In Memoriam: TOBE HOOPER

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tobe hooper

Acclaimed horror film director Tobe Hooper passed away on August 26, 2017 at the age of 74.

Most known for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), Hooper directed a bunch of horror movies, but none more famous or influential than this 1974 classic.

I know a lot of horror writers who not only swear by THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE but view it as the best horror movie ever made.  While I don’t share this opinion, I agree that it’s certainly one of the most iconic horror movies of all time.

Just as many writers I know choose it as their favorite horror movie.  Others cite it as the movie that inspired them to write horror.  All this attention and love poured onto THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, that’s saying something.

But Tobe Hooper made more horror movies than just THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.  Here’s a partial look at Tobe Hooper’s film career:

EGGSHELLS (1969) – Hooper’s first feature-length directorial credit, an allegorical fantasy involving hippies and a big house in the woods.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) – Tobe Hooper’s signature film, and the movie that introduced Leatherface to the world.  Some good old-fashioned fun in Texas when a group of teens run afoul a family of psychopathic cannibals.  Yikes!  Some folks call this the greatest horror movie ever made.  I’m not one of them. Still, it’s classic, iconic horror.

EATEN ALIVE (1976) – Murderous psychopath feeds his victims to his pet crocodile.  Yummy!

SALEM’S LOT (1979) – Hooper’s made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s frightening vampire novel might be my personal favorite Hooper film.  Scary in all the right places, it’s not as good as the novel and is somewhat dated today, but still worth a look.  James Mason steals all his scenes as the evil Mr. Straker.

THE FUNHOUSE (1981) –  a poor man’s HALLOWEEN, this slasher flick which takes place at a carnival is must-see summer viewing, even if at the end of the day, it’s really not all that scary.

POLTERGEIST (1982) – a huge hit back in the day, but not a film I ever liked all that much.  The debate rages on.  Who directed this one?  Hooper or producer Steven Spielberg?  I’ve read compelling evidence that it was Spielberg, and it certainly seems like a Spielberg-directed picture, which is one of the reasons at the time I was lukewarm to it.

LIFEFORCE (1985)- wild, crazy science fiction thriller about a female alien/vampire who spends most of her time naked and killing everyone she encounters.  A truly insane movie which I happen to like a lot.  Somewhat of a cult favorite today.  Written by ALIEN screenwriter Dan O’Bannon.

INVADERS FROM MARS (1986) – remake of 1953 science fiction movie of the same name tells the story of a Martian invasion seen through a boy’s eyes.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)- Hooper’s sequel to his horror classic has never been well received by either fans or critics.

THE MANGLER (1995) – this one’s about a laundry folding machine possessed by a demon.  Stars Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund.

TOOLBOX MURDERS (2004) – Evil inside a historic hotel.

DJINN (2013) – Hooper’s final film.  This time it’s an apartment that’s haunted.

There’s no doubt that Tobe Hooper had an influential career, as I know writers and filmmakers who cite Hooper as inspiring their own horror careers.  I’ve never been a big Tobe Hooper fan, but he did make an impressive number of horror movies.  Regardless of how you feel about his movies, you’d be hard-pressed to watch them and not have a strong reaction to them, which for some folks, is what horror is all about.

Tobe Hooper – January 25, 1943 – August 26, 2017.

—END—

 

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Memorable Movie Quotes: THEM! (1954)

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Welcome back to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at cool quotes from cool movies, especially horror movies.  Up today, it’s THEM! (1954), the classic science fiction horror movie about giant ants on the prowl first in the deserts of New Mexico and then in the sewers of Los Angeles.  THEM! is arguably the best of the 1950s giant monster movies.  It also one of the finest horror movies ever made.

One of its strengths is its well-written and very smart screenplay by Ted Sherdeman.  It tells a compelling story, the first half of which plays like a hard-hitting crime drama and mystery, as people are disappearing, and the New Mexico State Police and the FBI work together to find out why.  The second half, when the giant ants are revealed, becomes a classic 1950s horror fest.  The entire film is chilling throughout.

