Crash Reports: Chiller Theatre Spring 2013 (Part Two)

Due to my own personal financial crunch, whenever I visit Chiller Theatre, I choose a but a few horror, science fiction and cult personalities to secure an autograph from, so breaking down the guests list isn’t easy. This year, I had no doubt who I would run to:


Jeffrey Combs   CombsS

A horror favorite, thanks to his portrayal of Herbert West in the RE-ANIMATOR series, Combs attracts fans from all over the globe. Born in Oxnard, California in 1954, he went on to study at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. Whether on television or the silver screen, from THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1991) to THE FRIGHTENERS (1986), or one of his other 115 projects, Combs usually portrays characters with an aura of self-assurance. In 1986’s FROM BEYOND, however, the stoicism crumbles when he brings us Crawford Tillinghast and his ill-fated experiment. The collapse of Crawford’s mental state and seemingly steadfast façade is fabulous, and Combs only adds to one fantastic horror from Stuart Gordon, based on a classic HP Lovecraft tale. When asked what it was like on set, Combs pointed to the picture he autographed and said, “Thirty days! At least we were in Rome.”


Lloyd Kaufman   KaufmanS

At 68, Kaufman may be the hardest working man in show business. After all, the independent filmmaker maestro has eighteen films in the works – eighteen! The man behind all things Troma has delivered some great genre fun over the decades, including CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH (1986), and the successful TOXIC AVENGER franchise, while wowing us with the anthology CHILLERS (1987), and the intriguing TROMEO AND JULIET (1996). Whether actor, director, producer, writer, or whatever else Kaufman needs to do, he throws himself into his work with abandon. After attending Chiller for fifteen years, I finally had a chance to meet the man in person, and we had a great conversation about teaching writing, and his filmmaking workload. Even during our chat, it seemed that Kaufman could take off at any second to run the New York Marathon, go a few rounds with Jake LaMotta, or clean up Congress. I don’t think the man sleeps. Toxie hung out nearby to clean up any mess left behind from over-zealous Troma fans.


Udo Kier   KierS

It’s hard to recall when I first saw Kier, but he left an impression: chiseled face, burning eyes, and a soft voice that could reign like a hammer. And at 69, his eyes still captivate, and his face remains just as sharp. Born in Cologne, Germany at the end of World War II, he traveled to the UK at eighteen and studied acting. To date, Kier has appeared in over 200 movies (four more are on the way), including many horrors. My favorites: ANDY WARHOL’S DRACULA (1974), and the phenomenal – and severely under-rated – LOVE OBJECT (2003). After watching him vomit the blood of tainted women in DRACULA, I asked if his nearly unending convulsions had made him sick. Not at all. Kier was soft-spoken, matter of fact, and a perfect gentleman. He was the driving force for me to make it to Chiller this year. As soon as I saw him on the guest list, I had to attend.


Will MacMillan   McMillanS

Originally from Steubenville, Ohio, the sixty-nine-year-old actor has appeared in television, as well as short and feature films. You’ll see him in THE ENFORCER (1976) and SALVADOR (1986), but watch out for him in George A. Romero’s outstanding THE CRAZIES (1973). Unlike the remake, the original has a realistic sense of grit that unleashes a perpetual sense of dread. MacMillan’s performance as a friend on the edge only adds to the suspense. Playing the role of David, we watch the man rise and fall as a manmade virus torments civilians in Evans City, Pennsylvania. Throughout the film, MacMillan brings us a character in slow disintegration of mind and spirit, with exceptional facial expressions that showcase the breakdown. His work is not to be missed. When asked if he enjoyed working on THE CRAZIES, he stated it was one of his top three best film experiences.

All of the celebrities were wonderful, engaging, and took a moment to talk, which I greatly appreciated. Once again, Chiller Theatre, and the guests that keep the convention alive, proved worthwhile. To meet these four men made a wonderful Saturday far better than expected.

