PITTSBURGH MADE: The Devil and Sam Silverstein (1976)

In The Jew In American Cinema, Patricia Erens calls out this made in Pittsburgh low budget film as one with “perhaps the oldest Jewish husband in crisis” and says, “Despite the amateur acting and a rather unsavory depiction of contemporary Jewish life, The Devil and Sam Silverstein delivers one overriding message. Unlike their Christian neighbors, the Jews are incorruptible and unconvertible. Thus, despite the temptation, the Jew manages to beat the devil — no easy task.”

It was directed and written — from a story by Sanford Robinson and Stan Cohen — by Russell Streiner, who most know best as Johnny in Night of the Living Dead. Maniacs like me also recognize him as the assistant director of the beer commercial in There’s Always Vanilla and the preacher in The Majorettes.

The Devil (Owen Hollander, who was in The Happy Hooker and Christmas Evil)  is upset that his son — Devil Jr. (Robert Trow, who was a DJ in town, as well as Ralph in There’s Always Vanilla, Detective Mills in Season of the Witch and was probably best known outside of Pittsburgh for playing Bob Dog on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) — might never be good enough to take over the family business. If the Devil Sr. sounds like Brando in The Godfather, well, at least you recognize the impression.

The Lord of Lies wants his boy to corrupt Sam Silverstein (Allan Pinsker, who like many a Yinzer actor is also in Sudden Death), a senior citizen Jewish husband who says — to quote this film’s other title — My Wife Cut Me Off Forty Years Ago. First, El Hijo del Diablo wants him to embrace Christianity, then sell his soul for some young lust. Every time he’s close, things blow up, even when he’s picked to be in an adult film or is stuck washing off blackface next to a gorgeous dancer, one assumes at the old Edison.

Other actors who show up before Sam goes back to his wife Bessie include prank artist Alan Abel (who once got Buck Henry on TV as the president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals and also the PR for this movie; he promoted the film by persuading Allan Pinsker to become a candidate for president under the name Sam Silverstein and getting him on the news with Walter Cronkite),David Emge (Stephen from Dawn of the Dead) and George Kosana (Sheriff McClelland from Night of the Living Dead and My Uncle John Is a Zombie, who famously says, “Yeah, they’re dead. They’re all messed up,” “Boy, somebody had a cookout here” and “Put that thing all the way on the fire.”).

I’m always interested in the non-zombie films of the Night of the Living Dead crew. This may be PG but feels a lot like the early 60s nudie cuties that were once so scandalous and now seem so chaste.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Bringing Down the House (2003)

Most of Bringing Down the House — directed by Adam Shankman and written by Jason Filardi — is shot in Los Angeles, but some of it was in Pittsburgh and I guess that’s good enough to be included in this week of Pittsburgh-shot movies. There’s also an appearance by the LA headquarters of Mellon Bank, so maybe that’s a little more yinzer in this.

Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is seperated from his wife Kate (Jean Smart) and ends up chatting with Charlene (Queen Latifah), a woman who he’s surprised to learn is an escaped convict. And oh yeah, black. If that upsets you, this movie has plenty more race related humor and gets some of its few funny moments from having Eugene Levy say black slang as he woos Latifah. Kimberly J. Brown from the Halloweentown movies and Angus T. Jones from Two and a Half Men play the kids, Betty White is the next door neighbor and Missi Pyle has a decent fight scene with Latifah.

If anyone knows where in Pittsburgh this was filmed, let me know.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Milk Money (1994)

Shot in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Lebanon, Ohio, Milk Money is set in the fake Pennsylvania suburb Middleton. There, three kids — Brad (Adam LaVorgna), Frank (Michael Patrick Carter) and Kevin (Brian Christopher) — pay V (Melanie Griffith) to see her nude in the hopes that it gives them an advantage when dealing with girls. She ends up driving them home and staying when her car breaks down, living in Frank’s treehouse and acting like his math tutor and romancing his father (Ed Harris).

While all this is going on, her pimp Cash (Casey Siemaszko) is caught stealing from his boss Waltzer (Malcolm McDowell) who is also stealing from his boss Jerry “The Pope” (Philip Bosco). Cash tells Waltzer that V stole the money before he’s shot, sending the bosses after her with only a warning from fellow sex worker. Betty (Anne Heche) to get out of town.

Directed by Richard Benjamin and written by John Mattson, this is a movie that my wife has liked since she was a kid. I asked her why and she said, “Ed Harris is a sexy beast.” Sometimes, it’s better not knowing.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: The Legend of the Christmas Witch (2018)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on December 23, 2019.

During the day Paola is an ordinary primary school teacher, but at night, she turns into…The Christmas Witch, a magical creature who brings gifts to the good kids.

