Exclusive Interview with Guillmero Amoedo About ‘The Stranger’

Guillermo Amoedo photo

Uruguayan writer and director Guillermo Amoedo has left a solid mark on Chilean audiences with his short films and movies, and he was a co-writer on the Eli Roth productions of “Aftershock” and “The Green Inferno.” In 2014, he left his mark on American audiences with the supernatural thriller “The Stranger.”

Cristobal Tapia Montt stars as Martin, a mysterious man who arrives in a small Canadian town to look for his wife. The reasons why Martin seeks her out become clear as the movie goes on, but he quickly discovers she has died and decides to commit suicide as a result. But after he is viciously attacked by a trio of criminals, the incident soon has a snowball effect on the whole town, and its inhabitants soon find themselves ensnared in a nasty bloodbath many of them will be unable to escape.

I got to speak with Guillermo about “The Stranger” and of how he came up with the idea for it. Although it his film, Eli Roth’s name is heavily featured on the movie’s advertisements and it had me asking Guillermo how much the “Hostel” director was involved in its making. Guillermo also discussed how Cristobal was cast, of how a particularly brilliant vampire movie became a strong inspiration for “The Stranger,” and of how family always plays a big part in horror films.

The Stranger 2014 movie poster

Ben Kenber: What was the genesis of “The Stranger’s” story for you?

Guillermo Amoedo: Well it was an idea that I had five years ago in between scripts. It came actually from the idea of what kind of vampire movie I would like to see. I’m actually not a vampire movie fan, but I saw a vampire film called “Let the Right One In.” I really loved the way it is designed by genre and I really loved the way they treated the subject, and I wanted to do something very grounded in the kind of vampire films that I would like to see; more grounded and more character driven than the ones that are out there right now. I wanted to take the tone of that film and make it more grounded, but then also make it my own kind of story that was more of a character driven story about this guy who has to choose between his own family or humankind. I like this kind of character that had this deep moral conflict inside of them and has to make the tough decisions.

BK: On the surface, “The Stranger” looks like a vampire movie, but it also has elements of a ghost movie as well as supernatural elements as well. Was it always your intention to mix up genres with this movie?

GA: Yeah, that was the idea. It has of course some supernatural elements, but it’s more about the people than it was about the supernatural powers. That’s why I wanted to make all the supernatural stuff as minimal as possible. They don’t have wings, they don’t fly, they just have some stuff from the vampire mythology but they’re actually pretty human.

BK: “The Stranger” has Eli Roth’s name on the top of this movie’s advertisements and I know that you worked with him previously on “Aftershock.” What part did he play in the making of “The Stranger?”

GA: Well he helped a lot in the development of the script and had a lot of notes. He also helped us a lot in post-production with different cuts and ideas. He was involved in different stages of this process. This is the fourth film where we have been involved with Eli and we have a very friendly collaboration process with him.

BK: I really enjoyed Cristobal Tapia Montt’s performance as Martin and I love how he holds the audiences’ attention just with a single stare. What was it like directing him in “The Stranger?”

GA: He was amazing. Originally the script was written for someone older, much older, like 45 or 50 years old. But then before doing the film I made a short film and I casted him for it. I changed the age of the character in order to cast him, and he did such a wonderful job that I changed everything so he could play the role of Martin. He’s a terrific actor. He has a lot of experience working in Chilean films and TV, and I hope he can have more opportunities in the future.

BK: I liked that, as a writer, you didn’t go out of your way to spell out everything in the movie’s story for the audience. As a writer, how important is it for you to keep secrets from the audience?

GA: Well I think it has to be a balance of how much you can tell without revealing everything, but you also don’t want to reveal too much. There’s a line that says the secret to being boring is to tell everything. You have to test sometimes the script and then the movie to see how much you can hold back from the audience and how much you have to give them so it’s tricky sometimes. It also depends a lot on the kinds of audiences. Some people get mad because they want to know everything. It’s like the tip of the iceberg; you have to tell as much information as necessary so that the audience can understand the story, but then you can leave a lot of stuff that the audience can fill with their own imagination. So I like to do a lot of that stuff where people have to fill part of the story with their own imagination.

BK: Ariel Levy who plays Caleb, the town bully, was he meant to have the same hairstyle as Eminem in this movie?

GA: (Laughs) That wasn’t actually the idea, but now that you mention he does look a lot like an Eminem fan. It was to change Ariel’s aspect as much is possible, so we changed his haircut and his hair color and he was intended to resemble Ben Foster in “3:10 to Yuma,” but something like that more than Eminem. It was changing Ariel’s aspect everything to get him more involved in his character.

BK: Nicolás Durán’s character of Peter is referred to as a tagger which is slang for graffiti artist, and it was interesting to see the symbolism in what he was painting. Was there any intentional symbolism in what he was spraying over the walls in town?

GA: There is one thing: the symbol that he writes on the walls is the same as the marking that Cristobal’s character has on his wrist. That’s actually the idea that there is some kind of connection between them, and it’s a made up symbol that has to do with something the Greeks used to do. They used to mark the people who are ill before Christ, so we are trying to build a mythology between that and what kind of character that Cristobal plays.

