Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Strangers (2008, USA)

Directed by: Bryan Bertino
Produced by: Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Nathan Kahane
Written by: Bryan Bertino
Starring: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Glenn Howerton, Gemma Ward, Laura Margolis, Kip Weeks
Music by: Tom Hajdu, Andy Milburn
Cinematography: Peter Sova
Editing by: Kevin Greutert
Production by: Vertigo Entertainment, Mandate Pictures
Distributed by: Rogue Pictures, Intrepid Pictures
Release dates: May 30, 2008
Running time: 86 min
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $9 million
Box office: $82,391,145
Plot: After returning from a wedding reception, a couple staying in an isolated vacation house receive a knock on the door in the mid-hours of the night. What ensues is a violent invasion by three strangers, their faces hidden behind masks. The couple find themselves in a violent struggle, in which they go beyond what either of them thought capable in order to survive.

Info: The Strangers is a 2008 American horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino and starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Glenn Howerton, Gemma Ward, Laura Margolis and Kip Weeks. The film revolves around a young couple who are terrorized by three masked assailants, who break into the remote summer home in which they are staying and damage all means of escape.

The Strangers was made on a budget of $9 million and after two postponements was released theatrically on May 30, 2008, in North America. It grossed $82.3 million at the box office worldwide. Marketed as "inspired by true events", writer and director Bryan Bertino stated that the film was inspired by a series of break-ins that occurred in his neighborhood as a child, as well as some incidents that occurred during the Manson killings (though website iO9 submits there is lack of legitimacy towards claiming the events are inspired as true). Critical reaction to the film was mixed.

Director Bryan Bertino also wrote the film's script, which was originally titled The Faces. Bertino took a particular interest in the horror genre, noting how one can connect to an audience by scaring them. He also stated that he was significantly inspired by thriller films of the 1970s while writing the film.

The Strangers original 2008 trailer.

According to production notes, the film was inspired by true events from director Bryan Bertino's childhood: a stranger came to his home asking for someone who was not there, and Bertino later found out that empty houses in the neighborhood had been broken into that night: "As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody who didn't live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses".

In interviews, Bertino stated he was "very impressed" with some of the theories circulating on the Internet about the "true events" the movie is allegedly based on, but said his main inspiration was from the true crime book Helter Skelter; some have said that the film was also inspired by the Keddie Cabin Murders of 1981 that occurred in a small vacation community in California's Sierra Nevada. The 2006 French film entitled THEM is very similar in plot.

When casting the two leads in the film, Bertino sought Liv Tyler for the part of Kristen; Tyler, who had not worked for several years due to the birth of her son, read the script out of a stack of others she had been offered; "It spoke to me", she said. "I especially liked Bryan's way of saying a lot, but not saying everything. Often in movies, it's all spelled out for you, and the dialogue is very explanatory. But Bryan doesn't write like that; he writes how normal people communicate—with questions lingering. I knew it would be interesting to act that."

Early promotional posters for The Strangers.
Canadian actor Scott Speedman was cast as James, Kristen's longtime boyfriend. Speedman was also riveted by the script: "The audience actually gets time to breathe with the characters before things get scary as hell. That got me interested from the first pages", he said. In casting the three masked intruders, Bertino chose Australian fashion model Gemma Ward for the part of Dollface, feeling she had the exact "look" he had imagined. In preparing for the role, which was her first major acting part, Ward read Helter Skelter for inspiration. Kip Weeks was then cast as the looming Man in the Mask, and television actress Laura Margolis, who found the script to be a real "page turner", was cast in the part of Pin-Up Girl.

On a $9 million budget, filming for The Strangers began on October 10, 2006, and finished in early 2007 – the movie was filmed on location roughly ten miles outside of Florence, South Carolina, and the 2,000-square-foot (190 m2) house interior was constructed by a set crew. Though the film takes place in 2005, the house itself was deliberately constructed with an architecture reminiscent of 1970s ranch houses and dressed in furnishings applicable to the era. The property was located on the outskirts of Timmonsville, South Carolina. During production, it was reported that star Liv Tyler came down with tonsillitis due to screaming so much. Despite some weather complications, the film was largely shot in chronological order.

In late July 2007, director Bertino and stars Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman attended San Diego's annual Comic-Con event to promote the film; all three were present for a questions-and-answers panel session, as well as a screening of the film's official teaser trailer; this trailer was released on the internet several weeks later, and can be found on YouTube. It was not until March 2008 that a full-length trailer for the film was released, which can be found on Apple's QuickTime trailer gallery. The trailer originally began running in theaters attached to Rogue Pictures' sci-fi film Doomsday (2008) in March 2008, and television advertisements began airing on networks in early-mid April 2008 to promote the film's May release.

