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Lester, Mark L. (Firestarter, Class of 1984, and More)

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Mark L. Lester is a friend to horror and wild cinema in general. Though his name may not be instantly recognizable to some, a quick look at his credentials will rectify that!

He produced and contributed to the script for Tobe Hooper’s wonderfully weird The Funhouse. As a director, his savage and prophetic Class of 1984 still disturbs to this day, for an unnerving amount of reasons. His adaptation of Firestarter captured a freakish tornado of both unintentional and deliberate violence. And the battering ram impact of Commando, his most successful feature, remains respected worldwide.

Recognize him now? And do you want a chance to win an autographed DVD of Class of 1984 or Commando (see details below)?

Mark L. Lester Talks Firestarter, Class of 1984 and Lots More!

Indeed, Firestarter and Commando are lined up for remakin’. Surprise, surprise. While the two 80’s staples are being put back through the machine, Lester is staying busy ushering new films onto screens via his distribution company American World Pictures.

We caught up with Mr. Lester to chat about his past, present and future, which led to some fun trips down memory lane.

On Firestarter:

“Originally John Carpenter was gonna direct that,” Lester reveals. “There was a script that was written, I forget who wrote it. Then the budget was way out of line, like $15 million. And the script had no relationship to the book whatsoever. They didn’t want to shoot it for that amount of money so Dino de Laurentiis came to me and said, ‘I read the book. Can you make a treatment out of this?’ So I brought in Stanley Mann, who I knew, and when we wrote the treatment, we styled [it after] the book exactly scene for scene. We gave it Dino De Laurentiis, and he said, ‘Well this just follows the book exactly…’ Well, yeah, of course! You paid a million dollars for the book, I said, ‘Why aren’t you following the book? That’s why this thing can’t get made yet. We’ll just shoot the book.’ And he says, ‘Okaaaaay…’ So within three weeks the script was written, and we had a green light from Universal to make the film just off the script, which was identical to the book.”

Lester confirms that Firestarter has been his most difficult film to date. “That was all practical [effects]. The fireballs you see … that’s not CGI. Back then, we actually created fireballs that could fly through the air – they were on a wire and could crash into buildings. We had people on fire that were on trampolines that had to flip through the air. It was very dangerous. All the effects were done right on the set – it was a pretty intense thing to do then…” Lester also notes that the film’s epic “farm attack” scene took an entire week to film.

On Class of 1984:

Lester considers his favorite film he’s made to be a tie between 1982’s Class of 1984 and 1985’s Commando. Understandable, as Commando was his most successful feature and Class of 1984 was an original concept of Lester’s, based on visiting his old high school. “[It] had been taken over by a gang,” Lester shares of his return to his alma mater. “When I went to it, it was a peaceful, wonderful place. All of the sudden, it was a dangerous place. I thought, ‘Wow, this would make a really good film.’ I was a big fan of Blackboard Jungle and [John] Ford movies so that kind of inspired me to do a gang-run-amok-in-a-high-school [film].”

Lester acknowledges 84’s unfortunate historical significance. “There were beginnings of different violent incidences in schools so I researched all that. And actually, in the movie, when we have the checking for weapons at the school…that was like ‘Oh my God, that’ll never happen in schools.’ And now its commonplace in various schools.”

After what’s happened in recent years, Lester holds a different opinion of his film. “Now it’s tame – after Columbine, it’s tame. In the beginning of the movie, if you look at it, it opens with a card that says, ‘Last year, there were 280,000 incidents of violence by students against their teachers and classmates in our high schools Unfortunately, this film is partially based on true events.’ So there was a warning at the beginning of the film that was very prophetic because the warning didn’t even comprehend what actually would happen. It’s happened. And it looks pretty tame today because at the end of the movie the gang leader [is only] fighting with a knife … ”

On Commando:

“I met [producer] Joel Silver at a party at the Playboy Mansion; we were standing around in our pajamas. He said, ‘Oh, you gotta direct this picture – we have Schwarzenegger.’ That’s all I needed to hear because he had done Terminator – I thought he was amazing. I immediately signed on. There was a just a rudimentary script, then it was rewritten – and it’s become a classic. I couldn’t imagine at the time how big the movie would be.” As for the remake mentioned above, unfortunately Lester will not be involved. “In May I was flying back on a plane from Europe, and I met the head of Twentieth Century Fox. I’d been trying to get the remake rights for some time. I never thought of a remake – I was thinking of a sequel. I said, ‘I wanna buy the sequel rights – I’ll pay $2 million.’ He said, ‘Oh, why that film?’ I said because there’s websites dedicated to it, there’s a huge fanbase, people know every line in the movie…’ Three days later they announced a remake of the film.”

