Exclusive In-Depth Chat with C. Thomas Howell Regarding MoniKa and More! - Dread Central
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Exclusive In-Depth Chat with C. Thomas Howell Regarding MoniKa and More!

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As a young man, he assisted a cross-dressing alien in evading the feds in Spielberg’s 1982 smash-hit E.T. The Extraterrestrial and was told to “Stay gold, Ponyboy,” in Coppola’s 1983 drama The Outsiders. He made famous the battle-cry ‘Wolverines!’ in John Milius’ 1984 Cold War flick Red Dawn and as ‘Jim Halsey’ nearly ate a french-fried finger in director Robert Harmon’s 1986 horror classic The Hitcher. Years later, and with nearly 150 titles to his credit, C. Thomas Howell sat down with us to discuss with candor his varied career as well as his role in Steven R. Monroe’s upcoming feature MoniKa. Read on!

“It’s sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, that sort of thing,” the forty-four-year-old Howell told us of his role last June on the Big Picture Soundstage, Burbank, California, set of MoniKa (then titled Hole in the Desert), which is co-executive produced by lead actress Cerina Vincent (who appears in the titular role) with Monroe and producers Anthony Fankhauser and Corey A. Jackson.

“My character is a small part,” Howell continued of his role of ‘Double’ in MoniKa, “and I only have a couple of days on this movie, but I basically play the best friend (of actor Jason Wiles), who gets talked into coming to Vegas on a whim, and who stumbles into a murder, so it’s basically kind of a ‘whodunit’ with a bit of a The Sixth Sense twist, but I can’t reveal it. It’s not what you think you are watching though. It definitely has some thinking involved; you know, ‘Is it a dream? Is it a nightmare? Is it a ghost story? What is it?’ So you’re just trying to figure it all out, and it’s interesting.”

C. Thomas Howell

The revenge-thriller MoniKa co-stars Jeff Branson, Chad Lindberg and Andrew Howard (the three also appeared in Monroe’s I Spit on Your Grave redux) and actors Lew Temple (The Devil’s Rejects), Shayla Beesley (Spreading Darkness), Raffaello Degruttola, Elisa Donovan and genre vet Tim Thomerson; and Los Angeles-native Howell told us of his inclusion, “Actually a friend of mine is one of the producers, which is what happens when you grow up in the business. For me about seventy percent of my work comes from re-hires, and it’s always great to maintain the relationships and see people that you enjoy working with and go back and hook up with them again and just continue the process.”

On working with Monroe, “He’s really cool, man,” offered Howell of the director, whose other genre films have included the Cerina Vincent-starrer It Waits and House of 9, among others. “He’s a really good writer and a good director, and he comes from a camera background, so he understands the process really well, and he laughs at my jokes, and I think that’s really important, so I get along with him well.”

Howell continued, “Steven’s just kind of let me bring to the table kind of my own thing, really. He’s not really precious with his words, which for a writer and a director is unusual actually. Most writer/directors want you to say (exactly) what they wrote, so Steven’s a bit more open to suggestions. I mean, I’m not coming in and re-writing anything, but at the same time he’s not coming up to me and saying things like, ‘You know, you left out the word “but” here; can we go again?’ and making me insane, which if it were Tarantino directing (Note: the latter is notorious for his actors’ strict adherence to scripted dialogue), I’d probably kill him myself and bury him,” said Howell with a laugh.

“But that’s my process, you know,” expounded the actor on his approach to his craft. “I like to explore when I’m working; otherwise what’s the point? You might as well have puppets do it (otherwise). I mean, a writer creates the space, and then it grows from there. It’s not a finished product on the page, and there’s room for improvement if you allow it to grow, and that’s been my approach to film, and you know, a lot of times I understand that some actors will come in and bastardize the words, and can ruin a scene, but that’s what a good director will do. He’ll go back to the words if things aren’t going so well, but generally in my experience good actors tend to bring an ego to the role, and the writer and director is looking at the big picture, and they are not just looking at this three-day part, and they can then look at the actor’s perspective and say, ‘You know, you are absolutely right,’ and go ahead and make that change, and that makes it fun. It’s kind of like Bono going into the studio: He just starts singing shit, and he doesn’t write a poem and then go sing the poem. There’s a discovery process that makes it exciting, and that takes the tedium out of it.”

