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

Posted on: Aug 29th, 2013 By:

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

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

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

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

Let me tell you a secret.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s amazing how wrong people can be.

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

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

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Shop Around: Living La Vida Goo Goo Muck: Monster Art Studio’s Jeff Riggan Whips up a Surreal Visual Sideshow for the Rock n Roll Monster Bash at the Starlight Drive-In

Posted on: Jun 1st, 2013 By:

Just another reason Atlanta has become Halloween-Town, USA is the Rock and Roll Monster Bash  Sun. June 2 at the Starlight Six Drive-In. Hosted by the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte, the fiendishly fun festival of macabre music and movies is now in its 11th year. Highlights include MONSTROSITY CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING, live music by six bands, a souped-up hearse show, and two classic horror features in 35 mm majesty, THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975), starring William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine and John Travolta, as well as Sam Raimi‘s EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), starring Bruce Campbell‘s chin and a chainsaw. [Read our Retro Reviews for THE DEVIL’s RAIN here and EVIL DEAD 2 here].

Another big reason to come is a vicious vendors market, featuring a wide variety of cool monster-themed and Retro-inspired merchandise from vintage cult movie ephemera to vintage clothes, Gothic jewelry to BBQ and booze. One of our favorite discoveries last year was artist Jeff Riggan, who had just moved himself and his Monster Art Studio up to Atlanta from Florida. We’ve been running into him at various street festival art markets, and his work has never ceased to impress us, from stuffed sideshow freaks Slugmo and Squidboy to gigantic tiki/tropical-themed works or a mega-painting of Lux Interior of The Cramps!

A professional artist for nearly 30 years, Jeff has painted approximately 30 murals for Orlando-based Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex restaurants, as well as created sets, sculptures, murals and large scale artwork for the Universal theme parks, Six Flags, WonderWorksNickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and more. He and his work has been featured in many publications, local and national news, as well as several television shows.

Needless to say, Jeff’s tent will be one of our first stops at the Bash this year, but ATLRetro also is horrifically happy to report that’s just one of his nefarious plots to do his part in making Atlanta the official monster capital of America!

ATLRetro: You’ve got some big plans for this year’s Rock N Roll Monster Bash, such as a scarily special photo op, I hear! What can you reveal in advance without giving away any spoilers?

Jeff Riggan: There will be blood.

As I recall, last year was either your first Monster Bash and you were pretty excited about being part of it. What’s your personal favorite thing about Monster Bash and why it’s a not-to-be-missed Atlanta event?

Last year Monster Bash was our first festival in Atlanta, and it opened the doors for me.  Monster Bash is a great venue for people with a freaky passion for art,  music, classic horror movies.

How did you first get into painting monsters? Does it go back to when you were a kid? Is there a cool story?

Listening to punk rock, skateboarding. Sid & Marty Krofft polluted my mind, Evel Knievel got me amped and Bob Ross had a painting show. That’s how it all started!

Who was your first favorite monster growing up and why?

[Maurice Sendak‘s] WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. It laid rest on my mind until I started making my stuffed creatures.

You’ve done murals, 3-D art, sides of buildings, all sorts of crazy stuff. What were one or two of your most fun projects and why?

I worked in the theme park production industry for over 15 years, which was an amazing experience. I would have to say the most fun I had was in my own backyard, so to speak, painting murals for a local co-op in Florida, all over the outside of their buildings. They let me have the freedom to express myself. One of my most favorite was painting a three-story high Great Dane. I also enjoyed traveling from the Florida Panhandle to Chicago painting murals for a corporate restaurant – I was given free reign to paint whatever I wanted.

In addition to monsters and murals, you paint music-inspired art such as your recent Cramps and tiki-stuff. How do you describe your art and what are the limits of what you enjoy creating?

I listened to music before I began painting, it was a creative outlet for me until I discovered I was an artist. It’s a tangible way for me to express myself. They are intertwined, art and music. Lux Interior, Unknown Hinson, Hunter S. Thompson – in my own interpretive way.

You used to live in Florida. What brought you to Atlanta and when exactly did you move up here?

I came here as a leap of faith in May 2012. Monster Bash was our very first show here in ATL , so [I and my wife Emily] have been here for one year!  It was an immediate overwhelming sense of belonging – everyone we met said “Welcome to Atlanta.” True Southern Hospitality!

Atlanta has a huge horror scene now. What do you think of it, and how is the local fervor for horror inspiring/affecting your work? 

I think it’s amazing.  It definitely challenges me. I’ve also met some cool people – Tim [Mack] from Imperial Opa Circus, Chris Brown of Macabre Puppets – that have inspired me.

You seem like the kind of guy who must have an amazing studio. Can you describe it and what you keep around to inspire you?

Eyeballs, skulls, torsos,  “souvenirs” from dumpster diving and exploring old buildings, machine parts, trailers, bicycles – Fred G. Sanford would be envious!

Didn’t you some movie work here lately?

I just finished working on THE CIRCLE, an independent horror film, with Beth Marshall, Tripp Rhame, Ben Jacoby and Tom Hamilton. Forrest Hill and I built props, special effects, and build the sets  We worked out at the old prison farm on Key Road, near the Starlight Drive-In.

What else are you up to right now, and what’s the next event at which you’ll be exhibiting/selling your work? 

A featured spread in Stuffed Magazine with my felted circus freak creatures – Slugmo and Squidboy. We’ll be at the Strut [Sept. 21] in East Atlanta and then…..who knows!  My sets/booths are becoming more and more elaborate, and I am always adding new stuff.

What question do you wish someone would ask you but they never do? And what is the answer? 

Hey, can we pay you for your ideas, you just create stuff? The answer is YES!

The 11th annual Rock and Roll Monster Bash kicks off at 10 a.m. Sunday June 2 and runs all day and night at the Starlight Six Drive-In. Get their early to stake out the best parking spots. Bands include Alice Cooper tribute group Black Juju, Baby Baby, a reunion of The Butchers, Dracula (singing the hits as only he can!), Spooky Partridge and Metal Gaga (the lovechild of Lady Gaga and Iron Maiden!). Advance tickets are available at http://www.ticketalternative.com.

