The Elevation of THE DARK TOWER (2017) by Jonny Numb

Idris Elba Matthew McConaughey[95 minutes. PG-13. Director: Nikolaj Arcel]

Adaptation is a funny thing.

Regardless of what route you take, you will take heat from fans of the source material.

Someone – online or elsewhere – will accuse you of “ruining the book(s) forever” (even though that’s total bullshit).

One example in particular that galled me – Christ, 17 years ago – occurred on a Yahoo! Club for author (and professional crank) Bret Easton Ellis. The forum was sparsely-populated, yet the conversation was always active. The long-gestating film version of American Psycho had finally seen release, and the consensus among the Club members was divided. I thought it was an excellent adaptation, but one of the other members took a different track, arguing that the excised extremes of sex and violence – which comprised the novel’s crude backbone – rendered it an unfaithful telling.

Making a 95-minute version of The Dark Tower is as counterintuitive as cracking a fortune cookie with a sledgehammer. It has no reason to work. King devoted seven novels of varying girth to this epic tale, and to capture its essence in such an abbreviated amount of time is madness.

Yet…if you’re looking for that essence, it works. Somehow.

“Good enough for Government work,” as the saying goes.

People who dig on the Harry Potter novels or Lord of the Rings are often vehemently unflagging in their enthusiasm: certain diehard fans will absolve a sacred series of any transgression, while some will raise issues that nonetheless don’t detract from the enjoyment of said series. In most cases, people who begin a book series finish it, and come to view the individual volumes as a cohesive whole, to the point where it’s just plain Harry Potter, not Harry Potter and Whatever Subtitle.

I’m in a unique position with The Dark Tower series because I’m not particularly fond of all its parts. The self-indulgence and running-on-fumes storytelling evident in Song of Susannah (book 6) and The Dark Tower (book 7) turned me off, and transformed something that had begun with great promise (not to mention storytelling economy – The Gunslinger (book 1) came in at well under 300 pages) into a disappointment by its end. With a devoted fanbase that would finish the series regardless, King’s kitchen-sink, “fuck it” mentality left a bitter aftertaste.

Based on this, I was willing to give Nikolaj Arcel’s film adaptation the benefit of the doubt, and embrace the streamlined approach to the tale.

This could be a reflection of my own ongoing fatigue with Hollywood’s current daze of “blockbuster brain,” epitomized by this year’s shiny – yet awfully empty – Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. (And how long will Avengers: Infinity War be? Six hours with three bathroom-break intermissions? But I digress.) With studios operating under the notions of dwindling box-office receipts and dried-up physical-media sales, the last option, outside of 3D and IMAX, is, well, making movies longer.

Because more minutes equals more entertainment, amirite?

Yes, The Dark Tower does signify a mass condensing of King’s prose. Taking bits and pieces from up to the fifth book (The Wolves of the Calla – my personal favorite), it simplifies the plot, doesn’t take enough time to establish the quirks and rules of its interdimensional logic, and relegates some characters (such as Jackie Earle Haley’s Sayre) to cameo status.

But I didn’t mind too much.

The tale of Roland Deschain – aka Roland of Gilead, the last in a long line of Gunslingers – and his quest to defend the fabled Dark Tower (which keeps life across all dimensions in balance) from ageless sorcerer Walter (Matthew McConaughey), is engaging, old-fashioned fantasy-adventure stuff, told with a keen attention to aural and visual detail. The story begins, however, with Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a boy “blessed” with psychic visions of the titular Tower. When he discovers an interdimensional portal in a crumbling New York City mansion, he enters another world, where he quickly meets Roland and becomes an unlikely sidekick on his quest to defeat Walter, whose ultimate goal is to bring the Tower down, thus raining chaos on humanity.

