Show of Hands, Please


The art of the movie poster as once practiced — and perfected — by design artist Saul Bass, best known for his credit sequences (see crumbling visage in “Spartacus,” slashing parallels in “Psycho”), is alive and well.

Notice the bold line similarities between the poster for the new Roberto Durán biopic “Hands of Stone” and two classic Bass posters for 1955/1960 releases, both directed by Otto Preminger. Simplicity is the key in each case. The clenched or mangled fist and the outstretched arms connect, like haymakers to the psyche.

Meanwhile, the stacked-column font for the new poster appears to have been inspired by Pablo Ferro’s iconic credits for “Dr. Strangelove.”



The Hell You Say



by Glenn Lovell

There’s a lot of talk about the new Jeff Bridges-Chris Pine indie, “Hell or High Water,” being a modern-day or throwback Western. The preview for this heists-gone-wrong saga set in West Texas makes it look like a cross between such new/old hybrids as the Coens’ “No Country for Old Men” and last year’s overlooked “Cold in July” with Michael C. Hall and Don Johnson riding the vengeance trail in a Cadillac El Dorado .

Hell, I could hahellboundve told you Bridges’ latest had one snake-skin boot in another era just by eyeballing the title.

With the exception of the Hellboy and Hellraiser franchises we don’t see the word hell in titles much these days. Because the filmmakers want to save the naughty language for the film proper, or the MPAA, like its Production Code predecessor, forbids the use of the h-word in dialogue and title?

None of the above.

Paradoxically, hell in the title conjures a more innocent time, the postwar period when Hollywood looked to put as much distance between itself and a squeaky-clean, newfangled invention called television.

In the ’50s and ’60s, it seemed like every other Western and war movie had hell in the title. If you were a kid then, it was like a free pass to use profanity.

Coming to a Theater Near You! on any particular weekend: United Artists’ “Hell Bound,” trading in a titillating cargo of “dope, dames … and dynamite”; Sam Fuller’s “Hell and High Water” starring Richard Widmark as a Cold War skipper; the Korean war “Retreat, Hell! with always-reliable Frank Lovejoy shouting orders; Mark Robson’s “Hell Below Zero” with Alan Ladd; the Audie Murphy biopic “To Hell and Back” with the much-decorated Audie Murphy playing himself; “Posse from Hell” again with Murphy; the sub adventure “Hellcats of the Pacific” with Ronald Reagan romancing his future First Lady, Nancy Das topside; Phil Karlson’s fact-based “Hell to Eternity” with Jeffrey Hunter battling anti-Japanese racism at home and in the South Pacific; Don Siegel’s gritty “Hell Is for Heroes” with Steven McQueen; John Boorman’s “Hell in the Pacific,” costarring Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as enemies on a desert island.

Raising hell in a title soon became a cliché. Instead of shocking audiences, it had the opposite effect: it sedated them, made the film’s title feel like overkill.

But that was another time. Heck, hell in a title now sounds, well, almost quaint, in a good way.


William Schallert: Utility Man


By Glenn Lovell

During my last conversation with the ubiquitous William Schallert, who died a week ago at age 93, I kept thinking, “Man, oh, man, if this guy ever decided to shoot from the hip, ‘tell all’ in the parlance of the tabloids, he would unleash a serious shit storm in Hollywood.”

A list of Schallert’s directors — William Wyler, William Wellman, John Huston, Vincent Minnelli, Raoul Walsh, among them — reads like a Who’s Who of Legendary Filmmakers.

We talked about the Kirk Douglas cult classic “Lonely Are the Brave,” its arduous New Mexico locations. Schallert, who played an annoying, gum-snapping deputy opposite Walter Matthau’s sheriff, recalled thebrave modern-day Western about a loner who refuses to be hogtied as being much ahead of its time, a project that, in his words, “oozed integrity.”

“Boy, talk about a current topic!” he enthused. “It was about illegal aliens, a lone hero trying to overcome technology, a cowboy who wouldn’t desert his horse. There are all sorts of things to love about that film.”

But it did not fare well at the box office. Schallert recalled an Orange County sneak preview where the Douglas vehicle was paired with a Hammer horror movie starring Christopher Lee. “The horror film was in vivid color, ours was in black and white. It was largely a teen-age audience. They loved the horror film and were bored with ‘Lonely Are the Brave.’ They didn’t boo it, they just didn’t get it.”

While nothing he hadn’t heard before, I told Schallert that he was an invaluable research tool and deserved his own as-told-to biography. (I had just written about John Sturges in “Escape Artist.”) He shrugged off the notion. He doubted he could add much to the discourse.

Typical Schallert — humble, low-key, self-effacing. Qualities that come through in many of his supporting performances.

