Posts Tagged ‘Theater’

Theater of Blood (1973)

October 31, 2017

104 minutes – Rated R for blood, gore, ironic murders, and violent creativity.

Working in theater is tough. I should know, I studied to be a Stage Manager for four years until I decided I did not really want to be in charge. Instead, I got a job for five years as an electrician, a carpenter, a lighting designer and a sound designer. I took pride in my work and everybody around me took pride in their work too. We lived and died by how good a show we could put on and how many people we could get to buy tickets. We wanted those people to leave at the end of the night and go tell their friends to go see the show too. Critics can be friends of that effort or they can be enemies. A lot of people, especially casual theatergoers, respect the opinions of critics and will abandon a show that is critically panned. That loses money for a theater and consequently makes an actor less likely to be hired. A bad review hurts everybody involved. So, there is palpable fear when the reviewer arrives at the theater and again when the review is published.

I seem to have settled into a pattern with some of my picks for Halloween. I tend to start to fill slots based on what I like and what I have done before. It does not always end up that way but so far there have been some constants. One of those constants is that the last two years I have reviewed a movie starring Vincent Price. This movie is this year’s offering. Vincent Price is a very unique actor. He comes from the age of film acting where a lot of the workhorses in the industry came from a theater or a live performance background. This trained most of those actors with excellent diction and high charisma. Theater also requires its actors to make everything they do larger than life so that the audience can see and hear their emotions. Therefore, theater actors making the transition to film must be coached to pull back and be more subtle. Therefore, directors rarely have to coax more out of them which feels like it would be much less work. All of this obviously helped give Price his trademark magnetically eerie voice which he could turn on and off like a simple light switch.

Vincent Price was not just a national treasure, he was also a global treasure. He had a beautiful voice that was unmatched by anyone I have yet to hear. I could listen to him read the phonebook if doing so did not send chills up my spine. Like Bela Lugosi, he was a master at making the most innocuous thing sound spooky. In this, we get Price as what he was, a brilliant but underrated actor. His musical voice echoes through most of the movie, either through dialogue or narration. Never have I seen Shakespeare used to kill people but it makes so much sense. He is joined on his journey for revenge by a motley crew who do not talk much but are comically insane. They are opposed by a group of critics played by actors who are very good at acting very posh and academic. Caught in the middle is Price’s character’s daughter who is played with absolute conviction by Diana Rigg. Additionally, there are also the police who join with a newspaperman played by Ian Hendry to try to solve the crimes.

This movie was so brilliant with its kills. Really, you need to have studied Shakespeare to some extent to truly understand each kill. I would compare the kills in this movie to another set of Vincent Price movies, the Abominable Dr. Phibes. His kills are also meant to be ironic and each one is also a literary reference. In that case, it was the Judeo-Christian bible but in this case, it is Shakespeare that guides the themes of each murder. However, this movie felt far less dreamy and while it was full of fantasy, it remained grounded and on point. On top of that, there were gallons of blood used in this movie. The deaths and the blood looked really good, especially for a seventies horror film. There are few fancy prosthetics. The effects seem to use a lot of great old theater tricks which makes them all the creepier. What is more, they take great care to add some comedy in with some of the deaths which makes the more grisly deaths all the more horrible.

Overall, I really loved this one. It was such a beautiful way to approach the end of this year’s Halloween celebration. Every year, I try to find a good Vincent Price horror/supernatural film to review because he was a legend. This year, I was also looking for movies to fit my chosen theme for Halloween. What luck that I found one that was not only focused on Shakespeare but also starred the brilliant Vincent Price. A little bit of trivia, this is also Vincent Price’s favorite movie that he ever starred in.

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Stage Fright (1987)

October 31, 2017

90 minutes – Unrated but definitely Rated R for violence, brief nudity, language, and attrocious theater acting.

