Seventies Slackers, Bikers & Psychedelic Japanese Animation: All That and Much More in Our Retro Guide to the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Apr 2nd, 2016 By:

10294346_10153376281298424_3819900343571644880_nCinephiles rejoice! Now in its 40th year, the Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) is back in bloom from Friday April 1 through Sunday April 10. ATLFF has long been known for a huge line-up of more than 200 diverse and offbeat features, shorts and documentaries from local to international filmmakers, and this year has one of its most exciting line-ups to date with some gems to warm our Retro heart.

Because it can be challenging to wade through such a wide-ranging schedule, we’ve taken the time to sort out some productions that you, our Retro readers, might particularly find of interest including a number of cult and classic revival films screening for free. We’ll also be running social media coverage and reviews of some of our favorites, so be sure to check back. And because we can’t mention everything, be sure also to check out the full festival schedule because there are lots more great films you won’t want to miss.

All screenings below are at the festival HQ at the Plaza Theatre, unless otherwise indicated. 

dazed-and-confused-movie-poster-1993-1010327275 Friday April 1

Opening night brings a red carpet of stars at the Atlanta premiere of THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING directed by Rob Burnett and starring Paul Rudd, but we know our readers will be more ready to get back to the 70s with a rare chance to see Richard Linklater‘s hilarious comedy DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) at 9:30 p.m., followed by Lips Down on Dixie as they present their extremely popular midnight performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975). Although a Plaza staple for years, the show gets even better when seen with a festival crowd of fervent movie fanatics.

DudeDesigns_FCB_WEBSaturday April 2

Things get badass crazy with the world premiere of FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (2016) at 9:30 p.m., which kicks off the MORPHINE DREAMS horror/weird series. The homegrown 1970s-style neo-exploitation feature promises to be even more over-the-top than its precursor DEAR GOD! NO! (2011) (Read our Retro Review here).  Just about everyone involved with this feature is a dear friend to ATLRetro and lots of the cast and crew will be there, including star Lawrence R. Harvey (HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 & 3), so we wouldn’t miss it even if we might have to cover our eyes once or twice. Read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with Director James Bickert for a pretaste of the ultraviolent insanity (WARNING: not for everyone!). Just $10 but buy in advance as we betcha it’ll sell out. Facebook event page here.

Gwilliam_Poster_11x17_v03Also on Saturday: Get your bizarro horror fix started early at Noon with THE WOOL shorts segment which includes the award-winning GWILLIAM by Kool Kat Brian Lonano and more of what the ATLFF describes as “other-worldly fibers.” 1979 (do we detect a theme here?) is the setting for GOOD OL’ BOY (12:30 p.m.), about the challenges of assimilating into a new culture for a 10-year-old boy who moves with his Indian family to an American small town and has a crush on the girl-next-door. everybody-wants-some-posterThen EVERYBODY WANTS SOME! (2016), Richard Linklater’s new “spiritual sequel” to DAZED AND CONFUSED set in the world of 1980s college life, screens at 7 p.m. Actors Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin and Blake Jenner are scheduled to attend. Also at 7 p.m. and free with RSVP at the Hill Auditorium at The HighRUBY IN PARADISE (1993), Ashley Judd‘s film debut as a Florida girl struggling to escape her working class life and achieve her dreams during Pensacola spring break, gets a rare return to the big screen as part of a retrospective of director Victor Nunez‘s career. A PECULIAR NOISE (2015) at 7:30 p.m. (7 Stages), is a sentimental documentary of the DIY underground music scene in the college town that spawned such alt-favorites as The B-52s, R.E.M. and Pylon. Director Jorge Torres-Torres is scheduled to attend.

CcufcVTW8AER7JQSunday April 3

Festivities kick off at noon with a 25th anniversary screening of Southern foodie comedy classic FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991) (free with RSVP). If you’re hungry afterwards, for just $20, there’s a Food on Film after-party at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center from 2-4:30 p.m. CONCERTO, at 5:15 pm (7 Stages), is a documentary about brothers Christopher Rex (Principal Cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since 1979) and Charles Rex (a first violinist with the New York Philharmonic since 1981) who struggle to overcome a childhood at the hands of a disturbed but brilliant composer father. At 6 p.m., head to the Rialto Center for the Arts to revisit the explosive 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings where Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment in HBO Films’ docu-drama CONFIRMATION, filmed in Atlanta.

2012110720180322562_artikelThe second installment of the MORPHINE DREAMS series at 7:15 pm at 7 Stages, THE FORBIDDEN WORLD (2015), directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, is seriously crazed with a side of William Hope Hodgson : “A never-before-seen woodsman mysteriously appears aboard a submarine that’s been trapped deep under water for months with an unstable cargo. As the terrified crew make their way through the corridors of the doomed vessel, they find themselves on a voyage into the origins of their darkest fears.” Then rush back to the Plaza if you like crazy Japanese trippy Weird animated horror for MD#3, Eiichi Yamamoto‘s legendary BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973), a real event being that it was previous unreleased in the USA. Based on SATANISM AND WITCHCRAFT by Jules Michelet, young and innocent Jeanne is ravaged by the local lord and makes a pact with the Devil. According to the description: “The Devil appears in phallic forms and, through Jeanne, incites the village into a sexual frenzy. In a new restoration using the original camera negatives, this erotic and psychedelic trip of a film springs to life.”

CHEERLEADER

CHEERLEADER

Monday April 4

Get your dose of bubblegum, side ponytails, ’80s music and revenge in the 7 p.m. world premiere of CHEERLEADER, a witty satire of an all-American pastime.  Director Irving Franco and Producer Nathan Marcus are scheduled to attend. Then at 9:15 p.m., THE FOUNDERS goes back to the 1950s and the 13 women who fought male chauvinism to found the Ladies Pro Golf Association (LPGA). Co-Directors Charlene Fisk and Carrie Schrader, Producer Phoebe Brown and Actor Caleb Messer are scheduled to attend.

HandmadeVol6final_medTuesday April 5

At 7 p.m., the COTTON documentary shorts series at 7 Stages includes HOTEL CLERMONT, about residents of the notorious seedy and recently closed Atlanta landmark (yes, we said landmark), and THE NEW ORLEANS SAZERAC, about the quintessential Big Easy cocktail. Released first in 2005, HANDMADE PUPPET DREAMS (also 7 Stages, 9:15 p.m.) doesn’t date back to the 20th century in itself, but puppetry is a Retro art, right? This handpicked selection of puppet film shorts has received tons of international acclaim and just looks friggin’ cool, plus it’s introduced by Jim Henson‘s daughter Heather Henson. Read our Kool Kat of the Week interview with her here.

Bill Genovese in WITNESS.

Bill Genovese in WITNESS.

Wednesday April 6

At 7 p.m., THE WITNESS reopens the famous Kitty Genovese murder, which 38 witnesses watched from nearby apartments and did nothing. Forty years later, her brother Bill Genovese, who was 16 at the time of his sister’s death, digs into the case and “uncovers a lie that transformed his life, condemned a city, and defined an era.” Bill Genovese, Director James D. Solomon and Producer Melissa Jacobson are scheduled to attend.

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MANOMAN, directed by Simon Cartwright, UK

Thursday April 7

Head to the Center for Puppetry Arts at 7 p.m. for WOOD, a screening of international puppetry shorts, followed by a reception in the Atrium and free entry into the new Worlds of Puppetry Museum featuring the Jim Henson and Global Collections, which includes rare artifacts from Henson-related films such as THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982) and LABYRINTH (1986) and a selfie opportunity with Muppets Kermit and Miss Piggy.

LOA

LOA

Friday April 8

During COPPER, a special presentation by the always intriguing Contraband Cinema at 7 Stages at 7 p.m., see contemporary and classic avant garde and experimental shorts with some of the filmmakers in attendance. At 9:15 p.m. also at 7 Stages, director George Koszulinski and other members of his creative team will be on hand for a screening of the “mystical, experimental” Haitian documentary LOA about the life of the Extanta Aoleé, a local houngan or ‘Vodou man.” And ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW screens again at midnight with Lips Down on Dixie audience participation floor show (see Fri. April 1).

MV5BOTA3Mjg2NDQ3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjExNTU3NzE@._V1_UY1200_CR73,0,630,1200_AL_Saturday April 9

In HUNKY DORY, at 12:30 p.m., “Sidney—an artist of many things but an extraordinaire of nothing at all—struggles to live up to the expectations of his glam rock dream.” Director Michael Curtis Johnson, Producers Tomas Pais and Jacqueline Johnson and Actor Chad Hartigan (who also directed “closing night feature” MORRIS FROM AMERICA which screens Sat. at 7:30 p.m.) are scheduled to attendAt 2:30, the GOLD documentary shorts series includes SAULTOPAL, in which Atlanta-based artist Susan Cofer invites Georgia-born filmmaker John Henry Summerour (SAHKANAGA) to spend a year documenting Saultopal, an 1100-acre farm in northwest Georgia populated by Longhorn cattle, gigantic rock sculptures and Carl, her husband in his 80th year, and TOURIST about a Vietnam vet revisiting the nation where he once fought.

41cIba3SqsL._SY355_Sunday April 10

The last day of the ATLFF is pretty Retro-kickass, we have to admit. See David Bowie live again on the big screen as the iconic Goblin King in a 30th anniversary screening of LABYRINTH (1986). Then in the much-anticipated MILES AHEAD at 2:45 p.m., Don Cheadle directs and stars as legendary jazz man Miles Davis. Not a full biopic, it centers on the period of five years in the late 1970s when Davis was holed up in his home with chronic hip pain and a fictional encounter with a music reporter which leads to a quest for a stolen tape of his most recent compositions. There’ll also be some Encore screenings yet to be announced, so keep checking the schedule if you miss a screening and/or it sells out.

Of course, these films represent just a tiny portion of the events, shorts, seminars, screenings and receptions/parties taking place. For a complete list, again you need to check out the official Atlanta Film Festival Schedule. And keep an eye on ATLRetro throughout the fest for coverage on all the fun and films. Enjoy this year’s ATLFF, movie lovers!

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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.

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Double the Exploitation! Double the Bloody Ruckus! DEAR GOD NO!’s James Bickert Dishes on His Trek into 35mm Film with a Monstrous of a Sequel, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS!

