Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Countdown to the HP Lovecraft Film Festival (2011) #2

When I think about the Lovecraft Film Festival, the thoughts that come to mind aren't necessarily of films. I think about the friends I've made at the festival over the years, the camaraderie, the shared community of Lovecraft lovers. It's sometimes easy to overlook the films, so I thought I'd look back at some of the features I've seen at the festival over the years.

The Attic Expedition (dir. Jeremy Kasten) - Jeffrey Combs just belongs on the big screen at the Lovecraft Film Festival, and while this movie certainly has some low budget issues, watching it on the big screen with a crowd probably made seeing the movie a better film-watching experience than it had the right to be. The direction and acting - save Combs - is a little rough, and the screenplay does suffer a bit in spots, but there's something about this production and the production design that still grabs me. I don't think this is something I would have tracked down to watch on my own if not for the festival, and now I've got it on DVD at home because of the festival.

The Fog (dir. John Carpenter) - I hope it's obvious to most that I had already seen this movie by the time I saw it at the festival, but I had never seen it on the big screen. To see this Carpenter classic at the Hollywood Theatre was an amazing experience, especially since back then, the theater ran pretty cold (it's an old building, and has been in a perpetual state of remodel/refurbishing for at least as long as I've been a Lurker, and the heating/cooling had been out of whack for years) which gave the movie experience an uncomfortable edge that played right into the visuals of the film itself.

Beyond the Dunwich Horror (dir. Richard Griffin) - Honestly, I almost didn't catch this at the festival. I wanted to see it, but sometimes scheduling all the movies I want to see into my own schedule was tough, but I ran into Chris from The Shadow Over Portland and he encouraged me to check it out. I juggled my schedule around, and found myself sitting in on the last screening of Beyond the Dunwich Horror, and I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed the film. Jeff Dylan Graham is almost always fun to watch in lower-budget horror movies, and he didn't disappoint. The movie itself has a fun 70s drive-in vibe (Griffin's proving himself to be the guerilla master of genre throwback movies with movies like The Disco Exorcist, Atomic Brain Invasion and Nun of That), which lends itself well to a movie that does play a little fast and loose with the Lovecraft material. (And I love the music in the film!)

Curse of the Crimson Altar (dir. Vernon Sewell) - I've always been a Lugosi fan. I like Karloff - don't get me wrong - but I've always been a bigger fan of the Hungarian over the British actor. Because of this, I've not been as well-versed in some of Karloff's non-Universal genre work as I should have been, and I knew nothing about this film before walking into one of the screening rooms on the second floor of the Hollywood. Karloff? He was in another Lovecraft adaptation apart from Die, Monster, Die!? And Christopher Lee is in it? Sign me up! Karloff's looking a little rough around the edges health-wise, but he still delivers a magnetic performance from his wheelchair. Lee's solid. Barbara Steele is solid. This was one of the sleepers for me the year it was played at the festival.

Dagon (dir. Stuart Gordon) - Re-Animator's a great film, but let's be honest - it's not very "Lovecraftian." It has the trappings, and, yes, the original story "Herbert West - Reanimator" was written as a parody of the Frankenstein novel, but Re-Animator film is so over the top, it's hard to think of it in the same light of Gordon's Dagon. (No disrespect to Re-Animator; it's easily one of the Top 100 Zombie Movies... !) Dagon's got a great score, teams actor Ezra Godden (who's doing his best Combs-meets-Bruce-Campbell impression) with director Gordon a few years before his excellent turn as Walter Gilman in the "Masters of Horror" episode "Dreams in the Witch-House, and gives us a touching and heart-breaking performance by Francisco Rabal as Ezequiel.

The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (dir. Henry Saine) - Gregg Lawrence as Captain Olaf. That could be enough to sum up why I remember this movie. Lawrence is GOLDEN in this film. Fortunately, that's not all this movie has to offer. We've got the last descendant of Lovecraft and his buddy, both frustrated wanna-be comic book creators - out trying to save the world. Okay, Lawrence isn't the only this golden in this movie; the entire movie is!

Cthulhu (dir. Dan Gildark) - Yes, the one with Tori Spelling. I didn't know what to think about this one going into it. Lovecraftian scholar S. T. Joshi supported it, and it was generating a lot of attention in the Pacific Northwest, but I still had reservations, mostly because of Spelling. It turns out, I had no reason to be hesitant about the movie; it's a solid film, and successfully and seamlessly blends a modern day story with a Lovecraftian theme. This also introduced me to the film music of Willy Greer (his music also turned up in an adaptation of "Pickman's Model"), whose haunting music disappears behind the cool, bleak imagery on screen.

