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an ongoing description of my life, loves, thoughts, fears, work and lustings.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Day of the Dead (1985) Review



Why not get this out of the way – right off the bat?

Day of the Dead – the late George A. Romero’s 3rd installment in the on-going undead saga – is my #1, tip-top, absolute favorite film of all time. And that’s not just horror, folks – that’s tops when looking at dramas, comedies, action flicks, sci-fi and everything else in between.

High praise, indeed, right?

Day of the Dead takes us inside an underground bunker/storage facility in the wilds of Florida. A group of civilian scientists and a bunch of itchy trigger-finger military men share this vast (and yet somehow cramped) space. The scientists spend their days trying to figure out how to fix or how to end the zombie apocalypse up on the surface, while the military faction begrudgingly assists these scientific efforts. Among the group is the only female, scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille) and a semi-domesticated zombie named Bub (Howard Sherman). When tensions between the scientists and the military men comes to a violent head – paired with the looming danger of the walking corpses – all hell breaks loose. Who will survive?

I’ve always found this film to have three major things going for it.

One: Performances. While many believe Joe Pilato’s performance (as lead military man Captain Rhodes) is a little over-the-top, I’ve always found it to be a highly enjoyable bit of scenery-chewing. And beneath these loud line deliveries, there’s the nugget of real fear and desperation from the character as he realizes he is expected to lead this dwindling and fractured group. So I think the insecurities which Pilato brings to Rhodes are overlooked because of his surface anger. Either that, or Rhodes is just an a**hole.

Supporting turns from Howard Sherman as “Bub” and the late Richard Liberty as “Dr. Frankenstein/Logan” are easy highlights in a strong group of solid actors. Liberty perfectly captures Logan’s deteriorating mind and you’ll marvel at Liberty’s quirky character choices – when you’re not completely disgusted by Logan’s actions in the name of science.

As for Sherman – he gets but one line of dialogue and the rest of Bub’s emotions must be conveyed through pantomime and a series of grunts and growls. The fact that we deeply sympathize with this flesh-eating corpse – says a great deal about Sherman’s masterful acting work.

But, as has always been my belief – this film is Lori Cardille’s. She’s a remarkable actress – never hesitating to show the boiling uncertainty beneath the character’s strong facade – most notably in what I’ve termed her “Oscar” clip – when she is forced to do something downright grotesque to save a loved one. Even with so much going at this moment in the story and in the marvelous special make-up effects – you must still keep a watchful eye on all of the lovely detail in Cardille’s performance. She shakes, she sobs and she shows that Sarah’s strength is peeling away – as everything else is falling apart in the world of the film.

The second star of this film is the gnarly make-up work from maestro Tom Savini. You thought he did wonders in Dawn of the Dead – just wait until you see the zombie visages and the gut-crunching he provides here. Of note is the now legendary demise of one of the main characters (I’m sure you’ve seen it, but for the uninitiated, I’ll refrain from spoilers) at the film’s climax. Savini and his practical ingenuity at its absolute finest.

Finally, you’ve gotta love the overall atmosphere of dread and death and hopelessness this film so beautifully captures. Romero was a master at so much (may he RIP), including editing, making his characters’ poor communication mark their downfall and making his audiences unable to escape this horrible unease. Seriously, this film is uncomfortable – for sooo many reasons.

Day of the Dead took a long time to gain the “cult status” it now so richly enjoys. Not originally received with a lot of love – it’s time to finally notch it up as a true horror classic.

This film boasts great performances from a gifted acting ensemble, mind-blowing practical effects and enough zombie-filled, post-apocalyptic dread to fill up an entire underground storage facility (i.e, a lot).

Day of the Dead is available on DVD and Bluray – but my personal favorite version is the Anchor Bay souped-up Divimax edition with the “Bub” head fold-out cover. So many amazing extras and an that eye-catching neon yellow case.

The film was originally released in 1985. And there have been TWO quite inferior remakes of the film since then. Yeah, you can go ahead and avoid those completely.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review



We’ve all heard and/or read about how George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead is all about anti-consumerism.

And of course, who can argue? The man himself said as much. And, I mean – look at the film for an ultimate confirmation of this theory.

And as prominent as that theme is, it’s never been the big draw for me.

It’s been the dynamics between this semi-random grouping of four personalities – and how they do (and don’t) communicate in a crisis. The first time they’re all together – their differing personalities are on full display – and it’s magic.

Traffic helicopter pilot Steven (David Emge) and his broadcast producer girlfriend Fran (Gaylen Ross) plan to escape the sprawling (and failing) City of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia – when the zombie apocalypse comes knocking at their urban door. Following a violent shoot-out in one of the city’s low-income housing projects, SWAT members Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree) join the couple and escape via the aforementioned chopper – out of this overrun city… eventually finding an abandoned shopping mall. They’ll make this consumer paradise their temporary home, but will have to come to terms with their isolation and their own problems – not to mention the hungry (and ever-increasing) hordes of zombies pounding on the mall doors.

Of the four lead performances, there are some good moments and some not-so-good acting moments from all of them.

If I had to call out the best work, I’d say it’s a toss-up between “bruhs” Ken Foree (Peter) and Scott Reiniger (Roger). Reiniger certainly has a lot to play with, since Roger takes such a sudden downturn, following some unfortunate (and fool-hardy on his part) events. And Reiniger beautifully captures the character’s over-excitedness, obviously deep-seated fears (in spite of his bravado) and later – the very frightening realizations of what could be. (Did you enjoy how I just breezed past potential spoilers – for those who don’t know what happens?)

Foree truly gives Peter a no-nonsense and truly brave side. Other than a semi-strange misstep for a character choice during the film’s climax, Peter is gutsy. And with Foree’s 6’5” frame, he perfectly fits the character’s mental and physical power.

And with that, I don’t think Emge and Ross are quite as strong. They each have amazing moments: Emge’s physicality in the last portion of the film is crazy-good and Ross can deliver Fran’s sassy sarcasm like nobody’s business, but they don’t quite reach the deep emotions I feel characters in this situation might have. I’ve never hated these performances, I just don’t think they are at the same level as Reiniger and Foree.

While Savini will truly come into his own (zombie make-up-wise) in the third chapter of Romero’s original zombie trilogy – Day of the Dead – there are some pretty spectacular gore effects present in Dawn of the Dead – if you can get past the splotchy and mismatched blues and greens of the undead mall residents as a whole. Disembowelings, machetes to the head and plenty of effective (and devastating) bites – prove how good Savini is/was and would be.

The film has plenty of fun “boo” moments (a cat and mouse chase in the mall’s boiler room) and some good suspense (Roger’s overzealous truck hot-wiring fiasco) – but nothing will disturb you or remain in your memory longer than Peter’s haunting delivery of the line “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”. That is also the film’s advertising tag-line – and to this day, it sends shivers down my spine.

There is a 2004 remake of this film, but it takes the original film’s name, the story’s main location and a character’s pregnancy – but not much more. While quite enjoyable in its own right, I’ll have to give the original film a big leg up (obviously).

There are countless versions of this film available (new and used), but I will defer to the “Ultimate Edition” DVD from Anchor Bay. An embarrassment of riches – alternate versions of the film and special features to die for (ahem) can be found there.

On that note, I would recommend the film’s “Extended Version”. It runs a good 30 minutes longer than the better-paced “US Theatrical Version” (Romero’s personal choice), but includes some fascinating extra footage. Most notably, you’ll get an actual scene with one of the dock workers – who we now know is Day of the Dead’s Joe Pilato (he plays different characters).

And in this extended cut, there is a scene so telling and so wonderfully appropriate to make the character’s mindset extra clear – that I was almost speechless when I first encountered it. It’s late in the lease (so to speak) for the character’s mall-stay. And Stephen has discovered a camera. He jokingly takes a photograph of Fran – and her reaction/dialogue is absolutely priceless.

