Kool Kat of the Week: Derek Yaniger, King of Killer Kitsch and the Daddy-O’est of ‘Em All Slings His Ink and Gets to Creepin’ with NETHERWORLD this Season of Haints, Haunts and Horror!

Posted on: Sep 27th, 2016 By:

by Melanie CrewMonsters!
Managing Editor

Perpetual Kool Kat and Daddy-O extraordinaire, Derek Yaniger, now officially official (Finally. He did create our retro-tastic logo after all!) helps dish out the terror this season of haints, haunts and horror with one of our favorite local haunted attractions, NETHERWORLD! Beginning this Friday, Sept. 30, you can feed the maniacal monster inside nightly, through Oct. 31, with a bloody encore weekend, Nov. 4-5! Get out, get scared, and spook it up!

Consistently ranked as the nation’s best Halloween attraction, our very own fangtastic homegrown haunt, NETHERWORLD delivers a terrifying 20th season, which kicked off this killer season on Sept. 23! Founders Billy Messina and Ben Armstrong and a dedicated team of designers, painters, sculptors and other artists, including Yaniger and his classic monster art created specifically for NETHERWORLD, deserve every kudo imaginable for crafting a Gothic wonderland in a Norcross commercial space. Every year it gets bigger and more creative and this year’s MONSTERS theme is no exception. Chock full of nightmare-inducing creatures, horrorific special effects and a sinister atmosphere, NETHERWORLD does not disappoint! NETHERWORLD also always features a second haunt, VAULT13: MELTDOWN that is more slasher/contemporary horror in its bent–read toxic waste, laboratories gone awry and chainsaws.

Yaniger, former artist for Marvel Comics and Cartoon Network has made a groovy name for himself locally and worldwide in the land of all things retro-culture (rockabilly, burlesque, beatnik, etc.) and has been the purveyor of ‘50s/’60s-style art since 2000. Yaniger has slung his brushes and gathered a gaggle of giddy fans at many a retro-culture event: Tiki Oasis (San Diego), Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend, Tales of the Cocktail (New Orleans), Spain Wild Weekend, DragonCon and more! And of course our brothers and sisters across the globe dig his work as much as we do, with pieces Gargoylehanging at Italy’s famed MondoPop, Australia’s Outre, Mexico’s Vertigo, the UK’s Castor & Pollux, just to name a few!

ATLRetro gabbed it up with Yaniger and dished about his ‘50s/’60s kitschy art-style, his love of all things retro and spookin’ it up with one of our favorite neighborhood haunts, NETHERWORLD . While you’re eyeballing our little Q&A, why not take a gander and grab a piece or two of Yaniger’s rockin’ art here!

ATLRetro: We are huge fans of your art (obviously) and of Atlanta’s own spooktacular haunt, Netherworld, celebrating 20 ghoulish years this season of haints, haunts and horrors. Tell us about your partnership with Netherworld and what you bring to their terrifying table?

Derek Yaniger: I do dig me some spooktacular haunts! And Netherworld is claws down the best of the best! I am lucky enough to have a nice relationship with Billy Messina and Ben Armstrong (the cats what founded Netherworld ) and they are kind enough to invite me every year to create a few pieces of art for ’em! Just like me, they have been monster fans since their early days so they seem to dig my retro-inspired take on creepy stuff.

Atlanta’s fangtastic classic horror scene seems to grow larger every year, which keeps local haunts, such as our pals over at Netherworld alive (so to speak!) and kicking. In the spirit of Halloween, is there anything in particular about this season, about the idea of getting spooked that keeps you coming back?

DRACULA

The Halloween season has been my favorite time of year ever since I was a crumbsnatchin’ lil’ creepster! Those first autumn days when the steamy summer temperatures begin to drop and the leaves begin to fall instantly transports me back to my trickin’ or treatin’ days! Memories of my old CREEPY and EERIE magazines and my Aurora Monster Models flood my brain bucket and I can’t wait to head to Netherworld to see it all come to life!

Which classic monster would you say is your favorite?

It’s got to be the original Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN! That cat is the ding dong daddy of ‘em all! King of the Monsters! For some reason that film as well as the follow-up, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN really started it all off for me! I used all my lawn-mowin’ money back in my youth to purchase anything and everything Frankenstein…FAMOUS MONSTERS mags, Don Post Franky masks, Frankenstein model kits…Much to the disappointment of my Mom, I would wear that damn Frankenstein mask EVERYWHERE….even tried to wear it to church once!

You create some killer images, with just the right amount of kitsch, which we of course can’t get enough of, and neither can your fans. Can you tell us a little about your style, and how it differs from the work you did with Marvel Comics and Cartoon Network in the ‘90s?

My current style is deeply rooted in the cartoon art of the ‘50s and early ‘60s….all the stuff that flipped my switches as a child! When I worked for Marvel the requirement was to draw the “Marvel Way,” but after 5 years of that I decided I would rather draw the “Derek Way“. I transitioned into working for Cartoon Network which was closer to my natural cartoon style, but still not me dancin’ to the beat of my own bongos. After about 5 years of that I decided I wanted to commit fully to my first love, the mid-century modern cartoon.

Take Me To Your LiterWhat drew you to a life of creating art? Any riotous tales of your artistic journey?

Honestly, art is the ONLY thing I’m good at, and I really believe I was born to doodle! My life-long obsession with visual images, even before I actually started scribbling, made it clear to me at a young age that a life creating art was the only way to fly! I don’t know how “riotous” my journey has been, as it was mostly working for fat cats n’ bigwigs that micro-managed me to the point where I wasn’t really proud of the work I was creating. One example of the drag that was advertising art: I was commissioned by Kroger to create a deli-chicken waitress character. After the committee of ad cats had their say, I was forced to add big red lips to the beak and red fingernails to the feathered hands! It was uglier and creepier than anything I ever created for Netherworld!

Who would you consider to be your top three favorite retro artists? Where did you draw your inspiration from and how did they inspire you?

