‘Star Wars’ and the End of Famous Monsters

STAR WARS changed the landscape of popular culture in 1977 for better and, arguably, for worse. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine founding father Forrest J Ackerman was always a huge fan of science fiction. He was the man who coined the term “Sci-Fi.” He loved STAR WARS with all of his heart and welcomed it to Famous Monsters with open arms, despite Famous Monsters being a name synonymous with horror (close observers know full well, however, that the magazine always embraced myriad films within the science-fiction and fantasy genres, from METROPOLIS and WAR OF THE WORLDS to the original FLASH GORDON and every single Ray Harryhausen project).

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But that enthusiastic FM welcome mat for STAR WARS also pretty much enabled the blockbuster and an entire accompanying space-fantasy genre to steamroll over classic horror. FM’s focus, at least where the covers were concerned,  shifted to entice kids who wanted to escape to a galaxy far, far away, not to a cobwebbed castle. Wonderful painted covers of horror icons on FM would make way for studio-distributed photograph covers featuring Darth Vader, THE BLACK HOLE, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Cylons, and Ridley Scott’s ALIEN.

Many would argue that Famous Monsters would never really quite recover from that seismic shift in young fans’ appetites. Classic horror would essentially climb back into the grave and watch from the shadows as Sci-Fi and the slasher genre, kickstarted by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise, would take center stage, opening the door for competing magazines Starlog and Fangoria. Famous Monsters folded in 1983 after 25 years and 191 issues because tastes had changed. It would lay dormant for several years before returning to newsstands again.

With that history in mind, and in honor of STAR WARS DAY, I’ve assembled a bunch of fun STAR WARS-themed covers of Famous Monsters, classic and contemporary, for your viewing pleasure. In my opinion, the painted ones are still the best.

Get more fun STAR WARS-related IT CAME FROM… blog posts here and here.

Get more cool Famous Monsters posts here and here, plus more great Famous Monsters cover art here.

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The Art of Famous Monsters of Filmland

Oscar-winner Rick Baker’s painting of his AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON on the cover of Famous Monsters #284 recently earned a Rondo Hatton award for Best Magazine Cover. The atmospheric depiction of his iconic cinematic lycanthrope is in good company with a number of other stunning covers that have enticed contemporary readers to dive into Forrest J Ackerman’s classic magazine ever since it appeared on the scene in 1958.

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For most of its run (save for a stretch in the late ’70s and early ’80s when photographs became commonplace on the cover), Famous Monsters has boasted incredible gateway art of classic creatures with numerous covers envisioned and put to canvas by such talented artists as Basil Gogos, Ron Cobb, Ken Kelly, Vic Prezio and Albert Nuetzell.

Inspired by our Rondo Award win, I wanted to shine a spotlight on the current roster of artists painting for Famous Monsters and the brand-new art that came about during the time that I was editor of the magazine, from 2015 to 2016.

You’ll notice a distinct strategy at play with the bulk of the cover art that I commissioned. With the luxury of having two covers to create for each issue (sometimes more), I would choose contemporary subject matter for the newsstand version, while leaning towards more classic subject matter for the direct-mail subscriber base.

The idea was that people who were new to Famous Monsters magazine and the brand were more likely to get acquainted at the newsstand or on social media. Thus, contemporary cover subject matter — GAME OF THRONES, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, BATMAN V SUPERMAN, SUICIDE SQUAD — was designed to invite a younger film- and TV-fan demographic. Classic monsters — Bela Lugosi as DRACULA, Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS, King Kong facing off against Godzilla — would appeal more to the Monster-Kid core base of Famous Monsters fans.

Keep in mind that the majority of magazines published today do not feature commissioned artwork, but simply photographs. The original art on the covers of Famous Monsters displayed here — by virtue of the effort itself — represents a key reason why the brand remains so special to the fans, who also love to collect.

The below gallery features the cover art for all of the issues that I edited. The work represents a total of seven individual issues, with an average of two covers per issue, sometimes three. All in all, I supervised the release of 17 different covers. The stats I’ve included below the gallery include the months of release and the different artists responsible for their respective covers.

Please enjoy. There’s some really great art here.

Famous Monsters #282 (October 2015 release): Terry Wolfinger (ASH VS. EVIL DEAD Bone Throne) and Sanjulian (ASH VS. EVIL DEAD Chainsaw)

Famous Monsters #283 (December 2015 release): Terry Wolfinger (THE FORCE AWAKENS & FLASH GORDON) and Rob Prior (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK)

Famous Monsters #284 (February 2016 release): Rick Baker (AMERICAN WEREWOLF) and Simon Thorpe (BATMAN V SUPERMAN)

Famous Monsters #285 (April 2016 release): Terry Wolfinger (GAME OF THRONES) and Sanjulian (CLASH OF THE TITANS)

Famous Monsters #286 (June 2016 release): Brian Taylor (ALIENS) and Rob Prior (STAR TREK)

Famous Monsters #287 (July/August 2016 release): Paul Wee (Forry Ackerman Comic-Con Exclusive), Brian Taylor (SUICIDE SQUAD), and Bob Eggleton (Godzilla vs. King Kong)

Famous Monsters #288 (October 2016 release): Paul Wee (Forry Ackerman) and Terry Wolfinger (DRACULA) and Ken Kelly (SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN)

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Famous Monsters Wins Best Classic Magazine at Rondo Awards!

The winners of the 15th annual Rondo Hatton Awards were announced Sunday night. Famous Monsters of Filmland won Best Magazine (Classic), and also won Best Cover for Rick Baker‘s amazing, timeless rendition of his Oscar-winning American Werewolf in London! FM 284 - Werewolf

I did not win any other awards, but I was named runner-up for Writer of the Year and my “The Great American Werewolf Reunion” piece was also the Best Article runner-up, so that’s nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it’s pretty exciting that my writing ranked up there for consideration given the fact that there really are so many wonderful journalists out there cranking out great horror, Sci-Fi, and fantasy copy. April Snellings earned the Writer of the Year Award, and if anyone truly deserves it, it’s her.

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Thank you all again for your support and for making the effort to vote. My work as editor of Famous Monsters was honored last year with Rondos that included Best Classic Magazine and Best Interview (with Mel Brooks for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN), and that was a real thrill to be recognized. This year’s honor is that much more bittersweet as I am no longer with Famous Monsters magazine, and the publication’s future remains a bit uncertain. The good news from the Famous Monsters camp is that the magazine, once a bi-monthly, will now be published once a year as a double issue that comes out around Halloween. I wish them well, and sure hope they can create a product of substance that still taps into the Monster Kid within us all.

The Rondo Awards, named after Rondo Hatton, an obscure B-movie villain of the 1940s, are conducted annually by the Classic Horror Film Board and honor the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation.a412da30af0f7d1b2cd65ed70a418611.jpg

Here is the full list of winners, taken from the Rondo Awards site. The Rondo Awards Ceremony will be held at WonderFest in Louisville on June 4. You can keep track of Rondo happenings at classichorrorfilmboard.com or at rondoaward.com.

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Medusa Reads Famous Monsters!

Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS reads Famous Monsters. I know this to be true from the photographic evidence provided by the fine folks at the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

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So what’s the real story behind this photo? Famous Monsters #285 featured a tribute to the 1981 Ray Harryhausen classic, highlighted by a new, exclusive interview with its star, Harry Hamlin. Hamlin discussed his involvement, from script to screen, in what would ultimately become Harryhausen’s last major Hollywood feature. Of course, Hamlin went into wonderful detail about the process of working with Harryhausen, from battling giant scorpions (swinging a sword at thin air, seeing as the creatures had to be added later) to watching the master’s meticulous approach to his stop-motion art — and then observing him sip his favorite drink after clicking each laborious frame.

The folks at the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation had an opportunity to read the issue and then told me that they were overjoyed with the coverage. They requested a few extra copies to be added to their ample archives, and we struck up a nice, cordial friendship. In return for the favor of sending copies of FM across the pond, they told me to expect to see “a surprise” on social media in the next couple days.

Well, what a surprise it was. They made a major effort to retrieve the actual, screen-used Medusa model from storage and pose her with the magazine as if she was reading about herself. As bucket-list moments go, seeing the physical creature that put me on the edge of my seat as a kid watching CLASH OF THE TITANS released from purgatory — and “reading” FM just for this special occasion — was pure geek bliss.

Thanks again to the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation for arranging this photo. What a thrill!

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Famous Monsters Fan-toshop Service

One of the nice little perks of the modern age is how fans of your magazine can manipulate images on a whim with Photoshop and share them around the Internet for everyone’s amusement.

When I released Famous Monsters #284 with a painting of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE by talented artist Simon Thorpe on the cover (trumpeting my interview with director Zack Snyder), a devoted Bat fan took it upon himself to depict the Caped Crusader reading about himself in the latest issue of FM in the Batcave. I loved it.

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Another issue, Famous Monsters #285, celebrated the 35th anniversary of CLASH OF THE TITANS with an exclusive Harry Hamlin interview about the trials and triumphs of making that classic 1981 film, and about the nuances of working with stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen. I commissioned legendary genre artist Sanjulian to paint Ray’s stunning take on Medusa for the cover, which got the attention of the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation. Soon enough, a dedicated fan swooped in and swapped out the head of Medusa in a still from TITANS with a copy of that issue. Clever, I must admit. And I enjoyed a hearty laugh over it.

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Are there any more creative Photoshop FM subversions out there making the rounds? Maybe so. Hope you enjoyed these two fun, interactive takes as much as I did!

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Basil Gogos: The Passing of a Monster Art Legend

My heart is heavy with the news that legendary painter Basil Gogos has passed on.

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Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine owes a huge debt of gratitude to Gogos. His paintings of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, King Kong, the Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and so many other creatures of classic horror helped define the genre magazine that meant so much to so many and arguably elevated the brand to iconic status back in the ‘60s.

Gogos’ dynamic renderings of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Lon Chaney, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Ingrid Pitt, Jonathan Frid, Zacherley and more were the first line of enticement to lure in Monster Kids to pick up the latest copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland. His subjects were often treated to high-contrast lighting, with striking colorings used at times to psychedelic effect, which resulted in haunting portraits of beautifully designed cinematic characters. Not only did Gogos transform his subject matter to high art, he transcended our perception of these sometimes scary, sometimes silly rubber-and-latex monsters to soulful, penetrating, misunderstood outcasts.BasilGogos.jpgAs the former Executive Editor of Famous Monsters, it was a pleasure to meet Basil and interview him for our special Forry Ackerman Centennial Tribute in 2016. I also got to work with him and his lovely partner Linda Touby, an established abstract artist herself. I was in the process of getting his paintings back on the covers of Famous Monsters with a combination of unseen previous works and potential new paintings. It was an exciting prospect that was unfortunately cut short by my having to reluctantly step away from Famous Monsters last fall. In retrospect, I wish I had been able to stay longer simply to have been able to put Basil Gogos back on an FM cover at least one more time.

 

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Basil Gogos with David Weiner at a recent Monsterpalooza event.

 

While Gogos is best known for his work for Famous Monsters, he also illustrated many a movie poster and pulp covers with non-monster material; nubile women, expressive manly men, fierce creatures, and world-war machinery lent color, story and action to such Men’s Adventure mags (covers and interiors) as Man’s Action, Man’s Conquest, Man’s Illustrated, Wildest West, Wildcat Adventures, and True Adventures. He also tackled covers for Screen Thrills IllustratedSpacemen, Creepy and Eerie magazine and a variety of paperback covers. Standout movie poster work included INFRA-MAN, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, and the Charles Bronson flick RIDER ON THE RAIN — showing the muscle-bound star “at his brutal best”!

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Gogos’ work has been commissioned for FM-influenced rockers such as Rob Zombie, Misfits, and Electric Frankenstein. It’s appeared on U.S. postage stamps. In addition to album art, action settings and classic monsters, Gogos told me that he found fulfillment in depicting the human figure, horses, and abstract colorful paintings.

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I’ve reposted my 10 Questions with Basil Gogos interview from Famous Monsters #288 below to give readers a sense of how he worked with FM founders Forrest J Ackerman and James Warren and what mattered most to him. He was a class act all the way.

Basil Gogos may be gone, but his legacy lives on. Like the many cinematic subjects he captured on canvas, his work will remain immortal.

10 QUESTIONS WITH BASIL GOGOS

Famous Monsters: Were you a fan of horror films growing up? What were some of your favorites that helped to inspire your work and imagination?
Basil Gogos: 
No, I was not a fan growing up, not as a kid, but I became a fan. My favorites were Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and THE THING.

FM. How did you come to paint for Famous Monsters magazine? Did you find them, or did they find you?
BG. 
I came to paint for Famous Monsters because Jim Warren asked me to do my first cover for FM, therefore they found me. My rep contacted me about a job and it had to be done in a psychedelic way. Not knowing what he meant, I did what I thought it meant. It turned out to be an iconic cover.

FM. What was your interaction like with Forry Ackerman and Jim Warren when it came to assignments and ideas?
BG. 
My interaction started with James Warren. He would ask for the cover, telling me which character he wanted. He would just say the character and leave the rest up to me. I would paint the cover and then give it to him. Forrest Ackerman came next. He would discuss what I did with James Warren without me, then they would get back to me with the next cover. They left the creative ideas up to me.

