Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: 'Haunted Horror: Cry from the Coffin'

When Franc Wertham stirred the panic that led to the censorious Comics Code with his book Seduction of the Innocent, he did so with outrageous claims about a natural link between juvenile delinquency and reading horror comics and homophobic theories about Wonder Woman and Batman. Yet parents weren’t quite crazy to be a little concerned about the graphic violence and Shock-SuspenStories that appeared on the pages of many horror titles during the pre-code era. And EC, the poster boy for seducing the innocent, wasn’t the only book that traded in graphic dismemberments, dripping corpses, rotting faces, and necrophilia. Such things could also be witnessed in Journey into Fear, Baffling Mysteries, and the other vintage titles Craig Yoe has been collecting in his Haunted Horror anthologies since 2012.

The latest hardback collection of Haunted Horror issues is a different story. The tameness of most of the stories within is a veritable theme. Neither a drop of blood nor a chunk of flesh flops to the floor in Haunted Horror: Cry from the Coffin. The tale of a ghost learning the haunting ropes called “How to Be a Gracious Ghost” (originally printed in Strange) is fit for an issue of Caspar the Friendly Ghost. There is also a definite focus on the most basic horror tropes: stories starring ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, and devils, several of which are set on Halloween, abound.

Fortunately, there are enough twists on the usual creepy tropes to keep things interesting. There’s a vampire who shares more DNA with cats than bats (“The Vampire Cat” from Forbidden Worlds) and another vampire tale with a genuinely surprising twist (“Out of the Black Night” from Web of Mystery). The twist ending of “The Witch of Death” (Web of Evil), however, is straight out of Scooby Doo. Only toward the end of Haunted Horror: Cry from the Coffin does the content become dicier, starting with the racist “Terror in Chinatown” (Web of Evil- why not just weed out this kind of shit?) and then getting a bit more gruesome with stories such as “The Murder Pool” (Strange Fantasy) and “Step into My Grave” (Baffling Mysteries).

Though the artwork in these second-rate titles is often pretty shoddy, it is always charming and sometimes creepy enough to give some younger reader a nightmare or two. Consequently, the first 120 or so pages of Haunted Horror: Cry from the Coffin would function very nicely as a first step in seducing some innocent into the wonderful world of horror comics.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Review: 'Notorious' Blu-ray

Eight months after the end of World War II, Alicia Huberman’s dad is convicted of spying on the U.S. for the Nazis. An agent named Devlin recruits her to infiltrate the home of her dad’s pal Alex Sebastian, a Nazi industrialist hiding out in Rio who has long carried a torch for Alicia. Since Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia and Cary Grant is Devlin, they’re just too damned good looking to keep their hands off of each other, and the budding romance complicates her dangerous liaison with Alex, played by a unsettlingly sympathetic Claude Rains.

This bizarre love triangle is the backbone of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. Without the Gothic feverishness, luridness, wild set pieces, or high adventure of Hitchcock’s most celebrated work, Notorious may stand as his most low-key and adult film. Grant even suppresses his usually uncontainable charm to play Devlin as a cold fish whose actual motivations do not become clear until the very end of the film. All of this does not render Notorious similarly chilly. Hitchcock still manages to electrify his imagery with flashes of disorienting camerawork and wrings classic moments of suspense out of such subtle actions as a palmed key and a dwindling champagne supply. However, it is Bergman who really ignites the atmosphere. She was rarely better than she is here as a fierce alcoholic determined to outpace her father’s reputation but ends up as a pawn in a potentially fatal scheme.

The Criterion Collection is now giving Notorious a 4k upgrade, and the film looks good with a natural grain and no noticeable flaws. At times sharpness and contrast are a tad weak, but the picture looks very fine overall. The supplements constitute a veritable crash course in cinema studies. Chief among them is David Thompson’s 2009 documentary Once Upon a Time… “Notorious”, which spends 52-minutes analyzing the filmmaking, describing making of details, and placing the picture in historical/political context…some of which will require a very strong stomach as it includes actual concentration camp footage. There are also plenty of new exclusives, such as David Bordwell’s video essay focusing on the film’s style and chillingly subtle ending, an interview with cinematographer John Bailey on the look of the picture, and additional featurettes starring Hitchcock’s biographer Donald Spoto and David Raim. There is also an hour-long radio adaptation of Notorious starring Ingrid Bergman  and Joseph Cotton, a very brief pathe reel featuring Bergman and Hitchcock, and Marian Keane’s audio commentary ported over from Criterion’s 2001 DVD.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

And Now for No Other Reason Than It's Awesome, Here's a Very Special Episode of "Trackdown"!

As you regular Psychobabble readers know, Psychobabble is the home of retro pop culture, right? Here at Psychobabble, I love reminding you, dear readers, of why the classics are classic, but I also enjoy passing along more obscure gems from the past as well. I've never been a big western fan, so I was unaware of a western TV series from the fifties called Trackdown, but one particular episode that has been making the Internet rounds today is definitely worth a gander. "The End of the World" is the story of a populist con man who wants to sell a small town on keeping out "the end of the world" by building a wall around said town. Oh, and don't forget to take note of the con man's name! 

Enjoy this bit of totally irrelevant, not-at-all precognitive bit of twentieth century popular culture the likes of which Psychobabble has been passing along to you without political affiliation for the past decade! Cheers!

