direction is—as always—stylish and visually fascinating. Don’t forget, this is the guy who directed THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, the Michael Moorcock adaptation THE FINAL PROGRAMME (aka THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH) and numerous episodes of THE AVENGERS. The guy’s got flash if he’s got anything. There’s a prevailing sense of dread cast over the entire film from its opening frames, with the stage being set by the opening titles presented over the hellishly hallucinatory artwork of Hieronymus Bosch. There’s the unique in media res opening that delivers the sense that we’ve been dropped into the movie after its first reel, leaving the audience disoriented as they try to piece together what’s happening. There’s Ernest Borgnine invoking the spirit of Satan and turning into a Baphomet-headed beast. There’s the presence of the High Priest of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey (ANTON FREAKIN’ LAVEY, people!) as both the film’s technical advisor and Borgnine’s High Priest, playing the pipe organ and sporting a diabolically groovy helmet for some reason. There’s fantastic makeup work from Ellis Burman, Jr. There’s an insanely great score by Al De Lory. And it ends exactly like it ought to end.

Let me say this: if this movie had been made in Italy, the horror community at large would be salivating over THE DEVIL’S RAIN like it was Edwige Fenech in STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (Italian exploitation fans represent!). But because of its familiarity—being ever-present on late-night TV, the drive-in circuit and relatively easy to get on home video through the years—it’s easily overlooked. Don’t make this mistake, dear readers! This movie deserves a re-evaluation and a re-appreciation. Much like Shatner’s career has developed a post-TREK rehabilitation, we should go back and give the Devil his due.

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

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Retro Review: Comparing Corpses: Two EVIL DEAD Go Head-To-Blood-and-Gory-Head!

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

THE EVIL DEAD (1981); Dir. Sam Raimi; Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker and Sarah York; Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

There’s such a hue and cry over the seemingly unending parade of remakes coming out of the Hollywood horror entertainment complex. It’s increasingly hard to approach one on its own terms without feeling like you’re betraying all that is good and true in this world. And when it comes to a beloved horror classic like Sam Raimi’s 1981 gorefest THE EVIL DEAD, the stakes are raised even higher.

But here’s the complication: THE EVIL DEAD has already been remade. Not once, but twice. The film’s plot was summarized and streamlined into the first quarter hour or so of 1987’s EVIL DEAD II, which was then subsequently summarized and streamlined into the opening segment of the series’ third film, 1992’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. Further complicating matters is the fact that THE EVIL DEAD is itself a remake. Raimi’s 1978 short film WITHIN THE WOODS was developed as a prototype horror film to draw investors, and it successfully led to Raimi raising the nearly $100,000 needed to develop a feature-length version of the short.

To be clear: THE EVIL DEAD is far from being some sacred, untouchable text. Not even Raimi sees it as being one, as he’s been futzing around with the same story since 1978. And even then it wasn’t that original an idea: though Raimi denies having seen the film prior to production, the storyline of THE EVIL DEAD is relatively close to that of the 1967-70 drive-in classic EQUINOX. Both involve scientists who have unwittingly opened a portal between this world and a demonic realm, a mysterious occult text and a handful of early-20s youths who visit the scientist’s cabin and wind up fighting off demons. It’s become such an archetypal setup that the “five kids in a cabin” trope is the basis for Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s ultimate meta horror-comedy, 2012’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

That being said, how does Fede Alvarez’s 2013 version compare with the 1981 model? Let’s take a look.

Both stories are superficially similar: a group of five kids in their 20s visit a remote cabin, wherein they stumble upon a mysterious tome, the NATURON DEMONTO, which contains passages intended to open a portal and summon demons to this realm. The spells are read aloud (in the original, played via a scientist’s tape recording; in the 2013 version, directly read from the book), and said demons are summoned. One by one, the five are picked off and controlled by the ancient evil called forth by the book.

