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

Deaths

R.I.P Dick Miller

dick miller - after darkDick Miller, prolific screen actor and B-Movie legend, best known for his role as Murray Futterman in the 1984 classic horror film Gremlins, has died. He was 90.

With a career spanning more than 60 years, Miller has made hundreds of on screen appearances, beginning in the 1950’s with legendary director and producer Roger Corman. It was then that he starred as Walter Paisley – a character the actor would reprise throughout his career – in the cult classic “A Bucket of Blood,” before going on to land roles on projects such as The ‘Burbs, Fame and The Terminator.

Miller also boasts a long history of high-profile director partnerships, working with the likes of James Cameron, Ernest Dickerson, Martin Scorsese, John Sayles and, perhaps most notably, Joe Dante, who used Miller in almost every project he helmed.

In one of Dante’s earlier films, Piranha, Miller played Buck Gardner, a small-time real estate agent opening up a new resort on Lost River Lake. The only catch? A large school of genetically altered piranha have accidentally been released into the resort’s nearby rivers. Next up was a police chief role in the 1979 film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School before reprising the Walter Paisley mantle as an occult bookshop owner in Dante’s 1981 horror film The Howling.

Other notable appearances include the 1986 cult favorite Night of the Creeps, where he shared the screen with Tom Atkins as a police ammunition’s officer named Walt – he supplies Atkins with some necessary firepower in the face of an alien worm-zombie invasion – and a pawnshop owner in James Cameron’s 1984 hit The Terminator; the same year he appeared in yet another of Dante’s films, Gremlins.

Most recently, Miller reprised the role of Walter Paisley for a final time as a rabbi in Eben McGarr’s horror film Hanukkah.

Miller is survived by his wife Lainie, daughter Barbara and granddaughter Autumn.

joedanteDante called him “one of his most treasured collaborators,” writing, “I ‘grew up’ (kinda) watching Dick Miller in movies from the 50’s on and was thrilled to have him in my first movie for Roger Corman.”


Nicolas Roeg R.I.P

Nic_RoegI love Nic Roeg movies. Along with Ken Russell he was an artistic touchstone in the British film industry through the 70’s and 80’s, they were provocative, original, broke new ground, caused trouble and most important, were never boring. Nic Roeg died on Sunday aged 90, rest in peace.

From his early years as a clapper boy, Roeg had progressed to world-class cinematographer, working for second unit camera under Freddie Young on David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Roeg’s work on this led to important credits including Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964), Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and on John Schlesinger’s Far From the Madding Crowd (1967).

By the late 60s, after a career in cinematography which would have been quite enough for most mortals, he came to directing remarkably late: Performance (1970) Walkabout (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Bad Timing (1980). And even after that he continued to make excellent movies, including Eureka (1983), Insignificance (1985), the fantasy of Marilyn Monroe meeting Albert Einstein, Track 29 (1988), the sensually charged Dennis Potter drama with Gary Oldman and Roeg’s partner Theresa Russell, and his excellent Roald Dahl fantasy The Witches (1990) with Anjelica Huston.

After his run of brilliant films in the 70s, the British antipathy to experimentation, and films lacking conventional narrative-based realism, resulted in the comparative neglect of Roeg had no liking for self-publicity, which resulted in some projects falling to other directors. As he remarked, he “refused to join the club”.

What an extraordinary film-maker Nic Roeg was, a man whose imagination and technique could not be confined to conventional genres. He should be remembered for a clutch of masterly films, but perhaps especially for his classic Don’t Look Now, not merely the best British scary movie in history, but one infused with compassion and love.


Burt Reynolds R.I.P

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Burt Reynolds, the mustachioed megastar who first strutted on screen more than half a century ago, died Thursday, according to his agent, Todd Eisner. He was 82.

The Michigan native, whose easy-going charms and handsome looks drew prominent roles in films such as “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Boogie Nights,” suffered a cardiac arrest, Eisner said. A call for an ambulance came from his estate in Martin County, Florida, 911 records show.

An iconic Hollywood sex symbol in front of the camera, Reynolds also tried his directorial hand behind it, and later earned a reputation for philanthropy after founding the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film & Theatre in his home state of Florida. His roles over the years ranged and pivoted from Southern heartthrob to tough guy to comedy, notably in his role as Rep. David Dilbeck in the 1996 film “Striptease,” which flopped at the box office but earned him widespread praise for his comedic prowess.

But it was John Boorman’s 1972 thriller “Deliverance,” which cast Reynolds as outdoorsman Lewis Medlock, that is widely credited for launching his early career.
Reynolds called it “by far” his best film. “I thought maybe this film is more important in a lot of ways than we’ve given it credit for,” he said in an interview years later. The movie’s infamous rape scene may have helped the public — especially men — better understand the horrors of sexual attacks, Reynolds said.
“It was the only time I saw men get up, sick, and walk out of a theater,” he added. “I’ve seen women do that (before),” but not men.
He was recently cast in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino-directed “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” scheduled for release next year. Reynolds had not yet started shooting his appearance in the film.
Rest in Peace.

Steve Ditko R.I.P

Artist Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee, has died at age 90.

The New York Police Department confirmed his death to The Hollywood Reporter. No cause of death was announced. Ditko was found dead in his apartment on June 29 and it is believed he died about two days earlier.

From the 1970s on, he rarely spoke on the record, declining almost every interview request. He sat out the publicity booms that accompanied the Spider-Man films and the Doctor Strange movie.

“We didn’t approach him. He is private and has intentionally stayed out of the spotlight like J.D. Salinger,” Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson told THR in 2016. “I hope he goes to see the movie, wherever he is, because I think we paid homage to his work.”

Derrickson, author Neil Gaiman and filmmaker Edgar Wright paid tribute on Twitter upon learning news of Ditko’s death.

Wright tweeted that Ditko was “influential on countless planes of existence” and “his work will never be forgotten.” Gaiman wrote, “I know I’m a different person because he was in the world.”

Rest in peace.


Bill Gold R.I.P

His résumé included ‘Casablanca,’ ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and decades’ worth of Eastwood films. Bill Gold, who revolutionized the art of the movie poster over a seven-decade career that began with Casablanca and included A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist and dozens of Clint Eastwood films, has died. He was 97.

