Monday, October 31, 2005
Well, here it is Halloween and my scanning software has stopped working these last couple days, totally screwing up my planned big finish! While I wait for that spare hour to actually try to repair it, here's my son David photomanipulated into Robin and some links for your surfing enjoyment:
DIAL B for BLOG- An amazing, super-professionally done site with a whole new issue practically every day!
Tony Isabella-Former Marvel/DC writer/editor and current CBG columnist offers more or less daily reviews and interesting insights!
Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin-Opinionated observations and reviews!
Bubblegumfink- Another amazing site. The content is often similar to mine but much better done!
The Groovy Age of Horror-NSFW but an obsessive site on a little covered era of horror writing and comics, both US and European.
datajunkie- A new fave. Has far too much time on his hands but uses it wisely!
Comic Book Resources - Comic Book News, Reviews and Commentary - Updated Daily!- Art, news, reviews and opinionated columnists. Everything comics fans love!
Superdickery.com-Silver age DC fans will practically die laughing!
On My Mind-My cousin's new blog. Still searching for his niche but check it out.
Supernatural Law- New Wolff and Byrd every Monday and Thursday! Cool!
Bill Bellamy - Official site - Fastlane-My favorite new comic. OK, not THAT kind of comic. Also, he isn't all that new but somehow I'd never heard of him until I saw him on Comedy Central in the middle of the night last week! Funny, confident, impressive! Keep your eyes on this guy!
There's lots of other sites I find myself visiting daily, including especially my three permanant links. Hopefully, I'll get my problem sorted out in the next day or so. In the wings: Linda Blair, The Maze Agency, Plastic Man and the damndest Lana Turner story you will EVER hear!!
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Okay now, people, settle down. This monstrous stuff is nearly done. Remember, this is a library after all so today we’re going to take a look at some books. To be exact, these are some of the BEST books on the subject of horror films and/or horror in pop culture.
Leslie Halliwell was an English author best known for his FILMGOER’S COMPANION series, a constantly updated , annotated, encyclopedic look at films, actors and fimmaking that served as a Bible to film fans in the seventies and eighties (After Halliwell’s death, it was carried on by other hands but without the master’s opinionated touch. Better sources soon replaced it.). Other than an autobiographical volume, THE DEAD THAT WALK, published in 1986, was his only non-reference work. It takes an in-depth, somewhat scholarly and yet amusing look at the making and legacy of the classic horror films, offering along the way a selection of the unique photos (such as the tea time one seen here) that pepper the author’s other works. Note that the Mummy featured on the cover is Tom Tyler, not Karloff or even Lon Chaney, Jr. That
probably gave perfectionist Halliwell fits!
Next up is THE HOUSE OF HORROR (which I mail ordered through the back pages of THE MONSTER TIMES!), a 1974 overview of England’s Hammer Studios. Hammer, of course, redefined horror films with more visceral interpretations of the classic monsters in the late fifties and early sixties. By this point, they were gasping for air, however, so the book serves as a fairly complete look at the company. (They would struggle on but it was like somebody flicked a switch and told ‘em to go home.) Heavily illustrated (Bubblegumfink just ran some color scans. Check ‘em out!), there’s lots of emphasis on topless or nearly topless women, perhaps presuming that what sold the films would also sell the book (Hey! Worked for me!) but overall the book serves as a nice tribute to the company that made Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee household names in all the best homes.
As previously noted, Calvin Thomas Beck’s CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN could be elitist and pretentious. Thus, no surprise that Beck’s only book, HEROES OF THE HORRORS, published in 1975, follows that trend. It does, however, present the first serious looks at the careers of Karloff, the Chaneys, Lugosi, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. While it glosses over some of the darker spots covered elsewhere in more recent years (Lorre’s drug problems, Price’s blacklist issues, etc.) it nonetheless strives to reveal the real person behind the makeup. Again, lots of rare illustrations but this time not just from the horror films but also from westerns and comedies and serious dramas. Beck really does give these amazing character actors their due and for years, his work was the only book to really do so in some cases.
