All posts by Landon Evanson

Livin’ the Dream: An Interview with Fright-Rags’ Ben Scrivens

If you’re a horror freak (hint: if you’re reading this, you are), there’s no doubt that you’re not only aware of Fright-Rags, but own at least one of their shirts. Our guess is that you’re just like us and have several. Probably some socks, too.

All thanks to a dream that founder Ben Scrivens made a reality a decade-and-a-half ago. Unable to find unique horror tees, Scrivens set out to design and print shirts that he would want to wear. And as it turned out, everyone else wanted to wear them, too.

Fright-Rags recently enjoyed its 15th anniversary, and Nightmare Nostalgia was lucky enough to catch Scrivens on the phone during some rare down time to talk about his excitement for the new Halloween film, upcoming design releases, and the memories he’s made with genre giants Joe Bob Briggs, P.J. Soles and Tom Atkins as a result of following his dream.

NIGHTMARE NOSTALGIA: Fright-Rags recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. How does it feel to have been living the dream for a decade and a half?

BEN SCRIVENS: (Laughs) I’ll start off by saying that it’s amazing and I wake up feeling incredibly blessed and lucky every single day, that’s for sure. We never take it for granted here at the office that we’re able to do what we do, and we’re just thankful for it. I mean, things get stressful, things get really crazy and busy, and sometimes to the point that you’re at your wits end, but we also know that the worst of days are better than being at some crappy job.

It’s so funny to think about it because when I first started out, my friend Tim, who eventually became my first employee, we were working at a job together and we’d go out to lunch and we would talk about the business—I was doing it on my own—but I was sharing with him some of the stuff that I was doing. I remember going to Subway and just dreaming about what it would be like to do this full-time. Imagine doing this full-time and sitting around and watching horror movies all day like the work was going to get done itself and we could just literally sit down and watch horror movie all day (laughs).

It’s so funny to think about that and then think about what the reality is to make this a full-time job or career, and it’s so different than that. There’s less time now to sit around and watch movies and do those things, but it’s incredibly rewarding and even though it’s so different than I could have ever imagined, it’s still pretty amazing.

NN: Tell us about your involvement with the IT fan film, Georgie.

BS: John [Campopiano] and Ryan [Grulich], who did the film, came to me and discussed wanting to do something for their Indiegogo campaign. I had recently watched Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, and I really dug it and I know they’re going to be doing one for IT as well, and the idea of the short film Georgie and featuring the same actor who played Georgie in the original IT (Tony Dakota), I thought it was just really clever.

There really wasn’t any involvement, they did the work, they did the art, they did everything, they just wanted to know if we would kind of partner up with them to print the shirt for their campaign and help them get the word out. A lot of people ask us to print stuff for them or if we do partnerships or sponsorships, and we turn down a lot of them because I don’t have any personal feeling toward them. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just if I connect with something then I feel a lot better kind of pushing out to our audience because it feels a little bit more personal.

I love IT and I liked this idea and just thought it was an interesting thing that they were trying to do, and I thought it would be fun to help them out. So really, as far as our involvement, all the credit and work goes to them, we’re just printing some shirts for them and, of course, we’re helping blast it out to our audience.

H40 logoNN: It’s obvious that Halloween has a special place in your heart, being your first exposure to the genre at just four years old. Now there’s such an energy and anticipation for the new film, so what was you’re your initial reaction when HorrorHound and Tranacas International Films reached out and asked Fright-Rags to design the logo for H40: 40 Years of Terror?

BS: That was incredible. We work directly with Trancas for all of our Halloween stuff—I, 4, and 5—so we’ve had a great relationship with them over the past several years, and they also use an independent agency that licenses to a bunch of other companies, so a lot of other companies that license Halloween have to go through them which goes then to Trancas. I have a good relationship with that company as well, and that’s when they approached us about possibly doing something for Halloween’s 40th. I thought they were reaching out to everybody, and maybe they did, they made it sound almost like a contest type of thing, I don’t know, it was kind of odd the way that they positioned it.

So I got with my designer and I was like “Maybe we can put something together,” and at the time I really wanted to put something together myself, or at least try because I’m a designer myself and it would have been fun to try to poke around and do something, but I offered it to my designer because I just didn’t really have a chance to do anything. Our designer’s so great, and I’m like “Why don’t you come up with something? Maybe you can come up with some ideas.” It was a couple of days later and he turned out three or four ideas, and I saw that one, and personally, me and everybody at the office was like “Oh my God, that’s it. That’s perfect.” The four and the zero and the Ls, and I’m like “Oh my God!” I probably could have done a thousand sketches and maybe never have come up with that, and I just thought it was perfect. I think we submitted three of the four, maybe we submitted all four or maybe just that one, but I was like “Hey, check this out!”

Again, I don’t know if anybody else submitted or if we were the only ones asked, I don’t really know any other details other than when they saw it they were like “We want to use this.” That was a really cool moment and all credit goes to Joe [Guy Allard] our designer because he came up with it, but it really feels great to be a part of something like this. It’s forty years after the film, and as you said, that was the movie that got me into horror, and here we are, not only creating official merchandise for the film, but sort of putting a stamp on its anniversary. It’s pretty incredible.

NN: Blumhouse’s Halloween (2018) just enjoyed its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and by all indications from those lucky enough to be there, they nailed it. Can you put into words your excitement and anticipation for that film?

BS: Oh, man. It’s funny, we were just talking about that in our weekly meeting today. We all gathered in my office, not only to watch the teaser trailer a few months ago, but the other trailer that came out [September 5] and we were talking about it again today, how we all just have chills. It’s funny, we have a little bit of a behind the scenes look into the film, we have some access to certain things like the script and images that we’ve had for a few months now that have helped shape what we were going to do (with merchandise), but even with that stuff, honestly, I get chills.

It sounds crazy to me, but we were tearing up watching the trailer last week, and it is hard to put into words, because this one feels different, and I think everybody else can agree, and not just because Jamie Lee [Curtis] is back. Even when she came back for H20, which I think was a solid film, the fervor, maybe it’s because the internet is more prominent, so you can have that connection a little more easily and freely now, but it just feels like this one, there’s an energy that I think we’re all feeling about it. And I love the fact the reviews are so positive because I think it’s just going to help this film and I think fans are just going to love it.

NN: Let’s talk about scoring a line for Ash vs Evil Dead, or the new Halloween. Do you seek that out, do they contact you, a bit of both? Walk us through that process.

BS: In general we seek it out, but there have been cases where we definitely get people that contact us. A good example is about maybe four months ago, we got a call from Paramount—we’ve been working with Paramount a little bit, we had signed licenses with them last year for The Warriors and Pet Sematary. We already started with Warriors, Pet Sematary will be out in a couple of months, and we’ve got much more for both of those coming next year because of their respective anniversaries—so we’d already been talking to them, but they called us and they said “Hey, would you like to do shirts for A Quiet Place?”

 And it’s funny because I hadn’t seen the movie yet, it was still in theatres at the time, it had been out for maybe a few weeks or a month and it had gotten some good buzz at that point. When I first heard about the movie it sounded interesting, but a lot of movies are like that and when they come out they kind of fizzle and maybe I’ll catch it on home video or something, but I had just started hearing some really good things about it and I said “Ooh, maybe I should check this out.” Everybody at the office except me and two other people had seen it and they really loved it, so I said “Maybe I need to see this.”

Anyway, they called and wanted to know if we’d like to do shirts for it, and I said “I need to see the movie first (laughs).” So the next day, me and two other people from the office went out during the day to go see it and when I got back I said “Yeah, this is a great film. I think we could do something with it, we just have to be really creative because, obviously, you don’t really see the monsters too much in it.”

That’s definitely a case of that happening, and there’s definitely been cases where people approach us, studios or people who have smaller properties that see if we’re interested. It really is a case-by-case basis. Again, something like A Quiet Place kind of fell into our lap, where other things we’ll see maybe just isn’t the right fit for us, but in many other cases it’s us having a relationship with a studio and asking them for rights, or sometimes the studios don’t even know they have rights for things, and we’re the ones saying we think you have the rights for this and they say “Let us check,” and then they come back and they say “Yes we do,” and I’m like “Okay, we want it.” That happens a lot, too.

Fright Rags logoNN: Fright-Rags is always great with sneak peeks at new collections, and offer coming attractions emails for customers, but do you have a teaser or two for things you might have on the horizon that’ll get peoples’ wheels spinnin’?

BS: We spend so much time going back and forth between what’s happening right now and then what’s happening down the road. We’ve already started planning 2019, almost the entire year, and it’s pretty crazy. I’m already living in October, basically (laughs). Something that’s a little bit closer on the horizon that I don’t think we’ve really done much announcing for—I think we may have teased something almost a year ago that we might be doing it—but we do have a Die Hard collection coming out in November.

Branching out into non-horror type movies, we got some licenses that will be rolling out over the next year or so that are not outright horror, but are also very popular with fans. I grew up with horror, but I also grew up with Die Hard and I grew up with other things, I don’t think it’s so far out of wheelhouse of fans’ love for certain popular movies. So Die Hard is one of them, and I can even say—granted, this isn’t going to be out for a while, but in keeping with that—we’ve also got properties like Edward Scissorhands and Home Alone, as well, that’s going way further out, because that’s not even action (laughs).

