Monday, November 28, 2011

Mashing it up with a Pittsburgh Monster Kid

By Bratzilla
When it comes to phenomena that’ll brighten even the darkest days, there’s nothing quite like the twinkle in a Monster Kid’s eye. Fortunately, we were able to catch a glimpse of said sparkle firsthand when we sat down with the “mad creator” known as Malcolm Gittins, and talked about two of his favorite pastimes: ghouls and art.

First of all, I have to say that walking into Malcolm’s world is like stepping out of some kind of super awesome time machine into the 1960s—thanks, in no small part, to the rabidly extensive, yet carefully cultivated, collection of Aurora Monster models, Famous Monsters of Filmland covers, vintage movie posters, and scream queen autographs that he has on display in his museum-like living room. But, admittedly, it was the stuff in the black portfolios labeled “Art,” and tucked inside his endearingly cluttered desk, that we were really there to see. Why? Well, because, while they appear modest on the outside, dozens of wild portraits lurk impatiently inside. And, I tell you, they’re enough to make any fan scream with delight.

Yep, from Wolfman and Dracula to Frankenstein and his beautiful bride, Malcolm has not only painstakingly painted them all, but he’s also done so with the love of a child who just saw his first cloaked figure creep across the television screen the night before. Needless to say, the explosive celebrations of classic creatures and vibrant color that result from such passion are absolutely fangtastic, earning the artist genuine endorsements from the likes of “Chilly Billy” Cardille and the lovely Linnea Quigley, as well as a recent Rondo Award nomination. As it turns out, Malcom’s wickedly good art comes with a heart to match too, and we are thrilled to introduce you to him here.

Pittsburgh Exhumed (PE): When were you first “bitten” by a monster and what were the circumstances surrounding this deadly occasion?
Malcolm (MG): I was five years old when my big sister took me to see King Kong vs. Godzilla. I wasn’t the same after that! And, I can honestly say that whatever I was going to be when I “grew up” forever changed that day, too.

PE: What “possessed” you to create your first painting and what was the gruesome subject?
MG: I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember, but the first monster I drew was the Wolfman, which was inspired by Famous Monsters of Filmland #99. That awesome cover was painted by Basil Gogos.

PE: When did you begin working fulltime as an artist and what prompted that decision?
MG: The first showing of my art was at the Pittsburgh Comicon 10 years ago. But the first time my art was seen by the public was on Bill Cardille’s Chiller Theatre in January of ’76. It was Linnea Quigley who suggested that I do something with my art.

PE: Now, for a little fiendish fun. What classic horror film scares you the most and why?
MG: I guess it would be The Pit and the Pendulum—it’s the first movie I remember that really scared me. Another would have to be Black Sabbath.

PE: Wolfman or Dracula?
MG: I give the edge to the Wolfman.

PE: Christopher Lee or Vincent Price?
MG: That’s a hard one, but since I got to meet Vincent Price, I’d have to pick him.

PE: Elvira or Vampira?
MG: That’s a tie! Both are sexy for different reasons, and there is a difference between them. But since I’ve met Elvira, I’ll pick her!

PE: You’ve been doing the convention circuit for quite some time and met a lot of famous people along the way. What was your most memorable experience?
MG: I’ve been going to cons for 30 years and I’ve been so lucky to have met so many people—none of whom I’d have ever thought I’d get to meet. But just to name a few … Caroline Munro, Veronica Carlson, David Hedison, Lara Parker, Brinke Stevens, Debbie Rochon, Linnea Quigley (see photo on left), Chilly Billy, Zacherley, Bob Burns, Erin Grey, Adam Wert, Pat Priest, Ben Chapman, Julie Adams, Ann Robinson, The Ghoul, Sarah Karloff, Chris Costello, and just so many more. I’m one very lucky Monster Kid, and I still get “star struck.”

PE: You have an extensive collection of memorabilia. When did you begin collecting and what are the five items that you cherish the most?
MG: My collection actually started with Famous Monsters #99, so that would be #1 on my list, but I have too many cool things to just pick five!

PE: What do you hope to inspire in others who view your paintings?
MG: I’m not sure I’ve ever inspired anyone, but I do get asked what medium I work in, how long I’ve been painting and what inspired me. I do tell people not to give up on their dreams.

