Really Retro: Sergio Leone Meets Norse Legend WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES at The Plaza & A Retrospective on Vikings in the Movies

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2013 By:

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (Iceland/Sweden 1984); Dir. Hrafn Gunnlaugsson; Starring Jakob Þór Einarsson; Sunday, June 23; 3 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Preshow presentation and weapons/crafts for sale by Sons of Loki; Sponsored by Scandinavian American Foundation of Georgia; $8 general admission, $6 for SAFG members; PG-13; violence; parents should exercise caution when bringing children; Trailer; Facebook event page.

By Anya Martin

Vikings may come from cold climates, but Dark Age Scandinavians are hot right now, at least on screen. The TV series, VIKINGS, was such a hit that The History Channel has renewed it for a second season. With promises of capturing the authentic violence of the Vikings in Dark Age Britain, HAMMER OF THE GODS (2013) hits theaters July 5. The main villain in THE AVENGERS (2012) was Norse trickster god Loki, and THOR: THE DARK WORLD, a second feature about that Norse-God-turned-Marvel-Superhero premieres in November. Even Mel Gibson supposedly has BERSERKER, a “real and visceral” Viking feature in preproduction.

In the midst of this seeming Viking fever, critically acclaimed Viking adventure movie WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (HRAFNINN FLYGUR) will get a rare return to the big screen at the Plaza Theatre on Sun. June 23 at 3 p.m. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES recounts an Irishman’s quest for revenge on the Viking raiders who savagely killed his parents and abducted his sister. Ancient Norse gods figure prominently in the plot, and the prerequisite violence ensues. However, the film is as much a Western in its structure as a mythological saga with striking visuals of the desert replaced by stunning cinematography of the unique Icelandic landscape. Director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson describes himself as a disciple of Sergio Leone, John Ford and Akira Kurosawa, and the influence of all three is apparent. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES is evocative of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, in that a mysterious stranger Gestur (Jakob Þór Einarsson) plays off tensions between Thor and Erik, the two brothers who lead the Viking band.

Poster for EMBLA, aka THE WHITE VIKING.

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES has won several awards, including being voted one of the outstanding films of the 1980s at the Tokyo International Film Festival and Gunnlaugsson winning the 1985 Guldbagge Award for Best Direction, the Swedish equivalent to the Oscars. It was also nominated for the 1986 International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film.The movie is the first of the Raven Trilogy, which includes IN THE SHADOW OF THE  RAVEN (Í SKUGGA HRAFNSINS, 1987) and EMBLA (2007), aka the director’s cut of THE WHITE VIKING (1991), which was originally edited by that film’s producers without Gunnlaugsson’s approval.

If the melding of real Viking lore and Leone couldn’t be cool enough, the screening will be preceded by a live weapons demonstration by the Sons of Loki. These contemporary Vikings will also be present in the Plaza Lobby before and after the movie with Viking handicrafts and weaponry for sale and to answer questions about Scandinavian culture in the Dark Ages.

Still over the history of Hollywood, Viking movies have been relatively rare, compared to other historic-based genres such as the Western or the sword-and-sandle epic. And good ones with any relevance to actual Viking culture even rarer. Therefore, at ATLRetro, we decided to dig a little deeper to excavate a brief saga of Norse-inspired cinema.

THE VIKING (1928).

The first appearance of Vikings on film that we could find was THE VIKING (1928), a silent that chronicles Leif Ericsson‘s journey to the New World. The costumes apparently are strictly Wagner, the weaponry inauthentic and the actual history tenuous, but Leif’s father enthusiastically slaughters Christians and Princess Helga has a sexy winged helmet and heavy black eyeliner.

Unfortunately, Hollywood didn’t return to the world of the Vikings until the 1950s when a sudden splash of features hit the big screen. The first, PRINCE VALIANT (1954), was based on the popular comics series, directed by Henry Hathaway (who would go on to direct TRUE GRIT[1969]) and starred a young Robert Wagner. It was a fun sword-and-sorcery romp with links to the King Arthur legend and the bonus that the sword actually sung, but the plot has virtually nothing to do with authentic Vikings. Always one to follow a trend as cheaply as possible, Roger Corman followed with THE SAGA OF THE VIKING WOMEN TO THE WATERS OF THE GREAT SEA SERPENT (1957). In this cheesy fantasy frolic, a young way-pre-FALCON CREST Abby Dalton leads a bevy of scantily clad Norse babes to battle a monster and rescue a missing man.

