Kool Kat of the Week: Bill Daniel, Renegade DIY Experimental Filmmaker Unearths the Past and Gets Subversive with His “SFVHS: California Artists’ Video 1988-1999” Event at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery

Posted on: Jun 16th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew6.18SetList
Managing Editor

Self-proclaimed “roving artist and makeshift film scholar” Bill Daniel is far from his various stomping grounds (Houston; San Fransisco; New York; Portland, etc.) and continues his nomadic journey touring the south and releasing upon Atlanta his SFVHS: California Artists’ Video 1988-1999 event at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery this Saturday, June 18 at 7:30pm. Daniel plans to screen a cornucopia of rare and “nearly forgotten” VHS video works he filmed in the ‘80s and ‘90s during the height of San Francisco’s highly politicized environmental and anti-warmongering protest era, followed by discussions about DIY artistic strategies, his time spent teaching at the revitalized Black Mountain School and the state of art education today. “SFVHS: California Artists’ Video 1988-1999” is curated by Daniel and hosted by Andy Ditzler [March 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Andy, here] of Film Love Atlanta. You won’t want to miss out on this exciting and rare opportunity to delve into the work of legendary experimental filmmaker, Bill Daniel.

Daniel, jack-of-all-creative-trades dove head first into everything from experimental documentary filmmaking to installation art to zine publishing and much more. He’s lived the dream of every DIY artist, being awarded grants from the Film Arts Foundation and Creative Capital to being granted residencies at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Headlands Center for the Arts and the Center for Land Use Interpretation. His films have also screened at film festivals across the world, including Viennale (Vienna International Film Festival) and The Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film & Video Festival, where he took home the award for Best Documentary for his documentary short, SELECTIVE SERVICE SYSTEM STORY (1998). Daniel’s 2005 full-length “train-hopping graffiti doc” WHO IS BOZO TEXINO?, described by the Sacramento News & Review as, “a hypnotic, rail-rattling tone poem of subversive wayfarer wisdom,” submerged him into the land of “hobo jungles” and has made him the cream of the crop amongst today’s DIY visual artists and renegade nomadic filmmakers.

ATLRetro caught up with Bill Daniel for a quick interview about his VHS years; punk rock being the gateway to the subversive arts; his time spent with Artists’ Television Access (ATA); and more!

"Endless Endless Summer" (1988) - Bill Daniel

“Endless Endless Summer” (1988) – Bill Daniel

ATLRetro:  As a filmmaker in the field, we’re sure you’re quite aware that despite the technological boom that’s engulfed this generation, VHS has begun its own interesting resurgence (the viewing more-so than the filming), even if just among film addicts and history buffs. What do you think it is that draws people to the nostalgia that is VHS?

Bill Daniel: VHS is a glowy soft and fuzzy picture machine in a world of hard and sharp picture machines. Half-inch magnetic tape, passing across a spinning video head that reads an analog electronic pulse and then shoots tiny bursts of light onto a vacuum tube in the shape of a viewing screen—it’s a time machine that lets us look into the past with 20th century eyes. We are like bugs drawn to this weird enchanted light blob that functions as part of our memory.

Can you tell our readers a little about San Francisco’s Mission District Collective Artist’s Television Access, where your VHS tapes originally screened?

ATA was started in the mid-80s by a small group of friends as a low-cost video editing spot and a performance and media gallery. A weekly cable access show of artists’ work was produced and broadcast on the local cable channel, which was pretty wild—some really kooky and radical stuff that was kinda snuck into the list of program channels. I imagined how weird it must have been when unsuspecting channel surfers stumbled onto the ATA show!

Over the years ATA evolved, and amazingly endured. We survived multiple real estate booms and busts. The funky old storefront at the corner of Valencia St. and 21st is now a little island of weirdos in a roiling sea of hyper gentrification. There’s still a core community of people left in SF who are participants at ATA, so it’s like a safe house meeting place for survivors in a tech-money culture war.

In the early ‘80s, you photographed Texas punk shows and the punk scene in general. What drew you to that landscape and what you were trying to garner from that period of your life?

"Redwood Report" (1990) Greta Snider and Bill Daniel

“Redwood Report” (1990) Greta Snider and Bill Daniel

Going to punk shows in Austin was my first exposure to any sort of subversive art and community. You know the story: punk rock as the gateway drug to the world of art and ideas. It’s a corny thing to say, but it’s true! I know that for a ton of people, all over the country and for decades now, punk shows were a first encounter with radical possibilities.

Who would you say are your biggest artistic influences? And why?

Well, especially in the context of this show of San Francisco video, one of my greatest influences and mentors is filmmaker Craig Baldwin, who has been at the core of ATA Gallery for 30 years. Craig lives in the space, has a crazy archive/editing zone in the basement, and has been programming film shows on Saturday nights there for three decades. His film series there, called “Other Cinema, was pretty much my film education. Most of the videos I’ll be showing at the Eyedrum show screened in Craig’s weekly shows.

Can you tell our readers a little about the Black Mountain School Program and why these kinds of programs are important in the community?

Oh wow, too much to tell! Yeah, I’m just coming back from a month-long immersive experiment in art education and community. This was the first year of this project which aimed to start an alternative to teaching and learning art at the site of the original Black Mountain College. I’ll definitely be talking about this at the Eyedrum screening, and I’ll talk about the two classes I taught (a lecture about DIY touring strategies for media artists, and a workshop on no-budget b/w photography called Junk Camera). I hope people at the Eyedrum show will be down to have a discussion about what’s going on in arts education these days. You know, the whole cost/debt/administratively screwed up state of the art school deal. Everyone knows it’s time to start building new forms and structures and possibilities for change in how we share art-making skills and dialog.

