Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book Review: HALLOWEEN III SEASON OF THE WITCH: THE NOVELIZATION (1982, Dennis Etchison)

Stars:  3 of 5.
Length:  228 pages.
Publisher:  Jove Publications, NY.
Tag-line:  "The night no one comes home.  The new screen shocker by Jack Martin based on a screenplay by Tommy Lee Wallace– a John Carpenter /Debra Hill production."
Back cover blurb:   "Do you know where your kids are tonight?  The streets are quiet.  Dead quiet as the shadows lengthen and night falls.  It's Halloween.  Blood-chilling screams pierce the air.  Grinning skulls and grotesque shapes lurk in the gathering darkness.  It's Halloween.  The streets are filling with small cloaked figures.  They're just kids, right?  The doorbell rings and your flesh creeps.  But it's all in fun, isn't it?  No.  This Halloween is different.  It's the last one."

Happy Halloween, everyone–  Poor Man's Carpy continues!

Using the pseudonym of "Jack Martin," Dennis Etchison brings us another John Carpenter-related movie novelization (he also did THE FOG and HALLOWEEN II) that's better than it needs to be.  In lieu of retreading old ground, if you need a little background on Etchison and his other Carpy-related work, see my review of THE FOG: THE NOVELIZATION.  Also, if you're somehow unfamiliar with HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, allow me to fill you in:

After HALLOWEEN II, John Carpenter was getting sick of this Michael Myers guy, and envisioned the HALLOWEEN series as becoming a series of spooky flicks that merely shared the common holiday setting.  Therefore, he, HALLOWEEN co-creator Debra Hill, and crony Tommy Lee Wallace (who designed the original look for Michael Myers) teamed up to unfold the saga of an evil cult of killer-robot-manufacturing Irish people living in a small town in California who are hell-bent (literally!) on killing the children of America by way of rigged masks that will turn them into rotting piles of snakes and spiders. They are doing this so that people will take Halloween seriously again.  It leads to an absurdist, apocalyptic, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS-by-way-of-James Bond conclusion, and in its own way is one of the great, underrated horror films of the 1980s.

So what does HALLOWEEN III: THE NOVELIZATION bring to the table?  The language isn't quite as florid as in THE FOG, but it's a decently written palimpsest of the screenplay.  Let me give you the rundown– my ten favorite things about HALLOWEEN III: THE NOVELIZATION:

#1.  It begins with a Thomas Hardy quote.

 Remember him, possibly from English Lit?  JUDE THE OBSCURE, THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE, THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES, etc., etc.?  So let me say that again:  the HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH novelization begins with a quote by Thomas Hardy.
"If a way to the better there be, it lies in taking a full look at the worst."
–Thomas Hardy
Is that a prediction of HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION?  Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.  (Also, I'd like to see Carpy do "TESS OF THE COUPE DE VILLES!)

#2.  Attempts to recreate how annoying the "Halloween Countdown song" is.

Anyone who's seen HALLOWEEN III will never forget the "Eight more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween... eight more days to Halloween..." Silver Shamrock song, set to the theme of "London Bridge is Falling Down."  Etchison, obviously, makes it an integral part of the novel.
"The insistent refrain, chanted inanely to the tune of 'London Bridge is Falling Down,' was for a few moments everywhere, even cutting into speakers which were set to carry only a steady drone of Muzak around the clock throughout the hospital and, it had seemed to Challis lately, the entire world.  But tonight he was feeling no pain.  '...SIL-VER SHAMROCK!'  At last the advertising jingle wound down, followed immediately by Madison Avenue's idea of an Irish jig."
#3.  Michael Myers fake-out.

Etchison knows that some readers of HALLOWEEN III: THE NOVELIZATION (specifically those who haven't seen the film yet) are going to expect to read about Michael Myers.  Instead of being up front with his audience about Myers' exclusion, he tries to fake them out for the first fifty or so pages.   I find this to be hilarious.

In a marked reference to "The Shape" being Myers' name from the credits to the first film, Etchison tries to fool us while he describes one of the Irish robots:
"It was not a bush that was moving.  It was the shape of a man.  ...He veered to the curb and cut his lights.  The shape was no longer there."
Furthermore, he specifically references the tag-line of the first film by naming the first section "The Night He Came Home Again." As you read on, you realize that this actually refers to "Challis" (the Tom Atkins character).  Additionally, the opening murder (which takes place less than five minutes into the movie) doesn't occur until 53 pages in to this thing!  It almost seems designed to piss people off.  I heartily approve, and find it well-deserving of a slow clap.


 #4.  Challis' (Tom Atkins') alcoholism.

