Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fantasmo Episodes 43 & 44

Hey Superfans!
January is just around the corner, so it’s time to talk about what’s in store for Fantasmo 2009! Those of you who made it out to our unstoppable holiday show may recall Rob and I talked a little about the schedule for the next few months . . . well disregard all of that! Some late breaking releases have made it necessary for us to switch up our lineup for the next few months, but it’s all for the best (we know you’ll agree when you hear what’s in store)!

First off, let’s have a look at January. There are a lot of holidays in January, which means we won’t be able to do the first Friday of the month, nor several after. In fact, we’re going to have to hold Episode 43 on the last Friday of the month, January 30th. But the wait will be absolutely worth it, because Episode 43 is our first ever zombie night! Of course there’s a lot to choose from there, so we’ve decided to go with a couple of foreign zombie films that you may not have caught during their ever so brief theatrical runs. First up is a 2003 zombie fest from Australia appropriately titled Undead, in which a meteorite shower turns the peaceful citizens of a rural town into ravenous zombies! We’re following that with one of the all-time greatest zombie films, Peter Jackson’s 1993 masterpiece Dead Alive. Before he did Lord of the Rings, Jackson was making some of the wildest horror films ever conceived in his native land of New Zealand, and Dead Alive is perhaps his crowning achievement (for my money I like it a lot better than anything he’s done since).

So here are your official Episode 43 details:

When: Friday, January 30th

Where: Chesapeake Central Library, 298 Cedar Road, Chesapeake, VA 23322

Films:

8:00 P.M.: Undead – Rated R

9:45 P.M. Dead Alive – Unrated

Okay, so that’s our supercool lineup for Episode 43 . . . but there’s more . . .

We had originally announced that we were going to screen Friday the 13th 1 & 2 as our January show in anticipation of the forthcoming remake being released on February 13th. Well, we just recently found out that on February 3rd three new editions of the first Friday films will be released that we just had to wait for. First off, the original Friday the 13th will be released for the first time in America in its uncut form. For years this version has been available overseas, and now almost 29 years after its release we will be able to see it on the big screen at Fantasmo. If you’re a fan of effects legend Tom Savini (and who isn’t) you don’t want to miss this. As awesome as that revelation was, we also learned that on the same day the third film in the series will be released in its original 3-D format. That’s right, we’re going to screen part 3 in 3-D! And rounding things out, we’ll also be screening a spiffy new edition of the 2nd film, which is actually my personal favorite of the Fridays (I consider it to be The Empire Strikes Back of the Friday the 13th films, a crown jewel if you will).

In addition to the above (yes there’s still more), we’re also working on getting a special guest for this one who played a pivotal role in the series . . . stay tuned for updates. This truly has the potential to be one of our best episodes yet, so mark your calendars now. Your official early details for Episode 44 are as follows:

When: Friday, February 6th

Where: Chesapeake Central Library, 298 Cedar Road, Chesapeake, VA 23322

Films:

8:00 P.M.: Friday the 13th: Uncut Edition

9:45 P.M.: Friday the 13th Part 2 – Rated R

11:30 P.M.: Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D – Rated R

For those of you crunching the numbers at home, you’ll note that we’re back on the first Friday schedule in February . . . which means back to back Fantasmos in January and February! Can you say Happy New Year?!? Two great Fantasmos to kick off 2009! And there’s more where that came from! We’ll be rolling out the news shortly for the upcoming months, including our all-night April anniversary show, but let’s just say this is just the tip of the iceberg. In particular, we have two contenders for our April show that could rival previous greats such as Can’t Stop the Music, Gymkata, and Shark Attack 3 (yes, it’s true : ) Viva la 2009! Viva la Fantasmo!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Horror From the Land Down Under #4: Rogue

For my next entry on the horror cinema of Australia, I’m briefly leaving the 70’s to talk about a release from last year that really knocked my socks off. The film is called Rogue, and it’s a new contender for king of the hill in the killer alligator/crocodile genre (in this case it’s a crocodile). Now I should state up front that I have a real fondness for killer alligator/crocodile movies. These animals have always fascinated me, and they exude such menace that they are tailor-made to be the subject of horror films. For my money, the grand champion of the genre sweepstakes in this category is Lewis Teague’s 1981 film Alligator. It managed to be both a thrilling monster movie, and wry satire at the same time (thanks in large part to Piranha scribe John Sayles). Not to mention the fact that it had cult movie icons like Robert Forster and the incomparable Henry Silva on hand. Others have tried to match the brilliance of Alligator, but none have come close . . . until now.

One thing I want to mention before we get started is that Rogue is part of the Dimension “Extreme” horror series. This is indicated at the top of the DVD cover, which hovers above unfortunate cover art depicting a giant crocodile mouth. First off, I have to say I’m not a fan of the “Extreme” moniker. Usually I see that kind of branding as a ploy to lure horror fans into almost certain disappointment. It’s saying in essence that these films can’t compete on their own merits, so we have to market them as over-the-top effects festivals. Don’t get me wrong, over-the-top effects can be a lot of fun, but a film can’t live on these alone (at least not well). Furthermore, I wouldn’t necessarily call these movies particularly extreme. Yeah there are some wild titles in the series, but generally they are just silly horror films with no more fake blood on display than your average teen multiplex crowd pleaser. I consider extreme stuff to be movies like Hostel or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, not a remake of Wizard of Gore starring Crispin Glover (which is sort of inspired casting I must admit).

The other thing that irks me is that there are some really great gems in this series that are likely to be overlooked because they’re getting this lowbrow marketing push. Inside for example, is a very well made (albeit highly disturbing) French film, that is done no justice by the “Extreme” campaign. I suppose it is “extreme,” but it’s also a cerebral film that has a lot more going for it than just gory effects. While I wouldn’t go as far to say Rogue is particularly cerebral, it also is not the cheesy croc film the unimaginative cover would lead one to believe. Unlike Z-grade schlock like Tobe Hooper’s Crocodile (oh how the mighty have fallen), Rogue is a beautifully photographed, suspenseful thriller with an unexpectedly clever sense of humor. I mean it, the cinematography in what should be a throwaway film is pretty breathtaking. The man at the helm is Greg McLean, who was also responsible for the recent horror film Wolf Creek (which is a pretty harrowing viewing experience). That film was also visually interesting, so I wasn’t too surprised that this one was of equal caliber when noticing his involvement. I can’t say I’m really a fan of Wolf Creek, as it’s a little too grim for my tastes (makes Se7en look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm). However, I can still admire its artistry and execution (no pun intended), and was eager to see what McLean could do with subject matter a little more up my alley.

The setup of Rogue finds an American travel author (Alias’s Michael Vartan) checking out a rural boat tour, designed to give tourists a peek at the local wildlife (in particular the crocs). We get a broad sketch of the group who are your standard collection of stock characters that show up in these type of films. The squabbling married couple, the widower who is spreading his wife’s ashes, the attractive female tour guide (Radha Mitchell) who of course will become a love interest of sorts, etc. The good news is that despite the fact we’ve seen these characters before, the actors are all top notch and make us care about them. Once we get past the broad sketch introductions, the film awes the viewer with the imagery of Australia’s scenic wilderness. The tour chugs along spotting a croc or two, and all is going well . . . until the tour runs into a couple of backwoods acquaintances of the tour guide. There’s some back and forth and tom foolery, before Vartan steps in and the two menacing thugs speed away in their boat. Eventually things settle down and the tour proceeds . . . until they spot a flare in the distance! Apparently there is some unwritten rule that any sign of trouble must be investigated on the rivers of Australia, regardless of whether it jeopardizes the safety of innocent women and children. With this in mind, Mitchell takes a fork of the river seldom traveled only to discover a wrecked boat. Unfortunately in addition to the wrecked boat, they also discover the cause in the form of a giant (and apparently unhappy) crocodile that proceeds to shipwreck their boat on a tiny island in the middle of the river.

And here is where the genius of Rogue comes into play. The group is stranded on a tiny island (really it’s more of a clump of sand with a tree), that is slowly disappearing as the tide rolls in. By the time night falls there will be no island at all, and the tourists will become croc food. What is so great about this setup is that it turns Rogue into more of a suspense film that focuses on the characters, rather than a 90-minute excuse to show an endless stream of CGI croc attacks. In so doing, it mirrors the best films of this type (e.g. Jaws, Alien), where the creature is always hovering at the periphery seldom seen. Not only does it build audience expectation, but it minimizes the need to overwhelm the viewer with effects that are not likely to be all that convincing. The creatures in Jaws and Alien would have suffered greatly from overexposure. If seen head on for long periods Bruce the shark would have been shown for the malfunctioning junk heap he was, and the Alien would have clearly been a tall guy in a creepy suit. By masking the creatures Spielberg and Scott made the action seem real, and kept viewers on the edge of their seats. McLean is “almost” successful at accomplishing a similar feat with his Rogue . . . almost.

Around ¾ of the way through the film, McLean finally unleashes the big guns and stages a long sequence that culminates in a final battle. Unfortunately, there’s just no way around it and there’s a good bit of unconvincing CGI. I’m not at all sure what he could have done with practical effect to make the sequence work. Certainly my favorite Alligator had a similar problem in its finale which featured an unconvincing rubber alligator chasing Robert Forster. McLean somewhat makes up for the CGI by keeping the tension up, not letting the audience get a chance to catch their breath. And characters take a beating, and some much worse (no one is safe in this film), lending the proceedings an uncompromising tone. In another film I probably wouldn’t give the blatant CGI croc a pass, but the first ¾ of the film are so excellent that they more than compensate for a finale that would otherwise be pretty satisfying.