Posted on: Mar 24th, 2015 By:

by Aleck BennettFRAN_poster
Contributing Writer

It’s been over three years since we first witnessed the infamous bloodthirsty biker gang, the Impalers going mano a mano with Sasquatch in DEAR GOD NO! (2011), James “Jimmy” Bickert’s lovingly crafted 16mm shrine to All-Things-Exploitation. Turns out that while Bickert has been busy doing things like helping resurrect the World Famous Drive-Invasion, he’s been working all the while on his film’s long-awaited sequel, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS! Filmed in glorious 35mm, the sequel will find our anti-heroes reanimated and back on the trail of Bigfoot while also trying to elude rival gangs, the law, bounty hunters, mutants and a femme fatale with a thing for explosives. If the wild description and upgrade in film format hasn’t clued you in that Jimmy Bickert is aiming for a bigger spectacle than before, he’s also added genre favorites like HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2’s Laurence Harvey, HEADLESSEllie Church and AMERICAN MARY’s Tristan Risk to his ensemble of returning actors including Kool Kat Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow, Gargantua, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse), Kool Kat Jett Bryant (Bigfoot), Nick Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Bill Ratliff (Truckadelic), Kool Kat Madeline Brumby, Jim Stacy (Pallookaville, Get Delicious!, Offbeat Eats) and many more!

As with DEAR GOD NO!, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS went directly to its potential audience for support through a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, and met its budgetary goals with time to spare. But the campaign still rolls on, with insane perks (ranging from the expected DVDs and Blu-rays to tattoos, personalized burlesque videos, on-screen appearances, decapitated heads and biker jackets) on offer for those willing to pony up and help move the movie through those heady days of post-production and distribution. Check out the full range of rewards here, because there’s still time to be a part of exploitation film history!

Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and James Bickert

Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and James Bickert

ATLRetro caught up with Jimmy Bickert for a quick rundown on what’s coming back for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, why going with crowd-funding made sense for this project and what you should be watching while you wait for this tale to unspool on a theater screen near you!

ATLRetro: First off, why a Kickstarter for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS? Are there any inherent advantages with going this route over taking an indie co-production deal?

Jimmy Bickert: It’s very difficult to pitch an idea like FCB to anyone. No sane person would get involved with such a rotten picture. (laughs) That’s the beauty of crowd-funding. We can rebel against what is trendy in the marketplace, even micro sub-genres of horror, without worrying about someone’s return investment. It’s freedom to put what we want to see and experience on the screen without having to placate or conform to the expectations of the general public, too. Nobody on this production team has any interest in doing anything we’ve seen before or a hundred times over for that matter. If we can look at the screen and laugh together, the journey was a success.

You’ve assembled some great bonuses for investors, ranging from special DVDs and Blu-Rays to posters and international distribution rights (!!!). What can folks looking to invest via Kickstarter expect to get when they pony up their dough?

DEAR GOD NO!

DEAR GOD NO!

We’ve reached our goal but WE NEED MORE MONEY FOR POST PRODUCTION! (laughs) They will immediately know they’re dealing directly with like-minded cinema fans. Many Kickstarter rewards tend to distance themselves from the contributors by offering digital downloads. How lazy and impersonal is that? I’m going to address a package and physically mail it to you. I may even throw in something extra and if our paths cross, we can share a beer together. We’re not looking for something for nothing. Many of the rewards are designed to get people involved and let them be a part of this project. We’re building a community and not trying to step on people so we can hang at L.A. cocktail parties. There is a level of smugness you find in the Indie film festival scene that is absent among the horror Indies. We tend to embrace our audience and drag them along for the ride.

Okay, my two main fascinations growing up were anything related to Bigfoot and Frankenstein. DEAR GOD NO! did Sasquatch proud while taking on other sub-genres—biker flicks, mad scientists, etc. What new ingredients are you bringing to the Frankenstein template?

We’re reviving everything you mentioned. There is a plot device in FCB very similar to the Shaw Brothers’ Kung-fu films and Spaghetti Westerns where we introduce three “larger than life” bounty hunters. I’m most excited about incorporating elements from one of my favorite sub-genres—the Talking Head movie. Since the script has just about everything, I would love to incorporate a kitchen sink into a death scene. (laughs)

Last time out, you nearly burned down one of the screens at the Starlight staging a van explosion. Do you have anything new planned that has the potential for that kind of destruction with FRANKENSTEIN? We do. Much more controlled this time around but yes, there will be some explosions. Shhh! I’m trying to secure my production insurance policy! (laughs)

DEAR GOD NO!

DEAR GOD NO!

You’re shooting this on 35mm, which is both a step up from DEAR GOD NO!’s 16mm and away from the mainstream’s adoption of digital as the norm. What led to this decision and what qualities would you say 35mm offers you over the other two formats? In other words, how is this going to affect FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS’ look?

We’re shooting on 35mm to have that connection to cinematic history on the set. I like a hand-crafted aesthetic that doesn’t resemble a Marvel blockbuster. Visually I can tell the difference. It appears more natural to my vision – especially with some good lenses. The medium will definitely help convey the late ‘70s visual connotations we’re trying to achieve. Due to the lack of availability for independents, this is probably our last chance to shoot on film so we’re going to make it count.

In addition to the returning DEAR GOD NO! ensemble, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS features contemporary genre notables like Ellie Church, Laurence Harvey and Tristan Risk. How did you wind up casting them?

They’re all great people that I’ve met at Horror conventions while promoting DEAR GOD NO! or was introduced to by friends like director Jill Sixx Gevargizian. Not only are they being brought in because they are talented and right for the roles, but they are also genuine people who will fit right into the homegrown talent we already have. I’m looking forward to seeing what they bring to their characters and watching our world-wide horror community get closer.

Any other people from behind the scenes coming back for this entry (music/crew)?

Pretty much everybody. We have a good group. If anything, we’re just adding more people. Bryan G. Malone and Adam McIntryre (The Forty-Fives) will be handling the soundtrack again with the brilliant Richard Davis (Gargantua) composing the score. Post-production sound doesn’t get a whole lot of direction from me. These are some of the most talented people I know and they deliver the goods.

720a

Lastly, you’ve got an encyclopedic knowledge of exploitation greats. Give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching right now—directors or movies, past or present, well-known or obscure.

Brian Lonano‘s CROW HAND (2014) is big right now. It’s a bloody good mess of a short. I’ve been so busy writing that I’ve been avoiding my genre fan responsibilities. There is a ton of stuff I’m really looking forward to seeing like Astron-6’s THE EDITOR (2014), Arthur Cullipher’s HEADLESS (2015), Stephen Biro’s AMERICAN GUINEA PIG (2014), Adam Ahlbrandt’s HUNTERS (2015). Everything Richard Griffin and the Soska twins (Jen and Sylvia Soska, ed.) are doing. Just to name a few. There is a ton out there. On my down time, I keep digging up Joe Sarno films from the ‘60s and revisiting Mark Haggard’s THE ALL AMERICAN GIRL (1973). You can’t go wrong with PAYDAY (1973), HONKY TONK NIGHTS (1978), THE OUTFIT (1973), LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO (1983) or PRIME CUT (1972). If you’re just looking for a fun creature-feature, track down Michael Stanley’s ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES (1985) or Richard Cunha’s GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN (1958). Ugh! Don’t get me started! I have a shooting schedule to work out and flights to book. (laughs)

 

All photos courtesy of James Bickert and used with permission.

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Kool Kats of the Week: DILBERT Does Demonic: Raising Corporate Hell with the Pretty Faces of Shane Morton and Chris Brown

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 By:

Chris Brown and Shane Morton at The Lab. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

When Shane Morton, aka Atlanta’s Renaissance man of horror, and Chris Brown, mad mastermind of Macabre Puppets and the bloody musical SCARLET’S WEB (Dad’s Garage), first got involved with Adult Swim‘s  YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL, they immediately realized this grotesque and groovy gig was their dream, or should we say nightmare, job. The initial assignment was special effects makeup, but the show didn’t have an art director yet. It’s a story Shane has already told colorfully in several articles, but he asked them for a couple of days to film a make-up test to prove the pair could transform humans into demons in 45 minutes, then he got to work on sketches and models. Being old-school Ray Harryhausen fans, Shane and Chris wanted to do as much as possible with miniatures, but budgets and technological advances dictated a balance between digital effects for lava flows and heads spinning like Linda Blair and the old ways for blood spurts and HR Geiger-esque urinals. Still, the pair didn’t have to do much to convince everyone to let them take over much of what perhaps a little ironically is called the “practical” effects for the series.

“Maybe we were thinking too much about that,” Shane says, speaking about his passion for traditional effects from the monster FX Lab he’s built south of the city at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. The undead Halloween attraction is one of many horror events he has nurtured locally and is a big force behind the transformation of Atlanta into Halloween-town, USA. “We did sculpt and cast all the horns themselves,” he continues. “We didn’t want to be just painting people red and sticking horns on them, and we didn’t want anything store-bought.”

Ever since the Middle Ages, comedies about deals with the Devil have proven a surefire hit. Think about such Retro cult classic movies as BEDAZZLED (The 1967 version, of course, starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and POOR DEVIL (TV, 1971), starring Sammy Davis Jr.  and Christopher Lee). YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL mixes in-your-face crassness and generous gore with office comedy, reimagining Hades as a contemporary cubicle-ridden setting. Demon Gary (played by Henry Zebrowski) is dedicated but far too much of a screw-up to earn a promotion. Yet it’s hard not to empathize with the well-meaning “associate” because we all like to complain about our bosses, but his, well, has to be worst because it’s Satan. The original live-action series is created and directed by Dave Willis (AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE, SQUIDBILLIES) and Casper Kelly (SQUIDBILLIES, HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY AT LAW; STROKER & HOOP). The final installment of the six-episode run airs this Thursday May 23, 2013, at midnight.

Henry Zebrowski stars as Gary the demon in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

At the Silver Scream Spookshow, Shane’s homage to Retro spook shows of old, he regularly performs magic tricks as Horror Host with the Most Professor Morte. Whether transforming humans into monsters with make-up, conjuring up crazy sets or engineering a splattery gross-out nosebleed, Shane views his effects work equally as magic. A consummate showman, he “performs” for the crew and ultimately the TV audience. “When there is special effects stuff going on, everybody wants to be around to watch it,” Shane says. “You’re getting to see the trick in the magic trick. You’re getting to peek behind the curtain.”

