John Landis on his new book “Monsters in the Movies”

John Landis on his new book “Monsters in the Movies” (photo)

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Anyone who’s followed the career of director John Landis could tell you: the man knows his movies. You can’t make something like “An American Werewolf in London” or Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” if you don’t understand horror films inside and out. Landis’ movies, from “Kentucky Fried Movie” to “The Blues Brothers” to “Three Amigos” are awash in cinemania. Cinephiles love Landis because Landis clearly loves cinephilia.

For proof, you only need to check out Landis’ beautiful new book, “Monsters in the Movies,” an illustrated history of cinematic creatures. With witty commentary and insightful observations, Landis outlines the origins and developments of all the famous monsters of filmland, from Dracula to Frankenstein to The Mummy and many more.

“Monsters in the Movies” includes over a thousand pictures from the Kobal Collection, the largest collection of motion picture stills in the world. Kobal approached Landis about doing a picture book on whatever topic he wanted; he decided to write about monsters. “It’s a very inclusive subject,” Landis told me, “because it’s fantasy, science fiction, horror, Bergman, Fellini; anything with a monster.”

During our conversation, Landis and I talked about plenty of monsters, and plenty of other topics covering his lengthy and impressive filmography. I got his picks for the best recent monster movie (hint: it’s Swedish) and the best movie monster of all time (hint: it’s Krellian). We also discussed DVD director’s cuts, the possibility of a “Blues Brothers” television show, and why zombies are the monsters of the 21st century.

How long did it take you to write the book?

The research took me two and a half months; I was surprised by how long it took. It was a lot of work. Then when I realized I had to write captions for those 1400 pictures, I was like “Holy shit!”

My favorite caption was the one for “Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype.” Just two words: “Don’t ask.” Naturally, I had to look it up. It’s on Netflix Instant.

With Oliver Reed. Oh, it’s terrible.

It’s actually a great book to read that way. Have Netflix open as you look through it and then fill up your queue. I found twenty movies in there I either hadn’t seen before or haven’t seen in years that were on Netflix Instant.

What I would like is if it introduced people to movies they didn’t know. But it’s really very specific. It’s not about the quality of the film, it’s about monsters in the movies.

Movies are unique. They’re not like painting or theater or sculpture or literature. If you pick up a book and it’s bad, you put it down. Or if you see a bad painting, you don’t spend time studying it. But we can sit through bad movies and often do.

Some of us enjoy them.

Yeah! It’s totally different. Bad theater? I’m outta there, I can’t stand it. So bad movies are kind of a unique phenomenon.

There are also some great interviews in the book with monster-inclined filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante, and Sam Raimi.

They’re all very distinguished guys and people I’ve known for many years. So they are friends of mine. I call them conversations as opposed to interviews because I was able to challenge them. I’m thrilled with my interview with Christopher Lee because he notoriously doesn’t really want to talk about Dracula, but with me it was different.

You ask most of those guys the same first question: “What is a monster?”

And they all had different answers.

Did you have a favorite response?

My favorite poetic response is Guillermo’s. He rejected the idea of horror films as roller coasters, which is what almost everyone says they are. It’s not a bad analogy because it talks about experiencing danger without being in danger. But Guillermo said that doesn’t work because horror movies are not physical. Which is actually wrong; they are physical. But he said that wonderful thing where he described horror movies as “roller coasters for the soul.” I thought that was great.

I was fascinated by their answers. Ray Harryhausen refused out of hand that his creatures were “monsters.” Which I kind of loved. Everyone had different ideas. I loved David Cronenberg’s analogy of zombies representing aging and decrepitude.

That was interesting. I’d never heard that one before.

Joe Dante says monsters are metaphors. And he recommends a parlor game: name the monster, name the metaphor. He uses Godzilla as his example. But it’s true: zombies, I think, are the monsters of the 21st century. And what zombies have evolved into, far from their Caribbean roots, are agents of the apocalypse. Clearly this renaissance of zombie pictures — I mean, Brad Pitt is making a $200 million zombie picture right now — represents the collapse of social order, chaos, anarchy. Which is what is happening all over the world and what we’re really scared of. It’s why Mayor Bloomberg broke up those protestors. People are really scared of that.

I was thinking about the roller coaster analogy while I was reading the book. You’ve organized each chapter by monster, so you look at twenty Draculas and then fifteen Frankensteins. That repetition is interesting, and it does kind of reflect on the roller coaster idea: monsters are a kind of safe and almost reassuring horror.

It depends. There are some movies that are truly scary. Whenever you do something about people, whether it’s Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates, there’s a reality already there because people like that exist: Son of Sam, Charles Manson. So those films have a leg up on scaring you and can be the most profoundly scary. Ultimately, ghosts and goblins, vampires and werewolves, mummies, they don’t exist. To really terrify you with that stuff is harder. I love the image that Christopher Lee describes when I asked him what scared him as a child and he talks about seeing the Karloff “Frankenstein” and thinking that he’d be laying in his bed and Boris would be standing there. That’s really scary.

As someone who watched “Thriller” at a very young age, I could relate.

Oh, yeah, “Thriller”‘s not for little kids, it’s too scary.

I learned that the hard way.

[laughs] Your mother let you see it?

Yeah. And then for years when it would show up in “Greatest Music Videos of All Time” countdowns I would make up some bullshit excuse and leave the room so I didn’t have to relive the trauma.

