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Articles Archive
  October 2014

  Dir. Stephen Sommers, FX Supervisor Ben Snow, and Producers Bob Ducsay and Sam Mercer
discuss the process of combining mattes, miniatures and makeup with CGI to bring VAN HELSING to life. 

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  Suite from THE EXORCIST (1973) Unused motion picture score - L. Schifrin


      Slammed by critics (there are still those who despise this film), we've always felt this one of John Carpenter's best, most multi-layered works. But then again, making a horror film out of particle physics is probably asking for trouble, is it not?  A group of graduate students are invited by a priest (Donald Pleasence) to investigate an ancient vile of spinning green liquid secluded many years in a church basement.  In time it's discovered it is the physical embodiment of "Anti-God", the opposite force of "God", which is resident in the unexplored realm of anti-matter.  Now ready to "step into our world" the force begins taking over team members AND MIRRORS in order to bring forth the biblical Apocalypse as an alternate reality universe.  Whew!  You see why many tuned out.  But if you dig the sci fi / horror hybrid kind of thing, you'll dig PRINCE OF DARKNESS - realized with some of the most stunning (and disturbing) visuals since Bunuel / Dali's UN CHIEN ANDALOU.  Pleasence (of HALLOWEEN and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) is joined by other members of the "John Carpenter Stock Company" including Victor Wong and Denis Dun (both of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA), Peter Jason (a veteran of 6 other Carpenter thrillers), and character actor faves Jameson Parker, Lisa Blount and Dirk Blocker.


     At a time when studios were cutting back on the big budget excesses of the early to mid 1980s blockbusters in favor of a more independent minded model, PRINCE OF DARKNESS was part of a "1970s" era style brand of experimental financing and distribution inaugurated by Shep Gordon & Andre Blay's ALIVE Films, wherein filmmakers were given artistic / creative carte blanche and final cut with the stipulation that their product be brought in on schedule (approx. three weeks) and on budget (approx. $3 million).  Under this deal John Carpenter filmed PRINCE OF DARKNESS and THEY LIVE, and Wes Craven - SHOCKER and THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS.  Each film returned approx. $15 million, with UNDER THE STAIRS, the most expensive of the lot at $6 million, returning $31 million.  And a nifty bit of trivia: while written by John Carpenter, he credits the script to "Martin Quartermass" - an homage to the similarly themed British horror / sci fi QUATERMASS series.  One of Carpenter's best film scores on display here as well.  Look for rocker Alice Cooper as a sinister street person. 


      Okay, Guilty Pleasure time here.  Please don't hate us. Yeah, we know, THE DEVIL'S RAIN (for those who may not be aware) is one of the most reviled horror films in history.  It's silly, incoherent and damned slow moving. But it's a childhood fave which DOES have it's merits. The story is mumbo-jumbo about a Satanist (Ernest Borgnine) betrayed by a family hundreds of years ago, and who returns to retrieve from the descendents of that family (now including William Shatner, Tom Skerritt and Ida Lupino) a powerful book which can be used to imprison (or set free) thousands of souls trapped within a purgatorial glass container called "The Devil's Rain".  Despite the film's grade "B" ambitions however, it's performed with gusto by a game cast also including Keenan Wynn, Eddie Albert, and John Travolta in his film debut.  It's got stunning makeup work from PLANET OF THE APES' John Chambers.  And the opening main title sequence (featuring Hieronymus Bosch's infamous painting - "The Garden of Earthly Delights") is sure to induce nightmares.  Dig the bad-assed old-school movie poster too!  Hey, far as we're concerned it ain't Halloween till we've watched THE DEVIL'S RAIN.


