Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: 'My Boyfriend's Back' Blu-ray


With his sparse hair and prominent spectacles, Bob Balaban is best known to comedy fans for being in front of the camera in stuff like “Seinfeld” and Christopher Guest’s comedies. Behind the camera, Balaban has more cult appeal as the director of a couple of truly odd horror-comedies. In 1989, he made Parents, a tale of childhood fears and cannibalism that remains a uniquely funny and chilling masterpiece despite its tonal inconsistencies. I doubt anyone would call 1993’s My Boyfriend’s Back a masterpiece, though it hits a more consistent tone across its swift 85-minutes. That tone: goofy. A lot of critics griped about the picture’s goofiness, some even claiming that this early zombie-comedy would have been better if it peered at its material through a darker glass, but that extreme goofiness is what gives the movie its own unique feel and appeal.

Andrew Lowery (the lone unknown in a sea of familiar character actors and future stars) is Johnny Dingle, a doofus who’s been in love with Missy McCloud (B-horror staple Traci Lind) since they were tots. Teenage Johnny finally resolves to win Missy with an asinine convenience-store-robbery scheme that ends with him getting plugged multiple times by a very real gunman. With his dying breath, Johnny asks Missy to go to the prom with him. Hardly expecting Johnny to live that long, Missy says, "yes." Johnny croaks. Johnny gets buried. Johnny refuses to let any of that get in the way of his dream date.

The genuinely funny running joke in My Boyfriend’s Back is that Johnny is so ordinary that no one reacts to the fact that he has crawled out of the grave with anything more than mild surprise. This makes way for lots of absurdity in the Better Off Dead vein but with an added twist of grotesquery befitting its more monstrous subject matter (Johnny’s doting mom, the perpetually terrific Mary Beth Hurt, thinks nothing of procuring little kids and corpses for her son to munch on).

Not everything works as well as that. There are a couple of painfully unfunny fantasy sequences (though the one in which Paul Dooley taunts Johnny to eat him gets it right). Harry Manfredi’s bad eighties-sitcom score attempts to give the comedy an extra goose of lightheartedness it really doesn’t need. The cop-out ending feels more like the work of a dumbass test audience than a screenwriter. But don’t let any of that put you off because none of it keeps My Boyfriend’s Back from being entertaining and amusing as a whole. And despite an obvious lack of budget (they couldn’t even spring for more than a few pats of light pancake makeup to zombify Johnny), it’s also a nice looking film with its cheerfully primary palette, the occasionally inserted E.C.-horror-comic-style splash page, and a couple of spookily atmospheric exterior night shots. Mill Creek Entertainment’s new blu-ray represents those elements with pleasing clarity and naturalness, and only the occasional white speck manages to blemish the picture. The disc is as bare bones as Paul Dooley at the end of that fantasy sequence, but I’m sure the select fans who appreciate the underappreciated charms of My Boyfriend’s Back will just be happy that it got a Blu-ray release at all.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 152


The Date: February 29

The Movie: Freaks (1932)

What Is It?: The unusually bodied carnival performers are the heroes and the conventionally pretty people are the monsters in Tod Browning’s controversial tale of gruesome revenge. Gooble gobble!

Why Today?: February 29 is a freak.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 151


The Date: February 28

The Movie: Short Cuts (1993)

What Is It?: The canvas is L.A. The paints are an impressive assortment of character actors who face tragedy, infidelity, crank calls, and a big earthquake. The painter is Robert Altman. Set aside three hours to take in an epic work of art.

Why Today?: On this day in 1990, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake rocks L.A.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 150


The Date: February 27

The Movie: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

What Is It?: Joseph Mankiewicz’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play finds Liz Taylor traumatized by a gruesome event that suggests George Romero secretly collaborated on the script. Melodrama at its most bizarre!

Why Today?: On this day in 1932, Elizabeth Taylor is born.

