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Science+Fiction Festival Report: Christopher Lee on Modern Horror Movies

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Christopher Lee (click for larger image)In late November the 2009 Science+Fiction Festival was held in Trieste, Italy. This happening is an international science fiction event dedicated to exploring the worlds of fantasy, experimental languages, and new technologies in film production, television, and visual and performing arts.

Most of the movies and lectures were concentrated on science fiction and fantasy, but there was quite a good share of horror related happenings. While the majority of attendees were psyched that cyberpunk guru Bruce Sterling was presiding over the international jury, I was mainly interested in visits by two legendary horror icons — Roger Corman, who was just awarded with an “early” honorary Oscar, and Sir Christopher Lee, who had recently been knighted during the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

These two genre heavyweights were certainly the icing on the top of a well produced and run film festival for me, but unfortunately, due to business obligations I missed Corman, who gave an introduction to a couple of screenings of his cult movies The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, and Masque of the Red Death. Christopher Lee was the star of the final two days of the event, and it was certainly interesting to listen to his 90-minute masterclass as well as an honor to meet him afterward.

The masterclass was held inside a nearby museum building in a jam-packed auditorium. I was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Lee decided to attend the event as just a couple of weeks ago, shortly after the final shot of Hammer’s The Resident with Hilary Swank, he tripped and seriously injured his back. Lee is now in his late eighties, and he looked a bit shaken-up (who wouldn’t be?), but the man was still full of energy.

The topics discussed with the general audience were not something of grave importance to horror movie buffs as Lee talked about Lord of the Rings, meeting Tolkien way back in Oxford, his career that almost bypassed movies and went to opera, and more. Overall it was an incredible treat to listen as this living legend shared of himself.

Science+Fiction Festival Report: Christopher Lee on Modern Horror Movies

After his talk was over, a select few members of media had a chance to do one-on-one interviews with him. Mr Lee was a bit tired and slightly upset that said interviews weren’t brought to his attention earlier so I decided to ask him just one of the several questions I had planned.

My question was “What do you think about modern horror movies?” “I don’t watch them,” Lee paused for a bit and then carried on, “I have seen photographs of them, and I find them revolting. They make a fatal mistake – they show everything. They say that this is what the audience wants, which to me is incredible. It is what you don’t see, not what you do see, that is frightening. Everything is sex, blood, insides taken out, and blood, blood, blood … I am just not interested in that at all”.

During the interviews Mr. Lee was accompanied by Philip Bergson, a fairly pompous film critic from the United Kingdom, who almost shut me down when I started with my horror related questions. Apparently horror is not one of the topics Christopher Lee likes to discuss. Especially his portrayal of the Dracula character. During the masterclass, when the questions began to delve into this area, Bergson abruptly put a stop to things. He didn’t even refer to the Count character by his name; instead he was referred to as “that character based on Bram Stoker’s novel“.

When it was over, in the elevator I learned one of the questions a local journalist was planning to ask but didn’t get a chance to. It would have been a blast to see the reaction of Lee and Bergson. The question was as follows: “Mr. Lee, what do you think about the differences between Dracula and the Twilight vampire movies?

Oh, the horror…

BK

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Exclusive: Director Dennis Bartok and Lead Shauna MacDonald Talk Nails

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With writer and director Dennis Bartok’s feature film Nails having bowed Friday on VOD via Dark Sky Films, here’s a bit of our interview with the flick’s filmmaker, Cinelicious Pics Head of Distribution and General Manager of the American Cinematheque Bartok (he wears many hats), as well as the film’s star, Shauna MacDonald (of The Descent series).

Nails revolves around “…track star Dana Milgrom (MacDonald), who, having survived a near-death car accident, finds herself almost completely paralyzed and trapped inside her own body, and while recovering, she becomes convinced that some evil presence exists inside her hospital room and is intent on killing her,” and was executive produced by Joseph Kaufman (Assault on Precinct 13) and produced by Brendan McCarthy (Cherry Tree, The Hallow).

Bartok, who previously wrote and produced the 2006 feature anthology film Trapped Ashes, said of his approach to the narrative of Nails, “It’s very ‘anti-flight.’ Most horror movies are built around the idea that you are running away from something. The Halloween and Friday the 13th movies, there’s a mysterious creature that’s trying to track you down, or conversely you are walking into some horrible haunted house that nobody in their right mind would ever go into, for example, The Woman in Black, which is a really terrifying film. But from the very first moment Daniel Radcliffe’s character goes up to the front of that house, the audience says, ‘Turn around! Get the hell out of there! You are going to die!’ And of course he walks in. So I was really fascinated by a narrative in which the lead character was physically trapped in one space, and actually trapped in her own body. So I thought a lot about narratives like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Sea Inside and Hitchcock’s Rear Window, where the protagonist is physically handicapped and forced to confront that, so both as a writer and as a filmmaker and for Shauna it was a huge challenge, in that how do you make that (type of story) kinetic and compelling, and how do you build suspense when the lead character is trapped in the bed for eighty percent of the story?”

