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Director Gary Sherman Walks Us Along The Death Line

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If you know the name Gary Sherman, then you’re definitely familiar with the man’s work over the years in the horror genre, especially with titles such as Dead & Buried and Poltergeist III under his worklist, but think way back to 1972 – anything ringing a bell? How about that well-known British shocker known as Death Line (Raw Meat for us here in the States).

If you aren’t up to speed on this one – first of all, shame on you, and secondly, get ready to have your mind blown when the cannibalistic chiller gets the Blu-ray restoration treatment and becomes available for fans from Blue Underground on June 27th. Jammed with bonus features aplenty, this release promises to get the horror fanbase all lathered up in a bloody mess!

Mr. Sherman was gracious enough to spend a few minutes discussing the film and what he’s got coming up next, so settle in, read on and enjoy!

DC: How did you feel when you were approached with the news that your film would be restored after all this time?

GS: Well, it wasn’t like I was approached – I actually had a lot to do with it. We’ve been following getting back the rights to Death Line from day one, and the moment that MGM’s contract lapsed Jay Canter and I jumped in there to see exactly what the rights were going to be, and we then got together with Alexander Byrne – the grandson of the person who originally put up the money for the picture 45 years ago, and I knew that Bill Lustig was interested, so I called him to see if he’d like it, and his response was “like it? I’d love it!” He asked me where the original negative was because he wanted to scan the original, and I was into it, so I contacted William Fowler at the BFI, who is the head curator at the archives, and he was really excited telling me “Death Line is one of my favorite pictures!” So he started looking, and it was like a Dick Tracy detective novel – along the way we actually located the actual camera negative, which was in a vault at ITV, so we found all the original sound elements. The negative ended up going to Deluxe in London, and we tried a 4K scan, and it looked awful because the original was shot in 52/47, which is a very grainy stock as compared to today’s stock. So when you do a 4K scan of something like that, it was interpolating grain structure and it looked awful, so we went with a 2K scan and it was perfect – exactly like the original print. I own the original technicolor answer print, which the color is as perfect today as is it was 45 years ago, so we matched the two prints together, and in a couple of cases actually improved upon it. We basically created a DCP that rivals when this film actually premiered in London in 1972. When Bill and I sat down and watched the DCP I was blown away, and felt like I was transported back 45 years ago. We then remixed the sound, and we stayed away from stereo because it wasn’t made in stereo, and it shouldn’t be that way now, so we created a monaural mix that’s exactly the same, if not a little bit better than the original.

DC: Was this a brand new commentary that was recorded for the special features?

GS: Yes – I got together with my first assistant director (Lewis More O’Ferrall), and he was in London and I in Los Angeles with Paul Mazlansky in screening rooms that were hooked up together, and the three of us just had this wonderful conversation while the film was running, and it’s a really fun commentary.

DC: Take us back to 1972 – what inspired you to come up with the story of Death Line?

GS: My brain (laughs) – I had moved to London in 1968 following the convention in Chicago – I had to get out of here, as I was not going to live here with Richard Nixon as President, and my mother was British so it was an easy choice for me to go to England and get a green card. So I went there to do commercials and had quite a successful commercial career going for myself, and everyone was telling me to do a feature – then they were saying to write a script, and I knew John Daly at Hemdale and a few other people, and my producer who worked with me on commercials at the time was the same age as me, and his name was Johnathan Demme (laughs), and it was way before he ever thought about directing, and he sold me. Someone finally said to me “write a horror film” – and I’m a dyed in the wool researcher – I love to research stuff, and when I first researched The Tube in London I found out that it started off as a competition, and lots of people got killed – there really were cave-ins where they couldn’t get the bodies out, and this was all in my brain. I then read a story about Sawney Bean, who was a Scottish highwayman who became so notorious that the price on his head got so high that he couldn’t afford to be seen again, so in order to survive they began to start eating their victims. I found that to be interesting, so I decided to combine the stories and throw a little Donner pass in there and came up with the idea for the story. So when I was filming a Proctor & Gamble commercial, I wrote the script and gave it to Johnathan, and he really liked it. Johnathan then gave it to Paul Mazlansky, and it got passed to a few other people, and the decision was made to make the script.

DC: What was it like to work with names such as Donald Pleasence and Christopher Lee?