The script also includes many memorable lines.  And on that note, let’s have a look at some of these lines from THEM!, screenplay by Ted Sherdeman.

Early on, the dialogue drives the suspense and sets the tone.  Like in this early scene where the coroner details the cause of death of one of the victims:

CORONER:  Well, Old Man Johnson could’ve died in any one of five ways.  His neck and back were broken, his chest was crushed, his skull was fractured… and here’s one for Sherlock Holmes – there was enough formic acid in him to kill twenty men.

Later, when FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) and police sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) are in search of clues, they investigate a large sugar theft from a railway yard, a theft that has gotten the night watchman arrested, since he claimed he didn’t see a thing.  Of course, Graham and Peterson know sugar is just the thing on the giant ants’ menu, and so they are intrigued and question the night watchman.

GRAHAM:  Is this the only job you ever had?

NIGHT WATCHMAN:  Yes, sir. I’ve been with the railroad thirty years and never a blot against my record.

GRAHAM:  Well, the yard cop seems to think you made a deal not to see that car broken into.

NIGHT WATCHMAN:  What kind of sense does that make? Is sugar a rare cargo? Is there a black market for it? Did you ever hear of a fence for hot sugar? If I was gonna make a deal with crooks to steal something, it wouldn’t be for forty tons of sugar. And I’ll swear I didn’t hear a thing Friday night.

Smart, realistic, writing.  And there’s also plenty of humor, too.  Like when the railroad yard cop asks Sergeant Peterson why the FBI is so interested in a sugar theft.  Peterson’s reply?

PETERSON:  He’s got a sweet tooth.

In fact, there’s a lot of humorous lines in THEM!  And they’re necessary.  For a film as tense as THEM!, moments of comic relief are very welcome.

Let’s have a look.

When they are preparing to saturate the massive ant nest with cyanide, a nervous Graham quips:

GRAHAM:  If I can still raise an arm when we get out of this place, I’m gonna show you just how saturated I can get.

When Graham and Peterson first meet the attractive daughter of Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn), Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon), they have this exchange:

GRAHAM:  I shoulda had this suit pressed.

PETERSON: She’s quite a doctor, eh?

GRAHAM: Yeah. If she’s the kind that takes care of sick people, I think I’ll get a fever real quick.

One of the funnier bits in the film occurs when Peterson and Dr. Medford ride together in a helicopter and Dr. Medford attempts to talk to his daughter via the radio.  Of course, Edmund Gwenn, who played Dr. Medford, was no stranger to comedic roles during his career. Gwenn is probably most famous today for playing Kris Kringle in the original MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947).

DR. MEDFORD:  Search Able to Search Baker.

PETERSON: Say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD: Huh?

PETERSON: Then say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD:  “Over?”

PATRICIA MEDFORD:  Medford in Baker to Medford in Able: Go ahead, Dad. Over.

DR. MEDFORD: Have you found anything yet?

PETERSON: Say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD: I just said it.

PETERSON: I know. Say it again.

DR. MEDFORD: Oh. “Over!”

PATRICIA MEDFORD: Baker to Able: Not yet. We’re about three-quarters of the way across our sector. We’re now at coordinates Charlie-Six. Over.

DR. MEDFORD: Well, don’t pass up any possibilities. Let me know the moment you find anything.

PETERSON: If you’re finished, say “Over and out.”

DR. MEDFORD: But she knows I’m through talking with her.

PETERSON: I know she does, Doctor. It’s a rule, though. You gotta say it.

DR. MEDFORD: Ah…

PETERSON: Isn’t that right, General?

GENERAL O’BRIEN: Right, Sergeant.

DR. MEDFORD: This is ridiculous! A lot of good your rules are gonna do us if we don’t locate the…

PETERSON (over the headset): Over and out.

DR. MEDFORD: Oh, now you’re happy!

them!-whitmore-gwen-helicopter

And when they’re examining the wall of the ant nest:

DR. PATRICIA MEDFORD: Look! Held together with saliva!

PETERSON: Yeah! Spit’s all that’s holding me together right now, too.