Part of the magic on YOUR PRETTY FACE was having to be prepared for the unexpected every day on the set. The script served only as a loose guide because a great deal of improvisation happened, too, Shane says. With that in mind, he kept a “library of prosthetics” on set. At the AZA Lab prior to shooting, he crafted multiple “wounds and hanging eyeballs and sets of teeth, because you never know what these people are going to ask for.”

Shane and Chris started each day by getting the cast into make-up. As simple as it may seem to paint someone red and stick on horns, Shane notes that because the body is organic–yeah, people sweat and rub against things–there’s a nonstop need for  reapplication. “We were constantly touching up their noses, painting in their ears, touching their beards up, molesting them all day long,” Shane says. “You have to get intimate.”

That process became trickier when on location, such as for the third episode, Take Life By the Horns,” in which Gary found himself fallen into a ravine. That shoot involved dodging poison ivy and copperhead snakes and having to rappel camera equipment down the side of a mountain, Chris recalls.

After make-up, the pair would launch into preparing the special effects and any additional props needed for the day. Sometimes that could be blood or pus or a potion of extreme projectile vomit, also needed for the ravine shoot. “We had a limited amount of time, so I literally used a sump pump, like you use to bail water out of your basement,” Chris says. “I put together a big plunger and a giant syringe, and then opened the nozzle to spew out a rainbow collection, which included stew, cream of mushroom soup, I made some gelatin and crunched up into chunks. The smell quickly turned rancid so it even smelled like vomit.” In addition, Gary broke his leg from the fall down the cliff, and Chris had to create nauseating pus to spew from the wound. Yes, it did involve black blood, red blood and tapioca pudding!

Satan (Matt Servitto) gets a touch-up from Shane Morton. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

Shane and Chris are used to working wonders on a tight budget and schedule whether it’s for local theater or DEAR GOD! NO!, an over-the-top neo-exploitation movie involving bikers, Bigfoot and a Nazi mad scientist which scored awards at grindhouse festivals across the nation. While the budget was not huge for YOUR PRETTY FACE, it was much larger than the typical indie which allowed such treats as Chris was crafting Satan’s legs out of actual yak fur rather than a used gorilla suit. “The original talk was that Satan would be fat, over-the-hill, and extra lecherous like the demon in LEGEND (1985) as if time has caught up with him,” Shane says. “We were really gung ho for that, but we loved the look he ended up with.”

A secret ingredient underneath Satan’s furry legs was spandex tights, that could easily be changed out if Matt Servitto, the actor who plays Satan, felt sweaty. A lycra lining gave four-way stretch which, as Shane notes, even allowed Matt to do David Lee Roth kicks in a photo shoot. As for costume maintenance, well, “it was like combing out a big dog,” Chris says.

Perhaps Shane’s favorite set pieces are the aforementioned H.R. Geiger-esque urinals, the bowls of which needed to accommodate the heads of demons who displeased Satan. Yeah, he pees on them, including sometimes poor hapless Gary. Originally they were supposed to be clean, standard urinals, but then Shane had the crazy idea to make them scary: “Everything in hell is monsters, so let’s make the urinals monsters, too!”

Shane Morton at work on Claude (Craig Rowin), Gary's over-dedicated intern in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

Shane went home and crafted a miniature model, brought it in, and got the greenlight to create a urinal that looks like an extra-large facehugger. He toyed with various color ideas but finally decided that the bathrooms otherwise would be spotless in Hell.

The demonic duo were impressed that the show really did follow through with Satan actually peeing on the demons’ heads. Of course, even with a program that prides itself on shock value, some things inevitably didn’t make the final cut. For example, Satan won’t poop on Gary’s face, even though the scene was filmed. “It will end up on DVD maybe,” Shane says hopefully. “Somebody getting pooped on or an arm hacked off is a good day at work! It keeps the energy up.”

Satan’s office is packed with props created by Shane and Chris, though it is not perhaps quite the devilish “greatest hits” collection that they originally envisioned. Instead of the trophies and plaques that have become de rigeur in executive offices, Shane wanted to include on the shelf Eve’s apple, Christ’s crown of thorns and Hitler’s head in a jar. And clearance couldn’t be gotten for Wall of Shame photos of Satan flashing a big grin with dubious celebrities such as David Hasselhoff and the Octomom. Still, those who look carefully will see many subtle Shane and Chris touches such as faces of tortured souls on the steel balls that click back and forth on the Devil’s desk. “Everything is pumped up a little bit because after all we are in hell,” Shane says. “Even the elevator switch looks like something scary.”

In other words, Shane and Chris had one of a helluva good time. At an apartment location, some little old ladies told the crew “they were going to pray for us because we were doing the devil’s work,” Shane says. “We joked every day and maybe it did get a bit old but ‘it’s really hell getting all this done today!’”

Shane holds up his own head, a prop he crafted for DEAR GOD! NO! Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

As the season draws to a close, the pair are now just waiting to hear the final ratings and whether the show gets greenlit for a second season. If yes, they’re hoping for a bigger budget and the chance to play around more with more practical special effects over CGI–“to raise the bar,” as Chris says. “If we end up getting multiple seasons, it’s only going to get more extreme,” he adds. And maybe there’ll even be a cameo for that giant spider with the humungous nut-sack hanging on his back that turned out to be expensive to cast.

In the meantime, Chris will be working on the script for a $3-4 million movie version of SCARLET’S WEB. And Shane recently wrapped the indie feature, TALES FROM MORNINGVIEW CEMETERY. In it, he appears as Professior Morte, fulfilling the Cryptkeeper role, introducing the segments and holding the show together. He’s also involved in preproduction with director Jimmy Bickert for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, the much-anticipated sequel to DEAR GOD! NO! It will be filmed in 35mm widescreen hopefully by the end of 2013, he revealed, and include a lot more special effects and monsters. Look for Shane, or rather his Professor Morte alter-ego, at the 11th Annual Rock n Roll Monster Bash at the Starlight Six Drive-In on Sunday June 2. The movies this year are THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975) and EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), not to mention six bands, scary shopping and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling! [ED. Note: Watch for Retro Reviews of both movies next week]

Editor’s Note: Shane and Chris are just a few of the talented local folk streaming by in the end credits of YOUR PRETTY FACE. More ATLRetro friends include producer Linda Burns (V/H/S, THE SIGNAL), set decorator/property master Laurie Garner, who’s played bass in so many Atlanta bands (She-Monster and Vietnam to name a few), and the indomitable Eddie Ray (SATANIC PANIC BAND OUT OF HELL and a previous Kool Kat to boot!).

ALSO: Learn some of the make-up secrets Shane Morton used in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL at his Monster Make-up Class on Sunday May 26 in his Lab at AZA. For more details, visit the Facebook Event Page here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Beating Heart of Art: Garrett DeHart and His Poe-Inspired Short Film IF I AM YOUR MIRROR

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2013 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Atlanta native filmmaker and photographer Garrett DeHart is the mastermind behind one of the most inventive short films ATLRetro has seen in recent years: IF I AM YOUR MIRROR. An adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the film takes Poe’s lean exercise in mounting paranoia and expands it into a fractured document of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the years following the Civil War. Beyond the narrative twists taken with Poe’s themes, the film dramatically stylizes the world its characters inhabit – presenting it as a living Victorian-era oil painting imbued with the blood, spit, dirt and murk both of the time and of its main character’s mind. The portrayal of that lead character by the late actor Larry Holden in one of his last roles, is a triumph: in turns fierce and fragile, proud and pitiable. Currently available for viewing online, this immersive 18-minute epic is well worth your time.

In honor of this horrific accomplishment, ATLRetro goes Really Retro with this week’s Kool Kat.  We spoke with Mr. DeHart about his experiences making the film, the techniques behind creating the images, his influences, his local ties and much more.

ATLRetro: IF I AM YOUR MIRROR has a remarkable visual style, resembling an oil painting come to life. Were there any particular artists that inspired the look of your film? Filmmaking-wise, who influenced you on this particular project?

Garrett DeHart: I’ve always loved Poe, and  I had been playing around with a process to make live action film look like an animated oil painting. I thought the color and composition of Romantic painting, the predominant painting style of Poe’s time, was very well-equipped to tell a story inspired by Poe’s voice. I added a bit more dirt, grim and blood, and I think, with that, it’s a style that lends itself well to my voice as well. I did research on Romantic painting as a whole, but was really drawn to the paintings of Eugène Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

As far as filmmakers, the process was, of course, inspired by Richard Linklater‘s WAKING LIFE.  I loved what he did, turning live action into animation, to create a world of dreams, and really loved the look of his Rotoshop films. But I really wanted something that had a bit more texture and grim to it, and also wanted something that I could do myself.  After I saw WAKING LIFE, I started working on the process and used it in my film THE PROBLEM WITH HAPPINESS (2004) a 70-minute film that was projected on three discrete screens and had an accompanying seven-piece live band playing the score. We had 300 people at Eyedrum for the premiere and then later played The Earl before the band broke up. It was a sci-fi film in which the protagonist’s world slowly turns into a moving oil painting. I was never really happy with the effect that I was able to produce for that film and so I kept playing around with the process. The narrative was inspired by the films of Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier.

Could you describe how you came to create MIRROR’s striking look? How long did it take to bring such a heavily-stylized project to fruition?

The actors were shot on green screen at a small studio at Georgia State University. Aside from a few chairs, luggage and miscellaneous props, everything else was added in post. I developed a process through Photoshop to stylize the actors’ frames and ran each frame of each element in a scene through Photoshop to add the effect. Many of the shots have multiple layers on each actor, and the layers were then rotoscoped in to create lighting effects, shadows and a greater depth of field with the paint effects. The backgrounds were developed from stills, paintings and created graphics. Those backgrounds were then layered and animated in After Effects. Some of the shots have hundreds of layers in them. The final shot of the film took over 30 hours to render. I pushed the capabilities of After Effects in working in a 2D for 3D world. I did all of the post for the film on my MacBook Pro. The computer was running full speed around the clock for over two years. I’m typing this now on the same machine. The whole process took a bit over two years.

You also directed DOGME #55: A PICNIC AND A STROLL. You’re obviously not frightened by taking on a wide variety of styles, as MIRROR is about as far away from the Dogme 95 philosophy as possible! Which turns out to be more difficult (or, alternately, more fulfilling) for you as a filmmaker: following the self-imposed restrictions of the Dogme 95 movement, or the technical demands of an effects-heavy film like MIRROR?

