Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monster Fest Programs Unleashed!

The GINORMOUS lineup of programming is now up and running at the amazing (and tremendously spooky) Monster Fest 6 web site at: http://www.monsterfestva.com/. This year's schedule of events is focused on movie premieres, and we have three BIG titles! But that's not all, there will be panels on paranomral fiction, Saturday morning monsters of the 60's, a loving tribute to Forrest J. Ackerman, a classic episode of Dr. Madblood on the big screen, a special Monster Fest edition of the popular children's program PAWS to Read, a presentation on the history of Godzilla in film, and the always popular costume contest . . . not to mention the all-night horrorthon : ) I'll be writing about our three movie premieres in a separate post, but in the meantime will leave you with the official Monster Fest 6 schedule of events:

10:00 a.m. - Taste the Blood of Frankenstein (premiere!) - Hosted by director Eric Miller

10:00 a.m. - Fiction and Nonfiction Paranormal: Why So Popular Nowadays? - Hosted by Pamela Kinney, Beth Brown, A. B. Wallace, Justin Cristelli & Deborah Caravelli

10:00 a.m. - Saturday Morning Monsters of the 60's - Hosted by Michael Joyner

11:00 a.m. - Tribute to Forrest J. Ackerman: The Godfather of Horror Fandom -
Hosted by Debbie Painter, Paul Knight & David Hawk

12:00 p.m. - Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (premiere!) - Hosted by writer/producer Joseph Maddrey

12:00 p.m. - Classic Dr. Madblood Episode - Hosted by Craig T. Adams

2:00 p.m. - Costume Contest

2:00 p.m. - Claws to Read

2:30 p.m. - Virginia Creepers: The Horror Host Tradition of the Old Dominion (premiere!) - Hosted by writer/director Sean Kotz

3:30 p.m. - Godzilla: A History in Film - Hosted by Tony Mercer

Easily poised to be our biggest, bestest Monster Fest yet! See you on Saturday, October 10th!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Drive-In Update!

Hey Superfans!
It looks like the weather is not going to cooperate today, so our outdoor screening will have to move indoors this evening. Rest assured we will try this again at some point in the future! In the meantime we will enjoy Armand Assante wrestling mutant bears in the comfort of Theatre du Fantasmo tonight : )

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monster Fest Horrorthon Lineup!

Late breaking Monster Fest news!

Rob and I have just settled on the final schedule for the BIG Fantasmo All-Night Horrorthon following the daytime portion of Monster Fest! Every year we keep raising the bar higher, wondering if it will be possible to top the previous year. Well, I feel pretty confident that we have pulled off our best lineup yet. We have two great classics to start off with, followed by a couple of iconic 70’s monster films, and two of the best from the 80’s. Remember with the Horrorthon we start rolling at 8:00 p.m. and the doors are locked at 10:00 p.m. So don’t be late : ) Without further ado, your Monster Fest Fantasmo Horrorthon 2009 lineup:

Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde (1931) – Perhaps the best screen version of Jeckyll ever!

House of Frankenstein – Not Rated – Need I say more?

Scream, Blacula, Scream – Rated PG – William Marshall at his fangtastic best!

The Return of Count Yorga – Rated R – Robert Quarry back in a sequel that surpasses the original!

Motel Hell – Rated R – You just can’t beat Farmer Vincent’s fritters!

The Blob (1988) – Rated R – Finally a remake that is the equal of the original!

There you have it Superfans, another classic Horrorthon in the making. See you there!

Dark Night of the Scarecrow at the Byrd

Yet another very cool midnight screening coming up at The Byrd Theatre in Richmond. This time it's the rare early 80's classic Dark Night of the Scarecrow. There's just something inherently creepy about scarecrows, and this is certainly one of the best of it's kind!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Movie Review: House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Perhaps one of the greatest joys for a genre fan like me is coming across an unexpected treasure, particularly one that’s been under my nose for a while. Recently at the library we’ve been getting in classic Dark Shadows sets, and I’ve been plowing through them at a ridiculous pace. Keeping in tune with horror and sci-fi television, Dark Shadows has always been in my peripheral field of awareness but never quite grabbed me enough to seek it out. I would see stills, or occasionally run across reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel, but it seemed a little too soap opera to me. Several folks have tried to sell it to me over the years unsuccessfully, but due to the ready access here at the library I finally took the plunge. I popped in the first DVD armed with the knowledge that it was a 1200+ episode commitment, and initially I did have some reservations about that. Well I’m about 500 or so episodes in now, and I have to say it’s one of my favorite shows of all time. Right up there with classic Star Trek, The Prisoner, etc. Jonathan Frid totally holds his own as a genre icon along with the likes of Shatner and McGoohan (and he doesn’t even show up until around episode 200). His portrayal of the tortured Barnabas Collins manages to be simultaneously heroic and villainous, making for one of the most complex vampires ever committed to film. It’s easy to see why this show was such a phenomenon in its time, and the strong performances contribute to it being just as interesting today.

