Never Sleep Again (The Nightmare, 2015)

The_Nightmare_PosterNever Sleep Again is focused on the condition known as Sleep Paralysis.  People afflicted by it describe the terrifying experience of being visited by specters while being unable to move. Some reference aliens, others demons and some, simply dark and ominous men.

It is a waking state of sleep, where they are aware of their surroundings, but powerless to change or protect themselves.

Through interviews and recreations, the viewer is taken through a world of fear.  And the recreations are very creepy and even outright scary.  It is hard to not be drawn in…and then?

Well, the end just kind of unravels.  There is no real discussion as to what might be causing these experiences. We hear the first hand accounts, and see representations of what it must be like…but we are not treated too much in the way of medical theories or possible cures.  Well, except one. A few people talk about prayer to God…but little else in the way of research or medicinal break through.

So, while this is a really engaging view for most of it’s run time, it feels kind of empty when you get to the end.

The Viral Legend of Wrinkles the Clown (Wrinkles the Clown, 2019)

Wrinkles_The_Clown_PosterIn 2015, videos of a creepy clown called Wrinkles emerging from beneath a child’s bed went viral, followed by various sightings and then stickers inviting parents to call  Wrinkles to scare naughty children.

This documentary focuses on the phenomenon from both the perspective of the man (or men) behind wrinkles, the parents and kids  who became obsessed with the clown.

The kids are, honestly, the most disturbing part of the documentary.  We hear audio of voicemails received at the public number Wrinkles has set up, and it is kind of chilling to hear just how terrified these kids are.

Initially, we are introduced to a retiree (who is not shown) who really seems disinterested in how it might impact the kids.  Later, as the film reveals another individual (also hidden) stating to be the creator of the clown (explaining they hired the retiree to play the role) who created a lot of the viral videos of Wrinkles being seen in public. That individual states they are not really thrilled by parents calling wrinkles to scare their kids, suggesting it is pretty abusive.

For awhile, the documentary carries along at an interesting pace…but it kind of peters out towards the end, like they kind of were unsure where to take the film. Still, it is a pretty interesting look at a creepy viral phenomenon.

Black Fears (Horror Noire, 2019)

Horror_Noir_PosterWhen you think of horror, it can often seem like people of color don’t exist. The Universal classics were devoid of black people. And even when they were present, they were violent savages (1933’s King Kong).

But Horror Noire looks deeper into the presence of the black community in horror films.  It is not really hard to find black horror fans today. And really, horror has a long history of popularity in the black community…but often with very different lessons.

The film opens by noting the most famous horror film of them all is a film a lot of white people do not often cite as a horror film.  But you can see why Birth of a Nation is truly horrific in its story and racist portrayals of black men.

Through interviews with writers, directors and many actors the decades of horror are explored.  Early on the documentary explores forgotten films from the 40’s such as Son of Ingagi by Spencer Williams (most remembered as Andy from Amos & Andy).

There is a heavy look at the 70’s with regard to films that came out during the height of blaxploitation films. While films like Blackenstein do not fare well, Blacula and Ganja and Hess transcend the genre.

There is a terrific statement in the film:

“We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us.”

The insights from actors in regards to their roles is key. Kelly Jo Minter, Ken Sagoes and Miguel A. Nùñez Jr all bristle at the notion that their roles were incidental. Of course, they were aware that in many cases they were the only people on the set of color…but as Sagoes notes, he was happy to have a check.

Horror Noire is a worthwhile documentary that I found fascinating and educational. I highly recommend sitting down for it.

As an aside…Jordan Peele…while you are changing the face of horror…please do not forget about Keith David, Ken Foree and Tony Todd.

A Dangerous Influence (Won’t You Be My Neighbor, 2018)

Wont_You_Be_PosterBy the time I was watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood had been going on for over ten years. And I was one of the thousands of kids in America who grew up with the kindly neighbor and his land of imagination…Daniel the Tiger, King Friday the 13th (I totally did not catch that as a kid) and Lady Elaine Fairchild…but I confess, as I aged, I moved out of the neighborhood for Star Wars and Doctor Who and Transformers and G.I. Joe…

He seemed a quaint memory of a simpler time.  And so it fell onto Morgan Neville to remind us of the dangerous rebellion at the heart of Mister Rogers.

A soft spoken minister, Fred Rogers looked at the images coming into the homes of families across America…and he thought…maybe you could do more than slap people in the faces with pies.

The documentary looks at his career, the successes and the failures. It explores his relationships…and one of the things that stands out? Fred wanted people to know they were loved and valuable.  This is most heartfelt in the stories from François Clemmons. Their’s was a close friendship. You can tell when he speaks, there is a mix of joy and sadness.

What these types of documentaries always to get at eventually is the “seedier” side of the subject.

“You thought he was nice, but he was a tyrant!”

“You thought he loved kids, but he was a pedophile!!!”

