Archive for May, 2013

Photo by Kim Gottleib. Jamie Lee Curtis is directed by John Carpenter on the set of Halloween (1978) while Tommy Lee Wallace listens behind the door.

Photo by Kim Gottleib. Jamie Lee Curtis is directed by John Carpenter on the set of Halloween (1978) while Tommy Lee Wallace listens behind the door.

Slasher films would be a contender for the bottom slot if I were to rank the horror genres in order of my preference. However, they make sense as a starting point to this blog for a couple of reasons: I live in Bowling Green, Kentucky and I saw the best horror film I’ve seen in some time last night and it thoroughly embraced the classic slasher formula.

Admittedly, in my early years I adored what few entries into the genre I was exposed to on television, particularly Psycho (1960 dir. Alfred Hitchcock), Peeping Tom (1960, dir. Michael Powell) and Dementia 13 (1963, dir. Francis Ford Coppola). Dementia 13 doesn’t seem to be remembered by younger generations. Perhaps now that ghost stories are coming into vogue again people will start to appreciate the atmospheric spookiness that it achieved. Despite centering on an axe wielding lunatic it shared as many attributes with a ghost story as it did a slasher.

I had the pleasure of seeing Halloween (1978 dir. John Carpenter) in theaters when it was first released and babysitting would never be the same. I did have some trouble accepting the end and declared I didn’t like it because of the implausibility of it. Most movies then, at least the ones I could get away with seeing, wrapped their ending in nice neat packages. In fact, until nearly the 70’s the Hays Code actually required it to insure that crime didn’t pay. These days though, particularly with foreign made films, if you don’t get over that you are missing much of the best stuff out there. So, I did long ago.

Halloween became all the more interesting to me when I moved to Bowling Green to attend WKU. It’s the town referenced in the music credits (Bowling Green Philharmonic Orchestra, a.k.a. John Carpenter with a keyboard) for what some have claimed to be the most recognizable piece of music in the world.

John Carpenter’s father was head of the music department at WKU for years. My first apartment was on Chestnut Street, where police searched for Michael Meyers after he unleashed his rampage, and Smiths Grove, the location of the fictional sanitarium from which he escaped is just down the road. Not far in the other direction is Russellville, where the real Laurie Strode, Carpenter’s childhood crush, grew up. It took some time, but our city now embraces its connections to the master of horror it influenced and the films in which he acknowledges it.

Tourism set up a self guided tour that includes both locations in his life and those mentioned in the films and from time to time Carpenter has appeared at events for various local organizations.

His early partner in crime, Tommy Wallace is from the area. The two formed their first band, Tomorrow’s Children, here and the more popular later group, The Kaleidoscope, for which they projected Chaplin and Keaton films onto the bass drum. They still get together as Coup de Ville for shows among friends. To the public the group is mostly known for the bizarre video playing the theme song from Big Trouble In Little China.

Wallace’s role in several of Carpenters early movies was very significant, not least of which was being the guy that found the mask for Halloween (in his capacity as Production Designer). As most slasher fans know it was a cheap, plastic Captain Kirk mask bought in a quick run to the store that was painted over in white.  Simple, as was most of the beauty of Halloween, that’s why it remains one of the most profitable indie films of all time.

Wallace is also known as the director of Stephen King’s It with the iconic evil clown. He’s done several others, but I particularly enjoyed one of the more obscure ones, 12 Days of Terror, for which he wrote the teleplay. It claims to tell the true events that Jaws is based on. It’s a made for television, period piece (1916) that really keeps you on the edge of your seat and rooting for the characters throughout.

According to Wallace, their original plan had been to create a series of movies, entirely unrelated save taking place on Halloween. But they chose to bring back all their main characters for Halloween II (1981), condemning their third effort Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) to be rejected by fans when they realized Michael would not be making an appearance that All Hallows Eve. More a modernization of the mad scientist genre, Season of the Witch is not a slasher, rather the story, written and directed by Wallace, centers on a man’s race to stop a mask manufacturer who plans to blow up all his masks via a signal in his final television commercial, when the thousands of children he’s hypnotized during his media campaign, gather in front of their TVs, wearing their masks to watch a big reveal Halloween night. The 3rd installment of Halloween would forever waffle between “all time worst sequel” lists and “most under appreciated” lists.