Due to the mega success of the series, creator Dan Curtis was able to launch to launch two Dark Shadows theatrical films in the early 70’s, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. Unfortunately I was disappointed to discover that neither has made their way to DVD. Imagine my surprise a month or so back when browsing through Itunes, and discovering that the first film was available in widescreen! That discovery led to my search for similar treasures, including The Island and several others. Being a newly converted fan I couldn’t help but take the plunge, and for any Dark Shadows devotee worth their salt it’s time well spent. Most of the major characters are on hand, including Frid front and center as Barnabas, and the film loosely follows plot points from the series. I can’t confirm the similarity of all outcomes as I haven’t finished the Barnabas cycle of the show, but it’s clear that the film diverts from series canon on several points. So you won’t completely spoil all surprises that await if you later decide to watch the small screen version.

In a nutshell the film kicks off with the arrival of Barnabas at the Collins estate, and his subsequent pursuit of Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott). The changes start right here, as Maggie is the governess of David Collins on the big screen instead of Victoria Winters (who is the show’s anchor . . . at least throughout the first 500+ episodes : ) Barnabus is intent on claiming her as a doppelganger of his lost love Josette Collins, and proceeds to wreak havoc on just about everyone else in the family/community toward that end. He is aided (as he is in the show) by Grayson Hall’s Dr. Julia Hoffman, who has discovered a way to reverse the effects of his vampirism. Unfortunately she also has a crush on Barnabas which leads to disastrous results. Everything culminates in a final battle between Barnabas and series hero Jeff Clark (Roger Davis), the two eternal rivals for Maggie’s heart (although actually Victoria’s in the show). In many ways it’s a riff on the Dracula tale, but the characters and Curtis’s fine storytelling ability breathe new life into the myth.

What I find so appealing about the series and the film is that they are reminiscent of the best work from Hammer Studios. As a big Hammer fan I love tales dripping in Gothic atmosphere, and Dark Shadows is about as good as it gets . . . in some respects even better than Hammer. The chief reason for this is that Dark Shadows has the luxury of 1200 episodes to tell its story, whereas your average Hammer film has about 90 minutes. Imagine if Horror of Dracula or Curse of Frankenstein ran 1200 episodes how interesting that might be! Not surprisingly when condensed to 90 minutes Dark Shadows suffers from that same need to squeeze a large amount of information in too brief of a space. We get plenty of time with Barnabas and Maggie, but folks like Liz Stoddard or Roger Collins are reduced basically to cameos. With this in mind series fans will benefit in that they have deeper understanding of the characters that parade through, but may be frustrated that their favorites don’t always receive ample screen time. What will impress most is just how polished the film is compared to the series. No flubbed lines or flies buzzing around people’s heads here (although those things are certainly part of the show’s charm)! Seeing these characters writ large in widescreen is a pretty satisfying experience, and provides the cinematic grandeur the tale deserves.

More than anything else what the film drives home to me personally is what a missed opportunity Jonathan Frid was. From what I gather, following the Dark Shadows experience he returned to stage work, barring a few appearances in minor films. The man had a real presence and I would have loved to see him do more films. It always mystifies me a bit when situations like this occur, in which an actor is at the top of the world and then gets stymied by typecasting or lack of good offers (e.g. Mark Hamill, Michael Beck, etc.). Frid in particular is most frustrating in this regard as he’s got significant acting chops, in addition to being a charismatic fellow. Apparently he still does conventions (now in his 80’s!), and by all accounts is a great fellow in real life as well. Would love to see him do a cameo in the rumored reboot!

The good news about the film is that it is accessible to both fans and newcomers. I suspect that was part of the design, although it’s hard to imagine in the 70’s many people not having a passing familiarity with the Collins saga. To the layperson House of Dark Shadows will play like a top notch Hammer film, and to fans it will be a treat to see the characters in a big-budget adaptation. Either way House of Dark Shadows is a lost gem that warrants attention. I’m blown away that Itunes has done such a great job with the transfer to the digital format, and can’t recommend seeking this out highly enough. If you’re a fan of the show it’s a no brainer, but I would highly encourage Gothic horror films to give this one a chance. Next on my Itunes lost films series I’ll be discussing Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World. It’s a weird sci-fi/road movie hybrid with perhaps the best soundtrack of the 90’s. Until then . . .

