Sunday, August 13, 2017

Slasherama! Ten Ramblings on Graduation Day (1981)

Synopsis: Someone is killing the high school track team. But who?!?

1. I had the most amazing babysitter in 1981. While I tried to be cool with my best Fonzie impression, she would tell me about the latest horror film she saw. She would show me the add in the paper and my imagination created the "Most Amazing Movie" in my head. She told me about The Howling and Happy Birthday To Me, and became my prototypical cool girl. During this blood soaked slasher cycle of '81, on the weekend before Friday the 13th Part 2 was released, Graduation Day hit the screens.

2. So many good movies came out this year, check out the riches below:
  •  January - Scanners (the poster is on my phone case)
  •  March - The Funhouse
  •  April - The Howling, The Hand, Friday the 13th Part 2
  •  May - Happy Birthday To Me, Outland
  •  June - Clash of the Titans, Dragon Slayer
  •  July - Escape From New York (the greatest), Wolfen
  •  August - Student Bodies, Deadly Blessing, American Werewolf in London
  •  October - Halloween 2, Looker
  •  November - Time Bandits, Dead and Buried, Roadgames (Jamie Lee Curtis horror)
  •  December - Ghost Story, Neighbors, Sharky's Machine
I had this pic hanging in my cube for years.
2. Star Christopher George jumped from one low budget slasher to the next in the 70s and 80s until his death in 1983. Former western and Mission: Impossible star, he was THE face of adult authority in these movies. He played the same hard as nails asshole in all of them. There must have been some massive alimony agreement somewhere to inspire his muse. The man was not afraid of slashers, and not afraid to cash a check.

Graduation Day 1981
Pieces 1982
Mortuary 1983
3. This has an early appearance by Linnea Quigley. She already looks haunted to me. Here is how cheap this movie is. The actress who plays the feisty blonde on the team had shot some scenes before being fired for refusing to take off her clothes. Do they replace her and reshoot her scenes with a new actress? Almost. They fire her, replace her with Linnea (who is always naked), but do not reshoot the the scenes she was already in. So we get a Bewitched Darrin situation. When Linnea is decapitated in the movie, it is not her head we see later in the obligatory "all the dead bodies fall out of trees all at once" grande finale.

Blonde Girl 1.

Blonde Girl Switch Out, Linnea.

Back to Girl 1. We will reshoot NOTHING!

  4. The killer wears sweats in this. Maybe appropriate considering he's picking off members of the track team one by one, but obviously a sign of deep depression.

I wasn't going to get out of bed today, but whatever.
5.  Speaking of track, one cool thing about the movie is that all the victims are super athletic and lightning fast runners. Seems like they would be able to get away from the killer, or at least make him really have to work for it. Cardio. If they remake this, I say make the stalk scenes more like this.

Or like this...

In my remake, he would have to chase them down with some sort of bone grinder muscle car.


Put on the front of this...

The movie writes itself.

6.  I have to mention the crazy flash cuts in this that are super fun and would never be allowed in a movie today. I heard on the Hysteria Lives Podcast an interview with the editor who said the director hated them, but he had to use them because the director didn't know what he was doing and wasn't giving him the footage needed to construct the scenes. Sounds like a constructive collaboration! In the end, they give the movie a distinct character. The best example of this takes place during the...


At the roller disco we get to see awesome band "Felony" jam out some totally rad new wave tunes.

No shame

in my game.

The scene is amazing. So much feathered hair. So many nylon jackets. The remake demands that the meat grinder mobile busts in through the double exit doors and spin donuts in the rink, swallowing up skaters and creating so much gory havoc. That band needs to get eaten up.

8. This movie played on UHF 36 here in Atlanta ALOT. I needed to watch it again because certain scenes were etched in my head as being really gruesome. Now they are pretty silly. But that's what makes them cool.

The highlight is a sword in a football, tossed at the quarterback.

Acting, you're doing it right.
And the pole vaulter landing on a bed of spikes. In broad daylight. During school hours.

Zero Witnesses.

