Monday, July 26, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Night of the Living Dead Merch Attack

I'm a sucker for a great horror movie soundtrack, so I was thrilled to find out that Zero Day Releasing had unleashed a complete mono release of the library music and cues used in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. The music, purchased by the Pittsburgh filmmakers from the Capitol Hi-Q library, includes cues that were previously used in Teenagers From Outer Space and The Hideous Sun Demon. By all accounts the new CD is a vast improvement over the old Varese Sarabande LP.

Even better, I just learned that New York Daily News columnist and VideoScope editor Joe Kane (a.k.a. The Phantom of the Movies) has published a new book on the making of Romero's zombie opus through Citadel. The book, which includes interviews with most of the principals, will be available on Aug. 31.

Ken has also included interviews and remembrances from Frank Henenlotter, Allan Arkush, and Lloyd Kaufman.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

High on Horror High -- Plus, a Cinema Wasteland Update!

Have we mentioned lately that Code Red is rapidly becoming one of our favorite DVD labels? In addition to unleashing Slithis last month, the company has finally announced the specs for its upcoming Horror High DVD: a brand new widescreen transfer, an interview with actor Austin Stoker, bonus TV footage shot for the Twisted Brain version of the film, and an uncut theatrical trailer.

On top of that, the company plans to unleash the obscure swan song of actor Joe Spinell, The Undertaker (a.k.a. Death Merchant, 1988) in October. Although videos of this otherwise unreleased film have been circulating for years, this will mark the first legit DVD release of the title. Our friend Steven Puchalski over at Shock Cinema wrote a nice article on the film for Fangoria a few years back (issue #229).

Joe Spinell in The Undertaker

Getting back to Austin Stoker, we mentioned here that he would be at the October Cinema Wasteland show in Cleveland.

Since then, the folks at Wasteland have updated the guest list to include Ohio filmmaker Jim Van Bebber (who made the jaw-dropping Deadbeat at Dawn in 1988), along with frequent collaborators Mike King and Marc Pitman (who also appeared in Van Bebber's The Manson Family).

And that's not all -- Texas filmmaker Matt Devlen, co-producer and director of Tabloid (1985), will also be on hand to discuss his work with Bret McCormick on Ozone! Attack of the Redneck Mutants (1986) and The Abomination (1986). Joining Devlen will be actress Barbara Dow and fellow Texas director Glen Coburn, who also worked on Tabloid, but who is better known for directing the inventive Bloodsuckers from Outer Space (1984).

All and all, the next Wasteland is shaping up to be a cornucopia of regional horror, and we plan to make the trek north to drink it all in.

Book Update: We finally wrapped up the intro to the book, and a gaggle of horror historians is currently reading through it to check for errors and, later, mock me mercilessly for making them. I've also begun the laborious task of writing captions for the photos. Next up: copy editing the whole thing. Again.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Say Hello to My Little Friends

Island Claws (1980)
Miami, Florida

For the city of Miami, the run-down shacks that litter the property around Jimbo's, a former shrimping operation on Virginia Key, are an eyesore in need of razing; for Jimbo's patrons, they're just part of the increasingly shoddy scenery around the bait shack, where generations of South Florida residents have gathered for Jimbo's weekly smoked fish and beer parties. But for low-budget horror film fans, those shacks are the last remnants of one of the strangest chapters in Florida filmmaking history -- and since we're talking about the state that gave us Blood Feast (1963) and Nude on the Moon (1961), that's saying something.

Island Claws has always gotten a bad rap, in my opinion. Made at the tail end of the second wave of giant bug/monster movies that emerged somewhat anachronistically in the 1970s, Claws lacked the star power of Kingdom of the Spiders or Empire of the Ants, and didn't have nearly the level of manic silliness found in, say, The Giant Spider Invasion or Food of the Gods. As such, it's been relegated to the shadows -- which is a shame, since not only does the film boast an impressive (for this type of film) giant crab (built by Oscar-winning special effects veteran Glen Robinson), along with decent performances by Robert Lansing and Barry Nelson, and a script co-written by Creature from the Black Lagoon star Ricou Browning, it also has one of the most fascinating back-stories of any of its contemporaries.

The film began production in the summer of 1980, and Cardenas Productions immediately made a splash by constructing an entire fishing village on Virginia Key (hence, the shacks at Jimbo's) and putting out a call for residents to help the filmmakers round up 2,000 land crabs to augment the "star" of the show -- a 9,000-pound mechanical crab.

"We have high hopes that this will be the first blockbuster movie made here," said Mary Lee Lander, director of the Dade County Office of Film and Television Coordination, in a Miami News Reporter article. She had reason to be hopeful; unlike other Florida horror films, this one boasted a substantial budget: $3.5 million, most of it coming from the film's principal financers, Dario and Hernan Cardenas.