Gold died at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut, on Sunday, according to family spokeswomen Christine Gillow.

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The Brooklyn native began at Warner Bros. in the early 1940s and had a hand in more than 2,000 posters during his iconic career, working on films for everyone from Alfred Hitchcock (1954’s Dial M for Murder), Elia Kazan (1955’s East of Eden) and Federico Fellini (1963’s 8 1/2) to Sam Peckinpah (1969’s The Wild Bunch), Robert Altman (1971’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller) and Martin Scorsese (1990’s GoodFellas).

Gold, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Hollywood Reporter during its 1994 Key Art Awards ceremony, had a way of setting the mood for a movie using a less-is-more philosophy.

“We try not to tell the whole story,” he told CBS News in March. “We try to tell a minimum amount of a story, because anything more than that is confusing.”

Gold’s fruitful relationship with Eastwood began with Dirty Harry (1971), and he gave the actor a gun or a gritty countenance on posters for such films The Enforcer (1976), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), The Gauntlet (1977), Pale Rider (1985) and Unforgiven (1992).

Gold retired after working on the Eastwood-directed Mystic River (2003) but re-emerged to do the poster for the filmmaker’s J. Edgar (2011).

“With Bill, I knew he would bring great ideas, and the poster he created would be one less thing we had to think about,” Eastwood writes in the introduction to the 2010 book Bill Gold PosterWorks. “He respected the film, he respected the story, and he always respected what we were trying to accomplish.

“Four of the films he worked on won best picture Oscars, including Unforgiven. The first image you have of many of your favorite films is probably a Bill Gold creation.”

Movie critic Leonard Maltin once noted that each of Gold’s posters is “as individual as the movies they are promoting. I can’t discern a Bill Gold style, which is a compliment, because rather than trying to shoehorn a disparate array of movies into one way of thinking visually, he adapted himself to such a wide variety.”

Gold “started drawing at age 8 and never stopped,” he said in a 2016 interview. After graduating from Pratt Institute in New York City, he approached the art director of the poster department at Warner Bros.’ offices in New York.

“He sent me away on a trial to design posters for four earlier films: Escape Me Never and [The Adventures of] Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, The Man I Love with Ida Lupino and Bette Davis’ Winter Meeting,” he recalled.

Gold passed the test and was hired at age 21, and his first assignment was Casablanca (1942).

As he told CBS News, Gold laid out the poster for Casablanca and placed a gun in Humphrey Bogart’s hand at the last minute: “Somebody suggested, ‘This is Bogart. Let’s put a gun in his hand. That’s the way he acts, the way he exaggerates his action. We don’t want just a head of him. It’s too boring!’ ”

The gun was taken from another Bogie film, High Sierra (1941). Gold also was assigned work on Warners’ Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) around this time.

After enlisting and serving three years during World War II, when he made training films for the U.S. Army Air Force, Gold returned to Warner Bros. and in the late 1950s moved west to work on the studios’ Burbank lot. He started his own company in the early 1960s back in New York.

Gold’s poster for William Friedkin’sThe Exorcist (1973) — showing the priest played by Max von Sydow under a shaft of light outside the Georgetown home of the possessed young girl (Linda Blair) — was created after he was told not to “show anything that had any hint of religious connotation.”

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Gold also worked on posters for The Searchers (1956), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Funny Girl (1968), My Fair Lady (1968), Bullitt (1968), Woodstock (1970), Klute (1971), Deliverance (1972), The Sting (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), On Golden Pond (1981), For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1988).

In 2011, producer Sid Ganis, who headed advertising at Warner Bros. during the 1970s, told THR that Gold was “the maestro. He was the one directing his art directors and directing his copy writers on what to do, which was a great thing. He was also the one who communicated with the studio. He was the guy in charge of the symphony.”

Survivors include his wife, Susan, son Bob, daughter in-law Joanne, daughter Marcy, grandson Spencer, granddaughter Dylann and her fiancé Justin, great nephew Jaaron and “man’s best friend” Willoughby.


Tobe Hooper R.I.P

tobe-hooperSo soon after the passing of George Romero, it’s sad to report that Tobe Hooper, the horror director best known for helming The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist, died Saturday in Sherman Oaks, Calif., according to the Los Angeles County Coroner. He was 74. The circumstances of his death were not known.

The influential 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre became a seminal horror title for its realistic approach and deranged vision. Shot for less than $300,000, it tells the story of a group of unfortunate friends who encounter a group of cannibals on their way to visit an old homestead. Though it was banned in several countries for violence, it was one of the most profitable independent films of the 1970s in the U.S. The character of Leatherface was loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein.

Hooper also directed the 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which took a more comedic approach, as part of his Cannon Films deal.

The 1982 Poltergeist, written and produced by Steven Spielberg, also became a classic of the genre. The story of a family coping with a house haunted by unruly ghosts starred JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson. The film was a box office success for MGM and became the eighth-highest grossing film of the year.

After Poltergeist, Hooper directed two movies for Cannon Films, Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars, a remake of the 1953 alien movie.

His 1979 CBS miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel Salem’s Lot is considered by many fans to be a high-water mark in televisual horror. Combining the intrigue of a nighttime soap opera with the gothic atmosphere of a classic horror film, the two-part program was eventually reedited and released theatrically throughout Europe.

He continued working in television and film throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, but none of the films had the impact of his early works.  His other more recent works included Toolbox Murders, Crocodile, and Mortuary.

Among his other works was the music video for Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself.” In 2011 he co-authored a post-modern horror novel titled “Midnight Movie” in which he himself appeared as the main character.

 

Hooper continued to work on various TV series and films up until 2013, when his last film, Djinn, set in the United Arab Emirates and produced by Image Nation, was released. He is survived by two sons.


George Romero R.I.P

RomeroLegendary filmmaker George A. Romero, father of the modern movie zombie and creator of the ground-breaking Night of the Living Dead and subsequent franchise, has died at 77.

Romero died Sunday in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer,” according to a statement by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. Romero died while listening to the score of one his favourite films, 1952’s “The Quiet Man,” with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side, the family said.

