Thursday, December 31, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 92

The Date: December 31
The Movie: The Phantom Carriage (1921)
What Is It?: On New Year’s Eve, the Grim Reaper makes the rounds in his creaky carriage to collect souls and find a replacement for himself for the following year. A creepy showcase for early horror special effects.
Why Today?: Today is New Year’s Eve. Maybe tonight will be your night to replace the reaper. Enjoy drinking your champagne and blowing your kazoo!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 91

The Date: December 30
The Movie: Head (1968)
What Is It?: Director Bob Rafelson, screenwriter Jack Nicholson, and stars The Monkees put a vicious end to Monkeemania with an avant-garde pop movie that makes Magical Mystery Tour look like that Britney Spears movie. Micky, Davy, Mike, and Peter commit suicide, smoke hash while ogling belly dancers, blow up a Coke machine, degrade themselves in a dandruff commercial, get imprisoned in a black box over and over, whistle “Strawberry Fields Forever”, sing some other truly spectacular pieces of psychedelic pop, and ruin Mike’s 26th birthday by throwing him a 26th birthday party.
Why Today?: On this day in 1942, Mike Nesmith is actually born (and Davy Jones is born this day in 1945!).

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 90

The Date: December 29
The Movie: Nightmare Castle (1965)
What Is It?: As she did in the more renowned Black Sunday, Barbara Steele plays dual roles in a Gothic setting for an Italian director who allows awful things to happen to her face. Effectively nightmarish.
Why Today?: On this day in 1937, Barbara Steele is born.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: 'TV Peaks: Twin Peaks and Modern Television Drama'

It has often been said that we are living through a second golden age of television, and when this century has seen the likes of The Sopranos and Deadwood set the stage for defunct series such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and ongoing ones such as Game of Thrones, Fargo, and Bojack Horseman – among quite a number of other pieces of small-screen art—this age does, indeed, look pretty golden. In 2012, pop-culture writer Alan Sepinwall laid out the theory well by focusing on a number of series in his book The Revolution was Televised, not only analyzing shows such as Mad Men, Lost, Sopranos, and Breaking Bad but also supporting his ideas and making-of accounts with original interviews with these series’ major players. It was an interesting format and a convincing argument, but he didn’t go in-depth on any series earlier than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fair enough, considering that the beginning of the golden age is usually cited as the debut of The Sopranos in 1999, but there is a more regularly cited predecessor for the golden age than Buffy.

Sepinwall does reference Twin Peaks a few times in The Revolution was Televised, but he hardly gives the show that brought big-screen editing, pacing, cinematography, sound design, genre, and subject matter—as well as one big big-screen name—to the small screen its due attention. Three years later, Andreas Halskov is correcting Sepinwall’s oversight with an entire book devoted to Peaks that mimics the format and approach of The Revolution Was Televised close enough that it feels like an essential companion piece to Sepinwall’s book.

While TV Peaks: Twin Peaks and Modern Television Drama stops short of announcing, “Yep, Twin Peaks is solely responsible for the current state of TV,” and gives voice to several dissenting voices (one of which belongs to Mark Frost), Halskov also makes an incredibly strong case for the pioneering status of Peaks by discussing its sundry cinematic elements and explaining how new they were to television nearly ten years before Twin Peaks-devotee David Chase gave life to Tony Soprano and his clan. Halskov supports his conclusions with insights and anecdotes from about fifty Peaks veterans, such as directors Lesli Linka Glatter and Duwayne Dunham; writer Robert Engels; DPs Frank Byers and Ron Garcia; musicians Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise; actors Catherine Coulson, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn, and Kimmy Robertson; and briefly, David Lynch, himself. Because Halskov is Danish, he also provides an international eye, taking into account the influence of Peaks on such non-US items as Riget, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Bron/Broen and others.