#8 - THE FOG (1980)

      Writer / dir. John Carpenter's first film since the breakout success of 1978's HALLOWEEN was a rarity of it's day - a deliberately retro ghost story devoid of gore, which managed to thrill both fans of classic horror and slasher movie groupies equally. The undead crew of a clipper ship, deliberately sunk and plundered 100 years ago by the founders of a seaside town, return within a fog bank during the town's centennial celebration to wreck vengeance and to retrieve a precious golden artifact. Carpenter regulars Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Atkins rub shoulders with old school legends Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, John Houseman and others.  A WEIRD TALES pulp yarn come to life this is big time fun!



      Rubert Julian’s silent classic starring Lon Chaney today remains one of the most visually stunning films ever made.  From production design (the Paris Opera House interiors and ballroom were constructed on Universal Studios’ lot, and the exteriors utilizing the same cathedral set built for THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME two years piror) to Chaney’s mind boggling makeup and performance, few thrillers, even today, match it’s emotional and artistic whallop.  In one of the first adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s 1909 novel Chaney portrays the deformed and diabolical music lover who brings terror down upon the heads of the owners of the Opera house lest they make the woman he worships from afar a star.  While filmed in b&w, original prints featured the Bal Masque sequence in surreal hand painted two-tone Technicolor.  This has been restored to recent film, DVD and Blu-ray prints.


#6 - SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

      A fast and loose (though genuinely creepy and thrilling) adaptation of Washington Irving's classic Halloween story.  In this "R" rated version (yes, "R" rated!) scripted by SE7EN's Andrew Kevin Walker and legendary playwright Tom Stoppard (uncredited), Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is a 19th century NYC constable sent to the macabre upstate hamlet of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of brutal decapitations which the locals believe are perpetrated by the undead spirit of a Hessian mercenary executed by beheading during the American Revolution. A fantastic cast incl. Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken, Miranda Richardson, Jeffrey Jones and Christopher Lee; along with stunning (Oscar winning) production design, costumes, and one of Danny Elfman's most robust scores, make this Tim Burton's most enjoyable film in quite some time.



      Some films are seen as a child, and scare the bejeesus out of you; but then as an adult you say, "Is that all it was?". Not so with George Romero's still influential (and copied) 1968 low budget chiller.  For some unexplained reason (though a scientist on radio theorizes atomic contamination from an exploding satellite) the dead return to life with a hunger for human flesh; and a small band of disparate individuals, thrown together by chance, attempt to fend off, RIO BRAVO-like, a marauding horde after taking shelter in an abandoned farmhouse.  A simple premise done on a shoestring, but executed with such cinematic flair (the grainy documentary-like b&w is a kicker) it to this day packs the raw disturbing power of a late night fever dream.


#4 - WOLFEN (1981)

     The only narrative film to date from documentary film maker Michael Wadleigh (WOODSTOCK), this socio-political version of an early Whitley Strieber novel follows the investigation of a NYC homicide cop (Albert Finney) and coroner (a very funny Gregory Hines) pursuing a case of originally thought to be terrorist slash killings which may in fact be caused by a super intelligent (borderline supernatural) species of wolf hiding in the nocturnal shadows of the Big Apple.  Diane Venora, Tom Noonan, Dick O'Neil and Edward James Olmos (in one of his earliest roles) round out a great cast.  Along with THE SHINING and ROCKY this was one of the first films to employ the Steadicam camera to stunning effect as the creatures' POV.  Look fast for a quick cameo by singer Tom Waits as a bar owner.


#3 - THE BROOD (1979)

     David Cronenberg's take on the "evil children" genre (a'la VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and THE BAD SEED) is far and away the most terrifying, functioning as both a full throttle horror outing and (if you look closely enough) slyly funny satire on pop psychology. Oliver Reed stars as a psychotherapist who encourages patients to let go of suppressed emotions via "psychoplasmics", wherein the traumatized subconscious is vented via actual physical changes to the body. Thus encouraged, a woman (Samantha Eggar) in the midst of a hostile divorce and custody battle, miraculously gives birth to a brood of demonic children (some wonder if there's any other kind - ha!) who set out to murder those she feels have wronged her in life. It's (disturbing) climax - censored in Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain during it's original theatrical run, has since been restored for DVD / Blu-ray. This was LORD OF THE RINGS composer Howard Shore's first film. With the exception of 1983's THE DEAD ZONE he's scored every Cronenberg feature since.