Friday, February 26, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 149


The Date: February 26
The Movie: When the Wind Blows (1986)
What Is It?: Jimmy Murakami’s adaptation of a graphic novel about an elderly British couple who keep their upper lips stiff in the wake of a nuclear attack is tragic, disturbing, and an eclectically realized piece of animation.
Why Today?: On this day In 1952, Churchill announces Britain has the A-bomb.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 148


The Date: February 25
The Movie: Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
What Is It?: Monty Python takes Christian dogma for a ride in a UFO, and Graham Chapman finds humanity in the eye of a storm of brilliant absurdities. He also shows his penis. Thank George Harrison, who funded the film after EMI pulled its funding because of the script’s controversial depiction of a guy a bunch of dopes think is a messiah. Chickens!
Why Today?: On this day in 1943, George Harrison is born.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 147


The Date: February 24
The Movie: Privilege (1967)
What Is It?: An early attempt at a “serious” pop movie finds Paul Jones of Manfred Mann becoming some sort of messianic figure a few years in the future. Groovy weirdness and far-out pretentiousness, ahoy!
Why Today?: On this day in 1942, Paul Jones born.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 146


The Date: February 23

The Movie: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

What Is It?: A year after his TV series’ cancellation, David Lynch returns to the sleepy, creepy town of Twin Peaks to show us just what happened during the final days of Laura Palmer’s life. It is not pretty.

Why Today?: On this day in 1989, Laura Palmer is killed.

Monday, February 22, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 145


The Date: February 22

The Movie: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise (1972)

What Is It?: Master surrealist Luis Buñuel sends up a bunch of upper-class twits who just want to have a nice dinner by plugging them into a network of interlocking nightmares. Too bad for them!

Why Today?: On this day in 1900, Luis Buñuel is born.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 144


The Date: February 21

The Movie: Malcolm X (1992)

What Is It?: Spike Lee’s biography of criminal turned revolutionary turned human rights leader Malcolm X  is far more than a three-and-a-half hour history lesson. With its dazzling palette, choreography, acting, and storytelling, it’s great entertainment.

Why Today?: On this day in 1965, Malcolm X is assassinated.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 143


The Date: February 20

The Movie: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

What Is It?: This made-for-TV portmanteau of Richard Matheson stories has an unpromising ratio of two weak stories and one great one, but that great one is so taut and terrifying that it makes this trilogy essential horror viewing. I don’t actually have to tell you which story is the great one, do I?

Why Today?: On this day in 1926, Richard Matheson is born.

Friday, February 19, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 142


The Date: February 19

The Movie: The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)

What Is It?: The first great pop concert film is a lineup of the best soul, pop, and rock acts 1964 had to offer. Fast forward through Jan and Dean’s cornball hosting routine to get to the good stuff: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, Leslie Gore, and in an epic show-ending showdown, James Brown and The Rolling Stones. Mick does a valiant job, but he can’t out-Godfather the Godfather.

Why Today?: On this day in 1940, Smokey Robinson is born.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mark Frost's "Twin Peaks" Book Has a Publication Date (Pre-Order Info Too)

Last year when Mark Frost and David Lynch announced that "Twin Peaks" would soon be resuming 25 years after its second season's 1991 finale, Frost also revealed that he planned to publish a book filling us Peaks Freaks in about what went down with Agent Cooper, Sheriff Truman, and the rest of the gang during that two and half decades.

While we still await a debut date for the series (though we've been told to count on early 2017), Frost's The Secret History of Twin Peaks at least has one now. The hardcover, illustrated book will be coming from Flatiron Books on this coming October 18. Amazon's pre-order page is now up here:


Thanks to Welcome to Twin Peaks.com for this latest Coop scoop.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 141


The Date: February 18
The Movie: Withnail and I (1987)
What Is It?: A pair of wine-soaked drama students escape their vile London flat for a weekend in the country side. Utter hilarity ensues as they continue to imbibe at a prodigious rate, and demand the finest wines available to humanity, which they want here, and they want now. Richard E. Grant makes his star potential abundantly clear, but it’s Ralph Brown who steals the show as a drug dealer. When he spikes you, you’ll know you’ve been spoken to.
Why Today?: Today is Drink Wine Day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 140


The Date: February 17
The Movie: Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
What Is It?: There’s only about five minutes of solid werewolf time in Hammer’s only werewolf movie, but this is one of the studio’s best because of its epic, time-traversing structure, its look at how the haves are responsible for the crimes of the have-nots, and its overall air of creepy decadence and tragedy.
Why Today?: On this day in 1938, Yvonne Romain, who plays the werewolf’s mum, is born.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 139


The Date: February 16

The Movie: Billy Liar (1963)

What Is It?: Tom Courtney shirks his responsibilities to his family and girlfriends so he can pursue a career in dreaming. The character is a jerk, but Courtney and director John Schlesinger provide him and his surroundings with plenty of charm and style.

Why Today?: On this day in 1926, John Schlesinger is born.

