Tag Archives: horror

Remembering a True Indie Giant: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Herschell Gordon Lewis (Courtesy: MUBI)

Herschell Gordon Lewis (Courtesy: MUBI)

by Legendary Lew

Herschell Gordon Lewis, the famed exploitation filmmaker dubbed “The Godfather of Gore” passed away on Monday. Varying reports have him aged at 87 and 90.

Lewis practically invented a movie sub-genre that still exists today: the gore film. With his early grindhouse box office success of  The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, a nudie film, Lewis wanted to move on to a style of movie that Hollywood wouldn’t or couldn’t touch. He came up with the idea of the gore film with the infamous Blood Feast.

The low-budget horror film tells the story of an Egyptian immigrant who runs a catering business and plots a feast of dismemberment and brutality. But many people who have seen the movie won’t remember the story line nor even care. That’s because Lewis inadvertently, but ingeniously, brought forth the cult party film–the type of wallpaper movie you can screen while chatting with a bunch of your friends until someone hushes the crowd saying, “Wait! Wait! You gotta check this out!”

Blood Feast was not the drive-in movie you would think to take your date to in bloodfeastthe 1960’s. It was the movie you would drive miles on a dare with partying buddies packed in your car. Reports surfaced of theater lines stretching for miles to see the movie.

Lewis tapped into young peoples’ thirst for the outrageous and scored big with that film, plus Two Thousand Maniacs!, probably his best.

He was a marketer of film in truly the greatest sense. Yes, he went for the bucks and admitted to doing so. But with films like Color Me Blood Red, The Gruesome Twosome and The Wizard of Gore, Lewis knew how to entertain the audience with his audacious gimmickry. There was no pretense to his films. They were poorly acted, dimly lit, sometimes set in high schools with sets that matched. That last point was especially true with his kids’ films (The Magic Land of Mother Goose and Jimmy, the Boy Wonder). Lewis also sporadically returned to sexploitation as well with a few of his lost films recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray.

two_thousand_maniacs-1964-mss-poster-06But his independent spirit in these movies was true. Ironically, Hollywood eventually became quite influenced by Lewis’s gore films, banking on sub-genres like the 80’s splatter films (the Friday the 13th series) and the more recent torture porn films (Saw, Hostel). These latter films intensified the depravity, but also removed the true sense of fun by moralizing slut shaming (promiscuous women in slasher films tend to have the most torturous, drawn-out deaths). Hyper-realism in torture porn films, with hanging slaughterhouse hooks and blood-stained walls, intended to shock. However, the gimmicks never scared me. The spooky touches simply became annoyances, especially when added with bad actors screaming like the “emoting” exercises of a community college’s Acting 101 class.

Lewis went his own way and knew when to stop making films, concentrating on other pursuits. He may have gone about making movies as a purely capitalist enterprise, but his movies show a sense of cheesy pleasure. Watching those works of creative joy, I never felt as though he was giving me the business.

lew-win_20160713_205425Legendary Lew is the co-founder of The Underground Multiplex and former personal video consultant of almost 20 years. He’s a writer, producer and host of the podcast “Mediatrocities” and the upcoming “Vital Media” series.

 

 

Advertisements

CLOSING NIGHT: “Incendium” by Chicago Slam Works

Incendium_Goldstar

~ by Ty Pi

March 4th, 2016 was the closing night of the world premiere of the Chicago Slam Works production of Incendium.  I had a chance to see their previous show, Handsome Animals, which explored the social construction of body image and gender.  The production was directed by J.W. Basillo and the writing team was led by Teagan Walsh-Davis.  I enjoyed that production quite a bit and eagerly awaited the chance to see their followup production, Incendium.  I attended on their closing night and I was not disappointed.

The structure of the two Chicago Slam Works productions mentioned here are rooted in poetry.  Handsome Animals delivered its content through a series of poems and short scenes.  Basillo once again helms Incendium (written by the performers), which presents itself more like a cabaret set on a black box stage at Stage 773.  The show comes equipped with not just poetry, but also songs, juggling, acrobatics, a burlesque number, and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall, going as far as to have the audience directly involved.  It goes against the norms of theatre and is performed with a great sense of fun.  Within this abstract circus lies one central theme: Death.  The concept of death is explored throughout most of the play, if not all of it.

