Kool Kat of the Week: Cult-Film Fanatic and Queen of the TCM Underground Millie De Chirico Bloodies it Up with the Buried Alive Film Festival Family at 7 Stages

Posted on: Nov 14th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crewuse
Managing Editor

Millie De Chirico, co-creator and exclusive Programmer for Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) weekly late-night cult movie showcase, “TCM Underground,” returns to Buried Alive Film Festival’s (BAFF) bloody ranks as a hand-picked and well-sought after  juror for BAFF’s Sinema Challenge, a horrorific and spooktacular extra added to this year’s festival! Competitors’ films for the 13-day filmmaking competition will screen Nov. 16 at 7 Stages (7 p.m./ 9 p.m.), kicking off the 11th Annual Buried Alive Film Festival (Thursday, November 17, 7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Friday, November 18, 6:00 p.m. – 2:05 a.m.; Saturday, November 19, 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.; Sunday, November 20, 12:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.;  7 Stages; Tickets $12 per screening block / $120 all access pass [includes film blocks and special events]; Schedule for each screening block here; Tickets here)!

De Chirico, a Georgia State University (GSU) film major and cult-classic connoisseur has been a member of TCM’s Programming Department for over a decade. While TCM Underground is her cult-film love-child, she’s also spearheaded several successful TCM initiatives, including TCM’s Summer of Darkness featuring films of the noir persuasion; Condemned, “A festival of films Condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency”; and the TCM Imports Showcase. De Chirico is no fledgling when it comes to independent film, as she’s sat on juries for Austin’s Fantastic Fest and Buried Alive. Recently, she held a week-long programming residency at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. And in 2016, De Chirico was given an enviable opportunity to be involved with programming content for TCM/Criterion Collection’s new streaming service, FilmStruck!

ATLRetro caught up with Millie De Chirico for a quick interview about her cult cinema obsession, especially obscure films showcasing girl gangs and basically ladies who kick ass; being a part of the Buried Alive Film BAFF Film Challenge LogoFestival family; and exposing rare and bizarre films to the masses via “TCM Underground”!

ATLRetro: “Queen of the TCM Underground”! What a killer title! Can you tell our readers how you earned such a moniker and how you helped create TCM’s late-night cult movie franchise, “TCM Underground” in 2006, originally hosted by Rob Zombie?

Millie De Chirico: Well, becoming the “Queen” was incredibly easy because I’m the only person who works on it! There was another person involved in the very first year, a guy named Eric Weber who no longer works at TCM. We worked on it together at first. After he moved to another department at Turner, I was the only one left to do it, and that’s how it’s been for the past 10 years.

Stanley Kubrick was sort of your gateway drug into the land of cult film at the tender age of nine, with his 1971 classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Besides Kubrick, who influenced you the most in your love of cult cinema? And why?

Russ Meyer‘s FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!  was probably the biggest influence on me. It totally blew my mind when I first saw it. I can’t tell you how amazed I was to see Tura Satana, a half-Asian woman just like me, being such a dynamic badass. I’d never seen anything like that before. After that I really fell into the rabbit hole. John Waters and Herschell Gordon Lewis movies were also my early cult cinema education. They are canon at this point, but will always be influential to me.FasterPussycatKillKillFeb2014LCS

Your job is a dream come true for cinephiles the world over. As a kid, did you ever imagine you’d get the opportunity to educate the masses on the wonders of the most obscure films? What’s a day in the life of Millie De Chirico like?

As a kid I had no idea you could even have a job doing something like this. When I was a kid, jobs were like firefighters and whatever you learned in elementary school, and women were always secretaries. Every day I go into work and get to talk about and think about movies, so I’m very fortunate. I see what I do less about educating and more just about sharing movies with people. Anyone that gets paid to share what they love with others is a very lucky person.

Do viewers get to request films to be screened for “TCM Underground”? If so, what is the most bizarre request for programming you’ve received?

I love to hear ideas from viewers. I think everyone in the Programming Department at TCM does. I don’t know if I’ve gotten a single bizarre film request; it’s more that the people making the requests are the interesting thing. For example, I learned recently that TCM Underground has a pretty big following among prisoners. They’ve sent a lot of letters and I have to say, the requests are really interesting and a lot of times actually underground, like DEEP stuff. Also, I sat down with John Carpenter once a few years ago and he mentioned he’d seen Underground, and image1then rattled off a bunch of movies he wanted to see. My brain pretty much exploded after that.

How exciting to be a part of TCM/Criterion Collection’s new streaming service, FILMSTRUCK. Can you tell us a little about the service what it means to you to have opportunity to help with the programming and content?

I think I’m most glad I get the opportunity to flex a different programming muscle with FilmStruck. A lot of people assume I just like cult movies and that’s it. I’m actually a fan of lots of different types of films. I still program for the network and love classic Hollywood movies. With FilmStruck I get to program foreign, art house, and indie, which are all genres I greatly enjoy. Plus I get to work really closely with the folks at Criterion Collection, a company that I’ve had a crush on since I was in college when they were only making laserdiscs — it’s basically a dream come true.

You’ve been a juror for several film festivals across the country, including Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and Atlanta’s own home-grown horror film festival, Buried Alive Film Fest (BAFF). I’m going to assume it’s nerve-wracking, but what’s it like getting to judge the creative harvest of filmmakers across the world?

It’s pretty thrilling to get to see really new movies, by people who’ve never made one before a lot of the time. You’re kind of there at the creative gun blast, which is very cool! The year I did Fantastic Fest I was on a jury that got to watch IT FOLLOWS and SPRING and a bunch of other movies that were unknown, but ended up being big hits.

What is your favorite American cult film? Foreign cult film? Favorite cult film genre?

You should know better than to ask film people about a single favorite movie! Admittedly I have about fifty and they change daily. But if I must choose, my favorite American cult film would be the aforementioned FASTER Switchblade SistersPUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a very close second); foreign cult film would be THE ROAD WARRIOR. Favorite cult genre would be anything involving girl gangs, like SWITCHBLADE SISTERS or DARKTOWN STRUTTERS. What can I say; I love ladies who kick ass.

