Series Review: Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

When I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, my first impression of a serial killer wasn’t the likes of John Wayne Gacy or even Ted Bundy, who were both before my time. Yet I can vividly recall seeing the 1989 TV movie Manhunt: Search for the Night Stalker, and always remembered the ending where an angry mob takes down and catches the so-called Night Stalker (I can even remember thinking in my young mind, “so that is what happens to serial killers.”). Ever since then, my idea of a serial killer, of pure evil personified, has always been – and always will be – Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. the Night Stalker.

Netflix has complied a stunning, four-part documentary series, detailing the crimes and footsteps taken by Ramirez during his 1985 California killing spree. But don’t get it wrong, the purpose here isn’t to glamorize Ramirez’ crimes, but rather give voice to the actual victims, family members, witnesses, reporters, and several other key figures linked to the rampage at the time. But it’s the firsthand accounts from the likes of Gil Carrilo and Frank Salerno, the homicide detectives assigned and closest to the case at the time, that truly offer the most gruesome insight. Hearing many of these horror stories at times are as heartbreaking as they are disturbing.

It’s safe to say that shows/mini-series like these are not for everyone’s tastes. But those who have the desire to get inside of and learn more about the mind of a truly disturbed individual such as Ramirez, will no doubt be able to do that here. It’s a fascinating, albeit harrowing road to go down, that’s not for the faint of the heart.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Mean Man: The Story of Chris Holmes (Cleopatra Entertainment)

By: Jesse Striewski

Those who know me well, know what a huge fan of ’80s metal veterans W.A.S.P. I’ve been since day one (frontman Blackie Lawless was even the first major interview I ever conducted as a professional journalist more than a decade ago). Guitarist Chris Holmes no doubt played an enormous role in their early sound, yet never really got his just due…until now.

Following heavily in the footsteps of Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Mean Man is the ultimate underdog story that finally answers the question (one that I’ve even been asked a time or two over the years) “Whatever happened to Chris Holmes?” perfectly (for those who don’t know, he now resides in France these days with his wife, still making music albeit on a smaller scale).

Current and archive footage, as well as interviews with numerous musicians including Scott Ian of Anthrax, Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, and Holmes’ own former bandmates Johnny Rod and Stet Howland, help tell the tale of this once revered guitarist, who no doubt got the raw end of the deal from his former band mate Lawless.

I only wish more of Holmes’ former bandmates might have been included, especially early (and somewhat elusive) members like Randy Piper or Tony Richards, or even Lawless himself for the sake of transparency (although I knew going in the likelihood of that wasn’t very promising). Still, this quite possibly might be the closest the world is ever getting to a straight forward W.A.S.P. documentary, and I can live with that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Interview with Pinkerton Thugs/Ex-Unseen Vocalist/Guitarist Paul Russo By Jesse Striewski

When I think of punk rock, I think of those days of my youth so long ago when anything felt possible. I think of learning Clash songs on my first bass in my old bedroom, and getting together with a bunch of kids to make noise in some random garage. And I think of my first “real” taste of freedom, going to shows with my friends. One early show in particular that will always stand out for me was in the summer of ’99, when a group of friends and I hoped into a beat up old Buick and drove to St. Pete to catch The Casualties play along with The Unseen and Violent Society in direct support. I was both blown away and inspired as I watched these guys on stage – who weren’t really all that much older than I was at the time – doing something that seemed so relatable, so attainable to me.

It’s impossible to recall those days without thinking of the impact bands like The Unseen – lead at the time by vocalist/guitarist Paul Russo – had on me back then. Russo would ultimately leave The Unseen in 2003, eventually returning to another group he has been a part of (off and on) since his early days with his former band, The Pinkerton Thugs, who he is back playing with today (when he’s not busy being a family man). And while I have not seen him again since that show so long ago (though I have seen The Unseen several times since), I have kept up with him on social media, occasionally even corresponding with him from time to time, which is what finally lead to us sitting down and talking over the phone for an “official” interview this past Friday evening. What transpired was a candid, hour-long conversation that was both enlightening, and as natural as catching up with a long lost friend.

