La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura (trans: Nostalgia for a Distant Future Utopia) takes its title from a work by Italian avant garde composer Luigi Nono. This film was made while Alfred Eaker was a student at the John Herron School of Art. Al invited me to co-direct this short piece from his screenplay. Subsequent editorial embellishments were supplied by J. Ross Eaker, who also served as cinematographer. The story of Paul and Vincent’s combative relationship is well worn cinematic territory, the usual focus being on Vincent’s impulsive, self destructive behavior. Our decision was to examine their aesthetic and spiritual struggles, with a focus on Paul’s equally self destructive ego and immorality. Much of the dialogue is taken directly from their personal correspondence. Historicity and realism are eschewed and the approach is impressionistic; Brechtian if you will. This was a budgetary move to be certain, but allowed the text and themes domination over the mis-en-scene. What results is an examination of the art and essence of two flawed men whose influence dominated the following century and beyond. An aphorism used by Nono speaks to our intentions: Caminantes, no hay caminos, hay que caminar (Travellers, there are no roads, there is just traveling.) –James Mannan
The Collective Volume 7 goes a long way in proving Andrew Sarris’ comment about the extinction of the horror film as a serious genre. If James Whale‘s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) represents the art form’s apex, then the latest (and hopefully last) Collective anthology is something close to the nadir.
Indiana indie filmmaker Jason Hoover and his Jabb Pictures have been producing and distributing The Collective for several years. The concept is simple: ten films created by ten different filmmakers with a horror theme. These anthologies have actually produced a few halfway decent entries since the first volume debuted, but predictably, the bad has consistently outweighed the good. Even less surprising is the prevailing diminishing quality and enthusiasm over the span of seven collections. This 2014 entry is a wheezing death bed for a corpse that should have given up the ghost at least two collections ago.
Keys are the theme here, and first up is an entry from 3 O’clock Productions. “Avengement” is co-directed by Jim Dougherty and Laura Noel, both of whom also star. Noel penned the dull, pedestrian screenplay, which begins as here we go yet again misogynistic torture fare, and morphs into spectral revenge. Dougherty is an occasionally competent director, but rarely finds enough inspiration to take risks. More often than not, his work is hampered by a dire need for good writing, which he does not get here. Relief almost comes in the way of woefully campy acting, but it is not enough.
Liberty or Death Productions’ “Chrysalis” is at least wistful enough to be honest about its sense of nostalgia. It clearly pines for the romance of “Dark Shadows.” Director/writer James Mannan is an excellent actor. When tapping into his theatrical background or erudite nature, Mannan is capable of producing challenging work, but his primary weakness also lies in writing and a pubescent, fan-like adulation of horror as a genre. Chrysalis holds true to Mannan’s M.O. Unfortunately, he casts other actors, and Brad Good (as the husband) is no Mannan. Kaylee Spivey Good (as the wife) is barely more adequate. Visual homages abound: the grand guignol soaper “Shadows,” Dracula (1931), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Nosferatu (1922) constitute a vampire metaphor for energy-draining abusers, but it is thinly fleshed out, and the result is an unmemorable narrative.
Brian Williams chews on his fingers, rubs his face, talks to himself, and smokes a lot of cigarettes to convince us he is not “Sane”. Of course, there is a key and while it is a Mostly Harmless production, it is also an excruciatingly vapid one.
Athena Prychodko should probably get an A for effort on her moniker alone, which is easily the hippest name of any filmmaker in cinema history. Her “Open Me” is a pun on volume seven’s theme. It stylistically imitates silent film, but misses the contextual mark. This Silence In The Dead Of Light production tries hard to convey a sense of fun, but inevitably it is one long, drawn-out joke, though aided considerably by Jason Hoover’s score, which is delightfully all-over-the-place music.
We move uncomfortably from Prychodko style to Klayton Dean banality in Terror Visions’ “63P012,” which overdoses on the profundity of primordial, Aerosmith-styled angst. That means a lot of red and green filters, psychedelic closeups with the type of ghouls seen in far too many redneck haunted attractions, gallons of fake blood, needles, bathtubs, and narcissistic mirrors. It is akin to fingernails meeting chalkboard, but not for any of the reasons the filmmaker has the audacity to imagine.
Quattro Venti Scott’s “176 Days To Freedom” is a tedious, derivative excursion into a macho post-apocalypse that we have seen countless times. It is written and directed by Cameron Scott, who stars from behind a gas mask.
Jason Hoover’s contributions have been wildly uneven, making some of the best and worst throughout the Collective’s oeuvre. “BlueBird” is a stale scraping of the barrel bottom. Hoodies, beer cans, camouflage jackets, and baseball caps are all intact hallmarks of dull, low-grade Hoosier horror. Cameron Scott trades in his gas mask for a bloody ax in this one.
Hoover’s second entry, under the banner of Death Hug Films, finds the filmmaker mimicking his own earlier work, though it’s far less stimulating. Narration is splashed over rolling landscapes. Think Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” married to an unnecessary medium.
Hoover apparently has had difficulty encouraging filmmakers to participate because he delivers a third entry, this time under the banner of Spiral Filmworks. “Notld” is an entirely pointless recut of George Romero‘s Night of the Living Dead.
