Saturday, June 09, 2007

McFarland New Titles: June

The Films of Larry Buchanan

Films such as The Naked Witch, Zontar, The Thing From Venus and Mars Needs Women have gained large cult followings, and movies like A Bullet For Pretty Boy, Free, White and 21 and Goodbye, Norma Jean became box office hits. Still, no other independent filmmaker of the latter 20th century may elicit such a disparity of response from general movie audiences and cult film buffs alike as the late, legendary Larry Buchanan.This study, the first serious examination of Buchanan’s body of work, addresses consistent themes such as the end of suburbia, the rebel outsider, the oppressive establishment, the curse of fame, and “creatures of destruction”. The highly political subtext found in virtually every one of the filmmaker’s projects is also explored. Chapters are devoted to more than 20 of Buchanan’s films; information on some of the unfinished, unreleased (and in at least one case), deliberately destroyed projects is offered, as well. Photographs illustrating nearly all the films are included.

The Mexican Cinema of Darkness

Following the national and international upheaval and tragedy in 1968, Mexican “trash cinema” began to shift away from the masked wrester genre and towards darker, more explicit films, and disturbing visions of the modern world: films which can be called “avant-exploitation.” This work covers six of those films: El Topo, Mansion of Madness, Alucarda, Guyana, Crime of the Century, Birds of Prey, and Santa Sangre.

In the world of slapstick comedy, few are more beloved than the Three Stooges. Throughout their 190 short films, they consistently delivered physical, verbal and situational comedy in new and creative ways. Following the trio from outer space to ancient Rome, this volume provides an in-depth look at their comedy and its impact on twentieth century art, culture and thought. This analysis reveals new insights into the language, literary structure, politics, race, gender, ethnicity and even psychology of the classic shorts. It discusses the elements of surrealism within the Stooges films, exploring the many ways in which they created their own reality regardless of time and space. The portrayal of women and minorities and the role of the mistake in Stooges’ works are also addressed. Moreover, the book examines the impact that the Columbia Studios style and the austerity of its Short Subjects Department had on the work of the Three Stooges, films that ironically have outlasted more costly and celebrated productions.

This collection of essays analyzes the many ways in which comic book and film superheroes have been revised or rewritten in response to changes in real-world politics, social mores, and popular culture. Among many topics covered are the jingoistic origin of Captain America in the wake of the McCarthy hearings, the post–World War II fantasy-feminist role of Wonder Woman, and the Nietzschean influences on the “sidekick revolt” in the 2004 film The Incredibles.

Producing The House Between's Second Season

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Gale-Thomson likes Horror Films of the 1980s

Another good review of Horror Films of the 1980s, here.

An excerpt: "Like Jason, Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, John Kenneth Muir keeps returning to horror films for a little more fiendish fun. In this episode, Muir surveys 300 films of the 1980's, or as he calls it, the "Dead Teenager Decade."...Muir closely examines organizing principles, plot devices, and the use of conventional characters. He looks hard for points to praise, but never lets sloppy work go without comment...Muir weaves contemporary commentary, thoughtful analyses and humor into a true art form. His entertaining guide will find fans in academic and public libraries. "

CULT TV FLASHBACK # 29: Korg 70,000 BC (1974-1975)

Here's a retro-blast from the past, a Saturday morning live-action adventure/fantasy series from Hanna-Barbera. Created by the late Fred Freiberger, Korg 70,000 BC ran for one season on ABC nearly 33 years ago. The series follows the adventures of a neanderthal family headed by the hunter Korg (Jim Malinda). The others in his tribe included his wife, Mara (Naomi Pollack), hunter Bok (Bill Ewing), daughter Ree (Janelle Pransky) and sons Tane (Christopher Man) and Tor (Charles Morteo). Korg ran from September 7, 1974 to late August 1975.

Burgess Meredith served as series narrator, and at the climax of each story, his gravelly voice gently assured viewers that the preceding tale was "based on assumptions and theories" based on Neanderthal "artifacts" discovered by modern man, since the Neanderthals left nothing else by which to learn about them.

Each episode of this half-hour series usually featured a relatively simple story, and one that seemed to concern family values. Although it is shocking to see prehistoric cave dwellers speaking perfect English (!) in the series, it nonetheless had its share of unique installments. In one, a wounded neanderthal from the nearby "River People" found himself going blind after a bad fall, and thus abducted Korg's youngest son, Tor, to lead him home. Korg and Bok followed in hot pursuit to save the boy, but the conflict was resolved without conflict or violence, a staple of Saturday morning television in the 1970s. Understanding was forged and the episode ended up on a happy note with the hunter's sight restored, as Korg and clan escorted him home.

