Archive for John Harrison

Euphoria #55: The best line reading ever.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2008 by dcairns

This was suggested by Keiran Thomson, which is all the more impressive since he’s too young to have seen it. It’s an 18 Certificate, kid!

The film in question is George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the performer in question is actually the film’s production manager, George Kosana, as “Sheriff Colin McLelland.” Apart from appearing in Romero’s second film, THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA (a true film maudit, that one) Kosana appears not to have had any film acting career at all. I get the impression that in this scene they just asked him to be a sheriff and answer some questions, unscripted. Since he knows the film’s plot set-up, he has all the answers at his fingertips and can answer glibly and smoothly, like a real politician. The only time he stumbles is on the line, “Yeah, they’re dead, they’re… all messed up.” And the effect is so BEAUTIFULLY AUTHENTIC. I just get an aching sense of sheer wonderment, combined with total childish amusement, whenever I hear it. It makes me want to seize Kosana manfully by the hand, thrust a drink upon him, introduce him to my family, maybe even marry him, in a civil ceremony presided over by Dario Argento.

Choo-chee Face

“I now pronounce you…”

I’m hereby giving George Kosana the first Shadowplay Award for Ineffable Brilliance, known as the “Effie”. If he’s still alive, and anybody has any kind of contact details for him, I will actually send him the award. It will look a lot like a cheap golf trophy, or possibly like a piece of paper, but I will incur the postage costs in order to commemorate his indelible contribution to thespian history.

Failing that I’ll send it (whatever it proves to be) to Romero himself, if anybody can suggest a way to get it to him. Damn, wish I’d got John Harrison’s contact details when I met him!


Crossing the border

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2008 by dcairns

Cast and Crew 

People of Britain — go and see George A Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD! It got mostly wretched reviews here but it is pretty damn interesting. Certainly if you’re a Romero fan you’ll dig it, possibly more than LAND OF THE DEAD (hardcore gorehounds were disappointed with the 15 certificate levels of violence in that one, but I enjoyed it’s anti-neo-con satire and the Hawksian relationship between the three leads).

DOTD is plenty grisly, and packs in a lot in narrative terms as well. Seeing it in the midst of RED ROAD was certainly a lesson in what can be achieved in a low-budget digital feature. In the evening, I saw THE ROUND-UP with a q&a afterwards with octogenarian film god Miklós Jancsó, and he explained how his film’s long-take style enabled him to make it in 26 days. “Hah! DIARY OF THE DEAD was shot in 23 days,” I thought. And it has a higher body count, too. Plus, Romero is 68!

(Nevertheless, Jancsó and his film were amazing. Much more on Mr. J. later.)

Criticism of DIARY has centred on supposedly unlikable characters and the mockumentary technique whereby said characters, a team of film students, are seen making the film we’re watching, capturing the mayhem as it unfolds. Of course, CLOVERFIELD has already delivered the big-budget version of this trope, and rogue spanker Brian DePalma’s REDACTED uses a similar approach. It’s a zeitgeist thing, I guess, especially as the elephant in each film’s room is Iraq/Guantanamo Bay/Abu Ghraib, with only BDP’s film tackling the theme overtly. I’m guessing the reason the style and subject are coming together in this way is a reaction to the ubiquity of the war on YouTube, as well as the photographic documentation of atrocities at Abu Ghraib by the perpetrators themselves.

Horror Hospital

Romero’s fictional filmmakers are really not that unpleasant — compared to the fleshwads who litter THE COTTAGE, waiting to be disemboweled, they’re positive paragons of humanity. Their worst trait is their tendency to film everything, but it’s a good job they’re ruthless with the cameras, as how else would we get to watch? (But unlike in CLOVERFIELD, they have realistic travails with battery power.) One of Romero’s themes is how filmmaking is passed along like an infectious disease, parallel with the spread of the zombie contagion, so that the characters who morally reject the urge to document every tragedy are gradually tainted with by the process, and end up carrying on the film after the originator has gone.