In THE FOG: THE NOVELIZATION, Etchison fills in a few gaps in regard to character development, particularly with Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), the tortured whisky priest.  Here, since Challis is the clear protagonist, Etchison's focus is not divided (THE FOG has an array of protagonists– you could even make the argument that the fog itself is the main character!) and he's free to explore his brooding and alcoholism in great detail.  We see a fair amount of it in the movie, but in the novelization, Etchison describes it quite well, alternating between grotesque Bukowskian flourish,  Raymond Carver-ish straightforwardness, and Amis-style panache.
"'Agnes, tell me you've got a beer stashed somewhere with my name on it.  You were just about to say that, weren't you?  I can tell.  My mouth feels like a bedpan.'"
"He was strangling the glass neck through the twisted brown paper." 
"The day after the funeral he had bourbon for breakfast."  
"He poured beer down his throat.  It tasted bitter, but he knew it would make him feel better in a few minutes."  
"Beneath the wide brimmed hat was an old face, covered with stubble and deeply creased from too many years out of doors and out of luck.  The expression in the eyes was rat-shrewd.  It was a look Challis had seen all his life, in bus depots and skid-row clinics in every city he had worked.  The face was no more than forty years old by the calendar.  But they had been forty long, hard years." 
And perhaps one of my all-time favorite sleazy 1982 sentences:
"Ellie's maroon Cutlass was waiting at the curb in front of the liquor store."

#5.  These sentiments extend to Challis' brooding, which is wonderfully bitter and even more enjoyable if you properly imagine it as Tom Atkins' internal monologue.
"Kids, he thought.  They don't forget– they're too young– and so they don't forgive.  They're the only truly uncivilized beings left on earth, a race apart, a primitive tribe and a law unto themselves."
"The evasions are over.  I thought I could get away.  But I couldn't.  Happy Halloween, he told himself, gunning the motor and roaring away from the house, his house, the house he had built and would continue to maintain forever, undoubtedly even unto death and beyond the grave, if his ex-wife and the lawyers had their way.  Trick or treat?  ...He knew the answer, and would never ask the question again."

#6. Big Ideas.

Etchison tries to work some Big Ideas into this mass market paperback...  and sort of succeeds!  He hammers the point home that men are becoming like machines, that our humanity is being lost as our society becomes increasingly mechanized and detached.  These have become stock ideas and it's nearly impossible to express them without hammering the reader over the head, but dammit– Etchison hammers 'em well:
"They survive, he thought, the slow and the stubborn, the old individualist misfit sons of pioneers who won't allow themselves to be folded, stapled, or spindled.  The revolutions come and go, nations are torn apart and rebuilt, the climate changes to make way for the next millennium; the snow on the wheel turns and the century ices.  Men like machines walk on the moon and machines like men remake the world in their own image; the iron dream rears its head again in a new age; the old tribes fade from sight in the long night of the human soul."
I never thought I would read about "the long night of the human soul" in any movie novelization, much less that of a much-loathed horror sequel written under a pseudonym.  Will wonders never cease?


#7.  A FOG reference?

Apparently Father Malone survived THE FOG and relocated to Santa Mira?
"A signboard reading 'Church of St. Patrick/Rev. Father Tom Malone' was hanging peeled and broken from one upright."

#8.  A Jamie Lee Curtis reference.

The robotic, Big Brother-ish voice which lords over the evil Irish town of Santa Mira is played in the movie by an uncredited Jamie Lee Curtis.  She even gets a shout-out in the novelization:
"'Going down,' said a sensuous female voice."

#9.  The book can also function as a robot-killing manual.
"The graysuit outside her room went into a sputtering death-dance at the first surprising thrust to its soft spot.  The same spot, where the diaphragm would be in a human being, an inch or two below the center of the ribcage.  Challis remembered well his latest anatomy lesson."

#10.  The closing lines of apocalyptic brilliance:
"'STOP IT!  STOP IT! STOP...'  Then there was only the sound of the rain outside in the endless blackness of the long night and, presently, the rising tones of a pitiful wailing within and without, spreading across the station, the town, and the land without end."
Simply fantastic.  That about wraps it up, ladies and gentlemen. Again,  Happy Halloween– and stay tuned:  Poor Man's Carpy shall continue through November!

–Sean Gill

Monday, October 28, 2013

Television Review: SILENT PREDATORS (1999, Noel Nosseck)

Stars:  2.5 of 5.
Running Time:  91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:   Directed by Noel Nosseck (TORNADO!, FRENCH SILK).  Written by five people (count 'em!):  John Carpenter, Matt Dorff (CAMPUS MAN), William S. Gilmore (his sole writing credit; he produced THE PLAYER and A FEW GOOD MEN, among others),  Patricia Arrigoni, (no other credits) and Fred Brown (no other credits).  Starring Harry Hamlin (L.A. LAW, CLASH OF THE TITANS), Patty McCormack (the evil little girl from THE BAD SEED!), Shannon Sturges (S.W.A.T., TORNADO!), David Spielberg (Carpenter's CHRISTINE), Beau Billingslea (STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS), Philip Troy Linger (BAYWATCH NIGHTS, THE HUNGER GAMES), and Jack Scalia (DALLAS, REMINGTON STEELE, ALL MY CHILDREN).
Tag-line:  "The hunt is on.  You're the prey."
Best one-liner:  "Hey guys, you haven't seen any snakes, have you?"

We continue the "Poor Man's John Carpenter" series with SILENT PREDATORS, a late 90s made-for-TV movie about killer snakes that was nearly thirty years in the making.

Back in the early-to-mid 1970s, when John Carpenter was a freelance screenwriter, he wrote and co-wrote a number of scripts that would become made-for-television movies, often decades after he'd written them.  These works (ranging from horror to beach movies to westerns) ultimately became ZUMA BEACH (1978), SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME (1978, which he also directed), BETTER LATE THAN NEVER (1979), EL DIABLO (1990, directed by Carpy crony and bandmate Tommy Lee Wallace), BLOOD RIVER (1991), and yes– SILENT PREDATORS (1999).