Stage fright is actually probably my biggest reoccurring fear. Talking in front of people is intimidating for many reasons. The least of those reasons is actually a fear of judgment. I do fear what some others might think when my ideas and personality are coming out of me in real-time. Nobody wants to say the wrong thing to the wrong group of people and feel that negative energy in response. A bigger fear for me is that I might screw up an look foolish which is related to the first fear but a little bit different. Most people are actually forgiving when it comes to verbal flubs or forgotten memorization so it is a somewhat unreasonable fear but it is that fear that keeps our concentration on point. The real fear is of the spotlight. I really do not like it when too many people pay attention to me. As an introvert, that sort of things is draining like being the only one under the desert sun. In a way, I fear success. If I succeed, I will have to do it again. As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at speaking in public and shaking off the fear.

I remember being a theater kid as an isolating experience. Theater is a collaborative art form but you are only collaborative with the other people working on the show you are working on. You spend time together during rehearsals but each person is fulfilling their role so there is not much time for socializing. I started on the crew which feels even more isolating because I spent a lot of time watching the show from an enclosed booth alone or with another person. When I joined the stage management team, there was a lot of time spent alone before or after rehearsals getting the rest of the work done. Time spent sweeping or putting tape on the floor in a completely empty and eerie rehearsal space. More than anything, the theater experience separated me from the world around me. Even when I went out into the real world, it felt alien. Non-theater classes felt different and strange and it was nearly impossible to make friends outside of the make believe fantasy world of theater.

This movie is about a theater group that is trying to put on a production about a masked killer. Unfortunately, there is also a real masked killer walking around. The movie is very eighties with new wave beats and a sweet saxophone. The makeup and costumes are clearly very eighties as well. The show is also supposed to be ‘edgy’ and ‘avant-garde’ which is usually code for ‘too up its own butt’ or ‘just plain bad’ for me. That is fine, I get to sit through the movie and not the play they are making. The movie has great production values. Lighting stands out above everything as everything is lit so well. I’m not sure how intentional it is, but every shot looks very much like theater lighting. Everything is a little too crisp, a little too bright which actually works for this movie especially since most of it takes place in a theater anyway. A new wave/synth soundtrack is very much in line with a lot of horror movies of its day. I also really liked the special effects of the inevitable violence.  They are spot on and beautifully done. Each death is theatrical without being too over the top.

In this movie, we meet probably the world’s cattiest theater group. I have worked with several theater groups and most of them are fairly chill even during crunch time. These people are constantly sniping at each other. In my experience, you were unlucky to get one of these people on your cast but this show has pretty much an entire cast full of unreasonable people. None of them stand out but that is only because none of them are famous and they are equally good at setting up a playground for the killer to play in. The killer is largely silent but he is using the old faithful tool of the slasher film: a mask. Like most, the mask seems silly at first but the killer really makes it work for him. Once the action starts, the cast’s collective IQ drops and death is imminent. While I wish death on nobody, these Halloween months have taught me that they can really try to make it easier to watch people get killed. Watching people lose their minds with fear is really fascinating, at least in this movie.

Overall, I liked this movie. While some parts dragged a bit, there was never a shortage of action. The movie follows two Italian traditions that I am barely familiar with. It is a combination of the Giallo and Italian Horror subgenres. However, it did not feel so simple as that. The movie starts as a slasher movie but the last third of the film becomes more slowly paced and is much more of a tense thriller. While the acting may not be top notch, its melodramatic air definitely makes for a good change of pace for a horror movie.

Top 11 Favorite Horror Villains

October 22, 2016

The following villains are my favorite horror villains mostly from film franchises. There are three that were also in books and one that was also in a play. These guys are my favorite villains and, on a sidenote, I wish there was more than one woman on the list. However, instead of talking about them generally, I wanted to talk about their motivations and how I identify with them somewhat. No matter what I say, I cannot condone or excuse anything these characters did. You should not respond to personal tragedy with violence or supernatural terror.


