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

Posted on: Mar 21st, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kool Kat of the Week: “We were all gods.” – Jane Wodening (Brakhage), an Elusive yet Central Character in American Cinema, Discusses Art and Life During “Jane Wodening in Person” Hosted by Film Love Atlanta

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crewuntitled
Managing Editor

Jane Wodening, first wife to acclaimed experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, is a central character in the avant-garde film world. Jane is set to speak about her life in and out of cinema, her collaboration and marriage to Brakhage, as well as her own writing, at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center on Sat. Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. Included in this event is the screening of three short films focusing on Wodening, all shot in 16mm: WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959 – 12 min/Stan Brakhage); HYMN TO HER (1974 – 2 min./Stan Brakhage); and JANE BRAKHAGE (1975 – 10 min./Barbara Hammer). “Jane Wodening in Person” is hosted by Andy Ditzler [March 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Andy here] and Film Love Atlanta. Don’t miss out on this exciting and rare opportunity to delve into the life of Jane Wodening, in her own words.

Wodening’s marriage to Brakhage spanned three decades (1957-1987). Their marriage and family life, including rarely exposed intimate details, is the subject of many of Brakhage’s filmic endeavors. Although Brakhage is considered one of the of “the most important figures of 20th century experimental film,” Wodening’s collaboration with him is noteworthy in itself. She was not merely the subject, or “muse,” but was an active participant in the production of those films. Additionally, Wodening spent the last few decades churning out her own art; her written words (prose poetry, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, etc.) can be found on her website here [FROM THE BOOK OF LEGENDS (1988); LUMP GULCH TALES (1993); BOOK OF GARGOYLES (1999); LIVING UP THERE (2013); BRAKHAGE’S CHILDHOOD (2015)] and most recently WOLF DICTIONARY (2016), which she will include at Film Love Atlanta’s event.

ATLRetro caught up with Jane Wodening for a quick interview about her life and collaboration with Stan Brakhage, her artistic influences,  the importance of the written word and her desire to write the biography of the 51+QfAD2iYL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_Universe.

ATLRetro: You were a necessary component in the films of Stan Brakhage, as his wife and “muse.” Did you ever see yourself as something greater than the films themselves, or did you consider yourself a necessary part of the whole that was Stan Brakhage?

Jane Wodening: Naturally, I thought of myself as myself, but I felt that he was saying that I inspired him.

Stan’s films delved deeply into your marriage and family life. Did you ever feel overly exposed to the public? And how did you deal with that exposure?

When we were filming, we were alone. When the films were made and shown and people would ask me that, I’d say, well, that was then, and this is now. What I am is here before you, and I’m not those images.

Can you tell our readers about the roles you played in Brakhage’s films? Meaning, we see you onscreen, but did you assist in the techniques used? Did you work with Stan behind the scenes, preparing the films?

Yes. They were his films, always, but I did a lot. The world he photographed was my world; the children were under my guidance. Sometimes I’d run the camera, help him with editing, change things. We always discussed it if I did. Once or twice, I was the Sound Man. He said many times that “by Brakhage” meant by me also, AND the kids, and there was some truth in that. I was surely devoted to him and his work.

Stan, Jane - Still from WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959)

Stan, Jane – Still from WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959)

What are your thoughts on WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING? Were you supportive of Stan filming the birth of your first child? Looking back, what do you feel now that maybe you didn’t feel then?

I was agreeable to it. We were in this together. This was our life and he was a film artist. Naturally, he would want to film the birth. He filmed every birth. I liked having him there with me.

There must be an interesting story about how you and Stan met. Can you fill our readers in on your meeting?

I saw him twice before we met. The first time, I was coming out of the opera house with my date. We had gone to the matinee, and there on the street were two guys dueling. My date said, “Yes, they have a very off-beat little theatre in a tent.” But we didn’t have time to go to it. The duelists were Stan and Larry Jordan. The second time I was working across the street from Rockefeller Center in New York and I’d go to the Rockefeller Plaza to eat my sack lunch. When it rained I went into the mall where I found a Brentano’s Bookstore and bought books from him, but he would not look at me.

The third time was when I was introduced to him. He was renting a little house in Denver and my boyfriend at the time introduced me to him, said he was a genius. He started teaching a class unofficially with the film club, and my cousin Betsy and I sat in the back row giggling about “The Great Brakhage” because he seemed to be presenting himself that way. But one moment we stood together under a tree and fell in love. I was amazed when he didn’t contact me. He was with another girl who knew me, and finally said to him, “I think Jane Likes you.” By this time I was horribly depressed untitled (6)and sent him a letter, so he called me up and said he loved me and to come and visit him. It was about six weeks later that we married.

The ‘50s and ‘60s were a time filled with art and stories and experimentation in all forms. Can you tell our readers a little about your and Stan’s life in art before your children were born?

I entered the scene in 1957, and while the children were being born, we traveled a lot and met and befriended as many of the artists in all fields as we could. It was a very lively scene. We were all gods. We were very poor and we were going to change the world. We all knew each other, were drawn to each other like magnets, and we all agreed. It was exhilarating. And we did change the world.

We see that your most recent book, BRAKHAGE’S CHILDHOOD, is a retelling of Stan’s Depression-era childhood, as told to you in the ‘80s in conversations with Stan. In what ways do you think Stan’s formative years affected his art, his career, his family?

He was born a precocious child. He loved to get attention and he loved theatre. As a child, he put on shows, sang in the church, whatever. He had a rough childhood, pillar to post. He never outgrew being the center of the world.

Can you tell us a little about your most recent book, WOLF DICTIONARY?

I have it here. As a child, I ran with dogs, learned what they were communicating. I’ve always thought I learned dog WolfDictionaryCoverlanguage first and English as a second language. In my early 20s, I wanted to write a dog dictionary. Years later, three people told me about the time when they lived “way up the road beyond where the snowplow went across a winter and they watched a wolf and his mates.” I was very charmed by this story, but couldn’t figure how to present it. I finally realized that I could write it from the viewpoint of the wolf. But even then, people would read it and still they wouldn’t learn the language. So I added notes, talked about why the animal made that gesture, what it meant. To me it seemed obvious as pie. So that’s WOLF DICTIONARY. It’s a key to start understanding animals and what they are communicating.

How has your writing evolved over the years? Has there been a change in subject-matter? Tone? In your youth did you feel the need to express ideas that you don’t quite feel the need to express now?

In fact, I didn’t start writing until I was nearly 40, but even then, across the last 40 years, I have changed a lot in my writing. I never was interested in writing fiction. I always wanted to write to understand something that came to my attention. At first, I felt obliged to write a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, but then I got really excited about the realism of form that anecdote gave. Now I feel that biography can get to understanding the life if the motives and drives are shown and develop into acts and responses and perspectives. I’m now considering writing the biography of the earth, to clarify the legend that the scientists are excited about. It will be a sort of translation. I’m hoping I can show it as adventures.

untitled (5)Which writers (poets, novelists, etc.) influenced you the most?