I salted away the idea of calling him and again pitching that biography. But as these things have a way of doing, it kept being put off … and put off.

And now it’s too late.

Not surprisingly, the obits played up Schallert’s sizable TV work and union activism (he championed residual pay as SAG president). To hear AP tell it, the most important thing the lanky, ever-in-demand utility actor did in his almost 70 years before the camera: the father/uncle in “The Patty Duke Show” (1963-’66).

Barely mentioned were his performances in such classics as “The Reckless Moment” (Max Ophuls), “The Red Badge of Courage” (John Huston), and “Singin’ in the Rain” (Gene Kelly-Stanley Donen).

He also had bit parts in three Don Siegel films, including the gritty docudrama “Riot in Cell Block 11,” Wyler’s “Friendly Persuasion,” Wellman’s “The High and the Mighty,” Minnelli’s “Some Came Running,” and Sturges’s OK Corral reunion “HwmSchallertour of the Gun.”

Fans of fantasy and sci-fi have always had a particular fondness for the actor. He appeared in such genre staples as “Mighty Joe Young,” “The Man from Planet X,” “The Monolith Monster,” “Them!,” “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “Gremlins,” and “Colossus: The Forbid Project.” In the latter, about a renegade supercomputer, he plays the Director of the CIA who, when he realizes he’s about to be nuked, flashes momentary dread and then, as he lights a cigarette, what-the-hell acceptance.

His best roles? I’d have to go with what he described as his “bone-headed deputy” in “Lonely Are the Brave” and, opposite Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier, his ameliorable Georgia mayor in the Oscar-winning “In the Heat of the Night.”

“Walter (Matthau) and I made a good team on ‘Lonely Are the Brave,’ ” he said. “We were able to make amusing and ironic comments about what was going on.”

“Money” Monte


by Glenn Lovell

If you have the impression that there are two movies out there titled “Money Monster,” you’re not alone. The original trailer for the TriStar-Sony release, starring George Clooney as the fast-talking host of a cable finance show and Julia Roberts as his producer, makes it seem a Sidney Lumet hostage drama a la “Dog Day Afternoon.” It’s dark, brittle, more than a little uncomfortable to watch.

Then — pop! — a couple of weeks before the film’s release (on Friday the 13th, no less), there’s a second trailer. It doesn’t contain Money-Monster-2016-Scenethe disgruntled hostage-taker (Jack O’Connell) or the detailed walk-up to the timely anti-Wall Street premise. Instead, we get what feels like a stock urban thriller, with Clooney yelling for everyone to take cover, clear the streets. Suddenly, this film about stock-market skullduggery and its cataclysmic toll on John Q. Public has morphed into a “White House Down”/”Olympus Has Fallen” techno-fantasy.

The second, newer TV trailer is as vague — and purposely misleading — as the first trailer was detailed, heartfelt … accusatory.

Obviously studio pollsters, ever-mindful of these politically fractious times, took the pulse of the intended demographic and didn’t like the feedback to Trailer #1. So, quick like a bunny, they retooled to make the film seem a generic, run-and-hide apocalyptic number, complete with requisite panic-in-the-streets cutaways.

Never a good sign, this last-minute tinkering. Director Jodie Foster, who has yet to have a hit behind the camera after three previous tries, must be livid. Sony, which needs to recoup $90 million on its $30 million investment to see a profit, is obviously looking to cut its losses. And the best way to do this? Play the marketing version of three-card Monte.

Trump’s “Lonesome” Rhodes Moment?


By Glenn Lovell

It was only a matter of time. We all knew Donald Trump’s big mouth would get him into trouble, erode his standing in the polls, if not scuttle his campaign. Yes, the bellicose self-promoter has finally had his Lonesome Rhodes Moment, named for the TV demagogue in the 1957 movie “A Face in the Crowd.”

Larry Rhodes, a country singer-turned-media sensation played by Andy Griffith, rides his grass-roots support to political prominence … until someone turns the microphone on as Rhodes, thinking he’s off air, spews invectives aimed at his gullible supporters.

“Those morons out there,” he chortles. “I can take chicken fertilizetrumpfacer and sell it to them for caviar. I can make them eat dog food and think it’s steak … You know what the public’s like? A cage full of guinea pigs. Good night, you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.”

No one had to leave the mike on for Trump to insult his base. Like Rhodes he was destined to “open his big yap once too often.”

On Saturday, before an Iowa crowd, he talked about how malleable his “loyal followers” are. Cocking a finger-gun, like Charles Bronson’s subway vigilante in “Death Wish,” he crowed, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s like incredible.”