I wanted to start with Russo’s (slightly muddled) roots right off the bat, and asked if he’d clarify the foundations of each of his early bands. He tells me; “We grew up together as kids long before we ever started The Unseen. We all started discovering punk rock around the same time, and of course fell in love with it. When my parents got divorced, I moved away from Massachusetts to Maine, and when I got up there – this would’ve been the early to mid-’90s – there was maybe one or two other kids who gravitated towards the scene, and therefore I gravitated towards them, too. And that was Micah and James of The Pinkerton Thugs. So technically I started The Pinkerton Thugs with those guys before I joined The Unseen. Then briefly after The Pinkerton Thugs started, the guys from The Unseen called me up and asked me to join after their previous singer, Marc Carlson, ended up leaving. So for awhile there, I was kind of pulling double-duty, living in Maine playing with The Pinkerton Thugs, then on the weekends catching the Greyhound bus to go play with The Unseen down in Mass.”

He further clarifies; “Actually, I was originally asked to join The Unseen as just a guitarist, because (Unseen guitarist) Scott had just gotten sent away by his parents to some boot camp thing for the summer. Then when he got back in the fall, we decided, ‘hey, this is working out pretty good,’ and that’s how the ‘core’ lineup of myself, Mark, Tripp, and Scott really all came together. And I feel like Scott was way further along musically than the rest of us; he was like, busting out solos, and at that point I only knew a few chords! (Laughs).”

One thing I always found so unique about The Unseen was their ability to shift around on instruments so flawlessly, not only in the studio, but on stage as well. I asked Russo what lead to this, and he explained; “I got fairly decent, fairly quick at a few different instruments. Once I put myself up to task, I managed to learn guitar, bass, and drums. And I think even Mark will tell you he’s not the best drummer even when he’s not singing (Laughs). But I think that’s what was kind of a cool aspect about The Unseen, there really wan’t much ego involved back then. If the song needed me on drums, I’d hop behind the drumkit; if it needed me on guitar or even just vocals, than that’s what I’d do. We almost had two sets back then, where we’d start out with me singing and playing guitar, then I’d jump behind the drums and Mark would come out front and sing some songs. It was almost kind of like seeing two different bands, which I think made it more interesting, and I don’t think too many people were used to seeing that kind of thing in those days. I don’t know if it’s that I get bored easily, or just loving playing music, but I love playing other instruments as well.”

Aside from The Unseen and Pinkerton Thugs, Russo has lent his talents in brief stints with such other notable punk bands as Blanks 77 (on drums) and Anti-Flag (on bass). He elaborated to me just how these came about; “Having played so many shows with Blanks 77 while I was with The Unseen, they had noted that I could play drums, and asked me to fill in when they needed a drummer. And I believe it was around the same time that I played bass with Anti-Flag as well, which I did for one tour after Andy had originally left the band. I basically just did those for fun, since I hated sitting around at home, and they needed me to do it, so I was just like, “hell yeah, let’s get on the road!” (Laughs). But if you’ve ever listened to Anti-Flag, you know they’re not the easiest bass lines, and I had like two weeks to learn them before their upcoming tour that was already booked. So Justin (Sane, Anti-Flag frontman) actually recorded himself using an old camcorder playing all the bass lines, and gave me a tape of it for me to learn the songs!”

As far as why Russo would ultimately leave The Unseen, he tells me; “The truth of it is, for awhile, I had become sort of disillusioned, not only with the direction of the band, but sort of with punk rock in general. Maybe I came to the table far too idealistic, but I definitely started feeling like I didn’t know why I was doing it anymore. Even though I loved those guys and the music, I was tired, and definitely not participating in the band as much and giving it 100 percent, and it just came to a point where we all agreed, this isn’t working anymore, let’s try something else.” Russo maintains he is still friends with his former band mates in The Unseen, and informs me; “I still love those guys like brothers, and I’m SO proud what they’ve done with the band since then. I’ve even jumped on stage with them here and there over the years for a song or two, so there’s no ill will there at all.”

