Vampire Clowns, Buckets of Blood and ’80s Cult Movie Mayhem: An Interview with Mitchell Altieri, Director of THE NIGHT WATCHMEN, World Premiere at Buried Alive Film Festival Thursday Nov. 17

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2016 By:

night watchmenTHE NIGHT WATCHMEN (2016) Dir: Mitchell Altieri. Starring James Remar, Matt Servitto, Tiffany Shepis. Opening Night Feature, Buried Alive Film Festival. Thursday Nov. 17. 9 p.m. 7 Stages. $12. Trailer here. ]]

Put together vampire clowns, buckets of blood, four bored security guys and their corporate gal crush and a trippy ’80s-sounding soundtrack set in Baltimore and you have THE NIGHT WATCHMEN, which has its U.S. premiere Thursday night at 7 Stages as the opening feature of the 2016 Buried Alive Film Festival. Which is to say that we enjoyed the hell out of it.

We caught up with director Mitchell Altieri to go behind the coffins and see how something this crazy and retro got made in the 21st century. Oh, and what it was like working with James Remar of THE WARRIORS!

ATLRetro: How did you guys get the idea to mix clowns with vampires?

Mitchell Altieri: Hello Anya, thanks for having me at ATLRetro. When I was hired to direct the film, the script was already written. Ken Arnold and Dan DeLuca came up with the story and Dan and Jamie Nash wrote the script. The script went thru a few different drafts and incarnations and when I came on board there were no clowns in the script, but during pre-production Dan and Jamie mentioned that they had a version with clowns. And I was like, “yes, please.” It just really fit with the fun story we were filming!

Anything else you’d like to add about THE NIGHT WATCHMEN’s genesis?

Go see it! It’s a real fun ride, with lots of action and scares but I’d like to let the movie to speak for itself.

The movie has an ‘80s horror movie vibe down to the soundtrack. How intentional was that, and do you have a particular affinity to ‘80s horror movies, and maybe some favorites?

Yes, it was definitely intentional! I love those ‘80s horror films that you rented on VHS from the local video stores, films like THE NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984), FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) or KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988). And that’s what I wanted to do with our film, make it super fun and scary, even silly at points like those ‘80s films.  

Loved the soundtrack. Can you talk a little about it?

Our composer Kevin Kerrigan out of London, ate it up… he had a blast scoring the music! He was so excited to do such a retro score. And the guys who wrote the original songs, Fake Figures, loved it just as much. They are an actual band that wrote and recorded these songs while on tour, so it was a fun break for them. I really wanted the score and soundtrack to make you instantly get that 80s feeling, even though it’s a film set in present day, I want the audience also think that it can easily take place in the 80s.   

Mitchell Altieri with Tiffany Shepis, Diona Reasonover, Cheryl Staurulakus, Rain Pryor & Donald Imm. Photo credit: Herbert Mann.

Mitchell Altieri with Tiffany Shepis, Diona Reasonover, Cheryl Staurulakus, Rain Pryor & Donald Imm. Photo credit: Herbert Mann.

There’s a hell of a lot of blood in this movie. How much did you go through?

Let’s just say we ran out of blood like five or six times. We used a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever run out of that much blood before.

Hopefully this isn’t too spoilery but the main five characters could have just been stereotypical, they had little touches to them that both defied the usual tropes and enhanced the humor. And you scored a great ensemble with a real chemistry who seemed to be having a great time. Anything you’d like to share about that?

Yeah, I agree. I really value strong characters in films. Even if it’s a straightforward film, you can never go wrong with interesting, bold characters. I was very pleased with the cast. Ken, Dan and Kevin Jiggetts all have worked together many times before so it was dynamic when they worked against Kara Luiz who plays the journalist and Max Wilbur, the young rookie. I challenged them and they challenged each other and had a great time with it.

Again without giving too much away, the film is full of fun scenes. What was the most fun to actually film and why?

There were a few scenes I remember just laughing out loud and not being able to stop laughing. It was mainly when the actors just started riffing off each other, adlibbing, etc, The entire crew would be in stitches from laughing. Well, you can really laugh out loud during a take, so you would look around and people’s faces would be buried in their jackets or whatever they had in their hands so they wouldn’t ruin the scene. That was always fun. I personally ruined a scene or two from not being able to stop laughing but it comes with the territory I guess.

(L to R) Kevin Jiggetts, Dan DeLuca, Kara Luiz, Max Gray Wilbur, Ken Arnold. Photo credit: Robert Neal Marshall.

(L to R) Kevin Jiggetts, Dan DeLuca, Kara Luiz, Max Gray Wilbur, Ken Arnold. Photo credit: Robert Neal Marshall.

Did you face any challenges while making the movie?

A film is a challenge from beginning to end. It is exhausting work! But for this particular set, the most challenging thing I faced was I got sick. We shot in Maryland and it was their worst winter in 76 years. I never have been sick on set but I guess the cold got me this time. But as a director on set you don’t really get sick days, so I had to push through. It was brutal. I was very thankful for an amazing crew that helped pick up the slack those few days.

OK, being a big THE WARRIORS  fan, gotta ask James Remar shared any anecdotes on the set?

I’m a huge fan of THE WARRIORS as well, so yes it was very cool to have him on set. I mean he was Ajax! He would tell great stories about different films, and how the sets were, or working with different people. We all got a good kick out that.

What’s next for you?

I’m attached to a couple projects right now that I can’t really talk about, but I also did five feature films in a row, one a year basically, so I’m also enjoying taking a little time off, traveling and just plain relaxing!!

 And finally, your favorite flavor of cannoli? 

Question should be which flavor don’t I like. Thank you for the interview. I appreciate it.

