scop (noun):

Old English – bard, minstrel, storyteller

This Way to Egress:
The Manchester-Sheffield Connection

September 24th, 2018

Eighteen years ago. It’s spring. Filmmaker Charly Cantor and I are driving around Pittsburgh. It’s his first time in the States, having arrived the day before from London. He’s come to collaborate on a new film adaptation of my story “Traumatic Descent,” and today we’re out looking at locations, places that might provide backdrops for a tale about a slow-burn descent into madness.

We drive down Ohio River Boulevard, past the chemical plants and coke ovens of Neville Island and into the brick-and-brownstone environs of Pittsburgh’s North Side. Charly says it all looks familiar, like the area around Sheffield and Manchester, UK,  where he grew up with his friend David Slade. He tells me to slow down. Then he turns in his seat, looks back the way we’ve come. “That sign. Did it say Manchester?”

“Yeah. That’s where we are. Manchester. Pittsburgh’s North Side.”

“Can you stop?” He sees something else. “Stop here.”

I pull to the curb. He gets out and snaps a picture. That’s when I see where we are, on the corner of Fontella and Sheffield. He’s 4,000 miles from home, and he’s just arrived at Sheffield in Manchester. He can’t get over it. It’s not just the names of the places. It’s the look, the working-class feel of it. “When you come to England, I’m taking you to Manchester and Sheffield. You’ll see.”

Fast forward four months. Charly finishes the script (now titled This Way to Egress), and I’m in London to meet David Slade and talk revisions. We’re sitting in the Riba Cafe. Charly has his laptop on the table and we’re working through the script. It’s going well.

Perhaps too well.

Charly has arranged for a car to take us north to Manchester and Sheffield, but the work expands. In the days that follow, we get so caught up in it that we never get around to making the trip north.

Charly passed away in 2002. A tragic loss. He left behind two finished films: Appetite (1998), co-written with George Milton; and Blood (2000), which he wrote and directed.  He also left nearly a half-dozen finished scripts. All of them, including the feature-length adaptation of Egress, have yet to be filmed.

Fast forward again. Back to the present. Eighteen year’s after Charly snapped that picture on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Egress has been filmed, not as the feature that Charly and I worked on, but as a shorter version co-written with David Slade for the anthology film Nightmare Cinema. And next month that film has its UK premiere in … (wait for it) … Manchester, England.

You best believe I’ll be there.

The UK premiere of Nightmare Cinema is part of the 10th edition of Grimmfest, an international film festival held each year in Manchester. And so … at last … I’m going to get a look at the place that Charly described so vividly as we stood on that Pittsburgh corner in 2000.

The premiere will be held at the Odeon Theatre on Deansgate. October 6, 4:00 PM. Afterward, I’ll take part in a brief Q&A session. It’ll be like coming home.

Images:

  • The corner of Sheffield and Fontella in Manchester, Pennsylvania.
  • Charly Cantor working on our adaptation of This Way to Egress at Riba’s Cafe, London, July 2001.
  • Poster for Grimmfest 2018. More at Grimmfest.com.

Fall Premieres:
Mexico, England, Canada, Spain, Austria …

September 23rd, 2018

… a world of nightmares.

Since premiering at The Fantasia International Film Festival in July, Nightmare Cinema has gone on to screen at some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals devoted to fantasy, science fiction, and horror.

So far this month, NC has played on both sides of the Atlantic, first in a French premiere at Le Festival européen du film fantastique in Strasbourg on September 17 and then at Feratum Film Fest in Tlalpujahua, Mexico, on September 22.

Both Sandra Becerril and Mick Garris attended the Strasbourg event (see the video at the bottom of this post), and Sandra (left) was on hand in Tlalpujahua.

In the coming weeks, things are about to kick into high gear with multiple screenings already announced for England, Canada, Spain, and Austria.

Here’s how things look at the moment. (The list updates the Fall Festivals & Events post from earlier this month):

It’s an impressive line-up, and one that hopefully gets us ever closer to a greatly anticipated US premiere and a release to theaters and home video.