Finally, we come to what I consider to be the single best book on the horror phenomenon (although Stephen King’s DANSE MACABRE is right behind it.), THE MONSTER SHOW by David J. Skal. I purchased this one on March 3rd, 1995 but don’t credit my spooky memory. I left the receipt in the book! This one is a real BOOK book, sparsely (but wisely!) illustrated as it cycles you from the roots of horror entertainment through the real-life terrors of the twentieth century and how they were reflected in our ever-changing media. Sounds heavy but it is immensely readable and fascinating and anyone who likes FRANKENSTEIN or Freddy or Chucky or even ALIEN will find something to like here.
Friday, October 28, 2005
New here at the Library this week is COUNT DUCKULA-THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON. This show from the late '80's-early '90's was a spin-off of Cosgrove-Hall's popular British cartoon series DANGERMOUSE (also released recently in a first season set) and yet the humor was a bit more old-fashioned and dry. The premise is that you have a vampire (a duck but that's actually beside the point) who is accidentally revived with catsup (or ketchup. Pick your poison) and becomes a vegetarian. He travels around the world in his portable castle along with his trusty butler, Egor and Nanny, a not-quite-all-there version of Mary Poppins if she wrestled with the WWF. In their adventures they encounter new friends and strange relatives as they try to stay one step ahead of the "hero" vampire hunter (whose voice is reminiscent of Paul Frees' Ludwig Von Drake and Peter Sellers' GOON SHOW characters!) Uniquely animated, this is lots of fun for kids and adults who appreciate real humor in their animation!There were 65 episodes of COUNT DUCKULA made over a period of five years so there WILL be more forthcoming!
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Filling the gap between Forry Ackerman's pun-filled FAMOUS MONSTERS and Calvin Beck's artsy, pseudo-intellectual (and all-too-infrequently published) CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN in the 1970's came THE MONSTER TIMES, a tabloid newspaper fanzine that longed to be...and sort of became a real magazine!
THE MONSTER TIMES covered classic horror and sci-fi films, modern releases, foreign genre films, comic books and strips and most other aspects of pop culture. Written by a who's who of fan/pro writers including Don Thompson, Ron Haydock and Mark Evanier, TMT was the first place I learned about EC Comics! Other frequent contributors included film critic R. Allen Leider who went on to write, among other things, SEXCAPADES(1982), that rare porn film that's both funny and enjoyable on more than the most base level. Editors included Joe Brancatelli, the Gary Groth of his day (I email corresponded with Mr. Brancatelli a couple years back and he said it all seemed like a million years ago and he was surprised I could recall thosed ays in such detail.) and Allen Asherman who would write THE STAR TREK COMPENDIUM among other genre-related books.
Artists whose work was showcased, either in strips or in articles, included Frank Brunner, Neal Adams and, of course, Jack Kirby, whose DEMON series debuted at that time. In the illustration here we have what is probably the very first publication of then 13year old Joe Jusko, known these days for his genre paintings, paperback covers and particularly several series of amazing Marvel trading cards.
Probably inspired by Alan Light's THE COMICS BUYERS GUIDE (TBG, now CBG) and/or the comic strip newspaper, THE MENOMONEE FALLS GAZETTE, TMT duplicated their fold-over tabloid format, albeit with color covers and centerfolds. At first available only through fan circles or by mail order, THE MONSTER TIMES eventually did appear on newsstands but its odd format kept it away from similar mags and probably cut into its sales. For some reason, (changing staff, budget cuts?) the quality fell eventually and issues seemed padded with dull, pointless features such as a long non-fiction piece on Transylvania. Still, as FM was floundering and CoF was struggling, there was always the TIMES to keep us interested. Those were the times...of THE MONSTER TIMES.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
It wouldn't really seem like Monster Month without an appearance by "the Big 'G'". Here we have a 1996 book from our children's department here at the Library, GODZILLA SAVES AMERICA...in 3-D yet! Now personally, I've always found 3-D to be a bit of a joke. Sort of like the Emporer's new clothes thing. No one wants to admit that it doesn't exist! At least I've never seen it!