Honestly, you can take a lot of the extra and extended scenes in the “Extended Version” and do away with them – but this moment is one of my favorites out of the entire film – in any of its incarnations.

Romero's 1978 film is a true classic of the genre, and deserves your views, your screams and your respect (mall gift cards accepted).

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Review



Shot in black & white and released in 1968 during the height of The Civil Rights Movement, Night of the Living Dead became a classic.

This eensy-teensy, low budget film about flesh-eating zombies and bickering human beings, was selected by the Library of Congress for safe-keeping in the National Film Registry. It’s been remade, colorized, sequelized (coining that new term) and copied – but never, ever duplicated.

Not too shabby for a film which cost $114,000 to make.

For reasons unknown (with some speculation present), the recent dead are returning to life to attack and feed upon humanity. Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny (co-producer Russ Streiner) are visiting a family grave in the Pennsylvania countryside – when they’re attacked by one of the “ghouls” (the term zombie was never used in the film). Barbara flees on foot and finds “safety” in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. Once a stranger named Ben (Duane Jones) also takes refuge in the home, they become surrounded by dozens (hundreds?) of flesh-eaters. When they discover other survivors in the building’s basement, the danger of the zombies becomes practically secondary to a barrage of bitter arguments, debilitatingly poor communication and flaring egos – culminating in one of the most ironic endings in film history.

The film was the first in a long series of “undead” films from the late George A. Romero (thus christened “The Zombie Godfather”). There have also been three remakes of the property (including a Tom Savini-directed 1990 version, with a screenplay by Romero himself).

Some of the performances present are a little underwhelming, while others are simply over-the-top (enjoyably chewing the scenery was the late Karl Hardman as Harry Cooper). The rest of the ensemble cast finds varying qualities somewhere in the middle. But my personal faves for performance here?

Duane Jones and Russ Streiner.

Jones brings us an engaging lead character. His Ben is no-nonsense, intelligent and feisty. It’s been the topic of conversation in the decades since the film’s release, that the fact that he is an African-American actor – was somehow groundbreaking. Romero has been quoted in numerous interviews, including this one from thewrap.com and an article by Joe Kane:

Duane Jones was the best actor we met to play Ben. If there was a film with a black actor in it, it usually had a racial theme, like The Defiant Ones. Consciously I resisted writing new dialogue ‘cause he happens to be black. We just shot the script.”

So even after all of the endless essays on the significance of casting a black man in the lead – that a black man’s presence was incidental. He was simply the best man for the job. And it’s a fantastic choice. Jones brings an immense amount of authenticity to Ben. He’s just a regular Joe in a dangerous and surreal situation. And even though he’s resourceful and smart, he’s also flappable. One of my favorite acting moments from Jones, is when he loses patience with Barbara’s catatonia and uselessness, snapping at her and then catching himself.

And to see Ben take control of the situation, even with the equally strong personality of Harry Cooper opposite him – makes you instantly like Ben. He’s easy to root for, and so much of that credit goes to Duane Jones’ acting abilities.

And then there’s Streiner as Barbara’s smart-ass brother Johnny. He doesn’t have a ton of screen-time, basically appearing in what is a prologue, but he leaves such an impression – perfectly natural in every line delivery, my favorite being his reminiscences of when he and Barbara visited this same cemetery when they were kids. And of course, he stunningly delivers the chilling and iconic line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”

Judith O’Dea does a fine job as the shell-shocked female lead. The thing is, it’s a poorly written character, so she has so very little to do. It’s a wasted opportunity to engage us with a strong female presence, but this would ultimately be remedied with the 1990 remake, and Patricia Tallman’s “Ripley-esque” version of Barbara.

There are plenty of memorable sequences in Night of the Living Dead – many of them creepy, frightening and grotesque.

But for me, nothing quite digs into the primal well of unease, like the moments involving young Karen (Kyra Schon) and her on-screen mother Helen (Marilyn Eastman). The idea of the scene and the way in which it’s carried out (soundtrack and cinematography) has made for an ever-lasting moment in horror – which one could conceivably rank in some sort of top-ten list: The Nastiest Moments of Horror, perhaps joining Hitchcock’s infamous shower scene in 1960’s Psycho and the “crucifix masturbation” sequence of Friedkin’s The Exorcist. These images stick with you.

Night of the Living Dead also contains some of the most unsettling images of flesh-eating – certainly for this time in cinema. Current audiences may find this grisly sequence tame – when compared to the gut-munching of something like The Walking Dead. Frankly, I would have loved to have grown up in that era – to experience these scenes of cannibalism first-hand and in a “simpler” time. As is, however, the entire “let’s go get the gasoline” scene is harrowing and disturbing.

With okay to great performances, a gritty, almost documentary aesthetic and our first introduction to Romero’s vision of a flesh-eating monster apocalypse, Night of the Living Dead holds up beautifully – even 50 years after its release.

A classic and a ground-breaker (from the depths of the very graves themselves) – it’s always a good time for a revisit with these bickering humans, their senseless in-fighting and the threat of ghouls just outside the window.

The film is available almost anywhere and in countless versions (plenty of credit goes to the now-legendary copyright snafu prior to the film’s release) with the elite Criterion Collection putting out its most recent incarnation. I’ve yet to pick up this latest version – but my collection will not be complete until I have it in my grubby, rotting little hands.



The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Review



I saw this film in my teenaged hey-day of horror film education.

And to this day, there’s a “boo” moment which ranks in probably my top ten all time scares – in gut-wrenching effectiveness.

The original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – from late director Tobe Hooper – earned (and has kept) a place in not only horror film history – but in cinematic history. Just imagine the joy of oodles of horror fans, who also watch the Oscars’ telecast each and every year – when in 2018, that final image of Leatherface dancing about with his running chainsaw – appeared in a montage of classic films.

Of course, the Academy Awards then neglected to honor Tobe Hooper for the “In Memoriam” segment, but one mention is better than none, right?

It’s a disgustingly hot and humid day in Texas, as five young adults drive down the open highway for a pleasure-seeking road-trip. Sally (Marilyn Burns), her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), Sally’s boyfriend Jerry (Allan Danziger) and their friends; couple Pam and Kirk (Teri McMinn and William Vail; respectively) stop to visit an old cemetery where Sally and Franklin’s kin is buried. There have been some recent grave-robbing incidents in the area, so they are there to check on their grandfather’s plot. When they later pick up a weird hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) on their way to Sally and Franklin’s deserted old family homestead – it is but a drop in the bucket of what horrors these five young friends will ultimately experience.

Shot like a gritty documentary, the powerful images throughout the film – bring with them an almost “scratch-n-sniff” sensation. You can practically smell the sweat, the blood and in one scene – the slaughterhouse which the group’s van drives past.

In this realism, there is a never-ending sense of unease and discomfort present. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is by no means an easy film – in the way it makes you feel, but also in the subject matter, the knee-jerk scares and most of all – in the unrelenting suspense.

This film was right at the forefront of “final girl” / “chase sequence” slasher films. The final chase between Sally and the grunting, animalistic Leatherface (a now legendary performance from the late Gunnar Hansen) ranks as one of the most breathless and terrifying movie chases ever. Don’t take this as a spoiler. Despite this being a seminal “stalk-n-slash”, we’ve all seen enough films in the four decades since – to easily identify where this film is going. If not, turn in your “movie-audience” card now.

As Sally, the late Marilyn Burns “goes there”. From all accounts, the shoot for the film was grueling. The heat, the lights and the overall working conditions of a low budget film – actually translate well via the atmosphere and the performances. Burns takes Sally to a state of “beyond” in everything she does. She makes Sally likable and authentic in the film’s early moments, but when she must give it her all and endure the unimaginable events which the character is written to endure – you’ll be awed by what you see. Despite some folks’ penchant to demean the term “Scream Queen” – if anyone earns that title, it’s Burns. A remarkable and primal performance. Just thinking about it makes me shiver.