One of the most famous lines from the film, and if you’ve seen it, you no doubt remember it, is when Peterson and Graham travel to a local hospital to interview a drunk who may or may not have seen the giant ants.  It turns out, the drunk, Jensen, has seen the ants and gives them some valuable information which leads them to the ants’ whereabouts, but not before he has this lively and memorable exchange:

JENSEN:  General, I’ll make a deal with you. You make me a sergeant in charge of the booze and I’ll enlist. Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze! Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze!

And of course, the film gets its title from the screams of the little girl who Sgt. Peterson finds roaming the desert in the film’s opening moments.  She’s in a catatonic state of shock, but later, when Professor Medford revives her, she screams out:

LITTLE GIRL:  Them!  Them! Them!!!

them!-little_girl

In spite of his comedic background, Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Medford also has some of the more somber and poignant lines from the movie.  Like here, when FBI Agent Graham reacts to the news the ant they just killed was only one of many.

GRAHAM:  And I thought today was the end of them.

MEDFORD: No. We haven’t seen the end of them. We’ve only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us.

And as Dr. Medford, Edmund Gwenn also gets to have the final say at the end of the movie:

GRAHAM: Pat, if these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?

PATRICIA MEDFORD: I don’t know.

DR. MEDFORD: Nobody knows, Robert. When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.

Cue end credits.

THEM! is a superior horror movie, taut, well-acted, well-written, with decent special effects.  It succeeds because the ants aren’t the main focus of the movie.  It’s the characters in the film and their reactions to the events around them that make THEM! a classic of 1950s giant monster cinema.

I hope you enjoyed these quotes from THEM! and join me again next time on the next MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES when we look at memorable quotes from another memorable movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Best Horror Movies 2016

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Elle Fanning in  THE NEON DEMON (2016)

Here are my picks for the BEST HORROR MOVIES of 2016.

First off, I have to say that unlike a lot of other folks, I wasn’t overly impressed with the line-up of horror movies that came out in 2016.  For the most part, I was disappointed.

For example, while many people loved THE WITCH, I was lukewarm on it.  I loved its style and how well it captured the period it portrayed, but I was let down by its ending which I found much less compelling than the rest of the movie.  As such, THE WITCH did not make my BEST OF LIST.

THE BOY was kinda the opposite.  It was a rather silly horror movie that didn’t really go over big with fans and critics, but I found it entertaining and rather decent.  But again, not good enough to make my BEST OF LIST.

Similarly, LIGHTS OUT had its moments, but not enough of them to make the list.

Without further hesitation, here are my picks for the TOP 5 HORROR MOVIES of 2016:

 

5. DON’T BREATHE – The best part of DON’T BREATHE was its premise.  Three young thieves in economically depressed Detroit break into a blind man’s home in what they view as an easy heist, but they are oh-so-wrong when their “victim” turns out to be an ex-military who in spite of his blindness is a very deadly foe.

First half is better than the second half, which deteriorates into standard horror fare.

10-Cloverfield-Lane-Movie-Poster

4.  10 CLOVERFIELD LANE- Not really a sequel to the J.J. Abrams produced and Matt Reeves’ directed giant monster masterpiece CLOVERFIELD (2008), but it takes place in the same “universe.”  A lot of people really loved this one.  I didn’t love it, but I found it decent and respectable and much better than the huge crop of awful horror movies that traditionally flood mainstream theaters.

Dan Trachtenberg provides tight direction, and strong performances by John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead lend support to this tense tale about a woman abducted and held prisoner in an underground bunker, while her seemingly deranged captors try to convince her that the world above is no longer there, destroyed by some unknown apocalypse.

This one is claustrophobic and will have you on the edge of your seat.  Even so, I expected more and was somewhat disappointed by the film’s conclusion.

hush poster

3. HUSH – This one I didn’t see at the theater but on Netflix Streaming, and it’s a fine example of a weird trend these days where higher quality horror movies for whatever reason don’t enjoy wide theatrical releases.  Many of the horror films released to the theaters are terrible, and oftentimes you’ll catch a film on a streaming service and it’s terrific, and you wonder why it didn’t get a wide theatrical release.  Weird.  This seems to happen a lot.