Which is where the story gets interesting. Hernan Cardenas (credited as the film's director), later described as a "Colombian abstract expressionist painter," came up with the film's concept while bicycling with his wife. As for financing, a Dec. 3, 1987, article in The Lakeland Ledger posits the budget may have originated from the Cardenas' brothers other business -- cocaine.

According to the Ledger article, Hernan and Dario had a another brother, Gabriel, who also happened to be the brother-in-law of Medellin Cartel boss Jorge Ochoa. Although Gabriel had been nabbed in a cocaine bust years earlier, the Ledger article makes the case that Island Claws may have been an elaborate and expensive money laundering "investment."

The Cardenas brothers certainly didn't skimp on the production. In addition to hiring Robinson to build the monster crab, they brought on veteran Florida producer Ted Swanson (who had worked on Rocky and Caddyshack). A July 8, 1980, article in the Miami News also noted that Jimmy Pergola, Ron Sinclair and David Whorf would "direct and edit" the picture.

Pergola is a cinematographer whose credits range from Dillinger (1973) to Major League (1989) to "Baywatch." Editor Sinclair had worked with both Roger Corman and William Grefe. Whorf was an experienced second-unit director who had worked in both film and TV. It's possible that Whorf either directed the film uncredited, or was at some point actually replaced by Cardenas.

The $500,000 crab itself sounds more impressive than it wound up looking. From that same Miami News article:

"The crab will be powered by a bulldozer, along with separate Honda and Volkswagen automobile engines. The legs and claws will be moved by a massive hydraulic system connected to a computer. An 800-pound fluid tank will provide the blood-like juices. A four-camera closed-circuit system will be its eyes."

From what I can gather, the film did not have a theatrical release, and later turned up on TV as Night of the Claw. It was also a staple (under its original title) of late-night TV and was released on video by Vestron.

It's been out of print ever since. According to the old video box, the film's copyright is held by "Hernan Cardenas, Colby Cardenas, his wife and Producciones Cardenas Inc."

Swanson passed away last year. I haven't been able to determine if any of the Cardenas brothers still live in the U.S. Island Claws remains sadly unavailable on legit DVD.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Trailer of the Week: Deadtime Stories (1986)

Deadtime Stories, under it's alternate title, Freaky Fairytales. Whither thee, Scott Valentine?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lawyers, Gore and Money

The tax shelter laws that existed in the U.S. prior to 1986 encouraged a lot of professionals to invest in low-budget film projects, in hopes that they could shelter potentially significant amounts of their income from the IRS. Attorneys frequently pumped cash into these productions; however, these legal eagles occasionally took a more active role, producing and even directing low-budget horror films of their own.

Exhibits A, B, and C:

Toxic Zombies (a.k.a. Bloodeaters, 1980)
After the success of Night of the Living Dead, Pennsylvanians produced a lot of zombie movies, but for viewers of a certain age, writer/director/star and Yale Law School graduate Charles McCrann's Toxic Zombies/Bloodeaters is held in particularly high regard --- and not just because the film opens, incongruously, with a scene of a woman giving herself a sponge bath in the middle of the forest. Toss in some zombified hippie pot farmers, shady government agents (including real-life Romero vet John Amplas), and some corny jokes, and you've got yourself a kooky kilo of stoner zombie comedy.

This was the only film for McCrann, an exec at financial services company Marsh & McLennan. Decades later, he was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center attacks. If you check out the preceding link to his tribute page, you'll note that he was not shy about sharing his singular zombie opus with his law school buds or co-workers.

Girls Nite Out (The Scaremaker, 1984)
We meant to cover this peppy slasher flick when we were doing our tribute to Ohio, but we ran out of time. Plus, although it was set in Ohio, and produced by two Ohio attorneys, and starred former Ohioan Hal Holbrooke, Girls Nite Out was actually made in ... New Jersey.

Set on the campus of a fictional Ohio college during an annual scavenger hunt, Girls Nite Out features a crazy killer decked out in a bear suit (the school's mascot) outfitted with steak-knife claws who picks off co-eds while an obnoxious DJ spins a surprisingly good selecton of oldies (how much of the budget went to music licensing?).

Producers Anthony Gurvis and Kevin Kurgis are both well-known attorneys in central Ohio, but Kurgis has definitely made the bigger name for himself with a series of ominous commercials in which he emerges from behind a door and charges the camera like a brahma bull while touting the value of hiring a good personal injury lawyer. These commercials are so infamous around Columbus, that they have inspired several YouTube parodies, and this Facebook page.

The Mutilator (1985)
Finally, we have this North Carolina classic written and directed by Atlantic Beach attorney Buddy Cooper, which positively drips with blood and confusing Freudian subtext as a deranged killer stalks his own son and junior's college buddies in order to exact revenge for his wife's accidental death years earlier. With cast members from Two Thousand Maniacs! and Deadtime Stories, early work from special effects artist Mark Shostrom, and an extremely nasty death-by-gaffe-hook-in-an-especially-uncomfortable-place.

Here's Cooper himself talking to some dude in sunglasses about his one and only film credit:

We rest our case.