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Director Retrospective

Kill Kill Overkill

jacksonindex.jpgKill Kill Overkill (also known as “Twisted Fate”) opens with a girl on a motorcycle heading home, with a pop rock song overlaid. Jody arrives to find a tape by her TV labeled “Denise”. She pops the tape in and walks away, making a phone call to see if you can find any friends with any other blank videotapes. The videotape features a girl rolling around on the bed – complete with Jackson’s trademark corner cut-offs were somebody didn’t remove the lens fully. We’re about six minutes into the movie before she realizes it’s a tape of her boyfriend been cheating on her.

We cut through the credits to Peter being released from a doctor’s care. Even though he doesn’t want to go, his brother Luther insists they are going to head out on the road and it’ll be the best adventure ever!

Back at the house, the boyfriend tries to convince Jody that the tape is just an audition for his porn career. This particular conversation ends painfully for him.

Down the road a bit, the two brothers from the beginning rescue a hitchikking girl in the process of being assaulted. They jumped out with thier trusty baseball bat. You can tell it’s Jackson at his best here, he choreographs the baseball bat fight as if it were a sword fight with the same moves and flourishes.

The girl joints them on the road, though I’m not in entirely certain what the point of the trip is. I think they’re looking for a new home after getting out of the hospital for the criminally insane?

index2“I’m so tired of the road Luther, we need a home!”

“Home? Home is where you hang your hat!”

Despite Peter being the one recently getting out of the hospital, Luther seems to be the crazy one. He suddenly snaps and assaults the girl with duct tape. (We’re going to see a lot of duct tape in this movie). “It’s not that she wasn’t a nice person, there’s just not enough room in our truck for three people!”

“I’m so tired of the road Luther, we need a home!”

“Home? Home is where you hang your hat!”

We shift to home videos, shot by the motorcycle Jody’s friends. They’re heading out on a girl’s trip to a cabin in the woods. Jody’s friends are heading out ahead of her (while she fixes her motorcycle at home) and they’re documenting the trip with the videocamera – found footage style (before found footage actually was a thing).

Up in the mountains, the brothers find what they think is an abandoned wood cabin. Of course, it’s the same cabin that the girls are headed to… albeit delayed by a flat tire.

The guys head upstairs to hide as the girls get there. The women notice signs of people having been there, a paper that’s only days old, a huge mess and the ominous sight of a baby doll with its mouth duct taped.

Things take a real turn for the worse around the 15 minute mark when the lights go out and the girls find themselves locked in a room. They find a trailer that looks like blood down to the basement… Only to find out it was all a practical joke by one of the girls! The joker get’s herself exiled to the basement bed.

In the meantime, motorcycle girl finally gets her bike fixed and resolve to head out to the cabin in the morning. The problem is, the boys are there tonight! As the girls go to sleep they come out and begin to creep around. The first girl to be attacked is the one in the basement. Another one of Jackson’s trademarks… foreshadowing something that index3.jpghappens about five minutes later. One by one, each of the girls is captured and bound in duck tape. This guy apparently has a fetish.

“Time to ask this girl is the most important question of their lives! What would you do to stay alive tonight?”

In the hands of a different actor that could be the most chilling line of the film, unfortunately it’s being delivered Buy a hyperactive wombat on speed. Still, I almost feel sad for the younger brother who doesn’t want any part of this and just feels… Lonely. I found myself literally cheering when he laid his brother out with a frying pan. It only knocks him out for a second though, he should’ve hit him harder, but there’s still 15 minutes left in the film to go, and the brothers continue to terrorize the girls all night.

Motorcycle girl wakes up the next morning and head to the cabin. She arrives just-in-time to give the guys a beat down and free her friends. It’s a predictable ending, although Jackson throws one more unexpected twist in the end – as well as anther expected  but a satisfying one, wrapping up one of Jackson’s better movies.


I Like To Hurt People

jacksonindexI like to hurt people was billed as a documentary, and maybe it is… But Donald Jackson presents it as a linear narrative – far more like a feature than a documentary. It lends itself to this format, because of the inherently staged nature of wrestling, pushing a story line  right alongside the gladiatorial combat. Indeed, this feels familiar, with plenty of ringside interviews and grandstanding to inter cut between staged scenes .

We get backstage imagery of one Wrestler threatening the cameraman, spectators at the snack bar discussing the current match, backstage antics and the like. The most notable of these kind of scenes is one with wrestlers waiting in their car to meet their opponents. The camera captures perfectly, their shock when Andre the giant emerges, gargantuan and bigger than life from his ride. I’m going to go on record right now and say this movie is worth the watch just for this and to see more Andre.

In great part, this is the story of heel wrestler Edward Farhat, better known as the Sheik. In the early days of television, the Sheik almost single-handedly escalated the violence and commercial appeal of professional wrestling with a style that was “Hardcore” long before that genre of wrestling ever existed. Steve Slagle, a student of wrestling, wrote in The Ring Chronicle that ”perhaps no other wrestler is more responsible for influencing the current generation of ‘hardcore’ wrestling than the one and only Arabian madman known as the Sheik.” “I like to Hurt people” follows the 6 foot tall, 247 pound villain as he cuts through the wrestling world, changes managers and fights his way through with a showdown against Dusty Rhodes : the American Dream on the horizon. This is professional wrestling, it’s old images2school. It’s not the glitzy polished events we’re used to seeing with the WWE. These wrestlers are a barrel chested, big guys with less muscle definition, but every bit as much attitude and big personality as you have ever seen in any pro wrestling event. There is blood here too, not quite as much as you might see in the underground hard-core wrestling circuit that 42nd Street Pete promotes , but more than what you are probably  used to in your average royal rumble!

I find it particularly amusing to watch Andre the giant literally lift people up over his head and then toss them out of the ring.

In the background, we have the President of the “Stop the Sheik” movement attempting to derail the upcoming match, and get the Sheik out of the circuit. It’s a subplot that helps to hold the entire story together between matches. Interestingly enough, this wasn’s part imagesof the original pitch, but was added in years after the footage was shot to pad the run time and give the film more structure. Eventually the “Stop the Sheik” movement ends when the man behind it just… disappears!

Contrived subplots aside, there’s still plenty of interviews, giving you a clearer picture of why the wrestlers do what they do and what it means to them. It keep the film feeling like a documentary, even as it unfolds as more of a hybrid.

