Dead of Summer: Freeform Friday the 13th Sort Of (Review)

ELIZABETH LAIL

On June 28 this year Freeform is joining other networks in bringing horror to the small screen with “Dead of Summer.” A sort of Friday the 13th homage where the camp is not Crystal Lake but Stillwater and there is no Jason, but there is a Tony Todd.

The pilot, still a work in progress, shows Todd at the very beginning. A move meant to convey the creator’s serious intent to delve deep into the horror genre. Like the camp in Crystal Lake, Stillwater was closed, in this instance  in 1984, for an, as yet, unknown reason, and the place has been purchased and rejuvenated by former camp counselor Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell). 

The place reopens five years later at the tail end of the ’80s; 1989.

A new group of camp guidance counselor’s arrive, including new girl Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail). Amy has never been to camp nor has she ever worked at one, this young heroine is clearly the “virgin” in this slasher scenario. 

All of the counselors, apart from Amy, are former campers at the lake and all know one another. The only other “outsider” to the group is Drew; a quiet withdrawn individual who speaks to no one not even his bunkmates.

While there is no Jason, or Mrs. Voorhees, there is a  creepy old caretaker, who warns our virginal character to leave and the lady who owns/runs the camp is named Carpenter (a huge nod and wink to the genre) who has a secret…or two.

In terms of nods and winks, there is even an allusion to the iconic 1981 horror film “Sleepaway Camp.”

As this is the pilot, titled “Patience”  “Dead of Summer” does not go overboard on plot specifics or gore. The body count is rather low and in terms of  viscera, the series is pretty lightweight in that department as well.

The action is not fast paced, the word plodding comes to mind,  and the story moves along at a snail’s pace. We are not given much insight into each character, although this may come later. However, if it takes too long, we may never learn of backstories for these new counselors.

The main problem with the pilot is that it is slow. With a targeted demographic of the younger members of the audience, “Dead of Summer”  looks likely to lose a huge amount of its viewers before “Patience” is halfway through.

Mitchell is suitably uncomfortable as the passionate camp owner and Lail is a perfect combination of gormlessness and timid assurance.  (Interestingly enough, both women have “Once Upon a Time” in common which should be no real surprise as the show’s creators also come from this ABC series.)

Ian B. Goldberg, producer from “Once Upon a Time,” and that series’ showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis have left the land of fairy tales to dip into the slasher genre, a’la Friday the 13th.  With no hockey masks, or murderous mum’s on-hand, this lake campground will have a sinister backstory of murder, that goes back much further than 1984. 

Thus far, in terms of interest, “Dead of Summer” lacks anything to make it stand out. Granted, this is just the pilot and things can improve, but in reality one would have thought that a bit more speed and a higher body count would not have been a bad thing.

ELI GOREE, MARK INDELICATO, AMBER CONEY, ELIZABETH LAIL
ELI GOREE, MARK INDELICATO, AMBER CONEY, ELIZABETH LAIL

This nostalgic look at ’80s horror could work well, but in terms of anachronisms, the camcorder Joel is using looks a bit out of place. At one point the thing is plugged into a television and played back directly. In 1989 there could not have been many, if any, (Even a Hi8) capable of doing that.

(We could be wrong and if anyone can remember a minicam, like the one Joel uses having that capability, please let us know and we will stand corrected.)

“Dead of Summer” looks to be a slow starter and like the title of the pilot seems to indicate, patience may be required before the new series “comes to life.”  The Freeform summer replacement show airs June 28. Watch it and see what you think.

The Unwanted: Tony Todd, Andy Mackenzie and Destin Pfaff Ride Again

Poster of The Unwanter
In 2012, Tony Todd (Candyman, Sushi Girl), Andy Mackenzie (Sushi Girl, True Detective) and Destin Pfaff (Sushi Girl, Married in a Year) all worked on Sushi Girl, Pfaff wrote, produced and had a role in the film. The film was a brilliant look at the total lack of honor among thieves with a great twist at the end and the excellent cast also had a cameo by Japanese legend “Sonny Chiba.” Tony Todd, Andy Mackenzie and Destin Pfaff are ready to mount up and ride again in their latest venture The Unwanted, a film being funded via Kickstarter. The movie is inspired by the real events that took place the same year that Sushi Girl had a limited cinema run and was released on DVD and Blu-Ray; 2013.

