Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Best Laid Plans...


Well, I suppose there are worse things than not getting to cover every director one wanted to talk about during "Shocktober." I've decided it just gives me time to talk about the rest, next year. 

My Halloween was rather uneventful, this year. I had very few Trick-or-Treaters and am left with a bowl of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups that I certainly don't need to eat. I'll freeze some and take some to the day job, I guess (revenge on all the folks who constantly bring goodies in for the rest of us to get fat on). 

I'll be back in the early morning hours to review both Hereafter and "The Walking Dead." For now, I'm off to catch up on all the email and stuff I neglected over the weekend.

By the way, today was Dear D's birthday. He'll get his gift from me tomorrow night at the first read-through for JTMF's staged radio production of It's a Wonderful Life, our first ever Winter benefit. More on that, very soon.

I hope your Halloween was fun and scary and delicious and everything you'd hoped it would be. November, of course, is Turkey Month, and I'll be taking a weekly look at bad movies every Thursday, right up until Turkey Day, itself. Until then, enjoy this:


More, anon.
Prospero

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dear Lord, I HATE the Internet!

Two hours worth of writing have been lost thanks to a bad link. I want to cry.

I will hopefully be able to post both my Wes Craven and John Carpenter pieces over the weekend.

Bear with me...

Prospero.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: George A. Romero


With only 3 Shocktober posts left, it's time to break out the big guns and when it comes to modern Horror, one of the biggest belongs to none other than the father of the modern zombie film, George A. Romero.

In 1968, the Carnegie-Melon graduate made a low-budget exploitation film that shocked, thrilled and horrified, while giving rise to an entire subgenre. Of course, that movie was Night of the Living Dead. Shot for about $114,000 (an exceptional budget for an independent film in 1968), Night of the Living Dead has gone on to earn an estimated $12M. That's nearly 120 times the initial cost. Pretty remarkable for a movie shot on location in Pittsburgh with a cast of unknowns. So much has been written about this film (even by yours truly), that anything I might add here would be superfluous. Suffice it to say, when I first saw this movie (probably around 1975), it scared the crap out of me.



Romero followed up with a 1971 drama no one remembers, There's Always Vanilla, about a young man taking up with an older woman and 1972's Hungry Wives (aka Season of the Witch), about a bored housewife who takes up with a coven of witches. Neither movie was very good, truth be told. Then came 1973's The Crazies, about small town whose residents are turned into raving lunatics after an accidental chemical spill caused by the crashing of a secret military mission. Talky, preachy and militantly anti-Vietnam, The Crazies is still one of Romero's better early films.



The Crazies was recently (and decently) remade by director Brett Eisner, who wisely dumps most of the political elements of the original and concentrates more on the Horror.



Romero made a few TV documentaries (including one about O.J. Simpson) before his next genre film, Martin, about a young man (John Amplas) who believes he is an 84 year-old vampire. Creepy and effective, Martin is regarded by many critics as one of Romero's best films. Personally, I find it a bit depressing, but that's just me.



After martin, Romero made what most consider to be his masterpiece, 1978's sequel to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead. Picking up where Night... left off, Dawn of the Dead is the story of a small group of Philadelphians who hole up in a western PA mall while the zombie apocalypse rages on outside. When a group of bikers (led by SFX man Tom Savini) breaks in, all hell breaks loose and the 'family' must find a way to survive. Released without an MPAA rating, I saw Dawn of the Dead alone, because my friends were all too scared. Taking on mindless consumerism amomg other social topics, Dawn of the Dead  is a classic for many reasons, and not least of all Savini's then state-of-the-art physical makeup effects.



Director Zack Snyder (300; Watchmen) eschews the social commentary in his mostly excellent remake, and creates one of the most intense opening sequences ever. Romero followed Dawn with the 1981 motorcycle jousting movie, Knightriders. Starring Savini, Amplas and a very young Ed Harris, Knightriders is one of the first films I can remember in which a gay character is accepted and loved for he is, all while taking a modern spin on Arthurian legends. Knightridersi is actually one of my favorite of Romero's movies, despite its rather silly premise.



Then came 1982's Creepshow, an anthology movie written by Stephen King, loosely based on the Horror comics of the 50's, starring Ted Danson; Leslie Nielson; Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau; Fritz Weaver; E.G. Marshall; Savini; King and Harris in five short tales of terror. I saw this movie with my then 15 year-old sister and my boyfriend. Guess who ended up screaming like a little girl? Hint: it wasn't me or my sister.





1985 saw the next entry in Romero's Zombie films, Day of the Dead, about a group of scientists and military personnel in an underground Florida bunker, ostensibly searching for a cure. Like Martin, Day of the Dead is rather talky and very anti-military, though it introduces the concept of a zombie who retains at least the most rudimentary memories in the character of "Bub."