Crash Reports: Chiller Theatre Spring 2013 (Part One)

I had visited Chiller Theatre almost twice a year since 1995, but today was different. Most  chiller-theatre-expo       Saturdays for the April venue called upon dark skies, wind, rain, and the kind of cold that seemed to herald in pneumonia. But today, I traveled in shorts, my “Breakfast at Zombies” shirt from (with a creepy, zombified Audrey Hepburn), and the normal jitters accompanied with seeing horror stars I respected.

Chiller Theatre takes place in the Tara Sheraton in Parsippany, New Jersey – not far from where I used to work as a desk clerk at the Embassy Suites. But that brilliant sun seemed to affect everyone: strangers – fans of the horror genre – waved and smiled as they passed from between the lot and the hotel proper. Even the Parsippany Police were cordial. The only time I had a run-in with anything was when I left a bathroom stall only to be confronted by a waiting Killer Klown.

“Don’t kill me!” I said.

“Don’t worry,” he grumbled. “I have to pee first.”

Unlike the previous Chiller venue, which took place for many years in the Meadowlands, the Sheraton offers much more space for celebrities, fans, and vendors. In the past, we had to walk almost single file to view a merchant’s wares. Now, one can breathe, and shop like mad for the cool stuff many can’t seem to find elsewhere. Anything from statues to original posters, magazines to Living Dead Dolls are on the menu, and so much more.

Shop I did. Thanks to Sean at the VHS Preservation Society ( and Chemical Burn Entertainment (, I left with some long sought after DVDs of: POSSESSION, PARENTS, SPELLBINDER, DEAD OF NIGHT, QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT, and the big one for me: SOCIETY.

All manner of fans were about: Horror aficionados dressed like ROCKY HORROR characters, to the Kiss Army, a pirate, as well as some Steampunk lovers. Of course, Goth patrons roamed as if the dead had risen, and others sported either Misfits or Ramones T-shirts, while other tees depicted one’s favorite movies or shows, horror, sci-fi, or cult.

I met my friend, Sue Pettit and her husband, before she raced off to find her heartthrobs of yesteryear, and I made my way to the one room that held all the people I had come to see: Udo Kier, Will MacMillan, and Jeffrey Combs. All of them were wonderful, and we got a chance to chat for a while (All of them will be featured in forthcoming mini-posts – as well as Lloyd Kaufman, who I finally met after all these years). Soon after, I shopped until money started to run out, then made my way towards other stars. Unfortunately, many stars wanted $30 or more for an autographed photo, so I had to bail on David Warner, Karen Allen, and Judith O’Dea, as well as Nancy Allen, who looked fantastic.

For whatever reason, Chiller Theatre has opened up to all things cult, including family oriented fair, such as WILLIE WONKA and even THE PATTY DUKE SHOW. Patty Duke engaged fans, and so did boxing champion Jake LaMotta. The champ’s 91, walks tall, and I knew he could still knock me flat.

Everyone was wonderful, and I had a smile on my face the entire time. Then again, so did all the patrons, as far as I could tell, even the little girl in the stroller all trussed up like a zombie. Even those on the longest line of the day – for Debbie Gibson – were happy and patient. (I’m still not sure if it was the sun, the air conditioning, or the open space that led to so much good feeling, but I couldn’t recall ever having a bad experience at the convention.)

If you get a chance, the show runs on Sunday as well – though you can still check out a party this evening. Visit to learn more – and don’t miss their upcoming Halloween convention.

At a future show I hope to see Bruce Campbell, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, and Barbara Crampton will show up – and I long to see Harry Dean Stanton and Veronica Cartwright. Who knows?

If you’ve been to Chiller, let us know about your experience, and tell us about your favorite stars.

Crash Reports: Soundtracks to Scream By

We all know the power of music. How it fills our souls with joy, pumps us up, or tears us   The-Ninth-Gate-2000-movie-posterdown. For the horror genre, nothing works quite like a robust soundtrack to enhance the suspense and mayhem on screen.

Many can quickly recall the theme from PSYCHO (1960), JAWS (1975), HALLOWEEN (1978), and even FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), but what about the rest of the score?

Movies with music that can carry the entire film beyond a few notes to arouse our senses are key. Otherwise, a soundtrack either becomes forgettable, or gets in the way of the narrative. Yet, the score should marry seamlessly to the entire picture as if had always been a part of the whole.