The author also trumps Sepinwall in terms of presentation with a beautifully designed book featuring full-color and black-and-white images of rare production photos, memorabilia, and delightful fan-made artworks. Thoughtfully packaged, historically important, insightful, entertaining, and meticulously researched without reaching glib conclusions, TV Peaks is a study worthy of a TV show that, yep, helped lay the groundwork for the current state of TV.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 89

The Date: December 28

The Movie: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

What Is It?: The Hammer Horror age officially begins, though it begins with a very un-Hammer-like B&W sci-fi horror picture starring an obnoxious American in a contemporary setting. However, there are touches of Christopher’s Lee’s Frankenstein Monster in Richard Wordsworth’s nuanced turn as an astronaut who slowly transforms into a blobby octopus who sets up shop in Westminster Abbey.

Why Today?: On this day in 1065, Westminster Abbey is officially consecrated.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Review: ''Devil's Advocates: Suspiria'

Bypassing linear storytelling to fashion a colorful, noisy, subtext-rich nightmare with fine-art aesthetics, Suspiria is a film that almost consciously begs for lengthy analysis. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas subjects it to one in her new book for The Devil’s Advocates series, choosing a scene-by-scene analysis as the main meat of her monograph. This allows her to organically explore the film’s gender politics, relationship with horror films and fairy-tales past, and myriad themes—a young woman’s budding sexuality and intellect, the formerly fascistic relationship between Italy (where the film was produced) and Germany (where the film is set), and so on.

At times, Heller-Nicholas fails to follow through on her threads satisfactorily, as when she refers to the idea— confirmed by filmmaker Dario Argento himself— that the witches who are the movie’s main villains are supposed to represent lesbianism without explaining the ramifications of this homophobic theme on the film or even why Argento would want to include it. For the most part, though, Heller-Nicholas makes excellent use of the less-than-100 pages the Devil’s Advocates format allows her, dissecting the film acutely, intelligently and accessibly. She also makes room for breezy biographies of Argento and his cast; the film’s legacy, which naturally includes its sequels Inferno and Mother of Tears; and an extended interview with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who captured the film’s brilliantly vivid images, all of which fleshes out the story nicely.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 88

The Date: December 27

The Movie: Re-animator (1985)

What Is It?: H.P.Lovecraft isn’t exactly known for his sense of humor, so give Stuart Gordon a big pat on the back for finding the humor in the writer’s “Herbert West-Reanimator” series to create one of the wildest horror-comedies of the eighties.

Why Today?: On this day in 1958, Barbara Crampton was born. Give her a pat on the back too for enduring one of cinema’s most infamous disembodied head scenes.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Psychobabble’s 2015 Wish List Score Card!

Around time last year I posted my wish list for 2015 reissues and releases. Now that the year is coming to a close, let’s review to see how many of my wishes have come true, therefore determining whether or not I’m psychic or have recently come into contact with a Leprechaun. So without further introductory babble you’re just skipping anyway, here’s Psychobabble’s 2015 Wish List Score Card!

Score Chart

  • 10 points for a hit.
  • 5 points for a wish that didn’t come true, but there was some sort of consolation prize.
  • 0 points for a miss.

1. The Wish: E.C. Horror Comics Reprints by a Publisher Other than Dark Horse

Did It Come True?: Dark Horse comics recently inherited the E.C. Comics back catalogue and has been re-printing them in bastardized, digitized versions. As of today, Dark Horse remains in control with more reprints of the “E.C. Archives” series in store for 2016. However, this wish technically came true with the re-publication of IDW’s WallyWood’s EC Stories Artisan Edition, which not only wasn’t grotesquely digitized but it was devoid of color altogether. Granted, this wasn’t exactly the complete anthology of non-digitized, color, horror comics I unrealistically wished for, but it is a technical hit.

Score: 10 (looking pretty psychic so far)

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 87

The Date: December 26

The Movie: The Exorcist (1973)

What Is It?: For those with a serious hangover after a holiday crowded with wide-eyed children, priests, various religious icons, and hearty pea soup dinners, this delightful coming of age story is the perfect antidote.

Why Today?: On this day in 1973, The Exorcist is released. Someone at Warner Brothers has a fabulous sense of humor.

Friday, December 25, 2015

And Now For No Other Reason Than It's X-Mas, Here Are The Monkees Singing "Riu Chiu" in HD!

From the upcoming Blu-ray box...
And as a bonus stocking stuffer, here's a gif of the lenticular box art of the Monkees blu-ray set!

