Monday, June 20, 2016

Jaws 2 (1978)

Today happens to see the original Jaws celebrating the 41st anniversary of its release and, thereby you know, laying out the blueprint for the modern blockbuster.  It really is incredible film that broke box office records, frightened audiences, and generated such a buzz that lines for subsequent showings stretched around city blocks and through parking lots!  Perhaps, even more important to modern movie-going, Jaws also ushered in the idea of a successful sequel to continue such astronomical profits; no 1978's Jaws 2 obviously isn't the very first sequel ever (but it is the first to simply use the number 2 instead of a roman numeral), but it definitely didn't make any qualms about wanting to repeat its predecessor's success.

Producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck saw the potential to strike while the iron was still steaming on Jaws and very early on had their hearts set on a sequel.  Very early on, there was talk of mining Quint's story of the sinking USS Indianapolis and going for a sort of prequel (which, for my money, would still be a viable and entertaining story.  Get on it Universal! - Ed).  When that idea was rejected though, John D. Hancock was brought in as director and, working from a script by his wife Dorothy Tristan, started fleshing out a very different Jaws 2, one where Amity had become a ghost town that had been financially crippled by the events of the first film.  There was also an expansion of a subplot from one of Peter Benchley's original novel, in which organized crime and unpaid debts weaved themselves through Amity officials.  Of course, all this was happening while another shark terrorized the town!

What we ended up with for Jaws 2, instead, is what I like to call "a Slasher movie with a Great White Shark".  Co-written by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler, Jaws 2 focuses on the now-teenaged Mike Brody and his group of friends as they go cruising in their sailboats  on the open ocean -- it's a not subtle variation on teenagers showing off their tricked out hotrods along the Sunset Strip.  This, of course, happens after two divers go missing and their undeveloped camera roll points to another large Carcharodon Carcharias.  In an interesting bit of continuity, the two divers are thrill-seekers who are checking out the sunken wreckage of the Orca, trying to secure bragging rights by taking photos where the original film ended. 


Just some kids, havin' some fun.
 Naturally, only Chief Brody seems to believe that another shark is chumming up Amity's waters -- despite a pile of evidence -- and, so it's up to him to stop it.   Mix in the fact that Mike and his friends are now the target of the Great White and, for Chief Brody, this time it's getting personal!
I'm only smiling because money!
Fresh off a series of episodes from TV's Baretta, Bug director Jeannot Szwarc treats the material of Jaws 2 the way anyone attempting to follow-up a massive success should:  realize that lightning probably isn't going to strike twice, but give it your all, and have fun with it!  Under this mindset, Szwarc crafts some great set pieces that see the shark attack a water-skier and cause a boat to explode in a fireball (earning a bitching burn scare on its face!) and even one where the shark has helicopter à la carte!  Still though, if Spielberg's handling of the first film was the equivalent to 5.1 sound, Szwarc delivers a stereophonic film for the sequel. 


Once again as Chief Martin Brody, Roy Scheider leads a returning roster of actors such as Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Joseph Moscalo, and Jeffrey Kramer.  It's worth noting that, despite not really wanting to be there (he was notoriously difficult on-set and his clashes with Szwarc were legendary), Scheider does give the role his all, proving himself invaluable to the franchise (as the next two sequels would find out the hard way). 

Among the cast of "kids", almost every archetype that would later be explored/copied in the Slasher films of the 80s is present:  the hunky hero in Mike (played by Mark Gruner), the Constantly Screaming/Crying Girl, the Spoiled Rich Kid Whose Dad Is Important, the Jock Best Friend, and even the Lovable Nerd (played by Christine's Keith Gordon).  Though they may seem a bit stereotypical, the young actors give enough to their performances to make you root for them and care as they're stalked by the shark -- except for Donna Wilkes' Jackie, who sobs and screams her way through the 2nd half of the film, causing many a fan to beg the shark to eat her!


Dear God, make her stop.  Just.  Stop.  Already.
Keith Gordon is great in anything.
Also returning is John Williams with a fine follow-up to his Academy Award-winning score the first time around.  Here, he contributes a spirited score that many fans would argue comes in just below the original! 



Of course, the main star of the film is the shark itself; designed by Special mechanical effects supervisor Robert Mattey and Roy Arbogast, Bruce 2 featured a brand new head design and overall improved mechanics.  Throw in that killer burn scar on the right side of its face, and Jaws 2 has one memorable movie monster!


Bruce 2 cut himself shaving.
Apparently, Bruce 2 ate some hydraulics!
At the time of its release Jaws 2 was Universal's most expensive film to date, a gamble which paid off handsomely though as it remained in the top 10 grossing films for some time!  For a sequel, its initial box office was only topped a year later by Rocky II!

When viewed along side the classic original, Jaws 2 is certainly an inferior film, however it makes the most of what it has going for it -- that being an incredibly large shadow -- and delivers a fun, energetic follow-up.  As it stands it is, hands down, the best of the three sequels as well, given that there seemed to be a desire for legitimacy and story, rather than just box office receipts. 

One final cool piece about Jaws 2 is its famous tagline of "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..."; parodied to death in the ensuing years, this is one of the best and coolest horror taglines ever!  It's also worth noting that, with Jaws 2, the franchise continued the tradition of having incredible artwork for its posters (despite the quality of the films themselves).  Even though I've yet to have a Jaws poster in my own collection (likely a reprint since originals are extremely expensive), I do have US one-sheets for Jaws 2 and Jaws 3-D, as well a Danish version of Jaws 2!



