Bring Me the Fangs of Alfredo Garcia: Splatter Cinema’s November Movie JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES Features Some Badass Bloodsuckers But Is a Better Western Than a Horror Movie

Posted on: Nov 11th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee; Tuesday, Nov. 12 @ 9:30 p.m. (pictures and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Still feeling unsatisfied after all of the horrors that Halloween and the Buried Alive! Film Festival had to offer? Not a problem! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre keep the gore flowing with their presentation of JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES! Turn up early to have your photo taken in a recreation of one of the film’s tableaux and check out the merch table!

Okay. Let’s be honest: the end of the 1980s was probably the worst thing that could have happened to John Carpenter. After a decade and a half of superior filmmaking—capped off by 1988’s savage and darkly comic take on Reagan’s America, THEY LIVE—the road suddenly became very bumpy for the director. Misfires like 1992’s MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, 1993’s Showtime Networks project BODY BAGS and 1995’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED were interspersed with deliberate attempts to recapture past glories. 1995’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, surprisingly, worked; it succeeded in closing off his Lovecraftian “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with THE THING and continued with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. But his re-teaming with Kurt Russell on 1996’s ESCAPE FROM L.A. was hardly a patch on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. It wasn’t even 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, for crying out loud. And when a quickly-made cash-in knock-off by Enzo G. Castellari is a more entertaining follow-up than the official one, then something is rotten in the state of Carpenter. Realizing that he just wasn’t having fun making movies anymore, John Carpenter decided to retire.

Why, then, did Carpenter change his mind after just two years and film an adaptation of John Steakley’s VAMPIRE$? He largely rejected the plot of the source novel, and pretty much tossed aside the two screenplay drafts that were offered to him, so it wasn’t the story that pulled him back into the game. A good guess is that he saw this as a chance to once again have fun. And how? By making the western that he’d always wanted to make.

He’d attempted to make a western once before with his second feature, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. It was originally set in the Old West as a cross between RIO BRAVO and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. However, budgetary restrictions forced him to update the scenario to a present day urban setting. And while Carpenter had long integrated elements from his favorite western filmmakers into his work (Howard Hawks, John Ford and Sergio Leone among them), he had never explicitly returned to the genre. VAMPIRES’ Southwestern setting and revamping (no pun intended) of a “hired guns” trope allowed him to explicitly return to his own favorite genre.

The storyline is relatively simple. A crack team of Vatican-backed vampire hunters takes out a cell of vamps holed up in a New Mexico house. Afterward, an ambush back at their motel leaves only the team’s leader, Jack Crow (James Woods), his partner Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a prostitute (Sheryl Lee). Crow pulls together a new team in order to take out the vampire’s leader and his army. There’s some supernatural gussying-up going on (the vamps are after an ancient relic, there’s a climactic exorcism ritual as a plot turn), but as you can see, this is largely a “cowboys vs. Indians” story disguised as a horror movie.

Is it successful? Well, not entirely. It actually makes a fairly good run at turning THE WILD BUNCH into a horror flick, its action sequences are well-staged and deftly shot, it sports a typically good score from Carpenter and it’s more lively than almost anything Carpenter had done in the decade following THEY LIVE. But the leads are woefully miscast. James Woods is sufficiently vicious as a hired killer, but—let’s face it—there’s nobody among us that wouldn’t have rather seen Kurt Russell as the lead of this John Carpenter horror/western hybrid. Daniel Baldwin is…well…Daniel Baldwin, as unfortunate as that might be, and Sheryl Lee is merely okay in her role as Katrina, the prostitute-turned-vampire. But they’re all serviceable in their roles; it’s not like any of them are really bad actors. They’re just not quite right for the project. So while all of this may make this sound like it’s just one of Carpenter’s weaker films, why is it so poorly regarded?

Ultimately, JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES falls victim to its placement in his filmography. It came at the end of a “lost decade” of sorts, when his career needed a severe revitalization, and when he desperately needed to make an Important John Carpenter Film. And this movie is blissfully unimportant. Carpenter just wanted to have some fun once again, and if it had landed somewhere around BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA in his oeuvre, it would be seen as a nice little detour. Not a damaging entry into his work history, just a fast-paced bit of vampire killing with western flair. But in the context of his career, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time.

So, my advice is this: take the movie out of context. Forget what Carpenter needed, and focus on what it is: a beer-drinking, hell-raising, rip-snorting, ass-kicking, heart-staking, head-cutting, over-the-top, balls-out bit of fun. Don’t even look at it as a horror movie. Because it’s really not, once you get past the surface. Look at it as a blood-soaked action/western with vampires as the villains and James Woods chewing up the scenery like it was made out of cheeseburgers. And have a ball, because everyone making it appears to have been having one.