The performers convey an eclecticism that’s fitting to King’s text: as Roland, Idris Elba possesses the imposing physical frame and a Spaghetti-Western stoicism, but is also tender and vulnerable – it’s a brilliant bit of casting. McConaughey is also good, resisting the urge to mug or fall back on his looks; Walter plays to his smugness in a perfectly apt way – with an incantation or a wave of a hand, he murders people without hesitation, sometimes cracking an impish one-liner after. There’s a spectral quality to Walter that adds an element of unpredictability to the proceedings, and Arcel makes fine use of simple camera pans to spring surprising reveals. As Jake, Taylor is a standout presence – never veering into precocious or obnoxious territory, he’s wise and astute and a more-than-worthy sidekick to the grizzled Roland.

In addition to Earle Haley lurking in the margins, I also appreciated the inclusion of genre faces Abbey Lee (The Neon Demon) and Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods) as the grunts working behind the scenes at Walter’s lair.

Arcel handles the action with efficiency, and even the quieter character moments never feel sentimental or indulgent. Ditto his reverent winks to characters, monsters, and places from throughout King’s oeuvre. As adaptations go, Tower doesn’t lean on exposition like, say, Tim Burton’s dreary adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. We are given enough detail to keep the plot cohesive, enough character development to keep us invested, and enough action to keep us anticipating what will happen next.

The Dark Tower is not a masterpiece; it’s just enough.

3 out of 5 stars

(Photo of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey via Desktop Wallpapers.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb

(Aka Jonathan Weidler), he only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

THE LAST KNOCK PRESENTS: Five Star Horror – The Scariest

The Last KnockDo you want the scariest horrors out there? Thanks to the amazing Dee Emm Elms, we have a whole new series to bring you: Five Star Horror!

That’s right, it’s all about the best of the best in the genre. So to kick it off right, we discuss the ultimate horror films that bring the fear.

Now, hide in the corner, start trembling, and keep one eye open as we bring nothing but the best damn scariest Five Star Horror films to keep us awake at night.

Of course, this show’s dedicated to Dee Emm Elms! Now check out the author’s book, Sidlings.

Thanks again, Dee Emm for the Five Star Horror suggestion!

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@d_m_elms @Scream_Factory @michasloat @OliviaHusseyLA @AFiendOnFilm @ShoutFactory @jeffreygoldblum @palkodesigns @synapsefilms @Art_Hindle @VicsMovieDen @Oren_Peli @DavidSchmoeller @sm_henley @LinneaQuigley @iamgoreblimey @katiedianne @terry_oquinn @mastermystery7 @ArrowFilmsVideo @LoudGreenBird @blunderground @J2thecarpenter and Paul J. Williams

A Large Buttered Popcorn with Fiery Death, Please! by Ron Shaw

Recently, an excellent, thought-provoking article, “A Dinner with George” by Isaac Thorne, was featured at Crash Palace. Isaac’s nostalgic, heartfelt piece on George A. Romero and his iconic masterpiece (IMO) of Night of the Living Dead captured my thoughts and memories of yesteryear, launching me mentally into the past, reflecting somewhat on how and why horror and science fiction films impacted my life.

During my years of youth, the concoction of real-life horrors and fantasy ones on the big, white screen were indeed a strange brew that some may have suggested were unworthy of human consumption. The bitterness of reality is always a poor dish served, neither sweet nor savory.

I was born eighteen months before the end of the Korean War. Like post World War II, soldiers returning stateside proceeded as best and as quickly as they could to find hearth, home, and procreation, if they hadn’t done so before serving. After all, why would “Dear John” letters exist without pre-war girlfriends and sometimes, wives.

My youth was partially spent feasting on horror and science fiction movies of the day… while in a real way trying to find a path to minimally comprehend and survive the seemingly constant onslaught of reports of the gloomiest nature from here and abroad that we may be headed into another war ─ especially one featuring the unfettered use of nuclear weapons. As we were taught with alarming regularity, this next one would be the war that would truly end all wars and life on this blue planet as we had only begun to be taught, discover, and appreciate it.

