Hey, hey! Welcome back to another edition of Tuesday Terrors, the column devoted to all things horror. This week we’ve got reviews of several new films including Apollo 18, The Fading of the Cries, Contagion, and Chop. I’ve also got what I like to call A Brief History of Horror Movie Hosts. So sit back and enjoy the terror!
Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins! In case you haven’t heard, a big screen film based on the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows will be arriving in theaters this May. The film is directed by Tim Burton and includes an impressive cast featuring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, Michelle Pfeiffer as the witch Angelique, as well as Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, and Christopher Lee. Below is one of the first photos from the film that shows Depp as Barnabas Collins.
Burton on a new Beetlejuice film. Yes it’s apparently true that a sequel to Burton’s 1988 comedy horror is in the works. Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg attached to develop the film with Burton’s blessing. When asked recently if he’d consider doing another Beetlejuice film, the Director replied, “Yes. I love that character, and Michael [Keaton] is so great in it. I always think about how great and fun that character was, so I just said to Seth, "If you have some idea about it, go for it, and then I'll look at it freshly." In the past, I tried some things, but that was way back when. He seemed really excited about it.”
Cast Revealed for Adam Gierasch’s new film “Schism. Adam Gierasch who directed the Night of the Demons remake (Hated it!) is soon to begin filming his latest project Schism. The recently announced cast includes Vinnie Jones (Midnight Meat Train), Callum Blue (Smallville) and Ashlynn Yennie (The Human Centipede, Human Centipede 2).
Jovovich Tweets about trailer for Resident Evil: Retribution. Resident Evil star Mila Jovovich this week tweeted that the first trailer for the latest Resident Evil film should be available online January 18th. It will then be coming out in 3D as a preview during the latest Underworld film in theaters. The film is set to open in September.
Plot details revealed for Resident Evil Retribution. Speaking of Resident Evil, Sony has revealed plot details of the latest film in the franchise. The Umbrella Corporation’s deadly T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, transforming the global population into legions of the flesh eating Undead. The human race’s last and only hope, ALICE (Milla Jovovich), awakens in the heart of Umbrella's most clandestine operations facility and unveils more of her mysterious past as she delves further into the complex. Without a safe haven, Alice continues to hunt those responsible for the outbreak; a chase that takes her from Tokyo to New York, Washington, D.C. and Moscow, culminating in a mind-blowing revelation that will force her to rethink everything that she once thought to be true. Aided by newfound allies and familiar friends, Alice must fight to survive long enough to escape a hostile world on the brink of oblivion. The countdown has begun.
New Caitlin R. Kiernan Comic coming in April. International Horror Guild Award-winning author Caitlin R. Kiernan brings one of her most enduring and popular creations to comics! For nearly as long as she can remember, Dancy Flammarion has fought monsters, cutting a bloody swath through the demons and dark things of the world, aimed like a weapon by forces beyond her control or questioning. But now, for the first time, Dancy finds herself alone -- and the wolves are closing in.
Crawl to Me to be adapted for film. Crawl to Me, the IDW-published comic book by writer/musician Alan Robert, is currently being adapted for a feature film. As HNN fans know, Robert previously penned the graphic novel Wire Hangers. David A. Armstrong is reported to be directing., while no writer has been announced yet for the project.
First Trailer for the film “ATM” Check out the first trailer to the upcoming film ATM. On a late night visit to an ATM, three coworkers end up in a desperate fight for their lives when they become trapped by an unknown man. Starring: Alice Eve, Josh Peck, Brian Geraghty, Will Woytowich and Aaron Hughes.
Fading of the Cries (Lionsgate)
The Fading of the Cries is a dark urban fantasy film that gets points for effort but not much else. First-time Director Brian Metcalf is just itching to show off all the skills he learned in film school and as a result we have a film that is all over the map with a mish-mash of weak CGI and tons of green screen effects that blend like water and oil. Thomas Ian Nicholas (of American Pie fame) stars as a Michael, writer who is grieving over the deaths of his wife and daughter…Well, no points for originality there, though. He moves into a stately manor home to be closer to his sister Maggie. The problem is this mansion is plopped right down in suburban, small-town USA and looks completely out of place with the rest of the middle-class homes on the street.
Cut forward 14 years. Michael has died and left an arcane necklace to his niece Sarah. The first time Sarah puts on the necklace all Hell breaks loose…literally. She finds herself attacked by hordes of zombies with empty eye sockets and is rescued by the mysterious, sword-wielding Jacob. The film then begins to switch back and forth between past and present, showing how Michael found the book of a Puritan-age necromancer named Mathias. He uses the book to conjure demons and ends up resurrecting the Necromancer. Now let me just say that I have heard the word NECROMANCER many times in my life but never pronounced the way they do in this film. Here it’s pronounced as if was spelled na-CROM-encer. I can’t tell you how much this bugged the living crap out of me every time I heard them say it.