Both Carpenter and Wallace graciously have done in depth interviews for the Amplifier. You can find a detailed history of Carpenter’s work by Mark Griffin here, and an extensive interview of Wallace by me, reprinted in its entirety here.

Halloween is undeniably one of the most influential movies ever made and was accordingly preserved in the National Film Registry in 2006. It launched such a steady slew of derivative work that it created in the minds of some non-fans the prejudice that horror and slasher are synonymous. I ran into one of those once and it turned out Alfred Hitchcock was his favorite director. Imagine that, praising the man who brought us leaps closer to modern horror with Psycho, The Birds and Frenzy, and the guy doesn’t think he likes horror!

Not all the post-Halloween slashers lacked originality. Noteably, Wes Craven’s contribution of Freddie Kruger, who stalked the teens of Elm Street in their sleep. It took the vunerability from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 dir. Don Siegel) where the protagonists struggled to stay awake (to avoid being replaced by will-less clones) to a whole new level.

Unfortunately, the volume of slasher films that made little more effort than following the outline put forth in Halloween, resulted in some of the worst horror films ever made. And some of those even had sequels! The trend continues today.

The central role sex plays in most slashers has also put it under attack. In addition to frequent nudity, slashers have been accused of having subtext condemning the more indulgent characters and leaving only the timid virgin to survive. Laurie Strode is the quintessential Final Girl. Defenders, point out that as an archetype, the Final Girl is an empowered female and therefore slashers elevated the role of the gender substantially, not just for horror, but film in general. Some feminist schools of thought are resistant to accepting that premise though, because inevitably Laurie cries on Dr. Loomis’ shoulder at the end and later entries follow with similar reunions with the Final Girl finding comfort from her boyfriend or father in the final scene.

Personally, I don’t fault Laurie for leaning on someone’s shoulder after protecting two kids all night from Michael Meyers in hand to hand combat. Though feminism has contributed immensely to pop culture, it is not without it’s pitfalls, frequently demonizing depictions of HUMAN frailty by heroines. I heard an interview once where Carpenter addressed his accusers. He basically claimed that it was no way his intention that the victims be considered immoral. He in fact, considered them to be normal kids, who in the process of experiencing life, ran into the killer.

At heart, the slasher’s theme is the story of David and Goliath, the Biblical tale of a young man who defeats a rampaging giant with just a sling shot. It’s a tried and true narrative that transcends generation and culture, so when it’s put to film well it’s destined to get us cheering as good triumphs over evil in the end. John Carpenter would make valuable contributions to several other genres, but for the slasher, he was THE game changer.

So, I’ll begin this journey through horror, spurred by pondering on how I could possibly arrive at a “greatest of all time” list, with a nod to Bowling Green’s hometown heroes and take a look at a few of what I consider to be the best slasher films I’ve seen. All the films I’ve mentioned here rate at least 3/5 stars in my book, most higher. I’d love to hear your feelings about them or recommendations for other slashers in the comments.

4f643537ebb0f.image          After years of the kids making fun of me for having most of my Halloween decorations inside where I could see them, I decided a few years back to work on some outside decor.  A cemetery in the front yard seemed the obvious choice for maximum impact.  Making tombstones was a great family project, which I will provide directions for later, but the PVC stakes I put around them to mimic a fence just didn’t do them justice.  So this year I decided it was time to enhance the staging.

4f6435365b9be.imageI began the project by gathering and cutting my main materials.  Furring strips come in packs of six so I purchased four so that I could make ten fence sections and reserve four to create a gate at a later time.  In trying to save, I first purchased 17 1/2 inch PVC pipes, thinking that five vertical bars per 10′ section would suffice.

