Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Santa Claws (1996)

One would expect a Christmas slasher film written and directed by John Russo, starring Debbie Rochon, several cast members from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and three aspiring scream queens willing to get naked on camera would be a major cult classic.  But Santa Claws feels as old and tired as the Christmas Muzak pumped into the malls this time of year.  It’s unfair to call this film a lump of coal, but it’s like the bundle of socks you receive for Christmas, rather than the present you really wanted.

The film focuses on the troubles of scream queen Raven Quinn (Rochon).  It’s Christmas and she has to figure out how to tell her daughters that their father Eric (John Mowod) plans to file for divorce.  The kid’s grandmother (Marilyn Eastman) and daughter aren’t thrilled about her daughter-in-law’s profession, which involved getting naked for the camera, despite the fact that Eric got Raven into that line of work  and is the one photographing the models.

It’s fortunate for her that next door neighbor Wayne (Grant Cramer) is willing to babysit the girls, allowing Raven to film her segment of Scream Queen Christmas.  But Wayne is quite psychotic, having killed his mother and her boyfriend when he was very young, and now has an unhealthy fixation on the Scream Queen next door.  And he’s willing to do anything to help her career and win over her affections.

Not that one would blame the young Wayne once you see the reason
for his shooting spree.

Yep, that’s the plot.  But that shouldn’t surprise most slasher fans, as the genre contains films with less of a storyline, and still manage to be a lot of fun.  But Santa Claws goes wrong too many times to be counted as even dumb fun.

It’s not the fault of the actors.  Rochon is good and Cramer is very intense (though, to be honest, his performance suffers thanks to some questionable editing and too much exposition).  And, in a brief appearance, Karl Hardman (Harry Cooper in NOTLD) is awesome, as he performs his own stunts during his battle against Wayne and does a great job.

And the film’s shortcomings are not the fault of the technical glitches, cheap set designs and other thing that are inherent to low budget filmmaking.  Yes, the snow disappears within the space of a day, Eric’s photo shot is in a hotel room with a few skulls to give it a “spooky” atmosphere and the sound has issues in a few spots.  But such problems are to be expected with low-budget filmmaking, and the right touches behind the camera can make the difference between a fun little romp and a waste of time.  Toss in a few moments of T and A, then fill the screen with blood, repeat until the final credits roll, and you’ve got a cult favorite. 

It all seems pretty simple, but Santa Claws gets the formula backwards.  Russo spends more time on the naked photo shots of the actresses than the onscreen mayhem.  Even worse, the script limits Wayne in his weapon of choice.  Coupled with a limited effects budget, and the end result is a film with too much nudity and not enough blood and gore. 

Yea, this is about as good as the gore effects get.

All this is understandable, as Russo created Wayne as more a Norman Bates than Jason Vorheesse.  But the script fails to generate any suspense, as the script shows Wayne is psychotic early on.  And how he infiltrated Raven’s life without triggering her stalker alarm is a mystery, especially after she describes for her daughters some of the crazy fans she’s met at conventions. 

Had Russo written Wayne’s character more like Bates, leaving a bit of mystery concerning both the identity of the killer and Wayne’s past, the story would have been more engaging.  Instead, as the audience knows who the killer is, all one can do is wade through endless scenes of gratuitous nudity and wait for him to strike again.

And before the hate e-mail comes in, let me make one thing clear.  I have no problem with nudity in horror films, which is evident in my review of Piranha 3D.  But where that film hit the right balance of titillation and gory thrills, Russo tips the scale too far, padding the film’s running time with endless shots of various actresses undressing.  Sure, the scenes are often intercut with moments that move the film forward, but Russo keeps coming back to a scene of an aspiring scream queen posing naked on the screen to a point where the audience has to suspect he is selling flesh, not the film.

Perhaps the padding was needed to get the film up to a feature running time.  But the script has moments that are potential satirical gold and would have made for a more interesting feature.  The life of a Scream Queen is pretty much laid out early on, as Raven is chastised by her mother-in-law for being the one in front of the camera.  It’s a brilliant moment, but Russo’s script doesn’t build upon it or other moments.  Instead of taking the opportunity to bite at the hand that feeds him, Russo offers up more flesh to the more prurient interest of some horror fans.

Yea, half way through this film, you'll be screaming, "Please, not ANOTHER 
 cheap T and A shot."  

Such padding isn’t much of a surprise, as, in the same year, Russo released Scream Queens Naked Christmas, a 60-minute video promo for Santa Claws that likely features most of the nudity in the film.  Oh, Roger Corman would be so proud.  And, given his involvement with the magazine Scream Queens Illustrated, it’s easy to see how Russo is trying to appeal to genre fans. 

Another problem with the film is the deaths have no real impact.  Sure, in a slasher film, characterization isn’t a major concern, but most scripts offer the audience stereotypical characters that we either love or hate, providing an emotional reaction to their deaths.  But Russo’s script delivers such bland characters, the audience can be forgiven for not caring about their deaths.  It’s fine to have a few such characters to act as fodder for the mincing maniac, but not every one except our final girl.

I’d like to think Russo was trying to deliver a sly jab at the scream queen personae.  After all, the film includes moments outside the photo shoots where the women act like they are still posing for the camera.  One could suggest this is a bit of satire, but the film contains no context to support this claim.  And, considering Russo’s involvements beyond this movie, one has to suspect Santa Claws was little more than an advertisement for Scream Queens Illustrated, one fans would pay to receive.