Then came THE VIKINGS (1958), the first actual epic Hollywood treatment starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh. Full of battles and striking cinematography in Norwegian locations, this romanticized story of two brother vying for a Welsh princess was directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA [1954]) and also benefitted from visual designs by Harper Goff, another 20,000 LEAGUES veteran as art director. Some time around then, by the way, was the only other Norse-inspired TV series, TALES OF THE VIKINGS, which ran about 19 episodes from 1959-60. Alas most of the footage is lost, but it lifted scenes and props directly from THE VIKINGS movie. You can hear the jaunty theme song here! Oh, wait, there was also the silly British children’s cartoon NOGGIN THE NOG which ran from 1959 to the mid-70s.

Italian giallo director Mario Bava (DANGER:DIABOLIK; BARON BLOOD) also tried his hand on two spaghetti Viking features, ERIK THE CONQUEROR (1961) and KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966) with American action hero Cameron Mitchell, who would go on to become best known as Uncle Buck in 1960s TV Western series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL. The first steals its tale of two brothers plot directly from THE VIKINGS, but is noteworthy for rich cinematography, strong action and dancing vestal virgins. California-based living history and educational group, the Vikings of Bjornstad point out in their wonderful Viking Movie List (see link at end), “This is a Viking-related movie. It’s 786 AD. The ships had red and white striped sails. Once in a while, someone yells “Odin!'” They go on to mention inaccurate costumes that even sometimes have clearly visible zippers, an “underground throne room left over from some Biblical Philistine movie” and a Viking village that seems to be made out of Lincoln logs. KNIVES OF THE AVENGER  is basically a spaghetti Western reset in the Dark Ages mixed with pirates, supernatural magic and lots of knife-throwing which the trusty Vikings of Bjornstad spare no punches to declare “Worst Viking Movie Ever!” As for Cameron Mitchell, maybe he aspired to be the Clint Eastwood of Italian Viking epics since he also starred in THE LAST OF THE VIKINGS (L’ULTIMO DEI VIKINGHI, 1961) and ATTACK OF THE NORMANS (I NORMANNI, 1962).

Charlton Heston is THE WAR LORD (1965).

In general, the 1960s weren’t good to the Vikings on screen, whether outright fantasy or not. THE LONG SHIPS (1964) is a lightweight adventure about a Viking quest for a golden bell in the Holy Land. Directed by Jack Cardiff, cinematographer of THE VIKINGS, and starring Richard Widmark as a Viking warrior and Sidney Poitier as a Moorish king, the movie is not really very Viking except for the presence of a long ship and round shields. But the action scenes nonetheless are amplified by lush Yugoslavian locations, and the titles were designed by Maurice Binder who crafted the Bond openers. Not surprisingly, Charlton Heston also did an obligatory stint as a Norman war lord in THE WAR LORD (1965) charged with defending his Duke’s land again Frisian invaders, who are costumed to look like Vikings, not a far stretch considering they came from near Denmark and were eventually conquered. Despite the stringy chainmail and Hollywood backlot locations, The Vikings of Bjornstad give this one a thumbs up, noting that Heston is well cast and it’s “one of the few films that touches on the differences between the Christian Normans and the pagans they ruled.” They also wouldn’t mind seeing a better update of another Hollywood film that had potential, ALFRED THE GREAT (1969), which starred David Hemmings as King Alfred and Michael York as Viking Chief Guthrum.

Britain’s Hammer Films, known for its high quality low budget horror, served up THE VIKING QUEEN (1967). The goofy plot is involves women wearing much too little to be comfortable in British climates, a Viking-Roman forbidden romance and a Brits versus Romans rebellion which evokes Celtic tribal queen Boudicca. Nobody obviously cared to check and see that Vikings didn’t raid the U.K. coast until long after the Romans had already left. Meanwhile, Danish film HAGBARD AND SIGNE (aka THE RED MANTLE/DEN RODE KAPPE, 1967)  transplanted a ROMEO AND JULIET storyline to two warring Viking families. Filmed in Iceland, Roger Ebert called it “a beautiful, lean spare film…the sleeper of the year,” and the Vikings of Bjornstad overall give it a thumbs up for aesthetics and action for the time.

