Thursday, June 18, 2009

Monsterpalooza & Christian Thrillers

Three weeks ago I got a couple of calls from friends asking if I was going to Monsterpalooza. “What’s that?” “Well, it’s this convention for people who are into horror movie make up.” “Sounds like the old version of Fango.” So, I went - and it was the show Fango should have been! Really cool! It was at the Burbank Marriot where Fango was up until a couple of years ago, and that is not only down the street from me - it’s a great venue. The problem with Fango at the Convention Center is that it’s downtown - parking is expensive and there isn’t much around... and the place is huge - Fango was a BB in a boxcar. The hotel is big enough to house everything, but not so big that the place seems empty even when it’s full of people. So Monsterpalooza seemed crowded, and alive and exciting - just because of venue choice.

But what was inside the venue was what made it great. Where Fango seems to have targeted the tattoo crowd with their ass-hanging out skank girls, Monsterpalooza seems to be targeting make up people. The show is all about film monster make up, and it seemed much more like the old Fango... just better. Oh, and I think cheaper. It cost me $5 less than the Fango admission. I wonder if that’s because of the venue? Is Fango thinking the Convention Center makes them look like major players or something? Who cares about that stuff? I want to see cool horror movie stuff!

And Monsterpalooza delivered. They had a “monster museum” that was completely free with the price of admission - it was a whole room filled with everything from life sized statues of famous horror figures from the past (Karloff sipping tea while they apply the Frankenstein’s Monster make up) to the actual mechanical monsters and costumes used in famous movies, to small test models that show the design of a creature before they build the real one. Oh, and paintings and sketches. It was like a tour of the KNB workshop (much of their work was displayed). This was so cool, it was worth the price of admission. I went back and did the museum a second time.

In the center of all of these events is the dealer’s room, and where Fango’s room was half the size it was last year and filled with weird tattoo stuff, Monsterpalooza’s room.... or should I say *rooms*... were packed with all of the typical horror movie stuff that Fangos had, plus a bunch of vendors who specialize in movie make up and movie monster stuff. When you walk in to the big room, you are greeted by singing dancing animatronic skeletons! A company that builds and sells these things. There were several places that sold fake blood, and foam & latex supplies (for making your own monster) and lots of places with one-of-a-kind monster masks you could buy. Plus the regular vendors of horror movie stuff. And the big dealer’s room had some life sized monster statues you could have your picture taken with - for free. The Creature From The Black Lagoon! And there were stars autographing - but it seemed more fun for the stars at Monsterpalooza - they weren’t sitting in the back of the room at some empty table - they were right in the middle of everything. Maybe that was part of what made the big dealer’s room work - it didn’t seem to be in theme sections, so instead of one more damned guy selling posters on this aisle, it was all jumbled up and some really cool thing was next to the poster guy.

Though I think the big room was just as big as Fango’s dealer’s room this year, at the Burbank Marriot there is usually some spill to the small rooms... and here the small rooms were all some amazing little find. When Fango was at the Burbank Marriot the small rooms were where they dumped those guys who made a movie in their back yard, couldn’t find a distrib, and bought a table at Fango to sell the film, plus any really cheap junky vendor they didn’t want in the main room. At Monsterpalooza they had designed a “flow” to the small rooms - they connected to the big room. And the small rooms all seemed to have at least one treasure - a display of amazing models for monsters not yet in any movie, a company specializing in horror props, etc.

Though I only went to one panel, it was also worth the price of admission. It took forever to set up, while we were just sitting there waiting, but they did a class on blood effects. It was half stand up comedy and half nuts & bolts instruction on how to use movie blood. This guy was funny, and had some (planted) audience members spraying blood across the stage. He showed you how to build your own non-explosive blood squibs (just like the ones I made when I was doing Super 8mm... only much much better!) and where to buy the different parts and even how to best assemble them. Blood was spraying all over the place! The great thing is that I learned all kinds of cool ways to do it myself when it comes to blood and brain splatter and cutting open someone’s neck and just about any other blood related thing I might do on a low budget film - where to buy the pieces, how to assemble them, how to operate them on set.

The class (really a demonstration to show you the kind of thing you learn in this movie make up school concerning blood effects) was in the same room they used for panels and had a big movie screen on the back wall. They had done all kinds of prep work (which we had to sit there and watch) to put up tarps to protect the screen. But, this guy was a wild man with the blood sprays, and a couple came really close to hitting that screen. His finale was a major spurting of blood from a “volunteer” (poor guy had about a gallon of blood dribble into his pants) and when the volunteer moved just a bit to his left when he wasn’t supposed to... that big movie screen on the wall got sprayed! Oops!