I was really inspired by the Dogme 95 manifesto. I really like the idea of using real people, instead of actors, when possible, and breaking down the spectacle of lighting and score, and using a handheld, cinéma vérité camera style to get to some truth. I think my tendency would be to lean more towards a Dogme esthetic, at least in the way in which I direct actors. Now that I think about it, It might be compelling to try and develop one of Poe’s stories as a Dogme style film.  But I don’t think even Von Trier or Vinterberg ever made a truly pure Dogme 95 film, and while I think there are some very important ideas in the Dogme 95 movement, I’m really most inspired by very stylized expression in films. I also love the graphics and effects and the spectacle of fantasy and horror films.

I did MIRROR for my graduate thesis and I really wanted to experiment with this effect that I had developed. They have a great studio at DAEL (Digital Arts Entertainment Laboratory), and I wanted to utilize the GSU facilities while I had the chance to access all of their equipment for free. We shot almost everything in the DAEL blue-screen studio at GSU and got to utilize all of the studio equipment.

I’m not sure which style is harder as a means of telling a story well. I know which takes longer.

How did you come to work with the late Larry Holden, and how was your experience working with him on MIRROR?

I met Larry on the set of another film a few years prior to my film. My friend had written him a letter, told him he was trying to make his first feature and asked if he’d be willing to be in the film. Larry drove across the country for that film, so when it came time to make my film, I thought he would be perfect for the role [and] I wrote him and asked if he would star in the film.

Larry was an amazing cast member to have on set. The experience and vitality he brought to the set really energized everyone working on the project. For most of us on set he was the biggest name we had worked with, but he was incredibly humble and was really dedicated to working with and teaching everyone on set. He had been in Christopher Nolan’s films and a lot of TV, but he was making his own films whenever he could, and when he had time he would travel across the country, for little more than expenses, to help and teach those who were trying to learn the craft. He stayed with some friends of mine up the street from my house during the shoot.

He was not only incredibly influential to all of the crew that he worked with for less than a week, but many folks in the neighborhood became very close with him in that time as well. My neighbors traveled across the country to go to his funeral. I was not able to make the trip at that time. It’s an incredible loss. He was an amazing artist and an amazing person, and we all feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend some time with him.

Poe’s stories are known for how streamlined they are, which makes adapting them almost impossible without necessarily expanding on the source material, or deviating from it in some way. MIRROR provides a particularly novel take on Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” How did you decide on your approach to the source material?

Initially I had planned to shoot a straight version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” told through the lens of Romantic painting, with voiceover. I had all the pre-production done and was ready to shoot and make that film. As I got Larry Holden interested in and then brought him onto the project, he convinced me that “The Tell-Tale Heart” films had been done enough and that it might be more interesting to take Poe’s story and its themes and let those inspire a new story. After some research, I realized that while a modern “Tell-Tale” done well could be really compelling, he was right and that I needed to develop something new: something that would express my voice. So I dug in, and with the help of a couple of friends, developed a script that I thought respected Poe’s legacy but might expand on who his characters were and the world they may have inhabited.

Garrett DeHart on set of IF I AM YOUR MIRROR.

I had the blueprint of all that pre-production I had done for the Tell-Tale script, but I was convinced we were making something new now—something certainly more challenging for me. So it wasn’t really a difficult process in deciding what to add or subtract. Poe’s story works really well in its minimalism and focus. He excludes all details that don’t lend directly to the development of the protagonist’s obsession and insanity. I was working on a new project; a film inspired by Poe. I think that “inspired by” gave me the freedom to expand on Poe’s ideas and imagine circumstances that may have brought his characters to the situations they experience in his story, and in that imagining I was creating my own story, a story that explored some slightly different, maybe more contemporary themes.

My first edit of the film we shot was almost 50 minutes. It was really more about pacing than it was about cutting scenes. But many of those quick shots, that last only a few frames, were 5, 10 or even 30 seconds long in the first cut. I was really working from the inspiration of Malick and Von Trier in the pre-production process. I imagined the film as a very slow, melodic PTSD nightmare. But as I worked with the film more and more, I found something of a thriller in it, and it seemed a bit pretentious to let the scenes linger like they were. I loved the 30-second wide, static shot of the train driving across the horizon, or 30 seconds of his wife walking through a burning wheat field, or a 5-minute flashback of the Civil War, but as I lived with the film day and night for two years, I realized this was a short, not a feature. I felt the audience might find it a bit tiring, and I wasn’t sure the long shots and extra scenes were really helping to propel the narrative. I’m happy with the decisions I made in cutting the film down.

Being an Atlanta-centric website, I’m required by city ordinance to ask: what local talent should we be keeping our eyes peeled for in the film? Any notable locals toiling behind the scenes that we should be aware of?

We had an amazing turn-out for crew from GSU grad students and for extras from all over the Atlanta area.

Shane Morton (aka Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow) was incredibly helpful on set. He did a lot of makeup work on the actors in production to help the paint effect along when we got to post.  He’s always working on cool projects. He did some effects and stars in the TALES FROM MORNINGVIEW CEMETERY horror anthology. He’s always planning and working on Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, and they are in development on FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (The sequel to DEAR GOD NO!).

If you’ve seen any Atlanta independent film you probably know Barefoot Bill (aka Bill Pacer), the Old Man/Evil Eye. Bill is always auditioning in Atlanta when he is not working on his one-man Ben Franklin show. He”ll be doing the Ben Franklin show at AnachroCon this weekend and March 2 at Duluth Historical Museum.

Mari Elle, the wife in the film, is now in LA but comes back to Atlanta to audition for films. She’s in town this week auditioning so catch her while you can. She is fantastic.

Steven Swigart and Chris Escobar were a huge help during production as the anchors of the production team. Chris is now the director of the Atlanta Film Festival and recently made a documentary short, shot partially in Colombia, about the ripple effects of family choices. Steven is making mini-documentaries for a university.

Jeff Ballentine, who let us borrow his large Civil War re-enactor wardrobe, is working on post for his own Civil War film.

What led to your decision to release the film online, rather than pursue the typical festival route? What has the reaction been thus far?

There’s a misconception, I think, that filmmakers are giving their work away for free when they put it online. The truth is that most filmmakers don’t make any money from their films; in fact, most spend hundred or thousands of dollars just trying to get the film seen in festivals. I made IF I AM YOUR MIRROR as my graduate school thesis project, so I wasn’t expecting to make money on the film. I wanted to create a film that exemplified my capabilities at the time, and I feel this film does that. MIRROR, at 18 minutes, is long for a short film and does not easily fit into an established genre. Therefore, it would be difficult to place it in festivals.

The festival circuit, while important, seems to me, just another way to suck money out of the truly indie filmmaking market. At $20 to $50 per entry, it’s just so much time and money that could be spent on the next project. And while seeing a film on the big screen is, of course, a far better experience (I screened my film at the Plaza Theatre and the trailer at the High Museum as part of WonderRoots Best of Generally Local, Mostly Independent Film Series), reaching an audience is really the most important thing, and the potential audience on the web is immense. Tapping that audience is, of course, the key, and that has been somewhat difficult, but I’m doing everything I can to self-promote the film through online media like ATLRetro. The critical response has been great and the film has gotten a lot of attention but, sadly, that has not really translated into as many viewers as I had hoped.

If you like the film, please support independent cinema, and pass it along to your friends and social networks.

This past October, I saw the 7 Stages production of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, and when I saw your film later at the Plaza, there were a few effects shots in the video projection that looked familiar—primarily some shots of the train and the train station itself. Given the overlap in talent between these projects, I have to ask: were these your handiwork?

Yes. Rob Thompson was in MIRROR and asked, when they started to develop DRACULA, if they could use some of the footage for the backgrounds of the rock opera. I adjusted a few of the shots and gave them longer takes, and I’m very happy that MIRROR helped to fill in some of the space of the Dracula rock opera.  We’ve talked about the possibility of doing a music video/short with one of the songs on the soundtrack that will be released this month, but we haven’t had the time to work it out yet.

Are there any future projects on the horizon we should be looking out for?

I’m hoping that getting IF I AM YOUR MIRROR out into the world will facilitate connections with other writers and filmmakers and lead to new projects in the near future.  I’m in development on a Steampunk character study, short film with a style inspired by Wong Kar-wai and Gaspar Noé, that I hope, when complete, I can crowd-source into a TV series or web series. I’m looking for some writers to help in the expansion of that project. Again, if you like the film, please support independent cinema, and pass it along to your friends and social networks.

You can like IF I AM YOUR MIRROR on Facebook and check out the webpage; www.ifiamyourmirror.com.

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

All artwork is courtesy of Garrett DeHart.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Eddie Ray on the Tricks and Treats of Growing Up a Halloween Kid in ATLRetro, His A-T of Why Atlanta is Horror-Town, USA, and His Top Seven Picks for a Super-Supernatural Time This Year

Posted on: Oct 19th, 2012 By:

No one can exorcise the Afro Demon outta Atlanta's Man of 1000 Halloween Faces Eddie Ray.

By Eddie Ray
Contributing Writer

As I sit here and write this, I am listening to the score to HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, editing an “I love Halloween” video for YouTube, working on my Zombie Walk costume, working on my Halloween night costume, and patching up my costume for Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. So to say I work for Halloween is an understatement. I do love Halloween, but the truth is I believe in Halloween. There is a huge difference. Real Halloween kids start decorating and celebrating Halloween on September 1, and the party lasts until November 1.

I was taught this when I was very young, and I began saying that I love and work for Halloween when I was probably about 6 or 7 years old. I grew up in a Halloween house with ghost stories, horror movies and even a Halloween friend who helped show me that I needed to help keep the season of Halloween exciting and moving forward. It was my duty in some ways. When I was little I was so excited to see the leaves change color and for the month of September to begin so that I could grab all of our Halloween decorations and hang them on doors, in windows and plug up orange lights outside.

Halloween is a magical time – notice I said “is” and not “was” – for me and all the Halloween Kids who love the season as much I do. I grew up on the south side of Atlanta in Suburbia, which meant trick-or-treating was a big deal for all the kids. I even loved that there was a possibility that your candy could be the last shit you ate because it could be poisoned. Will it be a trick or will it be a treat? My family would have big Halloween parties every year, which I eventually took over and began decorating for, DJ-ing for and making my own elaborate costumes for. I even designed haunted houses in the yard to go through, and since I loved horror so much, I began making horror films when I was about 10 years old. I didn’t say that shit was good; I was 10!