Sound familiar?

In dimly-lit rooms of flickering fiction and most regrettably almost everywhere else in nonfiction, the atomic age of real or imagined horrors had landed on us. In frightening movies, we were fed disaster as salty and warm as a box of never-ending popcorn, and in our daily lives in school, we practiced, rehearsing our nuclear attack procedures even more often than our fire drills. A horrible, fiery death was either one atomic bomb, one gigantic, nuked insect, or a single assassin away.

Like most Americans who lived during these years, I’ll never forget the day our president was shot and killed. It had happened during a school day. After a school wide nuclear attack drill, we were called to the school’s auditorium for the dire announcement. John F. Kennedy’s assassination exacerbated the growing feelings of despair, fear and futility for us grade school kids in our tumultuous neighborhood, an Atlanta, governmental, housing project.

In addition to carrying a full lunch sack of horrors, back in the 60’s, during the national manhunt for another assassin, we’d learned from the news media that the fiend who had killed Martin Luther King, Jr. had abandoned his still warm and smoking getaway car, a Ford Mustang, on our turf, parking it on a city street beside our elementary school, Ed. S. Cook, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The deadly, racist serpent had escaped, slithering from this location beside our school playground. By the time his Mustang was located, reportedly, the crazed shooter was supposedly fleeing to a foreign country directly passed the front door of our apartment en route to Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, heading north.

Death seemed to live and thrive within our Capitol Homes neighborhood. Surely, we and Atlanta were vital targets for atomic bombs raining down on us from the USSR!

Our warring history, present conflict maybes, and future prognosis had signaled to those in the universe beyond Earth that we were not worthy of club membership in a rational, intellectual, evolved, peace-loving, universal community of beings. In 1951, the sternest Einstein-worthy-ray-of-oblivion-across-the-bow-of-Earth to date was issued within the film classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. Obviously, we were not feeling Gort.

Concurrently, during the fifties and sixties as fictional fodder fallout from our past use, continued testing, and potential abuse of atomic weapons, a plethora of gigantic creature features swept big screens of drive-in and air-conditioned, walk-in theaters across the country ─ Godzilla (1954), Them (1954), and Mothra (1961) to name a few. How many times and ways must we be warned?

From the nuclear testing grounds of the western USA, to the depths of the Pacific, and from the entirety of Japan and the seas around the island, came massive monsters like we’d not seen in such numbers, appetites, or propensity. All were bent on avenging that which reckless humans had wreaked. In self-preservation mode, nature was fighting back in horrific, non-nurturing ways.

It’s shocking how much difference ten to fifteen years in age can make where and when you view a great horror film or the works of a fine horror director like Isaac Thorne writes about. I very much enjoyed reading about Isaac’s life, feelings, and experiences in conjunction with Romero’s film.

Thorne’s article also caused the above and below reflections on my life when Night of the Living Dead hit the scene. Back in 1968, we were well accustomed to black and white films and television. In short, the use of classic black and white in photography and films held on for as long as the world in those days remained in its drab shades of carnage. I’d be inclined to think for some of these people, the true colors of it all may have been too harsh in an all too real way.

In 1968, I would turn seventeen and the potentiality of going away, experiencing Vietnam, was only a year off, if I didn’t volunteer first. But where I came from you didn’t volunteer for Jack or his rabbit because “the man” shopped for warm bodies and weak minds in our impoverished area with great regularity. The poor are easily forgotten.

So, in 1968, Night of the Living Dead became the perfect metaphor for the prospects of carnage and futility of a bright future we “boy-men” were experiencing daily.

In Atlanta, among other odd jobs, I worked as a soda jerk at a drug store located across the street from one of the oldest, busiest, and largest funeral homes in Atlanta. Back then, the boys, men now, were coming home in great numbers in pieces in body bags. Some were friends from high school and later, college.