Perhaps mercifully the long ships barely got unmoored during the ’70s, with the highest profile feature THE NORSEMAN (1978) sinking at the box office despite starring a hunky Lee Majors, at the peak of his SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN fame, with a Tom Selleck moustache as Greenland’s Prince Thorvald. It followed the frequent Viking movie plot of a journey to the New Land, in this case to free his father King Eurich (Mel Ferrer) who is imprisoned by Native Americans, and the brawny cast also included quirky character actor Jack Elam, then a Western staple; NFL stars Fred Biletnikoff and Deacon Jones, and Denny Miller (TARZAN THE APE MAN, 1959). Oh, lest we forget, Walt Disney action-adventure flick THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974) included a lost Viking colony.

In the ’80s, ERIK THE VIKING (1989) literally became a bad joke. Alas it was to be a Monty Python vehicle starring Graham Chapman, but while Terry Jones directed and John Cleese plays the villain, audiences just didn’t find it funny maybe because of the sheer unlikelihood of Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt and Imogen Stubbs appearing in even a satire of a Norse saga. Tim Robbins valiantly gave his best effort to star as Erik who ironically was tired of marauding and goes on a quest for a magic horn of peace.

Well, that’s in the English and apparently Italian speaking world of mainstream movies. In Iceland where Vikings actually lived, the 1980s produced a number of features that purported to be more authentic takes on Norse culture. The first was OUTLAW, THE SAGA OF GISLI (UTLAGINN, 1981), based directly on the Gisla saga. Then director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson embarked on WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES, the film which is playing at the Plaza and became the first installment of a Viking trilogy. Norway also produced THE LITTLEST VIKING (1989), a charming children’s tale about a daydreaming boy who seeks to end a feud with another clan. It apparently has lots of stunning fjord shots.

In the ’90s and 2000s, the mainstream Viking feature took a turn towards being more gritty and gory, allegedly to be true to the times or well, because, dark sells movie tickets. Several interesting ventures featuring high-profile directors and actors sailed onto the big screen. The first was ROYAL DECEIT (aka PRINCE OF JUTLAND, 1994), a supposedly period-accurate retelling of HAMLET starring Christian Bale as a sixth century Danish prince whose father (Tom Wilkinson) is murdered by a power-hungry uncle (Gabriel Byrne, who would be back in Viking robes as the surly old chieftain in The History Channel’s VIKINGS this spring). Of course, he has the hots for his hot mama (who else but Helen Mirren?!). The Vikings of Bjornstad like that the costumes, weaponry and sets are simple, hence probably more period accurate, but otherwise found it disappointing despite what would seem to be a strong cast. The European version is 17 minutes longer than the US/Region I DVD version.

THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999)

Next up is the uber-violent THE VIKING SAGAS (1995), directed by Michael Chapman, the cinematographer of Martin Scorsese‘s RAGING BULL (1980). It starred Ralf Moeller (TV’s CONAN, GLADIATOR) and was actually filmed in Iceland. Alas, the acting and script are not much, but it has a mythic quality with a magic sword – as much a must seemingly for a Viking movie as a medieval fantasy one – and more of an authentic look than most of its predecessors, actual Icelandic movies excepted.

And then THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999) nailed the look and feel of a Norse legend perhaps better than any Hollywood film that came before it. Originally titled EATERS OF THE DEAD and based on a Michael Crichton novel, it was meant to be a gory but realistic retelling of BEOWULF, but really more captured the spirit of a Robert E. Howard short story though its outsider hero, an Arab ambassador played by Antonio Banderas, was more spirit and intellect than Conan the Barbarian brawn. Unfortunately, director John McTiernan (DIE HARD, PREDATOR) was not allowed the final cut (the idea of a director’s version someday being released seems increasingly remote especially with McTiernan now in prison). However, enough of McTiernan’s vision remained that THE 13TH WARRIOR acquired a loyal fan following (including a high recommend from ATLRetro and an even better authority – the Vikings of Bjornstad).

Yeah, we are going to skip quickly over the disappointing PRINCE VALIANT (1997) – ATLRetro would love to see a PRINCE VALIANT that’s true to Hal Foster‘s wonderful comic which has been recently resurrected by masterful illustrator Gary Gianni, but this is NOT it. And no time is worth devoting to BEOWULF (1999) starring Christopher Lambert who at some point after GREYSTOKE did completely forget how to act. And the Vikings of Bjornstad say everything worth saying about BERSERKER: HELL’S WARRIOR (2004) in this phrase – “time-traveling immortal Viking vampires who wear sunglasses in discotheques…So overdone.”

