RETRO REVIEW: OBEY! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Command You To Witness John Carpeneter’s THEY LIVE.

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2014 By:

Splatter Cinema presents THEY LIVE (1988); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster; Tuesday, April 8 @ 9:30 p.m. (photos and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Ah, THEY LIVE. It’s long been a slippery little beast. Much like 1982’s THE THING, it performed less-than-admirably at the box office when it opened. And, again like THE THING, while critical reception at the time was favorable, it has only recently come to be considered one of John Carpenter’s best films.

Me, I’ve been on board since I first saw it back in the waning days of the Reagan administration.

I mention the time frame because, by Carpenter’s own design, it’s practically impossible to look at the film outside of the realm of the political. Let’s not mince words here: for all the machismo, violence and existential horror John Carpenter’s films may tread in from time to time, the director is a hippie at heart. He took a minute to look around in the 1980s, saw the emphasis on crass commercialization and the worship of wealth encouraged by the Reagan Revolution and was pissed off. But by merging his anger and aggression with his borne-of-the-‘60s anti-right-wing politics, he created a movie that’s more of a piece with the radical political stances of hardcore punk acts like MDC, D.O.A. or the Dead Kennedys. For in this movie, it’s not just that the rich and powerful elite are evil; they are actually not even human.

The premise of the film is a simple one: a drifter named Nada (Roddy Piper) discovers that the oligarchs who rule planet Earth are in fact aliens in disguise, exploiting the planet’s resources for their own benefit before leaving it once they destroy the environment via global warming. They keep humanity in the dark, and their appearances obscured, through television signals that brainwash the public and transmit subliminal propaganda commanding the populace to “OBEY,” “SLEEP” and “CONSUME.” Faced with this knowledge (and able to see through the haze of brainwashing thanks to some specially-designed sunglasses), Nada has only one option: rip the system.

And like listening to, say, D.O.A.’s WAR ON 45 or the Dead Kennedys’ FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES, once the movie gets going, it’s a shot of pure adrenaline. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s violent (there’s an epic 5 ½ minute fist fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David that is both thrilling and hilarious), and its sardonic ridicule of the rich and powerful—and those who kowtow to them—as anti-human scumbags makes you wish that the Revolution would be something as easy as tearing down a TV broadcast antenna.

[Note: the utilization of a television station to promote things like a particular political ideology, rampant consumerism, stratification of the classes and glorification of material wealth should not be confused with any reality—past, present or future. OBEY.]

At the time, the casting of Roddy Piper as Nada was seen as an enormous misstep by Carpenter. This was just after the WWF (now WWE) became a pop culture phenomenon, and “Rowdy” Roddy was one of the federation’s most famous athletes. However, crossovers into mainstream media outside the ring (Hulk Hogan’s appearance in ROCKY III and his starring role in NO HOLDS BARRED, for instance) were seen as curiosities at best. So Piper’s role—which many saw as ideally meant for Carpenter’s most frequent leading man, Kurt Russell—was viewed with a jaundiced eye right from the start. But his performance is an able one. He brings a raw, brutal physicality to the part that wouldn’t suit Russell quite as well, and he comes across as a stoic “man out of place” in a way that would surprise anyone familiar only with his hyper-confident, loud-mouthed wrestling persona. He pulls this off in such a successful way that when he comes closest to the “Rowdy” attitude he was famous for—such as when he first puts on the sunglasses and sees people as they really are—it truly sells the shock his character is supposed to be feeling. His performance has simply aged well and holds up in a time where the wrestling-to-movie transition is more accepted (thanks, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson!).

Keith David, as Piper’s friend Frank Armitage (also the name Carpenter used for his writing credit; an allusion to Henry Armitage from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”) is, as always, excellent. He brings a necessary gravitas to the film, keeping the satire and fantasy grounded in the real world. Meg Foster as Holly Thompson, Nada’s love interest, is mysterious and alluring; her motives constantly under question, her understated performance never telegraphs where her allegiances truly lie.

And, as to be expected, Carpenter’s classically-informed composition techniques further show him to be a master of the Cinemascope frame. For a meager $3,000,000 budget, Carpenter makes the most of his downtown Los Angeles locations and creates a series of visually striking setpieces and shots. Tightly edited and winningly scripted (it’s one of the best films Carpenter has ever written on his own), it never lets up.

So get your sunglasses on, stock up on bubble gum and get ready for some alien-elite-ass-kicking!

[Note: Just don’t get any fancy ideas, humans. OBEY.]

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 Kats of the Week: Atlanta Filmmakers Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge Raise THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, World Premiere at Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 9th, 2014 By:

THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER, a new locally produced independent horror film, will have its World Premiere at the Plaza Theatre on January 14 at 7  pm and 9:45 pm. Both screenings will be followed by Q&As with filmmakers Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge, as well as cast members Nicholas Brendon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Robert Pralgo (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) and Amber Chaney (THE HUNGER GAMES). Tiffany Shepis (THE FRANKENSTEIN SYNDROME) and Cat Taber (STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS) are also in the movie.

Georgia’s tax breaks for film production not only have attracted Hollywood shoots and high-profile TV series, but also have created a vibrant environment for local independent filmmakers including horror. Jayson and Chris’s previous collaborations include a video for the band Fader Vixen and the short film  SURVIVOR TYPE, based on the Stephen King short story of the same time. This time, however, they are finally going full feature with a suspenseful yarn about a series of ritualistic murders which rattle the small town of Morningside, NJ.  Without revealing any spoilers, the Sheriff and his deputy embark on a desperate race against time to catch the killer, pitting them against friends, enemies and even each other.

ATLRetro have had our eye on this dynamic duo for a while so we thought it was high time to make them Kool Kats of the Week!

Chris Ethridge/

ATLRetro: What’s the story behind THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER? It’s the first full feature collaboration between you and Chris, right?

Jayson: THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER started out as a short story that I wrote around 1995 for a project my friend Mike was making as a college art project. He took a bunch of my short stories and made these really nice leather-bound books. Only two of those books exist, as far as I know. It was a much different story than it is now.

After Chris and I made our short film adaptation of Stephen King’s SURVIVOR TYPE, we wanted to do a feature. Something good, but that could be done on a limited budget. I told him about MORNINGSIDE, and he said show me a script.

Without giving away any major spoilers, what’s the basic plot and how does it fit into the horror/suspense genre? Any key influences? Movies? Filmmakers?

Jayson: THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER is definitely my nod at my love of slasher films. Although I wouldn’t label it a straight-up slasher, fans of the subgenre will certainly be able to spot the influence. It’s a masked killer disposing of victims in a small town.

