Saturday, June 30, 2007

Episode 26: Bad Moon Rising 2: Werewolves Good, Bad & Ugly


After some ups and downs, we’ve (finally) been able to lock in a date for our very exciting July Fantasmo! Initially we were hoping to do it on Friday, July 13th, but fate (and Rocky Horror) intervened, so the new date is Saturday, July 21st! For some reason, as years past have made abundantly clear, we just can’t seem to make things happen on the first Fridays during the summer . . . go figure. The good news is that a) it’s going to be an amazing show, and b) the A/C will be under control this time (repairs have been made, and it is behaving : )

Speaking of the show, it’s going to be every bit the worthy successor to our Godzilla night! As stated previously, this one is the much anticipated sequel to our werewolf tribute from last June which featured Dog Soldiers and The Howling. This time around, we’ve upped the ante with another triple feature, with films that range from bona fide classics to outright schlock! Here’s our perfectly chosen lineup:

8:00 p.m.: An American Werewolf in London (Rated R)

10:00 p.m.: Bad Moon (Rated R)

12:00 a.m.: Silver Bullet (Rated R)

I’ll be blogging about these movies before the show rolls around, but suffice it to say it promises to be a rollercoaster. Where else can you see David Naughton, Michael Pare, Gary Busey, and Corey Haim grace the silver screen all in one evening?!? A roster like that is either a recipe for disaster, or the mark of pure genius. Rob and I like to think it’s the latter . . . see you on the 21st!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Adventures At the French Embassy


Over the weekend, I attended the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington, D. C. For the uninitiated, this is a conference where librarians from all types of institutions gather to discuss goings on in the library world, and visit with a plethora of library vendors. While there I was fortunate to be invited to a special party at the French embassy celebrating the rollout of a downloadable video service for public libraries. The service looks to be extremely cool, and could lead to my never leaving my house again : ) Basically, instead of trotting out to the library to check out DVDs (which may or may not be on the shelf), you can download them and check them out from home. Think library + iTunes. Very cool indeed.

In addition to hearing about the service, the party featured a presentation from legendary film critic Joe Morgenstern (currently the film critic for the Wall Street Journal). As a side note on cult film, he was the screenwriter for the John Travolta classic The Boy in the Plastic Bubble! Mr. Morgenstern screened classic clips from several French films, and discussed the importance of French cinema and its influence on films today. It was a great lecture, and it was really interesting to hear some of his anecdotes about famous French filmmakers he’s dealt with over the years. He told a great story about interviewing Francois Truffaut in a snobby French restaurant in New York, and his horrified reaction to the attitude of the staff (apparently he was a really down to earth sort of fellow).

Anyhoo, most of the films Mr. Morgenstern screened were from the French New Wave period, and are the artsy sort that folks typically either love or are bored to tears by. For myself there are quite a few I enjoy a great deal, but there are some that are the entertainment equivalent of watching paint dry. While watching the films, I began thinking about all of the great cult films that have come out of France, and thought I’d put together a list (in no particular order) of some that any self-respecting Fantasmo Superfan ought to seek out.

1 - Le Dernier Combat (1983): Pictured in the poster above, this is France's answer to the Mad Max films. Director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) tells the story of a loner fighting to survive following the aftermath of a nuclear war. There are no breakneck road chases, but there's plenty of action and suspense in this intense film (that features practically no dialogue)!

2 - Subway (1985): Speaking of Luc Besson, another of his films cult enthusiasts will want to check out is this oddball action/comedy starring a pre-Highlander Christopher Lambert. Lambert plays a thief who flees to the underground of Paris after a daring burglary - and tries to start up a band with the eccentric subway dwellers he meets (with fellow French star Jean Reno) to impress the woman he robbed. A very wild movie that features great performances and a cool opening car chase.

3 - Delicatessen (1991): An early work from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children), Delicatessen is a futuristic, dark comedy about the unusual tenants of an apartment building above a butcher shop that supplies them with the ever so scarce commodity of food. Unbeknownst to them, the butcher/landlord uses a special type of meat (Soylent Green anyone?).

4 - La Jetee (1962): Ever see Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys? So had a lot of other folks about 30 years before it hit theater screens. Gilliam drew the inspiration for his film from this original French outing from director Chris Marker. It's an excellent science-fiction piece, and every bit as powerful, if not more so, than Gilliam's version.

