You Better Watch Out: An Interview with Lewis Jackson

By Michael Varrati

Much like Santa Claus, it’s been a whole year since I last saw Lewis Jackson.

However, considering the cause of the filmmaker’s notoriety, that we would be reunited at the holidays is fitting.

To the cult film community at large, Jackson is most well-known as the writer and director of Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out), a prototypical holiday horror film with a turbulent history that laid the foundation for a whole subgenre of killer Kris Kringles.

Long heralded by John Waters as the “greatest Christmas movie ever made,” Jackson’s film has travelled a long, strange journey from its initial release. Disavowed by the studio that produced it, and long held captive by bootleggers, the movie seemed destined for filmic obscurity. However, thanks to Waters’ constant championing and a small, but fervent fan base, the movie was resurrected and rediscovered by horror audiences the world over. Now, Christmas Evil is widely accepted by fans of fright as one of the single best and most important holiday horror films ever committed to celluloid.

For all of the film’s trials and triumphs, Lewis Jackson has lived through each bump in the road. Although the filmmaker admits the journey has been a bittersweet one, he also displays a twinkle of pride for how far his film has come.

Read More…

HALLOWEEN: A Reflection of Holiday Perfection

By Michael Varrati

“I just show up and do what I do. And for me it has to be real — anything I do, I don’t care what it is. On Halloween, I can remember, John Carpenter’s first and only real direction to me was, ‘I want people to believe this is a real person.’ All I care about is trying to make anything real — and then because I’m brave I’ll try anything.”

-Jamie Lee Curtis

It’s the Tuesday before Halloween. Perched on the balcony of my apartment, I’ve got a warm cup of coffee in hand and a less than expertly carved Jack-O-Lantern in the chair to my right. There’s an autumn chill, but I really don’t notice. I’ve been too busy musing over the upcoming holiday.

For horror fans the world over, Halloween is something sacred and celebratory. It’s the time when we’re not the minority, but the ruling class. The order of things may return to the squares on November 1st, but for one night, the freaks and beasts run the show. That such mirth also happens to occur amidst the wonderfully atmospheric scenery of fall is just the icing on the cake. Read More…

Cult Filmmakers You Should Know #18: Bruce LaBruce

Cult Filmmakers You Should Know: Bruce LaBruce

By Michael Varrati

As far as I’m concerned, the advent of the internet all but killed legitimate counterculture. That is not to say that things outside the mainstream ceased to exist, but it is now infinitely easier to become “in the know.” That smug sense of inclusivity associated with the knowledge of an obscure band or film was rendered obsolete when it was revealed that the world at large could track down anything with a simple stroke of the keys. You can’t insult Johnny Football now with your favorite Black Flag lyrics, because a quick trip to Google later, and he’ll know the score.

Even more frightening, Johnny Football might even become a Black Flag fan.

With everything in the world being available to anybody at any time, there are many critics who argue that true renegade art exists no longer. While I tend to agree that a certain sense of ambiance that once was the glue of the outlaw community has been lost, I would never presume to definitively state that such things were left to the past. As long as there are social and cultural taboos, there is always the potential for artists to strike a note of discord amongst the moral majority.

With that in mind, I can think of no filmmaker working today who keeps that renegade spirit alive more than Bruce LaBruce. Read More…

THE STRANGE CASE OF ‘VEGAS IN SPACE’: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of a Midnight Movie Masterpiece

By Michael Varrati

For consistent readers of my work, it should come as no surprise that I spent the better part of the early 90s worshipping at the altar of Rhonda Shear. Through Shear’s hosting of USA Up All Night, I was introduced to a plethora of cult treasures and filmic trash, the likes of which helped mold me into the creepy creature I am today. Some of those movies, such as Night of the Creeps and Friday the 13th took on lives of their own due to their ever-expanding roles in the zeitgeist. Others, like Vice Academy and Nightmare Sisters, had a decidedly delicious late night flair, forever linked to those hours when I would stay up to watch all things filthy and forbidden.

In their way, each of the movies screened on Up All Night were pleasing because they defied convention and bucked the establishment. No matter what Rhonda had lined-up that week, it was sure to be something your parents would look at with utter disdain.

However, of all the films shown during Rhonda’s tenure on that late night institution, I can think of none that were more fresh, unique, or taboo than Vegas in Space.

A Technicolor fever dream of a film, Vegas in Space was the kind of science fiction picture that celebrated adventure stories of a bygone-era. Bold astronauts, colorful villains, and a pastel planet that has to be seen to be believed, the world of Vegas in Space seems to come right out of the Flash Gordon handbook. However, there is the slight difference that, on this planet, everyone is a fabulous drag queen. Read More…

LIVING THE NIGHTMARE: An Interview with Heather Langenkamp

by Michael Varrati

For a generation of horror movie fans, she is the ultimate survivor.

Although his victims and adversaries proved numerous over a multitude of films, it was in Nancy Thompson that the iconic Freddy Krueger first met his match. Though Nancy would ultimately meet her end at Freddy’s bladed fingers in the subsequent sequels, the character’s plucky determination was forever seared onto the collective brains of fright fandom. Nancy, brought to exuberant life by Heather Langenkamp, has persevered as a symbol of goodness across the decades; leaving a mark that many other final girls only dare dream.

