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

Posted on: Jul 31st, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

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

For the enlightened, however, there’s Monsterama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

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

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood simple.

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

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