Writer-director Don Mancini, creator of the Chucky horror franchise and director of Seed of Chucky, after accepting his Eyegore Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Horror Genre at Universal Studios on October 5. Flanking the director are, clockwise from right to left, screenwriter Mike Werb (Face/Off, The Mask), producer Corey Sienega (Seed of Chucky and the upcoming Martian Child), Brian Roskum, actress Debbie Carrington, and yours truly, DC. (Photo by Damian Siegel.)
It was a dark and stormy night. No, actually, it was a typically bright, somewhat overly warm Southern California afternoon in 2006, several months after I’d written a lukewarm review of Seed of Chucky. I had raved in the review about the movie’s sensibility, especially as embodied by its stylized, ready-for-anything star Jennifer Tilly, and, in a classic case of almost entirely missing the point, gave the movie excessively short shrift for not being particularly scary even as I recognized it was funny and not just a little daft. So I’m looking through my e-mail that sunny afternoon and up pops this notice from Earthlink telling me there’s been a request to deliver an e-mail from Don Mancini, and should it be allowed? Hmm, thought I, that name sounds really familiar. I clicked on it and was treated to a very nice note from the writer-director of Seed of Chucky himself thanking me for my kind words, and even for some of the backhanded compliments and criticisms I leveled at the movie. Don also thanked me for consistently writing about horror films without the usual condescending tone or fanboy gushing with which the subject is typically greeted in a lot of film writing.
Not long after that Don and I met up for coffee and killed almost four hours of a workday afternoon talking movies, film criticism, families and a whole lot of other fun subjects and subsequently became good friends. We’ve seen a lot of movies together since that first meeting—I credit him with dragging me and my wife and daughters to Hairspray, which fast became one of our favorites of the year, and we also surprised ourselves by liking Hostel Part II—and I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone in the movie business who has seemed as genuine, good-natured and smart as he, with fewer pretensions and an ego the size of which suggests he’s in any business except show business.
Recently Don was the recipient of the Eyegore Award for outstanding achievement in the horror genre, and this Tuesday night he, along with star Jennifer Tilly, will be hosting a screening of Seed of Chucky, followed by a Q& A at the Egyptian Theater, the Halloween offering from OutFest, the gay-themed film series sponsored by the American Cinematheque and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). To celebrate the most horror-ful time of the year, and to celebrate Don’s award and the upcoming screening (tickets are still available but are selling more briskly than expected, so get yours now), Don and I recently sat down at Dupar’s in Studio City for another one of those long workday chats. However, this time I brought a digital recording device. There’s a whole lot more conversation than just this first segment, so I’ll be posting the interview in segments over the next week or so. We touched on everything from the movies of the year, to the state of the horror genre (as evinced by this past weekend’s Saw IV grosses, it’s apparently still alive and kicking), to critics and criticism, and finally what’s coming up next for the writer-director. But in the first segment we talk about Seed of Chucky-- how the movie was received, the philosophy behind the direction of the Chucky series, and what it’s like to be an award-winning director.
DC: So how did the Seed of Chucky screening at the Egyptian come about?
DM: It was actually proposed by my friend, screenwriter Mike Werb (Face/Off, The Mask). He has connections to OutFest. Every year at the festival proper he teaches seminars, and he had suggested Seed of Chucky to them, which is probably, along with Nightmare on Elm Street 2, the gayest mainstream horror movie ever made. He thought it would be appropriate for them to show in their OutFest Wednesdays series. Only they changed it because Wednesday is Halloween night and I said, “You’re having a specifically gay screening of this movie, and all of the gay guys are gonna be down on Santa Monica Boulevard that night. I know I am! I’m not going to the screening!” So they moved it to Tuesday, October 30. But that’s really how it came about—it was Mike who proposed it.
DC: It’s interesting to me that the movie has had this extended life—it was a hit on DVD and groups like GLAAD are sponsoring screenings of it. Yet the movie didn’t do well theatrically. What’s it like to have the movie carry on like this?
DM: It’s really nice, particularly since the theatrical release was not very successful. That was disappointing, to say the least. But it’s nice to see that there are people who appreciate it. But I think Chucky has always been a fairly cultish phenomenon. It is, obviously, a mainstream movie, and the series has been successful in that regard, but it’s never been as successful as Freddy (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Michael Meyers (Halloween). But I also think that—I like to think, anyway, that it’s a little off the beaten path from those movies too. It’s not as formulaic as those movies.
DC: Horror is a malleable genre—you can fit a lot of stuff into the form. But what you demonstrated with the last two movies certainly is that it is a series that lends itself to experimentation with themes and even form.
DM: Particularly because the characters are dolls. Dolls naturally lend themselves to satire and parody. We weren’t doing that in the first couple of movies, but certainly with the last two-- Bride of Chucky and Seed-- we really delved into that. Last night I went to the Ahmanson and saw Avenue Q-- hilarious, by the way. It’s basically a parody of Sesame Street. You’ve got these Bert & Ernie and Cookie Monster-type characters, but as if they’re living not courtesy of the Children’s Television Workshop, but in the actual streets of New York City. These characters fall in love, have sex—so you see puppets-- Muppets, basically—having sex. Bert of Bert & Ernie, we always knew he was a fag, and it turns out he is! (Laughing) I mean, it sounds obvious, but because puppets are distortions of human beings anyway means you can plug them into different kinds of situations that are ripe for satire and parody.
DC: I imagine you can get away with a lot more because you’re already dealing with something that is exaggerated beyond belief.
DM: Yes. The subtext of Seed of Chucky is domestic abuse. If you extrapolate what’s really going on in that story, it’s a very sad story. It’s about family discord-- a child who doesn’t fit in, who starts out fairly innocent and is completely warped by two crazy parents who are pulling him in different directions. You could tell that story in so many different ways. You could do it on the Lifetime network as a tragedy. But because they’re puppets, you can laugh at it.
DC: I remember reading someone who referred to it as The Great Santini done as a horror comedy.
DM: Yeah, it is, kind of.
DC: There are not too many movie series where you can mess around with the themes and the style like that, especially after having been so well-established.
DM: I just didn’t want to keep making the same movie over and over again. And we could have. Look at the various installments of other horror franchises. Sometimes some of the latter ones are good, but they all tend to be generally the same kind of movie and faithfully follow the formula. I just wanted to shake that up a bit.
DC: Given the way the movie was received, do you think you took extra heat because of that?
DM: Well, I think that probably Bride of Chucky-- And I think you prefer Seed to Bride.
