About R.L. Terry

My area of specialization and prolific publication is on the American horror film, and that has allowed me to speak at Tampa Bay Comic Con and Spooky Empire. Needless to say, my blog contains a significant number of articles on horror, for I feel that it is far more truthful than any typical drama! I published a book titled On the Convergence of Cinema and Theme Parks in 2015 and am working on my second book titled "Why Horror?" to hopefully be published next year. Outside of my work teaching American Cinema and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa, I am the creator of the podcast sitcom "Four’s a Crowd" and work as an audio editor for an NPR show called "American Variety Radio." I’m a former creative services staff member for Feld Entertainment where I worked as a video editor for "Disney on Ice," "Sesame Street Live," and "Jurassic World Live." I’ve produced 12 short films (including a foreign film), and 2 feature length films. Since 2014, I have been an active film critic and member of the #FilmTwitter community. Taking my written content to the air waves, I am a regular guest on popular film, horror, theme park, and LGBT+ podcasts. I have always done my best to teach and write in such a way that I can successfully communicate information about and my passion for media and entertainment to the general public. I like including many details that give you a good representation of the various elements that make up a film. In short, I simply love storytelling.

My Return to the Cinema at Universal Orlando Resort!

On Friday, July 17th, I returned to the cinema! I’ve been waiting for this day since the middle of March when movie theatres closed during the COVID-19 shutdown. From the moment I learned that the theatres around me (Tampa & Orlando) would begin reopening in mid-July, I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to once again sit in a recliner in an auditorium in front of a giant screen with surround sound to experience the magic of motion pictures as cannot be replicated, even in the very best at-home VOD experiences. The smells, the sights, the people (in their respective masks), and the energy all help to create the immersive cinematic experience that has been a staple of motion pictures since the earliest days of film distribution. And what better way to return than seeing E.T., Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Jurassic Park over the weekend at the Universal Orlando Cinemark at CityWalk. The former two, I had never seen on the big screen before, and I never turn down an opportunity to see the latter. There is a magic to arriving at the box office to pickup your ticket, walking inside, being greeted by a smiling face and directed to your auditorium where you take a seat to watch a movie at the exact same time as other others in attendance. You will laugh together, cry together, scream, together. That “togetherness” creates an infectious energy in the room that transcends the mind and heart. Watching movies at the Universal Orlando Cinemark also provided me with the ability to watch the movies then ride them! Both E.T. and Jurassic Park are attractions at Universal Orlando (while T2-3D is a former attraction), so I could watch the movie then experience the ride! How cool is that?!? Although some of you live in areas that have not reopened movie theatres, others do live near cinemas that have reopened; and I hope this article serves as encouragement to leave the couch in your living room behind, and return to the cinema!

Friday, July 17th couldn’t come quickly enough for me. As soon as I heard that was the day that movie theatres would begin reopening, I was primed to return to the cinema to properly experience motion pictures. It’d been nearly four months to the day since I had watched a new movie. Yes, I know what you’re thinking–why not just watch “new” movies on streaming services? That’s one band wagon that I refused to climb aboard. Although I could write an entire article on just why I don’t care to watch “intended to be theatrical release” movies at home, in short and among other reasons, I am far more at ease and comfortable sitting by myself in an auditorium than I am sitting alone in my own living room. And it’s not just the temptation to look at my phone or have my MacBook close by. Watching “theatrical” first run movies on VOD at home lacks the experiential factor that comes along with theatrical movies, not to mention the lack of structure at home. Also the sheer number of films to choose from can be quite daunting; I prefer knowing that there are 1-3 new movies coming out most Thursday nights. When I wasn’t attending press screenings, I would watch whatever was new on Thursday evenings. VOD doesn’t offer that. With the VOD platform, there are dozens of titles that release weekly. It’s overwhelming. Plus, after-movie conversations with the staff at the movie theatre or friends are so much fun! Watching at home deprives us of the opportunity to share in discussions and heated debates over what we just watched together for the first time.

This article is about my experience at the cinema; but in case you’re wondering, Universal Orlando Resort has been a model company in our post-shutdown economy and world. Disney World: we are going to open in July; Universal Orlando: hold my beerand we’ll do it better. From the passholder days on June 3-4 (to which ALL UOAPs were able to attend) to today, Universal is keeping guests safe whilst delivering the magic and opening up the gateway to epic adventures. Even before you get to CityWalk, all Guests and Team Members undergo temperature checks. And yes, Team Members and Guests were wearing masks and following social distancing markers. So any reports to the contrary, are grossly exaggerated. Take it from me, I have literally been there ten times since the reopening, so I’ve seen the park on multiple days. That same attention to health and safety in the theme park was carried directly over to Universal’s movie theatre partner Cinemark.