If you have any sort of interest in killer alligator/croc films you owe it to yourself to check out Rogue. The cover art will make you think you’re about to venture into Shark Attack 3 type waters, but this is a truly masterful effort. There may be some necessary, if regrettable CGI, but the balance of the movie more than makes up for this transgression. With this and the equally captivating Wolf Creek under his belt, McLean is a horror maestro to keep an eye on. He’s more visceral than a Peter Weir, but he has a visual sense that is certainly on par with the great one. I can’t wait to see what subject he tackles next!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nightmares In Red, White And Blue


One of Fantasmo's oldest and dearest supporters is a filmmaker named Joseph Maddrey. You'll see his great blog Maddrey Misc. over on the left column of this very page, and you can find his written work on our library shelves. Joe was a fixture at FantaSci, Monster Fest, and Fantasmo for a number of years, until he headed off to continue his film career in sunny California (taking hectic breaks to lend his producing talents to The House Between). Well, his efforts have paid off in the form of a cool new documentary he's put together on the evolution of the American horror film called Nightmares in Red, White And Blue. The documentary is based on his 2004 book of the same title, and features interviews with the likes of George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, etc. In the coming weeks I'll be interviewing Joe about the film, but in the meantime you can check out the trailer over at the official site: http://www.nightmaresinredwhiteandblue.com/.

A cool tidbit of info you horror fans may notice is that Joe also managed to get the great Lance Henriksen (The Terminator, Aliens, Millennium) to narrate the film. How cool is that?!? Anyhow, look for more info on the documentary here on the blog soon, and in the meantime you can read the awesome print version here at the library (shameless plug : )

Sunday, December 7, 2008

19 Horror Greats

One thing I always enjoy checking out are "best of" lists, especially with regard to the world of horror filmdom. One can often find overlooked gems when comparing notes with others, and it's a great jumping off point for some fun debate. Team Klaxar member George Booker has compiled a very interesting list of top horror pics over at No Ripcord (www.noripcord.com/features/horror-list), including a few somewhat obscure titles that any self-respecting horror fan should really make a point to watch.

The one choice that I was extremely happy to see was the Ingmar Bergman film Hour of the Wolf. It's a tale about a writer's psychological meltdown that is brimming with horror elements, and makes for great late night viewing. In fact, several Bergman films contain horrific imagery and themes. For example, Wes Craven's shocker Last House on the Left is a retelling of Bergman's Virgin Spring! Makes you wonder if Hills Have Eyes or the Elm Street series have any parallels . . .

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Horror From the Land Down Under #3: Long Weekend

With Thanksgiving past we’re just a few short days away from the BIG holiday show featuring the beloved Can’t Stop the Music and the soon to be beloved Xanadu. With bad musicals on the brain I must confess it’s a bit difficult to ponder Australian horror, but I will bravely soldier on. For this installment, I’ve decided to focus on what is for my money the best entry in the 1970’s “when animals attack” film sweepstakes. Throughout the 70’s, largely as a result of the mega success of Jaws and real world environmental worries, studios sought to capitalize by churning out numerous variations of this theme. Stateside I have a soft spot for the William Girdler epics Grizzly and Day of the Animals, which are two of the most over-the-top films of the genre. In one you have a maniacal grizzly being shot point blank with a rocket launcher, and in the other you have a maniacal Leslie Nielsen engaging in a wrestling match with a maniacal grizzly (strange symmetry there). But these films I primarily love for the high cheese content. Hopping over to the land down under, they got in on the action as well but in a decidedly more solid artistic endeavor known as Long Weekend. This one dispenses with the cheese and plays it serious and creepy, a rare feat for this type of movie.

The plot of Lost Weekend involves a bickering couple who travel to the remote Australian wilderness for a weekend of camping. Things are clearly not going well in the beginning when the husband Peter (John Hargreaves) arrives home and pulls a hunting rifle out of his trunk and aims it at his unsuspecting wife Marcia (Briony Behets). Now granted she’s apparently been giving him a hard time about the camping trip (she would have preferred a posh getaway with all the luxuries), but this sort of attitude on his part is beyond the pale. Despite their differences they still pile in their Range Rover along with the family dog, and head for the country. While driving late into the night, Peter accidentally runs over a kangaroo and this is where things begin to get strange. Once they reach the forest Peter seems unable to get them to the designated spot where they plan to set up camp, even though he clearly is following the beaten path. It’s almost as if the forest is leading them into another dimension. Frustrated, they decide to sleep in the Range Rover for the night, and upon waking discover they are at their campsite. How they ended up there is a mystery, but they’re so relieved to have made it that they abandon any concerns over that particular issue.

As they set up camp and make an attempt at enjoying the trip, the two show a complete disregard for Mother Nature. They start fires, cut down trees, shoot at animals, destroy eagle eggs, etc. Now this probably sounds a little exaggerated, but the way it goes down is very believable. Basically Peter and Marcia are just completely careless and seem to think that the great outdoors is their playground. Of course this sets the stage for a little revenge action on the part of the environment, and here’s where this film stands out from the pack. Instead of being stalked by a grizzly, attacked by wildcats, or bitten by sharks, subtly disturbing events start taking place. Peter shoots at an eerie looking shape in the ocean, unsettling cries are heard on the wind, animals start taking menacing postures around the camp, bad weather sets in, and general hysteria ensues. Both characters begin to come unhinged, and the tensions already present in their relationship ultimately explode in a climax laden with outright panic and desperation. Much like the Weir films I’ve previously discussed, the sum of these parts adds up to a very atmospheric and disturbing mood.

A significant part of the success of the approach taken in Long Weekend is that it takes its time in building toward the climax, rather than constantly hammering the viewer with outrageous attacks. Events keep building on each other, until you feel the panic that the characters do. In fact, by the end of the film one actually has a little sympathy for Peter and Marcia, which is a minor miracle considering how unlikeable they are. Some have criticized that the characters are so unsympathetic that it brings the film down. I would have to disagree with that point. These are real people with flaws, and folks like this do exist in the world. To draw a parallel with a vaguely similar film think of the characters in The Blair Witch Project. They are not particularly likeable, and there is certainly no “hero” in the group. We relate to them because of the desperation they experience, and sympathize with them during the darkest hours. The same holds true for Long Weekend. The characters keep going further and further down the rabbit hole, and you just know things are not going to turn out well. The result is that the goings-on have a get under your skin quality usually absent in the other films of this genre that go for a more visceral approach.

So, if you’re looking to find the Citizen Kane of animals gone wild films look no further. Long Weekend shows that a great film can be made within the genre confines that balances genuine creepiness and an environmental message. In an era where environmental concerns are prevalent and very much in the social consciousness this film may not seem so revolutionary, but back in the day I’m sure it packed a bit of a punch on that front. Messages aside though, if the mysterious aquatic creature and inhuman wailing in Dolby 5.1 surround don’t raise the hairs on the back of your neck nothing will. As a bit of trivia I looked up director Colin Eggleston to see what else he had done. I figured he must have some other cool titles to his credit given how cool this movie was. Sadly the only notable film I saw in his filmography was the horrendous 1986 Indiana Jones knock off Sky Pirates (it’s every bit as bad as it sounds). Oh well. Be sure to look for my next entry on the surprisingly good recent outback horror fest Rogue, detailing the exploits of a killer croc!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Horror From the Land Down Under #2: The Last Wave

Okay, after a brief trip down Seagalogy lane it’s time to get back to Australian horror. In my last entry I talked a little bit about director Peter Weir who is arguably the grand daddy of Australian horror directors. While I think Picnic At Hanging Rock is his masterpiece, his follow-up film The Last Wave (1977) is nothing to sneeze at. The film stars Richard Chamberlin (Shogun, the Allan Quartermain films) as a Sydney lawyer tapped to work pro bono on a murder case involving a group of five aborigines. The crazy part is that the cause of death appears to be drowning, although there was nothing more than a tiny puddle at the scene. To make matters more difficult, the group won’t be forthright with Chamberlin so he’s forced to go against the current (let the water puns flow). As he continues to work on uncovering the mystery of the case, he begins to have apocalyptic visions involving water. His transformative journey will take him from the rainy streets of the city to its ancient underground passageways, ultimately culminating in an event that may herald the end of the world. Heavy duty stuff indeed.

One filmmaking technique I find particularly effective in horror films (and other genres for that matter) is when a film opens with an exclamation point. This usually involves some sort of cool setpiece that sets the stage for the events to come, and really gets the viewer’s attention from the word go. The Last Wave opens at a remote schoolhouse in the outback, where small children are happily playing at recess. Amidst the frolicking a massive hailstorm suddenly erupts with not a cloud in the sky. The children are quickly rushed into the rustic school building as baseball sized hail pounds down, rocking the structure to its foundation. The storm then dissipates as suddenly as it arrived, leaving a bewildered teacher and a room full of terrified children. Words don’t do justice to this scene, as it is shot in such a way that you feel you are there. The hail seems to be unleashed from some otherworldly force intent on demolishing the building and those inside. If you have a fancy stereo setup, this is probably every bit the rival of something like Earthquake . . . total Sensurround territory. It’s quite an adrenaline pumping sequence, and is completely successful at capturing your complete attention.

