If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at the video store or surfed the DVR pay-per-view options and seen a bunch of movies that you’ve never heard of, chances are John has watched them. Why? He loves movies. All kinds of movies. Good, bad, so-bad-they’re good, even the truly unwatchable ones. He mostly loves horror and science-fiction and drive-in exploitation movies that most upstanding model citizens wouldn’t dare watch. Then he writes up his thoughts so you can decide - watch, don’t watch or avoid at all costs. Sometimes he even gets to talk to the cool folks who make some of your favorite films.
Blood, Violence and Babes
Most Recent Entries
- New Releases for Tuesday, March 4, 2014
- New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014
- New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
- New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014
- A Conversation With: Kevin Tenney
- New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014
- New Releases for Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014
- New Releases for Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014
- New Releases for Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014
- New Releases for Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014
- New Releases for December 2013
- New Releases for November 2013
- 2013 Holiday Gift Guide
- New Releases for Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013
- New Releases for Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013
New Releases for Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Posted Mar 6, 2014 by John Allman
Updated Mar 6, 2014 at 08:28 PM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: Giulio Paradisi, aka Michael J. Paradise
Run time: 109 minutes
The Lowdown: There’s something special about films that just refuse to follow any kind of perceived structure. They just exist in their own atmosphere, transforming traditional narrative into something more free-flowing and formless, the visual equivalent of stream of consciousness writing or spoken word.
If you’ve ever seen “El Topo” by Alejandro Jodorowsky, or “The Beyond” by “Lucio Fulci, you know exactly the kind of movie I’m talking about.
On the surface, those are just genre films – “El Topo” is a spaghetti western and “The Beyond” is an Italian zombie apocalypse. But in reality, there’s so much more at play. These films are like waking dreams, morphing in mid-scene, evolving in front of our very eyes.
There are bad movies that refuse to follow conventional rules. For all its synth-y verve and neon hues, “Only God Forgives” is a bloated mess, laid bare by its own strict adherence to nonconformity.
And then there’s “The Visitor.”
“The Visitor” is easily one of the most bat-guano crazy slices of celluloid delirium ever to assault our unsuspecting senses.
And it really could only have been released in 1979 – the movie-going experience was a lot different three decades ago. Movies were a lot different. Audiences seemed more open to exploration. Everything didn’t have to make sense in order to be enjoyable. And the defining films of that decade reflected the turbulent uncertainty of the time with unflinching, often uncomfortable honesty.
Filmed in 1979 but released on Nov. 21, 1980 – that this was a Thanksgiving holiday offering only adds to its indelible awesomeness – “The Visitor” arrived on the cusp of a new decade, heralding a wave of change, ushering in the shift from social unrest and protest to a selfish generation of greed and super-sized expectations in everything from wealth to fast food.
At its heart, it’s a truly simple genre film, the simplest of all genres, actually, a horror movie.
“The Visitor” is a horror movie about a demonic child and the supernatural battle between good and evil to determine how that child and others like her might impact the fate of mankind.
“The Visitor” also is a science-fiction odyssey, albeit one set in a surreal, parallel universe somewhere far from Earth where a Christ-like, beach-blonde storyteller cautions bald children about the eternal struggle between the evil Satine and the high commander Yahweh.
Some people might mistake “The Visitor” for a sports film. That’s because, for reasons that escape the normal confines of common sense, there’s an extended 10 to 15 minute, if not longer, stretch when the movie begins that’s set at a semi-professional basketball game in Atlanta, GA. The game isn’t a simple backdrop around which main characters are introduced. The game is the sole, isolated focus of every frame. It’s not until the end of the game that something relevant to the actual plot occurs, and that’s when little Katy Collins is introduced. Katy is a spawn of Satine. She can use her mind to make things happen. Bad things. Like making a basketball explode seconds before a player tries to dunk the ball.
Once “The Visitor” abandons the basketball court, all hell breaks loose. Literally.
The characters are quickly established: Katy is evil and wants a baby brother or else she will kill her babysitter. Her mother, Barbara, is concerned. Barbara’s boyfriend, Raymond, who owns the basketball team (ah, so it does tie in), wants nothing more than to have sex with Barbara. Raymond, by the way, is played by a very young, very blank Lance Henriksen. Seriously, Lance showed more emotion as a cyborg in “Aliens” than he does here.
For some reason, a cop gets involved. The cop is played by Glenn Ford. Yep, Superman’s human dad. A beloved actor. The caliber of actor who usually never appears in a genre film.
Then there’s John Huston. The Oscar-winning director. Father of Anjelica. The guy who directed “The Maltese Falcon” and “The African Queen.” He plays an intergalactic visitor – get it – dispatched by the blonde Christ-like surfer to find and defeat Katy before the devil child can usurp the world. His character name is Jerzy Colsowicz. Yeah, I got nothing.
Huston arrives and sets up shop on a rooftop in downtown Atlanta. Then a bunch of standing shadow boxes appear. Inside the boxes, a bunch of bald kids begin to age.
Meanwhile, Glenn Ford is snooping around Katy’s house.
And Henriksen is getting called before some business suit-wearing cabal of wealthy, old, white guys. Basically, they’re the board of directors for Satine. And they tell Lance that he’s got some ‘splaining to do. If he can’t seal the deal and have sex with Katy’s mom and thereby produce a second spawn of Satine, then his basketball team is going to fall on very hard times.
The leader of the old, white guys explains it pretty succinctly: Katy’s mom’s womb is special. It is the only womb of its generation that can handle Satine’s seed. And Satine wants another baby, dammit. No pressure.
I forgot to mention that the blonde, Christ-like surfer, who is played by Franco Nero, who was the original Django, shared a very critical plot point with the little bald children prior to sending John Huston to Earth. Eons earlier, before time existed, Satine and Yahweh battled. Yahweh took the form of birds to attack Satine. Satine took the form of an Eagle to kill the birds. But three of the birds were able to defeat Satine by pecking Satine’s brain into oblivion. I’m not making this up. Surfer Christ actually says this.
