Category Archives: movies

Godzilla, Gill Man and Geekdom: An ode to classic horror.

I always get a little nostalgic around this time of year. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays; it’s a great equalizer in the generation gap. Kids and adults can partake equally in the costuming …and sugar-gorging. Hell, my all-time favorite costume accomplishment was Silent Bob and I was in my mid thirties when I made it!

But beyond the get-ups and sugar-highs is the real reason for the season – celebrating that which scares the bejesus out of you. With all due respect to haunted houses and ghost tours, the most endearing Halloween scare tactic is the scary movie.

Monster movies were my gateway drug into the sci fi genre. I can remember watching Godzilla as a little kid and being quite sad when he met his demise at the hands of the oxygen destroyer bomb. This is how I knew, early on, that I was destined for geekdom.

I didn’t cry when I discovered the truth about Santa.

I didn’t cry when I lost my first tooth.

But I cried for Godzilla.

None of my early scary movie experiences were of the technicolor variety. Frankenstein, Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dracula all had the same grayish complexion and bloodless visual effects that were more about suspense than gore. There was no theme music or layered sound effects when Frankenstein (actually, he’s The Monster – he was never named Frankenstein) appeared from the shadows. There was just silence. That was pretty unnerving. After all, if there’s something that lets you know there is something coming, you’re less likely to be scared when you see it.

To this day I can’t get really scared at a horror scene with a blaring sound track to build suspense and tension.

Bride of Frankenstein was a monster with emotion. She wasn’t as scary as she was disturbing; that lifeless face highlighted by those striking, huge eyes. Frankenstein’s monster didn’t have eyes like that. Dracula had a creepy, evil look about him – with the eyes to match it. But he wasn’t disturbing. Wolfman and the Gill Man (Creature from the Black Lagoon) were all about make-up and costume. There wasn’t room for subtleties there. The Bride had something more, and not just because she was a female – although that could be part of it. There was humanity in her; something that didn’t belong in a monster’s body. It was angry and terrified at the same time. That juxtaposition is really what horror is all about. The sense that something is not right; That something is blatantly not normal and yet you can’t put your finger on what it is but it doesn’t matter because it’s coming for you.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon was just cool. I never saw it as any kind of horror or scare film. Like Godzilla, the Gill Man was a freak who lashed out a the people who pissed him off. But he had one big thing going for him… he swam. Not just walking on the bottom of the lake or sinking and then re-appearing from a surface view. You saw him swimming under the surface. A few years ago, at Orlando’s annual Screamfest (now Spooky Empire) Convention, I got to meet the guy who wore the Gill Man suit in the underwater scenes – Ricou Browning.

Ricou, who was a diver at Silver Springs, Florida, was the guide for the scouting crew that was looking for locations to film Creature. He’s not the tallest guy, so his height served to make the surrounding area that much deeper. But what caught the scout’s interest was the way he swam.

“I swim the way the Creature swims,” he told me. “It’s like a crawl; I use my arms to pull me forward as my legs kick. They saw me swimming and asked if I would be willing to act in the underwater scenes.”

I spoke at length with him about the costume and how they managed to hide an aqua lung underwater so he could catch a breath… all the while thinking, “Damn! This guy was one of my favorite monsters! I’ve known this dude All My Life!”

Destined for geekdom.

When color was introduced into my scary movie experience, thanks to Hammer Films, things got weird. I remember first seeing Christopher Lee as Dracula on a PBS horror movie marathon. The vision of bloody fangs amid his grimacing visage was shocking-at-least. For the first time, I was seeing blood in a horror movie.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw Lee as Dracula, but it was years, literally years, before I would watch another Hammer film or any scary movie in color. That’s how effective it was. Sadly, the more blood I saw, the less scary it became. The impact of the first sight of a bloody scene wore off with every slash, stab and beheading.

Yet those bloodless scenes without a soundtrack still hold my attention like a little kid who cries for Godzilla and watches in amazement as the Gill Man swims.

All due respect to horror’s Big Three – Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers. I still love the first Halloween, and whenever AMC has it’s annual marathon, I’m there! But there is something more endearing about the classics. They hold up, in spite of the detachment and desensitizing that comes from years of gore films.

Some things change. Some things get better with age. But the best stuff takes you back.

Happy Halloween!

