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.

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…

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!

Retrospective: 35 Years of The Golden Girls By: Jesse Striewski

The Golden Girls: Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Estel

On September 14, 1985, Americans everywhere welcomed four irresistibly lovable ladies into their living rooms for the very first time when it premiered on NBC. The series was created by Susan Harris, who also served as executive producer, along with her husband, Paul Junger Witt, and Tony Thomas.

Set in Miami, FL, the show followed roomates Dorthy Zporank (played by Bea Arthur), Rose Nylund (Betty White), Blanche Devereux (Rue McClanahan), and Estelle Getty as Dorthy’s mother Sophia Petrillo, who was originally only slated to be a recurring ‘guest’ before testing so well with audiences she ultimately replaced the show’s original fourth character, a housekeeper named “Coco” who only appeared in the pilot episode (portrayed by the late Charles Levin).

Since my earliest memories of first seeing the series, I’ve often related the women on the show to the ones in my own life; airy but lovable Rose reminded me of my mother, Joyce; feisty Sophia bore a striking resemblance to my late grandmother, Mary; and sultry southern belle Blanche was the spitting image of my late Aunt Roberta, who actually lived in south, FL at the time the show was on the air. It wasn’t until I eventually met my lovely wife Brooke many years later, who also re-introduced me to the show after many years of being away from it (we now fall asleep with it on nearly every single night), that I would finally come full circle and find someone that represents the strong willed Dorthy.

Actress Deena Freeman, who played Dorthy’s daughter Kate on the season 2 episode “Son-in-Law Dearest” from 1987, can also relate to the same sentiment on an even more firsthand basis. In a recent conversation via email, Freeman, who currently runs a teen acting studio out of Los Angles with her husband, reflected on her time on the set to me; “It was a sheer pleasure to work on The Golden Girls; I was flying high. Working with Bea as my mom is a memory I cherish forever.”

Aside from it’s ability to produce witty one-liners at a rapid pace, the series was also timely throughout it’s run, touching on multiple topics ranging anywhere from discrimination, teen pregnancy, and homosexuality. Actor Monte Markham, who first appeared  as Blanche’s gay brother Clay Hollinsworth in the season 3 episode “Scared Straight” from 1988, took the time to speak with me over the phone regarding his appearances on the show. He says;  “The Golden Girls was probably one of the best on-camera experiences I ever had. I had actually known some of the ladies prior; Bea I had known from New York – her husband (Gene Saks) had directed me in (the Broadway production) Same Time, Next Year. And Betty and I had crossed paths many times over the years, so to finally get to work with her on camera after all those years was truly great. The set was brilliant, the writing was brilliant…and everything you could possibly want or need from a show was just there. Corralling all those ladies with such different personalities to work together like that was really quite amazing.”

Markham would later reprise his role again in the 1991 episode “Sister of the Bride,” and notes the subtle changes that had occurred on set since his last appearance; “When I went back for the second episode, there was a new director that was very abrupt, and the atmosphere had changed and just felt like it was more about ‘business as usual.’ I think they knew by then they weren’t going to be doing the show much longer.”

And indeed they would not, as the show would come to an end just one year later in 1992. A short-lived direct spin-off, The Golden Palace, would premiere in the fall of that same year. But despite having all of the actresses attached sans Arthur, it didn’t have the same effect as the former show, and would only run for one season before falling through the cracks by 1993.

With the series now on round-the-clock syndication and perhaps more popular now than ever in pop culture thanks to everything from board games to t-shirts, The Golden Girls remains an enduring classic that continues to gain new generations of fans. The one and only Betty White herself was kind enough to provide Rewind It Magazine with a brief quote (via her agent) reflecting on her time playing Rose Nylund on the show; “It was always great fun shooting each episode and I truly miss everyone involved.” One thing is for certain; no matter how much time may pass, the lasting legacy created from The Golden Girls will always continue to entertain and endure. Always.