And sure enough, Katy has a pet hawk in her house. A very protective hawk.
And then Glenn Ford gets attacked by the hawk (I think it’s Katy’s hawk), or maybe it’s just a bird. Anyway, for about 10 minutes “The Visitor” becomes “Birdemic” and Ford loses an eye and has a spectacular car crash. And none of it makes much sense but it’s cool, so there’s that.
And then Katy goes ice skating. And Jerzy John Huston is there. And there’s a bunch of boys who may be the bald boys all grown up, but that’s not clear. And they start circling Katy and then it’s like a full-on ice brawl with bodies flying and people dying and pirouettes.
Eventually, Katy’s mom and Lance Henriksen reach an impasse on the whole baby-making endeavor. So Satine’s board of directors take matters into their own old, white hands and abduct Katy’s mom and forcibly inseminate her inside a van or baby-making rape-mobile.
Oh! And there’s a birthday party for Katy where her mom’s friend buys her a glass bird that somehow turns into a gun inside the wrapped present and Katy opens it and turns and shoots her mother in the spine. That’s right – that’s why Det. Glenn Ford gets involved. That’s why he’s out investigating the case, interrogating Katy at her school and getting cussed out by Katy – who just happens to have the filthiest mouth of any possessed/demonic kid ever put on screen, and that’s saying something – and that’s why he gets pecked to death by the hawk or bird and loses an eye and dies in a spectacular car crash.
Right. I think that all happens before the ice rink bunkhouse stampede. I could be wrong.
There’s this thing that happens when you watch “The Visitor.” You kind of lose track of space and time and reason and form and logic.
But I definitely now remember Katy’s mom being in a wheelchair when she gets abducted and inseminated by the old, white Board of Directors, which in turn makes her pregnant – take that, Lance, you miserable failure – which prompts Katy’s mom to visit her ex-husband, who is played by Sam Peckinpah, the famed director of “The Wild Bunch,” who happens to be a doctor who agrees to abort Katy’s mom’s evil baby no. 2.
Oh! I totally forgot about Shelley Winters! She plays Katy’s nanny who is brought in after Katy shoots her mom in the back. And she seems to have a pretty good idea that Katy is pure evil, even if she spends much of her screen time singing hymnals in the kitchen and acting like she’s the housemother in “Gone with the Wind.”
That’s the thing about “The Visitor” – there is no rationale for the A-list cast that assembled for this movie. It makes no sense whatsoever how some of the most iconic Hollywood legends of yesteryear read this script and said oh hell yes, that’s a movie I can’t say no to.
But there they all are – Huston, Winters, Peckinpah, Ford – well, not Ford. He’s already dead by this point. In the movie, I mean.
“The Visitor” culminates with a crazy fight where Lance Henriksen and Katy are trying to either kill or incapacitate Katy’s mom and then John Huston rushes in and a bunch of birds fight and lots of people die and John Huston and Shelley Winters share a laugh about him being a visitor from another dimension (so I guess she’s like an angel or something, I don’t know) and there’s a lot of flashing lights on the roof where Jerzy John Huston set up the shadow boxes and more crazy stuff happens and then Surfer Christ reappears and Katy’s bald and apparently the world has been saved.
I would bet money that you will never, ever, ever see a movie this ridiculously complex and non-linear that completely captivates you and sucks you in and entertains you in ways that you weren’t expecting.
“The Visitor” is one of a kind. That’s probably a good thing.
But we should all thank Drafthouse Films for restoring and upgrading and making it available so as many film geeks as possible can celebrate this oddly awesome cult classic from an age when movies didn’t have to make a lick of sense to be fun.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Joanne Nail is pretty hot, if only because her womb receives the Satan stamp of approval.
Nudity – No.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Satine, also known as Satan, that damn devil.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Multiple interviews with cast and crew. The main draw is a collectible booklet inserted inside the packaging that includes photos and an essay about the wonderful concoction that is “The Visitor.”
Oldboy (Sony, 104 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Given the resounding thud that Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s classic revenge thriller made upon its arrival in theaters – the film didn’t even make $1 million in its opening weekend, which is just criminal – you would assume that somehow, some way Lee & Co. just royally screwed the pooch.
Here’s the real skinny – yes, there are parts of “Oldboy” that are atrociously bad, particularly the first 20 to 30 minutes, which basically resemble every TMZ clip of drunk Josh Brolin trying to shadow box a poor bouncer outside a nightclub.
But if you give it time, Lee’s version of “Oldboy” eventually settles down and finds an entertaining, if not thrilling, groove that doesn’t just poo-poo the legacy of its source material.
Brolin’s simmering rage is perfectly suited for the role of Joe, the poor sap who gets abducted and held captive for nearly two decades before being released with a mission to discover who took him and why. Samuel L. Jackson chews scenery better than anyone working today. And the minor tweaks to several key scenes work fine, even if they lack the oomph of the original.
This isn’t a total waste of time. It’s not the epic that Chan-wook delivered, but then what really could be?
But this “Oldboy” definitely didn’t deserve to be cast on the scrap heap of truly bad movies and completely overlooked by genre fans.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate, 146 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): The second film in the planned four-film trilogy (the third book is being broken into two films, a disturbing trend afflicting many novel-to-screen adaptations of late), “Catching Fire” is notable for several reasons:
1 – It risks turning its heroine into an unlikeable flake. Katniss Everdeen spends most of the film at odds with everyone – her friends, her loved ones, herself. When given the chance to describe herself in detail, there is nothing to tell. That blank canvas approach also implies a shallowness and lack of character that most great heroines are not born from.