For Langenkamp herself, carrying the legacy of Nancy has been a continuous badge of honor. Having played the character in three films, she is easily one of the most recognizable faces in horror. Yet, for someone as mired in the world of dark fantasy as Langenkamp has become, she has never allowed her thoughts on the genre to grow complacent. Langenkamp’s new documentary, I Am Nancy, serves as a personal investigation into the world that horror cinema has created, and seeks to answer the actor’s own unanswered questions about what compels throngs of fans to revel in such blood-spattered entertainment. Read More…

MY WALPURGIS KNIGHT – The Golden Age of Paul Naschy

By Robert Barber

I think there must be few people working in the Fantasy and Horror genres today who love them as much as the late Paul Naschy, most famous for portraying accursed werewolf superstud Waldemar Daninsky. A barrel-chested ex-champion weightlifter, Naschy manages to get his shirt off in most of the films he made, often for the purpose of being whipped and/or chained and/or being stroked and caressed by the long painted nails of some libidinous Euro-slut/actress. Of course Naschy almost always gets to shag his leading ladies, but such was the privilege of a screenwriter/star and sometime director who dominated his particular milieu during the late ‘60s, through the ‘70s and into the 1980’s.

Not only the best Spanish genre-actor to emerge from this era, but one of its best writers and directors too, Naschy was a remarkable star on par with other “Greats” of the time: Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Meiko Kaji, Soledad Miranda, and Coffin Joe. Nonetheless, his on-screen presence is often compared to that of Lon Chaney, both Sr. and son. If you imagine a shorter, but still very thick, Lon Chaney Jr. speaking Spanish with the talent, charisma and aplomb of his father, Lon Chaney Sr., you’re beginning to grasp the appeal of Paul Naschy. I’ve always thought of him as a sort-of Latin Bob Hoskins. Read More…

My Date with Wes Craven: Considering a Master

By Michael Varrati

I don’t want to brag, but the best date I ever had was with Wes Craven.

…unfortunately, ol’ Wes is completely unaware it happened.

Late last fall, I found myself with a rare Saturday wherein I had absolutely no commitments. Determined to not waste such a gift sitting around my house, I decided to take myself out for a nice romantic dinner for one.

Grabbing a prime seat in the window of a local eatery I enjoy, I casually picked at my meal while watching the bustling masses rush by in an autumnal blur, appreciating the colors and human spectacle. Meanwhile, across the street from my vantage point, employees at a movie theater situated in my line of sight began to set to work hanging a new poster in the display box. Being the movie nerd that I am, my curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself fixated on what they were doing.

Soon, the image was revealed to me, a splash of deep reds and eerie shades of gray:

Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take. Read More…

Cult Filmmakers You Should Know #16: MARK PIRRO

By Michael Varrati

When one considers the wild and unorthodox world of avant-garde schlock king Mark Pirro, it is likely that the individual never makes the correlation between his late night fare and the hallowed halls of our nation’s universities. However, as far apart as these two notions may seem, that is exactly the scenario in which I first encountered the work of this audacious auteur.

During my days at Kent State University (setting of several Stephen King stories and one particular real life horror), I had the tendency to enthusiastically enroll in as many film class oddities as my schedule would allow. One such spring, I found myself in a class devoted entirely to the history and dissection of the monster movie. Joining me in this fright film endeavor was fellow-future Ultra Violent scribe and dear friend Ally Melling. Entering the room with an already vast knowledge of horror and exploitation cinema, the two of us were looking for a fun and simple class to coast through, all the while getting credit to talk about something we’d likely have talked about for free. Read More…

Cult Filmmakers You Should Know #15: DON COSCARELLI

By Michael Varrati

It is an undeniable fact that Don Coscarelli is a filmmaker with balls.

The envy of many a man, Coscarelli’s balls are like no other: Big, agile, and deadly. Did I mention they were silver?

If you’re familiar with the work of this legendary director, then this reference is not lost on you. However, if you’re baffled as to how a man can have deadly silver balls, then you’ve come to the right place. Today, my dear children of the popcorn, I seek to educate you on the dreamlike madness of Don Coscarelli, a veritable icon of fright and this week’s Cult Filmmaker You Should Know.

Achieving cult status by the early 80s, Coscarelli’s career actually began with a drama film titled Jim the World’s Greatest in 1975. Written by the filmmaker at the tender age of 17, Jim served as a heartfelt tale of a boy whose world is torn apart by an abusive and alcoholic father. Although not as notable as some of Coscarelli’s works to come, the film was a significant first move in showing his ability to craft clever and intellectual cinema. It also marked the first time the filmmaker worked with actors Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm, who would become essential components in his developing filmic mythos. The acting duo’s humble beginnings in Coscarelli’s filmic debut gives almost no indicator of their place in the horror zeitgeist to come, but is a marked moment in cinema history. With Jim the World’s Greatest, Coscarelli began to lay the foundation for his career in cult and set in motion a dizzying future on the silver screen. Read More…

On the State of ‘Slashers’

By Michael Varrati

Being in the business of horror, it is not unusual to find my calendar booked with travels to a plethora of genre-themed conventions and events. Over the course of any given year, many of my weekends are spent passing the hours amongst ghouls and goblins in the well-worn hotel conference rooms or expo centers of our fair country, promoting projects or just generally mingling with passersby. It’s definitely a nomadic lifestyle, and the many weeks on the road ensure that I don’t see home as often as I’d like, but I would never dream of complaining. Besides being a wonderful way to see the world, the one thing that is remarkably consistent about conventions is the sheer enthusiasm for horror & exploitation cinema that I see wherever I go. For a genre that is so often dismissed by the general public as underground nonsense, I see nothing but a loving, enthusiastic community in each city I visit. Above all, this excites me, and encourages me to continue doing what I do, for better or worse. As long as there are children of the popcorn, there will be those of us standing by with gallons of fake blood to feed them…and that warms my evil little heart. Read More…

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