Monday, March 30, 2015

It Followzzzzzz....

Critics are tripping over themselves to praise and read a great deal of significance into It Follows, a modestly-budgeted thriller that attempts to mix a retro vibe with postmodern horror and comes up empty-handed.
Infuriatingly sluggish and elliptical, It Follows certainly could’ve been a clever homage but nothing much happens and it doesn’t make much sense. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell seems to want to evoke memories of the ’70s and ’80s thrillers (especially Halloween) with widescreen cinematography and a nonstop synth score, but he skimps on the suspense and gory payoffs.
Not worth following.

The film opens promisingly enough with a distraught girl staggering out of her house in a state of confusion and driving out to Lake Michigan. Sobbing on the dark beach, she calls her father one last time to tell him that she loves him, and then there’s a shock cut to her horribly maimed corpse lying in the sand as the sun rises. It’s reminiscent of the discovery of the corpse at the beginning of Spielberg’s Jaws…and that’s really about all there is to it.
Next, we’re introduced to Jay (Maika Monroe, also in The Guest, another problematic retro-thriller), a normal, sexually curious high schooler who can’t wait to bag her new boyfriend (Jake Weary). Once she does, however, he chloroforms her, ties her up, and tells her that he’s transferred some sort of killer curse to her.
As she writhes in terror, he gives her the whole rulebook  — she must pass the curse on to someone else as soon as possible or a creature — that only she’ll be able to see — will kill her, go back to get him, and continue down the line to collect its earliest victims. Plus, it has the ability to look like anybody. Then he drives her, barely conscious, back to her house and dumps her in the street.
Mitchell takes the “sex equals death” theme that drove the Halloween and Friday the 13th films to its literal extreme, but it’s a tedious and ultimately empty journey. It’s attractively photographed by Mike Gioulakis and has some interesting visuals, but unless you’ve always feared being trapped in an indoor swimming pool while some undead creature is hurling kitchen appliances at your head, it doesn’t add up to much.
Anyhow, we’re dragged along for an endless ride as Jay, her sister (Lili Sepe) and friends (Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi and Daniel Zovatto) try to outrun whatever sinister shapeshifter is following her as Rich Vreeland’s Carpenter-inspired score cranks on endlessly.
The director’s retro fetish extends to vintage cars and old-school tube televisions everywhere, constantly broadcasting 1950s sci-fi flicks (as in the original Halloween). What at first seems clever becomes a risible conceit, to the point where we see VHS tapes sitting on a table next to the actors. All I could think was “They must be way overdue.”
As for the creatures, they shamble along in a Carnival of Souls/Let’s Scare Jessica to Death manner, and for some reason, a few of them are naked, as if that’s supposed to make them more horrific. Probably the creepiest aspect of the whole production is when the kids travel into Detroit itself. It looks like a war zone, with its boarded-up houses and silent streets. And when they go into one of the gutted homes to discover strung-up cans and bottles hanging from all the windows, serving as makeshift burglar alarms, it’s reminiscent of all the bones and feathers hanging in — you guessed it — The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
 It Follows is one of those films you get about halfway through and realize, with a sinking feeling — “This is all there is to it, isn’t it?” Sadly, it is.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Woodlawn: A San Antonio Musical Theater Gem

As a recent transplant from Los Angeles, where I covered theater for several years, I was most interested in checking out the stage scene upon my arrival in San Antonio last fall. As fortune would have it, the first show I reviewed was the annual production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Woodlawn Theatre, featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race stars.

I was impressed by the elaborateness of the production and the talent on display. Subsequent shows I’ve seen there — including White Christmas and The Addams Family — were similarly well-crafted, and my curiosity was piqued. So, in preparation for the Woodlawn’s upcoming extravaganza, La Cage Aux Folles, I thought I’d take an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the theater and the people who make the magic happen.

