A Lot More Fear and Loathing: 2016 Buried Alive Film Festival Expands to Five Days of the Best Global, US and Local Indie Horror!

Posted on: Nov 15th, 2016 By:

buriedalive2016The 2016 Buried Alive Film Festival is bigger than ever, expanding to five days (November 16-20) with 10 features and 75 short new independent horror films from the around the globe at 7 Stages Theatre in Little Five Points.

“Everything about this year takes Buried Alive to a new level–the same high-quality horror movies but more of them, and our move to 7 Stages means a whole new level of entertainment, dining and bars for attendees and filmmakers alike,” says Blake Myers, Buried Alive’s festival director and ATLRetro Kool Kat. “We’re excited also that Atlanta Pro AV will be supplying the most pristine image quality of any projectors on the market today.”

The 11th annual festival features nine brand new movies, including two hit films from SXSW, Bobby Miller’s THE MASTER CLEANSE (starring Johnny Galecki and Anjelica Huston) and ANOTHER EVIL directed by Carson D. Mell (screenwriter, EAST BOUND AND DOWN and SILICONE VALLEY). The opening night feature is the U.S. premiere of vampire-clown-’80s-cult-homage (ATLRetro got a sneak and we loved it!THE NIGHT WATCHMEN from director Mitchell Altieri (THE HAMILTONS) featuring James Remar (THE WARRIORS), Matt Sevitto (THE SOPRANOS) and Tiffany Shepis (TROMEO AND JULIET). (Read an exclusive ATLRetro interview with Mitchell here). Other feature films include HERE ALONE, a survivor’s story of a quiet and bleak existence in a decimated future directed by Rod Blackhurst (AMANDA KNOX Netflix Series), and FOUND FOOTAGE 3D, which provides a great new twist on the found footage genre from director Steven DeGennaro and producer Ken Henkel (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, EATEN ALIVE).

night watchmenThis year BAFF features will go beyond the usual horror narratives and also include a documentary and an animated sci-fi movie. SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL: THE TRUE STORY OF THE PROCESS CHURCH OF THE FINAL JUDGEMENT  is a documentary about “one of the most dangerous satanic cults in America” from director Neil Edwards, featuring interviews with John Waters, George Clinton and original cult members. NOVA SEED is a fully 2D hand drawn science fiction  adventure directed and animated by Nick DiLiberto.

Buried Alive also continues to show its love for the Georgia horror scene. This year’s festival also has more local films than ever with six shorts and two features James Bickert’s 35mm Grindhouse epic FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS and Tim Reis’s amphibious werewolf BAD BLOOD: THE MOVIE which will be our closing night feature on Sunday.

New to this year’s festival will be the BAFF Sinema Challenge, a challenge for local filmmakers to make a horror film in 13 days. Production starts on November 1 and the films will screen on the festival’s opening night, Wed. Nov. 16, at 8 p.m. We’re super excited to have Mindy De Chiciro, co-creator and exclusive programmer for Turner Classic Movies (TCM) weekly late-night cult movie showcase TCM Underground, as our Kool Kat of the Week. Read our exclusive interview here.

sympathyOne of the real strengths, and our favorite part, of Buried Alive Film Fest is the shorts program. This year brings seven shorts sets presenting 75 new films that will enlighten and disgust you to the fullest extent. A few highlights from the selections include Calvin Reeder’s THE BULB about two strangers experiencing an alien phenomenon through the public access in a motel room, the American premiere of Finnish animator Tomi Malakias’ VOODOO RIGHTS and the award-winning THE STYLIST by director Jill Gevargizian making its Atlanta premiere. The festival also includes a few animated shorts such as the stop motion masterpiece, UNDER THE APPLE TREE, by Erik van Schaaik, and the amazing strangeness of James Siewert’s THE PAST INSIDE THE PRESENT.

Finally, no respectable horror film festival would be complete without screening a classic, and ATLRetro loves the one they picked. On Saturday night at 10 p.m.,  BAFF will be showing the 40th anniversary digitally remastered bluray of Brian DePalma’s CARRIE, the 1976 classic adaptation from Stephen King’s novel starring Sissy Spacek, William Katt and P.J. Soles. The screening will be hosted by Atlanta’s award-winning Blast Off Burlesque, who will stage one of their signature TabooLaLa events including a performance inspired by the film before the screening. With a ´70s photo-op and costume contest…let’s just say, there will be blood.

foundfootageThe 7 Stages Theatre is located at 1105 Euclid Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307. Individual program tickets are $12, and five-day festival passes are just $120.

