Kool Kat of the Week: Atlanta Author Michael Wehunt Dishes on the Grotesquery That is Humanness and Ventures Out into The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, Saturday March 25

Posted on: Mar 21st, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Catch up with our Kool Kat of the Week, Michael Wehunt, and a plethora of other Weird and speculative fiction writers at the inaugural The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, crash-landing at Decatur CoWorks on Saturday, March 25, and proudly sponsored by ATLRetro. And eat, drink and exchange oddities with the writers during The Outer Dark Symposium Pre-Party at My Parents’ Basement, Friday, March 24, 8-11 pm, where you also can gather ‘round for readings by Michael Wehunt, our own publisher and bloggeress in charge Anya Martin (“The Un-Bride or No Gods & Marxists,” Eternal Frankenstein) and Selena Chambers (World Fantasy Award nominee for “The Neurastheniac,” Cassilda’s Song).

The Outer Dark Symposium is brought to you by The Outer Dark podcast and its host This Is Horror! and features eight hours of panels, readings and signings centered around Weird and speculative fiction. Admission will be limited to 50 attendees, but all programming will be featured on The Outer Dark. Other confirmed guests include Daniel Braum (Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales), Gerald Coleman (When Night Falls: Book One of The Three Gifts), Milton Davis (From Here to Timbuktu), Kristi DeMeester (read her ATLRetro feature here where she discusses her upcoming novel Beneath), John C. Foster (Mister White), Craig L. Gidney (Sea, Swallow Me and Other Stories), Orrin Grey (Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts), Valjeanne Jeffers (Immortal), Nicole Givens Kurtz (The Cybil Lewis Series), Edward Austin Hall (co-editor of Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond), Scott Nicolay (World Fantasy Award winner for “Do You Like To Look At Monsters?”), Kool Kat Balogun Ojetade (The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman: Freedonia), Eric Schaller (Meet Me in the Middle of the Air), Grafton Tanner (Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts), and Damien Angelica Walters (Sing Me Your Scars).

Wehunt, a transplant from North Georgia (just a stone’s throw from the Appalachians), has set up roots in the lovely urban weirdness that is Atlanta. His short fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance, The Dark, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu: New Lovecraftian Fiction, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction, among others. His debut fiction collection, Greener Pastures, was published in 2016, and he’s currently working on his first novel, which is sure to please the maniacal masses. ATLRetro caught up with Wehunt for a quick rundown on what inspires him to put pen to paper, his admiration for the truly bizarre and why you should always follow your dreams, no matter how weird.

(l-r) Gerald Coleman, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Anya Martin, Michael Wehunt

ATLRETRO: It’s the usual state of things for a writer, or any artist to be honest, to be pigeonholed into clear-cut tried-and-true genres. Your work has been described as horror, weird horror, sci-fi, all wrapped up in a bizarre Southern Gothic blanket filled with the strange and bizarre. What are the pros and cons of being classified in such a way? And do you feel it’s better to not quite fit in any specific genre?

Michael Wehunt: I definitely prefer not fitting into any one tidy box. It really depends on an author’s ultimate goal, however. Sometimes the best way to make a name for oneself and become commercially successful—often a pipe dream, but what else are dreams for?— is to willingly climb into that single genre box. Your brand, so to speak, can be conveniently labeled. In my opinion, the label on the box is for the readers, not the author. But mixing genres is wonderful, too, and can have its own rewards. I likely won’t ever be a chameleon type of writer, using a wholly different form each time out. Instead, I’m more focused on that section of the Venn diagram where all these different areas overlap and exploring what’s there. The convergence could be subtle here or it could be stark there. Ultimately, these elements all serve the same purpose.

We see that you’ve had a long (and hopefully torrid!) love affair with Flannery O’Connor, the mother of grotesque discomfort. What is it about her tales and her writing that inspires you the most?

Flannery O’Connor was my third literary love. I discovered Stephen King when I was 8 years old, then Poe shortly after. It wasn’t until early in high school that I was introduced to O’Connor—and later still to Southern Gothic in general— and all these years later I’ve yet to read an author who could find that seam between ugliness and transcendence so perfectly. There are other authors who write beautifully in a Southern voice—Carson McCullers!— but none like she did. She mined the deep-running spiritual power of the South and smelted it with the grotesquery of petty humanness, and horror, black humor, and great beauty emerged in her work. Much later—only a handful of years ago, in fact—I would immerse myself in weird fiction and discover another love of my life. Robert Aickman and Algernon Blackwood, alongside contemporary authors such as Lynda E. Rucker and Laird Barron, showed me that O’Connor had been frequently writing a sort of weird fiction, though she was never credited with such. The only difference was that the spirituality in her work was the sort that America embraces, and it was all the more powerful to show what was under its rock while still remaining devout. The same cosmic strangeness is often right there in her books—why would we think our minds can fathom God with a capital G, after all—and this only deepened my love for her…and, yes, made it more torrid.

Stereotypically, the south, or “southerners” to be exact, is known the world over for its ability to bury deep dark secrets while flaunting its ignorance with a discomforting ease. How important would you say is the written word when it comes to exposing societal atrocities and do you think it is a writer’s duty to bring about change through their published works?

The South has a large closet filled with skeletons, to be sure, and the metaphor is uglier than it would be in most other cases. Not only have slavery and the foul mistreatment of Native Americans been largely papered over in our history books—not ignored, of course, but spruced up to look less unattractive—but poverty and the machine that perpetuates poverty bring out the worst in people sometimes, and a fierce sense of piety and Southern pride can sweep these things under the rug with a defiant pride. The word “demure” comes to mind. That rug has been peeled back even more in recent years. Not just in the rural South but in other analogous areas of the country. And things are squirming in the light. Fiction can be escapism, pure and simple. It can be socio-political in a direct way or in an indirect way. It can focus on philosophy and ideas. It can examine what it means to be human, with all a human’s transcendence and trappings. It can be one of these things or it can be all of these things at the same time. The best of it makes you think about the world without really letting you know it’s doing so, and in that way, change can come simply by engaging the reader with the self and then with the world around them. I know that much of my worldview (and self-view) came from reading dark fiction, and it’s no coincidence that compassion and kindness are the things I seek out in a political candidate or organization or friend.

Your debut collection, GREENER PASTURES, was published in 2016. Can you tell our readers a little about the collection and what inspired you to put together these particular tales in one grouping?

Greener Pastures contains 11 of my favorite short stories as of late 2015; those I felt worked the best together to carry a general theme while also providing just enough variety in subject matter and tone. When they were all together, I realized how prominently trees figure into my work, something I’d never truly noticed before. They’re everywhere, either in the foreground or background, but this was mostly accidental. Less accidental was the theme of loss. There are a lot of stories here that deal with various shades and types of loss, and how people cope with it. Write what you fear, they say, and that’s exactly what I fear. But I wanted a variety of moods and voices to bear these losses and keep things interesting for the reader. And, of course, a variety of darkness, including some good old-fashioned terror. In the end, I would say most of these stories speak from and of the human heart. There’s nothing suppler and earthier than humanity. I plan to dig in that dirt as long as people will let me. I’ll do my best to scare and unsettle them while I’m at it.

We’re also excited to see that your story, “October Film Haunt: Under the House” is featured in THE YEAR’S BEST DARK FANTASY & HORROR 2017 collection. Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write this story and what it means to you to be a part of this collection?

