Monday, July 17, 2017

George Romero 1940 - 2017 The Originator of the Modern Zombie Film

Yesterday afternoon I flipped over to my Facebook app on my phone and discovered the saddest news that I was totally not expecting. George A. Romero had passed away. A lot of times when a celebrity, musician, actor etc. passes away I usually greet it with a "aw man that sucks". But when I saw the news of Romero passing I shed a couple of tears for the man, his accomplishments, what he meant to film making and how his films affected me at a young age when I first heard of Night of the Living Dead (1968).

I first discovered Romero's first film when I was in the 3rd grade around 1979. I was browsing book titles at the school book fair and had the novelization of Star Wars in my hand. I was about to plop down my $3 for the book when an issue of Weird Tales caught my eye. Now I may be a little fuzzy but I'm pretty sure it was Weird Tales. I flipped through the magazine and quickly came across a still shot that made me stop a moment. What were these people doing shambling across the porch of an old house? They looked like they were trying to get into the house. I remember reading the caption on the black and white still and seeing the word "zombie" and the title "Night of the Living Dead". I decided that Star Wars would be taking a back seat to this little magazine that I had discovered, thus cementing my love for Horror and not Science Fiction. I love both by the way but Horror caught my heart first.

It would be years before I ever laid eyes to Romero's debut film but the image to the left would stay burned into my brain forever. Not long after this discovery I would hear another movie title that sent shivers down my spine. "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) was playing at the local art house theater. The Naro Theater was the only place the film was being screened and my older brother's best friend came over to tell us all the gory details while we were playing basketball. Zombies in a mall! Zombies attacking a motorcycle gang! Zombies tearing into an elevator shaft and eating the people inside! At that moment I didn't realize the movie was tied into Night of the Living Dead but something told me it was.

Around 1982/83 my family bought our first VCR. I was so excited to finally get to see all the cool movies that were available to rent from the local video store. I remember finding the store copy of Night of the Living Dead and rented it forthwith. What can I really say about NOTLD? The first 10 minutes are riveting! Immediately Romero sets the tone for all the doom that is about to come the audience's way. I was pretty well sucked into the film and it felt a little odd to me that a black and white movie could give me the creeps but it did. This wasn't like the Frankenstein and Dracula films I had seen on T.V. No, this was something totally on a plane by itself. I was completely hooked and of course completely blown away by the ending. I remember feeling somewhat melancholy afterwards.

I then rented Dawn of the Dead, which took a few tries since it was not rated and the lady at the store wasn't keen on me renting it. I was finally able to snag a copy home when one of the teenagers was manning the front desk and thought it would be cool to let a kid rent a zombie flick. Again Romero obliterates your brain within the first 10 minutes. The world has gone to hell and Romero has set the tone for the rest of the entire film.

Dawn was bloodier and a little more action packed than Night of the Living Dead. It certainly grabbed me by the collar and refused to let go. However this film was the film that opened my eyes to how Romero constructed his films and how important characters were to the story telling. This was the film that scared me with cannibalistic walking dead corpses but also frightened me with how scary the living actually are in a time of crises and uncertainty. It also introduced me to proficient and excellent make up effects of Tom Savini. This movie was two fold for me. It opened me up to how films are made and also started my interest in make up effects. Both Romero and Savini became gods in my cinematic universe. They also became quite the tandem in many of Romero's future cinematic endeavors. I was totally sold on all things Romero and had to see more of what this filmmaker had to offer.

I don't remember what store I found it in but Document of the Dead (1985) completely blew me away when I rented it around the same time that Day of the Dead (1985) had been released to home video. This documentary is the best documentary on Romero in my opinion. It follows him around the shooting of Dawn and of Day of the Dead. It also offers a look into Romero's early work on television commercials and some of his other films that at the time I wasn't familiar with. I had seen The Crazies (1971) before seeing this documentary but hadn't heard of Season of the Witch (1973) or Martin (1977). Of course now I was prompted to hunt them down and hunt them down I did.  This documentary really showed me who George was. Who would have thought this scarf wearing, chain smoking, jovial man was responsible for so much zombie mayhem I had seen on my TV screen? Seeing this side of the man made me like him even more.

Over the years more Romero movies would hit the theater screens. Monkey Shines (1988), Two Evil Eyes (1990) and The Dark Half (1993). Things got quiet through the rest of the 90's though. Romero was slated to direct a film adaptation of the hit video game Resident Evil but that fizzled out and it went on to someone else. Romero returned to the big screen with Bruiser (2000) but the film didn't receive a big release but found it's place on home video and remains a very interesting and odd film even by Romero standards. Finally in 2005 Land of the Dead hit the screens and was a nice return to zombie form for Romero. More zombie films would come afterwards but with limited theatrical run and mostly straight to DVD, Diary of the Dead (2008) and Survival of the Dead (2010). Each film had Romero's stamp on it. Romero's use of social commentary and his ability to pit human against human as the main threat is unmatched.