Monday, February 15, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 138


The Date: February 15
The Movie: Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
What Is It?: Getting his name in the title must have been little consolation to golden-fleece hunter Jason when he is so consistently upstaged by all of Ray Harryhausen’s marvelous harpies, Hydra heads, and swashbuckling skeletons in this creative interpretation of Greek mythology.
Why Today?: On this day in 1923, Greece aligns with the Gregorian calendar, becoming the last country in Europe to do so.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 137


The Date: February 14
The Movie: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
What Is It?: On Valentine’s Day, 1900, a group of young women from an all-girl’s conservatory go for a holiday picnic near a mysterious rock formation in the Australian wilds, and three of the girls and their teacher mysteriously disappear during the excursion. Haunting unease permeates Peter Weir’s sepia photo album.
Why Today?: Today is Valentine’s Day.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 136


The Date: February 13
The Movie: Radio Days (1987)
What Is It?: Woody Allen’s radio-centric nostalgia fest gains as much appeal from his gauzy direction and cuttingly hilarious writing (“You don’t like it, take the gas pipe!”) as it does from a spectacular cast led by tiny Seth Green as Allen’s pre-teen stand-in and Mia Farrow at her comedic best as the squeaky cigarette girl.
Why Today?: Today is World Radio Day.

Friday, February 12, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 135


The Date: February 12

The Movie: Fantasia (1940)

What Is It?: Forget The Buggles. Forget “The Monkees”. Forget Help! and A Hard Day’s Night. This is the true birth of music video, and image and sound have never been joined as perfectly as they are in the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, “Rites of Spring”, and “Night on Bald Mountain” sequences. It’s impossible to imagine the Disney of today having the guts or honesty to depict evolution as it does in “Rites of Spring”, and it’s no surprise that this was one of the sequences excised in the lame Fantasia 2000 version.

Why Today?: Today is Darwin Day.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: 'Elvis Costello: Detour Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall'


Elvis Costello is just too good of an all-around writer for his autobiography of last year, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink, to be anything less than a good read, but it tends to get long-winded and skirt his most significant contribution: that incredible catalogue of songs.  Costello’s “Detour” performance series was more like the ideal presentation of Unfaithful Music. Like his book, the chronology of his storytelling is scattered and the ghost of his father looms over it all. Unlike that book, there was also a wealth of wonderful audio and judicious use of video to make those tales breathe.

As a new concert film expertly directed by Joss Crowley (who varies the angles and composition to prevent the image from becoming static) reveals, Costello and his crew put a lot of thought into the presentation of “Detour”. Although he did a good deal of the show solo, it never becomes samey because of how he mixes up his guitar sounds, how he takes occasional detours to the piano, and how he makes full use of his elaborate stage set up (which initially seems as though it could be a mere yet massive distraction). And just when our narrator seems as though he might be getting lonesome, he invites Rebecca and Megan Lovell of the duo Larkin Poe on stage for friendly support. Megan’s ceaselessly inventive stand-up lap steel work draws all the colors from Costello’s vivid songs.

And those songs! We get such a wonderful career-spanning selection that ranges from still-welcome warhorses such as “Red Shoes”, “Watching the Detectives” (in which he makes brilliant use of looping effects), “Alison” (grunged up with gnarly guitar), and “Watch Your Step” (a showstopper of whisper-to-scream dynamics) to several delightful obscurities (“Ghost Train”! “Blame It on Cain”! “Pads, Paws, and Claws”!). When he goes a cappella to astoundingly dramatic effect on “Jimmy Standing in the Rain”, it is clear that we are sitting in the lap of a master showman. When the screen suddenly swings to the past for a snatch of Ross McManus’s crazed performance of “If I Had a Hammer”, it’s clear that master showmanship is in Elvis’s genes.

Eagle Vision supplements its gorgeous new blu-ray release of Detour Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall with four bonus tracks shot with (“Love Field”, “Brilliant Mistake”) and without (“Either Side of the Same Town”, “Ascension Day”) Larkin Poe.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 134


The Date: February 11

The Movie: Blow-Up (1966)

What Is It?: Michelangelo Antonioni uses a shaggy-dog murder mystery as a way into critiquing the superficiality of Swinging London culture, inadvertently glorifying its great music (The Yardbirds impersonate The Who), fashions, and free-love ethos.