Russo also revealed to me how the song he struggles with the most from his days with The Unseen is the last track he ever wrote while still in the band (and only one of his to appear on their 2003 album, Explode), “Tsunami Suicide.” “That song came from a really hard time for me, and not many people know this – and actually I don’t think the other guys in the band even knew this – but I had actually written a full album’s worth of material for that record. But by that time, I wasn’t really writing from the heart anymore, or writing from a place of “anger” or “truth” anymore. The best way I can describe it, is on a certain level at that point, I kind of knew what to write and what to say to make the kids throw their hands up and chant the chorus, and just go through the motions. And even though kids might’ve enjoyed it, I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like I was being cheap, or cheating myself even. So what I ended up doing was taking all thirteen songs or whatever, and just completely throwing them out. And in that moment, between that and some other things going on in my personal life at the time, I really just felt like killing myself. And that’s where the song “Tsunami Suicide” came from.”

Of course we here at Rewind It Magazine have never been known for in-depth political pieces by any means (we try to stick with what we know and keep things entertainment related as much as possible). But I had to at least touch upon how Russo views the punk rock scene back then, vs. what it has become today, which, some might argue does not leave much room for open-mindedness, and has in many ways even become a symbol for the very conformity it once stood against so adamantly. He explained his thoughts on this to me; “I think objectively, the punk scene is definitely different. And to be fair, I think someone who was around in ’77 might have said the same thing about the scene in ’97. Things change, people come in, and people go out, that’s sort of the natural order of it. I would never sit here and say ‘punk’s dead’ just because it’s not the same scene that I used to know…that’s bullshit. Right now there’s a kid in a basement somewhere putting on his first punk record getting his mind blown and ready to create something new, and thank the universe for that.”

He continues; “But…that being said, I will also say I think it has definitely gotten a lot more close-minded in the scene. I just think that when people stop preaching and putting each other in these little boxes with labels on them and start listening to each other, it’s always better. The more open-minded people are to things, makes for a better scene. And it’s hard, because people can misconstrue things so easily today, not only in just the scene, but in everyday life now, too. No matter what it is, if you criticize one side of something, people automatically assume you’re on the other side. And that is something that definitely didn’t happen twenty years ago; if we’re talking politically, anyone was free to criticize the Republicans AND the Democrats, and anyone else in between equally. And I think that’s where a lot of that disillusionment I mentioned earlier came from; after a while of just fighting with each other, and getting falling down drunk and puking all the time, it was like, ‘where are all of the ideas?’ We could’ve just been jocks at a frat house doing the same thing at that point, you know?”

Wanting to end our conversation on a bit of a higher note, I informed Russo how my own former band, Random Tragedies, once covered the anthemic Unseen track “Are We Dead Yet,” which I had always viewed as the punk rock equivalent to “Eye of the Tiger.” I asked Russo how he felt of this comparison, and his immediate response was, “I like that! You know, I think you could probably take that metaphor and stretch it out over most songs I’ve ever written (Laughs). Even when I’ve written songs that might have some negative aspects to them, I’ve always wanted people to get some sort of hope or empowerment from them like I did with the music I listened to growing up. I remember some kid coming up to me after a show we had did very early on in Cleveland, and telling me how a song I wrote really inspired him and changed his life, and after that, I was just hooked. I really feel that punk is one of the strongest sub-genres of rock and roll ever, and always will be.”

And as far as new music? Russo assures me; “The only thing that’s really holding The Pinkerton Thugs back and keeping us from putting out a new record is the stupid pandemic. That being said, the second we’re able to, we’re going to get together and release another record. That’s something I’m really looking forward to.” Russo says the best way to keep up with what he’s doing these days is to simply follow The Pinkerton Thugs’ Facebook page, which can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/thepinkertonthugs

Film Review: Zappa (Magnolia Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

Many a year ago, I was minding my own business and listening to music at a friend’s house, when suddenly his dad emerged into the room and proclaimed, “you need to hear this!” He quickly removed whatever punk record we were listening to at the time, swiftly replacing it with a Frank Zappa album. Of course my instant reaction was “what in the world is this?!” before realizing I was already in love (thanks Andrew). So it’s a thrill seeing the late Zappa’s life and work finally compiled into cinematic form.