1988 saw the ridiculous Monkey Shines, starring Jason Beghe, Stanley Tucci and Janine Turner in a story about a -- wait for it -- homicidal helper monkey. Not a highlight in Uncle George's career.



1990 saw the forgettable Two Evil Eyes with Italian director Dario Argento followed by 1993's The Dark Half, another King adaptation about a writer who symbolically kills his nom de plume, only to find the nom de plume may not be ready to die. King based the novel on his own experience writing under the name Richard Bachman. The movie isn't terrible, but still not up to Romero's best.



Bruiser, another unremarkable effort, was Romero's 2000 film, followed by 2005's Land of the Dead; his first big-budget Zombie movie. Starring Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo; Simon Baker ("The Mentalist"); Asia Argento and Robert Joy, Land... is movie about the Haves and the Have-Nots, and is probably the least successful of the Dead films.



In 2007's Diary of the Dead, Romero returns to both his indy and Pittsburgh roots, while jumping on the hand-held camera bandwagon started by The Blair Witch Project. In this story about about of group of University of Pittsburgh film students making a Horror movie when the Zombie Holocaust breaks out, Romero finally remembers how grim and hopeless such an outbreak would be and his cast of unknowns deliver some truly excellent performances. And that's not to mention some of the most inventive zombie kills since Dawn...



I have not seen 2009's Survival of the Dead, the first direct sequel in Romero's Dead series, though I am left to understand from others who have that it lacks the impact of his previous films.  



Romero's next announced project is a remake of Dario Argento's giallo classic Deep Red, though he has been quoted as saying there is at least one more Dead story left to tell. While he may be aging (as are we all), I hope that Uncle George has one last great Zombie movie left in him. It would be a shame to see a Horror franchise that started over 50 years ago die with a whimper.

Of course, Uncle P has a Zombie script or two up his own sleeves, in case Uncle George is reading...

More, anon.
Prospero

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Post Tonight

I hate this, but technical issues are at hand. I hope to be back tomorrow.

More, anon.
Prospero

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Alexandre Aja


French director Alexandre Aja's 2003 breakout film Haute Tension (High Tension) was a rather mind-bending slasher flick about two college friends, Marie and Alexa, who visit Alexa's country home only to find themselves at the hands of a relentless killer. Marie thinks she's escaped, but soon discovers the killer has followed her and has no intention of letting her live.

While exploring familiar tropes in the slasher genre, Aja's film certainly lives up to its title. And despite the movie's inexplicably bizarre (not to mention logistically improbable) twist ending, Aja manages to create an atmosphere of tension that is often lacking in modern horror movies. If you haven't seen Haute Tension, I recommend it, though with reservations about its decidedly unlikely denouement.



After the success of Haute Tension, Aja was brought to Hollywood, where he directed the 2006 remake of Wes Craven's (I'll get there, too) classic The Hills Have Eyes. Starring Kathleen Quinlan (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden); Emilie de Raven ("Lost"); Robert Joy ("C.S.I.: NY") and Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs, "Monk"), The Hills Have Eyes tells the story of a family vacation gone horribly wrong when they run afoul of a family of mutant cannibals in the Arizona desert. Craven based his original film on the true story of a 16th century Scottish clan of cannibals, and while Aja's remake certainly has its moments and ramps up the explicit gore, it lacks the gritty realism (not to mention the presence of character actor Michael Berryman*) that made Craven's 1977 original so scary.



Next up for Aja would be Mirrors, a film he also wrote about an ex-cop ("24" star Keifer Sutherland) who takes a job as a night guard at an abandoned department store where evil forces are trapped in the mirrors. Personally, I expected more from this movie. Again, it has its moments, but is ultimately derivative and unsatisfying.



This year, Aja gave us another remake, the 3D** version of Roger Corman's Piranha, a film I have yet to see, but which has been reported to be an over-the-top gore-fest, starring director Eli Roth; Richard Dreyfuss ; Ving Rhames; Elizabeth Shue; Christopher Lloyd and Jerry O'Connell (all genre veterans) in story about a prehistoric species of killer fish unleashed on a resort lake in Arizona. I haven't seen this movie yet, but from all reports, it is exceptionally silly (as if we expected anything less).



Once again, I am hoping that this director will return to his Horror roots and make another interesting and tension-filled horror film, rather than the schlocky, silly movie's he's become known for.
More, anon.
Prospero

*I know I mentioned meeting make-up FX guru/ actor/director Tom Savini at an NYC genre convention in the 80's. I also met Mr. Berryman there, who proved to be one of the most gracious and humble actors I have ever encountered. He may be scary to look at, but he is delightful and sweet in person.

** Please, someone let this trend die, already.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Rob Zombie


Primarily known as the front man for the heavy metal band White Zombie, Rob Zombie wrote and directed his first film, House of 1000 Corpses in 2000, though it wouldn't be released until 2003. Taking his cue from 1970's horrors such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left, Zombie amps up the insanity exponentially in this tale of college students doing research for a project about roadside attractions. After visiting Captain Spaulding's (underground exploitation veteran Sid Haig) museum which features a ride-through tribute to local "Urban Legend" Dr. Satan, they have the misfortune of picking up hitchhiker Baby (Sheri Moon), who brings them back to the family manse where all sorts of horrors await them.

