Kool Kat of the Week: Josh Robins of the Invincible Czars Gets Cozy with Count Orlok at the 100th Anniversary Screening of NOSFERATU at The Springs Cinema & Taphouse Oct. 7

Posted on: Oct 3rd, 2022 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Austin-based experimental rock ensemble, the Invincible Czars will be creeping into Atlanta for the first time on Friday, Oct. 7 during The Springs Cinema & Taphouse’s Fright Nights film series. The Czars, touted as “one of the best silent film orchestras in the nation” by Alamo Drafthouse, guarantees a fangtastic time will be had by all as they horrify the masses with their haunting live score to the world’s first feature-length silent vampire movie, F. W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU (1922). Atlanta is one of many stops along the way on their 2-month Nosferatu Centennial Tour, which bleeds into 49 cities across the US and Canada by Halloween. Information on this exciting and deadly event can be found here!

The Springs’ Fright Night Film series runs through Oct. 31st and their killer line-up can be found here!

ATLRetro caught up with Josh Robins, founder of the ensemble, to chat about the tour, about what inspires the Czars’ wickedly weird tunes, and what it is about film scoring that makes him tingle! And while you’re taking a gander at our little Q&A, why not check out their killer Nosferatu Tour teaser trailer here!

ATLRetro: We’re super excited that Atlanta is one of the many stops on the NOSFERATU CENTENNIAL TOUR 2022, running through Oct. 31! What can our readers look forward to during the Fright Nights film series screening of NOSFERATU at The Springs Cinema & Taphouse on Oct. 7th?

Josh Robins: We like to get the audience involved and we like to joke around.  So, there will be some interaction and humor. They’ll also see the world’s first vampire film with our soundtrack performed live by 5 players on violin, keyboards, flute, bass clarinet, guitar, bass, piano, drums, and sound effects. We also have great pants.

Can you tell us a little about the tour? We see that there have been regular band line-up changes throughout the years. Which band members will be participating in the tour?

Yes, we’re more of a collective than a band with permanent players these days.  We’ll have Phil Davidson – violin, keys, glockenspiel; Skunk Manhattan – piano, bass guitar; Louis Landry – drums, sound effects; Josh Robins – guitar, bass guitar, sound effects; Zelda Younger – flute, bass clarinet, synth.

How did Invincible Czars come together? What inspired the band’s inception?

The original line-up is LOOOONG gone. I started the band in late 2002 to try to play some of the music I’d been creating on 4-track tapes in my bedroom. I wanted to combine rock and classical instruments. The first line up didn’t last long. In 2004, the first really cohesive line-up came together. By then we were much louder and heavier, and we’d dropped a lot of the Eastern Euro influence leaning more toward metal and prog rock.

What exactly is “Czar-ified classical music?

Classical music played the way we play it — usually with some humor, weirdness, and a lot of rock.

How long have you been playing music? What did you do before? Still have a day job?

Everyone in the band has played music since childhood. We’ve all had various day jobs over the years. Most of us teach. Some are just pro musicians. I take day jobs as needed and run the band. Sometimes I go for long stretches with no day job. Otherwise, I build decks, nanny, edit video, etc. etc. between tours.

We see the band began doing silent film tours back in 2012. Can you tell us what inspired the band to start accompanying silent films?

The Alamo Drafthouse began hosting silent films with live local bands in the late 90s. I was a fan of those shows but I thought I could do a better job than most of the bands who just seemed to play their usual rock music with the movies as a backdrop. Some were great and I thought the entire concept was something that people could get into even outside of Austin. I asked the Alamo if we could do one and they said yes. We started with AELITA, QUEEN OF MARS (1924) back in July 2006.

Care to share a little about your composition process?

Hard to nail down a single process. It usually starts with one person’s idea that gets bounced around and changed by everyone either in person or by sharing files. I like to plug in my guitar and record ten ideas quickly. That’s how I came up with several of the NOSFERATU themes—just by improvising based on how I felt about images from the film. We also tend to refine through workshopping or just performing.

