Interview with Actress Khrystyne Haje By Jesse Striewski

For several weeks, actress Khrystyne Haje and I had been playing a game of back-and-forth before our schedules finally aligned right for a phone conversation. And as soon as I got her on the phone, I knew it was worth the wait. Almost instantly, it felt as though I had been transported back to being that same 9-year-old kid who would tune in every week to watch her play Simone Foster on Head of the Class (one of my personal favorite TV shows at the time, which originally aired from 1986 to 1991) and developed one of my very first, and very real (albeit innocent) celebrity crushes. Since the show, Haje has gone on to do numerous acting, voiceover, and various humanitarian work. But with Head of the Class about to turn thirty-five this year, I focused heavily on the show that originally put her on the map.

Early on in our conversation, Haje gave me some insight into just what it was like growing up and simultaneously going to high school in real life, while also doing so on the small screen. She explained; “It was such a life-changer when I got the role! I had been working as an actress prior, and was an emancipated minor, so I was one of the only people on the show going to ‘real’ high school (at North Hollywood High), and what I called ‘fantasy school’ (laughs). It has just created so many opportunities for me since though, and what I consider some life-long friendships.”

Although I may have never been part of an honors class like the students on the show, I always admired the sense of camaraderie that the characters seemed to share together, something Haje informed me still exists with many of her former cast mates to this day; “Kimberly Russell (Sarah on the show) is still one of my best friends in the world. I was also super close with Dan Schneider (Dennis) – we actually met at a call back, and became friends instantly. Dan Frischman (Arvid) and I are forever friends; I lived in New York for a couple of years, and he moved there not long after I first did, so that was really fun having him there. Lara Piper (who joined the cast later as Viki) and I are still close as well. And Tony O’Dell (Alan)…I used to stop doing my homework to watch him on the show Otherworld, so when I saw him at the very first table read, I just couldn’t believe it! (laughs). But I still probably talk to him and Kimberly the most, a couple of times a month, if not more.”

Knowing that previously-mentioned former co-star O’Dell had recently appeared on the hit Netflix series Cobra Kai, I was curious to hear Haje’s thoughts on The Karate Kid revival show. She reveled; “Even though it was ‘super secret’ at the time, I was SO excited when he went to film Cobra Kai! And because of Tony, I actually got to meet the Cobra Kai guys back in the day! It was so fun randomly getting to hang out with William Zapka or Martin Kove back then, and I’m so happy for all of them right now!”

Of course I had to ask what it was like working with such a legend as Howard Hesseman as well; “I was a BIG fan of WKRP in Cincinnati! And at one of my final call backs, I actually got to read with Howard, and was just so starstruck! But I thought, ‘well, even if I don’t get the role, at least I got to read with Dr. Johnny Fever!’ (laughs). I always admired Howard’s work though, and he became just such a mentor to us all. He’s not only a gifted actor, but he’s also a great comedic actor, and was a great example to me as well. He was really invested in the character he played, and it was an honor to get to work with him.”

Towards the end of the show’s run, Hesseman left to be replaced by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. I asked Haje what it was like still being on the show after such a drastic change, and she told me; “Billy just showed up with a huge heart, ready for the adventure. It was different, because his approach was different. And there were definitely some shifts as far as the writing went – at the time, it seemed like the writers were leaning on his stand up comedy skills, as they should have. I was personally grateful to get the opportunity to work with Billy and see what that was like. He was just so kind, and already had had such huge life experiences, with so many stories to tell about all of his U.K. adventures that were so different from anything else to any of us at the time!”

Aside from Head of the Class, Haje has also made appearances on such other iconic shows as the ’80s juggernaut Growing Pains, and the quirky, oft-forgotten Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. I asked Haje how these experiences were in comparison to working on Head of the Class, and she explained; “When your job is to make somebody laugh, you only have good days! Growing Pains was a similar style to Head of the Class, in that it was a five camera sitcom. And I knew the kids, we kind of all grew up together at Warner Bros., so the environment was very familiar, and very family-esque. Parker Lewis on the other hand was a single-camera show, so it was shot very differently, and the approach was different and ahead of it’s time. But I was already a big fan of the show, so it just felt surreal to drop in and get to be on it, and to be able to maneuver those different techniques and skills, too.”