As you tour the south with your SFVHS: California Artists’ Video 1988-1999 event, what kind of feedback are you getting from your audience? How does the current feedback differ from the feedback you received when the tapes first aired?

"Thought Crimes in the Satiation Pool" - Barney Haynes and Barry Schwartz

“Thought Crimes in the Satiation Pool” – Barney Haynes and Barry Schwartz

Well it’s pretty shocking to realize how long ago 1990 was. Haha! People have been digging this program, being able to see videos that are impossible to find now. The “EARTH FIRST!” tape is a real relic— hippies going wild wrecking logging machinery and bringing crucial issues of ecological and economic sustainability to light— but it also harkens to the Occupy movement, so I think there’s some lessons in these things.

Are there any filmmakers today (experimental and/or narrative) that you find intriguing?

There’s a new burst of life in experimental filmmaking these days. Actually, maybe two bursts. One is coming out of the academic side, since there’s been a big growth of experimental film teaching in the universities and so by now there’s a new crop of radical filmmakers who are professors and who are making progressive work and inspiring another generation. On the other side there are some thriving new non-institutional situations that are making and showing experimental work. There’s Mono No Aware in New York that does regular screenings and is running a lab to do experimental film processing; seems like there is a whole community building up around their facility and shows. In Oakland there’s Black Hole Cinema which is about as punk as a film scene there is. I dearly love that venue and the filmmaker who runs it, Tooth, who has been making brilliant and raw films, very much in the wild energy of the ‘60s/’70s days of 16mm.

Can you offer any advice to our readers about film, personal expression, and creativity?

I can relay something that was affirmed at a lecture I attended here at Black Mountain. Tim Kerr who is a painter and rad musician (was a member of the legendary Texas punk bands The Big Boys and the Lord High Fixers and a bunch of others) came up to the school to talk about his experiences through decades of DIY art and music culture and how the community of touring punk bands evolved. So one thing Tim has always said, painted, conveyed is “all self-expression is valid.” It’s such a simple statement, but it’s an idea to never lose sight of. Thanks Tim Kerr!

"Clarion Alley Mural Project"

“Clarion Alley Mural Project”

What’s next for Bill Daniel?

I’m feeling incredibly regenerated and reaffirmed coming out of this month at Black Mountain School. I see that teaching is becoming a bigger part of my work as an artist. I’m not going to go back to school to get an MFA so I can become a professor, but I’m looking at ways that teaching can fit into my own practice. So these two classes I taught up here— touring strategies and black and white photography— I’m just going to smash these two things together and start touring with a photography workshop: Vagabond Photography College in a van.

Photos courtesy of Bill Daniel and used with permission.

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ATLFF Review: SIREN Gets Weird and Makes It Work

Posted on: Apr 15th, 2016 By:

SirenSIREN (2016); Dir. Gregg Bishop; Starring Hannah Fierman, Chase Williamson; Justin Welborn; IMDB link here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

I’ll admit that SIREN didn’t encourage my expectations. Screening at the end of a long week of films, SIREN felt like a pitch from a carnival barker: “Did you like V/H/S (2012), that found-footage horror anthology? No, not really? Well, what about “Amateur Night,” arguably its most popular segment? You know, the one where some bros pick up a strange young woman for hotel porn, but get a rampaging monster ripping through their innards instead? Yeah? All right, well SIREN takes that premise but expands the world. This thing’s got a menagerie of fantasy monsters, a supernatural brothel, a southern-fried monster wrangler, and a fresh batch of victims with a fresh batch of innards. Step right up!”

Taking the original’s simple karmic reversal set-up and turning it into a NIGHTBREED-esque freakshow does not feel like a great idea. “Amateur Night” director David Bruckner had been swapped out for Gregg Bishop from the weaker V/H/S VIRAL (2014), and seeing the logo of Chiller—the notoriously cheap horror network—had me sinking into my chair and settling in for a long night. But, little by little, SIREN won me over, and horror junkies who discover the film are going to find an unexpectedly inspired bit of monster mayhem.

V/H/S Amateur Night.

V/H/S Amateur Night.

The script swaps out the assholes from the original segment for a (slightly) more sympathetic bunch. Jonah (Chase Williamson) is about to get married, and his standard issue buddies—the Asshole Brother, the Saintly Best Friend, and the Funny Guy—drive him out into the swamps for a bachelor party because, of course, that’s where the wildest stuff happens. The gang gets conned into visiting a wild house run by Nyx (Justin Welborn), who tracks and traps critters from legend, including a lady that munches on memories and a naked nymph (Hannah Fierman, reprising her role from the original) he keeps locked up in the back. In “Amateur Night,” the nature of this particular creature was unclear, but in this film she’s officially a siren, complete with a singing voice that lures men to their deaths, and which drives Jonah to do something incredibly stupid (he even says out loud, “I’m about to do something incredibly stupid,” so we know). He releases her from her prison, and the carnage begins.

