Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's official . . .



This holiday season he will bring us the gift of a "superior attitude . . . a superior state of mind" : ) This may be the greatest television show ever!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fulci's Zombie At The Byrd!

It’s going to be a veritable cornucopia of coolness of the next few months here in the area. Not only do we have our “drive-in” edition of Fantasmo, Monster Fest, and special November zombie event, but now this incredible event happening at The Byrd in Richmond. Lucio Fulci’s Zombie ranks right up there with the best zombie films of all-time, and is arguably Fulci’s best film (although The Beyond is pretty cool as well). If you’ve never seen this, or a Fulci film for that matter, being able to see it on the big screen (and in the lush Byrd environment) is certainly an experience not to be missed. All I can say is . . . zombie vs. shark! Do you really need any additional information?!? If you do you can find it all on The Byrd's home page at: www.byrdtheatre.com.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fantasmo Tweets

I know some of you have already discovered this in perusing the blog, but figure I should make a brief announcement since it debuted minus fanfare. Fantasmo is now on Twitter, and I will be updating you on everything from our latest films/episode themes, new genre arrivals at the library, goings on of film interest in the area, Monster Fest/FantaSci/Big Program info, etc. It's just another way for us to keep you posted on all the cool cult film fun going on right here in Hampton Roads, and particularly good if you need to check us out while you're mobile. So be looking for regular tweets, and of course regular updates via the blog, MySpace, and email. You can get in the loop by using the link on the left side of the page, which will take you to a page on which you can subscribe to the updates. It's just that easy!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Episode 49: A Night At The Drive-In


For our BIG end of summer Fantasmo we're pulling out all the stops and doing something entirely different. As much as we all know and love Theatre du Fantasmo, summer is a special time where it's kind of fun to commune with nature. With that in mind your Team Fantasmo thinks it only appropriate that we finish off by actually heading to the great outdoors. We sorely miss being able to go out to the drive-in, so we figure this is the next best thing. How are we accomplishing this monumental feat you might ask? We're putting up a big screen and projecting in the library's "back yard." That's right while you may not be able to truly drive in, you will be able to bring your comfiest lawn chair or blanket and watch two great 70's horror films under the stars. We'll still be providing the snacks and sodas, but this time the seating is do-it-yourself : )

With regard to our featured films, it was a tough decision. We wanted to do some classic drive-in horror, and there's just so many to choose from that picking two was quite the challenge. First off we decided to go with some outdoor themed horror and selected the 1979 film Prophecy, which truly is the final word when it comes to mutant bear films. Directed by the renowned John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), and honestly how he got mixed up in a mutant bear film is anyone's guess, Prophecy is a ridiculous attempt at environmental cinema. There is a message about industry and pollution, but it gets somewhat lost in translation when watching Armand Assante playing a Native American wrestling with a hideous looking rubber monster. Having said that the movie is beautifully filmed (as you might expect from Frankenheimer) so it is easily the best looking of these 70's animal attack films (even besting the classic Jaws ripoff Grizzly). And how better to see it than outside at night . . . and I will share with you that I have seen deer, racoon, and fox outside the library so you may even get to enjoy the show with some actual wildlife.

Our second film is a top drawer anthology from the legendary British film studio Amicus Productions, and is truly one of their best. The House That Dripped Blood features the likes of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Jon Pertwee and more in tales that include vampires, witches, voodoo, and a similar range of subject matter that one might expect from Amicus. Often these anthology films can be a bit hit or miss, but this one fires on all cylinders (mostly) for the duration. Pertwee's performance in particular is not to be missed, and will surely be a treat for any Dr. Who fans out there. So without further ado here are your full Episode 49 details:

When: Friday, September 25th

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

Films:

8:00 p.m.: Prophecy (1979) – Rated PG

10:00 p.m.: The House That Dripped Blood (1971) – Rated PG

So there you have it Superfans, your end of summer Fantasmo! And don't forget just a few weeks later will be the 6th(!) annual Monster Fest, so you'll get a short breather before what is the biggest horror event of the fall season!

Monday, August 17, 2009

MONSTER FEST VI IS ALIVE!


Hey Superfans!