A young Eddie Ray goes gangster.

I think a lot of Halloween Kids grew up this way in Atlanta, and I would eventually met some of them in the future. I believe that we were all meant to find each other. I met Luke Godfrey during the filming of a low-budget zombie movie. He had just started the first Zombie Walk in Atlanta (watch a video filmed by Eddie at this year’s walk on Sun. Oct. 14 here), and we became friends right off. He would later open up the haunted attraction Chambers of Horror with Nick Morgan. This was the first haunted attraction/house I ever acted in. I met Jonny Rej (co-owner of The Plaza) and Shane Morton through the Plaza Theatre, and now I help them train actors, direct scenes and act in their haunted attraction, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse [If you missed our ATLRetro feature on AZA, click here]. I have always loved haunted houses/attractions growing up and go to all the ones that Georgia has to offer. I met special effects artist Blake Myers through a friend of mine, and we rambled on about John Carpenter for a while and have been friends ever since. Now he is doing effects for horror films like V/H/S, and he helps run the Buried Alive Film Festival (Nov. 9-10, 2012 at the Plaza).

Eddie Ray gives a Red Scare to the GA Capitol during Atlanta Zombie Walk.

These are just a few of the friends that I help with different Halloween events throughout the month of October. The point is we all grew up the same way, and we loved horror and Halloween. Now we keep the Halloween dream alive every year with events, horror attractions, parades and films that are made here. Atlanta really is a horror and Halloween town, because we help make it that way. It’s fun for all ages, races, sexes and sexualities. Halloween is for all who love it. I am proud to live in a Halloween town like Atlanta. Now get out there and support all the Halloween fun Atlanta has to offer you!

Here are some reasons why Atlanta is a horror/Halloween town!

A. Hello, the CDC is here.

B. There is a shitload of foreclosed and abandoned creepy-ass buildings here.

C. A shit-ton of ghost stories from Atlanta’s rocky-ass past. Savannah is always listed as one of the most haunted places in America. I grew up near a DEVIL’S CHURCH ROAD! It was Spooky Dookie!

D. Zombie Walks,  Zombie Prom, WALKING DEAD (TV Show), DANCE OF THE DEAD (Movie), Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2 (Movie), DEAR GOD! NO! (Movie) and V/H/S  (Movie)  all happen or were filmed here.

E. All the amazing horror make-up effects people who live here.

F. The Buried Alive Film Festival, at which I was winner of the Audience Choice Award for SATANIC PANIC; BAND OUT OF HELL last year. Yay, me!

G. Ponce Hookers. I was chased by one once.

H. People come down to Atlanta from other cities to celebrate Halloween here.

I. Little 5 Points Halloween Parade.

J. Silver Scream Spookshow

K. All the amazing haunted attractions here [Ed. note: including Netherworld, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Chambers of Horror, Dark Harvest and more].

L. Honey Boo Boo. I’m kidding, I love her!

M. All the Halloween parties at bars and clubs like Mary’s, The Goat Farm and Sauced.

N. Splatter Cinema.

O. The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

P. Corn Mazes.

Eddie Ray as MC Eat Yo Brains Out!

Q. Me, bitch!

R. Most of my close friends love Halloween and really get into it with me, and we begin planning for Halloween in June. They make me proud with their costumes.

S. Halloween kids are all ages!

T. We all love Halloween here!

Okay here are some things to do this Halloween in Atlanta.

1. Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse: I work in this one now, and I play a cop who helps you fight off zombies in an EVIL DEAD style horror movie, with clues, the occult and pretty ladies!!!! You are literally running for your life, and it’s exciting and scary as hell. Turns out I am really good at this shit. I have done it for two years in a row and this is my third year. Yes, we are the Zombie Capital of the world now. It’s a Zombie Hell in Atlanta, G.A. Baby!

2. Chambers of Horror: This was the first haunted attraction I worked in, and it’s adult-themed, scary, FUCKED UP, and amazing. Check this Rated X haunt out for a good time and maybe a turn on. (Read ATLRetro’s article on last year’s Chambers here)

3. Marys Hallo-Weenie Party – (Friday Oct. 26) For a good time on Halloween, call Mary’s; it’s a cool place to go. They make Halloween a big deal and have the most outlandish costumes at any club or bar I have ever seen. I always take my ass by there in October.

Atlanta's Scariest Halloween Kid Duet: John Wayne Gacy, aka Eddie Ray, takes a mugshot with Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, aka Shane Morton.

4. Little 5 Points Halloween Parade – (Sat. Oct. 20, 4 p.m.) – I have been in the Halloween parade for about four years now, and it’s so much fun to dress up and walk down the streets of Little 5 Points in a creepy costume. Not to be missed, and if you can be in it then get in it! Watch here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPnIaOSYERA

5. Halloween Party at The Goat Farm II  (Sat. Oct. 27, 8 p.m.) – It’s back from the dead, and more blood-curdling than ever. Join them for an evening of debauchery, spectacles and spooky surprises at every corner. It’ll be a night that’ll haunt your memories. You’ve been warned. For more info, check out Scout Mob here.

Eddie Ray goes old school as The Green Ghost from SCOOBY DOO.

6. Plaza Theatre/Spookshow: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925; starring Lon Chaney, Man of 1000 Faces)- Oct. 19, 20, 21; and full stage show by Professor Morte and his ghoulish gang for BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN  (1935; starring Boris Karloff and Elsa Lancaster) – Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. and 10 p.m.

7. Twin Peaks Prom Night (Sun. Oct. 28, 8 p.m. ) – People will be encouraged to come dressed as characters from TWIN PEAKS or other David Lynch movies, as well as prom attire. Come out to enjoy a swanky dinner, snacks and cocktails from the always stellar menu at Sauced, plus DJs will be spinning classic haunting music from the ‘50s & ‘60s to transport you to a different era.

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Kool Kat of the Week/Retro Review: Sex, Blood and Rock n Roll: Jesus Christ Superstar meets Grand Guignol in Not-To-Be-Missed Dracula The Rock Opera

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2012 By:

Dracula and his wives in DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages; L-R: Jessika Cutts, Rob Thompson, Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby.

In this Week’s Kool Kat, we break the rules and give it to more than one person – those crazy kids in the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra.  Don’t miss DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA before it closes this Sunday, October 14 at 7 Stages. 

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA melds JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with Grand Guignol in a production that not only rocks hard and delivers a horrific, non-twinkly Nosferatu, but also is surprisingly true to Bram Stoker‘s original novel. Not to be missed, this DRACULA brings the rock opera genre into the 21st century with the energy, musical, acting and staging quality of an off-Broadway find. Seeing it is like discovering HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH in 1998 or THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a tiny upstairs theater in London in 1973. But hey, wait a second, this is Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theatre, not New York, not London, not even LA or Chicago. And it’s not Rob Zombie, but Rob Thompson. How the HELL did that happen?

The short answer is years of hard work by the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra, a motley crew of badass tattoo-covered Atlanta musicians, stage professionals and grassroots performance artists whom you haven’t heard of most likely unless you live here. If you don’t live in Atlanta, you probably won’t believe this gang of music misfits, most with ultra-light theater experience, has produced a libretto, lyrics, acting and staging that set DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA tooth and claw above community theater.Maybe you’ll be more convinced when I point out that they did have the benefit of Del Hamilton, a seasoned internationally acclaimed director, to guide them. DRACULA will be the last of 80 shows which he has directed before he steps down as artistic director of 7 Stages, building with Faye Allen, a reputation for this company as one of Atlanta’s most edgy. It’s a testament to Hamilton’s vision that he was willing to take on a venture in the pop culture/horror arena as his swan song (though he will continue to stay active in 7 Stages). Clearly Hamilton drove the cast and production crew to their highest potential, ably assisted by longtime Atlanta actor Justin Wellborn, who returned from Los Angeles to work on DRACULA.

Harker (Chris Love) receives a dire warning from a gypsy woman (Naomi Lavender).

In JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the son of God is reborn as a rock star, and so likewise is the iconic vampire dark lord of fiction as Rob Thompson emerges on stage, dressed as Vlad the Impaler with a long dark mane, a Gothic red velvet vest so pointy it looks like it could cut you, and tight black leather pants. At first he is bending his fingers and arching his back, creating a shadow image creepily reminiscent of Max Schreck in the iconic silent NOSFERATU (1922). But soon recharged by the promise of a new feeding ground in England, he is re-uniformed in a blood-red cape, red and black boot chaps and a sword. With his petulance, cockiness and powerful voice, Jim Morrison meets Ozzy as Thompson emotes on the power of blood to a heavy beat right out of Black Sabbath.  This Count is no romantic sparkly vampire, but a black metal superstar of evil whose immortality is dependent on the death of humanity.

When ATLRetro reviewed the first act, then titled HAUS VON DRACUL, during a trial run last year, we called that review “Dracula Superstar but Love is the Answer.” That tagline still holds true in that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is unique among Dracula dramatizations for having a strong/non-wimpy rendition of Jonathan Harker in the transcendent voice and passionate mannerisms of African-American actor/musician Chris Love. With a lion’s mane of long black hair, Love is already a daring visual choice for a role too often played close-cropped and straight-laced. Now Thompson has caught up with Love, but Love, as Harker, continues to embody the everyman (us by proxy) as he arrives on stages and declares in a moving opening solo that “a good man is a true man”  and later a stranger in a strange land, “all alone away from Mina.” Bram Stoker’s novel is written in the epistolary form with characters expressing their ebbing terror through diary entries and letters, and this rock opera masterfully embraces that format, often taking lines directly from the book and making the audience a confidante. In Love’s hands, Harker’s predicament gets progressively lonelier, reminds us that the vampire is evil and not to be embraced, progressively raising the stakes and easing the first act towards a sense of doom with no hope and escape.

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston, center) and Lucy's three suitors, Quincey (Shane Morton), Seward (Chaz Pofahl) and Arthur (Jed Drummond) make a "vein" attempt to save Lucy's (Jessika Cutts) life with blood transfusions.