At any rate the necromancer (Brad Dourif) needs that necklace back to…I don’t know control the world or control the dead or some such nonsense. Honestly I’d grown tired with the whole affair by then and still had 45 minutes to go. Jacob and Sarah basically spend most of the film on the run from the zombies, and a demon that can turn into a flock of crows. Metcalf was tossing out every trick he knew. In one part Jacob and Sarah descend to the catacombs under an old church and the place was so gargantuan that it made the Mines of Moria look like a broom closet.
Editing is something you don’t notice unless its bad and its very bad in Fading of the Cries. In one part our pair is running through the catacombs and the next thing you know there in some little room…in another their walking through an empty field and in the next their in a forest surrounded by zombies. They run through the forest only to end up back on Sarah’s street.
I love Brad Dourif and he’s the only reason you might want to watch this film because the rest of the cast is either amateurish or sleepwalking through their performances in the case of Nicholas. Dreadful isn’t the word…
The only extra is a 15:00 behind-the-scenes featurette.
Contagion (Warner Bros.)
While Contagion may not be a horror film per se, when it comes right down to it, no vampire, zombie plague, or demon possession is as truly terrifying as the outbreak of a contagious virus. Contagion assembles a marvelous ensemble cast and tell the story from several different perspectives. Matt Damon is Mitch Emhoff whose wife Beth (Gwynneth Paltrow) was one of the first victims of the MEV-1 virus. Lawrence Fishburne is a doctor with the Center for Disease Control who leads the team to find the source of the outbreak and a potential cure. He sends Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minnesota where Beth Emhoff died to begin the investigation. Jude Law plays an interntet journal who is convince the virus is a biological weapon and that drug companies are profiting from the outbreak.
These different perspectives are what drives the film. With Damon’s story we see the grief of a husband and father but also see how society begins to fall apart as the area is quarantined and lawlessness begins to break out. The film has been praised by doctors and scientists for its accurate depiction of the investigation and race to find a vaccine. This is work that not only takes place in the lab but also on the streets as they work to determine the original source of the outbreak in Hong Kong. It’s truly a global effort and we can only hope that resources would be mustered so quickly in the event of an actual outbreak.
Contagion is by no means a perfect film. Law’s conspiracy sub-plot as well as that of a World Health Organization worker who is kidnapped and held for ransom by bandits demanding the vaccine adds unneeded melodrama. You also never quite feel the impact of the outbreak which we’re told killed millions of people. It’s just a random statistic and in the end it wraps up a little to neatly. The film is much more enjoyable and interesting when you are following the efforts of the unsung heroes of the CDC as you watch them put themselves into danger, possibly exposing themselves to the virus as the work to help others.
Director Steven Soderbergh keeps up a fast pace throughout the film and the shuttling between the various plots keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what happens next. Soderbergh also knows how to keep you very uncomfortable. While the average horror film might entertain and frighten you, Contagion is a film that will make you think about it long after the credits roll. While it would have been a more fluid film if some of the sub-plots had been eliminated, Contagion works well as both a thriller and a cautionary tale.
Blu-Ray Extras include a few short featuretts: “Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World”, “The Reality of Contagion”, and “The Contagion Detectives”.
When ever I see a DVD that lists a bunch of laurels of film festivals that its been a part of or won, I immediately think the worst. I envision two stoners sitting on a couch, eating Doritos, and calling it a film festival. Chop is from the Bloody Disgusting Selects collection and billed as a horror comedy. Lets clear one thing up…dark comedy maybe, horror comedy no way.
Lance (Will Keenan) plays an obnoxious twit whose car breaks down along a deserted road. A good Samaritan (Tim Muskatel) stops to pick him up and promptly shoots Lance with a tranquilizer gun. Lance wakes up to find his savior has his half-brother bound and gagged and given a choice between murdering his own brother and having his wife killed. Sobbing, Lance kills his brother and his tormenter then reveals that his wife had been having an ongoing affair with the dead sibling. The man lets Lance go home to his wife but warns him to say nothing about his brother or the affair.
Lance isn’t about to get off that easily, however. Soon the man returns to make Lance’s life a living hell, knocking him out repeatedly and removing different body parts. The man demands that Lance apologize for what he did to him but poor Lance cannot remember the man. The tormenter soon brings in others whom Lance has wronged so they can get their “piece” of him. At the end we’re given the final twist as Lance finally remembers what he did. I suppose its supposed to be a guffaw moment…in my case it was a roll your eyes moment. Despite the attempt the twist wasn’t anymore clever or funny that the rest of the film.
