Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Now In Our 20th Year

According to Donna, who remembers such things, it was nineteen (19) years ago yesterday -- on June 15, 1990 -- that the first copies of the first issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG were delivered to our home.

We were unhappy with some unfortunate things about VW #1, which was ineptly printed and cut by a Kentucky company evidently unaccustomed to printing anything but business cards. The paper stock was like shirt cardboard and no two copies of the issue were uniform in height; I can remember Donna taking a paper cutter to the tops and bottoms of some copies in a mostly vain attempt to make all the pages in some individual copies the same size. It was a source of personal unhappiness to me that we were so short on photo material that I had to resort to drawings to fill certain gaps. I had won awards for art when I was in school, but it was a muscle I hadn't flexed in awhile and, at least to me, it showed. I do like the drawings I did for Craig Ledbetter's Venezuelan video piece, and The Letterbox (showing the unmistakable hand of Christopher Lee rising from a letter-strewn coffin); in fact, I was so pleased with the Letterbox art that it continued until our 9th issue, at which time I stumbled on our more playful way of introducing each issue's letters department -- which other magazines have sometimes tried to emulate.

But despite its production shortcomings, the issue had an impact (people still talk and write to me about "How To Read a Franco Film") and it launched an award-winning magazine that is now in its twentieth year of business and which, in some ways, has helped to change the face of the industry it writes about.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Better Yet, Read the Book

A couple of nights ago, I watched, for the first time in probably a quarter century, Karel Reisz's 1981 film of THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN -- one of those movies I find watchable though I don't really like it. However, after seeing it again, in HD no less, four things about it stood out for me as immensely likeable.

The first and most obvious thing is the splendid cinematography of Freddie Francis. The man was an auteur; I can recognize his work at a glance.

Secondly, the delightful presence of one Lynsey Baxter as Ernestina, the betrothed of the Meryl Streep-haunted Jeremy Irons. It's a sad comment on the vagaries of love that Irons stumbles about blind to the charms of this foxy Victorian, who is not only a dead ringer for Deborah Kerr in THE INNOCENTS (also photographed by Francis -- coincidence?) but also deft with a bow and arrow.

Thirdly, the great Leo McKern, whose glass eye is for some reason less noticeable or more believable than usual.

And finally, bravo to Irons for executing what is undoubtedly the most perfectly timed drunkard's fall I have ever seen in a film. Thank goodness someone has posted the entire movie in segments on YouTube, so I can direct you to this portion and timecode 1:30. I never tire of watching this.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Sometimes I miss blogging.

When I miss it most is when I need to write something else on deadline, like my column for SIGHT & SOUND, and I realize halfway through the first paragraph (or sentence!) that my journalistic/criticism muscle has gone flabby from underuse. If this blog was ever good for anything other than entertaining you, it was for keeping this muscle in shape, and I'd like to get it back.

In case you're wondering what I've been doing... At the end of January, my path fortuitously recrossed with that of Diane Pfister, an old friend from my high school art class, after a gap of 35 years. Diane is a successful fine artist who lived and taught in London for twenty-five years before relocating with her husband and daughter to Connecticut two years ago. (You can visit her website and see some of her paintings here.) She and I began an enthusiastic correspondence, sharing ideas and comparing notes on life and art. One month into our letter-writing, Diane surprised me by admitting that she'd had experience in London in the late 1980s as an assistant director on various features and television series (including Jim Henson's THE STORYTELLER), during which time she had also written a screenplay. Naturally, I asked to read it. THE WEIGHT OF SALT AND SOUL, as it's called, turned out to be a rough diamond; its presentation was raw and it was actually unfinished, but its rich cast of characters and profound story -- an historical fish-out-of-water saga about a lone Native American and the well-meaning people who come to his aid -- were so impressive that I proposed helping her develop it into something saleable.

It was two days after receiving her script, on February 26, that I wrote the eight-line poem "845" that signalled my adieu to this blog. I knew I was getting involved in a big project, and that it has been.