Friday, June 17, 2016

Jaws 3-D (1983)

All genre fans are familiar with the all-too brief 3D resurgence in the early 80s with the top three Part 3 titles being released in blue and red glory -- 1982's Friday the 13th Part 3, 1983's Amityville 3D, and of course, Jaws 3-D following that same year.  The gamble on the gimmick paid off in spades for Friday (scaring up $36.7 million on a $2.3 million budget) and Jaws (pulling $88.5 million from its $20.5 million budget), with audiences mostly skipping Amityville.  Shortly after this mini-wave though, the fad died out once again. But, for those of us who were lucky enough to catch these movies during their theatrical runs (or at least see them on home video in the format), they sure do make for some pretty fun times!

Jaws 3-D, while entertaining as all hell, is a pretty dumb movie.  Much like its three-dimensional brothers in screams, most of its running time is focused on the WOW factor of "Hey!  Look!  This severed arm is popping right of the screen at you!"  The story focuses on a now adult Mike Brody (played by a young Dennis Quaid) who works as an engineer at SeaWorld Orlando, far from the beaches of Amity Island and his budding relationship with the park's lead marine biologist Kay (played by Bess Armstrong).  Naturally, a Great White shark somehow gets into the park and begins making waves!  Standing in for the role of Mayor In Denial, Louis Gossett Jr is on hand as Calvin Bouchard, the business-minded park manager intent of generating lots of money no matter what.  As the Great White chews on their co-workers and guests alike, Mike and Kay soon realize they have a bigger problem on their hands:  the shark's 35-foot mother! 


You may now put on your 3D glasses!
In the shadow of its original blockbuster daddy, Jaws 3-D doesn't amount to much more than the bloated, stinking corpse of a Tiger Shark; but when viewed as just a fun, ridiculous popcorn movie on a Friday or Saturday night, it's one to remember!   Lou Gossett chews scenery and dialogue almost as quickly as the sharks in this film, as he has so many quotable nuggets of dialogue like "No grenades".  Quaid is fine as the first adult version of the Brody kids we all loved in the two previous films (little brother Sean shows up as well, played by John Putch).  Bess Armstrong seems to anchor the seriousness of the plot though, as Kay is essentially the Hooper character this time around; aside from a passing reference to how "those sharks are killers" from Mike, Quaid plays things pretty blue-collar and almost as if he can't believe what's actually happening.  Lea Thompson, in her first on-screen role, also shows up as a water-skier performer and potential love interest for Sean! 

Also along for the hunt -- because every good monster movie needs a hunter -- is the late Simon MacCorkindale as Philip FitzRoyce, who is basically the bastard son of Jacques Cousteau and Don King with a little bit of Quint mixed in for good measure.  MacCorkindale plays up the cheap cologne slime factor of his character, which combined with his British flare, makes him rather enjoyable and worthy of rooting for in the end. 

For the kids, there are also two cute dolphins -- Cindy and Sandy -- who pretty much either get in the way (like Jones the cat in Alien or Gordon the dog in Friday the 13th:  The Final Chapter) or save the day.  It's worth noting that Sandy is played by a male dolphin named Capricorn; he currently lives in Discovery Cove (owned by SeaWorld in Orlando) and, at 50yrs old, still loves interacting with guests daily!  Pretty cool, eh?

As a film, things are pretty uneven from the start.  The screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Richard Matheson (!) is pure B-movie greatness on par with the tongue in cheek humor of John Sayles -- though it's a shame that no one else got the memo that the material should be treated as such!  Having served as Production Designer and Second Unit Director on the first two films, Joe Alves is clearly in over his head, but manages a serviceable job...though this would be the one and only film he'd helm.  If anything, the movie's faults lie in its thralldom to the 3D film making process and its limitations.  Set pieces that maybe could have been incredible or terrifying in another director's hands are instead set-up to only service and show-off three-dimensional special effects.

Some of the obvious standouts of Jaws 3-D are: 

1.) An intense scene where the shark attacks a group of water-skiers in broad daylight -- in front of hundreds of SeaWorld guests.  Here, Mike frantically hijacks a golf cart (spilling popcorn all over the ground -- for shame!) before stealing an MC's microphone to alert everyone to get out of the water!  Someone needs to take the footage of Mike with the microphone and dub in some crazy death metal or hardcore punk...please make his happen! 
I'd like to think Mike is singing "Straight Edge Revenge" here...
2.) The discovery that "good ol' boy" Shelby Overman has been eaten by the shark; there's a cool 3-D effect of his severed arm floating towards the camera and, once the guests discover his mutilated corpse, a young girl has her face smashed up against the glass, nearly locking lips with his lifeless face!  Since someone needs to ID the body, Kay and Mike view the remains, with our hero nearly puking his guts out!  There's a brief look at the gory carnage here, with Alves deciding to give the audience what it wants rather than taking Spielberg's "less is more" approach to the original film. 


Give us a kiss Beautiful!
3.) The scene where the mama shark finally shows her snout -- much to the surprise of all the guests who become trapped in the underwater sight-seeing tunnels.  A young girl -- who is hilariously dubbed -- exclaims "Daddy, look at the fish!" while pointing at the large Carcharodon Carcharias.  Dad's response?  "Holy shit!"  Side note:  the underwater tunnels is actually a pretty cool-looking amusement in the vein of Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse!  If this were a real thing, I'd be there in a heartbeat!

