Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cake Anyone?


If you missed our all-night Horrorthon last week, here is a "taste" of the fun that was had in the form of a terrifying cake provided by Lindsay (one of our most faithful Fantasmo supporters). It was a delectable masterpiece, and yes the eyes were edible : ) Bon appetit!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kurt Thomas Becomes Johnathan Cabot: Gymkata Returns!

I know some may cry foul, but I was ecstatic when the votes for Greatest Hits Remix Vol. 2 resulted in a veritable landslide victory for Gymkata. It had been many moons since I’d seen the film when we screened it at our Schlock-o-Thon in April, and it more than lived up to my memories. The film is certainly one of the most ridiculous martial arts films to ever grace the silver screen, but it is unfailingly entertaining. Additionally, it serves as a perfect time capsule for 80’s action cinema, managing to pack in a staggering number of trademarks in its lean 90-minute running time. Is it blind nostalgia that has me wrapped in Gymkata’s spell, or is it the perfect fusion of gymnastics and the art of karate? Let’s look a bit closer shall we . . .

At its heart, Gymkata adheres to a typical martial arts/action film framework. A young hero must undergo strenuous training to defeat a well-trained enemy force threatening community/world peace and a love interest. However, the material is made memorable largely due to what should be its greatest weakness - rather than developing a story and casting the players, the producers started with gymnast Kurt Thomas and developed a film around him. This may seem ridiculous, but it certainly wasn’t the first instance of such a maneuver (see Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, etc.). However, unlike some of his contemporaries, Thomas projected little charisma or intelligence onscreen. That’s not to say he doesn’t possess these qualities, but that his limited acting ability didn’t serve to convey them. Incredibly, Thomas’s inept performance actually enhances the film, endowing it with an unintentional humor that is relentlessly entertaining. In trying to convince us that we’re watching the latest major action star to arrive on the scene, the producers overstate the case and send the film careening into the realm of the absurd.

Of course, in discussing Thomas one cannot ignore the obvious talking point which is the inclusion of gymnastics in the celluloid mix. Without question, the filmmakers were hoping this vital component would help Gymkata distinguish itself from the pack. Again, this may seem outrageous in 2007, but in 1985 the marketplace was overflowing with martial arts films, particularly those involving ninjas (and there are certainly ninjas to be found in Gymkata). Consequently, it wasn’t imprudent to look for novel elements to provide the film with a unique spin. However, while it might have appeared a move of genius during the pre-production phase, onscreen the gymnastic maneuvers come off as completely ridiculous. Often Thomas could far more effectively dispatch his enemies with a punch or kick, but instead goes through an elaborate routine that would most likely give the villains time to take him out. Furthermore, working the gymnastic routines into the proceedings is visibly labored, and manages to thwart any goodwill attempts at the suspension of disbelief (e.g. Thomas by chance coming upon a pommel horse in the middle of an isolated village). Luckily, as with the leading man’s painful performance, the unlikely gymnastics only bolster the entertainment value.

From the above one might conclude that there isn’t much going on here besides disastrous spectacle . . . and that is largely the case. Even so, there is an underlying historical value to the film that is not at once obvious. Returning to our leading man, it is interesting to note a bit about his background. Thomas was slated to compete in the 1980 Olympics, but President Carter decided the U.S. would boycott due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As such, Thomas missed out on the possibility of winning Olympic gold (and was awarded with the consolation prize of Gymkata). With that in mind, the plot of Gymkata would undoubtedly have a somewhat personal interest to Thomas. In a nutshell Thomas’s John Cabot is recruited to secure the right to establish a Star Wars defense site in a fictional Eastern European country (remember this was the height of the Reagan era), thereby giving the Soviets something to think about. With this in mind, Thomas is in a way acting out a big screen retribution against those who prevented him from realizing his Olympic potential. It certainly must have been odd starring in a vehicle that had connections to his personal life, and this adds an interesting layer when viewing the film. Although it’s largely set in a fictional, not to mention fantastical country, Gymkata is a rich snapshot of a moment in the 80’s political scene.