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The Shoot

Photography is the act of capturing life. From the delicate, fleeting moments that otherwise could be lost in the bustle of the everyday to history changing events that, through the skilled eye of the photojournalist, hold an awe-inspiring aesthetic of the human condition.

This is neither.

I was lucky – and when I say lucky, I mean lotto-style lucky – enough to have the chance to record for posterity, the largest gathering of Slave Leia costumes in the history of the metal bikini.

During my weeks of feverish preparation for Star Wars Celebration 5, I was asked to be the official photographer for the 501st Legion. I have had the pleasure of working with the Orlando chapter of the internationally renown Star Wars costume group on several occasions and was honored to oblige the request to be the photographer for the gathering of the entire legion at the latest Star Wars Celebration. Not long after the 501st request, I was contacted by members of the FISD (First Imperial Storm Trooper Detatchment) – another costuming group specializing in the famous white Imperial armor – for some help with their group photo… and naturally accepted.

Just out of curiosity, I asked my contact at the 501st if he knew of any Slave Leia groups who needed a photographer. The request was half-joking (maybe less than half) but he responded with the email address of the head of LeiasMetalBikini.com.

“No shit?” I thought.

I sent an email with my offer to take a group photo. As if they had any problem finding a photographer. And as it turns out, they did, in fact, need a photographer.

“No shit,” was my unspoken reaction.

After forwarding some examples of my work, I received an enthusiastic acceptance and was set as the official photographer for LeiasMetalBikini.com.

“No Shit!” — I actually yelled that out loud. Lucky I was home alone at the time.

In my career I’ve covered college football, hockey, basketball, concerts, fires and a political rally. This was not the largest crowd of onlookers I had to deal with, but it was the tightest. I don’t know how many people were crammed around the Gentile Giant booth on the C5 exhibitor floor, watching the ladies line up around a full-size Jabba The Hutt statue, but claustrophobia couldn’t have been an issue for any of them. Unfortunately, deodorant was an issue for some of them.

But the scenery was worth it.

All geeky, awe-struck, hormonal spazing aside, these women are very cool. They took so much time out of their days to pose with fans all over the convention center. Model/reality TV star/big time Star Wars fan Adrianne Curry was also part of the group and was constantly honoring autograph and photo requests wherever she was. It takes guts to put on the bikini but it takes heart to take that kind of time out for the fans. I thank every one of them for their patience.

That said: ladies and gentleman (ok, gentleman) …the Leias.

awesome

awesome

awesome

That's Ken the Elvis Trooper. He's awesome too, but in a different way.

awesome

awesome

Even just walkin around, they're awesome.

Yep, that's awesome too.

Decompression

Star Wars Celebration V is in the books. On the blogs. And in the Tweets. The orgyastic four-day festival of all things Star Wars (but mostly The Empire Strikes Back) was another affirmation of the enduring appeal of the saga, and the strength of the bonds of fandom.

In short, geeks rule!

I’m still regaining my strength and senses. Also getting used to the emptiness of my home which, until this afternoon, was bustling with the activity of fans in convention mode. My extended family – The Booths of Ohio – have since landed safely and settled back home. They are no doubt going through the same emotional re-adjustments that I am, as are several thousand others who just finished up a fantastic fan gathering.

You can’t help but feel bummed in the hours and days after such a great time has ended. Especially when you know it will be at least another 3 years until it happens again (Celebration IV would celebrate the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi, which will be in 2013). Sifting through your memories – which, in my case, means editing photos – helps the decompression process and allows you to relive the happenings, revisit the people and hold on to everything that was.

I plan to put it all into words before too long. Some things – like Adrianne Curry and about 30 other women dressed in the Slave Leia metal bikini, and hanging out with ILM model maker Jon Berg – will be tough to put into words. For now, pictures will tell some of the story.

Hands down, most amazing costume of the con... and the best I've seen ANYWHERE so far.

Yup, that's John Stewart. And I didn't have to wait 12 hours in line for a wristband to see him!

I don't know and I don't care. Great Fett!

He had to take a Sith.

A great piece from the custom skate deck gallery.

In my day we had to use all different colors to make our LEGO figures! Get off my lawn.

Star Wars meets The Exorcist.

The 501st party. Yes, those are guys in Leia dresses. Be thankful they're not wearing the metal bikini.