For this theatre patron, their presentation of that theme is what not only made this ride worthwhile, but also necessary.  The production makes a heavy emphasis on how life is temporary, memories fade, life can be miserable, and death is inevitable.  Although these points are repeated, it works because these are all too true.  These theme are supported by the show’s examinations of time, individual identity, one’s sense of purpose in the world, and even the feeling of boredom.  The more I think about it, Incendium does not just make death a theme, but also more of a statement.  In a person’s lifetime, one will experience hardships, feelings of boredom, contemplate their sense of purpose in the world, memories of their life will fade, and until someone discovers the cure for mortality, death is inevitable.  Life is a temporary experience and we only get to do it once.

I am reminded of a quote from Orson Welles in his documentary, F for Fake.  “Our songs will all be silenced.  But what of it?  Go on singing!  Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.”  Although such themes can be seen as too downbeat or morose, the show has a sense of fun about it, and at times becomes self-deprecating.  The play explores that when one of the performers named Noob (Joseph Ramski) tries to bring optimism into the situation, only to be crushed by everyone in a fashion that can be described as humorous cynicism.  My takeaway from that is that it’s easy to be cynical about life and death, but it does not change anything.  Instead of remaining pessimistic about it all, I felt the play encouraged me to become more optimistic and happy that I even get to experience life at all.

I extend my congratulations to the Chicago Slam Works cast and crew for their efforts to bring Incendium to life.  Although the run of the show has ended, their next production will premiere at Stage 773 on May 6th, 2016.  It is called This Great Nation, Much Enduring.  I was informed that this production will be about America.  Already, I am looking forward to seeing it, and I encourage you to head to their website to learn more about the poetry-forward company.

Scumbabies is on Fandependent Films for Viewing

scumbabiesbannerby Legendary Lew

Joseph R. Lewis’ award-winning feature, Scumbabies, is on Fandependent Films to view for free. If you have not yet seen this film, I daresay do so.

Oh, okay I’ll admit it. In the interests of disclosure, Scumbabies is a production of The Underground Multiplex.

However, the website hosting the feature currently (Fandependent Films) is run by Ben Hicks and Jerry Tran, two filmmakers who respect the hard work and artistry of other filmmakers who struggle with tiny budgets and few venues to display their works properly.

Their current Winter 2016 Film Festival is on with Scumbabies competing against a number of other films to vie for permanent collection status at Fandependent.  Please head on over and become a fan of Scumbabies. Help us win an Audience Award. There are only 20 days from this writing to do so!

Watch and become a fan of Scumbabies on Fandependent Films .
Learn about Scumbabies. from TUGM.

 

RIP James Best, Actor on “The Dukes of Hazzard” and Cult Favorite, “The Killer Shrews”

The late James Best, more than just Roscoe

The late James Best, more than just Roscoe

by Legendary Lew

James Best, the actor most known for playing the hapless Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show, died at the age of 88.

Despite his playing a southern hick in one of the most pointless TV series ever to exist, Best was actually pretty influential outside the set as a well-respected acting teacher, especially of motion picture acting techniques. He ran a Hollywood school of this type of acting, supposedly the first of its kind, in the 1970s and ran it for 25 years, working with such people as Teri Garr, Burt Reynolds and Quentin Tarantino.

But the most fun watching James Best was as the lead in the ubiquitously found public domain horror film, “The Killer Shrews,” which co-starred legendary Hollywood director Sidney Lumet’s father, the Yiddish theater great Baruch Lumet and also “Gunsmoke” regular/horror film director Ken Curtis.  You know that movie–the one with fur pasted on the tails and snouts of dogs to make them look like gigantic rodents?  Haven’t seen it? Well, here it is. Enjoy:

The Philosophy Behind My Approach to Facets Night School

FNS1This weekend marks the final shows of Night School presented at Facets Multimedia, which has served as the home of the most inventive midnight movie presentations in Chicago for 4.5 years. It’s been my pleasure to host a dozen film screenings during that time, including a feature-length film–Sisters of No Mercy— inspired by Night School.

Joe Lewis and Michael Smith have both written wonderful blog pieces about the demise of Night School at Facets. I’ve also read great comments from presenters Dominick Mayer and Joel Wicklund.

When Night School founder Phil Morehart brought forth the idea of having midnight movies at Facets, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. In the past, I had enjoyed thoughtful reviews of unusual rare films in such great magazines as Shock Cinema (to which I once contributed) and Psychotronic Magazine. I knew there was a great well of strange movie from which to draw.

