Kool Kat of the Week: Local Filmmaker Debbie Hess Brings Tricks and Treats to The Plaza Theater with the Return of the Fifty Foot Film Festival on October 30

Posted on: Oct 25th, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

In this season of ghosts and goblins, Debbie Hess, Executive Producer of the award-winning web anthology series, HORROR HOTEL, where the only recurring character is a menacing dilapidated motor court hotel where “People check in, but they don’t always check out,” along with jack of all film-trades son and Kool Kat Ricky Hess brings Atlanta a special treat (and maybe a few tricks) with the Return of the Fifty Foot Film Festival, invading The Plaza Theater on All Hallows Eve-Eve, October 30, at 7pm!

Return of the Fifty Foot Film Fest gives local sci-fi, horror, suspense and fantasy filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their films at this one-night only event. From premiere screenings to award-winning film shorts, this wee festival delivers a one-stop-shop of terror you won’t want to miss! Last year’s inaugural event, Attack of the Fifty Foot Film Festival, sold out to a hell-raising standing-room-only crowd and featured films by Ricky Hess, Kool Kat Vanessa Ionta Wright (Women in Horror Film Festival) and so many more! This year’s event promises twice as many filmmakers as the previous event, so you’ll definitely want to get your tickets early! Tickets can be purchased here.

ATLRetro caught up with Debbie to chat about the Return of the Fifty Foot Film Fest, the web anthology series HORROR HOTEL, and the importance of local film festivals for indie filmmakers.

ATLRetro: Attack of the 50 Foot Film Festival invades Atlanta for a second exciting year! Can you tell us a little about the event and what inspired you to bring it back to film lovers Atlanta-wide?

Debbie Hess: We decided to bring the event back for a second year because it was so well received last year and we still saw a need to provide a venue specifically for Atlanta-area filmmakers to raise the awareness of the awesome creative talent we have here. Events like this help to promote content creation and provide a chance for the community to support, encourage and recognize our Georgia films and filmmakers who can get eclipsed by all the media attention and national focus on the larger studio films that are coming here for production. And that is a great thing of course, but we need to constantly be aware that we have content creation going on in our own backyard as well and foster a support system to be able to show these quality films to the community. There’s nothing quite like seeing the film you have so lovingly and laboriously produced shown on the big screen.

What makes this event different than other film festivals?

Several things really. First off, it is for Atlanta-area filmmakers only. Most film festivals have entries from all over the world, although many festivals now program sections for local content only, which is good. When you are thrown in with filmmakers from countries that have a lot of grant programs available to make indie films and they are given a lot of money to make a short film, it’s not a level playing field. Most of your local indie filmmakers have similar resource restrictions, which makes it a load more fun to see what everyone has been able to do with that. And with this festival, all the ticket proceeds are split between the filmmakers (whose entry fee is their split of the theatre rental) allowing them more resources to help with their filmmaking. Both last year and this year we have covered the theatre rental fee and had earnings left over to go to our filmmakers. It’s a win-win. Secondly, it’s not a competition festival so there’s no stress involved or disappointment if you don’t win something. Everyone is a winner who has the fortitude to produce a finished film in the first place. It really is more of a celebration of the accomplishments of our local filmmakers right here in our own backyard.

Can you tell our readers what it takes to put on this type of film event?

Horror Hotel – “No Time For Love” (Jason Gaglione and Kat Rarick)

Sure! It’s quite a bit of work even for a small one like ours. We start out by reaching out to area filmmakers to see if they have a recent film (preferably a premiere) that they would like to submit. I can truly appreciate the dilemma that larger festivals must have in deciding which films to accept. Being a filmmaker myself surely helps because I can judge a little better and appreciate the qualities of an indie film. Some things just don’t require a big budget to get right – a good story, well-written and executed with attention to good filmmaking techniques, along with good editing, good sound, good acting etc. Since this festival is limited to films in the sci-fi, horror, suspense and fantasy genres, we are looking for films that have done a good job creating that “environment” for a visually appealing film in those genres. And then there is the challenge of programming those films in a fixed amount of time and in our case, a short period of time. We would love to have been able to include more of the films that were submitted.

