|By Dean Galanis
Photos by Emily Eggan
The 37th Annual Saturn Awards were held last Thursday at the Castaway Restaurant , a swank eatery with a truly lovely view.
I’ve lived in Hollywood for the past five years, yet this is the first time I’d heard of, let alone visited, the Castaway, but according to some of the staff I chatted with, the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Gene Hackman had recently come by for some food and a drink or three.
But on Thursday, the Castaway belonged to the actors and crews behind the year’s best in genre film, TV and home video, according to the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film. It was a real treat to attend my first Saturn Awards; being a lifelong genre fan, I always find it a pleasure to be around like-minded geeks who, for the most part, avoid the over-the-top nerdiness of the worst of the cons.
|Stay Classy, Mouthbreathers…|
A small group of very casually dressed autograph-seekers stood behind a theater rope, clutching their laserdiscs, posters, lobby cards and other memorabilia in the hopes of having one of their idols sign said goodies. At least, that’s what I initially thought; turns out, this geeky gaggle merely wanted the autographs of the idols of others (‘For God’s sake, Mr. Darabont, don’t sign the SHAWSHANK laser to me! Its value will be diminished!’) to sell on eBay.
Happily, my photographer (and – full disclosure – girlfriend) Emily Eggan and I were given the chance to make up for the icky vibe by geeking out (in the most professional, classy sense, of course) with some genre up-and-comers, stalwarts and icons as the Saturn Awards’ guests, presenters and nominees made their way down the red carpet.
The legendary Bert I. Gordon was there to receive a Life Career Award. Having recently worked with actor Robert Pine, who plays the spineless jerk with a memorable death scene in Mr. B.I.G.’s 70s fave EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, I mentioned to Mr. Gordon that Robert seemed to have a great time making that film.
“It was very nice working with him, “he recalled. “It was very nice working with everyone on that film, though Joan Collins wasn’t fond of the conditions, (especially) going on the river with live alligators.”
Although mainly known for his physical performances in Guillermo Del Toro’s HELLBOY films and PAN’S LABYRINTH, as well as the “Hush” episode from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, Doug Jones seemed pleased that I brought up his lead role in FEAR ITSELF’s “Skin and Bones”, the episode directed by Larry Fessenden, in which you can actually see Jones’ face, for once! Jones couldn’t have been nicer, and looked extremely dapper wearing his wardrobe from the short film, THE CANDY SHOP.
Buxom Brooke Lewis stopped by to tell me that “SLIME CITY MASSACRE was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had!” The belated sequel to 1988’s SLIME CITY does look kinda fun, so who am I to balk? She then told me I had to check out the “completely over-the-top comedy/horror/sci fi movie” DAHMER VS. GACY.
Well, we’ll see…
In addition to Gordon, Michael Biehn was on tap to receive a Life Career Award at the ceremony. I’ve always been a fan of the unjustly overlooked slasher CHERRY FALLS, helmed by Geoffrey (ROMPER STOMPER) Wright and featuring an excellent “Final Girl” performance by the late Brittany Murphy, so I looked forward to telling Mr. Biehn how much I liked it, and how great it would be if a special edition DVD or Blu-ray were released.
|“I’m Hudson. He’s Hicks.”|
“You know, it was never a movie I was particularly fond of,” Biehn said, “and losing Brittany, you know, very obviously was a terrible thing. She was such a light. And in view of the tragedy, I’d rather just leave that one alone.”
Disappointing, but fair enough.
In a much more positive remembrance, Michael Paré named his favorite of the genre films he appeared in: Eric Red’s BAD MOON. It’s a flawed film, but Pare is quite good and it’s a pretty nifty horror flick that deserves a second (or, in most cases, first) look from genre fans.
“Playing a werewolf is great. Eric Red gave me that great transformation scene. That was a great time,” said Pare who, while exuding nothing but friendliness, still looked like he could take me apart with a severe stare.
Meeting Kurtwood Smith was a thrill; he was as nice and gregarious as his most famous characters are cruel and cold. I asked him about DEAD POETS SOCIETY and ROBOCOP.