Much like Universal, Cinemark was on their A-game from box office to exit. When I bought my ticket to E.T., I was able to see on the seat selection monitor just how the company was implementing social distancing. Every row was divided up into two-seat sections. After every two available seats, there were two empty seats. And with the theatre using big recliners, that put six-ish feet between parties. Yes, that means that if you’re a party of three or more, that you cannot sit immediately together. However, if you are a larger travel party, you can purchase tickets together early, and seats will be blocked off on either side of your travel party. The concession stand had social distancing markers in place, and even turned-off every other Freestyle Coke machine. But the Coke machines weren’t the only things that were intentionally turned off to promote social distancing; even the restrooms were setup to accommodate the “six-foot rule.” In the men’s room, every other stall was cordoned off. Of course, what funny is that most guys know that you never take the urinal stall directly next to another guy. So, I thought that was kind of humorous.

Inside the auditorium, I observed that all guests were wearing masks except when eating or drinking. Now, before you get your feathers all ruffled, just like restaurants permit dine-in guests to remove masks when eating, then movie theatres should NOT be thought of any differently. And I’ve also heard the “what about the ventilation system” argument why theatres shouldn’t reopen. If we do not expect Target, the supermarket, schools, places of business, libraries, and gas stations to turn off their environmental systems (and some of those are places that you spend extended amounts of time at, especially if you are still reporting into an office or store for work), then movie theatres should NOT be held to a different standard. Upon leaving the movie, I observed (what appeared to be).a third party cleaning company that was preparing to go inside and clean the auditorium for the next showing. Clearly, Cinemark and Universal have thought through how to maintain a safe environment for all guests and staff. As John Hammond would put it, “sparred no expense.”

The first movie I chose to watch on my return was E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. This is a movie that is particularly dear to my heart because it inspired one of only two remaining opening-day attractions left at Universal Studios Florida (the other being the Horror Makeup Show). I adore the movie, but it’s the attraction that gives it a special place in my heart. Whenever I ride it, I am reminded of my family, and in particular my sister since she comes down to Florida to visit me a few times a year, and we always go to Universal together. When I am riding that bicycle through the forest and through the Green Planet, I feel that my sister is next to me saying “I’ll. Be. Right Here.” Watching this timeless classic on the big screen for the very first time was a breathtaking experience. I cried so many times during the movie, and yes I laughed too. It was like watching it for the very first time, period. I’d like to say it took me back to seeing it in theatres as a kid, but this came out before i was born. Compared to watching it on TV at home, this was a totally different experience that immersed me in the world of the movie. For the runtime, I could shut out the chaos and confusion of the world in which we presently live, and get lost in this cinematic fantasy that has delighted audiences for nearly four decades.

After I watched the movie, I went to visit a friend of mine working in Islands of Adventure before heading back to Universal Studios to ride the E.T. Adventure, then take in the new Bourne Stuntacular show that is in the former T2:3D show building. Although I had seen the show during it’s opening weekend, I wanted to go back to the former home of the T2 attraction before watching T2: Judgement Day on the big screen for the first time! So after returning ET to the Green Planet and following Jason Bourne, I went back to the Cinemark to watch Terminator 2: Judgement Day. And WOW! That film still holds up incredibly well. more than twenty-five years later, and that movie still delivers the spectacular in spades. Yes, even the old CGI effects still look killer (well, most of them anyway). The picture, the sound, everything transported you from that auditorium to the streets of LA along side John, Sarah, and Arnold. Words cannot capture the magic of the moment of sitting there, watching another timeless motion picture on the big screen.

The next day, I met up with the Always the Critic podcast to watch Jurassic Park together! Since there were four of us, we couldn’t all sit together, but we were all able to watch the movie together, and that’s the most important element. Now, Jurassic Park is a film that I did get to see in theatres in 1993 and upon re-release in 2013, 2015 (leading up to Jurassic World), and in 2018, so this was not as mindblowing as the former two; however, it is my favorite movie of all time and I never miss a chance to see it on the big screen. Having the opportunity to watch it with new pod-friends was an experience that will long be remembered. It was so much fun when we all go together immediately following the movie to talk about how amazing it was to see on the big screen surrounded by incredibly sound technology. We even commented on how we jump at certain parts even though we know that they are coming up. Something about seeing it in a movie theatre with other people that still makes you jump and react much in the same way you may have done when you did see it for the first time.

There are other movies that I plan to see on the big screen such as Jaws, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, select Harry Potter films, and more. I hope that this idea of running old and new classic movies continues into the Halloween season so we could get screenings of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho, Halloween, Friday the 13th, SCREAM, Misery, Carrie, The Shining, and so many others! Perhaps this is how cinemas will reimagine their business model. In addition to the new movies that will eventually be released in theatres, they will continue to show motion pictures that have contributed significantly to the human experience over the decades.

