Tuesday, November 11, 2014

With The Lub: Michael Lennick (1952-2014)

One of my dearest friends, Michael Lennick - writer, director, producer, cameraman, editor, visual effects designer and mensch (a word he taught me) - has sadly left us away at the age of 61.

Donna and I first met him on the set of VIDEODROME (for which he was the video effects supervisor) in December 1981. Of all the people I met there, Mikey was the one I bonded with most closely and lastingly. When I returned to Toronto the following March, we celebrated the end of the shoot with an all-night summit in his living room, at which time he introduced me to the pleasures of home video, obviously a major eureka in my life. 

He also presided over others. It was Michael who introduced me to sushi, which has been my favorite thing to eat since that fateful day in 1983. In the first year of the new century, he produced my first two DVD audio commentaries - and he was astounded when I told him that I'd now done more than thirty. He was also a favorite VIDEO WATCHDOG contributor, whose ten pieces for us include feature articles on STAR WARS, STARSHIP TROOPERS and his hero Stanley Kubrick, as well as a recent review of John C. Fredericksen's 1950s series MEN INTO SPACE that presently awaits publication. He gave me a place to crash whenever I was in town, and took me to shop at Sam the Record Man's and Memory Lane Books, both of which are now history. We read and critiqued each others' unpublished and unproduced work. I introduced Michael, a milk drinker, to the pleasures of Chivas Regal scotch and cigars, and we braved one early morning set call on THE DEAD ZONE after only three hours' sleep; it was the day they filmed Christopher Walken in the burning room - it's a miracle that we, in our dark glasses, didn't spontaneously combust. He would show me scenes of films we both loved - including Mario Bava films - and help me to deconstruct the special effects shots, some of the most important lessons in filmmaking I ever had. During my last visit north of the border, we shared the experience of synching up the Stargate sequence of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to Pink Floyd's "Echoes." It worked remarkably well. Michael also filmed a wonderful testimonial for our Indiegogo campaign for VIDEO WATCHDOG's Digital Archive; he was delighted by the demonstration he saw and was looking forward to seeing the technology applied to his own articles.

Michael as I first knew him, with his VIDEODROME team, Lee Wilson and Rob Meckler.

As you can imagine, I loved Mikey as much as I've ever loved any man. He called me Timmy, and I let him. He signed most of his letters to me with the warm salutation "with the lub," so I know it was mutual. Thus the news came hard when we found out, a few weeks ago, that he had suffered a collapse and been hospitalized, where he was being kept comatose as tests were being made. Over the weekend, the news finally came that he had succumbed to a virulent form of brain cancer last Friday, November 7th. Michael, my brother from another mother, whom I met on the set of a now-classic movie about a video signal that causes brain tumors.

I know what he accomplished, and though he would argue it was not enough, his career was a triumph that he largely managed on his own terms. He produced work that was loved: his early cult hit THE ALL-NIGHT SHOW; his special effects work for the teleseries WAR OF THE WORLDS (where he got to recreate the Martian war cruisers of George Pal's classic film); the documentary DR. TELLER'S VERY LARGE BOMB, which featured the last interview granted by Edward Teller; the acclaimed documentary series ROCKET SCIENCE and THE SCIENCE IN FICTION, with their access to pretty much anybody who was anybody in the space program; the top-shelf film documentaries THE NEW MAGICIANS and 2001 AND BEYOND; and so many other projects that enabled Michael to meet and befriend his heroes in the space program and the annals of classic science fiction. Children of the 1980s also loved him as the voice of Boneapart, the skeletal sage of OWL TV.

Michael's classic character performance: OWL TV's Boneapart.
Michael spent much of this past year reconnecting with and interviewing people he had known from the Cronenberg days (including the recently departed Gary Zeller) for "The SCANNERS Way,"  the documentary he contributed to Criterion's recent SCANNERS Blu-Ray release, and conducting preparatory interviews and research for a projected documentary called THE CHILDREN OF PEARL HARBOR, which brought him back into the orbit of his old friend, artist Shary Flenniken - so his last year was ultimately one of closure. In our last telephone conversation, a couple of months ago, he told me that things were looking good for a projected series based on the short stories of Harlan Ellison, another of his idols who became a good personal friend.

My heart goes out to Michael's siblings David and Julie and to everyone who loved him - especially his beloved partner Shirley, the love of his life. I was staying with him when they had their first date and I remember how excited he was as he was getting dressed to go out. Our last communications were on Facebook and about grief, concerning the untimely passings of Michael's friends and colleagues Reiner Schwarz and Linda Griffiths. Linda also died at 61 years of age. Too young, we agreed.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

This Week's Film Notes - From My Facebook Page

Wow. DARK SHADOWS episode 1198. The last episode for so many characters, including - or so the DS Wiki tells me - Barnabas, Julia, Angelique, Elizabeth and so many others, though the repertory players will remain to carry on into a new, dissociated storyline. But, unexpectedly, this is really where the show ends as we always knew it. A somewhat sloppy execution, as always, a bit too hurried, but it works - except I wasn't expecting to say goodbye to so many old friends today. Excuse me, I seem to have something in my eye.