To purchase artwork year-round or contact Jeff about custom paintings, set design and more, visit Monster Art Studio online.

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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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Retro Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cabin in the Woods: EVIL DEAD 2 Is a Vicious, Nasty, Bloody, Frightening and Smart Movie!

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 By:

Rock & Roll Monster Bash presents EVIL DEAD 2 (1987); Dir. Sam Raimi; Starring Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry and Dan Hicks; Sunday, June 2; Starlight Six Drive-In; Buy tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

It’s Rock & Roll Monster Bashin’ time, ladies and gents! 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 fright featuring folks messing around with books they ought not be messin’ around with. And they don’t come any better than Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2.

It was 1983 and I had started sailing awkwardly into teenagerhood. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was on the verge of closing up shop, and I had been steadily supplementing my reading material with FANGORIA. A video rental store named Video Land had just opened up in town to provide stiff competition to the local movie house (the Royal Rocking Chair Cinema), and my main after-school preoccupation was scouring the shelves of the horror section to rent whatever I hadn’t seen yet. And one day, there it was: the Thorn/EMI plastic clamshell case for THE EVIL DEAD. In the coming years, I must have paid for half of Video Land’s entire inventory just from renting that movie over and over again. It was mindblowing. Just a vicious, nasty, bloody, frightening and smart movie—not just script-wise, but so audacious visually that it was like few things I’d seen to that point.

So when FANGO started reporting that Sam Raimi was teaming back up with Bruce Campbell to make EVIL DEAD 2, I was rabid. And then, the Royal put up the poster for it as a coming attraction. I pestered the hell out of the people running the place about when they were going to get it, and every time, they’d say “soon.” Maybe it would be that they were holding over that week’s show. Or maybe it would be that a big release was coming in the next week that they had to run instead. But every time, something different. And they must have had that poster up for a year. Like they were doing it out of spite, just to taunt me or something.

So, like so many others like me who were living out in the pits of Nowheresvilles all across the country, I had to wait for it to come out on video to see it. And when I finally got my grubby mitts on it…it was a comedy?

Because how can you follow up a movie whose own closing credits describe it as “the ultimate experience in grueling terror?” By piling on the excesses of the first until it becomes so overloaded with the wacky that it collapses in hysterics. (And by describing the result in its closing credits as “the sequel to the ultimate experience in grueling terror.”) Where the first film was visually inventive, this took every lesson learned from that first movie and asked the question, “how can we do this BIGGER?” If THE EVIL DEAD used the whip pan as a stylistic device, let’s do everything in whip pans. Lots of blood all over the place in the first movie? Let’s shoot it out of fire hoses at Bruce Campbell. The first movie has Bruce wielding a chainsaw? Let’s give Bruce a chainsaw for a hand! The first film has violence so over-the-top that it borders on the absurd? Let’s demonstrate that Bruce Campbell is an incredibly agile physical comedian and have him beat the living daylights out of himself with everything but the kitchen sink, like he’s both Moe and Curly trapped inside the same body.

Groovy.

This became my new gospel. I’d sit and pick over the minutiae of this movie like I was in seminary and this was the Codex Sinaiticus. Like I was Wilbur Whateley poring over my John Dee translation of the NECRONOMICON. This was now part of my personal canon, alongside THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or…well…THE EVIL DEAD.

Capsule recap: Ash Williams and his girlfriend Linda head out to a secluded cabin for a quiet getaway. Ash plays a tape recording found which was made by the professor staying there previously, and which contains translations of the bound-in-flesh NECRONOMICON EX MORTIS (which was also found in the cabin). It summons up evil forces from beyond that possess Linda, Ash, his hand, and soon threaten to possess the people heading to the cabin, mistakenly believing that they’re meeting the now-late professor.

Bruce Campbell in EVIL DEAD 2.

There are few sequels that are better than the first movie. You can probably count them on your fingers. Both hands, if you’re feeling generous. You know it. I know it. More importantly, Sam Raimi knew it. He knew that since the first film was celebrated as a straight-up horror movie, that the second movie could only disappoint in comparison. So he made a different movie. A movie that didn’t even try to do what the first one did so well, but aimed for something he knew he could pull off: the first splatstick comedy. I mean, Sam Raimi had never wanted to be just a horror film director anyway; he just saw horror as an easy way to get his foot in the door. Most of his own short films were comedies, and he had followed up THE EVIL DEAD with an attempt to make a live-action LOONEY TUNES / Tex Avery-styled comedy in collaboration with Joel and Ethan Coen, CRIMEWAVE. That it flopped seemed to only strengthen his resolve to take a bigger risk by making EVIL DEAD 2 a comedy.

And it worked. Oh, man, how it worked. It quickly became the MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL for the horror geek scene. Whereas the first film presented Bruce Campbell as Ash, a likeably bland lead, this movie established Bruce Campbell in my mind (and that of anyone else who saw it) as Bruce Campbell, Movie God. This was the movie where he finally came into his own, delivering a tour de force performance that would have killed a lesser man to give. And the guts of Raimi to essentially condense the entire first movie into the first half-hour of the second, retelling it and streamlining it (removing any character other than Ash and his girlfriend Linda). It was like Raimi explicitly saying, “this is not that movie. This is a whole different thing.” The only thing about the movie that suffers is the collective performances of the secondary cast members, which are generally either a little too broad or a little too wooden. But it’s hard to really judge them because they are unfortunately cast alongside the marvel that is BRUCE F’ING CAMPBELL. Olivier might have suffered in comparison. (We’ll never know. He wisely stayed away, and never suffered those slings and arrows, the coward.)