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Fatty Claus Got Run Over By a Reindeer: A John Waters’ Christmas Finds Cheer in the Season’s Kookiest Carols and Whacked-Out Stories

Posted on: Dec 11th, 2013 By:

Forget a War on Christmas! A John Waters’ Christmas, Thursday Dec. 12 at Variety Playhouse, prefers X-Mas and puts a refreshingly raunchy “X” into it with a darkly comic adults-only one-man show of holiday mayhem and mischief. The variety show pays homage to the tradition both of the holiday album and the TV special, but for those who cringe at listening to Christmas carols, Waters digs out the most cringe-worthy of holiday tunes. But he delivers the kitsch with the mastery he’s known for as a twisted storyteller and showman, sharing anecdotes as much as music – offbeat stories drawn from his personal holiday experiences and a voracious appetite for scouring the media. From all accounts, the result is the absolutely perfect  glam/gross-out gift we expect from the director of PINK FLAMINGOS (1972), the odoramic POLYESTER (1981) and the knock-it-out-of-the-closet hit HAIRSPRAY (1988).

In a recent TIME Magazine interview about the tour, Waters laments so many lost opportunities for Christmas albums from Pussy Riot to rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard. He seems genuinely giddy that Johnny Mathis has a new one out! But that’s Waters’ charm–his absolute enthusiasm and embrace of the tacky, the trashy and the odd–and sometimes even the insanely mainstream. If Pia Zadora ever recorded a holiday tune, you know Waters would be proudly playing it. And since she’s now torch-singing in Vegas, who knows?!

Waters’ Christmas live show takes off from his own 2004 compilation of hellacious and hilarious holiday tunes, from ditties that celebrate Santa’s weight like “Here Comes Fatty Claus” by Rudolph and Gang and the jazzy, jingly “Fat Daddy” by Paul “Fat Daddy” Johnson, Baltimore DJ and the “300-pound King of Soul,” to the twangy, whispery  “First Snowfall” by Chicago lounge-core band The Coctails. There’s also “Little Mary Christmas,” by Roger Christian, who co-wrote Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” and several Beach Boys tunes,  head an excruciating sentimental and horrible tale of a crippled orphan named Mary who finds new parents on Christmas Day. Tiny Tim, perhaps the most frightening pop star ever, creepily croons the worst ever warped version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and Waters, never afraid to push our racial comfort boundaries, also includes the chirpy and controversial “Santa Claus is a Black Man, a soulful revision of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” sung by AKIM, the daughter of  Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer Teddy Vann with his Teddy Vann Production Company. It wouldn’t be Waters, without indulging his inexplicable love for the ear-shatteringly squeaky with Alvin and the Chipmunks‘ “Sleigh Ride.” Oh, and nothing may be more horrifying than Little Cindy’s “Happy Birthday, Jesus (A Children’s Prayer). Little Cindy apparently also released such singles as “If Santa Was My Daddy” and the B-side “It Must Have Been the Easter Bunny.”

What else can we say about John Waters except that we’d be happy to listen to him read the phone book! Because we know by the 10th name, he’d have an anecdote to unleash which would make us laugh and maybe gag, too. After all, this man is the master of the gross-out from his one-time comment that every filmmaker can afford a barf scene to Divine devouring dog poop. With that in mind, to get you into the Merry Mondo spirit, here are five more things you may or may not know about John and Christmas!

1) His favorite Christmas movie is the B-horror CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980). From the TIME interview: “It’s about the guy who is so obsessed with Santa Claus that he gets a job at a toy factory and spies on all the children to see if they are good or bad. And then he gets stuck in a chimney on Christmas Eve. It’s really good. It’s hard to beat CHRISTMAS EVIL.”

2) For the past five years or so, he’s tried to make a kids’ Christmas movie called FRUITCAKE which had Johnny Knoxville and Parker Posey attached to star.

3) John hates the Easter Bunny. (Source: The Gothamist).

4) Don’t give John a fruit basket for Christmas. “I can buy a pear, you know? It’s not so hard to find a pear. I think gift baskets should be drugs or cigarettes, things you’d never buy for yourself. I don’t take drugs or smoke cigarettes anymore, but I think a gift basket filled with them would terrific.” (Source: Oh, No, They Didn’t)

5) He sends out lots of Christmas cards. Over 1,700 according to TIME!

ATLRetro hopes to see you Thursday at the Variety! For $35 general admission or $100 VIP tickets, click here. Oh, and don’t forget to wear a “nice” sweater!

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

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2013 By:

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

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kool Kat of the Week: Goddess, Giallo & Gorezone: Jeremy Morris Conjures Up a Twisted Fears Weekend to Kick Off a Hellacious Halloween Season for Atlanta Horror Fans

Posted on: Sep 25th, 2013 By:

Ruggero Deodato and Jeremy Morris. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Morris.

Ultimate Scream Queen Barbara Steele! Italian giallo director Lamberto Bava (DEMONS), son of Mario Bava! Ruggero Deodato, as in the original DJANGO (1966) and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979)! These names are simply legend among cult cinephiles, and they all will be in Atlanta for Twisted Fears Weekend, a three-day horror convention Sept. 27-29 at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center. And that’s just the terrifying tip of a Retro-tastic guest line-up that also includes Linnea Quigley (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), a SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE  (1982) cast reunion, Tony Todd (CANDYMAN ), Fred “The Hammer” Williamson  (BLACK CAESAR , FROM DUSK TILL DAWN ), Geretta Geretta  (DEMONS ), Lynn Lowry (original THE CRAZIES ), and more.

The eerie event also will celebrate the worldwide re-launch of Gorezone, the even more splattery sister magazine of Fangoria . Needless to say, ATLRetro couldn’t help but declare con organizer Jeremy Morris Kool Kat of the Week to find out all the deadly details.

ATLRetro: I’ve heard so many local horror fans express absolute surprise and delight about Twisted Fears. Did it get started with the Gorezone anniversary or was something else the catalyst?

Jeremy Morris: Twisted Fears was formed a year ago by my twisted imagination. I have been in the convention scene nearly 20 years. I have met a lot of great people along the way. The true reasoning of the creation of Twisted Fears was a part of my true love of the horror genre. I have lived in Atlanta all of my life and I felt it was time to do a show with a twist, something different than what fans may be accustomed too.