Which silent film is your favorite to accompany? And why?

These days it’s NOSFERATU because we’ve put so much work into it!

Are there any films you’d like to compose scores for that you haven’t yet?

HAXAN (1922), THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926), METROPOLIS (1927), FAUST (1926), SHERLOCK JR. (1924) and films made by modern day filmmakers who need music.

Which artists do you consider your influences? Have they changed over the years?

We tend to like metal, post-rock, punk, classical and prog. I love Mr. Bungle, NoMeansNo, Louis Armstrong, Neko Case, Tchaikovsky, Rev. Horton Heat. We all seem to like bands like Primus, Fantomas, Faith No More, etc. And of course, film composers like Bernard Herrman, Ennio Morricone, Wendy Carlos, and Danny Elfman.

It seems many musicians are influenced by particular musicians or a particular type of popular music (the art being the whole), but a film’s score tells a different kind of story, as accompaniments or pieces or carriers of the whole. Can you tell our readers what it is about film scores that influence you and the part they play in carrying a film?

Music can set a tone for a scene the same way dialog can and because it doesn’t necessarily clutter dialog, it can do so with or without actors talking. In real life, we feel various emotions but when you’re watching an actor (onscreen or in person) it may not be clear what the character is feeling. The music can help the audience understand how the character feels and that helps put their lines or actions in context.

Is there any particular film score that influenced you the most before you began composing your own?

It’s hard to pinpoint one. As a kid of I loved John Williams scores for STAR WARS, EMPIRE, and RETURN OF THE JEDI. I loved BEETLEJUICE and PEEWEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (both Danny Elfman) and started really paying attention to soundtracks when I was a tween back in the mid-80s.

What are your top five favorite film composers and the film scores they composed that moved you most?

Bernard Herrman (PSYCHO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST); John Williams (STAR WARS); Danny Elfman (PEEWEE’S BIG ADVENTURE); the various composers from Twlight Zone episodes from the 1960s; Henry Mancini (PETER GUNN)

What are your top five favorite RETRO films you’d recommend to our readers?

ROSEMARY’S BABY – still one of the best and surprisingly Satanic for the 60s; THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE; THE CAMERAMAN (Buster Keaton); ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Disney version); THE STING

Any other music you’d recommend to our readers?

Opposite Day – the best band in the galaxy!

What are you looking forward to most during the Fright Night Film series screening of NOSFERATU?

It’ll be our first time to play in Atlanta so I’m very excited to meet some new people and finally spend some time there!

And last but not least, what are the Invincible Czars currently working on? Anything coming out soon (after the tour of course)?

We’re finally releasing our Iron Maiden tribute “The Gospel of the Beast” this winter.  It’s been sitting unreleased for over a decade! In the spring of 2023, we’ll release a reimagined version of Modest Mussorgsky‘s “Pictures at an Exhibition” for which we combined forces with an Austin band, Bee vs. Moth! And we’ll also bring our soundtrack for DR. CALIGARI back to cities in the US and Canada in the fall of 2023.

 

 

All photos courtesy of the Invincible Czars and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Brandt Gully Spooks it up with a Fright Nights Film Series Killing it through Halloween at The Springs Cinema & Taphouse

Posted on: Sep 21st, 2022 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Photo by the Marietta Daily Journal

 

 

Brandt Gully, owner and operator of The Springs Cinema & Taphouse located in Sandy Springs, GA, delivers a haunting month of creepy cinema during their Fright Nights film series, beginning Wednesday, Sept. 21st through Halloween! Not only will you have a chance to experience a killer line-up of chilling crowd favorites (NOSFERATU anyone!?) on the big screen, but you’ll also get to experience these films in special ways, including live-accompaniment and a Q&A event with cult classic star, Catherine Mary Stewart! If you’re looking to add to your spooktacular Halloween schedule, you’ll definitely want to creep on over to The Springs, Sept. 21 – Oct. 31!