Fadeout on Trump, like Rhodes, alone in his Manhattan penthouse, except for a sound engineer ready to cue thunderous canned applause when his boss shouts, “The people love me! The people love me!”

Title “A Face in the Crowd” links to trailer.

2015’s Best Films — and Assorted Others


by Glenn Lovell

The year in celluloid sometimes felt like a lightsaber duel between the Dark Side and the Force, with the good guys finally prevailing thanks to a couple of nostalgic reboots and a heartwarming postcard from abroad.

With ticket sales flagging for much of the year, the industry begrudgingly countenanced new/old distribution platforms. Netflix made good on its vow to take on the majors by picking up the acclaimed indie “Beasts of No Nation” and releasing it simultaneously to streaming customers and a handful of theaters. (AMC, Regal and other chains refused to exhibit the film.) According to Variety, the Los Gatos-based company will consign $500 million to theatrical acquisitions in 2016.

Quentin Tarantino, of course, went Old School with his New Style Western “The Hateful Eight,” premiering it in a super-widescreen 70mm format at special reserved-seat engagements that included overture, intermission and souvenir programs. For many of us, seeing an “event” release at a mobbed megaplex felt, well, less than special. Meanwhile, the gap between theatrical debut and VOD continued to shrink, with RLJ Ent’s “Bone Tomahawk” and Gaspar Noé’s graphic “Love” virtually premiering in home theaters.

Besides the current box-office behemoth, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the top money-makers of the year included “Jurassic World,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Furious 7,” “Inside Out,” “Spectre” and the final “Hunger Games.”

With one caveat (we still haven’t seen “The Revenant”), here are our picks in no particular order for the best of the year:

1. “Spotlight.” A docudrama about the Boston Globe’s expose of pedophile priests and the church hierarchy that enabled them. By concentrating on the paper’s grinding research and legwork, as well as its systemic prejudices, Tom McCarthy (“Win Win”) delivered the best film about crusading journalists since “All the President’s Men.” Outstanding work by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and, as an initially reluctant attorney-source, Stanley Tucci.

2. “Beasts of No Nation.” A brutal, unforgettable coming-of-age saga set against the bacBeastskdrop of a fictitious West African nation mired in civil war. Newcomer Abraham Attah plays an orphaned child indoctrinated into the ways of the battlefield, and Idris Elba is the bellicose rebel leader, a sort of fanatical Piped Piper. Directed and adapted to the screen by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

3. “Creed.” Maybe the year’s biggest surprise, a return to the ring and scruffy roots of Philadelphia’s Rocky Balboa. Only now the emphasis is on Apollo Creed’s troubled son. “Fruitvale Station’s” Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan go the distance and more in this old-fashioned, predictably cathartic boxing fable, but it’s Sly Stallone who scores a late-career TKO as the kid’s trainer-surrogate dad.

4. “Brooklyn.”  A real find — a sweet, nicely modulated drama from Ireland. Saoirse Ronan has her best role yet as an Irish teen who, in the 1950s, relocates to the New York borough of the title. Conditioned by one too many Scorsese films, we expect the worst. Instead, director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby proffer a succession of mostly upbeat vignettes. Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters round out the year’s most amiable ensemble.

5. “Mad Max: Fury Road.” George Miller reclaims his mantle as the best action auteur around with this dystopian epic. A near-perfect fusion of set design, cinematography and CG effects. Tom Hardy takes ovtrainer as the Outback hero, but it’s Charlize Theron who ultimately carries the day. In a word, breathtaking!

6. “Trainwreck.” Amy Schumer brought her bruising brand of scattershot humor to the big screen with this hard-R catty twist on “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and scored the year’s funniest comedy. Judd Apatow directed from Schumer’s semi-autobiographical script.

7. “Sicario.”  The year’s timeliest — and most cynical — thriller has Emily Blunt as a scrupulous FBI agent enlisted by a vague “inter-agency task force” led by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro to help neutralize a Mexican drug cartel … and lend legitimacy to covert operations. “Listen, nothing will make sense to your American ears,” she’s told  when she demands answers. From Denis Villeneuve, who last scored with “Prisoners.”

8. “The Hateful Eight” and “Bone Tomahawk”: Two revisionist Westerns starring Kurt Russell. How do you tell them apart? By the length of Russell’s facial hair, for starters. Russell’s bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Leone boasts a long, droopy mustache. Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh costar as the vilest of the eight. Novelist-turned filmmaker S. Craig Zahler made the more expansive “Bone Tomahawk” for a tiny fraction of Tarantino’s budget.

9. “Ex Machina.” A sci-fi variation on “Pygmalion,” with the suddenly everywhere Oscar Isaac as the reclusive creator behind an amazingly lifelike android and Domhnall Gleeson as his unwitting apprentice/guinea pig. England’s Alex Garland wrote and directed this cautionary fable.

10. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” J.J. Abrams’ 30-years-later continuation of George Lucas’s space opera/fantasy is everything we hoped for, and  quite a bit more. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Star-Wars-Force-AwakensOscar Isaac take over as the soon-to-be-tested defenders of the Republic; Adam Driver as Darth Vader’s grandson is more brooding Prince of Denmark than Wagnerian heavy; Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill reprise their old roles. Jam-packed with narrow escapes, deep-space dogfights and heart-tugging surprises, this may very well be the best “Star Wars” yet.

Best Foreign Films: Hungary’s “White God,” a political allegory with real bite, and New Zealand’s “What We Do in the Shadows,” a mockumentary on fussy flatmates who happen to be vampires.

Best Exploitation: “It Follows” and “Cop Car.”

Best Documentary: “Amy.”

Most Disappointing: Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” which cried out to be a fast-paced B picture (like “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”), not some talky, self-important message movie, and “Legend,” with our new favorite actor, Tom Hardy, doing double duty as East London gangsters Reg and Ronnie Kray.

Most Overlooked: “Chappie,” Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi variation on “Pinocchio,” and Seth MacFarlane’s happily scatological “Ted 2,” which opens with a hilarious sendup of a glitzy Busby Berkeley number. You can also add “The Visit,” M. Night Shyamalan’s creepy return to form, to this list.

Worst Films of the Year: “The D Train,” with a badly miscast Jack Black, and “Youth,” an achingly pretentious meditation on — what else? — old age and regret. Where is Ingmar Bergman when you need him?






Maureen O’Hara: Old World … Without Apologies


Maureen O’Hara — she of the flame-red tresses and fiercely independent nature — died Saturday in Boise, Idaho, at age 95. We had the grand good fortune of chatting with O’Hara when she came out of retirement in 1991 to appear opposite John Candy in a glum little comedy called “Only the Lonely.”

by Glenn Lovell

WHEN IT came time to cast the domineering Irish mother in his new comedy-romance, “Only the Lonely,” director-writer Chris Columbus held out for the prototype. He wanted Dublin’s own Maureen FitzSimons, better known as Maureen O’Hara, co-star of “The Quiet Man,” “Rio Grande,” “McLintock!” andindex other two-fisted John Wayne vehicles.

Unfortunately, O’Hara, then 69, was in retirement in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. She quit “the biz” in 1971, after her 55th feature. And just so everyone got the message, she got rid of her agent and kept far from the madding crowd.

The word that filtered back: “Miss O’Hara says thanks but no thanks.”

Columbus, riding high after a little comedy called “Home Alone,” persisted. He contacted O’Hara’s brother, producer Charles FitzSimons, who passed on the word. When this didn’t bring a reply, Charles planted his feet and exerted a little Irish stubbornness of his own.

”Charles called me, then sent me the script,” she of the flame-red mane recalls in an Irish lilt that summons visions of Killarney and rolling hills. “He said, ‘This time you can’t turn it down. You have to read it. It’s one of the best things to come around.’ ”

O’Hara read, enjoyed and agreed. The Rose Muldoon character — feisty, stubborn, colorful — was made to order.

”If I was going to come back,” she said, “I was determined it would be as a character with some extra dimension.”

Rose’s extra dimension? “Her total meanness. Her prejudice. She’s not a nice person. In everything else, I’ve been domineering, strong, warm-hearted. There was a bit of challenge in this role: Rose had to be played as an Irish immigrant woman who lived in a little house under the el in Chicago.”

O’Hara also had to click with co-star John Candy. She met him in producer John Hughes’ Chicago office. “I wanted to meet John just to be sure. I mean, what if we didn’t like each other? We clicked immediately. He has good eyes. He looks you straight in the eyes.”

O’Hara stressed that it had to be an extra-special set of circumstances to get her back before the camera. It helped that the producers agreed to cast longtime friend and “Magnificent Matador” co-star Anthony Quinn as Rose’s admiring neighbor.

”You have to remember I never intended to get back. I was retired permanently,” she explained from Los Angeles. “I didn’t even have an agent. Still don’t. If you retire and intend to work, you have an agent. I really and truthfully was out of the business.”

One of six children born in Ranleagh, Ireland, near Dublin, O’Hara made her theatrical debut at age 6, joined the Abbey Theater at 14, and earned her first money (“a guinea — or about $4 in those days”) at 16 in a radio adaptation of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.” She made her screen debut as Maureen FitzSimons in something called “My Molly.” It was Charles Laughton who changed her name to O’Hara and “introduced” her in the Hitchcock adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaican Inn.” From there it was one costume picture, John Ford saga and family comedy after another. The highlights in her mind: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” Disney’s “The Parent Trap,” and, for Ford, “How Green Was My Valley,” “The Long Gray Line,” “Rio Grande” and “The Quiet Man,” the last two pairing her with “best friend” Wayne.

