Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Interview With 'Isle Of The Damned' Director Mark Colegrove

The impact and influence of the grimy old sub-genre of the cannibal movie was immense. Made mainly by Italian filmmakers throughout the Seventies and Eighties, these overtly graphic and highly controversial movies featured all manner of wet, red and extreme imagery – rape, torture, mutilation, savagery, castration and cruelty to animals; to say they caused a shit-storm on release is putting it mildly. Many titles were added to the video-nasty list and banned throughout the world. As we know, this was one of the main appeals of titles such as Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Mountain of the Cannibal God, Anthropophagus and Deep River Savages. The fact that audiences were prohibited from watching them, made them clamber all the more to sneak a peak at forbidden images…

This extreme and unsettling sub-genre continues to chew (sorry!) through the ages, making its feverish mark and inspiring a slew of new filmmakers to create their own deranged excursions into the green inferno of cannibal cinema.

Isle of the Damned is one such title – a movie that shamelessly wears it influences on its badly dubbed, deliberately amateurish and bloodily soiled sleeve, lovingly parodying the entrails-saturated genre that inspired it. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with its director, the elusive Antonello Giallo aka Mark Colegrove to have a chat about his tongue-in-flayed-cheek movie, Italian gore cinema, the challenges of low-budget filmmaking and The Simpsons

How did the idea for Isle of the Damned come about? Had you always conceived it as a parody? What inspired it?

It was definitely a parody from the get-go, inspired by all the old Italian cannibal films. We knew that if we were to try to do a serious Italian cannibal film on our budget it would have ended up unintentionally hilarious. A serious film really wouldn’t be our style anyhow. The script was written by Mark Leake, and we had done one previous film together called Pleasures of the Damned, which is the prequel to Isle… Jack Steele is the main character of that one as well, and it’s more of a zombie film, with devil worshipping bikers. Immediately after we finished Pleasures, we decided to do a follow up, since the whole bad dubbing/bad wig shtick worked a bit better that we expected, and we wanted to do more with the Jack Steele character.

How was the production, given the low budget of the film?

Nobody was getting paid, so scheduling was a complete nightmare. Everybody was essentially giving up their Sundays to act and help out on the crew, and since we were only shooting one day a week, sometimes for just a few hours per day, production stretched on over a period of three summers, and I would spend the winters editing.

This was your feature directorial debut. How was the experience for you? Was it a difficult shoot? What were the most challenging aspects?

I had a good amount of experience editing, as well as behind the camera before this, so I felt like I had a good grasp on how to put sequences together. Also we had a great crew, and generally the more good people you surround yourself with, the smoother things will go. It’s important to put trust in the folks you’re working with. If you’re unable to delegate responsibility, you’ll end up wearing too many hats, and ultimately the film will suffer. As I mentioned before, the most difficult thing was scheduling; if we were all getting paid to do this, and it was our only job, we probably could have done this in a couple months as opposed to three years.

Much of the comedy evident in the film stems from the horrific situations and predicaments – all parodying older Italian cannibal movies of course. How do you go about getting the right balance of comedy and horror? Do you think you lean slightly towards one more than the other?

I lean towards comedy in anything I work on, it’s what I watch the most of, and my favorite horror flicks are the horror comedies like Braindead, Evil Dead 2, Toxic Avenger, etc. The concept for the comedy in Isle was just the simple audacity of recreating an Italian cannibal film. By being serious and deadpan in the execution, on our budget, we knew it would be funny as an intentionally bad film for the MST3K (Mystery Science Theater 3000) crowd. Had we tried to put a bunch of cornball jokes in there in the vein of Scary Movie, the film never would have worked. Obviously there’s a lot of cornball in there, but there’s no actual direct jokes. The joke is how stupid the film is. For me, the gore had to be good though, the over-the-top gore and kick-ass authentic sounding soundtrack from Paul Joyce (as Kobold) help accentuate the stupidity of everything else that’s happening.

Where you ever concerned about going ‘too far’ in terms of the gory, graphic and at times rather shocking imagery you created?

Not really. There were a couple things we debated not showing, but we set out to make a “shock” film, so in the end everything made the final cut. To a lot of the folks that only love serious horror, and are simply looking for the sickest film they can find, they’ll definitely find the gross-out stuff here, but they may be disappointed by the moronic plotting of Isle. I’ve heard a number of times, from people who passionately hate the film, “Well, at least there’s some good gore.” Also, I think had we not “gone all the way” it would have been an injustice to the original films.

What do you think ensures comedy and horror are so often good bed-fellows, if approached properly?

Let’s face it, most horror films are cheesy, ridiculous, filled with stupid dialogue, and constantly insult the viewer’s intelligence at any given opportunity. Compared to the sheer volume of crappy horror films that come out, there really are only a handful of good, legitimately scary ones. The fact that audiences are VERY familiar with the conventions of the horror genre makes it an easy target for parody. I think ultimately the audience wants something that’s somewhat familiar, but approaches the execution in a new form. When you see a film that approaches the comedy in a fresh way and not a Scream or Scary Movie knock-off, it can be very exciting. The success of Shawn of the Dead is a good example and now people are producing knock-offs of that formula.

How difficult was it to create the special effects and make-up in the film on such a low budget?

It was a pain in the ass, that’s for sure! We wanted the FX to be good, of course, and that’s where most of the film’s budget went. We had a couple amazing FX gurus, Shane Vannest and Ian Potter, who were able to come up with some innovative ways of doing things cheaply yet still looking great. We’d get together three or four nights a week after our day jobs to work on severed limbs and FX for the coming Sunday, and it was an exhausting but fun process!

Why do you think these sorts of films – overtly gory, comedic, and deliberately shocking – remain so popular today?

Well every horror fan loves some splatter I think. It never really gets old! As long as filmmakers can keep thinking of new ways to kill zombies, horror will be popular!

How difficult is it being an indie filmmaker in the industry today?

It’s still tough, but there are several new outlets for distribution that help level the playing field between us and the big guys. We self-distributed Isle for the US, and then went on to secure or own deals with several companies for international distribution without the aid of a sales agent. Before the dawn of the digital revolution we probably wouldn’t have been able to do this on our own. It has its downside though; obviously piracy will cut into your sales, especially when you’re not a big budget Hollywood remake raking in millions of dollars.

What are the challenges of making low budget genre pictures? What are the subsequent rewards?

Well the obvious constraints are recruiting cast and crew, access to locations, good equipment, etc. Mark Leake and I were talking about that recently, and he made brought up a good point: anybody who makes a film and overcomes those boundaries, has essentially accomplished the impossible. It’s an epic task taking on a project that large simply out of your own love for it. So subsequently the rewards are much greater. A no budget film is an extremely personal project, so at the end of the day you can feel more proud of your achievements. Assuming we did this with someone else’s money we would have never had this much control over the final product and artistic vision.