I’ll keep you posted. For now, check out the video below, recorded a couple weeks back at Le Festival européen du film fantastique in Strasbourg, France.

Tales from the Hood 2
Horror, History, Humor & Politics

September 22nd, 2018

“All of that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS. What are these people talking about? Are you really telling me that Shakespeare and Aeschylus weren’t writing about kings? All good art is political!” – Toni Morrison

Morrison’s words are particularly relevant to the horror genre. After all, horror literature is all about powers beyond comprehension. It’s true in the genre’s seminal works (think Dante’s Inferno), and it’s certainly true with horror stories today.

Case in point is Tales from the Hood 2, the new anthology film from Rusty Cundieff and Darrin Scott, which serves up a mix of timely jokes, jolts, and meditations on contemporary politics.

I caught the film at the Fantasia International Film Festival, where it screened along with the world premiere of Nightmare Cinema. Here’s what I had to say about it in a brief blog post the following day:

Tales from the Hood 2, from filmmakers Rusty Cundieff and Darrin Scott, is a topical mix of dark comedy and thought-provoking horror. I can’t recommend it enough, but I will try my damnedest in tomorrow’s post.

Although I may have tried my damnedest, that post didn’t appear the next day. But now – with Hood 2 scheduled for release in two weeks – I’m at last making good on my promise.

Coming more than 20 years after the original Tales from the Hood, the sequel opens with a wrap-around segment titled “Robo Hell,” in which Keith David plays Portifoy Simms, a 21st-century scop hired to help program Robo Patriot — a sentient robot that operates on a kind of next-generation AI software known as RI (Real Intelligence).  As one of the developers tells Simms, RI enables Robo Patriot to “learn from second-hand experience — stories, fables, tales. And that’s where you come in.”

The conceit: Simms will help the Robo Patriot develop a sense of justice by telling it stories, the first of which is titled “Good Golly.”

“Good Golly” opens with two friends, Audrey (Alexandria DeBerry) and Zoe (Jasmine Akako), visiting the Museum of Negrosity in search of golliwogs, rag dolls fashioned as racists caricatures. Audrey had a golliwog as a child. She thinks they’re cute, and though the museum’s curator explains that the dolls were an attempt to perpetuate racial stereotypes and are not for sale, she refuses to be turned away.

Presented with equal doses of history, horror, and humor, “Good Golly” accelerates into what appears at times to recall the “Amelia” segment of Richard Matheson’s Trilogy of Terror. But where Matheson went for thrills, “Good Golly” has another agenda — a lesson that doesn’t become clear to the golliwog shoppers until it’s too late.

The next segment, “Medium,” centers on TV psychic John Lloyd (Bryan Batt from Mad Men). Dealing with a band of gangsters who put their trust in Lloyd’s pseudo skills, this episode is perhaps the most straightforwardly entertaining of the four, offering a humorous riff on the blurred line between reality TV and the realities of life. It benefits from energetic performances and twists reminiscent of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.

Perhaps inspired by the Me-Too movement, “Date Night” centers on a pair of pick-up artists who pass themselves off as casting directors. Their plans go south when they meet Carmen and Liz — aspiring actresses who are not what they seem. It’s a story of predators becoming prey that plays like an allegory for our times.

As Hood 2 draws to a close, storyteller Simms presents his grand finale, a poignant ghost story about a politician haunted by past civil-rights leaders and victims of racial injustice. Depicting such historical figures in film is challenging, yet Cundeiff and Scott pull this one off beautifully. In all, it’s a timely meditation on race in America.

The final act returns us to the film’s wrap-around device. Here, the RI robot has listened to the stories and is ready to apply what it has learned. As you might imagine, things do not go quite the way the robot’s designers had planned.

