Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Diary of the Dead 2014

Every year I log my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews at the end of every week in October in a fiendish feature I call Diary of the Dead. This year I altered the scheme slightly for a single, season-ending post.

I wrote it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

Oct. 1

Rodan (1956- dir. Ishirō Honda) **

One of the most iconic giant Japanese monsters first appeared in a pretty boring movie. Miners discover a baby pterodactyl that looks and moves like a kite. It terrorizes Japan without a smidgen of the moodiness of its forefather, Gojira. Amazing that Ishirō Honda followed that masterpiece with such a lazy picture. Rodan would only become fun when paired with Gojira, as we shall soon see.

We Are What We Are (2013- dir. Jim Mickie) ***

I haven’t seen the Mexican film upon which this cannibal family flick was based, so I can’t make any unfavorable comparisons. Taken on its own merits, the American We Are What We Are is refreshingly atmospheric. It’s also deliberately paced, which I usually like, but this one’s a little too deliberate, bordering on tedious. It’s also a bit empty aside from its fairly subtle critique of the patriarchy. On the plus side, it has Michael Parks, which is worth at least half a star.

Oct. 3

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964- Ishirō Honda) ***½

This is more like it. Since Honda didn’t seem interested in/capable of recapturing the grimness of Gojira he took his kaiju franchise to its logical camp conclusion. Rodan is back and less turgid in mood if not motion. So is Gojira and giant bug Mothra. The old rampaging monsters experience a change of heart when faced with three-headed dragon Ghidorah. They actually have a conversation about whether or not they should assist humanity by offing the new menace! Plus there are those wacky fairy twins, who appear on a crazy TV talk show. Perhaps not great fun, but certainly good fun.

Oct. 4

Monday, October 27, 2014

Track by Track: 'Spook Along with Zacherley'

In this ongoing feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been taking a close look at albums of the classic, underrated, and flawed variety, and assessing them Track by Track.

Like most American families, mine spent Christmas with the usual choir of vinyl carolers: Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole, and since my dad loved Rock & Roll as much as I do, Phil Spector’s stable of stars. Most American homes, however, had no annual carols for my favorite holiday. Mine did though. As soon as my mom had affixed the final cardboard jack-o-lantern to the living room windows, I was begging my dad to take his yearly trip down to the basement and brush the cobwebs off an old record called Spook Along with Zacherley.

This was the late seventies, so I only knew Zacherley from this record and what my dad told me about him. I wouldn’t quite call my dad an original monster kid (as far as I know, he never touched an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland or an Aurora model kit), but he did have a lot of affection for Dracula and The Wolf Man and King Kong. He was an original viewer of “Shock! Theatre”, the show on which a stage actor named John Zacherle donned a dusty frock coat and frosty makeup to host a package of classic monster movies, crack wise about the undead, and occasionally appear superimposed in the movies to “personally interact” with Dracula and the Wolf Man.

John Zacherle started his career as the most famous male horror host of his era (Vampira and Elvira remain the biggest household names for obvious reasons) in his hometown of Philadelphia. There he hosted “Shock! Theatre” on WCAU-TV in the guise of Roland. Appearing as a guest on “American Bandstand” in 1958, Dick Clark supposedly dubbed him “The Cool Ghoul”. A gaggle of teenagers seemed quick to agree, and his massive appeal with kids who liked watching vampires suck as much as they dug hearing Little Richard screech led him to cut his own record under his own name for Cameo Parkway Records. With rocking backing from the label’s house band The Applejacks— not to be confused with the British group that later had a minor hit with Lennon and McCartney’s “Like Dreamers Do”— “Dinner with Drac” by John Zacherle “The Cool Ghoul” became a surprise national hit. Like all overnight pop sensations, an LP was not far in the future.

That same year, CBS bought up WCAU and John Zacherle fled to fry bigger fish in NYC. When he landed at ABC-TV, he was not allowed to use the Roland character he created at his old station. Big whoop. After all, Roland didn’t have a hit song…John Zacherle did. So he adopted his real name (with an extra “y” mistakenly added by ABC) and continued terrorizing TV as Zacherley on “Shock! Theatre” (and briefly “Zacherley at Large”) in 1959.