2 – The series is less a blatant rip-off of “Battle Royale” than an amalgamation of historical class uprisings. The combat is secondary, which is why the films rarely focus on the actual hand-to-hand savagery. The true suspense is in the subtle twists and turns as the ruling class tries to do everything possible to thwart the peasant class from breaking free of its oppression.
3 – Director Francis Lawrence returns to the visual style that marked his impressive debut with “Constantine,” infusing “Catching Fire” with moments of surreal beauty that literally pop off the screen in high-definition. The costumes and lavish decadence of the Capital party is a triumph, but the imagery on the island during the actual games is at time breathtaking in its imagery and tiny details.
Overall, “The Hunger Games” remains a very solid franchise filled with enough grit and grim suspense to please more mature fans while the love triangle at its core packs more than enough emotional wallop satisfy younger viewers. “Twilight,” this ain’t. And the cliff-hanger ending serves its purpose well, making you want the next installment to begin immediately instead of having to wait almost a full year.
The Last Days on Mars (Magnolia, 98 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Are there any good movies with “Mars” in the title?
“Mission to Mars,” “Mars Attacks!” and the woeful “Ghosts of Mars” all come to mind as awful examples of why it’s not a good idea to use the red planet in your film’s title.
And now we have “The Last Days on Mars,” which is essentially a zombie outbreak thriller in deep space masquerading as a highbrow concept film about the search for life on distant planets.
It’s not awful, but it never truly takes off despite a game performance from Liev Schreiber and the always interesting Elias Koteas.
You could do worse on a rainy day. Just keep your expectations low.
Wicked Blood (Entertainment One, 92 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): This low-budget thriller plugs along with a veteran genre cast, a decent story structure that uses chess maneuvers to advance the action and above-average acting. It’s not terribly original, but it’s entertaining.
Ancient Aliens: Season Five – Volume Two
Cold Comes the Night
Noah and the Great Ark
The Vikings: Dark Warriors
Bible Secrets Revealed
1000 to 1: The Cory Weissman Story
Children of Sorrow
Breaking Amish: Season 1
Restaurant Impossible: Season 3
Rawhide: The Seventh Season
12 Years A Slave
Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor
The Venture Bros.: Season Five
Not To Be Overlooked:
Sorority Party Massacre (Anchor Bay, 103 minutes, R, DVD): I don’t know why, but I was reluctant to give this low-budget slasher a chance at first. Maybe it’s because the cast included Ron Jeremy, which usually means the film is not going to be very good (Sorry, Ron!). But damn – was I caught completely by surprise at how clever, fast-paced and genuinely entertaining this bloody massacre actually is. This is pure B-movie goodness, the kind of rare jewel that you used to stumble across totally by accident at the video store. The acting is way above-average, the practical effects are inventive and the kills are incredibly brutal. I knew I was in for a treat after the extended 15-minute opening scene set the tone. It’s basically a rehash of the opening scene from “Scream,” but an exceptionally well-done rehash with a couple of original twists. I can’t recommend this one fast enough for anyone seeking a standout slasher flick with hot chicks, buckets of blood and crisp writing.
New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014
Posted Feb 28, 2014 by John Allman
Updated Feb 28, 2014 at 09:29 AM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: J.T. Petty
Run time: 87 minutes
Format: 3D Blu-Ray
The Lowdown: Imagine a horror movie about rogue exorcists, secretly ordained by the Vatican, who lived the most sinful lives possible in order to prepare themselves to be possessed by the worst demons that Hell ever spit out, the ones who couldn’t be purged by normal “The power of Christ compels you…” scripture, so they could commit suicide at the exact moment of possession just to guarantee that the demon returned to Hell, even if it meant they themselves would be banished for all eternity to a fiery pit.
Sounds pretty good right? That’s actually an original take on the traditional demonic possession drive-in feature that might actually be dark, gritty and hopefully scary to watch.
Now imagine if those rogue exorcists were actually funny, like the “Ghostbusters” or the members of Tri-Lambda in “Revenge of the Nerds.”
Would you pay to see Dr. Peter Venkman or Dudley “Booger” Dawson behaving really badly just seconds before leaping into action as a kick-butt, fearless man of the cloth?
Of course you would – what fan of classic 1980s horror-science-fiction-comedies wouldn’t want to have the best of all possible film worlds served up in a heaping helpful of genre goodness.
Well, keep imagining, because “Hellbenders” is not that movie.
It wants to be that movie really, really badly. But it fails on almost every conceivable level – as horror, as comedy, as entertainment in the most basic sense of the word.
“Hellbenders” is so juvenile, so bereft of any basic filmmaking fundamentals, so devoid of actual humor and so miserable at utilizing rudimentary 3D technology that it simply, solely exists to frustrate and anger you to the very bottom of your movie-loving core.
Never before has a truly interesting concept been so completely squandered that it seems “Hellbenders” is actually some subversive Orwellian form of punishment, unleashed on film geeks as retribution for not being more discretionary in their viewing choices.
There’s no other possible explanation for director J.T. Petty being allowed to cash the paycheck he clearly received for making this steaming pile of stinking excrement.
Clearly, people knew how God-awful this movie was.
Surely, film studios employ educated men in tailored suits making six-and-seven-figure salaries whose only job it is to cast an unbiased eye on each and every finished film prior to its release to the masses, men (and women) with the power of persuasion who could have stopped this dreck from ever seeing the light of day, if only to save future embarrassment and the need to apologize for its very existence.
Since that didn’t happen, and obviously it didn’t, as I had the great misfortune of actually watching the majority of “Hellbenders” in brain-nauseating, distortion-heavy and fuzzy subpar 3D, I can only surmise that at least one person laughed at least once during the interminable 87 minutes of film offered up as the final, completed product.
That person wasn’t me, and it won’t be you.
Avoid at all – hell, just avoid at any – cost, and perhaps you can save your movie-loving soul from this unimaginable damnation.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Not that I saw.
