Kool Kat of the Week: Double the Exploitation! Double the Bloody Ruckus! DEAR GOD NO!’s James Bickert Dishes on His Trek into 35mm Film with a Monstrous of a Sequel, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS!

Posted on: Mar 24th, 2015 By:

by Aleck BennettFRAN_poster
Contributing Writer

It’s been over three years since we first witnessed the infamous bloodthirsty biker gang, the Impalers going mano a mano with Sasquatch in DEAR GOD NO! (2011), James “Jimmy” Bickert’s lovingly crafted 16mm shrine to All-Things-Exploitation. Turns out that while Bickert has been busy doing things like helping resurrect the World Famous Drive-Invasion, he’s been working all the while on his film’s long-awaited sequel, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS! Filmed in glorious 35mm, the sequel will find our anti-heroes reanimated and back on the trail of Bigfoot while also trying to elude rival gangs, the law, bounty hunters, mutants and a femme fatale with a thing for explosives. If the wild description and upgrade in film format hasn’t clued you in that Jimmy Bickert is aiming for a bigger spectacle than before, he’s also added genre favorites like HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2’s Laurence Harvey, HEADLESSEllie Church and AMERICAN MARY’s Tristan Risk to his ensemble of returning actors including Kool Kat Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow, Gargantua, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse), Kool Kat Jett Bryant (Bigfoot), Nick Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Bill Ratliff (Truckadelic), Kool Kat Madeline Brumby, Jim Stacy (Pallookaville, Get Delicious!, Offbeat Eats) and many more!

As with DEAR GOD NO!, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS went directly to its potential audience for support through a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, and met its budgetary goals with time to spare. But the campaign still rolls on, with insane perks (ranging from the expected DVDs and Blu-rays to tattoos, personalized burlesque videos, on-screen appearances, decapitated heads and biker jackets) on offer for those willing to pony up and help move the movie through those heady days of post-production and distribution. Check out the full range of rewards here, because there’s still time to be a part of exploitation film history!

Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and James Bickert

Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and James Bickert

ATLRetro caught up with Jimmy Bickert for a quick rundown on what’s coming back for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, why going with crowd-funding made sense for this project and what you should be watching while you wait for this tale to unspool on a theater screen near you!

ATLRetro: First off, why a Kickstarter for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS? Are there any inherent advantages with going this route over taking an indie co-production deal?

Jimmy Bickert: It’s very difficult to pitch an idea like FCB to anyone. No sane person would get involved with such a rotten picture. (laughs) That’s the beauty of crowd-funding. We can rebel against what is trendy in the marketplace, even micro sub-genres of horror, without worrying about someone’s return investment. It’s freedom to put what we want to see and experience on the screen without having to placate or conform to the expectations of the general public, too. Nobody on this production team has any interest in doing anything we’ve seen before or a hundred times over for that matter. If we can look at the screen and laugh together, the journey was a success.

You’ve assembled some great bonuses for investors, ranging from special DVDs and Blu-Rays to posters and international distribution rights (!!!). What can folks looking to invest via Kickstarter expect to get when they pony up their dough?

DEAR GOD NO!

DEAR GOD NO!

We’ve reached our goal but WE NEED MORE MONEY FOR POST PRODUCTION! (laughs) They will immediately know they’re dealing directly with like-minded cinema fans. Many Kickstarter rewards tend to distance themselves from the contributors by offering digital downloads. How lazy and impersonal is that? I’m going to address a package and physically mail it to you. I may even throw in something extra and if our paths cross, we can share a beer together. We’re not looking for something for nothing. Many of the rewards are designed to get people involved and let them be a part of this project. We’re building a community and not trying to step on people so we can hang at L.A. cocktail parties. There is a level of smugness you find in the Indie film festival scene that is absent among the horror Indies. We tend to embrace our audience and drag them along for the ride.

Okay, my two main fascinations growing up were anything related to Bigfoot and Frankenstein. DEAR GOD NO! did Sasquatch proud while taking on other sub-genres—biker flicks, mad scientists, etc. What new ingredients are you bringing to the Frankenstein template?

We’re reviving everything you mentioned. There is a plot device in FCB very similar to the Shaw Brothers’ Kung-fu films and Spaghetti Westerns where we introduce three “larger than life” bounty hunters. I’m most excited about incorporating elements from one of my favorite sub-genres—the Talking Head movie. Since the script has just about everything, I would love to incorporate a kitchen sink into a death scene. (laughs)

Last time out, you nearly burned down one of the screens at the Starlight staging a van explosion. Do you have anything new planned that has the potential for that kind of destruction with FRANKENSTEIN? We do. Much more controlled this time around but yes, there will be some explosions. Shhh! I’m trying to secure my production insurance policy! (laughs)

DEAR GOD NO!

DEAR GOD NO!

You’re shooting this on 35mm, which is both a step up from DEAR GOD NO!’s 16mm and away from the mainstream’s adoption of digital as the norm. What led to this decision and what qualities would you say 35mm offers you over the other two formats? In other words, how is this going to affect FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS’ look?

We’re shooting on 35mm to have that connection to cinematic history on the set. I like a hand-crafted aesthetic that doesn’t resemble a Marvel blockbuster. Visually I can tell the difference. It appears more natural to my vision – especially with some good lenses. The medium will definitely help convey the late ‘70s visual connotations we’re trying to achieve. Due to the lack of availability for independents, this is probably our last chance to shoot on film so we’re going to make it count.

In addition to the returning DEAR GOD NO! ensemble, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS features contemporary genre notables like Ellie Church, Laurence Harvey and Tristan Risk. How did you wind up casting them?

They’re all great people that I’ve met at Horror conventions while promoting DEAR GOD NO! or was introduced to by friends like director Jill Sixx Gevargizian. Not only are they being brought in because they are talented and right for the roles, but they are also genuine people who will fit right into the homegrown talent we already have. I’m looking forward to seeing what they bring to their characters and watching our world-wide horror community get closer.

Any other people from behind the scenes coming back for this entry (music/crew)?

Pretty much everybody. We have a good group. If anything, we’re just adding more people. Bryan G. Malone and Adam McIntryre (The Forty-Fives) will be handling the soundtrack again with the brilliant Richard Davis (Gargantua) composing the score. Post-production sound doesn’t get a whole lot of direction from me. These are some of the most talented people I know and they deliver the goods.

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Lastly, you’ve got an encyclopedic knowledge of exploitation greats. Give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching right now—directors or movies, past or present, well-known or obscure.

Brian Lonano‘s CROW HAND (2014) is big right now. It’s a bloody good mess of a short. I’ve been so busy writing that I’ve been avoiding my genre fan responsibilities. There is a ton of stuff I’m really looking forward to seeing like Astron-6’s THE EDITOR (2014), Arthur Cullipher’s HEADLESS (2015), Stephen Biro’s AMERICAN GUINEA PIG (2014), Adam Ahlbrandt’s HUNTERS (2015). Everything Richard Griffin and the Soska twins (Jen and Sylvia Soska, ed.) are doing. Just to name a few. There is a ton out there. On my down time, I keep digging up Joe Sarno films from the ‘60s and revisiting Mark Haggard’s THE ALL AMERICAN GIRL (1973). You can’t go wrong with PAYDAY (1973), HONKY TONK NIGHTS (1978), THE OUTFIT (1973), LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO (1983) or PRIME CUT (1972). If you’re just looking for a fun creature-feature, track down Michael Stanley’s ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES (1985) or Richard Cunha’s GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN (1958). Ugh! Don’t get me started! I have a shooting schedule to work out and flights to book. (laughs)

 

All photos courtesy of James Bickert and used with permission.

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One of Us! One of Us!: Monsterama Celebrates the Monster Kid Aug 1-3 in Atlanta!

Posted on: Jul 31st, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

For some poor souls, the term “monster kid” means nothing more than a particularly destructive toddler, or one of those teens raising hell on daytime talk show stages.

For the enlightened, however, there’s Monsterama.

Monster kids of all ages will soon descend onto Monsterama, a new horror and fantasy convention launching this weekend under the care of some of Atlanta’s most stalwart champions of the horrific and the macabre. And although the city may at times seem infested with horror-themed gatherings, Monsterama is aiming to capture more than just a piece of the action. “Though there were conventions that had horror-related programming, there wasn’t a show here that fully embraced the ‘monster kid’ aesthetic,” says Monsterama co-founder Anthony Taylor. Shane Morton, another key voice behind the convention and alter-ego of con guest Professor Morte, agrees. “Having attended the greatest cons ever conceived—Forry’s [Fantastic Monster] Cons of the mid-90s—I find it hard to be impressed by any recent horror, sci-fi, or fantasy shows. We have tried very hard to capture the feel of those shows, albeit on a smaller scale, and to provide a family friendly alternative to the current debauched cons.”

“Forry,” for the uninitiated, is Forrest J. Ackerman, the late founder of the seminal monster movie magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. Ackerman’s impact on American horror and science-fiction fandom is surprisingly easy to quantify—it wouldn’t be out of line to say he’s the father of it all. Ackerman and his partner James Warren created Famous Monsters in 1958 in response to a glut of horror movies beaming into American living rooms. Because horror and sci-fi films were considered disposable and unimportant in the shadow of studio prestige pictures, these old programmers were cheap to acquire and broadcast for television stations, exposing them an entire generation of new fans. Through the magazine, conventions and other outreach, Ackerman helped these kids find one another in the days before chat rooms and sub-reddits, when the world was truly a lonely place for a kid who knew more about rubber suits than car engines or home economics.

But what really made Ackerman’s brand of horror fandom so special was his unabashed, undiminishing love of the genre and all of its tropes. No matter how many monsters wreaked havoc on the screen, Ackerman and his monster kids never lost their “gee-whiz” enthusiasm, which in turn bred more enthusiasm. It’s this atmosphere in particular that Taylor and Morton hope to recreate.

“I’ve been a monster fan all my life, and I knew Atlanta was full of folks like me,” writes Taylor. “I’d see them at Silver Scream Spook Show screenings, DragonCon and other events.” Monsterama aims to capture that audience by filling the con with irresistible programming for the monster-initiated. The guest list is populated with names from all eras of horror cinema, including Veronica Carlson of Hammer Films fame; Larry Blamire, creator of the contemporary throwback cult favorite THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, and author and public speaker Victoria Price, daughter of Hollywood icon Vincent Price. On the literature side, writers like Brian Keene (THE RISING), James R. Tuck (DEACON CHALK) and comics author Dan Jolley (FIRESTORM) will shed some light on the author’s process. Rounding out the guest list are filmmakers like this week’s Kool Kat Daniel Griffith (LET THERE BE LIGHT), Atlanta voice talent C. Martin Croker (Adult Swim), artist Mark Maddox and professional ghost hunter Scott Tepperman. Check out the full guest list here.

[Full disclosure: ATL Retro editor Anya Martin is also a writer guest and may be found on a number of spooky panels throughout the con.]

For classic movie buffs, the events are possibly even more compelling. The convention boasts a selection of horror films screening in—oh, happy day!—16mm, which is where you’ll be likely to find this author if you need him at any point during the weekend. Other events include author Gordon Shriver performing his one-man show as Boris Karloff, local comedy troupe Cineprov riffing on the cult oddity EQUINOX, and the glorious return of the Silver Scream Spook Show as Professor Morte and his crew introduce the cowboys vs. dinosaurs classic, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. And that’s in addition to a museum of “rare monster and kaiju artifacts,” filmmaking panels, and photo ops. The full schedule of panels and events can be yours by clicking here.