Conversation turned to Howell’s outlook on his varied filmography (while he’s appeared in numerous celebrated films, he’s also taken jobs in flicks not so well renowned, including such ‘B’ fare as The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting, Killer Bees!, Thirst: The Blood War and more), and he stated, “A lot of actors have their boundaries when it comes to a certain genre. I suffer from enjoyment of work. That’s my biggest issue really. I like the process of going to the set, and I like the challenge of trying to make something better. I’m not afraid to throw myself into the fire, and a lot of times you get burned by doing that. I mean, I’ve made a lot of shit that I probably shouldn’t have done, but at the same time I learned more from that stuff than I did the great things that I’ve been a part of. I mean, if I could have Johnny Depp’s career, I would take it, but I just feel that my process may have taught me a bit more than just working with Tim Burton over and over and over.”

“I just really like to travel, and I love acting, and I learn a lot when I do small pictures,” Howell mused, “and I take those experiences to the bigger pictures (I book), like the new The Amazing Spider-Man reboot, and I’m going into my fourth season on (the television series) “Southland”, which has just been an amazing experience, and I had a great run on “Criminal Minds”, and my career is just kind of turning into something lately that I didn’t really expect. I’ve played lately a lot of bad guys and a lot of darker roles. You know, I learned something from Rutger Hauer on The Hitcher, when I asked him, ‘Why are you so great at playing bad guys?’ He told me in that sort of scary voice of his, ‘I don’t play bad guys’. And what he meant by that was that he finds the goodness and the humanity in those roles, and he doesn’t walk around and twist his mustache and play the cliché sort of idea of what people think a bad guy is.”

“I’m older now, and I’m no longer playing the kid in the leather jacket,” continued Howell, “so you have to redefine what you are doing all of the time, like the good artists do. If you don’t do that, then you are left in the dust, so it’s been a real pleasure for me to grow in this business, and to dig deeper, and to try to find a way to stay rooted but still bring fresh stuff to the table. That’s not an easy task, and it’s difficult, but that’s what I’ve been aiming for.”

Commenting on his approach to the more complex individuals he’s been playing of late, and his affinity toward what some would deem ‘darker’ roles, “Part of the discovery for me is that people relate to flawed characters more than they do the hero,” he said. “For example, I play a reformed alcoholic on ‘Southland’, and he’s not necessarily politically correct. He doesn’t really know how to censor his thoughts so he says a lot of the wrong things, and I’ve had more people connect with that character on the street than any character I’ve ever done before, apart from Ponyboy (in The Outsiders). That role is the supreme opposite example, which was just pure goodness as a child, although I don’t think you can play that (latter) kind of role when you are forty-four years old. I mean, perhaps you can, but I haven’t found it yet, but playing the humanity and the struggle within ourselves, and sharing that with other people who can relate to that? When I started out in the first season, my character was a drunk, and now he’s gone through rehab and is on the other side but is struggling to stay sober, and I’ve had a lot of people from AA wrap their arms around me and say, ‘Thank you so much! I’ve been recovering, and I just want to tell you that you’ve done an amazing job, and I really enjoy watching you.’ They relate to that. They respond to it, more than watching the hero save the girl and kiss her at the end. That’s something that I’ve enjoyed more than anything else.”

C. Thomas Howell

Relating to Howell in this, this writer recalled his affinity at a young age for the Star Wars character of Han Solo, as opposed to the ‘gee golly’ nature of the wide-eyed Luke Skywalker.

“That’s right, man!” said Howell. “That’s a really good example. I’m the same way. I was a Han Solo fan myself, and those characters for me are a lot more fun to play. I’d rather play Han than Luke, but these days personally I’d rather play Darth and try to find some sense of goodness and humanity within that mask! Talk about a challenge. It’s an ever-changing and ever-growing, joyful effort, and I feel so blessed to be doing what I do, and like I said, that’s probably my biggest flaw, that I don’t like waiting between gigs.”

“One of the things that I admire about Jim Carrey is that he has evolved,” mused Howell of the actor, another man prone to taking artistic chances. “A lot of people who were his fans in the 80’s and 90’s when he was doing all of those silly movies might not be as attracted to what he does now, but he throws himself into the fire with every performance. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and I can appreciate that as an artist when I watch his work. I can appreciate that he tries something new. The other example is Matthew McConaughey, and he said in an article I read once, ‘You know, it takes me five months after I read a script to decide if I can do it or not,’ and I’m like, ‘Really? You need five fucking months to figure out whether or not you can play the surfer guy?’ I don’t get that. To me, within five months I’ll do five movies. I mean, I’m not necessarily playing the lead in an eighty-million-dollar movie. I’ll come in and I’ll play a smaller part, and I’ll play the bad guy – they just called me to play an assassin in a Bruce Willis film, and hopefully that’ll work out – but these are the types of gigs that I’m starting to get a lot of, and it’s kind of fun. I just keep on banging.”

