André Øvredal’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark would have been more effective if they’d kept the film adaptation as scary, and as dark as the famed book series and I understand that some cohesion in plot and script continuity was needed to give us a feature film, but I kind of wish they’d gone the artsy, surreal route and just adapted each story in an independent black & white ether from one another instead of trying to make them ‘make sense’ logically and have this… YA, Stranger Things teen angst template laid overtop, which really just sucks the spooky air out of the room. That’s not to say this is a bad film, there are some nicely terrifying set pieces, unnervingly tactile practical effects and thrillingly suspenseful sequences.. it’s just the framework that didn’t quite do it for me. The original book series was blissfully simple: just a bunch of random horror fables, independent of one another. The film makes up this cockamamie jargon about some Necronomicon-Lite book that has power over each monster from each respective tale, a book which a cliche ridden group of local kids must destroy as its contents come after them after the reading of each chapter. It’s complete with the small town vibe, bully, love triangle thing and all the rest, which I’m not sure was the right way to go, but like I said, I understand the decision to do so. Having said that, the special effects team has done wonderful work with the monsters and made them about as visually true to the books as possible without quite retaining the stark, ghostly potency of the illustrations we know so well. The contorting Jangly Man is an unholy terror and quite effective, especially as he storms a nearly deserted police station and scares the piss out of its disbelieving Sheriff (Gil Bellows). Harold the Scarecrow is eerie enough but doesn’t get a whole lot to do, while the shambling corpse looking for its Big Toe is pretty darn fucked up and uncomfortable. Most effective is the unnerving Pale Girl, who terrorizes a teen in the abandoned hallways of an asylum from all sides in a sequence that’s the closest the film comes to downright terrifying and, for a time, successfully lives up to the legacy of the books. Producer Guillermo Del Toro’s aura is felt here in the wonderful monster design and director André Øvredal (who helmed the brilliant and far scarier Autopsy Of Jane Doe) keeps the stylistics and suspense going nicely, if not always consistently. Sometimes the switch from the Black & White of the books to a colour palette here can feel a bit demystifying and less otherworldly, I wish they had just gone the Sin City route and done a complete monochrome wash with the odd splash of colour here and there, would have been much more evocative. It’s a decent enough horror film with some truly great monsters, creepy moments and immersive atmosphere… I just could have done without the teen drama subplots, expository connective tissue and this ever present need to *explain* everything and give every horror concept a ‘backstory’ instead of just trusting the source material to be enough on its own and just filming *that* without a bunch of silly narrative bells and whistles that feel familiar and stale.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten John Hurt Performances

John Hurt was recognizable, prolific, immensely talented, stage trained and an all round terrific artist. To me in observing his work I always saw a calculated, measured style, he never showboated or filled up the space in the extroverted sense but in that deep set gaze, his quietly intense eyes always found the core of whatever character he was bringing to life, not to mention that steady, delicate yet brittle speaking voice. Here are my top ten performances from this extraordinary actor!

10. Old Man Peanut in Malcolm Venville’s 44 Inch Chest

This is one of those hard boiled British gangster flicks with a weirdo edge that I can’t quite describe. Anyways, every character in the ensemble has an oddball quirk, Peanut’s being that he’s a near biblical level, savagely misogynistic, chauvinist piece of shit. It works for the role and the film and there’s nothing quite like seeing this good natured actor spout off sexist rhetoric like a teapot full of fire, brimstone and rancid piss.

9. Hrothgar in Howard McCain’s Outlander

A noble Viking king in times of great turmoil, Hrothgar and his people join forces with a strange being (Jim Caviesel) from a distant galaxy to fight off a nasty neon space dragon that followed him there. Hurt makes this guy a fair but pragmatic king who fights tooth an nail to protect his settlement from the creature.

8. John Merrick in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man

A gentle soul with an unfortunate facial disfigurement during a less enlightened time than we now live in, Hurt got an Oscar nomination for his compassionate, heartbreaking and researched role here.