Can you tell us how you got involved with Buried Alive Film Festival and the killer Kool Kats running the show?

I went to film school at GSU with Blake, one of the founders, and I’m friends with most of the people who run it. Atlanta’s film community is fairly tight knit and I’m always happy when we get to work together in any way.

As one of the judges for BAFF’s Sinema Challenge, how does the competition look? Anything horrific and exciting you can tell us at this time without giving anything important away before the BAFF opening screenings on Nov. 16?

I actually haven’t seen them yet. I have no idea what to expect but I know I’m super excited!

What are you looking forward to most at BAFF 2016? Anything fangtastic we should know about?

I think everyone should see the shorts. They are always a blast and the BAFF folks always put together really great shorts programming. I’m also really looking forward to seeing SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, the documentary about the Process Church of the Final Judgment (I will basically watch any documentary about cults or religion). And they’re doing a screening of CARRIE, an all-time favorite of mine, which I’m sure will be super fun.

image4What exciting and cinematically cultish things do you have planned in the near future?

I’d really love to do screenings in Atlanta. I’m always jealous when I go to cities like L.A. or Austin that have really cool, interesting cult or repertory film scenes, partially due to the fact that they have so many theaters that will do them. I’ve been talking to folks in town about this for a long time, so maybe something will finally happen…

What obscure piece of cult cinematic history can our readers look forward to in upcoming “TCM Underground” programming?

I’m really excited to be playing TERMINAL ISLAND by the great Stephanie Rothman, one of the only women who directed cult films and worked for Roger Corman for many years. I got the chance to meet and hang out with her last year and she is unbelievably nice with amazing stories to tell.

And last but not least, what question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Question: Who my favorite cult actor or actress? My very quick answer is: Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s and 1970s. She made some really bizarre movies during this period and I’m kind of on a quest to get everyone I know to watch them.

Photos courtesy of Millie De Chirico and used with permission.

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ATLRetro’s Hellacious and Horrorific Halloween Guide 2015

Posted on: Oct 26th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Calling all ghouls and gals! Come see why we think you should raise hell in Retro Atlanta this Halloween season!

1. Head Rolling Tunes! Get sinister All Hallows Eve (weekend) with a helluva lot of rancid rock ‘n roll! The Star Bar gets hellacious this weekend with Hell Night featuring326009_298795516804941_172672546083906_1195943_20653855_o2 BigFoot, Timmy James & the Blue Flames and Night Terrors on Friday (10/30)! Or get your horror punk fix with their 24th Anniversary Party & Halloween Bash featuring Horror Business, Pretty Vacant, Salad Days, Road to Ruin and Kool Kats The Casket Creatures on Saturday (10/31)! Get monstrous and go, go Godzilla on down to the Variety Playhouse for a night with the Blue Oyster Cult (10/30)! Rock out retro-style with The B-52s during their “Halloween Scream” show at the Fox Theatre (10/30)! The Earl gets monstrously metal with their Halloween party featuring Wolf Eyes, Timmy’s Organism, Video and Uniform (10/30)! And Smith’s Olde Bar terrifies with their Howl ‘o’ Ween rockin’ tribute night featuring The Cherry Bomb (Joan Jett); Learning to Count (Ramones); and TNT (AC/DC) (10/30)

2. Fangtastic Films! Halloween just isn’t the same without blood-filled horror flicks! If you’re craving the crazed, catch John PsychoCarpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) at 7:30pm across town [Hollywood Stadium 24 in Chamblee; AMC Avenue Forsyth 12 in Cumming; AMC Barrett Commons 24 in Kennesaw; AMC Sugarloaf Mills 18 in Lawrenceville; and Georgian Stadium in Newnan] on Thursday (10/29)! The Plaza Theater delivers killer screenings with Gerald Kargl’s ANGST (1983) (10/29); Victor and Edward Halperin’s monstrous classic, WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) (10/30); and don’t forget to Time-Warp it up with some uber musically-inclined transsexual aliens at as they continue their tradition of screening THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), featuring the live cast of Lips Down on Dixie at midnight, with special Halloween treats (10/30)! Get bewitched with a screening of Kenny Ortega’s HOCUS POCUS (1993) at dusk at Atlantic Station during their “Spooky Film Fest” (10/30)! Ghosts invade Studio Movie Grill (Alpharetta/Duluth) with their 30th Anniversary screening of Ivan Reitman’s GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) at 7pm/9:30pm (10/30)! Celebrate 40 years with Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Jim Sharman’s cult classic, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) at AMC Phipps Plaza at 10pm (10/30-10/31)! The 9th Annual Atlanta Horror Film Festival haunts at DooGallery featuring 70 independent horror films from across the world (10/28-10/30)! And get homicidal at The Earl Smith Strand Theatre with their screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece, PSYCHO (1960) at 8pm (10/31)!

3. Dance with the Dead. Do the Monster Mash with DJ Evil Jet at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club’s annual Halloween Bash (10/31)! 10.31MarysPallookaville celebrates All Hallows Eve and their second year of corndogula slingin’ with their Ice Scream Ball & Halloweiner, featuring drink specials, music, tricks & treats, costume contests and more (10/31)! Or get ghastly and groove on down to Mary’s for their Hallo-Weenie Dance Party (10/30), followed by their Scary-oke! shindig and costume contest on Halloween night (10/31)! Or rattle your bones during Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX’s Fright Night Halloween Party, dripping with devilish drinks, costume contests and more (10/30)! Spook on down to Callanwolde Fine Arts Center for their “Halloween Night on Callanwolde Mountain” family-friendly party featuring trick-or-treating, live music with the Callanwolde Concert Band featuring Matthew Kaminski, costume contests and more (10/30)! And party it up in Virginia Highlands with their Halloween Night in the Highlands event featuring costume contests and more (10/31)!