Edward Scissorhands you can make a case, where Home Alone is decidedly not horror. It’s horrific for the kid maybe, but we’ve done things like that in the past, we’ve done Garfield, but we did Garfield Halloween, and we’ve done E.T., but we’re trying to do properties here and there that I think can fit outside the horror genre, but fit within our site.

NN: What’s one film or franchise that you’ve been dyin’ to add to the roster that you just haven’t been able to seal the deal on as yet?

BS: I used to skirt this question a little bit because we’ve done shirts for it before but they were all unlicensed, and in recent years we’ve changed a lot in our company. When we first started out nothing was licensed and you have to get licenses for stuff, but we did a lot of unlicensed things for years and then we started finally being able to get licenses, and then we would still do things on a very limited basis here and there, but we’re not going to do unlicensed stuff anymore, period. Unless it’s something that’s so darn obscure or something where we can’t find the rights-holder where we might put something out there just to see if somebody turns up, which doesn’t happen very often but sometimes these movies, no one knows who owns them, so you try to put something out just to see.

Someone says “Oh, I own that,” like “Okay, we’ll pay you,” but my point is the ones I want the most, I’m going to have to say two because they’re kind of on the same level, but it’s Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. We’ve done plenty of Jason shirts on Friday the 13th before, we’ve done parodies, and I don’t mind parodies so much—G.I. Jason’s a parody—we consult a lawyer for those things to make sure we’re not stepping over too many toes with those types of things, but we’ve done plenty of out-and-out Jason and Freddy shirts over the years, a lot of them, and they’ve sold really, really well.

Those are all done limited, and it just got to a point where I’m like, “Just because it’s Friday the 13th, I’m not gonna put out a Jason shirt like most people do,” nothing against anybody else, I’m just making a decision on my own on behalf of the company to not do that anymore unless it’s something like a parody. But I really, truly want to be able to come out and say, “Listen, we have the official rights for Friday the 13th, we have the official rights for Nightmare on Elm Street and we’re gonna do some really kick-ass shirts and not try to hide it, not try to pass it off as something that’s licensed.” I want to do it the right way. It’s weird because we’ve done so many great designs for them, but really it’s not going to feel true and right until we’ve signed that deal.

Scrivens Joe BobNN: As lifelong fan myself, does it feel real, even now, that you had Joe Bob Briggs present a film with you for Saturday Night Rewind at the Little Theatre in Rochester, New York a couple of years back?

BS: It was surreal. It was two years ago in October, and it’s funny because I had talked a lot to his manager, and just prior to that we had done our MonsterVision shirts with them, so I had dealt with his manager Tracy, who’s sweet and she’s great. I dealt a little bit with him, but just a tiny bit before he got here. I didn’t know what to expect, and you just never know with somebody, and he took a train here from New York [City], which is about a six or seven-hour train ride, and I am going to pick him up from the train station and I don’t know if he’s going to be too tired, I’m kind of rolling with it.

When he got off the train and got in the van and I took him to his hotel he’s like, “You want to go out to eat?” and I’m like, “Yep! Let’s go eat.” I mentioned there was a cigar bar across the street, we were talking about something like whisky or cigars—and I like cigars, and I think he likes smoking cigars—and I said there’s one across the street and he said “Let’s go.” We hung out till two in the morning that night just talking.

And the next day he had signed our posters at our office, and then we went to dinner and hung out, we had beers above the theatre and then he did this intro. I came out to the lobby when he was done with his intro, we were going to start the movie, and he said “Hey, let’s go back to that cigar bar.” It’s right down the street so I’m like “Alright,” so we went there during the movie—we were showing The Warriors—during the whole movie, he and I were drinking whisky and having cigars (laughs). And then after the movie was done, it was almost midnight and he’s like “Let’s go back there,” and we hung out until three in the morning.

Then the next day we had lunch and I took him back to the train station, but I’m telling you, he’s got stories for days, I didn’t even have to say a word, he’s just so engaging and nice. And I am so happy, I know it sounds weird to say this, but I’m incredibly proud to see this resurgence of love for him. I know it’s always been there, but I feel like with the Shudder (marathon), that’s what we wanted it to be when we bought the MonsterVision shirt a couple of years ago, and even though that sold well and we did really good with it, I really wanted people to be like “No, celebrate this guy,” and I feel like now with the Shudder thing, it’s just this renaissance. I’m just so happy for him, not to say that he was begging for it or looking for it or in some weird spot in his life and he needed it, I think he was doing just fine, but I just feel like in general it’s nice to see it. That was an incredible weekend and he’s an incredible person.

NN: Obviously,  you have a professional relationship, but it’s impossible to completely do away with fandom, so be it The Last Drive-In or Halloween 2018, give us those impressions when you step back for a moment and realize you’re working directly with these entities in preparation for events that the horror community is out of its collective mind for.

BS: That’s hard to put into words. A year ago for Saturday Rewind we had P.J. Soles come out here, which was another incredible, incredible weekend experience where I got to hang out with her and just talk, and really connect with her.

It’s funny, because she even told me “This is like being with my son.” She really felt like family, it was this crazy connection, it wasn’t just with me, it was with everybody at the office, but we filmed a short movie (November 1st) that we wanted her to cameo in and she agreed to be in it. I was playing Michael Myers and she was going to have this really quick cameo and we were debuting it that night, and I’m standing there in my Michael Myer mask—and listen,  I know this is just a little fan film, just something silly that we were doing as a fun thing—but I’m playing Michael Myers across from P.J. Soles and my inner freakin’ four-year old is just fucking going crazy.

I can’t put into words, but the cool thing about someone like her, and most people that we’ve worked with, they get it — they get the fandom part. They’re not weirded out when you want them to sign something or when you talk about the fandom part, so it’s very disarming in that sense because you feel more comfortable. But it’s weird because someone like her, and again I extend this not just to her but almost everybody we’ve ever worked with in this capacity, you get so friendly with them. There was a small balcony in the theatre that we showed at, and it was my wife and I and P.J. and her boyfriend, it was just us four up there watching Halloween. It was weird because we were watching this movie that I love, with her, it’s an original 35 mm print that I own, so it’s my print of the movie and all these layers of personal connection. She’s laughing at her lines, and I’m watching her watching the movie and there is that half of me that says “Holy shit, this is P.J. Soles!” but the other half of me is just like “This is just a wonderful person and we’re having a wonderful time,” and it was comforting. The nerves weren’t there anymore, it was just “This is cool, this is right, this is okay.”

But again it’s because of those people that make it that comfortable, or allowed me to be that comfortable, so it’s hard to put into words when you’re hanging out with P.J. Soles or when Tom Atkins and Fred Dekker were here and we were hangin’ out until two or three in the morning drinking at the hotel bar hearing stories that I would have never heard before. Yeah, there’s definitely a part of you that’s shaking your inner-self going “Holy shit! Do you see what’s happening right now?!” (Laughs) But it really doesn’t hit you until after, like literally after everything happens and you’re like “Oh, my God! Oh, my GOD! What just happened?!” (Laughs) It’s pretty wild.

Scrivens SolesNN: You’ve been drinking with Dr. Challis? Now we have to hear your best Tom Atkins story!

BS: Oh, my God. I don’t even know if I can say it (laughs).

NN: Now you have to!

BS: I’ll tell you the one thing I remember about him, the thing that stood out to me the most. We live by Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes, and we have a beach and it’s beautiful in the summer, it’s just great, and this was during the summer. I’d had some work to do during the day, so I took Tom out and we had lunch. We were sitting outside on the upper deck of an area overlooking the lake and it was a beautiful July day, and we were just talking about his childhood and how he grew up. We weren’t talking about movies, we weren’t talking about anything else, we were just talking about our upbringing and I just got to learn a lot more about him. It was just serene, this beautiful, perfect day and we spent a couple of hours just talking and getting to know each other. Again, it’s moments like that—the fandom brings you together—but after that connection happens, it deepens. It’s pretty awesome. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

NN: So what’s on-deck for Fright-Rags releases?

BS: We’re looking ahead to October right now because every single week we’re doing a Halloween release, and we’re kicking it off the first week with the new movie. We just did our preorder, but that was really for people to kind of get ahead of the game primarily because when the movie comes out the 19th, we’re going to be shutting down between the 11th and the 16th because we’re going to be in L.A. at the Halloween 40th convention.

We really wanted people to get a chance to get at least one of the shirts if they wanted to wear one to the new film within time, so we held the preorders, but we’ve got more for that movie coming out on the 3rd as well as the ones that we released already.

Then the following week will be the original Halloween and we’ve got a ton of stuff for that, and then the week after is Halloween II and III, and the week after that is 4, 5 and 6. We’ve really packed the entire month full of just Halloween, Halloween, Halloween (chuckles).

We’re really moving full steam ahead, and there’s actually a few things that we’re putting out that we’ve never put out before, a really wicked Varsity-style hoodie that we’re doing that’s really cool, a couple new hats that we’ve never done—we’ve done hats before, but these are new ones—and a few other things that we’re really excited about.

