Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Thursday Thirteen: My Movies for Halloween


During my film school days, I spent a lot of time holed up in my dorm room, watching movies. This, I suppose, wasn't the best use of my student loan money. Although, to be fair, a lot of that student loan money did go to renting movies from the video store across the street. The people who ran that video store (whose name I've long forgotten) knew they were across the street from a university with a film program and stocked their shelves accordingly. This was during the later days of VHS, and before film school, growing up in Cheyenne, WY, restricted my access to a lot of movies I'd later discover while attending MSU, so I suppose TECHNICALLY any student loan money I blew at that video store DID go toward my film education! Anyway . . .

I spent a lot of time watching movies in my dorm room, and I'd always invite my friends over for mini-movie-marathons. One Halloween, a friend and I spent the entire day watching nothing but horror flicks, only taking breaks for meals and bathroom runs. I remember we started the run in the morning with a few episodes of "The Muppet Show" (one featuring Vincent Price and one featuring Alice Cooper), and we wrapped with I Was A Teenage Werewolf.

Some of the other movies we watched that day/night are still movies I'd watch during the Halloween season, whether I'm doing an in-for-the-long-haul movie marathon or just looking for a movie to pop in after work, before work, to watch on my iPod on the way into work, when I should be sleeping, eating, etc., etc., etc. Granted, I watch a lot of horror movies during the lesser months of the year, too, but this Thursday Thirteen are the 13 horror films that immediately put me in a Halloween mood (not because they're specifically set during Halloween or even reference Halloween - they just get my spooky juices going more than most other horror flicks).

In no particular order . . .

1. Prince of Darkness (dir. John Carpenter). The score and the location are enough to put me in the proper Halloween mood. Sure, the performances, the storytelling and the moustaches have grown a little dated over the years, but that's going to happen with any film. Even though the film is set in the 80s and the film refers to 1999 as "the future," Prince of Darkness still delivers me the goods no matter how many times I watch it.

2. Dawn of the Dead (dir. George A. Romero). It's a zombie film. I'm a zombie guy. Go figure. But why Dawn... over Day... (my current favorite of Romero's films)? Every once and a while, a sense of playfulness creeps into Dawn of the Dead (and I'm not just talking about the pie fight), and while I do like a sense of overwhelming dread in a lot of my horror media, Halloween can call for a little bit of fun, too.

3. Neon Maniacs (dir. Joseph Mangine). Two words. Guilty. Pleasure. Look . . . I'm painfully aware of this film's faults, but back in junior high school when I had to sneak around and record horror movies off the USA Network on the TV in the basement where my parents didn't monitor what I watched nearly as much, this became one of the movies I watched over and over AND OVER again. Maybe because I had to sneak around to watch it when I was a kid, I still have a sense of "I-shouldn't-be-watching-it" whenever I put this DVD in now, and a touch of the forbidden is more than welcome during my Halloween.

4. Phantasm (dir. Don Coscarelli). More mood, more atmosphere, a touch of manufactured nostalgia . . . and The Tall Man. I love the entire Phantasm franchise, but the first film is my favorite this time of year. The score fits the season so well, and the slow-motion images of The Tall Man huffing the cool air of Reggie's ice cream truck . . . ? Somehow, it's a perfect fit.

5. Midnight Movie (dir. Jack Messitt). A film that should not be watched is the device that gets this story rolling. Sure, it treads a little bit on Demons territory this way, but instead of going with . . . um . . . demons . . . Midnight Movie becomes a slasher film with a fun mix of characters. As for the slasher himself? His signature weapon is a little goofy, but a lot unique, which helps to make this movie more interesting to watch than just-another-slasher. The film doesn't become too self-aware like a lot of slashers post-Scream, despite the film's strong film-geek presence. (That reminds me . . . I need to pick Midnight Movie up on Blu-ray at some point soon!)

6. Anything with a host. This could be an anthology movie with a built-in horror host or a movie presented by a horror host (ala Midnite Mausoleum, Count Gore De Vol or any of the programming over at The Monster Channel).