In October Zacherley jumped ghost ships once again to WOR-TV. Although the station’s production values were chintzier than those of WCAU or WABC, his popularity continued to soar. Naturally, a run for the presidency was not far behind, nor was that long-awaited LP finally released in the summer of ’60 not on mom-and-pop Cameo but on Elektra Records, then a successful label specializing in folk. Burying Mitch Miller, the record was titled Spook Along with Zacherley, and spilled over with lurid odes to monstrous parent/teacher associations, outrageous orangutans, Frank, Drac, and Zach’s own bid to snatch votes from Nixon and JFK.

Co-producing was Stan Rhodes, who’d co-written the standard “A Sunday Kind of Love” (covered by everyone from Etta James to Jan and Dean), and Gerald Alters, who’d later take an infinitely less cool position as Barry Manilow’s arranger. Lee Pockriss, most famous for composing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, “My Little Corner of the World”, and “Johnny Angel”, supplied the songs. These writers, arrangers, and producers offered most of the necessary elements: MOR schmaltz and teen novelty appeal. Zacherley delivered the essential horrificness and the lowest bass this side of Will “Dub” Jones.

The results are not a great album, but they are a great snapshot of that nether-period between the original Rock & Roller’s reign of the late fifties and the coming British Invasion, an age of novelty records, when late-night horror movies had to fill the delinquency gap Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis left vacant and well-scrubbed chumps like Frankie Avalon and Fabian couldn’t hope to fill. So dim the lights, my little ghoulies. Snuggle up to your spider baby and set the picture on Black & White. It’s time to sing along with the Cool Ghoul…

Spook Along with Zacherley by Zacherley

Originally released Summer of 1960

Produced by Stan Rhodes and Gerald Alters

All songs by Lee Pockriss

Track 1: Coolest Little Monster

Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: 'The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy'

The Creature from the Black Lagoon was made long enough ago that it is considered the final chapter of Universal’s monster movie golden age (by some folks, at least), but recently enough that most of its principal players were still alive for the Monster Kid age that continues to this day and hopefully will last well into the future. So unlike Dracula or Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon spawned a wealth of documentation about its making, as did its sequels Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us.

One of the highest-profile Monster Kids, Tom Weaver, conducted a heap of his own research to put together the lagoon-clogging The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy. His (and a clutch of guest contributors') gargantuan heap of cast-and-crew interviews, archive diving, and close attention to the films, themselves, makes this the definitive Gill Man document by an astoundingly long shot. Everything you’ve ever wondered about our beloved man-fish and his three movies—and probably a shitload of things that never even crossed your mind—are covered between its nearly 400 over-sized, hardbound, photo-splattered pages. Do you want to know the warts-and-all backgrounds of everyone involved in these films, including lecherous director Jack Arnold, beastly leading man John Agar, and Gill Man portrayer/right-wing nut job Tom Hennesy? They’re in here. Do you want to know who allegedly played the creature along with everyone officially identified? That’s here too. The weird promo campaign suggestions; the failed early story drafts; the daily production mishaps and triumphs; critical analyses; the long-teased but never produced remakes to which such names as John Landis, Peter Jackson, and Robert Rodriguez have been attached; and a really long introduction by Lagoon star Julie Adams are all here too. The only thing I thought was a bit underserved in The Creature Chronicles is the 3-D process, but in all honesty, I didn’t actually care that much about it. It’s just that this book is so exhaustive that when one of the films’ significant aspects isn’t explored from every possible angle, it sticks out a bit.

Weaver makes all the minutia readable with his smirking prose, and all of the films were produced under weird enough circumstances by wild enough crews that the whole damn thing will hold your attention regardless of your interest in Revenge and Walks (and if you’re not interested in them, shame on you). Really, this is both a book about particular movies and about the filmmaking process in general, so cinema professors may want to think about assigning The Creature Chronicles after boring their students with the usual Bordwell and Thompson textbooks.