And thank your lucky stars that it’s not GHOSTS OF MARS.

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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Retro Review: Posthumous Exhibit Reveals an Atlanta Artist’s Enigmatic Passion for the Many Faces of Sir Christopher Lee

Posted on: Oct 24th, 2011 By:

By Dean Treadway
Contributing Blogger

“My love, my eidolon, my substance of dreams, my Dark Lord. Tension maker, Faery dweller, Protean visaged. You are part of the edifice of a painting more gigantic than any other, maker of dreams more vast than any painter ever dreamed. Guide of my brush, companion of my learning, child of my knife, builder of my painter’s life. I have returned to you. I see you again in your austerity, your splendor, your animal grace, your pain. I see you as Michelangelo heroic, as Leonardo grotesque. I see you and only you, my Dark Lord, my Prince of the Night, my Master of my hand and eye. And I am home. My blood-dabbled canvases. My rough linen. My dream images of the crowded man. I am home and secure.”

—Jimimi Fowlkes, August 19, 1979

Years after her death, a prolific painter named Jimimi Fowlkes is having her first show. Being that the entire exhibition is devoted to paintings of actor Sir Christopher Lee, best known for playing Dracula on film, the world premiere opening party/fundraiser (this Saturday, October 29 at the Blue Tower Gallery at the West End’s Metropolitan Arts Complexsurely qualifies as Atlanta’s most unique Retro-Halloween festivity.  It’s not often that one can say they’ve never seen anything like one thing or another. But we can certainly say such about Jimimi’s works. This show will be a one-of-a-kind event.

Mrs. Fowlkes was a quiet, enigmatic presence in Atlanta’s Morningside community, where she lived for decades with her scientist husband Roy. It’s quite likely that most of her neighbors never realized there was a dedicated and talented artist living in their community, because Jimimi (called Mim for short) rarely talked about her work, and even more rarely showed any of it to anyone. She began painting portraits in 1970, first of herself and her sister. Then she tapped into her love of history by composing views of Victorian parliamentarians, and then of Russian icons like Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin. She went on to portray such diverse figures as Thurgood Marshall and Joan of Arc. But in 1978, she launched into a realm that would capture her passion, along with her hungering hands and eyes, nearly exclusively for the next few years.

In the face of the actor Christopher Lee, Mim found a set of features that truly possessed her. In the copious diary entries she penned alongside her paintings, she confessed her fascination with what she came to call her “Enigma”:

“I am resigned to spending this year learning the trade, painting the Enigma until I can do it blindfolded. How I love him! What beauty illuminates the face. Such joy to be permitted to spend my days in contemplating that face.

—J.F., June 6th, 1978

This goes beyond mere fandom; Fowlkes enjoyed seeing Lee in movies, but only so she could study his every move, his very structure. Ultimately, Jimimi Fowlkes painted Sir Christopher’s likeness some 250 times, always in acrylic paint (sometimes mixed with her own blood) and most often on modestly-sized canvases. She at first used promotional stills from his many DRACULA films, filmed by Britain’s Hammer Studios, as her models. But after a while, she was able to paint him in any way she imagined. She’d use brushes for a smoother texture to the works, then discovered working with a knife enabled her to build portraits with a surplus of tactile energy. There’s one painting of Lee as Rasputin (a role he played in 1965’s RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK), and another of the actor as Lord Sommerdale from Robin Hardy’s 1973 film THE WICKER MAN. And there are some portraits that look like straight-up promo shots of the actor. But most are of Lee as Dracula—sometimes disintegrating as sunlight hits his face, sometimes regal and posed, and often with multiple images of the face superimposed impossibly atop one another. To see 175 of these paintings hanging side by side on theBlueTower’s gallery walls is…well, creepily astonishing.

Chalk this phantasm of a show up to Mrs. Fowlkes, yes. But credit must be given also to Giselle Malluche, Mim’s neighbor who was bequeathed the artist’s entire output (over 500 works) after helping Mim through her last years of life. Malluche is now in the process of starting up her own long-dreamed-of charity organization, called Change to Humanity, and she’s hoping Mim’s paintings will act as a springboard for good acts to benefit Atlanta (and the world’s) underprivileged youth. The show she’s curated for October 29—complete with bands, DJs, food, drink and costume contests—has a $35 admittance fee (after 11 pm, the price goes down to $10), and it’s all going to the kids. There’s also a printed collection of the paintings in the works, complete with Jimimi’s diary entries (full disclosure: edited by me); this project, titled MY ENIGMA, should be completed sometime in 2012. Until then, this Halloween show will be your foremost opportunity to see this beyond-unique collection. Don’t miss it.