The rest of the plot revolves around the bachelor party attempting to escape from the beast while Nyx and his posse try to reclaim their “property”. It should be noted that Nyx is one flamboyant sunofagun. Welborn realizes what kind of movie he’s making, chewing enough scenery to fill all the spittoons in his character’s brothel. Somehow it works, especially paired with the nearly mute, doe-eyed performance of Fierman who vacillates between innocence and savagery and back again without warning, raging all over the screen like an unchecked id.

But what I found myself enjoying the most is Bishop’s eagerness to make SIREN more than a boilerplate midnight monster movie, looking for ways to elevate the action in clever ways. When the guys take shrooms, for example, his depiction of the trip they’re on is surprisingly realistic and gives the brothel the funky intro it deserves. A later action sequence benefits from focusing on Jonah—hiding and ears plugged to avoid hearing the creature’s song—so that we only see bodies flying around the edges of the screen, and we only hear the muffled thuds of gunshots and the murky pitch of screams.

SIREN isn’t a new classic, and in many ways it feels like a step backwards from the original short film, abandoning most of the elements that made “Amateur Night” work. But by sticking with Fierman and spinning a wacky backwoods mythology around her beastie, the film manages to stand on its own, and Bishop’s clever staging wrings a lot of extra mileage from what could have been boring, standard horror set pieces. In that respect, I guess the carnival barker got it right. SIREN is a freak show, but sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun to see weirdness for weirdness’s sake.

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

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Shop Around: Creature Feature: You Don’t Have to Ask Your Momma How to Make a Monster When Kyle Yaklin Is Around

Posted on: Oct 19th, 2014 By:

mask1Monster masks were truly an art in the golden age of Universal horror before CGI. That creepy craft has been resurrected by some astounding Atlanta area artists including Shane Morton and Marietta-based SFX Make-Up Artist Kyle Yaklin. Kyle really turned heads with not only his Creature From The Black Lagoon masks but also entire suits at Monsterama and Dragoncon this year, even taking the Creature for a swim. And he crafts custom masks and suits for sale at remarkably reasonable prices.

Find Kyle’s Creature creations and other artwork at the acclaimed seasonal experiential attraction Atlanta Zombie ApocalypseJust in time for Halloween, ATLRetro hunted him down to find out more about what drew him to Creature-craft, see if he’d share a few of his scary secrets and get the scoop on what’s happening this year at AZA. Read our ATLRetro review of AZA and Atlanta’s other top haunts here.

ATLRetro: When did you first see THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and why did the creature appeal to you?

Kyle Yaklin: Well, I first saw it when I was around three years old! My grandmother got me a copy of the VHS, and I was just fascinated with it! The suit in particular was just amazing to me, it didn’t look like the rest of the B-movie monsters from the time. It looked intelligent, frightening and most importantly like something that could actually exist. I think that’s what made the creature so popular.

How did you get into mask-making, how old were you and what was your first mask?

I was a freshman in college when I made my first mask, and of course, the first thing I sculpted was the Creature! It took me around three months to sculpt inbetween classes, and the result was fairly good for a first attempt! 

creaturesonlyYou use the original mold from the Creature, don’t you? How did you get a hold of that?

Actually no, I do have castings from the original molds from the first two films, but I sculpted every bit of my suit by hand, including the mask. Last May I decided to go back and re-sculpt the Creature mask that I had made three years earlier. I used my casting of the original land head as reference when I sculpted the new version so that I could get my sculpt as close to the original as possible!

And you’ve made entire suits and even swam in them. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I have recently completed the entire Creature suit! And again, the origins of the project go back to my freshman year when I sculpted my first Creature mask. The main goal of that mask was to eventually make a whole suit, so I did a ton of research on how the original suit was created, and planned out how my suit was going to be made. At the time though I realized I neither had the time, money or skill to achieve something I’d be happy with. After I sculpted my second version I was much happier with the results, so I started sculpting out the rest of the suit in small sections just like the original was done. It spread the project out over time and made it seem not so daunting of a project. After six months of working on the various pieces I had finally completed everything! Now I just needed to glue all the pieces down to a skin suit and paint it! 

headlesssuitHere’s the first fully finished suit hanging in my shop which you can see was a huge mess at the time..

fullsuitHere’s the suit at its premier at Dragoncon!

suitsubmergedAnd here are a few photos from the Marriott swimming pool!Taking the suit swimming was just amazing, I got to live out one of my childhood dreams that day and I can’t wait to take it swimming again! I’m hoping to be able to make the trip down to Wakula Springs in Florida where the original film was shot, and get some photos and videos swimming in the actual Black Lagoon! The suit is actually more comfortable in the water than it is on land, and the hands and feet really do work as flippers so the original design really was a very functional suit.

swimsuit1

What’s the most challenging aspect to crafting a mask? 

The most challenging part of making the masks are, of course, sculpting it and making a mold, but after that is taken care of, I guess the most challenging part would be slushing the latex around an 80-pound ultracal mold. 

And the most fun part?

The most fun part is always painting the masks, I use a combination of airbrushing, painting with an actual brush and applying washes. And each mask is personally painted by me, so each one is a little different and one of a kind!

headWhat other masks and other work are you making now?

I do make a variety of other masks including zombie masks, a Karloff Frankenstein monster, my own version of the shock monster, Jason Voorhees, and more! 

I understand you’ll be down at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalpyse. What are you doing at AZA?

I’ve been working at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse for three years now as one of the main makeup FX artists and actually got the job based on my first creature mask!

We’ve heard AZA is even more rockin’ and scary than ever. Without giving away any big spoilers, what are a few of your favorite things about this year’s experience?