GS: It was scary (laughs) – I was this young twenty-something, who outside of my documentaries and music films had never done anything over sixty seconds, and here I am with Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, Christopher Lee, Clive Swift and all these amazing British actors, and it was nerve-wracking. When Ceri Jones and I wrote the script, we originally did it with Donald in mind, and at that time, he was the actor’s actor. He’d never done any kind of low-budget or horror film, and at the time he was doing “Man In The Glass Booth” on Broadway, and people had told me that he really wanted to do a comedy, and we had said that while Death Line wasn’t a comedy, the inspector Calhoun character definitely was comedic, and we’d had the idea with contrasting the idea of the comedy up above with the seriousness down below. So, he read the script and said that he’d always wanted to make a movie like this, and once we had Donald everyone else called us. Christopher Lee did it based on the promise that he wouldn’t have to wear fangs, and that he would have a one-on-one scene with Donald. Paul told Christopher that our whole budget is less than you make for a whole picture, and he told Paul that he was doing it for scale and to get to work with Donald. Norman Rossington’s agent then called and said that he wanted to play in the film with Donald as well, and it was the same with everyone else. Clive Swift had just done Frenzy with Alfred Hitchcock, and the entire process was unbelievable. Donald tested me the first day, and once I passed his test, then we all felt better.

DC: You’ve split a lot of time between film and TV, with horror as your main focal point – where do you see the direction of the genre heading, what do you see as the biggest thing it’s lacking at this stage?

GS: No, I think it’s better than it’s ever been – for one of the reasons why I left horror when I did was because as Rodney Dangerfield said, “It got no respect!” (laughs) I made Death Line, which is sort of heralded as a classic, then AIP (American International Pictures) took it and turned it into shit. They did an advertising campaign that had absolutely nothing to do with the movie, and renamed it Raw Meat, then cut the shit out of it. I said that if this is what they’re going to do to my films, then I don’t want to make movies.

DC: What was your initial reaction when you’d found out that the title had been changed?

GS: I hated it, and fortunately Robin Wood wrote an article that he called “Butchered” which was regarding the whole name change, and he said not to go see this movie – wait until you can actually see the original. Unfortunately it took close to 45 years before the American audience could see it – in Europe, the film’s been playing for years, and up until 2003 people could only get pirated copies of VHS, then with the inclusion of the internet it could be watched online, but they were shitty prints, but people were watching it. In 2003 MGM got the rights because they inherited the AIP library, and released a DVD, which was awful. It looked like a third-generation interpositive that they made a scan from, muddy as hell. Samuel Z. Arkoff, the head of AIP pictures, was in London and wanted me to come in for a meeting, and I absolutely hated it -hated the meeting, hated him, and they wanted me to come to L.A. to do more pictures for them and I told them “no thank you.”

DC: Lastly, what can fans look forward to seeing from you down the road – working on anything currently?

GS: Suddenly, with the re-emergence of Death Line, Blue Underground is starting to put together a restoration of Dead & Buried, because the last Blu-ray we did was from a scan about 10 years ago that was an internegative , and hopefully it will be done with Vice Squad. With all of that going on, there are some people who are talking to me about wanting me to make a comeback into the horror genre, and due to guys like Johnathan Blum, there’s a whole new respect for the horror genre that didn’t exist before, and I’m ready and willing to jump back into it. In the meantime I’ve been doing documentaries for the last 10 years, doing “The First 48: Missing Persons” on A&E – that lasted for 3 and a half years. I’m also involved in the filming of a documentary about the rehabilitation project that’s happening at Cook County Jail, where inmates are being taught the culinary arts – it’s called Recipe for Change and it’s to watch guys change…it’s incredible. We’re aiming at either a feature-length documentary or the possibility of it going to series on PBS. There’s also something that I can’t talk about yet (laughs), but there may be an announcement soon, and it has to do with television.

A special screening of Death Line will be happening on June 20th in NYC.

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Award-Winning The Child Remains Playing Tomorrow at the Blood in the Snow Festival

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The award-winning supernatural thriller The Child Remains, which has been on the festival circuit, is returning to Canada to play tomorrow night at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival in Toronto. Tickets for the screening, which is at 9:30pm, can be found at the festival’s website.

The film has won awards in festivals across Canada as well as Best Foreign Feature at the Unrestricted View Horror Film Festival in London, UK.

Described as The Shining meets Rosemary’s Baby meets The Orphanage, the film stars Suzanne Clément, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson, and Geza Kovacs. Directed and written by Michael Melski, who co-produced the film alongside Craig Cameron and David Miller, The Child Remains is aiming for a Canadian theatrical release in Spring 2018 and a US theatrical release in October 2018.

Synopsis:
An expectant couple’s intimate weekend turns to terror when they discover their secluded country inn is a haunted maternity home where unwanted infants and young mothers were murdered. Inspired by the true story of the infamous ‘Butterbox Babies’ and their macabre chapter in Canadian history, The Child Remains is a twisting supernatural thriller that emphasizes story and suspense over shock and gore.

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Tony Timpone’s Elegy – AFM: A November to Dismember

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It used to be that the toughest thing about visiting the global cinematic bazaar known as the American Film Market was squeezing in as many movies as humanly possible before your eyes exploded like Cameron Vale’s in Scanners. At this year’s 38th annual AFM, held November 1-8 in Santa Monica, CA, I watched 17 movies in five days. Don’t be too impressed. That’s a big drop from past years, where I’d see as many as two dozen films during that span.