Quite often, this is not an easy thing to accomplish. Thinking back over the nearly 1,500 horrors I’ve watched, only nine stand out for how well they’ve captured the essence of the film. Here are my favorites:


KWAIDAN (Japan, 1964)

In this anthology of four tales, Toru Takemitsu brings us sparse and ethereal music to highlight each story. Both subtle and mesmerizing, Takemitsu creates an aura for each distinct tale, as if every move from a character ends in an exclamation point, thus keeping the audience on edge. The grand composer had wowed audiences from HARIKIRI (1962) to RAN (1985) to RISING SUN (1993) for nearly forty years. Most chilling is his work in the KWAIDAN segment, “Hochi the Earless” whose biwa and traditional singing call out a ghostly leader and his court. Each note proves to be a suspenseful call to alarm that keeps one from taking a breath as we wait to learn of Hochi’s fate.



The trio of Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson, and Dudley Simpson conspire to unleash an often fast paced pounding as if a heart ravaged by terror. The notes drive the audience to fear every move, every word, and every scene. Even when the music bubbles like something ready to emerge from beneath the waves, we can’t help but feel the underlying force push against our need for a respite. Instead, we’re carried along, almost unwillingly, into Hell House to strive for life like the characters. The rhythmic score will remain with you long after the credits roll.



Henry Mancini’s powerful and uplifting score reminds us that LIFEFORCE is not just another science fiction horror, but an action adventure as well. The orchestral pieces are full of vigor, and blast us through the narrative and its subsequent mystery. Best known for his PINK PANTHER (1963) theme, Mancini is not afraid to unleash his dark side. Better still, his composition is a call for action that enhances quiet, unworldly romantic moments, as well as riveting chase scenes. Tobe Hooper’s movie may leave some horror films disappointed, but for those who love the film, Mancini’s score only adds to the majesty of this intriguing vampire tale.



In Tony Scott’s first film, he had a vision for tone and atmosphere, enhanced by the original music of Michel Rubini and Denny Jaeger. Interestingly, what the composers conjure complements every scene, whether it’s hunter versus prey – or lover versus prey. However, to listen to the score alone, in the dark, without visuals, has proven to be one of the creepiest musical experiences of my life. Besides The Resident’s unnerving “Duck Stab” album, and Tony Cora’s disturbing and haunting original instrumental at the end of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), there is nothing more frightening. Using the very best electronics had to offer at the time, the pair traverses between solemn landscapes and tingling bits of intrigue that will leave one rocking in a fetal position.



Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind are responsible for instilling a sense of coming dread from the moment Jack Torrance’s pale yellow Volkswagen begins to climb the Sidewinder towards the Overlook – and his fate. THE SHINING is a horror masterpiece because of its maze-like architecture, acting, atmosphere, and what may be one of the perfect scores of all time. From kettledrums to howling cries, we are caught in Stanley Kubrick’s trap thanks to the composers who play with our nerves as if flaying us with razors. The saddest element is that the women’s work appeared in only eight films, especially when THE SHINING’s score captures the energy of the hotel as well as Jack’s downward spiral, and the snow drenched frost of the outside world.



When a movie is a whirlwind of change, from loving moments to sheer demonic rage, it takes a special composer to capture all the transitions without missing a beat. James Newton Howard accomplishes just that. Composer of nearly 139 titles, including PRETTY WOMAN (1990), THE FUGITIVE (1993), and THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), his work always complements the story, and stays well out of the way. But his musical prowess shines bright in Taylor Hackford’s film. Whether ensnaring lovemaking and celebration, or suspense and fear, Howard engages the tale head-on, making certain our sensations match the movie perfectly, chord after chord, giving each frame that extra boost.


A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (South Korea, 2003)

With only nineteen films to his credit, Byung-woo Lee never ceases to disappoint with scores that captivate the senses. Whether it’s cult favorite THE HOST (2006) or THE RED SHOES (2005), Lee’s compositions keep us in the moment while toying with our mind. In A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, his work takes hold of every scene. At times, his piano seems a juxtaposition to what’s happening on screen, and this only enhances the psychological distortion the Jee-woon Kim’s film exploits. Every note’s a powerhouse combined with Mo-gae Lee’s outstanding cinematography. Not only are we caught in the heart of torrential family angst, we also gain better insight into the distorted mind of the main character, Bae Soo-mi (Su-jeong Lim). Without Lee’s score, many story subtleties would be lost.