Beyond Dracula’s tight leather pants, the “sex” side of rock n roll comes center stage early in Harker’s seduction by Dracula’s three wives, played to a perfect sirenic pitch by Muleskinner MacQueen Trio chanteuse Naomi Lavender (who also plays a gypsy woman and Mina), Madeline Brumby (known in the neo-exploitation movie world for her breakout role in also-Atlanta-produced DEAR GOD! NO!) and Jessika Cutts (who also plays Lucy). Their breasts show through white diaphanous robes, a clear homage to the sexy female vampires of Universal, Hammer and the lesbian vampire B-movie genre, and this production ups their otherworldly quality by adding exotic Eastern European headpieces and dance moves reminiscent of a Kali ritual. The actresses achieve a chemistry in their ethereal voices and interplay that only heightens the erotic tension and also their profound loneliness, trapped in the castle with the Count.

The first act showcases how to effectively use minimalist sets, lighting and an ensemble cast. No coach is needed with just Harker sitting vulnerably on steps while a mad driver thrashes a long whip, a small herd of humans outfitted in haphazard fur pelts furiously keeping pace to a metal beat. Less is more is also well-executed in the similarly soundtracked (the beat always gets heavy when Dracula is at his most bloodthirsty) ship scene conveying the hopelessness of the captain (Rick Atkinson) trying in vain (vein?) to keep his ship afloat in a stormy sea while the Count devours his crew in one of the play’s bloodiest scenes (watch out, front row!).

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston), Vampire Slayer!

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA has to introduce a lot of new characters rapidly in the second act, and this task is mostly achieved well, including characters who appear in the book but often excluded from screen and stage. In a poppy update of Cole Porter’s “Tom, Dick and Harry” from KISS ME KATE, Lucy (Jessika Cutts) enthusiastically emotes to her best friend Mina (Naomi Lavendar) about her three suitors, earnest, bowler-hat-wearing Arthur (musician Jed Drummond in his stage debut); Dr. Seward (Charlotte, NC-based actor Chaz Pofahl), who runs the asylum (how romantic!); and Quincey, an American cowboy played with appropriate “home-on-the-range” swagger and just the right nod of humor by Atlanta horror Renaissance man-about-town Shane Morton (Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, DEAR GOD! NO!, Gargantua, etc.) against type – in other words, more country than rock (Note: because of Shane also being the mastermind of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Arnie Lowder is now playing this role Thurs-Sat for the last few weeks of the run).

We already have a sense of Mina from Harker’s songs about her. Like in so many Dracula dramatizations, she could be just a romantic foil and vampire victim but fortunately Lavender’s unique voice – Kate Bush meets Janis Joplin, with a twist of Jane Wiedlin?! – and sheer dynamic energy forestall that possibility, ultimately ensuring she will be an equal to the otherwise male vampire-hunting team. Renfield’s crazed obsessiveness with Dracula is portrayed with a manic frenzy and an appropriately metalhead of frizzy curly hair in a breakout performance by Rick Atkinson, who has been with the L5P Rockstar Orchestra since its first production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in the mid 2000s.

Meanwhile, Dracula in London is more of an omnipresent villain, now re-energized by a city full of fresh blood into full throttle rock star and re-attired in a black leather jacket (think actual suit jacket – Steve Tyler, not Sid Vicious). Fortunately Thompson and company recognize that he needs a similarly rocked-out foil not a dawdling elderly professor. Not your mama’s Van Helsing, this vampire hunter in purple is Doctor Strange meets Freddie Mercury. Jeff Langston, of hard-rocking Atlanta-based bands Ledfoot Messiah and AM Gold,  is just the hard-edged leader to unite Lucy’s triad of suitors to try and save first her life (no, they don’t succeed despite a steampunky transfusion gizmo) and then Mina’s as the Count makes them his inevitable victims. Ultimately, the intrepid group must travel all the way back to Transylvania to finish the battle, and as for the end, if you’ve read the book, well, you know it. And if you haven’t, you may well be surprised.

Rob Thompson as Count Dracula/Vlad the Impaler.

Ultimately that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is bound and determined to be tightly faithful to Stoker’s novel is both its strength and an occasional weakness, however, because occasionally that fealty causes some dramatic challenges. For example, after act one, it seems impossible when Mina receives a letter from Jonathan Harker that he has somehow escaped Castle Dracula. (Maybe a side performance showing Harker escape in pantomime might clarify?). Another scene that felt like it needed a little more work was a city scene in which Harker spies the Count for the first time in London stalking female victims. But these really are only small complaints in what overall is a fantastic production. Let’s hope for an encore soon and more runs well beyond Atlanta.

All photos courtesy of 7 Stages and DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA and used with permission.

 

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Days and Nights of the Dead: Zombies Walk and Stage an Apocalypse This Halloween Season in Atlanta

Posted on: Oct 8th, 2012 By:

Don't mess with Eddie Ray and these tough, battle-scarred babes of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.

The rest of the nation thinks Atlanta is the zombie capital of America because THE WALKING DEAD is filmed here. But the undead walked here long before Hollywood arrived and the best local zombie activities are completely conceived by homegrown brains.

First off, mark your calendar and break out your creepiest make-up for not one, but two Zombie Walks. Organized by Luke Godfrey, one of the sick brains behind Splatter Cinema, Zombie Walk Atlanta 2012 is this Sunday Oct. 14. This seventh annual event is the city’s largest and starts at Wonderroot at 3 p.m., but show up much earlier if you need help with your make-up. After you’ve walked with the dead, head over to Luke’s other bloody creation, Chambers of Horrors. For more about Luke and the city’s most extreme adults-only horror attraction, read last year’s ATLRetro interview with Luke here.

The dead don’t just have their day inside the Perimeter. The 2012 Marietta Zombie Walk  is Saturday October 27 from 5 to 7 p.m. during the Carnival of Doom festival. Register and buy a T-shirt here.

Finally, every night is The Night of the Living Dead at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, now in its own third season and expanded to include two different walking attractions, Curse of the Undead and ZWar and a zombie shoot at Safety Wolf, the paintball combat complex off Moreland Avenue, just south of I-285 (open Thurs.-Sun. nights throughout October and on Oct. 31). Set in and around a two-story abandoned motel, this more-than-100,000-square-foot attraction was nightmared up by the maniacal minds of local horror Renaissance man/make-up artist Shane Morton (Silver Scream SpookshowGargantua, Dear God! No!, Dracula The Rock Opera, etc.) and Jonny Rej (Plaza Theatre). Much more than your traditional walk-through haunt with jump-out monsters, AZA delivers a total immersion “experience,” in which attendees interact along the way with a variety of colorful characters living and undead. It’s sometimes hard to know who to trust but if someone says “run,” let’s just say you can be sure zombies are around, and if you don’t, you may get bitten and infected yourself or worse – eaten for your brains!

In “Curse of the Undead,” the origins of the zombie apocalypse are cultists reanimating the dead with arcane incantations. If you’re an EVIL DEAD fan, this one’s for you which makes the most of the addition of four acres of woods and even includes a zombie-killing hero named Bruce! My group was fortunate to have the protection of a police officer, played by talented local blogger filmmaker Eddie Ray (SATANIC PANIC: BAND OUT OF HELL) who did a great job of making us aware of a certain missing person problem and even imbued a little Southern-fried humor. FYI, we also encountered a few other familiar faces from the Silver Scream Spookshow and the Atlanta music scene.

Classic horror fans also will enjoy nods to Lovecraft (apropos since The Necronomicon raises THE EVIL DEAD) and the whole subgenre of B-movies featuring robed Satanists from THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) to RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975). Wear comfortable shoes (open-toes are no-nos) and watch where you step in the woods to not trip on tree roots. The journey is well worth a travel, but after all the build-up, my group’s one disappointment was that we expected one more final big scare that we didn’t get. AZA is constantly evolving and tends to improve with every week, so perhaps that may change.

“ZWar” picks up where the last two AZAs left off with the sinister Center for Disease Development (CDD), now developing a high-tech mega-weaponized zombie. Last year introduced an ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK-like scenario with a seedy encampment of humans as potentially dangerous as the undead. ZWar begins outside in the back parking lot with a similar brutal gang of people who use zombies for sport and a redneck overlord demanding our group steal drugs from the CDD for them. Once indoors, zombies menace, a brawny commando protects us with a machine gun and there’s the prerequisite mad scientist, but things really heat up when the scientist’s nervous victim takes the lead to find a way out. Without giving away any spoilers, the actor in that role did a fantastic job of upping the tension (does he really know where the exit is?). Will you make it out without encountering the CDD’s Necro-Tech warriors? Let’s just say, there’s no climax disappointment here.

Tickets to the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse are $20 for each attraction, $30 for both ZWar and Curse, $30 for the zombie shoot or $55 for everything! Located just south of I-285, off Moreland Road; directions here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Joel Burkhart Plans on Doing Something With It; AM Gold Throws a CD Release Party at the Star Bar

Posted on: Sep 27th, 2012 By:

AM Gold at Oakland Cemetary. Photo credit: David Batterman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

My radio was my best friend from grade school all through college. I knew every word to every song and spent my teen years trying to stretch my tiny hands across the frets to eke out “Smoke on the Water” like the rest of my artsy friends. An Atlanta band has emerged called AM Gold that speaks to the growed-up heart looking for that “me and my radio” feeling. They will celebrate the release of their first CD, PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT, this Friday September 28 at the Star Bar with Higher Choir and My Rebel Episode.  A dream-team of an outfit, they’re fronted by this week’s Kool Kat guitarist Joel Burkhart, who was good enough to give ATLRetro the back-story on growing up in the glory days of AM radio, his past bands and Star Bar shenanigans.

Torchy/ATLRetro: Tell me about AM Gold.

Joel Burkhart: AM Gold started as a dream. Several nights in a row I had this dream of a band playing on the top of a hill. There was sunlight behind them so all I could see were the long shadows of the band cascading down the hill. The golden rays of the sun eclipsing any details other then the shadows of the people playing. The sound was a chorus of voices, not heavenly like a choir but more earthly and gritty. I heard them singing these lines:

“These are the songs we like to sing
Makes us forget most everything
This is the way that I want to feel
Soft as love and strong as steel.”

After the third or fourth night of this dream, I picked up the guitar and wrote that song. Then I started putting together the band. I knew it would possibly be the last band I ever put together so it had to be amazing. It had to have great players but this time it also had to have great singers. This was going to be all about the words and the melodies. If I wanted them to shine I had to get the right people to be in the chorus.

