Friday, March 25, 2016

Movie mom and scream queen Dee Wallace talks Mad Monster and more

Actress Dee Wallace is one of the many celebrity guests at this weekend’s Mad Monster Party. The horror-themed convention kicks off its fifth year at the Sheraton downtown tonight at 6:30 p.m. and runs through Easter Sunday. It features panels and Q&As with screen stars Malcolm McDowell, "Star Trek’s" Nichelle Nichols, Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett from "Star Wars"), "Night of the Living Dead" writer John Russo and director George Romero, as well as the cast members of "What We Do in the Shadows," "Friday the 13th" and "Halloween."

Wallace – star of "E.T.," "Cujo," "The Frighteners," "The Howling" and "Lords of Salem" and an author who has written five books on the subject of healing and self creation – will have her own panel on Sunday, but she answered a few questions prior to the show. 

Q: When did you start doing convention appearances?
A: Oh my god. I’ve got to have been doing these for twenty years. I don’t do a lot of them. I just do the special ones.

Q: Do some actors find it a chore?
A: Some people do it for the money and like anything in life, you can choose to really like what you’re doing or choose to complain about it and make it harder. I figure life’s too long. I might as well just create a lot of joy and happiness as much as I can for myself.

Q: Have you made connections or formed friendships with some of the other regulars on the circuit?
A: A lot of friendships. I just signed to do a film called "Death House." It's filled with horror icons. The contracts aren’t done yet, so I can’t say who but it’s a lot of people on the circuit that I see and work with quite a bit. It’s a freaking amazing script.

Q" "Critters" was one I watched over and over. These little fuzzballs with teeth rolling around in retrospect seems like a kind of crazy idea. When you’re filming something like that does it seem absurd?

A: Oh yes. There were one or two critters that were well made but the other…we’re in this serious, hairy scene and the guys would roll them on to the set. We couldn’t stop laughing. 

Q: You made a lot of scary movies. Are you a fan of those kinds of movies yourself?

A: It was a really iconic period for the horror genre - the `80s films. We have slasher films, which aren’t horror films. I haven’t seen this "Cloverfield Lane." I’m hoping it’s a really good, well done horror film. We just don’t have many of them. They redo them `90s style and it’s see how many people we can kill and the audience doesn’t care about the characters because there’s no character development. I would say yes if it’s a true horror film, no for the slasher films.
Q: You’ve played so many heroines, do you get a kick out of playing the villain? 

A: Heck yes. I love killing people. I loved that part in "The Frighteners" and "Lords of Salem." I got to play a character where you think they’re sweet and the victim and they turn out to be the murderer. That was a great arc in "The Frighteners." (Director) Peter Jackson and I came up with this idea that she actually got younger when she went back to that world because she got excited so much. I’m an actor. I like to do a lot of emotional stuff, different challenges, and have fun. In "Halloween" I finished filming and they called me a week later and said, “Rob wants you back." I said, "I’ve already died." They said "Yes, he wants to kill you better." So it didn’t end with the bookcase. I went back and he throws me through the table and all that stuff. (Rob Zombie’s) a hoot to work with. His stuff is always bizarre you have to really review a Rob Zombie movie (on its own). It’s so unique to Rob. He always makes a statement of some kind about society, religion and mankind amidst all the gore.

Q: We were surprised when you popped up on "General Hospital" (playing soap icon Luke Spender’s dying long lost sister) last year. How did that come about?

A: I had never done a soap. Before he died m husband Christopher did a soap at the end of his career. He said, "If I’d known it was this much fun I would’ve done one earlier in my career." When they called I thought, “It’s five days and it’s a new experience." Then I got the script and called my agent: "Holy hell there are so many lines here." It was a lot of lines. I rose to the occasion. I have such a respect for soap actors after that. Such a huge respect for what they do and the gun they’re under and the professionalism. It was a great experience. You don’t get much time to rehearse.

Q: Is there one film that you find the most disturbing of all your films?

A: "The Hills Have Eyes" is probably the roughest I’ve done so far. "Death House" is going to be right up there. It’s a disturbingly horrifying film. All these icons that are doing it, we're just going to have a great time.

