Friday, October 31, 2014

I Was a Late-Generation Monster Kid

My room would be fuzzed with that vague purple that comes right before the sunrise. I’d be exhausted, because it was 6 AM and little kids need their rest, and because I’d been toiling away in school all week long, probably learning to print or gluing elbow macaroni to paper plates or whatever else it is you do in school when you’re five or six. I don’t remember how old I was exactly, because I can’t find any information about when “Groovie Goolies” aired at 6:30 AM (or was it 6:00 AM?) on Saturday Mornings in the late-seventies/early eighties, but man, do I remember that sickly feeling of trying to fight myself awake every Saturday morning so I could creep downstairs to the still-dark den to take in those cornball Burbank-by-way-of-Transylvania jokes and groove along to those bubble gum pop songs as sugary as the Frankenberry cereal I’d scarf after the closing credits.

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.

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.

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.

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)

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Monkees Meet the Monsters

Demonic deals. Cursed, severed animal parts. Reanimated corpses. Unholy séances. Unwanted brain transplants. These things have long plagued humankind. Four particular young men were unlucky enough to have to deal with all of them. Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter may have been too busy singing to put anybody down (well, unless we’re talking about Don Kirshner, Bob Rafelson, LBJ, each other…aww hell, The Monkees loved putting people down). That didn’t stop an assortment of creeps, spooks, and kooks from putting them down.
In keeping with its postmodern take on entertainment, “The Monkees” often spoofed well-worn genres: spy pictures (“The Spy Who Came in From the Cool”, “Monkee Chow Mein”, “The Card Carrying Red Shoes”), heist pictures (“Monkees in a Ghost Town”, “The Picture Frame”), gangster pictures (“Monkees à la Carte”, “Alias Micky Dolenz”), sports pictures (“Monkees in the Ring”), beach movies (“Monkees at the Movies”), motorcycle movies (“The Wild Monkees”), pirate movies (“Hitting the High Seas”), westerns (“It’s a Nice Place to Visit”, “Monkees in Texas”), sci-fi (“The Monkees Watch Their Feet”, “Mijacogeo”), even documentaries (“Monkees on Tour”, ”Monkees in Paris”). However, “The Monkees” trampled no genre as regularly as horror.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: 'Star Wars Posters'

Cinema has given us some unforgettable still images to introduce its moving ones. Posters for Psycho, Jaws, Chinatown, Eraserhead, Alien, E.T., Ghostbusters, and Pulp Fiction are as memorable as the films they advertise. My personal favorite movie poster is the one Roger Kastel created for The Empire Strikes Back. Inspired by one of George Lucas's favorite posters, Howard Terning's painting for the 1967-rerelease of Gone with the Wind, Kastel's work depicts Han and Leia in a Scarlett/Rhett clutch, Luke front and center on his tauntaun, and the masked eyes of Darth Vader looming in the background. That the kiddie faves Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are shrunk and bunched to the side implies the relative adult-nature of Irvin Kershner's movie. The blue-palette perfectly reflects it's snow/sky/swamp aesthetic. Romantic, moody, a touch scary, and instantly evocative of my childhood, Kastel's is a piece of art that gets under my skin like no Mona Lisa or Waterlilies ever could... and I know I'm not alone on that matter.

If you're with me, then you're going to want to grab Abrams Publishing's new book Star Wars Posters. For such a blah title, this is one thrilling book. Kastel's iconic poster is just one of many and varied pieces in the book. The variety of styles that represent these films dazzles: from Kastel's pulp romance to comic book to circus poster to impressionism. The size of the book allows these often intricate works their due space, and select details are blown up further over luxurious two-page spreads. 

There's also a healthy helping of preliminary sketches and concepts that didn't go beyond the board room. These are some of the most fascinating pieces in Star Wars Posters, particularly when they get the films' details wrong. A sketch John Solie did for the first movie portrays Chewbacca as a pipe-wielding gorilla. Several proposals for Empire posters show Princess Leia with her cinnamon-buns hairdo (and one even shows her in unseasonably scanty dress riding sidesaddle behind Luke on his tauntaun!). Ralph McQuarrie's early renderings are the most famous to not reflect the characters accurately, and a few of those are in here too, as are pieces presenting Empire's bounty hunters and Yoda in a fantastical Dagobah more vivid and alive than the film's swamp planet. These are two of the most stunning pieces in the book.