Now fantastic openings are all fine and good, but many a film has managed to have an awesome beginning only to fall apart along the way. Thankfully that is not the case here. Weir creates a good pace that moderates between providing story and character information, punctuated with Chamberlin’s nightmarish visions (which are the visual highlight of the film). As I mentioned in my review of Hanging Rock, Weir’s style of filmmaking leans toward the dream state and The Last Wave is no exception. If anything it’s even more pronounced in that regard than Hanging Rock. Events unfold slowly and there is much that is surreal, to the point that one questions what is real and what isn’t. In the wrong hands that can be a recipe for boredom, but not so in this case. Like other great horror films that utilize the nightmare logic of dreams (Phantasm, Inferno) The Last Wave plays with perception and narrative, creating a mood that lingers over the viewer long after the credits have rolled. As solid as its other elements are, this aspect of the film is perhaps its most memorable quality.

In terms of themes, The Last Wave explores issues relating to the intersection of modern culture and the native Australian environment and peoples. Instead if colonial era mores (i.e. Hanging Rock) this time the focus is on urban sprawl’s impact on tribal society, with the plunder of nature as a secondary theme. While Weir highlights some of the negative behaviors and attitudes of the modern contingent, I appreciate that he doesn’t fall into the trap of making them cardboard villains. In a lot of environmental “message” films it is totally cut and dry that those on the side of “progress” are the equivalent of The Simpsons character Montgomery Burns. Pure, concentrated evil. That’s all fine and good when viewing cheesy exploitation fare (e.g. Day of the Animals), but every once in a while it’s nice to see a more balanced portrayal. Here the character representing the urban contingent is the well-meaning Chamberlin. Although he’s very much a part of the society that has imposed itself on the native culture, he is sensitive to the fact that there are many sides to the story. He readily accepts the murder case that lands in his lap, and makes every effort to understand and help the accused - even going so far as to have them to his home for dinner and share family stories. With Chamberlin as our guide and emotional center we have a complex individual, rather than a blatantly disconnected caricature who sees issues with hard boundaries. This is critical to involving the viewer in the story on a deeper level, and is a big factor in distinguishing The Last Wave from its fellow 70’s environmental horror brethren.

Okay, so what about the horror. Not to fear (ha!) because there’s plenty of that to be had. Just like Hanging Rock this is one of those films that get under your skin. I wouldn’t say it has any over-the-top cold chill moments as when the girls disappear in Hanging Rock, but rather it has a creepy buildup to a truly unsettling finale. It’s one of those movies that really need to be seen late at night when you’re a little tired to have the full effect. Hovering in and out of a sleepy state is perfect to tap into the dream that is this film. As far as proclaiming this an artsy film a al Hanging Rock, The Last Wave doesn’t have any period costumes so you’re probably out of luck in trying a bait-and-switch on your Masterpiece Theatre watching friends. Even so I think they’ll probably like this one. It has a distinguished world director in the form of Weir, and a star in Chamberlin that has fairly broad appeal.

One other thing I’ve found interesting in reading up on The Last Wave is that quite a few people have claimed it to be Lovecraftian. I’ve seen my share of filmic Lovecraft adaptations and tributes, and honestly I think this claim is stretching it just a bit. The film does make reference to an ancient power, and certainly Chamberlin’s character fits the mold of the hapless, accidental hero common in Lovecraft tales, but the connection is subtle at best. Truth is I wish I could count this one as a Lovecraft film because it’s such a great piece of filmmaking, whereas most straight Lovecraft adaptations are pretty awful. That said, I’d love to hear anyone who has seen The Last Wave throw in on that issue and make the case that this is a true Lovecraft tribute.

In summary , if you have a phobia of water this movie probably isn’t for you, but otherwise any fan of world horror cinema would do well to check it out. It’s a great capper to Weir’s horror run in Australia, and is probably the best thing you will ever see Richard Chamberlin in (I’ve always thought his movies were pretty weak, although I did dig his cowardly character in The Towering Inferno). And if you are into the tenuous Lovecraft connection that’s great too : ) For my next installment on Australian horror I will be tackling Long Weekend, which is sort of the Citizen Kane of 70’s when animals attack films!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fantasmo Episode 42: Can't Stop the Music Vol. 3

It’s hard to believe, but another year of Fantasmo is coming to a close and you know what that means faithful Superfans . . . you Can’t Stop the Music! Yes it’s time once again for our annual holiday show featuring the Village People’s cinematic tour de force (not to even mention the important contributions of Steve Guttenberg and Bruce Jenner : ) Like fine wine some things only get better with age, and that is certainly the case with this much maligned 80’s musical classic! If you’ve never experienced this film at Fantasmo, it’s an absolute must . . . and I know those of you have witnessed its magic need no additional encouragement. What’s always the big question mark at the holiday show is what Rob and I will pull up to pair with CSTM. While there have been instances where we’ve really gone off the subject of music (e.g. Superman II: The Donner Cut), generally we aim to screen a like-minded film. Last year we had what seemed like the ultimate perfect partner in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starring The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. Rarely has there been a film so disastrous and reviled by the general public! It was a great pairing to be sure, but this year we think we’ve managed to top it with . . .

Xanadu!!!! If ever there were a guilty pleasure on the order of CSTM this is definitely it! One of the greatest misfires in cinema history, this film managed to crush the careers of 70’s icon Olivia Newton-John and Warriors star Michael Beck. It even left a little bit of tarnish on the memory of screen legend Gene Kelly (what was he thinking?!?). To be fair the project, which combined the then hot trend of roller disco with golden age musical sensibilities, probably seemed like a great idea. After all Grease, which celebrated another bygone era with modern panache, was one of the 70’s biggest blockbusters. Bringing its female star to a similar project would be a no-brainer right? Wrong. By 1980, the year in which both CSTM and Xanadu were released, disco had been declared dead. Bands like Duran Duran, Human League, Flock of Seagulls, Talking Heads, etc., were all the rage, leaving little room for The Bee Gees, Village People, and their disco comrades in arms. Instead of ushering musical films into a new era, these two films managed to pound the nail in the coffin lid of modern musicals for quite some time (although Fox studios would unsuccessfully try to relaunch the genre in 1982 with the Kristy McNichol vehicle The Pirate Movie).

So what are you getting into with Xanadu? It’s basically the story of a struggling artist (Beck), and a washed up musician (Kelly) trying to open a roller disco club with the help of a mythical muse (Newton-John). All done to the tunes of Electric Light Orchestra and The Tubes, and even featuring a wildly unfortunate Don Bluth cartoon midway through. It’s easy to see in hindsight that this was pure lunacy, but let me assure you that despite all it has going against it Xanadu is truly a magical film. Much like CSTM there’s something about Xanadu which hooks you and never lets go. I think it’s probably the innocent feelgood attitude it (and CSTM) sports with a vengeance. The relentlessly positive spirit of both films is infectious, and keeps one returning again and again. Now I should state for the record that I generally don’t like old school musicals. I think that’s why, even though their plots are clearly derived from the golden age of musicals, these appeal to me personally. They integrate a somewhat edgier attitude in line with their times, and are loaded with kitschy qualities that contribute to numerous jaw dropping sequences . . . and the songs are incredibly catchy. This last point can make a world of difference, as horrible songs keep the 1980 Canon film The Apple (the subject of a memorable screening at our second Schlock-O-Thon) from reaching a similar beloved status.

With that little pep talk fresh in your mind, here are your 2008 holiday episode details:

When: Friday, December 5

Where: Chesapeake Central Library, 298 Cedar Road, Chesapeake, VA 23322

Films:

8:00 P.M. – Can’t Stop the Music (1980) – Rated PG

10:30 P.M. – Xanadu (1980) – Rated PG

So there you have it Superfans, perhaps the greatest holiday show lineup yet! We’re going to have some real trouble topping this next year, so you definitely don’t want to miss this one! See you there . . . and remember you Can’t Stop the Music so don’t even try : )

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Steven Seagal is Kill Switch!

Okay, I’m taking a very brief pause in getting back to Australian horror to give a review of the latest Seagal offering. A couple of folks have asked me what I thought of Kill Switch, so I figured I’d go ahead and post a review. For those of you relatively new to the blog, last Christmas I received a book called Seagalogy as a gift. The book examined the work of Steven Seagal and put forward an argument that he should be viewed as a true auteur, given that each film bore his personal stamp and creative trademarks. I then plunged headlong through Seagal’s extensive filmography to see if Seagalogy author Vern was correct in his assertion – and I can honestly say I believe he was. My journey ultimately culminated in a Fantasmo this past summer which featured two Seagal films, an aikido demonstration, and a live interview with Vern. Truly superior!

Those of you who attended that momentous occasion may recall that Vern provided us an advance review of Kill Switch, which wasn’t due out until October 7. I was particularly interested in this review, as Vern had (in my opinion) accurately asserted that Seagal’s last two direct-to-video (DTV) films (Urban Justice, Pistol Whipped) marked a return to higher quality work. As such, it was somewhat disheartening to hear from Vern that he felt Kill Switch represented a step backward for Seagal. Well, I’ve now had a chance to see Kill Swtich and can say I’m of two minds. On the one hand it is a step backward in terms of moving in the direction of competent, polished filmmaking, but on the other hand it’s wildly entertaining. Let’s look closer . . .

First a brief breakdown of the plot from the DVD cover per Amazon:

“Detective Jacob Stillwell (Steven Seagal) is one of the most celebrated homicide detectives in the country. His brutal delivery of street justice is legendary among the men and women of law enforcement. But on this latest case, he may have finally met his match Lazerus, a cunning and perversely violent killer who is on the loose and terrorizing the inner city. Stillwell s desperate pursuit of Lazerus takes him into the dark, depraved Memphis underworld of street sex and senseless violence.”

