Tuesday, January 31, 2006
John has long been a hero of mine. In addition to being one of the truly singular and irreplaceable characters on our world stage, he's made history (while spitting on history), he's lorded over concerts that were sociological epicenters, he's turned AMERICAN BANDSTAND on its head, he's even acted with Harvey Keitel in a movie made by Italians. Look at that face: he should be doing Beckett plays. And making up new words if he can't memorize the scripted ones. The great music he spawned ("Poptones"!), the potent lyrics he's written ("Bodies"!), that one-of-a-kind voice of his... these are colossal contributions (and I haven't even invoked "Anarchy in the UK"), yet they're almost incidental to the greater gift of who he is.
I recently sold off nearly all of my old vinyl. I kept my Captain Beefheart albums, my Can stuff, my Velvet Underground -- and all of my Public Image Ltd. I hope John would take that as a compliment. It's not just that he sang me out of my 20s and into my 30s, but that nearly everything he ever recorded still sounds plugged directly into the raging current that gave it life in the first place. He called it the end of rock, but based on how valid the new Sex Pistols box set sounds, it's an apocalypse we can thrill to for the rest of our lives.
Thank you, John. And if anyone reading these words should see him today, buy that AntiChrist a lager.
I know that a large percentage of what I own on laserdisc has since been reissued on DVD. I should not need the larger, bulkier, less perfect-looking, older cousin, correct? That's all well and good in theory. But beyond what laserdiscs were and are in terms of pictorial quality, the laserdisc collector must acknowledge what they were and are in terms of packaging. Laserdiscs were the movie version of album covers -- something you could hold in your lap and admire, something that could psych you up for the experience of watching a movie. When was the last time you spent any quality time with a DVD keepcase, other than to curse it for being genetically unable to anchor its disc in place? I know a few people who don't even keep their keepcases; they pop the discs out, slip them into an envelope and keep them in shoeboxes. Why not?
I found that I had not one, but two different deluxe editions of TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. One was in a nice, thick, multi-platter silver box emblazoned "T2" and the other was in a luxurious, cushiony black vinyl box with a silvery emblem on the front, also emblazoned "T2." I decided to look into the dark one and slipped out a gorgeous inner drawer that pictured Arnold Schwarzenegger on one side and his skinless Stan Winston form on the other, housing three discs and two mini laserdiscs of trailers. A stunning, stunning package. So why did I keep the other version? To find out, I slipped the box set out of its plastic sleeve and took the lid off. Inside the box, atop four platters and a menu brochure, was a letter from James Cameron on Lightstorm Entertainment stationery -- facsimile signed (of course) in blue ink -- that explained in charming detail why this laserdisc was letterboxed, why it was in CAV, and why these factors added up to the ultimate home experience of the movie.
That's why I kept the set. I'll probably never actually load it up and watch it again, but owning it is like owning a piece of history. A piece of history that, once upon a time, posited me in a private club with James Cameron, fellow laserdisc connoisseur. (Incidentally, the silver box houses the theatrical edtition and the darker box houses the "special edition" -- its world premiere, in fact. Cool. Still cool.)
Some laserdiscs need to be kept, or at least burned to DVD-R, because they have audio commentaries you can't find anywhere else. Some have wonderful liner notes and pictures -- Tom Weaver wrote most of the fabulous unsigned notes you find in old MCA Universal laserdiscs, and they compile a fair number of quotes and whatnot that probably don't figure in any other commentary he's done or book he's written. Another interesting case I found was the first letterboxed issue of TOMB OF LIGEIA, whose handsome gatefold offers an article by my friend David Del Valle, copiously illustrated with stills from his archive -- including a shot of Roger Corman directing that is inscribed, strangely, "Better to be on the set than in the office." I guess he'd been having a bad day when he signed that. I've written some liner notes for laserdiscs myself, and I can remember the unique sense of pride I felt in seeing my words printed on the equivalent of an album cover. I like seeing the words of my friends printed on them, too. With that in mind, I couldn't help holding back some titles because I felt that, if I didn't preserve these things, perhaps they wouldn't be preserved. True, I can't hang onto them forever... I may live in a big house, but I'm still running out of room... but perhaps I can hang onto these things until other collectors experience a renewal of interest in them.
Everything from Criterion is numbered; allow a single disc to go and you've broken up a set. The BEATLES ANTHOLOGY laserdisc set (a mere $100 when brand new) is a beautiful thing -- it's like the Beatles album that never existed, and the individual album covers inside the box can be assembled to recreate the Klaus Voormann collage on the cover... almost as much fun as trying to guess the names of all the people in the collage of famous faces on the SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND album cover.
I find it difficult to part with any musical laserdisc because, as I remember discovering while comparing the LD and DVD versions of WOODSTOCK, the audio on a DVD is compressed. Having decompressed audio, my WOODSTOCK laserdisc set roars during The Who's set the way it did in the theater where I first saw it. Townshend's guitar sounds dirty and Entwistle's bass sounds dirtier, growling and crackling. The same performance on the DVD, on the other hand, roars... clinically. I never did get around to playing my laserdisc of YELLOW SUBMARINE -- it's still shrinkwrapped, I see -- but I imagine it's the best option I have of hearing the movie, the next time I feel like seeing it.
When all was said and done, I did clear some space -- enough to make room for the CD box sets I have, with a little room left over for inevitable expansion -- but not as much as I'd hoped to clear. Laserdiscs may be passé as tools for home viewing, but as artifacts, they remain just too damned intoxicating. To handle a laserdisc, especially a deluxe laserdisc box set, is like being reminded of a time when the home video phenomenon was more civilized, more aesthetic, and geared more to the specific concerns of the hardcore cinema enthusiast.
Nowadays, the picture quality is better, the discs themselves are more compact, and everybody's into DVD. But what is everybody buying and watching? That's right: TV shows. TV shows and CGI movies.
I still have another entire upstairs closet full of laserdiscs to process, which represents a few hundred decisions I'll have to make someday. I don't even like deciding what I'm going to have for breakfast, so I think that particular pleasure is one I'll be postponing for as long as time and space will bear.
You don't have to vote in every category. You don't have to vote for what or whom you THINK will win. You don't even have to vote for this blog. (Not that I'd object if you did!) All I'm asking is that you get involved, to whatever extent you wish, by taking a stand for your own personal preferences on the ballot. These are adorable little puppies and it's important that they all find their way to good homes.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
This weekend, MASTERS OF HORROR concluded its First Season with "Haeckel's Tale," a Mick Garris adaptation of a Clive Barker short story, directed by John McNaughton. Roger Corman was scheduled to direct this episode until he had to withdraw for health reasons; then it was turned over to George Romero to direct, but he had to beg off for personal reasons. In the long run, I think they both rather lucked out.
Not that "Haeckel's Tale" is all bad. It's set in 1832, which makes it at least distinct from its predecessors this season. It's also fairly well acted, and offers a jolt or two. (I especially liked the bit with the hanging man.) Best of all, it plays like a story rather than a script; it has the unmistakable feel of a literary backbone running through it, which counts as a mark of distinction in a series which has primarly felt screen-written. But regrettably, "Haeckel's Tale" is one of those dramatic pieces that pulls you along by the nose, promising you that you will see things you'll never forget, unimaginable sights that will sear your eyes and stain your very soul... and then delivers silly horror clichés that are actually so feeble, they're laughable.
Derek Cecil stars as the young medical student Ernest Haeckel, whose Frankensteinian ambitions to restore life to the dead are curbed after a disastrous, failed demonstration. When his provider of cadavers alerts him to the presence of a necromancer (Joe Polito) in the vicinity, he attends his sideshow and witnesses the reanimation of a dead dog. But the necromancer reveals that to resurrect a more ambitious subject, like a human being, would rob him of an entire year of life, so such requests must be well compensated. Informed by letter of his father's failing health, the penniless Haeckel sets out on the open road and is met by bad weather. A passing elderly stranger (Tom McBeath) offers him shelter and a meal cooked by his beautiful young wife (Leela Savasta) but, as the evening passes, Haeckel observes that the May-November couple has a baby... and that the wife has a lover beckoning to her from outside. Left alone with his host, Haeckel discovers that the wife was impregnated by her lover, with whom she has assignations in the neighboring cemetery.
