IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SALEM’S LOT (1979)

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I read Salem’s Lot by Stephen King shortly after it was first published when I was in the 6th grade, and it was the first novel that ever truly scared me.  More importantly, as someone who spent his childhood watching Hammer Films and the Universal monster movies, it was the first book that ever truly entertained me.  It was that book that got me hooked on reading.

As such, my expectations were high when four years later the film version of SALEM’S LOT (1979) arrived as a TV movie directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul and James Mason.  And while it was well-received by critics and fans alike, I was somewhat disappointed by it.  I just couldn’t shake my feelings for the novel, which I felt was vastly superior.

The biggest disappointment for me at the time was the film’s interpretation of the story’s vampire, Mr. Barlow.  Barlow was creepy and terrifying in the novel, with lots of dialogue to back up his evil presence.  In the film, he was changed to a mute Nosferatu clone, and while he did indeed look frightening, the fact that the make-up resembled the classic 1922 Nosferatu make-up on Max Schreck was a let-down.

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Reggie Nalder as the vampire Barlow in SALEM’S LOT (1979).

Anyway, it had been years since I had seen the film version of SALEM’S LOT, and so I thought it was time to watch it again and place it IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.

In SALEM’S LOT, writer Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his childhood home of Salem’s Lot (Jerusalem’s Lot in the novel), drawn there by the Marsten House, a house that watches over the town like a demonic gargoyle.  In short, it’s the town’s haunted house. Ben has been obsessed with this house his entire life, an obsession that began when he ventured into the house as a boy on a dare and saw the hanging body of a man there, a man who while hanging opened his eyes and looked at him.

This moment is a perfect example of the difference between the movie and the book.  In the book, this scene, this image, although not even a major part of the plot, was one of its most frightening.  Indeed, for me, of all the scenes and images from the novel, this is the one that scared me the most back in 1975 and stayed with me the longest, the hanging man who opened his eyes.  In the movie, it’s mentioned briefly by Ben Mears in a conversation, and it’s nothing more than an afterthought. There you go.

So Ben returns home to write about the Marsten House and seek out old acquaintances, like Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia), who he starts to date. He’s writing about the Marsten House because he believes the house itself is evil, and as such it attracts evil.

And he’s right, because currently living in the house are two men, Mr. Straker (James Mason) and Mr. Barlow (Reggie Nalder).  Barlow is a vampire, and Straker is the man empowered with protecting him.  Together, they prey upon the townsfolk of Salem’s Lot, gradually changing nearly everyone in town into a vampire.  Unless that is, Ben Mears can stop them.

It’s a great story, but it plays better in the novel than in the movie, which is hindered by dated dialogue by screenwriter Paul Monash.

I was a huge fan of the TV show STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975-79) back in the day, and so at the time when I first saw SALEM’S LOT I gave David Soul who starred in the show a free pass. Watching it today was a different story.  Soul’s interpretation of Ben Mears has its problems, mostly because at times Soul seems to be sleepwalking through the role.  He also doesn’t do fear well.  When Ben Mears is supposed to be terrified, he comes off as more dazed than anything else.

By far, the best performance in the movie belongs to James Mason as Mr. Straker.  Of course, this comes as no surprise as Mason was a phenomenal actor who was no stranger to villainous roles.  His dark interpretation of Dr. Polidori in FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973) was one of the most memorable parts of that horror movie, and his villainous turn as attorney Ed Concannon in THE VERDICT (1982) was every bit as effective as Paul Newman’s lead performance as Frank Galvin.  Both men won Oscars for their performances that year, Newman for Best Actor, and Mason for Best Supporting Actor.  These roles are from the tail end of Mason’s career, which began in the 1930s and spanned five decades.

As Straker, Mason is frightening.  The scene where he taunts a priest is one of the best in the film.

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David Soul and James Mason in SALEM’S LOT (1979).

The rest of the cast, which is chock-full of character actors, is so-so.  In the key role of young Mark Petrie, the boy who loves monsters and monster movies, and the character who I obviously identified with when I first read the novel in 1975, Lance Kerwin is just okay.  Like David Soul, his interpretation of fear comes off more like a “deer in the headlights” daze.

Likewise, Bonnie Bedelia is okay as Susan Norton, but Lew Ayres is effective as school teacher Jason Burke, and unlike Soul and Kerwin, Ayres does do fear well.  Ed Flanders is solid as Dr. Bill Norton, and Geoffrey Lewis enjoys some fine moments as Mike Ryerson, especially once Mike becomes a vampire.  Veteran actors Elisha Cook Jr. and Fred Willard are also in the cast.

And while Reggie Nalder does look horrifying as Barlow in his Nosferatu-style make-up, ultimately he doesn’t make much of an impact in the movie because his scenes are few and far between.  Even though I prefer the Barlow character from the novel to the one here in the movie, I still would have liked to have seen the vampire more in the film.

The story, which flows naturally in the novel, with its expansive cast of characters, doesn’t flow as well in the movie, as the townsfolk and their personal issues play like characters in a soap opera.

Director Tobe Hooper, fresh off his success with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), definitely puts his personal stamp on the movie and creates some scary scenes. Chief amongst them is the creepy and very memorable scene- it might be the most memorable of the entire movie— of young vampire Danny Glick floating outside Mark Petrie’s window, beckoning to be let inside.  It’s certainly one of my favorite parts of the movie.

Another frightening image features Geoffrey Lewis’ Mike Ryerson as a vampire, sitting in a rocking chair.