Chris: In fairness to Jay, it was probably even more slasher on the page. I pushed it a little bit in the direction of dramatic horror/thriller, because that’s the type of films I like to make.  I think we tried – hopefully with some success! – to walk the line of honoring the genre while also digging into the characters a little more than you might normally see in a slasher flick.

Jayson Palmer.

For an indie, you scored quite a few name actors for this production, such as Nicholas Brendan, Amber Chaney and Robert Pralgo. Can you talk a bit about that?

Chris: It was a little bit of a domino effect.  We approached Rob first, because we knew him from the Atlanta film community.  Rob agreed to come on board the project, and he recommended Amber and Catherine Taber. Through Cat, we met Jeff Hightower, a casting director in LA, who helped us approach Nicholas.  We have another friend who helped us connect with Tiffany Shepis.  We just wanted to find the best cast to fill the roles, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to get the actors we did.

ATLRetro is a huge Buffy fan. What’s your favorite experience working with Nicholas?

Chris: I’m a huge Buffy fan as well.  Nicholas is an effortlessly funny guy, and he is a talented professional.  When the cameras roll, he just immediately turns into his character and delivers an amazing performance, every single take.  It was a pleasure to work with him.

Jayson, you’re from NJ. How did that play into your decision to do a NJ setting? Did you film it all in Atlanta? Or did you do some locations in NJ?

Jayson: Yeah, I’m a Jersey boy through and through. Morningside, the fictional town in the film is totally based on Wharton, the small town I grew up in. Chris is not from Jersey, but he captures the small town look and feel perfectly. There are some scenes that almost make me completely forget it was filmed in Georgia.

We imagine you didn’t have a lot of money to work with, it being an indie feature. Did you use crowd-sourcing or did you go the traditional route with credit cards and investors? What was the biggest challenge on your budget and how did you solve it?

Chris: All of the above.  We had a crowd-sourcing campaign, some traditional investors, and we filled in the gaps at the end with credit cards.  The biggest challenge is finding talented crew who are willing to put in the hours on a small or even deferred salary.  We were so lucky to be able to find some amazing people who just wanted to work on a good project.  We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who spent even just a day on our set to make the movie happen.

A scene from THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER.

What’s happening at the premiere and is there any difference between what you have planning at both screenings? Or will it just be different questions?

Jayson: There is no difference between the 7:00 pm and 9:45 pm screenings. Of course, the Q&A will be different, but that’s only due to different audience, different questions.

What are a few horror movies that really grabbed you as a kid and why?

Jayson: As a child, I hated horror movies – mainly because I had a sadistic older brother and cousin who enjoyed scaring the crap out of me when ever they could. One day I put in THE SHINING (1980) and said, “I’m getting over this fear.” I’m not sure if that was the best film to use as my start on the road to recovery, but it certainly sparked my imagination and got the gears turning. Horror films still scare me, but I feel if I can’t beat them, I might as well make them share in my nightmares.

Chris: I distinctly remember sneaking over to a friend’s house to watch A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987) when I was maybe 11. I’m sure it was the first real horror film I ever saw.  I can viscerally recall, even now, how that movie made me feel, the scares and the thrills.  THE LOST BOYS (1987) was another one of those great ’80s horror films I grew up on.

Jayson, you started making movies as a kid with your action figures, German Shepherd and friends. Did you shoot video or super 8? What’s your favorite or funniest memory of that time?

Jayson: My dad had this old video camera from the 1980s that we used. This thing was a beast. You had the camera itself, which weighed about 10 pounds. Then you had to carry around an entire VCR in a shoulder satchel to record onto and this 20-pound battery to power it all.

My friend Andrew and I would spend our summers making movies. ROBOCOP (1987) was one of our favorite movies, and we decided to make ROBOCOP 2. It was just him and I. I was RoboCop, complete with Skateboard Helmet, elbow and knee pads, and I had this big puffy winter jacket for the body armor. God, it was so silly, but so much fun. I still have those tapes somewhere, and they will probably only see the light of day again after I’m dead.

Chris Ethridge and the intrepid police officers of Morningside, NJ.

How did you start making movies, Chris?

Chris: My first experience with filmmaking was a film studies class in college, where I made a really terrible and pretentious short film about a pair of hit men on Super 8.  I did not love the process at the time.  After college in Virginia, I moved to Athens, GA, and had an large amount of time on my hands, so I began watching indie films. At some point, I had the same moment of clarity that everyone else who ever wanted to make film has – “I can do this better.”  This, of course, is a lie, and it took well over a decade of making shorts before I finally got to the point where I felt like I was truly happy with the quality of work I was making.  The work of the last few years is the easily the best, most accomplished material I’ve ever made, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it has occurred during the period of time I have been working with Jayson.

Jayson, your production company is called Lobster Boy Productions. There has got to be a story behind that name.

Jayson: When I was in high school I sang in a punk band called Hodgepodge. We were getting to release a 7” single and needed a record label. Our drummer had just got back from the shore and was bright red with sunburn, so we started calling him Lobster Boy. Then it clicked, let’s call the label Lobster Boy Records. Since I was in charge of all the promotion and PR stuff, everyone started to call me Lobster Boy. I then began to put on shows for up and coming punk bands in New Jersey under the name Lobster Boy Productions. The nickname stuck and I have been using it since.

These days the company is Blue Dusk, that’s the one Chris and I started. But I will always be the Lobster Boy.

Both you and Chris are big Stephen King reader/fans, so I know SURVIVOR TYPE was like a dream come true for you. What’s up with that film now?

Jayson: Making SURVIVOR TYPE was my biggest geek moment! That was the story that really turned me onto King! So to have the opportunity to turn it into a film was, as you say, a dream come true.

The film was made under Mr. King’s Dollar Baby program, which allows up-and-coming filmmakers to use the nonexclusive  rights to some of his stories. Since they are nonexclusive, you can only show the film at festivals and as part of your portfolio. We did the festival run a few years ago, so unless Mr. King decides to allow the world to see it, most likely it will stay in the same foot locker my old ROBOCOP movies are hidden.

Are you taking THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER out on a festival run? When will it be available on DVD?

Chris: Absolutely, we are in the process of festival submissions right now.  We’ve had some definite interest in screening at some conventions, and we are even looking at potentially doing a small theatrical tour.  We are also in the midst of finalizing a distribution deal, and we are hoping for it to be out on DVD and VOD platforms sometime in the summer, but we don’t have a release date set at this time.

Finally, what’s next for you both?

Jayson: All good things to those who wait.