Run...to...the...hills!  Run...for...your...life!
4.) The final showdown where our heroes are trapped in an underwater control room with the 35-foot charging Great White.  Yes, the effect of the shark charging is terrible-looking (even by 1983 standards), but it's a very cool idea, if not a bit preposterous considering the way the monster is eventually dispatched.  At this point, The Last Shark's Enzo Castellari must have somehow commandeered the production, throwing all continuity and logic out the window! 


You better earn those paychecks and act scared as shit!
Bruce 3 always wanted to break into showbiz!
 All in all, Jaws 3-D proved to be a modest hit for Universal, eventually chumming the waters enough for 1987's Jaws:  The Revenge, which ultimately sunk the franchise.  One wonders though without the 3-D gimmick or, had Universal not gotten such cold feet and went with the originally intended Jaws 3, People 0 spoof to be directed by Joe Dante (and Animal House's Matty Simmons as Producer and a script co-written by John Hughes!!), would the film have been as successful?  For my money, I'd still LOVE to see someone make Jaws 3, People 0 happen -- come on Universal, what have you got to lose?!? 



Thursday, June 16, 2016

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Right about now, you're probably asking yourself "Why is he starting with this turd?"  Truth is, it's the only one that I saw on its original theatrical release and, to this day, it holds some special value for me.  Since all three Jaws sequels were finally released on bluray this week, I thought I'd take a look back starting with what is arguably the worst of the bunch, but first, a little background...

If ever there was a movie series ingrained into my DNA outside of the usual suspects -- Indiana Jones, Rocky, etc. -- it would definitely be the Jaws franchise.  One of my favorite childhood memories is of one of my first walks with my Dad to the local general store in my hometown (even though it was around the block from our house, it may as well have been a few miles to my tiny legs).  Before that, I had always been carried, but this time I insisted on walking myself.  Once we got there, Dad bought me a rubber toy shark, which I distinctly remember being carded and having the Jaws logo on it; turns out it that it was an original Chem Toys rubber shark from 1975.  To this day, I'm amazed that I still have the thing and it's still in as great condition as it is . . .


This guy swallowed many a G.I. Joe and Star Wars figure in the bath tub!
Another cool tie to the Jaws franchise was a local place called The Forge & Anvil.  From what I understand, it was actually where my parents first met, and today it would be akin to a sports bar (though it's sadly gone).  Mom and Dad used to take me there frequently for pizza and, no joke, it always seemed that one of the first two Jaws movies was playing on TV when we'd be there!  When I watch the movies today, I can't help but feel nostalgic for watching them from atop a stool in that crowded bar! 

In 1987, when Jaws:  The Revenge was released, my parents took me to see it at the then newly-opened Princeton MarketFair in West Windsor, NJ.  At the time, to my 4yr old eyes, the screen that we saw the movie on seemed like the size of a skyscraper!  I'll never forget just how gigantic it seemed during the shot of Jake being pulled underwater was shown!  From that point on, I was hot on everything Jaws:  The Revenge, even keeping two of the cool foldout advertisements from TV Guide!

This was half traumatizing and half cool as hell as a 4yr old!
The one above is the ad folded out and the one below is the unfolded version.
Let's be fair:  Jaws:  The Revenge is not a great film...it's not even a very good one for that matter.  But I'm positive that I'm still able to overlook its many shortcomings filtered through my own nostalgia for it. 

In an interesting spin on the series, the film starts off at Christmas time on Amity Island where Ellen Brody and her youngest son Sean are prepping dinner.  Following in his late father's footsteps (since Roy Scheider apparently said NOPE and is instead present via a framed photograph), Sean is now a deputy with the Amity PD when he gets called at the end of his shift.  In a particularly terrifying sequence, Sean is attacked by a shark out in the harbor. Meanwhile, Ellen is convinced that it's the same shark that killed Martin (via a heart-attack induced by fright over the damned thing no doubt) and it's now coming for her.  Eldest son Sean (once played by Dennis Quaid in Jaws 3D, but now is here played by Lance Guest of Halloween II) persuades Ellen to come stay with him and his family for the holidays in the Bahamas, where he is a marine biologist.  


I vaguely recall a TV version with the bloody area literally blacked out by a black box!
First Michael Myers and now Bruce The Shark!?
(cue "Holiday Road" by Linsdey Buckingham)

Apparently the Great White shark that killed Sean in the first reel has some sort of GPS and is then able to follow Ellen to the Bahamas for more fun!  Naturally, there's the scientific fact that sharks wouldn't be able to survive in this particular climate...but, just forget that and have fun with the movie.  Also along for the ride are Mario Van Peebles (with a silly island accent) and Michael Caine (as a love interest for Ellen), as the shark continues to terrorize Ellen and Michael (and eat a few people in the process).  What follows is a bit of a cat and mouse game (Mike and Van Peebles' Jake first spot the shark out in the water while they're working, but vow to hide it from Ellen and everyone else) combined with the type of psychological paranoia seen in Friday the 13th Part V before it finally climaxes in a fight to the death on the high seas.
Michael Caine:  "The movie bought me a house!  What'd you guys get?"
For me, the main standout sequence is the banana boat attack in the last half of the film.  Here, Michael's daughter is on a boat ride with a bunch of other kids when the shark suddenly attacks, killing an adult who basically sacrifices herself to save the little girl!  Mike's daughter of course goes into shock and the cat is finally out of the bag that the shark is here!  It's bloody and kinda brutal in that A.) Someone gets eaten by the shark and B.) That someone gets eaten by a shark in front of kids!  Another fun sequence is when Michael gets attacked in his little yellow submarine:  the shark tears it to pieces and then chases him into a wrecked ship.  Sure, it's got some really obvious shark mechanics on display (more on that later), but it was a pretty damned terrifying scene when I first saw the movie!