But the biggest parts of the story strangely fall flat.  The end, for instance, when Mark and Susan enter the Marston house in search of Barlow, lacks the necessary suspense.  In the book, these scenes were terrifying.  In the movie, not so much.

The pacing is a little off as well.  The film runs for 184 minutes and originally aired on television in two 2 hour segments.  The bulk of the first half is spent introducing all the characters, while Barlow doesn’t really show up until the second part, and then things move very quickly, often too quickly.

The film did very well and earned high ratings, and for a while there was talk of turning it into a television series, but the idea never materialized.

I like the film version of SALEM’S LOT, and even though it hasn’t aged all that well, and is a bit dated— in contrast, the classic TV vampire movie THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) still holds up remarkably well today— it’s still a fun movie to watch, with some genuine creepy scenes, especially for a TV movie, and we certainly have Tobe Hooper to thank for that.  While the vampire is OK, and the leads meh, you do have James Mason chewing up the scenery as the diabolically evil Mr. Straker.

The biggest drawback is that the source material, the novel by Stephen King, is so darned good, it makes this above average thriller seem much more ordinary than it really is.

SALEM’S LOT is kinda like its vampire, Mr. Barlow.  Scary, but nowhere near as powerful as depicted in the novel by Stephen King.

—END—

 

LEADING LADIES: Linda Hamilton

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Linda Hamilton in probably her most famous role, as Sarah Connor in THE TERMINATOR (1984).

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.

Today on LEADING LADIES we look at the career of Linda Hamilton, who helped define 1980s cinema with her signature performance as Sarah Connor in THE TERMINATOR (1984).

In addition to her iconic portrayal of Sarah Connor in the TERMINATOR movies, Hamilton is also known for her role as Catherine Chandler on the TV series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1987-89).  Linda Hamilton has always been a favorite of mine, in spite of appearing in one of the worst monster movies ever made, KING KONG LIVES (1986)— by far the worst King Kong movie ever made.

Hamilton has 75 screen credits to date, and she’s still actively making movies today. Here’s a partial look at her career so far:

NIGHT-FLOWERS (1979) – Wafer – Hamilton’s film debut in a movie about rape and murder at the hands of two disturbed Vietnam vets.

RAPE AND MARRIAGE:  THE RIDEOUT CASE (1980) – Greta Rideout – Hamilton has the lead role in this TV movie based on the true story of Greta Rideout (Hamilton), an abused wife who was constantly raped by her husband John (Mickey Rourke).  The movie tells the story of how she fought back and charged him with rape, even though they were married.  Written by Hesper Anderson, who would go on to earn an Oscar nomination for her co-written screenplay for CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (1986) .

TAG:  THE ASSASSINATION GAME (1982) – Susan Swayze –  once again playing the lead, this time co-starring with Robert Carradine in a tale about a college assassination game turning deadly as it becomes the real thing.  Written and directed by Nick Castle, most famous for playing Michael Myers in the original HALLOWEEN (1978).

SECRETS OF A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER (1983) – Susan Decker – TV movie drama about a mother and daughter involved with the same man.  Katharine Ross plays the mother, Linda Hamilton the daughter, and Michael Nouri the man.

HILL STREET BLUES (1984) – Sandy Valpariso – recurring guest spot role on four episodes of Season 4 of the critically acclaimed TV show HILL STREET BLUES.

CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) – Vicky – big screen adaptation of the Stephen King short story was the first time I saw Linda Hamilton in a movie, and all I can say is I’m glad she made THE TERMINATOR that same year, because I did not like CHILDREN OF THE CORN at all and would have quickly forgotten Hamilton if not for her performance in THE TERMINATOR.  In spite of the source material, CHILDREN OF THE CORN is a pretty awful horror movie.

THE TERMINATOR (1984) – Sarah Connor – the movie that put Linda Hamilton on the map, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron.  Iconic movie, one of the most memorable from the 1980s, so much so that in terms of movies, it arguably defines the decade.  The movie that propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, and gave him his signature line, “I’ll be back.”  Also director James Cameron’s first hit, coming before ALIENS (1986) and long before TITANIC (1997).

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A girl and her dog.  Linda Hamilton and a canine friend in THE TERMINATOR.

Hamilton plays Sarah Connor, the target of Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, who’d been sent back in time to kill her, since she gives birth to the man responsible for leading the resistance against the machines in the future, and so the machines decide that if they kill his mother, he’ll never exist.  Of course, you’d think it would just be easier to kill him. Pure fluff, but masterfully done, and Hamilton is excellent as the unlikely heroine, a young woman who sees herself as a failure, then victim, and ultimately rises up as the savior of the human race.  By far, my favorite Linda Hamilton performance.

SECRET WEAPONS (1985) – Elena Koslov/Joanna – TV movie where Hamilton plays a Russian spy.  Directed by Don Taylor, who during his long prolific career directed several notable genre films in the 1970s, including ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and DAMIEN:  OMEN II (1978).

BLACK MOON RISING (1986) – Nina – Hamilton plays a car thief in this tale of thieves, FBI agents, and a super car, the “Black Moon.”  Co-starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Vaughn.  Story by John Carpenter, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

KING KONG LIVES (1986) – Amy Franklin –  If there’s one movie that Linda Hamilton should not have made, it’s probably this one.  Why in the world would director John Guillermin, whose career was nearly destroyed by his first Kong venture KING KONG (1976) ever agree to make a sequel ten years later?  Bad move, John!  This horrible sequel has gone down in film history as the worst Kong movie ever. And whereas the 1976 KING KONG has aged well and has gained more respect over the decades, the same can’t be said for this awful sequel.  It’s still as bad as it ever was.

