Friday, October 19, 2018

Diary of the Dead 2018: Week 3



I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews at the end of every week this October. I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

October 12

Straight Jacket (1964- dir. William Castle) ***

This is a minor William Castle shocker, but Joan Crawford makes her presence felt as a woman trying to put her life back together after a long stint in an asylum for offing her husband with a wire hanger an axe. The twist is so-so, but getting the chance to see Crawford ham it up in a Castle picture is enough. The picture loses half a point because Castle never actually appears on screen to charm us with a schlocky gimmick while sucking on a giant cigar.

October 13

It Follows (2014- dir. David Robert Mitchell) ****½

Psychobabble’s 31 Favorite Universal Horrors: #13


Halloween season simply isn’t Halloween season without a regular dose of golden age Universal horror (1923-1963). Every day this October, I’ll be giving you a steady IV drip of it by counting down Psychobabble’s 31 Favorite Universal Horrors!

#13. The Phantom of the Opera (1925- dir. Rupert Julan)

Lon Chaney’s definitive character is still really scary. What did those audiences in the earliest days of cinema think when they witnessed Chaney’s Phantom staring them down, marching forward with dreadful relentlessness, his finger pointing accusingly right at them? Probably something like, “Oh, rhatz. I do believe I’ve soiled my golf knickers.” There’s something a bit off about a silent movie about opera, but the big bonus is that we don’t have to listen to any opera. Plus, the Phantom’s sewer lair is super cool.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Review: 'Retro Fan' Issue #2


Michael Eury’s new magazine Retro Fan has a very singular purpose: to hit the nostalgia sweet spot. With the arguable exception of Christmas, no holiday hits that spot like Halloween, so you can bet that Retro Fan’s autumnal issue will give you that deep bath in ghouls you crave at this time every year. Articles cover such gruesome yet wistful topics as horror hosts (including a brief interview with this issue’s cover-girl, Elvira), 1960s monster TV (specifically Bewitched, The Munsters, and The Addams Family), The Groovie Goolies, and those delightfully garish Ben Cooper costumes.

While these topics have all been discussed many times before, the Retro Fan writing staff always hits just the right note. The writers’ references to their own, very relatable, childhood experiences maximize the nostalgia value without upstaging the topics. The tone is friendly, but the articles are almost absurdly in depth. Did I previously know that Bob Clampett was preparing an animated feature with basically the same premise as The Munsters way back in the 1940s? Nope. Do I now ache for the existence of such a film? You bet your abbie-normal brain I do. Did I know that there were also plans for a sort of Muppet Babies-esque spin off of The Groovie Goolies in the 1980s? Hell, most ex-employees of Filmation didn’t even know that!

For those who do not have a predilection for monsters and the macabre, there are also articles about such non-Halloweeny topics as Sindy: the British Barbie (good to see a female writer being invited to the show this issue…hopefully there will be more in issue #3), a now defunct dinosaur theme park in San Diego, a fab collection of lunch boxes, and super hero View-Master reels. If I have any beef with this issue, it’s that I wish the lunch box photos were bigger and it would have been nice if the View-Master article were more seasonal, focusing on those wonderful adaptations of creepy classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein featuring creepy dolls. I loved those.

But the biggest disappointment is not Retro Fan’s fault at all. As soon as I glanced at an article about a pop culture museum in Baltimore, I was poised to buy a bus ticket to Charm City—then I read the sidebar explaining that the museum closed for business between the article’s writing and the magazine’s publication! It’s just another reminder of how quickly things change, how constantly the past replaces the present. At least we have Retro Fan to memorialize such lost things with humanity and love.

Psychobabble’s 31 Favorite Universal Horrors: #14


Halloween season simply isn’t Halloween season without a regular dose of classic Universal horror (1923-1963). Every day this October, I’ll be giving you a steady IV drip of it by counting down Psychobabble’s 31 Favorite Universal Horrors!