Anyway, this was part of a brief attempt at making Godzilla a hero in kids' books. Although there were only a few books published (this one is hardback but most were Golden Book style paperbacks)they stayed in print for several years. Well illustrated by one time Marvel artist Tom Morgan and Paul Mounts, now known for his art and coloring in Marvel's ULTIMATES line, the familiar story of giant monsters attacking is told well for young readers by Marc Cerasini (WOLVERINE:WEAPON X). I doubt you'll find this one at your local comic shop but maybe your local Library will have it. Hah! When I was a kid, libraries wouldn't be caught dead with Tarzan, Dick Tracy or Godzilla. Now my local public library has all of those and has ordered the DVD of Rob Zombie's HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES! In the immortal words of Don Ameche, in Shel Silverstein's script to David Mamet's film of the same name..."Things change."
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
In addition to SUPERNATURAL LAW, Mr. Lash has also presented some of the loonier fringe concepts in mainstream comics such as the SIMPSONS spin-off, RADIOACTIVE MAN and the infamous oddball ARCHIE MEETS THE PUNISHER! Checkout his main site at Welcome to Exhibit A Press!
If that Benny book doesn't materialize soon, maybe we'll run my Batton Lash interview here at the Library.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Fellow blogger Chris over at Jart in My Head touched on THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH back on October 9th. This was Disney's 1963 remake of the early George Arliss talkie, DR. SYN based on books by Russell Thorndike about a swashbuckling Robin Hood-like smuggler in eighteenth century England who doubles as a mild-mannered vicar by day.
The Arliss film is a talkie all right. Not much action but a lot of talk. Veddy stiff uppah lip and all that, dontcha know? At 69, the actor was far too old for the role (Although he lived another eight years this was his final film)of the former pirate Captain Clegg who protects his small village and sticks it to King George whenever possible.
In 1962, Hammer films remade the film as CAPTAIN CLEGG (in this country NIGHT CREATURES) with Peter Cushing perfectly cast. As an actor, Cushing could easily do meek and mild (as in his Doctor Who films) or cold and calculating (as in his Frankenstein films) and here he was called in to be all of those in one picture. The smugglers in this wore cool skeleton costumes rather than Scarecrow outfits, perhaps in deference to the concurrently filmed Disney version.
Patrick Mcgoohan was cast in the Disney remake. Already a well-known actor, Mcgoohan projected a cold exterior in every role, aided by the fact that, in real life, he refused to ever kiss a leading lady as his wife might not like it. This probably killed any chances of his being a true leading man but led to an eclectic career in which he created and starred in THE PRISONER, perhaps the most cult-worthy TV series of all, played Hollywood villains in films such as SILVER STREAK and appeared as the guest killer on more episodes of COLUMBO than you can shake the proverbial stick at!
THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH aired in three parts several times on the TV show in the early sixties. My guess is that it was originally planned as a continuing series within the series a la' SWAMP FOX and ELFEGO BACA. My 8 year old son and I watched it recently and he was impressed by the Scarecrow mask and scared by the maniacal laugh. An edited (by nearly half) version appeared in theaters in the early seventies as DR SYN...ALIAS THE SCARECROW, usually on a double bill with Disney's TREASURE ISLAND. There was also a brief comic book version (with great Dan Spiegle art!) in the sixties and some other merchandising in the seventies. More recently on the web, you can purchase replicas of the charcter masks in the show. Here's a link to a really obsessive website that can get you even more info: The Reverend Dr Syn, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh
This clipping is from a 1972 issue of Junior Scholastic, one of those in-school magazines that still proliferate to this day. BLACULA is a better film than it perhaps should be and that's probably due to star William Marshall.