GO TOWARD THE LIGHT (1988) – Claire Madison – TV movie about a young couple caring for their child who has been diagnosed with AIDS.  Co-starring Richard Thomas.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1987-89) – Assistant District Attorney Catherine Chandler- Hamilton’s second most famous role, after Sarah Connor in THE TERMINATOR, this modern-day update of the Beauty and the Beast tale featured Ron Perlman as the beast and Hamilton as the beauty, an assistant district attorney in New York City.

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Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman in the TV show BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

MR. DESTINY (1990) -Ellen Burrows – Comedy fantasy starring James Belushi and Michael Caine.

TERMINATOR 2:  JUDGMENT DAY (1991) – Sarah Connor- Hamilton reprises her role as Sarah Connor in this big budget sequel to THE TERMINATOR which featured some of the most cutting edge special effects of its day.  This time around Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is a lean mean fighting machine, while Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is warm and fuzzy.  Yup, in this sequel, Arnold plays a  “good” Terminator, helping the humans fight off an even more advanced and dangerous Terminator from the future.  Once again written and directed by James Cameron.

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A leaner, meaner Linda Hamilton in TERMINATOR 2:  JUDGMENT DAY (1991)

SILENT FALL (1994) – Karen Rainer – co-stars with Richard Dreyfuss and John Lithgow in this thriller about an Autistic boy who witnesses his parents’ double murder.

A MOTHER’S PRAYER (1995) – Rosemary Holmstrom – TV movie about a woman (Linda Hamilton) diagnosed with AIDS trying to raise her son as a single mother with the knowledge that she won’t be around for long.  Also starring Bruce Dern and Kate Nelligan.

DANTE’S PEAK (1997) – Rachel Wando – disaster movie about an erupting volcano.  With Pierce Brosnan.

RESCUERS:  STORIES OF COURAGE:  TWO COUPLES (1998) – Marie Taquet- TV movie about citizens rescuing Holocaust victims.

THE COLOR OF COURAGE (1998) – Anna Sipes – based on a true story, the movie chronicles the relationship between a white woman and a black woman.

BATMAN BEYOND:  THE MOVIE (1999) – Dr. Stephanie Lake – lends her voice to this animated Batman film.

SILENT NIGHT (2002) – Elisabeth Vincken- TV movie about a German mother (Hamilton) and her son on Christmas Eve in 1944 who find themselves bringing German and American soldiers together for one night.  Based on a true story.

MISSING IN AMERICA (2005) – Kate – Drama about a Vietnam veteran (Danny Glover) suddenly having to raise Vietnamese girl.

CHUCK (2010-2012) – Mary Bartowski – appeared in 12 episodes of the TV series CHUCK.

A SUNDAY HORSE (2016) – Margret Walden – Hamilton’s most recent screen credit, a drama about a horse and its young female rider.

Starting from about the early 2000s, the lead roles became fewer for Linda Hamilton, and she appeared more often in supporting roles. And the lead roles she did take were often in films that didn’t have the same resonance as the movies from her earlier days.

But she’s still busily acting, and so there are still more Linda Hamilton movies to come. And I for one am happy about that.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the career of Linda Hamilton, the subject of today’s LEADING LADIES column.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NECON 36 – The Most Electrifying NECON Yet!

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Necon 36 photo by Tony Tremblay

Panel audience at NECON 36.  Photo by Tony Tremblay.

NECON 36- July 21-24, 2016

Every summer, a group of writers and readers descend upon Roger Williams Convention Center in Bristol, Rhode Island for a writer’s convention unlike any other, NECON.

What makes NECON so special is that in addition to the first-rate writers’ panels, there is also ample time for socializing, meaning that you’ll have access to authors that you just don’t get anywhere else.  It’s the most laid back and casual con going.

I’ve been going to NECON since 2001.  This year’s NECON 36, was the most electrifying yet— literally!

THURSDAY July 21, 2016

Registration opened at 2:00 at the Roger Williams Convention Center on Thursday, July 21, 2016.  Authors Dan Foley and Jason and Jil Salzarulo hosted the first event, the Necon Primer for Newbies, an informal information session on what Necon is all about, for those first-timers, and this year there were quite a few folks attending Necon for the first time.  That’s a big reason why this year’s Necon was sold out, as attendance reached the capped number of 200 Necon Campers.  I did not attend this event, since I’m not a newbie, but I heard it was very successful.

At 10:00 the famous Saugie roast was held, where the campers partake in that famous grilled hot dog found only in Rhode Island.  For me, this first night is always special, as I get to see familar faces I haven’t seen since last year.  In this case it was extra fun hanging out with both L.L. Soares and Pete Dudar, as they both missed last year’s Necon.  I also got to see old friends Paul McNally, Morven Westfield, and Daniel and Trista Robichaud, who I hadn’t seen in about seven years!

FRIDAY July 22, 2016

With fellow Cinema Knife Fighters L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Pete Dudar, and newcomer Catherine Scully, I took part in the 10:00 Kaffeeklatsch:  The World Died Streaming:  The Year in Film in Theaters and Online.  This was our annual movie panel, which is always well attended, where we discuss the movies we’ve seen this past year.  There were tons of recommendations, but the hot topic this year wasn’t a movie but a TV show, as everyone was talking about the new Netflix TV show, STRANGER THINGS.  And it wasn’t just on our movie panel.  I think I heard STRANGER THINGS mentioned on nearly every panel I attended this year!  It definitely was the highest recommended show of the weekend.