7. S.R. Hadden in Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

I’m not a huge fan of this film overall but John is one of the factors that help it, playing an eccentric billionaire who secretly funds Jodie Foster’s search for alien life and when his cancer advances he just fucks off to space because the zero gravity helps his symptoms. It’s a sly encore supporting turn that undermines some of the more show-boaty performances (I’m looking at you McConaughey) with wit and genuine inspiration.

6. Jellon Lamb in John Hillcoat’s The Proposition

A cantankerous, half mad old British fuck marooned alone in the Australian outback, Jellon provides acidic, dark comic relief to this grim, no nonsense western when Guy Pearce’s stoic outlaw comes across his hovel in the middle of nowhere. After being told not to insult Irish people he promptly makes a potato peeling joke that causes Pearce to draw both guns, then swiftly talks the man down. Hurt was just so good at backhanded, knife-in-the-ribs dialogue like this.

5. Lawrence Fassett in Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend

This is a near incomprehensible spy film with a terrific cast stuck in the world’s most over complicated plot, revolving around John’s rogue MI6 agent who is up to something, exactly what isn’t clear. He’s steely, cold and ruthless though as his intentions sort of become clear and his performance, calibrated just right, is the films strongest point.

4. John Schofield in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man

The most patronizing and sarcastic factory clerk in the old west, Schofield is personal assistant to Robert Mitchum’s thunderous metalworks tycoon and insults anyone who walks into his office with an attitude. Wry, thinly veiled cynicism play at the edges of his performance, and his semi-alarmed, morbidly curious expression when Mitchum barks at someone to shut up is just priceless. Also the fact that Jarmusch chose to cut to Hurt mid conversation when the scene didn’t really even have anything to do with him just cracks me up big time too.

3. Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm in Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy

“In the absence of light, darkness prevails.” I remember his words in the trailer for this film so clearly, his character is the perfect harbinger of paranormal events, mentor and surrogate father to Ron Perlman’s Red, classy gentleman of otherworldly knowledge and one of the last individuals standing between our world and oblivion.

2. Garrick Ollivander in Harry Potter

“The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter..”

His appearance in the Philosopher’s Stone as the placidly intense wand maker is a scene of terrific gravity that lulls both Harry and audience alike into a hypnotic place as he outlines important historical events. It was nice to see him again so many years later in The Deathly Hallows as well, still with a keen, observant edge.

1. Kane in Ridley Scott’s Alien

No other scene is as synonymous with cosmic dread as when we see that horrific little Xenomorph pup burst out of poor Kane’s chest at the dinner table. Hurt sells the scene with adept terror, wide eyed disbelief and heart stopping panic with his work. The fact that his fellow cast members weren’t aware of what was going to happen in the scene prior to shooting it just makes his performance ring all the more clear. An iconic moment, character and film.

-Nate Hill

Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army

A new Hellboy film opens this week and the reviews are… not great, to put it nicely. I’ll probably end up seeing for myself to give it a shot but honestly my heart is still with Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman’s vision and I still wish we could have seen their trilogy capped off with a third entry instead of being obnoxiously shunted off to another iteration so soon.

After a brilliantly Lovecraftian introduction to this world, Del Toro returned with Hellboy II: The Golden Army and he brought back with him all the fairytale-esque visual grandeur he could muster for a sequel that is decidedly more esoteric but no less awesome than the first. Perlman was born to play the role and you have to champion Guillermo for sticking by his side and not backing down through damn near a decade of negotiations with studios who were tossing around hilarious suggestions like Nic Cage and Vin Diesel (good lord I shudder to think). Perlman *is* Hellboy and rocks every revolver slinging, cigar chewing, monster smashing minute of his screen time. This time he and the gang are contending with angry Elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), who resents humans for neglecting the fantastical in their modern age and wants to unleash the powerful golden army upon their world, obliterating it for good. As much as that kindddd of makes a bit of sense from his perspective it’s still not a constructive solution to his concerns and therefore his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) takes issue with his extremism and defects to Hellboy’s side. It’s a raucous ride of jaw dropping practical effects, enthralling world building and way more commotion than the eerie first film, but that works too. Doug Jones returns as fish-man Abe Sapien, this time without the strange ADR of David Hyde Pierce overtop his own chords, Selma Blair is lovely once again as spirited firestarter Liz Sherman, Jeffrey Tambor further cultivates droll comic relief as the FBI handler dude, John Hurt briefly reprises his role as paternal Professor Broom and newcomer Seth Mcfarlane is welcome to the fold, playing a German ghost that lives in some kind of early 1900’s scuba diving kit. Del Toro always has a wicked flair for effects, he never just throws CGI at a wall and expects it to stick, there’s always a meticulous process in bringing his creatures alive and this film is full to the brim of wildly imaginative wonders. Goss and Walton are so good as Nuada and Nuala that they almost deserve their own spinoff film, they’re darkly charismatic and soulful in an otherworldly way, their performances accented by beautiful hair & makeup.

