Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: 'Cultographies: Quadrophenia'

Could Quadrophenia be the ultimate cult movie? It’s a cult movie about a cult (the mod subculture of early sixties England) that inspired a cult (the mod subculture of the early eighties). Although Stephen Glynn selected Franc Roddam’s big-screen adaptation of The Who’s 1973 rock opera as the topic of his entry in the Cultographies series, he does not draw any such hasty conclusions. After all, Quadrophenia was a massive, mainstream hit film in Britain (if only with audiences; critics weren’t too thrilled with its violence and underage unrest). Images from the film popped up in advertisements. On U.S. shores it has long been a legitimate cult item, even enjoying screenings on the midnight movie circuit. And despite his declaration that the film is the “most enduring manifestation” of Quadrophenia, this is not really true— at least in America where the film continues to scuttle underground and the album is now regularly regarded as one of The Who’s best, if not the best.

That declaration is one of the few missteps in Cultographies: Quadrophenia, which is a ripping integration of background history (from the actual mod cult, through The Who’s role in it, through their look back on that phase with the Quadrophenia album, through Pete, John, and Roger’s individual roles in the film’s creation) and analysis. Stephen Glynn is the author of The British Pop Music Film, one of my favorite books of last year. He touched on Quadrophenia in that book and gets to expand his study as a part of the “historical” phase of pop films in Cultographies: Quadrophenia. He also looks upon the film—with its punk attitude and seemingly self-conscious anachronisms—as one very much in step with the Britain of 1979. As was the case with The British Pop Music Film, Glynn drops some overly academic speedbumps during the analytical portion but his book is never inaccessible. Cultographies: Quadrophenia is an insightful and multifaceted study of the four faces of one of the very best pop films.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

This April, You Too Can Play with The Who! (sort of)

Principal Skinner: Ooh, now we're into the dregs.  Here's Ralph Wiggum's entry. [pulls sheet off] Pre-packaged "The Who" characters, still in their display box?  Are those the limited-edition action figures?
Ralph Wiggum: What's a Who?
Principal Skinner: Why it's John, and Roger, and my favorite, Pete!  They're all here (except for Keith)!  [to Miss Hoover] What do you think?
Miss Hoover: I think it's lunch time.
Principal Skinner: We have a winner!

...and this April, you can be a winner too when NECA toys releases tiny John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend as part of its second wave of action figures based on celebrity guest stars from "The Simpsons". The likenesses are based on The Who's guest appearance in the "A Tale of Two Springfields" episode in which the band performs atop a sort of Berlin Wall dividing the hometown of Homer, Marge, Bart, Skinner, Wiggum, and the rest.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: 'Cultographies: Frankenstein'

The benefit of Wallflower Press’ Cultographies is that they allow extended studies of specific films in 100 laser-focused pages. As a devoted Frankenstein cultist, I totally understand writer Robert Horton’s desire to use that particular item as the subject of his Cultographies book. It may not have been the best choice because the topic is so far-reaching (and he does stray from James Whale’s 1931 film to assess the uncountable sequels, remakes, and related films quite a lot) and because other books have dealt with it in a much more far-reaching way. The historical portion, which constitutes one third of Cultographies: Frankenstein, and the final section that looks at the Monster’s place in the larger culture, are like Cliffs Notes for Susan Tyler Hitchcock’s essential Frankenstein: A Cultural History. They offer no revelations for anyone who has already done his/her Franken-homework. The book comes to life for Horton’s 40-page scene-by-scene analytical survey, which is lucid and smart. He’s dead-on in concluding that the Monster’s “bad” behavior all stems from self-defense and poor parental guidance and not his “abnormal” criminal brain. What would you do if someone were shoving a torch in your face? However, the author’s decision to hop over the pivotal drowning of Little Maria completely is a head scratcher of monstrous proportions.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Great Video of Pete Townshend and The Who at Work in '67 Surfaces

Yesterday someone posted one of the most enticing film clips mentioned in Andy Neill and Matt Kent's Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who on YouTube. The footage depicts Pete Townshend unveiling a new composition, "Glittering Girl", for managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp (who really seems to dig it). Then The Who rehearse the song on the stage of the Saville Theatre complete with Pete, Roger, and John crowded around a single mic to capture their heavenly harmonies. The footage was originally shot on February 17, 1967, as part of Edmund Wolf's documentary Die jungen Nachtwandler-London Unter 21 (The Young Sleepwalker-London Under 21). Thanks to the original poster and Who super fan Brian Cady, who posted a link to this very cool clip.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: 'Cultographies: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!'

Wallflower Press’ Cultographies are to cult flicks what the 33 1/3 series is to classic albums: focused studies teeny enough to shove in your breast pocket. So perhaps it is appropriate that the series’ first new title to slink into print in a year and a half is devoted to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! You know, because Russ Meyer liked breasts. Hardy-har.