ATLRetro caught up with Brandt to chat about the Fright Nights film series, what it’s like to delve deep into the business of independent movie houses, and the importance of catering to the community, no matter what line of work you’re in. While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A, why not take a peek at the fangtastic Fright Nights line-up, here!

ATLRetro: ‘Tis the season for monsters and spooky things and what better way to celebrate than to gather in a movie theatre, perched on the edge of our seats, scarfing down popcorn spooked out of our wits?! We can’t wait for The Springs’ Fright Nights Film series! Can you tell us a little about this film retrospective?

photo by Jarrod Cecil

Brandt Gully: Fright Nights is our new horror-focused series that features nine different classics through Halloween and then will continue on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. In this first ‘spooky season’ installment, we are trying a little bit of everything ranging from a 1920s silent film classic up through 80s and 90s favorites and even a couple of offerings for kids. We are even mixing in different types of movie experiences along with the screenings—a live music experience with The Invincible Czars performing their score alongside NOSFERATU (1922), a double-feature at our Springs Drive-In where we set up a 50-foot screen in our parking lot, and capped it all off with a Halloween night screening of BEETLEJUICE (1988) in our “interactive film style” concept that we call Movie Parties. We are throwing a lot of different things at our customers during this series to see what they like so that they can help guide us with future offerings. And lastly, our series will be hosted each week by our friend Sunny Midnight, who is well known in the local film and convention community for her love and work with horror and sci-fi films.

What a killer line-up! The movie selection for this series includes classics like NOSFERATU, ‘80s cult horror with NIGHT OF THE COMET, and 90s fright favorite, SCREAM. Can you tell us about some of the special events you have lined up with a few of the screenings, including a special appearance by Catherine Mary Stewart?

While we are super excited just to be screening these upcoming horror films, we really want to offer more to our true film lovers out there with interactive movie experiences. The first couple that we have planned are going to be a lot of fun. It’s hard to find a more classic horror film than NOSFERATU, which turned 100 years old this year. The Invincible Czars out of Austin, TX have been making and performing their own soundtracks or scores to classic silent films for years, and they’re touring the US over the next several weeks doing NOSFERATU at film festivals and arthouse and indie cinemas like ours. They’ll be live and on stage in front of our screen on Friday, October 7th, accompanying the film as they rock their score with a five-member ensemble using violin, flute, bass clarinet, electric guitar, bass, piano, organ, glockenspiel, music box, drums, percussion, samples and loops. It will be a fun experience to see this movie in a whole new way.

We are also excited that Catherine Mary Stewart will be visiting us on October 14th and 15th for our screenings of NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) and THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984). Those are two iconic 80s films, and it will be a lot of fun to have her there to engage with her fans with photos and autographs as well as do some Q&A after the screenings.

Were there any films you wanted to include but couldn’t?

We originally had Felissa Rose scheduled for a live appearance for a screening of SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983), but she ended up having a filming conflict and will plan on visiting us in January or February 2023.

Can you tell our readers what it takes to put on this type of film series and what makes Fright Nights different from others around the Atlanta area?

Doing a curated series or unique screenings is a lot of work, which is why most theaters don’t do it. Our industry has gotten a bit lazy in recent years and just tends to rely on whatever Hollywood spoon feeds us to pass along to the customers. We saw what can happen with that strategy over the past couple of years when film production was halted and new releases were delayed, so we are committed to doing the work and providing cinema lovers with product we like and believe they will as well. Our goal is to make this an ongoing series, where we have enough demand to offer a weekly horror screening. In this first ‘spooky season’ installment, we are trying a little bit of everything ranging from a 1920s silent film classic up through 80s and 90s favorites and even a couple of offerings for kids. We are even mixing in different types of movie experiences in this series with traditional screenings, a live music experience with The Invincible Czars performing their score alongside NOSFERATU, a double feature at our Springs Drive-In where we set up a 50’ screen in our parking lot, and capped off with a Halloween night screening of BEETLEJUICE in our interactive film style concept that we call Movie Parties. We are throwing a lot of different things at our customers during this series to see what they like so that they can help guide us with future offerings. Since the day we opened our theater 5 years ago, it’s always been important to me to specifically tailor the experience at The Springs to our community and customers, whether it’s the film programming, the kitchen menu, or the offerings at our bar. We think listening to our customers is key to our success, and this Fright Night series is no exception.

