June 30, 2013

Thoughts on Madman (1982)

Let me ask you a question. Which movie do you prefer - The Burning (1981) or Madman (1982)?

An unforgettable silhouette: Cropsy in The Burning (1981).
I am 95% sure that most of you will answer The Burning - the infamous summer camp slasher film that featured a terrifying Tom Savini-designed killer, a jarring Rick Wakeman synthesizer score and some truly mean-spirited murder sequences. The movie's popularity has increased enormously over the past few years thanks to its emergence on DVD and Blu-ray. It's also notable for early appearances by future stars Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter.

I was really disappointed with The Burning when I first saw it in 2001. I had missed the film entirely while growing up and was only vaguely familiar with it from seeing the title and publicity photos in Fangoria magazine and in horror movie reference books. When I finally did take a look, I was underwhelmed. However, as the years passed, I grew to appreciate it more and really liked some of the odd choices that were made - I loved the idea of the "final girl" being flipped to be a "final boy", I found the characters of the teenagers to be pretty likeable and realistic (which made their deaths even more disturbing) and the brutality of the killer was incredibly different from the behavior of other movie maniacs. There were no wisecracks and no gimmicky murders a la Friday the 13th.

Several months after the release of The Burning came another film that is practically unheard of outside of the horror fan community - Madman (1982).

This film also featured a camp setting terrorized by a deformed villain who was more monster than human. Like The Burning, Madman's storyline was based on the notorious urban legend of the "Cropsey Maniac", a familiar tale that is often told to shivering children huddled around campfires. The Burning even went so far as to name their killer after this anti-folk hero.

I saw Madman around 2002, not long after The Burning. I liked it immediately. The movie also showcased some strange moments that were unlike things I had seen in the more well-known slasher films and series. First of all, Madman was photographed beautifully. The entire story took place at night so there were plenty of atmospheric shots of the dark forest, shadowy cabins and the desolate farmhouse, home of the maniac, "Madman" Marz.

Madman got a lot of bad reviews. People complain about the acting, the pace and (unfairly) compare it to The Burning. On the other hand, there is a large fan base devoted to the film, people who have gone so far as to create original make-up designs and custom artwork based on the movie. However, I have never met a Madman fan in real life. Most of the people I've talked to about it find it to be a real snooze and completely forgettable. I'm always disappointed when I hear that.

"Madman" Marz and one of his victims.
I've seen Madman several more times than The Burning. Something about it sticks with me and I find myself revisiting the movie once every couple of years. Each time I find something a little different to focus on. My last viewing from a few days ago still resonates - I can't stop thinking about the effective photography and some of the truly eerie, subtle shots of the killer.

An important detail to mention is the two versions that are currently on DVD - the original release, on Anchor Bay, featured a print that retained the spooky, bluish hue that really embellished the proceedings, set the tone, so to speak, and went perfectly with the night time photography and woodsy setting. The most current home video release from Code Red featured a more natural color scheme and a lot of those unearthly details get lost in the warm colors. If you can, make sure to view the Anchor Bay print for full effectiveness.

I'm sure that this article will not change anyone's mind about Madman, but if you haven't seen it, give it a shot and see what you think. If you have seen it, perhaps you can give it another chance and see if you can finally warm up to its subtle rewards.

*Note - In an effort to remain spoiler-free, I tried not to list specific details or scenes from the film so as not to impair the experience for any new viewers.

June 26, 2013

Please Adjust Tracking for Best Picture Quality. Thank You.

One of my favorite creative exercises is to take photographs directly off the television screen while playing a movie on VHS.

The results can be really interesting: scratchy lines, oversaturated colors and blown out highlights. There is something so wonderfully lurid and sleazy about a captured video image taken completely out of context. 

It's this reason alone that I refuse to get rid of my VCR and old television set.

Here are a few shots I've taken over the years.

June 22, 2013

Ode to Fluffy

Here are a couple of more quick doodles of Fluffy that I drew in a meeting recently. I draw Fluffy a lot. It's fun.

Ever since I was a kid and saw the advertisements for Creepshow on HBO, Fluffy has always been a character that equally fascinated and terrified me.

Plus, he was kind of cute so I've always wished they would have made a stuffed animal of him!

This actually brings me to a topic that still amazes me to this day. About four years ago, my friend Jack Morrissey contacted me on my old (now defunct) Flickr account after he noticed my Creepshow/"The Crate"-inspired Lego homage. He said he was also a huge fan of the film, specifically of Fluffy (the nickname of the Yeti-type creature that was featured in "The Crate" segment). We started corresponding over the next few years and would send each other Fluffy-related memorabilia and artwork.

Here are a few items from my collection:

Painting by Nicolas Caesar.
Close-up of Fluffy model kit. Amazing detail.
Full shot of Fluffy model kit. Who WAS Julia Carpenter anyway? 
Another Fluffy model kit. He looks so cute here! Well. Except for the blood.
Fluffy mask. No, I haven't worn it. Yet. 
Another painting by Nicolas Caesar.

P.S. The eyes you see in the masthead at the top of this blog belong to Fluffy. It's a screenshot from Creepshow.

June 21, 2013

Movie Character Mixtape

My friend Millie De Chirico started a great new Tumblr called Movie Character Mixtape. It features Spotify playlists based on specific characters from films (i.e. Alec Baldwin in Beetlejuice, Shelley Duvall in 3 Women) and what songs that character might listen to (keeping in context the interests and experiences shown in the film). I love the concept so much that I had to do one for my favorite movie, The Honeymoon Killers, and make a mix of the songs that I would imagine Shirley Stoler's character would listen to.

June 20, 2013


...hung some artwork on the walls at home.