THE THING (1982)

Ennio Morricone, who has composed music for over 500 motion pictures, including many a Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood fueled western, as well as THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966) and THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987). In John Carpenter’s THE THING, he truly brings the desolation of the Antarctic and the fearful plight of the men at America’s famed McMurdo Station to light. The sparse, bottom end tones of synthesizers, and high-pitched violin strumming, both create an unsettling experience from start to finish. If not for the Roman maestro’s amazing score, the tone and atmosphere of this great horror may not have felt so damn cold.


ALIEN (UK/USA, 1979)

Isolation and desolation are key ingredients for Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, and its ill-fated crew. Composer Jerry Goldsmith celebrated this despair, with pangs of hope and denial, in his orchestra enthused score. From THE OMEN franchise to the GREMLINS films, Goldsmith turns on his light or dark side like a modern day Jekyll and Hyde. In ALIEN, he captures the grand openness of the cosmos, yet reminds us how alone the Nostromo is in a sea of stars, once the team realizes they have dropped a notch on the food chain. His little playful elements are a tease, but that haunting, somber vibe, like a slow boil, keeps us on our toes, and our backs against the bulkhead. Goldsmith’s music reflects the abyss of space – and he simply reminds us that we don’t stand a chance.


THE NINTH GATE (France/Spain, 1999)

You may not recall the name, but you’ve heard Wojciech Kilar’s brilliant musical compositions many times over. From DRACULA (1992) to THE PIANIST (2002), as well as 163 other titles, his work has enraptured us for over fifty years. As soon as Roman Polanski’s severely under-rated THE NINTH GATE opens, we know we’re in for a treat. Kilar’s score is playful and rhythmic, as if we’re on a carousel. Even so, we know this isn’t fun and games – as Johnny Depp’s character, Dean Corso, may think, and we soon realize there is much more sophistication and power to the music than a mere child’s ride. Of all the soundtracks I have ever listened to, none plays in my head more often because this score comes off like a mischievous smile.


Granted, there are many more, such as Fernando Velasquez’s gripping measures in THE ORPHANAGE (Spain/Mexico, 1997), and Hans Zimmer’s unsettling score for THE RING (USA/Japan, 2002), as well as Maurice Jarre’s mind-numbing enthused composition for JACOB’S LADDER (1990). However, the aforementioned have had a grand effect that permeates. Of course, all of the horrors mentioned are excellent films in and of themselves – thanks to the brilliance of the composer to make the visuals dance, sing, and disturb. Rent, watch, and indulge in the sound and vision.

(Photo from DVD Release Dates.)

Crash Analysis Support Team: EVIL DEAD (2013) – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

[91 minutes. R. Director: Fede Alvarez]    new-evil_dead-poster-thumb-300xauto-36035

It’s time to declare a moratorium on movies that feature a cabin, a woodsy setting, and supernatural goings-on. When Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard unleashed THE CABIN IN THE WOODS in early 2012, they made the EVIL DEAD remake obsolete a year in advance.

Talk about prophetic!

Therein lies the irony, as the original EVIL DEAD helped spawn the scenarios and clichés that CABIN so successfully skewered.

But had that film never existed, would this remake have succeeded? I doubt it. In 1981, writer-director Sam Raimi created a micro-budget horror with a bare-bones plot and a lot of technical chutzpah. In 2013, director/co-writer Fede Alvarez delivers a hatchet job in the form of a bad postmodern joke. You’ll laugh, but for the wrong reasons.

You needn’t look further than the closing credits – displayed over a seemingly endless montage of blood spatter – to see what’s really fueling this enterprise.

