Saturday, March 03, 2007

THE HOUSE BETWEEN, Episode # 2: "Settled"

In the second webisode of the sci-fi drama, THE HOUSE BETWEEN, the enigmatic new arrival in the strange "house at the end of the universe," named Theresa (Alicia A. Wood) spins a fantastic tale about her background that the other denizens have difficulty believing. While Theresa ruffles feathers with her unusual manner, Bill (Tony Mercer) discovers a diary that seems to have a connection to the family he's been separated from, a fact which vexes him. Meanwhile, Astrid also confronts a "ghost" from her past in the form of a haunting melody from her past; one that brings up tragic memories. Written/directed by John Kenneth Muir. Produced for the Lulu Show LLC by Joseph Maddrey. CAST: Kim Breeding (Astrid), Jim Blanton (Arlo), Lee Hansen (Travis Crabtree), Tony Mercer (Bill T. Clark), Alicia A. Wood (Theresa). Copyright 2007, The Lulu Show LLC

You can now watch the show, "Settled," here. Or at www.thehousebetween.com




Friday, March 02, 2007

"Settled" Unsettled!

We are experiencing technical difficulties in the episode uploading process (we've been doing this now for 24 hours...), but rest assured, The House Between, episode 2 - "Settled" - shall land here soon.

Keep watching the skies. Or keep watching this page, as it were...

In the meantime, enjoy the series' opening credit montage.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

The House Between, Episode 2 ("Settled") Director Notes

Tomorrow, The House Between episode # 2, "Settled" goes online, here on the blog, on the web page (http://www.thehousebetween.com/), and on the Veoh service. So look for it! The response from "Arrived" has been very positive. The audience has proven remarkably enthusiastic, and "hooked" is the buzz-word I'm hearing the most frequently.

In honor of the broadcast tomorrow, I'm going to present now some of my memories from the writing and making of "Settled," which represented day two of our week-long shooting marathon back in June. We shot this episode on June 5th, 2006, and our first usable take was recorded at 10:53 am.

The story for "Settled", as you will see tomorrow , involves some diverse thematic elements, (all of which come up in the trailer, so I'm not giving away any spoilers here...). The first is the "arrival" of a new character, Theresa, played by Alicia A. Wood. I noted during my interview on Destinies that she is my resident alien...even though she's not an alien. When I created this character, a confident, assertive psychic, I had in mind such characters as Sapphire on Sapphire & Steel, and also Varian in The Fantastic Journey. On a more universal, well-known scale, I was thinking of Spock and Maya. Basically, Theresa is very different from the other characters on the show. But you'll see that for yourself soon enough...

In "Settled" Bill (Tony Mercer) discovers a diary, one that has grave repercussions for him personally. This plot point was inspired by my favorite episode of Land of the Lost, "Follow That Dinosaur," in which the Marshalls unearth an old, musty diary and proceed to read each entry (and follow clues...) because they believe the writer escaped from the closed prehistoric universe. They ultimately learn that the author of the diary came to a bad end. Now, the diary is utilized quite differently in The House Between (no Sleestak, alas...that's season two!), but I always admired this episode of Land of the Lost above the rest and felt that the discovery of a diary is a tantalizing story hook. It's irresistible: the notion of a voice from the past influencing the present. Of reading someone else's secrets; of falling into (or getting a peek at...) another life.

Secondly, Astrid (Kim Breeding) in "Settled" gets vexed over a discovery of her own, that of a haunting piece of music; a song she once wrote with personal meaning. In real life, Kim Breeding (Astrid) composed this piece and sings it (beautifully...) for the show. Again, this plot point was inspired by one of my favorite retro sci-fi series: The Twilight Zone. In particular, one of the creepiest and most memorable episodes was titled "Come Wander with Me." This was a fifth season story (which aired in May of 1964...) about a rock-a-billy singer looking for "inspiration" in the back woods of Appalachia. He found that inspiration, but also some homespun revenge from the locals. In particular, there was a song, titled "Come Wander with Me," which kept mysteriously acquiring new verses every time it was sung...all of them potentially fatal to the singer.

Again, the song in "Settled" is utilized quite differently than in The Twilight Zone episode, but I've always dug the notion of a person being haunted by a song that just won't go away. If you listened to Destinies, you're now aware of The House Between's thesis of "two" Astrids. That song is part and parcel of that theme (which is expanded in this episode). What could be more frightening than hearing your own voice sing a song you'd rather forget?

