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In Praise of Samuel Z. Arkoff

Plus: Raptors in L.A.; DARK SHADOWS in Connecticut.

By Steve Ryfle     October 12, 2000

Old shlockmeisters never die. They just get really old, and then people belatedly realize how cool they were and start giving them awards, as tokens of thanks for all the great cinematic memories.

Samuel Z. Arkoff, that one-of-a-kind producer and mogul who co-founded American International Pictures in the early 1950s and launched what seems like a billion exploitation classics (from I Was a Teenage Werewolf to Meteor), deserves an awardfor originality, for tenacity, for bravado, and for being a low-budget bad-ass. And what time of year would be more appropriate to give him one than Halloween?

That's why it's so cool that Arkoff is the recipient of the 'Spooky Award,' which will be dished out at this year's 'Spook-a-Thon' in Los Angeles later this month. The Spook-a-Thon is an annual event, six years running, with screenings of classic and rare horror flicks at the Orpheum Theatre, a 1920s-era movie palace in downtown Los Angeles.

'Last year we gave our Spooky Award to Tim Burton, who's from the new generation, and this year we wanted to give it to somebody who was a legend, to look back and pay homage to somebody who was of great influence with the horror genre,' John Olivan, who runs the event, tells Fandom. 'In the 1950s and 1960s, AIP released more modern-day horror titles than anybody else. Sam's career is a really full career: some films are memorable; some are not, but many featured Vincent Price, and in every decade of his career he produced films that were popular. In his later career, he even produced The Amityville Horror and Dressed to Kill. His career is quite varied, and through AIP, he gave a lot of young filmmakers, who are now established, their start. Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Cormanit's like a who's-who.'

High praise, indeed. And here's something else that's cool. The presentation of Arkoff's award will precede a screening of Mario Bava's Black Sunday, which Arkoff imported from Italy and dubbed into English back in 1960. Starring Barbara Steele as a vampire-witch who seeks revenge on the people who burned her at the stake 100 years before, it's one creepy flick that still holds up.

If you're within striking distance of Los Angeles, the Spook-a-Thon is well worth checking out. It takes place every Friday evening between now and Halloween, and includes burlesque dancers and ghoul-rock bands to keep things interesting during the intermissions. The movie lineup for Oct. 13 is more kid-friendly, beginning with two vintage Disney shorts, Skeleton Dance (1929) and Lonesome Ghosts (1937), followed by a screening of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The second feature is Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936) with Boris Karloff; followed by a midnight screening of The Poseidon Adventure. Arkoff's award presentation will highlight the Spook-a-Thon's second night (Friday, Oct. 20), which features screenings of the original version of The Haunting (1961), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Black Sunday. And the final night (Oct. 27) lineup is the Lon Chaney silent horror spoof The Monster (1925) accompanied live by a pipe organist. Then Farmer Vincent cooks up some special sausages in Motel Hell, followed by a rare theatrical screening of The Last House on the Left, and then a midnight showing of Barbarella. Whew!

This event is worth checking out just for the experience of visiting the Orpheum, the last vestige of downtown L.A.'s old, gothic theater district; proceeds from ticket sales for the Spook-a-Thon go to Friends of the Orpheum, a non-profit that is helping to restore the landmark, which is approaching its 75th anniversary. For info on tickets and whatnot, check out www.spook-a-thon.com.

GANGSTA RAPTOR

And if you go to the Spook-a-Thon, might as well arrive early and visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, where one of the full-size velociraptors from Jurassic Park is now on display. Universal Studios Home Video donated the dino this week, to (of course) promote the release of Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park on DVD. We weren't there, so we can't verify anything that the Universal folks say in their amped-up press release, but it sounded like fun: 'Universal's donation of a full-size velociraptor ... was interrupted just seconds into the presentation as alarms within the museum forced the gathered crowd to evacuate the building. Outside, a path of destruction extending to the street lay amidst giant footprints. Undaunted, Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Video, continued the presentation outside the museum from a partially crushed platform.' Wow. The raptor is now part of the museum's permanent display.

THE 'IN CASE ANYONE CARES' DEPARTMENT

Don't forget (or maybe that's 'do forget') to log onto the Blair Witch WebFest, a three-day online event (Oct. 18-20) boasting 64 hours of original programming, including live streaming events, interactive games, real-time video chats with director Joe Berlinger and cast members. Additional programming for the event includes Q&A chats and panel discussions, live musical performances from artists on the Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 soundtrack, and blah, blah, blah. This, apparently, is Artisan's way of following up on the great web-related success of the first Blair Witch Project, which was propelled in part by that film's spooky website. The site for the sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, on the other hand, has largely sucked on ice; it even lagged behind mainstream entertainment sites like Hollywood.com in getting the film's trailer up and running online. Anyhow, what sounds possibly cool about this WebFest thing is the 3D worldsapparently, if it works correctly, you'll be able to create a 3D virtual representation of yourself, which you can use to interact online with other fans. Then again, you can already do that by logging onto Fandom's Virtual Worlds.

DARK SHADOWS FUN!

Just to prove we're not L.A.-centric, and in recognition of the fact (strange as it seems) that cool things happen in other cities, we're plugging the 'Dark Shadows Halloween Weekend,' Oct. 20-21 in Norwalk, Connecticut. It kicks off next Friday night with screenings of House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, hosted by a local aficionado group known as the DS Stars, and features the 'Barnabas Collins Coffin Surprise,' and a mystery guests (they won't say, but they claim they've got people who were involved with the show). The screenings are being held at the historic Great Lockwood Mathews Mansion, and they're followed by a Dark Shadows dance party. Then, on Saturday, there's a whole bunch o' stuff going on, including celebrity photo ops, Q&A sessions with the stars, an orchestra performing DS music, and lots of other stuff. If it's within your radar, check it out. (By the way, in case you haven't checked out the Calendar listings in the bottom-left corner of the Fandom front page, a similar event happens in Hollywood tomorrow: a screening at the Vista Theatre of House of Dark Shadows, followed by guest appearances of the cast and crew.)

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