I’m always fascinated by Seagal’s DTV cover synopses because rarely do they reflect with any accuracy what the film is actually about. This one is fairly decent for a change. Seagal is in fact a homicide detective, and he is somewhat celebrated. Well, that may be an overstatement of the case. He’s a known quantity in the Memphis police department, and with the FBI (who think he’s crossed the line). And a waitress in a bar recognizes him from local television. So if that counts as celebrated then so be it. And in many instances he certainly does deliver brutal street justice (he really makes good on this point). There is also a perversely violent killer named Lazerus, although I would take issue with the cunning part as Seagal manages to capture him after a brief visit to the local library for research. On the one hand it speaks well of the library as such a wonderful resource, but even I have to admit it seems like it would take a little more than that if this guy is that cunning. More on the depiction of libraries in Kill Switch in just a moment. The final piece here is that Seagal is actually named Jacob King (not Stillwell), so that minor detail is erroneous.

So by and large you have some notion of what you’re getting into with Kill Switch based on that. There are some more relevant details though. We also learn from flashbacks that Seagal’s little brother was murdered by a serial killer (actually listed as “Flashback Killer” in the credits) at a childhood birthday party while Seagal watched, and this may or may not be the reason why he is so intent on pursuing such criminals and enacting brutal street justice. Truly these flashback scenes are a little bizarre, and the fact that they are never discussed forces the viewer to make some leaps in filling in the gaps. That’s par for the course in Seagalogy but it still seems unusual that it’s never discussed, particularly given that King isn’t actually a lone wolf type. He has a loyal partner/best friend in the form of Storm Anderson (Chris Thomas King), and a live-in girlfriend who’s also on the force (in whom he curiously shows little interest). Either way, the guy’s got a history and he seems to be exorcising his inner demons through the medium of police work.

An additional plot thread that has to be mentioned is the fact that King is also on the trail of another serial killer (intriguingly named Billy Joel) who likes to embed explosives in his victims, and for my money the guy is far more cunning/tough than Lazerus. He survives (with a couple of cuts) perhaps the harshest beating ever inflicted by Seagal on a perp in the opening minutes of the film, which ends with him being thrown out of a high window onto concrete. He then manages to get released from jail on a technicality, kill his legal team, kill Seagal’s live-in cop girlfriend (spoiler), and stalk Seagal throughout the film. Your mileage may vary, but that’s far more accomplished than a serial killer who gets apprehended as the result of a trip to the library by Seagal! To be fair Lazerus also apparently has a sideline writing music lyrics, evidencing some artistic ability, but that just doesn’t raise him to that “next level” if you ask me.

Hopefully the above gives you a pretty good idea of what’s going on during Kill Switch’s 90-minute run time. On the surface it’s a hunt for the serial killer(s) by a rogue cop with unconventional methods, who has a troubled past driving him. As with all Seagal DTV outings though, the surface is just an excuse for a deluge of outlandish (and often inexplicable) plot threads and events. Not to mention some outrageous artistic choices on the part of Seagal. Here are some standout elements to look forward to in Kill Switch:

#1 – I mentioned that the film is set in Memphis. For those of you who have been checking out some of Seagal’s later work, this is probably already ringing danger alarms. You see, at this point in time Seagal has mysteriously adopted a heavy Southern accent (both on and off screen from what I can tell). Now if you’ve at minimum seen some of his early stuff (e.g. Above the Law), you will know that this is not his native tongue. Furthermore, his track record at successfully carrying off accents is questionable at best (e.g. Out for Justice). Speculation is that he’s become so into his blues/music career, that he has wholly adopted the culture (dialect included). In his past few films the accent has been prominently on display, but here in the heart of Memphis it has been taken to a staggering extreme.

#2 – I’ve seen a lot of action movies in my time. And when I say a lot, I mean a LOT. I have never in all that time seen anything like the editing used in this film. As many viewers have noted, a great deal of the DTV Seagal films employ heavy use of stunt doubles for Seagal during fight scenes. Past attempts to obscure this fact have used the expected pony tail and clothing accessories, along with quick editing cuts to hide the double’s face. In Kill Switch the quick editing is taken to an extreme that, in my experience, has never before been witnessed in the history of cinema. The cuts are made in such rapid succession that it makes for a stomach churning ordeal, and I do mean stomach churning. Whenever these fights would start I became nauseated.

I don’t say this lightly. Stuff like Blair Witch and Cloverfield didn’t cause me to even bat an eye as they did with some. This goes beyond shaky cam though. It’s so quick it’s almost a strobe effect in Kill Switch. It’s no exaggeration to say that it makes the pacing of a Michael Bay film seem like Ingmar Bergman. Worse still the tactic doesn’t even work. They still have inserts of Seagal’s face that clearly do not fit into the context of the fight. In some respects it’s worth seeing Kill Switch just to see this novel (if ill-advised) approach to filmmaking, but be sure to take a couple of seasick pills beforehand.

#3 – There’s a totally unnecessary moment in the middle of the film where King’s partner Storm tells a story in flashback mode about how he and King hunted down a serial killer/cannibal dressed as a clown. It’s not that the flashback is poorly done or anything (in fact it’s quite bizarre), it’s just that the film comes to a screeching halt to have this moment that connects to nothing. Trademark Seagal DTV era madness.

#4 – I alluded to this earlier, but Seagal has an attractive live-in girlfriend who’s also on the police force. This would not be so unusual in and of itself (although as is customary in the DTV era the girlfriend is MUCH younger than Seagal), except that he seems to have no interest in her at all and she serves no real purpose. You could make the argument that her death at the hands of Billy Joel would provide some sort of dramatic moment, but upon Seagal’s discovery of her death it seems more like an inconvenience than anything, much less the impetus for rage driven revenge.

#5 (Major Spoiler) – Perhaps the most insane moment in any Seagal film ever. No kidding. Throughout the entire course of the film we are led to believe that King’s life is pretty much confined to Memphis and his own circle of friends, colleagues, etc. He has a partner who he appears to have spent many years with, a fantastic apartment, a devoted girlfriend, and a history as a celebrated homicide detective. There is not even the most remote hint that there is anything beyond that life for King. He is well established as that guy. Okay. After King kills Billy Joel (spoiler) he leaves a note at his apartment letting his partner know he's leaving the force and town. Why not? I mean he’s been through a lot. Maybe he’s tired of chasing down killers and delivering brutal street justice. Who wouldn’t be?

The thing is King does not go off to start a new life somewhere from scratch. Not in a DTV era Seagal film, no sir. Instead he drives to a country manor which looks to be far removed from Tennessee, where he has a blond (young) Russian wife and several children. She greets him at the door without missing a beat, and takes him upstairs to the bedroom. End film. The previous record holder for an ending this unexpected/unexplained was Today You Die. But even in that film there were dream sequences and images that the ending recalled, even if it made no sense. Here the Russian wife and kids has no foreshadowing. It’s just plain jaw dropping, which is no small feat at this stage for a Seagal film. In fact, it actually helped to cement an idea that had been forming in my mind . . .

You know how there are formulas that get recycled over and over again in film? For example the mismatched buddy cop movie (e.g. Lethal Weapon). Basically you have a tried and true setup in which you just plug in new characters. I had a little distance behind me between my Seagal immersion program and watching Kill Switch. This perhaps helped to provide a bit of perspective. You see what struck me during Kill Switch was how familiar it all was, despite the fact that the goings on were entirely ridiculous from the acting, to the story, to the execution. Having seen so many of these DTV films, I truly believe there’s a pattern to the madness. Nutty accents, dangling plot threads, obvious stunt doubles, leading ladies who are far too young, etc. The uncalled for ending was the icing on the cake. These elements, while seemingly random and unprofessional, are far too common and predictable at this point to be unplanned. If you had just watched something like Seagal’s Submerged or Attack Force and had never seen another DTV era movie you might think the whole thing was a jumbled mess. But no! I submit that the chaos is a finely tuned machine meant to defy categorization. It may score on the point of not being pigeonholed, but since these Seagalian touches are becoming predictable it’s hard to classify these films as novel anymore.

That being said, Kill Switch is still a lot of fun. Unlike say a Submerged which is boring in addition to being crazy, Kill Switch never ceases to be entertaining (although the nauseating editing gives it the old college try). In fact, I think this is one of the better absurd/surreal DTV entries. It may not recall Seagal’s glory days the way Urban Justice did, but it is pretty satisfying nevertheless. Another facet I thought interesting was that this one is written by Seagal. Considering he’s adopted a philosophy of non-violence in his personal life, and is enmeshed in blues culture, it’s surprising that he would pen a gritty, ultraviolent crime piece such as this (and it is absolutely one of the most violent Seagal pictures to date). Particularly odd are the touches such as the cannibal clown and Russian wife ending. Vern posited in his book that On Deadly Ground represents the ultimate Seagal film as he wrote and directed it. Consequently it is “pure” Seagal. That may be true, but it makes me wonder where this one falls. It’s possible the director demanded the cannibal clown and non sequitir epilogue, but that seems hard to believe. I’m thinking that is also “pure” Seagal . . . which raises a whole other set of questions.

One last bit I have to mention which really strikes home. Earlier I made reference to the fact that Seagal is able to track down Lazerus as a result of a visit to the Memphis Public Library. There’s a little more to it than that. He goes to the library and asks a Goth outfitted female librarian for assistance. She rudely points him to the stacks where he finds some occult literature that figures into Lazerus’s M.O. Later she approaches somewhat apologetically and lets him know she’s heard a band using some of the lines he’s researched as lyrics, and brings up Lazerus. This ultimately leads Seagal to Lazerus. Afterward, she randomly happens to cross paths with Billy Joel (the mad bomber not the piano man) and gets together with him for a fling . . . and then subsequently gets killed.