P.S. As you can see, Malcolm is a humble man, so we will end with our own shameless plug on the artist’s behalf. As the holidays approach, and you start looking for the perfect gift for a ghoul on your list, visit his Facebook page to browse a spooktacular selection of creepy Christmas cards, prints and other ghastly goods that’ll revive any undead heart. You won’t be sorry!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Feeling the Rage of the Stage

By Bratzilla

After fumbling through the dark to reach the elusive South Park Theatre, our only regret in making the trek to see “The Hamiltons,” was that we hadn’t gone sooner. Part theatrical performance and part haunted house, this raw The Rage of the Stage Players production, filled with blood curdling screams and gritty violence, was way more terrifying than any horror film, and we loved it.

Based on the Butcher Brothers’ film of the same name, “The Hamiltons” intimately followed the exploits of a band of misfit orphan vampires just “trying to be an ordinary family.” As you can imagine, they fail miserably, and the members of this dysfunctional household end up creating all kinds of chaos in their community, engaging in blood baths, acts of torture and plenty of dirty, steamy sex (yes, ghouls, there was even nudity).

Reinforcing this juicy storyline, both the quality of the actors, and the behind-the-scenes direction by James Michael Shoberg that sparked the synergy between them, was excellent. From Jon Wolf who played the family’s black sheep, Francis Hamilton, and his geeky, yet bloodthirsty older brother David, the role of Harry Roth, to the incredibly twisted and sexy Goth vamp Darlene, portrayed by Samantha Kelley,and her excruciatingly volatile twin brother Wendell, expertly played by Vincent Anthony Bombara, each of the leads were fully engaged and believable – so much so that if we ever see them on the street, we’ll be sure to proceed with caution.

Of equal caliber as the principal players were the supporting actors and actresses, including Carrie Shoberg, who opened the play as a brutalized victim with a very healthy set of lungs; Deborah College, who played Darlene’s ill-fated “project” Kitty; Joseph Roots, who provided much-needed comic relief in his role as the family’s social worker; and, last but not least, the soulful Adrienne Fischer who, as Samantha Teal, dutifully served as a blood donor most of the night.

Also impressive was the set design and the way that The Rage of the Stage Players were able to a lot with what we assume was a limited budget. The Hamiltons’ house, while meticulously maintained by David, was just a little bit off with its creepily ordinary lacey curtains and silk flowers that young people living alone would probably never choose for their d├ęcor. In the far corners were a bedroom used by the younger siblings — the setting of several unsavory scenes in the case of Darlene and Wendell — and a torture chamber complete with a butcher table and the boarded up lair of the most mysterious family member, Lenny. The frequent scene changes, with additional props carried on and off stage in the dark, also kept the show varied and exciting. And finally, not be outdone, the special effects were pretty impressive, too – with no shortage of gushing blood, oozing wounds and other assorted gore.

Regrettably, we were only able to attend one of the last performances of this captivating show and weren’t able to promote the hell out of it during the full run. But the light at the end of the tunnel is that, while the Hamiltons have moved on, The Rage of the Stage Players aren’t going anywhere, and will hopefully be back with a new distraction for us soon. And, with their mission to “present original works of an alternative nature (black comedy, fantasy, horror, etc.) to a more mature audience, or to put forth established works, in an innovative way,” we can surely expect whatever it is to be dark, disturbing, or, at the very least, extremely weird.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Listening to the Groans of Ghouls on Midnight Radio

By Bratzilla
Since the clock struck midnight on Oct. 31, I have to admit that Brizblack and I have been experiencing quite a bit of Halloween withdrawal. Happily, we unearthed a cure last night when hordes of infected ghouls clawed their way through the earth in Downtown Pittsburgh and headed to Bricolage for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Convening at this gruesome oasis in a time when most other fiends around town have long packed away their holiday decorations, we were more than a little darkly delighted when we stepped into the Bricolage lobby to find cobwebs and twisted trees, a bright orange accent wall with the name of the theatre dripping with a black, tarry goo, freshly-dug (or, perhaps, freshly disturbed) graves, chocolate brains and rats, complementary spider and skull rings, and a zombification station. The reason for all of this? Simple. It set the scene for a radio parody of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Okay, I know, we’ve all seen the movie a million times. But trust me when I say that you’ve never seen it like this, and probably won’t again unless you get your rotting corpse over to Bricolage. With parts of the film projected on a screen behind them, the incredibly talented performers who make up this season’s Midnight Radio crew perfectly collide to put a raunchy, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style spin on the classic that even rabid fans would appreciate by creating quirky sounds effects and giving voice to all of the things you always wished Barbara, Johnny, Ben and the rest would say, but don’t.