There’s also been some talk of a Head of the Class reboot, which of course I had to inquire about. Haje informed me; “I have heard about a reboot! It looks like HBO Max, who’s airing the original series, is also working on a reboot, and they want to flip the script a little bit. So I think they want to have a young, female teacher, with possibly younger, middle school-aged students – though I’m not entirely sure. But they definitely have – let’s call it a re-imagination – of Head of the Class brewing, and it would be fun if they had us guest star in some way! I think that fans of the original always love to see what the original cast is doing, but we really have no idea right now what they’re looking to do exactly at this point. We all loved that show so much though, so it’d be fun to revisit that world officially. It’s going to be great no matter what though!”

Film Review: Willy’s Wonderland (Saturn Films/Landmark Studio Group/Landafar Entertainment/JD Entertainment)

By: Jesse Striewski

This Nicolas Cage-driven horror/comedy hybrid romp, directed by Kevin Lewis, ranges from being part harmless homage to such goofy ’80s guilty pleasures as Killer Klowns From Outer Space, to part demented (and ridiculous) Toy Story-induced nightmare.

Cage stars as a silent drifter (literally – he utters zero dialogue throughout the entire film) who gets roped into a diabolical scam by small town locals when his vehicle is abruptly disabled while passing through the middle of nowhere. He ends up in an old, rundown, Chuck E. Cheese-type joint called Willy’s Wonderland (suspiciously similar to Five Nights at Freddy’s, too), where he must fight for his life against maniacal machines that come to life. Lucky for him, there’s also a group of local teens (lead by talented newcomer Emily Tosta) who know the real secrets of Willy‘s, and are hell-bent on taking it down once and for all. This of course leads to some very surreal, A Nightmare on Elm Street-esque moments that range from legitimately creepy, to over-the-top, cringe-worthy deaths.

Character actress Beth Grant (who you may recognize from such films as Rain Man or Child’s Play 2) pulls a worthy performance as the town sheriff, and Killer Klowns… alumni Grant Cramer even makes a brief cameo. And even the soundtrack features some impressive work by Emoi (watch for the mesmerizing scene where the film’s theme song is played during an epic battle between Cage and a pinball machine).

But for every time I found myself getting completely lost in the film, something overly juvenile or absurd would usually come along and instantly snap me back into reality. I really wanted to like the film, and for the most part I suppose I did. But perhaps just a little more effort in the dialogue and acting departments would have put it that much more over the edge. If you’re simply looking for mindless entertainment though, then Willy’s Wonderland is hands down the place to go.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Alice Cooper – Detroit Stories (earMUSIC)

By: Jesse Striewski

Alice Cooper has become far more than just an average rock musician at this point; he’s a flat out institution, as American as beer or baseball. And on his twenty-first studio effort, he knocks it out of the park once more, surpassing his last outing, 2017’s Paranormal album, by a longshot.

Detroit Stories starts off strong with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll,” and doesn’t let up once from there. Tracks such as “Go Man Go,” “Drunk and in Love,” “I Hate You,” and the single “Social Debris” all showcase Cooper’s love for versatility, stretching from everything from rock, blues, jazz, and punk across fifteen total numbers.

There’s a decent amount of Detroit-based covers as well, including The MC5’s “Sister Anne” and Bob Seger’s “East Side Story.” But hands down the best tracks here come in the form of the ones with a bit of a message behind them; “Hanging On By a Thread (Don’t Give Up),” “Wonderful World,” and “Shut Up and Rock” all offer a slice of real insight into Cooper’s true feelings towards the outside world, but without ever getting preachy (something he has always strayed far away from).