Little wonder O’Hara called it quits after a little coaxing from Wayne and her late husband, aviator Charles F. Blair. “One evening as I was reading the paper they stood over me and said, in unison, ‘Don’t you think it’s time for you to stay home?’ It was that simple and that quick. I was just having a wonderful time, and it seemed like the right thing to do.”

During her time away, O’Hara traveled the world, returning annually to Glengarriff in West County Cork, raised her children and grandchildren, and, in general, pursued a life “that was so busy, I didn’t have much time for myself at all.”

And she didn’t once long for the madness of a Hollywood sound stage?

”There were lots of things I was offered and said no to. Oh, I would have come back for ‘On Golden Pond.’ I would have loved to do that. But it was never offered to me. It was offered to the right lady — Katharine Hepburn.”

In life as on screen O’Hara impresses as a no-bull type who can stand toe-to-toe with any man. And like Mary Kate Danaher (her Inisfree spinster with the “fearful temper” in “The Quiet Man”) and Rose Muldoon, she’s not afraid to say her piece.

This afternoon she speaks out on a number of topics, including:

√ Her famous red hair, inherited from her mother. “I don’t think my hair had anything to do with my career. I hope to God it was my ability. I’m a professional, trained actress. I wasn’t discovered in an ice-cream parlor.”

√ Why she never married Wayne. They were linked in gossip columns much as Tracy and Hepburn were linked. “Oh, goodness no. We never, never, NEVER talked of marriage. It was never a romance. We had a fabulous friendship. We were each other’s best friends. Besides, he always married Latin women.”

√ The feminist backlash against some of her characters, including Mary Kate, who, like Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew,” finally appears to submit to brute force. “You’re analyzing the picture. It’s a great story. You don’t have to go into it that deep. You just sit back and enjoy it. I can’t stand all this analyzing of characters. It drives me crazy. A great story is a great story.”

√ Her on-screen rapport with the Duke. “I’m 5-foot-8; he was 6-foot-4. We looked like a good physical match. You knew if I hit him I could hurt him, but he was strong enough to control me. The public must have liked it, because they sure bought plenty of tickets.”

√ Legendary director John Ford’s special talent. “He was the total boss on his set. He controlled his set. No actor or actress dared step out of line. So you could relax and worry about your role, not about some actor upstaging you.”

√ The times she feared for her safety. “I was hurt on ‘The Quiet Man’ when Duke dragged me across the field. I had back surgery for a ruptured disc. On ‘McLintock!’ I fell and chipped the ends off four teeth. I was running full tilt in an area that had chopped gravel. Duke was supposed to catch me. I trusted him so much. I fell flat on my face in the gravel. I was bleeding in 24 places when they picked me up.”

O’Hara’s return to the screen has been so painless (“the first day on the set was like the last day 20 years ago”), there’s a good chance we’ll see her and Quinn in “Only the Lonely, Part 2.” “There was a lot more to the romance between Rose and Nick (Quinn), but it wound up on the cutting-room floor. Maybe we’ll find out what happens to them in the sequel. We’re already talking about it. But it wouldn’t be for another year. Not until after ‘Home Alone 2.’ “

Wes Craven resurrected horror genre, repeatedly


WES CRAVEN, who died in late August at age 76, reinvigorated the horror genre, more than once. In the 1970s, when America was mired in Vietnam and Watergate, he tapped into the misanthropic zeitgeist with two grisly benchmarks, “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have cravenEyes.” In 1984, after the disappointments of “Deadly Blessing” and “Swamp Thing,” he came screaming back with “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which introduced Freddy Krueger, the fire-scarred boogeyman with switchblade talons. Because he didn’t own the screen rights to his own creation (New Line Cinema did), he couldn’t stanch the flow of increasingly ludicrous sequels. Hence, he was ever on the lookout for a new, even more lucrative franchise. Enter Ghostface in 1996, and the postmodern “Scream” series written by Kevin Williamson.

Here’s the first of several interviews I did with Craven. Published in late 1984, upon the release of “Elm Street,” it found the director in an unusually candid mood, especially about his strict Baptist upbringing and failed attempts at breaking free of the “horror director” mantle.

by Glenn Lovell

It never fails. When people meet Wesley Earl Craven of Cleveland, they comment on his “professorial” demeanor, his gentle, reassuring manner of speech, his tweedy wardrobe.