Some movies are fun. Some of those movies are described as “a roller coaster ride.” EVIL DEAD 2 is like Disneyland riding a roller coaster through Knott’s Scary Farm while the Ramones are playing on top of a blood-filled Splash Mountain. Strap in, kids, because it’s gonna get MESSY.

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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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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Retro Review: Comparing Corpses: Two EVIL DEAD Go Head-To-Blood-and-Gory-Head!

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

THE EVIL DEAD (1981); Dir. Sam Raimi; Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker and Sarah York; Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

There’s such a hue and cry over the seemingly unending parade of remakes coming out of the Hollywood horror entertainment complex. It’s increasingly hard to approach one on its own terms without feeling like you’re betraying all that is good and true in this world. And when it comes to a beloved horror classic like Sam Raimi’s 1981 gorefest THE EVIL DEAD, the stakes are raised even higher.

But here’s the complication: THE EVIL DEAD has already been remade. Not once, but twice. The film’s plot was summarized and streamlined into the first quarter hour or so of 1987’s EVIL DEAD II, which was then subsequently summarized and streamlined into the opening segment of the series’ third film, 1992’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. Further complicating matters is the fact that THE EVIL DEAD is itself a remake. Raimi’s 1978 short film WITHIN THE WOODS was developed as a prototype horror film to draw investors, and it successfully led to Raimi raising the nearly $100,000 needed to develop a feature-length version of the short.

To be clear: THE EVIL DEAD is far from being some sacred, untouchable text. Not even Raimi sees it as being one, as he’s been futzing around with the same story since 1978. And even then it wasn’t that original an idea: though Raimi denies having seen the film prior to production, the storyline of THE EVIL DEAD is relatively close to that of the 1967-70 drive-in classic EQUINOX. Both involve scientists who have unwittingly opened a portal between this world and a demonic realm, a mysterious occult text and a handful of early-20s youths who visit the scientist’s cabin and wind up fighting off demons. It’s become such an archetypal setup that the “five kids in a cabin” trope is the basis for Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s ultimate meta horror-comedy, 2012’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

That being said, how does Fede Alvarez’s 2013 version compare with the 1981 model? Let’s take a look.

Both stories are superficially similar: a group of five kids in their 20s visit a remote cabin, wherein they stumble upon a mysterious tome, the NATURON DEMONTO, which contains passages intended to open a portal and summon demons to this realm. The spells are read aloud (in the original, played via a scientist’s tape recording; in the 2013 version, directly read from the book), and said demons are summoned. One by one, the five are picked off and controlled by the ancient evil called forth by the book.

The first thing you’ll notice as different is the film’s immediate stylization. In the original, there’s a sense of everything being normal until we get to the cabin. In the remake, a pre-credit sequence of sacrifice casts a shadow over the proceedings, and to reflect that, there’s a consistent color desaturation which gives everything a sickly pallor and darkens the tone of the film. While I miss the gradual move away from “reality” that the original possesses, the point stands that the remake is, well, a remake. We know that bad stuff is about to go down and we know where it’s located (and if you didn’t know, the establishing sacrifice informs you).

The second thing is a deviation from the original’s storyline that affects the audience’s relationship with the characters: in the original, Bruce Campbell’s Ash is part of an ensemble and emerges as the film’s lead over time. In the remake, Jane Levy’s Mia (a recovering drug addict who has chosen the isolated cabin as a place to detox) is quickly established as the film’s focal character. By announcing right out of the gate who the film’s protagonist is, the sensation at the original’s outset that anybody could die at any time is somewhat lessened. We already know which character is established as the hero, but the question remains: how long will our hero last? Both films take their own path to establishing that question, but the original’s route creates more audience empathy. The remake’s approach results in a decrease in the sense of danger, meaning that no matter how many times the film pulls this rug out from under the viewer, the viewer is still inclined to think, “well, sure, but they can’t kill her; she’s the star!”

One thing in which both films succeed is the application of gore. Though budget kept the original’s prosthetic appliances looking like anything but prosthetic appliances, they made up for any shortcomings with a shocking amount of blood. And not just blood spurting from wounds, but from everywhere. And Raimi’s bravura direction pulled maximum shock out of every instance. Alvarez’s higher budget has resulted in more successful practical effects (he boasts that every effect was done on-set using practical effects, with CGI only used for touch-ups and more general uses such as manipulating the film’s color palette), and his insistence on not backing down from the original’s bloody reputation has resulted in this being quite probably the most gore-filled major studio film I’ve ever seen.

Bruce Campbell in the original EVIL DEAD. New Line Cinema, 1981. Available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Meanwhile, let me address something that I’ve seen crop up elsewhere in comparing the two: criticism that the 2013 film lacks the comedy of the original. The original film IS. NOT. FUNNY. Sure, there are one or two intentionally comedic moments in the first few minutes of the film as we follow our gang to the cabin. But the “splatstick” comedy that so many people associate with the EVIL DEAD franchise was something that popped up in the sequel, EVIL DEAD II. The first EVIL DEAD movie is every bit as serious about what’s going on as the remake. Got it? Good.

The main question, though, is this: does the film stand on its own two legs? I’d argue that it does, unequivocally. It does lack some of the sense of fun that the original had, particularly in its first half. But when the possession starts going and the blood starts flowing, it’s too easy to get caught up in the unbridled enthusiasm of the movie to not enjoy it from that point onward. Sure, there are plot holes and contrivances that might bring down any attempt to reason with the film, but in a movie like this, reason is the last thing you want to bring into the theater with you. The entire point of either film is to show what happens when reason can no longer be applied. And both films succeed and fail at showing that in probably equal amounts. And the remake might lack some of the bizarro flourishes that made Raimi’s film stand out that much more in that regard. But you can walk into this film not knowing of Bruce Campbell’s existence (I can’t imagine living such a life, but to each their own) and come away happy.