If Cooper has ever been your cup of tea, then Detroit Stories should be right up your alley. Whatever you do, don’t pass up this one.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: Moonspell – Hermitage (Napalm Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Now and then, I tend to forget just how much I still need some melodic gothic/black/doom metal like Moonspell in my life from time to time…at least until they go ahead and release new material like this. On their latest studio effort (their twelfth overall), the band is indeed on top of their game once again.

Opening with a one-two punch with a couple of the album’s stronger tracks, “The Greater Good” and “Common Prayer,” Hermitage never really falters (although the two seven-minute numbers, “All or Nothing” and “Without Rule,” aren’t quite as epic as the band was probably going for). Other highlights include “Entitlement,” “The Hermit Saints,” and the title track. The tranquil instrumentals (and dare I say, borderline trippy?) “Solitarian” and “City Quitter (Outro)” are also worthy of mentions.

It’s clear the band’s sound has evolved at this point since their Wolfheart days (still a modern metal classic). If you’re anything like me, this will leave you wanting to revisit the band’s older music once you’ve finished listening, and now is as good a time as any to do so.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Interview with Quiet Riot/H&B Guitarist Alex Grossi By Jesse Striewski

When I spoke to Quiet Riot/Hookers & Blow guitarist Alex Grossi via phone from his Las Vegas home last week, one of the first things I mentioned was how our paths had already crossed previously back in 2006, when I saw him perform with Quiet Riot on a bill that also included Skid Row in Ormand Beach. To my surprise, he actually remembered the exact show; “Oh yeah, during one of those Bike Week events! I vividly remember going to a Waffle House afterwards with a bunch of bikers and meeting with some fans (laughs). That was a good show!”

While technically it was actually Biketoberfest and not Bike Week (though I won’t fault him for it too much, it does get confusing!), I was still impressed none-the-less for remembering, and knew it was primed to be a good conversation from then on out. So of course I tested his memory further and asked him to recall how exactly Hookers & Blow, his cover band he formed along with Guns N’ Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed (one of two GN’R members Grossi has worked with extensively, the other being former drummer Steven Adler in Adler’s Appetite) around the same time he joined Quiet Riot (in 2004), originally came together. He tells me; “We met at a place on Sunset Blvd. that’s no longer there called the Cat Club. It was sort of like the local musicians watering hole, where they would have an open jam there every night. I approached him to see if he wanted to maybe do some cover gigs. We exchanged numbers, and a couple of days later he said, ‘yeah, let’s book some shows, but call the band Hookers & Blow.’ And I said, ‘sounds good to me,’ and we gave it a shot, and it sort of snowballed from there. Now seventeen years later we’re finally putting out a record (laughs).”

The band has seen it’s share of members come and go, and Grossi did his best to clarify; “We’ve had a bazillion guys in and out of the band over the years, but the ‘core’ as of right now is myself on guitar and Dizzy on vocals and keys, but we also have Mike Duda from W.A.S.P. on bass, and Johnny Kelly from Type O Negative/Danzig on drums. And as far as who also appears on the album, (late Quiet Riot drummer) Frankie Banali did a couple of songs, and so did Scott Griffin from L.A. Guns. And when it comes to the touring aspect, we’ve had everyone from Chip Z’Nuff from Enuff Z’ Nuff and Todd Kerns from Slash’s band play with us live. It’s been a rotating lineup, but like I said, the core is really myself, Dizzy, Duda, and Kelly, and also Dizzy’s wife, Nadja, on background vocals.”

Drummer Kelly has also been pulling double duty in Quiet Riot along with Grossi, taking over for the previously-mentioned late drummer Banali. I asked if this arrangement would be permanent or not, and he said; “When Frankie got sick, Johnny kind of fell into the spot. At first he was just keeping the seat warm, but now we need him to keep it warm for us every night. He’s been with Hookers & Blow for eight years now though, so it made sense for him to fill that (now unfortunately empty) seat for Quiet Riot. But he’s doing a great job, and he’s family, so I’m really glad it’s worked out the way it has.”

