Friday, September 30, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season!

Going cold turkey can be a very dangerous thing. You could suffer nausea, intense body aches, debilitating cramps, diarrhea… you name it! Now that Psychobabble’s year-long 366 Days at the Drive-In series has ended, I fear for your well being, dear reader, and to ease you into the come down—and through the coming Halloween season—Psychobabble will present a new daily feature starting tomorrow. No, you will not once again be required to watch an entire feature film every day. That would just be cruel. Instead you will merely be required to view a single episode of a classic TV show by pain of torture. And since you’ll be doing this in Halloween season, each episode will be themed accordingly with no shortage of vampires, cobwebs, werewolves, witches, tricks, treats, freaks, and geeks. Expect to expect only the scariest selections from the finest supernatural anthologies, the most spookily hilarious sitcom episodes, the most vile of the most excellent sci-fi and horror series, and quite a few cartoons. So warm up that boob tube and strap yourself to your electric chair, because tomorrow begins the terror and foul horror of Psychobabble’s 31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season!
Also stay tuned for new episodes of such Psychobabble classics as Monsterology and 20 Things You May Not Have Known About... and other tricks, treats, and smelly feets.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 366

The Date: September 30

The Movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

What Is It?: Space Jesus comes to Earth and warns that if we don’t quit the warring we’re going to get a serious, intergalactic spanking. Screenwriter Edmund H. North and director Robert Wise fashion the most intelligent and one of the most restrained science-fiction movies of the fifties, and Bernard Herrmann’s theremin-heavy score delivers classic sci-fi sounds. The open-ended ending is also refreshing. What will become of the Earth? Are we doomed? Or will we curb our war-like ways. Klaatu barrada nikto, daddy-o!

Why Today?: The Day the Earth Stood Still may chronicle the end of times for us earthlings. Today marks the end of times for 366 Days at the Drive-In. See you in Valhalla, folks.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: 'The Monkees, Head, and the 60s'

If 2016 has taught us something that we should have all learned fifty years ago, it’s that The Monkees are great. Not just “Boy, don’t you have fond memories of hearing ‘Daydream Believer’ at the prom?” great, but seriously great. This year they’ve finally received the treatment they deserved since they became a “real” recording band when they made Headquarters. The Monkees’ reunion album Good Times has received almost uniformly glowing reviews. Their TV series has received a deluxe blu-ray treatment usually reserved for critical darlings like Star Trek and Twin Peaks. There has also been an uptick in Monkees scholarship. This past summer, Rosanne Welch published an intelligent analysis of the Monkees TV show called Why The Monkees Matter. A few months later, Peter Mills is publishing a similarly in-depth study of the group’s only feature film called The Monkees, Head, and the 60s.

Following a general run down of how the series came to be, the backgrounds of the four stars of the show, their producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and the music, Mills settles in on his central purpose. He offers a scene-by-scene analysis of Head’s audio-visual chop suey. The analysis is non-academic and fairly general, and there may not be too many revelations for those who already get that the film skewers The Monkee’s pre-fab image and shows how locked into it they were. A lot of page space is devoted to descriptions of scenes without much analysis at all, which can be especially frustrating when it is followed by a big conclusion such as “the juxtapositons in this closing sequence are in some ways irresponsible and morally duplicitous” without any explanation for what provoked that conclusion.

Mills keeps that from ever really becoming truly exasperating because The Monkees, Head, and the 60s is so packed with trivia, quotes and insights from the men who made the film, background information on its making, and fascinating comparisons between what was in the script and what ended up on the screen (according to the script, Davy was originally supposed to sing “Magnolia Simms” instead of “Daddy’s Song”!). As was the case with Welch’s book, the evidence used to support the analysis is more stimulating than the analysis itself. That’s fine by me since I’m more interested in learning about The Monkees than learning about how someone interprets their work. Mills still manages to get us to care about whom is telling this story by relating his own personal experiences as a Monkeemaniac throughout the book. This is actually an important element in The Monkees story, since the band’s long road to legitimacy has also been our long road to legitimacy, and in hearing Mill’s personal anecdotes about being a fan, we are also reminded of our own experiences loving a band that it seems the world is only just beginning to admit that it loves too.  

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 365

The Date: September 29

The Movie: The Wrong Man (1956)

What Is It?: Although it explores the director’s pet topic to the point that its title basically translates to Generic Alfred Hitchcock Movie, The Wrong Man is one of Hitch’s more unusual films because it is based on a true story and manages more sympathy for its characters than his usual brilliant exercises in style do. Really, there are no more heartbreaking people in the Hitchcock cannon than Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a bass player wrongfully accused of being a “hold up man” (I can’t help but find that designation hilarious and wonder if there is a less awkward term for someone who holds places up), and his wife Rose (Vera Miles), who loses her grip on reality while going through the ordeal of her husband’s incarceration and trial. Wrenching stuff.