Some other notes about the episode:

This was our longest day of shooting. We were still working on the last scene at the cusp of 2:00 am, and all of us were going kind of bonkers by then. Of course, we'd saved for last a complicated special effects/make-up sequence that required a unique set-up. Kim and Alicia were the only two performers in the scene...and all the other actors went to bed while we shot. Phyllis Floyd, our script assistant, read some offscreen lines for Kim to respond to, and Rob Floyd - our make-up guru - was there right to the bitter end too, applying make-up. We all had to be up at 6:00 the next morning, so this was quite a rough day.

"Settled" was also the last day of the shoot that dp Rick Coulter and I had a prepared shot list for. I don't think we looked at it hardly at all. I have it in front of me now, and what we ended up with is pretty close to what we envisioned, I'd say.

As I've already noted, this was Alicia's introduction to the series, and she started around noon, if memory serves. She had scads of dialogue to deliver in what I quickly termed "the court room" or "trial" sequence, a moment when she goes before the other denizens of the house and recounts her unusual story. I still remember the awe I felt when Alicia came in, hit her mark and spewed out - literally word for word - pages of complex dialogue. Wow!

"Settled" is the series' longest episode by far. My first cut was 38 minutes ("Arrived" was 29 minutes...), then I trimmed it down to 35. Then 34. Now it's 33 minutes and 7 seconds. We've had to lose a lot of stuff I really like, but here's my axiom as an editor: the faster these shows move, the better they play. That's true of most movies and TV shows, I think. '

On an entirely personal note, "Settled" is an episode I truly love. "Arrived" is first and will always hold a special place in my heart because it's the beginning of the journey, but "Settled" is - for me, anyway - iconic. All the characters are established and operating on all thrusters, and some of the core, iconographic concepts of the series are introduced and developed in this episode. It's almost really like the second "half" of "Arrived," a critical part of the introduction to The House Between. I think you if you were to talk to the cast, they probably wouldn't single out "Settled." There are snappier episodes; scarier episodes, funnier episodes, and so forth. But for me, "Settled" is very much the sort of story I imagined telling when I first conceived the series. I'll be curious to hear (or read...) audience feedback.

Finally, "Settled" is also the first episode of the series to feature the opening montage.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy

"Time to play!"

Cutting to the heart of the matter, The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy is a crisply-argued and impressive companion to the Hellraiser film series, one that's extensively researched and in spots, genuinely fascinating.

Paul Kane's treatise kicks off with a droll and welcome foreword from Pinhead himself, actor Doug Bradley. The Spiked One recounts an anecdote that I found particularly amusing...one about the true "origin" of Hellraiser IV's odd plot line. Yeah, that was the franchise entry that saw Pinhead arrive in outer space...in case you forgot that particular travesty.

Kane's introduction is terrific too. I always appreciate an author who goes after his subject matter with enthusiasm and passion...but honesty too. For instance, Kane makes no bones about this book's audience. The contents, he suggests "are only for those with a craving, a passion to learn about the Hellraiser mythos, primarily the cinematic interpretations, but also its intrusions into other artistic and cultural forms."

In other words, don't buy this book for Mum. Unless she happens to be a leather fetishist...

But, hey I'm in that "craving" Hellraiser camp! I count myself a devoted admirer of the original Hellraiser (1987), a film that beautifully charts the pitfalls of obsessive, tragic love. Some of the scenes in the latter half of the film, particularly those which feature Julia bludgeoning would-be lovers with a hammer - live in the memory quite vividly. Getting right down to it, Julia - a frigid woman - commits murder again and again in the movie so she can get off, so she can again screw the one man, Frank, who knew how to bring her to orgasm. That's...great stuff pure and simple. The Lament Configuration, Pinhead and all the flying hooks and chains are just window dressing to a terrific human story.

So yeah, I'm among those who do want to know more about this film series. Although, honesty requires me to note the following: I feel the franchise suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Hellraiser is pure genius. Hellbound (the sequel) is good bloody fun. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth...less fun and less scary. And it's right on down the drain from there, up to and including the direct-to-DVD "movies" of recent vintage. I don't know whether this is a popular view to hold or not, but I feel I should admit my disdain for some of the latter productions in the cycle.

Writing in his preface, Kane detects the legacy of Hellraiser in such productions as Cube, Event Horizon, White Noise, and on TV, Star Trek: The Next Generation (the Borg..) and Farscape (the look of Scorpius), and I felt this was a valid point. But, showing the danger of pinpointing one production as "origin point," he also points out that Dune featured creatures (in the Spice Guild) who may have influenced the look of the cenobites.