Alien Raiders (dir. Ben Rock) - Scott Glancy introduced this movie when it played at the festival, and summed it up as the last session of a Delta Green role-playing game gone HORRIBLY wrong. While this movie might have been telling the story of a group's last hurrah as they track down and try to stop an alien threat, the chemistry of the characters and performers made us feel like they'd been doing their job for a long time, and Carlos Bernard and company wore this "we've-got-to-save-the-world-because-that's-what-we've-always-done-no-matter-what" on their sleeves, their faces and their entire bodies, which sold the threat to the audience, and made me wish I could spend more time in this world . . . even if, in this world, things don't go as well as they could for most folks.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (dir. Edward Martin III) - If memory serves, this played at the festival the one year there was a fourth night added, and while I was at the IMDB confirming that Toren Atkinson was the performer providing the voice of the lead character, I stumbled across a review I apparently wrote about the movie at that site back in 2006: "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is an ambitious movie, striving to adapt one of H. P. Lovecraft's most fantastical fictions and succeeding in nearly every aspect. Using a unique style of animation, director Edward Martin III has created a movie that should be examined by more than the typical "Lovecraft-Crowd" - the movie is that good. The voice actors did an excellent job wrapping their mouths around the more complex "Lovecraft-isms" (Nyarlathotep anyone?) while still conveying the sense of wonder that a story like ...Kadath evokes. The soundtrack was inspired as well. If you have an opportunity to see this movie, SEE IT." Well, I'm not going to argue with myself . . .

There are other movies that come to mind when I think about the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival (including a number of non-feature-length films like The Yellow Sign, AM1200 and The Call of Cthulhu), and I'm sure that as I lay down tonight to go to sleep, a few more titles will come to mind.

What I'm most looking forward to, though, is this year's film offerings (feature and otherwise)!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Countdown to the HP Lovecraft Film Festival (2011) #1

This came up on my Facebook page when I posted that my brain exchanged the word "French" for "Eldritch" when I saw a tin of General Foods International French Vanilla Cafe sitting behind my manager's desk at work. I posted that I must have Lovecraft on the brain, which makes sense because for me, this is the time of year that I start thinking about all things H. P. Lovecraft.

I've programmed myself. When Brenda and I first started considering moving to the Portland area, I went online and did a bit of research. I found the area comic book shops, the public transportation system . . . and I confirmed that The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival was happening. I knew about the festival before the move. I knew there was a loose community of amateur moviemakers who adapted Lovecraft's work when I found a Miskatonic University website (I can't find that site anymore) selling merchandise, which included the VHS releases of Lurker in the Lobby: The Best of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, Vol. I and Return to Innsmouth.

I bought and watched and rewatched those VHS tapes repeatedly. Even though I was already reading Lovecraft, those tapes blew the doors open for me. There were people . . . people like ME (at the time, I was making no-budget movies of my own) . . . who not only loved Lovecraft but put his work on screen.

I had to get to the Lovecraft Film Festival. Unfortunately, our first year in Portland I wasn't able to attend (I don't remember why, but I regret it), but the next year (2002) I was there. We didn't have a car at the time, so I was taking that public transportation to the festival, and I didn't get to stay the entire time or watch The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets perform, but I still had a lot of fun. I saw some wonderful films, some outstanding shorts, and started meeting other like-minded Lovecraft fans. I met the director of Return to Innsmouth (Aaron Vanek), and a number of other filmmakers that over the years that I've come to call friends.

At least year's festival, Festival Director Andrew Migliore announced that he'd be stepping down. There was rumbling that the festival would still continue in Portland (a satellite festival popped up in California thanks to Mr. Vanek), but for a good part of this year, there was little to no talk about a 2012 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival happening in Portland. When an announcement was made . . . I know it sounds silly, but I felt a rush of relief. For years, I've joked that "October doesn't begin for me until the HPL Film Festival," but there's a lot of truth to that. It's become a tradition for me. I get to see old friends and watch some fantastic movies in a comfortable setting (The Hollywood Theatre), although I think some of the comfort comes from the familiarity of the building and the event rather than the actual accommodations (although it has gotten better over the years!).

It is a smaller event this year (it's only two nights, and there won't be as many films shown) as the current keepers of the local Festival flame wanted to keep the festival more intimate while still giving us Lurkers a fix of Lovecraft.

I'm counting down the days.

I wish I could get Return to Innsmouth and Lurker in the Lobby: The Best of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, Vol. I on DVD. I MIGHT have the VHS tapes stashed away in a box somewhere, but I'd love to put them in my DVD folders along with my 5-disc set of The H. P. Lovecraft Collection.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Thursday Thirteen: My Dream Zombie Movie

The Thursday Thirteen is a recurring feature here at Plan D in which I post a list of 13 items/movies/books/etc. of any given category. This time around, I wanted to tie into the final-for-now episode of my podcast Mail Order Zombie. We're about to go on hiatus so that Bren and I can focus on a few other projects (writing) and priorities (health) throughout the rest of the year. As we wrap up the podcast for 2011, I wanted to address something one of our listeners brought up in a recent episode, so for this Thursday Thirteen, I present:

13 Elements That Would Make Up My Dream Zombie Movie (in no particular order) (with two additional cheats)

1 - Absolutely no CGI. This isn't a kneejerk "I-hate-CGI-effects" reaction to any particular movie or style of movie-making, but in my dream zombie movie, there's just no CGI. All the bullet hits (both firing and receiving) are real. All the blood, all the zombie make-up, all the zombie damage . . . it's all real. I realize that this means my dream zombie movie is going to have a HUGE budget as it's cheaper to go with virtual bullets and imaginary squibs than the actual pyrotechnics these days, but, hey, it's MY dream, okay?