The Strangers promotional/press photos. The Mask (Kip Weeks), left. Dollface (Gemma Ward), right.
Two one-sheet posters for the film were released in August 2007, one showing the three masked Strangers, and the other displaying a wounded Liv Tyler. In April 2008, roughly two months before the film's official theatrical debut, the final, official one-sheet for the film was released, featuring Liv Tyler standing in a darkened kitchen with a masked man looming behind her in the shadows.

The producers originally planned for a summer release in 2007, which was eventually postponed to November 2007. It was pushed back yet one more time, and officially opened in the United States and Canada on May 30, 2008; in its opening weekend, the film grossed $20,997,985 in 2,467 theaters, ranking #3 at the box office and averaging $8,514 per theater. As of June 23, 2008 the film has grossed $52,597,610 in the U.S. alone exceeding industry estimates, and is considered a large box office success considering the production budget was a mere $9 million. The film opened in the United Kingdom later that summer on August 29, 2008, and as of September 21, 2008, had grossed £4,025,916. The overall box office return was highly successful for a horror film earning an outstanding $82.3 million at the box office worldwide. The movie received a rating of R from the MPAA.

The Strangers was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on October 21, 2008. Both the Blu-ray and DVD feature rated and unrated versions of the film, with the unrated edition running approximately two minutes longer. Bonus materials include two deleted scenes and a making-of featurette. The DVD was released in the UK on December 26, 2008. The film was available on Universal VOD (Video on Demand) from November 19, 2008 through March 31, 2009.

The Strangers promotional/press photos. Scott Speedman (left). Liv Tyler (right).

The soundtrack of this film was released on the May 27, 2008. The album consists completely of 19 scores composed by score producer tomandandy. The soundtrack was distributed by Lakeshore Records. The album was received with generally positive reviews by critics. "It's a creepy score for what appears to be a movie that will make you jump as well as make sure that the doors are locked at night," writes reviewer Jeff Swindoll. "This is an impressive score and adds a tremendous chill-factor to the film," says Zach Freeman, grading it with an A.

Rogue Pictures' producers confirmed to Variety that a sequel is in the works, tentatively titled The Strangers: Part II. The film will be written by Bryan Bertino and directed by Laurent Briet. Shock Till You Drop reported that Realitivity Media put The Strangers: Part II on hold because they found that the movie might not be in their interest, even though Universal Pictures is willing to release it. However, Rogue Pictures confirmed in January 2011 that the sequel is now in production, and was supposed to begin filming as early as April 2011.

The plot follows a family of four who have been evicted from their home due to the economy, and are paid a visit by the same three strangers from the first film. It is not known whether the sequel will receive a theatrical or a straight-to-DVD release. Liv Tyler will return as Kristen McKay while the original three masked villains are also set to return, however, in an interview Tyler had announced that she would only have a minor role. According to Liv Tyler, The Strangers: Part II will be released in late 2014.

Film Facts: The script was originally titled "The Faces."

Bryan Bertino said the film was inspired by the infamous Charles Manson murders.

The Strangers masks. The Girl (left). Dollface (right).
Above is a Amazon link to the closest look we could find for The Strangers mask. The Strangers masks is not produced. The picture above is custom made prop replicas. You can make your own or purchase the Emo Girl Mask through Amazon. That's the only mask we could find that looks the closest.
Arguably based on the 1981 Keddie Resort murders in northern California, although this has not been substantiated by anyone connected with the movie, with the writer claiming it is based on a childhood experience.

According to director Bryan Bertino the film is partially based on an incident he experienced as a child. One evening, a stranger came to his door, asked for someone who wasn't there, and left. Later, Bertino found out that other homes in his neighborhood had been broken into that night.

Before filming any scene after The Strangers begin terrorizing the couple, Liv Tyler would have to run laps, do jumping jacks, and other physical activities to get her out of breath. This was so she would have the panicky feeling the real life characters would have been experiencing.

During filming, in order to get an actual reaction from Liv Tyler, Bryan Bertino would tell her where to expect a loud bang from, but would then have the loud noise come from a completely different direction.

The film was shot entirely with hand-held cameras or steady cams. Every shot has some camera movement.

Many theaters across the United States were sent faulty reels of the movie, containing sound problems, which made a few minutes to several scenes of the movie filled with nothing but static. Most movie-watchers didn't even realize the sound was a problem, since the dark overtone and loud background music at some areas make the static seem like part of the movie.

The film makers tried to design the house as one that "your brother could have lived in, that you could have grown up in" in order to make the audience feel more attached to the film. The movie was not shot inside of an actual house, the interior of the home was built on a sound stage.