Why Today?: On this day in 1934, iconic Swinging London fashion designer Mary Quant is born.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 133


The Date: February 10
The Movie: Evil Dead II (1987)
What Is It?: Sam Raimi revisits his break-out, low-budget horror fave Evil Dead with wilder camera movements, zanier ideas, and heaps of Three Stooges humor. It’s groovy.
Why Today?: Today is Ash Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: 'Bound for Glory' Blu-ray


Woody Guthrie embodies the spirit of the sixties thirty years too early. Like Dylan, the singer who so worshipped him, did at the beginning of his career, Guthrie used his music to express a staunch social conscience and insight his listeners to action. Like Dylan, Guthrie sometimes had trouble being as humane as his lyrics. He abandoned his wife and children amidst the devastation of the Great Depression to “find himself.” His family’s loss was the world’s gain, as Guthrie’s experiences across America inspired him to quit singing trite tunes about pretty girls and Jesus and start using his music to “kill fascists,” as he famously scrawled across his guitar.

I’m not sure how closely Hal Ashby’s 1976 film Bound for Glory, based on Guthrie’s autobiography of the same name, follows true history, but it has Guthrie (David Carradine in an understated yet powerful performance) leaving behind the Dust Bowl and a wife (Melinda Dillon) who belittles his dreams to follow them to California. Along the way he has experiences that shape the musical/political force he would become. He sees racism, redneck justice, the callousness behind Christian platitudes, abject poverty, and the violent chaos that lack of organization breeds firsthand. Upon visiting a shantytown, Guthrie meets Ozark Bule (Ronny Cox), a magnetic singer who instills in Guthrie the values of organization. Together they become pro-Union troubadours forced to keep steps ahead of brutish bands of union breakers. Politicized completely, Guthrie lives up to left-wing ideals even more staunchly than Bule, becoming the man that would inspire Dylan and so many others who preached the power of the people.

Although Bound for Glory is set in the thirties, it is very much a film of the seventies. However, unlike Popeye Doyle of The French Connection, Randall McMurphy of Cuckoo’s Nest, or others of their manly ilk, Carradine’s Guthrie does not possess an iota of cynicism, making Roy Neary of Close Encounters of the Third Kind his closest cinematic cousin of the decade. Guthrie’s humanity makes the cruel way he leaves his wife and kids almost forgivable. He cannot pass a person in need without handing over his last few coins.

Though music is not this film’s main concern, Carradine does get a change to sing quite a few songs, and he does so with a growly, Rock & Roll attitude alien to any music from so many decades earlier. In this way, it reminded me of another great seventies film: Quadrophenia, which assays the early sixties with an anachronistic attitude that makes it just as relevant to the time in which it was released.

Bound for Glory is also very much a film of seventies aesthetics. Haskell Wexler’s photography is superficially “antique” in its use of sepia tones, but the picture’s graininess, expansiveness, and magical lighting are very seventies (Bound for Glory would make a great double-bill with another Wexler-photographed historical drama from the seventies: Days of Heaven).

Twilight Time’s new blu-ray captures the visual magic of Bound for Glory quite well. Although the print isn’t in spectacular shape—white specks abound—the image is well defined and the original grain remains natural without becoming overbearing. The lack of extras aside from an isolated score track may be disappointing, but the feature is rich enough that you won’t really miss what isn’t here. Get it on Twilight Time Movies.com here.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 132


The Date: February 9
The Movie: A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
What Is It?: Pop flick with art film style and the joy of a day at the carnival with the four most charming lads in Liverpool. What could have been a cash-in on a phenomenon everyone assumed was a passing fad (even The Beatles didn’t see Beatlemania lasting more than a couple of years) was executed perfectly in every way. Obviously The Beatles and their music are fab, but the supporting cast, script, and Dick Lester’s renegade film techniques all contribute immeasurably to the gloriousness of A Hard Day’s Night.
Why Today?: On this day in 1964, Beatlemania crosses the pond for good when the band makes their U.S. TV debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show”.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: 'Looking Stateside: 80 US R&B Mod, Soul and Garage Nuggets'


The Mod music scene was all about give and take. Mods took the records of American soul musicians who probably didn’t know or care what a Mod was and spun them incessantly at their pilled up, nattily attired shindigs. They gave back to the scene by forming their own bands and slamming out buzz-saw power pop that owed as much to The Animals and The Kinks as it did to Eddie Holland and Bob & Earl.

Being that Mod was a peculiarly British phenomenon, those self-identifying Mod bands tended to be British. However, in the wake of the British Invasion that stirred a rabid-Anglophile streak across America, there were Mod—or at least Moddish— bands Stateside too. Perhaps some of these bands really thought of themselves as Mods. Perhaps some of them have only been identified with the scene after the fact. I have a hunch that artists such as The Sonics, The Knickerbockers,  We the People (can a band adopt a more American name than that?), and certainly Gene Vincent didn’t think of themselves as Mods any more than Joe Tex or Curtis Knight did, but I’ll be damned if hearing all these U.S. soulsters and poppers bunched together on Looking Stateside: 80 US R&B Mod, Soul and Garage Nuggets doesn’t make me want to slip on my winkle-pickers and do the Block.