Hard to belive but it's almost time again for our annual Monster Fest event in October (the horror flipside to our sci-fi extravaganze FantaSci)! This year will be our sixth BIG outing, and Rob and I have LOTS of special things planned. In anticipation of the event our wonderful volunteer artists Brian and Marie Bridgeforth have once again created an awesome Web site for us to keep you up to date with the latest programming and developments. You can get all the info available right now at www.monsterfestva.com, plus see fun pics from years past. One of our major themes this year is movie premieres, including the documentaries Virginia Creepers (on VA horror hosts) and Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue from Fantasmo friend Joe Maddrey. Plus we'll have a Director's Cut of the indie film Taste the Blood of Frankenstein which screened in rough form at FantaSci!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

24SevenCities Vs. It's Alive


George Booker, Klaxar founder and Fantasmo regular, has posted a terrific writeup on our upcoming It's Alive Fantasmo this Friday. George always does a fantastic job of characterizing the many joys of Fantasmo, and most importantly paying homage to our feature films. His article on the It's Alive series is no exception. And be sure to check out the latest articles about goings-on in our area at 24SevenCities. The site is a great resource for news and writing about the arts and culture in Hampton Roads.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Movie Review: The Island (1980)

The next entry in my “summer of reconsiderations” series is another maligned/failed blockbuster, Peter Benchley’s The Island. Now chances are most folks don’t even recall that this movie ever existed, much less that it was hyped as a major summer release in June of 1980. Because it tanked so badly, and is truly such a weird film, it’s been relegated to the wastelands of junk culture cinema. This is pretty incredible given that it sprung from a bestselling author (Benchley) and popular director (Michael Ritchie) of the era. Not to mention that it stars two movie greats in the form of Michael Caine and David Warner. So how is it that the follow-up film to the mega successes that were Jaws and The Deep could have landed with such a thud? Well there are a few answers to this timeless riddle that I will suggest in the following paragraphs, but none of them add up to a bad film. In many respects The Island is the most interesting entry of the big screen Benchley cycle, and is certainly the wildest hands down. It features great performances, high tension, and stomach churning gore (which is either a good or bad thing depending on your tastes). So were audiences off the mark 30 years ago, or is this a lost masterpiece? Let’s dive in shall we . . .

It’s a bit hard to appreciate unless you lived through it, but as a kid growing up in the 70’s Jaws (1975) was nothing short of a full-blown phenomenon. I and most of my friends were mesmerized/terrified by the film, and its reach invaded pop culture like an actual force of nature. In addition to seeing Jaws at the drive-in and every time it came on television years thereafter, I had the crazy board game (which was basically the shark’s head filled with debris), the poster, poured over Mad/Cracked parodies, and was generally obsessed with sharks. I even ate up (pardon the pun) imitators like Piranha and Orca during the long wait until Jaws 2. Truly Jaws launched the summer blockbuster era, and made later obsessions such as Star Wars, Alien, and Superman possible. And it made Peter Benchley a star. Following on from Jaws Hollywood was eager to cash in on the Benchley machine, and subsequently adapted The Deep in 1977. I saw this at the drive-in as well, and even if it didn’t have a shark it still had Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset, barracudas, and an evil Louis Gossett Jr. Great stuff. While it wasn’t the behemoth that was its predecessor it still did great business at the box office, and further cemented Benchley’s star status. In effect he was the equivalent of an aquatic Stephen King, and tinsel town couldn’t get enough. And then came The Island . . .

While I don’t have industry numbers in front of me, I have no doubt that The Island was a bestseller. I certainly remember it being everywhere when it came out. After all it was by the guy who wrote Jaws. And you may recall I was obsessed with Jaws. When I saw The Island at the local bookstore I asked my unsuspecting mother if I could please have it, and she (knowing of my obsession with Jaws) relented. With the novel happily in hand we went a few shops down to the ice cream parlor where the helpful clerk happened to notice I was holding a brand spanking-new copy of Peter Benchley’s The Island in hand. The helpful clerk then informed my mother that she might want to reconsider letting me read the book, as it wasn’t such a good read for a pre-teen such as myself. We sat down with our ice cream and my mother opened up to a random passage in the book, and long story short I didn’t end up reading it until years later. It was probably a good call all around, but I wasn’t too thrilled at the time. Not surprisingly I didn’t get to see the movie version on opening day either.

So what was so objectionable that my thirst for reading was extinguished so violently in that ice cream parlor lo those many years ago? While I can’t discuss the specifics in polite company, suffice it to say that the threats in The Island don’t involve sharks or barracudas. Instead they involve men. Pirates to be exact. And these pirates don’t just board vessels and make people walk the plank (although there is some of that). There’s some pretty crazy stuff going on, and I’ve gotta think that the studio execs just decided to make another movie by the guy who wrote Jaws without worrying too much about the specifics of the plot. Unfortunately for them Peter Benchley faithfully adapted his novel into a screenplay, and Michael Ritchie faithfully put it all on film. As a bit of a purist when it comes to these things, I completely appreciate this fact and am glad the two gentleman were so successful in making such an uncompromising piece of work. As it turns out mainstream audiences were not so appreciative going into a film from the author of Jaws and the director of The Bad News Bears, and being treated to a brutal film about pirates that borrowed from sources as diverse as A Clockwork Orange and The Wild Bunch.