John Eric Ballinger mercilessly closes what is by now an agonizing ordeal, with yet more narration. Actually, it is a stream of four-letter words hovering over a white trash collage of evil clowns, dilapidated baby dolls, and skulls.
After mostly suffering through this shining example of Indiana independent horror, I think my impending move westward may provide much needed relief.
Requiem For The Relentless Fathers (2012) is a short film I made for theology graduate school. “First and Second Samuel” was a class taught by Dr. Marti Steussy. Among Steussy’s assignments was an artistic presentation from the text.
Embedded theology oversimplifies the Samuel narrative: Samuel, the Judge of Israel, is the protagonist. Saul, the first King, disobeys God, and is therefore the antagonist. God consequently replaces Saul with the hero David, whom God loves. Even as a child I had issues with that elementary assessment. Regardless of what my Sunday school teachers taught, I found myself sympathizing with the antagonist. Perhaps it is in my nature. After all, I never could manage to find sympathy for any of the characters in Richard Wagner’s symbolist opera “Parsifal” except the alleged villainKlingsor. Still, having had a class with Dr. Steussy previously, I rightly concluded that she would supply fresh insight into the narrative.
Dr. Steussy discarded tradition. She inspired us to go directly and honestly to the text without preconceived notions. After knocking the dust off my Bible, I did exactly that. At the end of the semester a few fellow students, upon seeing the film, pointed out that they would not have been open to my interpretation if they had seen it at the beginning of the semester.
Since Requiem is a short, many details are naturally left out. The film is what the title says: It is a requiem for three complex, relentless fathers in an authentically strange Biblical narrative. Samuel and Saul are the primary focus. However, we tried to depict even the secondary character of David as embodying more than meets the eye in his initial introduction. (Perhaps someday, we will be able to do a follow-up film of the Davidic character). The historicity of Samuel was not our concern, which is why we placed it in a relatively contemporary setting.
Dr. Steussy proposed a question—“Why is it important how we judge Saul?”—followed by an answer—“It is important because it reflects how we are apt to judge one other.” Of equal importance is an honest approach to the text as an un-hallowed narrative, stripped of our over-familiarity. I found the story of Saul to be a fresh and surprising chronicle; often bizarre, adverse, and morally questionable.
The cast includes James Mannan as Samuel/God, myself as Saul, Robert Webster as David, Jordan Wheatley as Michal, Nate Saylor as Jonathan, Robbin Panet as the woman of Endor, and Jennifer Ring as the Evil Spirit of God. Director of photography: Robin Panet. Assistant Directors: Robbin Panet and James Mannan. Sets: John Claeyse. Music courtesy of Tahra Records. The script was inspired by 1 Samuel and the Samuel commentaries of Dr. Marti Steussy and Dr. David M. Gunn.
Along with a number of other collaborative short films (including 9), Requiem For The Relentless Fathers will be available on 366 Weird Movies DVD label in late 2014.
* 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.
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. The 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.
*This is the second in a three-part series; here’s part one.
In regards to John Semper, 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.
The 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.
Indie filmmaker Jason Hoover and JABB Pictures are on their fourth volume of “the Collective.” Each volume contains ten 10 minute short films, each created by a different team. This anthology deals with the themes of emotion. (Volume three, a collection of shorts directed by women, revolved around the theme “Ten Minutes To Live”; Volume Two was themed around a box, and Volume One explored “the Meat Eater.”)
If Indiana has a reputation at all in the independent film scene, it is for its endless crop of ultra low-grade horror corn. Being an Indiana-based project, The Collective, predictably, caters to that independent horror scene, which limits it. That aside, the selection of films, although naturally uneven, is steadily improving. The first volume was, for the most part, a weak start. Volume Two was a slight improvement, but the ongoing series started picking up steam with volumes Three and Four. At at least there are no zombies this time out (the genre’s tell-tale sign of creative bankruptcy).
Volume Four features two films with exceptional acting, one of which is refreshingly surprising. Kitsie Duncan was the star of the 2010 indie feature Lethal Obsession where essentially, she played the walking, talking doll that we have seen a thousand times in unimaginative films. I do not know if Duncan has taken acting lessons, privately studied better examples of film acting, or has simply become more introspective, but her performance in Bryan Wolford’s “Myctophobia” is a vast improvement over her previous work. Duncan plays Kelly, a woman who has an almost crippling FEAR of the dark. This has made her sensitive to how her handicap may affect her marriage and suburban life. In the space of a few, brief moments, Duncan impressively balances expressed aspirations, self-doubt, fear of marital and societal expectations, and fragility. Unfortunately, her accomplished acting has a mundane script to overcome. The beginning promise, with Kelly conveying her crippling phobia to a psychologist (Steve Christopher), soon flounders. We immediately see it coming because we have seen Michael Caine in De Palma’s Dressed To Kill (1980), along with countless other films. Soon, Duncan’s Kelly is yet another victim being pursued. One somewhat endearing oddity is Wolford’s decision to use the assigned emotion in a positive light, although the effects conveying Kelly’s fear are kitschy. The camera work and lighting compliments Duncan’s earthy, mature performance. In the opening and closing segments, hiding within the skin of her coat, Duncan sheds all plasticity to reveal an awkwardly vulnerable, real person .This makes her far more Continue reading THE COLLECTIVE VOLUME 4: EMOTIONS (2012)→
Although I watch a lot of films, for various reasons I’m not huge on reviewing them. However, seeing as I’ve been a “Dark Shadows” fan for over 40 years and a Tim Burton fan since Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), I thought perhaps his new epic deserved a paragraph or two from me. I saw it this past weekend on the Hamilton IMAX screen in what seemed liked a rather depopulated theater, but I’m not sure what their usual Sunday crowd is like–perhaps everyone else was taking their mom to dinner for Mother’s Day. At any rate. . .