Romero jump-started the zombie genre as the co-writer (with John A. Russo) and director of the 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead, which went to inspire future generations of filmmakers such as Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter that generating big scares didn’t require big budgets. Living Dead spawned an entire school of zombie knockoffs, and Romero’s sequels included 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s Day of the Dead, 2005’s Land of the Dead, 2007’s Diary of the Dead and 2009’s George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead.
In recent years, as the zombie genre had a resurgence, Romero wasn’t always a fan. He told a British newspaper in 2013 that he’d been asked to do some episodes of The Walking Dead, but had no interest.

“Basically it’s just a soap opera with a zombie occasionally,” he told the Big Issue. “I always used the zombie as a character for satire or a political criticism, and I find that missing in what’s happening now.”

Romero took an intellectual view to his depiction of zombies, an approach he found lacking in some of the work that came after him.
“I grew up on these slow-moving-but-you-can’t-stop-them [creatures], where you’ve got to find the Achilles’ heel, or in this case, the Achilles’ brain,” Romero told The LA Times in 2005, referring to the organ whose destruction waylays a zombie. “In [the remake] they’re just dervishes, you don’t recognize any of them, there’s nothing to characterize them…. [But] I like to give even incidental zombies a bit of identification. I just think it’s a nice reminder that they’re us. They walked out of one life and into this.”

A sad day for my fellow horror fans, Romero kick-started so much of what we have come to love over the last 50 years. Rest in Peace.

 


Powers Boothe R.I.P

029-deadwood-theredlistPowers Boothe, a character actor who appeared in films like Sin City and TV shows including Deadwood and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., died Sunday morning in his sleep of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He was 68.

His rep told The Hollywood Reporter that a private service will be held in Boothe’s home state of Texas, with a memorial celebration under consideration as well. Donations can be made to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which honors the nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need.

Boothe, who grew up on a farm in Texas, began his acting career in the theatre, playing in a number of Shakespearean productions including Henry IV. He made his Broadway debut in the late 1970s in Lone Star & Pvt. Wars.

In 1980, Boothe won an Emmy for lead actor in a limited series or special for playing cult leader Jim Jones in CBS’ Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. He won that award during an actors strike and chose to cross the picket line to accept his trophy, saying, “This may be either the bravest moment of my career or the dumbest.”

On the strength of Guyana Tragedy, he was cast in Southern Comfort, one of my favourite movies of the 80’s. His character, Corporal Hardin was described by Director Walter Hill as “the rational, hardworking, self made individual” a description you believe could be applied to the subsequent casting image of Boothe.

He starred in A Breed Apart (1984), the John Boorman Amazonian adventure, The Emerald Forest (1985), again for Walter Hill in Extreme Prejudice (1987). He was unforgettable as the wicked gunman Curly Bill Brocius in Tombstone (1993). Excellent as Alexander Haig in Nixon (1995) and a sheriff in another Oliver Stone film, U Turn (1997).

Boothe gained a reputation for playing villains with memorable roles in the action film Sudden Death (1995), Bill Paxton’s Frailty (2001) and the nefarious Senator Roark in Sin City (2005). Perhaps his most famous villain role was Cy Tolliver, the ruthless saloon owner on HBO’s Deadwood. 

Boothe also was nominated two ensemble SAG Awards, first in 1996 alongside the cast of Nixon and then again in 2007 with the cast of Deadwood.

More recently, Boothe took on the role of Gideon Malick as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, debuting the role in 2012’s The Avengers and reprising it on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

 


Geoffrey Bayldon R.I.P

Geoffrey-Bayldon_CatweazleThe actor Geoffrey Bayldon has died aged 93. The actor who starred in the much-loved 1970’s television series Catweazle, was partly brought to his most famous role by the chastening experience of rejecting the chance to be the first  Doctor Who. Bayldon, was approached to play the Doctor in 1963. But the Time Lord was scripted as an eccentric old man, and Bayldon, then in his late 30’s, was wary of being typecast in such roles, even though he was exceptionally good at them. With no inkling of the success Doctor Who would turn out to be, and put off by the punishing filming schedule, he turned the offer down after only 10 minutes’ consideration.

He later admitted to regretting the decision, and when another high-profile TV role – to play the even older and markedly more eccentric Catweazle – came his way in 1969, he had no second thoughts. The character of Catweazle – a wild-eyed 11th-century magician transported into the modern world – suited Bayldon to a T, and in fact the creator of the series, Richard Carpenter, had written the script with him in mind. Bayldon took on the part enthusiastically, creating one of the most instantly recognisable and enchanting TV characters of the era.

In a Sunday afternoon slot on ITV, Catweazle’s 26 episodes drew audiences of many millions as they charted the light-hearted adventures of the ragged-cloaked, pointy-bearded hero and his “familiar’, the toad Touchwood. Inadvertently thrown through time by his own inept sorcery into the bewildering landscape of 20th-century England – where he saw magic in everything, including the “electrickery” of lightbulbs and the amazing “tellingbone” that allowed people to communicate with each other – Catweazle muddled his way through misunderstandings and escapades as he attempted to find the magic spell that would return him to his own era.

The programme ran from February 1970 to April 1971, and its gentle humour and Bayldon’s star quality made it immensely popular with children and adults alike. It generated spin-offs such as Christmas annuals, books and a series of comic strips. The two series, preserved on DVD, still have a cult following and even today there is a large and active Catweazle fanclub… I still have a Catweazle Annual from he early 70’s.

Bayldon put his heart and soul into the series, not least in the makeup department, where he would spend an hour and a half each day transforming his appearance. He invested Catweazle with much of his own engaging personality and animated him with mannerisms, tics and catchphrases.

Catweazle became Bayldon’s lead into dozens of other TV roles, including the equally crusty Crowman in the late 1970’s Worzel Gummidge series, alongside Jon Pertwee and Una Stubbs. But he had originally set out as a theatre actor and initially paid little attention to the small screen.

Bayldon was born in Leeds, his father a tailor and his mother a head teacher. Although neither parent had any noticeable acting talent, Bayldon inherited his mother’s flair for narration, and traced his love of the stage to a debut at the age of four in a school play, in which he portrayed a robin.