Now Roger Corman is just envious.

And I've ran out of online still to show you, because of, well, 

Regardless of the filmmaker’s intent, and the performances from the actors, Santa Claws is rather forgetful Slasher Claus fare.  It’s okay, if that’s all you have to fulfill your holiday slasher craving, or you don’t have access to online porn at the moment.  But it’s easy to find better films to satisfy your Christmas craving for fear.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gremlins (1984)

It’s easy to dismiss Gremlins as a kid’s movie, given the film’s adorable main creature and it’s marketing potential.  But the film has a much darker subtext, delivering a sharp jab at standard holiday fare, and the puppet work is still amazing, even in the age of CGI effects.  When this film is rebooted (and we all know it will happen), I suspect it will lack the dark humor and believable monsters of the original.  In fact, the only good point to a reboot is the possibility of a better Special Edition of the original, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. 

But, that’s enough speculation.  Let’s get to the movie, which opens with down on his luck (and rather inept) inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) visiting a Chinatown shop to find a gift for his son.  Unable to resist a sales pitch for his latest invention, Peltzer is interrupted by the song of a Mogwai.  Fascinated by the creature (wisely kept in shadows at this point, he tries to buy it, but the shop owner (Keye Luke) insists that the creature is not for sale.  His Grandson (John Louie), however, is interested in the monetary gain and gets Peltzer the Mogwai in a back alley.

But he's SO CUTE!  How can this end badly?

At least the kid tells Peltzer the three rules for owning a Mogwai.  It must be kept away from any bright light and sunlight (which can kill it), it can’t be exposed to water and it must never fed after midnight, no matter how much it begs. 
Sounds pretty simple, but once Peltzer gives the critter to his son, Billy (Zach Gilligan), things start to go south.  Billy’s friend Pete (Corey Feldman) manages to spill water on the Mogwai, now called Gizmo, and generates five more evil-tempered Mogwai lead by Stripe.  And, no surprise, Billy is tricked into feeding the new gremlins after midnight (no spoiler alert needed, as you should have seen that one coming).

Soon, the five Mogwai are in a pupal stage, emerging from their rather Giger-styled cocoons, more reptilian and intent on destroying everything in sight.  Soon Billy. Gizmo and Billy’s girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) are the only ones standing against an invasion of gremlins spreading across the country.

Here we come, a caroling....

The story is pretty solid, as Billy and his family find that cute packages often come with a heavy price tag, a lesson most Black Friday shoppers have yet to learn.  Still the script stumbles with the sequences bookending the movie, involving the Chinatown shopkeeper.  The scenes do play off the oft-used stereotype of an ancient civilization being wiser than a modern society, but that’s not the problem.  Gremlins emerged into pop-culture as creatures creating mechanical issues for RAF crews during World War One and Two, with author Roald Dahl credited for bringing the creature to American culture with his picture book, The Gremlins.  Walt Disney even considered making a live action/animation movie based on Dahl’s tale.

Billy’s neighbor, Mr. Futterman (the always great Dick Miller), even brings the WWII connection up during one of his rants against foreign imports.  So the idea of a Chinese shop owner having a Mogwai seems a bit off, considering the (Americanized) version came into pop culture during World War Two, and the RAF legend was never connected with the Chinese.  It's as if scriptwriter Christopher Columbus changed the history of the gremlin, without giving any context, at least for those with a history even as limited as the Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Ah, what's up, Doc?

Another problem during the opening scene is how easy it is for Peltzer to find Gizmo.  The basket acting as Gizmo’s prison is in the main aisle of the Chinatown shop, not hidden away from prying eyes.  Never mind wondering why Gizmo is content to spend its life in a basket, one has to wonder why keeping the creature in plain view of the public.  Or alive at all, as the shopkeeper and his son imply that gremlins will do anything to turn from their cute, furry state to mischievous monsters.  Gizmo might be the exception, as he refuses to eat after midnight, One has to question the idea behind keeping such a potentially dangerous creature alive, as it seems to serve no other purpose than to be cute and generate nastier versions of itself.

But that wouldn’t make for a good movie, so one can let that little script problem pass.  However, as the film enters its third act, the script includes a scene that needed to be placed on the cutting room floor.  As Billy rescues Kate from a bar-full of gremlins, the film takes a break in the action as Kate explains why she hates Christmas time.  It’s intended to be emotionally wrenching, and Cates delivers the moment quite well.  Still, it felt too humorous when I first saw the film in the theaters back in the 80s and, thanks to The Darwin Awards, it’s even funnier now.  It’s not the fault of the writing, or the actors.  But as Kate describes her horrible Christmas experience, one has to wonder how her father never heard of a chimney flue.

I can't believe how many photos from Fast Times at Ridgemont High you'll find Goggling
Phoebe Cates Gremlins Movie

It might be easy to forgive these missteps were this little more than a movie aimed at children, a piece of promotion more interested in moving toys that telling a story.  But director Joe Dante and screenwriter Chris Columbus have something more subversive in mind, as the film works as an adult satire on holiday films.
This is obvious early in the film, as Billy runs down the main street of Kingston Falls on his way to work.  The scene is lifted from Jimmy Stewart’s run down Bedford Falls at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life.  And, like George Bailey, Billy works at a financial institute.  But he’s a clerk at a bank, at odds with a Potter-like character, Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday).