I think my first big influence was Rembrandt who looks at me through his eyes and we look at each other. He tells me to work, to pour out vitality. Gertrude Stein is reassuring. She tells me it’s perfectly okay to be an odd-ball. Henry James tells me it’s all right to talk at great length about little details; just dance it, and I’ll have it right. Poe shows me how to put rhythm into my writing, to write the percussion and the beat. Vivaldi says to make living landscapes with whatever media. My father taught me to be blown away by a squirrel or an anthill or a bush.

With regards to filmmaking and art, who were your and Stan’s biggest influences?

I think I was his and he was mine.

Are there any filmmakers today (experimental and/or narrative) that you find intriguing?

Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr, Nathaniel Dorsky, all close to my age. I wonder if there are any young people doing art? I know there’s much that has been done in comic format. Rap seems full of energy, but it seems hard to avoid selling a message. I don’t know. It may be an in-between time, or possibly I’m unaware of what’s going on with the young. There is always talent, and talent is a beautiful thing, no matter what one does with it, but great periods like Baroque music or the Impressionists seem to be the blooming times.

What is your take on compartmentalizing art and films into genres? Do you think these types of creative outlets canuntitled (4) be properly tucked away into a single box? Or do you think most art (including film) overlaps several different genres?

When I tried to get agents or publishers to publish me, they’d say, but what is your genre? Evidently, if you’re writing in a genre, you know what you have to do and you get published. This doesn’t interest me. I write what I write.

Can you offer any advice to our readers about film, personal expression and creativity?

Whatever you do you’ll do what you’re told. The question is, who do you want to listen to? – The shop boss? There’s a steady job. – The pulse of the culture? – If you do that, you might starve and/or become famous. How about that inner voice? – How about writing what you want to know? – That’s where I’m at – I write to think.

What’s next for Jane Wodening?

I want to write the biography of the earth. There is some possibility that it will be the biography of the Universe. I’d like to put it all into common English, so anyone could know at least the theory of the moment – the amazing adventures of this planet and the life on it. I have a mess of little pieces of writing I’d like to put into shape – animal biographies, other thoughts. I really enjoy thinking. There’s nothing more fun than thinking.

Can you tell our readers what they can expect at Film Love Atlanta’s event, “Jane Wodening in Person,” on February 13?

51MKKshYY7L._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_They can expect to be surprised about a number of things.

We know you’ve done plenty of interviews, but is there something you’d like to tell our readers that they don’t know already?

I’m not sure what to say to this. I’m hoping they have open minds.

Photos courtesy of Jane Wodening and used with permission.

 

 

 

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Fear Potion #9: Buried Alive Film Festival UnEarth’s World’s Best Horror to Atlanta

Posted on: Nov 19th, 2014 By:

2014BAFFPOSTERThe Ninth Annual Buried Alive Film Festival; Saturday, Nov. 22, 3:00 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.; Sunday, Nov. 23, 1:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Fabrefaction Theatre; Tickets $50 (all access, both days), $10 per programming block, available here. Opening night party Friday, Nov. 21, 8:00 p.m. – 11:59 p.m. @ Joystick Game Bar.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Need a reason to be bloody thankful this month? Well, here’s something to make your twisted Thanksgiving complete: the notorious Buried Alive Film Festival (BAFF) is back for its ninth reincarnation! Atlanta’s favorite, longest-running horror film festival will be at Fabrefaction Theatre on November 22 and 23. This year, Festival Director (and ATLRetro Kool Kat of the Week) Blake Myers and the Buried Alive team have exhumed three features and 50 short films—almost 20 hours of programming including nine American premieres and three world premieres! With a host of filmmakers in attendance, this year promises to be a glorious celebration of horror, further sealing Atlanta’s place as the horror capitol of the nation!

baskin 1The weekend kicks off in style with an opening night party at Joystick Game Bar on Friday, Nov. 21, from 8 p.m. to midnight. Come on out and meet the filmmakers behind this year’s fearsome feast of fright! But pace yourself, because Saturday’s programming starts off at 3 p.m. with Shorts Program 1: Tentacles, Kidney Stones and Cannibalism. This exploration of the darkly comic and disturbingly surreal spans the globe, from here to Turkey and back again. Highlights include the post-apocalyptic doom of THE LAST HALLOWEEN, a disorienting trip with four Turkish policemen into the gaping maw of Hell in the highly acclaimed (by no less than Eli Roth and Richard Stanley) BASKIN, the hilariously gory DEAD ALIVE-meets-“Love Potion Number 9” French splatstick of SPEED FUCKING and the world premiere of local director Jay Halloway’s subterranean terror UNDERLOCK.

Extreme_PinocchioBAFF reconvenes at 5 p.m. for Shorts Program 2: Some Real, Some Fake, All Fucked Up. Taking a more realistic turn than the previous program, these shorts focus on the horrors of the here-and-now, ranging from the twisted psychosis of EXTREME PINOCCHIO, also French, to the provocative documentary GLASS EYES OF LOCUST BAYOU. The standouts in this category—along with those previously mentioned—include the American premieres of the funerary revenge short PARA NOCHES DE INSOMNIO and the expertly executed murder of RELLIK.

After a short break, we’re back at 7 p.m. to ponder love, desire and the meaning of “togetherness” in Shorts Program 3: Healthy Relationships. Whether living or dead, functional or dysfunctional, human or inhuman, all of the permutations of companionship are on display in this variety of shorts. Two noteworthy local entries make debuts during this program—Brandon Delaney’s first-person dialogue MY BOYFRIEND’S BAG in its world premiere, and local filmmaker James Sizemore’s Satanic opus GOAT WITCH which hits Georgia screens for the first time. Also getting American premieres are two UK shorts: SKIN, which turns the hostage/captor relationship on its head, and the unsettling physical manifestation of a deteriorating relationship of SPLIT. Add in the Norwegian sadistic ANGST, PISS AND SHIT and the fetish-laden morgue visit of I AM MONSTER, and you’ve got an evening full of romance. Well, in a manner of speaking anyway.

satpanicNight falls with the festival’s first feature program at 9 p.m. This kicks off with two shorts: the tortured texts of M IS FOR MOBILE and the Georgia premiere of Patrick Longstreth’s Tybee Island-lensed giant monster rampage HELLYFISH. That’s followed by the world premiere of ATLRetro Kool Kat Eddie Ray’s long-awaited second entry in his epically comic tale of devil worship, rock ‘n’ roll warfare and government conspiracies, SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS!

As the festival heads into the wee hours at 11 p.m., the second feature program of the night is Andres Torres’ horrifying journey through the seedy underbelly of the New York art world and into the twisted mind of a lonely hot dog vendor, BAG BOY LOVER BOY. Driven by killer performances and an escalating sense of discomfort, this film—which meets us at the cross-section of William Lustig’s MANIAC and Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD—is well worth staying up for. The evening closes with a French short film that explores the unease lurking under the comforts of HOME.

