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Elegy – Going Ape!

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Tony Timpone

Photo: Jonathan McPhail

As the lights dimmed at the Sony Lincoln Square on June 21, a palpable sense of excitement gripped my body. I turned to Marguerite, sitting next to me, and in a high-pitched little boy voice, squeaked, “Excited!” Only one movie this year had me regressing to my 10-year-old self, taking me back to decrepit second-run Queens movie theaters where I experienced the original incarnation of the Planet of the Apes franchise. War for the Planet of the Apes, which opens on July 14, had just that effect on me. Before the movie even began, adult concerns faded away. I was seeing this new summer blockbuster through the eyes of a 10 year old again as if I had just stepped into a time machine.

But War for the Planet of the Apes, like the two previous reboot entries—2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — is anything but kid stuff. It’s a mature, sometimes grim, fantasy adventure that picks up where Dawn ended, as Caesar and his evolving simian tribe clash with the deranged Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his blood-thirsty soldiers, hell-bent on exterminating Earth’s emerging rulers. Unlike the 1970s Apes flicks, the reboot movies have managed to top each other with every subsequent entry, thanks to great action, engrossing stories and impeccable CGI work. Sure, I miss the rubber-masked John Chambers Apes of old, but the computer FX work has gotten so photo-realistic with War for the Planet of the Apes that suspension of disbelief is totally achieved. War for the Planet of the Apes winks at the original movies in clever ways too, while at the same time setting up a fourth film (the start of a new trilogy maybe?) that would nicely dovetail straight into a fresh retelling of the 1968 movie. I also loved how War for the Planet of the Apes pays homage to everything from Apocalypse Now to Spartacus to The Great Escape, while remaining wholly original and smart in its own way. I loved it.

Planet of the Apes

So let’s return to that little kid. Those first five Apes movies (and the short-lived 1974 TV show) served as my first fanboy obsession growing up. I saw 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes first, at the long-gone Drake movie theater. My parents took me, the G-rating belying the film’s climactic massacre of time-traveling chimp couple Cornelius and Zira. A year later, Dad dropped my sisters Rose Ann and Patty and me off at another neighborhood theater to see Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. I thought I was caught up with my Apes history, but Roe’s friend, Larry Repanes, told me about two other Apes movies I had yet to see, 1968’s Planet and 1970’s Beneath. Larry, by the way, was the nephew of legendary sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, who I would later meet at several “Star Trek” conventions. No one believed me at Archbishop Molloy High School’s Sci-Fi Club when this punk freshman told the gang I knew Asimov and his nephew. Perpetually angry sophomore Kevin Cook almost threw me out the classroom window when I bragged about it.

Go Ape

Anyway, during that Conquest screening, a huge gang fight broke out! Fists and weapons flew, while popcorn, candy and empty concession boxes sailed over our heads. Pure chaos reigned. The melee raged until one kid ran to the stage, pulled out a long knife and ripped a huge gash in the screen! The projectionist then stopped the film, the lights came on and the cops rushed in. The bedlam eventually subsided, as the police dragged the troublemakers out. When the movie started up again 20 minutes later (torn screen and all), we lost a reel due to the violent ruckus.

By this point, I lived for the Planet of the Apes. I jumped all over the series’ merchandising explosion, buying Apes trading cards, the Mego action figures, board game, comic books, magazines and novelizations. I still own my Dr. Zaius coin bank, stuffed with so many decades’ worth of pennies that I can’t even pull out any change from the bottom anymore. Walking home from grammar school, I would imitate the chimpanzees’ distinctive gait, much to the befuddlement of classmates and the chagrin of my parents.

When CBS broadcast the Apes movies in 1973 and they became a ratings hit, Fox rereleased all five original chapters as a theatrical marathon. Buddy Joe Gaudio and I went to see them at the UA Astoria, across the street from the Villa Gaudio Pizzeria that Joe’s father owned. Frustratingly, the theater ran the films out of order! By this point, the only Apes movie I had not seen uncut on the big-screen was Beneath. But just as the film got ready to play at 6 pm, the manager threw us out because we were not accompanied by an adult! Arghh! When Beneath played on local TV’s 4:30 Movie, I almost died when I noticed the channel had lopped off 20 minutes of the movie’s running time for more commercials. Devastated, I called WABC and screamed my head off. How could they destroy the movie like that? General Ursus, my favorite character (I knew all his lines), would not let them get away with that!

