Thursday 24 May 2012

The Burning of The Exorcist

Dear reader, as you will undoubtedly recall from my previous posting, I have very fond memories of the ABC Edgware Road cinema. Allow me a few moments of indulgence whilst I briefly recount its history.

The Regal (1938)
On the 12th September 1938, under the grand name of The Regal Harrow Road, my future beloved fleapit opened. The (very) grand auditorium boasted 1,234 seats in the stalls and a further 746 in the balcony. In 1961 it was re-named ABC Edgware Road, and in 1979 it was converted into the four screen incarnation that I first encountered in 1982. 

ABC Edgware Road - Screen 1
In my time, screen 1 had a relatively modest 363 seats, with the remaining three screens seating capacities being 316, 237 and screen 4 a cute 180. It’s fair to say I loved each one. I loved the musky stale hot-dog odour that permeated through the auditoriums. I loved the little ashtray cups built into the backs of the seats (except when...I’ll come to that in a moment). I loved the grey-haired lady at the ticket kiosk who sold me countless little ticket stubs for countless double-bills of horror films. I even loved the archaic arcade machine in the lobby. It didn’t matter a jot to me that the screens weren’t the largest, that the seating wasn’t the plushest, that the carpet was threadbare: this was my place of wonderment and terror. The grand West End cinemas were, on the whole, for watching mainstream family-friendly fare like E.T. and Superman II. ABC Edgware Road was for Creepshow; Zombie Creeping Flesh; Happy Birthday to Me; Hell Night and of course Friday the 13th.
Now back to those ashtrays in the back of the seats. On this particular afternoon I was partaking in a horror double-bill (what else?) of The Exorcist and Exorcist II: The Heretic.
It was playing in either screen 2 or 3 (the upstairs auditoriums – both with steep seating plans – and I’ll come onto that in a later blog too). I was toward the rear of the auditorium, not my usual spot - I usually preferred to sit closer to the screen – I didn’t do detachment back in 1982. Anyhow, about half an hour into Exorcist II: The Heretic (a most aptly named title as compared to the original it was utter heresy) my rapt attention was suddenly drawn toward an old woman several rows in front of me. As there were only about half a dozen patrons in total she was very noticeable anyway as she kept muttering loudly every time there were raised voices on screen. This in itself was beginning to prove sufficiently distracting for me to begin contemplating swapping seats. However, my mind was made up for me when she proceeded to move up and down between the aisles hunched over like Quasimodo. By this point I had given up following the film entirely and was fascinated to see what she was up to. Upon returning to her seat she proceeded to fill the little ashtray in front of her with discarded ticket stubs and once she’d satisfied herself that she’d packed as much into the little metallic cup as she possibly could, she produced a match and lit the papers. As I exited my seat I could still hear her babbling away and to this day I still wonder whether she was actually performing some kind of magic ritual inspired perhaps by Exorcist II: The Herectic...

Wednesday 23 May 2012

EVIL DEAD trilogy - THE EVIL DEAD (1981), EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)


“We’re going to get you...”
Moral crusader Mary Whitehouse once described it as ‘the number one nasty’ (without having seen it of course). After being screened at the Cannes Film Festival, Stephen King proclaimed it “The most ferociously original” film of the year. Today, Sam Raimi’s low-budget 16mm debut feature is widely regarded as a modern horror classic. With its innovative camerawork, deliriously over-the-top gore-effects, and shear bravura filmmaking, it belies its humble budget and delivers more laughs, jumps, and crowd-pleasing moments than most other big-budget studio fright films can only dream of.

Our hero ‘Ash’, (played by the rugged-chinned Bruce Campbell) together with four friends travel to a remote cabin in the woods whereupon they find a strange book in the cellar and a tape recorder. Unfortunately for them the book turns out to be the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead) and the recordings on the tape recorder turn out to be incantations to awaken the dead...

Using improvised filming techniques such as a rudimentary stedicam consisting of a long plank with a camera mounted in the middle, Raimi swoops and glides through the surrounding mist-covered woods as the dead encroach on the cabin and ultimately invite Ash and his friends to ‘join us...”

Intended as a rollercoaster of pure entertainment rather than a nightmare inducer, ‘Evil Dead’ is still an effective fright machine. It has the requisite ‘jump’ moments, creepy visuals and some truly jaw-dropping gore sequences. It also contains one infamous sequence involving violation by a tree which oversteps the mark in terms of the overall flavour of the film (a fact subsequently recognised by the director), but apart from this momentary lapse in judgement, ‘Evil Dead’ is a pure blast in my book (and in the Necronomicon).

EVIL DEAD 2 (1987)

“I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul!”

Opening with a re-cap of the events of the original (re-staged afresh due to problems obtaining the international rights to the first film’s footage), Sam Raimi directs this sequel like a kid in a candy store.