The rest of the cast is quite good – perhaps with the exception of Paul A. Partain. Well – let me rephrase that. I don’t necessarily think his is a bad performance – as the endlessly whiny and irritating Franklin. I guess the fact that we dislike Franklin so darn much, offers up proof that Partain does a fine acting job.

On my most recent viewing (probably over 100 of them, thus far in my life), I thought the final act fell into some The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – territory. I don’t recall the original being quite so slap-stick and with such grim humor. I’ve always believed the sequel (also directed by Hooper) to be an honest-to-goodness horror/comedy. To see twinkles of that dark humor later in the original (on this latest screening) – somehow turned me off.

With an authentic feel, authentic performances and some of the most jaw-dropping suspense – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a masterpiece.

Not an easy call to make for any film, but hey, I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.

And if you’re wondering what the moment was – which so jarred me when I was a kid – I need only describe the sequence of Sally pushing Franklin through the rough underbrush of the Texas countryside. It’s late at night and they’re looking for Sally’s beau, Jerry. Franklin is whipping his flashlight back and forth in the search, when he simply says, “Did you hear something?”

Exactly.

And if the voice of the narrator in the film’s opening moments sounds familiar – picture the ‘80s sitcom Night Court while listening in. That’s John Laroquette offering up the chilling details of “what you’re about to see...”

The film spawned three sequels and a remake (which has its own follow-up films – three of them). There are a total of 8 films in this franchise, ending most recently with the lackluster (but potentially intriguing) Leatherface in 2017.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is available on VOD, as well as on multiple versions of DVD/Bluray. A must-see and a must-own.










The Birds (1963) Review



Perhaps not everyone’s top choice for the very best from Alfred Hitchcock’s vast filmography, but I’ll fight tooth and nail (beak, perhaps?) to defend my favorite Hitchcock classic, 1963’s The Birds.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren in her feature film debut) is a confident and beautiful socialite, living the dream in cosmopolitan San Francisco. While at a local pet store to pick up a Myna bird for her aunt Tessa – she meets Mitch Brenner (The Time Machine’s Rod Taylor) – who is also at the store to pick up some birds (for his younger sister’s birthday). After much flirtation and a mistaken identity, Mitch darts away, leaving Melanie more than a little intrigued. She does a little research and discovers that Mitch lives in Bodega Bay – just a hop, skip and a jump from the city. She packs up for the weekend and takes a chance. Once reunited with Mitch in the small coastal town, the flirtations ramp up into a possible love affair. Mitch lives with his mother (Oscar-winner Jessica Tandy – Driving Miss Daisy) and the aforementioned younger sister Cathy (Alien’s Veronica Cartwright) on their family farm. As the weekend progresses, so then do some strange bird attacks throughout the town. Eventually, the group will be boarded up within the farmhouse, attempting to survive these unexplained avian onslaughts.

Most of The Birds revolves around the blossoming relationship between Mitch and Melanie. The bird attacks are somewhat incidental to the many soap opera antics at the story’s forefront (intrusive mothers, lost loves, flirtations), but when the birds do finally swoop down from the sky – there’s no doubt where the focus lies.

The film has no actual music score, but is accompanied by a terrifying design of bird calls, caws and screeches – designed by long-time Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann. Having no score (considering the romance at the film’s center) was perhaps a gamble, but it’s so completely effective – almost without an audience even making note of the music’s absence.

Hedren (mother of actress Melanie Griffith) does a great job in her first role. Sure, she doesn’t quite nail the “emotional” scene atop the sand dune, where she first opens up to Mitch, but I find her performance of this spontaneous socialite – forever engaging. She’s a beauty to be sure, but seeing the character go from “prim and proper” to flirtatious to terrified – makes for an interesting and layered performance. As good as she is in The Birds, her follow-up film (Hitchcock’s wonderful Marnie) allows her to… ahem… spread her wings.

Taylor is at his matinee-idol handsomest, and his chemistry with not only Hedren, but with his on-screen mother (Tandy) and his much-younger on-screen sister (Cartwright) proves that his acting work is nothing short of perfect. He connects with his scene partners as effortlessly as he connects with the audience. Mitch is suave, no-nonsense and a total man’s man and Taylor draws us in almost effortlessly. Mitch is a good guy all around (there could be some debate about his previous love affairs, but…) and an audience will have no trouble falling in love with Mitch (as well as Taylor).

In a supporting role as school-teacher Annie Hayworth – Suzanne Pleshette practically steals the show. All of Annie’s history (revealed to Melanie late one night) gives Pleshette oodles of character flaws, dashed dreams and infatuations with which to play. I generally care a great deal for all of the characters in The Birds – but Annie (and Pleshette) brings with her an extra special sympathy – partly because of her ultimate fate, but also because the character is so lonely and slightly obsessive. Pleshette’s is an underrated performance in the Hitchcock pantheon.

I have always marveled at the many tricks which Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks (who worked with Hitchcock on countless other classics) employ in The Birds. Among the many favorites – the gas station explosion. The perfectly-framed faces of the town restaurant’s horrified on-lookers and the quick (and expertly-cut) edits as the flames travel up the street. It’s a beautiful scene – in a breathtakingly gorgeous film.

And of course, there’s the age-old question of any horror film… Is it scary? By today’s standards, probably not. But that doesn’t mean some of the sequences come up empty-handed, as far as the fear factor. The film’s climax – as Melanie takes a flashlight to the second floor of the Brenner home to investigate some strange noises (how’s that for a horror film cliché?) – is the stuff of nightmares. And Melanie absent-mindedly enjoying a cigarette outside of the school – as well as the subsequent moments – is an absolutely perfect example of creating suspense and dread.

So who wants to take me on? Psycho? Amazing. Strangers on a Train? Delicious. North by Northwest? Breathless.

A little birdy told me...” that simply, The Birds cannot be beat. It has it all – man vs. nature chills, a bit of gore, melodramatic (but extremely appetizing) character histories and what I would consider one of the bleakest endings in film history.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t nod my head in everlasting appreciation – of the “bird in a cage” symbolism all throughout the film.

The film is loosely based on Daphne du Maurier’s (Rebecca) short story of the same name.

The Birds is currently available on DVD/Bluray and on various VOD outlets.

The Road Warrior (1982) Review



George Miller continues the Max Rockatansky saga with the 1982 release of Mad Max 2 – or what it’s better known as (certainly in the US) – The Road Warrior.

It’s several years since the events of Mad Max, and the world is now an honest-to-goodness barren wasteland, following the World War only hinted at in the original film. Max (Mel Gibson) drives his old “Interceptor” police vehicle, in a never-ending search for gasoline (“the juice, the precious juice”). He happens upon a somewhat civilized community – complete with their own oil well as well as their own band of outside marauders who surround their well-protected compound – desperate to break in and own this fuel. Through a series of unfortunate events, Max allies himself with the oil-owners, eventually resulting in one of the best car chase scenes ever created.

There’s not a ton of dialogue in the film – certainly from Gibson. Max is the strong, silent type (after the events of Mad Max, we can understand why), but he is smart, insightful and no-nonsense. Gibson is at his matinee-idol best here, handsome and always with that quirky side-smirk he so perfectly executes. It’s a tough call to size up Gibson’s performance, as Max is so emotionally shut down. There’s not much for Gibson to pull from the script, but when he makes a connection with The Feral Kid (a “wild child” who lives in the oil compound), you’ll hark back to the tragedy of the first film, and see how Max still has a soft spot despite his rough history. And Gibson keeps it subtle, which only adds to his iconic magic in this role (one he’ll play a total of three times).

The supporting cast is fantastic, but call-outs to Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain and Vernon Wells as The Wez are certainly necessary. These supporting performances practically outdo Gibson himself – Wells offering a vision of punk-weirdness and no-holds-barred (and creepy) insanity, while Spence offers up plenty of goofy comic relief. The Gyro Captain’s love interest in the film is a tiny token of sweetness in an otherwise brutal film.

