Monday, June 25, 2007

The Other Addams Family

It is said that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is preparing a number of their Hammer Film holdings for release on DVD later in the year. Though it is not one of the most beloved films in this batch, I'm hopeful that Sony will get around, sooner or later, to William Castle's one-shot collaboration with the illustrious horror studio, THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1963). I watched this film last night, courtesy of a year's old Encore Mystery broadcast, as part of my ongoing tape-to-DVD-R conversion procedure, and was surprised that this movie, about which I've always been lukewarm at best, suddenly kicked in as puckish entertainment.

Scripted by Robert Dillon -- whose other credits include Roger Corman's X THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES (1963), PRIME CUT (1972) and FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975)-- Castle's THE OLD DARK HOUSE is not really a remake of the 1932 Universal classic directed by James Whale, though it too claims basis in J. B. Priestley's 1928 novel BENIGHTED. I'm told that the Whale film is very faithful to the novel until just before the end, and the Castle film's storyline bears only very loose similarities to the earlier narrative. Castle's film was not accorded much respect upon its release; in the United Kingdom, it was issued in a cut 76m version, while, in America, it was issued at its full 86 minute length. However, US distributor Columbia refused the expense of color prints, releasing it only in decidedly unlustrous black-and-white. It was shown this way on American television until sometime in the late 1980s, when it began to appear on premium cable channels and local commercial stations in color. It looks startlingly good in color, and I was also pleased to discover how much precision and compositional quality Arthur Grant's photography gained when I zoomed the full-frame picture up on my widescreen set. This, too, is the way THE OLD DARK HOUSE was meant to be seen and too often hasn't.

My newfound appreciation of THE OLD DARK HOUSE certainly doesn't extend to comparing it to the 1932 version, which is truly incomparable, nor would I compare it favorably to some of Castle's own work. It's not a perfect-of-its-kind confection as were THE TINGLER and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. However, it's fairly assuredly the finest of Castle's many attempts to fuse humor and horror, and the opportunity to work with a thoroughly experienced British cast and Hammer's top-flight technical crew (including production designer Bernard Robinson and composer Benjamin Frankel) put Castle ahead of his usual game, which often made use of some less-than-impressive American supporting players. Top-billed American actor Tom Poston, returning to the Castle ranks from the previous year's ZOTZ!, carries the film confidently and amiably. In the earlier film, Poston played a variation on the absent-minded professor character played so successfully by Fred MacMurray in two then-recent Walt Disney productions, and came off as a likeable if diluted eccentric; here, he's playing a role better suited to his range and qualities and he manages to navigate a narrow and sometimes treacherous path between drama and physical comedy. Surrounding Poston are a motley crew of British players as the creepy Femm family: Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Joyce Grenfell (who fears that, if she stops knitting, the world will end -- as indeed it does), Mervyn Johns, Fenella Fielding, Danny Green, and the seemingly normal Janette Scott. Castle obtains a stronger body of performances than he got in any of the other films he directed in the 1960s, and if truth be told, the performances are uniformly stronger here than they were in the average Hammer film of this period.

So... the performances are delightful, the script's dark comedy plays well, the art direction is splendid, the music is appropriately baroque and doomy -- what is it about THE OLD DARK HOUSE that doesn't quite work? Somehow, whatever was necessary to bond these elements into a happy, organic package simply isn't in evidence. It isn't just that Danny Green makes a poor Morgan when compared to Boris Karloff -- indeed, when this film was first released, the James Whale version was considered all but lost, and few who went to see it knew much more about the earlier adaptation than the stills they had seen; the Morgan in this film isn't even the Femm's butler but rather a super-strong, strangulation-happy family member. Castle was able to cast his films, knew the atmosphere he was after, and had the right sense of humor, but he simply wasn't capable to make all these components move as one. In some ways, he didn't develop as a director beyond the abilities he'd acquired while making films for the Whistler and Crime Doctor series at Columbia in the 1940s: here as there, actors are trotted out in character when they are needed, and one almost feels them disappear as they move offscreen. The action is too stagey to convincingly blend with the mise-en-scène.

The film includes the credit "drawn by Charles Addams" (a monstrous hand actually paints the great man's signature onscreen in moon-pale ink), though the great NEW YORKER cartoonist drew neither the film poster nor designed the production. What he drew was the old dark house visible behind the main titles -- and drawn black on a deep purple background, his work isn't terribly visible, at least not in the print I viewed. Nevertheless, his presence acknowledges the debt that the Femms played in developing his own Addams Family -- indeed, he openly acknowledged that his butler Lurch had been inspired by Karloff's Morgan in the original film. It was clever of Castle to hire Addams, not only for the coup of adding his name to the credits and advertising, but for recognizing the relationship that existed between Addams drawings and the movie that he wanted to make. If you think about it, all of Castle's earlier horror films had been comedic though in a non-diegetic sense; they were genuinely horrific, but comedic in the way he sold them. After the rip-roaring success of HOMICIDAL, Castle's work in horror sought to balance horror and humor; it's there in 13 GHOSTS, in MR. SARDONICUS (if we see the version including Castle's "Punishment Poll" footage), and in I SAW WHAT YOU DID -- and it's in THE OLD DARK HOUSE that this uneasy fusion works best. It works well enough, in fact, to have inspired in other people the idea of developing Addams' cartoons as a television series.

William Castle (who died in 1977) is still about as popular among movie fans as he ever was when he was alive. Most of his best movies are available on DVD and he inspired the character played by John Goodman in Joe Dante's terrific 1993 movie MATINEE. Neither Castle's nor Hammer's most devoted admirers have had much good to say about THE OLD DARK HOUSE over the years, but it's doubtful that a cut or cropped or colorless version of the experience really passes for an intended viewing of THE OLD DARK HOUSE. My memory suitably refreshed and corrected, I think it harbors enough of the mysterious and spooky and altogether ooky to warrant a closer look, should a Sony DVD ever wend our way.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Get Twisted

It was more than a decade ago that Something Weird Video released the first volume in an ongoing series of trailers called TWISTED SEX. There are currently 22 different volumes, each running over 90m in length, but it doesn't appear that the series is destined for an official DVD release. Instead, SWV continues to offer the compilations for $10 each, on VHS and DVD-R. The full set, along with SWV's other fascinating trailer compilations, can be found here and I give them my strongest recommendation.

I recommend the TWISTED SEX compilations, and also another equally fascinating comp called THE LATE LATE SHOW, because -- at their best -- they are like archaeological digs into a buried world of lost, or nearly lost, cinema. No one who truly loves movies can fail to become absorbed in the revelations they have to show and tell us. The trailers used to fill out THE LATE LATE SHOW, for example, are from primarily European films so obscure to American sensibilities -- stuff like X-RAY OF A KILLER, HEADLINES OF DESTRUCTION and THE BLACK MONOCLE-- that it's like a window into an alternate universe.

A couple of nights ago, I decided to load up the first volume of TWISTED SEX for the first time in at least a decade, giving myself something to watch while I decided what I really wanted to watch. It only took a few trailers for me to realize that I had already made my choice, and I stayed with it for the whole 100 or so minutes. Leaving the program's erotic content out of it, which is considerable and sometimes extends to full frontal nudity for both sexes, I found myself primarily absorbed in what these trailers have to tell us about those sidestreets of cinema history that have never been thoroughly investigated and may never be. One such case is MADAME OLGA'S MASSAGE PARLOR (1965), the fourth and final entry in American Film Distributing Corporation's notorious "Olga" series, which now survives only in the form of the promotional trailer included here and other excerpts that were used to pad AFDC's compilation film MONDO OSCENITA. Also currently believed lost are two Barry Mahon titles promo'd here, FANNY HILL MEETS LADY CHATTERLY and FANNY HILL MEETS THE RED BARON. Though it's no longer lost (thanks to the efforts of Something Weird mogul Mike Vraney), the trailer for Andy Milligan's VAPORS -- a collection of high-contrast still images -- gives the film the aura of something lost, something eluding us even as it falls within our grasp.