The episode opens with the title card "In Association with George A. Romero," placed there to dot some legal I's, because the series had Romero's name attached when it was proposed to its financers. It has a nice Cormanesque atmosphere in the cemetery scenes, but when it introduces its living dead characters, they all come across as pathetically comic -- like the reanimated dog, who's in pretty bad shape but, as the old joke goes, at least he's "in show business." As I've suggested, the episode involves necrophilia, but it's not NEKROMANTIK-style necrophilia or even KISSED-style necrophilia; it's more like Sara Bay-movie-poster necrophilia. Silly as it is, at least it allows the season to end with a bang as well as a whimper. The whimpering, incidentally, comes from Baby, whose true nature is another low-level shock you can see coming from a mile away. The final surprise of the framing story did catch me unawares, but not in a good way; it merely served to add another layer onto an underbaked cake, causing the whole thing to collapse.
The good news, as you've probably read elsewhere by now, is that this episode was put into production at the last minute to replace the original, intended, final episode of MOH, which Showtime refused to air. The only episode filmed outside of Vancouver, Takashi Miike's "Imprint" apparently succeeded in its aims to unsettle and frighten only too well, becoming the series' unexpected sole foray into toxic cinema -- kind of a "Cigarette Burns" for real. This reportedly very-hard-to-take episode will be released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in the fall, for those of you prepared to surpass the spectacle of a naked girl ecstatically humping a KNB EFX Group zombie and break on through to something really serious and adult and confrontational.
How do I rate the Season 1 episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR? Since you're bound to ask, here's my Top 12, presented in reverse order for maximum suspense:
12. Deer Woman (Landis)
11. Haeckel's Tale (McNaughton)
10. Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (Coscarelli)
09. Dance of the Dead (Hooper)
08. Chocolate (Garris)
07. Sick Girl (McKee)
06. The Fair-Haired Child (Malone)
05. Jenifer (Argento)
04. John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns (guess who?)
03. Pick Me Up (Cohen)
02. H. P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch's House (Gordon)
01. Homecoming (Dante)
I think the top four finalists add something significant to the filmographies of their respective directors, and this in itself is a vindication of the series. The three top finalists converge for me in something very close to a photo finish. I think Gordon's episode is the strongest traditional short horror film of the bunch, but Dante's and Cohen's are ultimately more disturbing and innovative and reflective of our times. I'm not even sure that either of them really qualify as horror, or if they are just reflecting as unflinchingly as possible the horror of what we've become as a society. As a fan, I am delighted by that sort of uncertainty.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Was cut from this or cut from that,
And some days I'm here bright and brisk
To recommend a DV disc,
An Argento remaster, a case of the punks,
The best of the grand and the not-so-grand funks,
A TV show that's worth a look,
A Dobie Gillis comic book.
Some blogs are long and some are small
And some blogs are not here at all.
As the little voice inside you knows,
To-day's blog is one of those.
Some days they roll right off my cuff
But other days they can be tough;
And some days when this blog is good
I'm too tired to write what else I should.
I'll be back in a little while.
First, I must go and find my smile.
(You know: Billy Crystal-style.)
I won't be long. I'll be back soon.
Maybe later on this afternoon.
Pictured: The Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I was amazed by what I discovered.
The untitled story in DOBIE's 18th issue begins with Dobie and Maynard in their chemistry class at college, where Dobie is trying very hard to get his gorgeous classmate Lucinda to go out with him on a date. Lucinda feels no chemistry; she says she wouldn't go out with Dobie if he was the last man on earth -- and vines herself around the arm of handsome college letterman Steven. Maynard jokes that maybe Dobie can cook up something in class that will take the starch out of Steven's collar, and Dobie declares his beatnik friend a genius. His eureka: Perhaps he can concoct something like the potion in Robert Louis Stevenson's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE... Since he's already repulsive to Lucinda, maybe he can invent a potion that will make him irresistable to her instead! (You see where this is going?)
The next day in class, Dobie's fevered ingredient mixing causes an explosion in the classroom. When the dust clears, he has indeed become more attractive. He dubs himself "Mr. Handsome" and everyone in class is awestricken by him. Lucinda is ready to fall all over him, but Dobie hasn't just become Mr. Handsome; he's also become something of a... conceited, abrasive jerk! (It's also suddenly the 25th century, because Dobie's explosion actually knocked him out cold and he's only dreaming, but that's beside the point.)
Dobie... er, Mr. Handsome struts away from Lucinda and sets his romantic sites on Delora Delora, who has won the title of Miss Beautiful everywhere in the galaxy. He drops in on her without bothering to call first, reasoning that the two of them just "go together." Delora agrees to receive him because he's "so breathtakingly fabulous" and Mr. Handsome shoots back, in a very Jerry way, "That's a wise decision... it's not every day you receive a visitor like me. I mean, so good-looking and gentlemanly and all!" Press photographers descend on their meeting but are so preoccupied with snapping shots of Mr. Handsome that Delora mopes about being ignored. "I'm too much of a good thing," Mr. Handsome reasons, and he reassures her by promising to send a special 8x10 that she can admire when no one else is around.
In addition to all this, Dobie and Maynard call each other "Buddy" throughout this wacky MANY LOVES story, which ends with a visit to Venus where all the Venusian women are attracted to Maynard instead -- the shock of which causes Dobie to regain consciousness in the wreckage of his 20th century chemistry class.
Reading this comic, I quickly took note of its many parallels to Jerry Lewis' classic movie THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, which the IMDb tells me was first released on June 4, 1963. I assumed that the hit movie had inspired the plotline but was surprised upon checking Page 1 of the comic that it was dated March-April 1963 -- which means that it actually streeted a few months earlier than the film and was scripted and drawn a good deal earlier than that!
Adding further confusion (and interest) to the timeline is a news item that tops the "Inside Hollywood" text feature appearing on Page 19 of the comic. Get this: "Stella Stevens to Star with Jerry Lewis in 'The Nutty Professor.'" The third paragraph of the item reads, "'The Nutty Professor,' a Jerry Lewis production in which Lewis will play a Jekyll and Hyde type of character, is scheduled to go before cameras late in September with Ernest D. Glucksman producing and Lewis directing."
Given its phrasing, this item suggests that Lewis was still casting principal roles at the time the GILLIS comic was in production, so THE NUTTY PROFESSOR was either still in pre-production as the comic was being assembled, or on the earliest stages of shooting. The screenplay that Lewis co-authored with Bill Richmond already existed, of course. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not suggesting that either party ripped the other off, nor am I theorizing that Jerry Lewis got the idea of Buddy Love from a DC comic. What's interesting about this discovery is that Lewis's most notorious plot twist (which was greeted as something of a shocker at the time) -- and other little touches like his film's college milieu and the use of the endearment "Buddy" -- were somehow anticipated in the pages of DC's THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS months before THE NUTTY PROFESSOR reached theater screens... and by whom? By the same people who worked on Lewis's own comic! Did DC have access to an advance script of the film? Was it just a matter of kindred comic spirits pulling the same concept out of the ether at roughly the same time? You just have to wonder if the similarities between the two projects were coincidental... or accidental... or osmosis... or what?
Of course, Jerry Lewis wasn't the first filmmaker to get the idea to reverse the traditional roles of Jekyll and Hyde. In the underrated Hammer Films production THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1961), which was released in American theaters as JEKYLL'S INFERNO and HOUSE OF FRIGHT, Canadian actor Paul Massie played a bearded, bookish, bespectacled Jekyll who became a clean-shaven, handsome, pleasure-loving and ultimately sadistic Hyde. The film was scripted by Wolf Mankowitz and directed by the great Terence Fisher, and I personally forgive its few rough edges and place it with Fisher's most important work. That said, if the world's last print of THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL was in a burning building with the last print of Lewis's THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and there was time to save only one of them, the Paul Massie Fan Club would probably cast a stern eye on the choice I'd be forced to make.
A strange footnote to all this is that DC never issued a NUTTY PROFESSOR tie-in issue of their popular ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS comic. It's a peculiar omission considering that DC had used the title to present earlier tie-in editions of DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP (correction: actually an issue of DELL FOUR-COLOR, Devlin Thompson tells me), THE BELLBOY and THE LADIES' MAN (see below), also illustrated by Oksner.
I don't know what to make of this strange coincidence, but it just goes to show you: If you read comics, you might learn something. Or wonder something. Or something.
Speaking of JERRY LEWIS comics, I was pleased to be reminded, while examining some back issues of that beloved title, that he was among the very first "Monster Kids." Or maybe it was his nephew. I'm wary of probing too deeply into such questions, for fear I might end up writing THE BOOK OF RENFREW...
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
In the night. In the dark.