Monsterama hasn’t forgotten that “gee-whiz” spirit that lies at the heart of every monster kid. Even Taylor himself can’t help but name some genre cornerstones when describing the show. “I hope that everyone who grew up loving KING KONG, GODZILLA, FRANKENSTEIN or the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON will come out and have a grand time celebrating with us,” says Taylor. Morton chooses to invoke another iconic figure. “I can guarantee that you will feel the ghost of Uncle Forry hovering over our haunted hotel this weekend! Don’t miss this show, it’s gonna be legendary!!!”

Monsterama begins on August 1 at 4:00 at the Holiday Inn Perimeter. Three day badges are $55. Single day badges for Friday or Sunday are $25, and Saturday single-day badges are $30. CHILDREN 12 AND UNDER ARE FREE.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Haint Misbehavin’: ATLRetro Reviews Atlanta’s Top Halloween Attractions

Posted on: Oct 25th, 2013 By:

The horror! The horror! Thanks to some dedicated monster-lovers, Atlanta has become the year-round capital city of Scary. This October, though, our local terrifying talent has outdone themselves in creepy creativity. Here are our reviews of five of the city’s hottest haunted attractions. One general tip for all: wear comfortable closed toe shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting moist. Don’t worry. The monsters may tell you they are spurting you with blood or other bodily fluids, but it’s just water. Well, we think it is.

ATLRETRO’S HAINT OF THE SEASON: CHAMBER OF HORRORS

Chambers of Horror, Atlanta’s adults-only haunt behind The Masquerade, has come a long way baby from a torture porn extravaganza to a creepy crawl through a septic, gritty underworld. So we’re not only calling it this year’s most improved attraction but also a must-see, as long as you have a stomach for  extreme violence and the phantasmagorically pornographic. Let’s be clear–you won’t be seeing parasexual activity, but nakedness and deformed organs are in view.

This year’s concept has the old Torture Co. burned to the ground, but some of its denizens have survived in caverns below, continuing their brutal pursuits. The journey begins in an elevator that shakes and shudders just enough to evoke a realistic ride down five stories with a most unwelcome host.  Once below, what makes this year’s Chambers stand out is its atmosphere and acting. You really feel like you are deep below, passing through cave-like passages between disturbing dioramas, such as a monstrous birthing, which look believably real rather than staged. Sure, there were some jumpy scares and victims predictably cried out mournfully for help, but it was their torturers beckoning with a longing evocative of Clive Barker’s Cenobites, who truly tantalizing us with a promise of pain, both excruciating but yet beautiful. Open through Nov. 2.

LABOR OF LOVE: ATLANTA ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE 

When most folks, even in the horror biz, think of haunts, they peg them as places you walk or ride through with scares that jump out at you. Forget all that passive voyeurism with ATLANTA ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (AZA), which this year again boasts two attractions and a zombie shoot. Since its founding four years ago, this bizarre brainchild of Shane Morton, aka Professor Morte of the The Silver Scream Spookshow, and Johnny Rej, former owner of the Plaza Theatre, distinguished itself as a fully immersive experience where visitors literally become part of a realistic plot line of a zombie incursion. Some may consider it off the beaten track just south of I-285 at the Moreland Avenue exit, but the abandoned aura of this industrial area only adds to the apocalyptic feel, and there’s no discounting that having the full run of Safety Wolf, a derelict motel/truck stop turned paintball course, opens up a toxic host of possibilities.

What we love about this year’s AZA’s three attractions is that they steer away from George Romero, WALKING DEAD and other military-industrial plague zombie stories. That doesn’t mean there aren’t military types running around with paintball automatic weaponry, but rather that the cumulative effect is a love affair with some classic horror tropes in creative ways which frankly we’ve never seen at other haunts, which appeal to the Retro as well as the contemporary horror fan, and which will delight everyone who is tired of zombies, too. We don’t want to reveal any spoilers, so all we’ll say about the first main new attraction is that it is quintessentially Shane and will especially delight old school Spookshow fans. This is a good point to note that AZA’s staff includes many Spookshow members and attendees, and that passion permeates every aspect of this team effort of true old-school monster movie fans. The second experience incorporates the woods behind the motel again and returns to the same Lovecraftian territory with the dead raised by Cthulhu-worshipping cultists as last year, but expect different guides, twists and a much stronger climax. Even the zombie shoot rises to another level this year. Shooters don’t stand and aim at zombie targets, but rather get to run from room  to room with a safety helmet and weapon just like they would in a real zombie apocalypse.

In sum, ATLRetro couldn’t have had more fun. It’s not a haunt or even just an immersive theater experience, it’s a labor of love not just by Shane Morton but also embodying the heart and soul of what makes Atlanta’s monster movie community truly unique and –hell, we’ll dare to say it– the best in the nation. Open through Nov. 2.

MOST GOTHICALLY GORGEOUS: NETHERWORLD

Consistently ranked as the nation’s best Halloween attraction, Netherworld is also completely homegrown rather than corporately conceived. Founders Billy Messina and Ben Armstrong and a dedicated team of designers, painters, sculptors and other artists deserve ever kudo imaginable for crafting a Gothic wonderland in a Norcross commercial space. Every year it gets bigger and better, yes, making us invoke Clive Barker again–a literal manifestation of Midian, where the Monsters live in his novella CABAL and the movie version NIGHTBREED (1990).

The ATLRetro team doesn’t scare easily, so we just walked slowly in awe of the bizarre beauty from graveyards of gargoyles to mirrored mazes, decadent dioramas inhabited by vampires and other classic monsters to sinister steampunk laboratories, weird werewolf lairs to abysses inhabited gigantic Lovecraftian elder Gods. NETHERWORLD also always features a second haunt that is usually more slasher/contemporary horror in its bent–read toxic waste and chainsaws. This year’s BOGEYMAN was particularly fun, our favorite part being the bouncy dancing killer clowns. Yeah, you read that right. We usually are totally freaked out by clowns, and these clowns were mighty creepy. Or maybe we just enjoyed scaring them by hopping along. Open through Nov. 3.

BEST BATTLE OF THE BEASTS: MONSTROSITY CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING AT SIX FLAGS FRIGHT FEST 

Every October Six Flags Over Georgia is overrun by ghastly ghouls, terrifying monsters and psychotic mad scientists, but their 2013 Fright Fest has grown hellishly bigger than ever. They’ve upped the ante with 11 haunted attractions and four live shows, but for us the real Retro treat was Monstrosity Championship Wrestling (MCW), which has taken over the Axis Arena in Gotham City for four afternoon shows at 2, 3, 4 and a big Battle Royale featuring all the big bad beasts at 5 p.m.

Yup, we mean the same MCW that was cooked up by our BFF blog Wrestling with Pop Culture (check out our Kool Kat interview with blogger Jonathan Williams here) and “Atlanta’s Renaissance man of horror” Shane Morton (check out his Kool Kat interview here). Yup, Shane has been doubling up on October weekends with MCW during the day as The Silver Scream Spookshow’s “ghost host with the most” Professor Morte and then heading to supervise his other baby Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse (AZA) at night. With the assistance of the horrifically humorous Ringmaster, Morte crowns the bloody victors in matches made in hell as MCW’s deadly contenders duke it out in fearsome full-throttle matches. On a recent Sunday, we saw such creepy contenders collide as MCW faves Dragula, the Alabama Wolfman, Pandora, Bad Santa and more! When they’re not bringing their pro-league fight club for monsters to Six Flags, they can be seen battling it out on their home turf, Club Famous every first Friday of the month. Weekends through Oct. 27.

ATLANTA’S NEWEST HAUNT: CONTAINMENT

The newest haunt on the Atlanta scene is Containment, located underneath Atlantic Station. As described on Containment’s website, “An assortment of demonic artifacts collected by the mysterious Frightmares, Inc., was to be safely transported by train through Atlanta as part of a convoy of secured cargo containers.  ut a mysterious chain of events changed everything. The train derailed, causing the containers to crash onto the Atlantic Station property, followed by a series of unexplained incidents, disturbing behavior and mysterious disappearances.”

Visitors pass through 19 cargo containers featuring bizarre medical equipment, creepy dolls, apocalyptic motorcycle riders, redneck cannibals, even a Victorian greenhouse. Other than the occasional character jumping out of the shadows at you, there aren’t too many big scares, but there are quite a lot of interesting ‘artifacts’ to look at in the 25,000 square feet, quarter-mile long haunt. Containment is open through November 3rd.

Thanks to Melanie Crew and Rebecca Perry for their assistance with Six Flags Fright Fest/MCW and Containment.

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Kool Kats of the Week: DILBERT Does Demonic: Raising Corporate Hell with the Pretty Faces of Shane Morton and Chris Brown

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 By:

Chris Brown and Shane Morton at The Lab. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

When Shane Morton, aka Atlanta’s Renaissance man of horror, and Chris Brown, mad mastermind of Macabre Puppets and the bloody musical SCARLET’S WEB (Dad’s Garage), first got involved with Adult Swim‘s  YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL, they immediately realized this grotesque and groovy gig was their dream, or should we say nightmare, job. The initial assignment was special effects makeup, but the show didn’t have an art director yet. It’s a story Shane has already told colorfully in several articles, but he asked them for a couple of days to film a make-up test to prove the pair could transform humans into demons in 45 minutes, then he got to work on sketches and models. Being old-school Ray Harryhausen fans, Shane and Chris wanted to do as much as possible with miniatures, but budgets and technological advances dictated a balance between digital effects for lava flows and heads spinning like Linda Blair and the old ways for blood spurts and HR Geiger-esque urinals. Still, the pair didn’t have to do much to convince everyone to let them take over much of what perhaps a little ironically is called the “practical” effects for the series.

“Maybe we were thinking too much about that,” Shane says, speaking about his passion for traditional effects from the monster FX Lab he’s built south of the city at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. The undead Halloween attraction is one of many horror events he has nurtured locally and is a big force behind the transformation of Atlanta into Halloween-town, USA. “We did sculpt and cast all the horns themselves,” he continues. “We didn’t want to be just painting people red and sticking horns on them, and we didn’t want anything store-bought.”

Ever since the Middle Ages, comedies about deals with the Devil have proven a surefire hit. Think about such Retro cult classic movies as BEDAZZLED (The 1967 version, of course, starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and POOR DEVIL (TV, 1971), starring Sammy Davis Jr.  and Christopher Lee). YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL mixes in-your-face crassness and generous gore with office comedy, reimagining Hades as a contemporary cubicle-ridden setting. Demon Gary (played by Henry Zebrowski) is dedicated but far too much of a screw-up to earn a promotion. Yet it’s hard not to empathize with the well-meaning “associate” because we all like to complain about our bosses, but his, well, has to be worst because it’s Satan. The original live-action series is created and directed by Dave Willis (AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE, SQUIDBILLIES) and Casper Kelly (SQUIDBILLIES, HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY AT LAW; STROKER & HOOP). The final installment of the six-episode run airs this Thursday May 23, 2013, at midnight.

Henry Zebrowski stars as Gary the demon in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

At the Silver Scream Spookshow, Shane’s homage to Retro spook shows of old, he regularly performs magic tricks as Horror Host with the Most Professor Morte. Whether transforming humans into monsters with make-up, conjuring up crazy sets or engineering a splattery gross-out nosebleed, Shane views his effects work equally as magic. A consummate showman, he “performs” for the crew and ultimately the TV audience. “When there is special effects stuff going on, everybody wants to be around to watch it,” Shane says. “You’re getting to see the trick in the magic trick. You’re getting to peek behind the curtain.”

Part of the magic on YOUR PRETTY FACE was having to be prepared for the unexpected every day on the set. The script served only as a loose guide because a great deal of improvisation happened, too, Shane says. With that in mind, he kept a “library of prosthetics” on set. At the AZA Lab prior to shooting, he crafted multiple “wounds and hanging eyeballs and sets of teeth, because you never know what these people are going to ask for.”