As a librarian I’m always fascinated by the way libraries/librarians are portrayed in film. More often than not it’s as an older authoritarian type. With that in mind, I was pleased to see Seagal breaking the mold by putting a hip young person in as the role model. That good will was a little squelched when he portrayed her as rude and unhelpful. Of course then she was entirely responsible for helping him catch Lazerus. But then he has her get together with a stranger (not The Stranger) who brutally dispatches her. What in the world is the message here?!? The way I read it is that librarians, while indispensible in terms of providing accurate information, are rude and dangerously poor judges of character. I have to say I disagree with that depiction. Let’s hope that Seagal does a better job on that front next time (of course it could be he doesn't like Goth culture or had a bad experience at the Memphis Public Library who knows). Despite this not insignificant shortcoming, Kill Switch still gets a solid recommendation!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coming Soon: Virginia Creepers



Here's a fun clip from Virginia Creepers, the upcoming horror documentary directed by Fantasmo/Monster Fest guest Sean Kotz. The film chronicles the long history of Virginia horror hosts, of which Tidewater boasts it's fair share : ) Last spring Sean conducted some interviews at Fantasmo with Team Madblood and fans, so we can't wait to see this!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Horror From the Land Down Under #1: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Okay, I’m finally getting back to a bit of a regular schedule following the Monster Fest whirlwind, and finally plunging into the Australian horror series I promised several weeks ago. Why focus on Australian horror you may ask? A couple of reasons. First and foremost, there are several great horror films that have come from the land down under of which many folks aren’t aware. This point was driven home to me all the more when I mentioned a few titles during a discussion at Monster Fest and received blank stares. The second reason is that like other international horror Australian genre cinema has a wonderfully distinct feel. In particular, the films tend to have some connection with the conflict between man and nature given the country’s geography and indigenous culture. While there are several places one could start, probably the best is to talk about a fairly well-known quantity in the form of director Peter Weir. Weir is pretty famous here in the U.S. for his Hollywood output including such titles as Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show, and Master and Commander among others. However, before making his way here he cut his teeth primarily in the horror genre in his native land with four terrific films: The Cars That Ate Paris, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, and The Plumber. I’m only going to discuss the middle two, but you really should check out the others if you get a chance. First up today is the creepy classic Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is loosely based on an actual event that happened in Australia circa 1900. The film takes place at a stuffy girls’ boarding school, which appears quite out of place given its location in the natural setting it is surrounded by. Basically it’s a setup highlighting the folly of the British attempting to impose themselves on a culture and environment that they do not fully understand. This point is made tragically clear when the film’s central event, a Valentine’s Day picnic, goes horribly awry. After a brief introduction establishing the characters and setting, the girls are led on the outing to a volcanic rock outcropping known as Hanging Rock (which is a threatening character in itself). Really, a hiker decked out in L. L. Bean’s finest would find trekking through the area shown in the film a daunting task, much less a group of elaborately dressed society ladies. As they travel along the jagged terrain the absurdity of staging a picnic in such a setting is made abundantly clear. It’s a classic example of man (or woman) treating nature as though it was his living room, and ignoring the visible danger all around. Unlike the weekend warriors of Deliverance and its ilk however, the characters of Hanging Rock don’t evidence the tiniest inclination that they are testing Mother Nature.

The trouble fully begins when four of the more rambunctious students decide to venture off and explore the nooks and crannies of the rock, ending up in a clearing far from the main group. Watching the girls travel further and further into the belly of the rock is nothing short of unsettling, as we know deep down that they are going way farther than is safe. What happens from there is a Blair Witch level incident. Three of the girls disappear after a dream-like sequence, with the lone “survivor” returning screaming and delirious. Search parties are organized, turning up another catatonic girl (evidencing strange markings) who cannot remember what took place, while the rest of the party is never found. Several other tragic and mysterious events follow in the wake of what essentially becomes an Outback X-File.

While there are some familiar horror conventions in this film (e.g. don’t mess with Mother Nature, don’t split up the group, etc.), Picnic at Hanging Rock is to this day something entirely unique. It’s one of those rare horror movies that really get under your skin and stay there. There are no monsters, ghosts, gore, etc., just the ominous mood set by the environment. It’s what I like to call a non-horror horror film. It’s certainly supernatural, and there is a body count of sorts, but it veers into artsy territory in which fare like Rats: A Night of Terror or Nightmare City (to name two wildly unrelated examples) never venture. Truly you could pair this up with something like Remains of the Day and not even feel guilty when springing it on a Masterpiece Theatre fan. Now in case alarm bells are ringing in your head that this is a boring period piece, that’s where I will caution you not to pass hasty judgment. This is the magic of Picnic at Hanging Rock. It manages to be an artistically high-brow outing, yet nevertheless totally satisfies the requirements of a great horror film (a somewhat rare feat in my opinion). Not that I’m saying that classic horror films (e.g. Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, etc.) don’t qualify as artistically satisfying – not in the least. It’s just that (unfortunately) the genre isn’t always given the credit it deserves and is therefore not typically classified as intellectual fare (which of course I completely disagree with). Hanging Rock manages to live comfortably in both worlds and is therefore part of a rare breed.

I’m as jaded a horror fan as anyone having seen so many films over the years, but this one never fails to creep me out. I challenge you to sit through the disappearance sequence in a dark room at 2:00 in the morning and not get cold chills. That’s not to say it won’t do the same on a sunny day at noon, but the effect is pretty much unavoidable in the first setting. In this regard, Hanging Rock is a film that is representative of the films I find truly “scary.” While I’m sure you could probably delineate classes of horror much more finely than I am about to, for me there are basically three main types of fright:

1 – Startling fright (e.g. when people are searching a dark house and a cat jumps out with the musical score providing punctuation);

2 – Unsettling fright (e.g. Silence of the Lambs/Lucio Fulci/Hostel/turn your stomach type horror);

3 – Bone-chilling horror fright (e.g. Blair Witch, Hanging Rock, The Exorcist, etc.).

While I can certainly appreciate each category, the final one is where my favorite horror films reside. This is because the bone-chilling variety is what I think qualifies as truly “scary.” The others tend to be roller-coaster thrill rides of a sort which, nothing wrong with that, just don’t stick with me in terms of the creepiness factor. Hanging Rock and its brethren are the type of films I find myself thinking about later and getting uneasy all over again. If I had to nail down why this is I’d say it’s because they often deal with the unexplained. For example, with something like Halloween you have a threat like Michael Myers which is very physical, and very real. Hence you can sort of deal with that through practical solutions (e.g. barricading yourself in a room or running away). Granted he’s endowed with otherworldly abilities, but there’s still a tangible course of action available. On the other hand, fighting the Blair Witch is a futile proposition as you can’t even see the threat, much less even discern what it really is. That makes the whole situation quite a bit more terrifying. The same is true with Hanging Rock. We never know really what happened or why, and therefore the unidentified menace is still at large and no solution is presented.

Weir does a fantastic job at creating a dreamlike atmosphere and this contributes to the feelings conjured. Some of his American films have this quality too, particularly his efforts with Harrison Ford. Hanging Rock and The Last Wave (to be discussed shortly) are the masterpieces though, and any horror fan would do well to check them out. Best of all, you can even use them as gateway films to bring the non-horror crowd into the fold. If they aren’t ready to experience The Evil Dead, they might be willing to take a chance on this one. After all, it has all the trappings of the finest British dramas. It even has a subtext concerning repression, with the girls’ disappearance serving as a metaphor for their escape from the constraints of European society. While I can appreciate the depth and thoughtfulness of this proposition, the disturbing depiction of this metaphorical “escape” limits the appeal I would think. I guess Weir is of the no pain, no gain school of thought . . . still I don’t think I would opt for abduction by the Blair Witch to avoid having to deal with societal gripes! Nevertheless, the message is there for those who are interested in such things.

In summary, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a rare treat that both horror aficionados and fans of BPD’s (British Period Dramas) can agree on. A Victorian drama that morphs into a supernatural creep fest – how can one go wrong? So grab a vegemite sandwich and thrill to this 70’s Australian masterpiece if you dare!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Episode 41: Fantasmo Salutes Robert Clouse

Hey Superfans!

It’s been a busy month between planning, executing, and recovering from Monster Fest, but things are getting back to normal here at Fantasmo HQ. I’ll be posting some cool Monster Fest photos shortly, along with my long promised series on Australian horror, but first up it’s time to talk about the big November show. Few films screened over the years at Fantasmo have been as polarizing as the 1985 martial arts (and I use that term loosely) film Gymkata. For those of you who did not experience it at the two screenings in which it was unleashed, the film stars world class gymnast Kurt Thomas as a would be secret agent on a mission to secure the rights to build a Star Wars missile defense base in a fictional Eastern European country called Parmistan (ruled by a fellow who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mel Brooks). In order to achieve that goal he has to prevail in a treacherous competition known only as “The Game,” using his own special brand of fight skills that combines the precision of gymnastics with the kill of karate . . . Gymkata! It’s every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, and depending on your patience level for the absurd it’s really a love it or hate it type of film.