Even Elvis is a Star Wars fan!

Anyone who thinks all Star Wars girls are weird-looking is a moron.

Chuck Silver of the band Sci Fried.

If Bow-Flex put this in their ad I might buy one.

Slave Leias Rule!

... and Adrianne Curry ROCKS!

The 501st Legion. Best costume club EVER (Adrianne is part of them too so the bikini is represented along with the armor)

That's a lotta troops.

The guy on the right is Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm director of fan relations. The other two just got engaged after the big 501st group photo... not to Steve, to each other.

Wild About Harry

With Star Wars Celebration 5 just a few weeks away, Orlando has already been the focus of a butt-load of attention and general geek love. Within the last month our fair city has been a stop on the Star Wars In Concert tour, enjoyed record attendance at Disney’s annual Star Wars Weekends events and will play host to our first ever Bot Con – the annual Transformers convention. It’s no secret that the theme park capital of the known universe is a mecca for events and conventions, but no recent event (with the exception of the aforementioned C5) has earned Orlando a spot on the world stage more than the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Even those unfamiliar with the adventures of Harry and his pals have been the victim of the media and marketing onslaught that Wizarding World has generated. John Williams himself sat in with the Orlando Philharmonic during a red carpet reception celebrating the opening of the park — yeah, JOHN FREAKIN’ WILLIAMS! And let me tell ya, as only a marginal follower of the mega-franchise, I was still ecstatic at the opportunity to attend the opening day. And the many, many… many thousands of people with whom I shared the experience, made it all the more memorable.

Journalists, generally speaking, are notoriously grizzled and jaded. No so much from a need to be objective, but because we see and do so much in the course of our jobs that it just takes a lot to impress us. Speaking as an easily amused individual, I rarely have that problem.

My Potter-Pallooza came courtesy of my employer, who generously gave me 2 days to experience both a media preview and the grand opening. This was the first time since I left a daily news paper (hence the blog name ExPress) that I was privy to a large scale media event. Being of a small publication, however, I was still very much a face in a crowd. The Today Show and many international press reporters were given access beyond other media folks, but let’s not split hairs: Special treatment at a special event is a pleasure no matter the extent or the reason. And, having missed the John Freakin’ Williams performance, I was out to enjoy as much as I could.

The media preview included a press conference with some of the people who helped create the park, produce the movies and the stars of the Harry Potter films including Rupert Grint, Tom Felton and Michael Gambon and Harry himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Special? Yes! And so was finding Rupert Grint hanging out after the press conference, just chatting with the crowd, and very agreeable to the occasional photo request.

Another gift during the press conference was free Butterbeer. The drink, featured in the films, is re-invented for the park as a non alcoholic beverage. At first taste it’s like a combination of cream soda and root beer with a frothy head (added separately) that tastes mildly of pumpkin with nutmeg and other spices mixed in.

In short, it’s crack. Sweet, refreshing, mildly carbonated crack.

After 4 of them I still needed more – and I wasn’t the only one. Media, though jaded, are always up for a freebie… and this stuff was worth paying for. Empty Butterbeer cups could be found on every table and filled every trash can.

The Butterbeer buzz got us through the next part of the media day experience – a guided tour of the park. We were shown around the quaint town of Hogsmeade – painstakingly and wonderfully recreated for the park. Many of the shops are only storefronts featuring details from the films, but some were actual retail outlets such as Honeyduke’s candy shop and Zonko’s joke shop. Ollivander’s Wand Shop, however, is by far the most intriguing.

Inside, the wand maker Ollivander chooses someone from the crowd of shoppers and gives a one-on-one consultation in which he selects a want from the shop’s inventory. The recipient preforms an act of magic (with the help of some well placed animated devices such as moving books and a bell that rings). If the trick is successful, the wand has chosen it’s owner.

— Oh, you still have to pay for the wand, but you will know that your wand was meant for no one else but you.

The experience is more show than shop, with the actual store in a neighboring room. Visitors are guided into the real retail outlet after the show and, yes, only one person per group is chosen. Therefore, if you have a child who wants a wand, make sure he or she is aware that the Ollivander’s experience is a SHOW and that you will buy them a wand afterward. That way no promises – nor eardrums – risk being broken should your child not be chosen for the consultation.