Who or what has inspired you most as a filmmaker?

I grew up watching Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and all the 80s classics, with a good mix of Evil Dead, early Peter Jackson and Troma, all thrown in the mix. But it occurred to me recently that maybe The Simpsons has been one of my biggest influences. It came out when I was 10, and I watched it religiously ever since. Most of the stuff I’ve done has been somewhat subversive satire in that vein, even Isle of the Damned could be one of the bad movies that Troy McClure has starred in.

What stories and ideas appeal to you most as a filmmaker?

I love comedy, particularly social satire or a good underdog story. I also love bizarre cult films, cinema of the 70s. Any story can be appealing depending on how it’s told. I don’t actually watch a lot of new horror, I feel like I’ve seen the same garbage over and over again, especially with all the remakes that are coming out now. Occasionally you get a gem like House of the Devil. Obviously the story wasn’t what was appealing about it, but rather the way it was told.

What does the future hold for you? Any projects you can tell me about?

Well we’re in the midst of filming Mutantis, a monster flick in the vein of Blood Freak or Nightbeast. It’ll have a lot of the same humor as Isle and it’s written by Mark Leake and being directed by Kelly Fitzgerald. I’m taking a backseat as the “exec producer.” Hopefully later in the year I’ll go back to directing, with a sitcom pilot called Satanish, we’ll also soon be posting more comedy shorts on our site, and getting a re-release of Pleasures of the Damned out there on DVD by August or September. So things are pretty busy!

Lastly – I just have to ask. Who the hell IS Antonella Giallo?!!

Antonello Giallo is our excuse to make an intentionally bad film with crappy dubbing, and our scapegoat for the overall sleaziness of the film.

Isle of the Damned is available in the UK later this year courtesy of Yellow Fever Films.

The Death Rattle's Guide to Essential Slasher Movies

Aaron over at The Death Rattle has just completed a mammoth trip through the dankest recesses of slasher movie history this month, notching up an impressive collection of reviews and articles on everyone's favourite hack'n'slash sub-genre. As well as all the usual suspects (Freddy, Jason, Michael - I mean you), Aaron also explores lesser seen, obscure classics - as well as exploring the Italian precursor to the slasher - the giallo - and offers up recommendations for horror fans who long for a little slasher nostalgia.

Aaron invited a few fellow horror bloggers (including yours truly) to chuck in their two-cents worth, and wax lyrical about their fave stalk'n'slash flicks.

So head over yonder and prepare to lose your heart and strip nude for your killer as The Death Rattle takes you on a doom-laden, blood-spattered trek through slasher movie history...

'Hello? Hello, who's there? Aaron is that you? This isn't funny anymore! Stop screwin' around you guys...'

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sergio Martino - Italy's Unsung Exploitation King

The prolific and versatile career of Sergio Martino spans many movie genres; sci-fi, horror, action, documentary, sex-comedy, war and westerns. With titles such as The Mountain of the Cannibal God, The River of the Great Alligator, The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, Naked and Violent, A Man Called Blade and Vendetta from the Future, it’s obvious Martino had a penchant for exploitative fare laden with copious amounts of sex and violence. It therefore comes as no surprise, given that Martino was most prolific in the Seventies and Eighties and not afraid to experiment or dabble with different genres, that the director is perhaps most famed, and rightly so, for his work in the horror/thriller arena; specifically his violent and stylish gialli. Produced throughout the Seventies – arguably the Golden Era of the exclusively Italian sub-genre, several of these films featured memorable collaborations with the director’s muse at the time, the alluring and equally prolific actress, Edwige Fenech.

Perhaps because of Martino’s willingness to experiment and work in different genres, not really allowing himself to be associated with one kind of film in particular, he doesn’t really receive the recognition that he should for his contributions to Italian genre cinema. Regardless of whether he was directing a giallo or a gun-ho sci-fi action flick, Martino still directed with flair, style and the desire to give his audiences what they wanted – namely, thrills, chills and cleavage. Lots of cleavage.

Below are several of his most memorable genre titles – while they should certainly not be considered to be his best work – they are nonetheless an indication of his versatility as a director.

Torso (1973). The brutal murders of several college girls plunge the campus into paranoia and terror. Four friends (including Suzy Kendall – The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), who also just happen to be young beautiful women, decide to leave town for a few days until the killer is apprehended. They head for the safety of a secluded country villa – little do they realise though, that the crazed maniac has followed them to the retreat and fully intends to off them one, by one, by lingerie-clad one.
One of Martino’s later gialli, Torso is a lean exercise in atmosphere, sustained tension and elaborately stylish murder sequences. Stripping the formula right back to basics enables Martino do away with such hindrances as plot, characterisation and story. In their place we have a simple tale of imperilled women and the twisted psycho who is stalking them. Scenes of titillating nudity and fairly redundant exposition gradually bleed away once the women reach their villa and the killer starts offing them. One stand out scene features one of the friends stranded in the woods, high on drugs and tripping out, being startled as a mysterious figure emerges menacingly from the mist…

Island of the Fish Men (1979). Lieutenant Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli) and several escaped convicts are shipwrecked on a mysterious island. After encountering the ethereal Amanda (Barbara Bach – Short Night of Glass Dolls), Claude is introduced to her scientist father, Professor Ernest Marvin. It soon transpires that Marvin has discovered the lost city of Atlantis and is transforming the island’s indigenous people into amphibious deep-sea diving creatures in order to retrieve the treasures of Atlantis. Amanda has a psychic link with the creatures and often swims with them at night. Wearing very little.
Loosely based on HG Wells’ ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’, Island of the Fish Men was released several times under several different monikers. Initially released uncut as Island of the Fish Men, the rights of Sergio’s aquatic-horror were then bought by American distributor United Pictures Organization. Re-released as Something Waits in the Dark, the new cut featured a brand new opening scene featuring Mel Ferrer and Cameron Mitchell (Blood and Black Lace) and boasted effects by Chris Walas, as well as a new score and 15 minutes slashed from the running time, by order of Roger Corman. In 1980, the film was re-cut and released again, under the title of Screamers – with a trailer featuring a man being turned inside out – even though no such image was ever featured in any cuts of the film. The mind boggles.

