May 20, 2015

Movies At Dog Farm Live Events And The Origins Of This Site - A History

forgetful kitty
     I've just celebrated my forty-fifth birthday.  One of the only bits of enduring wisdom I can share with the youngsters is this: write down everything.  Someday you're going to have trouble remembering.  In preparing for the fourth Movies At Dog Farm live event, it occurred to me that I've never really laid down a history of these live events.  I'm already having trouble remembering particulars, so it's time for a little historical preservation.

     Movies At Dog Farm was a mini movie festival well before this site was ever conceived.  My good friend Phil Neff, a professional photographer, had been in the habit of hosting a weekend long gathering for photographers and models once or twice a year at his home in Timberville, VA.  Phil's home also happens to be a dog boarding facility situated on a gorgeous, wooded, and remote property.  Yes, Virginia, there is a real Dog Farm.  First, though, I have to go back a little further to explain how the notion of programming movies for Phil's event first came about.

     I had concocted something I christened the First Annual Drive-In Movie Summer Series for myself and a couple of friends in the summer of 2011.  We met at my house once a week for thirteen weeks and watched one in a series of movies I had selected.  Inside.  On a television.  That name referenced the nature of the movies we watched rather than the mode of presentation.  I tried to do it up right, though.  I even prepared a program that offered bullet points for each movie to provide at least a modicum of historical context and  factual info for each title.  My two "subjects" were not inveterate genre fans, so I was hoping this would be a bit of a learning experience for them.  

     My selections were intended to be a representative sampling of drive-in fare spanning the years 1971 to 1981, which I dubbed the last golden age of the drive-in theater.  "Drive-in movie" is an admittedly non-specific term, but for the purposes of this series I defined it as any movie that possessed a healthy dose of WTF and spent a sizable portion of its theatrical run playing drive-ins.   For the record, the thirteen movies selected were: Zombie (1979), Ilsa, Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks (1976), Private Parts (1972), Squirm (1976), Wolfen (1981), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Shivers (1975), Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974), The Manitou (1978), Mountain Of The Cannibal God (1978), It's Alive (1974), Motel Hell (1980), and The Beyond (1981).

     The First Annual Drive-In Movie Summer Series went off with nary a hitch, and I immediately began to acquire movies for a follow-up provisionally titled Son Of Summer Series.  Unfortunately, it gradually became apparent that Son Of Summer Series wasn't going to happen.  I was already sitting on a stack of new DVDs, though, and I bellyached to Phil about the cruel fate that had befallen my burgeoning B-movie brainchild.  Phil asked if I'd be willing to transmogrify my failed Summer Series into nighttime entertainment for his guests at his next photography event, and I of course accepted.  I sell audio/video equipment for a living, so I knew I'd be able to procure a projector and speakers for the event from my employer.

     That first Movies At Dog Farm live event was still months away at that point, which afforded me plenty of time to decide exactly which titles might find an appreciative audience at Phil's.  I don't care what anyone else may tell you - programming movies for a film festival isn't for the faint of heart.  I really had no idea what might play well to this particular audience, and I chose titles and subsequently discarded my choices with alarming regularity for the next four months.  During that same time period I also created a Movies At Dog Farm group page on Facebook in the hopes of getting to know a little something about my intended audience.  That Facebook page remained active after the first event, and it ultimately became the site you see before you when Phil pointed out that my increasingly lengthy "comments" on Facebook began to read more like blog entries.  

     For anyone who's ever wondered: that Facebook group is why my empire of dust has always been called Movies At Dog Farm rather than Movies At The Dog Farm.  I thought it read better without the article.  Phil said the missing article made it sound like I was employing the Frankenstein monster's mode of expression (Fire bad! Movies At Dog Farm good!) and of course, Phil's remark just guaranteed it remained  Movies At Dog Farm.  I regret nothing.

     I finally nailed down the last of four titles just a few weeks before the event, with the intent of showing one on Friday night and three on Saturday night.  The four movies chosen for the event were Pieces (1982), Contamination (1980), Cemetery Man (1994), and Suspiria (1977).  Phil made a screen to hang up outdoors, and I began to work out the logistics of setting up 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound in the woods surrounding the viewing area.  Obviously, that was overkill for movies this old, but I was personally enamored of the idea of both seeing and hearing Suspiria outside in all it of its bludgeoning auditory glory.  Not surprisingly, it rained the entire weekend, and I ended up spending an inordinate amount of time moving speakers in and out of the rain.