And I—knowing and loving the original, which I’ve probably owned more copies of in my life than any other film—walked away having enjoyed myself thoroughly. It’s a nice complement to the original, which it references enough to question whether it might be some kind of sequel: not only are the superficial elements in place (the cabin and the book, though the book has been redesigned due to copyright problems), but Ash’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale is still present outside the cabin. (Nerds like myself might chime in with “…but Ash’s car was transported through the portal to ancient Sumeria in 1300 at the end of EVIL DEAD II!” To which I award you the coveted No-Prize, and direct you to the lobby to collect it.)

The new EVIL DEAD equals the original in blood and gore. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2013.

It’s certainly the best of the recent crop of horror movie remakes. And while that might sound like damning with faint praise, it’s not intended to be. It works as both a celebration of the original and a successful horror film on its own. It doesn’t shy away from its visceral roots in order to deliver a PG-13 rating, or preemptively compromise itself so as to not invoke the MPAA’s wrath. Surprisingly, something this brutal made it through unscathed.

Five kids in a cabin. Deceptively easy to screw up. Thankfully, Fede Alvarez has kept things simple.

Blood simple.

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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From Robert Mitchum to The Fab Four: A Guide to Going Retro at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 15th, 2013 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The wait is over as the Atlanta Film Festival returns to screens today, kicking off 10 days of programming (March 15-24, 2013) for all the cinema junkies who need a fix (or merely a break from the cold wasteland known as March at the multiplex). As per usual, the festival is overflowing with content from new feature films, documentaries and shorts to seminars on the business and craft of filmmaking, and meet-and-greets around town. If you’re reading this, the safe money says that you’re looking for retro options, and as the title up there suggests, we’re here to oblige.  Here’s a quick guide to what’s retro at AFF this year, which by the way is headquartered at the historic Plaza Theatre.

Let’s start with the true retro bits of cinema history. The AFF is an Oscar-qualifying festival, so it caters primarily to new films, but a retro gem occasionally makes it onto the schedule. This year, you can get your fix at a must-see screening of THUNDER ROAD (1958). This Robert Mitchum moonshine exploitation flick is a ridiculously fun and culty movie, and it’s playing in its natural habitat at the Starlight Drive-In on Thursday, March 21 at 8:45 pm. There will likely be plenty of audience participation at the screening, and the same can be said of the THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), playing at two midnight shows on consecutive Fridays, March 15 and 22 at its home turf of the Plaza Atlanta, featuring the usual antics of the Lips Down on Dixie crowd.

The Plaza is also hosting an unusual new film with a connection to an odd relic of the early 80s. William Friedkin’s  CRUISING (1980) is something of an embarrassment today, a movie that purports to take a serious look at gay culture but winds up taking several ugly steps in the wrong direction. The cut released in theaters is bad enough, but rumors linger of a much-longer version containing 40  minutes of explicit gay sex and S&M material that would have taken the film to an X rating. The footage is lost, but actor and professional-insubordinate James Franco is teaming with director Travis Mathews to imagine that missing material and explore the nature of filming controversial, or even blatantly harmful, art in INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR, a piece of “docufiction” playing at the Plaza’s upstairs screen on March 21 at 9:15 pm, or directly opposite the THUNDER ROAD screening, so some choices are going to have to be made.

If you’re interested in new films with a retro angle, you’ll want to look out for the Australian film THE SAPPHIRES, an adaptation of a play (itself based on a true story) about a group of Australian indigenous women who become a singing group for the troops in Vietnam only a year after a referendum expanded indigenous rights. The film stars Chris O’Dowd, the funny cop from BRIDESMAIDS (2012), as the group’s manager and has a fairly awesome late-‘60s style soundtrack that’s already found a lot of success in its home country. THE SAPPHIRES is playing the Plaza’s upstairs screen on Sunday, March 17, at 6:00 pm. Moving forward a decade, the new Canadian film BECOMING REDWOOD orbits around a young boy in 1975 who decides to beat Jack Nicklaus at golf as a play to get his parents back together. The quirky dramedy was a big hit at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and  makes its Atlanta debut at 7 Stages on Saturday, March 16, at 2:45 pm.

If you’re into documentaries, consider OUR NIXON, a new doc assembled from an astonishing find of home movies shot by some of President Nixon’s closest aides, like H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. The FBI seized the Super 8 films as part of its investigation into Watergate, and they’re only now being seen by a public that long ago closed that chapter of American history. The footage is incredibly intimate and personal, showing a side of Nixon that’s literally never been seen before on film until now. OUR NIXON plays at 7 Stages on March 21 at 8:30 pm. For a hustler of a different variety, ICEBERG SLIM: PORTRAIT OF A PIMP presents a comprehensive look at the late pimp and author who helped illuminate a shadowy profession and redefine urban style and culture for a generation of young men. The Hughes Brothers once tried to mount an adaptation of Slim’s novel PIMP:THE STORY OF MY LIFE, but the project fell apart. Now producer Ice-T and his longtime manager Jorge Hinojosa bring Slim’s story to the screen. It arrives on Tuesday, March 19, at 7:15 on the Plaza’s main screen.

If you’re familiar with writer and all-around-badass George Plimpton, you know that his resume reads like one of those Most Interesting Man in the World commercials, which makes PLIMPTON! STARRING GEORGE PLIMPTON AS HIMSELF the world’s ballsiest documentary for attempting to fit the story of his life into a mere 86 minutes. They’ll give it a shot on March 23 at 10:45 am at the Plaza. Film nuts will also want to keep an eye out for CASTING BY, a new documentary about the hidden world of casting directors, and how some of the legends in the field helped to shape the film renaissance of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The doc unspools at the Plaza on March 20 at 7:00 pm.

