A “Night Of The Creeps” screening to benefit Four Star Video, vampire-western thrills in “Near Dark,” and more events of note in Madison this week.
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25
Hamel Music Center Grand Opening Weekend. Hamel Music Center (740 University Avenue), through October 27 (free)
UW-Madison’s new Hamel Music Center has been in the works for well over a decade and the project kicked into gear in 2009, when the university announced plans to knock down a college bar called Brothers and build much-needed practice and performance spaces for music students and faculty. The result, at the corner of University Avenue and Lake Street, comprises a 660-seat concert hall, a smaller 300-seat recital hall, and a rehearsal space specifically designed for large ensembles. It’s a big, glitzy undertaking completed entirely with private funds, but something had to give—performance spaces in the Humanities Building, like Morphy Hall and Mills Concert Hall, are well past their prime in terms of acoustics and creature comforts. That said, music students have criticized UW for not including more rehearsal space in the new building, The Badger Herald reported in September.
Whatever its shortcomings, I do hope that Hamel entices more Madison residents to check out the wealth of jazz and classical performances on campus. This weekend’s grand-opening festivities are free and open to the public, though some of the events require a ticket, so double-check the schedule if you’re planning on attending one. Highlights include Friday night’s “Student Collage Concert” in the larger Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall, and Saturday’s presumably informal “Emeritus Faculty Unbuttoned” performance in the building’s lobby. The UW-Madison Symphony will close out Saturday with a performance in Mead Witter Hall, and a musically diverse group of alums will perform Sunday afternoon in the smaller Collins Recital Hall. —Scott Gordon
Downtown Madison recording studio Audio For The Arts has also served over the years as a cozy and warm-sounding space for live performances, with the audience seated right there in front of the musicians in the main live room. It has especially provided an essential, if sporadic, venue for avant-garde jazz and boundary-pushing improvised music (including the much-missed Surrounded By Reality Music Series), and Madison free-jazz trio Brennan Connors & Stray Passage even recorded a couple of live shows for the 2017 album Emergence. Jazz at Audio For The Arts is on the upswing again, and it’ll provide an ideal setting for listening closely to the work of Chicago-based percussionist Tim Daisy and Milwaukee-based trumpeter Russ Johnson. Both musicians are tireless experimenters—the amount of music Daisy puts out through his Relay Recordings label spans all sorts of solo and collaborative configurations—who move fluidly between complex, through-composed pieces and sharp-edged, abstract tangents. They explored both extremes on Johnson’s 2014 album Meeting Point, recorded in a quartet setting with bassist Anton Hatwich and bass clarinetist Jason Stein. In between Johnson’s playfully angular composed pieces, the album features a series of duet improvisations between Johnson and each of the other band members. “Conversation (Daisy)” finds the two gently prodding at each other in a mix of tuneful passages and eerie warbles. That’s at least a hint of the versatility one can expect from the improvised duo set they’ll play during the second half of this show.
To start things off, Daisy will be performing a solo set for drumkit and glass percussion. This part of the evening might take some cues from Daisy’s recent album New Works For Solo Percussion, one of six releases he has issued through Relay this year. (On a couple of the others, he collaborated with musicians including electronic experimenter Rafael Toral and documented an all-percussion trio with Phil Sudderberg and Julian Kirshner.) Daisy has incorporated all manner of repurposed objects, even turntables and radios, into his past solo work, and this latest release has some of that but largely focuses in on the possibilities of drumkit and relatively conventional percussion instrumentals like crotales and marimba. One track, “Wood On Copper,” dials in closely on the hi-hat, stretching out the voice of a percussion object that we usually only associate with a couple of very specific, rather clipped sounds within a piece of music. But here the hi-hat gets to breathe: it rustles, it trills, even at times approaches the kind of expansive resonance you’d expect from a ride cymbal or a gong. The album’s four-part “Construction House” suite uses drumkit to create a suspenseful range of rhythmic structures, but with a patient approach that coaxes depth and texture from each component. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26
It’s always a treat when Cinematheque features Halloween-themed films in its fall schedule, and the inclusion of Near Dark (1987) on 35mm, no less, is a great chance to revisit one of the era’s most enduring horror entries. In her first solo-directed effort, Academy Award-winner Kathryn Bigelow strips away the bulk of the vampire mythos and infuses it with an outlaw Western sensibility. Bigelow’s fast-paced, concise editing style, career-long fascination with violence, and subversion of genre filmmaking emerge fully formed here.