The name of the game here is obscurity, which pretty much has to be the case at this late stage in sixties-pop compilation history (and this one follows three others in RPM RecordsLooking… Mod-box series). However, there are familiar artists and songs. Versions of essential Mod anthems such as “Leaving Here”, “Shame, Shame, Shame”, and “Harlem Shuffle” are here, as are a quite a number of “original” songs that borrow liberally from familiar items such as “Get Ready”, “Do You Love Me”, “Satisfaction”, “Sugar Shack” (in an answer song by Georgia Lynn that slaughters Jimmy Gilmer’s original), “Night Train” (via a visceral instrumental penned by eighties TV jackass Morton Downey Jr., of all people), and once again, “Leaving Here”. There’s also Mickey Lee Jones’s original version of “Hey Sah-Lo Ney” (cut definitively by ace Mod combo the Action but not necessarily better), an outrageously powerful number called “He’s Mine” by The Swans, The Wailers’ eardrum-pulverizing “Out of Our Tree”, and a version of “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” that predates The Monkees’ by a few months (but hardly betters it).

As a whole, Looking Stateside is a pretty damn consistent dance party in a clamshell box, though there may be a few too many instrumentals and it would have been an even more engaging listen if the soul and pop numbers had been mingled instead of segregated on their own discs. Still, it’s fab that bin dives can still turn up enough killer obscure records to basically fill three discs such as these.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 131


The Date: February 8

The Movie: Night of the Demon (1955)

What Is It?: Wonderful Jacques Tourneur flick about a Satanist who whips up wind storms and curses colleagues at the flick of a wrist is no less great because the studio insisted on depicting the title demon as a slightly hokey looking kaijū monster. Bonus points for inspiring Kate Bush’s “The Hounds of Love”!

Why Today?: On this night in 1855, mysterious cloven depressions known as the Devil’s Footprints appeared in the Exe Estuary in East and South Devon, England. We’re still waiting for Kate Bush’s song about that.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 130


The Date: February 7
The Movie: Seven Samurai (1954)
What Is It?: In a day and age when every stupid comic book movie is obligated to be 175 hours long, it’s great to see a truly entertaining and substantial epic action film that doesn’t waste one of its many, many minutes.
Why Today?: Akira Kurosawa’s epic is 207 minutes long and today is 2/07.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 129


The Date: February 6
The Movie: Clash of the Titans (1981)
What Is It?: Ray Harryhausen’s final film mangles Greek mythology and has a hero and heroine who both go through the movie as if they’ve shared a sack of Quaaludes, but the master’s monsters may be his greatest ever. If nothing else, the Kraken, Calibos (sometimes stop-motion; sometimes actor Neil McCarthy), and Medusa all rank up there with the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts.
Why Today?: On this day in 1959, the first successful firing of the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile takes place at Cape Canaveral. They can’t all be happy anniversaries.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Review: 'The Graduate' Blu-ray


The Graduate sits in that small, honored clutch of films that are difficult to view objectively because they are so ingrained in the American consciousness.

A quick spin of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” instantly brings about images of Anne Bancroft seducing Dustin Hoffman’s adrift college grad Benjamin Braddock even though Simon’s lyrics have nothing to do with that. We would never think to question the decidedly un-Waspys Hoffman as such a Waspy character because he is Benjamin Braddock, who changed the way we peer into fish tanks and sink to the bottoms of swimming pools. “Are you trying to seduce me?” “Plastics.” “Elaine! Elaine!” They are all nondescript words and phrases on their own, and they all sway with meaning and memories and humor because of their place in Mike Nichols’s iconic film. And that film’s overpowering iconography cannot overpower pleasures that still remain fresh after almost fifty years (try saying that about Gone with the Wind and meaning it).  Buck Henry’s script is just as funny as ever. The damaged duo of Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson are just as poignant, and Hoffman and Bancroft’s performances remain brilliantly nuanced. The “Sounds of Silence/April Come She Will” sequence remains an absolute editing tour de force.