The violence is harsh and this matches perfectly with the breakneck pace of the film’s final act. Keep in mind that the now-legendary car chase which completes the film – involving at least 100 vehicles and countless stunts – was filmed long before the convenience of CGI. In other words, the scrapes, crashes, fire-bombs, destroyed vehicles and life-threatening stunts – were all done practically.

The score from Australian composer Brian May is up to the challenge of properly accentuating the feel of the wasteland and the desperate battle which takes place there. It never distracts from the action in the final reel, but without it – the sequence would certainly be incomplete.

Mad Max (1979) started off on the right foot, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) took this world to Hollywood and Mad Max: Fury Road met up with Oscar. But none of them got it as exactly right as The Road Warrior did.

Gritty, ultra-violent and with epic camera and stunt-work, The Road Warrior is a remarkably made film which only gets better with age. For a film that’s 36 years old and which doesn’t enjoy the “benefit” of today’s filmmaking technology, that’s no small feat.

By the way, the film ranks in my personal Top 20 favorite movies of all time – at the enviable #12 position.

The film is available on multiple VOD services. It can also be found on both DVD and Bluray. Bottom line: It’s a must-own.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) Review



How dare they? Seriously – plans to remake George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead?

Absurd, unnecessary and frankly, irritating.

Well, imagine my delight – when in the early part of 2004 – the ad campaign began to circulate for Zack Snyder’s (Man of Steel, Justice League) feature directorial debut.

The trailer immediately set me on edge (I have an innate and irrational fear of zombies) and once opening night arrived, I went to the theatre with a great deal of honest-to-goodness anxiety.

To properly illustrate how deeply this remake affected me – the now legendary prologue of the film (those heart-pounding first 10 minutes) – had me so terrified, that if the film would have continued at that break-neck pace (it mercifully cuts to the opening credit sequence), I quite possibly may have left the theatre.

Does the film hold up the same way? Well, not particularly. But in the film’s defense – it’s now made it into my Top 40 Favorite Films of All Time – and I’ve seen it a minimum of 100 times. So…

Nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) joins several other survivors – including police officer Kenneth (Ving Rhames) – in the relative safety of a secure shopping mall to avoid the danger and rampant death brought on by a massive zombie outbreak in their city of Milwaukee (and eventually, everywhere else). There are the usual character dynamics (in-fighting, poor communication) mixed in with this epic zombie threat. And so we’ll follow this group as they make decisions about potentially spending the rest of their lives besieged inside this consumer paradise, or will they make a choice to attempt escape?

Other than the location of a shopping mall, flesh-eating zombies and a pregnancy sub-plot – the film has very little in common with the Romero original.

Something which has bothered zombie fans (beginning with 28 Days Later) was the idea of (what my older brother termed) “turbo-zombies”. These undead creatures run. Romero wasn’t a fan of this change, but the idea of these flesh-eaters being able to compete in a marathon – actually works for me. While certainly improbable in the real world, it certainly amps up the suspense, the danger and the terror.

And on the topic of the zombies here – the make-up and gore effects are top-notch. Rotten faces, gun-shots to the head and plenty of munching cannibalism – will appease the gore-lover in you. A bit of trivia: the make-up effects are created by David LeRoy Anderson – who is married to A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Heather Langenkamp. If you have a keen eye, you’ll see her name listed in the credits of this film as part of the production crew.

There’s a solid crew of actors present here (including appearances from character actor Matt Frewer and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell), but the best work comes from House of Cards’ Michael Kelly as security guard, CJ. Perhaps it’s the fact that his is really the only character with an actual arc. CJ isn’t the same person in the end of the film, as what he was when we first meet him. Kelly deftly handles the character’s shift in priorities – while never losing CJ’s entertaining and sarcastic realism.

Of course, Sarah Polley does great work in the lead role. She does an amazing job with the horror side of the story, but in some smaller moments – upon additional inspection – she loses me. I have made note of some of her “improv” abilities. In larger group scenes, when there are arguments afoot, her random interjections never ring true. Perhaps a weird thing to call out, but it’s noticeable. Overall though, her performance is quite good.

Ving Rhames gets the chance to not only match his beefy physique with a character who is basically always no-nonsense – but to find some more tender moments for Kenneth. There’s a survivor at a nearby gun shop (you know that’ll come in handy) who develops a “long-distance” bro-mance with Kenneth – and it’s a welcome softer side to a very bloody, violent film. Rhames hits all of these varying notes perfectly.

Appearing in some clever cameos – a few actors from the original film. Tom Savini, Scott Reiniger and Ken Foree show up as various characters on news broadcasts – before that television signal is lost (uh-oh!)

And keep an eye out on other homages to the original film – most notably the name of a clothing store: “Gaylen Ross” – referencing the lead actress from the 1978 film.

There’s a terrible misstep late in the story. It’s a reveal (not for the audience, but for the characters) involving Luda (Inna Korobkina) and Andre (Mekhi Phifer). If you’ve seen the film, you’ll probably know what I’m referencing. It could have been accomplished with a little more grace. In fact, as a writer, I would have taken a different route altogether – which would have been far more devastating – for the audience and the characters. As is, it’s over-the-top and ultimately ineffective.

And what you all want to know… is the film scary? I think so (see my paragraph about the first 10 minutes). But aside from that, there is some terrific suspense, some amazingly creepy and claustrophobic visuals (the shuttle buses) and plenty of “boo” moments to go around.

The film was written by James Gunn – who would go on to great acclaim as the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise for Marvel.

Dawn of the Dead has great gore, terrifying “turbo-zombies”, a solid ensemble cast and some good-old fashioned effective jump scares. It may not hold the same terror as it did with that original viewing (or the lingering dread of the original film, for that matter), but it’s still lots of fun to revisit this flick from time to time.

Dawn of the Dead is available on DVD/Bluray as well as multiple VOD outlets.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Review



After two films in the Mad Max franchise, director George Miller took the on-going story of Max Rockatansky to Hollywood (in the real world, not in the film story).

We’re given a little glitz, a little glamour, a higher budget and a legendary rock star.

But what’s most different about this third entry – is the inclusion of one simple concept:

Hope.

It’s sometime after the events of The Road Warrior and Max (Mel Gibson) is still very much alone (aside from his team of camels and a tiny, but helpful monkey). When his transport is stolen, he ends up in the “civilized” settlement known as Bartertown – built and operated by Aunty Entity (the legendary Tina Turner). In order to get his rig and animals back, he must trade in his quick wit and skills to kill one of Bartertown’s staple citizens – one half of the unit known as “Master Blaster” (“He can kill most people with his breath.”) Through a series of events (including a fight to the death in the titular gladiatorial arena), Max comes into contact with another settlement – this one made up only of innocent children. They all return to Bartertown and we’re treated to another epic vehicle chase through the desert.

Whereas the first two films in the franchise were dark, unsettling and bleak, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome offers up the aforementioned hope, in the form of these children. In that, the film holds a striking similarity to Return of the Jedi. The first two episodes of that original trilogy were also a bit darker. The introduction of the cuddly Ewoks is mirrored by the introduction of these goofy little kids in Thunderdome.

It’s not that it’s bad, but it automatically becomes less violent and terrifying. I mean, back in the day, Hollywood didn’t kill children on-screen. So the painful grit and smelly diesel of the first two films is greatly missed in this third chapter.

You’ve even got a little over-the-top comic relief in the form of one of Aunty’s cronies, Ironbar (Angry Anderson) – who takes the lighter reins of the prior installment’s Gyro Captain. Where The Road Warrior’s Gyro Captain was unique and goofy, Ironbar is a bumbling buffoon – like a keystone cop of cinema days gone-by. And little changes like this seem to move the franchise into a more family-friendly place. This film even managed a PG-13 rating, whereas the other three films in the Rockatansky journey are all a well-deserved R.