The Vikings of Bjornstad rank Polish movie THE OLD FAIRY TALE (STARA BASN, 2003) as “the best Viking movie” for its historical accuracy. Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, who has been called Poland’s John Ford, the 9th century story revolves around a wicked Polish king and a Viking-raised hero. Apparently, Viking reenactment is big in Poland, which the Vikings of Bjornstad think may have contributed to it, first, getting made, and second, its high quality. Also well worth a view for its stunning Icelandic scenery and interesting take on the quintessential Saxon/Norse legend is BEOWULF AND GRENDEL (2005), starring a pre-300 Gerard Butler and featuring some of the best Viking era costumes of any film.

In South Africa-filmed low-budget BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (BLOOD OF BEASTS, 2005), Odin punishes a Viking princess (Jane March)  by trapping her in a castle with a beast. A Gallic bande dessinee hero finally gets big-screen treatment in the French animated comedy ASTERIX AND THE VIKINGS (2006) which seems to forget that Vikings weren’t around yet in AD 50. Robert Zemeckis‘s much-touted 3D BEOWULF (2007) honed so close to the original poem, probably thanks to Neil Gaiman being involved in the script, but yes, the animation even of beautiful Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s evil mother, is decidedly creepy.

PATHFINDER (2007) starred Karl Urban, who certainly looked mighty Norse as Eomer in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, as a Viking raised by Native Americans who ends up leading the tribe that raised him in battle against new Viking invaders. A crappy remake of a much better 1987 Norwegian movie, the story really comes from Lapland/Sammi mythology. Directed by Marcus Nispel (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [2003], CONAN [2011] ), it’s gory melodrama with lots of mist. The same year (2007) also saw the release of the more serious and well-reviewed SEVERED WAYS: THE NORSE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.

Jim Caviezel (THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) travels back from the future to 8th century Norway in  OUTLANDER (2008). Viewers who ignore that this mash-up of Norse mythology and sci-fi is light on history may have silly fun. It features both laser guns and swords, a monster, John Hurt as the old king, Sophia Myles as the prerequisite sexy princess and Ron Perlman as a gruff Viking with, let’s just say, poor manners.

And then there’s VALHALLA RISING (2009). Director Nicholas Winding Refn (DRIVE) spares no punches with the ultra-violence in which Christian Vikings and a mute slave (Mads Mikkelsen, HANNIBAL, CASINO ROYALE) headed for the Holy Land get blinded by fog  and end up in the New World. An article in Movie Fanfare on the “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See” (see link at end) perhaps put it best: “VALHALLA RISING plays like THE VIKINGS co-directed by Terrence Malick and Italian gore specialist Umberto Lenzi!”

And oh yeah, there was some movie about a Marvel super-hero named THOR (2011).

For more about Vikings in the Movies, check out the Vikings of Bjornstad’s Viking Movie List, as well as Movie Fanfare’s “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See.” 

 

Category: Really Retro | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Posted on: Apr 8th, 2013 By:

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

By Robert Emmett Murphy
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

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

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

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

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

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

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

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

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

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

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that’s just plain mean.

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

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

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

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

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 Days of The Plaza, Day 12: Oh, Taboo La La! BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS Is Not A Sequel, There’s Never Been Anything Like It

Posted on: Jun 1st, 2012 By:

By Jeremy “Puck” Turman
Contributing Writer

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970); Dir: Russ Meyer; Writer: Roger Ebert; Starring Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marsha McBroom, Phyllis Davis, Charles Napier; Taboo-La-La Series hosted by Blast-Off  Burlesque at Plaza Theatre, Sat. June 2; 10 PM; arrive early for a sexy live stage show courtesy of Blast-Off Burlesque, all-girl band action from Catfight (featuring Kool Kat Katy Graves) and special guests Baby Doll, Patricia Lopez, Poly Sorbate and Turnin’ TriXXX! And enjoy Psychedelic Trip Punch while DJ Westwood-A-Go-Go spins in the lobby, compete in a Dance FREAK OUT Contest and win prizes from Libertine; $10; age 18 & over only; trailer here.

The first thing that came to mind when I was younger, and BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was brought up, would have been a porno. I mean it is an X-rated title (or was until 1990 when it was re-classified as NC-17 ) It is in fact a Russ Meyer production—the [man with the] same creative energy that unleashed such classic american sleaze as THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS , FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! and VIXEN! upon the masses. It also boasts a healthy dose of nudity-laced scenes littered with culturally taboo topics of the time, which has led to this film being widely considered the zeitgeist of exploitation cinema.

