The Horror! The Horror! Our Top Reasons to Spook on Down to the 3rd Annual MONSTERAMA CONVENTION

Posted on: Oct 3rd, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew10.7
Managing Editor

What are you doing this weekend? We’re monster mashing it up with a helluva killer Kool Kat extravaganza and more at the 3rd Annual MONSTERAMA CONVENTION, creeping and crawling into town this weekend, Oct. 7-9 at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center!

1) THE GOLDEN BRUNCH OF MONSTERAMA! Have an intimate and devilishly delicious brunch with Monsterama special guest and Hammer, Bond, Harryhausen film star Caroline Munro Friday from 10am – 1pm!

2) CTHULUAU! Cthula on down (If you dare!) to the hotel pool on Friday night at 7pm and get lei’d up with mermaids, music and dancing, oh my! Hosted by Mike Gordon and Peter Cutter creators of TIKI ZOMBIE!

3) SILVER SCREAM SPOOK SHOW! Kool Kat Shane Morton, a.k.a. ghost host with the most, Professor Morte and the Silver Scream Spook Show featuring the Go-Go Ghouls and Monsterama guest, Caroline Munro, a.k.a. “Stella Star” will get intergalactic with a live show followed by a screening of Luigi Cozzi’s STARCRASH (1978) on Saturday beginning at 4pm!

14433161_1191990034190405_7596388003487999022_n4) FANGTASTIC FILM!  It’s monster movie madness with screenings of horrorific classics including Mario Bava’s CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959); William Witney’s THE CRIMSON GHOST (1946); E. Elias Merhige’s SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000); F. W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU (1922) featuring a life soundtrack performed by Valentine Wolfe; Roger Vadim’s BARBARELLA (1968); Robert RodriguezFROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996), an adults-only screening of Denis Sanders’  INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973) and so much more! Antonio Margheriti’s CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964) in 16mm and so much more slaying cinema!

5) SPOOKTACULAR GUESTS! Catch some killer guests including James Marshall (TWIN PEAKS – see our Kool Kat feature coming soon!); Zach Galligan (GREMLINS; WAXWORK); Caroline Munro (AT THE NosferatuEARTH’S CORE; STARCRASH); Suzanna Leigh (LUST FOR A VAMPIRE); Trina Parks (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER; THE BLUES BROTHERS); Kool Kat and monster artist extraordinaire Mark Maddox; horror novelist and filmmaker John Farris (THE FURY); horror history expert and documentarian, Kool Kat Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures; Kool Kat Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte; glamour ghoul Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and so much more!

6) TWISTED TELEVISION!  Get terrified T.V.-style  throughout the weekend and catch screenings of Gene Roddenberry’s made-for-TV movie, SPECTRE (1977); THE OUTER LIMITS – “The Sixth Finger”; STAR TREK – “The Man Trap” and “Cat’s Paw”; MAN FROM ATLANTIS – “Crystal Water” and “Sudden Death”; THE WILD, WILD WEST – “The Night of the Iron Fist”; made for TV movie, THE QUESTOR TAPES (1974); and you won’t want to miss a super rare Kolchak Double Feature (THE NIGHT STALKER/THE NIGHT STRANGLER) in 16mm and so much more!

10.8Monsterama7) MONSTER MAKEOVERS!  Get gore-gous with monster make-up galore as part of this year’s Makers Track! SFX man Kyle Yaklin, Kool Kat Shane Morton and Chris Brown share the secrets of the monster trade with their “Raising Cthulhu” event, where they’ll build a Lovecraftian Creature costume and promise a true teaching moment when they pass on their knowledge of the Necronomicon and how to summon the Old Ones! Get spooktacular with a “Gore Gore Girls – Special Effects for Kids” event featuring mom/daughter duo, filmmaker Dayna Nofke (Tiltawhirl Pictures) and ultra spooky Vivi Vivian! And don’t forget to stick around for a creeping cornucopia of frightful faces and monster masks!

8) DEADLY DEALERS! Horror cons are the perfect place to stock up on both classic horror memorabilia, cult

Professor Morte

Professor Morte

classics on DVD and creepy clothing, costumes and accessories. Vendors this year include Creature connoisseur and effects artist, Kyle Yaklin (See our Shop Around feature on Kyle here), Cult TV Man, Eraserhead Press and all the toys, collectibles and monstrous goodies you can get your ghoulish little hands on!

9) MONSTER PROM! Hey all you boils and ghouls, get frightfully funky at this year’s Monster Prom, Saturday at 9pm! Dust off the old rat-infested tux, clear out the cobwebs, shine up your shoes and get ready to do the Monster Mash, and maybe even Time-Warp into the wee hours of the morning, hosted by Professor Morte!

Monsterama main con hours are Fri. Oct. 7 from 4 to 12 a.m.; Sat. Oct. 8 from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m.; and Sun. Oct. 9 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more info, visit www.monsteramacon.com.

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Hey All You Monster Kids, We Accept You One of Us! Our Top Ten Reasons to Go to MONSTERAMA CONVENTION 2015

Posted on: Sep 29th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

What are you doing this weekend? We’re monster mashing it up at the 2nd Annual MONSTERAMA CONVENTION, creeping and crawling into town this weekend, Oct. 2-4 at the 10.3-2Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center!

1) Christopher Lee: A Villainous Tribute! Catch a horrorific line-up of Christopher Lee films on Saturday featuring Terrence Fisher/Frank Winterstein’s SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE (1962), Jess Franco’s COUNT DRACULA (1970); and Robin Hardy’s THE WICKER MAN (1973)! And you must hammer out some time to catch “In Memoriam: Christopher Lee” on Saturday at 2pm; a panel with discussions about Lee and his amazing career. Our favorite villain has a body of work that includes screen credits for over 250 films!