Wizarding World is more than shops and shows. What theme park would be complete without rides? Dragon Challenge is actually the Dueling Dragons ride that opened in Universal’s Islands of Adventure years ago. It was a convenient addition to Wizarding World because it fit perfectly into the magical, mythical landscape. The former Flying Unicorn kiddie coaster is now Flight of the Hippogriff. The track is the same but the line cue is different with Hippogriff shaped cars added to the track.

The park’s marquee ride is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This attraction is actually two unique and awesome experiences in one. Within the amazingly detailed recreation of Hogwart’s Castle is a line cue that rivals most theme park rides. Talking portraits, ornate statues, a visit with Dumbledor and and an appearance by Harry, Ron and Hermione make every Muggle wish come true – and that’s just the start. The ride itself is an immersive experience with state of the art motion simulation and some frighteningly realistic creature effects. Not for the faint of heart, or faint of stomach, but if there was ever a good reason to risk losing a little of your breakfast, Forbidden Journey is it.

It seemed strange to have only three rides in the park but there are some details to consider.

One: Wizarding World is part of Universal’s Islands of Adventure – a cluster of “lands” that are only afforded so much space. Wizarding World is not much larger than all of Disney’s Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, so there is only room for so much.

Two: It’s a new park. Who knows what they have planned if the park should be a hit once the opening weekend frenzy wears down.

Even with a surprise preview for the public (during what was supposed to be a media-only preview), the crowds were manageable and wait times minimal. But this was only a preview. The true test was to come the following day.

The Following Day: As the media and invited guests were gathering around the entrance to Wizarding World, an unimaginable throng of Potter fans were already gathered in the Universal Studios parking area. Thousands of fans packed the walkways that extended toward the grand opening area. The heat was unbearable, even for Florida. Having already experienced the park the previous day, we the media were feeling less-than-patient when the 9am start time was pushed back. All in all, the delays were tolerable, especially when word got around about just how many people were waiting in lines since the previous evening. Smart phones provided the information and the footage but no one could believe just how big it was until we ALL were allowed in.

A dedication ceremony (only about 30 minutes late) that included the stars from the previous day’s press conference was a quick and to-the-point production that included a meet and greet with some schoolchildren who had won a contest to be the first opening day visitors to Wizarding World. After that, the crowds were allowed to enter.

Within 15 minutes I watched as empty streets reached the attendance level we had experience the day before… and then surpass it. Within 30 minutes the crowds had made for a 2 hour wait to Forbidden Journey and not long after, the line at the Butterbeer vendor (located near the front of the park) reached Space-Mountain-like wait times. Before noon the line reached more than half way through the park – Just For Butterbeer!

At 11:30 I headed back to the media center for lunch. Not far away, a thunderstorm was beginning to build. It did not take long to make it’s way to the park. When I returned at about 12:30 both Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff were closed due to lighting in the area. Rain had already moved through with more on the way and thunder could still be heard in the distance.

… but the Butterbeer line was as long as it was before the storm. Not only had people stayed in line during the bad weather, but the storm could not deter the masses as they continued to file in behind those who had been in line for hours.

Crack, I tell ya. Crack.

Second only to the Butterbeer line, was the wait for Three Broomsticks – the one and only eatery in the park which, not surprisingly, has no reservations. The Three Broomsticks line snaked in front of both Honeyduke’s and Zonko’s which made entry into some of the only real shops in Hogsmeade, a task unto themselves.

Forbidden Journey however, was operating smoothly, even when it wasn’t operating. The ride had some technical problems and shut down a few ties during the day. The line, however, kept moving. The parts of the cue where guests are treated to various Potter-esque eye candy actually act as buffers. As people take the time to watch the portraits interact and visit Dumbledor’s office and see Harry and his friends, there is space building in the line sequence. Even when the ride shuts down, there is still movement through the cue as visitors take up the space.

Having seen expressions of joy, frustration, exhaustion and more joy on the faces of the crowds, it seemed the general feeling in the crowd was the same as any other day in a theme park. The heat and lines were harrowing, but all is usually forgiven once you get on the ride, pay for your souvenirs and taste the Butterbeer (crack). There will always be nay-sayers, complainers and haters, but as long as there is a fan base (and there is most definitely a fan base), things will work out.

Hell, I’d go back – even if I wasn’t guaranteed a Butterbeer.