Directed by Alex Winter (of Bill & Ted fame), Zappa uses archive footage and interviews to tell the story of one of the most brilliantly inventive and diverse musicians in our lifetimes, but does so in a way that still feels fresh and new. A host of various family members, producers, and numerous celebrities/musicians that range from The Beatles, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Alice Cooper, all help move the story along in the right direction.

It’s obvious Winter is a fan himself, and has treated the material here with the utmost respect and dignity. It’s a fitting tribute to a deserving icon that even the most casual of fans should view for themselves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series Review: Cobra Kai Season 3 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

When The Karate Kid sequel series Cobra Kai first emerged in 2018, the world wasn’t quite prepared for the awesomeness that was so unexpectedly unleashed upon it. It instantly united pop culture nerds across multiple medians, bringing back ’80s nostalgia in full force for the young and old alike.

In season one, we were re-introduced to the characters Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who are thrusted back into each other’s lives more than three decades later. Daniel has since gone on to become the owner of a successful car dealership, while Lawrence stayed the same beer-chugging, metal-loving loose cannon he always was. Things shake up when Johnny decides to take a leap of faith and re-open Cobra Kai, which in turn re-opens some old wounds in the process.

Season two focused more on the two old enemies each operating their own respective dojos, with new conflicts arising from their new students (and old mentors). Unlike the first season, more emphasis was put on the rivalries between newcomers Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) and Robby (Tanner Buchanan), as well as Sam (Mary Mouser) and Tory (Peyton List). It also brought back John Kreese (Martin Kove) in a more extended and sinister role, and included a bittersweet, albeit brief tear-jerking reunion with some of the other original members of Cobra Kai (which would unfortunately prove to be Rob Garrison’s final portrayal of Tommy before his passing in 2019).

Naturally, season three takes over directly where the second one left off, with everyone dealing with the repercussions of the final battle that saw Miguel seriously injured and put into a coma. There’s still plenty of unresolved wars between multiple factions, as each character grapples with what happened and tries to return to some sense of normalcy.

And of course, there’s plenty of surprises along the way as well; Elizabeth Shue finally returns as Ali (now actually Dr. Ali Mills Schwarber) after Johnny’s attempt to reconnect with her via social media in the previous season. And even familiar Okinawan faces from The Karate Kid Part II, including Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomito), and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) return, leading to some tense moments between Daniel and the latter before ultimately bringing some closure. Even former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider manages to squeeze in a brief cameo, too.

But what makes us invest so much time into shows like Cobra Kai has got to be the reflections of ourselves we’re able to see from these characters and their struggles. They’re far from invincible, and whether you were more of a Daniel or Johnny type growing up, there’s something truly there for everyone.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Retrospective: 35 Years of The Return of the Living Dead By Jesse Striewski

Many will likely always point to such staple George A. Romero films like Night of the Living Dead or even it’s follow up, Dawn of the Dead, as their idea of the definitive zombie flick. But for my money (and I mean no disrespect to Romero, whose films I also hold in high regards), the cream of the crop will always be 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead. Prior to my first time seeing it, the closest thing to a zombie film I can even recall seeing was Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, so to say it holds a special place in my heart would be an understatement.

Originally released on August 16, 1985, the film brilliantly paired veteran actors Clu Gulager, James Karen, and Don Calfa alongside a host of then-young hotshots, including Thom Matthews, Linnea Quigley, Miguel A Nunez, Jr., and Jewel Sheppard (among others). And directed by Dan O’Bannon and based on an original story by John Russo (who also co-wrote Romero’s original 1968 opus), the film even rather slyly references it’s own source material, explaining early on the events of Night…to be based on actual facts.

The plot was simple enough; after a gas leaks out of an old military canister stored in a medical supply building, the dead begin to rise at a cemetery across the street from it, where a group of local punks happened to be gathered to party. All hell quickly breaks loose, with plenty of carnage and chaos along the way.

The film introduced several new concepts for the zombie film at the time; not only were they able to move fast as opposed to earlier films that see them just slowly shuffle along, they can also talk. And rather than just eating flesh, they seem particular to one delicacy; brains. This concept would be used in many other films since.