Aware of my ungainly infatuation with "The Horrible THING," David kindly indulged me by rounding up this image (and another, seen below) for me to share with others who might feel similarly affected. He also sends along this doggy-bag of additional insight: "The Horrible Thing was originally my homage to that venerable roadside attraction encountered by virtually anybody driving cross-country through the Southwest..."
"... It wasn't The THING itself," DJS explains as everything starts to go all squiggy, "but the fact that at one time (perhaps not now) these billboards were EVERYWHERE, more prolific than Stuckey's encampments. They had an odd cumulative effect on the imagination as you were pounding those long hard stretches of desolate road, particularly in the high desert, or anywhere in Texas (once you begin driving through Texas it just ... never ... seems ... to end). You could literally mark your progress by waiting to spot the next billboard for The THING in inevitable succession.
"It got even weirder at night. These bright yellow billboards would loom up out of total desert darkness, some of them quite dilapidated, and one could imagine all sorts of unlikely, er, things.
"But the mystery promised by the THING (and indeed by The Horrible Thing) are rooted deep in that mystic primordial brain-jelly that really, truly beckons the imagination," he summarizes. "We should never actually see such THINGS and have the rug pulled by some rude physical artifact."
To which I can add only, "Bingo."
P.S. Be sure to check out David's reunion "Raving and Drooling" column in the current 250th issue of FANGORIA.
Now get out of here with that bump-bump-bump.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
In the meantime... Thanks, everybody!
Sunday, January 22, 2006
This e-mail put me on pins and needles because I've written about all the MOH episodes in detail on this blog; if I didn't like "Pick Me Up," I'd have to find some way of expressing that without being hurtful to David. Mind you, I knew, going in, that it probably wasn't going to be one of my favorite episodes, simply because of its orientation. DJS is Mr. Splatterpunk -- he likes the smell of bacon in the morning, mixed with a little burning hair, and as much gunpowder as you can pack into the skillet. Whereas I tend to gravitate to the genre for its qualities of poetry and stylization, irony and subtlety, its propensities toward surprise and the bizarre.
To my great and unexpected pleasure, the two very different roads we walk find a meeting place in "Pick Me Up," which I found to be one of the most devilish and delicious MOH episodes to date. It's cut from the same general cloth as Don Coscarelli's "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" -- i.e., "There's a killer on the road / his brain is squirmin' like a toad" -- but what it makes out of that cloth is closer to an Armani suit than a deer-skin coat. It had me laughing the way a Tarantino movie makes me laugh: because a) I get the references, b) the smoothness of the ride makes me giddy, and c) I know I'm in the hands of a maniac who has shocked me before, with great glee, and will most assuredly do it again. Here, the maniacs are two... in more ways than one.
When a bus driver spots a rattlesnake in the road ahead, he maliciously swerves to run it over and damages his vehicle in the process, stranding it out in the middle of nowhere. One lone passenger, a bitchy young divorcée (Fairuza Balk), decides to walk to the nearest sign of civilization while the few other passengers, equally bitchy, decide to stay with the bus. A helpful but eccentric trucker (Cohen regular Michael Moriarty) happens along and offers a lift to two passengers, the most he can accomodate. Not long after the truck rumbles away, a lone drifter (Warren Kole) appears from the woods carrying a dead rattlesnake. After exchanging a few pleasantries with the driver, his dark side emerges and two of the three people still with the bus are left dead, the third fleeing the scene screaming. When the story cuts back to the trucker and the passengers he's taken to the nearest restaurant, we learn that he too is a psychopath -- he's hung one of his pick-ups on one of the many meathooks in the refrigerated compartment of his truck. In the first of many deft cat-and-mouse maneuvers on his part, the wily Mr. Schow returns to his bitchy divorcée heroine (if she can be called that) as she reaches a remote motel, where she unwittingly takes a room that sandwiches her between Mr. Trucker and Mr. Rattlesnake. The muffled, carnal sounds she hears emanating from the room next door are not sexual, but the taped-up squeals of a young woman whom Mr. Rattlesnake is skinning alive.
I don't want to spoil the experience by going into too much detail about what follows. Suffice to say, "Pick Me Up" ultimately succeeds in introducing to the splatter genre its most interesting ironic dimension since Mario Bava's TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE [ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO, 1971] -- a film so steeped in misanthropy that, basically, everybody killed everybody else. Here, again, there's not a single likeable character -- they're all pissy and bridge every other word with the f-one; the two monsters are the most civil, philosophic, and polite of the bunch, at least until you're alone with them. But what is most ingenious about it is that the story becomes a cat-and-mouse game not between killer and prey, but a mutually amused, tongue-in-cheek contest between two "civilized" killers over their "right" to claim the last survivor of a roadside smorgasbord. The penultimate scene of the episode finds the Balk character handcuffed and strapped into the trucker's rig, and Mr. Trucker stopping to pick up a hitchhiker who happens to be Mr. Rattlesnake. After driving back to the motel they've all escaped from for a final showdown, they stop the truck to allow a rattlesnake to pass... and, not long after they are moving again, both killers are pointing their guns at Balk's screaming head. But it's the payoff of the final scene that puts everything that comes before into perspective -- it belongs to the same family of completely unexpected, riotous twist as Bava's TWITCH, which Joe Dante (as a young reviewer for CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN) called "the greatest ending since CITIZEN KANE!" The fates that Mr. Schow has reserved for his characters bring his story to an equally ironic and misanthropic full stop, but one possibly more clever and unexpected.
Nasty and unpleasant, you're damned tootin'. Especially in the skinning scene, the episode crosses a line where even ironic laughter isn't possible. But the performances of the three principals are outstanding, with a strangely bloated, slurry and limping Moriarty giving the sort of performance that will have you thinking of Kinski or Palance or Walken or any other tall glass of I'm-playing-this-however-I-please. He was probably a handful to work with, but I can't imagine any other actor playing the role with his quality and unpredictability quotient. (I love the way he runs his lighter along the length of his cigarettes, warming his tobacco before he smokes it -- Mr. Trucker is a true connoisseur of his vices.) Fairuza Balk, whose work I've enjoyed since RETURN TO OZ, is often hilarious as the eternally put-out damsel-in-effing-distress. ("I think every one of Fairuza's 'asides' is priceless," DJS tells me.) Newcomer Warren Kole is a talent to watch; he plays his wicked "Western gentleman" with such a poker face that took me offguard more than twice. One of the joys of watching this episode is not only not knowing what's going to happen next, but how these two guys are going to play whatever happens. I'm assured that everyone's ad libs were brilliant, but I can't tell where the writing ends and the ad libs begin. The end result is beautifully layered, and that's what counts.
The auteuristes among you are doubtless grumbling that I haven't mentioned director Larry Cohen's contribution to this episode, and rightly so. I've been a fan of Cohen's work since his early days as a teleplaywright (CORONET BLUE, THE INVADERS, THE FUGITIVE) and I've always found his specific talents as a writer intrinsic to his appeal as a director. DJS tells me that he approached the job of directing this episode with the writing and its most accurate representation as his greatest concerns. That he kept everybody reined in and focused is to his credit, and the episode has a number of brilliantly timed and executed moments -- like the hypnotic POV shot of the curving sameness of the road, as one hitcher notes that the scenery around every next bend is so unchanging that it feels like you're not going anywhere. "Maybe you're not," Moriarty offers with a smile. The overhead camera shot that reveals the rooming arrangements of Kole, Balk and Moriarty is also pretty sweet. I actually liked Cohen's direction of this piece -- like I said, "the smoothness of the ride" -- better than much of what he's directed of his own work.
The title of this blog refers to a compelling side-ingredient that floats into view a couple of times in the episode: a broken-down billboard for something called "The Horrible THING," which Moriarty explains is some kind of exhibit in a travelling carnival, the skeleton of a two-headed baby or something like that. The sight of this billboard struck a chord with me, reminding me of all the non-existant horror movies that have invaded my dreams, usually in the form of similar advertising. In an exceedingly clever bit of writing, or directing, or set dressing, we are shown included among the many souvenirs of Mr. Trucker's kills a giveaway button that boasts, "I Saw The Horrible THING... and Survived!" Unfortunately for that person, there was something even more horrible they hadn't seen yet: the next guy to offer them a ride.
I'm not a button collector, but I'd love to have that one.
Friday, January 20, 2006
2. Make sure that you sleep at least 7 hours per night to have proper rest.
3. Regular exercise is the key to strength and fitness and a tough, supple body.
4. A quick, alert mind is the key to a quick and alert body.
5. Learn the basic elements of self-defense so that you can take care of yourself in tight situations.
6. Always keep your opponent in front of you, alert to any sign of attack.
7. Don't tip off your defensive actions by word or motion. If you are attacked, defend yourself by actions, not threats or bluster.