Crazy as it may sound the director of this legendary piece of cinema, Robert Clouse, actually had a pretty terrific resume prior to 1985. In fact, he was responsible for some bona fide classic action films in the 70’s. I guess Rob and I were feeling a little guilty for having only shown one side of this talented director (okay actually it was more Rob since I love Gymkata and felt almost no guilt whatsoever), so Episode 41 represents our attempt to set the record straight on Robert Clouse. First up we’ll be screening a film that both of us consider to be one of THE essential action films of all time, the ultimate Bruce Lee experience Enter the Dragon (yes amazingly Enter the Dragon was engineered by the director of Gymkata). Secondly is the mid-70’s post-apocalyptic classic The Ultimate Warrior starring Yul Brynner. If your only experience with Yul is The King and I and the like, prepare to be a lifelong fan. The Ultimate Warrior is basically a wildly entertaining hybrid of The Omega Man and The Road Warrior. If you enjoy either you will treasure this Fantasmo memory for years to come. Plus both of these are crackling new transfers that you absolutely have to see on the big screen . . . the way they were meant to be seen! Here are your full Episode 41 details:

When: Friday, November 7

Where: Chesapeake Central Library, 298 Cedar Road, Chesapeake, VA 23322

Films:

8:00 P.M. – Enter the Dragon (1973) – Rated R

10:00 P.M. – The Ultimate Warrior (1975) – Rated R

So there you have it, what promises to be one of the coolest Fantasmos ever . . . and a long overdue attempt to clear the air on the talented Robert Clouse. As Enter the Dragon’s diabolical Mr. Han would say, “you have our gratitude.” See you there!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fantasmo Prom: Class of '08



For those of you who were unable to make our big Fantasmo Prom Night earlier this month, here's a small taste of what you missed. A great time was had by all, and mine and Rob's thanks go out to everyone who came dressed to the nines despite the looming threat of a tropical storm. Special thanks go to guest couple Larry Floyd (yes the elder Floyd of my partner in crime) and Fantasmo All-Star Chris J. (who as evidenced above submitted to the prom photo under duress). While they were never in serious contention for King/Queen of the prom, their efforts were nonetheless appreciated!

Monday, September 15, 2008

MONSTER FEST V!!!




Hard to believe I know, but another year has passed and your Team Fantasmo’s favorite month is once again upon us. Yes it’s time again for another edition of our 24-hour tribute to classic horror films and literature, the one and only MONSTER FEST! For those of you Superfans new to Fantasmo, MONSTER FEST is a day/night long convention which features panels, special guests, costume contests, film screenings, etc. This is our fifth(!) year at this, so we’ve honed the program into a well-oiled fright machine guaranteed to satisfy your appetite for all things horror in the ghoultastic month of October. This fifth outing is packed with more guests and goings on than ever before, so you dare not miss it! The date of the program is Saturday, October 4th, 9:00 a.m., here at Chesapeake Central Library (298 Cedar Road, Chesapeake, VA, 23322) as always. While there may be some last minute surprise additions, the more or less final schedule of events is as follows:

9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.: Classic Horror Film Trailer Park

9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.: Monster Cartoons for Kids - Presented by: BJ Babb

10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: Partners in Crime: The Coupling of Horror Art & Fiction by Couples in the Biz – Presented by: Elizabeth Massie/Cortney Skinner & Matt/Deena Warner

10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: Monster Activities for Kids

11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.: Lost Skeletons & Screaming Foreheads: An Hour with Artist/Creature Creator Cortney Skinner

11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.: Dr. Madblood Presents Live Classic Episode!

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Adventures in Indie Horror Filmmaking – Presented by: Eric Miller (Taste the Blood of Frankenstein) & Sean Kotz (Virginia Creepers)

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Female Voices in Horror Literature – Presented by: Pamela Kinney & Elizabeth Blue

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Writing Your First Horror Novel

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Frankenstein in Film - Presented by: Sean Kotz & Eric Miller

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.: Ghost Hunting 101

2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Mondo Eurocult: Introducing the Wild World of European Horror Cinema

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.: Friday the 13th Retrospective – Presented by: Jim Blanton (yes!), Lee Hansen, and Chris Johnson

5:00 p.m. Library Closes

8:00 p.m. – Dawn: Fantasmo All-Night Horrorthon!

Film Schedule:

8:00 p.m. – Lost Skeleton of Cadavra – Rated PG - Hosted by: Cortney Skinner

Ghost of Frankenstein – Not Rated

The Mummy (1959) – Not Rated

Halloween 2 – Rated R

Nightbreed – Rated R

Diary of the Dead – Rated R

A couple of important points of which to make note. The library closes at 5:00 p.m., at which time your Team Fantasmo will take a short break to grab dinner. We will then return shortly before 8:00 p.m. to begin the Horrorthon. At 10:00 p.m. we will lock the library doors for the evening . . . you may leave, but you can’t return (cue diabolical laughter). So be sure to be inside before 10:00 p.m. (you definitely don’t want to miss Halloween 2 on the big screen)!

In addition to all of the above we will have a number of special guests and authors on hand throughout the day, as well as local clubs and collectible dealers. We’re also very pleased to have our friends at Regal Cinemas back this year, and even more pleased that they’ll be bringing a VERY SPECIAL display with them (which will not be revealed at this time . . . you have to be there to see it : )

So there you have it Superfans, your MONSTER FEST 5 itinerary! A full day (and night) of frightening fun! Oh yes, as always be sure to come in costume and take part in the BIG costume contest. Winners will be announced at 3:30 p.m. See you there guys and ghouls!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dolph Lundgren Is Bridge of Dragons!

You’ve probably noticed that there have been fewer posts here on the blog over the past few weeks, which is a result of the heavy duty planning Rob and I are in the midst of for Monster Fest. I’m happy to say that the schedule is just about final, and it’s looking to be our best year yet. Details will be hitting the blog here in the next week, so be sure to keep checking in to learn about all the cool stuff taking place on the big day, Saturday, October 4 (mark those calendars). In keeping with the horror theme, I’ll be doing a series of posts on Australian horror cinema over the next couple of weeks. Before diving into that though, I simply have to write about the latest experience in my journey through the filmography of Dolph Lundgren . . . Bridge of Dragons!

I haven’t been plowing through the films of Dolph at the same pace as I did with Seagal, and I haven’t been doing much in the way of preparation prior to the viewings (e.g. researching background, reading reviews, etc.). For the most part I’m watching these at a leisurely pace and completely cold. Even so, with Bridge of Dragons I had picked up a little buzz just in perusing the sites I usually frequent about cult cinema, and that buzz was mostly positive. As a result, I had built this one up a little in my mind as something I should be looking forward to as another instant Dolph classic (e.g. Blackjack). Engaging in this sort of behavior is always a bit dicey in the world of DTV (direct-to-video) filmdom, as the best one can usually hope for is sheer entertainment (achieving classic status in DTV is a rare feat). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. These DTV films don’t harbor much in the way of pretentions, and as far as I’m concerned that’s just fine. What I usually look for and have come to appreciate is a) consistent action, and b) on a good day a plot that veers into the territory of the bizarre/insane. Happily Bridge of Dragons fulfills these criteria for the most part. It’s hampered a bit by budgetary constraints (as most DTV films are), but it managed to come close to living up to the goodwill buildup I had afforded it.

The plot of this 1999 Lundgren opus actually is a bit of a throwback to post-apocalyptic/fantasy 80’s cinema. The film is set in an unspecified future in which a totalitarian ruler named Ruechang (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is on the verge of ascending to the unnamed kingdom’s throne. All he has to do is marry the deceased king’s daughter Princess Halo, which proves challenging since she wants nothing to do with the brutal dictator (especially after finding out he assassinated her father). When the princess flees to the wastelands outside the kingdom on the day of the big wedding, Ruechang sends his most trusted soldier Warchyld (Lundgren) to retrieve her. During the course of the mission Warchyld will come to question his allegiance to the diabolical Ruechang, and might just fall for the beautiful princess. A pretty typical fairy tale plot, but as always it’s the execution that makes the film something special.

Where to start with this? Well, right off the bat Bridge of Dragons made a move that can be a little risky for films of this type. It starts with a title card reminiscent of a storybook tale stating that the film is set in another time, and another place. I’m actually paraphrasing there using the opening statement from the 1984 film Streets of Fire, but the message is the same. Now I confess I absolutely love Streets of Fire. It was a huge bomb in the summer of ’84, and did a good job of stalling Walter Hill’s directorial career after his success with The Warriors and 48 Hours. Nevertheless the film is an interesting hybrid of 80’s neon post-apocalyptic futurism and 50’s rockabilly on steroids. A bizarre combination to be sure, but Hill makes it work and created something very unique.

Bridge of Dragons actually goes for something similar by attempting to meld 80’s era action sensibilities (e.g. Commando) with B-level medieval pageantry (e.g. Hawk the Slayer), combined with just a dash of Van Damme’s Street Fighter. Director Isaac Florentine (The Shepherd: Border Patrol) isn’t nearly as successful as Hill was in merging opposing settings, but it makes for a pretty outrageous canvas. You get costume designs that recall Nazi-era Germany, the Rambo films, and Ladyhawke, and dialogue that is a mix of Old English and Mortal Kombat. Instead of achieving the cool vibe of Streets of Fire, Bridge of Dragons comes closer to the feel of Predator 2 (i.e. look at me, I’m a movie set in the “future” and you can tell because I’m wearing a crazy shirt and men’s hats are back in fashion). This could be a deficit from a certain point of view, but for me it’s spot on in fulfilling my second requirement of DTV films that they veer into the bizarre.