On the positive side, Keenan and Muskatel give decent performances, particularly Muskatel who deftly balances psycho killer with the friendly neighbor next-door personality. Keenan tends to chew a lot of scenery with his overstuffed performance but he’s generally fun to watch. Like the Director Trent Haaga, he cut his teeth in several Troma Films Productions. V Might not live up to its cover plaudits but Chop is an interesting spoof of the torture/horror genre.
DVD Extras include a 4:04 gag reel and two deleted scenes.
Apollo 18 (Dimension)
Apollo 18 is another of the Blair Witch style films that purports to use actual uncovered footage but that hook only serves to undermine the plot. The premise is that the officially canceled Apollo 18 mission was actually launched in December 1974 but never returned, and as a result the United States has never launched another expedition to the Moon. The mission is headed by the Department of Defense who keeps it a secret. Even the Astronauts families believe they are simply in training missions. The Astronauts, Captain Ben Anderson, Commander Nate Walker, and Lieutenant Colonel John Grey are told they are going to install cameras and other security items to detect possible Soviet ICBMs.
Anderson and Walker land on the surface but soon begin to hear strange sounds from outside their lander and experience interference in communicating with NASA. While exploring they come upon a Soviet lunar lander and a dead Cosmonaut. They are told by Mission Command to continue their work but as they try to depart the Moon, but something damages the craft and leaves behind inhuman tracks…signs of possible extraterrestrial life! Unable to contact Houston Control or Grey in the orbiter, the pair begin to suspect they were used by the DOD to confirm the existence of alien life and that their own lives are considered expendable.
This is a film that would have worked much better as a straight Sci-Fi horror rather than being done in the overused mockumentary style. I mean we really can’t buy the original premise anyway so what’s the point of doing it as an “actual footage” film? Secondly, this ties them into having everything be murky and grainy and what’s more, why would they be filming themselves sleeping in the lander anyway? The idea that their might be primitive life on the moon is interesting even if it is impossible since there’s no atmosphere but that possibility is tossed aside in preference to the conspiracy angle.
There’s some good scenes in Apollo 18, and actual Apollo footage mixed in helps give the film an authentic look, but it’s a case of a good premise and a missed opportunity.
A Brief History of Horror Movie Hosts!
In 1957, Screen Gems released a package of some 52 classic Universal horror films to television stations around the country, calling it “Shock”. It’s important to note that in this era that was long before cable TV, VCRs, and the Internet, the only way you could have seen classic films like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man and The Mummy, was to have seen them in theaters. And while these films did go through periodic re-release chances are that most kids in the 1950s saw them first on TV. The release of these films gave birth to something else though…While many stations were content to play these films on late night TV as is, calling it “Shock Theater”, many others had bizarre costumed characters host them, and thus was born the horror movie host.
To be fair, the first true horror host actually predated the release of the Shock Theater. Maila Nurmi created the guise of Vampira for KABC in Los Angeles in 1954. While her show would only run for a single season, it set the tone for scores of horror hosts to sprout up in nearly every big city in the nation. These show were locally produced and usually with very little in the way of budgets. Thus most became known for their high degree of camp humor and cheesiness and yet it caught on with the young baby boomers.
The Godfather of all horror movie hosts was Zacherle AKA The Cool Ghoul (John Zacherle) who debuted Shock Theater on Philadelphia ’s WCAU-TV in 1957. As the host, Zacherle appeared wearing a long black undertaker's coat as the character "Roland," who lived in a crypt with his wife "My Dear" and his lab assistant, Gasport. Zacherle is close friends with Dick Clark and even filled for Clark on “American Bandstand” road tours. Legend has it that Clark gave Zacherle the nickname “Cool Ghoul”. Zacherle would eventually go to New York to host Shock Theater on WOR-TV and later become a radio host. Now in his 90s, Zacherle still makes the occasional appearance.
Another of the more venerable horror hosts is New Orleans ’ Morgus the Magnificent (Sid Noel) hosting House of Shock on WWL-TV. As a typical Mad Scientist character, his routines usually involved his various crazy experiments that typically did not go well. Appearing on and off throughout the past 50 years he was seen most recently on WVUE Fox 8 in New Orleans in October 2011.
The 1960s and 1970s was the Golden Age for horror hosts. Pittsburgh had “Chilly Billy” (Bill Cardille) who hosted Chiller Theatre on WIIC/WPXI for 20 years and also had a cameo as a reporter in the original “Night of the Living Dead”. In Indianapolis , you had Sammy Terry (Ceme-tery…get it) played by Bob Carter, hosting Nightmare Theater on WTTV. Las Vegas had the Vegas Vampire (Jim Parker) hosting Shock Theater on KHBV/KVVU. One of his favorite routines was to stick pins in voodoo dolls of politicians, and celebrities while needling them verbally. The character became popular enough that nationally known celebrities would sometimes appear on the show while performing in Vegas.