BK: I imagine you had a very tight budget to work with on “The Stranger” and a short schedule to make it in. How much did that force you to be more creative while shooting?

GA: Always limitations, I think, are better. Sometimes you have too many limitations to work with, but when you have enough… It’s a good thing to know your limitations from before, so when I wrote the script I knew how many pages we could shoot a day and how much stuff we could do so I tried to plan everything right from the beginning. Then when there’s so much trouble that I think we were pretty much prepared for the worst, and we ended up doing a pretty good job.

BK: The town where you shot “The Stranger” in has a wonderfully Gothic feel to it as well as a great small-town vibe which fits the movie perfectly. Did you always plan to shoot the movie there, or did this town come to your attention through a location scout?

GA: Well we actually planned to shoot everything at another town that was farther away from the town (we shot in), more South. This town is near a place near another town where one of the producers of the movie has a house where he always goes to for vacation. He told me that this place was great and had lakes and volcanoes and everything. We went there and it was amazing. I mean everywhere you could shoot from anyplace and you would have three volcanoes in a lake in the town in the view and everything. It was an amazing place to shoot.

BK: How would you describe “The Stranger” to an audience that has yet to see it?

GA: I would say it is a supernatural thriller about the clash of two fathers who have to decide why on one side this father has this desire to save his son or put in danger the whole of humankind and decides to save humankind, and there’s the other one who decides to save his kid and puts the whole of humankind in danger. So there’s this clash of morals between fathers.

BK: Family always plays a big part in the best horror films.

GA: Yeah, and that’s what actually the film was about. Aside from the supernatural stuff, it’s about how far would you go to save your kid. How much would you put in and risk to save them? Even though your kid might become a monster, it’s still your kid. So that kind of challenges and creates a moral conflict, and that’s what the movie is about.

A big thank you to Guillermo Amoedo for taking the time to talk with me. “The Stranger” is available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

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Exclusive Interview with Cristobal Tapia Montt about ‘The Stranger’

Cristobal Tapia Montt in The Stranger

American audiences may not know who Cristobal Tapia Montt is, but they will not be able to forget him after watching him in Guillermo Amoedo’s horror thriller “The Stranger.” A Chilean actor who has spent much of his career acting in Spanish language movies and television, this Eli Roth production marks his first ever performance in an English language movie.

In “The Stranger,” Cristobal plays Martin, a mysterious man who arrives in a small town in the southern part of Canada to find his wife, Ana. The both of them are afflicted with a horrible disease which gives them a never ending thirst for human blood, and Martin is in town to kill her. But upon discovering that she died some time ago, he decides to commit suicide so he can eradicate this disease once and for all. However, after being brutally attacked by the town bullies, his presence in the town soon creates a snowball effect which will plunge its inhabitants into a bloodbath they have little chance of escaping.

It was a real pleasure talking with Cristobal about his performance in “The Stranger” as well as his other artistic works. Many have noted his unique approach to the characters he has played, and he has also been recognized for his work as an illustrator and musician. We talked about these things and a lot more, and I invite you to read our interview below.

The Stranger 2014 movie poster

Ben Kenber: Your performance in “The Stranger” is really good. I liked how you managed to hold the audiences’ attention with a single stare.

Cristobal Tapia Montt: Yeah, there is a lot of staring in the movie (laughs).

BK: How do you prepare for moments where you have a close-up and stare straight into the camera?

CTM: I don’t know if there’s much preparation for that. I didn’t have a lot of lines so I knew I was going to have to work on this face and attitude where you could actually understand what I was thinking or feeling, so I just jumped into it on set. Guillermo was directing me pretty well so he really knew what he wanted, so it wasn’t really hard at all. It was really easy and everything was pretty clear from the beginning.

BK: In the production notes it says you have a very unique approach to the characters you play. Could you tell us more about your approach?

CTM: Well actually I didn’t go to acting school, so every character I portray comes from a gut feeling. Whenever I try to imagine myself being that person, I see my characters as living beings as friends or people I’ve met. I just try to understand and have empathy on whatever they are going through or what they are going through and just understand them. It’s a really weird way I guess for me because I don’t know if anyone else does it that way, I try to picture living creatures and try to understand and be them for a while. It’s very intuitive and I just play it by my gut and whatever I feel. It sounds pretty scary, but I guess acting is kind of like that for me.

BK: Your character of Martin remains a very mysterious character in this movie. He’s not necessarily a vampire, but he’s also not entirely human. Did you have to create a whole backstory for this character?

CTM: Yeah of course. Actually I asked Guillermo to help me out with that because he had a backstory already, so he shared it with me and we discussed it and I kind of added my own backstory because there was a couple of years and a couple of gaps in between with his wife and what he had gone through. I just had to come up with this whole backstory and the 16 or 17 years that passed by because you don’t really know what happens. The moment that Martin appears in this northern city in Canada I just had to fill in the gap of all those years, so that’s essentially the backstory that had to come out with because no one really knew went on during those years.

BK: I’m guessing Martin has been on this planet for a lot longer than anyone realizes.