The first thing you’ll notice as different is the film’s immediate stylization. In the original, there’s a sense of everything being normal until we get to the cabin. In the remake, a pre-credit sequence of sacrifice casts a shadow over the proceedings, and to reflect that, there’s a consistent color desaturation which gives everything a sickly pallor and darkens the tone of the film. While I miss the gradual move away from “reality” that the original possesses, the point stands that the remake is, well, a remake. We know that bad stuff is about to go down and we know where it’s located (and if you didn’t know, the establishing sacrifice informs you).

The second thing is a deviation from the original’s storyline that affects the audience’s relationship with the characters: in the original, Bruce Campbell’s Ash is part of an ensemble and emerges as the film’s lead over time. In the remake, Jane Levy’s Mia (a recovering drug addict who has chosen the isolated cabin as a place to detox) is quickly established as the film’s focal character. By announcing right out of the gate who the film’s protagonist is, the sensation at the original’s outset that anybody could die at any time is somewhat lessened. We already know which character is established as the hero, but the question remains: how long will our hero last? Both films take their own path to establishing that question, but the original’s route creates more audience empathy. The remake’s approach results in a decrease in the sense of danger, meaning that no matter how many times the film pulls this rug out from under the viewer, the viewer is still inclined to think, “well, sure, but they can’t kill her; she’s the star!”

One thing in which both films succeed is the application of gore. Though budget kept the original’s prosthetic appliances looking like anything but prosthetic appliances, they made up for any shortcomings with a shocking amount of blood. And not just blood spurting from wounds, but from everywhere. And Raimi’s bravura direction pulled maximum shock out of every instance. Alvarez’s higher budget has resulted in more successful practical effects (he boasts that every effect was done on-set using practical effects, with CGI only used for touch-ups and more general uses such as manipulating the film’s color palette), and his insistence on not backing down from the original’s bloody reputation has resulted in this being quite probably the most gore-filled major studio film I’ve ever seen.

Bruce Campbell in the original EVIL DEAD. New Line Cinema, 1981. Available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Meanwhile, let me address something that I’ve seen crop up elsewhere in comparing the two: criticism that the 2013 film lacks the comedy of the original. The original film IS. NOT. FUNNY. Sure, there are one or two intentionally comedic moments in the first few minutes of the film as we follow our gang to the cabin. But the “splatstick” comedy that so many people associate with the EVIL DEAD franchise was something that popped up in the sequel, EVIL DEAD II. The first EVIL DEAD movie is every bit as serious about what’s going on as the remake. Got it? Good.

The main question, though, is this: does the film stand on its own two legs? I’d argue that it does, unequivocally. It does lack some of the sense of fun that the original had, particularly in its first half. But when the possession starts going and the blood starts flowing, it’s too easy to get caught up in the unbridled enthusiasm of the movie to not enjoy it from that point onward. Sure, there are plot holes and contrivances that might bring down any attempt to reason with the film, but in a movie like this, reason is the last thing you want to bring into the theater with you. The entire point of either film is to show what happens when reason can no longer be applied. And both films succeed and fail at showing that in probably equal amounts. And the remake might lack some of the bizarro flourishes that made Raimi’s film stand out that much more in that regard. But you can walk into this film not knowing of Bruce Campbell’s existence (I can’t imagine living such a life, but to each their own) and come away happy.

And I—knowing and loving the original, which I’ve probably owned more copies of in my life than any other film—walked away having enjoyed myself thoroughly. It’s a nice complement to the original, which it references enough to question whether it might be some kind of sequel: not only are the superficial elements in place (the cabin and the book, though the book has been redesigned due to copyright problems), but Ash’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale is still present outside the cabin. (Nerds like myself might chime in with “…but Ash’s car was transported through the portal to ancient Sumeria in 1300 at the end of EVIL DEAD II!” To which I award you the coveted No-Prize, and direct you to the lobby to collect it.)

The new EVIL DEAD equals the original in blood and gore. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2013.

It’s certainly the best of the recent crop of horror movie remakes. And while that might sound like damning with faint praise, it’s not intended to be. It works as both a celebration of the original and a successful horror film on its own. It doesn’t shy away from its visceral roots in order to deliver a PG-13 rating, or preemptively compromise itself so as to not invoke the MPAA’s wrath. Surprisingly, something this brutal made it through unscathed.