Co-starring genre favorites Karen Black, Bill Moseley (Texas Chainsaw Massacre II), Michael J. Pollard and "The Office" favorite Rainn Wilson, House of 1000 Corpses is an over-the-top nightmare of a movie that one either loves or hates, and for everyone I know who hates it, I know someone else (myself included) who loves it. It is so completely over-the-top and insane, I can only imagine that those who hate this movie just plain don't get it.



Zombie's follow-up is the sequel to House..., 2005's The Devil's Rejects. Picking up where House... ended, The Devil's Rejects follows the Firefly family as they are pursued by one Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), who is seeking revenge for the murder of his brother at the end of the first film. Most of the original cast returns, including Haig, Moseley and Moon (now Sheri Moon Zombie, having married the writer/director), though Black is replaced by an even more over-the-top Leslie Easterbrook (the Police Academy movies). Even grimmer (if that's possible) than the original, The Devil's Rejects ignores Dr. Satan (though, personally, I want to know what the hell was up with that) and is more of crime-drama, than a Horror movie (though there are plenty of horrific elements). Technically and stylistically a much film better than House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects  leaves many questions unanswered, though such is often the case when dealing with stories of insanity. Personally, I will never be able to listen to "Freebird" with the same sense of innocence as I did in the late 70's.



Zombie's next project was the 2007 remake of John Carpenter's (don't worry - I'll get there) 1978 classic Halloween. Adding a twisted back-story to support Micheal Myers' madness, Zombie's version does little more than amp up the gore in an otherwise pointless remake. Lacking any real style, Zombie's version is one of the most unnecessary remakes of a classic.


Just as unnecessarily, Zombie's next movie was 2009's Halloween II, a film Uncle P didn't even bother to see and about which I can hold no opinion,.



Zombie's next film was an animated movie based on his own comic book, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, another movie I haven't seen (nor have any desire to do so, even though it marginality references Dr. Satan).



Zombie's last foray into directing was an episode of CBS' crime procedural "C.S.I.: Miami," though I doubt we'll be seeing any movies from him in the near future. And while he may have a decent run as film director, I suspect Rob should concentrate more on his musical career, from now on.

More, anon.
Prospero

Shocktober Director of the Day: John Landis


Known primarily as a director of comedies, John Landis is responsible for a number of classic films, including Animal House; The Blues Brothers; Trading Places and Three Amigos!

But his first movie was the 1973 B-Movie parody, Schlock in which an ape-like monster falls in love with a blind girl, who thinks he's a dog. It's also the first time Landis' trademark line (which is in every one of his films) "See You Next Wednesday" appears. Landis also appears in the title role.


Schlock was soon followed by Kentucky Fried Movie (a movie I was not allowed to see when it was released in 1977); Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Then, in 1981, Landis made what is perhaps the single best werewolf movie ever made, An American Werewolf in London. Starring David Naughton (best known at the time as the Dr. Pepper spokesman), Jenny Agutter (of the Sci-Fi classic Logan's Run) and Griffen Dunne (After Hours); An American Werewolf... is the first time audiences were exposed to the horrific pain of lycanthropic transformation, thanks to Rick Bakers tremendous physical makeup FX.

 



Combining sharp humor with horrific effects, An American Werewolf... was a sensation that should have turned it's stars into superstars. But while Dunne and Agutter went on to relatively successful careers, Naughton slipped into relative obscurity, showing up now and then on TV or in small roles in lesser known films. 

Landis' next foray into genre films would also be his most controversial. His segment of The Twilight Zone Movie ended in tragedy, with the accidental deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors taking place n Landis' watch. Landis was brought to trial, but eventually acquitted, though his career never fully recovered.




While the Twilight Zone controversy raged, Landis directed one of the most famous music videos ever made, Micheal Jackson's Thriller:




Landis' most recent project is a black comedy based on true events, Burke and Hare, about a pair of 19th century grave robbers who made a living by supplying corpses to an Edinburgh medical school. I hope Landis can restore his reputation with this 3rd film version of the infamous true story.




More, anon.
Prospero

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Quickie Post Tonight


No, I won't say I am writing a great movie... But I am writing yet another one and it's been ages since I've worked on it, so that is what I am off to do tonight.

Since my Let Me In review was really written on Thursday, this quickie is the 'official' Friday post. 