But while viewers might brace themselves for the inevitable truth…the real truth is…Fred Rogers was just that decent and kind. Sure, he was not perfect. And he seemed plagued with doubts that he was doing any good.

Now, I talked earlier about the dangerous rebellion of Mister Rogers…and I stand by this. Fred Rogers fought for kids to be treated as more than just…”kids”. He did not believe in talking down to them…and so he focused on the events that the nation was facing and not pretending the best thing is for us to coddle children and hide the ugliness of the world.

Mister Rogers talked about the assassination of a President.  He talked about the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. He saw these terrible things that kids were not being equipped for because we coddled them.

And yet, Fox News had the audacity to lay problems with modern society at his feet. That his message that you are special as you are was the real problem.

As I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor, I was filled with joy and sadness. The cold hard truth is that the problem is too much Mister Rogers. Our culture faces the problem of not nearly enough Mister Rogerses(??).

I miss you Mister Rogers…and it makes me a bit sad that my nephews have grown up without you.

Vulgar Display of Power Pt 6 (The Devil and Father Amorth, 2017)

The_Devil_And_Father_Amorath_PosterFather Amorath was one of the Vatican’s most prominent Exorcists, in fact, he was the Exorcist in Chief.  William Friedkin, the director of the original the Exorcist presents one of his final exorcisms in the film.

Friedkin notes that at the time of the original film, he had never witnessed an exorcism.  He wanted to explore the topic, noting that he is a believer in the idea of supernatural forces.

He gives background into the film and book on which it was based, and the film includes bits of interviews with the late William Peter Blatty.  He explains when he wrote the book, originally he had planned on writing an account of a true life event. However, as time had gone on, sensitivity for the family resulted in Blatty choosing to make a fictionalized tale.

Friedkin meets with Father Amorath, who agrees to let him witness and film an exorcism of an Italian woman named Christina (there is a stipulation that Friedkin must film it himself, without a film crew present).

Friedkin interviews the woman Christina(she is revealed to have been through nine unsuccessful Exorcisms, which kind of challenges the notion of the power of the ritual) and her family. But Friedkin also interviews mental health experts and neurologists. I admit, the voices Christina utters are certainly unsettling, but still, the film leaves some doors open, in spite of Friedkin’s personal lack of skepticism.

Its is an interesting documentary and Friedkin’s involvement gives it an interesting perspective. It is not truly conclusive, and I suspect will, much like Friedkin’s 1973 film will impact the viewer based on what they bring to the film. The faithful will feel affirmed, the skeptical will remain skeptical.

The Art of Rebellion (Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, 2014)

future_shock_bdFor Americans, the character they probably most recognized from the British comic book series 2000AD is Judge Dredd.  But 2000AD actually had a whole host of characters spawned from its weekly pages.  Almost all of them every bit as violent and over the top as Dredd.  There was Rogue Trooper, the ABC Warriors, Nemesis the Warlock, Bad Company, the Ballad of Halo Jones, D.R. & Quinch and Zenith to name a few.

Back in 1988 or so, I went to Northern Ireland as part of a church mission trip.  I came upon a comic shop there and discovered 2000AD…I came home from the trip with several progs (the term for an issue of 2000AD) and a few books collecting specific characters.  I fell in love with the world of 2000AD…the writers and the artists provided inspiration to my artistic side.

Future Shock! is an entertaining journey through the creation of the comic in 1977 to present day.  Interviews with its staff and creators explore the controversies and successes.  There are may familiar faces for comic book fans (As American companies, especially DC’s Vertigo imprint, poached a lot of their stars).  Included in the film is commentary from Neil Gaiman, Brian Bolland, Alan Grant and Carlos Ezquerra (the creators of Judge Dredd) and more.  One of the stories discussed is the unfinished the Ballad of Halo Jones.  Written by Alan Moore (with gorgeous art by Ian Gibson), it is a story that verged on being epic.  But Moore was frustrated by his treatment by the magazine and walked away, leaving it unfinished.  Both Leah Moore (daughter of Alan and a writer in her own right) and Neil Gaiman lament that it was never finished.  Moore states she wishes she could have convinced her father to return and finish the tale.

The film explores failures as well, for instance, their ill-fated movie plans.  The only result is the heavily maligned Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone.  It is maligned for good reason, of course.  I do disagree with the idea that choosing Stallone was a bad idea from the start…I mean…LOOK:


But more on the Stallone film at a later date.  There is a pretty rich history behind 2000AD, and it is pretty well covered by this documentary.  Both fun and educational, it makes for an enjoyable watch.  This includes the titles and the transitions with animated art from 2000AD to great effect.  It makes the film feel like it is moving quickly, as well as allow you to appreciate the rich history of artwork.

Bob vs Bill (Batman and Bill, 2017)

Everybody knows Batman.  And most people know who Bob Kane is.  He is the creator of Batman.  Every Batman comic book tells you this.  Right there in print.  “Batman Created by Bob Kane”.  Bob vehemently defended this idea that Batman was his creation and only his.  But why?  Why would he need to defend this notion?