Tickets to both screenings of THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER are available at the door and in advance at http://themorningsidemonster.brownpapertickets.com/

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Mall Insecurity: Just A Few More Chopping Days Left Until Splatter Cine-mas at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents CHOPPING MALL (1986); Dir. Jim Wynorski; Starring Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Barbara Crampton, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov; Tuesday, Dec. 10 @ 9:30 (photos and merch table open @ 9); Plaza Theater; Trailer here; Facebook Event Page here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

In the middle of the holiday season, when shopping centers are teeming with masses of bargain-hungry consumers, who doesn’t wish that a few bloodthirsty killbots could be unleashed to thin out the crowds? Look no further than the Plaza Theatre for some vicarious thrills as Splatter Cinema presents CHOPPING MALL!

You know, there was a time when a Jim Wynorski movie meant something. Granted, it didn’t mean much. But you knew what you were getting when you saw his name on the screen—an exploitation movie that didn’t take itself seriously in the least, and that sent itself and the genre up for affectionate ribbing. In short, a kind of low-rent Joe Dante flick (which makes sense, as both directors came from the benches of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures farm team). This is best exemplified in his two most fully-realized movies: his 1983 feature debut THE LOST EMPIRE (a comic variation on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME but with a lot more nudity) and his more successful follow-up, CHOPPING MALL.

CHOPPING MALL answers the age-old question, “what would happen if mall security was handled by robots, and a freak lightning storm caused them all to go kill-crazy on a bunch of teens partying in a furniture store after-hours?” This question has plagued theologians, philosophers and scientists for centuries, and finally found all of its potential ramifications explored in full, rich, intellectual detail in the hands of Jim Wynorski. The answer, of course, is “well, the kids would start dying in hilariously bloody ways, and it would look a lot like DAWN OF THE DEAD if, instead of zombies, there were really cheap robots that looked kind of like Number 5 from SHORT CIRCUIT, yet acted like the ED-209 from ROBOCOP.”

Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov in CHOPPING MALL (1996).

Wynorski’s direction is perfectly adequate for this. It’s not pushing any envelopes or even trying to be groundbreaking in any way, but it’s tight and well-paced, creating a fun sense of tension while at the same time allowing you to chuckle at the complete outlandishness of it all. The movie hides its cheapness reasonably well, making the most of its Sherman Oaks Galleria setting, and features a host of familiar faces to distract you from the low budget. Among the teens getting slaughtered are Kelli Maroney from NIGHT OF THE COMET, Tony O’Dell from HEAD OF THE CLASS, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s Russell Todd and scream queen Barbara Crampton of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND fame. Cameos are provided by the always-welcome Dick Miller (as Walter Paisley, his character name from A BUCKET OF BLOOD) and the delightful team of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, reprising their roles of EATING RAOUL’s Paul and Mary Bland.

In short, CHOPPING MALL is just a whole hell of a lot of fun, and one of the better (and bloodier) ways to blow off steam this time of year. If you want to turn your over-taxed, shopped-out brain off and have a riotously good time, you could hardly do better than watching a shopping mall turn against the idiots populating it. And don’t forget to show up early and get your photo taken in a gore-filled recreation of one of the movie’s scenes! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

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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Shop Around: Living La Vida Goo Goo Muck: Monster Art Studio’s Jeff Riggan Whips up a Surreal Visual Sideshow for the Rock n Roll Monster Bash at the Starlight Drive-In

Posted on: Jun 1st, 2013 By:

Just another reason Atlanta has become Halloween-Town, USA is the Rock and Roll Monster Bash  Sun. June 2 at the Starlight Six Drive-In. Hosted by the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte, the fiendishly fun festival of macabre music and movies is now in its 11th year. Highlights include MONSTROSITY CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING, live music by six bands, a souped-up hearse show, and two classic horror features in 35 mm majesty, THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975), starring William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine and John Travolta, as well as Sam Raimi‘s EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), starring Bruce Campbell‘s chin and a chainsaw. [Read our Retro Reviews for THE DEVIL’s RAIN here and EVIL DEAD 2 here].

Another big reason to come is a vicious vendors market, featuring a wide variety of cool monster-themed and Retro-inspired merchandise from vintage cult movie ephemera to vintage clothes, Gothic jewelry to BBQ and booze. One of our favorite discoveries last year was artist Jeff Riggan, who had just moved himself and his Monster Art Studio up to Atlanta from Florida. We’ve been running into him at various street festival art markets, and his work has never ceased to impress us, from stuffed sideshow freaks Slugmo and Squidboy to gigantic tiki/tropical-themed works or a mega-painting of Lux Interior of The Cramps!

A professional artist for nearly 30 years, Jeff has painted approximately 30 murals for Orlando-based Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex restaurants, as well as created sets, sculptures, murals and large scale artwork for the Universal theme parks, Six Flags, WonderWorksNickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and more. He and his work has been featured in many publications, local and national news, as well as several television shows.

Needless to say, Jeff’s tent will be one of our first stops at the Bash this year, but ATLRetro also is horrifically happy to report that’s just one of his nefarious plots to do his part in making Atlanta the official monster capital of America!

ATLRetro: You’ve got some big plans for this year’s Rock N Roll Monster Bash, such as a scarily special photo op, I hear! What can you reveal in advance without giving away any spoilers?

Jeff Riggan: There will be blood.

As I recall, last year was either your first Monster Bash and you were pretty excited about being part of it. What’s your personal favorite thing about Monster Bash and why it’s a not-to-be-missed Atlanta event?

Last year Monster Bash was our first festival in Atlanta, and it opened the doors for me.  Monster Bash is a great venue for people with a freaky passion for art,  music, classic horror movies.

How did you first get into painting monsters? Does it go back to when you were a kid? Is there a cool story?

Listening to punk rock, skateboarding. Sid & Marty Krofft polluted my mind, Evel Knievel got me amped and Bob Ross had a painting show. That’s how it all started!

Who was your first favorite monster growing up and why?

[Maurice Sendak‘s] WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. It laid rest on my mind until I started making my stuffed creatures.

You’ve done murals, 3-D art, sides of buildings, all sorts of crazy stuff. What were one or two of your most fun projects and why?

I worked in the theme park production industry for over 15 years, which was an amazing experience. I would have to say the most fun I had was in my own backyard, so to speak, painting murals for a local co-op in Florida, all over the outside of their buildings. They let me have the freedom to express myself. One of my most favorite was painting a three-story high Great Dane. I also enjoyed traveling from the Florida Panhandle to Chicago painting murals for a corporate restaurant – I was given free reign to paint whatever I wanted.

In addition to monsters and murals, you paint music-inspired art such as your recent Cramps and tiki-stuff. How do you describe your art and what are the limits of what you enjoy creating?

I listened to music before I began painting, it was a creative outlet for me until I discovered I was an artist. It’s a tangible way for me to express myself. They are intertwined, art and music. Lux Interior, Unknown Hinson, Hunter S. Thompson – in my own interpretive way.