2) Ricou Browning! The Creatureextraordinaire and legendary underwater stuntman, director, actor and screenwriter will be lurking amongst the monsters this year (See our exclusive Kool Kat interview here)! Get aquatic with the infamousGill-Manat the Black Lagoon Tiki Luau on 18s3mkqkk4g3mjpgFriday! And you won’t want to miss out on Ricou’s panels covering his monstrous cinematic life and everything in-between with “Return to the Black Lagoon” and “Thunderball & Beyond”!

3) Black Lagoon Tiki Luau! Hula on down (If you dare!) to the hotel pool on Friday night at 7pm and luau with The Creature himself, Ricou Browning! And for an experience you’ll never forget, throw on your suit and take a daunting dip into the Black Lagoon with effects artist, Kyle Yaklin (See our Shop Around feature on Kyle here) who will transform into the Creature of the night with his very own CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON suit crafted from the original mold!

4) Silver Scream Spook Show!  Kool Kat Shane Morton, a.k.a. ghost host with the most, Professor Morte and the Silver KingkongposterScream Spook Show will be raisin’ hairs with a screening of Ernest B. Shoedsack/Merian C. Cooper’s KING KONG (1933) on Saturday at 3 pm! It’s no trick, but a special treat because Prof. Morte’s lovable sidekick Retch will be returning for a Spook Show presentation to remember. Read one of our very first Kool Kat interviews with Retch alter-ego Jon Waterhouse here.

5) FANGTASTIC FILM!  Friday’s frightening film feast includes a helluva offering of 16mm screenings including Sam Newfield’s THE MAD MONSTER (1942); Michael ReevesTHE CONQUEROR WORM (1968); and Charles Laugton’s THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)! Saturday slaughters with horrorific classics including Nathan Juran’s JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962); James Whale’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and so much more! And Sunday gets sinister with Robert Siodmak/Erle C. Kenton’s SON OF DRACULA (1942); Antonio Margheriti’s CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964); and George Romero’s THE CRAZIES (1973)!

MV5BMjA3MDc3Mzk4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODM0MDg5._V1_SX214_AL_6) Spooktacular Guests! Spook it up with Larry Blamire (THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA); horror novelist and filmmaker John Farris (THE FURY); horror history expert and documentarian, Kool Kat Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, Kool Kat Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte, Victoria Price (daughter of the legendary Vincent Price. Get a taste of Vincent‘s cooking at a special Brunch with Victoria on Sunday!), legendary actresses, Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES; SHIVERS) and Candy Clark (AMERICAN GRAFFITI; THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH); glamour ghoul Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and so much more!

7) Twisted Television. Get terrified T.V.-style throughout the weekend and catch screenings of Gene Roddenberry’s made-for-TV movie, SPECTRE (1977); Kool Kat Daniel Griffith’s documentary, AS TIMELESS AS INFINITY: THE TWILIGHT ZONE LEGACY; THE OUTER LIMITS – “The Architects of Fear”; THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E – “The Abominable Snowman Affair”; STAR TREK – “The Man Trap”; and an episode of BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER!

8) Monster Makeovers! Get gore-gous with monster make-up galore as part of this year’s Makers Track! Effects man Kyle Yaklin and Kool Kat Shane Morton share the secrets of the monster trade with their “Casting the Creature” event, featuring a first generation pull from Jack Kevan’s master mold of “The Creature”! And Saturday gets spooktacular with a “Gore Gore Girls – Special Effects for Kids” event featuring mom/daughter duo, filmmaker Dayna Noffke (Tiltawhirl Pictures) and ultra spooky Vivi Vivian! And don’t forget to stick around for a creeping cornucopia of frightful faces and monster masks!vincent-price-cookbook-430x700

9) Deadly Dealers! Horror cons are the perfect place to stock up on both classic horror memorabilia, cult classics on DVD and creepy clothing, costumes and accessories. Vendors this year include Kool Kat Chris Hamer of UrbnPop; Horror in Clay (See our Shop Around feature here) and all the toys, collectibles and monstrous goodies you can get your grimy little hands on!

10) Monster Prom! Hey all you guys and ghouls, get frightfully funky at this year’s Monster Prom, dedicated to our favorite monster kid of all, Mark Schemanske! Dust off the old rat-infested tux, clear out the cobwebs, shine up your shoes and get ready to do the Monster Mash, and maybe even the Time-Warp into the wee hours of the morning!

Monsterama main con hours are Fri. Oct. 2 from 4 to 12 a.m.; Sat. Oct. 3 from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m.; and Sun. Oct. 4 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more info, visit www.monsteramacon.com.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mallory Lewis Loves Her Life with Lamb Chop

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2014 By:

Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop.

When ATLRetro heard that Shari Lewis’s daughter Mallory would be bringing the world’s most famous sock puppet Lamb Chop to the Center for Puppetry Arts for a new show LAMB CHOP 2.0 this Saturday April 26 at 3 p.m., we knew we had our Kool Kat of the Week.

Before the Muppets, Lamb Chop and Shari Lewis were household names. Then in the 1990s, a whole new generation was introduced the world’s most famous sock puppet with the PBS series LAMB CHOP’S PLAY ALONG. Mallory’s visit was prompted by a new Lamb Chop US Commemorative Postage Stamp, which will be launched at the Center on Friday. Her Saturday show, part of the Center’s National Day of Puppetry celebration, includes not just a Lamb Chop performance, carrying on her mother’s legacy, but also anecdotes, clips and an audience Q&A about life with her mom and the world’s most famous sock puppet!