After being bitten by the mysterious Mae (Jenny Wright), country boy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is abducted by Mae’s ‘family’ of vampires- Jesse (Lance Henriksen), Diamondback (Jeanette Goldstein), Severn (Bill Paxton) and Homer (Joshua Miller). Unable to survive in daylight, the group travels in blacked-out stolen cars, feeding off hitch-hikers and truck drivers. Caleb is given a tenuous trial period to join the vampire clan, but his refusal to kill to survive tests the patience of the bloodthirsty group. When Caleb’s father and sister finally track him down, it sets off a showdown between Caleb and the gang.
As in her other films like Point Break (1991), Bigelow’s interest lies in violence and our attraction/revulsion to those who commit it. As a protagonist, Caleb is overwhelmingly dull and inarticulate, while Hendriksen and Paxton are as charismatic as they are terrifying. The whole of the vampire family give fantastic performances, with Hendriksen at his creepiest as the patriarchal figure. While Paxton was typically cast as sleazy, unpleasant characters, in Near Dark he gives an incredibly sadistic, menacing performance. Drenched in blood and cracking wise as he rips apart a bar full of rednecks, Paxton portrays Severn as a hyper-violent version of a stock biker movie villain. Filmed shortly after his role as Tim in River’s Edge (1986), Miller is also at his career-best as a cigarette-smoking, temperamental vampire trapped in a child’s body; and his scenes that involve his increasing obsession with Caleb’s little sister are among the most chilling.
Released months after the similarly themed The Lost Boys (1987), Near Dark didn’t make much of an impact in the ‘80s, but has become a beloved cult classic over the years. By purging the vampire genre of its supernatural tropes, Near Dark helped pave the way for a new era of vampires in film. Filled with creatively rendered action sequences and powerhouse performances, Near Dark is an important work in the canon of one of Hollywood’s most uncompromising directors. —Ian Adcock
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27
“There’s nothing wrong with being scared, Norman, as long as it doesn’t change who you are.” Those words of tenderness are directed at Norman, the quasi-titular character of Studio LAIKA’s 2012 stop-motion offering, ParaNorman. Norman’s grandmother is responsible for the sage advice. The only problem? His grandmother (Elaine Stritch) has been dead for some time. Norman, it seems, can speak to the spectres of souls who never truly disappeared.
Norman, for his part, doesn’t shy away from his gift and his entire small town treats him with a noticeable apprehension. He’s an outcast in the land of the living and appreciated by the ghosts littering the landscape. All of these details are laid early, working in tandem with a seemingly precarious family dynamic (Norman’s father has a fiery temperament, leaving his mother to play the role of delicate extinguisher). In these fractures and conflicts, the film sets the stage for a surprisingly moving parable.
Writer-director Chris Butler (and co-director Sam Fell) navigate their film’s tonality with refinement, allowing a perfect marriage of sci-fi, classic horror, magic realism, drama, and black comedy to anchor an animated film that keeps both adults and children very much in mind. At multiple points throughout its course, ParaNorman points out that the line of division between adulthood and childhood is tenuous, only becoming obvious with the gift—or burden—of hindsight.
A stellar cast including John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kodi Smit-McPhee proves to be very game for the film’s fantastical sensibilities, imbuing each of their characters with both slapdash absurdity and grounded humanity. While the film’s joyride of a first half plays to the former quality, the unexpected poignancy of the film’s second half is dominated by the latter (aided in no small part by the understated score work of the incomparable Jon Brion).
Without spoiling too much of the film’s zombie-focused central movement, parents considering taking their children should take note of a few things: the film’s not afraid of genuinely dark subject matter—death is confronted from multiple angles—and there are scenes later on in the film that are truly unnerving. One sequence in particular is among the most harrowing of its PG contemporaries and, at one point, finds Norman being slammed repeatedly into the base of a tree as a tragic figure tries to finish him off as a means of avoiding her own demons. Additionally, The Crucible is a major point of reference and the film’s driven by a palpable sense of sadness that informs the longing of its characters;. longing for understanding, longing to make things right, longing for revenge, longing for lost ones, and longing for normalcy.