Music lovers will want to look out for two documentaries that shed some light on a couple of major figures. GOOD OL’ FREDA tells the story of Freda Kelly, a girl who started working for a local band and then spent a decade as The Beatles’ fan club secretary” as they became the world’s biggest band. GOOD OL’ FREDA, a film that began life as a successful Kickstarter project, plays at 9:15 pm on March 16 at Druid Hills Baptist Church. Meanwhile, SCARRED BUT SMARTER tracks the career and roots of Atlanta indie rock band Drivin’ N Cryin’ with two screenings at the Plaza’s main screen on Friday, March 22 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, March 24 at 6:30 pm. There’s also an after-screening party happening at the Highland Ballroom, although AFF’s website isn’t clear about whether or not party access is covered in the cost of your movie ticket. Stay tuned.

There’s plenty more happening at the festival, so for further information and scheduling, definitely take a spin on the AFF’s official website. Frankly, it’s exciting to see the AFF fully embrace the city’s many retro venues this year. The Plaza has had a strong relationship with the festival, but 7 Stages, Goat Farm Arts Center and the Starlight are all a part now, making the fest feel even more closely tied to the pulse of the city and its growing film community. ATLRetro will be present at a bunch of screenings, so keep an eye out and introduce yourself! We’d love to hear from you. See you on the other side!

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Joel Burkhart Plans on Doing Something With It; AM Gold Throws a CD Release Party at the Star Bar

Posted on: Sep 27th, 2012 By:

AM Gold at Oakland Cemetary. Photo credit: David Batterman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

My radio was my best friend from grade school all through college. I knew every word to every song and spent my teen years trying to stretch my tiny hands across the frets to eke out “Smoke on the Water” like the rest of my artsy friends. An Atlanta band has emerged called AM Gold that speaks to the growed-up heart looking for that “me and my radio” feeling. They will celebrate the release of their first CD, PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT, this Friday September 28 at the Star Bar with Higher Choir and My Rebel Episode.  A dream-team of an outfit, they’re fronted by this week’s Kool Kat guitarist Joel Burkhart, who was good enough to give ATLRetro the back-story on growing up in the glory days of AM radio, his past bands and Star Bar shenanigans.

Torchy/ATLRetro: Tell me about AM Gold.

Joel Burkhart: AM Gold started as a dream. Several nights in a row I had this dream of a band playing on the top of a hill. There was sunlight behind them so all I could see were the long shadows of the band cascading down the hill. The golden rays of the sun eclipsing any details other then the shadows of the people playing. The sound was a chorus of voices, not heavenly like a choir but more earthly and gritty. I heard them singing these lines:

“These are the songs we like to sing
Makes us forget most everything
This is the way that I want to feel
Soft as love and strong as steel.”

After the third or fourth night of this dream, I picked up the guitar and wrote that song. Then I started putting together the band. I knew it would possibly be the last band I ever put together so it had to be amazing. It had to have great players but this time it also had to have great singers. This was going to be all about the words and the melodies. If I wanted them to shine I had to get the right people to be in the chorus.

I have played with Jim [Stacy], Eric [Young] and Jeff [Langston] for years and knew what they were capable of. Jim Stacy has been a lead singer/frontman for many years with Greasepaint, LaBrea Stompers and Little Women and sings with me in The Downers. He was first on the list, but I asked him last because I didn’t think he’d want to be in another band with me. Jeff plays with me in Bully but has also fronted his own bands (Ledfoot Messiah, Ritual, Flathead Fuel) for years. He is quite possibly the best male vocalist in Atlanta that no one knows about. Eric has been my drummer through Mulberry Street, Bully, The Downer Brothers and now AM Gold. Along the way he started singing back-ups and is one of the best singing drummers around. He also makes playing drums look as easy as breathing. Musically I have never played with a better drummer. I have a hard time imagining my songs with anyone else playing drums on them.

When it came time to complete the rhythm section, there has always been a combination that I wanted to hear together. I had Eric and now I was lucky enough to get Blake [Parris] to say yes also. Blake is this town’s hidden treasure. Someday someone who can pay him properly for his services is going to come and take him on the road and we won’t ever see him again. Blake is an amazing bass player and singer – probably one of the best -but he can play almost anything: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lead, rhythm, banjo, lap steel, pedal steel, keys… I really bet that you could give him a trombone, and in 15 minutes he would have a proper part written for a song. There is nothing that I can play or sing that won’t be made significantly better with Blake. He could just sit onstage with anyone and make then sound better. Seriously.

The final piece to the puzzel was a keyboard player. The only person that even crossed my mind was Jett [Bryant]. While he is not one given to the art of practice, he is one of the best damn singers in the game of rock and roll. He knocked’em dead in the Rock City Dropouts and kills it every night with Bigfoot. With AM Gold, he is pitch perfect and brings the pretty. I am sure that this is the most professional band I have ever played with. Practices and rehearsals are exciting and fun. We always have fun playing shows and hell, on top of all of that, we like each other. We all genuinely like being in the same room and shooting the shit. When the 6 of us are playing and singing together it is magic. There is no other word for it.

Joel, where are you from? Did you grow up listening to AM radio?

Joel: I am originally from Detroit. Lived there until the age of 5. Lived in farm country – Tecumseh,MI – for a few years before moving to Brighton, Michigan. I spent the 1980s as a mall rat in the suburbs. I moved to Atlanta when I turned 19 [in 1989].

Totally grew up listening to AM radio early on in Detroit – WJBK, WXYZ and CKLW. Later listened to commercial FM Radio – WRIF, WLLZ – and the college stations from University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Joel Burkhart. Photo Credit: John McNicholas.

Do you write much aside from lyrics and when did you first start writing songs?

You know, I used to write all the time. I have notebooks and notebooks of stuff. Poems, short stories, essays, laundry lists – actual and metaphysical – good, bad, everything,  As I have gotten older, I write less but the quality seems to be higher. I think that comes with being married and having kids, but also realizing who I am and what I want to say. When I do put pen to paper these days, there is probably a song there.

I started writing songs pretty late, I think. I was in my mid-teens when I first learned enough chords to have two different parts to a song. Unfortunately the first one sounds a lot like “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church and the second one sounds a lot like “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to think I was writing my own songs that sounded like me. I think that’s part of the process: writing and writing and writing until you find your own voice.