Speaking with Rusty Cundeiff and Darrin Scott following their Fantasia premier, I discovered we share a fondness for the old Twilight Zone series and the way writers like Rod Serling and Richard Matheson used horror as an allegory to comment on timely issues and social injustice.

With Tales of the Hood 2, the Cundeiff-Scott team is carrying that tradition into the 21st century.

Tales from the Hood 2 comes out on home video on October 2.


Images

  • Promotional images from Tales from the Hood 2, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2018
  • A view from the stage during Rusy Cundeiff and Darrin Scott’s Q&A session at The Fantasia International Film Festival. Photo by Vincent Fréchette, 13 July 2018.

Nightmare Cinema: Fall Festivals & Events

September 16th, 2018

These are busy times for the Nightmare Cinema team.

This weekend, Mick Garris (the film’s producer and writer/director of “Dead”) and Sandra Becerril (writer of the Ryûhei Kitamura directed “Mashit”) are in Strasbourg for the film’s French premiere at FEFFS — Le Festival européen du film fantastique. The premiere will take place at a special midnight screening on Monday, September 17, with additional screenings scheduled for September 18 and 23.

Since its launch in 2008, FEFFS has become one of Europe’s most comprehensive genre events, with a focus on international fantastic films as well as thrillers, film noir, black comedies, and even video games and virtual-reality cinema.

This year, the FEFFS Guest of Honor will be John Landis, director of Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, and Into the Night (the film that made stars of Jeff Goldblum and Michele Feiffer).

While Mick Garris and Sandra Becerril are hosting the EU premiere at FEFFS, David Slade (“This  Way to Egress”) and  Ryûhei Kitamura (“Mashit”) will be in London and Japan respectively, with David working on the upcoming season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and Ryûhei hosting the Japanese premiere of his thriller Downrange, which has been receiving strong notice since its L.A. premiere last spring. And there’s more, as some of the film’s actors and producers will be hosting a panel at Son of Monsterpalooza in Burbank.

Next month brings more premieres, with Nightmare Cinema screening in Spain and England before returning to Canada (where it had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in July).

First up will be a UK premiere at Grimmfest in Manchester (October 4-7), where I’ve been invited to take part in a question-and-answer session following the film’s screening at the Odeon Theatre on October 6. There’s a chance that an additional guest could be joining me on stage to help celebrate the connection that “This Way to Egress” has to the Manchester-Sheffield area. More information coming soon, as I plan to blog about that connection soon and speak about it at the screening.  Please stand by!

Beginning the same week as Grimmfest, the Stiges Film Festival (October 5-14) — regarded by many as the world’s foremost film festival specializing in fantasy, horror and science fiction — will host Nightmare Cinema‘s Spanish premiere on Thursday, October 13.

Other Stiges highlights will include the Festival’s Grand Honorary Award (going to M. Night Shyamalan) and a special screening of the new 4k restoration of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Running concurrently with Stiges, the 13th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival (October 11-19) will mark Nightmare Cinema’s return to Canada, where the film had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 12.

It’s busy line-up indeed, and one that will enable more viewers to discover what capacity crowds in Montreal and Mexico City have already seen firsthand.

The Nightmare Cinema project has come a long way since producers, writers, and directors gathered at Xiomara on Melrose in December 2016 to celebrate the green-lighting of the film. And the excitement’s still just beginning.

Stop back soon for more updates … and for a special Grimmfest preview in which we’ll consider how the UK screening will be a homecoming of sorts for “This Way to Egress.”

Until then … scop on!

Images:

  • Above: Promotional graphics from Festival européen du film fantastique, the Japanese premiere of Ryûhei Kitamura’s Downrange, Grimmfest Film Festival, The Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, and the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
  • At right: Nightmare Cinema directors and writers gather at Xiomara on Melrose Avenue, L.A, on December 8, 2016. Pictured from left to right, front to back, are Alejandro Brugués, Ryûhei Kitamura, R.C. Matheson’s hands. Sandra Becerril, Lawrence Connolly, Mick Garris, Joe Dante.