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Escapism Film Festival

The cool movie fests simply do not stop! The Carolina Theatre, home to our doppelganger program Retrofantasma, has an amazing film festival coming up the week after Monster Fest. This year it looks like they’re focusing largely on fantasy/sci-fi films, and the lineup looks well . . . fantastic! What is particularly interesting (and pretty scary) is that they are showing the last existing 35mm print of Flash Gordon, and the only existing 35mm print of Battlestar Galactica in the U.S. It is amazing to think that the theatrical exhibition of Flash Gordon comes down to a single copy . . . definitely underscores the importance of efforts to preserve film such as the National Film Registry. Most disturbing was that they couldn’t locate prints of movies like Superman II, Dragonslayer, Condorman, etc. If you have a chance, and especially if you’ve never seen Flash Gordon on the big screen, it’s probably worth that trip to N.C.!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Team Fantasmo Vs. The Drive-In Super Monster-Rama

Hey Superfans!
Posts have been few the past week or so as your Team Fantasmo has been on an away mission. A Fantasmo delegation of myself, Rob, Fantasmo All-Star Craig, and original Superfan (and regular Fantasmo guest speaker) Tony Mercer ventured forth to the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama in Vandergrift, PA. It was an amazing experience and held several pleasant surprises. First off, we were blown away to find out that the drive-in was practically next door to Monroeville, PA. What’s the big deal you ask? Well the Monroeville Mall just happens to be where George A. Romero shot Dawn of the Dead! So of course we had to visit and check it out. Incredibly many of the familiar sites were still in existence (pictured below), including the elevator where Flyboy meets a bad end and the escalator Roger slides down (both in JC Penney’s). We ran into an employee at Penney’s who was a zombie extra in the film, and had a fun conversation. Also of interest was the fact that one of the stores had a zombie/Dawn of the Dead exhibit, featuring props and a replica of the mall layout as it was in 1978.
The Monroeville Mall

The Zombie Experience

Fantasmo All-Star Craig Vs. Roger's Burial Site At the Bridge

Fantasmo All-Star Craig Vs. Flyboy's Elevator

It was a great coincidence that we just happened to be staying in the town where Dawn of the Dead was shot, but things got better during our breakfast on the second morning of the trip. Our waitress asked us if we were in town to see Stan Lee. We exchanged surprised glances, and subsequently learned there was a comic convention in town with Stan Lee as guest of honor! Crazier still was the fact that The Last Dragon star Taimak (screened at our second Fantasmo anniversary) was also on hand!! Needless to say we checked the con out. Although I’m not an autograph seeking type of fellow, it was still very cool to be in the presence of the creator of Spider-Man and the man who defeated Sho Nuff via the power of the glow : )

Last but not least the Super Monster-Rama. In a word – amazing!! The first night we arrived it was drizzling, but we were still able to hang out under the protection of the concession stand awning and get the total outdoor experience. We were treated to Witchfinder General, Scream and Scream Again, and some great trailers and shorts (including the trailer for The House That Dripped Blood, on the Fantasmo September bill). Being a bit tired from our long drive, we opted out of the second two films The Crimson Cult and Terror Creatures From Beyond the Grave. We had seen neither, but Scream and Scream Again (a tough film to be fond of) depleted our reserves. In our hearts Friday was just a bonus to the main attraction, the Saturday night Hammer horror fest. The rain stopped and things kicked off with trailers for everything from Stripes to Escape From L.A., followed by a pristine restored print of The Vampire Lovers, The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, Satanic Rites of Dracula, and Vampire Circus. Great stuff!

Rob Poses Before the Show

An Amazing Trailer!

Rob Vs. The Evel Knievel Pinball Game At the Snack Bar

Our hats are off to the fine folks who planned this event, and the drive-in staff who served up delicious treats all night long (particularly the insanity that was the deep fried Oreo : ) We’re looking forward to seeing what’s on the agenda for next year, and wish the Monster-Rama a long, long life . . . nothing beats the drive-in experience! And if you were unable to make it to Vandergrift not to worry. Don’t forget we’ll be doing our own drive-in night (by way of lawn chairs) in just under two weeks! See you there!