This year is the final year for the Zombie Apocalypse, but were definitely going out with a bang! This year’s story is one of the best yet, and it’s the longest show ever! In past years we’ve split it into two separate shows, but this year it’s one massive zombie experience!

masksHow can folks reach you if they want to purchase a mask?

If you’d like to get in touch with me my email is supergzilla@gmail.com, or you can send me a message on my Facebook page Kyle Yaklin FX! You can also see tons of progress photos of the creature suit and updates on new projects at my Facebook page as well. Thank you all for your time!

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Transfuses Fresh Blood in a 20th Century Southern Gothic Cinematic Retelling of CARMILLA at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 27th, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The Atlanta Film Festival kicks off this Friday with 10 days of screenings and events and, as usual, plenty of local talent will have their work on display. Among the screenings is the new Southern Gothic horror film, THE UNWANTED, written and directed by local badass Bret Wood, and playing on Monday, March 31 at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Wood has had a long career in and among the movies, finding time to direct darkly erotic features like PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (2006) and THE LITTLE DEATH (2010) when he’s not knee deep in the business of film restoration and distribution as vice president of special projects at Kino Lorber. Wood also devotes time to researching and writing about cinema history. Among his credits as a writer and editor is an edition of the QUEEN KELLY (1929) screenplay by the legendary Erich von Stroheim; HELL’S HIGHWAY, a documentary about those infamous highway safety films; and a book on exploitation cinema appropriately titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT.

With THE UNWANTED, Wood returns to a world of repressed erotic desire. The story, inspired by a famous Sheridan Le Fanu vampire novella, concerns a young woman named Carmilla (Christen Orr) who drifts into a small Southern town on the hunt for a missing loved one. What she finds instead is a sheltered girl named Laura (V/H/S’s Hannah Fierman) held close by her disapproving father (William Katt, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO). As Carmilla and Laura become drawn to one another, their passion uncovers a nest of dark family secrets that lead to a bloody, deadly confrontation.

Wood recently spoke to ATLRetro about his new film and his career exploring in the darker corners of cinema.

ATLRetro: THE UNWANTED transplants Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Gothic novella CARMILLA into a Southern Gothic setting. What does moving the location to the South add to the story?

Bret Wood: The change of setting didn’t greatly alter the tone of the story. Rural 19th-century Ireland is not SO different from modern-day rural Georgia. The key thing is that, in both versions, events unfold in an isolated setting in which the people are somewhat disconnected from the world around them.  That sort of geographic space tends to mirror itself in the psychology of those who live there – isolated, insulated, and not in touch with the world beyond the community. It can be very comfortable to live in a place like that – surrounded by people who share your values – but a certain closed-mindedness is almost inevitable. A suspicion of outsiders, a distrust of those who are guided by a different moral compass, a setting in which a visitor would be immediately viewed with suspicion.

And the ingredients of the Gothic work just as well in the 21st Century as the 19th: themes of a family curse, a poisoned bloodline, dreams haunted by spirits, the sublime beauty of nature, the decaying family estate, the menacing lord of the manor. We just did it without corsets, carriages and candelabras.

Engraving from a 19th century edition of CARMILLA.

Your film takes a very naturalist approach to CARMILLA’s horror elements. Can you talk about the process of adapting the story away from the supernatural while retaining its core?

I love Le Fanu’s story, but I don’t believe in the supernatural – and I didn’t want to make a movie about something that I don’t believe in. So I had to find a plausible variation on conventional vampirism. There’s no such thing as vampires in the sense of a person becoming immortal or being capable of transforming into an animal, but there ARE people who engage in recreational bloodletting. My 2006 movie, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS, dramatizes two real-life examples from the Victorian era in which the exchange of blood was a sort of sex substitute.

So the challenge was to create a form of emotionally-charged bloodletting that two people might engage in – and this bloodplay could, from an outsider’s perspective, appear to be vampirism. In my version of vampirism, the blood isn’t for drinking. I’ll leave it at that. People will just have to see the movie.

Your film grapples with gender and gay/lesbian themes in the midst of a horror tale. How does the horror genre help you to tackle these types of important contemporary issues?

Even though it does have lesbian/bisexual characters, I wouldn’t necessarily call THE UNWANTED an LGBT film. It deals with a more universal experience:  the choice between staying in one place and following the traditions and values of one’s family, versus cutting the emotional cord and following one’s own path. Conformity versus individuality.

You might say that THE UNWANTED is about the painful process of “coming out” – whether from an emotional cocoon or the closet. On second thought, maybe it’s more of an LGBT film than I thought.

As far as horror goes, I had to tread a narrow line. In CARMILLA, the horror lies in the lesbianism of the two central characters -Le Fanu only suggests that they are lovers. And in my retelling, the father still needed to perceive the lesbian relationship as monstrous, but it was crucial that the audience view the relationship as loving and harmonious, even when there’s blood flowing between them.

For a while, I thought about calling the film WATER AND BLOOD to contrast the difference between friendships vs. family relationships, but I figured that was stretching the blood symbolism too far.

THE UNWANTED stars William Katt in a fairly dark and menacing role. How did he come to be involved in the project and what did he bring to the character?

