My second interview with Ghost Party Radio discussing horror documentaries, season 3 of Eli Roth’s History of Horror, Latin horror, and Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
The critically praised and fan-favorite horror documentary series Eli Roth’s History of Horror, from AMC, made its season three premiere on October 1, 2021.
The showrunner for Eli Roth’s History of Horror, Kurt Sayenga, is an established television documentary series director, writer, and executive producer, who’s best known for the science television documentary programs Through the Wormhole, Microkillers, Origins: The Journey of Mankind, and Breakthrough. Sayenga is a film buff and dedicated horror film fan, who, combined with the talents of horror master Eli Roth, created a program delighting both staunch horror movie fans and casual viewers.
Sayenga shares with us what it takes to develop a horror documentary series, the films that make the series, and the impact of horror cinema.
Bonilla: When you’re developing the episodes, is it the film topics, or the films of interest that come first?
Sayenga: It’s a little of both. We come up with general topics that fit into the template that we’ve established with the network, then think of films that will appeal both to film buffs and casual viewers, who mostly know newer or the most famous horror films. Then, we run about a dozen potential episodes past the network, and they tell us what works for them. We have a very long list of films we love and want to cover, and we’re steadily working our way through it.
Several episodes this season lean into relatively newer films, like the “Holiday Horror” episode, which has a lot of slashers. That genre did not exist until Black Christmas and Halloween.
The “Mad Scientists” episode has more classic horror and traces certain themes across time. For instance, you see that it’s a straight line from The Island of Lost Souls to Ex Machina. And in the case of Frankenstein, we focus on the doctor and not so much the monster, which right off the bat makes it unusual in the pantheon of horror documentaries. The Colin Clive Dr. Frankenstein is a very different man than Dr. Frankenstein played by Peter Cushing, in the Hammer films. Cushing is the star of those movies, and in many ways, he’s the real monster.
Bonilla: How did you pick the topics for the series, such as “Vampires” and “Nine Nightmares”?
Sayenga: The “Nine Nightmares” episode happened because somebody at the network had the idea of making an “Eli’s Top 10” episode. That was a problem because we had already covered a number of Eli’s favorite films in season one. And Eli, was not thrilled with the idea of doing a top 10 for many other reasons, partly because it’s very reductive. Ask him to just name his top 50 Italian horror films and he’d be frustrated because he loves so many of them.
We wound up putting together a bunch of films that he likes that would be hard to fit in any other category, like Cannibal Holocaust. There’s no way in hell you’re gonna get an entire cannibal episode on AMC, which takes advertising, but we could smuggle it in by making it part of the broader category.
Bonilla: What was one of the biggest challenges of filming during COVID?
Sayenga: Conducting the interviews. I thought that with COVID, nobody would come out. And then, if we were lucky, we’d get remotes. Before the vaccine when we started shooting, there was maximum fear, justifiable fear. But we were able to get a lot of great people as it went along, and things got slightly better. Most of the interviews were conducted on set under very strict COVID protocols, and several others were remote interviews, which is something I would ordinarily not condone. But went along with this season because there was no other choice since people weren’t flying and the borders were closed.
There is an element of the person-to-person interview that just gets lost when we’re communicating through Zoom. I was fortunate that I had already interviewed a number of these people, like Edgar Wright, who I talked to at a great length in season one and great length this season. Though he was in London at the time, Edgar and I had met before. So, we already had a connection. It helps to meet someone and sit there sharing some space. Overall, the interviews came out much better than I expected, despite the weirdness of COVID.
Bonilla: How are guests selected for the interviews?
Sayenga: We reach out to all the key creatives in front of and behind the camera, if they’re still alive, and we try to work it out with their managers and their schedules. That is a very challenging process, particularly with actors. We can usually get directors and writers on board for the show with no problem – if they’ve seen the show, they know we’re approaching it from the creator’s point of view. Once we’ve made those connections, the actors are more inclined to come in. For instance, Christopher Landon, who directed Happy Death Day, was one of the first people we lined up this season, and that helped get us Jessica Rothe, the star of Happy Death Day.
I’m not sure why, but we had trouble getting women, especially actresses, for interviews. This season was just the opposite – it’s very gender-balanced. Fortunately, Eli’s making a movie with Cate Blanchett and Jamie Curtis in it. Thus, we were able to get Cate and Jamie.
Bonilla: How do you decide which films to interview guests?
Sayenga: I interviewed 60 people this season and have a bed of another 160 interviews done for the first two seasons. There’s some material I can use from the earlier interviews, but not a lot. We cover about 80 or 90 films a season, and there are very few people who can talk about everything. We break it up – and usually, I will run the list of films past the interviewees, and they can tell me what interests them. I also have a group of people like Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Rob Zombie, Rebekah McKendry, and Quentin Tarantino, who has seen every film you can think of and can talk about them at length.
I am particularly happy when I run across actors who are also film enthusiasts. You would be surprised at how many of them aren’t.
I also listen to a bunch of podcasts to hear like who’s good at interviews. So, I poach a lot from the Trailers from Hell podcast, The Movies That Made Me podcast, and Mick Garris’s Postmortem podcast. They get a lot of good people on their shows.
Bonilla: What inspired the episode topics for this season?
Sayenga: The “Mad Scientist” episode is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve made a lot of science films in my career, and I think part of came from watching mad scientist movies in my childhood. I was fascinated by the figure of the genius rebel going their own way, no matter the consequences, perhaps going too far in their pursuit of truth.
“Infections” is a great episode, and I’m sure the inspiration for that is fairly obvious. Besides, where else would we get a chance to cut from Dustin Hoffman throwing his coffee against a whiteboard in Outbreak to Kate Winslet poking her finger at a whiteboard in Contagion?
“Psychics” gave us a good way to dive into some of the better Stephen King adaptations, Doctor Sleep and The Shining. That’s an all-star director episode with films like Scanners, The Dead Zone, The Fury, Beetlejuice, and The Frighteners. Also included, is The Gift, an underappreciated movie directed by Sam Raimi, starring Cate Blanchett.
“Sequels (That Don’t Suck)”, was an idea that Eli and I were banging around for a while. It starts with Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and ends with Gremlins 2: The New Batch. There is much mayhem in between. I think that will be very popular and so does the network. They made it the season premiere episode.
“Holiday Horror” is another idea we’ve been wanting to do for a while. It runs from the low-budget holiday-themed slashers like Black Christmas, Silent Night Deadly Night, Terror Train, My Bloody Valentine, and Mother’s Day to slick modern movies like Halloween 2018, Happy Death Day, and Krampus.
“Apocalyptic Horror” gave us a way to cover some zombie films we couldn’t get into back in the season one “Zombie” episode, like Zombieland and Train to Busan. But it also has some of my favorite films, like War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’m particularly fond of a segment on The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man and I Am Legend, which stars Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, and Will Smith. These films were all based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s one of the most influential horror stories ever written, even though it’s never been faithfully adapted.
Bonilla: What is your favorite episode this season?
Sayenga: It’s tough to choose, but I’ll go with “Mad Scientists”. It’s probably the darkest of the six episodes.
Bonilla: After ‘History of Horror’, would you consider writing, producing, or possibly directing your own horror content?
Sayenga: Yes, of course. I’d love to do that.
Bonilla: What are your current go-to horror films?
Sayenga: Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, Psycho, The Haunting, Dead Ringers, Audition, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Bride of Frankenstein, The Silence of the Lambs, Cat People (1942), The Cabin in the Woods, Train to Busan, Godzilla (original Japanese version, 1954), and Quatermass II.
Bonilla: When you watch a horror movie, how does it engage you?
Sayenga: I’ve seen so many horror films and films in general that it’s difficult to watch them purely as entertainment. I’m very conscious of the craft, or lack of craft that’s going into the film. I am way too conscious of how special effects are created. Any movie that can get me past that is a movie I will return to because it made me put my dispassionate technical brain to the side.