Thank you! This will be my second time in Paula Guran’s yearly best-of-the-dark-stuff anthology, and I feel very grateful and fortunate for that. “October Film Haunt: Under the House” is an interesting and special story for me. It has two origins: The first is that I wanted to write a love letter of sorts to horror and weird fiction fandom. Four guys from different walks of life who met at a fan convention and found a common passion for horror films take a road trip once a year to the setting of a famous scary movie, documenting their findings and sensations. Since I’m a sucker for the found-footage genre of horror (à la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), I wanted to try my hand at translating this medium into the written word, only switching into video camera mode when the story earned it. But I also wrote it specifically as a reaction to the majority of my work dealing with, as alluded to above, emotion, grief, and the joys and pains of being a regular person. I wanted no complex back-story, no real character development…just pure, unadulterated terror and craziness. It was a lot of fun to write, and I think it really did turn out to be a love letter.

You’ve made it very clear that “flesh and blood” characters are of utmost importance in your writing. What do you mean when say you write these types of characters and why are they important to you and your writing?

It’s crucial to have relatable characters that the reader—and the author—can easily imagine off the page. Even in the story I just discussed, “October Film Haunt,” in which I consciously stayed away from the importance of character arcs, the reader still has to care about the characters, what they do, and what they gain or lose. Antagonists, antiheroes and even the henchmen who die in the second scene should feel like real people…except, since this is horror we’re talking about, when they’re not actually people at all. When a story focuses on character and seeks a “depth,” that flesh and blood is all the more important. There’s no point in hanging curtains if there’s no window.

Short fiction and short fiction collections seem to be taking the stage and leading the charge, especially within the realm of Weird fiction. What do you think is it about the short story or novella that draws the Weird writing crowd?

Since Weird fiction relies primarily on the unknown intruding upon the known world—to simplify things—it can be difficult to sustain that sense of uncanny dread across the length of, say, a 90,000-word novel. Ambiguity is often the bread and butter of the Weird; that sense of awe and uncertainty is important to carry the fiction’s effect beyond reading. This isn’t to say there are no Weird fiction novels. It’s just that the ratio is skewed more toward its effectiveness as a short form. Horror typically works better than Weird fiction in novel form because its monsters are most often explained. There’s a clear path and intent: figure out the monster so that you can survive it. In Weird fiction, the “monster” is sometimes so inscrutable and vast (the universe itself or something so alien that the human mind can’t truly process it) that over the course of a novel, it becomes difficult to get away with that inscrutability. I also feel that short fiction is making a comeback in its own right, which is a wonderful thing. The novel is important, but there’s absolutely no reason for it to claim such a vast majority of the reading public. Short fiction can paint moods and tones and use forms and structures the novel simply cannot.

Speaking of the Weird writing crowd, you are scheduled to be a guest at the inaugural The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird this weekend (March 25). Anything special planned for this event?

My plans are essentially the same as with any other convention: go and have fun. We’re having a dinner with readings the night before the Symposium. It’s at 8:00 p.m. at My Parents’ Basement in Decatur, and though there is limited seating, it’s open to the public. And we are looking for weird and creepy things to do on Sunday, too, before everyone ships out. The best part of any convention is meeting and hanging out with people I usually only know on social media. They’re like family.

Any interesting stories on how you discovered Weird fiction and what specifically drew you to this particular group of writers?

It’s interesting to me—and a little embarrassing—how late I came to Weird fiction. I read horror as a kid but for some reason never explored it much beyond Stephen King. I have no idea how different I would have turned out if I’d stuck with it beyond my teenage years. But the darkness never left. I found it in other things. And when I finally, too many years later, decided I couldn’t put off trying to write fiction anymore, I reread some Stephen King stories and bought a copy of Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Volume Three just based on Amazon browsing. The latter book was a revelation to me. I discovered Laird Barron, John Langan, Tanith Lee, Stephen Graham Jones…it was a door opening, and soon I was an addict. These people thought about fiction the way I did, and I had no idea! I wrote my first story soon thereafter, and ever since I’ve been trying to pretend I knew about this stuff all along, even after admitting in interviews that I didn’t.

Do you have any advice for those writers just starting out?

There’s a post on my blog called “On Turning Five.” I wrote it last year to share my thoughts about what I felt was the first chapter in my career. It goes into more detail than I can here, but I shared six bullet points that I think are important for a beginning writer: talent (you gotta have some of that); time (use what you have and don’t worry if others have more of it); wisdom (rely on your own, seek others’); kindness (support other authors, pay it forward); persistence (keep doing it, keep fueling the fire of your passion to write in any way you can think of); and resiliency (there will be a lot of rejection—it’s as important a part of the reality as success is).

Can you fill us in on what you’re currently working on? And where can our readers get their hands on your published works?

I’m currently in the middle of my first novel. There’s some weird fiction, some horror, some literary sensibilities, and some ore from other mines. I have that Venn diagram taped over my desk with a thumbtack pressed into the center. As for my published works, my novella, “The Tired Sounds, A Wake,” has sold out forever, sadly, as it was a limited-edition pressing, though it will live again down the road in my next collection. Greener Pastures is available through Apex Book Company or Amazon and other online retailers. My blog has links to all my stories that aren’t in the collection as well.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be reading, watching or listening to right now—past or present, well-known or obscure?

Reading: Julian Barnes’ novel The Sense of an Ending. I’m reading it for the third time right now. It’s a very short literary novel that takes an uncomfortable look at memory and its reliability, both intentional and unintentional. Beautiful and unsettling. There’s a film version coming out soon, so now would be a good time to discover the book. Watching: I’m terribly behind on films. These days my partner and I are watching The Golden Girls in its entirety, and I’ve been having fun reliving my childhood—it was the last show my grandmother and I watched regularly together— and coming up with fake occult theories about Sophia and the girls. Listening: Mica Levi’s film scores. I listen to a lot of ambient, drone, and classical, and Levi’s work for recent films is wonderful to write to. UNDER THE SKIN and JACKIE are both great and very different from each other.

And last, but not least, care to share anything weird and bizarre we don’t know about you already?

This isn’t particularly weird, but I used to have a fairly profound fear of public speaking. For some reason, back in 2010 I got it into my head that I wanted to try amateur standup comedy, which is pretty much the opposite of what I do now. I did it three open-mic performances. It was utterly terrifying but fun—I can clearly remember the swelling panic in my chest—and I’m convinced it was the first step toward writing fiction, which was my other big fear. And while I still have that old fear of public performance in me, it did wonders for it, and it made me an advocate for those scared to put themselves out there: Just do it. Follow your dreams no matter what shape they ultimately take. You’ll be glad you did.

ATLRetro is proud to be a sponsor of The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird on Saturday March 25.  Attending memberships to the symposium are $25 and limited to 50. A few are still available at press-time. Contact atlretro@gmail.com. There’s also a pre-party with author readings on Friday March 24 at My Parents’ Basement in Avondale Estates from 8-11 pm.

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Rockin’ Retro Guide to Dragon Con 2015

Posted on: Sep 3rd, 2015 By:

dragonconBy Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

As the famed pop culture extravaganza that is Dragon Con takes over downtown Atlanta once again this Labor Day weekend, one has to think: where to even begin? In between countless meet and greets, discussion panels, vendors, and amazing cosplays to ogle at, it seems impossible to do everything Dragon Con has to offer in just four days. ATLRetro is here with our top picks to help you get your nerdy Retro fix without short circuiting from overstimulation.

GUESTS

carollspinney_2CAROLL SPINNEY. The legendary muppeteer behind everyone’s favorite SESAME STREET resident, Big Bird, will be speaking at the Imperial Ballroom in the Marriott Marquis Atlanta on Saturday at 2:30 P.M.  This is a must-do for any con-goer, child or adult, that grew up with Big Bird and his neighbors.