I met him through executive producer Eric Wilkinson, who had worked with him a couple of times (THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007), SPARKS (2013)), and who told me Bill enjoys working on indie projects. He was very enthusiastic about the script, and had a significant impact upon the role. Originally, the character of Troy (Laura’s father) was an unequivocal villain, whose purpose it was to thwart Carmilla. Bill cultivated Troy’s human side, asked me to write a scene in which Troy and Laura spend time together, so we see they have a healthy, loving relationship. That was the inspiration for the horseback riding scene.

To Bill, as an actor, it was always important that the audience understand that Troy loves his daughter, and loved his wife, and the acts of violence he commits arise from his genuine desire to protect them. This inner conflict really shines through in his performance. And it’s so effective that we decided to further downplay his villainy by removing at least one really creepy sequence – which will no doubt appear on the DVD. We decided that rather than showing the audience what horrors this guy is capable of, we should let them wonder.

You’ve had a role in restoring and championing classic movies through your work at the Blu-Ray and DVD distributor Kino Lorber. Is there an overlooked title you would recommend, perhaps one that would make a nice pairing with THE UNWANTED?

I love classic film – the older the better – and am lucky that I get to spend much of each day mastering, packaging and writing about great films, whether it’s silent American films or European horror cinema of the 1960s and ’70s. I was watching a lot of Jean Rollin while working on THE UNWANTED, and would say that traces of his 1975 film LIPS OF BLOOD definitely found their way into my movie. Bill Gunn‘s erotic vampire film GANJA AND HESS (1973) and Jess Franco‘s FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) were big influences as well. All of them were made by indie filmmakers with limited resources, but who attempted to dig deep into complex emotions that don’t get touched by the typical horror film. And, lest you think I was only influenced by vampire films, you don’t have to look to hard to find shades of Michael Haneke‘s THE PIANO TEACHER (2001) or Rouben Mamoulian‘s APPLAUSE (1929). Did I mention I love my job?

Bret Wood on the set of THE UNWANTED.

Between THE UNWANTED and your earlier films, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS and THE LITTLE DEATH, you’ve explored sex on the fringes. What draws you to the subject?

I’m sure the short answer to that question lies in my conservative, religious upbringing.  But let’s not get into that.

Regardless of how I became the way I am, I will say that, to me, the most fascinating thing about sex – in films – is not the nudity or the act of copulation, but the mystery surrounding the act – sex as a revelatory experience – maybe I’m still channeling the curiosity of my thirteen-year-old self. There’s nothing less erotic than gratuitous nudity. There’s nothing more boring than a sexually active character with no inhibitions, for whom sex is simply a physical act of pleasure.  Where’s the drama in that?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of sexuality, by the fringe-dwelling people for whom sex has mutated into something slightly abnormal. By the person who is emotionally tight-wound, who is struggling against their own repression, or struggling against moral oppression, looking for some means by which they can relieve this overwhelming urge that’s gnawing at them from the inside. THAT’S interesting to me. There’s mystery there. And conflict. And tension.

You co-authored a book on exploitation cinema titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Exploitation films were meant to be cheap and disposable, and yet they linger on in our film culture. What should we learn from that?

One never knows which films will stand the test of time. Look back at all the lousy Oscar-winners in the past 20 years and you’ll know what I mean. The films celebrated by one generation will be dismissed by the next and vice versa.

Exploitation films of the 1930s and ’40s – sensationalized treatments of hot-button topics like venereal disease, drug abuse, prostitution, polygamy -were crude and, on the surface, badly made. But they were tackling subjects the major studios wouldn’t touch, and they were made with a sort of reckless creativity that is a welcome change from the restraint and technical perfection of a studio film of the same era. In the same way, people who are into horror films are nowadays attracted to the schlock of the 1960s and ’70s, the grindhouse fodder once casually dismissed as garbage. And the same goes for 16mm classroom films of the 1950s – ’70s. Maybe it’s because today’s DIY filmmakers can relate to the struggles of no-budget production, maybe it’s a reaction against the over-produced, over-budgeted, over-hyped films that are suffocating the multiplex.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Part of me today still thinks that way, I love sifting through film history to see what treasures I can find buried in the mud.

What’s next for you?

I have several scripts I’d love to make – for example, a dark comedy about a womanizing stage magician (IN HER RIGHT MIND), a drama about a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s (THE CONTROL GROUP). And there are others. For me, writing is relatively easy. The difficult thing is raising the funds to actually make something. I usually keep a handful of scripts ready to film, and then choose which project to pursue based on the resources available to me. Right now the front-runner is a grim ghost story/revenge film, based on 19th-century literature, very much in the same vein as THE UNWANTED.

THE UNWANTED screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Monday, March 31, at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Tickets for the screening may be purchased here.

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


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Kool Kat of the Week: Mike Malloy Rewinds Back to the 1980s Home Video Revolution with His Latest Documentary Feature

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2013 By:

Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Andramada Brittian.

Video may have killed the radio star, or so that ’80s song goes, but it launched a lifelong passion for cult action movies in Kool Kat of the Week Mike Malloy. Now he’s paying homage to the format that revolutionized the way people accessed and watched movies from the late 1970s to the 1990s in the documentary series PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80S HOME VIDEO BOOM, for which he is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaignThe timing couldn’t be more perfect with VHS tapes, like 33rpm LPs, enjoying a renaissance among collectors, both old and new.