You used to live in Florida. What brought you to Atlanta and when exactly did you move up here?

I came here as a leap of faith in May 2012. Monster Bash was our very first show here in ATL , so [I and my wife Emily] have been here for one year!  It was an immediate overwhelming sense of belonging – everyone we met said “Welcome to Atlanta.” True Southern Hospitality!

Atlanta has a huge horror scene now. What do you think of it, and how is the local fervor for horror inspiring/affecting your work? 

I think it’s amazing.  It definitely challenges me. I’ve also met some cool people – Tim [Mack] from Imperial Opa Circus, Chris Brown of Macabre Puppets – that have inspired me.

You seem like the kind of guy who must have an amazing studio. Can you describe it and what you keep around to inspire you?

Eyeballs, skulls, torsos,  “souvenirs” from dumpster diving and exploring old buildings, machine parts, trailers, bicycles – Fred G. Sanford would be envious!

Didn’t you some movie work here lately?

I just finished working on THE CIRCLE, an independent horror film, with Beth Marshall, Tripp Rhame, Ben Jacoby and Tom Hamilton. Forrest Hill and I built props, special effects, and build the sets  We worked out at the old prison farm on Key Road, near the Starlight Drive-In.

What else are you up to right now, and what’s the next event at which you’ll be exhibiting/selling your work? 

A featured spread in Stuffed Magazine with my felted circus freak creatures – Slugmo and Squidboy. We’ll be at the Strut [Sept. 21] in East Atlanta and then…..who knows!  My sets/booths are becoming more and more elaborate, and I am always adding new stuff.

What question do you wish someone would ask you but they never do? And what is the answer? 

Hey, can we pay you for your ideas, you just create stuff? The answer is YES!

The 11th annual Rock and Roll Monster Bash kicks off at 10 a.m. Sunday June 2 and runs all day and night at the Starlight Six Drive-In. Get their early to stake out the best parking spots. Bands include Alice Cooper tribute group Black Juju, Baby Baby, a reunion of The Butchers, Dracula (singing the hits as only he can!), Spooky Partridge and Metal Gaga (the lovechild of Lady Gaga and Iron Maiden!). Advance tickets are available at http://www.ticketalternative.com.

To purchase artwork year-round or contact Jeff about custom paintings, set design and more, visit Monster Art Studio online.

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Retro Review: If the Dead Come, Can We Learn to Live with Them?! Splatter Cinema Presents DAY OF THE DEAD at The Plaza

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 By:

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985); Dir. George Romero; Starring Lori Cardille and Joe Pilato; Tuesday, May 14, 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here. Presented by Splatter Cinema.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

George A. Romero’s 1968 classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD warned audiences that when there was no more room in Hell, the dead would walk the earth. It was a strong and resonating nightmare for Americans who, after a decade of unrest and war, had begun to wonder if Hell was truly spilling over. Romero’s 1985 film DAY OF THE DEAD has an entirely different thought for people living through the last days of the Cold War: if the dead come, can we learn to live with them? Can we learn to live with ourselves?

DAY OF THE DEAD, which arrives at the Plaza Theatre on Tuesday night for the Splatter Cinema series, is the third film in Romero’s Dead trilogy, following the nihilistic NIGHT and 1978’s satirical classic DAWN OF THE DEAD. Unlike most movie franchises, the films in Romero’s Dead series have no direct connections to one another. Each film is an isolated story located within the same world where a plague of zombies has destroyed civilization and where the best and worst instincts of the human race clash against each other in the last, desperate clutch for survival. Fans of THE WALKING DEAD may recognize that world, and may or may not know that they owe a debt to Romero: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD invented the modern concept of the zombie, and Romero perfected using the dead to explore the dark side of the living. In NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, racial tensions and domestic violence tears at a small band of survivors; DAWN OF THE DEAD skewers the lure of commerce and capitalism as zombies descend on a shopping mall; 2005’s LAND OF THE DEAD shows a group of wealthy survivors crawling to safety on the backs of the poor.

DAY OF THE DEAD is more of a closed system, a bottle episode that puts two opposing ideologies into an tight space and shakes them up. Sarah (Lori Cardille) is part of a dwindling team of scientists in an underground military compound charged with finding a cure for the zombie plague. The soldiers assigned to protect them are led by Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato), who barks orders and grows increasingly hostile to the science team as the hopelessness of their situation becomes clear. The fuse in the powderkeg is the cache of zombies the scientists are drawing from for their experiments, especially a dead guy named “Bub” who may be learning to be human again.

Always considered something of a problem child in the Romero series because it compares unfavorably to the (let’s admit it) superior DAWN, fans and critics initially kicked DAY OF THE DEAD down the street, leading to an agonizing 20-year delay before Romero returned to zombies in LAND. But DAY has been picking up attention from critics lately and the signs point to what could eventually be a complete rehabilitation. Yes, the movie’s problems are hard to ignore—for an apocalyptic movie, it sure feels very small, and the performances are grating—but Romero crafts the story and stages his world with his trademark critic’s eye. The signature conflict between progress and aggression, between building and destroying, is slathered on pretty thick, but the film is also an intriguing analogy about forming camps to shoot at one another when the enemy is, quite literally, at the gates. The movie could be about climate change or a financial collapse—all that really matters is the struggle about who gets to be leader on a sinking ship.

But DAY OF THE DEAD is a zombie horror movie, let’s not forget, and it’s the visuals that really help the film pop next to the rest of the b-horror crowd. This is a Splatter Cinema screening, which means there’s plenty of outrageous gore and some of the best of Tom Savini’s famous zombie effects. Romero has a particular gift for encouraging great monster makeup and then finding inventive and iconic ways to shoot it. DAY OF THE DEAD has plenty of munchy, crunchy effects, but it also has one of the most infamous disembowelings in movie history. And here I sit, 10 years after I first saw the film, never able to shake the opening image, where a zombie walks past sporting only the least-useful half of its jaw while an old rotting newspaper declares in its headline that “THE DEAD WALK!”

The NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was a literal evening of horrors, but the DAWN of its sequel was more of a metaphor, a way to describe the gradual realization that the world had changed and would never be the same. DAY OF THE DEAD continues that metaphor. The long day is here and the survivors have only the bleak reality that arrives and lingers—we’re all alone, on our own, and fodder for the cold inevitable.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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Retro Review: DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT or You May Find Another Horror Cult Classic at The Plaza

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2013 By:

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1974); Dir: S.F. Brownrigg; Starring Rosie Holotik, Bill McGhee, Annabelle Weenick; Fri. Apr. 12-Thurs. Apr. 18; The Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

It feels like I’ve been writing a lot about the Plaza Theatre lately, but there’s a damn good reason for that. When ownership at the Plaza recently changed hands, the new owners’ first act was to remove the old 35mm film projectors in favor of a crisp, clean but decidedly digital presentation. For cine-junkies like me, this was supposed to be the kiss off, but the Plaza, as it turns out, knows their market. While the face of the Plaza changes, the heart of the old girl still beats the same, maybe even stronger, as the theatre has gone absolutely nuts with its programming, booking all kinds of rare gems and oddities to its screens and convincing the film nerds to withhold judgment just a little longer. With recent full runs for THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, REEFER MADNESS, RE-ANIMATOR, and FLESH GORDON, The Plaza is now the best spot in Atlanta to catch a vintage film pretty much any night of the week.

Joining the roster of “holy shit” this week at the Plaza is DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973), otherwise known to horror fans by the way-less-awesome title of THE FORGOTTEN. Filmed in Texas in that same sweltering, gritty grindhouse style that THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) would make infamous one year later, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT concerns a young nurse named Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) who starts a new job at a mental asylum, only to learn that the head doctor has been murdered by the patients. The new doctor in charge, Dr. Masters (Annabelle Weenick), tries to help Charlotte settle in, but the unruly, batshit patients begin to target and harass their new nurse. There’s plenty of blood, a dark secret or two, and an absolutely ludicrous third act twist. The filmmaking is less than impressive, but the overall effect is enough to rake you over the coals a bit, if that’s what you’re into. There’s a reason this movie still gets play 40 years after its release.

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT is a grinding little workhorse of a horror film, made all the more famous by its associations with other horror classics. One year earlier, Wes Craven’s grimy THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) dropped a nuke on the horror scene with its near-snuff approach to tale of rape and revenge. That movie had one of the most famous taglines in film history, and well-earned: “Just keep repeating to yourself; ‘it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie…” The next year, distributors tried to pass DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT off as being from the same batch of people by showing it on a double bill with LAST HOUSE, but the films have no real connection. Instead, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT comes from the mind of S.F. Brownrigg, a journeyman of the Texas horror circuit who had a flair for amazing titles, like DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! (1975) and KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN (1976). He also had a role in creating THE EYE CREATURES (1965), later made infamous by MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000.

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT is not a film that comes to screens very often, and when it does, maybe it plays more for the devoted than for the unconverted. But that’s what’s been so impressive about the new scheduling at the Plaza. There are plenty of catalog titles that could draw in the mainstream, but the Plaza is in the middle of an all-out bid for the cultists and movie fetishists, and the theatre is working hard to plant themselves at the center of Atlanta’s developing film culture. I, for one, hope there’s more like this in the basement.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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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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Wanna Date? Let Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Set You Up With FRANKENHOOKER!

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents FRANKENHOOKER (1990); Dir. Frank Henenlotter; Starring Patty Mullen and James Lorinz; Tuesday, Feb. 12 @ 9:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

“If you only see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER.” – Bill Murray

And just who do you think you are to argue with Bill Murray? Thankfully, Splatter Cinema and Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre have joined forces to make this easy for you. Heck, the Splatter folks even filmed an exclusive interview with star Patty Mullen at last weekend’s Days of the Dead convention to sweeten the deal.

Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), lowly employee at New Jersey Electric and erstwhile mad scientist, has a problem. His beloved fiancée Elizabeth (Patty Mullen) has just been dismembered in a freak lawnmower accident, and he was only able to retrieve the head. He’s got the means to bring her back, but since her body is missing, why not spring for some upgrades? Armed with an explosive batch of crack, he starts to collect choice parts from NYC’s hookers, but what happens when Elizabeth wakes up and starts looking for tricks on 42nd Avenue? Can Jeffrey win back his blushing bride-to-be?

Few people on this planet are as devoted to the form and function of the grindhouse era as director Frank Henenlotter. Beyond capturing and preserving the pre-Disneyfication of Times Square in the classic BASKET CASE, he has long been associated with Something Weird Video, rescuing classic exploitation films from destruction and presenting many of them in the “Frank Henenlotter’s Sexy Shockers” series. In FRANKENHOOKER, he returns to the seedy side of New York City, but this time sees it being decimated by the crack epidemic.

Not that FRANKENHOOKER is some preachy vehicle, mind you. Like in Henenlotter’s previous film BRAIN DAMAGE, the subtext of drug abuse is present and slyly addressed, but this time—as opposed to the more serious-minded BRAIN DAMAGE— the emphasis is fully on sleaze and gore so over-the-top as to be hilarious. And as always, that’s why we love Frank.

Patty Mullen walks Times Square as FRANKENHOOKER (1990).

Now, a lot can be said for Henenlotter’s visual style, which he has always managed to pull off without the benefit of any kind of real budget. For instance, his use of lighting and color is consistently well-thought-out and effective, and his ability to shoot effects that both maximize their impact and mask their cheapness is almost unmatched. The fact that FRANKENHOOKER was a larger-budgeted film didn’t lead to him getting lazy on this shoot; it only makes the film look that much more expensive than it was. But his real talent has always been his ability to pull unexpectedly great performances out of unlikely suspects. In BASKET CASE, it’s Kevin Van Hentenryck as Duane Bradley. In FRANKENHOOKER, it’s former Penthouse Pet of the Year Patty Mullen. Previously only seen in the abysmal DOOM ASYLUM and a couple of bit parts on TV, Mullen turns in a brilliant comedic performance as the undead patchwork prostitute. She’s completely believable as the sweet Elizabeth (pre-lawnmower death) and her shift into the gratingly aggressive “Frankenhooker” persona, accompanied by completely insane facial mugging, is something of a triumph for someone who is essentially a non-actor. It’s a shame that this is her final film to date, as she’s just an incredibly likeable presence throughout. Co-star James Lorinz has always been a weak link for me in this movie, coming across as a poor man’s Andrew McCarthy, but in recent years I’ve warmed up to his overacting, twitchy presence and incessant ad-libbing. It’s not that he’s bad; he’s just completely overshadowed by Mullen.

Henenlotter has peppered the film with familiar faces as well. Louise Lasser (MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN) appears as Jeffrey’s mom, pioneering TV horror host Zacherley shows up as a weatherman, and cameos also go to Henenlotter regular Beverly Bonner and the legendary Shirley Stoler (THE HONEYMOON KILLERS, THE DEER HUNTER, SEVEN BEAUTIES, PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE).

The screenplay by Frank and FANGORIA founding editor Bob Martin (who wrote the novelization of BRAIN DAMAGE) is constantly amusing, mixing references to FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE with clever spoofs of local news and late-night talk shows. It’s quite probably the best screenplay that Henenlotter has ever had to work with. BRAIN DAMAGE is a more cerebral work (pun intended), but FRANKENHOOKER is more flat-out entertaining.