I had followed the dribbling out of info and photos over the past year or so and had seen the infamous trailer that makes the film look like “Vampires Suck Part Deux”. As a disciple of the original series, none of this sat any better with me than I think it did for most fans. Once more we have Tim Burton going his own way without much regard for audience’s expectations or their affection for the originals (think especially Planet of the Apes or even more so his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the latter of which I still haven’t managed to make it all the way through.) I can understand not working toward expectations, but is it always necessary to tread on sacred ground with jackboots? This being said I will consider Dark Shadows from two different perspectives: as a remake of the original series, and as another entry in the auteur’s canon.
Many fans of the original series are going to hate this film. Hands down. Jonathan Frid’s beloved, beautiful, complex, tortured Barnabas Collins has been morphed into a typically Burtonesque, overly made-up, funny pages version of the character, ripe for rendering into dolls and action figures. Johnny Depp‘s pancake makeup is so thick and obvious he constantly makes the viewer think of someone made up as Dracula for Halloween (indeed, one wonders if this isn’t partly the idea–this is Tim and Johnny’s Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: DARK SHADOWS (2012)→
We are pleased to debut James Mannan and Robbin Panet’s short film “Hallow’s Dance” on the web. Although there is a mild Halloween theme to the film, Hallow’s Dance should not be confused with a horror film. It is in fact a drama, with the only horror being moral horror at the treatment of Frank/Mom. Co-directed by Robbin Panet and James Mannan, it co-stars 366 scribe Alfred Eaker along with Jason Hignite, Chelsea Rogers, and Terry Dellinger. It contains very mild scenes of suggestive sexuality. The weird part is the short, experimental dream sequence which ends the film, which is shot in black and white with streaming beams of light, accompanied by a catchy organ tune. The short runs approximately 14 minutes.
At the producers’ request, this film will not be released to YouTube or other video hosting sites, and will be available here for one month only.
[Our license to display “Hallow’s Dance” has expired. We will inform you if this film is released, on DVD or otherwise, in the future.]
In this occasional feature where we ask established directors and critics to list what they feel are their top 10 “weird” movies. There are no constraints on what the author can pick. This list comes fromJames Mannan, owner of Liberty or Death productions. James has directed and produced Wannabe, To Haunt You and Hallow’s Dance with partner R. Panet.
Un Chien Andalou (France 1929; dir. Luis Buñuel): The keystone of surrealist cinema. In its short 18 minutes this film turned the cinematic conventions of its day on their ear. The disturbing, subversive aesthetics continue to challenge today’s audiences and filmmakers.
Die Nackte und der Satan aka The Head (West Germany, 1959; dir. Victor Trivas): The ultimate summation of the mad scientist/transplant sub-genre, this is far more artistic and conceptually challenging than the better known knock-off The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (which was made in the US 3 years later). Expressionist production design was by Hermann Warm (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and atmospheric cinematography by George Kraus (Kubrick’s Paths of Glory). The most amazing (and later copied) image is, of course, the living severed head of Michel Simon as Dr Abel, but seemingly all of the characters are touched in some way by mad science, including the villainous Dr. Ood.
Manos, the Hands of Fate (USA 1966; dir. Harold P. Warren): This is a favorite of the “Mystery Science Theatre” crowd, but Manos needs no running commentary to point out its delicious oddities–chief among which is the performance of John Reynolds as the servant “Torgo.” Every element of this below-grade-Z production is sublimely dreadful in a way neither Ed Wood or Al Adamson could have achieved.
Satánico Pandemonium (Mexico 1975; dir. Gilberto Martínez Solares): A Mexican Nun is possessed by the devil and is soon corrupting the innocence of her fellow nuns and the nearby villagers. And you thought Linda Blair masturbating with a crucifix was shocking…
Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (USA 1973; dir. Richard Blackburn): Blackburn was fresh out of film school when he directed this gothic coming-of-age tale, inspired in parts by both H P Lovecraft and The Night of the Hunter. Extraordinarily ambitious, considering the low budget, the film has a unique atmosphere of weird dread. Lemora benefits enormously from the performance of Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith as the “singing angel” Lila Lee. Smith marvelously projects the adolescent girl’s wariness at each new threat to her innocence, in what amounts to a kind of a demented version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Continue reading JAMES MANNAN’S TOP TEN WEIRD FILMS→
Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!