But to be honest, a lot of horror films frustrate me, because the characters are rock-stupid and blind to their situation. I watch how people act in horror films, and think, “Don’t do that. Don’t walk into that room. Why are you not turning on the lights? What’s wrong with the lights in this house? Why are you staying in this creepy house where the lights don’t work? Why do you not pick up a weapon of some sort just in case a serial killer is on the loose?” I’m not a fearful person, but I am a person who believes in being prepared for the worst.
Bonilla: In Psychology Today, they are suggesting that Horror (horror) fans are coping better with the pandemic. Why do you think?
Sayenga: Yeah, horror fans are coping better with this. Anyone paying attention to horror films saw all this coming. If anything, horror fans were prepared for a much more worst-case scenario than what we just lived through. For some people, me included, horror is rehearsal and preparation. And ultimately, horror addresses our fear of dying and coming to grips with that.
I’ve made several films about pandemic diseases for National Geographic, including one that had a “what if” fiction component. It conjured up the crazy idea that there could be a zoonotic transmission of disease from a bat to a pig to a human in a pig market in China. We shot this with an actress in Hong Kong who then flies to London, and along the way spreads this highly contagious airborne virus everywhere she goes.
Contagion of course tells a similar story in a masterful way that tracks closely to reality. Things were worse in Contagion, as far as rioting and stuff like that. I’m surprised that it wasn’t worse here. But the virus in Contagion had a higher lethality rate, so that makes a difference in how people respond to it.
Bonilla: What can audiences expect for season three?
Sayenga: Season three is a big crowd-pleaser. It has a lot of ‘80s horror, classic horror, and modern horror. It has movie stars, brilliant writers, directors, and a new batch of film scholars with fresh takes on the genre.
By season three of anything, usually, everybody’s in the groove. They know what the series is and know how to make it work. That’s certainly been the case with season three. People seem to really like the second season and this season is very much in the vein of the second season. We know what we’re doing and we’re having a good time doing it.
On February 14, 1931, the film Dracula was released, with Bela Lugosi creating one of the most famous characters and iconic roles in cinematic history, Count Dracula. This groundbreaking horror film forever changed Hollywood and international cinema.
Over the last 90-years, Dracula has become the most popular monster from the Universal Studios classic monster series. His fang marks can be seen throughout a variety of films from America’s, Interview with a Vampire and Twilight to England’s Horror of Dracula, Mexico’s El Vampiro, and Korea’s Thirst.
The fascinating story of Dracula from stage to screen and beyond is shared in this extensive interview with American cultural historian and author David J. Skal.
Skal is highly regarded as a Dracula and vampire authority. He’s written multiple books on these topics such as The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage and Screen, V is for Vampire, Romancing the Vampire: From Past to Present, and Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula.
Dracula Before Universal:
Justina Bonilla: Is there truth in the story that Bram Stroker did not properly copyright Dracula?
David J. Skal: That’s true. Bram Stoker messed up his copyright registration in the United States. And, in fact, it was never copyrighted here. Anybody could have made a film. However, they couldn’t distribute it overseas because there was the Berne Convention. Copyright took care of it in Europe and around the world.
Bonilla: The film Nosferatu is known for committing copyright infringement against Dracula. How did Stroker’s estate react to this?
Skal: Stoker’s widow, Florence Balcombe Stroker staged an amazing war that lasted years against the German producers of Nosferatu, who essentially pirated the book, got the German courts to declare it plagiarism, and have all prints and negatives destroyed. Which fortunately for us, never happened.
It’s funny because Nosferatu is one of the most artistically acclaimed adaptations of Dracula. And as far as I could determine, Florence had captured a copy of the Nosferatu print that was being shown in London and refused to see it. She missed out on quite an event and spent her time selling it to Universal Studios.
Bonilla: How did Florence sell the rights to her husband’s novel to Universal Studios?
Skal: She was really selling the rights to the Dracula stage play, written by John L. Balderston and Hamilton Deane to Universal Studios. That was very different from the novel. It was a big hit on Broadway. Dracula traveled around the country and broke records city after city.
Bonilla: What was Bela Lugosi’s experience in the Broadway production of Dracula?
Skal: Lugosi didn’t start taking English lessons until the late 1920s, around the time he did Dracula on Broadway.
The producers of the Dracula Broadway show ended up directing him in French because it was a language they both could understand. He often learned his roles phonetically, deliberate by syllable at a time. That’s where his very deliberate spooky voice came from. It’s a Hungarian speaking English phonetically.
Onstage, Lugosi would sometimes be thrown off guard by somebody throwing him or a different line or flubbing up. Then, he suddenly would be on a different track.
Universal Studios gets bit by Dracula:
Bonilla: Before Dracula, were there any previous supernatural Hollywood films?
Skal: In the history of Hollywood, there had never been a supernatural horror film. There have been scary movies in the silent era. If something spooky, unnatural, or paranormal seems to take place, it always was explained away. It was a plot to steal somebody’s inheritance or that kind of thing. It’s a formula that came from the stage. Dracula was different. Universal Studios was attracted to it when it was founded in 1915.
Bonilla: What was Universal Studios status as a studio at that time?
Skal: Universal Studios was not the big deal it is today. It was very much a second-tier Hollywood studio. It made its bread and butter doing Western serials and programs that would enable a dependable supplier of programming to theaters all over the country. Their film All Quiet on the Western Front was an unexpected success.
Nobody thought Universal Studios could do anything on the level of Dracula. It’s still a remarkable achievement. Dracula was going to follow it as another “Universals super-production”, based on a famous novel. Then the stock market crash hit.
Bonilla: Who at Universal Studios was keen on making Dracula into a film?
Skal: Universal Studios lavished attention on Dracula for a very interesting reason that I tell in my book, Hollywood Gothic. Paul Kohner, who came from Czechoslovakia, was Carl Lemley Sr.’s protégé. Lemley Sr. himself was from Germany. Kohner was kind of a second son to Lemley.
Kohner expected that he was going to take over the reins of the Universal Studios when Lemley Sr. retired. And, low and behold, Lemley Sr. pulled a switcheroo and gave the studio to his 21-year-old son, Carl Lemley Jr.
We must credit Lemley Jr.’s enthusiasm for horror movies, which made all the Universal Studios classic horror films happen. His father didn’t want to have anything to do with it really. But they had their eye on Dracula for a long time, and Kohner was initially going to produce and direct it.
Bonilla: Is it true that Lon Chaney was considered a choice for the lead role of Dracula?
Skal: Yes, when Universal Studios bought the rights to the novel and the stage play of Dracula, they did it with the understanding that they needed Lon Chaney Sr. “The man of 1000 faces”, one of the biggest, bankable stars in Hollywood, to take this on.
That was one of the reasons that Lemley Sr. finally agreed to do it. The play had a track record, and that Chaney Sr. would star in it. They made overtures to Cheney Sr., who was under contract to MGM, so they’d have to get a loan out contract from him. What MGM didn’t know or was keeping secret that Cheney Sr. was suffering from lung cancer. He died suddenly right in the middle of the negotiations.
It’s unlikely he would have done it, because his last outing with Universal, The Phantom of the Opera, even though it was a huge worldwide success, it was one of the most embattled and difficult productions Universal had ever done. They went through multiple directors, and then Cheney Sr. essentially was directing himself, and I think he was very happy to go back to MGM.
Bonilla: Was anyone else considered for Dracula?
Skal: Kohner had planned to use Conrad Veidt, the great German silent actor, in what would be his first talking role. However, Veidt got cold feet about doing a talkie. So, he fell by the wayside.
Bonilla: How did The Great Depression influence the production of Dracula?
Skal: All the studios were just teetering on the edge, including Universal Studios. They had the Dracula rights and were committed to going ahead with it. But the budget was suddenly dwindling. You can see this in Dracula.
Dracula opens and some of the first sequences that were filmed are in Transylvania, in Dracula’s castle. They’re very atmospheric and quite cinematic. Then, the film becomes more like a stage play because that was the most economical way to do it. That’s always been one of the main criticisms of the film.
Bonilla: How was Todd Browning as a director?
Skal: From what I’ve learned about the filming of Dracula, it was a film that really got away from Todd Browning. He was a great silent director, but talkies really threw him off. He couldn’t keep up the steady stream of conversation.
