Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Equinox and the Odd Story Behind a Fan-Made, Theatrically-Released Horror Film


If you follow the film industry as much as I do, then you'll know how often directors clash with studio executives when determining the final cuts of big-budget films. Such conflicts between the artists who create the art and the people who fund the art and mistakenly think that they are artists too have resulted in a long, long list of expensive failures. (Alien 3 (1992) and The Invasion (2007) immediately comes to mind.) Of course, it continues to happen--so much so with Hollywood productions that it's almost inevitable at this point--but how would you feel if the same thing happened with the theatrical release of a low-budget, fan-made film?


Such was the case with Equinox. It began as an amateur horror fan film made in 1967 (its original title: The Equinox: Journey into the Supernatural), and then it was re-edited, partially re-shot and distributed theatrically by Tonylyn Productions in 1970. For a long time, the Tonylyn version of Equinox was the only version that was available to the public; when Criterion released their two-disc set of Equinox back in 2006, they included both the original 1967 cut with the theatrical cut on the same disc (both with commentaries) for direct comparison. While neither cut are examples of horror filmmaking at its finest, the differences between the original edit and theatrical edit are astonishing and reflect how much the fans got right--fans who meticulously studied the craftsmanship that went into their favorite movies--and how much the so-called professionals got wrong.

Read on for my complete comparison of the two versions of Equinox, and how no movie is too small for creative differences between creators and producers.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012: The Year of the Ultimate Bruce Shark Collector’s Set


When it comes to scale-accurate Jaws replicas, you can't go wrong with Shark City Ozark. I've previously posted about their Jaws-related work here and here, and 2012 marks their most ambitious Jaws project yet: The Ultimate Bruce Shark Collector’s Set, which will consist of four 1/12 scale maquettes that are modeled after the mechanical sharks used in each of the four Jaws movies. Each maquette will be released quarterly, with the first one based on the original mechanical shark used in Jaws.

You're gonna need a bigger display case.

The first maquette measures 25 inches in length and it includes the following:
  • Removable pectoral fins to match behind the scenes photos, as well as accurate fin gaps.
  • Modeling based on the new and untested platform sharks, before they sustained damages during the location filming of Jaws at Martha's Vineyard.
  • A free hand-crafted stand and a Certificate of Authenticity.
You can place your pre-order for the first maquette here, which will begin shipping before the end of March. Keep checking back at the Shark City Ozark site throughout this year for the upcoming releases of the maquettes for Jaws 2, Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Great Book of Movie Monsters Retrospective



Looking back, I grew up during an interesting time in the history of horror movies. I was in elementary school in the years that immediately preceded the rise of the home video industry, so that left most of us fledgling horror fans with syndicated television, magazines and books to satiate our horror needs in between horror film releases on the big screen. When it came to books, Crestwood House published a series about classic horror monsters and movies that were picked up by school libraries all over the country. These books familiarized monster kids with the best that classic horror films had to offer--which was fantastic, considering that we couldn’t always see these movies ourselves. (Read my post about Crestwood House's movie monster books here.)

In addition to reading Crestwood House books, I was also fortunate enough to pick up a fantastic horror movie reference book at my local bookstore in 1983: The Great Book of Movie Monsters, by Jan Stacy and Ryder Syvertsen. I don’t remember the exact circumstances that led me to purchase this book--or what convinced my parents to let me purchase this book--but to this day I’m glad I have it as part of my personal collection. While it has its share of errors and quirks, The Great Book of Movie Monsters is still one-of-a-kind in many ways and an absolute treat for horror fans of both popular and obscure horror titles. Read on for my complete retrospective, including pictures from the book that provide examples of its unique design.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and The Gate: Tiny Terrors Times Two



Way back in August 2010, I posted some thoughts about Guillermo del Toro’s then-unreleased remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a TV movie from 1973 that’s become a cult classic among horror fans. I had an open mind about what the end product would be like based on del Toro’s previous work, although I had some reservations based on de Toro’s decisions to make the movie a “dark fairy tale” and changing the main character from an adult woman named Sally (Kim Darby) who is in a failing marriage to a little girl named Sally (Bailee Madison) who is visiting her divorced father and his new girlfriend. Unfortunately, my misgivings were right: I just saw del Toro’s remake, which he co-wrote and produced, and his changes to the original story only hindered its overall effectiveness as a horror movie. Even Troy Nixey’s capable direction couldn’t turn this remake into something that improves upon its low-budget predecessor.

Yet as I was thinking about how I’d review the Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remake, I found myself remembering about another movie that pit kids against pint-sized monsters: The Gate, a film from 1986 that was directed by Tibor Takács. The Gate certified its place in movie trivia by outperforming Ishtar, one of the most notorious big-budget flops in American movie history, but it’s also a great example of how to tell a dark fairy tale that’s worth watching. Read on for my comparison, with some minor spoilers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Look at Wii's Epic Mickey



I have a confession to make: I've never been a big Disney fan. Sure, I've enjoyed many of the Disney movies and the theme park in Florida and I know bits and pieces about Walt Disney's early attempts at getting his animation career off the ground during the early years of cinema. Yet I've never felt the urge to immerse myself in all things Disney ... at least until Epic Mickey came out for the Wii in late 2010.