URsus

As the years went by and I took the reins of Fangoria, I still had a soft spot in my heart for the Apes pictures. I’d catch them at Manhattan’s revival houses like Film Forum and devoured Starlog’s retrospective interviews with the likes of Kim Stanley, Natalie Trundy and Linda Harrison. Till this day, every time I drive past Century City in LA, I always think of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (one of the treats of the new “Twin Peaks” is watching that film’s Don Murray, a robust 87, still acting!).

Planet of the Apes

For Fango’s Weekend of Horrors conventions, I welcomed Apes’ most familiar star, Roddy McDowall, who had won a new audience thanks to his role in Fright Night. One of my fondest memories of sitting in the Fango offices is the day Roddy called me out of the blue, for no other reason than to just say hello. If Roddy hadn’t died in 1998, I’m sure he would have done a cameo in Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes remake, like Charlton Heston and Harrison had. Unlike the current Apes iteration, Burton’s film missed the mark, and it’s because of Marky Mark.

Stiff lead Mark Wahlberg is the dead center of Burton’s version, which boasted outstanding makeups by Rick Baker and some great actors under latex, like Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti and David Warner. I give Fox credit for managing to reboot the Apes franchise a second time after Burton’s disappointing try (which still made a ton of money).

Apes

I had my doubts, especially when I learned that the simians would be created via CGI. But Peter Jackson’s Weta FX company delivered convincing fantasy characters for a new generation, aided by the convincing behind-the-scenes motion-capture performance and voice work of Andy Serkis as Caesar and other selfless performers. The 21st century films have done an excellent job of unveiling an updated mythology. Much of this credit goes to director Matt (Let Me In) Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback, who guided the last two films.

The new Apes movies lack the subversiveness and cutting satire of the 1968 Franklin J. Shaffner-directed film, probably because you don’t find screenwriters like Rod Serling anymore. The latest films do continue the theme of us stupid humans ultimately being responsible for our own destruction, which in today’s unstable times will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to audiences. From the beginning, the Apes movies, as outlandish as they are, always give us something to chew on. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Fox comes up with next.

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Editorials

My Neighbors Are Dead: The Best Horror Podcast You’re Not Listening To

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Halloween has come and gone, but Dread Central readers know that our horror lovin’ doesn’t end once the trick or treaters have gone to bed. Sure, we do go back to being the dastardly death-loving heathens looked down upon by polite society rather than the valuable fountains of horror movie knowledge sought after throughout October, but horror fans are an interesting bunch.

Our fandom is not centered around one specific world like Whovians, Potterheads, or Trekkies but rather a love of a genre that is varied and vast. And if the comments section of any of our articles has taught us anything, it’s that horror fans know just about everything there is to know about horror films. We all know of the heavy hitters like Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, but what about the other characters that we weren’t privy to meet?

Enter: MY NEIGHBORS ARE DEAD.

My Neighbors Are Dead is a weekly improvised podcast in which host Adam Peacock interviews the lesser-known characters from your favorite horror films. The caterer from Damien’s party in The Omen couldn’t have had great business after serving food at the birthday of the Antichrist. And if you thought the theories in Room 237 were insane, just imagine what the directors pitched that weren’t accepted for the documentary!

Each week host Adam Peacock interviews some of the most skilled improv comics to tell “their side of the story” as unseen characters in our favorite horror films. This podcast is still relatively new, but it’s already been recommended by AV Club, Splitsider, Threadless, and now us. Meaning, if you start listening now, you’ll be able to show off your hipster street cred by knowing them “before they got famous.

Adam Peacock co-produces the show with fellow Chicago “Second City” alum Nate DuFort, and the two have brought along hours of entertainment that speaks directly to the hearts of horror fans everywhere. Each episode is around a half-hour, allowing the perfect time for binge-listening or a great distraction during your morning commute.

In no particular order, here are my Top 5 favorite episodes:

1) The Blair Witch Project with TJ Jagodowski (Listen Here!)

2) The Omen with Alan Linic (Listen Here!)

3) Poltergeist with Paul F. Tompkins and Tawny Newsome (Listen Here!)

4) Room 237 with Marty DeRosa and Sarah Shockey (Listen Here!)

5) It Follows with Jeff Murdoch (Listen Here!)

You can find My Neighbors Are Dead on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Playor wherever else you get your podcast fix.

