Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Burt Pages: The Mommie Dearest Dairy Written By Rutanya Alda: Carol Ann's Final Word

I`ve always been mesmerized by the film "Mommie Dearest". While everyone was traced by Joan Crawford in all her movie star monster greatness it was the character Carol Ann who I found the most compelling. She is the anchor for Joans extreme maniac highs and lows. She's also her loyal best friend, someone who will take care of you when your passed out drunk or when you need a deadly weapon to do a little midnight gardening.

 Bringing her to life is the lovely and talented Rutanya Alda.

In the final gripping scene the adult Christina Crawford (Diane Scarwid) is comforted with the fact that Joan left her and her brother  nothing in the will. Her brother Christopher says with a sad smirk "As usual, she has the last word" to which she replies "Does she?" which foreshadows the writing of "Mommie Dearest"  a book that was the first of its kind, blowing the lid off of a huge movie star and pealing back the "perfect" Hollywood image. Later Bettie Davis's daughter followed suite with a equally shocking tell all book. The film based on the book was notoriously troubled with being over budget and its star Faye Dunaway being difficult to work with, causing many hurt feelings and in one case leave the production totally.  Ironically the last line of the film can be applied to Faye's co-star Rutanya Alda who played the thankless Carol Ann, Joan's assistant. Like the real Christine Crawford she gets the final word in her wonderfully delicious book which is a diary she kept during production. The first chapter introduces us to Rutanya Alda as a person, telling her story of coming to America as a child, the horrible abuse she suffered and how she uses this pain to create wonderfully real and deep characters. Alda pulls no punches and tells many colorful details about her start in films as well as off screen flings. I found this part of the book interesting, humorous and at times heartbreaking. The second section is the diary itself. Everything you wanted to know behind the scenes of this cult classic is detailed. It explores the diva star Faye as well as director Frank Perry and co-stars Diane and Mara (Young and adult Christina) You also get a peak into her troubles with husband Richard Bright (The Godfather) who struggled with substance abuse until his passing. She provides the daily record of her life at the time of filming with updated antidotes. As a fan of both her work and the movie I found it a enjoyable read. Finally after the diary ends we get an update on life for Rutanya post Mommie Dearest, including how she discovered its major fan base due to its unintentional camp value. Through out the book Rutanya does not come off as bitter or mean about her time as Carol Ann but remains objective and truthful about her experience making a now cult classic movie. My only complaint is when I was finished I wanted to read more. I would love to read another book about all her amazing experiences. After all this is the woman that was in such classics as "The Deer Hunter" and genre favorites like "Christmas Evil" "When a Strange Calls" and "Amityville Horror II", "The Stuff" etc I mean how cool would it be to have a book choked full of amazing antidotes and stories of such great films. Fingers crossed. One thing is sure, this book is a lot of fun and any film buff will find it a must read. As with the real life Joan Crawford this book peaks in perfection and should be on any movie lovers shelf, but plus dont put it on a wire hanger... You know what`ll happen.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Gunnar Hansen: The Passing of a Horror Icon.

Every generation has their iconic movie monsters, for kids in the 1940s 1950s and 1960s they had Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. We had Gunnar Hansen.

The year was 1974 and the America was going through many social changes and political upheaval. People would pick up the paper and read about Watergate,Patty Hearst and and a gas shortage. It was also the year "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was unleashed on movie goers. Audiences were shocked at the presents of this towering man wearing human flesh as a mask and jumped when they heard the mighty roar of a power tool he wielded. In the films final frames, as Leatherface does his chainsaw dance in the glow of the setting sun few film patrons knew they had just witnessed the birth of the first modern horror icon. Under that frightening mask of skin (Or in this case rubber) was Mr. Gunnar Hansen who stood an imposing 6 feet four inches.

The Man Behind the Mask: 
Gunnar Hansen was born March 4th 1947 in Reykjavik, Iceland which is the Capital, known for its mountains, sweeping landscapes and booming nightlife. At age five his family had moved to the United States, settling in Maine. Hansen was a bright student with high marks in both Mathematics and English and would later attended the University of Texas. Fresh out of college his first job was in the computer field but his true passion was writing. He had been published in several magazines and tried his hand at screen writing. Fate it seems would have something totally different in store for the hulking actor. Gunnar had met Tobe Hooper a bright young man looking to make his mark in cinema and he was looking for his villain, a leather skin wearing brute who has a fetish for killing and power tools.  After a successful interview he would don the now iconic leather mask and apron and the film would roll on "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" Though he utters no actual dialogue he along with Hooper created a language all his own and helped add layers to the character. It was a hot and grueling shoot but nobody could predict that they were going to make film history and literally change the face of horror films forever.