Twisted Fears has an amazing guest line-up, including a lot of celebrities known for their European horror work, making it very different from Days of the Dead, Dragoncon, or even most horror cons around the country. Why take that the con in that direction?

This question is very easy to answer. As a long-time fan of this convention scene, I have always wished to see more international guests at shows because there are a lot of films [that are] forgotten. I chose to bring in guests that you may have not seen in a long time or possibly never, which gives the fans a fresh new roster of celebrities.

GOBLIN’s playing a few days later on Tuesday Oct. 1. Their shows are selling out across the country, and Fabio Frizzi  also is doing a Halloween concert  in London. AMERICAN HORROR STORY  has a clear giallo influence, which many think will be even more so this fall with its “Coven” storyline. Why do you think there’s such a resurgence of interest in giallo right now?

In my opinion, some of the greatest horror films originated from the Italian genre. People are craving fresh, new ideas while sometimes new ideas consist of rejuvenating past genres of films and the Italians are one of them.

Fangoria ad for Twisted Fears. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Morris.

We are just privileged and honored that Barbara and Lamberto have chosen to join us for the inaugural year of Twisted Fears. I consider them legends in their own right. They have influenced some of the greatest films that we know of to date.They will be participating in a Q&A panel on Saturday.

I am sure you don’t want to play favorites, but is there anyone you are particularly excited you were able to book?

I am truly excited for all of my guests I was able to book because I took great pride in the guest selection as a fan first. If I had to choose one that made me giggle it would be Ruggero Deodato because he is so rarely seen, but I consider him the master of Italian horror.

Jeremy Morris. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Morris.

Did you grow up reading Fango and Gorezone? What impact did these two magazines have on you?

Yes, I grew up reading Fango, I actually own the first issue. I have considered it the Godfather of all horror publications. I am truly honored that we were hand chosen to re-launch Gorezone after so many years of absence. It makes me giddy inside to think Fangoria wanted to be a part of this show.

One of the anniversary treats is a virtual interview with Fango Editor Chris Alexander, who’s based in Toronto. Can you talk a little about that

It is an anniversary treat so you need to be there to find out!!!

A lot of folks might think about just coming on Saturday. Why should they buy a full weekend pass instead? Or kick in the extra bucks for a VIP pass?

We have a lot of panels, events, night-time parties scheduled. The signature event is the first of it’s kind, our own Twisted Feast Dinner Party, with a very intimate setting for all fans to have a quiet dinner with all of the guests in attendance. This is a chance to truly have an experience of meeting the guests like no other.

What else do you want horror fans to know about Twisted Fears Weekend?

I want the fans to know that Twisted Fears will continue to be a show of firsts on every level as we continue to grow. Most importantly I am a fan and always will be a fan first. And I will see you in May 2014 for the sequel.

Hours for Twisted Fears Weekend are Friday Sept. 27, 4-10 p.m., Sat. Sept. 28, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Sun. Sept. 29, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more info and to purchase advance VIP and general admission tickets, visit http://www.twistedfears.com/.

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Retro Review: If the Dead Come, Can We Learn to Live with Them?! Splatter Cinema Presents DAY OF THE DEAD at The Plaza

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 By:

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985); Dir. George Romero; Starring Lori Cardille and Joe Pilato; Tuesday, May 14, 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here. Presented by Splatter Cinema.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

George A. Romero’s 1968 classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD warned audiences that when there was no more room in Hell, the dead would walk the earth. It was a strong and resonating nightmare for Americans who, after a decade of unrest and war, had begun to wonder if Hell was truly spilling over. Romero’s 1985 film DAY OF THE DEAD has an entirely different thought for people living through the last days of the Cold War: if the dead come, can we learn to live with them? Can we learn to live with ourselves?

DAY OF THE DEAD, which arrives at the Plaza Theatre on Tuesday night for the Splatter Cinema series, is the third film in Romero’s Dead trilogy, following the nihilistic NIGHT and 1978’s satirical classic DAWN OF THE DEAD. Unlike most movie franchises, the films in Romero’s Dead series have no direct connections to one another. Each film is an isolated story located within the same world where a plague of zombies has destroyed civilization and where the best and worst instincts of the human race clash against each other in the last, desperate clutch for survival. Fans of THE WALKING DEAD may recognize that world, and may or may not know that they owe a debt to Romero: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD invented the modern concept of the zombie, and Romero perfected using the dead to explore the dark side of the living. In NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, racial tensions and domestic violence tears at a small band of survivors; DAWN OF THE DEAD skewers the lure of commerce and capitalism as zombies descend on a shopping mall; 2005’s LAND OF THE DEAD shows a group of wealthy survivors crawling to safety on the backs of the poor.

DAY OF THE DEAD is more of a closed system, a bottle episode that puts two opposing ideologies into an tight space and shakes them up. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is part of a dwindling team of scientists in an underground military compound charged with finding a cure for the zombie plague. The soldiers assigned to protect them are led by Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), who barks orders and grows increasingly hostile to the science team as the hopelessness of their situation becomes clear. The fuse in the powderkeg is the cache of zombies the scientists are drawing from for their experiments, especially a dead guy named “Bub” who may be learning to be human again.

Always considered something of a problem child in the Romero series because it compares unfavorably to the (let’s admit it) superior DAWN, fans and critics initially kicked DAY OF THE DEAD down the street, leading to an agonizing 20-year delay before Romero returned to zombies in LAND. But DAY has been picking up attention from critics lately and the signs point to what could eventually be a complete rehabilitation. Yes, the movie’s problems are hard to ignore—for an apocalyptic movie, it sure feels very small, and the performances are grating—but Romero crafts the story and stages his world with his trademark critic’s eye. The signature conflict between progress and aggression, between building and destroying, is slathered on pretty thick, but the film is also an intriguing analogy about forming camps to shoot at one another when the enemy is, quite literally, at the gates. The movie could be about climate change or a financial collapse—all that really matters is the struggle about who gets to be leader on a sinking ship.