The Woodlawn opened in 1946 as a single-screen movie house (remember those?). John Wayne premiered his 1960 film The Alamo there, but the rise of multiplexes and home video in the 1980s almost sounded the death knell. Fortunately, the building was able to escape destruction, and in 2012 it found a new life as the home to one of San Antonio’s foremost musical theater companies.

Greg Hinojosa becoming Zaza
Not only does the Woodlawn provide the community with great live theater, it serves as a valuable resource for those who work — or want to work — in the field. There’s also a year-round Children’s Theatre Program that offers classes in drama for the younger generation. Additionally, the theater contributes to the local economy and the regeneration of the Deco District.

Greg Hinojosa serves as the artistic director for the Woodlawn. He oversees the artistic integrity of all the Main Stage productions and directs four of them himself per year. He teaches classes and workshops through the Academy for the Performing Arts and Community Outreach programs. In La Cage, he’s also taking the role of Albin/Zaza, and he is enthusiastic about participating in this fun and flamboyant show among such terrific talent.

La Cage's director, Tim Hedgepeth, is equally happy to be working at the Woodlawn on this production. He considers this theater his good luck charm, having previously launched his own musical theater company there. He’s also delighted to be reunited with musical director Andrew Hendley and choreographer Chris Rodriguez. “I lucked out in getting Andrew and Chris. We have all worked together, on different shows at different times, and it’s such a pleasure that La Cage is the the first one that brings all three of us to the table at the same time.”

'La Cage' in rehearsal
Hendley, who has been working in local theater since 2001, says, “The musical talent pool in San Antonio continues to grow. We have such talented singers, dancers and performers that it makes working with casts a breeze.” He leads a band of eight musicians for La Cage. Live music is a hallmark of the Woodlawn, and it makes a big difference.

About the local theater community, Hedgepeth says, “I think we are in a very good, creative place. I worry that theaters are sometimes competing for limited audiences, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. What I really appreciate are the numerous opportunities for theater artists to work in a variety of venues around town.”

As for the Woodlawn itself, Hedgepeth calls it “a grand and sometimes terrifying, glorious old picture palace in which echo the voices of old Hollywood and present-day San Antonio.” It’s certainly a great house for the productions being staged here throughout the year. Upcoming shows include Mary Poppins, West Side Story and American Idiot — an ambitious slate indeed.

La Cage Aux Folles plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3 pm (except April 12 at 7:30 pm) from April 3 to May 3 at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road, San Antonio. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling (210) 267-8388.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fave cult and horror movie magazines

A visit to my local San Antonio Barnes & Noble in search of Christmas presents last December was fruitful for a couple of reasons. The first reason was that they now carry new vinyl records (I bought Weezer's latest, which is just great). The second reason was, when I scanned the newsstand, my heart leapt with joy to see several of my favorite cult movie magazines still in print. Okay, so I haven't been ina bookstore for a while.

Ages ago I wrote a post lamenting the late, great weird movie magazines, but I was delighted to be able to pick up these new issues. Not only do these pubs keep me connected to the world of weird, old and new, they also bring back happy memories of my misspent youth. So, in no particular order...

The Phantom of the Movies' Videoscope. Packed with tons of reviews and interviews with some of the most interesting cult figures in filmdom, this mag never disappoints. My collection goes back at least a decade but I need to order some back issues to complete it.

The Winter 2015 ish is typically awesome. Production designer Joe Alves tells talks about the making of Jaws on the 40th anniversary of the world's first summer blockbuster. Animal House alum Tim Matheson reminisces about his career, including his stint as the voice of Jonny Quest.

Regular features in Videoscope include Nancy Naglin's Art-House Video, festival coverage, Rob Freese's Drive-In Dementia, Dan Cziraky's MST-ie Madness, the Phantom's own Joy of Sets and the New Release Shelf, which helps point the way for my on-demand and Netflix choices. I mean, how else would you know that there was a new documentary about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who starred in the ultra-bizarre and inadvertently hilarious Chained for Life, one of the most psychotronic films of all time? And that it was directed by Leslie Zemeckis, wife of Robert? Check the magazine out here — and help preserve the printed word!

