Translate

Monday, July 28, 2008

The perfect cult film: The Devil Bat

The Devil Bat
The Devil Bat, 1941, Producers Releasing Corporation, directed by Jean Yarbrough. Starring Bela Lugosi, Suzaane Kaaren, Dave O’Brien, Guy Usher, Hal Price. Sixty-nine minutes. Schlock-Meter Rating: *********1/2 stars out of 10 stars. Note: Also sold on some video labels as Killer Bats.

By Doug Gibson
---
Okay, I know that the plot of Devil Bat is silly. I know the budget is a $1.89. I know the special effects are ridiculous with rubber bats swooping down to victims’ necks. I’m aware that many critics, including John Stanley (whom I respect) consider Devil Bat an example of Lugosi’s slow side to oblivion, and Ed Wood movies.

Nevertheless, I love this film. It is a great cult movie because it has heart. Lugosi -- and the rest of the cast -- take their job seriously. They take a sow’s ear and turn it into a silk purse. The plot is as follows: A seemingly kindly scientist (Lugosi) has toiled his entire life for a perfume company. The scientist’s discoveries had made millions for the firm’s family, but he remains a salaried employee. For that he is bitter and angry, and has harvested killer bats that will attack the scent of a perfume. Of course, Lugosi gives the perfume to the rich family members, and murders occur. By the end, nosy reporters and cops uncover Lugosi’s crime and he is killed at the end. Of course, as was PRC’s and other minor 40s film companies’ wont, there is also a love story mixed in this thriller.

Bela Lugosi’s greatest talent was providing an excellent performance no matter the subject matter. His performance as a brooding scientist, bitter, angry, feeling underappreciated, is a masterpiece. There is a scene at the beginning of Devil Bat where the family members of the firm -- who really seem to love the scientist -- throw him an appreciation testimonial and provide him with a $25,000 gift. Lugosi’s scientist is all decorum in this scene, and it’s chilling when he’s alone and the mad, angry, bitter murderer is revealed. It’s an effective contrast, which I don’t think other 40 chiller stars George Zucco or John Carradine could have pulled off.

By all means, rent Devil Bat (I recommend you buy it) and lose yourself in a great actor making the most of a simple story. Lugosi on screen can hypnotize a viewer. One ignores the plot flaws and poor special effects and appreciates a master actor in a great performance.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dawn of the Dead and those zombie imitations

Dawn of the Dead and those zombie imitations

By Steve D. Stones

In 1978 George A. Romero teamed up with legendary Italian filmmaker Dario Argento to create a horror masterpiece – Dawn of The Dead. The film was hugely successful, particularly in Europe. It was released in that country under the title: Zombie: Dawn of The Dead.

Immediate rip-offs were soon to follow. To cash in on the success of the film, another Italian filmmaker, Lucio Fulci, quickly made a film entitled Zombie 2: The Dead Are Among Us. Some critics have suggested that this film is superior to Romero’s Dawn of The Dead but I strongly disagree, even though I’m a fan of both films.

After all, Romero created the genre, and is a master at using the zombie as a critique of contemporary society. His zombies in Dawn of The Dead reflect just how mindless we are as consumers of “stuff.” Even when we’re dead, we have a desire to want to go to the shopping mall. The shopping mall comforts us, and makes us feel safe and secure as consumers. The living understand the security of the shopping mall too. That is why they choose to make the mall their sanctuary in Dawn of The Dead.

In 2004 Zack Snyder made a remake-homage to Romero’s Dawn of The Dead. In this film we see that the zombie is no longer a clumsy, slow walking corpse. Here the zombies are more athletic and can run quickly to catch up to their living victims in no time. Although I enjoyed this film and felt it was well made, there is something more appealing and frightening to me about the slow-moving, clumsy zombie used in Romero’s films. No matter where you run to or hide, the slow-moving zombie eventually catches up to you. This is extremely frightening to me. Snyder’s zombies catch you immediately. There is no fun or fright in this approach to the zombie.

Romero’s zombies are playful and a farce of just how mindless and clumsy even living human beings can be. Snyder’s zombies are vicious, mean and downright barbaric. Romero even shows a gentle, softer side of the zombie in his version Dawn of The Dead. In one particular scene the character Francine, played by Gaylen Ross, is looking through the glass of a department store while loading her pistol. A zombie in a baseball uniform looks through the glass on the opposite side as if he is trying to communicate something to her. He doesn’t rush the glass in attack mode as if he wants to eat her.

This is a very powerful, touching scene that shows a kinder, softer side to the zombie. As mindless as they may be, the zombies can also have emotions and a desire to want to communicate to the living. This is something lacking in the Snyder film.