As Howell’s prolific career has evolved, so has the world, particularly with the advent of the Internet and the focus on celebrity it re-ignited. I queried Howell the following hypothetical: If the ‘net and armchair bloggers were in existence during your youthful days of acting, would it have changed your outlook on the industry and the way you approached your craft?

“A lot of people take it too seriously,” Howell responded. “It’s only a movie. It’s only the movie business, and there are so many haters online, and everyone wants to weigh in with their two cents if they are a hater, but there’s a lot more lovers out there. It’s just that the lovers don’t post. So you just have to let it roll off of your back. You can’t please everyone.”

C. Thomas HowellAs for his outlook as a child actor, “I was too young,” said Howell. “I mean, I didn’t care. I was just a carefree dude just living in the moment. I was never really big on preparation as a kid because I didn’t know how to prepare. I just knew how to be in the moment and go for it and try my hardest. A lot of my work as a kid, you can see somebody trying a little too hard, and that’s because I didn’t have a director who was capable of teaching me or helping me. I had to learn the hard way, and I’m on the other side of it today, and when I watch young kids, I often see them working too hard on the set, and that’s just because they want to be good, and they want to be accepted and they are trying just a little bit too hard, instead of just realizing, ‘Hey man, just hit the fucking mark, and just hang out, and take a moment, and feel it and then just say the line.’ They don’t need to press it, but they are all so anxious. It’s like that Robert Duvall joke to Sean Penn in Colors, you know, ‘The Young Bull and the Old Bull?’ Where the young bull says, ‘Hey, let’s run down there and fuck us a cow,’ and the old bull says, ‘Hey, let’s walk down there and fuck them all,’ and there’s a lot of truth in that. I didn’t understand that until I was nearly forty. You just need to slow down a little bit and take a moment, and allow the process to take place, instead of trying to drive the process somewhere all of the time.”

“Sometimes you do get the occasional example of some genius kid like Dakota Fanning,” he continued, “who gets it at a young age, and I’m always amazed by that. I never find any false moments in her work, and how does she know that? And then you watch her sister (Elle Fanning) in Super 8, and she’s as equally amazing, if not even better, and I don’t understand where that comes from either. How is it that one family is so gifted? Those skills that she is working with are more along the lines of someone who has been doing the work for twenty years, and it’s a very difficult thing to teach a young kid, and a lot of actors struggle with it and will never get it. I struggled (with it) as a kid and became a much better actor as an adult, but most people don’t get that opportunity. Most often if you are a child actor, your career is done when you grow up, and for me I feel really blessed to have not crashed and burned, particularly in that I have some roles that I wish I could take back, but at the same time I have some roles I’m super proud of. You just have to take the good with the bad. You can’t take just one film and judge me for that. I mean, I’m a ‘lifer’, and when I die, you are going to see a body of work, and you are going to see where I’ve grown and where I was stunted, and to see where I have struggled and to see where I’ve grown. I feel really lucky, and you just keep on keeping on.”

MoniKa Synopsis
The film is a violent, edgy ride focusing on the forlorn Reagan Tyler, a man who is troubled by visions and premonitions that ultimately lead him to Las Vegas. It’s there that Reagan meets the beautiful and mysterious Monika, a young woman who turns out to have been killed the night before he even met her. Reagan is then forced to put the puzzle together of what happened, how she is still present, and help Monika with her revenge on the killers of her younger sister.

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Dread Central UK Enjoys a Box of IT

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One of the best things about writing for Dread Central is the cool gifts companies send us in exchange for covering their releases.

With Stephen King’s It now being available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, Warner Bros. were kind enough to send me an It-themed gift box absolutely free of charge. I collected this beautiful piece of merchandise from Organic Marketing’s London headquarters, and it is quite possibly my favorite thing in the world. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Inside this beautiful box were four Pennywise-themed cupcakes, a Pennywise Vinyl Pop figure in its original packaging, a laminated flyer, and of course, a copy of the film on Blu-ray. As you can see from the images below, a red balloon, just like the one held by Pennywise in the film, was attached to the box, although I’m sorry to say that it has now been burst (and I’m keeping the remains).

It, which now has the honor of being the highest-grossing R-rated horror film of all time, was directed by Andy Muschietti and stars Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, and Finn Wolfhard. With the film now being available on home video in the UK, you shouldn’t waste any time ordering your copy, especially since we gave it a perfect score in our review.