12079683_10153767154624015_1522384923892883865_n4. Gothic & Ghastly. It’s a night of gothic chills at Atlanta Symphony Hall as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presents a night of Danny Elfman’s music from the films of Tim Burton at 8pm (10/31)! Haunt on down to the Historic Oakland Cemetery for their annual hour-long Capturing the Spirit of Oakland 2015 Ghost Tours, featuring music, a fortune teller and more! Come on out and tiptoe through the graves, make a few new spirited friends and hear the hallowed tales of some of their eternal residents, running from 5:30pm to 10:30pm (10/29-10/31)!

5. Horrifying Haunts. It’s a gore-fest at Chambers of Horror Haunted House at the Masquerade as they terrify with their adults-only blood-infested splatter-fest [10/29-11/1, 8pm-12am/1am (weekend)]! Or creep on down to Netherworld Haunted House in Norcross and spook it up through Nov. 1 (7:30pm-10:30pm week days; 7pm-midnight weekends)! Ghastly-2015-illustration-with-title-banner

6. Thrilling and Chilling Theatrics. Be the Headless Horseman’s next victim and get your bones chilled at Serenbe Playhouse’s thrilling presentation of their immersive spooky attraction and show, THE SLEEPY HOLLOW EXPERIENCE, haunting through Nov. 8 (Wed-Sun at 8pm; Fri-Sat at 10:30pm)! The Arts Exchange spooks it up with their Halloween 2015 party featuring performance art, a spooky amphitheatre and experimental music at 8pm (10/31)! Get immortal with the Center for Puppetry Arts’ presentation of Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines’ THE GHASTLY DREADFULS: RAISING SPIRITS adults-only spook show filled with creepy stories, devilish dances and more (10/28-10/31; 8pm)!

7. Psychotically Psychedelic. Rattle your bones and get psychedelic at the Red Light Café with their Night of the Dead Halloween Party featuring gr8FLdude & frenz and Dead Affect (10/31)! Or jam it up with Honeywood during their Halloween trader-vics-halloweenshow at the Crimson Moon Café (10/31)! And it’s “Hawgtoberfest” at Hottie Hawgs BBQ with Swami Gone Bananas (10/31)!

8. Tricks or Tikis! Trader Vic’s takes a big hairy bite out of you with their Werewolves of London Halloween dinner event, featuring a prix fixe menu ($35/person) including monstrous starters, entrées and desserts. Werewolves & Pina Coladas, OH MY! Trader Vic’s calls all werewolves to come in & enjoy Pina Coladas à la Warren Zevon‘s “Werewolves of London” this Halloween! Costumes are encouraged & are worn best if your hair is perfect! Doors Open at 5:00 p.m. (10/30)!

9. Decaying Eighties. ATL Collective delivers two nights of rotting flesh as they raise the dead with their performance of Michael 10.31BasementJackson’s Halloween classic, “Thriller” at Vinyl (10/30-10/31)! Or do the Monster Mash at Steve’s Live Music as they dish out a spooky night with The Lizardmen and Devomatix (Devo tribute) (10/31)! Kool Kat Becky Cormier Finch and Denim Arcade deliver a rockin’ ‘80s Halloween show at the Dallas Public House (10/31)!

10. Groove Like a Ghoul! It’s a night of boos and blues as Danny ‘Mudcat’ Dudeck and the Atlanta Horns get down at their annual Halloween Bamboo Au Go Go Party with The Reverend & the Lady and Yoshito Kiyono at the Northside Tavern (10/31)! Put on those dancin’ shoes groove like a ghoul at The Basement as they get down with forty thousand years of funk during their Keep on Movin’ Halloween Dance Party (10/31)! And get ghastly and groove on down to the The Music Room for the Dangerfeel NewbiesSoul of Jazz Halloween Jam (10/31)!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Stan Bowman, a.k.a. “Stan the Zombie” Gets Reanimated in a Starring Role with STAN THE ZOMBIE: THE MOVIE, While Staggering Through Atlanta’s Undead Horror Scene Devouring the Locals One Rotting Piece of Flesh at a Time

Posted on: Jun 25th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crewstan the zombie promo
Managing Editor

Stan Bowman, a.k.a. “Stan the Zombie”, has become a local legend within Atlanta’s homegrown bloody fangtastic horror scene, staggering his way through cons and events donning rotting flesh while reeking of the undead. He’s been dressing up in bloody-gore-filled costumes since he was a teen and has made dining on the flesh of locals his go-to thing. So much so, that in 2010, he trade-marked “Stan the Zombie” and has been cast as such in several film and television productions, including his first taste of the biz, Giles Shepherd’s ACE THE ZOMBIE: THE MOTION PICTURE (2012). “Stan the Zombie” has also made appearances on the talk-show SCARY TIMES in 2014, and has had roles in AJ Caruso’s horror short, Z.14.12 (2014); a comedy TV series, ZOMBIE SOCKS in 2014; Jason Lumberjack Johnson’s video short, SUPERMANN TREE SERVICE (2015) and more! “Stan the Zombie” will even have his own stand-alone film, STAN THE ZOMBIE: THE MOVIE, which is currently in pre-production and will take viewers down his deep dark path of his hellishly undead past. For a sneak peek teaser and fleshy taste of the upcoming film, grab a copy of the comic book, STAN THE ZOMBIE!

Although Bowman is largely known as one of Atlanta’s favorite reanimated human corpses, he’s been busy working on non-zombie productions as a professionally trained actor as well. Stan_the_Zombie_comic_jpgPresently, he’s playing a role in Keith Bailey’s TEST GROUP, which is currently filming. He’s also played “Dr. Acula” in Giles Shepherd’s comedy-horror film ATLANTA VAMPIRE MOVIE (post-production); “Mastermind” in the fan web-series UNCANNY X-MEN in 2012; and plays the role of “Detective Mike Jordan” in Naz Pankey’s action-horror film I THOUGHT YOU WERE A NICE MAN (post-production). So, if you haven’t had the chance to experience “Stan the Zombie” and/or Stan Bowman the actor, you’ll want to haunt on down to one of Atlanta’s many conventions and horror events for a fleshy taste of the undead!