Browning was involved in all aspects of the story, writing the final intertitles for silent film, and editing. With talkies also came in the trade unions and one person like him, couldn’t do it all anymore.
As Browning was described to me by David Manners, who played John Harker, he said, “He didn’t direct any scene that I was in. He was a figure sitting back, in the shadows all the time. It was Karl Freund, the cinematographer, who directed any scene that I was in, in Dracula”.
Some people don’t believe me and say, “Oh, Manners must have been senile by that point”. He was not. Manners was absolutely lucid. It was a wonderful conversation I had with him. It was very surprising to hear that.
Bonilla: How did Karl Freund’s camera style influence Dracula?
Skal: Freund used a mobile camera to great effect at the beginning of Dracula. Then, the camera became more pedestrian.
Freund is also credited with inventing the three-camera technique for television sitcoms. He also was the director of photography for I Love Lucy.
A friend of mine met Freund at some trade event back in the 1960s. I believe it was in Cleveland. My friend approached him, asking about Dracula. Freund said, “Why do you want to ask me about that?”
Bonilla: What was the cast experience on set?
Skal: Nobody had a good memory of working on Dracula. Manners said that he and his costar Helen Chandler, who played Nina, would just snicker among themselves when they were off-camera. It’s interesting, that the two of them were not having the greatest time doing Dracula. They thought it was a disorganized and crazy production. They also saw Lugosi as a very odd man. In Dracula, neither of them really looks pleased.
Dracula’s Impact on Cast:
Bonilla: What do you see as the impact of Bela Lugosi’s interpretation of Dracula?
Skal: It’s so iconic. No matter how good the other versions of Dracula are, or how technically innovative they are, they always raise the memory of Dracula.
Bonilla: How did this film impact Dwight Frye’s career?
Skal: After Dracula, Dwight Frye kind of typecast himself and did a number of these kinds of films. Toward the end of his life, wasn’t even doing full-time acting work. He died young in the early 1940s.
Bonilla: Were you able to connect with any living cast members of Dracula?
Skal: When I started researching for my book Hollywood Gothic, I was approaching people who were at the limits of living human memory. I was lucky to get to know three people who appeared on screen, Lupita Tovar Kohner, from the Spanish-language Dracula, Manners, and Carla Lemley, the niece of Lemley Sr., who became a close friend.
Bonilla: What was Carla Lemley’s role in Dracula?
Skal: Carla speaks the first lines of dialogue in Dracula, “Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass are crumbling castles are found of a bygone age”.
Bonilla: What did Carla remember about filming her part in Dracula?Skal: When I first contacted Carla, I told her I was doing research for my book Hollywood Gothic. She said, “Dracula? No, I don’t remember Dracula. I was in The Phantom of the Opera”.
I recognized her voice immediately on the telephone. Carla had been dragged in one day by the casting office and was told, “We need you to do a bit part. Go to costume, and here’s your dialogue”. Her dialogue was written on the back of that travel brochure she reads in the film. She just read the part cold and never met Browning or Lugosi.
Bonilla: Did Carla ever get an opportunity to interact with fans?
Skal: Yes. When Carla was the last living Lemley, I took her to fan conventions around the country. People would come and have her autograph pictures of Boris Karloff and Lugosi because she was this living link.
Bonilla: What was Lugosi’s life like in later years?
Skal: Lugosi was the first major star to come out with an addiction problem publicly. He had suffered injuries in World War I that gave him excruciating sciatica pain in his legs. He became addicted to Morphine and later Demerol.
He did get clean a year before he died and thought it was going to be the beginning of a resurrection of his career, which sadly never happened.
Bonilla: Since Lugosi never finished filming Plan Nine from Outer Space, how was his role completed?
Skal: Lugosi died before they could shoot all his scenes for his last film Plan Nine from Outer Space. The director, Ed Wood’s chiropractor, would hold up the cape in front of his face and pretend to be Lugosi.
Bonilla: How much of an impact has Dracula had on those involved with the book, play, or film?
Skal: Going back to the time when Stoker wrote it. Everybody who has crossed the path of Dracula has gotten involved in its peculiar energy. Dracula possesses you. It just brings out the most possessive and predatory instincts. The agent who negotiated the Broadway rights for many years told me, “I dread having to negotiate a new production of Dracula because it brings out the worst negotiating instincts in everybody involved. Everybody wants to possess it, control it”.
A lot of the people who’ve tried to control Dracula have not had happy careers. Lugosi, perhaps most among them, became so typecast in the role of Dracula, because he did such a good job, could do almost nothing else. He didn’t have special makeup. That was his voice, his face. Though he was a trained classical actor from Europe, all people could see or hear was Dracula. It limited his opportunities. He went to the grave in his Dracula costume.
Bonilla: What lead Lugosi’s son, Bela Lugosi Jr., to sue Universal Studios?
Skal: Lugosi thought that the role of Dracula was his and didn’t negotiate very well. He was paid less than other actors in the film. He made $3,500 total. A lot in the Depression era, but not what big stars in Hollywood were making. He never saw another dime from Universal Studios, no residuals, nothing.
Lugosi’s son, Bela Lugosi Jr. had to sue Universal Studios in the great tradition of Florence Stoker, for his father’s image used for marketing and merchandising. It went on for years and years. Again, another chapter in Dracula’s ability to bring out the most combative instincts.
Bonilla: What makes Dracula a classic film?
Skal: Dracula is a classic film because it changed American moviemaking. It set in motion this whole imaginative current in American cinema, the outright fantastic without any explanation, or apologies.
Without Dracula, the whole history of Hollywood would have gone in different directions. Maybe a supernatural movie would have come along in Hollywood at some point, I suppose, but nothing like Dracula.
Bonilla: How did Dracula and the other monster films influence other film genres?
Skal: The Universal Studios cycle of classic horror movies, set in motion the science fiction films of the 1950s. Without those monster films, some of the biggest blockbusters of all time would never have been made.
Dracula and The Monster Kids:
Bonilla: How did Dracula and the other Universal monsters influence “The Monster Kids”?
Skal: For a lot of us, we were inspired as kids by these pictures. I was one of those kids. We became “The Monster Kids” of the 1960s when the Universal Studios monster movies were showing up on television. We made our own eight-millimeter versions of Dracula and Frankenstein in the backyard and basement. And some turned out to be filmmakers like Steven Spielberg.
Bonilla: As a Monster Kid, what is your favorite scene in Dracula?
Skal: Renfield’s arrival at Castle Dracula.
Bonilla: And your favorite Dracula line?
Skal: “I never drink…wine.”
Many people believe the line originated in Stoker, but it’s original to the 1931 film. I’ve always believed it was one of Browning’s personal contributions to the script. Interestingly enough, the line was added to the stage version starring Frank Langella in 1977, and ever since, theatre companies have found ways to squeeze it back in. It has never actually been part of the Deane/Balderston published script.
Bonilla: Why do people love monsters, especially Dracula?
Skal: You get a piece of these monsters on you anywhere, and they stick to you. It’s not easy to brush off. People are going to remember. On some level, monsters are so important to us all. There are oldest and best and most reliable imaginary friends.
Bonilla: Do you think the film would have been as successful without Lugosi?
Skal: It would not have been as successful without Lugosi, even if a major star like Chaney Sr. had played the part. Of all the actors considered for the part, only Veidt might have achieved a screen characterization comparable to Lugosi.
Bonilla: What do you think has led to the long life of Dracula?
Skal: The main reason, almost certainly, is Lugosi’s riveting, iconic presence. It was an indelible star turn, instantly recognizable today even to people who have never seen the original film. Few screen performances have ever had that kind of longevity and impact.
8/25/21 11:40 AM | JUSTINA BONILLA
Since 1933, Mexico has been a major pioneering force in Latin American horror cinema. In contemporary times, Mexican horror has blossomed into a diverse array of horror subgenres including paranormal, art house, independent, social-political, and extreme.
For those inspired to explore what Mexican horror has to offer, this film list is a beginner’s guide to contemporary Mexican horror, featuring films by art-house cinema icon Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Oscar-winning monster maker Guillermo del Toro and Mexico’s tiger queen Issa Lopez.
