Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween in Vegas

You know that feeling you used to get as a kid when the circus or the traveling carnival left town? All of the excitement and energy that had briefly transformed the normal into the surreal was suddenly gone, and all that remained was an empty field of memories. That’s how I felt leaving Vegas last night, after Fangoria’s 1st TRINITY OF TERRORS. I don’t mean to suggest that Vegas is suddenly an empty field… In Vegas, after all, every night is Halloween. But there was something magical about seeing a group of guys dressed up as Alex and his droogies, wandering through a casino where Malcolm McDowell was signing autographs upstairs… and seeing zombies playing the slot machines, blissfully unaware of George Romero’s presence a few feet behind them.

This event, masterminded by Renaissance man Scott Licina, featured the longest list of horror genre icons at any convention I’m aware of. While it lacked the celebrity/fan intimacy of a smaller convention, it was undeniably thrilling to spend Halloween among friends and freaks at the lavish Palms Resort & Casino, where horror stars competed for attention with Paul Oakenfold, the Playboy Club, and of course the gambling tables. For me, the highlights were a lively Q&A session with Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau, a stand-up routine by the hilariously demented John Waters, a tribute to Roger Corman (inventor of the high-concept genre film), Ashley Laurence (always), and a pre-release screening of George Romero’s new film SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD! There was also a screening of a little documentary called NIGHTMARES IN RED WHITE AND BLUE, which appeared to be well received. (Next stop: Mar del Plata)

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD got off to a very rocky start. The Halloween midnight screening, which would have played to a packed theater, was canceled shortly before 1am. Romero himself introduced the movie, and then the folks at Brenden Theaters spent the next hour trying to replace a light bulb in the projector. At 12:45AM, they announced to a very angry audience that they wouldn’t be able to show the film until the following afternoon. A much smaller audience gathered in a much smaller theater on Sunday. Despite this disappointing setup, I was pleasantly surprised by the film – which seems to me like a heartfelt tribute to directors John Ford and Howard Hawks.

SURVIVAL is to last year’s DIARY OF THE DEAD what DAWN was to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The second in a rebooted franchise, it picks up three weeks after the crisis and follows a minor character from the previous film into the new world. I got a little bit worried when the film began with voiceover narration, because I feel that the preachy narration was the weakest part of DIARY, often at odds (tonally) with the film’s gleefully anarchic violence. Thankfully, the VO in SURVIVAL doesn’t last. Romero quickly drops us into a world gone mad, and turns over the reigns to a group of quirky, ruthless, and ultimately very likable characters. The type of characters we met in DIARY OF THE DEAD – bratty college students with no survival instincts – have presumably been killed off by now, leaving the post-apocalyptic world to modern-day cowboys.

“Lousy times make lousy people,” one character says, but the fact that everyone in this film (even the youngest character, who exists mainly to lament the death of advanced technology) is a survivor makes them much easier to empathize with. Excellent performances by a cast of relative unknowns don’t hurt either. In a Q&A session, the director said that he thought this was the best cast he’d worked with in years, and I have to agree. There are the usual moments of comic book violence, but I was surprised by just how naturalistic much of the film was. It’s also worth noting that, for all of the in-fighting between the characters, everyone seems to have their own personal code of conduct and honor, which makes the film seem more sentimental than satirical, more genuinely insightful than preachy… and makes SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, in my opinion, Romero’s best movie since 1985. Here’s to hoping that it gets good distribution… and that the employees of Brenden Theaters learn how to change a light bulb. If not, they certainly won't last long against the undead.

This guy freaked me out...

"Uncle George" & Malcolm McDowell -- manager Chris Roe (far right) says he'd like to put these two guys together in a film. I don't think anyone would argue with that.

Meg Foster (who could forget those eyes from THEY LIVE?), Caroline Williams (lovable lady of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2), and scream queen Dee Wallace (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, THE HOWLING, CUJO). Meg and Caroline starred together in STEPFATHER II, recently released on DVD.

Me with Adrienne Barbeau & Tom Atkins, who both starred in THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, CREEPSHOW and TWO EVIL EYES... but have never had a scene together. (Nor slept together, Atkins divulged in their Q&A.)

The inimitable John Waters performs his one-man show, "This Filthy World," and poses the questions that matter: "Wouldn't you rather have your child be a drug dealer than a drug addict?"

Roger Corman receives Fangoria's Lifetime Achievement Award from Fango editor Tony Timpone - a precursor to the Lifetime Achievement Oscar that Corman is due to receive later this year!

Trinity organizer Scott Licina & artist/actress Ashley Laurence, star of HELLRAISER, LIGHTNING BUG, and Robert Kurtzman's upcoming film BUMP (based on the Fangoria comic edited by Licina)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11/06/2009

    Thanks for the review.
    Romero's hit a rough patch since the mid 90's. Films like "Monkey Shines" and "Bruiser", and even "Land of the Dead", bristle with more ideas than your average horror film, but never quite gel into a classic. If "Survival" is as good as "Land", I'll be happy.