Since March, Diane and I have developed her original 95-page acorn into a 190+ page oak that has since been pruned down to 175 pages, though it still lingers perhaps 10-15 pages shy of completion. We will be keeping the longest draft on file as insurance in case a cable miniseries should become its ultimate port, but we would prefer it to become a feature, which may mean losing as many as 50 of its pages. I'm not altogether sure it can be done. SALT AND SOUL is full of life and magic and incident and is easily the most commercial project I've ever been part of. While its drama and comic elements have broad mainstream appeal, it also has magic realist aspects and also some macabre touches. So, for most of this year, my mind has been more or less completely absorbed by this story and our process. I expect to finish the first draft within the coming week; then begins the work of getting feedback on what we've done, determining what if anything else remains to be do, and trying to place it.

Work on this project overtook my ongoing work on the ME AND THE ORGONE script, which is halfway finished though a complete treatment exists and won the approval of the book's original author, Orson Bean, and some other readers. Once I finish with SALT AND SOUL, I will most likely go back and try to finish ORGONE quickly. In the meantime, Diane and I also have another project we are discussing, a story that would initially take shape as a book (fiction or non-fiction, we're not sure; perhaps a combination of both) but eventually become another screenplay. We will see.

So my screenwriting muscle is in pretty good shape these days, but other material needs to be written each month if our bills are going to get paid, so I need to focus on getting my other muscle back as best I can. That muscle is in a different area of my head, and there are days when I miss that old plug-me-in-and-let-'er-rip efficiency.

So it's possible you may be seeing more activity here in times ahead. I still don't want to go back to the article-length entries I used to post here, but surely there's another, more reasonable way to go about this.

In case you are wondering, yes, VIDEO WATCHDOG #150 is running late -- more than a month behind schedule, unfortunately. All of the material is finished, in place, and illustrated, but Donna wants this special issue to include some special sale offers and is working on some new ads. It will be our June-August issue, and I will drop a note here when it is finally sent to our printer. Thank you for your patience, and please spread the word.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I review Michael Reeves' directorial debut THE SHE BEAST (Dark Sky Films) in the current June 2009 issue of SIGHT & SOUND, also readable at their website here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Donna Lucas Accepts David J. Schow's "Donndo" Award

At the very end of last Saturday's Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award ceremony at WonderFest, David J. Schow -- the Brown Jenkin of Horror Fandom -- once again disrupted the proceedings to present his own awards. Rondo founder David Colton, who two years ago was recognized with Schow's "Nondo" Award, was this year presented with the "Coltondo" Award, while VIDEO WATCHDOG publisher/art director/shipper/receiver/receptionist/heart and soul Donna Lucas was feted with the "Donndo" Award. Schow explained the award by saying that Donna was required to share all of her Rondo Awards for Best Magazine with me, while I was winning Rondos independently of her.

My camera was running low on battery juice by the time this surprise event came about, so I missed David's introduction, but as Donna took the stage to receive her much-deserved solo recognition, I said "Damn the torpedoes" and recorded her short but ever-so-charming acceptance speech. You can see it on YouTube, here.

My Rondo Acceptance Speeches

Your erratic blogger receives not only the Best Blog Rondo but a red-hot smoocheroonie from Nurse Moan-eek. Photo (c) and courtesy of Eileen Colton, CHFB News.

This year's WonderFest played host to David Colton's presentation of the 2008 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, where I was honored to receive the awards for Best Writer and Best Blog (Video WatchBlog, natch). Jennifer Sorrels has kindly posted camcorded footage of much of the ceremony at YouTube, including footage of my two pre-scripted acceptance speeches, which you can see and hear by following these links...

Rondo recipients Cameron McCasland, Gary L. Prange, Linda "Nurse Moan-eek" Wylie, Michael Schlesinger (2007 Monster Kid of the Year), Tim Lucas and 2008 Hall of Famers Jim & Marian Clatterbaugh.

