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Roundtable Interview: Tim Burton Reflects on Almost 30 Years of Frankenweenie and More

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Roundtable Interview: Tim Burton Reflects on Almost 30 Years of Frankenweenie and MoreThis Friday, October 5th, Disney releases Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie in glorious 3D stop-motion animation, and we caught up with the man behind the tale to hear more about the iconic filmmaker’s almost 30-year long journey to get the feature film version made.

During the recent press day for Frankenweenie (review here), the story of a boy named Victor and his reanimated dog Sparky, Dread Central joined several other journalists for a roundtable interview with Burton. Check out his thoughts on paying homage to his childhood and his love of monster movies, reuniting with several past collaborators, and much more below; and look for more from the cast and crew of Frankenweenie coming later this week!

Question: Is there a mourning feeling when there’s a project that you’ve worked on for as long as you have on Frankenweenie when you finally see it come out and become part of the universe? (laughs)

Tim Burton: Well, it hasn’t quite come out yet so I’m getting ready for that (laughs). But no, I think because this has been such a long process, especially for the animators because they’re the ones that were suffering for years in dark rooms bringing this story to life. For something like Frankenweenie, where so many people have put so much work into it and I feel really good about how it turned out, I’m pretty ready for it to be out there in theaters.

Question: How important was it to you to keep the spirit of the original Frankenweenie short film intact for the feature film version?

Tim Burton: That was always the original idea, to make this an animated movie, and being an animator back then, I just loved the idea of live-action because it was fun and different. The original Frankenweenie is a special film for me because it was the first live-action film that I made, and I think your first experience doing something like that is always special to you.

Plus, Frankenweenie is such a memory piece to me; when we started working on it again, I began remembering all the weird kids at my school and the teachers and all of that kind of stuff- even down to the architecture of Burbank, too. The idea for the feature film was to take all of those original ideas and drawings that I first made and then expand upon them. Then we decided to do the film in 3D so when you expand the story and use 3D, that made the project feel new to me in some ways because it wasn’t the same approach I used for the short film. The root of it stayed the same though.

Question: Just how personal is Victor’s story then to you? The movie feels like it’s exploring everything that you grew up loving about the horror genre.

Tim Burton: See, that was the thing for Frankenweenie- there are a lot of references that mean a lot to me in this movie, but I also wanted to keep in mind that there are so many people out there who may not get the truly inside references so we worked really hard to make this a story that wasn’t reference-dependent. It had to work for kids and for audiences who aren’t necessarily lovers of old horror movies, too, and not be successful only because our homages worked. That’s not good storytelling at all.

Question: With Frankenweenie being such a personal movie to you, I can imagine the film’s protagonist, Victor, shares some similarities to you. Would that be correct?

Tim Burton: Yeah, I mean, I use my own experience of not being a very good communicator or very verbal – kind of having a much more internal life than external life – and that’s like Victor. But Victor, he’s a very serious, very internal boy; he’s very emotional, very quiet, thoughtful. And he has a bit of a mad scientist quality to him – which is always good (laughs).

The story is based on my relationship I had when I was a child, my dog – which is probably your first big relationship in your life. And even though it’s revisiting something that I did a long time ago, this feels new and special. Frankenweenie is a project that always meant something to me. And the opportunity to do it in stop-motion, in black and white, 3D, and expand on it with other kids and other monsters and other characters, it just seemed like the right medium for the project.

Question: How was it collaborating with so many familiar faces again on Frankenweenie?

Tim Burton: Frankenweenie is such a personal project so it was nice to work with some people that I’d worked with before – and that I hadn’t worked with in a while either. It was great to have Winona back doing a kid’s voice because she still sounds like a kid, and then there are people like Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara, who are so great at improve, and then Martin Landau, who I’ve always loved even before we worked together on Ed Wood. I had a lot of people that are special to me – people that you can see every day or see every five years and nothing is different – and then some new kids and other really talented people I haven’t worked with before so the entire cast for Frankenweenie was just an interesting blend of old and new worlds for me.

Question: Had you always known when you were coming back to tell this story that the feature film version of Frankenweenie had to be stop-motion animation?

Tim Burton: Yes, of course; it was the purest way to tell this story. Because Frankenweenie is about bringing something inanimate to life, the art of stop-motion animation is pretty much the very same idea. Plus there’s a beauty to stop-motion; I can spend hours walking around the set looking at the props and the little details that people put into it, and every single time I see something different, you know? Just a crack in a sidewalk with a blade of grass coming out it, which is such a tiny detail in comparison to the rest of the world. Or even the working Venetian blinds that are so small. There’s just an amazing artistry that goes into that. Just to be able to touch and feel the puppets and move them, there’s something magical about it.

Tim Burton's Frankenweenie

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Thelma Is Fantastic and Now You Can Watch the Opening Scene

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One of this year’s most beautiful and subdued horror films is Joachim Trier’s Thelma (review), which opens in Los Angeles tonight. To give you a bit of what the film is like, The Orchard have released the opening scene, which shows a man and his daughter hunting in the bleak Norwegian winter. When they come across a young deer, the true intentions of this trip become apparent…

Having seen Thelma, I can tell you that it’s truly something special. It’s a slow burn, to be certain, but it plays out gorgeously, resulting in a film that has yet to leave my mind.

Related Story: Exclusive Interview with Thelma’s Joachim Trier

Locations and tickets for Thelma can be found here.

Synopsis:
Thelma, a shy young student, has just left her religious family in a small town on the west coast of Norway to study at a university in Oslo. While at the library one day, she experiences a violent, unexpected seizure. Soon after, she finds herself intensely drawn toward Anja, a beautiful young student who reciprocates Thelma’s powerful attraction. As the semester continues, Thelma becomes increasingly overwhelmed by her intense feelings for Anja – feelings she doesn’t dare acknowledge, even to herself – while at the same time experiencing even more extreme seizures. As it becomes clearer that the seizures are a symptom of inexplicable, often dangerous, supernatural abilities, Thelma is confronted with tragic secrets of her past, and the terrifying implications of her powers.

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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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