Cashiers du Cinemart & 3-Descent: CFQ's Black Hole Ultra-Lounge 2:31.2

Cashiers du Cinemart‘s Mike White hangs out after the Cinefantastique Spotlight to talk to Dan Persons about his magazine, his anthology, Impossibly Funky: A Cashiers du Cinemart Collection, the clouded future of 3D, and, of course, the indelible allure of BLACK SHAMPOO.


Horror Film Ratings & Conversations with Michael Cricthon: CFQ Round Table Podcast 2:24.3

Carmen Electra is about to lose a breast implant in this scene from the R-rated SCARY MOVIE.
Carmen Electra is about to lose a breast implant in this scene from the R-rated SCARY MOVIE.

This time out, the Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast – the podcast of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films – devotes itself to two in-depth conversations. The first focuses on the subject of the MPAA ratings system and how it impacts horror movies, with their depictions of graphic violence. The second, inspired by the new book, Conversations with Michael Cricthon, takes a look at the best selling author’s contribution to the science fiction genre in literature on on film. CFQ editor Steve Biodrowski (whose interview with Crichton regarding JURASSIC PARK is in the book) is joined by San Francisco correspondent Lawrence French and New York correspondent Dan Persons.
Also this week: Farewell to James Arness; James Cameron on the AVATAR sequels (not a trilogy); Pierce Brosnan in Stephen King’s BAG OF BONES; and Ron Howard on THE DARK TOWER.


At the Mountains of Madness: H. P. Lovecraft and Hollywood

While Universal’s planned version of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS was being put on hold, I began looking as some of the dates when Lovecraft came up with his classic terror stories.  I was rather startled to see that Lovecraft’s work was mostly done in close harmony with the classic era of Hollywood horror in the twenties and thirties.
Lovecraft died in 1937, but he had  started writing as a child, around the turn of the century. Yet his work was so unique and advanced, it was never “recognized” during his lifetime, although he wrote most  of his best known stories in the same years Hollywood was going through it’s golden age of horror film making.
For example, during the years 1925 – 1926 Lovecraft was writing these classic terror tales:  The Horror at Red Hook,  In the Vault,  Cool Air,  Pickman’s Model, and The Call of Cthulhu.
In the classic Hollywood horror years of 1931 and 1932, Lovecraft wrote these stories:  At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Trap (with Henry S. Whitehead), The Dreams in the Witch House, The Man of Stone (with Hazel Heald), The Horror in the Museum (with Hazel Heald) and Through the Gates of the Silver Key (with E. Hoffmann Price).

Vincent Price and Debra Paget in THE HAUNTED PALACE
Vincent Price and Debra Paget in THE HAUNTED PALACE