CTM: Yeah, exactly. That was the whole idea in the beginning. That was a really interesting transition because you never hear the word vampire in the movie, but you end up understanding that this movie has a lot to do with vampires. Vampires never grow old, but what we wanted to do… You can see a transition through the years. We just wanted him to have the longer beard and we wanted him to look actually beaten up a little bit just because emotionally he got beaten up so we wanted to reflect that physically. I think you see that in the movie as well because in the flashbacks we (Martin and Ana) both look not younger but fresher in a certain way and Martin looks lighter. We wanted to portray them with this burden 16 years after, and I think you can appreciate that in the movie.

BK: Speaking of emotion, this looks like a very emotionally draining part to play. How were you able to maintain such strong emotions throughout shooting?

CTM: I guess as an actor you get trained to get into it, and when you’re on set you do it and then you just disconnect. It’s kind of like a switch, you know? So in that sense it wasn’t really hard. It was just like getting into it and then stepping out of it. We were shooting at night because most of the movie was shot during the night, so whenever I went home to the cabin where we were staying in, I would just sleep so I didn’t really have any time to even think about it. I would get there at like seven in the morning and wake up at four and just go for it again. It’s exhausting as an actor to shoot at night, but emotionally I was doing pretty much okay. It was fine. It wasn’t really that draining.

BK: What was it like shooting in that small town where the movie takes place?

CTM: It was amazing. It’s this beautiful town down in the south of Chile and it’s amazing. It’s like super green, it’s way down south, it’s rainy, it’s gloomy and it sets the perfect mood for the movie as well. I think we were there for 12 or 14 days, and just to be there and to stay at a cabin that was right off the shore of the lake and wake up to that was very inspiring. It’s easier shooting a movie when you’re in such an amazing location.

BK: What interested you most in playing Martin in “The Stranger?”

CTM: Well the fact that it was in English. It was my first opportunity to play a character in English because I’m a Chilean actor so I’ve only played characters that speak Spanish. So it was a huge opportunity acting wise to try that out and see what it was like to act in English and if I could pull it off as well. The opportunity to be in a movie that is being shown in the (United) States was just very, very attractive, and that possibility existed since the beginning of the movie. I speak English and Spanish so I wouldn’t mind trying to act in English for a while because I’m a native speaker. The story was very interesting as well. I’m a horror fan and I’ve always liked vampire movies and science fiction, and it’s my kind of genre so that was pretty cool as well. It’s like, I get to play a vampire! It was a very interesting project so I was attracted to it from the beginning.

BK: What would you say are the differences between doing a movie in English and doing a movie in another language?

CTM: I thought it was going to be very, very different and maybe more difficult, but in the end it’s the same thing. It’s the same language film wise. You’re speaking a different language but you’re still telling the story. It’s very much the same, you know? I don’t think it’s different at all. But the main difference is that you will probably reach a larger audience because English is a universal language. A lot more people speak English than Spanish I’m assuming. I could be wrong, but I guess it’s easier to show in different countries if it’s in English, and I guess that’s the main difference from acting in Spanish.

BK: I also read that you are known for your music and illustrations as well as your acting. Can you tell us more about that?

CTM: Yeah sure. I’ve been drawing since I was very young. I’ve been drawn to the artistic world in all its forms. I started playing on the piano when I was 12, so I’ve been always been playing music and drawing since an early age. I dropped out of college. I was there for three years and I was interested in studying design. I just kept on drawing and playing. I’ve played a cello, I’ve played in different bands, and I have a music project that I’ve been a part of as well. I compose and sing and play instruments. I just really enjoy art as a channel of expression. Acting is just another form of that art and it just helps me get stuff out of my system. If I didn’t have that it would drive me nuts. It’s very personal though. I’ve never really gotten my music out there. At art shows I show my drawings and I’ve had two that sold, and I play live sometimes. But it’s not something that… I feel like it’s more personal. I really don’t have the urge to just like put it out there and make everyone listen to my music. It’s more about me expressing myself and putting myself out there.

I want to thank Cristobal for taking the time to talk to me. “The Stranger” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Eli Roth Talks with Rie Rasmussen about ‘Human Zoo’

Human Zoo movie poster

Director Eli Roth came to New Beverly Cinema on November 15, 2011 to do a Q&A with Rie Rasmussen about her film “Human Zoo.” He credited Rasmussen for giving a “ballsy performance” in her directorial debut and thanked the audience for “taking a chance on a new film and a new director.” It is only now making its American debut thanks to Quentin Tarantino, and Roth made it clear he is among this movie’s biggest fans.

Roth described “Human Zoo” as having a European sensibility in that you don’t know where it’s going, and he really liked how it gives you time to figure things out. When he asked Rasmussen where the story came from, she said it started with life and how it is a human zoo which puts us behind bars. The movie was also inspired by her stepsister Lin and the American citizenship she finally attained. Lin managed to escape the sex slave trade in Moscow which her mother was tragically sold into, and she was dropped off in Copenhagen. Rasmussen talked about how those born in America won the “ovarian lottery” and of how Lin won the second one by making it to Copenhagen.