Another point I would be remiss not to mention, is the fact that Gymkata was directed by the great Robert Clouse. While Gymkata may not represent the high point of his career, Clouse was responsible of a string of wonderful B-grade action films and one bona fide classic. A few of these include: Black Belt Jones, The Ultimate Warrior, The Pack, Game of Death, The Big Brawl, etc. And the classic . . . none other than Enter the Dragon! With a pedigree like that, you know Gymkata can’t be all bad : ) In fact, it’s one of the best bad movies we’ve shown at Fantasmo, and certainly worthy of an encore! If you missed it the first time, you definitely want to be there on November 2 . . . and if you saw it the first time, we know you’ll be there on November 2! Well played Superfans!

Also, don’t forget that Cabaret Delirium is presenting Carnival of Souls tonight at the Bayside Inn! A creepy classic that is a must see. Check out the post below or contact George Booker (gwbook@hotmail.com) for additional details.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Episode 31: Greatest Hits Remix: Volume 2

Well another Monster Fest has come and gone, and what a day it was! Rob and I would like to thank all of you for coming out and supporting the event in its fourth year. We have a blast putting it on, and it’s great to see everyone in costume enjoying it as much as we do. In particular we’d like to thank all those who lent support in the form of donations of food, time, giveaways, etc. Craig T. and Debra for their wonderful gift bags and giveaways, Rick for the food and pumpkins, Justin for the candy corn soda (which really kept me going when we hit 2:00 a.m.), Lindsay for her delightful severed head cake (pictures hopefully to follow soon), Clay for going the distance and helping us pack up at the end, Paul and Debra for covering the program for Scary Monsters, all the Team Fantasmo regulars and Superfans, and everyone who I’m missing. For the record, it was the most well-attended Fantasmo to date . . . thank goodness we didn’t advertise that we’d be screening Halloween III: Season of the Witch : )

Although the post-Monster Fest doldrums may already be starting to set in you need not fear, as Team Fantasmo has a remedy in the form of Episode 31. November will mark our second annual greatest hits night, featuring two films you’ve voted on from all that’s come before. While it was a close race, I’m thrilled to announce that you’ve chosen The Mighty Peking Man and Gymkata!! While it’s true that I lobbied hard for these, I can assure you each and every vote counted. Indeed, MPM barely edged out The Omega Man and Death Race 2000. However, Gymkata won in a landslide . . . I’m just so proud of you guys : ) While it may never reach the status of Can’t Stop the Music, Gymkata is certainly up there in this member of Team Fantasmo’s book! I’ll be blogging about the film in the next week or so, giving you some more background and insight into this forgotten masterpiece, but in the meantime here are the official statistics:

When: Friday, November 2, 8:00 p.m.

Where: Chesapeake Central Library

Films:

8:00 p.m. The Mighty Peking Man (1977) Rated PG-13

9:45 p.m. Gymkata (1985) Rated R

So there you have it! The people have spoken! And for all of you naysayers out there, just remember it could have been much worse . . . it could have been The Apple!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Monster Fest Lives!


Our Vincent Price tribute is past, and the Halloween season is in full swing here at Fantasmo HQ. This week is the busiest of the year for your Team Fantasmo, as we move toward our Monster Fest extravaganza! If you’ve missed it in the past, Monster Fest is a 24-hour convention devoted to horror films and literature featuring collectible dealers, fan groups, artists, authors, panels and talks, and celebrity guests (this year including horror hosts The Bowman Body and Penny Dreadful). Best of all perhaps, is an all-night Fantasmo Horrorthon featuring an incredible lineup of films including Universal monsters, Hammer vampires, 80’s slashers and more! The event kicks off at 9:00 a.m. this Saturday (10/13) at Chesapeake Central Library. We’ll wind down the first phase at 5:00 p.m. (when the library closes), and reopen for Fantasmo at 8:00 p.m. For those of you who regularly arrive to Fantasmo fashionably late, just remember for our all-nighter we lock the doors at 10:00 p.m. (you can leave whenever you want, if your nerves can’t take the horror, but you can’t get in after 10:00 p.m. : )

Our perfectly selected film schedule this year is:

Creature From the Black Lagoon (in 3-D)

Brides of Dracula

From Beyond (Director’s Cut)

Pumpkinhead

The Burning

If you’ve never seen the last one on the list (a rare 80’s horror gem), prepare yourself for greatness . . . we’ve saved the best for last!
So there you have it folks! Monster Fest & Fantasmo Horrorthon this Saturday - easily the horror/Fantasmo event of the year . . . you dare not miss it! See you there : )

Klaxar & Co.