This year marked my 21st AFM jaunt, and change has been in the air for some time at this industry confab. Two screening days have been shaved off the program, and theater screenings have lost the 5pm and 7pm slots. Much of the Z-grade schlock has been whittled away and there does seem to be a higher level of product on display. No longer does every other movie star Joe Estevez. Now it’s Nicolas Cage! Sales companies feverishly hawked Cage’s VOD-bound Primal, The Humanity Bureau and Looking Glass, in addition to a plethora of cute puppy and sappy Christmas cable-ready movies.

So where’s the horror, you ask? You can still discover it at AFM, but 2017 offered a disappointing allowance for the most part. To put it into perspective, the opening day of my first AFM in 1998 yielded John Carpenter’s Vampires and Spain’s Abre Los Ojos (remade as the mediocre Vanilla Sky in the US) back-to-back (not to mention The Big Lebowski from the Coen brothers). For 2017, I did not see one film as good as those (well, maybe one…). Not a total washout, mind you, as I’m sure you will add a few titles to your watch list after perusing my AFM 2017 screening report.


I Kill Giants:
A lonely teenage girl (Madison Wolfe) defends her coastal town from invading goliaths in this somber tale directed by Denmark’s Anders Walter and written by Joe Kelly from his graphic novel. Not exactly a feel-good movie, I Kill Giants deals with bullying, depression, isolation and terminal illness. It intersperses the somberness with some excellent FX scenes involving the giants, who emerge from the surf and dark woods to taunt our young heroine. Not only is I Kill Giants too downbeat for my tastes, last year’s underrated and underseen A Monster Calls covered many of the same emotional beats much more eloquently and movingly than here.

** 1/2



Errementari:
Spanish helmer Alex del la Iglesia (Day of the Beast, Witching & Bitching) produced this Terry Gilliam-esque dark fantasy, about a cursed medieval-age blacksmith and his battle of wills with a demon out to claim his soul.

Directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo, the movie is like a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. Its climactic trip to Hell stands out as a highlight, pitchforks and all, as do the superb practical makeup FX.

***


Bad Samaritan:
A parking valet (Robert Sheehan) at a ritzy restaurant borrows the patrons’ cars to rob their homes while they’re eating in this thriller directed by Dean (Godzilla) Devlin and written by Brandon (Apt Pupil) Boyce. As he rummages through the house of the arrogant Cale (former “Doctor Who” David Tennant, cast against type and looking like a less seedy Charlie Sheen), valet Sean discovers an imprisoned woman, the waiting victim of the rich serial killer. The cops don’t believe the robber, but the bad guy catches onto him and soon begins destroying Sean’s life and those around him. Though Bad Samaritan builds some good suspense and remains moderately gripping, Devlin (late of the embarrassing Geostorm, which Irishman Sheehan also appeared in) is no Hitchcock. And at 107 minutes, the movie overstays its welcome.

** 1/2


Anna and the Apocalypse:
Christmas, teenagers, music and zombies… Anna and the Apocalypse has it all. As the snow falls and Yuletide cheer builds, a living dead outbreak hits the quaint British town of Little Haven. Can teen Anna (Intruders’ Ella Hunt) and her friends make it to their high school auditorium for presumed safety? Well, they’ll try, singing and dancing (and bashing in undead heads) along the way. OK, so the movie’s cute and a raucous scene of zombie mayhem in a bowling alley scores a strike, but the problem with Anna is the songs just aren’t that memorable. Where’s Richard O’Brien when you need him?

** 1/2


Incident in a Ghost Land:
Writer/director Pascal Laugier took our breath away with his vicious Martyrs in 2008, but 2012’s underrated The Tall Man garnered little notice. Packing a ’70s horror vibe, his latest recaptures some of Martyrs’ uncomfortable female-inflicted brutality. Two young sisters and their mom head to a remote family house, which is soon invaded by two ruthless psychos. Though the story echoes Tourist Trap and High Tension, Laugier pulls the rug out from us at a key point and takes us down an even darker path. I wish the villains had a little more depth here, but In a Ghost Land has enough shock and thrills to satisfy fright fans.

***


Cold Skin

Cold Skin:
Laugier’s fellow extreme Frenchmen, Xavier Gens, terrorized us with his Texas Chainsaw Massacre pastiche Frontier(s) in 2007 and explored postapocalyptic horror in The Divide (2011). Now he tries his hand at a Jules Verne-style creature feature. In the early 20th century, a weather observer (David Oakes) arrives for a year-long assignment at an isolated island near the Antarctic Circle where he meets the misanthropic lighthouse keeper (Ray Stevenson). A race of pale-skinned fish people dwells in the seas and raids the island at night in several bravura action set pieces, their motive unknown. The real threat here may be Stevenson, who keeps one of the creatures as a pet/sex slave. Gens plays the story like a fable, but ultimately I had a hard time warming up to Cold Skin. Where the movie succeeds is in the creature FX and photography departments.