My all favorite would have to be the great Jim Flora! Such a great mixture of modern art, humor and weirdness! His album cover art for Columbia, RCA and Camden is so damned great it kinda makes my stomach hurt! Second on the list would be Ward Kimball. He was the Disney director/animator responsible for the majority of experimentally fantastic art seen in the early ‘50s Disney shorts. I sometimes watch those on super-slo-mo and have to repeatedly dab the drool from my dropped jaw! Last, but NEVER least would have to be Georgia-born, UGA-educated illustrator extraordinaire…Jack Davis. His work for EC Comics and Mad Magazine was the first real exposure I had to art as a wee one. Although my style doesn’t really borrow too much from Jack’s, he will always be an inspiration!

Which pop-culture artist would you say is the most neglected and what do you think makes him/her worthy of attention?Witchy Poo

If we’re talkin’ present day here, I would say Mitch O’Connell. I dig his work the MOST! He uses heaps of vintage-inspired imagery in his work and as a technician, his skills are insane! AND he’s one of the nicest cats in the kingdom! He was a big inspiration for me when I finally decided to make the big dive into the retro art pool. If we’re talkin’ back in the day, I would have to say Cliff Roberts….kinda hard to find examples of his work. I was lucky enough to snag a copy of THE FIRST BOOK OF JAZZ off EBAY a while back. His B&W illustrations throughout the book swing like a well-greased gate! Who are your favorite local artists? Dave Cook is a local cat who is a very good friend and an even better artist. This Clyde can do it ALL! He’s known for his work on RollerGirls art and his “Cadavitures” (zombie caricatures that he scribbles at DragonCon), but I think he’s mostly known for all the Netherworld tees he’s created over the years. If you own a favorite Netherworld tee, Dave probably scribbled it!

Can you tell our readers how you got involved with Tiki Oasis, Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend, and our very own DragonCon?

Around the year 2000, When I decided to put all my eggs in the retro art basket, I burned CDs (remember CDs?) of all the retro art I created in my spare hours and sent them to anyone who published a retro-themed magazine (Atomic, Barracuda ) or held retro culture events. (Tiki Oasis, Viva Las Vegas, Hukilau) Otto Von Stroheim, the Grand Poobah of the Tiki Oasis in San Diego was the first to respond, and I’ve scribbled art for that gig every year for the past 15 years! Crazy! Thankfully I am now known as the retro art guy all over the world and have created art for heaps of events celebrating rockabilly, burlesque, cocktail culture, beatnik, etc. The DragonCon connection happened about 8 or so years ago. They were starting the Cat and MousePop Artist’s Alley to give some attention to artists that don’t make with the comic book bit (more underground Lowbrow kinda stuff). At the time, I was growing in popularity in the Lowbrow world so it was a natural fit!

Your art spans the globe, being housed in galleries across the world, including Italy’s MondoPop, Australia’s Outre, Mexico’s Vertigo and the UK’s Castor and Pollux. What’s it like to know that your art inspires people the world over and what do you want your fans to take away from your work?

Yeah, the international response to my work was a coo coo nutty surprise to me! Them cats overseas seem to really dig the whole American kitschy ‘50s art scene. Just last May I had a sold out show at the La Fiambrera Gallery in Madrid! It was amazing how many people attended the opening and how damn nice they were to me! It was a solid gas! It is so rewarding to know that all this silly crap that pours from my coconut can be an inspiration to so many other artists around the globe. I seem to have a nice following among young artists who may just be discovering retro. I just want my art to make cats ‘n’ kittens smile….I love seeing people eyeball my work for the first time and get a nice wide grin goin!

What are you currently working on? Anything exciting in the pipeline?

I have a couple of gallery shows that I need to start slingin’ paint for. I’m working on a design for a Mai Tai decanter set for Tiki Farm, I’m going to be designing some fabric for Pinup Girl Clothing and I’m REALLY excited to be in discussions with a company to create some high-end 3-D collectible figures of my work! These days I’m jumpin’ like a Mexican bean on a trampoline!

How can our readers get their hands on your art?Ghost Collector

Bop on over to https://www.misterretro.com/merchandise and snag somethin’ for your good self!

Anything exciting planned with Netherworld this year?

I created a new piece for Netherworld a couple of months ago. It’s my most favorite yet! Not sure how those cats are planning to use it, but it should show up in the Netherworld gift shop in some creepy form or fashion! Other than that, I’m just planning on falling by the haunts in early October with my good friend Dave Cook. Netherworld always delivers the CREEPS….and I do love it so!

All images provided by Derek Yaniger and used with permission.

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

Posted on: Mar 24th, 2015 By:

by Aleck BennettFRAN_poster
Contributing Writer

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

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

Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and James Bickert

Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and James Bickert

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

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

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

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

DEAR GOD NO!

DEAR GOD NO!

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

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

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

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

DEAR GOD NO!

DEAR GOD NO!

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

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

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

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

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

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

720a

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

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

 

All photos courtesy of James Bickert and used with permission.

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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: Splatter Cinema Takes You Straight to Sci-Fi Hell with EVENT HORIZON Tues. April 9 at The Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Apr 8th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents EVENT HORIZON (1997); Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson; Starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan; Tuesday, April 9 @ 9:30 p,m. (come early at 9 p.m. for photo op with a realistic recreation of a scene from the film); Plaza Theatre; Facebook event page here; Trailer here.

By Robert Emmett Murphy
Contributing Writer

I remember when EVENT HORIZON first came out in 1997, and specifically I remember the context of its contemporaries in SF filmmaking. A large handful of undeniable classics notwithstanding, 1990s SF filmmaking was showing clear signs of exhausting itself. There were a bumper crop of major releases with improving budgets, consistently breathtaking in their special effects and all other aspects of design, and more prestigious casts; but many, many of those films proved remarkably disappointing. Concepts that seemed ambitious were dumbed down badly, and then rendered in near incoherent form even after they were simplified. We started to pine for less bloated and more energetic B movies, but those B movies were now competing with big budget films for what was once their exclusive audience share, As a result they often got cowardly, losing their sense of “nothing to lose and everything to prove” and trapping themselves in the rehashing of major releases. The films most rehashed in that era were already a decade or more old, TERMINATOR (1984) and ALIEN (1979).

