Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Dave Davies Reveals That a New Kinks Set Is Coming...

This is usually the time of year when major new sets from major old artists are announced, but sadly, 2020 is not a usual year. Will the expected Let It Be box set go the delayed way of the Beatles: Get Back documentary? Will ABKCO be able to get out its annual Rolling Stones box, whatever that might be (another anniversary edition of Get Yer Ya Yas Out? A 55th anniversary Rolling Stones No. 2 or Out of Our Heads box?).

Well, we don't have a date for it yet, but at least there is a glimmer of hope from The Kinks' camp, because during a recent interview with Jim Sclavunos, Dave Davies mentions that a set devoted to Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround is in the works. Perhaps the even bigger revelation is the demo for "Party Line" with totally different lyrics that is played during Sclavunos's show. Could this be a clue that a 55th Anniversary edition of Face to Face may be in store for 2021?

Listen to the Dave Davies interview here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Review: 'Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond'

It was hard enough boiling a century of horror cinema down to 200 spook shows. Imagine having to whittle it down to 31.

I understand the significance of the number—just enough to watch a single picture on each night of October—but its skimpiness skirts inconsequence. Normally, I wouldn’t even bother with a book like Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond. I made an exception because its author is the David Bordwell of horror: David J. Skal, the writer of such essential tomes as The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, and Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween.

So I was still all-in for the fairly inessential Fright Favorites— not because I thought I’d learn anything new about Skal’s mostly safe choices (Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, etc.), but because I was curious to see how someone so informed would function under such stringent limitations.

Well, Skal found his way around unlucky-number 31 with a bit of a cheat: the entries on each film include a little “If you enjoyed X, you may also like…” addendum. This is where Fright Favorites gets interesting as Skal strays from the well-traveled path to suggest that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night might make a fine double feature with Cat People or The Black Cat could be the satanic sister of Rosemary’s Baby.

Some of Skal’s “you may also like” recommendations are a bit dodgy (Cujo as a nature-gone-wild mate for The Birds when Jaws doesn’t even get a mention in this book?). Some are straight-up bad (Sleepy Hollow, The Conjuring, Friday the 13th, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), and because these additions are discussed in small side bars, and his writing is more informative than argumentative, Skal doesnt make strong cases for their quality. 

There are also some glaring omissions despite measures to sneak in more than 31 films. Like Jaws, King Kongand Psycho, and Alien are not invited to this Halloween party (Bride of Frankenstein doesnt get its own entry, but Skal gives it more than a mention in his Frankenstein one). Among the 31 main entries, the twenty-first century’s rich vein of horror cinema is reduced to just one movie.

All that being grumbled, I still enjoy reading Skal even under less-than-essential circumstances. Fright Favorites is also an attractively illustrated package full of movie stills, poster art, and behind-the-scenes shots.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Psychobabble's 200 Essential Horror Movies Addendum 8: The 1990s

Just one movie this month since the 1990s were a pretty bleak time for horror movies. But this one is great fun for you and your whole family! 

150. Bride of Chucky (1998- dir. RonnyYu)

After a genuinely clever and pointed opening act, a lazy second part, and a little-loved third one, Chucky is back and realizing his full high-camp potential in the post-Scream era of self-aware horror. The winking nods to horror films past come furiously. Psycho, sexy, riotous Jennifer Tilly is here to carry the first half of the picture as Charles Lee Ray’s former murder-mate, Tiffany. She then resurrects Chucky with a handy copy of Voodoo for Dummies and gets transformed into a devil dolly herself. 

Bride of Chucky is the most fun installment of the Chuck saga. Director Ronny Yu and cinematographer Peter Pau animate it with style that often resembles panels from an E.C. horror comic, and the doll effects are rad. Tilly and Brad Dourif are a killer team whether in the flesh or in the plastic. Even a side plot in which a pair of teens (Katherin Heigl and Nick Stabile) accidentally become a high-school Bonnie and Clyde is entertaining.

Be sure to tune in on September 1st to see which movies will make Psychobabble’s look at the Essential Horror Movies of the 2000s even more horrifying!

Monday, July 27, 2020

'The Go-Go's' Doc Coming (Really) Soon

They had punk attitude and pop hooks like few other eighties bands that broke into the mainstream. Now they have their own feature-length documentary. Alison Ellwood's The Go-Go's debuts on Showtime on July 31st at 9PM (eastern time). 