Like indie films, indie theatres are the hidden gems in cities across the country. What are the main differences when it comes to movie-going experiences, etc. compared to your larger corporate competitors?

I like to tell our Springs team that we need to show our customers that we are trying harder than our local competitors. We definitely are, but it’s important that the customers see the result of that extra effort. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would choose a local restaurant or bar all day vs. a national chain, as long as it’s done well. I don’t think cinemas should be any different. We went to great lengths when we renovated our place and how we operate it to make sure people know we are different than the others. Even with the design, I wanted a new customer to walk in the doors and immediately see that we aren’t a chain and that this place was built and run with them specifically in mind. Our bar is a great example of this. Plenty of movie theaters have a bar these days, but it’s usually an afterthought where some corporate office across the country decided that every one of its locations should feature the same 8 beverages to meet all customer needs. I couldn’t disagree more, and we spend a ton of time listening to customers and throwing options at them and now have 18 lines of craft beer, over 60 bourbons and 20+ wines. We started with something way smaller than that but continue to evolve to make sure we are providing an ideal experience for our customers.

It’s every movie kid’s dream to own their own theatre. Is there a secret origin story on how you got hooked on movies, making you want to run your own movie house? And how were you able to make this dream come true?

I’ve been a movie lover my entire life and have so many memories from my local childhood cinema, whether it was the first movie I saw with my dad, or sneaking in to see my first rated R movie (which we don’t encourage!!!) or my first date at the movies (TOP GUN). With that being said, I can’t say that it was my dream to own and operate a place, but things have a way of working out. My entire career has been in the finance world, but in and around movies. I’ve been in thousands of theaters over my 25+ year career, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I decided to make a drastic career move and buy this place. It’s a random journey and story, but it primarily revolves around my family. My oldest of 3 daughters was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and spent most of the next 18 months in the children’s hospital fighting a terminal diagnosis. While at the hospital, I was surrounded by so many people that made my life better on a daily basis by doing their jobs with passion. That was a huge part of helping my daughter defy the odds and be a healthy young lady today, and I realized at that point that I needed to rethink my career and find something where I could get involved with the community. It’s too late to become a doctor or nurse like them and I’d be a terrible fireman or policeman, so I determined that the closest thing to what I knew was the movie business. While I won’t pretend to have the same impact as those that saved my daughter’s life, I do have the opportunity on a daily basis to be plugged into the community and help people escape the outside world for 2-3 hours and be entertained. We also do a lot of work with local schools, charities, and businesses, and it’s been a complete joy to play a small part in brightening up our community.

The Springs has been described as “fun” and “innovative.” Can you tell our readers why they should make their way to Sandy Springs to check you all out?

We will always try new things to see what gives our customers a great experience. You’ll be hard pressed to find a theater that has more diverse content; just this past month we showed films in 3 different languages, a silent film, screenings of locally made indie films, live sporting events on the big screen, retro movies at our parking lot drive-in, numerous indie studio selections, and of course the Hollywood blockbusters. If you pair that with the fact that we have a full kitchen menu, a bar with over 150 adult beverages to choose from, live music on our patio on weekends, and a host of private parties and events weekly, you’ll see that we have something for everyone.

I’m sure you watch an astounding number of films annually. What trends and directors are pushing the envelope now, in your opinion? A few film recommendations for our readers?

