Prologue: After much adventure through these past weeks, these notes were written on the way to a shattered city—a pile of rusted steel known as Detroit. If it is one thing we can say, to keep adventuring, is to keep the spirit alive at its fullest and fan the fire which will always hunger for more. I have not stopped moving since the film shoot went down in Odessa, TX.
It was first brought to my attention that a 4k restoration of Texas Chain Saw Massacre was to be premièred at SXSW 2014. A relentless classic. Imitated. Worshiped. And Tobe Hooper was going to be there. Austin: the hometown of the saw. And the saw has always been family.
It was too late for press sponsorship at that point— I was off in Upstate New York doing FX shop coordination for We Are Still Here— when the deadline hit on February 5th. I asked about 12 of my peers: Was it worth it, could you do it with a pass? All agreed this was possible...but the madness of it all! I booked my flight, found a place to stay though my beloved Texas crew and off I went without a badge. To Texas.
Through careful coordination and teamwork with my higher power Paul Nomad, our films were set. We’d hit the genre offerings, interviews, films. I’d see downtown Austin for the first time, a strip reminiscent of NOLA and old school South Street Philadelphia circa 1998. Rodney Perkins from Fantastic Fest was my co-pilot for most of the journey—pointing out where punk rock bars and punk rock gear could be had. I was also lucky enough to bump into a Manic Panic red-haired girl at the Saw screening that tipped me off to music scene at SXSW: when music got rolling there, only the strong could survive it.
Day and night, I walked the streets of Downtown and the East side for 10 days. I slept in my car like a vagrant due to exhaustion, to bring to you the coverage that follows. The films. The sights. The people—even tragedy witnessed.
Day 1 Thursday March 6
I flew into Austin airport via a stop in Fort Lauderdale. Got the keys to my ride and darted out to Robert Luke’s establishment, about 17 minutes away from downtown Austin. Both a friend and genre film-maker, he set me up for 10 days in his living room and for that, dear readers, I remain thankful. Since the flight was delayed, I missed the BBQ meet-up only to explore Pinball 15-mins from Luke’s house. A dreamland of pinball machines and video games of yore: as with bowling, I am terrible at these games, but the twinkling lights and diorama set-ups on the boards have always fascinated me. So I looked on at the great splendor. I did see my Haunted House pinball from when I was a kid—down the Jersey shore at Pt. Pleasant. Here, shiny and new, not baked out and faded by the sun like I remembered it at age 11.
Day 2 Friday March 7
It was decided that most of the genre films would be midnight showings. To kill time before, I checked out the strip. First stop: El Camino’s. I walked into a world of Misfits playing and ordered a burger from their punk rock cooking staff that looked like they came out of Repo Man via the movies Dudes. As it came closer to the witching hour I walked over to the Stateside.
Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism) remakes the Thai horror film 13: Game of Death..and has the unfortunate fate of coming up against the release of Cheap Thrills. Both have extremely similar plots. The everyman asked to perform questionable deeds for money. While Cheap Thrills nails the concept with style, cast, and script, 13 Sins has nothing to latch onto. Our only highlight in 13 Sins is the appearance of genre veteran Pruitt Taylor Vince as Vogler, the man following the strings of requests for these 13 deeds. Vince is captivating on screen with what he has to work with, but unfortunately for him and the rest of the cast, it isn't much. Even the great Ron Perlman, the detective on the job trying to put it all together, just walks through the film. If the tasks were more outrageous, or film more stylish, there could be something to watch. Was it the source material or budget? I can’t say.
Day 3 Saturday March 8
As Austin lacks public transportation, the experience of finding parking at SXSW can leave you on the the borderline of PTSD. Either you are on the East side, past the bridge, or the far West side towards the back where the 5-hour parking lives. Today I was to speak to Robert Rodriguez about his channel El Rey and the From Dusk ‘Til Dawn series. There was no parking to be had anywhere. Finally, after shouting out the window “I need to park! I have to interview Robert Rodriguez!”, kind people let me park on their lawn. One wonders now if I can use this phrase in any scenario going forth for anything in life.