It became increasingly difficult to be entertained by make believe death and fantasy mayhem in a movie during this bleak period. In some forms of entertainment such as films, like Night of the Living Dead, it seemed they took on a more sinister meaning than simply being a brief time spent enjoying something unreal.

At times, it felt as if the dead were all around us. During these moments, the “Barbras” in living color, moms, wives, daughters, friends, and girlfriends were as hysterical, fetal, and in frightened tears as the Barbra in black and white on the big screen.

Often, those brave soldiers who did make it home alive were reduced to a state of living while walking dead. Nobody seemed to care, but the funeral homes, alcohol, drug, and methadone clinics, and much more sadly, Veteran’s Administration hospitals, were thriving businesses.

In the sixties and seventies, a heroin epidemic was also sweeping the nation. Once again, death and destruction were as formidable as the dead rising from the grave. Many veterans who had made it back succumbed to a less obvious enemy, trying to “inject” and often drink their post traumatic stress disorder and nightmares of war away.

Yes. It can be both sad and obvious to see how at times art can imitate life and death, and comprehend why it becomes a direct reflection on the reality of life through films. In respect to Night of the Living Dead, these factors appeared to be mutually exclusive in comparison and even sensory numbing in the end when the living dead and living became merely target practice for robotic men with hair triggers on their weapons with plenty of ammo at the ready.

“They’re coming to get you Barbra (or Bob)” took on a true deadly meaning when Uncle Sam’s letter to report for your physical for the draft arrived in the mail. I would think most high school boys were ill-equipped to handle such potentially deadly realities.

Like hundreds of thousands of young boys, I had a 2S draft exemption status while attending college in Macon, Georgia. Slowly and methodically, the government began ending the draft exemption for most, if not all, students, depending on your date of birth and luck of the lottery draw. We’d soon learn bingo had never been so intense.

In 1971 while in college, my lottery time had arrived. As we know, several Vietnam draft lotteries were conducted, starting in 1970. The strong rumor mill, also implied by the media, had it that if your number was two hundred or lower, say goodbye frat row and hello Vietnam. It was a somber crew of boys that day at Mercer University watching the drawing live at our Kappa Sigma lodge. The atmosphere was a direct opposite – a dire, visceral, and visual juxtaposition of when we gathered at the lodge to enjoy Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” each week huddled close to our dates.

For those fighting the war, their potential Night of the Living Dead became at least one tour, if they survived that long. Life had become as black and white as death back then.

After that lottery, I think they drafted numbers up to around one hundred. At the time, I was somewhat optimistic with a guarded sigh of relief since my lottery number was above one hundred and fifty. To this day, I regret those feelings while so many had stepped up voluntarily to answer the call or had reported as ordered once drafted. To me at least, a debate on whether any war is just or not is almost as futile as Tom living beyond the day after his Night of the Living Dead.

Not serving my country during this time is one my greatest regrets in life. , I also cowered in the basement, unwilling to step forward, helping at minimum to join with those willing to stand and fight regardless of self.

Isaac, your piece was excellent!

(Photo of Night of the Living Dead from Pittsburgh Haunted Tours. Photo of Ron Shaw from the author.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Ron Shaw

Ron Shaw is an Atlanta, Georgia native who currently resides in metro Atlanta with his wife and daughter. In1974, he graduated from Georgia State University with a B.A. degree in English Literature. In 1996, he retired from the Atlanta Police Department with the rank of Captain. In 2013, with “Seven Fish Tree,” he began his writing career. Since writing his initial book, he has authored other novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, and poetry. As his published works indicate, Ron enjoys writing in a wide variety of genres like romance, horror, humor, travel, young adult, coming of age, science fiction, paranormal, erotica, visionary and metaphysical, among others.

Check out the man on Twitter, Amazon, and his website!