I'm sure you'll be happy to know that although Lucas "curated" this book, the focus remains with the three original movies. A restrained 15 pages of this 180-page book are wasted with the prequel trilogy. There are also pieces devoted to such intergalactic side roads as the 1978 "Star Wars in Concert" event, the Ewok TV movies, the "Clone Wars" and "Rebels" animated series, and various Star Wars video games. Much cooler are the oddball fan-made pieces that finish the book with Empire enlistment posters, ads for faux-pulp horror flicks called Revenge of the Sandpeople and Lair of the Rancor, a psychedelic Max Rebo concert poster, and Sandcrawler, Star Destoyer, and Millenium Falcon travel posters. These pieces are all done in the spirit of fun that is the key to the original trilogy and are as eclectic and expertly rendered as everything else collected in this superb art book.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: 'The Beatles Through Headphones'

Only The Beatles could inspire a book like The Beatles Through Headphones, and not just because their name is right there in the title. They’re the only band that has been scrutinized at such a minute level over thousands of books, articles, and posts. Ted Montgomery’s book gets downright microscopic, noting hundreds of little squeaks, clicks, mumbled and shouted asides, gaffes, flaws, and guffaws that can only be detected by listening to their music (in stereo and in mono!) with strict attention through a good set of headphones.

The Beatles Through Headphones really earns its existence when Montgomery challenges common assumptions based on his close listens. He has convinced me that only Paul’s voice can be heard on “Eleanor Rigby”, that George is the sole singer of “You Like Me Too Much”, and Ringo the one voice of “Act Naturally” (all in multiple overdubs, of course). He is not always completely convincing, as when he matter-of-factly declares the fuzz bass on “Think for Yourself” “a regular bass played through a blown amp” when other theories are much more persistent (Paul’s playing his Epiphone Casino, not his bass; he’s running his Rickenbacker bass through a fuzz pedal) and there’s really no way to reach that conclusion from a mere headphone listen. More surprisingly, Montgomery misses some things that have been extensively detailed elsewhere, like the bits of feedback and instrumental drop outs on “I’m Looking Through You” and the fact that the mono mix of “Love You To” is noticeably longer than the stereo one. He says he cannot discern a bass in “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, apparently not realizing Lennon was playing a six-string bass with a more trebly tone than McCartney’s usual Hofner and Rickenbacker. And I’ve often read that Lennon mumbles something naughty on “Good Day Sunshine”, but have never encountered a writer willing to reveal just what he says. I was expecting Montgomery to be that writer, but he isn’t.

Montgomery ‘s swift, no-frills writing keeps the book moving (each album is allotted about six or seven pages), which is important because there occasionally isn’t much to say about these songs other than where the voices and instruments are placed in the stereo mixes. Smartly he augments his minutia with mostly astute critiques of their music, but a lot of those little details he points out can go in one eye and out the other when consuming the book cover to cover. So the best way to approach it is as a reference guide: read one of his brief entries; then listen to song it discusses. That way you’ll make the most of its unique purpose.

I’ve really been binging on The Beatles since the recent release of their Mono box set and have been planning on taking a bit of a break. Alas, The Beatles Through Headphones makes me want to listen to those albums all over again.

Monday, October 6, 2014

I May Be Dreaming, But Don't Pinch Me..."Twin Peaks" Is Coming Back!!!! (for real this time)

Remember how everyone thought Andrew Packard was dead, but he wasn't really dead, then he came back, and then Josie went into that wooden pull knob? Well, Andrew may have been a minor "Twin Peaks" character, but it now seems he was actually a metaphor for the entire show, because it is coming back in 2016! 
Rumors that David Lynch would be returning to that town both wonderful and strange have been rampant for the past few years, but when he made a really short film featuring the mostly deceased Palmer family for the recent "Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery" blu-ray set, the mystery of all Lynch's chat about TP being an ongoing story seemed to be solved in unspectacular fashion. Then everyone went cuckoo a few days ago when Lynch and "Peaks" co-creator Mark Frost simultaneously tweetled "That gum you like is going to come back in style". The rap was that "Twin Peaks" would be returning to TV, and additional clues indicated it might be coming to Showtime.