9. Most of the stalking takes place in the park on these long jogging trails. The killer just hangs out and waits for the track stars to come running by. There is a cool Minotaur angle in here somewhere. A labyrinth of trails, a beast stalking its prey. Maybe he wears a bull head for a mask. Maybe the school's mascot is a bull. It writes itself.

Concept Art by Patrick Tatopoulos
10.  What sucks is that now I'm a grown up and I feel bad when I see these kids taken out before they have experienced anything but systematic conditioning under a state ran institution. They are prisoners, being told what to think and do, and that is all they have known. I started thinking about how in the remake (I made my own movie up while watching this), the school should be this fascist totalitarian institution, and the track team is this nationalist symbol of genetic superiority. Like the Nazis and the '36 Olympics. Until the Minotaur driving a Muscle Car Meat Grinder shows up and dismantles the system. Maybe he is a Nazi experiment. The system created him, and now he's going to tear that system DOWN! Graduation Day 5000!!!

Bonus: Denise Cheshire...

This actress went on to play the title role in the best baseball monkey movie ever made...

She was destined for such greatness.

Sam Drog

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Monday, August 07, 2017

Romero Retrospective: 10 on There's Always Vanilla (1971)

I want to go through all of George A. Romero's feature films and give my ten random thoughts on each, culminating in a best to worst list.  Let's see if that happens. No promises. I have been known to flake.  But there is nobility in failure, that's what I tell myself. I am compelled! He was a personal hero and inspiration, no shocker there, and we the fans have lost one of the great American bad asses of cinema. So to crank this up, let's start with the black sheep in his filmography, one I first watched just a few days ago, the lost Romero gem made right after NOTLD, There's Always Vanilla!

1. You have to let me ramble on about 1971 for a moment. Best year in cinema. I'm calling it. To be a film nut that year meant being spoiled on one awesome movie after the next. Check it, just off the top.

The Incredible Two Headed Transplant
Dracula Vs. Frankenstein
The French Connection
The Corpse Grinders

So much awesome. More then that. I love the way the world looks in 1971 movies. Analog, and mechanical, and empty. Where are all the people? Was there a pandemic I didn't know about? What world does Two Lane Blacktop take place in? I want to go there. 

People looked less polished. Now everyone looks like they are vying for instant internet celebrity. 

1971, I wasn't there, but when I want to escape, I watch anything from 1971. My pet year.

One last thing, cool stuff that happened in 1971.

The Microprocessor was invented (the end of analog)
Charles Manson conviction (the end of the 60's)
Disney World Opened (the end of fun)

Finally, one of my favorite filmmakers made a movie in my favorite year that I hadn't seen yet! Are you kidding. Hard to find... unless you have the YouTubes. Lo and behold!

I jumped in, bracing myself for disappointment. This could be obscure for a reason. I mean, Knightriders, you know what I mean.

2.  You talk junk about horror movies? Horror Directors? You want to dismiss them as hacks who don't stack up to your darling Kubricks and Hitchcocks? Watch this movie and tell me the difference between this and Shadows from Cassevettes or Mean Streets from Scorsesse. Tell me those guys didn't also get stuck in their own movie jails, having to make the same sort of movie again and again. Romero had early success with flesh eaters, but the man who got turned on to filmmaking by The Red Shoes certainly had a bunch of movies in him, and not all of them climaxed in someone being disemboweled.

Choke on them!!! Choke on them!!!

Romero is a hell of a horror director because he is a hell of a filmmaker. Period.  If you like how a filmmaker talks, then you want to listen to them ramble on if it's about zombies or hippies in love. This almost makes me want to give that Craven violin movie a chance.

The recitals of the children give me strength.

3.  Let's talk early Romero. What I love about his movies up to Creepshow is his merciless editing. He hits those scenes, chop - chop -chop, and overlays some random small talk over it, somebody jabbering away, or some tangential conversation, while the rhythm of that edit, chop - chop -chop. I love it so much. You feel that hand and that brain making those choices and going for it. It's frantic and bold. That commercial style he came from, making detergent commercials for years before getting into features grabs you.

I was watching this little regional counter culture flick, and was amazed how slick it was, how different it was.  Compare it to what was coming out of Atlanta around the time.