Joe Bob is Back!

When July 13 turned to the evening of July 14, and the lights dimmed and credits rolled on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, 24-hour marathon, those who live and die with blood, breasts and beasts believed they were saying goodbye to the man who had not only curated their love of drive-in cinema, but broke the internet along the way.

But as Joe Bob had relayed through a Diana Prince tweet on July 20:

PrinceJob Bob Briggs will be returning not once, or even twice, but three times, and the world is just a better place for it.

Shudder will bring back the drive-in Jedi for Thanksgiving and Christmas specials “to be titled ‘The Dinners of Death’ and ‘A Very Joe Bob Christmas,” and Shudder, “the premium streaming service of thriller, suspense and horror,” also has plans to launch a regular series featuring Mr. Briggs as host in 2019.

The Thanksgiving special is slated to air on Thursday, November 22, and the Christmas chicanery is set for Friday, December 21. “Both marathons will be streamed live and feature films hand-picked by Joe Bob himself, with special guest stars and Joe Bob’s signature brand of Drive-In deep-dives and commentary.”

From Shudder’s press release:

“The response to our first marathon was overwhelming, and we can’t think of a better gift for our members than to bring Joe Bob back for the holidays,” said Shudder GM Craig Engler. “We’ve been hard at work with Joe Bob and his team to make these new marathons unforgettable events, and we have even bigger plans for 2019.”

Joe Bob Briggs adds, “In November we’re turning Black Friday into Red Thursday with the best deadly-dinner movies in history, and in December we have a very special way to fill that void felt by American households ever since ABC stopped airing the ‘Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey’ Claymation special.”

Continuing:

Details for the Joe Bob series will be announced in early 2019. Both the marathons and the series will be produced by Matt Manjourides and Justin Martell and directed by Austin Jennings.

Nightmare Nostalgia will offer more details on this developing story as they become available.

Briggs smile

Sight Unseen — The Lasting Images of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Tobe Hooper once said “I don’t believe in using too much graphic violence, although I’ve done it. It’s better to be suggestive and to allow the viewer to fill in the blanks with their minds.” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is not one of the finest horror experiences ever put to film because of on-screen slaughter, but rather the suggestion of bloodshed. The long-lasting effect of Hooper’s direction was borne from the simple presentation of a scenario, the resulting (and very personal) nightmares were conjured entirely within the headspace of whomever laid eyes on it.

The concept isn’t exclusive to TCM, but certainly applies to John McNaughton’s tense tale of a week in the life of a sociopath, 1986’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Though it made its way around film festivals for years, the Motion Picture Association of America’s inability, or unwillingness to give it a straight R-rating delayed its limited theatrical release for 4 years.

As legendary film critic Roger Ebert noted, however, “This film deserves to be seen,” and over the course of more than three decades, it has become essential viewing for horror aficionados everywhere. And not for overt violence, although like Hooper, it had its fair share, but rather for what wasn’t seen.

Make no mistake, the reasons for suggestion in this case were partially due to budgetary and time constraints. However, McNaughton wanted to truly explore the inner workings of Henry’s (Michael Rooker) mind, as well as his relationship with Otis (Tom Towles) and Becky (Tracy Arnold), which meant that on-screen violence would have to be dispersed carefully, but to offer a true glimpse at the danger housed within the protagonist, the film would need to be littered with other misdeeds.

And that is where the power of suggestion entered the equation, in part through the utilization of brilliant music cues strewn throughout by film editor Elena Maganini. Portrait of a Serial Killer’s main theme is composed of the simplistic yet powerful piano chords of Ken Hale, Steven A. Jones and Robert McNaugton that matched Rooker’s icy glare, begging the question, what truly resided beneath the surface.

The horrors left in Henry’s wake were revealed through a series of pan shots, offering a peek behind a veneer that should never come into focus. Again, the issues of budget and time factored into McNaughton’s decision-making, yes, but ultimately the road followed was that which would make the greatest impact, and that avenue was paved by sound editor Cory Coken and post-production sound mixer Ric Coken. The audible screams of victims blended with Henry’s angry commands to “shup up!” underneath ghastly visuals painted a picture that turned blood cold, as viewers were burdened with whatever terror played before their mind’s eye thanks to the macabre melody dancing through their heads.

All which set up McNaughton’s final stroke of genius.

BeckyAfter Henry returned to the apartment to find Otis raping his sister, and the ensuing scuffle that resulted in Otis’ death, Henry’s instinct took over and he dismembered his friend’s body in the bathtub before hitting the road with Becky.

In a wink to the audience, another music cue foretold Becky’s fate, as “Loving you was my mistake” sprang from the radio before the pair reached their roadside motel.

The following morning, pulling to the side of a desolate road in the middle of nowhere, Henry exited his vehicle and waited for cars to pass before he opened the trunk. When it had reached its apex, it was accompanied with a single, ominous piano chord. To that point, there may have been hope that Becky had already been in the car when the vehicle pulled away from the motel, but in that moment, the audience knew.

Henry waited for another car to pass, then glanced over his shoulder to ensure no others were coming, lifted Becky’s blue suitcase, now her tomb, and laid it at the top of a ditch beside his car. Once again, the terrified shrieks of one of Henry’s victims echoed as the luggage connected with the earth below. McNaughton had cinematographer Charlie Lieberman hold the shot, and slowly zoom to the blood-smeared bag, a grotesque exclamation point on a film that has always carried an unsettling tinge of documentary.

As Henry pulled away and the camera closed in, all that was left were the curdling chords of Henry’s theme, and the remains of the one person it appeared Henry may have had the slightest sentiment for. Uncaptured and unpunished, the sounds perfectly encapsulated the unknown of where Henry, or those like him—who unquestionably exist—would head next.

The visceral images of McNaughton’s masterpiece proved too much for many audience members to endure when it first reared its head at film festivals decades ago, and abandoned it to what Ebert described as “the purgatory between [an] R and X [rating].” The film was too powerful and too well done to be contained for long, but for the violence we witnessed, including the devastatingly difficult to digest home invasion segment, it was the intonations left unseen that made Portrait of a Serial Killer so indelible.

They were haunting in 1986, and haunting today.

Henry luggage

You Just Can’t Keep a Good Guy Down: Why the Child’s Play Franchise is Anything but Stale

All honesty, I’ve never been one for rebuttals when it comes to writing about horror. I respect the opinions of others and understand that we won’t all see eye-to-eye very often, if at all. Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong?

However, a recent article from 1428 Elm wondered whether the Child’s Play franchise was not only spreading itself thin, but if it was in danger of getting stale.

I cannot abide. So here we go.

Having recently spoken with Child’s Play 2’s (1990) Christine Elise, she used a phrase that struck me, “Don Mancini’s empire.” Though I had never thought of it quite so succinctly, it’s no less true, because it is Mancini who drives the franchise, not Chucky, he’s merely the vehicle.

The man not only created this universe we all know and love, but has written all seven installments, directed the last three, acted as executive producer for Bride of Chucky (1998), and as of this writing, is slated to, at the very least produce the television series.

Child's Play TV seriesAt a glance, it would appear that seven features and an upcoming TV project may appear to be a bit much, maybe even spread thin, but not when you consider that the original film hit theatres in 1988, and we have seen gaps of seven, six, nine and four years from Child’s Play 3 (1991) to the most recent effort, Cult of Chucky (2017).

What’s more, the last two films are the very reason Wade Wainio’s assertions are askew.

Mancini has always possessed perfect pitch when it comes to his franchise, not only in tone and atmosphere, but with what is or is not resonating with the fans. After Child’s Play 3, Mancini felt as though he was beginning to tell the same story over and over, and believed it was time to switch things up. And he was right, 3 didn’t have the same energy as the first two, which led to that first seven-year hiatus. Mancini made the decision to fully embrace the badboy one-liners and humor inherent in his demonic doll, and gave us the thoroughly enjoyable popcorn horror thrill ride that was Bride. And the fans loved it. That Jennifer Tilly entered the equation as Tiffany didn’t hurt one bit because Mancini realized that the time had come to give Chucky a wing-man, or wing-woman as it were. And make no mistake, Tiffany is adored by Child’s Play fans, so that particular call was a stroke of genius. And it wouldn’t be the last.

When Mancini attempted to build on the final frame of Bride with Seed of Chucky (2004), it seemed to fall flat, at least in this writer’s estimation, but as previously stated, I could be wrong, I’m sure there are many who dig the fifth film. That said, the injection of a humor focus worked for Bride, but not so much for Seed, so Mancini again took his time before unleashing the next chapter.

Nine years later, we would find Chucky venturing back to his darker roots with Curse of Chucky (2013), and though we would get our first glimpse of a new Mancini trick – the end credits tease – it wasn’t the hint of Andy’s (Alex Vincent) return that made the film, but rather the introduction of a new character, Nica Pierce. Beyond the rare slasher trait of continuity, something that has always set the Child’s Play franchise apart is the sense of family, not only on-screen, but off. Those who have built this “Mancini empire” truly appear to be a tight-knit group, and what could be more familial than casting Brad Dourif’s daughter to play the human lead? And as we all know, Ms. Dourif didn’t just get the part because she’s Brad’s offspring, she has added layers of vulnerability, strength, emotion and depth that has elevated the entire franchise.