One of the biggest horror hosts to hit the scene in the 1960s was Cleveland ’s Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) who hosted Shock Theater on WJW-TV. Ghoulardi’s mocking of the terrible films he was showing became a staple among most horror hosts and while he was only on for a few years he would inspire several other hosts to carry on his tradition. Cleveland native Drew Carey often paid tribute by wearing a Ghoulardi T-shirt on his TV show.
Here in the Detroit area I was lucky enough to grow up with two great horror hosts. First there was Sir Graves Ghastly (Lawson J. Demming) who appeared Saturday afternoons on WJBK from 1967 – 1982. Sir Graves had a wide cast of characters but was essentially aimed at kids, hence the early time slot.
At the other end of the spectrum was The Ghoul (Ron Sweed). Sweed was a huge fan of Ghoulardi and even worked as a production assistant on the show. In 1970, Sweed approached Ernie Anderson with a proposal to revive the Ghoulardi character. Anderson was not interested, but gave Sweed his blessing to revive the character on his own. With Anderson 's permission, Sweed took "The Ghoul" to Cleveland ’s WKBF-TV in 1971. The show was syndicated on Detroit ’s WKBD-TV and for a while, the show was even produced in my hometown of Westland , Mi. I had a chance to interview Sweed a few years ago at the Motor City Con and he fondly recalls his days of doing his show there. The Ghoul was notorious for blowing up things with firecrackers, usually his sidekick, a rubber frog known as “Froggy”. The Ghoul has continued to appear on and off in both the Detroit markets right up to present day as well as on the Internet.
In Chicago , you had Svengoolie, first played in the early 1970s by Jerry Bishop on WFLD and later by Rich Koz who took the name “Son of Svengoolie”. The show was also syndicated to cities like Boston , Philadelphia , Milwaukee , and San Francisco . A recurring gag involves rubber chickens being thrown at Svengoolie after a particularly corny joke.
Our Nation’s capital, Washinigton , D.C. featured Count Gore de Vol on WDCA-TV from 1973 to 1987. Played by announcer Dick Dyszel, Gore’s was among the most cutting-edge of horror hosts. Being in D.C., he frequently lampooned politicians and political events like Watergate. Count Gore accomplished several firsts in his long career including the first showing of an unedited version of Night of the Living Dead, the first telecast in stereo, and in 1998, he became the first horror host to present a weekly show on the Internet, featuring streaming video of movies and shorts hosted by The Count.
Other 70’s horror host icons include Fritz the Nite Owl in Columbus , OH ; Doctor Paul Bearer in St. Petersburg, FL; Big John and Lil’ Chuck in Cleveland; Doctor Madblood in Virginia; and Bob Wilkins in San Francisco.
The 1980s was a strange era for horror hosts…On one hand, it was the decade when many long-running, locally produced shows were canceled to make way for more profitable late-night infomercials. On the other, a handful of hosts rose above local markets to attain fame nationally. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) premiered in 1988 on KTMA in Minneapolis . The shows’ creators then pitched it to the new Comedy Channel Network (later to become Comedy Central) and it was picked up and ran for 7 seasons before ending its run on the Sci-Fi channel in 1999. The simple show featured a guy and two robots watching bad movies and wise-cracking about them.
Joe Bob Briggs (John Bloom) didn’t dress up in gothic costumes or makeup like most horror hosts but rather took the persona of a redneck with a love for drive-in and cult films. Briggs hosted Drive-in Theater on The Movie Channel for ten years from 1986 – 1996. When that show was canceled he signed on with TNT to host Monstervision from 1996 – 2000.
But no horror-host was bigger (pun intended) than Cassandra Peterson, AKA Elvira Mistress of the Dark. With her skin-tight black gown and plunging neckline showing off her ample assets, Elvira’s Movie Macabre became a huge hit and L.A. With a self-deprecating, corny style, Elvira showed legendary “B” movies like “The Thing with Two Heads” and “The Fearless Vampire Killers”. Before long Elvira achieved national fame, appearing as a frequent guest on the Tonight Show and in Halloween-themed commercials for Coors Light. She appeared in two Elvira feature films, “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” and “Elvira’s Haunted Hills” as well as making numerous appearances in other films and TV shows. She even had her own long-running comic book series and videogames. Elvira has since returned to TV in a syndicated version of Elvira’s Movie Macabre that is also available on DVD.
Today, horror hosts are few and far between but with more cable TV stations available as well as the Internet, we’re starting to see a return of horror hosts. Penny Dreadful XIII debuted in New England in 2006 and now appears in over 150 cities and in six New England states. Dr. Gangrene has been going strong on Nashville ’s WNAB since 2005. Dayton , Ohio now features Baron Von Porkchop who debuted on the Dayton Public Access channel DATV in 2010.
While they may not be as prevalent as they were forty years ago, it’s clear that as long as there is a love for old horror especially low budget films, there will always be an opening for a horror movie host somewhere…