4. This movie is strong, and it's a shame Romero could never shake the zombie tag. His dead game was too strong! This, Season of the Witch, Knightriders, and Bruiser shows he had other things on his mind. After cramming him info that zombie pit for 40 years, we complained when Survival of the Dead wasn't super inspired? Shame on us. He gave us different stuff, and we tossed it back at him. Had fans gone to see these outlying movies, maybe he would have been given room to breathe. Who knows what he would have made given the chance!?

5.  Our leading lady is Judith Ridley (Judy) from NOTLD, and she is great in this! She must have taken classes in the two years after that one. 

Emote. Emote. Emote
She is a model and aspiring actress in the movie and there are great scenes that take place on commercial sets, in particular a beer commercial. These scenes have a great kinetic energy. Romero cuts the hell out of them!

6.  In these commercial scenes, you can see Russell "Johnny" Streiner from NOTLD. It's the band all back together again. He has shaggy hair and hippy glasses, being a cool director type. It is a riot.

Dig it, Daddy-o.
7. The humor lands on it's feet, especially when the hippy hero gets a job at an advertising agency. They have to come up with slogans to inspire kids to join the army ('Nam) .The actor playing the boss's Yes Man had great timing. I looked him up, and he was a regular for 30 years on Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood.  He died in 1998. 

His name was Robert Trow. His name was Robert Trow.

Romero worked on Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood. They say Fred Rodgers was the Roger Corman of the Pittsburgh Film Industry. Maybe that calm prosaic demeanor inspired the zombies. Wouldn't it have been awesome to see a zombie invasion on Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood?!

Let's see who's at the door, kids.


8.  I loved how sparse the apartments are in this. Could be from the budget, but everything looks beaten up and worn down. Loved it. Pittsburgh '71 is my jam!

Future Train!

So bleak!

So oppressive!

So modern!


9.  The abortion scene was freaky. Our heroine gets pregnant from the hippy guy, and he's a bum, so she goes to see a twitchy back alley doctor, by way of a scuzzy mob type guy, played by no other than the master of ad-lib, Mr. They're Dead They're All Messed Up himself, George Kosana!

It's 1971, abortion was still illegal until '73, so this was in the air, and Romero has never been one to hide his politics. This scene brought to you by Don't Let This Happen To Your Daughter.

10. Overall, this is a cool peak into an alternate bizarro universe where Romero was known for his heartfelt comedic dramas. It's pretty good, and deserves to checked out by the curious, the cult, and those who fixate on 1971.

Bonus: Bill Hinzman, NOTLD Graveyard Zombie also makes a cameo as a barfly. He looks like the Hills Have Eyes guy, the one who left the desert to sell insurance in the city. 



More Romero Ramblings to come...

Sam Drog

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Ten Thoughts on Valerian (2017)

1. Okay, so I cannot get into Valerian with out first talking about Luc Besson. Le Femme Nikita, awesome. The Professional, mind blowing.  Besson's style was unique and illuminating. He made hard edged action movies with a solid character based core. You felt these movies in your guts, and The Professional was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had at a theater. I can't talk about The Professional without getting into Jayson Hammett, my late friend and movie going compatriot, who was as crazy about movies as I was and who was with me the night I saw The Professional, and then sat with me as I watched it again for the next showing. When the movie came out on VHS, Jayson bought me a copy, complete with the awesome review blurb, "Makes Speed look like a slow ride to Grandma's House".  When we found out that the French cut had an additional hour of footage, Jayson was the first to grab a bootleg from Note: that cut makes some of that creepy subtext in the US cut, not so sub.

Die Hard for pedophiles!

My point, Besson was a God to us during those glorious days before THE BIG FALL.