I'll be back tomorrow with a new post over The Zombie Zone and will start the last of my Shocktober Directors posts on Sunday. Tonight, I have to figure out how to transition from Act II to Act III. Wish me luck. In the meantime, enjoy this creepy little delight (via):



More, anon.
Prospero

Mini-Review: "Let Me In"


I'm interrupting the "Director of the Day" series because I actually went to the movies tonight. I am almost embarrassed to admit that the last movie I saw in a theater was Dinner for Schmucks back in July. But honestly, there just hasn't been a whole lot I wanted to see this year, what with the 'Summer of Suck" and all. 

Anyway, D and I finally manged to get together for a movie night and saw director Matt Reeves' remake of the Swedish film Let the Right One In; Let Me In.

Briefly, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a bullied 12 year-old in 1983, trying to deal with his parents' divorce; his hyper-religious mother and three creeps at school who taunt him and call him "little girl." When new neighbors move into the apartment next door, Abby (Chloe Moretz) tells him they can't be friends, though of course, a friendship develops, especially after Abby advises Owen to hit back at his attackers. There are plenty of clues that something's not quite right - Abby walks about the snowy New Mexico landscape barefoot; she doesn't attend school and argues with her "Father" (Richard Jenkins) in a weird, unearthly voice. It soon becomes apparent (to us, anyway) that Abby is vampire and her Father is actually her human thrall, hunting victims so she doesn't have to. Elias Koteas (Crash; Shutter Island) is the cop investigating the murders and "Saving Grace" alum Dylan Minnette is Owen's chief tormentor.

While Let the Right One In ended up #1 on my list of the best films of 2008, the remake will just about make this year's Top 10. That's not to say it isn't a good movie. Far from it. Reeves (best known as a television director for his work on the Fox series "Felicity ") manages to elicit some terrific performances from Moretz  (Kick-Ass) and Smit-McPhee (The Road). Their scenes together have sweetness about them that almost manages to make you forget you're watching a Horror movie. The always excellent Mr. Jenkins (a 2009 Oscar nominee for The Visitor) is terrific as Abby's tired, aging thrall and Minette (the sensitive nephew on TNT's "Saving Grace") is chilling as a middle-school bully. Reeve's screenplay, based on the original novel by John Lindqvist is fairly faithful to the book, though I would have liked some less obvious CGI in the few scenes in which it's employed. The gore is kept to a minimum here, though used effectively when it is employed, and I was particularly enamored of Reeve's camera placement during a critical scene involving an auto accident. I also enjoyed hearing some great old 80's tunes as part of the soundtrack and Michael Giacchino's ("Lost;" "Fringe") haunting score is most effective.

While Let Me In isn't quite as good as Let the Right One In, it is one of the few American Horror remakes that doesn't disappoint and is certainly one of the best movies I've seen this year (though that isn't saying much). D also enjoyed it, though he hasn't seen the original, yet (and he actually jumped, at one point). *** (Three out of Four Stars)


More, anon.
Prospero

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: James Whale


That's Elsa Lanchester in the title role of director James Whale's 1935 masterpiece, Bride of Frankenstein, a film I'll talk about in moment (or three).

Openly gay James Whale's directing career started as WWI POW, directing plays and skits in order to maintain morale amongst his fellow POWs. After the war, he returned to England and took up a career as a cartoonist before returning to the stage with a production of Journey's End, a play about WWI. He subsequently went on to make Journey's End into a film in 1930, starring frequent collaborator Colin Clive, who later gain fame as Dr. Henry Frankenstein, maker of monsters. Whale made two more WWI films that year, Hell's Angels and Waterloo Bridge.

The following year, he made the first of many film adaptations of Mary Shelley's classic Horror novel Frankenstein, starring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff as the Monster (a role Bela Lugosi turned down because he thought he'd be unrecognizable under so much makeup).  The film was sensation and like Tod Browning's Dracula, caused women to faint in the aisles.



Whale's next foray into the genre was 1932's The Old Dark House, starring Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton and the recently deceased Gloria Stuart. It tells the story of a group of travelers seeking shelter from a storm in a gloomy castle in Wales, and is probably the primary inspiration for The Rocky Horror Show.



Gimmick-meister William Castle remade The Old Dark House as a comedic Horror movie in 1963:



In 1933, Whales tackled H.G. Welles' The Invisible Man, starring Claude Rains and Ms. Stuart as his ill-fated love:



Familiar character actress and hysterical screamer Una O'Connor makes another of her many appearances in a Whale film. Sadly, Whale's next genre film would be both his best and his last. 1935's Bride of Frankenstein would reunite him with Colin Clive and Boris Karloff, but would be the last time Whale visited the Horror genre. It is also one of the best genre films of the era, made at the height of Whale's artistic prowess:



Whale went on to make several dramas and romances, including the first version of Jerome Kerns' musical Showboat with Irene Dunne, Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel:



Whale's later life was chronicled in Bill Condon's (Dreamgirls) brilliant 1998 film Gods and Monsters, starring Ian McKellan (X-Men; The Lord of the Rings), Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave.