Five kids in a cabin. Deceptively easy to screw up. Thankfully, Fede Alvarez has kept things simple.

Blood simple.

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

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Third Time’s The Charm: Revival Stars, Legends and Rising Ingenues Add Spice to Southern Fried Burlesque Festival

Posted on: Mar 18th, 2013 By:

Stars both of the Burlesque Revival and of classic tease arrive in Atlanta this week for the third annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival Thurs. March 21-24 at  the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria. Bras off to Syrens of the South Productions, and in particular Katherine “Lashe” Neslund, with assistance from Ursula Undress, who had a dazzling dream to start a festival in Atlanta.As a lover of classic burlesque but appreciative of the creativity that revival performers show, ATLRetro has to say that the big evening shows at the first two SFBFs were among the best in Atlanta. We loved the chance to see some of the nation’s and Southeast’s best, including legends that sizzled stages in the ’60s and ’70s, without traveling to New York, the West Coast or the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Aspiring performers can take classes taught by these talents on topics ranging from costuming to performance to the history of the art form, as well as shop from a host of vendors selling everything from pasties to vintage items.

Just a quick glance at the line-up suggests this year will be just as good performance-wise, if not even better. First, we have to admit that we’re pretty excited to see Portland, Oregon’s Russell Bruner, reigning King of Burlesque, after getting a peek at him during our own Kool Kat Kitty Love‘s first Sultry Sunday of the year back in January. Male exotic dancers may be notoriously boring, but dressed in a pin-stripe seersucker suit, top hat and debonair moustache, let’s just say Russell wasn’t just sexy but sassy–really capturing the spirit of the tease in ways that most male dancers simply don’t. Of course, that underlines the essential difference between burlesque, or in this case “boylesque,” and striptease/exotic dance. Burlesque comes from vaudeville and variety and is all about having fun–which, well, they say gals love a guy with a sense of humor.

Russell Bruner

OK, yeah, that was a lot of getting hot and bothered about Russell. SFBF 2013 also features a bevy of lovely ladies. Friday night’s all-star Free Range Burlesque will be headlined by Miss Exotic World 2010 Roxi D’lite, who also stars in BURLESQUE ASSASSINS, a Canadian comedy/action indie feature film which will have its Atlanta debut at SFBF. Set in a 1950s Burlesque theatre, it stars top burlesque performers from around the world and and follows a trio of sexy super-spies as they seduce their way within killing distance of a trio of villainy hell bent on global Cold War domination. How can one not want to see a movie whose description provocatively teases: “WITNESS the fatal fan dance of Koko La Douce! BEHOLD the brutal boa striptease of Bombshell Belle! SEE Bourbon Sue, a bad girl with a taste for booze, boys and Rock & Roll. Experience the carnage and the cleavage as the enemies of The Burlesque Assassins discover that when it comes to these women, LOOKS CAN KILL!” Catch the trailer here.

Known for having the “mouth of a sailor” and the “voice of an angel,” Cora Vette will be on hand as pageant mistress of ceremonies on Saturday night. She performed for more than one million guests over three years as Tanya in MAMMA MIA! at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. She now runs a burlesque company called Black Box Burlesque and also has a troupe of male burlesque performers called Cora Vette’s Hot Rods. In fact, she may be one of burlesque’s most diverse talents, having also written two burlesque musicals, the critically acclaimed Victorian comic burlesque operetta, LEADVILLE OR BUST! and a pot opera called REEFER MANIA: DENVER’S GONE TO POT.

Cora Vette.

