This Case Was Based on a True Story

Has this ever happened to you: you’re sitting in a dark theater about to enjoy the next big summer blockbuster. Then the screen goes dark, and some haunting music alerts you that the next movie trailer is for a horror film. Clutching your popcorn you see flashes of ghosts, demons, jump scares, and shaky cam. You may feel a little creeped until you see the scariest part of all: words flashing on the screen that read, “BASED ON A TRUE STORY.” 

As unbelievable as it seems, many classic horror films were based on actual documented events. Sure, the stories may have changed when they made it to Hollywood, but it’s still creepy to imagine that these horrifying tales were inspired by real experiences. For this week’s episode of Frightening February, we each picked a horror film that was based on or inspired by a true story!

*Some of these stories involve real-life tragedies and violent acts. We do not usually discuss this kind of material on our show, so we wanted to give you a heads up just in case you find the topics of real-life violence and death triggering.* 

JAWS (1975)

  • Movie Synopsis
  • It’s the height of beach season, and the town of Amity Island is terrorized by attacks from a great white shark. As panic threatens to deprive the city of its crucial tourist season, the mayor turns to Martin Brody, the new chief of police, to solve the issue. Brody enlists the help of an oceanographer and a sea-wary fisherman to hunt down the great white menace that has turned the Amity Island shore into a feeding ground.
  • Making of
    • Directed by the one and only Steven Spielberg, Jaws was based on the 1974 novel written by Peter Benchley. Benchley penned the first drafts of the screenplay, and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, who rewrote the script during principal photography.
    • Before Jaws began filming, Spielberg wanted to direct the film Lucky Lady instead. Studio head Sid Sheinberg basically “ordered” him to make Jaws. If you ask Sheinberg, Spielberg was not happy with the decision and reportedly had the attitude of, “You’re my friend. How can you make me do this fish picture?”
    • Spielberg ultimately agreed to shoot the film. He decided to film on the Atlantic Ocean, hindering production and creating logistical difficulties, equipment issues, and weather-related delays. Because of this, Jaws took more than twice as long to make as planned and cost nearly four times the original budget. The film’s box office success proved that Spielberg’s creative decision was worth the risk. He explained, “Lake water, pond water, tank water … [don’t] have the same texture or violence that the ocean has. This needed to be a convincing story about a great white shark because if it wasn’t, no one would believe it.”
  • The Original Stories
    • Author Peter Benchley had a lifelong fascination with sharks and was inspired to write the novel after reading about an estimated 4,500-pound great white shark caught by Frank Mundus in 1964. Mundus started “Monster Fishing,” an activity that began at the port at Lake Montauk. Mundus caught the enormous great white shark by harpoon. Later in 1986, he and Donnie Braddick caught a 3,427-pound great white about 28 miles off Montauk, which still holds the record (not credited by the International Game Fish Association) for the largest fish of any kind ever caught by rod and reel.
    • The second story is one of, if not the worst maritime disasters in U.S. naval history. On July 29th, 1945, the USS Indianapolis sank due to an explosive chain reaction triggered by a Japanese torpedo. Of the almost 1200 men aboard, 900 made it into the shark-infested water alive. But, their ordeal was just beginning. As the survivors waited for rescue, the sharks fed on the floating bodies. However, the survivors’ struggles in the water attracted more and more sharks. As the days passed, many sailors fell victim to heat and thirst or experienced hallucinations that drew them to drink the seawater around them. This resulted in death by salt poisoning. Without going into too much more gruesome detail of the Indianapolis’ original 1,196-man crew, only 317 remained. The number of men that died from shark attacks ranges from an estimated few dozen to almost 150. It’s impossible to know the actual numbers. Regardless, this event is considered the deadliest shark attack in history. 
    • With the final story, the inspiration for Jaws will finally come into focus. In July of 1916, a 9ft juvenile sea creature, then primarily unknown to scientists, briefly replaced the Great War in newspaper headlines. 
    • From July 1st to the 12th, five swimmers were attacked, and four were killed by a great white shark on the Jersey Shore. The shark’s reign of terror spanned 70 miles along the Atlantic, attacking victims from a beach town north of Atlantic City, all the way to a farm town on an inland creek. The first death occurred in Beach Haven, New Jersey, and involved a recent University of Pennsylvania graduate named Charles Vansant. Unfortunately, people on the beach didn’t realize that he was serious when he screamed for help. Scientists at the time believed that sharks lacked the ‘jaw power’ to bite through human enamel. It was the first recorded fatal shark attack in American history, but no one was aware. Death number two was reported after beachgoers discovered a body bitten in half. Another swimmer was pulled to his death in an estuary as a would-be hero wrestled with the shark and died. Now suddenly, the real-life monster made the front page of The New York Times. Some town mayors denied the attacks, fearful of losing seaside resort income until the horror forced resorts to shutter their doors, and the cities called in scientists for help. 
  • How the Movie was the Same
    • Sound familiar? The 1916 story is almost the spitting image of Jaws. The movie shark has a similar body count, killing four people, including a victim in an estuary. Not only that, but moviegoers watch as a would-be hero wrestles with the shark and dies. True to life, the mayor denies it’s happening to try and protect the tourist dollars. After the fictional ichthyologist struggles to identify the species of the killer, he zeros in on the legendary man-eating monster, Carcharodon carcharias, the great white shark, and even brings up the attacks in 1916. 
    • Even though Peter Benchley says the incident was not the original inspiration for his book, these similarities are undeniable.
  • How the Movie Changed the Story
    • Of course, Hollywood always embellishes stories to make them as entertaining or thrilling as possible. For instance, they attempt to kill the shark with harpoons attached to barrels to keep it from diving. In the movie, Jaws is simply too large and powerful for this to work. A super behemoth of a shark can even pull the fishing boat backward. However, this is how Frank Mundus caught his 4,500-pound monster back in 1964. The movie required a more exciting and explosive way to deal with Jaws.
    • Additionally, in the true story, the scientists and fishermen tasked with catching the shark in 1916 were not killed in the process. The four earlier victims were all the shark got to before meeting its own fate. 
  • What Impact the Movie Had
    • For a film almost 50 years old, Jaws continues to deliver to audiences old and new alike. Jaws is firmly the apex predator when it comes to any other shark film. Jaws inspired many horror films. In fact, the script for Ridley Scott’s 1979 science fiction film Alien was pitched to studio executives as “Jaws in space.” 
    • The film was vital in establishing the benefits of a vast national release backed by heavy television advertising and played a significant part in establishing summer as the prime season for releasing studios’ biggest box-office contenders. Opening a film simultaneously at thousands of theaters and massive media buys are now commonplace for the major Hollywood studios. According to film historian and critic, Peter Biskind, Jaws “diminished the importance of print reviews, making it virtually impossible for a film to build slowly, finding its audience by dint of mere quality. … Moreover, Jaws whet corporate appetites for big profits quickly, which is to say, studios wanted every film to be Jaws.” 
    • Jaws might be the prototypical blockbuster, a feat of studio genius and marketing as well as Spielberg’s filmmaking. Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Jaws was a defining moment in motion picture history.

AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)

Whether you’re a fan of horror or not, you likely have heard of the Amityville Horror. The infamous house on Ocean Avenue along the coast of Long Island was the site of an incredibly tragic murder. That much is indisputable. The story that took place beyond that has certainly faced its fair share of skepticism. Multiple films follow the story of the Lutz family, but I am going to focus on the one that premiered in 1979. 