ATLRetro caught up with Stan Bowman for a quick interview about the history of “Stan the Zombie”; George Romero; his immersion into Atlanta’ horror film scene; and his current film shenanigans! And while you’re takin’ a peek at our little Q&A with Bowman, listen to his interview with Project IRadio’s “Nerdvanahere, as well as an interview with “Stan the Zombie” and John Farris of Dead, Buried and Back at Comic Con 2013 here.

ATLRetro: “Stan the Zombie” causes quite a rotting ruckus across Atlanta! Can you tell our readers a little bit about your undead back story?

Stan Bowman: Well, I’ve been a zombie fan since I was a kid, a big George Romero fan. I started dressing up like a zombie when I was teenager for

Project IRadio

Project IRadio

Halloween. Then in 2007, a friend brought me to Dragon Con. I saw a lot of people dressed up in costume, so I came back the next day in zombie, and was a hit! Every year I would try something and work on making it better. In 2010 I decided to coin the name “Stan the Zombie.”

What brought you to the deep dark underbelly of Atlanta’s monstrous film community and what keeps you coming back for more?

Pure luck? Nah, just going out there and doing my thing with one thing leading to another. After being discovered at Dragon Con for ACE THE ZOMBIE, some SCAD students tracked me down and asked me to be in a short movie with them. It just kept growing from there.

We’ve read that your “Stan the Zombie” character is highly inspired by George Romero films. Which would you say had the most influence and why?

Yes, like I mentioned, George Romero inspired me. It was the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the black and white one. My sister and I used to beg our parents to let us stay up late and watch it. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched it!

Ace_The_Zombie_Movie_Poster_%20Clown_BLOGCan you tell our readers a little about your first film, 2010’s ACE THE ZOMBIE, directed by Giles Shepherd, and how you landed the role? Any behind-the-scenes shenanigans you’d like to share?

Well, the cameraman approached me at Dragon Con and asked if I wanted to be in a movie. Of course, I agreed. When I showed up on set in Milledgeville GA, no one recognized me without makeup. So they cast me as a ZCF Doctor. The second time I was on set, the AD asked me to come in my zombie makeup. When I showed up, everyone recognized me. Ha! It was a fun crew to work with, but with long days and nights on set. We had to be a little crazy to make it though. Ha!

Which other films, directors or actors have inspired you the most? If you could choose your favorite old-school director (besides Romero), who would it be and why?

If you’re referring to horror and zombie films, I would say Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi and Alfred Hitchcock. My favorite would be Wes Craven, because I’m also a big fan of THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies.

Atlanta’s independent horror film scene seems to be thriving!  What do you think draws the crowds to the lower budget independent films? And why?

Stan Bowman - The man behind the rotting flesh.

Stan Bowman – The man behind the rotting flesh.

I guess I would have to say the original stories, the hard work everyone puts in. And THE WALKING DEAD being filmed here doesn’t hurt. Atlanta has a lot of horror film fans. We took over being the zombie capital of the US from Seattle several years ago.

You’ve recently branched out beyond the rotting undead and have played some non-zombie roles, including comedy-horror flick, ATLANTA VAMPIRE MOVIE, also directed by Giles Shepherd, where you play “Dr. Acula.” Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about this production, which is set to release in October 2015?

It’s basically a spoof of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, but it’s very original in its own right. Everyone put a lot of time and energy into it, and we had an excellent writer. As far as a release date? Not sure, it’s still in post-production right now.

We hear there’s a STAN THE ZOMBIE: THE MOVIE in the making. Can you tell us a little about that and the comic which came out in May 2014?

Well, a Hollywood producer recommended that I come out with a comic book to add more legitimacy to my character. So I contacted a friend of mine, Zak Vaudo, and we began working on it. Zak was already half-way through the script for the movie, so we just borrowed scenes from it for the book. And Alison Cundiff did the illustrations for the comic.

You do a lot of guest appearances at horror events across town. Can you tell us a little about those? Which is your favorite annual event and why?

That’s a tough one, because I like them all; Dragon Con and Walker Stalker, of course. But the smaller ones like Days of the Dead, Twisted Fears and now Wizard World are nice, too. My favorite is still Dragon Con. It’s crowded, but that’s where STZ got his start.

i-thought-you-were-a-nice-man-posterYour first speaking role without makeup was in the web-series, the UNCANNY X-MEN in 2012, where you played “Mastermind.” How did that experience differ from your usual zombified performances?

It was a little unnerving. When you’re in makeup, it’s like a mask. But, without it and having to hear your own voice, well, that’s why I started working with a coach afterwards. Ha! But I liked it. It was a challenge and I look forward to more. It’s fun! But I’ll keep doing zombie as long has my body holds out. Ha!

You’ve also played a few detective roles, including “Detective Mike Jordan” in I THOUGHT YOU WERE A NICE MAN, which is in post-production. Can you fill our readers in a bit on this role?

Well, I’m under a nondisclosure agreement, so I can’t say too much. I play a homicide detective protecting his fiancé’s daughter. Sadly, can’t say more. But, you’ll have to see it when it comes out!

If you could put together a monster movie with all your favorite actors/actresses (alive or not), who would you choose and why?

Hmm. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Having “The Terminator” is always cool!), Kevin Spacey (I love his acting and dry sense of humor.), Kathy Bates (A great actress and she can play the creepy roles.), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Because she’s hot!), Debby Ryan (Because she’s hot and I met her..lol), Sid Haig (He can scare you too death. Ha!). I can go on and on, but those are some who come to mind.

So, what’s next for Stan Bowman? For “Stan the Zombie”?

Well, we are presently in the budget/script editing/shot list phase of STAN THE ZOMBIE: THE MOVIE. Putting together a feature isn’t as easy as people think. It’s a lot of work. We are hoping to start shooting before the end of the year, but that’s a long shot. You never know. In the mean time, I have more non-zombie roles on the docket, and hope to show that I’m more than just another pretty zombie. Ha!