I also asked Grossi for some insight on how H&B chooses the songs for it’s sets, as well as for their upcoming full length album. He explained; “Well, when we initially got together we were only playing live shows, so we basically were sending master lists of the songs we all knew back and forth through emails to each other. And over the years we’ve since added and subtracted songs from the set. But as far as the record goes, I’d say it’s about fifty percent of our live set, and then the other half are songs we’ve always wanted to cover. For example, we cover Body Count’s “The Winner Loses,” and we’ve never played that live before. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a track like David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” which is literally the first song we’ve ever played together and have played at every single show since.” But Grossi maintains that H&B doesn’t indulge too much when it comes to playing their respective bands’ music in their sets; “We’ll throw in the occasional Guns N’ Roses deep cut, but for the most part we like to keep it completely separate from our day jobs (laughs).”

I was also curious if a cover of Led Zepplin’s “Trampled Under Foot,” which featured the late Banali on drums, was a personal favorite of Frankie’s. He tells me; “That was a really special track. He was given 3-6 months to live in April of 2019, and he recorded that track in November of that same year after about a dozen rounds of chemo, and he still did it all in one take. He was definitely amazing though, just a monster. But we learned that, and “No Quarter” specifically for him, cause Zepplin was obviously Frankie’s favorite band. “Trampled…” we actually played live for years before we recorded it. In 2013 we got hired to do a residency at the Whiskey A Go-Go for a month, and Frankie wanted to come down and play, and asked if we could put some Zepplin in the set. We did, and it just turned out great.”

Before our conversation ended, Grossi clarified that Quiet Riot will still go on, and confirmed some upcoming show dates with both them and H&B; “We’re still going full steam ahead, that’s what Frankie wanted. His wife has taken over as manager and is doing a great job, and it’s nice to be able to still carry on his legacy, and it’s like having him here still in a way. But both bands actually have shows booked for the year already; Quiet Riot has a show March 6 at the Landis Theater in Vineland, NJ. And Hookers & Blow actually have four shows in Texas the following week, in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Eagles Pass. They’re reduced capacity shows of course, but thing’s are slowly opening up, and wherever it makes sense for us, we’re going to do some shows here and there.”

One final thing I wanted to ask Grossi, was his thoughts on the late, great guitar legend Eddie Van Halen’s recent passing. Grossi tells me; “I was such a HUGE fan of Eddie’s, but I never aspired to play like him, because I knew I never could! There was Eddie, and then there was everybody else. It’s almost surreal that he’s not here with us anymore.”

Retrospective: ‘My Bloody Valentine’ at 40 By Jesse Striewski

It’s not hard to find holiday-themed horror movies of one’s choice; Halloween, Christmas, and even New Year’s Eve have a number of options to choose from. But when it comes to Valentine’s Day, My Bloody Valentine has been the no go-to for more than four decades now.

Released by Paramount Pictures at the early stages of the ’80s slasher craze on February 11, 1981, the film takes place in the small fictional mining town called Valentine Bluffs (the film was actually shot in Canada), and centers around the return of the town Valentine’s Day Dance after a twenty-year absent. But former deranged resident and miner Harry Warden vowed revenge if the dance ever took place again, and wields it in grisly fashion with his pickaxe.

Written by John Beaird (with a story originally by Stephen Miller) and directed by George Mihalka, the film may not have featured the most original of concepts (one can even draw several comparisons between Valentine and Friday the 13th, released just one year prior). The film also received trouble from the MPAA, something Director Mihalka attributes to the death of John Lennon shortly before its release. In a 2020 interview with cheatsheet.com, he said; “I could understand the collective cultural despair at the time. Unfortunately, as is always the case, there was backlash, and this time it was against senseless violence.” But the film was still a modest success, grossing over $5 million dollars at the box office on a $2 million budget.

The legacy of My Bloody Valentine lives on to this day. Just two years after the film, a shoegaze band with the same name as the film popped up in Dublin, Ireland. And a remake, My Bloody Valentine 3D, appeared in 2009. There’s even countless screenings of the film worldwide every year. So whether you’re watching with your favorite guy or girl, or solo, grab a heart-shaped box of chocolates (and maybe a glass of wine), and settle in with one of the most essential Valentine’s Day films ever, My Bloody Valentine.

