Dead Snow 2 premieres in L.A.

As part of the SpectreFest film festival at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles, the Cinefamily and SpectraVision present the Los Angeles premiere of DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS DEAD on the second half of a double bill with the original DEAD SNOW – the amusing horror-comedy about Nazi Zombies. Director Tommy Wirkola returns to the directing chair, presumably a sadder and a wiser man after his Hollywood experience with HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS.
The trailer for DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD is a real hoot, suggesting that the sequel may be even more fun than the original.
The double bill begins at 7:30pm on October 9. Tickets are free for Cinefamily members, $14 for non-members. The Silent Movie Theatre is located 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Click here for more information.
deadsnow_480

Horror movies come to life at Universal Studios's Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights 2014
Clockwise from top right: From Dusk Till Dawn, The Purge, Face Off, The Walking Dead

If you want to see your favorite horror movies come to life, and you reside anywhere near Los Angeles, California or Orlando, Florida, you nightmare has come true! Just hurry over to either city’s Universal Studios tour, where you will find Halloween Horror Nights in full swing.

Our sister site, Hollywood Gothique, offers this impression of the Los Angeles version, which acts as sort of a giant-sized promotional event for Universal’s upcoming DRACULA UNTOLD, not to mention the new FROM DUSK TILL DAWN television series on Netflix and the return of THE WALKING DEAD on AMC. If your taste turns toward older titles, there is also a maze based on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).

HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS REVIEW

This Halloween, Universal Studios offers more mazes than ever before: seven instead of six. There is a good variety of themes, but sadly no major horror movie franchise is represented. Instead, we’re seeing generic mazes (Clowns 3D), mazes based on TV shows (The Walking Dead, Face Off), and mazes based on a single film title (An American Werewolf in London, From Dusk Till Dawn, Dracula Untold, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator).
Scare tactics remain consistent from previous years, though (to our perception at least) the jump-scares seem timed to a faster clock, hitting us with a more rapid-fire approach. Fans will recognize many familiar motifs, with old sets and effects rebranded for the new mazes. Unaware of the recycled elements, newcomers (along with those who skipped the past year or two) will simply thrill to the excitement of the phenomenal surroundings and shriek as the monsters lunge from their strategically situated hiding places, their appearances punctuated by flashing strobe lights.

Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood
Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood

As in 2013, construction on Universal’s upper lot has left little room for the Halloween Horror Nights mazes. There are only two this year: Dracula Untold and Face Off (in the House of Horrors).

Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood

Based on the eponymous movie scheduled for release on October 10, Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood begins with some fine Gothic settings that excite our expectations far more than the film’s trailer did. We almost felt transported back into one of Universal Studios’ classic Dracula movies; we even suspected the maze had scavenged sets from Universal’s House of Horrors walk-through attraction.
Unfortunately, the new film’s image of Count Dracula is more action-adventure than horror – and not nearly iconic enough to make him a memorable monster for a Halloween Horror Nights attraction. Even worse, the maze seems to run out of sets midway through, after which that path is defined by black curtains!
Yes, you read the right: Universal Studios Hollywood – the production company that created some of the most memorable monster movie sets in the history of cinema – is using a technique that we would barely find tolerable in a disadvantaged home haunt. (This leads us to wonder whether Dracula Untold was a last-minute addition, included because of the fortuitous timing of the movie’s release date rather than for its potential as a great maze.)

Face Off

Halloween Horror Nights 2014 Face OffTaking its name from the Sy Fy channel reality show, Face Off is set in the House of Horrors, which is schedule to be torn down after Halloween Horror Nights closes in November. Although we enjoyed the variety of bizarre creatures haunting the halls of this venerable attraction, we found most of them inappropriate to the settings, which deliberately evoke the glories of Universal’s classic black-and-white horror films of the 1930s and ’40s.
These sets are the real star of the House of Horrors, and it was nice to walk through Dracula’s Castle and Frankenstein’s laboratory one last time. However, as much as we are delighted by the sight of a gyrating pole dancer an Alice in Wonderland costume, we found the image a little bit out of place amid the mad-scientist equipment.
We’re not one to complain, but the House of Horrors deserves a better Last Hurrah than this. The Face Off monstrosities are great, but they could have been slotted anywhere in the park – even in a scare zone. House of Horrors should have delivered a House of Frankenstein-type monster rally, with the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the Count, and the Monster reassembling for a final farewell. Sad to see the opportunity lost.

An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in LondonThis is the first entrance you will see, to the right of Jurassic Park. Based on the 1981 film written and directed by John Landis, An American Werewolf in London is one of a handful of attractions that feels truly new at Halloween Horror Nights this year. Yes, it’s situated in a familiar location, but the layout has been filled with specific scenes and images from the movie, so recycling of old gags is almost non-existent.
Entering through the Slaughtered Lamb pub, you will encounter the nightmarish werewolf Nazis attacking the hospital, Jack’s ghost in various stages of decomposition, David’s painful full-body transformation into a lycanthrope, and several amazing recreations of Rick Baker’s monstrous werewolf – a four-footed ravenous beast rather than a man in need of a shave.
There’s even a scene in a theatre screening See You Next Wednesday (a recurring inside joke in Landis’s movies) – one of those moments Universal truly deserves credit for, showing a fan-like love for the minutia and trivia that the average Halloween-goer might overlook.
The only thing we missed was a spectacular ending, with David in werewolf form trapped in an alley and tragically gunned down by the police. Other than that, this maze delivers what Halloween Horror Nights does best: recreating a horror movie in real life – and letting you enter its world.

Clowns 3D with Music by Slash

We are sick to death of Halloween clowns, but we have to admit that this maze is better than expected. Sure, we recognize the same old settings (prison cells, a freezing room, etc), but we enjoy the day-glo 3D colors (every Halloween haunt should have at least one “lights on” attraction with high visibility instead of menacing shadows). Some of the special effects gags are memorably gag-inducing, particularly the sawing-a-woman-in-half scene (a combination of live actress and mannequin).
We’re not really sure the monsters in here have to be clowns, and we cannot remember a note of the soundtrack provided by Slash, but we did have a good time, in spite of ourselves.