Shane and Chris started each day by getting the cast into make-up. As simple as it may seem to paint someone red and stick on horns, Shane notes that because the body is organic–yeah, people sweat and rub against things–there’s a nonstop need for  reapplication. “We were constantly touching up their noses, painting in their ears, touching their beards up, molesting them all day long,” Shane says. “You have to get intimate.”

That process became trickier when on location, such as for the third episode, Take Life By the Horns,” in which Gary found himself fallen into a ravine. That shoot involved dodging poison ivy and copperhead snakes and having to rappel camera equipment down the side of a mountain, Chris recalls.

After make-up, the pair would launch into preparing the special effects and any additional props needed for the day. Sometimes that could be blood or pus or a potion of extreme projectile vomit, also needed for the ravine shoot. “We had a limited amount of time, so I literally used a sump pump, like you use to bail water out of your basement,” Chris says. “I put together a big plunger and a giant syringe, and then opened the nozzle to spew out a rainbow collection, which included stew, cream of mushroom soup, I made some gelatin and crunched up into chunks. The smell quickly turned rancid so it even smelled like vomit.” In addition, Gary broke his leg from the fall down the cliff, and Chris had to create nauseating pus to spew from the wound. Yes, it did involve black blood, red blood and tapioca pudding!

Satan (Matt Servitto) gets a touch-up from Shane Morton. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

Shane and Chris are used to working wonders on a tight budget and schedule whether it’s for local theater or DEAR GOD! NO!, an over-the-top neo-exploitation movie involving bikers, Bigfoot and a Nazi mad scientist which scored awards at grindhouse festivals across the nation. While the budget was not huge for YOUR PRETTY FACE, it was much larger than the typical indie which allowed such treats as Chris was crafting Satan’s legs out of actual yak fur rather than a used gorilla suit. “The original talk was that Satan would be fat, over-the-hill, and extra lecherous like the demon in LEGEND (1985) as if time has caught up with him,” Shane says. “We were really gung ho for that, but we loved the look he ended up with.”

A secret ingredient underneath Satan’s furry legs was spandex tights, that could easily be changed out if Matt Servitto, the actor who plays Satan, felt sweaty. A lycra lining gave four-way stretch which, as Shane notes, even allowed Matt to do David Lee Roth kicks in a photo shoot. As for costume maintenance, well, “it was like combing out a big dog,” Chris says.

Perhaps Shane’s favorite set pieces are the aforementioned H.R. Geiger-esque urinals, the bowls of which needed to accommodate the heads of demons who displeased Satan. Yeah, he pees on them, including sometimes poor hapless Gary. Originally they were supposed to be clean, standard urinals, but then Shane had the crazy idea to make them scary: “Everything in hell is monsters, so let’s make the urinals monsters, too!”

Shane Morton at work on Claude (Craig Rowin), Gary's over-dedicated intern in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

Shane went home and crafted a miniature model, brought it in, and got the greenlight to create a urinal that looks like an extra-large facehugger. He toyed with various color ideas but finally decided that the bathrooms otherwise would be spotless in Hell.

The demonic duo were impressed that the show really did follow through with Satan actually peeing on the demons’ heads. Of course, even with a program that prides itself on shock value, some things inevitably didn’t make the final cut. For example, Satan won’t poop on Gary’s face, even though the scene was filmed. “It will end up on DVD maybe,” Shane says hopefully. “Somebody getting pooped on or an arm hacked off is a good day at work! It keeps the energy up.”

Satan’s office is packed with props created by Shane and Chris, though it is not perhaps quite the devilish “greatest hits” collection that they originally envisioned. Instead of the trophies and plaques that have become de rigeur in executive offices, Shane wanted to include on the shelf Eve’s apple, Christ’s crown of thorns and Hitler’s head in a jar. And clearance couldn’t be gotten for Wall of Shame photos of Satan flashing a big grin with dubious celebrities such as David Hasselhoff and the Octomom. Still, those who look carefully will see many subtle Shane and Chris touches such as faces of tortured souls on the steel balls that click back and forth on the Devil’s desk. “Everything is pumped up a little bit because after all we are in hell,” Shane says. “Even the elevator switch looks like something scary.”

In other words, Shane and Chris had one of a helluva good time. At an apartment location, some little old ladies told the crew “they were going to pray for us because we were doing the devil’s work,” Shane says. “We joked every day and maybe it did get a bit old but ‘it’s really hell getting all this done today!’”

Shane holds up his own head, a prop he crafted for DEAR GOD! NO! Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

As the season draws to a close, the pair are now just waiting to hear the final ratings and whether the show gets greenlit for a second season. If yes, they’re hoping for a bigger budget and the chance to play around more with more practical special effects over CGI–“to raise the bar,” as Chris says. “If we end up getting multiple seasons, it’s only going to get more extreme,” he adds. And maybe there’ll even be a cameo for that giant spider with the humungous nut-sack hanging on his back that turned out to be expensive to cast.

In the meantime, Chris will be working on the script for a $3-4 million movie version of SCARLET’S WEB. And Shane recently wrapped the indie feature, TALES FROM MORNINGVIEW CEMETERY. In it, he appears as Professior Morte, fulfilling the Cryptkeeper role, introducing the segments and holding the show together. He’s also involved in preproduction with director Jimmy Bickert for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, the much-anticipated sequel to DEAR GOD! NO! It will be filmed in 35mm widescreen hopefully by the end of 2013, he revealed, and include a lot more special effects and monsters. Look for Shane, or rather his Professor Morte alter-ego, at the 11th Annual Rock n Roll Monster Bash at the Starlight Six Drive-In on Sunday June 2. The movies this year are THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975) and EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), not to mention six bands, scary shopping and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling! [ED. Note: Watch for Retro Reviews of both movies next week]

Editor’s Note: Shane and Chris are just a few of the talented local folk streaming by in the end credits of YOUR PRETTY FACE. More ATLRetro friends include producer Linda Burns (V/H/S, THE SIGNAL), set decorator/property master Laurie Garner, who’s played bass in so many Atlanta bands (She-Monster and Vietnam to name a few), and the indomitable Eddie Ray (SATANIC PANIC BAND OUT OF HELL and a previous Kool Kat to boot!).

ALSO: Learn some of the make-up secrets Shane Morton used in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL at his Monster Make-up Class on Sunday May 26 in his Lab at AZA. For more details, visit the Facebook Event Page here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Pop Culture Birthday to Remember: DeWitt Dawson on the Lost Art of Wrestling Management and Crowning the Champ of Monstrosity Championship Wrestling Fri. March 1 at Famous Pub

Posted on: Feb 28th, 2013 By:

Our BFF blog Wrestling with Pop Culture is celebrating its second anniversary with the biggest, baddest Monstrosity Championship Wrestling match yet this Fri. March 1 at 9 p.m. at Famous Pub in Toco Hills. The horror-movie-inspired league is crowning its first champion, Professor Morte and the Silver Scream SpookShow gang will be on hand for scary shenanigans and Metal Gaga will be providing unforgettable entertainment with heavy metal versions of Lady Gaga hits. Oh, and lest we forget, you’ll have another chance to win a Pine Street Market box of meat and other fun prizes in the raffle! All that and more for only $10!

The night’s fearsome and fun festivities include semifinal matches pitting the Phantom against “Bona Fide” Fred Yehi and Papa Marko against “The Undead Luchador” Supernatural! Witness a queer bar brawl where previous Kool Kat Johnny Danger and Dragula take their fight against the intolerant Alabama Wolfman and Kentucky Wolfman all over the bar! Quozzy Quozzbourne promises to bring a St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun to the party, Dark Mon vows to preach his own Easter sermon, and well, they tell us there’s much, much more.

We interviewed Jonathan Williams, the monster-mind behind Wrestling with Pop Culture, last year for WWPC’s first birthday, so this time we asked him who else will be the Koolest Kat in the bar. He suggested DeWitt Dawson, better known within wrestling circles as “Double D,” who will be managing Fred Yehi in the MCW tournament and also manages some of Georgia’s other top wrestling talents from Universal Independent Wrestling in Villa Rica, NWA Atlanta in Locust Grove, etc. After all, as Jonathan notes, “managers are kind of a lost art in wrestling.” So it was a special treat to ask DeWitt not just to go behind the scenes for a preview of this Friday’s action but also about what it takes to be a wrestling manager, what he loves about the sport and how he became a master at his craft.

ATLRetro: What role do you play as a manager?

DeWitt Dawson: Simply put. I am the eyes, the ears and the mouth for my charges. I am the best foot forward outside the ring, so all they have to think about is what goes on inside them ropes and turnbuckles. If they need to be somewhere, Double D gets ’em there early. If they need to leave somewhere, Double D gets ’em out before the first blue light hits the scene.

How do you select the men you manage?

I am looking for folks who can benefit from my counsel as much as I can benefit from their talent. Nothing under the sun is free but bad advice, and the ole Alabama Icon don’t give out nothing but golden nuggets of wisdom. So that must be repaid with championships. I am not here to manage folks who might get it, or who can get it done. I only open up my waiting arms to them that need that extra push to not just be good, but to be great.

Who do you manage?

Little darling, my clientele is not hard to validate, but I ain’t going to make it that easy on you. The bricks that are building Double D’s Empire are ever increasing. If you really want to know who I am managing, start taking stock of the titles that sit on the waists of the champions in this state, and I bet you won’t have to look far to see Dewitt Dawson somewhere close by.

What attracted you to professional wrestling?

Honey, you would have a whole heap less work if I told you what didn’t attract me to this business, ’cause I can honestly say that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with professional wrestling. One of my earliest memories is a young Double D huffin’ and weezin’ trying to catch his breath in the wee morning hours having my first asthma attack. I didn’t know up from down or Hell from Heaven, and the only way my lovin’ mama could get me to calm down was to tell me that she bet all the wrestlers that I loved so much were up getting ready to be on TV that Saturday morning. That settled me right down, and you can bet your last money that I went to the emergency room and got back home in time to see Ko Ko B Ware on the TV that morning.

I guess [as] a youngern,  it was the crazy characters that I loved – the Ultimate Warriors, the Stings and the Blue Blazers of the world. As I got a little older, I was infatuated with the talkers – the American Dreams and Nature Boys. After that it was the showmen – The Heart Break Kids, the RVDs and the Eddie Guerreros. These days, it is the driven ones who ain’t making a penny over the bare-ass minimum, but they still go out there and put on a hell of a show for the people – the Shane Marxes, the Jagged Edges and the Demigods of the world.

From whom do you draw inspiration?

My inspiration comes from the folks I mentioned just now and from the red clay and white fields of the great state of Alabama. Everybody wants to know why I sound the way I do and say things that they ain’t never heard before. Simply put, it is because these roots run right through the cotton fields and contradictions of Alabama the beautiful. I draw as much inspiration from my brother The Pretty Boy, and Donnie Tidwell, and my uncles, and my mama nem as I do Dusty Rhodes and Shawn Michaels.

How is wrestling different now than in your youth?

I know a lot of people will tell you how everything has gone plum to Hell with wrestling over the last few years, and they make some fine points. But when you get right down to it, good wrestling is the same as it ever was. You tell a good story, somebody gets their ass whipped, and you do it all again the next week.

Which crowds are your favorite?

A paying one. What other kind of crowd is there? Hell, I got a closet full of shotguns that ain’t as loaded as that damn question. But if you got balls big enough to ask it, I got balls big enough to answer it. The only thing that a wrestling crowd needs is passion and a little bit of sense. As long as they got their eyes focused on the action and their mouths open and yelling at who they don’t like and cheering who they do like, they will be just fine. They ain’t got to know every damn hold under the sun, and they ain’t got to be able to name all the damn Villanos to have a good time so long as they ain’t dumb enough to try to put their hands on me and they don’t [think] they’re smarter than everybody else there, then I bet they have a good time.