The exterior shots of the house were filmed at an actual farm house. The film makers were surprised to discover the property had a barn, garage, a forest and a long enough road. The film was shot in chronological order.

The song "Mama Tried", which is heard several times during the film playing on the record player, is a 1968 hit by Merle Haggard and the Strangers.

The car crash sequence was filmed in three takes.

Originally scheduled for release in summer 2007. After 2 delays, it was released May 30, 2008.

Liv Tyler suffered from tonsillitis during shooting.

Liv Tyler is Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler's daughter.

Mark Romanek was originally slated to direct the film.

According to Bryan Bertino and Liv Tyler, the finale had much more interaction and dialog between the victims and the strangers in the original script. It was cut to keep the intruders mysterious and eerie.

There were two special prosthetic makeups for Glenn Howerton. One of them was for fresh kill (which took 3 hours in the make-up chair), when he was shot in the face by Scott Speedman, and the other was for 1-hour-later prosthetics.

I seem to be approaching nihilist films on a streak, viewing "The Virgin Spring" recently. The Strangers has a lot of that "philosophy" crammed in. I read comments claiming the film doesn't connect us to the characters, and is crammed of every cliché to be. Oh the irony. When we see horror films, being attached to characters is a repeated figure, a screenwriter's must. Bertino does good in creating the night horror without any development, no overbearing crudeness, playing suspense and psychological terror like piano keys.

This is the approach: the strangers attack because their victims "are at home", and they do not respond to pleas, long reasonings or emotions. It's nihilism pure: they kill because they find control and domination powerful, and they don't care about consequences, moral or of any other kind. In that optic, "The Strangers" is truly scary. We are not dealing with supernatural beings, but human beings, who chose the path of downright evil and can't be convinced of not doing it. People like that may be lurking out there, and that scares most of us viewers.

Amazon: The Strangers (Universal Studios) - $5.99 (DVD)
Amazon: The Strangers (Universal Studios) - $7.49 (BLU-RAY)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Night of the Comet (1984, USA)

Directed by: Thom Eberhardt
Produced by: Andrew Lane, Wayne Crawford
Written by: Thom Eberhardt
Starring: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran
Music by: David Richard Campbell
Cinematography: Arthur Albert
Editing by: Fred Stafford
Production by: Thomas Coleman and Michael Rosenblatt Productions, Film Development Fund
Distributed by: Atlantic Releasing Corporation, CBS/FOX Video
Release dates: November 16, 1984
Running time: 95 min
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $3,000,000 (estimated)
Box office: $14,418,922 (USA)
Plot: Two pretty high school girls (one a cheerleader!) don't like their stepmother or her new boyfriend ("Daddy would have gotten us Uzis!"). One morning, they wake up to find that everybody in Los Angeles has been turned to dust by a Comet except them, a guy who looks like Erik Estrada, some zombies and the occupants of a secret underground government installation.

Info: Night of the Comet is a 1984 horror/science fiction film written and directed by Thom Eberhardt and starring Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Beltran, and Kelli Maroney. The film was voted number 10 in Bloody Disgusting's Top 10 Doomsday Horror Films in 2009.

Night of the Comet was released on VHS cassette and CED Videodisc on August 30, 1985, and distributed by CBS/FOX Video. A second U.S. VHS printing, distributed by Goodtimes Video, was released on August 30, 1990. The film was officially released on Region 1 DVD on March 6, 2007, and on Region 2 DVD in the U.K. on January 18, 2010. Night of the Comet was released in a Collector's Edition on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory on November 19, 2013.

Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, gave the film an 81% based on 26 critics reviews. Variety noted that Eberhardt "creates a visually arresting B-picture in the neon-primary colors of the cult hit Liquid Sky as well as pointing similarities with Five, The Day of the Triffids, The Omega Man, Dawn of the Dead and Last Woman on Earth. They concluded "a successful pastiche of numerous science fiction films, executed with an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek flair that compensates for its absence in originality."

Night of the Comet original 1984 trailer.

A soundtrack for the film was released on vinyl LP Record and Audio Cassette from Macola Records shortly after the movie was released. The soundtrack's "Learn to Love Again", a love duet performed by Amy Holland and Chris Farren, played in the final scene in the movie and in the closing credits. Other songs include "The Whole World is Celebratin'" (also performed by Chris Farren), "Lady in Love" by Revolver, "Strong Heart" by John Townsend, "Trouble" by Skip Adams, "Living on the Edge" by Jocko Marcellino, "Virgin in Love" by Thom Pace, and "Hard Act to Follow" by Diana DeWitt.