Somebody say Land Shark?!
Depending on when/how you watch Jaws:  The Revenge, you may see a completely different ending.  The US Theatrical Ending ("Ending #1) was what I most remember;  Jake is grabbed by the shark from the stern, presumably eaten, and Ellen rams the broken stern wood into the shark.  Shark bleeds out and breaks the front of the ship off, sinking to the bottom of the ocean with it.  The International Theatrical Ending ("Ending #2) also wound up as the US VHS/DVD and, today, most TV airings.  Here, Jake is grabbed by the shark, and Ellen rams the broken stern into it.  What differs here is that the shark inexplicably explodes on impact and this glorious death is padded out with footage from the original film.  Also in this ending, the heroes find themselves floating amongst busted up ship debris and Jake miraculously survives!  This bit is particularly cringe-worthy as it was shot in a tank on the Universal back lot exclusively for the international release . . . if you look closely, the "sky" is clearly a wall at the back of the tank that the "ocean" smacks up against numerous times! 



To me, Ending #2 further sabotages a film that could have been salvageable via some incredibly tight editing.  The scenes shot in the tank are so painfully out of place with the rest of the sequence that you can almost picture the cast stopping by the back lot for the shoot on their way to another gig.  One wonders why Universal felt the need for the different ending that has Jake survive; even as a kid, I was okay with him dying, as it added some additional weight to the struggle to finally kill the damned shark!  Having Jake miraculously survive being grabbed by a Great White, with only a torn shirt and some blood around him is almost as bad as having Jaws 3D's FitzRoyce remain fully intact inside the shark's mouth (after another character was already eaten after him).

Aside from the obvious problems Jaws:  The Revenge has going against it, I've always felt that it feels a little too much like a made for TV movie.  From the very beginning, the opening credits stink of cheap and lazy font.  And Michael Small's musical score feels cheap and uninspired throughout; even the classic John Williams theme is lame here.  Though it may be surprising that Director/Producer Joseph Sargent made a classic like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, his major output was either episodic television or TV movies, making it fairly obvious why the film looks as shoddy as it does.  Clearly, Universal was squeezing the last few dollars it could out of a worn-out franchise while spending as little as possible.  This is unfortunate because, had some true talent been involved behind the scenes (Michael De Guzman's script is pretty inept -- with Ellen having flashbacks to scenes from Jaws when she wasn't even a part of them in the first place), this could have been something worth bragging about had it taken a The Final Chapter, The Final Nightmare, or The Final Friday approach that other genre franchises took.

Almost 30 (??!?) years later, we still haven't seen another sequel (despite Back To The Future Part II's promise of a Jaws 19 this year!), prequel (there always seemed to be hope for a film based on Quint's experience aboard the USS Indianapolis) or a remake/reboot of the original (thank God!) and one wonders if we'll ever see another Jaws movie.  Over the years, there have been various rumors about a fifth film focusing on the Matt Hooper character, but nothing has materialized beyond internet chatter.  Ultimately, for a franchise that continues to shape and define the modern movie blockbuster, it's a shame that its initial shine gradually deteriorated into the sun-dried dog turd that is Jaws:  The Revenge.

Friday, June 10, 2016

FANGORIA Magazine: Death Is (Not The End)


I'm happy to report that, by the time I finished writing this, I saw that Fangoria is indeed moving forward and will continue to be America's #1 Horror Magazine!  So, with that awesome news, please enjoy this piece as merely a walk down Memory Lane!  



With the announcement of Editor-In-Chief (and long-time contributor and all around Horror Hero) Michael Gingold and Fangoria magazine parting ways, the future is not looking very bright for America’s #1 Horror Magazine. 

This bums me out incredibly.  How can there potentially be no more Fangoria magazine?  Has the world really come to this?

My very first introduction to Fango was via the special issue, Horror Video #1.  Of course, I picked it out because, at the age of 5, Freddy Krueger was my hero and he was front and center on its cover.  At that point, I’m not sure if I could even read very well, but I could look at pictures…and there were lots of gruesome (awesome!), gory (incredible!), and scary (cool!) photos throughout it!  I’d recognized some of the various photos – Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface, and Dawn of the Dead – but this magazine also served as a jumping off point for me and acted as a genre bible during my early years!
Here is it, with Horror Video #2 peeking out from behind!
I couldn’t believe it:  here was a magazine devoted to all kinds of great stuff that, somewhere deep inside, interested me.  I was a Monster Kid before I really even knew it!  That magazine seemed to travel everywhere with me to the point that the cover fell off and, eventually, it became completely lost or destroyed.  Some years later, I’d finally get a replacement copy though!

In October of 1988, I got my first true issue of Fango, and it was #78 – Pinhead from Hellraiser II was the main cover star, but at the top of the iconic filmstrip, there was Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4!  Right then and there in that A & P store in Clinton, NJ I begged my mom to buy it for me and she did . . . and, to this day, I still have that very issue (though its cover has since fallen off and been lost).   Again, I couldn’t believe my eyes that here was a magazine devoted to all this great stuff!  The articles and photos of Hellraiser II and Waxwork had an immediate impact on me.
And, with this, Fangoria got a new faithful follower!
Later on, I’d get future issues (or at least browse through them) from either my mom and dad or my grandmother.  In particular, there’s a place outside of my hometown called The Corner Store, which is essentially a general store…I mean, this place looked like some sort of country store out of a Horror movie to begin with!  These days, it's no different than your average mini-mart or 7-11, but back then I always had a sense of wonder when I climbed up its lone step to go inside!  My dad would stop there on his way home to get milk and, if I was ever with him, I’d go inside and immediately grab an ice cream sandwich before darting right for the magazine rack.  Of course, there were the usual Playboy, Penthouse, etc. men’s magazines up at the tippy top (I’d usually only be able to spot the eyes of some broad staring back from behind a cardboard cover), but the Fangoria magazines were lower and way more accessible to my young hands. 