Of course, Lovecraft’s own bizarre stories woudn’t reach the silver screen until almost 30 years after he died, when Roger Corman and Charles Beaumont opened the gates to his “old stories” by adapting The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward for AIP in 1963, which ended up being labeled as  “Edgar Allan Poe’s” THE HAUNTED PALACE, even though the film (by Corman’s own admission) had nothing to do with Edgar Poe or his stories. 
So it’s seems a bit strange that Universal was recently close to giving the green light to a $150 million version of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. In a way, I’m glad it’s been but on the back burner, as I don’t think anyone would be happy with the film if  Tom Cruise turned up as the leading man – least of all, Mr. Lovecraft!
Q:  I  understand you lost your maternal grandmother?
LOVECRAFT:  Her death plunged the household into a gloom from which it never fully recovered. I began to have nightmares of the most hideous description, peopled with things, which I called “night-gaunts.” In dreams they were wont to whirl me through space at a sickening rate of speed fretting and impelling me with their detestable tridents.
Q: Where do you suppose you got the idea for these creatures?
LOVECRAFT: Perhaps from an deluxe edition of Paradise Lost with illustrations by Dore, which I discovered one day in the east parlor.
Q: You depict this night-gaunt image vividly in one of your Fungi From Yuggoth sonnets. Did the mad sorcerer referred to in your stories, “Abdul Alhazred” have a childhood source as well? And what of your fictional book of spells, the “Necronomicon”?
LOVECRAFT: The name “Abdul Alhazred” is one, which some adult devised for me when I was five years old and eager to be an Arab after reading the Arabian Nights. Years later I thought it would be fun to use it as the name of a forbidden book author. The name “Necronomicon” occurred to me in the course of a dream.
_______________________ _
by H. P. Lovecraft
The place was dark and dusty and half-lost
In tangles of old alleys near the quays,
Reeking of strange thing brought in from the seas,
And with queer curls of fog that west winds tossed,
Small lozenge panes obscured by smoke and frost,
Just showed the books, in piles like twisted trees,
Rotting from floor to roof-congeries
Of crumbling elder lore at little cost.
I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through,
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if only one knew
Then, looking for some seller old in craft,
I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.
II. Pursuit
I held the book beneath my coat, at pains
To hide the thing from sight ins uch a place;
Hurrying through the ancient harbour lanes
With often-turning head and nervous oace.
Dull, furtive windows in old tottering brick
Peered at me oddly as I hastened by,
And thinking what they sheltered, I grew sick
For a redeeming glimpse of clear blue sky.
No one had seen me take the thing-but still
A blank laugh echoes in my whirling head,
And I could guess what nighted worlds of ill
Lurked in that volume I had coveted.
The way grew strange-the walls alike and madding-
And ar behind me, unseen feet were padding.
III. The Key
I do not know what windings in the waste
Of thos strange sea-lanes brought me home once more
But on my porch I trembled, white with haste
To get inside and bolt the heavy door
I had the book that old the hidden way
Across the void and through the space-hung screens
That hold the undimensional worlds at bay
And keep lost aeons to their own demesnes.
At last the key was mine to those vague visions
Of sunset spires and twilight woods that boord
Dim in the gulfs beyond this earth’s precisions
Lurking as memories of infinitude
The key was mine, but as I sat there mumbling
The attic window shook with a faint fumbling.
IV. Recognition
The day had come again, when as a child
I saw-just once- that hollow of old oaks,
Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds and chokes
The slinking shapes which madness has defiled
In that the same-an herbage rank and wild
Clings round an altar whose carved signs involve
That Nameless One to whom a thousand smokes
Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.
I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men;
I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,
But Yuggoth, past the starry voids-and then
The body shrieked at me with a dead cry,
And all too late I knew that it was I!
V. Homecoming
The daemon said that he would take me home
To the pale, shadowy land I half-recalled
As a high place of stair and terrace, walled
With marble balustrades that sky-winds comb,
While miles below a maze of dome on dome
And tower on tower beside a sea lies sprawled.
Once more, he told me, I would stand enthralled
On those old heights, and hear the far-off foam.
All this he promised, and through sunset’s gate
He swept me, past the lapping lakes of Flame,
And red-gold thrones of gods without a name
Who shriek in fear at some impending fate
Then a black gulf with sea-sounds in the night”
“Here was your home,” he mocked, “when you had sight”
VI. The Lamp
We found the lamp inside those hollow cliffs
Whose chiselled sign no priest in Thebes could read,
And from whose caverns frightened hieroglyphs
Warned every living creature of earth’s breed.
No more was there-just that one brazen bowl
With traces of a curious oil within;
Fretted wtih some obscurely patterned scroll
And symbols hinting vaguely of strange sin.
Little the fears of forty centuris meant
To us as we bore off our slender spoil
And when we scanned it in our darkened tent
We struck a match to test the ancient oil
It blazed-Great God!. . . But the vast shapes we saw
In that mad flash have seared our lives with awe.
VII. Zaman’s Hill
The great hill hung close over the old town
A precipice against the main street’s end
Green, tall, and wooded, looking darkly down
Upon the steeple at the highway bend
Two hundred years the whispers had been heard
About what happened on the man-shunned slope
Thales of an oddly mangled dear or bird
Or of lost boys whose kin had ceased to hope
One day the mail-man found no village there
Nor were its folks or house seen again
People came out of Aylesbury to state
Yet they all told the mail-man it was plain
That he was mad for saying he had spied
The great hill’s gluttonous eyes, and jaws stretched wide
VIII. The Port
Ten miles from Arkham I had struck the trail
That rides the cliff-edge over Boynton Beach,
And hoped that just at asunset I could reach
The crest tht looks on Innsmouth in the vale.
Far out at sea was a retreating sail
White as hard years of ancient winds could bleach
But evil with some portent byeond speech
So that I did not wave my hand or hail.
Sails out of Innsmouth! Echoing old renown
Of long-dead times, but now a too-swift night
Is closing in, and I have reached the height
Whence I so often scan the distant town
The spires and roofs are there-but look! The gloom
Sinks on dark lanes, as lightless as the tomb!
IX. The Courtyard
It was the city I had known before;
The ancient, leprous town where mongrel throngs
Chant to strange gods, and beat unhallowed gongs
In crypts beneath foul alleys near the shor.
The rotting, fish-eyed houses leered at me
From where they leaned, drunk and half-animate,
As edging through the filth I passed the gate
To the black courtyard where the man would be….
The dark walls closed me in, and loud I cursed
That ever I had come to such a den,
When suddenly a score of windows burst
Into wild light, and swarmed with dancing men:
Mad, soundless revels of the dragging dead-
And not a corpse had either hands or head!
X. The Pigeon-Flyers
They took me slumming, where gaunt walls of brick
Bulge outward with s viscous stored-up evil
And twisted faces, thronging foul and thick
Wink messages to alien god and devil
A million fires were blazing in the streets
And from flat roofs a furtive few would fly
Bedraggled birds into the yawning sky
While hidden drums droned on with measured beats.
I knew those fires where brewing monstrous things,
And that those birds of space has been Outside-
I guessed to what dark planet’s crypts they plied
and wht they brought from Thog beneath their wings
The others laughed-till struck too mute to speak
By what they glimpsed in one bird’s evil beak.
XI. The Well
Farmer Seth Atwood was past eight when
He tried to sink that deep well by his door
With only Eb to help him bore and bore
We laughed, and hoped he’d soon be sane again
And yet, instead, young Eb went crazy, too,
So that they shipped him to the county farm
Seth bricked up the well-mouth up as tight as glue-
Then hacked an artery in his gnarled left arm.
After the funeral we felt bound to get
Out to that well and rip the bricks away
But all we saw were iron handholds set
Down a black hole deeper than we could say
And yet we put the bricks back-for we found
The hole too deep for any line to sound.
XII. The Howler
They told me not to take the Briggs’ Hill path
That used to be the highroad through to Zoar,
For Goody Watkins, hanged in seventeen-four,
Had left a certain monstrous aftermath.
Yet when I disobeyed, and had in view
The vine-hung cottage by the great rock slope,
I could not think of elms or hempen rope,
But wondered why the house still seemed so new.
Stopping a while to watch the fading day,
I heard faint howls, as from a room upstairs,
When through the ivied panes one sunset ray
Struck in, and caught the howler unawares.
I glimpsed – and ran in frenzy from the place,
And from a four-pawed thing with human face.

'The Hobbit' Casting News


Andy Serkis in KING KONG
Andy Serkis in KING KONG

According to Deadline, Andy Serkis (KING KONG) will reprise his voice and motion capture artist tole of Gollum for the 2-part film version of THE HOBBIT.
He joins Martin Freeman (THE HITCHIKERS GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE) as Bilbo Baggins, along with Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Elijah Wood — who is apparently to appear as Frodo. This makes sense in the light of the fact that Ian Holm is said to be in talks to return for an appearance as the older Bilbo.
Still working out deals to reprise their LORD OF THE RINGS roles are Ian McKellen (Gandolph), Christopher Lee as Saruman, and possibly Orlando Bloom as the elven prince Legolas.
Perhaps the character appearances are part of the explanation of why it’s necessary to make a two-part film. J.R.R. Tolkien’s story may be too big to play out comfortably in a single film, but not quite long enough to justify two movies without additional scenes.  
According to The One Ring , Woods’ role as Frodo can be explained as the character reading of the events in the “Red Book of Westmarch”, which chronicles the events of The Hobbit -Or- There and Back Again, suggesting a framing story.
The article reiterates that THE HOBBIT is being made by Peter Jackson as a c0production between Warner Brothers Pictures and MGM, though due to MGM’s  bankruptcy and continuing internal problems, it is being  financed by completely by Warner Brothers Pictures, who will have World-wide  distribution rights.