For more information and the complete Buried Alive Film Festival schedule, visit www.buriedalivefilmfest.com. View the official BAFF bumper here.

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

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

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

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood simple.

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

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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: It’s Simply CHILD’S PLAY: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Throw a 25th Birthday Bash for Chucky!

Posted on: Jan 7th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema present CHILD’S PLAY (1987); Dir: Tom Holland; Starring: Brad Dourif, Chris Sarandon and Catherine Hicks; Tue. Jan. 8 @ 9:30 p.m. and Fri. Jan. 10 at 11:30 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Who could have predicted that a child’s doll would boast a career of evil spanning 25 years?

By 1988, the slasher film had seen its peak. The A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise delivered a fourth movie that fell far short of 1987’s well-received third entry. The FRIDAY THE 13TH series offered up a lackluster seventh film that attempted to pit Jason Voorhees against a distaff CARRIE knockoff. Producer Moustapha Akkad attempted to revive Michael Myers in an ineffective fourth HALLOWEEN film without the participation of John Carpenter. Meanwhile, the horror film world was looking across the pond for its new icons of terror: the Cenobites of Clive Barker’s groundbreaking HELLRAISER.

It might have seemed laughable on its face to combat this by saying, “well, what about a serial killing doll?” It’s not like the premise of a killer doll had never been done before. From the ventriloquist dummy with a mind of its own of 1948’s DEAD OF NIGHT to THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s Talky Tina, and from the possessed clown of 1982’s POLTERGEIST to the Zuni fetish doll of 1975’s TRILOGY OF TERROR, the killing machine posing as an innocuous inanimate figure was a familiar face on the horror landscape. But resting a relatively big-budgeted slasher film on the stuffed shoulders of a Good Guy doll must have seemed a risky proposition.

And in the wrong hands, it could have been. Thankfully, the screenplay was tightly executed, displaying a surprising intelligence and wit. The film finds serial killer Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray (Brad Dourif of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, WISE BLOOD and the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) mortally wounded and pursued by Chicago homicide detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon of FRIGHT NIGHT and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). On the verge of death, Chucky takes refuge in a toy store and uses a voodoo ritual to pass his soul into a handy Good Guy doll. The doll finds its way into the Barclay family home, where the now-sentient doll seeks to continue the mortal Chucky’s killing spree…and find a way to get out of his molded plastic and rubber holding cell.

The film was helmed by veteran horror writer-director Tom Holland (CLASS OF 1984, PSYCHO II, FRIGHT NIGHT) with a seriousness that served as a perfect counterweight to the cartoonish possibilities that an ersatz Cabbage Patch Kid slaughtering Chicagoans might pose. And his cast of familiar faces (and voices) helped sell that premise. In particular, the sardonic performance of Brad Dourif as Chucky walked the tightrope between threatening and humorous deftly, simultaneously communicating Chucky’s thirst for violence and his recognition that being stuck in a doll’s body is almost some kind of cosmic joke at his expense.

The novel concept, combined with the effects of the incredible Kevin Yagher and Dourif’s indelible voice work, quickly established Chucky as a most unlikely horror icon, and the film spawned several sequels in a franchise that continues to this day. Filming on the most recent installment, CURSE OF CHUCKY, was completed in Fall 2012.

Wanna play? Come out to the Plaza Theatre and celebrate Chucky’s quarter-century of slaughter with a special presentation of CHILD’S PLAY from Splatter Cinema. It’s not every day a doll turns 25.

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: Feminine Sexual Threat Meets Avian Apocalypse: THE BIRDS Attack the Plaza Theatre in the Last Weekend of Alfred Hitchcock Month

Posted on: Nov 28th, 2012 By:

By Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

THE BIRDS (1963); Dir: Alfred Hitchcock; Screenplay by Evan Hunter (aka Ed McCain); Starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy; Fri. Nov. 30 – Sun. Dec. 2; Plaza Theatre (visit Plaza Theatre Website for showtimes and ticket prices); Trailer here.