Get The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy on here:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: Nelson Riddle's 'Batman: Exclusive Original Television Soundtrack Album'

Can't wait until November 11 for the landmark home video release of the classic "Batman" TV series? Well, Bat Fan, you can whet your Bat-ppetite further with Mercury/UMe's reissue of the show's Exclusive Original Television Soundtrack Album. Originally released by 20th Century Fox records in 1966, the year the series debuted, this record was both of its time and seemingly ahead of it, much like the series it advertised. Nelson Riddle's mix of lounge jazz, light Rock & Roll, and surf was very sixties soundtracky, while the presentation was much more forward thinking. The way the record folds dialogue from the series in with the music sounds like sampling twenty years ahead of schedule, especially the litany of Burt Ward's "Holy-This!" and "Holy-That!" littered through "Holy-Hole-in-the-Doughnut -or- (Robin, You've Done It Again)". There's also guest gabbing from Special Guest Villains Anne Baxter (as Zelda), Frank Gorshin (as The Riddler), Burgess Meredith (as The Penguin), and George Sanders (as Mr. Freeze).

That major baddies like The Joker and Cat Woman are absent is probably down to the fact that the Batman: Exclusive Original Television Soundtrack Album was released so early in the show's run, before viewers had a chance to really identify their favorite villains (Julie Newmar wouldn't regularly appear as Cat Woman until season two). This also means that a couple of favorite themes are absent, such as the Batgirl theme and the awesomely fuzzed-out variation on the main theme that played during fight scene's in the series' final season. Also, one should be warned that the "Batman Theme" on this album is not composer Neal Hefti's recording that kicked off the show but a remake by Riddle that works in a surprise lounge-jazz interlude. But, hey, that's how the album came out five decades ago. The re-release is available on both CD and vinyl, which is what I received to review. If you really want to recreate that Bat feeling of '66, the vinyl is the only way to go.

Get the Batman: Exclusive Original Television Soundtrack Album on vinyl or CD on here:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Psychobabble’s Ten Most Terrifying Tales from the Crypt Comics!

 Heh, heh… good evening, Kiddies! I see it’s time for me to give you another spine-tingling post here on Psychobabble, and today’s chiller is no less than ten of the most horrid hunks of horror to appear in Entertaining Comics’ Tales from the Crypt magazine! And when I say Tales from the Crypt, I mean Tales from the Crypt, and not The Haunt of Fear or The Vault of Horror, because…well… I haven’t read all of those comics yet! So while favorites like “…And All Through the House…” and “A Grim Fairy Tale!” may be missing from this list, I’m sure you’ll agree the following stories earn the terrible title… Psychobabble’s Ten Most Terrifying Tales from the Crypt Comics!

1. The Living Corpse (Tales from the Crypt #18; artist: Wally Wood)

Its first tale to really nail both story and art reared its hideous head in just the second issue of Tales from the Crypt (never mind the kooky numbering system…issue 18 is really issue 2). Despite its unimaginative title, “The Living Corpse” establishes a strong mystery (why do these damn corpses keep coming to life and sprinting from the local morgue?) and resolves it with a clever series of twists. Though “The Living Corpse” isn’t a supernatural tale in the end, Wally Wood’s hallucinatory depictions of the morgue attendant’s fears are as nightmarish as anything in any zombie story.

2. Reflection of Death! (Tales from the Crypt #23; artist: Al Feldstein)

E.C.’s crypt keepers loved to pull the gimmick of placing you in the story with second-person narration. This gimmick was never used to more purposeful effect than in “Reflection of Death!”, in which you walk away from a car crash only to have everyone who sees you completely freak out? Why? Well, let’s just say that the Return of the Living Dead makeup crew must have drawn a lot of inspiration from Al Feldstein’s artwork when creating the Tar Man. Plus, the title panel monster mash illustration is fab!

3. Drawn and Quartered! (Tales from the Crypt #26; artist: Jack Davis)

A dose of voodoo causes everything that happens to an artist’s paintings to happen to the things his paintings depict. A horrible and classically ironic revenge plot ensues as the artist works overtime painting everyone who’s ever wronged him. What may be the cleverest of all E.C. horror stories is matched with Jack Davis’s signature goopy artwork.

4. The Ventriloquist’s Dummy! (Tales from the Crypt #28; artist: Graham Ingles)

Although the evil dummy trope has been done to death by now, it had only really been tackled once in the British portmanteau film Dead of Night before “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy!” Maybe that’s why this story so avoids the clichés of this type of story. Instead of the usual “dummy become outlet for ventriloquist’s madness” tale, we get a crazy conjoined twin one. The classic “Tales from the Crypt” episode this comic inspired diluted the horror with comedy. The comic is all horrific, and “Ghastly” Graham Ingles’s art makes good on his nickname.

All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.