I particularly enjoyed the author's analysis of the Cenobites in Chapter 3 ("Demons to Some"). Kane points out an interesting factoid here: Pinhead and his minions only appear on screen for seven minutes in the original Hellraiser. I don't think I realized that, but it makes sense. We fear what we can't see; what isn't seen often, and these boogeyman are scarier in short bursts. These "repulsively glamorous" creations, Kane suggests, are actually personifications of our dreams and fears. Pinhead the author sees as a vision of defilement and the fear of penetration (by nails...). Butterball, he suggests, is a vision of gluttony gone crazy, and Chatterer symbolizes the fear of being devoured. The female Cenobite, he suggests (with a vaginal gash in her throat...) is symbolically representative of a fear of women!

Personally, I really dig this kind of cinematic analysis, and especially appreciated how Kane examines Hellbound as an Orpheus type-story. This is a personal love of mine, and one of these days I'm going to write that book I've been putting off: The Orpheus Myth in the Horror Film (see my review of Silent Hill for another example of Orpheus re-told within the genre.)

Perhaps what I appreciated most about The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy is that Kane writes clearly and efficiently. He is effusive and supportive when he can be (and hell, why not?) but he takes strong, objective stands as well. For instance, he notes that time has not been kind to the two jump scares in the original Hellraiser and calls them "obvious" and "unnecessary."

Another interesting chapter here is called "The Road to Hell" and it gazes at the biography/history of creator Clive Barker. It discusses early movie failures (such as Rawhead Rex) and takes us through Barker's decision to direct his own novella, "The Hellbound Heart" as Hellraiser for the screen. I'm fascinated by Clive Barker and by the fact that other than Hellraiser, his movies (like Lord of Illusions and Nightbreed) have been creative failures. So the background detail on this great writer is most welcome.

If you have a fascination with the Hellraiser mythology, you'll find this an informative text, and a great companion. My only nitpick (and it's just that, a nitpick), is that Kane makes one of the same mistakes I did in my early film and TV books. He takes up valuable "analysis" space by writing, in exhaustive detail, about the film/tv credits of every bit actor who ever stumbled into a Hellraiser film. I only bring up this matter because I used to do this too and wish that someone had told me sooner (and nicely...) to stop doing that. It's commendable to be complete, but most critics won't be kind about it, and will accuse these passages of being it filler. Believe me, I memorized the reviews...

Still, that's an incredibly minor quibble with an otherwise delightful study of the Hellraiser films. Kane promises in his intro that he has "such sights" to show us, and - unlike Kirsty (at least according to Uncle Frank in Hellbound) - he "delivers." Well done.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

TRADING CARD CLOSE-UP # 10: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I'll never forget those early, heady days when I was in second grade, immediately after the release of Star Wars (1977). It was a time when I hoped and dreamed every new science fiction movie would thrill me in the same way.

Didn't happen with Starship Invasions (1977), which I made my parents take me to see in the theater (d'oh!!!) and still haven't lived down. My Mom and Dad for years were able to make jokes about the moment in that film (in a grocery store) when an alien's "killing ray" makes a little girl commit bloody evisceration..of a tomato.

And since I was at the tender age of eight at the time, that thrill didn't really happen with Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), either. Why? Lots of talking, it was too scary, and where were the cute robots? Hmm???

Of course, in a few short years, I viewed Close Encounters of the Third Kind again, and was ready for it. I was going to write that I had matured, but let's face facts...I've never matured.

On a later viewing, circa 1981 or so, I could admire the glorious, thrilling and hopeful film Spielberg had crafted. And the scene wherein young Barry is "abducted" from his house at night - with the eerie apricot alien light bleeding into the home - is a high-water mark in terms of cinematic scares. And I can appreciate now Richard Dreyfuss's slowly-going-bonkers method performance. I understand his obsession, though (as of yet...), I haven't created a giant trash-can diorama of Devil's Tower. I'm just waiting till Joel is older, so he can help. I think it would like nice in the living room...

Even as a kid, however, I was thrilled and awe-struck by the film's ending at Devil's Tower. The arrival of the alien mothership, and humanity's attempt to make first contact with an alien species still gets me veklempt. I remember sitting in the theater disappointed that we didn't get to go aboard that giant chandelier spaceship in the original cut (we had to wait for the Special Edition...) but still...it was an awesome climax.

So today, for my trading card close-up of the week, I'm featuring Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not just because I so seriously admire the film as a work of 1970s art, but because - of all the sci-fi movies I covet - this is likely the only one that I can claim a personal connection with

No, not because I've been abducted by aliens. But because on a cross-country trip with my family in 1979, my parents took me to Wyoming to visit Devil's Tower...the site of the alien rendezvous in the film. I'll never forget the shivers I felt when I first saw that giant monolith for the first time in real life. The outcropping was huge and totally imposing.

Yet actually getting to Devil's Tower was somewhat harrowing, because the only road leading to the mountain was overrun by darting and running prairie dogs. I'm not kidding. There were tons of little prairie dogs bolting in front of our van. Sadly we struck a few...it was impossible to miss them. That didn't exactly make us feel happy.