A far bigger budget enabled more ambitious set-pieces, and the director’s love of The Three Stooges physical comedy really comes to the fore. Our hero ‘Ash’ is put through all manner of hilariously gruesome indignities including having to saw off his own possessed hand (look out for an outrageous visual pun). Another memorable set-piece involves a flying eyeball lodging itself in a screaming mouth.

Despite these last two sentences, Evil Dead 2 is less overtly gory than its predecessor, but still delivers raucous splatstick with such aplomb that it is considered one of the very best horror sequels in the history of the genre.


“Yo, she-bitch! Let’s go!”
At the end of Evil Dead 2, ‘Ash’ is sucked into a time vortex

and ends up back in 1300 AD – just in time to face the Medieval Dead. Now given a budget of $11 million, Raimi resurrects the skeleton armies from Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts and unleashes our hero and his double-barrelled ‘boomstick’ upon them with the end result being inevitable mayhem. Of course if ‘Ash’ had remembered the correct incantation upon finding the Necronomicon he wouldn’t have inadvertently awoken the army of darkness from their graves – but where would the fun be in that? Battling not only ferocious skeleton armies but also an evil mirror image of himself and an army of mini ‘Ash’ Lilliputians, it’s all great rollicking fun.

Monday 14 May 2012

An Interview with Deborah Voorhees

To horror fans, Deborah (or Debi Sue) Voorhees is probably best known for playing the voluptuous 'Tina' in Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning. However, if that’s the sum total of your knowledge about Deborah Voorhees (and your name happens to be Horatio for the following quote to work) then my friend you’re about to learn that: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5).
With a CV that ranges from Playboy Bunny; Hollywood B-Scream starlet; journalist; writer; editor; teacher; Satanist(alleged) and filmmaker, I found there was ‘Much Ado About Something’ when I recently interviewed Deborah. Visiting London for the very first time to bring us the world premiere of her film Billy Shakespeare to the Misty Moon Gallery in Ladywell London, I first decided to go right back to the beginning and ask the film’s director / writer and self-confessed Shakespeare groupie what she had originally wanted to be as a little girl when she grew up? 

"I wanted to grow up and die so that I could become a guardian angel and help people. And I wanted to do that for as long as I can remember and definitely by 4 and 5, and that was my goal as a child. I wanted to learn enough to be a good enough person that I’d actually help people – you know to grow up and die and help."

Deborah Voorhees, thank you and goodnight... Well, how do you follow an opening answer like that? Apparently this remains her goal to this very day:

“Someone interviewed me recently for a book he was writing and he said: aren’t you nervous now you’re 50 years old, that you might die tomorrow and not succeed in your goals? And I said, well no, not really...”

My next question was misinterpreted for total sarcasm, which, on reflection I can see why, certainly the first part, but I honestly hadn’t bargained on the piercing honesty of her responses when I quipped: “Okay, so you wanted to help people and one of the ways you helped people was by becoming a Playboy Bunny(!) Looking back on that time, presumably you now see it as a very empowering experience for you?” (I actually meant that point in all seriousness, but after she’d stopped giggling at my “total sarcasm” she put me straight about just how un-empowering an experience it was):

“My feet hurt in those high-heels, and when they strapped me in at night – you couldn’t do it alone - you had to bend over and have someone zip you up and you didn’t dare have dinner before being zipped up. I can’t say there was anything empowering about it – it just was – it was something I tried. There were good and bad things about it”

But surely it must have given you more confidence?

“Of course any time I’m feeling insecure about myself I put my ears and my bunny tail on and I’m good to go!”

(I asked for that really). Deborah Voorhees doesn’t do regret:

“Everything I do in my life is about the experience. At the heart of me I’m a writer, but at that time I didn’t think I had the intelligence. I thought I needed to do something off of my looks to make some money while I could and I didn’t want to have to depend on a man to take care of me.”

So the young Deborah Voorhees’ next stepping stone was acting which included appearing in a number of episodes of 'Dallas', before she came to the attention of director Danny Steinmann who chose her to portray 'Tina' in ‘Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning’.  Now eagle eyed readers will have noticed that Deborah shares her surname with a certain fictional hockey-masked mass-murderer from Crystal Lake (not to mention his once equally deadly mother). SPOLIER ALERT. Ironic then that her killer in Part 5 isn’t actually Mr Voorhees at all but rather a paramedic named ‘Roy’ pretending to be Jason. So, in preparation for this interview I re-watched the film after a number of years and whilst it’s not the best of the franchise, it’s by no means the worst.
Whilst Tina is lying on a blanket in the woods, naked as nature intended in post-coital bliss after having just made “the beast with two backs” (Othello, Act 1, Scene 1) with her onscreen lover Eddie, she looks up and sees a large pair of nasty garden shears descending toward her with malice aforethought.  I watched Tina’s (infamous) naked death scene three or four times (purely in the interests of research you understand) and yes, whilst it is reasonably sexually explicit for the series, it’s actually a rather beautiful scene up until the moment of her death, and it perhaps says more about the prudishness of the mainstream franchise than it does about Danny Steinmann’s past experience in porno films that it drew unwarranted attention. 