James Whale made 22 films over his career, but is best remembered for his astonishing genre films, which have rightfully earned the title "Classics." Whale was openly gay at at a time when being so often meant the end of one's career, but his artistic vision was so strong, it transcended sexuality and affected audiences worldwide, for generations to come. I fear we will not see his like again, though I pray I am wrong.

More, anon.
Prospero

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Eli Roth


Eli Roth's first feature film was shot in 2001 for 1.5 million dollars raised through private investors. Roth sold the movie to Lion's Gate at the 2002 Sundance festival and it was the studio's highest-grossing film in 2003.

Cabin Fever is the story of five college friends who set out for a cabin in the woods for spring break. After an encounter with what appears to me a deranged hunter, they begin to develop symptoms of a flesh-eating disease which drives them apart. Hilarious, gory, gruesome and paying clever homage to dozens of films that came before it, Cabin Fever is actually one of Uncle P's favorite modern Horror movies. Sure, lots of people hate it, but it's so deliberately over-the-top that not everyone is in on the joke. Rider Strong ("Boy Meets World"); Jordan Ladd (the under-appreciated vampire/zombie baby movie Grace) and pretty Joey Kern (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead) give dead-on performances in what could have been an ungodly mess in the wrong hands.



Pancakes!

Roth's follow-up, 2005's controversial Hostel, was about three young American backpackers lured to a Slovakian hostel where they are sold to rich sadists as "toys." Beautiful Jay Hernandez (Quarantine), Rick Hoffman ("Samantha Who?") and Derek Richardson ("Men in Trees") star in the movie that is credited as both the height and the nadir of the "torture porn" sub-genre.



Hostel is the kind of film that you want to watch through your fingers, yet at the same time, you can't look away. It was almost immediately followed by Hostel Part 2, which was about young women foolishly staying at the same place.



Roth also directed a fake trailer for Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse, called Thanksgiving (clip NSFW):



Most recently, Roth has appeared as actor in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds and Alexandre Aja's hyper-gory Piranha 3D, though he is scheduled to direct a 3D (why?) remake of Tobe Hooper's carnival fright film The Funhouse. While I must admit to enjoying Hostel for what it was, I hope that with The Funhouse 3D, Roth can return to the humorous Horror roots that made Cabin Fever  so very enjoyable.

More, anon.
Prospero

Monday, October 18, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Neil Marshall


British director Neil Marshall burst onto the scene with his unique take on the werewolf genre, Dog Soldiers in 2002. It tells the story of a British military squadron sent on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands, where they encounter a family of werewolves.

Co-starring Kevin McKidd (currently seen on ABC's medical drama "Grey's Anatomy"), Dog Soldiers works mostly because Marshall knows how to ramp up the tension, saving the reveals until his audience almost can't stand it anymore.



Marshall's follow-up, the Sundance sensation The Descent, in 2005, ramps up the tension and exploits many people's phobias, is one of the few movies that have ever been able to make jaded Uncle P actually jump while watching it (more on that in a moment). The Descent is the story of 6 women who gather once a year for an adventure vacation. After a whitewater rafting trip, Sarah's (Shauna Macdonald) husband and daughter are killed in a tragic accident. A year later, the friends reunite for a spelunking adventure in the Appalachians. Led by the reckless Juno (Natalie Mendoza), they soon find themselves the victims of a cave-in in an undocumented region. Their struggle to escape is only complicated when they discover they are being stalked by a group of cannibalistic humamoids.



Claustrophobic and downright terrifying, The Descent is probably the most intense and frightening Horror movie since Alien. Marshall takes his time, building tension before unleashing a torrent of violence and gore, leaving his audience not quite of what of what they have or haven't seen. I saw this movie with a dear friend who wanted to challenge her claustrophobia and her overall Horror movie attraction/revulsion issues. Not only did she nearly twist my arm off, she couldn't help but comment when the first appearance of a "crawler" (the movie's monsters) made me literally shout out loud. .Make sure you see the original Britsh version and not the American cut.

Marshall's next film was 2008's apocalyptic Doomsday, starring Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins and Malcolm MacDowell. Set in a future where a virus has all but annihilated mankind and London has been walled off from the rest of Great Britain, Doomsday is a story about a team sent out to retrieve a young survivor who may hold the key to cure for the so-called 'Reaper Virus.' A sort of "Mad Max meets 28 Days Later," Doomsday doesn't quite have the same feel of Marshall's previous films, and ultimate fails because of the  familiarity of its premise.



His follow-up to Doomsday is Centurion, a film about seven Roman soldiers trying to escape the clutches of brutal warriors in ancient Britain. It has yet to be released in the U.S., though the trailer makes me yearn for Marshall's Horror roots:



Hopefully, Marshall's next film will be epic, frightening and original - qualities his earlier works prove he is capable of demonstrating.

More, anon.
Prospero

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Fred Dekker


With only three feature films to his credit, Fred Dekker is better known as a writer and producer than a director. Still, he did manage to direct a movie that has won the hearts of children of the 80's (more on that in a bit).