Alfred Hitchcock, like a lot of thriller and horror filmmakers, always displayed an influence by Freudian theory. In THE BIRDS, he’s pared it down to one essential: all actions are motivated, most motives unconscious. Having first established that with the characters, he shows the same proves to be the apocalyptic secret behind the workings of the whole world.

Loosely based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same title, THE BIRDS is Alfred Hitchcock’s only explicit foray into science fiction and fantasy. The screenplay by Evan Hunter (better known as crime writer Ed McCain) is awkward, but also ambitious. It’s Hitchcock’s immediate follow-up to PSYCHO (1960) and borrows from its device of a lengthy preamble, telling a story that proceeds along one narrative line until events outside the so-far-established frame of reference break that line, radically changing what the film’s about. When the main story arrives, it is disorienting and meant to be. Tippi Hedren plays a spoiled heiress who develops a crush on Rod Taylor which seems petulant – she wants to win his affection only to trump his mocking her – and a little creepy in its aggressiveness. She doesn’t know him at all, but stalker-like, she travels a long distance to arrive uninvited at his home.

Taylor lives in an island fishing community, and the first hint of the actual threat/main story comes is when Hedren is approaching the island by motorboat and a seagull flies into her, giving her a minor injury. That minor injury may have influenced Taylor in not immediately demanding she turn around and go home. So Hedren has a small opening and is not without wiles. Taylor starts to respond, but obstacles appear quickly. His clinging mother, Jessica Tandy, doesn’t like Hedren. Then there’s Taylor’s ex-girlfriend, Suzanne Pleshette, who surprisingly befriends Hedren, but also provides some insights into Taylor that suggests he’s as out-of-touch with his motivations as Hedren is.

The dialogue is a little strained, but covering interesting ground. It’s a love story examining people who don’t know why they do the things they do. It’s justifiably talky because every dialogue is a negotiation to establish one’s position in three-or-more-player power relationships.

This is also not at all what the film is about. As the threat escalates at an almost leisurely pace, the amount of dialogue decreases.

THE BIRDS attack Tippi Hedren and a group of children in one of the Hitchcock masterpiece's most iconic scenes. Universal Pictures, 1963.

What this film is about is the revenge of nature and the end of the world. The film won’t tell us why this inexplicable disaster erupts any more than Hedren can honestly explain her pursuit of Taylor. I don’t know if it was Hitchcock or Hunter who made the bold move to violate one of the fundamental rules of monster movies in their refusal to provide even a partial explanation for the events. It was ballsy though. I can’t think of another film driven by seemingly motiveless events that was anything but annoying, because in almost any other example, motivelessness is the same as incoherence. The original short story is ambiguous regarding explanation, but suggestive. The film, though, is completely opaque.

Maybe part of the success is that explanations are dangled in front of us, and they seem to make emotional sense, but clearly don’t make narrative sense. This is another of a string of Hitchcock films where ice-queen blondes appear to be the well from which all evil flows, but always Hitcock is always putting a modest twist on that easily misogynist interpretation of that “evil.” In VERTIGO (1958), Madeleine (Kim Novak) is bad, and drives a innocent man to obsession, but she’s not the main architect of the fiendish plot [Ed. note: Read our Retro Review of VERTIGO, which played last weekend at The Plaza, here]. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Eve (Eva Marie Saint) is deceitful and part of the circumstances that put our hero at risk, but she is in on her deceit, she is serving a greater good and proves to be almost as much a victim of circumstances as our hero is. In PSYCHO (1960) Marion (Janet Leigh) is a criminal and a betrayer for sure, but none of her sins have any bearing on her fate.

Here, the apocalypse seems to arrive with Hedren, but as weird as she is, she does nothing that could reasonably provoke anything larger than Tandy’s jealous resentment. Moreover, as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that the disaster is much larger than any of these lives or the geography we see in the film itself. When Hedren is accused of being evil’s harbinger by a hysterical woman, that seems only to reinforce the irrationality of the suggestion. But no other explanation is provided.