988Feeling rested? Slept well after the horrors of the night before? Already got your brunch on and ready to go? Good! Because Buried Alive rises again Sunday at 1 p.m. with Shorts Program 4: Scary Animal Monsters from Outer Space at Your Service. As the program’s title suggests, the selection here is widely varied. The subjects range from the whimsical DEAD HEARTS to the vengeful water spirits of SHUI GUI, from a killer’s paranoia in SEMBLANCE to the wild Australian pathogenic zombie-kangaroo horror of WATERBORNE. Receiving its American premiere is the hilarious BUDGET CUTS, an instructional short on how to maintain your serial killer lifestyle when time and money are tight. Also making its American debut is THE BEAR FAMILY SECRET, a stark and powerful tale of homebound human horror set during the Brazilian dictatorship of 1970. And on the local front, Dayna Noffke unveils her latest work, RECOMPENSE, in its world premiere! It’s a twisty little gem in the EC Comics tradition, in which a prisoner finds out just how much his freedom will cost.

Hana-Dama-p1The first feature program of the day follows at 3 p.m. The supporting short, DONE IN, follows a man’s reminiscences as he pens his farewell to this world. In the featured slot is the American premiere of veteran Japanese director Hisayasu Satô’s HANA-DAMA: THE ORIGINS. A visually explosive exploration of the torment a young girl faces at school and at home, the film takes a novel path in its tale of revenge: a bullied student becomes possessed by a flower, the Hana-Dama, which makes manifest the secret desires of all those who have caused her pain.

At 5 p.m., we leave the realm of the photorealistic behind and enter Drawn and Quartered: The Animation Program. This series of shorts is bookended by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, in adaptations from Moonbot Studios: visually stunning old-school animation adaptations of THE RAVEN and THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO. In between, the festival is serving up two tales of teddy bear terror in MEAN TEDDIES and UNICORN BLOOD, the final evolution of life rising from a wasteland in Germany’s OMEGA, a wacky SHINING-inspired tale of wacky sibling rivalry and murder in the witty THE LAST RESORT and a knowing tale about the importance of choosing the right doctor in EYE IN TUNA CARE. On the local front, Amanda Smith fistoffirepresents a disturbing stop-motion account of a romantic dinner gone horribly awry in TRUE LOVE, and Wally Chung presents a cautionary warning about conformity and discrimination in TALL EVIL. One entry that stands out, however, is Finnish director Tomi Malkki’s FIST OF FIRE (aka TULIKOURA), the surprisingly touching story of a dying death metal drummer, his faithful dog and his post-mortem journey. Maybe my love of Finnish metal is showing through, but the short is moving and ghoulishly funny in addition to being totally and brutally metal. Malkki also will be in attendance, all the way from Finland, to talk about his film.

The second feature program of the day starts at 7 p.m. with another local offering: the Georgia premiere of Robert Bryce Milburn’s AMERICAN HELL, a short glimpse of the nightmare of isolation a family confronts when they are subject to a home invasion. That provides a perfect lead-in to the feature attraction, Adam Petke and sunderSean Blau’s THE SUNDERLAND EXPERIMENT, quite simply one of the most gob-smackingly original films this festival has to offer. This quietly building piece of cosmic horror is set in the isolated, fenced-off desert town of Sunderland. Something identifying itself as an “angel” has converted the town into a strange simulacrum of everyday society, and the adults into its surrogates. The children can either accept the angel’s “blessing” and become like their parents, or become the “fallen” and are left to fend for themselves in the wasteland surrounding the town’s border. One of the young men, David, is destined to learn the truth about his family, the town, and the true nature of the angel that controls their lives. It’s a stunning piece of work.

The festival closes on a holly jolly note at 9 p.m. with Shorts Program 5: A Very Special Zombie Christmas. MR. DENTONN opens the proceedings with the fairy tale-esque story of a sinister visitor that enters homes through mirrors and steals children’s souls. Afterward, we take a peek into the Troma-esque comedy of CHRISTMAS EVE PET MASSACRE, where the world’s worst family finds that their pets are more than glad to bite the hands that feed them. Then it’s off to Latin America for ZUGAR ZOMBIE—a potent cocktail of political corruption, the undead and grand irony. Finally, we wrap things up at the festival imagesmuch like we started: with a delicious look at Halloween. This time, it’s Jonathan Rej and Shane Morton’s ATLANTA ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. A group of rowdy youths (the best kind) find themselves trapped in a cheesy haunted house when the zombie uprising breaks out. Is it all part of Professor Morté’s spook show? Or is it all too real? A labor of love from pretty much everyone involved with the dearly-departed Halloween haunt of the same name and the Atlanta horror film scene, it’s a gut-busting and gut-munching RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD-styled throwback to the heyday of ‘80s zombie horror. Stick around afterwards to find out the Festival winners (Disclosure: ATLRetro Publisher/Editor Anya Martin is a judge). It’s also the perfect way to close yet another fantastic run of the Buried Alive Film Festival.

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

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: 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.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Get Set for a Swinging Time with Vincent Price at THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM! A New Digital Restoration at Atlanta’s Historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Jan 30th, 2013 By:

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961); Dir. Roger Corman; Starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele and John Kerr; Premiere Friday, Feb. 1 @ 8:00 p.m. with giveaways; then nightly at 8 p.m. Feb. 2- 7; Plaza Theatre (visit website for times and ticket prices); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Finally, after years of waiting, it is now possible to see PIT AND THE PENDULUM on the big screen once again in a newly-restored, high-definition digital presentation. For far too long, the movie has been hard to see in optimal condition (even the most recent MGM Midnite Movies DVD of the title isn’t anamorphically enhanced for widescreen presentation). This is something that’s always struck me as odd since it’s one of the best-remembered films of American International PicturesEdgar Allan Poe cycle, was a huge box-office smash at the time and contains some of the most defining scenes in post-1960 horror. Be that as it may, as far as securing prints go, it has been one of the more obscure films of Roger Corman. Thankfully, that’s changing now, and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM can be seen in all of its glory and grandeur at Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre from Friday, February 1 through Thursday, February 7. Friday night’s showing will feature a special giveaway of two free tickets to all nine days of the Atlanta Film Festival: a $600 value! It promises to be an event big enough to befit the legendary teaming of Corman, Price and Poe.

Roger Corman. The name means many things to many people. To some, it primarily conjures up images of cheaply-made and quickly-shot horror/sci-fi fare from the 1950s and ‘60s. Flicks like CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, A BUCKET OF BLOOD and THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. For others, it is chiefly and inextricably linked with the development of the “New Hollywood” of the late 1960s and ‘70s. Movies from American International Pictures and New World Pictures that helped launch the careers of talents like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Barbara Hershey, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda. For a former co-worker of mine, it means “that aloof guy who would stroll into the New Horizons office and ask if Jim Wynorski had called.”

But for a certain set of the man’s fans, the first things that come to mind are two names: Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Price.

In 1960, American International Pictures was seeing the market for their low-budget, black-and-white output shrink. Roger Corman had been their most prolific filmmaker, churning out low-budget schlock in 10 days or less (mind you, it’s some great schlock, and never without a sense of wit and intelligence behind it all), and convinced studio heads Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson to take a risk on shooting a full-color widescreen film with a larger budget (a full $300,000!) and a longer production schedule (a full 15 days!). The success of this film, HOUSE OF USHER, pushed AIP to demand more of the same: another Poe adaptation, made by the same team and starring the same lead, Vincent Price.