Alvarez’s film starts with tentative promise: a young five-some treks out to the deep woods, but not for the reason horror films typically favor. Mia (Jane Levy) is a recovering addict looking to detox with the help of her pals. David (Shiloh Fernandez) is her cowardly mechanic brother; Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a schoolteacher; Olivia (Jessica Lucas) is an RN; and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) is…the obligatory blonde girlfriend. I was pulling for these paper-thin characters to anchor us for the long haul, but the film quickly becomes a competition in who can display the least common sense most often.

For as self-aware as the genre’s become, some of this stuff is totally unforgivable. Plot purposes aside, why read an incantation from a book bound in human flesh? The answer: just because! Why would you walk down rotting cellar steps to console someone who is clearly possessed? The answer: just because! Why would you not blow away an armless demon who’s shot you full of nails? The answer: because I got feelings for her! It’s shit like this that drags the genre down, and makes its fans look like buffoons with blood on the brain.

While the supporting cast spends the film begging for plausible motivation, Mia is cranky and unlikeable. This becomes more bothersome when she’s possessed by Pazuzu, vomiting tomato soup and growling variations on “your mother sucks cocks in hell.” I get it: this new EVIL DEAD is reaching for a message (addiction = possession!) amid its m.o. of pushing the limits of bodily harm. Yet any deeper meaning is lost in the rush to build a better gore film.

The much-touted practical FX are as jaw-dropping, cringe-worthy, and creatively sick as anything glimpsed in THE EXORCIST, ALIEN, or John Carpenter’s THE THING. Yes, sports fans – theyre that good. While little else lives up to expectations, people will talk about how this film brought in-camera effects back from the dead.

For as much as I’ve torn it limb from limb, EVIL DEAD contains isolated moments of stylistic brilliance (the demonic force speeding through the woods; the image of a flooded stream; a macabre live burial) placed within a classic setting that inspires fear by default. Alvarez builds some suspense amid the mayhem, and his use of light and shadow is commendable. The resistance to underlining every scare with a booming sound effect is also admirable. If any of it meant anything, EVIL DEAD’s excesses might have been cathartic or exhilarating – but in the end, you’ll probably feel just as beaten and bloodied as the characters in this mess.

And that’s pretty fucking far from “groovy.”


2 out of 5 stars


For more cuddly thorns from Jonathan Weidler, be sure to visit…


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A big THANK YOU to William D. Prystauk and CrashPalace for hosting this review!

(Photo from Twitch Films.)

Crash Analysis: POISON FOR THE FAIRIES (Mexico, 1984)

Unexpected horror surprise for the humans

One of Mexico’s best in the genre

Oftentimes, when I put a movie into my Netflix queue, I know very little as to why it   64f561suddenly showed up on my recommendation page at a particular moment, and never beforehand. Therefore, somehow, someway, the unanticipated treasure, POISON FOR THE FAIRIES, found its way into my DVD player, and captured my full attention – and that’s not easy since many horrors are more prone to put me to sleep than maintain my interest. Even worse, it’s about two little girls. For me, kids ruin just about every movie I’ve ever seen (come on, didn’t you want to see Newt get annihilated in ALIENS?). But within ten minutes, I learned to trust writer/director Carlos Enrique Taboada, and I have no regrets.

POISON FOR THE FAIRIES involves young, well-to-do Flavia (Elsa María Gutiérrez in her only film role), as the new girl at school. In short order, she meets ten-year-old Veronica (Ana Patricia Royo), who claims she wants to be a witch. Soon, Veronica has Flavia by the pigtails, coercing her to take part in all things macabre.

Taboada’s narrative follows a steady pace that keeps us intrigued. After all, is Veronica really onto something about becoming a full-fledged witch, and will Flavia gain the gusto to save herself? The suspense and tension is palpable, with little childish breakaways that don’t detract from the story – and that’s because we always know something is brewing. Veronica is conniving, and it’s clear her classmates know she’s a lying, mean-spirited jerk. But Flavia’s impressionable, weak-minded, and without Veronica, she’d have no friends at all. Then again, maybe Veronica is everything Flavia wishes she could be.