Because EVENT HORIZON did do many things right, it was ultimately far more frustrating than the very many far worse films around it. Among its virtues, the most important was that it was a SF horror film set entirely on a spaceship, but it wasn’t yet another ALIEN knock-off. In retrospect, it anticipates the recent ALIEN prequel PROMETHEUS (2012) in its tremendous narrative ambition, crippled by far from coherent storytelling, but then bolstered by strong set pieces and even better performances, only to again be undercut by not knowing what to do with the people they have wandering around the uncertain plot.

EVENT HORIZON does reference ALIEN, recapturing aspects of the look and the wonderful claustrophobic feel, and taking advantage of the more famous film’s opening ploy – our heros are traveling deep into the void in response to a distress call, and none are prepared for what they will find.

The year is 2047, and the rescue ship, “Lewis and Clark,” is piloted by an under-developed hero named Captain Miller, who is thankfully played by Laurence Fishburne, an actor whose career is notable for how many times he’s had to breathe life into under-developed characters. For the most part, his crew is similarly under-written, yet in almost every case exceptionally well-played. In fairness to the script, they do have a collective identity based on loyalty, professionalism and camaraderie that they as individuals lack.

Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) in EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

Among them is a resented stranger, Dr. William Weir, played quite well by Sam Neill. He’s the most developed of the nine significant members of the dramatis personae. Weir is carefully trying to cover how personally haunted he is. He’s suffering from nightmares of his wife’s suicide, and it was his experimental Faster-Than-Light drive (in this film, they use the hyperspace template for that future technology) is definitely at the root of the crisis, though even he can’t know how or why.

They are there to rescue the crew and research from the ship the “Event Horizon,” which seven years prior literally disappeared from the universe while testing Dr. Weir’s technology. Now, suddenly and mysteriously, it has returned. What the crew of the “Lewis and Clark” find is a gory mess, the “Event Horizon’s” crew were driven mad by their trip out of our universe and back, and slaughtered each other in a remarkable orgy of murder-suicide. Our heroes also discover the derelict ship brought something back from the other universe, an ambiguous but implacably hostile entity that can do bad things to the human mind.

“Event Horizon” is a haunted house in space, and as every school child knows, those who are most haunted entering the door are most vulnerable to the haunting once inside. The crew is right to distrust Dr. Weir, because he’s going to prove to be nothing but trouble.

The film’s most explicit references aren’t to other Science Fiction Horror films, but to Supernatural Horror films, notably THE SHINING (1980) and DON’T LOOK NOW (1973). (One film it was especially careful not to visually reference is SOLARIS (1972) because it doesn’t want to remind the audience that this over-the-top-gore-fest stole all its major plot points from that slow, meditative, art-house film.)

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

Many (most?) of the film’s virtues are in its production which is remarkably rich and coherent through the exquisite special effects, exceptional set design and best of all, its sound editing by veteran sounds effects editor Ross Adams. The film’s suspense is heightened tremendously by the always intrusive ambient noises which never let you forgot the oppressiveness and implicit threat of a wholly artificial environment. That year, TITANIC took that (and every other) Oscar, but in comparison to this largely disregarded film, TITANIC’s sound is just a lot of smartzy bullshit.

This classy production led strength to the large number of marvelous set pieces, such as the opening scene where we are pulled back from the window of a space station and rotated as we pass through its vast structure, and keep on pulling back until the huge habitat is dwarfed by the giant Earth behind it. Another good one is the Lewis and Clark’s approach to the Event Horizon, spectacularly skimming the storm clouds of Neptune’s upper atmosphere.

Best of all was Capt. Miller’s desperate race to rescue his young crew member Justin, played by Jack Noseworthy, who is about to be sucked out of an airlock. What I was most impressed with this scene was its rare fidelity to the science, and the way it used the physical realities for dramatic effect. The imperfect, but unusually good, scientific literacy of the script strengthens the first half of the film tremendously. Unfortunately, by the last third, all concepts of natural laws and forces hves become as cartoonishly incompetent as Disney’s notorious BLACK HOLE (like ALIEN, also released in 1979, and also a clear influence on this film).

The scene that best evokes how very ambitious EVENT HORIZON was is the climax [Ed. note: SPOILER ALERT], where we have the destruction, and at same time, survival, of the title vessel, with two very different escapes, and two very different entrapments, all unfolding at the same moment. Too bad by that point the script had degenerated into complete chaos and incoherence.

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

It seems like someone forgot to ask themselves what the golden thread really was, but who is the guilty party? Definitely director Paul W.S. Anderson, whose career is studded with ably executed, visual striking and surprisingly lavish movie-making, but who is not known for either substantive ideas or characterization. He’s been the writer and/or director on 14 films, six of which were based on video games, and another five were constructed in such a way as to facilitate video game tie-ins.

Also clearly one or both of the writers are at fault. Philip Eisner developed the initial script, but there were extensive, uncredited, rewrites by Andrew Kevin Walker at Anderson’s request.

A post-production decision to cut out 30 minutes of storytelling to make room for more special effects probably didn’t help much either.

Here’s the deal: The humans who pass through the interdimensional portal are psychicly shattered and reduced to homicidal and suicidal insanity. Implicitly, the alien who was accidently dragged through the same portal in the other direction has suffered the same. Had that been made explicit, it could’ve been explored – the monster is as much a victim as the crew, and specifically was the unintended victim of Dr. William Weir. Sympathetic monsters, like the Frankenstein monster, are horror’s most emotionally potent trope. And when the sympathy is discovered through process of rational investigation, the story stands on the firmament of legitimately mature science fiction, as in the classic STAR TREK episode “The Devil In The Dark” (1967).