As interesting and poignant as it can be to witness scenes from lost movies, I find it just as remarkable to encounter familiar voices and faces in the unlikely environs of sexploitation and its ballyhoo. For example, the trailer for STRANGE COMPULSION (a 1964 film evidently influenced by PEEPING TOM as well as Sacher-Masoch) is narrated by Les Tremayne, an experienced radio and voice actor (he narrated FORBIDDEN PLANET and dubbed RODAN) principally remembered by children of the Seventies as the avuncular co-star of SHAZAM. Then there are the sightings: someone who may be Robert Alda is glimpsed in the trailer for ALL WOMAN (1967); the famous NYC photographer Weegee shows up as the unlikely star of THE IMP-PROBABLE MR. WEEGEE (1967), seemingly set in Paris; John Beck, a member of the classic psych band The Seeds before becoming an actor, can be seen in a clip from Barry Mahon's GOOD TIME WITH A BAD GIRL (1967); Richard B. Schull drowns a woman in a toilet and gloats about it in the promo for WATCH THE BIRDIE (1965); and RE-ANIMATOR's David Gale can be seen with Jennifer Welles in the trailer for A WEEKEND WITH STRANGERS (1971). I have to wonder if Farley Granger himself ever knew that he was the star of something called BAD GIRLS, apparently a reissue retitling of an Italian giallo picture alternately known as THE SLASHER IS THE SEX MANIAC and PENETRATION.

A trailer for something called THE BRUTES (1970) not only features German actor Klaus Löwitsch (DESPAIR) but turns out to be an exploitative US retitling of Roger Fritz's Mädchen... nur mit Gewalt, not a film I realized had achieved an American release. This movie is legendary among fans of progressive rock as one of the few films to be scored by the pioneering Krautrock group Can. It introduced the song "Soul Desert" from their album SOUNDTRACKS -- which can also be heard in the trailer, though not the same performance included on the album. Similarly, I noticed that the trailer for THE RAPE KILLER makes use of library music whose descending electric bass pattern I recognized from my past viewings of TWILIGHT PEOPLE and MY PLEASURE IS MY BUSINESS (with Xaviera "The Happy Hooker" Hollander). Also mixed into this highly-charged intoxicant are trailers for movies with titles like THE IMMORAL, STEFANIA, and THE WEIRD LOVEMAKERS -- which hail from the last countries you'd expect: Sweden, Greece, and Japan, respectively. (Okay, that THE WEIRD LOVEMAKERS comes from Japan is not so unexpected.)

It's an old defense that the kid caught with an issue of PLAYBOY insists that he's only perusing it for the articles, and a not-always-supportable argument among devotées of sexploitation cinema that such films often have more than eroticism to commend them. But watching TWISTED SEX VOLUME 1, I must admit that I spent almost as much time scribbling down notes as I did looking at the screen. So, apparently, did Robert Plante, whose nostalgic blog Chateau Vulgaria has been running intermittent write-ups about the TWISTED SEX series since last September. He's currently up to Volume 6, and his notes include valuable additional information about release dates and distributors. You can find them here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Am I Still a Novelist?

In case any of you are wondering if I'm still a novelist, I sometimes wonder this as well. I'd certainly like to be, and I hope another eleven years won't have have to pass between my previous novel and the next. THROAT SPROCKETS was published in 1994, and THE BOOK OF RENFIELD is now two years old and counting. (Incidentally, Ryan Murphy's option on the Renfield book has expired, and we are now entertaining new offers for the screen rights.) I've begun work on a new screenplay, based on a book I'm adapting, but something deep inside me isn't feeling the profound satisfaction that I get from writing fiction, and I miss it. Now that I've finished editing my second monthly issue of VW in a row, the old fictive itch is asserting itself once again, beckoning me to complicate my life and deadlines once again.

You may remember that I've mentioned here in the past a novel-in-progress, one which I've actually finished several times but never fully to my liking, called THE ONLY CRIMINAL. I first got the idea for this book almost as long ago as I began researching the Bava book; it's the best idea I've ever had for a novel, but for some reason, I could never quite find my way out the other end of its maze. Some months ago, at the request of my agent, I sent her a nearly-but-not-quite-finished draft of the novel because she had found an editor who expressed interest. Last night before going to bed, I sent her an e-mail asking if there was an update. This morning, she copied me on the editor's response, which I reproduce here in full, minus his signature:

"Thank you for sending over THE ONLY CRIMINAL. I thought this was a fun, well-written book supported by a great, fantastical idea. However, I would have liked if the author focused more on one or two main characters, instead of jumping around so much, and began digging deeper into what the Only Criminal really is earlier in the book. I hope you find a good home for this project."

I must be getting old, because I can remember 1) when "fun", "well-written" books with a "great idea" were in demand by publishers, and 2) when editors still worked with writers on promising manuscripts to make the most of them. Those days, it would seem, are somewhere over our shoulder in the next county.

This editor didn't know my work, evidently, or understand the book, even if he derived pleasure from it. Like my other novels, THE ONLY CRIMINAL is about a central character and others in his immediate orbit, but it's more importantly about a global phenomenon tied to found artifacts of, shall we say, infernal provenance. That's my thing -- I've worked hard to make it my own, and according to the reviews I've received over the years, it's well-liked. You wouldn't ask J. G. Ballard to please resubmit his latest after beefing up the characterizations and leaving out the clinical lingo and psychosexual sociology, would you? And dig deeper into "what the Only Criminal really is earlier in the book"? Never mind that I begin asking that question as early as the first chapter!

This careless little paragraph got me angry enough to spend the day doing something I haven't been able to do in longer than I would care to admit: I finally finished THE ONLY CRIMINAL to my own liking. It was much closer to being finished than I suspected, and perhaps part of me hadn't been willing the cut the cord until now, until the Bava book was behind me. I sensed what still needed to be done the other day when it occurred to me that I might conclude the climactic chapter with a passage I had used to finish a novel I wrote back in the 1970s and never tried to publish, a segue from my own words into words and images imported from the Bible. I did this, and voila, it fit like a missing jigsaw piece. THE missing jigsaw piece. I excitedly spent the rest of the afternoon polishing some other areas, changing some street names and such, and now I feel the book is as good as I can make it -- at least as good as I can make it until it finds its way beneath the wing of strong editorial guidance. If such a thing still exists. I believe it does.

I've printed off a copy of the manuscript and I intend to ship it out tomorrow to another agent who has agreed to consider me as a client. It's time for a change. I'm hopeful; it's a special book. In the meantime, please be so kind as to light a candle for me and THE ONLY CRIMINAL... or I may just give T.O.C. your address.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

VIDEO WATCHDOG #132 at the Printer

Here's your first look at the cover of the next issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG, which we finished in the early hours of the morning and delivered to the printer later today!

I think the cover of this issue, with its Charlie Largent-created centerpiece, gives a very good indication of what fun it is. (Click it to see it giant-sized.) We're not calling it one as such, but this is very much one of our "All Review Issues." David J. Schow (who hearby joins the elite group of writers who have had their names on the cover of our magazine) contributed a wonderful piece on the delicious Season Two of THE WILD WILD WEST; Bill Cooke delivers his long-awaited coverage of THE TARZAN COLLECTION 2, with its half-dozen RKO productions starring Johnny Weissmuller; Shane Dallmann roars back with reviews of Classic Media's GOJIRA, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN and MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA discs; and, by popular demand, "Things From the Attic" returns with my vintage tape reviews of some Paul Naschy rarities, the crazy Ed Wood-scripted THE REVENGE OF DR. X, and TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS (one of the first letterboxed tapes ever to hit the market). And that's still just the beginning!

You can read all about it on the "Coming Soon" page of the VIDEO WATCHDOG website, and sample the opening pages of our WILD WILD WEST and TARZAN coverage, as well!