Semi-feminist writer Camille Paglia mined the irrational vein in search of meaning. She interpreted THE BIRDS as a celebration of the complex faces and threats female sexuality presents to a man, to the point that nature becomes an extension of that tension. She notes that more women play more pivotal roles in THE BIRDS than in any other Hitchcock film. The hero is defined by his relationships with his mother, younger sister (more like a daughter) and ex-lover, and that careful balance is thrown off by the appearance of Hedren. The disruption of the domestic balance is blown up to become the disruption of the balance of nature.

Once the bird attacks start escalating, each is paced and staged very differently from the one before, and this is where Hitchcock shows his true mastery. Every attack is remembered as a classic moment. Like Hedren sitting on a bench outside a school house waiting for Pleschette, a teacher, to take a break. Hedren lights a cigarette. We hear the children inside singing in unison. Hedren doesn’t notice what we can see over her shoulder, the playground jungle-gym gradually fill with hordes of silent crows.

Or like the largest attack, which, surprisingly, isn’t the last one. It features Hedren, who arrived at the island with caged birds, trapped in a cage-like phone booth while killer birds swirl around her (Hitchcock quite effectively put the camera inside the booth with her, so we shared the claustrophobia and shock of the assault).

And the climax, after the whole community finds itself under siege, and Hedren and Taylor’s family barricade themselves in his house. In the only scene taken directly from Du Maurier’s story, the attack becomes more frenzied, suicidal, and no defense can be adequate because there are so many of them, they are so small and there’s always another way in.

Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor in Hitchcock's THE BIRDS. Universal Pictures, 1963.

Two things come up in every review of THE BIRDS – Hitchcock’s choice to do without a conventional score and the landmark FX. Though there is no music per se, Hitchcock did use his favorite composer, Bernard Herrmann, to create scary, synthesized bird calls to counterpoint the calculated silences. For this reason, THE BIRDS is the eeriest sounding of all his films.

Then there are the special effects. Simply put, what Hitchcock achieved should’ve been impossible with the technology of the day. It contains more than 370 separate trick shots. Every technique then imaginable was employed here including a slew of matte paintings, trained birds lured by feasts of fish and food scraps, mechanical birds, stuffed birds, and a scene during which Hitchcock literally threw live birds at Hedren (under those circumstances, the animals’ aggressiveness was probably sincere and Hedren’s fear wasn’t acting). The scene where the children are attacked on the road (this is part of the same sequence where the birds gather on the jungle-gym) involved most of the above, plus meticulous animations integrated into shots of live actors, through a complex “yellowscreen” process executed by Disney’s Ub Iwerks, who was one of the technique’s inventors. And then there were the two unnamed female artists who spent three months hand-painting seagulls onto tiny film frames for a scene that lasted less than 10 seconds.

David Thomson refers to THE BIRDS as Hitchcock’s “last unflawed film.” These two clips cover the jungle-gym attack of children sequence. I still marvel that this was done in the days before CGI:

watch?v=ydLJtKlVVZw&feature=relmfu

watch?v=hplpQt424Ls

Robert Emmett Murphy, Jr., is based in New York. This article is number 58 in a series of 100 essays he is penning, inspired by the British documentary THE 100 GREATEST SCARY MOMENTS (2003). It is reprinted with permission. The moment selected for the list can be found at the 1 hour, 38 minute marker. 

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

Posted on: Nov 8th, 2012 By:

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

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

ABED, directed by Ryan Lieske.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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30 Days of the Plaza Theatre: Day 2, Back to the Grindhouse for a ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, Courtesy of Splatter Cinema

Posted on: May 8th, 2012 By:

Splatter Cinema Presents ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980); Dir: Marino Girolami; Starring: Ian McCulloch, Donald O’Brien, Alexandra Delli Colli; Tues. May 8; 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Splatter Cinema comes with the warning that the cult horror movies they screen at the Plaza Theatre are “not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.” ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980) certainly tests your limits when it comes to the latter with a hearty serving of gore. Billed as a 30th anniversary screening, the Italian exploitation film is mash-up of the cannibale and zombie subgenres which were popular grindhouse fare back in the cusp of the 1970s into early 1980s. It owes a heavy debt to Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBI 2 (1979); the Wiki on it even says it reuses footage but other reviewers simply say director Marino Girolami pushed the boundaries of borrowing.