Author Signing in LA: The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s

BOOK COVER-not the backWhen we think of Fant-Asia films, it’s that genre of Hong Kong martial arts film made during the 1980s up to the mid-‘90s, which uniquely combined elements of sex, fantasy, sci-fi and horror with high-flying wire work and over the top martial arts choreography.  But of course most folks who have been watching these sort of films for decades now know that the foundation for these movies originates from what the Chinese call the  wuxia pian, martial chivalrous-hero film, the first genre of martial arts movies created during the 1920s in Shanghai. This genre really took off in the 1970s and took some interesting twists and turns during that decade, things that are discussed throughout my recently published book The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s
This weekend I have a book signing in the Los Angeles area, of which I would like to invite all cinefantastique fans to attend this event where it would be my pleasure to meet and greet my fellow Fant-Asia/martial arts film buffs and of course sign my book for you. 
Saturday, December 11, 2010, 2:00 pm, at Dark Delicacies; 3512 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA  91505 
FromDavidTadman-3To me and other martial arts film fans like auteur Quentin Tarantino, when it comes to martial arts cinema, the 1970s is the most important decade for the genre. Apart from kung fu films becoming an international phenomena and being brought to the masses, the 1970s had major breakthroughs in wuxia movie fight choreography and filmmaking. As it turns out it is also the decade where we saw the rise of the genre’s most influential actors/directors that even most Americans today have heard of such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, John Woo and Yuen Woo-ping. Of course to old school martial arts film fans this list would include the likes of the Five Venoms, Sonny Chiba, Chen Kuan-tai, Jimmy Wong, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wang Lung-wei, the Liu brothers and hundreds more. In fact, over 20 countries cumulatively made >2150 martial arts films during the 1970s. Can you list these 20 countries? 
But the main impetus for writing my just published coffee-table book, The Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s, goes way beyond this, it was literally a matter of life and death. 
When I was 16, my doctor told me I’d be dead in five years due to the deadly effects of the lung/digestive disease cystic fibrosis (CF). At that time I was taking 30 pills/day and in the hospital every three months. After watching Bruce Lee’s Fists of Fury I went from being depressed and waiting to die, to wanting to live and learn what Lee was doing. 
As I began practicing martial arts, I read about Qigong and how weak dying children in ancient China would learn this skill and become strong heroes of China. So I moved to Taiwan, found a teacher and five months after learning Qi and to this day, I’ve been off all medication and therapies since. To show my health improvement was not superficial, in 1986 I walked 3000.2 miles across America, 26 miles/day, 4.1-4.5 mph pace. 
If not for kung fu film, martial arts and Qi, I would be dead. 
Craig-With Jackie Chan 1992The Ultimate Guide is also a book born out of 20 years in the film industry that includes being the first American regular stuntman in Chinese kung fu films and TV in Taiwan in the 1970s (token white dude that got my butt kicked in by a different Chinese kung fu star every couple of months), learning fight choreography from Jackie Chan, being Sam Raimi’s fight choreographer, being a fight directing apprentice on Sammo Hung’s Martial Law, and on a unique front I was a dubber of Chinese kung fu films…yes, those badly English-dubbed films that became an integral part of American pop culture in the ’70s and ’80s (always a fun and interactive topic of discussion at film festivals). 
During an intense eight-month period I watched over 600 martial arts films and wrote on 500+ movies. Each review, or as I say “martialogy” (biology of a martial arts film), features a concise plot summary, behind-the-scenes reel and real history, fight statistics, insights into martial arts choreography and style, and many surprising factoids. For example, did you know that the real Five Venoms only did three films together?  
When I started my video collection back in the 1970s (up to 5,000 films now with 1200 on betamax) it bothered me that I would buy three different titled films starring different actors only to find out that it was the same movie. Thus the second part of this comprehensive book has a definitive index of over 2000 actors/directors/fight choreographers and their aliases, and a complete list by country of every single martial arts film made during the 1970s along with all of their alternative English titles. Furthermore, the Chinese film titles are in Chinese with English translations. 
Of great interest to martial arts film fans and book collectors, the book contains 150, never before published color photos from 150 Shaw Brothers kung fu films from the 1970s. Additionally, each martialogy includes fight statistics that tells the reader how many fights each film has and how much time in minutes and seconds is dedicated to actual martial arts fighting and training sequences i.e. Fights for the Buck. 
Craig-GordonLiuThe Ultimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s is in essence a book on Asian history, martial arts history and martial arts cinema history. The development and secrets of Hong Kong’s wild and wooly fight choreography and wire-fu styles are also succinctly revealed not via research but from my hands-on experience learning these techniques during my tenure as a stuntman/actor/fight choreographer in the Chinese kung fu film and TV industry. From this we see the amazing progenitors of Fant-Asia films come to life, where in 1977 we see the first real martial arts horror film of all time take Asia by storm, a movie that rivals any of the Universal horror films of the 1950s. 
I hope to see you all at Dark Delicacies on Saturday, where my wife will be handing out free Qi Twigs, a root she found that helps one’s qi glow, ergo one’s health. You’ve got to try them to believe them.

'Dirk Gently' Teaser

Here’s the teaser for DIRK GENTLY, the BBC’s detective show based on the novels bythe late Douglas Adams (THE HITCHHIKER GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE); Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
From BBC Four’s Press Release:

“Stephen Mangan will play Douglas Adams’ eccentric detective Dirk Gently in a new BBC Four drama based on the author’s cult novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
He is joined by Darren Boyd as his unwitting sidekick Richard Macduff and Helen Baxendale as Richard’s girlfriend Susan in the adaptation by Bafta-winning Howard Overman.
Anti-hero Dirk Gently operates his eponymous detective agency based on the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.
Perpetually broke, hopelessly chaotic and utterly infuriating, most people suspect Dirk is nothing more than a cheap conman. And they might be right – but nevertheless his methods, though unusual, do often produce surprising results.”

Steven Mangan (HYPERDRIVE, GREEN WING) doesn’t match the book’s description of the pudgy, bespectacled and fashion-challenged Dirk Gently, whose real name is Svlad Cjelli. However, the comedic actor brings a lot of experience to the role.
Douglas Adams had been a story editor and writer on DOCTOR WHO, and some of the plot elements and the time-traveling character Professor Chronotis  from his unfinished 80’s-era Tom Baker serial, Shada wound up in the Dirk Gently novels. (Ideas from another of his episodes, City of Death, were incorporated as well.)
The serial, which dealt with a former Time Lord retired to Earth as a Cambridge don and the secret of a lost prison planet,  was never completed due to a strike. An abridged and Tom Baker-narrated version was dome for home video release, and a audio version using 8th Doctor Paul McGann from the American TV movie was also made several years ago.

Stephen Rebello on PSYCHO: A Celebration of 1960 Retrospective

Psycho (1960)
cfq psychoOne of the proudest moments in the history of Cinefantastique was the October 1986 publication of a double issue (Volume 16, Number 5) devoted to the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. The exhaustive and richly illustrated article was written by Stephen Rebello, who went on to publish an expanded version in book form, under the title of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of PSYCHO. This June, Open Road Media published a new kindle edition of the book. As part of their promotional efforts, they arranged for horror film buff and thriller novelist Kevin O’Brien (Vicious) to interview the PSYCHO expert about Hitchcock’s horror classic, which will no doubt be playing on countless television sets this Halloween weekend (not to mention a few revival houses around the country). With the horror holiday looming, Open Road Media offered us an opportunity to present the unabridged interview of one horror expert by another.

Kevin O'Brien, author of VICIOUS
Kevin O'Brien, author of VICIOUS

Kevin O’Brien: I first heard about Psycho in the early 1960s, when I was just a kid.  My oldest sister was afraid of taking a shower if no one else was in the house because of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. So—I just had to find out more about this movie and see it. When did you first find out about Psycho? And do you remember what it was like when you saw it for the first time? Did you have any idea of what you were in for?
Stephen Rebello: Well, Kevin, if your sister was one of the many who wouldn’t shower after seeing Psycho, Hitchcock would have advised: “Have her dry cleaned.” As for me, growing up in southeastern Massachusetts, I remember reading in the Boston newspapers these little “teasers” about how the famous director and TV personality Alfred Hitchcock was making this secretive, very different kind of movie. Not the kind of thing he usually did—a full-out shocker-type film. One of these items mentioned that Hitchcock had posted guards at the studio soundstage doors to keep out the prying eyes and ears of the curious. He swore the cast to secrecy about the plot. Well, my young imagination went into overdrive imagining what Hitchcock might be up to.