So join Splatter Cinema in sharing Frank Henenlotter’s love for grindhouse cinema in the only surviving theater in Atlanta that once served as a grindhouse: the Plaza.

Bill Murray demands it.

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

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The Engines of James O’Barr’s Art: On Returning to The Crow, Heading to Atlanta for Days of the Dead, BLADE RUNNER, Robert Mitchum and His Latest Pin-Up Passion

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

The cover to issue #1 of THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR, a six-part comics series which marks James O'Barr's return to his most famous creation. Used with permission.

At the Days of the Dead convention this weekend at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel downtown, horror fans can meet and collect autographs from a rogues’ gallery of actors from a DEVIL’S REJECTS/HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES cast reunions to Butch Patrick, the former child star who played Eddie Munster. Or they can visit the table of artist James O’Barr and pick up an exclusive signed print, preview original artwork from James’ first return to THE CROW in 20 years, and muse about art, favorite movies and the Retro glory days when Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, full of curves and class, ruled the silver screen.

While quite a few comics creators delve into the darkness, James is one of a handful who cross mediums and regularly attends horror cons as often as comics gatherings. But that’s not the most surprising thing about him. First published by Caliber in the early 90s, then reprinted and completed by Tundra Publishing and recently picked up by IDW, The Crow’s revenge saga was inspired by James’ own tragic loss of a lover. It gained an even more mythic status among fans when Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died due to an accident on the set of the movie based on the comic. So as the creator of a vigilante antihero with an androgynous mimelike visage and Gothic black hair, James might be expected to be as tough as nails as his own hero Robert Mitchum or as dark and brooding as Trent Reznor.  But anyone who’s met the artist knows that while he’s weathered his share of adversity amplified by years living in crime-ridden Detroit and dwells creatively in the realm of the dark phantastique, James has also come through the other side. He has emerged surprisingly soft-spoken and even with a signature joie de vivre. His most common public demeanor is a smile and a wisecrack, probably more than a little politically incorrect.

ATLRetro spent a couple of hours on the phone with James this week to find out more about what he’ll be doing and displaying at Days of the Dead, as well as what it’s like to be back drawing The Crow after all these years. And yeah, we couldn’t help but ask about his own influences from Will Eisner to Bernie Wrightson, mural painting with Mark Bode, his take on the BLADE RUNNER prequel, what makes Robert Mitchum still so unmatched among men, and find out his current Retro pin-up crush.

ATLRetro: You’re one of the few comics artists who regularly does horror media cons as well. What sets the comic and horror con experience apart for you?

James O’Barr: I am one of the fortunate ones that has a crossover audience since I had a film made of my comics. I don’t consider it a horror film, but it does get grouped in. There’s a lot of surface differences between the different crowds, but in reality they are kind of the same thing – groups of fans all broken up into little subgenres. At a comics show, some guys are just there for the super-heroes and others hate super-heroes. At a horror show, some people are into slasher movies. Other people hate them and love the classic Hammer Films. It’s the same animal but just from a different continent.

Will you be have any new work or prints for sale at Days?

Yeah, every time I do a show, I do a handful of prints, maybe 20 of each that you can only get from me and only at that show. That way the fans have something special that no one else has anywhere else in the US. I have so much material that it’s not difficult for me to pick a new image for each con.

Are you doing any panels or demonstrations at Days, or more body-painting like you did at the dooGallery during DragonCon?

I don’t think I have anything officially scheduled. But the body-painting will be at the show, and I volunteered to paint some more half-naked girls because I had a lot of fun doing that last time. I’ve only done it three times, and it’s a learning process. I’m getting better each time. Body-painting is difficult because it’s like painting with makeup, and it has entirely different textures than paint or ink, plus you’re not dealing with a flat surface. It does make a difference because I when I painted Frankenstein or Dracula on a girl’s back the last time I was there, I had to take into account the arch of her back so it didn’t look like he didn’t have a chin. It’s like Michelangelo at the Sistine Chapel where he had to elongate the figures so they would look correct from the floor.

What’s the craziest thing a fan ever did to get your attention at a con?

Just the typical like a woman showing me their tits and people just trying to shock me. I’m not easily shocked. Mostly my fans are very kind and gracious and very polite. I have the greatest fans in world who have stuck with me for 25 years, and because of them, I get to do what I love for a living. So I’m very appreciative.

You’ve said that you wanted to work with Jim Terry (the artist on THE CROW:SKINNING THE WOLVES, the recently released three-issue IDW miniseries set in a Nazi concentration camp) because you liked his “Eisneresque style.” How much of an influence was Will Eisner on your own work and wanting to get into comics?

Will Eisner was a huge influence on me. It was by studying old SPIRIT stories that I learned actual storytelling. Then it suddenly dawned on me that he was taking film techniques and applying them to comics, and no one had ever done that before. So I pretty much took that basic premise, using film techniques in comics for lighting set-ups and camera angles, and I push that as far as I can into comics. As much as movies and comics have in common with each other, they also have so much uncommon or ‘discommon’ between them as well. In comics, you can’t control the timing like you can in a film, but you can slow down the pace of a page by making someone spend more time by putting more images on it. Another huge drawback is lack of sound. You don’t have a soundtrack to accentuate the emotions portrayed in the image. You don’t have the voices of the actors, and you don’t have sound effects, so you have to rely on the reader to supply those in their head. But like I said, it can also be a plus. What’s there is only what you put there, but an actor could spoil a scene or music could spoil a scene or a bad sound effect could spoil a scene. I am one of the few artists who does employ sound effects. If someone fires a gun in my comic, there’s a big boom sound effect. To me, supplying sound effects is an essential part of comics. It’s one of the charms of comics, I think.

If you had to pick five classic comics artist greats to recommend to a new reader, who would they be?

Will Eisner. Harvey Kurtzman. Jordi Bernet is not well-known in the US. He’s from old Milton Caniff (TERRY AND THE PIRATES, STEVE CANYON) school – lot of brushwork and shadows. IDW is reprinting his TORPEDO series about gangsters in the 1930s. There are so many. Bernie Wrightson was a huge influence on me. The way I look at it, Will Eisner showed me how to tell the story, but Berni Wrightson showed me how to light the scene for the most dramatic effect. And probably Dave Sim for teaching me how to include dialogue and sound effects into the artwork to where they are essential, which is why I like Dave Sim.