Obviously Craven teaches Latin or the humanities at some posh prep school, right?

Hardly. Wes Craven, as he’s known in film circles, makes horror movies.

Not your run-of-the-mill stalk-and-slash fare. Craven’s goose-bump specials ‒  “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes,” among them – aren’t as easily shrugged off. They tap into our primal fears of being hounded by backwater cretins, cackling bogymen, religious zealots ‒ even Satan himself.

Craven’s grim, single-minded shockers are the stuff of which recurring nightmares are made. At their most creepily effective, they play with and often blur the lines between troubled sleep and disturbing reality. Brian De Palma (“Carrie”) and Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”) have explored similar terrain, but Craven got there first.

It makes sense, then, that Craven’s latest, the $3-million “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” is an ambitious blend of Cocteau and Dali, a surreal gambol through Slumberland. It’s about a trio teenagers who are pursued through their sleep by a ghoulish, fire-scarred handyman named Freddy Krueger.

According to a spokesman for New Line Cinema, the film’s distributor, “Nightmare” has made more than $8 million since its first regional release Nov. 9, an excellent take for an independent movie.

Craven, speaking fronightmarem the roof of his Santa Monica home, called his latest “sort of a horror fantasy – not the typical slash-and-splatter thing.” To those who persist in lumping it with the “Friday the 13th” bloodbaths, he replied, “Mine is more psychological. It also has to do with generation conflict (between Ronee Blakley’s stuporous mother and Heather Langenkamp’s frightened yet resourceful daughter).

“As a lot of my films do, ‘Nightmare’ uses the cliches of the genre, but in the end they’re somehow turned on their head. I think it has a lot to do with my different philosophical approach to the genre.”

In Craven’s case, a unique worldview is at work, a philosophy born of a still-vivid fundamentalist Baptist upbringing and a strong, formal training in the classics.

If the 45-year-old Craven (educated at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Wheaton College in Illinois, Billy Graham’s alma mater) looks professorial, it’s probably because he taught humanities at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, N.Y.

It was while at Clarkson that Craven oversaw a $3,000 student film titled “The Investigators.” Described as a “takeoff on Mission: Impossible,” the film was shown to students and townspeople and realized a profit of $4,000. “We pasted it together with glue,” laughed Craven. “But that was it ‒ I caught the fever. I was 29 and had a wife and two kids, but I dropped everything and went to New York. It had a devastating effect on my life.”

When Craven gave himself over to full-time moviemaking, he was dumping a lot more than a teaching job: He was turning his back on his strict religious training.


“I came out of a very religious background,” he recalled with difficulty. ”As fundamentalist Baptists, we were sequestered from the rest of the world. You couldn’t dance or drink or go to the movies. The first movie I paid to see was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ I was a senior in college. . . . My whole youth was based on suppression of emotion. As they say in psychological circles, my family never got in touch with their rage. So making movies – these awful horror movies, no less — was, I guess, my way of purging this rage.”

Though he might have seemed bit old to be rebelling, that’s exactly what Craven did in New York in the late ’60s. He grew his hair to his waist, divorced his Baptist wife and did post-production chores on Time-Life documentaries and 8mm porno loops. During that period, he met kindred spirit Sean S. Cunningham, who would direct 1980’s Friday the 13th.

“We got offered a job by Hallmark Releasing Co. They wanted to have a real slam-bang horror film. They offered us $50,000. John said we could make it for $40,000 and split the rest. They liked our ideas and ended up giving us $90,000. We made ‘Last House on the Left.’ ”

Shot in grainy 16mm and released in 1972, “Last House” has earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million. Craven’s inspiration for this tale of kidnapping and torture? Would you believe Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”? “I very consciously used the same medieval morality tale about a father taking revenge on the shepherds who raped his daughter. It was sort of a modernization of the story.”


Beyond this, Craven and Cunningham (who produced) wanted to make “a grabber . . . a film that showed things that had never been shown on screen before. In a sense to show violence as it really was, rather than in a cinematic way. We just forged into a whole new area where people had not gone before, because of taste or fear of not getting the right rating.”

Craven achieved his grim goal with a vengeance. Last House freaked out the public and the critics (who called it “vile” and “pornographic”). The film also further estranged Craven’s family in Ohio. (“My brother said, ‘I can’t imagine where you got those thoughts.’ ”) And though he sought to move into adventure and satire, Craven was immediately typed as a low-budget horror filmmaker, a label that still makes him wince.

Worse, Craven wasn’t allowed entry into what he calls “the club.” Members in good standing include John Carpenter (“Halloween”), De Palma, Bob Clark (“Black Christmas”) and even his old buddy Cunningham. These are the
filmmakers who have made the jump from low-budget gore to big-budget prestige pictures.