10. El Gigante
Though the only short film on this list, it’s a bold mix of Mexican wrestling, Rob Zombie, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with lots of blood and gore. While attempting to cross the American/Mexican border at night via a “coyote”, Armando is attacked and awakens in a dirty blood-splattered room. He is forced to wrestle for the entertainment of a sadistic family with the blood-thirsty wrestler El Gigante.
With the success of this and other short horror films, director Gigi Saul Guerrero has gone on to film movies with Blumhouse Television, including Into the Dark: Culture Shock and the upcoming Bingo Hell.
9. The Similars (Los Parecidos)
Heavily influenced by the sci-fi films and television of the 1950s and 1960s, this love letter to the genre combines fantasy and surrealism, with the unimaginable. Set on the night of the tragic day of October 2, 1968, eight people are stranded by a massive rainstorm, at an isolated bus station, desperate to get to Mexico City. As the hours go by, a strange phenomenon sends everyone into fear and paranoia, as horrific seizures create unbelievable reactions.
October 2, 1986 was the Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City, where over 1,000 peaceful student protestors were injured and an estimated 350-400 protestors were killed by the heavily armed federal Mexican Armed Forces. The Mexican government held the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, to boast about economic growth, which didn’t benefit the poor. Students protested this inequality and the corrupt Mexican government, in front of international media. This tragedy led to more student protests advocating for government change.
8. New Order (Nuevo Orden)
This recent controversial political horror examines social class, wealth, corruption, and the exploitation of political power. Two families, one lavishly rich and the other, the poor family who works for the rich family, have their lives turned upside down when violent class warfare breaks out nationally. When the Mexican government is taken over by a military coup, the families each face consequences beyond their worst nightmares.
New Order was the 2020 Venice Film Festival prize winner.
7. The Zone (La Zona)
A chilling commentary of the Mexican social class system and how the power of the privileged classes influences political corruption. In an isolated and guarded upper-class suburb called The Zone, a botched robbery by three teenagers throws the residents into a blood-thirsty manhunt to find the surviving teenage thief. As people from the outside and a Zone teenage resident try to search for answers, the wealthy Zone adults push their influence and bribes to put an end to the questions, so they can dispense their own bloody justice.
In 2007, The Zone received the Best Debut Feature award at the Vince Film Festival.
6. The Untamed (La región salvaje)
Following in the footsteps of Possession, mixed with an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired creature, this sci-fi sexual horror, evaluates relationships and the hypocritical views that society has of them. Alejandra is a young and unhappy wife, in a broken marriage, with little hope. In all her turmoil, she is introduced to a mysterious being who brings her ultimate pleasure, but also horrific destruction.
The unique concept of The Untamed was inspired by Possession and dedicated to its director Andrzej Zulawski.
5. We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay)
Intertwining the heartache of a family melodrama, with bloody cannibalism, shows how far some will go protect and provide for their family. After the death of a family’s patriarch and sole provider, the heartbroken widow mother and her three teenage children struggle to establish who will be the head of the family and continue their ritual cannibalism. As the tension increases in the household, they grapple to find their next meal.
In a cameo, paying homage to Guillermo del Toro’s first Mexican film Cronos, with the Cronos actors Daniel Giménez Cacho as Tito the mortician and Juan Carlos Colombo the funeral director, acting in similar roles, in a morgue.
4. Under the Salt (Bajo la sal)
A crime drama, where everyone has dark secrets to hide. Commander Trujillo arrives in a small Mexican town to investigate a series of unsolved murders of young women. As the investigation intensifies, Victor, a misfit teenager who works at his father’s funeral home, falls in love with Isabel, a local waitress, who he wants to protect at any cost.
The use of stop motion animation throughout Under the Salt creates a unique visual, giving the audiences an in-depth look at Victor’s emotional evolution throughout the film.
3. Tigers are Not Afraid (Vuelven)
The international breakthrough for telenovela writer and comedic film director, turned horror director Issa Lopez, brought a children’s perspective to the contemporary Mexican Drug War. Estrella, a young girl whose mother has disappeared without a trace, joins a group of young and orphaned boys for protection. Together the children face an array of tragic and supernatural events, as they are chased by the local cartel.
Adding to the strength of the film was featuring children as the main cast with no previous acting experience, creating more authentic reactions from them.
2. Santa Sangre (Holy Blood)
This arthouse film by groundbreaking Chilian filmmaker, artist, and writer Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the most regarded modern Mexican horror films. Escaping from a mental institution, Fenix, a former circus performer reunites with his controlling, armless mother. Using her son as her arms, they go on a killing spree of jealously and revenge.
It’s a breathtaking and trailblazing film, which also pays homage to classic horror films, such as Universal’s The Invisible Man and the Mexican wrestler films.
1. The Del Toro Mexican Trilogy
No list of modern Mexican horror would be complete without a del Toro film. Each of del Toro’s three Mexican films, Cronos, Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth, possess their own individual haunting artistic beauty, while paying homage to classic tales and fables. These films have brought both del Toro international fame and a new appreciation by audiences for Mexican horror and Latino horror filmmakers.
The first full-length film of del Toro taking an innovative, yet tragic interpretation of vampire folklore. Jesus, a Mexican antique dealer accidentally discovers the Cronos, a scarab that grants the recipient youth and eternal life, with the unknown price of an uncontrollable need for blood. Wanting to maintain his new vitality and immortality, Jesus must fend off others in search of the Cronos, as he struggles to protect his wife and young orphaned granddaughter.
Influenced by his relationship with his own grandmother, del Toro uses the perspective of child heavily, which would become a signature trait in his horror films, adds depth and heartbreaking tragedy to this and the rest of his Mexican horror films.
Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo)
Del Toro’s first cinematic co-collaboration with Spain, using the supernatural to address the pain and suffering war causes society, especially children. Set in 1939, during the last year of The Spanish Civil War, Carlos, a young boy, is sent to an isolated all-boys orphanage, where he comes across a spirit of a murder orphan haunting the facility. Carlos and the other orphans suffer at the hands of the violent caretaker, while the lies and corruption within the walls of the orphanage crumble around them.
This film is considered the brother film to its sister film set a few years in 1944, Pan’s Labyrinth,continuing to supernaturally evaluate one of the darkest periods of 20th century Spanish history.
Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)
The most critically acclaimed of del Toro’s Mexican films, winning three Oscars, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Art Direction. Ofelia, a young girl is forced to live in an isolated estate with her sickly mother and sadistic control freak army officer stepfather. As the lines between reality and fantasy blur, Ofelia pursuers three dangerous tasks to fulfill her destiny as the princess of the underworld.
Pan’s Labyrinth is part of a small group of fantasy and horror films that have been nominated for Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score at the Oscars.
If you are interested in extreme horror, We Are the Flesh (Tenemos la carne) and Atroz (Atrocious) are the most notable Mexican extreme horror films.
We Are the Flesh is a visually striking yet disturbing surreal arthouse film. Two siblings, Lucio and Fauna, are searching for food and shelter in a post-apocalyptic world until they find these necessities with a strange man. His bizarre, manipulative, and extreme demands of the siblings lead all three down a path of madness, violence, incest, murder, and cannibalism.
Atroz is considered the most violent film in Mexican cinema is so controversial, it was only released to home video and streaming. During a police investigation, two police officers find a handheld camera, with videos of two young men going on a demented rampage filled with torture and murder. Among the film’s associate producers is the controversial Italian director of Cannibal Holocaust Ruggero Deodato.
Among the many ways to describe Corman and his impact on film, Kurt Sayenga, the showrunner of Eli Roth’s History of Horror described him best, “Roger Corman is a living legend who has inspired and promoted new filmmakers for more than six decades. There’s no one else like him. From horror to science fiction to outlaw bikers and women-in-prison films, Roger’s filmography has spanned the genres – and, as he says, he never lost a dime. He’s the most successful independent producer in film history; the ultimate avatar of DIY filmmaking. As a director, Roger’s career highlight was the series of films he made in the 1960s based on the gothic horror stories of Edgar Allan Poe.”