Should you choose to attend your local cinema, make sure they are following local, state, and federal guidelines and ordinances. Many movie theatres will require masks even if local government bodies do not, and that’s okay. I don’t like wearing one when I go out, but I wear one without complaint because I want to be cooperative and responsible. If your cinema is taking the recommended CDC and DOH precautions, then return with confidence that your health and safety are priorities for your cinema. You will probably see the theatre staff happier than ever because they (1) have their jobs back and (2) are incredibly thrilled to welcome you once again to the movies. By returning to the cinema, this will provide the empirical data necessary for distribution companies to justify releasing new movies in theatres once again. Without butts in seats, it makes it difficult to make a decision to release a movie theatrically. Your return to the cinema will do your mind and body good, it will help to bring back jobs, pump money into the economy, keep the cinematic experience alive for generations to come, and bring a smile to your face.

There are inherent risks with life; everyday we get out of bed, there are risks. Yet, we still get up and go about our day. You don’t allow the possibility of a car accident to stop you from driving, so don’t allow the possibility of contact with COVID-19 to stop you from living your best life ever. Do your best not to treat your return to the cinema (or theme parks) any differently. Now, don’t be selfishly reckless either; follow the guidelines and ordinances for your state or city without complaint. Wear your mask, if asked to do so (which is probably all movie theatres and theme parks right now), maintain the 6ft rule as reasonably possible, and above all, exhibit a positive, optimistic attitude in order to continue to build the general level of confidence that we will not live in fear but take the necessary precautions to promote health and safety for all. So, it is plain to see that movie theatres CAN and WILL intentionally make accommodations and implement precautions to promote health and safety to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I never once felt unsafe at any point in my return to the cinema. Return to your cinema this weekend!

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Sinister Summer 2020 “I know What You Did Last Summer” Retrospective

Keep your eyes on the road or else you may find yourself running from a meathook-handed serial killer. It’s been 24 years since I Know What You Did Last Summer convinced us to pay attention to the roadway at night after our July 4th celebrations; interestingly, this is consistently one of those 90s horror movies that is either loved or despised. Won’t find much middle ground here. Personally, this ranks highly for me when talking 90s horror. While this movie has not seen the legacy and timeless influence that SCREAM has, there is still a lot to like if you are a slasher fan or simply enjoy the excellent chemistry in our lead ensemble cast in this incredibly fun slasher. For instance, we would not have Scary Movie if it wasn’t for I Know and Scream, we may not have the Hash Slinging Slasher from Spongebob Square Pants. Sure, if you think too much about the plot, it falls apart, but isn’t that the case with many slashers? Everything from the twists and turns, to the suspense, to the red herrings, a murderer screaming “you’ve got no place to hide,” not to mention the classic horror score, deliver a movie that is fun to watch, highly entertaining, and even rewatchable.

Last summer, a group of four partying teenagers accidentally strike a fisherman in the middle of the road. But instead of alerting the police, they dump his body in the ocean to cover up their crime as they all go their separate ways after high school. This summer, one of the friends receives a letter confronting them with the crime—I know what you did last summer. While tracking down the author of the letter, one of the secret-sharing group of friends is ironically run over by a man with a meat hook. The terror only increases from there, as the killer with the hook continues to stalk the rest of the friends.

While many horror movies take place around Halloween, other holidays have their own share including Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, and even the 4th of July, which brings us to day’s Sinister Summer selection! While I love to watch Jaws every July 4th, I also enjoy rewatching, the quintessential 90’s slasher I Know What You Did Last Summer. Written by Scream co-writer Kevin Williamson, directed by Jim Gillespie, starring a then-allstar cast including: Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Junior, and Ryan Phillippe. Despite the R-rating, the violence is quite minimal in this movie, and that’s what I want to highlight here. One of the most telltale elements of most 80s/90s slashers is the entertaining, explicit, and even campy gore! Surprisingly, you won’t find a prolific amount of gore and violence in I Know but the implied violence works very well to drive up the tension and suspense as we try to solve the mystery of the identity of the hook-handed slasher before all the friends meet their demise.

While some horror movies are just plain scary, this one provides audiences with a story that is worth investing time and interest. There’s nothing supernatural about the scares in this movie, there’s nothing particularly grotesque either, and the atmosphere is not inordinately creepy or ominous. The real horror in I Know is not the meat-hooked slasher, but the helplessness of our central characters. Moreover, each of them feels completely helpless as they desperately try to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it. It’s one part serial killer and one part mystery. There is a ticking timebomb plot device employed in this movie, which translates to a race against the clock at the night of the 4th of July approaches. One by one, the slasher dressed in a rainslicker and fishing hat is picking off our high school friends as the anniversary of the inciting incident comes to pass. Often this movie gets compared to Scream and found to be wanting; however, this is an unfair comparison because there isn’t any movie (especially from this decade) that will be as good as Scream. Some people forget that Williamson wrote both Scream and IKWYDLS. But if this movie is looked at of its own accord and not in comparison with the decade-defining Scream, then it is able to be recognized as the classic that it actually is.