Then there is the promotion work involved to get the word out. Because we want the community to come out and see the films, you have to go as wide as possible to advertise and market that. We post on all the larger and more popular community calendars that are online. We post on all social media and encourage all the filmmakers to do the same. We send out mass emails and loads of press releases and market packages to all the local media including TV stations, radio stations, online publications, student newspapers, podcasts creators, etc. This year we are so grateful to be covered by a number of great media outlets in the Atlanta area that are helping promote the event and the filmmakers. But by far, the filmmakers themselves have the most influence over who comes out to see the films.  It’s their invitations to friends, family and people who worked on their film that will garner the most attendees.

Care to share a little about the films and their directors/creators?

I’d love to since that’s what it’s all about!

THE WISH & THE WISP – Written/Directed by Vashmere Valentine is a delightful fantasy film currently sweeping up awards globally on the festival circuit. It’s about two bickering siblings that learn the true magic of believing when they find a real wish and encounter the menacing creature who wants it back. RESIDENCE 906 (premiere screening) – Directed by Heather Hutton, written by Michele Olson and produced by Iesha Price. Made with over 50 females, this film is a paranormal thriller about the mysterious deaths of a paranormal investigator’s team that force her to confront an enigmatic demon. NO TIME FOR LOVE (premiere screening) – Directed by Ricky Hess. This new episode of HORROR HOTEL is a sci-fi tale about time catching up to a reclusive sailor when a pretty girl brings the modern world into his life. It includes loads of special effects. Fans of The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons will enjoy this one. FEAST – Written/Directed by Melissa Kunnap is a horror short that recently won best regional film at the Women in Horror Film Festival. The logline reads “A young intern finds out more about his boss and circle of friends than he’d wished to know,” and contains well-done effects. LIVING NIGHTMARE – Created by Jonathan Gabriel and Kristina Miranovic is an anthology of three actual nightmares based on unforgettable accounts, contains very nice sets and effects and is a real skin creep! BAD CANDY – Written/Directed by Scott Hansen is a horror short about a naughty trick R treater which has stunning cinematography and excellent costumes. Creepy clown alert! MR. SMILES (premiere screening) – Written/Directed by Tyler Hunt Weddle is a horror short about a girl who discovers a storybook in an attic whose characters come to life. Goosebump inspired, Freddy Kruger executed. PET’s tagline says it all, “A man with a short fuse and an empty checkbook introduces his irritating boss to man’s best friend,” written/directed by Justin Craig (premiere screening).

With HORROR HOTEL, you’ve made filmmaking a family affair [you as producer, your son Ricky Hess as the horror anthology’s creator/director and your husband Al Hess as the writer]. Can you tell us a little about the creative process within the family unit and any pros/cons working so closely with your family?

Yes, it has been a family affair and this year we added a new addition to our family, my new daughter-in-law, Allyson Hess, who works on set with us as well. My son Ricky is a powerhouse of talent. He not only is the creator/director but he also does nearly all of the post-production work including editing/color/sound/effects etc. PLUS he is a skilled camera operator as well. My husband, Al, is the writer for the series but he is also a talented props builder, lighting technician, set builder and so much more. Over the years, we have all increased our skill level and learned to do more in other areas which is pretty typical in indie filmmaking. The more you can do yourself, the higher the likelihood you can get something finished. Working within the family has its advantages in that decisions can be made quickly and you have a trusted unit to bounce things off of and get honest feedback on your ideas.  There are always differences of opinion in the filmmaking process and you have to work through those sometimes a little more carefully within family, but in the end we all have a deep respect for each other’s opinion and we work it out.

HORROR HOTEL has become a successful horror anthology, haunting into its 3rd season. What can our readers expect to experience this season, and where can they go to catch new episodes?

For our upcoming 3rd season, we have made longer films than we normally do, so there will be fewer of them. We tried to up the bar on our production with more challenging episodes that required more effects than we normally have had. Our pilot episode SLEEP TIGHT is about killer bed bugs that invade the hotel rooms. And yes, we did use some real bugs,  although they were not bed bugs of course, but we used what is referred to as movie bugs, hissing cockroaches, which are pathogen free and harmless to humans. Nonetheless, quite creepy! It premiered in last year’s festival and got a great response and feedback. It was probably one of the more ‘horror’ episodes we have done as a lot of ours tend to be more sci-fi themed.