After spending three quiet second world war years stationed at Yorkshire airfields with the RAF, during which time he appeared in many revues, he began training as a professional actor in 1947 at the Old Vic theatre school in London.

Bayldon spent two seasons as a successful Shakespearean actor at Stratford, playing alongside John Gielgud in Measure for Measure and Julius Caesar (both in 1950). For a further two years, he was with the Birmingham repertory theatre, with whom he appeared as Caesar at the Old Vic and, to rave reviews, in Paris.

Eventually, however, he felt he should be making concessions to the popular new medium of television, and he moved to London. There he took roles in a number of live BBC Wednesday plays, and began to appear in episodes of series including The Avengers and The Saint.

His triumph as Catweazle sealed his TV reputation, drawing him into countless series and dramas including All Creatures Great and Small, The Tomorrow People, Tales of the Unexpected, Blott on the Landscape and Rumpole of the Bailey. In three 1979 episodes of Doctor Who he was Organon the astrologer – during the Tom Baker era – and even played an alternative version of the Time Lord in two audio versions of Doctor Who stories released in 2003 and 2005.

Bayldon made numerous film appearances, rubbing shoulders with greats such as Sidney Poitier (To Sir With Love, 1967), Peter Sellers (Casino Royale, 1967, and The Pink Panther Strikes Again, 1976), Albert Finney (Scrooge, 1970) and Vincent Price (The Monster Club, 1981).

His TV acting continued well into his 80s, when he noted that he was still well qualified to play old men, and he had credits in Midsomer Murders, Heartbeat, Casualty, New Tricks and My Family in more recent years. He would attend the annual gathering of the Catweazle fanclub with enthusiasm, and in 2005 revealed that he had finally been able to watch the show with a sense of detachment. “I turned it on and I was sitting back watching myself without being conscious at all that it was me,” he said. ‘“And I was jaw-dropped. I suddenly thought: ‘This fella’s bloody good.’”

I also thought he was great in Born to Boogie (1972) but that may be because I was a huge T-Rex fan as a kid.

Rest in Peace Geoffrey.

 


Michael Parks R.I.P

Michael_ParksMichael Parks, a character actor who enjoyed a career renaissance in recent decades thanks to high profile roles in films by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith, died Wednesday at the age of 77.

Parks made his acting debut in a small role in 1961 on the sitcom The Real McCoys, and, racked up dozens of roles on both television and feature films, most notably as the casino owner and drug runner Jean Renault on the second season of Twin Peaks.

After years playing bit roles in made-for-TV movies, Westerns and slasher films, Parks was cast as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Rodriguez’ 1996 vampire flick From Dusk ’til Dawn. Quentin Tarantino, an associate of Rodriguez’, then cast Parks in a dual role for Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2; in the former, he reprised the McGraw role, while the latter found the actor playing Mexican pimp Esteban Vihaio.

Parks would portray McGraw once more for Tarantino and Rodriguez in the directors’ Grindhouse films. Tarantino also recruited Parks for a small role in Django Unchained.

Parks’ career revival also resulted in roles in Ben Affleck’s Argo, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford and a pair of Kevin Smith horror flicks, Red State and Tusk.

“Michael was, and will likely forever remain, the best actor I’ve ever known. I wrote both [Red State] and [Tusk] FOR Parks, I loved his acting so much,” Smith posted on Wednesday. “He was, hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform. And Parks brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set.”

At the time of his death, Parks was cast in the upcoming Christian Bale film Hostiles.


Jonathan Demme R.I.P

Jonathan_DemmeJonathan Demme, the Oscar-winning filmmaker who observed emphatically American characters with a discerning eye, a social conscience and a rock ’n’ roll heart, achieving especially wide acclaim with The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 73.

His publicist, Leslee Dart, confirmed the death. Mr. Demme disclosed that he had cancer in 2015.

Mob wives, CB radio buffs and AIDS victims; Hannibal Lecter, Howard Hughes and Jimmy Carter: Mr Demme (pronounced DEM-ee) plucked his subjects and stories largely from the stew of contemporary American subcultures and iconography. He created a body of work — including fiction films and documentaries, dramas and comedies, original scripts, adaptations and remakes — that resists easy characterization.

Robert Jonathan Demme was born on Long Island, in Baldwin, on Feb. 22, 1944, and grew up mostly in nearby Rockville Centre, where he listened to music and went to the movies.

The family moved to Miami, where Jonathan went to high school and worked in a kennel and an animal hospital. Wanting to be a veterinarian, he attended the University of Florida with that in mind until he failed chemistry, at which point he went to the university newspaper, discovered it had no movie critic, and assumed the job himself, he said, so that he could get into movies free.

It happened that Mr. Levine was on vacation in Miami Beach, staying at the Fontainebleau Hotel, where he had become acquainted with the hotel’s publicist, Robert Demme. The elder Demme introduced Mr. Levine to his son, whose review of Zulu impressed him. Mr. Levine offered him a job.

A personable man with the curiosity gene and the what-comes-next instinct of someone who likes to both hear and tell stories, Demme had a good one of his own, a Mr. Deeds kind of tale in which he wandered into good fortune and took advantage of it. A former movie publicist, he had an apprenticeship in low-budget B-movies with the producer Roger Corman before turning director.

In 1971, he took a job as a unit publicist in Ireland for a Roger Corman film, Von Richthofen and Brown, about a German flying ace. Shortly after that, he began making films of his own for Corman’s production company. He wrote (with Joe Viola) and produced a biker film, Angels Hard as They Come, and wrote and directed a handful of others, including Caged Heat (1974), a heavy-breathing women’s prison movie, and Crazy Mama (1975), a campy road story with a ’50s rock score that starred Ann Sothern and Cloris Leachman as mother-and-daughter outlaws.

Demme then became known early in his career for quirky social satires that led critics to compare him to Preston Sturges. They included Handle With Care (1977), originally titled Citizens Band, and Melvin and Howard (1980), a tale inspired by true events.