Now that I’m an adult, I have a much broader opinion of the film than just a porno. The story falls into place as three devilishly good-looking young girls in a band looking to make it big head to Hollywood to fulfill the most youthful of dreams, to be rock stars. Hollywood embraces the girls as quickly as a candy bar at fat camp and thus our adventure begins. Along the way they come across everything AND the kitchen sink . Here’s a quick rundown:

This girl Kelly (Dolly Read), band[Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Pet (Marcia McBroom), along with Kelly, form The Kelly Affair) and with boyfriend/band manager Harris (David Gurian) high-tail it to Los Angeles to make it big and find Kelly’s aunt Susan (Phyllis Davis), who has something to do with some money that could somehow be rightfully Kelly’s as well. Susan has an accountant that’s real sleazy and thinks the band are nothing but a bunch of hippies looking for a free ride. The band meets this totally awesome rock producer at a party, and, of course, he demands they sing/play and, of course, they do and, of course, they rock! So now this guy takes over as their manager and has them change their name to The Carrie Nations. This pisses Harris off and he goes on a bender. At this point a lot of nakedness and sex begin happening. Seeing as I haven’t seen this film in over 10 years and knowing the age I was at that time, being a younger man focusing in on the eye candy, the plot begins to fade. Although I can truly say the one thing that sticks out in my mind the most are the colors. Vivid rainbows of tacky print burned into my memory. What were they thinking?

The three gorgeous stars of Russ Meyers' BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (20th Century Fox, 1970).

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has stood the test of time as an example of an era when moral fiber was more prominent in the culture of America and to release a film with such a lack there of was a slap in the face to the establishment from which it bears roots. It screams where’s the line and how far can I get past it before you stop me? How about a film filled with love, rape, murder, sex, dope, abortion and suicide? Sounds deep, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s really a film about nothing. Call it Cult Classic. Call it Sexploitation. Hell, call it Rabid West Coast Surrealism, but keep in mind what the narrator clearly states to close out the film’s trailer: “This is not a sequel, there has never been anything like it.”

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Playing with Scissors, Dreaming of Unspiralled Stairs and Hiding Plastic Spiders with Jeffrey Butzer

Posted on: Mar 28th, 2012 By:

Jeffrey Butzer with accordion. Photo credit: Melissa J. Butzer.

Cinematic. Haunting. Minimalist. Unique. Perfect.  All of these words could describe Jeffrey Butzer‘s eclectic sound rendered with such unusual instrument choices as accordion, toy piano and glockenspiel. The motto of his live shows might be “expect the unexpected” in the best possible way, and his previous recordings and videos, solo and with bands The Bicycle Eaters and The Compartmentalists, have attracted praise from Canadian film director Guy Maddin (THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD) and film critic Roger Ebert. In other words, if all you know about Jeffrey is his Charlie Brown Christmas tribute show (read our article about it here), you’re in for a real treat at the release party for Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters’ new 7-inch HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS (The Great Big) this Saturday night March 31 at The Earl.

ATLRetro caught up with Jeffrey recently to find out more about HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS, the influence of Spaghetti Western scores and scissors on his unique sound, and what it was like to wake up Roger Ebert in the middle of the night.

Just the title HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS suggests a story behind the music. What’s on it, how did you come to write the songs and is it true it will be on red vinyl?

This might not be as mysterious as a back story as one might want to hear, [but] the title refers to something my wife and I did when we first met. We worked together, and at our job we had a bunch of magnetic spiders that were a promotional item for a film and we would hide them from each other. It is a fond memory of us getting to know each other (13 years ago, now). It is on red vinyl; it looks like a Jolly Rancher.

This is the first release as Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters, these are all songs that I came in with the basic structure and melodies, and they “fixed them up.” Kristin [Jarvis] and Chad [Shivers] are amazing with melodies and counter-melodies. Eric [Balint] is like a secret weapon; he knows just what to and not to do and the right times. And William [J. Brisby] has played bass in almost every project and has never missed one single note. That is not a joke.

What was it like recording with a band and a producer?

It was wonderful. I’ve known Luci, the producer, for a very long time, and he is patient and a perfectionist. He slows me down in a good way. He really excels at everything he tries. He’s an amazing photographer, musician and a great dresser. And recording with a band in the past has been impractical. Normally I multi-track the parts, then bring in other musicians after the fact. On this, it was really nice being able to record with most of us in the room; it added a nice mood to the record.