Corman complied and assembled his USHER team: cinematographer (Floyd Crosby), set designer (Daniel Haller), score composer (Les Baxter) and screenwriter, the now-legendary horror author Richard Matheson. Matheson had seen a good deal of success as a writer in the decade previous to his teaming with Corman. He had adapted his novel THE SHRINKING MAN into the smash sci-fi/horror film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, and his novels and short stories were in high demand. He had just been added to the stable of writers employed by THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and was also selling scripts to western- and war-themed TV shows. In short, Corman (in a typical move for him) had spotted an up-and-coming talent that he could grab for relatively cheap: someone who might be willing to trade some of the money he could get from a higher-paying gig for the relative liberty of a Corman screenwriting job. The pairing worked so well on USHER that Matheson returned for this, and several of the films following this in Corman’s Poe series.

The film is set in 1th Century Spain, and follows Francis Barnard (John Kerr) as he visits the castle of his brother-in-law Nicholas (Vincent Price) to investigate the death of his sister Catherine (Barbara Steele). Nicholas recounts that Catherine had been driven mad by the castle’s history and atmosphere, had committed suicide and now walks the castle halls as a ghost. When it is uncovered that Catherine had been interred alive, Nicholas is sent into paroxysms of fear and plunged into madness as he has visions of the traumatic events of his childhood. It all culminates in Nicholas’ break with sanity as he tortures his household in the dungeon beneath the castle’s floors.

Because of the slightness of narrative material in Poe’s short story, which is set nearly entirely within a prison cell over the course of a few nights, Matheson was encouraged to devise a way to shoehorn Poe’s tale into just the film’s climactic scene. In doing so, he created a psychologically rich screenplay centered on the main character’s neuroses, all of which seem to stem from a terrifying event witnessed in his youth. This psychological approach to gothic horror would prove to be incredibly influential in the years to come, as reverberations of its themes (along with their visual depiction by the team of Corman, Crosby and Haller) would be seen in many of the great Italian gothic horrors of the 1960s and ’70s, as Tim Lucas uncovered in his 1997 interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi in VIDEO WATCHDOG #39. Gastaldi admitted that the film had inspired his screenplays for Mario Bava’s THE WHIP AND THE BODY and Antonio Margheriti’s THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH: “Yes, of course! THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM had a big influence on Italian horror films. Everybody borrowed from it.”

Vincent Price, too, returned to the AIP fold. Price had starred to great effect in HOUSE OF USHER, and brought equal parts menace, dignity and emotional complexity to what could have been a flatly-played character in lesser hands. In THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, he would be given even more to chew on as Nicholas Medina (and, in flashback, his crazed Inquisitor father, Sebastian Medina). Some have argued that perhaps Price sank his teeth a bit too deeply into the role, which required him to shift from a refined-but-fragile gentleman persona to that of a raving madman at a second’s notice. And it’s true that Price seems to be having the time of his life, relishing every utterance and mannerism, and basically being Vincent Price at his Priciest. But in a film that demands a tone that almost tips into the surreal, his nearly over-the-top performance works perfectly as a piece with every other element in the production.

Barbara Steele, fresh from starring in Mario Bava’s international gothic horror success, BLACK SUNDAY, is also incredibly memorable as Catherine, delivering an impressively expressive performance. However, it’s hard to objectively discuss her work in this film beyond the physical aspect of it: thinking that her natural British accent didn’t mesh with the other actors’ performances, AIP had her part dubbed in post-production by another actress.

Visually, Corman and his team work wonders with what little budget and time they were given, using impressive sets borrowed from other studios, violently active camera work and dream/fantasy/flashback sequences warped and twisted optically and displayed using a blue and red color palette. Corman’s direction is—as usual—tight and effective, providing impressive and perfectly-timed jolts while steadily building an atmosphere of oppression and madness. For pure horror, it is the highlight of the entire Corman/Poe series, and artistically tied only with THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (MASQUE may be more thematically and symbolically rich and more daring in its approach, but PIT beats it on pure fright value).

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

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The 2012 Buried Alive! Film Fest Unearths a Weekend of Horror Treasures, New and Classic at the Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Nov 8th, 2012 By:

Buried Alive! Film Fest; Friday, Nov. 9 7 p.m. – 11 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 10 4 p.m. – 11 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Schedule here; Tickets $20 (all access, both days), $5 per programming block, available at Plaza box office.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre, the Buried Alive! Film Fest (BA!FF) returns the weekend of November 9-10 to once again delve into all things horrific and fantastic.

The festival was founded by local horror fiend Luke Godfrey, whom you’ll know as the co-creator of Chambers of Horror (Atlanta’s only adult Halloween attraction) and the award-winning film series Splatter Cinema, as well as being the head undead behind Zombie Walk Atlanta. Buried Alive! Film Fest has proven year after year to be one of the many reasons that Atlanta is recognized as among the horror capitals of the world, and this year proves to be no exception as Festival Director and filmmaker Blake Myers has loaded the schedule with the weird, the wonderful and the outright outrageous.

The festival launches Friday night at 7 p.m. with a suite of shorts under the umbrella “BIZARRO: A Journey Into the Gory.” The program opens and closes with, respectively, two celebrated selections from the 2011 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Thomas Nicol’s THE WINDOW INTO TIME and EDGAR ALLAN POE’S “THE RAVEN” from Christopher Saphire and Don Thiel (which was selected by Guillermo del Toro at the HPL Film Festival as one of his favorites). In between, we’re treated to a wide variety of short bursts of terror ranging from a mysterious plunge from London’s streets into the wilderness of Jonathan and Richard Chance’s TIMESLIP to the stop-motion animated skeletons of Theo Pingarelli’s DOPPELGANGER and IDLE WORSHIP.

ABED, directed by Ryan Lieske.

Following the shorts program, the short film ETHEREAL CHRYSALIS sets the stage for the opening double feature of ABED and MANBORG. ABED is based on the controversial short story of the same name by two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Elizabeth Massie. The film was written and directed by filmmaker Ryan Lieske (CLEAN BREAK, DOWN TO SLEEP, which screened at the 2010 and 2011 BA!FFs) and co-produced by Fangoria scribe Philip Nutman, who also was an associate producer and co-wrote the screenplay for JACK KETCHUM’S THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. Though the movie places us in the midst of a zombie uprising, it primarily centers on the building horror and desperation developing between two living characters: Meggie, whose husband was lost early on, and her mother-in-law who is intent on bringing some normalcy back into this world at any cost. MANBORG, on the other hand, is an over-the-top tribute to blood-soaked 1980s sci-fi/action flicks like ROBOCOP and TERMINATOR. The movie, in which a dead soldier finds himself resurrected as a cyborg killing machine, is the latest insane creation from the collective known as Astron-6, was directed by team member Steven Kostanski and won “Best of Fest” at the 2012 Boston Underground Film Festival.

On Saturday, buckle your theater seatbelts (they make those, right?) for a day chock-full of tasty morsels you won’t want to pass up. It all starts at 4 p.m. with a shorts program dedicated to “Serial Killer and Alternate Universes.” An international smorgasbord of horrific delights awaits you; from the quiet terrors of SILENCE (from Italy’s Angelo and Giuseppe Capasso) to the agoraphobic serial killer of HIM INDOORS (from the UK’s Paul Davis). That’s followed by a delicious selection of “Rotten Peaches,” featuring four short films from local filmmakers.