The Elvira Show

In 1993, walking sitcom Elvira finally got the chance to cackle her double entendres in a sitcom. The show was spookily similar to the Sabrina the Teenage Witch show that would debut three years later. 

Elvira plays a closeted witch with a daffy witch aunt (Katherine Helmond of Soap and Who's the Boss) and a talking black cat. A cool surprise arrives in the form of Elvira's long lost niece, who is played by Twin Peaks alum Phoebe Augustine (Ronette Polaski in seasons 1 and 2 and "American Girl" in the recent third season). The eternally fabulous Lynne Marie Stewart (Pee Wee's Playhouse) also makes a few appearances. CBS decided to pass on "The Elvira Show" but its pilot found a home on YouTube way back in 2013. Fans of Elvira's spooky/sexy spin on cornball (and occasionally genuinely dirty! Dig the line about the "big stiff cop") one-liners may want to give it a look:

Thanks to TheHauntBox

Monday, January 7, 2019

2000th Post: Psychobabble's 10 Greatest Albums of 1999

And so we reach the end of a nearly ten-year project (as well as Psychobabble’s 2000th post). Way back on April 17, 2009, I posted Psychobabble’s ten personal favorite albums of 1979, which I’ve since expanded to fourteen and probably could expand even further today. (What? No mention of The B-52s, Lene Lovich’s Stateless, Squeeze’s Cool for Cats, Cheap Tricks’ Dream Police or Live at Budokan? I wish I could go back in time and punch myself in the face).

Since then I’ve covered all the years since Rock & Roll’s explosive beginnings in the mid-fifties right up to this post when we touch the precipice of the millennium. Ah, remember those days? Those days of Y2K terror. Those days when a U.S. president could be impeached because he couldn’t define the word “is.” Seems pretty innocent during a time when a president can actively try to destroy the country from within on a daily basis without losing support of nearly half of Americans. Progress.

Most relevant for you, my darling Psychobabblers, is that 1999 was the year that Rock & Roll really began gasping its last gasp. It is the year of Britney and Christina, the year that Cher introduced the world to the queasy horrors of auto-tune, and the year that the biggest bands to tote guitars were Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth, and the Goo Goo Dolls.

But Rock & Roll was not dead yet, and for those paying attention, it even seemed like there might be a pair of saviors wrapped up in peppermint packaging. Would it be the year that they would rescue Rock & Roll so that it could continue to thrive for decades to come? Would it be the year that the remnants of the most powerful feminist punk band would keep the DIY spirit alive? Or the year that the greatest indie rock band of all time would conquer the mainstream and take their rightful place alongside The Beatles and Stones?

Nope. But they and several others still made great records. Here are ten.

10. The White Stripes by The White Stripes

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sixties-Spanning Zombies Vinyl Box Set Coming Soon...

Despite a title that implies it will only cover The Zombies' earliest days as undead jazz-pop purveyors, the 5-LP In the Beginning will actually include everything the guys did in the sixties. Along with discs devoted to their two proper albums--1965's Begin Here and the 1968 masterpiece Odessey and Oracle--there will be two discs devoted to non-LP singles, EP tracks, and oddities, as well as the reconstruction of their unreleased final album that has been floating around as R.I.P. for the past ten years. Each vinyl disc will be a different color and the whole thing is to be housed in a rigid slipcase. Demon Records will be releasing In the Beginning on February 22.

Here's the full track listing:

Begin Here

Friday, January 4, 2019

Review: 'Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution' Blue-ray

No movement springs up overnight, and as tied to the eighties/nineties as the Queercore scene seems to be, there had been rumbles for decades in the films of Kenneth Anger and John Waters, Flaming Creatures, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jayne County, Buzzcocks, and the fashions of Vivian Westwood. However, according to Yony Leyser’s 2017 documentary Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution, it was Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones’s button-pushing ’zine J.D.s that gave form to the movement and inspired a gang of young punks to give it a sound. And so came Tribe 8, Pansy Division, the spectacular Team Dresch, and a host of groups willing to actualize J.D.s vision… and often make it more specifically political.

While Queercore is superficially a rock doc, it makes a much wider point about a movement with nothing but disdain for limitations. Queercore was a philosophy that reached into all corners of art, and for a lot of people, it was a way of life. It wasn’t just a way to stand apart from straights in the “not-gay” sense of the term. It was a way to stand apart from any limitation conservative society—gay or not gay—considers acceptable. So Queercore culture didn’t just embrace the favorite music of straight boys—Rock & Roll—but it might also embrace such transgressions as porno, violent imagery, and the stereotype of predatory homosexuals while gobbing in the face of assimilation. What’s punker than that?

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution is highly educational, studying the genesis of an important though rarely discussed tributary of rock history as well as exploring how it grew, flourished, and lives on today. It’s also a shitload of fun as we see and hear the bands in action, and view clips of some pretty hilarious short films that sprung from the movement. Aimee Goguen’s ’zine-like animations convey the spirit of the topic with wild flair.

One strange move was to cut Jayne County’s crucial (and really, really funny) talking head out of the discussion, especially since Leyser filmed her discussing gay artists of the original NYC punk scene, which is a topic barely touched on in the film. Fortunately, that twenty two-minute interview is included among the bonus interviews on the new blu-ray edition of Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution. Extra interviews with John Waters (delightful as always), Dennis Cooper, Kim Gordon, and Don Bolles from The Germs round out the supplementary features.

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