Aside from that, my Gram would buy me Fangoria magazines (or any other magazine or toys or CDs or movies) at the Laneco grocery store in Whitehouse, NJ (which is now a Walmart).  She’d also buy me back issues from the book store at Q-Mart over in Quakertown, PA.  In fact, I’d wager that most of my issues around this time were purchased here or at The Corner Store. 

Another cool Fango piece that my Gram bought for me came from the Clover department store at the Palmer Park Mall in Easton, PA.  Around this time, she started buying me the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies as they came out and, truth be told, I’d say most of them up until at least Nightmare 5, came from here.  Anyway, one time while we were there, I spotted the Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors documentary . . . had no idea what it was, but I knew Fangoria and it had Freddy (and a fanged Elvira, along with the Sandy monster from House) on its cover, so I was down!  Not only did it serve as an additional tome to all things Horror (probably my first introduction to Rick Baker, Wes Craven, Tom Savini, Stan Winston, Tobe Hooper, and Dan O’Bannon among many more), but it also introduced me to the idea that I COULD ACTUALLY MEET THESE PEOPLE.  My young mind was blown.  Never mind the fact that plenty of Fango issues that I’d already had contained ads for the Weekend of Horrors events in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York – I simply must have skipped past them or didn’t realize what they were promoting!  In my young mind, it seemed that these events only happened in Los Angeles and, to put it bluntly, were way too expensive to attend.
For whatever reason, in the early 90s, I sort of gravitated away from Fango and Horror in general….I think maybe because I was discovering music and had become obsessed with Guns N’ Roses and Metallica.  However, that soon changed during a trip to the Palmer Park Mall with my Gram;  I’d stopped into Waldenbooks and was perusing Fango #145 when I saw an ad promoting that month’s Weekend of Horrors in Manhattan….with Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree (along with Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, Angus Scrimm, and Clive Barker) set to attend!  The plan started to form in my pea-brain . . . I begged my parents to take me to it since it was right after my thirteenth birthday.  Happily, they obliged and I’ve never been the same since, attending almost every New York Weekend of Horrors through 2003 or so, along with Chiller Theatre and Monster Mania.
Fango #145
Me (and my dirt-stache) and Ken Foree, 8/26/95
Now for a quick funny story after that first Weekend of Horrors show . . . sometime in ’96, Tom Savini was releasing his Grande Illusions Book II.  I’d seen an ad for the book in a recent issue and had to have it; and this being the days before I was online, this was no easy task for a 13yr old!  After trying to fax in a completed order form to the Fangoria offices, I somehow ended up calling them directly and actually got connected to longtime contributor and then Editor-In-Chief Tony Timpone!  One can only imagine what was going through his head as a squeaky-voiced kid spoke to him about trying to order a silly book!  At that year’s New York Weekend of Horrors, I met Tony and got a pic with him, me being probably a handful of photos he posed for that day while keeping the show running smoothly.  Later, there was the Weekend of Horrors in ’98 that George A. Romero attended; while waiting out in the freezing January cold of New York (without a jacket on, so that I could proudly show off my Dawn of the Dead shirt mind you), by chance, I saw Tony on the street and said hello to him.  His response?  “Hey Robert!”  To this day, I have no idea how he remembered me or my name from meeting me once almost 2 years prior!
Me and Tony, August 1996
Of course, the biggest impact that Fangoria would have on me was soon to come . . . in January 2002, I attended the Weekend of Horrors (which, by then, had transitioned to only happening in New York in January) to meet Robert Englund for the first time.  While we were there in the ballroom, we met a hilarious local dude name Steve, who said that he moderated the Fangoria message boards.  We continued to hang and chat it up and I wrote down his info about the boards….”Uncle Creepy” was his screenname.  Cool!   Although, I didn’t actually check out the boards myself until April or May of that year . . . In December of 2002, Steve invited me into the city to go to a preview screening of Don Coscarelli’s then yet to be released Bubba Ho-Tep, which Tony had organized.  At that screening, I got to meet and chat with Coscarelli himself and even William Lustig.  Again, none of that would have been possible if it weren’t for Fangoria.

Long story short about the original Fangoria Message Boards:  initially, there were only a small handful of us on there.  We talked Horror, we talked about the movies we loved, the movies that were in the pipeline, Pop Culture, TV, music, toys…and we were a family.  Though it may seem outdated with today’s social media and Facebook, those of us who were there knew it was special.  At the following Brooklyn Weekend of Horrors in January 2003, we all met up in person and spent many hours shooting the shit in the bar area of the hotel.  As a matter of fact, I met my wife that day.  And to this day, we’re still friends with many of those same folks and we catch up to each other every once in a while.   We met up with Tony and he even set aside a table for us in the dealer room to promote the message boards!  A family photo of us ended up in Fango #221, effectively fulfilling a life-long dream of appearing in the bloody pages I’d read so much!  Later that first night, a bunch of us went out to dinner with Tony and his lovely wife, too.
Fango #221

Some years later, after I graduated from college and I was trying to figure out my eventual career path, I interviewed for an internship with Fangoria.  Looking back, as I was still living at home and had a part-time job at a video store, I really had no idea how I was going to commute into the city every day for an internship.  But I was determined and, so I came into that interview – with Tony himself no less – as prepared as I could be.  Of course he remembered me and we chatted, but nothing ever came from it, as I was definitely not ready for something of that magnitude.  But still, to be in the Starlog offices and be greeted by cool Fango art as I waited in the lobby before the interview?  Priceless.   

