All posts by Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is the director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival (which can be downloaded from DownloadHorror.com here), and the feature W the Movie. He writes the column "Alfred Eaker's Fringe Cinema" for this site, covering the world of underground film, as well as regularly contributing essays on other subjects.

2012 ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS MOVIE LIST

It’s that time of year again to present something a tad different for the stocking. I am going to start off with four titles recommended by . Then, beginning at number five, a list of silent-era Christmas films. These may not have been weird in their day, but are rendered so now because of their archaic texture (and that is the beauty of cinema in it infancy stage—these films now seem something from another world altogether).

1. Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972): I am with Todd on this one: this is naive surrealism on suicide watch. And yes, it’s that much of  a hoot!  St. Nick (Jay Ripley) must have swallowed some of Winter Warlock’s reindeer corn himself. Only thing is, it has the opposite effect on immortal toymakers. His sleigh gets stuck in a mound of Florida sand. The toy-licking, blue clad “Kids” belt out a song that makes Leonard Nimoy’s golden throat sound like Jose Carreras. The Kids do what anyone would do in such a circumstance, and get the help of a gorilla! The oversized Curious George is of no help, so the Kids then try out a bunch of other animals. Santa gets peeved, tells then the story of Thumbelina (a previous film by the same producers) before the Ice Cream Bunny (!) comes to save the day. Well, sort of. Actually, there’s something lascivious going on between the Creepy Clause and our cool-toned hare. I half expected a Bugs Bunny drag scene, but alas, no.

2. Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol (1978): Nearly (not quite) the Christmas equivalent of Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special (alas, it doesn’t have Kiss, Mrs. Brady, or Pinky Tuscadero). Rich plays all the characters, doing his trademark impressions including Paul Lynde as Bob Cratchet, W.C. Fields as Scrooge, Johnny Carson as Nephew Fred, Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker as Mrs. Hatchet, Truman Capote as Tiny Tim (sheer genius), Richard Nixon as Jacob Marley and, in supporting roles, George Burns, , John Wayne, Jack Benny, James Mason and Dean Martin. It’s highly inventive in Rich’s inimitable way, even for an oft-told tale.

Still from Cosmic Christmas (1977)3. A Cosmic Christmas (1977): A bizarre product of  its time, this animated Canadian short came right on heels of the initial Star Wars (1977) hysteria. Imagine George Lucas’ iconic cantina scene mixed with the Peanuts’ Linus’ explanation of the holiday’s true meaning, thrown in with the ViewMaster version of St. Luke’s yuletide tale, all in outer space with a kid named Peter standing in for the Little Drummer Boy. Oh, and there is a goose named Lucy too. Yep, that sums it up.

4. Christmas Evil (1980):Todd, I am sure Ally and Zoom know (with this suggestion) that you have moved out of the 1970s, into 1980! Shocking! I promise that I will do my utmost to block this information from Santa’s crystal ball, so as not to send the old boy into a panic. Alas, 366 Weird Movies has again beat us to the punch in covering this title. So, we will just have to refer back to that link.

5. A Christmas Carol (1901): Scrooge or Marley’s Ghost was the original title for this first cinematic (British) version of Charles Dickens’ story Continue reading 2012 ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS MOVIE LIST

THE FILMS OF MARK ROBSON AND VAL LEWTON

By general consensus, director Mark Robson’s films for are considered to be the weakest of the famous producer’s RKO Pictures output. However, one of them, The Seventh Victim (1943) has garnered a posthumous critical reputation.

Few would dispute the excellence of the /Val Lewton collaborations for RKO, which stand-apart in aesthetics, comparable to ‘s stand-apart films for  (or ‘s stand-apart films for ). Yet, despite the drop off in quality, the Robson entries in the Lewton canon could hardly be compared to the execrable lows that Universal and Hammer achieved through hack directors like Erle C. Kenton (1945’s House of Dracula) or Alan Gibson (Dracula A.D. 1972).

Robson’s post-Lewton films validate the claim that he was little more than an assignment director. The nadir of Robson’s directorial career might have been Earthquake (1974). With one or two possible exceptions, Robson’s post-Lewton work was unremarkable, climaxing with the pedestrian action-oater Avalanche Express (1979). This imminently forgettable swan song is only memorable for being a cursed production, during which both Robson and star Robert Shaw died.

Robson would earn a flippant dismissal in the annals of film history, were it not for his collaborations with Lewton. The higher quality of Robson’s work with Lewton strongly indicates that the producer was collaboratively engaged with his directors. Both Lewton and Robson benefited from that partnership. Unfortunately, after Lewton, Robson would never again be afforded such an opportunity.