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Yours truly and L.L. Soares at NECON 36.  Photo by Nick Cato.

As usual, we also received plenty of recommendations from Craig Shaw Gardner and Barbara Gardner.

After lunch, I attended the 1:00 panel The World Died Screaming:  Apocalyptic SF, Horror, and Fantasy, moderated by Douglas Wynne, and featuring Joe Hill, James Moore, Craig DiLouie, Lynne Hansen, and Mark Morris.  This panel focused on writing about the end of the world, especially in terms of the zombie apocalypse.  The point was made that these types of stories are popular because they resonate with people’s own fear of dying.

I next attended the 2:00 panel Not Dead Yet:  The State of Publishing Today, moderated by Matt Schwartz, and featuring Gina Wachtel, John Douglas, Sandra Kasturi, Ginjer Buchanan, and Jaime Levine.  The talk here centered on the Ebook trend which, rather than obliterating the traditional book publishing industry as some had predicted, has settled in nicely as a balanced alternative.  Ebooks and traditional print books seem to be coexisting together agreeably.  One area of growth in recent years that was not predicted was the growth of the audio book, which continues to grow as a market.

There was also discussion on the use of social media by authors to promote themselves and how today’s authors are extremely media savvy.

The 4:00 panel, The Scream of a Distant Sun:  Mixing SF and Horror, moderated by Brett Savory, and featuring Don D’Ammassa, Patrick Freivald, Erin Underwood, Linda Addison, and Gordon Linzner was a fascinating and highly entertaining and informative look at the way horror and science fiction go hand in hand, or not.  There was a lot of talk on getting the science right in a science fiction story, as getting the science wrong is a major turn off, so the advice to writers was do your homework.

There was talk about how movies like ALIEN (1979) while considered both horror and science fiction, are mostly horror, since its story about a monster can take place anywhere, not just in space. In pure science fiction, you can’t take the science out of the story.

There was also discussion on Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, originally considered a horror novel but in ensuing years it has been also classified as science fiction.

Don D’Ammassa, who with his vast personal library is one of the most well read people on the planet, is always a joy to listen to.  As usual, his comments were on the money and pointedly informative.  I could listen to him all day.

After dinner, it was time for the Official Necon Toast by Toastmasters Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory.  Tradition dictates that this toast pokes fun at the Guests of Honor, and Kasturi and Savory did not disappoint in this regard.  My favorite line came from Kasturi, who when speaking of Joe Hill, remarked that “it would have been nice had your dad showed up- Benny Hill.”  Of course, Joe’s real-life famous dad goes by a different last name, King.  Yep.  That King.

This was followed by Necon Update with Mike Myers (no, not that Mike Myers!) at 7:30, and Myers was funny as always.

After the Update, it was time for the NECON HALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONY.  The recipients this year were authors Stephen Bissette and Linda Addison.

At 8:00 it was time for the Meet the Authors Party, that special time at the con when you can buy books from your favorite authors and have them signed up close and personal.  No surprise, the biggest line this year was for Joe Hill.

I set up shop next to fellow authors and friends Nick Cato, L.L. Soares, Peter Dudar, Dan Keohane, and William Carl.  Always fun to sell and sign a book or two.

After the party it was time to socialize, and I was fortunate enough to sit down and have a long chat  with author Morven Westfield who I hadn’t seen in a few years.  It was great to catch up.  Morven started coming to Necon right around the same time I did, back in 2001.

Remember I called this the most electrifying Necon ever?  I wasn’t just talking about the electricity generated by the authors.  I’m also referring to the wild thunderstorm which descended upon us around 10:00 pm and blew wind-swept rains and insane lightning at us for quite some time.  Perfectly atmospheric!

During this time, I caught up with author Sheri Sebastion-Gabriel, among others.  It was also time for the “Rick Hautala Cigar Tribute” in which a bunch of authors gather around to smoke cigars in honor of Rick, who sadly passed away in 2013.  Rick, a best-selling author, was a Necon fixture.  I always enjoyed talking to Rick and listening to him speak on the panels. Every time I heard him speak I learned something new.  Speaking at the informal but emotional tribute were Rick’s wife Holly Newstein, and Christopher Golden.

The relentless thunderstorm with its brilliant lightning flashes went on into the night, as did the social gatherings, where friends chatted long past midnight—.

 

SATURDAY, July 23, 2016

After breakfast, I caught the 10:00 panel Panel by Panel:  The Peculiar Power of Horror Comics. moderated by Angi Shearstone, and featuring Jason Ciaramella, Rebekah Isaacs, Stephen Bissette, Joe Hill, and James Chambers.  The panel discussed the happy marriage between horror and comics. It also covered some history, explaining that the modern reign of superhero comics owes itself to the ridiculous reports decades ago that erroneously linked horror comics to emotional problems in children.  This led to the outright banning of horror comics in the 1950s.  Superheroes then stepped in to fill the void, and they’ve been going strong ever since.