Nudity – It wouldn’t have helped.
Gore – I didn’t care.
Drug use – I should have been on better drugs.
Bad Guys/Killers – The people who financed and distributed this garbage.
Buy/Rent – You’re better off buying a ticket to vacation in Kiev.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – No one will get this far.
Mr. Nobody: Extended Director’s Cut
Adventures of the Penguin King 3D
Mama’s Family: The Complete Season Three
The Shadow: Collector’s Edition
LA Law: Season One
Transformers Prime: Ultimate Bumblebee
Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season
Last Stand of the 300 and Other Famous Greek Battles
Lost in Thailand
Adventure Time: The Complete Third Season
You Will Be My Son
New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
Posted Feb 28, 2014 by John Allman
Updated Feb 28, 2014 at 09:24 AM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Darkman: Collector’s Edition
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Run time: 96 minutes
The Lowdown: Every kid who ever sat in his room and dreamed of being a writer or movie director conceived of his or her own superhero, how they would look and act, the tragic backstory that bestowed their powers and who or whom might be their arch-nemesis.
I have no doubt that Sam Raimi was that kid, and in 1990, hot on the heels of the cult success of “The Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn,” he got the chance to unleash his own superhero creation in the form of “Darkman.”
Now anybody who knows Raimi’s work knows that the director’s influences range from The Three Stooges to Roger Corman, and his first big-budget, superhero adventure showed elements of both.
“Darkman” is not a great superhero film, but it’s a fascinating and altogether thrilling B-movie. It’s also likely the only superhero film on record to truly play up the fact that its titular hero is a psychotic madman. The “Batman” franchise may have briefly touched upon Bruce Wayne’s eccentric side, but Raimi goes full-tilt-boogie showing that his creation, Dr. Peyton Westlake, is absolutely bonkers after half of his face and most of his body is burned beyond recognition.
Raimi’s dark exploration of the hero mythos is buoyed by two actors who later won Oscars for other films – Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand. Neeson, in particular, seems to fully embrace the crazed nature of Raimi’s creation.
Despite a screenplay that had the input of five writers, there are moments that are pure Raimi, that exude his playful love of the surreal and the comical. The scene with his brother, Ted, playing a lowly henchman, who is hoisted up through a manhole so that his head and shoulders are exposed to oncoming traffic, is a particular riot.
As a character, Westlake/Darkman was too thinly written to truly grab hold of the collective fanboy conscience.
But I’d love to have been able to see the studio’s reaction to Raimi’s finished product when they realized he’d made the most expensive ($16 million) drive-in movie ever.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Frances McDormand, hot in a natural way.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Minimal.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Larry Drake, Dr. Giggles, himself.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Battle of the Damned
Scream Factory Double Feature: Bad Dreams and Visiting Hours
Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season
Nurse Jackie: Season Five
Terry Fator: Live in Concert
Gentle Ben: Season Two
Fists of Legend
Pompeii: The Doomed City
New Releases for Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014
Posted Feb 28, 2014 by John Allman
Updated Feb 28, 2014 at 09:19 AM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
A Night in the Woods
Genre: Horror/Found Footage
Directed by: Richard Parry
Run time: 82 minutes
The Lowdown: “A Night in the Woods” is beautifully shot and frustratingly enjoyable. It’s tense and leaden. It captures your imagination and then strands you with questions.
In short, it exemplifies the best and worst of the Found Footage genre.
I almost turned it off twice, both times silently bargaining with myself to give it just 10 more minutes to hook me. Both times, it did.
And lo, just as I had begun writing a review in my mind comparing it to the raw, primal experience of “The Blair Witch Project,” the film completely fumbled its climatic reveal.
The basic story – two lovers, Brody and Kerry, go away on a mini-vacation to hike an English moor with a lone companion, Leo, the supposed former close male friend of Kerry – is nothing new. The immediate jealousy that oozes off Brody makes you start second-guessing and anticipating the next clichéd steps, but then something strange occurs – the film doesn’t really follow those same, well-worn clichés. At least, not at first.
Even the requisite backstory, the overwrought tale of a mythical Huntsman who stalks sinners on the moor, affixing them with a cross symbol on their foreheads before hanging them upside down to die, doesn’t feel completely hackneyed. The story is shared by patrons of a local pub, think The Slaughtered Lamb from “An American Werewolf in London,” complete with an ominous ‘I wouldn’t camp out there, if I were you’ warning.
Director Richard Parry makes several calculated decisions that yield bountiful results – he plays up the beauty of the remote locale, and he frames much of the early outdoors scenery in stark black and white or sepia tones.
The explanation of the omnipresent camera is handled fairly logically – Brody is socially awkward, and documents his every waking moment. The film slowly reveals Brody’s compulsion to be more menacing. Or is it?
“A Night in the Woods” works best when it challenges viewer perceptions – Is Brody a creepy killer in disguise? Is Kerry a faithful girlfriend, or has she been seeing Leo more than she lets on? Is Leo even a real friend, or just a lothario on the make?
What doesn’t work – at least at first – is the jarring transition whenever a character begins watching video on a different device, say an iPod. The films just leaps right into that footage with no warning, and the first time it happens, the result is almost too much to take.
Those little segues, however, flesh out the bigger picture, filling in gaps with video proof that maybe what you thought was going on isn’t what’s really going on and maybe so-and-so isn’t exactly who you think they are.
The third act is problematic in that it basically removes two-thirds of the cast and forces viewers to spend stranded time alone with Kerry. At times, the impact works – you feel the genuine claustrophobia of being alone in the woods. But then it becomes repetitive and loses its oomph.
You keep rooting for “A Night in the Woods” to have that moment, though. You want that visceral thrill of seeing Josh standing in the corner, staring away, just before the dreaded Blair Witch takes Heather out.
That moment doesn’t come. The final frames are lost in a jumble of running and woods and screams and dark and flashes of images that might be scary if you could actually focus on them for more than a millisecond.