I'm rarely seduced by rumors, so I decided to wait and see before reporting anything. Naturally, I'm now at the back of the line in announcing that "Twin Peaks" will indeed be coming back with all-new episodes, and Showtime will indeed be the network to show it.

The show will pick up with nine episodes to film in 2015 and air the following year, 25 years after Coop's unfortunate visit to the john in his room at the Great Northern Hotel. That means we'll probably finally find out how Annie is.

Lynch will be directing all nine episodes, which is major news in itself since he hasn't directed anything but commercials and music videos since INLAND EMPIRE in 2006.

The only major problem is the deaths of some key Twin Peaks citizens. Though I will certainly miss Jack Nance as Pete Martell and Don Davis as Major Briggs, they are not quite as integral to what happens next as Frank Silva, who embodied the terrifying Killer BOB. As much as I usually loathe CGI, and think it's downright odious when departed people are digitally inserted into films, commercials, and the like, I think it may be necessary in this case. Even if Silva had not died two decades ago, it may have been necessary anyway since I doubt BOB ages.

Although these kinds of reunion deals don't always work out ideally (I wasn't an "Arrested Development" watcher, but apparently a lot of its hardcore fans were disappointed by its Netflix revival), I actually have faith in the return of "Twin Peaks". David Lynch is our greatest living artist. He has rarely made a piece of art that hasn't thrilled me on some level. And the fact that Mark Frost is involved makes the entire thing utterly legitimate and ensures that the project will be on track and true to that very specific style the classic series forged. I only hope no one pinches me and wakes me before this wonderful, wonderful dream come true.

Monsterology: The Headless

In this ongoing feature on Psychobabble, we’ve been looking at the history of Horror’s archetypal monsters.

Dracula. The Wolf Man. The Frankenstein Monster. If there’s one thing that all of these fellows have in common, it’s that they all have heads. Dracula and The Wolf Man use the mouths embedded in their heads to bite you. The Frankenstein Monster’s head is what houses the abby-normal brain that sends him on murderous rampages. Without their heads, these guys are much less threatening. They probably couldn’t do much of anything at all.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

20 Things You May Not Have Known About Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

A Halloween season without Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is like a Christmas without A Christmas Carol or a Thanksgiving without that movie about Thanksgiving. So this year before you sit down to munch a bowl of brains and laugh yourself stupid while watching Bud, Lou, Drac, Frankie, and Wolfie’s antics, shove this information into your brain hole, a tasty heap of tidbits I call 20 Things You May Not Have Known About Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein!

1. As The Brain of Frankenstein could have easily been the title of any of Universal’s more serious monster movies, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s meeting with the Frankenstein Monster was wisely retitled.
2. As they themselves trumpet, the opening credits sequence of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was animated by Walter Lantz, who is most famous for bringing Woody Woodpecker to life. Coincidentally, animation designer Nino Carbe, who also worked on Woody, illustrated Illustrated Editions’ 1932 “De Luxe Edition” of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel.

3. Hold That Ghost, Abbott and Costello’s first tentative foray into the supernatural, is most famous for Lou’s moving candle gag, in which only he can see the object move of its own accord. He recreates this famous scene with the help of Dracula’s casket lid in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

4. While Glenn Strange played the Frankenstein Monster as many times as Boris Karloff (three times), he spent a lot less time in his gear. For Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Strange’s latex and foam mask took a mere hour to apply. By Karloff’s account, that is some five hours fewer than it took Jack P. Pierce to apply his cotton and collodion makeup (though a 1932 issue Picturegoer reported that Pierce’s makeup job took a more reasonable three and a half hours).

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