Another Korg episode, written by Dick Robbins, was shot at Vasquez Rocks, the location of so many Star Trek episodes, including "arena." In this tale, Korg and his friends faced a "struggle for survival," according to the narrator, "a constant" back in that time. In particular, Korg and Bok hunt a very fake-looking black bear and it badly wounds Bok. This causes the great warrior to lose his sense of courage, a sort of prehistoric case of PTSD, so Korg concocts a vision from their God "The Great Unseen One," to restore Bok's strength. In particular, he must drink the blood of the bear that injured him. The episode culminates with a weird ritual as the triumphant Bok and Korg dance around with the bear's severed head. That sounds awfully un-PC for kid's television, but there you have it. The subtext of this episode is also fascinating, since Korg, in the coda, comes clean to wife Mara that he invented the vision so as to help his friend. One is left with the notion that this kind of trickery may indeed be the way that man began to conceive "religion."

Although there are occasionally some nice shots of wildlife, Korg 70,000 BC's biggest deficit is that it looks to be filmed in contemporary and familiar Southern California, not a dangerous prehistoric landscape. That said, the caveman make-up holds up pretty well (at least as well as Worf's make-up on TNG.). The stories are simple ones, simply told, but relatively engaging, if you can get over the sight of Neanderthals speaking Pidgin English. The non-violence is a bit hard to swallow too, especially since these people had not even yet "discovered" the missionary position. So think of this as Quest for Fire rated G, on Saturday mornings.

Although not available on DVD or VHS at this time, Korg 70,000 BC is worth remembering not just because it's a very different kind of Saturday morning TV show, but because it did spawn a merchandising blitz during its day. I remember playing the Korg board game, and there was also a Korg lunchbox available, if I remember correctly. As a kid I watched Korg religiously, though I was always disappointed that the cavemen didn't fight dinosaurs. Which is probably why I liked Land of the Lost better, even if Korg 70,000 BC took pains to present its material as accurately as possible for kid's television. Below is the opening montage from the series:

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I Survived The House Between...

If I had to design a T-shirt to best explain the experience of shooting The House Between season two, it would read as the title of this post does. We just finished up a grueling, exhausting week of principle photography. The whole team re-assembled from last year, plus a great new actor/character...but it was no picnic.

Our week started off in difficult fashion. On the night before we were to begin shooting, our principle camera broke down, necessitating an expensive new purchase. As it turned out, we were able to nursemaid the old camera through the shoot, and not use the new camera, which I can return, but still - it made for some hairy moments. Until we finished the final shot the last day, I wondered when and if the camera would stop working for good. The camera's intermittent glitch also slowed down shooting here and there, which was a delay we didn't need.

That was just the beginning. During the shoot, no less than four people dealt with illness, including one actor who came down with a really bad fever, and still soldiered through a full 14-hour work day. At points, I was afraid we were going to have to prop him up into the scenes...he literally appeared to be on the verge of collapse. On another day, we woke up to find another actor was also ill, and unable to work. We had to rewrite our back-up or "bonus" script, omitting his character save for one scene. It all worked out just fine, but there were some stomach-churning moments there for cast and crew. We were concerned for our friends, and also wondering what the hell was going to happen.


It's far too early for me to digest the entire experience. At this point, I haven't even uploaded the photos from my digital camera as I had intended. I said it a few times this week, but it was almost as if we used up all our good luck last year, when everything went so smoothly.

Of course, as my supportive producer, Joe Maddrey reminded me, the difficulties this year actually reflected the content to a high degree. This is the "middle" year of The House Between and considerably darker than last year's shows in some important ways. Everybody kept comparing it to The Empire Strikes Back in terms of the tone. If we all survive and recover, the third season will hopefully reflect the content I want there...which should be somewhat less grim. We'll see.

Anyway, the amazing thing is that we filmed eight new episodes. Most of the scripts were 42 pages long. One script was 44 pages. The new season now includes the following shows:

2.1. "Returned"
2.2 "Separated"
2.3. "Reunited"
2.4. "Estranged'
2.5. "Populated"
2.6. "Distressed"
2.7. "Caged"
2.8. "Ruined"

What I can say for certain is that I am eternally grateful to my cast and crew, the people who kept going and never stopped, no matter how tiring and stressful things got. The performances all came through great, and the make-up, lighting and camera work looks terrific on the material I've previewed. Hopefully, my plans for a "bigger, better" Season Two will really come through. I know that everybody really gave it their all...and ultimately that's the first step.