The plot is a standard mad scientist tale. A Manhattan hospital staffer and pagan god Kito-worshipper from a Pacific Island has a taste for dining out at the facility’s morgue. Government scientist Dr. Peter Chandler, played by Scottish actor  Ian McCulloch (who also starred in Fulci’s ZOMBIE, as well as lots of British TV), and hot morgue assistant/anthorpologist Lori (Alexandra Delli Colli) investigate only to find the corpse-munching isn’t limited to their hospital. They launch an expedition to the island where they become the hunted by first by cannibals and finally by zombies (yes, the movie makes you wait for the undead but they do finally walk) created by the twisted Doctor Obrero (Irish character actor and perennial Nazi Donald O’Brien). And oh, attention, fanboys, Delli Colli “run[s] around naked a lot”, as one Amazon fan reviewer points out.

Yup, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST is not exactly original in plot, but then the audience for a movie like this isn’t in it for the art. While online critics lament it’s not Fulci, they do seem to say that it works on the visceral level where over-the-top gore and humor collide. And seeing a 35mm print of something like this, well, is like a time capsule back to Times Square or, in Atlanta perhaps to the old Rialto, and that good unclean fun, right? And another good reason to remember that if it wasn’t for The Plaza, you wouldn’t have that opportunity here in Atlanta.

Be sure to come early to get your free photo taken in an incredibly realistic recreation of a scene from the movie by the crazy guys who make the Splatter Cinema series a one-of-a-kind event, Luke Godfrey and Nick Morgan.

TERRIFYING TRIVIA about ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST… 

  1. It was re-edited and released in the US under the title of DOCTOR BUTCHER, M.D. by Aquarius Releasing in 1982. This version includes a 2.5 minute sequence from an unfinished student film by Roy Frumkes (writer of STREET TRASH [1987]) and a different music score.
  2. A DVD version is available from Shriek Show (Media Blasters), both individually (yes, even in Bluray as of last year!) and in the triple feature ZOMBIE PACK, also including another Italian movie BURIAL GROUND: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR  (1981) and FLESHEATER (1988), directed by and starring the recently deceased S. William Hinzman (the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD [1968]). In a DVD extra, Frumkes talks about his footage, for which he netted $300, plus there are apparently lots of nifty other extras including a booklet with an essay about the 42nd Street grindhouse experience by Temple of Schlock‘s Chris Poggiali. We’re not saying that you can stay home and see it on DVD, just that you may want to check out the DVD later, of course.
  3. Soundtrack composer Nico Fidenco also scored EMANUELLE AND THE CANNIBALS (1977), BLACK EMANUELLE (1975) and CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002).

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Retro Review: Splatter Cinema Opens the Door to Fulci’s THE BEYOND at The Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Mar 12th, 2012 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema Presents THE BEYOND (1981), fully remastered and uncut direct from Grindhouse Releasing; Dir: Lucio Fulci; Starring Catriona McColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale; Tues. March 13 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Originally an art critic who became a filmmaker (he made 18 comedies before becoming renowned as one of the most violent, gory Italian horror movie directors), the late, great – some might say “crazy” – Lucio Fulci made some of the coolest, most demented flicks of the late 70s/80s. Need a roll call? ZOMBIE (1979), promoted in Europe as a sequel to Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD; THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), THE BEYOND (1981), etc., etc (he made over 50 movies).

What accounts for the violence in his later films? His wife’s suicide back in 1969 and a daughter’s fatal car accident several years later always weighed heavily on him, and his hyper-violent films such as THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) caused him to be branded a misogynist by prentious critics, although he always claimed that he loved women. He also struggled with severe type 2 diabetes, a fact he tried to hide from colleagues, fearing he would be deemed unemployable.  And he was an inveterate gambler.

So what about THE BEYOND? For those who are not die-hard horror fans, the basic scenario is this:

E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà, its original Italian title, also known as SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH, is Lovecraftian in tone. The film has gained a cult following over the decades, in part because of the film’s gore-filled murder sequences, which were heavily censored when the film was originally released in the United States in 1983.