But what really made us a cry in a good way were the commercial interludes that touted such apocalypse essentials as Mr. Clean (can it clean a bloody corpse, well of course!), Al Pacino’s “Scent of a Dead Woman” perfume, Cremation, and The Afterlife; fake breaking news from Monroeville Mall; creeptastic musical performances by Cello Fury; and a hilarious Pittsburgh-true performance of Aunt Mag – the yinzer next door who works on an antidote for a family member who’s craving “brains a’nat.”

And, of course, the night wouldn’t have been complete without a raucous Mad Lib reading, telling the sordid tale of a newborn zombie with the most disgusting words radio play-goers could muster pre-show (think milk steak and fungus). There was even an audience participation game show called Zombie Feud for which yours hauntingly was randomly selected to participate. Needless to say, this gore-obsessed gal cleaned haunted house and put her undead competitor in his ghoulish place.

Obviously, we’ve been bitten by the excitement of this show, and if you’re feeling the virus coursing through your veins too, we highly suggest that you lurk on over to the theatre tonight, Nov. 12, or next weekend, Nov. 18 and 19. Bricolage means “making artful use of what is at hand,” and by putting together an accessible performance that can make you laugh, cry and writhe with disgust, they have done just that. I, for one, can’t wait to see what kinds of terrors Midnight Radio comes up with next. But, until then, we congratulate them on creating one apocalypse we wish never had to end.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lurking with Lon Chaney at Trinity Cathedral

By Bratzilla

While a church is an unseemly place for a horror film screening, this didn’t scare Trinity Cathedral. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that they are home to a spooky burial ground with plots dating back to 1797, but, whatever the reason, they have obviously embraced the inherent creepiness of their historic worship space, and created one of the coolest fundraisers ever: silent movies with live organ accompaniment (and kettle corn).

Held annually on the Friday before Halloween, this year’s event featured, we were assured by nationally-renowned organist Michael Britt, an original print of Phantom of the Opera with the indomitable Lon Chaney circa 1925. Needless to say, the turnout was great—with a good majority of the endearingly uncomfortable mahogany pews being filled with a motley congregation that even included a witch and—despite the 14-foot steel, glass and aluminum cross suspended above the altar—a vampire eating fun size candy bars and sipping on cider.

After a brief introduction by a member of the church, sadly alerting us to the fact that the late night burial ground tour was cancelled due to an unexpected case of docent pneumonia (at least it wasn’t the Red Death), Britt came out to set up the film, cautioning us that the original phantom composer was a mad and purely evil soul—unlike more modern adaptations that make the character more sympathetic. Then, after making a joke about the villain’s role in giving organists like him a bad rep, he sat down and began to play music both melancholy and dark.

A short time later, a cloaked and virtually nose-less Lon Chaney appeared on the altar, as the movie screen cast a glow in soft shades of black and white around his gruesome face. All the while, the organ played on, racing along with the action, no matter how terrible or benign, without a moment's pause. Monstrous shadows appearing on the walls as attendees got up to move around, perhaps giving their posteriors a much-needed rest from the tortuous wooden seats, added an extra dose of eeriness to the 1872 structure with its old and austere marble, stone and stained glass.

When the performance ended, we weren’t quite ready for the evening to end, so we extended our cathedral stay by lurking around the burial ground, which, by this time, was bathed in moonlight. Nestled in a courtyard beneath the church’s looming 200-foot spire, the graveyard and its odd assortment of memorials spanning the centuries immediately met all of our macabre expectations. And, while the darkness prevented us from reading the markers, and the chill kept us from lingering, the ground—originally used by Native Americans, the French at Fort Duquesne and the English at Fort Pitt—clearly revealed itself to be a remarkable site you just don’t go whistling past every day.

Luckily, neither we, nor you, need wait until next Halloween to do so, because the burial ground is open for tours any time of year on Sundays after the 10:30 a.m. service, or by appointment (email or call 412-232-6404). And, afterwards, because this gothic dream just keeps getting better, you can even time it so you can descend into the basement for a bite at Franktuary—which has one of the greatest selections of gourmet franks in da ‘Burgh. Mmmm … old graves and hot dogs: Now that’s a hauntingly good combination.