     Pieces was the only movie scheduled for Friday night, and it's worth noting that it was the one title of the four selections about which I had the most reservations.  I knew everyone would either get into the right frame of mind to appreciate its not-so-subtle charms or else the presentation would sink like a stone.  I didn't see the potential for much middle ground there.  Fortunately, it went over like gangbusters.  

     Unfortunately, my inability to stick to a schedule forced me to shelve the planned screening of Contamination on Saturday night in the interest of trying to get everything back on schedule.  Luckily, Cemetery Man was well received, though by the time we got through that we didn't get to screen Suspiria until after midnight.  Only three or four folks stuck it out for that one.  Just before we started Suspiria the rain stopped, the skies cleared, and the moon shone on the woods all around us.  It was glorious.  Owing to how few people saw this screening, I think it's likely that Suspria may be revisited at a future event.

     In the end that first live event was a little rocky, though I learned from my mistakes.  It was at least successful enough to warrant a sequel in October of 2012, the Movies At Dog Farm II Pre'Ween Picture Show.  I'll write a post at some point documenting that event, as well.  Until then, what follows is the text on the flyer I made up for the first event touting the movies I either screened or intended to screen.  The write-up on Pieces was later repurposed for a Gore-A-Thon post here on the site.

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Pieces (1982) posterPieces (1982)  
aka Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche

Screened Friday, May 4, 2012


     Pieces is pure freak show exploitation, with an advertising campaign that sells the movie like a huckstering carnival barker.  "You Don't Have To Got To Texas For A Chainsaw Massacre!" screams the tagline, and then the movie's poster even more bluntly promises "It's Exactly What You Think It Is!"  The clear implication is that Pieces offers all the bad dialog, gratuitous nudity, and graphic violence you're looking for, all in one convenient package.

     That package mostly delivers, and it does so with a charming lack of pretense.  Director Juan Piquer Simon knew what he was making here and doesn't let a sense of decorum get in the way.  Legend has it that during filming an actress actually lost control of her bladder during one take when a functioning prop chainsaw strayed dangerously near.  That shot made it into the film's final cut, a testament to the aesthetic of tacky, unrefined showmanship that makes Pieces great.

     Director Simon once stated, "I don't know anyone who says 'I'm going to make a bad movie.'  Nor do I know anyone who says 'I'm going to make a work of art' and makes it."  Somehow, Pieces manages to be both bad movie and work of art at the same time.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may be the undisputed masterpiece, but Pieces earns its place in the chainsaw movie pantheon by being devoid of delusions of grandeur and simply delivering what it promises.  It truly is exactly what you think it is.

    
Contamination (1980) posterContamination (1980)  
aka Alien Contamination 

Scheduled for Saturday, May 5, 2012, but ultimately not screened due to scheduling conflicts.


     Italian filmmakers made a veritable cottage industry out of riding the coattails of American made box office successes throughout the 1970s and 80s.  The Exorcist (1973) begat Beyond The Door (1974), Jaws (1975) begat Great White (1980), and Alien (1979) begat Contamination (1980).  Curiously, director Luigi Cozzi perceives Contamination as being a riff on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, but the distinction is specious.  Contamination was released in the wake of the massive worldwide success of Alien, and it made extensive use in its advertising of its images of pulsating alien eggs.  It's a very real possibility that Cozzi is just being disingenuous.  Either way, Contamination is a hoot.

     Starring Ian McCulloch (Zombie) and featuring a pounding score by Goblin, Contamination starts strong, ends strong, and probably won't completely put you to sleep in the middle.  Even if you do begin to feel groggy, hang in there for the reveal of the cyclopean, paper mache alien overlord at the movie's conclusion.  Only the Italians can make formaggio of this caliber.  Blue Underground's restoration from the original vault negative reinstates the gory, gut-busting FX excised worldwide for Contamination's theatrical releases, making this the definitive cut of the movie. 


Cemetery Man (1994) posterCemetery Man (1994) 
aka Dellamorte Dellamore

Screened Saturday, May 5, 2012


     Cemetery Man, directed by Dario Argento protege Michele Soavi, is one of the finest horror movies of the 90s, foreign or otherwise.  It's also woefully under appreciated, perhaps because it was saddled by American distributors with a groaningly broad title that does little to indicate its blackly comic tone.  Its original title, a bit of Italian wordplay, roughly translates as "Of Death, Of Love", and that's much closer to the mark.  This is a movie with a lot on its mind.  It examines nothing less than the meaning of life itself, and it ultimately seems to decide that life has no meaning without love.  It also has plenty of zombies, gore, and nudity, so don't think it's just a dry, artsy slog through the Big Philosophical Questions.