But, as if tweaking the rose-colored glasses view of America in Capra’s film, Billy is powerless against Deagle, who also lets loose a bit of The Wicked Witch of the West as she wants to kill Billy’s dog.  And Gremlins doesn’t shy away from Deagle’s callousness towards the suffering of others, as she confronts one of her renters (played by Belinda Balaski), making her attitude more horrendous than the villainy of the (metaphorically) mustache twirling Potter.

Even Batman might revoke his stance on not killing villains for this person.

Yet the script gives Deagle a moment of humanity before her come-uppance, further subverting the audience’s expectations.  Sure, she’s a crazy catlady, but this moment of softness is unexpected from most movie villains, another sly dig by Dante and Columbus.  While not explaining her villainy, they at least show that, in one aspect of her life, the Wicked Witch has a soft spot.  It’s a nice, very adult touch that echoes the approach of the 40s Warner Bros. cartoons, delivering humor that will make both parents and children laugh, though for different reasons.

The script does gloss over the deaths of many of Kingston Falls, through careful editing.  But adults will realize the mayhem has been sanitized, when it comes to the human toll.  Still, it’s hard to accept that the film shies away from such moments, giving the mayhem inflicted on three of the changed gremlins by Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain).  We get a graphic gremlin death by blender and microwave, and she does stab one repeatedly with a butcher knife, making her the most badass mom ever shown on the screen. 

Mrs. Peltzer, kitchen ninja

Sure, the latter death isn’t shown on screen, but it’s still quite intense, thanks to McCain’s acting.  And the other deaths cover the kitchen with copious amounts of green gremlin guts.  So, the lack of human blood might seem a bit odd, but one has to remember that Gremlins had only two rating choices, PG or R.  By minimizing the human violence, the filmmakers were able to get the gremlin gore past the MPAA.  But, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins prompted the MPAA to instigate the now infamous (to horror fans) PG-13 rating.  

While one can view the rating as a way for the studio to diminish the gore and market to the widest audience now, the reason for the rating is obvious to elder horror fans.  The violence and gore in Gremlins, Temple of Doom and Jaws was more extreme than the PG rated films before them, yet the violence wasn’t graphic enough to warrant an R rating in the MPAA’s view.  Regardless of the outcome, it was a wise move by the MPAA (and I can’t believe I wrote that) after Spielberg introduced family friendly gore to the nation. 

Just your typical holiday fare.
With a chainsaw attack....

Speaking of Spielberg (credited as executive producer on Gremlins), one could dismiss this as a Spielberg directed film, as many suspect of Poltergeist.  Both films contain his normal themes concerning middle class American families.  Yet, by the film’s midpoint, Gremlins rips the lid off such fantasies and lies bare the basic facts of the American Dream.  Only Dante would imply that good guys will finish last, striving to be successful, rather than just exist, could result in your child supporting you, and that evil hides in the most pleasant packages.  As with Dante’s earlier works, the nastier and more subversive moments of Gremlins shows he’s in total control of the project.

While Spielberg has yet to explore such elements and, given his track record, never will, as a producer, he allows other directors to expose the dark underbelly of his treasured Americana memories.  One could see this as a criticism of Spielberg, but I prefer to see such comments as commending his understanding of his strengths, and weaknesses, as a filmmaker, and allowing others to explore themes he's unwilling to explore.

Least I be considered negligent, one can't forget the efforts of Chris Walas and his effects crew cannot be understated.  Their work is miraculous, infusing Gizmo and his fellow gremlins with such life that one could believe the puppet performances are trained animals.  The effects crew’s work is reminiscent of a Harryhausen movie, as unbelievable characters become flesh and blood on the screen.  Yes, the effects are that good and hold up that well.

Wow, that's a lot of puppets.  And they look so much better than the upcoming
CGI version of this scene.

The combination of a kid friendly creature, a dark bit at Christmas movies and some rather gruesome elements provides a perfect holiday cocktails mixed by Joe Dante in Gremlins.  Such a balanced concoction is rare in modern cinema, as risk is weighted against the odds of getting the characters on a 7-11 Big Gulp cup.  But, for a brief time, filmmakers and studios were willing to take the risk of alienating some audience members in an attempt to make a film worth a yearly viewing.  Almost 30 years later, Gremlins holds up to seasonal view.  So if you’re sick of the standard eggnog served up every December, dip into this spiked treat.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Frightfully Funny Friday, Holiday Edition

Okay, the sound quality is not the best, but the Transylvanian Court deliver some great Cthulhu themed carols at the 2012 Texas Renaissance Festival.  Damn, who would have thought you'd find this deep in the heart of Texas?  It's AWESOME!!!

Safe for work, but not your sanity......

Sunday, December 8, 2013

YES!! Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark is a movie and it looks spectacularly bad in the best way possible!

Well, I found this over the weekend, the trailer for The Asylum's latest giant monster movie, Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark....


Sorry, I can't embed the video, so you'll have to click on the link above.  But oh, it's so worth it!

Yep, just like Godzilla, the oversized shark is about to be challenged by his robot version.  But will Mega Shark try to destroy it, or make love to it?  Oh yea, that's Debbie Gibson in the trailer, telling the military that a horny Mega Shark is an angry one.

So, if you're like me, you want to know how you can see this spectacular piece of cheesy goodness.  But after searching the Syfy webpage, I can't find the movie on the schedule for December or January.  The Asylum website has a DVD street date of January 28, 2014, but the DVD can not be pre-ordered from Amazon at this time.