The documentary Batman and Bill tells you exactly why.  In the comic book world, it was long known that Kane had the name “Bat-Man”, but his original design was a guy with a red suit.  He consulted friend and writer Bill Finger who contributed pretty everything we know to be Batman.  Kane then took the idea to the publishers and presented it as solely his idea.  He got a contract that established this.  He promised he would share success with Finger in spite of this.

Bob Kane never did.  In fact, it was long after Finger had died, and shortly before his own death that Kane changed his story and admitted Finger deserved a lot of the credit.  But that is not the whole story, as author Marc Tyler Nobleman took it upon himself to try and find any heirs of Bill Finger.  The path is full of surprises and heartbreak.

This is a tragic story of a creator who was not given the respect that should have been due to him.  Through archival footage, we hear from both Finger and Kane.  The story is expanded on through interviews with comic book pros familiar with the history behind it all.  Directors  Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce present everything as an unfolding mystery, befitting the famous cowled detective himself.  You are drawn into it by what starts as a frustrating professional injustice that evolves into a heartbreaking story of familial loss.

The first time anyone has credited Finger for Batman was 2015’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.  21 years after he died alone in his apartment.

It’s All About Image (The Image Revolution, 2016)

“We broke Batman’s back.  We killed Superman.” – Rob Liefeld

Image_Revolution_PosterThe 90’s were an amazing time for comic books.  It was the highlight of the speculator market, it was all about foil covers, and pouches.  Characters with hundreds of pouches.  In the early 90’s Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee were the top names.  They each set records for the sales of X-Men and Spider-Man books.

Comics have a pretty sordid history when it comes to the treatment of their talent.  Jack Kirby, the King of Comics, died pretty much at his desk to pay bills.  He saw no compensation for co-creating characters like the Hulk and Fantastic Four.

The Image Revolution looks back on the moment a group of artists decided they had had enough.  The mega-popular McFarlane was frustrated that Marvel was licensing products with his art…and he was not even getting a t-shirt out of it.  McFarlane and Liefeld started recruiting the top Marvel Artists who all  walked away from Marvel and DC to form Image Comics…a company where the creator ruled and owned their characters.

The documentary explores the highs and lows the group faced.  They had very high highs, especially in proving their critics (who gave them six months at best) wrong.  They broke sales records, found new talent, brought in other big names who wanted to do creator owned work.  And then there were the lows, mostly ego and in-fighting…especially between Liefeld and Marc Silvestri.

It moves at a rapid pace, covering the twenty five year history.  There are plenty of interesting and amusing anecdotes (how Robert Kirkman got Image to green light the Walking Dead comic book is quite funny).  For comic fans, or people curious about the industry, the Image Revolution is a fun and informative watch about one of the biggest shakeups the industry has ever seen.

The Not So Fantastic Four (Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, 2016)

doomed_posterYou may think that there have been three Fantastic Four films.  There were the two Tim Story film with Jessica Alba and Chris Evans…and the 2015 film with Miles Teller and Kate Mara.  But there are tales of a first film, never seen by the world.  Spoke in hushed tones.  Okay, not really.  There actually was a first movie made back in 1994.  It was completed and even had release material.  Outside of bootleg copies, the film has never seen the light of day.

The short version is that in the early 90’s, Marvel Comics was in real dire straights (they went into bankruptcy)…this resulted in them selling the film rights to multiple characters, such as Captain America, the Punisher and the Fantastic Four.  The producer with the option for the Fantastic Four shopped the option around, finalizing a deal with the king of low budget film Roger Corman.  The catch? Unknown to the cast and crew,  This producer simply wanted to keep the rights.  He had no plan to release the film.

But there is more to the story, and really?  It is quite interesting.  Doomed! The Untold Tale of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four delves deeply into the story, giving the viewer insight into exactly how it all played out.  With a cast of actors that were at least semi-recognizable at the time (and many who are still working today) such as Jay Underwood and Alex Hyde-White.

What stands out is that the director, cast and crew were dedicated to making a good movie…though one hindered by a tiny budget.  The effects were limited and the story was not very strong…they never did ADR to make Joseph Culp’s Doctor Doom understandable.  They hired a guy who claimed he was an effects supervisor on Independence Day…and they discovered…he was not.

The people behind the film were passionate, and it become clear that even Corman thought the film was going to be released.  He was creating posters, button and trailers (I have a poster in storage somewhere, as well as a couple of the buttons).  The people involved clearly wanted (and still want) the film to be seen.  And there is a lot of hurt feelings involved, including some understandable bitterness towards Marvel Icon Stan Lee.

The film is a fascinating exploration of the passion that can go into film-making and when those hopes and big dreams get dashed.  Even if you do not care about the Fantastic Four, this tale is epic and engaging.  It is an effective documentary that can give you insight into the more heartbreaking side of film-making.

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