11 Jack Torrance

Jack is a great example of how the human mind can break if you apply enough of the right kind of pressure. He is arguably one of the most sympathetic characters on this list while still being incredibly sadistic and violent. He is a writer who just wanted to get some work done before his inner demons came out to play. It is hard to fight against that anger and resentment inside even if it is for the sake of people you love. When you lose yourself, anything can happen in the midst of that rage. Added to that, he was being egged on by a vortex of murderous ghosts. I definitely understand how powerful that anger is.


10 Hannibal Lecter

Lecter was a cannibal and a serial killer and you really can’t get past that. However, Dr. Lecter was also incredibly intelligent and had a personal code of honor he adhered to. More often than not, the people he killed or maimed were rude or jerks. They were assholes. Dr. Lecter had a clear picture in his head of what a good, useful person is. Personally, I can’t stand a bully. I would never kill or even physically harm anyone, though. I definitely have a lot of things that people can do that cause me to instantly lose respect for them. I wish a lot of the people who commit these things could disappear from my world but I would never actually act on that.


9 The Woman in Black

Regrettably, she is the only woman on this list and she might just have the saddest story of anybody here. She was not always a homicidal ghost. She was once a trying to get back to her baby when she drowned in the swampy land within a stone’s throw of her child. Now, anyone who sees her loses their child to the Grim Reaper’s bony hands usually by some impossible accident. It is horrible to feel cheated. That feeling gets even worse if being cheated hurts both you and your loved ones. You just want to burn the world down for daring to be so unfair. It is hard to accept the bad places we are put in.


8 Jason

When you take away all of the dead teenagers, Jason is hard not to feel sympathy for. He feels slighted for dying while those who were responsible for his safety neglected him. He wants revenge for this slight but cannot really go to a lawyer and file a wrongful death suit. Eventually, he just doesn’t want people in his territory and yet they keep invading his space over and over despite the danger. On top of all of that, they killed his mother. Sure she was murdering teenagers but you just don’t kill a guy’s mother. Really, he combines the motivations of Dr. Phibes and Jerry Dandridge strangely enough.


7 Pennywise

While Pennywise is probably the least scary clown in the history of horror clowns, I still like him. Pennywise is a great example of turning symbols of childhood into symbols of hate and fear. Pennywise just does not like kids. I often feel uncomfortable around children and sometimes I joke that I ‘hate’ children but they’re alright in small doses. Still, as uncomfortable as I can be around them, I really like some of the stuff that kids like. It is kind of a weird feeling sometimes to like all ages material but not really get along with all ages. Of course, Pennywise hates adults too so maybe we are pretty much alike.


6 The Leprechaun

The Leprechaun is a happy little fellow who lived with anger issues in Ireland. The trouble starts and the whole franchise is pretty much put into motion by people taking his gold. Unfortunately, he does not call the authorities to track down his stolen property and instead decides to kill for it. Unfortunately, I understand that impulse. I am fiercely territorial when it comes to my property. I get really upset when people enter my bedroom without asking. I get antsy when people handle my phone or go near my car. So I understand that impulse to get people away from my stuff. I do not believe that violence is the answer, though.


5 Dr. Anton Phibes

Phibes was undoubtedly a very smart person who suffered a horrible tragedy. He loved his wife and only wanted to hurt the people who had hurt her. I can understand that instinct. I don’t like it when people hurt me but I really don’t like when people hurt the ones I love. It can be too easy to lash out to protect or avenge the people you love even if it won’t actually help you. I don’t actually take action against those perpetrators but I find it nearly impossible to forgive. It is really hard to let go of that anger because letting it go feels like somebody is getting away with something.


4 Jerry Dandridge

He is possibly the most Eighties-tastic horror villain in film history. Jerry Dandridge moves into a peaceful Iowan suburb. He’s got a great big house, great furnishings and his buddy Billy Cole who lives with him. The only problem is that Jerry is a vampire and Billy is a… something else. They are killing people but they are really discreet about it. As far as we knew, he did not want to rule the world or anything. They just wanted to be left alone to do their own thing. While Jerry was indeed evil, I can definitely identify with that hunger for privacy. Thankfully, I do not also share his hunger for blood. I think a lot of us just want to be left alone.  I also wish I was as smooth and confident as Jerry Dandridge and of course I am talking about Chris Sarandon.