Why aren’t you a nicer man? Have you considered therapy?

I am as gentle as a pussy cat in the right environs. When I settle into here at the ole home place and I pull off my boots, pop the top on a Paul Bryant beer, cut on them ole Drive-by Truckers, I tell you I am as sweet as pumpkin pie. Because of that, I don’t have no reservation about raising pure hell every time I am anywhere near a squared circle, and the only therapy I need is to see my Empire bathed in the gold of champions.

What are your ambitions in wrestling?

My only ambition in wrestling is to give this business half as much as it has given me and to burn a trail in Georgia that makes General Sherman look like a lightning bug in a damn super nova.

What appeals to you personally about Monstrosity Championship Wrestling (MCW)?

On any night at a MCW show, you ain’t got clue 1 as to what in the blue Hell is going to come through that curtain next. It might be one of the best technical wrestlers you ever laid eyes on, or it might be some kind of half-dead zombie-assed sasquatch monster. You might not know whether to clap your hands or clinch pucker your assshole. It is just like ole Double D; you don’t what you are going to get, but you know good and well it is going to be entertaining as all get out.

What are you looking forward to the most about MCW this Friday?

Aw honey, that is simple. We are going to crown our first champion, and that is always a special occasion in any wrestling show’s history. When you look at the folks that are still kicking in this tournament, then you know it is going to be a champion who is plenty worthy.

Why should even someone who is not a big wrestling fan attend?

Well, if you like drinking cold beer, your ort to be there. If you like womerns who ain’t bashful about showing you a little of that thang, you ort to be there. If you like that damn banging and clanging or some kind of heavy metal outfit, you ort to be there. If you like boxes of meat, you ort to be there. And if you would like to hear the golden voice of the best damn commentator that you have ever heard in your long-legged life, you damn well better have you asses front and center.

A special thank you to Kool Kat Chuck Porterfield for his help with this article.

All photos are courtesy of DeWitt Dawson. All rights reserved.

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Kool Kat of the Week: The Beating Heart of Art: Garrett DeHart and His Poe-Inspired Short Film IF I AM YOUR MIRROR

Posted on: Feb 22nd, 2013 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Atlanta native filmmaker and photographer Garrett DeHart is the mastermind behind one of the most inventive short films ATLRetro has seen in recent years: IF I AM YOUR MIRROR. An adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the film takes Poe’s lean exercise in mounting paranoia and expands it into a fractured document of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the years following the Civil War. Beyond the narrative twists taken with Poe’s themes, the film dramatically stylizes the world its characters inhabit – presenting it as a living Victorian-era oil painting imbued with the blood, spit, dirt and murk both of the time and of its main character’s mind. The portrayal of that lead character by the late actor Larry Holden in one of his last roles, is a triumph: in turns fierce and fragile, proud and pitiable. Currently available for viewing online, this immersive 18-minute epic is well worth your time.

In honor of this horrific accomplishment, ATLRetro goes Really Retro with this week’s Kool Kat.  We spoke with Mr. DeHart about his experiences making the film, the techniques behind creating the images, his influences, his local ties and much more.

ATLRetro: IF I AM YOUR MIRROR has a remarkable visual style, resembling an oil painting come to life. Were there any particular artists that inspired the look of your film? Filmmaking-wise, who influenced you on this particular project?

Garrett DeHart: I’ve always loved Poe, and  I had been playing around with a process to make live action film look like an animated oil painting. I thought the color and composition of Romantic painting, the predominant painting style of Poe’s time, was very well-equipped to tell a story inspired by Poe’s voice. I added a bit more dirt, grim and blood, and I think, with that, it’s a style that lends itself well to my voice as well. I did research on Romantic painting as a whole, but was really drawn to the paintings of Eugène Delacroix, J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

As far as filmmakers, the process was, of course, inspired by Richard Linklater‘s WAKING LIFE.  I loved what he did, turning live action into animation, to create a world of dreams, and really loved the look of his Rotoshop films. But I really wanted something that had a bit more texture and grim to it, and also wanted something that I could do myself.  After I saw WAKING LIFE, I started working on the process and used it in my film THE PROBLEM WITH HAPPINESS (2004) a 70-minute film that was projected on three discrete screens and had an accompanying seven-piece live band playing the score. We had 300 people at Eyedrum for the premiere and then later played The Earl before the band broke up. It was a sci-fi film in which the protagonist’s world slowly turns into a moving oil painting. I was never really happy with the effect that I was able to produce for that film and so I kept playing around with the process. The narrative was inspired by the films of Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier.

Could you describe how you came to create MIRROR’s striking look? How long did it take to bring such a heavily-stylized project to fruition?

The actors were shot on green screen at a small studio at Georgia State University. Aside from a few chairs, luggage and miscellaneous props, everything else was added in post. I developed a process through Photoshop to stylize the actors’ frames and ran each frame of each element in a scene through Photoshop to add the effect. Many of the shots have multiple layers on each actor, and the layers were then rotoscoped in to create lighting effects, shadows and a greater depth of field with the paint effects. The backgrounds were developed from stills, paintings and created graphics. Those backgrounds were then layered and animated in After Effects. Some of the shots have hundreds of layers in them. The final shot of the film took over 30 hours to render. I pushed the capabilities of After Effects in working in a 2D for 3D world. I did all of the post for the film on my MacBook Pro. The computer was running full speed around the clock for over two years. I’m typing this now on the same machine. The whole process took a bit over two years.

You also directed DOGME #55: A PICNIC AND A STROLL. You’re obviously not frightened by taking on a wide variety of styles, as MIRROR is about as far away from the Dogme 95 philosophy as possible! Which turns out to be more difficult (or, alternately, more fulfilling) for you as a filmmaker: following the self-imposed restrictions of the Dogme 95 movement, or the technical demands of an effects-heavy film like MIRROR?

I was really inspired by the Dogme 95 manifesto. I really like the idea of using real people, instead of actors, when possible, and breaking down the spectacle of lighting and score, and using a handheld, cinéma vérité camera style to get to some truth. I think my tendency would be to lean more towards a Dogme esthetic, at least in the way in which I direct actors. Now that I think about it, It might be compelling to try and develop one of Poe’s stories as a Dogme style film.  But I don’t think even Von Trier or Vinterberg ever made a truly pure Dogme 95 film, and while I think there are some very important ideas in the Dogme 95 movement, I’m really most inspired by very stylized expression in films. I also love the graphics and effects and the spectacle of fantasy and horror films.

I did MIRROR for my graduate thesis and I really wanted to experiment with this effect that I had developed. They have a great studio at DAEL (Digital Arts Entertainment Laboratory), and I wanted to utilize the GSU facilities while I had the chance to access all of their equipment for free. We shot almost everything in the DAEL blue-screen studio at GSU and got to utilize all of the studio equipment.

I’m not sure which style is harder as a means of telling a story well. I know which takes longer.

How did you come to work with the late Larry Holden, and how was your experience working with him on MIRROR?

I met Larry on the set of another film a few years prior to my film. My friend had written him a letter, told him he was trying to make his first feature and asked if he’d be willing to be in the film. Larry drove across the country for that film, so when it came time to make my film, I thought he would be perfect for the role [and] I wrote him and asked if he would star in the film.

Larry was an amazing cast member to have on set. The experience and vitality he brought to the set really energized everyone working on the project. For most of us on set he was the biggest name we had worked with, but he was incredibly humble and was really dedicated to working with and teaching everyone on set. He had been in Christopher Nolan’s films and a lot of TV, but he was making his own films whenever he could, and when he had time he would travel across the country, for little more than expenses, to help and teach those who were trying to learn the craft. He stayed with some friends of mine up the street from my house during the shoot.

He was not only incredibly influential to all of the crew that he worked with for less than a week, but many folks in the neighborhood became very close with him in that time as well. My neighbors traveled across the country to go to his funeral. I was not able to make the trip at that time. It’s an incredible loss. He was an amazing artist and an amazing person, and we all feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend some time with him.

Poe’s stories are known for how streamlined they are, which makes adapting them almost impossible without necessarily expanding on the source material, or deviating from it in some way. MIRROR provides a particularly novel take on Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” How did you decide on your approach to the source material?

Initially I had planned to shoot a straight version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” told through the lens of Romantic painting, with voiceover. I had all the pre-production done and was ready to shoot and make that film. As I got Larry Holden interested in and then brought him onto the project, he convinced me that “The Tell-Tale Heart” films had been done enough and that it might be more interesting to take Poe’s story and its themes and let those inspire a new story. After some research, I realized that while a modern “Tell-Tale” done well could be really compelling, he was right and that I needed to develop something new: something that would express my voice. So I dug in, and with the help of a couple of friends, developed a script that I thought respected Poe’s legacy but might expand on who his characters were and the world they may have inhabited.

Garrett DeHart on set of IF I AM YOUR MIRROR.

I had the blueprint of all that pre-production I had done for the Tell-Tale script, but I was convinced we were making something new now—something certainly more challenging for me. So it wasn’t really a difficult process in deciding what to add or subtract. Poe’s story works really well in its minimalism and focus. He excludes all details that don’t lend directly to the development of the protagonist’s obsession and insanity. I was working on a new project; a film inspired by Poe. I think that “inspired by” gave me the freedom to expand on Poe’s ideas and imagine circumstances that may have brought his characters to the situations they experience in his story, and in that imagining I was creating my own story, a story that explored some slightly different, maybe more contemporary themes.

My first edit of the film we shot was almost 50 minutes. It was really more about pacing than it was about cutting scenes. But many of those quick shots, that last only a few frames, were 5, 10 or even 30 seconds long in the first cut. I was really working from the inspiration of Malick and Von Trier in the pre-production process. I imagined the film as a very slow, melodic PTSD nightmare. But as I worked with the film more and more, I found something of a thriller in it, and it seemed a bit pretentious to let the scenes linger like they were. I loved the 30-second wide, static shot of the train driving across the horizon, or 30 seconds of his wife walking through a burning wheat field, or a 5-minute flashback of the Civil War, but as I lived with the film day and night for two years, I realized this was a short, not a feature. I felt the audience might find it a bit tiring, and I wasn’t sure the long shots and extra scenes were really helping to propel the narrative. I’m happy with the decisions I made in cutting the film down.

Being an Atlanta-centric website, I’m required by city ordinance to ask: what local talent should we be keeping our eyes peeled for in the film? Any notable locals toiling behind the scenes that we should be aware of?

We had an amazing turn-out for crew from GSU grad students and for extras from all over the Atlanta area.

Shane Morton (aka Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow) was incredibly helpful on set. He did a lot of makeup work on the actors in production to help the paint effect along when we got to post.  He’s always working on cool projects. He did some effects and stars in the TALES FROM MORNINGVIEW CEMETERY horror anthology. He’s always planning and working on Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, and they are in development on FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (The sequel to DEAR GOD NO!).

If you’ve seen any Atlanta independent film you probably know Barefoot Bill (aka Bill Pacer), the Old Man/Evil Eye. Bill is always auditioning in Atlanta when he is not working on his one-man Ben Franklin show. He”ll be doing the Ben Franklin show at AnachroCon this weekend and March 2 at Duluth Historical Museum.

Mari Elle, the wife in the film, is now in LA but comes back to Atlanta to audition for films. She’s in town this week auditioning so catch her while you can. She is fantastic.

Steven Swigart and Chris Escobar were a huge help during production as the anchors of the production team. Chris is now the director of the Atlanta Film Festival and recently made a documentary short, shot partially in Colombia, about the ripple effects of family choices. Steven is making mini-documentaries for a university.

Jeff Ballentine, who let us borrow his large Civil War re-enactor wardrobe, is working on post for his own Civil War film.