From his slicked-back hair to his Retro bowling shirts, Mike looks like he ought to be playing the stand-up bass in a rockabilly band. Instead he’s devoted himself to “playing” tribute to a side of cinema that often doesn’t get a lot of love from mainstream critics. At age 19, he signed his first book contract to write the first published biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef (for McFarland & Co.) Since then, he went on to write articles for a wide spectrum of national film magazines, served as managing editor of fan favorite Cult Movies Magazine, has spoken about movie topics at universities, ghost-wrote several fim books, and served on the selection committee of the 2006 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the past few years, Mike has moved increasingly both in front of and behind the camera. He has acted in more than 25 features and shorts. He co-produced the Western THE SCARLET WORM (2011) and directed the short, LOOK OUT! IT’S GOING TO BLOW! (2006), which won the award for best comedy short at MicroCineFest in Baltimore. But he’s garnered the most acclaim, both national and international, for EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s, a kickass documentary homage to that B-movie subgenre which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

ATLRetro caught up with Mike recently to find out more about how home videos fired his fascination with film, his unique vision for PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, some really cool incentives he’s lined up for his Kickstarter campaign which collectors will love  and what’s up next for Georgia’s Renaissance man of cult action cinema.

Having written Lee Van Cleef‘s first published biography at age 19, you’ve obviously been into rare cult and B movies since an early age. What triggered your passion for the less reputable side of cinema and why does it appeal to you so much?

I’m a rare guy who’s deep into cult and genre cinema without caring much for horror or anything fantastic. For me, it’s all about a desperate Warren Oates shooting it out in Mexico. Or Lee Marvin with a submachine gun. For some reason, I’m just drawn to gritty tough-guy cinema – which is not necessarily the same thing as action cinema.

How did the home video revolution influence you personally? Having been born in 1976, you can’t really remember the pre-video days, I’d guess, but it must have afforded you access to a whole spectrum of these movies which otherwise would have been hard to track down and see.

And I even missed most of the ’80s video boom, because my parents, in 1990, were the last on the block to get a VCR. But in 1994, I made up for lost time. I had a college girlfriend who had an off-campus apartment, and while she was at work,  she didn’t like the idea of me being on campus, potentially fraternizing with other young ladies. So before each shift, she would take me by the local mom-and-pop vid store and rent me 8 hours’ worth of Bronson, Van Cleef, Carradine, etc. That kept me safely in her apartment, and it put me on the cinema path I’m on.

Videophile Magazine; Jim Lowe and Mike Malloy on the set of PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND.

In Atlanta, Videodrome seems to be the last independent rental retailer still in business and it’s even hard to find a Blockbuster left. And of course, they now just stock DVDs. Now you can order up a movie online and watch it instantly. Do you think we’ve lost something by no longer going in to browse, and was there a particular video store that became your home away from home?

One of our interviewees said something interesting: The mom-and-pop video store business model was based on customer DISsatisfaction. That is, you’d go in to rent CITIZEN KANE, it would be checked out, and you’d somehow end up leaving with SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). Being forced to browse leads to an experimental attitude in movie watching. That’s a good thing.

VHS tapes can get damaged easily, the picture and sound quality can’t compare to a bluRay (or often even a regular DVD) and they rarely show a movie in widescreen. Why be nostalgic about them, and is it true that the VHS format, like LPs, is having a comeback?

VHS is experiencing a major comeback. There are about 20 little startup companies that have begun releasing movies to VHS again. A certain old horror VHS – of a film called DEMON QUEEN (1986) – sold recently on eBay for $750.00. VHS conventions are springing up all over the country.

I’ve always thought that the format is superior for horror films. If you watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on a soft old VHS poorly transferred from a faded film print, that makes you feel as if you’re watching some underground snuff film obtained from a shady guy in a trench coat. Watch that same movie on a pristine Blu-Ray, and you don’t get that same grimy feeling.

Michael Perkins films a scene at Videodrome, Atlanta's last great independent video store.

There have been other documentaries about home video, such as ADJUST YOUR TRACKING (2013) and REWIND THIS (2013). What will PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND add to the topic that hasn’t been covered already?

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND will be a three-hour series, spanning six half-hour episodes. Those others just have a feature-length running time. So if mine isn’t the most definitive word on the subject, I’ve really screwed up. I’m sort of glad those docs exist as companion works, because it frees me up to explore some of the weirder corners of the phenomenon I find fascinating. Things like video vending machines and pizza-style home delivery of VHS tapes.

You’ve got a pretty interesting line-up of interviewees, not all of which are big names. Can you tell us about a few of them and how you went about selecting them.

Right, many of these people are very significant without being instantly recognizable. We have Mitch Lowe, the founder of Netflix (and later a CEO of Redbox). We have Jim Olenski, owner of what is considered to be the first-ever video store. We have Seth Willenson, a Vice President at RCA who oversaw their failed video disc format. That’s just several off the top of my head. They all have that level of significance. And we interviewed a bunch of cult filmmakers, because working at the cheap extreme of the video boom was where some of the craziest stories were. Further, we were glad – er, glad/sad – to have been able to document a closing video store in Toronto during its final month.

Gary Abdo and Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Jonathan Hickman.

Moviemakers, and artists of all ilk, have always seemingly been ripped off by others who pocket all the money. What distinguishes the video era in that regard, and are there any lessons filmmakers can apply to the current wild west of digital camerawork and online distribution?