 

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Monster Makers: Rob Bottin

The Last KnockRob Bottin rocked the world with his phenomenal practical effects work in John Carpenter’s The Thing. But wait, there’s more – much more – and we explore the special effects artistry of one of cinema’s very best.

We’ll dive into his work in everything from Piranha and The Fog to The Howling and Se7en, and other films throughout Rob Bottin’s stellar career.

Rob Bottin is the latest in our “Monster Maker” series, so punch that title into the search engine and check them out!

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@Schwarzenegger @MachineMeanBlog @TheRickBaker @MelanieMcCurdie @THETomSavini @OwenMcCuenQuest @JaredLeto @joe_dante @ValeriePrucha @john_sayles @Israel_Finn @BarbaraALeigh @SiaraTyr @jamieleecurtis @HelenaBonhamCar @AFiendOnFilm @abarbeau @dixiefairy @TheHorrorMaster @dkarner @william_lustig @inthenightdoc @RogerCorman @lvfifo @Dee_Wallace @TTBOProductions @KathleenQuinlan4reeL @mariaolsen66 @TomCruise @DonRiemer @RealNancyAllen @patricia_eddy @tahitismith @RealJillyG @TheMarshallBell @VicsMovieDen @sharonstone @LoudGreenBird @TerryGilliam @RSBrzoska @EdwardNorton and Paul J. Williams

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Hodgepodge of Horror X

The Last KnockYes, it’s Hodgepodge of Horror X! No, not soft porn, silly head. It’s our longest running series  where we take a look at various horror film from the most recent to that old black-and-white stuff!

And on Hodgepodge of Horror X, we’re going to talk about… Well, we’re not going to tell. Listen in, be surprised, and enjoy the show. Hell, keep a list, watch the movie, and let us know what you think right here at Crash Palace.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@TheGlennClose @THW_Podcast @sennialn @mattdusk @MccarthyColm @SamesCarolyn @VancityReynolds @isaacrthorne @flanaganfilm @AnnThraxx @AnnaliseBasso @GuyRicketts @luluwilson @ianchampion1 @Paul_Hyett @RonGizmo @nickostler @TraCee_tr @Huckywucky @DavidWilde49 @Tippi_Hedren @RealJillyG @JamesCullenB @billoberstjr @palkodesigns @TotalZackWard @AFiendOnFilm @tomgreenlive @dixiefairy @GreggBishop @MFFHorror @Chillamson @d_m_elms @bruckmachina @RSBrzoska @judaspriest @LoudGreenBird @BillyZane @VinegarSyndrome @jadapsmith @JohnKassir @CCHPounder @Wm_Sadler @ChasFleischer @redbox

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Camps of Horror

The Last KnockThis isn’t a snipe hunt! Seriously! Then again, maybe it is… but with Camps of Horror, you never know until it’s too late.

So pitch your tent, roast your weenie, and watch out for the guy behind you with an ax to grind, as we explore Camps of Horror. We’ll look at the tried and true, from Friday the 13th to Sleepaway Camp, to a few places your parents failed to leave you for the summer.

This is your last bit of fun before the lights go out, the place gets quiet, and you start to sleep when you hear that branch break outside. Yeah, you know what’s coming next with Camps of Horror, and it ain’t pretty!

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@loveandmonsters @vitotrabucco @palkodesigns @THETomSavini @GorillaProducer  @WeinsteinFilms @stycks_girl @GrumpyOldRick @JohnnyVeins @Felissa_Rose @nicolemalonso @JonnyTiersten @OklahomaWard @IjasonAlexander @RonGizmo @dkarner @fastelk @AtlantisKane @MelanieMcCurdie @RealRonJeremy @d_m_elms @Scream_Factory @FriscoKidTX @RSBrzoska @dixiefairy @MachineMeanBlog @LoudGreenBird and Paul J. Williams

At Dinner with George by Isaac Thorne

I was having dinner with a good friend the evening of July 16 when I heard the news. As most folks do these days, my dinner guest and I occasionally glanced at our phones to check notifications and create replies on social media during our meal. Don’t judge. We’ve known each other for a long time now, and we’re comfortable that way. At one of her Twitter checks, my friend turned to me and said, “Some big horror person named George has died.” The name that automatically appeared in my head and from my lips was, unfortunately, the correct one. The father of the modern zombie apocalypse, George A. Romero, had passed away at the age of 77 after a brief battle with lung cancer.