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?Stan the zombie headshot doctor (2)

Let’s see, I have always been a big time apocalyptic movie fan, and post-civilization (PLANET OF THE APES, OMEGA MAN, etc). I’m a big history buff and love to explore other cultures. And, I’m actually a pretty private person when I’m not doing conventions or on set.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Ok, I’ve been asked most through the years, but no one asked me if I could live anywhere I wanted, where would it be? Answer: In the country with three big dogs, off the grid and completely self-sufficient. Can you tell I’m an apocalyptic movie fan? Ha!

All photos courtesy of Stan Bowman and used with permission.

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RETRO REVIEW: Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre Camp It Up at SLEEPAWAY CAMP!

Posted on: Jun 9th, 2014 By:

Splatter Cinema presents SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983); Dir. Robert Hiltzik; Starring Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tiersten; Tuesday, June 10 @ 9:30 p.m. (free photos in a recreation of a scene from the film start @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Atlanta; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Friday the 13th is upon us this week, and Splatter Cinema has taken the bold step of avoiding Crystal Lake altogether. Instead, they and the Plaza Theatre bring you a blood-soaked classic from another camp: Robert Hiltzik’s SLEEPAWAY CAMP!

Horror movies are disreputable. If you have any doubts about that, ask yourself how many horror films have won Oscars versus, say, movies from any other genre. Ask yourself how many times a horror movie has been handicapped right out of the gate by critics for simply being a horror film. Ask yourself how many times a great horror film has received only qualified praise (“it’s good…for a horror movie”).

So, yeah. Disreputable. Marginalized. Ostracized.

But slasher flicks? Doubly so. At least.

Sure, they’re typically formulaic. Then again, so are gangster pictures. So are westerns. So are films noir. (Nobody walks into DOUBLE INDEMNITY and thinks, “I’m sure Fred MacMurray is going to get out of this just fine.”) But limitations sometimes produce great art. John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN? Great art. Hitchcock’s PSYCHO? Great art. Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE? Great art.

SLEEPAWAY CAMP? Well, not even I am going to argue that this is great, much less art. But it’s fascinating. Sure, it was obviously designed to capitalize on the whole “people are getting slaughtered at a summer camp” trend that was raking in bucketloads of cash in the 1980s, and as a knockoff of an already-critically-maligned series, it’s automatically more disreputable than most.  But it’s visceral and pulpy in a way that 90% of FRIDAY THE 13TH films most definitely aren’t. It constantly teeters on the brink of ridiculousness, has a definite and palpable sense of danger, and pulls off the most insane climax of any entry in the slasher movie subgenre.

The plot is paper-thin, seeming to be merely a hook upon which to hang multiple corpses. Introverted Angela and her protective cousin Ricky are sent to Camp Arawak for the summer. There, she is bullied and attacked by a series of people, all of whom wind up dead at the hand of an unseen killer stalking the campgrounds. Superficially, this doesn’t appear that different from most entries in the FRIDAY series. But one thing that sets SLEEPAWAY CAMP apart is whom the film targets.

Typically, in FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, most of the victims are the camp’s counselors and staff, generally vulnerable women (and the occasional vulnerable guy). Their deaths are all the more likely if they have just had sex, are contemplating having sex in the near future, or have a passing interest in potentially having sex at some point in their lives. But in SLEEPAWAY CAMP, most of the people who get killed are the campers themselves. In slasher cinema, this is generally not done. It’s out of bounds. Kids are innocents, and our killers’ knives are out for those who have transgressed some kind of warped code of adult morality. But not here. At Camp Arawak, the kids and adults are jerks and bullies, and nobody is safe. This alone would make the movie one of the more morally questionable entries in the slasher field. Add in the increasingly bizarre ways in which people are slaughtered (beehive? curling iron?) and you’ve got reprehensibility writ large.

But beyond the victims being targeted and the means of their destruction, what also makes this film stand out from its competitors is its relentlessly odd tone. There are tons of slashers that attempt to inject some humor into the mix, but few do it with as straight a face as this movie. Other films, for instance, might play up the character of camp owner Mel Costic as an over-the-top bit of comic relief, as he constantly tries to spin the series of outlandish murders as simple accidents. But while he’s obviously something of a caricature, he’s no more or less overtly comic than any other adult in the picture. He’s the equivalent of Paul Bartel in Joe Dante’s PIRANHA: a comic authority figure, but not a jokey figure. He is, at least, more relatable than Angela’s aunt Martha, who seems to exist in some weird state of hyper-eccentricity that feels like it’s been borrowed from some other movie altogether. The presence of renowned character actors like Mike Kellin (as the aforementioned Mel Costic) and Robert Earl Jones (father of James) lends a level of credence and gravity to these roles that would otherwise be ham-handedly played for comedic effect. As a whole, the character work in the movie seems to work on an almost delirious TWIN PEAKS-ish level, where we’re thrown off because what we’re seeing is funny, but it’s not parodic or written as explicit comedy. And when it combines with the horror of the film’s content, it’s…off-puttingly humorous.

And that’s not even getting into the whole psychosexual aspect of the movie that just traipses giddily all over the line dividing “sympathetic” and “offensive” and builds up to a twist ending that has left jaws firmly planted on floors since 1983.

Upon release, the movie was generally ignored as just another kids-at-camp-getting-killed flick. But even then, there were rumblings of this being something bigger than that. I remember, after first seeing it as a VHS rental, talking with friends of mine about how mind-blowingly nuts the movie was. How inventive the kills were. THAT ENDING. And in the years since, a sizable cult has grown up around this movie as tales of its oddball charms have circulated among horror fans. Today, the movie holds an impressive 82% favorable rating at RottenTomatoes.com. From critics who really ought to know better.

So here we have one of the more disreputable entries in arguably the most disreputable subgenre of an already disreputable genre. And it has developed a large following and overwhelmingly favorable critical consensus. It has traveled the full circle of sleaze all the way back around to ultimate acceptance, like someone made a John Waters movie completely by accident.

