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Director Retrospective

It Watches

directorsdpindex.jpgIt Watches opens to a car driving down the winding road, followed by two motorcycles. The bright daylight and smooth  music feels different from other Dave Parker films, however his name is all over the credits with him writing, directing and editing the movie so I have great confidence and indeed, inside the car we got a couple of guys talking about working on a reality TV show. Characters in the entertainment industry doing scary stuff is a staple of Parker’s work and I feel like I’m back on familiar territory.

Arriving at the house where he is spending a getaway weekend, our main character, his arm in a sling, is struck by an eerie bout of déjà vu. We explore the house with its featureless walls and Gothic chandelier and he begins to video diary so as to let us know what exactly is going on here. Indeed, the entire film will be a mixture of found footage and traditionally shot – not necessarily leaning to heavily one way or the other.

Occasionally we get glimpses of cameras hidden in the corners, but it’s not until 18 minutes in that we really see someone is watching him through those cameras. They note the arrival of a woman to the house.

The peril and paranoia start up shortly after that my neighbor drops by and the girlfriend vanishes. The film really begins to gain speed just before its halfway mark turning into a frantic paranoid descent laced with off-kilter camera angles and occasional jump scares. This movie demands your attention. Frequently the creepiest elements happen in the background, and you’ll miss it if you’re not paying attention. This is not a index2film to put on for background noise or to watch while you do something else. With this movie, Parker shows s real interest in the subtle and in a more holistic approach to storytelling where things not front and Center are just as important as everything the camera is focused on.

If I have any complaints it’s that the twist at the end feels a little sudden and clumsy, but nevertheless it’s evidence of growth as a filmmaker. This is a maturation of artistry, and attempt to build suspense and create scarce without throwing gallons of blood on the screen. It’s a departure, but it’s a good one and I’m glad to see Parker showthese kind of chops – even though I kind of miss the monsters and blood.

I genuinely want to see more from this director, and I hope everybody reading this will run out and support his current projects as well as any upcoming ones because this is definitely one of those kind of directors horror really deserves

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The Hills Run Red

directorsdpindex.jpgOne of the things that I ‘m always struck by in Parker’s work is how he evolves and grows as a filmmaker. The Hills Run Red is the kind of film I almost expect him to make when not bound by the house style of Full Moon. There’s horror and thriller mixed together in this, with a grittier take than the sort of thing we’d seen before with him.

The Hills Run Red is the story of a young filmmaker trying to research and document the making and existence of a notorious cult film by the same name. To this end he tracks down the director’s daughter who is the only surviving cast member (shades of Manos!) and together with his small crew, they make the pilgrimage to where the movie was born.

There’s still buckets of blood and a masked killer in this film, but it’s far more layered images2.jpgthan The Dead Hate the Living. It’s not as straightforward a story, and it’s not really until you get to the end that you realize just how much misdirection there’s been here.

Mixing obsession, degradation while it twists the heroe’s journey archtype, the Hills Run Red may just be Parker’s best work.


Tales of Halloween : Sweet Tooth

directorsdpindex.jpgWhile the he’s not in charge of this entire film, Dave Parker does get featured prominently in this seasonal anthology. While Tales of Halloween is actually full of good stuff, we’re really just going to focus on Parker’s contribution ; Sweet Tooth, which kicks off the film as the first story.

It’s the hours after Trick or Treating and our main character had dumped his candy out on the floor, in front of his babysitter. Just the fact that the kids dressed as Snake Pliskin while watching Night of the Living Dead it’s a pretty amazing start. It’s an immediate sign to the audience that the director is one of us and loves film – a constant in most of Parker’s work. I also love the urban legend hook, with the babysitter’s boyfriend spinning a terrifying yarn about the kid who would become the legendary “Sweet Tooth”. It  almost feels like Willy Wonka gone horribly wrong.

It’s a tough thing to start off and anthology but Parker goes straight for the gore in crafting the Legend of sweet tooth. Parker uses interesting concepts, a familiar light palette and a brilliant looking monster to create a gory, fun short here that is as effective as any feature


Masters of Horror

directorsdpindex.jpgA lot of Dave Parker’s early work is in documentaries or clip shows. Masters of Horror is one of those standards, a special with documentary like interviews strung together with movie clips and occasional host narration by Bruce Campbell. It’s pretty standard Halloween fare for the SyFy channel so why are we looking at it?

Masters of Horror solidify’s Parker’s love of film and of genre. It’s present in a lot of his work, s it makes absolute sense to do these kind of features on the very subject his passions are rooted in. You can see this in the way he approaches the interviews, first pulling out the standard stories everyone’s heard at every horror convention. But then vlcsnap-2018-12-13-12h03m02s308delving just a touch deeper, grabbing something fresher, not as well known.

Wes Craven is a great example, first giving  the traditional story about how Freddy Kruger was based on a childhood memory of a tramp on the street staring hu at him through the window. But then they move on to a story from Serpent and the Rainbow (Possibly Craven’s finest work actually, and a highly underrated film) where one of the cameramen mentioned to a voodoo priest that he’d like to be indoctrinated into Voodoo.