The episode we are premiering this year from the 3rd season is sci-fi with loads of special effects and centers on a reclusive sailor (Jason Gaglione) who has shuttered himself away in his hotel room for decades. No one locally has ever seen him. A pretty girl (Kat Rarick) tricks her way into his room and the story is about what happens inside the room after that. We turned the room basically into a time machine. It was extremely challenging and required a ton of SFX make-up, pulled off beautifully by master make-up artists Greg and Sandra Solomon of Etcfx in Newman. If you like stories like THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, you will like this episode!  Ricky did some exceptional work in post-production as well with some of the visual effects. We had to experiment with quite a few things. So, expect more production value out of 3rd season. It will be releasing later this year or early next year. Currently HORROR HOTEL can be seen on Amazon Prime as an anthology feature film of our 2nd season, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and select episodes are on DirectTV as well.

What drew you to become a filmmaker and what keeps you playing within the horror genre?

I entered filmmaking by wanting to help Ricky make his HORROR HOTEL series. We had our house used as a set a few years back and we became fascinated with the process and thought it would be great fun to do some ourselves and help him out with that project. Really, the show has more sci-fi stories than mainstream horror. More like THE TWILIGHT ZONE-type of tales, which I love –  stories and films that take you to another place and stretch your imagination. I will always tend towards that type of films as favorites.

Is there a film/series you have always wanted to make? Or still plan to make?

We’ve tossed around some ideas for other series but have not nailed anything down. We are just focused at the moment in getting the 3rd season ready to distribute and let the creative juices flow after that!

Smaller local film festivals are all immensely popular these days. How important are these festivals to independent filmmakers? What’s the draw to submit a film and have it screened at one?

It’s much easier to be seen in a smaller local film festival, plus because it is in your community, more people will be able to actually attend and support you. The festivals are vital to indie filmmakers especially those making primarily short films as shorts don’t have much distribution possibility like feature-length films, yet they serve a vital purpose to showcase a filmmakers creative ability as well as those who work on them. Festivals add credibility to a filmmakers resume and at least prove a curator thought highly enough of them to be accepted.

Who would you say are the filmmakers or films that inspired you the most and what was it about those particular filmmakers/films that inspired you?

I am a very retro kind of gal and most of my favorite filmmakers are classics like Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling. I like the kind of horror/sci-fi they brought to film by creative storytelling and excellent tension building without all the fancy effects. I am a huge fan of most of Hitchcock’s more successful films. No favorite one in particular.

As an independent female filmmaker working in the horror genre, what challenges have you personally faced that seem to be a common theme amongst women in the industry?

I’d say probably just getting taken seriously and being respected. There are a lot of basic female common traits that work for us in filmmaking. Most females tend to be much more organized than our counterparts. I can always count on female cast and crew to be a little more attentive to details, return correspondence quickly and keep their calendar events in check. No male bashing here, just a noted difference in my own experience.

Within the last few weeks comments were made by a well-known production company insisting that he would hire female horror directors if only there were women to be hired. What is your response to this claim? How important do you feel it is to ensure representation exists within the industry, on local and international levels?

Well, the backlash was immense after that came out and they have since apologized, but it obviously was misspoken as hundreds of people if not thousands of people cited their own female peers as adequately qualified and we know that to be perfectly true just from our own local gals who produce quality work. I think the horror genre was just generally thought to be more male-dominated in the past because of the nature of the content, but festivals like the Women in Horror Film Festival held right here in Georgia certainly proves that to be false.

Claims that there aren’t any female horror filmmakers are obviously ludicrous, as Atlanta is chock full of them! Who would you say are your favorite women horror directors and why?

I know of several first-hand that as it happens, have been in our film festival or are this year. Vanessa Ionta Wright, founder of the Women In Horror Film Festival held in Georgia, has done some beautiful and creative films. One was from a Stephen King short story which screened at last year’s festival. And we have not one but two female filmmakers in this year’s fest. Melissa Lee Kunnap has a horror film in there as does Iesha Price. They BOTH contain high quality work. As a matter of fact, Iesha’s film, RESIDENCE 906 was primarily a female production with over 50 women in the cast and crew, only 2 males. That’s impressive to say the least.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

Watching – Just finished up OZARK on Netflix. Give the series GOLIATH a try on Amazon Prime if you are into Billy Bob Thornton, which I am. I am a huge fan of the FARGO series and the original movie – just plain good storytelling with most excellent creepy characters. I am retro when it comes to music stuff – mostly oldies from the ‘70s. I love reading mystery novels and am constantly burning through books and am currently reading Randy Singer.
Any advice for up and coming filmmakers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

Whatever your budget, start with the basics. A good story is first. Get advice on what you have before you film. Don’t get too attached to an idea if it needs to be improved or trashed. Film with the purpose of making it as good as you can possibly get it and employ all the good filmmaking techniques you possibly can. Do your best work always knowing that people will judge you for it. Always be learning and improving your work.

