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Guest Blog: WWF – World Without Forry

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Uncle Forry

For several years following her untimely death in 1990, Forrest J Ackerman commemorated his late wife Wendayne’s life annually with a long, reflective letter he titled “WWW” or “World Without Wendy”, which he mailed to a handful of close friends. In these candid letters (“TMI” didn’t exist back then and never would have for Forry anyway), he’d write in stream-of-consciousness style, sometimes directly to Wendy in the hereafter, about the things the Ackermonster was up to in the here and now. In that tradition, and in observance of his Nov. 24th, 1916 birthday making Uncle Forry 98, here are just some of the Ack-tivities going on despite Forry’s moving on…

Uncle Forry

Famous Monsters of Filmland still faithfully promotes the Ackerman name and image in the pages of the iconic magazine as well as many other products and events. With the support of FM, Mad Monster Party conventions continue a 4-year tradition of holding Forry tributes and panels at their horror conventions across the country. Kirk Hammett attended the 2013 Mad Monster Party in Charlotte, N.C. to a throng of nearly 1000 fans. Many were there to see their rock god but came away with affection for the Uncle Ack they never knew, but came to meet through anecdotes and reminiscences at the panel. Forry’s beast childhood fiends Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury have sadly joined him in that big House of Pies in the sky. Today, Forry would have loved how monsters rule media with programs like “The Walking Dead,” “True Blood,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Teen Wolf,” “Bates Motel,” “American Horror Story,” “Hannibal” and the steeped-in-classic monsters “Penny Dreadful.” Forry fans that became filmmakers like Rick Baker, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Rob Zombie, Stephen King and Tim Burton continue to move and shake the movie world while rockstars like Gene Simmons, Kirk Hammett and Ogre continue to bloody up the stage in homage to all things macabre.

In the span of six years since Forry travelled to outer space, Billy Bob Thornton went on a magnificent radio rant about Forry and FM, Christopher O’Brien wrote the comprehensive The Forrest J Ackerman Oeurve, published by McFarland, FM put out my Annotated Famous Monsters of Filmland #1, with a section devoted to the mini-Ackermansion in Horrorwood where Dr. Acula and I lived out the final years of his life. In the Joey Gordon-Levitt action pic Premium Rush writer John Camps and writer/director David Koepp gave their villain (played by the Michael Shannon) the alias of Forrest J. Ackerman. Penny Dreadful writer/producer John Logan interviewed in Famous Monsters crediting Forry Ackerman with “starting it all” for him. Guillermo Del Toro paid tribute to Forry with a prominent “4E” on the walls of a facility in his horrifying series “The Strain.” Dark Horse released an impressive cold-cast figure of Forry available in full color and a limited edition bronze. Forry-friend Paul Davids (Transformers, Roswell, Sci-Fi Boys, etc.) released his paranormal investigative documentary titled The Life After Death Project, which explores a possible visit from (lifelong atheist) Forry from the beyond. Jason and Sunni Brock released their Rondo Award-winning The Ackermonster Chronicles documentary.

Forry Strain

The point is, Uncle Forry is still everywhere. The sharing of his stories and legacy continue to inspire a new generation to throw their bats in the ring and make stuff, whether costumers, makeup artists, writers, directors, artists or illustrators. The very idea of Forry, a generous man who believed in a Utopian world where everyone was free to pursue their heart’s desire and to dream big, sparks imagination in fans. A Utopia where monsters were heroic, or at the very least sympathetic. OK, let’s face it, the monsters were us! They are us! Forry understood that, never judged and always gave us a knowing nod that signaled, “You can do this. You can do anything. And when you do, I’ll be there to cheer!” no matter how far-fetched the idea. Pure and unconditional support and encouragement from a larger-than-life mentor who was at ground zero of the genre world. That inspiration was priceless and still retains potency in the void of space that Forry once occupied. So as we observe Forry’s birthday while slithering toward 2015: FORREST J ACKERMAN SHALL NOT DIE!!!

Joe Moe

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Klowning Around: 30 Years of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE

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I think it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that my friend Doug and I were, for a brief moment, obsessed with Killer Klowns from Outer Space. It was the summer of 1989, a year after the film was released. One of Doug’s relatives had HBO, an exotic thing in our tiny Upstate New York town in the middle of nowhere, and he regularly got movies, sometimes three to a VHS tape, from this relative. Killer Klowns was on one of these tapes, and we proceeded to wear the thing out as quickly as possible.

We were barely nine years old and didn’t have much to do for our summer vacation, so we ended up watching Killer Klowns once a day, every day, for a few weeks. Close to a month we watched that damn flick. Doug’s babysitter started to think we were a tad weird.

So what was the appeal? Well, neither of us were afraid of clowns, so that helped. Really, though, I think the movie simulated our sense of wonder in a couple ways. For one thing, once the action starts, it doesn’t stop. Killer Klowns is anything but dull. But I think the second factor is the most important one: It was really weird. And since we didn’t have a large film vocabulary and wouldn’t have known much, if anything, about the rich history of low budget alien invasion movies from the 50’s and beyond, it seemed as though Killer Klowns had arrived whole cloth, and it was a revelation.

Odd that I have so many fond memories of a film that I didn’t revisit for almost thirty years. I never got around to watching the film again until Arrow Video released their special edition Blu-ray last month. I have to admit, I was surprised at how much I dug the thing. I love cult films, but I figured that looking at the film from the lense of a wide-eyed child had skewed my perspective on the thing and made it seem better than it actually was. Very glad to see that wasn’t the case.

Directed by Stephen Chiodo, this is the first feature film from the three Chiodo brothers (Stephen and his brothers Charles and Edward), who were responsible for the practical effects on all sorts of 80’s films from Critters to a scene in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Inspired by a late-night drive where Stephen Chiodo imagined a lone clown driving down the road on an invisible vehicle, Killer Klowns from Outer Space was a passion project, and that passion shows up on screen.

The film’s concept, as you’ve probably already guessed, is quite bizarre. A spaceship that looks like a Big Top tent lands in the middle of small town U.S.A. The clowns run amok, killing people and encasing them in cotton candy as a means of digestion similar to the way a spider wraps its prey in silk. As the movie progresses, the deaths get more bizarre. A member of a biker gang has his head punched off, a shadow puppet eats a group of people waiting at a bus stop, a dead policeman’s back is hollowed out so that he can be used as a puppet. Yes, strange things indeed, and all very funny.

But as weird as the concept is, it’s very much played straight, just like those old creature features usually were. The humor is situational, arising from what the Chiodos figured would be the logical outcome of a race of aliens that looked and behaved like clowns. Sure, there are sight gags galore, but they’re the logical endpoint of a concept pushed as far as it will go. After all, if you’re going to do something, go all the way with it.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space always sticks to its own internal logic. As our main characters, the lovebirds Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) and Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer), are fleeing the circus tent space ship for the first time and one of the clowns squeezes the trigger of a gun that shoots popcorn, Debbie asks, “Why popcorn?” Mike answers, “Because they’re clowns!” And not only does this make sense, but that’s about all we get as far as speculation about the clowns’ origins. There’s a throwaway line near the end of the film about how the clowns might have been ancient aliens from which our concept of the clown originated, and that’s about the only other example. Did the Chiodos really need to bog the movie down with an elaborate backstory? Of course not. So they didn’t.

It probably goes without saying about a movie created by three FX artists, but the costumes, props and sets all pop with color and detail. All of the clowns have a unique look which informs their personality, and you can easily tell them apart. Seriously, this movie is worth watching for the visuals alone.

Though there have been talks of a sequel or a TV series over the years (2016 seems to be the last time that these rumors were all over the Internet), nothing has come of it save a one of the clowns’ brief cameo in the 2018 horror-comedy Hell’s Kitty. Personally, I’ve always thought that the characters, if they were toned down a bit, would have made a great Saturday morning cartoon. After all, if we could make the Toxic Avenger kid friendly, surely it wouldn’t be that hard to do the same for a bunch of space clowns. (Though, admittedly, the “Killer” part of the title would need to be removed.) Sadly, these kinds of cartoons don’t really exist anymore, though I could easily imagine a web-based animated series in the style of late-80’s to early 90’s Saturday morning cartoons working quite well. But for God’s sake, can’t we at least get a comic book?

With the beautiful new (and definitive) Blu-ray release of the movie by Arrow Video, perhaps now there will be renewed interest in the franchise. The mythos is almost begging for an expanded universe.

Whatever happens, though, it’s wonderful to see any renewed interest in the film at all. I’m instantly transported back to my childhood whenever I see one of the costumes or look at the DVD cover art. It’s one of those movies that’s wonderfully anarchic, an invitation for the imagination to go in whatever silly directions it wants to go. In my mind, there’s not a whole lot better than that.

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HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS: 30 Years of Splatter Mayhem

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When Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was released on VHS in 1988, I was eight years old and just then allowed to watch horror movies. My guess is that this film wasn’t one that my local video shop carried, because I would surely have remembered the cover, which shows a shapely woman who, with a trick of perspective, looks like she’s holding a six foot chainsaw. Not that I’d be allowed to, of course. My folks were fairly liberal when it came to violence in movies (this was the era of Stallone and Chuck Norris films, after all), but anything with too much T&A on the cover? Forget it.

But in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers there’s not a sex scene to be found. Oh they get close. At the moment of their john’s peak arousal, the women pull out the heavy equipment and the blood starts to flow. Well, perhaps squirt would be the better word. So since there’s technically no sex, would this movie have been an acceptable choice for young Patrick King? Maybe, but there’s no way my parents would have gotten past the cover. Such was middlebrow morality in the 80’s. I guess a whole lot hasn’t changed since then.

Going into this thing, if you have any doubt that this is a straight up horror-comedy (which is certainly possible since the cover looks like any number of 80’s exploitation films that took themselves more or less seriously), the opening block of text will dissuade you of that idea:

The CHAINSAWS used in this Motion Picture are REAL and DANGEROUS! They are handled here by seasoned PROFESSIONALS. The makers of this Motion Picture advise strongly against anyone attempting to perform these stunts at home. Especially if you are naked and about to engage in strenuous SEX. My conscience is clear, (signed) Fred Olen Ray.

The movie’s basic plot, though of course plot isn’t the biggest concern here, involves private detective Jack Chandler (Jay Richardson), a Philip Marlowe type private investigator on a mission to find Samantha (scream queen Linnea Quigley), a runaway who might or might not have joined a chainsaw sex-murder cult. There are maybe five or six other women in the cult, but who’s counting after a while. And of course any respectable sex-murder cult has to have a leader, a guru, if you will. This cult’s leader is Gunnar Hansen, who by this time had a slight association with movies about chainsaw murder.

For most of the movie, Hansen’s unnamed character watches the women from impossible angles as they chop men to pieces. He hides in the bushes outside hotel rooms and apartments and grins approvingly, though there’s no way he could see anything from his vantage point. He’s given some lines in the final act, and he’s pretty good. But he’s totally wasted because this act is mostly padding and filler to get to that 70 minute feature film runtime for proper video distribution.

But until that last act, the movie really lives up to its awesome title. Everything from the silly noir-style narration to the cheesy jokes to the blood and limbs that hit the women in the face as they saw men into pieces is done with a splattery gusto. Naturally, this is a great party movie, especially if you can get drunk enough in the first hour to make the final act kind of tolerable.

Though I’m not sure director Fred Olen Ray had any subtext in mind, or any time to think about such things (the movie was shot in less than a week), in its way, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is as much of a parody of 70’s and 80’s porno movies as it parodies slasher films. The dialogue, especially in the “seduction” scenes are replete with double entendres and sexual innuendo that would only ever work in a bad movie, and all porno dialogue is bad. It’s a rule. And slashers have always been much like porn in that you need a kill every few minutes, just like porno has a sex scene at predictable intervals.

Director Fred Olen Ray is a cult filmmaker who’s had his hand in just about every popular low budget, straight-to-video genre. He’s made over 150 films, sometimes as many as four a year. He once shot a film in a single day. So the slapdash nature of the film makes sense, as well as the padding at the end. I mean, you would think that a chainsaw duel between two barely-clothed women would be cool, and it is, kind of, but it’s also very slow. Those chainsaws are unwieldy, especially for someone weighing barely 120 pounds. The same goes for an erotic chainsaw dance that goes on for what seems like an interminable amount of time, though it only lasts a few minutes.

So the concept worked for a little less than an hour, but those 55 minutes are entertaining as hell. And I imagine being on the set had to be pretty fun, too. Imagine being the person off screen who has to toss bad fake blood and silly looking fake body parts at a topless woman who gleefully waves her chainsaw around.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is certainly a good bad film, though the last act keeps it from being great. So grab a drink and give it a watch. Or if you’re a teetotaler like myself, just turn the thing off around the time Gunnar Hansen starts talking. Trust me, you’re not missing anything.

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Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood – A 30th Anniversary Retrospective

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Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood opens with a very cool intro, albeit an unnecessary one. Fading in to a cemetery at night during a storm, we hear the voice of narrator Walt Gorney, who is familiar to fans of the franchise as the lovable Crazy Ralph in Friday the 13th (1980), and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). Not that we need to be told at this point, but Gorney narrates how Jason Voorhees always comes back. Intercut with the footage of the cemetery is various moments from Part 2, Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). The sequence returns frequently to the cemetery between these clips. This is until we see the headstone of Jason’s grave explode from a lightning strike, which is actually unused footage from Jason Lives, of which we are then shown a recap of its events that lead into the prologue of the story here. The narration finishes with, “People forget, he’s down there… waiting.”

After the title card and opening credits, we are introduced to our ‘New  Blood’ heroine Tina Shepard. In a flashback scene set a year after the previous installment, featuring Tina as a little girl played by Jennifer Banko (1990’s Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), she is standing outside the door of her parents’ Camp Crystal Lake cabin as she listens to them fighting. After she sees her father hit her mother, she runs to the pier and is chased by him. She gets on a motorboat in the lake, where a sleeping Voorhees is still chained to the bottom. Angry with her father, she channels once latent telekinetic powers that cause a tremor in the lake, and the pier to shake, break apart, and collapse as he falls in to his death. The narrative then flashes forwards nine years, and is a further messing up of the series’ timeline. The first film is set in the year it was made of 1979. Parts 2, 3, and The Final Chapter are all set over a long weekend five years later, in that last entry’s year of release in 1984, which is feasible. Things became convoluted after this. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) is set five years after in 1989. Jason Lives is set in the following year of 1990. This is set in 2000, putting its events twelve years into the future from the year of its release in 1988, which clearly features 80’s fashions, music, and technology. The expression on Jennifer’s face says it all…

Now in a very 1980s looking 2000, a teenaged Tina is played by Lara Park Lincoln (1987’s House II: The Second Story, and the 1988 Freddy’s Nightmares TV anthology show). She portrays one of the most sympathetic final girls of the franchise, and her performance is capably serviceable to the needs of this simple slasher material. We become invested in her plight due to her trauma of causing her father’s death, having spent six years in a mental hospital, and struggling to control something she does not understand, which comes on out of her anger. Her wicked psychiatrist Dr. Crews, the secondary antagonist here, manipulates her. He has brought her back to where it all began to her parents’ Crystal Lake holiday cabin, and he exploits her emotions, trying to keep her in an agitated state to bring her telekinesis to the surface, and catching it all on videotape for his own ends to further his career. In a later revelation, it seems he also wants her to bring back Jason Voorhees, but screenwriters Manuel Fidello and Daryl Haney never bother to explain why he wants to do this. Crews is played by Terry Kiser, best known as Bernie in the cult 1989 comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, and he succeeds in getting us to loathe his character and long for his comeuppance. The scenes between Tina and Crews make for some of the most interesting and lively moments, helping to break up the monotony of the first hour or so.

When Tina is forced to confront Jason, who she accidently resurrected from his watery grave when trying to bring back her father, as his body was never recovered (again, never explained), it also forces her to confront her fears and to focus, so she can control her telekinetic powers in order to defeat the undead psycho killer. Okay, so Paramount was really reaching for ideas here, and the cheesy gimmick of “Carrie vs. Jason” as fans dub this, sounds stupid on paper… well, it is stupid. However, this makes for some nifty practical special effects, the likes of which are never usually seen in the slasher sub-genre of horror (aside from New Line’s bigger budget A Nightmare on Elm Street dreamscape additions), especially during the climax as Tina and Voorhees do battle, and the hulking hockey masked maniac now has a foe that actually has a powerful ability to defeat him. Kane Hodder, making the first of four consecutive turns as the killing machine, also pulls off some impressive stunt work here. All this makes for a great deal of dramatic energy, and an entertaining and memorable finale that ends the film on a high note.

I am not a fan of the decomposing zombie incarnation of Jason Voorhees, but Hodder really gives the role his all. With conviction, his constant heavy breathing makes sure we know that Jason is very pissed off, he is an unstoppable force of rage, and his commitment to the stunt work deserves much respect. The director and SFX artist John Carl Buechler greatly compliments the stuntman’s performance by creating one of Voorhees’ greatest ever looks. The appearance of his beat up hockey mask, the decay of his rotting flesh, his skeleton showing underneath his torn clothes, and chains hanging around his neck, make him look like a classic early horror movie monster, rather than a typical modern slasher villain. His unmasking in the climax to reveal his zombiefied visage is effectively ghastly.

Excluding the brightly lit day scenes, the proceedings are encapsulated in a somber atmosphere. This is induced by the dark lighting techniques during the night settings and a fresh take with the score provided by Fred Mollin, who replaces veteran series composer Harry Manfredini. This is a welcome change, but much of the soundtrack over the course of the film consists of recycled samples from Manfredini’s previous compositions, hence, his co-credit here. Yet Mollin’s original music leaves a lasting impression, which also provides a strong sense of unease and impending doom, and a suitably supernatural feel to the cheese-filled fun of the showdown between Tina and Jason Voorhees.

It is a shame then that all the film’s negative aspects undercut these positives. The teen characterizations of the supporting cast are bland and unsympathetic, the kills are extremely lackluster in their execution – cuts or no cuts, and it is terribly paced, and has a distinct lack of suspense and tension…

The structure of the set-up is borrowed from The Final Chapter, as a group of teenagers is situated in a cabin opposite the Shepard’s old holiday place, much like where the Jarvis family home was. The kids are holding a surprise birthday party for a friend who does not make it to blow out the candles on his cake, and his cousin Nick (Kevin Blair) is Tina’s love interest, who is actually an all-around nice guy, but has little to do. The rest of the teens are the most annoyingly obnoxious, forgettable, zero personality fuckwits to ever feature in a Friday the 13th film. The only real standout from this slasher fodder is the late Susan Jennifer Sullivan as Queen Bitch Melissa, who like Kiser does a solid intentional job of getting us to hate her, and anticipate her demise.

We have here characters so detestable that we yearn for them to be slaughtered in loving graphic detail, and in inventive ways, but we are deprived of this because the payoffs are so dull. Rooting for antagonists in horror instead of fearing them, in the hope they will kill protagonists we should fear for, as they are the ones we should be identifying with, is not real horror. This is an exploitative guilty pleasure, yet even this is robbed from us here. Save for the infamous sleeping bag kill, the set-pieces are the most uninspired of the franchise. It is made even worse by how the MPAA demanded a cut to shreds version, as this at least would have been a visceral experience with what would have been the goriest one of the lot. This is evident from this rough footage of the deleted scenes…

Jason is seen far too much, which became the norm for the series from Jason Lives onwards, and is one of the failings of these later installments as he was no longer scary as a consequence. Furthermore, Buechler’s talent is in SFX, not in directing, as he has no understanding of pacing and staging set-pieces in respect of build-up. Voorhees just suddenly appears, lumbering on to screen in full view, and kills with weapons that appear out of nowhere. There is zero suspense and tension, unlike when he was still lurking in the shadows in the first four films. Throughout the majority of the runtimes in these, we would only know he is a terrifying presence, seeing glimpses of him, and we would mostly just see his hands holding the murder weapons during the kill sequences, until his full reveal in the finale. He was still very human, a backwoods hermit deformed man-child on a psychotic murderous  rampage, who was slimmer and would run. This iteration of the character was re-introduced in the 2009 reboot, but was tweaked a little with new personality traits.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood is a mixed bag, as for everything good, there is something bad. It is at times engaging, but at other times tedious. It does not quite scrape the bottom of the barrel alongside the worst of the bunch – Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). In terms of quality control, and for cutting thick slices of cheese in parts that makes it passable entertainment, it qualifies for a place in the franchise rankings somewhere in the lower middle, or in the upper lower end. It is a hit and miss slasher sequel that is a watchable time waster, no more, no less – average genre fare.

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