Needless to say, ATLRetro had plenty of questions of our own, so we nabbed an exclusive interview with Mallory, whom we found out quickly was as cool and fun as her celebrity mom. If you think you have to be a kid to go see her, well, she’ll quickly set you straight. As she says below, her audiences typically are the adults, aka big kids, like us. Oh, and yes we sure did ask her about her mom’s STAR TREK connection and found out that there actually are two!

ATLRetro: What’s your earliest memory of Lamb Chop?

Mallory Lewis: I don’t know the first, but there was always Lamb Chop in my life. My mom put her in my crib when I was a baby, and I put her in my son’s crib when he was a baby.

When you were little, did you think Lamb Chop was real?

I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Of course, Lamb Chop’s real. Funny story about my son though. My son is a straight A student, always has been, top private school, really smart. He was about 10, and we were coming back from a gig and Lamb Chop was in the trunk of the car and my husband was driving. And Jamie said, “you know, Mom, I don’t think Lamb Chop was as funny today.” I said, “oh, OK.” Then all of a sudden his eyes got really big, and he goes, “do you think she could hear me in the way, way back? I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” I said, “no, I don’t think she could hear you, sweetie.” So Lamb Chop is very real to our family.

Were the ‘60s really the prime of Lamb Chop’s fame?

Not really. Mom went on TV in 1956 and went off TV in 1999. LAMB CHOP’S PLAY ALONG years were the second wave. That’s was the ’90s when she was on PBS every single day. That’s why my audiences tend to be adults because the 20somethings all grew up with Lamb Chop and the ever-present song that doesn’t end. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy performing for the troops so much because they remember Lamb Chop and it’s a very happy time in their life as opposed to the current time in their life where people are shooting at them.

But there was a period between the original show and the rebirth in the ‘90s when Lamb Chop was not on the air? What brought Lamb Chop back?

My mother’s indomitable will. During the years when she didn’t have a series, she performed at state fairs, she wrote 60 books, she conducted symphonies. She was simply not going to not come back.

Why do you think Lamb Chop bridges the generations? Lamb Chop in the ’50s and the ’60s and Lamb Chop in the ’90s and now?

What’s so interesting about Lamb Chop is she’s one of the great characters on television or in media. She is as real as character to people as Alan Alda’s [Hawkeye] was on M*A*S*H. And it is sort of the purity of her character—I don’t man purity in a religious way—but the honesty of who she is as a character that resonates with people. She says things that everybody wishes they could say.

When you were growing up, you met a lot of celebrities. Do you have a favorite memory of meeting someone famous?

I have two favorites. When I was five years old, I was terrified of THE WIZARD OF OZ. It was the scariest movie on the planet. I came into my house, and [Margaret Hamilton] the woman who played the Wicked Witch was sitting in the living room. I took one look at her and screamed and went running upstairs. My mother was like “Margaret, I am so sorry!” Margaret was like “that’s OK, it happens to me all the time.” The other was coming into the house when I was older, but not a lot older, and Tiny Tim was sitting in my living room playing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on his ukulele.

You traveled a lot when your mother was on tour with Lamb Chop. What were some of the more exotic places you got to go?

Well, Mom used to every year trade her services at the Aloha Bowl. She would do the half-time show and trade it for a vacation in Hawaii, so that was fun. I do a lot more exotic travel with Lamb Chop now than I did as a child. I rode through Africa on horseback going from Masai village to Masai village performing with Lamb Chop. It was very interesting. They have no history of puppetry. They don’t know what ventriloquism is. So I pretty much made children cry in each village until they got to know me.

I take my son almost everywhere with me, and one of the reasons I started doing Lamb Chop is I wanted my son to understand who his Grandma was to people and what Lamb Chop meant to people. The only way to do that was to keep her alive. She’s been such a blessing. I was eight weeks pregnant when Mom died. My son is 15 now. But he knows who she is through all the performances.

Can you tell us a bit about the show on Saturday?

The show that I do now is a hybrid show. It’s half me and Lamb Chop performing and half me telling stories about Mom and showing videos. Little kids love the show, no question, but my audience is usually 80% adults. Five people in a family will drag one three-year-old to the show. The three-year-old has no idea who Lamb Chop is, and the five adults stand in line to meet her afterwards. My show stars me and Lamb Chop and Mom, and that’s really fun.

Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop with Nicolosi, the artist behind the Shari Lewis US Commemorative Stamp.

There’s a Q&A at the end. Are you surprised by the questions people come up with?

No, people often will tell me that they had a very bad childhood and that my mother was the adult that they loved the most in their childhood. She was the one who made them feel that it all was going to be OK. So that’s really the nicest thing.

Do you have anything special planned for the Center for Puppetry Arts?

Well, yeah, I do, because the day before on April 25, Mom is getting a US Commemorative Postage Stamp. The artist who painted it is a gentleman named Nicolosi. Remember that show, INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO? This show at the Center has some elements of that where I am going to be interviewed, and then there’s the Q&A also at the end of the show. So it’s going to be unusual in that I don’t normally perform with any other live people on stage. I will be singing, there will be comedy, there will be video and there will be questions. , magic

How did you transition to performing with Lamb Chop? Was it a challenge or a natural experience?