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Spend Halloween Night on George A. Romero’s Darkside

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There are a ton of Halloween specials to view from the shows of the past. Some of my favorites are from horror anthologies. While most people will go to “Tales from the Crypt,” my favorite has always been George A. Romero and Rubenstein’s “Tales from the Darkside.” I love the creepy atmospheric simple tune in the opening credits accompanied by the voice over: “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But there is unseen by most an underworld, a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit. A darkside.” It sends chills down my back every time.

“Crypt” was grandiose with its big Hollywood player production team and unrated sensibilities being on HBO, but that left Romero and his usual no budget crew to have to try harder and be cleverer with the constraints of their budget and censorship since “Darkside”was syndicated. The very first episode of the series debuted on October 29th with a Halloween-centric episode that perfectly captures the atmosphere of Halloween.

Episode 1 is written by George A Romero himself and directed by Bob Balaban of Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame, who also directed the little known horror comedy, My Boyfriend’s Back. This episode is entitled “Trick or Treat” and is to Halloween what A Christmas Carol is to Christmas. It’s about an old, snobbish rich man who has a lien on every single farm and family in the town as they all owe him money. Every Halloween, his favorite holiday, he takes the IOU’s of every family and hides them in his house among a slew of horrors that he controls in a master operations room. Each family sends a child to his house in a Halloween costume to try and find the IOU’s so their family can be debt free. No one has ever found the IOU’s as the old man always scares the children out of their minds with his house of horrors before they can find them.

The set up for the episode is totally Romero. The old man, Gideon Hackles, has his colleagues come to help him count his money and check his investments at three in the morning so as to not deter his ability to make money during the day. Hackles obsesses over every penny and trusts no one to handle his money without him there which is why he hates banks. The only thing this mean ass old man loves more than money is scaring the shit out of children. We watch the children go into the house and lose their shit, but there is one kid whose family doesn’t want him to compete. Little Timmy Muldoon wants so desperately to help his family out of debt, but his family refuse.

In the end, Gideon is haunted by true spirits from hell that begin throwing his money everywhere, but he doesn’t fear the spirits as much as he fears losing his money. He literally crawls down to hell to retrieve his cash! Little Timmy Muldoon comes to the door of the house and is greeted by a cackling witch, but is unafraid. The witch rides off on her broom throwing down the IOUs, money, jewels and all kinds of riches at Timmy, who just catches them, smiling. In that instant, with that giant grin on his face, Timmy Muldoon represents all of us horror fans that see these monsters as their friends and the holiday of Halloween as something to revere. The FX are a little hokey but this episode bursts with that low-budget Romero spirit and is a really fun and interesting idea that’s great for the Halloween season.

The second Halloween centric episode is from Season 2 and was directed by the Gore Master himself, Tom Savini! This episode also aired on October 27th and was written by Michael McDowell, who wrote Beetlejuice! The episode is entitled “Halloween Candy” and it’s a great little atmospheric one location thriller that showcased a lot of Savini’s and Mcdowell’s talents and inspirations.

Old Man Killup is the nastiest and meanest old man on the block with only his son to begrudgingly take care of him. Every year after Halloween, Killup’s son has to clean the outside of the house from all the kids trashing it because Killup refuses to give the kids candy. Killup’s son leaves a bunch of candy for him to give out, but the mean old man instead spends the night telling the kids to go to hell until finally he’s had it and throws together a hodgepodge of different slimy things to throw in a kid’s trick or treat basket. Just like Jason gets pissed off at pre-marital sex, a little goblin-like creature that seems like the precursor to Sam from Trick ‘r Treat gets pissed off when you mess with trick or treaters. He begins taunting and horrifying the old man well into the Halloween night.

The creature itself is, of course, done by Savini and seems like an evolution of Fluffy from Creepshow. Its movements are a lot of fun as it moves around like a demonic acrobat and uses that to freak out Killup. The Goblin even haunts his dreams with imagery and foreshadowing of his fate. It’s a heavily underrated Savini creation and even more interesting that he gets to bring this creature to life from idea to screen as the director himself.

The passage of time and decay plays a big role in this episode. Killup is constantly hungry, stating that in his old age there’s nothing to do but eat. At one point the little goblin tears off Killup’s watch and Killup accidentally steps on it. This is a point where Killup continuously tries to fall asleep in hopes of passing through Halloween without any more kids or surprises, but as he keeps on starving, the night does not change and he is trapped, frozen in time. Even as he tries to eat the food he has in his fridge, it goes bad and decays with roaches erupting from it. It’s a really cool device that juxtaposes the passage of time in his house with his own internal clock of life. One cannot simply pass through Halloween night without honoring tradition.