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

But instead we get a promising premise ship-wrecked by what is inevitably evoked whenever a script is peppered with phrases like “the ultimate evil” and “something infinitely more terrifying than Hell;” and a future spaceship crewed by English-speaking scientists start spontaneously babbling Church Latin and decorate their cabins with cabalistic runes painted in blood.

Probably the best guide to how terribly it all went wrong was what was done to the two best developed characters:

Lt. Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) is one of only three who gets any kind of back-story, and unlike Capt. Miller and Dr. Weir, her history isn’t evoked with excessive melodrama or ham-fisted exposition. Moreover, Quinlan provides, hands-down, the film’s best performance. She also gets killed before contributing anything to the plot. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! That’s not the character you treat as cannon fodder! Joely Richardson, as the wholly forgettable Lt. Strark who somehow manages to survive to the final credits, should’ve been cannon fodder. I suspect age-ism; Quinlan was 43 at the time, compared to Richardson’s 32, making her better prepared to run around in her underwear.

Then there’s Dr. Weir, so ably played by Neill until the script stops making sense. After that, he’s transformed into an utterly ridiculous monster. An important plot point is that Weir, though he is most vulnerable to the influence of the alien, hasn’t been through the interdimensional gate. He’s stalked, like Dr. Frankenstein, by the consequences of his defiance of nature. In the end, he is the alien’s super-human puppet, and a lot of the stuff coming out of his mouth is completely inexplicable if he hasn’t already been over to the other side. The film evokes demonic possession as an excuse, but it’s a poor excuse because there was no honest effort to tie that concept to the already well-established and fascinating environment, or the already clearly established mechanics of interdimentional travel. It just kind of leaps head first into the realm of mid-1980s straight-to-video NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET knockoffs.

A gorier moment in EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997.

EVENT HORIZON was a financial bomb, recouping less than half its $60 million dollar budget domestically. It temporarily derailed the director’s career, but he made a comeback by studiously avoiding all smartness ever since (he’s the main guy behind the RESIDENT EVIL film franchise). It was also brutalized by the critics, many of whom had a lot of fun making it out to be much worse than it was. I imagine Stephen Hunter rubbing hands and cackling with glee as he wrote this:

“If you want to have that EVENT HORIZON experience without spending the seven bucks, try this instead: Put a bucket on your head. Have a loved one beat on it vigorously with a wrench for 100 minutes. Same difference, and think of the gas you’ll save.”

Now that’s just plain mean.

The late, great Roger Ebert was far more on target (as usual):

“It’s all style, climax and special effects. The rules change with every scene…But then perhaps it doesn’t matter. The screenplay creates a sense of foreboding and afterboding, but no actual boding.”

The retro/cult market eventually redeemed this film. It’s almost perfect for that nitch, because when forewarned, the film’s self-destructiveness is actually pretty amusing. Also, cult cinema has always thrived on the ambitious failures, the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s of Hollywood, and this movie is all of them wrapped up into one.

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

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

Posted on: Feb 11th, 2013 By:

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

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Retro Review: WHITE ZOMBIE Walks Again in the World Premiere of an All-New Restoration at Atlanta’s Historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Jan 16th, 2013 By:

WHITE ZOMBIE (1932); Dir. Victor Halperin; Starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, John Harron and Robert Frazer; World premiere Friday, Jan. 18 @ 8:00 p.m. hosted by Prof. Morte (scary details at end of story), and Jan. 25-31; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Long before George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD forever redefined “zombie” in the public mind as “undead, flesh-eating ghoul,” the Halperin Brothers first brought the Haitian legend of the zombie to the screen with 1932’s WHITE ZOMBIE.

The movie finds young couple Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron) reuniting in Haiti to be wed at the plantation of their friend Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer). Beaumont’s secret love for Madeline drives him to visit local voodoo master Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi) in order to enlist his help in winning Madeline’s hand. Legendre provides Beaumont with a potion that will transform her into a zombie, robbed of her will and love for Parker. He complies with Legendre’s instructions, but soon finds that the villainous voodoo master has plans of his own for the young beauty.

In 1932, America was in the midst of a newfound fascination with voodoo due to New Orleans’ emergence as a tourist destination. Interest was further fueled by authors such as William Buehler Seabrook. Seabrook was a well-traveled journalist, explorer, occultist and Georgia resident who had gained renown by documenting occult practices across the globe, including some of the only objective contemporaneous reporting on Aleister Crowley. Seabrook’s interest in the occult led him to spend considerable time in Haiti researching voodoo and the Culte des Morts. This adventure resulted in his 1929 book THE MAGIC ISLAND, which introduced the concept of the “zombie” to American audiences.

Producer Edward Halperin and his brother, director Victor Halperin (along with screenwriter Garnett Weston) capitalized on the nation’s interest in voodoo by borrowing liberally from both Seabrook’s work and Kenneth Webb’s 1932 Broadway play, ZOMBIE, and crafted an atmospheric masterpiece. The Halperins enlisted Bela Lugosi, fresh off his success in Universal’s 1931 smash DRACULA. It’s unclear as to Lugosi’s reasons for choosing to immediately follow a major studio hit with a micro-budgeted independent film, but he may have seen it as a way to stretch his creative muscles in a low-risk venture. Although he was paid little for his role (reports vary from $500 to $5000), his co-star Clarence Muse reported that Lugosi rewrote portions of the script, restaged some of the scenes and even directed portions of the film. His personal investment in the end results may be why Lugosi considered WHITE ZOMBIE a favorites among his own movies.

It could also be because it’s just a damned fine film.

The film deftly balances the legendary with the actual. While Legendre’s zombies are the reanimated corpses of Haitian lore (their look provided by Universal’s maestro of makeup, Jack Pierce), the film also depicts his use of a poison that emulates death and results in the victim’s deathlike trance and subsequent subservience to a bokor or sorcerer. Though this method had long been suspected, a pharmacological explanation for the zombie phenomenon wouldn’t be confirmed until ethnobiologist Wade Davis’ explorations into Haiti in the 1980s.