Incidentally, if you're keeping track, this is the first time we've featured Boris Karloff on the cover of VIDEO WATCHDOG since our fifth issue, back in 1990. That issue included the first published excerpt of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, and we enjoy the symmetry that this will be the issue on newsstands as that book finally becomes a reality.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Into the WTF Zone with Larry Blamire

If writers blog when they aren't writing, what do filmmakers do?
Well, if you're Larry Blamire -- the actor-writer-director responsible for the cult favorite THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (which netted him the coveted Rondo Award as "Monster Kid of the Year"), JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS, and the recently completed TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD -- you recognize the absolute freedom, ease of access, and final cut made available to you by YouTube.
And you go for it.
Blamire (pictured above, reportedly at the precise moment he conceived his next project) is currently having "way too much fun" writing, directing, and occasionally acting in his latest creation, TALES FROM THE PUB, six episodes of which are presently available for free viewing on YouTube.
What exactly is TALES FROM THE PUB? Allow me to answer that question by posing a few others... Have you ever had a blackout that snipped five unaccountable minutes out of your life? Have you ever suddenly noticed that your beer is gone? Have you ever been aware that you are being stalked by invisible stalkers? Have you ever noticed how such things are even more likely to occur if you happen to be in the local pub? Weird, huh?
Glomming onto that weirdness as if it was the very pulse of our lives and times, Blamire manages to tackle these questions and many others in these episodes, which run under three minutes and are hosted by Truphen Newben, our creepily debonair guide into WTF Zone.
Six episodes are currently available. In the order of their release, they are "The Other Glass", "The Premonition" (featuring Jennifer "Animala" Blaire), "The Invisible Unseen", "Past Life", "Puppet for Your Thoughts" (starring TWILIGHT ZONE alumnus H.M. Wynant), and "Message from Beyond." Other LOST SKELETON alumni Brian Howe and Andrew Parks also frequently appear.
According to Blamire, there are currently another 10 episodes of TALES FROM THE PUB already in the can, and scripts for another 20 awaiting production. I, for one, can't wait to see them and hope there are plans afoot to collect them all on DVD someday. Each episode is a tiny gem of absurdist filmmaking that entertains while tweaking our tendency to leap to fantastic explanations for the most commonplace occurrences and brain farts, while also making textural nods to the show's real point of reference: the John Newland-hosted ALCOA PRESENTS, better known by its syndication title, ONE STEP BEYOND.
When I first saw THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, I was immediately charmed beyond all expectation but, because it was a spoof of '50s sci-fi/horror cheapies, it was hard to tell anything from it about Blamire's real abilities as an actor, writer, or director. Even so, I could recognize that his brand of satire was genuinely witty as well as unabashedly silly, and that, as an actor and writer, he was remarkably well in touch with his inner child. These characteristics also run riot through TALES FROM THE PUB. It's not just Ed Wood; there's some Buñuel and Dalí in there, too. (And Larry is a gifted artist, aside from his other accomplishments. Check out his production art for his dream project STEAM WARS if you doubt me.)
Because it's a straightforward comedy rather than a spoof, Blamire's second theatrical feature, JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS, gives a somewhat clearer view of his abilities and potential. It's not necessarily better than LOST SKELETON, but it is more polished, and you can see Blamire capably meeting the challenge of working with more experienced screen actors in a more professional setting. This mob comedy, which features numerous actors from THE SOPRANOS, has won all kinds of awards at independent film festivals, but, for some reason, hasn't had any luck finding proper theatrical distribution. Never mind those pesky details: the film is available from as a letterboxed DVD-R and also as an authorized download. And it's well worth seeing.
John Fiore (the guy who died on the toilet in THE SOPRANOS) produced the film and stars as Johnny Slade, a faded middle-of-the-road singer who finds his career unexpectedly jump-started when he accepts an unrefusable offer from a club owner (Vincent Curatola, THE SOPRANOS' Johnny Sack) to headline. The catch: he has to perform a new song each night, and only once -- the lyrics handed to him by the Boss. These absurd songs (lyrics by Blamire, natch) are actually coded instructions to hitmen posted in the audience, embroiling Slade in mafia crossfire while also garnering him unlikely celebrity among wacko music fans who can't wait to hear what unique thing he might sing next.
JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS was a work-for-hire; Blamire didn't generate the idea, he didn't write it solo, nor did he have final cut on the project. Consequently, the film has some weaknesses it might not have had otherwise, but it's nevertheless funny, entertaining, and, like Blamire's other work, it has a lot of heart as well as a surrealistic streak. Vincent Curatola is hilarious -- a terrific deadpan comic -- and so are the songs and a montage of Johnny's past triumphs on vinyl (including "The White Album"). I can't imagine any SOPRANOS fan not wanting to see it; now that the show is history, I recommend it as a one-stop shopping solution for that craving that kicks in on Sunday night.
In future years, I think it's likely that people will look back on the films and shorts Larry Blamire is making now with an affection similar to that which we feel for Roger Corman's early work, which was similarly silly but with undercurrents of sophistication. I already feel it, and can't wait to see TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD, a furrowed forage into the worry lines of paranoid '50s sci-fi which has been described to me as "Douglas Sirk meets Jack Arnold" -- which they probably did, as they were both under contract to Universal-International at the same time. Perhaps they even hoisted a few together once or twice... in a pub.
Hmmm... Now what would Truphen Newben make of that?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Corman's Poe: Are You Experienced?

"Here I am -- young and handsome!"

Our visiting friends from out-of-town have departed, so today we're buckling back down to work today -- albeit slowly and not altogether willingly. Sitting in the sunlight for a few days engenders its own form of drunkenness and it's a pleasant way to wile away the waning days of spring. Maybe I'll do my proofreading outdoors on the patio swing, as the sun totters below the horizon.

I mentioned showing Roger Corman's PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) to my teenage animator friend and Poe devotée. When he and his parents returned yesterday, I surprised him with a spontaneous showing of Corman's TALES OF TERROR (1962), a copy of which happened to be handy. When it ended, I asked him for his thoughts. He felt it had its moments, but that, on the whole, it wasn't quite the equal of PIT -- which prompted from me a sidebar on the subject of how, sometimes, the whole of a movie experience can sometimes feel inequal to the sum of its parts.
Actually, I believe he was quite correct in his assessment -- as horror anthologies go, TALES OF TERROR isn't even in the same neighborhood with Bava's BLACK SABBATH or Kobayashi's KWAIDAN, and I suppose there are other horror anthologies of frankly lesser parts that somehow feel stronger as a whole. Though it feels like the stronger picture, PIT suffers (in my opinion) from some miscasting that results in some subpar performances. John Kerr's one-note, sullen performance makes for an unappealing hero, and though Luana Anders is good, as she always is, she looks uncomfortable in the movie; she's too modern an actress to be saddled with that 16th century wardrobe and dialogue. And Antony Carbone, as the doctor who likes to advertise his chest hairs, loses me from the second he mispronounces the word "forté." It's also a very talky film, but somehow the coups de theatre of Elizabeth's return from the grave, Nicolas' mental breakdown, and the climactic pit sequence redeems it almost entirely in its last couple of reels.
TALES OF TERROR, on the other hand, is extremely well-acted throughout but, because it's an anthology of stories, it cannot build to a superb last couple of reels, even though it reserves the strongest story for last. The anthology format itself gives the whole an erratic, inconsistent pace. It's difficult to consider the film as a whole, only in terms of the part that constitute its uneven sum.