Totally natural. When mom died, if I hadn’t picked up Lamb Chop, then Lamb Chop would have died, too. So that was not possible. I couldn’t let that happen. I was at an event where Mom was getting a posthumous award, and I tucked her in the podium first because I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. I put her on, and she just said “Thank you so much. Shari would be so proud.” Then there was this silence, and then there was a gasp. And then there was all this applause. I thought, I like this.

I never had to learn how to do Lamb Chop. I had to learn the material, and I had to learn stage presence. So I did a two-three minute show at the LA Zoo, then a five-minute show. Then I started performing at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. It just sort of grew that way. One of my favorite shows was the last time I was at the Center for Puppetry Arts four years ago. I performed in front of a huge crowd of thousands of people [at the Ferst Center]. It was so wonderful because [the audience] was all puppeteers. Anyway I was so scared because the group that is going to criticize you the most are your peers. And everyone was so kind. Vince [Anthony, founder of the Center] came up to me afterwards and said, “That was a triumph.” One of those memories in my life that makes me the happiest is when I think of that.

A scene from the STAR TREK episode, "The Lights of Zetar."

What do you think about the role of the Center for Puppetry Arts?

It is the classiest place in the country for puppets. The curating that they do of the Henson characters and all the characters is magnificent. The shows that they bring in are such high quality. It is such a treasure to have such a cross between a museum and a performing arts center and a boutique educational center. You can experience puppets any way that you want to there. You can look at them. You can watch them. And you can learn things about them. I think it’s a really valuable place, and it’s run very beautifully. I could have debuted this and had the stamp unveiling any place in the country and I chose the Center because I think it’s such a valuable place in our society.

I want to ask you one non-Lamb Chop question. You would have been very small, but what can you tell us about your mother’s experience co-writing a STAR TREK episode, The Lights of Zetar”?

Yes, I’ll tell you a STAR TREK story. My family are complete STAR TREK geeks and DOCTOR WHO. Total geeks. I want a DOCTOR WHO movie to come out so badly, and I would like to be a Companion. My mom wrote that STAR TREK episode with the intention of starring in it as Lieutenant Mira Romaine, and three weeks before the show shot, the producer’s or director’s girlfriend got the role. It was something my mother never got over. She was mad about that for her entire life.

My uncle Lan O’Kun created the character of Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi’s mother. What’s funny is my whole life people have said that character reminds them of me—the wacky mom—and all the women in my family. I didn’t know my uncle had created that character until two months ago. Now it makes sense as to why that character rings so true.

Click here to find more info or purchase tickets to LAMB CHOP 2.0.

 

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Retro Review: Shatner and Borgnine Give Satan His Due: THE DEVIL’S RAIN Will Fall on the 11th Annual Rock & Roll Monster Bash!

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 By:

Rock & Roll Monster Bash presents THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975); Dir. Robert Fuest; Starring William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn and Joan Prather; Sunday, June 2; Starlight Six Drive-In; Buy tickets here. Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s Rock & Roll Monster Bashin’ time, kiddiwinkies! And if you’ve spent all day celebrating at the Starlight Six Drive-In, there’s no better way to cap off the night than with a double-bill of diabolical delights. And it doesn’t get more diabolical or delightful than THE DEVIL’S RAIN.

Okay, I’m biased. Let’s get that straight from the start. Around my house, if there’s a movie made in the ‘60s or ‘70s about a bunch of folks worshipping Our Downstairs Neighbor, I’m giving that sucker the benefit of the doubt. And likewise, if your name is Robert Fuest, and you’ve directed a movie about anything, I’m giving that sucker the benefit of the doubt.

This is why it’s constantly puzzled me that folks give THE DEVIL’S RAIN such short shrift. Even in the limited genre that is Satanic Cinema of the Sixties and Seventies, it gets relatively little love. And I’m not talking about pitting its reputation against that of established classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY. I’m talking stuff like THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, THE WITCHMAKER, BEYOND THE DOOR, ALUCARDA, and on and on and on. I mean, sure, huge chunks of the movie don’t make a lick of sense. But that’s never stood in the way of a film building up a cult following.

Partially, I think it’s got to have something to do with the prevailing notion that anything touched by the Hand of Shatner outside of the STAR TREK franchise is somehow shameful at worst, and best appreciated as camp at best. And maybe it’s got something to do with so much of the cast being composed of actors either well past their prime and heading for the Irwin Allen Disaster Movie Retirement Home (Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn, Eddie Albert) or so early on in their careers that they don’t make much impact (Tom Skerritt, John Travolta). Maybe it’s because Ernest Borgnine spends most of the movie going so over-the-top that you can’t see bottom anymore. Maybe it’s because the movie’s promotional tagline is so grammatically incorrect that I’ve been trying to decipher it for decades (“Heaven help us all when…The Devil’s Rain!” Huh? When the Devil’s Rain does what? Are you trying to say “when the Devils rain?” or “when the Devils reign?” Are you confusing your plurals and possessives?)

Or maybe it’s because some people don’t like to have fun, for crying out loud. Because this is one fun movie.

Re-hashing the plot won’t help anybody, so I’ll just say this: Ernest Borgnine is the reincarnation of a devil-worshipping warlock burned at the stake long ago, and he’s back (and holed up in a church in the desert) to obtain a book kept hidden over these many years by William Shatner’s family. There’s a Snowglobe of the Damned called “The Devil’s Rain” that contains the souls of those Borgnine has ensnared. There’s some pseudo-scientific gobbeldy-gook about ESP that brings Shatner’s extended family of Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert and Joan Prather into the mix. There are flashbacks to the burnings. There are lots of folks in black robes with no eyes (including John Travolta) running around doing Borgnine’s bidding. And maybe they’re made of wax or something because they all tend to melt.