I have to say I’m more a fan of the first film than this, but it’s less of an issue of quality and more of aesthetic; I’m in love with the dark, moody, Lovecraft atmosphere punctuated by the rogue nazi element, it seems to have more roots in horror and works for me more as an overall feeling, but really they’re both fantastic films and on the same level. Also the first one has Kroenen, who is possibly the coolest and scariest comic book villain ever put to film.

I’m not one to gloat when something flops or gets bad reviews out of the gate but I can’t help feeling a smidge of bitter glee at the fact that this reboot no one really asked for is now being bitten on the ass, seemingly because it actually does suck. For years and years the fans (myself included) hoped and prayed for a third Del Toro/Perlman Hellboy film to complete this wonderful story, and what do they do? Go out and hire a bunch of new stock, switch up the creative aesthetic completely and expect people to buy it. No sir. That’s not to detract from David Harbour, Neil Marshall, Ian McShane or Milla Jovovich, they’re all brilliant artists who have now just become collateral damage to a production that sounds suspiciously rocky. I’ll definitely check out the film they’ve made and give it a fair shot but I have to say that not one trailer or piece of marketing has me remotely excited, and that’s independent of my love for the first two films. Perhaps one day Ron Perlman will sit in that makeup chair for six hours again and give us that magic we miss so much, with Del Toro at his side. Perhaps this new apparent swing and a miss will make that happen quicker, who knows. Until then we can revisit the first and Golden Army to our hearts delight, they’ve aged gorgeously and are both great films.

-Nate Hill

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

Although not particularly scary or super memorable, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is an atmospheric gothic fright flick with distinct production design and some really neat visuals. Based on a 1973 film of the same name, Guillermo Del Toro was apparently a big fan and adapted it with a new screenplay, and while I can’t help thinking what could have been if he took up director’s duties as well, the result is still pretty good. Guy Pearce plays an architect who moves into a giant, baroque old mansion in the sticks with his introverted daughter (Bailee Madison) and interior designer girlfriend (Katie Holmes). The plan is to fix the place up, but Madison does a bit too much wandering around and discovers they aren’t alone, and the manor is also home to a horde of tiny, creepy demon thingies with glowing eyes, skeletal limbs and they’ve activated stealth mode. They live in dark corners, shadowy closets and make weird chittering noises (Del Toro himself lent his voice to one of them) that freak the girl right out, but naturally her dad thinks she just has an overactive imagination. Pearce and Holmes are great in their roles and add class, as does Madison who is a competent young protagonist. This doesn’t exactly reinvent the horror wheel or make any kind of huge impression, but the art department really did well with the design of the old house, the visual elements are all really great and pop on the Blu Ray. It’s more of a mildly eerie children’s fairy tale than an outright horror film but it works on its terms.

-Nate Hill

Into the OTHERWORLD : An Interview with RICHARD STANLEY by Kent Hill

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It’s always a fascinating experience to sit down with Richard. The man is such a natural storyteller, with a unique perspective relating not only to cinema, but also to the world around him.

We caught up this time in the midst of bad weather, a troubled connection and, last but not least, a turbulent time in Richard’s beloved Montsegur. While our conversation touched upon this, along with the whys and wherefores of the situation, we eventually turned to movies. At this time it had been documented that Richard was again a part of an attempt to bring Moreau back to the screen – as a TV series. Having been hired by the same people that fired him during the doomed journey of his initial attempt, there seems to be, thanks to David Gregory’s documentary, a renewed interest in Richard’s take on his long-suffering passion project.