PETER MAYHEW. With STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS approaching at near-light speed, the hype for the new film has reached peak levels. Be at the Mariott Imperial Ballroom Sunday at 4:00 P.M. to hear Peter Mayhew, the actor behind beloved Chewbacca, talk about the new installment in the saga and his experience appearing in all three STAR WARS trilogies.

brianBARRY BOSTWICK. If you’re one of many that have spent weekends past midnight with Dr. Frank N Furter and freinds, you’ll definitely want to make your way over to the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Friday at 1:00 P.M. to catch up with Barry Bostwick, aka Brad Majors, from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), and see why he  was compelled to audition for the film. Also catch him at Lips Down on Dixie’s live performance accompanying RHPS at 1:30 A.M. on Sunday in the Hyatt Centennial Ballroom.

TERRY JONES. Terry Gilliam has been a guest at a couple of DragonCons. Now we get the other Monty Python Terry. What’s he best known for? Well, here’s a hint: “Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!” Here him share his Python memories and more on Sunday at 11:30 A.M.. and he presents Terry Jones: A Very Naughty Boy Live!” about the making of LIFE OF BRIAN (1979) on Monday at 10 A.M., both in the Sheraton Atlanta’s Grand Ballroom.

300208_271920342839242_789821841_nCOMIC & POP ARTIST ALLEY

DEREK YANIGERIf the art of perpetual Kool Kat Derek Yaniger looks familiar, it’s probably because you can see it at the top of this article. Derek designed ATLRetro’s fabulous logo. Stop by his booth to get your fix of rockabilly, tiki and more in a sea of fantasy and steampunk.

PANELS

2001THE HISTORY OF PULP FICTION. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, adventure, noir. They all appeared in the pages of pulp magazines so it makes sense that Pulp Fiction has its own panel. Join fellow pulp lovers in a discussion of Pulp’s fascinating past and exciting future. (Sun. 10 AM; Augusta 3, Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel)

PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE: WE KNOW YOU ARE. There is perhaps no movie that is quite as quotable as Tim Burton’s classic PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985) With a reboot rumored to be in the works, be sure to celebrate  the original on its 30th anniversary. Tell ‘em Large Marge sent ya! (Sun 10 PM; M303-M303, Atlanta Marriott Marquis)

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY REUNION. Since its premiere in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic has bewitched viewers of all generations. Two of the film’s stars, Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, reunite to reminisce on the unbelievably unique experience they had performing in this landmark film. (Fri. 1 PM, Sat. 5:30 PM; Grand Ballroom East, Hilton Atlanta)

CHRISTOPHER LEE & LEONARD NIMOY: CLASSIC SCI FI LEGENDS. 2015 saw the loss of two of the most talented actors the Sci-Fi and Horror genres have ever known. Join other fans to celebrate the lives of Leonard Nimoy and Sir Christopher Lee, whose contributions to pop culture will never be forgotten. (Sat. 5:30 PM; M303-M304, Atlanta Mariott Marquis)

hieberCTHULHU: NEW SPINS ON OLD MYTHOS. Everyone’s favorite Elder One has resurged in popularity in the past few years, and it looks like it is here to stay. Stop by to hear the experts explain how and why Cthulhu “works” in today’s world of pop culture, and where he’s headed in the years to come. (Fri. 7 PM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

EXPLOITATION! In what might end up being the most entertaining and liveliest panel at Dragon Con, panelists and fans will gather to celebrate exploitation and cult films and all the revelry they bring. A late night panel for a late night crowd. (Fri. 10 PM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

HISTORICAL HORROR. ATLRetro’s own Anya Martin will be moderating this panel, which will discuss and analyze the role history plays in horror fiction and how historical settings can bring new life (or death) to a story. Other panelists include Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Leanna Renee Hieber, Kenneth Mark Hoover and L. Andrew Cooper. (Sun. 11:30 AM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

PARTIES

9.6(2)PIN UPS BY THE POOL. Who doesn’t love mermaids? Come see Dragon Con’s finest sea sirens compete for the grand prize, and join in on the fun by channeling your inner pin up for some poolside glam. (Fri. 8:30 PM; Sheraton Atlanta)

SUITS, SINATRA & STAR WARS. In wonderful Dragon Con fashion, two fabulous themes (the STAR WARS saga and the Rat Pack) have been combined to create what promises to be a swingin’ night for all. Dancing with a wookie to a Sinatra song is the best kind of night one can have, after all. (Fri. 10 PM; A601-A602, Marriott Marquis Atlanta)

MONSTER MASH FOR CHARITY. Halloween may be over a month away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break out your Dracula fangs and Frankenstein bolts early. And the best part of this classic monsters graveyard smash? It’s all for a good cause! (Fri. 10 PM; Regency VI-VII, Hyatt Regency Atlanta)

MECHANICAL MASQUERADE. Go really retro Steampunk style at the Artifice Club‘s annual four-hour bash, orchestrated by Kool Kat Dr. Q and always a Dragon Con highlight. The theme this year is “Dystopia A Dark Future to Remember.” ( Sun. 10 PM;Peachtree Ballroom, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

BURLESQUE

9.5(2)DRAGONCON BURLESQUE: A GLAMOUR GEEK REVENUE-Burlesque is a Dragoncon staple; no Labor Day weekend would be complete without at least one show. Stay up late Saturday night to get a chance to check out Kool Kat Taloolah Love and the rest of the lovely ladies and mayhaps lads, too, of D-Con burlesque; they’re sure to put on a show that brings down the house. (Sun. 12:00 AM; Reg. VI-VII, Hyatt)

To check out the complete Dragon Con schedule, download the Pocket Program and/or app at www.dragoncon.org

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A Spooktacular Spectacle! The Weird! The Wacky! The Horrifying! Our Top Ten Retro Reasons to Go to the 25th Annual WORLD HORROR CONVENTION

Posted on: May 5th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew 5.8WHC
Managing Editor

Get horrified, literary-style this weekend at the 25th Annual World Horror Convention, this year presented by the Horror Writers Association (HWA), haunting Thursday-Sunday May 7-10 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis! Guests of Honor include legendary bestselling horror author and Marietta local, John Farris; author Kami Garcia (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES); author Christopher Golden; author Charlaine Harris (TRUE BLOOD); author Lisa Tuttle; and Godzilla artist extraordinaire Bob Eggleton, as well as toastmaster Jonathan Maberry and over 150 more writers, editors, filmmakers, publishers, and artists! This year’s World Horror Society’s 2015 Grand Master has been awarded to William F. Nolan, co-author of the novel LOGAN’S RUN, and it’ll be presented with awards for the year’s best in horror fiction Saturday night at the HWA’s Bram Stoker Awards Banquet!

World Horror Con is held in a different location every year, so we think it’s pretty spooktacular that the 25th anniversary con is back in the Monster Kid Capital of the USA. The 1995 and 1999 WHCs were also in Atlanta.

Here are our 10 scariest retro reasons to get downtown.

1) 25th ANNUAL WHC CREEPY COSTUME BALL! Kool Kat Shane Morton, a.k.a. ghost host with the most, Professor Morte and the Silver Scream Spook Show will have you shakin’ in your boots during the Creepy Costume Ball, Friday, May 8! Slither on down for this spooky spectacle which will have you monster mashin’ it up with DJ Extreme Gene and more at the creepiest party of the year! $100 cash prize for best costume, $50 for second place and a free Bram Stoker Awards banquet ticket for third. Party begins at 8:30pm and will rattle your bones through 12:30am!