Who were your earliest musical influences that stuck with you?

I think like most kids you listen to what is around you at the time, and my earliest influences were from my relatives. Whether it was my cousins listening to Elvis, Chicago, Kiss or Steve Miller; my grandfather listening to hits from the ’40s and ’50s; my grandmother playing WWII ballads on her Wurlitzer; or my uncle’s Rare Earth, Kansas and Yes records, it all influenced me. Some of the best memories I have are driving around singing “Afternoon Delight” [Starland Vocal Band] or “What’s Going On” [Marvin Gaye] along with my mother. Detroit radio was some of the best in the country in the ’70s, and my mother, in particular, was pretty influential in my early years. She loved music and loved singing; whether it was rock, soul or country, she listened to it all. Our record collection had Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams, Barbra Streisand and the Bee Gees. Another big record that stuck with me was Tom T. Hall record SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW – For Children of All Ages. My grandmother gave that to me. I wore that thing out.

Who’d you listen to that makes you ask, “What was I thinking?  and how’d you ‘take their sad song ‘n make it betta’? Even the questionable influences of childhood can positively shape budding creativity, right?

When I was a young child, we had one of those small Imperial portable record players and I would go from room to room when my parents had parties putting on my “show.” I would carry my record player, my yardstick – which doubled as microphone and guitar – and my favorite record, Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” b\w “Delta Dawn.” I would sing through side one, take my break and then sing through side two. Man, I could rock that shit.

While there was some questionable hair metal that I listened to in the ’80s – TnT, Krokus, Helix anyone? – I can’t really disavow it in good conscience. They are all colors in my crayon box so to speak. Some people are great at painting with one color; I’m not. All of the music that I have listened to tends to find its place in the songs that I write for my different bands.

Before the Star Bar sound booth days, what was your worst day job, and did I hear the residue of that angst in your band Bully?

I did death scene clean up for almost two years. It was miserable work, didn’t pay very well, boss was a dick. That was very influential in the Bully songwriting process. “Quitter,” “Spit,” “I Don’t Feel Well,” “2nd Drawer Down.” All from that period of time. I’d come home pissed off and beat, fire up the bong, hit the Jaeger and let it all out. Thankfully my work life is less stressful now, but I think that was what life is supposed to be like in your 20s, living hard and carefree.

What was it like working sound at the Star Bar? Favor us with a story of your days in the booth.

So much to tell – Jim Stacy and I once spent 30 minutes trying to get a G string on Hasil Adkins’ guitar while a nearly sold-out house waited impatiently. He had a box of old guitar strings he carried with him, every one of them old and rusty. Just looking at the box gave me tetanus. For some reason, none of them were the right one.

Once we had a kid who was trying to promote some shows – this particular one with Har Mar Superstar – have a breakdown on stage. He started calling out the booker of the club, the owners, the bartenders and finally me. He told the room filled with people I had stolen his guitar and amplifier – which I believe he had left in a friend’s car or sold for meth – and that he wasn’t a “fat, jaded motherfucker” like me. I, for sure, took the brunt of it, I guess because he was on stage staring right at me. I think most everyone thought I was going to kill his mic (or him), but I just let him keep going until he tuckered himself out. He ended up going to a mental hospital a week or so later. Pretty weird.

But I also had some great, amazing memories there. The Ex-Husbands blowing everyone away with an out of left field, dead-on cover of “War Pigs” [Black Sabbath], followed by “Beating around the Bush” by AC\DC.

I remember that!

Alejandro Escovedo bringing over 200 people to complete silence with the breathtaking-ness of his songs; The Drive-By Truckers playing an Atlantis Music Conference and just weeping over the song “Heathens,” knowing things would never be the same for them after that night. That stage is magic.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

As I was on the road last year, I heard a lot of BS about how listening to Johnny Cash was a hipster trait and therefore passe. What would you say to that labeling?

One of the bonuses of being older is that I don’t know if it’s hipster or not. I’ve been listening [to Cash] since the ’70s when I was a kid and never stopped. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

With The Downer Bros, you and Jim Stacy pay homage to some of Johnny Cash’s most, for the lack of a better word,  “fierce” recordings. You recently rattled the walls at the 12th Annual Cash Bash at the Star Bar [Sept. 22]. How’d the idea for the Downer Bros come about?

Like most of our great ideas, it started off with drinking. During the rockabilly\country revival in the 1990s, there were a lot of bands that would throw in a Johnny Cash or George Jones [song] and do it in whatever style they played. There was no one really doing the slower, lost love, murder ballad stuff, and definitely no one doing it stripped down and acoustic. Jim and I loved that kind of stuff. So when we were waiting for bands to show up or when the night was over, we would play songs, just me and him. Acoustic guitar, harmonica and our two voices, harmonizing and trading songs. It was magic. The name came from trying to describe the music to our good friend Andy McDaniel. He asked what kind of music we were doing and we said “country music, but you know, the ‘downer’ stuff.” It stuck.

I’ve been paying attention and coming to see your bands for a bit now. Do I detect a progression of a happier and more fulfilled man through your musical timeline, having made so many people weep openly, inviting us to be healed and happy – or am I waxing fanciful?

I think there is a definite evolution. Mulberry Street was me getting my feet wet playing and performing but quickly became a little darker then I thought it would become. With Bully, I totally embraced that darkness and anger. When you are more or less penniless, living from day to day, broken-hearted and feeling alone, it is hard to find the light. The Downer Brothers are similar to Bully in that there is some frustration and  loneliness, but instead of being loud and in your face and angry, it was quiet and more thought-out and reserved.

AM Gold it is next logical extension of the realization that there is goodness all around you. Goodness in the things you do, the places you go and the people you meet. The trick, I think, is being open to it, being willing to let it chase away the darkness that has comforted you for so long. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a meanness out there, thriving and consuming, but you have the choice. You can live in fear with the darkness or live in the happiness of the light. Mostly now I choose the light. Some days it is really hard work to find it, but I think it is worth the struggle.