The poster for Javier Chillon's DECAPODA SHOCK, which screens during Friday's 7 p.m. shorts program.

Saturday night’s feature is a real NAILBITER. The Grand Jury prizewinner for Best Feature Film at Shriekfest 2012, Patrick Rea’s latest feature depicts a woman and her three daughters seeking refuge from an oncoming tornado in the basement of a seemingly abandoned house. However, they soon find that someone—or something—is upstairs and is intent on keeping them trapped below deck.

The festival closes with a real treat for even the most casual of horror film fans: a screening of Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece SUSPIRIA. Jessica Harper stars as Suzy Banyon, a newly-arrived ballet student at the celebrated Tanz Akademie of Frieburg, who finds herself ensnared in the machinations of a coven of witches under the leadership of Madame Blanc, played by Joan Bennett. Bennett, best known to horror fans as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard from television’s DARK SHADOWS (and its first big-screen adaptation, 1970’s HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS), returned to the screen after a seven-year absence for this, her final feature film, and brought with her that role’s association with gothic romanticism which was so integral to the series. SUSPIRIA is simultaneously strikingly beautiful and brutal, evocative both of fairy tales and of the hyper-violent gialli of Italian cinema. And it features what is perhaps one of the greatest (if not the single greatest) musical score (composed and performed by the Italian band Goblin) to ever accompany a horror film. In fact, the film is unimaginable without it. (Ed. note: Read our Retro Review by Andrew Kemp here)

A mere $20 for all of this? (And only $5 for each individual block of programming?) It’s the best bargain in town for anyone remotely interested in horror as a genre, much less the hardcore genre fanatic. Tickets are available at the Plaza box office, so stop by and get yours as soon as possible.

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

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Really Retro: Your Ultimate Guide to AnachroCon, Atlanta’s Steampunk/Alt-History Con

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2012 By:

Science fiction used to be all about the future, but in steampunk, it’s gone back to the past to create a steam-powered alternate Victorian era full of airships, goggles and rayguns where Tesla trumps Edison. If you think that steampunk is just about creative costumes, there will be plenty walking the halls of AnachroCon, this weekend (Feb. 24-26) at the Holiday Inn Select Perimeter, but there will also be so much more from literary to art to performances. Read more about the many facets of this fast-growing subculture in our recent interview with STEAMPUNK BIBLE co-author S.J. Chambers, then head on down to AnachroCon to experience the city’s biggest annual steampunk gathering live.

As Anachrocon’s Website says, it’s the “place in the South for Steampunk, History, Alternate History, Science, Music, Classic Sci-Fi Literature and the most amazing costuming you’ve ever seen!” Here’s our top nine coolest things to do at Anachrocon. For times and locations, check the full con schedule here.

Mad Sonictist Veronique Chevalier.

1. Costumes Extraordinaire

Men in top hats, boots and goggles. Ladies in their finest Victorian dresses with rayguns tucked into their beaded evening bags. Gizmos galore. In the case of steampunk, accessories make the outfit and it’s not just a look but a way of life for some followers who meticulously craft their eccentric wardrobes in home workshops. Expect to see an amazing array of hall costumes, but the best of the best compete in the Costume Contest at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Or learn to make your own from award-winning costumers in the Fashion and Fabrication programming tracks.

 

Frenchy & the Punk.

2. A Marvelous Menagerie of Musical Acts

If steampunk has a look, thanks to a motley menagerie of talented musicians, it also has a sound – a diverse blend of jazz, ragtime, gypsy, classical, goth and even a touch of rock n roll. At Anachrocon, you can hear some of the best in the region and nation including The Hellblinki Sextet (do we need to say more than pirate cabaret to pique your interest?!), The Extraordinary Contraptions, Frenchy and the Punk, Aeronauts, The Ghosts Project, The Gin Rebellion, The Vauxhall Garden Variety Players, Play It With Moxie and more. Dance the night away to several DJs including “self-described eccentric audio arranger and morally ambiguous scientist” Dr. Q, the mad mastermind behind The Artifice Club which stages quarterly steampunk shindigs and is the official sponsor of the Friday night main entertainment track provocatively titled Fallout Frenzy. Read an interview with Dr. Q here about The Artifice Club here.

Talloolah Love. Photo credit: Mark Turnley.

3. Trick or Tease: Burly-Q and Carnivale Steampunk-style

Burlesque arose out of vaudeville and sideshow hoochie-coo, all of which go back to the bawdy dancers, singers and comedians of the Victorian music hall. Circuses and carnival sideshows for general public pleasure also came of age in the 19th century. See steampunk versions of both this weekend. Award-winning Atlanta burlesque beauty Talloolah Love  invites you to Burlesque At the End of the World (Fri. midnight) featuring  flavors of Bertolt Brecht, The Muppets, and Hollywood heresy; “you’ve never seen a burlesque show like this!” Guest stars include Knoxville’s Rosey Lady, the Blooming Beauty of Burlesque; Katherine Lashe of Syrens of the South Productions; The Chameleon Queen; and Sadie Hawkins and Barbilicious of Blast-Off Burlesque. Meanwhile under the motto of “Doing the extrordinary with the ordinary,” the talented performers of Oklahoma’s Carnival Epsilon (Fri. 5 p.m.) test the limits the human body can be pushed to with sharp blades, burning fire and a silver fork. And Wicked Hips Bellydance, a professional troupe with members from the US and Europe, presents an art form once considered so risque that it would have inspired proper Victorian ladies to grasp their smelling salts (Sat. 7 p.m., Sun. noon).

4. History, Science and the End of the World, Oh My!

Nikola Tesla.

Yes, the whole idea of steampunk is based on an alternate history and a different direction in science and energy. Costumes are not mandatory to attend these bonafide actual history and science with fascinating panels on such topics as “the history of passive-resistance and non-violent protest” (Fri. 3 p.m.);  “evolution of small arms” (Fri. 5 p.m.), “Sex in Classical Greece and Rome” (Fri. 11 p.m.), Van Gogh at Remy (Sat. 5 p.m.) and much more including culinary discussions, Vikings, shipwrecks and a Sunday-morning gnostic mass. Well, with the Mayan calendar’s abrupt end this year, we give them some slack for a few more apocalyptic (and maybe not so hard-factual) programs such as “This is the Way the World Ends; Eschatology 101″ (Fri. 2 p.m.), “Mayan Calendar 2012″ (if the world’s coming to an end, it only makes sense there’s also a mead-making 101 class out by the pool at the same time), and “Surviving Those Pesky Zombie Apocalypses” (Sat 8 p.m.). Does that mean we’ll see some Walking Dead Steampunks drunk on mead? Well, we can only hope.

The Traveling Revelers.