Originally entitled FANGS, the script that became SILENT PREDATORS was bounced around, added to, edited, updated, and turned inside out until what we see on screen in 1999 bears very little resemblance to Carpenter's original vision.

Carpy's vision:  IN STARTLING, P.O.V. SNAKE-O-VISION!

As such, we can't judge this in any way as a "John Carpenter Movie" but instead must look at it as a "Crappy Curio from Carpy's Cabinet."  Ultimately, what we have here is a bland, "killer creature" movie that uses the blueprint of JAWS as a starting point toward accomplishing bigger, and better things smaller, and worse things.

Carpy's shame immortalized.  There are FIVE credited writers on this project.

Then there's the matter of the title.  Carpy's original, "FANGS" feels very much a product of the 70s, so they decided to update it to "SILENT PREDATORS," which is a perfectly 90s title.  The only problem is that the eponymous "silent predators" are anything but–  half the goddamned movie is the incessant sound of rattlers rattling or the din of hissing snakes!

The film begins in 1979 as a man transporting a "venomous reptile" picks up a hitchhiker and only a few minutes later wrecks, unleashes the beast, and driver and passenger fall victim to the killer snake.  Twenty years hence, the snake has intermingled and interbred with the indigenous rattlers and 35,000 super-snakes are on the loose!  Before we get ahead of ourselves, I would like to ponder the following:


if scientists needed to transport the world's deadliest snake (or whatever), why did they choose the low-rent "Comet Moving Company," and more importantly, why secure the dangerous wooden crate to a flatbed truck with maybe two ropes and a zip tie?  Obviously, these are rhetorical questions, but the amazing blockheadedness of the storytelling very much puts this on par with something like SLUGS: THE MOVIE, and while it's not quite so charming, there's still a lot of fun to be had here.

So twenty years later, this small, idyllic California town has a new fireman on the job (just like Roy Schneider's new job as sheriff of Amity in JAWS):

And, yup, said fireman is Harry Hamlin.  Again, I can't remember if Harry Hamlin is the poor man's Lorenzo Lamas, or if Lorenzo Lamas is the poor man's Harry Hamlin.  It doesn't really matter though, because when you first meet him, you're distracted by the music that can only be described as "comically and embarrassingly derivative ZZ Top... Lite."

Anyway, there are evil, profit-hungry land developers on the outskirts of town:

who awaken an army of 35,000 snakes through their willy-nilly use of dynamite:

Pictured: 35,000 snakes.

The head land developer is this guy (soap opera veteran Jack Scalia)

who is perfectly cast as the pompous suit who answers calls on a big cordless phone and puts the lives of little leaguers at risk.   As in JAWS, he and the mayor try to cover up the danger ("If word gets out we have a snake problem...!") with disastrous results.

We get a nice supporting turn from Patty McCormack, who's best known as the evil little girl from THE BAD SEED back in the 1950s.

Here she plays a sort of warm-hearted, pet-loving hippie and part-time snake enthusiast.  If we're going to beat the JAWS analogy into the ground, I suppose she's the fill-in Richard Dreyfuss until the snake scientist shows up?

Let's get back to Harry Hamlin before I forget.

He takes the material seriously to the extent that Harry Hamlin is capable of taking things seriously– it's perhaps a "BAYWATCH-level" of thespianism.  At one point, he delivers the classic line, "You ever been to a herpetologist?" with some matter-of-fact smarm that would insinuate it means "herpes doctor" instead of "reptile scientist."

It's worth noting that the subsequent visit to the herpetologist takes place at a building entitled: "SCIENCE."

They do science in this building.

Carpenter's original version supposedly contained a scene where a concerned mother checks on her baby's bassinet only to discover that what she thought was her baby's rattle IS REALLY A KILLER RATTLESNAKE!   While I am very sad that this scene does not appear in the movie, at least we get this wonderful scene, whereupon a woman is trapped atop her stationary exercise bike by a number of killer snakes.  This is possibly the only time in film history that this extremely specific scenario comes to fruition.

She can't quite seem to reach that phone.


And this reminds me– I have to give them a hearty round of applause for using 90% real snakes.  This may have been the last hurrah for low-to-mid budget made-for-television reptile horror movies that (mostly) eschew CGI.

Regardless, this whole thing ends the way it ought to:  with Harry Hamlin and co-star Shannon Sturges passionately embracing in front of a blown-out mineshaft filled with 35,000 burning snakes:

I suppose I can arbitrarily give this about two and a half stars.

-Sean Gill

Monday, October 21, 2013

Junta Juleil's Culture Shock: 5 Year Anniversary!

Only now does it occur to me...  that today is actually the five year anniversary of this blog!  

JCVD was similarly taken by surprise.

I wish I had a better review for you today than HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION, but whaddya gonna do.  Special thanks to my readers and fellow film bloggers, without whom this anniversary would not have been possible!