Thanks to the cinematographic talents of Lupe Garcia. The color is rich and inviting, often serving as a stark contrast to the dark plotting and goings-on. To further support the strong narrative, we see this film through the eyes of the girls – or at least on their level. Just like Charles Schultz and his Peanuts characters, adults are not welcome, though we can clearly understand what they are saying in this story. Whenever an adult does appear on screen, they are never fully engaged by the camera. We see backs of heads, a hand, or even a mid-section. The only times adults grace a frame is if they are old and ugly, or deceased (I wonder how the director convinced his adult actors to not balk at their lack of screen time). Otherwise, it’s the girl’s world and the things that matter to them, their imagination, and how they see the world. What matters to Veronica most is her caretaker’s knowledge of witches and what they can do – and how they can bring about havoc. Such is the driving force behind Veronica’s desires to become a witch and take control in her lonely little world where she does nothing but covets.

In this sense, Veronica and Flavia are the same: friendless. Without each other, they’d have no contact with the world they inhabit. They are two sides of the same forgotten coin, looking to connect and be heard. Veronica, however, is full of such envy, and its subsequent hatred, she wants to destroy. Otherwise, Flavia is naïve and weak, and wants a confidante. Combined, they form a give-and-take friendship with more on the line than tea parties and playhouse time.

It’s rare to see two young actors, especially preteens, carry a movie – most notably a horror – but Gutiérrez and Royo do a masterful job thanks to Taboada’s exceptional direction, and the girls inherent skills. Royo, however, is a standout. She was actually ten when the movie was shot, yet has a presence more akin to someone twice her age. This adult nature, especially concerning facial expressions, body language and attitude, is frightening in and of itself.

The only problem with the movie is Juan Baños’s Foley work. Sadly, it’s far from subtle. For instance, he makes the girl’s footsteps sound like elephants clomping along in Mary Janes, instead of two lightweight girls jogging along tiled floors. Maybe that is why Baños found this to be his fourth and final film.

Regardless, the psychological tension and manifestations are fabulous, and the profound thematic elements from bullying to over-wrought curiosity long for acknowledgment. As with any great tale, Taboada delivers one heady horror with an ending that more than satisfies, and will leave audiences with much to discuss. My only regret is that I hadn’t heard of POISON FOR THE FAIRIES until now.

4 out of 5 stars

Whether you have seen this feature or not, what are your favorite Mexican horrors?

(Photo from SaltyFlowers.)

Crash Reports: Why Hollywood Loves Remakes

Remakes abound in all genres, and even classics films like PSYCHO (1960) are no  evil-dead-poster1stranger to being reshot, repackaged, and regurgitated. And as moviegoers continue to complain about remaking mania, most want to know why the hell remakes exist in the first place.

The answer: Money.

According to many sites, including YoExpert, the average Hollywood film costs roughly $130 million to make, not including up to $20 million for marketing. But if a studio can blow the dust off of something they already own, well, they get to cash in, or at least they hope so.

EVIL DEAD (2013) is now in theatres, and just won the all-important opening weekend battle with $26 million. There’s no doubt it will do well the following weekend. How a movie opens is paramount to its success. If it opens strong, there’s the hope that word will spread and draw people in (think THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY). Of course, you have to take out a small loan to see a film, but if the buzz is big, producers bet you’ll shell out at the movie house.

Think about it: When a studio green lights a remake, they’re saving millions. They already own the rights to the script, characters, music, and more. Sure, a rewrite may be needed, but that may only cost tens of thousands. And even if a studio wants to shell out for an A-list actor, the earnings of the original film, or its subsequent cult fame, may dictate that this will be money well spent. That’s because Hollywood isn’t about art, it’s about making money – it’s about ROI (return on investment).

Studios want to cash in. Filmmaking’s a business. Nothing more. Granted, independents may make a movie out of love, but Hollywood doesn’t give a damn. With remakes, they often hope lightning strikes twice. And they rely on the fact that younger moviegoers may never have heard of the original. Hell, most of my students admitted to having no clue that there was an original HALLOWEEN, a Japanese version of THE GRUDGE, or that EVIL DEAD had been produced on a shoestring budget from a bunch of no-names.