The Walking Dead: End of the Line

Halloween Horror Nights 2014: Walking Dead key art resizedWith most of the Halloween Horror Nights mazes pushed off Universal’s’ upper level, there is not enough room even in the park’s lower level to house them. Consequently, after enjoying Clowns 3D and An American Werewolf in London, you will make a lengthy trek to see the final three mazes three in the lower back lot. This means that, in addition to the time allotted for standing in line, you should add an extra ten or fifteen minutes for walking. (“Alternative Transport” is available for those with mobility issues.)
The walk is not without its pleasures of anticipation: huge facades loom in the distance; the night air is filled with shrieks and flashing lights. As you approach your destination, you enter one of Halloween Horror Nights’ best scare zones, The Walking Dead: Welcome to Terminus.  Walkers shuffle in the darkness, impeding your journey past broken-down military vehicles -symbols of society’s death rattle in the face of an enemy it could not destroy.
Nearer the entrance, you will see a perhaps too-cheerful soul welcoming you to Terminus, the safe haven promised in Season Four – a promise that ultimately proved too good to be true. Finally, you reach…
Though based on Season Four of The Walking Dead, this maze begins with the same prison set seen in Halloween Horror Nights 2013.The recreation is certainly justified, since both Seasons Three and Four were set in the prison; nevertheless, it is a bit disappointing to be experiencing familiar beats, especially after the preceding scare zone has raised one’s hopes for a trip to Terminus.
Hollywood Gothique loves zombie mayhem, but The Walking Dead series has been running out of gas for the past season or two, and the enervation is beginning to show up in the Halloween Horror Nights mazes. Fortunately, after exiting the prison, there are just enough new scenes to make the trip worthwhile, including an impressive recreation of a tunnel filled with zombies trapped in the rubble of a cave-in. This scene answers one of the questions plaguing the rest of Universal’s Walking Dead attractions: why don’t the Walkers attack and eat you? Well, here at least – they can’t, because they’re stuck! They’re still menacing as hell, and the menace is more effective because the situation creates a sense of believability missing elsewhere.

AVP: Alien vs. Predator

Halloween Horror Nights 2014: Alien vs PredatorHere is a neat trick: AVP: Alien vs Predator is a bad movie, yet it yields a good maze. Why? Because it’s hard to go completely wrong with two of cinema’s most iconic movie monsters.
No doubt this is part of the reason Universal based their maze on the crossover title rather than either stand-alone franchise. Another reason probably has to do with limiting the scope of the maze for budgetary reasons: instead of recreating scenes from the entire Alien franchise – which would have required some expensive, original sets – AVP: Alien vs. Predator fits into an existing layout. In fact, if you look closely, you realize that this maze is not based on 2004’s AVP: Alien vs. Predator, which was set in the arctic; instead, it more nearly recalls the 2007 follow-up Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, which was set in small-town America. Thus, Universal can reuse generic sets of wooded areas and houses – which are much less expensive than reconstructing, for example, H.R. Giger’s distinctive designs for Alien‘s Egg Chamber and Space Jockey. (Had Universal taken the latter approach, they could very possibly have created the greatest maze in the history of Halloween.)
Whatever the budgetary constraints behind the maze, AVP: Alien vs. Predator realizes its titular monsters in fantastic detail. If you – like us – have long yearned to see a living Alien close up, in all its glory, Halloween Horror Nights offers the opportunity, and you will not be disappointed. The Predator design is not nearly as magnificent, but their physical presence makes an imposing balance with their enemy.
Some of the scares here are a bit repetitious: there are not one but two tiny corridors with an Alien on one side and a Predator on the other, recreating Odysseus’ famous dilemma regarding Scylla and Charybdis. In place of that, we would have preferred more sequences from the AVP movies, such as the magnificent moment when an Alien, hiding overhead, spears a Predator with its tail and hauls up into the hair like a dangling morsel. Nevertheless, we’ll take what we can get.
Also, keep your eyes open to avoid missing easily overlooked details. You path through one room directs your attention away from some victims plastered to a wall. Look closely and you will see they are not mannequins but actors – and at least one of them screams in pain as a chest-burster improvises a birth control through the ribs of its unfortunate “parent.”

From Dusk Till Dawn

HHN 2014 From Dusk Till Dawn 2 retouchLike An American Werewolf in London, this maze effectively recreates a specific film, one never before utilized at Halloween Horror Nights. The result is fresher and more exciting than anything else at Universal Studios Hollywood this year – for us, the hands-down winner as the best maze.
The exterior offers a passable recreation of the Titty Twister bar from the 1994 film, here renamed “The Twister” to avoid offending delicate sensibilities. Outside, two actors try to recreate the Gecko Brothers, but nobody really cares about them, and they are instantly forgotten as soon as you go inside. There, to the strains of Tito and Tarantula’s “After Dark,” you encounter Santanico Pandemonium doing her sultry snake dance (with an artificial animal, unfortunately).
After that, it’s one jump-scare after another. The hiding places are packed closely together, so you never have far to go before encountering a new danger. Also, the frequency of attacks is accelerated compared to previous years and even compared to some of Universal’s other mazes this year: miss one sudden, starling encounter, and another follows almost immediately.
Since the vampires vixens sport demonic faces atop alluring figures, there is an attraction-repulsion vibe to the maze. Unlike the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt, Halloween Horror Nights has been lax at exploiting the erotic allure of vampires. This year, they finally get with the program, and the results are turbo-charged.
We have to give Universal Studios credit for one other reason: over the past few years, it has become de rigeuer for theme parks to include one Latin0-inspired horror attraction: La Llorona, Chupacabra, or El Cucuy. From Dusk Till Dawn fills the bill but in an entirely different way. Yes, it’s set south of the border, but it’s contemporary cinematic horror – high-octane and hot – not another urban legend of children’s bedtime story.
One slightly churlish note: Among the dead bodies strewn in The Twister, we saw a mannequin that was recognizable as the possessed body from the end of Halloween 2013’s Evil Dead maze – the one that received the spectacular chainsaw-through-the-face treatment.This leftover stood out as a bit of an anomaly in From Dusk Till Dawn, a maze that otherwise eschews recycled elements.

RIDES

Walking Dead Terror TramFor Halloween 2014, The Terror Tram is “Invaded by the Walking Dead.”
Well, hasn’t it always been? Back in 2006, when Universal launched Halloween Horror Nights after years of October inactivity, there were zombies on the back lot, and they’ve been there almost ever since; calling them “The Walking Dead” doesn’t change much.
As with this year’s Walking Dead maze, there is lip-service paid to the fourth-season plot development regarding Terminus, but hearing about it doesn’t mean you get to see it. Instead, the Terror Tram and the back lot tour remain mostly unchanged from 2013, with guests menaced by zombies and by roaming bands of chainsaw-wielding humans who (we are told) are so frenzied that they may not make a distinction between the living and the dead.
If Universal is going to use the Walking Dead brand name, we would like to see more of The Walking Dead on the back lot. Instead of using the iconic Psycho house as a photo-op (have your picture taken with Norman Bates), redress it as Hershell’s farm house, and stage the climactic battle from the end of Season Two, with the humans failing to fend of an onslaught of Walkers.
Fortunately, though there is little new, the old stuff is still good, and if you have never walked through the back lot during Halloween, you will get a kick out of the experience.
You can also enjoy many of Universal’s’ year-round rides: Transformers 3D; Jurassic Park in the Dark; The Simpsons; and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. We have experienced the first three and recommend all of them, though the Simpsons Ride is probably the most wacky fun – and the best motion-control attraction we have ever experienced. On the other hand, if you prefer a ride with real motion, Jurassic Park in the Dark brings you face-to-face with some convincing animatronic dinosaurs.