Why Today?: On this day in 1909, the real Manny Balestrero is born.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: 'Roy Orbison: The Ultimate Collection'

Roy Orbison was one of the few truly great artists to make an impact between Rock & Roll’s first wave and the British Invasion. That doesn’t mean he didn’t make worthwhile records before and after that brief window of roughly five years. In the fifties he wrote hyper swingers like “Ooby Dooby” and “Claudette”, a hit for The Everly Brothers, while with Sun Records before maturing into the more dramatic, near-operatic style that made him pop’s King of Tears. After having the final big hit of his key phase, “Pretty Woman”, which married the hard rhythms of his earliest records with the more melodic and complex riffing of the burgeoning Mersey sound, Orbison never stopped making records, and enjoyed a major resurgence in the late eighties when he joined Jeff Lynne’s stable as a Traveling Wilbury and solo artist.

Sony Legacy’s new collection, The Ultimate Roy Orbison, boasts of being the first compilation to incorporate tracks from all of the artist’s phases, though this isn’t true since Legacy’s four-disc Soul of Rock and Roll box set from 2008 had already done that. The big difference here, besides the fact that Ultimate distills Orbison’s career down to a single disc of 26-tracks, is that it jumbles the chronology. I generally prefer this approach to boring old chronological order, though the eras represented on this set are so vastly separated that it makes for a bit of a jarring listen when, say, the rockabilly “Ooby Dooby” gets sandwiched between the peak-era gut punch “It’s Over” and the Lynne-era “Heartbreak Radio”. With all due irony, it points out how the slick eighties stuff now sounds a bit dated while the fifties and sixties tracks remain as fresh and timeless as ever.

Still, unlike a lot of classic artists who attempted comebacks in the eighties, Roy Orbison never embarrassed himself. “You Got It” may not be as indescribably essential as “Dream Baby” or “Crying”, it’s still a damn good song, and this collection does do a fine job of highlighting the man’s consistent quality control. Plus, even though The Ultimate Collection covers an expansive period, the only missing track that really hurts is the luxurious non-hit “Shahdaroba”. Of course, Roy Orbison would not deserve to be called The King of Tears if he didn’t make us feel a little pain.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 364

The Date: September 28

The Movie: Strange Brew (1983)

What Is It?: Bob and Doug McKenzie— the dim, beer-swilling, Canuck alter-egos of Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis—stumble off of SCTV and onto the big screen in a story based on—no joke—Hamlet. If that source isn’t high-brow enough for you, Bergman’s favorite actor, Max Von Sydow, plays the villainous brewmeister of Elsinore Beer. Honestly, I have not seen Strange Brew in years, so I can’t vouch for whether or not it holds up, but I can say that when I first saw it as a kid, it made me laugh so hard that I puked cherry Pop-Tarts © all over the den carpet. True story.

Why Today?: Today is National Drink Beer Day. Take off, hoser.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 363

The Date: September 27

The Movie: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

What Is It?: Writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling survey a landscape of shitty teen comedies and burn those flicks to the ground with one funnier, sexier, and more truthful than any previous movie about high school. Sean Penn is the ultimate burn out! Phoebe Cates is the ultimate dream girl! Judge Reinhold is the ultimate senior schlub! Robert Romanus is the ultimate douche bag! But it’s Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Stacy Hamilton who casts a spell of realism over all these caricatures… well, maybe not Penn’s Spicoli. That dude just wants to jam with the Stones.

Why Today?: On this day in 1979, Congress adds the U.S. Dept. of Education to the executive Branch.

Monday, September 26, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 362

The Date: September 26

The Movie: And Now for Something Completely Different (1971)

What Is It?: Considered an inessential Monty Python movie because it merely glossed up TV sketches for U.S. movie audiences, the first Monty Python movie is still a superb best-of compilation and the higher production values often benefit the comedy. “The Restaurant Sketch” murders its small-screen equivalent!

Why Today?: Today is Lumberjack Day.

Much luck and love, Terry Jones!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 361

The Date: September 25

The Movie: The Vault of Horror (1972)

What Is It?: Amicus’s second portmanteau to mine classic E.C. Comics for big-screen fodder isn’t quite as consistent as Tales from the Crypt, and the vampire makeup (a handful of joke-shop fangs) in “Midnight Mess” is laughable, but this is still a quality collection of spook stories. Best of the bunch is “Drawn and Quartered”, one of E.C.’s best stories and one of the best portmanteau episodes in the history of portmanteaus.