In June 2009, with issue # 284, Tony Timpone stepped down as Editor-In-Chief, with Rue Morgue’s Chris Alexander taking over.  Initially, I liked what I saw and remained true to the brand – aside from the changes to the classic cover layout as the familiar logo had been altered and the iconic filmstrip had been removed.  Chris took the magazine into some great avenues with some meaty retrospective pieces akin to what I like about HorrorHound magazine.  However, by this point, I’d say I’d more or less switched to HorrorHound completely and all but ignored Fango, save for a few special issues and/or ones with cool covers.  Although the filmstrip would return soon after, along with the famous Fango logo, I had all but moved on.

At this point, perhaps I took Fangoria for granted, as it had been around for almost 40 years now and, in my eyes, it would always be there.  Like the perfect slice of New York style pizza, Fangoria magazine invokes a wave of great memories from when I was a kid.  There’s a sense of nostalgia attached to the early magazines and their incredible cover images – a good deal of the covers once Chris Alexander took over seemed to yearn for those days, but I felt they almost always JUST missed it. 

Perhaps my dismissal of the magazine these days comes from the coverage of newer genre fare which, to be fair, has become so mainstream that the sense of danger and gross-out shock factor is all but lost.  Horror in the 80s, 90s, and even the early 00s was different and, stuff today just isn’t as exciting it seems.  The Fango covers themselves just haven’t been the same; looking back through recent issues, and I’d say the majority of them featured older, fan-favorite images from classic films we all grew up with!  I’m embarrassed and ashamed to admit that, as of this writing, I honestly can’t recall the last issue I actually bought instead of just flipped through at the local Barnes & Noble.  (Ed:  As of this writing, I've finally subscribed to Fangoria...after nearly 30yrs of reading it!)


Now, with its future looking bleak, my heart is heavy and desperately wondering how I can help save the magazine I’ve loved so much for so long.  Anyway, if this is truly the end....even though my heart may be heavy, my hat is off to everyone who has contributed to an incredible magazine that pretty much shaped who I am today.  It has, no doubt, been my generation's Famous Monsters, inciting the wrath of worried parents and teachers.  Long live Fangoria!


This is the "Family Photo" pic in Fango #221

Ghostbusters II: A Misunderstood Gem

Being a kid in the late 80s and early 90s was a glorious time; there were so many great movie franchises that spawned cartoons and toy lines (not necessarily in that order of course), but one that always stood out for me was, of course Ghostbusters.  Nearly 30 years later, I still can clearly recall the exact moment I found out about The Real Ghostbusters toy line; it was 1987 and my Dad had taken me to the Laneco store in Clinton, NJ for some reason.  While there, I checked out the toy aisle (as I always did, no matter who I was with at the store) and, to my surprise, there were a bunch of Ghostbusters action figures!  Never mind the "Real" connotations with their title or that they looked cartoonish (given that they were tie-ins to the Saturday morning cartoon), I was stoked that I could finally have a Peter Venkman action figure!  Of course, Dad bought me just that and, as they say sometimes, the rest was history...

Over the next few years, I was all about The Real Ghostbusters; I had almost all of the toys and watched the cartoon endlessly.  Pretty much any tie-in related to the show was something I had to have in fact.  At this point though, I'd say I was more into the cartoon and the toy line than I was the original 1984 movie itself; I don't ever recall owning a VHS copy of the movie (or its sequel for that matter) and only remember ever seeing it at babysitters' or friends' houses, or if it happened to be on TV.  I can safely say that Ghostbusters occupied my world before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

Sometime in 1988 or very early '89, I remember the first time I knew there would be a Ghostbusters II; it came courtesy of the image below, which my Dad showed me in a magazine.  My first thought was "Where's Winston and who's the old dude with the guys and Louis?!" 
This simple image had the 6yr old version of me stoked!
Once the movie was finally released, it was actually a very significant piece of my hometown's history...our local movie theater, The Barn Theater had the biggest screen I'd ever seen at that point and I even saw my very first theatrical movie there -- Rocky IV!  It was also within walking distance for pretty much everyone in town; granted Frenchtown, NJ is small but it was a thrill and an event to actually walk -- as a family -- the 8 or so blocks to the theater!  So, needless to say, when The Barn Theater got sold and was ultimately closing up shop in 1989, the entire town mourned.

Ghostbusters II was the very last movie my family saw there.  Since then, I've always thought that it was the very last show there completely, but I've heard conflicting reports about that.

As a sequel, I always thought it was great how the story picked up in real time, 5 years later, showing the effects of the first film on our heroes.  The fact that they were sued out the ass for all the destruction they caused may have seemed a trivial and pointless beat, but it's interesting to see similar fallout in today's blockbusters like Captain America:  Civil War and Batman V. Superman.  The story goes that the Ghostbusters have become a joke despite saving the city and all four guys have pretty much moved on with their lives; Egon is back at Columbia University in a lab, Ray owns an occult book store on St. Mark's (when he and Winston aren't paid children's entertainers doing birthday parties) and Peter hosts a fraudulent psychic television talk-show.  That is, until a new threat attacks Dana Barrett and her infant son, forcing her to reconnect with Egon, Ray, and her estranged beau Peter. 