It’s a great tension builder and the night is so perfectly emphasized by the blue lighting representing the moonlight. Savini’s directing skills are really showcased with how minimalistic the setup is, but still manages to build so much tension.

When you’re checking out all the Halloween offerings for the season be sure to give these episodes a revisit or a first time watch as they are fun as hell! If you’ve got Shudder they’re streaming on there or go out and buy the new home video releases!

Tales From the Darkside

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Trick-or-Sweetheart: Halloween Was Oddly Romantic in Victorian Times

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We love Halloween horror. We dress up as rotting zombies or gory murder victims; we tell terrifying tales by a crackling campfire; and we watch slasher flicks with the most gruesome death scenes ever. Halloween is supposed to be scary, amiright?

But Victorian Valentine’s Day, er, Halloween, was quite a departure from what it is today. Back in the 1800s it was more about matchmaking and marriage than masks and machetes. Spiritualism was in vogue – what with seances and fairy photography – and so exploring the secrets of the unknown was more of a draw than being scary or getting scared.

Halloween made its debut into American society in the 1870s, though by then fall-time superstitions thrived among immigrants and ethnic groups. The holiday was pretty much considered a quaint custom of the Scottish and English, but its practice was not necessarily encouraged. It had “shameful” Pagan roots, after all.

However, stories about Halloween were featured in periodicals and ladies’ journals like Godey’s and Petersons in order to satisfy a readership eager for tawdry tales. They wanted to learn about ancient rituals, historical facts, and romance. Yep, at the time it was believed that the dearly departed could help you get a little action.

Victorian Era Halloween Greeting Cards:

All Hallows-themed fiction published in in the penny dreadfuls were often about “death by passion.” These untimely exits from the moral coil may or may not have spawned ghosts. Female readers devoured bodice-rippers with such titles as “Love’s Seed-time and Harvest,” “Love Lies A-Bleeding” and “If I Were a Man I’d Shoot Myself.” In 1881, St. Nicholas Magazine printed an article lamenting the demise of an Old-World holiday by turning it into an excuse to party: “Belief in magic is passing away, and the customs of All-hallow Eve have arrived at the last stage; for they have become mere sports, repeated from year to year like holiday celebrations.” Oh, the horror. And candy corn wasn’t even invented yet. (It came along a few years later, in 1888.)

The first Halloween parties were meant for matchmaking. Parlor games were played, everything from candlestick jumping to bobbing for apples, but one of the most popular was called “The Bible Trick.” Here’s how it works: Get a Bible and place a key between the pages, leaving the rounded portion sticking out. While the Bible is being supported by the fingers of two boys, hopeful girls recite these words: “If the initial of my future husband’s name begins with A turn, key turn.” Slowly repeat the letters of the alphabet, and when the right initial is reached the key will swing around and the Bible will fall. (Sounds boring AF, but hey – there was no Shudder or Chiller back then.) Another game instructed a couple to write their names on nut shells and then cast them into the fire; if the shell cracked they were in for a rough year, if the shell blackened but did not break they were going to marry. And here’s one last corker: Single young women were sent into a dark room and told to select one from a variety of boxes, each containing an object that had some sort of amorous significance for the year to come. What was actually in those boxes, we don’t know… but there were steam-powered dildos, “ladies syringes,” and hand-cranked vibration devices back then. (I’m just sayin’!)

A Victorian Dildo

The turn of the century heralded the end of the Victorian Era, and hence the women’s mags took an intellectual and proper turn: travel, politics, history and current events took the places of fiction and romance to meet the needs of their changing readership. Halloween parties were still popular, but adults seldom dressed in costumes for the occasion. Trick or treating became popular in the 1920s and 30s and the celebration of Halloween was given over almost entirely to children.

That’s not to say some folks don’t still consider Halloween an occasion for amour. After all, why else are sexy adult costumes the biggest sellers in America year after year? And perhaps the most romantic thing of all is when Rob Zombie married Sheri Moon on October 31. The couple will celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary this Halloween. Awwww. Cue the heavy-metal violins!

Happy Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Zombie, and thank ya very much!

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