  • George and Kathy Lutz move into a large house on the coast of Long Island, New York, with their three children. Their new home is quite the fixer-upper, and even though the real estate agent has disclosed that the previous family had been murdered, the Lutzes move in anyway. Not long after, their daughter starts playing with an imaginary friend, George starts to act strange, and the house’s past seemingly comes back to haunt them. 
    • Stuart Rosenburg directed the film with a screenplay written by Sandor Stern. After the alleged hauntings in December of 1975, George and Kathy Lutz approached a screenwriter named Jay Anson, who wrote a book about their experiences. It was a best-seller, and he eventually sold the film rights for over $200,000 to American International Pictures. Actor James Brolin was cast as the lead, and the film began shooting sometime in the fall of 1978. 
    • The actual home was not used in the film, as it did not have a good layout for filming and because the current residents and the people of Amityville did not wish for more publicity. In fact, the house owners sued the book publisher for invasion of privacy, claiming that the book was not fact-checked and their home had turned into a tourist attraction. 
  • The Original Story
    • On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings around 3:15 in the morning. Initially, he did not report the murders until the next day, when he ran into a bar and declared that his parents had been shot. Shortly after being taken into custody for his protection, DeFeo confessed to committing the homicide. Many facts about the crime didn’t seem to add up. For example, no one in the house seemed to hear the murders, as all victims were found face-down in bed. No neighbors reported hearing shots either. Toxicology reports suggested no sedatives were used, although DeFea claimed otherwise. His story often changed in the subsequent years. 
    • Just about a year later, on December 18, 1975, the Lutz family moved in. The seemingly paranormal experiences that followed for the next 28 days would become the topic of a book written by Jay Anson. It started with the family priest who came to bless the home. After entering the house, he reported that he heard a man’s voice yell to get out. He turned around to find he was alone. Afterward, his car stalled suddenly along the side of the road after the hood and door swung open and the windshield shattered. He called another priest for a ride home. After being dropped off, his friend called to tell him that he was also experiencing strange car trouble after giving him a ride. 
    • Also, on the first day, the family dog somehow jumped over the fence and almost died from strangulation. George and his son were able to rescue the dog in time. Even though the dog is a prominent character in the movie, this scene is not depicted. George Lutz claimed to experience a lot of strange phenomena. He supposedly awoke at 3:15 AM (the approximate time of the murders) for several nights in a row. He witnessed a figure by the boathouse that disrupted the family dog. He also never seemed to feel warm in the home and became obsessed with fueling the fireplace. This detail is another piece of the story featured prominently in the movie. 
    • As the month went on, the family experienced more events like toilets filling with a dark substance, foul-smelling air, nightmares of the murders, and an upside-down crucifix. One of the nights when George went to check the boathouse, he saw his five-year-old daughter standing in the window watching him, with a pig’s face behind her. 
    • The family priest had a bad feeling about one of the rooms in the Lutz’ house, so he called. The phone cut out during the call, but the Lutzes took the warning seriously. When they told the kids, Missy explained that they couldn’t go in that room because her imaginary friend, Jody, was in there. Eventually, the Lutz family had enough. They ran out of their home after 28 days and stayed with Kathy’s mother. But even after leaving the house, they experienced floating above their beds and slime coming up the stairs after them. They reportedly moved to California to get far away from their home. 
    • After the publication of The Amityville Horror, many of these claims were seemingly debunked. In 1979, the attorney for Ron Defeo Jr. claimed that he and the Lutzes created the story together over some wine. He said he wanted to write a book with them, but they cut him out of the deal and found another writer. Furthermore, several publications began investigating all the claims in the book and found a lot of discrepancies. It appeared that the Lutzes had not contacted the Catholic church during their ordeal, which was a big part of the story. 
    • In later years, Daniel Lutz, the oldest of the three children, claimed that the hauntings did happen but were caused by evil spirits drawn to George Lutz and his dabbling of the occult. 
  • How the Movie Changed the Story
    • As you can imagine, the Amityville Horror from 1979 added story elements and visuals to make the story more exciting to viewers. Although many feel that the Lutz’ story is too unbelievable, to begin with, the film and its remakes expanded further. For starters, the film depicts the family priest entering the house, hearing the disembodied “get out!” and receiving boils on his hands. However, the film also shows him locked in a room that immediately fills with flies. No one has ever claimed that this occurred. The priest suffers from several afflictions on screen and is blinded by the spirits. Although a real-life priest claimed to suffer various torments, this was not one of them.
    • Screenwriters completely fabricated one of the most famous scenes in the film. It features the babysitter, Jackie, getting locked in the closet by Jodie, the invisible imaginary friend of the Lutz’s young daughter. She knocks so hard that her hands bleed until the parents come home and let her out. 
    • In their book, both George and Kathy Lutz claimed that the house was built on indigenous land, near a place where the Shinnecock Tribe would leave dying loved ones. The film expresses this information, but the Shinnecock did not live in the Amityville area and did not abandon their sick and elderly loved ones. 
  • Initially, The Amityville Horror was meant to be a made-for-TV film but ended up being the second highest-grossing film of the year and the highest-grossing independent film until 1990. It broke ground as one of the first truly popular haunted house films. It not only inspired several remakes and sequels, but it also inspired a lot of haunted house media. Critics seemingly despised the film, although it was uplifted by over-the-top performances and the draw from basing a horror film on “true events,” no matter how questioned those events may be. 

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

A Nightmare Before Elm Street

  • Dreams fascinate everyone. They have gripped humanity for years across many religions and cultures. In the Bible, Joseph has dreams that foretell of his future: where his brothers bow down to him. Not only did he have dreams, but he also interpreted the dreams of others. Historically the dreams of Kings, royalty, and Pharaohs tended to be deemed more important, and many ancient civilizations have believed in the powers of dreams. But what happens when those dreams turn sour and become a nightmare?   
  • Movie Synopsis
    • Teens in Springwood, Ohio, have dreams that seem similar. A particular nightmarish character comes after them. When one of the young girls dies after falling asleep and having another nightmare, it is up to the others to find out what is really going on and try to stop it from happening to them.
    • Who directed it, who wrote it?
      • Wes Craven was the director and writer for the film.
      • Fun Fact: Every studio before New Line had rejected it. Wes has since even framed and hung the rejection from Universal on the wall in his office. 
    • Why they made it (if you can find it)
      • The first movie that Wes Craven was able to write and direct was a famous movie called The Last House on the Left. The backers of this movie had wanted a scary movie, and so he and Sean Cunningham (who had hired him) made Last House on the Left.
        • Before this, he had never thought of doing a horror movie; it’s not what he set out to do, especially being raised in a strict Protestant household. However, after the success of two films, he was able to take six months off and focus on the horror genre. 
          • He took this time to write and refine A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • The Original Story
    • Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome
      • In a 2014 interview with Vulture magazine, Wes Craven recounted the most prominent real-life inspiration for the film. He said, “I’d read an article in the L.A. Times about a family who had escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia and managed to get to the U.S. Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares. He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying.” 
      • A little background Information
        • The Vietnam War was a brutal conflict. Some people were disrespectful towards those that fought because they disagreed with the war. Our American soldiers were able to come home to the soil with which they were familiar. Unfortunately, some of our Allies did not have the same opportunity. 
          • America fought against Communism in Laos and were limited to bombing from above because the Geneva Accords made it illegal to send troops on land. The CIA made plans to arm civilians in Laos to circumvent this rule. To achieve this, the CIA exploited the unease between the minority Hmong hill dwellers and the lowland Lao majority. They persuaded the minority to help secretly with the promise of good pay and resources. So many of their people perished within the fights, many saying that more lives were lost than American lives. When America pulled out of Vietnam, General Vang Pao, a CIA recruiter and Hmong native himself, knew that swift revenge would be on those who had opposed Communism. He took control and helped the CIA arrange for 3,500 Hmong residents to be evacuated via three airplanes. The rest of the people fled by foot, approximately 40,000 of which not all made it to Thailand. 
          • Those who escaped to America encountered a large culture shock, as they weren’t familiar with 24-hour drive-thrus and other facets of American life.
            • According to migrationpolicy.org, as of 1975, when the war ended, more than 200,000 Hmong refugees that traveled to America. Many settled in Minnesota, Seattle, Portland, Iowa, and Orange County California. 
      • During the 1980’s a strange occurrence began happening. A (usually healthy 20-30 male) Hmong would have loud labored breathing during sleep and then would pass away. Wes Craven read several articles about this happening and was inspired. He thought about different reasons why this could have happened and thought that the dream had killed the men. 
      • Here are just some of the articles that may have influenced Wes.
    • By the end of 1981 the CDC had identified 35 cases of Hmong deaths in the U.S. from this unexplained phenomenon. 
    • We always want to make sense of the unexplained and so one reason many thought that this could be happening was a mixture of culture shock, stress, and PTSD. Still, others believe it could have been delayed effects of the chemical warfare that the North Vietnamese employed.  
  • How the Movie Changed the Story or Stayed the Same
    • A Nightmare on Elm Street did not necessarily change the story. Instead it took a simple idea of dying while screaming or struggling to breathe and expanded it, creating a singular character to fear that turns nightmares to death.    
    • FREDDY is the name of a kid that would often beat up Wes as a kid.
      • The name Krueger reminded him of a German name and the war plants in Nazi Germany.
        • It was also an extension of Krueg, who was a character in Last House on the Left.
      • Freddy’s hat was inspired by a man that Wes knew as a child. He wore a similar cap that scared him. 
      • When trying to decide what weapon Freddy would have he watched his cat at the time stretch out their claws and had that aha moment!
    • Lucid dreaming inspired the fact that Nancy could bring back Freddy’s hat.
  • What Impact the Movie Had
    • New Line Cinema was the house that Freddy built. A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first really successful film for the studio. The ending gross revenue was approximately $24 million. 
      • Rob Zombie (an american singer-songwriter) aptly said in the same Vulture magazine article as before that “Freddy Krueger built New Line the same way Frankenstein built Universal. The same way Saw built Lions Gate.”
      • It made it possible for them to later produce The Conjuring movies, the Blade movies, Seven, Lord of the Rings, Final Destination, and more!
      • When they finally acquired Friday the 13th they spent 10 years working on the Freddy vs. Jason movie which was a huge success due to the loyal fans of both franchises.
    • It had a major impact- people loved it and there were several sequels
      • There were even dolls and other toys made. This was pretty crazy and weird when you think about how he is actually a child killer.