The opening story, "Morella," is almost universally disliked -- those of us who can remember the scary promotional images of the undead Leona Gage and her wicked fingernails can't help but wonder why she was replaced in the final cut with the subtler image of a spectral silhouette. Yet, each time I see "Morella," I gain more appreciation for Vincent Price's performance as the haunted, alcoholic Locke, which strikes me as possibly the most sincere and best modulated of all his dramatic performances in the Poe series. There's not a whiff of humor or self-consciousness about it, one of his most undeservedly overlooked characterizations. Maggie Pierce gives a sincere-enough supporting performance, but her wholesome, blonde looks seem out of register with the story's atmosphere and she pales and merges with the predominantly colorless scenery (one of the episode's more intriguing aspects).
"The Black Cat" is rightfully honored for the superlative comic performances of Price, Peter Lorre and Joyce Jameson, Richard Matheson's script neatly dovetails the title story and "The Cask of Amontillado," and nearly every line of dialogue (including the one I used to open this blog entry) is a delight. "The Case of M. Valdemar" is the most potent of the three stories, thanks to a wickedly authoritative performance by Basil Rathbone and a story that ventures beyond mere morbidity and taps into the genuinely metaphysical. It's an uneven film, I agree, but each of the three stories has great (not just good) things to offer.
So why doesn't TALES OF TERROR hang together better? I suspect it's because the first story isn't quite assertive enough, either in its impact or familiarity, and the film also has a very odd, even tacky manner of transition -- freezing images and zooming in and out of their details. (Upon seeing these, my teenage friend's father, a documentary filmmaker, asked if the film had been originally made for television, and it was a reasonable enough question.) The final shots of two episodes are so lacking in revelatory detail that they require the "fade-to-etching" end cards to point out the crying cat atop Annabelle's head or the skeleton within the putrescent muck that descends on the mesmerist. By casting Vincent Price in each story, the film also seems to emphasize itself as a portfolio of Price's range as an actor, rather than as an advertisement for Roger Corman's range as a director -- but he presides over some very fine performances here, as well as some classic horror sequences of the mid-to-late 20th century.
I know from researching my book on Mario Bava that American International Pictures was going through a censorious phase at this time, bowing to pressure from parents groups to soften the impact of the horror films they were selling primarily to kiddie matinee audiences. They tampered quite a bit with the US version of BLACK SABBATH, so might it also be possible that TALES OF TERROR was similarly toned-down in anticipation of its release?
One thing I do know about TALES OF TERROR and PIT AND THE PENDULUM: Neither of these pictures was available for viewing in their correct Panavision screen ratios for more than thirty years. Tragic as it is to consider, it is possible that some short-lived fans never had a chance to see these films any other way but in an unsatisfying pan&scan presentation on television, or on VHS. Even though both films are more easily appreciated now that they are available on DVD in widescreen transfers, even a 57" screen like mine can't hope to deliver the theatrical experience of these films. TALES OF TERROR was one of my earliest scope memories, and I can still vividly remember having to turn my head throughout the film, like a tennis viewer, to see what was happening on different sides of the screen. And there is little in my childhood memories to rival the experience of sitting in a darkened theater full of screaming kids as PIT's pendulum began its swinging descent.
DVD is able to deliver Roger Corman's Poe films on some levels, but almost exclusively, those levels feel more cerebral to me than visceral, which is the level where they most seriously counted when I was first exposed to them. I suspect that not even HD will be likely to fully render the full experience of the Poe films, at least as I have the good fortune to remember them. But it was a real pleasure for me to introduce these movies to a young person and to see, from his response, that they are capable of thrilling newcomers even in that reduced arena, at least to the extent of exciting their imaginations and giving them a sleepless night or two.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Out of the Loop

Sorry to have been unavailable for much of this week, but in an unusual circumstance, out-of-town friends have descended on us for a few days -- so we've interrupted production on the next issue of VW to spend some time in the pleasure of their rare company, sitting outdoors, conversing on the patio over mild frosty intoxicants, grilling delicious meals under the sun, laughing and sharing entertainment.

So I haven't had time to blog, nor even time to watch much of anything since Sunday night's SOPRANOS finale. However, last night, I had the treat of introducing Roger Corman's Poe films to my friends' teenage son who has already made his own computer-animated Poe short without ever having seen Corman's trail-blazing work in the field. I chose PIT AND THE PENDULUM as his introduction, and he enjoyed it... almost as much as his mother did, who was shuddering anew while enjoying having her memory refreshed of a film that she saw back in the 1960s in her native Belgrade. We all loved the zinger ending, though Donna had to compromise it by asking how Barbara Steele's character got gagged after she had been tossed into the Iron Maiden.

To report some recent work I've done: my next SIGHT & SOUND columns will be devoted to DA Pennebaker's DONT LOOK BACK and Bret Wood's PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS, respectively. Also, SIGHT & SOUND requested my participation in an upcoming forum in which various critics are asked to write about their choices for "Forgotten and Overlooked Films" -- I submitted a couple hundred words on LE ROMAN DE RENARD ("The Tale of the Fox"), the 1930-37 animated feature by Ladislas Starewitch (the family's preferred spelling -- he's Wladislaw Starewicz on the IMDb).

Also my VIDEODROME book for Millipede Press is currently in the layout stage and I am supposed to see some sample layout pages tomorrow. I'll report more fully once I've seen the pages.

Monday, June 11, 2007


My first reaction was to say aloud, "You son of a bitch."
But after a second viewing, I am aglow with admiration for the way David Chase handled it. It's not what I expected, or what I might have wanted, but it has the ring of truth -- Meadow's parking difficulty sold it, brilliantly -- and also the brassier ring of audacity. If the scene had run longer and shown us everything, it could have played out in one of two ways: anticlimatic, or so traumatic it would have been an even greater outrage to discontinue. On reflection, I think it was actually a very loving exit, for both the characters and the viewing audience that has followed their family saga for the past nine years.
I must say, I'm tickled by the riotous Le Sacre du Printemps-like controversy the finale has provoked. I visited the HBO discussion boards and they're hilarious -- it's like Chase and company have left half or more of their viewership angrily spanking the butt end of their catsup bottles. I loved one person's funny speculation that Tony actually wasn't hit, but suddenly succumbed to the cholesterol depth charge of the best onion rings in North Jersey. That's not just a joke, but a perfectly plausible interpretation of what we were shown -- one of many, his survival being among them.
My own interpretation? I've been in life and death situations and remember how they feel. THE SOPRANOS' final scene captures perfectly the atmospheric charge of convergence that I remember from those moments.
RIP Tony Soprano: he didn't see it coming.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Remembering the "If...." Girl

"I was secretly in love with Christine Noonan," Malcolm McDowell admits during his wonderful, open-hearted audio commentary for Criterion's eagerly-awaited issue of Lindsay Anderson's IF.... (1968), "but she was married, so there was no question of any hanky-panky."

McDowell certainly wasn't alone in his affections for IF....'s enigmatic, coffee dispensing heroine; in fact, I must admit that the possibility of learning more about Christine Noonan was one of the major reasons I was so keen to get to the audio commentary and extras for this superb set. On the one hand, I was disappointed in this regard because McDowell's commentary was recorded in 2002, a year before Noonan's premature death from cancer, so her passing goes unreported by the disc, even in the 2007 comments by film historian David Robinson, a visitor to the filming who augments the commentary track. But on the other hand, McDowell tells us just enough about this robust yet alluring Eastender to appease our curiosity and keep it vibrant at the same time.

The film, which Criterion will release on June 19, is a scathing criticism of Britain's public school system with surrealist passages, and was filmed by cameraman Miroslav Ondricek in both color and black-and-white. Noonan appears in only a few scenes of the film, and all but one of her scenes is in black-and-white, the palate that brings her particular qualities most to the fore. She first appears as the waitress in an off-the-A3 greasy spoon, who serves coffee to a pair of hooky-playing collegiates played by McDowell (in his first screen role) and David Hood. McDowell, sizing up the Girl (as she's called) like a predator, steals a kiss, for which she slaps him good and hard. He demands sugar for his coffee, takes two heaping helpings, then drops the polluted spoon back in the sugar bowl before walking sullenly away to a jukebox. Moments later, her hand appears on his shoulder.

He turns to face her.

Her eyes fix on him, tease him, tempt him.

They communicate through their senses of sight and smell, venting their sublimated passions through their teeth like a pair of tigers on heat. McDowell lunges at her, and she lunges back. Before you know it -- with David Hood looking on, touchingly covering his friend's forgotten coffee cup with a saucer -- the two of them are rolling violently on the floor, all teeth and claws and flailing limbs.
Then, in a sudden change of tense that cements the sequence as one of the most memorable in the postwar British cinema, the two wrestlers are suddenly stark naked in their tussle, the Girl baring her teeth and sinking them into McDowell's arm.