Sayenga continues: “Roger often had great scripts but given a slightly better budget and stronger actors, his work went from “fun” and “interesting” to “great.” The Poe films are lushly colorful explorations of the nature of evil, laced with a macabre sense of humor. Like Roger himself, there is a lot going on beneath their smooth and shiny surfaces.”
Corman shared exclusively, his memories about The Pit and the Pendulum. He also shares his upcoming projects and fond memories of other past projects.
Justina Bonilla: What is your favorite Poe story?
Roger Corman: It would be “The Fall of the House of Usher”. That was the one I did first because it was the one that was actually more complete than many of the others. For instance, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, which we’re talking about, was just a couple of pages long. And we had to elaborate it to make it a full-length picture. But “The Fall of the House of Usher” was a complete story. And I think it encapsulated much of Poe’s thinking.
Bonilla: Do you have a favorite Poe poem?
Corman: Possibly “Annabel Lee”.
Bonilla: What inspired you to pursue your first Poe themed movie House of Usher, which you based on the story “The Fall the House of Usher”?
Corman: Well, first, I read “The Fall of the House of Usher” when I was in school, and I loved it. I asked my parents for Christmas for the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe. They were happy to give it to me because I might have asked for a shotgun or something. I read everything Poe had written that was available at that time.
The reason I made the picture of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” as the House of Usher was that I was making some pictures for American International Pictures. They had a way of distributing which was to make two about $60,000 to $70,000 black and white films and send them out together in the theatres for the price of one. They wanted me to make two horror films. I felt I’d done this sort of thing too many times and wanted to move on.
So, I said, which I think was correct, “This has been a great advertising concept for you. But I think it’s growing old. It would be better to spend a little bit more money and make one picture”.
American International asked me what I wanted to make. I said I wanted to make House of Usher. Samuel Z. Arkoff, who was vice president of American International Pictures knew the story. He said, “Roger, that’s a good idea, but your movies always had a monster. There’s no monster in “The Fall of the House of Usher”. And thinking fairly quickly, I said, “Sam, the house is the monster”. Sam said, “Okay, we’ll make the picture”. That’s how I got to make House of Usher.
Bonilla: How were you able to get Richard “Dick” Matheson to write not only that script, but all the Poe film scripts?
Corman: I had read a number of his stories. I knew he was writing also for The Twilight Zone. I simply contacted him through his agent and told him what I wanted to do. I gave him some of my thoughts, and he agreed with that. We simply went forward and made House of Usher.
House of Usher was very successful. American International Pictures wanted me to make another one. Since I was very friendly with Dick Matheson, and Dick said, “Yes, whatever you want to do”. My second actual choice was “The Mask of the Red Death”. But, Ingmar Bergman made a picture about the Middle Ages, The Seventh Seal.
The Seventh Seal had some elements that were similar to “The Mask of the Red Death”. I thought, if I make “The Mask of the Red Death”, everybody will say, I’m simply copying Ingmar Bergman. So, my second choice was “The Pit and the Pendulum”. The reason it was a second choice was that both “The Fall the House of Usher”, and “the Masque of the Red Death”, were pretty much complete stories. Whereas “The Pit and the Pendulum”, was just a couple of pages.
Dick and I had to try to figure out how to translate this into a picture. We did this with several of the Poe pictures, taking Poe’s story, and using it as the third act, if you were to think of it as a play. We created the first and second acts, hopefully in the style of Poe, leading us to the third act. That’s how we handled The Pit the Pendulum.
Bonilla: The story was a collaboration between you and Richard?
Corman: I have to give Dick most of the credit. He and I came up with the idea of the first two acts, and he wrote a little outline. I gave him my notes on the outline. We went from that to screenplay.
Bonilla: The drama in The Pit and the Pendulum film is very Shakespearean, like Othello and Hamlet. Was that or any other Shakespeare play an influence on the script?
Corman: It probably was, but it would be unconscious. I wasn’t thinking specifically, and neither was Dick. We’re all influenced by Shakespeare.
Bonilla: Did you always have Vincent Price in mind for the role of Nicholas?
Corman: Yes, Vincent was my choice for House of Usher. He was really very good at it. We got along very well. I simply said, “I will go with Vincent again”.
Bonilla: What was it like working with Vincent?
Corman: It was very good working with Vincent on all these Poe pictures. He was a highly intelligent man and had been a leading man when he was younger. But he had never played the handsome, romantic leading man. There was always a little quirk, a little neurosis within him. I thought that little offbeat quality that he had of being both intelligent, and maybe just a little bit off.
Bonilla: Do you have a favorite memory of working with Vincent?
Corman: My favorite memory of working with Vincent was not on The Pit and the Pendulum, it was on The Raven, which we interpreted very freely, into a horror-comedy. At that time, we’d made so many Poe films, I felt we’re starting to repeat ourselves. How can we change it? So, it became a horror-comedy.
We got Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre to work with Vincent. The three stars in the picture. The first day of shooting was a little bit difficult because Boris did not seem to get along well with Peter.
On the second day, as he came out of makeup, Boris came to me and said, “I am a trained classical actor. I learn my lines, I come in, and I’m ready to give the performance. Peter comes in, and he starts making up lines. I don’t know when to speak or what to say, because he’s not really saying what’s in the script”. I said to Boris, “Well, that’s because you come from the traditional English classical acting. Peter comes from the Berliner Ensemble with Bertolt Brecht, who emphasized improvisation. He’s improvising. And actually, I thought he was very funny”. Peter added all kinds of things to The Raven.
Vincent was very cooperative. He really helped me there because he knew how to work both ways. Finally, it was decided. I said to Boris, “Understand that Peter is going to improvise a little bit, and you have to adjust to this”. I said to Peter, “I love what you’re doing. It’s really good, continue doing that. But stay a little closer to the script. And Vincent said, “Yes, that’s the way we should do it”.
Boris reluctantly agreed. After a couple of days, he began to enjoy it. He started improvising a little bit too.
Bonilla: How did you select John Kerr for Francis?
Corman: I simply chose him because he was very good. In South Pacific, he was the handsome young leading man. He had the look, and he was a good actor. He had a little bit of name and that would add to the picture. I knew that he’d been doing TV. In a number of his TV performances, he showed a different quality. I thought it was very good.
Bonilla: Since Barbara Steele was so young and new to acting, what influenced the decision to cast her as Elizabeth?
Corman: I had seen the Italian horror film Black Sunday directed by Mario Bava. I thought she was wonderful in it. I hired her simply off the performance in Black Sunday. Barbara was a good actress and very beautiful. There was also a dark tone to her just as Vincent was a leading man with a little quirkiness. I thought there was sort of a dark mysterious quality behind Barbara’s performance.
Bonilla: What was your experience working with Barbara Steele?
Corman: It was very good. She was very cooperative and a good actress.
A problem came up that I didn’t realize. I knew Barbara was English, so I thought, “Okay, she can play this role”. She’d been dubbed into Italian in Black Sunday. Barbara had a working-class British accent, which I had not anticipated. All of the characters in The Pit and the Pendulum were aristocrats or upper class. So, I brought in a dialogue coach. He worked with her for the picture, to get the accent I was looking for.
Bonilla: Barbara and Vincent, what was their relationship like on set?
Corman: They got along very well. It was a very friendly set. Because I’d worked with Luana Anders before, and I knew she was a good actress. The three of them were essentially the leads. It was a very pleasant, good picture to work on.
Bonilla: Did any issues arise on set?
Corman: There was one problem that came up. It was the pendulum. We had constructed a large pendulum with a blade that was blunted. It hung from the top of the studio, and it swung back and forth, as it was getting lower and lower. It was going to eventually cut John, who was lying on the platform.
As they were rehearsing it, John said to me, “Roger, do you think that thing is really safe? That looks a little dangerous”. I thought, “Gee, I don’t want a leading man who’s playing the key seen in the picture, worried about being hurt by the pendulum”. I said to John, “John, we’re going to go for the final rehearsal. I’ll show you, so don’t worry about it. I’ll get in there”.