2) MASS AUTHOR SIGNING! Come one, come all (free and open to the public) to the Mass Author Signing on Friday, which will be bookin’ it from 6:30-8pm! This is an event you won’t want to miss, because you’ll get the chance to catch more than 100 of your favorite horror/spec-lit/weird fiction (and more!) authors, including John Farris, local legendary author and all the other Guests of Honor; Grand Master William F. NolanJack Ketchum, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and author of such novels as THE GIRL NEXT DOOR; renowned SF/F/H editor Ellen Datlow; New York Times bestselling splatterpunk pioneer and bizarro author John Skipp; Weston Ochse, author of SEAL TEAM 666, which is being developed into a major motion picture starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; Shirley Jackson Award-winning author Nathan oconnor-wise_bloodBallingrudScott Nicolay, author of ANA KAI TANGATARue Morgue magazine’s Best Fiction Collection of 2014; many Bram Stoker Award-winning and nominated authors such as Yvonne Navarro, Usman T. Malik, Damien Angelica Walters and Stephen Graham-Jones; our very own wickedly weird kool kitten, ATLRetro publisher Anya Martin; and we kid you not – about 100 more! Atlanta’s Eagle Eye Books is the official bookseller of the WHC, and will be located in the Dealers Room, so stop by and pick up books by your favorite attending author to sign this weekend!

3) THE WEIRD SOUTH. Dig deep into horror’s heritage in Southern Gothic literature, with dark panels galore! On Friday, May 8, you won’t want to miss Voices of the Mountains: Manly Wade Wellman and Karl Edward Wagner at 9 pm, exploring the two pioneers of Southern Horror. The A Good Horror Isn’t Hard to Find: The Dark Side of Flannery O’Connor and Southern Gothic Lit panel gets grotesque Saturday, May 9, at noon!

4) FANGTASTIC FILM!  With the support of Atlanta’s own Buried Alive Film Festival (Nov 21-22, 2015) and the Tabloid Witch Film Festival, this year’s film program will spotlight some of the most exciting short and feature films created by Georgia and Southern filmmakers, as well as will showcase recent works by other attending professionals and exciting shorts from around the world. Freaky Friday includes Kool Kat Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures discussing his recent documentary endeavors surrounding Jeff Burr’s FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987), with exclusive clips from the documentary and giveaways, during The Night(s) Indie-Horror Came to Georgia: An Hour With Daniel Griffith on Friday at 2pm! Get brutal and exploited during a screening of Kool Kat James Bickert’s throwback to ‘60s/’70s exploitation films, DEAR GOD! NO! (2011) is a bloody ruckus at 3pm, with an introduction by Prof. Morte! And stick around for the Filmmakers Lounge at 5pm, where you’ll get to witness film shop talk and learn the fun parts of making horror films! Sinister Saturday brings you a screening of Jason Brock’s THE ACKERMONSTER CHRONICLES (2013), revisiting the life and times of mega-fan Forrest J. Ackerman at 9am (includes a dear-god-no-posterQ&A with filmmaker and William F. Nolan)! Spend an hour with “Fun Boy” Michael Massee (THE CROW) at 11 am! Get sinister during Skipp’s Saturday Sinema Funtime featuring screenings of John Skipp and Andrew Kasch’s AN HONEST MISSTAKE (2014), Izzy Lee’s POSTPARTUM (2015) and Gigi Saul Guerrero’s EL GIGANTE (2015), beginning at noon! At 1pm, the Buried Alive Film Festival and Kool Kat Blake Myers, present Ryan Lieske’s ABED (2011), based on the Elizabeth Massie story and produced by Atlanta’s own late Philip Nutman (WET WORK, Fangoria), followed by their screening of Kool Kat Eddie Ray’s SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (2014) at 2pm. And finally, the Buried Alive Film Festival presents Its Bloody Best, a block of the best shorts screened at past Buried Alive Film Festivals, at 3pm! And stick around for the Filmmakers Lounge where talking shop never gets dull, at 5pm!

5) MULTI-CULTURAL WORLD HORROR. What’s more fitting when exposing the diversity in the dark underbelly of spec-lit and horror than doing so in the city that was the center of the Civil Rights Movement? Catch Different Visions: African-American Spec-Lit from Afro-Futurism to Beloved on Friday, at 1pm, and get a peek through the lens of the African-American experience from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to the first black president! On Saturday, May 9, you won’t want to miss Pushing the Diaspora Darkly: Horror from Multicultural Perspectives at 1pm, which explores diversity and an emerging global view of spec-lit and horror as it moves into the 21st century with a new generation of writers from different cultural backgrounds.

6) WHC LIFETIME ACHIEVMENT AWARD RECIPIENTS.  This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipients are Tanith Lee, author of more than 90 novels across the entire spectrum of speculative literature; and Jack Ketchum, author of 32 books to date, with five of his novels making their way to the big screen [The Lost, The Girl Next Door, Red, Offspring and The Woman]. Celebrate Tanith Lee’s achievement during Dancing With Darkness: A Tribute to HWA Lifetime Achievment Award Winner Tanith Lee on Friday, at 10am! And you won’t want to miss the HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Interview: Jack Ketchum at 2pm, Friday!

The-Girl-Next-Door-2007-37) H.P. LOVECRAFT IN THE 21st CENTURY.  Learn about Lovecraft’s legacy in modern horror fiction, which has been cemented for more than half a century in his Cthulhu Mythos and his exploration of cosmic, existential horror. More recently, the tentacles of Lovecraft’s more troubling legacy—as a voice for some of the last century’s most vile expressions of racism and xenophobia—have found their way into the center of the discussion of his work, so creep on down, Friday at 3pm for the H.P. Lovecraft in the 21st Century: The Problematic Legacy of the Great Old One of Horror and the Weird panel!

8) THE STEPHEN KING HOUR. Are you Stephen King’s biggest fan? If so, you won’t want to miss The Stephen King Hour at 5pm on Friday, and catch the experts discuss the most important horror writer of this generation! (One lucky contest winner will get the chance to sit on this horrorific panel!)

9) READINGS, READINGS AND MORE READINGS! What’s better than reading the works of this century’s wickedly weird and catastrophically creepy writers, who have reaped what our horror forefathers of yore, sowed many murderous moons ago? Why, getting the chance to experience the horror spewing from their own lips! Friday, May 8, brings you readings by Charlaine HarrisWilliam F. Nolan (co-author of Logan’s Run and more), Kami GarciaUsman T. Malik, Joe McKinney, Nathan Ballingrud (North American Lake Monsters), Scott Nicolay (Ana Kai Tangata) and more! Saturday, May 9, brings you readings by Jack Ketchum; Christopher Golden, James A. Moore, Lisa Tuttle, Jonathan Maberry, Weston Ochse, Yvonne Navarro, Damien Angelica Walters, Molly Tanzer (A Pretty Mouth, Vermilion and more) and Jesse Bullington [The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, The Enterprise of Death and more]!

10) HISTORIC HORROR: FACT & FICTION! The written word has a way of bringing reality to life and vice-versa! Don’t miss out on a special presentation by Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great grand-nephew at 11am during the Bram Stoker / Dracula Travel Guide New Discoveries 11810429369_10202842198174817_2702201103170314613_n Years Later event, exploring his specialized travel guide surrounding Bram’s most famous novel, Dracula. Dacre’s one-hour PowerPoint presentation includes stunning photos of sites associated with Bram’s life in Dublin, his holidays in Whitby, Cruden Bay Scotland, Count Dracula and Vlad Dracula sites in Romania. At 2pm get monstrous during the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company’s presentation of “The Passion of Frankenstein” by Thomas E. Fuller. This classic radio theatre retelling of the classic story by Mary Shelley is sure to thrill and chill! And, what are the limits of horror’s human side? Catch the Horror’s Human Side: There Are NO Limits, Or Are There panel at 5pm, which explores Joyce Carol Oates’ take on horror fiction and realistic fiction, whether some subjects are too horrific to be horror, and what’s the line between realist literature and horror lit?