What led to your decision to release the film online, rather than pursue the typical festival route? What has the reaction been thus far?

There’s a misconception, I think, that filmmakers are giving their work away for free when they put it online. The truth is that most filmmakers don’t make any money from their films; in fact, most spend hundred or thousands of dollars just trying to get the film seen in festivals. I made IF I AM YOUR MIRROR as my graduate school thesis project, so I wasn’t expecting to make money on the film. I wanted to create a film that exemplified my capabilities at the time, and I feel this film does that. MIRROR, at 18 minutes, is long for a short film and does not easily fit into an established genre. Therefore, it would be difficult to place it in festivals.

The festival circuit, while important, seems to me, just another way to suck money out of the truly indie filmmaking market. At $20 to $50 per entry, it’s just so much time and money that could be spent on the next project. And while seeing a film on the big screen is, of course, a far better experience (I screened my film at the Plaza Theatre and the trailer at the High Museum as part of WonderRoots Best of Generally Local, Mostly Independent Film Series), reaching an audience is really the most important thing, and the potential audience on the web is immense. Tapping that audience is, of course, the key, and that has been somewhat difficult, but I’m doing everything I can to self-promote the film through online media like ATLRetro. The critical response has been great and the film has gotten a lot of attention but, sadly, that has not really translated into as many viewers as I had hoped.

If you like the film, please support independent cinema, and pass it along to your friends and social networks.

This past October, I saw the 7 Stages production of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, and when I saw your film later at the Plaza, there were a few effects shots in the video projection that looked familiar—primarily some shots of the train and the train station itself. Given the overlap in talent between these projects, I have to ask: were these your handiwork?

Yes. Rob Thompson was in MIRROR and asked, when they started to develop DRACULA, if they could use some of the footage for the backgrounds of the rock opera. I adjusted a few of the shots and gave them longer takes, and I’m very happy that MIRROR helped to fill in some of the space of the Dracula rock opera.  We’ve talked about the possibility of doing a music video/short with one of the songs on the soundtrack that will be released this month, but we haven’t had the time to work it out yet.

Are there any future projects on the horizon we should be looking out for?

I’m hoping that getting IF I AM YOUR MIRROR out into the world will facilitate connections with other writers and filmmakers and lead to new projects in the near future.  I’m in development on a Steampunk character study, short film with a style inspired by Wong Kar-wai and Gaspar Noé, that I hope, when complete, I can crowd-source into a TV series or web series. I’m looking for some writers to help in the expansion of that project. Again, if you like the film, please support independent cinema, and pass it along to your friends and social networks.

You can like IF I AM YOUR MIRROR on Facebook and check out the webpage; www.ifiamyourmirror.com.

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

All artwork is courtesy of Garrett DeHart.

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Retro Review: WHITE ZOMBIE Walks Again in the World Premiere of an All-New Restoration at Atlanta’s Historic Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Jan 16th, 2013 By:

WHITE ZOMBIE (1932); Dir. Victor Halperin; Starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, John Harron and Robert Frazer; World premiere Friday, Jan. 18 @ 8:00 p.m. hosted by Prof. Morte (scary details at end of story), and Jan. 25-31; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Long before George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD forever redefined “zombie” in the public mind as “undead, flesh-eating ghoul,” the Halperin Brothers first brought the Haitian legend of the zombie to the screen with 1932’s WHITE ZOMBIE.

The movie finds young couple Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron) reuniting in Haiti to be wed at the plantation of their friend Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer). Beaumont’s secret love for Madeline drives him to visit local voodoo master Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi) in order to enlist his help in winning Madeline’s hand. Legendre provides Beaumont with a potion that will transform her into a zombie, robbed of her will and love for Parker. He complies with Legendre’s instructions, but soon finds that the villainous voodoo master has plans of his own for the young beauty.

In 1932, America was in the midst of a newfound fascination with voodoo due to New Orleans’ emergence as a tourist destination. Interest was further fueled by authors such as William Buehler Seabrook. Seabrook was a well-traveled journalist, explorer, occultist and Georgia resident who had gained renown by documenting occult practices across the globe, including some of the only objective contemporaneous reporting on Aleister Crowley. Seabrook’s interest in the occult led him to spend considerable time in Haiti researching voodoo and the Culte des Morts. This adventure resulted in his 1929 book THE MAGIC ISLAND, which introduced the concept of the “zombie” to American audiences.

Producer Edward Halperin and his brother, director Victor Halperin (along with screenwriter Garnett Weston) capitalized on the nation’s interest in voodoo by borrowing liberally from both Seabrook’s work and Kenneth Webb’s 1932 Broadway play, ZOMBIE, and crafted an atmospheric masterpiece. The Halperins enlisted Bela Lugosi, fresh off his success in Universal’s 1931 smash DRACULA. It’s unclear as to Lugosi’s reasons for choosing to immediately follow a major studio hit with a micro-budgeted independent film, but he may have seen it as a way to stretch his creative muscles in a low-risk venture. Although he was paid little for his role (reports vary from $500 to $5000), his co-star Clarence Muse reported that Lugosi rewrote portions of the script, restaged some of the scenes and even directed portions of the film. His personal investment in the end results may be why Lugosi considered WHITE ZOMBIE a favorites among his own movies.

It could also be because it’s just a damned fine film.

The film deftly balances the legendary with the actual. While Legendre’s zombies are the reanimated corpses of Haitian lore (their look provided by Universal’s maestro of makeup, Jack Pierce), the film also depicts his use of a poison that emulates death and results in the victim’s deathlike trance and subsequent subservience to a bokor or sorcerer. Though this method had long been suspected, a pharmacological explanation for the zombie phenomenon wouldn’t be confirmed until ethnobiologist Wade Davis’ explorations into Haiti in the 1980s.

Beyond the film’s knowing mixture of fact and fiction, it benefits from the collaboration of Victor Halperin, cinematographer Arthur Martinelli and music superviser Abe Meyer. Together, they take what may have read on the page as stagebound and stodgy and create a dreamlike vision that mirrors Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR (also 1932), echoes elements of contemporaneous Universal horrors and anticipates Val Lewton’s exercises in atmosphere and sound design. Constantly inventive staging and camera work—taking place on sets borrowed from DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME—operate in sync with native drumming, chants, ambient noise, eerie rearrangements of classical works and original music by Xavier Cugat to deliver a palpable sense of creeping death under the oppressive hand of Murder Legendre.

And in the role of Legendre, Lugosi becomes the embodiment of evil itself. No other role—not even Dracula—fully utilizes his mesmeric power and hypnotic presence. From the opening scene, when his eyes are superimposed on the landscape of Haiti, his presence is felt in every frame of film; this is the power of his performance as Murder Legendre. The Halperins attempted to recapture the magic of this film with a sequel, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES, but made the mistake of attempting to replace Bela with Dean Jagger. It’s no small wonder that the subsequent film failed.

For years, WHITE ZOMBIE only circulated on washed-out transfers of faded 16mm prints, mastered for public domain VHS and TV broadcast. In 1999, two rare 35mm prints were used to create the restored version released on DVD by the Roan Group. However, those prints were hardly in pristine condition, displaying evident damage and dropped frames.

Left to right: Bela Lugosi as voodoo master Legendre, a mesmerized Madge Bellamy and a concerned John Harron in WHITE ZOMBIE (1932).

In recent years, Los Angeles-based Holland Releasing had heard that a previously unknown complete 35mm print was rumored to be in the possession of an aged film collector. Thomas W. Holland (a previous resident of Roswell and Marietta) spoke about the efforts to track down this elusive print and its owner. “I heard a rumor about an old fellow who claimed to have a superb, original 35mm print and that began a worldwide search to find this aging, eccentric film lover and convince him to let us acquire the film for a full restoration.  People think I’m joking when I say I had to go through a friend of a friend of a friend to contact this man.” When the print was found, Holland was stunned at its overall condition. “It must have been removed from theatrical service early on, or been set aside as a special studio print.” The Holland Releasing group then set about restoring the film.

AlgoSoft-Tech USA, based in Bishop, Georgia, was hired to return WHITE ZOMBIE’s image quality to its original standards. AlgoSoft’s president, Dr. Inna Kozlov, a famed mathematician in her native Russia, took on the project with great excitement. “We arranged to have the vintage 35mm print scanned, frame-by-frame, at a very high resolution so as not to lose any information.” From that point, Dr. Koslov and her technology developer, Dr. Alexander Petukhov wrote customized software to correct any imperfections in each frame. “Our goal was to return the film’s visuals to how they looked in 1932, the way a vintage carbon arc light source would have glistened through a silver nitrate print of the era.”

Another Atlanta firm, Crawford Media Services, was chosen to do the final re-assembly of the motion picture which included intensely detailed color-correction. “Being a black-and-white film, WHITE ZOMBIE required far more expertise and patience than a typical color feature to get the light levels correct,” says producer Holland. “This film is a gothic masterpiece, and we wanted it to look exactly the way it did when audiences first saw it.”

Once the Georgia image work was completed, the master was sent to Chace Audio by Deluxe in Burbank, California. Using a variety of sources, Chace remastered the film’s faded audio tracks to restore the sound to match the quality of the restored image. “Early sound films had a tremendous amount of inherent hiss, clicks and pops,” Holland says, “but Chace was able to give us a new audio track that greatly reduced this. We weren’t looking to make a hi-fi version of the WHITE ZOMBIE track, just a cleaner, clearer representation of how the movie originally sounded in theaters of the ’30s.”

Of course, any restoration invites an amount of controversy, and WHITE ZOMBIE is no exception to this rule. The Holland restoration, which has been licensed for use on an upcoming DVD and Blu-Ray release by Kino/Fox Lorber, is already attracting its share of debate from advance reviews. (The release offers two viewing options for comparison: the Holland restoration and a “raw” transfer of the print used prior to AlgoSoft’s restorative work.) However, without actually being able to see an arc light-projected silver nitrate print of WHITE ZOMBIE, it’s impossible to say that the Holland restoration is an inaccurate representation of how the film looked in 1932.

What is most exciting, though, is the chance to see WHITE ZOMBIE on the big screen once again as the restoration makes its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre. The Plaza is making this night a grand event. Hosted by Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow (aka Shane Morton) and Blake Myers (Atlanta effects artist, filmmaker, Buried Alive Film Festival programmer and ATLRetro Kool Kat, whose credits include THE WALKING DEAD and V/H/S), the film will be preceded by the vintage Betty Boop cartoon “Is My Palm Read?” and followed by the 1932 short subject “An Intimate Interview with Bela Lugosi.” Following the filmed entertainment, the team behind WHITE ZOMBIE’s restoration will take part in a question-and-answer session. And attendees will have a chance to win a lifetime all-inclusive ticket to the Plaza, original Plaza seats and T-shirts and monster masks from event sponsor Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.

Following its premiere on January 18, the film will be showing at the Plaza for a full week, running from January 25-31, and will be shown on a one-time-only basis in theaters across the Unites States and Canada. But you can be there first and see WHITE ZOMBIE brought back to life at its world premiere in Atlanta.

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

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Kool Kat of the Week: Destroy All Wrestlers: The Epic Adventures of Johnny Danger, Rising Star of Platinum and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling

Posted on: Jan 3rd, 2013 By:

Steve Johnson, aka Johnny Danger of the PCW.

Presented by the unholy alliance of WrestlingwithPopCulture.com and the Silver Scream Spookshow, Monstrosity Championship Wrestling (MCW) takes over the Asylum East Atlanta on Friday Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. featuring such scary stars as Dragula, Papa Marko, Cru Jones and Stryknyn, as well as live music by Bigfoot. Then on Saturday Jan, 5 at 6 p.m., the entire slate of Platinum Championship Wrestling (PCW) fighters will spar for the Platinum Royal, while Shane Marx battles Supernatural, the Undead Luchador for their league title in their new HQ at 2001 Main Street in Porterdale, GA. PCW now has bouts on every first and third Saturday of the month there.