Movies are great at reaching inside our brains and stimulating our deepest fears. It’s always nice to flip on the lights and take a deep breath, remembering it was all just a movie. But what happens when the story is true? Well, thankfully, the true stories that inspire scary films are not usually as terrifying as what you see on screen. But if even parts of these fantastic tales are true, what other strange and terrifying phenomena lurk in the unknown?

SOURCES:

The Case of George Romero

Well, friends, it’s February, which means it’s cold and dark. But, the good news is that it’s the perfect time to huddle close and tell some scary stories. Once again, we’re dedicating the entire month of February to the most terrifying genre of all: horror! 

It was the late 1960s in Pittsburg, PA when Fred Rogers went to the hospital for a tonsillectomy. As the host of a children’s TV program, Mr. Rogers realized that showing the children at home his experience might help them face their own fears of doctors, hospitals, and surgery. So, he brought with him a young filmmaker named George Romero. Romero had been shooting one of his independent projects in the Pittsburgh area, a grainy black and white feature about ghouls that ate human flesh, but his work with Mr. Rogers was one of his first paying jobs as a director. He grabbed the little equipment he had, including pin lights from the hardware store, and filmed the beloved TV host as he went in for surgery. He later said it was the most terrifying film he ever directed. 

That was just the beginning. George Romero’s talent and ingenuity took him far, as his films broke new ground and redefined horror. He’s often credited as the person responsible for an entire sub-genre of film: zombies. He was a creative force, passionate about independent filmmaking, and responsible for inspiring–and thrilling–countless people across the globe. So grab some popcorn and turn off the lights, it’s time to get scary with George Romero. 

FAMILY/YOUNG LIFE

  • George Romero was born in the Bronx, NY on February 4th, 1940 to his parents Anne and George. His mother was Lithuanian, and his father described himself as Castilian, having moved from Spain to Cuba as a child. 
  • Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, George experienced the fears of WWII, like city-wide blackouts in the case of an air raid, and the subsequent terror of a nuclear attack. He was drawn to horror because it scared him in an entertaining way. Being afraid of monsters from another world was an escape compared to the very real and present fears of everyday life. 
  • When George was 11 years old, he saw the first film that ever scared him: 1951’s The Thing From Another World. It was his favorite horror film. However, his all-time favorite movie wasn’t a horror film at all. It was The Tales of Hoffmann, an opera film that was also released in 1951. 
    • Hoffmann introduced George to the possibility of filmmaking as a career. He could see that it had been made on a budget, which showed him that even if he didn’t live in Hollywood or have a huge budget, he could make films too. 
    • The film also introduced Romero to classical music, another one of his lifelong interests. 
  • By the time he was 14, George Romero was already starting his filmmaking career. Armed with his first camera, an 8 mm (some accounts say it was a gift from his parents while George himself said it was his uncle’s camera) he began making his first independent short called, “The Man From the Meteor” 
  • During the shoot, George threw a flaming dummy from the roof of his building, and of course, someone called the police. Here’s what he told NPR about it years later: 
    • “…the man from the meteor was ultimately shot with his own ray gun and fell flaming off the roof where I lived, in Parkchester. And I set fire to a little dummy and dropped it off the roof, having failed to contact the police and let them know I was going to do this. And so, yeah, I was hauled away by the police, and my parents were called. It wasn’t a serious arrest, I didn’t have to spend the night in jail or anything.”
  • After the flaming dummy incident, George’s parents sent him to Suffield Academy, a college prep school in Connecticut, to finish his education. After graduating high school, he studied art, design, and drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now known as Carnegie Mellon University. 
    • He worked for the Pittsburg Motion Picture Laboratory, delivering reels to news stations via bicycle. He was sometimes paid in lunch money, but it was generally unpaid work.  
  • While living in Pittsburg and going to school, he produced several independent short films. He graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1960 and teamed up with John Russo and Russ Streiner and others to form “The Latent Image,” a company that produced industrial films and commercials. Using a $20,000 loan from his uncle to get started, The Latent Image survived by making promotions for companies like Iron City Beer and Heinz Ketchup. George Romero was later quoted saying, “Fresh out of college, all we had was a Bolex and a couple of pin lights, the kind with aluminum shades that could be bought at any local hardware store. Actually, that’s not true. That’s not all we had. We also had balls. Balls enough to advertise ourselves as ‘Producers of Industrial Films and Television Commercials.’
  • By the late 1960s, Romero set his sites on full-length features. Before releasing his first feature film, he worked on a since-destroyed project called, Expostulations, a silent anthology film. The film was once complete, fully shot and edited, and featured five segments written by Romero, Rudy Ricci, and Richard Ricci. One segment was called, “A Door Against the Rain” and followed a boy whose grandfather built him a freestanding door. The boy then walks through it to go on adventures. While the project tried to secure a musical score, the audio recording company went bankrupt. Recently, portions of the film have resurfaced, but most of it has been lost. George Romero considered this project to be the real beginning of his film career, as they built elaborate sets and worked with paid actors for the first time. 
  • Like we said earlier, one of Romero’s first paid jobs as a director was with the classic TV series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood! Fred Rogers was one of the first people to hire George, and he was incredibly supportive of his work. If you aren’t a horror fan, you still have likely seen Romero’s work during Mr. Rogers’ “Picture Picture” segments. These were shorts that taught kids how things were made, like lightbulbs and umbrellas. 
    • The Carnegie Mellon University Library quoted George about the experience, saying: He was the first guy who would hire me. Everyone from Pittsburgh who I know from that period, who is still working in the business in any capacity, started with Fred. Fred was so supportive of people.  He was a beautiful guy.
    • Fred Rogers reportedly saw all of Romero’s work in support of his former employee. 
  • Over the course of his life, George Romero married three times:
    • George married Nancy Romero in 1971. They remained married until 1978. 
    • Christine Forrest was Romero’s second wife and starred in some of his projects. Longtime collaborator Stephen King was even inspired to name one of his novels after Christine! They were married from 1980 to 2010.
    • Suzanne Desrocher and George Romero married in 2011 and were together at the time of his death in 2017. She started the George Romero Foundation in his honor. (2011-2017)

HOW DID WE GET TO ZOMBIES

  • So before we get into Romero’s most influential works, let’s talk about the zombie in the room. Today, Romero’s name is synonymous with zombies, but the concept of the walking dead existed before he started filmmaking. 
  • As strange as it sounds, George Romero did not set out to redefine zombies. He took pieces of existing lore about flesh-eating creatures and built a new kind of monster with very clear features and rules. 
    • The Romero Zombie is a re-animated human that craves flesh. They are slow-moving and anyone can become one. They can use tools but are able to be destroyed by a shot or a blow to the head. This clear-cut definition is what audiences grab onto while watching the films. When we see a zombie movie, we can yell out “shoot it in the head” before the characters even understand that it’s the only way to kill them. Romero created a list of tropes that make audience members feel more comfortable. 
  • Romero’s zombies were nothing like the Zombies of Haitian lore, another famous type of flesh-eater. This was because Romero didn’t really consider his creations to be zombies at all. In his first living-dead film, they are only referred to as “ghouls.” He and co-writer John Russo needed a chaotic attack that kept the characters confined to a small space throughout the film. Inspired by the vampire creatures of the novel “I Am Legend,” Romero used the concept of bodies that were once human attacking the living. He only started calling his creations zombies because other people did. 

MOST INFLUENTIAL MOVIES

George Romero made many feature films in his lifetime, not to mention the TV series he produced as well. His work evolved over the decades and he showed audiences again and again that there were no bounds to his technical skill and ingenuity. 

  • NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
    • While balancing paid jobs, George Romero spent weekends filming his first major feature film. George teamed up with John Russo to write the script and started shooting on 35 mm black and white film about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. The film had about $114,000 to work with, the definition of a shoestring budget.
    • The story follows a small group of people hiding in a farmhouse and defending themselves against a hoard of flesh-eating ghouls. Romero loved the story in “I Am Legend,” but he wanted to see that kind of story from a new perspective. That’s why Night of the Living Dead takes place at the very beginning of a zombie apocalypse, as society has not fallen to ruin just yet. 
    • Night of the Living Dead was groundbreaking for many reasons. It’s one of the most well-known and influential independent films ever made. Not only that, George Romero chose to cast Duane Jones as one of the first black leads in a horror film. The film was released in 1968, a turbulent time in America. As youth counterculture was on the rise, Romero’s zombies illustrated the concept of old ideals being gobbled up by a new generation. Racial tensions continued to rise, and the political climate seemed to heavily influence a film where a black man survives a monstrous hoard of mindless flesh-eaters, only to be killed by other humans. 
      • To George, this connection was coincidental, as the character was reportedly written as white in the script, but he thought Duane Jones was the best actor for the role. Audiences immediately made the connection to racism, which is partly why the film is remembered as a cultural landmark of the 1960s. George Romero explained: “There was all that anger and, you know, race riots coming up. When we were driving it to New York to show it to potential distributors, that night in the car, we heard that Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
    • Although George Romero was a big fan of making statements within his works, Night of the Living Dead was not originally meant to be a commentary on racism. In last year’s episode on the history of horror, we quoted George Romero in the documentary “Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue.” He says, “Why do you do horror? Well you do it to upset the uppercut. But in the end it kind of gets set back up again. We kill the monster, and I didn’t wanna do that.” 
    • Sure, Night of the Living Dead is a classic, but how exactly did it create the modern zombie? Well, the film was originally called Night of the Flesh-Eaters, but that title was too similar to a film that already existed. The name was changed last minute, but for some reason, the copyright had been left off the final print. Because of this, the film immediately entered the public domain, and Romero and Russo’s version of zombies was up for grabs for other filmmakers to use. So, modern cinema got very familiar with the concept of slow-moving zombies that could turn humans with just one bite. These creatures are capable of using tools and are autonomous, meaning they act independently. 
  • MARTIN (1977)
    • Martin is about a young man that has a dark secret. He maintains that he is an 84-year-old vampire. He watches women closely and in order to quench his vampire desires, he sedates, rapes, and kills the women using a razor blade to slit their wrists and drink their blood. 
    • Romero wrote and directed this movie, and it was his fifth feature film. 
    • Why it was influential
      • SlashFilm.com talked about how Romero once again changed a genre. When he made the vampire a human it changed how we view the monster. They said, “A vampire is no longer just a monster to be feared. Rather, it can be anyone looking to overpower and dominate others. No thirst for blood actually necessary.” Martin has no supernatural powers, the only power he has is that over his victims when he drugs, rapes, and kills them.  
      • The film is now often talked of as an underrated film that deserves a viewing. Comments on the trailers show that many people see it as their favorite Romero film and sites say that it was also a favorite of his. Some now see the character Martin as an original incel. Merriam Webster defines Incel as “a person (usually a man) who regards himself or herself as being involuntarily celibate and typically expresses extreme resentment and hostility toward those who are sexually active.” Martin exhibits this mentallity through his social awkwardness all the way to his belief that he is owed blood and more. 
  • DAWN OF THE DEAD
    • Synopsis
      • As zombies increase in numbers during an epidemic, four people, (two S.W.A.T. members and a couple) escape to an abandoned shopping mall in order to make their stand and try to survive. 
    • Why it was influential
      • In Roger Ebert’s review he talks of how brilliantly Romero blended the satire, gore, and humor saying “But, even so, you may be asking, how can I defend this depraved trash? I do not defend it. I praise it. And it is not depraved, although some reviews have seen it that way. It is about depravity.”
      • It struck audiences with a realistic approach to an apocalypse with new broadcasts relaying misinformation while crewmembers leave and openly question the facts being presented by experts on air. 
      • It was a bold statement of consumerism and how people are zombies when it comes to their mindless obsession with objects. The main characters, as the world is falling apart around them, use fancy clothes, food, and objects as distractions. The survivors become consumers. 
    • In order to keep his film vision intact, he released the film as unrated instead of bowing down to The Motion Pictures Association of America (hell yeah!) Despite there not being an MPAA rating, it was still Romero’s most profitable film. 
  • CREEPSHOW
    • Synopsis
      • Creepshow is a collection of 5 short stories that combine the macabre with humor. It pays homage to the style of 1950’s comic books. It features monsters, bogeymen, a visitor from outer space, bugs, and a corpse that came back for cake. The five tales are “Father’s Day,” “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” Something to Tide You Over,” “The Crate,” and  “They’re Creeping Up on You.”  
    • Why it was influential
      • Creepshow paved the way for horror on television such as Tales from the Darkside (by Romero and Richard P. Rubenstein who produced Dawn of the Dead), Monsters (by Rubenstein in 1988), Tales from the Crypt, and several others. 
    • Creepshow was the very first George Romero-Stephen King collaboration, and the beginning of a long professional and personal relationship between the two men. 
      • Romero also adapted another Stephen King novel to film a few years later called The Dark Half.
  • TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE
    • Synopsis
      • Tales from the Darkside aired episodes that dealt with science fiction, horror, the occult, and more. At the end of each episode there would be a twist or moral for the viewer to take in, similar to one of its predecessors, The Twilight Zone but with a much creepier vibe.
    • Why it was influential
      • Following the success of Creepshow 
      • For many horror anthology fans, this is the first series that they remember growing up with. It continued to pave the way for more horror anthology series’, even ones like Are You Afraid of the Dark and Goosebumps. 
  • MONKEY SHINES
    • This film was written and directed by Romero and exemplifies his creativity within the horror genre. 
    • Synopsis
      • Based on a novel by Michael Stewart, the film centers around Allan Mann who is a recent quadriplegic who has lost his former life as an athlete and law student. As he becomes quite depressed a friend and scientist, Geoffrey Fisher, gifts him with a monkey. The monkey is meant to help him, but what Geoffrey does not tell Allan is that he has been injecting the monkey, Ella, with a serum containing human brain tissue. As Allan and Ella form a bond, it turns into a telepathic connection that leads Ella to act out harmful actions towards those that have wronged Allan or those that Ella has become jealous of. 
    • Why it was influential
      • Once again Romero experimented with discussions of the human condition through horror. It has been seen as an experiment in fear and is an exploration into the basic animalistic impulses that are within humans. The monkey acts out the hostilities that Allan would normally suppress. The film was also his first foray out of the independent film world. 
      • It inspired television episodes such as “Girly Edition” on The Simpsons where Homer gets a helper monkey, and the episode “Monkey” on Malcolm in the Middle.
    • For the movie “Monkey Shines” they had to wait for the monkey to be in heat so it would respond well and positively to the actor. The main actor had to be the first male that the monkey saw that day. These were the days when the monkey was the most affectionate and conveyed a strong bond.
  • Romero went on to finish his “dead” series over the course of his career with: 
    • Day of the Dead (1985) 
    • Land of the Dead (2005)
    • Diary of the Dead (2007)
      • With each film, Romero would adapt and incorporate new styles. For Diary of the Dead, he used the found-footage style of filmmaking. 
    • Survival of the Dead (2009)
      • This was Romero’s last zombie film. He declared after Zombieland that he was done with the sub-genre, because it was now a major blockbuster kind of film. 

CONTRIBUTIONS TO AMERICAN CULTURE THAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW

  • George Romero’s third wife, who was married to him when he passed away, began the George A. Romero Foundation. The Foundation aims to keep his legacy alive and to help those who want to pursue film, especially independent film. The Pioneer Award is given every year to a deserving individual and Scholarships and Fellowships are given as well. The foundation also works to restore and preserve Romero’s past work. 
  • Although you may not think of gaming immediately when you hear George Romero’s name, you can’t help but notice that many villains within games are zombies! 
    • He also participated in a few projects such as the 1998 live action Resident Evil 2 trailer and he also appeared in Call of Duty Black Ops–Zombies. His Dead series also was an influence for those that made the original Resident Evil.