In 1986, Dekker wrote and directed Night of the Creeps, a funny and gross Sci-Fi/Horror flick about slug-like alien parasites infecting a college campus on the night of their big formal social.

Starring genre fav Tom Atkins (The Howling; The Fog), Night of the Creeps is about a bunch of college kids who accidentally thaw out a body frozen since 1959, releasing the squiggly little aliens into the campus' general population and turning them into murderous zombies.



Of course. Night of the Creeps served as the inspiration for James Gunn's far superior 2006 film Slither, starring Nathan Fillion ("Castle;" "Firefly") and Elizabeth Banks.



Dekker followed Night of the Creeps with the aforementioned kids classic The Monster Squad. When Dracula conspires to take over the world, a group of kids gather up the Universal Monsters and put a plan in place to stop him.



Silly and a bit dated, a remake has been rumored for quite some time, though little, if anything, has come of it. Dekker's last film as director was 1993's Robocop 3, an exceptionally lame sequel by any standard.



Dekker most recently served as a writer and producer for the last "Star Trek" TV series, "Star Trek: Enterprise" in 2002. According to his IMDb profile, he hasn't worked since. One can only assume he is living comfortably on the residuals from his previous endeavors.

More, anon.
Prospero

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Mary Lambert


One of very few women to make a successful Horror movie, director Mary Lambert's first major film was the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King's Pet Semetary. The story of a college doctor who loses to his young son to a truck on the highway, Pet Semetary is also a sort of zombie tale and a novel King admits he had to set aside, because he kept picturing his own son as Gage, the toddler at the center of the novel's events.

Handsome TV star Dale Midkiff (previously best known for his portrayal of Elvis Presley in the 1988 TV movie Elvis) stars as Louis Creed, a young doctor hired by Maine college and in for a nasty surprise when on his first day on the job, a student named Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist) is hit by a car and killed while jogging. Louis' wife Rachel ("Star Trek: TNG" alum Denise Crosby) and his new neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne) try to assuage his guilt at not being able to save the young man. And when the Creed family's cat is run over by a careless trucker on the highway in front of their house, Jud shows Louis a secret Indian burial ground where the dead can be raised, but at a horrible price. Needless to say, when the Creed's son Gage is killed on the same highway, Louis does the unthinkable.



Lambert does a decent job here, though like most directors who tackle King, ultimately fails in faithfully recreating the experience of the novel. The real problem with Pet Semetary lies in its cast. Sadly, most A-List actors shy away from genre films (with a few exceptions), so directors are left casting actors who aren't really up to the task. And such is the case with this movie. With the exception of Gwynne, none of the major players here are really right for the roles. Midkiff and Crosby try, but they come off as stiff and uncomfortable, unwilling to commit to the level required by the material. And Greenquist, under a layer of gory FX makeup, ends up looking dopey, rather than scary in his role as the ghostly harbinger. In fact, the most effective performance in the movie belongs to Daniel Hubatsek as Rachel's dead sister, Zelda.



Lambert's follow-up was the 1991 flop Grand Isle, starring Top Gun's Kelly McGillis in a romantic drama no one remembers. The next year, she directed T2's Edward Furlong in Pet Senetary II, a terrible sequel co-starring "E.R." doctor Anthony Edwards.



Lambert's career never again saw the success of her first film (and even that's debatable), and she has since gone on to direct music videos, TV shows and the 2008 Direct-to-DVD sequel Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, one of the worst modern Horror movies Uncle P can remember having the misfortune of seeing.



Next year, Lambert is scheduled to direct the SyFy movie Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (the title alone alludes to its quality) and the vampire movie High Midnight, starring Vincent D'Onofrio, Elizabeth Hurley and William Baldwin. I hope Lambert can redeem herself (and her career) with this film. It's sad to think that a woman can't make an effective Horror movie.

More, anon.
Prospero

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Don Coscarelli


That's actor Angus Scrimm in his career-defining role as The Tall Man in director Don Coscarelli's career-defining movie, Phantasm. Before that, Coscarelli directed two movies in 1976 that no one even heard of, let alone saw: Jim, the World's Greatest (which featured future 80's TV hottie Gregory Harrison) and Kenny and Company. Then, in 1979, Coscarelli wrote and directed Phantasm, a strange Horror/Sci-Fi crossover about a young boy who discovers that the man running the local mausoleum is doing something a bit more nefarious than just burying bodies.

Pre-dating Friday the 13th with exceptionally explicit gore effects, Phantasm was an indie Horror phenomenon and has to-date grossed nearly $12M. Not bad for a film that cost $300K.
 