In an effort to feel more Halloweenish, I decided to watch THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971) after dinner. I think I've only seen it once or twice since its theatrical release, once on television and again as a bootleg VHS. It's odd how time can change some things; I don't remember so much of the film being lamely funny - on the contrary, I remember it being fairly tense and scary, on the first pass anyway. Now I can see that the film was heavily influenced by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DARK SHADOWS (it's an early case of the vampire in love, not at all credible here) and, strangely enough, KILL, BABY... KILL! with a ball-carrying, homicidal little boy in the thrall of the undead and a few shock zooms into the faces of antique dolls. A few effective, suspenseful scenes, with an especially well-handled first act with lore concerning the Santa Ana winds, and a bevy of rotten-faced, lumbering vampire brides who are much closer to the zombies of DAWN OF THE DEAD than anything traditionally blood-sucking, but then it begins to shoot itself repeatedly in the foot with too much self-conscious, jokey dialogue. So I'm afraid it hasn't aged for me as well as I'd hoped. One strange thing, though, concerning a tongue-in-cheek moment that shows Yorga (Robert Quarry) absorbed in a late night TV showing of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. I remember the televised clip being shown in B&W (I even seem to remember one critic pointing out this anachronism), but it's in color in the HD version being shown on Netflix - and looking far sharper than it should on Yorga's dinky portable 1970s set.

Watched Herzog's NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979), which I appreciated more in this viewing than ever before, though I still find the ending the work of a genre amateur. Kinski and particularly Adjani are magnificent. Then I finished off the evening by enjoying my PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES commentary - the first time I've actually seen the film in 1080p. I can endorse this disc whole-heartedly.

Enjoyed BEWARE OF MR. BAKER (2013) and think it's probably as fine a documentary on the subject as it could possibly be, so I'm a trifle infuriated that the filmmaker Jay Bulger opens by laying his ignorance of Ginger Baker on the table and 'fessing up to the fact that he misrepresented himself to his subject initially as a writer for ROLLING STONE - and then did sell his interview to ROLLING STONE. I'm a man of peace but I want to punch the little $#@!#% too.

Today I felt it was time to revisit Vincent Price's swan song at AIP, MADHOUSE (1974), which is on Netflix. With Jim Nicholson gone, Sam Arkoff returned to partnership with Amicus to complete Vincent's contract. I suspect that the recently late Michel Parry, who was then working for AIP's London office, must have had something to do with nominating Angus Hall's novel DEVILDAY for filming; Hall was one of Mike's Hammer novelizing colleagues, having written the paperback SCARS OF DRACULA. The movie has a stale look about it and it would have benefited from a tighter edit (get rid of the blackmailing parents of the first victim), but it is well-written with some believably catty movie biz dialogue and the film as a whole does serve as a gracious thank-you to Vincent for his rewarding years of service to AIP. The performances have their ups and downs, but on the whole, I'm starting to like it. If this film were better-known, I think Adrienne Corri's Faye, the spider-loving madwoman, might be a popular Halloween dress-up option today. All this, plus Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry (who attends a costume party as Count Yorga!), and Vincent sings! It was obvious that some gore opportunities were trimmed to appease the MPAA - the sword-stabbing of the blackmailers, for example. Also, I suspect the discovery of the blonde assistant's body was refilmed, because there's very little blood on her when she's found, then her blouse is drenched in it as Price is carrying her downstairs! But what I can't understand for the life of me is why - after actress gave a remarkably steady performance as her own corpse - director Jim Clark would insert shots of a blatantly waxen stand-in literally melting during the ensuing inferno! It completely destroys the verisimilitude of the climax!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

RIP Michel Parry (1947-2014)

A sad and much too early farewell to Michel Parry, the devoted Belgian celebrant of le fantastique who has now succumbed to cancer at the age of 67.

Mike was an irreplaceable source of knowledge and talent, perhaps undervalued because he was such a brilliant jack of all trades. I first knew of him as a journalist for CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN magazine; when he first wrote to me about a VIDEO WATCHDOG matter, I seized the opportunity to thank him for his short article about Fantômas and Judex in CoF #9, which introduced me to what has become one of my life's great obsessions. He also conducted CoF's multi-issue interview with Christopher Lee, the first in-depth interview I can recall a horror star every granting. Over the course of the following decade, Mike helped Christopher to collect stories befitting a trio of wonderful anthologies, CHRISTOPHER LEE'S "X" CERTIFICATE and two volumes of CHRISTOPHER LEE'S ARCHIVES OF EVIL. 

Although he wrote and published at least a couple of novels (one a novelization of Hammer's COUNTESS DRACULA), it was as one of the genre's leading story anthologists that Mike ultimately found his career niche. Among his collections: five volumes of REIGN OF TERROR (Corgi's Victorian horror story anthologies), THE DEVIL'S CHILDREN, BEWARE OF THE CAT, STRANGE ECSTASIES, SPACED OUT, WAVES OF TERROR: WEIRD STORIES ABOUT THE SEA, THE SUPERNATURAL SOLUTION, THE RIVALS OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE RIVALS OF DRACULA: A CENTURY OF VAMPIRE FICTION, THE RIVALS OF KING KONG, JACK THE KNIFE: TALES OF JACK THE RIPPER and, last but not least, six volumes in the MAYFLOWER BOOK OF BLACK MAGIC STORIES series. 

He also took an occasional active part in horror cinema, writing and directing his only short film "Hex" in 1969 and writing the screenplay for THE UNCANNY (1977) starring Peter Cushing, Ray Milland and Donald Pleasence (an anthology of scary cat stories that likely drew upon his 1972 anthology BEWARE OF THE CAT), the original treatment for the sf-horror film XTRO (1983) and a teleplay for MONSTERS called "Rouse Him Not," based on a story by Manly Wade Wellman, starring Alex Cord and Laraine Newman.