7. The Monster Squad (dir. Fred Dekker). I wanted to see this movie SOOOOO bad when it first hit theaters in 1987, but it was not to be. I rented it on VHS numerous times, and eventually bought it on tape for myself. Of course now, I have it on Blu-ray. I love this movie. The kids that make up the "Monster Squad" were the kind of kids I wanted to have as friends growing up, or at least go trick-or-treating with! (I used to spend time in school drawing pictures of monsters - I just never had a Mrs. Carlsen to contend with.) Duncan Regehr's Dracula is one of the most underrated portrayals of the vampire, and the moment in the film in which he's walking through a handful of cops to get to Phoebe never fails to send a chill up my back.

(A few years ago, I decided I needed to have the song "Rock Until You Drop" on my iPod. At the time - and I don't know if this is still the case - there wasn't an official CD release of this song, so I did some Google'ing, found the website of the song's producer, Michael Sembello, and sent him an email. I asked him if he was aware of an official release of the song and told him I'd be happy to buy the CD. His response? He sent me an email with an .mp3 attachment of the song.)

8. Plan 9 From Outer Space (dir. Edward D. Wood, Jr.). Yeah, I know. Plan 9.... It's a rather incompetent film, but its heart more than shines through. Besides, I've visited haunted houses with worse production values. Normally, I don't like to mix my aliens and outer space and sci-fi stuff in with my horror for Halloween, but . . . I mean, come on. It's Plan 9 From Outer Space!

9 and 10. Any of the Universal monster films from 1939 on. Now don't get me wrong - I have a lot of love and respect for Universal's Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. But let's be honest - as great as the 30s Universal horror films are, this was also a learning period for the Universal Monster Machine. With Son of Frankenstein, Universal hit their stride, and while the later House of... do have some rough edges, they're still fun monster romps.

10. Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (dir. Seth Holt). Hammer Films historian and author Marcus Kearns said, "A Mummy film is a proto-slasher film." That makes a mummy film sound appropriate for Halloween, doesn't it? I've been in a "mummy mood" lately (I need to talk with Scott and Casey to see if we can cover one of Hammer's mummy films on 1951 Down Place sometime soon!), and while I'll never turn down a Peter Cushing film like Hammer's first Mummy picture (I'm including Universal's Mummy films in my previous entry), Blood from the Mummy's Tomb really brings a supernatural threat that hangs heavy over the characters and the story in the film. While the mummy action is decidedly a little light in this one, I still enjoy the creepy pseudo-Egyptology scares, and I'd love to go trick-or-treating with Valerie Leon.

11& 12. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (dir. Tom McLoughlin) and Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood (dir. John Carl Buechler). I'm an unabashed "Friday the 13th" fan, and my favorite films in the franchise come later in the series when Jason Voorhees' character is definitively a (non-zombie) supernatural character. When the seventh installment hit, all the cylinders are firing - C. J. Graham and Kane Hodder are playing Jason to perfection; the series is still paying attention to the earlier films by connecting ...New Blood's events to things that happened going possibly as far back as pre-A New Beginning, and Tommy's arc, started in The Final Chapter comes to satisfying end in Jason Lives; and while I've always preferred Jason over Freddy, ...New Blood did tap into some of the fun that movies like Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors brought with its own super-power teen character (who didn't need to dream to manifest her abilities!).

13. Halloween (dir. John Carpenter). I don't think I have to really say anything about this film being an ANY Halloween movies list.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Throwing Down the Words - An Interview with Tony Faville

Tony Faville has worn many hats over the years - military, culinary, etc. - and in 2009, he donned a writer's cap* when he self-published his first novel, Kings of the Dead. He agreed to take some time away from getting ready to attend a horror convention to answer a few questions in this inaugural installment of a new semi-regular writer-interview feature here at Plan D called Throwing Down the Words.

*I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not Tony actually wears a physical "cap." He's probably more of a Real Deal Brazilian tarp hat kind of guy.

Plan D: What led you to first put pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard?

Tony Faville: I first wrote a few stories back when I was wooing my wife in the late 90s, but I never really did anything further with it. It was not until 2009 that she told me about this writing competition that takes place every November, and if I "won," I could get a free proof copy of the piece of work I did. So, I thought it would be cool to have a book on the shelves with my name on it, and set to work.

