Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Biography

John Hurt R.I.P

john-hurt-final-webSir John Hurt, who won a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination for his iconic portrayal of the Elephant Man, has died. The star, one of Britain’s most treasured actors, died aged 77 at his home in Norfolk after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, it was revealed yesterday.

His widow, Anwen Hurt, today said it will be ‘a strange world’ with out the actor, whose death has prompted an outpouring of grief from the showbusiness industry, with director Mel Brooks and J K Rowling among those paying tribute. Mrs Hurt added: ‘John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit. He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him.’

Despite revealing that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2015, Hurt was matter-of-fact about his mortality.

Speaking to the Radio Times, he said: ‘I can’t say I worry about mortality, but it’s impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it. We’re all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly,’ he said.

Born in Derbyshire in 1940, the son of a vicar and an engineer, Hurt spent what he described as a lonely childhood at an Anglo-Catholic prep school before he enrolled at a boarding school in Lincoln.

His acting aspirations were almost shattered forever by his headmaster’s insistence that he did not stand a chance in the profession. He left school to go to art college but dropped out, impoverished and living in a dismal basement flat.

He finally plucked up enough courage to apply for a scholarship and auditioned successfully for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, although he later recalled being so hungry he could hardly deliver his lines.

Hurt played a wide range of characters over the course of 60 years, was well known for roles including Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, the title role in The Elephant Man and more recently as wand merchant Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films. However, John Merrick notwithstanding here are a few of my personal favourte John Hurt roles:

Playing Timothy Evans, who was hanged for murders committed by his landlord John Christie, played chillingly by Richard Attenborough in 10 Rillington Place (1971), earning John Hurt his first BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor/

Hurt was fantastic in Midnight Express (1978), for which he won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Around the same time, he lent his voice to Ralph Bakshi’s animated film adaptation of Lord of the Rings, playing the role of Aragorn. Hurt also voiced Hazel, the heroic rabbit leader of his warren in the exceptional film adaptation of Watership Down (both 1978) and later played the major villain, General Woundwort, in the animated television series.

His other role at the turn of the 1980s included Kane, the first victim of the title creature in the Ridley Scott film Alien (1979, a role which he reprised as a parody in Spaceballs). Gilbert Ward “Thomas” Kane is the Nostromo‘s executive officer, who during the investigation of a wrecked ship, moves closer to an egg to get a closer look. The now iconic ‘facehugger’ attaches to him and, unbeknownst to him and the crew, impregnates him with an Alien embryo. Kane remains unconscious until the facehugger dies and falls off. At dinner afterwards, Kane goes into convulsions; an infant Alien bursts through his chest, killing him in one of cinemas most famous scenes.

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Hurt played Winston Smith in the film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eigthy-Four (1984). Also in 1984, Hurt starred in The Hit an under-rated British crime film directed by Stephen Frears which also starred Terence Stamp and Tim Roth.

Dead Man (1995) a twisted and surreal Western, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch which also starred Johnny Depp, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Chrisin Glover and Robert Mitchum (in his final film role).

He also featured in a few graphic novel adaptations before they became big business for everyone, Hellboy (2004) and it’s sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola are great fun. He also took a similar role to that of Big Brother in the film V For Vendetta (2006), when he played the role of Adam Sutler, leader of the fascist dictatorship.

More than thirty years after The Naked Civil Servant, Hurt reprised the role of Quentin Crisp in An Englishman in New York (2009), which depicts Crisp’s later years in New York. Hurt also returned to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, playing the on-screen Big Brother for Paper Zoo Theatre Company’s stage adaptation of the novel in June 2009.

Of his latter years I particularly enjoyed his portrayal of the crotchety and bigoted Old Man Peanut in  44 Inch Chest (2009), and his support roles in Brighton Rock (2010) and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011).

Rest in Peace.


Kermode Uncut: William Peter Blatty


R.I.P. William Peter Blatty

It’s been quite some time since I’ve bothered to write for the blog, partially through my busy work schedules, family commitments and in all honesty lack of interest…and I know I’m late as the news has been known for almost 12 hours now, however, it is with a heavy heart that I am compelled to write the following post.

friedkin_blatty_the_exorcist_1973William Peter Blatty, the author whose best-selling book The Exorcist was both a milestone in horror fiction and a turning point in his own career, died on Thursday in Bethesda, Md. He was 89. The cause was multiple myeloma, his wife, Julie Blatty, said.