Still from The Seventh Victim (1943)The Seventh Victim was the first and best of the Robson/Lewton films. Drenched in a noir sheen, it is also the bleakest movie in Lewton’s RKO cannon.The film has an exceptional cast: Kim Hunter as Mary, Tom Conway as Dr. Judd, and Jean Brooks as Jacqueline. As excellent as Hunter and Conway are here, it is Brooks’ raven-like, hypnotic, fiercely haunting performance, exuding a Montgomery Clift-like fragility, which vividly lingers. RKO had no appreciation for such an individualistic, interiorized actor, and unceremoniously released her. She died of extreme malnutrition and alcoholism at the age of 47.

Mary (Hunter) leaves her boarding school to search for her missing sister Jacqueline (Brooks). Jacqueline’s disappearance is linked to her membership in a Satanic cult and her efforts to flee it. Six previous members of the cult have tried to leave, all meeting violent ends. Jacqueline is their potential seventh victim.

The film is awash in doom-laden relentlessness. Unlike many Lewton films, it’s literary references are minimal, although it begins with a quote from a poem by John Dunne. Satan worship, adultery, hints of incest and lesbianism, and suicide merge in the film’s abundant shadows. It’s a miracle the film made it past the Breen office. Continue reading THE FILMS OF MARK ROBSON AND VAL LEWTON

INTERVIEW WITH CAMILLE KITT AND KENNERLY KITT: THE CREEPORIA TWINS

Interview with Camille and Kennerly Kitt: The twin stars of the upcoming “Creeporia.”

On the experience of filming “Creeporia”:

Filming “Creeporia” was a blast even though the days were long and often stretched well into the night. It was wonderful to work with [director] John [Semper], the production team, and cast. It was like a month long monster party.

Harp Twins as CreeporiaJohn was generous enough to let the two of us decide which scenes each of us would take for filming. However, before going into filming, we decided that we both needed to know every single line in the script – even though it is a monstrously (pun intended) large and dialog heavy script and we were splitting the role of Creeporia for most of the film. That way, either of us could easily jump into any scene and we were essentially interchangeable. There are even scenes where we’re switching off playing Creeporia!

We knew that John and the crew had a huge job with this film and we thought it was important to do everything in our power to make our part of the filming process go smoothly. We kept track of which scenes were filmed and which weren’t – so we were also essentially our own script supervisors! We knew the scripts backwards and forwards and we think this in-depth knowledge of every aspect of the script translated into us really “being Creeporia”. It feels like an eternity since we filmed “Creeporia,” so we have been anxious for the film to come out for quite some time.

On where “Creeporia” might go:  

Since we’re not producers or editors, our job was done when we completed filming and we’re not sure what is in store for the film! We’re excited to see what might be ahead for Creeporia. We have heard talk of a “Creeporia 2,” so we’re hoping that becomes a reality!

On their recent partnership with Youtube and future projects:

We recently had the opportunity to partner our YouTube channel.

This was never one of our goals for our YouTube channel, since we primarily started it to share samples of our performance repertoire with potential clients and people who had already seen us perform live, but we’re very excited to take this next step. Our YouTube fan base grows significantly every day: we have well over 5 million total views and we will reach 25,000 subscribers very soon. It’s wonderful that our music is reaching so many people and we think that this is just the beginning. We have several potential feature film projects for the future, but due to confidentiality, we can’t say more at this time.

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA,” PART 3: INTERVIEW

* This is the third in a three-part series (although we will publish a short interview with “Creeporia” stars Camille and Kennerly Kitt this weekend). Catch up on part 1 and part 2. Interview with John Semper.

On casting choices: The thing that I did in casting, which I tend to always do when I’m casting nonprofessionals, is that I chose people who I thought were very close in personality to the characters that I wanted them to play. I wasn’t always looking for actors who could deliver brilliant performances that are outside of their comfort zone. Often times, all I needed was someone to be reasonably comfortable in front of the camera, being a slightly exaggerated version of themselves.

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On actors: We had a few really strong actors. Michael Davis is a very strong actor, a lot of experience in improv comedy. Randy Cox is a strong actor. These were actors who played multiple roles because I could tell from their auditions that they could handle it. Creeporia CastThe thing about the girls [Camille and Kennerly Kitt] is that they were perceptive.

Some of the other actors who auditioned were horrible. Some people couldn’t even read, let alone act. So, it was a breath of fresh air when I came across these two young talents who could find the nuances in the dialogue and understand where the jokes were.

Jim Mannan is a good, strong actor. The plus to Jim is he that was also a dedicated worker. He was one of the most professional people on the set, in that he was required to be on set for a very long time and never complained. He just had a fantastic demeanor and dedication to the film.

Tristan Ross: I could tell was a very strong actor and, therefore, I felt very comfortable handing him a significant role. I am happy with what he did, but word reaches me that he is less than appreciative of having been in this film, which I think is a shame, because I think he did a good job.