D: And this led to Kings of the Dead. What can you tell us about Kings…?

T: Kings of the Dead was written in the journal format, and yes, before you even say it, journals have been done to death. I agree. They have been done to death, and they have been done wrong. How many times have you written a journal where you entered all of the dialogue from everyone you interacted with in your journal at the end of the day? Yeah, I didn't think so. No, this one is written in a more pure journal format than any of the other zombie journals out there. With that out of the way, it is a journal written by my protagonist and it keeps a record of the events of his group of survivors that called themselves the Kings of the Dead. Problem is, they forgot about the human factor, and what living day to day life in a land of the dead will do to you, mentally and physically.

D: How would you describe your next book, Avery Nolan: Private Dick of the Dead?

T: Avery Nolan is a homage piece in recognition of the pulp fiction, hard-boiled detective stories of the 1950s and 1960s. Written in the classic noir style, I created a character that is a Lucky Strike-smoking, scotch-drinking, hard-fighting, straight-shooting former Marine from World War Two that went on to become a New York City Police Officer, and then ultimately a Private Investigator/Detective (also referred to as a Private Dick). Avery is hired by a woman to find her father who has gone missing. While on the case, he has a run in with zombies, the KGB and the FBI.

D: Why zombies?

T: Because zombies are cool, man! And because they are the best universal bad guy that can be placed into any situation, and work.

D: What is your zombie background? Favorite books or stories? Favorite movies?

T: I have been a fan of the zombie genre since I was a young kid, like 11 or 12, when I first saw Dawn of the Dead. A few years later, Night of the Comet caught my attention, and it just grew from there. These days, I find myself more drawn to the original Day of the Dead from 1985 for a favorite because it gives us all of the elements that makes for a really great zombie story. As for stories or books, I am a big fan of Jonathan Maberry's work, and World War Z by Max Brooks is a fantastic story as well. With that being said, any respectable zombie collection is not complete without the fantastic The Walking Dead series by Robert Kirkman.

D: How have these favorites influenced your writing?

T: You know, it's mostly with the basic concept of the zombies themselves. There has been such a huge influx of zombie tales in recent years that you can hardly write anything without someone else already having thought about it and done it.

D: You're an independent author. What lessons have you learned producing your book and making it available for purchase?

T: Make sure you have your work edited, and not by someone close to you, but by someone that actually knows what they are doing. That is the number one thing that consumers will crucify you for, having an unedited book. Add in the fact that there are still some short-sighted individuals out there that are not willing to accept the whole self-publishing concept and are clinging desperately to what is a floundering publishing industry as being the ONLY way to release a book. Now, let me clarify why I say floundering. Can you really respect an industry that gives someone like Snooki a publishing contract? Sure, it was smart business, there is no doubt they made a buttload of money off of that deal. But if the publishing industry cared as much about books as some consumers would lead us to believe based on their views on self-publishing, then people like Snooki would NEVER get a publishing contract.

D: Kings of the Dead, started as a self-published book and has since been published by Permuted Press. What led to this, and how would you describe the difference between writing/publishing independently and working with a publisher?

T: Well, after about a year of selling it as a self-published title, a friend of mine contacted Permuted Press and suggested they take a look at the book. A short time later I received an email from Permuted saying they had heard about Kings..., and wanted to know if I would be interested in publishing it through them if they found it to be something they would like. Now, Permuted is actually the ONE publisher I had told my wife I would sign with if they ever came knocking. So of course I said yes, and talked to them about it. They asked if I would be willing to do a rewrite of Kings..., since they usually go for books that are a little bit bigger. I started rewriting it, and after a few weeks of enlarging it by over 30%, I sent it off to my editor. When she was done, she forwarded it over to Permuted, and a few weeks later I received a copy of my first publishing contract in the mail. Since that time, the audio rights have been picked up by audible.com, and they are hard at work turning Kings... into an audio book.

D: What is the strangest reaction you've had to either Kings of the Dead or Avery Nolan: Private Dick of the Dead?