8. Self defense is for protection only, not to prove how good a fighter you are.
9. Remember to be ready to defend only. There is always someone a little bigger, a little better than you.
10. The best defense always was, and still is, to walk away from trouble.
-- Reprinted from the "Seat Selling Angles" section of the Warner-Pathé British pressbook for SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES (1961).
Pictured: Gordon Scott defends himself against himself -- his own doppelgänger -- in MACISTE CONTRO IL VAMPIRO [US: GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, 1961].
Thursday, January 19, 2006
The baleful song was attributed to "Max Frost and the Troopers" when it was issued on the movie's soundtrack album back in 1968. In fact, it was performed by vocalist Paul Wybier and a pretty cool backing band that's rumored to be either Davie Allan and the Arrows or the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Wybier's vocal was recorded so carelessly that the issued take has a king-sized faux pas in it: during the line "revolution coming in like a fresh new breeze," he stumbles over the first word and it comes out "resrolution." The kids bought it anyway, like it was a Kool-Aid flavor about to be pulled from the market, and it peaked at #22 on the US BILLBOARD charts. I bought the single myself, as an enterprising 12 year-old.
Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, who were also cranking out hits for The Monkees around this time, "The Shape of Things to Come" was originally heard in and written for WILD IN THE STREETS, a 1968 shocker starring Christopher Jones, Richard Pryor, and Diane Varsi -- one of American International's more frightening and outspoken movies. It was the brainchild of Robert Thom, who subsequently retreated into milder material -- like THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), which starred his wife Millie Perkins as a demented barmaid who goes around castrating football players.
Jones played Max Frost, a pony-tailed (like our forefathers -- dig?) rock star who uses his considerable pull with the Baby Boomer generation to lower the voting age to 18... and then to 14... while sending all the untrustworthy old fogies over 30 being sent to concentration camps where they are strung out on LSD. One of the first people President Max sends to camp is his mother, played by... you guessed it... Shelley Winters, in a performance whose Oedipal overtones surely paved the way for her star turn in Roger Corman's BLOODY MAMA (1970).
It never ceases to amaze me how Madison Avenue has managed to convert most of the great revolutionary songs of the Sixties into sell-out anthems: The Beatles' "Revolution", Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers", and now this -- Target stores resurrecting (resrurrecting?) Max Frost as their corporate spokesperson. (I can almost hear him saying, "Give me the sales... give me the stuff... GIVE ME... THE POWER!!!!") Yessiree, it's only a matter of time before we hear David Peel's "Have a Marijuana" used to sell Chevrolets or The Fugs for McDonalds. Say what you will about Yoko Ono: I don't think "Working Class Hero" is going to be heard anytime soon in a Mutual of Omaha spot, or during a feel-good basketball montage in the next Billy Crystal movie.
Since the world has gone this much crazier, I should seize this opportunity to remind people that the frigging essential WILD IN THE STREETS is out on DVD, as half of an MGM "Midnite Movies" double feature with Roger Corman's GAS-S-S-S-S! (1970), a revolutionary picture in its own way.
Hey, they may even sell it at Target.
Pick up a copy today -- especially if you happen to be on Target's Board of Directors. Get to know your spokesperson. It may make you think twice about what's in your water cooler.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
I had the pleasure of listening to the discs yesterday while working on the Bava book. There are cues here from all three movies that will cause that soundtrack lover's idiot smile to spread across your face, as it did mine. At the risk of being redundant, this is the first time a complete album's worth of music from TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE -- arguably the greatest drive-in movie of the 1970s -- has ever been released, and the first time Cipriani's score has ever been heard in stereo... and that includes the la-la-la-la song heard at the end of the movie as the kids run down to the bay after shotgunning their treacherous parents. (It turns out it's called "Teenagers Cha-Cha-Cha" and this disc gives you two different performances of it.) Another case is the opening airliner footage of BARON BLOOD; it sounds kind of inappropriate in the movie, at least as far as setting an ominous mood is concerned, but presented in stereo and finally heard on its own terms, it's a terrific lounge track. With harpsichord in the foreground, the ostinato score of RABID DOGS reminds me of Edwin Astley's music for Patrick McGoohan's DANGER MAN series, only darker and more urgent.
TWITCH (or ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO) is one of the most suspenseful and tension-inducing scores ever composed for Bava, and it covers a wide range of musical ground, from new classical and samba to sprightly pop and a heavier, tribal rock instrumental that sounds very much like it was written around a temp track of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." The presence of a track called "Evelyn Theme" on this soundtrack is mystifying because there is no character named Evelyn in the movie, and the track in question was used by Bava to underscore the last moments of the wheelchair-bound Countess's life. It makes one wonder if Cipriani may have composed and copyrighted this track in the expectation it would be used instead in Emilio Miraglia's THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, which was made around the same time? (EVELYN was eventually released with a library music score by Bruno Nicolai, recycling his cues from EUGENIE THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and other pictures, so it's possible the film ran out of money and couldn't afford original music.) This peripheral mystery aside, the TWITCH disc is every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be -- melodious, savage, sensuous. An instant classic -- be sure to look for a shot from the film's unforgettable "coitus interruptus" moment hidden in the casing under Disc 2.
The real surprise is Cipriani's music for BARON BLOOD, which, taken separately from Bava's images, is something of a revelation. In the case of all three scores, being able to hear them in stereo for the first time decompresses them greatly, giving one a better appreciation for their instrumentation and their qualities as stand-alone music. This is especially true of BARON BLOOD, which is very densely orchestrated and full of subtle effect that can only be appreciated when spread across a proper stereophonic field.
I know what you're going to say, and I agree with you: the Les Baxter rescoring of the film, for its AIP release, is the superior accompaniment. But if you compare the two scores as stand-alone listening experiences, I think you'll agree that the Cipriani score wins out. Cipriani's score is too unfocused to support the film's bold imagery -- but it's nevertheless a sensuously textured, atmospheric piece of work, full of slithering smoke and incantation and charred bone; it's lounge music in funereal garb. In a sense, it's exactly what the film called for in terms of color, but it was perhaps too refined for its own good. Some tracks, like "Inseguita" (which accompanies Elke Sommer's first sighting of Otto Von Kleist and the ensuing HOUSE OF WAX-type chase through the night streets), could easily fit into TWITCH with its percussive piano and tribal percussion, and others could almost pass for outtakes from Pink Floyd's MEDDLE album. Large chunks of the score have a surprising progressive rock flavor that occasionally edges into the outer frontiers of Krautrock and space rock, although never completely leaving the orchestral milieu. It's the sort of album that works well as a background to work, but even better as a focus point, with all the lights turned off -- the better to fall under its weird and hazy spell.
The discs are packaged with a nifty 12-page color booklet containing liner notes by Digitmovies producer Claudio Fuiano and also by me, along with lots of rare photos from all three films. You can find more details by clicking here; the link will take you to the CD/DVD page on our website. Copies of the first two volumes are also in stock, but all three are in limited quantity.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Somehow, during a magical period spanning from 1959 to 1963, Scott had the good fortune to always be featured in films that were a cut above the norm -- and he made them better than they would have been without him. A former Las Vegas lifeguard named Gordon Werschkul, he made his screen debut in 1955, replacing Lex Barker in producer Sol Lesser's Tarzan series, bridging the character's swing from black-and-white to color with TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE (Scott married his co-star Vera Miles, whose loveliness here is sufficient reward to watch the picture) and 1957's TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI. 1958's TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS was Scott's only backward step, a return to black-and-white that cut together episodes of a unsold television series. The series was quick to rebound with TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE, an all-color feature made the same year, but it was the next two films that stood apart from every Tarzan feature that came before -- new series producer Sy Weintraub realizing that this Tarzan was being held back from true greatness by old series trappings like Jane and Boy (who was called Tartu in TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE) and especially the comedy relief of Cheta.