Getting back to what brought us here, Attack of the 50 Foot Film Fest! Anything exciting planned for fest-goers? With this being the second exciting year, can we expect this to be an annual event, something we all can look forward to in years to come?

We will be talking briefly after the screening to the filmmakers and I think a few of them will have some exciting announcements about upcoming projects they will share. Annual event? We will see. We take that one year at a time and see if there is interest among the local filmmakers to make it happen!

Photos courtesy of Debbie Hess and used with permission.

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Murder, Mayhem and Madness! Our Top 10 Horrorific Reasons to Haunt on Down to the Inaugural WOMEN IN HORROR FILM FESTIVAL

Posted on: Sep 19th, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

The Women in Horror Film Festival kills it at Crowne Plaza Atlanta SW – Peachtree City this Thursday-Sunday Sept. 21-24. A showcase of creative kickass female minds behind every aspect of the horrorific cinematic and filmmaking experience, contemporary and retro alike, the festival has much to offer all the horror cinephiles in your life. From slasher gore-fests to comedic catastrophes, here are 10 of our top reasons to get your spine tingled at the WIHFF!

1) ELM STREET GORE-GALS HEATHER LANGENKAMP & AMANDA WYSS. These ladies won our horror hearts with their portrayals of nightmare-filled teens Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp) and Tina Grey (Wyss) in Wes Craven’s ‘80s classic spawning its own hellacious franchise, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984).

2) LYNN LOWRY. From Kathy in George Romero’s THE CRAZIES (1973) and Ruthie in Paul Schrader’s CAT PEOPLE (1982), Lowry’s a swell scream queen who’s been killing it since the ‘70s, and is going strong as ever with at least ninety on-camera titles to her name (some current titles are announced or are in pre-production).

3) TRINA PARKS. Best known for her role as Thumper in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971), Parks’ career spanned the ‘70s with appearances in an episode of Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY (“The Phantom Farmhouse” – 1971); DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (1975); THE MUTHERS (1976) and more. She came back deadlier than ever in David DeCoteau’s IMMORTAL KISS: QUEEN OF THE NIGHT (2012).

4) WIHFF CASKET OF TERROR. For all you gore-lovers and horror hounds, just purchasing a festival pass earns you the chance to win some pretty monsterific prizes in the Casket of Terror, which includes autographed memorabilia, DVDs and other horror goodies. Purchase a VIP Pass and you get 3 entries; a Weekend Pass earns you 2 entries; and a Day Pass will get you a single entry. Who doesn’t love terrifying treats?!

5) FRIGHTENING FILMS! The WIHFF has heads rolling with three days of non-stop action filled to the bloody brim with films galore! Friday’s (Sept. 22) schedule includes a Thriller Shorts Block, a Features Block (SHORT CUT, dir. Prano Bailey-Bond; MURDER MADE EASY, dir. Dave Palamaro), a Non-Competition Showcase Block and a Comedy Shorts Block. Saturday (Sept. 23) terrifies with a Horror Shorts Block, a Features Block (MARCO POLO, dir. Chelsea Peters; DEADTHIRSTY, dir. Jason Winn), an International Shorts Block, and a bonus Features Block (I SHOULD HAVE RUN, dir. Gabriela Staniszewska; 3, dir. Lou Simon). And Sunday (Sept. 24) gets gory and kicks off the day with a Features Block (STITCHED, dir. Heather Taylor; BUZZARD HOLLOW BEEF, dir. Joshua Johnson), a Student Shorts Block, a Southeast Block, and a second bonus Features Block (THE CHUTE, dir. Stacy Sherman; RUIN ME, dir. Preston DeFrancis). So, come on out and discover some new terrifying talent!

6) WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE SCREENING. You won’t want to miss a special screening of WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), followed by the Nightmare Panel with panelists Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss and Marianne Maddalena, Friday, Sept. 22 at 6:30pm.

7) TWISTED TWINS – THE SOSKA SISTERS. From DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK (2009) to AMERICAN MARY (2013), Jen and Sylvia Soska have soaked up the indie cult-classic limelight as writers, actors and directors, churning out homage after homage of grind-house filmmaking. Come on out and catch the twisted sisters during their panels “You Finished Your Film, Now What?” (Sept. 23, 3:45 pm); and “Whose Film is it Anyway?” with Amanda Wyss (Sept. 23, 8:30pm).

8) MANIACAL MAKE-UP. Nadine Al-Remaizan and Christine Ramirez of Ramirez FX demonstrate the madness that is monster make-up and SFX with their “Create Big Budget Looks on a Shoestring Budget” panel/demonstration (Sept. 23, 11am).

9) WARPED WRITERS. There wouldn’t be films without writers, and of so WIHFF offers up two highly acclaimed horror/thriller/suspense writers Mylo Carbia, a.k.a. Hollywood’s No. 1 horror film ghostwriter turned author (THE RAPING OF AVA DESANTIS / VIOLETS ARE RED) and Meg Hafdahl (“Dark Things” / TWISTED REVERIES: THIRTEEN TALES OF THE MACABRE series). Both will be selling and signing during the festival.

10) SCARE-TASTIC SHOPPING.  You won’t want to miss out on the horrorific wares the festival vendors have to offer, from handmade horrors, to gothic gifts. During your stay, why not stock up on macabre movie memorabilia, cult classics and creepy clothing, costumes, accessories and more. Vendors will be selling/meeting guests from 12pm – 8pm daily during the festival.

Women in Horror Film Festival main con hours are Fri. Sept. 22 from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Sat. Sept. 23 from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.; and Sun. Sept. 24 from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.For more info, visit the Women in Horror Film Festival official website here.

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Step Right Up to CARNIVAL OF SOULS, Just One of a Macabre Menagerie of Movies at the Plaza Theatre’s October FrightFest

Posted on: Oct 16th, 2013 By:

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962); Dir. Herk Harvey; Starring Candace Hilligoss and Sidney Berger; Friday, Oct. 18 @ 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 19 @ 5:30 p.m. & 7:20 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

During the Plaza Theatre’s week-long celebration of classic horror, a number of legendary films are being shown, including NOSFERATU, WHITE ZOMBIE, FRANKENSTEIN and THE INVISIBLE MAN. But sandwiched in there is a film that dwelled in relative obscurity for years before home video led to its rediscovery and reappraisal: Herk Harvey’s incredible CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

The film’s plot is deceptively slim. Church organist Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) and her two girlfriends are challenged to a drag race over a rickety bridge, and plunge into the river below. While the police drag the river for the remains, Mary emerges with no knowledge of how she survived. Upon leaving the town of Lawrence, Kansas, for Utah, she starts experiencing supernatural events that grow in intensity. She sees haunting visions of a ghoulish, pasty-faced man everywhere she goes. A nearby abandoned carnival pavilion seems to be pulling her toward it. And, eventually, she begins experiencing states where she becomes literally detached from her surroundings—nobody can see or hear her. These all seem to be leading her to an inevitable fate, as she is continually beckoned to take her rightful place among the dead in the Carnival of Souls.

The bones of the story may seem familiar if you’re a fan of old-time radio or THE TWILIGHT ZONE. A similar tale was first told on THE ORSON WELLES SHOW in 1941. “The Hitch-Hiker” took place on a cross-country drive, after the narrator (Ronald, played by Welles) has a car accident following a blow-out. After getting his tire fixed, he sees the same haunting hitchhiker motioning to him at various points on his journey. Nobody he encounters sees the strange man, yet the hitcher continues to appear along his route. At a stop, he calls home only to receive the news that he never survived that accident, and realizes that the hitcher is Death himself, waiting for him to accept his fate and move on. The story was a radio staple for years, and was later adapted by Rod Serling for TWILIGHT ZONE, with Inger Stevens in the lead role of “Nan.”