After the event was over everybody went to the hotel restaurant/bar to eat and drink, and it was like old times at the Fango convention. Reminded me of when Fango was at the L.A. Airport hotels, and you would go to the hotel bar and drink with the stars of your favorite horror movies, and some of the directors, too... and when they closed the bar, you might go upstairs to a room party. Then, a couple of hours of sleep, and back to the convention. That kind of energy and excitement is missing from Fango these days, but some of it was at Monsterpalooza... though I didn’t go to any room party. The stars who were signing autographs a minute ago where now at a table in the hotel bar, and you could go over and have a drink with them. The mask makers and monster builders were all there, you could drink with them, too. The whole event seemed more personal and more exciting. I’ll be going next year... I wonder if the movie screen will still be stained with blood?

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Realistic Dialogue and four techniques to create it.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Dinner with my parents (in town for a dart tournament) at Daily Grill
Bicycle: Unfortunately rode my bike to Burbank... without water or liquids and parched myself. I am dehydrated.

MOVIES: DANGEROUS CALLING - I think I first met the Daws Brothers in person at the Screenwriting Expo, in a room filled way over capacity with people standing against every wall a couple of people deep and even a bunch of people sitting on the floor. I think they were on the floor. They won the messenger bag I gave away in that class. I believe I knew them from online for a while before this - probably on the Wordplay message boards. Well, they made their own feature film in beautiful Georgia (the one in the United States, not the one in Russia), and now one of the Bros has moved to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune. Though originally my plan was to buy their film DANGEROUS CALLING online, but when I had lunch with young Jeremiah a couple of weeks ago, he had a copy with him.

The Jos & Jeremiah Daws are the sons of a Baptist Pastor, and DANGEROUS CALLING is a Christian thriller. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film aimed specifically at the Christian audience, so one of the interesting elements of watching this film for me was to see what they could get away with on the thriller side. They made this film on a very low budget, using professional local actors (with credits in films like THE MIST) and probably beg-borrow-and-stealing everything that was outside their budget. The film doesn’t look like it was made on a budget at all - it has some amazing production value... which I’ll get to in a moment, but first the story.

I found the story fascinating.

It seems to be a rif on the Couple-Moves-To-Small-Town-With-A-Secret thriller subgenre, but this town doesn't feature Stepford Wives or Witches or Demon Cults or Aliens, the secret here is something more ordinary... and that makes it more real. Young Pastor Evan Burke (Stephen Caudill) and his wife Nora (Carrie Walrond) are assigned a small town First Baptist church when the previous Pastor dies under... mysterious circumstances. They are new to the town, new to the church... and end up in the middle of some serious church politics. There are two factions within the church: one which wants to reach out to the community and *include* anyone who is interested in attending the church, and the other that is overly fundamentalist and wants to *exclude* anyone who has ever sinned in their life. The latter faction is headed up by wealthy chicken rancher Miss Pat (Jackie Prucha with traces of Carrie White's mom), who makes large donations to the church in order to get her way. She always gets her way.

And, while Evan & Nora’s house is being remodeled, they end up living with Miss Pat and her creepy adult son Elijah (Brandon O'Dell). What they don’t know (but we do) is that Elijah brutally murdered the previous Pastor in the opening minutes of the film. Elijah believes that killing sinners is his job... his mother raised him to see the world in terms of us and them.

Though that builds the thriller side of the story, with creepy Elijah stalking Nora; what I found most interesting was the church politics side of the story. This film’s major conflict is between an old testament fundamentalist faction that practices hatred (Miss Pat) and the (vast majority) new testament group that’s on the love and peace and forgiveness side... with the Burkes in the middle, but actually on the side of Jesus (and love). Because he's the new pastor, Evan has to referee... and there seems to be no way to placate Miss Pat. It’s strange to think that a Christian film would have the balls to take on the Extreme Christian Right like this. Where Miss Pat is all about fire and brimstone and stoning sinners (well, Elijah kills them), the Burkes are more like Rick Warren than Ralph Reed - and preach love and tolerance. When we aren’t in the middle of a suspense scene, this battle between Christian theories is the backbone of the film. Inclusion and exclusion.

There’s a great scene where the church elders (or whatever they’re called) are debating a youth outreach program, and Miss Pat is completely against it because those damned kids are sinners who think of nothing but sex and drugs and rock & roll. We’ve seen these kids - they’re just normal kids! Nora mentions that Jesus ministered to prostitutes and thieves - hey, those people need spiritual guidance just us much (if not more) than the rest of us. But Miss Pat wants the youth outreach program cancelled, and since she’s the biggest patron of the church, she gets her way. She is *buying* her religion... and buying the town to ignore her creepy son Elijah.