As the trailer just dropped this week, I doubt the film has hit the airwaves yet.  So I wonder if this film has fallen victim to the recent shakeup at Syfy, with Mark Stern being booted out and replaced by Bill McGoldrick (as reported by Variety).  I know the movie isn't playing for the next two months on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, as I did a day by day search (why no, I had nothing better to do with my time, as The Walking Dead is on a mid season hiatus).  But I will say the programming looks pretty tepid.  Lots of old Syfy Originals, a few marathons (some seasonal, others not) and the continued WWE event on Fridays, as well as lots of older "blockbusters."  I mean really, Syfy, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?  Have you not read the backlash from the nerd audience on this one?

Maybe McGoldrick is reconsidering The Asylum's contributions to Syfy programming.  After all, the schedule feels like a bit of a stall, giving Mc Goldrick a chance to come up with a formula to rejuvenate the channel  And, should that be the case, I can only suggest that McGoldrick include The Asylum as part of his programming strategy.  After all, The Asylum has given Syfy some of its most popular Original Movies ever and such a track record isn't easy to replace.

I could be wrong about this feature.  McGoldrick could have seen the finished product and thought it was so bad that he wouldn't let it on the air.  And to that, I remind him of Sharktopus, Sharknado and Mega Shark vs. Gatoroid.  Oh, and let's not forget Mega Piranha.  Nothing can be worse than Mega Piranha, yet that movie is such damn fun I watch my DVD version at least as often as I watch Maximum Overdrive (which is quite often).

I'm sure many Syfy viewers can mention other bad Original Movies, but most were terrific fun on a Saturday night with a bunch of friends and lots of beer.  And seriously, if we're at home on a Saturday night, we're looking for some dumb, drunken fun from a movie.  So, for starts, move the Original Movie Premiere back to Saturday night and keep The Asylum pictures coming.  It's the right night for a drunken bad movie viewing and, at this point, no one does it better on such short notice as The Asylum.    

That said, I hope the street date for Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark holds, because this movie looks too amazingly bad to miss.  And, Mr. McGoldrick, if you let this one get away from Syfy, your tenure is off to a rocky start.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Santa’s Slay (2005)

Christmas themed horror films often involve a slasher-dressed-as-Santa killing in a holiday themed manner.  And, as with holiday specials on TV, one can only take so many of them during the season.  That makes writer/director David Steinman’s film, Santa’s Slay, so much fun.  Rather than sticking a killer in a Santa suit, Steinman rewrites the legend of the jolly old elf, changing him into someone more sinister, and more cartoonish, than your basic slasher-Claus.

The film opens as a stereotypical dysfunctional family, portrayed by James Caan (yes, really), Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan, Rebecca Gayheart, and twins Alicia Loren and Annie Sorell, are gathered for a holiday feast.  But before the turkey can be carved, Santa (wrestler Bill Goldberg) breaks through the chimney and slaughters everyone, starting with the pampered little dog. 

Ho Ho Ho, now I kick ass

The gore is silly, the humor broad and the scene sets the tone for the rest of the film.   The script never tries to generate any suspense or terror, as if Steinman knew horror fans might need a light, cheesy snack during the annual marathon of serious (at least in tone) Slasher-Claus films.

After a nice montage during the opening credits that sets the stage for Santa’s backstory, the film moves to the Township of Hell, located somewhere with lots of snow.  Nicolas Yuleson (Douglas Smith of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and Antiviral) is living with his crazy inventor, and security minded, Grandpa (Robert Culp!).  And, in a plot point more outrageous than a muscular Santa, our teenaged hero is oblivious to the signals by his cute coworker Mary “Mac” Mackenson (Emilie de Ravin of Lost, The Hills Have Eyes remake and Brick). 

But figuring out Mac’s amorous intentions becomes a secondary concern once Santa comes to town.  It seems Santa is the son of Satan, condemned to bringing joy to good little girls and boys for a thousand years after he is bested in a curling match by an angel.  Now, on the first Christmas free of his obligation to be nice, he’s out to be naughty, and payback on the angel that beat him a century earlier.   

Reindeer my butt.  I have a mighty white buffalo

The script doesn’t offer many surprises.  Grandpa’s identity is easy to guess, Nicholas and Mac’s eventual romance is a given and the script starts to run out of steam in the final act.  The last five minutes contain an outrageous resolution that doesn’t work, no matter how hard the actors try to sell it.  And, as expected, the obligatory set up for a sequel occurs just as the credits roll.

What, I might be in a sequel?  

But the script’s main flaw is the occasional moments of sophomoric humor.  A bit where Grandpa passes gas is just gratuitous, as is the sheriff with the vaguely obscene name.  The scene where Santa lays siege to a strip club seems included just so Goldberg can say, “Ho, Ho, Hos.”  And the bit with a lecherous preacher reciting the names of the dead strippers during a eulogy seems to go on far too long, even though it’s only a few seconds. 

These moments might elicit a giggle or two from your inner nine year old, but the film doesn’t need to rely on such juvenile antics.  The scenes between Nicholas and Grandpa are more believable than you’d expect from a cheesy horror film, the action sequences are great, and the explanation of the curling match that cursed Santa is a terrific spoof of the Rankin/Bass Christmas special.  And it’s really well done. Sure, taking out the sophomoric bits would lessen the film’s running time, but I think Steinman could have written something better, given how much fun the movie.