AWARDS

  • George Romero is the definition of cult classic. His films were hardly ever critical darlings, but they made a lasting impact on the horror genre. He was responsible for delighting, inspiring, and terrifying generations of people; and that was award enough for him. 
  • At the New York City Horror Film Festival in 2002, George Romero was given the Life Achievement Award
  • He has a plaque in the Monster Kid Hall of Fame, installed in 2010
  • There is also a Horror Host Hall of Fame Plaque in honor of Night of the Living Dead, placed in 2011
  • He earned the Lon Chaney Award for Excellence in Independent Horror in 2017 at the FANtastic Horror Film Festival (aka FANtastic Fest)
  • He has a atar on The Hollywood Walk of Fame since 2017
  • He earned many other smaller awards for individual films such as Monkey Shines and The Dark Half

LEGACY AND DEATH

  • In July of 2017, George Romero died after a brief but intense battle with lung cancer. Directors, producers, writers, actors, and other members of the film community mourned the loss of this living legend. Stephen King tweeted, “Sad to hear my favorite collaborator–and good old friend–George Romero has died. George, there will never be another like you.”
  • In the film “Clapboard Jungle, George Romero is quoted saying, “You can make a wonderful movie and it never gets seen.” This certainly appears to be true, as there are several Romero works that are essentially non-existent. The Amusement Park was a work that Romero directed in 1973 that wasn’t released until after his death. 
    • The Amusement Park was thought to be lost until it was found, restored, and released in 2019. It was not meant to be a full-on horror movie but instead a PSA on elder abuse and ageism. It was funded by a church and a charity organization. Originally it was meant to be on tv but ended up not being released as it was too intense and shocking (what did they expect?) 
    • Since Romero was an independent filmmaker the amusement park used was West View Park in Pittsburgh which closed within a few years after the short 50-minute film was made. 
    • As with any piece of art, many different meanings can be gleaned from the film. The two most prominent are that the park is a visual metaphor for society, or that the park is a sort of purgatory. 
      • In it, the elderly are taken advantage of financially, denied opportunities due to age, neglected in basic medical treatments, and mocked.
    • Even after his death, Romero surprised audiences with his unique approach to storytelling and expert use of visual metaphors. 

When we hear the name George Romero, we think of zombies. But, the Romero Zombie is just one of the many contributions he made to film. He was an artist, a pacifist determined to illustrate the horrors that the human race inflicts and endures every day, through entertaining visuals and fascinating storylines. George Romero was a true independent. He saw a way to make his vision a reality and he went for it. He didn’t have big budgets or high-profile connections to make his art, and he ended up creating something so fascinating, so vivid and understandable to viewers, that he ended up changing horror–and film–forever. 

George Romero may be gone, but his art is very much alive, ready to be devoured. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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Yet Another (Brief) Case Around the Campfire

Recently we braved the cold to gather once again around a campfire to share some spooky stories within its glow…

We begin our Anuual Frightening February with Yet Another (Brief) Case Around the Campfire. It was cold in Ohio and we had snow that had recently fallen and covered the grass around us.

The poem that Adam read called Who’s That can be found HERE

Listen to our episode to hear about spooky forests, haunted houses, rocking chairs, strange object appearances, and more!

Check out the extended episode as a patron on Patreon!

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!

The Case of Sing Street

Hey Cassettes, and welcome back to the BCD!

Just for a moment, allow us to take you back to one of the most uncomfortable times in your life: your teenage years. Were you awkward? Did you hate the way you looked? Maybe you had bullies that made your life hell, or perhaps you had problems at home? And while you navigated the confusing landscape of life between childhood and adulthood, maybe you longed for control, or a sense of belonging, or maybe even an escape. But, as long as you could put your headphones on, turn on the radio, or drop the needle on your favorite record, you knew that everything would be OK. 

This is what the movie Sing Street is all about. Written and Directed by John Carney, this film follows teenager Conor Lawler as he and his friends start a band in 1980s Ireland. Filled with catchy, original songs, Sin Street flawlessly blends music and narrative to tell a moving story about friendship, brotherhood, and the freeing power of music. 

So, this week we’re traveling back to the 1980s to pet some bunnies, play some music and learn all about Sing Street. 

SYNOPSIS

Due to money issues, Conor Lawler’s parents have transferred him to the Christian Brothers School on Synge Street. While enduring his first day of unruly classes, strict teachers, and school bullies, Conor notices a girl named Rafina standing across the street. When he approaches her, she tells him she’s a model. Desperate to get her number, Conor lies and tells her he’s in a band that needs a model for a music video. After Rafina agrees to the video, Conor and his new and only friend hurriedly put together a band under the guidance and influence of Conor’s music-loving older Brother, Brendan.  

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • John Carney is an Irish musician and filmmaker known for award-winning films like Once and Begin Again. His movies are notable for blending music with the plot, and all have connections to Carney’s life. 
    • Sing Street is loosely based on Carney’s childhood. Like Conor, he attended the Christian Brothers School on Synge Street CBS. To gain respect from teachers and bullies, Carney formed a band with his friends. 
    • Eventually, Carney became a founding member of an Irish rock band called “The Frames.” When he was about 20 years old, Carney made the difficult decision to leave the band and pursue filmmaking. He knew that the band would only become more popular, and staying in it would cement his career as a rock musician. But Carney wanted to explore filmmaking even though it meant that he would be broke and have to start from scratch. His career seemed to take off after he and his brother co-wrote and directed the successful TV series Bachelor’s Walk. When Carney made the film Once, he cast his former bandmate and lead singer of Frames as a lead. 
    • Carney considers Sing Street to be his most honest film, not necessarily because it is so autobiographical, but because it represents how he was feeling at this time in his life. He didn’t want the story to be colored by an adult perspective, he wanted to genuinely show the experiences of kids and not in a retrospective way. As he explained to Den of Geek, “I wanted it to feel that the kids in the film were making the film.” 
  • Filmed on location in Dublin, Ireland
    • Like we said before, Sing Street is based on a real place- the Christian Brothers school in Dublin by the name of Synge Street CBS. The actual building was founded in 1864 and is a well-known and established place. 
    • Not only did John Carney attend this school but other successful people as well such as Hot Press founder Niall Stokes, broadcaster Gay Byrne, and Jim Norton who is an actor in the show “Father Ted.” Even Ferdia’s father (Ferdia played Conor) attended the school. 
    • When asked about how he felt returning, Carney said “It was like a prisoner coming back to Alcatraz now that it’s a sort of a tourist spot. School to me was like a prison. I didn’t want to go and I was a fish out of water. I wasn’t a good student. So it felt very much like restraint. So it was kind of funny being back in a position of complete authority from one of completely subservient student life, you know, 30 years earlier.”
    • Since the 1980s, when this film was set, the school has changed to become more progressive, inclusive, and boastful of wonderful teachers and excellent academic records. 
  • The Cinematography 
    • The cinematographer for this film was Yaron Orbach. He has worked with John Carney on his previous film, “Begin Again.” He also was the cinematographer for 13 episodes of “Orange is the New Black.”
    • Some of the most compelling visual elements of the movie are the music videos created by the band. Orbach flawlessly recreated the look and feel of home movies and blended them with the top-notch visuals created by the modern cameras used to shoot the film.  The movie was shot on film & digital using an ARRICAM Lite (LT) Camera and a Red Epic Camera. 
  • Costume Design 
    • Tiziana Corvisieri designed the costumes for the film. The challenge was to recreate the 1980s DIY counterculture punk aesthetic, as kids would throw together makeshift outfits as a form of rebellion. The audience needed to believe that these teenagers were putting their outfits together at home, which means they couldn’t look polished or streamlined. Corvisieri delivered a collection of imperfect masterpieces for Conor and his bandmates. 
  • Casting the band
    • Before Sing Street, John Carney made a film in America with big-name actors like Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. Carney didn’t enjoy the fame aspect of huge premieres and the headache of the paparazzi, so for his next film he decided to work with a group of fairly unknown actors instead. Casting kids that weren’t established musicians or actors helped reinforce the fantasy that these were average kids writing and playing music. 
    • Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Conor, the lead character dealing with a turbulent home life and the trials of a new school. Ferdia was one of the first kids to audition for the part, and John Carney later admitted that he originally thought he could find someone better for the role. The original plan was to find an actor that could pull off playing the part of a musician, but Ferdia was more of a musician than an actor. When the final cast had been put together, the band was made up of musicians that had little to no acting experience. Since Sing Street, Ferdia has starred in the series Vikings as King Alfred.
    • Mark McKenna plays Eamon, Conor’s bandmate and fellow songwriter with an obsession with bunnies. Since this film, McKenna has gone on play Simon Kellerher in the series, One of Us is Lying. 
      • Eamon and Conor quickly become very close, writing music together for the band. This character was actually based on one of Carney’s friends who is also named Eamon, and who also loved bunnies! He is the real-life Sing Street bassist. 
    • Ben Carolan plays Darren, the first friend that Conor makes at school. Darren becomes the band’s manager and films the music videos.
      • Carolan appears in the series Kin with Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy (who play Conor’s parents in Sing Street)!
    • Lucy Boynton plays Raphina, the girl that inspires Conor to start the band. Boynton is six years older than Ferdia, making her 21 while filming. She has appeared in major films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Murder on the Orient Express. 
      • Lucy mailed in her audition on tape and it soon became obvious that she had great chemistry with Ferdia. Raphina   
    • Percy Chamburuka plays Ngig, the bandmate on the keyboard in the film. Chamburuka hasn’t acted much since this film, but pursued a career in music and is now a rapper known as Jafaris. 
    • Karl Rice as Garry and Conor Hamilton as Larry round out the band. Rice appeared in the film Let the Wrong One In, and Hamilton has continued his career as a musician. 