On his current projects:

As a devoted producer of such genre flicks as Pterodactyl, Wraiths of Roanoke and Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon, Lester continues to work in creature features. His recent producer credits include a new Beauty and the Beast, Sinbad and the Minotaur, and Jabberwocky ( “based on the Lewis Carroll poem” ). In the meantime, his American World Pictures will be distributing horror flicks such as Detention (available on DVD April 12th), The Frankenstein Syndrome, and Kill Katie Malone ( “about kids who buy a ghost on the Internet”).

Mark L. Lester Talks Firestarter, Class of 1984 and Lots More!

If that’s not enough to keep him busy, Lester is also taking a seat once again in the director’s chair for the sea monster movie Leviathan. He also recently directed Groupie, an intense-looking film about a cursed band starring Taryn Manning and the great Eric Roberts (available on DVD around March or April). “I’m gonna get back heavy into directing in the next couple years,” Lester confirms. Sounds good to us!

To enter to win a signed DVD, just send an e-mail here with YOUR NAME and FULL MAILING ADDRESS. Good luck, folks! Look for more from Lester soon!

Chris Haberman

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The Open House Review – Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

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Starring Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins

Written by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote

Directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote


Mere weeks, even days, after effusively beating Netflix’s original horror content drum (The Babysitter, Before I Wake, Creep 2), I’m here to confirm that The Open House is emptier than an vacant bomb shelter. Cold, unappealing and thoughtlessly plotted to the point where “generic” would have been an improvement. From the moment we’re welcomed into Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote’s scripted imprisonment, it’s nothing but loose floorboards and busted plumbing. The home invasion genre has rarely been navigated with such little attention to detail, asking for our suspension of coherent storytelling early, often, and without earning the right to be deemed mindless genre fun. Not even Ty Pennington could save this extreme renovation disaster.

Dylan Minnette plays Logan Wallace, a track star and student who must find closure after watching his father fall victim to a fatal car accident. It is his mother Naomi’s (Piercey Dalton) idea to spend a little time away from their suburban home – escape those painful memories – so they retreat to her sister’s luxurious mountain getaway. The catch? It’s in the process of being sold and open houses are on the regular, so Naomi and Logan must vacate their temporary premises on certain days. It’s after one of these very showings that Logan begins to notice slight changes around the house, and he fears that an unwanted visitor may be in their midst. Guess what? He’s right.

To understand how little The Open House cares about conscious blueprinting, just read the poster’s tagline. “You can’t lock out what’s already inside” – right, but you could have prevented them from coming in, or checked the house to make sure they weren’t squatting, or explored numerous other possibilities to avoid this scenario. The mansion’s realtor allows prospective buyers to come and go but it’s not her job to make sure no one’s hiding in the basement? Naomi can’t even keep track of the *single* visitor she lets look around the house? It’s infuriating to see so many people neglect safety out of forced coincidence because the script couldn’t rationalize the killer’s entry any other way – a confounding strike one.

This is also a film that admits no reasoning for why its own murderer has targeted the Wallaces, or why he stokes a violent fetish when it comes to open houses. We never actually see his face, just his imposing handyman-looking attire, nor do we savor any kind of tangible backstory (his family died during their own open house and he suffered a psychotic breakdown – just give me *something*). His undefined form never demands curiosity like John Carpenter’s “The Shape” once did, because scripting is nothing more than bullet notes for basic horror movie necessities. Here he is, your bad guy – too bad he’s introduced without fear, handled without originality and unable to characterize beyond torturous kidnapper dotted lines. He’s just, you know, a guy who sneaks into open houses and kills – COMPLETE WITH A FINAL PAN-IN ON AN OPEN HOUSE SIGN WHEN HE MOVES TO HIS NEXT TARGET [eye roll into infinity].