The Exorcist, the story of a 12-year-old girl possessed by the Devil, was published in 1971 and sold more than 13 million copies. The movie version, made in 1973, starring Linda Blair and directed by Blatty’s longtime friend, William Friedkin, was a massive commercial success, breaking box-office records at many theaters and becoming the highest-grossing film to date for Warner Bros. studios. It earned Mr. Blatty, who wrote the screenplay, an Academy Award. (It was also the first horror movie nominated for the best-picture Oscar.)

The Exorcist marked a radical shift in Mr. Blatty’s career, which was already well established in another genre: He was one of Hollywood’s leading comedy writers having collaborated with the director Blake Edwards on the screenplays for four films, beginning in 1964 with A Shot in the Dark, the second movie (after The Pink Panther) starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau and, in some critics’ view, the best. His other Edwards films were the comedy What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966); the musical comedy-drama Darling Lili (1970); and Gunn (1967), based on the television detective series Peter Gunn. He also wrote the scripts for comedies starring Danny Kaye, Warren Beatty and Zero Mostel.

The phenomenal success of The Exorcist essentially signaled the end of Mr. Blatty’s comedy career, making him for all practical purposes the foremost writer in a new hybrid genre: theological horror. It was a mantle he was never entirely comfortable wearing.

When he declined his publisher’s entreaties for a sequel to The Exorcist and instead delivered an elegiac memoir about his mother, I’ll Tell Them I Remember You, published in 1973, Mr. Blatty felt the first cinch of the horror-writing straitjacket.

“My publisher took it because I wanted to do it,” he was quoted as saying in “Faces of Fear” (1985), a collection of interviews with horror writers by Douglas E. Winter. “But the bookstores were really hostile. The sad truth is that nobody wants me to write comedy,” he said in another interview. “ ‘The Exorcist’ not only ended that career; it expunged all memory of its existence.”

Mr. Blatty gave various accounts of what led him to try his hand at horror. He sometimes said the market for his comedy had waned in the late 1960s, and he was ready to move on. At other times, he said that his mother’s sudden death in 1967 had led to a renewed commitment to his Roman Catholic faith, and to a soul searching about life’s ultimate questions, including the presence of evil in the world.

In every account, he said the idea for The Exorcist was planted in 1949, when he was a student at the Jesuit-affiliated Georgetown University in Washington and read an account in The Washington Post of an exorcism under the headline “Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip.” The incident, widely discussed at the time among Georgetown students and faculty members, came back to Mr. Blatty 20 years later as the basis for a book about something not getting much press in the fractured, murky landscape of late-1960s America: the battle between Good and Evil.

He began writing what he thought would be a modest-selling thriller about a girl, a demon and a pair of Catholic priests. About halfway through, he later said, he sensed he had something more. “I knew it was going to be a success,” he told People magazine. “I couldn’t wait to finish it and become famous.”

William Peter Blatty was born on Jan. 7, 1928, in Manhattan to Peter and Mary Blatty, immigrants from Lebanon. His father left home when he was 6, and his mother supported the two of them by selling quince jelly on the streets, yielding a wobbly income that precipitated 28 changes of address during a childhood he once described as “comfortably destitute.”

The church figured prominently in his life. His mother was a churchgoing Catholic, and he was educated at prominent Jesuit-run schools that admitted him on full scholarships: the Brooklyn Preparatory School, now closed, where he was the 1946 class valedictorian, and Georgetown, from which he graduated in 1950.

After serving in the Air Force, Mr. Blatty worked for the United States Information Agency in Beirut. He returned to the United States for a public relations job in Los Angeles, where he hoped to begin his career as a writer.

He had already published his first book — a memoir, “Which Way to Mecca, Jack?” — but was still working in public relations in 1961 when he appeared as a contestant on a TV Game show hosted by Groucho Marx. He and a fellow contestant won $10,000. His winnings freed him to quit his day job and become a full-time writer. He never had a regular job again.