“It’s how I found true meaning. I like to hurt people”

Jackson isn’t content to just cover mainstream wrestling though, we get a side story about a female wrestler named “Heather Feather” who really wants to wrestle a man. Jackson documents  the arm wrestling match that leads to the images.jpgreal thing. We follow her into the ring for what is billed as the first pro wrestling match between a woman and a man. It’s a novelty act, but an Ernest one. Jackson not only covers women’s wrestling but also matches with little people – as brutal and pitched as any fight you can imagine.

Back on the mainstream circuit, trouble arises, and the shiek’s manager quits and has to be replaced by an even more colorful character. The Sheik continues on, bringing his boa constrictor with him to the ring and bowing to it before the matches. He rarely speaks, and what he does say is in Arabic, spoken in sinister tones. In the back on his limo, he and his manager ride off to the future.

When we talk about Donald Jackson, we usually like to focus on the bad films. But I’m going to come straight out and say this is a good movie. How can I tell? Because I don’t like wrestling. I may know some of the names because they are pop culture, but I do’t have any interest in the form or genre. Nevertheless, I was completely sucked in. I was riveted by this film on a subject I don’t care a bit for. It goes on Ebay from twenty to fifty dollars.Do your self a favor and scour the goodwill, salvation army and other thrift stores to find a battered old VHS copy of this.

 


A Drive With Linnea and Donald

jacksonMV5BMjE1NTYyODMyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODg3MjE5Mw@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_A Drive With Linnea and Donald is billed as a Scott Shaw film, one of his Zen Documentaries. But even when Shaw is in the director’s seat, Jackson’s influence can be very firmly felt. It’s in the questions asked and the way the film is laid out, though Shaw is definitely here too. You can see this in the way the movie is edited – rather in the way it’s not edited. Still, this is meant to be a light, fun visit with old friends. It’s nonsense and small talk. By the way, don’t be deceived by the placement of the names in the title. Despite arguably being the more famous personality, this is not Linnea’s movie. For the lion’s share of the film, the camera is pointed directly at Don, and the ideas are all his.

The movie begins with technical difficulties and the sound guy not being able to hear the monitor… Don helps him figure out the wiring.

He’s in the back seat with Linnea Quigley (and how many of us have had THAT dream? Come on guys, admit it.) who is loaning out the limo to take him to Art’s Deli. It’s a flimsy premise, but a charming one, perfectly in keeping with Jackson’s own predilections. Linnea serves as the interviewer and occasionally the straightman to Don, and they begin their chat with music. Don is well educated when it comes to country and swing and bluegrass, though he’s not completely unknowledgeable about punk and rock and roll. He begins to talk about trying to figure out the difference between Buddha Cowboy songs and getting his groove back the conversation viewers into food and how to tell if there’s any animal products hiding in noodles.

Don and Linnea are both heading out to meet Jackson’s friend Laszlo Kovachs from Chinatown. They lament that it’s one of the last part of Hollywood it still feels like Hollywood – with that old-fashioned, Philip Marlowe, art deco look. The conversation drifts to dogs.

“How long do you think a dalmatian would live?” Don asks Linnea.
“About seven years,” she replies. “The rule is the bigger the dog, the shorter they live”
“What about Snoop Dogg?”
“Depends on how many gangs are after him.”

Don changes the subject to his difficultie’s with actors. One of his friends once told him that hte hardest thing about being a director, it’s not the money thing, but rather the hardest thing is getting the actors in front of the camera. Linnea is skeptical, since there’s so many out of work actors in Hollywood trying to build a reel,  but Jackson points out that things are different in the micro budget world.

“I knew this one director who was trying to get this actress to come out and do a shoot for him, but she said she couldn’t because she had to go to class – he told her maybe she could come out and act for him sometime when she had no class…”

Linnea gets irritable when she doesn’t eat.
“You weren’t always a veterinarian?”
“Vegetarian, Don”

Suddenly they realize they have passed the deli and had to turn around to go back.

Linnea asked Jackson if he’d ever got his picture up at a place like Art’s, and he says no but his buddy Laszlo once swapped his own head shot out with Fabian’s up at Pinks Hotdogs no one was looking.

Don likes mustard. It may have something to do with the parable of the mustard seed in the Bible.

They pause their conversation to adjust the lights so that they can better illuminate the back seat. We lose the soundtrack for a couple of minutes while this goes on. That’s one of the things that makes this a Zen documentary by the way, there is no editing – it’s one long shot, no matter what happens. Flubs are left in, lines and stories are repeated and we see it all. To be fair though, Jackson seems to expect this all to get cleaned up and edited out later. Scott Shaw obviously had different ideas.

The sound comes back in with a crash while Jackson adjust his mic.

“Sorry.”

“Sorry don’t make it, and I can’t believe your driver missed arts deli and ended up with us at Jerry’s… Is she an actress or a driver? “
“Isn’t everybody an actress in LA?”

Jackson’s noticed, that everyone out here seems to have a desire to be something else – do you wanna be in actor or detective or or a rock ‘n’ roll star.
“There’s a big difference between desire and ability. We have the desire, but not the ability – and there is something else… You need passion”

More sound problems, with the audio track going in and out like a bad wire. They have to douse the lights when the cops cruise by – a police car seems far too interested in them. They wait it out and start back up after the cop car vanishes.

“Let’s not have any more technical problems,” Jackson pleads. “What was I talking about again?”

Jackson mistily pines away for the days when Pink’s Hotdogs didn’t sell French fries, back then you could get in and out quicker and the vendors were showmen… Picking up the hotdogs in the middle with their tongs, flipping it up in the air, then catching it in the bun before slathering it with sauerkraut and mustard.

“Some of the people on the Titanic were on their way to Pinks!”

Linnea helps clarify that Jackson is talking about the movie, not the ship.

They finally arrive at Art’s deli. Don’t worry, everything is okay, Linnea has reservations.

It’s a weird little film. I think it was always meant to be a weird little side project…and would have been a lot shorter if edited properly. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into when I rented this one, but I had been looking forward to it. Linnea is a sweetheart as just about anyone who has met her on the convention circuit will happily attest. Don himself is always an interesting guy who I really wish I could have met. I don’t believe it’s quite the film Jackson envisioned.  Despite the contrived nature of the questions and answers, not to mention the technical problems that should have been left on the cutting room floor, at half an hour it’s an easy watch, and in the end, I feel like I came away with just a little more insight on Jackson. That alone is enough for me to recommend this movie.


The Demon Lover

jacksonindex3The Demon Lover starts off just the way I like it, nice and spooky with the sleeping girl and a Satanic cultist casting a spell. I’m actually a fan of 70s occult horror so starting the movie off like this is right up my alley. It sets the tone even while it makes you wonder what is going on.