Marshall was a classically trained actor who played Shakespeare on Broadway and sang Grand Opera. There's a wonderful 1964 episode of BONANZA in which Ben Cartwright pays to bring a great opera singer to town and, along with the rest of the town, is stunned to find that he is black. Marshall brings an immense dignity to that role and carries that into BLACULA years later (as well as its sequel, SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM). Contrary to the article's conclusion, he would not appear in the dreadful BLACKENSTEIN.Among his other roles of interest to our audience, though, he was the second King of Cartoons on PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE, Dr. Daystrom on the STAR TREK episode, "The Ultimate Computer" and the voice of Iron Man on SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS. Sadly, this underrated actor died of complications from Alzheimers in 2003. Check out his IMDB listing at William Marshall (I) and watch for his appearances. In a better world, William Marshall would have been a superstar!
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Harvey Kurtzman is one of my idols. If you're reading this and you don't know who Harvey was, then stay tuned as I plan on writing a lot more about him soon. For now, though, just a quick look at one of Kurtzman's lesser-known projects, NUTS!, a MAD-style paperback series done for teens in 1985 through the late Byron Preiss' company and Bantam Books. If I recall correctly, it ran only two volumes. We have them around here somewhere at the Library. Seen here is actually the advance promo flyer that featured several pieces from both of those volumes and was distributed through bookstores several months prior to the books themselves. Various artists appear including Christopher Browne and Sarah Downs. The project is nowhere near Kurtzman's best work but it was great to see a burst of creativity near the end.
That said, the "Official" Buffy TV show tie-in book ultimately turns out to be multiple padded volumes. Several "unofficial" single volumes leave much to be desired. Then there's DUSTED!
The word unauthorized is right there on the cover which explains why you not only have zero pics inside but also the "vampires" on the cover feature Elvira and Darth Vader rip-offs instead of Spike, Angel or the Master.
Once you accept that lack of official sanction, however, DUSTED is an obsessive BUFFY fan's dream! Every season is a chapter, every episode a seperate listing. Each listing features firsts/lasts, demons, glitches, best lines, continuity notes, trivia, what it's REALLY about (strangely, many people see BUFFY as a show about a girl hunting vampires! Hah!), love (and sex)notes and a running tally of deaths.
There's also subsections about how many tattoos the characters (as opposed to the actors) have, the BUFFY novels, the songs in every episode, comics and even BUFFY on the Web! All in all, the ultimate fan book on the series...and they cover all seven seasons in one reasonably priced volume that can STILL be purchased or ordered. If you're a BUFFY fan, I recommend it completely. If you're a Nora Roberts fan...get word to her about DUSTED!
Aurora models are fondly remembered by all sixties geeks. Frankenstein, Dracula, Batman, Wonder Woman. Aaahhh! Then, in the early seventies, Aurora created MONSTER SCENES. Touted highly with full page ads in comic books of the era, the concept here was snap together models (modeling glue had been given a bad reputation by that point as a drug), new (Doctor Deadly) and familiar (Vampirella of all people!) characters and sets in which innocent youngsters could have hours of harmless fun. Here's an online link to the catalog: Aurora Monster Scenes Catalog . The sets included a working pendulum, a hanging torture cage and a laboratory. Oh, did I forget to mention that one of the models was "The Victim," a scantily clad young maiden designed solely to be tortured and perhaps killed by the monstrous main characters that also included Frankenstein's monster (here, as often happens, simply referred to as "Frankenstein")? Kids LOVED this stuff! Seriously, dude! This was all the rage and certainly better than the PREHISTORIC SCENES that followed a year or so later when Aurora (at the insistance of new parent company Nabisco) had pulled the MONSTER SCENES due to complaints. Of course, we didn't hear about all that at the time. Here's a link to a site that explains it all pretty well: MONSTER SCENES . Apparently everybody from Gloria Steinem to Ralph Nader complained!
Anyway, perhaps the coolest part was that the comic book insert included with each model kit was drawn by the then Deity-like Neal Adams. The inserts themselves were all the same but the instructions inside offered their own little individualized comic tales of the characters, again Neal-illustrated. Above you'll see the one for Frankenstein. I've seen a couple other online but I couldn't find them today. We have them here at the library so we may end up posting the rest ourselves.