Granted, some remakes may shine bright, but for lovers of cinema, this is usually not the case. Quite often, fans somehow feel that the original is now tainted. Don’t ever let a remake, or even bad sequels, derail your love for that first film. What follows once producers try to wring out every dime should have no reflection upon the original feature that blew your mind and captured your imagination.

And don’t think for a second that there aren’t enough original scripts floating around. I’ve heard reports that Hollywood is inundated with about 50,000 scripts a year (though I bet it’s higher). Hollywood hates taking chances on new writers, and doesn’t want to do the legwork to find new writing talent or invest in a project they’re not sure about – because if a producer makes a mistake, a studio could tank. I know so many screenwriters with amazing scripts that will collect dust, and their careers will never get off the ground – especially in a bad economy when Hollywood wants to make money and win at the box office to survive another day. So, they’ll go with the tried and true, at the expense of art and brilliance – every time.

I have yet to see the new EVIL DEAD, though I’m looking forward to the experience. Young people have said it was “Awesome”, while seasoned horror fans have said, “We’ve seen it all before.” Well, as for the latter, especially when it comes to remakes, that won’t end anytime soon.

(Photo from ScriptShadow.)

Crash Analysis: THE DAY (2011)

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Don’t believe the negative hype – indulge…

I was impressed with Douglas Aarniokoski’s THE DAY for a number of reasons, and  The-Day-Movie-Posterwanted to look up some information about the film. Then I ran head first into a bevy of reviews that tore the film to shreds. Granted, everyone has their own opinion, but for those who loathed the movie, the collective dislike is based on the ludicrous.

Granted, I don’t particularly care for the title, since THE DAY is open to any interpretation. However, I do appreciate screenwriter Luke Passmore’s notion to keep it simple. After all, the story revolves about the experience of a group of survivors in a post-Apocalyptic world that takes place in one day. And since the quintet has little to look forward to, except to survive, it is just another “day” and nothing more. Unlike our early ancestors, which delved into art, raised families, and helped create what became “humanity”, this tale is almost its anti-thesis. We have intelligent people taking a road that leads to “inhumanity”.

What we never learn is what happened ten years ago to bring about the degradation of society. And this seems to bother many people who want answers instead of using their collective imagination. Worst still, the reason society has been upended is not the point of the narrative. Not by a long shot. Therefore, what had occurred is meaningless. Just like the characters, persisting in day-to-day monotony and drudgery, the audience is thrust into the group as if we’ve been trudging along with the rag tag band. Soon, this makeshift family finds what they hope is an abandoned farmhouse, which sets the goings-on in motion. This leaves our heroes in a siege, and they must find a way to stand up to take on another day against another hungry family. (With the encirclement and subsequent claustrophobia, one recalls John Carpenter’s 1976 action/adventure, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT THIRTEEN.)

One reviewer stated this can be an offshoot to John Hillcoat’s THE ROAD (2009), based upon Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and I tend to agree. I can’t recall hearing or seeing a bird in the film, or any other animal for that matter, so they must be scarce. However, they must exist in small numbers because people have survived some ten years later, and they must live on something. Furthermore, due to the breakdown of our status quo, and one can only guess what else is missing from the norm, it seems that agriculture is no longer a viable option. Then again, Passmore makes it clear that we’ve become nomads, which means there wouldn’t be much reaping and sowing happening in the fields, though reaping and sowing on an existential level is definitely on the menu. Like THE ROAD, survivors have resorted to cannibalism to enjoy another sunrise.

We’ve seen many dystopian, post-destruction stories, where characters somehow adopt the coolest and most impractical clothes on the planet. Yes, it’s fabulous to see Milla Jovovich in leather in the RESIDENT EVIL franchise, but the lack of reality is laughable. You don’t see ridiculous costumes in THE DAY, and I fell in love right from the beginning when I saw the group in normal, average attire. Many thanks go to costume designer Candice Beuckx for keeping it very real. Even the bad guys don’t dress up like Humongous and company from the MAD MAX series. This detail alone is enough to make one realize there’s something more here than your average midnite movie horror.

To better capture the tone and that tiresome feel of fighting to live every day, where everything seems to blend, cinematographer Boris Mojsovski relies on washed out tones to capture that weary element. No, the film is not black and white, as others have stated, but it is a step away from sepia tone. Mojsovski’s photographic work captures the monochromatic and bleak mindset of the characters, and it’s far from pretty.

