(Burbank, CA) September 17, 2011 – Science fiction amazes, horror terrifies, and fantasy brings a sense of whimsical wonder. These unique storytelling genres have infected television and film viewers like a benevolent epidemic, transporting us to extraordinary worlds and meeting equally extraordinary characters. When we leave these worlds, we miss them and those cherished new friends we saw on the silver screen. And reality after that seems somewhat…boring, bland, even empty. It takes a talented storyteller to conjure such incredible creative magic, especially if that magic is harnessed into filmmaking.
One of those talented, magical, cinematic storytellers is Roger Corman. Ever since his 1954 debut THE MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR, Corman has directed, produced and written fantastic tales that grabs the viewer by the metaphorical throat and doesn’t let go until the closing credits. And he doesn’t limit himself to science fiction and horror; he has produced westerns, gangster films, teenage angst tales, and rock and roll sagas. Indeed, what makes Corman so extraordinary and unique from his contemporaries is his innovative flair, his passion for telling an entertaining story, his infinite levels of energy (at eighty-five years old, he’s still going strong), and his uncanny ability to create these films in record time AND under budget.
But it is his speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror) movies that will always be burned into the brains of his most dedicated fans. My first Corman film was ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, where Russell Johnson (The Professor from GILLIGAN’S ISLAND) toppled an electrically-charged lightning rod onto the crab creatures, sacrificing himself in the process, in order to save the hero and the love interest (talk about a thankless act of bravery). But it was the Edgar Allen Poe film series (which I own on DVD) that has not only enhanced my love for his films, but it has also helped me evolve as a storyteller with my published fiction. And with his string of awards, this talented filmmaker was honored once again. At the 2011 Burbank International Film Festival: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Film Night, Cinematic Guru Roger Corman received The Pioneer in Sci-Fi Filmmaking Award, paving the way for promising filmmakers in the genre.
Burbank International Film Festival Board Member and event coordinator Jeff Rector has been a sci-fi/horror geek since he was a kid, and he’s extremely proud of it. He fondly recalled, “I grew up watching monster movies like FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, as well as the low budget B-movies that were prevalent during the 50’s and 60’s, and I just fell in love with them.” As Rector became an actor, he was cast in a considerable number of television shows and movies of that genre, especially on the SyFy Network. As he added with a laugh, “So, it wasn’t as though I chose it, it chose me.” He finally utilized his love for science fiction and horror at the Burbank International Film Festival (having been invited as a celebrity guest for the previous two years) by proposing a night dedicated solely to filmmakers who love creating stories within that genre. Rector created the first-ever night of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror films for the festival. It was enthusiastically approved, not only because of his connection to the genre, but because he is the official spokesman for the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films that produce the annual Saturn Awards. The Academy generously donated two memberships to the winners of the "Best Sci-fi film" and "Best Horror film" at the festival.
The Red Carpet gala, which took place at TDJ Studios, (who helped sponsor the event), was decorated with nostalgic glee with curtains of cobwebs, spooky and out-of-this-world music including a compilation of Sci-fi/Horror theme songs from TV & Film. Numerous television monitors and projectors played horror and science fiction classics, and Halloween decorated food including designer cupcakes made especially for the event courtesy of Saloon Sweets. The studio was filled to the brim with stars from both television and the silver screen, including Luciana Carro (CAPRICA, BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA), Calista Carradine (MANSION OF BLOOD), RJ Mitte (BREAKING BAD), Betsy Russell (SAW III to SAW 3D), Leslie Easterbrook (THE DEVIL’S REJECTS), Jim Weatherly (former NFL player), Herb Jefferson Jr. (original BATTLESTAR GALLACTICA), Larissa Gomes (RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE), Gary Graham (ENTERPRISE), and the esteemed Dee Wallace Stone (E.T., CUJO, and THE HOWLING).
The party soon migrated to the Burbank AMC 6 theatres, where a Roger Corman film montage and tribute was played to a full house. Although the director was detained, (he is in production on TWO science fiction movies, ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT CHEERLEADER and PIRANHACONDA), he graciously gave a touching acceptance speech on video. Another poignant moment during Corman’s salute was when Calista Carradine, daughter of the late David Carradine, shared how Corman played an important part in her father’s film career, most notably in the cult classic DEATH RACE 2000. She shared that “Roger is the real deal. He loves movies, and the people that make them. He’s our family producer and his movies are so much fun.”
Following this salute was a theatrical screening of STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN, which served as an homage to TREK creator Gene Roddenberry. But as the movie’s director Tim Russ (Tuvok in STAR TREK: VOYAGER) pointed out, it was also an act of heartfelt thanks to all the fans that kept the franchise alive. The film was produced outside of the studio system, where some budget-cutting ingenuity had to be utilized, actions that would have made Corman proud. Producer Sky Conway revealed, “We did it on a very limited budget, making it truly independent. Any project especially STAR TREK, always begins with the story and the characters.” OF GODS AND MEN, like all the other TREK tales, deeply explores complex themes (and in MEN’S case, the concepts of power, revenge, and redemption). The film has a very independent feel from the costumes, the hand-held camera, and the computer-laden visual effects which are all reminiscent of Corman's own science fiction classics.
After the viewing, the crowd “trekked” on back to TDJ Studios for the After Party, where both food and drink flowed like the blood of so many classic horror films. The packed house mingled, mixed and drank (Mascarade Liquer was a festival sponsor), and danced to the live music of Tim Russ and his band as they belted out blues and rock and roll music. Many of the guests were impressed not only by the night’s festivities (Rector’s coordination of the event was flawless), but also how genre films are being recognized and honored. Well-renowned character actor and soon-to-be author Doug Jones (HELLBOY 1 & 2, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, as well as the Academy award winning PAN’S LABYRINTH) served as a judge for the Sci-Fi/Horror/Thriller Short Film Category at the festival. When asked if he had a personal interest in the genre, Jones remarked about the importance of watching good horror, “Give me a movie like THE SIXTH SENSE, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE or especially PAN’S LABYRINTH, which I consider to be the perfect film, because Guillermo Del Toro is someone who absolutely gets it in terms of how to make horror work, especially through his monsters.”
Also present was award-winning female bodybuilder, boxer, and actress Dallas Malloy. She stated that the reason for her attending the festival was to show her support for her friend, filmmaker Ken Mora (executive producer of ADVENTURES IN PLYMPTOONS, a documentary on the twice Oscar-nominated independent animator Bill Plympton, who was also present at the gala). When asked how science fiction played an important role in her life, she simply said four words: TERMINATOR TWO: JUDGEMENT DAY. Malloy explained, “That movie was the reason why I started weight-lifting. The tone, intensity (especially seeing Linda Hamilton in such top physical form), and the themes played a major influence in my life. And the fact that James Cameron was under Roger Corman’s wing made me a fan of Corman as well, especially his Edgar Allen Poe films.”
From actors and directors, to screenwriters, cinematographers and especially ordinary fans, science fiction, fantasy and horror plays an important role in cinema and our daily lives. The strong feedback and response from the guests and stars at this spectacularly-themed night was extremely enthusiastic. Rector plans to establish a Science Fiction/Fantasy & Horror Film Night at the festival on an annual basis. He wants to feature and help promote filmmakers work within the genre just like what Roger Corman did for A-List directors like Joe Dante, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, and many others. In fact, having worked with Roger and having read his book helped inspire to Rector to write, direct and produce his own award-winning films.
The Burbank International Film Festival ran September 15th through 18th.
Peter A. Balaskas is a published speculative fiction author and a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, and Roger Corman.