As a performer, what show stands out in your memory?

Probably one of the highlights for me personally was playing in Greasepaint and opening for Tenacious D. It was a sold-out crowd at The Tabernacle here in Atlanta. For AM Gold, it has to be playing The Dogwood Festival earlier this year. A few thousand people on a beautiful day in Piedmont Park. Nobody knew who we were or our songs, but they seemed to really appreciated them and we had a great response.

Honestly though every show is great in its own way. Any time I get to get on stage with my friends and we get to play our original songs, the ones we have practiced a hundred times, the ones we put our time and effort into writing and arranging and performing. That’s a good day.

Worst gig ever has to be the Chili Cook-Off at Stone Mountain last year.  It was the first time in over 20 years I set foot on stage for the sole purpose of making money by playing covers. While we had fun playing our Steve Miller Greatest Hits set at the Star Bar a couple months earlier, when it came to doing those songs again, there was no love for them. While I admire people that can get on stage and play three or four sets of somebody else’s material and are able to support a family doing it, I am not cut from that same cloth. I suppose that’s why I am not able to support a family doing that.

I’ve been the annoying fan begging for CDs forever. What was the AM Gold studio experience, was it documented on film and when will PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT be available? Joshin’, but seriously does being recorded affect your perspective? And by the way, thanks and eager to hear both the Bully and AM Gold disks!

The recording process was really fantastic. We recorded with a great guy named Jimmy Ether at his studio called Headphone Treats. For this recording we were all in the same room, playing together. We set up in the morning, recorded seven songs, and were pretty much done that night. We came back a couple times and overdubbed a few guitar parts, percussion and some vocals, but for the most part, what you hear is what we did that first day. It is a really great way to record. All of the recordings I have ever done previously were all with the drummer in his own room and the guitar amps in their own rooms and the rest of the band usually in the control room listening back through small, tiny speakers. It has always been frustrating for me. I like being able to feel the kick drum and bass, feeling the air move in the room with the music, the rise and fall of the conversation we are all having with one another through our instruments. There is no replacing it.

As for the Bully stuff, we’ve got over 40 songs that had very limited – me handing a homemade CDR to someone – release. I’m hoping to change that later this year. I think we are going to put out three EPs, each having five to seven studio cuts and two to three live recordings. I’m not really sure. We also started re-recording some Bully stuff a couple of years ago that has yet to see the light of day. When your bass player is in one of the biggest metal bands in the world, it gets hard to get everyone together in the same room and on the same page, but hopefully while Troy [Sanders] is home for a little bit between records, we can get some Bully time out of him.

What aspirations does the band muse about for the foreseeable future? Just sheerly hypothetically speaking, what’s next for you creatively?

The thing about us being in our 40s and doing this is that we don’t have the free time and lack of obligations that being 20 something has. Jett [Bryant, keyboards] has Bigfoot and a budding movie career [he was the star of DEAR GOD! NO! and is going to be in the follow up], Blake [Parrish, bass] and Eric [Young, percussion] are both in several bands and are in high demand as players, Jeff [Langston, guitars] has Ledfoot Messiah (they are doing the Kiss Kruise later this year) and he is in DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA (ED note: Watch out for a Retro Review soon) at 7 Stages and Jim [Stacy, harmonica] has the Starlight Six Drive-In and Palookaville to run, as well as a successful TV show and the possibility of a opening a restaurant fairly soon.

And me, I’m not getting any younger. The thought of getting in a van and blowing with the wind down the road trying to find my rock and roll fortunes has long passed me by. The music I write and play isn’t fashionable. I have no hipster cred; my waist size has expanded. I’m not much to look at;  my head is shaped funny. At the end of the day I’m a 43-year-old IT nerd scraping by at a job I don’t care about, working for people who don’t care about me so I can earn money which is spent before I get it so I can keep a roof over my family’s heads and food and clothes in and on our bodies. I have a beautiful wife and family and a life like most people: spectacularly wonderful and exceedingly average. It just depends on what day of the week and how close we are to the next paycheck. Sometimes we have a little more than others, sometimes a little less. In my mind I’m doing all of this for them, hoping for the big pay-off someday. Rational Joel knows that is probably never going to happen.

But still, I have this need to make this music. I tell these stories and dream these dreams. That’s all good music really is. Stories and dreams. I’m going to keep writing and playing every chance I get for whoever will listen. When I have new stories, I write new songs. When I have new dreams, I write new songs.

It’s what I do, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Look for me up front and center.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

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

In Search of Bigfoot at Rock n Roll Monster Bash 2012 and the DEAR GOD! NO! DVD Release Party!

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2012 By:

We can’t say where you’ll find a Sasquatch in the actual woods, but we’re damned sure that you can spot BIGFOOT, one of Atlanta’s most badass and hard-edged rock bands, twice in the next few days right here. First they’ll be grinding their guitars at Sunday June 3 at the 10th annual Rock n Roll Monster Bash 2012 at the Starlight Drive-In (gates open at 10 a.m.). Then Tuesday June 5, BIGFOOT headlines the DVD release party for DEAR GOD NO!, the home-grown grindhouse film that’s been turning heads and stomaches all across the nation and stars BIGFOOT front-man Jett Bryant.

In case you’re living under a rock and haven’t heard about the Rock n Roll Monster Bash. It’s an all-day, all-night horror festival featuring Dames, Bands, Ghouls, Food, Creeps, Hot Rods, Hearses, Flicks, Freaks, Vendors Werewolf Style Parking Lot Partying and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling hosted by the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Professor Morte. Other bands playing include X-Impossibles and one of them now rare but always unforgettable performances by Atlanta punk legends Dead Elvis, including ATLRetro logo artist Derek Yaniger. And damn you, dirty ape, but after dusk, lucky attendees get to see 35mm prints of the incomparable, original PLANET OF THE APES (1968) and zombie comedy RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), on the big Drive-In screen! If you haven’t already read Gene Kannenberg‘s awesome remembrance of growing up with the Apes and making ape masks with paper and crayons, check it out here.