Like I said: big chunks that don’t make a lick of sense.

Ernest Borgnine in THE DEVIL'S RAIN.

But what works in this movie, works like crazy. Fuest’s direction is—as always—stylish and visually fascinating. Don’t forget, this is the guy who directed THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, the Michael Moorcock adaptation THE FINAL PROGRAMME (aka THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH) and numerous episodes of THE AVENGERS. The guy’s got flash if he’s got anything. There’s a prevailing sense of dread cast over the entire film from its opening frames, with the stage being set by the opening titles presented over the hellishly hallucinatory artwork of Hieronymus Bosch. There’s the unique in media res opening that delivers the sense that we’ve been dropped into the movie after its first reel, leaving the audience disoriented as they try to piece together what’s happening. There’s Ernest Borgnine invoking the spirit of Satan and turning into a Baphomet-headed beast. There’s the presence of the High Priest of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey (ANTON FREAKIN’ LAVEY, people!) as both the film’s technical advisor and Borgnine’s High Priest, playing the pipe organ and sporting a diabolically groovy helmet for some reason. There’s fantastic makeup work from Ellis Burman, Jr. There’s an insanely great score by Al De Lory. And it ends exactly like it ought to end.

Let me say this: if this movie had been made in Italy, the horror community at large would be salivating over THE DEVIL’S RAIN like it was Edwige Fenech in STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (Italian exploitation fans represent!). But because of its familiarity—being ever-present on late-night TV, the drive-in circuit and relatively easy to get on home video through the years—it’s easily overlooked. Don’t make this mistake, dear readers! This movie deserves a re-evaluation and a re-appreciation. Much like Shatner’s career has developed a post-TREK rehabilitation, we should go back and give the Devil his due.

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

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Who Wants to Go Back to Earth Anyway?!: Andrew Gaska Ignites AFTERSHOCK AND AWE into Hit ’70s Sci-Fi TV Series SPACE:1999

Posted on: Apr 22nd, 2013 By:

SPACE 1999, the ’70s Gerry and Sylvia Anderson sci-fi series, returns in SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, a 168-page graphic novel from New York-based guerilla design studio Blam! Ventures and published by Archaia Entertainment. Sometimes comics reboots are just about nostalgia, but writer Andrew E.C. “Drew” Gaska has plugged up many of the holes in the science, plot and characterization quite masterfully. Let’s admit that the concept of the moon being blown out of earth’s orbit and then traveling around the galaxy at speeds fast enough to take the crew to other planets was a bit far-fetched. But the show also had an amazing cast including then husband and wife Martin Landau (Captain John Koenig) and Barbara Bain (Dr. Helena Russell), who had also teamed up on MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, veteran character actor Barry Morse (Dr. Victor Bergman) and ultimately sexy Catherine Schell as shapeshifting alien Maya. And the Eagle, well, it was one of the coolest spaceships ever featured in TV science fiction!

ATLRetro recently caught up with Drew, a regular on Artists Alley at DragonCon who nurtured his pop culture roots as a veteran consultant for the digital gaming industry including such hit titles as GRAND THEFT AUTO and the Max Payne series. His current passion is breathing new life into some of his favorite licensed properties from childhood. He penned CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Archaia, 2011), an illustrated novel which solves the mystery of what happened to astronaut Landon, who was also captured by the apes and lobotomized. And next up, he’ll be tackling the 1970s TV series, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY.

Each of these projects is worthy of its own interview, so for now, we’ll stick with Moonbase Alpha. And we should also note that the stunning visuals on the book are thanks to a triumvirate of artists, legendary who produced the book with artistic team Gray Morrow, Spanish artist Miki and David Hueso (GI JOE:STORM SHADOW).

ATLRetro: How did you first encounter SPACE:1999? Was it a childhood favorite or did you discover it later, and what did it mean to you?

Andrew E.C. Gaska: Basically I discovered SPACE: 1999 as a child in the 1970s. My father was a police officer, and he worked until midnight, so I stayed up and watched TV with him during the summer. At 11, it was THE HONEYMOONERS. At 11:30, it was TWILIGHT ZONE. At midnight was STAR TREK. and 1 o’clock was SPACE: 1999. I really only saw the second season of SPACE:1999. I really liked Maya turning into animals. Also, my best friend while growing up had the 24-inch Eagle toy from Mattel. We used to play with it with our STAR WARS toys. I was into all science fiction. I wouldn’t watch anything else except THE HONEYMOONERS and THREE’S COMPANY and science fiction shows. Those were the only choices and really shaped who I am now. Actually…that’s kind of frightening.

I was reintroduced to SPACE: 1999 in the ‘90s by the book, EXPLORING SPACE 1999 by John Kenneth Muir, who eventually did the foreword to AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. It led me to looking for bootleg videotapes of SPACE: 1999, which wasn’t available in any official release at the time. I’d buy bootleg tapes at conventions and got really into it again. Of course, I bought it all on DVD when it came out later  – and again on Blu-Ray!

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

How did Aftershock and Awe come about? Was it you wanting to work in the Space:1999 universe or were you approached?