After speaking to Rodriguez and the cast, I removed my car from the lawn to see That Guy Dick Miller about 20 minutes outside of Downtown at the SXSatellite: Alamo Slaughter.
Elijah Drenner’s documentary celebrates the one, the only, Dick Miller. Covering his trajectory from writer to actor and ascent through Roger Corman’s AIP productions, the doc then follows his career as he was “passed down” in the 80’s by Corman’s filmmakers and beyond as a sort of “good luck charm.” The piece succeeds at being a comprehensive look at just how many films featuring Miller are genre cornerstones, and how beloved he is to everyone who worked with him. Drenner interviews almost every director, actor, critic and producer alive today to make that point clear—Roger Corman, Dante, Fred Dekker, Zach Galligan, David Del Valle, Robert Forster, Robert Picardo, Fred Olen Ray, John Sayles...and the list goes on.
After thanking Dick Miller for my childhood after an unannounced Q and A with him, I drove back to downtown Austin for the From Dusk ‘Til Dawn party. Robert Rodriguez’s band played. I asked Greg Nicotero about how he is evolving as a director on the Walking Dead series. (Well he noted. When first asked about being a director for the series he was asked to make a choice between a zombie heavy episode or a lighter one; he choose the latter, which he felt was the better choice). I saw Savini for a second and then Jake Busey, who wanted to call me “Larry.” All this with Gina Migliozzi (Rock n’ Shock) at my side.
My next screening was the Snowfort produced Starry Eyes, which since writing this I have seen twice. Once at SXSW and then at Boston Underground Film Fest.
Writer and director team Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s fable of what happens to your loved ones once they go to find fame and perhaps why they become what they do. A lot has been brought up about the gender, would it work if they cast a male in the lead. I believe the rise to stardom, documented endlessly in biopics, entertainment programs and in the rag sheets you pick up at the grocery store speaks to what both males and females have done or given up to be famous. Starry Eyes is also part of the female body-rot cycle we have seen as of late; the destroying of beauty, at least on a dermal level— Thanatomorphose, Contracted, Honeymoon. I am curious why woman are rotting on screen, a question I asked the cast. Their replies ranged from a history of art's fascination with the destruction of the body to, again, gender— the destruction of male skin of which I cited David Cronenberg’s The Fly as an excellent example. The movie is very successful; how it was shot and acted and for its surprise occult notes, recalling the Hollywood Babylon of days past, where legend would have it Jayne Mansfield was once connected to the Church of Satan and Anton LeVey.
Day 4 Sunday March 9
I hit another midnight screening, Late Phases, after I spoke to Daniel Stamm and Ron Perlman at the 13 Sins junket. Since there was time in between I roamed among the hipster undead throughout downtown. Spotting a punk store, I did some browsing. A G.G. Allin t-shirt and Manson patch caught my eye. I knew I would be back to at least capture some of this gear.
Sure the Wold Newton World/Universe of cross-over lit fictional characters existed way before Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And FOX has just happened to recently announce another attempt The League as a television series. So I must admit some skepticism when John Logan Showtime series writer mentioned he got the idea for Penny Dreadful purely from reading Mary Shelley's “Frankenstein”. Penny Dreadful is generic, melodramatic, predictable—but worse yet the haunting feeling that you are watching Alan Moore being ripped-off yet again by Hollywood.
Golden Girls meets Silver Bullet. Nick Damici (Stakeland) stars as a blind, world-weary vet faced with strange deaths at a retirement home. The film excels when Damici and Tom Noonan as Father Roger share the screen to chain-smoke and talk about times past. Regardless of the strange, and probably unsuccessful tone and limited scope of the film, watching Damici act is always captivating. Since Glass Eye Pix is involved in the production you do get Larry Fessenden in the role of headstone salesman. Which is also nice.
Day 5 Monday March 10
The reason I came to Austin: The 4k restoration screening of Texas Chain Saw Massacre was playing at 9:30pm at the Topfer Theater. First I caught a Q and A with Alejandro Jodorowsky downtown for the Dance of Reality. He talked about symbols and their impact on his life and perhaps he’d figure out what life means in about 50 more years. It was only appropriate then to ask for a symbol inscription when he signed by book. The sigil inscribed was the same as the one on the medallion he wore in Holy Mountain. He also mentioned my bi-hawk made me look like a Cat. I took this as a blessing.