Linneas Quigley, who played the punk rock stripping Trash in the film, recently lent her thoughts on Return… to Rewind It Magazine; “I think it holds up really well! I’m always surprised, I get new people at conventions and shows all the time that love that movie, like it’s a brand new movie! But it doesn’t age, which I think is really cool. We should’ve known then (late director) Dan O’Bannon was a man to be reckoned with!”

The film sparked it’s first sequel, the very admirable (and equally fun) Return of the Living Dead Part II in 1988. Like the original, it also boosted a soundtrack of metal and punk bands, and actors Thom Matthews and James Karen also returned in new (albeit very similar) roles as well. Three more less-successful, made for video sequels would eventually follow.

In his August 19, 1985 review of the original film, critic Roger Ebert stated, “It’s kind of a sensation machine, made out of the usual ingredients, and the real question is whether it’s done in style. It is.” And how right he was. The film was a modest success, grossing just over $14 million in the U.S. But more than thirty-five years later, it’s still regarded by many as one of the quintessential zombie films ever made; there’s a good chance it will likely stay that way for a long, long time.

Interview with Actress Linnea Quigley By Jesse Striewski

Scream queens are hardly anything new for us here at Rewind It Magazine; as some of you may recall, we recently spoke with the likes of Dee Wallace and Deborah Voorhees. Linnea Quigley was not only a force to be reckoned with back in her ’80s heyday, she’s still at the top of the line in the B-movie world to this very day. She’s currently working on a documentary about film extras (which we’ll get into shortly), and she’s still a big advocate for animals, which was evidenced in our recent phone conversation last week, which was just slightly delayed in part to one of her many dogs running off outside of her California home (something I could hardly get upset over, being a pet parent myself!).

Being that our conversation took place so close to Christmas, one of the first things we spoke about was her appearance in the 1984 holiday slasher, Silent Night Deadly Night. Looking back on it, she reflected to me; “I thought it was great! I loved how everyone was so up in arms over it, and Siskel & Ebert were plugging it even though they thought it was horrible! Everyone was saying how terrible it was, which of course made people only want to see it more (Laughs)!” I also inquired if she was a fan of the horror genre prior to such early roles, to which she said;”I grew up on horror! I think I was drawn to it, and it was drawn to me, so it was like, a match made in hell, right?!”

One specific thing I had always wondered about her scene in Silent Night…, was whether or not she was actually exposed directly to the frigid elements of the Utah winter it was filmed in (when she answers the door wearing, well…next to nothing). She tells me; “Oh yeah, I was completely exposed, and it was really, really cold! I was from the valley, which is not very cold at all, so I was like…freezing (laughs)! And then (in the next scene) where they put me up on the antlers, the door had been broken open, so I was still exposed! It wasn’t like, contained or anything where they actually have heaters or something, like they would probably have now. Nobody’s asked that before though, so that’s a good question!”

Silent Night… was merely the first of several films Quigley appeared in that would later go on to spawn franchises (no doubt due to her being a good luck charm, an observation she more than approved of), including her follow up film, the now-cult classic 1985 horror/comedy, The Return of the Living Dead. With the zombie market just a tad oversaturated these days, I asked Quigley how she felt it holds up in comparison today. She replied; “I think it holds up really well! I’m always surprised, I get new people at conventions and shows all the time that love that movie, like it’s a brand new movie! But it doesn’t age, which I think is really cool. We should’ve known then (late director) Dan O’Bannon was a man to be reckoned with!”

With films like Return… and Night of the Demons largely sporting metal and punk soundtracks, I wondered how much of a fan of that music Quigley was herself. She states; “Oh yeah, I loved all the punk bands and rock n’ roll stuff at the time. I was a big fan of music, I think that’s why I got into it. But I didn’t want to be a groupie, I wanted to be IN the band! (laughs).” And indeed Quigley would, putting together an all girl-group, The Skirts, back in the day. With very little information available on the band, I asked her to tell me a little about them. She says; “The Skirts were a band of girls I formed; I played guitar, sang, and wrote songs in it. We played a lot of venues, and we even recorded some. A lot of my music was actually used in the movies I did, or movies other people did.”