FM. Were there times when you were asked to fine-tune your paintings?
BG. 
I hardly ever was asked to do anything — change or touch up — to the finished cover paintings.

FM. You really captured the soul and horror of your subjects. What was your source material for these iconic paintings? Did you often get stills from Forry or the movie studios?
BG. 
I usually used black-and-white photographs that were given to me at times from Warren and Ackerman, but frequently found shots on my own from the studios. Sometimes I used more than one still, sometimes just one, but always black-and-white stills so I could use my own color. Other times I worked from sketches.

FM. Did you ever get to meet some of the famous faces that you painted?
BG. 
Unfortunately I didn’t meet many of the people I painted. Some had died before I painted them. I always wanted to meet Karloff, but never did. I did get to know both people who played the Creature; Ben Chapman and Ingrid Pitt became friends, and they are dearly missed.

FM. Is there one FM cover that you wish you could rework or redo entirely, perhaps due to a rushed deadline?
BG. 
I am happy with all my FM covers. I really never found time a constraint when I was doing them. I usually worked nights with coffee and peace and quiet.

FM. Among all the covers that you did for FM, which is your favorite and why?
BG. 
My very favorite is #56 — Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster. I was commissioned to paint him and he was very ill at the time. His death occurred when the painting was being finished, and it meant a lot to me.

FM. How did your success with FM ultimately affect your career trajectory?
BG. 
It gave me a chance to be free to express myself in my work. I worked on other magazine covers as time went on, as well as CDs and posters, but I always enjoyed doing FM covers.

FM. These days, what types of subjects give you the most fulfillment with your work?
BG. 
I have found fulfillment in painting and drawing the human figure, as well as horses and abstract colorful paintings. I always enjoy a challenge.

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James Cameron: ‘Aliens Still Holds Up Pretty Damn Well’

**Scroll down to the bottom of this page to hear James Cameron’s exclusive interview with David Weiner on The Famous Monsters Podcast**

Happy Alien Day! Why is it Alien Day? Because it’s April 26 — 4/26 — a perfect excuse for 20th Century Fox to create a holiday around their ALIEN franchise and to promote their new ALIEN films (including the new ALIEN: COVENANT) and products simply because, in those movies, the planet where they first discover the Alien xenomorph is designated LV-426.

0*3MKseYD_JoX9lirII’ve been a huge fan of the franchise ever since Ridley Scott first captured my imagination with his incredible production design and storytelling prowess in 1979’s ALIEN. I had (and still have) every book that came out at the time, including the official novelization by Alan Dean Foster, the Heavy Metal comic adaptation ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY, the making-of tome THE BOOK OF ALIEN packed with on-set stills and concept sketches, and the oversized MOVIE NOVEL version. I was obsessed with H.R. Giger’s bold and imaginative take on threatening extra-terrestrials with a deadly life cycle. I was half-convinced that Giger must be an alien himself if he could fabricate such an inconceivable creature. In the close-to-40-years since the original film was released, I don’t believe that anyone has been able to concoct a more original, nightmarish and frightening cinematic creation in comparison. Plenty of folks have tried and failed, however.IMG_2603

Last summer marked the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s ALIENS, which was released in 1986. As editor of Famous Monsters magazine, I maneuvered to get some time with Cameron to talk about his sequel that changed the sequel game and put him firmly in the pantheon of A-list directors to watch. I also knew that he was knee-deep in production on his AVATAR follow-up films, and was pretty confident I wouldn’t even get a response from him or his office at Lightstorm Entertainment. But given the Sci-fi nature of his body of work, from ALIENS and TERMINATOR to THE ABYSS and AVATAR, he seemed like a genuine Monster Kid who might have a soft spot in his heart for Famous Monsters. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

To my stunned surprise, my bet paid off, as it turned out that not only did Cameron know of Famous Monsters, but he was a fan who had read practically every issue as a kid and teenager. He told me that he used to hide Forrest J Ackerman’s pulpy monster-movie magazine behind his textbooks at school. “The effect Famous Monsters magazine had on me when I was ten years old through my teen years was psychological,” he explained. “It was a reality check that I wasn’t crazy, because other people loved this stuff, too. I certainly never got any support within my family or from my parents or even that much from my friends that monsters were cool. So it was my contact with a larger community of fans for horror and science fiction.”

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For our interview, Cameron not only gave me 45 minutes of his valuable time but also revealed a few critical details of the AVATAR sequels he’s been working on, affording me an opportunity to break that news (that he’s filming all sequels concurrently, and how he plans to compete with the release dates of the STAR WARS sequels) and have my story picked up worldwide. I have to admit, it’s a pretty exhilarating activity to Google yourself and find your interview quotes being reported on and making headlines in countries ranging from France and Germany to Mexico, Japan, and Australia.

For Famous Monsters of Filmland #286, the Oscar-winning filmmaker delivered a candid and in-depth recounting of the making of ALIENS and the various obstacles he encountered, from the screenwriting process and pre-production detours to production snafus in England and unexpected post-production problems and solutions.

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Here are a couple interesting nuggets from our interview:

ON CREATING A NEW ALIEN TALE FROM THE 1979 CLASSIC: “My goals were twofold, and one was not prioritized over the other. The first goal was to honor and continue what Ridley had started. And the second goal was to make it my own film. … I felt that it was important to be stylistically continuous with the first film. But in terms of the way the story is told, the elements of the story, introducing the idea of a future military, that was just a way into it that made it different, that was a distinguishing factor.”

THE VISUAL EFFECTS OF ALIENS AND TODAY’S CGI TRADE-OFF: “We developed a pretty good little palette of techniques that were relatively straightforward and inexpensive and required a lot of craftsmanship. I think there’s less hands-on craftsmanship in visual effects these days because so much can just be fixed downstream, digitally. Almost anything can be corrected or hidden or added to or enhanced with CG now. So there’s much less emphasis on what’s going in front of an actual camera lens.”

ALIENS AND THE TEST OF TIME: “I cringe a little bit when I watch TERMINATOR at some of the stuff that was really threadbare. I think [with] ALIENS we fought it to a draw based on the technology available at the time and I’m pretty proud of the film. I don’t cringe at anything in ALIENS. … Every film is a cross-section or a snapshot of the technology available at the moment that it was made and so it’s pointless to say, ‘Well, today I would have done it with this. I would have done this with CG. I would have done that differently.’ … You have to edit all that out and say, ‘OK, this film was made 30 years ago. I think that it still holds up pretty damn well.'”

WOULD CAMERON EVER RETURN TO THE FRANCHISE? “Unless somebody could come up with some spectacularly new concept. … I’ve got my own kind of alien world that I’m enslaved to now with the AVATAR films, so I can pretty much rule that out.”

I’m very proud of the resulting issue of Famous Monsters, which features a stunning original painting by talented artist Brian Taylor of Ripley and Newt face-to-face with the Alien Queen.

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A healthy portion of my ALIENS 30th-anniversary interview with James Cameron can be heard on this special edition of the Famous Monsters Podcast. It’s a good one:

 

Happy Alien Day, and stay away from LV-426!

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More Human Than Human: Vintage ‘Blade Runner’ Lobby Cards

It’s been a surreal couple of years as far as entertainment goes, witnessing the return of some of my favorite heroes and heroines of decades past returning for another round on the big and small screen — in TWIN PEAKS, X-FILES, STAR WARS, and now BLADE RUNNER, to name just a few.geoverit-585x3291.jpgWhoever nudged Harrison Ford a few years back and told him he was being too grumpy about Han Solo, Rick Deckard, and Indiana Jones, I give them serious thanks, because he’s clearly gone out of his way to cater to fan demands with revisits to all of these beloved characters (even though no one was pleased that he got his wish to kill off Han Solo). Still, as much as I appreciated the miracle that the creative team behind BLADE RUNNER 2049 pulled off to deliver a satisfying, visually sumptuous sequel, I find myself going back to Ridley Scott’s 1982 original with more and more appreciation (which I already had plenty of). It truly is a remarkable film. An absolute cinematic classic. tumblr_o3ljycFEqr1t3tnxbo5_1280For those not in the know: Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, the original BLADE RUNNER starred Ford as a retired Los Angeles detective in 2019 (the future!!!) tasked with tracking down a quartet of Replicants — perfect androids practically indistinguishable from humans — who are illegally on Earth seeking to meet their maker and extend their expiration date. Scott and screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who also wrote the 2049 sequel, originally conceived of their 1982 project as the first in a series of films incorporating the themes and characters featured in Dick’s groundbreaking novel, and I’m all for it given how well 2049 turned out. Here’s hoping that BLADE RUNNER 2049 recoups enough of its investment that they’ll make another one. Until then, like tears in rain, we’ll all just have to work on our unicorn origami at a noodle bar.b453c6cb45729635a85383a0f7558758--dragon-noodles-noodle-bar.jpgAnd In the meantime, here are a variety of vintage BLADE RUNNER lobby cards from 1982, in both English and Spanish, to ogle:

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context:

Ford-blade-runner-2Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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‘Blade Runner 2049’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

Flick Flack Movie ReviewWHAT’S THE DEAL: More than three decades after Ridley Scott’s visionary masterpiece changed the way moviegoers think about the future, the sequel to BLADE RUNNER is here with the return of Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard opposite brooding new Replicant retirer Ryan Gosling.tumblr_static_26osk19e9qck84sgcwogsw88wWHY SEE IT: Much like Ford’s improbable reprise of Han Solo in THE FORCE AWAKENS, Sci-Fi fans are in for a treat with the now-75-year-old star back as Deckard. Directed by ARRIVAL helmer Denis Villeneuve (Ridley Scott, too busy mucking up his ALIEN franchise, is executive producer this time around), the canon-faithful BLADE RUNNER 2049 exceeds expectations with a visually sumptuous, tech-savvy glimpse into our potential future 30 years from now. The biggest thing 2049 had going against it, other than it showing up decades too late, was that it would be a parody of itself. Scott’s groundbreaking 1982 film was so influential that countless numbers of movies (from THE FIFTH ELEMENT to the stunted TOTAL RECALL remake) have begged, borrowed, or outright stolen its concepts and bleak production design; a dark, gritty Los Angeles, full of rainy streets overpopulated with multi-cultural, earthbound denizens grounded below flying cars, living on fabricated resources with a daily struggle to distinguish who or what is real or manufactured. But 2049 has big ideas beyond a cash-grab effort to capitalize on its predecessor’s iconic status, tackling concepts of the human soul and the disparity between genuine and implanted memories/emotions. There’s also the central plot device of Replicant procreation, which may strain one’s sense of suspended disbelief. On the soundscape side of things, the film’s audio design is incredible, thoughtful, and bombastic, and Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch deliver a score that does Vangelis justice.631a64d3fdcbdbd24a57d2be7c3c340c.jpgTHE FLICK FLACK: The bad news? Not much. I have my nitpicks, but that’s because I’m a huge fan of the original. This long-awaited sequel is much better than it deserves to be, but primarily I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept that manufactured beings, even with the help of nanotechnology, could create life, “miracle” explanation or not. Also, those looking for an action-packed Sci-Fi flick will be disappointed. While there are moments of satisfying action, much like the original BLADE RUNNER this is a long, at times slow-moving meditation on the future. The film telegraphs its big plot twist a little too early, perhaps intentionally, and then snatches it back with a storytelling bait-and-switch ploy, to diminished effect. Plus, it’s good to know that Harrison Ford does not make his appearance until the last quarter of the film, which runs two hours and 45 minutes. Though Ryan Gosling is well cast and stands on his own with a great performance, I couldn’t keep from wondering every 20 minutes or so when Ford would actually appear. Still, I’m thankful this film got made at all and ended up much better than it had any right to be. And I really want that new Peugeot Spinner…Blade-Runner-2049-trailer-breakdown-38.jpgNOTABLE NOTES: While the initial 1982 theatrical cut of BLADE RUNNER left audiences scratching their heads as to whether or not Ford’s Rick Deckard was a Replicant himself, or simply a flawed human who fell in love with the Replicant Rachael, Ridley Scott subsequently returned to the film a total of four more times to fine-tune his cut and make his determination more obvious. In 1992, when he had just released his Director’s Cut of the film, he explained to ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, “I think what would be curious to ask about the Harrison Ford character is was he a [Nexus]-7, or was he an 8? … It’s clearly there if you watch even the first version — there’s a clue when he picks up the unicorn at the end, that little piece of origami.” But perhaps it’s not as obvious as Scott suggests, and Ford has always maintained that Deckard is not a Replicant. Who is right? With BLADE RUNNER 2049 now in theaters, that question still remains open-ended — and up for interpretation.

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Ridley Scott: “Harry, in this scene we reveal that you are a Replicant.” Harrison Ford: “We’ve been through this 100 times. Deckard is NOT a Replicant.” Ridley: “I’ll fix it in post.”

MORE INFO: bladerunnermovie.comblade-runner-2049-poster-ryan-gosling.jpeg

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Please take a moment to “like” IT CAME FROM… on Facebook and “follow” on Instagram and on Twitter for more great retro content.

Read more Flick Flack reviews, such as Stephen King’s IT, TWIN PEAKSLuc Besson’s VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS and Charlie Theron’s ATOMIC BLONDE.

Then read more of my BLADE RUNNER thoughts, my Famous Monsters-related pieces, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  see cool vintage movie lobby cards, and much more!