Rasmussen also described “Human Zoo” as being a prison of the mind. Her character of Adria Shala puts herself into a mental prison when she is taken in by a sociopath named Srdjan Vasiljevic (Nikola Djuricko). Rasmussen based this on when she moved to New York where she was “let loose on a pack of wild animals.” Having run into the “alpha male attitude” in America, Rasmussen came to see the “violent aspect of males” which made her learn how to defend herself. She also added how the sociopath Srdjan was based on a real guy, and that the moment when Shawn (Nick Corey) takes off all his clothes during a fight happened in real life.

In terms of resources, Rasmussen said she was given a budget of $4 million. However, after all the union payouts for hotel accommodations and travel among other things were taken care of, she only had a million dollars left to work with. She managed to shoot for eight weeks in France while the interiors were shot in Serbia. Whereas most directors have 10 to 16 weeks to edit their movie, Rasmussen only had five as “Transporter 3” was coming in right afterwards. This is extraordinary as those who’ve seen “Human Zoo” can confirm how the movie looks like it cost much more to make.

When it came to directing the violence, Rasmussen said she was allowed to shoot it by those who survived the atrocities in Bosnia. “Human Zoo” opens with a rape sequence, but she succeeded in making it the least sexual it could ever be. She said when it comes to real life rape, no one ever gets an arousing response. Looking back, the audiences she saw the film with reacted very strongly to what they saw.

Rasmussen has had the opportunity to work with filmmakers like Brian De Palma and Luc Besson, and their influence can be seen throughout “Human Zoo.” While it has yet to receive a full blown theatrical release in America due to it being considered an NC-17 rated movie by the MPAA, those who saw it at New Beverly Cinema can attest to its astonishing brilliance. Here’s hoping that it reaches a wider audience sooner rather than later.

Ti West and Gene Jones on Preparing for ‘The Sacrament’

The Sacrament movie poster

You may not know who Gene Jones is, but odds are you have seen him in at least one movie he has co-starred in. Many know him best for his role as the gas station owner who is subjected to one of Anton Chigurh’s terrifying coin tosses in “No Country for Old Men,” and he also appeared as Wild West Barker in “Oz the Great and Powerful” and co-starred in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” But after watching him in Ti West’s “The Sacrament,” it will be impossible to forget who Jones is as he gives us a character who seems sweet on the surface but is really a vicious devil in disguise.

“The Sacrament” follows a couple of reporters as they travel out to a commune located out in the middle of nowhere to find one of a long lost relative. Upon their arrival, they discover the commune is a technology-free zone called Eden Parish, and they meet Father (played by Jones) who is the leader and treats his loyal followers with tremendous warmth and care. But when these outsiders arrive, he quickly sees them as a threat and eventually convinces his followers to take a sinister course of action which leads to an unspeakable tragedy.

The press day for “The Sacrament” was held at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, and many who worked on this movie, be it in front of or behind the camera, participated in an informative press conference. Among those there was West who told us he wanted to audition Jones after seeing him play a pharmacist on “Louie.”

Ti West: There’s a scene where there is a woman waiting in line and asking all these inane questions to the pharmacist who’s not paying attention, and Louie (C.K.’s) waiting behind her and he’s getting bored. And then Gene eventually turns to her and is like, “Have you had a bowel movement today and was it soft?” And then she gets uncomfortable and then that’s the scene, and I was like, “That’s the guy.” So, what we did was that we tracked him down and then I asked him to do a quick audition. Most of the reason I asked him to do the audition wasn’t so much to see if it would be any good. I just wanted to see if he would not be into the material. So I knew that if he did the second audition that he wasn’t going to be uncomfortable with the subject matter like that because you never know if you don’t know people. Gene likes to say that the first audition wasn’t very good and that’s why I asked him to do a second one which is not true. But there was enough from those, just seeing him do it, to know what I had thought was going to happen was going to happen.

The plot of “The Sacrament” was largely inspired by the 1978 Jonestown Massacre when Jim Jones made the followers of the Peoples Temple commit mass suicide. When Jones first appears onscreen as Father, you can’t help but be reminded of Jim, especially with those sunglasses he’s wearing. But in describing his preparation to play Father, Jones shot down our assumptions of what he did to prepare for this role.

Gene Jones: It’s less than one day in Father’s life, and not a typical day. So, I didn’t do any Jim Jones research about what he read and how he interacted with people on a daily basis. What I tried to do was be a guy who was so nice, you would leave your family and you would leave your country and go with this guy. I never met Ti until I stepped onto the set. I did audition for it, but it was a video audition. Actually it was two auditions and Ti commented on those, and those comments gave me the freedom to go where I wanted to go which was in the direction of being so damn trustworthy and so avuncular and nice. A phrase that popped into my head a few weeks ago when I was doing one of these (press conferences) was I wanted to show you somebody who was evil but not mean. Somebody who believed absolutely poisonous things but was the nicest fellow you ever met.

West said when he first met Jones in the flesh was when he arrived at the movie’s set located in Savannah, Georgia. Jones’ first big scene was when he does the interview with the two reporters, and it involved a lot of work and memorization on his part. West was more than prepared for things to go wrong as he described this scene as a “massive undertaking,” but we all felt his astonishment at how things actually turned out.