CONCLUSION

Halloween Horror Nights 2014: More Dead Than Ever
As expected, Universal Studios delivers production values – makeup, sets, and effects – that are above and beyond anything available at other Halloween events in Los Angeles. If you want to admire the artistry that goes into making an astounding haunted theme park attraction, then Halloween Horror Nights is the choice for you.
The consistency of quality is a little bit of a drawback, however. Although all of the mazes and scare zones are notionally “new,” long-time fans will experience a sense of déjà vu here and there. Also, as impressed as we were by the sights and sounds – not to mention the smells! – we found Halloween Horror Nights to be more fun than frightening – like watching your favorite old horror movie for the 1000th time and chuckling over scenes that scared you as a child. It’s still great entertainment, but it’s a different kind of entertainment.
Halloween Horror Nights 2014 is spectacular in scope, yet it feels – if not stuck in a rut, then locked in ghoulish groove. Much on display has been seen before: the “all new” Terror Tram Tour is very familiar, and many of the mazes have a recycled feel. Whereas Universal Studios used to create scenes that felt custom-made for each particular theme (whether it was Jason’s Camp Crystal Lake or Freddy’s Elm Street house), more recent mazes feel like new wine in old bottles – as if the characters are being forced into pre-existing sets and locations (e.g., AVP: Alien vs Predator). It’s as if Universal has given up on making the best possible Halloween haunt; instead, they seem to be maximizing profits by keeping down budgets.
The results are still good; the Guignol remains Grand enough  to shock neophytes and delight fans. True connoisseurs of terror, however, will find it difficult to slake their thirst for novelty and and more refined, sophisticated horror. Halloween Horror Nights remains a must-see for its spectacle  (the plane crash site, swarming with walkers),  and as long as Universal can deliver mazes like From Dusk Till Dawn it will rank among the best Halloween attractions in Los Angeles. But it’s no longer a severed-head-and-dismembered-shoulders above the competition.
Halloween Horror Nights runs through November 2 on weekends and some weeknights. Hours are 7pm to 2am every night; the Terror Tram stops running at 11:45pm. The address is Universal Studios, Hollywood 100 Universal City Plaza Univeral City, CA 91608. Get more info at the official website.

Classic Halloween Horror Films in L.A.

If you are a fan of classic horror films and you are lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, then you have ample opportunity to sample your favorite titles on the big screen, surrounded by an appreciative audience. Sure, you probably own most of the films on Blu-ray disc, but there’s nothing like seeing a movie in a theatre – especially a scary movie.
Listed below are most of the major horror film festivals taking place in and around Los Angeles this October. For more screenings, check out the film listings at our sister site, Hollywood Gothique.
divider

American Cinematheque’s Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon

Creepshow1982posterLocation: The Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403
Date: October 25, starting at 7:30pm
More Info: Click here
Description: The American Cinematheque celebrates Halloween 2014 with its 9th annual Dust-To-Dawn Horrorthon, featuring seven films running one after the other: CREEPSHOW, GARGOYLES, THE THING (1982), THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS, THE DEADLY SPAWN, BASKET CASE, and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.) Guests will spend the entire evening and much of the next morning within the Aero Theatre. There will be trailers, short subjects, free food, prizes and give-aways, plus coffee (courtesy of Pete’s Coffee) to help keep your eyelids open.
Horrorthon ticket prices (includes all-night snacks and coffee):

  • General $20
  • Student/Senior $18
  • Members $15.
  • No vouchers

divider

Arclight Beach Cities Halloween Horror Screenings

Location: The Arclight Beach Cities, 831 S. Nash Street, El Segundo, CA 90245

Anthony Perkins does not play Mother in this scene.
The shower scene in Psycho.

Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here

Description: Starting on October 5, the Arclight Beach Cities offers a month of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Psycho, Edward Scissorhands, and The Bride of Frankenstein.
The full schedule is below:

  • Gremlins on October 12 at 7:30pm
  • The Silence of the Lambs on October 13 at 7:30pm
  • An American Werewolf in London on October 14 at 7:30pm
  • Little Shop of Horrors on October 19 at 7:30pm
  • John Carpenter’s The Thing on October 21 at 7:30pm
  • Beetlejuice on October 26 at 7:30pm
  • Psycho on October 27 at 7:30pm
  • Edward Scissorhands on October 28 at 7:30pm

divider

Arclight Hollywood Halloween Horror Screenings

Gremlins-poster

Location: The Arclight Hollywood, 6360 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood CA
Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here

Description: Starting on Wednesday, October 1, Arclight Cinemas celebrates Halloween in Los Angeles with a month-long series of horror movies at their Hollywood location, including such classic and cult titles as The Exorcist, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Shaun of the Dead, Let the Right One In, and An American Werewolf in London.
Arclight Cinemas’s other locations will offer a different selection of horror titles for Halloween 2014.
Complete schedule for Arclight Hollywood is:

  • Beetlejuice on October 12 at 3:30pm
  • Shaun of the Dead on October 10 at midnight
  • Videodrome on October 13 at 8pm
  • Poltergeist on October 17 at midnight
  • From Dusk Till Dawn on October 18 at midnight
  • Gremlins on October 19 at 3:30pm
  • Let The Right One In on October 20 at 8pm
  • John Carpenter’s The Thing on October 24 at midnight
  • An American Werewolf In London on October 25 at midnight
  • The Shining on October 26 at 3pm
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on October 29 at 8pm
  • The Evil Dead on October 31 at 11:30pm

divider

Arclight Pasadena Halloween Horror Screenings

Sigourney Weaver with director Ridley Scott in Alien.
Sigourney Weaver with director Ridley Scott in Alien.

Location: The Arclight Pasadena, 336 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91101
Link out: Click here
Description: The Arclight Pasadena presents a month-long series of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Ju-On: The Grudge, Dracula, Night of the Creeps, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Fright Night.
The complete schedule is below:

  • Fright Night (1985) on October 9 at 7:45pm
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer on October 12 at 7:30pm
  • Alien (the director’s cut) on October 13 at 8pm
  • The Shining on October 14 at 7:30pm
  • Psycho on October 19 at 8pm
  • Edward Scissorhands on October 20 at 7:30pm
  • Ju-0n: The Grudge on October 21 at 7:45pm
  • The Exorcist on October 26 at 8pm
  • The Silence of the Lambs on October 27 at 7:45pm
  • Night of the Creeps on October 28 at 7:30pm
  • Videodrome on October 30 at 8pm

divider

Arclight Sherman Oaks Halloween Horror Screenings

Location: The Arclight Sherman Oaks, 15301 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
bride_of_frankenstein
Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here

Description: Starting on October 5, the Arclight Sherman Oaks offers a month-long series of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Carrie, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Monster Squad.