Sean Young on ‘Blade Runner,’ Career Bumps

With the surprise return of Sean Young’s Rachael in BLADE RUNNER 2049, I thought it was time to revisit my August 2013 ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT interview with the enthusiastic and candid actor, who was promoting her new indie horror film JUG FACE.

She was more than happy to wax nostalgic about BLADE RUNNER, DUNE, her bad luck detour from Tim Burton’s BATMAN, working with the likes of Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott, and ire over how she has been treated by Hollywood over the decades. It’s a compelling interview, if you ask me. Give it a read:

In the early ’80s, Sean Young’s big-screen career rise was meteoric, jumping from a bit role opposite Bill Murray in the army comedy Stripes to starring with Harrison Ford in the sci-fi classic Blade Runner — and then raising pulses with a steamy back-seat sex scene with Kevin Costner in a limo in No Way Out. But after a career lull in the ’90s and various off-screen antics that turned her into a tabloid target, Young is back on the big screen and ready to show that she’s here to stay in the haunting backwoods supernatural drama Jug Face.

The story of a pregnant teen (Lauren Ashley Carter) looking to escape her small town because she fears she’ll be sacrificed to a mysterious pit that kills in exchange for keeping the community safe, Jug Face casts Young as Loriss, the girl’s mother who is intent on keeping her a virgin so that her naughty behavior doesn’t upset the balance.

“I don’t ever watch any horror pictures, but I’m a fan of this picture,” the 53-year-old Young tells ETonline. “It’s almost like The Village by M. Night Shyamalan. But it’s a lot less like a horror picture in a sense than some horror pictures, because [the horror here is] implied a lot of time.” Loriss pretty much has her own catch phrase – “the pit wants what it wants” – and Young points out that although her character is definitely not the most pleasant or glamorous, “I like playing characters that nobody would suspect me to play, and I think I’m pretty versatile that way.” She adds, “I did tell [director Chad Crawford Kinkle] that I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that the makeup people made me look so old and ugly.”

While keeping busy in a number of indie films over the years, Young decided to jump-start her career in the last decade with the reality TV route, appearing onCelebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, Skating with the Stars, and even appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman to declare her willingness to work, going so far as to spoof her “crazy Catwoman” persona (she was meant to star in 1989’s Batman as Vicki Vale until a broken arm derailed her opportunity; Kim Basinger ended up with the role and Young later made headlines when she tried to crash director Tim Burton’s office to audition as Catwoman in full regalia for 1992’s Batman Returns).

“I think the Baby Boomers are still holding something against me, and I don’t think it’s fair, but that’s what it is,” confesses Young. “I just rubbed them the wrong way at the wrong time in my career, and obviously I didn’t mean to, but then again I don’t suffer fools real easy either. I guess in a sense, they might have thought the David Letterman interview was me having hubris, you know? But I think it was just me saying, ‘Hey, I want to work, you know? C’mon! Lighten up!” … And so the Generation X, I think they in a sense are a generation that’s very inclusive, whereas I think the Baby Boomers are a generation that’s very exclusive. And so people who really want to work together and are willing to make those sacrifices, I think those are people who are always going to appreciate me.”

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Looking back on her time filming Blade Runner, in which Young plays Rachael, the beautiful Replicant who does not realize she is a robot, she recalls, “I thought we were doing something pretty unusual. I wasn’t really anything more than a newcomer at that time, so I had a lot of learning I was doing, so I didn’t know necessarily how unusual what we were doing was, but I did know it was a big deal because just the sets alone were like, ‘Holy cow!’ … It’s not likely you’ll ever see a movie of that scale again, unless you have somebody who just wants to spend their money on making movies and not worrying about the money, and that’s pretty much nobody. All the people that might have that kind of money, I don’t think they’re interested in the art of it, you know?”

seanyoung2.jpgYoung’s co-star Ford was returning to the sci-fi genre after Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark made him an international superstar. Asked whether he had his guard up or was very approachable while making the movie, she reminisces, “Harry’s like a guy’s guy. I think he has his guard up when it suits him, and at that time anyway he would be one of the guys with the drivers. … Harry was a big, tall, strong-guy manly man, and when he didn’t like something you knew it, and if he did like it you knew that as well. He had a great sense of humor, and he’d been in the business for quite a long time by then. He started in his twenties and he was 42 when we made [Blade Runner]. He’s a professional, he knows his stuff.”

She adds, “I never had the opportunity to become warm and fuzzy with Harry on the movie — I do remember when I first met him, I went into his trailer and there was an IV that had a little bag hanging down from it that Steven Spielberg had sent over as a joke.”

Of course, director Ridley Scott has announced that he’s now working on a new Blade Runner movie, and Young says, “I’d love to do that, and I’ve left several messages at his office, but I don’t know – everybody’s got their opinion.”

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She adds of Scott’s controversial return to Alien territory with Prometheus, “I am going to say this on the record: Why in the hell does Ridley Scott have Charlize Theron in that part instead of me? … It’s like she was bored out of her mind, you can see it, and it’s like oh my god! That would have been really good for me, right? It would have been a nod to people who like Blade Runner, it would have been like, ‘See, I’m using Sean again,’ right? Nah.”

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Moving on to David Lynch’s 1984 adaption Dune, in which Young played the Fremen love interest Chani opposite Kyle MachLachlan, Patrick Stewart and Sting, Young recalls that the deserts and Mexico City location were definitely a challenge: “It’s poor, it’s dirty and it’s rough, but it was a very unique experience, and we all stayed in the Zona Rosa Hotel there and it was just fantastic, and I think we were there for four months,” she says. “There were challenging aspects of course, like that Stillsuit — we would die in that thing — it was in the summer. Especially if you played a Fremen, every time they rolled the camera they would get a fan and throw dirt in your face. You would get home at night and it would take you an hour just to clean out your nose and ears. … It was very gross work. But what was great was that we would go out to eat after taking hours to clean up — we were all so exhausted that we would go out to eat and drink, you know, and that’s pretty much what everyone would do for four months. It was great. … My little YouTube [home movies] give you a feeling of what we were really doing.”

Reflecting on the various films on her resume, Young singles out the 1989 American remake of the French film Cousins, co-starring Ted Danson, William Petersen and Isabella Rossellini, as her personal favorite.

“It was very heart-warming picture, and I think the reason that it’s my favorite is because everybody had the best time making that movie in Vancouver,” she says. “Because I started at an early age when I was 18 or 19, what’s meaningful to me on a picture is … how well we honor each other. I really like it when actors treat each other well and with respect, and when directors treat me well. … In show business the highs are high and the lows are low, and I think that it’s been like that since the very beginning. … You can also apply that to life too — when you’re treated well it works and you enjoy going to work, and when you’re not, it’s not as fun. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science.”

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Time to Revisit ‘The Exorcist’

As the autumn leaves turn to a crisp, crunchy brown and the wind chill kicks up to swirl those leaves in mesmerizing circles, my mind turns to Mike Oldfield’s haunting score for THE EXORCIST from his enduring TUBULAR BELLS album. October is always a non-stop spooky movie marathon month for me, and William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST sits atop a demonic pedestal as a staple viewing requirement.

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Linda Blair as Regan in THE EXORCIST

 

That annual viewing requirement is a rite of passage for me, as THE EXORCIST ranks as pretty much the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Ever since I first watched it on TV as a kid, peeking through the holes in my grandmother’s knitted Afghan blanket (thrown over my head whenever the possessed Regan would appear), I’ve felt the need to return to it. Again and again. To gradually wear it down. To fight it. To desensitize myself to it. To make it not real.

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Geena Davis as the adult Regan in FOX’s THE EXORCIST

 

This fall I’m also watching the second season of FOX TV’s loose adaptation of THE EXORCIST, which has kept my interest despite some questionable storyline avenues. The return of the demon Pazuzu and the fact that Geena Davis’ character turned out to be an adult Regan who had hidden her identity made the first season worthwhile, and I’m interested to see where the storyline will go next.

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And when I have the time, I dive into a few chapters of the late William Peter Blatty’s original novel, which is always a surefire way to make my neck hairs stand on end during a late-night read. Those who know me, read my posts, or flip through the “FM Picks” sections of my Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine run as executive editor know that I’m a huge fan of Folio Society and their handsome illustrated editions of classic novels. This season, they’ve released a brand-new, cloth-bound version of Blatty’s THE EXORCIST featuring 13 haunting new photographic illustrations by horror and fantasy artist Jeremy Caniglia, who has created book covers for the likes of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub and Michael Moorcock.

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Jeremy Caniglia’s creepy illustrations in Folio Society’s edition of THE EXORCIST

 

Blatty’s 40th anniversary edition from Folio is the author’s updated draft that includes a brand-new character in a fresh, six-page scene that “many readers will find the most hauntingly chilling in the book,” he wrote in 2011, along with “touches of new dialogue as well as changes to make the ending more obvious.” It’s worth another dance if you read the original book years ago and never consumed Blatty’s updated 40th-anniversary pass before he himself passed away in January at 89 years old.

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EXORCIST author William Peter Blatty on the infamous Georgetown “EXORCIST Steps”

 

As for the movie phenomenon we all know and love, Friedkin’s frightening and controversial 1973 film remains the horror standard that all other possession films are compared to. For those unfamiliar with the story, Linda Blair plays young Regan McNeil, the daughter of an actress (Ellen Burstyn) in Washington D.C. whose strange behavior soon reveals itself to be a full-fledged demonic possession. Father Karris (Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) are recruited to perform an exorcism on the girl, resulting in a lot of foul language, a lot of mind games, a lot of levitations, and a lot of pea-soup puke.compelled.jpg“I know that the actual case that Blatty based his novel on was real,” Friedkin told me when I last interviewed him. “The 1949 case in Silver Spring, MD, where the exorcism was done at Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis, all of those events happened. I read the diaries of the doctors and nurses who were involved, and the patients who were in other rooms when this was going on, and the priests. I know that something happened there that was beyond the understanding of psychiatry or internal medicine, so I made that film accordingly. … It was a boy, not a 13-year-old girl [like in the movie]. I know a great deal about this 14-year-old boy — I know his name, I know where he is now. I’ve never revealed it. The church keeps very close tabs on him to this day, and as far as any of us know, he has no recollection of what happened to him when he was 14. … I spoke to the relatives of the boy, especially to his aunt, and they gave me some details that weren’t in Blatty’s novel, which I put in the film.”

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Director William Friedkin with Linda Blair on the EXORCIST set

 

So, give the Folio Society’s cool new edition of THE EXORCIST a read, or pop in the movie this month to feed your demonic possession cravings. The extended director’s cut of THE EXORCIST that came out in 2000 and restored that spooky “spider-walk” scene is the version to watch in my opinion.maxresdefault.jpgThe 40th anniversary EXORCIST Blu-ray (which contains both the theatrical and extended director’s cut of the film) also contains lots of great supplemental material, including the featurettes “Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist,” in which Blatty reads excerpts from his novel and reminisces about the remote-cabin atmosphere in which he wrote the scary tale, and “Talk of the Devil,” in which a Jesuit professor talks about former student Blatty’s unlikely success with EXORCIST and his thoughts on the real deal.

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Linda Blair meets her dummy double on the EXORCIST set

 

Do you believe demonic possession is real? Share your thoughts with me!

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Stephen King’s ‘IT’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Stephen King‘s epic 1986 novel finally gets the big-screen treatment with a brand-new Pennywise the Clown terrorizing the children of Derry, Maine.

WHY SEE IT: Fans of King’s IT have no doubt watched the two-part 1990 miniseries version of the story that features a now-iconic turn by Tim Curry as Pennywise. While in my mind it would be an impossible feat to one-up Curry, the new version of Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, has the advantage of an R-rated cinematic landscape and modern-day effects to unleash his full potential and scare the living shit out of you. And he does. In spades. While I was not initially a fan of his makeup and costume, I was more than thrilled by what MAMA director Andy Muschietti delivered in terms of haunted-house thrills and chills. This is a dark, creepy film with amazing production design and effects that takes its time to craft a proper feeling of dread for the film’s well-cast kids (Sophia Lillis is a standout as Beverly Marsh), who display good chemistry and inhabit the late ’80s for the most part as if they were in the ’50s. And those eyes. Watch those Pennywise eyes closely in this film…

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THE FLICK FLACK: Those who know King’s story are aware that it is told in two different time periods — the childhood and adulthood, 27 years later, of the “Losers Club.” While I admire the fact that the filmmakers chose to focus only on the childhood portion and formation of The Losers Club to tell a clean story (setting up a most definitely anticipated sequel), I feel that the story here loses a considerable amount of its impact by removing the adult elements of nostalgia, reunion, facing childhood fears, and the complications of age on longstanding friendships. My other issue with the film, while not considerable, is the turned-to-11 sound design. There were a few too many cheap jump scares that relied on a loud sound-effects sting to deliver audience frights. A more sparse audio at times would have served the film better where the scares are concerned; the “what if” is better served when the soundscape is not beating you over the head with “what is.”

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NOTABLE NOTES: The frilly clown costume that Pennywise sports was inspired by a variety of previous eras — the Renaissance, Medieval, Elizabethan, Victorian — to imply his immortality and the number of past time periods that he’s (or It’s) made the rounds in. Meanwhile, in Lilitz, PA, a prankster has been tying red balloons to sewer grates and the police have become quite annoyed with the incessant calls by locals who are wigged out by the possibility that a devious clown may be lurking about. Good times.