The year following their work on that film, a 21 year old Vancouver student named Elisa Lam disappeared and then was found dead in a water tower at the top of Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. The notorious inn, where Richard Ramirez stayed while killing his way through a baker’s dozen of unfortunate women, had footage of Lam’s last known moments via their elevator CCTV. The video, uploaded on YouTube, went viral and fired the public’s imagination.

Lam is acting oddly in the footage, which started a slew of theories about just what went on before her body was found naked in the water supply tower on the roof of the hotel. Hollywood has already jumped to make a big budget version of the events and these three are going to be part of a less expensive and, as Andy promises in the Kickstarter video, much scarier movie inspired by the events.

According to the press release, this film The Unwanted has been inspired by that viral footage of Elisa Lam acting very odd in the Hotel Cecil elevator. The release says that the film will “pull from an expansive range of horror elements from films such as The Exorcist, The Gates of Hell, and The Sentinel” and ask the question of whether one person can be possessed by two entities at the same time.

Both Andy and Tony are very excited about the project, as can be seen on their video at the Kickstarter site, and another name has been added to the cast list, as well as another video on the site, one Rachel Federer aka Mrs. Pfaff and another alumnus from Sushi Girl.

This promises to be an excellent film with one icon from the world of horror, Tony Todd, and Andy Mackenzie, who plays one of the best bad guys ever in front of the camera, and that alone makes this an exciting prospect. The fact that Pfaff was inspired by the viral footage, which is creepy and unsettling, shows what creative muses were influenced in his mind.

There are only five days left in the Kickstarter campaign. Follow the link above and see where they are in terms of funding. While you are there check out the awesome things on offer for donations, things that are over and above being part of what promises to be one scary film for fans of the genre. A donation can get you some Sushi Girl “swag” or a chance to be in the film. *These are just some of the things available.*

The Unwanted is the latest screenplay from Destin Pfaff and there are just five days left to reach deep, or not so deep, and chuck some money into the Kickstarter campaign. It is important to point out that these talented folks are not basing their film on the viral footage of Elisa Lam’s apparently last moments. They were, as stated over at the site inspired by the footage and that is a completely different proposition.

In case you missed the viral video, here is the YouTube video of Elisa Lam’s odd behavior in that elevator. Don’t forget to head over to The Unwanted website to see just what getting involved entails.

Happy Anniversary: Has It Really Been Three Years?

Author's photo 2013
Sitting here recovering from being forced off the road on my bicycle Tuesday, my Internet came up briefly to show I’d gotten a trophy from WordPress. My connection then disappeared for hours so I hobbled around and did dishes and continued to put frozen vegetables on my swollen legs and ankles. Later, it came up long enough to reveal a Happy Third Anniversary award had been bestowed upon my little blog and the first thing that came to me was, “Has it really been three years?”

Really??

So much has happened in that short time span. Injury at, my then, work, returning to work, heart attack, ill-health retirement, Guardian Liberty Voice, South Africa, USA, Las Vegas, Arizona…

Sadly, throughout the Guardian Liberty Voice and Vegas time frame, I ignored my little WordPress baby. There were so many people I met in the business that should have been written about here. Stupidly, I put too much effort into an organization that was never going to amount to its owners’ claims.

This is about my blog, however, and not about shysters conning writers into over producing articles in a sweat shop content mill that pays less than nothing. I did take one thing away from my experience that hopefully will make my little blog a better place to hang out, I’ve gotten better at coming over here and posting.

While I’d like to say that I am also a better writer, my ego will not let me make a claim like that without laughing so instead let’s just say my confidence level has increased exponentially and leave it at that. And as you can see, I still have a tendency to write paragraph long sentences, so that has not changed!

But at least one thing has. My profession has gone from Prison Officer to professional writer. While I never made a fortune writing for my former employer I was paid to write. On the same token, it tickled me to death that I was paid to watch films and review them, something I did for free before and I also got to interview some awesomely talented actors, like Tony Todd, Tiny Lister, Terry Kiser, Stephen Bishop, Jordan Hayes, et al.

I got to meet some great folks at conventions and I was not paid to do that, it was expected that I attend all the con’s scheduled days, meet and greet and write a minimum of three articles a day. That never happened, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, despite what had been agreed upon, which was one article per day, this was not where the publisher saw the paper going, it was content mill or nothing.