The score from Maurice Jarre is a far cry from the more ragged and harsh music of the first two installments. It’s almost romantic at times, incorporating some tribal cues, while still making way for the franchise’s patented intensity when needed. While I love the score (namely Bartertown’s clinky-clanky theme), it serves to take the series in a more epic direction. Even with some amazing and breath-taking action sequences in Mad Max and The Road Warrior, those films still have an appetizing intimacy to them.

Mel Gibson is fantastic in all of his Max incarnations. Thunderdome is no exception. By this point, he’s got the character down to a tee. He understands Max’s history, his need for isolation and his crippling inability to truly connect with others, except when he does. It’s understandable why the filmmakers would take Max directly into the arms of a band of children (considering the events of the original film), and this certainly allows Gibson to re-explore the softer side of the character.

But the real star in this episode is Tina Turner. I’ve said this since I first saw this film in the theatre, in 1985 – why didn’t she do more acting? She commands the screen from the moment she appears. Helping her along is the inspired chain-mesh outfit and high shoulder-pads which Aunty sports. Turner oozes confidence and sexuality as Aunty – but offers up several quieter moments, serving to show that the character still has some humanity. She’s proud of what she’s accomplished with Bartertown, and it shows. I think this performance was a showcase of Turner’s unsung (see how I did that?) talents.

The film ends with another grand car chase, as in The Road Warrior. It’s exciting, thrillingly shot and edited and once again proves that for high-octane craziness, George Miller and his team are the top of the heap.

Followed up by the multiple Oscar-nominated Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome gets a little too “hopeful” for my taste. But that also sets it apart from the franchise’s other films. And I can appreciate that divergence from the formula, even if I don’t totally love it.

When I think Mad Max, I think adrenaline, violence and impressive-ass stunt-work. A “children are the future” message… not so much.

There’s been talk of a Furiosa spin-off for Mad Max: Fury Road, but for my money – I’d simply die to see an Aunty Entity origin story. Then again, if we can’t bring back Turner to do it, I guess I’ll pass.

A little less grit and a little more “Ewok-ness” are matched up with a towering performance from rock icon Tina Turner – and plenty of what you’d expect from the Mad Max saga. All of this makes for a rousing and well-made installment.

While not my series’ favorite, the film has wormed its way into my heart as an all-time favorite. There’s plenty to love, even if you have to wade through some of the “mushy”, PG-13 stuff.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is available on DVD/Bluray and on VOD.




Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Descent (2005) Review



My college buddy Ryan Newton Harris first introduced me to this film. I was given nothing but a DVD (no cover art) and a message saying, “This is one of the scariest things I’ve seen in a while.”

Well, color me intrigued. Over a decade later, The Descent finds itself in my Top 40 All Time Favorite Films (regardless of genre).

Six female friends take a hiking trip into the Appalachian Mountains for a little spelunking, some female bonding and to get Sarah’s (Shauna McDonald) mind off of her troubles. You see, Sarah lost her husband and daughter in a tragic car accident a year before (a shocking sequence which opens the film). Most of the ladies are skilled spelunkers, but the “leader” of the group is go-getter Juno (Natalie Mendoza). Once inside this vast cave system, the ladies must deal with bad directions, unfortunate injuries, cave-ins and oh yes – a violent and blood-thirsty species of underground humanoid creatures called “crawlers”.

The Descent is good at so many things. But it might surprise you what I will call-out as the best of these amazing things.

It’s the set-up and the build-up.

There is certainly an atmosphere of dread as the film begins, and as the characters go deeper into the cave system, there are multiple dangers. But what makes this film stand out, is the complexity of the characters and their mutual histories.

I’ve always marveled at the fact that the film goes almost a full hour before “that” happens (a major jump scare, ruined by the US ad campaign). Which means we’re spending time getting to know these ladies. And so when crisis after crisis erupts later in the film, we’re already 100% on board with their plight. That, my readers – is good writing.

There’s a reveal (which you’ll get amazing clues to – perhaps in subsequent screenings) which has nothing to do with the dangers of the underground, but with character dynamics. It’s quite a whopper and the film truly earns it. I’m nodding my head in appreciation at this moment – just thinking about it.

But without the epic performances from this gifted ensemble of actors to back up the rich script – the film wouldn’t work.

Luckily, McDonald gets to run the gamut in character emotions. She’s down, depressed, frightened, jumpy (exhibiting some serious PTSD symptoms) and then she brings the character full circle to an almost primal and incredibly strong woman. It’s not often you get such an impressive character arc – or a perfect blend of excellent acting paired up with impressive story.

I do have to call out Natalie Mendoza as Juno. I’ve been in love with this character (as well as Mendoza herself) since I first saw the film. What Sarah is in the film’s beginning – Juno is exactly opposite. She’s cocky, assured and strong in every way possible. Mendoza is a beautiful woman to be sure, but it’s the attitude she brings to Juno which will truly impress.

One of the juiciest horror films in recent memory, The Descent throws every possible bit of bodily fluid at our ladies and you’ll go from “ewwww” all the way down to “I think I’m gonna be sick”.

On that note, the make-up effects are absolutely stunning. Gore for days (all of it spot-on) and the creature make-up for the “crawlers” looks like some monster straight out of The X-Files (in a good way, of course).

And kudos to the actors portraying these spry creatures. I can just see the ad placed when looking for actors to fill these roles, “Non-athletic, non-acrobatic and non-contortionists need not apply.” The “crawlers” are some of the most frightening movie monsters of the last 25 years.

The film borrows from Carpenter’s The Thing (in isolation, hopelessness and even in a few music cues) and Aliens (you’ll be reminded of that film’s claustrophobic search for the colonists).

The film has amazing suspense and jump-out-of-your-seat “boo” moments (too many to count). Be prepared to grab the arm of your fellow audience members.

What might surprise you is the emotional depth which the film offers – particularly in the piece’s final moments. I do caution you – if you want a richer and more deeply fulfilling “don’t make me cry” epilogue – watch the UK version of the film. The ending of the US version feels like a “let’s make this more commercial” cop-out.

I’ve met writer/director Neil Marshall on a couple of occasions – and based on my nerd-gasm as I blabbed about how much I loved this film – I’m sure he’ll avoid me in any future social situations.

A sub-par sequel was released four years later – with Marshall executive-producing. I say this with perfect clarity – in the wish to save you some time… avoid at all costs.

The Descent has a strong following and will hopefully stand the test of time. With frightening mood for days (or nights – you can never tell when you’re underground), bold performances and buckets full of blood and guts – the film is an absolute winner.

The Descent is available on DVD/Bluray and on multiple VOD platforms.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Review



The late, great Wes Craven always had a knack for christening his films with the most engaging, chill-inducing and perfect titles.

The Last House on the Left. The Hills Have Eyes. The People Under the Stairs.

And A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Long before Freddy Krueger became an actual pop-culture icon, he was a supernatural child molester who stalked you in your dreams. And he was terrifying.

Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) lives in her suburban home with her divorced mother Marge (Nashville Oscar-nominee Ronee Blakeley). Nancy’s dad Donald (Enter the Dragon’s John Saxon) is a local Police Lieutenant. Surrounded by her close friends Tina (Amanda Wyss), Rod (Nick Corri) and Nancy’s boyfriend Glen (Johnny Depp is in his feature film debut), Nancy’s got a pretty good life – until each of this friendly foursome begin to experience the same violent and terrifying nightmares, involving a burned man wearing a glove of deadly finger-knives. Thing is – if this dude gets you in your dreams, you’ll expire for real.

Dreams have been a staple of horror films for as long as horror flicks been around. Mostly used as a scare tactic, A Nightmare on Elm Street was probably the first film to make nightmares and dreams the central conceit.

It doesn’t always work (the film’s third act leaves many things unanswered or out of the realm of possibility), but aside from that, this film truly has the goods.