Funny, the cultist looks more than a little bit like David Mustane from Megadeth. We’ll find later that his name is Damian Kaluta  and he’s the cult leader.

I’m a little confused though as to why the victim is wandering around in the dark outside. My previous experience with Donald Jackson films makes me feel this might be a diversion, until A black and skeletal hand reaches out water from the blackness.

We cut back to the creepy basement where a bunch of hippies are enjoying banjo music and alcohol. While everybody relaxes on my grandfathers couch, Frank Zappa is downstairs doing the funky chicken, I kid you not.

images2The truth is, the cult leader, camping under a pyramid tent, seems to be the only one there taking things seriously. It’s an interesting snapshot of a cult culture in the 70s. The fact that the rest of the cult members are so flippant begins to really anger Kaluta who explodes in a rage.

“What a bummer, how are you going to have any fun if we don’t get drunk and do something scary?” That pretty much sums up most of the members, just there on the lark looking for kicks. He drives them away in frustration

Almost alone in his solitude, Damian Kaluta finds himself with one disciple, and begins the ritual by himself. He manages to conjure up a Demon. It’s a hairy demon, but I guess it WAS the 70s. In the morning the police, lead by Detective Tom Frazetta, find a dead body.

The spell begins to take hold as Damian uses his magic and his Demon to take revenge on his forsaken flock. The deaths attract the attention of Frazetta the local portly detective with a moustache. He visits various occult gatherings at Ted nugent’s house (no, really.) where he encounters former cult members and various mystics including a quick appearance by a VERY young Gunner Hanson. I’m less bothered out by the fact that he’s not wearing a flesh mask like leather face, not it’s the fact that his beard is so dark that it’s almost black. I’m so used to him and his snowy white beard that the dark hair is freaking me out. Detective Frazetta is unimpressed and he goes to interview Damian Kaluta to dig up some dirt, fruitlessly.

images.jpgWe cut to Kaluta in the middle of a dojo, training in martial arts. It’s one of the first touches I’ve actually seen that give some real indication that Jackson was involved. He was always interested in spirituality, but very little of his work dabbles in the occult…it offends his fundamentalist upbringing.  Eastern philosophy, though, martial arts and Bushido though always fascinated him and this seemingly random scene inserted in the middle of the film makes perfect sense considering Jackson’s predilections.

The kills, when they come are good and I actually like the design of the demon, hookey as it may be. But the film is poorly paced and the murders are too far apart. You can see it’s still early days for Donald Jackson. He is learning how to craft a narrative and is indexbeginning to understand how to flow from one scene to the next, but hasn’t really learned script writing structure yet, and the sort of ramshackle production begins to show cracks at the seems (Particularly if you know any of the backstory on the perils of this production). “The Demon Lover” has a lot of the same clumsiness that we saw from West Craven in “Last House on the Left”, yet it also showcases much of the same promise for the director.

Nevertheless, I can imagine this being a perfectly acceptable bottom half of a double bill feature at the drive-ins of the 70s which is exactly where it ended up playing. It’s definitely worth a look, especially for fans of satanic horror. It becomes particularly interesting when paired up with the documentary about the production…but good luck finding either.


Spotlight on Donald G. Jackson

jackson

I’ve seen a lot of b movies and watched a lot of bad directors, but very few have inspired the sort of obsessive fascination I have for Jackson.

Donald Jackson was born on April 24, 1943 in the midwest, growing up in Adrian, Michigan. He began collecting comic books at the age of five and this formed his desire to make movies. While working at a factory building speedometers, he met Jerry Younkins. Younkins was involved in an industrial accident at the factory, losing a couple of fingers. The factory paid him off, giving him about $6000. Jerry and Don quickly decided that this should go towards their index3shared goal of making their first film.  Jackson wanted to do a pulpy privet investigator movie with as black lead. Younkins  disagreed and pointed to the success of “The Exorcist” and the hype around occult horror movies. He persuaded Jackson that this was the way to go instead and Jackson reluctantly agreed. Don took sick leave from work, claiming that he was under a doctor’s care, they found a camera crew and set to work creating “The Demon Lover”.

The Demon lover was a troubled production, with Don frequently butting heads with his crew. The inexperienced filmmaker never had a firm plan on what was going to be shot or how to accomplish it, but his charisma managed to draw people in and secure actors and sets. They brought in Gunnar Hanson from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Ted Nugent lent them his house and penned music for the film. Money dried up quickly, with a $5000 payout to Hanson alone and another $1000 to keep the camera crew working. Jackson was soon forced to mortgage his house, his car, and even his furniture to get the film made. The camera crew ran off at the last minuet after trashing Jackson’s mother’s home where they were staying.

Somehow, the movie got finished. And after two years of post, it was released to moderate success on the drive in circuit. Jackson never saw a penny, and when the factory discovered he’d been off making a movie instead of sick like he had claimed, he lost his job. Hanson was demanding more money – his deal had been $5000 up front, with another $5000 on the back end if Jackson turned a profit. He never did and was therefore unable to make the secondary payment to Hanson – a sore point that Gunnar would still be holding on to when Jackson ran into him at Comic Con in 2000, more than twenty years later.

“I walked up to say, “Hi.” I asked him why he was mad at me and all he could tell me is that I owed him $5,000.00. ”

In the meantime, The camera crew was spreading  the word that Jackson wasn’t to be index2trusted, even going as far as to release a documentary on the making of “The Demon Lover” in an effort to paint Jackson in as crazy a light as possible. Still, he had made enough of an impact that he was getting noticed. Sam Raimi contacted him, telling him that he was one of Raimi’s biggest cinematic influences, and Don was happy to talk with him about what it was like to work on an indie Production like “The Demon Lover”. Other projects were explored. One even involved legendary Cleveland horror host “The Ghoul”, but never materialized. While he never stopped trying, it would be ten years before he would make a return to the film making world with the advent of the VHS market.

This time around, Jackson would play to his strengths, and his own interests. In addition to comics, Jackson was a fan of professional wrestling.

“In the Midwest, were I grew up, Wrestling has always been one of the lifeblood’s of sports.”

imagesMatches would be on television every weekend and at least once a month there would be one big matchup in the city. Jackson was a frequent attendee. It was there that he started to get an idea for his next film.

“What I began doing was to take, first my 8 mm, then my Super 8 Camera, and later my 16 mm Bolex to matches and I began to put a lot of wrestling footage together.”