Film Review: HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002, Rick Rosenthal)


Stars: 1 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast and Crew: Jamie Lee Curtis (HALLOWEEN, PERFECT, PROM NIGHT, TERROR TRAIN), Busta Rhymes (SHAFT '00, NARC), Tyra Banks (THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR, COYOTE UGLY), Ryan Merriman (FINAL DESTINATION 3, THE RING TWO), Sean Patrick Thomas (THE FOUNTAIN, CRUEL INTENTIONS), Bianca Kajlich (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, BRING IT ON), and Brad Loree (X2, THE X-FILES). Archival footage of Donald Pleasence. Based on characters by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Screenplay by Larry Brand (BACKFIRE, OVEREXPOSED) and Sean Hood (the new CONAN THE BARBARIAN, CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE). Directed by Rick Rosenthal (HALLOWEEN II).
Tag-line: "The night HE came back!"
Best one-liner: "Trick or treat, motherfucker!" or maybe it's the poetry of "Let the dangertainment begin.... up in this motherfucker." Or perhaps "You want some of this? Huh? You want to try and fucking kill me? Huh? You like sushi, motherfucker?!"

Oh, goodness gracious me.  Hoo boy, and the whole kit and kaboodle. Talk about Poor Man's Carpy–  HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION is a pile of hilarious post-SCREAM trash, bundled in embarrassment, smothered in cliché, and repackaged for the era of reality TV.  In comparison, this thing almost makes HALLOWEEN: H20 look like HALLOWEEN.  Hell, even the poster feels the weight of this shame and would rather fool you into thinking you're looking at Ghostface instead of the tattered legacy of Michael Myers.  

The plot involves a company called "Dangertainment" that's working on a Haddonfield reality series when Michael Myers himself crashes their party.  Subsequent attempts at SCREAM-style self-awareness are cringeworthy. The less said the better, so I'll keep it brief:  here are three things that I absolutely never could have conceived of happening in a HALLOWEEN flick:

#1.  Jamie Lee Curtis re-imagined as Sarah Connor in TERMINATOR 2.
They don't even try to disguise it– she's a stringy-haired, crazy-eyed badass mental patient who warns her captors in vain about an unstoppable killing machine (she's defeated before) who may now be on the prowl again.  Michael Myers, predictably, shows up to kill her and Laurie Strode is given a rather ignominious send-off before the movie even begins.
I realize it's a hackneyed "badass" one-liner, but why would Laurie Strode think she's going to hell?


Well... she gave it her best shot.  And, dammit, if anyone deserves $3 million for an extended cameo, it's Jamie Lee Curtis!

#2.  This one is so bizarre, it defies easy description.  What we have here is Michael Myers stabbing one of his victims with a sharpened tripod, a clear homage to one of the great-grandaddies of the slasher movie, Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM.
1960's PEEPING TOM.

 
2002's HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION.

Anyway, this in and of itself wouldn't necessarily be worthy of mention,  but here it's only a crosscut backdrop to another, inexplicable scene:  that of Tyra Banks making a whipped cream latte and 
rocking out with a spazzified solo dance like in that SAVED BY THE BELL episode where Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkeley) gets addicted to caffeine pills and performs "I'm So Excited."  In short, while it sure as hell doesn't belong in a HALLOWEEN movie, it's certainly deserving of a slow clap.

#3.  In the original HALLOWEEN (which J.D. over at Radiator Heaven recently did an excellent write-up on), there's a brilliant Donald Pleasence monologue which attempts to tackle the true nature of Michael Myers in just a few brief, ominous lines:
"I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes... the devil's eyes.  ...I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil."
In HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION, Busta Rhymes is tasked with transcending Donald Pleasence's assessment, and while the monologue he's been given is certainly more succinct, I think we all must admit that it doesn't exude the proper... atmosphere.

So, apparently Doctor Loomis spent eight years trying to reach Michael, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because he realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... a killer shark in baggy-ass overalls.

And that's about all there is to say about that, ladies and gentlemen!

–Sean Gill

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sean Gill Films on display at Purdue University Galleries

Two of my short films– "Makin' a Martini" and "Do You Want to Go to the Circus?  Do You Want to Go to the Circus" will be screening on loop as a part of a horror-art exhibition called "Big Fat Scary Deal" at the Purdue University Galleries.  Specifically- at the Robert L. Ringel Gallery in Stewart Center at Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana).

The works will be on display from October 21 through December 8, 2013.  Hours and additional information are available here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: THE FOG: THE NOVELIZATION (1980, Dennis Etchison)

Stars:  3.7 of 5.
Length:  180 pages.
Publisher:  Bantam Books, NY.
Tag-line:  "The terror filled novel– based on a motion picture written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill."
Back cover blurb:  "Before the light of dawn, you will know the vengeful fury of the dead.  Tonight the fog that rises off the California coast is different.  And deadly.  A writhing icy mist pulsing with terror.  It is too late to escape.  Even now the people of Antonio Bay are cut off, engulfed.  Along darkened streets, death searches them out.  There is no sanctuary for the living.  Those who are doomed will die horribly.  Those who are spared will suffer the endless fear of a soul-chilling night when the dead, finally, return for revenge.  THE FOG: NOW A MAJOR RELEASE FROM AVCO EMBASSY PICTURES."

Now here's some real Carpy marginalia– the novelization of THE FOG!  Longtime readers will note that THE FOG is one my all-time favorite horror movies, and I did a write-up about it a few years back which you can read here.  (Others will note that I was even so moved by THE FOG that I wrote a three-part series of John Carpenter fanfiction entitled "Carpy & the Cap'n" which chronicles the fictitious attempts to combine a CAPTAIN RON sequel with a spin-off of THE FOG.)