The emergence of Night School came at a perfect time for FacetsNS2experimentation of how screenings could be formatted for independent theaters. Studios were changing to digital projection exclusively, leaving many theaters holding the bag with now outdated 35MM equipment and expensive digital changeovers. Netflix went through a nasty PR period of growing pains with the perception of unlimited streaming and the roll out, and then roll back, of Quixster, the video world’s version of New Coke. Blockbuster was evaporating from its video (and retail) dominance of the late 1980s and 1990s. All this was compounded by The Bush Depression of 2008, which threw hundreds of thousands of people out of work monthly.

From the outset, I knew that Night School had to be different from other movie series. Studios and movie chains could use their large wallets to entice viewers to theaters with larger spectacles, more advanced 3D capabilities, table-side food service and movie discount specials.

Courtesy Time Out Chicago

Courtesy: Time Out Chicago

This all seems fine for the bottom line, but the major point being missed by the chains and the studios was that they are not suited to cater to the needs of movie viewers at the community level. Sure, you can have chats online with people via Netflix about movies, but there’s also the probability you’ll never meet them in person. I used to joke about having film appreciation groups meet up at a local Redbox in the pouring rain.  And I’m very doubtful the studios will have cast members of new movies make dozens of public appearances across the country without them being paid lots of money for the trouble.

What Night School proved was that poverty-stricken creative folks can436 come up with a truly forward-thinking solution: engage with fans on a collective idea. Bring back variety with each show. Give viewers a spectacle without having to break a budget. Indeed, with a budget of exactly $0, you can actually accomplish a great deal. You can still jump out of a cake (Eat the Rich); have an interview with the mother of The Terminator and Lady Terminator (Lady Terminator); have Yor the Hunter from the Future show up for Q&A (Yor, The Hunter from the Future); have zombie whores dance and hand puppets sing (Sisters of No Mercy); uncover a lost Idi Amin toothpaste radio ad (Amin: The Rise and Fall); perform a live interactive radio skit (Wonder Women); have spectacular live music performances to such films as Haxan, The Fall of the House of Usher and A Page of Madness and more.

You can also meet and form a production partnership with an incredible talent named Joseph R. Lewis. Night School gave birth to The Underground Multiplex and the notion that you can rely on the genius of others here in Chicago to do great things. We have, thanks to the incredible presenters we’ve had over the years, the forethought of overseers Phil Morehart and Susan Doll and the hands-off policy of Facets Multimedia, which allowed the inmates to run the asylum one night per week. I’m grateful to Facets for allowing me the chance to change the way viewers experience movies.  Major unending thank yous to all the presenters, volunteers, projectionists and everyone who’s ever come out to see some craziness in action.

As our award-winning program moves on to different venues, The Underground Multiplex will continue its commitment to presenting great forgotten and underappreciated films with the ballyhoo, fun and zaniness the great city of Chicago deserves.

Lew Ojeda

RIP 2009-2013

RIP 2009-2013

Pulaski Park Turns into The Spooky Haunted Mansion This Weekend

Your greeters for the haunted weekend. Adult  and kid-friendly houses at Pulaski Park

Your greeters for the haunted weekend. Adult and kid-friendly houses at Pulaski Park

This weekend the perennial favorite in Wicker Park, the Pulaski Park Haunted House and Halloween Festival, kicks off for another weekend of spookiness for both adults and kids.  Mitch Hutton heads the transformation of the park into a mini-festival filled with movies, carnival games, a climbing wall and more. It’s a large undertaking every year, but the work is worth it for the fun results.

The Halloween Festival is Saturday Oct. 19 from Noon-6pm.
Admission to the Festival: Adults $8, Children (ages 5 and under) $6*

The Haunted House runs Oct. 18-20 AND Oct 25-27. Both weekends from 5pm-10pm.
Admission to The Haunted Houses:
Adult Haunted House: $10
Kid-Friendly Haunted House: $3

*Please Note: Admission to The Halloween Festival includes all attractions except admission to either of the Haunted Houses.

Here are some pictures of the Haunted Houses in preparation:
pulaski2pulaski3pulaski4pulaski6Have a spooky good time!

 

Fright School Spooks Chicago Beginning October 4th

Once again, the award-winning Night School makes its way to the screen here in Chicago starting October 4 at Facets Multimedia. There’s a great variety of spine-tingling goodness with films from around the world ready to scare the hell out of you. Each film will be presented with a lecture prior to screening and a Q&A after most of the presentations.

This will be our final gig at Facets Multimedia so come on down for some spooky thrills! Night School will be traveling on to new venues TBD.