So take some time out of your busy mid-week schedule to visit the kids at camp. No, not Crystal Lake. The other one.

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: 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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The Horror! The Horror! Our Top 10 Retro Reasons to Go to DAYS OF THE DEAD 2014

Posted on: Feb 6th, 2014 By:

What are we doing this weekend?! We’re heading down to the third annual Days of the Dead at Sheraton Hotel Atlanta, Friday-Sunday Feb. 7-9.

1) THE THING REUNION! Given that John Carpenter‘s THE THING (1982) is one of those rare remakes that surpasses the original, we can’t think of anything more fun than meeting a bunch of the guys who signed on for Antarctic duty and ended up monster-meal. Keith David, Richard Masur, Joel Polis, Peter Maloney, Thomas Waites all together on one stage at 1 p.m. on Saturday and signing all weekend.

2) DAMIEN ECHOLS. We have followed the case of the West Memphis Three since 1993, and couldn’t be more happy that he is finally free. He talks about “Life After Death” Row Saturday at 7 p.m.

3) RUNAWAYS. We’re not sure how two of rock’s most badass babes ended up on the horror con circuit, but we’re not complaining about any chance to meet Lita Ford and Cherie Currie. Also rocking the roster are crazy ’80s metal man Dee Snider and Skinny Puppy’s Twiggy Ramirez.

4) SID HAIG AND BILL MOSELEY.  Sid Haig, one of those rare B-movie icons and character actors whose career spans the decades from Jack Hill’s blaxploitation films of the 1970s to the chaotic, creepy Captain Spaulding. Quite frankly you and Bill Moseley scared the sh-t out of us in THE DEVIL’s REJECTS and since we’re not easily scared, for that we salute you both!

5) BUTCH PATRICK, MEG FOSTER, CHRIS SARANDON, AND THE CRYPTKEEPER JOHN KASSIRThe guest list just seems to go on and on with Retro-horror goodness including the original Eddie Wolfgang Munster, one of Hollywood’s most eye-catching actresses and the star of another John Carpenter classic THEY LIVE (1988), the hot neighborly vampire from the original FRIGHT NIGHT (1985), and the man whose voice creeped us out so many times hosting TV’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

6) THE HISTORY OF THE SPOOK SHOW! Atlanta’s own Professor Morte leads the SILVER SCREAM SPOOK SHOW in a history lesson of this macabre art form which we are certain will both amaze and entertain. We may even learn something, too!

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

7) MARK MADDOX. If you’re a classic horror or sci-fi fan, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the work of this Rondo Hatton and Pulp Factory Award-winning artist on the covers of countless publications from Little Shoppe of Horrors to the 50th anniversary issue of DOCTOR WHO Magazine. His appearance is sponsored by Monsterama, Atlanta’s newest horror con which debuts August 1-3, 2014.

8) SPOOKTACULAR SHOPPING  Horror cons are the perfect place to stock up on both macabre movie memorabilia, cult classics on DVD and creepy clothing, costumes and accessories.

9) MACABRE MAKE-UP, CREEPY COSTUMES AND PHANTAMAGORIC PARTIES!! Check the schedule for make-up demonstrations, VIP parties, costume contest Saturday night at 11 pm followed by the Monster Ball. On Friday night, learn SFX make-up from the masters in the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse Presents Putrid Prosthetics, hear the funny side of wrestler-actor Roddy Piper, followed by a midnight Murder Ball hosted by Atlanta’s own most extreme Halloween attraction Chambers of Horror.

10) FRIGHTENING FILMS! The JABB 48-hour film festival featuring new indie horror, such as THE MORNINGSIDE MONSTER by ATLRetro Kool Kats Jayson Palmer and Chris Ethridge, as well as crazy has-to-be-seen-tobe-believed cult classic NEON MANIACS (1986).

Days of the Dead main con hours are Fri. Feb. 7 from 5 to 11 p.m.; Sat. Feb. 8 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sun. Feb. 9 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with parties going late into the night on Friday and Saturday. For more info, visit http://www.daysofthedead.net/atlanta/.

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

Posted on: Nov 11th, 2013 By:

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

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Space Invaders Hit Drive-Invasion 2013! The Starlight Drive-In Blasts Off With 1980s Sci-Fi Classics!

Posted on: Aug 29th, 2013 By:

The Starlight Drive-In presents Drive-Invasion 2013Starlight Drive-In; Sunday, Sep. 1; Gates open @ 10 a.m.; Admission $20 advance, $25 at door, children 3-9 $5; Advance tickets here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Official World Famous Drive-Invasion is upon us, and there’s a whole slew of hot bands from Memphis garage-thud legends The Oblivians to the one and only  MAN… OR ASTRO-MAN? being cooked up at the Starlight Drive-In for all of y’all Drive-Invaders! But let’s not overlook the great movies that will hit the screen as soon as the sun goes down. This year, there’s an action-packed lineup of 1980s sci-fi flicks that run the spectrum from wild and wacky to dark and gritty.

THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION; Dir. W.D. Richter; Starring Peter WellerEllen Barkin and John Lithgow; Trailer here.

Let me tell you a secret.

You may not know this, but our planet was invaded by Red Lectroids from th dimension. This realm had been occupied by clandestine Red Lectroids since October 31, 1938, when Dr. Emilio Lizardo—having been possessed by their leader Lord John Whorfin—brought them to Earth. Specifically, to Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. This was reported live as it happened by Orson Welles, but he was later pressured to claim that his broadcast was a work of fiction. From that day, they had been posing as humans and developing technology at Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems in order to take over this planet. Thankfully, we were protected by the Hong Kong Cavaliers under the leadership of physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, race car driver, rock star and comic book hero Buckaroo Banzai.