The story of a person who should have died—who may, in fact, be dead as the story proceeds—is not an original one, and has been seen many times before and since CARNIVAL OF SOULS. From Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story “An Encounter at Owl Creek Bridge” to 1990’s JACOB’S LADDER and 2001’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, and from 1983’s SOLE SURVIVOR to 1999’s THE SIXTH SENSE, the basic story proves to be still-fertile ground.

But few have done it as well as CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

Herk Harvey, an industrial filmmaker based in Lawrence, came up with the film’s premise as he passed the then-closed Saltair Pavilion on his way to Salt Lake City. To set his film apart, he claims to have wanted to achieve “the look of a Bergman, the feel of a Cocteau.” His atmospheric lighting and high-contrast cinematography come about as close to that as one can achieve on a $33,000 budget. The film is one of those rare “dreamlike” movies that earns its name. The looming camera angles and the oppressive feeling of dread that accompanies her strange visions translate Mary’s sense of feeling trapped in some otherworldly web to the screen with incredible effectiveness. CARNIVAL’s organ score also adds to the disorienting effect of the film. The textual reason for its presence is an explicit reference to Mary’s profession, but its unconscious association is with silent film. And the intrusion of something from another time or place (the specter of death, the abandoned pavilion) into our present is one of the main conflicts that defines the atmosphere of the movie.

Lee Strasberg-trained star Candace Hilligoss also deserves strong praise, as she carries the entire weight of this film. She has the task of making the character of Mary Henry—who is extremely distancing and unsympathetic—into a character that we fear for. Hers is not a character that we immediately identify with. Everyone that reaches out to her gets pushed away (some deservedly so), and yet we eventually identify with her growing need to connect. As her supernatural experiences become more and more frequent, she suddenly finds that she needs these people. They’re at least less unnerving than that strange man she keeps seeing.

The movie was relegated to the bottom half of double bills upon release, and while late-night broadcasts inspired a small cult of film buffs to take cues from it, CARNIVAL’s quiet approach to horror kept the film from spreading far outside those numbers. It wasn’t until 1989, with the debut of the film on VHS, that people really began to take notice. New prints were struck and screened at art-houses and film festivals across the country, and Herk Harvey—who had continued to be a successful industrial movie maker and film instructor—was finally able to see his only feature film gain the kind of respect and acclaim that it had long deserved.

Herk Harvey joined the Carnival in 1996.

This is not a movie to be slept on. It’s a small, haunting masterpiece of horror cinema that was almost forgotten. It’s the kind of re-discovery that you wish would happen more often. Feel that pull? It’s the call of the Plaza, drawing you into this CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Care to dance?

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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PLANET OF THE APES-piration: Or Why You’re a Damn Dirty Idiot If You Don’t Make It to Rock N Roll Monster Bash 2012 at the Starlight Drive-In

Posted on: Jun 1st, 2012 By:

by Gene Kannenberg, Jr.
Guest Contributing Writer

PLANET OF THE APES (1968); Dir: Franklin J. Schaffner; Writer: Michael Wilson and Rod Serling; Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans; 10th annual Rock N Roll Monster Bash 2012, Starlight Drive-In, Sun. June 3; gates at 10 a.m. and movies at dusk; trailer herean all-day, all-night horror festival featuring Monstrosity Championship Wrestling hosted by the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte. Bands include X-ImpossiblesBigfootDead Elvisand more. Also playing: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

I can barely remember a time when I did not know about PLANET OF THE APES (1968).

Watching the PLANET OF THE APES movies was a ritual for me when I was a boy in the early-to-mid 1970s. WVTV Channel 18, Milwaukee’s independent TV station, used to run POTA marathons at least once a year, it seemed; every Friday for five weeks in a row we’d get another installment, and I was always riveted to the screen, beginning, of course, with the original film directed by Franklin Schaffner and originally released in 1968.

After all, the idea of astronauts from Earth discovering a world ruled by talking animals is tailor-made for a child who has outgrown (for the time being) fairy tales but is fascinated by (1) the space program (we were still going the moon back then) and (2) dinosaurs and other monsters. The action was intense, the apes looked wonderful (some noble, others menacing), and the ideas were mind-expanding, thanks in no small part to script work by Rod Serling of THE TWILIGHT ZONE fame.

Was there ever a more effective introduction of menace into a film than the attack by the gorillas in the cornfield? The mute fear of the humans; the shots of the whips above the corn; Jerry Goldsmith’s harsh, urgent soundtrack; and the ultimate reveal of the gorillas on horseback, with the zoom-in on a gorilla’s face? It was breathtaking at the time, and it’s still a powerful moment today.