The concept behind Epic Mickey, where Mickey Mouse ends up in a dystopian world that's the warped mirror image of the Disney universe, was just too fascinating for me to ignore. Now that I've finally gotten my hands on a copy and completed the game, I'm glad to say that it lived up to--and greatly exceeded--my expectations. Read on for my complete review.

Friday, January 13, 2012

10 Memorable Music Themes from Lesser Known Horror and Sci-Fi Titles


If you're a junkie of obscure movies, then you'll recognize this scenario: You're watching a film that isn't very popular among mainstream audiences. It could be that the film wasn't widely distributed or well promoted during its initial release but it nevertheless became a cult classic with a devoted fan base; it could also be that the film just wasn't that good. A few days (or weeks) pass and you'll notice a particular tune bouncing around your head that you can't identify ... until you remember that it's from the obscure film that you saw. This same scenario can also occur with TV shows and video games.

With that in mind, here are ten examples of horror and sci-fi movie, TV and video game themes that got stuck in my head over the years. This list is organized chronologically and most listings have a link to a YouTube video so you can hear these tracks for yourself (and perhaps get them stuck in your head, too). Read on....

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Hidden Book Review: An Undead Apocalypse of a Different Kind



Of the many horror comic writers/artists I've read over the years, I consider Richard Sala to be a special find. I can't think of anyone else who can balance the goofy, the gory and the gothic within a single story so effortlessly, both in terms of plotting and visual style. His stories are rife with absurd characters and situations, yet they feature grizzly acts of violence and body counts that are higher than many "serious" horror comics. The best description I can think of to summarize Sala's work would be what horror comics would look like if the late cartoonist Charles Addams had decided to apply his dark humor and unique illustrations to expressionistic tales of terror. Yet even that fails to capture what makes Sala's work so unique and entertaining.

Over the holidays, I received a copy of The Hidden, Sala's latest book. (Note: Sala's The Hidden is not to be confused with the awesome 1987 space parasite movie of the same name.) Sala retains his distinct style in this new title; however, by placing it in a story about the end of the world, he takes themes he has previously explored into eerie new territory. Read on for my complete review.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Goodbye JawsFest DVDs, Hello TalkFest Online Radio Show!


When we last left Lou and Dianna "Yana" Pisano, they had finished their trilogy of excellent JawsFest DVDs (read my reviews of the DVDs here and here). At the conclusion of the third JawsFest video, the Pisanos announced that they would not make any additional JawsFest DVDs. Thus, the Pisanos' contributions to the fan culture of the Jaws franchise is over ... or is it?


Last month, I heard that the Pisanos were considering their own online radio show called Lou and Yana's TalkFest. They aired their first episode on December 23, and Lou and Yana are as affable as ever. They take calls from fellow fans, play music, and discuss their many favorite franchises, such as the Jaws, Halloween and Superman movies and TV shows such as The Incredible Hulk and The Six Million Dollar Man. They also broadcast material they collected from their previous fan endeavors, including Lou's interview with Joe Alves that he recorded as part of his Jaws 2 retrospective that's being published in SCREAM magazine. They are on the air every Tuesday at 6:30 PM EST, and each episode is about an hour in length. It's a great fan-friendly radio show, and you can listen to episodes here on the BlogTalkRadio site.

Yet if you miss the Pisanos' video productions now that their JawsFest trilogy is over, never fear. Lou has set up his own channel on YouTube, where you can see some additional JawsFest snippets and two HalloweenFest video shorts. Check it out here.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Look at Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop



With Nintendo closing shop on Wii game development and focusing its attention on the upcoming Wii U system, I've decided to catch up on games that I missed earlier in Wii's run, particularly horror games. With other planned Wii horror games such as Last Flight and The Grinder stuck in development hell, it seems that the older Wii horror games are the only options I have until the Wii U arrives. During the recent holiday season, I got a copy of Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop, which was released by Capcom in 2009.

I initially avoided Capcom's remake of their first Dead Rising game for the Wii because it seemed like a lesser version of something that was already done better on the Xbox 360. Yet as an avid zombie fan, I found it too irresistible to avoid playing a game that's so similar to George Romero's original Dawn of the Dead (more about that later). It turned out that my initial impressions were wrong, and that Chop Till You Drop is a satisfying and addictive game in its own right. Read on for my complete review.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The House That Screamed (1969) Review: Revenge of the Repressed




Common knowledge dictates that if a film is good, it will be rewarded through various means of distribution (TV, VHS, DVD, and so on) for years and decades after its release so that multiple generations of viewers can enjoy it. Yet if you’re a veteran horror film fan like me, you know that not all high-quality shockers are rewarded with studio-facilitated longevity. One noteworthy example of this unfairness is the film I am reviewing in this post: The House That Screamed (a.k.a. La Residencia, a.k.a. The Boarding School), a 1969 gothic horror film from Spain that was written and directed by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador.

Despite its ample display of talents both in front of and behind the camera, The House That Screamed didn’t achieve much success during its initial release and it never found a worthy means of distribution since then. Over the years, the film has been released under different titles and different edits; its most current release in the U.S. is part of a double bill on a DVD in the Elvira’s Movie Macabre series. (You can also see it on YouTube here.) This is a shame, because this a film that deserves so much more--rarely are horror films as sumptuous as The House That Screamed, and it deserves to truly shine in a Blu-ray format. Read on for my complete review.