But DAY OF THE DEAD is a zombie horror movie, let’s not forget, and it’s the visuals that really help the film pop next to the rest of the b-horror crowd. This is a Splatter Cinema screening, which means there’s plenty of outrageous gore and some of the best of Tom Savini’s famous zombie effects. Romero has a particular gift for encouraging great monster makeup and then finding inventive and iconic ways to shoot it. DAY OF THE DEAD has plenty of munchy, crunchy effects, but it also has one of the most infamous disembowelings in movie history. And here I sit, 10 years after I first saw the film, never able to shake the opening image, where a zombie walks past sporting only the least-useful half of its jaw while an old rotting newspaper declares in its headline that “THE DEAD WALK!”

The NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was a literal evening of horrors, but the DAWN of its sequel was more of a metaphor, a way to describe the gradual realization that the world had changed and would never be the same. DAY OF THE DEAD continues that metaphor. The long day is here and the survivors have only the bleak reality that arrives and lingers—we’re all alone, on our own, and fodder for the cold inevitable.

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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Retro Review: DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT or You May Find Another Horror Cult Classic at The Plaza

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2013 By:

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1974); Dir: S.F. Brownrigg; Starring Rosie Holotik, Bill McGhee, Annabelle Weenick; Fri. Apr. 12-Thurs. Apr. 18; The Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

It feels like I’ve been writing a lot about the Plaza Theatre lately, but there’s a damn good reason for that. When ownership at the Plaza recently changed hands, the new owners’ first act was to remove the old 35mm film projectors in favor of a crisp, clean but decidedly digital presentation. For cine-junkies like me, this was supposed to be the kiss off, but the Plaza, as it turns out, knows their market. While the face of the Plaza changes, the heart of the old girl still beats the same, maybe even stronger, as the theatre has gone absolutely nuts with its programming, booking all kinds of rare gems and oddities to its screens and convincing the film nerds to withhold judgment just a little longer. With recent full runs for THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, REEFER MADNESS, RE-ANIMATOR, and FLESH GORDON, The Plaza is now the best spot in Atlanta to catch a vintage film pretty much any night of the week.

Joining the roster of “holy shit” this week at the Plaza is DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973), otherwise known to horror fans by the way-less-awesome title of THE FORGOTTEN. Filmed in Texas in that same sweltering, gritty grindhouse style that THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) would make infamous one year later, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT concerns a young nurse named Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) who starts a new job at a mental asylum, only to learn that the head doctor has been murdered by the patients. The new doctor in charge, Dr. Masters (Annabelle Weenick), tries to help Charlotte settle in, but the unruly, batshit patients begin to target and harass their new nurse. There’s plenty of blood, a dark secret or two, and an absolutely ludicrous third act twist. The filmmaking is less than impressive, but the overall effect is enough to rake you over the coals a bit, if that’s what you’re into. There’s a reason this movie still gets play 40 years after its release.

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT is a grinding little workhorse of a horror film, made all the more famous by its associations with other horror classics. One year earlier, Wes Craven’s grimy THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) dropped a nuke on the horror scene with its near-snuff approach to tale of rape and revenge. That movie had one of the most famous taglines in film history, and well-earned: “Just keep repeating to yourself; ‘it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie…” The next year, distributors tried to pass DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT off as being from the same batch of people by showing it on a double bill with LAST HOUSE, but the films have no real connection. Instead, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT comes from the mind of S.F. Brownrigg, a journeyman of the Texas horror circuit who had a flair for amazing titles, like DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! (1975) and KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN (1976). He also had a role in creating THE EYE CREATURES (1965), later made infamous by MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000.

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT is not a film that comes to screens very often, and when it does, maybe it plays more for the devoted than for the unconverted. But that’s what’s been so impressive about the new scheduling at the Plaza. There are plenty of catalog titles that could draw in the mainstream, but the Plaza is in the middle of an all-out bid for the cultists and movie fetishists, and the theatre is working hard to plant themselves at the center of Atlanta’s developing film culture. I, for one, hope there’s more like this in the basement.

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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Retro Review: Feeling Lifeless? Head to the Plaza Theatre for an appointment with Herbert West: RE-ANIMATOR!

Posted on: Feb 11th, 2013 By:

RE-ANIMATOR (1985); Dir. Stuart Gordon; Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbot and Barbara Crampton; Starts Friday, Feb. 15; Plaza Theatre (visit website for show times and ticket prices); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre has become well-known for bringing new life to classic films. It makes sense, then, this week that the Plaza ins mot only making the dead return in FRANKENHOOKER, but also exhibiting the nefarious dead-raising actions of Herbert West: RE-ANIMATOR.

Prior to 1985, Stuart Gordon had been best known as a leading theatrical director in Chicago, having founded the Organic Theater Company with his wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon. Gordon had overseen such important productions as the world premiere of David Mamet’s SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO, E/R EMERGENCY ROOM, Gordon’s own three-part sci-fi epic WARP! and his adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s THE SIRENS OF TITAN. After 1985, however, Gordon became as inexorably linked with H.P. Lovecraft as Roger Corman once was with Edgar Allan Poe.

It all started with a desire to see a Frankenstein movie. Gordon had been discussing horror movies with a friend of his, who had asked if he’d read Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West: Reanimator,” itself a parody of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Though Gordon was familiar with Lovecraft’s fiction, this story had eluded him. He tracked down a copy at the Chicago Public Library, and was inspired to adapt the story for the stage. After struggling with the material, Gordon (along with his writing partners Dennis Paoli and William Norris) decided to update the setting and adapt it as a television series. After writing 13 episodes, the team was discouraged from pursuing a TV deal due to horror’s lack of success on the small screen. Instead, Gordon was introduced to producer Brian Yuzna, who was enthusiastic about turning the project into a feature film. Yuzna brought Gordon out to Hollywood to shoot the film and landed a distribution deal with Charles Band’s Empire Pictures.