The Blue Tower Gallery is located at 675 Metropolitan Parkway, in the Metropolitan Arts Complex. The October 29 show also features music by Spaceseed and the Cold Ones, lights by Area 51 and a night of horror films in the Panorama Ray Theater. The cover is $35 ($10 after 11 p.m.), with all proceeds going to Change to Humanity. 

Dean Treadway is a longtime Atlanta film analyst and film festival programmer with more than 25 years of published works. His popular film blog is called filmicability with Dean Treadway.  He is also a correspondent for Movie Geeks United, the Internet’s #1 movie-related podcast.

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Really Retro: Lisa Stock Explores an Older, Darker Side of Fairy Tales in Her Play of Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES

Posted on: Aug 22nd, 2011 By:

Carrie Anne Hunt as the Snow White Princess in Lisa Stock's play of Neil Gaiman's SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, which opens Aug. 24.

SNOW WHITE has a reputation for being a cheery story about a cute princess and seven mostly affable dwarves, but the only time I ever hid my eyes in a movie as a child was when the evil stepmother queen transforms herself into a hideous wicked witch in the Walt Disney version. Trust author Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN, AMERICAN GODS) to cleverly latch onto the darker side of that familiar tale and consider that mere jealousy might not be sufficient motive to drive the queen to murder by poisoned apple. And maybe the prince wasn’t exactly your normal kind of hero either. “I was reading Neil Philip‘s [PENGUIN BOOK OF] ENGLISH FOLKTALES, and a rereading of a version of SNOW WHITE made me stop and wonder what kind of person she was, and what kind of person sees a dead girl in a glass coffin and wants to keep her…,” Neil said in an email last week when asked what led him to write the short story, SNOW, GLASS, APPLES. Now Snow White’s white skin, blood-red lips and coffin-sleeping take on a new meaning with disturbing erotic implications, and the queen becomes a protagonist with a difficult moral choice.

Lisa Stock. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

Originally published as a benefit book for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in 1994, SNOW, GLASS, APPLES captured the imagination of so many readers that it was reprinted in two anthologies—TWICE BITTEN: LOVE IN VEIN II (1997), edited by Poppy Z. Brite, and Neil’s own collection SMOKE AND MIRRORS (1998). One of those readers was Lisa Stock, who like the storytellers of old, had her own thoughts about taking the tale in a new direction from page to stage. Through a few mutual friends, the then-New York-based writer/director for theater and film politely asked Neil nicely for a chance to have some fun with his story of bloodlust and mistrust. Charmed by her vision, the idea of seeing his creation come to life and the fact that all proceeds would benefit charity (East Atlanta Community Association), he granted her wish. “I love live theatre,” Neil said. “There’s a magic you cannot get from anything else when it’s good.”

While this real-life fairy tale so far may seem more CINDERELLA, it’s Atlanta audiences that really are the lucky ones. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES has its world premiere here Wed. Aug. 24 through Sun. Aug. 28 in the unusual venue of the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, re-envisioned by Lisa as a dreamlike Spring Fair. Artists and photographers also will have a chance to draw and photograph cast members in costume and preview the phantasmagoric sets during a Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School Atlanta field trip on Mon. Aug. 22. Performances are rated “R” for simulated violence and adult themes, but a special family-friendly show will be held Aug. 28 at 6 p.m.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Lisa to find out more about what drew her to the dark story, crafting a truly unique audience experience, why it’s the perfect fit for a Dr. Sketchy and a little about her other mythic projects, including the upcoming independent feature film TITANIA.

For those unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, without giving away too much, how is it different from the Disney version of SNOW WHITE we grew up with? And more like the original darker versions that date back to Medieval times?
For me, Neil Gaiman’s version reflects the earliest forms of the tale, some [of which] trace back to the myth of Persephone (eating pomegranate seeds and falling into a half-life in the Underworld). The tales were originally much darker in nature and true morality tales. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES for me is just that—a cautionary tale about trusting or mistrusting your instincts. It’s also about self-preservation in a brutal world, and how you deal with the choices that have been handed to you. Our protagonist doesn’t get saved and have all that’s hers by birthright returned to her. She makes her own decisions—for better or worse—and goes out to protect, on her own, what she holds dear.

How did you discover SNOW, GLASS, APPLES and what drew you personally to the story?
I discovered SNOW, GLASS, APPLES through a haunting illustration by Sarah Coleman of the princess that led me back to Neil’s story. I love new perspectives on old tales and those that speak to human instincts. Instincts are such a basic, fundamental part of being human, and yet we often ignore them. The Queen does that in this tale; I’ve done that more times than I can count. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been defeated. We all have. And I think this short story brings out a side of us we may not want to own up to—it talks about fear and failure, but also responsibility and integrity. Though Neil has made the Queen the protagonist, she hasn’t lost any of her edge or her darkness. Instead, with the perspective in her corner, we recognize that in ourselves.