I've tried not to present a play by play on each Romero film and believe me it's a hard task because all his films have had some kind of effect on me. Somehow I left out Creepshow (1982)! That is one of Romero's greatest non zombie films. But the bottom line is this; George Romero was an innovative film maker. A man who loved film and loved being part of every aspect of film making. His films have had an impact on me in some way or another. I will always thank him for that. While I never ventured farther than my own video camera, I enjoyed putting little fun short horror films together with my friends as a teenager. Every time I looked through the lens I envisioned myself as being Romero. I would try and remember some of the things Romero would do and try to emulate that somewhat. When I think about it, I'm pretty sure I failed at it. HA HA! But the influence was there.

With that I just want to say thank you George. May you rest in peace.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Turn down the lights and open the curtain it's showtime!

Happy Summertime ghoulies! I wanted to check in and just let you know that I have been busy working on new titles for Celluloid Coffin Video and well just general life. I thought I would take a moment and just reflect and wax nostalgic for awhile about the old days of theater.

My very first movie theater experience came when I was about 5 years old. This would have been around 1976. A year before Star Wars would change my entire worldview, along with millions of others. My father took me to the local shopping plaza which had a small theater. It was originally a Jerry Lewis chain theater but it was built right at the end of that failed business venture and quickly became the Plaza Theater. I was there to see a re release of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). I had been enthralled with giant monsters since seeing the original King Kong (1933) on television. I was fascinated with the special effects of Willis O'brien and my dad had even bought me the book "The Making of King Kong". I remember asking my dad which doors the monsters would come out of. I pointed to the EXIT doors at the front of the theater by the screen and he explained how this was all going to work.

When that opening credit sequence started accompanied by the incredible score by Bernard Herrmann, I was completely hooked! When the cyclops made his first appearance I was double hooked! I was officially a movie junkie at this point. I wanted to go back to the theater every weekend to see more monsters and more adventure. Alas that didn't quite happen but what did happen was my love affair with the silver screen and movie monsters. Ray Harryhausen's effects work for 7th Voyage were the makings of many a dreamscape for me. The Cyclops, the dragon, the two headed bird and that skeleton! That skeleton gave me nightmares actually and still remains my favorite part of the film.

It would be long until I was able to go to the theater again and see another monster film but this time at a different local theater. There was a very old theater in the downtown area of my sleepy little town called the Magic Lantern. It was originally called The Chadwick and sat at Main Street with it's bijou sign lit up for everyone to see. By the time the 70's had rolled around the theater had become more of grindhouse. It was notorious for screening the plethora of martial arts films and late night porn films. However they did screen some matinee material for the young ones and that would be when I got my first big screen experience with everyone's favorite Japanese radioactive mutant dinosaur Godzilla!

My absolute favorite Godzilla film is this one. Probably because I had experienced it on the big screen. It really has everything you could ask for. Three giant monsters, one robot that could fly and change its size, a kid close to my age at the time who was friends with Godzilla and the robot Jet Jaguar! Before the movie started the theater screened a cartoon. I believe the character was called "Blue Racer" but I could be wrong. I just referred to the insect main character as the "Japanese Beetle". Why? I have no idea, I was like 6 or 7 at this point. The Magic Lantern, as I said earlier, was an old theater. I believe it was originally constructed in the 1920's. It was the epitome of a classic movie theater. There was the traditional outside box office. When you entered through the doors you were treated to the smell of fresh popped popcorn. The carpet was a deep red as well as the velvet ropes that guided you past the concession stand and into the large auditorium. There was a stage, balcony and box seats as well. It was everything a classic movie theater should be. I saw two more films in this theater before it died. Those films were Inframan (1975) and Jaws 2 (1978). The last movie to be screened at the Magic Lantern was Friday the 13th part 3 (1982). I can't image the 3D effects being very good. For some reason I just think the owners just didn't care anymore. My theory is solidified by the fact that during the time the film screened the theater met it's demise. Sadly the theater burned down. A victim of arson and personal desperation.

With the demise of the Magic Lantern, the Plaza became my main go to theater. It was nowhere near as glorious as the Magic Lantern but it certainly provided a great service to local movie goers. I saw plenty of great and not so great movies there. From Superman II to E.T. to Friday the 13th Part 6 to Eddie Murphy Raw and beyond! It was a fun little theater but it had a flaw. It was located in a flood zone! Every once and awhile if there was a really, really bad storm the very front of the theater would take on water. This created a permanent stickiness to the floor in the first three rows from the screen.