Fiona DourifFrom Curse, the most recent foray was with Cult last year, and pound-for-pound, it may be Mancini’s finest effort yet. Not only was Chucky at his hilariously villainous best, he is now legion, complete with Hannibal references that warm the heart. Fiona again delivered a sensational performance, Tilly was involved, Tiffany made an appearance, and of course, Andy is back in the fold. The story was strong, the writing spot on, it had creative kills, and despite a clinical setting, it was visually pleasing, and the climax had fans aching for what’s next.

Truly think about that last statement. We are talking about a franchise’s seventh film. Typically with such scenarios, we’re off the rails, numerous writers and directors have veered so far from the original vision that it’s almost, if not completely laughable. But Child’s Play is not Hellraiser or Friday the 13th or Children of the Corn, because it’s always had Mancini.

The final few minutes of Cult were eye-bulgingly fantastic. Chucky’s chant finally worked, and when Nica rose from her wheelchair and Ms. Dourif gifted us one of the most spot-on mimics in cinematic history, we felt chills. What is Chucky going to do in that body? Where is he going to go? What awaits down the road?

Fiona as Chucky walked out into the snow to Tilly while Andy was stuck in a cell, most likely to be framed for the slaughterhouse inside the mental health facility, to say nothing of the small army of Good Guy dolls ready to wreak havoc at Nica / Chucky’s command.

The fun didn’t end there, however, because Mancini had one last face-breaking smile left in his bag of tricks. He sent a friend to pay a visit to Chucky’s head, left at Andy’s secluded cabin, and when the sliding door opened and Kyle (Elise) walked in, you could almost hear the squeals of delight from every corner of the country.

Kyle CultEvents, intriguing events, that will lead into the television series, and perhaps the next feature, whenever that might be.

When a franchise spreads itself thin, over-saturation is almost always the culprit. A new movie, shoddily pieced together to make a deadline focused less on quality than a cash grab. And if a television series were to be a thing, it would usually fall sometime during the height of its run, not more than three decades after it began.

Thirty years and seven movies on, that is where the Child’s Play franchise stands. It’s not only alive and well and thriving, but almost incomprehensibly improving the further it wanders from the night we met Charles Lee Ray.

And that’s as far from stale as it gets.

Chucky

Ya-Bang: Vinny Guastaferro Reflects on the Legacy of Jason Lives

“One of the great, great things about horror movies is that because there’s almost, I don’t want to use the words ‘cult following,’ but a fanatic fan base, they last forever.”

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI hit theatres on August 1, 1986, and three decades on, it’s a film that has not only demonstrated the staying power Vinny Guastaferro described, but seems to be gaining in popularity with each passing year. To mark the 32nd anniversary of Jason Voorhees’ resurrection, Guastaferro shared some memories of one the most popular, and certainly most unique chapters in franchise history.

Guastaferro came to the role of Deputy Rick Colone after being cast in Bullpen, a baseball play that revolved around the “banter between the pitchers” in the bullpen of a New York Yankees / Boston Red Sox contest that was directed by Tom McLoughlin.

The mastermind behind Friday’s sixth chapter, “like a lot of people in Hollywood,” shared with Guastaferro that “I just got a job doing a big movie and I’d like you to be in the movie,” the Jason Lives writer and director told the man who would go on to be Colone, “but it’s for Paramount Pictures and you have to audition and everything.”

Guastaferro didn’t mind the specter of an audition because “fighting for a role is part of what an actor is inured to.” It wasn’t until Guastaferro read the script, however, that he became excited for a “terrific role,” because he would be playing a cop with “a singular agenda,” itching to shoot somebody or something, who was “kind of the comic relief and the asshole all at once.”

McLoughlin loved Guastaferro’s take on the character, as would the fans. The rest, as they say, is history.

The overwhelming fan response to Deputy Rick from the Friday faithful was a bit foreign to Guastaferro at first. He wondered if some of the fans were a bit crazy, what with couples waking around conventions with two-year olds in strollers, others with his lines tattooed on body parts, and stories of 10-year olds watching with their parents. But the more exposure he had to horror aficionados, the more Guastaferro came to realize that it was all about the love of Jason Lives being handed down from generation-to-generation.

“I actually came to appreciate the fans and the fanaticism for these movies a little bit later because I just did [Jason Lives] as a movie and said ‘I hope it’s good,’ and it was good.” Guastaferro admits to being “a little prejudiced” when saying that he believes Part VI to be “the best of the whole franchise,” but legions of fans back up that assertion. “Look, I know people who are fanatic about this movie who are still under 10 years old, and I know people that are fanatics about this movie that are about 65 or 70 years old.”

That a horror flick filmed in Georgia three decades back has enjoyed an almost incomprehensible shelf life is humbling to Guastaferro.

“It’s been a privilege to be in a movie that has had this kind of recognition for this many years. People still email me and Facebook me and call me Rick and deputy, and they quote my lines. Pretty amazing to me.”

The affable New Jersey native is very humorous by nature, and wasted no time noting that one of those lines that gets quoted constantly has been more rewarding than the wife he got out of the production.

You read right.

Red dotGuastaferro had been dating Cynthia Kania, who along with Roger Rose was brought in to play Annette following principle photography to be double-skewered on a motor scooter to ensure McLoughlin reached the picture’s death quota. And when asked which ranked higher, landing the line or the spouse, Guastaferro didn’t hesitate.

“Ohhh, having one of the most memorable lines, I was gonna get that wife no matter what,” Guastaferro shot back. “I had met her a little earlier, and I had dated her, but definitely having the line. Are you kidding?! ‘Wherever the red dot goes, ya-bang!’ is something that I get in the mail, I get people sending me photos with that written on it, I had a woman in Vienna (Austria) show up at one of the horror cons I did over there, and she had that line tattooed on her fucking arm!”

“I think having the line is probably the most rewarding thing ever,” Guastaferro said. “I mean, I was watching Predator the other night, and I love the line (adopting an Ahnold accent) ‘If it bleeds, we can kill it.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah! I own one of those lines!’ I’m really happy to have that (laughs).”

It was a line Guastaferro came up with himself, exclaiming “Ya-bang!” when McLoughlin presented him with the hand cannon and scope that would be used in the cemetery scene, a benefit of the trust established through his previous project with McLoughlin. “Tom gave me a lot of leeway in there, and I invented some of the lines and improvised and he decided to keep them because he wanted the character to be revealed as partly a jerk, and funny.”

The line (and the decision to keep it) was inspired, because with the fans, all these decades later, the red dot still hits the target.

“I’ve been to conventions where people have asked me to write it on their ass, on their bald head with a permanent marker, on their cleavage. Girls would come in with crop tops on and have me write ‘Wherever the red dot goes, ya-bang!’ right across [the small of their back].”

For those scoring at home, Guastaferro and Kania were married a month after they wrapped on Jason Lives, but the legacy of “ya-bang!” isn’t lost on Guastaferro.

“I felt good every night knowing that the audience was leaving touched by what I did (on stage), but it’s nowhere near as rewarding as knowing that there are friggin’ five million people out there who were enamored of Friday the 13th,” Guastaferro reflected.

“Listen, every actor wants to know that what they did had some kind of impact on people,” Guastaferro said. After more than 50 films, 100 television appearances and extensive theatre performances, it hasn’t been the dramatic roles with social messages that have endured, but a horror film from 1986.

“It’s not deep, it’s not meaningful, it’s not about social cause or change, it’s entertainment. And that’s what Tom wanted it to be.”

Guastaferro referred to Jason Lives as “the king of my movies,” and continued, “I am so pleased, I’m so pleased. One of my proudest movies is Friday the 13th.

Ted White, who portrayed Jason in The Final Chapter, is apt to say “Always leave them wanting more,” a sentiment echoed by Guastaferro. “Smile and laugh, that’s what we want.”

It’s been 32 years since Deputy Rick Colone unholstered his sidearm. We’re still smiling, and still laughing.

Guastaferro

Missing the Jim and Pam of Horror

“For a really long time, that’s all I had. I just had little moments with a girl who saw me as a friend. And a lot of people told me I was crazy to wait this long for a date with a girl who I worked with, but I think even then I knew that, I was waiting for my wife.”

The parallels between the goals relationship of Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) from The Office and Ash vs Evil Dead’s Kelly Maxwell (Dana DeLorenzo) and Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago) are staggering.

Both had their fair share of flirtation and near misses, laughs, jealousies, and tender moments, and it even took both couples three years to realize that they were perfect for one another. As DeLorenzo told me in an interview before Season 2, “Just make out already!”

The will they / won’t they approach is not a new strategy in television, but damned if they don’t have audiences pining for hook-ups when done correctly. And if we’re honest, what we miss most about the band of merry misfits from both Scranton, Pennsylvania and Elks Grove, Michigan are not Michael Scott (Steve Carell) or Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), but watching and waiting as relationships we rooted for came to fruition.