I did also bring up The Otherworld, which I had finally seen at the time. Stanley’s absorbing documentary-slash-ghost-story, and the myths and misconceptions surrounding it and ‘The Zone’ which forms the backdrop. Richard is steeped in the history of Montsegur and, flavored with his supernatural encounters, it is indeed a tale of great intrigue.

Also to we touched on, and I must say I highly anticipate, the writing of Richard’s autobiography. A project that was going smoothly until it was insisted, and initially resisted by its author, that a chapter be included on the subject of the collapse of Richard’s vision of Moreau. As thrilling a read as it will be – like I said Richard is a fascinating character – it will be equally riveting to finally have a recounting of the story from the embattled man at the center of the controversy.

Still, the future is full of possibilities, and I for one wait with inordinate eagerness for any and all of Richard’s creative endeavors to finally emerge . . . in whatever form they shall take.

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33rd Santa Barbara International Film Festival Podcast

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It’s time again for our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast! Frank and Tim recap Frank’s journey this year at the festival, including seeing Emilio Estevez’s new film, ‘the public’ and Susan Kucera’s LIVING IN FUTURE PAST which was presented and narrated by Santa Barbara’s own Jeff Bridges. This year, Frank’s red carpet interviews included on this podcast are with Executive Director of the festival Roger Durling, Gary Oldman, producer Doug Urbanski, Willem Dafoe, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Leonard Maltin, Academy Award-nominated editor of I, TONYA Tatiana Riegel, Academy Award-nominated VFX supervisor of BLADE RUNNER 2049 John Nelson, Academy Award-nominated sound editor of THE LAST JEDI Matthew Wood, GET OUT’s Daniel Kaluuya, Jordan Peele, Guillermo del Toro, and lastly Frank talking to Ben Mendelsohn about Podcasting Them Softly’s namesake, KILLING THEM SOFTLY.

Best of 2017 Megacast!

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Frank, Tim, and Nate gather together to discuss this year’s Oscar nominations and then get into what they thought should have been nominated, running down their own top ten best pictures, and also giving their top five in each category. We will taking a week off and then we’ll be back with a vengeance with our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast!

The Puppet Master: An Interview with Kevin McTurk by Kent Hill

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They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.

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Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.

For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.

There is still time for you to join Kevin in his latest cinematic offering (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/935772123/the-haunted-swordsman-a-ghost-story-puppet-film), and to listen in now to the man himself talk about his movies, influences and career.

I give you the talented Mr. McTurk.

Visit Kevin’s website for more: http://www.thespiritcabinet.com/

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Dark Cities, Dark Futures, Dark Caves: An Interview with Bruce Hunt by Kent Hill

Young Bruce Hunt loved movies and blowing things up. This love, and learning the basics of the craft from film magazines of the period, would firmly cement in his mind the path on which he would travel. As it was said in a film that Bruce would later work on, “Fate it seems, is not without a sense of irony,” a teenage Bruce would encounter Academy Award winning special-effects artist Dennis Muren in a cafe in London.

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It was Muren that would advise the dreamer to seek out an effects house in his native Australia for possible future employment and, after art school, that is what the talented Mr. Hunt would do. Working with small production houses on commercials his work would soon catch the eye of the founder of one of these companies, a man named Andrew Mason. It would be Mason, producing a film directed by Alex Proyas called Dark City, that would call on Hunt to bring his passion, and by then, professional eye for effects photography to his first big screen gig.

Work on another big flick would follow, as Mason would again tap Bruce and bring him to work on the Wachowski’s cinematic masterpiece The Matrix. There would be work on the film’s sequels before, at last, Bruce would sit in the director’s chair for The Cave, an adventure in deep terror. He would emerge from the darkness to work on Baz Luhrmann’s Australia only to descend again soon after for Guillermo del Toro’s Don’t be afraid of the Dark.