He grimaces in satisfaction, and then -- suddenly -- everything is back to normal, the scene utterly discharged of its sexual tension. The Girl joins the two young men at their table and says, enigmatically, "I like Johnny" -- Johnny being the David Hood character, who smirks contentedly as though he's been married to the Girl for years.
Cut to the three of them riding a stolen BMA motorcycle, the Girl standing between McDowell and Hood on the seat, extending her arms in the air -- a JULES & JIM image for a new age. On the Criterion disc, as they ride past the camera, you can barely discern a look on Noonan's face that suggests sheer, undisguised terror. McDowell admits that he had never driven a motorcycle before that day, giving her trepidations good reason.
The Girl shows up thrice more in the film. Offered a view of the heavens by his classmate Peanuts, McDowell looks through his telescope and points it down from the stars to a house, where the Girl makes a charmingly unlikely appearance combing her hair in her bedroom window, then looks back at him and waves fondly in his direction. When the protagonists are later punished for an indiscretion (nothing too serious -- shooting a faculty member) by being made to clean out a storage room, they find a cabinet of jarred fetuses, and the Girl steps out of nowhere to embrace one of these "mysteries of life" with warm, maternal hands. (McDowell recalls that Noonan actually fainted upon seeing the preserved human fetus and completed the scene only with difficulty. She's perfect in it.) The last time we the Girl, she's with the others atop the roof at College House, firing pistols and machine guns at the faculty and guests of the university.
Without the Girl beside McDowell and the others, the film's climactic act of revolution and anarchy would not only appear more random, it would root the scene in realism. However, with her there and actually taking part in their vicious assault on tired tradition, the climax becomes at once more fanciful -- she's there as an inspirational image, like the magazine clippings adorning McDowell's dormitory wall -- and more rooted in serious concerns. The presence of the Girl helps to coalesce the rebels into a family -- an alternative family, fighting for an alternative society (alternative to the school' s tiered and systemized cruelty), one more sensibly based in righteousness and brotherhood.

It's such an odd role and Christine Noonan -- short, thick-haired, and solidly built -- seems an odd, decidedly non-ethereal actress to have been cast in it, but she lays absolute claim to it, her appeal still direct and enticingly musky after all these years. "She was really like that," marvels McDowell as he watches the moment where she turns to meet his covetous gaze through a curtain of heavy black hair.
McDowell credits his reaction to Noonan's unexpected slapping of his face with his landing a screen career. The two of them auditioned together and he, knowing only his lines and not the scripted action, genuinely responded to her slap ("she didn't hold anything back") by stalking her like a tiger around the stage and tackling her. This, of course, was exactly the action that was scripted. "You've got your Mick and your Girl," screenwriter David Sherwin, all of 24 years old, told Lindsay Anderson -- referring to McDowell's character, Mick Travis -- and the rest is history. Anderson recreated McDowell's "Zen moment" at the end of O LUCKY MAN! (1973), the second film in his and Sherwin's "Mick Travis trilogy," himself slapping McDowell with a film script and thus launching Travis' own screen career. Christine Noonan also appears briefly in O LUCKY MAN! as a worker in a coffee factory, one of many, many correlations to the earlier film. (Unfortunately, this masterpiece still awaits its debut on DVD.) She was curiously absent from the final film of the trilogy, BRITANNIA HOSPITAL (1982).

Knowing that hanky-panky was out of the question with his wedded co-star, McDowell cheekily proposed to Anderson that he and Noonan perform some of their wrestling in the nude. ("It's up there with the one from WOMEN IN LOVE," he says of the sequence, "it was quite risqué for its time.") Anderson demurred from suggesting it to Noonan himself, but was agreeable if she had no problem with the idea. McDowell promptly approached his co-star and opened, "Lindsay has asked me to ask you..." to which she replied in her broad Eastern accent, "Oy don't moynd." Within minutes, they were both starkers and making cinema history. For his part, McDowell remembers feeling as though he had "died and gone to Heaven."
I didn't have the opportunity to see IF.... for the first time until I was in my late twenties, and obviously I'm American, but I can imagine how this film must have spoken to intelligent British youth when it was released in the wake of actual revolution in the streets of Paris and elsewhere in 1968. A film like this would have been taken immediately to heart by many politically- or progressively-minded young Britons, even young Americans dissatisfied with their different-yet-the-same System, as a blueprint for future action -- future action that might have taken any number of contrarian forms, from participating in public demonstrations, to starting an underground newspaper, or simply buying a copy of "Street Fighting Man" by the Rolling Stones.
However deep one's commitment to the ideal of change, finding a girlfriend like Christine Noonan would have surely been part of the plan. All these years later, her nameless heroine retains her uncanny ability to provoke, inspire, and encourage our vestiges of revolutionary spirit, and there are those of us who will always love her for it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I'm There Right Now

Robert Blake hands you the phone in David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY.

Have you ever come across a song in the course of your listening that stands in front of you defiantly, like a roadblock, daring you to pass?

For me, recently, that song is currently "Ballad of a Thin Man" from Bob Dylan's HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED album -- and, for some reason, the live version from Manchester 1966 (erroneously released as THE "ROYAL ALBERT HALL" CONCERT) seems even more insistently impassable. I've taken to playing the song every night before retiring, a ritual I've been known to enact in the past with other minor key songs like "Telstar" by The Tornados, "Love Song for the Dead Ché" by The United States of America, "Share a Little Joke" by Jefferson Airplane, and "Swimming Horses" by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
There's a stanza in the song that goes:

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, "How does it feel
To be such a freak?"
And you say, "Impossible"
As he hands you a bone
And something is happening here
And you don't know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?

It recently occured to me, in the course of this obsession, that if you just change "bone" to "phone," you've got a scene from David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY.
"I'm there right now," says the Mystery Man (Robert Blake), his words unexpectedly poising the scene on the precipice of madness. Which brings to mind the title of Todd Haynes' forthcoming biopic, with six different actors (including Cate Blanchett) playing Dylan: I'M NOT THERE.
Curiously enough, "Lost Highway" is also the name of a Hank Williams song that Dylan can be seen playing to Bob Neuwirth in one of the hotel room scenes in the 1965 UK tour documentary DONT LOOK BACK.
Take my advice, you'll curse the day
You started going down that lost highway.
It was that Hank Williams song, incidentally, that delivered unto Dylan the phrase "rolling stone" and led him to the gunpowder moment of his reinvention.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Some Recent Viewings

The second of the four movies included in 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERIES VOLUME 1 collection, this snappy little number was actually the fifth of seven Fox B-mysteries starring Lloyd Nolan as Brett Halliday's "keyhole dick" hero. (After an interim of a few years, the character was resurrected at PRC in the person of Hugh Beaumont, of all people.) Marjorie Weaver, Nolan's leading lady in the series opener MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, returns as the daughter of a senator under investigation who hires Shayne to pose as her husband to unmask a "ghost" who goes around firing bullets into her bedroom at night. Essentially an "old dark house" thriller in then-contemporary guise (admiring a sunken marble bathtub in his room, Shayne quips, "Did DeMille have something to do with that?"), the movie has some superbly creepy atmospherics, a fun supporting cast (Billy Bevan, Olin Howland, Jeff Corey), and a beautifully executed opening sequence that runs a full three minutes without dialogue.
"Ozzie's Triple Banana Surprise" (1957)
The first family-authorized DVD release of THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET was recently released as a self-styled "BEST OF." As much as I'd love to endorse it (and I do recommend it to the show's fans), it's hardly all that it claims to be -- it emphasizes the later college-and law office-set episodes featuring the Nelson sons, skimping on the early episodes featuring Ozzie Nelson. For an essential core sampling of the real "Best of OZZIE & HARRIET, check out Mill Creek's 38-episode FUN WITH OZZIE AND HARRIET, which offers such must-see classics as "A Night with Hamlet" (with guest John Carradine) and "Tutti Frutti Ice Cream," an obsessive-compulsive gem in which Ozzie Nelson embarks on a nighttime quest to re-experience the forgotten taste of a favorite dessert of yesteryear. Even more extraordinary is this surrealist masterpiece, co-scripted by future GREEN ACRES scribe Jay Sommers, in which Ozzie's consumption of two Triple Banana Surprises at the malt shop inspires a sleepless night of adventures that make Abbott & Costello's "Who's On First?" routine seem lucid and linear. This single episode is worth the cost of the set, which gives you so much more -- and most of the programs include the original commercials for products like Kodak cameras, Hotpoint dishwashers (hawked by Mary Tyler Moore as "Happy Hotpoint") and Prophylactic Toothpaste (you heard me). How's the quality? Uneven, but generally as good as many of these episodes looked during their 1980s Disney Channel run.
"The Night of the Golden Cobra" (1966)
I was never a devotée of THE WILD WILD WEST when it was on the air, but David J. Schow's writing about the show for VW has been making a convert of me. In preparation for editing a forthcoming VW feature about the second season of TWWW, I watched this recommended episode without knowing beforehand that its Special Guest Star was Boris Karloff! The master of menace is in fine form as Dr. Singh, garbed in flowery silks and satins, and '50s genre heroine Audrey Dalton is on hand as his daughter. It amazes me how Robert Conrad, wearing a green suit that appears to be painted on him, could walk in such outfits without feeling sudden breezes, much less do his own stunts. The sitar-spotlighting score of this episode is unusual for its time and adds nicely to its exoticism.
And this week's disappointment:
Directed by Brian W. Cook -- Stanley Kubrick's first AD on every film from BARRY LYNDON to EYES WIDE SHUT -- this is a black comedy about the late Alan Conway, a flamboyantly gay British nutter who successfully impersonated Kubrick as a ticket to free meals and travel in the 1990s. (Kubrick had been out of the limelight for so long during this period, such a masquerade was actually possible, though Conway looked nothing like the great filmmaker.) The movie begins well, juxtaposing squalid scenes from Conway's life and the wake of his mischief with familiar classical cues from Kubrick's oeuvre, in ways that are not only hilarious but thematically mirroring as they point up the vast (unperceived) gulf between the real artist and the con artist. As Conway, John Malkovich is a somewhat sunnier shade of his usual Persian cat self, with a slippery accent that changes practically from scene to scene. At one point, "Conway" references Malkovich as an actor he is considering hiring for his next movie, making Cook's film a kissing cousin to the metafiction of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Scripted by Anthony Frewin (Kubrick's former personal assistant), it's a clever but rudderless time-waster with fun moments, some delightful dialogue, but otherwise lacking in momentum, variety, and steerage. Ending abruptly with a crawl about Conway's fate, it doesn't amount to much more than the conventional wisdom that everybody is some sort of fake, at least while climbing the rungs of show business.