DM: I think most people, certainly among the fans, prefer Bride to Seed. It might be for them Bride represented the best balance of the comedy and horror elements. In one of the many essays you’ve written about Bride and Seed-- and bless you for that (Laughing) —you had said that for you Bride still felt a little chained to that formula, which I think is basically true. I mean, you’ve got the teens on the run and stuff like that. I think that Seed is so bizarre and silly, I guess—And I love silly. For a lot of people “silly” and “camp” are pejorative terms, and I don’t necessarily see it that way. I think there are a lot of great movies that could be described that way. But I think that tendency turns off the core audience of early 20-something males, who I think really come, for the most part, to these movies with the attitude, “I dare you to scare me.” And they want the movie to take on that dare successfully and fulfill those expectations. Consequently, I think they were pretty bewildered by Seed of Chucky because it’s not a scary movie. But to me Seed of Chucky is no less “scary” than Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive. Those movies were openly silly, parodistic, satirical, meta-minded horror movies, and I wanted to make a movie in that mold.
DC: It’s interesting to think about why a fan base would have no trouble with Evil Dead 2 yet resist accepting Seed of Chucky.
DM: Interestingly, none of the Evil Dead movies did well at the box office. I don’t know how the grosses compare to Seed of Chucky, but movies like this tend not to do well at the box office. James Gunn’s movie Slither is another good example. And that movie got really, really good reviews, which mine, for the most part, did not. And it was silly, and I didn’t find it particularly scary, but I definitely liked it. That’s a movie which was much more embraced by the horror community and the critics. However, at the box office, it didn’t even do as well as Seed of Chucky. Horror comedy is a tricky thing.
DC: The genre itself tends to be pretty conservative. You set up a situation with characters, they’re threatened, some of them are killed, but eventually the order is usually restored at some point. I don’t know if “transgressive” is the right word, but movies that are doing away with conventions like that are asking you to accept that certain elements of the genre are not the stable, reliable signposts that you think they are. Maybe horror fans are less comfortable facing that.
DM: Also, Seed of Chucky is really gay. It’s got this gender-confused character at its center, and we’ve got Jennifer Tilly and John Waters—it’s just a very explicit gay sensibility. I think that’s also something that maybe turns off that young, straight, male— (Laughing)
DC: Well, regardless of what anyone says, now we get to refer to you as “award-winning writer-director” Don Mancini.
DM: The EyeGore! (Laughs).
DC: What do you think about that?
Onstage at the Eyegore Awards: the Eyegore Award equivalent of the Golden Globe Girl presides over (from left) Michael Berryman, Don Mancini, Shawnee Smith, Corey Feldman, David Arquette and Sherri Moon Zombie
DM: It was really fun! I have a feeling that, of everyone who was up there, it meant the most to me! (Laughs) Well, except maybe for Corey Feldman! I’ve been nominated for a couple of Saturns, which is kinda cool. But always a bridesmaid—never won. I’ve been nominated for a couple of Fangoria magazine Chainsaw Awards, a couple of MTV awards, but I never won. So even with the knowledge that this is just this semi-bogus thing that was created by Universal as a marketing tool to help promote their Halloween Horror Nights, I’ll take it! (Laughs) Where do I show up?
DC: It was fun to see everyone on that stage.
DM: It really was. I had such a good time. It was really fun to meet Shawnee (Smith, who also received an Eyegore that night for her work in the Saw series). You told me a lot about her. She was really nice. David Arquette (accepting on behalf of his sister, Patricia) actually came up to me and introduced himself, because I had worked with (his brother) Alexis on Bride. Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes) was really nice!
DC: My best friend used to work in a bookstore in Santa Monica when he first moved to Los Angeles in the early ‘80s, and he said Michael Berryman used to come in twice a week and talk to him all the time.
DM: It’s really interesting—I find this to be true among, for lack of a better term, the horror community—people who make the movies, act in the movies and are fans of the movies and cover the movies, it is a genre that inspires such devotion. The point that you have magazines—I mean, you don’t see Romantic Comedy magazine, that genre’s version of Fangoria, although the idea of that is quite funny to imagine. This genre inspires such cultish devotion, and I find that the people who are into that, who get sucked up into that vortex, tend to be really nice. I’ve worked in the movie business for 20 years now and I’ve met a lot of people, and some of them are not very nice. But the people who are involved in horror—it’s kind of remarkable. People who make horror movies, who like horror movies, there’s kind of like a brotherhood. You met my friend Stacy Wilson the other night. Stacy is a journalist who specializes in the horror world. She writes reviews—Another critic, by the way, who didn’t love Seed of Chucky. But it’s like our whole enjoyment of all of this kind of transcends any one person’s opinion about any one movie. It’s fun to be a part of that world, and I really felt that the other night. Even if I hadn’t been one of the honored, I would have had a great time just to be there and see all of those people. I had not met Shawnee Smith before, or David Arquette, or Michael Berryman, or Sherri Zombie. (Pauses) That sounds so strange. “Hi, I’m Sherri Zombie.” (Laughs) “But you’re so pretty!”
Next: Don Mancini talks about critics, film criticism and the movies of 2007.
Monday, October 29, 2007
For those of you who may be Withnail and I cultists awaiting the return of the two down-and-out antiheroes of Bruce Robinson’s brilliant 1988 comedy, the wait is over. Sort of. Actors Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann have finally found occasion to share the screen again, but it’s not a Withnail sequel. Instead, it’s a short film directed by Duncan Wellaway entitled Always Crashing in the Same Car. The film, as well as the accompanying London Times article from which the movie can be downloaded, was produced in conjunction with the British Film Institute and leads of with the familiar Handmade Films logo, the company founded by George Harrison which provided funds for many of the best British movies of the past 25 years, including The Long Good Friday, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Mona Lisa, Time Bandits and, yes, Withnail & I. The movie can also be accessed via the McGann Brothers web site. Wherever you see it, see it. It’s a stunner, and the boys are as good together as they ever were, albeit in a completely different context.
(Thanks to David Hudson and GreenCine Daily for another invaluable heads-up.)
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 12:44 AM
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
(Another in the ongoing series looking at the individual movies that make up The SLIFR 100.)
James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein is just about everything that the endless parade of sequels to the iconic Universal horror films of the ‘30s and ‘40s were inevitably not. It remains true to the moorings of old dark houses and Promethean unease provided by Mary Shelley herself, seen in an opening cameo played by Elsa Lanchester, who will reappear rather famously later on in the film. In fact, those old dark houses, and moss-covered crypts, and shadowy laboratories, have a primal visual weight and power provided by director Whale, whose ability to imbue that imagery with the elements of his own sardonic personality masterfully balanced heightened black comedy with an overall tone of moral transgression that conveys with utter conviction the insistent chill of the dead. Where subsequent Universal sequels like House of Dracula and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman were often just simple, satisfying retreads or smorgasbords of creatures jammed to the creaking rafters of the old castle, monster mashes with little rationale beyond Saturday matinee spectacle, The Bride of Frankenstein dares to invest real emotional power in the continuation of its story of a scientist flirting with supplanting God (and the inevitable madness that comes packaged with such arrogance) and the creature he unleashes, who turns out to be far more articulate in his needs and wants, and his desire to understand the precarious landscape of existence which he occupies.