By the summer of 1960, though, I became obsessed when I saw for the first time the Psycho movie trailer. It played at the most mysterious movie theater around—a slightly eerie, faded, grand, and expansive old movie palace called the Durfee in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts. If Norma Desmond had been a movie theater, this would have been it. Hitchcock taking us on a tour of this motel and scary old house made his movie seem strange, spooky, and grown up as hell; so did the constant TV and radio ads, also narrated by the grand old man himself. And the posters in the lobby, with that cracked, shattered yellow title lettering, Janet Leigh wearing a bra and slip, Anthony Perkins looking tense, a shirtless John Gavin and that tagline: A new—and altogether different—screen excitement. To me, it all spelled: hot stuff.
I wasn’t alone. Kids in my school were talking a lot about Psycho and, once the Legion of Decency forbid any good Catholic from seeing it, everyone wanted to see it. I lied, schemed, and cheated my way into the theater that first day. The place was packed and once Janet Leigh drove up to Bates Motel in the rain, you could feel dread building in this audience of mostly tough, working class, largely immigrant people. Once Leigh flushed the motel bathroom toilet—a first in an American movie!—then, disrobed and stepped into the shower, the theater sounded exactly like a kids’ horror movie matinee, even though it was filled with grownups, authority figures, friends of my parents, even one of my teachers.
Mrs Bates is not herself today.
Mrs Bates is not herself today.

They yelled like banshees. As the rest of the film went on, the audience talked to the screen and shouted out warnings to the characters. I saw one of my schoolteachers run up the aisle looking gray and nauseous. People were stunned after the shower murder, though. It was that staggering. And when Martin Balsam as the detective climbed the stairs of the Bates house and when Vera Miles tapped Mrs. Bates’s shoulder in the basement, the place went berserk. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since in a movie theater. The audience wasn’t self-conscious, faux-hip, or knowing. Nothing then was meta or ironic. The response was primal. Even though I was too young to understand half of Psycho the first time I saw it, it shook me.
O’Brien: Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho is based on the Ed Gein case. Can you tell us about Ed Gein and his crimes?
Rebello: As you have in some of your wonderful books, Robert Bloch took inspiration from the crimes of a real-life, deeply disturbing, and dangerous psychopath. Mr. Bloch, a disciple of H.P. Lovecraft, lived in Wisconsin in 1957, just miles from where police that year discovered almost unimaginable horrors at the dilapidated farm and house of Ed Gein, an unmarried, middle-aged loner who was known as an odd duck by pretty much everyone in his community. The police found the nude, headless, recently slaughtered body of a woman hanging by her heels in a shed. A human heart was in a coffee can on the stove. This unfortunate woman wasn’t Gein’s only female victim, as the search revealed. Gein’s various activities included dressing himself with female human remains, grave-robbing, cannibalism, necrophilia and, very likely, maternal incest. Mind you, this was a guy hired by his neighbors to babysit their little darlings. The case became a national sensation, even though many of the police findings were too sensational and twisted to be reported by the press in those days. Although Bloch claimed that even he didn’t know the grisly details, somehow his creation “Norman Bates” was uncannily like Gein in many ways. So, Gein—who appeared to be a meek, bland, slightly effeminate mama’s boy when he was actually the stuff of nightmares—inadvertently became one of Bloch’s inspirations for writing Psycho.
O’Brien: How did Hitchcock stumble upon the book, Psycho, and why was he interested in making a “horror” movie?
Rebello: Hitchcock had been making films since the 1920s and, by the forties, was pretty much acknowledged as the master architect of motion picture thrillers. By the fifties, he was beginning to feel particularly pigeon-holed in the suspense genre and was always relentlessly pursuing material that was different, unique, attention-getting. He drove his associates and agents insane trying to find things that would ignite his imagination. By 1959, several of his most successful films had been very expensive to make. He didn’t like that. The final straw was when he had lavished time, love, money, and preproduction on a film to star Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Harvey that he had to cancel for various reasons. That was a terrible blow, and that project could have been one of the great Hitchcock films. In a state of agitated frustration, the novel Psycho came to his attention because of an intriguing New York Times review by the respected novelist and critic Anthony Boucher. The book, generally, won strong reviews. Hitchcock had noticed how low-budget, non-star horror movies were making a killing by attracting the younger audiences he was after. Psycho fit in with his idea of trying something bolder, more contemporary, and with economy of scale. He began talking about horror movies with his associates and asking, “What if someone good were to make a horror movie?” But he was one of the few who saw merit in Psycho; many of his associates warned him against making Psycho.  They thought it was beneath him.
O’Brien: In the book, Mary Crain (Marion in the movie) isn’t stabbed in that fatal shower. And Norman Bates is not nearly as handsome and charming as Tony Perkins. Can you explain some of these alterations and any other differences between the book and the movie?
PSYCHO shower
Janet Leigh as Marion Crane

Rebello: But she is killed in the shower in the novel. In fact, Hitchcock told many people that he was most attracted by Bloch’s notion of a murder coming out of the blue in an everyday, confined setting—the shower, where we feel relaxed and complacent but where we’re utterly vulnerable.  Hitchcock was thrilled with the idea of shocking audiences by casting a major star as the heroine and killing her off so early in the picture. That violated every Hollywood rule. Bloch’s heroine has her head cut off in the shower, not exactly the kind of thing that even Hitchcock could have gotten away with, even if he had been tempted. Bates in the novel is middle-aged, pudgy, alcoholic, brooding, unattractive, repugnant. He also has extensive conversations with his mother, which would have been fatal and a cheat on film. Casting Anthony Perkins was a lucky masterstroke; he’s as charming, attractive, sad, perverse, and lethal as earlier Hitchcock killers like the one Joseph Cotten played in Shadow of a Doubt and Robert Walker played in Strangers on a Train. Perkins had already worked with top directors like William Wyler, Anthony Mann, and Stanley Kramer, and Paramount had spent lots of money promoting him as a successor to the late James Dean or comparing him to the young James Stewart or Henry Fonda. Although he had become a teen idol and even made some hit records, things hadn’t quite clicked and, at the time, Perkins felt typecast and owed Paramount a movie. Hitchcock could hire him inexpensively. It was a perfect storm.
O’Brien: How did screenwriter Joseph Stefano get involved in the movie?
Rebello: Hitchcock had thrown away an earlier draft by James Cavanaugh, a talented young TV writer known for scripts for the series Suspense and Playhouse 90; what got him the Psycho adaptation assignment was his teleplay for the famous 1959 Alfred Hitchcock Presents entry Arthur, in which Hitchcock himself directed Laurence Harvey as a murderous young chicken farmer. No one liked Cavanaugh’s adaptation of Psycho, though, and Hitchcock’s powerful and much-feared agent Lew Wasserman made the case for Joseph Stefano. Hitchcock was amused by Stefano—a talented, offbeat former dancer, singer, and songwriter who regaled and fascinated Hitchcock with intimate revelations from his psychotherapy sessions. They made quite a pair.
Anthony Perkins in PSYCHO
Anthony Perkins in PSYCHO