If being bizarre alone was enough to qualify a DTV film as great entertainment, then Steven Seagal’s Submerged would be an undisputed masterpiece. Unfortunately for that film and many other DTV entries, you’ve really gotta have some interesting action on screen as well. It’s fine and good to make people scratch their heads and debate meaning by employing a surrealistic method of storytelling (e.g. David Lynch), but the type of bizarre you come across in DTV is usually accidental rather than a carefully considered artistic choice. By throwing the action in there as well, filmmakers keep viewers engaged with eye candy and visceral thrills, while burning an impression into the mind with the disjointed themes and plot elements. You simply have to have both conditions in place to produce a solid DTV product. That’s why films like Lost Boys: The Tribe are successful even when they don’t do justice to their legacy. They manage to take relatively limited resources and craft an entertaining 90-minute thrill ride (only the vehicle is more Volkswagen GTI than Porsche 911).

Bridge of Dragons may not have any legacy to live up to (except maybe previous Lundgren films), but it does manage to fulfill the criteria of plentiful action . . . with a vengeance! Director Florentine seems on a mission to take as few breaks as possible, and does so only to establish the most minimal of plot details (e.g. who is the bad guy/good guy). The pacing is positively breathless. Of course just because there’s lots of action doesn’t necessarily mean it’s well done or enjoyable to watch. A movie can be overflowing with endless, yet poorly staged action sequences. Thankfully Bridge of Dragons is pretty solid in this regard. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but the work is competent and there are some standout moments. Particularly satisfying is the final duel between Warchyld and Ruechang, which has some really over the top blows and staging. It even has the obligatory damsel in distress setup in which the princess is pinned underneath an overturned jeep as flames make their way closer to her from a fuel tanker that is conveniently close by. Actually it all reminded me a little bit of the last Lundgren film I reviewed (Diamond Dogs). In that one the damsel in peril was mortally wounded because Dolph lazily chose not to intervene (despite the fact she had just saved his life). Warchyld is more in the traditional hero mode, so he’s a little more concerned about the welfare of others (which is fitting in this context).

As an interesting piece of trivia, this is not the first time Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa has played Dolph’s nemesis. Some of you may recall he was the main baddie in the superior Lundgren film Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991). You may also recall my mentioning in an earlier review that a memory of Showdown that stuck out for me was the final street duel between Tagawa and Lundgren. Tagawa shoots Lundgren in the chest point blank, to which Lundgren responds with an annoyed grunt. The two then proceed to have an epic sword battle. It always struck me as patently ridiculous that Lundgren could take a bullet to the pectoral without missing a beat. I mean come on. That being said, it was so jaw-dropping that I hold it up as one of the great moments in B-action cinema.

The reason I bring all this up, besides the Tagawa connection, is that Bridge of Dragons features a similarly outrageous moment. In an early scene where Dolph is rescuing Princess Halo from some jungle bandits, he takes a grievous bullet wound to the abdomen . . . and again he shrugs it off. Granted he does receive some token medical attention in the scene that follows, but he continues to go on as if nothing has happened. Look I’m no doctor, and I’m open to the concept of keeping a stiff upper lip through physical pain, but this is a real stretch. To draw a cinematic parallel, imagine if Tim Roth had simply been told by Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs to “walk it off” in response to his wound sustained during the jewel heist getaway. That’s what we’re talking about here. Dolph is running laps, doing roundhouse kicks, and blowing up helicopters with a similar injury. What is it about the pairing of Lundgren and Tagawa that invites exaggeration with regard to the severity of bullet wounds? It’s just too over the top to dismiss as a coincidence!

Despite a seeming lack of even rudimentary knowledge of the effects of physical trauma, the performances in Bridge of Dragons are pretty decent. Dolph is well-suited to the role of the knightly hero, and Tagawa is always dependable in villainous roles. One thing that I found particularly cool was Dolph’s introduction early in the film, in which he takes on a band of rebel soldiers. The movie is coy about revealing Dolph’s face, hiding him behind binoculars, thusly making you wait for the “it’s on now” moment when he lowers them and unleashes a hail of bullets at the people who will be his allies by the end of the film. It’s the kind of intro usually afforded to well-known characters/actors (e.g. James Bond), not second-tier action heroes. I liked it because in hiding Dolph’s face for a big reveal, the filmmakers are making the assumption that the audience will be totally fired up when they realize (surprise!) international action star Dolph Lundgren is in the film. I don’t know, I guess I’m a little conflicted on this point. Part of me does think this is an awesome tactic because there’s such bravado on display in boldly asserting the inherent coolness of Dolph’s presence in the film, but it will likely puzzle non-Lundgren devotees. In the final analysis though I tend to go with the adage that luck favors the bold, and I’d say that holds true here. Of course as we learned in Under Siege 2 chance favors the prepared mind, so make of all this what you will.

Ultimately I would recommend you give a look to Bridge of Dragons. It’s a fun throwback to 80’s action cinema that you’ll have a lot of fun with. And if you’re a fan of Dolph it’s a no-brainer that this is required viewing. The only thing I’m left puzzled about is the title. There are no bridges in the film, nor are there dragons, so there’s obviously a metaphor at work. I would have to guess that Dolph and Tagawa are the dragons, although the feisty princess (who really is responsible for stirring the pot) could qualify for the title (especially given that she drives a wedge between two guys who are essentially good buddies at the beginning of the film). The bridge is a little more perplexing. It makes me wonder if this is one of those Seagalian editing room plot reversals. I could just imagine the movie originally being about a massive bridge or something, and then all references being excised at the 11th hour due to some creative differences. As it stands, the title’s lack of reference to actual physical objects/creatures in film makes Bridge of Dragons sound somehow more “important” or artsy . . . which is a nice consideration as it makes it appropriate for a double-feature with either Masters of the Universe or Howard’s End. Very shrewd indeed.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Movie Review: Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Hey Superfans!

Every once in a while a Fantasmo comes along, seemingly out of the blue, that is one of those “special” sorts of nights. Well, I’ve got a feeling this Friday is going to be one of those. Rob and I were digging deep to find some theme to be our prelude to Monster Fest, and so focused were we on that event that ideas were not forthcoming. I don’t remember which one of us pulled Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II out of the ether, but once the words were uttered everything sort of fell into place. We’ve never done prom horror before, and it just lends itself to creating a zany atmosphere in the humble surroundings of Theatre du Fantasmo. And the present back to school frenzy made it seem all the more perfect. This Friday you’ll get to relive those fond high school memories in the form of cheesy prom décor, sugary fruit punch, and yes even prom photos (plus a few surprises)! Oh yes, and two of the best prom horror films of all time, Prom Night II and Carrie (which incredibly was nominated for two Oscars . . . a Fantasmo first)! In honor of the film that served as our inspiration, I thought I’d do a quick review to give you an idea of what to expect from this 80’s horror gem.

To be perfectly honest, despite the fact that it was one of the early slashers and featured THE scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis I never really cared much for the original Prom Night. To me it was a little run of the mill in terms of the premise, and the execution somewhat boring. And outside of Forbidden Planet, Airplane!, and his delirious performance in Day of the Animals I’m not a big fan of Leslie Nielsen (sorry Naked Gun die hards). So when the sequel came out 7 years later in 1987 I wasn’t all that excited about it. The thing is it had a really cool poster, and I’m a sucker for cool posters! Now sometimes cool posters do not make for a great film (e.g. H. R. Giger’s poster for Future Kill . . . man what letdown), but in this case everything works out pretty nicely. I recently sat down to watch Prom Night II for the first time in 20 years (the last time was in my local mall cinema), and I was amazed at how well it has held up. It’s not a masterpiece of 80’s horror (e.g. The Funhouse), but it’s a really fun amalgam of several 80’s trends.

Something to realize before entering the world of Prom Night II is that it’s not a true sequel to the first film, rather it just adopts the name . . . sort of like Halloween III (minus the welcome presence of Tom Atkins and an evil Druid toymaker). The only thread tying the two films together is that they take place at presumably the same high school (sure would hate to be a student there). Again for me this is not really a problem as I thought the first one was pretty blah. This time around instead of a slasher formula we get something more in line with A Nightmare on Elm Street (which makes sense given that so many horror films post-1984 were influenced greatly by its dream logic). The film kicks off with a flashback sequence set in 1957 in which Prom Queen Mary Lou Maloney is accidentally set on fire by her jealous boyfriend Bill Nordham in the midst of her acceptance ceremony. After the grisly set piece is over we jump forward to 1987 at which time Nordham (Michael Ironside) is now the principal and the spirit of Mary Lou returns for revenge by possessing Prom Queen to be Vicki Carpenter. Through the course of the film Carpenter proceeds to dispatch her high school foes via some telekinetic carnage, culminating in the wildest prom this side of De Palma’s Carrie.

I’ll grant you that Prom Night II is just as derivative as its predecessor given that it borrows from Elm Street, Carrie, and even a dash of The Exorcist, but it is successful because the filmmakers have a blast with the concept. The film has great pacing (there’s never a dull moment) and it travels the familiar ground with energy. Truly just about every stock high school horror cliché is in play, but they are enjoyable due to the execution. From the fussy rival Prom Queen to the computer geek with a heart of gold, the characters are written to remind you of familiar archetypes, but in a way that allows you to still empathize with them. The young actors also do a fine job with the material, with standouts being Mary Lou (Lisa Schrage) and Wendy Lyon's Vicki, who goes from squeaky clean to gleefully diabolical without missing a beat. Also I must mention the always reliable (save for Highlander 2) Michael Ironside, who for once plays a good guy here and does so nicely. Kudos also to the casting folks who found a doppelganger for Ironside in his teenage flashback counterpart Steve Atkinson (if they had made a prequel to the original Scanners this guy would have been perfect).