This is soooooo good.  Don't miss this scene!

The actors do a great job.  As the heroes, Smith and de Ravin are saddled with the least interesting characters, yet both deliver good performances.  Playing off his wrestling persona, Goldberg chews up (and smashes through) the scenery with glee.  The cast members in the opening scene are terrific in their walk on roles, and Culp’s performance is so good, one can excuse him for acting out a fart joke. 

Santa’s Slay isn’t a classic by any means.  But it’s a delightful package full of merry holiday mayhem wrapped up with a big cheesy bow.  The perfect antidote to the incessant cheer surrounding the holidays, this is a film horror fans can share with family and friends (along with the right amount of spiked eggnog) and not end up with a lump of coal in their stocking.

Frightfully Funny Friday Post

Well, as I unfreeze my fingers and gets get started on this week's post of horrific happenings in the Northwest, here's a GREAT little holiday treat, Jason Eisener's short film of Christmas trees revolting against their treatment this time of year, Treevenge.

Be warned, this short is soooooo  NSFW!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Interview with Jeremy Jantz, Part Two

In yesterday's post, I talked with Jeremy Jantz, film student at the Art Institute of Portland, about his senior project, a short, NC-17 style horror film called Heels.  Today, Jantz talks about the sudden decision by the Art Institute to require cuts to his film for it to be included in the senior screening, and how this lead to The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival, on Thursday, December 12.

Please note, this interview was conducted via email exchange.

The Shadow Over Portland: So, your plans to show Heels at the school's screening have changed.  What happened?

Jeremy Jantz: To be honest, it was a bit of a blindside.  I got called into Aldrich's office (head of the DFV department).  He told me it had been decided that unless I censored my film, they wouldn't screen it.  I politely declined.  He offered to let me show another film of my choice.  I offered a seven-minute clip of my middle finger.  Aldrich was not amused.  Up until this point, four weeks from the screening, I was told Heels would screen, simply with a warning and intermission.  Which seemed fair.

TSOP: Was the school's objections due to the nudity, the violence, or the overall content of the film?

JJ: The biggest specific objection was the footage involving a penis.  I was told the female nudity could probably be approved, but definitely not the penis.  Personally, that doesn't seem fair.  It's not men's fault God made penises ugly.  

There were also insinuations that the overall content might be an issue.  However, the penis was such a sticking point that was no real point in discussing the rest of it.  The didn't want to see a penis.  Ever.

TSOP: In our earlier talk, you said you would just rent out a theater and show Heels there, if you had to.  So you are screening your film on December 12 at The Academy Theater, as part of The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival.  Can you give us the details on the festival, and what other films are showing?

JJ: The centerpiece of the show will be the midnight screening of Heels.  I have several other films confirmed.  We'll be showing an adaptation of the Stephen King short story Survivor Type.  Another student, Brendan Jones, pulled his senior film from the official screening in protest over the censorship issues, so I'll be showing his short experimental film, The Test.  I just confirmed Edward Lee's The Bighead, from director Michael Ling.  That should be great, I'm really excited to see it.  And I just heard we've added M is for Massage, an ABCs of Death entry.

TSOP: Are you still accepting submissions?

JJ: I am still accepting them.  I'm really hoping the addition of Edward Lee's The Bighead will add the legitimacy to bring in local submissions.  I can't stress enough how much I want to see that film, and how great those guys are for letting me show it.

TSOP: The festival starts at 10 pm on Thursday, December 12.  How can people get tickets?

JJ: There are no tickets.  It's completely free.  The Academy would have let me charge whatever I wanted, but in the spirit of horror fan fellowship, I'm not asking for anything.  I won't even pass the hat for donations.  The festival is in the large theater, so there/s plenty of seats, but it's a first come, first served thing.  The Academy has been very supportive and has pledged to make it a fine screening.

TSOP: Are you facing any repercussions from the school for screening Heels outside of the Art Institute's event?

JJ: That's difficult to pin down.  I'm having trouble getting anyone to sign off on internship hours, so maybe in a week, when I should be graduating, I'll get my repercussions.  Immediately before my film got pulled, I also refused to sign a contract allowing AI to use my work for their purposes.  Coincidence?  I don't know.

TSOP: Will we see another Salon De Refuse Film Festival next year?

JJ: It's always possible.  If it's popular, maybe I can move into a more traditional festival model to at least cover expenses.  I certainly would like to bring more horror shorts to Portland, even if for mostly selfish reasons.  

I'm hoping that students in the future will realize that they can make the movie they want, the movie they're paying out of pocket for, and the AI screening is not the end of the world.  In fact, I've always looked at it as, hopefully, the least important screening I'll ever have.  It's like getting a participation trophy, although now, I don't even get that.

TSOP: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, and the best of luck with your festival.

JJ: Thank you.  And I hope to see you there.

The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival is on Thursday, December 12, at The Academy Theater.  The screenings begin at 10 pm and admission is free.  For more information, visit the Heels Facebook page..

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Interview with Jeremy Jantz, Part One

Last night, I posted about the upcoming Salon De Refuse Film Festival at The Academy Theater on Thursday, December 12, at 10 pm.  The festival organizer, Jeremy Jantz, started the festival after being informed his short horror film, Heels, would not be shown during The Art Institute of Portland senior project screening without some editing, as determined by the school.