T: Honestly, I think the strangest reaction has been with Avery Nolan..., and that is the fact that people are not taking a chance on the story. Every person that has read it, has loved the concept, loved the character, loved the story, and hoped for more from Avery Nolan. Problem is, sales have been incredibly disappointing and I am at an absolute loss as to why. What I have noticed though, is that there have been more than a few people that had a "problem" with the word "dick" in the title. And that tells me that they have completely missed the entire concept of the book. In a noir, or hard-boiled detective story, Dick means Detective, so calling someone a Private Dick is nothing more than calling them a Private Detective. If that is truly the reason why Avery is not selling, then I will just have to live without the sales because I will not change the title in order to satisfy some weird obsession with the word "dick."

D: What are you currently reading?

T: I have to admit, I have very little time for reading other zombie books, and instead have been spending some time revisiting a series of books from my childhood, Don Pendleton's "The Executioner" series. Yeah, I know they were trash action books, but by God, I loved them.

D: What is your writing process? Do you outline, or fly by the seat of your pants?

T: When I first wrote Kings..., it was purely by the seat of my pants, and I found that to be a harrowing experience. Since then, I attempt to at the very least have my base cast of characters laid out along with key events including the basic ending. Once I have that ground work laid out, then it is time to write. However, I still find myself jotting down things that come to mind during the day that I think would be a nice touch to the story.

D: And what's next for you writing-wise?

T: I have a handful of works in progress that I really need to nail down the time in order to finish them. Life has been hectic lately with a serious hospitalization of my wife a few months ago, and I have not sat down and made any true effort to write anything. With that being said, I do have another Avery Nolan story I am working on with a start that throws one heck of a twist into things, but also blows some doors open for me in the Avery Nolan universe. Now I just need to get the motivation in place to make it happen.

Tony can be found online at Tony Faville, A boy and his blog at http://tonyfaville.com/, and this weekend, he can be found at Seattle's ZomBCon where he'll be joining his fellow Permuted Press authors. Kings of the Dead and Avery Nolan: Private Dick of the Dead can be found online in both print and e-format; they can also be found at/ordered through some traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 2011 Portland H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival Wrap-Up, Part Two


The second day of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival started the same way - a gathering at Magnolia's beforehand (this time for a scheduled reading with author Jenna M. Pitman that I missed out on as I ended up writing a bit myself while waiting outside the Hollywood - hey, when the muse calls, one must answer!), a long line forming in front of the Hollywood and another sold out night.

The Shorts Block began with a repeat showing of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" before a recorded message from Roger Corman as he was presented with this year's Howie Award for his contribution to Lovecraft cinema. He told an abbreviated story of the events that led to his 1963 film The Haunted Palace being promoted as an Edgar Allen Poe film upon its initial release even though it's clearly derived from the original Lovecraft story "The Cast of Charles Dexter Ward." (A lot of this was also covered in the special feature A Change of Poe from the DVD release of The Haunted Palace.) The short films included:

The Window Into Time (dir. Thomas Nicol) - This was one of my personal favorites of the festival. William Kephart plays Dr. Schenker, a scientist working with an old classmate . . . in a lab . . . studying old formulas and old books . . . with conequences involving an encounter with things from another world. This is a period piece, set sometime within the past forty-or-so years (in the days of reel-to-reel personal tape recording), and handles this period setting gracefully. It's not over-the-top in design or performance. It easily could have been a film that's been locked away somewhere for the past forty years and just recently dusted off for the festival.

Haselwurm (dir. Eugenio Vallani) - This was interesting, had some good-looking monster effects, but ultimately I think will suffer with most American audiences. It's steeped deep with a "rural legend" story of Italy by way of Lovecraft, and while I don't have a problem with foreign films, I feel Haselwurm short 16-minute running time didn't give us enough time to bridge the culture gap.

Black Goat (dir. Joseph Nanni) - This short was slick, it looked good, it "felt" good . . . but it was a little empty. The HPLFF program included a synopsis for each of the shorts, and the blurb about Black Goat gave us more story than the film itself did. What ended up on screen felt like the opening of a longer film I'd LOVE to watch, but it ended just as it was getting good! The film's website - http://blackgoat.ca - tells us there's a feature on the way, and if it's as engaging as this taste was, it should be good! (I just wish there was something in this short proper to indicate that it actually was just a teaser!)