Now getting from Downtown to across to the river for Chainsaw was quite a feat. I waved down a bike-cart dude, gave him the address and we were off into the night. He became my plus 1 and ride back to Downtown to get my car after the film.
Not only did I experience the green room with Mr. Tobe Hooper present, I had a chance to show him some of my rare Chainsaw 2 stills, which are featured in both Fangoria and the new Arrow Blu Ray release. He had stories to tell. Maybe one day it will make a great book...
When I saw it, I wished Don May from Synapse was there, to ask him 100 questions about what I just experienced. Almost technicolor-like in its saturation, stabilized and smooth, this is not the gritty fierce look of your Video Treasures VHS. It was bright and clean. High class and high toned. The performances were a particular highlight, once the news-reel footage of old was stripped away; specifically Edwin Neal (The Hitchiker) and Jim Siedow’s (The Cook) naturalistic choices during the dinner scene. The ability to project frenetic madness became the focus and the ease of delivery rather then the “style” of the piece we have been used to for years (save the Blu-ray).
I met with Greg Newman from MPI in the lobby and we discussed my thoughts on Chainsaw. I then saw my bike-cart dude and he dropped me off back down town. I was then tempted to see Stage Fright.
Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion (The Legend of Beaver Dam) return to the musical slasher framework with Stage Fright. A musical theater camp head up by Roger (Meatloaf) is about to put on a whispered cursed production of Phantom of the Opera—kabuki style. Part actual musical in that characters break-out into song and part slasher film in that there is body count, Stage Fright does not sustain in energy or spectacle the way Dam was able to do, though, in its shortened form. Phantom of the Paradise still rules this category.
Day 6 Tuesday March 11
I spent the afternoon talking to Tobe Hooper about the Chainsaw restoration. He felt the film works both ways, as a highly polished 4k piece and as a lo-fi VHS treasure. I bought some patches (Zombie, Chainsaw, and Charles Manson) and slept in my car until it was time for dinner and then Honeymoon.
A tale of newlyweds, Paul and Bea, and their mysterious downward spiral after Bea is found disoriented in the woods. Strange lights. Strange town-folks and diary entries follows. Impeccably acted and written, Honeymoon is part Polanski’s Repulsion, part sci-fi parable. As with Starry Eyes, it does contain the themes of female rot, which I did get to address with the director and co-writer Leigh Janiak, who I was blown away to meet. She was very articulate when discussing her influences and life-long fascination with the sci-fi genre. Honeymoon is not to be missed and will also be featured in the Tribeca Film Fest line-up in April.
Day 7 Wednesday March 12
What We Do in the Shadows
Aside for Chainsaw and Honeymoon, What We Do in the Shadows was beyond. What I am saying it has very “interesting” monsters… Shown at Sundance and Berlin before SXSW, this films follows 4 vampires through their trails in present-day New Zealand. Each of the vampires represents the different trends we have come to know—the Oldman, The Lost Boy, The Anne Rice, The Nosferatu. Here they have to deal with flat-mate problems, sunlight, and making fun of the werewolf population they run into while clubbing. Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords stars as the Oldman/Vlad vamp. The comedy is flawless. The laughs coming from the crowd before noon were amazing. I hope this film finds distribution. I’ll go out on a limb and say it could be funnier than Shaun of the Dead.
After the film I spoke to Leigh Janiak, director of Honeymoon and fell in love. Nacho Vigalondo’s interview went well at the Stateside. I asked him if he felt Open Windows worked because it was something he was exploring himself. It was great to finally meet him after hearing of his insane, frenetic legend.
Day 8 Thursday March 13
Unable to catch a midnight show I walked to Bull McCabe's on Red River St, where the music fest was happening. Here I came across some hooligan friends from the NJ punk scene. We drank and talked about old times. I made new friends at the bar. We decided to walk over to the Converse house to catch the band, X. We walked along side of the road to get to the venue. Here the unthinkable happened. A car followed by a police cruiser barreled down the barricades at 60 miles an hour—killing 4 and wounding 21. The bodies cascaded upwards as the first car hit them. My friend rushed over to the body that was at our feet. Social media rang out about what happened. There is a no-chase policy in a city known for rampant drunk driving due to very little public transportation. Should the cop car have ever followed in force down the crowed street? Should there be a better protocol in case this ever happens again?