Back in 2005, I formed BLAM! Ventures, my guerrilla design studio, to acquire licenses for creator-owned properties. The plan was to get the rights, get a book about 80% done, and then shop them around to publishers to get released. I went to Paramount and tried to get STAR TREK. I went to Universal, to Fox… I basically hit all the big ones. Of the ones I hit, PLANET OF THE APES was the only one that gave me a response right away. That led to my CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES novel and its coming sequel, tentatively called DEATH OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which I am working on right now. One of the companies that we had tried to get properties from was ITV. We approached them about SPACE 1999 and UFO, but they were going through a lot of changes in their licensing department so we could only got so far, and then the interest would drop. Later we found out they were constantly shifting people around in the licensing department, so I gave up on it for a while. Then ITV decided to reboot the entire department, and while they were doing that, they brought in an outside licensing firm. When that firm was going through some old files, they found all the proposals I had sent them. They contacted me and told me they thought the ideas were good for the brand, so we made a deal.

It’s been very frustrating dealing with licenses and getting clients to understand that what we are trying to do is intended to benefit the license, not steal part of it.

Why is a series set in 1999 that never happened still so relevant now, in your opinion?

A lot of detractors say SPACE: 1999 is just like STAR TREK, but really it’s not. STAR TREK is very positive about the future. Space is well understood by the crew that encounters it. Each episode ties things up neatly. There are not a lot of mysteries or outside forces, whereas in SPACE 1999, every episode is a mystery or there is a greater force in play. It could be God if you will, but there is definitely some guiding force that is responsible for getting them in and out of the predicaments that happen to them. I liken SPACE 1999 to gothic space horror. Space is a terrifying place and you never know what is going to happen to you. There’s more out there that we don’t understand than that we do understand. SPACE: 1999 takes its cues from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY [1968] which obviously inspired it greatly.

In regard to the charge that it is no longer relevant, the date was one of the hurdles I had to overcome in writing AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Most of the advice I received from inside the entertainment industry was all you have to do is change the date. I was like, no, this was supposed to be continuation of the original series. So instead I approached it as an alternate history, like what direction would the world have took if the South had won Civil War or Hitler won WWII. The most obvious difference between the real world and the world of SPACE: 1999 was that we had a moonbase in 1999. It struck me that President Kennedy was so fascinated with the space program, and if he had not been assassinated, perhaps our technology would have gone in that direction rather than in cellular phones and the Internet. What you can do with alternate history is shine a light on specific aspects of our own history that you can’t do otherwise without ruffling some feathers.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

Which character was your favorite to delve more deeply into and why?

That definitely would be Professor Victor Bergman. To me, he is the most likable character in science fiction. My friend described him as a “cuddly Captain Picard.” He’s learned, he’s wise, he’s soft-spoken, and he really cares. He’s definitely the heart of Moonbase Alpha, so he was very important to me. One of the things we do in AFTERSHOCK AND AWE is go into his journals, and I had to make sure the writing sounded like his voice. One of the things that was most gratifying for me was hearing from a lot of fans that they could hear his voice in those journal entries. It’s a shame that [the producers of SPACE:1999 Season 2] kicked him off. They even said that they did so because they thought having an old guy on the show turned it into your living room versus a futuristic science fiction show. So there aren’t any old guys in the future?

AFTERSHOCK AND AWE gave you the opportunity to fill in gaps and inconsistencies in the show. Is there a particular gap or inconsistency that gave you the most satisfaction to explain?

Yes, and it’s probably obvious to anyone who has read it: Shermeen Williams. Basically she’s a character who shows up in one episode [A MATTER OF BALANCE] in the second season of the show. In that episode, she is 16 years old. If you do the math based on the amount of days since leaving orbit that’s mentioned in the episode, when the moon left Earth, she would have been 10. I asked myself, what’s a little girl doing on the moon at that time? In the ‘70s, they didn’t think anyone would notice or care. I found a reason and made it relevant for one of the main characters, specifically Victor.

Drew Gaska. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

You mean having Victor as Shermeen’s guardian. Why Victor in particular?

Basically he was older and wiser, so everyone was always looking to him for advice. Victor was always the father of Moonbase Alpha. So I thought, why not put him into that role literally by having him take responsibility for a child? It also explained why [Shermeen] is allowed to get away with so much crap in that episode in season 2. It’s because when John looks at her, he sees Victor. If we get to continue the license, one of we’ll be continuing the series 30 years later, and one of the things we’ll be doing is catching up with the characters. We’ll show flashbacks of scenes that happened in the episodes but that you did not see. For example, we’ll see what Shermeen was doing with Victor throughout the series. She was always there behind the scenes in season 1.

I liked what you did with John and Helena to flush out their back story and lay the foundation for the start of their relationship. Can you talk a little about that?

When you watch episode one, BREAKAWAY, there’s a scene that’s also in the comic, where basically Helena gives John a whole bunch of crap for putting his life at risk. He replies smugly, “I didn’t know you cared.” It seemed like some sort of hint at their relationship status. In the second episode, there’s a back story about Helena’s husband who was a lost astronaut. That set up in my mind where she was coming from. In regard to John’s past, in SPACE:1999 EARTHFALL, by E.C. Tubb, who was a brilliant author published in the ‘70s, he established Marcia Gilcrest as John’s fiancée in a short scene in the beginning. When John learns that he has been made commander of Moonbase Alpha again, she says, “look at me, John, I couldn’t possibly live on the moon.” And she couldn’t, because she was a socialite. Having John deal with these issues allowed me to show more depth in his character. And I was also able to use Marcia to show what happens on Earth. When the moon moves out of orbit, she is on Fiji and gets into serious problems when the tectonic plates begin to shift.

Which leads perfectly into the next question. In the graphic novel, you also explore the impact of the moon’s dislocation on the Earth itself. Why did you think that was important to add to the SPACE:1999 saga?