“Danny was good to me, he was gentle. But it was definitely a hard shoot – a 13 hour day and this was my very first day on set. I was very young – it was pretty brutal. I had the blood in my eyes seeping through, burning. I have a robe on between shots but I’m in a place where I don’t know anybody, completely unable to see, fully naked beneath the robe and having to be led to wherever I needed to be."

Who actually killed you? Was it the very charming stuntman Tom Morga or was it an effects man?

“I think his name could’ve been Tom. I do remember when I looked up it was a sweet guy with red hair, red beard [which doesn’t sound like Tom Morga] looking down at me with a big smile on his face – honestly I don’t remember his name [if you’re reading this Tom, don’t take it personally] but I do remember him being very sweet, and I had a hard time not laughing cos he was just ‘hi’!”
So Tina looks up and unleashes an amazing ear-piercing scream which instantly made me regret watching the film again with headphones on!

“All I can say is I’m very sorry and if you would please send any lawsuits to Paramount”.

Deborah’s mother did not enjoy seeing her daughter killed on the big screen one little bit however, and literally took to her bed for 3 days after the original screening. The actual murder is quite abstract  in that you don’t actually see where those shears end up and it’s only when Eddie returns to the blanket and turns Tina’s body over to reveal her bloodied eye sockets that it becomes apparent.

I assume this was originally a far more graphic scene?

“Oh yeah, we shot tons and tons of footage, they could’ve had way more than that – it was the ratings system (MPAA)”
I hate the MPAA.

“I know, you could’ve watched my eyes being gouged out, seeing the bones break - blood spurt...”

Perhaps it’s just as well for your mum that we didn’t...

“My mommy might’ve still be in bed now bless her heart!”.

Deborah has to date only attended one fan convention since the film first appeared back in 1985. Given the loyalty and genuine affection Friday the 13th fans have for everyone involved in the franchise I wondered why this was?

“The truth of the matter is I’m a big chicken and at the time I thought, ooh people are going to be in big scary outfits and all these big scary things going on.” [Halloween must be an absolute trauma every year on that basis]. “I don’t like scary movies. I’m much better at watching them now than I used to be and I can start watching and appreciating them but I still have to remind myself they’re not real. It’s not scary to be in a scary movie. You know all the people are in costumes. But I’ve never been one to sit down, turn off the lights, lock the doors have a glass of wine and watch a scary movie alone. I have a rule, if anybody wants me to watch a scary movie they also have to commit to holding my hand through it and until at least the morning.”

Now considering The Misty Moon Gallery will also be screening ‘Friday the 13th Part 5 in honour of Deborah’s visit I was beginning to wonder whether she was just going to be too plain chicken to actually watch it in the gallery...
“I will watch it, but I’d as soon as not. I’ll just try to remember these are people I knew – but those films are really scary to me. The one movie that scared the shit out of me that ‘cured’ me of scary movies and made me never want to watch one again was The Exorcist. [Funny that, Deborah isn’t the first person I’ve interviewed to tell me that...]. “I watched that and couldn’t sleep for 2 weeks. Scared the holy crap out of me and I had NO desire to do scary movies again. I have a joke about that in Billy Shakespeare (and one about the role I played in Friday the 13th). I also have Linda Blair as a Facebook friend now!”

You should have watched ‘Repossessed’ with Leslie Nielsen first. Ok, so Tina died on that blanket in the woods and when Deborah finally hung up the Bunny costume and wiped the blood off her face she went to college. And she did rather well.

“That’s probably one of things I’m most proud of. When I went to Hollywood I didn’t view myself as intelligent. I was raised from an early age to believe I wasn’t. Whilst I was auditioning I had been taking a course at one of the Valley junior colleges. I studied, I read what I was supposed to, I did my homework, I came to class, but I didn’t sit down and really try and memorise anything. Yet, I was making super easy ‘B’s and high ‘B’s. I sat there one day and I said wait a minute, what would happen if I actually really studied?
Deborah was actually a self-published author at the age of 5:

“I would write books. I’d draw pictures on them, string them together, mark them up as being ‘5 cents’ and sell them on the street corners to cars passing by. So writing had been in me for a long time it just hadn’t been nurtured. So very quietly and nervously, one day I went into the exam room where the English entrance exam was being taken – and I thought; this is my secret dream. I want to go to college, I want an education and I want to write and if I fail I will put my dream away and I will never tell another soul”.