Beyond the film’s knowing mixture of fact and fiction, it benefits from the collaboration of Victor Halperin, cinematographer Arthur Martinelli and music superviser Abe Meyer. Together, they take what may have read on the page as stagebound and stodgy and create a dreamlike vision that mirrors Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR (also 1932), echoes elements of contemporaneous Universal horrors and anticipates Val Lewton’s exercises in atmosphere and sound design. Constantly inventive staging and camera work—taking place on sets borrowed from DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME—operate in sync with native drumming, chants, ambient noise, eerie rearrangements of classical works and original music by Xavier Cugat to deliver a palpable sense of creeping death under the oppressive hand of Murder Legendre.

And in the role of Legendre, Lugosi becomes the embodiment of evil itself. No other role—not even Dracula—fully utilizes his mesmeric power and hypnotic presence. From the opening scene, when his eyes are superimposed on the landscape of Haiti, his presence is felt in every frame of film; this is the power of his performance as Murder Legendre. The Halperins attempted to recapture the magic of this film with a sequel, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES, but made the mistake of attempting to replace Bela with Dean Jagger. It’s no small wonder that the subsequent film failed.

For years, WHITE ZOMBIE only circulated on washed-out transfers of faded 16mm prints, mastered for public domain VHS and TV broadcast. In 1999, two rare 35mm prints were used to create the restored version released on DVD by the Roan Group. However, those prints were hardly in pristine condition, displaying evident damage and dropped frames.

Left to right: Bela Lugosi as voodoo master Legendre, a mesmerized Madge Bellamy and a concerned John Harron in WHITE ZOMBIE (1932).

In recent years, Los Angeles-based Holland Releasing had heard that a previously unknown complete 35mm print was rumored to be in the possession of an aged film collector. Thomas W. Holland (a previous resident of Roswell and Marietta) spoke about the efforts to track down this elusive print and its owner. “I heard a rumor about an old fellow who claimed to have a superb, original 35mm print and that began a worldwide search to find this aging, eccentric film lover and convince him to let us acquire the film for a full restoration.  People think I’m joking when I say I had to go through a friend of a friend of a friend to contact this man.” When the print was found, Holland was stunned at its overall condition. “It must have been removed from theatrical service early on, or been set aside as a special studio print.” The Holland Releasing group then set about restoring the film.

AlgoSoft-Tech USA, based in Bishop, Georgia, was hired to return WHITE ZOMBIE’s image quality to its original standards. AlgoSoft’s president, Dr. Inna Kozlov, a famed mathematician in her native Russia, took on the project with great excitement. “We arranged to have the vintage 35mm print scanned, frame-by-frame, at a very high resolution so as not to lose any information.” From that point, Dr. Koslov and her technology developer, Dr. Alexander Petukhov wrote customized software to correct any imperfections in each frame. “Our goal was to return the film’s visuals to how they looked in 1932, the way a vintage carbon arc light source would have glistened through a silver nitrate print of the era.”

Another Atlanta firm, Crawford Media Services, was chosen to do the final re-assembly of the motion picture which included intensely detailed color-correction. “Being a black-and-white film, WHITE ZOMBIE required far more expertise and patience than a typical color feature to get the light levels correct,” says producer Holland. “This film is a gothic masterpiece, and we wanted it to look exactly the way it did when audiences first saw it.”

Once the Georgia image work was completed, the master was sent to Chace Audio by Deluxe in Burbank, California. Using a variety of sources, Chace remastered the film’s faded audio tracks to restore the sound to match the quality of the restored image. “Early sound films had a tremendous amount of inherent hiss, clicks and pops,” Holland says, “but Chace was able to give us a new audio track that greatly reduced this. We weren’t looking to make a hi-fi version of the WHITE ZOMBIE track, just a cleaner, clearer representation of how the movie originally sounded in theaters of the ’30s.”

Of course, any restoration invites an amount of controversy, and WHITE ZOMBIE is no exception to this rule. The Holland restoration, which has been licensed for use on an upcoming DVD and Blu-Ray release by Kino/Fox Lorber, is already attracting its share of debate from advance reviews. (The release offers two viewing options for comparison: the Holland restoration and a “raw” transfer of the print used prior to AlgoSoft’s restorative work.) However, without actually being able to see an arc light-projected silver nitrate print of WHITE ZOMBIE, it’s impossible to say that the Holland restoration is an inaccurate representation of how the film looked in 1932.

What is most exciting, though, is the chance to see WHITE ZOMBIE on the big screen once again as the restoration makes its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre. The Plaza is making this night a grand event. Hosted by Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow (aka Shane Morton) and Blake Myers (Atlanta effects artist, filmmaker, Buried Alive Film Festival programmer and ATLRetro Kool Kat, whose credits include THE WALKING DEAD and V/H/S), the film will be preceded by the vintage Betty Boop cartoon “Is My Palm Read?” and followed by the 1932 short subject “An Intimate Interview with Bela Lugosi.” Following the filmed entertainment, the team behind WHITE ZOMBIE’s restoration will take part in a question-and-answer session. And attendees will have a chance to win a lifetime all-inclusive ticket to the Plaza, original Plaza seats and T-shirts and monster masks from event sponsor Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.

Following its premiere on January 18, the film will be showing at the Plaza for a full week, running from January 25-31, and will be shown on a one-time-only basis in theaters across the Unites States and Canada. But you can be there first and see WHITE ZOMBIE brought back to life at its world premiere in Atlanta.

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

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Retro Review: Viva Morte! Viva la Plaza! Celebrate the Plaza Theatre as the Silver Scream Spookshow presents ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN!

Posted on: Dec 20th, 2012 By:

Silver Scream Spookshow presents ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948); Dir: Charles Barton; Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Glenn Strange; Sat. Dec. 22;  kids’ matinee at 1 PM (kids under 12 free & adults $7) and adult show at 10 PM(all tickets $12); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Let me get personal for a minute here.