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Fearsome Facts – Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

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Sir Christopher Lee returned to portray the charismatic count of Transylvania in Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) for the first time since taking on the iconic role in 1958’s Horror of Dracula – an eight year absence. 

And while Lee endured a love/hate relationship playing the Carpathian Count over the years, the actor reluctantly tackled the role a total of 10 times for the Silver Screen. Three of those performances came outside of the purview of Hammer Horror, but this list is dedicated to the first Hammer Dracula sequel to feature the return of Christopher Lee in the lead role.

Now, here are 5 Things You May Not Know About Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

5. Dracula: Speechless

Dialogue never played a crucial part in Christopher Lee’s portrayals as Count Dracula, but this film is the epitome of that contentious notion. Lee doesn’t utter a single word during Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ 90 minutes of run time. In interviews over the years, Lee said that he was so unhappy with his lines that he protested and refused to say them during the filming process. “Because I had read the script and refused to say any of the lines,” Lee said in an interview at the University College of Dublin.

However, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster insisted that the original script was written without any dialogue for Dracula. There was even a theory that circulated for a time which postulated that Hammer could not afford Lee’s growing salary, so the studio decided to limit the Count’s screen time. Did this lead to the demise of Dracula’s dialogue? Regardless of whom you want to believe, Dracula is the strong, silent type in Prince of Darkness. 

4. Double Duty for Drac

Hammer Film Productions doubled down, so to speak, on the production and post-production aspects of Dracula: Prince of Darkness. First, the studio filmed the vampire flick back-to-back with another project titled Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966). In doing so, Hammer used many of the same sets, actors – including Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer – and crew members to shoot both motion pictures.

Second, Dracula: Prince of Darkness was featured in a double billing alongside the film The Plague of the Zombies (1966) when it screened in London. Insert cheesy cliche: “Double your pleasure, double your fun with Doublemint Gum.” 

3. Stunt Double Nearly Drowned

Dracula: Prince of Darkness introduced a new weakness in the wicked baddie, but it nearly cost a stuntman his life. During the film, it was revealed that running water could destroy Dracula. Wait, what? Apparently, leaving the faucets on at night not only prevents frozen pipes, but blood-sucking vampires, too.

All kidding aside, it was during the climactic battle scene in which Christopher Lee’s stunt double almost succumb to the icy waters on set. Stuntman Eddie Powell stepped in as the Count during that pivotal moment, as Dracula slipped into the watery grave, but Powell was trapped under the water himself and almost died.

2. Lee Loathed What Hammer Did to Stoker’s Character

Christopher Lee’s return to Hammer’s Dracula franchise was a stroke of genius on the part of producers, but Lee was more than a little reticent when it came to initially voicing his dislike for playing the iconic role. As mentioned above, a lot of speculation swirled around the lack of dialogue given to Lee in the Prince of Darkness script. And if you don’t count the opening flashback sequence, which revisits the ending of Horror of Dracula (1958), Count Dracula doesn’t appear on screen until the 45-minute mark of the film.

Dracula’s lack of character, and presence, began to affect Lee particularly when it came to signing on to play the character in the three films following Prince of Darkness. Indeed, the lack of meaningful character development led to Lee initially turning down Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Scars of Dracula (1970). Lee said in countless interviews that he never got to play the real version of Count Dracula created by Bram Stoker, at least via Hammer Studios. This was a true disappointment to the late actor.

But Hammer guilt Lee into taking on the role over and over again, because the studio claimed to have already sold the aforementioned films to the United States with Lee’s name attached to the projects. Hammer informed Lee that if he didn’t return the company would have to lay off many of their workers. The tactic worked, since Lee was friends with many of the Dracula crew members. Fortunately for fans, Lee kept coming back for blood.

1. Faux Pas

Outside of the character of Dracula only appearing on screen for the last half of the movie, Dracula: Prince of Darkness had even more pressing issues that unfortunately survived all the way to the final cut of the film. One of the most appalling of these occurrences happens during the picture’s climatic confrontation. Watch the skies above Dracula and you will see the trail of a jet-engine plane staining the sky.

Another faux pas occurs in this same sequence when Dracula succumbs to the icy waters. Watch closely as the camera’s long shot clearly reveals the pivots holding the ice up underneath Chris Lee. Finally, watch the dead girl who is being carried during the opening funeral sequence. She is clearly breathing and quite heavily at that.

***

Which Dracula: Prince of Darkness moments did you find the most interesting? Were there any obscure facts you would have enjoyed seeing make our list? Sound off on social media!

 

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Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It

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Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido

Directed by David Moscow


It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.

Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.

Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.

While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.

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Summary

Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.

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