Notorious for her costumes, 2012 Southern Fried Burlesque Queen, Denver’s Orchid Mei, returns. She gracefully combines traditional Chinese dance with influences from classic burlesque femme fatales and has performed with the Dresden Dolls. Also back are last year’s best group, New Orleans’ Slow Burn Burlesque! Atlanta’s own lovely Talloolah Love and Knoxville’s Kisa Von Teasa will be featured performers at the Southern Scorcher showcase, hosted by Minette Magnifique‘s Baroness vonSchmalhausen which also includes Fonda Lingue, Ursula Undress and many more talented performers  from all over the Southeast!

late night Saturday. SFBF’s legends this year are Canada’s Judith Stein and Detroit’s Toni Elling, who will both be performing Friday. And that’s not even counting Atlanta’s New Orleans Jon, who emcees on Friday; all the way from Stockholm, Sweden, Adoria Amoria – if you had any doubt that the revival had reached Scandinavia; Knoxville’s Sweet Little Psycho Kisa Von Teasa, and many more.

Here’s a quick rundown of SFBF daily highlights:

Thursday March 21

SFBF kicks off with a happy hour mixer, which also will double as the monthly meet-up of the Atlanta Burlesque & Cabaret Club from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., then get a sneak peek at burlesque’s future stars at the Just Hatched Newcomers Showcase and watch the Atlanta premiere of BURLESQUE ASSASSINS at 10 pm.

Friday March 22

The festival teases into full gear with classes and vendors during the daytime, the Free Range International Showcase headlined by Roxi D’lite and featuring performances by local and national stars at 9 p.m. and an after-party at 11:30 p.m with music by Till Someone Loses An Eye featuring Kool Kat Aileen Loy and Good Golly Svengali.

Judith Stein.

Saturday March 23

Take classes and shop the vendors’ market during the daytime, then see some of the south’s and nation’s finest compete in the Southern Fried Burlesque Pageant, at 8 p.m. It’s hosted by Cora Vette with farewell performances by last year’s winners Orchid Mei and New Orleans’ Slow Burn BurlesqueThen close out the night with the Southern Scorcher Showcase at 11:30 p.m. featuring Talloolah Love, Kisa Von Teasa, Fonda Lingue, Ursula Undress and many more talented performers  from all over the Southeast!

Sunday March 24

Get your final shopping done and catch up with the performers before they leave town.

To purchase advance tickets and peruse the full class and event schedule with performer bios, visit www.southernfriedburlesquefest.com/. And for the latest updates and extras, be sure to friend SFBF on Facebook and follow on Twitter

All photographs are courtesy of Southern Fried Burlesque Festival and the performers pictured.

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From Robert Mitchum to The Fab Four: A Guide to Going Retro at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 15th, 2013 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The wait is over as the Atlanta Film Festival returns to screens today, kicking off 10 days of programming (March 15-24, 2013) for all the cinema junkies who need a fix (or merely a break from the cold wasteland known as March at the multiplex). As per usual, the festival is overflowing with content from new feature films, documentaries and shorts to seminars on the business and craft of filmmaking, and meet-and-greets around town. If you’re reading this, the safe money says that you’re looking for retro options, and as the title up there suggests, we’re here to oblige.  Here’s a quick guide to what’s retro at AFF this year, which by the way is headquartered at the historic Plaza Theatre.

Let’s start with the true retro bits of cinema history. The AFF is an Oscar-qualifying festival, so it caters primarily to new films, but a retro gem occasionally makes it onto the schedule. This year, you can get your fix at a must-see screening of THUNDER ROAD (1958). This Robert Mitchum moonshine exploitation flick is a ridiculously fun and culty movie, and it’s playing in its natural habitat at the Starlight Drive-In on Thursday, March 21 at 8:45 pm. There will likely be plenty of audience participation at the screening, and the same can be said of the THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), playing at two midnight shows on consecutive Fridays, March 15 and 22 at its home turf of the Plaza Atlanta, featuring the usual antics of the Lips Down on Dixie crowd.

The Plaza is also hosting an unusual new film with a connection to an odd relic of the early 80s. William Friedkin’s  CRUISING (1980) is something of an embarrassment today, a movie that purports to take a serious look at gay culture but winds up taking several ugly steps in the wrong direction. The cut released in theaters is bad enough, but rumors linger of a much-longer version containing 40  minutes of explicit gay sex and S&M material that would have taken the film to an X rating. The footage is lost, but actor and professional-insubordinate James Franco is teaming with director Travis Mathews to imagine that missing material and explore the nature of filming controversial, or even blatantly harmful, art in INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR, a piece of “docufiction” playing at the Plaza’s upstairs screen on March 21 at 9:15 pm, or directly opposite the THUNDER ROAD screening, so some choices are going to have to be made.