  • A Nightmare on Elm Street on October 12 at 7:45pm
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on October 13 at 7:45pm
  • The Creature from the Black Lagoon on October 14 at 7:45pm
  • Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride on October 19 at 7:45pm
  • The Fearless Vampire Killers on October 20 at 7:45pm
  • The Shining on October 21 at 7:45pm
  • American Psycho on October 22 at 7:45pm
  • The Bride of Frankenstein on October 26 at 7:45pm
  • Rosemary’s Baby on October 27 at 7:45pm
  • The Monster Squad on October 28 at 7:45pm

divider
WITCHES POSTER 1990

Cinefamily’s Heavy Midnights: The Witching Hour

Location: The Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Link out: Click here
Description: Saturdays in October, the Cinefamily’s weekly Heavy Midnights series is transformed into The Witching Hour, offering a trio of wicked midnight screenings: The Witches, Troll, and Teen Witch.
The latter two are minor cult items at best, but The Witches is a brilliant piece of cinema. Taking a break from his usual art house work, director Nicolas Roeg brought Roald Dahl’s wickedly amusing children’s story to the screen with the help of some great makeup and effects by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Anjelica Huston stars as the Grand High Witch, who has hatched a plot to dispose of all the children in England by turning them into mice. She opposed by a young orphan and his sweet (but knowledgeable) grandmother. Though nominally a “kids” film, The Witches is amusing and scary, though not too disturbing for young viewers. Recommended.
The schedule is:

  • The Witches on October 11
  • Troll on October 18
  • Teen Witch on October 25

All screenings are on Saturdays at midnight.
divider

Haunted Screenings at LACMA

F. W. Murnau's FAUST (1926)
F. W. Murnau's FAUST (1926) screens October 17.

Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Link out: Click here

Description: As part of Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in conjunction with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, presents a series of Halloween horror movie screenings during the month of October, including Nosferatu, Faust, and Edward Scissorhands.
In a neat big of programming, several evenings will feature double bills or original films and their remakes, illustrating the continuing influence of German Expressionist Cinema from the 1920s, the style of which is still apparent in such later work as Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
Screenings take place at LACMA’s Bing Theatre. Tickets are $3 for LACMA members, $5 for general public.
The complete schedule of horror-related screenings is below:

  • Nosferatu
  • October 10, 2014 | 7:30pm
  • Nosferatu the Vampyre
  • October 10, 2014 | 9:00pm
  • *
  • An American Werewolf in London
  • October 11, 2014 | 7:30pm
  • *
  • Faust (1926)
  • October 17, 2014 | 7:30pm
  • Faust (1994)
  • October 17, 2014 | 9:30pm
  • *
  • M
  • October 24, 2014 | 7:30pm
  • *
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • October 25, 2014 | 5:00pm
  • Edward Scissorhands
  • October 25, 2014 | 7:30pm

divider

Old Town Music Hall Halloween Horror Screenings

Location: Old Town Music Hall, Richmond Street, El Segundo, CA 90245

Link out: Click here
Description: The Old Town Music Hall launches its month-long Old Town Music Haunt with THE INVISIBLE MAN, the 1932 black-and-white classic and based on the H.G. Wells novel, and starring Claude Rains. The special effects still hold up today, and director James Whale’s sly sense of humor keeps the film from feeling dates. Co-starring Gloria Stuart (Titanic).
In celebration of the Halloween season, Old Town Music Hall will be screening horror classics every weekend in October, all of them from Universal Studios, the company that specialized in old-school Gothic chillers in the 1930 and 1940s. The theater will be all decked out with spooky decor, so have fun!
The complete schedule includes:

  • Frankenstein (1931) on October 10, 11 & 12
  • The Mummy (1932) on October 17, 18 & 19
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on October 24, 25 & 26 (with live musical accompaniment on the Old Town Music Hall’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ)
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) on October 31, November 1 & 2

Screenings are on Friday at 8:15pm; Saturday at 2:30pm and 8:15pm; and Sunday 2:30pm. Every show begins with music played on the pipe organ, an audience sing along, and a comedy short. There is a 15-minute intermission, followed by the feature film.
Tickets are $10.00 ($8.00 for seniors 62+) Tickets go on sale at the door thirty minutes before show time. No advance sales.
divider

SpectreFest 2014

spectrefest2014_posterLocation: The Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036

More info: Click here

Description: The Cinefamily and SpectraVision presents a two-month festival of horror, science fiction, and cult films, including several west coast premieres and some in-person guests. Titles include Kevin Smith’s TUSK; DEAD SNOW 2; THE GOLEM; METROPOLIS; and GREMLINS.
SpectreFest promises “a hand-picked look at the latest and greatest in progressive genre films and forward-thinking music from around the world.” According to the official website, the festival is “a collaboration between Cinefamily and SpectreVision (the new production company founded/partnered by Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller).”
The complete schedule is below:

  • Thurs, 10/9, 7:30pm: Dead Snow & Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead (L.A. premiere, cast members in person!)
  • Fri, 10/10, 7:30pm: The Creeping Garden (L.A. premiere!)
  • Thurs, 10/16, 7:30pm ($18/$10 for members): Show & Tell w/ Clive Barker & Nightbreed: Director’s Cut
  • Thurs, 10/23, 7:30pm: Metropolis (w/ live score by Chrome Canyon!)
  • Sat 10/25, 5:00pm: Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Spooktacular!
  • Wed, 10/29, 7:30pm ($15/free for members): Tales From Beyond The Pale: LIVE!
  • Thurs, 10/30, 7:30pm: Gremlins (30th Anniversary screening!) & “The History of PG-13″ Panel
  • Fri, 10/31: special Halloween night event

Unless otherwise noted, tickets are free for members and $12 for non-members.
divider

Street Food Cinema Screenings

The Shining Shelly Duval screams at ax
Shelly Duval in The Shining

Locations: various
Link out: Click here
Description: Street Food Cinema, which screens movies in outdoor venues around Los Angeles, offers a series of classic horror films for Halloween 2014, featuring live music, food, and special guests. Titles include Gremlins, The Exoricst, and The Shining. Guests include Zach Galligan and Linda Blair.
The schedule of screenings is:

  • October 11: Gremlins with Zach Galligan at Victory Park, Pasadena
  • October 18: The Conjuring at Syd Kronenthal Park, Culver City
  • October 18: The Exorcist at Eagle Rock Recreation Center, Los Angeles (benfiting Linda Blair’s World Heart Foundation)
  • October 25: The Shining at Exposition Park, Los Angeles

General Admission prices are $6 for children and $12 for adults. Reserved seating is $11 for children and $17 for adults. Children under 5 are free. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door; entrance priority is given to advance ticket holders.
Doors open at 5:30pm. Live music begins at 6:30pm. Movie screens at approximately 8pm.
Street Food Cinema is Fido Friendly. Bring a blanket, snuggle up, and get scared!