"You stay here," Scott tells Cheta early on in TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959) and the chimpanzee shenanigans were also wisely left out of TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1960). Both of these films starred Gordon Scott as a solitary, "noble savage" Tarzan in raised-stakes adventures that many Edgar Rice Burroughs devotees regard as the finest films ever made about the character. Under the solid, respective direction of John Guillermin and Robert Day, with strong scripts (Berne Giler is the common name between the two) and handsome photography by the likes of Ted Skaife and Nicolas Roeg, these are the rare Tarzan films that transcend series standards to meet the highest demands of non-series action/adventure entertainment. Scott's robust physique may well look overly trained, the product of weight-resistance reps rather than the result of natural exercise, but he is the only Tarzan who looks at home while more than half-naked on location in the jungle -- and he performs most of his own stunts, as well. Both films also illustrate the credo that a film is only as good as its villain, with GREATEST ADVENTURE opposing Scott with Anthony Quayle and a young Sean Connery (in his second or third picture) and THE MAGNIFICENT with John Carradine and Jock Mahoney. For vague reasons, Scott was subsequently replaced by Mahoney in the Tarzan role; Mahoney was a better-than-able stuntman and a good actor, physically fit without being "pumped-up," but he was ill-suited for the role. Nevertheless, Mahoney's Tarzan films -- TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES and TARZAN GOES TO INDIA -- are even more epic in scope and worth seeing.
Legend has it that Steve Reeves recommended Scott to play his headstrong, ambitious brother in ROMULUS AND REMUS, which became DUEL OF THE TITANS when it was released here in America by Paramount (to whom Scott was still under contract). I was just a kid at the time, but I can vividly remember what a big deal DUEL OF THE TITANS was when it opened: lots of TV advertising, big titan-sized posters and standees, and people were genuinely curious about which of these men's men would triumph. And the movie didn't disappoint the expectations aroused by the ballyhoo; it was directed by Sergio Corbucci, one of the finest Italian action directors, and the many-authored script featured input from none other than Sergio Leone. Even in its somewhat reduced US length, the film had the scope and feel of a genuine historical epic, one of Reeves' better performances, and was made particularly fascinating by Scott's hellbound determination to prove himself as an actor and as Reeves' equal (or better yet, superior) in the genre he launched, and also perhaps to vindicate himself after losing the Tarzan role. The jealousy between two brothers is at the heart of the story, and you can feel Scott's personal investment in the material. It's probably his finest performance and one of the best films of its kind.
Next came MACISTE CONTRO I VAMPIRI, became GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES in the States, where the name Maciste carried no mythic resonance. (Maciste was first introduced on the silent screen in 1914's CABIRIA, as an heroic Nubian slave played by a Caucasian dockworker, Bartolomeo Pagano, who was such a hit that he subsequently continued as an actor, always playing Maciste and always billed as "Maciste," even in modern day adventures that found him fighting for right in a suit and tie.) Co-directed by Corbucci and Giacomo Gentilomo, this is more of a finely styled matinee potboiler than an epic adventure, but Scott is well supported by its supernatural villain Kobruk (a horrible apparition fed by the blood of women abducted by pirates!), villainess Gianna Maria Canale, and its SUSPIRIA-like lighting techniques. Scott is excellent as always and the climax gives him opportunity to actually clash with himself, as Kobruck assumes the human form of Maciste.
Scott returned as Maciste in Riccardo Freda's MACISTE ALLA CORTE DEL GRAN KHAN (1961), which became SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD when released by American International. (In the French version, Maciste/Samson became Hercules!) I was so impressed by my reacquaintence with this movie that I've watched it three times in the past two days. Freda recognized the opportunity to make this film while directing the action scenes for the epic film MARCO POLO, and made hand-me-down use of its lavish period Asian sets and costumes, as well as the shared duties of enchanting lead actress Yoko Tani, who gives arguably the finest female lead performance in any of the pepla. Though he's best remembered for his work in horror films, Freda was most truly in his element in the realm of historic adventure, and this film allowed him to blend this nobler art with the pulpier, commercial interests of the pepla. Scott is absolutely tremendous here, actually picking up one adversary and swinging him around by the ankles to knock over other comers -- something I've never seen done for real, or so effectively, in any other movie. But his best scene takes place in the arena, where (without the benefit of stunt doubles) he commandeers a chariot with bladed wheels before it can reach a row of prisoners buried up to their necks in the ground, waiting to be decapitated. The film lost a couple of reels in its American release, and I imagine the whole "seven miracles" angle was an invention of the people who dubbed the movie, as the fifth miracle is the first to be mentioned... unless the first four were somehow covered in the reels that the movie forfeited under the banner of AIP. SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD is presently available on DVD from Alpha Video and as a DVD-R from other sources like Sinister Cinema, but the movie is ill-served by this 20-minutes-shorter cut and its pan&scanned presentation. (For once, AIP's "Colorscope" fronted a legitimate anamorphic process -- Dyaliscope.)
Scott's work in Italian films remained solid for at least until Giorgio Ferroni's THE CONQUEST OF MYCENAE aka HERCULES VS. MOLOCH (1963), and he also did well in the made-for-TV film HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY (1965). He disappeared from films around 1967, but he has made a number of convention appearances in recent years, including one convention show with Steve Reeves before Reeves' untimely death in 2000. People tell me that Scott isn't easily recognizable as himself anymore, wearing a baseball cap and having succumbed to middle-age spread, but that would describe many a man in his 40s or 50s -- and Gordon Scott, born in 1927, is a year or two shy of 80.
I can think of few things I would welcome to DVD more enthusiastically than properly presented versions of TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, DUEL OF THE TITANS, GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES and SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD. Gordon Scott was a great screen hero and deserves to be remembered. More than half of this job could be put into motion at Paramount; as for the two Maciste pictures, the prospects are dimmer. GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES was a Dino De Laurentiis production, so there's a degree of hope there; but the SAMSON picture was produced by a long-defunct company called Panda and is now pretty much a public domain title. If these ever surface given the respect they deserve, uncut and in widescreen, they will probably have to happen as import discs. My fingers are already crossed for an English subtitles option.
Monday, January 16, 2006
VW's other nominations:
Best Magazine Cover (2 nominations):
VIDEO WATCHDOG #115 (Harryhausen's Cyclops) and VIDEO WATCHDOG #120 (Larry Blamire as Dr. Paul Armstrong), both by Charlie Largent.
Best Magazine Article (5 nominations):
"They Did Science! Dr. Paul Armstrong's Handy Guide to '50s Sci Fi Heroes,'' by Larry Blamire, VIDEO WATCHDOG #120.
"Universal's Other Monsters: A Legacy Written in Gauze, Claws and Tana Leaves,'' by Bill Cooke, VIDEO WATCHDOG #118.
"24 Monsters Per Second: The DVD Voyage of Ray Harryhausen,'' by Charlie Largent, VIDEO WATCHDOG #115.
"Shades of Renfield: Ten Buzzing Performances,'' by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #121.
"Triffids on the March: from John Wyndham to the BBC,'' by David J. Schow, VIDEO WATCHDOG #120.
Incidentally, if you haven't read these articles and would like to consider them for your vote, you can get samples of each of them by clicking on the issue numbers above, which will take you to a choice of spreads from inside each issue. Just click on the one you want to read to enlarge the text and you'll get a generous inside peek.
I was additionally nominated (with John Phillip Law) for Best DVD Commentary and VW's own Stephen R. Bissette was recognized in the Best DVD Extra category for his "From Fumetti to Film" featurette -- both on Paramount's DANGER: DIABOLIK DVD.
Set some time aside today to visit www.rondoaward.com and check out the other fine folks and things on the Rondo ballot -- and cast your vote for your favorites! You can also discuss the nominations and suggest possible write-in candidates in the Rondo folder of the Classic Horror Film Boards!
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Angela Bettis, who starred in McKee's earlier feature MAY (2002), plays Ida Teeter, a gay insectologist who can't hold onto girlfriends because of all the bugs she keeps as pets. She receives an anonymously sent package from Brazil containing an aggressive, undocumented specimen that manages to escape its container and secrete itself somewhere in her domicile -- around the time she summons the courage to arrange a date with an alluring, long-haired stranger named Misty Hills (Erin Brown -- aka "Misty Mundae"). The date turns hot and Ida reluctantly asks Misty back to her apartment, where her date proceeds to outdrink her and pass out. Ida brings a blanket and pillow to the sofa, not realizing that the missing insect is hiding inside the pillowcase. During the night, it enjoys a sticky close encounter with Misty's ear... provoking strange changes in her pixieish behavior which, in turn, anger the landlady and propel a weird situation toward even worse weirdness.