2. THE BIG FALL took place in 1997. I had been working at Riverdale Cinemas, just south of Atlanta, for the past four years. I couldn't escape. The pay was terrible, but working the booth, and the steady stream of free movies and Mountain Dew was too good to leave. There was always some movie two weeks away that I had to stick around for. Building new prints, and screening them on Thursday nights to the gang of coworker friends was glorious. In 1997, the trailer to The Fifth Element hit, and for the Cult of Besson, who believed the Man God could do no wrong, we felt our brains melt from its ultra-rad awesomeness. This was before internet, you knew nothing about these movies before the trailer hit, and your could not watch the trailer whenever you wanted to on your phone. You had to be sitting in the theater, and because I worked there, I drooled over that trailer for months before the movie hit. The movie came out, and that weekend Jayson and I hit the theater for the Sunday night screening. Walking up to the theater we saw fellow movie nut, coworker, and good friend Seth Hancock with his brother Josh walking out into the parking lot, having just seen the last showing. Their eyes were glazed over and they looked sad and confused. "How was it?", I asked. "I don't know", answered Seth, as he and his brother wandered silently back to their car. It was a bad omen. After the movie, Jayson and I sat on the curb and sorted through our broken expectations. We couldn't come to grips with the big sugary dessert Besson had made. We wanted broken hearts and bullet holes in space. It took me 15 years to appreciate The Fifth Element, not until I had seeped in enough real life trouble could I see the value and necessity of that big strawberry intergalactic milkshake.

Location of THE BIG FALL

3. So the trailer for Valerian hit, and I flashed back to 1997. Oh no, not again! Fool me once! I'm older now. Level. Grounded. Besson is no longer the filmmaker I adored in 94, His legacy tarnished green and greasy from 20 years of producing and writing indistinct, boiler plate thrillers like the Transporter and Taken series. Lucy had moments, but could not reconcile its big ideas with its action movie trappings. The Family was terrible. The Messenger was propped up by his reputation but in the end, forgettable. I never saw Angel A, and never wanted to see the Arthur and the Invisible movies. But, Valerian could be something. I knew Besson's brand of sci fi now. I had more realistic expectations. But he said in interviews that he had been planning on making this movie for the last 40 years, and that did not bode well. How can he have any perspective after grooming something for that long. He is such an institution, could there be a Gary Kurtz there to tell him, "Stop it! Stop it!"

4. There was not a Gary Kurtz there to tell him to stop.

5. Luc Besson should not write his own scripts. He should not write other people's scripts. He is a visual guy, and directs polished, efficient movies, but he doesn't make movies about human beings. That scene at the end of The Professional with Leon sending Matilda away down the shoot to safety, and their interaction, the dramatic, emotional weight of that moment, that was Besson at full power, and he just doesn't seem interested in that anymore. You want a hair stylist, Besson is your guy.

6. I know I am not reviewing this movie on its own merits, or at all. Besson's early work made too much of an impact for me to divorce myself from it. I can get through Fifth Element now without getting too angry. I know Valerian is a space fantasy, and I should loosen up and stop throwing up the "Not The Professional" butt hurt nerd flag. I love the genre. I love spectacle. I paid extra to see this in 3D. But this movie has major problems. Fifth Element did some of this better.

7. Watch this movie and tell me who the antagonist is? What are the protagonists doing? Why are they doing it? Are they in any danger? What does this scene have to do with anything? Am I too dumb to see why I should care? I was two hours into the movie, checking the time on my phone, wondering why the two heros are meandering around, in no peril, on some bland mission, that they had zero stakes in, with no defined opposition. The flash and spectacle was huge, but after a 30 minutes effects real, without a compelling story to tell, boredom thick as a Novocaine drenched towel wraps around your head nullifies all that visual pageantry parading before you. At least Fifth Element had Gary Oldman as the heavy. This movie has... NOBODY! (There is one, but nothing is revealed until the movie is almost over, way past the time I stopped caring)

8. The two leads are supposed to be military bad-asses, but they look like children ripped from a JC Penny Back to School catalog. Pretty. Vacant. The dog shit dialog Besson gives them is embarrassing, Attack of the Clones embarrassing,  and not for a second did I believe in their relationship, or sense a dime's worth of sexual tension. They are plastic people in a plastic world with plastic puppy love problems. And their needs, their wants, their drive? I have no idea. To do their job? To do what they're told? They are supposed to be motivated by this love they have for one another, but the actors's total lack of chemistry torpedoes any dramatic weight this might have. Mannequins in Space!
I. Love. You.