Of the five in our special little survival group, two stand out. Shannyn Sossamon delivers one hell of a performance as Shannon, the woman who has nearly developed OCD about keeping her “family” unit together. Her loyalty in such a horrid, bland world is easy to grasp, but her devotion may prove fatal if she takes it to the extreme. Then again, Shannon’s fear of losing her family is completely understandable: They’re all she has, and existing on her own is not an option. Amazingly, Ashley Bell’s stellar turn as Mary, is breathtaking, riveting, and even outshines Ms. Sossamon. Mary is the newbie to the group, and it’s clear she has her own demons to battle. (We’ve seen her brilliant portrayal of the embattled Nell from 2010’s THE LAST EXORCISM.) But Mary’s quiet demeanor, bordering on being aloof, makes Shannon uneasy. Regardless, Mary, in a simple dress, can kill with the best of them – think of Elizabeth McGovern in “The Twilight Zone” episode “Two.” Both woman capture characters with a light and a dark side, trying to find balance in a world where anything goes, and where the idea of “humanity” is in question.

Some reviewers have stated that the characters lack development. I guess they have trouble grasping the idea of subtlety, or that dialogue reveals only so much. Passmore brings us good characters that have to be bad in order to survive, and a group of “bad” characters that, well, have to be bad in order to survive. The quintet’s nemesis is Father (Michael Eklund), who is trying to raise two children while feeding his extended family. He’s not leading a gang or even a horde, but a group of hunter-gatherers trying to protect their little village as they scour for meat. Cannibalism is not a life choice here, but something born of necessity. Father is in effect a fledgling feudal lord, trying to maintain order in a group that can turn on him – and eat him – at any moment. But he’s not worried about himself, he’s only concerned about the future for his children, though he may sacrifice the bulk of his collective if need be to prove he can be a king of sorts. In this regard, Father represents early civilization, even at its most uncivil.

Passmore’s characterization in THE DAY is just enough to help us get our bearings to see how the tale plays out. Unfortunately, what plays out happens at night, and this is where either Aarniokoski, or Mojsovski, or both, fail the audience. The washed out look of the day becomes overwhelmingly dark at night, which means it’s extremely difficult, and ultimately impossible to follow the action. We can see the glint of metal and muzzle flashes during the battle, and hear the cries of the wounded and dying, but we see very little. If anything. Then again, this excessive use of unrelenting darkness may be symbolic. In this case, the filmmakers may be stating that both sides are the very same. Therefore, whoever’s left at the end of the day is all that matters when survival comes into play.

The only other fault with the film is the CGI effects from Switch VFX. Granted, most are excellent, but I’m tired of the third-rate computer generated blood spatter, which is so easy to spot. Additionally, the one “bayonet scene” is off kilter and needs to be refined.

Beyond the rock solid ending, Passmore brings us the strongest element everyone worked hard to capture: theme. And what the filmmakers ask is quite simple: How does one maintain humanity in an inhumane world? Granted, there’s no easy answer. In fact, it may be rhetorical. (Rumor has it that the cannibal clan were originally supposed to be zombies. If the change hadn’t been made, the through line of theme would have been a non-factor, and the movie would have left little emotional impact on the audience.) We’re also left to wonder, in our hubris and self-entitlement, at least in American culture, if we really can band together to recreate a new world once this one falls by the wayside. Passmore and Aarniokoski clearly believe otherwise, and in an intelligent manner give us food for thought, especially when an older generation representative meets up a young up and comer. What happens next? Will we meet on common ground to move forward as a species? Again, the audience must discuss and come to their own determination. Aarniokoski and company have presented an extended scene, and we must imagine the rest.

The three staples of logos, ethos, and pathos come into play, making THE DAY a far cry from a “leave your brain at the door” slasher horror. The film is an entertaining and intelligent enterprise designed to raise questions in our collective consciousness, and not to have us cry foul. Rent it now, and judge for yourself.

4 out of 5 stars

(Movie poster photo from Worleygig.)