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Seth MacFarlane Interview: ‘The Orville’ Walks Line Between Comedy and Drama

Jack-of-all-trades FAMILY GUY creator and actor Seth MacFarlane finally gets to indulge his love of STAR TREK and Sci-Fi tropes with his very own TREK-inspired series, THE ORVILLE, debuting Sunday night on FOX.

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While the network is playing up MacFarlane’s patented one-liners and bathroom humor in their marketing material, the ORVILLE show creator told me that his one-hour show has more drama than you are being led to believe, and the trick is capturing that tonal balance between light and heavy — which may be a first for a Sci-Fi show of this kind.

“The thing I like that makes me feel good about the show — take the STAR TREK element aside — tonally, it’s hard for me to compare to anything else that’s been on the air,” MacFarlane explained to me at Comic-Con. “I don’t think a science-fiction show of this type that walks this line has been attempted before. Shows like M*A*S*H have walked that line between comedy and drama beautifully. If we can have that kind of balance that would be a major victory for us. But it’s hard. I think we’ve come pretty damn close, but it’s up to the audience to decide.”

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Chatting up THE ORVILLE with Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki. Don’t ask why Seth’s coffee says “Alex.” It was news to him too…

THE ORVILLE is not a parody of STAR TREK, but if there’s more than a passing resemblance to STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, its ships, aliens, and its all-encompassing Federation of Planets, it’s not unintentional. MacFarlane has long had a deep worship of all things TREK and even recruited veteran TNG producer Brannon Braga to be an executive producer for the show.

“There’s a lot of fun stuff; there’s a lot of really cool species, we’ve got really awesome-looking ships,” explained MacFarlane. “But at the core of it, it is about these people. You never want to get into the quandary where you have amazing-looking visuals and there’s nothing at the core.”

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Set 400 years in the future, THE ORVILLE finds MacFarlane as a Planetary Union officer named Ed Mercer who lands his dream assignment to command his own starship called, you guessed it, The U.S.S. Orville. But his enthusiasm is quickly doused when he’s forced to work with his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who has been assigned to be his First Officer. As they travel through the stars with an eccentric crew of humans and aliens, comedy and drama ensues.

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Seemingly drawing inspiration from the likes of GALAXY QUEST and QUARK, it looks like THE ORVILLE may just find that delicate balance MacFarlane’s looking for if the audience does indeed give it a chance to breathe. MacFarlane sure is enthusiastic enough about the concept and clearly excited to play in the Sci-Fi sandbox.

“I went into this with such a deep love for this genre, it’s not hard for me to act like a guy who’s really excited to be on the bridge of a starship,” he says with a laugh. “It’s too much fun.”

THE ORVILLE airs Sunday nights at 8/7c on FOX.

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‘Twin Peaks’: The Flick Flack TV Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: That damn fine coffee you like is back 25 years later, as promised, and David Lynch spiked it with acid.

WHY SEE IT: Described as the “pure heroin version of David Lynch” by Showtime president David Nevins back in January, the world finally got to see the against-all-odds third season of TWIN PEAKS this summer, all 18 episodes of it, and it was a glorious fever dream of pure genius, experimental phantasm, narrative frustration — and a test of your own sanity. For all its naked flaws — and there were many — week in and week out TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN delivered the most audacious, unpredictable, challenging, and mind-blowing television I have ever seen in my life. Yes, it was that insane — and then some.

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THE TV FLICK FLACK: While you may have hoped that this third season of TWIN PEAKS would resemble the show that aired on ABC back in 1990-1991, anyone who really knows David Lynch and his oeuvre should have expected it to be an absolute mind fuck. Tonally, it’s a lot more of a companion piece to Lynch’s big-screen 1992 prequel TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME. And this time around, for every random, fleeting moment you get that toes the line of the kind of comedic quirk that the show pioneered two decades ago, you get an angry, disturbing, gritty, thought-provoking Lynchian gumbo of Dadaist terror and wonder, often divided by groan-inducing pacing that dares you to either commit 100% or exit with dismissive disappointment. Like Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne whines three-quarters of the way through THE RETURN, “I want to stay and I want to go. I want to do both,” arguably at least half of the people who saw season three all the way through felt the same way of this demanding television journey.

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My frustrations were directed at the many wasted opportunities Lynch and co-creator/co-writer Mark Frost had to develop new, intertwined storylines with their original characters given the fact that practically every actor came back to be part of the show. But for every bravura moment that involved Dale Cooper’s (a game Kyle MacLachlan) deadly doppelganger or the epic atomic birth of evil, there was a half-baked bucket of chum; I really wanted to see how the whole puzzle would fit together, but I’d marvel at all the time wasted with the available talent in the room, swirling in a narrative eddy with little to do.

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Rather than break these frustrations down moment by moment, suffice it to say that when all was said and done after 18 episodes, I was left wanting more — in a good but mixed-feeling way — and I was not disappointed that I invested my time and energy in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN. However, I now lie awake at night wondering what could have been, wishing more questions were answered, and ultimately hankering for someone to make a three-hour “alternate cut” of the series as a single film that’s more in line with the tone of the ABC series.

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NOTABLE NOTES:  In revisiting the world of TWIN PEAKS and fabricating a whole new season 25 years later for his beloved characters, Lynch sought to capture the emotional tonality of the various storylines in order for his ideas to translate to the screen. The filmmaker told Variety back in May, “An idea holds everything, really, if you analyze it. It comes in a burst. An idea comes in, and if you stop and think about it, it has sound, it has image, it has a mood, and it even has an indication of wardrobe, and knowing a character, or the way they speak, the words they say. A whole bunch of things can come in an instant. … You pick up on the way they want to be. That’s what I always say, it’s like fish. You don’t make the fish, you catch the fish. It’s like, that idea existed before you caught it, so in some strange way, we human beings, we don’t really do anything. We just translate ideas. The ideas come along and you just translate them.”

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MORE INFO: www.sho.com/twin-peaks

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The Story Behind That Epic ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ Fan Film

Lots of kids are inspired to make their own version of a movie when they’re on a high walking out of a blockbuster on a hot summer day. But Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala and took their obsession much, much further after seeing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in 1981. The pair set out to remake the Steven Spielberg classic shot-for-shot — the entire thing — and it took years and years to complete. While making the bargain-basement film almost destroyed their friendship, the impressive project reached cult status and even caught the attention of Mr. Spielberg himself.

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Chris and Eric’s story made it to bookshelves with RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE, written with Alan Eisenstock, and I got the opportunity to speak with the pair about their epic filmmaking adventure when I was at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT. “It’s really something to meet your boyhood hero and find that you’ve chosen your heroes well, ” Eric told me about their meeting with Spielberg, describing the Hollywood legend as “warm and paternal” and detailing how they spent 45 minutes talking about “life and movies” with him before he treated them to some never-before-seen Raiders outtakes. “It was a real pinch-me moment.”

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The pair of former school kids from Mississippi first bonded on a school bus over the Marvel Super Special comic book adaptation of RAIDERS 800e0fba961ed55e9e3d8449795df615back in the early ’80s, and immediately began plotting how to meticulously relive the film on camera. “It was really born out of a role-playing fantasy, that I just wanted to play Indiana Jones,” said Chris, who took on the role of Indiana Jones. “It was always our goal from the very beginning to do the entire film.”

Eric took on the directing chores and played bad guy Belloq, while eccentric friend Jayson Lamb was enlisted to run the camera and work on the homemade special effects — some straight out of THE ANARCHIST’S COOKBOOK. Armed with a clunky, problematic Betamax video camera (and later a VHS camera), the film’s script from Walden Books, an illicit sound recording made in a movie theater, 602 individually drawn storyboards (“It took me the entire summer [to make them],” said Eric), wardrobe and props requested as gifts from their parents, specifically Indy’s signature whip and fedora (“Birthdays and Christmases became prop- and costume-acquiring opportunities,” said Eric) — and of course an unlimited imagination — the determined filmmakers coerced curious friends like a modern-day Tom and Huck to help realize their production.

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“Chris was the outgoing, gregarious guy; I was the skinny, geeky kid — total opposites on the surface,” said Eric. “He had the charisma to draw people in. I was sort of the disciplinarian to keep folks there. That was sort of the yin-yang of the friendship. … These differences made it work, but it was also a source of conflict.”

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The exhaustive project made them the best of friends and the worst of enemies, with conflict, parental intrusion, and elemental issues threatening to shut down the production over and over. Battling lens-fogging issues and camera breakdowns due to the Mississippi humidity, the boys set out each summer to lovingly recreate every special moment of RAIDERS, from the giant rolling boulder (made of fiberglass) to the fiery bar fight in Nepal (after almost burning down their basement, “We sort of learned to keep our parents in the dark,” said Eric), to Indy’s incredible truck fight with the Nazis (achieved by towing an engine-less truck that they found abandoned in the mud) and the face-melting grand finale (with swirling ghost effects achieved with the help of a water tank and the high-tech help of the local TV station’s editing equipment).

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“We didn’t really have a budget; we built stuff, found stuff, dug through our parents’ closets and Goodwill, Salvation Army, people throwing things away,” explained Chris, who estimated that the project cost them approximately $5,000 when all was said and done. “Lots of donated time, lots of donated energy, lots of people pitching in.”

Watch the trailer for the documentary about the making of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION: https://youtu.be/C4UYBhDVm9k

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION finally found its way to Spielberg courtesy of filmmaker Eli Roth (who got ahold of ragged copy from a friend) and, after watching it not once but twice, the legendary director sent both Chris and Eric personalized letters, calling their labor of love “hugely imaginative” and “very loving and detailed.” He said of their film, “To this day … still the best piece of flattery George [Lucas] and I have ever received.” Chris says that Spielberg told them that their film even “inspired” him, and added of their personal encounter with him, “He was warm and gracious and he’s continued to be supportive, year after year, of our movie.”

Now dads with their own families, Chris and Eric reunited to form their own production company called Rolling Boulder Films, naturally, writing scripts, optioning projects and producing films. And they finally got to film that one key scene that was missing from their production: The Flying Wing fist fight. VICE documented the duo’s final return to their lifelong project to film that spectacular scene, and you can watch the highlights HERE: https://youtu.be/3gV6QMj0fvQ

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Then read more Steven Spielberg-related articles, see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, movie reviews, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

‘Dave Made a Maze’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: A creative underachiever’s procrastination project in his living room turns out to be Tardis-like labyrinth where booby traps, comedy, and danger lurk around every corner for the friends who try to rescue him. Oh yeah, and there’s a bloodthirsty Minotaur.

WHY SEE IT: An interesting and creative premise for a film that is clearly a labor of love — kind of an indie comedy take on CUBE and LABYRINTH, with a touch of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and Terry Gilliam insanity thrown in for good measure — DAVE MADE A MAZE is an amusing diversion for fans of budget filmmaking who can appreciate a smirk-inducing comedy with a light touch of horror and fantasy.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Is DAVE MADE A MAZE a-MAZE-ing? The jury is still out, but I sure found it to be a fun watch. Though the opening minutes of the film gloss over the characters’ likely real-world responses to the supernatural oddity that is Dave’s Maze, I played along and was soon rewarded with a nice mixture of believable reactions and suspensions of disbelief. Overall, I was struck by the surprisingly thoughtful production design of this film and the filmmakers’ efforts to entertain with the use of puppetry, stop-motion animation, and other clever in-camera tricks.

DAVE MADE A MAZE - John Hennigan as _The Minotaur_ (photo by Chelsea Coleman)

The Maze, a living entity, is of course a convoluted reflection of Dave’s (Nick Thune) mindset and the creative process, and it’s a fun deep dive. There are nice little movie references sprinkled about. It’s fun to see the little personalities of the various inanimate objects that come to life. The film plays with spacial visual relationships for the benefit of the viewer. And the ensemble cast (including Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Adam Busch, and Scott Krinsky) delivers engaging, grounded performances. I also loved the conceit of having a documentary filmmaker (James Urbaniak) trying to direct everyone’s reactions as they explored the maze and bumbled through booby traps. Still, I wish the film’s sense of humor was a little more fine-tuned and as thought-out as The Maze itself.

DAVE MADE A MAZE - Meera Rohit Kumbhani and Nick Thune in the Kubrick corridor

NOTABLE NOTES: The result of a significant amount of dumpster diving to be sure, director Bill Watterson’s feature debut employed more than 30,000 square feet of cardboard — all scrapped and donated —to fabricate over 20 unique sets for the film. Inspired by ‘80s adventure films like THE GOONIES and LEGEND and the big-screen work of Jim Henson and Ray Harryhausen, the film has won a number of festival awards, including the Slamdance Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.

MORE INFO: davemadeamaze.com

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Read more Flick Flack reviews, such as Luc Besson’s VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS and Charlie Theron’s ATOMIC BLONDE.

Then see my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

Better Than Goofy Golf: Vintage ‘Close Encounters’ Lobby Cards

“They can fly rings around the moon, but were years ahead of ’em on the highway…”

November 16 marks the 40th anniversary of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and I’m getting very excited that Steven Spielberg’s Sci-Fi masterpiece will once again get the attention it deserves.