That’s a tough one, as I do get to see so many. I happen to love most genres, but I tend to get most excited about a lot of the indie releases that don’t get a ton of press. Certainly, the blockbusters pay most of the bills, but I always look forward to releases from some of the top indie distributors like A24 and Neon. They rarely miss in my opinion. This year’s upcoming films I’m most excited about would probably be Damian Chazelle’s BABYLON and Spielberg’s THE FABELMANS, as those guys never miss and both center around the film industry. As for overall trends with the industry, I know there is a lot of fatigue over so many comic book movies. I think some of that criticism is fair, as Hollywood does tend to milk concepts as long as they can. But I think Hollywood also does a good job of adapting based on what sells, and the success of TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022) sent a very loud message in my opinion. People of all ages absolutely loved that movie because it was well done, had Hollywood stars, had zero social or political agenda, and was simply a fun experience that can’t be replicated at home on a small TV or on a tablet. There are consistently great films with great performances being made, but I do think we need more fun and mindless films as well similar to what we grew up on.

Film and nostalgia go hand in hand, and we see that The Springs hosts many retro film series as well as drawing crowds during your retro drive-in screenings, which of course is right down our alley. What is it about the classics that keep folks coming back for more?

People sometimes just want to escape and have fun while watching a film. We don’t always have to explore complex issues or stories presented by filmmakers, as sometimes it’s enough to just laugh or scream or tear up. There are so many retro films that elicit those emotions, and people also enjoy reconnecting with these films where they may have great memories.

 

All photos courtesy of Brandt Gully and used with permission.

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

Posted on: Oct 3rd, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew10.7
Managing Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Morte

Professor Morte

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

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

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

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Step Right Up to CARNIVAL OF SOULS, Just One of a Macabre Menagerie of Movies at the Plaza Theatre’s October FrightFest

Posted on: Oct 16th, 2013 By:

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962); Dir. Herk Harvey; Starring Candace Hilligoss and Sidney Berger; Friday, Oct. 18 @ 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 19 @ 5:30 p.m. & 7:20 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

During the Plaza Theatre’s week-long celebration of classic horror, a number of legendary films are being shown, including NOSFERATU, WHITE ZOMBIE, FRANKENSTEIN and THE INVISIBLE MAN. But sandwiched in there is a film that dwelled in relative obscurity for years before home video led to its rediscovery and reappraisal: Herk Harvey’s incredible CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

The film’s plot is deceptively slim. Church organist Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) and her two girlfriends are challenged to a drag race over a rickety bridge, and plunge into the river below. While the police drag the river for the remains, Mary emerges with no knowledge of how she survived. Upon leaving the town of Lawrence, Kansas, for Utah, she starts experiencing supernatural events that grow in intensity. She sees haunting visions of a ghoulish, pasty-faced man everywhere she goes. A nearby abandoned carnival pavilion seems to be pulling her toward it. And, eventually, she begins experiencing states where she becomes literally detached from her surroundings—nobody can see or hear her. These all seem to be leading her to an inevitable fate, as she is continually beckoned to take her rightful place among the dead in the Carnival of Souls.

The bones of the story may seem familiar if you’re a fan of old-time radio or THE TWILIGHT ZONE. A similar tale was first told on THE ORSON WELLES SHOW in 1941. “The Hitch-Hiker” took place on a cross-country drive, after the narrator (Ronald, played by Welles) has a car accident following a blow-out. After getting his tire fixed, he sees the same haunting hitchhiker motioning to him at various points on his journey. Nobody he encounters sees the strange man, yet the hitcher continues to appear along his route. At a stop, he calls home only to receive the news that he never survived that accident, and realizes that the hitcher is Death himself, waiting for him to accept his fate and move on. The story was a radio staple for years, and was later adapted by Rod Serling for TWILIGHT ZONE, with Inger Stevens in the lead role of “Nan.”