Actually, as open-minded cineastes have realized for quite some time, Meyer’s masterpiece is more than an ogle-fest, packing themes that have alternately been labeled feminist, patriarchal, parodic, pro and anti-erotic. For the most part, writer Dean J. DeFino wisely steps back to allow these themes to make their cases and exit stage left instead of forcing theories down our throats, because to do so when dealing with the work of a filmmaker as apolitical and instinctive as Russ Meyer would be kind of silly. Not that DeFino never allows his academia to get out of hand. An extended comparison with satyr plays brings the momentum to a labored halt for a chapter comprising a quarter of this 100-page book. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the casting of Varla and her gang of pussycats as Dionysian figures and the men they conquer as weak and wanton satyrs. It’s just that the rest of Cultographies: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! revs out so much good stuff about the film’s genesis, production, position in sixties culture, reception, impact, and cult qualifications that I wanted to bust out of the college classroom and back out on the road, Daddy-O!

I was also greatly appreciative of/frustrated by DeFino’s detailing of how poorly served this film has been on home video. Faster, Pussycat! is the KA-BOOM! at the impact point between exploitation and art house cinema. It’s too bad this boldly and beautifully shot picture is not readily available in quality much better than a YouTube stream. Is it too much to hope that DeFino’s book might raise some interest in correcting that wrong?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Greg Nicotero's 'The United Monster Talent Agency'

Greg Nicotero had a twenty-five year career as one of Hollywood's leading makeup whiz's in his back pocket by the time he finally directed his own film in 2010. That's when the dude who brought creeps to life in Evil Dead II and Bride of Re-Animator, and worked additional magic on David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. and a plethora of Quentin Tarantino movies, created the utterly delightful "The United Monster Talent Agency". The eight-minute short jets back to a Hollywood when classic monsters were in such high demand that they required their very own talent agency to keep them in rotation.

As detailed in Donna Davies's groovy documentary Nightmare Factory (now streaming on Netflix), Nicotero and his crew did it all the old-fashioned way: lap-dissolving the Wolf Man's (comedian Dana of several familiar faces you'll find in the film) transformation, stop-motion animating King Kong, and building all of the miraculously authentic costumes from scratch. They literally don't make 'em like this anymore, folks. Check out "The United Monster Talent Agency" here and see how many monsters you can spot!

THE UNITED MONSTER TALENT AGENCY - Greg Nicotero by davehouseofhorrors

Monday, February 3, 2014

20 Horror and Cult Classics That Deserve the Criterion Treatment

For thirty years, the Criterion Collection has been restoring “important classic and contemporary films” and releasing them back into the wild on laser disc, DVD, and blu-ray. As their inaugural titles—King Kong and Citizen Kane— indicated, Criterion has long had great enthusiasm for horror and cult films. Yet even with more than 700 titles under its belt, Criterion has not refurbished every horror and cult classic that deserves it. Some of the most deserving have not been well served in the blu-ray age by any of the company’s chief rivals either. So for Criterion or Twilight Time or Shout/Scream Factory or any other distribution company with a serious interest in seriously great movies, here are twenty terrifying and strange titles for your consideration.

1. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928- dir. Jean Epstein)

What is it? A masterpiece of bad dreaminess and surreal imagery. An essential French horror film, of which there are few.

Current Region 1 availability Image Entertainment’s 2001 DVD is out of print. Used copies currently start at $90 on

Why Criterion? The Fall of the House of Usher is certainly important in that it is arguably the first great feature-length Edgar Allan Poe adaptation. Its art house status is right up Criterion’s alley. Director Jean Epstein co-wrote the screenplay with Luis Buñuel at the same time he was making “Un Chien Andalou” with Salvador Dali. That short film would make a fabulous bonus feature!

2. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931- dir. Rouben Mamoulian)

What is it? The first and best sound adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s transfiguring horror classic. Released the same year as Dracula and Frankenstein, Paramount’s attempt to pounce on the monster bandwagon trounced Universal’s hits and helped complete the trio of classic monster movie tropes: vampire, creation monster, and transformation monster.

Current Region 1 availability New copies of Warner Home Video’s 2004 DVD twofer with the far inferior 1941 adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are currently going for $40 on

Why Criterion? Beautifully filmed, beautifully acted, and still really disturbing, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is important in that it is the first horror film to score an Oscar (Frederic March shared the best actor award with Wallace Beery). Obviously, it’s a classic for its quality too, though its underdog status next to the ubiquitous Dracula and Frankenstein makes it a perfect candidate for Criterion. MGM certainly doesn’t seem in any rush to restore this one and get it back on the streets.

3. The Old Dark House (1932- dir. James Whale)

What is it? James Whale’s second horror film is an alternately funny and frightening flick with a superb ensemble cast featuring Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Lilian Bond, Ernest Thesiger, Gloria Stuart, and Eva Moore.

Current Region 1 availability Kino’s 2003 DVD is readily available but desperately in need of restoration and redistribution on blu-ray.