Anyway, HUSH is a very suspenseful tale about an insane killer armed with a crossbow stalking a deaf woman who lives alone in the middle of the woods.  This deaf woman also happens to be a very successful author, and in one of the film’s more enjoyable moments, uses her skills as a writer, specifically the way she constructs plots, to form a plan to fight back against her attacker.

Entertaining, violent, and well-made horror movie by writer/director Mike Flanagan.

The-Shallows-Movie-Poster

2. THE SHALLOWS- This shark movie was probably my favorite horror movie of the year, even though I list it here as number 2, and that’s because while this may have been a guilty pleasure, it’s not my pick for the best horror movie of the year.

Anyway, while THE SHALLOWS isn’t JAWS, this shark tale starring Blake Lively as a surfer who finds herself attacked and then trapped by a great white shark a mere 200 yards off the shore of a desolate beach is one taut tight little thriller.  With it’s brief 86 minute running time, this one bites you right away and never lets go.  Beautifully photographed by director Jaume Collet-Serra, known more for his Liam Neeson action movies than horror films, THE SHALLOWS is the perfect summer time horror movie.

 

And now for my pick for the #1 horror movie of 2016, and it’s a strange pick because it’s not a traditional horror movie at all, yet it’s the best horror vehicle I saw this past year.

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1. THE NEON DEMON- This was the most disturbing movie I saw in 2016, as well as the most thought-provoking and stylish horror film I’ve seen in a while.  Its tale of a young model Jesse (Elle Fanning) caught in the vicious cutthroat world of modeling, takes its figurative message of a world that devours its own and turns it on its head and makes it literal.  This one takes a violent unexpected turn which will upset most people, but there’s no denying the force and power of where this film ultimately goes.

Written and directed by controversial writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn, THE NEON DEMON is not for everybody, but if you can get past its disturbing elements and images and allow yourself to enter its provocative world, you’ll be treated to a film that is every bit as weird and horrifying as the work of visionary directors David Lynch and David Cronenberg.

So, there you have it.  My picks for the Top 5 HORROR MOVIES OF 2016.

Coming soon, my picks for the Worst Horror movies of 2016.

See you then!

And 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.

Necon 36 MichaelArrudaandLLSoares photo by Nick Cato

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: 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—

 

 

 

 

THE SHALLOWS (2016) Is Nifty Little Shark Thriller

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The-Shallows-Movie-Poster

THE SHALLOWS (2016) is a new shark vs. man— or in this case, vs. woman— tale that was done best in JAWS (1975).  No other film has even come close to duplicating the terror and suspense of that big fish tale.

THE SHALLOWS doesn’t either, and its story is really rather shallow (heh heh), but this doesn’t stop it from being a highly diverting and entertaining piece of summer movie entertainment.

THE SHALLOWS opens with Nancy (Blake Lively) a young American medical student vacationing in Mexico.  She’s on her way to a special beach in her life- it was her mother’s favorite beach, and her mother is on her mind because she recently passed away from cancer.

Nancy is supposed to be surfing with one of her friends, but her friend remained back at the hotel, dealing with a hangover.  Nancy meets two other surfers in the water, and they turn out to be nice enough guys.  As they leave, they tell Nancy not to stay out too much later, as it’s getting dark.  Nancy decides she wants to do one more surf before heading in.

On this last surf, she comes across a badly injured whale, and as she investigates, she is attacked by a very hungry shark.  It seems that Nancy has inadvertantly stumbled upon the shark’s feeding ground.  She desperately makes her way to a small rock which barely keeps her above water and out of reach of the shark.

She’s stranded, there’s no one else around, and while she’s only 200 yards from shore, there’s no way she can make it there with the shark continuing to circle in the waters.  Worse yet, she’s bleeding badly from the deep shark bites on her leg, but lucky for her, she’s a medical student, and so she uses her ingenuity and some earrings to stitch up her wound in a gripping scene that is definitely not for the squeamish.

She’s also not completely alone, as on the rock with her, is an injured seagull whose wing was dislocated during the shark attack.