So, I laid on the platform, looked up, and saw this pendulum swinging back and forth, coming closer and closer to me. I thought, “Maybe John is right. Maybe this thing is a little dangerous”. Then I emerged alive.
Bonilla: In the film, I noticed that there was a heavy emphasis on colors like blue, black, and gray. Was there importance to these colors?
Corman: It was important, but it wasn’t crucial. For instance, in Masque of the Red Death, red obviously was crucial to the picture. I was looking for a dark, somber palette, but I didn’t want it to be all black. So, I chose those colors with Danny Haller, the art director to whom I give a great deal of credit for these films. We were able to get a darker look, but vary it between different colors that could blend.
Corman: By coincidence, or possibly out of my unconscious mind. You absorb everything you see. It’s very possible. I saw these films, and maybe they influenced me without even being aware of it.
Bonilla: How surprised were you that the movie became the most financially successful out of the whole Poe series?
Corman: I think it was really the final scene. It’s one of the things added that was not in the script, and not in my shot plan. I diagram my shots very carefully in advance. We had finished the picture and had about 20 or 30 minutes left for the crew without having to pay them anything extra in overtime. I thought, “Well, I want to use this set. What can I do?”. I said to Floyd Crosby, the cameraman, “Let’s put the camera on a boom, and I’ll set up there with the camera. We’ll move back and forth along the wall and photograph all those images, just to use up the 20 minutes”. When I had those shots, they look very good, and I use them inner cutting with the pendulum itself. I thought they added to the scene.
Bonilla: I love that shot on Barbara steel in the Ironmen.
Corman: Yes, I remember we zoomed in and on that.
Bonilla: Was there ever a Poe story that you wanted to make into a film but never could?
Corman: Not really. The reason I finally made The Masque of the Red Death, because it had now been a number of years since Bergman’s film, and it was one I wanted to make all along. I just chose to finally make The Masque of the Red Death. I thought if somebody wants to say it’s a little bit like Bergman then Okay, let them say it.
Bonilla: Are there any new projects that you’re working on that you’re allowed to talk about?
Corman: Yes, I’m allowed to talk about anything.
I’m preparing three screenplays at the moment. I don’t want to shoot because of the Corona Virus and the difficulty in shooting because you have to be careful where you go. You have to check the crew every morning.
My thought is by fall 2021, there will be enough people vaccinated. So, I’ll be able to put together a regular crew, all of whom are fully vaccinated, and we can just go ahead and shoot the way we always did.
I’m working on three pictures. One, it’s a remake of my old picture The Unborn.
Two is a picture called Crime City, which is a low-budget picture. Because there was a terrible hurricane in the Caribbean, particularly in the Bahamas, a year and a half, or so ago. Therefore, I arranged to photograph all the damaged villages and everything about this, I thought, this gives me a great background. So, Crime City is written to fit the footage I’ve already shot in Nassau, Bahamas.
The third to me is my most important. I made a picture in the 1970s called Death Race 2000, which was a futuristic science fiction picture. Universal Studios remade it four times [as the Death Race franchise]. I told Universal, “What you’re doing is good. But you’ve missed some elements in it”. They said, “Well, Roger, why don’t you make the next one”.
I think there’s something in here that clearly has resonated with the audience. I think Death Race has run its course, so, I’ve come up with a new story that takes some of the elements from Death Race, and it’s called Death Games. That’s a picture I hope to shoot first in the fall.
Bonilla: With the popularity of The Fast in the Furious franchise, I’m sure Death Games is going to be fine.
Corman: The Fast and the Furious was very strange. Neil Moritz had made this car racing picture, but he didn’t like the title. And his father was Milt Moritz, who was the head of advertising for American International Pictures. They were having dinner, and Milt said to Neal, “You know, Roger made a picture a long time ago, in the 1950s called The Fast and the Furious. What do you think of that title?”. Neil liked that title. So, Neil and I had lunch, and he bought the title from me, but not the story. The story is entirely different.
Bonilla: This year is also the 40th anniversary of The Howling from one of your students of “The Comoran Film School”, Joe Dante. What was it like for you to have Dante direct to when you appeared in your phone booth cameo in The Howling?
Corman: It was great! A number of the directors who started with me, have me play little roles. For instance, in The Godfather Part II, I was a senator on the senate crime committee. With one of Jonathan Demme‘s pictures, I was the ex-President of the United States. I kept playing sort of governors, Senators, lawyers, and business executives.
Joe called me and said, “You play all these distinguished people, how would you like to be a bum on Skid Row?”. I said, “Great, Joe, I’ll play it”. Since I’m known a little bit for using what little money I have, after the first take, Joe said, “Roger, put your finger in the coin slot and see if you can get your coin back”.
All The Rules Are Broken
All the rules are broken as a sect of lawless marauders decides that the annual Purge does not stop at daybreak and instead should never end.
The fifth installment of the wildly popular Purge franchise takes The Purge concept from the city and suburbs to rural Texas, near the Mexican border. As in the previous Purge films, The Forever Purge commentates on current political issues, with this film focusing on issues impacting Latinos in contemporary America.
he main characters, Juan (Tenoch Huerta) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera), a married couple, who fled cartel violence in Mexico, adjust to their new life in Texas. They work blue-collar jobs at a meatpacking factory and the family-owned Tucker ranch. As they survive their first Purge, domestic terrorists illegally continue The Purge under the banner the “Ever After Purge”, with the intent of overthrowing the American government. During this chaos, the Purge Purification Force, a white supremacist domestic terrorist group, aim to “purify America” by killing as many Mexicans as possible. Along with survivors of the Tucker ranch, Juan and Adela race against time to cross the opened Mexican border before it closes. Their only chance for survival is to work together to fight off the domestic terrorist while confronting bias within their group.
Having two Latino leads in a major Hollywood studio film is a welcomed sight, considering how underrepresented Latinos are in Hollywood films. According to The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, in the top 100 films of 2019, only 5% of all speaking roles were Latino, despite Latinos being 18% of the total American population.
In both American and Latin American cinema, it is rare to have a dark-skinned Latino as a starring character. Latino casting in film tends to lean towards lighter-skinned Latinos, such as In the Heights. With The Forever Purge, not only is Huerta, a dark-skinned Latino, the lead, he is also a hero. Typically, if a dark-skinned Latino male is in a film, he usually portrays a villain, against either the lead light-skinned Latino or White hero. This exhaustingly perpetuated image in film continually perpetuates the stereotype of associating dark skin with criminal and undesirable behavior. This image also adds to the issue of colorism within the Latino community.
Huerta portrays Juan as a dedicated husband, hardworking, and bold fighter. His acting style appears to be influenced by Jorge Negrete and Bruce Willis. This image of Juan is a breath of fresh air. It’s very encouraging to see this positive image chipping away at the exhaustingly overused stereotype.
De la Reguera portrays Adela as a powerful woman, who is also caring, loyal, and a skilled fighter. The fighting skills that Adela shows throughout the film appears to be an ode to the Soldaderas of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Soldaderas were female rebel fighters, many of whom were trained in weaponry, espionage, and warfare. They were essential to the rebel resistance, holding an array of positions from commanding officers to camp followers.
Adela is put in a unique position of serving as a model leader. She is compassionate and protective to those who need the most help, especially the very pregnant Tucker wife Cassie. An action hero that little girls, especially Latinas, can look up to, seeing how there is still a lack of strong Latina heroes in film.
Director Everardo, like Huerta and de la Reguera, Gout is also Mexican, bringing an authentic voice and vision to The Forever Purge. His artistic direction is best seen in the Spanish spoken by the Mexican characters. In many American films, the Spanish spoken is too formal and sounds too rigid. With Gout’s direction, he helped authenticate the Spanish spoken by the characters, adding phrases and slang words commonly used in daily Spanish. This helps to create a deeper connection to Juan and Adela, especially to audience members who speak or understand the use of typical conversational Spanish.
The Forever Purge is an enjoyable action horror movie. It would have added to the film’s story, to have more character buildup and background for Juan and Adela, such as more explanation about their lives in Mexico and an exploration of their relationship as a married couple. However, it most importantly provides a positive representation of Latinos and role models that lack in overall American cinema.