Everyone has a dream, but Steve Johnson, aka Johnny Danger, has scored the rare opportunity to live it, combining his twin passions for classic monsters and wrestling. In just a little over a year, Johnny has gone from a horror movie-loving geek and Silver Scream Spookshow/Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse performer with a special love for Godzilla to a regular with both Platinum Championship Wrestling and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling. Back in November, we caught up with regular MCW/PCW announcer and fellow monster fan Chuck Porterfield, but since both leagues have major bouts this weekend, we thought it would be the perfect time to revisit the growing world of Atlanta wrestling and get to know another of its most colorful characters as Kool Kat of the Week.

ATLRetro: You’re relatively new to wrestling. When/why did you decide to throw yourself into the ring?

Johnny Danger: It was something I always wanted to do ever since I was a kid, which I’ll talk more about later. I made the mistake of pretty much “phoning it in” during my high school years, getting pretty lackluster grades. I paid no attention to career counseling, had no hopes of going to college. I only wanted one thing in life. – the answer was always the same: “I’m gonna be a wrestler.” Well, when I graduated high school at 6’0 and 155 pounds, it was pretty obvious that my genetics did not agree with my plans, so, I put my dream aside and went to work.

Fast forward to 2011, and I’m planning to marry the woman I’d been with for the better part of the past 10 years. The traditional “bachelor party” held no appeal to me; women had been teasing me and taking my money ever since high school, so I’m not a fan of strip clubs! So I got the crazy idea to get trained to wrestle and have ONE professional match as my “last hurrah” before I settled down and became a responsible married man. Over a year later, I’m still knockin’ heads in the ring and loving it, baby!

Professor Morte officiates at the wedding of Johnny and Divine Danger, with bride and groom in wardrobe inspired by Mothra and wrestling superstar Randy Savage respectively.

I reached out to my various friends and contacts in the local entertainment industry, I think it was actually Sadie Hawkins, a burlesque performer [in Blast-Off Burlesque], who mentioned the name Stephen Platinum, the owner of a wrestling promotion in Georgia called Platinum Championship Wrestling. At the time, Steve was running shows every week at the Academy Theater in Avondale Estates. We contacted him, and he invited me out to see a show and to speak with him after the card. I was impressed by the wide range of talent and characters that wrestled that night, and even more so by Platinum himself; he was not at all the shady, bitter type you hear about running wrestling shows. He was into what I was trying to do and agreed to train me. When my plans changed from “wrestling one show with my friends” to “becoming a full-time wrestler,” he agreed to take a chance on an out of shape, out-of-practice nearly 30-year-old nobody, and try to make him into a star.

As for getting accepted, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. From the first time I hit that ring in my first training class with Steve, I knew I was in for the fight of my LIFE. Just from a couple hours, my first class, I couldn’t walk normally for two weeks. I started at over 220 pounds, fat and slow. I couldn’t get through a single class without running to the restroom to vomit. I’d just roll to the floor and lay there, embarrassed, unable to finish a drill. Little by little, though, things started to click, and I got just a little bit better. Steve started to see improvement in my wrestling abilities, but I think what really impressed him was my talking ability. You have a lot of people in wrestling who are great, natural athletes, amazingly put together, but they can’t connect with the crowd emotionally; they can’t captivate them on the microphone. I’m not the most physically impressive guy, but I can grab ahold of you and make you believe.

As for being accepted in the ring with the other wrestlers, I had to prove myself, something I’m still doing. I changed my entire life for this. I’m in the gym most of the week, and the evenings I’m not there, I’m at PCW’s new home base in Porterdale, working in the ring with WCW veteran Fred Avery, who’s battled everybody in this industry from Sting to Cactus Jack to the British Bulldog. I’ve changed my diet, I’m down to about 170 pounds today. It’s all about holding up your end in the ring and proving you can go, to the fans and to the other wrestlers. To show that I have respect for the business, and for the people who got me into it – Mr. Platinum, the other wrestlers and the fans – I’m just always trying to get better.

Why Johnny Danger?

Why not? It’s a name I used for myself when I wrestled with my friends in high school and when I created myself in various wrestling video games. At his heart, Johnny Danger is a kid with a dream. He wants to be a superstar, a rock star, [and] more than that, a superhero. He wants to beat up the bad guy, get the girl, and fly off into the sunset, only to do it all again next week. I thrive on danger, the challenge that forces me onward. I can literally say Danger is my last name! That’s evident every time I step into the ring. I gained a reputation as a guy who’d charge into battle no matter the odds. There were literally nights I would fight three other guys, all of ’em bigger than me, all of ’em hating me, at the same time. And, as you’d expect, I got pretty beat up. But I never made it easy for ’em. Being the embodiment of danger means never backing down, using your entire body as a living weapon. I may destroy myself in the process, but if I have anything to say about it I’m taking you with me!!

Costumes can be a big part of wrestling. Can you talk a little bit about your look.

Sure. When I first started, I had a pair of shiny vinyl pants made, black with blue flames – which is kind of my signature look, inspired by Godzilla‘s blue atomic breath ray – with Godzilla’s face on one leg and “DANGER” down the other. I’d pair that with a T-shirt representing my various interests, everything from the Silver Scream Spookshow to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles accompanied me into battle. It was a cool, grungy look fit for a brawler, but I didn’t quite look like a pro wrestler.

Well, the pants got pretty beat up during my wars, and as I started shedding the pounds I decided to drop the T-shirt to become quicker and harder to hang on to in the ring. I went to fellow wrestler Rick Michaels, who’s made gear for several huge names in the game; he actually once worked with the WWE making ring attire for their top stars. I pretty much just told him: “Make me something that’s black, with blue flames and kinda looks like an Elvis jumpsuit,” and he came up with my current look. I think he knocked it out of the park. I’ve got a lot of positive feedback on it, and I love it. I’ve also been wearing facepaint recently to show solidarity with my current biggest ally, the pound-for-pound Toughest Woman in Wrestling, Pandora, who always wears the war paint into battle herself. But perhaps what I’m most known for is my signature long black hair. It can be a liability in the ring, but Johnny Danger can’t rock out with a buzzcut, ya know?!

OK, there’s a lot of showmanship, but it’s got to hurt, right? Have you had any major injuries and do you ever question your sanity for getting into this crazy sport?

Constantly. Like I said before, the training process alone was a nightmare. My elbows and knees are constantly skinned up, lumpy and bruised from the rigors of the ring. My back, which was bad to begin with, hurts constantly. As I approach my one-year anniversary as an active competitor, my list of injuries reads something like this: bruised/cracked ribs; various cuts, scrapes and bruises; broken fingers; broken nose (twice); bruised throat; jaw knocked out of place; a concussion; and worst of all, in a battle royal on September 29 at our big show Sacred Ground Chapter III, I was thrown clear out of the ring to the floor – and keep in mind we don’t use mats at ringside, so I splattered on the damn floor – breaking a finger on impact and far worse, wrecked my back. It gave me two bulging discs and caused leakage of spinal fluid; the injury put me out of action for over two months.

I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to wrestle again. The first month was pure screaming agony. As for my sanity, honestly, I think you have to be a little bit nuts to be in this business. In football, you load up on protective gear and if you don’t want to take the hit, you can take a knee or run out of bounds. Boxers wear gloves. Now, all the respect in the world for those who partake in those forms of competition, but in pro wrestling, you have no choice but to take the hit, to get slammed down on that ring – and for those wondering, a pro wrestling ring is nothing but steel, wood, and just enough padding to keep you from being broken the first time you fall down – and then get up and do it again about 30 more times a night. You tell me what normal person thinks that sounds like a good idea?! Who looks at these guys beating the HELL out of each other and goes “That’s for me”?! But when I’m out there doing what I do, and I hear the people chanting my name or cursing it depending on what the situation is, it’s all worth it. It’s the greatest, most natural “high” in the world, and I don’t feel that pain until hours later when I finally come down.

What’s your most memorable bout so far and why?

I’ve had surprisingly many in my short time in the sport. I’ve battled Supernatural, the Undead Luchador, all over the state. We pretty much beat the crap out of each other till we became friends. We still do it from time to time for old time’s sake. I was part of the first steel cage match in Porterdale, GA, in 30 years. I was in a 12-man Revolutionary War Games match on July 4th that had hundreds of fans in attendance and took two rings and two cages to contain us all. I’ve had wars with my former allies, Marko Polo, Quasi Mandisco and Nina Monet. I was a half second away from winning the EMPIRE Title from Shane Marx in only my FOURTH pro match.

But I’ve got to go with a match I came up with, an I Quit Singapore Cane Match where I took on Dynomite Soul Eric Walker. Just to set the stage, I had been on a seven-month losing streak in PCW. Think about that. Every Friday for seven months, I ended up with my back on the mat, counting the lights. I started to doubt myself, if I should even get into the ring. Then it finally happened. Along with my partner in a team called The Surrealists, De La Vega, we joined up with the Washington Bullets to take on four members of The EMPIRE, the evil group that was attempting to take over PCW – attempting, hell, they DID take over and basically called the shots from November 2011 until they were finally defeated at Sacred Ground Chapter III. During the final moments of that match, Vega and myself hit a double team maneuver on Eric Walker, and I dove on top for the pin. I got that win I’d been chasing since January. Then the following week, Walker challenged me one on one, and I beat him again, all by myself.

Something inside Walker and the EMPIRE snapped. A bunch of EMPIRE members, including their 300+ pound monster bodyguard Antioch, charged the ring and beat the hell out of me for several minutes. Antioch injured my ribs with repeated big splashes. Walker bruised my back with repeated strikes from his singapore cane. They tried to put me out of wrestling, plain and simple. But the one thing Johnny Danger doesn’t do is quit. You may beat me, you may break me, but I will come back, I will get up. I didn’t take kindly to the attempt to put me out of the sport I love. So I came back with my own cane, and I challenged Walker to one last war to settle the score. Both our canes would be legal; hell, EVERYTHING would be legal, and the only way to win the match would be to get your opponent to say two words I’ve never said: “I Quit.” We beat the HELL out of each other that night. I hit that bastard with everything I could get my hands on – the ring bell, a fan’s soda can, a steel chain and, of course, my cane. Walker did the same to me. He assaulted my body. He knew where I was hurt, and he zeroed in like a rabid dog.

But I wouldn’t quit. Walker’s manager, Marty Freeman, produced a pair of handcuffs, and I was handcuffed to the top turnbuckle. Dynomite went NUTS with the singapore cane, he split my forehead wide open. You can see the scars to this day. He plastered me across the back of the head. I had a fist-sized lump at the base of my skull for over a week, but I would not quit. My wife and mother were in attendance for this match, and they couldn’t stand seeing me assaulted any longer. They KNEW I wouldn’t quit. My wife stood up and screamed for Dynomite to stop, and he set his sights on her. My vision was blurred from the head trauma I suffered and the blood in my eyes, but I saw him slide to the floor and grab my wife by the hair. I heard her scream. I grabbed the microphone from the referee, and I finally said the words he couldn’t beat out of me. I quit the match to save the woman I love. Classic, right? I wonder why Clubber Lang didn’t think of that?  Just beat Adrian retarded, maybe then Rocky would’ve quit? Hate to say it, but he outsmarted me. And after I’d received medical attention and calmed down a LONG time later, despite the mutual hate we have for each other, Walker and myself both admitted it was the best match of our respective careers.

Who will you be up against at the PCW match on Jan. 5, and what can you tell us in general about that night?