I also love all the visual reminders of her fear in the story: the vampiric princess who keeps coming back to life, the princess’ heart strung above her bed, the forest folk disappearing, nothing is as it seems, reminders to look deeper. Think about it. What are you afraid of? It takes up a lot of your time and space. That’s our nature. And in Neil’s story, the Queen goes out to do something about her fear; whether she’s successful or not, she tries to survive it. Was it the right thing to do or not—that’s for each of us to decide.

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Retro Revue: Vampires on Fire; Splatter Cinema Sizzles with Anti-‘80s Bloodsucker Classic NEAR DARK

Posted on: Mar 6th, 2011 By:

By Mark Arson, Contributing Writer

NEAR DARK (1987)
Dir: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Lance Henrikson, Bill Paxton, Adrian Pasdar, Jenette Goldstein, Jenny Wright
Where: Splatter Cinema, Plaza Theatre
When: Tues. March 8, 9:30 PM

What would humans do if they could live forever if only they avoided one thing? They would likely brush as close against it as possible, over and over again, because it’s part of human nature. The vampires of NEAR DARK are constantly out late (which in this case might qualify as early, indeed, Near Dawn might have been a more appropriate title) and catching on fire in the early morning sun. Not to worry, these particular vampires can recover from their burn wounds if they find cover before exploding, and crosses and stakes don’t even figure into the equation.

This isn’t a typical vampire movie; it’s actually more of a western, punctuated by scruffy drifters, lawmen, shootouts, and an obligatory (let’s kill everyone in the) bar scene, which lasts a brutal 10 minutes (a LONG TIME in movie terms). Our protagonist, in the standard role of “the new guy” (in this case “new vampire”), is Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), brought into the flock by Mae (a stunning Jenny Wright), whom he picked up at a gas station, young love quickly turning into something much less innocent. The other vampires don’t accept him right away, particularly the rabid Severen (Bill Paxton) and the head of the “family,” Jesse (the always great Lance Henriksen). In fact, Caleb never quite seems to fit in, since he’s a “good kid” at heart (i.e. not great vampire material), a unique twist on the outsider’s perspective that drives most vampire films; here the outsider is the one who isn’t a cold-blooded killer.

Before long, Caleb’s family is in pursuit, complications ensue, and it’s vampires afire all over again. Helmed by future Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (THE HURT LOCKER), NEAR DARK is not just an atypical vampire movie, it’s also an atypical ’80s movie. It is dark to be sure (of course), but neon is practically nonexistent, owing to it’s decaying suburban Midwestern setting, the same type of setting that became such a compelling backdrop for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN years later. In fact, the most ’80s thing about the film is the minimalist electronic score by Tangerine Dream, and one would be hard pressed to find a better sonic backdrop for the cold, bleak existence of a pack of vampires. When things are finally resolved at the end of the film, there is a simple solution, in line with the simple vampire mythology at play. Of course, the mythology is only simple because the real story is about how complicated it is to be human, no matter how cut-and-dried the circumstances are. That, and vampires on fire.

Click here to watch the trailer.

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Dracula Superstar, But Love Is the Answer

Posted on: Feb 11th, 2011 By:

In JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the son of God is reborn as a rock star, and likewise, in Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra‘s HAUS VON DRACUL, PART 1, premiering this week at 7 Stages, as Rob Thompson struts confidently emoting on the power of blood, so is Count Dracula, the iconic vampire dark lord of fiction. And that’s just as it should be in a production that purports to resurrect the rock opera and translate its iconography into the horror genre. Thompson dominates the stage with his petulance, cockiness and powerful voice, Jim Morrison meets Ozzy redressed as Vlad the Impaler with a long dark mane, a Gothic red velvet vest so pointy it looks like it could cut you, and a cape shaped like bat wings that unfurl at key moments in the action.

That HAUS VON DRACUL, composed by Thompson and directed by 7 Stages artistic director Del Hamilton, hits all the right notes with the character of Dracula is gratifying and makes the production worth seeing on its own, but the gratifying surprise is Chris Love’s electrifying performance as Jonathan Harker. In most screen versions of the DRACULA story, Harker is a handsome but dull protagonist who gets the story going by delivering real estate papers for the count’s new property in England to Dracula’s castle and gets bitten by the vampire wives. He’s also the boyfriend of Mina, whom Dracula, once arrived in London, covets and seduces.

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