Ti West: It’s the kind of production day that you dread because it’s a night shoot, there’s 200 extras, it’s 12 pages which is like six times more than anyone wants to shoot in a day and there’s just so many moving parts, and it was cued up to be a disaster. I remember on the very first take I hadn’t told the extras what to do yet, and you’ve got to keep in mind that the extras are just there for one night to be in a movie. They don’t know what the movie is about and they haven’t read the script. They are just like, “Yeah we’re in a movie!” They’re all seated and you figure that some of them aren’t going to be good and will have to move them around, but before we do any of that let’s just wing it. Let’s just try one where Gene comes in and we’ll tell them to cheer. He can come in and then start talking to A.J. (Bowen), and its 12 pages so if the lines get screwed up we’ll stop and then we’ll do it in chunks, and this is how we are going to get through this night. Well on the very first take, Gene came in everybody went crazy. He sat down, did a 17-minute unbroken take without dropping a line, got up, everybody cheered and he walked out, and all of the reactions from the extras were their genuine reactions. They weren’t me feeding them things to do because I just wanted to assess the situation, but the assessment of the situation was we don’t need to do anything because Gene nailed that so effortlessly, and then all the extras chimed in perfectly. Gene had figured out how he was going to do it, and all I had to do was just capture it.

Jones’ comment on how the extras fueled his performance was great because he made it sound like he was doing a play more than making a movie.

Gene Jones: I loved, loved the congregation, and there’s little variations each time you shoot. They were tuned to that and I didn’t have to say, “Give me an amen somebody.” They would give me an amen. They would just give it to me and they would nod, and it was just alive. It was like talking to a group of friends. They all chimed in and they were great.

In a business which can be so ridiculously youth-oriented, it is nice to see an actor like Gene Jones defy the odds. If this were a studio movie, executives would have probably forced Ti West to cast a young adult who was more demographically desirable. But in the end, there are certain parts only actors of a certain age can pull off, and this is one of them. Jones succeeds in giving us a villain for the ages as Father draws people in with ease and then destroys their lives for the most selfish of reasons.

“The Sacrament” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Click on the video below to check out the interviews I did with Ti West, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg and Amy Seimetz about “The Sacrament” for We Got This Covered.

Eli Roth Explores the Home Invasion Genre with ‘Knock Knock’

Knock Konck movie poster

It has been eight years since “Hostel: Part II,” and the phrase “directed by Eli Roth” has been largely absent as the horror filmmaker has focused more on producing and acting, but 2015 saw him return to the director’s chair with a vengeance. First, he gave us the cannibal horror film “The Green Inferno” which saw its release delayed for a couple of years, and he quickly followed it up with the home invasion thriller “Knock Knock.” Keanu Reeves stars as Evan Webber, an architect and happily married husband and father whose family leaves him alone at home one weekend so he can work on his latest project. But Evan soon makes the biggest mistake of his life when he lets two young women into his home after they claim to be lost, and they come to play a number of psychosexual games which have him begging for his life.

Roth was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California to do a press conference on “Knock Knock,” and he was very verbose in discussing what motivated him to make this film. Now whereas his previous movies “Cabin Fever,” “Hostel” and “The Green Inferno” featured young adults heading out of their comfort zones and into the world for a dose of excitement and danger, “Knock Knock” is very different in that it rarely strays from Evan’s comfort zone which is his home. I asked Roth if this scenario presented any new challenges for him as a writer, and his answer was far more descriptive than I expected.

Eli Roth: No, I mean I liked the idea. Obviously I was very interested, probably because I grew up in Massachusetts with that kind of over sheltered, over-privileged and overeducated upper middle-class kid image that yearns for that life experience. In “Cabin Fever” they want irresponsible partying and drinking and drugs, in “Hostel” they want sex they think they can’t find, and in “The Green Inferno” they want validation through this vanity act and they want Twitter followers and it all comes back to bite them in the ass, literally in “Green Inferno.” But with this one, it is about what happens when you let that force into your life that you’re suddenly like, oh my God there’s a crazy person in my house. What have I done? You realize that, because you’re smart, that’s actually what makes you vulnerable. You think well I know how to handle this situation because I’m a smart person and look how well I’ve done so far, and then you drop your guard and then maybe there is some situation where someone’s in your home for whatever reason and you realize, oh my God, this person could take my stuff. There are my alarm codes and they could just really unravel me, and they could do it in such a short amount of time. And then Nicolas (Lopez) and I decided to add the social media aspect. We also were interested in the generational difference in sexuality. Girls in their teens or their 20’s, they must be so much crazier because of internet pornography. There is this grass is always greener mentality and looking at the way teenagers sexualize themselves on Instagram for likes and follows, we’re looking at some people like, in the cast and crew, their young sisters that are 15 or 16 and looking at their friends. You can’t tell in your 40’s if that girl is 16 or 36, and I’m playing on that difference of the sexuality in generations. Now nothing is private anymore, so when we were writing it we just thought about all of the things about modern fears. I wrote “Cabin Fever” when I was 22, I wrote “Hostel” when I was 32, and I wrote “Knock Knock” when I was 42, so they are all very much written about my fears at those ages.