Mike (Michael Baldwin) has just lost his parents. His brother Jody (cutie Bill Thornbury) returns home to help pick up the pieces. When Mike witnesses The Tall Man effortlessly hoisting a casket up onto one shoulder, he becomes suspicious and convinces Jody and his ice-cream vending buddy Reggie (Reggie Bannister) to investigate what's really going on. It turns out that The Tall Man is shipping corpses off to another dimension, where they are reanimated as shrunken slaves. The Tall Man also has an arsenal of spherical weapons he uses to drop his enemies, draining the blood from their victims by boring holes in their foreheads. Weird, creepy and surreal, Phantasm is one of those movies you just have to see to really appreciate.



Coscarelli followed up with the 1982 Sword and Sorcery epic The Beastmaster. Starring a nearly-naked Marc Singer; future nearly-naked Sheena, Tanya Roberts and future DUI recidivist Rip Torn, The Beastmaster tells the story of Dar, a young man who can psychically bond with animals. Dar (much like Conan) is bent on avenging the death of his parents at the hands of a pillaging madman. He uses an eagle, a tiger and a pair of wascawy fewwets to do so. Oh, and there are these sort of creepy bat-people.



The Beastmaster would later be revived as a syndicated TV series, featuring the adventures of the nearly-naked young Dar, before he grew up to be Marc Singer.

1988 saw Phantasm II, in which James LeGros takes on the role of Mike, who once again teams up with Reggie to save a girl who may or may not be in danger from The Tall Man.



1989's Survival Quest went the way of Coscarelli's  first two films. Phantasm III and IV came soon after, though neither met the success of the original. Most recently, Coscarelli directed the cult hit BubbaHo-Tep. Based the short story by Joe R. Lansdale, BubbaHo-Tep imagines Elvis as a nursing home resident (he switched places with an impersonator who died before they could switch back) who must battle an  ancient mummy with the help of a fellow resident who claims to be JFK's brain transplanted into the body of an aging black man. Starring genre fave Bruce Campbell as Elvis and Ossie Davis as JFK, BubbaHo-Tep is a very amusing film, if nothing else.



Coscarelli's next scheduled project is Bubba Nostferatu, in which Elvis (Hellboy's Ron Perlman) battles an army of female vampires. Paul Giamatti is slated to play Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Say what you my about Coscarelli's films, Phantasm certainly deserves a place among any discussion of genre films and remains one of Horror's most effective (if enigmatic) films.
More, anon.
Prospero

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Steve Miner


Steve Miner isn't exactly a household name among Hollywood directors. But genre fans are certainly aware of his work, especially the films he made in the 80's.

Miner is the director who actually unleashed Jason Voorhees as the unstoppable killer in Friday the 13th Part 2 and Friday the 13th Part III (sometimes referred to as Friday the 13th 3D).

These days, Miner is known more for his work as a television director, having helmed episodes of "The Wonder Years;" "Chicago Hope;" "The Practice;" "Dawson's Creek;" "Felicity;""Smallville;" "Eureka" and most recently, "The Gates."

Miner began his career as a production assistant on Wes Craven's 1972 horror classic, Last House on the Left, working his way up through the ranks to Production Manager and Associate producer on Sean S. Cunningham's original Friday the 13th in 1980.

With a bigger budget and somewhat better cast, Miner's first feature as a director was even more successful than the original and allowed him to direct more and more. His second feature was 1982's 3D sequel (and the first time Jason donned his now iconic hockey mask):



Miner returned to the canvas chair with the 1986 horror comedy House, starring genre vet William Katt (Carrie; "The Greatest American Hero"), George Wendt ("Cheers"), Richard Moll ("Night Court") and 70's TV fixture Kay Lenz (the poor man's Susan Dey). Neither as funny nor scary as it should have been, House still holds a place among the among the pantheon of 80's physical FX horror movies:



That same year, Miner directed the deplorably racist comedy Soul Man, which is probably better left undiscussed. Then in 1989. Miner returned to features with the probably underrated Warlock, starring Julian Sands, Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant and cult fav, Mary Woronov. The story of a 17th century warlock who escapes execution by transporting himself to modern America, Warlock featured some wickedly funny lines and some impressive (for the time) special FX:



After almost 10 years of television, lame dramas and rom-coms, Miner returned to the genre with 1999's Halloween H2O: Twenty Years Later, starring Jamie Lee Curtis; Josh Harnett; Adam Arkin; LL Cool J; Janet Leigh and a very young Michelle Williams and Joseph Gordon Levitt. While better than most of the sequels to Halloween, it was still derided by critics and mostly ignored by fans.



H2O was then followed by one of Miner's best (and funniest) horrors, Lake Placid, in which current geriatric darling Betty White gets to utter the classic line: "If I had a dick, this where I'd tell you to suck it!" Bridgette Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt and Mariska Hargitay co-star in this story about a giant crocodile terrorizing a New England lake.