Why Criterion? Well, Kino can do this one if they like, but if not, Criterion should swoop in and give it the business. Either way I’d be happy.

4. The Black Cat (1934- dir. Edgar G. Ulmer)

What is it? An adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe in name only, Edgar Ulmer’s demented art-deco pairing of Karloff and Lugosi is one of the most deliciously weird entries in the Universal horror canon.

Current Region 1 availability Universal actually rereleased The Black Cat less than two years ago, right before releasing its fab box set of nine select classic monster movies. Alas, the DVD-only Black Cat was not among them. 

Why Criterion? Well, Universal still has enough interest in this essential title— chosen ahead of The Mummy, the 1943 version of The Phantom of the Opera, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon by a panel of critics for inclusion in The 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die—to rerelease it in 2012, but its failure to refurbish the film for blu-ray is enough indication that an intervention is in order.

5. Mad Love (1935- dir. Karl Freund)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Review: Philip J. Riley's 'The Return of Frankenstein'

Bride of Frankenstein went through several iterations on its way to becoming the greatest monster movie ever made. Philip MacDonald, who’d later adapt Rebecca for Hitchcock and The Body Snatcher for Robert Wise, imagined Frankenstein’s invention of a death ray as an integral plot element of the sequel to James Whale’s 1931 smash. L.G. Blochman, who enjoyed greater success as a mystery novelist than a screenwriter, had a more fanciful vision in which the mad doctor and his bride Elizabeth leave their troubles behind to work as puppeteers in a traveling carnival. John L. Balderston, who’d adapted the original Frankenstein, got closest to the film we know and adore, though his screenplay was a much darker affair, more faithful to Mary Shelley with a meatier role for the Bride than Elsa Lanchester got to play in the finished film. There’s no Dr. Pretorius in his draft dated June 1934, no Minnie, no humor or homunculi. The Monster, however, does get to talk a lot more and a lot more articulately. He also gets to milk a cow and eat a muskrat. Plus, Fritz is back, because Balderston apparently forgot that the Monster wrung his neck in the first film. So much for continuity.

Philip J. Riley compiled MacDonald and Blochman’s treatments and Balderston’s complete screenplay in his recent book The Return of Frankenstein (this was the preferred title for a while since the producer’s realized the Bride wasn’t actually Frankenstein’s intended…though Balderston does have the Monster refer to himself as Frankenstein a couple of times! So much for knowing who your main character is…). Like all entries in Riley’s “Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters” series (or the “Filmonster Series-Lost Scripts,” as it’s now called), The Return of Frankenstein is a juicy tidbit of film history cluing us in on what might have been. Sometimes the scrapped scripts are better than what ended up on screen, as was the case with Dracula’s Daughter, the most essential entry in Riley’s series. In the case of Bride of Frankenstein, we ended up with the very best monster picture imaginable, elevated incalculably by James Whale and William Hurlbut’s witty and imaginative revisions. The treatments and screenplay in this book aren’t nearly as much fun to read as Whale’s movie is to watch, but they are still fascinating, essential documents for any classic monster education. If nothing else, they really make you appreciate the depth of James Whale’s genius.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review: 'Famous Robots & Cyborgs: An Encyclopedia of Robots from TV, Film, Literature, Comics, Toys, and More'

Famous Robots & Cyborgs: An Encyclopedia of Robots from TV, Film, Literature, Comics, Toys, and More is a big name for a slim book that doesn’t really qualify as an encyclopedia. There are fewer than sixty entries covering this fairly rich topic, which left me wondering, “Where are the GoBots? Where are those robo-bugs from Runaway starring Gene Simmons and Magnum P.I.? Where are the Star Wars robots that aren’t C-3P0 and R2-D2? No love for IG-88, 2-1B or R5-D4? How about 2-XL?” OK, so the trivia toy 2-XL was more of an eight-track player than a functioning robot (in fact, I used to listen to eight-track tapes on my 2-XL), but if author Dan Roberts thinks that Batman’s nemesis Mr. Freeze and Lisa from Weird Science qualify as robots he has to cut “The Toy with a Personality” some slack.

If you don’t go into this encyclopedia expecting it to be an encyclopedia (the entries aren’t even arranged alphabetically) you will find it to be a breezy and entertaining read. Roberts arranges his entries according to each robot’s appearance, level of artificial intelligence, cuteness, and scariness before delving deeper with origins, memorable moments, assessments, and trivia arranged neatly in bulleted lists. Written in charming British parlance (no surprise that Roberts doesn’t skimp on the “Doctor Who” details), Famous Robots & Cyborgs also breaks up the proper entries with fun extras, such as a timeline of mechanical milestones, different methods for annihilating androids, robo-relationships, and artificially intelligent space ships (though the absence of 2001’s HAL from this section is a major fumble). One should be wary of an encyclopedia that only takes a couple of hours to read, but it can’t be said that those hours haven’t been enjoyably spent.

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