Now you probably couldn’t help but raise a curious eyebrow at the mention of the fact that this film was helmed by the director of The Bad News Bears, not to mention Fletch. If this is your experience with Michael Ritchie then you’re probably like I was (at least up until a year or two back) in puzzling over how he came to be attached to such a project as this. Well I’ll just say this about the director of The Golden Child starring Eddie MurphyMichael Ritchie is one daring fellow if given the right material. I discovered this by accident a few years ago when I was on a big Lee Marvin kick. During that period of watching stuff like Point Blank, The Killers, and yes even The Delta Force, I happened on an obscure little movie called Prime Cut. At the risk of overstating the case, I can honestly say that it is one of the most insane movies I’ve ever seen. It’s not so much that I haven’t seen crazier things take place in a movie, but just that it was so unexpected in a film starring Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, and Sissy Spacek. Prime Cut has the appearance of a mob action film on the surface, but is so over-the-top in the situations and characters that it depicts that offending every audience member had to be one of its chief goals. Don’t misunderstand it is an amazing film, but it makes Tarantino’s Kill Bill and Grindhouse fantasies seem like Romper Room by comparison. It’s that crazy.

With that in mind it is no surprise to me at all that Ritchie got this gig, The Bad News Bears notwithstanding. It’s actually more of a wonder that he was hired for Fletch after The Island. Ritchie by way of Benchley goes to places in The Island that are rarely seen in the multiplex during the summer months (or fall, winter, and spring for that matter). There is brainwashing, kidnappings, medical procedures using leeches, kung-fu, machine gun massacres, plane crashes, the selling of firearms to minors, numerous mentions of Disney World, David Warner in a thong, and of course piracy. Yet this just scratches the surface. Without saying too much about the plot of this movie (you really should see it cold for the utmost effect), it involves the hijacking of Caine and his son and their being subjected to a protracted mental and physical assault by the pirates. The tension created by this is extremely effective, and punctuated by visual assaults on the viewer’s senses by the pirates’ extremely violent tendencies. Perhaps the only thing about the whole business that is amazing to me is that Ritchie got all of it through the censors.

One thing I found interesting from the get go was that Ritchie mimics the visual style of the other Benchley adaptations . The opening credits feel like Jaws right down to the orchestral music (by the great Ennio Morricone). Despite the fact that this movie is not blockbustery fun, the music has a playful/adventure film type feel to it. So you get the feeling you’re about to see more of the same as the opening credits roll, only to be treated to a violent pirate raid mere minutes later that would be right at home in a Friday the 13th film (which incidentally itself launched that very summer). The symmetry with other Benchley films was also evident in the poster campaign pictured above. Jaws had a shark rising from the depths, The Deep had Jacqueline Bisset swimming frantically for the surface, and The Island has a knife-wielding hand coming up for the kill (indicating that the threat is man this time around). It’s a pretty effective poster image if you ask me, and certainly worked in capturing my interest. I suppose a pirate hand doesn’t have the same draw as a shark or Jacqueline Bisset, but let’s be fair it’s still pretty cool. Certainly better than Michael Caine piloting a boat or something of the kind.

It’s sort of fun thinking about this film being released between The Empire Strikes Back and Superman 2 that summer of 1980. If you take my advice and muster the courage to watch The Island, keep that in mind as you make your way through. Can you imagine the average filmgoer heading out to the local multiplex to see a new movie by the guy who wrote Jaws, from the director of The Bad News Bears, and walking into this madness? Especially when said filmgoer decided to see The Island over the amazing sophomore entries in two of the most popular movie series of all time. Chances are most of the few people who did go to see it were none too pleased. In my opinion they should have been because they received an experience that defied explanation and good judgment at every turn. It pretty much ended Benchley’s Hollywood ride, but at least it ended on such an unapologetically outrageous note.

As an aside The Island is not presently available on video in the U.S., but as I discovered you can readily download it in widescreen/Dolby 5.1 surround from Itunes. It prompted me to start hunting through Itunes for other films unavailable on video and I found quite a few, including my favorite discovery so far House of Dark Shadows! I’ll be reviewing that and other Itunes discoveries over the next few weeks, sharing with you rare Itunes finds that are worth checking out. The Island is a great start to the adventure, but I’m really looking forward to Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold! Thanks Itunes : )