The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978). When her husband goes missing during an anthropology expedition through the jungles of New Guinea, blonde ‘n’ busty Susan (Ursula Andress) and her brother Arthur enlist the services of Professor Foster to help them track him down. They head for the mountain Ra Ra Me as they believe Susan’s husband has been captured by a primitive tribe of cannibals. As they venture further into the inhospitable jungle, it becomes obvious they all have ulterior motives for being there – and before they know it they’ve also been added to the menu of the local tribe of cannibals who want Susan as their new Goddess.
Upon its release, The Mountain of the Cannibal God caused quite a stir as it featured several scenes of actual cruelty to animals. As well as being treated to the sight of a monitor lizard being unceremoniously gutted, slack-jawed audiences gasped further when a live monkey is shown being eaten by a python and someone does rapey things to a giant pig. Martino claimed that the only reason he slotted these shots into the film was because he caved from the pressure of his distributors to ‘spice’ things up a little. The film remained banned in the UK until 2001! With this flick, its obvious Martino just took the money and ran, dropping any semblance of political correctness on the way.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972). A very loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’, Your Vice… is the morbid tale of alcoholic writer Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli – Bay of Blood) and his timid, long-suffering wife Irina (Anita Strindberg – A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin) who live a self-destructive and claustrophobic existence in their crumbling mansion, often throwing wild bacchanalian parties for the local hippy populace. When Oliviero’s mistress is murdered, he becomes the prime suspect – and when his sexy niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech) suddenly arrives for a visit, things become increasingly fraught with tension and paranoia. Irina finds comfort in Floriana’s arms – and bed – and the two decide to find a way to deal with Oliviero and his mounting violence and paranoia, once and for all.
Boasting prowling camera work that might make even Argento a little envious, Martino utilises his location here to great effect, creating spooky spaces and thrilling set pieces from the sparse interior of the mansion – the air of which hangs heavy with a stifling sexual maelstrom. Throw in a few scenes of Sapphic love-making, a mysterious black cat and several vicious murders and you have a gloriously vintage, sexy and moody giallo that rates right up there with the best of ‘em.

2019, After the Fall of New York (1983). A disgraced former military hero heads into war-torn New York to rescue the president the last fertile woman alive. Martino’s rip-off answer to John Carpenter’s vastly superior Escape from New York, 2019 is a post-apocalyptic spaghetti sci-fi horror set in the aftermath of a nuclear war that has caused the world’s population to become infertile. No babies have been born for over 15 years and mankind is on the brink of extinction. Society has broken down into two groups – the evil Euraks who hide out in and control New York City, and the rebel Federation, who ride around on white horses a lot. The somewhat un-heroically named Parsifal is hired by the Federation to infiltrate New York City to rescue the only fertile woman left on Earth.
Laser guns, militant midgets, dominatrix cyborg babes and car jousting; with 2019 Martino went all out to give salivating audiences a thrilling exploitation ride and in doing so, perfectly encapsulates why B-movies can be so bloody great, as he directs the increasingly energetic tale with aplomb. The explosions, violence and OTT special effects manage to surpass those featured in Carpenter’s movie, ensuring 2019 unspools as a trashy and deliriously fun flick.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Addiction

Dir. Abel Ferrara

When New York philosophy student Kathleen Conklin (Lili Taylor) is dragged off the street down a dark alley and bitten by a strange and alluring woman, she begins to turn into a vampire. Being somewhat predisposed to philosophical contemplation, Kathleen considers her rapidly changing perspectives on the nature of evil, addiction and humanity. Soon, her need for blood begins to consume her life and she realises that her very existence may have to be dedicated to finding her next fix...

The entire world's a graveyard, and we, the birds of prey picking at the bones. That's all we are. We're the ones who let the dying know the hour has come.”

“Vampires are lucky, they can feed on others. We gotta eat away at ourselves” declared the character of Zoe in Ferrara’s earlier, no less gruelling film, Bad Lieutenant. In this line of dialogue the nature of addiction is addressed with a dark poetry that rings true and with The Addiction Ferrara takes this concept to the next logical level, once again contemplating the all-consuming nature of addiction, as filtered through this philosophical vampire tale. The title refers to the protagonist’s growing addiction to blood, mirroring that of drug addiction. Ferrara subverts the usual vampire genre conventions and presents vampirism as addiction – a metaphor for drug addiction – the physical need to consume blood, and deftly approaches the notion from a highly intellectual angle. Vampires spouting philosophical discourse and exhibiting a preoccupation with the existentialism of their predicament, is the order of the day. Twilight this is not! And it’s all set to an oxymoronic soundtrack of Hip-Hop music. I kid thee not.

The Addiction eschews the usual narrative structure in favour of a series of almost vignette-like scenes in which characters debate and hypothesise and engage in heavy intellectual discussions. This may sound tedious, but really it’s all provocative stuff, even though at times it might make one feel as though they’re visiting the staff room of the philosophy faculty. The ‘narrative’ as it is follows Kathleen as she gets to grips with her new needs. Her initial tentative steps to retrieve blood, and then her struggle to control the power she wields, the superiority she feels over other people. Her encounter with strange centuries old uber-vampire Peina (Christopher Walken), who has gone cold-turkey, soon puts her in her place again. The violence when it occurs is raw and real – no deftly precise fangs here, its all gnashing and jagged tearing at fleshy throats.

The violence of my will against theirs.’

When Kathleen is attacked her ‘turning’ occurs quickly – Ferrara is more concerned with how she deals with it on an intellectual, psychological level. Issues concerning AIDS are also briefly addressed and Kathleen is told early on that what is eating away at her body is not a virus. When she realises what is happening to her, she faces it head on and critically analyses it with morbid precision. Self-determinism, free will and fate are all considered along with meditations on what suffering, guilt, pain and freedom really are. As Kathleen is a philosophy student, she is prone to quoting the likes of Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger and Kierkegaard as she questions and probes her newly acquired vampirism. Occasionally Ferrara touches on a few old-school conventions, or at least ensures they’re in the background, such as the shots of mirrors covered up with drapes.

Our addiction is evil. The propensity for this evil lies in our weakness before it. Kierkegaard was right - there is an awful precipice before us. But he was wrong about the leap - there's a difference between jumping and being pushed.”

The backdrop of the morbid tale is a typically Ferrara-esque New York, all grimy streets, cluttered apartments, bleak decay, steamy sidewalks and junkie-ridden alleys. The Addiction is a very serious film; its at times lofty adherence to its contemplative subject matter is stifling and weighty; but never dull. The nature of evil is pondered and discussed in depth throughout, with references to the Vietnam War and Nazi Germany; indeed the film opens with a slideshow of images from throughout human history charting numerous atrocities and acts of inhumanity carried out. The very obvious but extremely fitting metaphor of humans literally feeding off each other is dragged out into the stark light of Ken Kelsch’s brooding cinematography for all to see.

Moody, bleak, overwhelmingly pessimistic – many may find it challenging to sit through all the weighty conversations and verging on indulgent contemplations; but its worth it – The Addiction is a meaty film with lots of ideas and disquieting notions about the human condition to sink your teeth into.

To face what we are in the end, we stand before the light and our true nature is revealed. Self-revelation is annihilation of self.”