Santiago played the role of hopeless romantic (aka Halpert) from the very moment we heard him refer to Kelly in AVED’s pilot episode. “She haunts my dreams. Just kidding. She does, though.” Much like Pam, however, Kelly saw Pablito as a confidant, saying “You’re like a brother, so sweet. How could I ever look at you that way?”

ash-vs-evil-dead-season-3-pablo-ash-kelly-second-coming-finale-2So it went over three seasons and thirty episodes, but glimmers of hope sprang up throughout the journey. Both Kelly and Pablo got a little jelly in bookend seasons, when Heather (Samara Weaving) showed near the conclusion of its initial campaign, and with the emergence of Dalton (Lindsay Ferris) for the Ghostbeaters’ swan song. It’s a sensation that can only be generated when one feels a profound connection to another, whether acted upon or not. But make no mistake, both Kelly and Pablo (much like Jim and Pam) felt their relationship unique, that they belonged to one another, and others were only temporary obstacles delaying the inevitable. Albeit, such sentiments were a bit more overt from the men.

For years we witnessed the pair compliment one another. Kelly made Pablo stronger, and he was the only person who could wear down her hardened exterior to reveal the vulnerability housed within. They supported one another from (kinda sorta) afar, not unlike our favorite pair from Dunder Mifflin, but when the chips were down, they never came out swingin’ as when they felt someone, or something, was messin’ with their person.

CXUKWhen she felt that Ruby (Lucy Lawless) wasn’t being upfront with Ash’s right-hand man, Kelly offered pep talk after pep talk to instill Pablo with confidence and the belief that he was, in fact, her powerful vagina, the El Brujo Especial. And for as lovable and hesitant as Pablo appeared throughout most of the series, those times he stepped up without a second thought, were to protect Maxwell.

Think back to a scene at the Elks Grove Police Department in Season 2 when Chet (Ted Raimi) wondered aloud if Baal (Joel Tobeck) hadn’t actually commandeered Kelly’s body, to which Pablo immediately turned to walk toward Williams’ lifelong pal and said “Hey Ash, I think you need to tell your friend to shut the fuck up!”

While Jim and Pam dealt with other suitors and the jealousies that came with them,  they never endured life-threatening situations, but the nature of the Evil Dead universe — that loved ones die — was what kept the two apart for so long, and ultimately what brought them together.

The enemy for Halpert and Beesly was Pam’s indecisiveness and inability to realize she deserved happiness and to take a chance on something that was only five feet from her her desk. What finally pushed Pablo and Kelly over the finish line was not the idea of losing their person to another, but of losing them entirely. So why the fuck not?

KissWe waited roughly 26 episodes to finally see that kiss DeLorenzo had ranted about the season before when she was unsure that Pablo would emerge from a vision, and was so overwhelmed with emotion she pulled him in to express her true feelings. Pablo hummed when their lips locked, because even a patient man is human. Lest we forget, Kelly blamed Ruby for nearly losing her man and growled “Fuck with my Pablo, fuck with me. And I am done bein’ fucked with, Ruby.”

And when Kelly returned from the rift, Pablito believing her to be dead, tearfully hovered over her body and shared “Descansa en paz, mi amor (Rest in peace, my love).” When Kelly jolted awake, thinking she had to fight her way out of another jam, Pablo grabbed her to ensure that she was safe, and offered a tender kiss to calm her fears. The two locked eyes with a smile, and in that moment, we knew there was no going back. It was official. Though Ash and Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neill) laid the final bricks of a joke the show had been building for three years, “Filthy and not fine.”

Kelly and Pablo made us laugh, they made us cry, they made us yearn for two people who didn’t even exist to get together, because truth be told, there simply aren’t many horror couples that stand out, and damn it, we wanted this one. They began as friends, knowing and trusting one another completely. They cared for one another, they supported one another, and they challenged the other to be the best versions of themselves. In the end, that’s what true partners do.

The magical nature of their on-screen relationship was not lost on Santiago, who took to Instagram after the series finale to say “…my love for [DeLorenzo] and everything you brought to the table will never die. Always a semi in my pants for #Kelly Maxwell!”

Though we won’t be lucky enough to see where Kelly and Pablo progressed from their own version of popping in to interrupt an interview with “OK…it’s a date,” we’d seen enough to know that Pam’s words rang true.

“When you’re a kid, you assume your parents are soulmates. My kids are going to be right about that.”

Stand-up

Joe Bob Broke Shudder, but Not Our Hearts

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all suffered through dry spells. Droughts of the romantic variety, which led to withdrawals and yearning, and eventually to copious amounts of K-Y, and inevitably, blister cream. We’ve all been there. Then one night everything falls into place and you hop back on that horse affectionately known as tonsil hockey and your brain can’t handle the overload. “This is amazing! Why did we wait this long?! Let’s never do that again!” as you engage in “the sign of the double-humped sperm whale.”

And make no mistake, that’s exactly what happened this past weekend. We all got some after a hiatus that bordered on abusive.

Yes, it was the one-of-a-kind charm of Joe Bob’s twang that had our hearts aflutter, but more than that, it was the communal experience knowing that we were all watching at the same time. The closest we come to that anymore (beyond live tweets) is AMC’s FearFest, but if we’re honest about that, it’s lost a bit of its luster what with those Walking Dead marathons that eat up large chunks of our beloved October tradition, leaving many of us unsatisfied.

Sure, we had the internet when MonsterVision played out on television screens every Saturday night across America and beyond back in the day, but social media wasn’t a thing quite yet, so we couldn’t really share those experiences in real time.

Then Shudder swooped in to cure the horror community of its collective blue balls.

And it was glorious.

JBBMy Twitter feed was littered with Joe Bob Briggs and The Last Drive-In. All anyone could talk about was how long they’d been up, how much they’d missed this, shared laughs and memories, complete with quoting Joe Bob’s latest “Did ya hear the one about…” Not gonna lie, I shared at least three of them, myself.

But it extended beyond social media. It was an event, and how many of those do we really have in the horror community? Yes, there are movie premieres and Twitter explodes whenever shows like American Horror Story air new episodes, but it’s rare for all of us to be all-in on one thing at exactly the same time.

We’d been counting the days since April, were sure to have our Joe Bob tees clean, fridge and pantry stocked with snacks, and our favorite koozies prepped for maximum consumption of brew. I giddily left work on Friday afternoon to pick up a mess of wings and a 12-pack of Grain Belt (only because Lone Star wasn’t available here) and sped to my buddy’s place with one eye on the clock. Two hours early. We pulled up Phantasm IV: Oblivion and added our own running track. “Fuckin’ Reggie, man. Poor bastard can never seal the deal.” My pal’s wife yelped her way through the Tall Man’s extraction of the silver sphere from Mike’s skull, and we all wore shit-eating grins during Reg-Man’s ice cream commando (kinda sorta) montage. And the hour hadn’t even struck 8 (I live in the Central time zone).

All the more smile-inducing because I knew full well, we weren’t the only ones pregaming.

Even the technical issues that prevented many of us from seeing The Last Drive-In from the beginning became a shared experience. Sure, some bitched and complained and harassed Shudder, but the vast majority knew that the Netflix of Horror would make it right and we’d get our Joe Bob fix. And again if we’re honest, it was a lot of fun to see GIFs of cats hammering away at the keys of a laptop or Andre the Giant in the ring trying his best to hold off a rabid crowd, or @richpatine’s tweet that pleaded “Joe Bob broke Shudder! Add 1 crashed app to the drive-in total please!”

We were all-in, and we were all-in together.

Scrolling through message after message of childhoods relived and resurfaced memories was magical.

TealEventually, though, the sun set on Saturday night. Pieces came to a close and Briggs offered his farewell. Tweets of excitement and laughter turned somber at the realization that this was the end, that we would never experience a night like this again, because no one can ever fill Joe Bob’s shoes. A fact we know far too well.

Yes, there were some tears, but more than anything, we were flooded with messages of gratitude and love. For as long as we’d all held onto our memories of MonsterVision from years before, came the knowledge that it paled when held to the neon glow of The Last Drive-In. This would be a night, a marathon, a borderline religious experience that we would never forget.

While the Drive-In Jedi’s send-off touched on the fact that his “goofy little show” was intended to offer laughter and an appreciation of forgotten films, he also mentioned that it was aimed at the “weirdos” and “misfits” who felt “left out” of the mainstream. Briggs went on to say that he hadn’t realized how many of us were out there until the past few years, which was ironic because Shudder discovered that the hard way when us drive-in junkies feenin’ for Joe Bob obliterated their server.

For all the stories and the rants and the laughs and the memories, that is what I’ll take away from The Last Drive-In – the sheer number of Joe Bob disciples who had suffered and waited. The fact that we broke Shudder is not a testament to the number of horror fiends out there, or that we just had to get one more dose of drive-in totals, but that Joe Bob Briggs means that goddamn much to us. It was a communal experience, yes, but that stemmed from the myriad personal connections that we have to someone who was either directly responsible for or augmented our love of horror cinema.