I still hand-letter all of my comics on the actual artwork. Since we’re talking Retro, I might as well point out I don’t use computers for anything. Everything is ink on papr or paint on paper. Nothing is photoshopped. Even my titles are hand-drawn on artwork – which is a pain because lettering is not my forte. I can do balloons, but with a three-inch font, I inevitably fuck it up. But that’s part of charm of hand-lettering. It’s not a perfect font pulled off a computer. It’s not that I have disregard for PhotoShop and those tools. I see people like Jon Foster who do great artwork with them Looking at his work, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t oil-painted or acrylics, but to me, using a mouse or a keyboard or a tablet would just drain all the fun out of comics. I love draging a brush across a blank page. For me, that’s the joy of creating comics. I sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and everything is my choice. And it has to be the right choice because there is no undo. This may make me a more confident artist than those who use computers. I don’t redo. I know what I want before I sit down.

Mark Bode's and James O'Barr's mural tribute to Frank Frazetta at Clarion Alley in San Francisco.

Do you have any more mural work planned with Mark Bode, and how does working with a spray can on a wall compare to a paintbrush on a canvas?

Every time I see Mark, usually once or twice a year, we plan on doing something. The only difficult thing is San Francisco is finding a place to do it and deciding what we’re going to do. But the four we have done have gotten progressively better. I posted some pictures of the Frank Frazetta one on the Internet, and people thought it was the original, so we’ve gotten really good at it. They all have been tributes to our artistic heroes who have passed away –  Moebius, Jeff Jones and Frazetta. I’m going to be up there later this year, and we’re hoping to do a Jack Kirby one which will be a lot of fun — to do that hyper-stylized Kirby line. The main difficulty is not necessarily working with a spray can but it’s working that large. The shortest was like 20 feet tall, so it involves being up on a ladder and drawing, and it’s hard to tell if something is in proportion without stepping back off ladder and walkg back 20 feet. Mark and I are really good about trading off with one of us painting and the other watching. He taught me everything I know about graffiti art, even though I still do more artistic things rather than scribbles or tags. I have no idea what they say. I would rather do Monet’s waterlilies 20 feet tall than put a line of poetry up there that is so stylized that the lettering is illegible. I like mural work. It’s free, outside and for the public. It’s transient because it will only be there for a certain amount of time. And it’s been great to introduce certain artists, like Jeff Jones, to people who may not have ever heard of them before.

What has the reaction been to the return of THE CROW published by IDW?

Honestly it’s been mixed. The one I’m doing by myself (THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR) hasn’t come out yet, but I think some people were expecting right off the bat that the first book would be mine. The first series looks very rushed, though it had a nice script by John Shirley. THE CROW: SKINNING THE WOLVES book has done phenomenally well. The first two issues sold out, and it’s in its second printing, and I think that’s because I was involved. It sticks rather closely to the kind of thing I do even though Jim Terry was responsible for the artwork.

From the original THE CROW series by James O'Barr.

THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR will be six issues. I’m finishing up the third issue, but I didn’t want them to solicit until the third was done because didn’t want there to be any lags between issues. I wanted them out on a regular basis because it’s continuing story. I have to say I am more than happy with the work I’ve done on it so far. It’s far and above the best thing I’ve ever done. I have definitely learned my craft over the last two decades. With the first CROW book, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I just sat down and let things flow out of me. There are lots of flaws in that book, but I think the love and passion which I put into that work is what made the public love it and kept it in print for 25 years. But there were things in that book that I avoided because I didn’t have the skills to do them. With his book now, if I can think of it, I can draw it. It’s not a struggle at all. With every page, I set a challenge for me. How can I make it more difficult and learn something from this page. Without exception, 60-something pages into it, I’m delighted with every page.

Will it be in black and white like the original CROW or in color this time? And can you reveal anything about the story? 

At the beginning, IDW kind of strong-armed me a little bit, saying they wanted it in color. I said it’s my project and it’s a CROW book, and I think it should be in black and white – or at least the ones I do should be. For me, it adds a certain otherworldly aspect to it with hard shadows. Honestly I don’t see it in the coloring I see in comics nowadays. If it was going to be in color, it would have to be handpainted by me, but I am hesitant to do that. However, that being said, I just did 20 black and white pages of this shootout and then in the middle, added an intermission in color – that kind of 1930s technicolor where everything is in brighter, warmer and hotter colors that don’t exist in real life. So that gives it a very dreamlike feel to it. Since I learned all the rules in the last 25 yrs, now I can break them.

Plus after 20 pages of people getting killed, it’s a nice little break for the reader as well. Still even though they are pretty and bright, happy colors, just them having been done by me has sort of a haunting creepy quality about it as well. Also I think it’s kind of funny that it’s a CROW book, but I am 60 pages into it and birds haven’t appeared in it once. I’m using rabbits this time. Not talking rabbits, but they are the animal in it. I think it’s so close in feel and atmosphere to the original book, all on a much higher level of competence, that people don’t even notice there’s not a bird in it. The bird will make a few cameo appearances.

It all looks really amazing, and in this one, the best character is the Skull Cowboy, that never actually appeared in the movie. The death character is with the woman the whole time. It kind of takes the place of the bird. The bunny man. He even scares me when I’m drawing him, probably because he reminds me a lot of myself. He’s very – I don’t want to say evil – but there are no ambidexterous morals in this. He’s frightening, but he’s a smart-ass and he’s lovable as well. It gives the bride a nice alter-ego to play off of.

I don’t want to give too much away, though. I’d rather that you come by the table [at Days of the Dead] and see what I’m doing and decide for yourselves. But I guarantee no one will be disappointed.

James O'Barr gets happy at his convention artist table. Photo courtesy of James O'Barr.

Shifting gears back to some of the pop culture you’re known for being passionate about, as a big BLADE RUNNER fan, how do you feel about Ridley Scott’s announcement that he’s going to go back to and do a prequel after all these years?

BLADE RUNNER was Ridley Scott’s vision so if he wants to go back and play in that universe, I am more than happy to sit in the audience. I will pay my $15. I really liked PROMETHEUS. I think I am one of the few people on the planet who did. I thought it did no disservice to the ALIEN film. I read somewhere he’s going to connect the ALIEN universe and the BLADE RUNNER universe or make references to both taking place at the same time. Somebody told me he read the script to PROMETHEUS 2 and that there were references to replicants in there. I’m a little skeptical about him pulling that off but I would love to see it. I have no idea what he is going to do, but I would love to see how the replicants got to Earth. He throws it all into one sentence — they escaped from an off-world colony. It would be great to see how Roy and Pris escaped from the planet where they were slave labor. I don’t know who could play those parts now, but it’s a really rich universe he created there and a lot was skimmed over the surface. I have a lot of faith in Ridley Scott. He’s made about 20 films and less than a handful have been bad. He needs to stay the fuck away from romantic comedies, though. The one he made with Russell Crowe and [Marion Cotillard] – A GOOD YEAR – that was just horrific, painful. He’s at his best when he’s exploring fantasy and science fiction and – some people probably will hate me but – nobody does epic like Ridley Scott. Even something like KINGDOM OF HEAVEN that’s factually based has more stunning imagery than all three LORD OF THE RINGS movies together.