O’Brien: I hear Anthony Perkins was Hitchcock’s first choice for Norman Bates.  What about the other roles? I hear Eva Marie Saint, Shirley Jones, Carolyn Jones, Stuart Whitman, and Brian Keith were in the running for other major roles. Could you tell us some more about the casting—and who else was in the running?
Rebello: Perkins was pretty much “locked” for Norman Bates, but there were brief discussions about Dean Stockwell, Roddy McDowall, Laurence Harvey, and others. Hitchcock wanted the biggest star possible for the female leading role. Hitchcock associates and top talent agents suggested such stars, appropriate or not, as Lana Turner, Deborah Kerr, Eva Marie Saint, Maureen O’Sullivan, and more. For the heroine’s sister, there was talk of Shirley Jones, Dolores Hart, and Diane Varsi, and for Sam, Marion’s boyfriend, Robert Loggia, Stuart Whitman, Brian Keith, Richard Basehart, and Leslie Nielsen were among those in the running.
O’Brien: I spotted the Psycho house in an Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, “The Unlocked Window.” How did they come up with that creepy house, and was it in any other films/TV shows?
Rebello: After many discussions with Hitchcock about what he did and didn’t want, art directors Robert Clatworthy and Joseph Hurley designed the house and built it on the Universal backlot, clearly referencing Victorian architecture as typified by Edward Hopper’s haunting 1925 painting House by the Railroad. The art directors appropriated architectural pieces from other standing sets on the Universal backlot, including the house from Harvey. Originally, they built only the front and side of the house because those were all Hitchcock needed to shoot. After Psycho, the house got altered but remained as a standing set and can be seen in several episodes of the Boris Karloff–hosted anthology TV series Thriller, in the Western shows Wagon Train and Laramie, in such feature films as Invitation to a Gunfighter, and, yes, in the Psycho-esque “An Unlocked Window,” among many, many other TV episodes and films.
O’Brien: Why did Hitchcock use his TV show crew to shoot the film (instead of his usual cinematographer, Robert Burks)? And why did he shoot it in black and white?
Rebello: After becoming so well known in the fifties for his big-star, big-budget Technicolor films, Hitchcock tackled Psycho as something of an “experiment” but also a throwback. He loved referring to it as his “30-day picture” and, just as he did in his early filmmaking days in England, he wanted to try new things while keeping the budget low, at around $800,000.  One way of accomplishing this was to work with his trusted TV crewmembers, who were accustomed to working fast and with great skill. In those days, the decision to film in color versus black and white could be as much an artistic decision as a financial one. Black and white was as ideal for Psycho as it was for such other movies of the sixties as The Apartment, Anatomy of a Murder, To Kill a Mockingbird, Days of Wine and Roses, Hud, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, Cape Fear, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Haunting, In Cold Blood, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
O’Brien: Is it true that Janet Leigh gave John Gavin “a helping hand” during their love scene?
Janet Leigh and John Gavin
Janet Leigh and John Gavin

Rebello: That’s what the gifted, very classy, and discreet Janet Leigh said, blushing as she did. Hitchcock and the charming, thoroughly professional Janet Leigh got along beautifully, but somehow he wasn’t especially happy with what he was getting out of John Gavin. He wanted passion, sexuality, heat, and he seemed to feel Mr. Gavin was self-conscious and uncomfortable. Hitchcock apparently took Ms. Leigh aside and asked her to take . . . matters . . . into her own hands. Mr. Gavin responded. What a pair of troupers.
O’Brien: Rumors have flown that title designer, Saul Bass, filmed the shower scene. Can you put those rumors to rest?
Rebello: Well, Kevin, those rumors flew but they’ve long since crash-landed. There is no underestimating Mr. Bass’s extraordinary gifts as an artist, but too many key people who were on the set have vehemently denied his assertions. I doubt anyone takes the claim seriously anymore—if they ever did. Saul Bass’s contributions to the movie—his visual concepts for the shower sequence and the Arbogast murder on the stairs, the test footage of the shower sequence that he shot using a nude stand-in—are indelible. Let’s remember that Saul Bass provided Hitchcock with a powerful and evocative roadmap for how to film and edit the shower sequence in an era in which extreme violence and nudity could only be suggested but not shown. But let’s also remember that Hitchcock, Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano, especially Janet Leigh, film editor George Tomasini, and composer Bernard Herrmann are the stars and authors of that now-iconic scene.
O’Brien: Any interesting stories about filming the famous shower scene?
Rebello: Here are some things that did and didn’t happen during the filming of the shower scene. It was not shot by a Japanese crew. Not a frame of it was filmed in color. Janet Leigh shot the scene virtually nude, which was very brave and completely unheard-of for American movie stars in those days. Hitchcock also hired a nude model to shoot the entire sequence just in case Janet Leigh’s modesty made her guard her body and ruin the shot. That model, Marli Renfro, is definitely visible in the overhead shots. Hitchcock in his elegant dark blue suit and tie would often be seen chatting about wine, travel, and dirty jokes while Marli Renfro sat next to him, completely naked. Male crewmembers on the closed set hung from the rafters to get a better view of Janet Leigh; such a frank, bold scene was unheard of at the time. It was quite an engineering feat to make certain Ms. Leigh had sufficient warm water for the entire length of filming. So, no, Hitchcock did not douse her with cold water to elicit her screams—a silly rumor that undercuts what a skilled actress Janet Leigh was.
Anthony Perkins does not play Mother in this scene.
Margo Epper plays Mother in this scene.