It wasn’t the kills or the gore that were difficult to watch, but rather those last moments as one-by-one, the lights turned out, and Joe Bob sat in his recliner, hat in hand, as the credits rolled, and a sad guitar took us to that final fade.

The last thing Mr. Briggs said was “I have a Dwight Yoakam hat.” Comforting in a way, because even if this truly was the end for Joe Bob, we won’t find ourselves a thousand miles from nowhere, we will carry Shudder’s magical romp in our hearts forever. Because the drive-in, and our love for Joe Bob, will never die.

Hat

 

Why The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a Transcendent Slasher

Look, we can talk about a clever mockumentary, the smile-inducing horror references, Kane Hodder’s cameo, Robert Englund as Dr. Loomis by way of the Overlook Hotel, humorous lines like scaring the “pooooop” out of someone, or that Leslie Vernon’s mannerisms and mask were truly unsettling, but that would be missing the greater point of Behind the Mask.

What set this film apart was its depth, which extended beyond Nathan Baesel’s indisputably brilliant performance, the palpably conflicted emotion of Angela Goethals, or authenticity that forever accompanies Scott Wilson. Three scenes ventured into territory that elevated The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) to a stratosphere that few slasher films have ever reached.

Within that horror subgenre, audiences adore atmosphere and kills and humor, but few delve into the humanity of a character. That is truly rare. Sure, it’s happened before, we can’t disregard the depth of character and performance provided by Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street or Neve Campbell in Scream, or the fact that we are likely to be served a heaping helping of it come October when Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role as Laurie Strode in Halloween (2018). However, the script pieced together by Scott Glosserman (who also directed) and David J. Stieve, coupled with Baesel’s performance, created a true masterpiece.

Three scenes separate Behind the Mask from the field, but they have nothing to do with kills or gore or one-liners printed on tee shirts, and everything to do with writing, acting and cinematography.

giphyTo begin, we all recognize those moments when we fall in love with a picture. Sometimes it occurs to us as we’re watching, others as we later reflect upon what we’d just witnessed, but the common denominator is one scene where we completely succumb to what is being presented on-screen. For this writer and this film, dinner at Eugene (Wilson) and Jamie’s (Bridgett Newton) fulfilled that romantic moment, simply because of its subtlety and camera work.

This was not a typical get-to-know the characters scene where we are overwhelmed with dialogue intended to convey the notion that “these guys are edgy and cool,” there was no grand monologue about a hidden world we were unaware existed, but rather a gathering of friends, old and new, that felt real – it was believable. Eugene was sharing his thoughts on the way things used to be in the game of creating an evil counterbalance to the world’s good as he chopped carrots for the meal to come. As he went on, he got lost in his thoughts, and past work began to come back to him as he knifed the vegetables with a ferocity that left Taylor Gentry (Goethals) uncomfortable, before he finally slammed the blade into the cutting board that resulted in a yelp from the student filmmaker. Jaron Presant (director of photography) made the decision to film Goethals’ reaction in a close-up of her left profile to showcase how Taylor was now completely immersed in this world, and it was all happening so fast that she couldn’t process it. What made the scene, though, was Baesel’s reaction over her right shoulder. What began as a smirk, turned to a hand over his mouth to stifle laughter, and finally to a glance at Eugene before he covered his eyes because even he thought — this was too much, too soon — and Taylor wasn’t prepared for what she’d just seen because she had yet to grasp the concept of why Leslie and Eugene did what they did.

It wasn’t overt, Glosserman’s direction and Presant’s angle didn’t force feed the audience, they just presented it for what it was, then quickly moved on. It’s rare for a scene to work so well in the slasher genre, to feel so authentic, as though a hidden camera were in the room and we laid eyes on an intimate moment never intended to be seen. And it worked. We felt the fear and the humor, and connected to the humanity of Leslie and Tay.

Which brings us to the most pivotal scene of the film, outside the diner after Taylor had attempted to speak to Leslie’s intended target despite his explicit instruction that Kelly (Kate Miner) was off limits to her documentary.

BTM RenoLeaning against the crew’s van, Leslie asked “You wanna just pretend that we’ve already had the conversation we’re about to have?” Taylor was only able to respond “Leslie” before Vernon grabbed and pulled her alongside the vehicle to ask that she not ruin his life’s work. Presant’s utilization of hand-held cameras, from behind the pair and within the van, communicates Leslie’s instability at this betrayal, as Taylor challenges him not only about Doc Halloran (Englund), but who Vernon really is, before the man who to that point had seemed a bit awkward and giddy turned in a moment. Until that turn, Taylor (and the audience) knew that Leslie was a slasher, but because of his goofy, yet likable persona, didn’t comprehend how dangerous he really was. When Tay brought Reno, Nevada into the equation, however, we discovered first hand that Vernon was not to be trifled with, and in a heartbeat he’d pinned Taylor against the van by the throat. Presant’s cameras once again closed in, highlighting the terror and tears in Taylor’s eyes, and Leslie’s intensity. Hesitating to collect his thoughts, Vernon shared that he would tell her everything that she needed to know, and never broke eye contact as he opened the van door and asked her to please get inside.

The best actors speak with their eyes, and Baesel is next level in that regard. At a glance, one feels his euphoria and confusion and thought process, and in this case, seething anger. Baesel thinks before he speaks, lending authenticity to every line reading, because they feel as though they just came to him before he opened his mouth. In a moment, Leslie Vernon was no longer the quirky guy who wanted to be something that he didn’t appear capable of, transformed into a cold-blooded killer whose mood could turn on a dime.

Immediately after this scene was filmed, Englund took Baesel aside and told him that he reminded him of a young Anthony Perkins, which immediately conjured thoughts of something Langenkamp shared in an interview with this writer years ago. She had mentioned that Englund seemed to be all-knowing, completely in tune with everything around him – literature, music, restaurants, cinema – an assertion cemented with his Perkins sentiment, because that observation was as spot-on as it gets.

BTM That LookFinally, before the events transpired to bring Behind the Mask to a close, Leslie and Taylor shared a calm before the storm moment that Vernon described as his “Christmas.” With the absence of music or sound of any kind, Leslie admitted “I’m so happy.” This was the truest peek behind the curtain at what made a killer tick, as he laid bare his soul, hyper-focused on where he was in his life at that precise moment. Vernon was not just a man who was good at his job, but felt fortunate to be doing it, and broke down at the realization that not everyone was so lucky in life. It’s a moment that we can all relate to, particularly when we share it with someone to whom we have a profound connection, as Leslie did to Taylor. And refusing to break with the theme of the film, Taylor wanted to comfort Vernon, but didn’t make it so far as to put her hand on his shoulder, or hug him, or hold his hand. Despite her affection for Vernon, she still didn’t fully comprehend who he was. That her character stayed true is what made the scene work – even in the happiest moment of his life – Leslie was essentially alone.

And the beauty of the scene was again about the collaboration of Glosserman and Baesel, who had been wandering the grounds in preparation for said scene, which had originally been intended to be lighthearted and funny, featuring the gleeful, excited Vernon we’d seen so much of throughout the film. However, Baesel had come to the realization that he was incredibly happy to be making a feature film that he believed in, doing work that he loved, and it was own feeling of good fortune that led him to the conclusion that Leslie would be having the same epiphany, and that perhaps that emotion would play better. Glosserman agreed to go for it, and Baesel’s talent, and the movie, soar because of it.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is all the things previously stated – it’s clever and funny and gave us a truly worthy slasher villain – but it is so much more than that. The collective talents of Baesel, Glosserman, Goethals, Presant and Stieve produced a transcendent slasher that offered far more than kills and laughs, gifting the world of horror with a beauty and depth of humanity that translated to one shared emotion, love.

behindthemask5_original

INTERVIEW-FU: Grab Your Tall Boys, Joe Bob Briggs Dishes on “THE LAST DRIVE-IN”

The devoted and demented believers of the drive-in oath have patiently awaited the triumphant return of Joe Bob Briggs since the cancellation of MonsterVision nearly twenty years ago, and thanks to Shudder, that patience is about to be rewarded.

The Drive-In Jedi is set for one last gig as television horror host when Shudder live streams The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on July 13.

Before life comes to a screeching halt for that 24-hour marathon complete with blood, breasts and beasts, drive-in totals and, of course, the new mail girl, Nightmare Nostalgia had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with the man himself to discuss memorable guests, Briggs’ thoughts on “post-horror,” and the selection process for the big night.

And Joe Bob had us laughing before we even got to the first question, noting “First of all, Landon, I appreciate your doing this, even though being featured in Nightmare Nostalgia makes me a Retro Guy. Retro Guy is one step away from Lifetime Achievement Award, which is the last thing that happens before you go to that Vincent Price crematorium in East L.A..

The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs will live stream on Friday, July 13 at 9 p.m. EST, only on Shudder.

Last Drive-In logoNIGHTMARE NOSTALGIA: Not unlike fans hounding Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell for more Evil Dead (which resulted in three seasons of Ash vs. Evil Dead), your followers had been clamoring for your triumphant return to television since MonsterVision came to an end at TNT. How did this 24-hour marathon come to pass, and why Shudder?

