This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Interview with Deborah Voorhees

This past week, my sister had another baby & I had the pleasure of chatting with the delightful Deborah Voorhees again.

Deborah Voorhees is best known among horror fans for her role in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (where she was credited as “Debi Sue Voorhees”) and coincidentally sharing the same surname as the film series’ murderous central character Jason.

But Deborah is also an accomplished writer, editor, and director. Her company Voorhees Films has produced numerous music videos and films, including the award-winning comedy Billy Shakespeare, which focuses on what may have happened if the famous playwright had been writing in modern times.

I previously had the pleasure of chatting with her for in 2014. While that publication is now defunct, the interview itself can be viewed on my blog.

In my second interview with Deborah, she discusses her new film The List, which horror fans can have a chance to participate in.

Tell us about your upcoming movie The List.

It’s about a serial killing socialite who creates a list of those who have wronged her and offs them one by one. It’s a horror-comedy, a blend of Psycho’s mystery and Dark Shadows and the comedy from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and John Waters’ Serial Mom and even some Young Frankenstein.

The List spawned from a 40-minute dark comedy called Catching Up. It’s about a widowed socialite who’s supposed to be helping an ex-con reintegrate into society, but her dark obsession with murder gets in the way of helping him.

I went black and white on the piece because black and white symbolizes fantasy, and Sally’s and Fred’s dark dialogue is so fantastical. When I first made it, I saw it as an experimental piece because it is a stage play put to film. It has the pacing of a theatrical play. Honestly, I had no idea I made something that horror fans would respond to, but I turned out to be so wrong. The reviews have been great. Apparently, I really didn’t know what I made. The fans have really responded to the dark dialogue. I decided to create The List literally while standing in the middle of the Texas Frightmare horror convention. So many fans told me how much they loved it that I knew I finally had the film I wanted to make for my horror fans. I decided to take the socialite to a whole new level, take her obsession to a full-fledged serial killer. A serial-killing socialite is just funny from the get go. Molly Wickwire-Sante played Sally so amazingly well that I am keeping her as my female lead in The List. She has this brilliant ability to change on a dime, go from charming to nuts in a millisecond.

I understand that fans can get a chance to take part in the film.

This is what I’m most excited about. This is actually a film that I’m doing specifically for my horror fans and horror fans in general. Without them, I wouldn’t make a scary movie. As you know, I am a huge chicken, so while I have seen some horror films, they are not on the top of my list to see. So without my fans encouraging me and sharing their love of the genre I probably never would have made a horror film. So I really owe this film to the fans. This is why I want them involved in all aspects from beginning to end. We are having several contests. One is a Best Kill contest. These ideas have to be comical and something unexpected with a twist. I will have a first, second, and third prize for the best kills. If I use someone’s kill idea, he or she will be credited in the film. We will have a Best Comedic Victim contest and a Meme Contest where fans can write a caption for a picture I will supply them with.

Our biggest competition is a chance to be murdered in The List. The outpouring of support has been amazing. I had no idea so many people wanted to die (laughs). This is our final competition, and for this, we will have a drawing. The winner will be flown out, put up in a hotel, and become a part of the cast for a day and be included in the film’s credits. To participate, people will need to be in the U.S., be at least 18 years old, and have the physical ability to work on the set for a long grueling day. [Ed.: Details can be found on the Voorhees Films website and on Facebook.]

One film you’ve directed that I enjoyed was Billy Shakespeare, which talks about the famous bard in modern times. Were you pleased with how it turned out?

This is another film where I didn’t know what I created. Someone told me that the film was a great romantic comedy, but I didn’t think of it as a romantic comedy. I thought I wrote a loving satire on Hollywood, but after being told it was a romantic comedy multiple times, I finally had to believe the fans.

There are pluses and minuses. Overall, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed making it. What was difficult was the amount of Shakespearean dialogue I used. Some couldn’t understand it. I’m glad I did it when and how I did it, but if I did it today, I would do it differently. I would probably work more on the plot rather than the jokes. The film has a lot of inside jokes. Probably a very small percentage of the population would’ve gotten all the jokes. You really can’t make a film that requires someone to be a professor of Shakespeare (laughs) to fully understand it. Overall, it was something I wanted to do and I love. Creating the film was my film school, and I loved every minute of making it. I couldn’t have made it with a more supportive and amazing cast and crew.

In addition, you’ve made a short film based on Othello as well as a music video based on Hamlet. Do you plan to bring any other of his plays to the screen?