Believe it or not, there is a hidden strength in the story that rarely gets talked about. It’s a great psycho-social commentary on perception as reality and the cognitive elopement of a young adult. Moreover, I Know’s real genius is in how it confronts each of the lead cast with questions that all of us ask ourselves. It functions very well as a study of every individual teen’s mental state. Just like the characters in the movie, we (the audience) are wondering exactly who can be trusted. The central themes in this movie center in and around concepts such as: if you make a mistake, you should own up to it or else it will grow to haunt you; you will never forget a grave mistake you made, and should instead confess it; and if you now the right then to do, then you should do it. In summary, each of these posited ideas can be traced back to varying degrees of self-centeredness. Knowing who to trust, self-centeredness, and whether to stand up and fight or flee are all ideas that are such a part of growing up during the transition from teenager to young adult. Fortunately, this movie does a brilliant job of exploring these ideas through the vessel of a slasher. Whether in this movie or in real life, if you do not address your past, it will most certainly come back to haunt you. There is also a clear message of not driving while intoxicated; again, something that some young people struggle with and most assuredly encounter or perhaps are tempted to do.

It really doesn’t get anymore 90s than this movie. And perhaps that contributes to why it is looked at with more disdain than with fondness. While Scream takes place in the mid-90s, Williamson’s script and Wes Craven’s direction give it a timelessness that works even 24 years later. From the costume designs to soundtrack to the teenage angst, there is so much mid-90s in this movie. And unfortunately, much of that does not hold up; however, this movie should be seen as a product of its time. I mean, if for no other reason, we ALL know what you did last summer because it’s all over your social media. No longer does that accusation hold much threat.

Before you dismiss all of the plot and design elements and dialogue as unable to transcend the decades, I want to highlight a few elements that do. One of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s lines about her boyfriend Ray delivered while they are on the beach at night, “we can’t all sit in a Village coffee house and ramble esoterically on a laptop” could have very well come from a more recent slasher movie. The movie’s even ahead of its time in regards to the present socio-political climate in which we find ourselves, [referring to the slasher’s weapon] “the hook is really a phallic symbol, ultimately castrated.” And who doesn’t love the flagship, quotable line of “what are you waiting for, huh, what are you waiting for???” This line worked great then, and continues to hold up almost as well as “do you like scary movies?” Williamson certainly knows how to pen a line of dialogue that completely defines the movie.

When on one hand, it should be easy to dismiss this movie as a Scream ripoff, the movie saves itself from being completely dismissed because it knew precisely what it was, and unapologetically rocked it.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Sinister Summer 2020 – SCREAM

“Do you like scary movies?” Master of horror Wes Craven redefined the boundaries of horror with what many argue is the definitive example of meta horror SCREAM. Although I argue in my Sinister Summer 2019 article that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was the first to explore the idea of meta horror, there is no doubt that SCREAM is the more popular and truly more meta film. One that not only comments on itself, but on the slasher genre specifically. With the recently greenlit SCR5AM sequel, I thought it would be fun to start out my Sinister Summer 2020 series with the OG! Scream is among my favorite horror properties because you can tell that Wes Craven simply loves the genre and finding new paths to original stories. There are plenty of reasons to love SCREAM. If, for no other reason, it boasts the most brilliant and shocking opening in–not only horror movies–but movies in general. Craven took what Hitch pioneered in Psycho, and amped up the speed at which a popular actress is killed. Whereas Marion Crane was killed off within the first act. Craven kills off American darling Drew Barrymore in the prologue of the film! Still to this day, the opening scene in SCREAM is still the most terrifying opening ever. By killing off Drew Barrymore at the beginning, this communicated to the audience that all bets are off. With the general public, let alone horror fans, becoming all too knowledgable of the rules of horror films thus possessing the ability to predict the outcome and plot turning points, Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven crafted a horror film that changes the rules by using them as a plot device to completely deconstruct the American horror slasher film genre.