“Oh you will be,” the priest replied.

Within days the cameraman was a changed person and Craven reflected that on the day before shooting, the guy knocked on his door to quit and head back to the states. As vlcsnap-2018-12-13-12h05m01s505Craven tells the story, Parker juxtaposes his narrative with unrelated scenes from Serpent  and the Rainbow, matching it up perfectly, to the point that when Craven talks about him pounding on the door, we have a shot of Bill Pullman doing just that….before the camera rotates and reveals he’s in a coffin.

This video of full of flair like that, and a great illustration of Parker’s film chops, both as an editor and as someone convincing the presentation. It’s a good indicator of where he will go on later in his feature work.

 


The Dead Hate the Living

directorsdpindex.jpgI saw the box for The Dead Hate the Living on the shelf at record exchange. The gruesome monster on the cover combined with the trusty Full Moon logo left me feeling pretty good about snatching it up. Truth is, it has become of my favorite Full Moon films.

The plot is straightforward. An aspiring horror film director sneaks his crew and himself into an abandoned hospital to make his dream movie. When exploring the basement, they discover a dead body and do what any sane, rational person making a movie in an illegal location would do… They decide to use the body in the movie. While fiddling with the equipment, they accidentally resurrect the corpse, a mad scientist who summons two more undead friends and the trio set about our helpless filmmakers, intent on murdering them all and converting them into zombies.

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The Dead Hate the Living is one of those films that’s actually grown better as it ages with me. When I first bought this, I liked horror movies but I wasn’t as knowledgeable – and this film is packed full of references, some more obscure than others. They’re not ham-fisted homages like “Dr Craven” or “Police Officer Romero” showing up. It’s more stuff like the main character running from zombies and asking “What would Bruce Campbell do? “. The references are fun in the context, jokes made at the characters expense rather than a wink and a nudge to the audience.

You can tell that Parker really loves the genre as well, it’s evident in every frame of the film – the hurdles and difficulties of making a horror movie and being in one comes off nicely, images.jpgthe perils of filmmaking and the expertise behind make up effects… It all pulls from real life experience.

Most of all, this has the fun that Full Moon Features are known for. It has the manic, almost comic book feel to it, complete with an ending that homages The Beyond (an ending I didn’t care for actually until I was older and understood what it was the referencing).

Fun characters, well done gore, and great looking monsters, and of course, a good behind-the-scenes featurette that really makes you love Parker all the more. It’s a great first feature.

It actually really bothers me that it would be another nine years before he’d get his next turn in the directors chair.


Directors Spotlight : Dave Parker

directorsdpBack in the day, one of the things that drew me to Full Moon features was their bonus features. every movie had a “Video Zone” featurette on the making of the movie. This was back before the was such a thing as DVD extras – in fact, it was back before there was such a thing as DVDs!

Dave Parker got his start making a lot of these short making-of documentaries. Eventually he’d graduate to doing his first feature with Full Moon, though he’d keep working on special features for films like X3 and Superman Returns. Chances are, you’ve seen his work and never even knew it.

In addition to he proficient behind the scenes work, Parker is a talented feature director. His work sometimes gets confused because while he’s done three features proper, he’s also got credits in things like “The Dead Reborn” (Which uses footage culled from his first film, but isn’t as a whole, his actual movie) or “Bimbo Movie Bash” which is just a clip show compilation. We’re going to ignore stuff like that and his “Masters of Horror” TV doc and really focus on his feature work and the stuff that reflects his most creative work. There’s only a few of these, but he’s one of these guys I really wish more people knew about!


Incident on and off a Mountain Road

directorsdindexAnd here I thought I was done. I missed the Masters of Horror series when it first broadcast and never really got around to catching up on it. I always wanted to see the Carpenter one. The Coscerelli one never occurred to me, but it’s a good one to dive in with. During negotiations with Showtime, this episode was essential in getting the show on the air – and as such, it was the first one to be broadcast.

It’s a good story, beautifully shot and well made. But it also feels very by-the-numbers to me, and I just don’t see enough of Coscarelli’s fingerprint in it. This could be because the script was written by Stephen Romano, not Coscerelli, and even that teleplay was based on someone elses’s short story.  It’s the tale of a lumbering humanoid monster in the woods stalking a young woman on the run from her survivalist husband.

image3sI don’t dislike it per se. In fact, this story includes an absolutely arvelous performance by Angus Scrimm. It’s positively goofy and off – a complete departure from teh sinister demenor we are used to seeing, but far more lunatic than the actually nature of teh man himself. I saw flashes of this in Ravager and Oblivian actually. It’s Angus being flighty and so much fun.

Still, the whole thing isn’t quirky enough. I miss Don’s sense of humor and off kilter style. This feels like an episode of a TV series. It’s normal for an auteur’s personal style to get images1lost there. Essenetial that it does in fact. But it does make me wonder about the rest of the Master’s of Horror series.  Still, I’m glad I finally got around to seeing what is one of Don’s biggest commercial successes.