It wasn’t long before the Twitterverse exploded with tributes, all well deserved.

Contrary to many kids of the 1970s and 1980s, my first encounter with Romero’s work was not an airing of Night of the Living Dead on late-night independent television. I believe the first Romero movie I ever saw was 1982’s Creepshow, the EC Comics tribute collaboration with Stephen King. I think I saw it in a hotel room while on a trip with my parents. The hotel in question just happened to have HBO – I believe that it was HBO, anyway – and that particular night HBO just happened to be showing Creepshow. I was both amused and terrified, and I think that might have been the point that I became not a fan of Romero, but of King.

I am ashamed to say that I learned little about Romero in the years after I first saw Creepshow, aside from what I later read in a mass market paperback edition of Stephen King’s 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre. I don’t know whether I should attribute that to my own teenage horror fan laziness, or the fact that Romero was routinely shafted and rebuffed by the larger film industry, so I was less likely to notice him. It was not until I started college in the very early 1990s that I first saw the original Night of the Living Dead. I believe I saw it on an episode of the Joe Bob Briggs B-movie showcase Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater, back when it aired on The Movie Channel, which was Showtime’s other cable property at the time. Briggs aired Night of the Living Dead as a double feature along with the 1990 Tom Savini remake of the same name, bookended by interviews with some of the original cast.

Over time, Romero has developed an enormous iconoclastic reputation in horror filmmaking, and his films have been dissected over and over as social commentary. Although I was of college age the first time I saw the film and attending a liberal arts university, I didn’t at first get the apparent 1960s subtext of Night of the Living Dead. I grew up partially in the me decade, so I suppose my natural instinct at that time of my life was to try to make the films I watched somehow about me. And so it was with Night of the Living Dead.

My early college days were a dark time for me. Yes, the United States was engaged in the first Gulf War, and rushing headlong into an economic recession. However, above all that for me was the fact that I knew my childhood was officially at an end. In my youth, I doubt anyone could ever have accused me of wanting to grow up too fast. I was happy being a kid. At the time, my impression of being a grown up meant nearly killing yourself every day to make ends meet, feeling like you were a failure at family, and being angry all the time. I figured that was no way to live a life, but I could also see no way out of that eventuality. I knew that once I graduated college, the immediate expectations for me would be to nail down a comfortable salaried job, start a family, and buy a house. It was the American dream, yes, but it wasn’t my dream.

Watching Ben and Barbra board up that old farmhouse while the apocalypse shambled toward them, ready to eat them and their futures alive, felt like a metaphor for my existential crisis in those days. I was Ben and Barbra, furiously attempting to maintain a small pocket universe of normal by closing up any portal to the outside world I could find. I was building walls where walls were not supposed to exist to keep out the reality that was ever so slowly closing in on me from every side of my simple little existence.

If I wanted to extend that metaphor today, I would add that attempting to build such walls is useless. The world scrambles over those walls. In Night of the Living Dead, it comes through in emergency broadcasts on the radio and the television. It breaks through even more forcefully with the arrivals of Harry, Helen, Karen, and Tom, the extended emergency family of Ben and Barbra, who bring with them their wants and desires that are antagonistic to the dream of preservation pursued by Ben and Barbra. They are united in their desire to keep the dangerous world out, yet divided as to both the why and the how of it.

“That cellar’s a death trap,” Ben says when Karl insists on squirreling his family away in the lowest portion of the house. It turns out to be prophetic for Karl and family, but not for the reasons Ben fears.

