Monday, April 18, 2011

Part 10: Changing Times

With influx of information about Special Effects, I began reading more about Rick Baker who had made aliens for STAR WARS, the titular character in KING KONG, and the monsterous baby in IT'S ALIVE.  It turns out that he seemed to be at the center of most of the best looking monsters on screen.  True, his rival since KING KONG, Carlo Rambaldi had provided the alien for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, but it was obvious that it didn't look that good primarily because of the way it was shot (back lit, with lots of atmospheric smoke)

Ummm..what's on the side of your face? And are you wearing some sort of shirt?
Mechanically, it was impressive, but I had seen a big shark jump onto the side of a ship and chew up Robert Shaw two years earlier, and that looked good.

At home, I had begun shooting more films.  I, like many others, had delusions of grandeur and I expected to be filming my magnum opus in my garage.  I constructed a small miniature set and built a little wire puppet with a hairy body and big eyeballs (based on one of my brother's friends designs) and set about animating it.  The plot (for what it was worth) concerned this little guy building and launching his own rocket.  When the engines fire, the entire thing explodes and our little buddy is blown up along with it.  Yeah, I know, not too impressive however it was in focus and it got completed ON SUPER 8mm FILM!

My friends Pete, Tim, and Jeff would get together with me either all together or some combination of the three and we would "test" things.  Like Pete pointed out in one of his comments, we suspended a plastic bag (about the size of a baseball) via a black thread from the metal swing set frame.  We taped a black cat firecracker to the side of it, lit it, and ran.  Now, what was the purpose of this?  We were attempting to recreate the Death Star explosion as best we could.  There was a popping noise as the firecracker detonated and a literal rain of fire that fell onto the back lawn.  Spectacular? Yes.  Death Star explosion? No.  Worth risking my new Super 8 camera mounting it beneath the explosion to simulate 0 gravity?  NO!  But we had to make sure of our findings so we tried it a few times.

Pete showed up one night at my house with Magnesium tape.  What was the point?  Who knows, but we lit it with a match and watched the backyard illuminate with blue-white light.  To be honest, at least when Jeff shot his films, they had a plot, he had a shot list, and we would all help to get his vision on camera.  Jeff had a nice collection of monster masks...and a car and sometimes combined the two while we were driving around New Orleans.  Not the most intelligent thing to do, especially at night.

About this time, we were getting old enough to go to "Midnight Movies", which were a big craze not just in San Francisco and New York, but New Orleans as well.  This was more than just going to the theater at midnight, it was what was being shown that made the experience worth participating in.  I was never a stoner, but 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was big amongst pot-smokers because of the colorful Stargate sequence.  The original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was one that we saw, a few times.  When you are a bit drunk, the villains (although they are technically murders and rapists) seemed so poorly acted and over-the-top, that they seemed to be from a John Waters film.

We saw all sorts of stinkers like EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW, DIRTY DUCK, LET'S MAKE A DIRTY MOVIE (and Italian sex farce that was decades before ZACK AND MIRI...), and NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR (that we discovered was shot in Mississippi!  Horrible!).

Even drunk, there wasn't much to enjoy about this one.

 In one of the many new science fiction magazines that were on the newsstands, I had seen photos from a new movie being directed by Ridley Scott (a relatively unknown director by my standards).  They showed characters walking around in bulky, space suits, as well as pre-production art by illustrator Ron Cobb.

The teaser trailer began to show up on television and, like the light at the end of the horizon for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, the enigmatic images in the trailer were more effective than showing scenes from the film.

But before I was introduced the Alien, my friends and I braved another film first.  Initially rated "X" in New Orleans, I remember putting on a Tulane college sweater to get into seeing DAWN OF THE DEAD.  It was a special advanced screening and by the end of the film, I didn't know what to think.  I had never seen that much gore and violence in my life and so effectively done in the hands of Tom Savini.

On the way home from the theater, I was so shaken that I nearly killed all of us by barely missing a cement divider on the highway as I screeched to make an exit that I was driving past by accident.  DAWN OF THE DEAD was the cause of the only reoccurring nightmare that I occasionally experience to this day.  As far as I'm concerned, it is the best of the genre and the primary reason that I don't often watch zombie movies.  Why?  Anything that I want from a zombie movie I got from DAWN OF THE DEAD.

NOTE: Years prior to this, Sterling Smith, my dad's buddy (ha!), made a big deal by running NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, uncut on television.  It, too, scared the hell out of me and I was shocked at the sight of zombies eating human intestines.

Inexpensive, effective, frightening and classic.
All of this horror seemed like an escape for what was going on at my house.  After 19 years of marriage, my mother had had enough of my father and kicked him out of the house.

Before my mother gets painted as the bad guy here, let me just say some important things about my dad.  I loved him (he died in August of 2009) but when we were kids, he was an unpredictable monster.  Like I've said, he yelled and hit us at the slightest provocation.  His nickname around the house was "King Kong" and not because he was hairy and was 30 feet tall.  It was because he was always bellowing around the house looking for a fight.

He and my mother didn't sleep together for 13 years, and while that might seem...acceptable under certain circumstances, I know that it certainly didn't help their marriage.  Without going into too much detail, let's just say that when dad was gone, I knew my mother would finally have the peace and the life she deserved.

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