Why Today?: Today is Comic Book Day.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: 'The Rolling Stones in Mono'

Keith Richards is a pretty vocal mono purist, so it must have galled him that The Rolling Stones had been inconsistently represented in his preferred format since the end of its dominance in the late sixties. During the CD age, their pre-Aftermath albums tended to be hodgepodges of stereo and mono tracks and everything afterward was exclusively stereo. This was a dire situation, because their cro-mag gang rock relied so much on its sonic solidarity. The Stones bled an alluringly swampy murk in which Keith’s guitar was rarely discernible from Brian’s, and Bill’s bass throbbed through their wall of sound as if his band mates had hid his amp under the floorboards. Stereo dilutes that murk, violates its magic. 

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 360

The Date: September 24

The Movie: The Dark Crystal (1982)

What Is It?: Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s puppet fantasy looks like the tchotchke shelf of a head shop  brought to life. The gelfling heroes are bland, but the monsters, music, and atmosphere are magical.

Why Today?: On this day in 1936, Jim Henson is born.

Friday, September 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 359

The Date: September 23

The Movie: Phantom of the Opera (1925)

What Is It?: The first true American horror film that looks like a full-blown, Hollywood production, trumpeting a cast of thousands and exquisite costumes and sets, particularly the Phantom’s underground labyrinth. As familiar as stills of Lon Chaney's face as Erik the Phantom are, the uninitiated may be surprised by how truly scary that puss is when moving on the screen. Here the Universal era and the golden age of horror begins.

 Why Today?: On this day in 1909, the serialized publication of Gaston Leroux’s novel begins in Le Gaulois.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 358

The Date: September 22

The Movie: The Wolf Man (1941)

What Is It?: Writer Curt Siodmak, director George Waggner, and makeup wizard Jack Pierce reinvent the werewolf. Much of what we now associate with lycanthropes—their aversion to silver, their association with the pentagram, their kinship with gypsies—leaped from Siodmak’s imagination. He also composed an ace nursery rhyme repeated infinitely throughout The Wolf Man and its sequels (“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night / may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”). The film’s other great innovation is the introduction of Lon Chaney, Jr., as the next successor in his father’s monster-movie-star legacy.

Why Today?: Today is the first day of autumn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 357

The Date: September 21

The Movie: Carrie (1976)

What Is It?: Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Carrie is one of the best Stephen King (and De Palma) films because the story is focused with a relatable, emotionally resonant lead character. King and De Palma’s often-painful look at adolescence, and its disturbing, misfit wish-fulfillment finale, are offset by humor that while occasionally too silly for its own good (the sped-up tuxedo-modeling sequence), gives the film the flavor of an E.C. Comic.

Why Today?: On this day in 1947, Stephen King is born.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 356

The Date: September 20

The Movie: Stepford Wives (1975)

What Is It?: Despite being the creation of men, The Stepford Wives treads where no horror film had before and few have since: feminism. Katherine Ross is a young wife and mother with ambitions of becoming a photographer who “messed a little with women’s lib” while living in New York City. Now she and the family have moved to the pre-fab community of Stepford, Connecticut, where she is surrounded by submissive wives and husbands who gather to collude in the mysterious Stepford Men’s Association. Finding a likeminded ally in neighbor Paula Prentiss, Ross scratches through Stepford’s veneer and is horrified by what she discovers. Although its title wives have entered the vernacular as shorthand for subservient women, The Stepford Wives does not receive the attention it deserves as one of the sharpest films of its day.

Why Today?: Today is Wife Appreciation Day—think of todays movie as a lesson in what not to do today.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: 'Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual History' Updated and Expanded Edition

Star Wars so saturated late twentieth-century culture that it’s kind of amazing to realize that only four movies were released between 1977 and 1999. Fortunately, there were plenty of other Star Wars items to fill the vast gaps between movies: toys and games and comics and novels and cartoons and blatant rip-off movies and theme park rides and tape dispensers. Originally published in 2010 and updated two years later, Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual History managed to plug relevant events into nearly every month of every year from George Lucas’s conception of Star Wars in 1973 to the present when that property had assuredly recaptured entertainment following the prequels, The Clone Wars, and a new rash of toys, comics, games, and presumably, tape dispensers.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 355

The Date: September 19

The Movie: Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

What Is It?: 45 years on from Beatlemania’s initial intensity, Magical Mystery Tour plays surprisingly well. It is, as the critics charged, indulgent, but that can be forgiven at a tight little 53 minutes well divided by six Beatle tunes. There’s no story to speak of, and the tour isn’t particularly magical or mysterious, but it’s hard to get bored, what with Victor Spinetti’s babbling sergeant, The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band’s uproarious performance of “Death Cab for Cutie”, John Lennon’s (disgustingly overcooked) spaghetti serving, Jessie Robins’s scene-stealing bickering with Nephew Ringo, and the precious opportunity to spend some time with the Fabs in their Sgt. Pepper’s-era psychedelic splendor.