The story is flimsy, shored up with oddball retro touches, some raunchy dialogue, and a certain amount of entomological textbookery. McKee keeps this unstable cocktail watchable by giving us something we don't often see on television: a believably awkward account of two gay women nervously reaching toward one another in hopes of a relationship. Believable, but also exaggerated, overtly stylized. Speaking of style, half of the MOH episodes to date have been photographed by Hungarian cinematographer Attila Szalay, who has shown extraordinary adaptability and resourcefulness in responding to his directors' wildly different needs and tonalities. This episode showcases what may be his most striking work thus far, opening with a fluid and bubbly one-take tour of Ida's apartment (giving us details of her life and circumstances, à la the opening shot of REAR WINDOW albeit with De Palmian effervescence) and settling down to a Bava-like lighting scheme with lots of color gels and scrim-work that underscore the paranoia experienced by the variously cartoonish cast of characters. The episode's choice of music adds to its stimulative quality, all of it off-center and appealing -- much like the characters themselves.
The problem with this episode is that the interest of the characters and their relationship far outweighs the horror angle, and the horror angle is approached in a comic spirit much too long to successfully navigate the sharp turn into more serious territory. One sees where things are going early on, and we hope for a payoff akin to that of NIGHT GALLERY's "The Caterpillar," but what we get is closer to the payoff in New Concorde's remake of THE WASP WOMAN -- a big, clunky transformation effect that not even flashy editing can put across the field goal of belief. An attempt to connect the revulsion one character feels for lesbians with the more universal revulsion of insects isn't successfully achieved either. Had it worked, it might might explain why McKee and Wood chose to make their protagonist a lesbian in the first place, as it's a prominent detail not otherwise supported thematically by their script.
I haven't seen any of Lucky McKee's features, so I can't discuss how well the episode furthers or reinforces (or not) the work he's done for the big screen. Because I didn't know this "Master of Horror" from Joe Blow, I wasn't attuned to an idea of what to expect before watching the show. Consequently, I found its particular way of looking at its world a surprise and a refreshment, perhaps most of all when it underscored a dream related by Misty with a brief animated sequence that's equal parts Ladislas Starevich and YELLOW SUBMARINE.
In categorizing this episode -- pinning and mounting it, so to speak -- I have to take where it goes into account as much as how it gets there. Therefore, as a complete work, I'd have to reluctantly call "Sick Girl" a disappointment. Most people, I imagine, would weigh in on the negative side without too many second thoughts; Donna, who watched it with me, felt it was a complete waste of time, but I can't dismiss it so easily. There is something about the quirky character of this buggy ride that I found, at times, strangely invigorating.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Most of the news about the Lions Gate releases is, alas, bad news. There is no question that they are also sourced from the same old, stale-looking Teleworld masters. Lions Gate had the class (or sneakiness) to omit the Teleworld logo from the end of the films, but you can hear the first note or two of the Teleworld fanfare at the end of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, before it crash-fades to black. Furthermore, perhaps owing to the cheap source materials, Lions Gate has not flagged these discs for progressive scan viewing, resulting in blurry still-framing and occasional serrated edges on straight lines during camera pans. Yes, these discs offer two features for a price tag of less than $10 in some outlets, but most fans would have paid more for a job more adequately done.
Since Lions Gate has announced three early Roger Corman widescreen epics among their next offerings -- MACHINE GUN KELLY, DAY THE WORLD ENDED, and VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT -- these first two releases effectively dash all our hopes for proper anamorphic issues of these important titles, as they are almost assuredly bound to be the same pan&scanned Teleworld copies released on DVD in the UK. This is a tragedy because better source materials were certainly available, had Lions Gate taken the trouble to look beyond what was handed to them. All of the films in this initial batch are shown regularly in widescreen high definition on Dish Network's Monsters HD, which has also shown absolutely beautiful, properly scoped versions of DAY THE WORLD ENDED and VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT.
I've recorded all the Monsters HD broadcasts for my own use, and I decided to do some side-by-side comparisons with the Lions Gate transfers. The results were interesting and surprising enough that I felt I should share them here.
Let's start with BLOOD OF DRACULA, starring Sandra Harrison (pictured above). Below is a frame grab featuring Jerry Blaine and friends during his spontaneous performance of "Puppy Love." The top standard ratio grab is from the Lions Gate disc, and the squeezed grab below it is from my Monsters HD copy (recorded when I had VOOM and the signal was received by by DVD Recorder as anamorphically squeezed):
Mind you, I can't present the Monsters HD grab here in high definition, but I think you can see that the squeezed image is smoother, even though the HD resolution is still considerably sharper than it appears here. I think it's also obvious that the two presentations were imported from different elements; the Lions Gate disc is unmatted and exposes more top-and-bottom information, while the Monsters HD version reveals more information on the sides. One could argue that the lamp in the background distracts the eye from the action in the foreground, making the HD framing preferable if less all-encompassing.
The really startling differences come with a comparison of the Lions Gate and Monsters HD versions of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, particularly its color ending. Check out these two versions of the climactic moment when "Old Pete" (Robert H. Harris) prepares to dispose of the body of his faithless assistant (Paul Brinegar) -- this time Monsters HD first, followed by the Lions Gate version:
You've probably heard about digital recoloring -- now you've seen it in action! What was once billiard table green is now baby blue! Yes, the Monsters HD version looks cheesier, more yellowy, but that's the way the color in this sequence always was... until now. Brightening the picture is one thing, but tampering with actual colors is something else again. There's another instance of this elsewhere in the sequence, as the color of Gary Conway's shirt completely changes color! Check this out (Gary's the guy in the middle):
As this comparison illustrates, the framing of the two HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER differs as well, with approximately the same amount of information at the bottom of the screen and on the sides, but far less at the top.
You're probably muttering to yourself, "I dunno what Tim's talking about, those Lions Gate grabs are actually prettier..." -- and I'd have to agree, based on these grabs. But you need to take into account that the colors have been changed, and these scenes are supposed to take place in dimly lit rooms, adding to their atmosphere of menace. What you also can't judge properly here is that, of these two presentations, the Lions Gate transfer loses more of its definition on a large, calibrated monitor, while it's in this more demanding arena that the Monsters HD picture really begins to sing.
I haven't yet received my review copy of Retromedia's new ROGER CORMAN PUERTO RICO TRILOGY, but DVD Savant Glenn Erickson had some similar points to make in his review about dodgy preservation/presentation. The legacy of AIP is very important, not only for what it was but for what it lead to... a fact underscored by Roger Corman's THE HOUSE OF USHER being added this year to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry, not to mention the exploitation bent of practically every big movie coming out of Hollywood today. It's saddening to see the works of Roger Corman, Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson suffering signs of neglect in a medium designed to make the movies we love look better than ever.
If Lions Gate plans to release more titles in this Arkoff Collection series, they really need to get in touch with David Sehring of Monsters HD and work out a deal. He's got the gold, and Lions Gate's customers shouldn't be paying... even $10... for anything less.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Of course, Bob Kane's creation The Batman is a lot older than that, but it was 40 years ago tonight that ABC-TV premiered the BATMAN series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. That's when Batman officially became Big Bat Business, one of the greatest pop cultural phenomenons of THE Pop Culture Decade. Holy Batmania!
The world was a lot smaller then -- most television sets could pull in only three or four clear channels and a lot of noise -- and the night of that broadcast is as indelibly etched in my memory as the day John F. Kennedy was shot, or the night The Beatles first appeared on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. Holy Total Recall! ABC had been leading up to the premiere with some atmospheric promos, which focused on Adam West's mouth, so as not to reveal Batman's face -- so to see the costume was a big incentive to tune in. The incentive certainly wasn't the show's choice of villain, The Riddler, one of the more commonplace-looking of the DC comics' nemeses... but Frank Gorshin brought Edward Nigma (a name was never uttered on the show) magnificently to life with a gleeful laugh that was heard all across America the very next day -- on elementary school playgrounds. Holy Copyright Infringement!
There is an aura about that first episode, "Hi Diddle Riddle," that can't be found in any other BATMAN episode; it's not the best episode -- in retrospect, it's easy to see that West and Ward haven't had time to become fully comfortable in character, and there's a lot of post-sync and dubbing work in this first two-parter, not all of it owing to characters in masks or in disguise -- but it plays by somewhat harder rules than the episodes that followed. Robin gets graphically shot in the arm with a dart, Batman enters an "Adults Only" nightclub (where he performs the Batusi later reprised by Uma Thurman and John Travolta in PULP FICTION -- Holy Trivia Question!) and gets "doped," and Jill St. John as Molly (probably the best of the show's many "moll" characters) actually meets her death in the Batcave, her demise unforgettably eulogized by West: "What a way to go-go!"
