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Directors John Landis and Joe Dante talk horror

Landis has a book out on the genre and Dante has a DVD of movie trailers. They'll sign these new releases in L.A.

January 27, 2012|By Sari Heifetz Stricke, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Director John Landis celebrates the release of his book ?Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares.?
Director John Landis celebrates the release of his book ?Monsters in the… (endstart photo )

From the earliest days of cinema, audiences have loved to be scared. The three-minute film from French cinema pioneer Georges Méliès, "The Haunted Castle," hit screens in 1896 with celluloid skeletons, ghosts, witches and even the devil himself, and our appetite for thrills hasn't abated since. Franchises such as "Saw" and "Paranormal Activity" continue to redefine the horror genre while setting records at the box office.

Directors John Landis and Joe Dante know about horror: Their respective films "An American Werewolf in London" and "Gremlins" are classics of the genre (even if they do have elements of humor). The two get together this Saturday to present and sign copies of their new horror-related releases.

Landis' book "Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares" (DK Adult, 2011) explores the evolution of cinematic creatures throughout Hollywood history. Dante has a new DVD compilation "Trailers From Hell: Volume 2," based on the Web series of the same name, featuring promos of exploitation, horror and other cinema classics with commentaries from leading screenwriters, directors and producers.

Although Landis is often cited for his comedies "National Lampoon's Animal House," "The Blues Brothers" and "Trading Places," his career is equally noteworthy for its pioneering work in horror. Landis' debut film, "Schlock," combines both genres, spoofing early monster and sci-fi movies in a wacky tale of a piano-playing ape man (played by Landis) who falls in love with a beautiful blind girl in the California suburbs. The 1973 film is also noteworthy for the start of the longtime collaboration between Landis and special effects makeup wizard Rick Baker.

Years later, Landis and Baker revolutionized cinematic monster makeup in the '80s classic "An American Werewolf in London," inventing new techniques to depict all the gory details (bubbling skin, growing hairs) of a werewolf in transformation. This work won Baker the first Academy Award ever given in the field of makeup (the first of Baker's seven such awards), and led Michael Jackson to seek out the duo to create the game-changing music video for "Thriller," which Landis directed.

"Every culture in the world has monsters within it," Landis says. "What's fascinating is there are evil monsters and benign monsters, and there are actually good monsters."

Vampires, zombies, apes, genetic mutants, evil scientists, boogeymen, and strange beings from outer space take center stage in Landis' new book.

"So much of what we think of as traditional lore about creatures and the supernatural was actually made up by screenwriters," he says. "The legend that only silver bullets can kill a werewolf came from horror screenwriter Curt Siodmak, who was listening to "The Lone Ranger" radio show while writing a sequel to "The Wolf Man."

The 320-page, coffee-table book includes details on the special-effects masters and artists who make baddies come alive (Baker, legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen and others), as well as interviews with notable terror masters including David Cronenberg, Christopher Lee, John Carpenter and Sam Raimi.

Dante, who began his career working for low-budget movie titan Roger Corman, is known for his sly fusion of horror and comedy. After the success of his 1978 cult classic "Piranha" (a parody of "Jaws" which replaced the great white shark with a swarm of man-eating fish), Dante directed "The Howling" in 1981, peppering a terrifying werewolf tale with comedic undertones that led Steven Spielberg to ask Dante to direct the beloved comic-horror classic "Gremlins." Dante also directed its sequel, a parody of the first film and the horror genre in general.

Dante and Landis will screen and discuss a selection of trailers from the series and DVD, featuring commentaries and analysis by "gurus" Guillermo del Toro, Roger Corman, Edgar Wright, Eli Roth and other notables.

Dante's "Trailers From Hell" series, which first garnered popularity at the 2009 South by Southwest music and film festival in Austin, Texas, includes trailers that Dante cut during his early years working for Corman. The series also helps alert filmgoers to more obscure works.

"I started out in this business cutting trailers, and now I'm trying to give back," Dante says. "'Trailers from Hell' grew out of a need to lead people to movies they'd otherwise never know about."

'Monsters, Movies and Trailers From Hell!' with filmmakers John Landis and Joe Dante

Where: Larry Edmunds Bookshop, 6644 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Price: Free

Info: (323) 463-3273;

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