“Music was my first love, movies came second,” Demme once told the New York newspaper The SoHo News. In a 1988 interview with Premiere magazine, he said: “I grew up with rock ’n’ roll — literally,” adding, “The first rock song I remember was ‘Sh-Boom,’ and since then I’ve never stopped obsessing on at least something.”

“I can’t think of any other director who is so instinctively and democratically interested in everybody he shows you,” Kael wrote.

David Byrne of Talking Heads Demme worked together frequently, notably on Stop Making Sense, a 1984 concert film about Talking Heads that many critics (and filmgoers) found mesmerizing, though it had few filmic bells and whistles. (Demme preferred to call it a “performance film” because, he said, it wasn’t about the concert experience — he didn’t show the audience until the end.)

Mr. Byrne also scored Demme’s Married to the Mob, a gaudy 1988 farce in which Michelle Pfeiffer plays the wife of a Long Island gangster (Alec Baldwin) who tries to exit the mob life after her husband is bumped off when he dallies with the girlfriend of the local boss (Dean Stockwell). Things get especially dicey when she moves with her young son into a shabby Manhattan apartment and strikes up a romance with an F.B.I. agent (Matthew Modine) who has her under surveillance.

Later, as a known commodity, Mr. Demme directed prestige Hollywood projects like Beloved (1998), an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel about the lingering, post-Civil War psychological horror of slavery, with Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover in starring roles, and The Manchurian Candidate (2004), a remake of the 1962 Cold War drama of the same title about a brainwashed American prisoner of war. Mr. Demme’s updated version, starring Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber, takes place during the Persian Gulf war.

Demme may be best remembered for two films from the 1990s that were, at the time, his career’s biggest anomalies. The first, The Silence of the Lambs (1991), was a vivid thriller based on the novel by Thomas Harris that earned five Oscars, including best picture and best director. Unlike his previous films, with their mischievous pleasure and tender melancholy, this was straightforward and serious storytelling with only a few moments of shivery humor.

The story is told largely from the perspective of an F.B.I. trainee who becomes a key figure in the pursuit of a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill when she is assigned to conduct a prison interview with Hannibal Lecter, a mad and murderous psychiatrist, hoping to extract from him clues to Bill’s identity.

Demme’s next narrative venture, Philadelphia (1993), brought to the fore a strain of advocacy that was otherwise evident in his documentaries about Haiti; former President Jimmy Carter; New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and his cousin Robert W. Castle, a white activist priest in Harlem.

It was the first big-budget Hollywood film about AIDS, and with its forthright depiction of homosexuality, homophobia and the disease that was rampaging through gay communities, it was a turning point in the way mainstream movies treated gay men and lesbians, who had previously been handled with hush-hush delicacy or flamboyant caricature. Mr. Hanks won an Oscar, and so did Bruce Springsteen, for the song that introduces the film, “Streets of Philadelphia.”

His publicist Annalee Paulo said Demme’s funeral would be private and that in lieu of flowers, the family had asked that donations be made to the group Americans For Immigrant Justice in Miami.


Bernie Wrightson R.I.P

It was just over a month ago that Liz Wrightson announced that her husband, legendary artist Bernie Wrightson was retiring. Liz confirmed on Sunday that after a long battle with cancer, Bernie has passed away. Here is the full transcript from Liz. My condolences to the Wrightson family, Rest in Peace Bernie.

A Message from Liz Wrightson.

After a long battle with brain cancer, legendary artist Bernie Wrightson has passed away.

Bernie “Berni” Wrightson (born October 27, 1948, Baltimore, Maryland, USA) was an American artist known for his horror illustrations and comic books. He received training in art from reading comics, particularly those of EC, as well as through a correspondence course from the Famous Artists School. In 1966, Wrightson began working for The Baltimore Sun newspaper as an illustrator. The following year, after meeting artist Frank Frazetta at a comic-book convention in New York City, he was inspired to produce his own stories. In 1968, he showed copies of his sequential art to DC Comics editor Dick Giordano and was given a freelance assignment. Wrightson began spelling his name “Berni” in his professional work to distinguish himself from an Olympic diver named Bernie Wrightson, but later restored the final E to his name.

His first professional comic work appeared in House of Mystery #179 in 1968. He continued to work on a variety of mystery and anthology titles for both DC and its principal rival, Marvel Comics. In 1971, with writer Len Wein, Wrightson co-created the muck creature Swamp Thing for DC. He also co-created Destiny, later to become famous in the work of Neil Gaiman. By 1974 he had left DC to work at Warren Publishing who were publishing black-and-white horror-comics magazines. There he produced a series of original work as well as adaptations of stories by H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. In 1975, Wrightson joined with fellow artists Jeff Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith to form “The Studio,” a shared loft in Manhattan where the group would pursue creative products outside the constraints of comic book commercialism. Though he continued to produce sequential art, Wrightson at this time began producing artwork for numerous posters, prints, calendars, and coloring books.

Wrightson spent seven years drawing approximately 50 detailed pen-and-ink illustrations to accompany an edition of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, which the artist considers among his most personal work. Wrightson drew the poster for the Stephen King-penned horror film Creepshow, as well as illustrating the comic book adaptation of the film. This led to several other collaborations with King, including illustrations for the novella “Cycle of the Werewolf,” the restored edition of King’s apocalyptic horror epic, “The Stand,” and art for the hardcover editions of “From a Buick 8” and “Dark Tower V.” Wrightson has contributed album covers for a number of bands, including Meat Loaf. The “Captain Sternn” segment of the animated film Heavy Metal is based on the character created by Wrightson for his award-winning short comic series of the same name.

Characters he worked on included Spiderman, Batman and The Punisher, and he provided painted covers for the DC comics Nevermore and Toe Tags, among many others. Recent works include Frankenstein Alive Alive, Dead She Said , the Ghoul and Doc Macabre (IDW Publishing) all co-created with esteemed horror author Steve Niles, and several print/poster/sketchbooks series produced by Nakatomi.

As a conceptual artist, Bernie worked on many movies, particularly in the horror genre: well-known films include Ghostbusters, The Faculty, Galaxy Quest, Spiderman, and George Romero’s Land of the Dead, and Frank Darabont’s Stephen King film The Mist.