Though they were somewhat acceptable, after constructing the first one I decided more bars would create a more realistic look and that my fence was too plain.  So, I added another six bars, one in between each of the existing bars, and made them shorter so that a spear shaped finial could be added to both the top and bottom of them to dress up the fence.

So, in the end I cut 17 of the 1/2″ PVC pipes into thirds and the other 15 1/2″ PVC pipes into fourths.  I also cut 10 1″ PVC pipes into thirds.  I used a hacksaw which cut easily through them, though a power saw of some kind would have sped that process up substantially.  Next, for both the 1/2″ and 1″ PVC pipes that were cut into thirds, I cut a 45 degree angle on one end so they could be more easily driven into the ground.  The pipe cut in fourths I did not make an angle cut on as they would have finials on both ends.  A quick sanding across the ends smoothed them.  The I put the sandpaper in the palm of my hand and gave each pipe a quick turn in it to knock off the remaining bits of PVC left from the cutting.

4f6435351a71b.imageNext, I began painting all the pipe and furring strips.  On the first prototype, I drilled holes for my pipes in the furring strips before painting it.  The problem that resulted was when paint dripped in the hole it prevented the pipe from fitting so the holes had to be sanded out.  That is why I chose to paint first on later sections.  To make the painting go faster, I lined all the furring strips up on two saw horses and painted them with a paint roller and primer followed by two coats of exterior black paint.   I actually had the primer and paint from another project, but have added a cost estimate to the materials list so that it is complete.  I hurried through this part, knowing that they would have to be touched up in the end.  Specifically, since only a small line on each furring strip was touching a saw horse, I turned them to paint all four sides while they were still wet, though I left more time in between coats.

To paint the PVC I laid them across the sawhorses and used the roller to prime them, turning them several times.  However, during this process I happen to run across a webpage that gave an awesome tip (http://www.instructables.com/id/Halloween-Cemetery-Fence/#step1) and changed methods.  The author had put a sock over his hand and dipped that in the paint than just pulled each pipe through his hand.  This method worked very well and was much faster, even on the 1″ pipe.  I put a piece of furring strip between chairs and leaned the pipes on that to dry.  While they were drying I moved inside to watch the Halloween selections on TV while doing the next stage.

4f6435361707d.imageI already had foam insulation from another project and needed about 1/4 of a sheet to cut out all my finials. I started by making a cardboard pattern for two types of finials.  One pattern was longer and more pointed spear shape for the main bars and the other was a short spear shape for the short bars.  I also left a stem about two inches long on each of them for use in securing them by pressing the stem inside the pipe.  I first cut strips the width of my finials from the insulation and pulled off the plastic coating from both sides.  I used scissors to cut them into rectangles of the length I needed for each type of finial.  Next, using the patterns and an exacto knife I cut out the shape.  Then I took the exacto knife and trimmed to get as clean an edge as possible along the spear and also to take off excess on the stems so that they fit into the 1/2 inch hole in the pipe.

4f643537098ef.image4f6435382330a.imageTo enhance the finials a bit more, I took a rotary tool with the cut wheel attachment and gently did a quick pass along the edge at slow speed to give it a kind of hammered looked.  Finally, I took my fingernails and scraped along each edge to pull off residue that had gathered along the cuts.  A brush seemed the easiest way to paint these so that the bristles could be poked into the wholes or rough edges.  They don’t require priming and one coat covered them sufficiently.

4f64353775688.image4f643537b6131.imageBack outside, it was time to bore holes in the furring strips.  A 7/8″ drill bit was just about the right size for the pipes once they had been coated with paint.  Some went in easily, while others scraped the paint a bit, which was expected.  I also turned the furring strips sideways and drilled a hole on the ends with a 1/8″ bit, which was just the right diameter to push 8″ cable ties through.