A Talking Cat!?! – Temple of Bad

An all-star cast (we're sure there are some stars in there somewhere) pretend to be impressed with a commonplace feline who couldn't care less in A TALKING CAT!?!
An all-star cast (we're sure there are some stars in there somewhere) pretend to be impressed with a commonplace feline who couldn't care less in A TALKING CAT!?!

We have to be clear about this: There are bad movies; there are reprehensible movies; there are movies that make you consider taking out a contract on the entire DGA, just to be sure that never in the future of humankind will there be a chance that such an affront to common decency could again be committed. And then there are films that are a strangely exhilarating kind of awful, the kind that actually restore your faith in the perverse diversity of the human race, that re-instill your wonder in the awesome chaos of the universe, that, as the slogan for Temple of Bad has it, are truly a religious experience. Such a film is A TALKING CAT!?! A putative family comedy that isn’t funny (at least not in a deliberate way) and that would likely rupture any family unfortunate enough to be exposed to it, this film starts with the premise that people would listen to a cat that dispenses cryptic directives in the voice of Eric Roberts, and then throws such niceties as narrative coherence, plausible characterization, decent production values, and commonsense behavior out the window in its attempt to fill its scant eighty-five minutes with something that justifies its existence.
The Temple of Bad team of Andrea Lipinski, Orenthal V. Hawkins, Kevin Lauderdale and Dan Persons get together to try to puzzle out some method behind A TALKING CAT!?!’s madness (spoiler: they don’t succeed). Click on the player to hear the show.

BATMAN In the Media, Part 1


BatmanMedia_p1
This year marks The Batman’s 75th anniversary. Most of you will be aware the Batman character first appeared in Detective Comics Number 27, the May 1939 issue. As comic books then and now tend to be dated three months in advance, it probably hit the newsstands about mid-February or March of that year. The cover depicted The Batman swinging across the rooftops carrying a criminal in a decidedly dangerous looking headlock as his stunned accomplices looked on.Detective #27
The character looked different in the early days: darker, sinister — more bat-like, with exaggerated ears and a stiff winged cape. He was the product of a young cartoonist from the Bronx named Bob Kane (Robert Kahn), who created the masked avenger with the help of  Bill Finger.
Kane had been doing gag cartoons and a Terry and the Pirates inspired adventure feature for Detective and Adventure Comics when one of the editors (usually identified as Vin Sullivan) asked him if thought he could come up with a costumed hero. DC was interested in duplicating the success they were having with Superman. When told he might make as much as $700 dollars a month by doing so, Bob Kane became very interested. It was a Friday, and Kane said he’d have one ready Monday morning. He was not going to miss out on an opportunity like this.
Kane already had a vague idea of what he wanted to do. The editor had suggested the idea after seeing some Flash Gordon sketches Kane had done to hone his talents, which were more naturally inclined to cartooning rather then realistic figure drawing. The Hawkmen character in the Flash Gordon strip had captured Kane’s imagination, and he first thought of the new character as another concept of a winged man. After toying with the idea of calling the character Birdman, Kane recounted in later years that he went through his old notebooks and verified that in his famous ornithopter sketches, Leonardo DaVinci had intended the wings be shaped like a bat’s. The Bat-Man – now that sounded dramatic.
Kane originally depicted the new hero as wearing bright red leotard, a Zorro-like black mask, and mechanical batwings that he would use to swoop down upon criminals. He contacted his friend Milton ‘Bill’ Finger, part-time shoe salesman and an avid pulp magazine reader who Kane had hired as a ghost writer to help plot and write his Rusty and His Pals stories for Adventure Comics. Finger suggested Kane replace the cumbersome mechanical wings with a bat-winged cape, like the villain in the movie The Bat Whispers. He also urged him to make the tights a more somber gray, and to make the mask a cowl that covered the head. The eyes would be left blank like Lee Falk’s Phantom to give The Batman an extra touch of mystery. Kane agreed with Finger’s ideas, and added long pointed ears and a long-nosed mask that suggested the features of a bat. They added a belt that could carry gas vials and other equipment, as well as gloves, so that he would leave no identifying fingerprints.
DETECTIVE #31Despite some misgivings about his sinister appearance, DC decided to try out the character. Some there had originally thought Superman was too outlandish to succeed, but he’d been a tremendous hit. Perhaps lighting would strike twice. So Bob Kane and Bill Finger went to work. As noted, Finger was pulp fan, and the then-inexperienced writer based the first story; The Case of the Chemical Syndicate on a Shadow novel, Partners in Peril (written by Theodore Tinsley under the Maxwell Grant house name).
Elements of pulp Zorro, the Shadow, and the Spider influenced The Batman, as did the origin of the pulp hero The Bat (likely written by Johnston McCulley, creator of Zorro). Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip would also have an influence as the series progressed.
Bruce Wayne’s name supposedly came from the Scots hero Robert the Bruce and Revolutionary War general Mad Anthony Wayne — but it also sounds a lot like Bob Kane! For Batman was Kane’s alter ego of sorts, a mysterious, romantic figure who was rich and athletic, virtuous yet not bound by laws or convention. He would be a hero made superhuman not by powers beyond those of mortal men, but by an incredible will and unceasing effort. He was the flip side of Superman, the dark contrast to his bright colors, not quite as unique perhaps, but all the more compelling because he was just within the bounds of possibility.

RADIO AND FILM

It seems odd that Batman never had a radio show of his own. He did appear on The Adventures of Superman, but not until 1945. On March 1st of that year, Superman rescued a boy adrift in a rowboat who proved to be Robin, the boy wonder. He tracked down and rescued the missing Batman, forming an enduring partnership. Batman and Robin became recurring characters on the show, largely so that Bud Collyer could take time off from playing Superman. Robin was always portrayed by Ronald Liss, but the part of Batman would be played by a number of actors, including Stacy Harris, Matt Crowely (the majority of appearances), and Garry Merrill. Superman radio announcer and character actor Jackson Beck (voice of Bluto in many Popeye cartoons) would play Alfred when needed, using a cockney accent to humorous effect.