Through it all his love of the movies continues to drive him and, as you will hear, he has plans to get his visions back on that big screen, just as soon as he can. It was great to sit down with Bruce. Not only is he a filmmaker I admire, but it was great to just talk about movies with him.

If you don’t know his work then now is the time to check it out. But, if you already have and you’re a fan like me – then kick back and enjoy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my good mate . . . Bruce Hunt

Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Guillermo Del Toro’s two Hellboy films are a wildly different pair, both incredible thrill rides and well worth anyone’s time, but I think I will always prefer the first. With the second he took the Pan’s Labyrinth approach, presenting a fairy tale world and showcasing makeup effects that were very similar to that film, an esoteric and elemental vibe. There’s just something about the Lovecraftian, steam punk WWII aesthetic of the first that works better for me, and seems to fit our red pigmented protagonist a little more. These films would be nothing without the essential and hard won casting of Ron Perlman, though. He brings a lively vitality, hulking physicality (he fits the part even before the prosthetics go on) and loveable sarcasm, and when you see him in action there is really no other actor you could envision bringing this character to life. It’s laughable to think that Del Toro fought the studio for years to get Ron in the role, turning down the likes of Vin Diesel and Nic Cage (what in the actual fuck were they thinking), not compromising for a second, knowing the film he wanted to make. Well, Ron got cast in the end, as we now know, and he’s not so much playing Hellboy, he just is Hellboy, he’s that perfect for the role. When he’s backed up by Del Toro’s near godlike creativity and imagination (the two partner on projects frequently and it’s genius every time), you get a piece of comic book escapism as exciting and adventurous as this. Hellboy was the result of a nazi experiment gone wrong, in which certifiable nut job Grigori Rasputin (freaky deaky Karel Roden) and his minions open a portal to a dark universe, in attempt to summon forth anything that could turn the tides of war (not the brightest idea, if you ask me), and instead out crawls infant Hellboy, a cranky crimson imp with a big stone appendage and an attitude to match. Kindly professor Trevor Broom (John Hurt) raises the creature to be a force of good and protection for our world, and soon enough he grows into eight foot tall, wise ass, cigar chomping, ass kicking Ron Perlman, now a valuable and formidable asset to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, an order who strives to keep the darkness at bay. Joined by his on and off flame Liz Sherman (pun intended, as she’s literally a firestarter), Professor Broom, rookie agent Meyers (Rupert Evans) and humanoid swamp thing Abraham Sapien (Doug Jones, dubbed out with David Hyde Pierce), he sets out to shield New York, the planet and the universe from Rasputin, who has returned with notions of finishing the cataclysmic work he started decades ago. The action is propulsive and rousing, initially in NYC streets and subway tunnels, and then in a far off arctic locale where a gateway to some dark dimension opens once more and a suspiciously Cthlhu esque deity of destruction peers out. Del Toro has stated before that he prefers to think of his work as ‘eye protein’ rather than eye candy. Well, call it what you will, his films are nothing short of dazzling on all levels, and Hellboy is no exception. There’s visual splendour in every frame, from the painstaking costumes, makeup and props (Perlman has a great big gun for that great big hand), to the production design and seamless computer wizardry, the world we see onscreen is immersive and entertaining for the entire journey. Roden makes a frothing madman out of Rasputin, always nailing the villain when he shows up, and stopping said show here with his theatrical and baroque insanity. My favourite has to be Kroenen though, a sharply dressed, mute nazi assassin with a face only a mother could love and a set of knives you’d be foolish to get in the way of. He’s an inspired and truly creepy villain that sets the apocalyptic dial on the highest setting when he shows up. Jeffrey Tambor provides additional comic relief as the long suffering suit who serves as the face of PR for the bureau, and props to Brian Steele as Sammael, a seriously pissed off demon set loose by Rasputin in the city streets, leading to one blockbuster of an action sequence. As far as comic book films go, this is a gold standard of filmmaking, world building and good old fashioned storytelling, all of which Del Toro is a master at. It wouldn’t have been the same without him, without Perlman and especially without the magic that happens when they work together.