Well, whether he is directing a movie or just producing or acting in one, Roth is certainly not a filmmaker you should ever call lazy. He remains as prolific as ever, and he has a large number of projects he is working on. Among them is “Meg,” an adaptation of Steve Alten’s science fiction novel about an ancient 60-foot long shark which terrorizes a small coastal town. Some critics have described the book as the “Moby Dick” of killer shark novels, so it will be interesting to see Roth’s take on it.

Knock Knock” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

‘Creepshow’ Remains a Benchmark in Horror Anthologies

Creepshow movie poster

Ah, “Creepshow!” One of the best horror anthologies to come out of the 1980’s, and it is immensely enjoyable if you’re into this sort of movie. It brings us the combined talents of Stephen King and George Romero as they give homage to the E.C. comics of the 1950’s with five different stories of terror. In some ways, this can be seen as more of a comedy than a horror movie. Granted, it does have its scary moments, and a hand coming out of a grave is always good for a jolt, but it is presented in such an over the top fashion to where you have to thank both King and Romero for not taking the things too seriously.

As I write this review, filmmaker Eli Roth is having a two-week festival of his favorite movies at New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. This film was playing on a double bill with “Mother’s Day” which I missed, unfortunately, but it was probably because I was more excited about seeing this one. I vividly remember seeing the trailer for it when I went to see, and cry again at, “E.T.” When the image of The Creep first appeared, my brother responded by saying, “Whoa!”

The trailer was amusing and funny, at least until those cockroaches came in during which I had to cover my eyes. Granted, it would years and years before I would have the stomach, let alone the time, to check this one out. Anthology movies and series like “Masters of Horrors” are always intrigued me because they were filled with so many possibilities. Going from one story to the next, you are eager to see where it takes you. The only downside with anthologies is there is usually a weak story among the whole bunch which can weigh down the whole enterprise, but “Creepshow” doesn’t have this problem and is endlessly enjoyable to sit through.

The movie opens with a prologue where a father (Tom Atkins) berates his young son (Joe King, Stephen King’s son) for reading these “crappy” horror comics. The kick of the scene comes from the son calling out his dad for the hypocrite he is when he points out it’s a lot better than the magazines he reads. I couldn’t help but think this kid’s dad has a wide variety of porno magazines hidden where his wife can’t find them. It’s funny how we see fathers not wanting their kids to read “crap,” and then they sit in a recliner with a can of beer boasting of how God made fathers. Poor schmuck.

“Creepshow” then goes straight into its first episode entitled “Father’s Day,” a story of revenge. The patriarch of a family was murdered for being an annoying prick as he furiously demanded his cake to be brought out to him, and now he’s come back from the dead to get that tasty cake he has long been denied. Of all the stories, I consider it the weakest because “Father’s Day” is very short and threatens to be pointless. It does, however, succeed in defining the look of the movie. The acting is over the top, and there is a fantastic use of colors which dominates the movie and gives it a wonderfully pulpy feel. If Dario Argento had ever created a comic book, I’m sure it would look like this.

The great about “Father’s Day” is it allows us to see Ed Harris in a role where he is loosened up. Harris is a great actor who plays mostly dramatic roles in movies, and one day he will win an Oscar. But here, we see him get his boogie on while dancing to some crappy disco music which somehow sneaked its way into a 1980’s movie. You listen to that music, and you’d figure it would have died a fiery death before the 70’s ended. No such luck.

The next story, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” is both funny and sad. It features King in one of his few acting performances as the title character, a dimwit farmer who discovers a meteor which has crashed into his backyard. Jordy gets excited at the prospect of selling this meteor to the local college for a handsome profit, but when he tries to salvage it, it breaks into two and a liquid quickly seeps into the barren ground of the farm. Soon after, everything it touches starts growing green plant life which cannot be contained. It also grows on anything it touches, including Mr. Verrill himself. Seeing King turn into a bush is frightening and morbidly amusing. King may say he is a better writer than an actor, but you can also say he is a better actor than a director (“Maximum Overdrive” anyone?). In the end, he is perfectly cast as the seemingly brainless farmer, and his performance fits both the story and the film.

After that, we get “Something to Tide You Over,” and this one was my favorite of all the stories in the movie. It stars Leslie Nielsen, before his image was permanently altered by “The Naked Gun” movies, as a millionaire husband who takes his revenge on Harry (Ted Danson), the man having an affair with his wife. The way he lures Danson’s character out to the beach and gets him to bury himself in the sand up to his neck is priceless, and you can say there is a bit of “The Vanishing” here as we have a man willing to do anything to find out the fate of his loved one. Danson’s fate, being stuck in the sand as the tide rushes over him is frightening and unnerving to witness. You feel stuck in the sand with him, and it shows how fiendishly clever both King and Romero are at exploiting what we fear the most in life.