That said, what is a Christmas Witch? Well, she doesn’t even come on Christmas! In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts throughout Italy on Little Christmas, which is called Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5), the night before the Catholic Church celebrates the manifestation of the divinity.

Some suggest that Befana is descended from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strenia. Regardless, each year, she visits all the children of Italy to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal,  dark candy or a stick (if they live in Sicily) if they are bad. She also will sweep the house, which is symbolic of sweeping away the problems of last year.

So wait…why are we covering this on our site? Stay tuned after the trailer.

So why did we watch it?

The director is Michele Soavi.

You read that right. The same man who made Cemetery ManStagefrightLa Secta and The Church.

This is his first theatrical film since 2008’s Blood of the Losers.

Yes, let that sink in. The dude in the metal mask from Demons made a Christmas movie for kids.

Don’t worry — it’s pretty crazy, even if his visual style is a bit muted here.

The plot concerns Paola being kidnapped by Mr. Johnny, a cruel toymaker who got his childhood ruined by the Witch and is now seeking revenge. Six brave kids all learn the teacher’s secret and work together to save Christmas from commercialism.

So yeah. Merry Christmas early, everyone. You may have wanted something filled with gore and all manner of insanity like a rabbit that learns how to use a TV remote, but hey, you can’t pick what’s under your tree. Just enjoy this one, which you can find for free on Tubi and Amazon Prime.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Screwed (2000)

After Norm McDonald died, Dave Chappelle revealed that he did everything he could to get out of this movie, as it followed the death of his father. Chappelle said that Macdonald was the only person who could make him laugh at the time, which makes him one of the most important people with whom he’s ever worked with.

But here’s the thing. The police shields — which made me nervous just seeing that old logo and uniforms — are real. WPGH is today’s Fox 53. That’s really the Post-Gazette. But this was filmed in Vancouver instead of Pittsburgh, other than probably a few pickups, right? No?

I guess at least it’s set here?

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewsk directed and wrote this and went on to much better things, including Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the MoonAuto Focus and Dolemite Is My Name.  But yeah, it’s silly and actually pretty dumb, but seeing Norm whip around Muffin the dog as it draws blood on his finger while Chapelle screams made me laugh. I’m pretty simple minded

It’s also got Sherman Hemsley, Danny DeVito (who said he did this for the money) and Sarah Silverman in it. But come on. Make Pittsburgh movies here. Come on.

PITTSBURGH MADE: The Dark Half (1993)

Shot at Washington & Jefferson College and in Edgewood, right across the bridge from Tateh Cuda’s garden, The Dark Half found George Romero again working with a big studio and adapting a Stephen King book.

It has Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) trying to escape the lowbrow horror books he writes under the name Goerge Stark for the highbrow world of literature, even burying Stark in a fake grave. The problem is, well, Stark is real, the soul left behind by a vestigal twin — the brain surgery scene in the beginning is astounding — making his way to Castle Rock to destroy all of the goodness in Thad’s life.

King knows all about this, as his Richard Bachman pen name came from writer Donald E. Westlake, who wrote his more violent fiction as Richard Stark.

Sherriff Alan Pangborn, played by Michael Rooker in this movie, is the same character Ed Harris played in Needful Things. As you can imagine, he has a hard time trying to understand the fact that Thad has a dark version of himself because he’s a man who believes in facts.

I wonder if the extended time Romero spent with Dario Argento led to him portraying Stark as a bandage covered, black hat and cloak wearing giallo killer, complete with a razor blade. He’s always surrounded by swams of loud birds, which is a great tension builder.

Beyond Hutton and Rooker, Romero has a great cast here, including Amy Madigan as Thad’s wife, Julie Harris as a friend who knows Thad’s secret, Chelsea Field as Alan’s wife, plus Royal Dano and Rutanya Alda.

While I like Romero’s smaller productions, I really ended up liking this way more than i thought I would and plan on going back in to watch it again.

PITTSBURGH MADE: My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)

Ah, Pennsylvania’s once amazing filming tax credits, which brought a remake of a Canadian slasher to the City of Bridges — well, Kittanning, Bethel, Tarentum, Oakmont, Oakdale and the North Hills — and was smart enough to hire two of our local favorites, stage actor Bingo O’Malley and Tom Atkins, who I don’t need to talk up but I will every chance I get.

Shot in 4K on digital cameras and made for 3D, this movie may have high tech origins but it has low tech old school slasher aims. Directed by Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry, Trick) and written by Todd Farmer (Jason X) and Zane Smith, it follows the original movie and begins on Valentine’s Day, a horrific day for the town of Harmony.