When my son Max, who’s now having great success — his first produced screenplay called “Chronicle” comes out in February — was little, I was fascinated by two things. One, when something was scary, he would cover his ears. And two, he knew when something was too scary. He wouldn’t expose himself to it, which I thought was really great.

I had the opposite problem. I knew something would scare me, but I’d watch it anyway and have nightmares. You talk about that in the book, how children are drawn in a weird way to the things that terrify them.

Absolutely. And not so weird, either, because you’re learning to deal with your fears.

Are there things we can say about people based on the monsters they like? For example, are there personality traits that all Frankenstein fans have in common?

[pause] That’s interesting. I’d have to think about it more. There certainly are some people who are crazy about vampires, for example. Girls, usually, adolescent girls. And now you have the whole “Twilight” phenomenon. These movies are not about vampires, they’re about abstinence. They’re Mormon vampires.

What was the last new monster movie that really impressed you?

That Swedish movie, “Let the Right One In.” I just loved it. I still think the best monster ever, just conceptually, is from “Forbidden Planet” — the “Monster From the Id.” That’s so clever, and the whole concept of this civilization advancing to the point where their thoughts are reality, and then not considering their subconscious, it’s so brilliant.

Several times in the book when the question of the best horror film of all time comes up, you cite “The Exorcist.”

That’s my best example of what a fantasy film is supposed to do. What’s brilliant about “The Exorcist” is William Friedkin made that movie — I mean the original theatrical release —

Not “The Version You’ve Never Seen?”

Yeah, there was a reason for that.


Anyway, “The Exorcist” is the classic example of what’s called suspension of disbelief. I use myself as the example. I’m an atheist. I do not believe in the devil; in fact, I’m suspect of people who do. I just don’t believe any of the tropes of that movie. None of them. They’re ridiculous. But during the course of the film, Friedkin created an atmosphere that’s so brilliantly set up that you buy into all of it. To the point where when Max von Sydow’s Father Karras shows up at the house, you’re like “Oh thank Christ!” It’s just a great film in terms of making the unreal real.

All right, so if it’s “The Exoricst” is number one, what’s number two?

I’ve seen a lot of really scary movies. I was fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your point of view, to go to all the grindhouses on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1970s with Joe Dante and some other people. It was very much like how 42nd Street used to be. We’d go see triple features for a dollar. Every so often there’d be one that would make you go “Wait a minute, this is good!” I saw “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” that way, knowing nothing about it. It just terrified me. Having watched it a number of times since, I still think it’s brilliant. It’s relentless. And there’s very little onscreen violence. It’s considered the most gruesome movie, but it’s not. Really, I think the most gruesome movie I’ve ever seen is “The Passion of the Christ.” That was seriously outrageous.

The first time I saw “Night of the Living Dead” I saw it in a triple feature, also knowing nothing. And it started and I went, “This looks cheap and shitty.” The movie kept going and I realized while watching it that the lead of the movie slowly became the black guy, which was so extraordinary at the time. It just blew me away; the kid eating her father and then coming after the mother with the trowel. It totally freaked me out.

Speaking of alternate director’s cuts like that version of “The Exorcist,” you don’t seem to be a big fan of that. You’ve rarely released alternate cuts of your movies, although I do own a longer version of “The Blues Brothers.”

It’s not that I’m not a big fan. Ridley Scott’s version of “Blade Runner” is better than the theatrical version. He did improve it. With “The Blues Brothers,” that’s a preview print of a little longer version. “Three Amigos” just came out on Blu-ray and I was very pleased because I was given the opportunity to restore it. It’s gorgeous. The movie was intended to look like an old Technicolor Hollywood western and the Blu-ray is really the way it’s supposed to look. I’m so happy with it. On the Blu-ray as an extra are 20 minutes of deleted scenes. And you look at them and you go “Well, we were probably right to take them out.” You never know.

When I was at Fantastic Fest a few months ago, they had an anniversary screening for “An American Werewolf in London.”

Oh, with that beautiful poster.

Exactly. And Rick Baker was there, and I got to talk to him about the movie. He said all he sees when he looks at the movie now are the mistakes he made. Can you look at your movies and enjoy them or are you the same way?

Some of them. But, yeah, you just see all the mistakes. And it’s also hard to separate the actual movie from the experience of making the movie.

What about “American Werewolf?” Rick was complaining about the transformation. I think it still holds up amazingly well.

I think it holds up. I think I showed the finished wolf too much. Rick doesn’t, but I do. I was so enamored with his work that I let you see it too much in the movie.

What are you working on now?

I have a film that’s supposed to happen next year in Paris, a little monster movie. I wrote a treatment and now I’ve got to write the script but I haven’t really finished it and I should.

Are you involved with that “Blues Brothers” television show that was announced last summer?

That’s non-existent.

It’s not happening?

It was announced they were trying to sell it, but I don’t think that they have. I know nothing about it. That’s by Judy, John [Belushi]’s widow.

You wouldn’t be interested in directing some of it?

Not a TV series.

Do you want to write more books? I would love to read your memoir. Is that something you’d be interested in?

They ask me to do that all the time. But I don’t know. You can’t really be truthful when you write a memoir. If you were truthful you’d never work again and you’d lose a lot of friends. I don’t see the benefit of it.

“Monsters in the Movies” is available now. if you check it out, let us know what you thought in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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