     During the era of the FRIDAY THE 13TH-like slasher film, writer / director Wes Craven took things a psychological step further in his creation of Freddy Kruger, "the bastard son of a thousand maniacs", who haunts the nocturnal dreams of a group of teens - the parents of whom hold a dark secret in relation to Kruger's violent demise many years prior. Not since the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS has a single film caused an entire generation of film goers to not want to go to sleep upon returning from the theater. This film single-handedly turned independent studio New Line Cinema into a major production house. And though 25 years of sequels and remakes would follow, none have yet to pack the intensity (and intelligence) of this true original. Hey, it also features Johnny Depp in one of his earliest roles as Glen.



And finally, our choice of 

   Play "drum roll" ...

#1 - DEAD AND BURIED (1981)

     In today’s over-zombiefication of all media (from TV shows such as THE WALKING DEAD, the films WORLD WAR Z, ZOMBIELAND and even teen rom-coms like WARM BODIES) director Gary Sherman’s DEAD AND BURIED remains as fresh, clever, and downright chill inducing, as it did upon it’s relatively quiet Summer 1981 release, where, with the arguable exception of the inner city grindhouse theater circuit, it was shoved from public attention by higher profile films such as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, CLASH OF THE TITANS,  SUPERMAN II, STRIPES, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and even (gulp!) THE CANNONBALL RUN.  With a screenplay credited to the ALIEN / TOTAL RECALL writing duo of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (though Shushett admitted to little work on the project; his name on the poster a marketing ploy to gain production financing) this police procedural cum gothic horror yarn concerns the investigation into the brutal serial murders of visitors passing through the picture postcard coastal hamlet of Potter’s Bluff, and the horrifying discovery of the modern day resurrection of the dead.  Eschewing camp, and playing it’s (very wild) narrative card straight, the edict of the filmmakers was to create a very realistic “what if” scenario as to what it might genuinely take (from a physiological POV) to actually reanimate dead tissue; and what would the later physiological ramifications be when decomposition began to set in. 


     An early work from legendary character designer / makeup artist Stan Winston (THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN, PREDATOR, ALIENS, PUMPKINHEAD, JURASSIC PARK, IRON MAN), this "what if" aspect is most spectacularly played out in a montage sequence in which a local coroner reconstructs the caved-in face (sorry, no other way to put it!) of a young woman who will later be risen from the slab.  And today when many believe CGI has run amuck, Winston’s live-on-set / filmed-in-camera “burned screaming man” and “hospital needle in the eye” sequences still rate amongst the most nightmare inducing images ever captured. 

     Not only for Winston, but DEAD AND BURIED was an early career boost for it’s talented (and now very recognizable) supporting cast of character actors including Robert Englund (who’d go on to fame as Freddy Kruger), Lisa Blount (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN), Barry Corbin (NORTHERN EXPOSURE), Michael Currie (FIREFOX, G.I. JANE) and more.  

     While not an immediate theatrical hit out of the gates, over the next twenty years DEAD AND BURIED would build a fervent cult following of “horror connoisseurs” (us included) via the VHS dump bin, late night cable movie channel airings, and revival house screenings, until receiving a gorgeously restored, remastered and packaged Blu-Ray / DVD release from the gang at Blue Underground.  This impressive release also includes a bonus disc chock full of Halloween goodies such as a documentary of 20 year reminiscences from Shushett, Englund, Winston and more.  Enough to satiate the sweet (and sour) tooth of both the most demanding horror buff as well as the casual lover of a well structured mystery / thriller.

     For more on DEAD AND BURIED check out our popular "The Grindhouse: With Craig & Jim" podcast episode "DEAD AND BURIED: The Best, ... Which You've Never Heard Of". 

CEJ (10/22/14)                                  

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