Anthony Perkins was not used in the scene in any way; he was already in rehearsals for a Frank Loesser musical on Broadway. Hitchcock wanted to spare Perkins any discomfort or embarrassment and, besides, Perkins had such a distinctive body type that he would have been recognized immediately by audiences. “Mother” was played in the scene by stuntwoman Margo Epper, whose face was blacked-out with makeup to conceal her identity. The sound of the knife stabbing flesh was accomplished by stabbing a casaba melon and also a slab of meat.
O’Brien: Is it true that Hitchcock didn’t want music to accompany the shower scene? Can you tell us about Bernard Herrmann’s contribution to the film?
Rebello: Hitchcock was out to break a lot of new ground this time. That included his wanting Psycho to look, feel, and sound unlike his elegant suspense movies like The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, or Vertigo, with their romantic, haunting symphonic scores by Bernard Herrmann. Hitchcock dictated precise notes for sound effects and music for his films; for Psycho, he was after a downbeat, cool, strange jazz score perhaps similar to those director Otto Preminger had from Elmer Bernstein for The Man with the Golden Arm and from Duke Ellington on Anatomy of a Murder. He smelled change in the air, the coming of a new, franker, more violent era, and he wanted the film to be modern, to appeal to a new audience. For the shower murder, he was adamant that audiences would hear only the sound of the water, the heroine’s screams and the sounds of the knife ravaging her body. Tough, savage stuff. He resisted Herrmann’s idea of an all-string score and screaming violins but, once he heard the great composer’s work for the shower scene, he apologized—in his own way, that is—by admitting of his no-music dictate, “Improper suggestion, my boy, improper suggestion.”
Psycho (1960) Leigh underwearO’Brien: I’ve seen a few seconds of Janet Leigh actually taking off her bra during that scene in which Tony Perkins spies on her through a peephole. But this didn’t make the US version of the film (check the special features of the DVD). How much trouble did Hitchcock encounter with the censors?
Rebello: Hitchcock had been challenging and tweaking the hypocrisy of censorship from the beginnings of his career. He threw down the gauntlet with Psycho, deliberately upping the ante with suggestive situations, exposed flesh, provocative themes, imagery, and subtext. When Paramount submitted the screenplay to the censors for review, as all major films had to in those days, their decision came back that Hitchcock was skating on extremely thin ice. They demanded less frank dialogue and lots of changes, for instance, in the way he proposed to film such things as the opening sequence with Janet Leigh and John Gavin shacked up in the hotel during her lunch break, the shower sequence, and more. The censors were especially infuriated about suggestions of incest between Bates and his mother. Hitchcock mostly ignored their restrictions and made the film he wanted to make, with some concessions. On the whole, he played the game brilliantly—deliberately inserting things in the script that he knew he wouldn’t get away with but that would distract the censors from things he was willing to fight for. When the censorship board demanded that he recut the shower scene, for instance, he didn’t touch a foot of the film; they didn’t notice. In the end, the censors weren’t a match for him. But make no mistake—this was a major battle. They could have stopped the movie from being released. Hitchcock didn’t get away with everything, though. He wanted Janet Leigh bra-less in the film’s opening, her breasts brushing John Gavin’s bare chest.
O’Brien: Is it true that Hitchcock didn’t have much confidence in Psycho when he viewed the finished product for the first time?
Rebello: The early cast and crew private screening did not go particularly well, although that’s hardly unusual in Hollywood.  The film apparently played flat, unexciting; it lacked tension. Hitchcock secretly always held the view that if the film really didn’t work, he’d edit it to an hour and show it on television. A later screening for close associates—this time edited more tightly and accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s score—played much better.
Private eye Arbogast (Martin Balsam) meets his fate.
Private eye Arbogast (Martin Balsam) meets his fate.

Many people today don’t realize that even more effort and planning went into the scene of the private detective being killed than the heroine’s. It was the stabbing of the detective that brought the early audience right out of their seats with terror. As you know, Kevin, Hitchcock didn’t hold any sneak preview screenings for the public, and there weren’t even advance screenings for the press. Some say that Hitchcock wanted to keep the film’s revelations a complete surprise. Others argue that Hitchcock was unconvinced that Psycho was up to his usual standard and that he wanted to do preemptive damage control. To anyone who questioned him, he’d just shrug it off and say, “It’s only a movie.” Even his personal production assistant tried to calm down people on the set who were worried that Hitchcock was going too far: “Don’t worry. He’s already planning the next movie in his head.”
O’Brien: “No one will be admitted into the theater after the start of the film.” Can you explain this mandate and other marketing strategies Hitchcock used?
Rebello: In those days, the price of a movie ticket bought you not only a feature film, but also newsreels, short subjects, previews of coming attractions, and a second feature film. People would drift in and out of theaters as their interests and schedules permitted. That’s how the old expression originated: “This is where I came in.” Psycho helped change all that. Hitchcock was a master showman and, taking a cue from the publicity campaign for the superb French film Les Diaboliques, he created the aura of an “event” around Psycho.
In a jokey publicity shot, Alfred Hitchock sits in Mrs. Bates' chair
In a jokey publicity shot, Alfred Hitchock sits in Mrs. Bates' chair

He made himself the star and centerpiece of the movie’s advertising campaign. At the first-run engagements of Psycho, theater owners were instructed to hire uniformed guards to stand outside theaters to prevent audiences from trying to enter the movie house once the film had begun. Great publicity! Life-sized cardboard cutouts of Hitchcock stood in the lobby, and recorded messages from Hitchcock informed ticket-buyers of the reasons behind his unusual admissions policy and also hyped them to expect to be terrified and stunned. At one showing, audiences waiting to get in were wrapped around the block and, when it started to rain and they wouldn’t leave, Hitchcock was contacted by the theater manager and asked what to do. “Buy them umbrellas,” he said. Before the era of Facebook, Twitter, spoilers, and text messages, audiences loved being surprised and loved the chance to feel that they were part of the ritual that seeing Psycho turned out to be.
O’Brien: What was the public and critical reaction to Psycho when it was first released?
Rebello: American critics gave the film mixed to negative reviews—“a blot on an honorable career” as one called it. Hitchcock himself speculated that he’d put critics’ noses out of joint by refusing to invite them to the usual free advance screenings. Critics actually had to suffer the terrible indignity of having to pay to see the film along with the rest of us—the great, unwashed public. On the other hand, the public response to the movie was phenomenal. Audiences lined up around the block for the very first showings and the film was held over for weeks and weeks in many theaters. Psycho was a cultural phenomenon, the kind of movie that you’d hear people talking about at grocery stores, post offices, everywhere. Interestingly, when the movie turned out to cause a sensation, some of the same critics who panned it suddenly got religion and named it on their end-of-the-year “best lists.” The public “got” Psycho—or, as Hitchcock put it, “went Psycho”—long before the critics did. Over the years, of course, the movie has been acclaimed as a masterpiece.
O’Brien: I couldn’t wait to see Psycho when it was set for its TV premiere on The CBS Friday Night Movies in September 1966. But something happened in Kenilworth, Illinois (one town away from where I lived at the time), that caused the TV premiere of Psycho to be canceled. Can you explain?
Rebello: CBS pulled that network premiere after the September 18th murder of twenty-one-year-old Valerie Percy, who was brutally killed with a hammer and a knife by an unknown assailant in the family home she shared with her twin sister, her mother, and her father, then US Senator Charles H. Percy. You may remember that there was a big international investigation and a $50,000 reward but Ms. Percy’s murder remains an unsolved crime to this day. The film was rescheduled, but pulled again after the tragic fire on the Apollo space mission. In the end, the movie never had a network TV showing. Hitchcock took considerable heat from the press about his “responsibility” in contributing to what some called “the American cult of violence.” When a young man on death row said that he killed his most recent victim after seeing Psycho, Hitchcock said, “He had killed two other women before, so when the press called and asked if I had any comment, I said, “Yes. I want to know the names of the movies he saw before he killed the other two, or did he kill the first one after drinking a glass of milk?”
O’Brien: Finally, can you tell us why you think Psycho continues to scare us and influence so many other thrillers—fifty years later?
Rebello: Psycho continues to scare audiences and inspire filmmakers because the story works, the characters resonate, the dialogue is full of dark little gems, the imagery is stunning, and the mood, subtext—the film’s dark underneath—is troubling, primal, and universal. As directed by Hitchcock, it’s a one-of-a-kind collision of sexy soap opera, crime thriller, old dark house Gothic, black comedy, tragedy, and psychosexual mind warp.
The kindle version of Rebello's book
The kindle version of Rebello's book