But more than a satirical horror film, this film is equally scary. Whereas Scary Movie (the original title to Scream) would do similar things but through parody, slapstick and dark comedy, SCREAM maintains a serious tone throughout the film and never falls into parody. This serious approach is one of the reasons why this innovative film performed incredibly well then and still holds up today. Highly entertaining! This film holds your attention from beginning to end through an incredibly well-developed plot, complex characters, and conflict driven by the actions of the characters. This plot is simple–brilliant–but simple. By relying upon the characters to carry the story, the movie contains more subtext and substance than many others. When you have a character-driven plot, you need solid actors to bring it to life. And all the performances by the principal characters are absolutely perfect for the film. Everyone is so committed to their respective characters. Like bookends, the ending and beginning answer one another.Just as shockingly intense the opening scene is, the climax of the film is surprisingly noteworthy as well, and threw audiences for a loop as it abandons more conventional endings.

As you may know, Drew Barrymore was offered the role of Sidney Prescott. And this was in the mid 90s at the height of Barrymore’s star power. By her taking on the role of the lead character, her name would draw in even more people than would already be excited to see another Craven horror film. After reading the script, Barrymore suggested that she play the role of the opening death. She predicted many people would believe she would survive until the end, and audiences would be shocked by her character’s early demise. And you now what, she was right AND made horror history! Placing Barrymore prominently on the front of the poster, the studio featured her heavily in the various promotional campaigns, leading audiences to believe that Barrymore was the lead in the film. This marketing technique, taken right from the Psycho handbook, reinforced the twists and turns that SCREAM would deliver throughout the film. After that opening scene, audiences knew that all bets were off and that no one–not even American darling Drew Barrymore was safe.

Not only was SCREAM a pivotal horror film that redefined the versatility of the genre, but Sidney stepped into the shoes of all the legendary final girls before her, and took the role in a new direction that cemented her in with the likes of Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and others. Unlike other Craven final girls, she stands as the only one to survive a Wes Craven franchise. Yes, Nancy is brought back in New Nightmare but she is killed off in Dream Warriors. While the final girl conventions had been well-defined up to this point, Wes Craven used the character of Sidney as a conduit for the audience since the rules of slasher horror were all too cliche at this stage in the evolution of the American horror film.

Much like with past final girls, Sidney is resilient, resourceful, sensible, and has an uncanny survivor’s reflex that is so incredibly well developed that she can simultaneously manage life’s complications and death with demonstrable hyper-focus. Furthermore, Neve Campbell’s Sidney was a powerful character for women because she demonstrated strength amidst adversity and responsibility when faced with difficult decisions. However, Sidney is not always the “good girl.” One of the longtime tropes of a final girl is one whom is chaste, but Sidney has had sex with her boyfriend prior to her mother’s brutal murder; however, she chooses when and only when she is good and ready, and when she isn’t dealing with the demons of her past or the serial killer of the present. Much like in the vein of Nancy Thompson, Sidney’s ability to outwit and survive Ghostface is based upon her cunning, not how “good” she is. She is ready and willing it fight for her life, and will stop at nothing until she rescues herself. 

Prior to SCREAM, slashers rarely targeted a single victim. For example, Laurie Strode happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in Halloween, the same can be said for Alice in Friday the 13th. Less so with Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street where Freddy eventually targets Nancy because she discovers his vulnerability. Even different from how Nancy was eventually targeted, Sidney was the sole focus of Ghostface from the very beginning. This target on Sidney means that killing her is the singular focus of Ghostface; and like Sidney’s internal need to survive, Ghostface will stop at nothing until Sidney is dead. But because Ghostface (Billy and Stu) has a flare for the theatrical, he torments, manipulates, and singles her out until Sidney finally fights back in that climactic third act where she turns the tables on Ghostface by using his own tools and knowledge against him. From using his own voice modulator on strategically creepy phone calls to using his own costume to frighten him, Sidney makes intentional decisions that greatly effect the balance of power. While Ghostface holds significant power in the beginning, Sidney erodes that power and takes it for herself.  She proves that she has an even greater understanding of horror movies than Ghostface himself, or perhaps the versatility of the rules. Eventually audiences witness Last House on the Left levels of revenge. Interesting because Last House on the Left is Wes Craven’s breakout writing-directing project and redefined the genre with its sexploitation revenge plot.

While a lot of the attention paid to Sidney involves her relationship and confrontation with Ghostface, she is the conduit through which we explore the power dynamic in romantic relationships as well. And the fact that her boyfriend is also her tormenter, offers bountiful material to explore. In many ways, the relationship between Billy/Sidney and Ghostface/Sidney parallels one another. Ghostface wants to penetrate Sidney with his knife, but she refuses to give up on resisting; likewise, Billy desires to penetrate Sidney with his own weapon but she withholds until she has worked through her personal demons. Billy attempts to make Sidney feel guilty for not engaging in her “girlfriendly” duties, as a misogynist such as Billy would put it; likewise, Ghostface tries his best to make Sidney feel guilty for the death of her mother. These parallels are why Sidney defeating Billy/Ghostface is so important and meaningful. Not only does she kill the demons that are presently haunting her, this defeat also allows Sidney to finally close the book on the demons of her past trauma.