Apart from the compromised heroes, some of the supporting figures are very appealing, or at least memorable. The deaf Amish guy with the sticks of dynamite ought to have a movie of his own. Hell, he ought to have a daily prime-time show. There’s a brilliantly scary National Guardsman-turned-looter, played by someone whose credit I can’t even find, but who ought to be a star. And there are cameos by Romero himself, Romero associate John Harrison (read of my encounter with the delightful Mr. H. here) and audio contributions by Stephen King, Wes Craven, Simon Pegg, Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo Del Toro. Guillermo’s sound-byte is the best value, partly because he has a recognisable voice, and also because of his distinctive Mexican take on the zombie phenomenon: “What we have to worry about now is all these people crossing the border between life and death.”

The Mummy Returns

It’s kind of rare to see a film that basically gets better as it goes along. At first the mockumentary effect is rather unsatisfactory — you can’t have verité camera style unless you’re performances match it, and Romero’s are a touch too broad. The decision to use music (justified by one of the student’s explaining she’s added it because “I want to scare you”) seems a little cowardly, and Romero has never been great with music — it required Argento’s lurid skills to bring DAWN OF THE DEAD to full life in that respect. But as the action develops, taking the usual slow downturn into anguished despair (a big motif in all the Romero DEAD flicks), the film picks up increasingly, with sharp satire, surprising gore effects (a scythe through two heads at once? New to me!), and some disconcerting crazy humour. The post-modern version of gratuitous nudity struck me as naff — it may be a joke, but it’s still demeaning — but aside from that I was all in favour of this damn thing.

Pretty in Pink

Interesting to note that it was forty years ago that the zombie invasion began, in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. And in the new film, it’s still beginning. Message: the zombie invasion is a constant in our lives.

I drank with a zombie.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2007 by dcairns


My partner Fiona and I were extremely lucky, a few weeks back, to have a pint with John Harrison, who was gearing up to direct an adaptation of Clive Barker’s THE BOOKS OF BLOOD (or one story from that collection, anyway) here in my native Edinburgh.

Putting aside all thoughts of “The SWINE! It should have been ME!” I settled down to my Guinness Extra Cold and found J.H. to be a very affable and interesting sort of chap indeed. I haven’t heard yet if his film has the final go-ahead, but I wish it the best.

Interesting stuff: John talked about his mentor, the literally towering George A. Romero, and how funding had been secured for G.A.R.’s latest zombiefest, DIARY OF THE DEAD, from an unusual source, the private fortunes of a sneaker heir. I think it was Reebok. The training shoe descendant asked how much a film would cost, they told him $20 million, he hemmed and hawed and said he didn’t think he could afford that, so they resourcefully suggested $2 million, and he consented. Fiona asked John if they’d had to product place sneakers on their zombie.

“We didn’t have to, but if we’d had to, WE WOULD HAVE.”

John, it turns out, in addition to scoring DAY OF THE DEAD and directing CREEPSHOW II, played the part of the zombie in DAWN OF who gets a screwdriver embedded in his lughole (censored in the U.K.). Fiona shook his hand. I texted my friend Sam Dale:

i just had a drink w the zombie who gets screwdrivered in dawn ot dead

He texted back:

r u at some kind of horror convention or r u just THE LUCKIEST MAN IN THE WORLD?

I guess it’s the latter.

John directed the TV miniseries of DUNE a few years back, and by strange chance I was at one point planning to work with both the stars of that. Alec Newman, a fellow Scot, who played Paul Atreides, had a nice story about working with Vittorio Storaro.

‘He asked me, “Can you walka downa thees corridor diagonal to the light,  so a-halfa you face ees een shadow, a-halfa een the light?”

‘I said, “I dunno, Vittorio, it doesn’t seem very natural.”

To which the great man replied:

‘”Koh! Alec! MOVIES ees no natural.

You said it, mister.