3 Evil Ash

In the entirety of the Evil Dead franchise, it is hard to pinpoint many actual villains with names and faces but the biggest one is Evil Ash. Evil Ash, for lack of a better name, is born two different times during the franchise when Deadite magic gets into Ash’s body. He literally splits from Ash’s body like an amoeba and looks and sounds just like him. He is a fairly intelligent deadite (undead) creature. Really, when he is born, he is stuck on the side of the Evil Dead. As with all deadites (except Sam), Evil Ash is immediately drafted into the dark side and is tasked with fighting for the Deadite army. Throughout his appearances, he is only playing the cards he is dealt. To a certain extent, it is hard to blame him for being evil since that is the way he was made. He has all of Ash’s positive and negative qualities, he just ends up on the wrong side of the fight.


2 Chucky aka Charles Lee Ray

Sometimes, I think that Charles Lee Ray is my spirit animal. By that, I don’t mean that I am confessing to being a killer doll who dabbles in voodoo and wisecracks. Well, I do like a good wisecrack. What I mean is that I think Chucky and I might share a similar trait in our brain chemistry. I was born with Attention Deficit Disorder and I think Chucky has it too. He has a lot of the symptoms, at least. During the Child’s Play films Chucky usually has one goal and that is to transfer his soul into a human body. Sure, he makes a lot of assumptions about how or why he can do that but it is still his stated goal. However, he is constantly diverting from his task to kill somebody else. Hell, in Child’s Play 2 he takes the time to murder a non-sentient doll and then buries it. He has a deadline but he just loves killing too much to get it done.


1 Freddy Krueger

Imagination is why I love and identify with Freddy Krueger. He puts so much thought and work into each and everything he does. It is not just the killing either. His taunting is so well laid out that it’s a good thing the dead don’t sleep or else he would never get it all done. He tailors each death individually like some weird boutique/concierge murderer. Usually, his only audience for these morbid art projects are the victims themselves who are going to be dead in a minute anyway. That shows dedication. He must have files on everyone in Springwood because he almost automatically knows how to kill just about anybody he meets in the most poetic way.

The Woman in Black (2012)

October 21, 2014


I recently watched The Woman in Black.  I actually started my usual method of riffing comments as they pop into my head but that plan died about three minutes in.  I’m not saying that this movie is unriffable but it just seemed wrong after a while.  This movie was too well done to really make fun of.  I was actually really looking forward to seeing this movie because way back in the day I actually designed lights, sound and helped build the set for a stage production of The Woman in Black.  (Most long time readers won’t remember this)

I realized that I never really talked about the rest of that experience.  Like any writer/artist I shudder when I look back at my old stuff and that was a full six years ago.  I was having a lot of fun playing with a new digital camera and I was genuinely impressed with what we were doing.  I continued to work on the show and it was an amazing production even if I was usually pretty frazzled back when I worked at Tri-State Actors Theater.

The show was very intense work and I fell into my usual ten to thirteen hour work days followed by sleeping late.   I built sets and hung and pointed lights in the late morning until the evenings.  The set was pretty much just a giant false proscenium with a black scrim stretched across it.  The structure was mammoth and it took three people to rig it to the ceiling with the cable and fittings we had picked.   The lighting was dark and subtle and a great fit for a dark, gloomy horror story.  I was really proud of all of that work because I had never done any work in horror before.