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Dir. George Romero

Insecure teenager Martin believes he is actually an 84-year-old vampire and that he must drink the blood of humans to remain alive. His belief is reinforced by his elderly cousin, Cuda, with whom he is sent to live. Cuda is convinced vampirism is part of a family curse. Driven by his insatiable blood lust, the frustrated and confused teen is forced to kill and feed, drugging his victims to reduce their suffering before opening their veins with a razor blade. However, his inhuman desires are almost overcome when he begins an affair with a desperate older woman and he starts to question the validity of his self-belief…

Criminally undervalued by audiences and critics at the time of its release, Martin is now generally accepted to be Romero's finest work to date; it’s certainly the director’s personal favourite of his own movies. With Martin, Romero slyly subverted the haggard conventions of the vampire myth and pretty much reinvented the vampire movie genre; in its wake came films such as The Addiction and The Hunger, in which vampirism was utilised as a metaphor to explore concepts such as addiction and obsession. Romero keeps things ambiguous – we never really find out if Martin is an actual vampire or if he’s just an extremely disturbed and confused young man. As the eponymous anti-hero, John Amblas provides a sensitive, sympathetic and moving central performance. There is an interesting dichotomy in his gentle demeanour and the atrocious acts he carries out to sate his appetite for blood – particularly in the film’s shocking and blunt opening scene set aboard a night train.

The film has an oddly European feel to it, most notably in the music and art-house editing. The narrative is penetrated by black and white inserts that may be flashbacks to Martin’s previous life or flights of fancy he has conjured to lend his current crimes a more romantic edge. The events depicted within them more closely resemble typical traits and recognisable conventions and imagery of vampire flicks – flaming torches, brandished crucifixes and breathless, candelabrum bearing beauties.

Romero touches on the notion that Martin’s vampirism is all in his head, and a number of times throughout, Martin himself says that ‘there is no magic – it’s a disease.’ He also has a distinct lack of fangs (his tools are a razorblade and hypodermic needle), and he has no aversion to daylight, garlic or crucifixes.

Interestingly, and rather humorously, he rejects the romanticised ideas of vampires as tortured and tragic lovers – though to an extent that’s exactly what his frigidity renders him. Martin’s latent necrophilia is explored too, particularly in his timid and burgeoning relationship with bored housewife Mrs Santini (the Elizabeth Perkins-like Elyane Nadeau) and he gradually confesses to being too shy to do ‘sexy stuff’ with girls, particularly when they are awake. Martin appears to long for human contact, yet he shirks from it when it presents itself. He is essentially crippled by his own repression.

Aside from Martin and his draconian cousin Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), most other people, including Cuda’s granddaughter Christina (Christine Forrest aka Mrs George Romero) – the film’s only voice of reason - basically believe him to be a simpleton; someone to be pitied not feared. Cuda however sees Martin as pure evil, having inherited his dark inclination from a family curse. He makes Martin’s life very difficult and even refers to him as 'Nosferatu'. The tension generated from their various altercations provides the film with some of its most resonant drama. There is something genuinely sinister in the scene where Martin gets his own back, mocking his cousin while dressed as a vampire; complete with swishing cape and false fangs in an empty playground at night.

Interestingly the town where the film is set is depicted as economically and socially archaic. Cuda seems to represent the views of most of the older inhabitants whose old ways and stubborn customs threaten to stunt the growth of the town. The idea of traditional values and small towns dying out because of ‘brain-drain’ and their failure to move with the times, trapping their inhabitants and stunting their potential is subtly explored through the predicament of Cuda’s daughter and her lover (Tome Savini). The film is not without its humour too – notably Romero’s cameo as a wine-loving priest and the scene in which Martin prepares to visit a woman whose blood he wants to drink. Black and white scenes of him pursuing her through a huge house as she coyly glances back are intercut with him actually making his way into the house and to her room, only to burst in and find her engaging in extramarital activities with another man. The moment quickly becomes suspenseful however, as Martin struggles to overcome both people. While some of the acting on display in this scene is very uneven, the sight of the pathetic woman feebly trying to call the police is quite taut and Romero wrings every last drop of tension from the moment well.

The languid pace serves to better pull viewers into the story, and events remain utterly compelling - all the way to the blunt, brutal and quietly powerful ending...

Martin is a witty, shocking and intriguing tale of addiction, sexuality, obsession and vampirism as mental illness and latent necrophilia.

Martin (cert. 18) will be released on DVD (£15.99) by Arrow Video on 28th June 2010. Special Features include: the original theatrical cut of the film with 5.1 and Stereo audio options plus a choice of 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio presentations; ‘Wampyre’ – the Italian cut of the film - reputedly edited by Dario Argento - featuring Italian dialogue (with optional English subtitles) and musical score by Goblin; ‘Making Martin: A Recounting’; Documentary on George A. Romero; TV and radio spots; original theatrical trailer; photo gallery; four sleeve art options; double sided poster; exclusive collector’s booklet; six original poster art postcards.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Last Man on Earth

Dirs. Ubaldo Ragona & Sidney Salkow

Due to a mysterious immunity he acquired when bitten by a rabid bat, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is the sole survivor of a devastating global pandemic. By day he spends his time collecting supplies, strengthening his fortifications and destroying the bodies of the living-dead plague victims. By night he boards himself into his house, as hordes of the vampiric post-human creatures leave their hiding places and congregate outside his house, baying for his blood… How much isolation can one man take?

Based on Richard Matheson’s chilling novel, I Am Legend, The Last Man on Earth is a creepy, deeply upsetting and thought-provoking exploration of one man’s increasingly fragile mental state as he struggles to accept his isolated existence in a dark new world. This particular adaptation is the most successful in evoking the desperation, mounting hopelessness and quiet dread of its central protagonist: the other two adaptations, The Ī©mega Man and I Am Legend, ditched eerie pathos and contemplative meditations on the strength of the human will, to offer us gun-ho action and wildly misjudged tones, as Will Smith and Charlton Heston spouted clunky dialogue and blasted away their foes with machine guns and stuff.

‘An empty, dead and silent world.’

Last Man sticks closest to the source material – opting for quiet menace and spine-tingling dread as opposed to silly action machismo. It opens with various shots depicting a city in quiet ruin. Intrigue is immediately established and held vice-like as we then see images of bodies strewn across streets. It all looks like the morning after the night before the apocalypse. The first glimpse we catch of the protagonist is through the decrepit shutters of his window – a veritable prisoner in his own home. By way of an, at times rather awkward, internal monologue we learn more about Morgan and the unenviable situation he finds himself in – as he admits to feeling sad that he even woke up again, and reveals it has been three years since he ‘inherited the earth.’ We follow him through his mundane duties – we can tell they’re mundane because, well, he tells us, but also because of Price’s world weary performance. We gradually become aware that he’s barricaded himself into his home and has at least made some effort to cling to a semblance of civilised society – his pad is strewn with books, tasteful furniture, records and food and drink. The exterior of his home is decked out with mirrors and garlic… Bon Temps this ain’t.