Two reasons. One was that when Gerry Anderson tried to get the show green-lit from Lew Grade, the producer who funded the show, he had a very strong eccentricity. He said he would fund the show only if we never see anything that happens on Earth, because he had seen too many science fiction shows that happen on Earth. When I heard that, I thought, ‘but there was so much that could be told about that!’ Also, people always complained that the science was wonky. There’s a lot of real science about what would happen to Earth if moon was ripped out of orbit.  I thought that a great way to ground the story in science was to show the effects if Earth lost the moon. There are other comics in which that happened, and which did not deal with the consequences. That makes it fantasy to me, and we are dealing with science fiction, not science fantasy.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

How did you research the science for the book?

The History Channel has a wonderful program called THE UNIVERSE, and there was also a Discovery Channel special called IF WE HAD NO MOON. There are books on the subject as well, but I started with those programs.

Even people who aren’t big fans of SPACE:1999 wax passionately about the Eagle. What’s so special about this spacecraft?

To me, the Eagle is one of the most brilliant designs there’s ever been in science fiction. It looks like it really could be part of the NASA arsenal. It looks like a real space vehicle, but it also looks like it could be a brick in the atmosphere. If you suspend disbelief, it just has such beautiful details such as the spines on its back. In every one of those top 100 spaceship lists on the Internet, the Eagle always is well towards number one. It has endured even more than the show.  With AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, we had a chance to bring in new story elements that work well with the ship.

If you can extend the license, where do you hope to take SPACE: 1999 in the other volumes?

Basically the point of AFTERSHOCK AND AWE was to reintroduce the concept to audiences. There are a lot of people who have never seen SPACE:1999 who would be really turned on by it if they have something new. We’re also introducing a new set of characters who are searching for the lost moon in the next series MISSION ALPHA.  They’ll be passing through the areas of space that the moon passed through and seeing the ramifications of what happened in the episodes. It’s 30 years later by that time which opens the gate to multigenerational survival stories. We have six graphic novels arced out which take the series to its logical conclusion. You will in the end find out what the mysterious force that guides them is, why the moon was blown out of Earth orbit, and why everything has gone down the way it has throughout the series. Whether or not you’ll get to read that depends on sales, so if you like AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, recommend it to a friend. We’ve got some good stories to tell, and SPACE:1999 does not need to be left to languish any longer.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

What else is BLAM! Ventures up to?

My next licensed property that I am working on is BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY [based on the 1970s TV program]. It will be a series of illustrated novels, similar to THE CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES book. I’m also working on a sequel to Apes that is due out in 2014. And there are some comic properties I am working on as well, so expect to see a lot from BLAM! Ventures in the future!

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

Posted on: Apr 8th, 2013 By:

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

By Robert Emmett Murphy
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

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

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

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

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

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

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

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

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

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

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that’s just plain mean.

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

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

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

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

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

Rediscovering the Magic of THE DARK CRYSTAL at the Plaza Theatre with Atlanta Comics Artist Heidi Arnhold

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2011 By:

Art Opening & A Movie Presents THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982); Dir: Jim Henson and Frank Oz; Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Franz Oz; “The Small Game of Revilo”art exhibition featuring works by Brian Colin; also appearing will be Heidi Arnhold, artist, LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL. Tues. June 7, opening reception 8-11 PM with movie at 9:30 pm; Fri. June 10 at MIDNIGHT; Sun. June 12 at 3 PM; Plaza TheatreTrailer here.

Cover art for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL: TRIAL BY FIRE, the series' second volume written by Barbara Randall Kesel, illustrated by Heidi Arnhold and toned by Jessica Feinberg. (Tokyopop, 2007)

With the popularity of Yoda and the success of stop-motion movies like NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, it may be hard to imagine how revolutionary THE DARK CRYSTAL actually was when it came out in 1982. Long before CGI, Muppets creators Jim Henson and Franz Oz wanted to show the celluloid potential of puppetry—they even billed it as the first live-action movie with no humans on screen—and take fantasy. So they came up with a mythic tale that provocatively took place in “in the age of wonder,” in which two noble, elf-like Gelflings set out on a quest to a fulfill a prophecy that will free their world from the grip of the evil Skeksis. For the imaginative character designs, they turned to fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, with whom they would collaborate again on LABYRINTH (1986). The project was highly anticipated by science fiction and fantasy fans and won some critical acclaim, but sadly tanked at the box office.

Like BLADE RUNNER (also 1982), DARK CRYSTAL was perhaps ahead of its time and destined to gain more appreciation with age. The fantasy film is the latest in a parade of under-appreciated and cult features which the Plaza Theatre has brought back to the big screen. If you’ve only seen it on a TV screen or haven’t seen it at all, here’s a rare chance. Afterwards, be sure and visit The Center for Puppetry Arts’ museum to appreciate all the craftsmanship and detailed costuming that went into an actual Skeksis which appeared in the film.

The screening is part of the Plaza’s Art Opening and a Movie series, featuring an opening reception for the exhibit “The Small Game of Revilo,” a collection of surprising sculptures featuring whimsical and fearsome small forest animals by Brian Colin which will be on display in the lobby through July 3. Also on hand will be Heidi Arnhold, the artist of two volumes of LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (THE GARTHIM WARS and TRIAL BY FIRE), a manga graphic novel prequel published by Tokyopop and set hundreds of years before the film. She’s also drawn a manga version of STAR TREK and is one of the artists for Archaia Entertainment’s upcoming FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II anthology, out July 2011. ATLRetro caught up with Heidi to find out how an unknown artist won a professional debut as cool as DARK CRYSTAL, why she thinks the movie has such staying power, and a little bit about her affection for rabbits.

How did you get the opportunity to be the artist for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL?