These long days originally left me doing all of the sound work in the middle of the night in my tiny, cold room that I rented in the back of a framing shop.  In retrospect, I probably should have seen a lot of parallels between my late night, solitary work and the work Arthur Kipps was doing.  Eventually, doing this work at night started to take its toll.  Finding horrible recordings and building sound cues like “Horse and Child Drowning in Swamp” in the middle of the night started to make me a little crazy.  I had to switch to doing the sound work in the morning and do the lighting work late at night instead.  My psyche thanked me for it.  Eventually we built a rich soundscape and true horror includes plenty of sound cues.

So after all of that, how did the movie stack up?  I really liked it.  Daniel Radcliffe plays a complex version of Arthur Kipps and gets a lot of mileage with very little dialogue.  He has come leaps and bounds from his time in Dumbledore’s Army and has really grown up.   The rest of the cast is spot on with a special nod to Ciaran Hinds who gives an especially moving performance.  The voice overs for the title character were well done and held the right amount of grief to the point of insanity.

The story is a rough one to get through and I forgot how much it terrified me.  I would warn those who are parents that any version of this story is going to be especially rough on you.  The terror is mixed so much with tragedy, sympathy and deep, dark emotions related to being a parent.  Themes include untimely death, revenge, grief, guilt, isolation and depression which are all incredibly heavy.  The story is told in a straight forward manner in the movie with very little actual dialogue.  The stage version has a framing device which actually adds a terrifying little twist but the story can do without it.

A little ways into the film I thought there was going to be too many jump scares and not enough real horror.  Jump scares are nice for startling the audience and jangling their nerves but it is startling, not terrifying.  The jump scares in this film are far more psychological and logical and pretty much none of them are the standard “Cat Scare” which have become so overdone in horror.  The movie can actually be really relentless and my heart was pounding pretty hard in parts.  The filmmakers obviously took a lot of care to go for a more literary horror than we’ve seen in bad horror movies in the past.  Hooking us like fish, ratcheting up the tension and letting us go and then reeling us back into terror until finally we realize there’s no escape.

One of the things that I liked so much about the movie was the attention to detail.  The production design was very intricate and most of the effects seemed to be practical instead of digital.  I am not putting down CGI effects because a bad practical special effect can look just as hokey as a bad CGI one.  This movie blended everything together pretty seamlessly but, as I well know, it can be easier to cover up flaws in the dark.

I would freely recommend this movie to anyone and everyone who enjoys horror movies and does not have a heart condition.   I don’t know what I want to review next but it probably won’t be Victorian Horror.  Probably.

The Big Bang

June 28, 2009

I’m currently working on a show called “The Big Bang”, it’s a musical comedy that makes fun of history and musical theater. If you ever have the chance to catch a production of it, do so. Hopefully that production will make you laugh as much as the one I’m doing will. And if you live in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area then come see our production!

I stumbled across this guy who took guerilla-style footage of our theater while looking for other productions of The Big Bang. This is so cool.

The Proscenium Build

September 7, 2008

About a week ago myself and Paul Meacham started to build the single most impressive structure that I have ever built. For the upcoming The Woman in Black we had to build a proscenium arch because the play takes place in a theater. This proscenium arch is 16 feet tall and about 24 feet wide. The headpiece is 3 feet tall and rests on spindly 14 inch columns. When laid out on the floor on Day One it looked something like this:

Day One

Once we had the three pieces set up we set about decorating them. We used vacuform plastic for the columns and some of the more intricate detail work.

Columns Closeup

Column Head and Seal

Drama Masks

There was also some wood panelling done by cutting 1 X 3 in half

Panelling

After the talented Jackie Perry had had a go at painting the pieces then it was time to put them up. We were to hoist the headpiece by this:

Two Eyehooks

After a consultation with my rigging handbook and a loan of equipment and muscle from my friend John Anderson, we were able to lift the headpiece on top of the columns and cable them in place.

Finished Product (sort of)

Godzilla View

Next we have some fake curtains to put up and a scrim. Here’s what they look like when they’re not up.

Curtains

Scrim on the Floor

So there is still more to do but that will have to wait for a little more tailoring from Patricia Meacham and a little more painting from Jackie Perry. More to be posted later.


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