The story, in short, is this: at Miskatonic University, Herbert West has arrived having already been driven out of Zurich for experimenting with a reagent that will reanimate dead bodies. He teams with fellow medical student Dan Cain to further test his reagent. First, Dan’s girlfriend’s cat is reanimated. Then it’s the school’s dean. And then the blood really starts to flow.

Lovecraft has long been a problematic author to adapt. His best-known tales are built on what has come to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos, which postulates that this world was once ruled by alien Elder Gods that have since either fallen into a deathlike slumber or have lost their access to this plane of existence. Because a glimpse into these other planes or even merely a quick glance at one of the Great Old Ones is often enough to cause insanity in Lovecraft’s characters, it’s got to be pretty hard to translate the mind-bending incomprehensibility of Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors to a visual medium with any chance of success.

Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, RE-ANIMATOR (1985).

It stands to reason, then, that perhaps the most successful direct adaptations of Lovecraft are those not related to the Mythos. Which is where we find RE-ANIMATOR. Even though its sardonic humor and oceans of gore would seem to be far removed from the reserved and serious-minded attitude of Lovecraft’s fiction, the film hues remarkably close to its source material. The short story was written as a parody to begin with, so the film’s humorous tone is not a huge departure from Lovecraft’s intent. And as grisly as the film is, the events it depicts are largely taken directly from the first two chapters of the story and portions of the final chapter. None of this is to suggest that Lovecraft would have approved of the film, as he didn’t even approve of his own short story the movie is based upon, having unhappily written it purely for the publishing money. And even though the story is universally considered his least work, as an inspiration for a horror flick, it’s pure gold.

A lot is made of RE-ANIMATOR being a horror-comedy, but I think that what makes it work is that it’s more than just simply funny; it’s fun. It’s not a movie chock full of belly laughs, but it tells its story with such a perverse sense of glee that it’s hard not to get caught up in the movie’s charm. In addition, the screenplay never downplays the horror in favor of the humor, instead drawing the latter out of natural reactions to the former, and out of the well-developed chemistry between the film’s characters. And Gordon’s direction is surprisingly tasteful for such a bloody film. Every shot is composed thoughtfully, and his deft hand at pace and timing keeps things tightly-wound throughout. This may sound blasphemous to the devout film buff, but RE-ANIMATOR is precisely the kind of movie that James Whale would have made if he had made BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1985.

Barbara Crampton and a disembodied head in RE-ANIMATOR (1985).

However, all of this would likely be for naught if it weren’t for the remarkable performance of Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West. Combs plays West as remarkably arrogant and self-important while simultaneously nervous, brittle and on the edge of psychotically unraveling. Combs’ performance was instantly memorable, crafting a variation on the “mad scientist” archetype that is strong enough to stand with any of the legends. And while Bruce Abbott as Dan Cain is a bland (yet likeably bland) co-star, Barbara Crampton stands out in what could have been a throwaway part as Dan’s girlfriend Megan. Thanks both to the screenplay and Crampton’s solid acting, Megan transcends the mere “damsel in distress” role and becomes a believable, human character. Moreover, Crampton’s smart acting choices in every scene make her come across as being game for whatever “WTF?” moment the film throws her way (and thanks to the inventive effects work, there are plenty). As a result, the viewer doesn’t get pulled out of the film, their suspension of disbelief shattered, by suddenly becoming concerned about what the actress (rather than her character) is going through.

RE-ANIMATOR, in short, captures what is fun about horror movies without looking down its nose at them. It’s smart, energetic, delightedly (and delightfully) wicked and full of inspired set pieces and visuals. It’s not just one of the top horror films of the 1980s. It’s one of the top horror films full stop.

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

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Wanna Date? Let Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Set You Up With FRANKENHOOKER!

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents FRANKENHOOKER (1990); Dir. Frank Henenlotter; Starring Patty Mullen and James Lorinz; Tuesday, Feb. 12 @ 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

“If you only see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER.” – Bill Murray

And just who do you think you are to argue with Bill Murray? Thankfully, Splatter Cinema and Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre have joined forces to make this easy for you. Heck, the Splatter folks even filmed an exclusive interview with star Patty Mullen at last weekend’s Days of the Dead convention to sweeten the deal.

Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), lowly employee at New Jersey Electric and erstwhile mad scientist, has a problem. His beloved fiancée Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) has just been dismembered in a freak lawnmower accident, and he was only able to retrieve the head. He’s got the means to bring her back, but since her body is missing, why not spring for some upgrades? Armed with an explosive batch of crack, he starts to collect choice parts from NYC’s hookers, but what happens when Elizabeth wakes up and starts looking for tricks on 42nd Avenue? Can Jeffrey win back his blushing bride-to-be?

Few people on this planet are as devoted to the form and function of the grindhouse era as director Frank Henenlotter. Beyond capturing and preserving the pre-Disneyfication of Times Square in the classic BASKET CASE, he has long been associated with Something Weird Video, rescuing classic exploitation films from destruction and presenting many of them in the “Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers” series. In FRANKENHOOKER, he returns to the seedy side of New York City, but this time sees it being decimated by the crack epidemic.

Not that FRANKENHOOKER is some preachy vehicle, mind you. Like in Henenlotter’s previous film BRAIN DAMAGE, the subtext of drug abuse is present and slyly addressed, but this time—as opposed to the more serious-minded BRAIN DAMAGE— the emphasis is fully on sleaze and gore so over-the-top as to be hilarious. And as always, that’s why we love Frank.

Patty Mullen walks Times Square as FRANKENHOOKER (1990).