Portrait of Shirley Stoler by photographer John Deane.
"Killing Machine" by Brandon Bird.
Photograph inspired by Black Christmas (1974) by Michael Falletti.
Poster art for The Green Slime (1968).
Poster art for Motel Hell (1980).
Metal cat

June 16, 2013

Love to Love You: Missing Susu

A year ago today (June 16), Susan Tyrrell passed away suddenly at the age of 67 in Austin, Texas.

Susan (or Susu as she liked to be called) was a major touchstone in my life. She had a wonderful and offbeat personality and a heart the size of a 1966 Caprice Estate. She was the type of person who spoke her mind and did not suffer fools gladly. I'm so incredibly lucky to have known her and to have had the chance to correspond with her for over ten years (I wrote about my relationship with her in this earlier post).

A year has passed and, obviously, she is still in my thoughts. However, I haven't watched any of her films since I found out the news...it makes me too sad to see her. To see that mischievous spark in her eyes and to hear that unimitable voice is still too much. 

But, on the other hand, I do know that she would think I'm being incredibly silly and maudlin...I can even hear her saying, "Get over it!" followed by that amazing shriek of a laugh. She wouldn't have wanted people to be sad or upset by her death, it's just one of those inevitable things. Uncontrollable. If anything, she would want us to get off our asses and do something. Big, small, disgusting, lovely...whatever. 

Just live. 

And laugh.

I miss you, Susu.

June 5, 2013

The Mick Jagger of Jewish Ladies: RIP Helen Hanft (1934-2013)

On May 30th, almost a week ago, the incredible Helen Hanft died in New York City at the age of 79.

I started talking to Helen about two years ago after getting in touch with her for the Divine documentary that I was assisting with. In 1978, Helen co-starred with Divine in The Neon Woman. She played Connie, the loud, brash and miserable older sister of Divine’s character, Flash Storm. It’s a great performance, full of terrific one-liners and her chemistry with Divine was perfect.

Publicity portrait of Helen as Gloria in Women Behind Bars.
If you read any information about Helen, you will find a lot of recurring words; loud, brassy, eccentric, legendary.

She was a goddess of off-Broadway and a darling of playwright Tom Eyen who wrote many plays that featured her, including Why Hanna’s Skirt Won’t Stay Down (where she played Hanna in what many consider her signature role), Who Killed My Bald Sister Sophie?, What is Making Gilda So Gray?, Sarah B. Divine!, Areatha in the Ice Palace, Women Behind Bars and the aforementioned The Neon Woman.

It was her performance in that play that caught my attention.

In 1991 I was in full-on John Waters/Divine obsession mode and was buying anything and everything I could lay my hands on. Through a mail order company called Movies Unlimited, I found a sketchy VHS tape that contained one of Waters’ early short films (The Diane Linkletter Story) and the “only existing performance of the infamous The Neon Woman show”.

Shot on crude, black & white videotape with almost indecipherable audio, I was finally able to see Divine large-and-in-charge onstage in a truly amazing role (and one which actually stands as my favorite Divine presentation). Amidst this performance, I began to notice (and hear) an amazing, obviously older actress that was able to go head-to-head with Divine. Unfortunately, the video had no cast information so I had no idea who she was.

Fast-forward a couple of years to 1993 when the ensemble comedy, Used People, was released. This was a film I was drawn to immediately because of its large cast of unusual character actors (i.e Sylvia Sidney, Doris Roberts, Marcia Gay Harden, Joe Pantoliano, etc.) Surprisingly, a memorable, red-haired woman popped up in a scene showcasing a familiar and unforgettable voice. It was her! Connie from The Neon Woman! At last I was able to place a name to that wonderful personality. Helen Hanft.

Slowly I began to realize who she was, remembering her almost immediately from her bit part roles in other films like Coming to America (1988), Moonstruck (1987) and, most memorably, as the evil Department of Motor Vehicles lady in License to Drive (1988). Her name quickly rose to the top of my favorite character actresses. 

Needless to say, I was excited and nervous at the opportunity to speak with her for the Divine documentary in the spring of 2011. However, the second I heard her voice on the phone, my heart melted and all of my inhibitions flew out the window. We immediately hit it off, talking for over an hour. I found out she collected cookie jars, so during one of my thrift store shopping trips, I found a bizarre “Bobby Baker” cookie jar that I thought was unique and odd enough to send to her. She loved it. We would talk on the phone every few months for the next couple of years.

Like my friendship with the late Susan Tyrrell, our conversations never revolved around her career. There were brief mentions of her roles (I expressed my appreciation for her scenes in Used People in which she stole laughs from Shirley MacLaine) but the majority of our talks were about our families, our pets, politics and life in general. We even talked about eventual visits to meet each other. It was a joy to talk to her and we made each other laugh. I hope she got as much enjoyment out of our chats as I did.

I last spoke to Helen last month, telling her about a photo I had just purchased of her onstage during The Neon Woman. She was surprised to hear that there was memorabilia available of her on eBay. “I never see a penny of that!” she laughed.

Hope Stansbury, Helen and George Patterson onstage in The Neon Woman.

I recently found a fun article by Tom Eyen in a December 1974 issue of After Dark magazine called “The Many Mad Women in Tom Eyen’s Life”. In it was a small profile on Helen that summarized her perfectly. Titled, “The Mick Jagger of Jewish Ladies”, Tom writes that “Helen…was born to scream for the sins of the world. She is a joy for actors and crew to work with and particularly sweet to the little people (that is, anyone under the age of six).”

I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced Helen (albeit briefly) and saddened once more by the passing of a truly unique, irreplaceable personality that we will never see again.

On to the next act, Helen. I’ll miss you.