MacDonald said of the script’s appeal, which is a departure in ways from the action-packed The Descent films for which she’s most known, “Oddly, I don’t want to be labeled a horror girl, although the older I get, the cooler I think that sounds. Certainly in the UK they like to fit you in the box of low-budget horror films, and every year after The Descent (films) I get scripts to read, and some of them would say, ‘OK, the lead actress is tied to a stained mattress in her underwear,’ and I would be like, ‘Next!’ and for me, I knew it would be a massive acting challenge to play the lead (as it was written) in Nails, someone who is bed-ridden and paranoid and can’t speak. Her physical journey and her emotional journey is what attracted me to the role.”

“I think it’s important also that she has self-doubt,” MacDonald continues of her role, “and that she thinks she may be having a mental breakdown. No one else is seeing the things she is seeing or experiencing what she is experiencing, so I thought upon that a lot, and also I thought, as a mother of three girls myself, that the character’s connection with her daughter in the script was really heart-wrenching, and I love mother/daughter stories.”

Filmmaker Bartok added, “I thought very much about the bond between a mother and her daughter while writing it, and the sacrifice a parent would make in order to protect their child, and that was one of the main themes from the very beginning. When I set out to make the film I knew that there were two things that I needed to make it work. One was that I needed to make it scary, and to really unnerve people, and to build that suspense and a rising tension throughout, and the second thing was, that I’d really need someone amazing to play the character of Dana, because she’s in nearly every scene of the film, and we experience the story entirely through her perception. And if we hadn’t cast someone with Shauna’s acting gifts, the film would have fallen flat.”

In regards to casting the film’s antagonist, the gaunt, towering and ghostly figure of ‘Nails,’ Bartok states of actor British Richard Foster-King, of which he’d been introduced to via an audition tape for an entirely different movie, “Richard had done these beautiful movements (in that tape), as if he was swimming in the air and elongating his arms, and I think he had even crawled along the floor at one point. And as soon as I saw that tape, I said, ‘That’s it. That’s Eric Nillson. That’s Nails!’ And the producers, because they wanted to keep the budget as low as possible, had wanted to hire local actors out of Dublin, and I would look at those tapes, and they were OK, but I felt we really needed to get Richard. So bit by bit I kept saying, ‘No,’ to these other suggestions, and finally I was able to convince them to bring Richard in from London.”

As for the evolution of the character, which itself possesses some of the nuanced tragedy of Universal’s classic monsters, Bartok stated, “It was really fascinating because we had reached out to several gothic, surreal artists who had been recommended to me by various friends, and asked them to submit concept designs, and the one that we liked the best, and they were all actually excellent, was by a French photographic artist named Nihil, who takes photographs and then manipulates them digitally. So Nihil did an amazingly creepy concept, which provided the blueprint as to how we approached the character’s design. There were several steps in getting it onto the screen, though. Maybe seventy-five percent of it came from Richard’s physicality and his on screen presence, and the rest could only be achieved digitally, and we brought in an incredibly gifted visual effects artist named Eli Dorsey, who had worked on Ted Geoghegan’s film We Are Still Here. And Eli created the milky white eyes, and the dentures which kind of sit outside the palate, and the ghostly pallor. But primarily, I think its Richard’s performance which makes the character, an evil tormenting character who is also tormented, so very haunting.”

Nails also stars Ross Noble, Steve Wall, and Charlotte Bradley. You can watch the film on iTunes.

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Exclusive: studioADI and 20th Century Fox Unveil Stunning Alien 3 and Resurrection Art Collection

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Today, Yahoo! Movies have announced that studioADI, who we’ve seen this year in IT and will see next year in The Predator and in 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and 20th Century Fox Consumer Products have launched The studioADI Collection, a new initiative that will see the award-winning FX studio create art inspired by Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. The pieces that will come from this collection are not to be confused as collectible figures but should rather be seen as high-quality works of art as each one will be hand-crafted based on original molds and they will then be individually painted. Prices will range from $250 to $4,000 and they will go on sale beginning December 1st through Big Cartel.

StudioADI’s Alec Gillis states, “The studioADI collection is our tribute to the films that have been an important part of our legacy as artists. Each piece of art reflects the same detail and passion we poured into the characters when we created the original Alien films.

Tom Woodruff Jr. adds, “This is the collection designed for fans of these entries into the Alien franchise as well as aficionados of the art of creatures and monsters of iconic pedigree.