Another appealing aspect to the Romero film is the strange music score by Italian pop-rock group Goblin. The music of Goblin was also featured in a 1977 Dario Argento film, Suspiria, which is considered Argento’s horror masterpiece. The music of Goblin was featured once again in a terrible 1983 zombie film: Night of The Zombies, which is an obvious rip-off of Romero’s Dawn of The Dead. Night of The Zombies was written by Italian filmmaker Claudio Fragasso, who also served as assistant director. Fragasso has gained a bizarre cult following in recent years for his “best-worst” film, Troll II.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

All about Nilbog Invasion in Morgan




SCENES FROM NILBOG INVASION, MORGAN, UTAH, June 28, 2008

On June 28, 2008, Plan 9 Crunch was at Nilbog Invasion, a gathering -- courtesy of Original Alamo Productions -- of Troll 2 fans. It was a great, long weekend of films, Nilbog games, chats with actors, the director, Claudio Fragasso, extras, the screenwriter Rossella Drudi, and fans. (For tons of Nilbog Invasion photos, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/originalalamo/sets/72157605912466217/) Plan 9 Crunch was also there. Below are our reports. The column, "Cult Film Troll 2 returns triumphant to Morgan County," was originally published in the July 1 Standard-Examiner. http://www.standard.net/live/opinion/topofutahvoices/136919/ The rest is original to Plan 9 Crunch, including some observations from Mickie Pace. In Troll 2, she played Betty the Goblin.
---
Cult film 'Troll 2' returns triumphant to 'Nilbog,' Morgan County
By Doug Gibson
Tuesday, July 1, 2008, Standard-Examiner


"Don't do it!!!!"
"Aaahhh! ... Think about the cholesterol! Think about ... THE TOXINS
!"
-- A vegetarian goblin queen, irate that a little boy is eating a bologna sandwich, in director Claudio Fragasso's 1990 film "Troll 2," filmed in Morgan County.


NILBOG -- Driving in Morgan County through Porterville in the Top of Utah you see beautiful country. One notable site is the ruins of an old church. Not much remains other than parts of walls and the front. The grounds are forbidden to the curious. But if it looks familiar, you've probably seen "Troll 2." I've seen "Troll 2" five times now -- with three viewings in the past week. Enough ink has been spilled on its plot so I'll forego that task quickly: A vacationing family encounters a town, Nilbog, full of shape-shifting, vegetarian goblins adept at turning unlucky humans into green, leafy food. The Goblin Queen of Nilbog lives in that church, but if viewers look closely they see a plaque in the front that says "Porterville Ward ..."

No one likes to see an old, historic church reduced to near rubble, but I'm kinda glad it's a ruin: You see for me, it'll always be the lair of Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the stone-worshiping queen of Nilbog. As she says in the film, "This is myyy houuuuse!"

Actually, a lot of people worship Nilbog. Last weekend, on Morgan's Commercial Street, "Troll 2" fans gathered for a Nilbog celebration with the director Fragasso, screenwriter Rossella Drudi, much of the cast and many Morgan and Top of Utah locals who participated as Nilbog extras and goblins. Hundreds of fans were there, mostly in awe of the actors they've seen dozens of times on screen. A walk down Commercial Street is a kick for a "Troll 2" fan, since much of the movie was filmed there.

What occurred in Morgan is not a rarity. There are "Troll 2" screenings and fan conventions all over the world. It is the new "it" of cult films. Think "Plan 9 From Outer Space" in the '80s and '90s. "Troll 2" fits the definition of a cult film: It's inimitable. Is it a bad film? Yes. But it's unique and watchable. Its blend of inexperienced acting, laughable costumes, freaky dances, synthetic music, very strange dialogue and poor special effects don't hamper the film. It's clearly the only film in the world where vegetarian goblins gather to hear a fundamentalist goblin preacher rant hysterically about the "smelly bladders" meat causes. (OK, I may have once heard the same at a PETA motivational seminar.)

What other film exists that casts vegetarianism as evil? The reason is simple, screenwriter Drudi told the fans. "I was against vegetarianism." So she made the leaf-eating goblins appear like vampires, she explained.

The title "Troll 2" is a farce. The film was supposed to be called "Goblin," an apt choice since there are no trolls. But the filmmakers tried to tag onto an earlier film, "Troll," that was a moneymaker. That is also a weird film, in which a pre-"Seinfeld" Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a half-naked forest nymph. It didn't work. "Troll 2" went straight to video and pay cable, and languished in obscurity before word of mouth revived it. The fans loved Director Fragasso. A personable, natural showman, he promised to film part or all of a planned "Troll 3" in Morgan. When a representative of the Utah Arts Council mentioned a sizeable rebate if lots of money is spent filming in Utah, Fragasso elaborately hugged the man to cheers and chuckles. The "Troll 2" actors have varying careers. Some only made "Troll 2." Others are veterans of occasional TV and film productions.