We’re gradually fed more information, both through flashbacks and through Morgan’s actions; moving through the house, occasionally lifting various objects contemplatively and through the city with a quiet sense of purpose. We follow him on his salvaging expeditions and bear witness to him disposing of the various plague-ridden bodies that line the streets. The various shots of bodies tumbling into a vast and flaming pit are amongst the film’s most striking moments. What becomes clear is that even though Morgan is fast reaching the end of his tether and running out of hope, he still sees the value of maintaining a semblance of order and structure in a chaotic world. Price carries the film – he is in every scene and through the flashbacks his character is fleshed-out fully – a broken man who has lost his wife and daughter to the plague. Price offers a restrained performance, effortlessly exuding the sadness and waning hopefulness of a desperate man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. His doomful intoning contains all the elegant and macabre poise one would expect, and he ensures that the audiences’ sympathies lie firmly with Morgan.

The flashbacks are peppered with scientists desperately trying to find a cure for the disease, as society is depicted - as effectively as its low budget would allow – crumbling into chaos. There are a few issues with continuity and day for night photography, but this can be forgiven due to the unshakable air of bleakness and hopelessness the tale weaves, and of course the haunting performance from the ever-reliable Price. The film remains strangely relevant with its concerns about pandemics and global paranoia. In fact, were it not for the hokey and outdated scientific jargon – which simply makes it quite endearing – The Last Man on Earth would pack much more of a resonant punch. The film raises some provocative questions George Romero would also touch on in his Dead movies – it poses the question: how are people supposed to behave logically enough to ‘do away with’ loved ones? A wonderfully creepy scene depicts Morgan’s dire predicament when his dead wife returns to the house and begins clawing softly at the door, calling out to him.
It would seem this film, as well as Carnival of Souls had an overwhelming impact on Romero – the sight of the shuffling undead congregating around a house and baying for the flesh of its inhabitant are overwhelmingly similar and equally unsettling to those depicted in his work.

‘More of them for the pit.’
When a strange woman shows up, apparently showing no signs of infection, and talking of other survivors like her, events take a sinister turn. Morgan, initially cautious of the woman, begins to form an attachment to her – she’s the first ‘real’ person he’s met in years. The film does flail a little in its exploration of who the ‘real monster’ of the story is. Is it Morgan – who is viewed by the ‘survivors’ as a tyrannical devil? Or the survivors of the plague, who he viewed as murderous, vampiric vermin? Or maybe they’re both at fault? Snippets of conversation about evolution add a strange and worrying power to the figures of the survivors. The subversion of religious connotations at the film’s climax and the fact that Morgan’s death seems to cement the ‘survivors’ hopelessness, ensures the film ends on a devastatingly bleak note.

While far from perfect, The Last Man on Earth is perhaps the most successful adaptation of Matheson’s novel yet. Its timeless themes of isolation, hope, loneliness, the need for companionship and fraying humanity are as potent now as they’ve ever been. A thoughtful and effectively creepy film, that unfolds as the character study of a man who wakes up and finds himself alone in a dark new world.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Bikini Girls On Ice

Dir: Geoff Klein

These girls are just so damn hot; a maniac killer must put them on ice!

Stranded on their way to a bikini car-wash fundraiser, a group of hot college girls find refuge in an abandoned gas station on the outskirts of town. Soon their broken down bus is the least of their worries as a maniacal axe-wielding mechanic starts picking them off one by one.

If the idea of watching a busload of bimbos in skimpy bikinis being menaced by a maniacal mechanic in the middle of nowhere after they’ve been washing cars and frolicking in soap-suds (in slow motion nonetheless!) is your thing – you’re in for a treat. Bikini Girls on Ice is old school slasher-movie titillation with a capital TIT. Combining elements of House of Wax, Psycho, The Toolbox Murders and countless other 80s backwoods slasher flicks, it really doesn’t waste any time and cuts straight to the chase with a particularly atmospheric and surprisingly taut opening scene in which a lone bikini-clad lovely (Suzi Lorraine) comes a cropper at the hands of an unseen and particularly nasty assailant when she stops off at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Old conventions are rolled out as much as they are slyly exploited, particularly the use of phones and vehicles with a habit of breaking down in this movie.

With a title like Bikini Girls on Ice, you’d be forgiven for expecting an overtly trashy flick that has its tongue stuck firmly in its cheek. What is most surprising is the fact that Bikini Girls actually takes itself rather seriously as it unspools – all the way to its dark conclusion – and for the most part, proves to be an entertaining slasher fest with its roots planted firmly in old-school un-PC horrors like Friday the 13th et al. There is even a Crazy-Ralph type harbinger of doom who shows up to warn the girls that if they stay at the gas station after dark, they’ll be dooooomed!

In a similar vein to say, Zombie Strippers, Bikini Girls has the potential for parodiable laughs galore, and falsely suggests a much different tone than the one it actually exhibits, given the trashy title. Instead it sticks rather rigidly to preconceived conventions and plays it so straight it never really manages to stand out or do anything remotely interesting. While certainly not a bad movie, it isn’t a particularly great one either. It’s just kind of a beige movie.

I half expected it to erupt into a tongue-in-cheek pro-feminist exercise with the skimpily clad girls more than holding their own against the aggressive brute stalking and slaying them and eventually kicking some serious butt; all April March anthems and riot grrrl attitude. Not so. It does for women’s lib what Jason did for property value in the Crystal Lake vicinity. It even has lesbians, albeit the sexy, immaculately tousled and full-pouted ones. Various vague subplots involving girly rivalry, backstabbing and petty jealousies are left unexplored and only for a moment do they evoke memories of similar subplots in the likes of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, House on Sorority Row and The Descent, where the dysfunctional dynamics of a bunch of girls confined to a single location for an extended period of time, almost overshadow the threat posed by the killer! Slasher fans should revel in the various stalking/chase sequences though, as tension is effectively ratcheted and, when they occur, the ferocity of the attacks on the nubile victims are quite startling in their intensity. This slasher villain is a greasy mechanic with severe anger issues whose aggression and violence is as extreme as his back story is absent.

Proceedings are effectively aided by a creepy score courtesy of Benjamin Beladi and Michael Vickerage, and a particularly tense scene involving a box of keys and pounding coming from the trunk of a car serves as one of the suspense ridden highlights. A number of shots featuring various characters looking into a freezer as the camera skulks quietly up behind them are also incredibly creepy.