 


Phantasm Ravager

directorsd14470398_1286341708076916_8484064258982743829_nThis one is not strictly a Don Coscarelli film – he produced it while someone else directed it. However, his fingerprints are deep enough in the movie that I think that should count.

Phantasm 5 is easily my 3rd if not second favorite film in the series. I know I’m in a minority there, but I love everything about this. We have the reunion aspect, everybody is back for one last ride, but we also have a much better sense of finality. The Phantasm films never really end, they’re always cliffhangers, but this one feels more hopeful than any others.

There is a sort of piecemeal look to it, the decision to transition from web series into feature film came on little too late and is obvious, but it still feels like a satisfying end to the series. It’s just as weird as any of the other entries, and the action is just as vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h38m35s121-copyimpressive and it allows me one more foray into this world.

I went to great detail on this film when it came out, and I don’t feel like rehashing that here, but I do want to let you in on the big secret of the film… Most of it is a dream. No, I mean it… From the beginning of the movie, until Reggie wakes up in the tall man’s laboratory, being rescued by the woman from his dream and her diminutive companion, all of that is a fantasy – one that the tall man has created to extract information. The only part of the film that is in the “real world “are the moment in phantasms end. Even when we start flashing back to the nursing home, that is the dream… It’s still hanging on, it’s still clinging along the edges. At the moment that he leaves the nursing home, the moment he dies in the nursing Home, that’s not REGGIE’S death – it’s the dream dying. It’s Reg choosing to live in the real world.

vlcsnap-2016-10-10-10h32m15s192-copyThe film makes a great deal more sense once you understand this, and it’s actually a lot more straightforward than ever, despite feeling wierder! It’s the final appearance of Angus Scrimm, and I’m glad for it. It’s a good performance, and the Tall Man is truly scary once more. No goofy companions like the scavengers from 3, he’s surrounded by dares and gas masked gravers. He’s on top of his game (though I wish he had some better lines to say) and even with the short hair feels scarier than ever.

A fitting end to the series, and also to this director retrospective.


Phantasm 4

directorsdPhantasm_4I have my own theories on why Phantasm 4 kind of tanked. Admittedly, the sequels that succeed the second film are all of a week quality, but it seems sometimes that Phantasm 4 gets a much worse reputation then Phantasm 3. I think some of it has to do with limited budget – and that limited budget does show, in other places I think it has to do with the fact that it gets confusing if you’re not already intimate with the series. The tall man is not quite as scary here There’s a lot mystery and it seems to be setting something up… something that never quite materializes. Distribution is a big deal too. A lot of people didn’t know that Phantasm 4 ever came out until it hit the Syfy channel… Those that did know, expected something different.

For a few years, there was a concept for a series finale called “Phantasms End” – it was a post apocalyptic adventure that might just start Bruce Campbell alongside Reggie Bannister where a disease ravaged the Earth and the Tall Man was at the centre of it all. p4reggieDon Coscerelli really couldn’t raise the funds for this movie and 4 was designed to generate interest and revenue in an attempt to get Phantasms End off the ground. It failed, and for the fans who were expecting Phantasms End but instead got Phantasm 4, it felt like a disappointment.

Taken on the own though, this is actually quite a remarkable film. Coscarelli pointed out that his cast hadn’t changed. We are inundated with flashbacks to the original phantasm – unused footage that at been stuffed under Coscarelli’s mattress at home, and is interesting because that’s not some child actor playing Mike Baldwin – it really is him, image71decades ago and young. The flashbacks in the misdirections yield a dreamlike quality, and an even more surreal tone then what has come before. It’s perfectly at home in Phantasm.

It is also once again, a beautiful reunion with the guys and I actually can easily watch this over and over again. My only real criticism, is that it’s very much a middle film – a transitional movie with nothing to transition to… at least, not for another 18 years…


John dies at the end

directorsd9781250035950_p0_v2_s260x420It’s hard for me to really look at John dies at the end objectively… The film in of itself is a nice little bit of low-budget creepy horror… The thing​ is, the source material happens to be one of the best horror novels that I’ve read in ages, with way too much material to put on screen – indeed they only managed to get about a quarter of it if that. The book greatly expands on A number of the characters, ones that play key roles that are almost forgotten in this movie, and our main characters are more deeply explored as well. There are horrors beyond description in the book, although the film certainly does its best to translate these things literally – the monster made out of meat, The flying mustache, a lot of the fiendish thingies that go bump in the night, it’s a valiant effort, even when it falls short.

Like I said it’s a good film, but hard for me to look at without comparing it to the book… and I wonder if I’d have the same interest in this movie without the book – indeed I wonder if I would even found it without the book. It’s a tricky balance.

Still, in the end I enjoy this tale of otherworldly forces trying to reach our universe and John-Dies-At-The-Endbeing thwarted by a couple of losers. If nothing else it really showcases the weird taste that Coscarelli has –  and that’s a good thing, I enjoy seeing his tastes lineup so well with mine and I really like to see a little bit more from the subject. This needs a sequel, and one that expands more on the first book (There’s still so much there that could recovered before hitting the second or third ones!).