For my money, the 11:00 panel, Broken on the Outside & In:  Experts Discuss Writing about Physical & Mental Trauma (and Their Effects) may have been the best panel of the weekend.  Moderated by K.H. Vaughn, it featured Karen Deal, Rena Mason, Ellen Williams, Marianne Halbert, and Mercedes Yardley in a fascinating discussion of both physical and mental trauma.  On the physical side, it covered how much punishment a character can really take and survive, and it also discussed when you can get away with exaggerating these things.  For example, in the Marvel superhero films, Tony Stark would be dead from brain injuries from all those impacts in his Iron Man suit, but audiences are perfectly comfortable to let this slide.  We suspend disbelief because this is a superhero story, and we don’t hold the lack of accuracy here against the storytelling.

On the mental side, the bulk of the discussion covered how to write characters with mental illnesses in a realistic way.  Do your homework and research both the illnesses and the treatments, which change from year to year, was the major advice.

There also was a wince-inducing frank discussion of autopsies and all that goes on in an autopsy room.

Great stuff!

After lunch it was time for the Guests of Honor Interview in which Toastmasters Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory interviewed Guests of Honor Joe Hill, Mark Morris, and Laura Anne Gilman. These interviews are always informative and enlightening, and today’s was no exception.

I caught the 2:30 panel Edge of Your Seat:  Pacing and Plotting the Thriller, in which moderator Bracken MacLeod and panelists Megan Hart, Michael Koryta, Chris Irvin, Sephera Giron, and John McIlveen discussed, among other things, how to pace oneself while writing a novel, including the use of outlines.

I missed the next two panels as I got caught up in a discussion about movies with L.L. Soares and Nick Cato that covered a lot of ground, and a lot of time.

After dinner, it was time for the Artists Reception which featured fine art work by the various artists in attendance this year, and also plenty of goodies and coffee.  The art show had a new venue this year, and the set-up was perfect.  Very comfortable with easy viewing access to the paintings and prints.

At 8:00 it was time for the first ever Necon “Pub Quiz” Trivia game, which in reality was a variation of Necon’s infamous “Game Show.”  This time around, volunteers were assembled into teams.  I was on Rebekah Isaac’s team, and we led the competition throughout, due mostly to having the knowledgeable Darrell Schweitzer on our team.  Alas, we finished in second place as we were overtaken in the final round, done in by a bonus round on music.

This was followed by A Very Special Episode which is code for the Necon Roast.  This year’s victim- er, honoree, was author Rio Youers, and he was a really good sport about the whole thing.  Host Jeff Strand did an awesome job, and other speakers included Christopher Golden, James Moore, Joe Hill, Linda Addison, Richard Dansky, and Matt Bechtel, among others.  This year’s roast also featured a new “lightning round” in which 10 folks each delivered a 30 second bit, and I was fortunate enough to be among this new group of ten.

The roast is always a highlight of the weekend.

Afterwards followed late night parties in the quad which go on into the wee hours of the morning, where we gather for the last time as a social group until next year.  The other event tonight was April Hawks shaving her head for charity.

Speaking of charity, this weekend my roommate and New England Horror Writers leader Scott Goudsward had himself “yarn bombed” for charity, as Trisha Wooldridge stitched an insanely ludicrous covering over him over the course of the weekend.  The final product had Scott resembling a long lost crew member of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

Necon 36 Cinema Knife Fight photo by Paul McNally

Cinema Knife Fighters Pete Dudar, Paul McMahon, Nick Cato, myself, L.L. Soares, and Bill Carl gather for a group photo by Paul McNally.  That’s NEHW head honcho Scott Goudsward lurking in the shadows in between Paul & Nick.

 

SUNDAY July 24, 2016

I attended the 10:00 panel Lessons Learned:  Moving from Tyro to Journeyman in which moderator P.D. Cacek and panelists Kristin Dearborn, Scott Goudsward, Dan Keohane, and Megan Arcuri-Moran discussed how they’ve moved on from being newbie writers and have gradually become established writers.  Their advice was on the money and invaluable.

At 11:00 it was the Necon Town Meeting in which awards were distributed to the winners  of this year’s Necon Olympic events, and the ensuing discussion involved all things Necon, thanking the volunteers, and looking ahead to next year by listening to suggestions and complaints.  Speaking of complaints, there weren’t any.  This is an awesome con any way you slice it.

As always, thanks go out to the Booth family who run Necon every year, especially to Sara, who’s done an awesome job leading the con, and also to Dan and Mary, and to Matt Bechtel.  And of course, we continue to remember Bob Booth, Sara and Dan’s dad, and Mary’s husband, “Papa Necon” himself, who passed away from lung cancer in 2013.  Bob and Mary founded Necon back in 1980, and his spirit continues to be felt at Necon.

Bob also founded Necon Ebooks, which published my first novel, first movie review collection, and first short story collection.

After lunch, it was time to say so long to everyone until next year, which is clearly my least favorite part of Necon.

I enjoyed a fun conversation with Carole Whitney, as she shared with me her love of Hammer Films and told me the story of how her love for horror began in 1958 when she saw HORROR OF DRACULA at the movies.  Great story!

And that’s what Necon is all about.  The people and their stories.

If you’re a writer and/or a reader, plan on one day making the pilgrimage to Necon, a one-of-a-kind con that is more than just a con; it’s family.  And it’s still going strong.

This year’s Necon was absolutely electrifying, and we had a thunderstorm to prove it.  Who knows what’s in store for next year?

Whatever it is, I’ll be there to find out.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MUMMY (1932)

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the mummy 1932 poster

Here’s my latest IN THE THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Boris Karloff classic, THE MUMMY (1932), appearing now in the August 2016 edition of the HWA NEWSLETTER, and it’s a reprint of a column which originally appeared in those pages back in August 2009.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT:  THE MUMMY (1932)

By Michael Arruda

“It comest to life!” screams its movie poster.  It’s a Universal monster classic from the 1930s, and it stars Boris Karloff, but it’s not FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  It’s THE MUMMY (1932).