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 86

The Date: December 25

The Movie: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

What Is It?: A tremendous collection of talent— animator Chuck Jones, voice artists Boris Karloff and June Foray, singer and cereal tiger Thurl Ravenscroft—came together to make the best Christmas story of the twentieth century by the best children’s writer of the twentieth century breathe with color, music, and noise, noise, noise, noise.

Why Today?: This is the day the Grinch stole.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 85

The Date: December 24
The Movie: Scrooge (aka: A Christmas Carol) (1951)
What Is It?: The best adaptation of Dickens’s perennial ghost story has the atmosphere of a Hammer Horror movie, the cinematography of a great film noir, and one of cinema’s most moving performances from Alastair Sim. Look out for the cameos from Hammer’s Carol Marsh and Universal’s Ernest Thesiger (“Do you like egg nog? It is my only weakness”).
Why Today?: The film’s events begin on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: 'Devil's Advocates: Antichrist'

Serial provocteur Lars von Trier surely expected and welcomed an extreme reaction when he put out Antichrist in 2009. Aside from its scenes of graphic unsimulated sex and even more graphic simulated sexual violence, there were the political implications of a force-of-nature woman driven to insanely destructive behavior despite the efforts of her rational husband to maintain control. That Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character is named “She” implies that the maniac she portrayed represents her entire gender. Same situation for Willem Dafoe’s “He.” With such surface elements in place, it’s no surprise that a lot of critics branded Antichrist an extreme piece of misogynistic trash unworthy of deeper examination and its creator a monster.

When I placed Antichrist on Psychobabble’s list of the 150 Essential Horror Movies back in 2011, I joined a small group of viewers who saw the film not as a work of misogyny but an unflinching examination of misogyny. Von Trier refused to explain which side of the fence on which his film actually stands despite the tactless demands he do so from interviewers at its notorious Cannes screening. I personally believe it is the artist’s right—perhaps the artist’s duty—to remain mum on his or her intentions, allowing the viewer to do a little work to uncover meaning, and though I also tend to lose patience with the over-analysis of art, Antichrist is a film that most definitely demands deeper analysis than it received in the mass of reviews (including my own slight 580-word write up in that “Essential Horror Movies” piece). So I’m grateful that Amy Simmons both selected Antichrist for her installment of The Devil’s Advocates series and had the insight to jab her X-Acto knife deeper than the film’s skin of misogyny and into its underlying themes about the patriarchy’s monstrous control (one of the most consistent controlling threads throughout the work of a filmmaker regularly accused of being a misogynist).

While I largely read the book yelling “Right on!” to opinions I already held, Simmons also helped me gain new insight into the film’s more mysterious elements, like the roles of the three animal “Beggars” and the implications of She deliberately allowing the film’s tragic initiating event to happen. Simmons also respects art enough to allow certain seemingly impenetrable elements, such as the film’s rapturously haunting final scene, speak for themselves without wielding her analytical knife sloppily. I only hope that the legions of anti-Antichrist viewers open her book and have the open minds to revisit an unfairly maligned and immensely powerful film with fresh perspectives.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 84

The Date: December 23

The Movie: A Christmas Story (1983)

What Is It?: A kid wants nothing more for Christmas than to shoot his own eye out… and he nearly does. Guns are bad, kids. An undiluted nostalgia fest for the radio-listening kids of the thirties and forties, the HBO watching kids of the eighties, and the TBS-watching kids of the nineties and today.

Why Today?: This week’s holiday theme continues…

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review: 'Devil's Advocates: Dead of Night'

Dead of Night wasn’t the first British horror film, but it was the first truly significant one, both serving as a pioneer of an important tradition of portmanteau horrors (though one that wouldn’t really take root for another twenty years when Amicus found its niche) and enduring in terms of influence, and yes, scariness. The resolution to the film’s wrap-around segment is a cold sweat-drawing nightmare that is still scary today. You can’t say that about too many other movies from or before 1945.