All the fun I was having being duped into believing that what I was doing was crucial in building up a solid entertainment section kept me from my own “words and music.” My reasoning was that if I was getting paid to write, I had no time to write for free.

This from a guy who was writing, for quite a while, 8 to 10 500 word-plus articles a day. Now I have made up my mind that the only thing which will keep me from stopping by daily will be lack of Internet or death. Although I probably should make an allowance for healing time, as I just now put another bag of frozen broccoli on my leg.

I will say, again, how much I appreciate all those folks who have come along for the ride. Those who started off with me, only to leave through frustration, and then came back; I thank you for returning. You must have been checking up on me occasionally. That pleases me no end. For those who stop by to comment I also thank you. I have learned a lot from folks who took a moment or two to let me hear another point of view.

I raise my metaphorical glass to you all and I will try to never desert you, or my little blog again. Oh, and if the editors of WordPress ever feel the need to award my little blog another Freshly Pressed, I wouldn’t say no.

Just saying…

Cheers!

21 March 2015
Quartzsite, Arizona
USA

Life in the Slow Lane

Las Vegas Sign

I returned to the USA last year on January 15. I flew into the airport in Las Vegas to meet a man I’d only encountered on Skype and the Internet. The promise of working as the head of Entertainment for a relatively new “news-site” seemed like a dream come true. The job, and the publisher, appeared to be legit. After all, I had been sent to South Africa to speak to sources who told our “reporter” in-country that Nelson Mandela had died in June and was not still alive as the SA government and the rest of the world were reporting.

That was in 2013 and everything certainly felt like it was “above board.” However, what seems all too real over the Internet can turn out to be something altogether different in the flesh. But this article is not about the fall, and continued fall, of the publication where I worked for 18 months, I’ve already written about that. This is more about my sudden change of lifestyle and working conditions, the second in a two year time period.

I jumped at what seemed like a generous offer to come over and live with the publisher and his wife until I could get settled. Working and living in Las Vegas was, a lot like my job in Her Majesty’s Prison Service, not something I’d ever planned on or dreamed of doing. It was another of those, “just turned out that way” moments.

After being ill health retired from HMPS I was in a bind. I’d stupidly spent my way through the one-time cash payout from “her majesty” and was down to trying to survive on £255 per month via my tiny ill health pension. Time to leave my adopted, and beloved, country behind and come “home.” Leaving my daughter behind with her boyfriend, I boarded a small plane in Norwich and began my journey back to the US.

Again, I digress, I am pretty sure I’ve covered this before so I’ll move on. Once I arrived in Vegas and got the lay of the land, I slowly began covering events and doing interviews with celebs and authors and got to attend my first ever Comic Con.

After working very hard to fix a communications problem with the local studio reps I also got a slew of invites to film screenings and reviewed each one attended. I was busy building up our Entertainment section and having a ball doing it. Sure there were problems, money being one of them, but I was enjoying the act of meeting and talking to actors I had admired from afar for years.

I also got to meet new actors and celebs from television as well as from the world of literature. One happy accident was getting to meet the Winner Twins. Two delightfully talented, and damned nice, girls who rock it in the world of Science Fiction. Award winning authors, the two young ladies were positioned diagonally near two ladies I was desperate to meet and interview from the SyFy channels series Heroes of Cosplay. Brittany and Brianna Winner started out in this world as two dyslexic children whose love of stories, and their father’s encouragement, learned to overcome this problem by writing their own tales.

Las Vegas Amazing Comic Con
The Winner Twins and Moi

The two ladies from the SyFy channel, Jessica Merizan and Holly Conrad, were two of my favorites on the show and are partners in a business related to cosplay. Both were very friendly and I owe the both Holly and Jessica a bit thank you for telling me where to find British food in the country. Especially Heinz baked beans.

Both pairs of women were lovely to talk with and I was pleased to find that both Jessica and Holly had been reading my reviews of the show. Later on I would meet a very busy Chloe Dykstra at another convention who, while not quite so eager talk, did allow me to take a quick snap of her at the Star Trek Convention.