After I saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time, I immediately wanted to watch it again. Fortunately for me, I had recorded that episode of Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater. Not only did I enjoy both versions of the film over and over again while I was in college, but I returned to that tape many times in the years after I graduated. Perhaps I wanted to remind myself of what I had been so afraid of turning into back then. Maybe I wanted to tell myself that turning into what I feared is still and always will be a genuine danger.

I haven’t owned a working VCR for many years, but I’m pretty sure I still have that old VHS recording of Joe Bob’s Drive-In stored in a drawer somewhere. I’d love to dust it off again in memory of the man who, unbeknownst to him, helped me face some genuine fears in my past.

Thank you, Mr. Romero. The horror-loving world’s everlasting gratitude might not be enough to make up for the shaft you got from the film industry many times over, but in my heart, I do hope you understand what a difference you made in people’s lives; in mine, anyway.

Rest in peace.

(Photo of George Romero from Geek Tyrant. Photo of Isaac Thorne from the author.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

ISAAC THORNE

He’s the author of several short tales of dark comic horror. He’s a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. Over time, he has developed a modest ability to spin a good yarn. Really. He promises. His collection of short tales of dark horror, Road Kills, will be available in both paperback and ebook formats in October of 2017.

Check out the man on Amazon, IMDb, Facebook, and at his website.

 

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Remembering George A. Romero

The Last KnockGeorge A. Romero brought the world a new kind of ghoul in 1968 with his seminal film, Night of the Living Dead. Since then, the social conscientious independent went on to write, produce, and helm many films around his adopted city of Pittsburgh.

Romero wasn’t just an indie filmmaker, but a career maker for some and an inspiration to others. We’ll look at this renowned gentleman and his life, and his work from the remainder of his “dead” series, to Martin, Creepshow, and more.

Horror lost a beloved director and master of the genre on July 16, but we extend our condolences and very best wishes to his family and friend because they lost much more.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@THETomSavini @TheRealKenForee @Jamplas @StephenKing @TedDanson @abarbeau @LynnLynnlowry @G_Nicotero @LoriRogal @timhutton @RookerOnline @JohnLeguizamo @JordanPeele @palkodesigns @TraCee_tr @AFiendOnFilm @LoudGreenBird @JessicaCameron_ @RonGizmo

TRUTH OR DARE (2013) by Jonny Numb

[84 minutes. Unrated. Director: Jessica Cameron]

I’ve only done one interview for THE LAST KNOCK podcast, but it was very special: back in early 2014, I spoke with Jessica Cameron, who was on a promotional kick for her directorial debut, Truth or Dare. I knew of her status as a prolific, hard-working actor and rabid adherent of the genre, but it wasn’t until I spent a fast-moving hour with her (via Skype) that I realized I was in the presence of a promising new horror filmmaker.

Truth or Dare is not without its flaws – which I’ll get to – but it also does a lot of things very well, considering the limited setting, cast, and resources. It’s hard to keep a feature-length movie confined to a single location interesting and exciting, but Cameron finds a way.

True to its title, the film doesn’t flinch from horrible things – it’s also so saturated with screams, shouting, and agony that my neighbors probably thought someone was being murdered in my apartment.

Other than some fleeting comedic asides and a satirical element that recalls the likes of Natural Born Killers and Funny Games, Truth or Dare takes its extremes seriously. The setup, however, is pure Saw territory that evolves, with mounting dread, into the no-(wo)man’s land found in the latter Human Centipede films.

The plot is simple: a group of friends gain online notoriety by staging “truth or dare” videos with simulated life-or-death consequences. During a local talk-show interview, the group is confronted by crazed fan Derek (Ryan Kizer), a screw-loose nutcase unable to discern fiction from reality. On the night of their latest recording session, the friends find themselves taken hostage by this obsessed fiend, who escalates the stakes by revealing everyone’s hidden secrets.