In a sense, the basic plot works as a "let's get the band back together" sort of vibe that is a little too on the nose with revamped logo outside the Firehouse (and on their uniforms) and the "WE'RE BACK!" ad ticker on the updated Ecto 1-A later in the film.  Speaking of that logo, I always thought it was interesting how the film blurred the line between its fictional world and reality by including it within as well as Ray and Winston using Ray Parker's "Ghostbusters" to get everyone into a dancing mood at a kids' birthday party.  

Another cool thing about the film that I was always disappointed there wasn't more of was the inclusion of the 'busters wearing black/gray jumpsuits in a few scenes.  It's weird because they're wearing those suits on the one-sheet and even the soundtrack album cover, too.  The few scenes where they are wearing them -- mostly during the montage -- stand out because, well, those suits just look so much cooler than the regular brown/gray suits. 

Over the years, much of the criticism for Ghostbusters II has been that it's a virtual remake of the original movie and it's clearly designed to sell merchandise (i.e. toys to kids like me at the time).  However, I have to disagree:  it doesn't necessarily remake the previous movie in that it hits the same story beats in almost the exact same spots -- much like the relationship between Star Wars and The Force Awakens.  As far as the merchandising goes, sure there was "some" merch available for the film, but ultimately any toys were still under The Real Ghostbusters banner (of which, there was only a re-release of the Ecto 1-A with the updated stickers featuring the sequel logo, the "WE'RE BACK" ticker, and pink slime splats, among others included and a role-play Slime Cannon -- neither of which I had).  If the purpose of the movie was to sell toys, you'd think they would have released a set of figures in the black suits or with the slime cannons used in the 3rd act.

After re-watching the film a couple nights ago back-to-back with a theatrical showing of the original, I think it's safe to say that it's more or less based on The Real Ghostbusters cartoon/toy line more than the opposite.  The two most obvious clues are that the mood slime is pink this time around (Kenner must have made a small fortune in its pink/red slime produced for the toy line) and Annie Potts' Janine Melnitz character suddenly looking more like her cartoon counterpart.  Also, it goes without saying that bringing back Slimer and making him more comedic relief/a friend of at least Louis, echoes his cartoon version.  In fact, I remember thinking the first time I saw the movie, as Louis suited up to help out the guys, that'd maybe, just maybe he'd use the Ecto 2-A gyrocopter vehicle from the toy line!
Another main source of criticism in the film is Bill Murray's performance, which many feel is phoned in only for a quick paycheck.  Again, I disagree as this movie contains some of Peter's funniest bits and dialogue -- even stuff that I literally finally understand after last night's viewing!  Murray is in fine, sarcastic form here displaying his trademark dry humor throughout.  His insults to Peter MacNicol's Janosz -- calling him "Johnny" for example -- have had me in stitches for 27 years!  There are shades of Meatballs' Tripper Harrison, Caddyshack's Carl Spackler, and even Stripes' John Winger in Murray's delivery and timing here!

Ultimately, I think a lot of the "phoned-in" complaints come from the fact that, initially, Raimis and Aykroyd didn't want to do a sequel.  The first film was self-contained and had a finite ending, but with the success of the cartoon, Columbia Pictures begged and pleaded to continue the story.  Perhaps that's what's evident in Murray's performance; a sense of "can lightning strike twice?  Do I even care if it does?"  Next to the original, the sequel is night and day....the first one could be viewed as a Saturday Night Live sketch stretched to a feature length, with a heavy dose of reality and monster movie madness thrown in...the sequel is a life-action cartoon intentionally aimed at its youthful audience. 

It's funny, after the theatrical screening of the first film, I was talking to my wife about it and she mentioned how it wasn't very big in her circle of teenage friends when it came out...it wasn't quite regarded as a comedy classic like Meatballs, Caddyshack, or Stripes.  For my money, the funniest parts of the first film are Bill Murray...with the rest of it capturing my imagination and playing to my love of monsters and ghosts.

In the end, I think time has been kind to this sequel -- which, it should be noted, came out during an influx of sequels in the late 80s.  Perhaps in the absence of a true Ghostbusters III, fans are revisiting it and finding appreciation.  Or maybe even in spite of the Paul Feig-helmed reboot, nostalgia is kicking in and forcing fans to give it another spin. 

One last thing....it would be criminal to mention the soundtrack!  Truly a product of its time, featuring Run-DMC, New Edition, Doug E. Fresh, and Bobby Brown (with 2 tracks!), the Ghostbusters II soundtrack was an early favorite cassette that I owned.  Today, it still gets regular play (and sing-alongs) on my iPod with "Spirit" by Doug E. Fresh remaining an all-time favorite.  


Friday, June 3, 2016

Sequels and Reboots In Our Genres



In case you've been living off the grid for the last couple years, you may be aware of a reboot/sequel/threequel that is scheduled for release next month . . . it's related to a 1984 comedy classic that many people in my age group hold near and dear.  Yes, I'm talking about the Paul Feig-directed Ghostbusters starring Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Pretty much since its announcement, there's been a split decision amongst the interwebs and, since the release of its first teaser trailer, Neckbeards and basement dwellers have been putting on their wrinkled NO MA'AM t-shirts in misogynistic protest.

For the record, this is not one of those pieces. 