Cinzia Monreale as the creepy Blind Girl in THE BEYOND (1981); Grindhouse Releasing.

In 1927, Louisiana’s Seven Doors Hotel is the scene of a vicious murder as a lynch mob crucifies an artist named Schweick, whom they believe to be a warlock. The artist’s murder opens one of the seven doors of death, which exist throughout the world and allow the dead to cross into the world of the living. Several decades later, a young woman inherits the hotel and plans to re-open it for business. But her renovation work activates the hell-portal, and soon she and a local doctor find themselves having to deal with the living dead, and Schweick, who has returned as a malevolent, indestructible corpse, apparently in control of the supernatural forces.

 

Need I say more? Other than get down to The Plaza Theatre Tues. night, March 13 for a rare, gory treat of Italian horror weirdness.

Contributing Writer Philip Nutman  knows a thing or two about zombies: he is the author of the cult classic undead novel, WET WORK, and recently produced ABED, the sickest zombie love story ever, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Retro Review: Who Can Take a Valentine and Turn It into a Scream? The CANDYMAN Can

Posted on: Feb 13th, 2012 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema Presents CANDYMAN (1992); Dir: Bernard Rose; Based on the short story by Clive Barker; Starring Tony Todd, Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley; Tues. Feb. 14 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Based on the Clive Barker short story, “The Forbidden,” which appeared in the fifth volume of his BOOKS OF BLOOD, CANDYMAN (1992) was a considerable hit with horror fans and made actor Tony Todd something of a horror icon. His credits also include the Tom Savini remake of George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990), THE CROW (1994), THE ROCK (1996) and FINAL DESTINATION (2000), among many others.

While not heavy on the gore quotient, CANDYMAN is one scary movie. The original story was set in England, but the filmic version was transposed to an American setting ­ specifically, Chicago ­ to make it more commercial. Ironically, the movie was made by a British director, Bernard Rose, who had previously made the incredibly creepy PAPERHOUSE (1988).

CANDYMAN stars Virginia Madsen (sister of Michael, of RESERVOIR DOGS ear-slicing infamy) and Xander Berkeley. Xander is perhaps best known for playing George Mason, Jack Bauer’s arsehole boss, in the first incarnation of the hit TV series 24; Jack had to blow his brains out. And since we here at ATLRetro know our pop culture trivia, Tony Todd played an African terrorist in a later season.

Virginia Madsen in CANDYMAN (TriStar Pictures, 1992)

We don’t believe in plot spoilers, so we’re not going to tell you the narrative of CANDYMAN. If you’ve never read the Barker story, you should hunt it down (Note: IN THE FLESH was the American title of the fifth volume of THE BOOKS OF BLOOD) or if you have never seen this movie, then you’re in for a scary treat thanks to the fine folks at Splatter Cinema and the wonderful Plaza Theatre. If you’ve seen the film, you know what we’re talking about. Horror movies are always better seen on the big screen. Either way, do yourself a favor and go see CANDYMAN.

Contributing Writer Philip Nutman has been FANGORIA magazine’s longest running reporter ­ 30 years this May ­ and knows a thing or two about horror flicks. He is also the author of the cult classic zombie novel, WET WORK, and just wrapped filming ABED, the sickest zombie movie ever, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Retro Review: Lost Finnish Art/Vampire Movie THE WHITE REINDEER Gets a Rare Bite on the Big Screen at The Plaza Sat. Jan. 14

Posted on: Jan 11th, 2012 By:

 

Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen) takes a bite from the throat of an unsuspecting hunter in THE WHITE REINDEER (1952).

THE WHITE REINDEER (1952); Dir: Erik Blomberg; Starring Mirjami Kuosmanen; Introduced by Professor Morte (Silver Scream Spookshow) including ticket giveaway to Days of the Dead horror convention; a short audience discussion will follow the film by GSU Prof. John Decker; Sat. Jan. 14  7:30 p.m.; $8; Plaza Theatre;  Trailer here.