Film Facts: The original working title for the film was "Teenage Mutant Horror Comet Zombies". But, at the time Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics was being produced. So, the company decided to change the title to Night of the Comet to keep from getting into legal issues.

When cheerleader Kelli Maroney (Samantha Belmont) is playing at the radio station as a disk jockey, she says that she is taking requests from "all you teenage mutant comet zombies". This was the working title of the film.

The production designer, John Muto, used what he describes a "comic book" sensibility for the film. Characters were given specific colors, with the bad guys in blues and grays and the girls in colors. Regina's colors were deeper than Sam's to reflect that Regina was more intellectual than Sam and that Sam was wackier than Regina. For example, Sam's cheerleading outfit is made in magenta and turquoise to make it really stand out.

Night of the Comet promotional/press photos. Photos by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images - © 2012 Getty Images

When her MAC-10 jams several times Sam says "See that's the problem with these things, Daddy would have gotten us UZI's" At the time the MAC-10 had an (undeserved) reputation in popular culture for jamming and the UZI had a (well deserved) reputation for reliability.

The LP that Sam tosses over her shoulder is the soundtrack to "Valley Girl", which would become, for a short time, one of the most sought-after albums of all time.

The comet passes over on Friday the 14th December 1984. When Regina is trying to convince Samantha that everyone is dead she says "It's Saturday, where are all the kids?" so the comet passed on Friday night. In the radio station the recording mentions that there are 11 more shopping days till Christmas. If they count the 24th as the last shopping day that means the comet passed on the 14th.

As Regina emerges from the movie theater the morning after the comet, a poster for Death Race 2000 (1975) can be seen on the theater door. Mary Woronov appears in both films.

One of the posters in the projection room of the theater is for the movie "Red Dust". Everyone that was exposed to the comet directly was turned into red dust.

Night of the Comet 1990 VHS distributed by Goodtimes Video.
At the start of the movie, Regina is upset because the player "DMK" has upset her perfect list of wins on the video game in the theater lobby. The car that almost runs over Samantha at the end of the movie is driven by Danny Mason Keener. "DMK" is his license plate.

The motorcycle featured is a 1972 650cc Triumph T120 Bonneville. The Triumph is the most sought for motorcycle by History Channel's American Pickers.

Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart had both previously acted in soap operas on television.

Hector was originally supposed to have a major emotional breakdown when he went back to his family's house.

The scenes of an empty Los Angeles were shot on Christmas day. The film crew shot on Christmas day because not many people would be out; spending time and staying home with their families, leaving the streets empty.

The sequence at the department store was shot at night. It was shot at Sherman Oaks Galleria. Sherman Oaks Galleria is a shopping mall and business center located in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, United States, at the corner of Ventura and Sepulveda Boulevards in the San Fernando Valley.

Night of the Comet promotional/press photo. © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Night of the Comet stars Kelli Maroney (who appeared in Chopping Mall). Chopping Mall (1986) was also filmed at Sherman Oaks Galleria.

The radio station set was built in an abandoned warehouse. Mary Woronov wrote all of her dialogue for her scene at the radio station with Robert Beltran.

Writer/director Thom Eberhardt's car can be seen at the stoplight in the montage of a desolate Los Angeles.

Thom Eberhardt while writing the script asked teenagers for their input on what they would do if they survived the end of the world.

The two police officers who are seen riding motorcycles in Samantha's nightmare were actually location cops who worked on the movie stopping traffic so filming can be done.

Catherine Mary Stewart did almost all of her own stunts except for riding the motorcycle through Los Angeles. The long shots of Stewart on the motorcycle is a stunt woman while the close-ups of Stewart were done by putting the motorcycle on top of a flatbed truck.

Kelli Maroney kept one of the two cheerleader outfits that she wore in this film.

Night of the Comet poster design by Madison Mathews.
The photos of Hector's family are actually pictures of various family members of writer/director Thom Eberhardt's wife.

Heather Langenkamp auditioned for the role of Samantha.

Chance Boyer, who plays little boy survivor Brian, is the real-life son of actress Sharon Farrell, who plays Doris in the film.

Ivan E. Roth pulled out a prop gun during his audition for the role of Willy.

Make-up artist David B. Miller had his first supervisor job on this film.

Robert Beltran initially turned down the role of Hector because he didn't want to play Hector as a typical 'Cholo' type.