THE MUMMY showcases a masterful lead performance by Boris Karloff as the undead mummy, Im-Ho-Tep, exceptional direction by DRACULA (1931) cinematographer Karl Freund, remarkable mummy make-up by Jack Pierce, and unlike FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, a music score.

The screenplay for THE MUMMY was written by John L. Balderston, no stranger to classic horror tales.  Balderston adapted the play used for the screenply for FRANKENSTEIN (1931), which of course was adapted from the Mary Shelley novel, and he also wrote one of the stage versions of DRACULA, which served as the model for the Universal Bela Lugosi movie DRACULA (1931).

THE MUMMY opens in 1921 in Egypt, where an expedition led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) has just discovered the remains of an ancient mummy, Im-Ho-Tep (Boris Karloff).  Doctor Muller (Edward Van Sloan) warns Whemple and his young assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) not to ignore the ancient curse discovered along with the mummy, but the young assistant is too eager, and as he reads from the Scroll of Thoth, behind him, the mummy awakes.

It is probably the film’s most famous scene.  As the words are read, the camera focuses on the dead mummy’s face, and ever so slowly, the eyes open, and then the arm slowly moves.  When the mummy takes the scroll, the young assistant bursts into uncontrollable mad laughter, and as we learn later, “he died laughing.”

The action switches to 1932 (which was present day when THE MUMMY was released).  Im-Ho-Tep has shed his bandages and is using the alias “Ardath Bey.”  The make-up here by Jack Pierce is superb.  Without his bandages, Karloff really does look like the walking dead.

imhotep

Jack Pierce’s haunting mummy make-up, turning Boris Karloff into the resurrected undead mummy, Im-Ho-Tep.

 

Im-Ho-Tep attempts to bring his long lost love, the princes Anck-es-en-Amon back to life.  He discovers that her soul is now in the body of Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who happens to be in love with Joseph Whemple’s son, Frank (David Manners).  Im-Ho-Tep wants to kill her so he can resurrect her as an undead, but Frank Whemple and Doctor Muller stand in his way.

johann - karloff

Helen (Zita Johann) falls under the spell of Im-Ho-Tep (Boris Karloff) in THE MUMMY (1932).

In THE MUMMY, Karloff delivers another wonderful performance.  His mummy is much more evil than the later depictions of a mute bandaged monster lumbering around the countryside strangling people.  Yet, Karloff also makes Im-Ho-Tep a somewhat sympathetic character.  We feel for the guy, and his plight to get his long lost love back.

But the best part of THE MUMMY is the cinematography and direction by Karl Freund.  Freund does a more impressive job at the helm of THE MUMMY than either of his more famous counterparts, Tod Browning directing DRACULA and James Whale directing FRANKENSTEIN.

Freund creates an unforgettable opening sequence of the mummy resurrected, a haunting and dreamlike flashback sequence (the scene where the slaves get spears thrust through their chests still makes me wince), and he imbues the scenes inside the museum with creepy shadows and mysterious lighting.

If there are any flaws, it’s the ending, which is quick and shot in a choppy clumsy manner, not at all like the rest of the movie.

So, as we make our way through the lazy hazy days of summer, grab a beverage, dig your toes into the sands of the Egyptian desert, and welcome Im-Ho-Tep into your living room.  Just don’t say the words of that ancient curse too loud.

One guy dying laughing is more than enough.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: CUJO (1983)

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cujo poster

I love horror movies.  I love books by Stephen King. But movies based on King’s stories? Not so much.

And that’s because for the most part film adaptations of King’s work have been less than stellar.  There are the obvious exceptions- Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980) of course, and I’ve always liked SALEM’S LOT (1979), although it is nowhere near as effective as the novel.  There are others as well, but the point is in general, I don’t have a lot of favorite horror movies that are based on King’s stories, which is rather weird when you think about it.

Take CUJO (1983) for example.  The best thing about this movie is its name.  Say “Cujo” and you instantly picture a ferocious rabid dog.  The word is almost synonymous with monster dog, which is pretty cool, from a horror writer’s standpoint.

But the actual movie?  It’s a mixed bag of doggie treats.

For the most part, this tale of a family in a small town in Maine who crosses paths with a rabid dog is lame and dull, but once the film gets to the sequence where Cujo attacks the mother and child in their stalled car, things change for the better.  Way better.  Things get so intense you might forget you are watching CUJO and think you’re watching JAWS (1975) instead.  It’s as frightening a sequence as you’ll find in a horror movie.

CUJO is one of those movies where you almost don’t need to watch the story unfold – just skip to the final third of the movie and watch Cujo do his stuff.

The plot is about a married couple, Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace) and her husband Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and their young son Tad (Danny Pintauro).  All is not well in the Trenton household, and Donna is having an affair, which Vic discovers. Uh oh.  Not to worry though, because Vic is the self-reflective type, and his way of dealing with the problem is to go off on a business trip to give his wife some space.

And if marital problems weren’t enough, the Trentons are also having car trouble, and so Donna and Tad drive to their local mechanic so he can fix their car.

Enter Cujo.

The big lovable St. Bernard Cujo was introduced earlier in the movie.  He belongs to mechanic Joe Camber (Ed Lauter) and he’s friendly, but that was before he was bit by a rabid bat, and right on the nose, no less!