It’s very possible. I love Shakespeare, and I love Devon Glover. We’ve done 3 music videos together. We’ll have to see. We showed the Hamlet piece at a film festival in England, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare Film Festival. Hip Hop Hamlet and Othello also showed in Denmark at the Elsinore Shakespeare Conference celebrating the 400th year since Shakespeare’s death. I’m also looking at a modern interpretation of Othello as a thriller.

You’re obviously beloved for your onscreen work in films such as Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. With all the directing you now do, do you ever consider acting again?

I won’t say no, but I like being behind the camera best. But for some reason, I think it’d be cool to play a very old woman one of these days. Maybe I will play something really scary as an old woman. In Billy Shakespeare, I played one of the witches, and that was a blast.

Are there any other types of films you plan to make?

I have a sci-fi film I’m working on right now. I also have two romantic comedies I’ve written and I have a ghost story I’m working on, as well as another horror spoof. I like the ghost and horror comedy genres a lot. I’ve always loved dark comedies. I also have a western in the pipeline and a thriller.

Are there any directors that inspire you?

Edgar Wright! Absolutely. John Waters. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is a mad genius piece. There’s not a cut that’s not just complete and utter perfection. I like Wes Anderson’s quirkiness a lot. Some of Tarantino’s stuff is too bloody for me, but I appreciate the dark humor in Pulp Fiction.

You obviously love Shakespeare, but what other authors inspire you?

Edgar Wright, who did Shaun of the Dead, and David Mamet. His play Oleanna is about a woman who accuses her professor of sexually harassing her. The most fascinating aspect is that everything she says is correct, but he didn’t sexually harass her. It’s a very intricate play. I saw it performed in Dallas when I worked with the Dallas Morning News. The interesting aspect to that play is that his guilt or innocence hangs on the actors’ performances. I love Hitchcock, the mystery and twists that go with Psycho and The Birds. I love romantic comedies, such as Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally… and Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Voorhees Films has worked with rock and folk bands. Are there any specific groups that you’d like to work with?

There are so many bands I would love to work with. Songs with stories. I love working with a band called Gleewood.

Deborah, you’ve had such great experiences as an actress, writer, and director. Do you have any advice for anyone who wishes to become as diverse as you?

I live by Picasso’s saying… this isn’t verbatim but basically he says, I spend my days doing that which I cannot do, so that I may learn how to do it. This is how I live my life. Everyday I do things that I have no idea how to do, so I can learn how. In filmmaking, there are so many roles that anyone serious about creating films must do the same. Learn, learn, learn. This doesn’t mean you have to go to college for filmmaking. Sure, college is a wonderful experience, but it is so expensive today. Is it worth it? If you have the drive and ability to learn on your own, do it. You can learn anything you want online and in numerous workshops from pros. Do the work. Write, shoot, learn how to shape your light. Do a music video. Get the camera out and work it and see what works and what doesn’t. There are so many artists who are teaching master classes. Masters like Steve Martin and Aaron Sorkin have online classes.

The next advice is don’t wait for someone to give you permission to do your work. If you want to make a film, make a film. Make your mistakes, fall on your face. If you make something bad, that’s okay. You will learn and do better next time. If failure keeps you from trying again that’s okay, too. You’ve just learned filmmaking isn’t for you, but at least you tried. For those who push past their failures, awesome. Push on. Make your own way. When you do the work, and only when you do the work, do you give anyone a chance to notice you. And just maybe by the time you get noticed, you might not need anyone to greenlight a picture for you, because you will be able to do it yourself.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Agony Booth review: Stephen King's It (1990)

This is a review of a miniseries that first aired on ABC.
With a new cinematic version of Stephen King’s 1986 novel It due to hit theaters in September, I thought I’d take a look at the previous adaptation of that classic novel: a miniseries which aired on ABC in the fall of 1990.

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, who had previously directed the underappreciated Halloween III: Season of the Witch, this story begins with Maine librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid) realizing that he must summon his six childhood friends back to their hometown of Derry when he discovers that recent murders of children are linked to a malevolent force which takes on the guise of a clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry). Mike and his friends thought they destroyed the entity thirty years earlier, and made a pact to return if Pennywise ever re-emerged.

Mike first calls Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas), who’s now a best-selling horror novelist living in England with his actress wife Audra (Olivia Hussey). Mike’s phone call prompts Bill to remember when his younger self (Jonathan Brandis) gave his kid brother Georgie (Tony Dakota) a paper boat. George went out to play with it in the rain, only to be murdered by Pennywise when the clown tore his arm off, killing him. Ben’s recollection makes him quickly hop on the next plane to the States, to Audra’s confusion and dismay.