When I was a senior at the Savannah College of Art (SCAD), I met Tim Beedle [former Tokyopop editor] at Editor’s Day. The Sequential Art Department hosts the event once a year and invites editors from various publishers to visit and give portfolio reviews. I made [Tim] my top priority because my style seemed best suited for them. Much to my surprise and excitement, he liked my stuff and gave me his card! I walked out of the review room clutching it in my hands like he’d just given me the golden ticket.

The evil Skesis, as drawn by Heidi Arnhold in LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

I kept in touch with Tim after I graduated in hopes that a project in need of an artist would open up. Little did I know that he was working on LEGENDS at the time, and the first artist had decided to walk. Initially Tim had intended for me to work on something else, but he needed someone to take over the book fairly quickly. One day he asked me if I was a fan of THE DARK CRYSTAL, and I thought he was just making small talk and didn’t respond right away. Shortly afterward he hinted that there was a reason he was asking me that, and I got it through my thick skull that this could be my chance to move forward in the career of my dreams. After sending him sketches and several test pages over the next couple months, I was approved! Tim told me over the phone, and I did an awkward victory dance in the back room at my workplace—thank goodness nobody was looking! And that’s how it all began.

Were you a big fan of the film already, and if yes, when did you first see it and what impact did it have on your art?

When the prospect of illustrating LEGENDS was placed on the table, I’m embarrassed to say I had yet to see THE DARK CRYSTAL at all. I missed out on many awesome things when I was younger, mostly because VHS tapes were pretty costly—or so my parents tell me—and my family wasn’t doing so great financially. I never saw LABYRINTH or FRAGGLE ROCK as a kid either. I’m very glad I was able to grow up watching shows like SESAME STREET and MUPPET BABIES at least!

Another page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for LEGENDS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL (Tokyopop).

However, once I had seen the movie, I was enchanted by the characters and backgrounds. I’ve always had a connection to the fantasy genre, its whimsical elements in particular. Even before I was green lit as the artist, I could tell the world of THE DARK CRYSTAL was going to give me the opportunity to cut loose and have some fun.

Your artwork is very detailed and really makes the movie come to life in the graphic medium. How did you prepare, any funny stories and how many times did you visit the actual skeksis at the Center for Puppetry Arts museum?

Back then I was working at the UPS store, and on my slow days I used their printer to fill a binder full of Dark Crystal reference material—shhh, don’t tell them. I watched the movie over and over. I sketched from screenshots. I referenced Brian Froud’s art book [THE WORLD OF THE DARK CRYSTAL]. I coveted the days when it was quiet at work because I’d get to practice drawing Gelflings and Skeksis to my heart’s content. Skeksis anatomy turned out to be a source of frustration for me. I could not draw the Chamberlain with the correct

Artist Heidi Arnhold.

proportions to save my life. Tim was being so patient as he repeatedly tried to help me visualize how Skeksis were supposed to look. Before too long I began to have dreams about drawing the Chamberlain constantly, and I think that made something inside me die a little—I stopped sending revised drawings for a brief period after that. Tim graciously allowed me to send several test pages containing Gelflings only, claiming that I’d be able to draw Skeksis in my sleep the more I worked on the comic. Luckily, he was right!

And yes, I did visit the Center of Puppetry Arts in 2008. I remember how exasperated I was, because I wish I had gone sooner! I could actually examine the Garthim Master up close, and I understood certain details in his robes much better in person than I ever would have from a screenshot. I was kicking myself that I’d never even considered going down there earlier to use such a valuable resource.

DARK CRYSTAL was really groundbreaking in its use of puppetry in a feature film. How do you feel it holds up today and why should people come see it?

The Dark Crystal has always been such a unique film to me. It gives a fascinating insight into the scope of Jim Henson’s vision, and it redefined the boundaries of puppetry, both technologically and in subject matter. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. I think the movie sits in a specific category all its own, and for that reason it has earned a special place in cinematic history. Everyone should see it at least once!

The cover of Archaia's FRAGGLE ROCK Vol. 2, coming July 2011.

You’ve also drawn FRAGGLE ROCK for Archaia’s anthology. Is that out yet and what was that like and are those stories from the TV series or original ones?

I illustrated a lead story for Volume 2 , Issue 2—that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?—titled “The Meaning of Life,” written by Joe LeFavi, which came out in January of this year. It’s part of a three-issue run that will be collected into a hardback book in the coming months. Volume 1 is already available, and I highly recommend it! All the stories in the anthology are original, and they really hold true to the feel of the show. I think they’ll hit home with a lot of longstanding FRAGGLE fans and give newcomers a chance to fall in love with them as well.

A page drawn by Heidi Arnhold for FRAGGLE ROCK, VOL. II (Archaia Entertainment)

What are you working on right now?

Currently I’m in a holding pattern to see if a project I’ve been visually conceptualizing will be picked up. The story is really fantastic, and I hope that we’ll be able to share it with everyone soon! In the meantime, I’m working on a short-term project that I’m also not allowed to talk about. I know, it’s super interesting, right? Being sworn to secrecy doesn’t make for fun interview responses.

Finally, how many rabbits do you have and have you played with them today?

I have three bunnies! Two boys, a Netherlands Dwarf and a Rex, and one girl, a Mini Rex. The boys are roommates and haven’t bonded with the girl yet, so playtime is sectioned off to different areas of the house. The boys have a room all to themselves, and my little lady is downstairs with me right now! She keeps nudging my feet while I’m sitting in my office chair, because she knows it will make me turn around and pet her. Bunnies are the BEST.

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