The Monster, in the previous 1931 film, was certainly a figure of sympathy, but had to be ultimately understood as one ruled by the murderous impulses that coursed through his stitched-together frame at the command of a brain which offers him no comfort or coherent way to process the humanity that surrounds him, that runs in fear from him. (And the one who doesn’t run in fear, the little girl at the well, is dealt a most horrendous fate.) But in Bride, the rage inside the Monster’s brain abates long enough to establish tentative relationships with people he encounters while loose from Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments—mostly tenderly with the blind man in the woods (an encounter leavened by Whale’s sardonic pranksterism at the expense of the old man’s religiosity), and most treacherously with Dr. Praetorius (the eager and funny Ernest Thesiger), who manipulates the creature by promising to give him a bride, and uses the creature’s newly inspired visions of companionship to strong-arm Frankenstein (Colin Clive) into helping Praetorius deliver on his promise.
When Lanchester finally reappears in the laboratory as the Bride, bolts of white lightning streaking through her molded woolen hive of hair, eyes ablaze with unfathomable anger, delivering a hiss that could shatter laboratory glass, and will shatter at least one heart, the movie adds to the already powerful reserve of empathy for the Creature, who cannot fathom why he may not have someone like himself to spend his new life with. For this is, unfortunately, too much to ask. Holding his arms out to his potential mate, muttering his plea for understanding (“Woman… friend?”), the Creature becomes a crushing spectacle of rejection, one undoubtedly understood by the thousands of fumbling young boys of my generation who grew up absorbing every frame of this masterpiece under the guidance of Forrest J. Ackerman and Famous Monsters of Filmland. The pain of the Creature, which causes him to literally bring down the house on this ghastly parody of the marriage ceremony, is never, in all of the Universal monster cycle, more instantly, justifiably accessible than at this moment. The Bride of Frankenstein ends on a note of both triumph and despair—the Creature accepts his fate of loneliness, but forces Praetorius and the Bride to experience it with him. “We belong dead!” he growls as he pulls the switch that brings the laboratory to crumbled ruin. The movie, of course, insists on giving Frankenstein and his bride the final shot—embracing, saved from death, superficially triumphant over their circumstances, but also primed for a lifetime of anguish and, in later films, generations of descendants who will insist on retracing the blasphemous steps of their ancestor. Frankenstein would go on to create new life in subsequent Universal sequels, but director Whale, in congress with Karloff’s brilliant portrayal, would assure that their achievement in The Bride of Frankenstein, a masterful blend of supreme emotional resonance and mordant wit, truly bringing life to the dead, would never be equaled.
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 12:20 AM
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
“To some, The Big Lebowski is just a movie. To others it is the movie. When we decided to get some friends together at a tiny bowling alley in Kentucky to drink White Russians and celebrate our favorite movie, Lebowski fest was born. We discovered we were not alone, and fellow fans from around the world, also known as ‘Achievers,’ started coming out of the woodwork.
We, the Bums who started Lebowski Fest, have been given the modest task of assembling a fan book for what we feel is the greatest movie of all time (condolences, Citizen Kane). At times, we felt we were out of our element, but we went out and achieved anyway.”
-- The Bums, from the front inside jacket flap of I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski
Most everyone who has come to hold the Coen Brothers’ comedy The Big Lebowski dear has a story about their first encounter with the movie. No matter who’s telling it, it’s basically the same story, a fable of initial reluctance or confusion, topped off by a dawning realization of the movie’s brilliance. And this story gets told many times in the new fan book I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski, written—nah, compiled by the Bums, a.k.a. Bill Green, Ben Peskoe, Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt, the originators of Lebowski Fest. This is a book that proudly contains everything you need to know about the movie, as well as much you didn’t need to know about how to incorporate dialogue from the film into just about 50% of your everyday utterances. (The book's own Dialogue Incorporation Percentage hovers at about 78%.) The story of my first Lebowski experience, which is echoed often in the chapter devoted to some of the movie’s most rabid fans (comedian/actor Patton Oswalt, animator Craig McCracken, skateboarder Tony Hawk among many others), goes something like this.
The wife and I, looking for a hearty laugh back on the weekend of the movie’s initial theatrical release (March 6, 1998), decided to check the movie out based on some pretty good reviews we had read (though reports out of Sundance a couple of months earlier were decidedly mixed). We enjoyed it, and one of the things we most enjoyed was the apparent perversity of Joel and Ethan Coen following up the chilly, Oscar-winning black comedy of Fargo, what everyone supposed would be their ticket to big-time Hollywood respectability, with a comedy that seemed almost tossed-off in its casualness, a movie as underachieving, scrappy and shaggy as its antihero, Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski. As for the movie itself, the operative word seemed to be “odd,” not in any grossly self-conscious way, but in a way that seemed perplexing, almost in-jokey.
Over the course of the next year we kept running into people who kept insisting (in a non-aggressive way, man) on the undeniable hilarity of The Big Lebowski, and I kept repeating that, though I liked it, it seemed like kind of a minor effort. Then, sometime in 1999, the wife and I rented it just to see if we’d missed something in the theater. Apparently we had. We both watched the movie through tears of laughter, appreciating the subtlety within the over-the-top comic histrionics of John Goodman as Walter, the abiding core of humor within Jeff Bridges’ infinitely empathetic and put-upon Dude, the far-reaching excellence of the supporting cast, the deliberately confusing plot that parodies Raymond Chandler through a prism of deadbeat philosophizing and generational ideals left dangling like the strands of plot that lead nowhere, even the playfully mocking vision of Los Angeles as a city where a lone tumbleweed can survive, much like the Dude survives, just by taking a tour wherever the winds take it/him, an oddly comforting thought on a night when many of the places the movie shows us are literally on fire. Suddenly The Big Lebowski made sense, and it wasn’t long before we began urging friends and coworkers to join the club. Since then I’ve made lots of friends, mostly in traffic, and most memorably at a Dutch Bros. coffee shop drive-thru in Salem, Oregon last summer, when fellow Achievers working inside noticed the bumper sticker on my minivan, which says simply “Mark it 8, Dude,” and responded with near-Pentecostal enthusiasm.
A book like I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski, one that attempts to capture the essence, and offer explanations for the cult phenomenon surrounding a film, can often be one of the first signs that the cult, or at least its freshness, has jumped the shark, and this book doesn't entirely avoid that pitfall. Naturally, it’s not a book of criticism—it’s a fan book, with sections on How to Dude-ify your Office Space or Living Space that are pretty amusing, more so the more familiar you are with the film. And the large section of the book devoted to interviews with the actors—everyone from Jeff Bridges down to Jim Hoosier (Liam, the Jesus’ bowling partner), Asia Carrera (premier porn star who has a cameo in the Jackie Treehorn production Logjammin’) and Jack Kehler (Marty, the Dude’s artistically aspiring landlord)—is great fun, hampered only by the Bums’ lack of interviewing finesse. They are obviously operating off of the same set of index cards for every interviewee, so at some point everyone gets asked some variation on “How do you explain this movie’s success or its devoted fan base?” or “How did you get involved with the movie?” or “What is it about the movie that resonates with people?” These are not uninteresting questions, just questions that needed to be mixed up a bit more with something more derived from left field.