We love Sing Street for many reasons, but what really lifts this film up is the collection of original songs. Written and composed by Gary Clarke and John Carney, each song in the film mimics a certain 1980s style of music. The goal was to create songs that were recognizable but were also completely brand new. Gary Clarke is a well-known Scottish musician known for the bands Danny Wilson, King L, and Transister. John Carney was a fan of Clarke’s music in the 1980s and felt he was the perfect choice to write the music for Sing Street. He claims that Clarke wrote most of the songs with a little inspiration from Carney, but Clarke says that Carney is just being modest. 

  • The Riddle of the Model
    • Sing Street begins with a focus on Conor and his family. His parents are on the verge of separating and money is tight. The strongest relationship Conor has is with his brother, Brendan, played by Jack Reynor. Reynor also starred in the hugely popular film Midsommar. 
      • Brendan and Conor bond over music, as Brendan introduces his brother to new bands and styles. 
      • Conor and his band first try to cover a Duran Duran song before writing their own. Brendan breaks the recording of their cover, declaring that Conor can’t expect to win over a girl with someone else’s art. 
    • The Riddle of the Model is the first song that Conor and Eamon write together, and it’s inspired by artists like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode and calls back to the New Romance style popular in the early 1980s. 
    • John Carney thought The Riddle of the Model was the perfect name for a young teenager’s song because it is just pretentious enough for a teen to create.
  • Up
    • In 1980s Ireland it was illegal to get divorced. It was also easier financially for couples to stay together even if it meant that they were unhappy. Conor’s parents are constantly fighting, and tensions are high at home. In contrast, Conor is completely infatuated with Raphina, even though she already has a boyfriend. 
    • After hearing their mother and father having an argument, Brendan tells Conor that he thinks she is having an affair. Conor promptly grabs the records Brendan lent him and goes to visit Eamon. Together, they write the song Up. 
    • The records in this scene are Joe Jackson, The Police, and The Jam. The song is so beautiful, it moves Raphina to tears when she hears it. 
  • A Beautiful Sea
    • Being in the band has given Conor new confidence that he didn’t have before. He doesn’t want to fade into the background and follow the rules. Instead, he prefers to stand out and express himself however he chooses. After all, rock and roll is a risk. 
    • Appearing at school in make-up and dyed hair, Conor is met with an angry reaction from the headmaster, Brother Baxter. Baxter demands Conor wash his make-up off, but Conor refuses because there are no rules saying he can’t wear it. In a fit of power-hungry rage, Baxter forces Conor’s head under running water and wipes his face clean.
    • This encounter doesn’t deter Conor from pursuing his music, and after some influence from Brendan and Raphina, decides to try out a new “happy-sad” sound. 
      • Conor and Raphina’s relationship continues to blossom. She waits for him to get out of school and he continues to write songs about her. As the characters learn to become their true selves around each other, Conor puts on more make-up, and Raphina puts on less. 
    • A Beautiful Sea is inspired by the Cure, especially the record The Head on the Door. 
    • For the music video, Conor has the original idea that the girl commits suicide by jumping into the water. Raphina suggests instead that she is actually a mermaid that misses her friends and so she returns to the Sea. 
      • Conor tells Raphina to pretend to jump in the water during the music video. Even though she can’t swim, Raphina actually jumps in, forcing Conor to save her. Afterward, he asks her why she did that. She tells him it was for the art, and you can never do it by half. So, he takes the chance to kiss her.
  • Drive It Like You Stole It
    • Possibly the most popular song from the film is Drive it Like You Stole It. The song exemplifies the movie’s message of seizing control of your own life, no matter the circumstances you’re currently facing. 
    • Conor first gets the idea for the song while he and his siblings attempt to drown out the sounds of their parents fighting with the Hall and Oates song, Maneater. As they’re dancing in his room, Conor’s brother Brendan says to him, “This is the life, Conor. Drive it like you stole it.” 
    • When it comes time to film the music video, we no longer see the 1980s equipment and makeshift costumes. Instead, the audience sees what Conor’s vision was for the video: an American prom scene with influences from Back to the Future and West Side Story. 
    • The contrast between Conor’s imagination and his reality shows the height of his ambition and foreshadows why he can’t stay where he is if he wants to achieve his dreams. 

Conor decides that the best next step for the band is to play at the end-of-term disco. He invites everyone he can think of–Brendan, his parents, and Raphina. Watching Conor become more involved in his music has taken a toll on Brendan, and he loses his temper when Conor brings up the gig. He explains that he paved the way for his brother, and he laments the fact that in his own eyes, he hasn’t lived up to his potential. 

The three songs the band plays at the disco are: Girls, To Find You, and Brown Shoes. 

  • Girls
    • Conor starts writing this song during the film after his art teacher asks if Raphina is his girlfriend. He answers yes, but promptly takes it back and says she’s just a model that he knows. The teacher replies simply, “All the complicated girls and boys.” 
  • To Find You
    • At the disco, Conor wants to play a slow song. All of his bandmates protest except for Eamon, and the group launches into a ballad called, To Find You. 
    • Conor and Eamon write the song about his relationship with Raphina after she leaves town with another boyfriend and insults Conor. While writing it, Eamon and Conor discuss destiny and finding their way out of Dublin, foreshadowing the end of the movie. 
  • Brown Shoes 
    • Brown Shoes is the final, show-stopping number to close out the dance. The song is about Conor’s disdain for Brother Baxter and the authority of the school. Before the disco, he and his bandmates made dozens of Brother Baxter masks for the students to wear during the song. The number is the ultimate rebellion and pretty much guarantees that the band will never be allowed to play at school again.
    • Possibly a little inspired by Pop Muzik by M and Motorhead’s Stay Clean, Conor begins writing this song halfway through the movie. It is something that is on his mind and he is dealing with it every day at school.
  • Go Now
    • The movie ends on a more introspective and dreamlike note, as the final song is not sung by the band, but by Adam Levine of Maroon 5. 
    • After the gig, Conor leaves his band behind to run home with Raphina. The two wake Brendan and ask for a ride to the docks so they can take a boat to London and try to make it there on their own. With enthusiastic support, Brendan gets them to the dock safely and hands Conor some song lyrics he wrote. As he watches his brother take the chance that he wishes he would have taken, Brendan throws his arms in the air with excitement and pride. 
      • Conor and Brendan’s relationship was inspired by John Carney’s relationship with his brother. He explained that parents have an idea of who their children should be, but older siblings allow their younger siblings to be themselves. 
    • John Carney wanted the end of the film to be ambiguous. He told Tasha Robinson of The Verge after the film was released: I sort of hoped the scene at the end would look a little like a fantasy sequence. You’re supposed to wonder where the reality ends and the pop video begins. But people are actually taking it very seriously, and people are presuming it’s fully real, which is interesting. That wasn’t the intention.”

ALSO STARRING

  • Don Wycherly as Brother Baxter 
    • Wycherly also appeared in Carney’s TV series Bachelor’s Walk and also guest-starred in a couple of episodes of Moone Boy. 
    • John Carney praised Wycherly’s performance as the thuggish and tyrannical Brother Baxter and admitted that he also had a teacher at Synge Street that was just as rough with the kids. In fact, a story circulated that a former schoolboy saw this teacher waiting in line at the movies once and just punched him in the face in retaliation for the years of abuse he inflicted. 
  • Ian Kenny as Barry 
    • Barry is Conor’s main bully and makes his life hell at Sing Street. The film shows that Barry has an incredibly difficult home life, which could be partly why he acts out at school. Conor and his bandmates recognize the power that music has of bringing people together, so they recruit Barry to be their roadie near the end of the film. This gives him an outlet and includes him in the fun. 
    • Kenny currently plays Declan in the TV series Red Election
  • Aiden Gillen as Robert (Conor’s father) 
    • Gillen is likely most well-known for his role as Little Finger in the HBO series Game of Thrones. 
  • Maria Doyle Kennedy as Penny (Conor’s mother) 
    • Kennedy is an Irish actress known for roles like Siobhan Sadler in Orphan Black, and recently voiced Moll MacTíre (Mebh’s mother) in Wolfwalkers!
  • Kelly Thornton as Ann (Conor’s sister) 
    • Thornton starred in the 2013 film Life’s a Breeze and has starred in several short films since Sing Street. 

AWARDS AND RECEPTION

  • The film was pretty well received in the United States. It received several nominations and won some awards too. Included in the awards won were:
    • Chlotrudis Award for Best Use of Music in a film
    • Faro Island Film Festival Award Golden Moon Award for Best Screenplay
    • International Online Cinema Halfway Award for Best Original Song (Drive it Like You Stole It)
    • Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Reynor) 
    • Nashville Film Festival 
    • It was in the top ten Independent Films from the USA National Board of Review
    • It won some other awards as well including a Southwest Airlines Audience Award

FUN FACTS

  • The film was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical!
  • When interviewed about the movie Americans always asked about the bunnies in the film but Irish audiences did not. 
  • Some of Carney’s old bandmates from “The Frames” came and met the young band actors in the film.