Hear me out . . . when it comes to Horror sequels and remakes/reboots, why has there always been a problem with casting?  No one could play Freddy Krueger except Robert Englund -- this was proven when New Line and Platinum Dunes tried to remake A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2010.  Poor Jackie Earl Haley, while fine in the fedora and famous sweater, was up against impossibly stacked odds (not to mention a terrible screenplay) of trying to please a nearly thirty year old fan base that had been unequivocally used to only seeing one man portray the character.  Outside of the Horror genre, of course, there's Harrison Ford and the characters of Indiana Jones and Han Solo.  No one else could play either of those characters -- hell, even I was set to belly-ache when Chris Pratt was rumored to be in the running for an Indiana Jones reboot. 

Ultimately, what has both contributed to and, in some cases hindered (like the original Ghostbusters, its sequel and the never-ending stalling of a proper Ghostbusters III) film franchises of almost any genre?  Continuity.  Granted, with Halloween and Friday the 13th, there have mostly always been different guys playing those masked killers, so it's a bit of a no-brainer.  However, with Freddy Krueger, Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and even say, Rocky Balboa, it'd be pretty difficult to re-cast those iconic characters -- but why didn't it happen?  

As much as I love the storyline continuity throughout the eight Friday the 13th movies, why couldn't there have just been sequels picking up in the middle of one of Jason's killing sprees instead of following groundwork already laid out in previous installments?  One could argue that this occurred with Jason Goes To Hell:  The Final Friday and, with that being said, maybe that wasn't such a good idea.

My whole point is this:  why didn't our most beloved franchises -- Horror or otherwise -- follow the James Bond template and either A.) Have the leading character in simply a new adventure for each film instead of painting everything into a proverbial corner or B.) Recast whenever possible?  Imagine the wealth of Indiana Jones adventures that we could've had in the nineteen years between Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  This could have easily solved the seemingly endless delays to get a proper Ghostbusters III made.  Of course recasting doesn't always necessarily work out so well as was the case with 2011's dreadful Hellraiser:  Revelations where Pinhead was infamously recast and, well, viewers decided to ultimately pass . . . though the character has again been recast for next year's Hellraiser:  Judgment, so we'll have to reserve our, er, judgment a little longer.

Of course, as I speak of recasting and reboots, I can't ignore the hugely successful Mad Max:  Fury Road, which seamlessly cast Tom Hardy in its title role or the never-ending superhero reboots like Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy or Superman and, to a somewhat less-successful point, Spider-Man.  The loudest criticism was hurled at the late Heath Ledger as soon as he was cast as The Joker; I'll happily continue to eat my own hearty meal of crow once I saw the film and hailed his genius performance!  On the pseudo-failure side, there's Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man which, for my money, didn't really need to be rebooted so closely after Sam Raimi's trilogy . . . though I suspect the failure there may have been more script-based and behind the scenes instead of casting.  Same goes for Brandon Routh in Superman Returns, a fine actor and great performance that ultimately was crushed under the weight of the character itself and fans' expectations.  On the same coin, Henry Cavill has done a fine job in Supes' tights, again with my only complaints coming from the script and/or direction.  With this year's Batman V. Superman, I'd say Ben Affleck as Batman wasn't too bad and, honestly, I'm looking forward to seeing more of Bat-fleck, as having an older big screen take was a refreshing change.

As I pondered possible reasons for why these famous characters were never recast or deviated from their narrative continuity throughout their respective franchises, there was only one that kept coming to mind.  All of the franchises I've mentioned were born (or thrived) in the VHS and cable era where many of us watched them endlessly and, as a result, they endured much more so than a film that we may have only seen a few scant times theatrically during initial release or an occasional re-release.  Maybe that's why the majority of the casting changes and story continuity changes in the Bond franchise were so easy to overlook?  Raise your hand if you literally wore out your VHS of copy of a Back To The Future, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Rocky, Star Wars, Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare on Elm Street movie from watching it so many times....go ahead, I see you laughing, but it's true! 

So, while I'm not saying there's absolutely no sexist stance against this summer's Ghostbusters -- because it's quite obvious that there is, especially from the anonymity behind a computer screen -- I'm leaning towards the fact that those original characters and the actors who played them are so ingrained in a lot of fans' minds that it's almost impossible to accept change.  I'm not exactly thrilled about the movie myself, but it's certainly not because of its female cast.  Setting aside my nostalgia for the original and The Real Ghostbusters cartoon and toy line), I'm curious to see how it all plays out and will no doubt be there opening weekend.

And, of course, earlier this week it was announced that Platinum Dunes plans to soldier on and force another Friday the 13th reboot upon the world -- only, this time it will be different because it's going to delve into a part of Jason's origin that we haven't yet seen . . . by introducing his father, Elias Voorhees.  Originally, that character was to make an appearance at the end of Friday the 13th Part VI:  Jason Lives, though it was dropped before filming and the character was only casually mentioned in Jason Goes To Hell.  Listen, I'm all for another Friday the 13th movie but, dammit, why can't we just have a sequel that picks up like a Bond sequel, with Jason (looking cool and not like the haunted hayride knockoff of Freddy Vs. Jason of course) in the middle of a new adventure where he's doing what he does best -- hacking up teenagers?  Is that too much to ask?   My ideal Friday the 13th sequel would be just that with a poster tagline that reads:  "Not familiar with Jason?   Ask your parents to show you the first 8 movies!"  No need to rehash the past and delve into backstory that wasn't originally there in there first place; just give the fans what they want:  Jason hacking up teenagers via squishy practical special effects.