Yup, Cujo is now rabid, and he’s none too happy about it.  When Donna and Tad arrive at the repair shop, Cujo attacks, and as their car dies just as they arrive, they find themselves trapped inside the dead car with Cujo trying to smash his way in.

Up until this point, the story is rather lame, but once Cujo attacks Donna and Tad, things intensify.  And it’s not a brief scene.  It goes on for nearly the final third of the movie, which makes the second half of CUJO a heck of a lot better than the first half.

The script by Don Carlos Dunaway and Lauren Currier, based on Stephen King’s novel, is pretty mediocre and plays like a standard soap opera vehicle until Cujo tastes blood.

The acting is pretty dreadful.  Dee Wallace is less than inspiring as Donna Trenton.  Like the rest of the movie, she gets better once the Cujo attack sequence begins, as she gets to scream a lot and act terrified.  With a ton of credits, Wallace is no stranger to genre films, having appeared in a bunch of them, including THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and of course E.T.THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982).

Daniel Hugh Kelly isn’t any better as hubby Vic.  He’s about as interesting as a slice of white bread.  And young Danny Pintauro is supposed to be cute and cuddly as Tad,  but I found him terribly annoying throughout this movie.  Pintauro would go on to star in the Tony Danza sitcom WHO’S THE BOSS? (1984-1992).

The rest of the acting here is just as unimpressive.  Cujo the dog easily delivers the best performance in the movie.  Actually, there were several dogs used as Cujo, so I guess it was a group effort.

cujo

Director Lewis Teague does little with the first half of the film, but he more than makes up for this with the frightening second half.  And a lot of the suspense comes from some nifty editing in these pre-CGI days.

CUJO gets off to a slow start, but be patient.  The payoff is well worth the wait.

Statistics say that there are about 1,000 cases of people bitten by dogs every day in the United States.  Hopefully none of them look like Cujo.

Sit, Cujo, sit.

—END—

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), published in the December 2015 edition of THE HWA NEWSLETTER, the Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association.
Enjoy!
—Michael
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
Not only is December a great time to watch a haunted house movie, but the plot of today’s movie ­ THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) ­­­ actually takes place in December. How cool is that? Okay, so I’m easily amused.
I actually saw THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE when it was first released at the drive­in as part of a double feature with THE OTHER (1972). I was nine years­old when my parents took my younger brother and me to see this double bill, and while I slept through THE OTHER, I remember enjoying HELL HOUSE. So, there was certainly some nostalgia watching this one again recently on Netflix Streaming, especially since I hadn’t seen it in years.
Its tale of an investigative team probing a haunted house, trying to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, reminds me an awful lot of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and the movie THE HAUNTING (1963) which is based on the Shirley Jackson story. But it’s actually based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
In THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) a physicist, leads the examination into Hell House. His team includes his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), a psychic Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and a physical medium, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who has the distinction of being the only survivor from a previous investigation into the house.
legend of hell house - team
So, do ghosts exist or not? Dr. Barrett seems hell bent on proving once and for all that they do not exist, but the spirit that occupies Hell House has other ideas.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is ghostly fun from start to finish. It’s full of spooky atmosphere and contains plenty of creepy scenes.
Director John Hough, fresh off his horror hit for Hammer Films, the vampire film TWINS OF EVIL (1971) starring Peter Cushing, pretty much strikes gold again. Both of these films are excellent horror movies. Hough would go on to direct the Walt Disney classic ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975), as well as its sequel RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978) starring Christopher Lee. Hough would also direct Peter Cushing’s final movie, BIGGLES: ADVENTURES IN TIME (1986).
Roddy McDowall leads a fine cast. McDowall is excellent here as Benjamin Fischer, the man with the most insight into Hell House since he had been there before. I was already a Roddy McDowall fan when I saw this at the movies in 1973 because of the PLANET OF THE APES films. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was probably the first movie where I actually got to see his face!
So that’s what Cornelius looks like!
Clive Revill is authoritative as physicist and lead investigator Dr. Barrett, and Gayle Hunnicutt is memorable as his wife Ann. Pamela Franklin makes for a beautiful and oftentimes vulnerable psychic Florence Tanner. Even Michael Gough shows up as a corpse, which is a nice way of keeping this Hammer favorite from his signature overacting!
All four of the main characters go through changes since they are all affected one way or another by the spirit occupying Hell House. McDowall’s character probably fares the best, as he seems to
be best equipped to fend off the ghost.
Clive Revill’s Dr. Barrett, on the other hand, the supposed the leader of the team, is influenced by
the Hell House spirit pretty much from the get­go, as he quickly becomes irritable, angry, and worst of all confused. Sure, these could just be personality flaws, but more likely, they’re the work of the ghost.
Barrett’s wife Ann becomes sexually aroused and continually makes advances towards Ben Fischer, while psychic Florence senses who the ghost is but no one on her team seems to believe her, probably because she too exhibits odd behavior.
Is this assembled team just a group of oddballs? Or are they all influenced and infected by the supernatural presence residing at Hell House? You know the answer to that question, and that’s what makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE so much fun.
The prevailing feeling throughout THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is one of uncertainty and doubt. The supernatural entity makes its presence known immediately, and the characters all become affected quickly, even if they don’t realize it.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is an excellent horror movie and is yet another quality horror film from the 1970s, a decade which is chock full of horror classics. Sure, there are the big budget  classics like THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975), THE OMEN (1976) and ALIEN (1979),  but it’s also the decade of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and HALLOWEEN (1978). It’s also the decade of films
like THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977), low budget films that didn’t become huge hits but provided quality horror entertainment all the same. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE falls into this latter category.
As we look back today at the 1970s, a decade famous for its bad hairstyles and disco music, it’s quite clear that for horror movie fans, it’s one of the best decades ever. There are a lot of really good horror movies made in the 1970s.
If there’s one weakness regarding THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE it’s the film’s plot. Its haunted house tale is nothing I haven’t seen before, and even though the film has fun with it, and it all works, at the end of the day, it’s still just another haunted house story with all the similar
trimmings.
What makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE stand out among other films of its type is a talented cast, strong direction, and a decent script by Richard Matheson.
As you make the rounds this holiday season, visiting family and fiends­­­ er, friends, don’t forget  to stop by HELL HOUSE. There’s someone there who’s dying to see you.
­­­END­­­