“POETS was one of the greatest experiences. [Director] Peter [Weir] is a guy who knows what he wants, what he needs. He’s looking for what you bring to the project, as well as what he wants. Same with [ROBOCOP director Paul] Verhoeven. Paul is very interested in what you’re bringing to the table. You know, he’s got a very different personality than Peter. He’s a little more volatile”, he laughed, “but I had a great time with him.”
TRUE BLOOD actor James Frain talked about his character being killed off. “No one told me (I would die). So, I would scan through (the script) every week. It was looking good for a while, but once you get turned to goo, that’s basically it!”
I wanted to know what it was like being directed by the late, great John Frankenheimer, with whom Frain worked twice. “Oh, it was so cool. He was so cool! It was such a shame he passed away. He was always full of great ideas and there were more projects he was developing, so it’s a sad thing.”
Frank Darabont and Gale Ann Hurd were there representing Best TV Presentation Winner, “The Walking Dead.” I asked what was in store for Season Two, and if we’ll find out the fates of certain minor characters, such as Michael Rooker’s.
“I can’t talk about that, but we will have some new characters to look forward to”, Ms. Hurd said. “We’re in our third week of shooting, and what Frank and Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero have in store – I think the first season is kind of like the appetizer.”
Tall, dark and handsome Brandon Routh (hey, he is…) offered up his favorite Fantasy and Horror films (THE DARK CRYSTAL and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, respectively) and winced when I mentioned I admired his performance in the FEAR ITSELF episode, “Community”.
“Oh, man! There were such time constraints on that, and we were filming in thirty below weather with snow in Edmonton. It’s a good memory, I guess, but not my favorite experience of the things that I’ve done.”
I had to ask him a Man of Steel question.
“I hope you take this in the right spirit; you were great in SUPERMAN RETURNS –”
“Thank you.” He waited a beat then deadpanned, “I’m taking it the wrong way.”
We both laughed, and I said, “No, the question itself: with a new SUPERMAN in the works and the end of the series run of SMALLVILLE, I wanted to ask how you felt your portrayal and film fit into the SUPERMAN legacy.”
“Well, I will possibly be considered the Superman for kids for the five or six years in this timeframe until the next movie comes out, so that’s pretty good. It’s a pretty exciting thing, and what we were able to do in that film is bring it back to the masses. [A new] Superman hadn’t been seen in many, many years and I thought we did a nice job and did it justice, so I’m pretty proud of it.”
Okay, enough of these red carpet shenanigans. Emily, my friend Eric Bresler of cinedelphia.com and I wanna grab some free drinks before the ceremony. The bar closed just as we arrived; it won’t open again til the ceremony’s over.
Well, we sucked it up and headed to the press room to watch the show on the tee vee. Oh, who am I kidding? We went to the restaurant bar and bought a few drinks, then headed over.
|Dean and Eric salute Saturn Awards founder Dr. Donald A. Reed|
We’d missed maybe three minutes of host Jeffrey Ross’s opener, but it was already evident he was far from wooing the crowd.
He spent the rest of the show plainly making use of the free booze a la Ricky Gervais. And like Gervais during his Golden Globe gig, Ross was aiming for shock; unlike Gervais, the results were mostly miss. (A typical example: “Tyler Hoechlin is here from the new TEEN WOLF. When he wasn’t offered the role, Michael J. Fox was all shaken up.” Yikes!)
He did have a few amusing moments, though, as when he described COWBOYS AND ALIENS as being about the Arizona political climate.
One of the first awards went to YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN for Best Local Stage Production, Musical. And to accept the award is – holy CRAP! That’s Mel Brooks!!!
Moments later, I’m standing mere feet from one of my comedy idols. What an incredibly cool surprise. He spoke about the lines that fans most often quote back to him. “Usually, ‘It’s good to be the king!’, though I do get, ‘He vas my boyfriend!’ sometimes.”
