The 13th Floor

My Life In Commentaries

I don’t know how the hell I got the opportunity to be the moderator on several horror titles that sit proudly in my Blu-Ray collection; movies that I would’ve bought regardless of if I had anything to do with their releases. But like most things that come out of just being passionate, it kind of just happened.

To abbreviate, I co-created and launched the website Icons Of Fright back in 2004 with Mike Cucinotta for no other reason than the love of the genre. I couldn’t land a job in web design or graphics after attending a trade school, and decided, well… I’d better get some practice in the meantime. And so, with my new-found buddy, we decided to tackle a topic that was near and dear to us, and somewhat uncharted on those early days on the web, with the exception of maybe the early Fangoria message boards: horror! Literally, everything that’s happened to Mike and myself professionally in the 13 years since has been a direct result of our genuine love & desire to create a horror website.

The focus was always extensive interviews. And through doing that for years, I found little ways to get compelling answers out of the interviewee. My experience as an interviewer lead to gigs at Fangoria, Shock Till You Drop, FEARnet, and now currently Blumhouse.com. But also, it opened the door for me to moderate panels at horror conventions, and become the go-to interviewer for bonus feature shoots. I have no real memory of my first commentary track, but at some point, I was asked if I’d feel comfortable sitting in on one just to make sure it went smoothly.

Sometimes I’ll sit in and moderate, almost always completely uncredited, which is fine, because no one wants to hear from me anyways; they want to hear from the person involved in the film! But the goal is always to get the best out of those people, help them shine, and make it educational and informing for the listener. On many occasions, I’ve sat in solely as a supervisor, which means I’m just there to meet and greet everyone, make sure they’re comfortable, and that everything goes off smoothly. In rare cases, my job is a little more complicated. For example, the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Blu-Ray.

I was scheduled to meet at a studio to conduct an interview about PHANTOM with actor Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger!) for about 45 minutes, and then supervise his commentary track with director Dwight Little. I’d interviewed Englund several times in the past, and he is a great, great storyteller, which makes my job as interviewer fairly easy. Basically, I set him up, and he does all the golden work. However, after giving us his all for an on-camera interview, he didn’t realize that he was also supposed to immediately follow that up with a feature length audio commentary track. He was tired and wanted to beat the traffic. Jim Kunz, our cameraman, producer, jack-of-all-trades (bless him) managed to convince Robert to stay a bit longer. Our pitch was, look – you haven’t seen Dwight in a while. Just stay to say hello, Rob (me) will moderate the commentary. Just sit in for a few minutes and when you’re ready to leave, you can duck out and we’ll continue on without you.

As we anticipated, as soon as Dwight got there, Robert lit up and got his second wind. He genuinely wanted to catch up with his old friend. We knew if we got them in the booth together, he’d probably stay for the whole session, so I awkwardly sat between them, introduced myself at the top of the commentary and remained silent for the entire 90 minute stretch! As I anticipated, the two old friends had no problem filling up the track and talking about PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. At the tail end, I made sure to get audio of Dwight introducing the two of them so they could replace my introduction and boom. We had a director/actor commentary for the disc, and my job to not be on it was a success. That’s what it takes sometimes! Here’s my awkward photo a mere few moments before I just sat there silently for an hour and a half, hoping they wouldn’t run out of things to talk about.

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It’s to the point now where I’ve worked on so many discs now that I’ll occasionally get some kind soul reach out to me on Twitter and tell me how much they enjoyed a commentary I moderated, and it’s usually something I’ve completely forgotten about! Last year, I detailed the process of how the Bill Pullman commentary came together for THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW Blu-Ray release, and that article was met with a lot of enthusiast responses. So, I thought I’d highlight 6 other commentaries I’m particularly proud of and give a little context as to how they each came to be!

THE THING with cinematographer Dean Cundey

This is probably the most recent one I’ve participated in. When Scream Factory decided to pull out all the bells and whistles for their epic 2 disc set honoring John Carpenter’s classic THE THING, I was asked if I could come in and moderate the commentary with cinematographer and living legend Dean Cundey. I immediately jumped at the chance. I’d interviewed Dean several times before, on one occasion for THE PSYCHO LEGACY documentary, on another for an episode of the Killer POV podcast. I also sat in to supervise his HALLOWEEN commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle. He’s a great technical filmmaker with a wonderful dry sense of humor. I prepared by listening to the pre-existing John Carpenter and Kurt Russell commentary the night before, jotting down a few pages full of notes based upon some of the fun stuff they revealed in their track. After that, it was fairly easy to just rap with Dean for the duration of THE THING and let him do the majority of the talking. Every time I sit down to watch Carpenter’s THE THING, I always feel like I pick up new things, and forget about others. The two tid-bits I took away from this commentary (both of which I put into articles) were the revelations that Dick Warlock was the shadow that the dog walks in on. And also, that specifically for the “blood test” scene, they lit the eyes of everyone except for Palmer to subtly reveal that he was infected by “the thing.” That article took on a life of its own, and people speculated that it clearly defined the ending as well, even though it didn’t. But still, this was hands down one of my favorite commentaries to participate in, and I learned a lot from it!

