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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Can't Wait Until 2016 for More "Twin Peaks"? Well, There's This...

"Twin Peaks" Freaks have a long wait until David Lynch and Mark Frost bring back their series for a nine-episode, "see you in 25 years" revival on Showtime in 2016. But they are not cruel men. They know a year and half or so is a long wait, so Mr. Frost will toss us a bone next year with The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks. Frost's novel, to be published by Macmillan's Flatiron Books, will get us all caught up on what's been happening in that dreamy town between 1990 and 2015. 

This will not be Frost's literary foray. He has written a number of novels that reflect his fascination with murder, mystery, and the occult, including The List of Seven, The Six Messiahs, and the on-going young readers trilogy The Paladin Prophecy. "Twin Peaks" is no stranger to the page either, inspiring three excellent tie-in books by Frost's brother Scott (The Autobiography of Special Agent Cooper), Lynch's daughter Jennifer (The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer), and David, Mark, and Richard Saul Wurman (Welcome to Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town). Hopefully, The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks will continue that tradition of "Twin Peaks" literary excellence and whet our appetites for the televised event of the twenty-first century. See in one year...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

No Tricks! Just Ten Treat Performances in Classic Horror Movies!

A good horror movie can be a grueling experience. All of that hacking, cracking, and killing can really wear you down if there isn’t some relief. Fortunately smart filmmakers know this to be true and tuck moments of levity, and even sheer delight, into their films to give us viewers a well-earned break. Often this pleasure may come directly from a single character played by a most singular actor or actress. I think of these as “treat” performances. These performances deliver waves of delight amidst the horror, whether the character is a beacon of sweetness in a sea of bitterness or is simply a lot of fun to watch despite being really, really evil.

Still not sure what I mean? Well, then kick off your hobnail boots and peruse the following Ten Treat Performances in Classic Horror Movies!

(spoilers ahead)

1. Dwight Frye as Renfield in Dracula (1931)

Although there are few more iconic monster movies than Dracula, it often gets slammed for being slow-moving and talky, more drawing-room mystery than blood-curdling horror. The first twenty minutes of Tod Browning’s film are generally absolved from these charges because watching Bela Lugosi menace Dwight Frye in the sumptuously Gothic Transylvanian setting is unadulterated joy and what a lot of critics want the whole film to be. After the wacky duo jump on a ship to London, Dracula becomes less sinister and more formulaic. Nevertheless, it continues to be terrific—no matter what those blowhard critics say—because every second spent in the presence of Dwight Frye is a treat. Don’t get me wrong. I adore my time with Drac too. Seeing Bela portray Dracula is a lot like getting to Santa Claus in the flesh, being that Bela is such an icon of Halloween and Santa is such an icon of that other major national holiday. But it is Dwight who truly delights. The craziest character in the film is the one to whom we can most relate as he exudes all the desire, hatred, regret, pity, humor, and terror his mostly wooden cast-mates lack.

2. Bela Lugosi as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein (1939)

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