What Jackson needed was a star. Someone to focus on. Big names like Hulk Hogan were out of the question. Payments would have to be made, and clearances for every shot would be necessary. Jackson didn’t have that kind of cash or time on hand. He found his star in a well known heel named “The Shiek”.

“I went up to him at a match one day, told him what I wanted to do. And, he was the nicest guy. He gave me full access. He also introduced me to many of the other wrestlers, who allowed me to film them, as well.”  A real coup would be getting footage of Andre the Giant and Dusty Rhodes for the nascent film.

index.jpgJackson’s idea was to make a horror film based in the wrestling world. “Ringside in Hell” however, failed to get traction and Don decided to change direction, cutting the horror scenes and instead, taking inspiration from Robert Altman’s “Nashville”, began to create something following the people in this world – the stars, the up-and-comers, and the never-will-bes, diving into their own personal stories as they orbit the bigger narrative. Slowly he put together a feature that was half documentary and half narrative. After running out of resources with a film that was too short for a VHS release, Jackson added an entire new subplot revolving around a movement against his main character  the “Stop the Shiek” drive. The film would become “I like to Hurt People”, and it would finally garner him the attention of Hollywood. Jackson would take matters into his own hands and sent out copies to various film studios, and New World pictures showed some interest, agreeing to pick it up and distribute it. They paid Jackson $50,000. It was enough to finance his move out to Hollywood.

Now settled in out west, Jackson needed work. He leveraged his contacts at New World to get work there as a camera operator and started to make contacts out there like Fred Olen Ray, who would loan him out both his son Christopher and his girlfriend Michelle Baur to be in his next project. One of Don’s early jobs was assistant camera on effects for the sci-fi foray, “Galaxy of Terror”. It was n this film that he’d make another Hollywood up-and-comer. James Cameron was working on FX where Jackson was shooting and Cameron would become a contact that would lead to more work on future films, not the least of which was “Terminator”.

Cameron was almost finished with the film, but wasn’t happy with everything and needed some additional scenes filmed. The problem was, he was out of money. It was at this point that he called up Don for help shooting things like the opening where Schwarzenegger arrives at the L.A. Observatory. Time drew short. Cameron was on his own dime and the shoot was about to go into overtime for Schwarzenegger, even as the crew decided to break for lunch. Cameron looked to Don for a solution.

“We got a small portable light, known as a “Mini Cool,” out of the truck of my car and I had Jim hold it and pan it as Arnold walked through the scene. We got the shot, Arnold imagesgot to go home without being paid overtime, and the movie was completed.”

Still, Jackson wasn’t content to just run film on other people’s productions. he came to Hollywood to make his own films. He was working on his next project – a post apocalyptic roller skating battle called “Roller Blade”, which he was financing using his credit cards. Around this time, the returns were coming in for “I Like To Hurt People”, making half a million dollars for New World Pictures. He was $5000 in debt when New World came to him and asked if he had any other projects in the works. Jackson grabbed the footage he had and cut it into a trailer. It didn’t take long for them to work out that a $5000 movie gave them ample room for profit and New World immediately snatched it up.

I’ve written about Roller Blade elsewhere. It was screened for us at the Cedar Lee theater and left me gobsmacked and unable to move half of my body for several minuets. Yet despite the abject lunacy of a sci-fi epic about roller skating nuns in a dystopian future, the combination of creativity and the unique promotion of Roller Blade as the first film marketed direct to video, made  the film a success. After raking in a million dollars in sales, New World was ready to give Jackson a shot at a film with a big budget, stars and support. That film would be arguably Jackson’s most well known film; “Hell Comes to indexFrogtown”.

The problem with increased budgets from a legitimate hollywood studio, is that they come with increased scrutiny. Jackson suddenly found himself surrounded by handlers. He would constantly butt heads with the script supervisor who insisted on word for word line readings when Jackson was more interested in getting the jist of the dialogue. The strict adherence to structure and process that the studio imposed constantly rubbed Jackson the wrong way and by the time Frogtown was finished, Jackson’s relationship with New World was also finished. Donald Jackson departed the studio system, never to return. Leaving the studio however didn’t mean leaving film.  Long time collaborator Scott Shaw once said of him; “Don was an obsessional filmmaker. He loved making movies. But, he was willing to make them at any cost.”. Jackson would spend the indexrest of his career making films independently, raising the money in any way he could. At one point Jackson even found himself in the middle of a ponzi scheme with investors raising money using his name and reputation. The financiers managed to get their hands on over five million dollars before the bottom fell out. Jackson received a mere $500,000 of that. He managed to get three films in the can before the scheme was revealed and the investors went to court. Jackson emerged with his films as well as footage shot for future movies as well. He began to leverage the name recognition behind films like “Hell Comes to Frogtown” and “Roller Blade” producing sequels to each. The modest budgets in these productions is evident, but there is still a sense of linear storytelling and structure to them. They are commercial rather than strictly abstract and artistic as Jackson’s output would later increasingly become.

More money could be found in the family video market. Shaw recalls the era.

index“Don knew that if he attempted to sell these investors on making the kind of films he actually wanted to make; i.e. more exploitation based films, they would never invest. So, what he did was to take his own unique vision of comic book based characters and create films, which he felt could be viewed by the younger audience. He did this, while siphoning money from those films, so that he could create the kind of movies that he actually wanted to make.”

Don himself would put it  simply; “What I did, was give them the Donald G. Jackson version of a Children’s film — weird.”

The children’s films were never among Don’s favorites. He used to refer to them as “Just another piece of shit on the crap pile.”, but it was becoming evident that he was building his own style and collection of stock players including people like Joe Estevez and Robert Z’Dar

This was the era where Jackson would frequently collaborate with scriptwriter and actor Mark Williams, possibly best known as the artist who designed the album cover for the band Poison’s “Open Up and Say…Ahh!” record. Jackson met Mark via Steven Wang, the artist that created the creature effects and  masks for Hell Comes to Frogtown back in Don’s New World days. Mark had moved to L.A. to pursue a career in movies.  Much like Steve, Mark was also an FX artist, indexpursing a career path in the field when he met Don. Also being heavily influenced by comic books, Mark and Don meshed well. According to Scott Shaw

“Mark became an essential element in the filmmaking of Donald G. Jackson, beyond simply the SFX. Don would provide Mark with the concept for a film and Mark would go home and write the entire script in one evening.”