Aside from horror, Quigley has done the occasional comedy, including the 1981 Cheech & Chong stoner romp, Nice Dreams. Of course I had to know how this transpired. She informed me; “My agent at the time sent me to go in for an audition for a Cheech & Chong film. So I went in, and Cheech was actually in there! I was making him laugh, playing guitar, and he said to play him something. So I played like two notes and said it was the Charlie’s Angels theme, and he hired the whole band right then and there. We were so excited!”

I also wanted to know how her (brief) appearance in 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, came about. She explains; “My then-fiance was the special effects guy on the film, and he brought it up to them to have me in that scene in Freddy’s chest for that short little, basically “cameo” scene. That same day he actually brought the ring out and proposed to me after I came out of Freddy’s chest!”

Quigley assured me she has plenty in the works for 2021, stating; “I’m working on a lot of stuff on my YouTube channel, like a reality show. And I’m doing a documentary right now called Extras…which will be all about, well, movie extras! Hopefully that will be out by February; I’ve been lucky to have been staying so busy all year, even with Covid.”

Retrospective: Silent Night Deadly Night – A Look Back on the Classic Seasonal Slasher By Jesse Striewski

Christmas horror films were not an entirely new concept by the time Silent Night Deadly Night was released on November 9, 1984. Yet judging by the public reaction and outcry from parents across the country over the film, you would think the world had never seen anything like it before.

In the ’70s, …And All Through the House, a short film about an escaped homicidal manic dressed in Santa garb, crept it’s way into the 1972 anthology flick Tales From the Crypt. And 1974’s Black Christmas (which has since been remade twice) about a group of college girls being offed one by one on Christmas Eve and starring Hollywood stars such as Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder, became a surprise hit. By the early ’80s, it almost seemed like the norm in its own, odd way; Christmas Evil and To All a Goodnight were both released in 1980 with similar concepts of a killer in Santa gear.

Yet those films were largely ignored in comparison to Silent Night Deadly Night. Before it was even released, parents were shocked by the TV ads being shown in between “family” programming that were scaring their children. Protests were held at theaters and malls across America, and critics largely denounced the film. In a recent interview, scream queen Linnea Quigley, who played a victim in the film named Denise, spoke to Rewind It Magazine regarding her thoughts on the film’s controversy. Quigley says; “I thought it was great! I loved how everyone was so up in arms over it, and Siskel & Ebert were plugging it even though they thought it was horrible! Everyone was saying how terrible it was, which of course made people only want to see it more (Laughs)!”

Silent Night Deadly Night followed the story of Billy Chapman (played by Robert Brian Wilson), a teenage orphan who, after witnessing his parents brutality murdered at a young age by a man in a Santa suit, snaps and goes on a killing spree, shortly after he takes his first job at a department store and is asked to act as the store Santa. Needless to say, plenty of grisly carnage and gratuitous sex quickly ensues. At times the tone of the film ranges from hilarious (the scene where the sled rider is decapitated is still definitely worth a laugh!), to dark and demented (Billy’s transformation into a killer is nothing short of disturbing).

The film was the brainchild of TriStar Pictures, who, after seeing the power (and profit) being generated from slasher flicks at the time, quickly wanted to jump on the bandwagon. The studio chose Michael Hickey to write the script, and Charles E. Sellier, Jr. was given directorial duties. To get a more “authentic” feel, it was shot in the dead of winter in Utah in the frigid cold. After it’s release, the film was well on it’s way to becoming a success, earning over $2 million within it’s first week of release (against a budget of $750,000), before ultimately being pulled from theaters just ten days after it’s release.