The Q&A session with all the creators of "Troll 2" was pure Americana. It occurred in a pink, cavernous ballroom, usually a dance and cheer studio. The fans, many wearing green T-shirts with "NILBOG" printed on the back, circulated through the crowd, chatting with cast members, including George Hardy, the Alabama dentist who played dad Michael Waits in the film. His famous line of dialogue was: "Do you see this writing ... ? Do you know what it means ... ? Hospitality. And you can't (urinate) on hospitality! I WON'T ALLOW IT!"

Top of Utahn Michael Stephenson, who starred as youngster Joshua Waits, is making a documentary film about "Troll 2" called "Best Worst Movie." You can see a trailer at http://www.bestworstmovie.com/.

The ballroom was decorated -- Nilbog style -- with green streamers and balloons. Large posters of "Nilbog Invasion" were hawked on tables. The event was videotaped. Fans captured images with cell phones and digital cameras. Robert Ormsby, who played helpful ghost "Grandpa Seth," greeted his director with a big hug. Ormsby, who only made one film, is 80 percent Burl Ives and 20 percent Wilford Brimley. Connie Young, who played high-strung teen Holly Waits, was warmly greeted. Young is best known -- at least in Utah -- as the female lead in the Mormon-genre comedy "The Singles Ward." In "Troll 2," a teenage Young dances bizarrely in front of a mirror. In a fun moment, Fragasso convinced a hesitant Young to recreate her dance. It received a big ovation.

My favorite goblin, actress Deborah Reed, was there. She portrayed Creedence Leonore Gielgud. She is Nilbog. You have to watch Reed to digest her performance in "Troll 2"; think Isadora Duncan on acid. Eyes rolling in sockets, bohemian dress, enunciated screeches. She's a chameleon. One minute she appears to be a deranged aunt, in another a sexy vamp. But I'll say this for Ms. Reed -- she gets better with each viewing. And she nails what makes "Troll 2" so unique. You will never, ever again see a corncob used in such an intimate manner in a PG-13-rated movie.

Wanna learn more? See the movie. Here's a trailer:


Gibson is the Standard-Examiner's assistant editorial page editor. He can be reached at dgibson@standard.net.



---
---



Steve Stones reviews Troll 2


Ever see a movie so bad that it actually improves with each viewing? If you haven’t, I would highly recommend that you visit your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and rent Troll II. If your viewing experience doesn’t get better with each viewing, you may need to increase your dosage of Prozac, or just simply lighten up a little and relax.


After all, Troll II is just a little movie filmed in rural Morgan, Utah where the cows outnumber the local citizens 10 to one. In the case of Troll II, the Goblins outnumbered the local citizens for several weeks of filming during the summer of 1989.


At the time of filming, a street sign was put up, changing the city to: NILBOG. What I wouldn’t give or pay to have this sign in my movie memorabilia collection! I would even trade a double-decker pastrami sandwich with all the works, hold the mayo and mustard please.


The Goblins in the film might not take too kindly to this trade, since they are vegetarians who sweat green and eat anything green. Young Michael Stephenson even saves the day in the film with a cold cut bologna sandwich, which repels the Goblins from eating him. My favorite scene in the film is when Michael Stephenson approaches a mirror to talk to the spirit of his Grandpa Seth, and ask for his protection and guidance against the Goblins that have him and his family trapped in a house.


A Goblin immediately jumps out of the mirror attacking Stephenson. Grandpa Seth appears with an ax, cutting off the left hand of the Goblin. The Goblin then jumps backwards through the broken mirror, and the scene cuts to Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the Goblin Queen, screaming in pain in her Goblin lair of a run down old church. She tries to heal her severed arm by shoving it into the crevice of a glowing magic rock.


The expression on the Goblin Queen’s face, played by Deborah Reed, is priceless, and worth the $3.50 it would cost you to rent the film. A later scene has Reed trying to seduce a teenage boy in a motor home with a cob of corn. She is dressed in a sexy black gown with black nylons and high heels, similar to Elvira, Mistress of The Dark. I don’t know about you, but I have a soft spot for those sexy raven-haired women dressed in black. Come to me Creedence Leonore Gielgud, sexy Goblin Queen!!