JOE BOB BRIGGS: Many clamor, but few have the key to an executive washroom at a TV network. Many producers, some of them quite mighty, have come to me over the years and proposed a new show, but it’s difficult to get people in television to repeat the past. After all, the show got canceled, there must have been a reason—or so goes the reasoning. (In my case the cancellation was caused by a re-branding of the network.) At any rate, one of those producers was Matt Manjourides, a Troma veteran who is also producing the final film of George Romero, and he approached me in the fall of 2017 and asked if he could promote a MonsterVision reboot to Shudder. I said yes, of course, as I always do, and promptly forgot about it. Then a Shudder executive showed up in New York, met us for lunch, and we were off and running with various ideas of how to do it. We eventually hit on the marathon idea, since fans of MonsterVision were accustomed to a long, unstructured show that kind of ran forever. (At TNT we had no restrictions on length or time, we just had to be finished by 6 a.m.) Hence The Last Drive-In, 24 hours, 13 movies on Friday the 13th, and actually it’s likely to run anywhere between 26 and 28 hours because I talk too much.

NN: Tell us about the selection process for the films. And can you tease any of the titles as appetizer?

JBB: Shudder has a library of about 600 titles, some of which are licensed for long periods, some not so long, and so the first pass through that library was made by myself and Austin Jennings, a South Carolina guy whose normal job is heading up post-production at MTV but he was hired by Matt to direct the marathon. Austin is eminently qualified as a) a pop culture maven, and b) an expert on MonsterVision. (He remembers things I did that I don’t remember doing.) I just marked all the titles that were either intriguing to me or the ones that had personal stories attached to them. (After all these years, I’ve met just about everyone.) Then we tried to make it a mix of classics, cult films, so-bad-they’re-goodies, etc. For example, Tourist Trap is an extremely odd supernatural slasher from 1979 that I’m very fond of, and I thought we could make an attempt to upgrade the film’s reputation. I will be talking about how star Chuck Connors’ plan to become “the modern Boris Karloff” didn’t work out, how director David Schmoeller’s innovative supernatural effects were the inspiration for the later “Puppetmaster” series, and how the performance of Tanya Roberts was completely eclipsed by less famous actresses. But mostly I’ll be talking about how it never should have flopped in the first place. Basket Case has always been one of my favorites, but I’ve never really told the story of how I helped save it from oblivion by sponsoring a world drive-in premiere in Dallas, an event that led to a lifelong friendship with Frank Henenlotter, the Greenwich Village mastermind horror director who calls himself –correctly– “a strange little man.” So the selection process was a combination of the personal and the curatorial, if I can be allowed to use that extremely fashionable but overused word.

NN: You haven’t enjoyed the luxury of unfettered “blood, breasts and beasts” since the days of Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater at The Movie Channel, so how excited are you that there won’t be any “edited for cable” restrictions for the films you’ll be presenting for Shudder?

JBB: Well, fortunately we’ve moved beyond the era of heavy-handed editing of horror films. I’m more worried about the breasts than the blood or the beasts. There seems a ridiculously heightened fear of nudity—especially female nudity—among  programmers, executives, anyone involved with television or streaming, and that’s a regression in a direction I could never have predicted. In a world where they’ve eliminated the bikinis in the Miss America pageant, nekkid bodies are considered “lewd” and gratuitous. We’re just three years away from the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Rock, and yes, the Puritans have never left us.

PiperNN: Over the years, you had special guests stop by to chat about pictures that you were presenting – Tom Savini, Roddy Piper, Linda Blair, and a particularly memorable conversation with Brad Dourif – so, aside from guests’ fear of filming-as-live, give us an exchange that, whether it shocked you or cracked you up, you just didn’t see coming. And who might drop by this coming Friday the 13th? Because we know it won’t be Ted Turner. 

JBB: Landon, you gotta go easy on me, that was an extremely complicated question and I’m a Retro Guy. By the way, that interview was not with Brad Dourif, it was with Chucky the Doll. But the most memorable interview, I would have to say, was Sally Kirkland, dressed in lingerie, and the two of us were in bed together—you may remember we had a bedroom in my set, and for this interview we were partially under the covers so you couldn’t see exactly how nekkid we were. And in the course of the interview Sally said something about sleeping with Moammar Quaddafi, but I wasn’t quite sure what she had said, so it was one of the rare times we stopped filming and I went back to her and said, “Sally, did you just say you had sex with the Libyan dictator?” And she never did quite answer the question but talked about doing her part for world peace. I was never sure with Sally because she tends to talk in these greats waterfalls of verbiage, run-on sentences that can end up confusing you. Gary Busey was another one. He forced me to stick my fingers into the giant dent in his skull so he could convince me that his motorcycle accident had altered his brain. And he was, of course, correct. As to the upcoming marathon, we programmed Sleepaway Camp so that I could bring on Felissa Rose, because I wanted to ask her some basic questions about gender confusion in that movie that, believe it or not, I don’t think have ever been properly addressed.

NN: You once shared frustration with critics who talk about dramas and thrillers with “horror elements,” and wondered why a horror movie couldn’t simply be a horror movie without qualifiers, so it’s clearly not a new issue, but with some suggesting that films like IT (2017), Get Out (2017), Hereditary and (2018) aren’t horror, however, we’re seeing it more and more. In fact, the term “post-horror” continues to surface, so why do you feel so many mainstream critics are so reluctant to offer a tip of the cap to the genre when executed exceptionally well?

JBB: I’m not exactly sure when academic jargon and elitist attitudes started taking over the field of horror criticism, but I hate it. I got a copy of a book on I Spit On Your Grave published by Columbia University Fucking Press. I have nothing against Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws, published all those years ago. Carol is a Berkeley professor, which is about as elitist academic as you can get, but she was the first to explain how the transgender killer in slasher films allows the adolescent male to identify with a female heroine, and that single insight has helped to defend these movies against censorship. You mention Get Out. I loved it, but there was a completely ridiculous cover story in the New York Times Magazine essentially calling it the Citizen Kane of our times, and I was just “Really? You’re gonna ruin this one for us, too?” Thank god an out-and-out monster movie won the Academy Award this year, and Guillermo del Toro is not ashamed of calling it that. There’s no such thing as post-horror, just good horror and bad horror.

NN: Not to beat a dead horse about mainstream media, but the past few years have also found critics focusing on social commentary within the genre. Some proclaim such commentary has brought a depth to horror films that, to their thinking, hasn’t been there before. One need look no further than Frankenstein (1931) or George Romero’s Dead films or Saw VI (health insurance) and The Purge franchise of the recent past for societal analysis, so why does it appear acceptable that mainstream critics lack historical knowledge of horror?

JBB: Well, you’ve answered your own question. I would use another example. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the first true counter-culture film, about the youth of America facing the darkness of the entrenched grown-up way of doing things. Leatherface vs. Sally, and neither of them win, they’re condemned to eternal strife. Without social context horror has no meaning at all, and so it’s kind of weird that they separate out the subtext and dredge it up to the surface and essentially disembowel the film when they talk about it. And after a hundred years they’re just discovering that—gasp!—Mary Shelley was a girl? Yawn.

Briggs podiumNN: You’re not shy about presenting your political viewpoints in your columns, and I have no intention of splitting our readers into red or blue allegiance right now, but I am very curious to gauge your thoughts on how you believe those in our nation can actually begin to converse and view one another as countrymen and women once again?

JBB: I grew up in Texas and Arkansas, but mostly in Arkansas, and whenever I would go home to visit, I would always run into slackers from my youth who had benighted opinions because they’d never traveled anywhere, and so I would say, “Cletis, you really have to go to Europe once in your life, or just go to New York or Chicago or something—you need to meet a few Yankees.” And then we’ve had this complete reversal in my lifetime, because Cletis is no longer the problem. The problem now is that both coasts have no clue about why their fellow Americans became dissatisfied. So today I would say, you people on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and you people in West Hollywood need to get your asses out to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and educate yourselves about the rest of the country. We can’t go on like this, too much hatred on both sides, and the reason I’m called “controversial” is that I often write about issues as a moderate—the guy in the middle—and everybody hates the guy in the middle. One way we can start loving each other is to start calling ourselves Americans again instead of giving ourselves narrow labels like conservative, progressive, black, white, Hispanic, gay, pro-life, whatever, like we’re constantly saying to one another, “Okay, here’s what I am, what the fuck are you?” We’re all Americans. Stop sending me those polls about my race, age, gender, whatever. Stop labeling.

NN: All right, that’s enough of the serious questions. Your glee could be felt through the screen when you presented The Legend of Boggy Creek, which has always left us wondering, of all the films you presented for MonsterVision, how many were you thrilled to talk about, and how many were a struggle to keep interesting?

JBB: The only films I ever had a problem with were the cynical ones, films that seemed to be made by guys who had a contempt for exploitation. The hollowness at their core—just a bunch of kill scenes strung together—make them no fun for anybody. But a film can be totally inept and yet be made with passion, an example being The Howling 7, the movie that killed the Howling franchise but then became a minor cult hit when we kept rerunning it.