While not a complete waste of time, “A Night in the Woods” is likely best reserved for hardcore found footage fans who want to see why, 15 years later, there’s still not much that can compete with the realization that what you’re watching – a guy standing in a corner – is actually the chillingly effective culmination of a key part of an urban legend that was foreshadowed 90 minutes earlier.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – Minimal.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – The Huntsman, whoever or whatever he may be.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Haunter (IFC Midnight, 97 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Vincenzo Natali, the ambitious filmmaker behind “Cube” and “Splice,” returns with a stripped down haunted house thriller that expertly plays up a new twist on the traditional ghost story. Told from the perspective of a deceased teenaged girl, “Haunter” zips along with confidence and visual style, skipping easily past any major plot holes by simply being fun and refreshingly different. I really enjoyed this one. It’s definitely one to check out.
Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (Well Go USA, 134 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): A prequel to “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame,” this younger iteration of the character acts with the same self-confident air and expert sleuthing skills, but the plot involving a mysterious sea dragon, a lovesick creature from the black lagoon and a ton of disposable fighting minions doesn’t reach the same dizzying heights as its predecessor.
The Counselor (Fox, 117 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Has Ridley Scott lost his edge? The director, beloved for genre classics like “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” has now turned out two turkeys in a row – the massively frustrating “Prometheus,” and now this dark crime thriller, “The Counselor.”
On paper, this flick should have been the best of all possible worlds. Written by Cormac McCarthy, the hard-boiled king of dirty human misbehavior, and starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz – that’s two Oscar winners and two Oscar nominees – “The Counselor” should have literally leapt off the screen and backhanded audiences with devilish delight.
What went wrong? The film plays like a series of extended monologues trying to say something really important about life, love, greed and basic human survival. The numbing, overly misogynistic tendencies of the script to reduce all women to gold-digging femme fatales and all men as buffoons basically being ruled by Little Head No. 2 land with a dull thud. Not one single character is likeable. Even Pitt, normally superior in supporting roles, comes off as bored and basically retooling previous performances. And poor Diaz – she gets stuck half-naked and gyrating on a car windshield in an impressive full split during the film’s looney-tunes bridge between the second and third act.
Sadly, Scott has fumbled at the goal line once again.
Sorority Party Massacre
Rocky: Heavyweight Collection
League of Super Evil: Season 1, Volumes 1 and 2
Chicago: Diamond Edition
Farscape: 15th Anniversary Edition – The Complete Season Two
Newhart: The Complete Second Season
The Best Man Holiday
All Is Lost
The Artist and the Model
Swamp People: Season 4
On the Job
Nurse Girl Dorm: Sticky Fingers
Sex Hunter: 1980
Hindenberg: The Last Flight
The Americans: The Complete First Season
Regular Show: Mordecai and Margaret Pack
How I Live Now
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth
Dallas: The Complete Second Season
Sherlock: Season Three
##### Riot: A Punk Prayer
A Conversation With: Kevin Tenney
Posted Feb 7, 2014 by John Allman
Updated Feb 11, 2014 at 02:11 PM
Every generation has them, cult classic films that became immortalized in the minds and hearts of fans who never forgot that sense of joy and discovery.
Children of the 1980s are so much more fortunate in this regard.
We grew up during a time of fearless expression, before the tipping point when opening weekend gross became the most important bar by which success was gauged, a decade where wonderfully twisted “B” movies were regularly released on the big screen.
I can mark my adolescence year by year by the films that helped define and cement my love of all things horror. I remember seeing “Pieces,” “Fright Night” and “Return of the Living Dead” on the big screen. I took a girl to “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn,” and found myself more enthralled with the movie than trying to get to second base.
The local video store became my church. The shelves filled with Italian splatter and exploitation and creature features, my alter. That’s where I discovered “Motel Hell” and “Hell Night” and a little film called “Night of the Demons.”
It’s safe to say that BVB: Blood, Violence and Babes doesn’t get tongue-tied too often speaking to directors and feature film stars. But there are exceptions, and Kevin Tenney definitely counts in that category. So much so that we actually misstated actor Todd Allen’s name as Tom – twice! (Our apologies, Todd!)
But those minor slip-ups are to be expected when you’re actually joking and having an incredible (and lengthy) conversation with the director of one of your most favorite cult classics.
Tenney graciously took the time to speak to BVB by phone as part of Scream Factory’s promotional push for the Blu-Ray debut of his first two films, “Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons.” If you haven’t already, you need to go out right now and pick both these discs up. The extras – especially on the collector’s edition of NOTD – are fantastic.
BVB: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’ve been a huge fan since “Witchboard” came out in…that was ’86, right?
KT: Yeah, I believe late ’86, early ’87.
BVB: And “Night of the Demons” has been just one of my favorite films. I’m a huge horror fan, as evidenced by my column that I do. It’s called Blood, Violence and Babes…
KT: Or just a typical Friday night in Texas.
BVB: (Laughing) So you must be really appreciating the fact that these two films, “Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons” are getting a renewed round of love. I mean, the Blu-Ray upgrades are beautiful. They look great.
KT: They’re gorgeous, aren’t they? And all the extras. I’m flabbergasted. Me and the cast and crew talk all the time about how, you know, who knew? I get people asking all the time why we didn’t do soundtrack albums. I’m like, are you kidding? These were little films we figured maybe a few hundred people would see if we were lucky. We had no clue it would turn out to be this.
BVB: I watch a ton of movies, and it always amazes me when I go back to the first film of a director’s career and you can kind of, at that point, you can look for little hints that it is a first film. And I went back and watched “Witchboard” last week and I was blown away by just the cohesion. I mean, it’s not a first film, if you look at it under those terms. It was just a hell of a good job.