The famous Statue of Liberty scene in PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox, 1968).

I wish I could tell you how shocked and stunned I was the first time that I, along with Taylor (Charlton Heston), discovered the half-buried Statue of Liberty and realized that the Planet of the Apes was, in fictional-fact, our own planet Earth. I wish I could, but I can’t; because I can’t remember ever not knowing this fact. I’m sure I was awestruck the first time around—how could a child not have been, after witnessing such a brutal, unfamiliar world? All I can remember is enjoying the ride each and every time I watched the movie—any of the movies, even the less-than-stellar BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973). (And that Statue of Liberty moment has, rightly, become one of the most famous in movie history – in fact, it was even included in a film better-known as being an adaptation of HAMLET )

Taylor (Charlton Heston), Zira (Kim Hunter) and the body of dead astronaut Stewart (Diane Stanley). PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox, 1968)

I must admit that, to my young mind, one of the most mysterious and terrifying parts of the the movie came early on with the death of Stewart (an uncredited Diane Stanley), the female astronaut who doesn’t survive suspended animation. When Taylor discovers her corpse, it all happens so fast that I was never sure what was going on. In hindsight, it’s clear that her cryogenic capsule failed, and that her body mummified during the other astronauts’ long sleep. But when I was a child, I couldn’t understand why she looked the way she did. We only see her corpse for a second, so that added to the mystery. For the longest time, I thought that perhaps she had somehow been turned into an ape as some sort of warning. Now, I realize that doesn’t make any sense; but when you’re eight years old, sense is a precious, elusive quantity. Seeing her corpse as a warning of what was to come made perfect, terrible sense to me back then.

Watching these movies on TV also gave me my first taste of behind-the-scenes promotional films. Sometimes Channel 18 would pad out the movies to three hours, but even with commercials there would still be time left over before the 10 o’clock news. So they occasionally filled the extra minutes with “making-of” documentaries about either the POTA films or the short-lived live-action PLANET OF THE APES television series (1974). Here was my first glimpse into “movie magic,” and in particular, the fascinating world of prosthetic makeups. Nerdy kid that I was, I found myself amazed at the skill and ingenuity that makeup creator John Chambers and his crew demonstrated in slowly, slowly building up appliances onto the actors’ faces, transforming them into incredibly believable simians.

Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius in PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox, 1968)

I was so taken with the makeup process that I decided to try it myself. However, being eight years old (or so) and without access to latex and yak fur, I made do with what I had available: paper, crayons, scissors, and tape. Building upon what I’d seen in the documentaries, I made articulate ape masks for my younger brother John and myself. (I got to be a chimpanzee, natch; my brother became an orangutan. And when a cousin would visit, he or she’d have to settle with being a gorilla.)

First I’d create a somewhat triangular piece that surrounded the eyes and came down to create a nose. That was the easy part. The hard part was the mouth. I wanted it to look like the muzzles the apes had in the movies: That meant a mouth in two pieces, top and bottom, each a sort of quarter-sphere. I’d color a piece of paper “ape flesh” color (depending upon the type of ape) and then cut notches along the edges so that I could mold it into the proper hollow shape, securing the seams with tape, until they were (approximately) the right shape.

Finally came the miles of tape needed to attach the paper appliances to our faces. The only way to allow the mouths to open and close as we spoke was to affix the two pieces separately to our skin. This took a lot of tape (and made the eventual removal of the masks a little uncomfortable – but hey, this was art). Once the mouths were in place, then came the eye/nose pieces, with the descending noses laid atop the upper mouthpiece. (I remember that one time when I was feeling particularly ambitious, I added a third piece to the mouths: A piece of paper crayoned as black as I could make it, to cover our real mouths behind the muzzles; this way, when we spoke, you couldn’t see our real mouths inside the masks.)

The hair was trickier, but I had a solution. We had winter hats that covered our whole heads, with just a hole cut out in the front for our faces. Perfect! The fact that my hat was blue and my brother’s was green kind of spoiled the verisimilitude, but hey, that’s what imagination was for. The final touch was a triangular piece of paper on each side of our faces to approximate the facial cheek-hair that crept under the eyes and wrapped around the muzzles.