#14. Hold That Ghost (1941- dir. Albert S. Rogell)

Is this reeeally a ghost story? Yes, it is. Allow me to refer you to the moving-candlestick gag. How’s that thing moving? Wires? Hardly! Now that your doubts are quelled, let’s just focus on the tremendous fun abounding in Abbott & Costello’s admittedly tentative first outing in the realm of the supernatural. The boys inherit an old dark house from a gangster and hilarity ensues. Much of that hilarity rises not from the team of Bud and Lou but the team of Lou and Joan Davis. She’s spectacular in this picture. More sparks fly during her dance routine with Costello than all of Evelyn Ankers and Richard Carlson’s forced romantic scenes put together.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Psychobabble’s 31 Favorite Universal Horrors: #15


Halloween season simply isn’t Halloween season without a regular dose of classic Universal horror (1923-1963). Every day this October, I’ll be giving you a steady IV drip of it by counting down Psychobabble’s 31 Favorite Universal Horrors!

#15. House of Frankenstein (1944- dir. Erle C. Kenton)

I don’t care if they’re schlocky—Universal’s monster rallies scratch a sweet spot that movies with just one creature never could. The Mummy? That guy’s totally lonesome. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man? Closer, but not quite there yet, guys. Erle C. Kenton’s House movies? Ahh, that’s the sweet relief I’ve been craving. One of the best and most monster-crammed rallies is House of Frankenstein. “FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER! WOLF MAN! DRACULA! HUNCHBACK! MAD DOCTOR!... All the Screen's Titans of Terror - Together in the Greatest of All SCREEN SENSATIONS!” went the ballyhoo. The cast is killer with Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, Glenn Strange as the monster, John Carradine making his elegant debut as the count, and Karloff taking one last bow in a Frankenstein picture a the mad scientist. The one major flaw is the film’s split structure that prevents all of the monsters from ever sharing screen time together.  If you see any other flaws in this big heap of wonderful, I’m not sure if we can be friends anymore.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Psychobabble’s 31 Favorite Universal Horrors: #16


Halloween season simply isn’t Halloween season without a regular dose of classic Universal horror (1923-1963). Every day this October, I’ll be giving you a steady IV drip of it by counting down Psychobabble’s 31 Favorite Universal Horrors!

#16. Son of Frankenstein (1939- dir. Roland V. Lee)

Universal’s second Frankenstein sequel, and its final Frankenfilm with Karloff as the Monster, is too long by 30 minutes and that little kid is a menace, but boy oh boy, is Bela Lugosi ever a blast to watch as Ygor! Tired of the franchise and an increasingly limited role to play, Karloff seems to cede the film to Lugosi, who is only too happy to steal the show as the diabolical survivor of a botched hanging. Ygor uses the Monster as a pliable tool of revenge in a sheepskin vest. Lionel Atwill is also terrific as the police inspector with a chip on his shoulder and splinters in his arm.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Urge Overkill's 'Saturation'


In the wake of the (fortunate) demise of hair metal, Kurt Cobain led a movement away from rock’s preening, hair-flipping poses toward a new age of sincerity and authenticity. Yet, Cobain was also a big fan of Urge Overkill, whose big riffs harkened back to the days of Boston and Bad Company and whose hair was simply grown for flipping. That’s probably because corporate rockers like Boston and Bad Company were really dumb, but Urge Overkill wielded wit like a hidden stiletto in James Bond’s boot heel.

With their 1993 breakthrough Saturation, U.O. made capital-R Rock cool again with their ironic songs about sexy Fidel Castro and soap operas, loungesplotation persona, and irresistible hooks. Yet it wasn’t all a big joke with Nash Kato, “Eddie” King Roeser, and Blackie Onassis. The bizarrely titled ballad “Bottle of Fur” homes in on the ache of lost love with absolute sincerity (despite Nash’s knowingly seventies use of the term “make it”). Roeser’s monstrous “Stalker” revives the guys’ Touch-and-Go era punk power. Blackie O’s “Drop Out” provides a fleeting glimpse of the former losers lurking under all that crushed velvet. All this made for one of the best albums of Rock’s best year since the sixties ended.

Saturation is now being reissued on vinyl by Porterhouse Records. Sadly, the thumping CD bonus track, “Operation Kissinger”, does not make the cut. Gladly, the sound is warm, the vinyl is blue, and the martinis are still chilled.

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