Beginning September 1, the film will get a one-week release in theaters nationwide, using a remastered Director’s Cut in 4K for U.S. and Canadian theaters. The film will also screen at the Venice Film Festival in the “Venezia Classici” section. Watch the trailer for the 4K anniversary screening here:

By no means a small and forgotten film, one still can’t ignore the fact that Spielberg’s meditation on our first contact with beings from another world has gotten a lot less attention and conversation in the last decade or so. It’s simply not on the younger generation’s radar, the most obvious reason being that CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is not a franchise. There have not been any sequels, prequels, remakes, or spinoffs. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS remains undiluted** and I am grateful for it. It is one of my all-time favorites.

Tim-Jordan-Close-Encounters-of-The-Third-Kind-Poster-2015**Undiluted for the most part. The film’s SPECIAL EDITION release in 1980 added seven minutes of bonus footage that included a look inside the Alien Mother Ship, while trimming and deleting other scenes. Spielberg had always wanted to deliver a more polished film despite pressure from Columbia Pictures to deliver six months early, and got the chance to make a director’s cut after the film became a huge hit — with the caveat that he show the inside of the Mother Ship as a marketing hook. Still, he ultimately regretted showing the interior.

Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind-Special-Edition.jpgI always loved the bonus footage of seeing the landlocked S.S. Cotopaxi boat discovery in the Gobi desert, but I personally think the original cut of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS remains superior by leaving the ending to your imagination. Spielberg returned to the film one more time to cut it again as the COLLECTOR’S EDITION, and in that one he kept elements of the 1980 SPECIAL EDITION, but wisely excised the climactic Mother Ship interior coda.

In anticipation of the return of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND on the big screen, here are some cool vintage Lobby Cards from both the original release and THE SPECIAL EDITION:

 

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context: Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by CloseEncounters_108PyxurzHollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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Then read more Steven Spielberg-related articles, see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, movie reviews, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

Will We Ever Get That ‘Goonies’ Sequel?

"Hey, you guys!" Will we ever get that much-talked about, long-awaited sequel to THE GOONIES? Does anyone still care?

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There has been much buzz over the years about a sequel to (or a reboot of) the beloved 1985 adventure that turned "Chunk" and "Sloth" into household heroes. A couple years ago, GOONIES director Richard Donner hinted that there was real momentum on the project after three decades of waiting around, and several of the original cast members, including Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, and Sean Astin, have at one time or another expressed an interest in returning.

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I spoke with Astin not too long ago about the possibility of another go-around with the legendary pirate One-Eyed Willy, and he told me earnestly, yet with a bit of tongue in cheek, "It is a mortal lock – I would bet my children on it – that there will be a sequel. It may not be in my lifetime, but there will be a sequel because the public wants it so much and Steven [Spielberg], who's really the decision maker, wants it really badly."

Astin, Brolin, and Feldman were among the child stars searching for the legendary treasure of One-Eyed Willie in order to save their families' homes from foreclosure in the film written by Christopher Columbus, based on a story by Spielberg. Martha Plimpton, Kerri Green, Jeff Cohen, and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM'sShort Round Ke Huy Quan rounded out the kiddie cast for the summer movie release.

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"Whether they want the sequel to be about the Goonies' kids, whether we're too old for it, it doesn't matter," continued Astin. "What matters is that [Spielberg and Donner] get to try and capture the magic again, because they love it and the public wants it. The fact that they haven't done it yet, I think, is a testament to them, because they haven't found the magic yet."

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Subsequent to that statement, Feldman declared in an interview with MovieWeb that he didn't think the film would be happening simply based on Donner's age. Donner has been the true driving force behind a new GOONIES movie happening at all, but the veteran director of THE OMEN, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, the LETHAL WEAPON franchise, and so many other fan favorites is no spring chicken. He's a spry 87 years old, and making a major motion picture at that age as a director may be too much of a burden at this stage in the game. He may just not be interested in taking it on in that capacity. Producing, however, is another matter that may be more manageable. And according to a Brolin, Spielberg does have a sequel script already written, sitting in a secret drawer somewhere.

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But Warner Bros. has made no official announcements, and while there is much hope and optimism among fans and the stars/filmmakers alike for another GOONIES movie, it just doesn't seem to be happening.

In a recent Reddit AMA, Plimpton let fans down gently by declaring, "I really wouldn't expect it. It's been teased for decades and I don't think it's going to happen. At least, as far as I know. I think Dick Donner, who is a brilliantly funny man, likes to torture us all with the prospect. I believe it's his revenge for having been tortured by all of us for six months in 1984."

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An interesting side note: I spoke with legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan recently at a show of his Amblin work at Creature Features in Burbank, CA, and he brought to my attention that he was commissioned to do seven variations of his infamous GOONIES poster at the request of Steven Spielberg — each featuring one of the kid stars of the movie at the top — so they could each get their moment in the spotlight on the newspaper advertisements. Now that's a pretty cool thing to do!

(thanks to Posterwire for the variant art layout).

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A Conversation with SHAG: The Influence of ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Planet of the Apes’ & More on His Pop-Culture Painting

EXCLUSIVE: For the uninitiated, “Shag World” is a world like no other. A colorful, pop-art party landscape populated by swingers, bohemians, hedonists, and mirthful, mythical creatures, it’s hard not to be swept away by the fun everyone seems to be having within the frame, if not envious of their endless 24/7 reverie.

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My introduction to the art of Shag, aka Josh Agle (take the SH in JoSH and the AG in AGle and you get SHAG. Clever, eh?), goes back to the early 2000s along with my nascent days of Polynesian pop appreciation. After diving into “Tiki culture” and drinking in as much of the traditional and kitschy Pacific Island “getaway” lifestyle, art, books, and merchandise that I could get my hands on (as well as numerous tropical cocktails along the way), I couldn’t help but get seduced by Shag’s colorful characters, carefree creatures, exotic settings, and subtle pop-culture references that seemed to be everywhere once I had opened my eyes to his work.

f33e6067275058c1caabae49fd4fccb4Beyond the numerous Tiki, nightclub, Bondian, Blake Edwards and ‘50s influences, I noticed that Shag had a sincere appreciation for Sci-Fi, fantasy, and horror icons. Amid skeletons playing bongos, four-armed burlesque dancers seducing fez-wearing gents, and mythical creatures like a Cyclops watching TV or Medusa applying makeup in his settings are appearances by Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and even Dr. Zaius of PLANET OF THE APES simply lounging in a den, enjoying a well-deserved drink — or passed-out drunk.

886e43a1643b6aba2a895f0ef506aa18.jpgShag’s cartoonish style is a perfect marriage with these fan favorites of the pop-culture stratosphere, and it’s no surprise that he has taken on more and more commissions to put licensed characters in Shag World for various companies and studios. Over the years, he has tackled THE PINK PANTHER, BATMAN, H.R. PUFNSTUF, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, the UNIVERSAL MONSTERS, and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, as well as iconic rockers such as The Beatles and Ramones and legendary media figures such as Andy Warhol and Bettie Page.

San Diego Comic-Con 2017 Exclusive SMOKE, VELVET and SAM II Screen Prints by SHAG.jpgI caught up with Shag at his first-ever San Diego Comic-Con appearance this July, where he displayed rare prints (including his fun BATMAN ’66 painting), a giant H.R. Pufnstuf photo backdrop, cool themed merchandise, and a trio of Comic-Con exclusives: Limited-edition silk-screened prints of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Warhol. 

Our conversation focused on his film and television pop-culture influences, how he tackles licensed character work, what subject matter he surprisingly refuses to paint, and what’s next for him in 2018. Read on…

DW with SHAG 

DAVID WEINER: You’ve made a name for yourself with a certain, colorful look and feel in your paintings which often veer into pure fantasy territory in terms of content. Tell me about your inspirations.

SHAG: Low pop culture, as people would think of it — at least people in the fine-art world — that was the stuff that definitely influenced me. But I was trying to somehow figure out how to present it in such a way that it could be hung in an art gallery. So I was trying to strike this balance between making a piece of art that people looked at and thought, ‘Well that looks like it could be in a gallery,’ but also something that touched on the really kitschy pop-culture things that influenced me growing up, starting from Saturday morning cartoons to the first grown-up movie my parents took me to, which was a double feature of THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, the James Bond movies. And that was kind of my first window into what grown-ups do, you know? Martini, shaken not stirred, the super villains, and things like that made a total impression on me.

shag4.jpgGrowing up mostly in the late ‘60s to ‘70s it was PLANET OF THE APES, going back to the days when the only place you could see it was on TV and it would be shown once a year, so you had to make sure you were on top of the TV Guide to see what movies were being shown that week because you might not have another chance to see that movie for another year, another five years. And I remember when they announced on ABC that they were going to be showing PLANET OF THE APES, I remembered as an 8-year-old or 10-year-old marking it on my calendar — not that I had a calendar! But things like that — MAD MONSTER PARTY — those were things that you organized your life around so you could see them.

And then years later when I'm painting my own stuff, I wanted to bring those really influential things from my childhood into the art — especially PLANET OF THE APES. That was probably the first real, overt pop-culture thing that made its way into my heart really early on.

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DW: Did you catch any APES movies in the theater, like ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, or CONQUEST, or any of those?

SHAG: I was too young, even for BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. I don't remember even being aware that they were in theaters. I knew what they were. The weird thing is kids bring to school magazines and pictures of the movies that are out there — like I remember a kid when I was in fifth grade, he had this book about 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and I remember we would look at this book and it had pictures with the spaceships and the spacesuits. I loved that book and I had no idea what the movie was or what it was about, you know? But the spaceships were kind of like my entry into that.

And then when I was 14 or 15 I was riding the school bus and the school bus driver would just play Top 40 kind of radio, and this radio commercial came on and you heard these spaceship sounds, and then this voice-over said, ‘Don’t worry, that's just a Star Destroyer!’ And they talk about these spaceships, and they say, ‘STAR WARS, coming to your galaxy!’ And I remember thinking, ‘STAR WARS, what a stupid movie title! 1c9493e49bdfc157964f340e60ef6ef2.jpgThat’s like calling a movie CAR CHASE or MILITARY BATTLE, you know? I was like, ‘That’s a really dumb name!’ Then a couple weeks later I was at the movies. I even remember the movie that my friends and I were seeing — it was JABBERWOCKY — and they had a preview for STAR WARS, and I remember seeing that preview and thinking, ‘That is going to be the best movie ever made.’ Like, ‘What is that guy in black?!? What are those white soldiers?!? I don't know, but it looks so cool!’ So the day STAR WARS was released my friends and I stood in line for the very first matinee showing, got in to see it the very first day it was released, and I was like, ‘I was right! That is the best movie I've ever seen in my life.’ So that was like another huge kind of pop culture thing in my life. But STAR WARS didn't really make it into my art until later. [However] I painted a Darth Vader action figure on a table in a painting once…

DW: I know the one, and it is pretty much the epitome of my childhood, with these ‘70s kids playing in their living room. One is playing with a TIE fighter, one with a remote-control R2-D2. One of the kids has a KISS T-shirt on while their mom watches. I really connected with that painting. I was 9 when STAR WARS came out, and that was my childhood.

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SHAG: Yeah, that’s the first overt STAR WARS one I did. You were young enough where you got the toys. I was, like, 14 so I didn't buy the toys, regretfully. But I loved everything else about it, you know? My younger brothers and sisters had the toys. Remember when the movie first came out you went to like Toys R Us to buy an action figure and you bought an empty card with a thing that said, ‘We’ll send it to you in the mail’?

DW: The Kenner Early Bird Kit! I remember it well. So when you finally did take on STAR WARS for Disney, did you seek it out? Did they ask you? How did that come about?

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SHAG: A gallery in Alhambra called Nucleus contacted me and they said, ‘We’re doing this STAR WARS-themed show, would you be interested in doing a piece?’ And I was like, ‘I love STAR WARS; I've never painted it, but I wanted to do a piece that was kind of still in Shag World. That’s how that painting you were talking about, the kids playing with the toys, came about; the mom sitting there lying on the couch, she’s more like the stereotypical Shag woman, drinking her martini or whatever, watching her kids play. I didn't want to actually paint a scene from the movie or anything. I wanted to keep it in Shag World. And then a couple years after that someone at Disney asked me if I would ever think about doing STAR WARS. Disney bought Lucasfilm, and I was like, ‘Eh, maybe,’ and then they said, ‘Well Howard Roffman, who's the head of merchandising in Lucasfilm, really wants you to do something.’

DW: And this was after you established a relationship with Disney with the Enchanted Tiki Room 40th anniversary and so forth?

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SHAG: Yeah, I’ve been working with Disney for 12 or 13 years, basically doing Disneyland-themed art. I wouldn’t even paint Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. They came to me a few times and asked me, and I said that it's just not my thing. There are a lot of great artists that paint those characters and I don't want to paint them — I want to paint my childhood, which was going to Disneyland. So they're like, ‘Okay, he'll stick to the attractions, Haunted Mansion, whatever.'”

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DW: Did you have discussions about the STAR WARS content? How did you choose the setting and characters?

SHAG: I thought, ‘How could I get as many characters into this piece?’ And one of the women I work with at Disney said, ‘I’d love to see a Cantina scene,’ and I said to myself, ‘Duh, I paint bar scenes! Why didn’t I think of that?”

DW: It was staring you right in the face the whole time.

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SHAG: Yeah! So I did a comp of the piece and they sent it up to Lucasfilm. They had a couple little notes. In my piece, Greedo was sitting in the foreground at a table. He wasn't in the back room talking to Han Solo because I set the piece as Luke and the robots just walk into the Cantina and Obi-Wan’s making his deal, you know? Han doesn’t meet with Greedo until after that. And they’re like, ‘We don’t care! People want you to crowd [as many recognizable moments] as you can into the piece.’ So I put the little scene with Greedo and Han in the background.