Then, when we got to Devil's Tower, the family took a tour around the base of the mountain. Again, I was disappointed, this time that I wouldn't be able to climb the rock edifice, like the characters in the film. But the final disappointment occurred for me when we reached the other side of Devil's Tower! There was no landing pad for UFOs!!! The movie lied. Where was the airforce base?

Dammit! Still, the trip was lively, if for no other reason than a tour guide told us to watch out for rattle snakes, and that got everybody nervous.

So in memory of that great family trip, and - of course - the film too, here for your viewing pleasure are three trading cards, numbered 21, 40, and 41 of the climax from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, trademarked Columbia Pictures, 1978.


See that mountain? I've been there...

Post # 666


I'm not superstitious or anything. Just thought I'd mark this occasion. And make you all aware...this is my blog's 666th post. So, be careful after you read it, all right? Don't let any crows eat your eyeballs out today, or anything.

To celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime moment on the blog, relish this quote about the Armageddon (featured in The Omen): "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666."

Nothing else to see here. Move along. Oh, and watch out for falling sheets of plate glass...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Destinies Interview Live!

The podcast for Friday night's episode of Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction is now available at CaptainPhil's Destinies page.

I thought the show was excellent. As usual, Howard (our host), asked extremely astute and well-informed questions. And, as is typical for him, he also made me laugh quite a bit.

Here's the link.

Thanks again, Howard! I had a great time and it was a terrific honor to return to your fine program.

COLLECTIBLE OF THE WEEK # 5: Autographs!


If you've seen photos of my office (click here), or have checked out my numerous posts on "retro toy" flashbacks, you know I'm something of a collector. Actually, I'm a bit of a nut when it comes to collecting...just ask my wife.

But anyway, one thing that I haven't blogged about yet in terms of my collections is...autographs.

Like many other sci-fi and horror fans, I've begun to establish a nice collection of star/filmmaker autographs. This is one of those things I've kind of fallen into, primarily by the good grace of friends. One of the best and most delightful aspects of my writing career is truly the connections I've made with other writers and fans, and I've been very lucky on too many occasions to count - to have wonderful conventioneers and writers acquire autographs (and photos for that matte
r...) for me.

For instance, my wonderful friend Phil Merkel, over at
CaptainPhil, is a Space:1999 fan commander and generous fellow. I've known him since we met in Los Angeles in 1999, and recently he procured for me a signed autograph of William Katt! You can see from the image, the autograph is made out to me, and the photo features the House star in full Greatest American Hero regalia. How cool is that? Especially considering that I wrote The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.


Another writer friend, G.L. Norris, was a regular correspondent for Cinescape in the early years of the 21st century, and almost every month he (brilliantly...) covered the goings-on over at the Voyager set on the Paramount lot. He got me this great autographed photo from Kate Mulgrew. I didn't always like the series but I've always believed Mulgrew was a great talent, and I loved
her character. I just wish the writing had always lived up to the casting and characterization.

Mr. Sulu himself, George Takei came to visit King's Dominion, an amusement park in Virginia, in 1992, when I lived in that state, and a co-worker of mine at the Supreme Court of Virginia kindly dispatched herself to get me an autograph. Unsolicited.

See -- it's the collection that builds itself! Of course, on occasion, I've nabbed my own autographs too (I'm not a complete mooch). At the Main Mission convention in Manhattan in 2000, for instance, I got Zienia Merton, (Sandra Benes) of Space:1999 fame to sign a page of the article on the series I'd written for Cinescape.

Not pictured, but in my collection, I also have autographs from special effects genius Tom Sullivan, the man who created the Necronomicon (and so much more...) from Evil Dead. Another prize of in my stash is an a
utographed copy of the original This is Spinal Tap script, signed by cinematographer extraordinaire, Peter Smokler. I also kept an e-mail from Kevin Smith, saying he enjoyed my book, An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith, and a signed letter from William Nolan after I interviewed him for my "vintage vision" Cinescape article on Logan's Run. I've also got thank you cards from the late great One Step Beyond director, John Newland, and The Funhouse barker himself, Kevin Conway.

And, I also collect the John Hancocks of my favorite writers and media personalities. Which means, I've got autographed books from Joseph Maddrey (Nightmares in Red, White and Blue), David Szulkin (Wes Craven's Last House on the Left), MaryAnn Johanson (The Totally Geeky Guide to Princess Bride), and Howard Margolin, host of Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction.

Anyone out ther collect autographs? Who ya got? The autograph I don't have, but want (desperately)? Lance Henriksen, star of one of my favorite series, Millennium...