Historically significant and very closely knit to its own historical context, Dead of Night is a movie ripe for analysis, but its unusual format and unusual creation—four different directors were responsible for its five segments and wraparound—also indicates there’s an interesting making-of account to be told too. Writers Jez Conolly and David Owain Bates are a lot more interested in the analytical side in their new book on the film for the Devil’s Advocates series, though some interesting backgrounds on the filmmakers and actors, as well as the histories of the film’s sundry elements, work their ways into the text too. So we get quick but edifying run downs of the legacies of portmanteau films, evil ventriloquist dummies, seasonal spook stories, pop-psychiatry thrillers, and even teen horror movies. We also get discussions of the role the sets’ architecture plays in the film’s crushing air of entrapment, the significance of main character (and architect!) Walter Craig’s Welsh nationality, and most importantly, how the film is a clear product of World War II Britain that also takes odd measures to deny that fact.

While largely analytical works can be tedious reads, Conolly and Bates find so much to mill through in Dead of Night that their study never has a chance to stagnate. In fact, this is the rare analytical book I’d describe as a brisk read, as it picks up and pokes through so many ideas across its slim 113 pages.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 83

The Date: December 22

The Movie: Dead of Night (1945)

What Is It?: The first great horror portmanteau set the standards to which all subsequent horror portmanteau’s adhered, including its uneven nature. But episodes about a haunted X-mas party and a rather independent ventriloquist’s dummy deliver the goods, and the wrap-around story is the greatest in the history of horror portmanteaus.

Why Today?: Today is the longest night of year…plus the Christmas episode fits this week's holiday theme.

Monday, December 21, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 82

The Date: December 21

The Movie: A Christmas Carol (1984)

What Is It?: This made-for-TV adaptation of Dickens’s tale of ghosts bullying an old man into liking Christmas really milks the story’s creep value with a blue-faced and bug-eyed Jacob Marley, Angela "daughter-of-Donald" Pleasance as a blood-chilling Ghost of Christmas Past, and the terrifying entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Why Today?: Today is Humbug Day.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 81

The Date: December 20

The Movie: Gremlins (1984)

What Is It?: The holiday season begins for a week straight at the Psychobabble Drive-In with the nastiest Christmas movie ever peddled to kids. Insufferably adorable fuzz puppet births a brood of back babies after Corey Feldman gives it an accidental bath. The offspring rapidly mature into reptilian fun lovers who enjoy nothing more than Disney movies and Christmas caroling. Terrible things happen to Polly Holliday and Santa Claus. Feldman emerges unscathed.

Why Today?: Today is Go Caroling Day.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 80

The Date: December 19
The Movie: Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
What Is It?: Vampire and chopsocky flicks run at each other from across the room and make out for 83 minutes in Roy Ward Baker’s underrated Hammer horror. Contains what must be the cleverest use of bad dubbing in a seventies kung-fu flick. Also contains Peter Cushing. That is always a good thing.
Why Today?: On this day in 1916, Roy Ward Baker is born.

Friday, December 18, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 79

The Date: December 18

The Movie: Miller’s Crossing (1990)

What Is It?: The Coen Brothers’ prohibition-era gangster flick has less wacky comedy than most of their movies but its plot intricacies are wackier than ever.

Why Today?: On this day in 1917, the Eighteenth Amendment passes.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 78

The Date: December 17
The Movie: Airplane! (1980)
What Is It?: Crew of passenger plane makes tragic decision to eat the fish. Air force veteran haunted by his tragic wartime experiences and recovering from a tragic drinking problem takes over the cockpit while said crew pukes its guts out. Johnny makes a hat, a broach, and a pterodactyl. War is hell. Commercial air travel is hell.  Origami is hell.
Why Today?: On this day in 1903, the Wright Brothers achieve flight.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 77

The Date: December 16

The Movie: Persona (1966)

What Is It?: Ingmar Bergman explores his usual themes of sex, death, and religion by shattering them with a hammer and piecing them back together in a mosaic of striking imagery and shocking dialogue. Bergman shatters and pieces back together Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in ways that would profoundly influence filmmakers from David Lynch to Robert Altman to Woody Allen.