Anyway, as to the novelization:  surprise, surprise– it's basically the movie.  But amid its cheap and yellowed pages there's some nice ghostly atmosphere, the clear influence of writers like Ray Bradbury and M.R. James, and some fine horror nostalgia for fans of Young Adult lit in the 1980s.

A little background:  from page one, you can tell that Dennis Etchison is a higher caliber of writer than those who usually pen these sorts of trashy mass-market rush-jobs.  His C.V. is of interest, too:  he  was the President of the American Horror Writers' association in the early 90s, wrote an un-produced adaptation of THE MIST in the early 80s, was Stephen King's film consultant on the nonfiction DANSE MACABRE, and was a staff writer on TV's THE HITCHHIKER (you can read a rundown of my love/hate relationship with that particular series here).   Later, under the pseudonym of Jack Martin, he wrote the novelizations for HALLOWEEN II, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, and VIDEODROME, one of which will be the subject of a forthcoming review.

Now, without further ado, my Top Six favorite moments from the paperback novelization of THE FOG:

#1.  The opening lines:
     "The moon rose over the bay, round and burnished as a golden doubloon.  It hung there high above the black waters, breaking the even waves with yellow tips and tinting the flat sand and the beach houses and the jagged trees behind them with a faint, ghostly pallor, a reflection of its polished, uneven face."
Etchison really sets the stage– evocative, ornate, maybe even a little overblown.  But that's good.  He's not a hack, and this isn't simply a paycheck for him.  Right off the bat, he's letting us know that he intends to take the novelization of THE FOG very, very seriously.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

#2.  Father Malone (Hal Holbrook in the movie)'s alcoholism: 
     "Ought to put the wine away, he supposed.  But why bother?  The boy had smelled it on his breath enough times.  ...He turned slowly and gave the boy a sleepy smile, rotating the stem of the crystal wine glass in his fingers." 
and his self-condemnation:
     "His robes flowed open, rustling over the uneven stones as the material filled with dank air and blossomed around his thin body.  From time to time his bare heels caught and tripped on the hem, but he took no notice of the tearing of the vestment as he drifted on, circling the pews beneath darkling stained glass, doomed to visit, again and again, without end, the stations of his dispensation."
Malone's soul, racked with guilt over the misdeeds of his ancestors, has become that classical archetype of the "whisky priest."   This is what movie novelizations are all about– the writer has to fill his paragraphs with something extra– so why not explore in depth what is mostly alluded to in the movie?


#3.  Evocative prose.
     "He marched across the sand, packed smooth again during the night, the red float at the end of his fishing line swinging in the sky in front of him like a brave winking eye, leading the way. ...  Already his cheeks were burning as the breeze combed his hair back with a fine spray from the riptide.  Far down the beach at the cusp of the bay, a big dog, an Irish setter or golden retriever, pawed for sand crabs and then broke into a loping run at the gulls that were sunning themselves at the waterline, kicking up a muddy trail and then dashing for safety, his legs splaying wildly and his pink tongue flying, as the water washed in to fill his footprints with clear bubbles."
The seaside has always impelled writers to employ poetic language, and Dennis Etchison is no exception.  And though it's not quite worthy of William Faulkner, that closing sentence up there is pretty damn lengthy for a movie-based paperback, intended to be disposable reading for people on summer vacation!


#4.  That stomach-pounder reference!

As I explained in-depth in my review of HALLOWEEN 6, a throwaway line in THE FOG has led to much debate about what, exactly, a "stomach-pounder" is.
Here, is that section from the novel, replicated in all of it's glory:

     "'Mom, can I go get a Stomach Pounder and a Coke?'
How quickly they change gears, she thought.  Exit the wood to the junk pile, enter the Golden Arches.  'After lunch.  Did you eat your breakfast?'
     "Yeah.  I'm gonna go look for another one [piece of driftwood -SG].    Maybe this time I can get the gold coin!'
     He jumped off the bed and raced out of the bedroom."
Well, now it certainly looks like the person who theorized it meant "Quarter Pounder from McDonald's" was right, given the reference to the "Golden Arches."  But again this raises the question– why would he get a Quarter Pounder after lunch?  Perhaps we will never know. 

#5.  Added material.

There's not a whole lot here that's not in the movie, but, for example, Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau) notices a crucified starfish on her property; we spend a lot more time with Dan O'Bannon (Charles Cyphers) and his daily routine, which involves a daredevil coastal drive to the weather station; and Andy (Ty Mitchell, who plays Adrienne Barbeau's son) has an extended dream sequence with evil pirates, Davy Jones, and a giant manta ray ("...the remains of the great pirate Davy Jones himself.  An electric eel was slithering alive inside the empty skull, lighting the eyesockets with a blinding florescence.  A host of plankton jetted by, tinging the water around Andy with a glow like Greek fire.")


#6.  Like the movie, it leaves plenty to the imagination.