Radio_Batman
L-R: Matt Crowley, Ronald Liss, Jackson Beck

An odd conceit of the radio series is that Bruce Wayne seemed to live in an upscale suburb of Metropolis, rather than a distant city. At first, Superman knows the true identities of Batman and Robin, but they don’t know his. When Clark Kent has to approach Bruce Wayne for Batman’s help, Wayne is hostile and suspicious, and Kent reluctantly reveals his Superman identity. It’s not clear if Robin is entrusted with the secret at that time.

What many people don’t know is that Batman had been suggested as a radio show before then. A script was written for a pilot Batman program entitled The Case of the Drowning Seal, and an audition disk was  made in 1943. This was a wartime script ; the villains were Nazi agents and the destroyed towns of Lidice and Coventry are pointedly mentioned. It’s been a number of years since I read the material, but it was a rather different idea of Batman.
To differentiate Bruce Wayne from the Batman, the masked hero spoke with a British accent. The character’s costume was described as being simply a “horned” black mask and bat-like cape. Apparently( from the context of the script) this simply was worn over Bruce Wayne’s street clothes, and Batman seemed not to bother with gloves, since he identifies one of the Nazi agents previously encountered in darkness because he has oil on his face — the same black oil that the Batman got on his fist when he socked one of the villains on the jaw. Not too worried about the secret identity, it seems. This was perhaps because the Batman was something along the lines of a secret agent, known to the U.S. government.
This lack of concern about secrecy is also shown by the fact that Bruce Wayne is also dealing with the orphaned son of Bruce’s friends the Graysons, undercover FBI agents who have been murdered by the spies. The boy is named Robin Grayson, not Dick — which kind of makes the team of Batman and Robin a bit too obvious even for the most dim-witted of criminals. Radio historian Jack French informed me that Scott Douglas portrayed Batman in this version. The actor had also played the pulp and comic book character The Black Hood in a 1943 series on the Mutual Network, which carried Superman as well.

Batman43_Tunl_Tint
BATMAN (1943) An atmospheric shot.

Batman may have struck out on Radio but he had leapt  from the comic book pages and onto the silver screen with greater success. 1943 also saw the release of the Columbia serial BATMAN.
It was 15 chapters of low-budget slam-bang thrills, directed by Lambert Hillyer; primarily an action specialist who also directed atmospheric horror thrillers such as Dracula’s Daughter and The Invisible Ray. Batman was played by Lewis Wilson. (Crime fighting must run in the family, because his son Michael Wilson now produces the James Bond films). Robin was portrayed by juvenile actor Douglas Croft, who also appeared in a number of “A” features, most notably playing the young George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Douglas Croft, Lewis Wilson, William Austin
Douglas Croft, Lewis Wilson, William Austin

The part of Alfred the butler was played by William Austin, who was tall and slim, and wore a mustache –- quite the opposite of the comic book Alfred who was at that time depicted as short, chubby and clean-shaven.
None of the other comic book regulars appeared in the serial. There’s no Commissioner Gordon, instead the Batman enjoys teasing Captain Arnold (Charles C. Wilson, This Gun For Hire). Phased-out comic book girlfriend socialite-turned actress Julie Madison is replaced by medical secretary Linda Page, played by Shirley Patterson — who would later change her screen name to Shawn Smith and appear in 50’s faves such as The Land Unknown and It! The Terror from Beyond Space.
Bat43_Linda2
Shirley Patterson / Shawn Smith

The serial must have impressed Bob Kane, who permanently changed the appearance of the Alfred character to resemble the actor. Linda Page (now a nurse) was introduced in the new Batman newspaper strip, and Captain Arnold would also make a few appearances. Other long-lasting  adaptations included the Bat’s Cave of the movie, which became the Batcave, along with the idea of entering it through a grandfather clock, which the serial writers had cribbed from Zorro. It’s interesting to note that like the radio pilot, Bruce Wayne/Batman’s identity seems to be known to the government, and he is willing to undertake missions for them. (Likely this was a case of the film serial inspiring the radio series.)
There is no Batmobile, with the crimefighters getting around in Bruce Wayne’s sleek black Cadillac convertible. Alfred often serves as wheelman, and nervously dons disguises when needed to aid the caped crime-fighters.
The serial is a lot of fun, and rather well done by the standards of Columbia chapterplays. Actually, BATMAN was produced outside the studio by Rudolph Flothow (Ramar of The Jungle TV series) for Larry Darmour Productions, who handled Columbia’s serials and a number of  their ‘series films’, such as Ellery Queen, Lone Wolf and Crime Doctor at the time — acting as an essentially independent B-Unit with their own off-lot soundstage facilities. When needed, they could rent the Columbia Ranch or the Warner Brother’s backlot.
Bat43DrDaka
J. Caroll Naish as 'Prince Tito Daka' aka Dr. Daka

BATMAN has a nice visual look to it for the budget, using fluid camera work and creative lighting by Director of Photography James S. Brown Jr. (Strangler of the Swamp 1946.). The villainous Dr. Daka’s (J. Caroll Naish House of Frankenstein) laboratory features a nice array of equipment, including Frankenstein electrical apparatus rented from Kenneth Strickfadden. With this, he can create human ‘zombies’; mind-controlled slaves to further his campaigns of sabotage and subversion. There’s also a nifty radium-powered ray pistol (which would show up years later in 1960’s Cape Canaveral Monsters), though it’s quickly captured by Batman and rendered moot, though the bad guys continue to hunt for radium to buld a larger version. Flash Gordon’s Ming the Merciless, Charles Middleton gets a rare good-guy role as a prospector friend of Bruce Wayne.
Lee Zahler provides a effective, if strident score, basing his main themes on darker motifs from Wagner’s Rienzi Overture, and likely other classic influences.
However, despite the positive things in its favor, there are some puzzling editing errors — such as keeping in a portion of a fight scene wherein Batman looses his cape, only have it back on following a cut-away to Alfred waiting in the car below. Logically, the place to put the edit would have been at the point where the hero begins to have cape trouble, rather than continuing to show the fighting sans cloak. A letter to Bruce Wayne from the government asking him to look into a aircaft plant is shown with a Los Angeles address, although the film is indeed set in Gotham City. The recent DVD release seems to have added an editing slip-up or two, possibly attempts at covering for missing or damaged footage. (Several of the chapters show damage or wear that has not been restored, digitally or otherwise. There’s a least one collector’s 16mm print that has a better copy of Chapter One.)
The film has run into trouble in  recent decades due to its blatant wartime anti-Japanese fervor, but it’s still interesting viewing, and J. Carroll Naish’s gleefully depraved faux-Japanese Prince/Dr. Daka is a delight for fans of hammy screen villainy. At one time the only commercially available version of the serial had been redubbed to remove the many racial slurs, with announcer Gary Owens (Laugh-In) redoing the original narration by sportscaster Knox Manning. The Sony/Columbia DVD release restores the original, warts and all.
BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949) Lyle Talbot, Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan
BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949) Lyle Talbot, Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan

In 1949, after the success of their Superman serial, Columbia released BATMAN AND ROBIN (also as New Adventures of Batman and Robin) . This 15-chapter serial is not nearly as good as the ’43 version and is a poor successor to 48’s Superman, though director Spencer Gordon Bennett directed both. Much of the chapterplay’s failure is likely due to the low budget producer Sam Katzman allowed. Columbia would give serial producers a flat rate, how much of that wound up onscreen is another matter. The film seems rushed and haphazard, and its lead actors worn out by the frantic pace.
Johnny Duncan, Robert Lowery in the Batcave
Johnny Duncan, Robert Lowery in the Batcave

Actor Robert Lowery (The Mummy’s Ghost) was reportedly (in accounts by co-star Duncan) not too thrilled to be playing the tights-wearing comic book character. Johnny Duncan, who was in his twenties (and looked it) when he portrayed Robin the Boy Wonder, also related that he had to secretly help Lowery lace up a girdle in order to fit in his leotard. The eyes in the cowled mask were too small and didn’t line up well for Lowery; you can see him adjust the cowl several times onscreen. The ‘bat-ears/devil’s horns’ were floppy, leading Lowery to stuff them with cotton.  Batman’s gloves give out early in the serial, and heavy work gloves are substituted –not matching the much darker finned gauntlets.
Robin wears a dark colored cape, possibly influenced by the green cape the character sported on the cover of Batman #1 (or not, it’s anybody’s guess). Lowery and Duncan gamely did their best to enliven the proceedings, and there are a few good moments, but the results are still pretty dire from today’s standpoint.
One pathetically amusing bit is that Batman and Robin usually drive around in Bruce Wayne’s gray `49 Mercury convertible, which is noted and draws a barbed on-screen comment by the comic book’s press photographer Vicki Vale, played by Jane Adams (House of Dracula). “Does Bruce Wayne know you’re driving his car?” This and other obvious tip-offs only make her mildly suspicious of her nominal boyfriend’s dual identity. Perhaps she was distracted by her never before seen brother  Jimmy Vale (George Offerman, Jr.), a pilot with feet of clay who gets mixed up with the villains.
Top: Jame Adams as Vicki Vale, Below: The Wizard
Top: Jane Adams as Vicki Vale, Below: The Wizard

Hollywood veteran Lyle Talbot introduced the part of Commissioner Gordon to the screen, and a partially disassembled television set in his office was used as a “high-tech” electronic Bat Signal that could miraculously project out the window a bat insignia onto the clouds… in broad daylight.
In later years, Bob Kane reported visiting the production, when he asked to see the Batmobile (apparently in the script), had the convertible pointed out to him. His heart sank; apparently the producer had made a deal with the auto manufacturer, and they supplied the car for free — several times. John Duncan said the cars were used roughly by the actors and stunt men, and the local Ford dealer would just give them a new (or repaired) one to use when they broke down.
Showing the rushed and seemingly lackadaisical nature of the film, despite there being a Batcave set, Batman and Robin are shown at least once getting into the car in Bruce Wayne’s driveway. No Wayne Manor, the place looks like a junior exec’s nicely appointed but unpretentious suburban home, complete with neighbors walking by on the sidewalk. Instead, the wheel-chair bound inventor suspect gets the mansion.
With its reliance on the masked mystery villain The Wizard’s super-science Remote Control Ray, and other gadgetry, the film has something of the feel of Batman’s 1950’s daylight sci-fi adventures. On that basis, or for low-budget laughs, the serial can be enjoyed. Completists should be aware that Chapter One of the Sony/Columbia VHS tape is incomplete by several minutes, due to the tape being assembled from 16mm prints edited to make Super 8mm reduction prints for sale to collectors. I’m told the DVD release continues this omission, though I have not viewed it myself.
Where's the Batmobile? Whadda mean you made a deal?
Where's the Batmobile? Whadda mean you made a deal?

If the BATMAN AND ROBIN chapterplay might have been a disappointment to comic book fans, it appears to have done fairly well at the box office. Perhaps this is why another attempt at a Batman Radio show was made in1950.
The Batman Mystery Club was an audition disc made in September of that year. The story was called The Monster of Dumphrey’s Hall, and was written by Don Cameron, who wrote for the comics and the Batman newspaper strip. It was rediscovered by Fred Shay, of the National Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. The series’ premise reflected Cameron’s interest in disproving superstitions, and opened with Robin addressing a group of kids, and introducing Bruce Wayne, the Batman to show them that the seemingly supernatural adventures they would encounter had purely natural explanations. Writer Cameron had been researching and writing a book about occultism, which might explain his motivations somewhat.
1950's Argentine Radio Series
1950's Argentine Radio Series

However, it’s kind of an odd and dry idea for an kid’s superhero show (hey kids, this whole spooky story we made you sit through is pure bunk), and it’s not too surprising that the pilot did not become a series. Ronald Liss reprised his role of Robin (just Robin, not Dick Grayson) from the Adventures of Superman, and Batman was played by John Emery, who had also portrayed Philo Vance on radio.
Reportedly, there was a Batman radio series in Argentina in the 1950’s starring Carlos Carella as the caped crusader. They only documentation I’ve found of this is an intriguing publicity still.
Though it might have seemed a natural spin-off, there was no Batman series to mirror the 1950’s Adventures of Superman TV show (although former Batman Robert Lowery would guest star in an episode, The Deadly Rock). Batman would have to wait until the 1960’s to hit the airwaves again.
And when he did, it would be a tidal wave.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For – Dossier Fantastique 5:32

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-horizontal
In Dossier Fantastique, Volume 5, Number 32, Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski analyze SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR. They also look at recent home video releases: THE WALKING DEAD, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE on Blu-ray; and the 1980s version of THE TWILIGHT ZONE on DVD. Finally, after the closing credits, they forget to turn off the recorder and eventually wander off into a discussion of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE.

The Walking Dead's Greg Nicotero – The CFQ Interview

Greg Nicotero (in glasses and plaid shirt) preps a zombie for his moment in the spotlight on THE WALKING DEAD.
Greg Nicotero (in glasses and plaid shirt) preps a zombie for his moment in the spotlight on THE WALKING DEAD.

Sometimes doing the job is reward in itself. That’s what it was like for me to talk with Greg Nicotero. From DAWN OF THE DEAD to BREAKING BAD, from ARMY OF DARKNESS to OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, from HOSTEL to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, his vivid and creative makeup effects work has brought the fantastic, the grotesque, and the sometimes-just-plain-realistic to a dazzling kaleidoscope of film and TV projects.
That includes THE WALKING DEAD, the blockbuster TV series which scooped up a couple of primetime Emmy awards for Nicotero’s work in bringing the flesh-hungry walkers to gruesome… uh, life? Death? Anyway, in honor of the release of the complete fourth season on DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, we got some time with Greg to talk about the finer points of zombie nurturing and care. Click on the player to hear the show.