I have to say that the only childhood acquaintance I know that ended up torturing women (I read it in the paper some years later) was NOT one of those of us who were into the MONSTER SCENES. As far as I know, we all turned out fine. Geeky, but fine!
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Computers are a marvelous tool. When I made myself up as a vampire in the previous shot, I applied vaseline to my face, then flour, then watered down catsup as the blood. The cape was the leggings of my Spider-Man costume that my mother had to sew together for me.
Now, here we are in this marvelous age where I can take a picture of my friend Brittany on a nice sunny day and photomanipulate it into a dark, moody (if happy looking!)vampire shot. My friend Kim was actually indoors but now appears to be outside in the dark, transformed. I LOVE photomanipulation!
That last post got me all nostalgic so I thought I'd revisit my youth just briefly and share with you some of my Halloween costumes over the years. From top to bottom, left to right, we have a cowboy (c.1961), Batman ('66), a sad clown ('65?), a bum (unused '67), Daniel Boone ('67), Buster Brown (actually from my '65 Kindergarten play but, hey, it's a costume!), a vampire (1971)(Inset-2nd try, 1972), Groucho (,73), GIJoe astronaut ('68), The Hulk ('69), Superman (?? I'm out of years!), me out of costume and me as a burglar in one of my final Halloween forays in 1981, that one to my first and only(no one's ever invited me since!) "adult" Halloween party. Somewhere in there I was also Spider-Man and Archie and the following year I wore the Spider-Man costume with the Archie mask and went as Peter Parker! How clever I was!
From Ghoulardi to Zacherley, horror movie hosts were all the rage in the late fifties-early sixties. Mark Twain rather famously indicated, however, that everything happened ten years late in Cincinnati. Thus it was that the Cool Ghoul arrived on WXIX’s SCREAM-IN circa 1970. Dick Von Hoene played both the Ghoul and his unseen sidekick, a disembodied Karloff voice, as he punned his way through a mix of classic horror films and low-budget fifties monster movies. SCREAM-IN became one of the young (it went on the air in ’68) UHF station’s most popular shows, prompting a non-Ghoul spin-off, CREATURE FEATURE.
The Ghoul himself became such a popular figure in the area that the show and the station couldn’t contain him. Before long Von Hoene was putting on his ugly make-up for commercials and public appearances and for a few years the orange wig look was very popular in this area around Halloween!
My one encounter with the Cool Ghoul was thankfully in broad daylight. It was the last day that Cincinnati’s Coney Island amusement park was open, 1971 I believe, and they were going out with a bang offering popular local celebrities all day long including Cool, as he was called. With his trademark loud mock-Lugosi laugh and a ridiculous tongue roll that every kid tried and failed to duplicate, he was easy to find, signing giant black and white posters (Being 12, I later colored mine!) for hundreds of mostly boys who crowded around him.
Scream-In, with its already outdated title, soon faded and Dick Von Hoene who doubled as an Ohio-accented (NOT a pretty sound) newsman on the station, ended up with just his day job. But the Cool Ghoul would not die! He still turned up in commercials and every Halloween he would be trotted out on some current talk or news show for a pun-filled interview. In 1981, I found out my first adult girlfriend’s mother had dated Dick Von Hoene years earlier!
In the 1990’s, Von Hoene was hosting a local cable talk show entitled NORTHERN KENTUCKY MAGAZINE. On two separate occasions, my wife and a friend appeared on his show but both times he was on vacation leaving them to be interviewed by his female co-host. He never left the Cool Ghoul far behind, however. Like the aging KISS, the makeup covered a lot of sins and Cool continued to rise every Halloween, a few years ago even receiving a new half hour cable special!
Dick Von Hoene died suddenly a couple years back and his death was followed by weeks of glowing tributes that undoubtedly would have surprised the man. These included one final cable special filled with vintage SCREAM-IN clips that hadn’t been seen in thirty years! Horror hosts are widely celebrated on the web but the Cool Ghoul, if mentioned at all, is only a footnote. Not so in Cincinnati, however. In Cincinnati, he’s Cool!