Now, a lot can be said for Henenlotter’s visual style, which he has always managed to pull off without the benefit of any kind of real budget. For instance, his use of lighting and color is consistently well-thought-out and effective, and his ability to shoot effects that both maximize their impact and mask their cheapness is almost unmatched. The fact that FRANKENHOOKER was a larger-budgeted film didn’t lead to him getting lazy on this shoot; it only makes the film look that much more expensive than it was. But his real talent has always been his ability to pull unexpectedly great performances out of unlikely suspects. In BASKET CASE, it’s Kevin Van Hentenryck as Duane Bradley. In FRANKENHOOKER, it’s former Penthouse Pet of the Year Patty Mullen. Previously only seen in the abysmal DOOM ASYLUM and a couple of bit parts on TV, Mullen turns in a brilliant comedic performance as the undead patchwork prostitute. She’s completely believable as the sweet Elizabeth (pre-lawnmower death) and her shift into the gratingly aggressive “Frankenhooker” persona, accompanied by completely insane facial mugging, is something of a triumph for someone who is essentially a non-actor. It’s a shame that this is her final film to date, as she’s just an incredibly likeable presence throughout. Co-star James Lorinz has always been a weak link for me in this movie, coming across as a poor man’s Andrew McCarthy, but in recent years I’ve warmed up to his overacting, twitchy presence and incessant ad-libbing. It’s not that he’s bad; he’s just completely overshadowed by Mullen.

Henenlotter has peppered the film with familiar faces as well. Louise Lasser (MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN) appears as Jeffrey’s mom, pioneering TV horror host Zacherley shows up as a weatherman, and cameos also go to Henenlotter regular Beverly Bonner and the legendary Shirley Stoler (THE HONEYMOON KILLERS, THE DEER HUNTER, SEVEN BEAUTIES, PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE).

The screenplay by Frank and FANGORIA founding editor Bob Martin (who wrote the novelization of BRAIN DAMAGE) is constantly amusing, mixing references to FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE with clever spoofs of local news and late-night talk shows. It’s quite probably the best screenplay that Henenlotter has ever had to work with. BRAIN DAMAGE is a more cerebral work (pun intended), but FRANKENHOOKER is more flat-out entertaining.

So join Splatter Cinema in sharing Frank Henenlotter’s love for grindhouse cinema in the only surviving theater in Atlanta that once served as a grindhouse: the Plaza.

Bill Murray demands it.

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

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Retro Review: Jane Fonda Has No Clothes On: Stripping Down Our Love Affair with Psychedelic ’60s SF Camp Cult Classic BARBARELLA in Time for a Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 21st, 2013 By:

BARBARELLA (1968); Dir: Roger Vadim; Screenplay by Terry Southern; Based on a bande dessinee by Jean-Claude Forest; Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, January 26 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA with live stage show before the screening including raffle of 10 8×10 signed photos of Fonda as Barbarella from Jane Fonda’s personal collection; Trailer here.

By Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

BARBARELLA is a special kind of cinematic disaster. A lavish space-opera comedy released in 1968, the most important year in SF cinema since 1951, it had a $9 million budget, making it only modestly less expensive than the same year’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY ($10.5 M) and more expensive than that year’s PLANET OF THE APES ($5.8 M). Meant to celebrate the era’s new found sexual freedom and the changing role of women in society, BARBARELLA is one of those films in which the first five minutes tell you everything you are going to get, as well as promising you all the things it should’ve given us and simply failed to deliver.

The opening image is a lovely array of stars, and hanging within it an improbable and more than slightly feminine-looking space ship. We move in closer until we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit…

Full stop. Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that: “fur-lined cockpit.” You know that whoever came up with that idea was thinking ahead to an exhausted film reviewer of a more innocent age, sometime after midnight hammering out copy and tearing his hair out screaming, “HOW CAN I GET THIS PAST THE EDITORS!”

Jane Fonda as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

OK, so we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit where a space-suited figure floats in a really excellent simulation of zero-gravity (also a simple illusion, the astronaut is filmed from above while lying on a plexiglass platform). The identify is hidden behind a featureless metal helmet. But the material transforms from metal to clear plexiglass (another fine piece of simple FX, the reflective metal is actually a liquid in a space within the helmet’s bowel-like structure. It’s merely drained through the bottom.) revealing the “spaceman” is actually a not-quite-yet-30 Jane Fonda, never looking more beautiful. Her expression not only evokes a potent come-hither sexual promise, but more importantly, pure delight.

The music comes up. The song is deliberately silly (unafraid to rhyme “Barbarella” and “psychedella”) but quite catchy, celebrating the film’s title character’s sex appeal in a way that is far more joyful than crass. Though the film is based on a French comic book, it’s geared to an American audience, so before we hear her name (already legendary across the ocean), the singer compares her to our more familiar Wonder Woman.

Fonda/Barbarella strips off her space suit. It’s a sectional outfit revealing her progressively, teasingly. She is completely naked beneath. The animated titles escape the seams of the garment like venting gasses, swirling around her, protecting her immodestly. Except when they don’t. They keep trying to obscure, but she is happy to reveal. And the wantonness is now more than just promise; she expresses ongoing sexual pleasure (perhaps the caress of the letters?). Finally, wholly naked, she presses a button, tumbles down the luxurious furs, and she clearly is sated.

It’s one of the greatest stripteases in film history.

The next four minutes aren’t half bad either. The dialogue is witty and provides a lot of narrative context without excessive exposition. Barbarella immediately gets a call on her video screen from Claude Dauphin as the President of Earth. Their greet each other by saying “Love,” in what is clearly a political party’s salute.

Barbarella: “Just a minute. I’ll slip something on.”

President: “Don’t trouble yourself, this is an affair of state.”

In short order we learn that Barbarella is a secret agent in a future so perfectly utopian and groovy that she is rendered childlike in her naivete. She is assigned the mission to find an evil scientist named Durand Durand (yeah, that’s where the ’80s band got their name from) and stop him from supplying weapons to primitive peoples and threatening to disrupt the proper social order.

Barbarella (Jane Fonda) strikes a dangerous pose. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Barbarella: “Weapon? Why would anyone want to invent a weapon?…I mean the universe was pacified centuries ago.”

President: “What we know of it…We know nothing of Tau Ceti.”