I think the potential for ripping off artists is greater when an industry is in upheaval, when the rules and the financial models are unclear. And you’re right, VOD and streaming have caused the same type of upheaval that the videocassette did in its day. So I love all the anecdotes we captured of swindled ’80s filmmakers fighting back against their underhanded distributors. And I hope today’s filmmakers realize that distributors are now becoming largely unnecessary at all. For instance, I hope Vimeo OnDemand – with its 90-10 split in favor of the filmmaker – is a total game changer.

You obviously went into this project with a lot of background, but did you find out any big surprises or delightful unexpected moments during your interviews/research?

I went into the project feeling proud that I was going to cover not only VHS and Beta, but all the failed video formats – like Cartrivision, Selectavision (CED) and V-Cord II. Turns out, they were just the tip of the iceberg. I now probably have about 15 different also-ran video formats I can touch on.

Left to right: a video vending machine; Mitch Lowe, founder of Netflix.

How different would the world be today if Cartrivision had caught on instead of VHS?

Well, Cartrivision was an early attempt at rights management for movies. The Cartrivision rental tapes couldn’t be rewound at home; that could only be done at Sears, where you rented them. It limited you to one viewing per rental. So it would’ve started the concept of video rentals off on a very different attitude and philosophy. I think part of the reason the ’80s home video phenomenon was such a boom was the freedom associated with it – you could rent a movie of your choosing and watch it at a time of your choosing. You could watch it a number of times before returning. Hell, you could use your rewind button to watch a jugsy shower scene over and over.

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How’s it going and how are you going to use the monies raised to finalize the film?

Since ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and REWIND THIS both successfully kickstarted, I knew this would be an uphill battle. My only chance was to turn what is normally a beg-a-thon into a reward-a-thon. So I created a $75 level for the collectors where they could get so much more than just a copy of the documentary. The very first expense I’ll cover, if I get successfully funded, will be an 8 terabyte hard drive. I really can’t cut another frame until I get it.

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND tells it like it was: Mike Malloy deals videos out of his van.

You’ve got some mighty cool incentives for donors, including actual vintage VHS cassettes. Tell us a little bit about them.

Not only have many of our filmmaker interviewees donated signed VHS and DVDs of their movies (to say nothing of rare, unused artwork and such), but a lot of these new startup VHS companies have also donated rewards. I’m feeling very supported.

Unlike your Italian-centric EUROCRIME documentary, you’re trying to involve Atlanta as much as possible in PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, aren’t you?

Local documentarian Michael Perkins (THE BOOKER) is my second-unit director, and Atlanta-based musician/engineer Matthew Miklos is my primary composer. His ’80s synth sound is so authentic. An associate producer (Jonathan Hickman) and at least one interviewee (filmmaker Gary Abdo) are here too. Videodrome has been very cool about letting me shoot re-enactments in the store. I tried to document the closing of another Atlanta institution of the video-rental industry, but it didn’t work out.

Anything else on your plate right now or next as a writer, director, producer or actor?

Later this year, I’m acting in HOT LEAD, HARD FURY in Denver and BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF in Florida. I wish someone would cast me locally so my pay doesn’t keep getting eaten up by travel expenses!

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Mike Malloy and used with permission.

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

Posted on: Jan 16th, 2013 By:

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

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kool Kat of the Week: Eddie Ray on the Tricks and Treats of Growing Up a Halloween Kid in ATLRetro, His A-T of Why Atlanta is Horror-Town, USA, and His Top Seven Picks for a Super-Supernatural Time This Year

Posted on: Oct 19th, 2012 By:

No one can exorcise the Afro Demon outta Atlanta's Man of 1000 Halloween Faces Eddie Ray.

By Eddie Ray
Contributing Writer

As I sit here and write this, I am listening to the score to HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, editing an “I love Halloween” video for YouTube, working on my Zombie Walk costume, working on my Halloween night costume, and patching up my costume for Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. So to say I work for Halloween is an understatement. I do love Halloween, but the truth is I believe in Halloween. There is a huge difference. Real Halloween kids start decorating and celebrating Halloween on September 1, and the party lasts until November 1.

I was taught this when I was very young, and I began saying that I love and work for Halloween when I was probably about 6 or 7 years old. I grew up in a Halloween house with ghost stories, horror movies and even a Halloween friend who helped show me that I needed to help keep the season of Halloween exciting and moving forward. It was my duty in some ways. When I was little I was so excited to see the leaves change color and for the month of September to begin so that I could grab all of our Halloween decorations and hang them on doors, in windows and plug up orange lights outside.

Halloween is a magical time – notice I said “is” and not “was” – for me and all the Halloween Kids who love the season as much I do. I grew up on the south side of Atlanta in Suburbia, which meant trick-or-treating was a big deal for all the kids. I even loved that there was a possibility that your candy could be the last shit you ate because it could be poisoned. Will it be a trick or will it be a treat? My family would have big Halloween parties every year, which I eventually took over and began decorating for, DJ-ing for and making my own elaborate costumes for. I even designed haunted houses in the yard to go through, and since I loved horror so much, I began making horror films when I was about 10 years old. I didn’t say that shit was good; I was 10!

A young Eddie Ray goes gangster.