The next call is to Ben Hanscom (John Ritter), who’s a successful architect living in New York. Mike’s call quickly ends his romantic evening as Ben soon goes to the top of a building under construction, booze in hand, and reminisces about his younger self (Brandon Crane), who was harassed because of his weight by town bully Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard). On his way home, having become smitten with new classmate Beverly Marsh (Emily Perkins), young Ben runs into Henry and his gang. They chase him down to a forested area known as the Barrens, where Ben eludes them, but not before Henry picks on Bill and Eddie Kaspbrak (Adam Faraizl). After the bullies leave, Ben befriends Bill and Eddie, and they agree to hang out together again. But as Ben returns home, he hears and sees his deceased father, inviting him to live with him in the sewers. Ben’s old man soon turns into Pennywise and this recollection prompts the adult Ben to tremble.

The third call is to the adult Beverly (Annette O’Toole), who’s a Chicago fashion designer. She receives Mike’s call after she and her abusive boyfriend Tom Rogan (Ryan Michael) are celebrating after making a successful deal for their business. When Tom strikes her for wanting to fulfill her promise to her friends, Beverly promptly kicks his ass and storms out. During her cab ride to the airport, Beverly reminisces about receiving an anonymous love note. Said note is from Ben, who watches from a distance as Beverly storms out of her house when her abusive father finds the note. Ben invites her to the Barrens where she meets Bill and Eddie. They are soon joined by preppy Stan Uris (Ben Heller) and comedic Richie Tozier (Seth Green, yes, that Seth Green). The six spend the afternoon building a damn which Ben has designed. On their way home, Ben notices the eyes Beverly and Bill are making at each other. That night, Beverly is washing up when she hears a voice in the bathroom sink. A balloon emerges from the sink and pops, splashing blood over her. She frantically informs her dad, but he apparently sees nothing amiss when he investigates. Beverly then assuages his doubts by saying that a spider came out of the sink. As her dad leaves, Beverly cowers in fear (both in the bathroom and in the cab) as Pennywise’s voice tells her she’ll die if she tries to stop him.

We next cut to Los Angeles, where adult Richie (Harry Anderson) is a successful comedian. Though he’s not laughing when Mike’s call comes through, and is soon vomiting in his bathroom. Richie’s flashback begins with the six friends watching the classic I Was a Teenage Werewolf at the movie theater. Eddie accidentally kicks popcorn onto Henry and his gang seated below them. Our six heroes bolt, but not before Richie spices things up by pouring his Coke on them.

At school the next day, Richie and Stan take note of how distraught their friends have recently become. Richie and Henry get into a brief scuffle, which is stopped by the principal, who orders Richie to get a mop to clean the mess up. Upon reaching the maintenance closet, Richie sees a werewolf that turns into a tormenting Pennywise. Racing back upstairs, Richie’s claims are (predictably) met with laughter.

The adult Eddie (Dennis Christopher), who runs a successful limousine business in New York, confesses to his overbearing mother that he must return to Derry. Despite her protests, Eddie promptly heads for the train station. En route, he reminisces about the time when his mom also told him to never take showers at the school gym so as not to get anyone else’s germs. But Eddie’s PE coach forces the issue, and we next see Eddie alone in the shower. The shower necks soon grow, pushing Eddie to the center of the shower. His asthma acts up when he sees Pennywise’s hand in the floor drain. The clown soon makes enough room to pop out and torment Eddie.

We next see Mike alone in the library reminiscing about the day he met his six friends. After his interest in Derry’s history unnerves his teacher, Mike is accosted by Henry and his gang. They chase him to where the other six kids are hanging out. Henry calls the seven “the Losers’ Club” and tells them to get lost, but they tell him to piss off by throwing rocks at the bullies. Henry leaves, promising to kill them. Mike thanks his new friends, and they celebrate by having a 1960s-style selfie with Mike’s camera. The “Lucky Seven”, as they now call themselves, next go through Mike’s book, which is a collection of town images his dad collected. They soon see that Pennywise figures in a number of pics from nearly two centuries earlier. One such picture comes to life in front of them, with Pennywise leaping forward, saying he’s their worst nightmare.

Mike’s flashback ends when he sees footprints in the library, along with a balloon, which pops. He’s frightened upon hearing Pennywise laugh.

The adult Stan (Richard Masur) is a real estate broker in Atlanta, Georgia. He and his wife are cuddling with Perfect Strangers playing in the background when Mike calls. When Mike informs him that Pennywise is back, Stan is unable to tell Mike that he’ll fulfill his promise to return, and after the call ends, he calmly tells his wife that’s he’s going upstairs to take a bath.