If you’re interested in new films with a retro angle, you’ll want to look out for the Australian film THE SAPPHIRES, an adaptation of a play (itself based on a true story) about a group of Australian indigenous women who become a singing group for the troops in Vietnam only a year after a referendum expanded indigenous rights. The film stars Chris O’Dowd, the funny cop from BRIDESMAIDS (2012), as the group’s manager and has a fairly awesome late-‘60s style soundtrack that’s already found a lot of success in its home country. THE SAPPHIRES is playing the Plaza’s upstairs screen on Sunday, March 17, at 6:00 pm. Moving forward a decade, the new Canadian film BECOMING REDWOOD orbits around a young boy in 1975 who decides to beat Jack Nicklaus at golf as a play to get his parents back together. The quirky dramedy was a big hit at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and  makes its Atlanta debut at 7 Stages on Saturday, March 16, at 2:45 pm.

If you’re into documentaries, consider OUR NIXON, a new doc assembled from an astonishing find of home movies shot by some of President Nixon’s closest aides, like H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. The FBI seized the Super 8 films as part of its investigation into Watergate, and they’re only now being seen by a public that long ago closed that chapter of American history. The footage is incredibly intimate and personal, showing a side of Nixon that’s literally never been seen before on film until now. OUR NIXON plays at 7 Stages on March 21 at 8:30 pm. For a hustler of a different variety, ICEBERG SLIM: PORTRAIT OF A PIMP presents a comprehensive look at the late pimp and author who helped illuminate a shadowy profession and redefine urban style and culture for a generation of young men. The Hughes Brothers once tried to mount an adaptation of Slim’s novel PIMP:THE STORY OF MY LIFE, but the project fell apart. Now producer Ice-T and his longtime manager Jorge Hinojosa bring Slim’s story to the screen. It arrives on Tuesday, March 19, at 7:15 on the Plaza’s main screen.

If you’re familiar with writer and all-around-badass George Plimpton, you know that his resume reads like one of those Most Interesting Man in the World commercials, which makes PLIMPTON! STARRING GEORGE PLIMPTON AS HIMSELF the world’s ballsiest documentary for attempting to fit the story of his life into a mere 86 minutes. They’ll give it a shot on March 23 at 10:45 am at the Plaza. Film nuts will also want to keep an eye out for CASTING BY, a new documentary about the hidden world of casting directors, and how some of the legends in the field helped to shape the film renaissance of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The doc unspools at the Plaza on March 20 at 7:00 pm.

Music lovers will want to look out for two documentaries that shed some light on a couple of major figures. GOOD OL’ FREDA tells the story of Freda Kelly, a girl who started working for a local band and then spent a decade as The Beatles’ fan club secretary” as they became the world’s biggest band. GOOD OL’ FREDA, a film that began life as a successful Kickstarter project, plays at 9:15 pm on March 16 at Druid Hills Baptist Church. Meanwhile, SCARRED BUT SMARTER tracks the career and roots of Atlanta indie rock band Drivin’ N Cryin’ with two screenings at the Plaza’s main screen on Friday, March 22 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, March 24 at 6:30 pm. There’s also an after-screening party happening at the Highland Ballroom, although AFF’s website isn’t clear about whether or not party access is covered in the cost of your movie ticket. Stay tuned.

There’s plenty more happening at the festival, so for further information and scheduling, definitely take a spin on the AFF’s official website. Frankly, it’s exciting to see the AFF fully embrace the city’s many retro venues this year. The Plaza has had a strong relationship with the festival, but 7 Stages, Goat Farm Arts Center and the Starlight are all a part now, making the fest feel even more closely tied to the pulse of the city and its growing film community. ATLRetro will be present at a bunch of screenings, so keep an eye out and introduce yourself! We’d love to hear from you. See you on the other side!

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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