The story of a person who should have died—who may, in fact, be dead as the story proceeds—is not an original one, and has been seen many times before and since CARNIVAL OF SOULS. From Ambrose Bierce’s 1890 short story “An Encounter at Owl Creek Bridge” to 1990’s JACOB’S LADDER and 2001’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, and from 1983’s SOLE SURVIVOR to 1999’s THE SIXTH SENSE, the basic story proves to be still-fertile ground.

But few have done it as well as CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

Herk Harvey, an industrial filmmaker based in Lawrence, came up with the film’s premise as he passed the then-closed Saltair Pavilion on his way to Salt Lake City. To set his film apart, he claims to have wanted to achieve “the look of a Bergman, the feel of a Cocteau.” His atmospheric lighting and high-contrast cinematography come about as close to that as one can achieve on a $33,000 budget. The film is one of those rare “dreamlike” movies that earns its name. The looming camera angles and the oppressive feeling of dread that accompanies her strange visions translate Mary’s sense of feeling trapped in some otherworldly web to the screen with incredible effectiveness. CARNIVAL’s organ score also adds to the disorienting effect of the film. The textual reason for its presence is an explicit reference to Mary’s profession, but its unconscious association is with silent film. And the intrusion of something from another time or place (the specter of death, the abandoned pavilion) into our present is one of the main conflicts that defines the atmosphere of the movie.

Lee Strasberg-trained star Candace Hilligoss also deserves strong praise, as she carries the entire weight of this film. She has the task of making the character of Mary Henry—who is extremely distancing and unsympathetic—into a character that we fear for. Hers is not a character that we immediately identify with. Everyone that reaches out to her gets pushed away (some deservedly so), and yet we eventually identify with her growing need to connect. As her supernatural experiences become more and more frequent, she suddenly finds that she needs these people. They’re at least less unnerving than that strange man she keeps seeing.

The movie was relegated to the bottom half of double bills upon release, and while late-night broadcasts inspired a small cult of film buffs to take cues from it, CARNIVAL’s quiet approach to horror kept the film from spreading far outside those numbers. It wasn’t until 1989, with the debut of the film on VHS, that people really began to take notice. New prints were struck and screened at art-houses and film festivals across the country, and Herk Harvey—who had continued to be a successful industrial movie maker and film instructor—was finally able to see his only feature film gain the kind of respect and acclaim that it had long deserved.

Herk Harvey joined the Carnival in 1996.

This is not a movie to be slept on. It’s a small, haunting masterpiece of horror cinema that was almost forgotten. It’s the kind of re-discovery that you wish would happen more often. Feel that pull? It’s the call of the Plaza, drawing you into this CARNIVAL OF SOULS. Care to dance?

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/Retro Review: Sex, Blood and Rock n Roll: Jesus Christ Superstar meets Grand Guignol in Not-To-Be-Missed Dracula The Rock Opera

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2012 By:

Dracula and his wives in DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages; L-R: Jessika Cutts, Rob Thompson, Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby.

In this Week’s Kool Kat, we break the rules and give it to more than one person – those crazy kids in the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra.  Don’t miss DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA before it closes this Sunday, October 14 at 7 Stages. 

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA melds JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with Grand Guignol in a production that not only rocks hard and delivers a horrific, non-twinkly Nosferatu, but also is surprisingly true to Bram Stoker‘s original novel. Not to be missed, this DRACULA brings the rock opera genre into the 21st century with the energy, musical, acting and staging quality of an off-Broadway find. Seeing it is like discovering HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH in 1998 or THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a tiny upstairs theater in London in 1973. But hey, wait a second, this is Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theatre, not New York, not London, not even LA or Chicago. And it’s not Rob Zombie, but Rob Thompson. How the HELL did that happen?