Sing Street has something for everyone. It’s a heartwarming story about the trials of coming of age and finding where you belong. Not only can audiences connect with the nostalgic music, but there’s also an honesty that we all can identify with. Sing Street is one of those true stories that never actually happened. The feeling, the tone, the experience are all very real, even though the events and characters aren’t. 

Many films tell coming-of-age stories, but this is a movie that immerses you in a moment that you may have forgotten (or at least tried to forget). It reminds us of the people and events that helped us become the people we are today. And watching Conor embrace his talents, make friends, discover his worth, and fight for his dreams, inspires us all to drive it like we stole it. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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The Case of Betty White

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to the Black Case Diaries!

It’s 1939. Two high Beverly Hills high school seniors, a boy, and a girl, head down to channel 13, a local station in Los Angeles to participate in an experimental TV transmission. They step into the studio with tan make-up and dark brown lipstick so that their faces won’t be washed out under the intense lights from the studio. The young man was Harry Bennett, the senior class president. The young lady was Betty White, and unbeknownst to her, this transmission is the beginning of one of the longest careers in television history.

Every once in a while there’s a person in the film industry that blows everyone away. These are the kind of people that are universally beloved for their kindness, humor, creativity, and groundbreaking work. Up until December 31st, 2021, there was no living person in show business more beloved than Betty White. From her countless appearances in TV, film, radio, and commercials to her dedication to the well-being of animals, Betty White never really disappeared from our collective minds. As the global pandemic raged, the internet called out in unison: protect Betty White at all costs! She was America’s grandmother and by all accounts a friend to everyone who knew her. 

When Betty White passed away, she was so close to her hundredth birthday that People magazine already celebrated it on the cover. Her birthday celebration was slated to premiere in theaters. So, this month, we’re celebrating the 100th birthday of a comedy and TV legend by telling her story. 

FAMILY/ YOUNG LIFE

Betty and husband Alan Ludden
  • On January 17th, 1922 Betty Marion White was born in Oak Park Illinois. Shortly after, her parents Tess and Horace White moved with their young daughter to Los Angeles, California. Moving to California had a great effect on Betty, and placed her on course for a long and wonderful life. Many of her decisions would be based around her love of living in The Golden State.   
  • Tess and Horace White loved animals, and passed that passion on to their daughter. Every summer they would go backpacking in the High Sierras together for 3 weeks. It sparked Betty’s love of animals greatly. She joked that her parents would bring animals home and beg her to let them keep their new furry friends.
  • Betty White described her parents as completely supportive in everything she did, even when she decided not to go to college. 
  • As Betty was growing up in California in the 1920s, experiments in television (the medium that would one-day make her famous) began all over the world, as early as 1928. 
    • At the New York World’s Fair in 1939, NBC presented the first television demonstration to the American public. Just eight years later in 1947, programs were being televised regularly from Chicago and New York.
    • By 1948, this new form of entertainment was sweeping the nation and stars of the small screen were quickly becoming celebrities. Before television, audiences had to head to theaters and concert halls for entertainment. Television made entertainment so much more accessible, and it widened the scope of what kind of entertainment Hollywood could produce. 
  • But, Betty didn’t initially plan on being an actress. Her ambition was to be a writer. When it came time to graduate from Horace Mann Grammar School in Beverly Hills, she wrote herself as the lead of the graduation play. She would credit that experience as the moment when she “contracted showbiz fever for which there is no known cure.” 
  • Betty graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1939, one month after NBC’s television demonstration at the World’s Fair. Also an aspiring Opera singer, Betty was asked to sing at the graduation.
    • She looked up to Jeanette MacDonald as an idol as well as Nelson Eddy. She said they were almost as important as her mother and father.
  • Donning her graduation gown, Betty and the senior class president headed downtown to channel 13 to participate in the experimental broadcast that we mentioned at the beginning of the episode. 
  • But, Betty didn’t immediately begin her TV career out of high school. For 4 years she worked for the American Women’s Voluntary Services to help the war efforts. She met a lot of young men during this time, but her heart belonged to Paul, her sweetheart overseas. Paul had proposed before he shipped out, and every night they wrote each other letters. But, Betty wasn’t sure about the relationship, and eventually broke the engagement, returning the ring to his mother. She ended up marrying a P38 pilot but it sadly lasted only 6 months. Her second marriage would end as she gained a career instead of a part-time gig in television.
  • As Betty White paved her way towards television she spent time at the Bliss-Hayden school of acting. The school charged tuition from its students that allowed them to perform in productions. After her first performance, they asked her to be in the next play for free! From here she diligently went around to the various radio shows, landing radio gigs such as Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve, and This Is Your FBI
    • However, in order to be on the shows you had to be a part of the union, The American Federation of Radio Artists. In order to be a part of the union, you needed to have a specific job (a problem we still face today, amirite?) Producer Fran Van Hartesveldt helped her out by taking a chance and letting her say one word in a commercial for margarine. In order to get her union card she just had to say “Parkay” which was the brand of margarine. For saying it twice, she got enough money to pay for half the union dues and her father was excited and kind enough to pay the other half. She was official. Around 1950, the union expanded to include TV, changing its name to: The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. 
  • Television continued to rise in popularity, and radio stations were expanding into the TV format. Betty followed, landing a guest spot on “The Dick Hayne’s Show” and shortly after a role on a comedy show called “Tom, Dick, and Harry.” From here she got paid a whole $20 a week to be on “Grab Your Phone” in 1949. It was her first game show.
  • Game shows would become a large part of Betty’s career, especially because she loved games. 
    • For example, she loved the gameshow Password, and appeared on the program in 1961. This is where she met her future husband, the host Alan Ludden. 
    • Alan proposed to Betty, but she refused several times in fear that another marriage would not work out. Another reason was that Ludden lived and worked in New York, and Betty could never leave her beloved California. Patiently waiting for her to change her mind, Alan wore the ring around his neck until she said yes. He also sent her a stuffed bunny that simply said “Please say yes” and had earrings hanging from its ears. 
  • Eventually, Betty accepted and lived with him for 4 years in New York. Finally, Password’s taping moved to California and Betty was able to move back home. 

FIRST PROJECTS

We already mentioned the beginning of Betty’s career, but we’re going to take a deeper look at some of her first projects. 

  • GRAB YOUR PHONE (1949)
    • On this delightful little show on KLAC-tv, host Wes Battersea asked questions to the audience. The audience could then call in to consult a panel of four women with phones in front of them. Every correct answer earned that audience member a total of $5. 
    • During its run in 1949 Betty received a call from a well-known radio host named Al Jarvis. Jarvis had seen her on Grab Your Phone and wanted to make her his “Girl Friday.” This leads us to her next big project: Hollywood on Television. 
  • HOLLYWOOD ON TELEVISION (1949)
  • Al Jarvis was looking to move his radio show to TV. The plan was to play records on the air, but the audience was more interested in Betty and Al, and wanted to hear them talk! They nixed the records after the first week. 
  • Hollywood on Television had no script, and was on 6 days a week, 5.5 hours a day.
    • It was the first time Betty was paid to be on TV. She started out at $50 a week and when it became popular, she got $300 a week
  • Betty was not one to read off of note cards. She and her first costar, Al Jarvis, saw it as cheating. Even for in-show ad reads she would quickly read a description before the show and then impart what she could remember to the audience during the show. 
  • Betty and Al told little husband and wife anecdotes while hosting the show, and the producers wondered if they could make a new TV show based off of these kinds of stories. It became Life With Elizabeth starring Betty White and Del Moore.
  • LIFE WITH ELIZABETH
    • Betty White was the first female producer of a national television show! She produced and starred in Life with Elizabeth in the early 1950s. The show started in 1950 and aired live for two years. Taping of the episodes began in 1952. It ran during the same era as all-time classics like I love Lucy.
    • The show presented three sketches in each half hour episode, all about the trials and tribulations of a young married couple. 
  • The show didn’t have a big budget, and Betty often said they had about $1.95 for each episode. 
    • There was a flat backdrop with just a few pieces of furniture to work with.
  • The show ended in 1955, as Betty was already producing her next project.
  • The Betty White Show (1954) 
    • In the mid-1950s, Betty produced what would be the first of 4 different Betty White Shows over the years!
    • The show contained segments such as Bill Hamilton singing love duets with Betty, dance numbers, letters from viewers, advice from Betty, and interviews with guests. 
    • Her favorite thing to do was musical variety shows, especially The Carol Burnett Show!