Barbarella: “You mean they can still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?”

Sweet Barbarella seems only vaguely familiar with the concept of secrets (yeah, I know, she’s supposed to be a “secret agent,” but whatever) and can’t even say the word “war,” but instead babbles absurd multisyllabic euphemisms like “archaic insecurity” and “selfish competition.”

We’re now nine minutes into the film. After this point, there’s not a single Goddamn scene in the film that follows that compares, either in its sexiness, warmth of performances, generosity of humor, playful satire or technical achievement.

So why watch the remaining one and half hours?

I can think of three reasons:

1) The wonderfully creative and over-the-top costumes. Especially Fonda’s, who goes through a wide variety because since she’s constantly undressing, she is therefore constantly redressing.

2) The sets and props, which are even more impressively inventive than the costumes. I especially liked the aforementioned fur lined cock pit, the ice craft, the bird-shaped bird-cage that is the size of a small bus- well, the list goes on. Though the film showed little interest in evoking the title-character as she was presented in Jean-Claude Forest‘s comic strip, they did hire Forest as a consultant on the visuals. As wrote Graeme Clark: “[T]he film-makers’ maxim seems to have been, if it looks cool, if it looks weird, then put it onscreen.” And Gary Morris wrote, “[G]audy, colorful sets, looks like it was shot in the bowels of the Playboy mansion — especially our heroine’s spaceship, with its fur-lined walls that reek of ’60s softcore chic.”

3.) Maybe, deep down in your heart, you hate Jane Fonda, and want to just sit back, watch her flounder, and feel superior.

David Hemmings and Jane Fonda in BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Yes, Fonda has never been more beautiful, but there’s no doubt this is her career worst performance. Despite being charming in the first scene, her performance quickly degrades, as she becomes increasing wide-eyed, vacuous and cold. I have to wonder why she gets worse the farther she gets into the film. I do know it was made in France at the most important transition point in her acting and political career (her follow-up film, the same year, THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? earned her first Oscar nomination, and by the time BARBARELLA was released, she’d embraced feminism and thrown her support behind the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island). What I think happened is that in between takes she started listening to the babble of French intellectuals who analyzed the film’s actual content (and I should say, this is a film that shouldn’t be analyzed for content), and they revealed to her some uncomfortable things:

First, the bad guys are led by an arrogant intellectual who insidiously infiltrates and corrupts a primitive culture with the goal of undermining the larger community of peace-loving, wealthy, advanced societies. Meanwhile the good guys, also foreigners, are forced to intervene and also engage in infiltrating and saving the backward indigenous peoples through a nobler, but still newly introduced, ideology, military training and supplying advanced weapons. The good guys turn the indigenous people into a “third force” that will create a society more cooperative to the ideals of more civilized foreign powers. The overarching message is that if you want to preserve universal peace, start a proxy war. It’s almost Robert Heinlein-esque in the way the heroes are “forced” into engaging in foreign interventions. In other words, the movie is pro- the kind of Third Phase Imperialism that led both the USA and the USSR into the Vietnam conflict.

Ugo Tognazzi plays Mark Hand, the heroic Catchman, the guy who introduces Barbarella to the wonders of really good primitive sex. But he also spends most of his day using corporal punishment to discipline nasty, unsupervised, disrespectful children. He then rounds them up so they can be properly indoctrinated into their responsibilities to society. In other words, BARBARELLA the movie hates the youth culture.

And it didn’t like homosexuals much either.

Women are completely objectified, and the heroine is an utter bimbo (which the comic-book heroine was not). Though she does heroic things, she doesn’t have an idea in her head or a goal worth pursuing that wasn’t planted there by an older, dominant male. Also, after arriving on the planet, almost all the “sexy” scenes concern her being captured and tortured. In other words, the movie is amazingly misogynistic right at the dawn of American feminism.

Also, I think even French intellectuals probably thought that director (Fonda’s then-husband) Roger Vadim, was a sleazy creep who was ruining her career with films like this. Vadim’s life reflected the films bizzaro sexual anti-liberation. He was a serial husband with a penchant for woman barely more than half his age and made a habit of trading eachwoman in as soon as responsibility reared its ugly head. Prior to Fonda was Brigitte Bardot (probably the inspiration for the comic book Barabarella in the first place), who was 15 to his 22 and whom he drove to several suicide attempts before their divorce. He left Bardot for the more age- appropriate Annette Stroyberg, but then abandoned her with a two-year-old child for Catherine Deneuve who was 17 to his 33. He was already involved with Fonda during that third marriage – when Fonda and Vadim first met she was 18 to his 27 -and when Vadim abandoned Deneuve, with their two-month-old child, to move in with Fonda she was 26 to his 35. The two would separate not long after BARBARELLA, leaving yet another child too young to walk. During that separation he would get involved with Catherine Schneider who was 26 to his now-44. There would be another two marriages after that.

Fonda would eventually disown the film. At the San Francisco Film Festival in 1994, she was asked “Where was her head?”

“I don’t know – up my armpit, I guess,” she replied. “We all make mistakes. In my case, I keep getting my nose rubbed them.”

Worse still, Fonda turned down the role of Bonnie in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) to do this stinker. Faye Dunaway eventually got that role, and an Oscar nomination. Fonda should’ve listened to Virna Lisi. When Lisi was told to play the part of Barbarella, she terminated her contract with United Artists and returned to Italy.

Jane Fonda changes costumes again as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Episodic in the same way J.R.R. Tolkien’s work was, BARBARELLA lacked the master’s flair for the actual episodes, as well as being completely lacking in forward momentum. It displayed none of Tolkien’s warmth or affection for his characters, and notably Tolkien’s much-maligned female characterization was far better than what we see in this film with a higher percentage of prominent female roles. It wasn’t even close to Tolkien’s capacity to pull the divergent threads of plot into a meaningful climax.