How did you hook up with Gea who directed the video of Case of Unspiralled Stairs ?

I’ve known her for several years; we are both big film enthusiasts. I liked her artwork and asked her if she wanted to do a video for the record, and thankfully she did and it turned out really great.

So Roger Ebert posts the video for “Case of Unspiralled Stairs” on Facebook and says “I woke up in the middle of the night. Jeffrey Butzer had sent me this. That was the perfect time to view it. My mind was still halfway in dreams.” How cool was that and was that the response you had hoped for from it?

It was very cool! I didn’t really know what to expect. He had never really commented when I sent him videos before. I “know” him through a secret society that he and I are both members of. Along with Ken Keeler (FUTURAMA), Neil Gaiman and Guy Maddin.

Speaking of Guy Maddin, how did you meet him and get him to do alternate cover artwork for HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS?

I scored a film called BIRDCATCHER that Guy saw, and we sort of became friends. I am going to hang out with him in New York in a couple weeks! I saw the collages that he made, and he agreed to let us use [one of] them as cover art!

When your music is paired with video, it reminds me of a lost 1950s/60s existentialist French film. Can you talk a bit about how film has influenced your sound and visuals?

Film has always been the band’s biggest influence. All the greats: Buster Keaton, Fellini, Bunuel and Penny Marshall… well, maybe not her so much. I think when I first started making music I wanted to sound like certain artists. But as I got older, other mediums began to influence my music more, especially film. The instrumental music that we make is mostly about mood, much like the film style you mentioned. So I think the approach and what we are trying to achieve isn’t that far apart.

Some have heard the influence of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western scores. Are you a Spaghetti Western fan? What are your favorite films/scores from that genre?

I’m way more into Spaghetti Western music than into the films. There are several I really enjoy. They’re so style-driven that you can really just watch scenes from them isolated from the movie. If I were to name some I like: THE GRAND DUEL and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The other band I’m in The Compartmentalizationalists touches more on the genre than the Bicycle Eaters.

Scissors play a key role in your video for “Lucy 5’s Egg” and I understand you dangle them on stage as well in some of your gigs. Why scissors, and will scissors be part of this week’s show?

I wrote lyrics to a song a really long time ago that had the lines “on a pillar in the sky, a sleeping woman lies, dreaming of the garden of scissors.” I really liked the image. I wrote a screenplay and an album based on that line, and it has sort of stuck as a motif over the years.

An image from the haunting video for "Case of Unspiralled Stairs."

The toy piano, accordion and glockenspiel are unusual instruments for a contemporary musician. What drew you to them?

I like how whimsical they sound together. I never wanted to make music that is old-fashioned or heavily referenced by something from the past. But on the other hand, nostalgia interests me a lot. I first heard toy pianos used a lot by Rob Burger and Margaret Leng Tan.

Why the “Bicycle-Eaters”?

That is a bit of an inside joke. The short version is just that my friend Matt Benard, who plays bass with us, sometimes knows a guy who, in fact…ate a bicycle.

Your gigs are known to include the unexpected, but without giving any big surprises, do you have any special plans for this week’s show at The Earl?

We have a couple OF guest singers and an unusual cover song we are doing. If I tell you anymore, it won’t be unexpected. ZING!

When will your new CD “COLLAPSIBLE” be released and what can you share about it?

I’m not sure. I am hoping for a May release at the Goat Farm. It is a collection of songs played mostly with small arrangements. So far it is just a solo album. I have had a few songs floating around for a while and I record at night after my son goes to sleep. Some are new interpretations of songs I have releases before – only a few though.

I have an odd process. I always set out to make an album with a list of songs in hand. Then when I’m done, as with this one, I cut half of the songs I originally wanted on and record a bunch of new things. For this album, which has between 12-15 songs, I recorded around 35… so far.

What else is up with Jeffrey Butzer? We’ve heard you’ve done some interesting collaborations lately and even dipped into film and theatrical scoring. Any more team-ups planned with Molly Harvey (The Residents)? And aren’t you going to Poland?

Molly and I are planning some shows. Some as a duo and some with a band. Other than that, I’ve got the score for PETER PAN at the Center for Puppetry Arts that starts playing April 5. I am recording a Compartmentalizationalists album with Claire Lodge and Nico from the band Places. Then I am taking a break in June when my second son will be born!  The Poland trip has been put on hold. Hopefully later on we will still go.

 

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2017 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress