Friday, June 12, 2015

RIP, Christopher Lee

Iconic and veteran British actor Christopher Lee has passed away.  He was 93.

It happened on Sunday morning (June 7th) at a London hospital where Lee was being treated for heart and respiratory problems; his wife, Birgit "Gitte" Kroencke Lee, decided to withhold the information until family and friends could be notified.

Ugh.  What a bummer, but hey, he was 93; he lived a long life and he lived it to the fullest.  That's the least most of us should hope for.

Lee was, quite simply, one of the best.  He's from that old school of acting, bringing a theatricality to his film roles throughout his career.  And what a career!

Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, The Mummy, Fu Manchu, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Lord Summerisle, Scaramanga, Saruman, Count Dooku, heavy metal recording artist, Christopher Lee did it all and did it with such style, gravitas, and panache!  One of the amazing things is that everyone from teenagers to grandparents know (or at least recognize) who Lee is.  He spanned decades which is a rarity in an era of increased specialization and shortened shelf lives.  Christopher Lee was truly one of the all-time greats.  It is sad that he's gone.

Thanks for all the movies and for all the scares.


Before taking up acting, Lee joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) right at the outbreak of World War II.  He wouldn't fly any planes due to an eye condition, but he volunteered with RAF Intelligence where he would assist in operations that took place in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.  Most interestingly, after the war, Lee would help in the tracking down of Nazi war criminals (what a badass!).

<<< Lee in 1944, Vatican City

Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Christopher Lee would work with British film production company Hammer Films many times throughout his career, and he would often work with his good friend Peter Cushing.  The first time for both was in this, the first Frankenstein film that Hammer released, kicking off their reainessance of new gothic horror films and kickstarting Lee's career.  Also, it's a pretty good movie.
Horror of Dracula (1958)
Lee might be best known for his portrayal of Dracula, in which is brought a lot of sex appeal to go along with the scares.  He would play the bloodsucker 8 or 9 times during his career.
The Mummy (1959)

Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962)

The Whip and the Body (1963)
This Mario Bava film is one I haven't seen, but have always meant to.  I guess now would be a good time to finally check it out.
The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
Lee would play Fu Manchu a total of five times, including the terrible Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) which is so bad that it is barely watchable in its MST3k version.
Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Raw Meat (1972)

The Wicker Man (1973)
Lee called his role as Lord Summerisle his best.  He ain't wrong.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

1941 (1979)

The House of Long Shadows (1983)
clockwise: Lee, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, John Carradine.  Somewhere out there, all of these guys are having a great time.
 The Howling II. . .Your Sister's a Werewolf (1985)
You can read my review of this terribly fun movie HERE.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
When Christopher Lee first met director Joe Dante he apologized to him for starring in Howling II (Dante had directed the original Howling film).
Sleepy Hollow (1999)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 
Lee is the only person who worked on the LOTR films who had actually met J.R.R Tolkien.  He was a mega-fan of the book, reading it annually.  He called the chance to participate in bringing the books to the big screen a "dream come true."
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)
I doubt he ever dreamed of wielding a lightsaber, but hey, he got to do that too.
Hugo (2011)

Christopher Lee became Sir Christopher Lee when he was knighted for services in drama and charity in 2009.

Proving that you're never too old to do new things, late in life, Christopher Lee started a new career as a metal recording artist.  He did an album about Charlemagne and also an album of Christmas songs.  This track is from his most recent EP, Metal Knight:

"I try to describe acting as a combination of the three D's and the three I's. Discipline, dedication, devotion. Imagination, instinct, intelligence. Even if all my films haven't pleased everybody, I'd like people to realize that I've always given each film my all. I would like to think that I've shown integrity and dedication in every one of my roles. I always do my best and, you know, I really do love what I do."

RIP Christopher Lee

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Trailer Park Tuesdays - Roar

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesdays.  This week we're looking at the movie trailer for Roar (1981), not a new movie, but an old movie that is now being released for the first time in the U.S.