Trapped in a hellish copyright limbo for over a decade, Thom Eberhardt's "Night of the Comet" is a film whose reputation is due for a serious rehabilitation. Generally--and wrongly--categorized with typical 80s teen horror films, "Comet" is in fact a smart, skillful parody of the low-budget sci-fi horror classics of the 50s, 60s and 70s--and a wry commentary on teen culture in the 1980s as well. For those familiar with the original films, the parody "clues" are all over the place--not least of which is that the early part of the film takes place in the back of LA's classically offbeat El Rey movie theatre, which is showing low-budget B horror movies. Most of the "scary" scenes are preceded (subtly or otherwise) by the famous "red light" warning used commonly in the 60s and 70s. And the apocalyptic plot, settings and dialog, especially among the scientists, are straight out of the 50s.

Night of the Comet art by Nathan Thomas Milliner. Shout! Factory Blu-ray art (right).
Catherine Mary Stewart is by far the centerpiece of the movie as Reggie, the only teenage girl in Los Angeles who's both a lowly-paid theatre usher and an expert with assault weapons. She is most definitely *not* a Valley Girl. A pre-"Voyager" Robert Beltran is Hector "date night in the barrio" Gomez, the classic b-movie hero, and far more engaging here than his stoic, dry-as-bones role for the McTrek franchise. Kelli Maroney brings the totally 80s camp value as Valley Girl Samantha, who realizes with horror that her pool of potential Izod-clad boyfriends has just shrunk dramatically. Geoffrey Lewis sheds his mostly Western image here as the deliciously megalomaniacal leader of the researchers, whose taste for superscience soon gives way to a craving for hot buttered gray matter.

Eberhardt is a canny director who doesn't miss a trick--the scares are rare, but when they come, they'll get you. The gore is minimal, but the atmosphere of malevolence gets progressively thicker until the climax. The tightrope between comedy and fright is skillfully toed--undead droog stockboys, anyone? The effects may not be the digitized visual pablum people take for granted these days, but in a way they're more engaging for their rawness. Anyone who thinks this was a low-budget movie has never tried to completely empty out downtown Los Angeles at 7 am for a film shoot. Thom Eberhardt should be hailed for his brilliantly sharp, funny script and his deft execution as director.

Veteran sci-fi/indie/horror actress Mary Woronov is "Night of the Comet"'s direct physical and spiritual link to the golden days of the genre. She's passing the baton here to a new generation of camp sci-fi/horror fans. That nobody has thus far picked up that baton is a tragedy.

To address a distressingly common misperception: the comet in question is *not* Halley's comet. Both in-film plot elements and the film's tagline suggest this comet only appeared once before, when it wiped out the dinosaurs. Halley's comet, on the other hand, has had more comebacks than Cher. "Night of the Comet" works pretty well the way a lot of people view it--as a simple 80s cheesy sci-fi comedy. But as with "Rocky Horror," if you've seen the original material it's spoofing, the results are a hundred times more rewarding.

The MGM / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer DVD is becoming RARE and OOP (out of print). Get the Night of the Comet DVD while it's still IN STOCK.

Amazon: Night of the Comet (MGM / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) - $35.99 (DVD)
Amazon: Night of the Comet (Shout! / Scream Factory) - $20.35 (BLU-RAY)

Chopping Mall (aka Killbots) (1986, USA)

Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Produced by: Julie Corman
Written by: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O'Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cinematography: Tom Richmond
Editing by: Leslie Rosenthal
Distributed by: Concorde Pictures, Lightning Video, Vestron Video International
Release dates: March 21, 1986
Running time: 77 min, 95 min (original release)
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $800,000 (estimated)
Box office: Unknown
Plot: A group of teenagers that work at the mall all get together for a late night party in one of the stores. When the mall goes on lock down before they can get out, the robot security system activates after a malfunction and goes on a killing spree. One by one the three bots try to rid the mall of the "Intruders". The only weapons the kids can use are the supplies in other stores. Or... if they can make it till morning when the mall opens back up.

Info: Chopping Mall is an American horror/science fiction film, produced by Julie Corman and originally released on March 21, 1986 under the title Killbots. Lionsgate released the film twice on DVD; once in 2004 with special features including a featurette, commentary, still gallery and trailer, and in 2012 as part of an 8 horror film DVD set. Upon release, the movie did poorly at the box office. It did better when it was re-released as Chopping Mall. The film is based around killer security robots taking over a shopping mall and murdering teenage employees. The term killbot is never actually mentioned during the movie.

Jim Wynorski directed the movie and wrote it with Steve Mitchell. It was filmed mostly at Sherman Oaks Galleria, with occasional set shots (e.g., the paint store). The movie starred Kelli Maroney (who appeared in Night of the Comet and the daytime soap opera Ryan's Hope) and Tony O'Dell (from the TV series Head of the Class). Roger Corman and his wife, Julie, produced it. Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov share a cameo as their characters from Eating Raoul, Paul and Mary Bland.