Mr. Blatty lived in Bethesda. In addition to his wife, the former Julie Witbrodt, whom he married in 1983, he is survived by their son, Paul William Blatty; three daughters, Christine Charles, Mary Joanne Blatty and Jennifer Blatty; and two sons, Michael and William Peter Jr., from earlier marriages; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Another son, Peter Vincent Blatty, died in 2006; his death was the subject of Mr. Blatty’s 2015 book, “Finding Peter.”

His work after The Exorcist included several more theologically themed works of horror, including The Ninth Configuration in 1978 (a reworking of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane,” from 1966) — and Legion in 1983. Both books were made into movies, directed as well as written by Mr. Blatty; the film version of Legion was released in 1990 as The Exorcist III.

Mr. Blatty became reconciled over the years to the overwhelming dominance The Exorcist — most recently adapted into a 2016 TV mini-series — would have on his reputation as a writer. (He also maintained a sense of humor about it, as reflected in the name of a comic novel about Hollywood he published in 1996: “Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing.”) He knew, he told several interviewers, that it would be what people remembered him for. But one thing bothered him.

Many moviegoers, including the president of Warner Bros., had interpreted the movie’s climax — in which the younger of the two priests (played by Jason Miller) goads the demon into leaving the girl to take up residence inside him instead, then jumps to his death — as a win for the demon.

That was not how Mr. Blatty meant it. For years he pleaded his case to Mr. Friedkin, a longtime friend. In 2000, Mr. Friedkin relented, issuing a re-edited director’s cut of the film that made the triumph of Good over Evil more explicit.

With the same purpose in mind, Mr. Blatty rewrote parts of the original book, even adding a chapter, for a 40th-anniversary edition of The Exorcist published in 2011. It was essential to him, he told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans in 2000, that people understand the point of The Exorcist: “That God exists and the universe itself will have a happy ending.”


Jack Davis Retires

Jack-Davis_Creepy_Tales-From-The-CryptJack Davis, the legendary Mad magazine illustrator and movie poster artist, is finally hanging up his pencils. Davis has conducted a short interview with Wired:

It’s not that the iconic 90-year-old cartoonist can’t draw anymore—he just can’t meet his own standards. “I’m not satisfied with the work,” Davis says by phone from his rural Georgia home. “I can still draw, but I just can’t draw like I used to.”

Davis has probably spent more time in America’s living rooms than anyone. Madwas a million-seller when Davis was on the mag, and when he was doing TV Guidecovers in the 1970s, the publication boasted a circulation of over 20 million. Yet, Davis is largely unaware of his massive cultural significance. “I never really thought about that, but I guess I’m very blessed,” he says. “I’ve been very lucky.”

But his luck paled in comparison to his skill. Davis started his career in 1936, when he was only 12; he won $1 as part of a national art contest and saw his work published in Tip Top Comics #9. While still a teen, his cartoons were published inThe Yellow Jacket, a humor magazine at Georgia Tech University, where his uncle was a professor. After a stint in the military, Davis caught on with EC Comics in 1950, where he was part of the artistic wave that revolutionized comics with titles like Tales from the Crypt, Two-Fisted Tales, and Mad.

Whereas Norman Rockwell’s images represented Americana of the 1940s and ’50s with his Boy Scouts and pigtailed girls, Davis’ work epitomized the ’60s and ’70s—the smirking, sardonic face of the emerging counterculture. By the time the Beats and the Hippies (who came of age reading Davis cartoons) took over, he was doing movie posters for Woody Allen’s Bananas, The Long Goodbye, American Graffiti, and others.

jack_davis_ae_cover11“Jack Davis is probably the most versatile artist ever to work the worlds of comic books, illustration, or movie poster art,” Scott Dunbier, a former art dealer and current director of special projects at comic book publisher IDW. “He can work in a humorous style or deadly serious style, historical or modern, anything. His work transcends that of almost any other cartoonist.”

IDW recently published Jack Davis’ EC Stories Artist’s Edition, reprinting some of Davis’ classic stories taken from the original art. You can view the book HERE. Other pieces from the archives may emerge, but Davis is done producing new work. “I’m just gonna sit on the porch and watch the river go by,” Davis says. “And maybe go fishing once in a while.”