Watch the trailer here:

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review: PJ Harvey's 'Dry' and 'Dry Demos'

In 1992, Polly Jean Harvey punctured the grunge lethargy like a switchblade through a dingy flannel. Harvey neutered most of her guitar-wielding peers with legit rage and a harrowingly expressive voice weaned on Siouxsie Sioux and Captain Beefheart. That voice and her filthy guitar work led the eponymous trio PJ Harvey (Steve Vaughn: bass; Rob Ellis: drums) through eleven bluesy blades on their debut Dry.

The album is so unhinged, so genuinely scary that it can be easy to lose sight of how good songs such as “O Stella”, “Oh My Lover”, and “Water” are (stand outs like “Dress”, “Happy & Bleeding”, “Victory”, and the sublime “Sheela-Na-Gig” are tougher to mask). The 11 demos included on a limited, double-disc edition of Dry on the Too Pure label brought Harvey’s skills into perfect focus, revealing the traditional craft, even prettiness of songs that would be nothing short of monstrous on Dry. Although demo discs tend to be historically interesting yet ultimately disposable, Dry Demos actually enhances the proper album while also being a unique and rewarding listen on its own merits.

So it’s great that the Dry - Demos are being reissued on vinyl along with Dry. Both LPs in this first wave sound excellent with the spare arrangements of Dry Demos (mostly just Harveys guitars and voice, though there is the occasional cello or guest singer) at their most crystalline and the booming ones of Dry at their mightiest. Bass depth is extraordinary. Dry - Demos also includes a download card, though Dry does not.

As startling an opening salvo as Dry is, Polly Jean Harveys work would just get better and better from there as she sharpened her songwriting with 1993’ s Rid of Me and expanded her sound into unexpected places with the more refined and orchestrated blues-rock of To Bring You My Love, the moody electronic rhythms of Is This Desire?, and the ghostly folk of White Chalk (my personal pick for Harveys masterpiece). If the vinyl reissues of these discs are as good as Dry and Dry - Demos, this could turn out to be the best vinyl reissue campaign of 2020.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Review: 'Elvira: Mistress of the Dark' Blu-ray

It’s been less than a year since I last reviewed a Blu-ray edition of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. I’m not sure what kind of loosey-goosey rights issues brought us to this place, but it is now time for another.

To recap, RLJ Entertainment’s Blu-ray of Elvira’s spooky, kooky film debut was generally underwhelming. According to 2019-me, the disc’s image is “soft and dull” and its colors are “muted.” “Extras are non-existent aside from a trailer.”

For most reasonable people, that blah disc would still be a sufficient presentation of a juvenile eighties comedy that spends a lot of time spewing mammary puns. But we cultists are not reasonable people, and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark has earned a cult devoted to a star whose charms extend well beyond her décolletage (ugh, these puns just write themselves). Cassandra Peterson’s horror hostess with the mostest is limitless fun: part sexy firecracker, part take-no-shit wisecracker. If Julie Newmar’s Catwoman and Bugs Bunny had a baby, and they hired Lily Munster to be her nanny, that baby would grow up to be Elvira. With her presence, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark would be a fab way to waste 95 minutes even without Peterson and John Paragon’s never-dull, pun-jacked script, the slew of charmingly lo-fi special effects, and Edie McClurg. To once again quote 2019-me, “If you don’t agree that Edie McClurg makes everything better, I don’t want to know you.” 2020-me stands by that statement.

Renowned for its lovingly packaged Blu-rays of goofy horror movies (as well as some not-so goofy ones), Arrow Video is the right company to do Elvira right. While the picture can get a bit too grainy at times, Arrow’s disc is still a massive improvement over the previous one, with all the vibrancy, depth, and sharpness RLJ failed to supply.

Arrow also supplies several substantial extras, chief among them being a feature-length making of documentary with many members of the original crew and cast (but where’s Edie?) that was originally supposed to be included with a scrapped German Blu-ray. There’s also a neat 22-minute featurette about the puppet monster that lunges out of Elvira’s goopy casserole in one of the picture’s most endearing scenes, a short and unabashedly inept introduction from director James Signorelli, several image galleries, and several older audio commentaries by Signorelli, Peterson, Paragon, and McClurg (there’s Edie!).
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