The violence is muted and atmospheric, remaining true to Carpenter's vision.  From the death of Mrs. Kobritz:
"Had he looked back over his shoulder one last time to argue, he would have seen a tall shape solidifying behind Mrs. Kobritz, a stringy black hand reaching around her head from the outside, closing at her chin, covering her mouth so that she could not scream, and lifting her as if she were a rag doll straight up into the air, leaving her empty shoes toppling on the welcome mat." 
And so there you have it.  THE FOG: THE NOVELIZATION.  Not an essential work of literature by any means, but far better than it needed to be! 

–Sean Gill

Monday, October 14, 2013

THE EVERLASTING VINTAGE at the Fargo Fantastic Film Festival

My time-travel horror film, The Everlasting Vintage, will be screening this year as an official selection at the Fargo Fantastic Film Festival, in association with ValleyCon.
 
It will screen on Saturday, October 18th– further details are available here, in the program guideThe Everlasting Vintage stars Joe Stipek and Michael V. Porsche, features music and champagne bottle art by Jesse Carlson, and design by Rachel Klein and Daisy Tainton.

The Everlasting Vintage (TRAILER) from Sean Gill on Vimeo.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Film Review: HALLOWEEN 666: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995, Joe Chappelle)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Donald Pleasence (THE GREAT ESCAPE, PHENOMENA), Kim Darby (DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, BETTER OFF DEAD), Paul Rudd (CLUELESS, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER), Mitch Ryan (DARK SHADOWS, LETHAL WEAPON).  Music by Alan Howarth (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, ARMY OF DARKNESS) and Paul Rabjohns (OPERATION CONDOR, CHILDREN OF THE CORN V) with the main theme by John Carpenter. 
Tag-line: "Terror never rests in peace!"
Best one-liner:  "Enough of this Michael Myers bullshit!"

HALLOWEEN 6 is not a good movie.  I'm sure ya don't need me to tell you that.  Its reputation lives somewhere in between "Paul Rudd's first movie" and "the worst of the HALLOWEEN series."   (Though there there is a dedicated cult of fans who insist that the rare, "Producer's Cut" of the film is far superior.)

Anyway, I saw HALLOWEEN 6 (the theatrical cut) recently for the first time and I couldn't help but feel it would make a great addition to the "Poor Man's Carpy" series.  Now, there are three points relating to Carpenter that I'd like to hit, so I'll be brief:

#1.  Donald Pleasence.

HALLOWEEN 6 was the late, great Donald Pleasence's penultimate movie, and his final HALLOWEEN appearance (the film is dedicated to his memory).  He's looking pretty grizzled and a little run-down, and he easily could have turned this into a phoned-in "paycheck" performance, but that trademark Pleasence pathos really shines through.  As a viewer, you project a little extra emotional weight onto the film, knowing that it's the final appearance of a such a beloved character and horror icon, and that effect is undeniable.  RIP, Donald.

#2.  Stomach-pounders.   Die hard fans of John Carpenter's THE FOG will remember the scene where Adrienne Barbeau's son says "Mom, can I have a stomach-pounder and a Coke?"  Now, what the hell is a stomach-pounder?  Hmm?
This has fueled much speculation amongst the most bored and obsessive of fans, with some believing it to be a reference to Pop Rocks, others believing it to mean "quarter-pounder" burger or ice cream or a type of cake, and others still speculating that it refers to "bad meatloaf."  So imagine my delight when in HALLOWEEN 6, the following line is uttered:

"This is the famous Tim Strode stomach pounder.  You down for the challenge?"

I have to assume this line is probably not ad-libbed and therefore the work of the writer, Daniel Farrands, whose contributions to NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, AMITYVILLE HORROR, and FRIDAY THE 13TH DVD bonus materials lead me to believe that he is quite the 80s horror aficionado.  Clearly, as a writer on HALLOWEEN 6, he is a Carpy enthusiast-  hence the obscure reference.

Here, in context, the stomach-pounder appears to be a Calvin & Hobbes-style "suicide drink" smoothie, a concoction of everyday grocery items that is blended into a disgusting result that the kiddies might think is "cool."  Though it doesn't definitively answer what the intended reference was in THE FOG, it's a fun easter egg for the true Carpy-freaks!


#3.  The return of HALLOWEEN III?

As the HALLOWEEN series progressed and John Carpenter officially had nothing to do with it (HALLOWEEN 4, HALLOWEEN 5), nutty attempts were made to "explain" the evil of Michael Myers– attempts that included a mysterious tattooed man in black, a druid "Cult of Thorn," unethical genetic engineering, villainous constellations, myths of Samhain, and a whole bunch of gobbledygook that belonged in a straight-to-video 90s Satan-worshipper movie.

Now, some thirteen years prior, the HALLOWEEN franchise had been nearly been derailed completely by a film I hold incredibly close to my heart:  HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH.  This film was notable for eschewing Michael Myers altogether and telling the saga of an evil cult of killer-robot-manufacturing Irish people living in a small town in California who are hell-bent (literally!) on killing the children of America by way of rigged masks that will turn them into rotting piles of snakes and spiders.  They are doing this so that people will take Halloween seriously again.

Most people hated this movie because Michael Myers wasn't in it, and apparently there wasn't enough Tom Atkins nudity.  So now, thirteen years later (spoooky!), the makers of HALLOWEEN 6 begin to jam-pack the film with just the sort of crazed, druid-infused conspiracy theory nonsense that turned fans off in the first place.  Is this an intentional homage to the greatness of HALLOWEEN III?  The series itself committing harakiri?  An attempt at a tie-in for "Cult of Thorn" merchandise at Hot Topic?  Who knows.