I think a lot of Halloween Kids grew up this way in Atlanta, and I would eventually met some of them in the future. I believe that we were all meant to find each other. I met Luke Godfrey during the filming of a low-budget zombie movie. He had just started the first Zombie Walk in Atlanta (watch a video filmed by Eddie at this year’s walk on Sun. Oct. 14 here), and we became friends right off. He would later open up the haunted attraction Chambers of Horror with Nick Morgan. This was the first haunted attraction/house I ever acted in. I met Jonny Rej (co-owner of The Plaza) and Shane Morton through the Plaza Theatre, and now I help them train actors, direct scenes and act in their haunted attraction, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse [If you missed our ATLRetro feature on AZA, click here]. I have always loved haunted houses/attractions growing up and go to all the ones that Georgia has to offer. I met special effects artist Blake Myers through a friend of mine, and we rambled on about John Carpenter for a while and have been friends ever since. Now he is doing effects for horror films like V/H/S, and he helps run the Buried Alive Film Festival (Nov. 9-10, 2012 at the Plaza).

Eddie Ray gives a Red Scare to the GA Capitol during Atlanta Zombie Walk.

These are just a few of the friends that I help with different Halloween events throughout the month of October. The point is we all grew up the same way, and we loved horror and Halloween. Now we keep the Halloween dream alive every year with events, horror attractions, parades and films that are made here. Atlanta really is a horror and Halloween town, because we help make it that way. It’s fun for all ages, races, sexes and sexualities. Halloween is for all who love it. I am proud to live in a Halloween town like Atlanta. Now get out there and support all the Halloween fun Atlanta has to offer you!

Here are some reasons why Atlanta is a horror/Halloween town!

A. Hello, the CDC is here.

B. There is a shitload of foreclosed and abandoned creepy-ass buildings here.

C. A shit-ton of ghost stories from Atlanta’s rocky-ass past. Savannah is always listed as one of the most haunted places in America. I grew up near a DEVIL’S CHURCH ROAD! It was Spooky Dookie!

D. Zombie Walks,  Zombie Prom, WALKING DEAD (TV Show), DANCE OF THE DEAD (Movie), Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2 (Movie), DEAR GOD! NO! (Movie) and V/H/S  (Movie)  all happen or were filmed here.

E. All the amazing horror make-up effects people who live here.

F. The Buried Alive Film Festival, at which I was winner of the Audience Choice Award for SATANIC PANIC; BAND OUT OF HELL last year. Yay, me!

G. Ponce Hookers. I was chased by one once.

H. People come down to Atlanta from other cities to celebrate Halloween here.

I. Little 5 Points Halloween Parade.

J. Silver Scream Spookshow

K. All the amazing haunted attractions here [Ed. note: including Netherworld, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Chambers of Horror, Dark Harvest and more].

L. Honey Boo Boo. I’m kidding, I love her!

M. All the Halloween parties at bars and clubs like Mary’s, The Goat Farm and Sauced.

N. Splatter Cinema.

O. The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

P. Corn Mazes.

Eddie Ray as MC Eat Yo Brains Out!

Q. Me, bitch!

R. Most of my close friends love Halloween and really get into it with me, and we begin planning for Halloween in June. They make me proud with their costumes.

S. Halloween kids are all ages!

T. We all love Halloween here!

Okay here are some things to do this Halloween in Atlanta.

1. Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse: I work in this one now, and I play a cop who helps you fight off zombies in an EVIL DEAD style horror movie, with clues, the occult and pretty ladies!!!! You are literally running for your life, and it’s exciting and scary as hell. Turns out I am really good at this shit. I have done it for two years in a row and this is my third year. Yes, we are the Zombie Capital of the world now. It’s a Zombie Hell in Atlanta, G.A. Baby!

2. Chambers of Horror: This was the first haunted attraction I worked in, and it’s adult-themed, scary, FUCKED UP, and amazing. Check this Rated X haunt out for a good time and maybe a turn on. (Read ATLRetro’s article on last year’s Chambers here)

3. Marys Hallo-Weenie Party – (Friday Oct. 26) For a good time on Halloween, call Mary’s; it’s a cool place to go. They make Halloween a big deal and have the most outlandish costumes at any club or bar I have ever seen. I always take my ass by there in October.

Atlanta's Scariest Halloween Kid Duet: John Wayne Gacy, aka Eddie Ray, takes a mugshot with Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, aka Shane Morton.

4. Little 5 Points Halloween Parade – (Sat. Oct. 20, 4 p.m.) – I have been in the Halloween parade for about four years now, and it’s so much fun to dress up and walk down the streets of Little 5 Points in a creepy costume. Not to be missed, and if you can be in it then get in it! Watch here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPnIaOSYERA

5. Halloween Party at The Goat Farm II  (Sat. Oct. 27, 8 p.m.) – It’s back from the dead, and more blood-curdling than ever. Join them for an evening of debauchery, spectacles and spooky surprises at every corner. It’ll be a night that’ll haunt your memories. You’ve been warned. For more info, check out Scout Mob here.

Eddie Ray goes old school as The Green Ghost from SCOOBY DOO.

6. Plaza Theatre/Spookshow: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925; starring Lon Chaney, Man of 1000 Faces)- Oct. 19, 20, 21; and full stage show by Professor Morte and his ghoulish gang for BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN  (1935; starring Boris Karloff and Elsa Lancaster) – Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. and 10 p.m.

7. Twin Peaks Prom Night (Sun. Oct. 28, 8 p.m. ) – People will be encouraged to come dressed as characters from TWIN PEAKS or other David Lynch movies, as well as prom attire. Come out to enjoy a swanky dinner, snacks and cocktails from the always stellar menu at Sauced, plus DJs will be spinning classic haunting music from the ‘50s & ‘60s to transport you to a different era.

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