The Island (dir. Nathan Fisher) - Less Lovecraftian and more post-apocalyptic, The Island tells the story of a man who's managed to find a bomb shelter while the rest of the world struggles to survive in a world overrun by . . . something. It's never quite explained, and that's okay, because that's not what the story's about. The story is about how this man reacts when a woman comes banging on his door for help . . . and how she reacts when he doesn't turn out to be the hero she was expecting . . . and then how he deals with that!

Static Aeons (dir. Gib Patterson) - There didn't seem to be a lot of animation this year. There were the stop-motion pieces, Call of Nature and this one. With most animation, it's possible to put anything on screen ; there aren't any real-world budgetary restrictions. What's interesting here is that Patterson didn't let this "anything goes" approach creep into Static Aeons. The short is a series of images depicting an empty earth after the worst of Lovecraft's bestiary has had its way with humanity while a single narrator provides an epitaph for all mankind. It's a restrained bit of storytelling that left the audience with a sense of dread.

Shadow of the Unnamable (dir. Sascha Renninger) - I remember seeing a trailer for this years ago. It's a rather straight-forward telling of "The Unnamable" whose strength lies in the performance of Robert Lyons as Carter. As it's fairly accepted that Randolph Carter was Lovecraft's surrogate, Lyons brings a sense of odd to his portrayal that made this short enjoyable.

The Shorts Block ended with a recorded announcement from Guillermo Del Toro who chose Static Aeons and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" as his favorites. After one final stroll by the vendors' tables, it was time for the final feature of the night.

"The Colour out of Space" is my favorite Lovecraft story (for now - ask me again in a month or so from now and I might have shuffled something else into the top spot!). It's creepy, it's evocative, it's distrubing, it's just GOOD . . . which, of course, means Hollywood can't get it right when it comes to trying to adapt the story as a film. (Not that Hollywood's had a stellar record when it comes to bringing Lovecraft to the screen, but that's besides the point!)

(I actually have a soft spot for Die, Monster, Die!, but I will be the first to loudly criticize it for botching the source material! The less said about The Curse, the better . . . )

Die Farbe (dir. Haun Vu) pulled it off. This German production follows American Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) as he searched for his missing father in the forests of Germany. His father served in World War II, and Davis' search has brought him to a small village where his father encountered . . . Lovecraftian.

The execution is smart and subtle. The choice to present the film in black-and-white was an inspired one. I overheard Festival Director Brian Callahan telling the director (who was at the festival for a question-and-answer session after the film) that Die Farbe wasn't just "good for an independent film," but that it was "good for any kind of film." I have to agree, and I immediately bought the movie from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society's table after the film.

The festival ended with another after-party at Tony Starlight's (and more of that "Midnight Special: The Legendary Performances" DVD in the background). Old friends ate and drank, and congratulated Brian and Gwen on a job well-done running the festival.

Sure, it's different. There's a different vibe, and I missed having more features, any panels and more vendors (I start saving around mid-summer because I know I'm always going to find something at the festival that needs to come home with me!), but it's still the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, and it was still a lot of fun. The Callahans have a passion for the festival, and it's in good hands.

I'm looking forward to the next go-'round. The Daily Lurker - the festival's newspaper-like program - announced that the next HPLFF will take place in May ("when the stars will be right . . . again!").

I know I'll be there.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The 2011 Portland H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival Wrap-Up, Part One


The 2011 Portland H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival has come and gone. As I mentioned in a previous post, it was a smaller event; it only ran two nights and it only ran on one screen at the Hollywood Theatre. Because of this, there were only two feature films shown, and they were SOLID and more than carried the load for a festival typically carrying multiple films. But more on those in a bit.

While some congregated at Magnolia's Corner across the street, the line started forming in front of the Hollywood Theatre as early as 5:00pm on Friday. It quickly became obvious that this was going to be a crowded event. When the doors opened at 6:00pm, the lobby of the Hollywood was flooded with Lurkers eager to visit the vendors' tables, hit the concessions bar, and make their way to a seat in front of the main screen.

