With more than a hundred film credits to his name, actor Bill Oberst Jr. is a well-known star on the B-level horror circuit, cranking out what seems like an endless amount of movies every year, each one portrayed with his legendary creepiness. He has been honored by almost every horror movie organization out there, and has even been nicknamed the contemporary “Man of a Thousand Faces”. Even with solidifying himself to a genre where he is instantly recognizable, Bill is no stranger to American history, and the Civil War in particular. In 2007, he played Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in the History Channel documentary Sherman’s March, and in 2012, more comically, he appeared as Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. Even with such a title and content, Bill was determined to play Lincoln in a dignified manner, because as he explained when I interviewed him two years ago, “I really don’t like to see historical figures played for laughs and stripped of their dignity. As I saw it, I had been given a chance to play one of America’s great heroes and I was going to do that, regardless of the bizarre context. So I guarded the character against anything that would make him look ridiculous…”. Now, after many horror films in between, Bill is set to return to the screen in a “normal” role, again, in a Civil War-related movie called The Retrieval, which was made last year and has had a limited release, but is hoping for a broader one this coming spring.
Not since HBO’s John Adams has a mainstream media event promised to deliver so much in terms of excitement surrounding the American Revolution, and with that, hopefully, historical accuracy. When Turn, a five-part series, premieres on April 6th on AMC, it will do much to temporarily quell the hunger of history geeks across the country, with this prominent part of our nation’s history largely ignored in feature films and television. While John Adams was spectacular, other Hollywood ventures have not been so successful. 1985′s Revolution starring Al Pacino was a travesty to history, while The Patriot with Mel Gibson in 2000 was nothing more than Lethal Weapon set during the 1700′s. Being that I worked at a Revolutionary War-era museum for four years and lecture on the subject from time to time, it is needless to say that I am excited. This new series will take a look at a very underrated aspect of our Revolution with Britain, which was the role that spies played in our eventual victory.
It’s not often I ever say this in a review, much less in the first sentence: I was impressed with this movie. Yes, you read that correctly. A recently made horror movie that popped up in my Netflix list with a slew of Asylum B-level disasters managed to impress me. Simply put, The House of the Devil is one of the most underrated movies I have ever seen, period. In fact, it might be the best horror movie you have never even heard of, unless you are a fan of director Ti West. I decided to watch this last night without much hope, as a weekend horror movie binge left me craving something good to actually save me. With the other titles that came up along with this one, I did not know what exactly to expect, but the title intrigued me. Sure enough, from the very first shot, I knew this movie was going to be different, and it was, but in an incredible way. During the opening credits, I found myself saying, “How can this movie have been made in 2009? It looks so dated.” Seriously, it looked like it came straight out of the 1980′s. I was not sure if this was intentional or not, but after doing research, I discovered that West used 16 MM film instead of digital, with credit captions, close-ups, and camerawork that were the style in the 80′s. This was going to be an homage to movies from that decade, and he absolutely nailed it.
Back when I was a hockey writer and covered the New York Rangers, I noticed a trend in my blog posts. When the team won, I would put up a game recap, and maybe get five or six reads in the course of the next few hours. It could have been the game of the season, and no one would bother to read what I had to say. However, when the team lost, or played exceptionally bad, that same styled game recap would garner 30 or 40 hits almost instantaneously after posting. It was then that I realized that people only wanted to read negative stuff! I admit, writing a good, scathing article is immensely more fun than saying something nice. I like to think I am an extremely fair person, and I try to always give credit where credit is due, but boy, do I love to dole out a good ripping! I have taken a slightly different approach with my movie reviews, though. When I watch something amazing, I am quick to put it on here and say why I thought it was incredible. But, when I watch something that was just good, unless there was something particular about it I thought was worth mentioning, like a history-related flick, I tend to let it slip through the cracks. Then come the awful, almost unbearable movies, which I feel that I need to review as a public service. And out of all three of these categories, guess which one is the most read? You guessed it, the terrible ones!
With something like 12 Years a Slave recently nominated for an Oscar, I felt this was a highly appropriate film to review.
Very succinctly titled, Slaves is an incredibly strange movie that is neither here nor there in terms of entertainment value or anything else, but is still worthy of a watch. This film is set during the antebellum period in American history, around 1850, and tells a rather tired and ordinary story that we have seen, with slight variations, in every slave movie ever made. That said, there are some interesting characteristics here, including a sometimes exquisite script and some really brilliant moments. But unfortunately, the dialogue is restrained to nothing more than characters talking at each other, not to each other, and features so many endless speeches, monologues, and soliloquies that it makes Gods and Generals seem like a silent movie.
Many of you know that I lecture on the topics of the American Civil War and Revolution at various locations, and given my hobby as a paranormal investigator, many times people want to hear what I have to say on the subject. I have created a program called “The Haunted History of New Jersey”, which has actually been quite popular, and combines famous legends and folklore in the Garden State with my own experiences and evidence found while doing investigating. Throughout the talk, I try to debunk when necessary, because sometimes these stories, though passed down for generations can be absolute rubbish. So anyway, the reason for this post is that over the last few years, many readers have asked if I could post some of my lectures online. I was never able to get them filmed until now, thanks to my involvement in a web-series called Haunted Travels, which is shot by my associate Jake Reid. The clip you are about to see was taken at Thompson Park this past Saturday, and we thought we would turn it into an episode for the series. In this segment, I discuss the legend of the Jersey Devil, giving some background information and history behind the story, and also examining the possibility of such a creature existing. What I ask of the audience near the end is, “The most important question we have to consider is not does this exist, but can it exist?” Given all the trappings of our modern world, can something like the Jersey Devil still be around today? Please watch and enjoy!
If B-level versions of Gone with the Wind and Somewhere in Time got together and had a baby, chances are it would come out something like The Undying. Dull, boring, and brutishly slow, this “horror” movie fails to scare or entertain, and barely tells a story. I should have known from the synopsis, which involves a woman moving into an old house being “seduced by the spirit of a dead Civil War soldier” that this was going to be nothing but a dud, but given my affinity for Civil War projects, I just could not stay away. I have to hand it to screenwriter David Flynn for a somewhat interesting plot that encompassed a haunted house, romance, mystery, and a neat historical tie-in, but it just never seemed to get off the ground, or out of its own way. What could have been a chilling mystery, appealing to many demographics (history for the men, love for the women), manages to botch it all and turn out a mess of horrifically forced lines, an elevator music soundtrack, and a suspension of disbelief so preposterous I could not keep from laughing. An excruciatingly slow hour and forty minutes, the only scary part about this horror movie was the editing.