DW: You’re too much of a purist with the timeline.

SHAG: I know (laughs).

DW: The first licensed work that I remember you doing for a studio was the PINK PANTHER 40th anniversary box set, which I loved. Was that your first foray into working with studios, or was there other stuff before that? 

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SHAG: Yeah, that was my first studio thing. I think that was released in 2004, but I'd been working on it through 2003. I love the PINK PANTHER stuff — just the style and the fact that [the Pink Panther character himself] didn't talk, because my paintings don’t talk. I've been approached by a lot of animation people and studios and producers who want to animate my stuff, and for the most part, I'm not interested in that because once you give a character a voice and personality, he gets stuck forever. And I kind of want people to project a little bit of themselves into the paintings.

DW: Does that play into SHAG WITH A TWIST, the musical based on your paintings and characters?

SHAG: Yeah, in SHAG WITH A TWIST, which was that dance musical murder mystery, one of my restrictions was the characters couldn't talk, kind of fitting into that whole Pink Panther thing — the whole, 'I don't want to give him a voice.'"

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DW: Let’s talk about your recent BATMAN '66 work.

SHAG: Mattel approached me about three years ago to do a BATMAN box set sort of thing as a Comic-Con exclusive they were going to sell in 2014. They wanted me to design this environment in this TV box in Shag style. So that was the first licensed superhero thing I've ever done. And then the next year Huckleberry Toys asked me if I wanted to do a bigger, more comprehensive Batman print because they had they had a DC license, and that was their Comic-Con exclusive in 2015.

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And then they did the same thing for H.R. Pufnstuf last year in 2016. That was a Huckleberry exclusive as well. I didn’t want that one to be set in Pufnstuf world. If you look closely, they’re on a set and you can see Sid and Marty Krofft there filming the scene, so it’s back a little bit in the real world — not that Shag World is the real world (laughs).

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DW: What would you like to do for your next license? Do you see anything out in particular, or do you just decide when people come to you?

SHAG: I just paint, and people approach me if they have a license or something and if it’s something I’m interested in. Like I work with a company called Dark Hall Mansion on a few license things. I did a box set of Universal Monsters. Monsters like Frankenstein or Dracula have played a part in my art since the beginning, but never like, ‘You can draw Frankenstein so it looks like Boris Karloff because we have this license.’ So that was something I really wanted to do.

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DW: They all fit very well in Shag World, listening to records or sitting around having a martini at the bar. Because it makes perfect sense that, at the end of the day, that’s what the Creature From the Black Lagoon would do!

SHAG: And I love a lot of current stuff — I’d love to do a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY piece, which doesn’t seem like it would fit in Shag World at all, but I would figure out a way to do it! It’s definitely colorful, it’s hedonistic, and Shag World is very hedonistic as well, so I’m sure I could work that out.

DW: Can you give me a hint about what you’re working on next?

SHAG: We’re actually going to be doing some official PLANET OF THE APES stuff for next year’s Comic-Con because it’s going to be the 50th anniversary of the original movie.

DW: That’s great! I’m very excited to see that. And just throwing it out there for purely selfish reasons, would you consider doing something with the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? That’s coming up on its 40th anniversary.

SHAG: Aaaaah! Yeah, I watched the original one as a kid.

DW: You’ve got the Cylons and the Ovions, and you also have those alien torch singers with the two mouths and four eyes that could fit right in with Shag World. Food for thought.

SHAG: I wouldn’t rule that one out. There’s certain things I’ve said I would never do. Like I’ll never do STAR TREK, even though I loved it as a kid. My mom was a huge, huge fan, and she would watch it every day in syndication in the early ‘70s and I totally got hooked into it. But it was such a huge [thing for me]. It’s hard to explain. Like I won’t paint Elvis, I won’t paint Marilyn Monroe, and I won’t paint STAR TREK for some reason.

DW: It’s too close for you. I would venture to think that in your own way, you don’t want to ruin it for yourself.

SHAG: Yeah, that’s very possible!

DW: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk. I’m anxious to see what comes next. Your work inspires!

SHAG: My pleasure!

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For more info on SHAG:www.shag.com

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You made it to the end of the interview! Good job. Now, please take a moment to “like” IT CAME FROM…on Facebook and “follow” on Instagram and on Twitter for more great retro content.

Then see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, movie reviews, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Filmmaker Luc Besson returns to THE FIFTH ELEMENT territory with a visually stunning Sci-Fi adventure (based on the long-running French graphic-novel series VALERIAN AND LAURELINE) that tracks a 28th-century pair of lovers/special agents who must discover the secret behind a looming menace before it’s too late.

WHY SEE IT: If you loved the fun tone and inventive production design of Luc Besson’s 1997 fan-favorite THE FIFTH ELEMENT, it’s a treat to see the veteran director return to this genre sandbox with a fresh imagination and more CGI tools at his disposal. And if ever there was an excuse to see a movie on the big screen in 3D solely for the visual splendor of it all, this is pretty much it.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Alas, despite its fruitful inventiveness and vibrant color palette, VALERIAN suffers from George Lucas STAR WARS Prequel green-screen malaise; the substantive requirement of real people interacting with tangible creatures against real backgrounds to tell a convincing tale gets lost in the knowledge that we, as an audience, are watching actors who are clearly grounded on a soundstage and nowhere near the exotic locales being depicted in the final product. There are plenty of real-world props, backdrops, and set dressings in the film to play with, but they’re lost in the poly-blend of pixels and purity. Adding insult to injury, the leads of the film — Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline — sadly show little chemistry between each other, and their delivery of Besson’s stunted dialogue is surprisingly lackluster and uninspired. It really detracts from the overall experience, even if you want to check your brain at the door to witness this prime example of CGI overload.

NOTABLE NOTES: Luc Besson first entered my cinematic radar with the indie post-apocalyptic film LE DERNIER COMBAT and then secured my fandom early on with his amazing pair of underworld assassin films, LA FEMME NIKITA and LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL. VALERIAN first came to his attention as a possible film by way of the comic’s illustrator, Jean-Claude Mezieres, who was working on Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT. But the technology to pull off such a visually stunning film was still years away, and it wasn’t until Besson saw James Cameron’s AVATAR that he realized anything was possible on film, with imagination the only limit.

MORE INFO: www.valerianmovie.com

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Read the Flick Flack review of Charlie Theron’s ATOMIC BLONDE.

Then see my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

‘Atomic Blonde’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Charlize Theron burns up the screen in JOHN WICK mode as a British super spy in this action-packed, East Berlin-set Cold War thriller.

WHY SEE IT: After commandeering MAD MAX: FURY ROAD into practically her own starring vehicle, Charlize clearly learned that action fans will buy her as an action heroine and are hungry for more. She’s tough as nails in ATOMIC BLONDE — reminiscent of Geena Davis’ turn in THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT — and there’s never a moment in the movie when you don’t believe she can capably destroy every man in the room. James McAvoy also delivers a frothy performance full of zest and zingers.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Other than the somewhat predictable outcome, there’s an approximation feel to the proceedings; stylistically and action-wise we’ve seen it all before, at times done better. But the thumping, nicely curated ’80s New Wave soundtrack helps mightily to redeem the tone and pacing. I’m a bit disappointed that Blondie’s ATOMIC (from a decade earlier) didn’t close out the film, though.

NOTABLE NOTES: The film is directed by former stuntman and JOHN WICK helmer (uncredited, though) David Leitch, so if some of the close-quarter action, killer staircase choreography, and head-shot CGI splatter looks familiar, now you know why. DEADPOOL 2 is Leitch’s next project.

MORE INFO: www.atomicblonde.com

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Vintage ‘RoboCop’ Set-Visit Footage with a Quirky Peter Weller

“I’d buy that for a dollar!” Like many movie fans, Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP took me completely by surprise when it was released 30 years ago this summer. The title alone was a turn-off for me and, not knowing a thing about the film, it simply looked silly.

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I paid attention to the reviews just to confirm my suspicions, and to my surprise, the film was getting not only positive reviews but widespread acclaim for its subversive, satirical nature and extra-clever sense of humor. I went to go see it, and ROBOCOP remains one of my all-time favorites.

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Set in a crime-ridden, near-future Detroit, the action-packed genre flick finds the mega-corporation OCP tasked with running the city’s police force. The powers that be introduce a new program with a prototype cyborg cop — using the remains of downed officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) – and crime quickly gets swept under the rug by the new “sheriff” in town. But soon Murphy discovers a conspiracy that leads to the highest levels of OCP, and bringing them down may threaten his second lease on life.

When I was at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, I unearthed some amazing behind-the-scenes footage on the set during the making of the film, complete with Peter Weller’s personal tour of the film’s set, his quirky sense of humor, and his candid reveal of how difficult it was to put on that unwieldy Robo-suit.

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“They work bloody hard; it takes them an hour-and-a-half to put me in this thing,” said Weller, best known at the time as the star of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8th DIMENSION! “And then later on in the film, once I remove my helmet, I have a head that is shot, fixed, and computerized, a whole other design, and it takes four and a half hours to put on the head alone. It ain’t easy pal — it ain’t all dames and glamor if anybody asks.”

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In discussing his role, Weller makes a point to explain that the film is more than just an action picture and that RoboCop is more than just an action hero. “This part, to me, it’s a commercial, action, futuristic thriller on the face of it, but at the heart of it … is about the discovery of what it is to be human,” said Weller. “It’s not about a bionic man or bionic woman. It’s not about a human-looking thing with mechanics inside, it’s about a mechanical thing with a human inside. That’s the twist here. … As opposed to just a science-fiction action-thriller film, it’s the story of humanity inside; the morality tale.”

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Watch the great vintage footage of Peter Weller on the original ROBOCOP set that I assembled here:

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A quarter of a century later, I caught up with Weller on the red carpet of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS to get his opinion on the then-upcoming ROBOCOP remake starring Joel Kinnaman in the title role. What was his take on the remake, and of remakes overall in a remake-frenzied Hollywood? His response was quite interesting…

“There should be a list of 25 movies you should not ever touch,” said Weller, calling the process “sinful.”

As for any possibility of returning to ROBOCOP himself in some way, he replied, “I’m done with ROBOCOP,” adding, “It’s anthropological; you can watch it in a hundred years and you can hearken back to say, ‘What was the political-socio-economic dynamic? What was the idea of commercialism? What was the beginnings of the age of information, ripping off identity? What was the story of identity theft?’ All that stuff is prescient to be written in 1981, filmed in 1985 or 86, and still lives.”

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As for that still-to-be-seen remake of ROBOCOP, he said diplomatically to the new cast and filmmakers, “Sorry guys, I wish you well — it’s going to be a hard movie to beat.”

“Your move, creep…” Needless to say, the 2014 ROBOCOP reboot did not fare nearly as well as the original did at the box office, nor did it spawn and sequels. The people have spoken…

 

Watch Peter Weller’s response to the ROBOCOP remake here: http://players.brightcove.net/1242911076001/rkLHD3Uv_default/index.html?videoId=ref:title_138409&viewguid=5e489c1c-3311-4f57-9f9d-65a634fc5add

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The Police: Censored in Their Prime?

A bit of explanation first: A few years ago when I was writing on a daily basis for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, I was also writing concurrently for the website of ET’s sister show, THE INSIDER. That site went down and with it, sadly, went a lot of my fun stories and interview pieces. Now, with the show itself ending its run this September after 13 years, I thought I’d salvage a few of my entries before they’re gone for good.

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One of the more enjoyable conversations I had during that time was with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat, who was promoting the band’s box set, THE COMPLEAT BEAT, by way of Shout! Factory. In talking about the ’80s Brit band’s rise and fall, we touched upon an interesting side note about their fellow contemporaries, The Police.

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In the early ’80s The Police rose to become the biggest band in the world on the strength of such tunes as “Roxanne,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Breath You Take.” But according to Wakeling of The English Beat — who toured extensively with the trio comprised of Sting (whose real name is Gordon Sumner), Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland – the band was kept on “an incredibly short leash” and “banned” from speaking their minds by none other than Stewart’s manager brother, Miles Copeland III.

“Touring with The Police was an odd situation — they were ruled by fear by Miles Copeland,” Wakeling told me. “They were not allowed to speak their minds. They were heavily contained, and we felt very sad for them, really, because they did have ideas and opinions that they were banned from being able to say.”

 

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Miles Copeland in a recent photo

 

Wakeling worked with Miles Copeland and revealed the cryptic message behind Sting’s choice to sport The English Beat logo in one of The Police’s most famous videos:

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Sting sports his English Beat tee in the  “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” video

“I think that was one of the reasons that he went to such extremes to wear English Beat T-shirts, like in the  “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” video and photo sessions: He was trying to, like, bear allegiance to some of the things we were saying that he was not allowed to say by Miles Copeland.”

 

“It was really The Monkees of punk, you know? It was the Punkees: We’re too busy singing to sing about anything that’s really going on,” he continued. “And that was awful sad, because they were decent folks, especially Gordon.”

IRSLogo1.jpgMiles Copeland formed his own label, I.R.S. Records, through A&M Records in 1979 and signed artists that included R.E.M., The Go-Go’s, The Bangles and Gary Numan. Wakeling called the man “a wonderful rogue” and “fun, but exacerbating.” He added that Miles Copeland “wanted to be secretary of state.”