Why Today?: On this day in 1967, The Beatles began filming the “I Am the Walrus” and “Blue Jay Way” sequences.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 354

The Date: September 18

The Movie: Serial Mom (1994)

What Is It?: John Waters does one of his “mainstream” movies, and it involves Kathleen Turner making obscene phone calls and executing everyone who commits a social faux pas, serial-killer obsessed Matthew Lillard whacking off to porn, small roles for former porn-star Traci Lord and former con Patty Hearst, and L7 as a band called Camel Toe that performs while emphasizing their…well, I think you can figure that out for yourself. Family fun for everyone who fell in love with Hairspray!

Why Today?: On this day in 1975, Patty Hearst is arrested.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 353

The Date: September 17

The Movie: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

What Is It?: The plot is about as insubstantial as Elvira’s wardrobe, but she keeps the movie rolling with her constant stream of Mae West/Borscht Belt one-liners and director James Signorelli does a pretty good Tim-Burton-on-a-tight-budget routine. Sure, the movie stifles once it gets to its one-millionth boob joke and the stupid pseudo-apocalyptic battle at the end, but most of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is really entertaining. The church cook-out-turned-orgy scene really gives Edie McClurg a chance to shine.

Why Today?: On this day in 1951, Cassandra Peterson is born.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review: Mill Creek's Hammer Horror Double Feature Blu-rays

For a long period of the blu-ray age, being a Region A Hammer Horror fan was very frustrating. The most vivid hunks of monstrous comfort food were sparse in the U.S. despite being abundant in a number of other regions. That began to change last year with Warner Brothers’ release of The Mummy, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. Since then, other companies have started serving famished fans such titles as Twilight Time’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Universal’s Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection, and Mill Creek’s double features of The Revenge of Frankenstein/The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll/Gorgon (blu-ray upgrades of DVD sets originally released in 2008).

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 352

The Date: September 16

The Movie: The Stepfather (1987)

What Is It?: Smack dab in the decade dominated by disposable slasher movies came a nut-with-a-knife flick that reached back to the psychologically complex films that inspired the genre. The Stepfather has far more in common with Psycho, Peeping Tom, and Repulsion, than Friday the 13th or Prom Night, and its quality has earned it a cult following that really deserves to be broader. Based on a true story, The Stepfather stars Terry O’Quinn as a deranged chameleon constantly on the look out for a new family to fulfill his perfect-Daddy fantasies. At its core, The Stepfather is a satire of conservative American ideals of the flag-waving, sweater-vest-and-pearls wearing nuclear family (the script was written during the Nixon era and filmed during Reagan’s reign), but it’s never jokey or goofy.

Why Today?: Today is Step Family Day.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 351

The Date: September 15

The Movie: The Kids Are Alright (1979)

What Is It?: This isn’t a “let’s sit back and reflect nicely on what a nice band the nice, old Who were” documentary. This is complete anarchy. There are no gestures toward chronology, or telling the story of the band properly, or finding out what The Who’s colleagues thought of them (aside from a barely coherent rant from Tommy filmmaker Ken Russell). This is a movie in which Keith Moon conducts an interview while wearing a leather mask and getting whipped by a dominatrix. This is a movie in which John Entwistle goes skeet shooting with his collection of gold records (which he later joked were Roger Daltrey’s solo albums). This is a movie in which a really, really drunk Pete Townshend regales his drummer with a side-splitting story about how his doctor warned him that he’s going deaf. This is The Kids Are Alright. Put it on your television. Then throw your television out the window.