This month’s Silver Scream Spookshow at the Plaza Theatre is a special one for me. Not just because every Spookshow is its own special thing. And not just because the Plaza is Atlanta’s oldest running independent cinema, which is just incredible in its own right. But because the film being presented—ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—is my very first memory. The earliest thing I can recall from childhood is trying to fall asleep while watching Glenn Strange’s monster lurching about a pier in a film on the “late-late show” my mom was watching. It’s stuck with me. That’s why one of my most treasured possessions as a kid was a glow-in-the-dark poster of James Bama’s portrait of Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster. (Thanks, Super Sugar Crisps!) That’s why I’ve got Glenn-as-Frankie tattooed on my forearm. In the years since that fateful day, I’ve watched this movie over and over again and I’ve never grown tired of it.

For those not in the know, here’s the lowdown on this flick: Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello) are bumbling baggage-claim clerks in Florida. Thanks to a late-night delivery of mysterious crates to a wax museum, they unwittingly wind up caught in Dracula’s (Bela Lugosi) evil plot to replace the Frankenstein monster’s brain with a more receptive one: that of the dim-witted Wilbur. Lawrence “Wolf Man” Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) enlists their assistance in stopping Dracula’s fiendish plot, and once the full moon rises, the whole thing turns into a large-scale monster bash along the lines of 1944’s HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or 1945’s HOUSE OF DRACULA. Just a whole lot funnier.

Besides the film’s early imprinting on my developing mind, though, the film is notable for many other reasons. It’s Bela’s second and final feature-length performance as Dracula (he had a cameo as Dracula in 1933’s HOLLYWOOD ON PARADE theatrical short). It’s one of the few horror comedies in which the monsters are not treated as the butts of the film’s jokes; the horror elements are respected and presented practically as seriously as they were in any other Universal film, while the comedy largely rises from Bud and Lou’s interplay and reactions to the horror. (This, however, didn’t stop Boris Karloff from refusing to see the film, believing it to be disrespectful toward the horror genre.) All three of the “monster” actors had played the role of Frankenstein’s monster (with Chaney even briefly playing him during the course of this film when Glenn Strange broke his foot on a falling lighting rig), and both Chaney and Lugosi had played Dracula. Vincent Price even makes a surprise cameo (though don’t keep your eyes peeled for him).

Dracula (Bela Lugosi) hypnotizing Bud AbbotT in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Universal Pictures, 1948.

But beyond even those items of interest, there’s a larger and more personal reason why this Spookshow is a special event this month: it’s the final Silver Scream Spookshow being held at the Plaza under the watchful eye of Jonathan and Gayle Rej, the Plaza’s owners and operators since 2006.

Let me make another personal detour here. The Plaza Theatre is, to me, a sacred space. It’s almost a religious temple, dedicated to conjuring and making manifest the spirit of cinema. And over its history—from movie palace to grindhouse to a showcase for independent film and performing arts—it has presented Atlanta with the full spectrum of the cinematic experience. And more than that, it has become a central, vital spot in my life. When I first moved back to the Atlanta area in 2006 after more than a decade away, I was working from home and initially didn’t get out much. It took me a while to get settled in and motivated to check out what was going on. That was when I saw a flyer for the Silver Scream Spookshow in the window of Junkman’s Daughter. It promised a revival of the classic Spook Show tradition of live stage shows augmenting showings of classic horror flicks—a phenomenon that I was old enough to remember coming to my home town, but young enough to have never personally experienced—presented by Professor Morte, an old-school-styled horror host from the cracked mold of Ghoulardi and Zacherley. So I went. And went. And went again.

The Frankenstein Monster meets Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Universal Pictures, 1948.

Being a movie fanatic, the Plaza quickly became the center of much of my recreational time because more than simply being a theater, it has spawned a community. Most of the people I know and the friends I have, I have met either directly or indirectly through the Plaza. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this piece for this fine website if it weren’t for the Plaza. And if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication of Johnny and Gayle Rej in the face of economic struggles that would have beaten down lesser mortals, none of the above would have existed.

As you may or may not know, Johnny and Gayle have sold the Plaza to Michael Furlinger, who recently revived the classic Terrace Theatre in Charleston, SC. I spoke with Shane Morton, the mastermind behind Morte, for his thoughts on the end of the reign of the Rejs and the beginning of a new era for the Plaza.

“I think out of all the phases that the Plaza has gone through, that Johnny and Gayle have really turned it into something much more than just a movie theatre. Something beyond just building the stage and clearing out the space in the back for us to work. It’s like they gave this place a soul. You can feel it when you walk in there. And if I can be selfish, they’ve given me a place to do what I think is the most important work of my life with the Spookshow. We recently did a showing of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), and I spent 15 minutes turning a kid into Lon Chaney’s Phantom. All that time, I was talking to the audience, and I felt the passion that one of those true-believer preachers must feel—not one of those charlatans that’s just out for money or to bang chicks or whatever. I got to preach about the magic of the movies. I not only get to be this hero (or anti-hero, if you want); I get to educate kids and give them something that they don’t have enough of right now. Kids’ programming today sucks, and they don’t have the kind of stuff available to them that even you and I had growing up; they don’t see things like the original KING KONG, stuff that filled me with a sense of wonder and amazement at the age of four.”

Shane went on to discuss the creative development that the Plaza has encouraged: “It’s become a hub for a lot of creative people: Splatter Cinema, Blast-Off Burlesque’s Taboo-La-La series and all the great art shows that they’ve hosted at the Plaza. Johnny and Gayle really turned a simple movie theater into almost an art movement. I know that it has literally changed my life. It’s given me the chance to fulfill every dream I ever had growing up. I could get to be Houdini or Alice Cooper or the horror host I had always wanted to see. And no matter what happens in the future, if I wind up making the greatest movie ever made, I don’t need any more than this: I saw a kid dressed as Professor Morte for Halloween. My mother passed away recently, and I’m so glad that she got a chance to see me spread my bat wings and fly with the Spookshow. And I really have Johnny and Gayle to thank for this.”

Professor Morte (Shane Morton). Photo courtesy of Shane Morton.