Bernie lived in Austin, Texas with his wife Liz and two corgis – Mortimer and Maximillian. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, John and Jeffrey, one stepson, Thomas Adamson, and countless friends and fans. A celebration of his life is planned for later this year.


Bill Paxton R.I.P

bill-paxton-near-dark-vampireThe actor Bill Paxton, who was 61, has died due to complications from surgery, according to a statement from a representative of Paxton’s family.

“A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker,” read the statement, in part. “Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable.”

That warmth earned Paxton a career that began in B-movies, experimental film and music videos, moved through bit parts in big pictures and, ultimately, leading roles. The epitome of a working actor, he described to The Los Angeles Times his on-screen presence as that of “a very straight-looking guy, very old-fashioned.”

“I consider myself an everyman, and there will always be an underdog quality to my stuff,” Paxton told Cosmopolitan magazine in a 1995 interview.

Paxton often found a way to make these roles his own. One memorable moment? As Pvt. Hudson in James Cameron’s film “Aliens,” Paxton’s desperate, defeated whine after a spaceship crash became a catch-phrase: “Game over, man! Game over!”

Born William Paxton in Fort Worth, Texas, the actor was the son of a hardwood salesman and, he told “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross in a 2009 interview, expected that he’d follow the same path. But after taking theater classes in high school, Paxton made a decision to become an actor.

He relocated to Los Angeles when he was in his late teens. One of his first gigs was at New World Pictures as a set designer for famed B-movie producer and director Roger Corman on the Angie Dickenson movie “Big Bad Mama.” A year later, he acted in “Crazy Mama,” a New World production directed by a young Jonathan Demme.

The actor continued with set design gigs while making inroads in front of the camera. Early appearances included a starring role in “Fish Heads” (1980), a cult-classic novelty video for the music duo Barnes & Barnes, which Paxton directed and that aired on “Saturday Night Live.”

Paxton played a blue-haired punk rocker in an opening scene of “The Terminator,” a role that led to a friendship with director James Cameron and jobs in “Aliens,” “True Lies” and “Titanic.” Paxton’s acclaimed turn in “Apollo 13,” further confirmed the actor’s abilities.

He was fantastic as the trashy vampire in “Near Dark” scene stealing as the scary, and comic relief, Severin.

“Every day you’re taking a final exam as an actor,” Paxton told the late film critic Roger Ebert in 1998, while discussing his work in “A Simple Plan.”

As Hank in “A Simple Plan,” Paxton harnessed his average-Joe demeanor in service of a career-defining role alongside Billy Bob Thornton. After their two characters find millions of dollars in the woods, Paxton’s Hank endures hardships that reveal the ways in which good men can do bad things.

“I don’t play my characters with any judgment,” he told Gross. “I don’t think it’s possible to play any character with judgment.”

The actor carried that philosophy into one of his most notable performances, as Bill Henrickson in “Big Love.” As the polygamist patriarch, Paxton played a husband juggling family, work and spirituality — with three wives, a half-dozen children and a sect-wide family feud.

When “Big Love” concluded, Paxton told The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara that he faced a hurdle. “It was the only steady job I’ve ever had as an adult,” he said. “But then nobody knew really what to do with me.”

As was always the case, though, Paxton found work. He earned an Emmy nomination in 2012 for the miniseries “Hatfields and McCoys,” and had a recurrent role in the TV series “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Paxton was starring as Det. Frank Rourke in the first season of the CBS series “Training Day.” The 13 episodes finished shooting in December, with nine still set to air.

CBS and Warner Bros. Television praised Paxton’s work in a statement issued Sunday morning.

It read, in part: “Bill was, of course, a gifted and popular actor with so many memorable roles on film and television. His colleagues at CBS and Warner Bros. Television will also remember a guy who lit up every room with infectious charm, energy and warmth, and as a great storyteller who loved to share entertaining anecdotes and stories about his work.”

Paxton is survived by his wife, Louise, and two children, James and Lydia.


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.”


Wes Craven R.I.P

wes_cravenDirector Wes Craven died on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. Craven was 76 and passed away at home surrounded by his family after battling brain cancer.

From his first feature film The Last House On The Left as writer, director and editor in 1972, Craven made his mark as a genre-bending, bracingly innovative horror director with a biting sense of humour. Craven also consistently demonstrated that he was a filmmaker with heart. Among the films that followed The Last House On The Left were The Hills Have Eyes and a sequel, Deadly Blessing (featuring Sharon Stone in her first starring role) and Swamp Thing (based on the comic book).

Craven reinvented the youth horror genre again in 1984 with the now classic A Nightmare On Elm Street, in which he turned Robert Englund into a cult icon with the role of Freddy Krueger. The movie spawned several sequels, none of them directed by Craven, however, he deconstructed the genre a decade after the original, writing and directing the audacious Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which was nominated for Best Feature at the 1995 Independent Spirit Awards.

In 1996 Craven experienced yet another rebirth in horror with the release of Scream, which he directed from a script by Kevin Williamson. Scream sparked multiple sequels and spoofs.

One of the last projects Craven worked on was MTV’s series adaptation of Scream, on which he served as executive producer. The series was recently renewed for a second season. “Wes Craven was a tremendous visionary whose sensibility for scares has connected with generations of MTV fans,” MTV said in a statement. “We are honored to have worked with him and proud to carry on his legacy with Scream. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.”

Craven took a breather from horror between Scream 2 and Scream 3, when he seized an opportunity to direct a non-genre film for Miramax, Music Of The Heart (1999), which earned star Meryl Streep an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. That same year he completed his first novel, The Fountain Society, published by Simon & Shuster.

Craven continued to stretch his creative boundaries with the 2005 thriller Red Eye, starring Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy and Brian Cox. The following year he switched gears again to write and direct a romantic comedy homage to Oscar Wilde featuring Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell as a segment in the popular French ensemble anthology Paris Je T’aime.

He then returned to horror as producer of remakes of two of his earlier films, The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and The Last House On The Left (2009). Craven’s most recent written and directed film, My Soul To Take (2010), once again brought together a cast of up-and-coming actors. It marked Craven’s first collaboration with wife and producer Iya Labunka, who also produced Scream 4, which reunited Craven with screenwriter Williamson, as well as with stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, joined by newcomers Emma Roberts and Hayden Pannetierre.