Why Today?: On this day in 1938, Liv Ullman is born.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 76

The Date: December 15

The Movie: Flaming Creatures (1963)

What Is It?: Jack Smith’s celebration of polymorphous perversity and monsters is a landmark product of NY’s underground movie scene and gay cinema. Think of it as an avant-garde Rocky Horror Picture Show that dares to go places Rocky never did. Flaming Creatures earns extra points for pissing off Strom Thurmond.

Why Today?: On this day in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders.

Monday, December 14, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 75

The Date: December 14

The Movie: Monkey Shines (1988)

What Is It?: After getting hit by a truck, a wheelchair-bound ex-runner employs a super-brained monkey to do his bidding, which includes a bit of light housework and heavy murdering. Subtle black comedy or unintentionally camp sincere horror? Either way, George Romero’s flick is Kong-sized fun.

Why Today?: Today is Monkey Day. In a perfect world, every day would be.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 74

The Date: December 13

The Movie: Living in Oblivion (1995)

What Is It?: Tom DiCillo expands an indie short film poking fun at indie filmmaking into an indie feature film poking fun at indie filmmaking, Brad Pitt (though DiCillo denies it), David Lynch (though DiCillo denies it), and Hollywood’s depictions of little people (not sure where DiCillo stands on this). Everyone in this movie is fucking brilliant, so it kills me to single out the brilliance of Steve Buscemi as the director, Rica Martens as his mom, Dermot Mulroney as the cinematographer, Peter Dinklage and Catherine Kenner as actors, and James LeGros as a Hostess Twinkie Motherfucker. Everyone else is brilliant too… even the boom operator! It's not his fault the frame-line keep changing.

Why Today?: On this day in 1957, Steve Buscemi is born.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 73

The Date: December 12
The Movie: Psycho (1960)
What Is It?: Janet Leigh is Marion Crane, a secretary charged with depositing a $40,000 real estate deposit in the bank. Marion decides to make off with the cash, but she has a change of heart before taking a shower. Honestly, I can’t remember what happens after that.
Why Today?: This is the date that Marion Crane takes her shower.

Friday, December 11, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 72

The Date: December 11

The Movie: The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus (1968)

What Is It?: Divine unaired TV special finds the Stones hosting Taj Mahal, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull, a John Lennon supergroup, and—brace yourselves—The Who in a circus environment. The story goes that the special didn’t air during its time because The Who blew the Stones out of the ring. That’s true, but the Stones are still fabulous. Jagger never looked so beautifully panther-like.

Why Today?: On this day in 1968,  all those great bands got together to shoot this great concert film.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 71

The Date: December 10

The Movie: Ed Wood (1994)

What Is It?: Tim Burton’s greatest film sacrificed none of his signature aesthetic quirks to tell the story of notoriously awful filmmaker Ed Wood, who liked to dress in panties and angora sweaters while hanging out with Hollywood kooks and making movies about space vampires. Needless to say, Martin Landau stuffs the film under his cape and walks away with it.

Why Today?: On this day in 1978, the real Ed Wood died.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 70

The Date: December 9
The Movie: 13 Ghosts (1960)
What Is It?: William Castle didn’t need his Illusion-O gimmick (a pair of goofy glasses necessary for viewing the apparitions on screen) to sell a haunted house flick so fun. A running joke that finds everyone accusing Margaret Hamilton of being a witch will tickle Wizard of Oz fans (i.e.: everyone).
Why Today?: On this day in 1902, Margaret Hamilton is born.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 69

The Date: December 8
The Movie: Time After Time (1979)
What Is It?: Malcolm McDowell is H.G. Wells, who uses his own Time Machine to pursue David Warner as Jack the Ripper from 1893 London to 1979 San Francisco. There, Wells meets kooky Mary Steenbergen and pure, air-headed delight ensues.
Why Today?: Today is Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day. I’m not imaginative enough to make this shit up.

Monday, December 7, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 68

The Date: December 7

The Movie: Alien (1979)

What Is It?: The nefarious undercurrents of a space mission unfold when a blood-lustful alien starts munching through the space craft’s crew.

Why Today?: On this day in 1972, the last manned moon mission was launched when Apollo 17 departed from the Kennedy Space Center.
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