9.  So angry nerd venting done. There are some great things in this. Concept Art Orgy! I loved the designs in this, with the exception of the three gargoyle ducks. Everything in this has a level of detail that is staggering. If the story had been compelling, I could see this being a totally immersive experience. One for the ages.The design of the death squad robots, a combination of a S&M Frankenstein's monster and a black muscle car, is pretty rad.

Beedy beedy badassssssss

In fact, there are so many cool visual ideas in this that I recommend the movie just on this level. I loved the space suits, and the rubber monsters, and the space city. Visual Perfection.  I would buy an "Art of Valerian" book to really soak in the images.

10. I have not read the comic that this was based on, but a Utopian space city populated by a thousand different alien species all sharing their strengths and cultures is such a great concept that it made me want to seek out the source material.

BONUS - The opening credits, getting us up to date on the movie's universe was so perfect and really made me think I was about to see something great.

So in the end, 4 out of 10. But I am not disappointed. 1997 prepared me for this nonsense.

Sam Drog

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ten Thoughts on The Void (2016)

1. You ever catch something streaming on Netflix and wish you had caught it in the theater? An actual popcorn and soda, left the house, put on pants movie theater. Me neither. Wait. There was this one time I watched a relatively obscure Canadian horror film called The Void. Now that would have been awesome in the theater. A midnight show, oh man, can you image watching The Void during a caffeine jitter fueled midnight movie? I may have to bulldoze my back yard to put up a theater so I can watch this and Fury Road over and over, as big as they gotta be.

2. Astron 6, I love you. Father's Day, not my bag, but Manborg was the love letter to early 90's Full Moon / Albert Pyun movies that I NEEDED at that point in my life. You killed it with this one, thus I am now your devoted Fanboy. I will fly into unreasonable Nerd Rage if I hear anyone talk badly about this or Manborg. Promise.

3. This is so gooey about Carpenter and 80's horror, that if you are the type that gets gooey over Carpenter and 80's horror, this flick will be your jam. Is it cribbing? Sure, but it is doing it so well, and it is engaging and visceral film making. It's homage, but like the totally rad Turbo Kid, it doesn't forget to be an awesome movie in its own right while gushing love all over its influences..

4. Flicks I caught reference to: From Beyond, The Beyond, Hellraiser 2, Halloween 2, Assault on Precinct 13, Prince of Darkness, The Thing, and Night of the Living Dead (but they all reference NOTLD, it's in the DNA). To top it off, the end credits use old Carpenter font. I love it when Carpenter Disciples use his font, like Neil Marshall in Doomsday, it makes me like their movie more, because at least I know they have good taste. Here's the wiki link on the font. 

5. The monster game in this is off the chain. No terrible CG video games here children. This is hardcore Clive Barker Muppet time. The design and execution will make you sing hymns to Cthulhu. These guys did not play around. The filmmakers do SFX for their day jobs, and you could feel their pent up passion for silicone and ultra-slime glop all over the frame. The creatures and demons put this into special next level territory. Well done, gents.

6. If you don't shoot these creations right, if you don't make an atmospheric movie around them, then it's all wasted.  Lucky for you, the cinematography and set design are the best. Especially the way they shot the burned out section of the isolated small town hospital. I was there man, it was very effective.

7. The acting is really good in this too. Nothing took me out of the movie as being "bad", and there are some real standout characters that I could root for. The best was the actress playing an intern in over her head, Ellen Wong. She's in the new GLOW show on Netflix. Need to check that out.

8. Horse riding Zombie Cowgirl from Survival of the Dead is the main heroine in this. She's great! I'm glad to see her again.
Yeah, that's her.
9. Well paced and never boring. You can have good monsters, and nice pretty pictures, but if you don't feel the movie is going anywhere, then who cares in the end? This movie has a great feel of escalating dread, building and building until you are trapped by its sick voodoo. Every time I thought about checking my phone, something so gross and bizarre happened that I snapped back to full attention.

10. So, I can't scream about this enough. I. Loved. This. Movie. If you wanted to pair it with something, maybe Prince of Darkness, but for something more recent, Frankenstein's Army was  another really cool monster movie with killer creature designs. It's not as good as this, but would be fun as the second half of a double feature. At a theater. Weep.

Sam Drog

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