Roar is quite possible the most irresponsible movie ever made.  Producer Noel Marshall and his wife Tippi Hedren (star of The Birds) set out to make a film that would bring exposure to big cats and their plight in Africa from game hunters, as well as to the inhumane treatment of big cats in captivity...or something.  They would do this by using the hundreds of wild lions, tigers, and other cats and animals that the couple had gathered and used to populate their animal sanctuary located north of Los Angeles.

This (crazy) idea was first (ill)conceived in 1970 and after the success of The Exorcist (which Marshall produced and made a lot of money from) they started filming in 1974.  Things did not go well as the cats proved unpredictable and unable to take direction.  This led to as many as 70 members of the cast and crew getting attacked or harmed while making this movie!

Noel Marshall was bit and clawed multiple times, Tippi fell off an elephant and broke her leg, and their daughter, Melanie Griffith, who was just starting her acting career, suffered facial lacerations and needed reconstructive surgery and 100 stitches.  Not to be outdone, director of photography Jan De Bont (future director of Speed and Twister) was SCALPED by a lion and required over 200 stitches!

Not surprisingly, the film took a total of 11 years to make and when it was finally released in 1981, it was only done so overseas and not here in America.  Until now. . . .

Drafthouse Films has acquired the film and has been releasing it in various cities the past couple weeks.  Check out HERE for full details on where you can see this amazing motion picture.  If you're like me and you live in or near Portland, Oregon, you can see Roar this weekend, May 2nd and 3rd, at the great Hollywood Theatre.

Here's the amazing and dangerous trailer:

This movie looks INSANE!  I've been looking forward to it greatly.  It looks like a visceral and surreal experience, a real jaw-dropper!

For more info on this crazy story, read THIS from Drafthouse Films founder Tim League, THIS blog post from crew member Randolph Sellars, and watch this piece from CBS This Morning.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

RIP, Tom Towles

Veteran character actor Tom Towles passed away earlier this week due to complications from a stroke he suffered while in Florida.  He was 65.
Not known to casual movie fans, Towles should be instantly recognizable to fans of the horror genre.  His IMDb bio describes him as often playing "scumbags or obnoxious men," which maybe seems harsh, but that is an accurate description.  Towles was real good at playing sons-of-bitches.

His first big role was in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (filmed in 1985, not released until 1990), opposite Michael Rooker.  The pair would prove to be electric.  Towles' character of Otis was based on real life serial killer Ottis Toole.  He's an absolute degenerate and sociopath and Towles is fantastic, displaying those qualities with a scary realism.
The thing I am most familiar with and am a fan of is Towles' turn as Harry Cooper in Tom Savini's under-appreciated remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990).  Good god, is he so hatable in that movie!  He shouts and he's stubborn and he's one of the supreme jerks of all time.  He's so damn good!
"Bunch of yo-yos!"
Towles would go on to star in smaller movies (like Adam Wingard's directorial debut Home Sick [2007]) and be featured in bigger movies (The Rock [1996]), usually in the horror or action genres.  Like any character actor, he also had a string of television appearances in everything from comedies to dramas to science fiction.  His gruff and rough demeanor served him well throughout the years.

It's a shame he's gone.  He was a good actor.  RIP, Tom Towles.

Tom Towles would reteam with Henry director John McNaughton on The Borrower (1991).  This trailer name drops Hellraiser, Reanimator, and, uh, Warlock, so maybe it's worth checking out:

Towles would co-star in Stuart Gordon's The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), reminding me once again that I need to see that movie.  The very next year he would co-star with Christopher Lambert in Gordon's science fiction action movie, Fortress (1992), reminding me that I once saw that movie.

In a first season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993) he played a Klingon who dies on the transporter pad.  It's a brief appearance but he's a catalyst for the events of the episode.

In 1997 he would double dip into the Star Trek universe, playing a different bumpy headed alien on a season three episode of Voyager.

Seinfeld ("The Glasses," 1993).  Towles is credited as "Tough Guy."

Inspector Anthony Lastarza on NYPD Blue (1993-94).

Gridlock'd (1997)

Firefly (2002)

House of 1000 Corpses (2003), as George Wydell.  
He would reprise the role in The Devils's Rejects (2005).  I think his performance in Corpses might be better, but Rejects is the superior movie.

Miami Vice (2006)

Werewolf Women of the S.S. (fake trailer from Grindhouse [2007]).

