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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bay of the Living Dead: Young Filmmakers Inspired By the Horror Classics of Yesteryear

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Ryan Bijan (left), and Ansel Faraj - BROOK E. MANTIA
  • Brook E. Mantia
  • Ryan Bijan (left), and Ansel Faraj

Welcome to the first edition of Bay of the Living Dead, a monthly column dedicated to scary movies, past and present, with maybe some spooky old TV shows thrown in for good measure.

Thousands of diehard comic fans descended upon the San Jose Convention Center on May 17 and 18 for Big Wow Comicfest 2014, a celebration of all things comic books. The dealers' room featured comics, old and new, on display and for sale. Attendees included Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Godzilla, and longtime boyfriends Batman and Robin, who held court in the Fest's Batman Museum.

And one of the biggest booths at Big Wow was dedicated to Famous Monsters of Filmland, the iconic retro-themed monster movie mag that's been around in various forms since 1958. FM's current publishers set up a fabulous display of mag covers from throughout magazine's long run.

Famous Monsters was also hosting the weekend's Famous Monsters Film Festival, in which emerging filmmakers could screen their latest frightmares. Screenings included Ansel Faraj's Doctor Mabuse: Etipomar and Ryan Bijan's Erik: Portrait of a Living Corpse.

Dark Shadows' Jerry Lacy as Doctor Mabuse: Don't look into his eyes! - ANSEL FARAJ
  • Ansel Faraj
  • Dark Shadows' Jerry Lacy as Doctor Mabuse: Don't look into his eyes!

Faraj and Bijan are both in their early 20s, yet their feet are firmly planted in cinema's distant past.

Faraj's Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar is a sequel to Doctor Mabuse, which he wrote and directed last year at age 21. Based on the character created by Norbert Jacques in 1921, Mabuse, a supervillain with strange powers over mind and matter, was the subject of several highly regarded Fritz Lang films during the '20s and thirties. Youthful auteur Faraj received a lot of unexpected attention when he scored a coup: Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker, who co-starred on the legendary horror themed daytime soap opera Dark Shadows, agreed to reunite for the first Mabuse film. All three returned for Etiopomar, where they were joined by Christopher Pennock, a fourth DS alumnus.

Faraj admits to being a fan of Dark Shadows, which was a huge hit on ABC's daytime schedule from 1966-1971. The now iconic TV series, which was spoofed in a recent Tim Burton/Johnny Depp film, was known for cribbing the look, tone and storylines from the classic Universal Studios monster movies of the 1930s and 40s. Faraj says that those grand old chillers, along with 1940s film noir, are among the inspirations for his own work.

Doctor Mabuse (2013) was shot in a garage, with the actors performing before a blue screen. Faraj added the backdrops later, via computer. The result is a mesmerizing, noirish no budgeter which effectively recreates the cinema of 80 years ago.

"It was a rewarding, albeit hot experience," said actor Douglas M. Eames, who plays a supporting role in the sequel. "I mean, I've heard of garage bands, but never garage movies! But the technology is so advanced now, you just hang a blue curtain in there, and suddenly you've got Ben Hur!"

It was Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar (2014) which was screened at the Famous Monsters Film Festival. The second film has a more modern look, almost invoking Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange in parts.

"I made a decision early on that Doctor Mabuse: Etiopmar would be a very different, more modern looking film," Faraj told SF Weekly.

"We did the Gothic world already and I felt that to change the style of both the characters and the world would be interesting for multiple reasons. I wanted each film to be it's own entity. They work together when screened as a double bill in the overall arc of the characters, but Etiopomar's story was a broader one. It wasn't just about Mabuse this time, it's about everyone else. Another factor was the idea that the modern world is invading the old mystical world. As a filmmaker, I wanted to do something different. I learned a lot from making Doctor Mabuse, and knew that the best way to grow as a filmmaker was to apply what I learned from my previous project to my new project."

The result is an exciting thrill ride which looks far more expensively produced than it was.

click to enlarge Ryan Bijan proudly displays a poster for Erik: Portrait of a Living Corpse - BROOK E. MANTIA
  • Brook E. Mantia
  • Ryan Bijan proudly displays a poster for Erik: Portrait of a Living Corpse

Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar is an intense battle of wills between the mad doctor and those who wish to take back the city he's hijacked. The film includes a deliciously over the top, scene stealing performance from Dane Corrigan, who plays the mad scientist Rotwang--the same character who created Maria, the female robot, in Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis (1926).

Ryan Bijan's Erik: Portrait of a Living Corpse was inspired by the filmmaker's lifelong love for all things "Phantom of the Opera," beginning with the 1908 novel by Gaston Leroux. With Erik, Bijan offers his own unique take on the often told tale. Filmed in his native Fort Worth, Texas, Bijan shot on location, employing sets that, at times, effectively convey the look of a big studio production. Bijan's uncle, a county commissioner, got the first time director access to the local opera house, and to the city's century old clock tower, which served as the Phantom's spooky lair. Impressive were the results, despite a paltry $6,000 budget.

"The phantom always resonated with me because he was the most human of the classic monsters," Bijan said. "He wasn't supernatural or scientifically created. Just a flesh and blood human being by becoming this theatrical figure to get what he wanted. He's the Batman of the Universal Monsters."

Bijan refers to Erik as "my love letter to the Universal and Hammer horror films." After seeing the film at the Famous Monsters Film Fest, we must agree that the Universal/Hammer influence was heavily in evidence.

It was a fun day, being surrounded by thousands of comic books, and meeting these talented new auteurs.

You can find more info and where to view the movie, Doctor Mabuse, on the movie site, and more info, and where to view the movie, Erik: Portrait of a Living Corpse, on

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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