I have played with Jim [Stacy], Eric [Young] and Jeff [Langston] for years and knew what they were capable of. Jim Stacy has been a lead singer/frontman for many years with Greasepaint, LaBrea Stompers and Little Women and sings with me in The Downers. He was first on the list, but I asked him last because I didn’t think he’d want to be in another band with me. Jeff plays with me in Bully but has also fronted his own bands (Ledfoot Messiah, Ritual, Flathead Fuel) for years. He is quite possibly the best male vocalist in Atlanta that no one knows about. Eric has been my drummer through Mulberry Street, Bully, The Downer Brothers and now AM Gold. Along the way he started singing back-ups and is one of the best singing drummers around. He also makes playing drums look as easy as breathing. Musically I have never played with a better drummer. I have a hard time imagining my songs with anyone else playing drums on them.

When it came time to complete the rhythm section, there has always been a combination that I wanted to hear together. I had Eric and now I was lucky enough to get Blake [Parris] to say yes also. Blake is this town’s hidden treasure. Someday someone who can pay him properly for his services is going to come and take him on the road and we won’t ever see him again. Blake is an amazing bass player and singer – probably one of the best -but he can play almost anything: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lead, rhythm, banjo, lap steel, pedal steel, keys… I really bet that you could give him a trombone, and in 15 minutes he would have a proper part written for a song. There is nothing that I can play or sing that won’t be made significantly better with Blake. He could just sit onstage with anyone and make then sound better. Seriously.

The final piece to the puzzel was a keyboard player. The only person that even crossed my mind was Jett [Bryant]. While he is not one given to the art of practice, he is one of the best damn singers in the game of rock and roll. He knocked’em dead in the Rock City Dropouts and kills it every night with Bigfoot. With AM Gold, he is pitch perfect and brings the pretty. I am sure that this is the most professional band I have ever played with. Practices and rehearsals are exciting and fun. We always have fun playing shows and hell, on top of all of that, we like each other. We all genuinely like being in the same room and shooting the shit. When the 6 of us are playing and singing together it is magic. There is no other word for it.

Joel, where are you from? Did you grow up listening to AM radio?

Joel: I am originally from Detroit. Lived there until the age of 5. Lived in farm country – Tecumseh,MI – for a few years before moving to Brighton, Michigan. I spent the 1980s as a mall rat in the suburbs. I moved to Atlanta when I turned 19 [in 1989].

Totally grew up listening to AM radio early on in Detroit – WJBK, WXYZ and CKLW. Later listened to commercial FM Radio – WRIF, WLLZ – and the college stations from University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Joel Burkhart. Photo Credit: John McNicholas.

Do you write much aside from lyrics and when did you first start writing songs?

You know, I used to write all the time. I have notebooks and notebooks of stuff. Poems, short stories, essays, laundry lists – actual and metaphysical – good, bad, everything,  As I have gotten older, I write less but the quality seems to be higher. I think that comes with being married and having kids, but also realizing who I am and what I want to say. When I do put pen to paper these days, there is probably a song there.

I started writing songs pretty late, I think. I was in my mid-teens when I first learned enough chords to have two different parts to a song. Unfortunately the first one sounds a lot like “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church and the second one sounds a lot like “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to think I was writing my own songs that sounded like me. I think that’s part of the process: writing and writing and writing until you find your own voice.

Who were your earliest musical influences that stuck with you?

I think like most kids you listen to what is around you at the time, and my earliest influences were from my relatives. Whether it was my cousins listening to Elvis, Chicago, Kiss or Steve Miller; my grandfather listening to hits from the ’40s and ’50s; my grandmother playing WWII ballads on her Wurlitzer; or my uncle’s Rare Earth, Kansas and Yes records, it all influenced me. Some of the best memories I have are driving around singing “Afternoon Delight” [Starland Vocal Band] or “What’s Going On” [Marvin Gaye] along with my mother. Detroit radio was some of the best in the country in the ’70s, and my mother, in particular, was pretty influential in my early years. She loved music and loved singing; whether it was rock, soul or country, she listened to it all. Our record collection had Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams, Barbra Streisand and the Bee Gees. Another big record that stuck with me was Tom T. Hall record SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW – For Children of All Ages. My grandmother gave that to me. I wore that thing out.

Who’d you listen to that makes you ask, “What was I thinking?  and how’d you ‘take their sad song ‘n make it betta’? Even the questionable influences of childhood can positively shape budding creativity, right?

When I was a young child, we had one of those small Imperial portable record players and I would go from room to room when my parents had parties putting on my “show.” I would carry my record player, my yardstick – which doubled as microphone and guitar – and my favorite record, Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” b\w “Delta Dawn.” I would sing through side one, take my break and then sing through side two. Man, I could rock that shit.

While there was some questionable hair metal that I listened to in the ’80s – TnT, Krokus, Helix anyone? – I can’t really disavow it in good conscience. They are all colors in my crayon box so to speak. Some people are great at painting with one color; I’m not. All of the music that I have listened to tends to find its place in the songs that I write for my different bands.

Before the Star Bar sound booth days, what was your worst day job, and did I hear the residue of that angst in your band Bully?

I did death scene clean up for almost two years. It was miserable work, didn’t pay very well, boss was a dick. That was very influential in the Bully songwriting process. “Quitter,” “Spit,” “I Don’t Feel Well,” “2nd Drawer Down.” All from that period of time. I’d come home pissed off and beat, fire up the bong, hit the Jaeger and let it all out. Thankfully my work life is less stressful now, but I think that was what life is supposed to be like in your 20s, living hard and carefree.

What was it like working sound at the Star Bar? Favor us with a story of your days in the booth.

So much to tell – Jim Stacy and I once spent 30 minutes trying to get a G string on Hasil Adkins’ guitar while a nearly sold-out house waited impatiently. He had a box of old guitar strings he carried with him, every one of them old and rusty. Just looking at the box gave me tetanus. For some reason, none of them were the right one.

Once we had a kid who was trying to promote some shows – this particular one with Har Mar Superstar – have a breakdown on stage. He started calling out the booker of the club, the owners, the bartenders and finally me. He told the room filled with people I had stolen his guitar and amplifier – which I believe he had left in a friend’s car or sold for meth – and that he wasn’t a “fat, jaded motherfucker” like me. I, for sure, took the brunt of it, I guess because he was on stage staring right at me. I think most everyone thought I was going to kill his mic (or him), but I just let him keep going until he tuckered himself out. He ended up going to a mental hospital a week or so later. Pretty weird.

But I also had some great, amazing memories there. The Ex-Husbands blowing everyone away with an out of left field, dead-on cover of “War Pigs” [Black Sabbath], followed by “Beating around the Bush” by AC\DC.

I remember that!

Alejandro Escovedo bringing over 200 people to complete silence with the breathtaking-ness of his songs; The Drive-By Truckers playing an Atlantis Music Conference and just weeping over the song “Heathens,” knowing things would never be the same for them after that night. That stage is magic.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

As I was on the road last year, I heard a lot of BS about how listening to Johnny Cash was a hipster trait and therefore passe. What would you say to that labeling?

One of the bonuses of being older is that I don’t know if it’s hipster or not. I’ve been listening [to Cash] since the ’70s when I was a kid and never stopped. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

With The Downer Bros, you and Jim Stacy pay homage to some of Johnny Cash’s most, for the lack of a better word,  “fierce” recordings. You recently rattled the walls at the 12th Annual Cash Bash at the Star Bar [Sept. 22]. How’d the idea for the Downer Bros come about?

Like most of our great ideas, it started off with drinking. During the rockabilly\country revival in the 1990s, there were a lot of bands that would throw in a Johnny Cash or George Jones [song] and do it in whatever style they played. There was no one really doing the slower, lost love, murder ballad stuff, and definitely no one doing it stripped down and acoustic. Jim and I loved that kind of stuff. So when we were waiting for bands to show up or when the night was over, we would play songs, just me and him. Acoustic guitar, harmonica and our two voices, harmonizing and trading songs. It was magic. The name came from trying to describe the music to our good friend Andy McDaniel. He asked what kind of music we were doing and we said “country music, but you know, the ‘downer’ stuff.” It stuck.

I’ve been paying attention and coming to see your bands for a bit now. Do I detect a progression of a happier and more fulfilled man through your musical timeline, having made so many people weep openly, inviting us to be healed and happy – or am I waxing fanciful?

I think there is a definite evolution. Mulberry Street was me getting my feet wet playing and performing but quickly became a little darker then I thought it would become. With Bully, I totally embraced that darkness and anger. When you are more or less penniless, living from day to day, broken-hearted and feeling alone, it is hard to find the light. The Downer Brothers are similar to Bully in that there is some frustration and  loneliness, but instead of being loud and in your face and angry, it was quiet and more thought-out and reserved.

AM Gold it is next logical extension of the realization that there is goodness all around you. Goodness in the things you do, the places you go and the people you meet. The trick, I think, is being open to it, being willing to let it chase away the darkness that has comforted you for so long. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a meanness out there, thriving and consuming, but you have the choice. You can live in fear with the darkness or live in the happiness of the light. Mostly now I choose the light. Some days it is really hard work to find it, but I think it is worth the struggle.

As a performer, what show stands out in your memory?

Probably one of the highlights for me personally was playing in Greasepaint and opening for Tenacious D. It was a sold-out crowd at The Tabernacle here in Atlanta. For AM Gold, it has to be playing The Dogwood Festival earlier this year. A few thousand people on a beautiful day in Piedmont Park. Nobody knew who we were or our songs, but they seemed to really appreciated them and we had a great response.

Honestly though every show is great in its own way. Any time I get to get on stage with my friends and we get to play our original songs, the ones we have practiced a hundred times, the ones we put our time and effort into writing and arranging and performing. That’s a good day.

Worst gig ever has to be the Chili Cook-Off at Stone Mountain last year.  It was the first time in over 20 years I set foot on stage for the sole purpose of making money by playing covers. While we had fun playing our Steve Miller Greatest Hits set at the Star Bar a couple months earlier, when it came to doing those songs again, there was no love for them. While I admire people that can get on stage and play three or four sets of somebody else’s material and are able to support a family doing it, I am not cut from that same cloth. I suppose that’s why I am not able to support a family doing that.