Tom Towles

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Trailer Park Tuesdays - Spring

It's Trailer Park Tuesday and spring has sprung so we're gonna look at the trailer for Spring!

Ah yes!  Springtime!  When a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love...

The classic setup:  boy meets girl.  Attraction and emotions run high, love is fallen into.  Then girl reveals deep dark truths and secrets.  Terrible things happen.  Seem about right?  That's the basic set-up for Spring, although it comes with a bit of monstrousness..

I've been jazzed on seeing this one, it's been getting good reviews and word of mouth is positive.  The film stars Lou Taylor Pucci, who I liked a lot in Thumbsucker (he was also in the Evil Dead remake), and Nadia Hilker, a German actress and relative newcomer.

The  pull quote at the top of the poster describes Spring as a "hybrid of Richard Linklater and H.P. Lovecraft," and it seems as if directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead have crafted a lovely romantic horror film.

I'm going to share two trailers for the film.  This first one from Drafthouse Films (who are distributing the movie) plays up the romantic angle while hiding most of the twists and turns.  Check it:

Not sold?  Want to see more?  This second trailer (the "official" trailer) has a bit more plot details and, while not exactly spoilery, it gives a more revealing look at the genre elements at work within the film.  So keep that in mind:

Spring is playing right now in limited release in select cities and is also available online at iTunes, Googe Play, Amazon Instant, and a whole bunch of other places.  Check HERE for all that info.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

RIP, Robert Z'Dar

On March 30th, cult movie actor Robert Z'Dar passed away.  He was in Pensacola, Florida, where earlier this month he was hospitalized with chest pains, before suffering cardiac arrest Monday night.

He was 64 years old.
Z'Dar was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1950 and he attended college at Arizona State University where he played football while studying acting.  Returning to Chicago he played keyboards and sang in a rock band called Nova Express, their name taken from the William S. Burroughs novel.  After that, he held jobs that ranged from police officer to Chippendale's dancer before finally taking off for Los Angeles to become an actor.

Z'Dar was known for his unique facial size and features, caused by cherubim, and he was able to parlay that into a career playing bad guys and heavies.  He was in B-movies mostly, but his face is not one you forget.  I'm pretty sure the first thing I saw him in was either Tango & Cash (one of the few non-B-movies he was in) or Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time.

The Maniac Cop movies might be what Robert Z'Dar was most known for, but he did gain a lot of fans after two of his movies, Soultaker and Future War, were featured on cult favorite TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000.  In addition to that, in recently years there has been a resurgence of interest in his cult classic action movie Samurai Cop.

Always working, Z'Dar amassed 121 film and television credits during his career (although a couple of those are in "pre-production"), including the upcoming sequel Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance, although I'm not sure if he started work on that or not, I've read conflicting things.

His longtime friend and manager, Jim Decker, had this to say:  "We've been together through thick and thin.  He was the first actor I took on in my career as an agent.  We spent many weekends on the road together and a lot of time enjoying each other's company.  I miss him dearly."

RIP, Z'Dar.

An early role of his was on the hit television show Moonlighting (1985).  He was a security guard.
If I were to recommend a single Z'Dar movie, it would be Maniac Cop (1988).  That movie and it's two sequels were mainstays of video store shelves in the '90s.
In Tango & Cash (1989) his character's name is Face.  True story.
Gathering souls with Joe Estevez in Soultaker (1990).

Killing American Style (1990).  This is the first of four movies Z'Dar would do with Iranian director Amir Shervan, including Samurai Cop, Gypsy (1991), and Young Rebels (1992).
Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991)
Mobsters (1991), in which Z'Dar co-stars with Christian Slater, Patrick Dempsey, and Richard Grieco, proving that the early '90s were a special time.
Samurai Cop (1991): pure cinema gold.
Frogtown II (1992).  I haven't seen this movie.  I just liked his mustache.  It's the sequel to Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), which starred Roddy Piper in the lead role.  That's another movie I haven't seen, but at least I've heard of it.  Anyway, the character is named Sam Hell, which is cool. 
Future War (1997), "the movie that delivers more HUH?s per second."

Robert Z'Dar - 1950-2015