A very conventional, stylishly shot and false alarm ridden slasher populated by feisty damsels in distress.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Dark Art Of Seduction: Femme Fatales From Noir To Horror, And Back

'Your hand, your tongue, Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under 't.' - Lady Macbeth

'Appearances are deceptive.' - Aesop

The history of cinema is positively strewn with ‘femme fatales’ – alluring, seductive and dangerous women whose advances usually belie wounded psyches or bitter cruelty, who ensnare their lovers through sexual conquest, often leading them into compromising and deadly situations. ‘Femme fatale’ is French for ‘deadly woman’. Quite often these women were portrayed as somehow wronged and whose vengeance decimates all those who have scorned them. An archetypal character of literature, cinema and even art, the femme fatale is most frequently associated with Film Noir. Film Noir is a cinematic term used to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas – extremely popular throughout the 1940s and 50s – especially those that emphasized a particularly pessimistic outlook on the world, boasted characters that exhibited darkly sexual motivations and were stylishly filmed with moody lighting.

Typical Film Noir stories usually revolved around some sort of criminal investigation carried out by a private detective or amateur sleuth. Characters are usually presented as flawed and alienated. Certain archetypal characters reappear throughout many film noirs – one of which is the figure of the femme fatale.

Actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity), Jane Greer (Out of the Past), Rita Hayworth (Gilda) and Lana Turner (The Postman Always Rings Twice) made names for themselves portraying femme fatales who tried to attain their hidden purpose by exploiting their feminine wiles such as beauty, mystique, and sexual allure. Sometimes these women were also portrayed as victims of circumstance caught in situations from which she cannot escape. Other actresses who portrayed notorious femme fatales in more modern takes on film noir (often referred to as neo-noir) include Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct), Linda Fiorentino (The Last Seduction) and Kathleen Turner (Body Heat).

Of course, the perceived dangers of female sexuality can be traced back to Christian representations of Eve as a temptress whose self-serving actions bring about the fall of man. Predatory female sexuality is rife throughout world mythologies (the sirens of Greek myths), early Western literature (Oscar Wilde’s Salome and the Marquis de Sade’s Juliette) and art. Towards the beginning of the twentieth century, femme fatales were portrayed as vampiresses – hence the term ‘vamp’ – and succubae – and her power was her allure and charm and with these she drained, figuratively speaking, the metaphorical life-force of her lovers. Indeed, one of the first cinematic representations of this vampish femme fatale was Theda Bara in A Fool There Was – way back in 1915. In the 1930s and 40s, Hard-boiled detective fiction writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet and Mickey Spillane created many memorable femme fatales and ensured she was a defining characteristic of Hard-Boiled conventions. These depictions of strong-willed, dangerous, untrustworthy and highly sexual women would have a huge influence on cinema and sure enough, it was during the 1940s and 50s that the femme fatale we recognise today began to flourish and become cemented – particularly in American cinema. As film noir grew in influence and popularity, so did the traits and distinctions of the archetypal femme fatale.

Nowadays the femme fatale is not just a stable of the film noir, she is a figure that has also become synonymous with the erotic thriller – an off-shoot of the neo-noir sub-genre. Neo-noir refers to crime dramas and mystery films that were produced from the mid-1960s onwards, and while they can’t really be considered true film noirs as they are shot in colour and do not always evoke the visual style of classic film noir, they still utilise the same themes, archetypes, and plots that film noirs did. The late Eighties and early Nineties for example, boasted a slew of big budget sexually charged erotic thrillers featuring big name stars seemingly all too eager to slip into something ‘more comfortable’ – usually as little as possible. This saw the return of the femme fatale in films such Body Heat, Single White Female, and perhaps most importantly, Fatal Attraction.

Fatal Attraction is the nightmarish tale detailing the dark implications of a one night stand gone wrong. Very wrong. Daniel Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a successful, happily married New York attorney. He sleeps with his business acquaintance Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) while his wife and daughter are out of town. Bitterly regretting his passionate tryst with Alex, events soon become worse as Alex forms a maniacal obsession with him, placing herself, Daniel and his family in great danger. Fatal Attraction is responsible for the term ‘bunny boiler’ which is used to describe a particularly obsessive and potentially dangerous individual. The film is also significant and highly controversial because of its depiction of the femme fatale as a mentally ill woman. It is also interesting because it sporadically evokes sympathy for both Daniel and Alex – though conservative morality wins out ultimately and Alex is eventually dispatched like some sort of salivating slasher villain. Glenn Close’s performance won her an Oscar nomination and Michael Douglas also received critical accolades for taking on such an unsympathetic role.

Fatal Attraction also belongs to a group of similarly themed films that came out in the early Nineties. The ‘cuckoo-in-the-nest’ films featured the plight of middle class American families whose idyllic white-picketed lives and lushly furnished homes have been shattered by the invasion of a deranged outsider – usually with severe mental health issues. These outsiders come in the guise of psychotic nannies, roommates, lodgers and step-mothers. This cycle of ‘psychological thriller’ titles were essentially big budget blockbuster variations of slasher movie conventions. Titles included Single White Female, Pacific Heights, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Unlawful Entry, and most of them featured variations on the femme fatale. Even Made-for-TV movies got in on the action with a slew of titles including Preying Mantis (starring Jane Seymour in an against type role as a sexiful serial killer) and The Perfect Wife all featuring vengeful femme fatales involved with convoluted plots to either further their own gain or help them obtain bloody revenge for a past misdeed.

One of the big erotic thrillers of the Nineties was of course Basic Instinct. When a former rock star is brutally stabbed to death with an ice pick, during sex nonetheless, Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas again) is sent to investigate. The main suspect is writer Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), a devastatingly beautiful and somewhat mysterious young woman. The further Nick investigates her past, the more he becomes locked in a deadly cat and mouse game, and when he falls for her his life begins to fall apart. Notorious for the scene in which Stone’s character is interrogated by a roomful of burly male cops, only to silence them and gain the upper hand by simply crossing her mini-skirted legs revealing her lack of underwear underneath.

While certainly not as box office friendly as Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct, another erotic thriller from the early Nineties is camp cult favourite Poison Ivy. Starring Drew Barrymore and Sara Gilbert, Poison Ivy features Barrymore in provocative vamp mode and attempting to move in on Gilbert’s father and become the new matriarch of her friend’s family. Poison Ivy was directed by Katt Shea and was succeeded by a number of sequels – Poison Ivy II, Poison Ivy: The New Seduction and Poison Ivy IV: The Secret Society. Whilst the sequels all headed straight to DVD they were still a massive hit amongst fans that were still obviously salivating for more. The series’ knowing campness and highly charged scenes of sexual prowess combined with overwrought revenge schemes and sociopathic anti-heroines appears to be a winning formula. The last instalment, Poison Ivy: The Last Seduction featured the exploits of Violet – sister of the original ‘Poison Ivy’ from the first film. She has her sights sight on destroying the family of her childhood friend Joy, whose father Violet holds responsible for tearing her own family apart. The Poison Ivy films were springboards for several actresses including Jaime Pressly and Alyssa Milano and of course the first film helped Drew Barrymore reinvent herself from cute child actress to vampish siren. The success of the series is undoubtedly due to its unabashed willingness to be as daring and trashy as it can be and still have fun. According to film editor John Rosenberg, who worked on the third instalment of the series, as well as on titles such as The Convent and Body Count: “They reinforce the risk and potential bad consequences for men who get involved with seductresses.”(See below for full interview).