Album Review: Dio – Holy Diver: Live (BMG)

By: Jesse Striewski

Ronnie James Dio might be gone, but the music he left behind across multiple decades and via numerous staple bands (including Black Sabbath and Rainbow) will forever live on. This latest reissue of a 2008 Dio show is a perfect example of just that, showcasing the immense talents of one of the greatest frontmen in rock to ever step up to the microphone.

Originally recorded live at London Astoria, this collection contains not only all nine tracks from the original 1983 masterpiece album of the same name (as it’s title suggests), but a number of other essential cuts from throughout Dio’s career. Classic’s like Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” and Rainbow’s “Man on the Silver Mountain” help make up this seventeen track collection. And even the physical editions come with some cool perks, including an album-sized, 3D lenticular art piece with the vinyl version.

There’s even another Dio reissue being released in tandem with this one, Evil or Divine: Live in New York City, but Holy Diver: Live is definitely the strongest of the two. But if you’re even half the Dio fan I am, you should be able to appreciate either of these collections.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Album Review: The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock and Roll (Fearless Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’m not going to lie, aside from a handful of acts (Sixx A.M. and Chevelle are a couple that come to mind) modern mainstream rock bands like The Pretty Reckless are far from my usual cup of tea. Not to mention the whole put-a-hot-chick-in-front-of-some-generic-dudes-in-a-band gimmick has worn slightly thin at this point. But I’ve got to be honest, after giving their latest effort a listen, I discovered it wasn’t half bad.

Admittedly, the album’s initial single/title track didn’t do much to stir up a lot of interest for me – and that still hasn’t really changed. But once one digs a bit deeper, there’s a lot more that the band has to offer. Sure, there’s some definite filler tracks here, but there’s also a fairly large, eclectic mix of tracks; “Only Love Can Save Me Now,” “My Bones,” and “Witches Burn” all feature some heavy blues and/or doom-inspired riffs, while “Got So High,” “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and “Harley Darling” each sound like something straight out of the ’90s. There’s even a ballad of sorts in “Standing at the Wall.”

Am I a die hard fan of The Pretty Reckless after listening to their new album? Hardly. But I think it’s fair to say I’ll probably give further releases by them more of a chance now (and might even consider seeing them live should the chance ever present itself) after allowing Death By Rock and Roll my full attention. Give it a try, and maybe you’ll agree.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

‘Saved By The Bell’ Star Dustin Diamond Dead at age 44

By: Jesse Striewski

Just a few short weeks after originally announcing his battle with stage four small cell carcinoma/lung cancer, Dustin Diamond, who will forever be remembered for portraying Samuel “Screech” Powers on the late ’80s/early ’90s hit teen TV show Saved by the Bell and it’s numerous spin-offs, has passed away. He was just 44 years old.

Diamond was born in San Jose, CA on January 7, 1977, and began acting in 1987. After appearing in a few bit roles, including the 1988 feature film Purple People Eater, Diamond landed the role (that would forever change his life) of Screech on the Disney Channel-produced Good Morning, Miss Bliss in 1988, which would eventually be retooled as Saved by the Bell just one year later. The show would last until 1993, and get its first spin-off, Saved by the Bell: The College Years, that very same year. While The College Years was short-lived (it ran for only one year), Diamond would reprise the role of Screech once more in Saved by the Bell: The New Class, which ran for seven additional seasons on NBC.

Since playing Screech, Diamond has appeared as himself numerous times over the years, in such films as 2003’s Pauly Shore is Dead, as well as on reality series’ such as Celebrity Big Brother in 2013. Other notable roles throughout his career include multiple appearances on the hit show The Wonder Years, and a brief part in the 1989 Tony Danza film She’s Out of Control.

