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“I never touched a legend before.” : Remembering Nightbreed with Nicholas Vince by Kent Hill

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Seems to me NIGHTBREED had been out for a while before I made a point of sitting down to watch it. I’d seen the trailer a bunch of times, been curious, but it wasn’t until I read the illustrated screenplay that I admit to really becoming hell bent on checking it out.1411764498435

It is at once a phantasmagoria, a dark fantasy, a love story – a rich, self-contained world that seemed on the verge. But, as I would discover, the powers that be didn’t receive from Clive Barker what they were hoping for. He had produced for them two Hellraiser pictures, thus they made the mistake of assuming they were set to receive yet another study in fear. Especially with a title like, Nightbreed. Hence you have the reason for the fractured state of the movie and all the subsequent releases and restorations – the producers attempting to fashion the movie into something it was never meant to be.

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What you ultimately take away from Barker’s monster-piece is the feeling of wanting more – and not just a re-cut of the existing elements. I suppose that’s why the idea of a Nightbreed series, I feel, would work better than another motion picture. There is so much to mine, so many characters – along with my favorite, Kinski (played by my guest Nicholas Vince), that I would love to see make a return.

So, kick back and enjoy our discussion on all things concerned with the tribes of the moon. God’s an Astronaut. Oz is Over the Rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live.”

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B Movie Glory: Tamra Davis’s Guncrazy

Drew Barrymore has a few interesting, edgy credits early on in her career, one of which is Tamra Davis’s Guncrazy, a lurid little slice of run down, rural life on the outskirts of the big city, as well as civilization it seems. A ‘lovers on the run’ riff in the tradition of Bonnie & Clyde, True Romance and Natural Born Killer, it’s admittedly like the Miller Lite version of large scale films like them but still manages to pack somewhat of an offbeat punch. Barrymore is Anita, a restless adolescent whose humdrum existence in a dead end California town has led to promiscuous behaviour and self destructive tendencies, especially when her convict pen pal boyfriend (James LeGros) is released and joins her for some hell raising. She has a stepfather who’s abusive to her in a way that seems unnervingly normalized to the both of them, high school classmates who are nothing but trouble and a life that most would consider squarely placed on the wrong side of the tracks. The story sees the two of them pretty much fed up with everything, engaging in a murder spree that just won’t end well. It’s not too hot blooded or hyper violent though and there is nothing sadistic in what they do, in fact there’s an innate innocence to the way they view life, their crimes and morality in general, or lack thereof. Barrymore has always had star-power since day one, but she shows a maturity here as she gets older and a complex control over a role that could have been cartoonish. LeGros is an indie poster child and is so prolific he’s probably been in ten or twenty things you’ve seen but just didn’t spit him, he’s a straight up chameleon and does a good job here too. Michael Ironside shows up as his jaded parole officer and the great Billy Drago is cast rarely against type as the town’s local preacher who doubles as both a mechanic and a snake charmer, it’s a bear bit of character work from him and I always enjoy his performances. This film got really good reviews when it came out and caused a minor stir in indie land, which is interesting because I don’t find it all that noteworthy. Usually I’m that guy to champion garbage films based on a few aspects because I love obscure stuff, but this one is kind of your run of the mill cheapie made decent by Barrymore’s charisma. Good score too.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Soulkeeper

Soulkeeper is a diamond in the rough, in the sense that it has all the trappings of a forgettable trashy B grade flick, and ends up being something way more fun and adventurous than it has any right to be. Dressed up like your average schlocky horror fling, it also carries a cheeky Indiana Jones vibe with it’s two treasure seeking bro-tagonists and all the right character actors showing up in all the right places. The two renegade brothers are after an ancient relic from the age of Simon Magus (he shows up briefly too) and all that hocus pocus, an artifact that is valuable beyond anything but also has the power to bring evil souls and demon spirits back from the underworld, which naturally causes all kinds of gory chaos for everyone later. It’s super duper fun, with evil curses bringing forth all kinds of gooey special effects, in the tradition of everyone from Joe Dante to Sam Raimi. Then there’s the eclectic genre cast: Brad Dourif does a hysterical Vincent Price pastiche as an eccentric archeologist, Robert Davi charms as the ghost of some Italian nobleman who guides our heroes here and there, Michael Ironside literally phones in a cameo a lá Charlie’s Angels as the mysterious employee of their mission, and watch for Tiny Lister as well as the late great Karen Black too. This won’t go down in history as one of the greats, but you can certainly do a lot worse in terms of this genre and budget range, it’s pure horror/fantasy/adventure escapism. Oh and if you can score a DVD somewhere it comes with a wicked cool retro cover slip with an awesome hologram 3D poster where one of the many gruesome monsters leers out at you. Cool stuff.