Hack Sunday

The main page of our VW website was hacked earlier today and left to display a skull-and-crossbones graphic boasting that it had been hacked by Team Maroc Hackerz, inscribed in Arabic and signed by Drs. Ayoub and Sakolako. "Two swell joes," as Brother Theodore might have said.

The problem has been cleaned up for now, but our site was hacked earlier this week and I guess it could happen again. With that in mind, in the event we're not able to receive online orders due to malicious mischief, if you need to subscribe or renew, our toll-free number is 1-800-275-8395. If you can't telephone toll-free from your area, our you-pay-for-the-call number is 513-297-1855.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Gangway! It's Ray do Caixao!

Raymond Castile's unforgettable performance as Coffin Joe in Wonderfest's Old Dark Clubhouse was captured on video by Max Cheney and is now posted at YouTube. You can see it by clicking here. Among those visible in his cowering but camera-wielding audience: Gary Prange, David J. Schow, Joe Busam pére et fils, Frank Dietz, Tim Keegan, Linda Wylie, Harry Hatter, Ethan Black, Jane Considine, Donna Lucas, and yours truly. A great souvenir of a great surprise.

Through a Glass, Calmly

It's Friday, I arrived at Wonderfest one week ago today, and it's damned well time I got off of my cloud and back to work. Donna has been mailing out VW #131 over the past few days and muttering whenever I'm in earshot that we'll be starting up on #132 next week, so I've broken my spell by doing my first real writing and reviewing of the week today. I started watching 20th Century Fox's MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERIES, VOL. 1 last night, a set that has its good points (the movies are short and entertaining) and its bad points (it requires a reviewer like me to agree to watch four movies in a row headling Lloyd Nolan, a good actor but hardly my idea of a steady diet). I never thought of this before, but Nolan's Shayne reminded me at times of Hubie, the wiseacre leader of Chuck Jones' comic mouse duo Hubie and Bertie, even down to the sneer in his voice.

It was my birthday on Wednesday. Donna gave me a Zen Vision: M (a 30 GB "IPod" sort of thing that can play up to fifteen hours of music or four hours of video) and a pair of Sony noiseless headphones. I don't have any plans to watch video on it, but the display is nice, and the headphones sound really fine. Donna's had a similar Zen product for a couple of years, but I've always resisted the temptation to join the IPod generation for reasons as vague as they are various. Yesterday I got it charged up, docked it with my computer, and filled half of its available giggage with mp3s. And wouldn't you know it? I love the thing. It appears to be the accessory I've long needed to make walking on the treadmill not only less of a drudgery but actual fun. I walked five laps in the late afternoon on a #5 incline (one more than I usually do at my best) and another two in the evening just because the presence of music in my head made moving around seem more pleasing than sitting or standing still. I think the internal focus on music also takes away (valuably) from some of my usual focus on myself, which can foster anxiety and lead to nail-biting and other unattractive habits, so I'm now seeing in this needlessly postponed device the possibility for positive change. As I say, it's nearly a week since Wonderfest and I still have fingernails -- not like Richie Havens has fingernails, but they are fingernails.

Producing a new issue is always anxiety-inducing, so they may not survive next week, but I'm curious to see how my ZV:M will see me through the process.

Favorite ZV:M listening so far...

Robyn Hitchcock's performance from last Saturday at a "Games for May" tribute to Syd Barrett. Backed by musicians calling themselves Robyn's "Heavy Friends," the acoustic and electric set gives us a satisfying replica of what we might have heard, had Syd not retreated from the limelight and instead returned for an anniversary performance of his music. No "Baby Lemonade" or "Opel" regrettably, but a "Dominoes" and "Wined and Dined" to weep for, and throbbing ticking whiplash performances of "Astronomy Domine" and "Interstellar Overdrive" that sound directly channelled from the night everyone made love in London. This morning, as my coffee was brewing, I picked up my acoustic bass and surprised myself by being able to play both of these numbers by ear.

I'm also still getting a lot of pleasure from revisiting Patti Smith's TWELVE, her new album of covers. I haven't been an active listener to Patti's music in many years, but her choice of covers I find both sympathetic and adventurous. "We Three," from her classic EASTER album, has also become a renewed favorite of late.

As I said at Wonderfest while accepting my Rondo Award for "Best Website," VW's return to a monthly schedule is bound to interfere with my blogging duties. I can already feel it claiming some of the energies I was putting to use here. I intend to continue as best I can, but it won't be as frequently as before, and its character may even change somewhat. Stay tuned and we'll see what it becomes together.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

WONDERFEST Slide Show Pt. 1

There were many highlights of Wonderfest 2007 but, for me, the most important was finally meeting in the rapidly corrupting flesh David J. Schow -- OUTER LIMITS authority, Robert Bloch authority, the Godfather of Splatterpunk, BLACK LAGOON BUGLE publisher, and VW contributor extraordinaire.

Dave suffered a tragedy just before leaving for Wonderfest, the death of his 15 year-old pet iguana Mr. Hate, but, ever the professional, he proved a buoyant addition to the roster nevertheless. As you can tell from this photo, snapped on Monday morning just before our departure, we're now firm friends for life. VW readers will be glad to know that Dave has already turned in a full report on the second season of THE WILD WILD WEST.

I don't remember the precise issue but, somewhere along the way, I reviewed Dave's book THE OUTER LIMITS COMPANION in VW. When I handed my copy of the book over to him for signing on Saturday -- the day we met -- he embraced it because it was the copy that inspired my "review of love." I'm so glad Donna snapped this. What a character.

Here's the Heart and Soul of VIDEO WATCHDOG (right) posing with the Heart and Soul of Wonderfest, Mr. Bob Burns -- who presented a terrific slide show tribute to his late friends, '50s monster makers Paul and Jackie Blaisdell, on Saturday. It culminated in a rare screening of Blaisdell's home movie spfx extravaganza THE CLIFF MONSTER. We saw and spoke with Bob's lovely better half, Kathy Burns, too, but failed to get a picture with her.

Here's Vincent di Fate, the celebrated cover artist of FILMFAX and past cover artist for CINEFANTASTIQUE, in whose pages we sometimes appeared together longer ago than either of us want to remember. A gifted artist, great guy, and now the proud owner of the original prop that lent its name to the first sci-fi movie he ever saw: ROCKETSHIP X-M!

Here's our friend Paul Schiola of Ultratumba Productions, posing with his latest product sculpture, Beulah of IT CONQUERED THE WORLD. A talented and very personable man, with the biggest grin at Wonderfest.

Also on display at Paul's table was this tres-cool replica of the unforgettable Rat-Bat-Spider-Crab from THE ANGRY RED PLANET. If you've got the display space available, go over to his website and score one of these babies.