And what of the future? “We’d always hoped that someone with the financial backing could come in and turn the Plaza Theatre around. It seemed like an impossible dream. And then suddenly, it all seemed to fall together at the right time. Johnny and Gayle had just had a baby, and that’s without a doubt their most important job right there! Suddenly, Mike Furlinger came in and was in the position to deliver everything anyone involved with the Plaza could hope for. New digital projectors, new seats, new carpeting…now, I like the old seats and the old carpeting. I like stuff that’s old and weird. But you have to keep moving with the times, and what he’s going to bring to the Plaza is going to help the theater thrive. The future looks really exciting. The Plaza will be able to show first-run films along with the art-house movies they’re known for and keep delivering the funky stuff that all of us bring to the table.”

After the Rejs turn the keys over to Furlinger at the end of this month and renovations begin, it may be a while before we can see Morte’s handiwork on the Plaza stage. So come out and celebrate. Celebrate that the world didn’t end on Friday. Celebrate that the solstice has passed and a new dawn is rising. That Santa’s on his way. That a new year is on the horizon. That one of the best films in the Universal Horror cycle is screening in a lovely digital restoration. That Professor Morte and his merry band of misfits are taking the stage. And celebrate the legacy of the hard work and spirit of Jonathan and Gayle Rej. Raise your tubs of popcorn in salute, boils and ghouls.

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: Chuck Porterfield Calls the Punches for a Pop Culture Nightmare Before Thanksgiving at Monstrosity Championship Wrestling This Friday

Posted on: Nov 14th, 2012 By:

Bummed that Halloween is over and scared that Christmas will be here way too soon? Never fear, our BFF blog WrestlingwithPopCulture.com and the Silver Scream Spookshow’s Professor Morte are stirring together two Retro standards, classic monsters and wrestling, for the ultimate Monstrosity Championship Wrestling (MCW) showdown this Friday Nov. 16, starting at 8 p.m. at Club Famous, inside Famous Pub in Toco Hills. MCW made its debut at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse in 2011, and the creatures clashed again at Wrestling with Pop Culture’s one-year birthday party in March and June’s Rock n Roll Monster Bash.

In addition to the monster mayhem, the eerie-inspired event will also feature live music by the Casket Creatures; body painting by Neon Armour; fiendish freebies and devilish drink speciuals courtesy of Cayrum Honeys; a raffle with such phantasmic prizes as a bag of edible body parts from Pine Street Market, a Dead Elvis flask from Diamond*Star*Halo and more. We can’t wait to raise a “To Hell You Ride” cocktail to Jonathan Williams, the creator of Wrestling with Pop Culture for his well-deserved Reader’s Choice Award for Best Local Blog in Creative Loafing’s Best of Atlanta 2012. [ATLRetro was too humble (well, busy) to court your votes this year, but watch out Wrestling with Pop Culture, we’ll be in the ring fighting for your title in 2013!]

To find out more about the spooktacular spectacle, ATLRetro caught up with ultimate monster movie and wrestling nerd (and proud of it!) Chuck Porterfield, who will be calling the action while monsters, maidens, and madmen go at it in toe-to-toe mayhem!

ATLRetro: I know you’ve been into both wrestling and monster movies, so I assume that’s what made you so excited about MCW.

Chuck Porterfield: Personally, I’m excited because it combines my pure adoration of monster movies, as well as seeing a lot of the INCREDIBLE athletes from Platinum Championship Wrestling (PCW) together. The Washington Bullets, probably the best tag team in the state of Georgia will be there, as will the Pound-For-Pound, Toughest Woman in Wrestling, Pandora. Also, my man, the “Demigod” Mason will show everyone why he’s the hero of PCW’s current homebase, Porterdale, Georgia!

This isn’t the first bout of Monstrosity. Are there any old scores from previous fights to be settled?

The match garnering the most attention is the return of Dragula, the most fabulous blood-sucker in wrestling as he takes on The Kentucky Wolfman!

Chuck Porterfield gets down with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Photo courtesy of Chuck Porterfield.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved weirdo pop culture! I remember watching KING KONG on WGN one year on Thanksgiving, and my love of monsters was then inescapable. Hours of MUNSTERS and ADDAMS FAMILY reruns, Adam West as BATMAN and pretty much any wrestling I could find on TV defined my youth.

So your passion for wrestling goes back to childhood, too? 

I don’t remember the first wrestling I saw, but I watched any and all then-named WWF programming I could find. There weren’t many kids in the neighborhood so I’d jump off my sofa onto the cushions. Or at least I did until I undershot it and hit my head on my dad’s pool table!

How did you get into professional wrestling?

My first entry into professional wrestling was with Southern Extreme Championship Wrestling. For a couple of reasons, that didn’t really work out so well so I left to pursue other interests. I never stopped thinking about the wrestling business, so when I saw that PCW had brought wrestling back to Atlanta I knew there could be an opportunity with them. Stephen Platinum chose to take a chance on a guy he knew nothing about, and I think things have worked out to be mutually beneficial. Along with guys like Penn Jillette and Herschell Gordon Lewis (2000 Maniacs), I consider him to be one of the most influential people in my life.

What is it like collaborating with Wrestling With Pop Culture mastermind Jonathan Williams? It seems like his blog (our BFF blog) has really upped local coverage of wrestling and is helping to fuel the scene.

Jonathan is a tremendous supporter of independent wrestling in Georgia and the success of his blog speaks for itself. I wouldn’t ask him about his altercation with The Jagged Edge outside of the steel cage though…

You used to work at Video Store, one of Atlanta’s best psychotronic video rental stores in Little 5 Points [owned by Matt Booth, who now runs the super-cool Videodrome]. Do you ever miss those pre-Netflix/streaming days when a guy like you could be a salvation for local movie buffs?