KT: Well, thank you, but you know, I was a writer first. Even as a kid, I’d get D’s in all my classes except English and Literature, I always got A’s. I had a Super 8 camera in sixth grade and I started writing and directing films with the neighborhood kids. My first film was a detective movie and we all put on our little suits from Sunday School. I made about 10 films in high school where we actually did car chases and explosions and stuff. It was my first feature, but it wasn’t really my first film, per se. That may be why it didn’t look like it.
BVB: As I was watching both “Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons,” I kind of went through and was just making notes, so I’m just going to go through and riff with you on some of the things that jumped out at me as I was watching both of these films.
BVB: I had completely forgotten about Todd Allen. I remember him now, having seen “Witchboard” again, and I went back and looked at his IMDb and have seen so many things he’s in, but what struck me the most when I was watching the film – the guy looked like the love child of Hank Azaria and Andrew McCarthy. He had this great leading man look that was very deceptive…
KT: I know, a great head of hair. But nobody has Tawny Kitaen great hair. Who can achieve that?
BVB: (Laughing) Was there something about Todd’s delivery that made him right for this role?
KT: Actually we read a lot of guys and a lot of those guys are big-name stars now who handled the drama perfectly. We had a lot of good choices. But Todd was the only one who could do the sarcasm, and the character, that’s what he is, he’s sarcastic, and make you laugh. All the other characters, when they did the sarcastic lines, you thought what a dick. And it was really important to me that the audience not think, what a dick, when Jim (the character’s name) was on camera. So Todd was the obvious choice at that point.
BVB: You’re right. He did not come off as – he came off as very funny.
KT: That was really important. If he doesn’t, then it’s going to be hard to watch a whole film when you’re supposed to identify with him.
BVB: I also had completely forgotten about Kathleen (Wilhoite) as Zarabeth.
KT: Oh yes. She was brilliant, wasn’t she?
BVB: It’s funny because I was watching it and I was wondering, how much of that was you and how much was her? Did you have the idea in your head for her to play that very broad?
KT: Yes, yes, it was written – I wanted to not…when I did a first draft of the script, the medium was very much like a gypsy almost, basically a Tangina from “Poltergeist” or something. She talked very straight and I thought, no, gosh that’s so been there, done that. And so I thought, what’s the antithesis of that, and I thought how about a punk rocker who jokes around about it. She just came in and read and just nailed it. Completely nailed it.
BVB: It’s so funny, my wife and I were watching a rerun of “Law and Order,” “Special Victims Unit” was on TV the other night and she was in it, and I was like, ‘Ooooh!’
KT: She’s guest-starred on everything. She was on “Chicago Hope,” “Cop Rock”…
BVB: And you got her early because she was just starting out.
KT: Oh yeah, she was only 20 when we got her, I think. Not that the rest of us were old, either, but she was pretty much fresh out of high school.
BVB: I was wondering when I was watching the scene with her – did you ever consider playing that straight to go for maximum scare?
KT: Well, when she’s actually being chased, she’s not being funny anymore. She is terrified. But I do find that if you create a character that the audience likes, they have a lot more vested interest in – you know like in the Freddy movies, they want to see the kids get killed, and Friday the 13th, that’s what they’re there for is to see the kills. I wanted them to be scared the character was going to be killed, and the quickest way to make a character likeable was to make him or her funny. Because someone who makes you laugh, you just like them.
BVB: The scene where she’s being chased, absolutely, that was very scary. The scene I’m talking about, I was thinking more of the actual séance scene where she channels…
KT: Well, when we start the camera move around, it’s dead serious, then it goes light again when that’s over.
BVB: It was so good the way you shot it. I was just wondering if you had ever considered doing that differently because it played perfectly the way you did it.
KT: No, I always knew I wanted to do a big camera move around for the whole scene. My DPs and my grips often go ‘Whaaaat?’ when I tell them my shot. On “Night of the Demons,” my first shot is when the kids walk into the room where eventually Max tells them about the Indians and they go what happened, and I tell them, we walk in and then pan all the way around back to the door and the gaffer laughed because he thought I was kidding. And I went, ‘No, no, that’s the first shot,’ and he went, ‘Oh, oh OK.’
BVB: I was cracking up watching Tawny and the Ouija board because she would just sit down and start talking like she was just having a conversation and I couldn’t help but think that if the movie was made today, she would totally be texting David.
KT: Yeah (laughing). Well, I guess they did a remake of “Night of the Living Dead” and at one point the heroine is running and she gets a text and it’s ‘I’m coming to get you, Barb.’
BVB: Oh my gosh, I never saw that thankfully. Oh, that’s funny.
BVB: So, progressive entrapment, that’s real? [NOTE: Progressive entrapment is the terminology used in “Witchboard” to describe a spirit manipulating a human in order to possess them.]
KT: The mythology is real. I’m skeptical of all the supernatural stuff, but yes, the mythology is 100 percent real. They touched on it slightly in “The Exorcist.” They showed before the little girl Regan got possessed she was playing along with a Ouija board. They just skipped right from playing with a Ouija board to she’s possessed.
BVB: The reason I asked – when they would say it to one another in the film, it was ‘Progressive entrapment!’ And it was very serious. It sounded like…
KT: That’s the problem. The real stuff doesn’t sound as good as something you could make it.
BVB: Right (Laughing) Right.
KT: If you make it up, you come up with a cooler terminology but a lot of times that’s what it’s called, so that’s what we have to go with. I did the sequel to “The Arrival,” “The Second Arrival,” and at one point in the script, I wrote the corporation’s name, I can’t remember, Global Corp. or something, and the notes came back and said, ‘That name sounds kind of funky. Can you come up with a better one?’ and I said, well yeah, I could, but it’s the company from the first film so we’re stuck with it. (Laughing) Yeah I could come up with a better name, but this is the one we’re stuck with.
BVB: That’s right, I forgot that you did the sequel to “The Arrival,” which, both the original and your film, are both very underrated.