There are at least two different versions of the movie. The TV cut has some extra footage, like a small homage to Attack of the Crab Monsters, extended scenes of Ferdy and Allison watching TV, some aerial shots, and an extension of one of the Ferdy/Allison scenes. This is one of those rare times when the TV edit has more than a few extra seconds of footage over the theatrical version, but no official source offers this version.

Chopping Mall original 1986 trailer.

On the DVD commentary tracks, Wynorski and Mitchell discussed many details of making the film, including an injury that the director suffered while helping prepare a stunt sequence, their unfriendly relationship with the Galleria's security chief (and friendly one with the mall's owner), the many beautiful women who were part of the cast, and ways that they dealt with having little time or money and finished their work on time.

Julie Corman wanted to make a film about a killer in a mall and Jim Wynorski agreed to write one cheaply if he could direct. Wynorski said he was inspired by the 1954 film Gog; he claims he never saw the 1974 TV movie Trapped which some believe inspired Chopping Mall.

Film Facts: The movie was originally theatrically released in March 1986 under its original title, "Killbots." It performed poorly during its initial release. The producers felt the movie's title might have disinterested audiences, who might think based on the original movie poster that it was a "Transformers"-like children's cartoon instead of a violent exploitation movie. After some time, the movie was re-released on video under its new title with over 15 minutes cut.

When the stunt crew was setting up a scene involving a character being thrown to his death from the third level of the mall, director Jim Wynorski volunteered to try the stunt himself as long as they set him up from the second level. He completed it successfully but found out he'd broken a rib in the process; Wynorski did not tell anyone he had gotten hurt and no one found about it during the remaining production time.

Chopping Mall 1986 VHS distributed by Lightning Video.
The horror movie that Allison (Kelli Maroney) and Ferdy (Tony O'Dell) are watching in the furniture store is Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), another Roger Corman movie.

The book Gerrit Graham's character is reading is "They Came from Outer Space" which was edited by the film's director, Jim Wynorski. One of the stories in the collection is "The Racer" which was filmed as Death Race 2000 (1975) featuring Mary Woronov.

The film was allowed to shoot at a real California mall as long as they did not damage any facilities and had removed any traces of their presence before the mall opening time of 9AM. While the mall's head of security didn't like the filmmakers and was constantly accusing them of causing disrepair, the mall's owner was supportive of the film and made sure the production was able to complete its work on schedule.

Chopping Mall was filmed at Sherman Oaks Galleria. Sherman Oaks Galleria is a shopping mall and business center located in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, United States, at the corner of Ventura and Sepulveda Boulevards in the San Fernando Valley.

Chopping Mall stars Kelli Maroney (who appeared in Night of the Comet). Night of the Comet (1984) was also filmed at Sherman Oaks Galleria.

Originally theatrically released in March 1986 under Killbots. Later re-released as Chopping Mall.
The budget for the film was very limited (around $800,000 total) but the director had no problems with this, as he was happy to work on a Roger Corman film and knew beforehand that Corman always kept expenses to a minimum.

John Terlesky's character of Mike is seen chewing gum in all of his scenes. Kelli Maroney did most of her own stunts.

The Lost Empire (1985), is seen in the background of many shots in the restaurant.

The Killbot claws were made from plastic toy grippers adapted with electric solenoids.

Despite the iconic VHS cover and ad campaign, the mechanical claw seen gripping the bloody shopping bag never appears in the film. Similarly, there is only one actual mutilation in the film (the exploding head scene). The rest of the victims die either by having their throats slit, being electrocuted, set on fire, or falling to their deaths.

Director Jim Wynorski provided the voices of the three Protector robots.

The film's negative was tied up in legal limbo, so the Lion's Gate DVD edition of the film was mastered from a Lightning Video VHS master.

Killbots 1986 VHS distributed by Vestron Video International.
Cameo Dick Miller, the same character he played in A Bucket of Blood (1959), another Roger Corman production. Other cameos include: Mary Woronov, the same character she played in Eating Raoul (1982). Paul Bartel, the same character he played in Eating Raoul (1982).

Debra Blee was originally cast as Linda Stanton, but dropped out prior to the shooting of the film. Blee was subsequently replaced by Karrie Emerson.

The special effects crew actually built five remote controlled robots to serve as the Protector killbots. Three were required for the scenes of the robots together in the first half of the film, with two extras as backups in the event that the originals were damaged during any of the action sequences. In order to keep the robots looking realistic (as well as due to the film's budgetary constraints), they were constructed out of such items as wheelchair frames and pieces of conveyor belt. Excluding shooting laser beams, most of what the killbots are seen doing onscreen was the result of the effects crew operating them via remote control.