Back in September of this year, a couple months before The Art Institute demanded cuts in his senior project, I sat down with Jantz to talk about Heels and his desire to make an adult horror film.

The Shadow Over Portland:  I’m talking with Jeremy Jantz, a film student at The Art Institute of Portland.  You’re working on your final project, a horror film called Heels.  Can you tell about it?

Jeremy Jantz:  It’s a short film, about twelve minutes long.  It’s a horror piece based on a short story by Stoker award winning author Lucy Taylor.  Basically, it would fall into the rape/revenge genre, but with a certain amount of twists to it.  And it definitely doesn’t shy away from the nudity or the gore or the subject matter.

TSOP: When we were talking about your film via email, you were saying it was going to be an NC-17 horror film.  What’s the reception from the school to that?

JJ: Well, the instructor, Kyle Aldrich, who initially approved the script and got me started working on it, ironically, he’s trying to sell it to a couple of the other instructors, but then there is a change in faculty.  He’s the head of the department now, so he’s already approved my script.  I’ve already started work on it, they don’t have a whole lot of choice.  At the end of the day, I’m the kind of guy that’s going to make the movie anyway.  It’s my four to five thousand dollars, it’s not theirs.  And, as far as I’m concerned, the worse they can do is not show it in their senior film screening.  If that’s the case, I would rent out The Hollywood Theatre and show it myself anyway.  And they know that.  So, they are in a kind of an awkward position, because if it turns out really good, and they don’t support it, then what do they do?  And the Art Institute, if they want to compete with some of the bigger schools, this isn’t the type of script that would cause a lot of eye blinking in NYU or California.  So, if you want to play with the big boys, you need to be prepared to accept the kind of adult films that they make at big boy schools.  Anybody can make the sort of Tosh 2.0 crap and throw it on YouTube and say this is my senior film.  I really wanted to say, look, we can make adult films.  I’m 37, I’m a bit older than some of the other students there, and this is what I wanted to do.  I’m making the film I wanted to see.  Hopefully, other people will want to see it too.

TSOP:  When you’re talking adult film, are you talking violence, are you talking sexuality, are you talking content or are you talking all three?

JJ:  It’s definitely all three.  The ironic thing is, there’s not any conventional sex scenes in the film, at least not man/woman, man/man or woman/woman.  But there is full frontal nudity on the part of the male lead and the female lead, the female supporting actress gets topless, so basically all three people involved in the movie get fairly naked.  There is gore, there is… I don’t want to give away too much of the end of it, but it definitely goes gory.  I had an effects guy I hired, there were prosthetics that were cast, so you can expect to see that. 

And then, just in tone, it makes a fairly adult statement as far as the way human beings are.  When the story was originally written, the author was trying to make a commentary on how men tend to treat women as victims, and she wanted to say, you know what, sometimes we’re not the victim. 
So, you’re going to see something different, and it’s going to be very violent at the end. 

TSOP:  Let’s talk a little bit about you for a second.  What drew you to the horror genre?

JJ: You know, I’ve been watching horror films and reading horror books since I was little.  I was the child of a single mother and largely babysat by an aunt that was in her late teens.  Not necessarily big on the censoring.  So, on HBO at the time, you could see things like the original Friday the 13th, The Shining, Halloween, Halloween Two…  I actually grew up, four, five, six years old, watching these movies on TV at that age.  So, I guess it just really took root, and it’s been something I’ve been wanting to do ever since.

You don’t see a lot of horror senior films and, ever since the first films I’ve been making, I’ve been pushing it, going for the horror and this is my chance to finally make something I can be proud of. 

TSOP:  Now, you’re talking about going NC-17, which may be understandable for the subject matter.  But if you could film the story as a PG-13 film, would you do that?

JJ:  I would not have in this case, because everything I wrote is true to the original story.  And one of the things I promised Lucy Taylor was that I would be true to her story.  In fact, I used the phrase, “I wasn’t going to Lawnmower Man her,”  because I want her to be just as proud of this too.  The nudity and the violence, it’s what she wrote, and it’s what she intended.  It was published in a collection of stories dedicated to the splatterpunk genre, because the story’s from the early to mid 90s, and splatterpuck was really big back then.  So she wrote it without pulling punches, and to honor her, I have to film it without pulling punches. 

TSOP:  How did you get the rights to film this story?
JJ:  I started out by rereading lots and lots of short stories, looking for something that would strike a chord, something that was filmable.  And from there, I picked Heels, which was my first choice.  She (Taylor) has a way to contact her on her website, so I wrote her a pitch email and said, “Here’s who I am, here’s what I’d like to do.”  She got back to me and said no problem, you have to talk with my agent.  So I wrote her agent an email and within a month, I had the contract signed and I have festival rights for the story.  Not only did I get the rights, but Lucy’s been incredibly supportive.  She blogs about the film, she talks about it on her Facebook page, she likes the updates I put on (the film’s) Facebook page.  So, she’s been a real hands-on participant in bringing this vision to the screen.

TSOP: Do you plan to release your film in festivals around the nation, or around the world?

JJ:  Well, at least as far as Canada.  Canada is on the schedule.  I’m hoping to produce something that I can enter into festivals on an international level and have it be well received.

TSOP:  Who were your inspirations for wanting to be a director?  It doesn’t have to be a genre figure. 

JJ: If I’m going to go classical, I do love (Dario) Argento.  I think he filmed some fantastic stuff and there are some nods to Argento’s style in my film, like excessive blood and garish colors.  And it has a bit of a giallo feel to it.