The best stuff comes when the Bums get out of the way of the likes of John Turturro, who earnestly describes his idea for a sequel based on his character, the sex offender and bowler extraordinaire Jesus Quintana, or Goodman, who leads the book into a hilarious description of how some of the movie’s famously profane dialogue ended up sounding on basic cable (“So you see what happens, Larry, when you find a stranger in the Alps?!”) For their part, the Coens, no strangers to refusing to participate in the interpretation, analysis or exegesis of their own work, sidestepped any participation in the book. “They have neither our blessing nor our curse” is the one quote in the book attributed to them, as much as an out-and-out endorsement as the fan authors could have ever hoped for.
There is an excellent short section in the book devoted to the story of the development of the movie from box-office disappointment to grass-roots phenomenon (“Are We Alone, or How The Big Lebowski Became a Cult Classic”) as well as a look at the origins of the Lebowski Fest itself (“If You Will It, Dude, It Is No Dream”). (This year’s L.A. Lebowski Fest was held on October 12 & 13. Here’s a look at last year’s, which I attended.) And for the obsessive completist, there is a glossary of Lebowski terminology ("In the Parlance of Our Times"), a guide to the various Los Angeles-area locations seen in the film, and even a handy reference section (“Your side guide to watching The Big Lebowski”) with significant moments, oddities and trivial bits linked to the hour, minute and second where the event appears on the original Polygram DVD release. (“For those of you on the Universal DVD, please add 20 seconds,” offer our very thurra* hosts.)
But, as an unabashed fan of the movie, the nagging feeling I was left with after finishing I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski was one of possible overexposure. It is undeniably amusing to read about other people whose fanatical devotion to the movie far outstrips my own. Yet I closed the back cover wanting either more in terms of actual writing and thought about what’s happening in the movie, or to have been left alone with my own perceptions, about the movie and the cult. In this way, the Coens reticence to offer DVD audio commentary or any kind of ascension to the various theories floating around about their work, this film included, can be seen as the ultimate respect for fans of their movies—they are willing to let us do all the heavy lifting when it comes to assessing what those movies mean to us. And certainly Mssrs. Green, Peskoe, Russell and Shuffitt have come up with an answer to what The Big Lebowski means to them, an answer that will likely be shared by hordes of White Russian-drinking, robe-wearing, carpet-obsessed cultists who will eat up their book even faster than I did.
In the end, however, I cannot help but sympathize with freelance journalist and uber-fan Oliver Benjamin, whose greatest Achievement is the founding of a faith based on the tenets of Dude-ism, “the world’s slowest-growing religion.” Benjamin, currently takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a self-described male version of Maude Lebowski, the pretentious, marginal artist played by Julianne Moore in the film (* whose affected accent has her pronouncing words like “thorough” in the exacting and extremely precious manner referenced above). And though Benjamin is an unapologetic fan of the movie (he’s seen it about 15 times), he admits, “I try not to watch it too often, as I’m terrified one day I’ll finally get sick of it.” I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski is a lot of fun, but afterward you may feel like taking a sabbatical from the film in the name of preserving the freshness of your own experience with it. It made me remind myself of the greatness at the other end of the Coen Brothers spectrum, their rather more straightforward, though even more complicated, shot at noir, the Dashiell Hammett-inflected Miller’s Crossing, and want to go running straight into its trenchcoated arms. Am I wrong?
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 10:12 PM
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Another in the ongoing series looking at the individual movies that make up the SLIFR Top 100.
Director Terence Fisher began his 21-year run at Hammer Films in 1952 with a film noir entitled The Last Page*. But in 1957 he kicked off a fruitful 17-year stretch by doing nothing less than fleshing out the template for the studio’s greatest financial and artistic successes, which would send them all on an impressive run of lurid yet stately horror films whose budgets were rarely betrayed by their production values. Hammer began life in the mid-30’s, the inspiration of two father-son pairs, James and Enrique Carreras and Will and Anthony Hinds. They specialized in under-the-radar low-budget fare that touched on all tones and subject matter, but found their greatest success since the studio’s inception when they released 1955’s science fiction thriller The Quatermass X-periment (known in the U.S. as The Creeping Unknown). In the wake of a successful sequel, Quatermass II (aka Enemy from Space), Hammer wisely decided to focus more or less solely on horror and science fiction output. They embarked upon what would ultimately turn out to be a reinvention of the Universal horror film stable, and their first four efforts, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) and The Mummy (1959) were directed by Fisher (and all four starred the venerable team of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee). Fisher would turn out to be the director whose style and career would become the most closely synonymous with Hammer horror.
By the time he made Frankenstein Created Woman in 1967, Fisher had revisited the well of the vampire twice (1960’s highly-regarded The Brides of Dracula, with Cushing’s Van Helsing battling David Peel’s incarnation of the blood-sucker, and 1966’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness which brought Lee’s sophistication back to Bram Stoker’s vampire, this time sans Cushing) and seemed ready to do something different with the Frankenstein formula. He and screenwriter Anthony Hinds delivered a brilliant genre-twisting and gender-bending idea: Frankenstein, still up to his usual existentially inspired hi-jinks, has a body—that of a beautiful young woman—whose skull ends up housing the brain of a wrongly executed man. But the brain is loath to cede its identity, and soon the woman begins a campaign of vengeful murder on those who caused the young man’s fate. There’s some rather neat (for its time) consideration of crossed-gender behavior thrown in the mix as well, and the absence of an actual monster provided exactly the right downbeat note to keep the level of inspiration in Hammer’s now four-film-old series running high.
(The previous entry, The Evil of Frankenstein, was director Freddie Francis' first contribution to the Hammer monster cycle-- he had previously directed Paranoiac (1963) starring Oliver Reed and Nightmare (1964) for the studio. Unfortunately, Evil was largely content to rehash the motif of the monster lumbering through the countryside which, aided not at all by the series’ worst make-up effects, assured that Evil would be generally considered to occupy a spot near the bottom of Hammer’s Frankenstein well.)