In this insignificant but nevertheless fun 80's low-budgeter, the sex-hungry teenagers for once aren't chased around by a killer wearing a ridiculous mask but by a troop of malfunctioning and heavily armed security robots! Four couples that work in various stores at the Park Plaza shopping mall secretly throw an after hours party during the same night when a lightening storm completely disorientates the 3 brand new "Protector" robots and get killed off one by one. "Chopping Mall" (how can you not love that title?) is a lot of fun to watch and it's easily Jim Wynorski's best effort out of more than 60 directed films.

Limited edition 180 gram colored vinyl of Chuck Cirino's score for the classic Jim Wynorski film Chopping Mall. This new vinyl reissue features audio remastered from the original tapes. Released in 2014 by Waxwork Records.
Despite the fact that "Chopping Mall" doesn't take itself too seriously and mainly focuses on satire, there really are some tense moments and properly mounted suspense sequences. The laser head-explosion sequence is famous and there are multiple other cheese-highlights. But what is perhaps the most surprising, are the engaging acting performances and the welcome amount of tasteful nudity. The most familiar cute face in the cast is Barbara Crampton who stars as a screaming beauty in between her two greatest films "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond". Truly ingenious are the endless references towards Roger Corman's repertoire, especially illustrated through cameos of Paul Bartel, Dick Miller and Mary Woronov. Unquestionably, "Chopping Mall" is a righteous guilty pleasure of many, many horror fans.
I never thought I would see this movie released on DVD. And if I did I would have guessed it would have been ultra bare bones. But I have to say, this release was pretty good. The movie itself is a fun, cheap 80's flick, with some better special effects than a normal movie of this caliber would have. The acting is decent. The script is campy, but fast paced enough. The characters are okay, and work well within the story, and the direction is actually pretty good, considering how cheap this movie was.
Watching this movie made me realize how different the B-Movie market was then. Now you get a movie with almost no style, and a lot of point and shoot direction. The movies now usually look like they were filmed in someone's back yard (and probably were), and had his neighbors do the acting. Then you had a movie that had decent direction, actual working actors, and some minor semblance of dignity. Over all the movie is an 7/10. It's pretty good, but needed a little work in the final act.
The disc for Chopping Mall is actually way better than the price, or cheap cover art would let on. For starters, the extras are actually decent, with an informative documentary on the making of the Killbots, which then goes in to the production on the film a bit. Why Lions Gate went and did this, I don't know, but I'm glad they did. It's a nice extra, which is informative. There is also a commentary, which I haven't listened to. But the fact that Lions Gate even bothered is a plus in there case. You also get the theatrical trailer to the film.
The picture for the disc, while somewhat soft, is very good. I mean, the movie is old, and the original prints are probably damaged, so the fact that the movie looks as good as it does is a major plus. It is full frame, but I don't think this movie was shot in Wide Screen, so nothing wrong there. The audio is very good, clear, and with almost no distortion or drop outs. It also is nice that the disc is about 14 dollars. A fairly cheap price for a very well made disc. I recommend the film, and even more now that the DVD is out, and turned out so well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cargo (2013, Australia)

Directed by: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Produced by: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke
Written by: Yolanda Ramke
Starring: Andy Rodoreda, Alison Gallagher, Ruth Venn
Music by: Helen Grimley
Cinematography: Daniel Foeldes
Editing by: Shannon Longville
Distributed by: Dreaming Tree Productions
Release dates: February 17, 2013 (Australia), May 23, 2014 (USA)
Running time: 7 min
Country: Australia
Language: English
Budget: Unknown
Box office: Unknown
Plot: Stranded in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, a man sets in motion an unlikely plan to protect the precious cargo he carries: his infant daughter.
Info: Who said you can’t try your damned hardest to be an amazing father during a zombie apocalypse? Here’s a superb short film, published on February 17, 2013, that became a finalist in Tropfest Australia 2013. The short is directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, and produced by Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke, Marcus Newman, and Daniel Foeldes. This team has formed a collective under the umbrella Dreaming Tree Productions.

We've seen angry zombies, extremely gory zombies, shuffling zombies and smart zombies. We think it's pretty safe, in fact, to say that the whole "zombie" thing has pretty much played itself out (although that probably won't stop it from shuffling along tiredly all the same). What we haven't seen a great deal of in zombies is poignancy and humanity. There's John Ajvide Lindqvist's Handling the Undead and perhaps Shaun of the Dead, just a little, at the end.

