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'The Village of the Damned' and 'The Fog'
In 1980, horror flick maestro John Carpenter filmed the fishing-town-leper-zombie massacre flick 'The Fog' around Inverness and the Point Reyes Lighthouse. It's at the creepy, wind-swept lighthouse that '80s film star Adrienne Barbeau, as small-town radio DJ Stevie Wayne, first has to defend herself from the dooms-bearing killer fog. Carpenter liked West Marin so much that he ended up buying a house in Inverness, and 15 years later again chose the area as a film location for the 1995 remake of 'Village of the Damned.' (Later, a Point Reyes local told the San Francisco Chronicle that the filmmakers treatment of locals was "really, really rude and harsh.")
The film, like it's predecessor, features long, dramatic shots of waves crashing against the Point Reyes Seashore. Christopher Reeve, in his last role before being paralyzed in a horse-riding accident, tutors the evil, white-haired children in the red schoolhouse that's still home to Nicasio Elementary School located at 5555 Nicasio Valley Road. The white-and-green-shingled house where Reeve lives with his doomed-to-suicide wife is in Chimney Rock, just above Drake's Estuary. To get there, head west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, through Inverness, until you get to the Chimney Rock turn off; walk about a mile down the trail to see the house, now used as a residence for the park staff.
Other locations in Nicasio are prominently featured, including the town's main square, baseball field, and reservoir. The red barn where the children start their malevolent commune is actually owned by the federal park district and was used for storage at the time of filming. With all this in mind, West Marin might just be the perfect spot for a John Carpenter film tour, eh? —Leilani Clark
Filmed in the summer of 1972, George Lucas' coming-of-age classic 'American Graffiti' pays tribute to the groovin' tunes and stylin' rides that defined his adolescence while cruising the strip—then Highway 99—in Modesto, Calif., during 1962. To capture the true experience of "the strip" in its heyday, Lucas selected San Rafael as the film's central location for its then-authentic sixties-era look and feel. But after neighborhood residents barraged the set with noise complaints, the cast and crew hurriedly relocated to downtown Petaluma, known by the movie's fans today as "Graffiti Town."
Once every year in May, American Graffiti enthusiasts prowl the streets in their candy-colored classic cars, groove to live rock 'n' roll and revisit some of the film's moviemaking history. Among the neighborhood blocks and streets captured in the movie—Petaluma Boulevard, D Street and Washington Street (the main drag for cruisers)—film watchers can also catch some of Petaluma's architectural history.
In front of the old opera house (149 Kentucky St.) Curt Henderson, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is connived into joining the Pharaohs gang; today the opera house is occupied by law offices and an Irish pub, but on the outside, the building remains unchanged. Fans will also recognize the used car lot right next to the McNear Building (15–23 Petaluma Blvd. N.) where Henderson manacles the axle of a police car to a metal pole. Today, the lot remains as a small enclave for parking cars, but next door, then the State Movie Theater, is the Mystic Theatre.—Michael Shufro
On watching 'Gattaca' again for the first time since 1997, I am reminded of two things: first, how bad of an actor Ethan Hawke really is, and second, how cute Jude Law was when he still had all of his hair. For those who haven't seen it, the film tells the story of Vincent, who is born naturally to love-struck parents sometime in the "not too distant future," at a time when most babies are formulated for genetic perfection at birth. Naturally, Vincent is born with a heart condition, one that banishes him to a life of low-wage, manual labor, when all he wants to do is fly to the stars. He comes up with a plot that allows him access to the elite Gattaca Space Center, working his way up to a space trip as a "borrowed ladder."
The scenes at the neo-futuristic headquarters were actually filmed at the Marin Civic Center; it was used for both exterior and interior shots, including some really gorgeous images of the building from a distance at night. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957, the large, sand-colored architectural wonder can't be missed from its perch above Highway 101. It can't be missed in the movie either, appearing so much that it's practically another character. At one point, Vincent cleans the 80-foot central dome, which is home to the central branch of the Marin County Library. In another scene, rocket ships fly in the sky beyond the massive skylights that line the ceiling of the upper floor.
For those who want to recreate their favorite Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke scenes from the film, the Marin Civic Center is free to enter on most weekdays. One-hour long docent tours are offered on Wednesdays at 10:30am for $5, no reservations required. And since NASA recently declared Gattaca to be the most plausible science-fiction movie ever made, maybe someday soon genetically modified humans will be running the Marin Civic Center instead of regular, gene-flawed politicians.—Leilani Clark
Set in turn-of-the-century Smalltown, U.S.A., Disney's 'Pollyanna' prominently features Santa Rosa's famed McDonald Mansion at 1015 McDonald Ave. as the home of the main characters. There are plenty of great shots of the three-story home, but when you see it today—it's in the final stages of a complete restoration—keep in mind that a false facade was added by Disney to make it look more like New England.
The gated driveways on the gem of McDonald Avenue give view to a stellar garden and the half-faux Victorian architecture. And if you're looking for the tree that Pollyanna uses trying to sneak back inside after a late night out, you won't find it—that was a set, too. The film features scenery from other areas of Sonoma and Napa counties, and reportedly cast members stayed at the Flamingo Hotel during shooting in 1959. The movie didn't live up to box-office expectations, at the time earning only half of the projected $6 million.—Nicolas Grizzle
'This Earth Is Mine'
'This Earth Is Mine' opens with a close-up of grapes, a shot of Rock Hudson in a cowboy hat and a gorgeous, sweeping view of Inglenook Winery. And the film, dear reader, goes downhill from there. Shot on location in the Napa Valley, the film offers fine vineyard scenery and the inclusion of Claude Rains and Jean Simmons. But the movie drags, despite the best intentions of the screenwriters. The plot centers around two winemaking families struggling to get by during Prohibition. Bootleggers want to buy their wares, but only one, Hudson, is willing to sell. He also knocks up a vineyard worker—a "common, scheming trollop"—and courts Simmons, who is unimpressed with winery life. "Do you like our valley?" she's asked upon arrival. "It's very large," she sighs.
Shots of barrels containing 1927 Cabernet aren't the only fun props here. Period-era cars and dialogue featuring the real-life Stag's Leap pepper the film, and an old depot—Yountville? Rutherford?—figures into several scenes.
Fun trivia: In one scene, Rock Hudson needs to perform a chip bud graft, and local resident Jim Pavon not only taught Rock how to bud, but loaned his budding box and knife for shooting.—Gabe Meline