The short answer is years of hard work by the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra, a motley crew of badass tattoo-covered Atlanta musicians, stage professionals and grassroots performance artists whom you haven’t heard of most likely unless you live here. If you don’t live in Atlanta, you probably won’t believe this gang of music misfits, most with ultra-light theater experience, has produced a libretto, lyrics, acting and staging that set DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA tooth and claw above community theater.Maybe you’ll be more convinced when I point out that they did have the benefit of Del Hamilton, a seasoned internationally acclaimed director, to guide them. DRACULA will be the last of 80 shows which he has directed before he steps down as artistic director of 7 Stages, building with Faye Allen, a reputation for this company as one of Atlanta’s most edgy. It’s a testament to Hamilton’s vision that he was willing to take on a venture in the pop culture/horror arena as his swan song (though he will continue to stay active in 7 Stages). Clearly Hamilton drove the cast and production crew to their highest potential, ably assisted by longtime Atlanta actor Justin Wellborn, who returned from Los Angeles to work on DRACULA.

Harker (Chris Love) receives a dire warning from a gypsy woman (Naomi Lavender).

In JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the son of God is reborn as a rock star, and so likewise is the iconic vampire dark lord of fiction as Rob Thompson emerges on stage, dressed as Vlad the Impaler with a long dark mane, a Gothic red velvet vest so pointy it looks like it could cut you, and tight black leather pants. At first he is bending his fingers and arching his back, creating a shadow image creepily reminiscent of Max Schreck in the iconic silent NOSFERATU (1922). But soon recharged by the promise of a new feeding ground in England, he is re-uniformed in a blood-red cape, red and black boot chaps and a sword. With his petulance, cockiness and powerful voice, Jim Morrison meets Ozzy as Thompson emotes on the power of blood to a heavy beat right out of Black Sabbath.  This Count is no romantic sparkly vampire, but a black metal superstar of evil whose immortality is dependent on the death of humanity.

When ATLRetro reviewed the first act, then titled HAUS VON DRACUL, during a trial run last year, we called that review “Dracula Superstar but Love is the Answer.” That tagline still holds true in that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is unique among Dracula dramatizations for having a strong/non-wimpy rendition of Jonathan Harker in the transcendent voice and passionate mannerisms of African-American actor/musician Chris Love. With a lion’s mane of long black hair, Love is already a daring visual choice for a role too often played close-cropped and straight-laced. Now Thompson has caught up with Love, but Love, as Harker, continues to embody the everyman (us by proxy) as he arrives on stages and declares in a moving opening solo that “a good man is a true man”  and later a stranger in a strange land, “all alone away from Mina.” Bram Stoker’s novel is written in the epistolary form with characters expressing their ebbing terror through diary entries and letters, and this rock opera masterfully embraces that format, often taking lines directly from the book and making the audience a confidante. In Love’s hands, Harker’s predicament gets progressively lonelier, reminds us that the vampire is evil and not to be embraced, progressively raising the stakes and easing the first act towards a sense of doom with no hope and escape.

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston, center) and Lucy's three suitors, Quincey (Shane Morton), Seward (Chaz Pofahl) and Arthur (Jed Drummond) make a "vein" attempt to save Lucy's (Jessika Cutts) life with blood transfusions.

Beyond Dracula’s tight leather pants, the “sex” side of rock n roll comes center stage early in Harker’s seduction by Dracula’s three wives, played to a perfect sirenic pitch by Muleskinner MacQueen Trio chanteuse Naomi Lavender (who also plays a gypsy woman and Mina), Madeline Brumby (known in the neo-exploitation movie world for her breakout role in also-Atlanta-produced DEAR GOD! NO!) and Jessika Cutts (who also plays Lucy). Their breasts show through white diaphanous robes, a clear homage to the sexy female vampires of Universal, Hammer and the lesbian vampire B-movie genre, and this production ups their otherworldly quality by adding exotic Eastern European headpieces and dance moves reminiscent of a Kali ritual. The actresses achieve a chemistry in their ethereal voices and interplay that only heightens the erotic tension and also their profound loneliness, trapped in the castle with the Count.