Why Today?: On this day in 1967, The Who appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which would be used as the first sequence in The Kids Are Alright a dozen years later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: 'Cat People' Blu-ray

A year after Universal Studios completed its trio of major movie monsters with The Wolf Man, RKO tried to get a taste of that film’s success with a project called Cat People. It was passed off to Russian-American producer Val Lewton, a former pulp novelist without an inclination for the kinds of furry fantasies Universal peddled. For their laughably named project, Lewton, co-screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen (Lewton did extensive rewrites on the script), and director Jacques Tourneur fashioned a more subtle, cerebral film than RKO had in mind, exploring the psychology of a woman who may only believe she is a were-cat, her delusion a symptom of the film’s true monster: sexual repression.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 350

The Date: September 14

The Movie: Born to Kill (1947)

What Is It?: In Robert Wise’s gonzo noir, Lawrence Tierney marries a divorcee and ruins the lives of her and everyone she knows. The acting and story are great fun, but so is spotting all the flubs. This movie has the most gratuitous use of stunt people that look nothing like the actors for whom they’re subbing outside of an episode of “Batman”.

Why Today?: On this day in 2005, Robert Wise dies.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 349

The Date: September 13

The Movie: Wild at Heart (1990)

What Is It?: David Lynch makes his version of a rom-com by dropping Nick Cage as an outlaw Elvis impersonator and Laura Dern as his beloved Peanut into a 1965 Thunderbird and onto a nightmare road where they encounter private dicks, black angels, car-wreck victims, Tweety Bird-voiced bar flies, and Dern’s real-life mom Diane Ladd as the wickedest witch of a mom in North Carolina.

Why Today?: Today is National Peanut Day.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Monkees A to Z

“Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll musicians-singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank’s-types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview.”

We all know what happened after this ad was published in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter in September 1965. Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones may have had varying levels of success “coming down” for their interviews, but interview they did, and one year later, they could all be seen glaring out from the cover of their debut album and capering on a new hit series The Monkees, which debuted on this very day in 1966.

Fifty years later, The Monkees seem to be as popular as ever, and more importantly, have finally gotten the critical approval they should have been getting since Micky first crooned “Last Train to Clarksville”. For many of us, The Monkees also provided an accessible introduction to the pop world when we were still a little too young for The Beatles’ complexity, the Stones’ luridness, or The Who’s violence (yet, somehow, we were ready for “Writing Wrongs”. Go figure). I’ve been a Monkees freak for thirty years now, and my obsession with the TV/recording/stage/screen sensations has left me with a wealth of Monkee facts and figures I am about to bounce off your million-dollar head in a feature I call…

Here we come...

OK, let’s address the big, smelly ape in the room with our very first entry. So, The Monkees did not form in a garage the way most bands do. They were put together by TV show producers for mostly commercial reasons, to cash in on the ongoing phenomenal success of The Beatles (see B), and to attempt to recreate the irreplaceable magic of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! for boob-tube audiences. This does not mean The Monkees weren’t artists. Micky had done his time in a garage band sometimes known as Micky and The One Nighters, and more coincidentallyThe Missing Links, and possessed a voice of magnificent range and dramatics. Peter Tork was a hat-passing folkie with an extraordinary knack for picking up instruments (piano, guitar, banjo, bass, French horn, etc.) that made him The Monkees’ own John Entwistle or Brian Jones-style jack-of-all-trades. Davy Jones had been an acclaimed Broadway song-and-dance man, and Mike Nesmith was a composer, performer, and recording artist. The boys brought their individual talents to a project that didn’t necessarily need and really didn’t want them. By asserting their artistry on records that were going to sell millions whether or not Peter picked his banjo on the sessions, he, Micky, Mike, and Davy made the Monkees’ albums better than was necessary. Consequently, efforts such HeadquartersPisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, LTD.; and Head became albums as timeless as much of what The Monkees’ organically formed peers were making in the mid-sixties.

The guys’ original compositions also made for some of the most interesting tracks on those records, and were not just talking about those of seasoned composer Mike Nesmith, whose pure country (“Good Clean Fun”, “Don’t Wait for Me”), pure rock (“Mary Mary”, “Circle Sky”), country-rock (“Sunny Girlfriend”, “You Told Me”), and country-psychedelia (“Tapioca Tundra”, “Auntie’s Municipal Court”) were consistently invigorating. Peter Tork’s “For Pete’s Sake” was strong and vital enough to serve as the series’ closing theme during season two, and his “Can You Dig It?” and Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?” helped bring the ultra-hip Head soundtrack to life. Micky Dolenz’s “Randy Scouse Git” was strong enough to become the first Monkee-composed single A-side (at least in England where it was retitled “Alternate Title” and went to #2), and his “Mommy and Daddy” was a piece of unflinching agit-prop aimed at pre-teen revolutionaries. Even Davy Jones matured into a composer capable of such fine pieces as “Dream World” and the tough-as-shit “You and I”. Had The Monkees never expressed themselves as artists on songs such as these, it is likely I would not be writing about them right now and you wouldn’t care to read about them.

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