Most of the performances are solid. Heather Langenkamp would go on to play some version of “Nancy” in two more of the franchise’s films, but this original is where she really shines. Nancy’s a pretty typical teenager (if a bit prudish) and Langenkamp easily brings us on board to follow Nancy into all that she will eventually endure. It’s a very physical performance from Langenkamp, not only in chase scenes and moments in “scream queen” territory, but in the physical decline as Nancy attempts to keep herself from sleep (and therefore death). You can practically feel Nancy’s exhaustion seeping from the screen. Despite Nancy’s hardships at Freddy’s hand, there’s something so primal and terrifying about not finding solace in sleep – and Langenkamp makes us believe it – as well as the unbelievable situation in which Nancy finds herself.

As for the bad, Ronee Blakely is notoriously awful as Nancy’s mother. Her reactions are always a bit over-the-top and aside from her delivery of “He’s dead, honey – ‘cause Mommy killed him”, there’s very little authenticity in anything she does. It’s a very weak link in an otherwise strong chain of ensemble performances.

Depp is appropriately handsome as a high school football star (a far cry from later, more eccentric roles), and brings an immense likability to a secondary role. There’s a good chemistry between Depp and Langenkamp, and you’ll grow to like this couple – once things in the story really begin to cook.

The score from Charles Bernstein (Cujo) is now legendary. The theme (which we would hear re-used in several of the other films in the franchise) is a glorious bit of synth-pop and is now eternally linked to the films and the character. Like Friday the 13th’s theme or Carpenter’s Halloween score – the theme from A Nightmare on Elm Street is instantly recognizable.

Freddy’s original make-up from David Miller (who would take a break from the series and return for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child), is pretty gnarly. Helped along by the very dark (a far cry from the more “comic-book” feel of later entries) lighting and coy camerawork – Freddy is rather unpleasant.

And with that – of course, we can’t go on without offering kudos to Robert Englund as the eternal Freddy Krueger. He’s not like other movie killers of this era. Whereas Jason and Michael Myers are somewhat lumbering oafs, Krueger is spindly and maneuvers easily.

When Craven and Englund figured out how Krueger would operate and move, they truly hit on something powerful. Perhaps it’s the fact that Freddy appears in dreams, which makes his physicality so perfectly odd. One need only look at Tina’s experience with Freddy in the alleyway behind her home. With the help of some grotesque special effects, Englund’s body language as Freddy here is bar none – the best in the series. That eerie chase in the alley – his body hunched over and darting back and forth down the damp alley – nightmare-fuel, indeed.

But Krueger is also one of the big horror heroes who actually vocalizes. And in this respect, Englund also delivers. Freddy’s quips here are far less crazy as compared to later films. He’s still a smart-ass, but the jokes here are more subdued and certainly darker. When Freddy says to Tina, “Watch this!” before nonchalantly slicing off a few of his own fingers – you’ll realize you’re simply not safe. And that this isn’t really a joke. And Englund’s wide eyes as Freddy does so – prove that a gifted actor can truly emote from behind heavy character make-up. Eyes are the windows to the soul, after all… even if you’re a soulless creature like Krueger.

The film is certainly frightening. There are ample “boo” moments and in later sequences, some nail-biting suspense. But for genuine creepiness, I refer you to the appearance (and reappearance) of Tina in Nancy’s dreams. Not for the faint of heart, the image of Tina standing outside of Nancy’s classroom (in a particular “state of dress”) – will forever haunt my nightmares.

A bit of trivia: Lin Shaye (of the Insidious franchise) appears in that same scene as Nancy’s teacher. And she gets the most impressive line of dialogue in perhaps the entire series (based on what has just happened in the prior scene), “You’ll need a hall pass.” Now that’s good writing.

Obviously, the film is a horror classic. It introduced the world to an icon, provided mostly great performances and took the idea of dreams in a horror film – to the absolute next (and perhaps highest) level.

That’s not to say that it’s perfect. A few mentions of the less-than bits: the final moment of Marge in front of the Thompson home (terrible) and the very wishy-washy nature of that aforementioned third act (is it, or isn’t it a dream?).

But dammit – I love it. And it holds the admirable #4 position in my list of all-time favorite films (of all genres). It’s been a spell since I revisited this early horror love, and I think it’s time to remedy that. Who’s in?

But first, a little nap. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Spawning six sequels (some good, some not) and a vastly inferior 2010 remake, A Nightmare on Elm Street is the type of cinema which dreams are made of. Ahem.

The film is available on multiple VOD platforms as well as several DVD/Bluray incarnations.

Monday, December 17, 2018

2019 To-Do List Extravaganza!

It's time again to check out the tasks I was able to complete over the past year, and which things on that to-do list came up short.  Let the praise and blame commence!  

Of course, let's start out with last year's list and how I stacked up.  Then we'll get into the nitty-gritty of 2019's vast mountain of tasks!

1) 8 (EIGHT) REVIEWS/ARTICLES for HORROR FREAK NEWS or TOM HOLLAND’S TERROR TIME (or any other potential outlets) per month.
Since there were a few months in 2017 where my 10-article self-imposed quota seemed to be too much, and based on the fact that I truly believe 2018 will be a very busy year for screenwriting, I’m going to keep my article/review quota in place for each month. But instead of a daunting 10 articles, I’m going to expect only 8 reviews/articles per month. It feels like something of a cop-out, but I’m willing to make the attempt to keep my sanity. Believe me when I say that having the 10 articles over my head every month, and then not making a couple of those months – I was beating myself up… and good. It’s not worth the neurotic flare-up.

How did it go in 2018?
Out of the 12 months of the year, I only made my quota in 7 of them.  However (as is the norm), allow me to make the usual excuses.  One, I retired from Horror Freak News (my outlet for the past 4+ years) in early December.  So that killed that month.  There were also some changes to the site in the summer, so I quit for a couple of months (and came back to almost finish the year), so I didn't write reviews in June or July.  In January, I had a screenwriting project which took all of my time.  However, there were the festival-heavy months of September and October, where I easily surpassed my 8-review quota.  Regardless of how much I rationalize -- I DID NOT complete this full task in 2018.  UNDONE.
2) Complete Christian Demons.
As always, this will require many, many steps to achieve. So before the end of 2018, I need a 1st draft, 2nd draft, 3rd draft, send to readers, 4th draft (with reader notes), 5th draft, reading prep, reading, 6th (post-reading) draft, 7th draft. And I’ll finish this one up with an 8th draft. Obviously, I’ll do more if necessary.

How did it go in 2018?
Other than an 8th draft listed above (it ended up not being necessary), I completed all of those steps.  #2 is DONE!

3) Christian Demons to festivals.
I’m up in the air about this. Perhaps a couple of select festivals. Since the film is heavily LGBT, I might try my hand at targeting those fests, in addition to some of the horror ones. I’m gonna leave this open about which specific festivals, but I’m gonna shoot for 5 total festivals – where Christian Demons can/should be submitted.

How did it go in 2018?
DONE.  No problem.  Placed in a couple of them, rejected by a few others.  But it's DONE.

4) First draft of any script.
Like last year, I’m gonna put out there for a (currently) unnamed feature spec script to find completion on (at least) a 1st draft. Several options on the table already, but I’ll be open to some random inspiration (like what happened with Christian Demons in 2017). If not some wonderful random idea – then I’d like to see a potential first draft for The French Toast Nine, Harsh Critic or Lindsay’s Locker – all of which are projects I’ve already begun.

How did it go in 2018?
The so-called "unnamed project" didn't require a first draft of a script, but I did it anyway (for my own sanity).  While it wasn't one of the scripts listed above, it's still DONE.

5) Work on the “unnamed” project which found me in July of 2017.
Again, no details can be divulged, but I’m hoping this will find completion (in the many multiple steps necessary). When making my “tab board”, I’m going to put down 8 total (vague) steps. A nice round number, as I actually have no idea how/when/where this may go. Obviously, there may be more than 8 steps. There may be less. Time will tell how this gig goes… For now, fingers crossed, yo!