Art, foreign, horror and classic fantasy film buffs all will get a rare treat when lost award-winning 1952 Finnish movie THE WHITE REINDEER (“Valkoinen Peura”) gets an extremely rare return to the big screen at the Plaza Theatre on Sat. Jan. 14 at 7:30 pm., courtesy of the Scandinavian-American Foundation of Georgia (SAFG) and the Mythic Imagination Institute (MII). The first significant post-World War II Finnish film, THE WHITE REINDEER won a 1953 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film and the Fairy Tale Award at the Cannes Film Festival from a jury led by Jean Cocteau (LA BELLE ET LA BETE). However, despite its critical acclaim and beautiful cinematography, the movie only had a limited U.S. theatrical release in the late 1950s and since then has been largely forgotten other than a recent appearance on French DVD (it’s not available from Netflix!), perhaps due to its unusual and enigmatic subject matter blending an art film sensibility, the shamanism/folklore of the indigenous, nomadic Lapland (Sami) people and the unlikely themes of shape-shifting and vampirism.

Those supernatural aspects have earned  THE WHITE REINDEER a cult reputation among classic horror movie fans, making it an extra special treat to have an intro by Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, and if you need extra incentive, he’ll be handing out a few passes to Days of the Dead, the big horror con in Peachtree City March 9-11. However, as noted, don’t get scared off if you’re more intrigued by art and foreign films or the anthropology and folklore of Sami shamanism. The art and mythic elements will get their due in a short audience discussion after the film led by John Decker, assistant professor of art history at Georgia State University, whose academic interests range from religious and devotional imagery to the zombie apocalypse.  “Tales both of people transforming into deer and of vampirism span many cultures from Europe to Native Americans,” points out Honora Foah, president and creative director of the Mythic Imagination Institute. “Films are the folklore of our times, and we’re hoping this movie will launch an ongoing Mythic Movie series.”

It’s easy to see why Cocteau was drawn to THE WHITE REINDEER. The plot itself is a simple and archetypal tale of love lost and a spell gone tragically wrong.  A lonely and heartbroken Sami woman, Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen, who incidentally was the wife of director Erik Blomberg), turns to a shaman for help in reigniting the love of her husband, Aslak, who is more interested in herding reindeer than romancing his wife. But thanks to being born under the curse of the Midnight Sun, the sacrifice she must make to activate the love potion instead transforms her into a vengeful “White Reindeer,” a tantalizing prize for hunters who soon find themselves the prey as she reveals herself as a beautiful vampire.

A haunting reindeer graveyard in THE WHITE REINDEER (1952)

Vivid and vibrant may seem strange terms to describe a black-and-white movie, but Finnish director Erik Blomberg knows his cinematography (he has more credits for that on IMDB than directing). Vistas of the Sami people herding the reindeer in the snow, a sled race and a traditional wedding transport one effortlessly into the world of this Nordic culture which he has also covered as a documentarian. It’s also perhaps worth remembering that the Sami themselves dress colorfully, often in navy blue, trimmed with yellow, green and red.

But it’s Mirjami herself, as Pirita, who steals the screen with her haunting, emotive eyes. Perhaps the performances are a little over-emotional at points, like that of a silent film, and indeed, dialogue is sparse and simple consistent with the stoic Finns. Still, in the context of the fantastic theme and landscape, it’s easy to see those qualities as strength rather than weakness. If you do classify THE WHITE REINDEER as a vampire classic, that silent movie but with minimal sound visual quality is more reminiscent perhaps of Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s VAMPYR (1931), an early talkie which also has very little dialogue,  than of, say, the closer-to-contemporary Universal horror classics, Bela Lugosi’s eyes aside. Incidentally, Dreyer was Danish.

It's easy to forget Bela Lugosi's Eyes when you see Mirjami Kuosamanen in THE WHITE REINDEER (1952).

Finally, if there’s one more good reason to attend: proceeds benefit the two nonprofit sponsors, SAFG and MII, and the Plaza, Atlanta’s oldest continuously operating independent cinema, open since 1939, which is also a nonprofit organization. It runs just 67 minutes, too, so there’s still plenty of time to catch a band, such as the triple-header of The District Attorneys, featuring this week’s Kool Kat Drew Beskin, Tedo Stone and Modern Skirts at The Earl. In fact, you’ll see me at both The Plaza and The Earl, and most likely dining at the Majestic beforehand, too.

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