I met a number of well known folks at my first ever Comic Con and got pictures taken with as many as I could. Later I would learn that this was a unique opportunity. At year two of the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con it was relatively easy to access the celebs. At the Star Trek convention I learned that interviewing the “stars” was pretty much verboten unless set up before hand. I did “luck out” and got to speak (illegally) to the late Richard Kiel, just a month before his death, and a number of other stars I have idolized since childhood.

Tony Todd is a brilliant chap who spent hours talking to me and was one of the most fun interviews I have ever done. He made me laugh so much that my cheeks hurt. This Horror genre icon has a tremendous sense of humor and really enjoys interacting with his fans. I even spent two seconds, well maybe a bit longer, with the wonderfully intimidating Peter Weller (the other baddie in the last Star Trek film in case you’re wondering).

Weller, whom I adore, was giving “private” autographs to fans who spent a pretty penny to get the opportunity. A minder stood outside the room where Peter was ensconced and I asked if he thought it was alright to take a picture from the hallway. He went in to ask and the great actor looked up and saw me hovering in the doorway. “RoboCop” motioned me to come forward.

“You realize,” he said, “that people are paying a lot of money for pictures and autographs, don’t you?” I replied that I was not a fan attending but a member of the press and only wanted a snap to pop on Instagram for our readers. He then smiled and said, “Sure.” I stepped back toward the doorway, as I really was not supposed to be in there, to take the photo and he stopped me. “Oh no,” he said, “Don’t take it from there, take it here. The light is much better.”

Peter Weller Star Trek Las Vegas Con
Peter Weller the light WAS better…

What a guy.

There were many stars and things were so hectic that I missed half of those I wanted pictures of and hoped to have a word with. On one evening while leaving the venue I bumped into Walter Koenig. He was dressed in a flat cap and long jacket. He walked feebly between two people who were apparently holding him up. I stopped and put my camera away. I told him that I admired his work and was so pleased to see him at the conference. He smiled and shook my hand and moved slowly away.

The next day he was onstage and there was nothing feeble about him. I realized that his two minders were part of his “act” and kept most fans at a distance. The night before only one other person recognized “Chekov” and if she had not spied him, I would have walked right on by.

Almost all of 2014 was full of meeting people I never dreamed of ever getting close enough to speak to. I met and interviewed Tommy DeVito from the iconic group The Four Seasons and on the same night got close enough to his best friend Joe Pesci to smell his cologne. The press were not allowed to speak with Joe or take his picture unless it could be done without bothering him. Short of stature both men might be but the aura they both put off was that bigger than life projection that only stars can manage.

I met many more, got pictures of a lot, selfies with some others, and spoke to more. The publication I worked for might not have been “the real deal” but it provided me a banner to work from and to fulfill part of a dream. I got to meet the rich and famous, and not so famous, speak with them and write about them.

This year I have faded back into the woodwork. Obscurity beckons as I wait, not so patiently, for decent Internet and the ability to write enough articles for a new site to make a little money. I still have the odd film to watch/review and the odd interview to schedule, but this is life in the slow lane and I’ve got to say, despite all the negative aspects of working in Vegas, I kinda miss it.

Hopefully, once things are sorted out, I’ll be back in the thick of it. Nervously interviewing those talented people who entertain or inform for a living by directing, acting, writing or a combination of the above. While I have not met a number of folks I’ve interviewed in person, I have spoken to some brilliant people: Stephen Bishop, Jordan Hayes, Tiny Lister, Terry Kiser, Dr. Cyril Wecht and a number of other folks who were great fun to meet “over the phone.”

James Darren Star Trek Las Vegas Con
James Darren another man who knew where the good lighting was!

I would like to do an Arnold Schwarzenegger and say firmly that I’ll be back, but I cannot do so with any degree of certainty. What I can say is that even with all the negative things that were going on in the company I was attached to for 18 months, I had one helluva good time and met some great people. For awhile there I was doing the dream job. It was nice while it lasted but sadly it was not the opportunity it was advertised to be.

Star Trek Convention Las Vegas 2014 Lessons Learned

Star Trek Convention Las Vegas 2014 Lessons Learned

By the end of the Las Vegas 2014 Star Trek Convention a great many lessons were learned. Most of these had to do with the nature of the event itself. Many more to do with “pre-planning.” Another lesson picked up from this convention, was that most of the celeb guests are gracious and pleased to be interacting with their fans, and even the press. Perhaps the most important thing learned dealt with having a clone of this reporter made to cover more of the venue.