---
---


Notes on Nilbog Invasion and Troll 2


by Doug Gibson


On Saturday, I had a chance to chat with the very nice and personable Mickie Pace, who played the goblin Betty in Troll 2. Mickie was at Nilbog Invasion with her family and had chatted affably with fans in the hall. To play a goblin in Troll 2 one had to not exceed 4 feet in height. One townsperson extra in Troll 2, Dallin Carter, candidly admitted that his pay had been "hamburgers and beer."


Pace admitted that was about it in recompense for the extras. But she added that she and the other extras were treated well by the Italian film crew while Troll 2 was filming. She said that it could be hot and uncomfortable in the latex masks and potato sacks that were the goblins' garbs, but that everyone did OK.


As in most films for extras, there were long waits during filming. Pace had another assignment while Troll 2 was filming. She picked up some of the extras in her vehicle and took them to the shoot. She was paid for her gas and mileage, she recalled. During our conversation, her sons, proud of their mom's contribution to the much-loved cult film, pointed out sites on Commercial Street that were settings in the film.


At the panel, an elderly woman (whose name I missed) surprised fans by admitting she had never seen the film she had a small part in. Let's hope she saw it that night on the big screen!) Patrick and Paul Gibbs both played goblins in the film. The twins candidly admitted that they fit the needed criteria at the time -- both being under 4 feet tall. Both Gibbs make micro-budget films today.


Darren Ewing, who lives in nearby North Ogden, Utah, was there. He was witty and informative. He plays drums in a band, Skinny Bob and the Blues Dawgs, that reportedly played at Nilbog Invasion. He has several acting credits, including recent stints in the films, "Unaccompanied Minors" and Halloween Town." I also recently have seen Ewing in a commercial urging sensible water use while watering lawns. I spoke briefy to Ewing on Saturday. He gave me directions to see the ruins of the old LDS church that was used as the exterior for the goblin queen's house. Even as a ruin, the old LDS church is still an imposing site in the countryside.


Dentist George Hardy, who plays dad Michael Waits, told the crowd that at least once a month a dental patient will recognize him from Troll 2. Troll 2's star Michael Stephenson, has appeared in several productions, including the TV series Touched by an Angel. Both Connie Young (Holly Waits) and Deborah Reed (Creedence Leonore Gielguid) looked great at the event. Young, besides work in several films, works in infomercials and as a corporate spokesperson, and has worked with Robert Redford at Sundance, according to imdb.com. Lance C. Williams, who played the Goblin house swapper Mr. Presents, has acted in the LDS-themed films Rockwell, Charly and Return with Honor.


At the panel, Young admitted that she still has her original script, with her acting notes. With the state of fandom today, she could likely auction copies at ebay for a nice sum. Several actors recalled the first time they saw the film. A couple of "the boys" were on missions at the time. Young says she saw it on HBO. Her reaction: "I thought I was a better actress than that!" Reed said, "I wept with laughter. I screamed with laughter." Christina Reynolds, who played one of the Presents' goblin kids, first saw Troll 2 just last year. "Naturally, ... I was horrified," she said with tongue in cheek. The actors recalled the film was originally called "Goblin" during shooting.


When Hardy recalled auditioning in Park City in a room full of cigarette smoke, Young nodded, apparently recalling that day. Both said they beat out a lot of other hopefuls to get their roles. Young revealed the secret of her Holly Waits dance: It was a routine from the drill team she was on at high school. It looks odd, she added, because she only had a few feet to dance on the set. Young also added that director Fragasso liked her screaming skills. Stephenson recalled seeing the film with his family and just being appalled at how "bad" it was. Nevertheless, his acting resume lists another film directed by Fragasso, Beyond Darkness. That 1990 film was shown at Nilbog Invasion.


It was fun seeing elderly Robert Ormsby at Nilbog Invasion. "Grandpa Seth" loved the film. It accomplished its task, he said. It "entertained." Director Fragasso called Troll 2 "a family movie without blood." His resume lists a slate of Italian horror films, including "Zombi 3," "Rats," "Evil Dead 5" and "Terminator 2" -- these films have multiple titles to each). Fragasso pledged at Nilbog Invasion to make a Troll 3, at least partially filmed in Morgan. Let's hope he's successful.
---
Here's a humble plot idea: Grown Holly Waits, now a hardened cynical private eye, hears rumors of strange goings-on near a ghost town called Nilbog. She recruits her brother Joshua and they head to that cursed town armed with bologna sandwiches to finally get rid of the killer vegetarians. But in the ruins of her old home, they meet --- again --- Creedence Leonore Gielguld!!
-- Doug Gibson