The first act showcases how to effectively use minimalist sets, lighting and an ensemble cast. No coach is needed with just Harker sitting vulnerably on steps while a mad driver thrashes a long whip, a small herd of humans outfitted in haphazard fur pelts furiously keeping pace to a metal beat. Less is more is also well-executed in the similarly soundtracked (the beat always gets heavy when Dracula is at his most bloodthirsty) ship scene conveying the hopelessness of the captain (Rick Atkinson) trying in vain (vein?) to keep his ship afloat in a stormy sea while the Count devours his crew in one of the play’s bloodiest scenes (watch out, front row!).

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston), Vampire Slayer!

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA has to introduce a lot of new characters rapidly in the second act, and this task is mostly achieved well, including characters who appear in the book but often excluded from screen and stage. In a poppy update of Cole Porter’s “Tom, Dick and Harry” from KISS ME KATE, Lucy (Jessika Cutts) enthusiastically emotes to her best friend Mina (Naomi Lavendar) about her three suitors, earnest, bowler-hat-wearing Arthur (musician Jed Drummond in his stage debut); Dr. Seward (Charlotte, NC-based actor Chaz Pofahl), who runs the asylum (how romantic!); and Quincey, an American cowboy played with appropriate “home-on-the-range” swagger and just the right nod of humor by Atlanta horror Renaissance man-about-town Shane Morton (Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, DEAR GOD! NO!, Gargantua, etc.) against type – in other words, more country than rock (Note: because of Shane also being the mastermind of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Arnie Lowder is now playing this role Thurs-Sat for the last few weeks of the run).

We already have a sense of Mina from Harker’s songs about her. Like in so many Dracula dramatizations, she could be just a romantic foil and vampire victim but fortunately Lavender’s unique voice – Kate Bush meets Janis Joplin, with a twist of Jane Wiedlin?! – and sheer dynamic energy forestall that possibility, ultimately ensuring she will be an equal to the otherwise male vampire-hunting team. Renfield’s crazed obsessiveness with Dracula is portrayed with a manic frenzy and an appropriately metalhead of frizzy curly hair in a breakout performance by Rick Atkinson, who has been with the L5P Rockstar Orchestra since its first production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in the mid 2000s.

Meanwhile, Dracula in London is more of an omnipresent villain, now re-energized by a city full of fresh blood into full throttle rock star and re-attired in a black leather jacket (think actual suit jacket – Steve Tyler, not Sid Vicious). Fortunately Thompson and company recognize that he needs a similarly rocked-out foil not a dawdling elderly professor. Not your mama’s Van Helsing, this vampire hunter in purple is Doctor Strange meets Freddie Mercury. Jeff Langston, of hard-rocking Atlanta-based bands Ledfoot Messiah and AM Gold,  is just the hard-edged leader to unite Lucy’s triad of suitors to try and save first her life (no, they don’t succeed despite a steampunky transfusion gizmo) and then Mina’s as the Count makes them his inevitable victims. Ultimately, the intrepid group must travel all the way back to Transylvania to finish the battle, and as for the end, if you’ve read the book, well, you know it. And if you haven’t, you may well be surprised.

Rob Thompson as Count Dracula/Vlad the Impaler.

Ultimately that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is bound and determined to be tightly faithful to Stoker’s novel is both its strength and an occasional weakness, however, because occasionally that fealty causes some dramatic challenges. For example, after act one, it seems impossible when Mina receives a letter from Jonathan Harker that he has somehow escaped Castle Dracula. (Maybe a side performance showing Harker escape in pantomime might clarify?). Another scene that felt like it needed a little more work was a city scene in which Harker spies the Count for the first time in London stalking female victims. But these really are only small complaints in what overall is a fantastic production. Let’s hope for an encore soon and more runs well beyond Atlanta.

All photos courtesy of 7 Stages and DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA and used with permission.

 

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