With the ever-increasing Latino audience hungry for representation, especially in the horror genre, The Forever Purge shows the potential of what Latinos can be in a horror movie, if given the opportunity.
As part of our Filmmakers of Cannes 2021 series, we will be screening Malcom X this week, directed by this year’s President of the Cannes Film Festival Jury, Spike Lee. A visually striking biopic from the pioneering director, the film stars Denzel Washington as the revolutionary Black leader and thinker.
Washington, of course, is an icon of modern Hollywood, with his signature bold and passionate acting style. Just recently, The New York Times honored Washington as the #1 actor on its list of “The 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century (So Far)”. With the amazing array of acting roles he has created over the years with Lee and other talented directors, it can be tricky to decide which films/television series to watch first. These 6 roles are a marvelous introduction to the eclectic work of Denzel Washington.
#6 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child
This HBO original animated series from the late 1990s retold classic fairy tales with racially diverse main characters in their cultural environments, featuring an array of famous celebrities like Washington. Through his roles as both a king and Humpty Dumpty, Washington displayed a playful yet strong performance showing that he is also a talented voice actor.
#5 St. Elsewhere – Dr. Philip Chandler
Washington’s first major television series role places him as Dr. Philip Chandler in St. Eligius, a Boston teaching hospital, where the lives and tragedies of the hospital staff are explored. As a doctor, Washington shows a bluntly honest yet caring demeanor for patients and is willing to go head-to-head with other doctors for them.
#4 Man on Fire – John W. Creasy
After the young daughter of a rich family in Mexico City is kidnapped, ex-CIA operative bodyguard Creasy goes on a journey of vengeance bulldozing his way through corrupt cops and seedy characters. Washington expresses the deep sorrow and guilt of a man who has been forced to kill but finds compassion and the need to nurture through his protection of the young girl.
#3 Glory – Private Trap
This American Civil War drama is based on the Union Army’s first African American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, and their struggles for equality both on and off the battlefield. Washington won his first Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor) as Trip, an escaped slave who is embittered and trusts no one yet through time sees the 54th regiment as his family.
#2 Training Day – Alonzo
Washington won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role as Alonzo, a seasoned but corrupt police officer who takes a rookie LAPD narcotics officer out on his first day, forever changing both of their lives. The controlled energy Washington escalates throughout the film gives Training Day its tension and power, with the powerful line “King Kong ain’t got shit on me” particularly lingering in viewers’ memories.
The Book of Eli
Devil in a Blue Dress
The Magnificent Steven
Remember the Titans
The Pelican Brief
The Manchurian Candidate
#1 Malcolm X – Malcolm X
A jewel in the cinematic crown of Spike Lee, Malcolm X follows the life of the iconic and controversial 1960s civil rights leader. Washington, who was received a Best Actor nomination for the role, channels Malcom’s spiritual intensity, while also showing the complexity of his journey and the Black experience in America. The legacy of Malcom X’s social justice activism and elevation of Islam, along with this film’s artistic style, still influences society today.
On July 5, 2021, director Richard Donner passed away at 91 years old. He left behind a massive legacy of films and television shows spanning from 1960 to 2016. His diverse work varied from beloved films such as The Goonies to the influential classic TV series The Twilight Zone. With so many projects, this list includes my favorite television episodes and films that Donner directed.
Top 5 Television Episodes:
#5 Wagon Train, “The Bettina May Story”
While on a wagon train from the East Coast to California, matriarch Bettina May (Bettie Davis) faces mounting conflicts between her three adult children and must reevaluate her role and influence in their lives. Davis shows her powerful yet compassionate acting style as she navigates through the multiple dramas that emerge with her family throughout the episode.
#4 The Twilight Zone, “From Agnes with Love”
Lonely and lovesick computer technician James takes love advice from Agnes, an A.I. computer that becomes obsessed with him. Though this episode was made in 1964, it’s an unsettling reminder of how our growing dependency on technology like A.I. could potentially destroy our lives.
#3 The Banana Splits Adventure Hour
A Saturday morning variety show for children, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour stars a fictional live-action band of silly animal characters and featured Donner as the director for season 1. I loved watching this show when I was little–not because it made any sense but because it was so over-the-top and fun.
#2 Tales from the Crypt, “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”
An amateur ventriloquist (Bob Goldthwait) pursues his recluse ventriloquist hero (Don Rickles) only to learn his dark secret. Rickles, a comedic icon, shows his darker side in this role while also keeping his beloved signature comedic style.
#1 The Twilight Zone, “Come Wander with Me”
Floyd (Gary Crosby), a fame-obsessed singer, searches deep in the American backwoods for new songs and meets the beautiful, yet mysterious country girl Mary Rachael (Bonnie Beecher). The song heard throughout the episode, “Come Wander with Me”, has to be the most haunting one in the series, adding to the eeriness and isolation of the episode.
Top 5 Films:
#5 Lethal Weapon
Roger (Danny Glover) and Martin (Mel Gibson), two extremely opposite cops, must work together to capture a drug-smuggling gang. It is a fun take on the classic buddy comedy trope, filled with action and memorable lines from Glover.
#4 Superman: The Movie
Raised on Earth, alien orphan Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) uses his powers for good to protect the earth as America’s most beloved American superhero, Superman. Reeve is my favorite Superman because he is as strong as he is compassionate and caring.
#3 The Omen
Robert (Gregory Peck), an American diplomat to England, follows the paper trail of his adopted son Damien, as a series of tragic deaths and strange events following his family, leading to the horrific discovery of who Damien really is. Though not a very violent movie, the fear of how easy it is for evil to hide in plain sight, is the driving force of the film. The older I get, the more impactful the idea of hidden true evil feels.
A 1980’s metropolitan New York interpretation of the classic Charles Dickens tale A Christmas Carol, Scrooged focuses on Frank (Bill Murray), a successful but heartless television producer. He’s visited by three ghosts to help him re-evaluate his actions and change his ways. This uniquely dark and humorously SNL-influenced story takes on a timeless classic tale, making it one of my essential films to watch each Christmas.
One of Donner’s most underrated films, Ladyhawke combines the 1980s fascination with the medieval era, the supernatural, and a cast of great talents including Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Matthew Broderick. Gaston (Broderick), a career thief, escapes prison and meets Navarre (Hauer) and Isabeau (Pfeiffer), a couple under a devastating curse who desperately need his help to break the curse. My favorite ’80s movie, Ladyhawke is a campy, fun, entertaining, and sweet film that reminds us just how powerful love can be.
Fun fact: Donner met his wife Lauren Shuler while directing Ladyhawke, with the two falling in love with each other as they worked on the film.
1981 was a diverse year for cinema history, with such classics as The Evil Dead, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Time Bandits, and The Fox and the Hound hitting theaters that year. Among these films celebrating their 40th anniversary is the rebellious and radical punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. Directed and produced by Penelope Spheeris, the trailblazing documentary filmmaker exposed the world to the artistic, social, and cultural significances of the Los Angeles punk music scene despite most of society at the time disregarding punk as worthless noise and violence.
For the 40th anniversary of The Decline of Western Civilization, it was my honor and privilege to interview Penelope. We discussed her influences, connection to the LA punk scene, the process of creating the documentary, and her connection with Orange County.
You spent your teen years and early 20s here in Orange County. What was that like for you?
When my father died, my mother married a guy in the army, and we moved to Southern California from Arkansas. We lived in different trailer parks near San Diego. Then she divorced the soldier, married a sailor and we moved to Long Beach to live in the cockroach-infested tenements. At one point she was able to buy a house and we moved to Midway City and then Westminster.
I went to Westminster High School and got in a lot of trouble hanging out with my lowrider friends. After a bad car crash, my mom screamed at me, slugged me in the face, and said I would never amount to anything in life. That really pissed me off. I think I was fueled by anger ever since then. I had something to prove.
Were you involved in the OC punk scene? If so, who were your favorite bands?
When I lived in OC, which was during the ’60s, there was no punk scene. That scene didn’t happen until the late 70s, but even way back then, we had our own version of disdain for suburbia.