Though I found the church politics fascinating, DANGEROUS CALLING is still a thriller. Wack-job Elijah is kind of like Norman Bates (or that crazy preacher Perkins played in CRIMES OF PASSION) - when he finds himself becoming sexually interested in a woman, he stops those sinful thoughts... by killing the woman. So Nora is in danger... and she begins to dig into Elijah’s past and discover a skeleton or two. And Miss Pat manages to make it seem like Nora’s suspicions are more about church politics than Elijah’s past.


This film as a great fake-out suspense scene. Elijah keeps pet snakes, including some poisonous ones, and one of his attempts to kill Nora is by snake. While she is doing laundry, he puts a poisonous snake in a towel in the basket of clean towels she has just taken out of the dryer. Nora takes the towels up to her room to fold... and we get some great suspense as she pulls the towels from the basket one-by-one and folds them. This creates a “countdown” of towels. The snake isn’t in this one. The snake isn’t in the next one. And as each towel is folded and put away, we know she’s getting closer and closer to the one with the snake. She gets to the very last towel, and... There’s no snake! She just folds the towel and puts it away. And, just when you are thinking, “What a rip off!”, we seen the snake crawling behind a pillow on the bed just behind the laundry basket! Now the snake is in the bed, and Nora doesn’t know it! And she’s tired after doing laundry, and wants to take a nap! The great thing about this is that after building the suspense, it dissipates for a moment when the snake isn’t in the last towel, then builds even stronger when we see the snake in the bed.


One really great thing about this film is the production value - it sure doesn’t look like a low budget film. I was amazed by the chicken ranch scenes. There are several scenes in a huge barn - as far as the eye can see - filled with chickens! That’s a lot of chickens! I don’t think I have ever seen that many chickens at once before. Later we see another *huge* barn, with no chickens. Again - a giant building which gives the film the scope of a big screen movie. The film also does a great job of taking us into the world of chicken ranching, as well as the world of church politics. Miss Pat’s house is also huge, and a scene where those sex, drugs and rock & roll kids come to do free clean up work shows you just how big the place is (and is also a good suspense scene, as Nora is being held hostage and can’t get anyone to help her). The church is huge - a real church, and we get to see just about every inch of it. And there’s a great chase scene through the town. Though most of the film takes place either at Miss Pat’s house or at the Church, the film never feels claustrophobic at all because it uses all kinds of great exteriors. And there are lots of big, wide shots - the film doesn’t suffer from that TV look of many small films, where everything is a close up. This looks like it was shot for the big screen.

Another great thing about the film is that it *is* an inclusion film - there is no black and white in these characters, everyone is a shade of gray. Even Miss Pat is a motivated character that you come to understand by the end. Maybe not agree with, but you can see where she came by her point of view.

There were some times when the film seemed a little “soft” when it came to violence and action, and I suspect that’s to appeal to the core Christian audience. It's more what you would expect to see on TV than what you might find in that low budget film on the bottom shelf at Blockbuster. But there *was* some clever off-screen violence... a firepoker becomes imbedded in someone’s head off screen and must be pried lose. That’s all hinted at, but I figured it out. But I’m not sure there’s any cross-over from the MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN crowd, it’s probably too tame for them. Because I have no idea what a Christian thriller or Christian horror movie entails, I don’t know if this is amazing for that audience or not (but the film has some great reviews on the Christian film websites, one of them calls it the most exciting Christian movie they’ve ever seen).

I think they did a great job of making a small film look big, and making the story interesting to *me* - a guy not in their target audience. I've seen a bunch of low budget films made by people I know, and many of them look cheap. DANGEROUS CALLING looks like a network made for TV movie - it has the production value and level of acting and technical level of any film you have seen on ABC or Hallmark.

I hope Josh & Jeremiah land a major distrib for the movie, and keep making interesting genre films for the Christian audience... or the mainstream audience.


- Bill


Anonymous said...

What are you saying, Bill? This thing was better than Fango?


wcmartell said...

Well, mostly I'm *hinting* at that.

- Bill

Anonymous said...

that movie looks good

Jim Sullivan said...

The film looks great! I met Jeremiah when we had drinks at the Cat & Fiddle. I recall he had copies with him, but I'll have to get one from their website.

Good luck to him & his brother getting distribution!

Danny said...

Oh, MAN Monsterpalooza sounds insanely cool. I'm definitely checking it out next time. Fango was just ... meh.

S. Harlan Cone said...

Hey Bill. I've talked a bit about my faith over at Artful Writer. I think that you're going to find that there is a generation of Christians coming of age who 1) don't demonize Hollywood, 2) want to make great movies and 3) are ready to take on the darker side of the church. Especially now that more people have more tools available, I think we're going to see some interesting things.

*resists urge to pimp my own work*

Great blog, always entertaining. I really want to check out this movie now.

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