How did it go in 2018?
While I only tackled 2 total steps, I did what was required of me (thus far).  I hope that there will be plenty more work on this project in 2019, but for 2018, I can firmly stamp this as DONE!

6) The 53 Zombie Moods: A book for your coffee table.
Putting it on here again. Again, let it organically happen and all will be right with the world. Is this the year we make it to the finish line? Frankly, any push toward making this work will be welcome.

How did it go in 2018?
Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  A big fat UNDONE.  I'm resigned to the idea that this will happen when it happens.  But it WILL happen.

7) The House up the Street.
I’ve got four bursting at the seams folders of old handwritten stories, poems, etc. From as far back as 1984. I’ve had on the agenda for some time, plans to put all of these into a book and get it self-published. Kind of a progression as a writer from the very beginning. First and foremost, I have to get these old pieces typed up and saved into a computer, before I begin to put it all together. It’s a big project, so tackling ONE folder seems a reasonable way to move forward.

How did it go in 2018?
Believe it not, it saw some work.  Organization, a few typed stories and other administration on the project.  But sadly, I have to stamp this with a giant UNDONE.  Shooting for more work on this in 2019!

8) Valet.
I think this will be an easier production than my other short, A Great Yard. So I’m putting this on the list. 12 months to make this happen. Update the script. Pre-production. Production. Post-production. C’mon, let’s do it.

How did it go in 2018?
I think I discussed this with my buddy Monte -- about possibly directing it.  Other than that, no action of any kind on this property.  A big ugly UNDONE.

9) Valet to festivals.
If this finds completion before year’s end, I’d love to get it out to festivals for the following season. Let’s shoot for 5 of them (for starters). Festivals to be determined...

How did it go in 2018?
Well, see above.  Nothing completed, thus nothing to send to festival.  UNDONE.

10) Passport renewals.
Didn’t make this happen in 2017. But I think there may be opportunity (wink, wink) for world travel in 2018, so obviously, this is a must. And it should be (and should have been in 2017) an easy one to mark off the list.

How did it go in 2018?
UNDONE.  It's as simple as that.  Adding this again to my 2019 list.

11) Move Penelope’s site.
Several years ago, I befriended actress Penelope Sudrow of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I built her personal website. But as is, I am the only one who has access to updating it – as it’s connected to the same site building platform as my own personal websites. Bottom line, I need to open her own account and rebuild the site – eventually passing off complete control to her. I unfortunately no longer have the time to manage it for her. I don’t think this is a major undertaking – but time will be required nonetheless.

How did it go in 2018?
UNDONE.  Putting on my 2019 task list.

12) Lose 20 pounds in 2018.
With the loss of 20 pounds in 2017 – I know this is totally do-able. And with that extra 20 smackers off of my gut – I will be at a more ideal weight. Make it so.

How did it go in 2018?
DONE.  With a new workout regimen (begun at the year's mid-point) as well as some new meds to help control my diabetes, I made this a reality.  Currently under the 190 lbs. mark.  Yay!

13) 40k words on Scratcher (novel).
Trying for this again. 40,000 words on my first novel. Not anything to be “completed”, but this would be a huge push in that direction. C’mon, Klug – do it!

How did it go in 2018?
UNDONE.  Not so much as a look.  Putting it back on the list for 2019!

14) Tonight I Shall Lease Your Soul (update).
With interest from a producer, this script will require a little updating, development and stream-lining. Gonna put this one down for THREE steps – potentially THREE new drafts before it moves into exciting new steps.

How did it go in 2018?
Nothing happened here.  I was expecting a possible option agreement for this property, but didn't come to fruition.  Not putting this on 2019's list, as it seems a bit of a stretch.  Holding out hope for future work on this, but for 2018 -- UNDONE.

15) The Costume People (update).
Same thing here. THREE updated drafts of this – to appease potential development by interested producers.

How did it go in 2018?
This was a rousing success.  The script was optioned and I began to develop it with the producers.  I finished 3 rewrites of the piece, streamlining and bettering the overall concept.  We also held a reading with a new gaggle of readers (the second reading for this property).  So this is an easy DONE.

16) Acting – THREE gigs.
I hoped for FIVE total acting gigs last year, and did one. So I think downsizing this on my to-do list is reasonable. Three short film or feature film acting gigs. And with all of the lovely connections I’ve made at my new weekly acting class/workshop, this feels promising.

How did it go in 2018?
I only acted in one piece -- a feature film written/directed by my buddy Monte.  And it was a remarkable experience.  High hopes for the completed film.  But while I did this project, I only did the one -- not the three.  So happy w/ my progress in the acting world, but did not make my 3 gig quota.  UNDONE.

17) House.
Gonna throw this wish up here again. I’m so totally ready to leave communal living behind and move into a single family home. Why not? And I’m DYING for some new decorating/re-organizing projects in my life. I find them supremely relaxing. What better way to feed that need, than to have a brand new home/canvas in/on which to create!

How did it go in 2018?
UNDONE.  We're still in our communal living/apartment situation.  Not that it's a terrible, awful thing and of course, we have a roof over our heads, but I'm ready to spread out.  Putting this back on the 2019 wish list.

18) Update my personal website.
That’s kind of a vague title, but whatevs. There are lots of piddly little things (all of which add up to plenty of work) which need to be fixed/updated over at notmymess.com. One of the glaringly obvious ones is to properly link up all of my reviews to their actual location on the interwebs. Not a tough job, but certainly time-consuming. This could potentially be an easy one to mark off of the list.

How did it go in 2018?
DONE.  Lots of updates done over the past year.  Easy-peasy.

19) Keep current on horror film releases throughout 2018.
This is a weird one. It’ll certainly be hard to qualify success or not. But over the past two years, as I get ready to write my “Best of Horror” end of year list, I find there are major gaps in my horror education as I come into December. And right now (as at this time last year), I’m scrambling to get in a dozen or so horror films under my belt (whether I’m reviewing them or not) in order to make the most educated decisions on which pieces end up in my top 15. Obviously I can’t see everything, but I want to feel like I’ve done my best. So rather than kill myself in the last weeks of the year, I want to watch them as they come up (even if I’m not reviewing them). Make sense? I guess a good way to determine success, is if I have – let’s say – 6 or less films to take in at year’s end. Totally reasonable.

How did it go in 2018?
UNDONE.  But with the changes at Horror Freak News and my two-time resignation, this was bound to come up short.  And since I'm not doing my year-end, "Best of Horror", this turned out to be an unnecessary task.

20) Produce a stage-play starring me! :)
This might be a high-falutin’ pipe-dream, but I’m gonna see how it goes. I’ve been itching (as last year) to get back on stage again. I want to produce some sort of stage show where I can highlight myself as an actor. Something small. A few plays come to mind – or perhaps I can write something myself. Do a show that runs like two or three weekends and that’s it. I like this idea. Hmmm...

How did it go in 2018?
UNDONE.  Not so much as a brainstorm. 

Only 7 DONES from 2018.  I've had better years and worse years.  At least something got done, right?  Right?

Ha!  But as is the norm, I'll catalog some of the other accomplishments of the past year, which weren't on my original to-do list -- just to make me feel better about the sea of "Undones".

Worked on a potential journalism gig for several months.  The project's ultimate destiny is currently up in the air, but plenty of time was spent working toward that goal.

I started two feature spec scripts -- both now at varying levels, somewhere in first-draft land.  But they are both on the list for this year's tasks.  One is called Mom Died and the other, Rest Area (based on a short story I penned in high school).

I spent a good amount of time with the folks in my acting class.  It's been a remarkable time with these artists, and it frankly feeds my soul.  Can't wait to get back in there in 2019 to continue to grow, experiment and have fun!  :)

I also spent a chunk of time on a short film script, a potential collaboration, but unfortunately, that fell through.