And now there's also Cargo, an Australian short film by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke. It's not about the scares and the gore (although there is a little bit of the latter). Instead, it takes a real human dilemma and puts it smack bang in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Eschewing the exposition about how the apocalypse came about, it starts with our unnamed protagonist, who's been bitten, with a young child to somehow get to safety. His solution is both ingenious and heartbreaking, elevating zombie fiction in a way we always hoped was possible.

Above is the full Youtube video for Cargo. Keep in mind it is a 7 minute short film. Cargo is a brilliant and beautiful. My only complaint: I wished it didn't ended. I hope they turn it into a full length feature.

Cargo premiered in 2013 at the Tropfest Film Festival in Australia. Surprisingly, it didn't win any awards at the festival. Even though it deserved first place. But, Cargo was nominated for 'Best Editing in a Short Film'. Director Nicholas Clifford walked away as the winner of Tropfest 2013 for his short film We’ve All Been There.

It’s a phenomenon that didn’t really exist before the internet: going viral. The term has come to mean quite a few things and can be applied to all sorts of different scenarios, but in this case, we’re talking about a video that is seen by millions of people in a relatively short amount of time — a near impossibility for the average person just a decade ago. Ben Howling had this exact situation happen to him about a month ago, when the movie he co-directed with Yolanda Ramke for the Australian Tropfest Film Festival was considered a finalist and then posted online, going viral long after. It has now been viewed over 2.7 million times in just a matter of weeks.

Here's a discussion with director Ben Howling about the production and how the sudden success of the film caught the filmmakers off-guard: It was shot on Red One MX, with Zeiss CP2s. Was mostly handheld, with some Steadicam. Pre-production was messy, because Yolanda (Writer/Co-Director) and I were working interstate at the time, whilst our producer and DOP (also a producer) were doing the ground work and recces to help find locations. Landing Andy Rodoreda was a big coup for us, because he’s had some leading feature roles over here, and we didn’t think he’d be interested in a little short film concept.

When we contacted his agent, he informed us that Andy had recently stepped away from acting, but he was happy to pass on the script – and from there, Andy liked the script, and the rest was history. Everything was sorted via emails and drop box. Yolanda and I were back in Sydney 3 days before shooting. We shot it over the course of a weekend, had 2 weeks for post, which was made even tighter because it was around Christmas time, so people were flat out with end of year deadlines, and going away for Christmas. Our Composer was actually working on Christmas day for us!

From there, we entered it into Tropfest, were listed as a Finalist, had a great time but ultimately didn’t place on the night. Since then, we’ve submitted to other festivals, and been invited to screen at others. But then, out of nowhere, Cargo was picked up and screened on Buzzfeed and, and the video took on a life of its own from there. Part of the T’s and C’s with Tropfest is that they own the rights to distribute the film as they see fit, so they put all finalists online. Ideally, if you’re submitting to other festivals, you don’t want that, but in this case, it’s worked out well for us and garnered more exposure than we would have had hope for on the festival circuit.

After the film was picked up by a number of different outlets online, it blew up. The response to Cargo has been overwhelming, to say the least. We’ve had people from major agencies and studios in the USA and UK reach out to us, and off the back of that we’re now organizing a trip to LA to meet with them. Moving forward, we’re currently developing our next short film with plans to go into production later this year, and we have a slate of feature concepts which we are also developing, with the intent to make our feature debut in the near future.

His advice to anyone releasing a film: For anyone else who is planning to release a short film in the near future, my advice would be to be prepared. Have your next project ready to go, so that if it were to start gaining viral traction, you can capitalize; whether that’s via talks with agencies and studios, or launching a kick starter campaign to fund the next project.

I think his last point is something everyone should keep in mind. You never really know if a movie you’re making will find its way onto millions of screens, so having a few projects ready to go isn’t a bad idea. I know for film festivals, if you catch the eye of a producer or agent, it can help to have other material prepared (like scripts) or at least an outline of a number of different movie ideas. Even if you release a short and it doesn’t go viral, having a strategy for getting the movie out there and getting it seen by as many people as possible is important if you want to take advantage of any possible exposure.

Editors note: I was watching a documentary on Netflix the other night called Doc of the Dead. It was actually a very good documentary, covering almost everything zombies. Not to be confused with the George Romero documentary, Document of the Dead. But, it was showing clips of different zombie movies. Most I recognized right away. Then it showed this clip that caught my attention titled Cargo. I was so impressed by the clip I decided to research it further. Come to find out Cargo was a short film that was made in 2013. This 7 minute short film made in Australia blew me away. Cargo was a Tropfest Australia 2013 Finalist. Cargo received a 7.7/10 rating at IMDb. The only complaint I had I wished it didn't ended and hope they turn this into a full movie. Cargo is beautiful and brilliant.