Here I am with another talented artist, William Stout. Donna and I enjoyed spending time with Bill up in Gary Prange's Old Dark Clubhouse, talking about the murals he is presently creating for a Natural History museum, his history as a cover artist for bootleg albums from Trademark of Quality, his devolopment of an amazing Oz theme park for Kansas City that never happened, and his current work on various Oz book projects. An amazing guy.

As long as I'm talking about cool people, I'll jump ahead to this Sunday shot of Donna and one of the show's Guests of Honor, Robert Picardo. We had a great time talking with Bob about the gallery of memorable characters he's played for Joe Dante: Eddie Quist in THE HOWLING, The Cowboy in INNERSPACE, and his Karl Rove-surrogate character in MASTERS OF HORROR's "Homecoming." Later in the day, Bob sprang to the stage at the Sunday night banquet to steal the show. More on that later.
But now we cut to late afternoon on Saturday -- the Fifth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards presentation!

USA TODAY's David Colton -- the man behind the Rondos -- stands in proud control of the proceedings with the eight Rondo busts to be handed out at this year's ceremony.
David brought with him this nifty canvas handbag. When I asked his wife Eileen Colton (staff photographer for CHFB News) if these were now being sold at the website, she said, "No... I ironed it on myself!" I think they may be missing a merchandising opportunity here.

Before the festivities began, we snapped this close shot of the award that would soon be presented to me for Video WatchBlog -- an exclusive for you, the Video WatchBlog reader!

The show is now underway, with Kerry Gammill receiving his first-ever Rondo Award for this year's Best Book, THE FAMOUS MONSTER MOVIE ART OF BASIL GOGOS -- co-authored with J. David Spurlock.

Donna and I took the stage to receive our fifth consecutive Rondo for Best Magazine. After five years, it's still a humbling experience.

Bob Statzer then received his Rondo award for Best Article of the Year, his Karloff and Lugosi retrospective for SCARY MONSTERS. Way to go, Bob!

Here I am cradling the statuette I showed you earlier, as I thank everyone who supported me in my unprecedented win for Best Website, Video WatchBlog! I later received a third Rondo, my first as Writer of the Year. In my speech (viewable at YouTube here), I thanked fellow scribe Tom Weaver (hoarder of all the other Writer of the Year Rondos) for keeping a relatively low profile this past year.

The one and only John Zacherle -- aka Roland aka Zacherley aka The Cool Ghoul, the greatest of all horror hosts -- rose to the occasion to accept his Rondo award for best CD, INTERMENT FOR TWO. Do you want to see more? Go here.

Donna took this great shot of Zach at his table on Sunday, where his Rondo award held court in the manner of his past SHOCK THEATER associate, Gasport -- finally out of the bag. I had met Zach in passing at a Chiller Theater show back in October 1994 and I'm so very pleased that our paths were able to cross again. He visited the Old Dark Clubhouse on Friday night with his biographer Rich Scrivani (whose book I loved, and whom I somehow failed to invite to be photographed with me, which I very much regret) and it was a treat to speak with Zach at greater length.
Incidentally, my favorite Zacherley memory of the weekend: When Donna and I visited his table on Sunday, he asked us "Are you two committed to each other?" The question seemed at once full of Old World gravitas and contemporary correctness, and struck us both as very sweet and quintessentially Zach. We told him that we'd been married now for 32 years and he gave a low, delighted laugh and clapped his hands. I later told Donna that it had been one thing to be declared Man and Wife by our Justice of the Peace, but now I feel that our union has been blessed by Zacherley himself.

Filmmaker Paul Davids flew in from Los Angeles to accept his Rondo award for the year's Best Independent Film or Documentary, THE SCI FI BOYS. Paul got the room chuckling with his alternative universe explanation of Rondo's possible involvement in the writing of a classic Beach Boys song.

In one of the evening's most heartfelt acceptance speeches, Frank Dietz received his Rondo -- the first ever awarded in the new category of Artist of the Year. Eclipsing even Basil Gogos himself in the year when Gogos was the subject of the year's Best Book, Dietz accepted the award with warm tributes to his mentors Bob and Kathy Burns, Bill Stout, and Bernie Wrightson. Apologies for the dark shot, but Wonderfest needs to rethink the stage lighting for these events. You can view Frank's acceptance speech here.

Here's a brighter shot of Frank and his new best friend taken at his table on Sunday. It couldn't happen to a nicer or more talented fellow. Over the weekend, I seized the opportunity to purchase my first-ever Dietz original: "Lon After Midnight," a 5" x 7" glazed oil portrait of Lon Chaney Sr. in LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT garb, which became iconic in Frank's output when he used it as the key promotional image for his Rondo Best Fan Event-nominated oil painting exhibition of last year.

2005 Monster Kid of the Year Joe Busam passed the torch to this year's recipient, Raymond Castile. Ray not only masterminds the mind-blowing Universal Monster Army memorabilia display at Wonderfest, but was last year handpicked by José Mojica Marins himself to succeed him in the role of Coffin Joe! See it all -- Joe's induction speech and Ray's acceptance -- here on YouTube.

Bob Burns accepted a Rondo Hall of Fame plaque on behalf of his late friends Paul and Jackie Blaisdell, the monster makers for several AIP films of the 1950s, including DAY THE WORLD ENDED, INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN, THE SHE-CREATURE, and others. Bob concluded his bittersweet speech by announcing his intention to display the RHOF plaque in the Blaisdell room of his museum-quality memorabilia collection.

"The wheels are off the wagon!" Host David Colton thought the awards were at an end, but as his delightful co-presenter Nurse Moan-eek (from Dr. Gangrene's CREATURE FEATURE) affectionately restrained him, David J. Schow grabbed the mic to profer upon Colton the world's first -- and perhaps only-ever -- Nondo Award. After that, John Clymer claimed the mic to present him with yet another honor, a Thank You to David from his peers.
You Tube is hosting Jen Sorrels' camcorder footage of these presentations here. BTW, the voice you hear crying out "Oh, baby!" at the unveiling of the second award belongs to David's proud wife, Eileen.
Here's David posing with both trophies. Or shall we say, "spoils"?

With that, the photo opportunities began. Here's Donna and I, proudly posing with our unprecedented sweep of three Rondos, but even prouder to be standing in the winner's circle beside our hero John Zacherley ("My, what a lot of awards you have there!").

Here's the lot of us, posing for at least a dozen photographers on the scene. This photo was taken with our camera by our friendly subscriber Ted Haycraft, who seized the moment splendidly. Thanks, Ted!!! And thanks to Jennifer Sorrels for the YouTube clips!

So who has the most Rondo awards to date? Tom Weaver says it's me, but John Clymer and I think it's him. Actually, I did a count from the results from the website and it would appear we're locked in a dead heat with seven Rondos each. You just wait, Weaver!*

Also at Wonderfest this year were '50s sci-fi movie stars Lori Nelson and Kenny Miller and makeup artist Greg Nicotero. I had brief encounters with all of them, but unfortunately no pictures. Now keep scrolling down for more from Wonderfest!
* Postscript 5/30 - Tom Weaver writes to inform me that I'm wrong:
"Now you've got ME checking and I THINK I have eight -- four Best Writer, best book (MONSTER KID MEMORIES), best article (Donnie Dunagan), best article (Kay Linaker), best article (Bob Burns' New Zealand trip for KONG). So I've gotcha by ONE -- and am enjoying it while it lasts (which won't be long -- you'll take a commanding lead next year thanks to BAVA, I'm sure). PS - The world shall hear of me again!!

WONDERFEST Slide Show Pt. 2

WARNING! During Doctor Gangrene's live Creature Feature presentation of MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, an actual monster will run amok through the audience! (Uh-oh, looks like Bob Burns has been smoking that wacky coelacanth tobacky in his pipe again!)

Dr. Gangrene (Larry Underwood) and associate Frank Dietz investigate a coelacanth of their own between clips of the 1958 Universal-International favorite. Sorry for the dim quality of the image; Wonderfest needs to do something about their stage lighting.

In between bouts of escalating mayhem involving special guest John Goodwin as "Dr. Princent Vice," the room rocks to the swingin' sounds of The Exotic Ones! Here's their drummer "Space Fink" turning their music into a minefield of traps and snares!