4f6435359a3ff.imageAfter the holes were drilled I secured some scrap pieces to a board laid across the saw horses to create stop for assembling the fence sections.  I also put a piece on each end a 1/2″ in front of the stops so that I could lay the top furring strip in and it would be held in place.  I slid the pipes through the holes and secured them with screws so that the tops would be exactly even.  The longer pipes I left sticking out 8″ from the furring strip and the short ones protruded 4″ out.  With an 11/64″ bit I drilled a whole through the furring strip and into the pipe, though I didn’t go through both sides.  Then I secured them with a 1 1/4″ drywall screw.  Not all of them reached the other side of the wood, but 1 1/2″ screws were not available and the shorter ones were sufficient to hold the pipes in place.  Next, with the top furring strip still held by my scrap wood I pushed the bottom strip on the pipes.  I repeated the drilling and screwing process, but only on the shorter pipes, which I wanted to hang below the strip exactly 4″ as they did on the top.

4f6435354ef85.imageMy fence was now ready to assemble!  Unlike, the author’s on the site mentioned above, my fence stands by itself without the use of rebar or added support.  With a rubber mallet, I hammered a 1″ pipe into the ground several inches.  Luckily it had rained a couple of days before, if the ground is too dry when I drive in pipes for my other decorations, I water it first to make it easier.  Softer ground requires a less forceful blow and helps prevent damage.  Using a cable tie, I attached to top furring strip to the 1″ pipe.  Next, I stood the fence upright in where I wanted it and gave a few lighter taps to each of the taller pieces of pipe to keep them balanced.  At the other end I drove in another 1″ pipe and cable tied it to the furring strip.  This was repeated with each section.

4f643536d1fed.imageAfter the sections were in place I actually went back and clipped the cable ties so that I could just have a single one going around each 1″ pipe and both the furring strips on either side of it.  I also secured the bottom furring strips this way and hammered some more on the taller pipes anywhere that the furring strips between sections didn’t match exactly.

To finish off the fence, I pushed in the finials and then coated the whole thing with a quick spray of Rust-Oleum Hammered black paint.  The paint is great for making the PVC pipes look more like wrought iron.  If money is not a concern all coats could be done in this paint.  Finally, I took some skulls I had purchased for 75% off after Halloween a few years back and using a glue gun stuck them to the 1″ pipes.  They are not listed in materials below as I plan to make something else in the future to go there, but had enough of these to use for now.

4f64353694e44.imageYou can find several similar fences online and also use real fences for ideas on what you want yours to look like.  I chose a very simple design because I am very inexperienced with this type of project.  In fact, this was by far the most I have used any of the tools I had on anything, so I know any beginner could do this!

UPDATES:

  1. I have since learned the PVC pipe cutting tool is best
  2. This put pressure on the wood and cracked it in some places, so I have more recently driven rebar into the ground, put a larger pvc piece over it and attached the fence pieces between these anchor posts.

Materials & Tool List including amount needed for 10 fence sections:

  • 1/2″ x 10′ PVC pipe @ $1.88 ea. (used 32 = $60.16)
  • 1″ x 10′ PVC pipe @ $3.08 ea. (used 4 = $12.32)
  • 1″ x 2″ x 8′ furring strips @ $1.08 ea. (used 20 = $21.60)
  • 8″ black cable ties @ 20 for $2.19 (used one pack = $2.19)
  • Dow 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ Extruded Polystyrene Insulated Sheathing @ $8.68 (used about 1/4 of the sheet = $8.68)
  • 6 x 1 1/4″ fine drywall screws @ $6.47 for box of 90 (used one box = $6.47)
  • Exterior Black paint @ approximately $20 per gallon (used 3/4 of a gallon = $20)
  • Kilz 2 @ $15.98 gallon (used less than 1/4 gallon = $15.98)
  • Black Rust-Oleum Hammered spray paint @ $7.47 (used 4 cans = $29.88)
    • Total cost = $177.28 ($17.70 per section)

Tools:

  • Drill with bits in sizes 7/8″, 11/64″ and 1/8″
  • Hack saw
  • Phillips head screw driver
  • Sock
  • Paint brush
  • 4″ paint roller
  • Rotary tool & cut-off wheel
  • Rubber Mallet