With the exception of independent powerhouse Videodrome, it’s true that Atlanta is basically a video store graveyard. Part of me misses the days in college of going through the aisles of stores, particularly the dearly-missed Blast Off Video in Little 5 Points, but I also just see it as a reflection of life itself. None of us are promised a single day, a single smile, and I just try to be grateful for the days and opportunities I have. I try not to dwell too much on what is lost and think about what’s out there to be created.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Porterfield.

Who are your favorite monsters?

My favorite monsters? You’d think this would be a hard one because I love so many, but hands down it’s Frankenstein’s Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the big monkey himself, Kong! But from a purely sexual attraction level, no one can match the Bride of Frankenstein and Morticia Addams! Some crushes last with you forever…

What else are you up to?

Right now I’m working with Blake Myers, director of the heart-stirring gem of a documentary DISABLED BUT READY TO ROCK [Ed. note: read our Kool Kat interview with Blake here] to make a space fantasy web series called SASS PARILLA CONQUERS THE MARTIANS, that is ambitious to say the least. It’s going to take a LOT of time and energy to get it right, but I think it’s custom-made for fans of this blog. In fact, if there are any investors out there with a love of psychotronic movies and skepticism, we’re the guys you want to talk to!

Thanks so much for being our Kool Kat of the Week!

Thanks, Atlanta Retro! You’re the keenest, sexiest and coolest blog around! XOXO

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30 Days of the Plaza, Day 27: The Monster Demands a Mate! Silver Scream Spookshow presents The Bride of Frankenstein at the Plaza Theater on Oct. 27

Posted on: Oct 22nd, 2012 By:

Elsa Lancaster as THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Universal Pictures, 1935.

By Rebecca Perry
Contributing Writer

Silver Scream Spookshow Presents THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935); Dir: James Whale; Starring Boris Karloff, Elsa Lancaster, Colin Clive; Sat. Oct. 27;  kids matinee at 1 PM (kids under 12 free & adults $7) and adult show at 10 PM(all tickets $12); All proceeds of today’s shows benefit Atlanta’s oldest running independent cinema, the nonprofit Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.
“To a new world of gods and monsters!”
– Dr. Pretorius, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Closing out Universal Monster Month at the Plaza Theatre on Sat. Oct. 27 is THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Released in 1935 by Universal Studios, this second film inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel is, in this writer’s opinion (and many others), the best of the Universal Monster films and one of the rare sequels that is superior to the original (1931’s FRANKENSTEIN). James Whale, who also directed FRANKENSTEIN and co-wrote the screenplay for BRIDE with William Hulburt, originally did not want to direct a sequel. It was only after years of persuading from Universal that he relented, and then only under the stipulation that he have complete artistic freedom to direct the picture as he envisioned it.
        Although she appears on screen for less than 5 minutes, The Bride of Frankenstein, portrayed by Elsa Lanchester, is one of the most iconic movie characters of all time. Her horrified reaction to Boris Karloff’s Monster is heartbreaking, especially when we see the look on the Monster’s face at being rejected once again. (“She hates me.  Like others.”)
        I remember seeing this film for the first time at age 7 on a local Detroit television show called Creature Feature, which would often show classic horror and sci-fi films every Saturday afternoon. I was glued to the screen and couldn’t wait to see what the Bride would look like;. Would she be disfigured like the Monster or beautiful like the other Bride in the film, Elizabeth (played by Valerie Hobson)? When the bandages were finally removed at the end of the film, I had a new fashion icon (sorry, Wonder Woman), and I have been a Universal Monsters fan ever since.
      Editor’s Note: This screening of THE BRIDE OF THE FRANKENSTEIN also will be the sixth anniversary of the Silver Scream Spookshow, so you know Professor Morte and his ghoulish gang will be pulling out all the scary stops in the paranormal preshow! With your box office benefiting the Plaza Theatre, that makes it our top pick for an ATLRetro Halloween. Not just full of tricks, this is Atlanta’s best kept grassroots treat. Be there or be scared – either the kids’ matinee or the evening adults’ show!

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The Silver Scream Spookshow Throws a MAD MONSTER PARTY for New Fears Eve!

Posted on: Dec 30th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

Silver Scream Spookshow Presents MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967); Dir: Jules Bass; Screenplay by Harvey Kurtzman, Arthur Rankin Jr., Len Korobkin and Forrest J. Ackerman (uncredited); Starring Boris Karloff, Phyllis Diller, Allen Swift, Gale Garnett, Ethel Ennis; Sat. Dec. 31;  kids matinee at 1 PM (kids under 12 free & adults $7) and adult show at 10 PM(all tickets $12)Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Run, run Rudolph, the monsters are coming to town!

As much as I love all the Rankin/Bass Xmas specials, for my money, the best “Animagic” (stop-motion) show they ever made was the crazy, wonderful MAD MONSTER PARTY.

C’mon! Boris Karloff voicing Boris Von FrankensteinPhyllis Diller as the Monster’s Bride (she is smarter); a script by MAD magazine’s founder Harvey Kurtzman and creature designs by legendary fellow MAD cartoonist/illustrator, Jack Davis ­ what’s not to love?

There are classic monsters gla[gore] (bad pun intended) ­ The Creature from The Black Lagoon, Count DraculaIT (actually KING KONG, but R/B couldn’t use the name “Kong” for legal reasons). Name ‘em ­ they’re here!

The Baron gathers his gruesome guests for a diabolical dinner in MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967). Courtesy of Lions Gate Pictures.

Songs to learn and love and sing! (The delightful soundtrack is available from Percepto Records; music by R/B stalwart Maury Laws/lyrics by Jules Bass.)

The film is available on DVD from Lions Gate (go to Amazon; there’s a special edition! And Blu-Ray!). BUT…don’t be a couch potato if you live anywhere near Atlanta ­ there’s nothing like seeing a superb print on the *Big Screen* at the Legendary Plaza Theatre!!! (And it’s a SILVER SCREAM SPOOKSHOW presentation brought to you by Professor Morte and his pal Shane Morton!)

YAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! (ATLRetro is happy to end 2011 on such a mad monster note of sheer fun and grimly fiendish frolics!)

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