Lead guitarist "Zoomga" (or is that "The Tartan Phantom"? -- I always get 'em confused) lent his brain-melting licks to Zacherle favorites "Dinner with Drac" and "Happy Halloween," as well as Exotic originals like "B-9 Robot" and, of course, Gangrene theme song "The Doctor is In." Meanwhile, "The Purple Astronaut" vamps on keyboards.

Bassist/vocalist "Mr. Ghoul" adds some bottom to the perilous proceedings as Bob Burns undergoes a terrifying transformation offstage. Had a great time talking with Mr. Ghoul in the Old Dark Clubhouse.

Uh-oh! The Monster's got Nurse Moan-eek!

All ended happily, however, and I seized the opportunity to pose with my new favorite horror hosts. Dr. Gangrene's CREATURE FEATURE is presently airing quarterly on the CW Network. I've seen their first broadcast in this new format, featuring the Amicus film THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, and it's fantastic and fully deserving of national exposure! You know what Monsters HD needs besides a more frequent turnover of new titles? A weekly horror host! Here's the team that could do it. I got a chance to spend some time with Nurse Moan-eek (Linda Wylie) in the Old Dark Clubhouse and she's such a sweetheart! Not only is Linda an inspired comedienne -- I hope she'll continue to be part of the Rondo Award presentations in years to come -- but she's got an amazing positive energy about her that turns any room she enters into a happier place.

But other people found their way into the Old Dark Clubhouse as well. On Saturday night, Max Cheney (The Drunken Severed Head) burst into the room and cautioned us that, if we were so equipped, we might want to get together whatever mace or sharp objects we might have on hand, because the room was about to be invaded by a sinister visitor...

He erupted into the room as a vision of black, exuding an aura of brimstone and vindictiveness. He moved among us as a figure of diabolic judgment, causing women to weep and grown men to cower (see bottom right)...

It was none other than the Brazilian horror icon Zé do Caixao, aka Coffin Joe -- a role originated onscreen by Jose Mojica Marins, but now passed on to none other than Rondo winner Raymond Castile!

His eyes flaming with hatred for all humankind, his talons poised to deal out his own cruel brand of justice, he stalked among us, calling us "Rats!"

As his eyes turned on me, I felt my blood turn to ice. He ranted and raved against not only us, but our entire species, and just as his sinister soliloquy -- in Portuguese! -- reached its crescendo, he extented a claw in my direction and...

... faded into thin air! My camera caught his dissipating essence just before it evaporated from the room!
Raymond got a huge round of applause for his performance, but he didn't stick around for it. Max had to lure him back to the room to take his bows, out of costume, and I gave him all possible praises. I've met Jose Mojica Marins and Raymond has nailed the character of Zé do Caixao perfectly. I also think his Zé costume is better than the original. Raymond is starring with Mojica in the long-promised third part of the Coffin Joe trilogy as the young Zé do Caixao; his scenes have already been filmed, and I can't wait to see it.
On Sunday, Donna and I attended David J. Schow's 16mm screening of the OUTER LIMITS episode "The Mutant," the one featuring Warren Oates as the mutant with fried egg eyes. I didn't get the resemblance as I was standing there, but check out this shot of Mr. Schow, which Donna took to capture Dave's handiwork with his homemade Gillman tie knot.

But Mr. Schow wasn't the only Sunday night banquet celebrity to arrive in such sartorial splendor. The ever-debonair Frank Dietz showed up sporting a special Rondo boutonniere, crafted by Dr. Gangrene's personal prop meister Ethan Black.

Here's a closer look.

The banquet had a Conan or barbarian theme because a couple of the artist guests, Gary Gianni and Mike Schultz, are experienced Robert E. Howard illustrators. Their presentations documented in images how other artists had inspired their approaches to their work, and the extent to which they relied on photographic templates -- fairly interesting, but the two lectures really couldn't compare to Dave Conover's talk on WAR EAGLES last year, or Kathy Burns' slide show of her and Bob's trip down under to participate in the filming of KING KONG.
Now here's a barbarian I guarantee that Gianni and Schultz have never drawn:
Waddell the Freebooter!

That's Donnie Waddell, of course, adding to the Sunday banquet festivities. During the dinner, Dave Conover (as Grog) stomped around the room and grabbed pie off some people's plates and dunked it in other people's coffee. Here's Grog hovering over the heads (and plates) of 2005 Monster Kid of the Year Joe Busam and Joe Busam Jr.

Incidentally, like his father, Joe Jr. is an animator and he made use of the Old Dark Clubhouse to preview a computer-animated logo he's designed for Monster Bash, lovingly done in the style of the 1940s Universal spinning globe -- fabulous work!
To be honest, this year's banquet festivities were a disappointment. After the usual prize drawings and a couple of Conan art slide presentations by Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz, Wonderfest CEO and toastmaster Dave Hodge proposed that we all make bids to compel our favorite fall guys to participate in Karaoke humiliations for charity. Robert Picardo stole the show with a lyrically retweaked version of "I Got You Babe" that poked fun at Sonny and Cher's divorce, and Kathy Burns and Nurse Moan-Eek added cute choreography to a version of "Stop! In the Name of Love" performed by Dave Hodge's wife (who clearly had never heard the song before), but it just seemed wrong to have Bob Burns, Donnie Waddell and Dave Conover tackle "The Monster Mash" when Zacherle himself was in the room. (Zach had actually proposed during Saturday's Shock Theater panel that everyone on the dais sing "The Monster Mash" as a tribute to the late Bobby "Boris" Pickett, but no one took him up on it. After the trio's admittedly silly rendition, I offered good money for Zach to step up to the mic and do it properly, definitively, magnificently, but he demurred.) By my count, the whole debacle was over after five songs.
This is just my opinion -- shared by many, but still just my opinion -- but I feel the Karaoke for Charity idea failed for a number of reasons. One: the Wonderfest vibe is actually contrary to the stick-it-to-'em "fraternity initiation" vibe that Dave likes to promulgate at the banquets. Two: Wonderfest is pretty much a cash convention and, by Sunday night, everyone's coffers were much too spent to be properly charitable. And Three: we'd already paid for the banquet -- now we're supposed to raise additional funds for Dave's favorite charity?
The Karaoke was a stinker, but it wasn't about to ruin anyone's evening. We pushed Sunday night as long as it could go -- closing down the Old Dark Clubhouse for the second night in a row and actually reconvening an ongoing conversation with Dave Schow, Harry Hatter, and Mike & Danya Parks in our room. I wish it could still be going on, but it folded around 4:00 am. By the way, I'd love to have a picture here of Gary Prange in the Old Dark Clubhouse, but he wouldn't move his can of pop away from his face when I tried to take one.
Oh, what the heck! Here he is, ladies and gentlemen: Gary Prange!
A few hours later, after waiting half an hour or so in the classical music-scored halls of the SHINING-like Executive West hotel, I rang Schow's room to rouse his butt into keeping his breakfast date with Donna and me. Got to spend a little time in the restaurant afterwards with Bob Burns and Donnie Waddell. In the hotel corridor, After a leisurely breakfast, Dave Schow, Donna and I happened to bump into Dave Conover who agreed to snap some commemorative shots with our camera, including this classic "thumbs up" pose. (By the way, PLEASE don't tell anyone that DJS gave the "thumbs up." Bad for his bad boy image.)
Then who should happen by but Max the Drunken Severed Head, whom we promptly coralled into a commemorative pose:

Kind of makes you want to remake THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, doesn't it?
Last person to be encountered on the way out the door -- most appropriately -- was the very emblem of the Wonderfest warm-'n-fuzzies, Donnie Waddell.
DJS is in full YOU'LL FIND OUT mode here, but I just let my real feelings for Donnie show through. One of the nicest and funniest people in fandom.
Our weekend flew past in a blur; Donna and I slept relatively little, going to bed later and rising earlier each day of the convention, as we tried to drink in more and more experience to remember fondly in the weeks and months ahead. And now it seems as though it all happened long ago, which I suppose is the work of these photographs, distancing me from a past that is actually quite recent. It's hard to believe that I was standing in the presence of some of these people only yesterday morning. All in all, a great weekend -- not a complete success, as I've said, but, in some ways, more profound than last year's Wonderfest.
At least from where I stand.