-Nate Hill

TNT’s The Alienist

Looking for a binge-worthy show to keep you going? Check out The Alienist, a terrifying tale that in the realm of dark murder mysteries, goes just about as dark as you can go. A period piece produced by TNT and conveniently dropped onto Netflix in it’s entirety the other day, it’s one part Jack The Ripper with a twinge of True Detective, but the truth is it’s way more psychological and well constructed than any log-line description could give, and it should be seen, savoured and absorbed as one long film rather than episodic tv. Darker and more fucked up than anything really has been since season 1 of True Detective, it sticks to its guns and pulls forth a doozy of a crime story to put anyone’s hairs on edge. Set in the late 1800’s before the turn of the century, New York is slowly becoming the economic and cultural hub it is today, but there’s still long shadows cast by the primitive customs of the past, and in one of those shadows hides a serial killer, a phantom who preys on young boys and leaves viciously mutilated corpses behind. As each episode will remind you in writing, people who studied mental illness back then were called ‘Alienists’, because those afflicted were seen to be alienated from their true natures. One such alienist is Dr. Lazlo Kreisler (Daniel Brühl), an eccentric, difficult but altogether brilliant man who takes an immediate and laser focused interest in these crimes, with the help of his friend, crime scene illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans). Joining their crusade is Sarah Howard (Dakota Fanning) the first woman to work for the NYC police department and a plucky investigator herself. Orbiting them is a galaxy of characters, red herrings, dead ends, violent encounters, murders, and love triangles that stretch all the way from the slums and boy-whore brothels right up through the political ranks to New York’s richest and most powerful. It’s not an easy mystery to solve, for the three unconventional detectives, the bumbling, often corrupt police force or we as an audience, it’s a dense, compelling and very complex story with a lot of moving parts, well hidden clues and challenging story beats that demand attentiveness and force you to not look away, which is often an impulse in a horror story with so many atrocities marching across the screen (life, it seems, was incredibly rough for a good many people back then, especially in the Big Apple). The story pays a lot of attention to Kreisler’s deep fascination with the human condition, what makes a brain malfunction and cause the kind of behaviour we see here, and although one might get a little agitated at certain parts of the climax in the final episode, I believe that it wasn’t lazy storytelling but a very deliberate, unusual way to wrap up a story like this and says something important in the story arcs revolving around the human mind. The supporting cast is a rich, deep and rewarding patchwork quilt of young upcoming talent, familiar faces, brilliant cameos and veteran character actors. Brian Gerarty is perfectly cast as Teddy Roosevelt, commissioner of police and yes the same Roosevelt that would later go on to be President. Ted Levine earns sleaze points as Thomas Byrnes, the semi-retired chief of police who’s a slippery, untrustworthy devil with great influence over the worm of a new Captain Connor (David Wilmot, despicably good). Michael Ironside blusters in as a wealthy, powerful finance kingpin who is more disturbed by the ripple effect the killings have throughout the city than the actual murders themselves, as he sheepishly admits. Robert Wisdom and gorgeous Q’orianka Kilcher play loyal friends and pillars of Kreisler’s household, and the cast goes on with impressions from Sean Young, David Warner, Jackson Gann, Antonio Magro, Peter McRobbie, Bill Heck, Grace ‘Sarah Palmer’ Zabriskie and more. The heart of it lies with Brühl, Fanning and Evans though, who all three represent different factions of the human condition in various measure, from courage, compassion and intuition to persistence and empathy, their collective performances are spectacular and made me look at each artist in ways I never have, a hallmark of excellent, transformative work. I know there’s already clamour for a second season, and I want to see their further adventures as much as the next viewer, but I’m just as content with this season as it’s a standalone, beautifully bookended piece of work that thrives as a singular story, and is one of the best times I’ve had following a long-form series in a while.

-Nate Hill

Highlander 2: The Quickening

I have no words for Highlander 2 other than ‘what in the actual fucking fuck.’ I can’t call it Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander 2 because the poor guy tried to have his name removed from the credits, and who could blame him, really. In fact, it’s so thoroughly godawful it shouldn’t even be called Highlander, either. It’s ‘Movie X’, fit only for quarantine and to be blasted off into space so the folks on fictional planet Zeist can keep it. I love the first Highlander, it’s a camp cult rock n’ roll sci-fi sleeper classic, and any sequel would have large shoes to fill. What can be found here? Time travel. Outer space. An artificial ozone layer. Autistic porcupine alien assassins. Michael Ironside ripping off Clancy Brown’s beloved Kurgan villain so blatantly it hurts. Christopher Lambert in old age makeup that looks like it inspired Jackass’s Bad Grandpa. A Sean Connery montage visiting a tailor set to the William Tell Overture. I know all these ingredients could potentially brew up an even zanier cult classic than the original, but nope, no sir. This movie is a badly told story with scant context and zero continuity in both connective tissue to the first film and finding any organic roots of it’s own. Lambert’s Connor McLeod appears to be both old, young and somehow from a different planet, oh and he helped build a synthetic ozone layer to protect earth, a subplot both arbitrarily drawn up and coincidentally concocted around the same time as Total Recall came out, which I’m sure is just one big coincidence, ho ho. Ironside plays some radical called Katana who travels to earth and through time (wat) to kill Connor because there can be only one, a mantra that the film also happily dismantles in its earnest quest to bury the legacy of the first film in confusion and custerfuckery. I won’t even begin to describe Virginia Madsen’s haphazard love interest, a ‘scientist’ who winds up in bed with McLeod like minutes after she’s met him and seen him reverse age randomly and get young again. I’ve heard that Lambert would only do the film if Connery did too, and that the pair formed a bond working on the first film. The studio would have been better off just pitching their bucks in for the two of them to take a fishing trip together, no cameras involved, and save us all the headache.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Alphabet Killer