There is more to a great slasher that the final girl and villain; those elements alone do not a classic make. Although there were many fantastic horror films in the 1990s, I argue that SCREAM is THE decade defining horror film. Other significant contributions to 90s slasher horror are I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H20, and The Faculty. Because of how well it holds up, it’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly twenty-five years since SCREAM began terrifying audiences around the globe. With witty dialogue, twisted plot lines, and pop culture references, SCREAM has earned its tenure amongst other classic horror motion pictures. The strength of SCREAM is in the screenplay by Kevin Williamson brought to life by the brilliant Craven direction. In any film, the screenplay is responsible for the very framework of the film. More than a map between the beginning and end, the screenplay dramatizes conflict and manifests ideas in either a linear or nonlinear storytelling structure. Think about it: a screenwriter is the very first person to see a movie–even before the director. He or she knows this cinematic story inside and out. And it’s the challenge of the screenwriter to take the cinematic vision from his or her mind, and translate it for the screen in an effective method for crafting an emotional and psychological connection between the audience and characters.

Screenplays are responsible for crafting a compelling narrative out of otherwise disconnected ideas, simple plots, or premises. This is where the very foundation of a motion picture lies. Without a well-crafted screenplay written by a writer who cares, the characters lack motivation, there is little cause & effect or meaning to the plot devices. The words of a thoughtful screenplay form visual statements that allow for the motion picture to be supported by subtext or purpose. One of the most important elements in a screenplay that so often gets overlooked is the task of creating a cast of extremely likable and realistic characters that the audience instantly becomes invested in. Kevin Williamson’s SCREAM screenplay offers audiences an exciting film with ample twists & turns, with an almost whodunit quality about it. As mentioned earlier in the article, SCREAM is one of the first horror films to approach horror from a meta perspective. The film takes a self-referential look at horror cinema by poking fun at the clichés for which the genre is well-known while simultaneously playing into almost every single one of them. But the film never patronizes its audience nor acts as if the audience is not in on the joke.

Often imitated, but never replicated, SCREAM is a pivotal horror film that pushed the boundaries of the horror genre and cinema at large. It represents the third time that Wes Craven was instrumental in redefining the genre: the first time was Last House on the Left then A Nightmare on Elm Street and lastly SCREAM. More than any other director, Craven has been the most pioneering in the genre. While he may have more box office flops than successes on his filmography, his films consistently sought to be trailblazers. In terms of studio history, he quite literally saved New Line Cinema from closing when he wrote and directed A Nightmare on Elm Street. And one could even say that Craven saved the slasher genre from extinction with SCREAM.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Union Bridge” (2019) Indie Film Review

A neo-noir southern gothic directorial debut that delivers overwhelmingly on its foreboding sense of surreal dread, but underwhelmingly on its narrative substance in this slow-burn film. First-time writer-director Brian Levin showcases his command of atmosphere and world-building, but his screenplay lacks focus and direction. Levin certainly demonstrates his keen eye for crafting a haunting ambiance in the vein of David Lynch, but the overall experience suffers diegetically. While the premise is intriguing, the plot is all over the place. Following the central character who has returned to his hometown from the big city, the audience is taken on a surreal psychological journey into the darker side of this otherwise wholesome-looking town. Unfortunately, this journey lacks a destination and ultimately leaves the audience wondering why they should care about anything that happens in the film. Levin’s debut feature strikes the right tone for a neo-noir that teeters towards thriller-adjacency; but despite thriller being in the billing, it never quite reaches that goal. Perhaps screenwriting is not Levin’s strong suit; that said, there is much to be admired in his endeavor. All the mise en scene elements work together seamlessly to create an atmosphere that stimulates the senses and draws you in from the moment that the film opens. Union Bridge has everything else going for it in terms of casting, cinematography, score, editing, and production quality. Which tells me that Levin has what it takes to craft a visually compelling story for the screen, but needs to leave the writing to someone else. Should he pair up with a screenwriter that has a penchant for neo-noir or horror next time, then it is entirely possible that we may be having a different discussion.

Will Shipe (Scott Friend), the scion of a powerful family living near the Mason Dixon line, moves back home after years in the big city. His old friend Nick (Alex Breaux), who still lives in town, is feverishly digging in the land because of a vision he can’t escape. What is buried in this small town and the events around it have repercussions that effect many people. Most of all, Will Shipe, and the past and future of his legacy. Assisted by his high school sweetheart Mary (Emma Duncan), Will must uncover the long-kept family secrets buried beneath the fields of his hometown.