Mike Mignola

Mike-Mignola_HellboyMike Mignola was born September 16, 1960 in Berkeley, California and grew up in nearby Oakland. His fascination with ghosts and monsters began at an early age (he doesn’t remember why) and reading Dracula at age 13 introduced him to Victorian literature and folklore from which he has never recovered.

In 1982, hoping to find a way to draw monsters for a living, he moved to New York City and began working for Marvel Comics—First as a (very terrible, according to the man himself) inker and then as an artist on comics like Rocket Raccoon, Alpha Flight, and The Hulk. 

Hellboy_graphic-novelBy the late 80’s he had begun to develop his signature style (Thin lines, clunky shapes and lots of black) and moved onto higher profile commercial projects like Cosmic Odyssey (1988) and Gotham by Gaslight (1989) for DC Comics, and the not so commercial Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (1990) for Marvel. In 1992 he drew the comic book adaptation of the film Bram Stoker’s Dracula for Topps Comics.

In 1993 Mike moved to Dark Horse comics and created Hellboy – A half-demon occult detective who may or may not be the Beast of the Apocalypse. While the first story line (Seed of Destruction 1994) was co-written by John Byrne, Mike has continued writing the series himself. There are, at this moment, 13 HELLBOY graphic novel collections (with more on the way), several spin-off titles (BPRD, Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien and Witchfinder), 3 anthologies of prose stories, several novels, 2 animated films and 2 live action films staring Ron Perlman. Hellboy has earns numerous comic industry awards and is published in a great many countries.

mignola_bprd-hell-on-earthMike also created the award-winning comic book The Amazing Screw-On Head and has co-written two novels (Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire and Joe Golem and the Drowning City) with best selling author Christopher Golden.

Mike worked (very briefly) with Francis Ford Coppola on his film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), was a production designer on the Disney film Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) and was visual consultant to director Guillermo del Toro on Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008).

Mignola_rocket_groot_cover_colorMike considers The Magician and the Snake the best thing he has ever done. Though scripted and drawn by him the 6 page story was actually plotted by his daughter Katie (at the time 7 years old) and earned both of them Eisner Awards for best short story.

He lives somewhere in Southern California with his wife, daughter, a lot of books and a cat. He is one of the few comic artists that I buy work unseen based on his participation (the others are Berni Wrightson, Liberatore and Eric Powell) I suggest you purchase some of his work immediately.


Jack Pierce

Jack-Pierce_bannerJack Pierce (born Janus Piccoula; May 5, 1889 – July 19, 1968) was a Hollywood make-up artist most famous for creating the iconic make-up worn by Boris Karloff in Universal Studios’ 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, along with various other classic monster make-ups for Universal Studios.

frankenstein_jack-pierce_themanbehindthemonstersAfter immigrating to the United States from his native Greece as a teenager, Pierce tried his hand at several careers, including a stint as an amateur baseball player. In the opportunist twenties, Pierce embarked on a series of jobs in cinema—cinema manager, stuntman, actor, even assistant director—which would eventually lead to his mastery of in the field of makeup. In 1915 he was hired to work on crews for the studio’s productions. On the 1926 set of The Monkey Talks, Jack Pierce created the make-up for actor Jacques Lernier who was playing a simian with the ability to communicate. The head of Universal, Carl Laemmle, was won over with the creative outcome. Next came Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, also a silent Universal picture. Pierce was then immediately hired full-time by the newly established Universal Pictures motion picture studio. The 1930 death of Lon Chaney, who throughout the 1920s had made a name for himself by creating grotesque and often painful horror makeups, opened a niche for Pierce and Universal, Chaney’s films provided audiences with the deformed, monstrous faces that Pierce and moviegoers so clearly enjoyed.