BORDELLO OF BLOOD with co-writer/producer A.L. Katz

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I had seen the much praised DEMON KNIGHT when it originally came out on home video, but I had never seen BORDELLO OF BLOOD. I was asked a mere few days before this commentary was to take place if I’d consider moderating it. I initially said no, because I’d never seen the film and I’d always heard mixed things about it. But, I watched it, and kind of enjoyed the campy FRIGHT NIGHT meets FROM DUSK TILL DAWN nature of it. Then I looked up writer/producer A.L. Katz and realized he’d written several of my favorite episodes of the actual HBO TALES FROM THE CRYPT series. So, I agreed because I figured if anything, we could always discuss TALES as a whole rather than specifically just BORDELLO OF BLOOD. And when I arrived at the studio, he immediately told me, “you know, I don’t really like this movie, it was a really difficult experience, and I’m just going to be honest about that the entire time.” I thought, great! Those are my favorite kinds of commentary tracks! And that’s exactly what happened. We delved into what should have been the second TALES FROM THE CRYPT feature, and how they were forced last minute into revamping this script that Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale wrote in college into what would become BORDELLO OF BLOOD. Also, the demands of producer Joel Silver (such as casting Sylvester Stallone’s then-girlfriend Angie Everhart instead of their first choice Robin Givens), and how Dennis Miller was kind of an asshole to every one on this picture because he didn’t want to do it. Besides the behind-the-scenes drama, we got to talk in depth about the history of TALES FROM THE CRYPT: the series, and the evolution of the show over its 7 seasons. It was really one of the most fun, informative and candid chats I’ve ever had with a creator. If you’re a TALES fan, you should definitely check this track out.

HALLOWEEN II with Michael Myers Dick Warlock

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Thinking back, this could very well be one of my first moderating jobs. I grew up a huge, huge HALLOWEEN fan. Scream Factory didn’t even exist yet, but they were planning on launching with HALLOWEEN II and III, and I believe THEY LIVE. I begged the producers involved to let me do anything for HALLOWEEN II. It’s the one HALLOWEEN movie I’d always watch repeatedly on TV as a kid, and knew every frame of it. So no matter who came in to talk about it, I’d be able to keep up. Much to my surprise, it was Michael Myers himself, Dick Warlock! I’d met Dick before at a few horror conventions, and he’s always been very cordial and kind at those. But this was different, and this was a dream come true. If you told me at 12 on my 100th viewing of HALLOWEEN II that one day, I’d get to sit and watch the movie with Michael Myers himself, I would’ve never believed you! But, that’s what happened. We shot an on camera interview and then got to enjoy the movie for the next 90 minutes. My memory of it was that it went smoothly, and Dick shared some fun tidbits and entertained my nerdy curiosity about several details I’ve mulled about over the years. He even pointed out the Dana Carvey cameo I never noticed before! I don’t ever listen back to the commentary tracks I do, but this might be one I’ll have to revisist because it was such a fond and warm memory.

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION with Director Sam Firstenberg And Stunt Coordinator Steve Lambert

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Holy smokes. So, I had also never seen NINJA III: THE DOMINATION when I was asked to do this one. But I watched it that night and immediately said, “I have to meet the man that made this movie!” Luckily, it turned out to be Sam Firstenberg, a very jovial and positive spirited soul. Joining us was real life daredevil Steve Lambert. If you’ve now seen the Golan and Globus documentary, then you know the deal with this movie, but basically it was a ninja movie by way of THE EXORCIST. It’s goofy, crazy and fun. Definitely the sort of movie you’d praise if you caught it on the big screen with an enthusiastic audience. I was just glad to be able to see it for the first time, and then the very next day sit with two of the people behind its creation! It also gave me a chance to publicly thank Firstenberg on record for giving us BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.

PSYCHO II with writer Tom Holland

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This one was just plain fun. I’d been friends with Tom Holland for a long time. He was one of the first people involved with the PSYCHO series that I was able to interview for my documentary THE PSYCHO LEGACY, so we already developed a great rapport over the years. We’ve also had so many off record conversations about his career and, in particular, PSYCHO II. So, when I was asked to moderate the commentary with him for the PSYCHO II disc, I was ready and well-prepared! I’d been waiting for this opportunity for a long time! At this point, I’d already been set up in the podcast world between Killer POV and my stints recording and producing the official podcasts for DEXTER and THE FOLLOWING, so I simply showed up to Tom’s place with my gear and we sat at his kitchen table as we watched the movie and recorded a candid chat throughout. I hope listening to it feels like sitting in on two friends shooting the shit. I was also able to cull from our previous conversations and remind him of cool stuff he’d told me in the past about the making of PSYCHO II, including a lot of the casting rumors I’d heard over the years, such as Christopher Walken being in line for Norman Bates if Perkins opted not to come back. (Supposedly not true, but a fun rumor regardless.) Again, as a die-hard PSYCHO fan who spent a considerable amount of time slaving over a documentary about this series, getting to do this chat was a dream come true, and the sort of interview I as a fan have always wanted to hear.

FENDER BENDER with writer/director Mark Pavia

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Last but certainly not least, this was a really interesting and unique commentary for me. Mark Pavia is an old friend, and at the time I was asked to moderate his commentary for FENDER BENDER, we had already done a Q & A for the film in front of a live audience, and we also did a great, in-depth one on one interview for the Shock Waves podcast. It was one of those rare instances where both my co-hosts were out of town, and Mark just came over and we talked about the ups and downs of the movie making business while downing a bottle of wine. And hence, when we hit the studio to talk about FENDER BENDER, it truly felt like a continuation of our podcast discussion. Candid, open, honest, funny and inspiring. From here on out, for whatever films Mark continues to make, I’ll gladly volunteer to continue the tradition and be his permanent moderator.

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