5 - Le Samourai (1967): John Woo fans take note - if you like films such as Hard Boiled, The Killer, etc., then you should waste no time in tracking this one down. Woo drew his inspiration for Chow Yun-Fat's cool-as-ice cop/assassin characters from director Jean-Pierre Melville's hit man classic. Alain Delon stars as the calculating killer-for-hire Jef Costello. When an assignment goes sour, Costello has to use all of his skills to outwit the cops and his employer.

6 - Eyes Without A Face (1960): A Euro-horror masterpiece, Georges Franju's film set the stage for numerous trends, particularly in the area of graphic special effects. A surgeon suffering from guilt over a car accident that disfigured his daughter, goes about luring in subjects to donate "material" for experimental face transplants. Let your imagination run wild. Perhaps the creepiest element is the daughter who wears an expressionless white mask to hide her injuries (the mask just happens to bear a strong resemblance to the one that would show up in John Carpenter's Halloween).

7 - Fahrenheit 451 (1966): Francois Truffaut's adaption of the Ray Bradbury novel that warns of the danger of government limitations on freedom of speech. An important message wrapped up in a cool, Technicolor package! Sci-fi doesn't get any better.

8 - The Wages of Fear (1953): Four down-on-their luck men stranded in a poor, South American village are hired to drive trucks loaded with unstable nitroglycerin through hundreds of miles of jungle. Extreme tension ensues. Movies don't get any more suspenseful than this one! If this plot sounds familiar, the film was remade in 1977 by Exorcist director William Friedkin with Roy Scheider in the lead. While the remake was not a bad film, there's nothing like the original.

9 - Alphaville (1965): Detective Lemmy Caution is dispatched to the futuristic city of Alphaville to eliminate the evil Natacha Von Braun and his supercomputer Alpha 60. A science-fiction classic from the mind of legendary New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard.

10 - Quest for Fire (1981): When a prehistoric tribe loses their only source of fire, three warriors set out to restore the flame. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, this is one of the coolest fantasy films to come out of the early 80's. As a plus, it also features early performances by genre veterans Ron Perlman and Rae Dawn Chong. Another interesting factoid is that the primitive language heard in the film was created by Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess!

So there's a great list to start off with if you're looking for some French cult films to broaden your cultural horizons : ) Please feel free to comment on these, and add to the list if there are some you think are musts (there are certainly plenty more where these came from)!

Monday, June 11, 2007

25 Years Ago This Summer . . .


Summer 2007 marks a very special occasion for cult/genre film fans, as it is the 25th anniversary of perhaps the greatest summer film season in motion picture history . . . the summer of 1982. What was so special about that summer you may ask? Talk to anyone who lived through it, and they will tell you that practically every weekend a new sci-fi/horror/fantasy classic was released (and sometimes several). Sure your typical summer is filled with blockbuster spectacles, but since that year the quality has steadily declined with more and more empty showcases for special effects taking the place of great storytelling. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy computer-generated eye-candy (e. g. Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four 2, Transformers, etc.) as much as the next person, but they're not films I'm likely to remember a year from now (much less 25).

Some of the titles from that summer include masterpieces such as Blade Runner, John Carpenter's The Thing, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Poltergeist, Tron, Conan The Barbarian, Cat People . . . I could keep going, but you get the idea. In honor of the summer of 1982, I'll be blogging about some of the films in greater detail over the next couple of months. To kick things off, I'm going to start with my personal favorite - John Carpenter's The Thing!

By the summer of 1982, director John Carpenter was riding high on a string of three highly successful films: Halloween, The Fog, and Escape From New York. All classics in their own right, these films showed Carpenter to be a full-fledged auteur, and not just a one-hit wonder. Following the terrific box office performance of the modestly budgeted Escape From New York, Universal Studios felt the time was right to give Carpenter a shot at the big time. As such, they greenlighted a big budget remake of the 1951 classic The Thing From Another World. A lifelong fan of the film, the remake offered Carpenter the opportunity at a dream project that seemed like a surefire winner. Unfortunately, it would signal the beginning of a falling out with Hollywood for the maverick director.