When DEAR GOD NO! launched its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre last fall, the Star Bar must’ve been empty. Indeed, the number is legion when it comes to talented folks from Atlanta’s alt-garage, Redneck underground and horror scenes who worked on the movie. Familiar faces in the cast and crew including Shane Morton (Silver Scream SpookshowGargantuaAtlanta Zombie Apocalypse)Nik Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Billy Ratliff (Truckadelic), Madeline Brumby (check out our Kool Kat on Madeline here), Jas. M. Stacy (Starlight Drive-InPalookaville, Get Delicious!AM Gold) and many more. Since then, Director Jimmy Bickert‘s “unapologetic homage to classic grindhouse cinema” (DailyGrindhouse.com) has taken the festival circuit by storm and hauling in reverent reviews from lovers of exploitation films. The Big World Pictures release will finally be available on DVD on Tues. June 5, with a ton of bonus features, and to celebrate, the public is invited to the FREE party and screening that night at The Masquerade (doors at 8 p.m.).

Shot in 16mm with ’70s period-authentic effects, DEAR GOD NO! follows outlaw motorcycle gang The Impalers, led by Jett Bryant (yup, that’s his character’s name, too), on a tri-state rape and murder spree which culminates in a bloody massacre with rival club Satan’s Own in a dive bar (actually Tucker Saloon) with the added bonus of topless strippers in Richard Nixon masks with machine guns. Still keen to continue their rampage, the survivors invade a mountain cabin occupied by a scientist and his geeky/sexy daughter. And that’s when the depravity really begins as the bikers realize the scientist is mad, his wife is madder, and the monster that lurks in the wilderness outside is maddest of all.

So it just seemed kinda natural (or should we say, supernatural?) to catch up with Jett, who also plays in AM Gold and has played Jesus on stage in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, for a down and dirty little talk about Bigfoot and why  hard rockers, drinkers and monster movie lovers alike need to get out of the house both Sunday and Tuesday! Dear God! Yes! That’s why we’re proud to say that we live in the city with America’s finest Retro horror scene!

First off, let’s talk BIGFOOT. How did the band get started and what’s your sound like for the uninitiated?

BIGFOOT was started by Jimmy Hall and Evil Jim Wright, two of the most badass guitarists you can imagine. Together with Micheal Faulkner (bass), Kevin Watford (drums) and myself, you get the rowdy and raunchy BIGFOOT—a very loud and heavy southern rock with high energy.

Do you have any special plans for your gig at Rock n Roll Monsterbash 2012?

My biggest plan is not to be too drunk when I get onstage.

What’s your favorite part of this year’s Monster Bash, other than BIGFOOT, of course?

I’m looking forward to seeing PLANET OF THE APES and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD on the big screen. I love me a zombie movie. I like the goofy punk rock situation in the graveyard, and Linnea Quigley gettg all naked and eaten by zombies is pretty cool, too. It’s always been a favorite movie of mine. And apes taking over the world, what’s not to love about that?! It’s always a pleasure to see a movie at the drive-in. That’s the best way to see a movie as far as I am concerned. You can bring your own beer. I love it.

How do you feel about all the positive buzz DEAR GOD! NO! has been getting on the festival circuit?

I’m excited about it. I think it’s great. I always wanted to be famous or infamous. However,  the f–k you look at it. Jimmy did a really great job with that movie. I wasn’t surprised that it was such a big hit just because I’ve known Jimmy Bickert forever and he put all his attention into it. I haven’t seen him do that in years. It’s about time.

Is it just coincidental that you’re in a band called BIGFOOT and a Bigfoot is the monster in DEAR GOD! NO!?

It’s total coincidence that the band is called BIGFOOT and the movie contains a raging sasquatch.The band name came about while we were tossing ideas back and forth and our buddy Ted got impatient waiting for us to figure it out because he needed to make a flyer. So he just dubbed us BIGFOOT

Did you ever feel like the movie was going too far in pushing the limits with the sex, violence, gore and general disgustingness? What do you say to people who are offended?

DEAR GOD NO! is a pretty brutal film, but it’s all in good fun. However, I will not let my mama see this picture

Your character in DEAR GOD! NO! bears your name. What’s the difference between you and him, and are you ever uncomfortable with that—given the crazy, sick things he does in the movie?

As far as playing the character Jett in DEAR GOD! NO! I really just played myself, took out all the good parts and replaced it with the DNA of a honey badger.

I can just imagine how much fun you had recording the commentary track for the DVD with Madelaine Brumby and Shane Morton. Can you talk a little about how you guys approached that and maybe share one favorite behind-the-scenes story? 

We all just sat around with microphones and watched the picture. They got wine-drunk and I got beer-drunk. Shane and I have been friends for a long time so it wasn’t even like work. It was just like hanging out with my buddy. As for a story, [shooting the film] was all pretty long days, but John Collins (Collins in DEAR GOD! NO!) was always making it pretty loose and funny. He made a habit of sending us pictures of his turds when taking a shit. It is not on the commentary track, but it is on blooper reel, a little Easter egg they have in there.

You die in DEAR GOD! NO! but everyone knows that never stopped a character from coming back in a sequel. Will we see Jett Bryant again in the sequel, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, or can you tell us?

My character will return in the sequel, probably more pissed off considering he’s been woke from the dead.

Anything you want to add about Bigfoot’s performance at the DVD release party next Tuesday?

We’re excited about it, but it’s just going to be another badass BIGFOOT show, you know!

What about what you’re up to with AM Gold, any other acting plans and what’s next for BIGFOOT?

BIGFOOT’s going to keep stomping like they do, we’re going to keep make movies, and AM Gold’s going to keep playing festivals!

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Posted on: Jun 1st, 2012 By:

by Gene Kannenberg, Jr.
Guest Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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