The femme fatale has often been condemned as a misogynistic representation of women by feminist criticism, though more recently, criticism on film noir has recognised the role of the femme fatale as an empowering and liberated one, citing the likes of Bette Davis and Kathleen Turner as examples of strong women in genre films. The femme fatale has also found her way into contemporary pop culture in the guise of the various heroines and anti-heroines of comics, films, books and video games. DC’s Catwoman is the perfect embodiment of what it is to be a femme fatale – whilst intelligent, alluring, smoulderingly seductive and powerful, she is also untrustworthy, self-serving and conniving. She gets what she wants by turning on the charm and lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce. She is ruthless and cunning and will stop at nothing to get her own way.
Most recently Cody Diablo penned Jennifer’s Body – another ‘seduction horror’ flick that wears its erotic influences on its bloodied sleeve and generated the next incarnation of the femme fatale as demonically possessed school girl.

In all her guises and various incarnations – from 'The Vamp' to the 'Bunny Boiler' to the 'Demonically Possessed Prom Queen', the smouldering glances, devious conniving and deceptive intentions of the femme fatale look like they’ll be with us for some time to come. Proving to be one of cinema’s most compelling archetypes, she has what it takes to slink along with the times, making herself irresistible to generation after generation…

Interview With John Rosenberg

As the editor of titles such as Poison Ivy 3, The Convent and Body Count, John Rosenberg is no stranger to piecing together dark tales of sex, violence and mayhem. I caught up him to ask him about the ongoing fascination cinema audiences have with the mysterious and alluring figure of the femme fatale.

The Convent
Can you tell me about your involvement and role as editor on Poison Ivy 3?

Rosenberg: I’d worked with the director, Kurt Voss, on a previous film, Horseplayer, which became a popular selection at the Sundance Film Festival. Kurt and I got along great — I really liked his edgy, offbeat style and he appreciated my editing, so he gave me free rein in cutting Poison Ivy. I’d worked on bigger budget films before then, including Prancer with Sam Elliott and the Alan Rudolph film, Made in Heaven, and I didn’t expect much from this one except the fun of working with Kurt. I don’t think either of us imagined it would become this cult film that people would still be watching years later.

In terms of the editing, the film revolved, for me, around the pool scene where Jaime Pressly strips naked and goes for an early morning swim while her childhood friend’s father watches from the upstairs window. It was a perfectly erotic femme fatale moment because you knew she knew the father was watching and he had no idea that this is the beginning of his end. I decided to cut the scene more as a montage joined to music than a strict narrative sequence. Through the juxtaposition of shots you see the father enjoying this guilty pleasure, a term that Maxim magazine gave to the entire movie, and Violet skinny dipping. I found an 18th century aria, a quite ethereal piece, to place against the scene. It evoked a sense that the father, for a brief moment between his coffee and heart medicine and scurrying off to work, was experiencing his version of heaven. At one point he’s distracted by the maid and Violet leaves the pool unnoticed. When the father looks back expecting to see Violet, she’s gone. Except there was no shot of the empty pool. So I combed through a bunch of takes and found one where the camera was lining up for the shot of the pool with Jaime Pressly, but she hadn’t found her mark yet. It was before the slate. I grabbed the shot and stuck it on the end of the scene, before the final shot of the father’s disappointed face. When I showed the scene to the director and producers they loved it. I don’t think we ever changed a frame of it, which is rare. The composer, however, went a different direction with the music.

A fourth instalment of the series was recently released. Why do you think the series is still on going? What do you think the appeal is to fans?

Rosenberg: Frankly, I was surprised to see it resurrected after so many years. I thought Poison Ivy 3 had finally nailed the franchise. But I guess there’s always a new crop of teenage boys who’d like to see a film like this. I think Jaime Pressly was terrific in Poison Ivy 3. When I teach at UCLA or The Art Institute many of the college guys tell me it was one of their favourite films growing up.

Why do you think the figure of the ‘femme fatale’ is still so captivating and compelling for audiences?

Rosenberg: Because there is some truth in it. And it incorporates two elements that moviegoers seem to like – sex and violence. Also, although these films are often edgy, they’re actually more like cautionary tales that uphold the status quo of conventional relationships. They reinforce the risk and potential bad consequences for men who get involved with seductresses. And visa versa for the women who play that role.

Do you have a particular favourite ‘femme fatale’?

Rosenberg: Other than Poison Ivy 3, my favourites include Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Barbara Stanwyk in Double Indemnity, Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. One of my top votes for femme fatale however, is Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential – a wonderful performance played, for the most part, contrary to the genre’s stereotype.

Can you tell us about any projects that you are currently working on?

Rosenberg: I’m writing a book about modern film editing which will be published later this year by Focal Press (Poison Ivy 3 will surely be mentioned in it!) and editing a feature documentary for a company out of New York. The doc is full of fascinating and quirky characters, which I like. And the city plays a significant role as well. A bit of a departure from the thriller genre!


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Interview with Nathan Shumate - Author of 'The Golden Age of Crap'

If the motorcycle-straddling female residents of Zombie Town are your thing, and the prospect of revisiting Camp Crystal Lake or watching those killer klowns from outer space do their ‘thang’ for the umpteenth time fills you with unarticulated glee, then chances are, you’re probably something of a connoisseur of bad movies. If you prefer Alan Smithee to, erm, Avant-garde, I think you’ll know where I’m coming from. And its fine! You’re in good company. Let’s face it, sometimes having a good ole’ rummage through the bargain bin in your local discount shop and withdrawing your hand to find it clammily clutching some truly abhorrent title involving ‘atomic zombie moms’ is, lets be honest, truly sublime. But what is it that draws us time and time again to these cheap, tacky and downright shoddy movies? What’s more – what makes us kinda sigh dreamily as we watch them, or compel us to preserve a special place in our heart for them?

These are but a few of the burning questions author Nathan Shumate addresses in his brand new book The Golden Age of Crap. No stranger to whiling away the hours in the company of Invisible Moms, Hostile Intentions, Robot Ninjas, the Laughing Dead and Six String Samurais’, Shumate has delved into the dankest recesses of straight-to-video gloriousness, with a critical but fun-loving eye, so we don’t have to. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Nathan to chat about his new book, cult appeal and bad, bad, BAD movies…

What is it about bad films that made you decide to write this book about them?