Life after "Chainsaw" 
Work was few and far between after filming wrapped.Later that year he starred in "The Demon Lover" in 1977 and only one film in the 80s, the now cult film "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers" However it was the late 80s he would see a resurgence in popularity and worked steady in the 90s and continuing for the rest of his career. One thing about Gunnar was despite playing big bad brutes he was in reality a very kind and thoughtful man who very much enjoyed meeting and talking to his fans at various conventions such as Chiller, Monster Mania, Cinema Wasteland etc. Film maker Jeff Burr was in pre production on the third Leatherface Texas Chainsaw Massacre III for New Line. He wanted Gunnar to reprise the role that made him famous. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr.Burr and he had this say regarding Gunnar
"Basically in a sense I felt obligated to Gunnar. I had met him and he had not been in number two and I felt I should offer it to him. So I offered it to Gunnar and I thought it would increase awareness of this movie and I thought since the title was Leather and having the quote unquote real Leatherface would be a perfect marriage. But unfortunately he wanted more money than what New Line was willing to pay and what he wanted wasn't out of line as all it was absolutely a fair figure. So once Gunnar was out of the picture" 

Strangely enough in 2003 he was asked to make a cameo in the remake of "Texas Chainsaw" but declined because he felt it was a classic not to be remade. In 2007 he starred in "Brutal Massacre: A Comedy" and he got to show off his skills in breaking people up, this time not with a chainsaw but with his comedic timing. He dove into the role with much madcap gusto and steals every scene hes in. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Ironically one of his finale film roles was in "Texas Chainsaw 3d" in 2013. It seems that his career had come full circle.

I woke up yesterday morning and was shocked to read on my news feed that Gunnar Hansen has passed away at only 68 years old. To many fans it was not just merely an actor who died but a larger than life iconic movie monster, there Karloff or Lugosi. Not long after his agent confirmed the tragic news an out pour from fans flooded social media, sharing stories and pictures. It is just further proof of how this man touched so many lives. Truly its a huge lose, not only was he a talented guy but was very generous with his fans, something that is sadly becoming rare these days. I`d like to share my own experience.

Meeting Gunnar: Like so many other horror fans this movie made such a huge impression on me and I knew what I saw was something very special.  Over a decade ago I had the extreme pleasure of attending "Cinema Wastelands Chainsaw 30th Reunion" It was the first time coming face to face with the very imposing Gunnar. Being fairly new to conventions and a long time fan I`m not ashamed to admit i was a little bit nervous. I had in my hands a poster (replica because I was a poor High School Student) and my 18" Leatherface figure (McFarland) which was a Christmas present from my parents (and the coolest gift I`ve ever received) I approached him and to my delight he had a huge smile and said "Hello" As a dork I said how much I loved him in Texas Chainsaw which was something he heard all day i`m sure, but he was very humble and said Thanks and he enjoyed seeing the figure and told some behind the scene stories. Later on I got to meet Paul Partin, Robert A Burns, Marilyn Burns who all sadly passed away untimely. Looking back it remains bitter sweet but out of all the conventions I would later attend it remains my favorite.

Famed horror artist Jason Edmiston whose art can be seen on posters, blu releases and Neca toys gave Gorehound Mike's blog this exclusive quote:

"Gunnar Hansen's portrayal of Leatherface was terrifying and nuanced. Despite never revealing his full face, you got the clear impression that he was a disturbed, confused baby inside the body of a giant killing machine. Simple minded, but extremely loyal to his maniacal family members. All of this was evident despite never speaking a word of actual dialog."

Senior Writer at Gregory Burkart had this to say to Gorehound Mike's
I've had the honor of sharing Gunnar's company a few times over the past 20 years, and each time I learned something amazing. My favorite was a Weekend of Horrors back in the mid-'90s -- he was very tired and I didn't want to take up his time, but we got to talking about Viking history, and you could see him light up with enthusiasm. That's my lasting image of him, as a wise and sharing person.