Forty years ago tonight, within half an hour of the premiere episode of BATMAN ending, I was still buzzing when our doorbell rang. It was my Uncle Imel -- a cranky guy who never did anything for me except complain that my long hair (long compared to his!) made me look like a girl -- and he was bringing me a present... a Batman sweatshirt! He had been in a department store earlier that day and bought one for his son Greg, who insisted that I get one, too. We were a welfare family -- my mother, half-sister, and I -- and we didn't spend too much time in department stores, so this was the first Batman merchandise I had ever seen. I wore it to school the next day, prouder than I ever was in my clothes until the day I walked to school in my first pair of bell-bottoms. Thanks, Uncle Imel. Holy Unnecessary Autobiographical Aside!
When more familiar villains showed up on BATMAN in the subsequent weeks, it was a thrill to see how well the roles had been cast -- Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Cesar Romero as the Joker, George Sanders as Mr. Freeze (a character memorably reprised by Otto Preminger, in a "wildly" different way, in Season 2), David Wayne as the Mad Hatter. But the backbone of the show was its regular supporting cast, especially Alan Napier as Alfred, and particularly Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon. Hamilton, a popular silent screen star, managed to play Gordon seriously, as a pompous windbag, and as Batman's unabashed #1 fan, all at the same time. As an impatient kid who couldn't wait for Commissioner Gordon to reach for the the Bat Phone, I didn't realize how much Hamilton brought to the program until the Bookworm (Roddy McDowall) episode, which opened with Bruce and Dick witnessing the apparent death of Commissioner Gordon, as he was shot and fell from a public suspension bridge. Holy Porpoise Song!
My personal favorite of the BATMAN episodes? The first season two-parter featuring Malachi Throne as the master of disguise, Falseface. Throne, who never became a household name actor, was billed as "?" for the first 3/4s of the shows, à la Karloff, his own name appearing only at the end of Part 2... which doubtless provoked an additional "?" in the minds of viewers expecting someone they had actually heard of. Holy anonymity! (Throne worked a lot in those days as a voice actor in cartoons and commercials; you may remember him as the narrator of LANCELOT LINK - SECRET CHIMP.) The Falseface episodes were something of a dropped experiment for the show, in that they allowed the material to be played somewhat more seriously. Falseface brought the spirit of Fantômas to Gotham City; he was seriously malevolent, and the episode's high speed car chases looked ahead to some of the ideas in Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK, as when Falseface's escape vehicle actually changed colors as it turned corners.
The great thing about BATMAN, of course, is that kids could appreciate it on one level, and their parents could get a completely different kick out of it. All this grown-up laughter was easy for sensitive children to misinterpret (Holy condescension!), but it is actually this double-edged appeal that makes the show such a perennial -- much like Warner Bros. cartoons.
I was loyal to BATMAN throughout its three-season run. I turned 12 in the months prior to BATMAN's third and final season, which introduced Yvonne Craig as Barbara Gordon and her alter ego Batgirl, which came as a welcome complement to the onset of puberty. That's why, despite some singularly crappy latter-day villains -- Holy Louie the Lilac! -- BATMAN was still hot as far as I was concerned when TV GUIDE broke the news that the show had been cancelled.
In total, BATMAN lasted for 120 episodes, ending its bat-run on March 24, 1968. I watched its reruns for years to come, and I still enjoy watching them occasionally, though my pleasure is usually tempered by scenes I remember seeing -- which have been cut to accomodate more commercials. The BATMAN feature film I find especially durable, with the wittiest of all of Lorenzo Semple, Jr.'s writing for the show, not to mention Lee Meriwether's Catwoman -- whom I find the sexiest and most lethal of them all.
And all my days are trances /And all my nightly dreams / Are where thy grey eye glances / And where thy footstep gleams, indeed. (Edgar Allan Poe, Miss Kitka.)
Like many people of my generation, I can't begin to fathom why BATMAN isn't out on DVD, especially to coincide with this anniversary. Whoever owns it must know that the sales would go through the roof, and that the primary audience for the show can only grow smaller with each passing year. Holy Mortality Rate! Warner Home Video, DC Comics, Greenway Productions -- don't make us wait too much longer, huh?
On this special anniversary, I'd like to send a Bat Signal of special thanks to Adam West and Burt Ward, for the important role they played in my second childhood. That would be the childhood that immediately followed my first (toys, Elvis, monster magazines, The Beatles) and preceded my third (James Bond, Top 40 radio, MAD), fourth (FM radio, PLAYBOY), fifth (CINEFANTASTIQUE, foreign films), sixth (Grove Press fiction), seventh (punk), and so on, right up to this very day. Holy iconographic timelines!
Wouldn't it be wonderful to see something like TV's BATMAN grip the world's imagination once again -- something naive rather than cynical, something cool and creative, something colorful and upbeat, something fun? We need it... and we need it now, old chum.
"Hello, is this Video WatchBlog? Young man, I just wanted to say... Truer words were never spoken!"
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Evidently today is the 10th anniversary of the day when SHOWGIRLS (starring Elizabeth Berkley, pictured above) was released in the Netherlands, director Paul Verhoeven's native country. This is reason to celebrate the film that opted to straddle the bar of bad taste, rather than merely raise it? Well, why not?
I'm lukewarm on the subject actually, and not particularly inspired to get involved beyond the gesture you see here. But for those who care, get yourself some brown rice, vegetables and a bottle of Evian, and follow this link -- and wow to Flickhead's fancy moves.
He has succeeded in convincing VOOM management to cut back the number of station ID bugs from once every 10 minutes to once every half-hour. This change officially went into effect yesterday, on January 10. Hey, that's eight fewer watermarks per two-hour slot -- a significant improvement!
Of course, that still leaves four bugs every two hours, so things could still be better -- they could be the way they used to be, with no bugs! But I'm a realist and know that most everything, eventually, changes for the worse. If the bugs have to stay, maybe they can be made transparent and inanimate, like the Showtime bug. The present VOOM bug is not only brightly and distractingly colored, but animated (rotating from the initial VOOM logo to reveal the subsidiary Monsters HD or whatever other channel name). Even if things have to change for the worse, there's still room for compromise and improvement. There must be.
One thing in our favor as VOOM subscribers is that David's one of the good guys. He knows our concerns and he's in there pitching for us. He's still appealing to management for fewer bugs per broadcast, and I would imagine that goes for all the VOOM channels and not only Monsters HD.
Cross your fingers, and stay tuned for further updates.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
For some reason, Friday night's premiere broadcast was not shown in HD -- not just in my area, but apparently anywhere, according to reports I've heard. I recorded it just in case, but set my timer to catch the Saturday night replay, which ended up running afoul of a boxing match than ran overtime. So I ultimately had to watch my Friday night standard-def broadcast, which put me into grumble-grumble mode as it detracts a bit of sparkle from the program. My annoyance was further aggravated by the MOH website's not having any gallery images from the episode that I could share with you. I did find some images online, but they were all watermarked exclusives to different horror websites. Therefore, I'll have to leave the pictures up to your imagination -- or just Google them for yourself.
"The Fair-Haired Child," an original script by Matt Greenberg (HALLOWEEN H20, REIGN OF FIRE), is about a teenage girl named Tara (Lindsay Pulsipher) who is deliberately struck by a minivan while bicycling through the woods, abducted, and taken to an isolated mansion. There she is initially fooled into thinking herself a patient at a hospital in another state, but when she wises up, her nurse (Lori Petty) and doctor (William Samples) throw her into an inescapable cellar, covered with ominous graffiti like "Beware the Fair-Haired Child," where she finds herself in the company of a desperate young man (Jesse Hadock) trying to hang himself. Unable to speak, the young man introduces himself as Johnny, communicating with her by finger-writing on the dusty floor. In time, Tara learns that Johnny is his own worst enemy... and, unintentionally, hers, too; he's the son of the couple upstairs, who used occult means to reanimate him following a fatal boating accident, but at the price of using his body as a portal between worlds of a hideous, flesh-eating demon.
As with Mick Garris' earlier episode "Chocolate," the horror here is more emotional and despairing than conceptual, which provokes some strong performances, especially from Pulsipher and Hadock. The characters of Anton and Judith, as played by Samples and Petty, are oddly stylized; for a couple who keep such a messy basement, they seem to have drifted in from Jim Sharman's James Whale-like SUMMER OF SECRETS (1976). You'd expect these two to have some sort of Art Deco pièd-a-terre down there, like Dr. Phibes (another Anton, come to think of it). The story relies a good deal on atmosphere, which is probably Malone's strongest suit as a director. His previous work in the genre (including the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL remake, FEARDOTCOM) has looked good, but his scripts haven't always had the right degree of substance to support his flamboyant technique. Greenberg's story has its points of cliché, but it offers Malone more intriguing material than he's worked with before now, and he makes the most of it. His sometimes literally flashy, pyrotechnic style is given opportunities to create some startlingly creepy imagery that prods the gooseflesh more effectively than his Bava-derived little girl ghost in FEARDOTCOM.