One day it occurred to me that the oldest building in our neighborhood was a 7-Eleven. It’s weird living in a place that has no history. OC does have a history now though and so many awesome bands were created as a result of that suburban boredom.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I don’t know. Think it might be in my DNA if that is possible. I have a very prolific and respected Greek cousin, Costa-Gavras. He’s directed some amazing movies like Z. Costa’s mother and my father were brother and sister.
As the oldest of four kids, I was placed in charge of my two brothers and my sister because our mom always worked 2 jobs, 16 hours a day. We would save up money by cleaning people’s yards and go to Saturday matinees to see double features, usually comedies.
Who were the creative influences on you in your early filmmaking?
Ironically, when I was at UCLA film school, my favorite filmmakers were Costa-Gavras, John Cassavetes, and Frederick Wiseman. I was unaware at that time that I was related to Costa. I just loved the way he could make a scripted movie feel like a documentary. Same for Cassavetes. Frederick Wiseman’s work was so fascinating to me because he was incredibly objective with regard to his subject matter. My favorite of his films is Titicut Follies, made in 1967, right when I started studying film at UCLA.
What inspired you to make a documentary about the LA punk scene as your first full feature film?
I had always been a rabid rock ‘n’ roll fan. I had a massive vinyl collection back then. When the mid-’70s rolled around, however, I decided I couldn’t buy records or listen to the radio any longer. It was all Bee Gees and Doobie Brothers. Unbearable.
Then, when the punk scene started up here in LA, I went to all the underground clubs. I felt so compelled to document the scene because it was unique, like nothing that I had ever seen before or experienced before. I felt instinctively there was historical importance to it.
How did you get the title of the film?
All of us who worked at Slash Magazine were sitting on the roof of the office one evening drinking beers. I was about halfway through filming, and we started talking about what I would title the movie. We all agreed it had to have something to do with respect for entropy. We tossed around ideas about disorder and disruption of the mainstream.
As I was driving home, it occurred to me that it should be called The Decline of Western Civilization, which is a derivation of the book by Oswald Spengler titled The Decline of the West.
How were you able to get so many bands involved with this documentary?
Basically, they were just bands that I knew and had become a fan of. I went out of my way to film the Germs because they were banned from every club. I had to rent a rehearsal studio to film them. And I really knew I needed Black Flag because if you had to name one band that started it all in So Cal, it was them in Polliwog Park in Hermosa Beach, CA.
I am forever grateful to [singer] Keith Morris of Circle Jerks because he helped put together the show I filmed at The Fleetwood [a club in Redondo Beach, CA] in which he performed on the same bill as Fear.
What was the most memorable moment you had during filming?
I had a really hard time convincing Darby Crash (singer of the Germs) to do an interview. He was actually a very shy guy, believe it or not. Unless he was fucked up.
I think the most memorable moment was when I was finally able to do an interview with him. He would only agree to do it if I would bring breakfast over for him and Michelle (Darby’s confidant) because they both had hangovers. So, I went to Ralph’s Market, bought a bunch of breakfast stuff, and asked him to cook it while I filmed them.
What would you consider to be the most difficult scene or scenes to shoot?
Probably the part of the Fear performance when Lee Ving [singer of Fear] got in a fight with the girl on stage. I was very conflicted. I didn’t really know if they were doing it because the cameras were rolling, because they were just trying to be really punk rock at that moment or if someone was going to get hurt. I didn’t know how far the physical confrontation would go, but, at a certain point, I realized that nobody was going to get hurt and that it was all pretty theatrical.
What would you consider to be the most enjoyable scene or scenes to shoot?
I really loved filming the intro, “Please be advised” sections of the film, because each of the announcements were read in such creative and different ways. I still like watching those parts of the movies and I never re-watch my movies.
The film was banned in LA by the Chief of Police Daryl Gates. What caused this ban? Were you able to find an alternative way to show it? When was the film eventually played in LA?
After I finished the movie, I brought it around to the different theaters in LA trying to get a week’s run or at least one night, but everyone shut me down. I practically begged the Mann brothers who owned the Chinese Theater at the time, and they told me that no one would want to see a punk rock movie, especially a documentary punk rock movie.
I was finally able to book one night at a theater on Hollywood Boulevard. It was a midnight showing and so many punks came out that they were spilling into the street after packing the theater and the cops shut Hollywood Boulevard down. Then, to keep the rowdy crowd happy, they had a second screening at 2:00 a.m. The brilliant photographer Ed Colver has some great photos of all the kids and 300 motorcycle LAPD cops.
The next day, I got a letter from the chief of police that told me never to show the movie in Los Angeles again. Of course, I ignored it, was able to four-wall the Fairfax Theater and we had a pretty good run there. I noticed after our showings they were able to refurbish the theater!
How does it feel to have this film added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry next to such classics as Psycho and The Godfather?
It feels absolutely flabbergasting! When I think back on all the criticism I got for making the film at the time and how difficult it was to even get it shown, to have it inducted into the national film registry is quite an honor. It just proves that if you really believe in something, keep fighting for it. That’s what I did with The Decline and it has somehow managed to survive and even be given a respected place in history.
How does it feel to look back at a film you released 40 years ago?
It feels like I’m old. Ha!
What are your thoughts on modern punk culture?
Punk has been bastardized, homogenized, ripped off, and fucked over. Especially recently, all the posers have jumped on board without ever understanding the true principles and raison d’etre (the reason of being) of the movement. The shameless fashion industry has stolen elements of punk culture with despicable disregard.
Shameless musicians steal, like unrelenting bandits. They may toss it off as “paying homage”, but it is sad that most of them are not aware of where it all came from and why it happened in the first place. They don’t understand the true original purpose.
Are you still in contact with any of the people you interviewed for the film?
Yes, quite a few. My best friend from the movie is Keith Morris. I have such respect for him in that he has lived his whole life committed to that true punk ethic. He is so smart, so eloquent, so productive and one of the sweetest guys I know. And by the way, the only person who ever thanked me for including them in the movie. But the audiences have thanked me immensely, so that’s enough for me.
Exclusive from John Doe: When asked for comment for this article about his participation in The Decline of Western Civilization, co-founder and singer/bassist of the band X, John Doe, shared, “What an insane adventure those days were. Penelope was a warrior to undertake such a task. Even though most of the filming happened under extreme circumstances, I’m glad the document exists & hope the audience forgives any questionable behavior. We were doing our best”. X, like many of the bands featured in this documentary, became the backbone and icons of LA punk.
Latinos in Punk: Penelope also showed the Latino influence in punk, with Latinos as a part of the pioneering generation of LA punk, such as Alice Bag of the Alice Bag Band and Ron Reyes of Black Flag. With Latinos being the majority of punk fans today, especially in the west coast and southwest, it’s deeply moving to see Latinos as punk pioneers. Though Latinos are a major ethnic population in America (18.5% of the total population), the documentation or acknowledgment of our historical influence in America is still sadly underrepresented. Through this documentary, Penelope challenged the gender and racial/ethnic stereotype of who is a punk, while simultaneously showing another perspective of the American Latino experience.
In Fin, Roth presents the urgent environmental need to stop mass shark killings, which has a greater impact on global environmental health than many are aware of. Many sharks are being killed for their fins for a multitude of uses, including shark fin soup.
The documentary also exposes how strong financial incentives, both legal and illegal, are a driving force in the mass killing of sharks.
In an exclusive with Variety, Roth shared, “Fin is the scariest film I’ve ever made, and certainly the most dangerous, but I wanted to send a message of hope to end this needless massacre of sharks”. Roth further elaborated, “They keep our oceans clean to produce half our oxygen, and they deserve our respect and deserve to be saved.”
Roth also noted, “Fifty years ago, the world came together to save the whales, then we did it for dolphins, and recently for Orcas. It’s time to do the same for sharks, and time is running out.”
It appears that the title Fin is a play on words. While fin does refer to the fins of a shark, fin is also used in many foreign films, especially Mexican, to signal the end. As Roth concluded in the trailer, “Without sharks, the planet can die”.
Fin will premiere exclusively on Discovery Plus on July 3rd for Shark Week. Learn more about the project at finthemovie.com