***


Let the Corpses Tan:
French directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani won over the horror arthouse crowd with their giallo tributes Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. Their latest flashy exercise tackles the much-loved Italian Spaghetti Western genre, but relocates the story to modern day and a Mediterranean hilltop villa. A gold-robbing gang holes up in the scenic, sun-drenched location, with a woman artist and her friends get caught in the crossfire when two cops arrive. The filmmakers do a fine job of paying homage to Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone here, but we’re talking style over substance. None of the characters really pops, and the whole thing grows a little tiresome. Fans of Cattet and Forzani and arty shootouts will still dig it.

** 1/2


Downrange:
After the weekly US shooting sprees of Vegas and Texas, this was the last movie I wanted to embrace. A group of friends find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere after a sniper cripples their car. Said sniper then begins blasting away at the college kids in graphic fashion, brains splattering the asphalt in gruesome close-up. Director Ryûhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train, Versus) does some flashy camera things, but the movie is so damn mean-spirited that it just left a bad taste in my mouth. The lowdown on Downrange: the story’s not very plausible nor the characters very likable.

* 1/2


Ghost Stories:
Just when I gave up on AFM 2017, the last movie screening I attended turned out to be not only the best genre film of the market but one of the best of the year period (IFC releases Ghost Stories next April). Supernatural debunker Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman, who co-wrote and co-directed with Jeremy Dyson) examines three extreme hauntings which just might make a believer out of him. Adapting their successful London play, Nyman and Dyson riff on past British horror anthologies Dead of Night and the ’70s Amicus flicks, but with a modern sensibility. Ghost Stories achieves its scares with class and distinction, as well as terrific makeup FX and a memorable supporting turn by The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman.

This one will send you out singing too; the “Monster Mash” plays over the end credits!

*** 1/2


So even though this year’s AFM was a bust, you will likely spot me canvassing those comfy Santa Monica theaters (kudos for solid projection, luxurious seating and friendly staff at the Arclight, AMC, Broadway and Laemmle) again next fall. On the market and festival beat, hope springs eternal!

For more information on the AFM, go to www.americanfilmmarket.com.

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Class of 1999 Graduates to Blu-Ray in 2018

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Coming to blu-ray in early 2018 will be Class of 1999, which was originally released in 1990 and designed to be an unofficial sci-fi sequel to 1982’s Class of 1984, which itself received a special edition blu-ray in 2015. Confused yet?

In 1982, writer-director Mark L. Lester made Class of 1984, a slightly futuristic action thriller about teachers contending with teenage gangs in an inner-city high school. Lester would go on to grace us with Commando and Firestarter before returning to the premise in 1990 to give us the very futuristic Class of 1999. This time the action takes place near the turn of the millennium when gang violence overruns inner-city high schools to the point that the government steps in and replaces the teachers with reprogrammed military-grade battle androids. The super soldier cyborg faculty revert to their militaristic ways, naturally, and rack up quite a body count as they declare war on the student body leading to teenage gangs putting aside their difference to lead an anti-robot uprising in the halls of the school.

The time is the future, and youth gang violence is so high that the areas around some schools have become “free fire zones” into which not even the police will venture. When Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell), the principal of Kennedy High School, decides to take his school back from the gangs, robotics specialist Dr. Robert Forrest (Stacy Keach) provides “tactical education units.” These human-like androids have been programmed to teach and are supplied with weapons to handle discipline problems. These kids will get a lesson in staying alive!

Boasting a screenplay by Full Moon stalwart C. Courtney Joyner and a cast including the likes of Stacy Keach, Pam Grier, Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Kilpatrick, and Traci Lind; Class of 1999 and its unique Stand and Deliver meets The Warriors meets The Terminator premise has garnered a loyal cult following over the years. We won’t mention the sequel. Forget I even brought it up. Sequel? What sequel?

Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced Class of 1999 will be the next title getting a blu-ray release as part of their Vestron Collector’s Series in the first semester of 2018 with a fully loaded edition guaranteed to please fans and those that have yet to be educated on this enjoyable early Ninties b-movie extravaganza.

Disc extras will include:

Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Mark L. Lester
Interviews with Director/Producer Mark L. Lester and Co-Producer Eugene Mazzola
Interview with Screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner
Interviews with Special Effects Creators Eric Allard and Rick Stratton
Interview with Director of Photography Mark Irwin
Trailer & TV Spot
Still Gallery
Video Promo
Optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles for the main feature

Class of 1999 graduates to blu-ray on January 30th.

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