However, the film still has the ability to surprise, as Katharine Ross’s gut-wrenching turn as Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (who will apparently turn into a pumpkin if she doesn’t marry one of two pretty awful potential husbands within 48 hours) has not received as much attention throughout the years as it deserves. As Benjamin’s mom, Elizabeth Wilson gives a broad and hilarious performance that never feels like it was shipped in from some daffier movie. Also, the fact that Benjamin is really unstable often gets lost amidst the prevailing image of him as a sympathetic guy just trying to find direction in a world populated by middle-aged richies completely divorced from the fact that they’re living through a revolutionary decade.

Criterion’s new blu-ray edition of The Graduate allows many opportunities to be surprised all over again too. One of the quintessential films of American cinema has a rather European aesthetic, and its shadows are served well by a presentation that is dark and rich. The restoration is flawless. Supplements are plentiful, with a new 38-minute interview with Dustin Hoffman and a 25 minute one with Buck Henry and producer Lawrence Turman. These pieces get into the film’s inception and casting and how radical it was to put Hoffman in a role like this in 1967. There are archival interviews with Mike Nichols and Paul Simon, the only places among the extras that either of these major Graduate figures gets to speak. There’s also a short documentary from 1992 that repeats information from several of the other supplements but provides the only place to hear Katharine Ross talk about the film (sadly, Anne Bancroft’s first-hand accounts are missing from all supplements). There are screen tests with Hoffman and Ross and four other actors who probably would have been badly miscast as Benjamin and Elaine; an interview with Bobbie O’Steen, film history and widow of Graduate-editor Sam O’Steen; a couple of old audio commentaries (one with Nichols and Steven Soderbergh; one with film scholar Howard Suber); and additional conversation with Graduate fans such as David O. Russell, Harold Ramis, and Henry Rollins. The Graduate is one of the most essential movies that will ever land in the Criterion Collection, and the company does right by it through and through.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 128


The Date: February 5
The Movie: White Zombie (1932)
What Is It?: United Artists’ bid to get in on the monster craze is the only top-notch zombie picture of the thirties, and Lugosi kills as the brilliantly named zombie-master Murder Legendre. The composite score is excellent.
Why Today?: On this day in 1919, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Douglas Fairbanks incorporated United Artists.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Review: 'Devil Tales'


Forget Ol’ Brimstone Breath’s Biblical origins, or how he is so often used to make the superstitious feel guilt or shame or moral terror. Taken in simple stories that don’t shove the Psalms down your gullet, the Devil is one hell of a villain. The Frankenstein Monster does not have one iota of his strength. Dracula doesn’t have a smidgen of his power to enthrall and tempt and wield pure evil. The Phantom of the Opera’s abilities to punish pale in comparison to those of the Devil. The Creature from the Black Lagoon isn’t as weird looking, as the Devil prances around with his goat legs, pointy tale, and candy-apple complexion.

All of this is why Satan has been such a regular fixture of tales of comic horror, and Steve Banes compiles a strange variety in IDW’s new anthology Devil Tales. Like the best stories of this sort, the ones in this collection are mostly short on puritanical finger wagging and God referencing and long on strangeness. In his brief introduction to the volume, Banes points out the most common Devil story clichés (stories of accidental soul-selling and ones that pivot on the great big twist “It was the Devil the entire time…gasp, choke!”), and (again mostly) steps around that dung heap of unoriginality with tales in which Lucifer sparks a gang war or tries to make a kindly couple fall in love with the hell-spawn he forces them to raise. There’s even a demonic crossword puzzle! Only occasionally is a tale skip-able, as when “The Devil’s Pact” drags its cloven feet through soul-selling clichés and churchy piety.

Culled from an array of titles, such as Adventures Into the Unknown, Tales of Horror, Web of Mystery, and The Purple Claw, the stories vary in quality, but often surprise. “Welcome to My School” has snappy, noir-ish writing stronger and wittier than one might expect from a fifties horror comic. “The King of Hades” is a wacky hunk of hilarity about a thug who gives Hell a makeover. Dick Ayer’s artwork for “Ghoul’s Gold” piles on the detail. Kenneth Landau’s for “Decapitation” is some of the most graphically gruesome I’ve seen in a tale from the early fifties. The devil appears as a hulking beast out of Fantasia, a withered old woman, a doofus in red PJs or blue underwear, a wax doll, a puppet, and in two instances, a tattoo. Best of all, Banes’s choices allow us to enjoy all the severed heads, devil babies, and candy-apple masters of darkness without feeling as though we have to spend an excruciating hour in Sunday school to atone for our transgressions. Hell yeah.
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