Watching this segment today may seem weird as Nielsen is forever known as Lt. Frank Drebin of “The Naked Gun” movies, and Danson is best known for playing Sam Malone on “Cheers.” Seeing them in a serious, albeit a highly exaggerated, story might be hard, but these actors have their serious chops as well as their comedic ones, and both talents serve them well here. Nielsen is a particular hoot as a man so confident of his deviant plan of revenge, yet quickly haunted by the possibility of his crimes coming back to do him in. Nothing can stay buried forever.

Next, we have “The Crate” which features Hal Holbrook as a Professor at a New England college who is saddled with an eternally inebriated wife (played by Adrienne Barbeau) who constantly embarrasses him and herself in front of anybody who happens to be watching. Holbrook’s character is a coward who doesn’t have the cojones to stand up to his wife, but then a colleague of his and a janitor discover a crate beneath the stairs which has not been opened for decades. It turns out to contain a monster who eats human beings whole. After Henry hears of this, he concocts a plan to lure his abusive wife over to the crate.

Holbrook is great at making you feel sorry for his character even while we berate him for being a wimp and not standing up to his wife. Barbeau gives a one-note performance as a humongous bitch with no real redeeming features whatsoever. In the end, this is not a big criticism because Barbeau is given a one-dimensional character to play. The characters are not meant to be complex in the way they handle themselves, and they are here to represent different types of people who meet their predestined fate.

Then comes the last story of the movie, appropriately titled “They’re Creeping Up on You.” This one I had the hardest time sitting through, and I doubt it will be easy for you either if you have an intense phobia of bugs. E.G. Marshall plays Upson Pratt, a thoughtless and hateful bigot who has no sympathy for anyone other than himself. He gleefully takes delight in the suffering of others and lives in a completely sterile apartment which makes him look like he’s a doctor. But his problem now is with the bugs in his apartment, specifically cockroaches. They keep popping up out of nowhere, and their numbers keep growing and growing…I found myself looking at my shoes a lot during this segment, and it reminded me I need to get a new pair soon.

I remember watching one of those “scariest moments in movies” episodes on the Bravo channel. They featured the cockroach segment from “Creepshow” in it, and it turned out the segment was more of a socially conscious piece than people realized. This is after all a Romero film whose “Dead” movies are loaded with social commentary, and the whole point of the “Creeping” segment was to look at bigotry how what we fear the most we end up empowering. We invite our fears to mess with us, and sometimes they eat us whole. Suffice to say, this is very much an anti-racism piece, and it’s the strongest episode in the movie. Marshall gives a brilliantly zany performance as a man who cannot control the world around him any longer, and who could never really control it in the first place.

Eli Roth had programs for his festival entitled “The Greats of Roth,” and in it he summed up this “criminally underrated” movie perfectly:

“It’s amazing to see how many comic book and graphic novel adaptations today are praised for getting the ‘look’ of the comic perfect, and nobody ever seems to mention this film. This was the first time that Romero was really surrounded with a star-studded cast, and you see Romero, King and Tom Savini all coming together to create one of the most visually spectacular and fun horror films of all time. They set out to recreate the look and feel of the old E.C. Comics and nailed it perfectly.”

“Creepshow” is indeed one of the most deliriously entertaining horror movies ever made, and it is a visually stunning achievement made on what must have been an especially low budget. There were many other movies to come out of this which tried for the same look, but none of them succeeded at it quite like this one did. This is just a fun, fun, fun movie for people who dig this sort of thing, and to see it on the big screen was a real treat. As the movie’s tagline says, it is the most fun you will ever have being scared.

* * * * out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was originally written in 2008.

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Grindhouse

Grindhouse movie poster

Grindhouse” is a double feature of movies written and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, and it is their ode to the exploitation movies of the 70’s and 80’s which used to play in all those seedy movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Now a lot of those movies were poorly made and had bad acting, writing and directing, but this is not the case here as this crazy love letter to all things exploitation gets brilliant treatment from two renegade minds of Hollywood cinema. To put it mildly, “Grindhouse” was an awesome experience. How great it is to see some kick ass movies made by two guys who have such a love for movies and who love making them.

“Grindhouse” starts off with the first of four fake movie trailers. This is part of Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s plan to immerse you in the experience of watching grindhouse movies like they did as kids; the scratched-up prints, those missing reels, the restricted ratings, the film breaking apart, and of course those insane coming attractions trailers which at times were more memorable than the movies they were promoting.

Anyway, the first trailer was for “Machete” which was done by Rodriguez and stars Danny Trejo as a Mexican framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and he ends up going after the bad guys with a bloody vengeance. This was a blast to watch and the best of all the fake trailers in “Grindhouse” as it captures the ridiculous one-liners we gleefully remember from all those over the top action movies from the 80’s. I especially liked how they had Cheech Marin playing a priest who Machete gets to kill the bad guys with him. He almost succeeds in stealing the trailer right out from under Trejo’s feet.

Then things get underway with “Planet Terror,” Robert Rodriguez’s addition to the “Grindhouse” movie. It is basically his ode to all those zombie movies which came out before we met the fast-paced zombies of “28 Days Later,” and it’s a cross between a George Romero movie and a John Carpenter movie. “Planet Terror” even features a score composed by Rodriguez himself, and he wrote and shot a lot it while listening to Carpenter’s music from “Escape From New York.” In fact, you can even hear a small part of Carpenter’s score in “Planet Terror” if you listen very closely.