If you go into this expecting a southern gothic thriller, you will be disappointed. Not because it doesn’t feel like a gothic horror, but because it never delivers on the thrill. There really isn’t any suspense either, by Hitchcock definition, because the audience is never supplied with information. Incidentally, the audience will be desperately seeking information to make some sense of what is happening on screen. Levin introduces and sets up some potentially juicy plot devises and backstory, but never revisits any of them in a manner that pays off at any level. We never figure out what the family’s dark secret is, why Will has to return to his hometown (tho, it’s vaguely hinted at), or why Will’s mom’s despises her late husband. Will’s childhood sweetheart is said to be practicing a form of witchcraft, but Levin goes nowhere with that either. The family’s and town’s past and present are only connected because we are, in not so many words, told they are. So many ideas for a southern gothic thriller, but they come off as more of a stream of consciousness or outline than a coherent narrative. Even the romance between Mary and Will goes nowhere of particular interest. And when Will’s childhood friend Nick (spoiler alert) dies, you simply won’t care. This film deeply desires for you to give yourself over to it, but you won’t form an emotional connection with any aspect to the story. Perhaps this “story” can be characterized as the plot to nowhere–speaking of which–I’m still wondering where the “bridge” in the title even comes from; there is simply no bridge, past or present, in this landlocked town.

Okay, now that I got all the negative out of the way, I want to spend time on highlighting what I enjoyed in this picture. I’m often hesitant to be too professor-y or critical with a directorial debut, because I commend anyone, who for the first time, sets out to make a picture and get it distributed. So, I offer congratulations on a job well-done to Mr. Levin on completing something he set out to do. Thousands of people set out to shoot films that are often left incomplete for one reason or another. Where this film fails to deliver is the story–and no mistaking it–that is HUGE; however, Levin can use this as a learning opportunity that teaches him that he has director chops, not necessarily screenwriting chops. Should he choose to work with a different screenwriter, other than himself the next time, then he has what it takes to guide the production from page to screen.

I am a fan of David Lynch, and Muholland Drive and the TV show Twin Peaks are among my favorites of his. Even without knowing from press materials that Levin is also a fan of Lynch, I knew it within with first five minutes of the film. The cinematography, editing, and score are all reminiscent of Lynch, specifically Twin Peaks. Levin successfully blends the macabre and mundane nature of this town in a manner that reveals that the former is contained within the latter. Furthermore, Levin crafts an atmosphere that is familiar yet foreign to Will, and by extension, the audience. Although this story feels like it should have taken place in Georgia or South Carolina, the settings in Maryland were ideally suited for Union Bridge. The factories represent the past whereas Will represents the future (or let’s be real, the present), much in the same way that his mother lives in the past, and resists living in the present. When the past and present come face to face, the blurred area between the two is where this nightmare resides. Levin’s talent for direction is also witnessed in the actors’ performances. All the performances are generally fantastic, especially Breaux’s character of Nick. Each character is right out of a Lynchian film, and works perfectly in Levin’s surreal Maryland town. There are some beautiful nuances to the technical elements that work together to create this idyllic setting surrounded by an emanation of dread. Atmospherically, Levin knows precisely what to do, and I hope to see more of his craft paired with a better story in the future.

Union Bridge is available on a streaming service near you.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994) Film Review

Catch a falling star and put him in your movie. “What a picture.” As many horror and horror-adjacent movies I’ve seen over the years, I am still finding those that I am familiar with–yet–have never taken the time to watch. And Ed Wood is one of those movies. Even if you know the story, and have even seen clips of the movie in your cinema studies class, believe me, you want to seek out this brilliant motion picture about the dark side of show business. There is perhaps no greater example of posthumous notoriety and success in cinema than the late filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr., most famously known for Plan 9 from Outer Space and casting the great Bela Lugosi in his final screen appearance. While his Z-grade movies were laughed at during their day, these movies provide inspiration to artists everywhere that you can pursue your dreams even when your harshest critics and financiers dismiss you. Ed Wood was a creator with a passion for bringing joy through entertainment into people’s lives. Perhaps his films were poorly produced, written, directed, and virtually everything else, but what this films demonstrate is a love of filmmaking and respect for great talent that flew in the face of a “town that chews you up and spits you out.” Ed Wood was in motion pictures for the art and love, not for the business. Tim Burton’s quasi biographical film about the production of Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space, and the relationship between Bela Lugosi and Wood is a beautiful portrait of love and respect. Of all the fantastic performances in this film, Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi is a command performance that rightly earned him an Oscar for Supporting Actor. If you’ve ever had a dream, this film serves as inspiration and provides darkly comedic anecdotes that shine a light on the lengths independent filmmakers have to go in order to find a way to finance and produce films. This film is a sort of ode to all the misfit creatives out there, and probably the most sincere and personal film that Burton has ever made.