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Along with their animated title sequences, memorable Mancini scores and slapstick hilarity, the Pink Panther films were also known for their innovative advertising. Here's just a few from REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER (one of the best!) that seem appropriate for the season. We'll revisit the Panther as we get closer to the new Steve Martin movie. If you can't wait, here's a link to Jerry Beck's new DK book on the Pink guy: Amazon.com: Books: Pink Panther: The Ultimate Guide
Well now, DIAL B for BLOG, which should be one of everyone's mandatory daily webstops, has poasted a lovely VAMPIRELLA tribute but Robby's description of the character's creation does NOT include Ackerman!! Now, I KNOW I've heard FJA claim that he created Vampi! First the autograph...now THIS? SHEESH!! Where will it all end?
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The first celebrity autograph I ever got was that of Forrest J Ackerman, editor of FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine and, love him or hate him, one of the single most important figures in the history of science-fiction, horror and film collecting. I'm not going to rattle off FJA's accomplishments here. Look 'em up on the 'net if you're curious. Still, he presented classic horror films and their stars to those of us (mostly male and under the age of 18) who religiously followed his mags.
As new horror films developed in the sixties and seventies, FM tried to cover them but somehow it didn't work. From ROSEMARY'S BABY to THE EXORCIST to FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH, these new movies were more visceral, more violent and more often than not, rated where the mag's target audience couldn't get in to see them in the first place! (Okay, we all know we really could. Let's not go there.) Forry kept falling back on his vast treasure trove of photos and lots of reprints of articles on Karloff, Chaney Sr. and Lugosi. Long before 1980 , FM, once at the forefront of the sixties monster and the seventies nostalgia crazes, had itself become an anachronism.
Forry continued being Forry and, despite personal setbacks seemed to thrive on that as he welcomed fans to his "Ackermansion" museum. In 1986, this biographical tribute book was published, highlighting Forry's influence on everyone from Ray Bradbury and Stephen King to film directors like Spielberg and John Landis. The cover was a re-creation of the very first FAMOUS MONSTERS cover but this time, instead of publisher Jim Warren ina rubber Frankenstein monster mask, the aged Ackerman, himself went through the rigorous full make-up application to become the creature.
I forget the exact circumstances that led to my getting this nifty little Bill Nelson illo of FJA as "The Ackermonster" (something to do with an FM contest, I know) but, as excited as my 13 year old self was at the time, I find myself questioning that it's anautograph at all! I mean, even presuming that Mr. Ackerman, himself touched pen to paper here...HE DIDN'T ACTUALLY SIGN HIS FRICKIN' NAME!!!! Seriously! "Ackermonster" is NOT a name!!! Awww, maaaan!
Oh well, the geek in all of us can forgive dear old 4SJ for, along with his many other storied accomplishments, he also created VAMPIRELLA, the half naked vampire lady from the planet Drakulon. Of course the early Vampi stories, lighthearted froth drawn in a somewhat cartoony style by the late Tom Sutton were a far cry from the intricately illustrated Jose Gonzalez pieces reprinted in the issue pictured. This issue, by the way, is the rare, overpriced Harris one shot from 1988, long after the Warren issues and long before the later Vampi comics glut.
Oh, by the way, did you note the "half naked" line above? Fairly quickly, characters in VAMPIRELLA (and later her "brother" mags, CREEPY and EERIE) became completely naked and yet no one ever questioned teenage boys buying these mags as they were, of course, comics and as we all know...comics are for kids! Hehehehe! Thanks, Forry!
Monday, October 17, 2005
Sunday, October 16, 2005
The late Denis Gifford was undoubtedly Great Britain's foremost pop culture expert. Here at the library we have a number of his books on comics and film but the very first one we acquired was back in 1973--A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF HORROR MOVIES. After years of learning about classic horror films piecemeal through the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine and its brethren, here was my very first chance to see how this information all fit together in a more or less linear timeline. I devoured this book and its rare stills (often from the author's collection). In my senior year in high school, I actually ended up writing my final book report on it. This was mainly an excuse to carry it to school for a few days to show off. Later there were more scholarly books on the subject, more complete, more detailed and more explicit books on the subject but even as I glance through them now, I still think this is the best overall simple history of horror movies ever!