As the tide is rising and will soon take away her only mode of protection from the shark- the rock, which will soon be below water- Nancy has to use all her wits and resolve to not only survive her shark wounds and avoid the shark, but also to find a way to safety.

THE SHALLOWS is a nifty little thriller, well directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the man who also directed a slew of Liam Neeson movies, including UNKNOWN (2011), NON-STOP (2014) and RUN ALL NIGHT (2015), all of these decent action thrillers.  He also directed the horror movie ORPHAN (2009), which I liked a lot.

I enjoyed his work here in THE SHALLOWS as well.  The photography is dazzling, and the sandy beach and clear turquoise water has never looked more inviting.  There are some fine scenes of suspense, although the film never gets flat out scary.  Do not expect JAWS.

The most intense parts of this movie are the scenes where Nancy has to fight for her survival, like when she has to stitch the bleeding open wound on her leg. This is a wince-inducing scene, very powerful.

The shark scenes run hot and cold, and the scenes where we don’t see the shark work best, and that’s because when seen the shark can appear cartoonish looking and fake.

There is a really neat underwater sequence where Nancy has to swim through a horde of jellyfish to elude the shark.   Sure, it’s all CGI, but I didn’t mind it here, as it’s all very colorful and cool looking.  The sequence near the end where Nancy tries to make it to the safe confines of a buoy is also rather suspenseful.

The screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski is pretty much a mixed bag.  It takes a while to get going, and then once it picks up, it never goes beyond the simple story of Nancy vs. the shark.  And it’s all rather quick, as it clocks in at a swift 87 minutes.  It plays more like a short story than a novel.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, and for the most part, this film worked for me and I liked it, but as I said at the outset, it’s all rather shallow.  I would have liked this one-on-one battle and survival tale to have become even more intense to the point where the audience would have to turn away.  THE SHALLOWS never reaches this kind of intensity.

THE SHALLOWS is also pretty much a one actor movie, as Blake Lively spends most of the movie alone, just spending time with the seagull and fending off the shark.  There are other characters, but for the most part, they don’t survive very long.  As such, Lively is up for the task and pretty much carries this movie with ease.  She does a really nice job here.

I’ve seen Lively in a bunch of other movies, and my favorite performance of Lively’s was probably her work in Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012).  She’s nearly as good here in THE SHALLOWS. In fact, she’s so good that other than the colorful photography and brief moments of intensity, Lively’s performance is my favorite part of the movie.

And I did like THE SHALLOWS a lot, much more than I expected to.  I had zero expectations going in, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  For what it is, a nifty little thriller, it all works.

Is THE SHALLOWS the most intense and exciting movie to come out this summer? Probably not, but it is a very entertaing and picturesque way to spend 90 minutes at the movies.

Pass the sun tan lotion, please.

—END—

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: JAWS 2 (1978)

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jaws-2-movie-posterIN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water—.”
As movie taglines go, this one from JAWS 2 (1978) is one of the best. It also just might be the most memorable part of the entire movie.
To be fair, no sequel was ever going to match Steven Spielberg’s original JAWS (1975).
That being said, I happen to like JAWS 2, although not as much as I did when I first saw it at the movies in 1978 when I was 14 years-old. Back then, I quickly declared it the best movie of the summer, and I liked it almost as much as the original. What can I say? I was young. I was also influenced by a sold-out crowd that was brimming with energy and enthusiasm. The audience cheered during the opening credits when Roy Scheider’s name appeared on screen, just as they had done when Scheider had destroyed the shark at the end of JAWS, and there were plenty of screams and shouts as the movie went on.
Of course, the reality is JAWS 2 is merely an adequate movie, paling in comparison to the original JAWS, and suffering from the repetitiveness from which so many movie sequels suffer. Still, JAWS 2 is far and away the best of the JAWS sequels, which isn’t saying much, since JAWS 3 (1983) and JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987) are both pretty awful.
JAWS 2 opens with a pair of divers discovering the sunken wreckage of the Orca, Quint’s boat from the first movie. Within minutes, the divers are attacked and killed by a shark in a surprisingly tame scene that is vastly inferior to the opening scene in JAWS, the vicious attack on young Chrissy.
JAWS 2 once again takes place on Amity Island, which now looks much bigger, since this sequel was filmed in Florida rather than on tiny Martha’s Vineyard. Four years have passed since the events of JAWS, and Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is still police chief on the island.
When Brody learns of a possible shark attack, he tries to take action but his efforts are thwarted by Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) and local businessman Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo), whose priorities are keeping the tourist season open and making money. Things get so bad this time around that Brody is actually fired from his position as police chief.
But the shark problem is real, and this time the shark sets its teeth—er, sights— on a group of teenagers— including Brody’s two sons— out sailing. Once more, it’s up to Chief Brody to save the day, as he sets off alone in a boat to take on the shark and rescue the teens, which on its own is no easy task, but it’s even more daunting in this case because Brody lives in deathly fear of water.

