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

Deaths

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.