William’s enthusiasm however didn’t match Jackson’s. Don would go hour after hour, even day after day perusing his cinematic vision. He’d constantly be working on set and it wouldn’t be unusual to see him spending hours doing an insanely excessive amount of takes on a single scene in order to get things just right. Williams on the other hand might show up and just hang out puffing on a cigar while he occasionally handed out story direction or acted in a supporting role here and there.  Jackson’s work ethic was fanatical. William’s was not. The relationship burnt out in a quick four years with Don eventually exploding at Williams in anger and furiously firing him. They would never speak again, though Jackson would attend William’s funeral at Dark Delicacies in Burbank after the creator’s untimely death from cancer in 1998.

Williams wasn’t the only victem of Jackson’s temper. Outburst on set were common. Scott Shaw remembers one particular incident “we had brought on this one guy who was the godson of actor William Smith. Good guy. I really like him. But, he pissed Don off for some nondescript reason and Don just went off. I was driving in the car behind them and for nearly an hour I could hear Don screaming at the top of his lungs at this guy”

During the filming of “Rock ‘n Roll Cops”, Jackson started screaming at Robert Z’Dar.

“I wish we could get a decent fucking actor on this set!”

Z’Dar, as huge and intimidating as he was, gave a soft and simple response. “I take exception with that, Donny.” He’d put up with it most days, but at one point on the set wher he and Jackson were filming the sequel to “Hell Comes to Frogtown”, the abuse just became too much. Z’Dar, decked out in leather and a jet pack, ripped off his Texas Rocket Ranger helmet and flung it at Jackson who lept up to doge the large chrome colored projectile.

By far, the worst victem of Jackson’s outbursts was Ed Wood alumni Conrad Brooks. Like Z’Dar, Brooks fell in to Jackson’s regular rotation and the two were fast friends. But Jackson was also abusive. Shaw recalled the way Jackson would treat Brooks.

“I believe this abusive mindset was one of the key downfalls to the overall career of Donald G. Jackson. He would test people and if he would find them venerable, he would go after them nonstop. Conrad was often on the wrong side of this abuse. ”

“I guess I shouldn’t have been so hard on him,” Jackson once admitted, but he never apologized.

Scott Shaw met Donald Jackson when he was called in for The Roller Blade Seven, the indexthird film in Jackson’s post apocalyptic roller skating series. That partnership emerged with mixed results and Shaw parted ways with Jackson for a time under bad terms. Jackson went off and made his kids films and Shaw went off to shoot “Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell” and other films of his own. Shaw would find himself drawn back into Jackson’s orbit in 1995, shortly after Jackson was diagnosed with leukemia. Jackson was given six months to a year to live.

“He found out he only had a few more years to live as he was dying from leukemia. He remembered how well we worked together and that I was one of those people who gets things done. I think he wanted to leave a legacy and without someone like me that wasn’t going to happen.”

Jackson would defy the odds, and live another eight years, producing over a dozen films with Shaw. This was the era he truly embraced Zen filmmaking.

“Many people believe that Zen Filmmaking is simply based upon the fact that no screenplay is used in the creation of a Zen Film. Though this is the basis for Zen Filmmaking, in reality it is much more than this.” says Shaw, who describes how the idea of Zen Filmmaking came to being on the set of The Roller Blade Seven;

images“Don and I were very disappointed with the performances of the massive cast we had hired to take part in the film. We looked at each other and realized that the majority of them did not have the talent to truly pull-off the roll of the character they had been assigned. With this, we came to a realization to just go out and film the movie, not expect anything from our cast and crew, and make up the story as we went along. After a few days of this style of production, I had a realization, based in my lifelong involvement with eastern mysticism. I looked at Don and said, “This is Zen. This is Zen Filmmaking.” And, that was it”

Shaw returned in time for Jackson to begin the final installment of his Frogtown series, though that was far from the only collabration.

“It is essential to note that the moment Don and I began working together again, we did not wholly focus on Toad Warrior. We, almost immediately began to formulate, come up with other projects, and begin filming them, as well. Most notable filmed around this same period of time were the films that became Shotgun Blvd. and Ghost Taxi. Though none of these first, “Next Generation Zen Films,” rose to the cult status of Max Hell Frog Warrior, at least in my opinion, they were all better films than Toad Warrior.”

For the rest of his career, in addition to Jackson’s own curious directorial signatures like Swords, roller skates and L.A.s 170 overpass bridge, you can see the specific methods of Zen filmmaking present.

Scott Shaw’s Six Tenets of Zen Filmmaking

1. Make all unforeseen situations work to your advantage.

2. Don’t waste time, money, and energy attempting to create your sets when you don’t have to. Instead, travel to them and allow their natural aesthetics to become a part of your film.

3. Just do it! Ninety-nine percent of the time you can get away with it.

4. Never let your story line dominate your artistic vision. Too many would be filmmakers attempt to write what they believe is a, “Good Script,” and then try to film it. Without an unlimited budget it is virtually impossible to get what is on the page on the stage.

5. Zen Filmmaking is a spontaneous process. If you acutely plan your productions, with screenplays, storyboards, and locations, there is no room for the spontaneity of Cinematic Enlightenment to occur and you will always be lost between the way your mind desired a scene to be and the way it actually turns out.

6. Ultimately, in Zen Filmmaking nothing is desired and, thus, all outcomes are perfect.

If that sounds terrible…it frequently is.  And that’s fine by Shaw. ““We did not set out to make Gone with the Wind… It’s not intended to be good.” It’s a quick way of creating indexmovies though. Jackson would always have several movies in varying stages of completion, a valuable thing given the uncertainty of his future. Sometimes things work out. I think “Ride with the Devil” is one of the better efforts. But the films frequently fall short of the artistic heights that this format presumes. Writer Michael Adams, author of “Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies” is perhaps the only person on earth who has watched as many of these films as I have. Here’s how he describes it.

“It’s 1:05 a.m. I’m staring blankly at the blank plasma screen. She (my wife) looks at me, looks at the TV.
“What are you doing, bubble?” she asks, a flicker of concern mixed in with amusement.
“I’ve cracked,” I say. “I can’t watch any more of this dude’s movies. I think this guy has broken my brain.”
“They’re that bad, huh?”
I nod. “And they’re all the same.”

