The Valley of Gwangi

riddick 4

Initially I set out to compile a list of specific movies to watch after you’ve seen Riddick, in the same fashion as I’ve done for other new releases. But in an attempt to pick out titles worth recommending, I couldn’t choose. The thing about Riddick is that it’s not too directly derivative of any individual precursors. While the original movie in the franchise, Pitch Black, could mostly be traced back to 3:10 to Yuma given its central setup involving a prisoner transport plot, Riddick is more of a typical Western with tropes found in too many examples to mention. Part of the problem might be that it’s kind of all over the place. In the first act we follow Riddick (Vin Diesel) through a solo outing on a desolate planet. He faces trials of survival against monsters, making the early section more like a Harryhausen movie than a cowboy flick, though I guess that means a nod to Jim O’Connolly’s The Valley of Gwangi is in order, and going back further The Beast of Hollow Mountain, which features effects by Harryhausen mentor Willis O’Brien. Both of these deal with dinosaurs in the Old West. There’s also Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, which is a prequel revealing how the subterranean Graboids (or “dirt dragons”) were around as far back as 1889.

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For those new to the column: I’m tracing the formative events in my life that made me what I am today: A Special Effects Make Up Artist, searching for relevance in the 21st Century…At this point in my life, I am fourteen years old… Just off the corner of Royal Street and St. Ann Street in the French Quarter, there was a white building with green shutters framing tall windows. Stacked in the windows, peering out like eyeless sentinels were rows and rows of Don Post Monster Masks. No longer just two dimensional, black and white images in the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, they were there, in three-dimensions, painted in their garish colors. I was at the right place, alright: The Vieux Carre Hair Shop. Inside, two gentlemen greeted me. The first one was roughly thirty; he had a fringe of dark hair circling his baldpate and was mustached. This was Bob Saussaye. The other was a dapper older gentleman with a kind face; this was the owner of the store and Bob’s father, Herb Saussaye. Herb was more than the owner of the best-known theatrical wig and make up store in New Orleans. He was more than a knowledgeable make up artist. He was Willy Wonka, and I had just stepped into his factory.

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Shannon Shea has done special effects work on over sixty films. From Evil Dead II to Predator. From Dances With Wolves to Jurassic Park. From In the Mouth of Madness to Sin City. Every week he delves into his personal and professional history to tell the story of how he became a monster that makes monsters. So there I was, in a small conference room in Woodland Hills, California on a warm February afternoon in 2009. I knew that the meeting would go long, and I would have to spend at least an hour driving home to Los Angeles. Sitting next to me was Mark Dippe, Industrial Light and Magic alumnus and director of the movie Spawn, and across from me sat Dean Cundey, the guy that not only shot all of John Carpenter’s early movies, but also shot Jurassic Park and Back to the Future just to name a few. At the end of the table was producer Tom Kiniston; I had worked with Tom on the Tremors TV series, and next to him was Brian Gilbert, formerly of Stan Winston Productions. The director was Brian Levant, whom I had never worked with personally. However I was familiar with him because I was representing KNB EFX Group, and KNB had made the Turbo-Man Suits for Jingle All The Way, a Mr. Levant effort. We, along with other department heads had gathered to discuss Scooby Doo and the Curse of the Lake Monster. As we began to go through the […]

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