I just want to say — Farmer wrote the scene where the trucker has sex with Irene (Betsy Rue) and she runs through the parking lot naked. He also got himself cast in the part as that trucker. As a writer, I just want to tell you that there can be power in words.

An explosion at the mine leaves only Harry Warden still alive, but he had to murder the others to conserve oxygen. The son of the mine’s owner, Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles) forgot to vent the methane lines that caused the collapse and takes the blame. A year later, Warden awakes from a coma and starts killing all over again, starting with the patients and staff at the hospital, always leaving their hearts in boxes of chocolate.

While all this is happening, Tom, his girlfriend Sarah (Jaime King), Axel (Kerr Smith) and Irene are partying in the mine, which is a bad idea at any time and even worse when you think about all the people who died there and Warden being out and killing. He appears in miner gear and attacks them before Sheriff Burke (Atkins) shoots him. Warden goes deeper into the mind as Tom is shellshocked by what he’s gone through. He leaves town for a decade.

When he comes back to sell the mine, he finds that Axel is the sheriff and now married to Sarah. Things go bad as soon as Tom gets there, as the Miner appears — is it Warden? — and kills Irene and starts building its body count. Ben Foley (Kevin Tighe) and Burke know that it couldn’t be. After all, they killed and buried him, except that now the grave is empty.

Is the killer Axel? Or is it Tom, who has spent seven years in a psychiatric ward? Well, getting there means seeing body parts spray all over the screen in increasingly grisly kills. There’s even a tease of a sequel, which one imagines would have been made in Eastern Europe. Whatever — I ended up enjoying this way more than I thought I would. It probably helps that it was made here, right?

DISMEMBERCEMBER: Falling for Christmas (2022)

Lindsay Lohan was once on top of the world, but over the last few years, her career has struggled. From Georgia Rule all the way back in 2006 up until The CanyonsLiz & Dick and I Know Who Killed Me, she’s been more involved in the tabloids than starring in films. On the advice of Oprah, she got back to work and made the reality show Lindsay, did stage work in London, was a judge on the Australian Masked Singer and started opening beach clubs in Greece where she did another reality show, Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club. Now, Netflix has given her a multi-movie deal and it’s already paid off, as Falling for Christmas has had great ratings for the streaming platform and the next film she plans on doing is another romantic comedy, Irish Wish.

I may have said it before, but my dream for Lohan is to follow the career of Carroll Baker and head to Italy to make giallo movies with Umberto Lenzi, but sadly this is no longer an option. And if you read my review of I Know Who Killed Me, you already know that she’s done well in a psychosexual murder mystery.

That means that Falling for Christmas is a let-down for me, but I get it. It’s a more successful career path making tried and true romantic holiday movies than it is having a masked killer haunting you through Rome, catching light across your eyes with the glint of a razor blade.

But hey — Lohan does well as spoiled heiress Sierra Belmont — daughter of ski resort owner Beauregard (Jack Wagner from the soaps and the singer of “All I Need”) — and when she’s in a skiing accident and loses her memory, she goes Overboard on ice with nice guy Jake Russell (Chord Overstreet from Glee).

Speaking of singing soap opera stars, this was produced by Michael Damian.

The debut movie from director Janeen Damian, thsi was written by Jeff Bonnett and Ron Oliver, wjho wrote Prom Night II: Hello Mary Lou and wrote and directed Prom Night III: Last Kiss. That’s probably the one surprise of this movie which delivers exactly what you want it to, including Lohan recreating the time she sang “JIngle Bell Rock” in Mean Girls and, much like Just My Luck, overflowing a washing machine and falling in love with a guy named Jake.

I don’t begrudge Lohan getting to get a comeback. Here’s hoping that one of these Netflix movies is a remake of So Sweet, So Dead.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Silence of the Lambs is a movie that more intelligent writers than me have discussed, so let me speak on where it was made instead.

Yes, that really in Quantico, Virginia and Clay County, West Virginia, but a lot of this movie was made throughout Pittsburgh, including scenes at the Old Allegheny County Jail (our jail looks like a castle), Hannibal Lecter’s (Anthony Hopkins) impromptu cage being inside the Soldiers and Sailors Museum and Memorial (you can go there every year before Halloween and watch the movie) as well as locations in Canonsburg, the Bradford Court apartments in Crafton, the Grieg Funeral Home in Rural Valley, a house in Glenwillard, Moxley’s Drugs being located in Homestead and Buffalo Bill’s (Ted Levine) house in Perryopolis, which is now a bed and breakfast where you can stay in.

Here’s what’s wild. Levine is from Bellaire, Ohio and he was amazed to discover that the house being considered for his home in the movie was not only in the town where he grew up, but next door to the house of his high school girlfriend.