Shock Cinema is another old-timer that probably captures the spirit of Michael Weldon's much-missed Psychotronic Video Magazine most of all (minus the typos), and the caliber of interview subjects they manage to snag is always impressive. The latest issue has interviews with punk legend John Doe, '70s beauty Angel Tompkins and utility character Richard Anderson.

I love to read publisher Steven Puchalski's Page One rants about modern culture, city dwelling and anything else that comes to his mind. He was one of the first to grieve when New York became Disney-fied, something I wholeheartedly agree with. Every time I come to town, I walk to Times Square and think, "Jesus! The Lion King is still playing?"

Then, we dive into capsule reviews of bizarre stuff like American network TV movies (back when they were decent) — as well as obscure, forgotten films by famous directors like Hellman, Polanski and Malle. Puchalski also generously plugs other magazines and tiny video distribution companies offering essential product (like the aforementioned network TV movies) who would otherwise not get a platform.

Rue Morgue. The new kid on the block, historically speaking, it's nevertheless almost 20 years old and going strong, supported by efforts in the multiplatform world. Not only is there a print book, it has a substantial web presence and participates in a lot of live events. The magazine also has an aggressive publishing schedule of 11 issues per year.

Of all the current cult movie mags, this is one of the most lavish. All glossy, four-color pages with rich art and graphics, Rue Morgue features regular departments covering new flicks, graphic novels, obscurities highlighted in It Came From Bowen's Basement and new releases in DVD and Blu-Ray. In the latest issue alone, I learned that Archie comics has gone zombie, CHUD is turning 30, and the guy who wrote Coscarelli's marvelous Bubba Ho-Tep is back with a new prison tale of terror.

Check out Rue Morgue's web site and see all of the amazing things they're up to.

Filmfax. Another wonderful old timer, this one never disappoints. As its tagline avers, it's a six-ounce ton of intelligent fun. The new issue has the first chapter in a continuing story of actress Barbara Payton, whose love affair with uninhibited sex and booze was no match for the Hollywood buzzsaw. Also covered is Bela Lugosi's reappearance onstage in Balderston's creaky old Dracula during World War II, when escapism was at its height and poor broke Bela needed all the work he could get.

There's also an illuminating portrait of Jane Henson, wife of Jim, and how she stepped out of her husband's looming shadow to do some remarkable work of her own. And there's an interview with the late Robert Easton, an actor and noted voice coach who ran an ad in Daily Variety promoting his classes for years and years.

Filmfax speaks to the monster kid in all of us, especially us Baby Boomers who were in the 11-14 age range when Universal released all of its horror classics in the 1960s and '70s, giving birth to horror hosts, toys, commercials, cultural shifts and fanaticism that still resonates today.

UPDATE: I went to the Filmfax site to copy its URL for this story, and it looks like there hasn't been any activity for a while. Jeez, was this the last issue?

UPDATED UPDATE: I got the new issue at Barnes & Noble today. Guess they're just not updating their web site. Now I can finish the Barbara Payton and Lugosi stories.

Other in-print genre magazines of note:

Fangoria. Almost 40 years old, this colorful pub keeps churning out the horror news along with its sister publication Gorezone. The publication has also dabbled in film production and distribution over the years, including the bizarre 1991 Children of the Night — with Karen Black!

HorrorHound. Slick, glossy and aggressively multiplatform, this pub even has its own convention.

Little Shoppe of Horrors. Richard Klemensen has been publishing this Hammer and English-centric horror magazine since 1972 —an amazing feat. Issues scheduled for 2015 will cover Showtime's Penny Dreadful and Hammer's 1961 Phantom of the Opera. I have many issues of this magazine, which always features insanely in-depth coverage and rare photos. Hard to find in stores but issues can be ordered from its web site.


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