He brought up the many genre films people forget that he produced, including Cronenberg’s THE FLY. He also mentioned he’d love to stage BLAZING SADDLE S as a musical next, and talked up his son, Max, the successful author of the horror novel WORLD WAR Z.
He said his goodnight’s and left the room. There was a palpable “We were just talking to MEL BROOKS!!!” feeling in the air.
Brad Dourif presented the Best Make-Up award to Rick Baker and Dave Elsey for THE WOLF MAN not long after. I asked Rick if he felt CGI could effectively work hand in hand with practical make-up effects.
“I definitely feel they can. I wish they worked hand in hand more, but I’m glad people still see make-up as an option. We were able to do THE WOLF MAN more old school; you know, it comes from a couple of geek fanboys!”
Emily then asked Dourif how he achieved his excellent performance as Grima Wormtongue in LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS; he basically recalled his days as a timid boy at boarding school and it clicked.
Another LORD OF THE RINGS alum, John Noble (who gave a memorable turn as Denethor in RETURN OF THE KING) took away the Best Supporting Actor on TV award for his role on FRINGE. He spoke of the men behind RETURN and FRINGE: “The similarity between those two projects – both of them were created by men who set the bar very high. Peter [Jackson] and J. J. [Abrams]….when you work with men of that caliber — that makes a difference.”
Ringer Supreme Emily wanted to know how he was able to find the powerful melancholy in the character of Denathor.
“I did my research on that, and as a parent, I could kind of feel what the losses would be. I had to dig deep. And it was a great role, a marvelous role.”
Dean Devlin received the Dr. Donald A. Reed award, named for the late founder of the Academy. It was presented to him by his old friend and frequent collaborator, Roland Emmerich. He appeared genuinely touched and moved by the standing ovation he received.
When the applause died down, he jokingly yelled, “FUCK!” The audience laughed, and he resumed with, “I was going to come up with something pithy, but now I’m too choked up.”
I asked him what the award meant for him.
|Devlin with his wife, actress Lisa Brenner|
“It means a lot, because Dr. Reed really cared about genre. It wasn’t lip service. He really had a passion for it, so for me to get the Dr. Reed award is the ultimate compliment.”
Thomas Jane presented his THE MIST director, Frank Darabont, with the George Pal Memorial Award. In the press room afterward, the two posed for pictures together, and when asked if they were going to work together again, Jane exclaimed, “God, I hope so!”
To no one’s surprise, INCEPTION won Best Science Fiction Film, and the awards show came to an end. But the drinks were about to flow at the after party, and we weren’t about to miss out this time.
Far more exciting than free liquor, however, was the terrific experience of a lengthy, casual chat with a filmmaker I hugely admire: Larry Cohen, auteur (an overused term, but in Cohen’s case, largely justified) of oddball genre films such as the IT’S ALIVE series, the killer yogurt film THE STUFF, the wildly entertaining Q, and the absolute one-of-a-kind gem, GOD TOLD ME TO, among many others.
Eric and I talked a bit with Mr. Cohen about GOD TOLD ME TO, which featured the first screen performance by Andy Kaufman, who makes a brief but memorable appearance as a murderous cop. He stated that he and Andy stayed friends until Andy’s death. Larry wanted Andy to star in a film he was developing in which Kaufman would play six separate characters, but he passed away before production started. Unfortunately we didn’t talk details, but the mind reels at the possibilities…
After one more vodka and pineapple juice and an impromptu Desi and Lucy impersonation from Larry and frequent Cohen actress and friend Laurene Landon (there’s a moment to take to the grave), it was time to head home.
As we drove past the Castaway entrance, I noticed that the autograph gang was still hanging out behind the theater ropes six hours after we first saw them, their (presumably unsigned) goods strewn about the ground, their tired, passionless expressions summing up their night.
Dean Devlin may have summed it up for most everyone else when I asked him his thoughts on the Saturn Awards: “Other than making money, you don’t get a lot of love for making genre films. They don’t tend to win a lot of other awards. So this is the one home where people really care about this stuff.”