jack-pierce_boris-karloff_frankensteinUniversal’s first talkie horror film, Dracula, eschewed elaborate horror make-up. Pierce designed a special color greasepaint for Bela Lugosi for his vampire character, but apparently the actor insisted on applying his own makeup. For all film appearances of the character thereafter, Pierce instituted a different look entirely, recasting Dracula as a man with greying hair and a moustache. The most significant creation during Pierce’s time at the studio was clearly Frankenstein, originally begun with Lugosi in the role of the Monster. The preliminary design was apparently similar to the Paul Wegener 1920 German film of The Golem. When James Whale replaced Florey as director, the concept was radically changed. Pierce came up with a design which was horrific as well as logical in the context of the story. So, where Henry Frankenstein has accessed the brain cavity, there is a scar and a seal, and the now famous “bolts” on the neck are actually electrodes; carriers for the electricity used to revive the stitched-up corpse. How much input director James Whale had into the initial concept remains controversial. Universal loaned out Pierce for the Lugosi film White Zombie. They also loaned out some of the Dracula sets for the troublesome filming. Lugosi had collaborated with Pierce on the look of his devilish character in the film.

frankenstein_boris-karloff_jack-piercePierce’s make-up can be seen in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Mummy (1932), Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man (1941), and their various sequels associated with the characters. He also helped comedian Bud Abbott augment his thinning hairline with a widow’s peak toupee in his early films with Lou Costello. Pierce’s final credit is as makeup artist for the TV show Mister Ed from 1961 to 1964. He died in 1968 from uremia.

Jack Pierce’s enduring work at Universal has become a huge influence to many in the entertainment field, including make-up artists Rick Baker and Tom Savini. Jack Pierce was an innovator in the world of screen entertainment and material design. Pierce understandably felt he never got the recognition he deserved and died a bitter man. Finally, in 2003, Pierce was recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Make-up Artist and Hair Stylist Guild.

jack-pierce_wolf-man_lon-chaney-jrIn recent years, there is a strong desire to give Pierce a Hollywood Boulevard star for his popular lasting triumphs that have been preserved for decades on the movies he worked on. Pierce undeniably created screen icons to last beyond his lifetime. His contributions still continue to attract droves of attention to his astonishingly memorable, entirely original designs.


Kitty Winn

Kitty-Winn_BannerKitty Winn (born February 21, 1943) is an award-winning American Actress. Katherine Tupper (“Kitty”) Winn was born in Washington, D.C. As the daughter of an army officer she traveled widely during much of her childhood, including, time spent in United States, England, Germany, China, India and Japan.

panic_in_needle_park_PosterHer career has spanned a wide range of drama productions on stage, in motion pictures and on television. She studied acting at Centenary Junior College and Boston University, graduating from the latter in 1966. During her college years Winn acted in student productions at Centenary Junior College, Boston University, and Harvard College and summer stock for two summers at The Priscilla Beach Theatre south of Boston. Shortly after college she joined the company at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco where she remained for four years.

Panic-in-Needle-Park_Kitty-Winn_Al-Pacino_BTSIn the fall of 1970 Kitty left American Conservatory Theater to play opposite Al Pacino in the film ‘Panic in Needle Park’ for which she won the Best Actress award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. The film portrays life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in “Needle Park” (the nicknames of Verdi Square and Sherman Square on New York’s Upper West Side near 72nd Street and Broadway). The film is a love story between Bobby (Pacino), a young addict and small-time hustler, and Helen (Kitty Winn), a restless woman who finds Bobby charismatic. She becomes an addict, and life goes downhill for them both as their addictions worsen, eventually leading to a series of betrayals.

Kitty-Winn_The-ExorcistTo set the atmosphere, no music was used in the film, much of which features cinéma vérité-style footage. It is believed to be the first mainstream film to feature actual drug injection.

Although she went on to do several more films, such as ‘The Exorcist’, she always returned to her great love, the theatre. In The Exorcist, Kitty played Sharon Spencer, movie actress Chris McNeil’s friend and personal assistant who acts as Regan’s tutor.

The Exorcist_Kitty WinnKitty co-starred in Peeper (1975) with Michael Caine, before returning to the role of Sharon in the Exorcist sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).

Kitty retired in 1978 but returned to play Cordelia in “The Tragedy of King Lear” for KCET in 1983. She did not return to the stage again until 2011 when she played the lead in “The Last Romance” at the San Jose Repertory Theatre. For this performance she was nominated for a best actress award by the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.