Remaining creatively engaged and active until his death, Craven had signed an overall TV deal with Universal Cable Productions. He had a number of projects in development including The People Under The Stairs and We Are All Completely Fine with Syfy, Disciples with UCP, and Sleepers with Federation Entertainment.

Craven also recently wrote and was scheduled to direct the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” segment for The Weinstein Company/WGN’s Ten Commandments miniseries. Additionally he was working on a graphic novel series based on his original idea “Coming Of Rage” for Liquid Comics in collaboration with Steve Niles.

Craven was an executive producer of the upcoming feature The Girl In The Photographs, which will premiere next month the 2015 Toronto Film Festival.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Craven was a nature lover and committed bird conservationist, serving as a long-time member of the Audubon California Board of Directors. A longtime summer resident of Martha’s Vineyard, he had moved there permanently three years ago before returning to Los Angeles for work and health reasons.


R.I.P. Rowdy Roddy Piper

they-live-posterWWE legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper died after suffering a heart attack in his Hollywood home. He was 61.

Piper’s agent Jay Schacter confirmed the news, first reported by TMZ, to Variety. “Rod passed peacefully in his sleep last night,” Schacter said in an email. “I am shocked and beyond devastated.” Piper had suffered a bout of Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2006 but was reportedly deemed cancer-free last November.

Born Roderick George Toombs, Piper joined the WWE in 1984 after getting his start with the NWA in the late 1970s. He and Hulk Hogan met in landmark matchups including MTV’s “The War to Settle the Score” and the first WrestleMania, where Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff took on Hogan and Mr. T.

Not being much of a wrestling fan I loved Piper for his film work, specifically They Live and Hell Comes To Frogtown. 

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987) was created by Donald G. Jackson, set in an post apocalyptic wasteland where few fertile men and women exist due to atomic fallout and, as a result, the government places a high priority on those that can still breed. Sam Hell (Piper), a nomadic traveler who wanders the countryside is captured by an organization of warrior-nurses, who reveal that they located him by tracking the trail of pregnant women left in his wake. Awesome fun.

They Live follows a nameless drifter referred to as Nada (Piper), who discovers the ruling class are in fact aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to spend money, breed and accept the status quo via subliminal messages in the mass media (way ahead of its time!).

Director John Carpenter wanted Roddy Piper after they met at WrestleMania III earlier in 1987. For Carpenter it was an easy choice: “Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him.”

The movie featured Roddy’s now famous line: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum.” R.I.P. Roddy.


Sir Christopher Lee – R.I.P.

Sir-Christopher-LeeSad news just in, one of my all time movie star heroes, for as long as I can remember, Sir Christopher Lee, has died at the age of 93 after being hospitalised for respiratory problems and heart failure.

The veteran actor, best known for a variety of films from Dracula to The Wicker Man through to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, passed away on Sunday morning at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, according to sources.

The decision to release the news days after was based on his wife’s desire to inform family members first. The couple had been married for over 50 years.

His film career started in 1947 with a role in gothic romance Corridor of Mirrors but it wasn’t until the late 50s, when Lee worked with Hammer, that he started gaining fame. His first role with the studio was The Curse of Frankenstein and it was the first of 20 films that he made with fellow legend, Peter Cushing.

Lee’s most famous role for Hammer was playing Dracula, a role which became one of his most widely recognised although the actor wasn’t pleased with how the character was treated. “They gave me nothing to do!” he told Total Film Magazine in 2005. “I pleaded with Hammer to let me use some of the lines that Bram Stoker had written. Occasionally, I sneaked one in. Eventually I told them that I wasn’t going to play Dracula any more. All hell broke loose.”

In the 70s, Lee continued to gain fame in the horror genre with a role in The Wicker Man, a film which he considered to be his best… he’s right.

He was knighted in 2009 for services to drama and charity and was awarded the Bafta fellowship in 2011. Lee still has one film yet to be released, the fantasy film Angels in Notting Hill.


R.I.P Alan J. Hirshfield

Hirschfield (Medium)Long-time former studio and media executive Alan J. Hirschfield has died of natural causes at 79 in his Wilson, Wyoming, home, his son confirmed. Hirschfield was perhaps best known for overseeing the creation of Taxi Driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but had a long career heading a number of media and entertainment companies before becoming a consultant and board member with many more companies in the industry and beyond.

Hirschfield was born in New York and grew up in Oklahoma. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma, and an MBA from Harvard University. 

Hirschfield was CEO of Columbia Pictures from 1973 to 1978 before being ousted because he refused on moral grounds to reinstate David Begelman, who had embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from the studio. Between 1982 and 1986, Hirschfield was chairman of Twentieth Century Fox, then became a consultant for several years, including two as consultant to the chairman of Warner Communications.

From 1990 to 1992, Hirschfield was an investment banker and also co-CEO of Financial News Network. From 1992 to 2000, he was co-CEO of Data Broadcasting Corp., which subsequently merged with Financial Times/Pearson’s Inc. He then returned to consulting in the media and entertainment industry as president of Norman Hirschfield and Company. In the 1960s, he was an investment banker, and director and CFO of Warner/7 Arts.

A busy man, Hirschfield served on the boards of directors of Forbes, Carmike Cinemas, CBS Marketwatch, Billboard Publishing, Motown Records, Chappell Music Publishing, Chyron Corp., Cantel Medical Corp., Peregrine Systems, Interactive Data Corp., Enercrest, Wiltel Corp. and Leucadia National Corp. For decades, Hirschfield collected notable artifacts and art tied to the Old West and Native Americans. He also served with a number of philanthropic and non-profit organizations, including as director of the Lymphoma Research Foundation, as a trustee of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, The George Gustav Haye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian, Grand Teton Music Festival and the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole. He also was a trustee of the American Film Institute and an MPAA director.He is survived by his wife, Berte Hirschfield and three children.