There are also other areas in which Prom Night II acquits itself well. One important area it manages to excel in is that of effects. Sometimes low budgets can bring out amazingly creative work from effects teams, and that is certainly the case here. Prom Night II could have settled for straight gore effects like the first entry, but here we get evil rocking horses, Apple computers attacking their owners, and people sucked into chalkboards. And then there’s the big finale when Mary Lou literally sheds her new skin. You can tell it’s all fake, but it’s the good kind of fake where you can admire the ingenuity that went into accomplishing the effects with no money. In addition to the effects, I particularly enjoyed the soundtrack. I remember at the time of Prom Night II’s release that the publicity made a big deal about the music (I think they even listed titles on some versions of the poster), as this one features both 50’s classics and 80’s pop. Many times during the 80’s when this gimmick was employed the music turned out to be the best thing about the film, but fortunately for Prom Night II it works as an enhancement as it should. Consequently there’s a great nostalgia vibe for the 50’s generation, and now Generation X (i.e. me).

Prom Night II may not be an epic, but it is that rare example where the sequel outdoes its predecessor . . . it’s unfortunate that it doesn't receive much credit. Fun story, energetic performances, kitchen sink effects, and plentiful 80’s music – how could you go wrong? Our second feature Carrie may be the more cerebral film of our double-feature, but Prom Night II is definitely the little engine that could of prom horror. Give it a chance and we promise you won’t be disappointed. Oh, and if you’d like to come in full prom dress we strongly encourage it as your chances of being crowned the King/Queen of the Fantasmo Prom will be greatly increased! Of course when seeing how things worked out for Mary Lou, Vicky, and Carrie that may not be such a great thing : ) See you Friday at 8:00!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Movie Review: Lost Boys: The Tribe (2008)

Before I sat down and watched the recently released direct-to-video sequel to The Lost Boys, I fully expected my blog entry on the subject would take the form of a public service announcement. I had already seen a few reviews which made it sound like the worst cinematic crime perpetrated on genre fans since Highlander 2: The Quickening. In reality, the film isn’t all that bad taking into account it’s a DTV film with not much in the way of ambition . . .

First off, what you have to realize going into Lost Boys: The Tribe is that it’s basically a remake of the first film. You have two siblings (this time a brother and sister) who move to a kooky seaside town to live with their quirky aunt (at just 94 minutes they didn’t have time to introduce the single mother character and love interest from the original). Upon arrival they encounter a fun loving group of surfers (i.e. The Tribe) who happen to be vampires (which I guess is sort of like Point Break except they don’t rob banks . . . and speaking of Point Break isn’t that a franchise begging to happen on DTV. Seriously, you know they could totally convince Swayze to do this, as you never actually see his character die. Sure Keanu Reeves probably wouldn’t go for it at this point, but maybe they could get his Bill & Ted counterpart Alex Winter. A Swayze Point Break quote comes to mind that seems relevant. “Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation can cause your worst fears to come true.” That being the case, if the DTV powers that be are afraid of taking the Point Break plunge, their hesitation could cause fears of lost revenue to become an actuality. Come on DTV producers more Point Break!). One of the siblings (the sister) gets tricked into drinking the head vampire’s blood (this time Angus instead of Kiefer Sutherland), and the brother must work with Edgar Frog (Corey Feldman) to prevent her from becoming a full blown vampire. Pretty much a carbon copy of Lost Boys 1, with the exception of “The Tribe” subtitle and some gender switches. Now you could make the argument that the creative team was pulling a Gus Van Sant Psycho type experiment, or a John Carpenter Escape From L. A. update. I’m not convinced of that though as in the former case it’s not a shot-for-shot remake, and in the latter it doesn’t go far enough in announcing itself as a version for another era. I’m willing to listen to arguments to the contrary, but at this moment in time I’m not buying that The Tribe team undertook some radical cinematic experiment here.

In truth, the fact that The Tribe is a remake is probably its greatest deficit simply because it forces the viewer to constantly compare it with the first installment. If this were an entirely new scenario it would be much easier to lose oneself in the film due to the novelty factor. However, despite being an underachiever on the creative front, The Tribe is not the disaster you may have been anticipating. The film works as entertainment (assuming you can overlook the fact that it is supposed to be a sequel to a much loved 80’s cult film) because the cast and crew seem to have set out to make a fun B-movie with no pretensions. In that regard I think they succeeded for the most part. The Tribe never drags, and does an adequate job of holding one’s interest. Also, for a DTV title the film looks pretty nice (it even adopts the 2:35:1 cinematic ratio of the original), and the camera work is fairly dynamic (without succumbing the ever popular Michael Bay syndrome). And as for the cast, while they lack the talent of the first entry’s roster they make up for it with enthusiasm. The sole exception to this would be Angus Sutherland, who’s a little too mellow to be very threatening. It’s true that he’s supposed to be a laid back surfer, and in the beginning the mellow works. When the fangs sprout though, the role could have used a little more bite (couldn’t resist : )

At this point I would be remiss in my duties if I did not highlight the contribution of Corey Feldman. One of the things the first Lost Boys film is most remembered for is the presence of the two Coreys, Haim and Feldman. While this one doesn’t sport a Haim (more on that in a moment), Feldman does return to perhaps his most famous role as overenthusiastic vampire hunter Edgar Frog. I confess when I saw the original back in ’87 I enjoyed Feldman’s performance a great deal . . . and the movie as a whole. The intervening years have not been so kind to the film, but it still remains a nostalgia fixture of sorts for me. That said, I think Feldman’s character has fared pretty well in terms of not dating. Consequently, the presence of Edgar works nicely in the sequel as Feldman assumes the role of elder statesman (what a strange concept). He updates Edgar in a believable way that respects the character’s history, while avoiding mockery in the name of pop culture irony. Truly I’ve got to give Feldman major points, as this performance is pitch perfect ( I just hope he brings the same gravitas to his role in any forthcoming Goonies DTV sequel). If you liked him the first time around, you’ll be happy with Edgar 2.0.

Another strength of The Tribe is the special effects. While no awards will be handed out, they aren’t sloppy and strike a nice balance between practical makeup and stunt work with CGI. It was nice to see such restraint in a DTV offering. Usually cheap CGI is the order of the day in the DTV world due to budgetary restraints, and every young filmmaker with a Mac seems to take a kitchen sink approach. Interestingly The Tribe opens with the worst CGI shot of the film, which shows a bird’s eye view of the town. In the original this would have been accomplished with a helicopter shot of the actual coastline. Here it has to be achieved via a computer. This opening filled me with dread, but honestly the rest of the effects are pretty decent. The vampire makeup in particular is nice, as it resembles that of the original instead of trying to do some unnecessary revision. One other item to mention is that the opening scene features a cameo by Tom Savini. Perhaps they got him to do this as a nod to the fact that they were updating an 80’s horror film, and intended to do so with plenty of practical gore/monster effects work (even though Savini has no involvement at that level). Or maybe they just like Savini – who knows. The strange thing is that literally moments before watching the film I was thinking of Savini and wondering what he’d been up to lately. Creepy.

One thing I mentioned recently in my review of Indiana Jones and the Case of the Crystal Skull (and applies here), is that fans of genre sequels have a tendency to critique films because of what they are not. In the case of The Tribe, a lot of negative reviews focus on the fact that it is nothing more than a remake and should have covered new ground. While I understand that sentiment, I believe you have to look at what the filmmakers set out to do and how well they accomplished that. Here they were not attempting to tell a new story, rather it seems they were looking to transplant the original plot in a slightly different setting. To that end I’d say they achieved the objective with relative success. Where they fell a little short was in the performance of Angus Sutherland, and perhaps not pushing the limits quite enough. Ironically the filmmakers invite this criticism themselves by providing a tantalizing glimpse at the film that could have been. After the end credits roll for a while, we’re treated to a short segment that reunites the Coreys and suggests the possibility of a forthcoming adventure. Although very brief, the snippet manages to generate more excitement than anything seen in The Tribe.

Even more interesting than the “official” Haim cameo, the DVD offers two alternate endings that are cooler still. Both open up the door to a sequel that would bring in Haim (who appears to have suffered a vampire attack) and the absent Frog brother Alan (Jamison Newlander) who is referenced several times in The Tribe. What’s incredible about these alternate endings is that to me they looked like what would happen if Rob Zombie were doing a Lost Boys sequel in both tone and execution. I’m not the world’s biggest Rob Zombie fan, but I have thought his directorial efforts were both decent and interesting (including his reimagining of Halloween). Furthermore, unlike most modern genre filmmakers, he has a signature style that’s identifiable (which is a breath of fresh air these days). I wouldn’t mind at all seeing him take on the project, or having director P.J. Pesce continue on the path toward emulating his style. Either way is fine by me. It may sound incredible, but in the space of a couple of minutes Pesce creates a thrilling scenario that I hope gets taken seriously should they continue making Lost Boys sequels.

Sleep all day. Party all night. It’s fun to be a vampire. Such was the tagline of the original film. It may not be as fun this time around, but given its constraints The Tribe does a decent job of entertaining even if it’s not a great sequel. If the powers that be allow the creative folks to move forward with the scenario suggested by the alternate endings, the franchise could take a very interesting direction which (dare I say it) might surpass the original. Here’s hoping they do just that and give fans the true sequel they’ve been waiting 20+ years for.