Based on the book by Thomas Harris and adapted for the screen by Ted Tally, this movie was such a big deal all over the place when it opened in 1991 but man, it has become even a bigger deal here. It even has a cameo for George Romero as a janitor, that’s how much it embraced being made in Pittsburgh.

If you ask me — and you just might — I love Manhunter more than this, but I can admit that everything about this movie is quite good, including the acting from Hopkins, Levine and Jodie Foster. You know who doesn’t agree with that? John Carpenter, who said that the movie focused too much on Clarice and that he could have made it “much more frightening and gripping.”

At first, this was going to be a direct-to-video release as studio executives felt that the film’s subject matter was too gross for a mass audience. Then there was the idea that it win some awards — more on that in a second — and Orion Pictures banned Fangoria from covering the making of the movie.

In closing, allow me to give you some trivia-contest winning info: Silence of the Lambs is one of three films to win all five major Academy Awards, which are Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. The other two are It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

PITTSBURGH MADE: Day of the Dead (1985)

This movie was part of a three-film deal with United Film Distribution Company along with Knightriders and Creepshow. Director and writer George Romero had final cut but the screenplay was rewritten several times as the idea of making the Gone With the Wind — I’ve also heard Raiders of the Lost Ark referenced — would never get an R rating and be commerical enough for the budget needed to make the movie. Instead, Romero made a smaller movie on his terms.

While some scenes were shot in Florida, the majority of the footage was shot deep below the normal world in Wampum, PA, just ten miles or less from my parent’s house. As a middle school student, I noticed a lot of seniors were skipping class. They were all going to the salt mines, where this was filming, and would come back with arms made up by Tom Savini. Seeing as how my entire family taught at school — my dad was an art teacher, mom English, uncle the librarian and my aunt was the guidance counselor — all I could do was dream of skipping out and getting to be in a George Romero movie.

If the world seemed like it was ending in Dawn of the DeadDay finds it definitely over. Few survivors exist — if you follow the math in the film, around six hundred humans are still alive — as Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille, daughter of Pittsburgh horror host “Chilly” Billy Cardille and an absolute force in this film), her rapidly growing suicical lover Private Miguel Salazar (Anthony Dileo Jr.), radio operator Bill McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) and helicopter pilot Flyboy (Terry Alexander) have just gone through another town where all they find are the living dead and crocodiles as newspapers blow past the camera proclaiming that the dead walk. It’s an amazing scene and sets you up for so much, but I’m going to have to come clean and lose a few of you here.

I’ve never liked this movie as much as I feel I should.

I don’t know if it’s the calustrophobic conditions, the fact that there’s no hope or that it could never live up to the pedestal I put Dawn of the Dead on, but I always wanted more.

That said — there is much that I do love.

Dr. Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan (Richard Liberty) and his relationship with the only zombie who can communicate, Bub (Sherman Howard) is the emotional heart of this film and the idea that the undead can be reasoned with is the lone hopeful moment. It’s also a major issue that Logan is using dead soldiers to experiment on, as the goal was to find a cure and there’s already a rough relationship between science and military after the death of commanding officer Major Cooper. Now, with Captain Henry Rhodes (Jospeh Pilato) in charge, if they find out that the beloved Cooper is one of the test subjects, the scientists, or lambs, will lose the protection of the soldiers, or the shepherds, from the zombies. You know, the wolves.

I guess I’m downplaying the hope, as there is a helicopter escape at the end, even if that feels cribbed from the last film. There’s also the amazing moment where Rhodes is literally torn apart by the zombies after Bub shoots him for killing his creator. For all the critical words tosses at Pilato for overacting, he’s great in this scene.

Actually, there’s one other moment of hope I never picked up on until now: when Dr. Logan and Fisher are shot, they don’t come back from the dead. Perhaps whatever caused the zombie outbreak has ended.

As for the song that plays over the credits, “The World Inside Your Eyes,” that’s John Harrison, Sputzy Sparacino and Delilah. Sputzy was also in the local Pittsburgh bands Modern Man and Sputzy and the Soul Providers.

Additionally, there are plenty of zombie cameos. Here are the ones that I know of:

Romero is a zombie pushing a cart wearing his trademark plaid scarf.

The former Dean of Fine Arts in Carnegie Mellon, Akram Midani, is a fisherman zombie.

The band NRBQ are zombies inside the mine.

Howard Berger from KNB is a zombie and Greg Nicotero is Johnson, one of the army troops.

The mines where this is filmed go miles below the ground and are where many archival prints of movies are stored, including the movie this was intended to be, Gone With the Wind.