The script (by Jonathan Scott Higgins and Cameron) knows its audience, and aims squarely for the horror discomfort zone: while the initial “truth”-telling by the reluctant participants comes across as a string of contrived tabloid behaviors, fetishes, and misdeeds, the actors are committed to making these details pay off in ways both visceral and emotional. Late in the game, when a mutilated and brutalized (but still breathing) character is shocked into consciousness by a bucket of her friends’ blood, Cameron has reached a level of degradation that few horror filmmakers ever achieve. It ain’t pretty, but goddamn if it isn’t effective.

The flaws of Truth or Dare are mostly innate to the setup…and, in a weird way, could be subliminal strengths. When the reality of the game settles in, the performances take a little time to find their proper footing – sometimes the hysterical reactions are overdone, while others don’t resonate enough. There are also moments where characters, free from their constraints and armed, could conceivably get the drop on Derek, but do not (though by the time this happens, everyone is implicated and chugging along with the game’s twisted logic). And as the emcee of the festivities, Kizer (invoking a cross between Charles Manson and Brad Pitt’s character in 12 Monkeys) is charismatic, albeit the type of deranged fan we’ve seen in many films; he acquits himself well as someone you love to hate, but also whose presence outstays its welcome.

But if the intent was for the viewer’s experience to reflect to characters’, Cameron has succeeded in spades.

The consistent surprise, in addition to the character-based revelations, is the film’s unflinching embrace of bloodshed. Carrie Mercado’s practical effects in Truth or Dare are stunning in their in-your-face brutality, and the actors convey every wound with disquieting conviction – the violence here is not “cool,” but closer to the messy, handmade gore you’d experience in, say, a Jim VanBebber film. Throughout, I also found myself thinking the effects were a spiritual heir to the pioneering extremes of Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Once the credits rolled, I was convinced of Cameron’s skills in front of and behind the camera, and in watching the supplemental interview footage on the DVD, was reminded of her genuine affection for the genre. Truth or Dare is a very distinct calling card that bodes well for her future directorial outings (including the Tristan Risk-starring Mania) – I can’t wait to see what horrible things she brings us next.

What’s Jessica Cameron up to now? A lot! Get the details at her website.

(Truth or Dare is available on DVD from Invincible Pictures, and digitally via online retailers.)

(Photo of Jessica Cameron via Nerdly.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Terror Technology

The Last KnockWithout technology, the western world would be living as if in the Dark Ages. To imagine life without a microwave, a personal computer, or a cell phone would make many souls break down in tears. However, if horror cinema has taught us anything, it’s that the things we love to cling to for ease or safety are illusions – and can be used against us at any time.

So join Billy and Jonny as they look at terror technology from Nightmare Weekend and Unfriended to Chopping Mall and Hardware – and other Frankensteinian like creations from metal, plastic, and such. Now, pat the top of your computer, treat your car to some air freshener, and don’t you dare turn your back on your wide screen television, and listen in…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@HORROREVERSION @TraCee_tr @damienleveck @RealJillyG @Gdl16 @OwenMcCuenQuest @KeyzKeyzworth @isaacrthorne @d_m_elms @TheFilmNoirGuy @rosebyanyother7 @RonGizmo @jacq0lantern @GuyRicketts @HellinspaceStor @cjzisi @LoudGreenBird @FriscoKidTX @dixiefairy @TheHorrorMaster @ImKeithDavid @RealMegFoster @BobbyBurke @GeorgeARomeros @billoberstjr @HeatherSossaman @JohnLeguizamo @barbaracrampton @RobertBEnglund @FrankTlevine @Kent_Harper @JuliaOrmond @ryan_the_ryan @DAVID_LYNCH @gordonkeith @StephenKing @RichardStanley7 @DylanMcDermott @StaceyTravis777 @MrJCLynch @IggyPop @RealCliveBarker @KristySwansonXO and Paul J. Williams