World Horror Con main hours are Thur. May 7 from 6 p.m. to midnight.; Fri. May 8 from 9 a.m. to midnight; Sat. May 9 from 9 a.m. to midnight; and Sun. May 10 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with parties going late into the night on Friday and Saturday. For more info, visit www.whc2015.org.

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One of Us! One of Us!: Monsterama Celebrates the Monster Kid Aug 1-3 in Atlanta!

Posted on: Jul 31st, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

For some poor souls, the term “monster kid” means nothing more than a particularly destructive toddler, or one of those teens raising hell on daytime talk show stages.

For the enlightened, however, there’s Monsterama.

Monster kids of all ages will soon descend onto Monsterama, a new horror and fantasy convention launching this weekend under the care of some of Atlanta’s most stalwart champions of the horrific and the macabre. And although the city may at times seem infested with horror-themed gatherings, Monsterama is aiming to capture more than just a piece of the action. “Though there were conventions that had horror-related programming, there wasn’t a show here that fully embraced the ‘monster kid’ aesthetic,” says Monsterama co-founder Anthony Taylor. Shane Morton, another key voice behind the convention and alter-ego of con guest Professor Morte, agrees. “Having attended the greatest cons ever conceived—Forry’s [Fantastic Monster] Cons of the mid-90s—I find it hard to be impressed by any recent horror, sci-fi, or fantasy shows. We have tried very hard to capture the feel of those shows, albeit on a smaller scale, and to provide a family friendly alternative to the current debauched cons.”

“Forry,” for the uninitiated, is Forrest J. Ackerman, the late founder of the seminal monster movie magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. Ackerman’s impact on American horror and science-fiction fandom is surprisingly easy to quantify—it wouldn’t be out of line to say he’s the father of it all. Ackerman and his partner James Warren created Famous Monsters in 1958 in response to a glut of horror movies beaming into American living rooms. Because horror and sci-fi films were considered disposable and unimportant in the shadow of studio prestige pictures, these old programmers were cheap to acquire and broadcast for television stations, exposing them an entire generation of new fans. Through the magazine, conventions and other outreach, Ackerman helped these kids find one another in the days before chat rooms and sub-reddits, when the world was truly a lonely place for a kid who knew more about rubber suits than car engines or home economics.

But what really made Ackerman’s brand of horror fandom so special was his unabashed, undiminishing love of the genre and all of its tropes. No matter how many monsters wreaked havoc on the screen, Ackerman and his monster kids never lost their “gee-whiz” enthusiasm, which in turn bred more enthusiasm. It’s this atmosphere in particular that Taylor and Morton hope to recreate.

“I’ve been a monster fan all my life, and I knew Atlanta was full of folks like me,” writes Taylor. “I’d see them at Silver Scream Spook Show screenings, DragonCon and other events.” Monsterama aims to capture that audience by filling the con with irresistible programming for the monster-initiated. The guest list is populated with names from all eras of horror cinema, including Veronica Carlson of Hammer Films fame; Larry Blamire, creator of the contemporary throwback cult favorite THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, and author and public speaker Victoria Price, daughter of Hollywood icon Vincent Price. On the literature side, writers like Brian Keene (THE RISING), James R. Tuck (DEACON CHALK) and comics author Dan Jolley (FIRESTORM) will shed some light on the author’s process. Rounding out the guest list are filmmakers like this week’s Kool Kat Daniel Griffith (LET THERE BE LIGHT), Atlanta voice talent C. Martin Croker (Adult Swim), artist Mark Maddox and professional ghost hunter Scott Tepperman. Check out the full guest list here.

[Full disclosure: ATL Retro editor Anya Martin is also a writer guest and may be found on a number of spooky panels throughout the con.]

For classic movie buffs, the events are possibly even more compelling. The convention boasts a selection of horror films screening in—oh, happy day!—16mm, which is where you’ll be likely to find this author if you need him at any point during the weekend. Other events include author Gordon Shriver performing his one-man show as Boris Karloff, local comedy troupe Cineprov riffing on the cult oddity EQUINOX, and the glorious return of the Silver Scream Spook Show as Professor Morte and his crew introduce the cowboys vs. dinosaurs classic, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. And that’s in addition to a museum of “rare monster and kaiju artifacts,” filmmaking panels, and photo ops. The full schedule of panels and events can be yours by clicking here.

Monsterama hasn’t forgotten that “gee-whiz” spirit that lies at the heart of every monster kid. Even Taylor himself can’t help but name some genre cornerstones when describing the show. “I hope that everyone who grew up loving KING KONG, GODZILLA, FRANKENSTEIN or the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON will come out and have a grand time celebrating with us,” says Taylor. Morton chooses to invoke another iconic figure. “I can guarantee that you will feel the ghost of Uncle Forry hovering over our haunted hotel this weekend! Don’t miss this show, it’s gonna be legendary!!!”

Monsterama begins on August 1 at 4:00 at the Holiday Inn Perimeter. Three day badges are $55. Single day badges for Friday or Sunday are $25, and Saturday single-day badges are $30. CHILDREN 12 AND UNDER ARE FREE.

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

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Kool Kat of the Week: Daniel Griffith, Local Filmmaker and Purveyor of All Things Cinematic and Obscure, Ballyhoos it up at Monsterama 2014

Posted on: Jul 30th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/Contributing Writer

Daniel Griffith, local award-winning filmmaker and founder of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, will be joining a sinister line-up of horrorific guests at the inaugural Monsterama Convention, founded by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend, friend and ATLRetro contributing writer, AnthonyTaylor, which will be creeping into the Holiday Inn Perimeter in Dunwoody this weekend, August 1-3! So, prepare for a ghastly weekend of ghoulish proportions!  Griffith will be joined by a guest list filled to the bloodcurdling brim with chillers like Victoria Price, daughter of Vincent; Hammer scream queen Veronica Carlson, director Jeff Burr, filmmaker Larry Blamire (LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA), Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Brian Keene, ATLRetro’s very own “Chiller-ess in Charge”, Anya Martin, Kool Kat Shane Morton, a.k.a. Professor Morte [see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Shane here], Kool Kat Madeline Brumby [see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Madeline, here] and so many more!  So, haunt on down to Monsterama this weekend and get your bones a’rattlin and your classic monster fix!

Griffith, purveyor of all things cinematic and obscure, and no rookie to the B-movie and classic horror genre, has produced and directed over 45 documentaries, with his company, Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, spanning a wide-range of film history, genres and subjects.  His documentary library is far too prolific to list them all, but in a nutshell he has directed and produced: THE BLOODIEST SHOW ON EARTH: MAKING VAMPIRE CIRCUS (2010), THIS ISLAND EARTH: 2 ½ YEARS IN THE MAKING (2013), [both will be screened at Monsterama this weekend], RETURN TO EDEN PRAIRIE: 25 YEARS OF MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000 (2013) and THE FLESH AND THE FURY: X-POSING TWINS OF EVIL (2012).  Griffith is currently in production on CELLULOID WIZARDS IN THE VIDEO WASTELAND: THE SAGA OF EMPIRE PICTURES, the official feature-length documentary delving into the rise and fall of Charles Band’s legendary Empire Pictures studio, known for cult films such as RE-ANIMATOR (1985), ZONE TROOPERS (1985) and GHOULIES (1985). His documentaries have gained him not only notoriety in the cult film arena, but also the 2012 Rondo Award for “Best DVD Bonus Feature” for his documentary biopic on Universal B-movie actor, RondoHatton, TRAIL OF THE CREEPER: MAKING THE BRUTE MAN (2011) and the 2013 Forrest J. Ackerman Lifetime Achievement Award.  Griffith is also the official documentarian for the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” DVD releases.

