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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: October 23, 2017

Amid his ‘Vacationland’ book tour, comedian John Hodgman lends a story and his voice to Damnationland

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Hodgman narrates the film, which is showing as part of Maine horror film showcase Damnationland. Photos courtesy of Alex Steed

Hodgman narrates the film, which is showing as part of Maine horror film showcase Damnationland.
Photos courtesy of Alex Steed

John Hodgman’s book tour stop in Portland Thursday isn’t the only local event this week involving the comedian’s new nonfiction title “Vacationland.”

One the stories from the book, “Graveyard Fun,” was turned into an animated movie – narrated by Hodgman – for the local horror film festival Damnationland, which continues its screenings this weekend in Brunswick and Bridgton.

Maine filmmaker Alex Steed adapted the ghoulishly funny autobiographical tale about a father and daughter who decide that their daily walks through the cemetery near their home are the perfect opportunity to indulge in some darkly comic fun. Also incorporating the skills of another famous comedian, actor and voice talent in the form of a performance from “Bob’s Burgers” star Eugene Mirman, “Graveyard Fun” promises to bring some more eyes “from away” to the yearly Maine filmmaker showcase, which it has proven it deserves in its eight-year history.

A screen shot from "Graveyard Fun," an animated film based on a story from John Hodgman's book "Vacationland."

A screen shot from “Graveyard Fun,” an animated film based on a story from John Hodgman’s book “Vacationland.”

Lending his inimitable vocal talents to Damnationland only strengthens Hodgman’s well-established ties to Maine, where he recently bought a home. The Massachusetts-born, Brooklyn-based actor, author, podcaster and all-around man of letters (who you’ve seen in shows like “Community,” “The Daily Show,” “Bored To Death,” “30 Rock,” “Married,” “The Knick” or his Netflix comedy special “Ragnarok”) has always incorporated Maine’s wide and varied charms in his work, and his life. His regular vacation sojourns here have seen Hodgman record his popular “Judge John Hodgman” podcast at Blue Hill’s WERU when visiting the state.

The six-minute animated film came about, according to the busy Hodgman (who interviewed for this column while driving — hands-free, he was quick to point out — on his way to another stop on his “Vacationland” book tour) thanks to social media. Connecting there with Maine writer and filmmaker Steed, Hodgman said, “He struck me as a really smart and interesting writer with a lot of interesting stuff to say about Maine.”

After Hodgman asked Steed and his colleagues at Portland multimedia production house Knack Factory to film something for the book tour, Hodgman said, Steed asked in turn if he’d written anything that might make for a good short film for this year’s Damnationland. “Graveyard Fun” was born — and turned out far better than Hodgman could have imagined.

“I thought (the recording) went fine,” Hodgman said, “but I didn’t anticipate the incredible animation and music Alex and his team would put to it. I basically just read the story — it’s actually about half of the story, a little précis — into a tin can, and what came out the other side is a beautiful work of creepy art.”

Hodgman’s not wrong, as the film, seemingly taking its cue from Hodgman’s narration describing the Brooklyn cemetery where he liked to tour with his young daughter as an “Edward Gorey-esque necropolis,” adopts a similarly line-driven, wittily ghoulish style as that of the legendary late artist. Introduced briefly by a live-action Hodgman, the film quickly shifts to the elegantly expressionistic art of animator Jason Welborn and illustrator Ryan LaMunyon as director Steed crafts Hodgman’s tale into an evocatively haunting, darkly comic story of mischievous father-daughter bonding. With music and sound design from Portland band Sea Level and Hodgman’s signature droll and impish delivery (ideal for narrating Roald Dahl-style dark children’s tales), “Graveyard Fun” is uniquely and simultaneously sweet, eerie and funny.

As Hodgman slyly said of his contribution to and participation in this latest slice of Maine-centric spookiness, “Maine is cold and dark and gothic. It reminds you that nature doesn’t care if you live or die. For people who have come to terms with both the punishment and rather sublime rewards, the beautiful light and surprising warmth make it all worthwhile. I don’t know — anybody who lives in Maine want to write any scary novels that take place here? It’s bound to happen.”

See “Graveyard Fun” at the next screenings of Damnationland Friday through Wednesday at Frontier Café Cinema & Gallery in Brunswick and Saturday at the Magic Lantern in Bridgton. For more information, go to damnationland.com.


COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

PMA FILMS
Friday-Sunday: “Night of the Living Dead.” Before horror legend George A. Romero died last summer, he approved this restored version of his 1968 zombie classic about a group of people (led by the great, also-late Duane Jones) trying to survive the world’s first zombie attack.

NICKELODEON CINEMA
Thursday and Tuesday, Oct. 31: “The Shining” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The Nick has your Halloween horror flick needs covered, as well, with screenings of these two classics. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s haunted hotel film shows on Thursday, while Wes Craven’s first Freddy Krueger foray is your Halloween night destination.

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