Diamond’s agent, Roger Paul, revealed to news outlets earlier today that he had passed away in an unannounced Florida hospital with his father by his side. Paul confirmed in a statement; “He was diagnosed with this brutal, relentless form of malignant cancer only three weeks ago. In that time, it managed to spread rapidly throughout his system; the only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution. Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful.”

Dan Block, a marketing agent for Insurance King who collaborated with Diamond several times on multiple commercials since 2017, tells Rewind It Magazine he has been building a new model from the ground up of Screech’s robot Kevin (dubbed KEV3000) from the original show, which he had planned on using in future commercials with Diamond. “Dustin called him Kevin 2.0,” he tells me. “He wanted to take it to comic cons and stuff.” He continues; “I’m still going to do the ads, but with Dustin’s dad Mark instead hopefully (who played the chemistry teacher in Saved By The Bell). We haven’t signed anything yet, but figured I’d get the robot done first, then take it from there.” Once completed, Block’s creation will no doubt help keep Diamond’s memory alive for future generations to come (see photo below).

For those of us who watched for years as Diamond quite literally grew up on the small screen as one of America’s favorite nerds as Screech (perhaps behind only Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel character on Family Matters) this is a sad day indeed. But Diamond’s memory will forever live on, each time a re-run of Saved by the Bell is aired in syndication, whether it’s being viewed simply out of nostalgia by the show’s original fans, or being introduced to new generations for the first time to new ones, Screech will always be there, somewhere. Rest in power, Mr. Powers.

Pauly Shore at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort on 1/25/21 By Jesse Striewski (Photos By Brooke Striewski)

I don’t claim to be a huge fan of stand-up comedy by any means, and it’s been well over five years since the last time I willingly went to see a comedian live (and even then, I was there once again for work purposes). But how could my wife/photographer and I not go see the ‘Weasel’ himself, Pauly Shore, where it all began for him so long ago (and on our seventh wedding anniversary, in the same city where it all began for us as well, none the less) in the city of Daytona Beach?!

Presented by Bonkerz Comedy Productions and held at the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort (which coincidentally, is where my wife and I actually ate dinner right before getting engaged years ago, making the evening all the more special for us on a personal level), it was an extremely welcomed relief to a long year lacking an aubundance of laughter (even Hawaiian Tropic founder Ron Rice made his way into the audience last night).

Central, FL local Lou Pharis warmed up the crowd with (literal) enormous enthusiasm. Although towering at an intimidation-level height, he came off as a harmless gentle giant, there to simply win the audience over with laughs not too far off from your common dad jokes (but in a good way).

Kirk Bonacci, who has appeared on such Disney Channel shows as Game On! and The Avatars, used more of a self-depreciating style of comedy, with a slower approach, albeit perfectly timed punchlines. His ability to handle – shall we say – not the most welcomed audience participation from one particular crowd member, was also priceless.

And at last, the mighty Pauly Shore whisked onto the stage to the tune of David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise,” encouraging the crowd to rise and proclaiming it was time to “party!” Once he began, it was nearly impossible not to laugh at every ridiculous thought that flowed from his brain to the microphone. Even the most simple, monotonous lines (I was dead after he stated, “I have to go grocery shopping when I get home”) were enough to bring the audience to its knees.

A good portion of his jokes relied on his age, and analyzing how much things have changed with him (and the world) since his early ’90s, MTV-fueled heyday. And while politics did make their way into the jokes from time to time, it was refreshing for once to hear something that wasn’t just one-sided and simply for the sake of bashing. Shore no doubt seems to still come from the old-school mentality where it’s okay to poke fun of everyone and anyone, regardless of what side of the fence they happen to land on (something sadly missing way too often in many platforms these days).

And of course, there were plenty of quotes from the vault brought out; classic lines like “Weazing the juice” from Encino Man and “Steven Tyler PJ’s” from Son-in-Law are among many that could be heard uttered throughout his set last night. Chances are if you grew up during Shore’s prime of the late ’80s/early ’90s (like I did), his stand up routine will be right up your alley as well; catch him if and when you get the chance (Shore’s next show will actually be at the Orlando Improv tonight).