The Police were one of rock’s most successful bands, formed in 1977 and putting out five hit albums (Outlandos D’Amour, Reggatta de Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta, Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity) through 1984 before Sting set out on a solo career, essentially dissolving the band. Contemplating the output of The Police, Wakeling’s unique behind-the-scenes perspective saw the once-promising artistic trajectory of the band taking a turn for the worse due to such tight control, once again likening them to The Monkees.article-2507658-196B051700000578-988_964x1380.jpg

“They sort of eviscerated the end of punk, didn’t they, to make it like it was pure pop entertainment, which was a bloody shame. And they got away with it, which is even worse,” said Wakeling, whose own band rose at the same time from ska, reggae and punk roots. “Like the Monkees, [The Police] had some great tunes, but you knew they had a lot more to say, and we knew exactly how they were banned from saying it. They were on an incredibly short leash.”

He concluded, “This was about making millions of dollars as quickly as you could, which I thought was very sad, because I thought their art was worth more than that. I was very pleased when Sting went off on his own and managed to speak up a bit more, and I admired him for taking the chance when he could.”

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For the Love of Fantasy and Ray Harryhausen

As a lifetime lover of the cinema, I can pinpoint only a handful of moviegoing experiences in which the film itself truly changed my perspective and I found myself exiting the theater not only exhilarated — but practically a different person.

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For much of my generation STAR WARS was that experience. That film not only entertained but transcended legions of people who decided there and then that making movies would become their dream vocation. I was most definitely one of those people. But before that, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD was the big-screen experience that rocked my world. Already a huge fan of dinosaurs and such classic Universal Monsters movies as DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN, and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, my mom took me to see a revival screening of the 1958 film featuring Ray Harryhausen’s magical, stop-motion special effects in “Dynamation.”

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I was entranced by Ray’s incredibly believable creatures and immediately set out to find as many films featuring his work as I could. I wanted to see more SINBAD films. I made the connection to Harryhausen’s previous work, having already seen THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching more of Ray’s greatest hits on our small, black-and-white television. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND 118.PDF-000I couldn’t believe my luck when I’d be flipping around the dial and I’d catch the spectacle of a giant octopus tearing down the Golden Gate Bridge in IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, the desperate fight with a killer crab in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, the insect-like aliens of FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, or a dino rampage in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. or THE VALLEY OF GWANGI.

Seeing Ray’s work and amazing creations in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD provided the impetus for me to pick up my first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. I was very taken with the Cyclops in 7TH VOYAGE and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the cover of FM #118 on the newsstand and there was Ray’s one-eyed creature staring right back at me, inviting me to find out more about the compelling cinematic experience I couldn’t stop thinking about.

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When I was older and had seemingly “seen it all” with the STAR WARS special-effects renaissance, a first-run viewing of CLASH OF THE TITANS took me right back to the wonder of the first time I joined the Cult of Harryhausen, notably with Ray’s stop-motion pièce de résistance: Perseus’ epic battle with Medusa, with shadowy close-ups of the Gorgon that were influenced by Joan Crawford in MILDRED PIERCE, and a moment that sees Medusa pulling her torso along that was influenced by Tod Browning’s FREAKS.

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I credit my adult obsession with multiple-armed religious icons to that spectacular scene in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD in which the intrepid adventurer and his men battle a statue of the six-armed goddess Kali. As a kid growing up in suburban New York, I had never seen such an exotic statue like that before, and then to see it dance by the command of a sorcerer — and then sprout six swords to engage in combat — simply blew my mind. Now I can’t stop collecting exotic statuettes with four arms or more.

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I can confidently say that in the new era of impressive CGI achievements that have become commonplace in every blockbuster made in Hollywood today, Ray’s work — crude by today’s effects standards — is exponentially more likable and tangible onscreen than the CGI-overload travesties on regular display. Contemporary visual effects remain cold and impersonal for the most part, and in comparison, Ray’s finest moments represent the literal human touch lacking in today’s Sci-Fi and fantasy films. Ray earned the sense of wonder he set out to achieve. He cared about his creatures, and so do we.

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If you’re a fan of the late Ray Harryhausen, please take the opportunity to introduce someone new to his greatest hits with your own custom Saturday matinee. Keep his cinematic legacy alive, and share the true artistry and wide-eyed wonder that brought real magic to the movies in his heyday.

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The Call of Cthulhu: Living in a Lovecraftian World

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One of the great crimes in today’s attention-deficit society is the refusal by so many to spend the time to read anything beyond 100 words, or even 140 characters, and to challenge their minds, their views, their politics, their belief systems.

That’s why I find it so rewarding in this digitally driven media world that there still are great publishing companies out there that concern themselves not only with making and marketing new, thought-provoking materials but in carefully curating classic content that remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published. Case in point is the output of the London-based Folio Society, which specializes in reprints of classic titles with all-new, handsomely crafted editions featuring new and interesting art and packaging.

I’ve championed Folio for years and have featured many of their classic horror, Sci-Fi, and fantasy titles within the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, including their high-quality editions of Frank Herbert’s DUNE, Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, Robert Louis Stevenson’s DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE, Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, Ian Fleming’s CASINO ROYALE, Philip K. Dick’s THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, and THE FOLIO BOOK OF GHOST STORIES, featuring tales of terror from the likes of Charles Dickens, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Wharton, Vladimir Nabokov and Shirley Jackson.

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Folio is full steam ahead when it comes to classic genre titles, and one of their latest entries is also one of the best available for fans of Gothic horror: THE CALL OF CTHULHU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES by H.P. Lovecraft. For those not in the know, Lovecraft is a hugely influential author and is considered to be a founding father of modern horror, notably inspiring such filmmakers as Guillermo del Toro, Stuart Gordon, and John Carpenter.

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Wax statue of H.P. Lovecraft in Guillermo del Toro’s study

 

Among those directors’ various films, Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR is directly based on Lovecraft’s short story HERBERT WEST – REANIMATOR, while Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is a clear tribute to the author and his work. GdT has been trying to mount a production of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS for years, while Gordon also tackled Lovecraft’s FROM BEYOND, THE OUTSIDER (released as CASTLE FREAK), and THE DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE for an episode of MASTERS OF HORROR. Gordon also tried to get SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH made into a film in the late ’80s/early ’90s. In fact, I remember seeing some spectacular, imaginative storyboards for the film with creepy fish folk concept designs by none other than late artist Bernie Wrightson during my days working at Full Moon Entertainment, which flirted with the idea of producing Lovecraft’s seaside tale but ultimately declined due to high-budget concerns and concept doubts. Gordon ultimately got to make his INNSMOUTH project in the form of DAGON, combining the two Lovecraft titles in his horror tribute released in 2001.

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Bernie Wrightson concept art for Stuart Gordon’s unmade SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH

The “other weird stories” in Folio’s THE CALL OF CTHULHU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES include many of his best-known works — THE OUTSIDER, HERBERT WEST – REANIMATOR, DAGON, and SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH — so those looking to dive deeper into those movie adaptation origins need to look no further.

Lovecraft’s dark tales consistently detail a single narrator’s descent into madness and despair as he grapples with the daily torture of the commonplace, the supernatural, and a growing, fragmented sense of reality. In Lovecraft’s universe, we are very much human with potential, yet walking cages of limitation whose reach remains arbitrary to the indifferent actions of the cosmos and infinite great beyond. It’s very existential stuff written by a self-proclaimed agnostic in theory and atheist in practice who disdained religion.

“I choose weird stories because they suit my inclinations best,” wrote Lovecraft in 1933. “One of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis.”

cthulhu.jpgThose new to Lovecraft may have heard of Cthulhu — his tentacle-faced, cosmic-demon-god creation — or have seen it around in pop-culture ephemera, but have little to no idea who or what it is, much less how the name is pronounced (most agree to “Kuh-thoo-loo,” though Lovecraft pronounced it in different ways, because few could really master the writer’s other versions that don’t roll off the tongue very easily; relax, it’s from an alien language anyway). 9a0b2d1d5989b2ffe0dc115d748e9ddf6f754090_1024x1024.jpegA whole mythos and expanding universe by way of other writers has grown way beyond what Lovecraft first started with Cthulhu (and the fabricated cult that awaits his return) in 1928, as he essentially kept the character to one story.

To keep it simple, all you need to know is that Cthulhu is a mythical deity from another galaxy, he came to Earth and inhabited the planet with his spawn, then went into a deep hibernation under the sea as humanity evolved. He would communicate with select individuals through their dreams, and awareness of his presence developed the Cult of Cthulhu, which anticipates the awakening of the creature from his long slumber and his inevitable rule of the planet.

 

In short: Our deepest, darkest fears will be realized when we pay for our sins through the destructive return of an almighty cosmic god. One of my favorite riffs on this concept was published in The Washington Post in 2016 in the form of this tongue-in-cheek letter in the opinion section: I, CTHULHU, ENDORSE DONALD TRUMP. Funny/frightening stuff, depending on how you lean…

So why the refusal by so many to challenge their minds, politics, and belief systems? Perhaps we should ask Cthulhu.

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Folio’s THE CALL OF CTHULHU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES has a wonderful introduction by THE WATCHMEN, V FOR VENDETTA and FROM HELL writer Alan Moore. He observes in part, “Lovecraft and his work endure because his terrors have a higher register that lifts them far above contemporary scares and bigotries, an existential dread informed by his awed comprehension of modern cosmology, where mankind is reduced to a chance viral outbreak on a vanishingly tiny fleck of dirt amid a random and unending avalanche of suns. Lovecraft expressed this devastating yet tangible unease using invented forms that have a frightful, pungent physicality; abstract conceptual horrors that the reader can reach out and touch or which, conversely, can reach out and touch the reader. … In his pantheon of unpronounceable, unknowable and shrewdly indescribable monstrosities, Lovecraft presents an alphabet of fear that can articulate our current insecurities, his prescient alienation an exact precursor of our own.”

CLU_14930403850Folio’s tome also features six intense, mind-blowing pen-and-ink illustrations by the incredibly talented Dan Hillier. Bound in cloth blocked with a design by the artist and a slipcase featuring an unblinking, monstrous eye, THE CALL OF CTHULHU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES runs 472 pages and is also available in an ultra-cool, limited-edition (750 copies) presentation, bound in eco-simulated leather and lurking in a mysterious solander box with a print signed by Hillier.

Also new from Folio Society is a new edition of H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS, featuring stunning illustrations by artist Grahame Baker-Smith and an introduction by Iain Sinclair. A true classic that needs no introduction, the arrival of this version acts as a fun literary companion piece to the noteworthy Lovecraft edition described above.

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da6dkgbxoaes8ce.jpgGet more info on Folio Society’s site and to see how you can get these books on your shelf before Cthulhu wakes from the depths…

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You made it to the end of the story! Good job. For more IT CAME FROM… coolness, try my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, and TWIN PEAKS weirdness.

 

 

Super Memories of a Not-So ‘Supertrain’

In February of 1979, NBC debuted what would go down in network history as one of its costliest misfires ever: SUPERTRAIN. The most expensive series on television at the time, NBC’s SUPERTRAIN was a cross between THE LOVE BOAT and SILVER STREAK, setting a course for adventure but derailing within a mere nine episodes.

supertrain-01.jpgBefore the debut episode even aired, critics dogpiled onto the fact that the show’s budget was between $5-6 million, an exorbitant rate at the time, and that the star was a train, not a recognizable human. The scale-model hero version of the train alone cost the network $250,000 — and at one point crashed into a giant heap during production.

 

5c26fdfe1d168f428218eee8c14db8acIt didn’t help matters that the cast of characters running SUPERTRAIN was chosen to mirror many of the same roles on LOVE BOAT, or that the producers (including executive producer Dan Curtis of DARK SHADOWS and TRILOGY OF TERROR fame) struggled with the show’s tone right out of the station — was it a comedy-drama, or a mystery thriller?

supertrain_2There was the usual cavalcade of staple ’70s guest stars, including Dick Van Dyke, Tony Danza, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Abe Vigoda, Roddy McDowall, George Hamilton, Lyle Waggoner, Isabel Sanford, Steve Lawrence, Larry Linville, Loretta Swit, Vic Tayback, Joyce DeWitt, Billy Barty — even LOVE BOAT’s Bernie Kopell — who climbed aboard the SUPERTRAIN for romance, mystery, comedy, and drama over nine episodes. On paper, it looked like a winning formula.

MV5BNTU2NjM3MzY5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTQ1OTU1MTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1304,1000_AL_.jpgBut after its respectable two-hour premiere episode, SUPERTRAIN was almost unanimously voted thumbs down by viewers with their TV sets and Nielsen boxes as the series struggled to find an audience — and identity. Producers worked feverishly to retool the tone (“It’s back! All-new and ready to roll!”), promising “all-new stories” and “all-star casts,” but it was too little too late.

26741088730_0f28a53722_b.jpgTiming is everything, and NBC practically lost its shirt due to the ratings disaster of its multi-million-dollar gamble. That SUPERTRAIN flop, combined with the U.S. boycott of the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow, cost NBC millions in ad revenue and almost forced the network into bankruptcy.