I’m up against the entire locker room! Seriously! It’s the return of the match that put me out of the sport with a back injury – the Platinum Royal. Every PCW wrestler is invited to participate. It starts out as a normal battle royal where you throw wrestlers to the floor to eliminate them. The last wrestler left standing at the end then faces the wrestler who threw out the most people to determine the ultimate winner, who is then guaranteed a title shot against the current champion, Shane Marx. Now, I won the battle royal portion of this match back on March 30,  2012, but came up short in the final battle. I’m tougher, I’m smarter, and I’m hungrier than ever now. And I’m putting the entire locker room on notice.

Now Pandora’s been watching my back since I came back, and I’m going to watch hers too. In a perfect world, it’ll come down to the two of us, and then one of us WILL get that shot against Shane Marx. But ANYBODY else who crosses my path in that match, friend or foe, I’m not going to risk injury again – and I’m not going to miss out on this championship opportunity – you’re likely to find yourself Danger-kicked out to the floor. This is the time to come out and see a Platinum Championship Wrestling event if you’ve been putting it off. You’ll see every top star in the company in the ring at the same time, except two.

The champion, Shane Marx, is putting his belt on the line against Supernatural. I’ll be very interested in that match as well, because if I win that Platinum Royal, I’ll be the first to challenge whoever the champion is after January 5. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve got history with both men. Shane Marx is big, strong and possibly the very best wrestler in the locker room. Supernatural is lightning fast and hits harder pound for pound than anyone else I’ve been in the ring with. Either one of them makes a tremendous champion, but I think PCW could use a leader who’s a little more DANGERous, if ya catch my meaning.

Johnny Danger as Santa checks out the glamorous Ghouls of Silver Scream Spookshow to see who's been naughty and nice.

You’re also heavily into monster movies, especially Godzilla and kaiju eiga, and perform in the Silver Scream Spookshow. Thinking back to growing up, what were your first experiences with both, and do you see a connection between your love of monsters and your love of wrestling?

Oh, no doubt. Thanks to television growing up in Atlanta, watching Godzilla movies with Grampa Munster on Super Scary Saturday on TBS, and watching pro wrestling, are two of my earliest, most treasured memories. Ever since I could talk, I’d stand in front of my bathroom mirror, pose, and imitate the interview stylings of Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage. I used to push the couches together in the living room, load them up with all my stuffed animals and have battle royals, throwing them out one by one. It always came down to me as Hulk Hogan facing off with an enormous teddy bear stand-in for Andre the Giant. And yeah I always won. Come on, I was Hogan!

There’s definitely a connection. Some of the best Godzilla movies are pro wrestling storylines at heart. Take GHIDOROAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964). This new, evil, terribly powerful space monster, Ghidorah, attacks the Earth. In the previous film, MOTHRA VS GODZILLA (1964), another monster, Mothra, is the only thing that could stop Godzilla’s rampage. Godzilla actually kills the adult Mothra only to be driven away by her larval offspring. So when Ghidorah attacks, the people are powerless, and Mothra has to appeal to Godzilla and Rodan to team up with her to save the Earth. Godzilla and Rodan don’t care, humanity has always despised them, so Mothra goes to fight Ghidorah alone. Godzilla and Rodan are impressed by her bravery and run in to save her, turning “good” and driving off the evil space monster. That’s classic pro wrestling! I was a despised villain in Porterdale till I’d seen enough of my former team mates, The Priority Males, assaulting Pandora, and I stormed the ring to save her. Like I mentioned earlier, I had Godzilla’s face on my old wrestling pants, a Godzilla roar plays at the beginning of my entrance music, and I’ve dubbed my finishing move “Godzilla’s Revenge. You mentioned the Spookshow, that’s the perfect environment for me as well! I’ve played everything from giant monsters to Santa Claus in the show, and look forward to working with them again soon once renovations at the Plaza Theatre are complete and Professor Morte rises from his crypt once more!

Why Godzilla and how big a Big G collection do you have? Any tips on Godzilla collecting today?

Why not? What little kid wouldn’t love Godzilla growing up? NOBODY could tell him what to do; he didn’t have a room to clean, he’d wreck Tokyo, beat up another giant monster or two, and leave the poor saps of Japan to clean up the mess! And seeing as how I never stopped being a kid, it’s a love from my childhood I’ll never grow out of. The emotion of the monsters, the heart of the hand-made effects, you don’t get that in movies today. As for my collection, the only one I know that can compete with it is Professor Morte‘s alter-ego Shane Morton. I’ve got hundreds of toys, movie posters dating back to 1965, two Godzilla-related tattoos and plans for many more.

As for today’s collectors, the market is way different than it was in the ’90s when I started my collection. I have toys I paid $200 for that I struggle to sell for $80 today. You’ve got to realize, eBay wasn’t a thing back then. You had to find specialized dealers to get these things from. My only tip is to only pay what you personally feel something is worth. The “value” of these things fluctuates so much; just be smart and patient. There’s a few groups on Facebook devoted to Godzilla collectors, just look around!

Given that, I’m guessing Monstrosity Championship Wrestling represents the best of both worlds to you. Can you talk a little bit about what makes a MCW match different from a traditional one and what’s your favorite experience with MCW so far?

MCW is wild. We’ve got flamboyant vampires and intolerant redneck misanthrope lycanthropes. It lets a lot of us to expose our dark sides. The Zombie King, Papa Marko has managed to temporarily “zombify” PCW stars like the Washington Bullets and Worse Case Scenerio. He’s even allegedly resurrected deceased wrestling stars like members of the Von Erich family! Casey Kincaid, one of the toughest wrestlers in PCW history, lets his well-documented darkness consume him to become The Phantom once more, an alter-ego we thought he put behind him. We thought it was safe; we were wrong. Then you’ve got guys like Supernatural who fit right in with MCW as is! Not only that, word of mouth is spreading, and we’ve got even more of the top stars in Georgia coming out to be a part of the carnage at MCW’s next show on January 4. Me, I’ve actually struggled to find my place in MCW, which is kind of surprising. I spent a brief period of time as a Frankenstein Monster. I think my fondest memory was wrestling in front of a HUGE crowd at this past Rock ‘N Roll MonsterBash at the Starlight Drive-In. It was blazingly hot, as usual, but all the freaks and misfits and punks and everyone else that came out for the movies, music and mayhem surrounded the ring to see me as part of a team known as The Greasy Bastards take on Supernatural and some ridiculous Leprechaun he found lurking in the bowels of the drive-in.

Event organizer Jonathan Williams, of WrestlingwithPopCulture.com, told me that you’re going to reveal a big surprise at this Friday’s bout. Without giving away any secrets, can you tell us a bit about the overall festivities?

I’ll say this, when I was out injured earlier this year, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I had to find something to get my mind off wrestling. I didn’t know if I could EVER compete again. I thought I’d wasted the last year of my life and permanently crippled myself. I did some research into my family tree of all things. I honestly couldn’t believe what I’d found – didn’t think there was ANY way it could be true. I’ve got extensive knowledge of monster fiction I knew what I’d found, but didn’t think it could be real. But as we all know, truth can be stranger than fiction. It turns out a branch of my family once had a different name than the one we carry today. It also turns out I’m the last one from that family line – a heritage that I will reveal upon MCW’s return on January 4th at the Asylum. A pedigree that spells doom for each and every one of MCW’s nightmarish combatants – a bloodline I cannot deny.

You even got married in the costume of your favorite wrestler and your lovely wife Samantha wore a wicked awesome Mothra wedding gown at the Plaza Theatre. Can you say a few words about it for folks who weren’t there and how you had the dream wedding of all time?

Oh man, it was wild, and I have so many people to thank for being a part of it: Professor Morte for allowing us to be married by a monster; Gayle and Jonny Rej, who allowed us into the Plaza Theatre under their run as owners. If I was going to get married, it was going to have to be an event. I don’t do the whole church thing. I wanted to break tradition and do something memorable. Well, the Plaza has become our church. All the joy in my life over the past five years, the Spookshow, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, even becoming a PCW wrestler, all possible through people I’ve met at the Plaza. I had someone make me a replica of the outfit Randy Savage wore for his pay-per-view wedding to Miss Elizabeth from SummerSlam 1991, and entered to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the tune that signaled Macho’s arrival for his matches. My four best men came down the aisle to the entrance theme of The Four Horsemen. We exited the ceremony to AC/DC‘s “Highway to Hell.” Instead of a boring reception with dancing and embarrassing speeches, those who stayed after the ceremonies were treated to a big screen viewing of KING KONG VS GODZILLA (1962). Instead of a fancy catered lunch, we ate the best popcorn in the world from the Plaza’s snack bar.

What’s next for Johnny Danger?

Heh, even I don’t know. I’ve accomplished so much in my first year of wrestling. I’ve fought the best in the locker room. I’ve bled, sweat and cried in that ring. I’ve wrestled in a steel cage in front of 500 people, and I wrestled a match at 1:30 in the morning in front of five or six people. Tag team matches, street fights, battle royals, I’ve done ’em all. Even spent some time behind the announce table doing color commentary during my recovery. The only thing I haven’t done is win championship gold. Anybody who ever gets in the ring, they dream of one day holding a belt [and] I’m no different. 2013 is the year I show I’m for real. Yeah, at heart, I’m still a kid with a dream. But I want to show I have the ability to back up that dream. I’ll never be the toughest, the biggest, the fastest or the strongest.

I’m not the best technical wrestler in the locker room. But I’ve got the biggest heart, I’ve proved that time and time again. There is no better “feel-good story.” If I can win that title to sit atop the mountain, even just for ONE NIGHT, it’s a victory for everyone in the crowd that’s ever believed. There’s nowhere else on the planet where any fan that buys a ticket can be so intimately connected to an experience. And that’s something I’d love to share with all my fans. Wherever I go, PCW will always be my home, where it all started. I love that company and our fans; they are a second family to me. We give you our all, twice a month, the first and third Saturday in Porterdale, Georgia. Please come out and see us!

Note: All photographs are courtesy and copyright of Johnny Danger.

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

Retro Review: Viva Morte! Viva la Plaza! Celebrate the Plaza Theatre as the Silver Scream Spookshow presents ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN!

Posted on: Dec 20th, 2012 By:

Silver Scream Spookshow presents ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948); Dir: Charles Barton; Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Glenn Strange; Sat. Dec. 22;  kids’ matinee at 1 PM (kids under 12 free & adults $7) and adult show at 10 PM(all tickets $12); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Let me get personal for a minute here.

This month’s Silver Scream Spookshow at the Plaza Theatre is a special one for me. Not just because every Spookshow is its own special thing. And not just because the Plaza is Atlanta’s oldest running independent cinema, which is just incredible in its own right. But because the film being presented—ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—is my very first memory. The earliest thing I can recall from childhood is trying to fall asleep while watching Glenn Strange’s monster lurching about a pier in a film on the “late-late show” my mom was watching. It’s stuck with me. That’s why one of my most treasured possessions as a kid was a glow-in-the-dark poster of James Bama’s portrait of Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster. (Thanks, Super Sugar Crisps!) That’s why I’ve got Glenn-as-Frankie tattooed on my forearm. In the years since that fateful day, I’ve watched this movie over and over again and I’ve never grown tired of it.

For those not in the know, here’s the lowdown on this flick: Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello) are bumbling baggage-claim clerks in Florida. Thanks to a late-night delivery of mysterious crates to a wax museum, they unwittingly wind up caught in Dracula’s (Bela Lugosi) evil plot to replace the Frankenstein monster’s brain with a more receptive one: that of the dim-witted Wilbur. Lawrence “Wolf Man” Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) enlists their assistance in stopping Dracula’s fiendish plot, and once the full moon rises, the whole thing turns into a large-scale monster bash along the lines of 1944’s HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or 1945’s HOUSE OF DRACULA. Just a whole lot funnier.