For some, it is a perfectly enjoyable, enthralling, well-made “movie-movie,” yet it also works on deeper subconscious levels in subversive and masterful ways. No wonder we’re still enjoying Psycho, analyzing it, having nightmares about it, quoting it, parodying it, being influenced by it. And here I’ve gotten the privilege of talking with you about it, Kevin, while, later today, I go back to my involvement in preparations for a major feature film set against the making of Psycho that will begin production early next year. Somewhere, Hitchcock is having the last laugh at all those who warned him not to make Psycho. It wasn’t “only a movie,” was it?
O’Brien: Thank you for your time, Stephen! It’s a thrill and an honor to talk with you. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho is one of my all-time favorite film books.
Rebello: The thrill and honor are also mine, Kevin. Next time, I get to interview you, and we can start with one of my favorites, Vicious.


41 'Doctor Who' Teasers

Amy, The Doctor,  and Rory will all be back
Amy, The Doctor, and Rory will all be back

From DoctorWhoTv we get this list of DOCTOR WHO Teaser phrases and clues for Season 6 of the revived BBC series.

  1. The Doctor will be on trial – twice!
  2. Who controls the light sculptors?
  3. You won’t believe what’s buried under Wembley Stadium.
  4. Scared of the Eye in Space? You should be.
  5. Take up thy sins and walk – slowly.
  6. There won’t be a pub quiz on Tuesday because there won’t be a pub.
  7. Beau Geste is cool.
  8. Bow Street runners are cool.
  9. Bromley-by-Bow is cool.
  10.  August 1982 – Happy Birthday, Ma’am.
  11. Some lies are too much for the psychic paper.
  12. “I won’t take calls from THAT Prime Minister.”
  13. “Marc, where are you?”
  14. The only water in the forest is the river.
  15. What awaits the TARDIS at the zero point?
  16. “72 years on and Rory’s still terrified of Granny Grainger?”
  17. “I was lost in France.”
  18. “How could a fellow Gallifreyan stoop so low?”
  19. Horror of Bangkok.
  20. “Give it up, sweet Korn.”
  21. Argonite? Here?
  22. An ordinary block of flats.
  23. “If I saw them walking down the high street what would I think?” I don’t think you’d think anything at all, Amy.”
  24. Find the lady – before she finds you!
  25. “Margaret! Come back!”
  26. The Doctor defeats the Sahara Desert.
  27. Susannah’s still alive.
  28. Mill Green on fire.
  29. As will River Song
    As will River Song

    The Doctor will get married – Twice!

  30. What are the dangers of Port Olveron?
  31. 502, but never 503.
  32. Beware of the kites.
  33. “A pillar of salt, yes – but not because she looked back. Looking back is good!”
  34. They’ll have to get a new name for Thanksgiving.
  35. Pay attention – It’s not really her.
  36. Treading through the sand – on the one night they come back.
  37. The Shuddering Brethren, they’ll stick in your mind.
  38. “I’m my own Doctor.”
  39. Octavian wasn’t lying.
  40. Mysterious semblance at the the strand of nightmares.
  41. The bones of the TARDIS.

DW_BrilliantThey’re from the Doctor Who: Brilliant Book 2011, now available in the UK from Amazon UK

Oh What a ‘Night’: Looking Back at the ‘Living Dead’

"They're coming to bookstores, Barbara!"
"They're coming to bookstores, Barbara!"

Just in time for the pre-Halloween gift-giving crush comes this breezily entertaining yet critically informative tome on the evolution, production, and aftermath of 1968’s seminal horror film, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Joe Kane, a.k.a. The Phantom of the Movies, has been covering the exploitation and B-movie scene for thirty-plus years. As editor of the tabloid The Monster Times from 1972 to its premature demise in 1976, he oversaw coverage of a slew of genre flicks, as well as running a 1974 presidential campaign for the King of the Monsters himself, Godzilla (who better to replace the reptilian Richard M. Nixon, even if it wasn’t an election year?). Since 1984, he’s been writing as The Phantom of the Movies, a hip, streetwise counterpart to trailer parkdom’s drive-in guru, Joe Bob Briggs. Whether covering the demise of NYC’s Forty-second Street grind houses for the New York Daily News or the inexorable rise of the home video marketplace for The Washington Post — in addition to editing and publishing his own quarterly film magazine, VideoScope — Kane’s credentials for the task are indisputable, while his passion for the subject is undeniable.