I'm sure there are some other milestones I reached over the year, but nothing more is coming to mind.  But don't let that fool you -- in amongst the nice amount of busy times, I had plenty of time to be a lazy sloth and plenty of time to travel (including a 9-day trip to DisneyWorld).  Rest assured, I got to relax.

And here we are at the list for 2019.  Gonna shoot again for 20 items (most of them involving multiple steps -- as they always do).  Update:  I've added a couple of adt'l items (perhaps a bit more wishy-washy in their conception), but 23 items it will be.

1) "Sid's Apple Rewrite (s)" -- In anticipation of completion of my 10th feature spec script in 2019, I have been toying with the idea of marking that milestone, by returning to my very first screenwriting experiment, the feature spec "Sid's Apple".  It's near and dear to my heart, but I've not revisited it in a long time.  Which means, I've developed significantly as a writer since I first started on that project about 15 years ago.  So I've no doubt it's gonna be rough as hell!  But I do still believe in the story itself.  And I loved the characters.  I'm putting this on my list -- to include on the "tabs board", the usual.  But since it's already past the multiple drafts arena, I'll reckon it needs 3 drafts to bring it up to speed.  This includes one new rewrite, out to readers for notes, one adt'l rewrite (post notes) and then a reading (as well as the planning stages) and then a final rewrite before submissions to festivals.

2) "Sid's Apple" to Festivals -- I submitted the script way back when, to one lone festival (it got nowhere).  This will be a fun experiment.  Looking forward to it -- anticipating 5 festival entries for this property.

  3) Unnamed Project -- This was heavy on my list in 2018, and will hopefully continue to receive attention in the new year.  I've no confirmation on that, and certainly can't discuss details -- but I'm putting it on the "tabs board" for an adt'l 5 vague steps -- listed simply as "Unnamed Project Step 1" and so on, as I obviously don't know exactly how many incarnations (if any) may materialize.  Hopefully this exciting write-for-hire gig will come to full fruition in 2019.


  4) Passports Renewed -- As in previous years, this has been on the back burner.  This year, it must get done (hopefully because it has to -- see #3 on the to-do list).


  5) Produce "The Chair" -- This is a short story/monologue I wrote and performed in high school.  I've often looked back on it with great pride.  And I think, with some reworking, it could make a helluva short film.  So with multiple steps (including rewrites, pre-production, production and post -- as well as potential festival entries), this will be a big project in 2019.  I plan to produce and act in the one-man piece (I've a director in mind and have already reached out -- there is interest).  Fingers crossed.  This could be an interesting process.  And goodness knows I need the experience and the reel fodder.


  6) The Costume People -- As this was optioned in 2018, and 3 adt'l rewrites completed (as well as a second table read), I'm hoping this will come to fruition in 2019.  And since there will be dozens and dozens of steps involved, I'll have to figure a smart way to put it up on the "tabs board".  Perhaps several vague "Step 1", and so on.  We'll see.  But I have a feeling The Costume People will be a high priority in the new year!


  7) New Feature Spec Completed -- As is my new smart way to tackle this, I'll not suggest any particular property to be done.  Whatever strikes my fancy... that's the way to go.  And so on the "tabs board", we'll have the usual multiple drafts, out to readers for notes, prep for reading, reading, etc.


8) New Feature Spec Script to Festivals -- Whichever script this turns out to be, planning for 5 festival entries.

  9) 2nd New Feature Spec Completed -- Since I'm taking journalism and film criticism off of my plate, there's absolutely no reason that I can't complete 2 (that's TWO) feature scripts within the one year.  And so #9 here, is an exact replica of #7 above. 


10) 2nd New Feature Spec Script to Festivals -- Whichever SECOND script this turns out to be, planning for 5 festival entries. 

  11) Lose another 20 lbs. -- I've done quite well in 2018, including a steady stream of workouts beginning at the year's mid-point.  Of course, travel, sickness and schedules have not allowed me to be perfect all of this half year, but I've done quite well.  At press, I'm down to just below 190, and I think I could use a few more off of the old gut.  If I can get back to my semi-ingrained regiment, I would love to lose those last pounds, and then start building back up with some muscle.  I've so got this.


  12) New Headshots -- Self-explanatory.  Old ones are now over 2 years old.  Make it so.


  13) Read 10 Books -- Shouldn't have to put this here, as it should be a given.  But I want to hold myself to it.  And with stress levels high this year (and my inability to handle it properly), I need some way to keep my blood pressure down.  And reading is an obvious escape.  So it finds its way onto this massive to-do list.


  14) 3 Acting Gigs -- While I only did one of the three acting gigs I wanted to -- in 2018, it was a feature film role and it was a blast.  So not gonna be too pissy about that.  :)  Three tabs on the board, three acting gigs in 2019 -- feature films, short films or stage plays.  It's all good.


  15) Watch All Best Picture Winners -- As I won't be reviewing films this year, I'd like to get back to watching movies for the simple pleasure of it.  I've going to attempt to watch every Best Picture Oscar winner (those I've not seen, of course) and fill in those gaps in my movie education.  Goodness knows HOW I'll work out these tasks on my patented tab board.  


  16) 40k Words on "Scratcher" -- Putting this back on the list.  Would love to really push forward on this first novel.  Perhaps with no journalism on the to-do list, this might be more plausible.


  17) Book of Movie Reviews -- Depending on legalities/technicalities, I'd like to put together a physical book of my 400 or so reviews from the past 4 years.  It'd be relatively simple (he says now), since they're all written.  We'll see how this goes.  Not sure how I'd make my tabs for the board, as I don't have any idea of how many actual steps it might take.  And with my retirement from film criticism, this would be a good way to "bookend" this experience.  Ahem.


  18) Apartment Updates -- We've been in our current apartment for close to a decade.  And there are things we can do to gussy it up a bit.  We're thinking about new tile in the kitchen and bathroom and perhaps some new carpet in the bedroom.  There are plenty of other things we want to do, so this task's presence on the "tabs board" might be wishy-washy.  We'll see how it develops.  Putting up 5 total tabs on my board -- for this arena.


  19) "House Up the Street" Update -- While there was some legit work done on this project in 2018, not near as much as I would have liked.  Putting this back on the list... will determine (down the road) how to handle the tabs.  It's all of my short stories and poetry, etc. from writings dating back to 1984.  I wanna put them all in one place!


  20) Move Penelope's Site -- Didn't get to this in 2018, but must still work toward its completion.  I built and manage a website for actress Penelope Sudrow.  But I need to find a way to get it into her control, as I don't feel I have the time to give it the attention it requires.


  21) Home / House -- Still holding out hope that we'll be able to leave behind communal living and move into our own single family home.  Perhaps 2019 will be the year this happens.


22) International Travel -- Of course, I need to get the passport in order (see above).  I've never been anywhere, and my other half is a seasoned world traveler.  It's time to expand my world horizons.  Why not make it happen in 2019?

23) De-stress -- This is a bit enigmatic.  But it's become clear that I no longer handle stress well.  So I need to find a way to keep my blood pressure and neurotic worrying to a minimum.  Find a new way to meditate perhaps?  Or a new exercise regiment to include more calming yoga?  This remains to be seen, and certainly will be difficult to quantify come year's end -- whether success was reached or not -- but it's a necessary thing for me to take on in 2019.

And there we have it folks!  23 total items to be tackled/handled/ENJOYED in 2019.  I realize I'm posting this with two adt'l weeks still to go in 2018, but maybe I can get a head-start on next year's to-do list, while still finishing up this year!

Below is a photograph of the aftermath of my 2018 tab board.  The empty pins show off the completed tasks for the year, while the filled ones -- the sadly undone items.  Still, looks pretty impressive.  :)


a little bit 'bout klugula...

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Hollywood, California, United States
I'm an actor, writer and director. And I like zombies...A LOT.

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