The efforts of Buckaroo Banzai and his crack team/backing band to our planet from the imminent threat of complete takeover by the Red Lectroids were documented by writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W.D. Richter in their 1984 docu-drama THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION. Rauch and Richter present the true-life tales of Banzai with the effortless charm and thrill-a-minute excitement of vehicles featuring pulp heroes like Doc Savage, or radio adventurers like Captain MidnightPeter Weller embodies the role of Banzai with a wry and drolly laconic air. Ellen Barkin is magnificently funny, smart and sexy as Penny Priddy, the twin sister of Banzai’s late wife. And John Lithgow is completely unhinged as Lizardo/Whorfin, sporting a wild red fright wig and speaking in a ridiculously over-the-top Italian accent. Supported by a stellar cast of veteran character actors (Clancy BrownJeff GoldblumChristopher LloydRobert ItoVincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya, among others), the film is nearly as wild, exciting, funny, fast and ridiculous as the real-life events they are based upon.

THE LAST STARFIGHTER; Dir. Nick Castle; Starring Lance GuestRobert Preston and Dan O’Herlihy; Trailer here.

THE LAST STARFIGHTER is essentially what every kid playing video games in the early 1980s dreamed would happen to them. Teenager Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is a nowhere kid in a nowhere town, whose only real escape is in playing the Starfighter video game outside the diner where his mom works. One evening he manages to top the highest score on record, which gets the attention of the game’s inventor Centauri (Robert Preston). It’s revealed that Centauri is a disguised alien and that the game is a test to find people qualified to actually fight in an interstellar war between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Empire. And it’s up to Alex to save the Rylan home world and protect the universe from the Ko-Dan leader Xur.

As far as STAR WARS rip-offs go, this has long been a favorite. It’s directed with brisk energy by Nick Castle (who played Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN!), and features a spectacular mix of practical special effects and early CGI. Lance Guest does a great job in the role of the film’s ersatz Luke Skywalker, convincingly frustrated by his surroundings and dreaming of something bigger. And he’s bolstered by great performances from Robert Preston and Dan O’Herlihy. It may be a slight movie, but it’s a lot of fun.

THE THING; Dir. John Carpenter; Starring Kurt RussellWilford Brimley and Keith David; Trailer here.

Something from another world has crash-landed in the Antarctic. Something that can mimic any living thing. It’s already wiped out a Norwegian research station. Now it is inside the neighboring American compound, and it could be taking the place of any person—or persons—there. Who can you trust, when anyone could be…the Thing?

Many people consider this one of the greatest remakes ever made. I am not one of those people. To me, this isn’t a remake at all; this is simply a second adaptation of John W. Campbell’s novella WHO GOES THERE? The Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby 1951 film (there is disagreement over who actually directed) was a loose adaptation of Campbell’s story, jettisoning the entire “alien imitation and assimilation” aspect of the plot, and only focusing on the threat of an alien menacing an Arctic scientific outpost. While John Carpenter borrowed the title treatment from the Hawks/Nyby film, everything else is much more faithful to Campbell’s original tale.

Though it’s hard to find someone today who doesn’t love THE THING, this wasn’t the case in 1982. It received mixed-to-negative reviews upon release and was considered a flop, only barely breaking into the top 10 for three weeks and only taking in a third of its cost on its opening weekend. Critics and moviegoers seemed to prefer the “aliens are our best friends” approach of that year’s E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, which came out just two weeks prior to THE THING. And the special effects of Rob Bottin—now seen as a landmark exercise in visual effects—were largely seen as unnecessarily grotesque and gory at the time, overshadowing the onscreen suspense.

It’s amazing how wrong people can be.

In the years since, a much-needed reappraisal of the film has taken place. It’s now regarded as one of John Carpenter’s finest works, second only perhaps to HALLOWEEN. The ensemble performances are excellent across the board. Kurt Russell makes a believably reluctant hero, questioning everyone even as he questions himself. And each supporting actor—from Wilford Brimley to Keith David, from Donald Moffatt to Richard Masur, and on down the line—creates a unique and memorable take on their character. Bottin’s bravura special effects are shocking and surreal, heightening the alien nature of the transformations on display and providing a sense of “anything goes” unexpectedness to the proceedings. And John Carpenter proves himself a master of onscreen composition, creating gorgeous tableaux with every shot. He keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, but never rushes things. And he ramps up suspense at every turn, continually making you question every person on the screen before you. Add on one of Ennio Morricone’s best scores, and there’s little more one can ask for.

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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Kool Kat of the Week: Eddie Ray on the Tricks and Treats of Growing Up a Halloween Kid in ATLRetro, His A-T of Why Atlanta is Horror-Town, USA, and His Top Seven Picks for a Super-Supernatural Time This Year

Posted on: Oct 19th, 2012 By:

No one can exorcise the Afro Demon outta Atlanta's Man of 1000 Halloween Faces Eddie Ray.

By Eddie Ray
Contributing Writer

As I sit here and write this, I am listening to the score to HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, editing an “I love Halloween” video for YouTube, working on my Zombie Walk costume, working on my Halloween night costume, and patching up my costume for Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. So to say I work for Halloween is an understatement. I do love Halloween, but the truth is I believe in Halloween. There is a huge difference. Real Halloween kids start decorating and celebrating Halloween on September 1, and the party lasts until November 1.

I was taught this when I was very young, and I began saying that I love and work for Halloween when I was probably about 6 or 7 years old. I grew up in a Halloween house with ghost stories, horror movies and even a Halloween friend who helped show me that I needed to help keep the season of Halloween exciting and moving forward. It was my duty in some ways. When I was little I was so excited to see the leaves change color and for the month of September to begin so that I could grab all of our Halloween decorations and hang them on doors, in windows and plug up orange lights outside.

Halloween is a magical time – notice I said “is” and not “was” – for me and all the Halloween Kids who love the season as much I do. I grew up on the south side of Atlanta in Suburbia, which meant trick-or-treating was a big deal for all the kids. I even loved that there was a possibility that your candy could be the last shit you ate because it could be poisoned. Will it be a trick or will it be a treat? My family would have big Halloween parties every year, which I eventually took over and began decorating for, DJ-ing for and making my own elaborate costumes for. I even designed haunted houses in the yard to go through, and since I loved horror so much, I began making horror films when I was about 10 years old. I didn’t say that shit was good; I was 10!