“I felt I had made my mind-blower, and it was time to move on. But for a period of two and a half years I couldn’t get financing for anything. How could we have made a hit film for 10 cents and not have somebody knocking on our door, saying, ‘Here’s a million dollars’?”

Craven figures he picked up $100,000 in residuals on ‘Last House.’ When that was gone, a friend advised, “You have to make another Last House.” Craven replied, “I can’t. People turn away from me when they find out I made that movie.” The friend persisted. “Get rid of that Protestant guilt. Don’t be ashamed of what you do well.”

So Craven made “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977), a compact little horror tale about an inbred family of Mojave Desert cannibals. Typically, filmdom’s professor of gore came up with the plot at the New York Public Library while thumbing through “The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mayhem.” A gruesome 17th- century account caught Craven’s eye. It had something to do with a Scottish clan that preyed on and pickled unlucky wayfarers.

Between “Hills” and “Elm Street” there have been three TV movies (including “Stranger in Our House” with Linda Blair), three scripts “in development” that went nowhere, and a couple of films, “Deadly Blessing” (1981) and “Swamp Thing” (1982).

“Deadly Blessing,” starring Ernest Borgnine, allowed Craven to share firsthand fears of religious fanaticism; “Swamp Thing,” about a reptilian superhero, was his chance to “do something gentle and fun-loving and positive.”

Yes, “Elm Street” ‒ with its stalking specter and screaming teens ‒ is a return to conventional fright, Craven acknowledges. “But this time I really let my imagination run free. Maybe this will be the one that gets me into ‘the club.’ I’m tired of being out in the cold. I certainly don’t want to do another slasher or man-with-a-knife type of film. I’m talking to some people now about an island castaway movie – a ‘Lord of the Flies’ with girls. I know in my heart I’m ready for something new. I’m tired of being ‘the granddaddy of the slasher film.’ ”

Modesto Murders: Spooky Hitchcockian Twists?


Ghost of Hitchcock Haunts N. Calif. Crime Scene?

By Glenn Lovell

You need look no further than this week’s grisly headlines – “Five Dead in Calif. Home,” “Man Arrested for Killing Lover, Their Child, Three Others” — to be reminded of what Alfred Hitchcock never tired of saying: Evil resides where yBatesou least expect it; it bubbles forth from the seemingly normal … everyday. It’s as American as pie a la mode — and tract-house suburbia.

This is certainly the case in Hitch’s sinister “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Psycho,” both set in northern California. “Shadow of a Doubt,” about an avuncular serial killer, takes place in Santa Rosa; the rundown Bates Motel in “Psycho” is located on a lonely stretch of highway leading to the fictitious Fairvale, situated (if you follow the film’s markers) somewhere outside Fresno.

This week’s mass killing, the latest in an alarming increase in multiple homicides, took place in an innocuous, beige-and-white two-story home in Modesto, 90-some miles north of where the Bates Motel and mansion would be located. Santa Rosa is a bit farther: depending on the traffic, maybe a 2 ½-hour drive.


Martinez and crime scene

Obviously the killers’ M.O.s. and their crime scenes are very different. And yet, the mother-fixated Norman Bates, and the alleged Modesto killer, Martin Martinez, share spooky similarities. Both are 30ish, dark-complexioned, disarmingly boyish. Also like Bates, Martinez is suspected of matricide, which, according to the psychiatrist in “Psycho,” is the “most unbearable crime of all.” Besides Martinez’s physician girlfriend and their six-month-old daughter, the Modesto victims included the the girlfriend’s six-year-old daughter … and Martinez’s mother.

In a macabre twist worthy of a Hitchcock thriller, Martinez was arrested in his hometown of San Jose, exiting a mall theater. He was with his father. No word on whether they saw “Ant-Man” or a horror film titled “The Gallows.”

When told of Martinez’s arrest, his Uncle Ernie recalled a “kind, good-hearted person,” adding, “He didn’t even have a parking ticket.”

Sound familiar? It should. The jailed Bates, finally eclipsed by Mother’s personality, coos in voice-over, “Why she wouldn’t even harm a fly.”

Robin Williams “obsessed” over screen swan song


Slightly more than a year before he took his own life in August 2014, Robin Williams reported to a Nashville movie set to play a closeted gay husband battling, among other things, severe depression and a lifetime of self-deceit.

In retrospect, Williams’s Nolan Mack may be seen by some as a sad harbinger of what lay ahead.