Since it’s original run, Silent Night Deadly Night has spawned four sequels, starting with Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 in 1987 (which will forever be remembered for the famous line/catchphrase, “Garbage day!”), and a loose remake in 2012. These days, Christmas horror films have become a dime a dozen, with Krampus (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), Red Christmas (2016) just a few titles leading the way. Still, if not for the controversy of the original Silent Night Dead Night, the holidays would be just a little less bright. You ‘better watch out’ for our full interview with actress Linnea Quigley to post soon…and by all means, be careful if Santa really does drop down your chimney tonight! Season’s slayings…

Interview with Actor Michael C. Maronna By Jesse Striewski

Chances are if you grew up in the ’90s, you’ll remember Michael C. Maronna as “Big Pete” on Nickelodeon’s oddball hit, The Adventures of Pete & Pete. He also played Kevin McCallister’s (Macaulay Culkin) older brother Jeff in the first two Home Alone films. After appearing in a few more films (including 2002’s Slackers – which we’ll get back to shortly), Maronna moved to a more behind-the-scenes role as electrician, where he has worked on such films as Be Kind Rewind (2008), and Men in Black 3 (2012), as well as a host of TV shows. He also currently hosts a podcast, The Adventures of Danny and Mike, with former Pete & Pete co-star Danny Tamberelli (which can be found at dannyandmike.com, as well as on various podcast apps).

Recently, Maronna allowed me to graciously pick his brain (just a bit). One of the first things I wanted to ask him was if he actually knew at the time what a unique pop culture phenomenon he was involved with during Pete & Pete’s original run. He tells me; “I’m not sure I realized I was involved with such a thing at the time, I was just busy soaking up new music, books, films, photography, etc. I didn’t have cable TV growing up – we only got it after Pete & Pete went into series production. So we used to go down the block on Sunday nights to my sister’s friend’s house to watch the first 60-second episodes air in between a couple of other Nickelodeon shows.”

I of course wanted to know what it was like filming the original Home Alone, too. He explains; “I remember Chicago and the vast amounts of snow in the winter, eating lots of deep-dish pizza, mostly hanging out with Angela Goethals (who played Linnie), and playing video games a bunch. I took a library book out of the Chicago Public Library about the American Civil War and I still have it somewhere!”

As far as how he views the film today, Maronna says; “I haven’t watched Home Alone in a very long time. My son is 4 years old, so he’s just a little too young for it still. Probably the next time I watch it will be with him, though. It was a confluence of good factors (script, direction, actors, style) that added up to a good (if violent) family Christmas film.”

I was also curious how he felt about it’s 1992 sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, as well as it’s subsequent sequels, to which he says; “Lost in New York is a different movie, about the city being a character in the film. It’s more of an homage to ’80s NYC movies like After Hours or Big, with the Home Alone structure overlaid onto that. I haven’t seen any of the other sequels.”

If you’ve ever seen the film Slackers, you know Maronna has one, er… ‘standout’ scene to say the least (I won’t go any further into detail, just watch the film if you haven’t already!) that I had to ask him about. He informs me; “Dewey Nicks directed Slackers, and the sock scene was his idea. Basically I think he was trying to come up with something outrageous, and I said ‘yes’ to it. A guy approached me at the wrap party saying, “A lot of people have mistaken me for you,” and identified himself as the penis puppeteer, a.k.a. the ‘stunt’ performer!”

And of course I had to ask just how he made the transition to electrician. He explains; “I was always interested in the technical aspects of film production and spent my whole life on sets, whether film, TV show, or commercials. I have worked in the theater as well and have family in the stage business but it didn’t hold the same allure for me. On Pete & Pete, production was on location and shot on 16mm film, as opposed to a television show shot on videotape in a studio. This afforded me a lot of opportunities to get to know the process and the equipment and to ask the crew a lot of questions. After the first season of half-hour episodes, the grips gave me a tool belt with some tools as a wrap gift. It was very sweet. A couple of seasons later, I just kept asking questions of the gaffer and eventually he offered me a job after the show ended. My first proper electric job was on a film called Six Ways To Sunday. I auditioned for the lead role and ended up driving the electric truck for it. A lot of crew from Pete & Pete worked on the job so it was a nice transition. The pandemic shutdown put a lot of shows on hold for a few months but I’ve been back to work for a while. Currently I’m working on Dickinson season 3, starring Toby Huss (Artie the Strongest Man in the World of Pete & Pete fame and many other great roles).”

You can follow Maronna on various social media platforms, and don’t forget to check out his podcast with former Pete & Pete co-star Danny Tamberelli!