“How much can you say? He tried, mostly failed, and died” Ted Newsome once wrote of Ed Wood.
The term “The next Ed Wood” has been entirely overused since the Medved brother’s golden Turkey awards in 1980 declared “Plan Nine From Outer Space” to be the worst movie of all time (It isn’t. It isn’t even the worst movie Ed Wood ever made). Since then, this mantel has been directed at any and every low -budget filmmaker in Hollywood. Artist Johnny Em even directed the term towards me in my student film days. With most filmmakers it’s mere hyperbole. If any filmmaker ever deserved this sobriquet however, it was Jackson. When looking at Jackson’s life and career in overview, he parallels Wood more than any other director I can think of.
Both men started out working behind the scenes in film doing whatever jobs the studio had available. It was an attempt to break into the business in whatever way they could. They both seized whatever opportunities came their way and bent those films into their own vision whether it was “Bride of the Monster” or “I Like to Hurt People”. Films like “Hell Comes to Frogtown” or “Glen and Glenda” would deliver the studio a far stranger production than they had bargained for.
Both had to fight for creative control of their films. As far back as “Glen or Glenda” Wood had to put up with things like producer George Weiss inserting a short B&D lesbian scene in to the film without Wood’s knowledge or consent. It’s a move that feels very reminiscent of the way Jackson’s financer Tanya York, would recut the footage from both The Roller Blade Seven and Return of the roller Blade Seven into one unauthorized feature she titled “Legend of the Roller Blade Seven”. Wood ended up changing the name and ending of “Bride of the Atom” to appease investors. Still, he fared better than Jackson on “Hell Comes to Frogtown” where control was largely wrested away from him by the studio assigned co-director.
Both men had an unstoppable desire to make films, and yet both lacked resources, time, and patience. They both were masters of the one take scenes and would race through their productions with little regard for traditional film structure. What they lacked in traditional resources, they made up for in their synchronicity with their stock casts. Both had their reliable B-listers; Wood with Bela Lugosi and Jackson with Robert Z’Dar. They would back that star power up with fringe b-listers, Wood with Tor Johnson and Jackson with Joe Estevez and Scott Shaw.
There was a surprising prudishness to both Wood and Jackson as well. In his book “The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood”, Andrew J. Raush writes of Wood’s film “The Violent Years” ” After watching this, one must conclude that Wood was somewhat of a conservative man (startling considering the number of pornographic films Wood would later make or be associated with)”
“His simplistic assertion in the film that leading children “Back to God” would ultimately put an end to juvenile delinquency”
It’s interesting to note a similar conservative message in “The Sinister Urge”, Wood’s cautionary tale warning of the perils inherent in pornography (and sadly foreshadowing his own descent into that genre).
Jackson likewise had his own reservations, particularly when he was still under the influence of his community in Michigan. He was never comfortable with the occult subject matter in “The Demon Lover”, and frequently would express his regret in making it. When he returned home to his native Michigan around the turn of the century, he was welcomed back with open arms and considered the hometown boy made good. At one point Scott Shaw recalled Jackson asking him for a reedit on “the Guns of The Chupacabra” to eliminate the nudity, so he could show it to his friends. That edit would go on to be know as “Crimes of the Chupacabra”.
These old-fashioned values also came through in a certain degree of patriotism. You can frequently see it displayed by wood in places like “The Sinister Urge” where he hints that porn may be a strange foreign plot to wipe out the American way of life. It’s a motif that would pop up from time to time in Wood’s work, not the least of which is “Plan 9 From Outer Space” which can be boiled down to America vs. the Flying Saucers! For Jackson, the best example is simply the names of the scientists in Hell Comes to Frogtown; Star, Spangle, and Banner.
Both Jackson and Wood had one notable film and a lesser known one or two before their careers would be drug down into smut. It’s interesting to note that they were both incompetent flesh peddlers, delivering some of the least arousing nookie films ever made. It’s obvious that their hearts were never in it. Both kept up a good front at first, at least trying to infuse these blue features with some sort of plot before giving up and just delivering the requisite boobs.
To be fair, both Wood and Jackson manage a few legitimate films mixed in with the smut. in 1970 we got one of Wood’s movie scripts made into “The Revenge of Dr. X”, a blatant Frankenstein rip-off. There’s also 1974’s “Fugitive Girls”, a reimagining of the girl-gang theme from “The Violent Years”. Jackson would fire off Toad Warrior, and Shotgun Boulevard along with a handful of other Zen films that Scott Shaw would finish for him.
Neither ever gave up. Neither ever stopped working.
I’m grateful that Scott Shaw was there for Jackson at the end. He helped him keep going, keep filming, keep making movies. Wood should have been so lucky. After all, it’s what he had done for Bela Lugosi. Upon his death in 2003, Jackson transferred all rights to all of his films to Shaw, who has been a fine custodian of his legacy.
It’s a legacy of lunatic guerrilla filmmaking and insane story ideas that absolutely fascinates me and is very much a life that is worth exploring.

 

 

 

 


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


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!).

 


Phantasm three

directorsdPhantasm_3I’m not ashamed to say that this is my least favorite of the series. It’s hard to say if it’s the weakest entry or not, some people really hate the fourth entry, though I don’t know that that’s fair.

Phantasm three feels like it’s strays little bit too far from the formula… Ironic since that’s exactly what people say about the second movie! I may also be a little bit biased​. I discovered Phantasm three sitting on the shelf of my local video store about six months to a year after it had been released and I nearly lost my mind. I was so excited to finally see this – not knowing that it had even existed. After watching it, it felt like a let down. But you know what, it’s that era of film as well. A lot of the sequels from 1993 through 1998 also felt very disappointing and horror itself was in place I really didn’t like.

phantasm3-_mikemeetsblacksphere.jpgThe good news is Michael Baldwin is back for about half of this film… The movie starts up strong picking up right where at the second one left off. Jody is back as well, although for a great deal of the film he takes the form of one of those silver spheres- One that is now on the side of good. I very much get the impression that there was some confusion or some doubt that Thornbury and Baldwin would make it back, or perhaps that they would make it back for as much of the film as they did. As a result, the second act introduces a lot of new characters and tries to form a whole new trio. We have another young boy who has been orphaned by the tall man’s shenanigans, as well as a militant young black woman who serves as the muscle. They’re both very 90s stereoypes, and in a lot of ways, Reggie banister doesn’t fit with them. He seemed out of place with his hqdefaultseventies/eighties look and sensibilities. It’s something you don’t notice  as much when he’s hanging with his contemporaries but it comes into sharp relief and when contrasted against these strong, modern stereotypes…
We also encounter some new villains – some bright and obnoxiously colored scavengers. They get promptly killed off and turned into zombies then keep returning to wreck the film… Honestly they’re one of the weakest parts of the movie. These characters are practically cartoons and they sap a lot of the creepy atmosphere from the film, pushing the humor over The line to silly shenanigans.