IMG_20140315_0003.jpgI was 11 when SUPERTRAIN debuted, and being an avid TV watcher I welcomed the series with relish and exuberance. Who wouldn’t want to watch a weekly show about an atomic-powered, double-decker train that could travel from New York to Los Angeles in 36 hours and had practically all the same amenities of LOVE BOAT’s Pacific Princess, like a nightclub, a swimming pool, a beauty parlor, a gym, a doctor’s office, shopping and more? It looked slick and super cool to me. And that Supertrain design concept was kinda sorta like the “Cyclops” from THE BIG BUS (one of the great, overlooked comedies of the ’70s).

10.jpgBut I, like everyone else, gradually soured on the TV show. There were only so many “money shots” of the high-tech train model I could watch speeding through the heartland before I came to the conclusion that I was bored out of my gourd with the sub-par weekly plots and subplots. So, I flipped the channel to either THE INCREDIBLE HULK on CBS or EIGHT IS ENOUGH on ABC.

Still, when I think back on SUPERTRAIN, I have only fond memories…

4.jpgWatch the opening credits of SUPERTRAIN with its super ’70s theme music:

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For more IT CAME FROM… TV fun, check out my interview with original WONDER WOMAN star Lynda Carter and TWIN PEAKS tales. Plus there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards  — or try more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews.

Make My Game: Clint Eastwood Flies ‘Firefox’ in 1982 Promotional Stunt

Thirty-five years ago this weekend, Clint Eastwood’s cold-war thriller FIREFOX flew into theaters. Lured by a super-cool poster and the marquee magnetism of a brand-new Clint Eastwood flick, I remember attempting to buy theater tickets not once, not twice, but three separate times before I could get in. It was that popular on opening weekend. There’s nothing like that feeling of being excited to see a movie, waiting in a long line, knowing that the theater will be a packed house, getting a tad nervous that you might not make the cut — and then having a SOLD OUT sign dropped right in front of you at the box-office window after getting all your hopes up. firefox-affiche-japonaise-82-clint-eastwood-movie-poster

I eventually got to sit in that darkened theater at Movieland in Yonkers, New York and was utterly transported by Clint’s nail-biting thriller. Clint directed himself as the Russian-speaking, all-American Air Force Major and Vietnam POW Mitchell Gant, who slips behind enemy lines in a suicide mission to steal a state-of-the-art, advanced Russian fighter plane nicknamed Firefox. Invisible to radar and designed to carry a nuclear arsenal, the MiG is capable of flying at speeds up to Mach 6 and contains a highly advanced thought-controlled weapons system.

Based on the 1977 novel by Craig Thomas, FIREFOX was especially convincing because much of it takes place in Russia and could not be filmed there due to Cold War circumstances. Remember, back then the Russkies were our enemies (they subsequently became uneasy allies, and now, political agitators). Clint used locations in and around Vienna, Austria to double for the communist country, and I couldn’t get over how they “got away” with shooting there. I was duped by Hollywood magic, which made the lead-up to the theft of the plane at the end that much more exciting.

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Oscar-winning STAR WARS visual effects master John Dykstra took on the chores of making the Firefox MiG-31 look convincing in the air against cloudy and clear blue skies, snow-capped mountains and canyons, and during those G-force-defying dogfights. He pioneered a complex process called reverse blue-screen photography that incorporated the use of ultraviolet light. His team also built nine Firefox models — four large-scale (a pair of which could fly), four small-scale, and one actual size that could taxi at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. My thoughts at the time were that some of the footage looked very real, while other footage didn’t quite pull off that realistic effect. Either way, I was enthralled. Clint made it work, although many critics were much less kind to the Spy-Sci-Fi thriller.

firefoxOn the film’s 30th anniversary, I was working at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and did one of my infamous vault assaults to see what I could find in the show’s video archives. In searching for good set-visit, junket, or premiere footage of Clint from back in 1982, I came up empty. However, I did stumble upon something that may be even more unique: Clint trying his hand at the FIREFOX video arcade game by Atari.

Much like TRON had a companion game, FIREFOX also had a game that put you in the cockpit of the film’s title aircraft to engage another prototype Firefox in aerial combat, just like in the film’s climax.

“We’re pleased that our film turned out to be such a good game,” said Clint with his trademark tone, adding slyly, “Have you rigged this game? I’m playing longer than I’ve ever played before.” Asked if he was too old to be playing video games, Clint replied, “You’re never too old to have a good time.”

Watch the video in the following link:

http://players.brightcove.net/1242911076001/rkLHD3Uv_default/index.html?videoId=ref:title_122693&viewguid=93a9c1d0-1215-47b4-8fe5-c4d67011729c

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You made it to the end of this story! Good job. For more IT CAME FROM… coolness, try more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

 

Junket Fatigue: The Mind-Numbing Repetition of Movie Promotion

Imagine if you will: You have done something, and now you are required to sit in a claustrophobic room for hours on end to respond to questions about that something you’ve done. Friendly questions. Probing questions. Personal questions. Uncomfortable questions. Identical questions from many different questioners. And always the same answers required of you, with a smile. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. Ad nauseam.

Now you have a small understanding of what artists and actors must endure to promote their latest product during a “junket.” Sure, it can be fun. For a time. But it can also devolve into a touch of psychological torture, a dark tunnel of repetition with no end in sight. And you’re not really allowed to talk about that aspect. The laborious side of these junkets is something actors dare not discuss, lest they come across to John Q. Public as ungrateful swine who take their star status and VIP opportunities for granted. Still, it’s a brutal process.

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The first junket I ever covered was for David Spade’s JOE DIRT for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT. I should have seen the writing on the wall there and then. It was towards the end of the day when my turn came about. Spade had already spoken to easily 50 journalists, on and off-camera, before I stepped into the stuffy hotel room suite for a one-on-one to talk about his new comedy. Rather than find him sitting in his director’s chair waiting for me to have a lively discussion, I saw him in a dark corner of the room, cartoonishly banging his head against the wall. He was emotionally spent, if not going a tad insane.

Some call it “junket fatigue.” I call it “junket psychological torture.” I’ve discussed the concept with many actors in the years since I witnessed Spade’s head-banging therapy, either on-site or behind the scenes. If I have the time before a junket interview, I make it a point to ask the actors and filmmakers how they are “surviving” the day, to let them know that I at least understand what they are going through. I may not be able to empathize, but I can sympathize.

I’ve shared a laugh about the process with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, who told me of a conversation he had with Sean Penn, who suggested that there should be some protections and limitations regarding film promotion requirements built into their contracts. I’ve witnessed Jennifer Aniston declare to herself, like a mantra, “This is new, this is new, this is new,” before she turned on her signature smile for probably the 500th time that day. And I’ve witnessed stars giving each other late-afternoon pep talks to each other between journalists’ interviews, if not burying their faces in their hands.

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I’m so aware of this unspoken element of the junket process that I once bought the entire cast of MAD MEN a drink (a mini bottle of Canadian Club for each, naturally) to “help” them get through the day’s junket. An amusing side note: No one in the cast was allowed to reveal any details about the show’s Season 6 storyline, or what their character was up to, so they had to not only endure a long junket day talking about MAD MEN, but their hands were tied; they had to navigate shark-infested mental waters in order to keep the show’s secrets safe. Pretty exhausting if you think about having to watch what you say all day.

Most actors are diplomatic about the process and say that it’s no big deal; junkets are a great platform to promote their new show or movie or what have you. It’s part of the job, and they make it look easy as if every interview they give is the only one they’re having that day. Some get plain silly or punch-drunk by the end of a day or exhaustive publicity tour. Some see the process as a necessary evil, but it’s clear on their faces that they are experiencing mental anguish or absolute boredom. Classic examples of this type of junket fatigue include transparent performances by the likes of Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, and Tommy Lee Jones, who usually look like they’d rather be anywhere but at a junket. Getting a pulse out of these gents is a Herculean task, and most interviewers also equally dread having to sit down with these guys for a talk because of their reputations for being unforthcoming, awkward, taciturn, and sometimes even combative during junket interviews.

tmp703943335735197696.jpgI sat down to talk with Harrison Ford for the Jackie Robinson baseball drama 42 for ET. Despite his reputation for being an infamously grumpy interview, I personally saw our one-on-one as a challenge: My goal was to simply make him smile or laugh. I told him that his character’s bushy eyebrows in the film deserved top billing, which got a chuckle from him, and got an even more unique response when I asked him to confirm whether or not he would be in STAR WARS VII (at that point, no cast or title had been announced). He amusingly zipped his lips, shook his head and went, “Mmmm hmmm mmm hmmm mmmm.”

One of my all-time favorite moments in junket fatigue lore comes from a sit-down between Mila Kunis and a novice BBC reporter who was excited yet “petrified” just to be in the presence of the OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL star. Tongue-tied and all over the map with his questions, he was gleefully guided through the process by Kunis who was pleased to get a break from her autopilot interviews. After veering into topics like having “Jager bombs” with his fellow lads at the pub and inviting her to join them for a drink, he realized he should get back on track, and she pleaded, “Why? This is way more fun for me, I have to tell you. Please!” He veered into topics like his favorite soccer team and chicken, and she declared, “This is the best interview I’ve had today.” And when the studio publicist jumped in to tell them to stay on point with questions about the film, Kunis delivered a litany of detailed-yet-generic answers — and he asked her to be his date at a friend’s wedding. Needless to say, the video went viral.

So, the next time you watch a star or filmmaker in a junket setting answering questions about their latest project, try to give them a little extra credit for the rigorous process they must endure to make their answers sound fresh, informative and enjoyable. Don’t take it for granted that it’s such an easy task. And if they get a bit testy or loopy, don’t be so quick to judge. How would you respond to similar psychological torture?

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Spielberg Sells ‘Poltergeist’ in 1982: ‘It’s Land Jaws for Me’

They’re heeeere… POLTERGEIST debuted in theaters 35 years ago this month, and in celebration of one of the scariest movies ever made, I offer you some insightful 1982 interview footage of the film’s producer (and oft-argued ghost director of the film) Steven Spielberg, as well as a sit-down with the legendary Zelda Rubinstein, who played eccentric medium Tangina Barrons, at the time of the film’s release. MPW-18352.jpeg

POLTERGEIST first got on my radar when I opened up the Sunday paper and saw a massive, double-page spread declaring that the new Spielberg project was “the scariest movie ever made” in massive bold letters. That concept blew me away, and almost deterred me from seeing it. Would it be too scary? Would I get serious nightmares? But I was hooked and ready to accept the challenge: Could it truly be the scariest movie ever? Didn’t THE EXORCIST already own that title? This I gotta see

I ended up being more enthralled by the movie than being genuinely scared. Sure, there were plenty of jump-in-your-seat moments and nail-biter sequences, but I was mostly taken by the otherworldly awe that the film engendered in me. These spirits weren’t just malevolent. They were misunderstood — and looking for retribution. And I saw that the dogged, selfless love of a parent for a child in danger could conquer even the most supernatural of circumstances. There was beauty in this horror that I was presented with. How many horror films these days incorporate those themes so unabashedly and effectively to ultimately transcend the viewing experience? Not many.

Five years ago, the 30th anniversary of POLTERGEIST provided the perfect excuse for me to raid the ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT tape vaults as I often did for exclusive material, and I unearthed these great vintage POLTERGEIST interviews. I put together a cut that I think captures some interesting, unique takes on the genre film that would quickly become an instant classic, yet another phenomenon in the pantheon of Spielberg’s cinematic oeuvre.

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Just four months before the June ’82 release of POLTERGEIST, ET asked Spielberg what he could reveal about the Tobe Hooper-directed film. “It’s real scary,” he replied. “It’s sort of a Land JAWS for me. It’s a movie about ghosts, but it’s not a send-up, it’s not a comedy. It’s really a movie about a haunting in suburbia. The great similarity [to JAWS] is that terror is relentless, and the terror is unseen in both movies [until the end].”

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Although POLTERGEIST was helmed by Hooper (of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE fame), Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over the film, from the cookie-cutter suburban setting that mirrors E.T. the EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and themes of childhood innocence and imagination to the awe-inspiring soundtrack and impressive ILM special effects.

“POLTERGEIST is a scream, and E.T. is a whisper,” said Spielberg, who was working on post-production for both films at the time of the interview and noted that both projects were battling for limited 70mm summer theater space. “Essentially [POLTERGEIST] is a movie about tightening your stomach muscles and keeping them there for two hours until something gives.”

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POLTERGEIST was initially rated R by the MPAA, then changed to PG after Spielberg challenged the rating. Zelda Rubinstein reflected on the controversy surrounding the film — that it was too violent for children to watch — and told ET, “I feel that maybe children would maybe understand it even better than we adults, because it deals a lot with the mythology surrounding the archetypal childhood fears, the fears of having incidents with your toys … [and] the development of the new myth surrounding the electronic media.”

Watch the POLTERGEIST “flashback” video in the following link, or the embed below:

http://players.brightcove.net/1242911076001/rkLHD3Uv_default/index.html?videoId=ref:title_122484&viewguid=ffddf3c9-dcd4-4814-8129-02151da6ea00

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You made it to the end of the story without getting scared! Good job. Now, please take a moment to “like” IT CAME FROM… on Facebook and “follow” on Instagram and on Twitter for more great retro content.

Then reward yourself with more IT CAME FROM… coolness. Try my E.T. the EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL 35th-anniversary piece. And/or get more horror with a look behind the scenes of THE SHINING. Plus there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, and more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews.

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