Retrospective: 30 Years of Home Alone By Jesse Striewski

I can remember it like it was yesterday; I was a typical 9-year-old kid growing up in New Jersey (and if memory serves me correct, there was even snow on the ground at the time) when my big sister took me one cold winter night to see this new film everyone was raving about, Home Alone. As soon as the opening credits rolled, I could tell (even then at my young age) I was watching something uniquely special. And being around the same age as Kevin McCallister (played by Macaulay Culkin), it felt as though my own childhood fantasies were coming to life and jumping onto the big screen right before me. It was no doubt an event unlike any other, and by the next Monday morning at school, every kid was talking about and quoting Kevin’s lines.

Writer/Producer John Hughes, the mastermind behind such ’80s classics as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, and Uncle Buck, came up with the idea for Home Alone almost by accident, when, while packing for a family vacation, imagined what it might be like if he were to suddenly leave his ten year old son behind. In doing so, he manged to capture exactly what every red-blooded American kid has dreamed of since the dawn of time.

Rather than direct the film himself, Hughes gave the duties to Chris Columbus, who already had a couple of film credits under his belt, and was even originally slated to direct another Hughes-holiday production the previous year, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (before tensions with that film’s lead, Chevy Chase, lead to him dropping out of the project). But Columbus proved to be the right fit for Hughes’ new project, bringing his own sleek, youthful spin to the finished product.

The adult cast quickly included a number of veteran stars; the roles of bumbling crooks Harry and Marv were respectively given to Joe Pesci, who was hot off the tails of the hit blockbusters, Goodfellas and Lethal Weapon 2, and a young Daniel Stern, who was already gaining momentum with roles such as Little Monsters. Meanwhile the duties of Kevin’s parents were given to Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice) and John Heard (C.H.U.D.). John Hughes alumni, the late John Candy (Uncle Buck) also appeared in a bit part. But when it came to casting the film’s young star, Kevin, Hughes eventually turned to another Uncle Buck star, the young Macaulay Culkin, after a long audition process.

The story itself of course centered around Kevin being left completely alone at his house just before Christmas, as a series of hectic events leads his family to forget about him while rushing to catch a plane to Paris on time. Kevin is instantly left to his own devices; at first it’s an all-out party, but soon enough Kevin realizes he has to actually take care of himself and learn such mundane choirs (often with humorous results) as grocery shopping and doing laundry, while also dealing with unknown fears that include a creepy basement, and a strange old neighbor.

But it’s when Kevin discovers his house has been targeted by the Wet Bandits, Harry and Marv, that he’s truly forced to step up and defend his home. Using household items that includes everything from paint cans to mirco machines, Kevin constructs an elaborate series of booby traps throughout the house, fighting off Harry and Marv in almost cartoon-like, slapstick fashion. In a recent interview, actor Michael C. Maronna, who portrayed Kevin’s older brother, Jeff (best remembered for uttering the infamous line, “Kevin, you’re such a disease!”) told Rewind It Magazine; “It was a confluence of good factors (script, direction, actors, style) that added up to a good (if violent) family Christmas film.”

The film was an instant success, earning over $476 million worldwide, and becoming the highest-grossing live action comedy film of all time (a title it would hold for over two decades). It also spawned four sequels (with only the first two of them being released theatrically) and countless parodies (Macaulay Culkin somewhat reprised his role as Kevin in a 2018 ad for Google Assistant, and appeared on a Home Alone-themed episode of the webseries The Angry Video Game Nerd around the same time). Today, it is regarded as a classic, and is still played nearly around the clock on various cable stations til this day. As a husband and father now myself, I usually catch the film with my family at least once every Christmas season.

Regarding the film’s legacy, recent Rewind It Magazine interviewee Diana Rein, who appeared in the film as Kevin’s older cousin Sondra, reflected to us; “There’s so many people who watch it multiple times every year, it’s like their holiday tradition! I’m SO grateful it’s still around like it is!” You can check out our full interview with Rein from our Dec. 19 article; and be sure to look out for the rest of our full interview with Maronna, posting later this week!