2 - Slow zombies, or, at least, slowER zombies. I don't mind if the zombies start fast; in fact, it's probably more realistic if they do, but as they break down, they have to slow down. All jokes aside, slow zombies en masse CAN still be scary, and my dream zombie movie will show that.

3 - No undercranking or overcranking the camera. Sure, this can sometimes lead to some interesting effects and visuals, but in my dream zombie movie, I don't want to see anything sped up or slowed down. I want to see everything real time. Even though we live in a post-MTV-used-to-show-music-videos age and we're used to slow-mo or hyperspeed imagery, unless it's done spot-on-perfect (as in Zombie Hunters: City of the Dead), this can still take a viewer out of the story and make him or her aware that they're watching a movie.

4 - No music-video-like montage sequences. I feel this is overdone and unnecessary in most cases. It's a waste of screen time and, most of the time, only serves to create a cool few minutes of film instead of contributing to the whole.

5 - If the movie covers more than a few days of the zompocalypse, a brief reference made to hygiene and personal care. I saw this best addressed in the non-zombie 1962 film Panic in Year Zero!. At one point, family patriach Harry (played by Ray Milland) sits his family down and explains how they're going to do their best to maintain their routine in an attempt to hold onto a bit of normalcy. He dictates that he and his son Rick (Frankie Avalon) are going to continue to shave on a regular basis. While this may have been an attempt to explain why the films' leads weren't going to grow any facial hair during production, it also worked in terms of story. I don't need more than a few minutes mentioning where the restroom facilities are or where the showers are located, but a brief mention would make the movie feel more thought out than most. Additionally, it would be nice to see the characters change clothes every once and a while. So many times, especially in some of the lower-budget zombie movies, the zombie apocalypse hits, and even though the survivors find a place to hold out for several days with a basic complement of supplies, no one ever changes their shirt. I want to see that time passes and that the t-shirt the lead character wore at the start of the movie isn't the same one he wears at the end of the movie (unless, when briefly touching on the restroom facilities, mention is made of how laundry is being done as well).

6 - A little comedy, but not at the expense of the zombies or the audience. No forced humor. No bathroom humor. No making fun of the zombies or dressing them up or whatever. I like to laugh as much as the next guy, but don't spread the comedy on so thick that the movie becomes ABOUT the comedy or the laughs.

7 - They really are dead. There's no "rage virus." They're not really sick and really pissed off. The people who become the zombies actually flatline before coming back. These zombies really are the walking undead.

8 - Along those lines, no extended scenes in medical labs, no science experiments, no accidental chemical spills at a military weapons facility that caused the zombie outbreak. It's old-hat, and we don't need to have the opening scene in which somebody drops a beaker, someone mixes the wrong Chemical A with the wrong Chemical B, or someone breaks into a lab and accidentally releases a zombifying agent.

9 - Voodoo or some other magic. While the zombie movie is typically one of the most reflective of all horror films, better offering a way for filmmakers and film viewers a chance to address their own real world films in the context of a zombie flick (which is why so many of the modern zombie movies do focus on a disease or a virus as opposed to the black magic of the pre-Romero films or even the mention of radiation and a space probe in the original Night of the Living Dead), I prefer a little mysticism in my horror movies. I want a little supernatural thrown into my horror, and angry cells and twisted DNA doesn't communicate the same kind of supernatural threat that I like in my scary stories. It doesn't have to be the same voodoo we see in the classics like White Zombie or I Walked With a Zombie, but a bit of page flipping through the something like the ol' Necronimicon wouldn't hurt. (And, no, The Evil Dead is still not a zombie movie.)

10 - Headshots work. This is tried and true, and there's no reason not to embrace Romero's Law as easily as we embrace wooden-stakes-killing-a-vampire and silver-bullets-work-on-a-werewolf.

11 - Actors and actresses that have no problem continuing to be associated with the horror genre after the film has wrapped. I see this more with the bigger budget horror movies, and it feels a little false or off-putting to me. While I do appreciate that sometimes, some heavy hitters will agree to appear in a horror film (Brad Pitt in the upcoming World War Z, for example, which is just Mr. Pitt returning the genre that gave him his first film role), which MAY give that movie or even the genre a little credibility for a little while, it would be nice to know that the people involved in my dream zombie movie truly do love the genre, embrace it, and will continue to support it in the future.

12 - An actual film score and very little music not originally written for the film. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead showed us that library music can work extremely well, but for my dream zombie movie, I want an original score, and one that is made available for purchase on CD or as .mp3 downloads.

13 - Not a remake. 'Nuff said.

(14 - Bells and whistles on the home release. Give me special features, a worthwhile director's commentary, behind-the-scenes, etc.

15 - Make it Western. Yeah. Zombies in the Old West. I WANT.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Short story behind me . . . what's next?

I finished the short-story-in-progress, ran it through the editing gauntlet, gave it a title, gave it one more pass, and submitted it. Not only did I make the deadline for the anthology, but I'm also on track with my next writing project, which I wanted to give my full attention in September.

Novella #1 - here I come.