ATLRetro caught up with Daniel Griffith for a quick interview about his devotion to film history, from the greats to the barely-knowns, his desire to set a story to film and his trek into the deep dark cavernous minds of long ago filmmakers, plotting the map of film history.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with Griffith, take a sneak peek at an excerpt from his documentary, PSYCHO’S SISTER: MAKING THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL! (2013), delving into the history of the 1968 drive-in thriller!

ATLRetro: As a documentary filmmaker, you are foremost a film historian and avid preservationist, which is clearly evidenced in the wide variety of documentaries you’ve produced with your company, Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. In the grand scheme of things, why do you feel it is important to not only preserve, but also to share these stories?

Daniel Griffith: The media of the past serves as a type of looking glass or time capsule. It is the definitive visual representation of artistic achievement and human frailty. Therefore, it is important to have a documented record of how those works were created, if only to build awareness and preserve its shelf life. Selfishly, I became a documentary filmmaker to further understand the medium of cinema and television. To me, the film artisans of the past are the direct link to the motion pictures of the future. Studying and understanding their contributions was the BEST film school. But, as I moved from project to project, I began to recognize how many films and television series have drifted into obscurity. I guess I made it my responsibility to tell the story behind those works.

You seem to give a lot of love and respect to the underdogs, to the films and projects of yesteryear that never quite reached the level of success in the industry that the majority set out to achieve. What is it about these films, these filmmakers that magnetize you? That compels you to tell their story?

I never compartmentalize the films I document. To me, the least successful motion picture can have just as much value to an individual as the most revered or noteworthy. It is my duty as a film and television documentarian to change the way we look at the works of the past; to give each production an equal opportunity to share the spotlight. Who knows? A viewer may discover that the best stories of human triumph and creativity come in the cheapest, most misunderstood packages.

You’ve produced many bonus features and documentaries for Shout! Factory, Synapse Films and VCI Entertainment, etc. over the years, which has included a comprehensive peek into your fans’ favorite sci-fi, horror and ‘80s B-movies, westerns and a variety of retro filmmakers and film companies. Can you tell our readers how you became a documentary filmmaker?

It began with a simple challenge; to singlehandedly create a narrative and follow through with its execution. About eight years ago, I was developing one motion picture script after another. Slowly, a case of cabin fever set in. I was restless. I wanted to get out into the field and visualize a story on film. While discouraged, I revisited a wacky holiday episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000, entitled “SANTA CLAUS.” During the opening credits, a title card reading “K. Gordon Murray Presents” appeared on the screen. I thought to myself, “Who is this K. Gordon Murray guy, and why did he choose to distribute this surreal, Mexican children’s film?” In that moment, a documentary concept was born, and simultaneously the seed that would eventually become Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

The name “Ballyhoo” draws to mind a long list of whimsical, colorful and raucous shenanigans of the circus variety. What’s the story behind the name?

My company name and logo are comprised of several unique personal events. The logo itself dates back to my first exposure to the works of the cinematic showman, William Castle, and his film, HOUSE ON HAUNTEDHILL. The scream that accompanies the logo is the first scream you hear prior to the opening credits of that film. It was the scream that woke me up as a child when the film played on television. Utilizing it in the context is my way of saying to the viewer, “WAKE UP! The show is about to begin and you don’t want to miss it!” And the name Ballyhoo represents two of my passions; the energy found on the midway of any traveling carnival and the promotional tactics used on the motion pictures of the past.

As a guest on several panels at the first ever Monsterama Convention, including a Q&A session with Victoria Price, Vincent Price’s daughter, and a panel discussing documentary filmmaking, what do you hope to pass on to the eager ears of the convention-goers?

Well, for one, this is a great opportunity to learn more about one of the greatest actors of our time. Vincent Price was not only a celebrated actor in film and television, but he was also an accomplished cook, author, painter and art critic. While he is remembered for his chilling performances in the DR. PHIBES films, as well as William Castle’s, THE TINGLER and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, there was much more to him than the horror genre that sustained him.

Additionally, two of your documentaries [“The Bloodiest Show on Earth: Making Vampire Circus” (2010) and “This Island Earth: 2-½ Years in the Making” (2013)] will be screened throughout the weekend; two very different documentaries, but both created with the same amount of respect and enthusiasm for the subject matter. Can you tell our readers what your favorite experience was while making each and what you would do different, if you could go back and change anything?

Well, one of the greatest experiences I had working on all the Hammer documentaries, including VAMPIRE CIRCUS, was visiting the renowned Pinewood Studios in England. Filmmaker John Hough, who previously directed Hammer’s TWINS OF EVIL, gave me a private tour of the entire back-lot. This is the studio where most of the James Bond films where shot, the 1978 version of SUPERMAN, the first ALIEN film and Stanley Kubrick’s, FULL METAL JACKET, just to name a few. It was astonishing!

As a filmmaker, you are getting the chance to live out your dream every time you create and release your work into the world, a dream you’ve had since your early childhood. Any advice for the next generation of Kool Kids who long to dive head first into the land of imagination and cinematic storytelling?

Watch as many films as you can! Don’t be afraid to take chances on viewing films that are outside your comfort zone. Just because it’s black and white, or subtitled, doesn’t mean you will not enjoy it. Like an author with a library card, watching films is your first, best education.

Who would you say are the filmmakers that inspired you most?

There are simply too many to count. I continue to be amazed by filmmakers, past and present. I have always admired the way Orson Welles demands more out of everyone, including himself. I deeply admire the poetry found in every frame of a Sergio Leone film. Being a child of the ‘80s, I have always responded to the childlike sentiments found in almost every Spielberg film. On a more obscure note, I find the offerings of director Joseph H. Lewis strangely addictive. This list could go on and on and on…

In such a short amount of time, you’ve got 45-plus credits under your belt, releasing shorts to full-length documentaries, and have gained a following in the MST3K, B-horror and sci-fi circles, with a promise of more to come! Can you give our readers a hint of what’s next for Daniel Griffith and Ballyhoo Motion Pictures?

In a perversion of Al Jolson’s famous line, I’ll have to say, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” More Mystery Science Theater 3000 productions, for sure. I am currently in post-production on an epic documentary about the history of television’s most iconic series! However, unfortunately, I cannot divulge the title at this time. But, if you find me at Monsterama, I just may be persuaded to tell you.

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?

While attending the Monsterama Convention, you’ll have the opportunity to stop by the Ballyhoo Motion Pictures table to view original props from various B-movies of the past, as well as purchase EXCLUSIVE retro movie items!

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

From the offices of Warren Beatty: “Will you produce a documentary on the history of Dick Tracy?” The answer is, “I’m on my way!”

 

All photographs are courtesy of Daniel Griffith and used with permission.

 

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Really Retro: Sergio Leone Meets Norse Legend WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES at The Plaza & A Retrospective on Vikings in the Movies

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2013 By:

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (Iceland/Sweden 1984); Dir. Hrafn Gunnlaugsson; Starring Jakob Þór Einarsson; Sunday, June 23; 3 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Preshow presentation and weapons/crafts for sale by Sons of Loki; Sponsored by Scandinavian American Foundation of Georgia; $8 general admission, $6 for SAFG members; PG-13; violence; parents should exercise caution when bringing children; Trailer; Facebook event page.