Fisher returned for the fourth time to the continuing saga of Dr. Frankenstein in 1969. But something about staging the battle of the sexes within a body at war with itself seemed to have rather unhinged the good doctor. In fact, whereas in previous episodes it was fairly well understood that Cushing’s Frankenstein, as misguided as his methods were, as blind as his God complex may have made him, had intentions that were almost always good, regardless of how much death and destruction were their result. In Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), Fisher and scenarists Bert Batt and Anthony Nelson Keys waste absolutely no time putting whatever remains of Frankenstein’s altruistic tendencies to their final rest. If it was to be understood that Colin Clive’s obsessions to bring Karloff’s monster to life were put into perspective by the monster’s inability to control the impulses his damaged brain was sending to his stitched-together body, then Clive’s characterization of Frankenstein, even through the first two sequels, at least retains some measure of sympathy due in large part to his own empathy for his creation. This was true of Cushing’s Frankenstein too, despite the more graphic stylization of the violence perpetuated by the monster, reflected in the violence with which Cushing's Frankenstein had pieced together his creation’s visage. But Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed opens with a memorable sequence that makes audience identification with the titular surgeon unlikely right from the start—Frankenstein, wearing a frightening rubber mask that looks like a Captain Company version of Dustin Hoffman’s old-man makeup in Little Big Man, stalks and decapitates a colleague with a spray of the brightest Technicolor red, then threatens to do the same to a wino who stumbles upon his storefront laboratory. Luckily, the wino ends up only with the victim’s head in his lap—he gets to keep his own—and it’s not long before Dr. Frankenstein has to dump his current project and find other, more shadowy digs.
Cushing occupies Frankenstein here with an actor’s supreme confidence in his own ability to hold an audience. He knows the direction the character is headed is in one of irredeemable megalomania and condescension for those less intelligent than he, but he never winks or otherwise elicits anything resembling a plea for understanding. Instead, Cushing grabs the character by the throat and steers the ride to hell through some truly harrowing territory. His icy stare and vaguely regal air of superiority, mixed with a cunningly choreographed charm that morphs out of his sharp, angular features whenever the need arises, have rarely been put to better use than they were here. And few were better, in either timing or timbre, with the kind of florid speeches, here laced with seething anger and potential violence that were hallmarks of Hammer film dialogue, than was Cushing.
Frankenstein eventually checks in and lays low, under an assumed name, at a boarding house run by Anna Spengler (Hammer stock siren Veronica Carlson), where he berates other medical professionals for their dismissive attitude toward his own experiments conducted in concert with another like-minded surgical maverick, a Dr. George Brandt. He soon discovers that Anna’s boyfriend Karl (Simon Ward) is a doctor at the mental asylum where Brandt, gone crazy before he could reveal to Frankenstein the secret of successful brain transplantation, is being caged. Karl is also involved in procuring illegal drugs for Anna’s ailing mother, and Frankenstein uses that information to blackmail the couple into facilitating, and taking part in, the continuation of his shrouded surgical experimentation. It’s soon clear that Frankenstein’s motives go far beyond simple advances of science for the benefit of mankind. This mad doctor truly is drunk on the idea of pursuing success for his own name’s sake, but also in exercising that power in rougher, more salacious and sinister ways. Already acknowledging that murder is but a messy fly on his moral windshield, he also takes time out to assert his dominance over Anna (and Karl) by humiliating her as often as possible and finally, for no reason other than that he can, raping her. (This sequence, now restored to the recent DVD release, was cut from the theatrical prints released in the U.S.) And he eventually forces Karl to help kidnap the dying Dr. Brandt from his cell and transplant Brandt’s brain into yet another body, that of one of the asylum’s directors (Freddie Jones).
Frankenstein Must be Destroyed was, of course, notable for the increased level of violence of its tale, an appeasement to clamoring Hammer fans made possible by the concurrent loosening of content standards both in the U.K. and in the U.S. at the time. (The MPAA had only recently adopted its rating system, which tagged FMBD with an “M”-- suggested for mature audiences—and later re-rated it the perplexing yet somehow equivalent “GP,” while it garnered an “18” certificate in Britain, limiting attendance to those over 18 years of age, the equivalent of an “X” in America.) It was, I’m sure, the first time I’d ever seen a decapitation (implied) on screen before, followed soon after by a generous display of the bloody head. (Most horror fans my age probably witnessed their first full-on separation of head from body courtesy of The Omen in 1976.) Upon seeing it again as an adult, what it seems most notable for now is as another piece of evidence in the case for Terence Fisher as perhaps the genre’s most underrated and under-regarded director. Fisher’s style was lurid as the subject matter demanded—he took advantage of every rich color splashed onto the sets by Hammer art director Bernard Robinson and knew exactly how to maximize the erotic appeal of heaving bosoms traversed by a trickle of blood. But his hand as a director had a measure of stateliness, which is assuredly not a backhanded way of suggesting his camera was static or unresponsive. He knew, as the well-trained and observant directors of his time all knew, where to place the camera to emphasize the story and the effect that the actor was going after. His films are quickly, expertly paced without being over-edited or stuffed full of tricks meant to distract from the director’s lack of confidence. And Fisher, given that somewhat classic style, was never one to condescend to his material, even when, on occasion, it deserved derision. (Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was an inauspicious way for such an elegant director to end his career, but you’d never know it from the way he visually signed the film.) Fisher was unafraid of seeming callous and brutal due of the behavior of his characters. Yet he more often carried with on the violation of a cranium by hand drill or surgical saw just under the frame, without plunging the camera headlong into open cavities and gushing wounds, thus freeing the imagination to do its worst while the camera kept its sturdy gaze on the determination of the demented Frankenstein, or on the revulsion of his reluctant assistants. He combined and balanced directorial economy and lightning reflexes with the grand, velvety, bloody flourishes that were the bread and butter of the Hammer film in a way that other directors at the studio could occasionally approach but never truly match.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed carries on with the downbeat, nihilistic horrors that were amplified and expanded in Woman, itself yet another instance, like its predecessor, of a Hammer Frankenstein film absent the iconographic lumbering monster so often misidentified by its creator’s name. Freddie Jones, not typically an actor associated with subtlety, is allowed to paint a portrait of exceptional pain as “the creature,” whose brain (that of Dr. Brandt) cannot process or accept the reflection of another man’s body, shaved bald and sporting a ragged stitch to hold his skull cap tight, in his mirror. And neither can Brandt’s wife, to whom he returns one night, unable to reveal himself for fear of her inability to understand what he is telling her about who he is. (He hides behind a silk changing curtain as he speaks to her, and his pessimistic presumption turns out to be agonizingly accurate.) Jones draws us in deep, through his eyes welling with tears, into the tormented state of this doctor, once Frankenstein’s colleague, now a victim of the same arrogance he once perpetuated. This portrait, seething with confusion, rage and newfound empathy for those in his own past whom he subjected to callous experimentation in the name of a greater good, is among the finest in the entirety of the Hammer Films catalogue, a catalogue already not unfamiliar with good actors who choose to rise to the occasion instead of bend down to pat it on the head. It is Brandt’s helpless anger, illuminated by Jones’ heartfelt and committed portrayal, and Fisher’s sensitivity toward the character’s plight, that finally lifts Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, despite its rather clipped finish, above the usual fare and into the realm of the finest treatments and variations of the Frankenstein legend ever filmed.