Q: But it doesn’t make you uncomfortable to watch any of them?
A: No, by the time you’ve shot it you’re detached really. You knew how it was all done. Now I do start to remember, oh that’s the night I was freezing to death.
Q: We lost a lot of folks in horror last year. Mentioning "Hills Have Eyes," what was it like working with Wes Craven that early on?
A: He was just starting out. We were all just starting out. It was a bunch of newbies. Everybody stayed in one trailer and had to drive hours to the location. It was a rough shoot. What I remember about Wes is that he was a quiet gentleman.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Review: Recent Grammy winner Jason Isbell at Ovens

Watching songwriter and band leader Jason Isbell sing his incredibly intimate "Cover Me Up" - a song he wrote about his wife and band member, Amanda Shires - with her standing a few feet away, was more honest and moving than any scene I've ever witnessed on a "reality" show. In fact Friday's concert at Ovens Auditorium featured two couples, both new parents, who sometimes sang as much to each other as they did to the audience.

When Isbell and Shires harmonized "I'm tired of traveling alone" on the song "Traveling Alone," she smiled each time she sang the chorus' last line, "Won't you ride with me?" as if she couldn't help but smile. Later during "Flagship" it was just the two of them singing love not souring, of not growing apart like so many couples do.

Earlier in the night, Charleston's Shovels & Rope - married duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent - harmonized with such passion and energy as one drummed and the other played guitar, that it didn't matter that their instruments kept them anchored to center stage. Who needs to work the crowd from one end of the stage to the other when you've got that kind of spirit?

At times each of them - because they traded off on drums and guitar - commanded a mind-boggling four tasks at once, thumping the kick drum, hitting the snare with a stick with their left hand while plunking a small piano with the right, and singing almost constant harmony.

They made a name for themselves in the wide world of folk, but I kept thinking during their set that they're really a rock n' roll band. There was often a early rock n' roll swagger and `50s pop-rock bounce to the songs. Shovels & Rope also shook up their own material with altered arrangements and benefited from the kind of light show that is usually reserved for the headliner.

Isbell's band, which has remained the same group of Alabama and SC players through its history, seemed somehow bigger on Ovens' wide stage (he previously played Visulite and Neighborhood Theatre, as well as the Whitewater Center in recent years). Having recently won two Grammys for Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song and selling out increasingly larger venues, it was fitting to build a grander show in look and sound. The band rose to the occasion with Shires' and keyboardist Derry DeBorja at times helping to give the songs a symphonic, polished pop underbelly.

The set began with "Palmetto Rose," a tribute to nearby Charleston, which is peppered with references to "the iodine state." He followed it with that recent Grammy winning song, "24 Frames." Songs by his old band, Drive-By Truckers, which he left in 2007, still garner a big response. "Decoration Day" was met with whoops and shouts at the start. The crowd rose to its feet when they thought the song was nearing an end. Turned out that ending was a fake out and the song escalated with guitar solo and extended ending, which put the exclamation point on the performance.

"Life You Chose" seemed written for this broader, bigger setting as well. Isbell's band, the 400 Unit, no longer plays gritty bar band although its rendition of Drive-By Truckers' "Never Gonna Change" came the closest - a hard charging slice of Southern rock. It highlighted Isbell's guitar playing. He stood center stage, fingers climbing the fret board, much more rock god than the country boy from Alabama we know him as.

While the set was full of highlights the aforementioned "Cover Me Up" was the pinnacle. The song, which opened his Americana Award winning 2013 album "Southeastern," addresses his hard-fought sobriety and Shires' love and patience. The song covers so much ground, encompassing romance, need, danger, trust and sex within its lines. He attacked the microphone with such fire that he sounded like he might sing himself hoarse. His performance and her presence raised goosebumps and drew tears from some onlookers.

The set wound to a close with "Relatively Easy," "Speed Trap Town,"  "Super 8," and "Children of Children." The latter built to a climax with Isbell illuminated at center stage for another ripping guitar solo. If the lights beaming down at his feet had not been visible it would've looked like the rays were rising from him, giving him a sort of halo-ish glow like paintings of Jesus (or Olivia Newton John in "Xanadu").

The encore began with his similarly no-frills take on cancer, "Elefant" that re-triggered waterworks in the crowd. But the show ended on an up-note with the 400 Unit's "Codeine," a rollicking nod to their honky-tonk roots.

For those of us who have followed Isbell since his Trucker days and watched him mature into one of America's great songwriters, knowing his background, and witnessing his sobriety, marriage, and newfound fatherhood from afar, the show was a testament to how things can turn around for someone who works hard at their craft and on themselves. As Truckers' fans know, Isbell exhibited startling promise from the get-go, so it's kind of beautiful seeing his work come to fruition with recognition on global scale.

Photo Credit: Courtney Devores