Miner's most recent film was the direct-to-DVD Day of the Dead, not to be confused with or construed as a remake of the George Romero original. Silly and overwrought, Miner's entry into the zombie sub-genre leaves much to be desired and suggests he should stick to TV from now on:



While I can marginally recommend Friday the 13th Part 2; House and Lake Placid, Miner's films can ultimately be described as "workman-like," at best. While hardly a star among genre directors, his films are certainly worth mentioning as part of a genre retrospective, which is why he's included here.

More, anon.
Prospero

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: Tom Savini


Tom Savini is a sweetheart. Uncle P had the good fortune to meet and talk with the genre legend at the one and only genre convention I ever attended, way back in the mid-80's. We spent several minutes talking about his FX Makeup work on films like Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th. He was gracious, humble and accessible, something rare in the movie business. He signed an autograph for me and told me to stay as far from the business as I could. Sadly, I ignored his advice.

In addition to his skills as a makeup artist, Savini is also an actor, who has appeared in over 40 titles including Dawn of the Dead; Knightriders; Creepshow; From Dusk 'till Dawn (as the hilariously named 'Sex Machine'); Planet Terror and most recently, Machete.

As a director, his resume is rather scant. He directed three episodes of the George Romeo syndicated series "Tales from the Dark Side" before his one and only feature film, 1990's Romero-produced remake of Night of the Living Dead:



Remaining faithful to the tone of the original, Savini's version features one very important difference in its ending (SPOILER ALERT), turning the character of Barbara (a pathetic, whiny dope in the original) into an eventual tough-as-nails survivor. Savini's remake is far from the ground-breaker that Romero's original was, but it does add a new twist to the familiar tale (as well as full-color gore FX). Savini's only other directing credit is the short "House Call" from a video series called "Chill Factor." His IMDb listing cites 8 impending projects as an actor. I included him in this series because his remake of Romero's classic is certainly worth a look, if only for it's twist on the original.

More, anon.
Prospero

Monday, October 11, 2010

Shocktober Director of the Day: William Friedkin


William Friedkin has really only made one Horror movie. But what a Horror movie it was (even if I personally consider it one of the most overrated movies of all time)! And I'll get to it in a moment.

Friedkin's first film was 1967's Good Times, Sonny and Cher's attempt to cash in on what the Beatles had already been doing for a while. The following year he made two films, the practically forgotten The Birthday Party and the hilarious burlesque comedy The Night They Raided Minskey's.  It would be three years before his next film, an adaptation of Mart Crowley's seminal gay play The Boys in the Band. Exceptionally frank for it's time, The Boys in the Band is now widely considered a stereotypical view of what it meant to be gay at the time. I've always found both the play and the movie to be a rather sad comment on how gay men were perceived 40 years ago, even among themselves.

Of course, Friedkin's big break came in 1971 with the Gene Hackman drug-drama The French Connection. Friedkin won a Golden Globe, a DGA Award and an Oscar for Best Director and was at the height of his career. 


Then came what many people still consider to be 'the scariest movie ever made,' 1973's The Exorcist. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, Friedkin's film about a little girl possessed by a demon named Pazzuzu had audiences puking, fainting and lining up for blocks. It turned actress Linda Blair into a household name and galvanized religious leaders across the globe in their fight against Satan. The special makeup effects by Dick Smith were revolutionary at the time and stories abound about the production being plagued by a host of unexplained problems. Still, it was critically hailed. Even my devoutly Catholic grandmother announced it a "wonderful picture... but not for children." I desperately wanted to see it, but at 12 years-old (there I go, giving my age away again), I was too young. I did get to see it six years later upon it's 1979 re-release, by which time I had already formed my opinions about God, the devil and religion, and the film's impact was greatly reduced.



In 2000, The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Scene was released, featuring this rather infamous scene cut from the original 1973 version:



Friedkin never again saw the kind of success that The Exorcist brought him, though 1980's Cruising courted controversy once again as Friedkin made his second foray into the 'gay experience." Al Pacino stars as a cop assigned to find a killer who is targeting gay men. Denounced as homophobic by the gay community and perverse by the so-called Religious Right, Cruising is probably best observed as a comment on the free-wheeling days before AIDS, while still managing to be a not particularly good movie. Set in leather bars, porn shops and dark alleys, Cruising also stars Karen Allen (who would shortly go on to gain movie immortality in a little film called Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Paul Sorvino. Personally, I never understood the disdain for this movie, other than it's not really very good. Lately, there has been a push for a "Director's Cut" version, though I for one, hardly think it's necessary (unless of course, it redeems the whole mess and makes for an actually good film).



Friedkin's most recent film, 2007's Bug, based on the Tracy Letts play of the same name, is a psychological thriller about two people sharing psychoses in a motel room. While the play itself works as a disturbing look into the minds of two very disturbed people, Friedkin's rather literal film is less than successful. Truth be told, Uncle P was very disappointed to find himself falling asleep while watching the movie version of a play he'd found so electrifying on stage.



Friedkin has never matched the success of The Exorcist and based on the films he's made since, I doubt he ever will. 

More, anon.
Prospero