NN: Walk us through the process of your host script for a single movie. Did you watch it before writing anything or simply go off of memory from having seen and reviewed it in the past? From start to finish, how much time did it take for you to have a script that was ready to shoot?

JBB: I always rewatch the movie, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, and of course I need the commercial-interruption time codes to know at which points I’ll be talking. It’s a little bit more fluid process than what you’re describing here. I might spend a day and a half deciding exactly what I want to say—I do a lot of background research, and in some cases I know the filmmakers so I have information from them—and then what I end up with is an outline that I can depart from as the situation arises. So two days per movie, but of course I’m doing other things during those two days. I also try to be loose enough to go totally off topic if that’s what will be the most entertaining option. We’re really getting into the weeds here. One reason I hate writers’ conferences is that a) writers are boring, and b) writers talking about writing is boring even to writers.

Briggs pumpkinNN: You once noted that Donald Pleasence made the Halloween movies work, so despite the absence of Dr. Loomis, there’s no way we can have this conversation without us picking your brain to get your impressions of Blumhouse’s return to Haddonfield, due October 19.

JBB: As you probably know, I don’t get too excited about remakes, sequels, or, in this case, a 40-years-later “reimagining.” I would assume that Loomis is dead and that there’s a new quasi-Loomis, but I don’t know anything about it except that there were three—count ‘em—three writers, so I have to assume it’s complicated.

NN: We know you have laughs in store for us, but dare we hope you eclipse your evisceration of the absurdity of Orca (1977)? Just a reminder of what I’m referring to, quoting you: Richard Harris then gets out his harpoon gun, misfires, wounds the female killer whale instead of the male, hauls it up on the ship, witnesses a whale miscarriage, then washes the dead fetus overboard like a heartless abortionist, causing mommy and daddy Orca to both roar like wounded jaguars. Daddy Orca is so mad that he jumps up and eats Keenan Wynn, then gives Richard Harris the big killer whale evil eye before he swims away, signaling ‘I’ll be back,’ with his bloody, wounded fin. Does that about sum it up? Wouldn’t want to exaggerate or anything.

JBB: Wow, you’re really dredging up the classics, aren’t you? And all this time I thought I would spend the rest of my life without ever having to think about Orca again.

NN: Finally, you busted out the Mountain Dew and Starbucks energy drinks for the Halloween dusk-till-dawn Friday the 13th marathon at TNT back in the day, so we have to know, will this Shudder marathon be highly caffeinated, or can we expect your coozie to contain Old Milwaukee Tall Boys?

JBB: We’re going with Lone Star for the full span. We’re sticking to the classics, on screen and off.

From Shudder’s press release for The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs:

Characterized by an outrageous worldview and trademark “Drive-in Totals” lists, Joe Bob’s film critiques amassed a loyal fanbase through his long-running TV series Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater and, later, MonsterVision. For 14 years between the two shows, Joe Bob was the ultimate fan, a voice of authority with an unconventional, affable approach. Ahead of his time then, Joe Bob is now a legendary voice within the horror community, and THE LAST DRIVE-IN WITH JOE BOB BRIGGS reminds audiences of the host’s singular perspective on the genre.

THE LAST DRIVE-IN WITH JOE BOB BRIGGS is packed with 13 films curated to suit Joe Bob’s signature brand of color commentary. The following is a sneak peek of what’s in store for horror fans during Shudder’s exclusive programming event, with the rest of the line-up to be announced in the coming weeks:

  • Tourist Trap (July 13) Five friends are hunted by a creepy killer after stopping to visit a roadside museum in this slasher that counts Stephen King as one of its biggest fans. After car trouble, the doomed group goes to visit an odd attraction filled with eerie mannequins that seem to be alive. Tourist Trap is an off-kilter thriller that will have you rethinking any stops on your next road trip.

 

  • Sleepaway Camp (July 13) Angela Baker, a traumatized and very shy young girl, is sent to summer camp with her cousin. Shortly after her arrival, campers and counselors meet their ends in a series of grisly murders. This bloody “who done it” features a shock ending that stands the test of time.

 

  • Basket Case (July 14) In a tale of revenge with a demented twist, a young man and his basket-bound, hideously deformed twin brother seek vengeance on the doctors who separated them against their will.

“Joe Bob is a horror icon and raconteur whose signature wit and insightful commentary entertained viewers for 14 years on TV,” said Craig Engler, general manager of Shudder. “We’re delighted to bring him back for this exclusive Shudder event where new fans can discover him, and old fans can rediscover him, as he takes on some of the greatest low-budget horror movies ever made.”

Shudder members will be encouraged join the conversation with Shudder’s Twitter account @Shudder during the marathon, which will include special guests, surprises, and prizes for participation.

Other initiatives centered around THE LAST DRIVE-IN WITH JOE BOB BRIGGS include an upcoming Reddit AMA on July 10th, as well as screenings hosted by Joe Bob at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, NY on July 11th and the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas, TX on July 12th.

START YOUR FREE 7-DAY TRIAL AT Shudder.com.

Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/YouTube: @shudder

 

 

Can I Borrow Your Imagination?

“Then you really might know what it’s like,

Then you really might know what it’s like,

Then you really might know what it’s like to have to lose.”

We first met the equally gifted and cursed Will Graham in Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel, Red Dragon, the best-seller that also introduced us to Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Outside of our imaginations, however, it would be almost five years before we would see the purposeful-looking profiler in flesh and blood on screen in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986), and another 16 before his last theatrical appearance in Red Dragon (2002).

From the novel, and subsequent films, we understood Graham to possess the uncomfortable and unwelcome talent of pure empathy, an ability to assume the point of view of brutal killers. While it was an ability that allowed him to translate evidence in a way that others simply could not, Harris’ words informed us of the toll it took on Graham, but it was a phenomenon that we’d never truly witnessed on-screen.

Until Bryan Fuller resurrected the Lecter universe with NBC’s groundbreaking Hannibal series in 2013.

Do you see?

After more than thirty-one years, two films and a novel, we were finally given the opportunity to truly observe Will Graham for the first time through the brilliant vehicle that is Hugh Dancy.

Prior to the opening scene of the program’s initial episode, we’d only been offered glimpses of what Graham could conjure through his unique imagination. Be it with William Petersen talking himself through the thought process in Manhunter, or the briefest of visions presented through the lens of Edward Norton’s reluctant voyeur, we never truly delved into Will Graham’s mind.

Hannibal set about changing that, and while this writer will be the first to say that Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter is the finest portrayal of the cannibalistic caretaker, the reason that the television series soared for 39 episodes was the presentation of Will Graham.

As Damian Swift and Mark Shannon were the first to achieve the feat of penning Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) as not only human, but human being with Friday the 13th (2009), Fuller and company allowed a similar peek behind the curtain. Graham was no longer an edgy, hesitant hero with hundreds of thousands of miles on his engine, but for the first time, the price of Graham’s gift was put on full display.

Dancy’s exhibition of Graham was closer to self-diagnosed Asperger’s and autism than a jaded veteran detective. Interaction was not just difficult, but strained and stressful. Not once was there an I-told-you-so revelation that altered the approach to a case, but rather a sad, reserved interpretation of “the ugliest thoughts in the world.”

The beauty of Hannibal, and of Dancy’s portrayal, was another line from Everlast’s “What it’s Like,” – “God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes” — a lyric that applied not only to Graham, allowing himself into the headspace of a psychopath, but to the audience that embarked on that same journey through Graham’s eyes.

tumblr_inline_ohuslmj6nP1s38ndg_500And Fuller’s Hannibal wasted no time in communicating that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

That first view found Graham analyzing the surroundings of a crime scene, then rewinding to the very moment he’d summoned the courage to kick the door in and experience the heinous thoughts, actions and sentiments of the perpetrator.

Graham entered the home with confidence, and upon putting down Mr. Marlow (Wayne Downer), emphatically declared “He will die watching me take what is his away from him. This is my design.” Next, he shot Mrs. Marlow (Bernadette Couture) “expertly through the neck,” paralyzing her before she hit the floor, setting up the first true indication that this was not the Will Graham we’d thought we known over the course of three decades.

Graham slowly walked toward the downed victim and said “which doesn’t mean that she can’t feel pain,” his eyes searching for the words, Dancy whispered a tormented “It just means,” before continuing “she can’t do anything about it.”

The empathy of Graham not only allowed him to adopt unwanted points of view, he also empathized with the victim, and the awful thoughts and visions running through his mind.

Graham would go on to point out that the work Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) had recruited him to do was “not good for (him),” as we laid eyes upon the incredibly expensive emotional, psychological and physical tax of Graham’s imagination.

Hannibal’s Will Graham was not a damaged, yet contented family man who didn’t want to look anymore, he was unstable and fractured long before he stepped foot inside the Marlow home. A fragile tea cup whose crevices were sure to weaken every time he opened his eyes. Or closed them.

And it was Dancy who made each new fissure at once agonizing and exquisite, in a beautiful turn that if we’re honest about it, is the very reason fans continue to clamor for a fourth season, almost three years after Hannibal was taken off the air.

Because of Hugh Dancy, there is still a desire, dare I say a need, to borrow Will Graham’s imagination.