“Planet Terror” was a total blast, a flashback to those go for broke action and horror movies that didn’t even try to hold anything back. It reminded me of the “Evil Dead” movies among others where everything and everybody were going nuts. Then again, with the characters running for their lives away from zombies chasing them, can you blame them?

Rodriguez has put a great cast together for “Planet Terror.” The one person who will be remembered forever from it is the ever so luscious Rose McGowan who plays Cherry, a dancer at a strip club who can’t keep from crying as she dances in front of customers. As you know from the movie’s trailer, one of her legs ends up getting chopped off and it eventually gets replaced by a machine gun which she uses to gleefully sadistic effect. It makes for some hilarious moments as Cherry doesn’t even hesitate in blowing away as many zombies as she can.

Also great in “Planet Terror” is Freddy Rodriguez who brings a total rebel quality to his role as El Wray who is a very cool customer indeed. You also have Michael Biehn playing the sheriff, Josh Brolin who plays Dr. Block whose wife, Dakota (played by Marley Shelton), has been cheating on him with another woman, and even Bruce Willis shows up as a military commander who knows more than he is willing to let on.

One of the people I was especially impressed with was Jeff Fahey who I have not always been a big fan of as he always seemed to me to be playing himself in every role he takes on. But here he is loads of fun as J.T., a gas station and restaurant owner who continually claims to have the best barbecued meat in all of Texas. It ended up making me look at Fahey in a whole new light, and as a character actor, he proves to be invaluable.

“Planet Terror” is one gory ride, to put it mildly, but then again what do you expect when you have Tom Savini playing one of the sheriff’s deputies? Have you even seen the movies he has worked on in the past? Rodriguez gets all the gross details down like body parts getting blown or ripped off in an ever so disgustingly precious fashion. Those same body parts are, as a man, the last things I ever want to lose! Ever!

After “Planet Terror” ended, we were treated to the other three fake movie trailers that “Grindhouse” had to offer. Edgar Wright, who directed “Shaun of the Dead,” did the trailer for “Don’t,” and it was endlessly hilarious as it showed us all the things we shouldn’t be doing when we’re in a horror movie. Then there was Rob Zombie’s “Werewolf Women of The S.S.” which was as funny as it was bizarre. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil this one for you as there are cameos here that are too inspired to just give away. And finally, there was “Thanksgiving” which was directed by Eli Roth, the same man who gave us “Hostel.” Thanksgiving does seem to be one of the few holidays left which have yet to be turned into a horror franchise where horny teens get slaughtered in a creatively bloody fashion.

Then we get to Tarantino’s addition to the “Grindhouse” movie: “Death Proof.” It stars Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a serial killer who uses a car instead of a knife to murder young women. No reason is really given as to why he does this, but in a movie like this does it even matter?

“Death Proof” has its share of gruesome moments including a car crash that is shown from different angles as you see how each person gets horribly injured in a head-on collision. Suffice to say, if you have been in a nasty car accident, you probably won’t want to see this. It also features one of the more exhilarating car chases in recent memory where Russell tries to run a Dodge Charger which is occupied by a trio of women off the road. One of these women, Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double in “Kill Bill”) is riding on the hood of the Charger like the insane stunt woman she is. Seeing her struggle to stay on the car makes the scene all the more frightening and exciting as a result. Tarantino clearly has no interest in throwing all sorts of CGI effects at us. He wants to give us the real thing, and that he does.

Of the two movies in “Grindhouse,” I have to say that “Death Proof” was my favorite. Although it takes a while to get to the action, the dialogue is fabulous in a way only Tarantino can come up with. He continues to come up with great lines which make the characters much more distinct than those in your average action movie filled with stock characters. One of the actresses involved with “Death Proof” said Tarantino really knows how to write for women and knows how they think. Now, this might be open to debate for a lot of people, but I think that is absolutely true as it is shown here and in other movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown.”

Russell remains one of the most underrated actors working in movies today as he can go from genre to genre and from playing a good guy to a bad guy pretty easily. He is great in this role where he plays a pure psychopath who is clearly schizoid as he goes after his next trio of soon to be victims, and it resembles the kind of work he did in movies like “Escape From New York.” Russell is perfect as Stuntman Mike that it got to where I just could not see Mickey Rourke playing this same role even though he was originally cast in it. Rourke wouldn’t have been bad, but this role feels like it was tailor-made for Russell.

So overall, “Grindhouse” was a kick-ass experience that I am ever so eager to see again. I already have the soundtracks to both “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof” which are fantastic to listen to. Then again, I did actually get them before I even saw “Grindhouse” because I was pretty confident that I would not be disappointed, and I wasn’t. Although it drags a little in spots, it is never boring. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, and it is as politically incorrect as any movie in recent years, but it will definitely appeal to those who have been eagerly and patiently awaiting the resurrection of grindhouse cinema they grew up watching in the past. Many had no choice but to watch those exploitation classics on video and DVD, but with Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s “Grindhouse,” we finally get to see movies like them again on the big screen where they belong.

* * * * out of * * * *