So yeah.  HALLOWEEN 6, ladies and gentlemen.  Now go ask your mothers if you can have a stomach-pounder and a Coke!  Stay tuned for more Poor Man's Carpy!

–Sean Gill

DEAD DREAM MACHINE on NY1

Everyone's favorite local channel has been running a feature plugging my latest theatrical endeavor, THE DEAD DREAM MACHINE!  
Time Warner Cable customers can watch the clip here.

This is the last weekend you can see THE DEAD DREAM MACHINE: get your tickets here, watch the trailer I made here, and get more information here!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New Recurring Series: Poor Man's John Carpenter

It is my distinct (dis?)pleasure to announce a new, recurring series for this blog which will probably continue, on and off, through the Halloween season and beyond.  It's name?:  "Poor Man's John Carpenter."
What, pray tell, does that mean?, you are probably asking.  Well, it's pretty damned broad.  It could mean the analysis of John Carpenter screenplays that were taken over by other directors and made for television (or worse), it could be book reviews of paperback novelizations of Carpy classics, it could mean ersatz HALLOWEEN and VAMPIRES sequels with which Carpy had pretty much nothing at all to do– yes, it could mean all of these, and more–  a variety of exciting and groan-inducing Carpy marginalia.  So put on your knock-off Ray Bans, don your unlicensed Michael Myers masks and take a trip with me to the land of "POOR MAN'S CARPY!"

Monday, October 7, 2013

Music Review: GOBLIN LIVE IN CONCERT (2013, U.S.)

As a part of their first-ever North American tour (after a long and on-again-off-again history dating back to 1972), I was lucky enough to see Goblin perform live last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY.  

They played crowd-pleasing selections from the album ROLLER and from their soundtracks to ZOMBI (DAWN OF THE DEAD), PROFONDO ROSSO (DEEP RED), NON HO SONNO (SLEEPLESS), TENEBRE, and PHENOMENA, among others, often accompanied by gory mondo projections, including clips from DAWN OF THE DEAD and the Goblin-Argento oeuvre.

It was a pleasure to see three of the original members:  the legendary Claudio Simonetti (wearing a DANGER: DIABOLIK t-shirt),

Simonetti tinkles the ivories.  Photo by Greg Cristman, from the writeup at Brooklyn Vegan.

veteran Maurizio Guarini jammin' on the second keyboard, and virtuoso Massimo Morante (prog) rocking out (on his birthday, no less!) in tight leather pants, sunglasses, and a bandana that could hardly tame his frizzy, Italo-rocker 70s hair.

Massimo plays it loud. Photo by Greg Cristman, from the writeup at Brooklyn Vegan.

This was, obviously, outstanding.  (They were also joined by newer members, drummer Titta Tani and bassist Bruno Previtali.)

A near front-row view afforded me a glimpse of their tightly-knit, non-verbal shorthand, from which I get a sort of furtive satisfaction when I have the privilege of seeing it live from a band I love.  Their Italian-accented banter with the audience was endearing and fantastic ("Hello Brew-kleen!"), Claudio did the vox effects from TENEBRE live, and he dared the audience to do their best witchy whispering along with him on SUSPIRIA– in short, I had a big dopey grin on my face the entire time.

Also, I never thought I would see Claudio Simonetti and Massimo Morante sing "Happy Birthday to Me" and mock-drink from a giant cardboard cut-out of a bottle of Jim Beam while a crowd of Brooklynites roared in approval.  And, my Lord– they may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but as my ringing ears can attest, they played it loud.  What a show– and a fine start to my Halloween season!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Do You Want to Go to the Circus? Do You Want to Go to the Circus?" is an official selection at PollyGrind 2013

My absurdist horror short, Do You Want to Go to the Circus? Do You Want to Go to the Circus? has been named an official selection for PollyGrind 2013, the underground film festival of Las Vegas, where my film Fresh Piss won the "Best Transgressive Short" award last year.
The plot synopsis is as follows: "You are cordially invited to make the acquaintance of a remarkable circus duck who, incidentally, happens to be in your apartment." 
It stars John Sellers and Perry Triplett, features music by Jesse Carlson and Norka, and was written, shot, edited, and directed by yours truly.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

More praise for THE DEAD DREAM MACHINE!

More reviews are in!

New York Magazine names it a "Critics' Pick" and says: "In this very strange play, a mad scientist has built a machine that extracts dreams from a young woman’s brain. At the finale every night, a crew of alt-venue stars—drag queens, born-to-showbiz kids, burlesque artists— all join in on a goth performance of a Nick Cave tune."

Downtown Traveler says:  "New York City has no shortage of Halloween attractions...but if you are looking for more high-brow entertainment– with a decidedly anti-Wall Street bent– head to Brooklyn for Dead Dream Machine.  This off- off- off- Broadway show features a talented cast and scenes that range from hysterical to bizarre... a uniquely Brooklyn production that combines elements of burlesque, acrobatics, puppetry and bondage. ... so hysterical, offbeat and downright bizarre [some segments] played over and over in my mind throughout the weekend.  ...You’ll feel trendy just for attending this show."