The studioADI Collection will include the following seven pieces:
Queen Alien Embryo from Alien³
Newborn Alien Design Maquette Bust from Alien: Resurrection
Newborn Alien Full Body Design Maquette from Alien: Resurrection
Swimming Alien Study Model from Alien: Resurrection
1:1 Alien Warrior Half Head from Alien: Resurrection
1:1 Newborn Alien Head from Alien: Resurrection
1:3 Scale Queen Alien Head from Alien: Resurrection

These are descriptions of two of these items:
“The Newborn” from Alien: Resurrection was the terrifying mix of human and Alien DNA gone wrong. This Full-Scale Bust is cast from hand-laid translucent polyester resin from ADI’s original production molds and is painted to the same exacting specifications by ADI’s painter who painted the character for the original film. The piece measures 30″x20″x40″

“The Queen Alien Embryo” was seen in David Fincher’s Alien³ was nestled next to the beating heart of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. Cast in translucent urethane and hand painted by the same ADI artists who created the piece for the film in 1991.
At 7″ x 9″ this piece of art is perfect for desktop display.

Here are images of some of these pieces:

We got our hands on three exclusive images from this collection that add a glorious vision of how detailed and intricate these pieces are going to get.

The first image is of the back of the 1:3 scale Queen Alien Head from Alien: Resurrection. You can see that every square inch of the design is tended to and that no stone is left unturned when it comes to the mold and paint.

The second image shows the Newborn Alien Full Body Design Maquette from Alien: Resurrection from a wide, almost full-front angle. You can really see the spindly, almost delicate structure to its body while also being intimately aware of the grotesque yet hypnotizing physique.

Lastly, the third image is a closeup of the Queen Alien Embryo from Alien³. Here you can see just how detailed the mold is, each wrinkle and crease in the Xenomorph’s body etched finely and with precision.

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Whatever Happened to Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving?

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Back in April of 2007, we all sat in our local darkened theater and watched as Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s exploitation double feature Grindhouse (review) blew the roof off the place for 3 hours straight.

Well, it’s ten years later, and I think we are all asking ourselves the same question: Where the hell is Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving?

Like every other human out there, I enjoyed both Tarantino and Rodriguez’s films – along with the fake trailers by Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright – but the big takeaway was Eli Roth’s faux trailer for the greatest 80’s slasher that never was.

So what happened to the feature?

Well, Roth was originally working on the feature back in 2007 after finishing his work helming Hostel: Part II, telling Cinema Blend:

“I’ve been working on the script with my co-writer, Jeff Rendell, who plays the pilgrim in the trailer,” Roth told the site. “And it’s me imitating Jeff’s voice [for the narration]. But Jeff has been working. I said that his deal is he has to work on the script while I’m promoting The Last Exorcism, and as soon as I’m done in mid-September he’s going to fly to California, we’re going to sit down, and bang out the script.”

But then the planned film died out as Grindhouse flopped at the box-office. Following the film’s underperformance, all talks surrounding Edgar Wright and Eli Roth’s Grindhouse double feature spin-off were silenced in a single weekend.

In fact, the last update we received on the possible standalone Thanksgiving film was last year when Roth did a Reddit AMA, and said this about the film’s current development:

“Have a draft not totally happy with. I want to put some more work into it so the film lives up to the trailer. We have the story and mythology cracked so now it’s about getting the kills right.”

Nice. Seemed like the film was making some headway. Nothing to do but gut the T’s and cut the heads off the I’s. But then nothing happened. At all. No updates. No nothing.

With that in mind, we here at Dread Central decided to reach out to Roth personally and see if there were any new happenings in regards to the film. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach him so I guess we’ll all just have to keep wondering and waiting.

Maybe it’s the pressure he no doubt feels making the much loved faux trailer into a feature. After all, he did say this back in 2007: “No matter how many movies I make my whole life, that two-and-a-half minute trailer is what I’ll be remembered for: ‘Eli Roth — he had a guy fucking a turkey with a decapitated head on it.’”

Or maybe the rights to the film were just tied up with the now infamous Weinstein company. But with that company finally going under (thank God) maybe now the rights could be sold off to new producers and finally, we’ll see not only Thanksgiving but features based on Don’t and possibly even Werewolf Women of the S.S.

But I dream…

Until we get the full-length feature flick of Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, we can always look back on the comments he made to Rolling Stone way back in April of 2007, in which he talked a bit about the Pilgrim’s backstory.

“My friend Jeff… we had the whole movie worked out,” Roth told the magazine. “A kid who’s in love with a turkey and then his father killed it and then he killed his family and went away to a mental institution and came back and took revenge on the town.”

Jesus, please us. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the f*cking perfect setup/backstory for an 80’s slasher throwback flick set on Thanksgiving.

So ten years later, let me be the one to come right out and say it: Please, Eli Roth, make Thanksgiving. Please. Every horror fan in the world would thank you. Forever.

Sigh…

We’ll make sure to update this article in another ten years.

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