5. A Little Etiquette & Indulgence Can Do You Good

The Victorian Age was known for being prim and proper, unlike our uncouth contemporary era, so it seems only fitting that AnachroCon’s newest last-minute programming track is centered on Etiquette & Indulgence. Run by Peter Beer Slayer and Richard Carnival, “their mission [is] to make the world a better place by providing instruction on the Social Graces and how to truly enjoy life by using their combined powers to become the Traveling Revelers!” Take ConSociology classes on “how to meet people at cons” (Fri. 3 p.m.);  “the zen of flirting” (Fri. 7 p.m.); “the art of social cues, green lights/red lights” (Sat. noon),and enjoy a “morning refresher” course (ok, early afternoon, Sun. 1 p.m.). Or engage in proper Tea Dueling at 11 a.m. Sun. morning.

Bill Pacer as Benjamin Franklin.

6. Viva the Revolution – Meet the Founding Fathers

Tea Partiers and Ultra-Liberals, take note! OK, AnachroCon isn’t breaking out the Ouija Board (well, not right now anyway; we kind of think there has to be some Ouija-ing going on somewhere), but professional Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin impersonators (J.D. Sutton and Bill Pacer) will be on hand to share their wisdom on government, electricity and even provide a Q&A. Find out what the founding fathers really thought about freedom of religion, gay rights and sleeping with French prostitutes – we dare you to ask them!


7. Astounding  Alt-History Literature & Pop Culture Panels

At the end of the day, it’s sometimes forgotten that steampunk started not as an aesthetic movement but in the pages of books and now is a lively literary genre. Panels discuss classic influences from Edgar Allan Poe (Sat. 1 p.m.) to a Victorian Science Fiction Roundtable (Sat. 9 p.m.) where we imagine the names Jules Verne and H.G. Wells might get a few mentions. More topics include how to write alternate history (Sat 4 p.m.), modern steampunk literature (Sat. noon) and Growing Up Steampunk (Fri. 7 p.m.). Author guests include Mark P. Donnelly, Kathryn Hinds, O.M. Grey, Emilie P. Bush, Kimberly Richardson, Alan Gilbreath and Dan Hollifield.

Enhanced sonic phaser by Venusian Airship Pirate Trading Co.

8. Sensational Steampunk Marketplace

Need a pair of goggles, a trusty ray gun, a corset, jewelry, custom leather items? All of these and more are available in the Vendor Room, a veritable bazaar of steampunk-related merchandise, with a little Medieval-Renaissance-Celtic thrown in for fun. Well, steampunk does share some roots in modern fantasy which is often inspired by those eras. Be sure to also visit the Artisans Room where you can buy unique, one-of-a-kind creations by jeweler Corey Frison (Labrys Creations), art prints and jewelry by Kerry Mafeo (Fantastic Visions), chainmail by Thandor (and watch him craft it before your very eyes!), the geekiest T-shirts on the planet from Aardvark Screen Printing and works by award-winning artist and illustrator Mark Helwig.

9. Steampunk Boba Fett

Do we really have to say anything else but those three words? OK, you may have seen the Elvis Stormtrooper at DragonCon but Steampunk Boba Fett has taken this helmeted STAR WARS mercenary to a new level of eccentric creativity. Dubbing himself humbly, “the galaxy’s most feared Steampunk Bounty Hunter since 1878 (Earth Time),” to see him is to be inspired! Now go home and get to work on your costume so you’ll be ready to enjoy Anachrocon this weekend!

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Really Retro: STEAMPUNK BIBLE Co-Author S.J. Chambers Muses on the Appeal of Alt-History & A Paranormal Fantasy at This Saturday’s Mechanical Masquerade

Posted on: Nov 10th, 2011 By:

When The Artifice Club presents the 2nd annual Mechanical Masquerade: A Paranormal Fantasy this Saturday Nov. 12 at Blue Mark Studios, a renovated 110-year-old church, they couldn’t have picked a better judge for their ghost story contest than S. J. Chambers, co-author with Jeff VanderMeer of the critically acclaimed THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE (published by Abrams Image this spring). S.J., you see, suffers from Poepathy, a dread affliction whose symptoms include “daydreaming…reveries that include black birds, scents of an unseen censor or aberrant alliterative applications.”  She contracted it, she says mournfully (or enthusiastically, depending on your point of view), from excessive contact with the works of  seminal American horror author, Edgar Allan Poe, on whose works she has penned a frightful quantity of essays and journalistic works.

Lately though, S.J.’s journalistic adventures have sailed towards Steampunk, a fast-growing international movement whose participants dream of an alternate world powered by steam technology and resplendent with airships, corsets, goggles, mad scientists and other fantastical wonders of a Jules Verne-ian nature. Lavishly illustrated, THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE is the first definitive guide to the wildly, weirdly imaginative literature, art and costuming of the subculture, which has a vibrant chapter here in Atlanta. A Tallahassee resident (she also treated us to the Cute and Creepy art exhibit review here), SJ also will be signing that esteemed tome at the Mechanical Masquerade, The Artifice Club’s most elaborate event yet—planned to play out like a story itself in which a supernatural-themed masquerade ball is staged on a magical rift accidentally created by one infamous Montague Jacques Fromage whle experimenting with a curious invention in service of her majesty Queen Victoria. And yes, masks are not just encouraged but required (come unfashionably without one, and we’re told you may be asked to leave or to purchase one from the lovely Dread Sisters). The fantastical festivities start with afternoon seminars on topics such as Steampunk Burlesque (see this week’s Kool Kat feature on Indigo Blue here). Then the main event runs from 5 p.m. to way past midnight and features a bazaar, libations, costume contest and performances by an eclectic ensemble of talent including the Mezmer SocietyDoc Volz and his Steampunk TrunkThe Ghosts ProjectVauxhall Garden Variety Players and the Fantasia de Mode Fashion Show presented by The Steampunk Chronicle.

ATLRETRO asked S.J. to demystify steampunk for the uninitiated, tell us what she learned about steampunk abroad on her recent book tour to England and France, and tease us with a sneak peek into her role in the Paranormal Fantasy. She not only kindly obliged, but then some…

What’s the origin story behind THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE (Abrams Image) and how you personally became involved? 

It did some editorial work for Ann and Jeff VanderMeer with [surrealist flash-fiction anthology] LAST DRINK BIRD HEAD and some other miscellaneous projects, so my role with THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE began as an editorial assistant. However, Jeff loved what I was doing, and saw how much I was getting into the project, that he asked me to contribute to the writing. One thing lead to another and we were co-authors. I can’t say enough what a great experience it has been to work side-by-side with Jeff. He’s full of wisdom and one of the best writers alive, imho.

Why are you excited to be attending THE MECHANICAL MASQUERADE: A PARANORMAL FANTASY and what will you be up to while you’re here?

There are several reasons why I am excited about this event.  First, I have an extreme case of Dance Party deficiency, so I can’t wait for DJ Doctor Q to start spinning at midnight. Second, I’m excited about wearing a costume, which I don’t usually do.  The clothes I wore on tour are pretty much what I wear normally, even the more Pre-Raphaeliteish pieces, so this is my first true sojourn into Steampunk chic. Not sure how great it’ll be, as everything I touch seems to turn Regency, but it should be fun.