You Are Who You Eat!: Fruit Chan’s Delicious, Disturbing Dumplings
October 4, 2013
Presented by Michael Smith

Fruit Chan (MADE IN HONG KONG, DURIAN DURIAN) became internationally famous for a series of gritty, naturalistic dramas tackling important social issues in the turbulent Hong Kong of the 1990s. With 2004′s DUMPLINGS he drastically shifted registers, crafting an elegant and beautifully photographed horror film (the exquisite color cinematography is courtesy of the great Christopher Doyle) that successfully translates his trademark social criticism to the confines of the more genre-oriented filmmaking for which Hong Kong is best known. The result expertly balances visceral shocks with intellectual provocation, and deservedly became one of the most acclaimed Hong Kong films of the post-”handover” era, winning numerous accolades along the way (including a Film of Merit Award from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society and many Best Supporting Actress trophies for Bai Ling). Come on out to see this director-preferred expanded version of DUMPLINGS and find out what all the fuss is about — though you may want to hold off on eating before you come!

Michael Smith is an independent filmmaker whose most recent short films, At Last, Okemah!! (2009) and The Catastrophe (2011), have won multiple awards at film festivals across the United States. Since 2009, he has taught film history and aesthetics at Chicago-area colleges including Oakton Community College, the College of Lake County, and Harold Washington College. His first book, Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry, a non-fiction account of early film production in Chicago, will be released by KWS Publishers, Inc. in late 2013. He is also the creator and sole author of the film studies blog WhiteCityCinema.com. He has previously taught many Facets Night School sessions including “Drilling Into The Slumber Party Massacre”  and “Eat the Rich: Manoel de Oliveira’s Unlikely Cannibals Musical.”

One Roll of Flesh, No More No Less: The Mad World of Suicide Club
October 5, 2013
Presented by Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Lecture description: Writer-director Shion Sono’s 2002 film Suicide Club came out during a time when worldwide interest in J-horror was at an all-time high, and stands as both one of that subgenre’s crowning achievements and one of its strangest films. Suicide Club begins with an unforgettable mass suicide committed by teenagers in a Tokyo subway tunnel, and descends into a complex web of madness involving butterfly tattoos, a roll of human skin, a teen-friendly pop group and a man named Genesis who does atrocious things to animals in empty bowling alleys. Night School lecturer Dominick Suzanne-Mayer will attempt to unravel the mysteries of Sono’s film, and further discuss its connections to one of latter-day Japanese cinema’s most prevalent questions: what to do with all the youth?
Dominick Suzanne-Mayer is a regular at Facets Night School, having presented on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Frighteners, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and many more. He recently received his graduate degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, and is the features editor at HEAVEmedia, a Chicago-based pop culture website. You can regularly find him in various drinking establishments that show professional wrestling for free.

Guru, The Mad Monk in 35MM!
October 11, 2013
Presented by Jason Coffman and The Chicago Cinema Society

Andy Milligan was the quintessential grindhouse filmmaker, shooting movies for next to nothing and, legend has it, occasionally editing with his teeth and some scotch tape! Milligan was a control freak on a level that made Stanley Kubrick look positively relaxed: he built sets, sewed costumes, wrote, directed, edited, and basically did everything a person can do on a film set. There’s no mistaking an Andy Milligan film for the work of any other director. His period pieces are particularly interesting, one of the best being “Guru, the Mad Monk,” in which Milligan regular Neil Flanagan plays the titular insane “holy man” who uses his position to cover up his evil deeds.
The Chicago Cinema Society and Facets Night School present a rare 35mm screening of Andy Milligan’s “Guru, The Mad Monk” as part of this year’s Fright School!This screening takes place Friday night, October 11th at Midnight at Facets Multi-Media! Presented by CCS programmer Jason Coffman with a brief talk about Andy Milligan before the show and Q&A after.

F for Femdetta! Midnight Movie Birthday Screening of 36 Pasos
U.S. Premiere!
October 12, 2013
Presented by Demetra Materis
Six women, three rules, one reason to watch 36 Pasos- pure originality. It’s just so hard to be pretty and popular these days. It’s so hard, you’ll have to fight to survive! The fourth feature from indie director Adrian Garcia Bogliano of Argentina, this energetic, sexy and sadistic movie will stick with you forever. This presentation will include a pre-recorded Q&A from presenter Demetra Materis and director Adrian Garcia Bogliano.Best part is… it’s Demetra’s birthday! You are all invited to celebrate and watch a kick ass movie with her.
Demetra Materis is a huge horror movie fan. When she’s not behind the counter at Facets Videotheque, she’s on set working with veteran horror film director Ricardo Islas on projects- currently Bachelor’s Grove: The Movie and previously Frankenstein: Day of the Beast. She’s also currently the unit production manager for a documentary series about a legendary Chicago marionette puppeteer. This is her first Night School session and it coincides with her birthday so make sure you leave room for cake! (Gifts accepted.)