KT: Yeah, I was really happy when they asked me to do the sequel because I had been a big fan of the first one, and agreed with you, I thought it totally did not get the respect it deserved.
BVB: And that was actually a really solid role by Charlie Sheen.
KT: Yeah, and it was one of David Twohy’s first films. It’s funny he’s doing all these Riddick films that are getting huge releases now, but I still think that’s the better film.
BVB: I agree. I just saw the most recent “Riddick” not too long ago and…
KT: They’re not bad…
BVB: They’re not, no…
KT: They just don’t show any of the intelligence or the imagination that that first “Arrival” film showed.
BVB: So, last question about “Witchboard,” and it’s a tongue in cheek one, but I couldn’t – it’s something that jumped out at me. So when you went to see “Ghost” in 1990 did you sit there and think they had totally ripped off the “I know you do” line when Patrick Swayze keeps saying ‘Ditto’ every time Demi Moore says she loves him?
KT: No, you know what, that never occurred to me. But then I had a fan once ask me if I had that line, I know you do, was taken from the “Star Wars” film when he’s about to be encased in carbonite or whatever and she says ‘I love you’ and he says ‘I know’ and then goes down. Maybe I did, I don’t remember now (Laughing). Maybe subconsciously. Until the fan brought it up, it never occurred to me, and this is the first time that’s ever occurred to me with the ‘Ditto.’ I have a fan, another writer actually, she writes for the horror blogs, she’s always saying the big tunnel scene in Rob Zombie’s first film is stolen from “Night of the Demons,” and I don’t see it but she says absolutely.
BVB: Let’s talk a little about “Night of the Demons.” I had forgotten how good Steve Johnson’s special effects were.
KT: Yeah! I mean, I’ll tell you, I see films now – I was involved with the remake of “Night of the Demons” and we had a big Academy Award-winning company doing the effects and I don’t think those effects were as good as Steve’s were 25 years ago.
BVB: They were spot on. The prosthetics and the practical effects were just great.
KT: And he didn’t have a lot of the stuff, the materials, they have nowadays. Now everything is done with silicone. Back then it was all done with foam. So when he wanted to do the lipstick through the breast, it was white foam and you had to paint it and he knew for the scrutiny that I wanted to put that shot through it wouldn’t work, it would look fake. So he created them out of gelatin. He told me, they’ll look really good, they’ll have the opacity of human skin and the luminosity but it’s only good for like 24 or 48 hours tops and then it turns into jello so I have to create it and then we have to shoot it right away. So that’s what we did. We got it in two takes and we were done.
BVB: You got that in two takes?
KT: Budget and schedule that tight, you really don’t get more than that anyway.
BVB: I love the shopping scene at the beginning where they’re in the market and Linnea’s playing the video game. The whole scene is priceless because the bag just keeps getting bigger and bigger…
KT: Oh right (laughing) Also, almost everyone in the store is a crew member because you need people for the store. When you first pan over to her, she runs down the first aisle, that’s me and my assistant at the end of the aisle and to the left is Joe, the writer-producer.
BVB: (Laughing) I did not know that.
KT: Most people don’t.
BVB: And her opening line about sour balls…is just priceless, and her delivery…
KT: (Chuckles) She delivers it pretty well. That was one of the things that appealed to me about the script was that the dialogue was full of these silly, comic moments, which appealed to me.
BVB: I have to ask, the dance scene, it’s such an iconic scene…
BVB: How many takes was that?
KT: Oh God, I don’t even know (laughing). That’s one – we got a special camera for the day that they only usually used in rock videos, which was a camera on a jib arm on a dolly that you could get out of the room and remote control it and it had a video assist so the DP could see where the camera was pointing. And we did that so she could basically just dance around the room and I had a camera that could follow her and then we just had her do the dance a couple of times and I had the camera move to follow her, but maybe if I followed her left to right then go right to left this time. So I had choices and we just created it in the editing room.
BVB: Was the dance all her?
KT: Oh yeah, 100 percent her. Yeah, I have two left feet, both made of brick.
BVB: So how hard was it to get the rights to Bauhaus? Was that difficult?
KT: No, they weren’t really very big back then (laughing). I have so many fans who say they were introduced to Bauhaus through that film. But when I was producing the remake, we had a lot of big name punk rock bands in the remake and Adam Gierasch, who directed the remake, and is a punk rock fan himself, said, ‘When I watched the film you had Siouxsie and the Banshees and Anthrax and all these logos on people’s sweatshirts but you didn’t have any of their music. How come?’ And I said, well we had a much smaller budget on the original (laughing). So Bauhaus was the only one we could afford. The rest of the songs are written by my brother Dennis who did the score for “Witchboard.”
BVB: I was going to bring up the score. I thought the score was excellent.
KT: Yeah, I think he did a great job. Basically he had done the score for “Witchboard” and he had gone very old-fashioned, spooky, haunted house kind of music and when we did this one, I said I want to go completely opposite direction. I don’t remember saying this to him but he says I basically told him I wanted a carousel ride in Hell. I wanted it to sound like a carousel ride in Hell. So that’s what he came up with.
BVB: The other thing that cracked me up about revisiting “Night of the Demons” was I had forgotten how much I loved Alvin Alexis and his portrayal of Rodger.
KT: Oh right, right.
BVB: I love that he acts like most people would put in that situation. He just runs.
KT: I told Alvin – he’s Sheriff Brody on the boat. We need a bigger boat. He’s the one saying, we need to get out of here (laughing). I said you’re the one who speaks for the audience.
BVB: And I like how there was no – you know how it became a cliché for a long time, in horror films especially, that it was always the African-American character who would die first, and he’s just indestructible, he’s zigging, he’s zagging and he’s crying, which just…
KT: (Laughing) Never underestimate that will to survive. But that’s true, and that’s to Joe’s credit, the character was written with ‘black’ in the script, and we had him live instead. Again, I wasn’t a big horror fan so I wasn’t aware that that was not common but when you think about it, you’re hard-pressed to name too many films with a black guy to last that long, but if he does he almost never lives all the way to the end of the movie.