The Giver & Life After Beth – Dossier Fantastique 5:31

GIver-LifeAfterBeth comp
The Giver and Life After Beth

It’s time to expand your Sense of Wonder by opening Dossier Fantastique! Volume 5:31 reveals data points on current theatrical releases THE GIVER and LIFE AFTER BETH. Listen in as special guest Andrea Lipinski joins the Cinefantastique Podcasting team of Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski for an insight-filled discussion of the latest dystopian science fiction film – which may seem like a variation on THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT but which was actually based on a novel published before either of those franchises were a glimmer in their author’s eyes. Also available are details on this week’s home video releases.

Life After Beth – review

Life After Beth Poster crop

Like its titular zombie, this film makes a good first impression, but before long you can tell the neurons are not quite firing correctly.

If your girlfriend died after you had been having problems, leaving you morose and regretful because you never got to say you were sorry, you might think the greatest good fortune would be her returning to life to give you a shot at reconciliation. Well, you might think that, but you would be wrong. Oh sure, at first everything would seem wonderful, but then the inevitable consequences of post-mortality would emerge: the “rash” suggesting decay, the rank breath, the hunger for raw food of the human variety. Before you knew it, you might find yourself with a rather uncomfortable personal situation on your hands, as you struggled to find a politic manner of informing your memory-challenged beloved of her undead status. As if that were not enough,   you might additionally have to deal with a citywide outbreak of zombies – because, as important as you think your romance is, there is no reason to think your girlfriend is the only zombie in town.
In a nutshell, that is the dilemma delineated in Life After Beth – which might not quite be what you were expecting. Gazing at the beaming countenance of Beth on the posters, you might have anticipated a romantic comedy – that is, if the title had not clued you in to expect a mournful drama. What you get instead is a little bit of all of the above, a rom-com-zom-drama that provokes a tear here, a chuckle there, and perhaps the beginning of a scream. It’s an interesting mix, but the ingredients are applied too thinly; by the time the film is over, you may feel as if you have been drinking a watered-down Bloody Mary.
Dane DeHaan (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2) plays Zach, who is in deep depression after Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza) dies from a snakebite while hiking alone; he feels guilty (we later learn) because he never wanted to go on hikes with her. Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) are understanding and sympathetic – more so than Zach’s own family, which includes Paul Reiser as an ineffectual father and Matthew Gray Gubler as a gun-nut brother. But suddenly, the Slocums cut Zach off, refusing to even answer the door when he arrives. It turns out that Beth is back from the grave, and her parents are keeping it secret. Zach’s qualms over Beth’s “resurrection” (as her father calls it, mistakenly referring to the Old Testament) are initially squelched by the resumption of their relationship, which benefits from an interesting side effect: Beth remembers neither having died nor having broken up with Zach.
Life After Beth is, surprisingly, at its best before getting to what horror fans would consider “the good stuff” – the “zom” in this zom-com-rom. The first act, depicting Zach’s relationship with Beth’s parents (he and Mr. Slocum commiserate while smoking pot and playing chess till 3am), plays like a heartfelt indie drama. When Beth reappears, we are initially thrown off by our uncertain expectations: is this going to be a comedy about love’s triumph over the grave or a tragedy about the impossibility of cheating death?
At first, Life After Beth seems to be avoiding the obvious. Though Zach expresses some half-joking concerns the potential for Beth to become a flesh-eating zombie, she appears physically normal. However, there is definitely something wrong: although it is summer vacation, she worries constantly about a test she is taking “tomorrow”; she seems to have trouble remembering things happened only moments ago; and at one point she panics when Zach is out of her field of vision for a few seconds. Amusingly, insipid smooth jazz seems to calm her down (perhaps the film is suggesting that everyone who likes this music is already a zombie, more or less?).

Zach (Dane DeHaan) tries to deal with his zombie girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza).
Zach (Dane DeHaan) tries to deal with his zombie girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza).

Unfortunately, these intriguing ideas never develop into anything new; they turn out to be simply a long prologue toward what we expected from the beginning: Beth turns into a flesh-eating zombie. Apparently aware that this predictable turn of events is anti-climactic, writer director Jeff Baena juices the third act up with an outbreak of the walking dead: dead relatives and even former homeowners turn up – the ultimate unwanted guests.
At this point, Life After Beth starts to feel like spoof of the French TV series THE RETURNED: the dead are less overtly horrifying than embarrassingly out of place among those who have learned to live on without them. I wish I could say that “hilarity ensues,” but it doesn’t – it’s more like mild amusement.
At least the film gets points for not bothering to explain this small-scale zombie apocalypse. Zach’s one theory (it must have something to do with a maid seen briefly near the beginning) turns out to be a red herring that plays on our stereotyped expectations (she’s Haitian, so she must know voodoo, right?).
As the story moves toward its climax, it regains some of its initial pathos. Zach’s brother urges him to simply put a bullet in Beth’s head, but Zach cannot bring himself to accept the abrupt termination. Zach has never really apologized for the breakup, because it’s a painful memory that Beth left behind in the grave. But with inevitable death looming, Zach finally goes on a hike with her (enhanced by a sight gag that has Beth strapped to stove that was supposed to immobilize her) and says everything he needed to say.
Here, LIFE AFTER BETH comes closest to synthesizing its disparate elements. Beth’s bloody, decayed features are horrific; Zach’s words are poignant; the juxtaposition is comic, without undermining either the emotional impact. Too bad the rest of the film is, more often than not, a case of “either this or that but not enough of either.”
I almost want to say LIFE AFTER BETH is a good half-hour short unwisely expanded to feature length, but the film is slightly better than that. It’s more a matter of unrealized potential than excess length. In fact, the movie is a little bit like the resurrected Beth: it looks good at first, raising your hopes, but gradually you realize that, beneath the surface, some part of the personality is missing.
[rating=2]
Can’t really recommend it, but there are some redeeming qualities.
Life After Berth Poster (1)
Life After Beth (2014). Distributed by A24. Production Companies: Abbolita Productions, American Zoetrope, Starstream Entertainment. Rated R. 91 minutes. Written and directed by Jeff Baena. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick, Eva La Dare.

Varsity Blood Finger Puppet Theater – Video

If it was up to me, more previz– those dry-runs filmmakers create of sequences using story board drawings — would actually be done using finger puppets. It’s quick, it’s cheap, and you get to wiggle your digits in front of the camera, which has to be fun. For now, the makers of the upcoming VARSITY BLOOD are at the vanguard, showing how this humble medium can make you laugh, cry, and bleed.
What is that, raspberry jam?