Other recommended Terence Fisher/Hammer films:
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
The Mummy (1959)
The Brides of Dracula (1960)
The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
The Phantom of the Opera (1962)
The Gorgon (1964)
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Island of Terror (1966)
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Thanks to cinephile par excellence Peter Nellhaus for the clarification re The Last Page. Peter also recommends those interested in Fisher check out Four-Sided Triangle.
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 11:40 PM
Monday, October 15, 2007
Everybody, at one time or another, needs a little inspiration.
I just watched the last inning of the Colorado Rockies’ sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks to win the National League championship, continuing an incredible, unprecedented run of 21 victories out of the last 22 games. As a Dodgers fan I take inspiration from that, from seeing a perpetual underdog rising up like Thor and bringing the hammer down on all comers, and I hope my team does too, right now and in 2008. And I hope the Rockies can string together four more in a row and make this a season where even those with that pronounced East Coast Bias will have to tip their caps and admit that there is baseball—good baseball-- west of the Mississippi.
I get inspired by great movies too, of course, from the opportunity to revisit old favorites that are sure to move me (Nashville, Nights of Cabiria, Only Angels Have Wings, Ikiru) to the new discoveries of aged masterpieces (The Earrings of Madame de…, The Exterminating Angel, Pilgrimage, Pierrot le fou) that still have the shock of the new and the electricity of art. Movies no one would mistake for art, crude comedies like Beerfest and jackass number two, clunky thrillers like The Boys from Brazil, or big-budget adventures like the original Poseidon Adventure, carry with them the ability to inspire me to rise out of self-created, self-absorbed doldrums and focus on the little things, like laughter and cheap thrills, that can sometimes make the difference between a disastrous day and a delightful one. And I am always inspired when I see, as I did this weekend, how much unadulterated joy and free-squiggling happiness is brought to my daughters whenever they can sing along with Hairspray, or gasp for the eighth time over the absurd, good-natured, human-scaled comic-book spectacle of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
But I’m lucky enough to have friends to inspire me too. Those of you who write and leave comments and take part in the things that go on here, you know who you are. But I’m talking about other friends as well. Friends like Brian Conboy, someone I’ve worked with for going on 15 years now, someone who has, without ostentation or emotional theatrics, stepped up to the responsibilities of friendship in many ways for my wife and I over the course of those 15 years. And in just the same quiet manner Brian has, over the past eight years, gone about refashioning his own life, transforming himself from an overweight fast-food addict to a trim, muscular marathon runner who has never enjoyed the level of good health and positive outlook that he does in his life today.
(Photo: Stephen Carr, Long Beach Press-Telegram)
As we all probably know, good health and a positive outlook are not always easy paths on which to travel with any consistency. While Brian was busy undergoing his own new outlook on life seven years ago, I went on a serious (for me) weight-loss campaign based around a better, more vigilant diet and fairly regular exercise. My rationale: I wanted to be around when my newborn baby daughter turned 40, the age I was when she was born, so I could talk to her about her life and her own kids, should she elect to have them. It was a good, solid reason then, and it’s even more of one now. I kept the weight (about 40 pounds) off for nearly three years. So why did I backslide and regain it all over again? There are probably lots of reasons, but whatever it/they may be, the fact is, I’m overweight, it’s a serious concern, and I know it. And though I’ll never aspire to run marathons the way my friend Brian has trained himself to do, I do dream one day of long-distance bike rides and other ways to enjoy myself that don’t necessarily involve images flickering by at 24 frames per second.
This is why I’m grateful to have him in my daily life, and my best friend Bruce as well, two people who know how to take care of themselves and enjoy living healthy lives without constantly trumpeting their achievements or bemoaning their sorry lot when mealtime rolls around. Brian is going back to school with me too, the both of us taking the long, slow stairway toward self-improvement by becoming teachers. It’s good to have a partner off whom to bounce ideas and study strategies, as well as someone who understands when you just need to complain about an obstinate, illogical instructor. And as I’ve spent more time observing the way Brian takes care of himself, I feel foolish in that I haven’t taken advantage of the golden opportunity to draw inspiration from the self-discipline he’s managed to orchestrate for himself. He is, as well as a fine friend, one who manages to keep a positive attitude amidst sometimes suffocating circumstances, one with the ability to lead by example.
And others have taken notice too. Brian was recently profiled by the Long Beach Press-Telegram in a, yes, very inspirational account of how he managed to grab himself by his tennis shoes and lift himself out of a pit of despair through a near-total revision of his attitudes on diet and exercise. It’s a moving article, and knowing just how many people he has touched by just living his life makes reading the piece even more astounding. What overweight slob would be dumb enough not to count him/herself lucky to be in the presence of someone like that every day? Really, what I’m getting at here is that I’ve had enough of life as it is, grabbing burgers on the run and letting the frenetic pace of the life I’ve courted rule my every moment. There’s absolutely no reason why just a little of the inspiration that Brian found in himself can’t rub off on me as we both continue along on our educational journey. And I’m talking about the attitude toward the physical too. It’s time to acknowledge that example of diet and exercise in some way other than intellectually. It’s time to retrain myself to have the desire to be physically fit again. It’s a road I’ve needed to head down for a long time, and I thank Brian, and Bruce, and most consistently my wife, for providing the push, in that especially nonaggressive, nonjudgmental way that we who most need it know is the only way to make a convincing case for a radical change of lifestyle. Who knows? After five or so years of seeing me treat myself with some respect for once, maybe that’ll inspire my own family in much the same way Brian has inspired me. Maybe, because of the decision to start taking care of myself now, I’ll still be writing film criticism 40 years from now too, in between phone calls with both of my daughters and grading the latest stack of papers from my class.
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 11:56 PM
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
On to horrors of other sorts. Like the horrors of war, and intimations of censorship, and the chilling effect of the looming specter of litigation. All of these got mixed up into a bitter brew at the New York Film Festival this past week during the press conference following a screening of Brian De Palma’s Redacted. According to reports from those who have seen it (I as yet have not), the movie, assembled from gathered multimedia footage, including graphic images of death obtained from the Internet (presumably the images directly referenced in David Edelstein’s recent comments about the film) and staged footage, uses its collage approach to tell the story of American soldiers buckling under the strain and terror generated by their participation in (and their inability to get a grip on the purpose of) the Iraq war.