But vanity aside, what I am REALLY excited about is the ghost story contest that I am judging. From 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., I am challenging guests of The Mechanical Masquerade to scare me! Contestants will have five minutes to spin a paranormal yarn—doesn’t have to be gruesome horror, but must have something of the unexplainable and strange.  If participants are reading this, I’ll give them a clue as to what endears me most.  I love stories—and this goes for any type of story really—that strike me emotionally. So, if you make me split my petticoat with laughter, or drown my veil in tears, you’ll get a lot of bonus points. Being the Poepathist that I am, some of my favorite tales involve haunted houses and dead lovers, and the more monsters the merrier.

In any case, we will have lots of prizes for winners, including a first prize of signed copies of THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE and Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s wonderful, new anthology THACKERY T.LAMBSHEAD’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, which I have a sundry tale in, and a $25 gift certificate to Octane Coffee.  Not bad for five minutes.  If you don’t want to vie for a copy of THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE via the competition, they will be available for purchase and signing throughout the night.

The Mezmer Society. Photo credit: Farad Rezei of Rakadu.

THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE seems to be thriving in a time when books and authors in general are having a tough time. You even had a whirlwind signing tour which took you through New England and to England and France. What’s the secret to its success and why is steampunk so popular right now? 

I would say publishing is in a state of transition right now, thanks to e-publishing, and in trying to figure out what that means in the grand scheme of things, on top of the recession, authors and books are having to work double-time to stay afloat. I definitely know that I, Jeff, our editor Caitlin Kenney, our publicist Amy Franklin, and the wonderful people at Abrams, as well as our contributors, believed very strongly and worked really hard on promoting this book. So, I attribute a lot of the success we’ve had to our collective sweat and tears.

The fact that, in this burgeoning world of two-dimensional and grey e-books, the THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE is very tactile and visually pleasing hasn’t hurt. This is a book with a lot of textual as well as visual content, and it invites people to peruse it in both ways, which really appeals to readers.  I think this attraction ultimately ties into the same technological fatigue that is making the Steampunk spirit very resonant: the world is tired of being spoon-fed culture and knowledge. We need Steampunk in our lives because it promotes imagination and ambition, it promotes awareness of how things work and also sustainability. People think of Steampunk as a fashion fad or a science fiction trend, but it is an umbrella term for a lot of reactionary and revolutionary philosophies on modern life, which we try to touch on in the book.

Speaking of England and France. You even went to a steampunk convention over there, didn’t you? How do English and French steampunks or steampunk fans differ from the American variety?

While I did an event in London, and an event in Paris, I am afraid I didn’t make it to the Weekend at the Asylum in Lincoln.  Towards the end of planning the Europe Tour, an assignment in Paris came up, so I had to take those few extra days to make sure I had time to work on it.  I was sorry to miss it, as I had just met Jema Hewitt and Kit Cox who were going, and I would have loved to spend more time with them, as well as meet some of the U.K. Steampunk luminaries like John Naylor and Professor Elemental.

The differences between U.K., French and U. S. Steampunk are subtle. U.K. tends to be more Victorian-oriented because that’s where she reigned and that’s their direct history.  However, I think we over here in the states misunderstand U.K. Steampunk as nostalgists ignoring skeletons in the Empire closet, and I found that to not be true. At the Last Tuesday Society event, there was a lot of interest in multicultural Steampunk, and I think that dialogue is just waiting to burst through the gates there.  French Steampunk was very interesting because a lot of its participants are interested in CosPlay, but there aren’t really any venues for that. The fine folks of French Steampunk, like Morgan Guery and Franck Gouraud are trying to promote conventions around France, and I think that will contribute to a very strong and cohesive scene there. Also, just like U.K. Steampunk operates within their history, so do the French Steampunks.  Queen Victoria and the Empire is irrelevant, and while we had our Civil War, they were dealing with their own strife with the Paris Commune and the reign of Napeoleon III. It has led to a lot of beautiful and innovative art like Sam van Olffen, Futuravapeur and Anxiogene.

The “Sultan’s Elephant” at The Machines of the Isle of Nantes exhibit, Nantes, France. Photographed in 2009 by Yann Langeard - Le Chatrou Electrique.

What makes a literary work, piece of art, costume steampunk at the most basic level and do goggles have to be involved?

Ha! No goggles do not need to be involved, nor necessarily cogs, nor gears. Tor editor Liz Gorinsky explained Steampunk best when she compared it to porn—“I know it when I see it”—which perfectly encapsulate the difficulties of defining this aesthetic. I know I should have an elevator pitch-like answer for this, but the real answer is too complex.  It is why we wrote a book about it.

As just flipping through the book will show, there are a lot of characteristics that bind artists together under the umbrella Steampunk—like the iconic goggles, a retro ambiance, gears, cogs, rayguns, hoop skirts, leather corsets, mecha animals, steel and steam—but it is also an ever-changing and evolving aesthetic that can feature a lot of versatile and disparate characteristics informed by cultural history, and even era. What was once a retro-futurist movement that looked only as far back as the 19th century has participants looking back even further, evaluating our present on all aspects of past failures and successes. The Steampunk of today will not be the Steampunk of tomorrow.

To the uninitiated person who wants to experience steampunk, what three authors could they read and get a good sense of what it’s all about?

Jules Verne, Cherie Priestand Scott Westerfield. I know I am cheating with Jules Verne, but I feel like if you don’t understand Verne’s world, you are missing a key part of Steampunk history and its context. Also, since I’ve already cheated once, it won’t hurt to cheat again. I would say Steampunk newcomers would find a lot of guidance in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s two STEAMPUNK anthologies, as they do a wonderful job of displaying the movement’s full literary spectrum.

What was your favorite part about researching THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE?

Getting to talk with artists, makers and writers about their craft, and finding contemporary work that I really identify with.  The past 10 years of my life can be characterized as observing Remodernism, but not quite understanding where I fit in with it. THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE changed that for me.

S.J. Chambers.

What did you learn about steampunk that surprised you the most?

That most people working within the Steampunk aesthetic, icons like Jake von Slatt and Libby Bulloff, did not begin doing so consciously. Steampunk adopted them. To me, the fact that all of these disparate figures were unknowingly working within a common aesthetic attests more to the aesthetic’s importance. It’s a zeitgeist, not a fad.

The art direction on the book was stunning. Were you involved with that part or what can you tell us about that side of the book’s development?

Jeff and I were very much involved with the art direction. Jeff had the wonderful idea of the Jules Verne Hetzel cover, and Abram’s designer Galen Smith did a wonderful job of that.  We were responsible for gathering the images, and organizing them with the text.  The nice nuances that really tied it all together, like the margins, the font and chapter covers were all Galen Smith’s genius.

How’s the popularity affecting you personally and your career? Do you have any time left for Poe, and where else can we read your work?

This has been one of the most stimulating and positive experiences in my writing life.  There are numerous outcomes that I am thankful for, including getting to go on tour and meet people that have quickly become kindred spirits and friends. I have been busier than I am accustomed too, but it has been a good busy, and I’ve been able to begin a few projects that I hope will really pick up steam next year. One of them does involve Poe, but on that for nonce, I’ll say nothing more.

I try to keep my blog The Flightless Philosopher updated, but lately my Twitter [@selena_jo] has become a more immediate marquee for my whereabouts and publications.  You can also find other work in the wonderful and very curious THACKERY T. LAMBSHEAD’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, in which I adapted my “Poe-Bug” essay into a short story, and I’ve been reviewing a lot lately for Bookslut.