Lately, I really love Adam Green’s stuff.  I know some people don’t respect the Hatchet series, but I really like it.  I don’t care, I have fun with it.  It can’t all be Kubrick and The Shining, which is a really fantastic film, but there is nothing wrong with just having fun.

And something like that was also guiding me with where I was going (with Heels).  There is definitely an homage to the 80s.  The film is not set in the 80s, but you don’t see any cell phones, you don’t see the cars.  A lot of the art direction and wardrobe choices, I went with an 80s feel.  And I was trying to do that in the same way I think Adam Green was trying to do with Hatchet.  He was saying, look here, those were some fun years, why can’t we just do that?

Ti West is great too, but it’s a different thing.  And I would say, as far as a directing style, it would be more Adam Green.

TSOP:  Any final points you want to mention about Heels? 

JJ:  It’s very practical effects driven, so if you’re the kind of person that wonders why all the stuff is CGI, I’ve got some practical effects for you. 

It’s not going to be a film for everybody, I know that.  But the people that would like it, I think are really going to like it.  There are some crew members I lost along the way, once they read the script.  Their families are going to be there that night, and they were like, “Nope, I can’t do it.”  I had one acting agency that refused to pass my casting call along, I had to cold call Sophia St. James, I had to go to her.  I was in talks with Ron Jeremy’s people for a while.  I couldn’t afford to fly his entourage out here.  So that’s been the journey this film has been, and when you see it, you might have a lot more questions and we can get together and talk about it then.

TSOP: Can you tell my readers a little about Sophia St. James?

JJ: She is an award winning, queer porn star.  She’s on the plus side…  Oh you put me on the spot with the porn star question.  I really needed someone who was sized, willing to do full frontal nudity and was comfortable with that without making it all about the body.  And Sophia St. James really promotes that.  She does burlesque, she does stage shows, a lot of talks and such.  She’s very community minded.  And she’s a horror fan.  She was naming movies at random when she got this role, a couple of normal ones, the 976-EVIL.  Who comes up with that off the top of their head?  It’s a cool movie, but who pops up with that?

TSOP:  One final question.  Favorite horror film?

JJ:  I’m going to go with The Shining.  It’s cliché, but the thing is, it’s one film that so transcended the genre, it really is underrated.  I feel The Exorcist is overrated.  Maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised religiously, but I don’t find it very spooky.  But The Shining is just, wow.  It deserved an Oscar.

Check back at The Shadow Over Portland tomorrow, as Jeremy Jantz talks about The Art Institute of Portland's reaction to Heels, and more about The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Film student Jeremy Jantz starts The Salon De Refuse Film Festival after his school demands cuts in his short horror film

Portland area film student Jeremy Jantz was told last month that The Art Institute of Portland would not screen his short horror film, Heels, at the official senior film screening unless he was willing to edit it.  Rather than make any cuts, Jantz responded by started The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival.  The festival lineup includes The Bighead, from director Michael Ling (based on the Edward Lee novel), Brendan Jones' The Test, a tester reel of Survivor Type (based on a story by Stephen King) and Jantz's controversial short.

The Salon De Refuse Film Festival starts at 10 pm on Thursday, December 12, at The Academy Theater in Portland, OR.  Admission is free.

Stay turned to The Shadow Over Portland for more information on the festival as it becomes available, and for a two part interview with Jeremy Jantz concerning Heels and the Salon De Refuse Film Festival!

For more information on the festival, and updates on the films being shown, visit the Heels Facebook page.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Frightfully Funny Black Friday

Okay, the latest horror events in the Northwest are coming, but until then, enjoy this NSFW music video, Zombie Christmas, by Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler.  It's awesome, and you can pick up the song on iTunes!  Check it out!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Green Slime (1968)

A co-production between MGM and Toei Studios, The Green Slime is the equivalent of a Saturday night Syfy movie.  You’ll never say it’s a good movie and the script has a few problems.  But the film is a great slice of cheesy fun and any quibbles about the script or special effects won’t diminish the joy of watching a group of astronauts battle silly rubber monsters with electrified tentacles.

What more can you want from this movie?

It’s the future and the international space agency discovers a giant asteroid is only 10 hours away from colliding with Earth.  I guess telescope technology has taken a few steps backwards, but hey, they have flying cars!  Looking out into space just wasn't as important as flying cars.  

Only retired Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) is considered able to lead an expedition intent on destroying the space rock.  Of course, his rendezvous point is a space station ran by his ex-partner, Commander Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel), who Rankin considers unfit for a command position.  Oh, and Elliott is engaged to Rankin’s former flame, Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi).  Yep, nothing could go wrong there.

Rankin, Elliott and a team from the station land upon the asteroid and start planting bombs, in scenes that makes one suspect Michael Bay saw this film as a kid.  The station’s scientist tags along, against Rankin’s wishes, and finds puddles of living Green Slime, the first proof of extraterrestrial life in the universe.  Rankin throws a bit of a tantrum when the scientist questions his orders to leave the specimen behind.  To foil any further arguments, Rankin grabs the glass jar containing the Slime and smashes it on the ground.  It shuts the scientist up, but allows a drop of the Slime to hitch a ride back to the space station in the folds of an astronaut’s suit.