I want to see the episode again in Hi Def before deciding exactly where it falls, but as MOH episodes go, it's certainly in the Top 5.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Here's a special WatchBlog preview of its cover, featuring Kumi Mizuno sinking her teeth into unholy temptation in Ishiro Honda's MATANGO (1963, aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE), available on DVD from Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters. You can click on it for a bigger look.
As is our usual procedure, Donna sent a preview of the cover to our associate editor John Charles for his feedback, and John responded that she should share it with Bill Cooke, who wrote this issue's Toho coverage. Bill promptly wrote back that he thinks it's our greatest cover ever, and I must admit that it gave me some definite frissons of glee as I saw it coming together on Donna's computer. Even though he didn't provide artwork for this cover, per se, Charlie Largent was responsible for the framing of the photo (which came to me courtesy of John Bender) and the addition of the cute little shrooms up top. I think all the components add up to something pretty exciting.
"I don't know what it is about this cover," Donna mused, "but it seems to be touching a nerve with you guys."
"Yep," I said. "It touches our Kumi nerve."
Which, as you all know, is a real spot on the map of human anatomy.
You can find out more about this upcoming issue of VW on the VW website. Just click on "Coming Soon" and it will take you to a complete overview of the contents. Click on the cover again and you'll be taken to an interior preview, where you can read samples of two articles. Enjoy.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (Added 10/28) Tales of Terror (Added 10/28) Thing, The '51 (Added 10/28) Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (Added 10/28) Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The (Added 10/28) Bride of Frankenstein (Added 10/28) Creature Walks Among Us, The (Added 10/28) Dracula (Added 10/28) Hellraiser: Bloodline (Added 10/28) Hellraiser: Inferno (Added 10/28) Revenge of the Creature, The (Added 10/28) Frankenstein (Added 10/28) Son of Frankenstein (Added 10/28) Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (Added 10/28) House of Dracula (Added 10/28) House of Frankenstein (Added 10/28) Wolf Man, The (Added 10/28) Dead Heat (Added 10/28) Godzilla (Added 10/28) Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (Added 10/28) House (Added 10/28) House II: The Second Story (Added 10/28) It’s Alive (Added 10/28) It Lives Again (Added 10/28) It’s Alive 3: Island of the Alive (Added 10/28) Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (Added 10/28) Blob, The '58 (Added 10/28) Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (Added 10/28) Jaws 3 (Added 10/28) Jaws 4: The Revenge (Added 10/28) Day of the Dead (Added 10/28) Grudge, The (Added 10/28) Poltergeist 3 (Added 10/28) Wishmaster 3: Beyond The Gates of Hell (Added 10/28) Body Snatchers (Added 10/28) Child’s Play (Added 10/28) Cyclops, The (Added 10/28) Fright Night (Added 10/28) Jaws (Added 10/28) Them! (Added 10/28) Jaws 2 (Added 10/28) Blob, The '88 (Added 10/28) Cujo (Added 10/28) Ghoul, The (Added 10/28) Return of the Living Dead Part 3 (Added 10/28) Creep (Added 10/28) Orca (Added 10/28) Candyman (Added 10/28) Friday the 13th Part 3 (Added 10/28) Scream, Blacula, Scream (Added 10/28) Psycho 3 (Added 10/28) Lost Boys, The (Added 10/28) Rage: Carrie 2, The (Added 10/28) Seventh Sign, The (Added 10/28) Wolfen (Added 10/28) Child’s Play 2 (Added 10/28)
A second wave of added titles: Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (added 12/15/05) Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (added 12/15/05) Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (added 12/15/05) Alien Nation (added 12/15/05) Amityville 3D (added 12/15/05) Amazing Transparent Man (added 12/15/05) Friday the 13th-Pt. 2 (12/20/05) Return of the Living Dead-Pt. 2 (12/20/05) Wolf Creek (12/20/05) Frogs (12/21/05) Funhouse (12/21/05) Ghost of Frankenstein (12/21/05) Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (12/21/05) Giant Gila Monster (12/21/05) Gorilla At Large (12/21/05) Graveyard Shift (12/21/05) Halloween 2 (12/21/05) Grizzly (12/21/05) Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (12/21/05) Army of Darkness (12/22/05) Attack of the Puppet People (12/22/05) Birds, The (12/22/05) (12/22/05) Black Cat, The (12/22/05) Black Friday (12/22/05) Brides of Dracula (12/22/05) Cat People (12/27/05) Colossus Forbin Project (12/27/05) Darkman 2 (12/27/05) Deadly Mantis (12/27/05) Dolls (12/27/05) Dracula's Daughter (12/27/05) Dr. Cyclops (12/27/05) Evil of Frankenstein, The (12/27/05) Fantastic Voyage (12/27/05) Fly, The (12/27/05) Horrors of the Black Museum (12/27/05) I Walked With a Zombie (12/27/05) I Married a Monster From Outer Space (12/27/05) Incredible Shrinking Man, The (12/27/05) Invisible Ray, The (12/27/05) Invisible Man Returns, The (12/27/05) Island of Terror (12/28/05) Kiss of Evil aka Kiss of the Vampire (12/28/05) Leech Woman (12/28/05) Leopard Man (12/28/05) Magic (12/28/05) Man in the Attic (12/28/05) Metalstorm (12/28/05) Mole People (12/28/05) Monolith Monsters (12/28/05) Monster On the Campus (12/28/05) Motel Hell (12/28/05) Murders in the Rue Morgue (12/28/05) Nomads (12/28/05) Phantom of the Opera '62 (12/28/05) Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, The (12/28/05) Tobor, the Great (12/28/05) Tarantula (12/28/05) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (12/28/05) Werewolf of London (12/28/05)
Forgive me for not retyping all that in our standard caps, but it was too much work. You get the idea.
In response to this roster, I have to say that the additional titles are very welcome indeed -- it's a treat any time new titles crop up on Monsters HD -- but for me, considering that I already own many of these titles on disc, the stepped-up (every 10 minutes) VOOM/Monsters HD watermarks would still be a deal-breaker for me as a viewer. And certainly, it goes without saying, as a home recorder.
Any station that believes that they are not providing entertainment to be recorded and enjoyed at home, in this day and age especially, is living in a fool's paradise. One watermark per movie should be enough to brand a broadcast against being bootlegged. Twice per movie, once an hour, is pushing it but grudgingly acceptable. Once every ten minutes is offensively excessive. It's like paying someone to do you a favor and have them ask you every ten minutes, "Did you like that favor I did for you? I did that favor for you! I did! Don't forget!" Never mind that we know. Never mind that we paid for it. And we are paying for these broadcasts, don't forget, and the product we are buying to enjoy without commercial interruption are effectively being ruined for us by all this overzealous ID-ing, which amounts to commercial interruption. Indeed, on this scale, it amounts to harassment.
And what if a few people in the viewing audience do try to sell DVD-Rs of these titles on eBay? If some people did this, they might sell a few copies. That's hardly reason to punish the majority who are paying to view this material in good faith. And the fact remains that the majority of the titles listed above are already available on DVD, so what would be the point of trying to sell DVD-R copies online?
Furthermore, to be force-fed thse bugs in such a manner is a shoddy "thank you" to those of us who have loyally stuck with Dish Network, solely to hang onto their VOOM channels, which have added little or no new HD programming since they acquired these channels. I would be surprised if anyone watched Rave HD other than new subscribers, their musical programming is so severely limited. LATER... WITH JOOLS HOLLAND is on every week in the UK, but Rave HD seems to own the rights to air only four or five segments.
Other hope-inducing Dish TV/VOOM news: Two other VOOM HD channels, Guy TV and The Majestic, are no more. They have been replaced by Kung Fu HD and Film Festival HD, with both newly recristened channels now playing daily loops of three films per day rather than the previous two. Also, in February 2006, Dish TV will be adding five more VOOM channels to their current lineup -- Family Room HD, Gameplay HD, Treasure HD, World Cinema HD, and WorldSport HD -- as well as HD locals, Universal HD, and ESPN 2 HD.
If we can just apply some vox populi pressure to get Dish Network to reduce the frequency of those on-screen VOOM bugs, all of this could be good and welcome news.