At the end of the day, I think that’s really my problem with this movie… It’s not dark enough, it’s not scary enough, it’s not brilliant. If you got rid of these silly scavengers, or made them less of a caricature and more a threat I think I would’ve liked to better. I mentioned before that the orphan character is just so… clean… He’s got freshly laundered jeans and a bright blue jean jacket, his hair is immaculately cut. If he were in rags with a dirty face I think I would’ve accepted him more. The world would’ve felt more grim.

downloadYou can’t dismiss this film though, it’s got some great moments and some wonderful touches on it… We have some truly creepy images of the tall man sitting and communing with the silver sentinel spheres… Indeed we see more of the balls in this movie then possibly any other phantasm film, and with a greater variety. We don’t necessarily see them cause the same level of gore as we did in part 2, but that’s a budgetary restrictions…

All in all, this one is worth watching – if nothing else as a bridge between two and four… And of course for the same reasons that you watch any Phantasm movie… It’s a reunion with Mike and Bill and Reggie and Don and Angus, and you.


Bubba Ho-Tep

directorsdBubba_Ho-Tep_posterMy friend Jennifer went into this movie cold – all she knew was it Bruce Campbell was in it and that was enough for her. Indeed, the pairing of Campbell and Coscarelli is really a match made in psychotronic heaven​. These two guys both wallow in the B movie genre, but when it comes to trashy horror flicks, they are at the top of their game.
Bubba Ho-Tep is the story of a mummy that comes to a nursing home to attack patients, but instead ends doing battle with an elderly Elvis Presley. Does that sound weird enough for you? Yeah, Coscarelli traffics in the weird and this is really an ideal project for him – fusing his very relational style of filmmaking with practical effects and B-movie monsters.  It features what may well be the last appearance of Ozzy Davis, which is kind of sad – I always felt like he was slumming a little bit in this movie – but he plays it straight and chews the scenery like a true B actor.

d826bbcc9f6ead61c47829bf168f3fc1--bruce-campbell-dynamic-duosOne of the things I love about this movie is that it really isn’t a check your brain and your kind of film… It requires a massive suspension of disbelief to accept the internal logic of this movie, but once he’s done that, you’re committed. Somehow, Coscarelli manages to make it all tie together… The guys over at Chinstroker versus Punter once mentioned that this felt like somebody was trying to make a cult movie, and you can’t do that. It just happens. I’m not sure if that’s really what the intention was, though this does have a lot of the hallmarks and in the end – that’s exactly what it has become… an endlessly re-watchable cult film… I’ve got no complaints about that!


Phantasm Two

directorsdPhantasm+IIMan, what can I say about Phantasm 2 that hasn’t already been said? (in great part by myself already?) This film is unjustly lambasted I think, partially because Michael Baldwin is not back in the lead role and​ The plot is perhaps a bit more straightforward. They say this lacks the dream like quality that the original hand. I’m not so sure about that, I think there’s plenty of surreal imagery, though it’s ratcheted up a couple notches. This is the sequel with the most money behind it, and it shows. Every cent is on screen, with gore and very Rick Baker sensibilities. The Tall man is back as well, and he is possibly at his most imposing here. He’s always been A fascinating villain and managed to capture my imagination in the commercials I watched for this movie as a child. The balls are back as well, with a little bit of variety at it again.It’s still not as prominent as the marketing might suggest, but the creepy atmosphere of the mortuary, the dwarves and the graver and everything that comes with phantasm – it all makes up for it.

Phantasm-II-Don-CoscarelliPhantasm 2 was important, because a lot of the tropes that we associate with the series come into play here – the four barrel shot gun, the road trip aspect – even the fact that Reggie is really the star of this series… It all comes into focus here and it sets us up for the rest of this run. Phantasm 2 maybe my favourite of all these movies, it’s certainly the gate way where this series got it’s hooks into me… And it shows us a glimpse of what done Coscarelli could really do if he had a budget!

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Jim, the Worlds Greatest

directorsd

MV5BYTlmMTk3ODMtYWJlNi00OTQ2LWE3YjEtNGJjMzhlZjdhOGRkL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_That’s right. I finally found a copy.

The “teen movie” really came into its own in the 80s with the John Hughes series. Jim the worlds greatest predates that. It’s a sort of film that lays the groundwork for what the teen movie would become. Don Coscarelli’s touch really shows through in this movie with his signature dreamlike quality, tracking a non-linear path through the story. In this way you can actually tell this is from the same director that made Phantasm.  Such themes are only reinforced by the fact that it’s a story of an older brother watching out for his younger brother… Indeed the entire thrust of the film is an older brother, probably a senior in high school who is already taking on the responsibilities that really should belong to the delinquent father of this piece.

Jim World’s Greatest also has a sort of meandering slice of life quality to it… There’s no 18A-Rory-1024x774real narrative or story here, there’s just life as we drift from set piece to set piece. It’s much  the same technique he would employ in his next film; Kenny and Company. Just drifting, at least, until the third act – when things get serious.

I didn’t expect this to be a comedy, but I’ll admit I didn’t expect it to get as intense as it did either. Angus Scrimm gives a performance of a lifetime here, grim and depressing as the out-of-work father who occasionally gets drunk and beats his kids. We really only get to know the present-day father, the failure… and we know it wasn’t always like this. We get glimpses of him during happier days trough flashbacks – it’s an impressive juxtaposition that Scrimm delivers brilliantly.

Reggie Banister (who apparently never had hair on top) shows up as well, giving one of hqdefaultthe most lunatic and wacky performances I’ve ever seen him do. It’s a little more than a cameo as a crashed wind rider, but man it’s always nice to see a familiar face.

In the end, it’s quite an emotional film – and it really shows Coscarelli’s skill. It almost makes me sad that he transitioned into low-budget and horror, and yet this is the kind of film that was ideally suited for the 1970s, and that era  would not last forever. It genuinely makes me wonder though, what Coscarelli would do with such material today. I’m not sure that he could even get it made – the era of emotional low-budget dramas in the theater seems to have passed, and thanks to Coscarelli’s negative experiences during his brief sojourn in to the studio system, he’s been jaded enough to never venture there again.

There is a definite evolution present here, a direct line from Jim the worlds greatest, through Kenny and Company, directly leading into Phantasm. Seriously, THAT’s the trilogy. You can see Coscarelli and his sensibilities develop while staying very true to the concepts that intrigued him, and it only reinforces my belief in how underrated this filmmaker is.