BVB: Or, as in “Night of the Living Dead,” he’s the last one to die.
KT: The last one killed, but he is killed.
BVB: Were you pleased with the remake?
KT: Yes, I was. I was one of the producers…
BVB: Right, I know
KT: I actually was, very much so. I know I’m biased but I can pretty much look at stuff I’ve been involved with and say, yeah, I did a good job or ugh I dropped the ball there, but I really feel like it’s one of the best remakes in the last decade. When you look at the other remakes that are out there, I think “Night of the Demons” was way up there on the remake list.
BVB: I would agree with you. I thought it was – you know, I had seen some of Adam’s other work and I felt like this was really the film where it all came together for him.
KT: I think so too, and you know, that’s funny, “Night of the Demons,” the original, was my second feature. “Night of the Demons,” the remake, was Adam’s second feature. So it’s something about that sophomore curse (laughing). Then he does a couple of other films. And he’s probably more proud of some of his other stuff, but I think “Night of the Demons” is his best work.
BVB: You just said something that jumped out at me, you said you weren’t a big horror fan?
KT: No, no, I had seen the studio, films like “The Exorcist,” “Jaws,” The Omen,” but I was not a big fan, I didn’t go see the “Friday the 13th” or the “Halloween” films.
BVB: Yet you’re most known for making horror movies.
KT: Yeah, but you know when I was a film student at USC, my undergraduate film was a drama about a Vietnam vet that actually won an Emmy, so for the next two years on campus I was, Oooooh, the Emmy-winning dramatic director. And then my graduate film was a dark comedy about an atheist lawyer who’s representing a guy who claims to be the second coming of Christ and that got me a three-picture deal with Ivan Reitman while I was still in school…
BVB: Oh wow…
KT: So on campus I was the, oh that’s Kevin, the comedy director guy. Then I was taking meetings after that, all the things being offered to me were comedies. And then I made “Witchboard,” which I had written in a screenwriting class, first feature script I ever wrote, and it got financed and I went off and directed it and it became a hit, so then I was the horror director. And I might have been OK, but then I did “Night of the Demons” and that was a big hit too, and that was it. I was the horror director.
BVB: (Laughing) Do you watch much horror these days?
KT: I do now, yeah, just because I’ve become a fan of the genre and I’ve always felt you should keep abreast of what’s out there. In a way I was probably lucky I didn’t know because a lot of reviews of “Witchboard,” they opened with ‘Who expected this character-driven, well-thought-out murder mystery in the middle of the slasher craze.’ Because I was not aware there was a slasher craze because I didn’t go to them. I didn’t really realize I was doing something that deviant from the norm (laughing).
BVB: In watching both of these films in the last week, and watching as many films as I do, predominantly horror, there aren’t films like “Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons” that come out today, and if they do, they’re not studio films, they’re the smaller independent productions like these were.
KT: Right, right.
BVB: But it’s weird to me how these films, they don’t feel dated. I mean, obviously, there’s some things…
KT: That’s the nice thing about “Night of the Demons” because it’s Halloween and they’re all wearing costumes. Not as dated as like “Witchboard” where you can actually see their clothes and their hairstyles and go, ‘Oh yeah, very ‘80s.’
BVB: Or the answering machine in one scene, where it’s like a giant box.
KT: (Laughing) Exactly.
BVB: But these films have really stood the test of time and they still, I think a lot of what’s coming out today in horror still pales in comparison, which is a testament to you.
KT: I agree, they’ve kind of lost their edginess, haven’t they? They get more graphic and more brutal but they don’t have that creative edge to them. It’s like they think if we throw more blood at it and we make it meaner that that’s horror. And it’s not really. That’s why I think when something like a “Saw” comes along, everyone is so excited because aside from the fact that it was bloody and gory, it was just really fricking smart. It’s like, where are those films? They’re not getting made often enough.
BVB: What are you working on now?
KT: I’m trying to put together the last bits of financing for a sequel to our “Night of the Demons” remake.
KT: We have the script. It’s really funny. So I’m really excited because I think it will be a really good entry in the series. And I’ve also got a very small one that I wrote myself that can take place in one location and it’s so small my wife and I are thinking about just producing it ourselves, not even involving anybody until it’s done. And I’m writing a couple of books, or I should say trying to write a couple of books. One is a supernatural thriller along the lines of a “Witchboard,” not in story wise but in mood. If it was a movie, that would be the kind of tone it has. The other one is about a third-grader who is living on the island of Bermuda during the 10 days of the Cuban missile crisis.
BVB: That’s a perspective we haven’t seen. That’s interesting.
KT: Hopefully (laughing). Hopefully everyone will think that just the same.
BVB: Now with the sequel to the “Night of the Demons” remake, what level of involvement would you have? Did you write that? Would you be directing?
KT: No, no. I’m the producer. A young, up and coming writer named Sean Trotter wrote it. Right now, attached to direct, we have Anthony Hickox.
BVB: Oh my gosh!
KT: Yeah (laughing)
BVB: Oh my gosh! Oh, fans would go crazy because “Waxwork” is such a…
KT: Right, right! And we have Harry Manfredini agreed to do the score. He did, you know, the original “Friday the 13th” score. And then Gabe Bartalos who did all the “Leprechaun” films has agreed to do the special effects makeup.
BVB: See, I’m going to put that in this, and now everybody’s going to be like, you have to have that happen (laughing) because that sounds phenomenal.
KT: We’re trying.
BVB: Oh my gosh, that sounds so great. I would be very excited to see that film.
KT: Oh cool, cut me a check for $300,000 and you can!