When you guys originally sent me the audition tape for Mark Carter (Sammy Terry), [executive producer] Patrick [Greathouse] was trying to sell me on the idea of Mark being the male lead. I didn’t see that in Mark. What I saw in his performance was a kind of larger than life personality that would be perfect for the game show host, Blink Nightingale.

Mark is really funny and this character needed a lot of room to expand. I couldn’t tell from the audition tape whether or not Mark had great acting chops (it turns out that he does), but I could tell that there was a comfort in front of the camera and that there was a big personality.

Patrick first started talking to me about Sammy Terry, and Pat was obviously very excited about Sammy Terry, but I didn’t grow up in Indianapolis. I Continue reading BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA,” PART 3: INTERVIEW

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA” PART 2

*This is the second in a three-part series; here’s part one.

In regards to John Semper 1)John Semper bio, Patrick Greathouse asked the question, “Why partner with the Asylum House?”

I put this question to Mr. Semper. “I liked my conversations with both you and Pat,” he responded. “You dig deep into films and so do I. Pat seemed to enjoy comedy-horror and we bonded over that. I was impressed with all of the resources at hand. Pat prepared a video guided tour of your standing sets and props. I could begin to envision that with all of those resources, and also the makeup talent, we might be able to pull off a halfway decent film for very low dollars. The script was easy. I tried to keep it limited to the resources Pat had on hand. ”

Naturally, the script was not entirely limited to the Asylum House location. Six additional locations were required. We secured those locations over the course of a year in pre-production. We needed a restaurant and found one in Miss Betty’s Dinner Theater in Trafalgar, Indiana. It is run by a bona-fide golden girl named Betty Davis, AKA Miss Betty.

Still from CreeporiaThe Historic Hannah House, in Indianapolis, is a haunted attraction with which The Asylum House has a good working relationship. The Hannah House perfectly served the script’s needs for the “Mason Q. Arkham” wax museum scene. The equally historic Fountain Building in Fountain Square would be the home of our big dance number and laboratory scene.

“Creeporia” has been a blessed project in many ways.  It seemed for every setback we had, an opportunity opened. Clearly, the production was going to need a bigger budget than what we immediately had available on hand. A local businessman had expressed interest in investing in the project. Several months into pre-production, that potential investor backed out. Shortly after he did so, another source of capital opened for us. A year previous, The Asylum House had put in a bid in for an extensive mural job at the Veteran’s Hospital. Patrick and I worked several months fine tuning our bid package, submitted it, only to be told that the Hospital could not raise the needed budget at that time. A year later, our bid was accepted, and the income from that job would be beneficial for our post-production needs.

In addition to being a producer (mainly, a pre-production producer), I also had been assigned the position of casting director. John Claeys, an Asylum House veteran who has designed and built many of the attraction’s sets, was tapped for Art Direction, Assistant Director and the role of our Mad Genius Professor. Claeys, a true blue eccentric who channels the elder Peter Cushing when he acts, was aptly cast.

Over the year, Patrick and I began filming auditions for 47 monsters. For the pivotal role of antagonist Mason Q. Arkham, we landed another Asylum Continue reading BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA” PART 2

References   [ + ]

CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S THE GOLD RUSH (1925) CRITERION COLLECTION

The Criterion Collection’s remastered The Gold Rush (1925) is undoubtedly the Charlie Chaplin release of 2012. For years, the prevailing critical consensus was that Gold Rush was Chaplin’s feature film masterpiece. However, a newer generation of critics have since argued that honor should go instead to City Lights (1931). The Gold Rush receives criticism for its episodic structure; however, all of Chaplin’s features, including City Lights, are episodic to a degree. This is not necessarily a bad thing, making that a moot critique.

The Criterion Collection release features the 1925 original, along with the 1942 re-edit that omitted the intertitles in favor of narration (by Chaplin) and economically trimmed down of some excess plot developments. While the 1942 version does look better and the editing is better paced, Chaplin’s voice-over actually dates the film far worse than the silent original.

Chaplin had a voice which carried well into the sound era. He intuitively knew that silent film was a different art form, however. Thinking about marketing, he seemed to have forgotten that fact. The 1942 version illustrates the artist’s discomfort with sound. Chaplin never could wrap his art around the new sound medium, and he pointlessly tells us what we are already seeing. Some may prefer the 1942 version, but my concentration will be on the superior, original version that audiences of 1925 saw.

While The Gold Rush exhibits Chaplin’s characteristic pathos, here it is far better balanced with his brand of comedy than any of his other features (when the pathos, often, nearly soaked the films).