A fez-topped Andrew Migliore took the stage to welcome us, and then quickly turned the show over the new keepers of the eldritch flame that is the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival - Brian and Gwen Callahan. After a quick welcome, introduction and Mi-Go-Brain-Canister-in-the-Ladies-Bathroom joke, the movies rolled.

Rick Tillman's Call of Nature started the Shorts Block. It was short, sweet, to the point, and got some laughs with its animated Cthulhu. Other shorts I saw that night included:

Flush With Fear (dir. Christopher G. Moore) - This was a fun short following a woman escaping her breaking down relationship with a good cry in the bathroom. In the bathroom, she unfortunately makes the mistake of reading some of the graffiti-that-should-not-be-read on the stall walls. Fortunately for us, Moore and company gave us some great visuals and scare moments as a result of that damned graffiti.

Doppleganger and Idle Worship (dir. Theo Stefanski) - These two shorts were nothing but beautiful. These were stop-motion animation pieces featuring a skeleton in some sort of desert wasteland setting either looking for others like him/her/itself (Doppleganger) or searching for something to worship (Idle Worship).

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven"
(dir. Christopher Saphire) - I should be completely honest. I can watch hours upon hours of Lovecraft-based or -inspired movies, but I really don't enjoy the Poe-movies as much. I get the reason why Poe always has representation at the HPLFF as Poe's influence on Lovecraft is evident, but . . . I, personally, am kind of over it. It's a personal thing. That said, this short, featuring Saphire as a troubled writer, remembering his lost Lenore while a raven taunts and haunts him, was striking. The imagery slowly cycles into a fast-paced nightmare with some stunning cinematography.

Dirty Silverware (dir. Steve Daniels) - I've got a few pieces of mismatched silverware - an odd faux-wood-handled soup spoon, a fork with a plastic stem, etc. - and Dirty Silverware tells us where these pieces of unfortunate utensils come from. Not only are they "dirty," they're also capable of great evil, and this short tells the story of one man who loses more than most would dare to sacrifice to stop this table setting madness.

I had to step out of the theater for the final shorts of the night, but I've heard that Ethereal Chrysalis was amazing.

After the Block and a few minutes to stretch our legs, it was time to settle in for the movie I was most looking forward to seeing at this year's festival - The Whisperer in Darkness (dir. Sean Branney).

I've been a fan of the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society for years. I've snatched up their Dark Adventure Radio CDs, their Prop Collection .pdf CD-ROMs, and have always looked forward to their vendor table at the Festival. Seeing their The Call of Cthulhu on the Hollywood Theatre a few years ago was a fantastic experience, and I know we've all been counting down the days until we could see The Whisperer... at the HPLFF.

It didn't disappoint. Branney's skill as a director are on full display; Troy Sterling Nies' score is his best work yet; Matt Foyer's physical performance reminded me of the best of Dwight Frye while his unique vocal delivery pulled me into the film's story effortlessly. This was an ambitious production, and everyone delivered.

The HPLHS' mission is to create time-period-appropriate-but-modern-audience-acceptable props and materials based on the work of Lovecraft. The Whisperer... is an ideal example of what they do. The movie is presented as a film that could have been produced and released in 1931, the same year the original story "The Whisperer in Darkness" was published, but I'd argue that it would probably be more at home in the mid-30s as films like Frankenstein and especially Dracula were a bit "stage-y." Nies' score is a bit more "full" than the scores from this time period's films, but none of this distracts or detracts from The Whisperer.... In fact, this is one of the strengths of the HPLHS, Sean Branney and co-writer Andrew Leman - they know when to bring just a touch of modern sensibility into their work to make the work accessible to modern audiences. (That's not to cast a negative light on the film at all!)

I really enjoyed The Whisperer in Darkness, and can't wait for it to hit DVD and Blu-ray (and for the score to hit CD!). Yeah, there are a few long stretches and, yeah, there are some changes and expansions made to the original story, but as a film . . . I see it easily becoming one of my favorite Lovecraft adaptations.

The night ended with a Q&A with director Branney and special make-up effects artist Dave Snyder before drinks at the after party at Tony Starlight's Supper Club (where an odd choice to play a "Midnight Special: The Legendary Performances" DVD was made!).

I'll follow-up with a Part Two/Day Two wrap-up later this week.