Every scene in The Open House feels like an afterthought. “Ah, we need a way to build tension – how about a senile local woman who lives down the street and wanders aimlessly into frame?” Overplayed and in no way suitable to most her inclusions, but sure. “Oh, and we need inner conflict – what about if the breaker-iner steals Logan’s phone and frames him for later acts?” I mean, didn’t Logan canonically lose his phone even before Naomi’s mid-shower water heater issues – but sure, instant fake tension. “How are people going to believe the killer is always around and never blows his cover – think they’ll just buy it?” No, we don’t. Worse off, his cat-and-mouse game is dully repetitive until a finale that skyrockets intensity with jarring tonal imbalance. This closing, dreadful end without any sort of redemptive quality. More abusive than it is fulfilling.

If there’s anything positive worth conveying, it’s that Minnette does a fine job shuffling around as a character with severe sight impairment. The killer makes a point to remove his contacts as a final “FUCK YOU,” just to toy around a bit more, and Minnette frantically slips or stumbles with nothing more than foggy vision. Otherwise, dialogue finds itself ripped form a billion other straight-to-TV Logo dramas about broken families, no moment ever utilizing horror past a few shadowy forms standing in doorways after oblivious characters turn away. You can’t just take an overused subgenre and sleepwalk through homogenized beats…case and god-forsaken point.

Even as a streamable Netflix watch, The Open House is irredeemable beyond fault. The walls are caving in on this dilapidated excuse for home invasion horror, benefiting not from the star power of a temperamental Dylan Minnette. I have seen most involved players here in far better projects (Minnette’s stock has rightfully been skyrocketing, Matt Angel in The Funhouse Massacre, etc), but this is bargain bin theatrics without a fully formed idea. A nameless villain, doomed nice guy (Sharif Atkins), woefully unaware plot advancement – all the worst cliches found in one rage-quit worthy effort. Anyone who makes it through deserves an award…or a dunce cap.

  • The Open House
1.0

Summary

Unless you’re irrationally afraid of cold showers, The Open House fails to deliver on a premise that can be summed up by no more than two lines of text.

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Michael C. Hall Buried in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary

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Now here’s an audio book we can REALLY get behind! Entertainment Weekly is reporting that former “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall will be narrating the first ever unabridged recording of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Sometime’s audio is better!

Readers have been asking for this audiobook for a very long time,” Stephen King said in a statement. “I know the listening experience will be worth the wait with Michael as narrator.

We’re thrilled to finally bring Pet Sematary to King’s audiobook fans,” Simon & Schuster Audio president and publisher Chris Lynch added. “Michael C. Hall is a perfect match for this timeless story, which has long deserved an unabridged production.

The unabridged audiobook of Pet Sematary will be released by Simon & Schuster Audio on March 27. Speaking of Hall… you know he would make a pretty friggin’ good casting choice to play Victor Pascow in the upcoming Pet Sematary remake. Just sayin’.

BUY IT NOW!

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Saw-inspired Game Play With Me Sets a Trap on Steam

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Saw fans have a lot to be happy about right now. In addition to Jigsaw being teased for Dead by Daylight, a new Saw-themed game called Play With Me has launched on Steam, and although it’s not officially connected with the franchise in any way, developer Airem promised that they created a videogame which looks and plays as though it were made by Jigsaw himself. As you can tell from the trailer and screenshots, the production values and overall quality of Play With Me appear to be considerably higher than most other indie horror games released on Steam, and you’ll probably be very happy to see that Airem took the time and effort to create stylized hand drawn environments rather than using purchased assets from the Unity Store.

The killer behind the sinister traps in Play With Me is known as the Illusion, with the player taking control of investigative journalist Robert Hawk as he tries to fight his way through a series of sick and twisted obstacles created by the lunatic. The voice acting in the trailer was a little cheesy, although we see at 1:09 that the player will be tasked with using a kitchen knife to cut open a dead body (presumably to retrieve an item hidden in the cadaver’s stomach), which is not an image you’ll be forgetting anytime soon.

IQ Publishing are offering a 15% discount off Play With Me for those who purchase the game before January 24, so Saw fans might want to mark that deadline in their calendars and purchase it from Steam before the time is up. After all, it can’t be worse than Konami’s awful official Saw videogames.

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