As he gets ready to do so, Stan flashes back to when he and the other prepared to go into Derry’s sewers to vanquish Pennywise. After some of them attempt to perfect their skills with a slingshot, Beverly is picked to do the honors when she gets perfect hits each time. The skeptical Stan is still unconvinced that Pennywise can be killed, but Bill produces silver projectiles that he says will do the trick if they believe they will.

Henry and his gang clandestinely follow the seven and soon kidnap Stan. But before they do him in, Pennywise emerges as a bright light and kills Henry’s two cronies. This gives Stan a chance to escape before Henry himself is left in a terrified state, his hair now white.

Stan reunites with his friends and they form a circle in order to combat Pennywise. But the clown quickly appears and is about to kill Stan when Eddie fights him with what he claims is battery acid. This gives Beverly the chance she needs to fire one of her spheres, which takes off a piece of the clown’s head, showing light beneath. Pennywise then forces himself into the sewer drain below, and after a brief struggle, seems to perish. Upon exiting the sewer, the seven make their pact to return to Derry if Pennywise isn’t dead.

The next scene is of Stan’s wife coming up to the bathroom, only to find her husband has slit his wrists. As she cries out, we see that Stan’s blood has spilled the word “IT” on the bathroom wall.

Part two of this miniseries begins with the remaining six friends reuniting. Bill visits Georgie’s grave and reunites with Mike, before Pennywise appears to them in a deck of Bicycle playing cards. Richie is tormented by It in the library, as is Ben when he returns to the spot near the sewers where he first saw It, and also Beverly when she visits her dad (whom It impersonates as a rotting corpse), and Eddie when he goes to the local general store.

Despite this terror, the six meet up for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and catch up, with Mike informing them that Henry was sent to an institution after he confessed to the killings 30 years earlier. Pennywise then prompts them to head to the library after their fortune cookies come apart in various sickening ways.

Once at the library, they learn that Stan is dead. When Mike opens his small fridge, balloons emerge before our heroes see what seems to be Stan’s head in the fridge. “Stan” greets them all before his voice becomes that of Pennywise, and a pouring rain comes down. The group form a circle to drive off It’s influence.

At the same time, Pennywise manages to get Henry out of his cell, but not before the clown renders Audra catatonic when she arrives in Derry to find her husband. Both go to the hotel that the six friends have regrouped at. Henry attacks Mike, while Pennywise distracts Ben in a scene reminiscent to one in The Shining by acting romantic with him using Beverly’s form (and I thought Frank-N-Furter making out with someone was nightmarish!). But the wounded Mike is saved by Ben and Eddie, with Henry killed in the brief struggle.

At the hospital, Ben and Beverly confess their love before they learn Mike will recover. In his hospital room, Mike tells Bill that he returned to the sewer a few years earlier and retrieved the silver spheres. But Mike’s five friends are still uncertain about combating Pennywise again, until Bill convinces them to do some soul searching.

While Richie remains reluctant, he joins the other four as they make their way down to It’s lair again. They discover Audra’s purse but press on, resisting the image of Georgie. Our heroes then find Pennywise’s hiding place, which is littered with many bodies hanging from the ceiling, including Audra. It then takes the form of a huge spider, which renders Bill, Ben, and Richie catatonic before Eddie works up the courage to distract it again. It then fatally wounds Eddie, giving Beverly a good shot, and freeing the other three. The wounded It scampers away, prompting all four to literally rip It to shreds before It can escape again.

With Pennywise finally vanquished, a recovered Mike notes that Richie has resumed his career, Ben and Beverly are married, and Bill is attempting to bring Audra back. Just as the couple is about to leave, Bill gets the idea to ride with Audra on his bicycle, Silver. The fast trip down Derry’s streets revives her, and the movie ends with them embracing, traffic be damned!

As is often the case, the book is better than the movie. However, this adaptation certainly does it justice. The moments with our heroes as children do a slightly better job at capturing the spirit of the book, but the adult actors are fine, as well. My only complaint is the spider Pennywise becomes at the climax, which is cheesy, to say the least.

But the scene-stealer is definitely Curry, whose Pennywise deservedly became a beloved horror icon. Interestingly enough, this aired at virtually the same time Rob Reiner’s great adaptation of King’s Misery hit cinemas.

While the climax could’ve used a little work, this is a nice, spooky film and more worthy of its title than Bram Stoker’s Dracula.