Besides the film’s early imprinting on my developing mind, though, the film is notable for many other reasons. It’s Bela’s second and final feature-length performance as Dracula (he had a cameo as Dracula in 1933’s HOLLYWOOD ON PARADE theatrical short). It’s one of the few horror comedies in which the monsters are not treated as the butts of the film’s jokes; the horror elements are respected and presented practically as seriously as they were in any other Universal film, while the comedy largely rises from Bud and Lou’s interplay and reactions to the horror. (This, however, didn’t stop Boris Karloff from refusing to see the film, believing it to be disrespectful toward the horror genre.) All three of the “monster” actors had played the role of Frankenstein’s monster (with Chaney even briefly playing him during the course of this film when Glenn Strange broke his foot on a falling lighting rig), and both Chaney and Lugosi had played Dracula. Vincent Price even makes a surprise cameo (though don’t keep your eyes peeled for him).

Dracula (Bela Lugosi) hypnotizing Bud AbbotT in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Universal Pictures, 1948.

But beyond even those items of interest, there’s a larger and more personal reason why this Spookshow is a special event this month: it’s the final Silver Scream Spookshow being held at the Plaza under the watchful eye of Jonathan and Gayle Rej, the Plaza’s owners and operators since 2006.

Let me make another personal detour here. The Plaza Theatre is, to me, a sacred space. It’s almost a religious temple, dedicated to conjuring and making manifest the spirit of cinema. And over its history—from movie palace to grindhouse to a showcase for independent film and performing arts—it has presented Atlanta with the full spectrum of the cinematic experience. And more than that, it has become a central, vital spot in my life. When I first moved back to the Atlanta area in 2006 after more than a decade away, I was working from home and initially didn’t get out much. It took me a while to get settled in and motivated to check out what was going on. That was when I saw a flyer for the Silver Scream Spookshow in the window of Junkman’s Daughter. It promised a revival of the classic Spook Show tradition of live stage shows augmenting showings of classic horror flicks—a phenomenon that I was old enough to remember coming to my home town, but young enough to have never personally experienced—presented by Professor Morte, an old-school-styled horror host from the cracked mold of Ghoulardi and Zacherley. So I went. And went. And went again.

The Frankenstein Monster meets Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Universal Pictures, 1948.

Being a movie fanatic, the Plaza quickly became the center of much of my recreational time because more than simply being a theater, it has spawned a community. Most of the people I know and the friends I have, I have met either directly or indirectly through the Plaza. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this piece for this fine website if it weren’t for the Plaza. And if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication of Johnny and Gayle Rej in the face of economic struggles that would have beaten down lesser mortals, none of the above would have existed.

As you may or may not know, Johnny and Gayle have sold the Plaza to Michael Furlinger, who recently revived the classic Terrace Theatre in Charleston, SC. I spoke with Shane Morton, the mastermind behind Morte, for his thoughts on the end of the reign of the Rejs and the beginning of a new era for the Plaza.

“I think out of all the phases that the Plaza has gone through, that Johnny and Gayle have really turned it into something much more than just a movie theatre. Something beyond just building the stage and clearing out the space in the back for us to work. It’s like they gave this place a soul. You can feel it when you walk in there. And if I can be selfish, they’ve given me a place to do what I think is the most important work of my life with the Spookshow. We recently did a showing of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), and I spent 15 minutes turning a kid into Lon Chaney’s Phantom. All that time, I was talking to the audience, and I felt the passion that one of those true-believer preachers must feel—not one of those charlatans that’s just out for money or to bang chicks or whatever. I got to preach about the magic of the movies. I not only get to be this hero (or anti-hero, if you want); I get to educate kids and give them something that they don’t have enough of right now. Kids’ programming today sucks, and they don’t have the kind of stuff available to them that even you and I had growing up; they don’t see things like the original KING KONG, stuff that filled me with a sense of wonder and amazement at the age of four.”

Shane went on to discuss the creative development that the Plaza has encouraged: “It’s become a hub for a lot of creative people: Splatter Cinema, Blast-Off Burlesque’s Taboo-La-La series and all the great art shows that they’ve hosted at the Plaza. Johnny and Gayle really turned a simple movie theater into almost an art movement. I know that it has literally changed my life. It’s given me the chance to fulfill every dream I ever had growing up. I could get to be Houdini or Alice Cooper or the horror host I had always wanted to see. And no matter what happens in the future, if I wind up making the greatest movie ever made, I don’t need any more than this: I saw a kid dressed as Professor Morte for Halloween. My mother passed away recently, and I’m so glad that she got a chance to see me spread my bat wings and fly with the Spookshow. And I really have Johnny and Gayle to thank for this.”

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

And what of the future? “We’d always hoped that someone with the financial backing could come in and turn the Plaza Theatre around. It seemed like an impossible dream. And then suddenly, it all seemed to fall together at the right time. Johnny and Gayle had just had a baby, and that’s without a doubt their most important job right there! Suddenly, Mike Furlinger came in and was in the position to deliver everything anyone involved with the Plaza could hope for. New digital projectors, new seats, new carpeting…now, I like the old seats and the old carpeting. I like stuff that’s old and weird. But you have to keep moving with the times, and what he’s going to bring to the Plaza is going to help the theater thrive. The future looks really exciting. The Plaza will be able to show first-run films along with the art-house movies they’re known for and keep delivering the funky stuff that all of us bring to the table.”

After the Rejs turn the keys over to Furlinger at the end of this month and renovations begin, it may be a while before we can see Morte’s handiwork on the Plaza stage. So come out and celebrate. Celebrate that the world didn’t end on Friday. Celebrate that the solstice has passed and a new dawn is rising. That Santa’s on his way. That a new year is on the horizon. That one of the best films in the Universal Horror cycle is screening in a lovely digital restoration. That Professor Morte and his merry band of misfits are taking the stage. And celebrate the legacy of the hard work and spirit of Jonathan and Gayle Rej. Raise your tubs of popcorn in salute, boils and ghouls.

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: Chuck Porterfield Calls the Punches for a Pop Culture Nightmare Before Thanksgiving at Monstrosity Championship Wrestling This Friday

Posted on: Nov 14th, 2012 By:

Bummed that Halloween is over and scared that Christmas will be here way too soon? Never fear, our BFF blog WrestlingwithPopCulture.com and the Silver Scream Spookshow’s Professor Morte are stirring together two Retro standards, classic monsters and wrestling, for the ultimate Monstrosity Championship Wrestling (MCW) showdown this Friday Nov. 16, starting at 8 p.m. at Club Famous, inside Famous Pub in Toco Hills. MCW made its debut at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse in 2011, and the creatures clashed again at Wrestling with Pop Culture’s one-year birthday party in March and June’s Rock n Roll Monster Bash.

In addition to the monster mayhem, the eerie-inspired event will also feature live music by the Casket Creatures; body painting by Neon Armour; fiendish freebies and devilish drink speciuals courtesy of Cayrum Honeys; a raffle with such phantasmic prizes as a bag of edible body parts from Pine Street Market, a Dead Elvis flask from Diamond*Star*Halo and more. We can’t wait to raise a “To Hell You Ride” cocktail to Jonathan Williams, the creator of Wrestling with Pop Culture for his well-deserved Reader’s Choice Award for Best Local Blog in Creative Loafing’s Best of Atlanta 2012. [ATLRetro was too humble (well, busy) to court your votes this year, but watch out Wrestling with Pop Culture, we’ll be in the ring fighting for your title in 2013!]

To find out more about the spooktacular spectacle, ATLRetro caught up with ultimate monster movie and wrestling nerd (and proud of it!) Chuck Porterfield, who will be calling the action while monsters, maidens, and madmen go at it in toe-to-toe mayhem!

ATLRetro: I know you’ve been into both wrestling and monster movies, so I assume that’s what made you so excited about MCW.

Chuck Porterfield: Personally, I’m excited because it combines my pure adoration of monster movies, as well as seeing a lot of the INCREDIBLE athletes from Platinum Championship Wrestling (PCW) together. The Washington Bullets, probably the best tag team in the state of Georgia will be there, as will the Pound-For-Pound, Toughest Woman in Wrestling, Pandora. Also, my man, the “Demigod” Mason will show everyone why he’s the hero of PCW’s current homebase, Porterdale, Georgia!

This isn’t the first bout of Monstrosity. Are there any old scores from previous fights to be settled?

The match garnering the most attention is the return of Dragula, the most fabulous blood-sucker in wrestling as he takes on The Kentucky Wolfman!

Chuck Porterfield gets down with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Photo courtesy of Chuck Porterfield.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved weirdo pop culture! I remember watching KING KONG on WGN one year on Thanksgiving, and my love of monsters was then inescapable. Hours of MUNSTERS and ADDAMS FAMILY reruns, Adam West as BATMAN and pretty much any wrestling I could find on TV defined my youth.

So your passion for wrestling goes back to childhood, too? 

I don’t remember the first wrestling I saw, but I watched any and all then-named WWF programming I could find. There weren’t many kids in the neighborhood so I’d jump off my sofa onto the cushions. Or at least I did until I undershot it and hit my head on my dad’s pool table!

How did you get into professional wrestling?

My first entry into professional wrestling was with Southern Extreme Championship Wrestling. For a couple of reasons, that didn’t really work out so well so I left to pursue other interests. I never stopped thinking about the wrestling business, so when I saw that PCW had brought wrestling back to Atlanta I knew there could be an opportunity with them. Stephen Platinum chose to take a chance on a guy he knew nothing about, and I think things have worked out to be mutually beneficial. Along with guys like Penn Jillette and Herschell Gordon Lewis (2000 Maniacs), I consider him to be one of the most influential people in my life.

What is it like collaborating with Wrestling With Pop Culture mastermind Jonathan Williams? It seems like his blog (our BFF blog) has really upped local coverage of wrestling and is helping to fuel the scene.

Jonathan is a tremendous supporter of independent wrestling in Georgia and the success of his blog speaks for itself. I wouldn’t ask him about his altercation with The Jagged Edge outside of the steel cage though…

You used to work at Video Store, one of Atlanta’s best psychotronic video rental stores in Little 5 Points [owned by Matt Booth, who now runs the super-cool Videodrome]. Do you ever miss those pre-Netflix/streaming days when a guy like you could be a salvation for local movie buffs?

With the exception of independent powerhouse Videodrome, it’s true that Atlanta is basically a video store graveyard. Part of me misses the days in college of going through the aisles of stores, particularly the dearly-missed Blast Off Video in Little 5 Points, but I also just see it as a reflection of life itself. None of us are promised a single day, a single smile, and I just try to be grateful for the days and opportunities I have. I try not to dwell too much on what is lost and think about what’s out there to be created.

Photo courtesy of Chuck Porterfield.

Who are your favorite monsters?

My favorite monsters? You’d think this would be a hard one because I love so many, but hands down it’s Frankenstein’s Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the big monkey himself, Kong! But from a purely sexual attraction level, no one can match the Bride of Frankenstein and Morticia Addams! Some crushes last with you forever…

What else are you up to?

Right now I’m working with Blake Myers, director of the heart-stirring gem of a documentary DISABLED BUT READY TO ROCK [Ed. note: read our Kool Kat interview with Blake here] to make a space fantasy web series called SASS PARILLA CONQUERS THE MARTIANS, that is ambitious to say the least. It’s going to take a LOT of time and energy to get it right, but I think it’s custom-made for fans of this blog. In fact, if there are any investors out there with a love of psychotronic movies and skepticism, we’re the guys you want to talk to!

Thanks so much for being our Kool Kat of the Week!

Thanks, Atlanta Retro! You’re the keenest, sexiest and coolest blog around! XOXO

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