Bring Me the Fangs of Alfredo Garcia: Splatter Cinema’s November Movie JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES Features Some Badass Bloodsuckers But Is a Better Western Than a Horror Movie

Posted on: Nov 11th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee; Tuesday, Nov. 12 @ 9:30 p.m. (pictures and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Still feeling unsatisfied after all of the horrors that Halloween and the Buried Alive! Film Festival had to offer? Not a problem! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre keep the gore flowing with their presentation of JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES! Turn up early to have your photo taken in a recreation of one of the film’s tableaux and check out the merch table!

Okay. Let’s be honest: the end of the 1980s was probably the worst thing that could have happened to John Carpenter. After a decade and a half of superior filmmaking—capped off by 1988’s savage and darkly comic take on Reagan’s America, THEY LIVE—the road suddenly became very bumpy for the director. Misfires like 1992’s MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, 1993’s Showtime Networks project BODY BAGS and 1995’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED were interspersed with deliberate attempts to recapture past glories. 1995’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, surprisingly, worked; it succeeded in closing off his Lovecraftian “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with THE THING and continued with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. But his re-teaming with Kurt Russell on 1996’s ESCAPE FROM L.A. was hardly a patch on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. It wasn’t even 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, for crying out loud. And when a quickly-made cash-in knock-off by Enzo G. Castellari is a more entertaining follow-up than the official one, then something is rotten in the state of Carpenter. Realizing that he just wasn’t having fun making movies anymore, John Carpenter decided to retire.

Why, then, did Carpenter change his mind after just two years and film an adaptation of John Steakley’s VAMPIRE$? He largely rejected the plot of the source novel, and pretty much tossed aside the two screenplay drafts that were offered to him, so it wasn’t the story that pulled him back into the game. A good guess is that he saw this as a chance to once again have fun. And how? By making the western that he’d always wanted to make.

He’d attempted to make a western once before with his second feature, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. It was originally set in the Old West as a cross between RIO BRAVO and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. However, budgetary restrictions forced him to update the scenario to a present day urban setting. And while Carpenter had long integrated elements from his favorite western filmmakers into his work (Howard Hawks, John Ford and Sergio Leone among them), he had never explicitly returned to the genre. VAMPIRES’ Southwestern setting and revamping (no pun intended) of a “hired guns” trope allowed him to explicitly return to his own favorite genre.

The storyline is relatively simple. A crack team of Vatican-backed vampire hunters takes out a cell of vamps holed up in a New Mexico house. Afterward, an ambush back at their motel leaves only the team’s leader, Jack Crow (James Woods), his partner Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a prostitute (Sheryl Lee). Crow pulls together a new team in order to take out the vampire’s leader and his army. There’s some supernatural gussying-up going on (the vamps are after an ancient relic, there’s a climactic exorcism ritual as a plot turn), but as you can see, this is largely a “cowboys vs. Indians” story disguised as a horror movie.

Is it successful? Well, not entirely. It actually makes a fairly good run at turning THE WILD BUNCH into a horror flick, its action sequences are well-staged and deftly shot, it sports a typically good score from Carpenter and it’s more lively than almost anything Carpenter had done in the decade following THEY LIVE. But the leads are woefully miscast. James Woods is sufficiently vicious as a hired killer, but—let’s face it—there’s nobody among us that wouldn’t have rather seen Kurt Russell as the lead of this John Carpenter horror/western hybrid. Daniel Baldwin is…well…Daniel Baldwin, as unfortunate as that might be, and Sheryl Lee is merely okay in her role as Katrina, the prostitute-turned-vampire. But they’re all serviceable in their roles; it’s not like any of them are really bad actors. They’re just not quite right for the project. So while all of this may make this sound like it’s just one of Carpenter’s weaker films, why is it so poorly regarded?

Ultimately, JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES falls victim to its placement in his filmography. It came at the end of a “lost decade” of sorts, when his career needed a severe revitalization, and when he desperately needed to make an Important John Carpenter Film. And this movie is blissfully unimportant. Carpenter just wanted to have some fun once again, and if it had landed somewhere around BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA in his oeuvre, it would be seen as a nice little detour. Not a damaging entry into his work history, just a fast-paced bit of vampire killing with western flair. But in the context of his career, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time.

So, my advice is this: take the movie out of context. Forget what Carpenter needed, and focus on what it is: a beer-drinking, hell-raising, rip-snorting, ass-kicking, heart-staking, head-cutting, over-the-top, balls-out bit of fun. Don’t even look at it as a horror movie. Because it’s really not, once you get past the surface. Look at it as a blood-soaked action/western with vampires as the villains and James Woods chewing up the scenery like it was made out of cheeseburgers. And have a ball, because everyone making it appears to have been having one.

And thank your lucky stars that it’s not GHOSTS OF MARS.

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

Posted on: Oct 8th, 2012 By:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kool Kat of the Week: Madeline Brumby Battles the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Scares at the Spookshow and Braves Bikers ‘n’ Bigfoot in DEAR GOD NO!

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2011 By:

As Halloween creeps close and THE WALKING DEAD returns to TV next Sunday, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse (AZA) arises for its own second season with new sets and a new storyline at Safety Wolf, the vast paintball combat complex off Moreland Avenue, just south of I-285 (open Thurs.-Sun. nights through Oct. 31). Set in and around a two-story abandoned motel, this approximately 100,000-square-foot attraction was nightmared up by the maniacal minds of local horror Renaissance man/make-up artist Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow, Gargantua, etc.) and Jonny Rej (Plaza Theatre). Not just your traditional walk-through haunts with jump-out monsters, AZA delivers a total immersion “experience” with a distinct plotline that lands visitors right in the middle of the zombie plague, interacting along the way with a variety of human characters from scientists and bureaucrats at the Center for Disease Development (CDD) (but can you trust them?) to commandos fighting the zombies with automatic weaponry (reminiscent of last year’s Mack and Johnson) to a twisted carnival of human scum who thrive in the chaos, reminiscent of John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.  It’s sometimes hard to know who to trust but if someone says “run,” let’s just say you can be sure zombies are around and if you don’t, you may get bitten and infected with the plague yourself or worse eaten for your brains!

To get the scary scoop, ATLRetro caught up with Madeline Brumby, a brunette with a machine gun who is no mere scream queen but a key cast-member and also this year’s pinup girl for the “hero” side of the AZA. But that’s not the only place you can see this monster-loving maiden this October. She’ll also be acting in the 5th Anniversary Silver Scream Spookshow this Saturday Oct. 15 at the Plaza Theatre – and you know Prof. Morte and Co. will be pulling out all the tricks and treats given that it’s their Halloween show and the movie is a rare 35mm print of the Vincent Price/Lon Chaney Jr. (not to mention H.P. Lovecraft) 1963 classic HAUNTED PALACE (Read our Retro Review here). Then she’ll be taking to the streets for this Sunday’s Zombie Walk Atlanta, organized by Luke Godfrey (Splatter Cinema, Chamber of Horrors) and cosponsored by AZA, and again with the AZA group at the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade on Sat. Oct. 22. Finally Madeline also will be up on the Plaza’s big screen later this month (Oct. 22-27) as one of the stars of DEAR GOD NO!, a hard-edged/no-holds-barred homage to ‘70s grindhouse features about a hellraising motorcycle gang, a mad scientist and a sasquatch on the rampage. Yeah, the name makes total sense when you see the movie!

All of this sounds like horror heaven to us, so we had to make Madeline Kool Kat of the Week

AZA 2011 T-short design by Dave Cook.

ATLRetro: This year’s AZA has the same basic concept but a totally new pathway and set of characters—loved the R.I.P. Mack and Johnson graffiti on the back wall. Without giving too much away, what’s new and different?

Madeline Brumby: We are all extremely excited about the new format. Of course, I’m sad to see Mack and Johnson go, but this year’s show is the sequel to the Mack and Johnson story. The versatility of the AZA to create and continue an apocalyptic scenario is really what gives the unique feel to the experience this year. And for years to come!

One of the cool things about AZA is every character seems to have a back story. Who do you play, and what’s yours?

Definitely! We had a patron come through the other night who was totally impressed that we had “real” actors with “real” stories. I’m a resistance paramilitary character. My troopers and I are rebels fighting for the survival of the uninfected and the destruction of the Center for Disease Development.

Some of the zombies have pretty intense make-up—i.e. they’re not freshly dead. How long does it take the zombies to get into make-up and how many make-up artists are on the team?

As much as we try to make the apocalypse real, the AZA is still a show. With not much light, our zombies have to be highly detailed for a spine-chilling scare. The process is down to a fine science—taking about 7 minutes per zombie. We have a team of about eight artists, myself included, headed by Shane Morton. First they are outfitted and receive a prosthetic. Once the prosthetic is dry, they are base-coated, detailed with additional colors, blood-splattered and hungry for BRAINS!

What zombie movies and books were most influential in planning AZA, and did a certain TV show set in Atlanta and featuring the CDC influence AZA at all in this year’s planning?

Haha! That’s funny. Last night Shane and I watched THE WALKING DEAD for the first time, and I thought it was pretty weak. CGI blood is a NO-NO! Our blood gags are far more realistic and they’re LIVE! And I’m pretty sure we were using the CDC gimmick first(?) as our show opened before the first episode aired. As far as most influential, WORLD WAR Z, I AM LEGEND [Ed. note: original Richard Matheson novel, not Will Smith move], LAST MAN STANDING and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK provide the main inspirations.

Were you involved in any of the planning and construction? What can you tell us about that – how does AZA come together and who are some of the key behind-the-scenes masterminds, whom readers might not know about?

I’ve been out on builds from January to October and helped with some big scares in the courtyard. The primary innovators are Jonny Rej (co-owner of the Plaza Theatre) and Shane, with the major help of Dusty Booze in the construction department.

What’s a cool piece of trivia about AZA that isn’t widely known?

It is HAUNTED!

Professor Morte (Shane Morton) and Madeline Brumby in Silver Scream Spookshow.

Can you share any history about the AZA site? It was an abandoned motel, wasn’t it?

It used to be one of the busiest trucks stops ofAtlanta. At some point the owners ran into financial trouble and it shut down. Pirates ransacked the place and absconded with all the copper! When the property was purchased by Safety Wolf, I think they found EIGHT dead bodies during clean-up in the motel.  Shane and Jonny sure found some scary stuff when they were cleaning…

In addition to the main AZA experience, there’s a photo op, the opportunity to shoot zombies with paintball weaponry and some tasty food vendors, aren’t there? What might readers want to know in advance about what else is going on?

What better way to remember your apocalyptic experience than a photo with a zombie and a weapon of choice! The Zombie Shoot is even better this year and don’t let your taste buds miss out on Jim Stacy‘s famous Palookaville eats! His pickle is amazing! (insert joke here)

You’ve also become a regular in the Silver Scream Spookshow. Can you give us a little sneak peek into this week’s stage show and what makes HAUNTED PALACE such a special treat?

We definitely have some comedy gold in store for this week’s show! It’s the 5th year anniversary, so we’ve got some of the older characters like Persephone (Plaza co-owner Gayle Rej) and some of the new ones like Quozzy mixing it up for a spooktacular monster mash with more onstage illusions than ever. The score of HAUNTED PALACE is what makes the movie special to me, so I’m excited to see and HEAR it in the wonderful Plaza Theatre.

Will AZA be in the L5P Halloween Parade this year? Just zombies or how does one decorate an undead float?

We’ll be there! Undead and Alive! I think the only “float” we’ll have is a blood-splattered car.

You’re also starring in DEAR GOD NO!, an over-the-top neo-‘70s exploitation film featuring tons of local talent and playing at the Plaza Oct. 22-27. Can you tell us a little bit about that movie and the part you play?

Jimmy Bickert‘s DEAR GOD NO! is the ultimate grindhouse film. It is disturbing, offensive, hilarious, horrifying and amazing. You can’t even call it a tribute. It was shot on super 16mm film and all the effects are practical. I play Edna Marco who is the daughter of the mad scientist that has created something terrible. She transforms from submissive to empowered. Developing her went beyond all expectations. I channeled some deep dark emotions into my character and it has definitely been one of my proudest roles.

DEAR GOD NO! pushed a lot of boundaries and isn’t for everyone. What advice do you have for who should see it, especially the gals?

Take it for the art that it is and expect to be offended.

You also are acting as one of Dracula’s wives in Rob Thompson’s highly anticipated DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, which premieres next April at 7 Stages. Do you have anything you’d like to share about that role and experience?

Well, it’s definitely a musical that isn’t lame. My poor brother didn’t realize that Dracula’s wives were semi-nude and felt a little weird seeing that much of his sister. Haha! But, I don’t think it bothered anybody else too much. From musicians, score, and performers, the show is oozing talent and potential. I hope we do play in Prague this summer.

Any other acting roles or creative endeavors that you’d like to share with ATLRetro readers?

I hear there’s going to be a sequel to DEAR GOD NO! Hopefully we start shooting in the Spring.

Finally, you lived in England and have a science degree from Georgia Tech. Not that it wouldn’t be our dream/nightmare job, but how did you end up being a B-monster attraction/spookshow/movie actress?

Life’s a journey, right?

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