The fact that she is talking about it today tells you she did “quite well – not perfectly, but well enough”. She then moved back to Texas to live with her grandparents and to go back to studying. After a few years of solid studying Deborah finally got the nerve up and took an IQ test:

“I wanted to know whether I was really still stupid, because that was something that was haunting me - Jason is nothing compared to feeling stupid”

Her IQ turned out to be 145 and she graduated in the top 5% of her class. Not bad for a supposedly ‘stupid’ girl. She became a journalist, a profession she adored.

“I could sit down with a human being; they would look at me and trust me with his or her words. As a journalist I didn’t just want to quote what someone said but also what that individual meant.

[No pressure then I thought at this point in our conversation].

She recalls an interview with a homeless artist who created walking sticks with carved biblical references. She’d eventually tracked him down to a narrow city alley in downtown Dallas. Armed with just a pad and pen - suddenly the guy jumped out of the shadows and pulled a knife on her.

“I said: I’m Deborah Voorhees, I’m with the Dallas Morning News and I’m come to try to interview you’. He looked me in the eye and said: ‘Ah yes, I’d been told you were looking for me. You need to be careful where you walk; someone’s liable to cut you.’ We then sat down and proceeded to have a 3-4 hour interview in the alleyway”.

The next stepping stone evolved into teaching when the newspapers started having to lay off staff and the other City paper folded (no pun intended) wiping out the much needed competition:

“I wanted to pay something back to kids. I could share my story with them”.

Deborah’s Hollywood career comprised less than 10% of her life. She worked for 3 years in Texas as a teacher before someone found out about the ‘boobs’.

“I was firstly ostracised and then kicked out. So I went to New Mexico as I thought no one’s going to recognised me there”.

She lasted a year, and was “thrown out” 3 weeks before her students graduated.

“The irony of it was I pushed my kids, I pushed them hard. I was one of the strictest teachers around! I went to the principal and I said look I understand people are worried about this nudity thing but it’s not as if I’m going to go tell a young girl to go pose nude - not that there’s anything wrong with it – last time I checked babies breast feed, that means they look at our boobs!”

But unfortunately those aforementioned boobs were being texted amongst the boys in stills from ‘Friday the 13th Part 5’. In the end a number of students and parents actually rallied and lobbied the principal and school board to reinstate her: unfortunately to no avail:

“Their support meant a lot to me. I eventually got permission to go and be in the general crowd at the graduation – I wasn’t allowed to sit with the teachers. A child called out my name on the football field after the ceremony. I turned around and saw who it was. He’d given me absolute hell in class; he threw his arms around me and said I’m so sorry I never intended to hurt you. So many of those kids I still see – I can walk into a grocery store and they’ll still come and throw their arms around me.”
It occurs to me that Miss Voorhees was perhaps actually their 'living' guardian angel while she was teaching them.  Yet at the same time as being an angel-like inspiration, Deborah was also accused of something darker than just boob exposure... According to some you’re also a Satanist...

“Yes, on Thursday’s, the Methodist church in my town in the late evening turns into a Satanist group (ha ha!)  No, what actually happened was I taught Dante’s Inferno, and I was trying to teach Milton’s Paradise Lost, which incidentally, was approved at the time by the principal – but of course when the shit went down it wasn’t approved anymore! We had kids doing poetry, painting and music; they were producing some amazing things. At one point I was even told that I was the kind of teacher they could write movies about – and then they found out about my tits and suddenly I couldn’t teach my way out of a paper box!”.
She was so upset that her husband said she was even crying in her sleep.

“The principal took control of all the students grade books and changed the grades – upped them. So the students suddenly all got better grades with me gone. And yet they still fought for me”.  

I can already see it now – ‘Diary of a Mad School Teacher – in 3D’. It’ll probably be banned in some states mind you...

But that was then and this is now. The once upon a time ‘mad school teacher’ is in London to present the world premiere of her film’ Billy Shakespeare’, a modern Shakespearean comedy that spoofs California’s celluloid City of Angels by seeking to answer the question:  What if Shakespeare never lived in the 1500’s but lived in L.A. today peddling his screenplays?
So, bearing in mind the film is essentially what would happen if William Shakespeare had time travelled and landed in contemporary Hollywood – why didn’t you call the film ‘Bard to the Future’?
“Oh my god I’ve completely screwed up – what was I thinking! I love language and words. I’m in Hollywood – don’t get me wrong I love Hollywood for many reasons – but mostly it’s an incredible study of madness and mankind. In terms of Shakespeare, I immersed myself in his work and words. And then I got to thinking about what would happen if Shakespeare was in Hollywood today and before I knew it I had an entire screenplay. I had an absolute blast with it. I took his language in places and melded it with the language of today.” 

You’re basically Shakespeare’s groupie aren’t you?

“I am. If he were here in town oh my God I’d be shameful!”
I don’t doubt it for a second. 

Paul Worts