Redacted has been shown as festivals such as Cannes, Toronto and Venice, where De Palma took home the Best Director prize, and now, as it nears its American release date (Nov. 16) through distribution by HDNet/Magnolia Pictures, the pioneering digital filmmaking corporation owned by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, De Palma has used the New York Film Festival to denounce Cuban and his company for not standing behind the film’s use of graphic war photos depicting mutilated Iraqi citizens, which were shown without alteration in previous film festivals. At the point in the NYFF press conference when the video begins, De Palma makes a statement that Cuban himself “redacted” the images because he found them “disturbing.” He is immediately challenged by Eammon Bowles of Magnolia Pictures, who argues that Cuban and the company began to worry about the possibility of endless and expensive litigation based on the use of those images. Then producer Jason Kliot takes the stage, borrows moderator J. Hoberman’s microphone and attempts to relate a rather more diplomatic explanation for the risks Cuban took to finance the film in the first place. Kliot makes a very strong statement about the nature of Fair Use laws in the United States as being set up “so we cannot use images of our own culture to tell the truth about our own culture.” But then he follows with an odd comment implying that Cuban not only has financial concerns regarding the use of the imagery, but also that he and his partners are worried over being “associated” with unredacted images showing massacres on the screen.*
It’s a fascinating piece of video. At Movie City Indie, Ray Pride posts the clip and a comment from filmmaker Jamie Stuart, who courts the possibility that the confrontation was a publicity stunt, but then concludes, largely from the uncomfortable look on De Palma’s face, that it’s the real thing.
The piece left me thinking about a couple of things. I want to hear more about how the film itself came to be redacted. At what point did Cuban decide this was too great a risk to take? Comments from the Reuters article at Venice suggest that the process had already begun by the time De Palma accepted his award. Obviously De Palma believes in his film as a work of art that has been designed, at least in part, to effect change, to be a part of furthering public opinion toward ending the war. In that regard, it’s not surprising that he should be on the defensive and protective of his work. But what about Cuban, Wagner and Magnolia Pictures? Are they right to protect their interests over those of the film? Are they being disingenuous in making changes to the film now as opposed to insisting that they be presented in a certain way from the outset? And is Eamonn Bowles, who is not the director of the film, just covering his bosses asses during the taped conference, or could he be right that the black-barred images actually work thematically as a brutally ironic commentary within the film about the incendiary nature of those images? I say “could” because, again, until I or any of us have actually seen the film, it’s all speculation on the order of art versus commerce. But think what those black bars imposed on the sex scenes between Selma Blair and Robert Wisdom did to heighten the commentary about race that was at the center of the first half of Todd Solondz’s Storytelling. What does seeing this clip of the NYFF press conference for Redacted make you think about? What questions are you asking?
UPDATE 10/9/07 3:47 p.m.: Here are myriad Redacted links reporting on the movie itself and its reception at the New York Film Festival as gathered by the invaluable David Hudson and Green CIne Daily. Thanks, David!
* UPDATE 10/9/07 7:46 p.m.: Karina Longworth has a fine and well-considered post on the Redacted situation that incorporates a statement she obtained from Mark Cuban. You can read it here. Part of Cuban's statement seems to clarify the point Kliot was apparently trying to make. Karina reports: "Cuban characterizes this business decision, at least in part, as a moral issue. In other words, don’t expect the montage to resurface as a DVD extra on his watch. `There is no way I am going to include images of people who have been severely wounded or maimed and killed when the possibility exists that their families could unknowingly see the images and recognize a loved one,' Cuban writes. `In this day and age, those pictures will be stripped out of the DVD release and unquestionably be posted on the internet exponentially increasing the likelihood it could happen. I wouldn’t do that to anyone.'”
UPDATE 10/10/07 10:09 a.m.: I'm not sure how I overlooked it, but there is a very good collection of information about Redacted available at the essential Brian De Palma site De Palma a la Mod, courtesy of site curator Geoff Songs.
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 2:47 PM
Monday, October 08, 2007
If you’re German (or maybe if you just like Germans), this is your month—Oktoberfest—one in which Bluto Blutarsky’s sage advice—start drinking heavily—does not have to be oft repeated. (But you should rent Beerfest and/or Strange Brew just to prove you’re serious.) Meanwhile, at 95.5 KLOS-FM here in Los Angeles, and at every other radio station in the free world that is ruled by the ever-expanding definition of Classic Rock, we can be informed ad nauseum, should we choose to subject ourselves to such indoctrination, that we are well into the month of Rocktober. But those of us with the kind of inclinations that would lead us to either read or write the kind of film-oriented enterprise you’re reading (and I’m writing) right now tend to think of October as a month devoted to joys of grave-robbing, necromancy, the rending, mangling and general desecration of the flesh, devil worship, the shambling undead (and their late-emerging, more rapidly mobile cousins), name-brand serial killers, playing God (and its inevitable consequences), groan-inducing puns, interspecies transmogrification (preferably on-screen), buckets of the red, red krovvy and other practices deemed socially acceptable (and sometimes then only just) by the collection of the price of a ticket.
I cannot call it Shocktober, though. Others may do so, and God bless ‘em if they do, but I cannot. I just like to think of it as m-m-m-my October (with apologies to Doug Fieger). That's the month of the year, due to its proximity to Halloween, where all matters related to an appreciation of, indulgence in, and dangerous immersion into the rich tradition of the horror movie come lumbering, bolting and shrieking out of the closet, transforming us from respectable citizens and cinephiles into wild-eyed Famous Monsters of Filmland subscribers. You know, the sort of folks who lap up everything from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Takashi Miike’s Audition to Zontar, the Thing from Venus and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and who make icons out of everyone from Max Schreck to Dave Prowse to Doug Jones. You’re probably not one yourself (wink, wink), but like Kevin McCarthy and Donald Sutherland, you know one when you see one, right?
Well, if you’re so inclined, there’s an awful lot of red ink being spilled this month on the subject just about everywhere you look. On this very blog, for instance, over the next three weeks or so I’ll be taking the opportunity to spend some solid crypt time with four titles I’ve been itching to write about in my ongoing SLIFR Top 100 Project that are specifically of the horror genre. In the upcoming days before Halloween, look for more than just a few words (that tremor you just felt was the collective shiver going up the spine of everyone who knows what “just a few words” can mean for Your Humble, Logorrheic Host) on James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Terence Fisher’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986).
I’ll also be spending some time in a chat with the creator of one of those name-brand serial killers, the award-winning (more on that in a second) writer-director Don Mancini, who wrote the Child’s Play series which gave birth to Chucky, the serial killer whose soul infuses the body of a plastic doll, and who directed the series’ most recent, and best, installment, 2003’s Seed of Chucky. Don and I will hash over the state of horror (a hot subject of late) as well as what he’s been up to creatively, and maybe even what the year in movies has looked like so far.
Finally, I will be preparing and submitting Version 2.007 of my roundup of favorite horror movies as part of Ed Hardy’s collection of 31 Favorite Horror Movies lists (Lists! Lists! Yet Another List!) at Shoot the Projectionist. Old friend Peter Nellhaus has already posted his 31 flavors, as has Mike at Esotika Erotica Psychotica.
And that’s not to mention the inevitable bits and pieces I’ll find to fill in the nooks and crannies as the days progress. (Last week’s non-output was one big nook and/or cranny that went unfilled—I promise to do better!)