Like Its Undead Characters, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994) Has Aged Well

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Interview With The Vampire posterStreaming Video Review:  INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994)

By

Michael Arruda

 

I have to confess that I’ve never been a fan of Anne Rice’s novel Interview With The Vampire for the simple reason that when it was published in 1976, I had just read another vampire novel that immediately became one of favorite books of all-time:  Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.  As a twelve year-old reading Rice’s novel, I simply couldn’t get King’s novel out of my head.

And so when the movie version of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE was finally released in 1994 I wasn’t all that excited to see it.  Plus, I was not a Tom Cruise fan at all, and so with Cruise in the lead as the vampire Lestat, I was even less interested in it, and to be fair, I did not give this movie a fair shake upon its initial release.  I was quick to dismiss it.

Recently, I decided it was time to give this movie another look.  For starters, as Tom Cruise has aged, he has chosen more interesting film roles, and I’ve actually enjoyed his performances over the last ten years or so.  Plus, after the TWILIGHT movies, I figured INTERVIEW would seem vastly superior in comparison.

I was right.

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE has aged well.

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE begins in modern day, where a young man Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) interviews a vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt).  As Louis tells his story, the time shifts to the past, to 1790s New Orleans, where Louis, distraught over the recent death of his wife and infant baby, wants to die.  Instead, he’s turned into a vampire by Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise).

The story then follows the love/hate relationship between these two vampires.  Louis hates being a vampire, and refuses to drink the blood of humans.  Lestat seems to go out of his way to torment Louis, while claiming to be trying to help Louis survive.  When Louis threatens to leave, Lestat turns a young girl Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) into a vampire so Louis will have another friend besides himself.

Eventually, Louis and Claudia escape from Lestat and travel to Paris because they have heard that other vampires reside there.  They meet the vampire Armand (Antonio Banderas) who leads a band of vampires who live on the streets of Paris.  Eventually, Lestat returns to reclaim Louis and Claudia, setting the stage for the film’s conclusion.

The biggest reason I’ve never been a huge fan of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is its high drama vampire plot.  I prefer my vampires a bit more monstrous than the undead folks who populate INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.  While I do enjoy the individual struggles these vampires face, I don’t like the main story they find themselves in.  I like watching Louis deal with his disdain for vampirism.  I like watching Lestat’s manipulations and dramatic musings.  I like watching Claudia’s bursts of teen angst and emotion.  However, the main story arc here plays more like a soap opera plot to me than a vampire tale.  It also doesn’t play like much of a horror movie.

So, what did I like better this time around watching INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE on Netflix Streaming twenty years after its initial release?

For starters, the acting is very good.  I liked Brad Pitt as Louis, although at times he did seem a little less horrified than he should have been about his condition.

Tom Cruise probably impressed me the most, which I find ironic, since his performance probably turned me off the most when I first saw this movie back in 1994.  He’s very good as Lestat.  He doesn’t quite capture Lestat the way I imagined him from the book.  I remember him being a darker character in Anne Rice’s novel, but Cruise infuses him with so much dramatic energy, at times, it was like watching Liberace as a vampire, and Cruise captures this essence without being comical.

A very young Kirsten Dunst is also exceptional as Claudia, and she steals most of the scenes she’s in.  Likewise, Antonio Banderas was impressive as Armand, as was Stephen Rea as Armand’s fellow vampire Santiago.

I also enjoyed the look of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.  Director Neil Jordan has created a very good looking horror movie.  It’s all very atmospheric and hearkens back to the Hammer vampire movies of old.  Jordan’s previous film before INTERVIEW was THE CRYING GAME (1992) which back in the early 1990s I liked much better than INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.

Anne Rice wrote the screenplay, based on her novel, and it’s adequate as those things go.  Again, the story has never wowed me.

Another reason I enjoyed INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE more today than when it first came out is the TWILIGHT series.  Having had to suffer through those movies over the past decade, the way they reduced vampires to one-dimensional caricatures in a young adult romance, was one of the more painful cinematic experiences I’ve ever had to endure.  One movie, okay, that’s not so bad.  But an entire series of these clunkers?  Ugh!

So, in comparison, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is like the Mona Lisa, which by the way, is another movie title by director Neil Jordan, as he directed the well-received MONA LISA (1986) starring Bob Hoskins.

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE has aged well. It boasts a solid directorial effort by Neil Jordan, and visually it’s very impressive.  It’s well-acted by Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Kirsten Dunst.  True, it’s still not my favorite vampire tale, but it does have rich resonating characters who more than make up for the weaknesses in the story.

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