Hi all,

This just in! George Booker and Team Klaxar have planned a month full of horrific fun with lots of classic film screenings at various locales. In addition to a special Halloween Klaxar's Focus Group at The Boot, Cabaret Delirium will be hosting the above throughout October! For more info, you can contact George at gwbook@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Witchfinder General aka The Conqueror Worm

Hey Superfans!

It’s finally October, and that of course means it’s the biggest Fantasmo month of the year! Not only do we have our regular Fantasmo coming up this Friday, October 5, at 8:00 p.m., but we also have Monster Fest and our all-night Horrorthon on Saturday, October 13 (more info to follow shortly). Before we dive into talking about Monster Fest, I have to say a bit about our Fantasmo this Friday. As mentioned earlier on the blog, we are devoting the evening to Vincent Price, and featuring two of his most celebrated performances: Masque of the Red Death and Witchfinder General. While both are amazing films, Witchfinder General in particular is worthy of special attention . . .

Witchfinder General has somewhat of a troubled history, having suffered from a great deal of tampering over the years. The film was produced in Great Britain, and released in the U.S. as The Conqueror Worm. It was retitled as such to maintain a connection with earlier AIP Edgar Allan Poe releases starring Price (e.g. Masque of the Red Death). However, the only connection the film had was a tacked on Poe reading by Price at the beginning and end of the film (bearing no relationship to the proceedings). Furthermore, material deemed too violent was cut from the film for its American release, with new scenes (which were quite saucy) included against the director’s wishes. To add insult to injury, later video releases even replaced the wonderful score by Paul Ferris with cheesy synth music. Thankfully, the original director’s cut has now been released, and we’ll be showing the preferred cut at this Friday’s Fantasmo.

In a nutshell, Witchfinder General finds Price playing inquisitor Matthew Hopkins, who roams the English countryside responding to summons from various villages claiming troubles with witchcraft. Operating under the assumption of “guilty until proven innocent,” Hopkins and his henchman Stearne (Robert Russell) subject the accused to torturous trials that ultimately end in death. Worse still, Hopkins doesn’t even believe the accusations himself, but merely uses his position as an excuse to obtain monetary rewards from local officials. When Hopkins takes advantage of one soldier’s intended while the fellow (From Beyond the Grave’s Ian Ogilvy) is away on the front, he earns an enemy who won’t relent until vengeance is achieved.

Essentially, Witchfinder is a revenge flick set in 17th century England. Substitute Ian Ogilvy for Charles Bronson, and Price and Russell as the rampaging gang, and you have the equivalent of Death Wish translated into a historical piece. Of course, Witchfinder also has an underlying message about the evils of religious persecution and the abuse of government authority mixed in there as well. Hopkins is a sanctioned agent of the state, using his position to develop wealth and power. He could care less about the legitimacy of his actions, as his ultimate goal is self-promotion. Hopkins’ rise is permitted by the government, as his methods keep the locals under control through fear of imagined threats (i.e. witchcraft, devil worship, etc.). The witchfinder is supposedly able to rid the towns of corruption, when in fact innocents are being tortured to death in the name of religion.

While you can find related commentary in other films on the topic of witch trials and the like, Witchfinder General has received special attention largely because of Price’s terrific turn as Hopkins. Largely known for his tongue-in-cheek performances, Price here is deadly serious and completely believable as the soulless inquisitor. There are no winks to the camera as Hopkins watches victims tortured, drowned, and burned, and no relief when he takes advantage of the helpless loved ones of the accused. This results in an intensity that doesn’t let up even with the final frame. Legend has it that director Michael Reeves treated Price coldly (originally wanting Donald Pleasence for the role), perhaps leading Price to be more serious in his delivery. Whatever the case, you will see an entirely different side of Price in this film, as he creates one of the great villains in horror film cinema.

Truly, this is a Fantasmo experience not-to-be missed, and a great way to kick off the fall season. Masque will screen at 8:00 p.m., and Witchfinder General will screen at 9:45 p.m. We know you needed two great films to wash away the taste of Smokey and the Bandit 2 & 3 . . . rest assured you will find these are just what the doctor ordered : )

Also, don’t forget to keep sending in your votes for our greatest hits show in November! You can also vote at Fantasmo this Friday night, which will be the closing date for all votes! Just remember, keep those votes for Gymkata and Mighty Peking Man coming!!! See you on Friday!