I’ve been the annoying fan begging for CDs forever. What was the AM Gold studio experience, was it documented on film and when will PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT be available? Joshin’, but seriously does being recorded affect your perspective? And by the way, thanks and eager to hear both the Bully and AM Gold disks!

The recording process was really fantastic. We recorded with a great guy named Jimmy Ether at his studio called Headphone Treats. For this recording we were all in the same room, playing together. We set up in the morning, recorded seven songs, and were pretty much done that night. We came back a couple times and overdubbed a few guitar parts, percussion and some vocals, but for the most part, what you hear is what we did that first day. It is a really great way to record. All of the recordings I have ever done previously were all with the drummer in his own room and the guitar amps in their own rooms and the rest of the band usually in the control room listening back through small, tiny speakers. It has always been frustrating for me. I like being able to feel the kick drum and bass, feeling the air move in the room with the music, the rise and fall of the conversation we are all having with one another through our instruments. There is no replacing it.

As for the Bully stuff, we’ve got over 40 songs that had very limited – me handing a homemade CDR to someone – release. I’m hoping to change that later this year. I think we are going to put out three EPs, each having five to seven studio cuts and two to three live recordings. I’m not really sure. We also started re-recording some Bully stuff a couple of years ago that has yet to see the light of day. When your bass player is in one of the biggest metal bands in the world, it gets hard to get everyone together in the same room and on the same page, but hopefully while Troy [Sanders] is home for a little bit between records, we can get some Bully time out of him.

What aspirations does the band muse about for the foreseeable future? Just sheerly hypothetically speaking, what’s next for you creatively?

The thing about us being in our 40s and doing this is that we don’t have the free time and lack of obligations that being 20 something has. Jett [Bryant, keyboards] has Bigfoot and a budding movie career [he was the star of DEAR GOD! NO! and is going to be in the follow up], Blake [Parrish, bass] and Eric [Young, percussion] are both in several bands and are in high demand as players, Jeff [Langston, guitars] has Ledfoot Messiah (they are doing the Kiss Kruise later this year) and he is in DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA (ED note: Watch out for a Retro Review soon) at 7 Stages and Jim [Stacy, harmonica] has the Starlight Six Drive-In and Palookaville to run, as well as a successful TV show and the possibility of a opening a restaurant fairly soon.

And me, I’m not getting any younger. The thought of getting in a van and blowing with the wind down the road trying to find my rock and roll fortunes has long passed me by. The music I write and play isn’t fashionable. I have no hipster cred; my waist size has expanded. I’m not much to look at;  my head is shaped funny. At the end of the day I’m a 43-year-old IT nerd scraping by at a job I don’t care about, working for people who don’t care about me so I can earn money which is spent before I get it so I can keep a roof over my family’s heads and food and clothes in and on our bodies. I have a beautiful wife and family and a life like most people: spectacularly wonderful and exceedingly average. It just depends on what day of the week and how close we are to the next paycheck. Sometimes we have a little more than others, sometimes a little less. In my mind I’m doing all of this for them, hoping for the big pay-off someday. Rational Joel knows that is probably never going to happen.

But still, I have this need to make this music. I tell these stories and dream these dreams. That’s all good music really is. Stories and dreams. I’m going to keep writing and playing every chance I get for whoever will listen. When I have new stories, I write new songs. When I have new dreams, I write new songs.

It’s what I do, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Look for me up front and center.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

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In Search of Bigfoot at Rock n Roll Monster Bash 2012 and the DEAR GOD! NO! DVD Release Party!

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2012 By:

We can’t say where you’ll find a Sasquatch in the actual woods, but we’re damned sure that you can spot BIGFOOT, one of Atlanta’s most badass and hard-edged rock bands, twice in the next few days right here. First they’ll be grinding their guitars at Sunday June 3 at the 10th annual Rock n Roll Monster Bash 2012 at the Starlight Drive-In (gates open at 10 a.m.). Then Tuesday June 5, BIGFOOT headlines the DVD release party for DEAR GOD NO!, the home-grown grindhouse film that’s been turning heads and stomaches all across the nation and stars BIGFOOT front-man Jett Bryant.

In case you’re living under a rock and haven’t heard about the Rock n Roll Monster Bash. It’s an all-day, all-night horror festival featuring Dames, Bands, Ghouls, Food, Creeps, Hot Rods, Hearses, Flicks, Freaks, Vendors Werewolf Style Parking Lot Partying and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling hosted by the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte. Other bands playing include X-Impossibles and one of them now rare but always unforgettable performances by Atlanta punk legends Dead Elvis, including ATLRetro logo artist Derek Yaniger. And damn you, dirty ape, but after dusk, lucky attendees get to see 35mm prints of the incomparable, original PLANET OF THE APES (1968) and zombie comedy RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), on the big Drive-In screen! If you haven’t already read Gene Kannenberg‘s awesome remembrance of growing up with the Apes and making ape masks with paper and crayons, check it out here.

When DEAR GOD NO! launched its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre last fall, the Star Bar must’ve been empty. Indeed, the number is legion when it comes to talented folks from Atlanta’s alt-garage, Redneck underground and horror scenes who worked on the movie. Familiar faces in the cast and crew including Shane Morton (Silver Scream SpookshowGargantuaAtlanta Zombie Apocalypse)Nik Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Billy Ratliff (Truckadelic), Madeline Brumby (check out our Kool Kat on Madeline here), Jas. M. Stacy (Starlight Drive-InPalookaville, Get Delicious!AM Gold) and many more. Since then, Director Jimmy Bickert‘s “unapologetic homage to classic grindhouse cinema” (DailyGrindhouse.com) has taken the festival circuit by storm and hauling in reverent reviews from lovers of exploitation films. The Big World Pictures release will finally be available on DVD on Tues. June 5, with a ton of bonus features, and to celebrate, the public is invited to the FREE party and screening that night at The Masquerade (doors at 8 p.m.).

Shot in 16mm with ’70s period-authentic effects, DEAR GOD NO! follows outlaw motorcycle gang The Impalers, led by Jett Bryant (yup, that’s his character’s name, too), on a tri-state rape and murder spree which culminates in a bloody massacre with rival club Satan’s Own in a dive bar (actually Tucker Saloon) with the added bonus of topless strippers in Richard Nixon masks with machine guns. Still keen to continue their rampage, the survivors invade a mountain cabin occupied by a scientist and his geeky/sexy daughter. And that’s when the depravity really begins as the bikers realize the scientist is mad, his wife is madder, and the monster that lurks in the wilderness outside is maddest of all.

So it just seemed kinda natural (or should we say, supernatural?) to catch up with Jett, who also plays in AM Gold and has played Jesus on stage in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, for a down and dirty little talk about Bigfoot and why  hard rockers, drinkers and monster movie lovers alike need to get out of the house both Sunday and Tuesday! Dear God! Yes! That’s why we’re proud to say that we live in the city with America’s finest Retro horror scene!

First off, let’s talk BIGFOOT. How did the band get started and what’s your sound like for the uninitiated?

BIGFOOT was started by Jimmy Hall and Evil Jim Wright, two of the most badass guitarists you can imagine. Together with Micheal Faulkner (bass), Kevin Watford (drums) and myself, you get the rowdy and raunchy BIGFOOT—a very loud and heavy southern rock with high energy.

Do you have any special plans for your gig at Rock n Roll Monsterbash 2012?

My biggest plan is not to be too drunk when I get onstage.

What’s your favorite part of this year’s Monster Bash, other than BIGFOOT, of course?

I’m looking forward to seeing PLANET OF THE APES and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD on the big screen. I love me a zombie movie. I like the goofy punk rock situation in the graveyard, and Linnea Quigley gettg all naked and eaten by zombies is pretty cool, too. It’s always been a favorite movie of mine. And apes taking over the world, what’s not to love about that?! It’s always a pleasure to see a movie at the drive-in. That’s the best way to see a movie as far as I am concerned. You can bring your own beer. I love it.

How do you feel about all the positive buzz DEAR GOD! NO! has been getting on the festival circuit?

I’m excited about it. I think it’s great. I always wanted to be famous or infamous. However,  the f–k you look at it. Jimmy did a really great job with that movie. I wasn’t surprised that it was such a big hit just because I’ve known Jimmy Bickert forever and he put all his attention into it. I haven’t seen him do that in years. It’s about time.

Is it just coincidental that you’re in a band called BIGFOOT and a Bigfoot is the monster in DEAR GOD! NO!?

It’s total coincidence that the band is called BIGFOOT and the movie contains a raging sasquatch.The band name came about while we were tossing ideas back and forth and our buddy Ted got impatient waiting for us to figure it out because he needed to make a flyer. So he just dubbed us BIGFOOT

Did you ever feel like the movie was going too far in pushing the limits with the sex, violence, gore and general disgustingness? What do you say to people who are offended?

DEAR GOD NO! is a pretty brutal film, but it’s all in good fun. However, I will not let my mama see this picture

Your character in DEAR GOD! NO! bears your name. What’s the difference between you and him, and are you ever uncomfortable with that—given the crazy, sick things he does in the movie?

As far as playing the character Jett in DEAR GOD! NO! I really just played myself, took out all the good parts and replaced it with the DNA of a honey badger.

I can just imagine how much fun you had recording the commentary track for the DVD with Madelaine Brumby and Shane Morton. Can you talk a little about how you guys approached that and maybe share one favorite behind-the-scenes story? 

We all just sat around with microphones and watched the picture. They got wine-drunk and I got beer-drunk. Shane and I have been friends for a long time so it wasn’t even like work. It was just like hanging out with my buddy. As for a story, [shooting the film] was all pretty long days, but John Collins (Collins in DEAR GOD! NO!) was always making it pretty loose and funny. He made a habit of sending us pictures of his turds when taking a shit. It is not on the commentary track, but it is on blooper reel, a little Easter egg they have in there.

You die in DEAR GOD! NO! but everyone knows that never stopped a character from coming back in a sequel. Will we see Jett Bryant again in the sequel, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, or can you tell us?

My character will return in the sequel, probably more pissed off considering he’s been woke from the dead.

Anything you want to add about Bigfoot’s performance at the DVD release party next Tuesday?

We’re excited about it, but it’s just going to be another badass BIGFOOT show, you know!

What about what you’re up to with AM Gold, any other acting plans and what’s next for BIGFOOT?

BIGFOOT’s going to keep stomping like they do, we’re going to keep make movies, and AM Gold’s going to keep playing festivals!

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