Nolan — a shy, alRobinmost painfully withdrawn banker — is the principal character in “Boulevard,” opening in the Boston area on Friday. From all accounts, the low-budget drama was a labor of love for the actor, known to champion chancy indies, like “One Hour Photo” and “The Night Listener.” Williams suggested key changes to the script, originally set in Los Angeles and titled “Santa Monica Boulevard.” He also approved the casting and the final edit. He fought for Nolan’s intense coming-out scene (to an ailing father). It was cut, then, at Williams’s insistence, restored.

“Nolan was a more dramatic role for Robin,” said the actor’s widow, Susan. “He poured his heart and soul into the film.”

“Boulevard,” promoted as Williams’s “final dramatic performance,” costars Kathy Baker as Nolan’s wife and Bob Odenkirk as his best friend. Newcomer Roberto Aguire, 27, plays a runaway-prostitute who sparks long-suppressed urges.

Fittingly, the film is “more about letting go than coming out,” said director Dito Montiel, whose “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” (2006) caught Williams’s attention.

“When Robin and I talked about [‘Boulevard’],” recalled Montiel, “we agreed that it was more a love story between husband and wife. How do you let go of someone you’ve been married to for 40 years? How do you say goodbye to the love of your life?”

Indeed, Williams was concerned that the film might appear to vilify Nolan’s wife, Joy (Baker), and asked for rewrites to beef up her character. “He wanted the final fight between Nolan and Joy expanded,” said the film’s screenwriter, Douglas Soesbe. “As a gay man who came out late in life, I wanted to write a story about a man who was outwardly contented but came up against a situation in which his passion just could not be contained anymore. Robin, I think, responded to that, to the humanity of the story, the simple emotional undertow.”

While some who worked with Williams on the production could not recall periods of depression or symptoms of what was later reported to be the onset of Parkinson’s disease, they said there were indications that something was troubling the actor. He appeared thinner and more introverted than usual. Also, he “really obsessed” over the smallest detail on a film that cost a small fraction of one of his studio productions, said Montiel, who often found himself, at 2 or 3 in the morning, discussing a problematic scene. “Because we shot so much at night we’d have midnight lunches. And Robin would say to me, ‘Let’s take a walk.’ So we’d walk for an hour or so trying to figure the scene out.”

Baker and Aguire chalked up the weight loss to his near-compulsive bike riding.

“I was nervous about meeting [Robin],” admitted Baker, whose credits include “Edward Scissorhands” and “Saving Mr. Banks.” “I was afraid it was going to be the funny, always ‘on’ Robin, and that he was going to be a distraction. . . . And here was this quiet . . . respectful . . . almost fragile man.

“But I never for a second thought he had anything physically or mentally wrong.”

Baker called Williams “a true professional” — generous to a fault. “He said after every take, ‘Did you get what you want? Do you want to do it again? You want something else?’ I wouldn’t say we did three or four takes on anything. He was totally prepared. We never stopped because he didn’t know a line.”

Aguire also found Williams uncommonly generous. A key sequence, set in Nolan’s bedroom, took them until almost daybreak. They had been working 12 hours straight and Williams showed signs of fatigue. “We had shot all his coverage, he was completely done. Then the camera turned to me. I expected him to either leave or phone it in.”
Now repeating his lines off-camera, Williams proved “as vibrant, alive, as he was in any of his takes,” Aguire said. “It just blew my mind.”

Susan Williams joined her husband in Nashville. Though she has yet to see the completed movie, she described her visit to the set as “incredibly moving,” adding in her e-mail, “I’ll never forget the bedroom scene when Robin got in bed quietly next to Kathy and said, ‘I love you, Joy.’ It was the most tender, touching, and sad scene.”

Seven months after principal photography had wrapped, Baker bumped into Williams again. They were in Vancouver — he was doing “Night at the Museum 3,” she was doing “The Age of Adaline.” They had dinner. He was quiet, but, as always, solicitous of fans who asked for photos or autographs. They talked about work, their families. Again, there were no signs of depression, which made what happened that much harder to fathom.

When Baker heard that Williams, suffering from acute depression, had committed suicide, she said she refused to believe it; she thought it was an Internet hoax. Once it was confirmed, she had her husband drive her to the beach, where she sat and watched the waves. “I couldn’t grasp it. I couldn’t think what to do,” she recalled. “I just wanted to go to bed or be with others who knew and loved him.”

If Williams had confided in her when they met in Vancouver, talked about his debilitating depression, what would she have told him?

“Oh gosh, I wonder if I would’ve presumed to say anything, other than how much I loved him and how I would want him to take care of himself,” replied Baker after a long pause. “I just can’t imagine the pain he was in. That’s the worst part — to think about the terrible pain and how he managed to hide it from people.”

This story was written for the Boston Globe. Glenn Lovell can be reached at