Because of his eccentric habits and bafflingly strange films, director Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is a Hollywood outcast. Nevertheless, with the help of the formerly famous Bela Lugosi (Landau) and a devoted cast and crew of show-business misfits who believe in Ed’s off-kilter vision, the filmmaker is able to bring his oversize dreams to cinematic life. Despite a lack of critical or commercial success, Ed and his friends manage to create an oddly endearing series of extremely low-budget films. (IMDb)

From a visionary director, i

All the technical elements scream classic Tim Burton! From the moment the movie opens, even if you did not know that this was a Burton film, you would instantly identify the stylistic opening as quintessentially Burton. And not just the choice to make the movie grayscale, but the production design has a gothic poetry to it. Burton was able to successfully capture the look and feel of 1950s Hollywood. He was careful to recreate the world of Ed Wood, all the way down to the character blocking in the movies within the movie. For example, you can compare the recreated Ed Wood movies within this biopic to the real deal, and many are practically carbon copies. I appreciate this because it makes the filmmaking we see in the movie feel all the more real when what’s being shot in the movie is the same as was shot in real life. Perhaps Burton didn’t shut down Hollywood Boulevard like QT did for OUATIH, but he painstakingly transports the audience of the then 90s and even today’s audience to an era of independent film production that produced movies that look like they belong on an old UHF station.Most of the scenes are set in dank, warehouses or the empty streets of a nondescript section of the city. Other scenes are simply in a humble home. The filmmaker Ed Wood never shot a frame that he didn’t like; moreover, this practice was so extreme that he would ignore complete technical blunders and horrendous acting that was so bad that it achieved a kind of grandeur or cult status that can be appreciated decades later because Wood’s love of movies and movie making shines through in every frame of his masterful disasters.

Just as Ed Wood loved every frame of everything he ever made, the visual design of this film has got to be loved by Burton. His signature is on every scene. No mistaking it, there is more to the reasons for recreating Ed Wood’s Hollywood than just making an accurate biopic. Much like Norma Desmond took audiences on a journey into the life of a faded once-great(est) star of the silent era, It’s in these very dark corners and abandoned places where the true love of motion picture making lives, where the only reward for wrapping a picture is the love of the work itself and the cheers of those whom stood by you and helped take the idea from concept to screen. Ed Wood represents geek culture of the 1950s, future icons of horror and science-fiction are featured as unappreciated in their time. Fortunately today, geek culture is alive and well, and even celebrated. Yeah, there are obnoxious stans out there, but most of us movie and horror geeks simply love the medium and enjoy having fun with movies that still capture our imaginations. The director Ed Wood was not unlike many of us; he had a dream, and stopped at nothing to realize it. While I do not care much for Burton’s work after the 80s and 90s, he is a filmmaker that showed audiences through BeetlejuiceBatman Returns, Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks, and Ed Wood that he loves the art of motion pictures. When you went to a Burton picture in the 80s and 90s, you knew that you would witness the hand of the artist. In both Ed Wood’s and Tim Burton’s films, there is an effervescent life, a joy in their films that technically and critically “better” pictures only wish they had.

We cannot talk about Ed Wood without spending some on Landau’s Oscar-winning performance as Dracula himself Bela Lugosi! I was blown away by how sincere the performance was. What we saw Renee Zellweger do with Judy Garland in last year’s Judy, Landau did with Lugosi in Ed Wood. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said that I was watching Lugosi in this film. Both vocally and physically, Landau transforms into the famous Hungarian actor. From the moment we first see him laying in the coffin (creative latitude on Burton’s part), Landau captures our imaginations. Landau delivers a performance of a faded film star that Gloria Swanson would be proud of. In many respects, the characters of Bela Lugosi and Norma Desmond are similar. While Norma wasn’t living in near poverty, she was living in a world in which the parade of fans long sense passed her by; likewise, Lugosi fell into such obscurity that even people in the business thought he was dead. Landau embodies the mind and soul of someone that feels completely abandoned by the world and the fans that once loved to see his pictures. And it wasn’t the fame or money that Lugosi missed per se, but bringing joy to millions and simply the feeling of being wanted or needed is what Lugosi missed most. While Landau received negative criticism from the family and friends of Lugosi because his family said that Lugosi never used profanity or slept in coffins, there is no doubt that this is one of the finest performances of Landau’s career and in biopics.

Everything about this motion picture works brilliantly! I’m only disappointed that it took me this long to finally make time to watch it. Even though there is something in this movie for everyone, I feel that it impacts cinephiles and filmmakers the most. Though, there is a high degree of relatability for anyone that has ever had a dream and stops at nothing to continue to pursue it. Amid the recreation of all the tacky filmmaking and notoriously bad acting, there is a warmth and charm that will stick with you long after the credits role.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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