Before Michael Myers stalked babysitters in Haddonfield and Jason donned his famous hockey mask, the gentle giant Gunnar terrified millions of people and made a huge impression on many including this humble film journalist. Gunnar Hansen may be gone but his legacy he left us will live on in celluloid form. Also he will remain alive in the treasured memories of the people he worked with and the many fans that was lucky enough to meet the man behind the mask.

R.I.P March 4th 1947- November 7th-2015

A Special Thank you to Jason and Gregory for taking time to share your thoughts with us. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Blood Splattered Blood: Army of Darkness: One Blu to rule them all?

Title: Army of Darkness
Release Date: 10/27/15
Company: Shout Factory (Scream Factory)

Most fans were really really excited when Scream Factory announced they were going to do a deluxe edition of the cult horror favorite "Army of Darkness" It also comes hot on the heals of the new series "Ash Vs the Evil Dead" on Starz. Some fans however were less than thrilled, wondering if this blu would be the one edition to own. Seeing how I held off on buying a blu of AOD i was more than just alittle happy when I received my copy. I`m going to break down all three discs.

*Please note* Not going to list the differences in footage however this website breaks it down nicely.

Disc One: Theatrical Cut : 81 Minutes

Picture:Aside from a slight issue with a 2 or 3 seconds of footage missing (followed by a slight syn problem. SF already addressed this and is issuing replacement discs this month) the picture is amazing. Done using a 4k scan the picture is crisp and clear with faces looking natural and thankfully not looking either too dark or washed out. Its also an vast improvement from the previous "Screwhead Edition"

Sound: Theatrical Cut features a 2.0 and a wonderful 5.1 track. With a movie that has so many great sound effects (swords clashing, bones breaking etc) the 5.1 mix really brings the movie alive. It also greatly enhances the wonderful score.

Special Features: The real gem on disc one (indeed the entire boxset) is Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness a feature length documentary produced for this set. The interviewees are lively with great stories and of course there is a loads of  material such as behind the scenes footage,stills and story boards. Sadly Sam Raimi was missing but his brother Ted was on hand instead. Its wonderfully made and a must watch. Also included is the alternative ending and deleted scenes not featured in this or the directors cut which includes commentary. Rounding out this disc is trailers, tv spots and U.S video promos.

Disc Two: Directors Cut Runtime 96 minutes
I had first seen the directors cut from "Anchor Bay" VHS which featured alternative artwork in a clamshell box. This was my early collecting days and the packaging and the idea of seeing a totally new cut of the film was pretty exciting.The release was flawed however with the new footage looking terrible. I also learned this  edition omits one scene (Bad Ash ripping off Shelia's dress) totally.

Picture: The additional scenes are nicely restored and fits in perfectly with the rest of the footage, and as much as I love Anchor Bay (mainly oldschool AB)  its a huge improvement over there release.

Sound: As in the first disc the 5.1 audio track is very nice with crisp clear dialogue and effects.

Special Features: This cut of the film is the only one with a feature length audio commentary. Fans hoping for a new commentary will be disappointed as its from a previous release. I`m perfectly ok with that because its such a well done commentary with wonderful back and forth with star Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi as well as brother Ivan. In fact i`d even go as far as to say this is in my top commentary tracks period. Rounding out this disc is some behind the scenes footage (some seen in the documentary) as well as vintage featurette. Sadly nothing new on this disc.

Disc Three: International Cut and TV Cut

Picture: As with the first two discs the International cut looks great,using a 4k scan. Its great to finally have this rarely seen cut of the film and in my opinion the real gem in this release. The TV cut is presented in its standard pan and scan tv format.

Sound: As with the first two discs the film sounds great in a newly mixed 5.1 track.

Special Features: The third and final disc features more tv spots as well as some great rarely seen stills. I was disappointed with the lack of content but as i said above just having this cut of the film is great.

Overall: Army of Darkness fans get out your boomsticks and celebrate because this release is the one you`ve been waiting for. Not only is there a wealth of material it features four different cuts, newly restored. Its great to have them in one sweet package. Complaints are lack of any new content aside from the documentary. A cast commentary would have been nice. Even a new interview with Sam R. Picture and Audio across the board are great with only some minor flaws. Is it the one blu to rule them all? I`d say without a doubt yes. So shop smart, dont be a primitive screw head and buy this release. Its most certainly going to make my best blu release of 2015.