BARBARELLA was panned in its day but has grown into a cult classic. Today, many critics are generous towards it because of its camp value, of which there is a great deal (It’s listed with the “Top 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made” in THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE MOVIE GUIDE), but I can’t help but be put off when watching a film that contains much to snicker about, but when it tries to tell an intentional joke, it generally falls terribly flat. Forest’s original comic book was fun, and the movie’s original script was by the great Terry Southern, but later critics seem unanimous that Vadim was more interested in his sexual obsessions than Forest’s swashbuckling adventurism or Southern’s omni-directional satire. As a result, no one in the cast seemed to be having any fun, and lines that really should’ve been been amusing come off stale:

Barbarella: “Make love [in a manner that involves actual physical contact]? But no one’s done that for hundreds of centuries!”

“This is much too poetic a way to die!”

“A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming!”

Mark Hand: “Are you typical of Earth women?”

Barbarella in a revealing costume made all the more so because it was shredded: “I’m about average.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law, who if anything, a worse actor than Fonda in this movie):

“An angel does not make love, an angel is love.”

“But you’re soft and warm! We’re told that Earth beings are cold.”

And explaining why he saved the evil queen who tortured him: “An angel has no memory.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law) gives Barbarella (Jane Fonda) a ride. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

I will credit one cast member with carrying on like a true soldier. David Hemmings, in an underwritten part as the inept freedom fighter Dildano, was quite good. He offered some hints of what this film could’ve been.

Also very fine was a captivating soundtrack by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox performed by The Glitterhouse which featured Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.

Vadim wanted to do a sequel to BARBARELLA, but that dream died with his marriage to Fonda. He then talked about a remake right up to his death, toying with leading ladies like Drew Barrymore. Other directors have expressed interest in the remake project, notably Robert Rodriguez.

In closing, I would like to recommend an exceptionally sophisticated homage to this really dumb film. CQ (2001) written and directed by Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford) takes us back to Paris of the ‘60s where a young American filmmaker, Paul (Jeremy Davies), is trying to made personal art film/love letter to his girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez) but all that the honest camera can do is document her depression and resentments. So he gets a job assisting the director of an a cheesy sci-fi that is clearly a better version of BARBARELLA. That film’s director, played by Gerard Depardieu, is turning the project into a complete train wreck because he can’t come up with an ending, but really, can’t cope with the fact that the fantasy of revolution and liberty he creates on film will never translate to the real world. Paul gets drawn into the director’s lunacy through his growing infatuation with the film’s sexy star, played by Angela Lindvall, who remains the same impossible ideal of sexuality and liberty even when Depardieu’s camera is not rolling.

Robert Murphy is 47 years old and lives in New York City. Formerly employed, he now has plenty of time to write about movies and play with his cats.

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Retro Review: It’s Simply CHILD’S PLAY: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Throw a 25th Birthday Bash for Chucky!

Posted on: Jan 7th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema present CHILD’S PLAY (1987); Dir: Tom Holland; Starring: Brad Dourif, Chris Sarandon and Catherine Hicks; Tue. Jan. 8 @ 9:30 p.m. and Fri. Jan. 10 at 11:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Who could have predicted that a child’s doll would boast a career of evil spanning 25 years?

By 1988, the slasher film had seen its peak. The A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise delivered a fourth movie that fell far short of 1987’s well-received third entry. The FRIDAY THE 13TH series offered up a lackluster seventh film that attempted to pit Jason Voorhees against a distaff CARRIE knockoff. Producer Moustapha Akkad attempted to revive Michael Myers in an ineffective fourth HALLOWEEN film without the participation of John Carpenter. Meanwhile, the horror film world was looking across the pond for its new icons of terror: the Cenobites of Clive Barker’s groundbreaking HELLRAISER.

It might have seemed laughable on its face to combat this by saying, “well, what about a serial killing doll?” It’s not like the premise of a killer doll had never been done before. From the ventriloquist dummy with a mind of its own of 1948’s DEAD OF NIGHT to THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s Talky Tina, and from the possessed clown of 1982’s POLTERGEIST to the Zuni fetish doll of 1975’s TRILOGY OF TERROR, the killing machine posing as an innocuous inanimate figure was a familiar face on the horror landscape. But resting a relatively big-budgeted slasher film on the stuffed shoulders of a Good Guy doll must have seemed a risky proposition.

And in the wrong hands, it could have been. Thankfully, the screenplay was tightly executed, displaying a surprising intelligence and wit. The film finds serial killer Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray (Brad Dourif of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, WISE BLOOD and the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) mortally wounded and pursued by Chicago homicide detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon of FRIGHT NIGHT and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). On the verge of death, Chucky takes refuge in a toy store and uses a voodoo ritual to pass his soul into a handy Good Guy doll. The doll finds its way into the Barclay family home, where the now-sentient doll seeks to continue the mortal Chucky’s killing spree…and find a way to get out of his molded plastic and rubber holding cell.

The film was helmed by veteran horror writer-director Tom Holland (CLASS OF 1984, PSYCHO II, FRIGHT NIGHT) with a seriousness that served as a perfect counterweight to the cartoonish possibilities that an ersatz Cabbage Patch Kid slaughtering Chicagoans might pose. And his cast of familiar faces (and voices) helped sell that premise. In particular, the sardonic performance of Brad Dourif as Chucky walked the tightrope between threatening and humorous deftly, simultaneously communicating Chucky’s thirst for violence and his recognition that being stuck in a doll’s body is almost some kind of cosmic joke at his expense.

The novel concept, combined with the effects of the incredible Kevin Yagher and Dourif’s indelible voice work, quickly established Chucky as a most unlikely horror icon, and the film spawned several sequels in a franchise that continues to this day. Filming on the most recent installment, CURSE OF CHUCKY, was completed in Fall 2012.

Wanna play? Come out to the Plaza Theatre and celebrate Chucky’s quarter-century of slaughter with a special presentation of CHILD’S PLAY from Splatter Cinema. It’s not every day a doll turns 25.

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

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