The asteroid is destroyed, the rocket manages to survive the blast, and once the crew returns to the station, everyone starts dancing and drinking champagne in celebration.  Okay, I’m not a future astronaut, but one has to wonder why the station takes up precious storage space for crates of champagne. 

Flying cars and space stations loaded with booze!  The future looks awesome!

Of course, every party has a pooper and in this case, it’s that spot of Green Slime, which mutates during the Rankin-ordered triple decontamination of the space suits into a walking, one eyed, tentacle waving messenger of death for the poor technician that wasn’t invited to the party.  Elliott tries to capture the creature alive, but this leads to the death of several crewmen.  Of course, Rankin’s solution is to shoot the creature, which does little to keep the Slime creature from scurrying into the bowels of the station.  But it does leave a trail of Slime creature blood that spawns more of the little monsters.  And, as these creatures feed on any energy source, Rankin’s laser rifle attack has the same effect as offering the Slime creature a Red Bull.

Soon, the station is full of the Slime creatures, Rankin and Elliott quarrel as Rankin orders the destruction of the space station and the growing horde of Slime monsters make it to the exterior of the station, jamming the launch bay doors.  Rankin orders a group of men to battle the critters, allowing Elliott to defy Rankin and leads his men into battle with the monsters. 

Uh, can you direct us to the nearest airlock?

If you’re a fan of B-movies, you know the rest (be warned, there are SPOILERS ahead).  The crew is evacuated, but the remote self-destruct device fails, so SOMEONE stays behind to detonate the station.  SOMEONE goes back to help, SOMEONE dies and the messy love triangle is resolved.  

The script offers no surprise, but that doesn't matter, as the Slime creature attacks come often enough that one can forgive the cliched love triangle and hackney pissing match between Rankin and Elliott.  But the film fails by making Rankin, the film’s hero, a colossal ass.  It’s obvious the script wants the audience to root for Rankin, with his cocksure manner, perfectly coiffed hair and the fact that the sexy Dr. Benson is always looking at him longingly, even as she protests too much about their relationship being over.  And, sure, he might have a point criticizing Elliott for a botched rescue attempt in his past, but the script does nothing to make the character appealing.  

His little tantrum on the asteroid makes him more of a bully and less of a commander.  And while he berates Elliott for the botched attempt to take the creature alive, it’s his actions on the asteroid that allows the Slime to tag along.  And his order for a triple-decontamination of the space suits allows the Slime to mutate into a walking menace.  Finally, his decision to shoot the creature leads to the station’s infestation, making Elliott’s attempt seem the sensible decision.  Sure, it’s all hindsight, but Rankin continually berates Elliott’s previous command decisions without reflecting upon his own missteps,  And, while Rankin is comfortable sending a squad to battle the creatures on the surface of the station, while Elliott leaves the safety of the station to fight alongside his men.  

In fact, the script makes Elliott more heroic than Rankin, who comes off as more of a number cruncher, estimating the best course of action based on the least risk, while Elliott would have your back, no matter the danger.  

Come on, this is what the hero of this picture should be doing, rather than hiding in a command center

And Jenkins little "thumb up" salute to anyone injured or grieving comes off as pretty insensitive.  I suspect the filmmakers were trying to tie into the Apollo missions, showing that Jenkins is made of “the right stuff.”  It might have worked in the late 60's, but it comes off as (for lack of a better term) rather dickish and insensitive.  I hope kids in the audience, with dreams of becoming astronauts, were not inspired by Rankin, as such a role model would provide little hope for the future of successful space exploration.

That’s not to say Horton is a bad lead, but he’s as mishandled by the script as Paluzzi.  Sure, her role as Dr. Benson is to look good and give Rankin a reason to try and rekindle their relationship.  But after playing a lusty SPECTRE assassin in Thunderball, reduced Paluzzi to the damsel in distress is a bit of a let down.  If you cast an actress who gave James Bond a run for his money four years earlier, she needs to be given a bit more to do than scream and wait for the boys to come running.

Sorry fella, you're no Sean Connery

Given the previous paragraphs, one would suspect I didn’t like The Green Slime.  But, as stated at the start of this review, such criticisms can’t dispel the film’s charms.  Sure, you could pick the script to pieces, but the action starts early and seldom lets up, leaving the audience little time to realize how silly the story is.  The battles with the creatures (especially outside the space station) are pretty exciting, if you can accept the limited effects of the time.  And the filmmakers up the ante with some pretty graphic mayhem.  The Slime’s victims look horrific, thanks to some understated makeup and great cinematography.  And a nice bit of editing makes a falling victim look like he squirts blood from his head as he hits the ground.  It’s nothing compared to what you might see on television these days, but it adds to the menace of the monsters and makes them a more convincible threat than one would expect. 

Not exactly what you'd expect to see in a G-rated film, is it?

Whether it was the filmmaker’s intent or not, most B-movie fan’s inner five year old will squeal with delight as the spacemen battle those silly, yet iconic, rubber suited monsters.  And the story moves at a rapid enough pace that you won’t think too hard about the script’s problems until after the closing credits roll.  Invite some friends over, have a few drinks and enjoy the cheesiness!

You can buy The Green Slime through Warner Archives as a DVD On Demand.  Though it has no special features, the picture and sound quality is quite good and this version will do until the film is given a proper release by some other distributor (you listening, Scream Factory?).  

On a final note, I can’t forget to mention the theme song, one of the weirdest to ever grace a monster movie soundtrack.  Take a listen below…