The Alphabet Killer is a silly one, a stone-serious account of some serial killer out there that tries to go the route of straightforward, down to earth fact tracking, and then deliberately messes up it’s own tone by tossing in cheap, ineffective ghostly gimmicks that seem so out of place one wonders if the editor accidentally spliced in frames from an episode of Supernatural or something. The film would have been something pretty decent without those jarring schoolyard level scare tactics tossed in, but I guess shit happens. This is very, very loosely based on an actual set of murders over in Rochester, NY, but what actual similarities to that case we see here is beyond my knowledge and, I suspect, pretty scant. What we get is Dollhouse veteran and cutie pie Eliza Dushku as a determined cop, hunting a killer of children all over upstate New York, while an impressive load of a character actors make slightly unnecessary yet well acted cameos, if only to pad the pre credit billing on the DVD cover and boost rentals. Tom Noonan, who has a running theme in his career of playing exactly the type of beast she’s tracking here, switches it up to play her stern Police Captain boss. Michael Ironside briefly plays a belligerent small town sheriff who withholds information gleefully, Bill Moseley as a reformed sex offender who’s tagged as a suspect, Timothy Hutton her wheelchair bound scholar and consultant buddy, as well as Cary Elwes and Melissa Leo. None of these actors do much but show up for a minute or two to make their presence known, and recede into the frays of supporting plot, until it’s time for one of them to resurface as the killer in the third act, the end of a whodunit guessing game we’ve seen countless times over. It wouldn’t be such a tiresome thing if they left out the spooky-dooky stuff, but there you have it. The film’s otherwise fascinating, earnest docudrama style is somewhat ruined by the occasional presence of moaning, white eyed spectres of murdered children that leer out at Eliza like minimum wage kids doing weekend shifts in the haunted house at the local county fair. Shame. 

-Nate Hill

Robot Cops, Giant Bugs and Big Snakes in the Jungle: An Interview with Ed Neumeier by Kent Hill

 

 

I remember vividly the first time a saw RoboCop. Watching it with the cousins in my bedroom and my mother walking past, hearing a flurry of coarse language, then sticking her head through the door to see what we were viewing. My cousin Rick, was good at putting spin on such incidents, so that we might avoid reprisal and be allowed to keep the movie going. Needless to say, that first time, I was pretty much doing what Rick told my mother I was doing – I was waiting for RoboCop to show up and not listening to the foul language at all. Well, maybe just a little.

Then we have Starship Troopers for which I blew off a lecture at university to go see. The prospect of this large-scale, B-movie flavored extravaganza was too good to pass up. I walked out of the picture exhilarated and so glad I skipped an hour long spiel on The Trojan Women to partake in this, the third time a director named Paul Verhoeven had blown my joyous, cinema-obsessive brains out.

 

But there’s another character responsible for this pair of uber-cool films and that is their scribe, Ed Neumeier, who as a young man wanted nothing more than to make movies. He, at that time his his life, had had his own mind blown when he learned that in his home town of Marin County a man named George Lucas was making movies. “It is possible,” he said to himself and thus took off for California. Once there, after finishing college, spending time as reader for the studios and a short time as an executive, he had an idea for a story that would eventually become a cinema classic. He joined forces with another filmmaker by the name of Michael Miner and together they got down to writing RoboCop.

 

The film would go on to become a phenomenon, spawning two sequels, a remake, and TV series and even an animated series (and a it-looks-really-cool documentary, RoboDoc). The film gave Ed the start he was looking for and introduced him to the director (Verhoeven) with whom he would mount his next assault at cinematic glory. It would take place beyond the stars on planets menaced by giant insects in their hundreds and thousands. Based on the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name, Ed would bring his love of science fiction and personal blend of humor and action to Troopers, and, for the second time, he and Paul were on a winner which would have sequels, Troopers 3 which he himself would direct, as well as animated films, Traitor of Mars is set to be released, comics and games.

 

Yes folks, Ed Neumeier is indeed a world builder and he’s working in the movie business and living the dream. He is cooking up a new film, and we that have grown up watching and loving the movies he has thus far penned, (yes, I kinda like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid) look forward to see where this talented screenwriter is going to take us next. Whether it be alien bugs, cyborg cops or those oversized killer serpents you don’t want to have lunch with, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say, we’re in good hands.

Here he is folks, the man, the one and only . . . Ed Neumeier.