What’s so great about Robert Mitchum?

He was the last real man, I think. He was a brute and a gentleman and a real life badass. Jason Statham would last about 30 seconds with Robert Mitchum. He just has such a presence. He’s very subtle, and he never, ever plays to the camera. Laurence Olivier could not say a line without turning to the camera and making a face. Robert Mitchum wouldn’t care if his back was to the camera. He was so charismatic, and he was willingness to take on any role. That was endearing to me. He’d play the hero or the bad guy, he didn’t care. He was truly frightening in CAPE FEAR (1962). THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) and OUT OF THE PAST (1947) are two films I could just watch any time. I do watch both of them once or twice a year. In fact, I just bought the British release poster for OUT OF THE PAST. It was called BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH in London when it was released. That was the original name of the story.

You’ve often said that you admire the style and shape of the classic actresses and models of days gone by such as Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. Who’s your favorite right now and why?

Right now going through a mild Bettie Page fascination. I purposely avoided the whole Bettie Page parade 10 years ago because I was a little angered and disgusted that all these people were making money off this girl, my artists friends included. So I avoided anything Bettie Page. Just recently I subscribe to those vintage pinup Facebook pages, and I have gotten into appreciation. I see what it’s all about now – all the curves, and there was a really gentle innocence to her, too, where she always looks like she is having fun. I have definitely seen some pictures where I don’t think she had any idea what she was doing, such as the bondage stuff. That’s my least favorite. I love the images of her on the beach. There’s something about her eyes and her smile that is really endearing, and that silly haircut that people are still imitating today. I kind of group her in with Marilyn Monroe. I look at the pictures, and yes, I see all the right curves, but I don’t get aroused looking at them. It’s more endearing and charming to me than anything else. There’s something about both Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe that makes me want to protect them. It makes me want to take on a fatherly role. I have never seen one so I assume it was impossible to take a bad picture of them. There’s some kind of inner beauty there which really transcends the film.

James O'Barr strikes a Mitchum pose. Photo courtesy of James O'Barr.

Given the success of THE CROW franchise, are a lot of fans surprised that you lead a pretty simple life of drawing/painting, writing, watching old movies and hanging out with cats? 

The reality is that I grew up way below the poverty level, and so I have never been comfortable with luxury. It’s not that I don’t think I deserve it, but I don’t need it. Having expensive things does not make me happy. I’ve had a five-bedroom semi-mansion, and invariably I spent all my time in the basement in the dark drawing. There were rooms I never even went in. I like that I lead a very insular disciplined life, and I only bring things in that bring me joy and happiness—books and movies and music and artwork. I don’t need anything else. My cat’s my best friend. He never lies to me. He doesn’t cheat on me. He tries to lie to me. “You didn’t feed me. You didn’t feed me.” “Yes, I did. I did.” Just like dogs, they have unconditional love. My cat is lying on my feet right now. He wants to be close to me. I love dogs, too, but I prefer cats because they’re less needy. I can go away for a weekend, leave cat food, and he will be fine. I definitely like companionship. Being artist or a writer is very solitary. Just to have a little silent partner next to me is very comforting.

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30 Days of the Plaza, Day 28: TRICK ‘R TREAT and the Grand Tradition of the Anthology Horror Film

Posted on: Oct 24th, 2012 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007/2009); Dir: Michael Dougherty; Starring Dylan Baker, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin; Tues. Oct. 30 7:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; $10; Trailer here; Advance tickets here.

Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT is more than simply a great horror movie (though that alone should have been enough to save it from having been shelved by Warner Brothers for 2 years). Beyond its well-crafted story, inspired performances and cleverly-executed direction, the film is also a loving tribute to both Halloween and a staple of horror cinema throughout the 20th century: the anthology film.

Though other genres have tackled the anthology to varying degrees of success, the anthology format has long been perfectly suited for horror. At the dawn of the previous century, there was the celebrated Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. Parisian audiences taking in an unpleasant night at the theater would experience five or six short and brutally horrific plays per show, and success kept the blood flowing for 65 years. It made sense, then, that the emerging art form of cinema would take some cues from the Grand Guignol. The first anthology horror film popped up in 1919 with Germany’s UNCANNY STORIES, and filmmakers returned to the well again and again, resulting in classics like 1924’s WAXWORKS and 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT.

It was during the 1960s and ‘70s that the genre really took off, however, thanks to the efforts of Great Britain’s Amicus Productions. Their series of anthology horror pictures began with DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1964) and continued through to THE MONSTER CLUB (1980). Frequently directed by British horror veterans Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker, and often written by American horror legend Robert Bloch, the movies were extremely successful on both sides of the pond and rivaled the popularity of Amicus’ chief competitor, Hammer Films (it helped that many of Hammer’s stars—including Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee—were featured in many of the films).

The emergence of the slasher genre as horror’s chief moneymaker shuffled the by-now quaint anthology film to the backburner in the 1980s. Few major studios took the risk on helming them, and as a result, those that emerged were often cash-strapped and threadbare productions with few real “stars” to pull in crowds. Sure, there were exceptions, such as the George Romero / Stephen King collaboration CREEPSHOW (1982) and Stephen King’s CAT’S EYE (1985), but by and large the anthology films that have emerged since the genre’s heyday have been either conceived or promoted as throwbacks rather than as part of a viable tradition.

And while you could say that TRICK ‘R TREAT does just that—present itself as a tribute—it also pushes forward by taking storytelling risks that are rare in the anthology genre itself. Rather than just presenting a handful of stories connected by a framing device (which is typically how these films are structured), Dougherty threads all of the stories together over the course of a single Halloween night. Characters cross paths continually and their stories intersect, while each story reveals details about events that have transpired elsewhere by presenting different perspectives.

A scene from TRICK R TREAT. Warner Brothers, 2007.

The stories themselves are short and simple. A serial killing principal (Dylan Baker) just can’t get rid of a body. Pranks centering around a decades-old massacre turn on the pranksters. A party in the woods turns bloody. A curmudgeonly, Halloween-hating old man (Brian Cox) gets his comeuppance from Sam, the living embodiment of the spirit of Halloween. (Sam appears in each segment.) But it’s how the stories are fleshed out, and how they interact with each other, that takes the film to another level. It’s like the horror film equivalent of Robert Altman’s SHORT CUTS or Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION. Just a hell of a lot more fun.

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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