By Anya Martin

Vikings may come from cold climates, but Dark Age Scandinavians are hot right now, at least on screen. The TV series, VIKINGS, was such a hit that The History Channel has renewed it for a second season. With promises of capturing the authentic violence of the Vikings in Dark Age Britain, HAMMER OF THE GODS (2013) hits theaters July 5. The main villain in THE AVENGERS (2012) was Norse trickster god Loki, and THOR: THE DARK WORLD, a second feature about that Norse-God-turned-Marvel-Superhero premieres in November. Even Mel Gibson supposedly has BERSERKER, a “real and visceral” Viking feature in preproduction.

In the midst of this seeming Viking fever, critically acclaimed Viking adventure movie WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (HRAFNINN FLYGUR) will get a rare return to the big screen at the Plaza Theatre on Sun. June 23 at 3 p.m. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES recounts an Irishman’s quest for revenge on the Viking raiders who savagely killed his parents and abducted his sister. Ancient Norse gods figure prominently in the plot, and the prerequisite violence ensues. However, the film is as much a Western in its structure as a mythological saga with striking visuals of the desert replaced by stunning cinematography of the unique Icelandic landscape. Director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson describes himself as a disciple of Sergio Leone, John Ford and Akira Kurosawa, and the influence of all three is apparent. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES is evocative of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, in that a mysterious stranger Gestur (Jakob Þór Einarsson) plays off tensions between Thor and Erik, the two brothers who lead the Viking band.

Poster for EMBLA, aka THE WHITE VIKING.

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES has won several awards, including being voted one of the outstanding films of the 1980s at the Tokyo International Film Festival and Gunnlaugsson winning the 1985 Guldbagge Award for Best Direction, the Swedish equivalent to the Oscars. It was also nominated for the 1986 International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film.The movie is the first of the Raven Trilogy, which includes IN THE SHADOW OF THE  RAVEN (Í SKUGGA HRAFNSINS, 1987) and EMBLA (2007), aka the director’s cut of THE WHITE VIKING (1991), which was originally edited by that film’s producers without Gunnlaugsson’s approval.

If the melding of real Viking lore and Leone couldn’t be cool enough, the screening will be preceded by a live weapons demonstration by the Sons of Loki. These contemporary Vikings will also be present in the Plaza Lobby before and after the movie with Viking handicrafts and weaponry for sale and to answer questions about Scandinavian culture in the Dark Ages.

Still over the history of Hollywood, Viking movies have been relatively rare, compared to other historic-based genres such as the Western or the sword-and-sandle epic. And good ones with any relevance to actual Viking culture even rarer. Therefore, at ATLRetro, we decided to dig a little deeper to excavate a brief saga of Norse-inspired cinema.

THE VIKING (1928).

The first appearance of Vikings on film that we could find was THE VIKING (1928), a silent that chronicles Leif Ericsson‘s journey to the New World. The costumes apparently are strictly Wagner, the weaponry inauthentic and the actual history tenuous, but Leif’s father enthusiastically slaughters Christians and Princess Helga has a sexy winged helmet and heavy black eyeliner.

Unfortunately, Hollywood didn’t return to the world of the Vikings until the 1950s when a sudden splash of features hit the big screen. The first, PRINCE VALIANT (1954), was based on the popular comics series, directed by Henry Hathaway (who would go on to direct TRUE GRIT[1969]) and starred a young Robert Wagner. It was a fun sword-and-sorcery romp with links to the King Arthur legend and the bonus that the sword actually sung, but the plot has virtually nothing to do with authentic Vikings. Always one to follow a trend as cheaply as possible, Roger Corman followed with THE SAGA OF THE VIKING WOMEN TO THE WATERS OF THE GREAT SEA SERPENT (1957). In this cheesy fantasy frolic, a young way-pre-FALCON CREST Abby Dalton leads a bevy of scantily clad Norse babes to battle a monster and rescue a missing man.

Then came THE VIKINGS (1958), the first actual epic Hollywood treatment starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh. Full of battles and striking cinematography in Norwegian locations, this romanticized story of two brother vying for a Welsh princess was directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA [1954]) and also benefitted from visual designs by Harper Goff, another 20,000 LEAGUES veteran as art director. Some time around then, by the way, was the only other Norse-inspired TV series, TALES OF THE VIKINGS, which ran about 19 episodes from 1959-60. Alas most of the footage is lost, but it lifted scenes and props directly from THE VIKINGS movie. You can hear the jaunty theme song here! Oh, wait, there was also the silly British children’s cartoon NOGGIN THE NOG which ran from 1959 to the mid-70s.

Italian giallo director Mario Bava (DANGER:DIABOLIK; BARON BLOOD) also tried his hand on two spaghetti Viking features, ERIK THE CONQUEROR (1961) and KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966) with American action hero Cameron Mitchell, who would go on to become best known as Uncle Buck in 1960s TV Western series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL. The first steals its tale of two brothers plot directly from THE VIKINGS, but is noteworthy for rich cinematography, strong action and dancing vestal virgins. California-based living history and educational group, the Vikings of Bjornstad point out in their wonderful Viking Movie List (see link at end), “This is a Viking-related movie. It’s 786 AD. The ships had red and white striped sails. Once in a while, someone yells “Odin!'” They go on to mention inaccurate costumes that even sometimes have clearly visible zippers, an “underground throne room left over from some Biblical Philistine movie” and a Viking village that seems to be made out of Lincoln logs. KNIVES OF THE AVENGER  is basically a spaghetti Western reset in the Dark Ages mixed with pirates, supernatural magic and lots of knife-throwing which the trusty Vikings of Bjornstad spare no punches to declare “Worst Viking Movie Ever!” As for Cameron Mitchell, maybe he aspired to be the Clint Eastwood of Italian Viking epics since he also starred in THE LAST OF THE VIKINGS (L’ULTIMO DEI VIKINGHI, 1961) and ATTACK OF THE NORMANS (I NORMANNI, 1962).

Charlton Heston is THE WAR LORD (1965).

In general, the 1960s weren’t good to the Vikings on screen, whether outright fantasy or not. THE LONG SHIPS (1964) is a lightweight adventure about a Viking quest for a golden bell in the Holy Land. Directed by Jack Cardiff, cinematographer of THE VIKINGS, and starring Richard Widmark as a Viking warrior and Sidney Poitier as a Moorish king, the movie is not really very Viking except for the presence of a long ship and round shields. But the action scenes nonetheless are amplified by lush Yugoslavian locations, and the titles were designed by Maurice Binder who crafted the Bond openers. Not surprisingly, Charlton Heston also did an obligatory stint as a Norman war lord in THE WAR LORD (1965) charged with defending his Duke’s land again Frisian invaders, who are costumed to look like Vikings, not a far stretch considering they came from near Denmark and were eventually conquered. Despite the stringy chainmail and Hollywood backlot locations, The Vikings of Bjornstad give this one a thumbs up, noting that Heston is well cast and it’s “one of the few films that touches on the differences between the Christian Normans and the pagans they ruled.” They also wouldn’t mind seeing a better update of another Hollywood film that had potential, ALFRED THE GREAT (1969), which starred David Hemmings as King Alfred and Michael York as Viking Chief Guthrum.

Britain’s Hammer Films, known for its high quality low budget horror, served up THE VIKING QUEEN (1967). The goofy plot is involves women wearing much too little to be comfortable in British climates, a Viking-Roman forbidden romance and a Brits versus Romans rebellion which evokes Celtic tribal queen Boudicca. Nobody obviously cared to check and see that Vikings didn’t raid the U.K. coast until long after the Romans had already left. Meanwhile, Danish film HAGBARD AND SIGNE (aka THE RED MANTLE/DEN RODE KAPPE, 1967)  transplanted a ROMEO AND JULIET storyline to two warring Viking families. Filmed in Iceland, Roger Ebert called it “a beautiful, lean spare film…the sleeper of the year,” and the Vikings of Bjornstad overall give it a thumbs up for aesthetics and action for the time.