On the surface, ParaNorman looked like a vehicle for well-intentioned nostalgia but cuts far deeper. Underneath the John Carpenter references, irreverent humor, and Halloween trappings, there’s a genuine heart driving these ball-and-socket armatures. While there are truly effective frights in store that are perfect for the season, ParaNorman’s clear-eyed resolve, empathy, and warmth are what leave a lasting impression. For all the tricks it pulls, ParaNorman’s one hell of a treat. It screens here in a 35mm print as part of a collaborative series from UW Cinematheque and the Chicago Film Society. —Steven Spoerl
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 29
Four Star Video Heaven has expanded a series of benefit screenings to help fund the long-running independent store’s planned move to another space in downtown Madison. So far, the screenings have sourced trash, treasure, and trashy treasures from Four Star’s deep collection of more than 20,000 titles. This Halloween-week double feature demonstrates why horror and sci-fi fans in particular should value Four Star as a resource, even in the age of niche-friendly streaming services like Shudder. It’s a pairing that celebrates the fun and weird things that can happen when genres and subgenres bleed into each other. Italian director Giulio Paradisi’s 1979 film The Visitor, which Drafthouse Films restored and re-released in 2013, combines psychedelic sci-fi with the occult, and Fred Dekker’s 1986 film Night Of The Creeps throws zombies, aliens, college comedy, and hard-boiled detective noir into a radioactive stew that’s howlingly fun to watch with a group.
Ambitious and clumsy in equal measure, The Visitor grounds itself in the Biblical battle between good and evil. Satan is a sinister alien named Sateen (come on!) who has interbred with humans, and Jesus is a golden-haired kook who presides over a group of be-gowned bald-headed children in discount-Jodorowsky set pieces. Their proxies are the menacing little girl Katy Collins (Paige Conner) and the mild-mannered Jerzy Colsowicz (John Huston), who seeks to contain her destructive powers. Katy pulls off a lot of telekinetic kills that seem almost blatantly ripped from The Omen, but Conner’s gleefully nasty performance gives Damien a run for his money: Katy murders people with the help of her vicious pet falcon, swears up a storm at adults, and paralyzes her mother Barbara (Joanne Nail) with an “accidental” gunshot at her own eighth birthday party. And when Katy’s not killing people with her mind, her violence can be startlingly personal, hands-on, up-close. Paradisi does reach for stylized visual drama here, for instance in a sequence that intercuts between Barbara’s emergency surgery and Katy nonchalantly practicing her gymnastics routine. In another memorable scene, Katy and Jerzy casually threaten each other over a game of Pong. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes an uncredited cameo in a dramatic basketball game, and Lance Henriksen turns in a tightly wound performance as the basketball team’s shadowy owner, who takes part in a plot to impregnate Barbara with another demon baby. Oh, there’s also Shelley Winters as a maid who sees through to Katy’s malignant core (mostly Winters mugs it up with dour looks and sings an unsettling version of “Shortnin’ Bread”), and Sam Peckinpah as Katy’s human father. There’s a lot packed into The Visitor and it all fits together rather jaggedly, but it’s still a brain-twistingly vivid experience.
While The Visitor makes some occasionally funny/cringey stumbles, you’ll want to save your laughs for Night Of The Creeps. In short: parasitic slugs from space descend upon a college town and turn people (and pets) into murderous zombies. Campy, gory mayhem ensues, but Dekker approaches it with a sharp, self-referential eye. But Tom Atkins absolutely steals the show here in his performance as Ray Cameron, a detective who also more or less cosplays as a Philip Marlowe type, driving a swole ’40s-style sedan, using a rotary phone, and constantly answering the phone with the immortal greeting “Thrill me.” He gets in plenty of other memorably crusty lines as well: “The good news is your dates are here.” “What’s the bad news?” “They’re dead.” Where the film succeeds is in making his affectations work alongside all sorts of other winkingly applied tropes, from a cryogenic experiment gone wrong to an earnest nerdy dude pining after a woman who’s dating a unibrowed jock. The art of the self-aware genre pastiche has folded over on itself many times, but Night Of The Creeps is among the more entertaining ones. —Scott Gordon
10/25: B|_ank, Louise Bock, DB Pedersen. Communication, 8 p.m.
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