MOST INFLUENTIAL SHOWS AND MOVIES

Betty preferred to do television over movies so there are very few movies that we will list here.

  • THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW
    • Mary Richards moves to Minneapolis after a breakup and finds a job as an associate producer for the news on WJM-TV. Her boss, though disliking her determination and energy, relies on her for solving several problems in and out of the station. 
    • The part of Sue Ann Nivens was written with an “icky, sweet Betty White type” in mind. The creators looked for a woman that could pull this off, but they could not find anyone that was perfect. Finally the casting director, Ethel Winant, went to the real deal for the part. Mary Tyler Moore and her husband were already great friends with Betty and her husband Allen. At the time Mary was a beloved actress and audiences already loved her character, Mary Richards. How Mary reacted on the show could make or break a new character. Luckily, since Mary found Sue Ann Nivens funny the audience gladly accepted the character and Betty was asked to come back several times on the show.
  • JACK PAAR TONIGHT
    • This was a late night talk show that brought on several stars to interview and show off their talents. 
    • She was an “irregular” on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show. Jack had extended an invitation to her for anytime she was in New York to come on. Since she was such a staple within Jack Paar’s Tonight Show it would be a while before she was asked to come on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. The time would allow Johnny to gain his footing and establish himself apart from his predecessor. 
  • THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (2006-2009)
    • Betty spent three years on The Bold and the Beautiful. She played a very prominent part as Ann Douglas.
    • When we think of Betty we do not often see her as a dramatic actor. In a Tulsa World interview, she said “It’s… such a great stretch because I don’t get the chance to do serious acting,” she enthused. “So, to get some serious things to do was kind of fun.”
    • The Bold and the Beautiful dedicated the Monday, January 17th 2022 episode to Betty.
  • THE GOLDEN GIRLS
    • Four women (Rose, Blanche, Dorothy, and her mother Sophia) live together in Miami sharing their eventful Golden Years after their husbands have passed away.
    • Betty almost was cast as the character Blanche in Golden Girls but Jay Sandrich, who shot the pilot, saw her as a Rose. One reason was that he saw Blanche as too similar to Sue Ann Nivens from Mary Tyler Moore. Golden Girls nudged The Cosby Show out of the number 1 slot the first week they were on the air.
    • They were also able to stay in the top ten of tv shows for the first 5 years of the show. Half their mail came from kids! It went across all the age groups, everyone loved it. 
    • After Golden Girls she was approached about doing a talk show but refused to put another talk show on the air for the American people.
  • The Proposal
    • Margaret Tate, in order to avoid deportation back to Canada lies and says that she is engaged to Andrew Paxton. Even though Andrew is a disgruntled employee of Margaret’s he decides to go along with the plan but insists that they must visit his family in Alaska. 
    • This movie brought more attention to her once again, possibly introducing her to even more audience members. In the role, she plays Ryan Reynolds’ outspoken Grandma Annie. For this part, she had to learn some Eskimo. In a New York Daily News article from 2009, she said “It was actually the Tlingit (Klinkit) language-it’s nothing that you can relate to. You have to memorize it syllable by syllable. I’ve been in this business for 61 years, and this may be the most fun I’ve had on one particular production.”
  • Hot in Cleveland
    • Three L.A. women are on their way to a vacation in Paris together when their plane must make an emergency landing in Cleveland, Ohio. When they discover how desirable they are in Cleveland versus L.A. they decide to stay. They find a lovely house to stay at that comes with one condition. That condition is a live-in caretaker named Elka Ostrosky (played by Betty White.)  
    • Originally Betty did not think she would have enough time for the show and had set to only appear in the first episode. After working on that first episode however, she could not turn it down and said she was in for the long haul. 
    • In her book, If You Ask Me Betty says “What absolutely boggles my mind is that I find myself in yet another hit series, having a ball with a wonderful cast and crew. One of those in a lifetime is a blessing, two of them is a privilege, but three out of three? I owe Someone big time.”
    • Many guest stars that appeared on the show were her old friends from past shows. She loved the blend of her past with her future. 

CONTRIBUTIONS TO AMERICAN CULTURE YOU MAY NOT KNOW

  • As we said before, Betty White was the first female Producer of a National Television Show. She was a trailblazer in many ways, as she’s also considered to be the first woman to star in a live sitcom.
  • Betty White famously refused to remove a dancer from her first variety show as some TV stations in the south complained that he was black. 
    • In the Betty White show she had a wonderful dancer and singer, Arthur Duncan. When it aired, audiences in the south demanded that he be removed. Betty refused, and Arthur would eventually go on to be a regular on The Lawrence Welk Show. Arthur said of the incident, “I was on the show, and they had some letters out of Mississippi and elsewhere that some of the stations would not carry the show if I was permitted to stay on there. Well Betty wrote back and said, ‘Needless to say, we used Arthur Duncan every opportunity we could.”
  • In 1983, Betty was the first woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Game or Audience Participation Show. It was for the game show “Just Men!”
    • Here is a link to the youtube episode, complete with 1980’s commercials!
  • Betty always said she had two passions: acting and animals. Her friend Dr. Rob Hilsenroth said on the Morris Animal Foundation Website, “In the 1990s, [Betty] suggested pain management should be an area of future research and funded the first few studies. Today, if a veterinarian performs an elective surgery, like a spay or neuter without using pain management, she/he could face a malpractice charge. You can thank Betty White for that revolutionary change in the way we practice all phases of veterinary medicine today.”

AWARDS

  • Betty White’s TV career lasted about 75 years. Over the course of this time, she racked up a lot (and we mean a lot) of awards. We’re going to list just a few. 
  • Overall, Betty White has 22 emmy nominations
    • 1952 Emmy for Most Outstanding Female Personality (Life with Elizabeth)
      • The awards were not very big then, with no red carpet or photographers in sight. She was surprised when she found out she won, especially because she thought Zsa Zsa Gabor was going to win for “Bachelor’s Haven.” She lovingly referred to this first award as her first “golden girl.”
    • 1975 Emmy Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Mary Tyler Moore Show)
    • 1976 Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Mary Tyler Moore Show)
    • 1986 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (The Golden Girls)
    • 1996 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (The John Larroquette Show)
    • In 2010 she won Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series when she hosted SNL. Her hosting was brought about by a Facebook campaign that garnered a lot of support. Lorne Michaels revealed he had asked her 3 times throughout the years but each time she said no. She said that she thought she would not fit on such a New-York oriented show. Luckily for us her agent, Witjas, would not take no for an answer. 
  • In 1988 she got her Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Many other awards as well, including the 1990 Winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy from the American Comedy Awards, the 2010 Winner of a Britannia award for Excellence in Comedy, in 1986 she shared a Golden Apple Award for female star of the year with the other Golden Girls, in 2015 she won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite TV Icon, and so many more. 
  • In January of 2010, Betty White won the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Recently a clip of her receiving it from actor Sandra Bullock went viral, as Betty White delivers a hilarious insult to Sandra. 
Betty with her beloved dog Bandit

ANIMAL ADVOCATE 

As a child, Betty grew to love all animals as did her parents. While she was growing up she had dreams of being a zookeeper or forest ranger, but at that time women were limited in what they were allowed to do.  

Betty loved pets so much that in 1971 she had a show called The Pet Set where celebrities would stop by to talk and bring their pets along with them! The show would also discuss important issues such as wildlife preservation, pet care, and more. 

Betty served as a trustee at the Morris Animal Foundation from 1971 to 2013. She was even convinced to be the Board President from 1982-85. Her final gift to the Foundation was The Betty White Wildlife Fund. In 2009, she won a lifetime achievement award from the Jane Goodal Institute. 

LEGACY AND DEATH

Betty’s career never ended as long as she was alive. Her last on-screen appearance was filmed 10 days before her death, and it was for her 100th celebration movie. The film came to theaters for a one-day-only event on Monday, January 17th. 

Six days before December 31st, 2021 Betty had a stroke at 99 years of age. She was just about 2 weeks away from her 100th birthday. She passed away in her Los Angeles home in the Golden State that she so loved. As the world learned of her passing, people everywhere expressed their grief and gratitude. Upon her death, her agent Jeff Witjas released this statement: “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever. I will miss her terribly and so will the animal world that she loved so much. I don’t think Betty ever feared passing because she always wanted to be with her most beloved husband Allen Ludden. She believed she would be with him again.”

Betty White lived almost 100 years, and never wasted a single second. She was truly remarkable, breaking through barriers and making it look easy. She discovered her passions and seized life. This was a woman that lived her life so well in the eyes of the people around her, that they felt she deserved to live forever. And in many ways, Betty will. Thank you for everything, Betty; for the laughs, the lessons, and of course, for being a friend. 

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