JAWS 2 definitely suffers from “been there, done that.” You would think that Mayor Vaughn would have learned his lesson after the first movie, but no, he’s still not listening to Brody. He is slightly more sympathetic this time around, as businessman Len Peterson takes over the pain-in-the-ass heavy role. Peterson gets most of the aggravating lines, and Joseph Mascolo does a nice job making you hate the guy.
But the biggest problem with JAWS 2 is that the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The movie asks us to believe that a second great white shark returns to the same island where another shark had wreaked havoc just a few years earlier. What are the odds? To make matters worse, the film tries to imply that this shark has arrived to seek vengeance for the death of the first shark. Really? This is a theme which permeates the series, as subsequent sequels deal with sharks targeting Brody’s wife and adult sons.
If you’re going to throw something that outlandish into the story, you’d better back it up with some facts or some embellishments to get the audience to buy into it, but JAWS 2 doesn’t do this. It’s almost as the film couldn’t make up its mind if it wanted to go all in with its revenge plot. It’s mentioned, and then it’s forgotten.
The best part of JAWS 2 is the return of Roy Scheider as Martin Brody. He’s excellent once again, and he’s largely responsible for making this the best of the sequels, since he doesn’t appear in the next two movies. The film tries to shake things up by giving more screen time to Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) and Martin’s deputy from the first film, Jeff Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer), and while Gary and Kramer are both very good in these roles, they’re not Richard Dreyfuss or Robert Shaw, who are both greatly missed in this sequel.
While director Jeannot Szwarc does an adequate job at the helm, he’s no Steven Spielberg. The camera just never gets in close enough to really get under your skin. In JAWS, Spielberg’s camera always seemed to be hovering around water level, and with the shark lurking, the effect made you always want to turn away.
Szwarc also decides to show the shark much more than Spielberg did, and while the shark actually looks pretty good, it doesn’t always translate into scary scenes.
That being said, there are some very good scenes in JAWS 2. The attack on one of the teens, Eddie, is as intense as anything seen in the original, and the sequence with the water skier is exciting and suspenseful. Unfortunately, there’s also some not-so-good scenes, like the over-the-top sequence where the shark actually attacks a helicopter. But for the most part, the shark scenes in JAWS 2 are a lot of fun to watch.
The second half of JAWS 2 focuses on the teenagers in their sailboats fighting off the shark, and so the film almost follows the teen slasher formula, which got a boost the same year with the release of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978).
John Williams returns as the film’s music composer, and while it would be ludicrous to say this score is better than his original JAWS score, it is an excellent score. His JAWS theme is back, of course, and he also introduces other themes that were not present in the first movie.
The screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler succeeds in telling an exciting story, even if its premise of a shark that attacks an island perhaps out of revenge doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. It also doesn’t feature anywhere near the slate of memorable lines that came out of the first JAWS— that screenplay was co-written by Gottlieb and JAWS author Peter Benchley.
JAWS 2 is not a cinematic classic like its predecessor, but it is a heck of a lot of fun and makes for perfect summer time horror viewing. Just slap on some sun tan lotion, flip on the shades, and settle back in your beach chair, and as you listen to the sounds of happy beach goers and crashing ocean waves, just wait, because soon you’ll hear the ominous notes of John Williams’ music score and then—.
Is that a shark fin I see?
—END—