In approaching the project, Carpenter opted to go back to the short story upon which the earlier film was based, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. Campbell's story was the tale of an Arctic research team who discovers a malevolent alien buried in the ice. When the creature thaws, a battle is subsequently waged with the researchers. In the 1951 version, the filmmakers opted for the creature to be a full-fledged monster (Gunsmoke's James Arness in heavy makeup). Thus the threat was fairly straightforward. This was a departure from the source material, as Campbell's story found the creature able to shape shift into perfect copies of the researchers (after dispatching them of course), adding a significant amount of tension to the proceedings. By adopting this model, Carpenter not only gave the remake a fresh angle, but also provided the film with greater depth . . . not to mention numerous opportunities for special effects guru Rob Bottin (The Howling) to provide gory images that astound to this day!

Released on June 25, 1982, John Carpenter's The Thing met with ferocious attacks from critics, and audiences stayed away in droves. The chief critiques aimed at the film were that it was excessively gory and nihilistic. Many even saw the film as an affront to the original, which was long considered a masterpiece. However, unlike many gorefests that were prevalent in the 80's, the effects in The Thing were entirely appropriate to the story and perfectly fit with the nature of the creature. It's the very outlandishness of the transformation sequences that draw the viewer into the film, and allow them to identify with the fear of the characters. As to the complaint of nihilism, would one seriously expect a film called The Thing (which bore the tagline "man is the warmest place to hide") to be heart-warming?

Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to the success of the film, was that it was released just two weeks after the premiere of E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (one of the sappiest, over-rated films to date in this reviewer's opinion). After the feelgood experience of the summer, which had been lavished with praise, it's not a stretch to imagine that audiences were not ready for the beast unleashed by Carpenter. Consequently, the film was practically dead on arrival and has been maligned for decades. Fortunately, in recent years the film has be reappraised by critics and fans, with many citing it as Carpenter's best work (despite a number of amazing films to his credit, I'd have to agree).

On a personal note, I saw the film on opening day while in the throes of a monster head cold. As a result, I was probably even more on edge through the film and remember it as an extremely intense experience. To this day, the blood test scene remains as one of the most memorable shocks I've experienced in a movie theater (if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about). Of course the heart resuscitation scene with Norris and Copper is right up there as well. No doubt we'll be screening this at a Fantasmo in the near future, so you can experience these delightful moments for yourself : )

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Team Fantasmo Returns!

Hey Superfans,
It's been a long couple of months, but the dry spell is almost over. Rob and I have just returned from shooting the second season of John Kenneth Muir's The House Between. Unlike our first season, this year the shoot was quite grueling. You can read all about it, and catch the first season episodes (if you haven't already) at http://reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.com/.
Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun, and the second season should be really terrific when it debuts next spring.

Given the strenuous experience we've just had, your Team Fantasmo is more than ready for the restorative powers of viewing three classic Godzilla films on the big screen. The magic is back on Friday, June 15 at Chesapeake Central Library starting at 8:00 p.m. Godzilla Vs. Mothra, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, and Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla. Wow! Is that a lineup or what?!?

But wait, there's even more news! More monsters are on the way in July, as we prepare for the sequel to last year's wildly popular werewolf-themed Fantasmo! That's right, it's Bad Moon Rising 2: Werewolves Good, Bad & Ugly! What does that mean? It means you'll see one classic werewolf film, one decent werewolf film, and one that's just plain awful (but in the so bad it's good sort of way). We won't announce the titles until Godzilla night (so as to build the suspense), but if you can't make it just keep watching the blog for updates.

Lastly, there's another nifty news item worth mentioning. Fantasmo regular George Booker has put together a cult movie program that will debut in Norfolk's historic Ghent this Thursday, June 7 at The Boot. The program is called Klaxar's Focus Group, and will feature live commentary during the feature film. And what is the film? None other than the 1974 Sean Connery sci-fi epic Zardoz! If you've never seen this absolutely indescribable movie, prepare yourself for a very memorable experience (hey, it's in this member of Team Fantasmo's Top 10 favorite guilty pleasures). The show starts at 10:00 p.m., and admission is $3.00. For more information, contact George Booker at gwbook@hotmail.com.

That's all for now, but keep checking this highly informative (not to mention entertaining) page for news, reviews, and commentary. See you soon!