Saturday, October 15, 2005
In 1981, I, your humble librarian, made the first of several appearances as a contestant on an experimental TV game show entitled SCREEN TEST. While that in itself is a fascinating story, today we're dealing with what I answered when the host inquired as to my favorite movie. In retrospect, I should have gone with a classic or at least something then current. After all, this was television. I should have catered to the masses. Instead, I told the truth. My favorite film was, and is, THE WICKER MAN. I then took up about five minutes attempting to explain it succinctly.
When it first came out...barely in the US...I paid little attention to it. It wasn't until a few years later when the legendary film magazine CINEFANTASTIQUE devoted nearly an entire issue to it's greatness and it's legendary travails that I added it to my rather eccentric list of FilmsIalwayswantedtosee. As you can see from the newspaper ad here, it did finally play in my area...but I still missed it! I eventually saw a "restored" version at a rep house theater and later managed to get this long...but still incomplete...version on tape from a rare cable appearance.
You see, that's just it. By the time it was only a few years old, THE WICKER MAN was very nearly a "lost" film. Designed as a vehicle for Christopher Lee who was tired of silent but menacing appearances as Dracula, the film was written by Anthony Schaffer who had scripted Hitchcock's FRENZY and the popular play and movie, SLEUTH. As such, it was bound to be a puzzle and it is. The plot falls neatly into place (well, to be honest, how neatly depends on which version you're watching) but takes a number of twists along the way. The intelligent screenplay works on multiple levels as it educates the viewer about pagan ritual and custom. The more you learn as the film goes on...or the more you bring to the film in the first place...the more it all falls into place. Pretending to be a standard mystery story, Edward Woodward, later known on American TV as THE EQUALIZER, is a Christian Scottish police sargeant investigating the reported disappearance of a young girl at a self-sufficient Pagan community located on beautiful but mysterious Summerisle...where things are not as they seem. Are they?
Unexpectedly THE WICKER MAN, directed by Robin Hardy, is filled with great photography, beautiful songs and score and quite a bit of philosophy. Who is the villain here? Lord Summerisle, charismatically played by Christopher Lee with the wildest hairdo of his long and splendored career? By the end of the movie, your perceptions may change. The picture celebrates sexuality in a way no other film has and yet the only actual sex scene is between two snails! You'll remember Britt Ekland's (and her body double's) nude scene but note also her lovely performance here. It's all just...well...unexpected! The film's ending, although telegraphed by the title and led to almost directly in the picture, is still a shock the first time you see it! An amazing, unique horror film.
The saga of THE WICKER MAN's problems is covered in some depth in the documentaries on the special DVD release (which contains the original theatrical version as well as the better, restored, corrected version) as well as in a book that we don't yet have here at the Library. It is a cult film among horror fans and is praised in Neo-Pagan circles. The soundtrack sells well now that it has finally been released and, as with just about every classic movie, somebody thinks they can do it better as it is curretly being remade with Nicolas Cage as the policeman and Ellen Burstyn (!) as a variation on the Lee character. Hopes are not high but who knows? I didn't think I'd like the original at first, either, remember?
Thursday, October 13, 2005
As I do recall, however, I spent about 90 minutes in a noisy, crowded theater with the lights on and a bunch of pre-teen boys shooting stuff all over the place through straws while bad prints of TV cartoons played out on the big screen. At one point, two guys in cheap monster costumes stalked out from behind the screen and proceeded to walk through the seats supposedly terrorizing the children but, in fact, being pelted viciously by whatever was going through those straws! I don't even recall an appearance by Popeye! Ultraman also appeared only as a TV episode (seems like it was segmented between cartoons). I do recall that I really liked the Underdog cartoon as, like Popeye, I hadn't seen them in years at that point. Overall, though, this was the end of innocence. My last kiddie matinee. By the next year I was attending R-rated movies. Of course, after the novelty of that phase wore off, I embraced cartoons again. What's the point of being an adult if you can't enjoy cartoons? You think these things are made for kids?