But there is all that other red ink I alluded to earlier that is being spilled about October Horror on sites far more fascinating and nutritious than ones with the words “Ain’t” or “It” or “Cool” in their titles. To get things started, over at The Projection Booth, Rob Humanick, one of my favorite film writers, has a superb series underway entitled 31 Days of Zombie, a rather more narrowly focused approach to a month of horror, in which Rob takes on one flesh-eating feature per day and engages it critically as well as from the perspective of one whose life was changed, as so many of ours were, by a fateful late-night screening of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
Rob kicks off the month with a look at Zach Snyder’s Romero redux Dawn of the Dead, a film I liked far better than the original version, an opinion to which Rob intelligently and delightfully does not subscribe. He then unleashes sharp-eyed considerations of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Michael & Peter Spierig’s Undead, and Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Blind Dead.
Day Five finds Rob engaging with Joe Dante’s well-received Homecoming and finding it powerful, yet lacking the conviction of its satirical swipes, a position I, as a fan of Dante’s work, tend to agree with. (Homecoming, to my mind, is far less potent than the director’s The Second Civil War.) Then it’s on to Dan O’Bannon’s cult fetish The Return of the Living Dead and George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead. And we’re up to date as of this writing with Day Eight and Rob’s assessment of Jesus Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies. A bookmark on The Projection Booth will stand you in very good stead not only for the 31 Days of Zombie, but for anything else Rob chooses to offer throughout the remainder of the year round.
Some old friends are embracing the groovy ghoulishness of the month too. And when I say groovy and ghoulie in the same sentence, I immediately think of Kimberly Lindbergs and Cinebeats. (She used to have a very groovy pic of her eight-year-old self in a pair of posh go-go boots, but that has vanished in favor of some stylish specs that will more than do as a replacement.) Kimberly is one of my all-time favorite bloggers, and she has been establishing herself as an expert voice on the cult-oriented cinema of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Naturally, the month of Halloween is right in her wheelhouse, but Cinebeats is just too damn cool to go all fashionably ape over horror in October—and that’s because Kimberly dishes out the good stuff on this disreputable genre all year long, along with lots of other great stuff. But we are talking horror at the moment, and so is she: just up is this link to her “10 Questions” interview with Tim Lucas, whose new book profiles one of Kimberly’s favorite directors, Mario Bava. And she keeps us up to date with new horror DVD releases as well, including the recent appearance of the Amicus anthology thriller From Beyond the Grave. Again, if you have not yet bookmarked Cinebeats, why the hesitation? It’s been a thrill watching Kimberly develop her encyclopedic knowledge of cult cinema into a writing career that promises much more than the many treasures she’s already delivered to us.
Jonathan Lapper, blogger, Boston Red Sox fan (Congratulations, JL, but can you get someone on ESPN to acknowledge the story of the postseason, the continued great play by the Colorado Rockies, for crying out loud?!), and serial commenter extraordinaire, is getting into the horror act too. His checklist of his own love affair with science fiction is delightful.
Old pal Andrew Bemis has an awesome horror trailer fest going on over at Cinevistaramascope.
And speaking of trailers, ‘tis definitely the season for lots of juicy input from the gang over at Trailers from Hell. The library of titles exhumed and picked over at this hilarious site has grown quite a bit since I profiled it back in July, and if it’s been that long since you’ve visited it, or even only just a couple of weeks, there is a busload of new stuff to be immersed in.
Our good friends at Not Coming to a Theater Near You offer the fourth edition of their more wide-ranging horror celebration ”31 Days of Horror”. And not to be outdone, Phil Morehart is assembling a Grand Guignol treasury made of 31 Days of Horror Clips over at Facets Features. Finally, if the words “Aurora model kit” send shivers of recognition up and down your spine, then Richard Harland Smith has some pictures he’d like to share.
Marco Lanzagorta considers 1981 ”The Year of the Wolf” and has some pretty convincing evidence as to why.
Michael Sims’ Los Angeles Times review of Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s spectacular new book Frankenstein: A Cultural History has me reserving a spot for the tome on my Christmas list this year. I got a peek at this volume over the weekend and it truly does look like a definitive, hypnotically readable, comprehensive and massively fun undertaking for anyone who grew up under protective cover of Forrest J. Ackerman’s wingspan, as well as those interested in examining just how pervasive Mary Shelley’s legend has become since the days she first spun her tale of horror and blasphemy.
Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the essential horror sites, Stacie Ponder’s Final Girl. Stacie’s doing her own month-long countdown, of course, where you will get familiar with the ‘80s slasher classic (of sorts) The Burning and Shriekfest, and a passel of other sideline delights like The Top Ten Slashers, 50 Horror Films I’d Like to See and even The Great Moustaches of Horror!
And if you thought that was all, well… no, that’s not all. David Hudson is keeping track of horror-themed bits and pieces, as he does of just about every important move in the world of online film journalism, at Green Cine Daily. A check here is vital every day anyway, but God knows what path of terror and destruction and dismemberment and shrieking madness David is likely to lead you down as he tracks all the best horror-related material for the month. You would be well-advised to stay well-informed through Mr. Hudson’s endeavors to keep you up to date on all Scary Stuff. And please allow me to usher you toward an extremely valuable Green Cine resource myself-- Jeremy Wheat's excellent and exhaustive primer on the haunts awaiting you inside The Hammer House of Horror.
Finally, getting back to that little appellation “award-winning” that I attached in front of Don Mancini near the top of this page—Don was this past weekend one of the recipients, along with Michael Berryman, Shawnee Smith, Roger Corman and Patricia Arquette, of the Eyegore Award for outstanding contribution to the art of the horror movie. The ceremony took place as part of the opening weekend festivities this past Friday at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights, and a grand (Guignol) time was had by all. (Linked photo courtesy of Damien Siegel.) There’s a good and complete report of the night’s fun and fear courtesy of Horror.com. And thanks to the cell phones at Bloody-Disgusting.com, you can see Don’s hilarious speech as well as Shawnee’s delightful remarks and just about everything else that went on up at the top of the hill where Jason, Leatherface, Chucky and Freddy are all currently taking up residence in the Bates Motel.
Well, this oughta keep us occupied till at least November, right? Oh, and not that this is going to be the last mention of it or anything, but don’t forget to mark October 30 on your calendar for the big screening of Seed of Chucky at the American Cinematheque. Ain’t Shocktober grand? (Damn. I only had ten words to go too.)
UPDATE 10/10/07 10:49 a.m.: Now, here's a post that would shame even Rob Zombie and his backstorying Michael Myers to death-- it's the woeful tale of why The Shamus will never be able to be a part of the zombie flock that congregates every October on blogs such as dis and dem to celebrate the eating of flesh and the drinking of blood. And if you feel the cuffs of your pants getting a little wet whilst reading, why, that's just the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe weeping real tears with equal measures of perplexity and envy over the outsider's tale the Shamus weaves so well. Read on, hardhearted ghouls, and ache for a man who cannot see/the joy we take, both you and me/in tales of gore and vampire bats/The Shamus knows not where it's at!
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 10:09 PM