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Beastmaster

directorsd5149VNVBJ0LI have to admit, I was a little surprised to discover that beast master was a Coscerelli the film. It lacks any of his Personal style and flourish. Perhaps it’s not so surprising after although, When you consider the studio had their fingers in every step of the production, ultimately taking the film away from Coscerelli and finishing it themselves.
It’s for this reason that Coscarelli himself has some hard feelings towards the production, though objectively speaking, it’s by no means a bad movie. If anything Beastmaster’s greatest sin is being forgettable… It’s standard fantasy fare along the lines of Conan. It’s exactly the sort of fantasy that was fashionable at the time. Marc Singer is serviceable as the titular beast master, rescuing a damsel in distress but he always feels a little bit off to me, I’m far more used to seeing him in the various “V”miniseries and sequels. Going from a smart mouth resistance fighter to a musclebound barbarian is a bit of a leap. His face seems a little bit too craggy The-Beastmaster-Marc-Singerto be a leading man, (ironically he is younger here). still, there’s nothing here that really stands the test of time. It’s a few moments of striking imagery, particularly with the bird, but nothing that stands out. It’s a good excuse for direct video sequel (I believe there were three). It also suffers from falling out of fashion… Today, we prefer our fantasy in the style of the Lord of the rings and dragonlance. The whole Conan/Tarzana look has gone by the wayside. That’s not really a commentary on the quality of them, but rather how changing tastes affect our perception. Beastmaster is worth a watch, but not a serious one – not a dedicated night with this is the main feature. Put it on while you are doing something else, or hang out with it if you catch it and cable.


Kenny and company

directorsdKenny_&_Company_FilmPosterI will readily admit that I can’t exactly call this the first film entirely though it’s one of Coscarellis earliest released works – it’s preceded by Jim the worlds greatest, but I’ve never got my hands on a copy of that one… This is a quintessential 70s film – and in a lot of ways it’s childhood in the 70s as viewed through the eyes of someone who was a child in the late 50s… There is still an idealized neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone else on the street and children all played together, building soapbox racers in planning their Halloween costumes… There’s always​ The younger kid tagging along with the older ones wanting to see how things work and be a part of the world. Kenny and Company also documents the first awakening of romance, that first crush and the desire to get to know the girl – and kiss her. It’s from a period, where childhood and adulthood are still far more firmly separated than they are today.
tumblr_inline_nea2y1jZsm1sqr9zcMike Baldwin from Phantasm is in this film, but he isn’t the supporting lead… he’s the secondary lead. However he is very much playing the prototype of the character that he would later immortalize in the phantasm films… Indeed I can see this as being what his character would have been like in those films if he hadn’t been haunted by the mysterious tall man. He’s handy with a hammer, foul mouthed, Brave and brash.

There is a sort of dreamlike quality to a lot of the film, a Coscarelli trademark.  Still, the dialogue ring is very true and it’s definitively in Coscerelli’s style. In the end, I found myself entranced– completely sucked in.  I genuinely didn’t expect to like it as much as I maxresdefaultdid… These days, this is a perpetual Halloween watch… And interesting drama, mixed in with my normal slate of horror films. This is a must watch, if you can get your hands on it.


Phantasm

directorsd14469577_1287266907984396_6839442167741886021_nThis where it all begins.

Well, sort of. Strictly speaking, “Jim, the World’s Greatest” was Coscarelli’s first film, followed by “Kenny and Company”. But Phantasm…this is where most of us first really encountered Don Coscarelli.

It’s hard for me to find something to say about Phantasm that I haven’t already said. I’m fascinated by these characters and to this day I find the tall man to be one of the most compelling villains ever.

I’m particularly interested in the underlying themes of abandonment – originally much stronger in cut out footage. Indeed there’s still Phantasm footage that has never seen the light of day, scenes with Jody and his girlfriend (supposedly the lady in lavender) as well as a guitar performance by Reggie Bannister. I could see it – there’s a stage in his ice cream shop and we can catch a glimpse of it in the deleted scene where they all get into a food fight there.

The story of the otherworldly undertaker and what he does to the bodies buried in Morningside Cemetery will always be one my my favorites – enough to keep me on board though all of the sequels….but more on that later.

 

 


Hop

directorsthop-2011-hindiTo be fair – this one didn’t interest me.

I don’t know what it was…the commercials did nothing for me and it felt like it was just a holiday cash grab- I’m still not entirely certain it wasn’t.

Nevertheless, my kids wanted to see it and my wife was interested so we eventually made it out to Amherst Cinema for the movie.

I’m surprised at how much I liked it. Hill is doing what he does best here – he’s taking a simple slackers-find-their-purpose story and infusing it with heart. The CG Easter bunny character should not work nearly as well as he does, but there’s something about him that just resonates. It makes me wonder how much time Hill spends with the animators, if he’s there in the room looking over their shoulders as they create these characters because I can feel his fingerprints in their DNA.

This ended up being a surprise hit in my family, and gets pulled out every year at Easter time. It may not be a buy, but if you’ve never see it, this is definitely worth a watch.


Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever

directorstajr5plnqpznga8cmjsq8ckjharuI wanted to like this one way more than I did.

From IMDB : “Grumpy Cat is a lonely cat living in a mall pet shop. Because she never gets chosen by customers, she develops a sour outlook on life…until one day during the holidays, a very special 12-year-old girl named Chrystal enters the pet store and falls in love with her after realizing she is the only person who can hear this unique cat talk. As the two develop a close friendship during the holiday rush, Grumpy reluctantly thwarts the kidnapping of an exotic dog she dislikes, and on Christmas Eve rescues Chrystal after the mall closes. Through her adventures, will Grumpy learn the true meaning of Christmas? Or will it be, in her words, the “Worst. Christmas. Ever?”

Here’s the problem…this is a lifetime movie. While Tim Hill was definitely the logical (even inspired) choice to make a movie about Grumpy, I don’t think he quite understands how to make a lifetime movie – and it shows. It’s a different sensibility, a diffrent kind of humor and Hill feels tied up by the unnecessary requirements of the network to appeal to a very specific demographic.

He’s hindered further by the very fact that he’s been given a flimsier premise than usual – we’re basing this movie on little more than an internet meme with a dash of forced holiday cheer (holiday cheer being incomprehensibly the antithesis of the main character). Add a fairly poor choice in Aubry Plaza as the voice and we end up with a funny, but somehow unsatisfying movie.

It’s not a complete disaster. I still watch it during Christmas and for Hill to make a Lifetime movie that I’ll even deem to watch at all is nothing short of miraculous. I’d like to see this character tackled again but with less studio interference and a better voice actress.