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Boris Karloff was like the grandfather I never had. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born but I would constantly see this kindly old man with a mustache in TV guest spots as I was growing up and sort of adopted him as my grandfather figure. (Years later, Sara Karloff, Boris' daughter, wrote me a nice email after I told her that.) Boris Karloff died in early 1969, just about the time I discovered FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine and began finding out that he was much more than just a kindly old grandfather figure in movie history!
I had heard of FRANKENSTEIN but I had never seen it. Then, one Saturday night in 1970, they aired it on SCREAM-IN, the local hosted horror movie show. It was preceded by warnings that it might be too intense for children. It must have been too intense for my parents, also,a s they turned it off no more than halfway through. The following Monday, at school, FRANKENSTEIN was all anyone wanted to talk about...and I still hadn't really seen it!
Eventually, though, I did, along with all of its various sequels and as many Frankenstein spinoffs, tie-ins and rip-offs as I could find, too. Karloff was amazing in the role, giving heart and soul to a part that, by definition, shouldn't have any. His successors were many and varied but not one even seemed to attempt to convey the real emotions Boris brought to the role. As stated earlier, for the pure, iconic look of the monster, I prefer Glenn Strange but as a performance, Strange just simply lumbered around. Boris Karloff had one of the most fascinating careers in Hollywood history, moving effortlessly from truly scary roles to comedy to straight dramas to westerns (well, at least one). Thanks to Forry Ackerman, et. al. for keeping his memory alive.
Check out The Groovy Age of Horror which has declared this FRANKENSTEIN Month! Lots of rare, nifty (but not always G-rated. You've been warned!) Frank stuff!
Monday, October 10, 2005
The follow-up, MONDO MACABRO, offers more of the same but this time broken down by country so we are introduced to Turkish super-hero rip-offs, Japanese tentacle horrors and lots and lots of French lesbian vampires. With the rise of scholarly film magazines such as Tim Lucas' VIDEO WATCHDOG, there's become such a demand for obscure, non-US horror movies that you can actually find a lot of this stuff on the 'Net these days. Here's one source: Super Strange Video Still,at least in my case, it's much more fun to read about than it is to watch! The bizarre images in the books stay in my head long after the movies themselves would.
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Here's an unusual, German cartoony ad for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Looks like the lettering from Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN so I presume this to be from a seventies rerelease designed for a quick buck cash-in.
Arguably the best A and C picture and a better horror film than the two or three films in the Universal series that immediately preceded it, this 1948 picture marked the second and last time (and the first in seventeen years!) that Bela Lugosi, so closely identified to this day with the role of Count Dracula, actually played that role onscreen. Unfortunately, in spite of the film's success (which led to more "Meet the Monsters" films for the comedy duo, Lugosi's career received no boost and it was all downhill from here. In a couple of years, he would meet Ed Wood.
Lon Chaney, Jr. is Larry Talbot, the Wolfman, with that marvelous Jack Pierce make-up and Glenn Strange, with next to nothing to actually do, mind you, looks suitably monstrous in the Frankenstein Monster's make-up. In fact, I always thought Strange looked even better than Karloff! Even the Invisible Man appears...or doesn't... for a cameo via the voice of Vincent Price. If you see only one Abbott and Costello movie...well, honestly, it should probably be BUCK PRIVATES but if you're up for a second, make it ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN!
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Poor Rich. He also appeared in Orson Welles legendarily unfinished THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND and the quintessential lost sixties film, THE PHYNX, which allegedly fell victim to the sale of Warner Brothers to the Kinney Corporation which eventually led to AOL/Time-Warner. Of course, THE PHYNX is circulated among collectors and we have it here at the Library so maybe soon we'll do an in-depth analysis of it. It's also "another nice mess."