A young Eddie Ray goes gangster.

I think a lot of Halloween Kids grew up this way in Atlanta, and I would eventually met some of them in the future. I believe that we were all meant to find each other. I met Luke Godfrey during the filming of a low-budget zombie movie. He had just started the first Zombie Walk in Atlanta (watch a video filmed by Eddie at this year’s walk on Sun. Oct. 14 here), and we became friends right off. He would later open up the haunted attraction Chambers of Horror with Nick Morgan. This was the first haunted attraction/house I ever acted in. I met Jonny Rej (co-owner of The Plaza) and Shane Morton through the Plaza Theatre, and now I help them train actors, direct scenes and act in their haunted attraction, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse [If you missed our ATLRetro feature on AZA, click here]. I have always loved haunted houses/attractions growing up and go to all the ones that Georgia has to offer. I met special effects artist Blake Myers through a friend of mine, and we rambled on about John Carpenter for a while and have been friends ever since. Now he is doing effects for horror films like V/H/S, and he helps run the Buried Alive Film Festival (Nov. 9-10, 2012 at the Plaza).

Eddie Ray gives a Red Scare to the GA Capitol during Atlanta Zombie Walk.

These are just a few of the friends that I help with different Halloween events throughout the month of October. The point is we all grew up the same way, and we loved horror and Halloween. Now we keep the Halloween dream alive every year with events, horror attractions, parades and films that are made here. Atlanta really is a horror and Halloween town, because we help make it that way. It’s fun for all ages, races, sexes and sexualities. Halloween is for all who love it. I am proud to live in a Halloween town like Atlanta. Now get out there and support all the Halloween fun Atlanta has to offer you!

Here are some reasons why Atlanta is a horror/Halloween town!

A. Hello, the CDC is here.

B. There is a shitload of foreclosed and abandoned creepy-ass buildings here.

C. A shit-ton of ghost stories from Atlanta’s rocky-ass past. Savannah is always listed as one of the most haunted places in America. I grew up near a DEVIL’S CHURCH ROAD! It was Spooky Dookie!

D. Zombie Walks,  Zombie Prom, WALKING DEAD (TV Show), DANCE OF THE DEAD (Movie), Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2 (Movie), DEAR GOD! NO! (Movie) and V/H/S  (Movie)  all happen or were filmed here.

E. All the amazing horror make-up effects people who live here.

F. The Buried Alive Film Festival, at which I was winner of the Audience Choice Award for SATANIC PANIC; BAND OUT OF HELL last year. Yay, me!

G. Ponce Hookers. I was chased by one once.

H. People come down to Atlanta from other cities to celebrate Halloween here.

I. Little 5 Points Halloween Parade.

J. Silver Scream Spookshow

K. All the amazing haunted attractions here [Ed. note: including Netherworld, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Chambers of Horror, Dark Harvest and more].

L. Honey Boo Boo. I’m kidding, I love her!

M. All the Halloween parties at bars and clubs like Mary’s, The Goat Farm and Sauced.

N. Splatter Cinema.

O. The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

P. Corn Mazes.

Eddie Ray as MC Eat Yo Brains Out!

Q. Me, bitch!

R. Most of my close friends love Halloween and really get into it with me, and we begin planning for Halloween in June. They make me proud with their costumes.

S. Halloween kids are all ages!

T. We all love Halloween here!

Okay here are some things to do this Halloween in Atlanta.

1. Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse: I work in this one now, and I play a cop who helps you fight off zombies in an EVIL DEAD style horror movie, with clues, the occult and pretty ladies!!!! You are literally running for your life, and it’s exciting and scary as hell. Turns out I am really good at this shit. I have done it for two years in a row and this is my third year. Yes, we are the Zombie Capital of the world now. It’s a Zombie Hell in Atlanta, G.A. Baby!

2. Chambers of Horror: This was the first haunted attraction I worked in, and it’s adult-themed, scary, FUCKED UP, and amazing. Check this Rated X haunt out for a good time and maybe a turn on. (Read ATLRetro’s article on last year’s Chambers here)

3. Marys Hallo-Weenie Party – (Friday Oct. 26) For a good time on Halloween, call Mary’s; it’s a cool place to go. They make Halloween a big deal and have the most outlandish costumes at any club or bar I have ever seen. I always take my ass by there in October.

Atlanta's Scariest Halloween Kid Duet: John Wayne Gacy, aka Eddie Ray, takes a mugshot with Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, aka Shane Morton.

4. Little 5 Points Halloween Parade – (Sat. Oct. 20, 4 p.m.) – I have been in the Halloween parade for about four years now, and it’s so much fun to dress up and walk down the streets of Little 5 Points in a creepy costume. Not to be missed, and if you can be in it then get in it! Watch here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPnIaOSYERA

5. Halloween Party at The Goat Farm II  (Sat. Oct. 27, 8 p.m.) – It’s back from the dead, and more blood-curdling than ever. Join them for an evening of debauchery, spectacles and spooky surprises at every corner. It’ll be a night that’ll haunt your memories. You’ve been warned. For more info, check out Scout Mob here.

Eddie Ray goes old school as The Green Ghost from SCOOBY DOO.

6. Plaza Theatre/Spookshow: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925; starring Lon Chaney, Man of 1000 Faces)- Oct. 19, 20, 21; and full stage show by Professor Morte and his ghoulish gang for BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN  (1935; starring Boris Karloff and Elsa Lancaster) – Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. and 10 p.m.

7. Twin Peaks Prom Night (Sun. Oct. 28, 8 p.m. ) – People will be encouraged to come dressed as characters from TWIN PEAKS or other David Lynch movies, as well as prom attire. Come out to enjoy a swanky dinner, snacks and cocktails from the always stellar menu at Sauced, plus DJs will be spinning classic haunting music from the ‘50s & ‘60s to transport you to a different era.

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