Chaplin’s increasing need for audience sympathy marred may of his later features. Here, he keeps that need in check, and all for the better. Chaplin’s Mutual shorts are considered by many (including Chaplin) to be his best work. One of the reasons for that is the presence of his best nemesis in Eric Campbell. But, when Campbell was killed in an automobile accident in 1917, Chaplin was left without a great heavy. His first feature film, The Kid (1921) was able to bypass that. For this, Chaplin’s second Tramp feature, two villains were needed: the bonafide villain Black Larson (Tom Murray) and reformed villain Big Jim McCay (Mack Swain). While neither Swain nor Murray could replace Campbell, they were aptly cast and give the film needed tension.

The Gold Rush‘s most discussed scene is the dance of the dinner rolls, often imitated (and usually badly—Chaplin was a master at utilizing props for something other than their intended use).  What may be the most compelling scene, however, is the surreal chicken hallucination. Everyone has seen this scene spoofed in countless Looney Tune shorts. The starving villain (Swain) imagines his buddy (Chaplin) to be a walking meal (in this case, a plump chicken). Chaplin’s shoe-eating scene (complete with shoe laces substituting for noodles) and the rocking house at the edge of the cliff are additional surreal vignettes.

Still from The Gold Rush (1925)While Chaplin was never a Surrealist, many of his films contained surreal vignettes. The Kid had the dream of heaven, Sunnyside (1919) has the Tramp frolicking in a ballet with hill nymphs. Perhaps it was Chaplin’s occasional, natural elements of Surrealism which endeared him to the movements luminaries, such as André Breton. Next to and Buster Keaton, Chaplin was the filmmaker most cited by the Surrealists.

As The Gold Rush progresses, hunger, the struggle for survival, and harsh elements give way to a soapy romance with the dance hall girl Georgia (Georgia Hale). Chaplin had originally cast 15 year-old Lita Grey in the role, but his getting her pregnant necessitated a new lead actress. While Chaplin does milk sympathy as a rejected lover, he never does it (here) at the expense of the film’s comedic tone.

As to be expected, the Criterion extras are abundant: both film versions, a 15 minute short (Presenting The Gold Rush), audio commentary, booklet, a look at Chaplin the composer, and James Agee’s famous 1942 review of the film.

 

BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA”

* This is the first in a three-part series.

Patrick Greathouse, of the Asylum House and Asylum Productions, was excited when he called me. With Patrick, that is the norm. Since returning to Indiana, I had been sporadically working with him on the Asylum Haunted House; the upcoming season would mark the 13th anniversary of the project. Patrick, not being Internet savvy (and myself being slightly more so), asked me to go onto MySpace and contact horror hosts around the country. He wanted to do a cross promotion. The Asylum House would promote them on the Asylum website; in turn, the horror host could film a “Happy 13th Anniversary Asylum House” video. OK.

Promotional image from Creeporia As I was looking at some of the so-called horror hosts, one caught my eye: Creeporia. She had an atypical look, but, more importantly, she had a story. She did not merely appear on camera doing her schtick. Actually,  Creeporia wasn’t a “horror host” at all since she doesn’t do any hosting—and that was probably a good thing. The Creeporia webshow decidedly channeled old school horror. It was fun and classy in a way similar to Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) and Roger Corman‘s The Raven (1963). After contacting the actress who played the role, she directed me towards her creator: .

Since I have not watched television since about 1989, I was not familiar with the name John Semper.  I contacted him, letting him know what I was seeking. Semper emailed me within a short period, gave me his number, and suggested I call him on Thursday since he preferred not to communicate via email. In the meantime, he asked me for a link to the Asylum House site and links to my own work, including my film reviews at 366. He suggested I check out his online resume. I did, and was surprised to discover that he was the creator of a 1990s animated “Spiderman” television series. Semper had a lengthy Hollywood resume, having worked with such names as  and George Lucas.

Thursday: Semper and I talked at length about movies. , , Roger Corman,  and were among numerous shared interests. We both agreed that genre labels were a silly waste of time. However, when the subject of the horror “genre” came up, we felt kinship in the view that the label itself had considerably degenerated. When  landed Frankenstein (1931), he knew he had reached a new plateau in his art and career. Today, for the most part, work in the horror genre imprints a brand of gutter slumming on the director.

Semper and I talked so much of film that it was some time before we got around to the subject of the Asylum House. He had read the rave reviews of the haunt and seen some of the pics and trailers. He was impressed by the effort put into the endeavor and asked about our future plans. Patrick had been flirting with the idea of producing an old school horror anthology film. Before calling Semper I had shown Patrick the “Creeporia” web series. One of the proposed anthology stories concerned a horror host, and we speculated on possibly using a clip from Creeporia within the Continue reading BEHIND THE SCENES OF JOHN SEMPER’S “CREEPORIA”