Friday March 14
I had been lucky enough to catch the Q and A for The Dance of Reality the other day, but not the picture. Here I sat through the film to much excitement. I have known of Alejandro Jodorowsky since I was introduced to his films in J. Hoberman’s book Midnight Movies when I was 13 years old. Anything by him could not be missed for he only makes films relatively rarely, each film sacramental...
An autobiographical film written by Alejandro Jodorowsky takes a whimsical and surreal look at the director’s upbringing. Much like Guy Maddin’s Keyhole, it can be seen as an artist trying to come to terms with his father. Jodorowsky’s father, played by his son Brontis, is depicted as a cruel man who attempts to remove his son’s curious mysticism in favor of Communism’s atheism, to discourage his (Alejandro’s) art in favor of machismo. His Mother, Sara (Pamela Flore) is a loving, playful anchor to the family, her lines are only sung in opera as she fawns over Alejandro and protects him. Alejandro Jodorowsky, the elder, appears in the film while guiding his younger self. When filled with color and pageantry and song, the film works wonderfully, but it falters in its second half when the focus on the father’s path as a political assassin makes the tone too common-place and it drags.
Day 8 Saturday March 14
It was gallery day at MONDO, showing Martin Anson and Kevin Tong prints; Robert Luke, who was on the job helping out, was able to get in early and grab some photos. We were then able to connect at Robert Rodriguez’s Frank Frazetta show-room. While Luke snapped some pictures, the walk-through revealed works by Drew Struzan, Clete Shields as well as portraits of actors Rodriguez has worked with during the production of Sin City. A poster lay in wait in the first room for Fire and Ice, Rodriguez’s new project, which will have a look and feel similar to Sin City.
Day 9 Sunday March 15
My last day in Austin. Due to a tip off at the Chainsaw screening, I wandered off East into the music side of things for King Dude (now touring with Ghost) at the Sailor Jerry House. The Facebook flyer said 8pm and he finally took the stage at midnight for an amazing show. I believe only 2 people, which were these Goth-metal girls from Chicago, knew who the hell he was. His music sounds like the Misfits meets Death–in-June with roots. The Highlight was a sing-a-long to Lucifer is the Light. In which we hail Satan in our own way.
After the show I followed a lead just 15-minutes away to where they shot a bit of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Known in the film as the Cut Rite Chainsaw shop, the area around the structure has changed into an urban center. No trees, no real eye-line to where the parade was marching in the film. It’s now a Johnny Cash-themed restaurant called The Mean Eyed Cat.
Since I have found this holy land, I took some dirt from the front of the place after ecstatically waving my hands about to an employee closing the joint for the night. Is this the place? I just couldn’t believe it. I hear they still have the chainsaw log inside, I said. It was news to even this employee and he did wonder why there were production images of Leatherface and co. included in the Cash re-do. And he did note there are a bunch of chainsaw blades about the restaurant. I did not ask to go inside, that would be saved for my next Austin adventure, as yet to be determined.
Day 10 Sunday March 16
My first SXSW was over and it was time to fly back to Newark and into the welcoming arms of New Jersey. I bid my good bye to Austin. When my plane hit Newark it took only 3 days to be laid out with the worse hipster cold of all time. My documentation here is my survival of SXSW and of Captain Trips. This was indeed a high water mark of aimlessly wandering through crowds, parking under unreal circumstances and speaking and meeting the great people that make the genre industry happen.
Next year, if I don’t get a hotel, I just might sleep in the streets like a homeless elder Rock-a-Billy guy who wanted a minute of my time to talk about Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria with me. Here, under the stars, in the Lone Star State there would be the true punk rock freedom. In an area without public transportation, in a city where neither press nor patrons ever sleep until music is over on the 16th and it’s all said and done.