Taylor (Charlton Heston) and Zira (Kim Hunter) exchange a kiss in PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox,1968).

Lord, how I wish I had photos of us in these masks. I’m sure they looked mostly ridiculous, but we loved them, and we would jump around the house, howling like apes.

But anyway, the Apes movies made a huge impression on me as a child. They instilled in me a love of science fiction, a love of movies, and a healthy dose of cynicism with regards to official structures of power. They were all “of their time,” that time being the late 1960s/early 1970s, and issues of discrimination were inescapable cultural touchstones, even for a young child. And the Apes films were, in their way, statements against discrimination and pleas for tolerance and understanding. (For more on this topic, see Eric Greene’s book PLANET OF THE APES AS AMERICAN MYTH: RACE, POLITICS, AND POPULAR CULTURE.)

Of course, the apes movies are also a whole lot of fun. Some of it might seem a bit campy nowadays, and of course, some of the lines have become cultural touchstones in their own right (“Get your stinking paws off me, you damned, dirty ape!”). But the films, the first in particular, still represent some of the best movie-making magic there ever was. I envy you Atlantans the chance to experience it on the big drive-in screen. Now, watch like Apes!

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Retro Review: Tricks & a Cinematic Treat at The Plaza as the Silver Scream Spookshow Unearths Another Vincent Price/H.P. Lovecraft Classic for Its Fifth Anniversary

Posted on: Oct 13th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

Silver Scream Spookshow Presents THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963); Dir: Roger Corman; Screenplay by Charles Beaumont; Starring Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., Debra Paget; Sat. Oct. 15;  kids matinee at 1 PM (kids under 12 free & adults $7) and adult show at 10 PM(all tickets $12)Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

Vincent Price is back to haunt The Plaza in THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, and Halloween’s on its way! Cthulhu bless The Silver Scream Spookshow! Yes, yet another chance to see classic AIP/Roger Corman cinematic madness on the big screen in 35mm this Sat. Oct. 15! More Professor Morte and his madcap gang of monsters and monster babes! Oh, and some old Spookshow family members may return, too. Yowza!

THE HAUNTED PALACE was promoted as another Corman-Price-Edgar Allan Poe film, but while the title comes from a line in a Poe poem, it’s actually a very loose adaptation of Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, one of his more famous novellas. If you’ve never read it, you should. But more importantly, you should make a date for seeing the film at The Plaza this weekend because it’s the fifth anniversary of the Spookshow, it’s a terrific print of the movie, and Professor Morte is promising a magical event (literally).

“THE HAUNTED PALACE has become a favorite movie here at Morte Manor,” the Professor cackled to ATLRetro from his crypt in his secret batcave. “I watch this movie once a week, and I listen to the soundtrack [composed by Ronald Stein], which is amazing, all the time.” Before laying back down in his coffin, Atlanta’s favorite master of the macabre whispered in ATLRetro’s ear that there will be some stunning legerdemain this weekend (that means magic tricks, as in sleight-of-hand, as in smoke and mirrors, gang), including a certain supernatural experience which, if we understood Morte’s whisper correctly, has never happened live on stage before…

Now, back to the movie. THE HAUNTED PALACE is one of the best Lovecraft adaptations to make it onto celluloid. Not only does it star Saint Vincent Price, it also features everyone’s favorite Wolfman, Lon Chaney, Jr., and hot babe, Debra Paget, from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and who smooched with Elvis in LOVE ME TENDER (both 1956). The excellent script was written by the late, great Charles Beaumont, one of the finest short story writers of his generation, who penned over two dozen classic episodes of Rod Serling’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE TV show (He also wrote the screenplay for the Zsa Zsa Gabor turkey, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE [1958], but, hey, no one’s perfect).

So, there’s only one place to be this Saturday: The Plaza Theatre! And as Professor Morte says, “be prepared to be scared!”

ATLRetro terrifying trivia:

  • THE HAUNTED PALACE was Debra Paget’s last movie before she retired after marrying a Chinese millionaire and later became a devout Christian.
  • Charles Beaumont is the subject of a terrific documentary by Jason V. Brock, CHARLES BEAUMONT: THE SHORT LIFE OF TWILIGHT ZONE’S MAGIC MAN (2010).
  • Beaumont’s birth name was Charles Leroy Nutt.

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