Brooklyn Spaces says:  I was lucky enough to catch a press preview of ...the incredible Dead Dream Machine... and it RULES. Go!"

Courtesan Macabre says:  "I had the pleasure of trekking out to East Williamsburg (Bushwick) NY last night to experience the new production, The Dead Dream Machine... It was disturbing and made you squirm... [director Rachel Klein] mixes style and sensuality into her visual storytelling."

My Entertainment World says:  "Consistently entertaining. ...a series of both horrifying and comedic skits.  ...the ensemble of The Dead Dream Machine was remarkable.  ...I enjoyed living the nightmares produced by the The Dead Dream Machine."

There are still two more weekends to go– get your tickets here, watch the trailer I made here, and get more information here!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Film Review: PET SEMATARY TWO (1992, Mary Lambert)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 100  minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:   Anthony Edwards (MIRACLE MILE, ER, ZODIAC), Edward Furlong (TERMINATOR 2, AMERICAN HISTORY X), Clancy Brown (HIGHLANDER, EXTREME PREJUDICE), Jared Rushton (BIG, OVERBOARD), Darlanne Fluegel (TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., BULLETPROOF, RUNNING SCARED), Jason McGuire (LEAP OF FAITH, FORREST GUMP).  Written by Richard Outten (LITTLE NEMO: THE 80S MOVIE) and vaguely, but not really based on elements from PET SEMATARY, by Stephen King.
Tag-line: "Raise some hell."
Best one-liner:  "No brain, no pain... think about it."

PET SEMATARY TWO boldly asks the question, "Can a movie be worse than PET SEMATARY ONE?"  The answer is "Yes... well, kind of."

Aside from the presence of bullies and the general idea of a supernatural cemetery whereupon pets and and occasionally humans can be buried only to rise from the dead and become (at best) soulless versions of their former selves, or (at worst) evil killer zombies, this really has nothing to do with anything Stephen King ever wrote.  As such, it sort of feels like PET SEMATARY fan-fiction. Still, it is important to note that PET SEMATARY TWO is not abjectly terrible.  In fact, there are quite a few things to like here.  Seven, in fact:

#1.  Sullen Anthony Edwards.

Pre-ER Anthony Edwards plays a medical professional (a veterinarian) who has lost his wife and is trying to raise moody, early 90s Edward Furlong.

Pictured: moody, early 90s Edward Furlong.

Interestingly enough, Edwards' deceased wife is played by Darlanne Fluegel, an actress who got a tremendous amount of niche work as "practically the only woman" in movies that are otherwise jam-packed with male character actors, and this is no exception.  (Also see:  TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., BULLETPROOF, LOCK UP, RUNNING SCARED.) Weird.

Anyway, Edwards is pretty great– so great, that you'll really regret that he didn't play "Louis Creed" in PET SEMATARY 1, since Dale Midkiff didn't really have the chops to pull it off.  Maybe the tremendous pathos of Anthony Edwards could have "saved" PET SEMATARY 1– I guess we'll never know.

#2.  The awkwardly exclaimed line, "Thanks for screwing up our Halloween, dumb shit!"

which is laughably uttered by a small town bully– thus making it officially the most "Stephen King-ian" thing in the movie.


#3.  Clancy Brown.  Longtime readers of this site know of my ongoing appreciation of his work, which ranges from evil sons of bitches (HIGHLANDER) to badass good guys (STARSHIP TROOPERS, EXTREME PREJUDICE, THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI).

 Here, he gets to play the Kurgan (from HIGHLANDER) again, essentially– he starts off as an abusive dad/uptight town sheriff, and after being killed and resurrected, turns into a spectacularly psychotic, scenery (and lima beans) chewing maniac.

There's a great scene where his overweight son apologizes for not being the "stud" Clancy is.



And there's an even better scene when an undead Clancy smashes unidentifiable dinner goop and lima beans into his mouth and laughs maniacally for at least twenty seconds.


No, PET SEMATARY TWO is not a good movie, but the beauty of Clancy Brown's deranged performance occasionally fools you into thinking it is.

#4.  These creepy twin girls who reveal, for a fleeting moment, what it would look like if THE SHINING were directed by, say, the makers of FULL HOUSE.



#5.  DEATH BY SPUDS!

How would you like your potato, sir?  Baked?  Roasted?  Mashed?  Stuffed?  Scalloped?  HOW 'BOUT RAINING DOWN ON YOU IN A MURDEROUS, SKULL-SQUASHIN' DELUGE?!


Honestly, in the annals of film history, I don't think there's ever been a "death by potatoes" scene quite like this one.  Nice job, PET SEMATARY TWO!

#6.  The magnificence of the following scene, whereupon an undead Clancy Brown attempts to murder Anthony Edwards with crazy-eye and an electric drill, loopily hypothesizing, "No brain, no pain...  think about it!"






#7.  While The Ramones unfortunately don't give us "I Don't Wanna Be Buried in a Pet Sematary (Again)," they do indeed again provide the rockin' beats of the closing credits with the song, "Poison Heart."

In closing, PET SEMATARY TWO ain't great– and you didn't need me to tell ya that, I'm sure.  Still, a couple of spit-take worthy moments and some killer potatoes push this up to... two and a half stars.

–Sean Gill