     A then unknown Rupert Everett (My Best Friend's Wedding) does a fine job mining the script's dark humor as Fracesco Dellamorte, a cemetery watchman with the unenviable task of slaughtering the undead "returners" at Buffalora Cemetery.  It's all in a day's work for Dellamorte until a tryst with a beautiful widow turns tragic, leading him into a tailspin of escalating psychosis.  Is death the ultimate act of love?

     Cemetery Man is a truly unique gem of a horror film, lousy American title notwithstanding.  Thanks to Josh Kamikaze Buckland for suggesting it.


Suspiria (1977) posterSuspiria (1977)

Screened Saturday, May 5, 2012


     Suspiria is Italian director Dario Argento's masterwork, a garish nightmare of over saturated colors and painterly compositions that plays like a fairy tale for adults.  Nominally about a coven of witches and the dance academy for young women they use to conceal their activities, the narrative is really only a framework upon which Argento builds his fever dream of stylish visuals and discordant sound.  Frequent collaborator Goblin provides the nerve-jangling score, easily the band's most effective, and the aural assault is every bit as important to the success of the enterprise as Argento's aggressive visual attack.  The two halves work in tandem to create a perfect storm of deeply disturbing hallucinatory horror.

     Suspiria tells the tale of Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs, and is the first film of Argento's loosely related Three Mothers trilogy, each of which focuses on the story of one of a triumvirate of ancient, evil witches.  Inferno followed in 1980 and told of Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, the youngest and cruelest of the three.  The Mother Of Tears belatedly concluded the trilogy in 2007 and told of Mater Lachrymarum, the most powerful of the three witches.

     Argento failed to match the delirious heights of Suspiria with either of its follow-ups, but it would have been nearly impossible to do so.  The first was as close to perfection as genre movies get.  Everyone should see Suspiria at least twice:  once to let the malevolent magic wash over you, and once more to marvel at the flawless skill and technique with which Argento casts his cinematic spell.


4 comments:

  1. Happy belated birthday, Brandon! I might have mentioned this before (so forgive me for my shaky memory), but it's refreshing the views of someone else from the same era, give or take a couple of years. I also remember the waning years of the drive-in, and what a different experience it was. I was excited to learn that a new(!) drive-in recently opened up in my town, and look forward to checking it out soon.

    I really enjoyed reading your history of the Dog Farm events, and I'm thankful you created this blog (I've sworn off Facebook for life). It's always a joy to read your posts.

    Best of luck with Dog Farm IV. I wish I could be there to experience it first-hand, but I'm sure you'll provide a vivid description, along with inspired programming!

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    1. Thank you for the birthday wishes, Barry. As oxymoronic as "new drive-in" sounds, you should definitely make the trip. The pilgrimage Adrienne and I made to see Halloween and Night Of The Living Dead at the drive-in last October was loads of fun. That double feature points up the reason I don't make the trip more often, though. The handful of drive-ins still scattered around rarely screen what I consider drive-in movies. Most - including the one at which we saw those movies - generally only show very mainstream movies now because that's the only way they can make enough money to stay in business. That particular double bill only happened because it was a one off for the Halloween season. Still, I'm sure if I had one in my own town I'd be a regular visitor. Can't get fresh funnel cakes at a cineplex.

      I do really wish it was more logistically feasible to give all of my movie loving friends on the internet an opportunity to check out one of the Dog Farm live events. My audience at these events is always appreciative and receptive, but an audience composed entirely of genre movie fans would probably be off the chain. I'll do my best to provide a detailed account of the festivities this weekend!

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  2. I've always wanted to put a screen on the side of my house and show a movie outside! That flyer you made up is pretty impressive stuff. I think you have a better understanding of Cemetery Man than I do. I always liked that movie, even when it came out and I hadn't delved into many Italian zombie movies yet, but it still don't make no sense to me. As for Pieces vs. Texas Chainsaw, I can unashamedly say that I like Pieces better....it's just more fun!

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    1. I think Pieces - along with Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls - actually turned out to be one of the most completely successful screenings I've managed so far. That's a testament to the movie's "fun factor".

      I don't think Cemetery Man is supposed to make too much narrative sense. It's much more an examination of themes - with zombies, of course. And all these years later I still think Anna Falchi is one of the most gorgeous actresses I've ever had the pleasure of seeing on the screen.

      It's funny - reading these older blurbs now I think they sound terribly stilted, like I was trying too hard. I probably was. I didn't have a regular outlet for writing then. Also, I noticed after reading your comment that I had made a load of typos while transcribing the Cemetery Man entry. All the others were fine, but it seems I may have had a mild stroke while typing that one. Probably daydreaming about Ms. Falchi, huh?

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