In his foreword, writer/director Craven (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM) credits NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as having “liberated me to make LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, because I knew that after [NOTLD] there was a whole new kind of film blossoming in American cinema.” As Kane points out, film zombies were still mired in the voodoo traditions of 1932’s WHITE ZOMBIE before NOTLD, although 1943 became a banner year with the release of REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE MAD GHOUL. It wasn’t until 1964’s gritty, Italian-lensed THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and Hammer Studios’ period-piece THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES that we see the true cinematic forefathers of director George A. Romero’s re-animated flesh-eaters.
Through interviews with the primary participants (some posthumously culled from previously printed sources), Kane recalls the struggles of Pittsburgh, PA-based The Latent Image, Inc., a commercial/industrial film production house, to come up with a viable concept for a feature film they could shoot on a shoestring budget — actually, more like a penny-candy budget! After rejecting a science-fiction comedy about “‘hot-rodding’ aliens” and their BLOB-like pet coming to Earth for some highjinks, Latent Image partner John A. Russo concocted an outline that combined elements of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) and, oddly enough, 1953’s LITTLE FUGITIVE. After discussing the idea of “ghoulish people or alien creatures … feeding off human corpses,” Romero, another partner at Latent Image, came up with forty pages of story that was basically the first half of what would become NOTLD’s plot. Once the story was in place (Russo would complete the screenplay), the major hurdle of actually making their first full-length feature loomed large. Casting friends as well as professionals, a significant shift in the film’s ultimate tone and focus occurred once African-American actor Duane Jones was cast as lead character Ben, a role originally written as a redneck trucker.
While the making-of section contains much that’s been previously revealed through various print and video sources over the four decades since NOTLD’s release, it’s the aftermath of production where the story gets truly complex. Changing the title from “Night of the Flesh Eaters,” distributor Continental Releasing (a division of the esteemed Walter Reade Organization) cost the original investors their copyright of the film. Then, Continental reneged on royalty payments, and lawsuits ensued until Walter Reade Organization finally went bankrupt. Once the film’s copyright was restored to the producers, however, they had no money to pursue legal action against the many infringers.
Meanwhile, the original cast and crew drifted apart, with Romero rising to the top of the notoriety pool. Kane chronicles his post-NOTLD career with efforts such as THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA and JACK’S WIFE (both 1972), then his return to the horror genre with THE CRAZIES (1973) and the modern vampire tale MARTIN (1977). He eventually returned to the world of flesh-feasters with 1979’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and 1985’s DAY OF THE DEAD, in addition to such varied genre-related projects as KNIGHTRIDERS (1981), CREEPSHOW (1982), MONKEY SHINES (1988), TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (both the 1984-88 television series and the 1990 film), TWO EVIL EYES (1991), THE DARK HALF (1993), and BRUISER (2000). After twenty years, Romero revisited his ghoul-friends with his first studio-bankrolled zombie epic, 2005’s LAND OF THE DEAD, which served as a finale to his original DEAD cycle. Two years later, he returned to his low-budget roots with DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007), which rebooted the zombie plague and spawned the first-ever direct Romero/zombies sequel, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010). Kane also briefly spans the period in Romero’s career where he became a victim of numerous unrealized projects, such as an adaptation of Whitley Streiber’s novel UNHOLY FIRE, and remakes of both THE INNOCENTS and THE MUMMY (which Universal eventually assigned to Stephen Sommers), as well as the first film version of the NOTLD-inspired videogame RESIDENT EVIL. (After shooting a wildly acclaimed 30-second, live-action spot for the game RESIDENT EVIL 2, shown only in Japan, Romero was tasked to adapt the game to a feature, but the producers were unhappy with his script and the project went to EVENT HORIZON director Paul W.S. Anderson.)

Kane examines the various LIVING DEAD spin-offs, beginning with 1985’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Romero and Russo struck a deal, whereupon Russo could use the LIVING DEAD title as long as any projects weren’t promoted as direct sequels to the original NOTLD. However, Russo’s script for RETURN was exactly that, and it was a project he hoped to direct himself. After languishing for several years, Russo turned the screenplay into a novel, then sold the project to producer Tom Fox, and it wound up at Orion Pictures. ALIEN scripter Dan O’Bannon (DARK STAR) drastically rewrote the film into a dark, twisted comedy, and ended up replacing TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE auteur Tobe Hooper as director. The film’s punk rock-influenced cast and soundtrack gave it a lively twist, but its release at the same time as Romero’s own DAY OF THE DEAD overshadowed that project. RETURN was constantly being misidentified as Romero’s work during its initial release! RETURN spawned a bevy of sequels, of which only 1993’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (directed by BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR’s Brian Yuzna), is worth a viewing. Russo and the other Latent Image partners were joined by Romero for the ill-advised 1990 remake of NOTLD, scripted by Romero and directed by DAWN and DAY’s make-up effects maestro, Tom Savini. Although a larger budget and a genre-savvy cast made for some solid production values, it was ultimately a letdown for both fans and the investors. Changes made to the plot seemed perfunctory at best, such as Barbara’s (Patricia Tallman) transformation into a Sigourney Weaveresque tough chick. It smacked of exactly what it was: an effort by the original investors to finally turn a buck. Even more desperate (and despicable) was the so-called NOTLD: THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, released direct to home video by Anchor Bay Entertainment. “Inspired” by George Lucas’ successful twentieth anniversary re-releases of the original STAR WARS trilogy with enhanced special effects and added scenes as “Special Editions,” Russo, Karl Hardman (“Harry Cooper”), Bill Hinzman (“Cemetery Zombie”), and Russ Streiner lensed new sequences, re-edited the film, and added a new synth-rock score that was already a decade outdated. Romero, at the time hip deep in RESIDENT EVIL scripting, wisely avoided the project. It was instantly decried by fans and critics alike.

Throughout the volume, Kane scatters recollections on NOTLD by such genre luminaries as Peter Jackson (DEAD ALIVE), Danny Boyle (28 DAYS LATER), Lloyd Kaufman (THE TOXIC AVENGER), William Lustig (MANIAC), Allan Arkush (ROCK’N’ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), and Frank Hennenlotter (BASKET CASE). Also examined are spoofs such as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1988) and SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), as well as the Romero-less remakes/sequels DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), DAWN OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM (2005), DAY OF THE DEAD (2008), and the non-sanctioned NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D (2007). The upcoming NOTLD: ORIGINS (2011) sounds utterly yawn-inspiring.

Illustrated only with b/w photos, the book includes Russo’s complete NOTLD screenplay (with red-necked dialogue for the “Truckdriver” character that became Duane Jones’ more refined “Ben”). Kane’s writing style is conversational, so you never feel lectured at while he tells the tortured tales of the film’s four-decade odyssey. My own experience with it began with a 1980 screening of DAWN OF THE DEAD at Cambridge, MA’s Orson Welles Cinema, where beer-fueled Harvard frat boys chowed down on ketchup-drenched KFC during all the zombie-feasting sequences, then tossed the denuded chicken bones at the screen! Fortunately, a Harvard Square Cinema showing of NOTLD soon followed, making me a member of the DEAD-head ranks forever after. It’s an interesting, generational divide, as Jackson and Boyle both point out their own zombie epics were more influenced by DAWN than NOTLD. DAWN was the over-the-top, kick-in-the-nuts that then drove you to seek out the more subtle, sucker-punch-to-the-gut that was NOTLD. Twenty years from now, it would be interesting to see what the filmmakers whose first exposure to the living dead is 2004’s DAWN remake or Romero’s DIARY will be inspired to unleash upon us.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE MOST TERRIFYING ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER, by Joe Kane, foreword by Wes Craven. Citadel Press, New York, NY. August 31, 2010. 316 pp. $16.95.

Celebrating Ray Bradbury's 90th Birthday: CFQ Post-Mortem Podcast 1:28.1

post-mortem podcast graphi copy

August 22, 2010 represented fantasy author Ray Bradbury’s 90th birthday. In celebration of that event, this week’s Post-Mortem podcast examines his career, including the many film and television adaptations of his work: FARENHEIT 451, THE BEAST FROM 20000 FATHOMS, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, etc. Plus, correspondent Lawrence French fills us in on the details of the celebration in Los Angeles, which declared August 22-28 to be “Ray Bradbury Week.”