Perhaps mercifully the long ships barely got unmoored during the ’70s, with the highest profile feature THE NORSEMAN (1978) sinking at the box office despite starring a hunky Lee Majors, at the peak of his SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN fame, with a Tom Selleck moustache as Greenland’s Prince Thorvald. It followed the frequent Viking movie plot of a journey to the New Land, in this case to free his father King Eurich (Mel Ferrer) who is imprisoned by Native Americans, and the brawny cast also included quirky character actor Jack Elam, then a Western staple; NFL stars Fred Biletnikoff and Deacon Jones, and Denny Miller (TARZAN THE APE MAN, 1959). Oh, lest we forget, Walt Disney action-adventure flick THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974) included a lost Viking colony.

In the ’80s, ERIK THE VIKING (1989) literally became a bad joke. Alas it was to be a Monty Python vehicle starring Graham Chapman, but while Terry Jones directed and John Cleese plays the villain, audiences just didn’t find it funny maybe because of the sheer unlikelihood of Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt and Imogen Stubbs appearing in even a satire of a Norse saga. Tim Robbins valiantly gave his best effort to star as Erik who ironically was tired of marauding and goes on a quest for a magic horn of peace.

Well, that’s in the English and apparently Italian speaking world of mainstream movies. In Iceland where Vikings actually lived, the 1980s produced a number of features that purported to be more authentic takes on Norse culture. The first was OUTLAW, THE SAGA OF GISLI (UTLAGINN, 1981), based directly on the Gisla saga. Then director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson embarked on WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES, the film which is playing at the Plaza and became the first installment of a Viking trilogy. Norway also produced THE LITTLEST VIKING (1989), a charming children’s tale about a daydreaming boy who seeks to end a feud with another clan. It apparently has lots of stunning fjord shots.

In the ’90s and 2000s, the mainstream Viking feature took a turn towards being more gritty and gory, allegedly to be true to the times or well, because, dark sells movie tickets. Several interesting ventures featuring high-profile directors and actors sailed onto the big screen. The first was ROYAL DECEIT (aka PRINCE OF JUTLAND, 1994), a supposedly period-accurate retelling of HAMLET starring Christian Bale as a sixth century Danish prince whose father (Tom Wilkinson) is murdered by a power-hungry uncle (Gabriel Byrne, who would be back in Viking robes as the surly old chieftain in The History Channel’s VIKINGS this spring). Of course, he has the hots for his hot mama (who else but Helen Mirren?!). The Vikings of Bjornstad like that the costumes, weaponry and sets are simple, hence probably more period accurate, but otherwise found it disappointing despite what would seem to be a strong cast. The European version is 17 minutes longer than the US/Region I DVD version.

THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999)

Next up is the uber-violent THE VIKING SAGAS (1995), directed by Michael Chapman, the cinematographer of Martin Scorsese‘s RAGING BULL (1980). It starred Ralf Moeller (TV’s CONAN, GLADIATOR) and was actually filmed in Iceland. Alas, the acting and script are not much, but it has a mythic quality with a magic sword – as much a must seemingly for a Viking movie as a medieval fantasy one – and more of an authentic look than most of its predecessors, actual Icelandic movies excepted.

And then THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999) nailed the look and feel of a Norse legend perhaps better than any Hollywood film that came before it. Originally titled EATERS OF THE DEAD and based on a Michael Crichton novel, it was meant to be a gory but realistic retelling of BEOWULF, but really more captured the spirit of a Robert E. Howard short story though its outsider hero, an Arab ambassador played by Antonio Banderas, was more spirit and intellect than Conan the Barbarian brawn. Unfortunately, director John McTiernan (DIE HARD, PREDATOR) was not allowed the final cut (the idea of a director’s version someday being released seems increasingly remote especially with McTiernan now in prison). However, enough of McTiernan’s vision remained that THE 13TH WARRIOR acquired a loyal fan following (including a high recommend from ATLRetro and an even better authority – the Vikings of Bjornstad).

Yeah, we are going to skip quickly over the disappointing PRINCE VALIANT (1997) – ATLRetro would love to see a PRINCE VALIANT that’s true to Hal Foster‘s wonderful comic which has been recently resurrected by masterful illustrator Gary Gianni, but this is NOT it. And no time is worth devoting to BEOWULF (1999) starring Christopher Lambert who at some point after GREYSTOKE did completely forget how to act. And the Vikings of Bjornstad say everything worth saying about BERSERKER: HELL’S WARRIOR (2004) in this phrase – “time-traveling immortal Viking vampires who wear sunglasses in discotheques…So overdone.”

The Vikings of Bjornstad rank Polish movie THE OLD FAIRY TALE (STARA BASN, 2003) as “the best Viking movie” for its historical accuracy. Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, who has been called Poland’s John Ford, the 9th century story revolves around a wicked Polish king and a Viking-raised hero. Apparently, Viking reenactment is big in Poland, which the Vikings of Bjornstad think may have contributed to it, first, getting made, and second, its high quality. Also well worth a view for its stunning Icelandic scenery and interesting take on the quintessential Saxon/Norse legend is BEOWULF AND GRENDEL (2005), starring a pre-300 Gerard Butler and featuring some of the best Viking era costumes of any film.

In South Africa-filmed low-budget BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (BLOOD OF BEASTS, 2005), Odin punishes a Viking princess (Jane March)  by trapping her in a castle with a beast. A Gallic bande dessinee hero finally gets big-screen treatment in the French animated comedy ASTERIX AND THE VIKINGS (2006) which seems to forget that Vikings weren’t around yet in AD 50. Robert Zemeckis‘s much-touted 3D BEOWULF (2007) honed so close to the original poem, probably thanks to Neil Gaiman being involved in the script, but yes, the animation even of beautiful Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s evil mother, is decidedly creepy.

PATHFINDER (2007) starred Karl Urban, who certainly looked mighty Norse as Eomer in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, as a Viking raised by Native Americans who ends up leading the tribe that raised him in battle against new Viking invaders. A crappy remake of a much better 1987 Norwegian movie, the story really comes from Lapland/Sammi mythology. Directed by Marcus Nispel (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [2003], CONAN [2011] ), it’s gory melodrama with lots of mist. The same year (2007) also saw the release of the more serious and well-reviewed SEVERED WAYS: THE NORSE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.

Jim Caviezel (THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) travels back from the future to 8th century Norway in  OUTLANDER (2008). Viewers who ignore that this mash-up of Norse mythology and sci-fi is light on history may have silly fun. It features both laser guns and swords, a monster, John Hurt as the old king, Sophia Myles as the prerequisite sexy princess and Ron Perlman as a gruff Viking with, let’s just say, poor manners.

And then there’s VALHALLA RISING (2009). Director Nicholas Winding Refn (DRIVE) spares no punches with the ultra-violence in which Christian Vikings and a mute slave (Mads Mikkelsen, HANNIBAL, CASINO ROYALE) headed for the Holy Land get blinded by fog  and end up in the New World. An article in Movie Fanfare on the “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See” (see link at end) perhaps put it best: “VALHALLA RISING plays like THE VIKINGS co-directed by Terrence Malick and Italian gore specialist Umberto Lenzi!”

And oh yeah, there was some movie about a Marvel super-hero named THOR (2011).

For more about Vikings in the Movies, check out the Vikings of Bjornstad’s Viking Movie List, as well as Movie Fanfare’s “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See.” 

 

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