Tell me more about THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE, VOLUME 2.0?

Volume 2.0 is our sister site that has been running extra content from the book, like raw interviews, dispatches and exclusive interviews.  There is a lot in our archives, and I had to construct an automaton, Mecha Underwood, to help me manage and man the helm of this beastly webship. Poor Mecha! She really has it hard since I built her with a Lachrymose 5000 chip, and seeing Jeff and I gallivant around the states last summer has made her a bit morose.  She yearns for sand in her gears, and forgets to post sometimes, but I have found that a gauntlet of oil and some Keats poems rolled into her printing case cheers her right up.

Finally, what question has nobody asked you yet which you wish they had? And what’s the answer?

Is Spongebob Steampunk taking it too far?  [The answer is] I don’t know. It would depend on whether the movie version incorporating Spongebob Steampunk, Geary Gary and Colossal Squidward in a battle against Corporate Nemo’s Krabby Patty takeover will successfully capture the Steampunk Spirit. Can’t be worse than THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2011), but you never know.

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Retro Review: Tricks & a Cinematic Treat at The Plaza as the Silver Scream Spookshow Unearths Another Vincent Price/H.P. Lovecraft Classic for Its Fifth Anniversary

Posted on: Oct 13th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

Silver Scream Spookshow Presents THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963); Dir: Roger Corman; Screenplay by Charles Beaumont; Starring Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., Debra Paget; Sat. Oct. 15;  kids matinee at 1 PM (kids under 12 free & adults $7) and adult show at 10 PM(all tickets $12)Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Vincent Price is back to haunt The Plaza in THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, and Halloween’s on its way! Cthulhu bless The Silver Scream Spookshow! Yes, yet another chance to see classic AIP/Roger Corman cinematic madness on the big screen in 35mm this Sat. Oct. 15! More Professor Morte and his madcap gang of monsters and monster babes! Oh, and some old Spookshow family members may return, too. Yowza!

THE HAUNTED PALACE was promoted as another Corman-Price-Edgar Allan Poe film, but while the title comes from a line in a Poe poem, it’s actually a very loose adaptation of Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, one of his more famous novellas. If you’ve never read it, you should. But more importantly, you should make a date for seeing the film at The Plaza this weekend because it’s the fifth anniversary of the Spookshow, it’s a terrific print of the movie, and Professor Morte is promising a magical event (literally).

“THE HAUNTED PALACE has become a favorite movie here at Morte Manor,” the Professor cackled to ATLRetro from his crypt in his secret batcave. “I watch this movie once a week, and I listen to the soundtrack [composed by Ronald Stein], which is amazing, all the time.” Before laying back down in his coffin, Atlanta’s favorite master of the macabre whispered in ATLRetro’s ear that there will be some stunning legerdemain this weekend (that means magic tricks, as in sleight-of-hand, as in smoke and mirrors, gang), including a certain supernatural experience which, if we understood Morte’s whisper correctly, has never happened live on stage before…

Now, back to the movie. THE HAUNTED PALACE is one of the best Lovecraft adaptations to make it onto celluloid. Not only does it star Saint Vincent Price, it also features everyone’s favorite Wolfman, Lon Chaney, Jr., and hot babe, Debra Paget, from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and who smooched with Elvis in LOVE ME TENDER (both 1956). The excellent script was written by the late, great Charles Beaumont, one of the finest short story writers of his generation, who penned over two dozen classic episodes of Rod Serling’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE TV show (He also wrote the screenplay for the Zsa Zsa Gabor turkey, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE [1958], but, hey, no one’s perfect).

So, there’s only one place to be this Saturday: The Plaza Theatre! And as Professor Morte says, “be prepared to be scared!”

ATLRetro terrifying trivia:

  • THE HAUNTED PALACE was Debra Paget’s last movie before she retired after marrying a Chinese millionaire and later became a devout Christian.
  • Charles Beaumont is the subject of a terrific documentary by Jason V. Brock, CHARLES BEAUMONT: THE SHORT LIFE OF TWILIGHT ZONE’S MAGIC MAN (2010).
  • Beaumont’s birth name was Charles Leroy Nutt.

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Retro Review: Vincent Price at His Most Evil and Sadistic in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, Splatter Cinema’s September Movie

Posted on: Sep 12th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

Splatter Cinema Presents WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUEROR WORM) (1968); Dir: Michael Reeves; Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy; Tues. Sept. 13; 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

ATLRetro’s excited – one of our favorite horror movies of all time is coming to the Plaza Theatre for an ultra-rare 35 mm screening this week as the cool ghouls at Splatter Cinema present WITCHFINDER GENERAL, the notorious 1968 British wench burning fest starring the fabulous Vincent Price at his most evil.

Recut and retitled THE CONQUEROR WORM by American International Pictures for the US market (the title is a steal from an Edgar Allan Poe poem to make people think it was another Price-Poe flick), this movie is for my money Saint Vincent’s best, most brutal and sadistic performance, a study in ice-cold evil. The print of this much-censored movie the Splatter gang are screening is a British X-rated one, which, sadly, doesn’t include the restored footage from a UK DVD released a few years ago. But since most of the shocking, sadistic, violent footage has been lost over the years, this isn’t a big deal – except for purists such as myself – as this film packs a punch to the guts regardless. (Only seconds were trimmed from several scenes, tightening some of the torture and longer takes of witches being burned alive – material that’s long been a source of conjecture amongst obsessive fans. The screenplay was pre-censored by the British Board of Film Censors before a foot of film was shot back in the ‘60s.

Based on the turgid 1966 historical novel by Ronald Bassett, the film has its roots in truth but is a seriously fictionalized account of the infamous exploits of 17th century self-styled “witchfinder” Matthew Hopkins, who committed hundreds of atrocities during the English civil war as Royalists fought Parliamentary forces for control of the countryside, staining the verdant pastures red. The real Hopkins was a sadistic misogynist who lined his pockets by extracting confessions from innocent women who were accused of witchcraft by paranoid villagers. As played by Price, the character is a power-hungry, puritanical, sexually repressed manipulator of the first order who meets his match in Richard Marshall, a young soldier played by Ian Ogilvy (best known for playing sleuth Simon Templar in the ‘70s Brit TV series THE RETURN OF THE SAINT). When Hopkins and his vile assistant, Stearne, victimize a vicar and his daughter, the soldier’s true love, vengeance becomes the order of the day, and Marshall abandons his political convictions, going crazy as he hunts down and confronts the men who have destroyed his life.

 

Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy) and Vincent Price in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, aka THE CONQUEROR WORM. Photo credit: AIP

Written and directed by Michael Reeves, a very young, ambitious director, whom critics hailed as the Great White Hope of British horror cinema, this movie turned out to be his swan song as he died at age 25 of an accidental drug overdose shortly after completing the film. His next scheduled project was THE OBLONG BOX (1969), another Price-Poe vehicle, and one wonders how that would have turned out considering Price couldn’t stand the young director, whom he thought arrogant and disliked the way he was being commanded as an actor – which makes Price’s understated performance even more tribute-worthy.

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