Best Blog

Best Writer

Raymond "Coffin Ray" Castile, Cameron McCasland, Gary L. Prange, Linda Wylie, Michael Schlesinger, Tim Lucas, Jim & Marian Clatterbaugh, Larry Blamire, Donnie Waddell, RUE MORGUE editor Jovanka Vuckovic, and 2008 Monster Kid of the Year Joe Moe. Blocked from view at extreme left are Best Artist Ken Kelly and Coffin Ray's fetching translator, Sara "Saramonster" Lattis.

More camcorded Rondo clips and terrific WonderFest photos by Eileen Colton can be enjoyed at this thread on the Classic Horror Film Boards. I would especially recommend Coffin Ray's "Best Article" speech -- as always, a show stealer, and this year augmented by Sara Lattis' hilarious deadpan translations.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


One of the great pleasures of attending this year's WonderFest was getting to know better writer-director-actor-author-cartoonist-aw-c'mon-I'm-tired Larry Blamire and his lovely wife, actress and STICKY MAE GREY author Jennifer "Animala" Blaire, and I should know better. (Sorry, but I am easily infected by Blamirisms. I should be back to Normal sometime later this week... that is, if I go anywhere near Illinois.) This picture shows me with both sides of the equation AND their better halves, under the extraordinarily powerful lighting at Louisville's Crowne Plaza hotel, which was strong enough to make my hair photograph orange and Larry's to actually photograph white!!!!

Another great treat was attending the Kentucky premiere of their latest Bantam Street production THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN, which was immediately clutched to the collective bosom of the WonderFest crowd -- a disgusting yet heartwarming sight. When this as-yet-without-distribution meisterwerk comes to your town, do what the WonderFesters did and sing the "Fleming" song over the end credits. This moving ritual deserves to catch on like the toast your grandma and grandpa used to throw at the screenings of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, back before the turn of the century.

I make no bones about it: THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN is a prodigal return for Blamire and his gleefully mad repertory company. It manages to improve on the original LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA in every respect while also making the original more wonderful as the modest starting point for all this divine insanity. Anybody who thinks this guy is merely spoofing bad movies is missing the point. Movie clich├ęs have never been sent up so unmercifully yet lovingly. Also, in my opinion, Blamire is the only genuine Surrealist working in the cinema today. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a celery.

Monsters Attack WonderFest 2009

As we all know, monsters are generally very benign critters, such as this Saucer-Man who kindly posed with VIDEO WATCHDOG publisher Donna Lucas at WonderFest 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky this past weekend. Saucer-Man pitches in to help at the Ultratumba Productions table on weekends. During the weeks, he works at a nearby restaurant as -- what else? -- a saucier.

Friendliness and good will initially seemed to be the case with this imposing, larger-than-life-sized, 3-D embodiment of Jack Davis' 6 ft. tall Frankenstein Monster, one of the many wondrous trappings of this year's Old Dark Clubhouse constructed by ODCH innkeeper Gary L. Prange. He was perfectly well-mannered during the day, as seen here with THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN writer-director-star Larry Blamire... but then, as night fell...

THE MONSTER RAN AMOK! He started by strangling me!

Then he grabbed LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN producer Michael Schlesinger! He attacked so quickly, so lethally, that Schlesinger had literally no time for one last pun! And (imagine this in a Huckleberry Hound voice) that's fast, man!

Then he moved on to MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT publishers Jim & Marian Clatterbaugh! He squeezed them together so tightly, their ampersand was no longer necessary!

And finally he grabbed Rondo Award-winner Linda "Nurse Moan-eek" Wylie, who tried to get away Scot free, but to no avail!

Unfortunately the attacks were not limited to the Frankenstein Monster. Donna later had the misfortune of an encounter with TV horror host Count Gore DeVol, who lured her into a false sense of security with pleasantries and saturdays and sundries until...

... he sank his fangs into her neck!
Fangs for the memories to the Rondo Award-winning WonderFest!