Sunday, February 26, 2012

Congratulations and Thank you Dick Smith... for everything!

Finally make up artist Dick Smith was honored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences with an honorary award for his massive contributions to cinema!  Last night's Oscar telecast only showed clips of the presentation dinner where Rick Baker (the first Oscar recipient for make up effects) presented the award.   I was obsessed with Smith's mind-altering monster make up magazine published by Famous Monsters in the 60's and it  inspired me to want to pursue make up effects!  He was probably the most important and innovative character make up artist since Jack Pierce.  I will always remember my first impression of graphic gore and superior old age make up on the big screen in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970).

You can view the event on YouTube:

Smith did previously win a make up Oscar for AMADEUS (1984).

Friday, February 24, 2012

R.I.P. LINA ROMAY (1954-2012)

Actress and filmmaker Lina Romay has passed away.  Her contributions to the films of Jess Franco and to Euro genre pictures (under a multitude of pseudonyms!) will always be remembered and cherished.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hammer is back in a big way!

At least it finally feels like it.  THE WOMAN IN BLACK is the first gothic horror from the new Hammer that really feels like a vintage Hammer film in every way.  From the film's sturdy, detailed but modest looking production values (shot at Pinewood Studios) to the steady, smooth cinematography and an effective music score by Marco Beltrami, WOMAN is a subtle, slow-building and satisfying gothic shocker with more than a few splotches of Euro-horror inspiration.  The Bava and Argento influences are readily seen in the film's color schemes and lightning.  When most movies, genre and non-genre, jump aboard the trendy gritty, monochromatic bandwagon and wallow in either dominant blue, green tints or intentionally washed-out hues, WOMAN revels in deep blacks and lurid colors, especially red.  There is a clear BLACK SABBATH and KILL BABY KILL Bava-esque connection to some of the key visual elements and shots and one of the film's stand out shock set pieces is reworked from William Castle's effective but gimmicky HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959).  The film also nicely fits into its haunted house/ghost child subgenre alongside films like Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS (1961), Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING and the more recent, THE ORPHANAGE (2007).  Harry Potter, himself, Daniel Radcliff is a lawyer settling the estate of a client who committed suicide.  He puts in a solid performance in a tense, restrained style that suggests Peter Cushing; measured and never too frantic or over the top.  The supporting cast is solid with the Hammer type fanatical villagers who resent the urbane stranger invading their cursed world where the local children are dying mysteriously.  Director Watkins (DESCENT 2, EDEN LAKE) shows that he knows how to create, sustain atmosphere and build tension without resorting to graphic gore or cheesy CGI.  Watkins is also commended for letting the majority of the story play out with strong visuals while keeping dialog to a minimum.  He also daringly shuns a trendy teen cast and pop songtrack. While the plot is rather conventional, its the film's visual and audio sophistication that lift it above the usual 'reality' horror so popular today.  Sure, you've seen most of the film's elements and scares before in bits and pieces from other movies but it all seems suddenly fresh now.  The darkly romantic, unexpected but satisfying finale wraps things up nicely.  Definitely recommended for old school horror freaks and open-minded contemporary fans!
(Below) Ghosts Gone Wild William Castle-style!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Raquel Rocks the Stone Age at Lincoln Center Film Retrospect!

2/9/12, New York City-  I attended two films at the Film Society of Lincoln Center- Richard Lester's THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and the Hammer/Harryhausen collaboration ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966).  Both films were part of the Raquel Welch 10-film retrospective.  MUSKETEERS was introduced with a brief Q&A between Ms. Welch and Dick Cavett who retained  his heavyweight title as a pompous blow-hard; always in perpetual awe of his own wit and more interested in talking about himself.  True to form, he talked incessantly, name-dropped about a million celeb friends and touched on just about every topic except the film in question.  Welch tried to keep steering it back to the Lester film but gave up early on.  She did manage to squeeze in a single, interesting antidote about how she tried to get a grip on her character's scripted clumsiness. When director Lester suggested she play it like Buster Keaton and go for slapstick, she didn't see it that way but felt she could channel Stan Laurel instead!  After numerous attempts, the festival director (who kept pronouncing Raquel's last name as 'Welsh'), thankfully, managed to cut off Cavett who had run way overtime.  The 35mm print of MUSKETEERS was somewhat soft and grainy with drained color but the film stands up beautifully nonetheless with a killer, all-star cast.  The film has elements of silent era slapstick, a sense of gritty historical accuracy and a super cool, pre-Monty Python brand of Brit humor (Lester's GOON SHOW pedigree and Spike Milligan's presence helps, of course).  The BC print was super grainy (pretty much the nature of most Harryhausen rear projection, stacked emulsion-to-the-max, optical printer-happy extravaganzas) but surprisingly rich in color and damage free (even the best archival print makes you appreciate a good blu-ray that much more!).  As a Harryhausen stop-motion vehicle it's really not up there with his best work.  The Hammer budget must have been really tight in comparison to his Sinbad films which come off relatively lavish.  I totally forgot that Laurel & Hardy/Little Rascals producer Hal Roach actually has a producer credit on the film which is an official remake of his 1940 version.  It was somewhat frustrating and sadly funny overhearing a mother/daughter conversation before BC unspooled.  The young early teen daughter surprised her mom when she proclaimed how BC was one of her favorite films.  Her mom was surprised she even knew the film let alone had recently seen it.  Of course, within two seconds I knew they were talking about two different films.  The kid was tripping on Roland Emmerich's 10,000 BC (2008) while the mom's faulty memory was vaguely recalling the Hammer film.  They both agreed the saber tooth tiger was ulta-cool (there is no tiger of any stripe in the '66 film!) and how stunning Welch's blue-eyes and dredlocks were?!   After a painful ten minutes, neither one was any the wiser. For a second,  I wanted to turn around and set them both straight.  Then the second passed.  There were also the expected multiple mutterings by attendees that the dinosaur saga was 'historically inaccurate.'  As if Hollywood films like Cecil B. DeMille and Oliver Stone shams are?  Surely, if you visit any psychotic Creationist museum you'll see depictions of prehistoric man and dinosaur strolling side by side!  That's why it's called his-story.
Say 'goodnight' Dick.  Please!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ed Wood on blu-ray? What's the world coming to?

Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and Roger Corman's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS are set for blu-ray release from the fine folks at Legend Films.  Check out the details at

The idea of Tor Johnson in HD is hard to comprehend.

Remembering Bill Hinzman

Pittsburgh based actor/filmmaker Bill Hinzman has passed away at a youthful 75 years of age.  Long ago, Bill made his mark in cinema history as the most iconic zombie image when he played the graveyard ghoul from George Romero's original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  Bill was also a talented cameraman and filmmaker.  It was a pleasure and honor to work with him on a film I produced several years ago, SHADOW: DEAD RIOT.  He will be missed.