Curse of the Demon
October 18, 2013
Presented by Phil Morehart
Jacques Tourneur directs a spooky supernatural thriller based on the M. R. James story “Casting the Runes.” Dana Andrews plays an American skeptic with a lot of blah, blah, blah about occultist nonsense in English until a sorcerer whips up some first-rate evil. After shitting his pants, the skeptic then must find a way to counter that goofy bastard.
Phil Morehart was a programmer for the Cincinnati Film Society. He also wrote on film, theater, music and visual arts for Chicago Journal Newspaper and Cincinnati CityBeat Newspaper, and is a contributor to the book, The Armchair Reader Guide Goes Hollywood.  He’s currently an editor at ALA and a marathon runner. Previous Night School classes taught include There’s No More Room in Hell, So Let’s Go Shopping: A Look at George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Girl: Sleepaway Camp and the Punishing Nature of Horror
Saturday October 19, 2013
Presented by Lauren Whalen
“She’s a real carpenter’s dream – flat as a board and needs a screw!” – Judy (Karen Fields), Sleepaway Camp

In the summer of 1975, Camp Arawak is a great place for summer vacation – unless you aren’t nice. Shy Angela is sent to Arawak with her cousin after her immediate family’s demise in a boating accident. Before long, campers and staff with less than pure motives start turning up dead, in increasingly bizarre and violent ways. What twisted individual is behind the body count? What exactly is Angela hiding? And really, is it that big a deal to lose such terrible people?

Weird, offensive and brilliant, Sleepaway Camp has attracted a cult following since its 1985 release. But why are so many horror movies intent on punishment – other than the utter coolness of fake blood? Dig up your awesome short shorts and join Lauren Whalen as she explores why in the horror genre, cruel intentions can get you the boot (or knife).

Lauren Whalen is a freelance writer for Chicago Theater Beat and The Film Yap. Previous Night School presentations include Brick, Mulholland Dr., Donnie Darko and Drop Dead Gorgeous. Lauren’s had an 11-year relationship with Facets as an intern, subtitle reader, full-time employee and volunteer. There are many who would call her a bad, bad girl.

Full Metal Frankenstein!
October 25, 2013
Presented by Bruce Neal

The 1931 James Whale/ Boris Karloff/ Dwight Frye classic, Frankenstein, presented with a live score by Dysfunctio Cerebri, a new ensemble featuring members of On You, Czar, Get Up with the Get Downs and The Crippled Masters. Guitars will crack like plasma filaments emanating from a Tesla coil! The villagers will march! Bring your lighters! With secret surprise second short feature! It’s Alive!!

Bruce Neal is a projectionist at Facets and has worked in film, music, underground theater, performance art and stand-up comedy. He was creative and story consultant on Dream Havana, which won Best Documentary at the Chicago, Orlando and Lyon Latino Film Festivals. His previous Night School classes covered such films as Street Trash and God Told Me To. Bruce also co-created original soundtracks to A Page of Madness, Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, The Fall of the House of Usher, Alucarda and the shorts of Bettie Page as a member of The Cursed Bird Ensemble (among many other aliases). Currently, he’s performing in the Death-Folk band  The Crippled Masters with fellow soundtrack alum Matt Silcock.

We are the Strange: Video Games vs. Movies
October 26, 2013
Presented by Joseph R. Lewis
No film better illustrates the maniacal effects that video games have had on the psyche of American moviemaking than this one. An animated film like no other, We Are the Strange incorporates stop-motion, CG, and video game board layout designs to create a dark fantasy world unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Joseph R. Lewis, co-founder of The Underground Multiplex, presents this Chicago premiere.
Joseph R. Lewis is the co-founder of The Underground Multiplex, a Chicago-based arts collective producing live theatrical events, Internet films and podcasts. Lewis has completed several features, including the award-winning ScumbabiesTyler B Nice, and Sci-Fi SOL. He’s also the creator of the Emmy-nominated TV show Elephant and Worm TV. Previous Facets Night School presentations include Killer Klowns from Outer Space and the debut of Sisters of No Mercy 3D.
All shows begin at Midnight Friday or Saturday nights as listed.
1517 W Fullerton Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
Admission: $5. FREE for Facets members. Find out how to be a member here.