Never the less this did not deter me and my friends from taking in a movie. Apparently it didn't deter many of my fellow movie goers either because there was always a line that would wind all the way down past several store fronts usually ending at the old Montgomery Wards. The line for Friday the 13th Part 6 & 7 were like this. People enjoyed these flicks and were happy to sit in a theater past it's prime and in need of a complete restoration. The Plaza would close and re open a few times before finally saying its final goodbye in the mid 1990's. The last movie to screen there was Major Payne (1995). A very unfitting end to a decades old movie house that provided so many movie memories for myself and many of my friends.

With the death of the two local theaters my screen time was now going to be had at the many surrounding sliver screens in my neck of the woods. Believe me there were plenty in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Most of the ones that I frequented were at indoor shopping malls or had their own buildings located near a large shopping area. There were several older theaters as well but sadly I never got to see anything at many of these older locations before they closed.

 Thankfully there is still one classic theater still in operation. The Naro Theater in the downtown Ghent section of Norfolk, Va.

The Naro is more of an art house theater with it's clientele attending more for independent films and documentaries. They do show the occasional big picture but these are normally films that are nominated for Academy Awards. Over the past few years though they have expanded into more genre films.

I have had the pleasure of seeing screenings of Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954 - in 3D), The Time Machine (1960), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Horror of Dracula (1958), Halloween (1978), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and several others. The Naro is the classic theater up and down. It's not as luxurious as I remember the Magic Lantern being but it certainly is classic with it's red carpeting, seating and curtains. It also has a stage which used quite regularly even today.
I have even had the pleasure of performing at the theater on several occasions. The Naro is also home to the bi weekly screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) complete with a local cast. Theater is certainly not dead and neither is the pocket book associated with the Naro. It recently underwent a digital upgrade (as many other theaters had to) and was able to pay for in part of theater goer contributions. This theater has stood the test of time and looks to continue to be a permanent fixture for many years to come.

So there's my little trip down memory lane ghoulies! Theater will always be a part of my life and these memories will last forever. I am just thankful to be able to have been a part of the lives of these classic theaters. Maybe one day this style will come back and instead of a 30 screen mega plex there will be more single screen classic theaters on every street corner on every Main street in every little sleepy town.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Celluloid Coffin 2017

Greetings ghoulies! I know, I know....I've been away for quite awhile. I really need to get back on some kind of regular monthly basis or something. My apologies to the handful of people who actually follow this blog. With that said there are some new titles awaiting you inside the coffin!

In the fall of 2016 I was excited to finally be able to offer this deluxe 2 disc set of one of the most classic werewolf films of the 1950's. I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957) is one of the most iconic 50's horror films. Michael Landon stars in his first big screen role as the troubled teen with some extreme anger issues that are amplified by a doctor with an alternative agenda. This 2 disc set includes a composite print of the feature film. It's a  nice widescreen presentation but the ending credits were damaged so I dug in the crypt and found a nice 4:3 print and edited in the end credit sequence. It's certainly not a revelation but it does provide a nice complete feature. Also included is the seldom seen Halloween episode of Landon's hit T.V. series from the 1980's "Highway to Heaven". The episode is titled "I Was A Middle Aged Werewolf" and also co stars Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes). As an added bonus you also get a set of 5 postcard size reproduction lobby cards! This is the biggest project I have had the pleasure of working on and it was a team effort. I have to thank Monsterkid Josh for helping out with the lobby card repros. He did a bang up job cleaning them up and making them look nice!

 You can never have too much Bela Lugosi in your life so the Celluloid Coffin wants to give you more. Bela stars in this 1933 old dark house thriller and he doesn't disappoint. He portrays a creepy butler who also happens to be a mystic. The main problem is that he needs more screen time in this one but it's still a fun early film with Lugosi at his peak. It also stars Wallace Ford (The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb) who as always delivers a great performance.

Also available is the rarely seen 1983 Italian Giallo, The House of the Yellow Carpet starring Vittorio Mezzogornio, Beatrice Romand and Erland Josephson. A tense piece of Italian film making from director Carlo Lizzani. Almost all of the film takes place inside one location which adds to the tense atmosphere you expect from this type of genre film. It's not a gory ultra violent thriller like the offerings of Dario Argento but it's still a great thriller that captures your attention and never lets go!

These titles are always available at the Ebay and Etsy stores! So feel free to drop by and take a gander at what lies rotting in the Coffin!

Coffindan's Ebay Store

The Celluloid Coffin Etsy Shop 

There will be plenty more coming from the Celluloid Coffin in 2017. Hopefully another Giallo film that has rarely been seen in the U.S. I have my fingers crossed on this one. I'm also looking forward to possibly getting some film titles from Desert Island Films who have an extensive library of films that might get a chance to fly under the Celluloid Coffin moniker. I will also try and keep active here at the old coffin and that means more of my thoughts and some reviews of some great films! Stay scary folks!