Nathan Shumate: For one thing, I was watching a lot of them, so I wanted to get something out of it.
When I call these movies “crap,” though, you have to realize that it’s an affectionate criticism. The movies included in this book aren’t necessarily bad (though of course many are) — some of them are actually among my favourites. But they’re largely junk food movies, the cinematic equivalent of a Twinkie.

What is it about these kinds of movies you love so much?

Nathan Shumate: I have a little rule I call “Nathan’s Entertainment Quotient,” which states that a movie’s entertainment value and its budget should be somehow related — not that it’s a strict mathematical formula, but generally a $200 million movie should, in a sane world, be dependably more entertaining than a $200,000 movie. It’s gratifying, then, to discover movies which exceed the entertainment value one would expect applying the quotient, in which the filmmaker has applied skill, determination, ingenuity and a love of the genre to make something genuinely entertaining.
Sometimes, too, you get the equivalent of “found art” — a movie whose entertainment value far exceeds either the ambitions or the competence of those who made it. If you wanted to be high-falutin’, you could talk about “outside art at the fringes” and such. I just know that sometimes, even in a sausage factory like the world of B-movies, magic happens.

Why do you think ‘bad’ films garner the huge cult followings and have the appeal they do?

Nathan Shumate: Thanks to MST3K (Mystery Science Theatre 3000 – for those who don’t know), the idea of bad movie viewing as a participatory activity — talking back to the screen instead of simply absorbing it — has grown like kudzu. Especially on the internet, where reactions and opinions form the basis of most blogs and personal sites, throwing eggs at B-movies has become almost a sport. It’s better than torching winos, I suppose. And, of course, part of it is the hipster counter-cultural posture: “I’m not going to like movies that I’m supposed to like; I’m going to like movies that I should hate!”

Any particularly interesting or astoundingly bizarre films you came across?

Nathan Shumate: Most true jaw-droppers are independent films which are largely the product of a single filmmaker — a driven writer/director/producer/editor/actor who has a peculiar, individual vision and will stop at nothing to realize it; by virtue of all of the hats that he keeps to himself, he’s also got no one around him in a position to puncture his balloon and point out to him all the flaws to which his enthusiasm blinds him.
Take Armageddon: The Final Challenge, which is included in the book. Somebody went to extreme lengths to complete a motion picture that makes absolutely no sense, though you can tell that the director THOUGHT he was making sense; in fact, he thought he was being profound. (That’s usually the biggest mistake right there.) You just watch something like that, stunned, and when it ends you conclude that the movie in the director’s head and the movie that you just watched aren’t the same movie.

How did you decide which films to include in the book?

Nathan Shumate: I decided that the book should be a cross-section of the movies which gained most of their audience on video during the mid-’80s to late ’90s, a time when the industry had just realized the profitability of content aimed at the video market. Niche movies could survive and be profitable on video in a way they never could in the theatre, and the idea that every movie would be someone’s favourite movie influenced distributors to put all sorts of things on videotape that they never would have touched previously. So the book holds a smattering of the genres that were directly targeted for video audiences: post-apocalyptic adventures, zombie epics, ninja flicks, etc.

Which of these films in particular have had the greatest impact on you, and what is your response to those who dismiss ‘trash’ cinema as a waste of time?

Nathan Shumate: Of the films in the book, I probably have the softest spot in my heart for Phantasm 2. A lot of horror movies throw in some of that “dream vs. reality” uncertainty, but Phantasm 2 hits just the right balance; all of the dreams are a little bit real, and all of the reality is tinged by dream. Add to that the structure of a stoic road trip, the pacing of a good comic book, visuals filled with bizarre imagery, and the sense that it would all make perfect sense if only you had a little more information… It’s perfect.

Can you tell me a little about yourself and your writing regime?

Nathan Shumate: As with the majority of writers the world over, I have an extreme lack of self-discipline. (That’s why the majority of writers never write anything.) To keep myself productive, I have a weekly publication schedule: every week, barring a scheduled vacation or a medical emergency, I post a new full-length review (“full-length” for me being about 1000 words). I have other projects like book reviews, the occasional short story or screenplay, and articles that I’m sometimes asked to do, but the weekly schedule of reviewing keeps my natural laziness from wholly asserting itself.

What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

Nathan Shumate: The mad dash to finish it. I had told myself for most of a year that I planned to have it done by this past April, but I dillied and dallied and eventually had to clear everything else off my plate to finish it up in a weeks-long marathon.

And the most rewarding?

Nathan Shumate: Every year I attend CONduit, a local speculative fiction convention, as a panelist. In between panels, I hang out in “author’s alley,” where the local writers hold signings and tout their wares. And because I’ve been almost exclusively an online writer up until now, I had nothing physical to bring with me to the convention. This year, I finally got to hold up something involving wood pulp and say, “See? I DO belong here!”

Check out some of Nathan’s other writing here at www.coldfusionvideo.com 


Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Farewell Tolkien, Hello Lovecraft?

Guillermo del Toro has just announced that he is bowing out of his directing gig on The Hobbit. According to the filmmaker, the persistent postponement of the start date has compelled him to pursue other projects. "In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming The Hobbit, I am faced with the hardest decision of my life," del Toro said in a statement on OneRing.net. "After nearly two years of living, breathing and designing a world as rich as Tolkien's Middle-earth, I must, with great regret, take leave from helming these wonderful pictures."

Del Toro maintains that he will continue to co-write the screenplays with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, but will not be directing. He added:
"I wish the production nothing but the very best of luck and I will be first in line to see the finished product. I remain an ally to it and its makers, present and future, and fully support a smooth transition to a new director."

So does this mean that he will finally throw himself into getting his beloved and long-touted adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s cosmic-terror tale At the Mountains of Madness off the ground? According to an interview on Sci-fi.com a while back, del Toro stated: “Part of the arrangement with Universal… was they would finance research and development for Mountains of Madness. And we are doing it. There are many technical tools in creating the monsters that don't exist, and we need to develop them. The creatures, Lovecraft's creatures, the tools that exist for CG and the materials that exist for makeup effects, you need to push them to get there and we're going to push them.”

This has long been a dream project for the filmmaker and he commented in an interview with Torn in 2008: “At The Mountains of Madness’… that movie I have kept alive for many, many years and I want to keep it alive to do as soon as I can.”

If anyone can do justice to a Lovecraft adaptation, it’s Guillermo del Toro. Anyone needing any proof of what he could do with Lovecraft’s mythology and how great it could look should just check out those positively Lovecraftian shots from Hellboy, particularly those of the descending Ogdru Jahad at the climax.

A few other distinctly Lovecraftian images from Hellboy...

A few other rather Lovecraftian creatures and mysterious beasts from the director's work...

Tentacles crossed his next project will be Lovecraft orientated...