R.I.P. Rod Taylor

Rod-Taylor_The-Time-MachineRod Taylor, the Australian-born film and television actor who appeared in Inglourious Basterds and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds, died of natural causes Wednesday, several sources confirmed. He was 84.

Taylor appeared in more than 50 films and dozens of TV shows over the course a decades-long career. In the ’50s, he appeared in such television shows as Studio 57and western Cheyenne, and guest-starred in an episode of The Twilight Zone (“And When The Sky Was Opened”) in 1959.

His first leading role in a feature film was in 1960’s Time Machine, George Pal’s adaptation of the science-fiction classic by H. G. Wells. Taylor played a time traveller who, thousands of years in the future, falls for a woman played by Yvette Mimieux.

Taylor segued back and forth between film and television roles in the 1960s, landing a starring role in Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds as Mitch Brenner, whose home and town came under a menacing attack by birds.

He took on more tough-guy roles toward of the end of ’60s in films such as Chuka, Dark Of The Sun, Nobody Runs Forever and Darker Than Amber.

Taylor turned again to television in the ’70s, appearing in Bearcats! (1971) on CBS and in The Oregon Trail (1976) on NBC. He also had a regular role in the short-lived spy drama series Masquerade. His later TV credits included Falcon Crest, Murder She Wrote and Walker, Texas Ranger. His most recent film appearance was in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in 2009, playing Winston Churchill in a cameo.


R.I.P. Howard G. Barnes

Wake-in-FrightVeteran film, TV & radio producer Howard G. Barnes. Howard G. Barnes died of natural causes December 8 at the Motion Picture Television Country House & Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA, his daughter Christie Barnes Stafford told the Los Angeles Times. He would have turned 101 tomorrow. Barnes was best known as executive producer of the classic Australian feature Wake In Fright (aka Outback), which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, and considered one of the seminal films in the development of modern Australian cinema. Believed lost for decades, it was digitally restored and re-released in Australian theaters and on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2009.

Barnes began his career in radio, becoming VP in Charge of Programming at CBS Radio, later moving to CBS Television in that same role where he worked on such shows as Route 66, Rawhide and Twilight Zone. He went on to work as a talent supervisor for Ashley Famous Talent Agency where he supervised the development of The Danny Kaye Show, among others. On the film side, at Westinghouse’s Group W, his producing credits include One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch, Squeeze A Flower and Amsterdam Affair.


Billie Whitelaw R.I.P.

The-Omen_Mrs-Baylock_Billie-WhitelawAcclaimed actress Billie Whitelaw, famous for her roles in films including The Omen, has died at the age of 82.

During her career, she won a British Academy Award for best newcomer for her role in Hell is a City. There were also Baftas for her performance opposite Albert Finney in Charlie Bubbles and for her role as the mother of Hayley Mills in the psychological thriller, Twisted Nerve in 1969.

Whitelaw won much acclaim, and an international audience, for her portrayal of Mrs Baylock, the guardian of the demon child Damien in The Omen. Many critics felt she gave the best performance in the film and it won her an Evening Standard Award for Best Actress.

She also won praise for her role as the domineering mother of the Kray twins in the 1990 film, The Krays and more recently appeared in comedy Hot Fuzz.

The Coventry-born star, who was made a CBE in 1991, worked in close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, who described her as a perfect actress. But in her autobiography, Billie Whitelaw . . . Who He? she said it was her work with Beckett that generated most interest. Without their association, she wrote, “nobody would have been remotely interested in my autobiography.”

Omen-Bille-Whitelaw-Gregory-Peck-1976By this time she had given up theatre performances, partly because of Beckett’s death and also because of her failure to conquer her stage fright. “Death’s not one of those things that frighten the life out of me,” she once said. “Getting up on stage with the curtain going up frightens me more.”

She did continue to act in films, she appeared in more than 50 during her career, and on television. Billie Whitelaw was the most natural of performers, who made a speciality of playing independent, and sometimes dominant women.

But she didn’t take her profession that seriously seeing it, as she put it, something which paid the parking tickets, which she habitually collected. “I’m not really interested in acting anymore,” she said in a 1996 interview. “It’s not the centre of my life. I always thought it was a bit of a flibbertigibbety occupation.”


Frank Yablans R.I.P

Frank-Yablans_Movie-BannerFrank Yablans, the president of Paramount Pictures during the fertile early ’70s era that produced films including The Godfather and Chinatown, died of natural causes Thursday at his home in Los Angeles, according to his son, ICM Partners agent Eddy Yablans. He was 79.

Renowned for a hearty sense of humor and temperamental outbursts, Yablans was later COO of MGM/United Artists and co-wrote the screenplay for Mommie Dearest, which he also produced.

Born in Brooklyn, Frank Yablans was brother of producer Irwin Yablans. He got his start in showbiz working for Warner Bros., Disney and Filmways, and became exec VP of sales at Paramount in the late 1960s, where he worked on marketing the hit film Love Story.

The success of the tearjerker led to his being named president of the studio from 1971 to 1975. Yablans was a pioneer in advocating wide openings on films like The Godfather, which opened on 350 screens rather than just in New York and Los Angeles, which was the custom at the time.

During that time, the studio had a run of groundbreaking films including Rosemary’s Baby, Goodbye Columbus, True Grit, Serpico, Paper Moon and Death Wish.

As recounted in former Paramount head of production Robert Evans’ excellent book The Kid Stays in the Picture,  Yablans engaged in an intense fight over deal terms on Chinatown, one of the factors that led to his dismissal as president of Paramount. Evans had negotiated a piece of the gross of that film (while still being head of production) and Yablans wanted to share 50-50. He was replaced by Barry Diller.

Kirk Kerkorian brought him on as vice chairman and chief operating officer of MGM from 1983 to 1985, but despite Yablans’ efforts to reduce costs by combining the historic studio with United Artists, the studio continued to face financial trouble.

He produced numerous films independently, including Congo, The Fury, Silver Streak and The Other Side of Midnight. He also co-wrote North Dallas Forty.

He later founded Promenade Pictures to produce faith-based family entertainment such as the “Epic Stories of the Bible” series and was a producer on the Rome TV series.

He is survived by three children, four grandchildren and his longtime companion Nadia Pandolfo.